Seven Mile House - Max Brand - ebook

Seven Mile House ebook

Max Brand

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Opis

If you enjoy a fast moving Western dealing with vengeance and well-deserved payback, you’ll like "The Seven Mile House" by Max Brand. Neatly plotted and briskly told, it illustrates Brand’s remarkable gift for storytelling. One of the greatest Western authors of all time. Max Brand leads the reader on a very authentic tale of the old west the way it was. Brand’s action-filled stories of adventure and heroism in the American West continue to entertain readers throughout the world. Brand penned over 200 full-length Westerns in his career, including "Destry Rides Again" and Montana Rides Again".

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Liczba stron: 164

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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 I

TIME once more was standing still for Samuel Kennedy. It had such a habit of pausing, and he with it, that he had gained from the world nothing but a great deal of amusement; in every business enterprise he had been a complete failure. Now he sat on a rock with his hat at the back of his head and focussed his enlarging glass on the silken nest of a trapdoor spider.

Samuel Kennedy.

He had been there for an uncounted period; and he himself could not tell how long he would remain with the sun gathering force towards the zenith and scalding through the back of his shirt.

He knew nothing about the West which he had just entered, but every portion of the world he visited became a wonderland to him. These desert hills, in which nothing had apparent existence except patches of low brush, clinging like smoke to the ground, in reality teemed with life, as he now discovered. In the round field of his glass, the grains of sand showed big. They glistened as though they themselves were a source of light. Small pebbles lay with blue shadows beside them. There was a tiny plant with bristles instead of leaves and a single blossom not a quarter of an inch wide, but the glass of Kennedy showed the blue of the cup, dusted almost to the lips with golden pollen. In addition to the spider’s nest with whatever it contained, a lizard as grey and thin as a splinter of rock lay on a stone some ten or twelve inches from the silken door. It was in an attitude of attention, its head lifted, one forefoot advanced half a step, its translucent tail still curved down the side of the stone. For endless minutes it had maintained this posture, studying the huge black shadow and the motionless man above it.

At last it moved, darting two or three inches, pausing, darting again. It left the mark of its tail on the sand, thin as the shadow of a wave in water. In these two or three quick advances it had come much closer to the spider’s dwelling. What was the bourn of its journeying, wondered Kennedy. Out of instinct or memory, to what nook was it bound where insects might come within its reach? Perhaps the little blue flower with its cup of gold was the bait which it would use. But here the lid of the spider’s house flicked open and a shadow darted from it. By the time Kennedy had his glass trained on the proper spot, the lizard and the spider were twisted into a rolling knot. Sand scattered about them. A little puff of dust rose and shone in the sunshine. In the pallid shadow which it cast beneath, the lizard lay still with the fangs of the murderess fixed in its thigh. The glass of Kennedy showed how they were being driven deeper and deeper. What old Greek was it who spoke of a woman calmly murdering, “like a spider, stabbing and poisoning without malice”? Kennedy shivered. He rose to his feet.

Now that he stood erect, that world of life and death at his feet was removed suddenly to unimportant distance but he had been enriched by one more bit of knowledge, he had stored another picture in the gallery of his brain. If was time now to remember that he was hungry, above all that his throat fairly crackled with thirst, so he took a swallow from his full canteen and started again up the pass. Something more than hunger or thirst troubled him, however. Characteristically he paused to find out what it might be, whether an external object or an unhappy thought; for Kennedy was the very epitome of leisurely action and something in his nature prevented him from doing more than one thing at a time.

It was one of the grey stones at the top of the next low hill that had bothered him, he discovered. A sense of motion had registered on the very margin of his field of vision and in the haze of his subconscious mind. He turned and stared. There was no more movement, but as he centred his attention he was first aware that something watched him from among the rocks and then he made out the head of an animal as grey as the stones. Instantly all was clear in spite of that protective colouration. A wolf sat there not a hundred feet away and surveyed him without fear.

Perhaps the murder he had just witnessed had left a chill in the nerves of Kennedy, but when he saw the beast so insolently at watch within stone’s throw, he could not help remembering that he had no sign of a weapon with him except a very ineffectual little pocket knife. He picked up a rock with good, jagged edges. It fitted his hand in the most friendly way and made him feel a little better, yet he could not keep from his mind some of those childhood stories we read of famine and man-hunting wolves. Those are winter tales, but hunger can have as sharp a tooth in the desert as in the snow. He waved his rock. He shouted. The beast did not so much as lower its pointed ears.

Panic jumped up into the throat of Kennedy, but it always was an odd habit of his to try to outface fear. Besides, all logic forbade him to believe what his eyes were seeing. Generations of hunters with high-powered rifles have made the wild animals of the West as timid as birds when man is near. This calm defiance was totally incredible. So Kennedy found his long legs carrying him straight up the slope to investigate. He was by no means one of those fearless athletes who find something in themselves that may be trusted in any emergency. Instead, he was a tall, spare New England type, with the strength fitted close to the bone, and his lean face, habitually smiling in a dream, grew alert only at intervals. It was not reckless self-confidence that sent him up the hill now, but an impulse of sheer curiosity as avid as that of a child. He might be called a random investigator, but he gave to every problem a consideration as patient as science itself.

Halfway to the shoulder of the hill he paused, for he saw a blackened smudge of mud or of dried blood on the head of the beast.

Perhaps this was the explanation. Some crippling injury prevented the animal from moving. Kennedy went on again with more confidence. He was only a few steps away when the creature flung itself towards him without a snarl, with only a silent uncovering of its fangs and a bright green devil in its eyes. The spring of the spider on the lizard was not more swift, but now an invisible hand jerked the beast to the ground. A chain rattled. Through the bristling neck fur Kennedy saw a collar studded with copper.

He was only a few steps away when the creature flung itself towards him.

He drew a long, sighing breath of relief and lighted a cigarette with deliberation. Another little mystery had vanished under an inquiring eye. It was not a wild animal at all. It was simply a dog on a leash whose handgrip was wedged into a rock crevice so that the poor brute could not get free. Kennedy, blowing out smoke through mouth and nose, looked into other details of the situation in a far more relaxed state of mind. In some accident the big police dog had been injured; its master had fastened it here and would return in due time.

Another man would have gone on, now, perfectly satisfied, but Kennedy was a dweller upon detail. The green murder that still shone in the eyes of the dog intrigued him. And now that it began to pant he noticed that the tongue was discoloured and thick. Something else about it seemed strange; he realised after a moment that the oddity lay in the dryness of that tongue. Not a drop of saliva seemed to brighten it.

Now that he had pored upon the central figure, for a time, Kennedy shifted his attention to the rest of the scene. A few steps up the slope appeared the mouth of a cavity, partially masked by brush. When he went to it, he saw upon the sand inside a mark as though a body had been dragged. Furthermore, there was a vague imprint near a stained patch on the ground as though at this point the dog had lain on its side, bleeding. From that place the trail of its footfalls came to the mouth of the cave, but there disappeared.

Kennedy, sitting crosslegged, brooded over the little problem through a second cigarette, for his mind worked slowly, slowly. In a pinch, for quick deductions, he was almost the worst man you could find. His mathematics were not those of a lightning calculator, but rather those of one who deliberates in the terms of a new geometry which contains an extra dimension. He was remembering, finally, that two days before there had been a violent wind-storm; some of the fine dust it carried was still in the innermost recesses of his knapsack. And now he could begin to approximate some conclusions. The dog, it seemed, had been dragged into this cavity and left lying there. At least two days before, it had roused, walked from the cave, and become fastened–by chance or by the purpose of its master–in the rock crevice. The wind-storm had erased the trail it made in leaving the cave. Now Kennedy could go still farther. The only sign of a man’s approach was his own trail, deeply marked and shadowed in the sand. No-one had been near this place for two whole days, therefore, and the dog had been caught in the rock by mere chance.

He returned to the consideration of the dog. The blood matted on its head did not entirely conceal a furrow, deeply ploughed from between the eyes to the top of the skull. And here the interest of Kennedy grew again to a fever-point. Very apparently the animal had been shot down, dragged into the cave, and left for dead. And in the world of men, how many brutes are there who will murder a dog? Furthermore, in such a spacious wilderness of sand and rocks, who would bring out a dog upon a leash? The enigma grew wider and deeper. Kennedy, dreaming his way into the dark continent of human impulses and purposes that might have inspired these strange actions, began to smile a little, as a hungry man might do, imagining a table loaded with French cookery. He was deeply content.

It might well be that the savage temper of the dog had caused someone to shoot it. As for this, Kennedy soon could find out. At least two days of bleeding and of heat had starved the animal with thirst. Kennedy took off his hat, from his canteen poured some water into it, and held it at arm’s length so that the dog, crouched at the end of its chain, barely could reach it. Instantly the poor beast was drinking. The green left its eyes. Its thick brush of a tail commenced to sweep the ground as it looked up to Kennedy with entreaty. All fear left Kennedy then. The last drop of his canteen finally went into the hat and was gone. By that time his hand was stroking the long, dusty fur. Through the thick of it his finger-tips found the great ribs, one by one. But his mind was reaching back beyond this moment to that other scene, more than two days before, when someone with a careful deliberation had shot the dog down and then, even in this untravelled wilderness, bad chosen to conceal the body. The mere facts were trivial compared with the possible motives and Kennedy was lost in the consideration of them, when the whining of the grey dog roused him. The big fellow, straining at his leash, was pointing steadily into the north-west.

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