The Quest of Lee Garrison - Max Brand - ebook

The Quest of Lee Garrison ebook

Max Brand

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Lee Garrison, a solitary fence rider in the southwest, is entranced with stories he has read of daring medieval adventures. Then a dying Indian stumbles into his camp, telling of a magnificent wild mustang called Moonshine. Garrison pursues the elusive horse across the plains on a quest of self-discovery. The chase would lead him across thousands of miles of plains, deserts, and rivers, and before his quest had ended, Lee Garrison would learn the meaning of hope and the cost of dreams. And he would be forced to make a terrible, shattering decision - a decision that might destroy him. Highly recommended, especially for those who love the Old Western genre.

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Liczba stron: 319

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Contents

I. THE FIRST ADVENTURE

II. THE STAKED PLAINS

III. JOHN RAMPS

IV. THE FIRST SIGHT

V. GUADALUPE

VI. TRIAL BY FIRE

VII. GOLD

VIII. THE BATTLE

IX. THE GREATER BATTLE

X. THE MASTER

XI. THE BACK TRAIL

XII. CROOKED CREEK

XIII. THE FIRST HOUR

XIV. THE FIGHT

XV. THE CHARLATAN

XVI. THE LADY IN THE WINDOW

XVII. ROULETTE

XVIII. ALICE AGAIN

XIX. THE TOUCH OF MIDAS

XX. HE FINDS TRUE GOLD

XXI. HE ACQUIRES A PARTNER

XXII. THE CHALLENGE

XXIII. THE MESSAGE

XXIV. THE PROMISE

XXV. SHEEP VALLEY

XXVI. THE RACE

XXVII. A VISIT FROM GUTTORM

XXVIII. TO THE CAPTAIN

XXIX. THE FATAL SHOT

I. THE FIRST ADVENTURE

Economy, whether of money or of labor, was carried by Mrs. E. Garrison to the nth degree, for economy of all kinds was necessary to the maintenance of her family. She had eight sons and no daughters. Three of the sons had been born at one time, and two at another. She threw herself with devotion into the battle to support these eight lives decently. A remnant of youth and good looks she sacrificed first, then all her time, her temper, her powers of body and soul went into the endless struggle, and she was so far victorious that neither Mrs. Oldham, right-hand neighbor, nor Mrs. Taylor on her left could ever find spot or speck on the new-burnished faces of the Garrison boys when they herded off to school in the morning. Work turned her to a famine-stricken wraith. But her heart grew stronger as she saw the fruit of her agony, eight boys with straight bodies and fresh, clear eyes.

On this wash Monday, having hung out the sheets and the pillowcases, the napkins, and the tablecloths, and all the whites, she dragged the clothes basket back to the kitchen to start the colored articles boiling in the same water that had served for the first batch. Time was when she had changed the water for each set of clothes, but now that her shoulders cracked under the weight of the boiler she moved it as seldom as possible.

“Besides,” as she said, “clear water ain’t what cleans ‘em–it’s the boiling and the soap and the blessed elbow grease.” Yet, on this day, having dumped the colored things into the boiler and opened the door of the stove to shovel in more coal, she discovered that the last live cinder was turning from red to black–the fire was out. It was a calamity, for already the afternoon wore on, and she must rush to finish the washing in time to cook supper. That was the only point on which her husband was adamant–meals had to be punctual. Then she thought of assistance, and remembered that her eldest son was home; the teacher of his class was ill, which accounted for the vacation.

“The great lummox,” muttered Mrs. Garrison. “He ought to have been down here hours ago, helpin’ me hang out and rinsin’.” She went to the foot of the backstairs, narrow, unpainted, and dark, the one untidy place of the house.

“Oh, Lee!” she called. “Lee!”

From above, half whine, half growl: “Yes?”

“Come down this minute and chop me some kindling. The fire’s out.”

“Wait till I finish this page.”

“I’ll wait for nothing. You come hopping, young man.”

She heard the clap of the book being shut, the sound of heavy footfalls overhead, and she went into the dining room for an instant’s rest. It was a hot day in June, with just enough breeze to drag the smoke from the factories over the town, imperiling the washings that sparkled in a thousand back yards, and filling the air with a thick, sweet odor of soot. Mrs. Garrison relaxed in her husband’s armchair in the coolest corner of the room and bent her head to think over the dishes for supper. She closed her eyes, too, and in a moment she was asleep, but she kept on working in her dream, heard the kindling dumped with a rattle on the kitchen floor, and dragged herself from the chair to open the dampers so that the fire roared and the water began to foam in the boiler.

In reality, Lee Garrison had not left his room. That noisy closing of the book, the thumping of his feet on the floor, all were a ruse. He had only sat forward in his chair and drummed with his heels. His thumb had kept the place, when he snapped the book shut, and now he opened it, still sitting on the edge of the chair, still bending to rise, while his eye swept through the rest of the adventure. For ten swarthy giants had just started into the path of Lancelot and barred his way to the perilous chapel with a voice of thunder. They scattered again as the good knight put forward his shield and drew his sword against such great odds as these, and Lee Garrison went with Lancelot into the chapel itself, where only one light burned and where the corpse lay “hylled in silk.” He did not change that cramped position, as if about to rise.

*     *

*

It was hours later when he heard the deep voice of his father downstairs, and his mother pouring out a protest. Then he laid aside his Malory with a sigh and stood up. Plainly he would never approach the height or the bulk of William Garrison, but he gave promise of the same broad shoulders, together with better proportions and, throughout, a fine workmanship of which there was little trace in either his father or mother. He was their first-born, coming in those days when the words “my wife” still were strange on the lips of William Garrison, and when the girl had not yet left all the life of Molly Doane behind her. They hunted reverently for a name, and at last chose Lee because his grandfather had fought at Antietam and Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, wearing the gray. They looked on Lee with a quiet worship. When the other babies flooded the house with noise and care, they had less time for him, but his place was never usurped. The terror, the pain, the joy were all new with him, and the first note could never be quite repeated. Besides, he was different in many ways. All were fine boys, and Paul and William, Jr., probably would be even more huge than their father. They already out-topped Lee, but he was the choicer mechanism, the rarer spirit. Sometime s his mother thought, inarticulately, that the bloom of their youth, their first great joy, their hopes and dreams, had all gone into the body and soul of Lee. The eyes of the seven were straight and clear and misty with good health, but the eyes of Lee held both a black shadow and a light that were his alone. Even when he had been a tiny fellow he seemed to be thinking more than he spoke, and she had had an odd feeling that he often judged her. Therefore, she both dreaded and loved him. He was not demonstrative, otherwise his father would have idolized him. For the rest, he was the laziest boy in Waybury, rumor said. Books had been his world for five years now, but, although his father and his mother often lectured him about this all-consuming passion, they secretly respected it and hoped for great things.

He turned over his situation calmly, for he had swept through so many crises in books that he had little enthusiasm left for the troubles of real life. His mother was accusing him bitterly. It would have meant a hard thrashing, if any of the other boys had been the culprit, but his father had always had a strange aversion for caning Lee, and now the worst he could expect would be imprisonment in a dark room without supper. That was the usual punishment, for he wisely never had let them know that it was almost as pleasant to dream in the dark as it was to read in the light.

“Lee!” called his father. On his way downstairs he heard his mother reiterate: “I just told him to chop some kindling. Then I sat down for a minute and somehow–I don’t know just how it happened, but–”

“That’ll do, Mother. The point is, supper ain’t ready, and Lee’s to blame. I got to eat, if I’m goin’ to work, don’t I?”

“Hush up, William. Do hush up, or Lucy Ganning’ll hear, and it’ll be all over the neighborhood in a jiffy.” Lucy Ganning was a shrewd-eyed spinster, living across the street.

“Damn Lucy Ganning!” cried the father. “Come here, Lee!”

The kitchen was in deep shadow, and to Lee, coming down the stairs, it seemed as if his father towered to the ceiling. The soot of the forge was furrowed by perspiration; it was an ugly mask, rather than a face, the eyes looking out through holes rimmed with white. His father’s great black hand crushed Lee’s shoulder and lifted him from the floor.

“Now,” said William Garrison, fighting to control himself, “tell me the straight of this.”

“He slapped his book shut and made as if he was coming down,” cried the mother. “I went and sat down.–”

Lee hunted swiftly for a convincing lie, and told the truth.

“I just stopped to finish the page, Dad, honest. And then a minute later you came home.”

His mother laughed hysterically. “Will you listen to that? Look at the stove. It’s cold, ain’t it? It’s been two hours long, that minute of Lee’s.”

“D’you think I’d lie? Dad, it wasn’t hardly more’n a minute.”

“Lee, how d’you dare say such things? And there he sat all day upstairs, never offering to help me, while I was breaking my back with that boiler, and.- -” Her voice shook; she became mute with self-pity and rage.

“So that’s what you been doin’?” said William Garrison. Lee looked sharply at his father and for the first time in his life was really afraid. The big man spoke quietly, but he spoke through his teeth, and he seemed a stranger. Through the dining-room door Lee saw seven white faces–little Jerry and Peter, twins, were clasping each other in terror.

“You been up there with your books! Your mother was down here slaving. I was up to the forge with fire in my face!”

They were silent, looking at each other, until Lee saw that his father was trembling.

“William,” whispered the mother, “William, what d’you aim to do?”

“Close that door!”

She stared at him a moment and then went silently and shut the door across the seven white faces. She came back and reached out her hand, but she did not touch her husband with it.

“William,” she whispered again.

“I’m going to teach him.”

She fumbled and caught the back of a chair.

“Don’t look that way, Mother,” broke out Lee. “I’m not afraid.”

“Hush!” she cried, but William Garrison had balled both his great fists.

“You don’t fear me, eh?” he said, grinding out the words. “Well, by heaven, you will fear me. D’you hear that? My own son don’t fear me!” It was not the voice of his father so much as his mother’s eyes that froze the blood of Lee. She kept looking into her husband’s face, fascinated, and Lee began to feel that all this time she had known mysterious, terrible things about William Garrison and concealed them from the world.

“Come here!” The big hands clamped on Lee’s shoulders and wrenched them about. “Listen to me. I been lettin’ you go your own sweet way. That’s ended. You’re no good, and you’re comin’ to no good end. I’m goin’ to make you or break you, and I’m goin’ to do it now.”

There was no doubt about it. It meant a thrashing, and Lee wondered if he would scream as the others screamed. The thought made him sick. He wanted to die before the test came.

“William,” said his mother in that same terrifying whisper, “it wasn’t much he done wrong.” The big man only turned his head and looked at her, and his fingers worked deeper into the shoulders of Lee. “I’ll get the switch,” she said.

“Switch? Switch nothing!”

She was upon him with a cry, her hands clutching at the breast of her husband.

“William, you ain’t goin’ to touch him? You ain’t in the right way for it. You–you’ll–kill him. My baby!”

“Molly, you go sit down.”

She wavered, and then dropped into a chair and hugged her face in her arms.

“Don’t do it, Dad,” said Lee. “Don’t you see? She can’t stand it.”

His father blinked as though a fierce light had been flashed in his face.

“Good heaven!” groaned Willliam Garrison. “A coward, too!”

By one hand he still held Lee, and now he turned and strode out of the kitchen and down the back steps, dragging the boy. He threw back the cellar doors with a crash and went down with Lee carried in front by the scruff of the neck. Below it was almost night, and now that the dimness covered the face of his father, Lee, standing in the corner, felt the horror slip from him. He remembered that worried, gentle face that had leaned above him when he had had scarlet fever.

“Dad,” he said, “I’m not afraid, but wait till tomorrow. It’s worse on Mother than it is on me.”

“The devil!” said William Garrison hoarsely, and he caught up a billet of wood from the floor. That voice told Lee plainly that he had to do with a stranger, an enemy. He looked about him, and in the corner stood the wooden sword that he had whittled when he first read the story of Excalibur. He caught it by the flimsy hilt.

“I give you warning,” he said in a high, small voice, “I’m going to fight back.”

“You are, eh? Come here!”

Out of the dark a hand reached at him, but he struck it away with the wooden sword. That first blow was the last; Excalibur snapped at the flimsy hilt. A great black form rushed on him. He was whirled about. A bruising, cutting blow whacked on his shoulders. Lee could have wept with joy, for the pain, instead of leaping out at his teeth in a shriek, traveled inward, a deep, silent hurt. There was only the sound of the blows, the harsh breathing of his father, the staggering impacts, and shooting, burning pains.

A pause with lifted hand. “Have you got enough?” gasped out William Garrison, and a great sense of unfairness rushed through Lee and made tears come in his eyes. He was not being punished; he was being fought as a grown man fights an equal, and all his fine boy’s sense of fair play revolted. If he could have spoken, he would have defied the giant in the dark, but he dared not open his lips for fear of the sobs that made his throat ache.

“Have you got enough?” repeated William Garrison, thundering. Then: “I guess that’ll do you for a while.” He seemed to grow sober at a stride. “Son, I thought you was a coward–maybe I was wrong. You stay here and think it over–what you done and how you lied–I’m coming back later on.”

Mr. Garrison disappeared up the steps, the cellar doors crashed shut, and the padlock snapped. At that Lee forgot his pain.

“He wouldn’t trust me,” he whispered to himself. “He wouldn’t trust me. He locked me up like a dog that’s been whipped.”

Lee shook his fist in a silent fury of shame and hate, and then sat down to think. Vital, deep emotions did not last long in Lee. His edge had been taken by romance, his sensibilities blunted, but, as he heard the noise of supper preparations begin over his head, he was sure of one thing–he would not face his seven brothers in the morning and see their half-sheepish, half-mocking grins. He was like them, now–something to be beaten into obedience. Then there was a deep rumbling–his father’s laugh.

He could not believe it, for a time. Then silverware jingled faintly. They sat at the table; they had forgotten.

“And I’ll forget you!” said Lee in a burst of sorrow and choking shame. “I’ll forget you all, forever!”

It was a simple matter to escape through the cellar window, which, of course, his father had forgotten, and it was equally easy to steal across the kitchen floor while Paul was telling a noisy anecdote about the school. His voice covered the sound of Lee’s steps, but through the dining-room door Lee saw his mother’s sad face, and he blessed her for it.

Once in the room that he shared with three of his brothers, he lighted the oil lamp and swiftly set about making up his bundle, for he knew exactly what should go into a bundle when one leaves home. He remembered what Billy had taken in The Adventures of a Young Miner and all the important things that the hero had forgotten. In five minutes his bundle was completed, and he was on his way downstairs.

He stopped at the foot of them to listen. If there had been one word for him, one syllable to show they missed him, he would have turned back, but they were all exclaiming about something he did not understand, and Lee went out into the night.

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