Bandits, outlaws, romance, and adventure abound in Hard Ride, a collection of tales of the American West from renowned, seven-time Spur Award-winning author Elmer Kelton
Each of Elmer Kelton’s superb stories of the West showcase the strength and power western spirit. They are filled with marvelous characters—from a rodeo clown who seeks redemption via romance, to an outlaw who comes to the aid of ranchers with no other recourse to justice. Powerful Western women feature as importantly as the menfolk here, including a cattle buyer’s daughter who can hold her own with any man on the trail, a renowned lady outlaw who rules her gang with her gun, and a judge’s daughter who is determined to end local mob rule, as “the day of the gun is almost over.” You will meet characters whose devotions and decisions enthrall you long after you put the book down.
Imbued with an adventurous spirit, Hard Ride is filled with many heartfelt glimpses into the authentic experience of the American West. These stories encompass an enormous array of scenes from the early days of the Wild West into the twentieth century. Readers of all ages can enjoy these tales, each one filled with a passion for life that’s as vast as the Texas prairie.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Elmer Kelton (1926-2009) was the award-winning author of more than forty novels, including The Time It Never Rained, Other Men’s Horses, Texas Standoff and Hard Trail to Follow. He grew up on a ranch near Crane, Texas, and earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. His first novel, Hot Iron, was published in 1956. Among his awards were seven Spurs from Western Writers of America and four Western Heritage awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. His novel The Good Old Boys was made into a television film starring Tommy Lee Jones. In addition to his novels, Kelton worked as an agricultural journalist for 42 years. He served in the infantry in World War II. He died in 2009.
Read an Excerpt
MY GUN IS THE LAW
Sheriff Maury Chance looked out the curtained window into the night. He could see nothing except the glow of distant lamps, but he could hear it well enough. They were throwing a big one tonight down at the Legal Tender. Resentment simmered in him, but there was nothing he could do about it now — nothing legal.
A sympathetic hand touched his shoulder. "Come on over and sit down, Maury. Don't let them get to you this way."
Chance turned away from the window, but the shadow of slow anger still lay in his face. It was a square face, older in experience than in years, with something in it that was always tense, always expectant. Most noticeable were his restless eyes that never missed a thing.
The man who had spoken to him lifted a box from a table and pushed up the lid. "Cigar, Maury? Help take your mind off what happened today."
Chance took it. He reached for his shirt pocket to get a match, and encountered instead the coat of his suit. The suit felt unnatural to him now. He hadn't worn it much the last few years. The most unnatural thing about it was the absence of the gun that usually rode his hip. Thought of the gun made him look for it urgently, before he remembered. He had taken it off in deference to his host. His gun belt dangled from a nail near the door.
His host spoke again. "Like I said, Maury, I regret what happened today. But as a judge, I have to rule according to the verdict of the jury."
Maury Chance nodded. "I understand, Ashby. It's not your fault we can't raise an honest and impartial jury in this town."
Judge Ashby Dyke drew deeply on his cigar, his heavy brows knitted in thought. He was a large man in his fifties, his hair rapidly graving, the first deep lines of age beginning to gully his strong face.
"It's always hurt me when I had to send a man to the gallows," the judge said, "but I believe it hurt me worse today when I had to turn Joe Lacey loose."
Maury Chance frowned. "You don't know how long it took me to get Joe Lacey where he was today. You don't know how many cold camps I made, how many miles I rode, how many times I almost got myself shot. I didn't want to settle for Joe Lacey alone. I wanted to get his big brother Boyd, and Hugh Holbrook, and their whole cow-stealing, throat-cutting bunch.
"But I had to start somewhere, and I started with Joe. I thought if I got him and sent him away, maybe hanged him, it'd scare off a lot of the other riffraff that's been hanging on around here. What was left I could take care of. Now Joe Lacey's loose, and the riffraff is making the most of it."
Far down the street someone fired a gun, a saloon girl squealed, and half a dozen voices lifted high in laughter.
A young woman walked into the doorway that led from the judge's small, comfortable parlor back into the equally small kitchen and dining room. She wiped her hands on her apron and said, "Dinner is ready, Dad."
The judge stood up smiling. "Thelma stayed in that school too long, Maury. She calls dinner 'lunch' and supper 'dinner.' Keeps me so mixed up I'm never sure whether I've eaten or not."
He motioned Maury into the dining room. The sheriff paused a moment and looked at the judge's daughter. She was a striking young woman, not altogether pretty, but more attractive than a man usually found out here on the frontier of Texas. She had been born in Missouri somewhere, when that, too, had been frontier, and her father had been a struggling young lawyer. She had followed the frontier all her life until her father had sent her east four years ago to attend school, to become the kind of lady her mother had been.
The school had been successful, Maury thought. She had the grace of the grand ladies he had known as a boy and a young man, in the South before the war. He liked the way she wore her black-and-white lace dress. But her manner and her dress seemed out of place here. They were incongruous with the raw town, with that raucous mob he could hear at the Legal Tender, with the hand-polished .44 in his gun belt against the papered wall.
Her dark blue eyes met his, and in them he sensed disapproval. She had a disturbingly frank way of staring at him, as if she could see into his soul and didn't like what she saw there.
Thelma Dyke's slender hands gripped the back of a chair and pulled it out. "Your place, Mr. Chance."
Her lips smiled, but it was a smile without warmth.
Maury bowed. He wished she didn't dislike him, but he never wondered why she didn't. He could see the reason himself, when he looked into a mirror. He could see the bitter lines cut into a face that seldom smiled any more, a face that once had known genteel ways but now was better acquainted with harshness and sudden violence.
As they ate, Maury tried to make conversation with her. "I believe Ashby said you went to school in Boston."
"Philadelphia," she corrected him.
Judge Dyke broke in. "Maury had some schooling in Philadelphia too, Thelma. He took some of his law work there."
That surprised her a little. "Law work? I thought you were only a peace officer."
Maury said, "I used to practice law as an attorney. But that's a long story. You wouldn't be interested."
She didn't contradict him. But Ashby Dyke said, "Sure, she'd be interested, Maury."
"I'll tell her some other day, if she wants to hear it. Not now."
Maury hoped she would never want to hear. It was a hard story to tell, or even to think about.
* * *
They ate quietly awhile. Thelma Dyke finally broke the silence. "I should think, Mr. Chance, that it would be a hard transition to make, from attorney to gun-carrying lawman."
He looked levelly at her. "You don't approve of the gun, do you?"
She shook her head.
"Neither do I, Miss Dyke," he told her quietly. "On the contrary, I hate it. I never knew how hard a man could hate until I learned to hate that gun."
"Then why keep on wearing it?"
"Because it's necessary, Miss Dyke. Those law books of your father's are useless out here unless there's a set of guns somewhere to back them up. There are many men here who have no respect for the law, but they do have respect for the gun."
She said, "I suppose you're right. But I can't respect the gun."
"Nor the man who wears it," said Maury Chance.
Judge Dyke broke in. "She didn't say that, Maury. You're in a terrible mood tonight, even for you. She didn't say that or mean it."
Maury managed a smile. "I'm sorry, Miss Dyke."
Hard knuckles rapped on the front door. The judge stood up quickly, then walked to the door and opened it. A thin-framed man in worn clothes walked in. He wore a badge on his dusty vest.
"Maury," he said, excitement rippling in his voice, "things are taking a bad turn down at the Legal Tender. Old Vic said I'd better tell you."
Maury pushed away from the table and walked out into the little parlor. "What is it, Calvin?"
Deputy Calvin Quillan remembered he still had his hat on, and he took it off as Thelma Dyke walked out of the kitchen. "Joe Lacey's down there tanking up on Vic's liquor. He's got a crowd of his friends with him. I guess you've been able to hear that."
"He's getting real brave now. He's telling them he's going to hunt you down and make you run. He's telling them that what happened in court today showed that the Laceys have the law hog-tied. He's saying that from now on the Laceys will run this county."
Maury's lips went hard in anger. He clenched his fists and cast a glance at his gun. "I guess I'd better put a stop to it, then."
Ashby Dyke caught Maury's shoulder. "Don't pay any attention to it, Maury. It's drunk talk. It'll wear off and be forgotten tomorrow."
Maury shook his head. "No, Ashby, it won't wear off. If I don't do something about it, that riffraff will get to thinking he's right. There won't be any stopping them then, not until it's gone too far. So I'll stop it now, tonight."
The judge said, "The decent people around here know where you stand, Maury."
"It's not the decent people I have to worry about."
He buckled his gun belt around his waist and reached for his hat. Then he bowed. "My apologies, Miss Dyke, for spoiling the dinner. Maybe I can do better another time."
She said, "Perhaps." But she was looking at the gun, and her eyes said that she hoped there wouldn't be another time.
Ashby Dyke got his hat and reached into a desk drawer. He pulled out a .38 pistol and shoved it into his coat pocket. "I'll go with you, Maury."
"No, Ashby. This isn't your fight."
The judge was adamant. "I turned him loose."
Thelma Dyke tried vainly to stop the judge. When she couldn't, she turned angry eyes on Maury Chance.
"Don't worry, ma'am," Maury said. "It'll be all right."
They walked out into the darkness. It was cool and there was a faint fragrance from the green grass that had risen after the spring rains.
Enough lanterns burned at the Legal Tender to light half the houses in town. The roar of laughter and the harsh voices carried far up the street. Maury Chance and Judge Ashby Dyke walked abreast. Deputy Quillan followed a pace behind them. But as they stepped up onto the porch and shoved through the door, he moved to his place beside them. Small in frame, Calvin Quillan was not small in courage.
A sudden and complete hush fell over the saloon. Maury's gaze swept the room, found Joe Lacey, and stopped there. Lacey set down his glass and began to laugh.
"There it is, boys," he said, "the whole law of Reynoldsville in one package — sheriff, deputy, and judge."
He picked up his glass again and held it high. "Here's to the law, for it won't be with us long." He took a liberal swallow, then wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
Joe Lacey hadn't been shaving for more than two or three years. Drunk or sober, the devil was always looking out of his eyes. He was a good man with a gun, and with a rope — especially on other people's cattle. He wasn't simply a cowboy gone bad; he had been brought up that way. It ran in the family.
Maury started walking toward him. Though his eyes were on Lacey alone, he knew the judge and Quillan were with him. Two paces from Lacey, he stopped.
"You've made some big talk here tonight, Joe," he said evenly. "But that's all it was, just talk. Now you're going to leave and go home."
Joe Lacey said, "I'm not ready to go home yet, Sheriff. You had your chance at me today in court, and all you got was a kick in the britches. Now get out before you get another."
Ice was on Maury Chance's words. "I'm not going, Joe. You are. You've had your laughs. Now go."
Joe Lacey lost all pretense at humor. His eyes glowed with a long-built hatred. "I'll go when I'm ready, Chance. And I'll be ready when I've knocked you off of your high horse. You had your chance at me, and you flopped. Now I'm giving you another chance. Draw that gun, if you're man enough. Kill me if you think you can."
Maury made no move for his gun. Instead he eased a little closer to Lacey. "I won't draw on you."
Lacey's lips drew up defiantly. "I told them you wouldn't. I told them I'd show them what a yellow coyote you really are." Lacey was tasting triumph, and it had a heady, intoxicating flavor.
"Try me, Chance, if there's any manhood left in you at all!"
Maury's voice remained calm but still. "I'm not going to draw because I know I could beat you, Joe. I don't want to kill you and make a martyr out of you. I want to be able to keep hounding you, to put you behind steel bars and make you look like the cheap, common crook you are."
Every word made the red flush of fury grow deeper in Joe Lacey's face. When his hand started to the gun at his side, Maury Chance was ready. With a fast forward stride he grabbed Lacey's hand as it drew the gun. He gripped the gun barrel, gave it a savage twist. Lacey cried out and jerked his hand away, blood running where the sharp trigger guard had chewed into his fingers.
Maury lifted Lacey's gun by the barrel and swung the butt of it at Lacey's face. The outlaw cried out again as he slid back against the bar. His hand went up to his cheek, where the gun had ripped a raw gash.
A long-held fury was driving at Chance. He hadn't wanted it this way, but now he had to show these toughs that he meant what he said. He slashed at Lacey again. The outlaw spun and fell.
Lacey's gun barrel in his fist, Maury whirled on the rest of the crowd. "Anybody else?"
Nobody made a sound. He had taken them by surprise, and now his animallike fury held them cowed.
"Maury, look out!" The cry came from Calvin Quillan.
Maury whipped around, and saw a gun come up in Lacey's hand. But before Maury could change his grip on Lacey's weapon, Quillan stepped in front of him, an old .45 swinging into line.
Lacey's shot roared like a dynamite blast. Quillan heaved backward. A second shot came from Judge Dyke's .38. It whipped Lacey around. The outlaw slumped onto the floor, his shoulder shattered.
Quillan swayed, then began to fold at the knees. Maury grabbed him and eased him to the floor. He glanced at the splotch of blood high in Quillan's chest. A glance was enough.
"Calvin," he said hoarsely, "you shouldn't have."
Quillan tried to speak, but the words wouldn't come. In a moment he was dead.
Maury's burning eyes lifted to the crowd. A knot tightened painfully in his throat. He looked with hatred at Joe Lacey, who was doubled up in a knot, blood spilling around the hand he held to his shoulder.
"I had his gun, Ashby," Maury said to the judge. "Where did he get another?"
"Somebody passed it to him. I didn't see who."
Maury stood up, gripping Lacey's gun as if he meant to crush it in his fist. "Who was it?" he demanded. "Who gave him the gun?"
No one answered. His gaze searched hotly from one face to another. Then he started looking for empty holsters. He found one. He looked up into the man's face. He saw guilt there, and fear.
The man whirled and ran for the door, desperately shoving people out of his way.
"Stop!" Maury ordered.
The man kept going. Maury raised the gun and squeezed the trigger. The man fell like a sack of rocks. He lay on the floor sobbing, holding his bleeding leg. The fury drained out of Maury then. Calmness slowly came back to him.
He turned to old Vic, the man who owned the saloon. "Take care of Calvin for me, Vic."
The whiskered old man nodded. Though the violence had taken place in Vic's saloon, Maury could not look upon the old man as an enemy. Vic stayed neutral, siding no man, blaming no man.
Roughly Maury took Joe Lacey by his good shoulder and jerked him up. "Come on, Joe. You might've gone free today, but you won't get loose any more. You've just hung yourself!"
His blood-smeared face blanched in shock, Joe Lacey was sobering fast. He was crying. "Get me to a doctor. I need a doctor."
Maury gritted, "You'll get a doctor in jail." He jerked Joe Lacey along toward the door, then paused beside the man who lay on the floor, gripping his wounded leg.
"I need somebody to help me get this man to jail, too."
A couple of cowboys stepped out of the crowd. Maury knew them as punchers from Jess Tolliver's Rafter T. They had been watching the excitement, taking no hand in it. "We'll bring him, Sheriff."
Quickly they commandeered a wagon from the street and loaded the two wounded men into it. One of the cowboys took up the reins. Maury kept looking back over his shoulder, expecting trouble to come boiling out of the Legal Tender.
Judge Dyke read his thoughts. "It came too quickly, Maury. They're still in a sort of shock. I don't believe there'll be any trouble."
A woman came running toward them from out of the shadows. She stopped in a shaft of lantern light to watch the wagon come by. Thelma Dyke's face was tight with fear. She looked at Maury Chance first, then saw the judge.
"Dad, are you all right?" The judge nodded, and a sigh of relief escaped her lips. Her shoulders sagged a little. She followed the wagon afoot.
Maury looked back at her once. He was glad he had no one to worry about him, to wonder fearfully if he would walk home tonight or be carried in. If Maury Chance were to die, there'd be no one to mourn him but a few scattered friends. Even they wouldn't think of him long. It was a satisfying feeling.
But sometimes, in the dark of night and in the quiet of his own room, in his sleepless bed, a terrible loneliness moved in upon him like the wail of a blue norther. At such times he would have given his life to have turned back the years for just a little while to know the comfort of his family back home, the mother, the father, the brother, who was four years older than he.
But they were gone now. The brother was lost on the battlefields of Northern Virginia, the mother and father long since buried. There was no one now to care whether Maury Chance lived or died.
The doctor arrived at the jail within a few minutes. He was a gruff little man of short patience who lived alone and seldom shared his thoughts with anyone. If he ever had any emotion other than perpetual cynicism, he kept it well buried.
"Looks like a lot of useless work to me," he grumbled, repairing Lacey's shoulder. "I patch him up and get him healed so you can hang him. Would've been better if you'd killed him in the first place."
"I didn't do it, Doc," Maury said. "The judge did."
He wished immediately he had bitten off his tongue instead of talking. He saw the sudden surprise, then the deep disappointment in Thelma Dyke's face. "Dad, you didn't!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hard Ride"
Copyright © 2018 Elmer Stephen Kelton Estate.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents:
"My Gun is the Law"
"Sense of Duty"
"She Wolf of the Brush Country"
"The Bells of San Juan"
"The Lord Sent an Outlaw"
"The Unsilent Partner"
"The Way of the Wolf"
"When Happy Lost His Laughter"
"Long Ride, Hard Ride"
"Sheep on the River"