Authors: Max Brand
The gun of Tankerton was poised as he enteredâhe needed only to let the muzzle drop down upon the mark, and into the breast of the other he sent a .45-caliber bullet. It was as though an invisible finger pushed through the shirt of the other from left to right, but he did not fall. And then the wink of steel that had appeared in the hand of Dunmoreâplucked out of the air, as it wereâexploded. A stifling breath struck the face of Tankerton, like the breath of a great beast of prey, with hot prickles of fire stinging his eyes blind.
Into the red-speckled darkness he fired blindly. The gun was wrenched from his hand and he himself embraced with such a might as he never had dreamed of. He reached for his second gunâit already was goneâand a cold muzzle was clapped under his chin.
At the same time the voice of Dunmore said loudly: “Well, Tankerton, it's a draw. Are we going to murder each other, or do we stop here?”
Other Leisure books by Max BrandÂ®:
JOKERS EXTRA WILD
THE LONE RIDER
THE UNTAMED WEST (Anthology)
THE WELDING QUIRT
THE BRIGHT FACE OF DANGER
THE OUTLAW REDEEMER
THE GOLD TRAIL
THE PERIL TREK
THE OVERLAND KID
THE HOUSE OF GOLD
THE GERALDI TRAIL
IN THE HILLS OF MONTEREY
THE LOST VALLEY
THE FUGITIVE'S MISSION
THE SURVIVAL OF JUAN ORO
THE WOLF STRAIN
MEN BEYOND THE LAW
BEYOND THE OUTPOSTS
THE STONE THAT SHINES
THE OATH OF OFFICE
DUST ACROSS THE RANGE/THE CROSS BRAND
THE ROCK OF KIEVER
THUNDER MOON AND THE SKY PEOPLE
RED WIND AND THUNDER MOON
THE LEGEND OF THUNDER MOON
THE QUEST OF LEE GARRISON
SIXTEEN IN NOME
Published by special arrangement with Golden West Literary Agency.
Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
200 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Copyright Â© 2003 by Jane Faust Easton and Adriana Faust Bianchi
“Strength of the Hills” first appeared as a six-part serial under the George Owen Baxter byline in Street & Smith's
Western Story Magazine
(5/25/29-6/29/29). Copyright Â© 1929 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright Â© renewed 1957 by Dorothy Faust. Copyright Â© 2003 by Jane Faust Easton and Adriana Faust Bianchi for restored material. Acknowledgment is made to CondÃ© Nast Publications, Inc., for their cooperation.
The name Max Brand Â® is a registered trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and cannot be used for any purpose without express written permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Trade ISBN: 978-1-4285-1818-6
E-book ISBN: 978-1-4285-1819-3
First Dorchester Publishing, Co., Inc. edition: September 2005
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Undoubtedly Colonel Clisson was angry. All through the first day of the rodeo his anger grew, and on the second day it waxed mightily. He represented the whole of Texas and all of Texas ways, and it cut him to the very heart when he saw dally men from California and Nevada come into his territory and at his own pet rodeo, where he himself offered most of the prizes, carry away the glory and the hard cash.
The invaders had won at the shooting contest on the morning of the first day, distinguishing themselves with both rifle and revolver; on foot, kneeling, prone, or in the saddle on a moving horse, they had excelled the tie men in every respect.
Some said that this half dozen of center-fire riders were professionals, and not real cowpunchers at all. That is to say, they were a group who went from rodeo to rodeo throughout the country, splitting between them the prizes that they won. Such men, with none of the full and aimless hours on the range to burden them, were able to devote all their attention to the points that
were most likely to count in a contest. They could bulldog, for instance, for a month at a time, and work up their skill close to perfection. Some of these men went into circuses, in the end, and traveled East and amazed the thousands.
But, professionals or not, Colonel Clisson was enraged by the successes of the invaders. After their victory in the shooting, they had been victorious in bulldogging, in riding wild steers, in roping, fancy and for time, in all the contests, and, when it came to the riding of the horses, which was the concluding portion of the entertainment, they stood well together at the top.
“They are professionals,” said the colonel's foreman. “In that there grama country, they don't learn to scratch their hosses none when they're pitchin' around. But look at that buckaroo now . . . look how tight he's settin' and swingin' his spurs mighty fine. I wouldn't hate to lay my bet that he ain't drawed a paycheck off a ranch inside of five year. Look at the color of him. He's as pale as a dude gambler.”
The colonel snorted. “There was a time,” he said, “when this country of mine was filled with 'punchers who would climb up the side of anything that called itself a hoss. But that time is gone, and I'm glad, sir, yes, I'm glad to see strangers come in and put our people in their place. Not one man, Pete, has dared to so much as ask to have a look at my mare, here.”
Pete Logan, the foreman, felt that there was a cut intended in this speech, and he scratched his chin for an instant and with thoughtful eyes watched the contest progressing between the center-fire buckaroo and the wrong-headed roan. It was a prize bucking horse, that
roan. It fought like a pair of wildcats thrown over the shoulder of Old Nick. But, nevertheless, the stranger was flapping his hat and working his cruel, scraping spurs and taking the heart out of the roan rapidly and surely.
Pete turned his head and looked at the mare in the pen. The walls of that pen were nine feet high, because it was said that over a smaller barrier she would either leap or scramble, and up and down behind the bars she swung back and forth, like a panther walking at its cage screen. She was a fury, a thorough and educated bad one. When she felt the eye of the foreman resting upon her, she paused in her pacing to and fro and looked back at him, flattening her ears.
Pete Logan was upset and turned his head hastily away from her. He knew horses from beginning to end, but this was a very different matter. To enter a contest with her would be like entering the cage of a tiger. Even her beauty made her more terrible. For she was clad in chestnut silk, dappled over with leopard-like markings of shadow, and the gloss of her flank was as bright as burnished metal. She had had five years of glorious freedom on the range. Three times she had been stolen by roving horse thieves whose eyes were taken by her glory.
The first one had left a small scar on her back and a confirmed hatred of the human race in Excuse Me's proud heart. The second had been pitched into a dreadful nest of Spanish bayonet, where even Excuse Me would not follow, and where he would have died like a tortured wildcat, with the mare prowling on guard about him, had not a range rider found him the next
day and cut him free, and carried him off to the ranch house to wait for a doctor, and jail. The third would-be horse thief must have been a magnificent rider, for he had stuck to Excuse Me until his spurs had deeply scored her sides. But his fate had been the worst of all, for they had found him where he fell and where the demoniac mare had pounced on him. He was battered to a rag, literally beyond recognition.
When the colonel heard of that, he went out with a rifle to shoot her. But when he looked down the sights, and the round of them held the perfect beauty of her head, he relented. Instead, he ordered her to be caught up and gentled with the utmost care.
She was accordingly brought in. They said that she fought like a beast of prey, rather than a horse, rushing at the 'punchers instead of away from them, and biting at the ropes that restrained her. Then, for six months, the colonel himself supervised her training. There was nothing in the shape of a horse that could not be gentled and trained, he said, and he knew how to do it. But at the end of six months he was wearing a plaster on his right temple, and he walked with a limp. She was like fluid fire, said the colonel, and no precautions could make the handling of her safe. So he brought her to his rodeo to be given to the man who rode her.
That man never would come over the horizon, he was sure, but, nevertheless, it would be a beautiful and terrible thing to see Excuse Me perform.
However, he had brought her in vain. The 'punchers, when they asked for horses in the contest, paused only for one glance through the bars at lovely Excuse Me. Then they went hastily on, some with a visible shudder.
For, in fact, as has been said, her beauty made her only grimmer to behold.
“Not even asked to try a saddle on her?” exclaimed the colonel with increasing savagery. “They ain't a man of 'em that wouldn't rather get on top of a tank of nitroglycerine.”
“Why, sir,” said Pete, with a rather lopsided grin, “I feel the same way about it.”
“You do? And ain't you got no shame, Pete, to stand here, a strappin' young feller like you, and confess that to my face?”
“The fact is,” said Pete, “that the nitroglycerine might not go off, but Excuse Me you damn' well know would bust every time.”
The colonel snorted, which was his habit when he was cornered past the rescue of words. “Young man, young man,” he said, “I've seen the day that no hoss in this country would go unchallenged. I've seen men that have walked fifty mile', for the sake of tryin' their hands at a man-killin' hoss. What you got that fool smile on your face for?”