The Valley of Vanishing Men - Max Brand - ebook

The Valley of Vanishing Men ebook

Max Brand

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Valley of the Vanishing Men begins with Ben Trainor receiving a letter from home that tells him that his brother who was bound for Alkali Valley has been missing. Alkali Valley was a lawless desert outpost, known for its gunplay and gold. Ben Trainor rode into town searching for his vanished brother. Within twenty-four hours he had been slugged, shot at, and bushwhacked. ""Go home while you’re still in one piece"" the sheriff advised him. But Ben decided to stick it out. And when his friend Silvertip slipped into town to help him out, it was just the two of them against a pack of gun-happy killers. Two men against a gang of killers!

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Liczba stron: 240

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Contents

I. THE GRAY WOLF

II. ALKALI VALLEY

III. THE KNIFE

IV. THE FIGHTER

V. GUN PLAY

VI. THE GIRL

VII. BLACK ORE

VIII. THE CLUE

IX. MOUNT BALDY

X. THE SEARCH

XI. A FAMILIAR VOICE

XII. PURSUIT

XIII. THE RIFLEMAN

XIV. THE ROUT

XV. RIDING PARADE

XVI. THE DOCTOR

XVII. MAN HUNTERS

XVIII. THE DOCTOR’S DECISION

XIX. THREE HORSEMEN

XX. THE TREASURE

XXI. THE DYING MAN

XXII. THE STORM

XXIII. IN THE TRAP

XXIV. ROPES TO FREEDOM

XXV. A REFORMED TOWN

I. THE GRAY WOLF

IT WAS one of those gorges which seem to have been plowed through the mountains with some vast mechanical instrument that cuts with equal ease through hard and soft. Granite had yielded like butter to the edge of that imagined tool. And Trainor, looking up from the edge of the creek, could see the steep and polished cliffs rising on either hand, beyond the climbing of man or beast. At the top, there was an occasional fringing of trees, which leaned over the gorge as though peering curiously down into its depths.

But he had little time to look at the peculiarities of nature, because he was bound for Alkali Valley, in the desert, and his mind was preoccupied by that letter from the hotel keeper which had said, briefly:

Your brother left the hotel two weeks ago, intending to be gone not more than five days. We have heard no word from him. Travel in Alkali Valley, as you know, is dangerous. We think you should be informed of his continued absence.

That was why he had saddled his roan, left his job punching cows, and had hurried at once down the trails that led south. He had been nearly eight days on the way, and still that letter which was curled up in his breast pocket kept drifting into words through his mind. He had finally, on this day, submitted to the heat and was plugging along with his thoughts on the unknown dangers of Alkali Valley, when he heard the unforgettable note of a wolf on a blood trail.

He had just turned a corner of the canyon and had gone past what men in the West call a “devil’s slide”–a steep-sided heap of débris which was stacked up against the side wall of the valley and ran to the very top of the cliff, almost two hundred feet above. Now, looking back and up toward the cry of the wolf, he saw a mule deer running in the sky, as it were, with a great gray wolf in pursuit. They were so close to the edge of the precipice that the blue of the sky outlined their straining bodies.

Ordinarily, a mule deer could run away from the fastest wolf that ever walked on pads, but this stag had been laboring hard for a long time and was nearly spent. And the wolf ran as though it knew that the staggering strides of the deer must stop at any moment. A red rag of lolling tongue whipped from the side of the lobo’s mouth. At that short distance, Trainor could almost see the green blood lust in the eye of the monster. For it seemed one of the freaks of its species–a creature that might weigh as much as one hundred and fifty pounds; a giant of its kind such as Westerners see once in a lifetime.

Trainor had no need of venison, but he hated cattle-killing wolves, those wise and long-headed murderers. That was why he pulled his Winchester out of the time-polished leather of its holster that ran down beside his leg. He balanced the gun–a bright sword flash of light in the sun–and tucked the butt into the hollow of his shoulder.

A moment later, a hard-nosed bullet would have clipped through the body of the gray wolf, but here the deer took things into its own charge. It had come to the end of its strength, and whirling suddenly, it stood at bay with head down, with hind legs sprawled wide, the quarters sinking toward the ground. It was the perfect picture of desperate and hopeless courage as it wheeled.

The gray wolf checked itself so abruptly that it skidded a bit on braced legs, and that was where chance took a hand for the mule deer. For the lobo, as it skidded, slued around to the side and slid off onto the top of that devil’s slide.

Trainor grunted with horror, and dropped his rifle back into its holster, for it was a grim death that the lobo was falling toward. Nothing in the world could keep it from shooting down that crumbling, sharp-angled gravel heap into the waters of the creek–and those waters were running like galloping horses toward the white of the rapids just below. Out of those rapids gleamed the sharp teeth of polished rocks, ready to spear any living thing that entered the jaws of the cataract.

The gray wolf was using brains worthy of a king of its kind. Instead of turning and trying vainly to claw its way back up the treacherous slope, and thereby loosening under its feet a constantly increasing flood of almost liquid gravel, the lobo went down like a mountain sheep, head first, with braced legs. And as it saw a change in the surface to this side or that, the animal would jump for it. The new soil sometimes held for an instant, slowing the fall. It seemed to Trainor, as he stared, that the lobo might actually beat the law of gravitation, but a moment later the whole face of the bottom of the slope gave way with a rush and hurled the hunter down toward the stream.

Even then the wolf did not surrender to fate. Instead of trying to get into the shoal water on the nearer side of the creek–a thing which the impetus of its fall rendered impossible–the lobo actually ran with the running gravel and, from the bank of the creek, hurled itself far out into the air.

It was a glorious leap. It was like a javelin cast from the shore, and again Trainor believed, and earnestly hoped, that the brave beast would clear the speed of the central current and get into the slack of water on the farther side.

There was a fighting chance, for a brief space, as the lobo pointed its nose at a slight angle upstream, fighting against the sweep of the water as it worked in toward the farther shore. But then the central current gained upon the brave swimmer. Little by little the distance between the wolf and the shore widened. The main stream got hold and bore the lobo down, twisting it in circles of increasing rapidity.

Still it did not surrender, as most men or beasts would have done, to the inevitable. It struggled a bit to the side, where a rock point jutted out from the face of the stream, with a white bow wave spreading out from it on either side. And Trainor, with a gasp of admiration, saw the lobo reach with paws and teeth for that haven, that anchor point. No human brain could have tried better.

It was a useless effort. The descent of the wolf was stopped for one instant only. Then the creek waters, as though angered, rose in a wave that submerged the lobo. The next moment it was shooting down the stream again.

Still it fought, pointing nose upstream when the currents failed to start it whirling helplessly round and round.

Trainor, with a groan of sympathy, flung himself out of the saddle. There was a ten-foot branch of a dead tree that had fallen from the cliff top above onto the floor of the ravine. He snatched that up and ran hip-deep into the current. Farther he dared not go, for even at that depth the currents shook and staggered him, and the roar of the rapids took on a snarling sound that had a personal meaning for him.

Now, looking up the stream, he saw the wolf coming. Wild beasts avoid men even more than they avoid death, as a rule, but this big lobo, with ears pricking forward more sharply, with eyes bright with understanding, aimed itself straight at the branch that was thrust out toward it.

The heart of Trainor rose in his breast. He knew, that instant, that he would never again be able to set a trap or point a gun at a wolf. He could not slaughter any member of a tribe so wise and brave and steadfast. It would be murder, he felt.

Right down at the branch the wolf came. A freak of the twisting current brought it close in, almost in arm’s reach of Trainor, and then a vagary of the same current whirled it away again beyond the tip of the branch. It was lost!

No, at the last minute, even while it was spinning in the current, the lobo managed to make a convulsive effort and catch the very end of the branch in its teeth.

The strain that followed almost pulled Trainor off his feet. For an instant, he heard the noise of the rapids like a death song swelling in his ears. Then he rebraced his feet, swayed his weight back, and found that he was just able to meet the pull of the flying water.

And the wolf, although only the tip of the nose and the eyes showed now and again, through the smother of the spray, kept its grip, was drawn in a little, and still a little more.

They were winning! Now Trainor could make a backward step into calmer and more shoaling water. Now he could bring the wolf after him into the shallows. And suddenly, touching bottom, with a great bound the gray lobo flung itself forward onto the shore.

What followed was far stranger than anything that had gone before. Nature should have asserted itself the instant that the wolf hit firm ground. It should have turned into a gray streak and disappeared at once among the boulders.

Instead, it first sent out a sparkling cloud of spray as it shook the water from its coat. Then it sat down, pointed its nose toward the top of the cliff, and uttered a long, long howl.

Did it see the mule deer up yonder? Was it sending up a last call of hate and a promise of revenge toward the lucky bit of venison?

Trainor glanced toward the ridge and saw a thing that took his breath indeed. For a rider was up there, a big man sitting the saddle on a great stallion that shone like polished copper in the blaze of the sun. The wolf, the stallion, the rider, joined to make one symbol in the mind of Trainor.

“Silver!” he shouted. “Jim Silver!”

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