”Firebrand” Trevison - Charles Alden Seltzer, Charles Alden Seltzer - ebook

”Firebrand” Trevison ebook

Charles Alden Seltzer



Charles Alden Seltzer was one of 20th century America’s most prolific authors, and his specialty was Westerns that were so popular in the country in the decades after the frontier had been completely settled. In addition to the books he wrote, Seltzer would have a role in dozens of films as well, making him one of the most instrumental figures in the genre. „"Firebrand” Trevison” is a story about a ranch owner who runs afoul of a land grabber, both of whom are in love with the same girl, the daughter of a railroad owner. Firebrand Trevison is a different kind of cowboy. He stands up for what he believes in despite the law. When Corrigan tries to swindle all the local homesteaders from their land it’s Treviston who saves the day. Twists and turns in the plot keeps the reader guessing.

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The trail from the Diamond K broke around the base of a low hill dotted thickly with scraggly oak and fir, then stretched away, straight and almost level (except for a deep cut where the railroad gang and a steam shovel were eating into a hundred-foot hill) to Manti. A month before, there had been no Manti, and six months before that there had been no railroad. The railroad and the town had followed in the wake of a party of khaki-clad men that had made reasonably fast progress through the country, leaving a trail of wooden stakes and little stone monuments behind. Previously, an agent of the railroad company had bartered through, securing a right-of-way. The fruit of the efforts of these men was a dark gash on a sun-scorched level, and two lines of steel laid as straight as skilled eye and transit could make them–and Manti.

Manti could not be overlooked, for the town obtruded upon the vision from where “Brand” Trevison was jogging along the Diamond K trail astride his big black horse, Nigger. Manti dominated the landscape, not because it was big and imposing, but because it was new. Manti’s buildings were scattered–there had been no need for crowding; but from a distance–from Trevison’s distance, for instance, which was a matter of three miles or so–Manti looked insignificant, toy-like, in comparison with the vast world on whose bosom it sat. Manti seemed futile, ridiculous. But Trevison knew that the coming of the railroad marked an epoch, that the two thin, thread-like lines of steel were the tentacles of the man-made monster that had gripped the East–business reaching out for newer fields–and that Manti, futile and ridiculous as it seemed, was an outpost fortified by unlimited resource. Manti had come to stay.

And the cattle business was going, Trevison knew. The railroad company had built corrals at Manti, and Trevison knew they would be needed for several years to come. But he could foresee the day when they would be replaced by building and factory. Business was extending its lines, cattle must retreat before them. Several homesteaders had already appeared in the country, erecting fences around their claims. One of the homesteaders, when Trevison had come upon him a few days before, had impertinently inquired why Trevison did not fence the Diamond K range. Fence in five thousand acres! It had never been done in this section of the country. Trevison had permitted himself a cold grin, and had kept his answer to himself. The incident was not important, but it foreshadowed a day when a dozen like inquiries would make the building of a range fence imperative.

Trevison already felt the irritation of congestion–the presence of the homesteaders nettled him. He frowned as he rode. A year ago he would have sold out–cattle, land and buildings–at the market price. But at that time he had not known the value of his land. Now–

He kicked Nigger in the ribs and straightened in the saddle, grinning.

“She’s not for sale now–eh, Nig?”

Five minutes later he halted the black at the crest of the big railroad cut and looked over the edge appraisingly. Fifty laborers–directed by a mammoth personage in dirty blue overalls, boots, woolen shirt, and a wide-brimmed felt hat, and with a face undeniably Irish–were working frenziedly to keep pace with the huge steam shovel, whose iron jaws were biting into the earth with a regularity that must have been discouraging to its human rivals. A train of flat-cars, almost loaded, was on the track of the cut, and a dinky engine attached to them wheezed steam from a safety valve, the engineer and fireman lounging out of the cab window, lazily watching.

Patrick Carson, the personage–construction boss, good-natured, keen, observant–was leaning against a boulder at the side of the track, talking to the engineer at the instant Trevison appeared at the top of the cut. He glanced up, his eyes lighting.

“There’s thot mon, Trevison, ag’in, Murph’,” he said to the engineer. “Bedad, he’s a pitcher now, ain’t he?”

An imposing figure Trevison certainly was. Horse and rider were outlined against the sky, and in the dear light every muscle and feature of man and beast stood but boldly and distinctly. The big black horse was a powerful brute, tall and rangy, with speed and courage showing plainly in contour, nostril and eye; and with head and ears erect he stood motionless, statuesque, heroic. His rider seemed to have been proportioned to fit the horse. Tall, slender of waist, broad of shoulder, straight, he sat loosely in the saddle looking at the scene below him, unconscious of the admiration he excited. Poetic fancies stirred Carson vaguely.

“Luk at ’im now, Murph; wid his big hat, his leather pants, his spurs, an’ the rist av his conthraptions! There’s a divvil av a conthrast here now, if ye’d only glimpse it. This civillyzation, ripraysinted be this railroad, don’t seem to fit, noways. It’s like it had butted into a pitcher book! Ain’t he a darlin’?”

“I’ve never seen him up close,” said Murphy. There was none of Carson’s enthusiasm in his voice. “It’s always seemed to me that a felluh who rigs himself out like that has got a lot of show-off stuff in him.”

“The first time I clapped me eyes on wan av them cowbhoys I thought so, too,” said Carson. “That was back on the other section. But I seen so manny av them rigged out like thot, thot I comminced to askin’ questions. It’s a domned purposeful rig, mon. The big felt hat is a daisy for keepin’ off the sun, an’ that gaudy bit av a rag around his neck keeps the sun and sand from blisterin’ the skin. The leather pants is to keep his legs from gettin’ clawed up be the thorns av prickly pear an’ what not, which he’s got to ride through, an’ the high heels is to keep his feet from slippin’ through the stirrups. A kid c’ud tell ye what he carries the young cannon for, an’ why he wears it so low on his hip. Ye’ve nivver seen him up close, eh Murph’? Well, I’m askin’ him down so’s ye can have a good look at him.” He stepped back from the boulder and waved a hand at Trevison, shouting:

“Make it a real visit, bhoy!”

“I’ll be pullin’ out of here before he can get around,” said Murphy, noting that the last car was almost filled.

Carson chuckled. “Hold tight,” he warned; “he’s comin’.”

The side of the cut was steep, and the soft sand and clay did not make a secure footing. But when the black received the signal from Trevison he did not hesitate. Crouching like a great cat at the edge, he slid his forelegs over until his hoofs sank deep into the side of the cut. Then with a gentle lurch he drew his hind legs after him, and an instant later was gingerly descending, his rider leaning far back in the saddle, the reins held loosely in his hands.

It looked simple enough, the way the black was doing it, and Trevison’s demeanor indicated perfect trust in the animal and in his own skill as a rider. But the laborers ceased working and watched, grouped, gesturing; the staccato coughing of the steam shovel died gaspingly, as the engineer shut off the engine and stood, rooted, his mouth agape; the fireman in the dinky engine held tightly to the cab window. Murphy muttered in astonishment, and Carson chuckled admiringly, for the descent was a full hundred feet, and there were few men in the railroad gang that would have dared to risk the wall on foot.

The black had gained impetus with distance. A third of the slope had been covered when he struck some loose earth that shifted with his weight and carried his hind quarters to one side and off balance. Instantly the rider swung his body toward the wall of the cut, twisted in the saddle and swung the black squarely around, the animal scrambling like a cat. The black stood, braced, facing the crest of the cut, while the dislodged earth, preceded by pebbles and small boulders, clattered down behind him. Then, under the urge of Trevison’s gentle hand and voice, the black wheeled again and faced the descent.

“I wouldn’t ride a horse down there for the damned railroad!” declared Murphy.

“Thrue for ye–ye c’udn’t,” grinned Carson.

“A man could ride anywhere with a horse like that!” remarked the fireman, fascinated.

“Ye’d have brought a cropper in that slide, an’ the road wud be minus a coal-heaver!” said Carson. “Wud ye luk at him now!”

The black was coming down, forelegs asprawl, his hind quarters sliding in the sand. Twice as his fore-hoofs struck some slight obstruction his hind quarters lifted and he stood, balanced, on his forelegs, and each time Trevison averted the impending catastrophe by throwing himself far back in the saddle and slapping the black’s hips sharply.

“He’s a circus rider!” shouted Carson, gleefully. “He’s got the coolest head of anny mon I iver seen! He’s a divvil, thot mon!”

The descent was spectacular, but it was apparent that Trevison cared little for its effect upon his audience, for as he struck the level and came riding toward Carson and the others, there was no sign of self-consciousness in his face or manner. He smiled faintly, though, as a cheer from the laborers reached his ears. In the next instant he had halted Nigger near the dinky engine, and Carson was introducing him to the engineer and fireman.

Looking at Trevison “close up,” Murphy was constrained to mentally label him “some man,” and he regretted his deprecatory words of a few minutes before. Plainly, there was no “show-off stuff” in Trevison. His feat of riding down the wall of the cut had not been performed to impress anyone; the look of reckless abandon in the otherwise serene eyes that held Murphy’s steadily, convinced the engineer that the man had merely responded to a dare-devil impulse. There was something in Trevison’s appearance that suggested an entire disregard of fear. The engineer had watched the face of a brother of his craft one night when the latter had been driving a roaring monster down a grade at record-breaking speed into a wall of rain-soaked darkness out of which might thunder at any instant another roaring monster, coming in the opposite direction. There had been a mistake in orders, and the train was running against time to make a switch. Several times during the ride Murphy had caught a glimpse of the engineer’s face, and the eyes had haunted him since–defiance of death, contempt of consequences, had been reflected in them. Trevison’s eyes reminded him of the engineer’s. But in Trevison’s eyes was an added expression–cold humor. The engineer of Murphy’s recollection would have met death dauntlessly. Trevison would meet it no less dauntlessly, but would mock at it. Murphy looked long and admiringly at him, noting the deep chest, the heavy muscles, the blue-black sheen of his freshly-shaven chin and jaw under the tan; the firm, mobile mouth, the aggressive set to his head. Murphy set his age down at twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Murphy was sixty himself–the age that appreciates, and secretly envies, the virility of youth. Carson was complimenting Trevison on his descent of the wall of the cut.

“You’re a daisy rider, me bhoy!”

“Nigger’s a clever horse,” smiled Trevison. Murphy was pleased that he was giving the animal the credit. “Nigger’s well trained. He’s wiser than some men. Tricky, too.” He patted the sleek, muscular neck of the beast and the animal whinnied gently. “He’s careful of his master, though,” laughed Trevison. “A man pulled a gun on me, right after I’d got Nigger. He had the drop, and he meant business. I had to shoot. To disconcert the fellow, I had to jump Nigger against him. Since then, whenever Nigger sees a gun in anyone’s hand, he thinks it’s time to bowl that man over. There’s no holding him. He won’t even stand for anyone pulling a handkerchief out of a hip pocket when I’m on him.” Trevison grinned. “Try it, Carson, but get that boulder between you and Nigger before you do.”

“I don’t like the look av the baste’s eye,” declined the Irishman. “I wudn’t doubt ye’re worrud for the wurrold. But he wudn’t jump a mon divvil a bit quicker than his master, or I’m a sinner!”

Trevison’s eyes twinkled. “You’re a good construction boss, Carson. But I’m glad to see that you’re getting more considerate.”

“Av what?”

“Of your men.” Trevison glanced back; he had looked once before, out of the tail of his eye. The laborers were idling in the cut, enjoying the brief rest, taking advantage of Carson’s momentary dereliction, for the last car had been filled.

“I’ll be rayported yet, begob!”

Carson waved his hands, and the laborers dove for the flat-cars. When the last man was aboard, the engine coughed and moved slowly away. Carson climbed into the engine-cab, with a shout: “So-long bhoy!” to Trevison. The latter held Nigger with a firm rein, for the animal was dancing at the noise made by the engine, and as the cars filed past him, running faster now, the laborers grinned at him and respectfully raised their hats. For they had come from one of the Latin countries of Europe, and for them, in the person of this heroic figure of a man who had ridden his horse down the steep wall of the cut, was romance.



For some persons romance dwells in the new and the unusual, and for other persons it dwells not at all. Certain of Rosalind Benham’s friends would have been able to see nothing but the crudities and squalor of Manti, viewing it as Miss Benham did, from one of the windows of her father’s private car, which early that morning had been shunted upon a switch at the outskirts of town. Those friends would have seen nothing but a new town of weird and picturesque buildings, with more saloons than seemed to be needed in view of the noticeable lack of citizens. They would have shuddered at the dust-windrowed street, the litter of refuse, the dismal lonesomeness, the forlornness, the utter isolation, the desolation. Those friends would have failed to note the vast, silent reaches of green-brown plain that stretched and yawned into aching distances; the wonderfully blue and cloudless sky that covered it; they would have overlooked the timber groves that spread here and there over the face of the land, with their lure of mystery. No thoughts of the bigness of this country would have crept in upon them–except as they might have been reminded of the dreary distance from the glitter and the tinsel of the East. The mountains, distant and shining, would have meant nothing to them; the strong, pungent aroma of the sage might have nauseated them.

But Miss Benham had caught her first glimpse of Manti and the surrounding country from a window of her berth in the car that morning just at dawn, and she loved it. She had lain for some time cuddled up in her bed, watching the sun rise over the distant mountains, and the breath of the sage, sweeping into the half-opened window, had carried with it something stronger–the lure of a virgin country.

Aunt Agatha Benham, chaperon, forty–maiden lady from choice–various uncharitable persons hinted humorously of pursued eligibles–found Rosalind gazing ecstatically out of the berth window when she stirred and awoke shortly after nine. Agatha climbed out of her berth and sat on its edge, yawning sleepily.

“This is Manti, I suppose,” she said acridly, shoving the curtain aside and looking out of the window. “We should consider ourselves fortunate not to have had an adventure with Indians or outlaws. We have that to be thankful for, at least.”

Agatha’s sarcasm failed to penetrate the armor of Rosalind’s unconcern–as Agatha’s sarcasms always did. Agatha occupied a place in Rosalind’s affections, but not in her scheme of enjoyment. Since she must be chaperoned, Agatha was acceptable to her. But that did not mean that she made a confidante of Agatha. For Agatha was looking at the world through the eyes of Forty, and the vision of Twenty is somewhat more romantic.

“Whatever your father thought of in permitting you to come out here is a mystery to me,” pursued Agatha severely, as she fussed with her hair. “It was like him, though, to go to all this trouble–for me–merely to satisfy your curiosity about the country. I presume we shall be returning shortly.”

“Don’t be impatient, Aunty,” said the girl, still gazing out of the window. “I intend to stretch my legs before I return.”

“Mercy!” gasped Agatha; “such language! This barbaric country has affected you already, my dear. Legs!” She summoned horror into her expression, but it was lost on Rosalind, who still gazed out of the window. Indeed, from a certain light in the girl’s eyes it might be adduced that she took some delight in shocking Agatha.

“I shall stay here quite some time, I think,” said Rosalind. “Daddy said there was no hurry; that he might come out here in a month, himself. And I have been dying to get away from the petty conventionalities of the East. I am going to be absolutely human for a while, Aunty. I am going to ‘rough it’–that is, as much as one can rough it when one is domiciled in a private car. I am going to get a horse and have a look at the country. And Aunty–” here the girl’s voice came chokingly, as though some deep emotion agitated her “–I am going to ride ‘straddle’!”

She did not look to see whether Agatha had survived this second shock–but Agatha had survived many such shocks. It was only when, after a silence of several minutes, Agatha spoke again, that the girl seemed to remember there was anybody in the compartment with her. Agatha’s voice was laden with contempt:

“Well, I don’t know what you see in this outlandish place to compensate for what you miss at home.”

The girl did not look around. “A man on a black horse, Aunty,” she said. “He has passed here twice. I have never seen such a horse. I don’t remember to have ever seen a man quite like the rider. He looks positively–er–heroish! He is built like a Roman gladiator, he rides the black horse as though he had been sculptured on it, and his head has a set that makes one feel he has a mind of his own. He has furnished me with the only thrill that I have felt since we left New York!”

“He hasn’t seen you!” said Agatha, coldly; “of course you made sure of that?”

The girl looked mischievously at the older woman. She ran her fingers through her hair–brown and vigorous-looking–then shaded her eyes with her hands and gazed at her reflection in a mirror near by. In deshabille she looked fresh and bewitching. She had looked like a radiant goddess to “Brand” Trevison, when he had accidentally caught a glimpse of her face at the window while she had been watching him. He had not known that the lady had just awakened from her beauty sleep. He would have sworn that she needed no beauty sleep. And he had deliberately ridden past the car again, hoping to get another glimpse of her. The girl smiled.

“I am not so positive about that, Aunty. Let us not be prudish. If he saw me, he made no sign, and therefore he is a gentleman.” She looked out of the window and smiled again. “There he is now, Aunty!”

It was Agatha who parted the curtains, this time. The horseman’s face was toward the window, and he saw her. An expression of puzzled astonishment glowed in his eyes, superseded quickly by disappointment, whereat Rosalind giggled softly and hid her tousled head in a pillow.

“The impertinent brute! Rosalind, he dared to look directly at me, and I am sure he would have winked at me in another instant! A gentleman!” she said, coldly.

“Don’t be severe, Aunty. I’m sure he is a gentleman, for all his curiosity. See–there he is, riding away without so much as looking back!”

Half an hour later the two women entered the dining-room just as a big, rather heavy-featured, but handsome man, came through the opposite door. He greeted both ladies effusively, and smilingly looked at his watch.

“You over-slept this morning, ladies–don’t you think? It’s after ten. I’ve been rummaging around town, getting acquainted. It’s rather an unfinished place, after the East. But in time–” He made a gesture, perhaps a silent prophecy that one day Manti would out-strip New York, and bowed the ladies to seats at table, talking while the colored waiter moved obsequiously about them.

“I thought at first that your father was over-enthusiastic about Manti, Miss Benham,” he continued. “But the more I see of it the firmer becomes my conviction that your father was right. There are tremendous possibilities for growth. Even now it is a rather fertile country. We shall make it hum, once the railroad and the dam are completed. It is a logical site for a town–there is no other within a hundred miles in any direction.”

“And you are to anticipate the town’s growth–isn’t that it, Mr. Corrigan?”

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