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The Garden of Eden

Max Brand




  Dodd, Mead & CompanyNew York

  Copyright 1922 by Popular Publications, Inc.Copyright renewed 1950 by Dorothy FaustAll rights reserved

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any formwithout permission in writing from the publisher

  First published in book form October, 1963

  Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 63-20473

  Printed in the United States of Americaby Vail-Ballou Press, Inc., Binghamton, N.Y.

  The characters, places, incidents, and situations in this book are imaginary and have no relation to any person, place, or actual happening.


  By careful tailoring the broad shoulders of Ben Connor were made toappear fashionably slender, and he disguised the depth of his chest by astoop whose model slouched along Broadway somewhere between sunset anddawn. He wore, moreover, the first or second pair of spats that had everstepped off the train at Lukin Junction, a glowing Scotch tweed, and aPanama hat of the color and weave of fine old linen. There was askeleton at this Feast of Fashion, however, for only tight gloves couldmake the stubby fingers and broad palms of Connor presentable. Atninety-five in the shade gloves were out of the question, so he held apair of yellow chamois in one hand and in the other an amber-headedcane. This was the end of the little spur-line, and while the trainbacked off down the track, staggering across the switch, Ben Connorlooked after it, leaning upon his cane just forcibly enough to feel theflection of the wood. This was one of his attitudes of elegance, andwhen the train was out of sight, and only the puffs of white vaporrolled around the shoulder of the hill, he turned to look the town over,having already given Lukin Junction ample time to look over Ben Connor.

  The little crowd was not through with its survey, but the eye of theimposing stranger abashed it. He had one of those long somber faceswhich Scotchmen call "dour." The complexion was sallow, heavy pouches ofsleeplessness lay beneath his eyes, and there were ridges beside thecorners of his mouth which came from an habitual compression of thelips. Looked at in profile he seemed to be smiling broadly so that thegravity of the full face was always surprising. It was this that madethe townsfolk look down. After a moment, they glanced back at himhastily. Somewhere about the corners of his lips or his eyes there was aglint of interest, a touch of amusement--they could not tell which, butfrom that moment they were willing to forget the clothes and look at theman.

  While Ben Connor was still enjoying the situation, a rotund fellow boredown on him.

  "You're Mr. Connor, ain't you? You wired for a room in the hotel? Comeon, then. My rig is over here. These your grips?"

  He picked up the suit case and the soft leather traveling bag, and ledthe way to a buckboard at which stood two downheaded ponies.

  "Can't we walk?" suggested Ben Connor, looking up and down the street atthe dozen sprawling frame houses; but the fat man stared at him withcalm pity. He was so fat and so good-natured that even Ben Connor didnot impress him greatly.

  "Maybe you think this is Lukin?" he asked.

  When the other raised his heavy black eyebrows he explained: "This ain'tnothing but Lukin Junction. Lukin is clear round the hill. Climb in, Mr.Connor."

  Connor laid one hand on the back of the seat, and with a surge of hisstrong shoulders leaped easily into his place; the fat man noted thiswith a roll of his little eyes, and then took his own place, the oldwagon careening toward him as he mounted the step. He sat with his rightfoot dangling over the side of the buckboard, and a plump shoulderturned fairly upon his passenger so that when he spoke he had to throwhis head and jerk out the words; but this was apparently histime-honored position in the wagon, and he did not care to vary it forthe sake of conversation. A flap of the loose reins set the horsesjog-trotting out of Lukin Junction down a gulch which aimed at the sideof an enormous mountain, naked, with no sign of a village or even asingle shack among its rocks. Other peaks crowded close on the right andleft, with a loftier range behind, running up to scattered summits whitewith snow and blue with distance. The shadows of the late afternoon werethick as fog in the gulch, and all the lower mountains were already dimso that the snow-peaks in the distance seemed as detached, and high asclouds. Ben Connor sat with his cane between his knees and his handsdraped over its amber head and watched those shining places until thefat man heaved his head over his shoulder.

  "Most like somebody told you about Townsend's Hotel?"

  His passenger moved his attention from the mountain to his companion. Hewas so leisurely about it that it seemed he had not heard.

  "Yes," he said, "I was told of the place."

  "Who?" said the other expectantly.

  "A friend of mine."

  The fat man grunted and worked his head around so far that a greatwrinkle rolled up his neck close to his ear. He looked into the eye ofthe stranger.

  "Me being Jack Townsend, I'm sort of interested to know things likethat; the ones that like my place and them that don't."

  Connor nodded, but since he showed no inclination to name his friend,Jack Townsend swung on a new tack to come to the windward of thisuncommunicative guest. Lukin was a fairly inquisitive town, and thehotel proprietor usually contributed his due portion and more to thegossips.

  "Some comes for one reason and some for another," went on Townsend,"which generally it's to hunt and fish. That ain't funny come to thinkof it, because outside of liars nobody ever hooked finer trout than whatcomes out of the Big Sandy. Some of 'em comes for the mining--they was astrike over to South Point last week--and some for the cows, but mostlyit's the fishing and the hunting."

  He paused, but having waited in vain he said directly: "I can show youthe best holes in the Big Sandy."

  There was another of those little waits with which, it seemed, thestranger met every remark; not a thoughtful pause, but rather as thoughhe wondered if it were worth while to make any answer.

  "I've come here for the silence," he said.

  "Silence," repeated Townsend, nodding in the manner of one who does notunderstand.

  Then he flipped the roan with the butt of his lines and squinted downthe gulch, for he felt there might be a double meaning in the lastremark. Filled with the gloomy conviction that he was bringing a silentman to his hotel, he gloomily surveyed the mountain sides. There wasnothing about them to cheer him. The trees were lost in shadows and allthe slopes seemed quite barren of life. He vented a little burst ofanger by yanking at the rein of the off horse, a dirty gray.

  "Giddap, Kitty, damn your eyes!"

  The mare jumped, struck a stone with a fore foot, and stumbled heavily.Townsend straightened her out again with an expert hand and cursed.

  "Of all the no-good hosses I ever see," he said, inviting the strangerto share in his just wrath, "this Kitty is the outbeatingest, no goodrascal. Git on, fool."

  He clapped the reins along her back, and puffed his disgust.

  "And yet she has points. Now, I ask you, did you ever see a truerSteeldust? Look at that high croup and that straight rump. Look at themhips, I say, and a chest to match 'em. But they ain't any heart in her.Take a hoss through and through," he went on oracularly, "they're prettymuch like men, mostly, and if a man ain't got the heart inside, it don'tmake no difference how big around the chest he measures."

  Ben Connor had leaned forward, studying the mare.

  "Your horse would be all right in her place," he said. "Of course, shewon't do up here in the mountains."

  Like any true Westerner of the mountain-desert, Jack Townsend would farrather have been discovered with his hand in the pocket of another manthan be observed registering surprise. He looked carefully ahead untilhis face was straight again. Then he turned. />
  "Where d'you make out her place to be?" he asked carelessly.

  "Down below," said the other without hesitation, and he waved his arm."Down in soft, sandy irrigation country she'd be a fine animal."

  Jack Townsend blinked. "You know her?" he asked.

  The other shook his head.

  "Well, damn my soul!" breathed the hotel proprietor. "This beats me.Maybe you read a hoss's mind, partner?"

  Connor shrugged his shoulders, but Townsend no longer took offense atthe taciturnity of his companion; he spoke now in a lower confidingvoice which indicated an admission of equality.

  "You're right. They said she was good, and she was good! I seen her run;I saddled her up and rode her thirty miles through sand that would ofbroke the heart of anything but a Steeldust, and she come throughwithout battin' an eye. But when I got her up here she didn't do nogood. But"--he reverted suddenly to his original surprise--"how'd youknow her? Recognize the brand, maybe?"

  "By her trot," said the other, and he looked across the hills.

  They had turned an angle of the gulch, and on a shelf of level ground,dishing out from the side of the mountain, stretched the town.

  "Isn't it rather odd," said Connor, "for people to build a town overhere when they could have it on the railroad?"

  "Maybe it looks queer to some," nodded Townsend.

  He closed his lips firmly, determined to imitate the terseness of hisguest; but when he observed with a side-glance that Connor would notpress the inquiry, talk suddenly overflowed. Indeed, Townsend was arunning well of good nature, continually washing all bad temper over thebrim.

  "I'll show you how it was," he went on. "You see that shoulder of themountain away off up there? If the light was clearer you'd be able tomake out some old shacks up there, half standin' up and half fallin'down. That's where Lukin used to be. Well, the railroad come along andsays: 'We're goin' to run a spur into the valley, here. You move downand build your town at the end of the track and we'll give you a handbringing up new timber for the houses.' That's the way with railroads;they want to dictate; they're too used to handlin' folks back Eastthat'll let capital walk right over their backs."

  Here Townsend sent a glance at Connor to see if he stirred under thespur, but there was no sign of irritation.

  "Out here we're different; nobody can't step in here and run us unlesshe's asked. See? We said, you build the railroad halfway and we'll comethe other half, but we won't come clear down into the valley."

  "Why?" asked Connor. "Isn't Lukin Junction a good place for a village?"

  "Fine. None better. But it's the principle of the thing, you see? Themrailroad magnates says to us: 'Come all the way.' 'Go to the devil,'says we. And so we come halfway to the new railroad and built our town;it'd be a pile more agreeable to have Lukin over where the railroadends--look at the way I have to drive back and forth for my trade? Butjust the same, we showed that railroad that it couldn't talk us down."

  He struck his horses savagely with the lines; they sprang from thejog-trot into a canter, and the buckboard went bumping down the mainstreet of Lukin.