Produced by Suzanne Shell, Bill Walker and PG Distributed Proofreaders
By Max Brand
ToROBERT HOBART DAVISMaker of Books and Men
I.------"LA-A-A-DIES AN' GEN'L'MUN"
IV.-----A SESSION OF CHAT
V.------ANTHONY IS LEFT IN THE DARK
IX.-----"THIS PLACE FOR REST"
X.------A BIT OF STALKING
XI.-----THE QUEST BEGINS
XII.----THE FIRST DAY
XIII.---A TOUCH OF CRIMSON
XV.-----THE DARKNESS IN ELDARA
XXI.----THE SWIMMING OF THE SAVERACK
XXIII.--THE COMEDY SETTING
XXV.----HAIR LIKE THE SUNSHINE
XXVI.---"THE CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON"
XXVIII.-SALLY BREAKS A MIRROR
XXXI.---NASH STARTS THE FINISH
XXXII.--TO "APPREHEND" A MAN
XXXVII.-"TODO ES PERDO"
_The characters, places, incidents and situations in this book areimaginary and have no relation to any person, place or actualhappening_.
"LA-A-A-DIES AN' GEN'L'MUN"
All through the exhibition the two sat unmoved; yet on the whole it wasthe best Wild West show that ever stirred sawdust in Madison SquareGarden and it brought thunders of applause from the crowded house. Evenif the performance could not stir these two, at least the throng ofspectators should have drawn them, for all New York was there, from therichest to the poorest; neither the combined audiences of a seven-dayrace, a prize-fight, or a community singing festival would make such acosmopolitan assembly.
All Manhattan came to look at the men who had lived and fought andconquered under the limitless skies of the Far West, free men, wildmen--one of their shrill whoops banished distance and brought themountain desert into the very heart of the unromantic East.Nevertheless from all these thrills these two men remained immune.
To be sure the smaller tilted his head back when the horses first sweptin, and the larger leaned to watch when Diaz, the wizard with thelariat, commenced to whirl his rope; but in both cases their interestheld no longer than if they had been old vaudevillians watching a seriesof familiar acts dressed up with new names.
The smaller, brown as if a thousand fierce suns and winds had tanned andwithered him, looked up at last to his burly companion with a faintsmile.
"They're bringing on the cream now, Drew, but I'm going to spoil thedessert."
The other was a great, grey man whom age apparently had not weakened butrather settled and hardened into an ironlike durability; the winds oftime or misfortune would have to break that stanch oak before it wouldbend.
He said: "We've half an hour before our train leaves. Can you play yourhand in that time?"
"Easy. Look at 'em now--the greatest gang of liars that never threw adiamond hitch! Ride? I've got a ten-year kid home that would laugh at'em all. But I'll show 'em up. Want to know my little stunt?"
"I'll wait and enjoy the surprise."
The wild riders who provoked the scorn of the smaller man were nowgathering in the central space; a formidable crew, long of hair andbrilliant as to bandannas, while the announcer thundered through hismegaphone:
"La-a-a-dies and gen'l'mun! You see before you the greatest band ofsubduers and breakers of wild horses that ever rode the cattle ranges.Death defying, reckless, and laughing at peril, they have never failed;they have never pulled leather. I present 'Happy' Morgan!"
Happy Morgan, yelling like one possessed of ten shrill-tongued demons,burst on the gallop away from the others, and spurring his horsecruelly, forced the animal to race, bucking and plunging, half wayaround the arena and back to the group. This, then, was a type of thedare-devil horse breaker of the Wild West? The cheers travelled in wavesaround and around the house and rocked back and forth like water pitchedfrom side to side in a monstrous bowl.
When the noise abated somewhat, "And this, la-a-a-dies and gen'l'mun, isthe peerless, cowpuncher, 'Bud Reeves.'"
Bud at once imitated the example of Happy Morgan, and one after anotherthe five remaining riders followed suit. In the meantime a number ofprancing, kicking, savage-eyed horses were brought into the arena and tothese the master of ceremonies now turned his attention.
"From the wildest regions of the range we have brought mustangs thatnever have borne the weight of man. They fight for pleasure; they buckby instinct. If you doubt it, step down and try 'em. One hundred dollarsto the man who sticks on the back of one of 'em--but we won't pay thehospital bill!"
He lowered his megaphone to enjoy the laughter, and the small man tookthis opportunity to say: "Never borne the weight of a man! That chap inthe dress-suit, he tells one lie for pleasure and ten more frominstinct. Yep, he has his hosses beat. Never borne the weight of man!Why, Drew, I can see the saddle-marks clear from here; I got a mind toslip down there and pick up the easiest hundred bones that ever rolledmy way."
He rose to make good his threat, but Drew cut in with: "Don't be a damnfool, Werther. You aren't part of this show."
"Well, I will be soon. Watch me! There goes Ananias on his second wind."
The announcer was bellowing: "These man-killing mustangs will be ridden,broken, beaten into submission in fair fight by the greatest set ofhorse-breakers that ever wore spurs. They can ride anything that walkson four feet and wears a skin; they can--"
Werther sprang to his feet, made a funnel of his hand, and shouted:"Yi-i-i-ip!"
If he had set off a great quantity of red fire he could not moreeffectively have drawn all eyes upon him. The weird, shrill yell cut theringmaster short, and a pleased murmur ran through the crowd. Of course,this must be part of the show, but it was a pleasing variation.
"Partner," continued Werther, brushing away the big hand of Drew whichwould have pulled him down into his seat; "I've seen you bluff for twonights hand running. There ain't no man can bluff all the world threetimes straight."
The ringmaster retorted in his great voice: "That sounds like goodpoker. What's your game?"
"Five hundred dollars on one card!" cried Werther, and he waved afluttering handful of greenbacks. "Five hundred dollars to any man ofyour lot--or to any man in this house that can ride a real wild horse."
"Where's your horse?"
"Around the corner in a Twenty-sixth Street stable. I'll have him herein five minutes."
"Lead him on," cried the ringmaster, but his voice was not quite soloud.
Werther muttered to Drew:
"Here's where I hand him the lemon that'll curdle his cream," and ranout of the box and straight around the edge of the arena. New York,murmuring and chuckling through the vast galleries of the Garden,applauded the little man's flying coat-tails.
He had not underestimated the time; in a little less than his fiveminutes the doors at the end of the arena were thrown wide and Wertherreappeared. Behind him came two stalwarts leading between them a r
angymonster. Before the blast of lights and the murmurs of the throng thebig stallion reared and flung himself back, and the two who lead himbore down with all their weight on the halter ropes. He literally walkeddown the planks into the arena, a strange, half-comical, half-terriblespectacle. New York burst into applause. It was a trained horse, ofcourse, but a horse capable of such training was worth applause.
At that roar of sound, vague as the beat of waves along the shore, thestallion lurched down on all fours and leaped ahead, but the two on thehalter ropes drove all their weight backward and checked the firstplunge. A bright-coloured scarf waved from a nearby box, and themonster swerved away. So, twisting, plunging, rearing, he was workeddown the arena. As he came opposite a box in which sat a tall young manin evening clothes the latter rose and shouted: "Bravo!"
The fury of the stallion, searching on all sides for a vent butdistracted from one torment to another, centred suddenly on this slenderfigure. He swerved and rushed for the barrier with ears flat back andbloodshot eyes. There he reared and struck at the wood with his greatfront hoofs; the boards splintered and shivered under the blows.
As for the youth in the box, he remained quietly erect before this bruterage. A fleck of red foam fell on the white front of his shirt. He drewhis handkerchief and wiped it calmly away, but a red stain remained. Atthe same time the two who led the stallion pulled him back from thebarrier and he stood with head high, searching for a more convenientvictim.
Deep silence spread over the arena; more hushed and more hushed it grew,as if invisible blankets of soundlessness were dropping down over thestirring masses; men glanced at each other with a vague surmise, knowingthat this was no part of the performance. The whole audience drewforward to the edge of the seats and stared, first at the monstroushorse, and next at the group of men who could "ride anything that walkson four feet and wears a skin."
Some of the women were already turning away their heads, for this was tobe a battle, not a game; but the vast majority of New York merelywatched and waited and smiled a slow, stiff-lipped smile. All thesurroundings were changed, the flaring electric lights, the vast roof,the clothes of the multitude, but the throng of white faces was the sameas that pale host which looked down from the sides of the Coliseum whenthe lions were loosed upon their victims.
As for the wild riders from the cattle ranges, they drew into a closegroup with the ringmaster between them and the gaunt stallion, almost asif the fearless ones were seeking for protection. But the announcerhimself lost his almost invincible _sang-froid_; in all his matchlessvocabulary there were no sounding phrases ready for this occasion, andlittle Werther strutted in the centre of the great arena, rising to hisopportunity.
He imitated the ringmaster's phraseology. "La-a-a-dies and gen'l'mun,the price has gone up. The 'death-defyin', dare-devils that laugh atdanger' ain't none too ready to ride my hoss. Maybe the price is too lowfor 'em. It's raised. One thousand dollars--cash--for any man inhearin' of me that'll ride my pet."
There was a stir among the cattlemen, but still none of them movedforward toward the great horse; and as if he sensed his victory heraised and shook his ugly head and neighed. A mighty laugh answered thatchallenge; this was a sort of "horse-humour" that great New York couldnot overlook, and in that mirth even the big grey man, Drew, joined. Thelaughter stopped with an amazing suddenness making the following silenceimpressive as when a storm that has roared and howled about a housefalls mute, then all the dwellers in the house look to one another andwait for the voice of the thunder. So all of New York that sat in thelong galleries of the Garden hushed its laughter and looked askance atone another and waited. The big grey man rose and cursed softly.
For the slender young fellow in evening dress at whom the stallion hadrushed a moment before was stripping off his coat, his vest, and rollingup the stiff cuffs of his sleeves. Then he dropped a hand on the edge ofthe box, vaulted lightly into the arena, and walked straight toward thehorse.