The Mustang Herder - Max Brand - ebook

The Mustang Herder ebook

Max Brand

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Frederick Schiller Faust (May 29, 1892 – May 12, 1944) was an American author known primarily for his thoughtful and literary Westerns under the pen name Max Brand. This is one of his Western fiction. Raised on the tough streets of Old New York, Gregg could beat a man to death with his fists and use a pistol like an artist. Armed with these talents, he headed west to make his fortune, never realizing that herding mustangs was what he’d end up doing. He didn’t know a lot about horses, but he knew anyone who stood in his way was as good as buzzard bait.

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Contents

CHAPTER I. THE DECISION

CHAPTER II. IN MUNSON

CHAPTER III. SAMMY'S BIG IDEA

CHAPTER IV. THE HERD

CHAPTER V. STOLEN HORSES

CHAPTER VI. NO LAW

CHAPTER VII. RENDELL'S ADVICE

CHAPTER VIII. THE SECOND HERD

CHAPTER IX. MORE HARD LUCK

CHAPTER X. FOR HELP

CHAPTER XI. A TRAMP'S JUNGLE

CHAPTER XII. CLANCY

CHAPTER XIII. SAMMY RETURNS

CHAPTER XIV. ANOTHER IDEA

CHAPTER XV. A THREAT

CHAPTER XVI. THE STAGE LINE

CHAPTER XVII. THE FIRST TRIP

CHAPTER XVIII. THE HOLDUP

CHAPTER XIX. DOWN ON HIS LUCK

CHAPTER XX. A TALK WITH JEREMY

CHAPTER XXI. THE FIGHT

CHAPTER XXII. MAJOR'S PLAN

CHAPTER XXIII. ANNE GOES EAST

CHAPTER XXIV. TORTURE BY FIRE

CHAPTER XXV. ANNE TAKES CHARGE

CHAPTER XXVI. SAMMY'S SOLUTION

CHAPTER XXVII. ON THE TRAIL

CHAPTER XXVIII. FACING FURNESS

CHAPTER XXIX. SAMMY A HERO

CHAPTER I. THE DECISION

Someone who knew what he was talking about said that no man should go into the West, the real frontier West, that is, unless he was capable of inspiring some measure of awe. Perhaps by his personal dignity, which is, after all, the best way of keeping a man out of trouble. Or through physical strength or mere size, or by dauntless power of eye, or through fighting skill–any or all of these attributes would be most serviceable. But Sammy Gregg did not have any of them.

He wasn’t a whit more than eight inches above five feet, and he did not even stand straight enough to take advantage of all of those meager inches. He walked with a slight stoop, as a rule, leaning over like a man about to start from a walk to a run. He looked as though he were always in a hurry, and as a matter of fact, he usually was. His weight was about a hundred and thirty pounds, or a trifle more in winter, and a little less when the hot weather of the summer began to set in. It was not tough, well-seasoned muscle, either. It was quite flabby. And he had small bones, and little, narrow, nervous hands.

His eyes were pale, and rather near-sighted, so that he had a half- frightened look, when it wasn’t simply wistfully inquiring. His pale forehead was constantly contorted with a frown, which was not a frown of bad temper, but of eagerness.

The only truly remarkable thing about Sammy, indeed, was that same eagerness. Like the eagerness of a hunting ferret, if you can imagine a ferret without teeth! But one felt about Sammy a vast earnestness, rooted as deep as the roots of his soul, a singular intentness in which he was absorbed.

That was the secret of the bigness that was in Sammy; for some bigness there was. The trouble was, the West and the people of the West were not fitted for understanding this small man.

I suppose, for that matter, that he was a rarity in almost any climate. He had the simplicity of a child mixed oddly with some of the guile of a serpent, I am afraid. It was always very hard to understand Sammy. I, for one, never could pretend to hold the key to his complex nature. I can only describe him as he was.

In the first place, he did not come West to raise cattle nor horses, nor to ride herd on the cow range, nor to dig gold for himself nor any other, nor to start up as a storekeeper in one of the new towns.

He came West with five thousand dollars in his pockets and a desire to invest it! Choice he had none. He was ready for anything out of which he might make money.

You will think that he would have been wiser to sink that sum of money in a bank rather than expose it naked to the air of that climate where gold turned so quickly to bloody rust! But I must add one more thing to my characterization of Sammy Gregg. He was not afraid. There was no fear in him. Fear did not interest Sammy, but dollars did!

Not from a blind love of coin, either. The impelling motive was love for a girl who kept house for an uncle in a Brooklyn flat and waited for word from Sammy from the wilderness. Sammy had found the lady of his heart long before he ever got on the train which brought him to Munson.

Oh, unromantic Sammy! He had fallen in love with her not suddenly, and not from any exciting meeting, but simply because this fair-haired girl had been known to him during his entire life. She had grown up in the backyard next to his. He had made faces at her when he was five years old, peering at her through a hole in the board fence; and that day she ran crying into her house for fear of him. Afterward, he walked to school with her at his side, regardless of the other boys who pointed their fingers at him.

Sammy had no time for the opinions of outsiders. If you consider it from the most logical point of view, you will see that we indulge ourselves in a luxury when we spend energy to conciliate the good will of our neighbors. And Sammy never had any extra strength to spend. He was not, in short, interested in public opinion; and that was why he was such an oddity as I, for one, have never seen the like of.

I should not say that Sammy loved Susie with a devouring passion as he grew up. But she was a part of his life. He cared for her as he cared for himself, I might say. He had admitted her into his life, and she had grown into it like a graft into the trunk of a tree. He thought of her as often as he thought of himself. And if he were not passionately unhappy when he was away from her, he was certainly worried and irritated and confused and ill at ease. When he was at her side, he did not want to kiss her or fondle her or say foolish things to her, or even hold her hand. But he was satisfied, as a cow is satisfied when it is in its own pasture, near its own red barn.

So he saved and scraped and lived cheaply and labored earnestly at his jobs. He was out of school at fifteen, and he was constantly contributing to the savings bank on the first of every month until one day in his twenty-fifth year when he had a little talk with Susie Mitchell.

“When are we to be married?” asked Susie.

“Oh, some day,” said Sammy. “When I get enough money to live on right.”

“I’m twenty-five, the same as you,” said Susie. “That’s not so young!”

He looked askance at her in wonder. But her pretty face was very grave and her blue eyes–as pale and gentle as his own–were fixed firmly upon his face.

“Besides, said Susie, “I don’t go in for style. You know that. I don’t mind working. I don’t mind a small house to live in. I don’t aim much higher than what my mother got when she married. But I think that it’s time we married, and had some children, and things like that. Jiminy, Sammy, you’ve got a lot more than most young fellows have! And look what a swell salary you get, fifteen a week. A regular position, I call it, down there at the paper mill, where you’ll be raised, too, after four or five years more. The manager certainly told you about that himself.”

Mind you, this was long before the day when carpenters got as much a day as Sammy worked for in a week. In the time of which I write, sixty dollars a month was enough for an “office” man, with many other men under him, assistants, and all that. Those were the days when the boys pointed out the man who lived in the big corner house, because it was said that he got a hundred and a quarter a month!

So sixty dollars was quite a bit, but it was not enough for Sammy. He said, “Let me have a chance to think this over.” Then he went away and reviewed his position.

In the first place, he had to marry Susie, there was no doubt about that. And he had to marry her quick. He would as soon dream of going on through life without her as he would dream of going on through life without a leg or without two legs! Susie was simply a part of his spirit and of his flesh, too. But he was afraid of marriage. He had seen other youths attempt marriage, and he had seen children and accompanying doctor bills and ill health break down their savings, ruin their nerves, keep them awake with worry, and fill their lives with gloom.

Sammy would not stand the chance of such a disaster, because he knew his own strength, and he knew that it could not endure through sleepless nights. He felt that he could never marry unless he could marry comfortably. And he had established as a goal a sum of fifteen thousand dollars. With that amount working for him at interest, he would be safe. Even if he lost his health, he could support his family on that same interest until he was well again. Fifteen thousand dollars, a goal still ten thousand dollars away, and Susie wanted to get married.

He came back to Susie. He said, “I am going away for six months. Will you wait that long?”

“Going away!” cried Susie.

“To make ten thousand dollars!”

Susie laughed, at first. But when she saw that he was in earnest, she was filled with a sort of religious awe. It seemed hardly moral and decent for a young fellow to speak of hoping to make ten thousand dollars in a mere half year! It had never been done in her family. It made her almost think of enchantment, certainly it made her think very strongly of crime!

She could almost see her little Sammy Gregg with a black mask tied across the bridge of his nose and a stub-nosed revolver clutched in his hand stealing up behind the back of some florid banker! She could almost see it, and the thing gave her a shock of horror.

“Don’t go, Sammy!” she breathed to him. “Don’t go, Sammy!”

He did not listen to her. He hardly heard her voice. He was filled with his own thoughts, which were already in a faraway country where dollars grew more readily than they grew in Brooklyn. He was thinking of the accounts which flooded newspapers and magazines from time to time of great fortunes scooped up by a single gesture of the wise men.

In crises we are apt to stop thinking and fall back upon superstitions, religion, fairy tales. So did young Sammy Gregg. He decided to follow his new vision. It was a “hunch,” and for the first time in his life he was about to do a risky thing. I had to explain all of this because without understanding a little of the background of Sammy, it would be quite impossible to make head or tail of him as he was when he appeared before the grinning populace of Munson, that rude little city in the Western hills.

But if Sammy performed at times feats which seemed well beyond his strength, you must remember that there was a spur driven constantly into his soul–the loss of Susie.

He was in a constant misery. For he was away from her!

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