The Trail Horde - Charles Alden Seltzer - ebook

The Trail Horde ebook

Charles Alden Seltzer

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If you enjoy the works of Charles Alden Seltzer then we highly recommend „The Trail Horde” for your book collection. A classic story that is considered to be Seltzer’s best work with action and romance trailing at every turn. After losing a ranch, a lone man battles against the rustlers and cattle thievin’ sidewinders who had grabbed the spread. Plot twists and detailed explanations of characters thoughts and motivations. Charles Alden Seltzer was one of the most successful and prolific Western writers of his day. His books are now lauded for their authenticity, and were widely reprinted and translated during his lifetime, and for several decades after. A number of his novels were adapted for the screen beginning in the silent-film era.

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Liczba stron: 418

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Contents

CHAPTER I. CONCERNING MORALS

CHAPTER II. DRIVING A BARGAIN

CHAPTER III. A WOMAN'S EYES

CHAPTER IV. REBELLION

CHAPTER V. A MAN'S WORD

CHAPTER VI. THE INVISIBLE POWER

CHAPTER VII. THE COALITION

CHAPTER VIII. A WOMAN'S MERCY

CHAPTER IX. THE ARM OF POWER

CHAPTER X. THE SECOND OBSTACLE

CHAPTER XI. THE LONG TRAIL

CHAPTER XII. THE NIGHT WIND'S MYSTERY

CHAPTER XIII. THE INVISIBLE MENACE

CHAPTER XIV. LAWLER'S "NERVE"

CHAPTER XV. CONCERNING AN OUTLAW

CHAPTER XVI. A "NORTHER"

CHAPTER XVII. THE LINE CABIN

CHAPTER XVIII. STORM-DRIVEN

CHAPTER XIX. DEATH AT A DOOR

CHAPTER XX. THE "KILLING"

CHAPTER XXI. CHANC. AND A MAN

CHAPTER XXII. THE WHITE WASTE

CHAPTER XXIII. A WOMAN'S WILES

CHAPTER XXIV. DELLA'S HANDKERCHIEF

CHAPTER XXV. IN WHICH A MAN PLOTS

CHAPTER XXVI. A MENACE APPEARS

CHAPTER XXVII. EVIDENCE

CHAPTER XXVIII. THE TRAIL HORDE

CHAPTER XXIX. ANTRIM STRIKES

CHAPTER XXX. A WOMAN LIES

CHAPTER XXXI. "JAIL'S EMPTY, KANE!"

CHAPTER XXXII. RED KING RUNS

CHAPTER XXXIII. THE FIGHT AT THE CABIN

CHAPTER XXXIV. "GOOD OLD SHORTY!"

CHAPTER XXXV. HAUNTING MEMORIES

CHAPTER XXXVI. A MAN MEDITATES VENGEANCE

CHAPTER XXXVII. THE TRAP

CHAPTER XXXVIII. THE GOVERNOR'S GUNS

CHAPTER XXXIX. SLADE'S PRISONER

CHAPTER XL. PRIMITIVE INSTINCTS

CHAPTER XLI. THE CLEAN-UP

CHAPTER XLII. GOING EAST

CHAPTER XLIII. THE MAJESTY OF PEACE

CHAPTER I

CONCERNING MORALS

There were fifty thousand acres within view of the ranchhouse–virgin grass land dotted with sage, running over a wide level, into little hills, and so on to an upland whose rise was so gradual that it could be seen only from a distance, best from the gallery of the ranchhouse.

The first tang of autumn was in the sage-scented breeze that swept the county, and the tawny valley, basking in the warm sunlight that came down from a cloudless sky, showed its rugged beauty to advantage.

Kane Lawler paused at the edge of the gallery and filled his lungs from the sage-laden breeze, and then wheeled to face his mother.

She smiled at him.

“Have you seen Ruth Hamlin lately, Kane?”

Lawler’s lips opened, then closed again, tightly. And by that token Mrs. Lawler knew that something Kane had been on the point of saying never would be said. For she knew her son as no other person in the country knew him.

Kane Lawler was big. From the broad shoulders that bulged the gray flannel shirt, down the yellow corduroy trousers that encased his legs to the tops of the boots with their high heels and dull-roweled spurs, Lawler looked what he was, a man who asked no favors of his kind.

Mrs. Lawler had followed him out of the house, and she now stood near him, watching him.

There was in Lawler’s lean face as he turned from his mother and peered steadily out into the valley, a hint of volcanic force, of resistless energy held in leash by a contrary power. That power might have been grim humor–for his keen gray eyes were now gleaming with something akin to humor–it might have been cynical tolerance–for his lips were twisted into a curious, mirthless half-smile; it might have been the stern repression that had governed him all his days.

Whatever it was it seemed to be no secret from his mother, for she smiled understandingly, and with pride that must have been visible to anyone who watched her.

Massed in the big valley–at a distance of two or three miles from the big ranchhouse, was a herd of cattle. Circling them were a number of cowboys on horses. In the huge corral that spanned a shallow, narrow river, were other cattle. These were the result of the fall–or beef–round-up. For a month there had been intense activity in the section. Half the cattlemen in the county had participated in the round-up that had centered upon Lawler’s range, the Circle L: and the cattle had been herded down in the valley because of its natural advantages.

There the herd had been held while the neighboring cattlemen engaged in the tedious task of “cutting out”–which meant that each cattle owner took from the herd the steers that bore his “brand,” with the addition of a proportionate number of unbranded steers, and calves, designated as “mavericks.” Then the neighboring outfit had driven their stock home.

“It was a big round-up, Kane,” said Mrs. Lawler, watching the herd.

“Eight thousand head,” Lawler replied. “We’re starting a thousand toward Willets today.”

“Have you seen Gary Warden? I mean, have you arranged with Warden to have him take the cattle?”

Lawler smiled. “I had an agreement with Jim Lefingwell. We made it early last spring.”

“A written agreement?”

“Shucks–no. I never had a written agreement with Lefingwell. Never had to. Jim’s word was all I ever wanted from him–all I ever asked for.”

“But perhaps Gary Warden’s business methods are different?”

“I talked that over with Lefingwell when he sold out to Warden. Jim said he’d already mentioned our agreement to Warden and that Warden had agreed to carry it out.”

“But suppose Warden has changed his mind?”

Lawler spoke seriously. “No man goes back on his word in this country. But from what I’ve heard of Warden, he’s likely to. If he does, we’ll drive the stock to Keppler, at Red Rock. Keppler isn’t buying for the same concern, but he’ll pay what Lefingwell agreed to pay. We’ll ship them, don’t worry.”

“Red Rock means a five hundred mile drive, Kane.”

Lawler replied, “You’re anticipating, Mother. Warden will take them.”

Lawler grinned and stepped off the gallery. A few minutes later he emerged from the stable carrying a saddle, which he flung over one of the top rails of the corral fence. He roped a big, red bay, smooth, with a glossy coat that shone like a flame in the clear white light of the morning sun.

The bay was built on heroic lines. He was tall and rangy, and the spirit of a long line of thoroughbred ancestors was in him. It showed in the clear white of his gleaming, indomitable eyes, in his thin, sensitive nostrils and long, shapely muzzle; in the contour of his head and chest, and in his slender, sinewy legs.

Man and horse were big, capable, strong-willed. They were equipped for life in the grim, wild country that surrounded them. From the slender, powerful limbs of the big bay, to the cartridge-studded belt that encircled the man’s middle, with a heavy pistol at the right hip, they seemed to typify the ruggedness of the country, seemed to embody the spirit of the Wild.

Lawler mounted, and the big bay whistled as he pranced across the ranchhouse yard to the big corral where the cattle were confined. Lawler brought the bay to a halt at a corner of the corral fence, where his foreman, Blackburn, who had been breakfasting in the messhouse, advanced to meet him, having seen Lawler step down from the gallery.

Blackburn was of medium height, swarthy, with heavy brows under which were keen, deep-set eyes. His mouth was big, expressive, with a slightly cynical set in repose.

“We’re hittin’ the trail in about an hour,” said Blackburn. “Are you wantin’ me to put ‘em through, or are we takin’ two days to it, as usual?”

“Two days,” advised Lawler. “There’s no hurry. It’s a bad trail in spots, and they’ll want to feed. They’ll stand the trip on the cars better if they’ve had plenty of grass.”

“Gary Warden is keeping Lefingwell’s agreement with you, I reckon?” asked Blackburn. He eyed Lawler intently.

“Of course.” Lawler caught the expression of his foreman’s eyes, and his brows drew together. He added: “Why do you ask?”

“Just wonderin’,” hesitated Blackburn; “just wonderin’. You seen this here man, Warden?”

Lawler had not met Warden; he had not even seen the man from a distance. That was because he had not visited Willets since Warden had bought Lefingwell’s ranch and assumed Lefingwell’s position as resident buyer for a big eastern live-stock company. Lawler had heard, though, that Warden seemed to be capable enough; that he had entered upon the duties of his position smoothly without appreciable commotion; he had heard that Warden, was quiet and “easy-going,” and that as a cattle buyer he seemed to “know his business.”

This information had reached Lawler’s ears through the medium of neighboring cattle owners, and he was willing to accept it as accurate, though he was not prepared to form an estimate of Warden until he had an opportunity to talk with him personally.

“Well,” went on Blackburn; “them that’s looked him over don’t hesitate to say he don’t measure up to Jim Lefingwell’s size.”

“Jim was a mighty big man–in size and principles,” said Lawler.

“Now you’re shoutin’! There wasn’t no man bigger’n Jim, sideways, edgeways, or up an’ down. I reckon any man would have a hard time measurin’ up to Jim Lefingwell. Mebbe that’s what’s wrong with Warden. Folks has got Jim Lefingwell on their minds, an’ they’re not givin’ Warden what’s comin’ to him, them bein’ biased.” He squinted at Lawler. “Folks is hintin’ that Warden don’t own Jim Lefingwell’s ranch a-tall; that some eastern guys bought it, an’ that Warden’s just managin’ it. Seems like they’s a woman at the Lefingwell’s old place, keepin’ Warden company. She’s eastern, too, they say. Got a old maid with her to keep her company–a chapper-own, they say–which ain’t in no ways illuminatin’ my think-tank none. Which is a chapper-own?”

“A kind of a moral monitor, Blackburn,” grinned Lawler. “Some folks need them. If you’re thinking of getting one––”

“Bah!” Blackburn’s eyes were vitriolic with disgust. “I sabe what you are hintin’ at when you gas of morals–which I’m a heap acquainted with because I ain’t got none to speak of. But I’m plumb flabbergasted when you go to connectin’ a battleship with anything that’s got a whole lot to do with morals. Accordin’ to my schoolin’, a monitor is a thing which blows the stuffin’ out of––”

“A monitor of morals could do that,” gravely said Lawler. “In fact, according to the best authorities, there have been many monitors who have blown the stuffing out of the reputations of their charges.”

Blackburn gulped. He was puzzled, and his eyes were glazed with the incomprehension which had seized him. Twice again as he watched Lawler’s grave face he gulped. And then he eyed Lawler belligerently.

“I reckon them monitors is eastern. I’ve never seen one galivantin’ around these parts.”

“They’re a lot eastern,” assented Lawler. “I’ve never seen one, but I’ve read about them in books. And once my mother saw one–she tells me the East raises them by the hundred.”

“That accounts for it,” declared Blackburn; “anything which comes from the East is likely to be a heap shy on hoss sense.”

He now squinted at Lawler, watching him keenly.

“Accordin’ to report Joe Hamlin ought to go around draggin’ one of them monitors.”

Blackburn shrewdly noted the quickening of Lawler’s eyes, and the dull red that stole into his face.

“What do you mean, Blackburn?”

“Davies an’ Harris hit town ag’in last night; an’ comin’ back they run plumb into Joe Hamlin. He was in the upper end of the box arroyo. He’d roped an’ hog-tied a Circle L cow an’ was blottin’ our brand out.”

“What happened?” Lawler’s lips were set in grim lines.

“Nothin’–followin’ your orders regardin’ the cuss. Davies an’ Harris let him go–after warnin’ him. Somethin’ ought to be done. It ain’t addin’ a heap to the morals of the outfit for the men to know a man can rustle cattle that promiscuous–an’ the boss not battin’ an eyewinker. This is the fourth time he’s been caught with the goods–to say nothin’ of the times he’s done it without nobody gittin’ wise–an’ the boys is beginnin’ to ask questions, bein’ a heap puzzled because somethin’ don’t happen to Joe.”

Lawler’s face was expressionless. Except for the flush in his cheeks he seemed to be unaffected by Blackburn’s words. His voice was a trifle cold when he spoke:

“I’ll attend to Hamlin. I’ll stop at the Two Bar on my way to Willets. By the time you reach town with the cattle I’ll have the deal with Warden clinched.”

Blackburn nodded, and Lawler wheeled the bay, heading him northward.

As he rode, Lawler’s face changed expression. He frowned, and his lips set stiffly.

What he had been almost on the point of telling his mother was that he knew why Ruth Hamlin had refused him. It was pride, nothing less. Lawler suspected that Ruth knew her father was a rustler. In fact, there had been times when he had seen that knowledge lying naked in her eyes when she looked at her parent. Accusation and disgust had been there, but mingling with them was the persistent loyalty that had always governed the girl; the protective instinct, and a hope of reformation.

The pride that Mrs. Lawler had exhibited was not less strong in the girl’s heart. By various signs Lawler knew the girl loved him; he knew it as positively as he knew she would not marry him while the stigma of guilt rested upon her parent. And he was convinced that she was ignorant of the fact that Lawler shared her secret. That was why Lawler had permitted Hamlin to escape; it was why he had issued orders to his men to suffer Hamlin’s misdeeds without exacting the expiation that custom provided. Lawler did not want Ruth to know that he knew.

He sent the big bay forward at a steady, even pace, and in an hour he had crossed the sweep of upland and was riding a narrow trail that veered gradually from the trail to Willets. The character of the land had changed, and Lawler was now riding over a great level, thickly dotted with bunch grass, with stretches of bars, hard sand, clumps of cactus and greasewood.

He held to the narrow trail. It took him through a section of dead, crumbling lava and rotting rock; through a little stretch of timber, and finally along the bank of a shallow river–the Wolf–which ran after doubling many times, through the Circle L valley.

In time he reached a little grass level that lay close to the river. A small cabin squatted near the center of the clearing, surrounded by several outbuildings in a semi-dilapidated condition, and a corral, in which there were several horses.

Lawler sent Red King straight toward the cabin. When he reached the cabin he swung off and walked toward the door, his lips set in straight lines, his manner decisive.

He had taken only several steps when a voice greeted him, coming from the interior of the cabin–a man’s voice, snarling, venomous:

“You come another step, Kane Lawler, an’ I’ll bore you!”

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