Range Jester - Max Brand - ebook

Range Jester ebook

Max Brand

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Frederick Schiller Faust (1892-1944) was an American author best known for his thoughtful Westerns under the pen name Max Brand. Prolific in many genres, he wrote historical novels, detective mysteries, pulp fiction stories and many more. This is one of his work. Three men, each traveling alone, head for the town of Loomis, where they will meet in a violent confrontation that will leave one of them dead by morning. The plot is well constructed with well drawn subsidiary characters and provides a number of interesting twists. Highly recommended, especially for those who love the Old Western genre.

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Liczba stron: 136

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Contents

I. HORIZON TRAILS

II. JESTER OF THE RANGE

III. PANTRY CONFIDENCES

IV. THE FIRST RUN-IN

V. "DRINK IT DOWN!"

VI. FRANK TALK

VII. THE GESTURE

VIII. IN THE BARN

IX. THIEVES' CONFERENCE

X. THE MOVING HAY

XI. INTO THE STORM

XII. AT THE WINDOW

XIII. THE GLASS FRINGE

XIV. SPARKS

XV. A SLOW DESCENT

XVI. THE PURSUIT

I. HORIZON TRAILS

THREE men came over the horizon. The first came through the pass, the second, up the valley, and the third walked in over the flats from the direction of the railroad. All three were headed for Loomis, and one of them was to die before morning.

The man in the pass was Rance Tucker, flogging a pair of little mustangs in front of his buckboard that jumped and danced over the stones and the icy ruts of that trail. As he drove, he leaned forward in his seat a little, as though even that slight inclination of the body got him a vital degree closer to his necessary goal. He was a big man in his early forties, rawboned, with a weather-beaten face and a great crag of a jaw. As he came out of the mouth of the pass, he first looked apprehensively behind him, for he thought that he had heard the pattering hoofs of a horse galloping through the ravine. But that might well be in his mind; for days a dread had been gathering in him.

When he saw the iron-colored walls of the ravine behind him and nothing living between them, he flogged the mustangs again, until they bumped their hindquarters, switched their tails, and shook their heads in protest. But, according to the ways of their kind, they only lurched for an instant into a rapid lope, and then fell back to the dog-trot which was all they knew about a road gait.

Tucker forgot to whip them for a moment and stared down through the gloom of the winter evening into Loomis Valley. It was a heavy dusk, for the sky was sheeted across with gray, and long arms of shadow reached out of the heavens toward the earth, covering the mountains, obscuring utterly the level reaches of the desert, thronging over the lower end of the valley itself. There was the brittle chill of frost in the air, and before morning probably the ground would be covered with white. But the darkness only served to make the lights of Loomis shine more clearly, a little bright cluster in the middle of the valley.

Rance Tucker sighed and nodded with reassurance as he made out the spot. He could remember when this had been Parker Valley, and yonder stood the town of Parkerville. But Parkerville had burned to the ground, and, when the ashes were hardly cold, before they had had a chance to blow away, in fact, Dave Loomis came along and bought up the entire site for next to nothing. It was only a crossroads little town, at the best, but Loomis built his hotel there, installing a blacksmith shop in a wing of it. He also found room for a post office and a general merchandise store. What more does a town need, except a barroom, which the hotel offered, and some sort of a dining room, which the same hotel possessed? So the hotel stood in place of the vanished town of Parkerville, and everybody was satisfied, particularly Dave Loomis.

That hotel was the goal of Rance Tucker. He had barely settled himself back in his scat and commenced clucking again to his horses, however, when he heard the sound of hoofs again behind him, and this time unmistakably. He looked back with eyes that started from his head. Like a ghost appeared the rider in the gloaming, but Rance Tucker, with a groan of fear, jerked the horse to a stand, pulled a double-barreled shotgun loaded with buckshot from beneath the seat, and, dropping low down, leveled his weapon, blinking rapidly to clear his eyes of the tears that the wind had brought there.

The rider came swiftly on, saw the gleam of the leveled gun, and jumped his horse far to the side with a yell: “Hey, Dad!”

Rance Tucker got up from his knees with a groan of relief. His big body began to tremble with weakness, now that the strain upon him was relaxed. “Hey, you. Lew,” he answered, rather feebly. “Whatcha mean by coming out like this? Your place is back there at home.”

Lew Tucker reined his horse in beside the buckboard and scowled at his father. He was a huge man, only twenty-two, but already seasoned and hard; his strength was in full maturity as often happens when boys lead a life of constant activity.

“Lookit here, Dad,” he said. “It’s all right, you telling me to stay at home, but Ma wouldn’t have me there.”

“Whatcha mean? Wouldn’t have you there?” shouted the father, relieving himself by falling into a rage.

“That’s what I mean,” said the young man. “You don’t think that you been pulling the wool over the eyes of anybody, do you, the way you been acting for a couple weeks, do you?”

“Acting how?” asked Rance Tucker, with a little less vehemence.

“Acting,” said Lew Tucker, “as though there was Injuns lyin’ in wait in the next room at home or over the hill, when you’re out riding. And staying up all last night, walking up and down–that’s not deceivin’ anybody, is it? There’s certainly something on your mind, and you’re drivin’ to Loomis to get it off.”

This assemblage of facts broke down the self-assurance of the older man. He said: “Look, Lew, you know that Barry Home is comin’ back tonight, don’t you? Tonight or tomorrow, he’s sure gonna turn up, and who would wanta be alone on a ranch when that murdering devil comes back?”

“How d’you mean, alone?” asked the son. “Ain’t you got me as well as yourself? Ain’t there two hired men? Ain’t four men enough to handle even Barry Home?”

“You think so, do you?” the father asked gravely.

“Four to one?” repeated Lew Tucker, as though the phrase was a sufficient answer.

“I got a wife and a son, and I got a ranch that I’ve made out of nothing with my own hands,” began Tucker.

“Aw, wait. Don’t go through all that again,” pleaded Tucker insolently. “I know all you done, and how poor you and Ma were when you started the climb. Now, you tell me what you’re gonna do in Loomis. Go and lie under a bed and shake for a coupla days, waiting for Barry Home to show up? Is that it?”

“Don’t sass me back like that,” commanded the father. “You think that you’re a big, bold, rough feller, you do. But you don’t know what Barry Home can do when he gets started.”

“Well, and what could he do?” asked Lew Tucker. “He ain’t more’n half my size, scarcely, and he ain’t much older than me, only three or four years. And he’s a damned jailbird, besides!”

“He’s a jailbird,” said the father. “And that means that he’s gonna try to work out his grudge ag’in’ me. He swore that he would be even with me, when the jury found him guilty. The judge and the jury, they all heard him.”

“What I mean,” said the son, “did you do dirt to Barry Home that time? Did you hide the stuff in his room, like he swears that you done? Did you plant it there to get him pinched, instead of you?”

“Lew, Lew, what you talkin’ about?” exclaimed Rance Tucker.

“I’m askin’ you a question.”

“And you a son of mine!”

“I ain’t saying that I’ll let you down. No matter what you’ve done, you’re my father, I reckon, and I’m behind you as long as there’s any blood in me. Only, I’d like to know the truth.”

“Was you in the courtroom when I give my evidence?” asked the father.

“It was three years back,” said the son, “but I reckon that I could say every word over. Was it true?”

“Did I take an oath on a book before I talked that day?” asked the rancher.

“I reckon that you did.”

“Is that enough for you?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s gotta be enough, if you put it that way.”

“Then go on home with you.”

“I won’t go home,” insisted the son. “I wouldn’t dare to. Ma sent me out to have an eye on you, and I’m gonna keep with you till hell freezes over.”

Rance Tucker made a sound of vague discomfort and annoyance deep in his throat and struck his horses with the long whip. They jerked away into the dusk, with a clattering of the iron-shod wheels, and young Lew Tucker rode rapidly behind.

Up the lower part of the valley, that was still called Parker, as distinguished from Loomis, came another rider at this same time, as tall a man as cither of the Tuckers, but with an air about him that suggested a foreign gentility.

He was mounted on a horse of such obvious value that all the Tucker mustangs, their saddles, buckboard, harness, and guns together, would not have made half the value of that magnificent stallion.

The rider, taking the wind in his face as he came to the junction of Loomis and Parker Valleys, paused to adjust the silken scarf that he wore in place of a bandanna about his throat As he paused, the wind turned up the wide brim of his sombrero, though it was stiffened and weighted with Mexican gold work, and showed for a moment a thin, sallow, handsome face, puckered a bit about the lips as though in great weariness, but with a reserve of fire gleaming in the eyes.

That was Tom London, known far and wide throughout the country, suspected of being a little light in his fingers and lighter still in his conscience. For he was a gentleman without visible means of support, but one, nevertheless, who was constantly able to do as he pleased. Moreover, nothing but the most expensive ever satisfied him. Some said that he was able to make all his expenses out of gambling, but others shook their heads. Though Tom London was a gentleman who gambled for high stakes, he seemed to lose even more than he won. There must be other sources of his revenue, and what could they be?

However, the question went no further than surmises, for Tom London was the very last person in the world of whom one would wish to ask questions, at least questions about himself. At the same time, his manner was the most amiable in the world, unless one crossed him suddenly, unexpectedly, and then danger peered out from beneath the straight, black brows.

He finished adjusting his neckcloth and rode on, just as Barry Home, walking through the desert sand, came within sight of the distant glitter of the lights of Loomis and paused in his turn to make a cigarette, light it with his back to the wind, and smoke it out while he remained thinking things over.

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