Literary Thoughts edition presents The White Cheyenne by Max Brand (pseudonym of Frederick Schiller Faust) ------ "The White Cheyenne" was written in 1925 Frederick Schiller Faust (1892-1944) under his pseudonym Max Brand, telling the story of the legendary Lost Wolf, a white man who'd been raised by the savage Cheyennes, and a runaway Southern aristocrat. All books of the Literary Thoughts edition have been transscribed from original prints and edited for better reading experience. Please visit our homepage www.literarythoughts.com to see our other publications.
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What makes me wonder chiefly is why I am not wandering around Charleston, wearing a rusty black coat, a white Vandyke, and an air of pretending not to know that I am being pointed out as a son of one of the best families in melancholy South Carolina.
I was an anomaly from the day of my birth.
I didn’t fit.
When I was born, it was seen that upon my head there were a few wisps of tow-colored hair; the whole family circle nearly fainted. The terrible news was hashed up and kept from the ears of Charleston lest the fatal tongue of scandal should attaint my mother. My mother—who was five per cent dear idiot and ninety-five per cent purest saint!
Well, while I lay squawking in my cradle, the wise heads of the family got together and dragged out the tomes of the family history. I wish I could recreate the scene for you, because I know it just as well as if I had been there!
You see, my family on both sides was drenched with the book-publishing mania. Both the Rivieres and the Duchesnes had always written books—about themselves. There never had been a man, in either branch of the family, since the beginning of print who had not been capable of some sort of wildness in his youth, who had not mulled the deeds of his boyhood over during his middle age, and who had not sat down in a few quiet moments before his end to scribble out or dictate his memoirs.
Usually what he had to write about was a string of sanctified lies. I mean, facts which had become invested with a “certain atmosphere” by frequent tellings and re-tellings, until not even the days which mothered the real events could have recognized their progeny. Careless little boyish remarks became bearded orations in this process of time and tender imagination; yawns became sighs, and sighs became music, so to speak.
To maintain the tradition, here am I sitting in my library doing the very same thing. Only, I think that I have just a touch more of the historian about me, and that, when some critical Diogenes hunts through my narrative for a few honest facts, he will see a scattering here and there, not too completely disguised.
To go back to the family conclave in my infancy.
The library was such a room as would fitly house the traditions of the Riviere-Duchesnes. It was a lofty chamber with dark woodwork and a gloomy red carpet upon the floor. Upon the walls appeared pictures of more or less celebrated ancestors—chiefly more, of course. The first study to which the youth of the Riviere-Duchesne family was introduced was history—family history. There was not a cousin, however distant, who, on appearing in the library which was the sanctum of the clan, could not instantly identify the subjects of these smudgy old oil paintings. Most of them were out of the wig-and-lace period when the gentry all wore high-arched eyebrows and had hands which had never done a lick of work except when the fingers were wrapped around the hilt of a sword.
They had done some work, though—that was to write about themselves:
“For the sake of my dear children, who have pressed me to commit to paper the narrative of my life.”
A lot of pressing they needed! I know by my own example. Who could keep me from turning out this history? Only I am frank about admitting that I hope its future abiding place will not be in that musty Riviere-Duchesne house, but in sundry public libraries—the more, the better!
It was the solemn volumes of this library which were sought and pored over by my anxious relatives in an effort to identify other members of the family who had been blond of hair and gray of eye. All the rest were befittingly dark of skin and dark of eye and hair. What is so romantic as a black eye and a white head?
At last—I think it was Uncle Renault St. Omer Louvois, of the Duchesne branch, you know—I think it was this uncle who rushed out of the library as fast as he could one midnight, with a twenty-pound book under his arm. He gathered my anxious father, half a dozen more anxious cousins, and so forth, around him.
Uncle Renny—though I never dared to shorten his name so familiarly to his face—declared that he had trailed the secret to its hiding place. He straightway opened that volume and was instantly immersed in the details of how a great-uncle, or some such relative, had slipped from the straight and very narrow matrimonial path of a proper Riviere-Duchesne. Finding a pretty Saxon in the County of Kent, he had made her his housekeeper and, in due time, his wife.
This was how blond hair came into the stately line.
It was a thing not to be spoken of, the history of the family of this same Kentish girl. It was not gentle. It seems that the rascals had turned out a fine strain of buccaneering swordsmen, who had followed the sea and made nothing of taking the vessels of their majesties of Spain or of France either—not even when it involved the round thumping of a Riviere-Duchesne in command of the “lilies” of France.
However, this was not a thing to be dwelt upon.
What was important was that there was a precedent, some hundred years old, of blond heads in our family. No dreadful whisper could be circulated concerning my seven-times-sacred mother.
The next step was to discover how many times the blond hair had intruded upon what might be called the pure strain, up to this moment. It was then learned that there had been no fewer than three. The reason why their names were not prominent in our annals was that all three had been preeminent rascals!
The first was Terence. At the age of eleven he disappeared, coming back five years later with a rolling gait, a brown face, and a frightful seaman’s lingo.
The bad blood was breaking out! Did not the whole world know that the Riviere-Duchesne gentry always followed the land, and nothing but the land? The sea smacks of piracy and merchandise. The Riviere-Duchesnes were always people of landed estates. Yet here was this Terence turning himself into a sea-roving vagabond in this disgusting fashion.
Of course, they clapped him straightway into a school. Before a single Latin quantity had been thumped into his head, he broke the nose of his tutor and escaped by night, to be seen no more during half a dozen years. When he appeared again he was a grown-up young man with some sort of a gold-laced uniform on his shoulders. No one could find out just what service this Terence Riviere-Duchesne was in, but it was certain that it was one which paid him handsomely. In prize money, he said. Presently it was discovered that the service he was in was his own. This very proper youth was a pirate of the old school, it might be said; he both picked the pockets and cut the throats of his victims. He died very properly on his own quarter-deck in the act of passing a pike through one of his Britannic majesty’s naval officers.
The next blond-headed Riviere-Duchesne was given the name of Oliver. This gentleman did not go to sea. He felt that the land would be much more fitting for his talents. While he was still in his early twenties he was arrested and charged with some prodigious robberies. His escape from justice was due, many felt, to the talents of his lawyer, whom he hired with a fraction of his ill-got gains. A few years later he was accused again, this time of being the head of a whole circle of thieves, whose operations he directed.
This time he was convicted, but he disappeared and was never seen again. All of his great estate was found to be so tied up in the law that it went to his heirs, and those he had robbed could not reclaim a penny of their money.
The third blond gentleman was given the name of Paul. He, too, had felt the sea call in his blood and ran away in his boyhood. He returned to dry land, and, graduating from the United States Military Academy, he immediately resigned to take service with a South American republic which was trying to get used to liberty by cutting throats on all sides with a free hand. Here he disappeared, for the most part. During the past fifteen or twenty years mention was heard of him only now and again. There were vague rumors that a certain enormously wealthy Señor Don Paolo Riviero in South America was none other than our own Paul.
These three precedents did not argue very favorably for my future. Yet my father was a man who took the facts by the horns—and broke the neck of them if he could.
He said it was shameful to dodge the truth; that, for his part, he had no intention of attempting to do so, but he would be very happy to have any one convince him that there had not been some good in each of those three persons. For his part, again, he felt that they had simply been blessed with too much energy, and therefore what they had needed was not new natures, but better educated ones.
He said that he would face the fact.
His manner of facing it sent a shudder through the entire family circle. He straightaway called me by the whole group of the three names—Terence Oliver Paul Riviere-Duchesne!
My Uncle Renault used to say: “Even if the blood of a pirate, a thief, and a mercenary soldier are in his veins, why should you immortalize the fact in his very name?”
My poor mother said: “Alas, my dear, if you call upon the devil, is he not apt to appear?”
My father, as you have guessed by this time, was a man of ideas, with a theory to fit with every occasion. Therefore, though he did not doubt that the devil was really in me, he determined that the first thing to do was to “face the facts” and be honest and begin with the boy himself.
At the age of eight years, having just been brought in after blacking the aristocratic eye of a neighbor’s son, I was taken by my father to the rear of the house. He locked the door, sat down with me, and entered into a long conversation, in the course of which he explained that the reason why he had decided to give me an extra hard beating was not so much because I had beaten another boy—that being not altogether unworthy of commendation—but because this fighting taste of mine was a sign of a certain devil in me.
After this, he collared me and gave me a tremendous whacking. When I had stopped groaning, he carried me into the library. He got out three books, two of them fairly old, one of them fairly new. In those three books he marked the places where the histories of the blond-headed Riviere-Duchesne were narrated. He told me to study them well.
There was no need of telling me that. This was the sort of history that any boy would thoroughly enjoy. I began with a pirate, I proceeded with a thief, and I concluded with a soldier of fortune.
After I had finished these documents, my father showed me pictures of each of the three, pointing out that where the usual Riviere-Duchesne was a tall, well made, handsome dark man, worthy of standing in the train of a king, each of these blond fellows was a slight, waspish man with a mouth too big and a jaw too broad for beauty.
By all these tokens, he asked me to examine myself in the mirror and regard my future well. Because there was undoubtedly a devil of violence and craft in me, and I must school myself with the greatest care. This is to a boy of eight years!
The result, of course, was that I began to consider myself an exceptional youth, furnished with an excuse at birth for every evil emotion that rose in me. If I wanted to steal apples, I said that it was the spirit of Oliver rising in me. If I wanted to carry off the toy gun of another boy, I felt that this was merely the soul of Terence speaking through my flesh. If I wanted to punch the nose of another youngster, I was sure that it was Uncle Paul rising to the surface in action.
My father had only two ways of dealing with this refractory spirit in me. On the one hand he talked to me like a philosopher, on the other hand he tanned me like a schoolmaster of the most rigid pattern.
In the meantime, both he and I could not help being aware that he was regarded by my relatives as an unlucky prophet who had saddled three evil natures upon me with the three names he had given me. No matter what I learned about my faults, I also discovered that it was best to make them successful faults. Terence had lived a short life, but a merry one. Oliver had disappeared with a purse fat enough to keep him for the rest of his days, and Paul was presumed to be a man of great note and a general admitted into the most powerful councils of a flourishing country.
So I spent my time learning to ride, to shoot, and to tell only the useful part of the truth. I grew up a perfect young Persian, with the third quality changed as noted above. If I had any grace, it was the saving one of a sense of humor. If I did not take my father and the family council any too seriously, neither did I take my own faults or virtues too much to heart. In fact, I think that I was born with my tongue in my cheek. That was another thing which my father and the rest attributed to a natural perversity.
I have gone into all of these details so that you may understand the event that eventually rooted me out of South Carolina and sent me West.
It was a touchy time in that State. I had been born just out of date. Had I been a single year older, I should have marched in the armies of the Confederacy, in that unlucky ’65. As it was, I was just fifteen when the war ended, and I had not yet joined the colors. For half a dozen years after that I lived in a society where “all was lost save honor,” and the result was that “honor” was always underlined rather ridiculously. When people had nothing left but their gentility, they made the most of their capital. You could not look cross-eyed at any young man in Charleston without having him come up and ask what you meant by it.
That was not so bad while I was still in my teens, because the fights that rose were settled with fists, but when I entered my twenties all of this changed. I was always getting into trouble. The first time that I seriously offended a man he happened to be a boy two years older than I. He had served in the Confederate ranks as a boy lieutenant, was an eminent example of all having been lost but that same precious honor. I offended him by laughing at a stiff, old-fashioned way he had of accosting a girl at a dance and asking for the honor of her hand in the next piece. He replied by calling me aside into a little group of other men and stating in the hearing of all that my conduct was not worthy of being called the behavior of a gentleman.
My first impulse was to knock him down, but I saw by the serious faces around me that that line would not do. Yet I could not help breaking out: “The devil, Arnold! Are you going to make a really serious affair out of this?”
A cold look settled on the face of Arnold Perrault. The same look was on the faces of the others. I saw that they suspected me of showing the white feather in a business which might mean shooting. I had to swallow my irritation. He bowed to me and said that he trusted it would not be too serious to inconvenience me, and that he would send a friend to see a friend of mine.
There you were!
There was a good deal of this nonsense going on at that time.
We met down by the river at the edge of some willows where I had often gone swimming when I was a youngster. The memory of how I had skylarked with this same Arnold in the old days gave me a ghostly feeling.
We were to fire at the word of an umpire. When he spoke, I shot poor Arnold Perrault squarely through the brain!
The matter would have been hushed up, if any but I had been the winner. It would have been just another unlucky hunting accident. Since I was in the matter, it was much more serious.
“The devil in young Riviere-Duchesne has grown up!” was the way people put it. “He has murdered a man—and Arnold Perrault is the man!”
Such talk hummed about until it got to the ears of the police. When I saw two officers coming toward me in the street the next afternoon, I did not stop to ask why they were bent for me so eagerly. I simply jumped over the next fence and started across the fields.
I found a horse at the next lot. It was a tame old brute which had done its share of hunting, once. Now it was pretty badly broken down in front. I threw myself on it and headed it up the meadow, across to the street beyond, via the fence, and then up the next street and over another fence.
Hunting that game old runner out of Charleston, I flew the fences that came in my way, so that by the time they got on my trail with horses under them they had a stiff handicap to overcome.
Eight miles from the start there was hardly another jump left in the carcass of my borrowed horse, so I left him down the road and jogged along on foot to the house of a friend of mine a little farther on. He was not a gentleman, but he was a great hunter, a good shot, and a good “seat.” He had taught me what wicked medicine a straight left could be in a hard fight with the fists. He was a friend of mine, and when he saw me come in, hot and perspiring, he merely gave a side glance at my face, then, telling his wife to go into the next room, he shut the door.
He was always that way, was McKenzie. He thought with the speed of a prize fighter, and you could never corner him. He said: “What’s up?”
“A dead man,” said I. “And a friend of mine and a good fellow—Arnold Perrault. It was a stand-up fight, but now they call it murder.”
You see, McKenzie was the sort of a man who had to hear all of a story or else none of it. He merely said:
“Well, when I first heard, the other day, that you had done for Perrault, I guessed that it might come along to something like this. That’s their way. They don’t judge a man by what he does but by what he looks, my friend!”
There was a lot of truth in that. I had chances to think it over afterward and decided that McKenzie was one of the wisest of the wise. Just at that moment I wasn’t in a humor for listening to anything, or thinking, either. All that I knew of importance was that I wanted a good, sure-footed horse under me. From McKenzie I presently got what I wanted—a tall, hard-mouthed roan with the disposition of a devil and the legs of a bronze statue.
I liked McKenzie. But I liked the roan better than I did the fighting Scot.
I used those four legs of bronze to carry me a hundred miles west, out of Charleston way. When the next morning came, I saw that I had most of my trouble for nothing. I had given that horse a good rest and a good feed the night before, but he had had too much taken out of him. He couldn’t respond as I wanted him to when three horsemen came jogging down the road. I felt that I knew they couldn’t be after me so soon. Yet something about their way of going along told me that they were. When they quickened the pace of their horses, I was sure.
It was the telegraph, of course. The wiser heads in Charleston knew that I had been born and reared, so to speak, in the saddle. They didn’t yearn to break their hearts following me straight across country. They did follow me far enough to get the general direction in which I was heading. Then they let the telegraph do the rest for them. They scattered the warning, and they sent along a little offer of a reward that meant a good deal to some of the poorer farmer folk that were out that way. They turned out in force, and I might as well have met with a dozen of them as with three.
They looked at me and then they started to gallop. I tried the roan for a turn down the road, but he wouldn’t do. He could still jump, and he was too mean to confess himself beaten. He got over a fence by means of knocking down the top rail, and he floundered through the soft of the field beyond, a badly spent horse.
Even that little jump was too much for one of the three that followed me. His horse was stalled there and that left only two to come hurling after me, yelling to one another. Of course, they saw that they had me as good as in their pockets. They were wild with the foretaste of that reward already sweet in their mouths.
However, I had a friend along in the shape of a strong-shooting old .44 Colt which McKenzie had given me with a grin and this word of advice:
“Don’t ever pull it unless you’re planning on dead men!”
I was not planning on dead men, but I was planning on my own life, if I could save it. I turned in the saddle and blazed away. It was not very long-distance shooting, but it was from a running horse, and I was lucky when the second shot hurt one of the horses enough to slow it up badly.
That left one rider behind me. He didn’t like the hand-to-hand game. He jumped off his horse and began to pop at me with his rifle. It was not one of the new repeaters, and before he had whanged away three times I was safely out of range. But the roan was done for sure.
I left him in a hollow, pretty sure that he would not give himself away by trotting about or by neighing. The trumpet blast of the last day couldn’t have raised an echo from that poor gelding that day, he was so done.
Cutting away sharp to the side, I followed a little ridge covered with shrubs and rocks. It gave me cover enough to help me away. After I had gone a little distance, I had the pleasure of seeing two of my men come after and hunt across that hollow at a great rate and straight on, according to my own direction.
Well, I was out of that pinch, but there were two weeks of hard work before me before I got to the mountains. There I laid up for four or five days, resting, because I was fairly well used up. Then I came to another bad pinch, when a mountain constable came in and tried to take me single-handed.
If he had not been such a pig about the thing, wanting to get all the reward for himself, he would certainly have had me. As it was, I managed to get a bullet through his arm while he was unlimbering a big, old-fashioned rifle.
I started farther west on another “borrowed” horse. I kept that up until I was on the shady side of the mountains and still headed farther and farther westward. When I speak of the shady side of the mountains I don’t want to be understood as casting any reflections on the society east of the Mississippi in those days. But there were some shady spots in it, and when a man had it too hot along the seaboard he hit mainland.
This is just the spot for me to drop in a little talk about how grieved I was to be away from home; how I reflected upon the misfortunes which had overtaken me, and particularly upon the cruel injustice which had driven me away from Charleston.
As a matter of fact, I was not at all troubled by these reflections. I knew perfectly well that if I happened to be the victim of an injustice in this particular case, it was the merest accident. I had made enough trouble in my time to account for almost anything. I was not sorry to be away from home. I knew that my parents preferred my brothers and sisters to me. In turn, I did not waste much affection on them.
I was out of place in my father’s home. I knew it—and so did they. I could not listen to them and watch their grave ways without wanting to laugh. When I wanted to laugh, I generally did. There is nothing in the world that people will forgive less readily than a lack of reverence to their persons.
In fact, there was only one thing for which I was genuinely sorry. That was that my bullet had killed poor Arnold Perrault. There was nothing wrong with him except his high-headed pride. I suppose that his was not the most valuable life that was ended by that selfsame pride.
Even this regret was not enough, as you might say, to spoil my appetite for the life which I saw before me. I liked the prospect thoroughly well.
You see, I believed in the treble rascality of the nature which had been wished upon me in the three names with which my father had so foolishly endowed me. I haven’t the slightest doubt that a normal name might have turned me out a thoroughly normal boy in every respect. Yet here I was, as I felt, created for the sake of doing mischief in the world and thoroughly prepared to have a good time while I was doing it.
I was twenty-one years old. I had never had a sick day in my life. My nerves were as steady as chilled steel. I had at my disposal a hundred and fifty-odd pounds of muscle and bone which I knew very well how to use to the best advantage—whether the engagement were wrestling or boxing or straight rough and tumble—for which I had a low taste!
Just when a young hero of good mind and morals would have been deploring his fate, I was looking westward with a smile in my heart. I felt just as though I had received a signed commission permitting me to do as I pleased.
When I ran out of money I ran into a job which was running moonshine whisky from a mountain still down to the towns in the valley below. It was as risky a work as you would like to undertake. I liked it well enough, because it gave me a pair of thoroughly good horses to ride, plenty of money in my pocket, and plenty of danger blowing down the wind.
In short, I had found just the place for a young ruffian. And such I was, exactly that and no more, though my name and my antecedents might have stood for a good deal higher social stratum. I changed that name to Rivers. From that time on I was known as Terence Rivers over a widening pool of society.
A young man takes it for granted that the world is so great that no matter in what direction he travels he may keep going forever without ever once finding his own footmarks on the trail before him. Yet after I had been a while in this employment, a nasty wind blew over the mountains the rumor that Terry Rivers was wanted back in Charleston for murder.
I got a lift in wages at once. There are certain occupations where murder is at once rewarded in this fashion, and with a grisly sort of honor. That is the ultimate brand. It distinguishes the wolf from the house dog. In the line that I was following, the real wild strain was what was wanted.
However, this rumor that blew over the mountains crystalized in the shape of a posse that started on my trail. I took my choice of my two horses, sold the other for a song and drifted on farther west with a hundred dollars and a bit more in my pocket, a new-style Winchester rifle thrust into the long carbine holster that passed under my right knee and along the side of the saddle, two revolvers beside the pommel of that saddle, and two more stuck away in my clothes.
You might say that I was a young walking arsenal. I was. If I had had handy room for more guns and more than the one heavy-handled Bowie knife at my belt, I assure you that I would have carried more. Those were the days which you read about but to which justice can never be done. Those were the days when the West was really bad.
On the farther bank of the Mississippi there were the fine fellows who merely loved adventure in an innocent way, the hardy-handed chaps who wanted to beat raw nature on the frontier and make their living by their own efforts; there were the gay trappers and hunters and their set, and there were tourists, too. Yes, even as early as this there were tourists. But there were not enough of these law-abiding elements to make up for the high seasoning of deviltry which was spread through the community.
For there were the outlawed men from the Atlantic seaboard, together with many a chosen rascal who had sailed west from Europe. You could not find any town of five hundred which did not have in it some French gambler, some Italian knife artist, some German butcher.
Of all the towns along the range of crime I could not have picked out a wilder destination than Zander City.
I don’t know why Zander City should have passed on. The flower of its wickedness was bright enough to have given it immortality along with sundry other naughty towns. It should be living to keep before us, today, the memories of the bad men and the good who died in her streets, in her back yards, in her saloons and trading stores. However, civilization did not choose to place Zander City among the elect. I have seen it recently—just a brown stretch of flat ground with the dirty waters of the river walking past on the way toward the Mississippi.
Because Zander City is gone, the knaves and the heroes who once flourished in her have died, also. At a later date, no county historian found fellow townsmen to tell reverent lies, thinly salted with truth about the great men of the past. The little heroes of Rome all are remembered, but out of Carthage we know only a Hannibal and a little group which can still be seen in Hannibal’s light.
So it was with Zander City. I presume that most people have heard something about a few of the leading figures in my history, such as Major Beals and Danny Croydon, the scout. Above all, everybody must have listened to tales about that famous leader of the Cheyennes—Lost Wolf. They used that name to frighten the children for half a generation, and he still crops up in histories now and again. Who has heard of that odd and graceful fellow, Running Deer? Who knows the heroic minister, Gleason, and the rest of those who wore guns in Zander City?
Well, I cannot pretend to be able to recreate the entire picture of the dead days in that town and the people that lived there. In fact, I shall try only to publish the things with which I came intimately in contact.
I had been about a year around the West, by this time. I had had my share of trouble and fighting. I had learned to be glad of three things—a gun which shot to the mark, a straight left that was poison in a fight, and a knack of sitting the saddle on a raging horse.
Those were the three talents which I brought out of Charleston with me. They were all given scope, and the edge of them sharpened by my Western experiences. By the time that I got to that town on the flats, I was what you might have called a tough one.
Good society would not have tolerated me for a moment. I wore my hat at a rakish angle, kept my coat open to show a brilliant waistcoat, and always had the finest sort of riding boots, whose heels were finished off with great silver spurs. Ordinary guns would not suit me. Even the butt of my rifle was set off with gold fretwork, and the handles of my revolvers were works of art. More than this, I carried myself with a very aggressive air which was bound to find trouble in those dangerous waters. Trouble was exactly what I wanted.
When I got off the steamer at the dock at Zander City, I stood for a time to watch men working with ropes to bind the great stacks of buffalo hides into bales for shipping down the river. Then I went on to see what was to be seen.
You would never have guessed what was in the air of that town, at this time of the day. For it was close to noon, and only the face of honest traffic showed itself. Wagons rolled in and out of town, followed by an attending cloud of dust, and a dull murmur of labor rolled up toward that prairie sky. A murmur with sharp notes struck through it from the clang of the anvil in a distant blacksmith shop. Yonder, many carpenters kept up the burden of the march with a rattle of hammers as steady as the roll of drums.
It was a quietly sleeping town, so far as excitement was concerned. I had seen twenty places more or less of a pattern. The long row of squat shacks which staggered down the street on either side of me was not thrilling—I was not even able to guess what lay behind those dull faces.
Here a wagon went by, and when the teamster swung his whip the lash caught my hat and flicked it into the dust. I caught it up with an oath and glared at my teamster, but he was not even glancing my way as he swayed on in his lofty seat.
I finished dusting that hat off and settled it on my head again. It was barely pulled down when another whiplash curled around it, as a second wagon rumbled past over a culvert. That hat was yanked fairly from my head, tossed high in the air, and sent spinning to the farther side of the road.
It was hard to imagine that two such things could have happened by mere accident. Yet it was almost harder to believe in such skill in a whip hand as must be there, if I were to attribute it to malice.
When I looked wildly around me, I saw all that I wanted to see in order to make myself sure. No one laughed. It was not the time of day when men laughed in Zander City. But there were villainous broad grins of appreciation of the knavish trick which had been played on me.
I was twenty-two years old, and any one at that age is a sensitive fool. I leaped after that wagon like a tiger and sprang up beside the seat—only to have the muzzle of a huge revolver gaping in my very face while a brutal voice asked me what I wanted.
What had happened to me was what usually happened to people who got into a blind rage in the West in those days—particularly in towns where the population had grown faster than the law. I had simply run into a corner where I had to show myself a fool. I was only lucky that instead of merely showing the gun he had not fired it. If he had, what would have been done about it?
Not a thing in the world! I had no friends in that town. No voice would be raised against him. The universal comment would simply be that, being unable to take a joke, I had forced a battle and been destroyed by the teamster in self-defense.
As I stood on the board sidewalk again, I was almost blind with fury. The grins had not abated. No one laughed. That, as I said before, was merely because it was not the time of day when men laughed in Zander City.
I could not endure this. I, a Riviere-Duchesne, had been handled like an idiot in this town of ruffians. I had to have redress. I picked out the largest and most formidable-looking fellow I could see, walked up to him, and demanded to know what he was laughing at.
“I ain’t laughing,” said he. “You ain’t worth a real laugh!”
This to me! Shades of the pirate and revolutionary and robber whose names I bore!
My gun came out faster than a thought, and I was curling my finger around the trigger when I saw that the other fellow had not made a move to get out a weapon.
He was never to know how close he came to being wiped out in that moment.
When he did not even alter his smile, I began to realize that there was something unusual about the people of this town. They made me feel wonderfully like a small boy who was attempting to play a grown-up role and doing a powerfully bad job of it.
He said: “I don’t wear a gun till noon, because me temper ain’t fit for it. So run along, son, till noontime, and then come back and get a hole drilled through you, if you have to die young! We got a fool garden of a good size out here. There’s always room for one more plant in it!”
By that, of course, he meant the cemetery.
Well, I was completely blind by this time. I tore off my coat and flung down my hat, shouting:
“There lies my advantage of guns on the ground. If you won’t fight with a gun, you’ll have to fight me with your fists!”
“It’s before noon,” said he, “and I hate to put up my ‘maulies’ before noon! However, if you are bound to have your fun, I’ll do what I can to keep up my end of it!”
He stepped forth without deigning to strip off his coat as I had done. He stepped forth, a long, big-boned man with the reach and a large share of the strength of a gorilla. Not that there was anything stupidly brutal about this man. He had a long face with pale, thoughtful eyes, wonderfully cold. The instant he put up his hands, I knew that he was a boxer. He was receiving some forty pounds from poor me; he was a trained man, and he was calm as standing water while I was as mad as a raging brook.
I flung out at him with a rush. He stepped back, caught my punches on forearms as solid as bars of iron, and then, in turn, snapped his fist up.
It glanced from my face like a flung boulder, flicking off a bit of skin and flesh and sending me reeling.
“Now, bantam,” said the tall man, “have you had enough of this business?”
I merely gasped out: “I’ll kill you, you big devil!”
Again I came in at him, completely beyond myself with rage and grief and agonizing shame. I managed to duck under the terrible reach of a driving arm as I came at him. I landed on his ribs.
It was like striking the ribs of a ship! Before I could strike again, a big hand caught me by the shoulder and shoved me away; the second hand dropped upon my chin and blanketed my brain in blackness so complete and sudden that I do not even remember how I felt.
What first brought me to my senses was a burning heat against my face. It was the dust of the street in which I had fallen—a dust baked stove hot, by the direct rays of the midday sun. I got up in time to hear the big man say:
“Now, youngster, the thing for you to do is to skin out of Zander City before some of the rough boys find out that you’re here. Because I ain’t rough. I’m one of the lambs. But there is men in this here town that wouldn’t think nothing of eating you raw. Now you believe me! The thing for you to do is to just start out back for the part of the country where folks has been letting you pass for a man. Up here in Zander City, disguises like you’re wearin’ are dangerous. You run along, and while you’re running I’ll keep these here shooting irons, to save you from getting into any more messes that may be a lot worse than this one!”
I was sick; my knees were swaying under my weight, and I could hardly see a foot before me. So I knew that it would be folly for me to attempt to strike back at the big man now.
Going to a box which I saw, I sat down on it until my head had partially cleared. Then I got up and started back for the boat. I was determined to kill that tall man if it were the last act of my life, and kill him before that day was ended.
When I got back to the boat, I got ashore the rest of my belongings. One of them was a long-legged Kentucky thoroughbred with the bone and substance that comes from a diet of blue grass and lime water. It had cost me a lot of money and trouble to take that bay gelding up the river with me, but I never regretted it, because Sir Thomas had speed and endurance and something that is better than both—brains! He knew how to sprint like a racer; he knew how to hold himself in and work calmly through a long day over dusty, narrow, broken trails.
When I looked into the wise eye of Sir Thomas, I felt better. I patted his neck and leaned for a moment against his shoulder.
That steadied me. There is nothing that brings assurance back to a man so quickly as the feeling that he has really gained the mastery over some twelve hundred and odd pounds of high-spirited horse. I patched up my bruised face, brushed the dust from my clothes, and shoved into my holsters my second pair of guns to take the place of the ones which the big man had taken from me so shamefully. After that, I saddled Sir Thomas and went back into Zander City, sitting in that saddle with a devil raging in my heart.
I got back quickly enough to the place where I had been made a double jackass for the first time in my life—once by a common teamster and once by the most extraordinary fists of that tall man.
When I arrived on the spot, I looked around hungrily. I was not long in finding a few faces of men who had seen me there before. They felt that they knew me well enough, by this time, and they not only smiled openly at me, but they went so far as to shrug their shoulders and sneer.
I picked the biggest of the lot and rode up to him.
“Were you here ten minutes ago?” I asked him.
He looked me over with his contempt like poison on his face.
“What if I was, son?” said he.
“If you were,” said I, “the first thing I have to do is to teach you manners.”
“Why, darn my heart,” said this fellow, rearing himself up from the old, crazy apple barrel on which he had been sitting, “either the kid has a little spunk or else he’s just crazy! How will you teach me manners, youngster?”
“With a whip,” said I, and I gave him the lash squarely across his face.
There are ways and ways of using a quirt. You can simply sting a horse or, if you are an expert and keep the right sort of a heavy, supple lash, you can cut the skin. I had the right sort of a lash, and I was an expert. A crimson stain followed that savage cut of mine.
He screamed with pain and surprise and shame, all mingled. With one hand thrown up before his face to ward off another of those terrible blows, he reached for his revolver.
I could have killed him three times while he was dragging out that gun, and in my left hand I kept the gun ready to open fire the moment that a gun should be necessary. I did not see any necessity for it as yet. I knew how to handle that long-lashed quirt, and I fell to work with it now. The second slash wound the thin tentacle of oiled leather around the gun wrist of that man. The backward drag of my arm drew the lash off again with a force and a speed that ripped the skin from his arm and yanked the gun fifty feet away.
That would have finished most men, but he was a fighting machine, that big fellow was. Only, he was not the same sort of fighting stuff that had mastered me on that same spot not many minutes before. He came in blindly to tear me from my horse and rip me to bits in his big hands. I literally cut him to ribbons with that dreadful quirt as he came storming in, recoiling, and plunging again. I hate to speak of that scene now. At the time, every stroke gave me infinite pleasure. Finally, he had enough and turned and fled with a scream.
I sat there and watched him go, with the devil sinking back in my heart a little appeased.
When he had disappeared I looked around me with care. I found that no one was sitting down. Nor was any one smiling.
I selected my nearest neighbor, and I rode up to him, saying: “A little while ago I was beaten here by a tall fellow. If you saw that fight, I want you to tell me the name of that man and where he can be found.”
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