The Trail Driver - Zane Grey - ebook

The Trail Driver ebook

Zane Grey



A great story by „the greatest novelist of the American West”. This one is about the tough men and women who made their living by obtaining herds of cattle and driving them across large territories to be sold. Driving forty-five hundred longhorns is hard enough, but in addition to leading the biggest cattle drive in the history of the Chisholm Trail, Adam Brite and his ten trail-hardened partners have to contend with the fury of nature and man. They were going all the way from San Antonio to Dodge. They expected plenty of trouble. They got it... Lots of action, quick shooting, slow drawling cowboys. A romance with a girl masquerading as a boy horse wrangler, but her identity is early discovered so the proprieties remain unscathed.

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Liczba stron: 366

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THAT hot summer day in June the Texas town of San Antonio was humming like a drowsy beehive. The year 1871 appeared destined to be the greatest for cattle-drives north since the first one inaugurated by Jesse Chisholm in 1868. During the Civil War cattle had multiplied on the vast Texas ranges by the hundreds of thousands. There was no market. Ranches were few and far between, and the inhabitants very poor. Chisholm conceived the daring idea of driving a herd north to find a market. Despite the interminable distance, the hardships and perils, his venture turned out a success. It changed the history of Texas.

By the spring of 1871 the Chisholm Trail had become a deciding factor in the recovery of Texas. The hoofs of Texas long-horns and Spanish mustangs had worn a mile wide trail across the undulating steppes of the Lone Star State.

Adam Brite had already made one trip this year. Starting in March with twenty-five hundred head of cattle and seven drivers, he had beat the Indians and floods in his most profitable venture. He had started too early for both. The misfortunes of trail drivers following him that year could not dampen his ardor for a second drive. Perhaps he might make three drives this auspicious year. Buying cattle right and left for cash, he had in sight a herd of four thousand five hundred. This would be by far the largest number of long-horns ever collected, let alone driven north. And Brite’s immediate and vital problem was trail drivers.

Five boys were on the way to San Antonio from Uvalde Ranch with a herd, and their services had been secured in the sale. Brite did not care to undertake so big a job without at least ten of the hardest-riding and hardest-shooting drivers on the ranges. To this end he had been a busy man for the single day that he had been back in San Antonio. At Dodge his seven drivers had seemed to vanish as if by magic in the smoke and dust of that wildest of frontier posts. But Brite felt himself particularly fortunate in having secured one of Chisholm’s right-hand drivers for his foreman.

Brite waited for this man, eager and hopeful. His life-long friend, the cattleman Colonel Eb Blanchard, had recommended Texas Joe Shipman, and promised to find him and fetch him around. The afternoon was waning now. Lines of dusty riders were off to the range; the lobby of the Alamo Hotel was thinning out of its booted, spurred, and belted cattlemen; the saloon inside had lost something of its roar. Sloe-eyed Mexicans in colorful garb passed down the street. Brite was about to give up waiting when Colonel Blanchard entered with a young man who would have stood out paramount even among a host of rangy, still-faced, clear-eyed Texans.

“Heah yu air, Adam,” called out Blanchard, cheerily, as he dragged up the tall rider. “Tex, meet my old partner, Adam Brite, the whitest stockman in this State…. Adam, this is Joe Shipman. He rode on my ootfit longer than I can recollect, an’ has made two trips up the Trail. Little the wuss for likker at this time. But never yu mind thet. I vouch for Tex.”

“Hod do, Shipman,” replied Brite, shortly, extending his hand. This rider was tall, wide-shouldered, small-hipped, lithe, and erect. His boldly cut features were handsome. He had tawny hair, eyes of clear amber, singularly direct, and a lazy, cool, little smile. He looked about twenty-four years old.

“Howdy, Mistah Brite,” he replied. “I’m shore sorry I’m drunk. Yu shee, I met old pard–Less Holden–an’ dog-gone him–he hawg-tied me an’ poured aboot a barrel of applejack down me.”

Brite knew Texans. He required no second look at this stalwart rider to like him, to accept him even without Colonel Blanchard’s recommendation.

“I’ll leave yu to talk it over,” went on Blanchard. “Reckon yu’d do wal to take Tex on right heah.”

“All right, Colonel. Much obliged,” replied Brite. “Come, Shipman, let’s set down…. Have a cigar…. What wages do yu want to be foreman for me on my next drive?”

“Wal, what’ll yu pay?” inquired Shipman, and it was easy to see that he did not care what he got.

“Forty a month, considerin’ we’ll drive forty-five hundred haid.”

“Whew!… An’ how many drivers, boss?”

“Ten, at least, an’ fifteen if we can get them.”

“Wal, we cain’t never make it with only ten. There’ll be hell shore up the Trail this summer.”

“Will yu take the job?”

“I reckon so,” drawled the rider. “Shore swore I’d never go again. I’ve been up three times. Had a Comanche arrer in my shoulder. An’ I’m packin’ lead in my hip.”

“I seen yu walked with a limp. Hurt yore ridin’ any?”

“Wal, nobody ever said nothin’ aboot it if it did.”

“Ahuh. Do yu know any riders yu can hire?”

“I might get my old pard, Less Holden,” replied Shipman, brightening. “No better ever forked a hawse. But Less is the wildest hombre.”

“Thet’s no matter. Get him, an’ half a dozen more. Also a cook. I’ll go oot an’ buy a new chuck-wagon. The last one went to pieces on us. We lost time. I’ll buy supplies, too.”

“When yu aim to hit the Trail, boss?”

“Soon as thet Uvalde ootfit comes in. Expect them today. We ought to get away day after tomorrow.”

“Dog-gone! I had a gurl somewhere heah in this town. I cain’t find her…. Wal, it’s a dog’s life…. Reckon with such a big herd yu’ll want a real ootfit.”

“Hardest riders on the range.”

“Wal, thet ain’t a-goin’ to be easy. Drivers shore as scarce as hen teeth. Boss, there’s fifty thousand haid due to leave this month.”

“All the more reason for us to get the jump on them.”

“Wal, I’d just as lief there was half a dozen herds ahaid of us.”

“Shipman, grass an’ water good only in spots this spring.”

“All right, boss. I’ll do my best,” replied the rider, rising.

“Report to me heah after supper,” concluded Brite, and watched the Texan move leisurely away. His limp was not pronounced and it did not detract from his striking appearance. Brite thought that he would have liked to call him son. After all, he was a lonely old cattleman. And more than once he had felt a strange melancholy, almost a presentiment in regard to this trail driving. It had developed into a dangerous business. Storm, flood, drought and cold, lightning and the extremely strenuous nature of the work, were bad enough. But of late the Comanches and Kiowas had gone on the warpath. There had always been Indian depredations in Texas; however, nothing so serious as threatened now. Brite concluded the buffalo meat and hide hunters were responsible. The time would come when the Indians would no longer stand for the slaughter of the buffalo. And when that time arrived all the hunters and trail drivers as well as settlers would be forced to unite for war against the redskin. The wild young Texans scouted this idea, but all the old timers like Brite knew its truth.

Brite had to shoulder his way into Hitwell’s merchandise store. Three months before he had bought supplies here and had the place to himself. A motley horde of vaqueros, soldiers, cattlemen, drivers, Indians, and loungers now filled the big place. Brite finally got Hitwell’s ear. They had been in the cattle business together before the war. “Sam, what’s all this aboot?”

“Wal, it’s shore a rush,” replied Hitwell, rubbing his hands. “If old Jesse Chisholm had foreseen this he’d have gone in the supply business.”

“Reckon yu better duplicate thet order I gave yu in March an’ add a third more to it.”

“When yu leavin’, Adam?”

“Day after tomorrow.”

“Be all packed for yu. Fresh supplies just in from New Orleans.”

“How aboot a chuck-wagon?”

“Sold oot, Adam. Haven’t got any kind of a wagon left.”

“Cain’t yu get me one?”

“Wal, I’ll try, Adam, but chances air slim.”

“Hell! I’d better go rustlin’ aboot.”

He visited other stores without avail. It was long after sunset when he got back to the hotel. Brite had supper and then went out to look for Shipman. The heat of day had passed and it was pleasant sitting out in front. Across the street stood a saloon which evidently rivaled the merchandise store for visitors. A tall gambler leaned against the door. He wore a long black coat and a flowered vest and a wide-brimmed black sombrero. Booted, spurred, gun-packing trail drivers passed in and out, noisy and gay. Riders passed to and fro against the lighted windows.

Soft steps and clinking spurs behind Brite drew his attention.

“Wal, boss, I shore been lucky,” drawled the voice of Shipman.

Brite turned to see the trail driver, accompanied by a flaming-faced youth under twenty. He had eyes of blue fire and an air of reckless insouciance.

“Hullo, Shipman. Shore glad yu had some luck. It’s more than I had. Couldn’t buy any kind of a wagon.”

“Boss, this heah’s my pard, Less Holden…. Less, shake with Mr. Brite.”

“Where yu hail from?” queried Brite, after the introduction, bending keen eyes on the stripling.

“Dallas. I was born there.”

“Wal, yu didn’t need to tell me yu was a Texan. Who yu been ridin’ for?”

“Dave Slaughter. Goin’ on three years. But I’ve never been up the Trail.”

“Holden, if yu’ve rode for Dave Slaughter yu’re good enough for me…. Shipman, what’s the other good luck?”

“Boss, I corralled a boy named Whittaker. Couldn’t be no better. An’ I talked with a chap from Pennsylvania. Tenderfoot, all right, but husky. Says he can ride. Reckon yu better let me hire him, boss. Santone is shore full of riders, but they’ve got jobs.”

“Yes, by all means,” replied Brite. “Looks like we’ll be delayed findin’ an ootfit. I’m stumped aboot a chuck-wagon, too.”

“Wal, Less an’ me will look around for a second-hand wagon.”

“Don’t overlook a cook…. Hullo! did I heah my name called?”

“Shore did. Thet boy who just limped off his hawse there,” returned Shipman, pointing.

Turning, Brite espied a mustang and rider that had arrived in front of the hotel. He was in the act of dropping his bridle and evidently had just addressed one of the men present.

“Brite? Shore, he’s around somewheres.”

“Heah I am,” called Brite, stepping along the curb, followed by the two drivers. The rider was young, dark as a Mexican, ragged and soiled, and he smelled of dust.

“Air yu Mr. Adam Brite?” he asked, when Brite strode up.

“Yes, I’m Brite. Yu must be one of my boys with the Uvalde herd?”

“Shore am, boss, an’ glad to report we got in without losin’ a steer.”

“What’s yore name?”

“Ackerman, sir.”

“Meet my foreman, Shipman, an’ his pard, Holden.”

“Howdy, Deuce,” drawled Shipman, extending a hand.

“Dog-gone if it ain’t Texas Joe,” burst out the rider, with a delighted grin. They gripped hands warmly.

“Whar yu beddin’ the herd, Deuce?” asked Shipman, when the greetings were over.

“Aboot five miles oot in the creek bottom. Not much grass, but plenty of water. Stock all fine an’ fat as pigeons. We mozeyed along slow.”

“Have yu got a wagon?”

“Shore, an’ a good cook. He’s a niggah, but he shore is a white one. An’ how he can cook!”

“Wal, Mr. Brite, this sounds like music to me,” said Shipman, turning to his employer. “Whar’s the stock yu had heah already?”

“I’ve two thousand haid in three pastures just oot of town. We can bunch them on the Trail in no time an’ work along slow while Ackerman catches up.”

“Shore, boss, but we gotta have drivers,” protested the foreman.

“There’s eight of us now, includin’ myself. I’d risk it with two more good men.”

“Wal, we’ll find them, somewhares…. An’, boss, how aboot grub?”

“Ordered at Hitwell’s…. Let’s see, Ackerman. Send yore wagon in early mawnin’ tomorrow. An’ after loadin’ supplies have it catch up oot on the trail.”

“Deuce, cain’t yu stay in town an’ see the sights?” queried Shipman, his eyes kindly on the weary, dusty rider.

“Wisht I could. But two of the boys air all in, an’ I gotta rustle back.” With that he stepped astride, and bidding them good by he trotted away.

“Wal, boss, we’ll comb Santone for a couple of drivers. An’ in the mawnin’ I’ll be heah to help load thet chuck-wagon.”

“All right. I’ll meet yu oot at the pastures. Good night.”

Brite headed back toward the lobby of the hotel to be confronted by a man he well knew, yet on the moment could not place. The blond, cold-faced, tight-lipped, gimlet-eyed Texan certainly recognized him. “Howdy, Brite. Don’t yu-all know me?” he drawled.

“Shore I know yu. But I don’t recollect yore handle,” replied Brite, slowly drawing back his half-extended hand.

“Wal, stick a pan on thet handle an’ yu’ll have me pat.”

“Hell yes! Pan Handle Smith!” exclaimed Brite, and this time shot out his hand. The other met it with his, and the steely grip of that soft ungloved member thrilled Brite to his marrow. “How’d yu turn up heah?”

“Just rode in. From the river. An’ I’m rustlin’ north pronto.”

“Wal, Pan Handle, yu always was on the move. I hope it’s not the same old––”

“Shore is, Brite. By ––! I cain’t have any peace. I dropped into a little game of draw below an’ got fleeced. Thet riled me. I hung on an’ caught a caird-sharp at his tricks. Wal, I called him an’ his pard. They’d been workin’ the buffalo camps. Didn’t know me. Drawed on me–settin’ at table at thet–the damn fools! I had to shoot my way oot, which is why I left my money. Been ridin’ hard an’ just got in. I’m hungry, Brite, an’ haven’t a dollar.”

“Easy. Glad yu bumped into me,” replied Brite, handing him a greenback. An idea flashed into his mind simultaneously with the action. And it chased away the cold little chill Smith’s story had given him. “On the dodge, eh?”

“Wal, it might be hot for me heah till thet fracas is forgotten.”

“Pan Handle, if I recollect right, yu used to drive cattle?”

“Wal, I reckon,” replied Smith, with a far-away look in his eyes and a wistful smile.

“How’d yu like to help me drive a big herd north to Dodge?”

“Brite, I’d like it a heap. I don’t want no wages. I can get a stake at Dodge,” returned the other, keenly.

“Yu’re on. For wages, of course. What ootfit have yu?”

“Not much. A fine hawse. But he needs a rest. A saddle, blanket, an’ Winchester. An’ all the rest of my worldly goods is on my back.”

“An’ on yore hips, too, I notice,” drawled Brite, his glance taking in the gray travel-worn figure and the gun butts, protruding from sheaths, significantly low. “Go get a good feed, Smith. Yu shore look peaked. An’ meet me heah in an hour or so. Yu’ll need to stock up heavy on ammunition. An’ yu’ll need a change of duds.”

“Wal, I appreciate this more than I can say, Brite,” replied Smith, and strode away.

Brite watched him out of sight. And not until then did he realize what he had done. Hired one of the most notorious of Texas gun-fighters to be a trail driver! The fact was that he was actually harboring an outlaw on the dodge. It shocked Brite a little–the bare fact. But on second thought he laughed. This was frontier Texas. And every community had a gunman of whom it was inordinately proud. Wess Hardin, Buck Duane, King Fisher, and a host of lesser lights were as representative of Texas as Crockett and Travis and Bowie. On the other hand, there were men noted for fast and deadly trigger work who put themselves outside the pale. They were robbers, bandits, desperadoes, sheriffs with an itch to kill instead of arrest, cowboys on the rampage, gamblers who shot to hide their cheating. Pan Handle Smith had been outlawed, but he had really been more sinned against than sinning. Brite concluded that he was fortunate to engage the outlaw for his second drive north. Something presaged a tremendous ordeal. Forty-five hundred long-horns! Too late now to undo this rash deal! He would go through with it. Still, old Texan that he was, he experienced a cold tight contraction of skin at the thought of possibilities. Many a driver had failed to reach the end of the long Trail.

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