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Way of the Lawless

Max Brand

  Produced by Suzanne Shell, Dave Morgan, Tom Allen and theOnline Distributed Proofreading Team.


  Max Brand


  Previous ed. published under title: Free Range



  Beside the rear window of the blacksmith shop Jasper Lanning held hiswithered arms folded against his chest. With the dispassionate eye andthe aching heart of an artist he said to himself that his life work wasa failure. That life work was the young fellow who swung the sledge atthe forge, and truly it was a strange product for this seventy-year-oldveteran with his slant Oriental eyes and his narrow beard of white.Andrew Lanning was not even his son, but it came about in this way thatAndrew became the life work of Jasper.

  Fifteen years before, the father of Andy died, and Jasper rode out ofthe mountain desert like a hawk dropping out of the pale-blue sky. Heburied his brother without a tear, and then sat down and looked at theslender child who bore his name. Andy was a beautiful boy. He had theblack hair and eyes, the well-made jaw, and the bone of the Lannings,and if his mouth was rather soft and girlish he laid the failing to theweakness of childhood. Jasper had no sympathy for tenderness in men. Hisown life was as littered with hard deeds as the side of a mountain withboulders. But the black, bright eyes and the well-made jaw of littleAndy laid hold on him, and he said to himself: "I'm fifty-five. I'mabout through with my saddle days. I'll settle down and turn out onepiece of work that'll last after I'm gone, and last with my signatureon it!"

  That was fifteen years ago. And for fifteen years he had labored to makeAndy a man according to a grim pattern which was known in the Lanningclan, and elsewhere in the mountain desert. His program was as simple asthe curriculum of a Persian youth. On the whole, it was even simpler,for Jasper concentrated on teaching the boy how to ride and shoot, andwas not at all particular that he should learn to speak the truth. Buton the first two and greatest articles of his creed, how Jasper labored!

  For fifteen years he poured his heart without stint into his work! Hetaught Andy to know a horse from hock to teeth, and to ride anythingthat wore hair. He taught him to know a gun as if it were a sentientthing. He taught him all the draws of old and new pattern, and laboredto give him both precision and speed. That was the work of fifteenyears, and now at the end of this time the old man knew that his lifework was a failure, for he had made the hand of Andrew Lanning cunning,had given his muscles strength, but the heart beneath was wrong.

  It was hard to see Andy at the first glance. A film of smoke shifted andeddied through the shop, and Andy, working the bellows, was a black formagainst the square of the door, a square filled by the blinding white ofthe alkali dust in the road outside and the blinding white of the sunabove. Andy turned from the forge, bearing in his tongs a great bar ofiron black at the ends but white in the middle. The white place wassurrounded by a sparkling radiance. Andy caught up an eight-poundhammer, and it rose and fell lightly in his hand. The sparks rushedagainst the leather apron of the hammer wielder, and as the blows fellrapid waves of light were thrown against the face of Andrew.

  Looking at that face one wondered how the life work of Jasper was sucha failure. For Andy was a handsome fellow with his blue-black hair andhis black, rather slanting eyes, after the Lanning manner. Yet Jaspersaw, and his heart was sick. The face was a little too full; the squarebone of the chin was rounded with flesh; and, above all, the mouth hadnever changed. It was the mouth of the child, soft--too womanly soft.And Jasper blinked.

  When he opened his eyes again the white place on the iron had become adull red, and the face of the blacksmith was again in shadow. All Jaspercould see was the body of Andy, and that was much better. Red lightglinted on the sinewy arms and the swaying shoulders, and the hammerswayed and fell tirelessly. For fifteen years Jasper had consoledhimself with the strength of the boy, smooth as silk and as durable; thelight form which would not tire a horse, but swelled above the waistinto those formidable shoulders.

  Now the bar was lifted from the anvil and plunged, hissing, into thebucket beside the forge; above the bucket a cloud of steam rose andshowed clearly against the brilliant square of the door, and thepeculiar scent which came from the iron went sharply to the nostrils ofJasper. He got up as a horseman entered the shop. He came in a mannerthat pleased Jasper. There was a rush of hoofbeats, a form dartingthrough the door, and in the midst of the shop the rider leaped out ofthe saddle and the horse came to a halt with braced legs.

  "Hey, you!" called the rider as he tossed the reins over the head of hishorse. "Here's a hoss that needs iron on his feet. Fix him up. And lookhere"--he lifted a forefoot and showed the scales on the frog and soleof the hoof--"last time you shoed this hoss you done a sloppy job, son.You left all this stuff hangin' on here. I want it trimmed off nice an'neat. You hear?"

  The blacksmith shrugged his shoulders.

  "Spoils the hoof to put the knife on the sole, Buck," said the smith."That peels off natural."

  "H'm," said Buck Heath. "How old are you, son?"

  "Oh, old enough," answered Andy cheerily. "Old enough to know that thisexfoliation is entirely natural."

  The big word stuck in the craw of Buck Heath, who brought his thickeyebrows together. "I've rid horses off and on come twenty-five years,"he declared, "and I've rid 'em long enough to know how I want 'em shod.This is my hoss, son, and you do it my way. That straight?"

  The eye of old Jasper in the rear of the shop grew dim with wistfulnessas he heard this talk. He knew Buck Heath; he knew his kind; in his dayhe would have eaten a dozen men of such rough words and such mild deedsas Buck. But searching the face of Andy, he saw no resentment. Merely aquiet resignation.

  "Another thing," said Buck Heath, who seemed determined to press thething to a disagreeable point. "I hear you don't fit your shoes onhot. Well?"

  "I never touch a hoof with hot iron," replied Andy. "It's a rottenpractice."

  "Is it?" said Buck Heath coldly. "Well, son, you fit my hoss with hotshoes or I'll know the reason why."

  "I've got to do the work my own way," protested Andy.

  A spark of hope burned in the slant eyes of Jasper.

  "Otherwise I can go find another gent to do my shoein'?" inquired Buck.

  "It looks that way," replied the blacksmith with a nod.

  "Well," said Buck, whose mildness of the last question had been merelythe cover for a bursting wrath that now sent his voice booming, "maybeyou know a whole pile, boy--I hear Jasper has give you consid'ableeducation--but what you know is plumb wasted on me. Understand? As forlookin' up another blacksmith, you ought to know they ain't another shopin ten miles. You'll do this job, and you'll do it my way. Maybe yougot another way of thinkin'?"

  There was a little pause.

  "It's your horse," repeated Andy. "I suppose I can do him your own way."

  Old Jasper closed his eyes in silent agony. Looking again, he saw BuckHeath grinning with contempt, and for a single moment Jasper touched hisgun. Then he remembered that he was seventy years old. "Well, Buck?" hesaid, coming forward. For he felt that if this scene continued he wouldgo mad with shame.

  There was a great change in Buck as he heard this voice, a markedrespect was in his manner as he turned to Jasper. "Hello, Jas," he said."I didn't know you was here."

  "Come over to the saloon, Buck, and have one on me," said Jasper. "Iguess Andy'll have your hoss ready when we come back."

  "Speakin' personal," said Buck Heath with much heartiness, "I don't passup no chances with no man, and particular if he's Jasper Lanning." Hehooked his arm through Jasper's elbow. "Besides, that boy of yours hasgot me all heated up. Where'd he learn them man-sized words, Jas?"

  All of which Andy heard, and
he knew that Buck Heath intended him tohear them. It made Andy frown, and for an instant he thought of callingBuck back. But he did not call. Instead he imagined what would happen.Buck would turn on his heel and stand, towering, in the door. He wouldask what Andy wanted. Andy chose the careful insult which he would throwin Buck's face. He saw the blow given. He felt his own fist tingle as hereturned the effort with interest. He saw Buck tumble back over thebucket of water.

  By this time Andy was smiling gently to himself. His wrath haddissolved, and he was humming pleasantly to himself as he began to pulloff the worn shoes of Buck's horse.