Dogs of the Captain - Max Brand - ebook

Dogs of the Captain ebook

Max Brand

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When the character of Cole Lavery first appeared in the 1940’s, readers immediately fell in love with this, which had a surprising smile and a quick gun. And, for the first time in a soft cover, all the stories of Cole Lavery were accumulated in one volume. The events in the book are continuously moving from one adventure to the next, when Cole bites with river pirates and the notorious gangster and unfair robber the baron; as he travels to California on a train infected with a donkey; and how he seeks to achieve the land and freedom that can be found only in the American West.

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Liczba stron: 417

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXV

CHAPTER XXXVI

CHAPTER XXXVII

CHAPTER XXXVIII

CHAPTER XXXIX

CHAPTER XL

CHAPTER XLI

CHAPTER XLII

CHAPTER XLIII

CHAPTER I

THE wise old Latin advises one to begin in the middle. Captain Slocum was the beginning of the middle, and, in a sense the end, for me. So I start with Captain Slocum.

He was our man of mystery and he lived in our “house of mystery,” our “house on the hill.” It seems to me as though every town in the West has its house on the hill, if only there is a hill near the town. The house on the hill is always quite old, having been built by the richest man of the pioneer days; it has at least one wooden tower, more ornamental than useful; it has carved scrollwork around its eaves; it has tall bay windows, a large stable behind, a fir hedge trimmed into some sort of imposing design about the gate, a lofty mill, a tank house nearby, almost equally tall, and a general air of mystery for all the inhabitants of the village.

Captain Slocum’s house had all of these advantages, and in addition it had a ghost. The ghost lived in the wooden tower that stood up in the center of the roof. It was hexagonal, with a small window in each side, and in the panes of those windows lights glinted from time to time. Some said that it was a reflection from the stars; others declared that the lights were the dim glow of the other lighted windows of the town below, but no one could deny that the gleams were occasionally seen in the windows of the tower on the hill.

At least, that was the rumor.

Such being the rumor, there had to be a ghost, and the ghost was furnished by the Slocum family with great ease. It was the spirit of the aunt of the present owner. She had died young. There had been a missing lover. Still her unhappy ghost returned and, from the windows of the tower, looked out across the four roads to see the faithless lover return. But he never would come, and she would always be watching.

That was the story.

Captain Slocum was just the man to fit into that tale. He was tall, spare, dignified, calm. When he stood still, his long, spare legs seemed to bend backwards at the knees, in a great bow. We used to laugh at that.

No one could say that Captain Slocum was bad. But everyone could say that he was not good. All that he offered to the poor and the unfortunate of our little village was a pair of signs:

Beware of the Dogs and No Trespassers.

And there never were any trespassers.

The man who cultivated the orchard lands and sowed and reaped in the lowland meadows of the Slocum place was a brutal Swede who never bothered to load his shotgun with rock salt and pepper. Instead, he used bird shot, and he had filled the skins of two or three boys with minute little specks of lead. The villagers hated that Swede so heartily that sometimes the men got together and talked gloomily about organizing a lynching party and giving the Swede the benefit of the necktie. But nothing came of it. Our village had lived past the first splendid free days of easy gold, murder, and lynching parties. It could not screw its courage to the sticking point.

Beyond the dense thorn hedge, therefore, lay the Swede and his gun, and his terrible pair of hands. He could lift 1,000 pounds. I myself saw him do it. In Parton’s blacksmith shop a big canvas sack was loaded with iron junk and the Swede picked it up. His knees trembled. His face swelled. I could hear creaking sounds as though sinews were tearing away from the bones. But he put that sack on the scales, and I saw it weighed at 1,007 pounds and a fraction. A tremendous feat!

And the Swede, still sweating, had looked around in a leering, horrible smile to collect admiration from the crowd. He got no admiration, but only black envy and fear.

That seemed to content him just as well, I must say.

The hedge and the Swede, you would think, were enough to shelter any man and his house from the curiosity of the most prying and adventurous people. But that was not all. There were four huge dogs of a strain that was half mastiff and half Great Dane, I think. They had sooty muzzles and were striped like dingy tigers. Their barking–they did little of that–sounded like far-off, melancholy thunder, and their growling was a deep moaning sound. But they did little growling. They simply went for a stranger and made him hop it. Young Tag Evans, coming back from the mountains on a hunting trip, took a short cut across the Slocum place. He came closer to heaven than to home, that day, for the dogs sighted him and went for him, full tilt.

He got up his rifle and fired, but his first bullet missed, and he lost courage to stand his ground. He threw away the rifle and legged it for the hedge. And he got to the hedge one step in front of the dogs. There was nothing for it. He had to jump. So he leaped and came down on the broad back of the hedge. He might as well have come down on a bed of flames, because that hedge was literally filled with thorns as hard and sharp as needles and two or three inches long.

Poor Tag! He was cut to bits. He rolled over the hedge to the street and wallowed in the dust in an agony–and that was the last time that anyone tried to get across the Slocum place, day or night.

The sheriff was a friend of Tag’s father. He went up to the Slocum house to make trouble about the thing, but he only stayed five minutes and came away looking as though he had been in an icebox and caught a chill.

The hedge, the Swede, the dogs–they were three barriers against the world. And there was a fourth and a fifth. There was an old hag of a woman, like a witch of a stepmother in a German fairy story. She did the cooking and most of the housework. When she came down the street with her humped back and her outthrusting chin, wagging her head from side to side and grumbling to herself, I can tell you that we didn’t hang about to mock and tease her. Her deformity was not ridiculous. It was simply horrible. Her name was Mrs. Ebenezer Grey.

Her husband also worked in the Slocum house. It was a miracle that such a man should have married such an ugly witch. He looked fifteen years younger than she. He was a straight, well-built, rather good-looking fellow, and he dressed extremely well. He had a face without any expression in it or any color, either. His hair was almost white, not from age but the way an albino is white. He had no eyebrows. His eyes were a pale, pale gray. Still his features were regular and he was quite smart in appearance, particularly when he came down to the station with his master, for he went away on all the trips that his master took–and these kept Captain Slocum away at least half the year.

This fellow, Ebenezer Grey, was the fifth and last line of defense for the Slocum place. It was understood, I don’t know how, that he always carried a revolver, that he was a perfect shot, and that he would die in the service of his master.

That was the household of the captain. Those were the only people who ever entered the place. There was no mother, wife, child, or any relation. The captain lived there entirely alone–with the ghost.

There were two daily events of importance in our town. One occurred at eleven fifteen in the morning, when the train came in. The other took place at three o’clock sharp when the captain walked down the hill and went to the post office for his mail. As many people were sure to be on hand to see him as to see the train come in. But he never spoke to a soul. He kept his eyes straight before him, like a soldier, and, when he left the post office, he went straight up the hill again with a long, powerful stride that seemed to make nothing of the slope. In his hands he was sure to have a batch of letters and at least one thick newspaper or journal from the East.

Sometimes he shook out the newspaper and read as he walked, never slackening his pace, stepping always with the same assurance. And in his wake he left, in spite of his silence, a new crop of whispers and rumors. As a matter of fact, we knew nothing about him, and this left our imaginations more room. We did not even know where he went or what he did on his trips to the East. It was rumored that he was a man of large business affairs, that he was a Wall Street shark, but I never heard a word of proof that this was the actual case.

He was our most prized possession. Crow Hollow and Greensburg were bigger, richer, more influential, but they couldn’t compete with Merridan because, although each had at least one house on the hill, neither could show anything to equal Captain Slocum. How could we have filled up the long winter evenings or the still longer summer afternoons, if we had not possessed a Captain Slocum as a broad basis and bedrock upon which to build dreamy towers of fancy?

Now, Captain Slocum is on the page, but I must introduce the thing that, eventually, brought me in contact with him. That was a patch of watermelons that the Swede cultivated in the hollow near the creek, on the slope that faced south and collected every ray of the sun as in a broad-mouthed cup.

There were other watermelon patches around Merridan. There were yellow-bellied melons with broad, crooked backs; there were huge green-black cannon balls with hearts of crimson and tissues of sugar-frosting; there were the usual egg-shaped green melons, too; but there was none like the melons that the Swede was raising in that hollow. For these were striped with yellow so that they could be seen afar. Almost every day someone carried to school a tale of how the striped melons of the Swede were growing, how they were plumping out, how some of them must weigh sixty or seventy pounds, at least, and how the yellow stripes bloomed like veins of gold.

I myself sat one afternoon for an hour in the branches of a tree that looked over the thorn hedge and into the hollow; I fed my eyes until my throat ached with yearning. When I thought I had my fill, I got down from the tree and went home. I was sure that the melon patch was out of my mind, but, when a boy is twelve years old, such things have a way of getting into the very soul.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a jump and sat up in bed. I had been dreaming of watermelons, of great yellow-striped beauties that tasted like ice cream soda and watermelon combined.

I stared out the window. The moon was shining like a silver sun, and I could look straight up the winding road that went by the thorn hedge of Captain Slocum.

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