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About the Author
Seattle-born Frederick Schiller Faust (1892 -1944) wrote western books under various pen names including Max Brand. He grew up working on a ranch in the San Joaquin Valley, California and later moved to New York. His books inspired many Hollywood films and he eventually became a screenwriter conjuring up memorable character such as Dr. Kildare. During World War II, he was commended for bravery by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Read an Excerpt
By Max Brand Dorchester Publishing
Copyright © 1948
All right reserved.
Chapter One Destination-The World 1
How much hell can this fellow raise?" inquired a stranger in Guadalupe, after being regaled at some length by a tale of the manifold exploits of Dix Van Dyck.
And the answer was: "Partner, how much hell is there?"
Yet many held that there was nothing malicious about Dix Van Dyck. It was simply the spirit of what had been mischief in his boyhood. Now that he had passed the period of fisticuffs and entered that of six- guns, his pranks had serious consequences quite frequently, but his heart had not changed a whit.
Formerly, a fist fight satisfied all the yearnings of his hungry soul, but now that he stood something over six feet and weighed in the neighborhood of two hundred pounds of hard, fighting, lean- drawn muscle, an encounter with the brown fists of Dix Van Dyck was hardly preferable to a gun fight.
In another environment Dix unquestionably might have led a harmless and, in time, useful existence, but unfortunately he was born in the land of little rain and lived in a state where some eighty percent of the population is Mexican, where the laws of the legislature were printed in Spanish first and afterward in English, and where a Mexican considered himself of a strata a few degrees above that of any Anglo-American. It goes without argument that in such an environment Dix Van Dyck found a plenteous field for mischief, and he harvested his crop of deviltry with the most painful husbandry. Yet he escaped unpunished for many years. The reason was that there was in Dix Van Dyck an appealing element suggestive of the big boy run wild, and men found it hard to judge him sternly. Also it was known to all men that Dix was not the sort to hunt his six- gun by preference. He was perfectly contented to rely upon those bone- hard fists of his until the other fellow-probably from a strategic position behind a chair or from a corner of the floor-drew his gun. Then it was all over except the coroner's verdict. That verdict was usually "suicide."
Afterward there followed a period of anguish for Dix Van Dyck. For he did not like killings, and he swore off on gun play as religiously as a confirmed drunkard. But always the excitement of a prospective fight was too much for him, and the undertaker received another order. This would make it appear that Dix was a public nuisance. Yet men liked him. A man who fights squarely is judged most leniently in the Southwest. Moreover, the boyishly eager, almost wistful smile of Dix would have disarmed a heart of steel.
If he had confined his attentions to men of ill repute, all would have been well, but in an evil moment Dix crossed the path of a certain politician, one Señor Don Porfirio Maria Oñate. In the newspapers he was known as Mr. Oñate, but in private life everyone used the title he preferred. The worthy Señor Oñate was running for the of- fice of sheriff of Chaparna County and approached Dix Van Dyck in a public place with a request for his vote. This was a rash step and would never have been undertaken by the noble don if he had not been too warmly inspired by tequila, that is apt to make the courage greater than the judgment.
The reply of Dix Van Dyck was of Homeric temper and volume. He stated his opinion of Señor Don Porfirio Maria Oñate in full and completed his survey of the don's public career with some terse remarks about his ancestors. Any other man in the Southwest might have been tempted to fight, but even tequila was not as potent in the soul of Mr. Oñate as the fear of Dix Van Dyck. He stroked his mustache and smiled and hated Dix Van Dyck with his little, bright eyes, but he said nothing.
Afterward he sent his brother, accompanied by two accomplished cut-throats, to settle the long account with Dix Van Dyck. They came upon him from the rear when he was unarmed, and there followed a battle that still lives in the memory of the inhabitants of Chaparna County. Dix Van Dyck tore a shelf from the wall and with it brained two of his assailants. Then he strangled the third with his bare hands. Afterward he called upon Señor Oñate, but that gentleman was not at home, another proof of wisdom.
Three days later Señor Oñate was elected sheriff of Chaparna County, and Dix Van Dyck kissed his mother good bye, hugged his little brother, and departed for regions unknown to the north.
This might seem strange to some, for the last crime of Dix had been most manifest self- defense, but the dwellers in Chaparna County understood. It would have been impossible to get a jury that was not under the thumb of the new sheriff. It would have been a mockery, not a trial. So Dix Van Dyck mounted on a great horse, strong enough to bear even his weight on a day's ride, and disappeared into the hills.
He was not ill pleased by the thought of leaving Chaparna County, even under compulsion. Like the young Alexander, he was anxious for new worlds to conquer, and, once started along the outward path, he wondered why he had not made the move before. His mind was at peace; self-content warmed his blood. In the long holster his Winchester jostled softly. At either hip was the comfortable weight of a six- gun. The sweat of the tall horse was like incense in his nostrils, and the creaking of the saddle leather was sweeter than music to his ears. Behind his saddle a blanket was rolled in the slicker, and in the saddlebags he carried enough provisions for many a day.
The Arab seizes a handful of dates and another of barley and is ready for the desert. The Southwesterner travels almost as light. For guide Dix Van Dyck carried an instinct sure as that of a hunting coyote or a migratory bird. His destination was-the world.
Chapter Two Double Bend
He did not leave Guadalupe an hour too soon, for the new sheriff was hardly in office before a warrant for Dix Van Dyck appeared. A posse strove to serve it and rode hard to the north, only to find that their bird had flown into distant regions. They returned with the ill news, and Sheriff Oñate sat down to bide his time, for he had in fact what the elephant is endowed with in fancy-a memory that never dies.
As for Dix Van Dyck, he cared not a whit what was happening behind him. He had no sooner turned his shoulder upon yesterday than it was lost and abandoned with the shades of distant years. His heart went galloping into the future. So it was in the early evening that he swung into sight of Double Bend, a group of adobe huts and frame shacks huddling away into the purples that swung down from the shadowy mountains beyond.
Double Bend took its name from the windings of Coyote Creek, which flowed through its center. The main street followed the windings of that treacherous little stream, and men held that the inhabitants of Double Bend were as snake-like as the street they walked. All of this was unknown to Dix Van Dyck, for he had long since left far behind him the regions that he knew and where he was known. All that he saw in Double Bend as he passed down its sinuous main street looked very good to him. It gave the impression of a town that has been much lived in.
The window panes, for instance, were usually shattered. The wooden Indian that the proprietor of a general merchandise store had erected before his place of business was minus one arm and his legs had almost been shot away. From a saloon of capacious proportions strains of music and the roll of voices proclaimed that "a good time was being had by all."
So Dix Van Dyck hurriedly put up his horse in the stables, ate in the restaurant a great platter of ham and eggs with an enormous side dish of French-fried potatoes, and then bore toward the saloon and dance hall. The gasoline lamp flaring over its entrance was like the vortex of a whirl pool toward which all living things from many miles around gravitated with irresistible force. Buckboards littered one side of the street and horses the other, and under the glare of the lamp a continual stream of men passed toward the dance hall. None came out. It was like the yawning maw of some great monster drawing in an endless current of human food. At the door Dix Van Dyck paused and surveyed the interior.
His eyes kindled. He was a devotee of neither whiskey nor dancing, but here was life-life in plenty, action, confusion, clamor. In such places and in such moments the tang of the world came most sharply home to him. Moreover, there was a natural caution impelling the pause at the doorway. Inside might be a dozen foes, and a foe to Dix Van Dyck would not wait to give a warning. He would either flee or else start shooting from the hip.
Big Dix slipped into the shadow on one side and turned his leonine, ugly head from side to side in a slow survey. His trained eyes photographed a hundred faces-not one was known to him. The smile that had gone out while he made this preliminary survey now returned. He canted his head to one side and drank in the confusion of sounds that swept from dancing floor, bar, and gaming tables-all in one room.
"Rolls five for his point.... Come, Phoebe, talk to me, little black eyes! Rolls five.... Raise that ten.... Line up, gents, line up and name your poison.... Hey, Bill ... I seen a gent over to Tuskogee.... My dance, Blondie.... Red seven! Show that card! By God, I say you will.... Say, boys, I'm some dry, where's the water hole, lead me to it, I can't see!"
Dix Van Dyck sauntered to the bar. On his lips the mischievous, boyish smile that all Guadalupe knew and feared was growing. In his quiet moments that eagle nose, straight, thin mouth, and forbidding eyes made him seem a man to be avoided and given ground, but his smile gave an expression of deluding gentleness to his features. Strangers, seeing him smile, were apt to invite him to a drink or ask him for a five-spot with equal readiness. But those who knew understood that smile meant a deep desire for action. It was like the grin of the pugilist who stands in his corner, rubbing his shoes in the rosin and waiting confidently for the bell.
First he examined the dancing floor, chiefly because the men were in movement there. But the monotonous whine of the violin and the regular movements of the dancers through the mist of smoke disgusted him. One of the dance-hall girls saw his smile and stopped before him expectantly. His face sobered long enough to return her glance, and she went on hastily, her query answered. Then he looked down the bar.
Whiskey itself had no charms for him, but he sometimes drank merely for excitement-a token, in Guadalupe, for men to vacate the barroom in which this grizzly happened to be quenching his thirst. The bar tonight, however, had no attraction for him. A drunken man staggered past him. He followed the uncertain progress with contempt. Next he looked to the gaming tables. They were operating under full blast, the gamesters stimulated by the dance music on one hand and the high-power whiskey on the other. Crap tables, roulette, chuck-a-luck, faro-poker-every table had a full house, and Dix Van Dyck waited for an opening.
It was during this delay that he saw her enter and turned full toward her to look again. Obviously she was not one of the hired dancing girls. Neither had she come to buy whiskey-a common occurrence. She loitered in the door carelessly, as he had done the moment before, apparently looking for a place in which she could amuse herself.
Booted, spurred, and with a regulation Forty- Five belted around her waist, her appearance was not much out of keeping with that of the average ranch girl. What distinguished her was, in the first place, an exquisitely slender, olive-skinned, dark- eyed beauty and, in the second place, an air of truly masculine detachment.
On account of her beauty Dix Van Dyck expected to see a dozen men jump up and accost her. But instead they merely turned their heads, stared at her, and then resumed their occupations. He was thoroughly puzzled. Apparently she was known. Apparently she was good. But if so, what was she doing in this hellhole?
Now it must be understood that in the Southwest there are only two classes of women. There are the bad and the good. The bad are what bad women are everywhere-very, very bad. On the other hand, the good are exceedingly good. They can travel alone anywhere, day or night, and they are perfectly safe. In a country where the need for men is great and where the place for women is small, their value is proportionately high. In that country men do not gossip about a woman, for slander meets the reply of bullets. In that country a woman can take liberties with a man that would damn her forever in the eyes of Eastern society, but in the Southwest nothing is taken for granted about the weaker sex.
Chivalry wears no plumes, and knighthood bears no title, but there gallantry is a reality and not a name. To the Southwesterner a good woman is daughter or sister or mother. She can eat his food, ride his horse, draw his revolver, and even share his bunk. Yet she will not draw a whisper of suspicion until by her own act she confesses that she is not of the elect. Such an act is the entry of a place like this one of Jerry Conklin's in the Double Bend.
All this must be understood in order to read the confusion of mind with which Dix Van Dyck stared at the feminine intruder. He read in the glances of the men that deference that is accorded to only one type of woman in the Southwest. She was known, and she was respected. Then what was she doing here? He leaned back against the bar and scowled steadily at her. Something told him that he was on the trail of excitement.
As for the girl, she swept the great room with a calm eye, almost like the glance of an ennuied man looking for excitement. At last she approached a crap table. It was surrounded by a dense circle, two deep, every man intent on his game. But at her coming one of the men glanced up, recognized her, raised his hat, and stepped back to surrender his place.
The wonder of Dix Van Dyck made his face redden furiously. As for the other men at the gaming table, they turned toward the girl with broad grins, such as those who proclaim that the luck is running against the house. Dix Van Dyck caught the man on the stick-he who handles the dice for the house-in a keen scrutiny. The fellow was scowling blackly. The girl took the dice.
Her hand dipped in a pocket of her short riding skirt and came out with the glint of yellow. She made a few casts and lost. A low groan came from the gamesters. Evidently they had wagered heavily on her luck. The girl stamped in vexation, which made Dix Van Dyck smile. At least, he thought, she was like other women in being a bad loser. She drew out another gold coin and tossed it on the table.
Excerpted from Crossroads by Max Brand Copyright © 1948 by Dorothy Faust. Excerpted by permission.
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