The Gold King Turns His Back - Max Brand - ebook

The Gold King Turns His Back ebook

Max Brand



No writer captured the excitement, humanity, or adventure of the American West better than Max Brand. And nowhere was Brand’s talent more evident than in this classic short novel. In „The Gold King Turns His Back”, young Miriam Standard returns to her father’s ranch determined to learn the business, but she discovers she has a lot to learn when she makes the statement that she will marry any man who can bring in Gold King, the wild mustang. „The Gold King Turns His Back” presents a ripsnorter of a father-daughter feud that concludes with a proper twist. Experience the West as only Max Brand could write it!

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She rode her horse with precipitation around the corner of the shed, and this brought a fresh roar of laughter from the cowpunchers. Once under cover from their eyes, however, Miriam indulged in a chuckle of her own. No doubt her father was rather provoking, but he was also very funny. Whenever he mounted his old cutting horse, there was always the same performance, and there was always the same appreciative audience.

In the meantime her father, Judge Arthur Standard, was continuing the show. His horse was a sixteen-year-old gelding, as wise a mount as ever cut a calf from a herd. He could dodge like the cracking end of a whip, and his sprinting speed for a hundred yards might have been the boast of a mountain lion. Otherwise old Jip was simply a plain cow pony, with a liberal dash of mustang blood. That mustang blood made him want to get the stiffness out of his joints and the meanness out of his disposition by doing a little bucking every morning. But the judge did not like the idea. For a dozen years he had gone through the same performance at least twice a week, and yet the show lost none of its novelty for the cowpunchers.

For the judge was not at all at home on the back of a bucking horse. He had come late into the cow country, and although he was honored and respected far and wide as a type of all that was best among the big ranchers, yet he had never been able to teach himself the nice balance and the careless ease of a born horseman. He was well enough at home on a slippery pad, to be sure, and he did not mind a horse of spirit that simply heaved and reared and snorted and did more harm to the air than to his rider. He was not troubled to stay on the back of such an animal, but one of these little wild-headed Western brutes could tie itself into a thousand knots and flip a man out of the saddle, ten feet from earth, as a boy squeezes a wet watermelon seed from between thumb and forefinger. Once or twice the judge had received bad falls, and he kept the memory. Then, to crown all, he had lost his heart to Jip on account of the wise head and the marvelous cutting qualities of the gelding, and Jip had that bad habit of warming up to each day’s work with a little bucking.

It was a beautiful sight to see the judge in his saddle, very straight, very tall, with his magnificent mustaches down like two long white sabers, his face full of solemn consciousness of his own dignity and importance, and then watch him change when Jip began to sidle and bunch his back and lower his head.

There was no chance for Jip to begin bucking, however. The judge was out of the saddle in a flash and running at the side of the horse, jerking at the reins and crying: “You, Jip... you old fool, Jip... are you trying to pitch with me? Who’s been riding this horse of mine? Who’s been letting my horse buck? Sam Carter, you’ve been riding this Jip of mine!”

Happy Sam would indignantly deny that he could have corrupted the manners of the judge’s horse.

“Jip is jest nacherally a bad ‘un,” he would say. “There ain’t no way of trusting that hoss. He’s a killer, Judge. He’ll be doing you harm one of these days that the doctors ain’t going to be able to help none.”

“Dog-gone it, Sam,” the rancher would answer, “I believe that you’re right. There’s a devil in this horse. But I’ll have that devil out of you, Jip, you old scamp. I’ll have that devil out of you, d’you hear?”

By this time the old cow pony, having enjoyed the first stage of his caper, would pretend to grow interested in a wisp of grass near at hand, but from the corner of his eye he would watch the judge mount again. No sooner was the latter in the saddle than Jip started again, bunching his back, lowering his head, and moving along at a sidling trot. But the judge sat crouched low, a hard pull on the reins, one hand clutching the pommel of the saddle, and terror making his eyes huge.

“Now, Jip... now, Jip, now you old fool! Jip, haven’t you any sense? Are you going to pitch with me, Jip?” Then out of the saddle and another run at the side of Jip, jerking at his reins. “Don’t you pitch with me, Jip! Curse your old hide, don’t you pitch with me!”

This proceeded for some ten minutes, while the cowpunchers hastened from far and near. It was folly to think of trying to get work out of them while this show was going on. And the beautiful part of the show was that for ten years Jip had never pitched once. A few steps of this bluff bucking, then a shake of his head, and he was done with his wildness. However, it was quite sufficient to frighten the judge. A little later he was in the saddle again, and, as his voice died down, Miriam knew that her father had finally mastered his mount. She was about to turn her horse and ride out to join him, when she saw that she had been watched.

Yonder was the pale face of the new hand whose silence had already won him the name of Noisy Joe Hanover. He was watching her steadily with a faint smile that broadened to a cordial grin, as his eyes encountered hers. He tipped his hat, but Miriam was too embarrassed and angry to make any answer to that salutation. She had been laughing at the antics of her own father. No doubt that tale would be passed around the bunkhouse by Noisy Joe, and then her dignity would be ruined forever in the eyes of the men.

So she began that morning’s ride in very bad humor. For the main reason that she had come to the ranch was to impress the ‘punchers and everyone else with her efficiency and dignity. Judge Arthur Standard was growing old. He had married quite late. He was already forty-three when his sole child, Miriam, was born. Now he was sixty-five, and the doctor gave him reasons why he could not live a great many years more. So he had sent for Miriam. She must decide on one of two things: either to manage the ranch, or else sell it at once and retire to live in some city.

The mind of Miriam was made up before she arrived from Paris. Music was well enough, but it was only a toy. Miriam felt that she needed a place and a career in the world. And what better than to be the queen of this little empire? Her father had been a supreme ruler all these years. Why should she not be the same?

She bought a number of books on ranching and ranch methods. From Havre to New York, from New York to the ranch, she was deep in the print. By the time she got off the train she knew the names of more fertilizers and the soils on which they did best, more breeds of cattle and the environments for which they were best fitted, more faults of stabling and shedding, feeding, branding, more diseases of horses and cows than her old father had ever heard of. She had prepared a list of questions, too, that she intended to ask her father in order to improve her knowledge, if he could answer them, and to show her knowledge, if he could not.

Before she got off three of the questions, her father had declared that he did not wish to be bothered with a lot of tommyrot which meant nothing, except when it was left buried in print.

“I’ll tell you what the cow business is, Miriam,” he had said in conclusion. “It’s a gamble. You’ve got your land and your cows on one side. The other side is competition, weather, plagues, prices. You chuck in everything you’ve got. You wait for the wheel to stop spinning. When it’s stopped, you know whether you’ve won or lost. And there you are, Miriam. All this book talk ain’t going to help you. It’ll just confuse your hands. And that ain’t worth doing.”

Miriam was an exceptional girl. She knew when she had run into a stone wall, and she stopped talking at this point and appeared to listen amiably to the advice of her father. But all the time she was making up her mind that, when the reins were in her hands, the ranch affairs would be driven in a different direction and at a different gait.

All of which has some bearing upon her anger when she found that her laughter had been spied upon by one of the hands. She gave the fellow another look, however, as they started off on the gallop. Noisy Joe Hanover made one of the party, Lefty Gregory was a second–both of them riding perhaps half a dozen lengths to the rear, so that the rancher and his daughter could talk in some privacy. The judge was accomplishing a double purpose in this tour of the ranch. In the first place he wanted to initiate a new hand into some of the mysteries of his range, and also he wanted to impress Miriam with the size of the domain that was to be hers before many years. It was his secret hope that he could induce Miriam to leave the management of the ranch entirely in the hands of the present foreman, Charlie Bender.

They left the plain; they climbed into the hills; and it was already nine o’clock when they saw the wild herd. The keen eye of Lefty distinguished them first, and his cry raised the heads of the others in time to see a cream-colored stallion, with a mane and tail of silver–a very painting and picture of a horse rather than matter-of-fact horseflesh–drive around the corner of a hill, and with a thundering of hoofs, sixteen or twenty mares and colts followed at his heels.

With a yell the judge jerked to get his rifle out of its case, but Miriam clung to his arm and prevented him, while at the same time her frantic orders forced the two cowpunchers behind her to lower their weapons. And the mustangs flashed on. The cream-colored leader was working like a captain in command of the troops. First he showed the way, ranging in the lead with matchless speed. Then he swept around to the rear. A lumbering colt tasted the teeth of the stallion, and a slow-footed mare was likewise punished, until she closed up the gap that was growing between her and the band. So, rounding up the laggards like a good shepherd, he brought his band out of view among the hills, with a final neigh of mockery and challenge.

It had all happened in a few seconds, and Miriam released the arm of her father, who was now in a raging temper.

“It was The Gold King,” answered Lefty sadly. “And we were all in good range. I think one of us might have knocked him over, Judge.”

“Might have knocked him over?” raved the rancher. “Might have? My God, Lefty, if I couldn’t have filled him full of lead with my own rifle, I’d have left the range.”

“Do you really mean it?” cried Miriam. “You would have shot that beautiful creature? I don’t believe it!”

“She doesn’t believe it,” echoed her father to Lefty. “She doesn’t believe that I’d shoot a thief that’s run off with a thousand dollars’ worth of mares for me in the past two years. She doesn’t believe we’d shoot that devil of a horse and collect a twenty-five-hundred-dollar bounty on his head! Miriam, sometimes you talk so plain simple that I can’t believe you’re my daughter.”

“I can’t help what you think. I say he’s the most beautiful horse I’ve ever seen.”

“You keep going by your eyes, Miriam, and you’ll lead a mighty unhappy life in this old world of ours. It ain’t what you see, but what you know that counts. That same stallion has raided the ranches of fifty men, up and down the mountains. They’ve chased him fifty times, run down his herd, and had him go right on and collect a new gang to follow him. He likes company, curse his yellow sides!”

“I’d give a year of life,” said Miriam obstinately, “to sit in a saddle on his back for five minutes.”

“That’s a safe offer,” said her father dryly. “The only way they’ll ever catch The Gold King will be with a rifle bullet... and a lucky one at that.”

“I mean it,” she said, going from obstinacy to emotion. “I... I’d marry the man who’d bring me that horse to ride.”

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