Fugitives, visionaries, fortune seekers, drifters, and young women trying to build homes on a lawless frontier, the characters in these pulse-pounding stories are vintage L’Amour. Together in this vivid, rollicking collection, they bring to life the spirit of adventure and confirm Louis L’Amour’s place in the pantheon of American writers.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:March 22, 1908
Date of Death:June 10, 1988
Place of Birth:Jamestown, North Dakota
Read an Excerpt
No Man's Man
He came to a dirty cantina on a fading afternoon. He stood, looking around with a curious eye. And he saw me there in the corner, my back to the wall and a gun on the table, and my left hand pouring tequila into a glass.
He crossed the room to my table, a man with a scholar’s face and a quiet eye, but with lines of slender strength.
“When I told them I wanted a man big enough and tough enough to tackle a grizzly,” he said, “they sent me to you.”
“How much?” I said. “And where’s the grizzly?”
“His name is Henry Wetterling, and he’s the boss of Battle Basin. And I’ll give you a thousand dollars.”
“What do I do?”
“There’s a girl up there, and her name is Nana Maduro. She owns a ranch on Cherry Creek. Wetterling wants the girl, and he wants the ranch. I don’t want him to have either.”
“You want him dead?”
“I want him out of there. Use your own judgment. When I hire a man for a job, I don’t tell him how to do it.” This man with the scholar’s face was more than a quiet man; he could be a hard man.
“All right,” I said.
“One thing more”—he smiled a little, quietly, as though enjoying what he was about to say—“Wetterling is top dog and he walks a wide path, but he has two men to back him.” He smiled again. “Their names are Clevenger and Mack.”
The bartender brought a lemon and salt, and I drank my tequila.
“The answer is still the same,” I told him, then, “but the price is higher. I want five thousand dollars.”
His expression did not change, but he reached in his pocket and drew out a wallet and counted green bills on the dirty table. He counted two thousand dollars.
“I like a man who puts the proper estimate on a job,” he said. “The rest when you’re finished.”
He pushed back his chair and got up, and I looked at the green bills and thought of the long months of punching cows I’d have to put in to earn that much—if anybody, anywhere, would give me a job.
“Where do you fit in?” I asked. “Do you want the girl or the ranch or Wetterling’s hide?”
“You’re paid,” he said pointedly, “for a job. Not for questions. . . .”
THERE WAS SUNLIGHT on the trail, and cloud shadows on the hills, and there was a time of riding, and a time of resting, and an afternoon, hot and still like cyclone weather when I walked my big red horse down the dusty street of the town of Battle Basin.
They looked at me, the men along the street, and well they could look. I weighed two hundred and forty pounds, but looked twenty-five pounds lighter. I was three inches over six feet, with black hair curling around my ears under a black flat-brimmed, flat-crowned hat, and the brim was dusty and the crown was torn. The shirt I wore was dark red, under a black horsehide vest, and there was a scar on my left cheek where a knife blade had bit to the bone. The man who had owned that knife left his bones in a pack rat’s nest down Sonora way.
My boots were run-down at the heels and my jeans were worn under the chaps stained almost black. And when I swung down, men gathered around to look at my horse. Big Red is seventeen hands high and weighs thirteen hundred pounds—a blood bay with black mane, tail, and forelock.
“That’s a lot of horse,” a man in a white apron said. “It takes a man to ride a stallion.”
“I ride him,” I said, and walked past them into the bar. The man in the white apron followed me. “I drink tequila,” I said.
He brought out a bottle and opened it, then found lemon and salt. So I had a drink there, and another, and looked around the room, and it all looked familiar. For there had been a time—
“I’m looking for a ranch,” I said, “on Cherry Creek. It’s owned by Nana Maduro.”
The bartender’s face changed before my eyes and he mopped the bar. “See Wetterling,” he said. “He hires for them.”
“I’ll see the owner,” I said, and put down my glass.
A girl was coming up the street, walking fast. She had flame-red hair and brown eyes. When she saw Big Red she stopped dead still. And I stood under the awning and rolled a cigarette and watched her, and knew what she was feeling.
She looked around at the men. “I want to buy that horse,” she said. “Who owns him?”
A man jerked a thumb at me, and she looked at me and took a step closer. I saw her lips part a little and her eyes widen.
She was all woman, that one, and she had it where it showed. And she wore her sex like a badge, a flaunting and a challenge—the way I liked it.
“You own this horse?”
One step took me out of the shade and into the sun, a cigarette in my lips. I’m a swarthy man, and her skin was golden and smooth, despite the desert sun.
“Hello, Lou,” she said. “Hello, Lou Morgan.”
“This is a long way from Mazatlán,” I said. “You were lovely then, too.”
“You were on the island,” she said, “a prisoner. I thought you were still there.”
“I was remembering you, and no walls could hold me,” I said, smiling a little, “so I found a way out and away. The prison will recover in time.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“I didn’t,” I said. “Remember? I killed a man for you and you left me, with never a word or a line. You left me like dirt in the street.”
And when that was said I walked by her and stepped into the saddle. I looked down at her and said, “You haven’t changed. Under that fine-lady manner you’re still a tramp.”
A big young man who stood on the walk, filled with the pride of his youth, thought he should speak. So I jumped the stallion toward him, and when we swept abreast I grabbed him by his shirtfront.
I swung him from his feet and muscled him up, half strangling, and held him there at eye level, my arm bent to hold him, my knuckles under his chin.
“That was a private conversation,” I said. “The lady and I understand each other.”
Then I slapped him, booming slaps that left his face white and the mark of my hand there, and I let him drop. My horse walked away and took a trail out of town.
But those slaps had been good for my soul, venting some of the fury I was feeling for her! Not the fury of anger, although there was that, too, but the fury of man-feeling rising within me, the great physical need I had for that woman that stirred me and gripped me and made my jaws clench and my teeth grind.
Nana Maduro! And that thin-faced man in the cantina hiring me to come and get you away from this—what was his name?—Wetterling!
Nana Maduro, who was Irish and Spanish and whom I had loved and wanted when I was seventeen, and for whom I had killed a man and been sentenced to hang. Only the man I killed had been a dangerous man, a powerful man in Mexico, and feared, and not all were sorry that he had died. These had helped me, had got my sentence commuted to life imprisonment, and after two years I broke out and fled to the hills, and after two more years word had come that the records had been lost and that I was a free man.
At fifteen Nana Maduro had been a woman in body and feeling, but untried yet and restless because of it.
And at seventeen I had been raw and powerful, a seasoned Indian fighter knowing mining, hunting, and riding, but a boy in emotion and temper.
It was different now that seven years had passed. Nana now was full-flowered and gorgeous. But they had been seven hard, lean years for me, a man who rode with a gun and rode alone, a man who fought for pay, with a gun for hire.
Three days I rode the hills and saw no man, but looked upon the country through eyes and field glasses. And I saw much, and understood much.
Cherry Creek range was dream range, knee-deep to a tall steer with waving grass and flowers of the prairie. Even on the more barren stretches there were miles of antelope bush and sheep fat, the dry-looking desert plants rich in food for cattle. There was water there, so the cattle need walk but little and could keep their flesh, and there was shade from the midday sun.
And this belonged to Nana Maduro, to Nana, whom I’d loved as a boy, and desired as a man. And did I love as a man? Who could say?
She had cattle by the thousand on her rolling hills, and a ranch house like none I had ever seen, low and lovely and shaded, a place for a man to live. And a brand, N M, and a neighbor named Wetterling.
The Wetterling ranch was north and west of hers, but fenced by a range of hills, high-ridged and not to be crossed by cattle, and beyond the ridge the grass was sparse and there were few trees. A good ranch as such ranches go, but not the rolling, grass-waving beauty of Cherry Creek.
Then I saw them together. He was a huge man, bigger than I was, blond and mighty. At least two inches taller than I, and heavier, but solid. He moved light on his feet and quickly, and he could handle a horse.
Other things I saw. Nana was without friends. She was hemmed in by this man, surrounded by him. People avoided her through fear of him, until she was trapped, isolated. It could be a plan to win her finally, or to take her ranch if the winning failed.
But they laughed together and raced together, and they rode upon the hills together. And on the night of the dance in Battle Basin, they came to it together.
For that night I was shaved clean and dusted, my boots were polished, and though I went to the dance and looked at the girls, there was only one woman in that room for me.
She stood there with her big man, and I started toward her across the floor, my big California spurs jingling. I saw her face go white to the lips and saw her start to speak, and then I walked by her and asked the daughter of a rancher named Greenway for a dance.
As the Greenway girl and I turned away in the waltz I saw Nana’s face again, flaming red, then white, her fine eyes blazing. So I danced with Ann Greenway, and I danced with Rosa McQueen, and I danced with the girls of the village and from the ranches, but I did not dance with Nana Maduro.
Nana watched me. That I saw. She was angry, too, and that I had expected, for when does the hunter like for the deer to escape? Especially the wounded deer?
Two men came in when the evening was half gone, one of them a thin man with a sickly face and a head from which half the hair was gone, and in its place a scar. This was Clevenger. His partner Mack was stocky and bowlegged and red of face.
Both wore their guns tied down, and both were dangerous. They were known along the border for the men they had killed. They were feared men who had not acquired their reputations without reason.
They were there when I stopped not far away from where Wetterling was talking to Nana. I saw Wetterling move toward her as if to take her for a dance, and I moved quickly, saying, “Will you dance?” and wheeled her away as I spoke.
Wetterling’s face was dark and ugly, and I saw the eyes of his two killers upon me, but I held Nana close, and good she felt in my arms. And she looked up at me, her lips red and soft and wet, and her eyes blazing.
“Let me go, you fool! They’ll kill you for this!”
“Will they now?” I smiled at her, but my heart was pounding and my lips were dry, and my being was filled with the need of her. “You’ll remember that was tried once, long ago.”
Then I held her closer, her breasts tight against me, my arm about her slim waist, our bodies moving in the dance.
“To die for this,” I said, “would not be to die in vain.”
It was my mother’s family that spoke, I think, for poetic as the Welsh may be, and my father was Welsh, it is the Spanish who speak of dying for love, though they are never so impractical. My mother’s name was Ibañez.
When the dance was finished, Nana pulled away from me. “Leave me here,” she said, and then when I took her arm to return her to Wetterling, she begged, “Please, Lou!”
My ears were deaf. So I took her to him and stopped before him, and, with his two trained dogs close by, I said, “She dances beautifully, my friend, and better with me than with you—and what are you trying to do with that fresh-cut trail through the woods? Get your cattle onto her grass?”
Then I turned my back and walked away and the devil within me feeling the glory of having stirred the man to fury, wanting that, yet desolate to be leaving her. For now I knew I loved Nana Maduro. Not prison nor time nor years nor her coldness had killed it. I still loved her.
At the door as I left, a red-faced man with bowed legs who stood there said, “You’ve a fine horse and it’s a nice night to ride. Cross the Territory line before you stop.”
“See you tomorrow,” I said.
“Have a gun in your hand, if you do,” he said to me, and went back inside. Mack, a brave man.
In the morning I rode the hills again, doing a sight of thinking. Wetterling wanted both the ranch and the girl, and no doubt one as much as the other. Another man wanted the place, too, and maybe the girl. But why that particular ranch?
Lovely, yes. Rich with grass, yes. But considering the obstacles and the expense—why? Hatred? It could be. A man can hate enough. But my employer was not a hating man, to my thinking. He just knew what he wanted, and how to get it.
Small ranchers and riders with whom I talked could give me no clue. I did not ask outright if they knew my employer, but I could tell they must know the man.
The trail I had found through the woods was guarded now. Two men loafed near the N M side of it, both with rifles across their knees. Through my glasses I studied that trail. It was wide, and it was well cut. When I got into my saddle I saw something else—a gleam of sunlight reflecting on a distant mountainside. Distant, but still on Maduro range.