Sixteen in Nome - Max Brand - ebook

Sixteen in Nome ebook

Max Brand

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Opis

Sixteen in Nome is narrated by young Joe May, an Arizonian who has come to Alaska to "make his stake for a ranch." Joe May, a starving, overgrown youth, had provided a small service for Hugh Massey, owner of the most famous husky in Alaska, in exchange for a monetary reward. He’d heard that Massey’s life revolved around the dog and it was a chance to murder the man he hated with an undying rage. But he never thought he would become the bait Massey needed to lure his enemy into a deadly trap. Highly recommended, especially for those who love the Old Western genre.

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Liczba stron: 317

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Contents

I. NOME

II. TROUBLE COMES ON FOURS

III. MASSEY, MASTER OF ALEC

IV. FOR A STAKE

V. BETWEEN DOG AND MASTER

VI. ELEVEN THOUSAND BID

VII. A CHANGE OF MIND

VIII. TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM

IX. MASSEY TAKES A HAND

X. ADVENTURE STARTS

XI. BATTLE OF THE DOGS

XII. BAD LUCK ON THE JOB

XIII. BLIND LEADERS

XIV. UP AND STIRRING

XV. MARJORIE'S STORY

XVI. ALEC GONE!

XVII. WHAT THE DOCTOR THINKS

XVIII. HOW REPAY?

XIX. WELCOME TO DAWSON

XX. SAM BURR

XXI. ON THE TRAIL

XXII. WHEN TWO MEN MEET

XIII. A BARGAIN IS MADE

XXIV. HONORS ARE EVEN

XXV. THE MOOSE

XXVI. ALEC, THE FIGHTER

XXVII. WILD BLOOD

XXVIII. MORE OF ALEC'S WORK

XXIX. WITH TEETH BARED

XXX. FOR LIFE AND DEATH

XXXI. ONWARD, AND FAST!

XXXII. KING OF THE ROAD

I. NOME

Once a hardy old-timer in a mangy parka said to me: “I’d rather be barefoot in the desert than sixteen in Nome.” The point was that I was sixteen, and in Nome at that moment, and without needing the slightest time for consideration, I agreed with him.

Sixteen is a bad age for a boy. It is too full of growing and not full enough of strength. I looked big enough but I was pretty soft. My hands and feet would not do what I wanted them to. My body, my mind, my spirits had not settled down enough.

Take a lad who’s been raised in a fishing smack or ridden the Montana range in winter as a regular thing, and he would have done pretty well, even in Nome. But I had done none of those things. I had worked with cows a little in Arizona. I could daub on a rope, and even use a branding iron, but I did not excel in anything. With a rifle, for instance, I was a pretty good hand–every boy on the Arizona range is. With a revolver I was no good at all. The mere feel of a horse arching its back frightened me numb and, as for wrestling, boxing, and such things, I knew very little about them. I was simply an overgrown youth with a skinny neck and a large Adam’s apple and, in Nome, a perpetual shudder at the cold.

Nome would have been a depressing place for older and stronger people than I. The ugly beach, spotted with the holes of the mines, the rocks, the high tundra edge, the sod houses, the unwashed crowds of men, the snarling, howling dogs by day and night, the cold, the wind, the storms, the brawlers in the streets, the bitter hardness of the work, and the scant amount of it that I found to do used to make me sit down and beat my knuckles against my face sometimes, and wonder how I could have been so foolish. There was that good, comfortable, little Arizona shack, and the good hot sun, and the sounds of cattle lowing and coyotes yipping on the edge of the sky–a medley that seemed to me like heaven on this morning when I crawled out of my bunk in the Tucker Lodging House. There were half a dozen people getting up at the same time in the same room. The air was foul and close; men were groaning as they got into their shoes. Their eyes were swollen with sleep and the aftereffects of cheap whisky which they had had the night before. And everyone in that wretched room seemed almost as miserable as I.

But I knew that they were not what they seemed. In a few minutes their strong bodies would be warmed by speeding blood, their heads would be high, and their shoulders back; and they would be heartened, also, by the knowledge that they had money in their pockets, or, at least, jobs to go to. I had neither.

In the last three days, I had eaten once, and it was thirty-six hours since I had tasted a morsel. Thirty-six hours is not much to a man, but to a growing boy it is thirty-six hours of anguish. I had suffered, and suffered badly. I expected to suffer still more, but pride kept me from going in the evening to The Joint, where “Doctor” Borg never failed to hand out at least a dollar to every mendicant.

As I dressed, my depression grew. The fingers with which I buttoned my shirt were grimy. I told myself that I had sunk so low that even personal cleanliness no longer was attractive or necessary to me. I said to myself that I was slipping into the out tide and would soon be lost.

The lodging house of Mr. Tucker seemed more disagreeable than ever this morning. It was built by him according to a plan of his own, of which he was so proud that he was never done talking of it. It seemed a very good plan, too, and neat. He got a number of ten-by-twelve tents and put them side by side. Over each tent he nailed boards, so that it turned into a sort of box. Over the outside of the boards he stacked up thick walls of sod. The result was a house with a number of rooms, and enough weight of walls to make it seem secure against the cold. But the sods had been put on when they were frozen. They never had a good chance to thaw and compact, and the result was that the arctic cold was able to work its skinny fingers through and get at every living thing in the Tucker House.

Tucker himself would not admit that he felt the cold. He was so proud of the new scheme of building he had invented, and he was so delighted with himself for having had such a grand idea that I’ve actually seen him going around in his shirt sleeves, with only a light sweater, through these rooms. The couple inches of fat which he wore under his hide could not insulate him against the cold of the Far North; his skin used to turn blue and his eyes bulged, but he insisted that his was the warmest house in Nome.

By the time I had dressed, this morning, my spirits were at zero. My fingers were numb. My stomach was as empty as that of any soaring vulture. As I started for the door, I heard one of the men say: “That kid is broke and about starved.”

This made me walk more slowly, and my mouth fairly watered with hope; but the man’s partner said to him: “Don’t be a fool. The kid’s a bum, and we ain’t any too flush.”

“Yeah. You’ve said it right,” said the first man, and I walked on into the hallway.

I went by a doorway inside which a pair of men were cursing each other in voices that reached up the scale and told that blows were coming, but I had seen so much fighting in Nome that I was not interested enough to stop and inquire about it or wait to hear the scrap begin. Fist fights were a drug on the market in the Nome streets, where five thousand wastrels and unemployed tumbled and fought like sea gulls for the scraps that fell from the fat tables of the land.

A few steps farther, I heard a woman crying on a deep, moaning note and, through the flimsy door, distinctly, I could hear the sound of blows against flesh. Either some brute of a man was beating her, or else she was striking her own breast.

Now, weakened as I was, and in that horrible atmosphere, it made me a little sick. I stopped and leaned against the wall, with my head spinning. A couple of men pressed by me, heard the sounds inside the room, and went by, grinning to one another.

This beastliness in human nature then took me by the throat and gave me a shake, as it were. My circulation picked up, and I got so strong that I tapped on that door, and then pushed it open. If there were a man inside, I would be beaten to a pulp, but I had a curious, starved desire to tell him what I thought of his brutality.

There was no man inside.

There was only a red-headed girl sitting on the side of her bunk and swaying backward and forward, with her head thrown back, and her hands whacking against her chest, now and then. From a husky, deep pitch of her voice, I had taken her to be a woman of middle age. But she was only a girl of twenty or nineteen.

This made a tremendous difference. The horror went a pair of octaves up the scale. I closed the door behind me, and the squeak of the hinges, this time, made her start up.

She asked me what I wanted, while I stared at her, for a moment, through the wretched gloom of that half light. This red-headed girl was not a beauty, but she was good looking. Even through that twilight I was struck by the deep blue of her eyes. She had a bit too much mouth and not quite enough chin, but she was decidedly what one would call a pretty girl.

I told her that I wanted nothing, except to stop her crying, if I could.

“You’re going to stop it, are you?” asked the girl in a dry way–but with a sob or two bubbling up.

“I will if I’m able to be any good for you,” I told her.

She came up to me and took me by the shoulders – she was just my height–and backed me around until what light there was came bang into my face.

“You’re going to help me!” she said.

The sneer in her voice did not bother me. I had had too many of the same sort of sneers thrown my way since I came North, and now I took them for granted.

“I’ll do what I can,” I said. “I know that I’m no Calmont or Massey.”

Calmont, do you see, was the strongest man in Nome, people said. And Massey was a bouncer down at The Joint, and said to be the slickest gunman around those parts, where everybody packed a Colt.

“Sonny,” said the redhead, “if you were Calmont and Massey rolled into one, you wouldn’t be able to help me. Run along now and forget me. It looks as though you’ve something of your own to think about.”

She said that and put her hand right on my stomach. I mean, where my stomach should have been, but it was gone, and the sharp edges of my ribs stood out like the tops of a corral fence all around that cave in the middle of me.

“That ought to be full,” she observed to me. “Who stole your insides, mister?”

I felt like a fool. I’d been talking rather big, the moment before, and now she was asking me why I was starved.

“Aw, I’m all right,” I told her. “If you’re dead sure that I can’t do you any good–”

I got back to the door.

“Wait a minute, Sammy–”

“My name’s not Sammy,” I said.

“What is it, then? Joe?”

“Yes,” I said, surprised. “It’s Joe. How did you guess that? Do you know that I’m Joe May?”

She laughed a little at me. She seemed to forget a part of her troubles.

“I know it now, anyway, Joe May,” she said. “Look. Here’s something that will round you out a little–”

She held out ten dollars in gold to me. And my hand jumped for it like a hungry dog for a bone. I had the tips of my fingers on it before I got hold of myself and snatched my hand back. I had been worn down to such a point that I would have taken charity from a man, I think, but to take it from a girl whose eyes were still red with crying was too much for me.

She came after me, offering the money again.

“You take it, Joe,” she said. “It’ll be between the two of us. You can depend on me not to talk about it, and you’re as welcome to it as the flowers in–May!”

She laughed again, but there was a choked note in her laughter that about finished me. I did not dare to stay there before her. The two five-dollar pieces looked to me like two glorious suns. Twenty meals lay in the hollow of her hand, and I felt as though I could eat them at one sitting. So I did the only thing that occurred to me. I jerked the door open and got into the hall away from temptation.

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