My first big project, as it turned out, happened to be a favorite: Howard Hawks's Red River. It's an excellent transfer of this amazing film, and the booklet I edited includes essays by Andrew Sarris and Suzanne Liandrat-Guigues, plus interviews with editor (and The Thing credited director) Christian Nyby and writer Borden Chase. The Blu-Ray also features a video conversation with two of my favorite cinephiles: Dan Sallitt and Jaime Christley. Finally, I have a small essay in the booklet as well, talking about the differences between the now canonical Book Version and the rarer, hard to find Voice Version.
Anyways, major thanks to Craig Keller for bringing me on the team—it's a total honor to work with and investigate these fantastic films and bring them all to you. As a treat to get you all excited, one of the things I pulled during my archival research was The Chisholm Trail, the original short story by Borden Chase that ran in the Saturday Evening Post starting on December 7, 1946. We didn't have room for it in the book, and since it is now out of copyright, I am presenting the first part here for your reading enjoyment—the second chapter should be especially interesting for fans of the film, as it paints Joanne Dru's Tess in a very different light. Enjoy!
THE CHISHOLM TRAIL BY BORDEN CHASE
For many years, screenwriter Borden Chase made his money by selling short stories to various magazines and newspapers. His story for Red River, his first Western, originally started as The Chisholm Trail, a six part series in The Saturday Evening Post. Hawks bought the story even before it completed its run in the paper, and before Chase had actually finished writing the thing. What follows is an excerpt from the first part of the story, published in the December 7, 1946 issue.
His name was Thomas Dunson, born in Birkenhead across the Mersey from Liverpool, come from England God knows how. A bull of a man. A brute of a man. Thick-necked, low-jowled, with eyes that looked out at you like the rounded gray ends of bullets in a pistol cylinder. And there he sat, all slumped like a bulging bag of grain on the wide seat of the Conestoga wagon. The hands that held the reins were heavy across the backs. The fingers were blunt; flat across the tips. His head rolled with the motion of the wagon as it lurched along over the flatlands.
Two mares were in the traces. Quarter mares with broad hips and heavy gaskins. Built to work; built to run. Both had been bred to the sorrel stud that followed the wagon at the end of a tie rope. Foundation stock. Dunson's eyes stroked the slow, rhythmic motions of the younger mare's rump. Perhaps he was thinking of the colt she would drop in another six months. Perhaps not. Dunson's thoughts were hidden things.
Ahead, the lead wagon dipped its tongue as the team moved down the grade of a dry stream bank. One after another, the following wagons answered the curve of the ground. It had been this way for days. Crawling snakelike across the face of a continent. Heading west. Always west. Across mountains, rivers, stretches of desert. They'd found gold in California just a year ago, heavy red gold.
Another mile and the wagon train stopped. Or rather, a portion of it stopped when Dunson checked the mares at a curve in the dry wash. Those behind him waited while a rider dressed in leather turned back from the lead wagon. "Close it up!" he called. "We don't stop for another two hours!"
Almost it was as though Dunson hadn't heard the words. His gray eyes looked south, reaching out over the flatlands. Again the rider called. Slowly and with reluctance Dunson turned to face the mounted man.
"I'll leave you here," he said. "My way is south."
"South?" The rider shook his head. " You'll find Indians to the south."
"I'll find water there too. Water and grass for my bull."
Argument was in the rider's eyes. But Dunson had dropped the reins and was standing erect in the wagon. His feet were widespread, thrust hard against the floor boards as though with difficulty they held aloft the weight of muscle and flesh that made this man. He looked again toward the south. And, as he did, another head followed his. A horned head with a flat face—the head of Dunson's bull. Held by a ring in its nose and a light line to the tail of the Conestoga wagon, the deep-chested animal distended its nostrils and dragged in the distant scent of grass. A wide hoof struck the earth. Sound poured from the bull's throat. Dunson nodded.
"I'll leave you here," he said again.
The wagon turned south. The rider shrugged. Others had left the wagon trains. Others had seen a pleasant valley, a cool stream. They'd turned aside. And months later men had found gray ashes, a wagon tire or two and a rubble of picked-over bones beside the foundation of a house that was never built.
South and west—morning found Dunson slouched on the seat of his wagon. Moving south and west. Slowly, suiting the pace of his mares to the plodding gate of the monstrous bull. He reached into his jacket to hunt a twist of tobacco. His mouth opened wide. The short square teeth closed with a snap. A wrench of the powerful neck; then the ends of the twist fell unnoticed to the wagon floor.
Movement in the brush. Dunson checked the team and lifted his rifle with a single gesture. He waited. It wasn't wise to waste lead. Even on an Indian. When you rode the wagons westward you waited until your sights were lined on the place where life could be stopped with a single shot.
There was a sharp rushing snort from the tail of the wagon. Then a heavy roar as Dunson's bull gave tongue. The rifle lowered. Bewilderment came into Dunson's eyes as out of the brush stepped a teen-age boy leading a cow at the end of a rope. A boy who looked past Dunson, past the wagon.
"Hi, you!" called Dunson. "You with that cow!"
The boy turned like a dreamer in answer to some half-heard voice. He looked at Dunson with eyes that were focused on infinity.
"Where are you going with that cow?" asked Dunson.
"She's my cow." The words were ghosts of sound.
"Where are you going with her?"
"She's my cow. She got away. She's my cow."
Recognition now. Dunson had seen this boy before. Seen him in the wagon train; part of the sixth group. There had been a mother and a lean-jawed father—perhaps two older sisters. Dunson wasn't sure. He wouldn't remember the boy if it weren't for the cow. Her ribs showed from lack of grain and her hoofs were worn. But she was a good cow. Good as the two that had started across the continent be-hind Dunson's wagon. The two that had died on the way.
"You’re heading wrong," said Dunson. He pointed to the north. " The wagon train is off there."
"She's my cow," said the boy again.
The words were flat things in the stillness. Dunson didn't hear them. Wasn't listening. Instead, his eyes held to the distant horizon of the north, where smoke lifted toward the heavens. A tall, wavering column of smoke such as might come when flames eat the canvas and wood of a wagon train. Dunson climbed from the seat. He crossed to the dazed boy.
"Indians?" he said. "Did the wagons meet Indians?"
"She's my cow. She got away. She's my cow."
Dunson slapped him across the face. The blunt fingers left marks on the cheek. The boy stared at him. Quite unconsciously the small hands doubled into fists. The small shoulders hunched forward. The corners of Dunson's mouth pulled in. Almost a smile. He slapped the boy again.
"Your cow got away," he said slowly. "You left the wagons to find her. When you got back, Indians had been there."
"I didn't go back," said the boy. "Just to a hill where I could see. Everything was burning." He looked at Dunson. Pointed off toward the north. "Everything was burning."
No soft words. Not from Dunson. No friendly arm about the small shoulders. The big man studied the boy. Looked at the cow. Yes, she was a good cow—as good as the two Dunson had lost. Same breed too. She'd drop good calves.
"What's your name, boy?" asked Dunson at length.
"Damn it, Matthew, I've got work to do! There's no room for you! No place for you!"
"All right, he says!" Dunson addressed his grunt to the world. "I ought to leave you here. Ought to turn my back upon you. But I won't . . . and like as not I'll live to regret it." He gestured toward the wagon. "Tie off your cow." And as the boy walked toward the tail gate, "Next to the stud, you idiot! Keep her away from that bull!" And as an after-thought, "And stop your confounded bawling!"
There were tears in the eyes that stared back at Thomas Dunson. Tears that were quickly winked away. A deep breath. Matthew tied off the cow. Then, quietly, "I'm not bawling."
They rode together. A silent man; an equally silent boy. The wheels of the Conestoga wagon turned slowly over earth that was brown and dry and hard and barren. Days grew to weeks. And there was grass. Not the lush, green, moisture-laden grass of the East. This was sterner stuff. Hardier, with grasping roots that reached down into the Texas earth and squeezed each hidden drop of moisture from the soil. Grass that was heavy with strength and life it had drawn from the Texas sun. And soon there was a river—the Rio Grande.
Thomas Dunson stopped the team near a stand of small trees. For a moment he looked about. Then he climbed down from the wagon to stand spraddled on the hard ground. He pulled a tuft of grass. Tasted it. Tasted the earth that clung to its roots.
"Come down," he said to Matthew Garth.
"This is the place?"
"This is the place," said Dunson. "This is where I start. West along this river to the far hills." His heavy arm marked a course on the distant sky line. "North to the dry stream we crossed five days past, then east again. It's mine. I take it now, and I'll hold it forever."
“It’s a lot of ground,” said Matthew.
His eyes roamed the boundaries. Then they followed the movements of Thomas Dunson as he took a tool from the bed of the wagon and turned to the deep-chested bull. A twist of those powerful wrist and the ring came free of the animal's nose. Dunson slapped its flank. Stepped aside. The bull lumbered slowly toward the river.
"He'll go away," said Matthew.
"Anywhere he turns he'll be on my ground. Dunson jerked a wide thumb toward the mare.
"Unhook the team."
Matthew obeyed. His hands were good; leather and rope liked his fingers and behaved well unto them. So, too, did the mares. Each dropped her head for that quick little rub she'd come to know, each flicked a heel in answer to the slap that sent her on her way. Then Matthew's eyes grew wide as looked to the west.
A rider was moving along the riverbank tov the wagon. A pleasant man with a good smile. The horse he sat was lean and hard. The saddle was wide. His eyes checked the men, the wagon, the stock equipment. His hand lifted in greeting.
"Buenos dias, señores. You have come a way in that wagon."
"A long way," said Thomas Dunson. He [tied?] from the tail gate, his heavy arms loaded with and tools and household ware. Carefully he set article on the ground.
The Mexican dismounted; trailed the reins to ground-tie his horse. Again that pleasant smile.
"You stay for tonight?"
"I'm going to live here," said Dunson simply.
"I am Ramon Valdez, in the employ of Don Diego Agura y Baca." Still the smile as the Mexican took off his gloves. "In his name I bid you welcome for a night, a week or a month. But to live here, that is impossible. The ground is not for sale.”
"Where is the home of Don Diego?"
Ramon gestured to the south. "Two days and two nights should take you to the hacienda. He glanced at Dunson's stud. "Although on that horse you might better the time. Is he for sale?”
Dunson ignored the question. "If I tell you I have taken this ground and mean to hold it," slowly, "no doubt you'll feel you must drive me off.”
"Don't try it," said Dunson. His words were positive things. Not argumentative. "I can kill you. I don't want to, but I will if you make me.'
"!Por Dios! You are mad!" Perplexed, the Mexican's hand hovered above his gun butt. It started downward.
"Don't try it!"
Ramon went for his gun. It was a fast draw, a good draw. But Dunson's huge hand flicked down. There was the sound of a single shot and smoke lifted from the barrel of his pistol. Those cold eyes looked out from beneath their heavy brows; stared down at the Mexican. Slowly Dunson put the gun away. Slowly he turned that massive head until his eyes met the boy’s. He waited. So did Matthew.
"He'll need a grave," said Dunson at long length.
"There's a Bible in the wagon, up near the water buckets. I'll read over him."
Matthew looked toward the south. “Likely there'll be others."
"Likely there will."
"You'll kill them too?"
"If they make me," said Dunson. And he lifted his head in a faraway look. "Here I am, Matthew, and here I'll stay. On all these lands north of the river I'll grow beef. Food for the bellies of every man in our country. They'll need meat, Matthew. They can't build their cities without it." He looked off toward the squat bull near the stream edge. "Give me a score of years, Matthew. Give me a score of years and you'll see beef cattle grazing as far as your eye can reach. God knows what they'll look like . . . not like my bull by the water there. Hardier, somewhat. Stringier, too, I'm afraid. But here they'll be—bulls and cows and heifers and steers. Thousands of them."
Some inner flame was at work. It heated the bulletlike eyes that swept over the boy. "My bull and your cow. My gun and you at my back. We'll build an empire, Matthew! We'll build an empire!"
The huge hand went out; the same hand that a moment ago had killed a man. Into it went the smaller fingers against a lower lip to stifle a groan at the pressure of the grip. Dunson turned to point beyond the stand of trees. "The big house will go there. Beyond it, a barn. Then a second barn. We'll run the corrals along the river and put a bunkhouse on that rise of ground."
NEARLY a score of years—mad, cruel, bitter years of conflict in which a nation trembled on the rim of ruin. War between the states. A day of defeat, heartbreak and peace. Then a man in gray with a battle-dulled sword rode into the town of Memphis. Matthew Garth, the freckled kid who had tried to drag a cow across a continent. A man now. Tight-twisted and burned to the color of Texas. Big hands and small hips. Eyes that carried the haze of early morning. Strange eyes—they'd caught the habit of looking out at you like the rounded ends of bullets in a pistol cylinder.
And there were other things that had come to this boy grown tall. Things a man learns only in war. Things Matthew had learned in the long, swift marches under Jeb Stuart; in the red swirl of battle; in the tight moments beside a fallen saddle mate; in the cruel, merciless business of keeping alive when those who look for your death are on every side.
Yes, Matthew had gone to the wars. He'd fought for the state he called his own. Now it was over and he was heading home. Riding south along the bank of the Mississippi toward Texas. Battle-weary with a single silver coin in the pocket of his faded gray uniform. He checked his mount on the Chickasaw Bluffs and looked at the dark waters. Night had come to Memphis. The chill winds of the north walked along the river and rippled the surface There were lights to the south—yellow lights that came from the windows of an ancient river steamer moored to sagging dock.
Matthew was cold. He was hungry He fingered the silver coin in his pocket then walked his horse toward the dock, Music came from the lighted windows music and laughter and the shouts of men. Matthew read the name painted in gold along the rotted hull—the River Palace. Too old to work, her engines rusted and long since dead she now served as a place where gamblers went to win the gold of drunken men, while river bawds danced to help them at their trade.
But there was food in the River Palace. Matthew tethered his horse where the broken wall of a shack took the bite from the wind. He eased the cinch. Then walked up the sagging gangway and into the glare of the main saloon. Oil flames danced in a hundred lamps. There were men at the tables and men at the long, carved hardwood bar. Women in dresses that showed their legs. Hard-faced, brittle, laughing women who flaunted the thing they had for sale.
Matthew found a table well back from a lamplit stage where two fiddles screamed and a man blew a horn. A Negro came to his elbow. Matthew ordered sowbelly and coffee. He paid with his coin and ate slowly and thoroughly when the food was set before him.
Then a woman stepped onto the stage. A golden woman with clear white skin and eyes the color of ancient jade. A tall woman, cold in her manner, with a glance that was filled with the scorn of men. Tgerissa Millay—Tess of the River, out of the Southland to set men mad in Jackson and Natchez, Cairo and St. Louis, and now in the city of Memphis.
The laughter stopped. The noise grew small. Then the fiddles played and the woman sang. Matthew set down his cup. As she sang, those green eyes drifted slowly about the crowded room, passing like a hurrying shadow across the upturned faces. They met with those of Matthew Garth, and for an instant they paused. Why? What held them there? As well ask why Matthew's hands gripped hard on the table edge. An instant—no longer—then the song was through and the singer was gone.
There was shouting. Cheers and cries and the sound of rough hands beating together to tell of their owners' pleasure. They wanted more and they called for more. But the song was over, and when once again Tess stepped from the curtains, it was to leave the stage and come down onto the floor of the crowded saloon. Men stood and offered empty chairs. They offered drinks and rippled piles of gold coins between their fingers. Tess smiled and walked between them or around them, pausing once to nod a greeting to a dark-faced man in a beaver hat with rings on his fingers and a stone in his scarf. Then she walked to the table where Matthew was seated, and looked at the empty chair beside him.
"May I?" she said.
"It's kind of you," he said quietly. "It's more than kind, but I've spent my last coin."
The green eyes narrowed. Then Tess seated herself unasked at the table and the trace of a smile grew on her lips.
"I hardly expected you'd be carrying gold in that uniform," she said. "And of another color, now that your cause is lost."
"I like this color," said Matthew.
"So do I," said Tess. "And for some strange reason I like the man who wears it. What is your name?"
"Matthew Garth, of Texas.'*
"You're going home?"
"What's waiting for you there?"
"Work," said Matthew. "Other than that, I don't know."
"Tell me about yourself."
"There's little to tell. I'd rather hear about you."
Tess laughed, and shook her head when a waiter paused with an inquiring glance. "Would you like to know why I came to your table?"
"Because once long ago a man like you taught me to read and taught me to spell," said Tess. "He was a good man. If he'd lived, he'd have worn the uniform you wear. His eyes would have been clear and clean and honest as yours. He was the one man in life I've ever respected. I called him father."
"Thank you," said Matthew.
"And now," said Tess, as her manner changed, "why don't you ask what a nice girl like me is doing in a place like this?"
"I figure it's none of my business.”
As he spoke, a thin man in gambler’s clothes crossed the room toward then Tess looked sharply at Matthew. "Neither is this," she said. "Keep your hand off your gun and your mouth closed."
The thin man stood at the tab Frenchy De Longe, up from New Orleans with a reputation that was as she as sharp as the slant of his eyes. Gambler, killer, wanted on the Gulf for a hundred crimes. He tapped a slim hand against Tess' shoulder and nodded toward the stage.
"Go back to your room!" he said sharply. "Stay there until I send for you! Do it now!"
"Because I tell you to!"
"Or is it because the Donegal is coming to pay you a call? " said Tess. Her smile was as cold as the words.
"Do as I tell you," said Frenchy. His thin fingers curled about the woman's wrist and tightened to bruise the skin.
Matthew's leg pushed back his chair. His hands moved across the table top toward the edge. Tess looked at him, a fast glance filled with warning. Then she turned to look toward the door where a giant of a man against the outer darkness. His great red beard flamed in the yellow light of the lamps. His dark eyes sparkled and snapped as he looked slowly about a room that had suddenly grown quiet. A table stood in his way. He brushed it aside with a heavy hand that carried chairs and men along as it crashed.
"So there ye are!" he cried. And his voice was as deep as the bellow of a bull. "Tess, girl, what are you doing in this filthy nest when the Donegal has offered you marriage? If it's money you want instead of me love, there's work aplenty at the Boar's Head, where I sell both whisky and wickedness!”
The Donegal barged across the floor, sweeping tables and men aside as he moved with the surge of the avalanche. Facing Tess, he lifted a blunt forefinger to tap it lightly against the woman's cheek.
"Go fetch your bonnet an' put on your shawl," he said. The words rode on the crest of a monstrous laugh. “Pack up your duds and give me your trunk! You're movin' this instant to the Boar's Head."
"She's staying here," said Frenchy De Longe.
"The devil you say!" laughed the Donegal. He turned again to Tess. "Do as I tell you, woman, or I'll paddle you over me knee!"
"She's staying here," said Frenchy again. "And you're leaving."
"Am I, now?" cried the Donegal. Then if I am, 'tis only to carry your filthy carcass to the end of the dock and flick it into the river!"
He reached one heavy hand toward the gambler, then drew it back as a thin blade drew blood from his wrist. There was a mad bellow of rage. Frenchy stepped in, moving his feet with the smooth ease of a dancer. Again the slim blade drew blood, this time from the cheek of the Donegal. Frenchy leaped back, then circled quickly, testing with the knife tip for a place where life was close to the surface and could be stolen away with the twist of a blade.
Another quick stroke, then the Donegal's great hand caught the gambler's wrist. Frenchy was drawn forward into the terrible grip of two monstrous arms. The Donegal's head went down. Like some gigantic bear that has caught its prey, he locked his arms about the gambler's waist. The arms tightened. Again and again the knife ripped quickly at flesh and bone and sinew. Still the Donegal squeezed, one hand in the other, his chin pressed firmly against the gambler's chest.
Frenchy screamed. A gasping, strangling cry that burst from his tortured lungs. A rib cracked. Then another. The vise that was built of bone and muscle drew tighter. Always tighter. A hard-faced man in the crowd cursed and turned away. A woman sobbed. Another cried out in protest. Still the arms drew in. There was the grinding crackle of bones that are twisted and torn in their sockets. Frenchy De Longe grew limp. His back was broke and his life was gone.
"Fetch your bonnet, Tess," said the Donegal. He dropped the thing he held in his arms. "Fetch your bonnet and we'll be leavin' this place."
"You're a fool, Donegal," said Tess quietly. "You're a great red fool. Now get in there and pack my trunk."
The Donegal laughed. And as though there were no blood flowing from a doezen wounds, he marched across the flouur toward the rooms behind the stage. Tess turned to the silent man beside her.
"Good-by, Matthew," she said. "You've finished your meal and night is young. I'd hurry along to Texas if I were you."
"Perhaps you're right," he said.
"I'm sure I'm right," said Tess. She offered a hand that was smooth and small and very white. "Until our next meeting."
Matthew took the small hand within his own. "I've work to do in Texas. I doubt that we'll meet again."
"I know we'll meet again," Tess. Her fingers curled tightly against his. "Somehow, for some reason, Matthew, I know we'll meet again."
She took back her hand, turned and hurried across the floor. Matthew watched her go. He looked at the ring of frightened faces about him, glanced once at the thing on the floor and crossed to the door. The wind that swept south along the river was good. Its taste was fresh and clean and sharp on a man's tongue. Matthew tightened the worn cinch under his horse. He stepped into the saddle and swung south along the Mississippi.
AS DUNSON had promised years before, a big house had been built beyond the clump of trees. Built of stone and hand-hewn timbers. Beyond it a barn. Then a second barn. Corrals stretched out along the Rio Grande and smoke lifted from the chimney of the bunkhouse. Thomas Dunson was there. Older now. He stood in the half light of morning, his feet spread wide, thrust hard against a rise of earth. And his eyes looked out over the tossing horns of five thousand heads of cattle.
Lean cattle; stringy beasts with gigantic horns. More than half wild. Riders hazed the distant fringes of the herd. Others were at work beside a branding chute, running the long, wavering road brand on the flanks of the last batch brought in. Smoke from a wood fire mingled with the dust. A mad eyed steer lunged against the chute end.
“Another Diego!” called the brander.
“Turn him loose,” said Matthew.
Yes, Matthew was home from the wars. He’d reached Texas to find his homeland starving after the war.
Lesser men would have turned away. Lesser me did turn away. Thomas Dunson stayed. Who knows how he kept alive? Who knows how he held his herd together? But he did. And when the lean, tired men straggle south from the battlefields, Duson gave each bed, a handful of food from his meager store, a horse to ride and a rope to throw. Then he put them to work to bring in his cattle. Sent them into the valleys and draws to round up a heard of five thousand head.
There's a market in Missouri," he said to Matthew when the tall man came home to the ranch. "I'll drive to it, Matthew. In spite of Congress and carpetbaggers, I'll drive these cows to market!"
The roundup was finished. The road brand was searing into the hides of the last bunch brought in. Today they would start the drive.
"Another Diego!" called the brander. "Turn him loose," said Matthew again. And the man at the chute gate reached for the bar that would free the steer.
'Hold that!" Thomas Dunson left the rise of ground and walked slowly toward the man with the iron. He punched a blunt thumb toward the steer. "Put a road brand on him."
"He's a Diego," said the brander—Teeler Yacey, long-boned and poverty-thin, with a limp that grew when a Northern cavalry saber cut through his hip.
"Put a road brand on him."
Matthew pointed to the crude, sprawling brand of Diego's, plain on the rump of the steer. " Teeler's right. It's a Diego steer."
"I don't see the Diego brand," said Dunson.
His eyes moved from the steer to find Matthew's and hold there. Gray on gray, both misted with a translucent curtain. Challenge in Dunson's— cold, purposeful challenge. And in Matthew's an answer to the challenge. No spoken words. But a battle was being fought. The man at the chute gate knew it. So did Teeler Yacey, who held the running iron loosely in his gloved hands and waited.
"I don't see the Diego brand," said Dunson again.
Matthew shrugged. He nodded to Teeler. "Put the iron on him."
Just that. Nothing more. Teeler ran the iron in a wavering line along the steer's flank. The great beast bawled; lunged at the gate. The bar snapped back and a rider hazed the steer toward the herd. A second was branded. Then a third went into the chute.
"Another Meeker!" called Teeler.
"I don't see the Meeker brand," said Dunson quietly.
This without a glance toward the chute. Dunson's eyes were steady on Matthew. The heavy head was drawn down hard on the blocky man's neck. A moment passed. Dunson's lower lip thrust forward. Teeler waited. So did the man on the gate.
"Put the iron on him," said Matthew quietly. He turned away from the chute and stepped into his saddle. "Put the iron on all of them."
"I'll have a word with you, Matthew." Dunson crossed toward the rise of ground. "Yes, I'll have a word with you."
Matthew followed, suiting the pace of his stud to the rolling gait of Thomas Dunson. When the owner paused Matthew didn't step down. Instead, he waited, one forearm resting on the pommel of his worn saddle. Men of the West have a name for the fortunate few who fit well on the back a stallion. They call them "stud-horse men." Such was Matthew Garth. A male creature, loaded with threat in every movement. Equal to the task of mastery over a mount that was half horse, half tiger. He looked silently down at Dunson.
"The Army's spoiled you, Matthew," said the owner. "Spoiled you to the point where at times you forget I am the master of this spread."
"I don't forget."
"See that you don't," said Dunson. He gestured toward the herd. "'Those beasts out there are worthless as long as they stay in the state of Texas. We've lost a war and lost our market. Diego, Meeker and the rest of fools would take a dollar a head, fity cents, , a quarter—any coin that's made of silver! I'll be hanged if I will. Not for my beef. Not while there’s a market in Missouri. Not while Northern buyers will pay twenty do the railhead!"
"We've got no argument along those lines."
"We've got no argument along any lines," said Dunson.
"There are quite a few strays in that herd. Meeker might not like to see our road brand on some of them."
"I'll argue that with Meeker."
"Now might be a good time," said Matthew. "He's coming your way."
Dunson turned to see an ancient Texan riding toward them. White hair long on his collar, a flowing mustache and a face cut with deep lines, John Meeker sat his horse with the ease sixty years in the saddle gives a man. Beside him rode a younger man, dark, amused, glancing about with a casualness that was more than casual. Both checked their mounts at the rise of ground.
"See you're goin' to make the drive," said Meeker.
"That's right," said Dunson.
"Got news yesterday about Cummerlan. He drove three thousand head clear to the Missouri border before they jumped him. Killed all his men, took all his cattle. Said they had the law with 'em."
Meeker nodded. "Said his steers would bring Texas fever to the Northern cattle."
"What's this rubbish about Texas fever?"
"I don't know," said Meeker. "Just another excuse for the border gangs to steal Texas beef. They've run off with two hundred thousand head up to now, and not one silver dollar has come back to Texas; only a few of the drivers."
"So you'd advise me not to make the drive?"
"It's not my business to advise," said Meeker quietly. He looked thoughtfully toward the cattle. "Must be five thousand three's and four's in that herd. For a man who has only been in Texas less than twenty years, you seem to do good without any advice."
"Yes, I do good," said Dunson. Again that lower lip jutted forward. "I'm going to keep on doing good while the rest of you cattlemen sit around and watch yourselves go broke. You're licked. I'm not. I'll drive my beef to market, and all hell won't stop me!"
"Do what you want with your beef," said Meeker slowly. "But I'm sort of particular where my beef goes. Mind if I have a look at that herd?"
"I do mind."
"You'd try to stop us?" This from the younger man.
"Who're you?" asked Dunson.
"Cherry Valance, up from Valverde."
Cherry Valance—and a mad pair of devils danced in the pupils of those dark eyes.
Cherry Valance—and the rider laughed at the reaction to the name. A strange laugh that lifted through four notes of the octave. Irritating to a man, attractive to women. It matched the smile that was both charming and impudent. Matched the attitude of this mad son of Texas who had killed twenty men, not counting the Yankees he fought in the war.
All Texas knew the name; knew this weird product of a Louisiana French father and a Basque mother. From Matagorda to the Red River, from Beaumont to the Pecos, and there were many who lived south of the Rio Grande who could tell of this dark rider with the shiny hair that twisted into curls at the rim of his forehead. Danger rode with the man. It lived in his eyes, in his musical laugh, in the deceptive swing of his back as he bent forward in a little bow of introduction. It was hidden in the small, delicately formed, almost feminine hand that was held in an inquisitive gesture not too many inches above his gun butt.
"You'd try to stop us?" he asked again.
"I would," said Matthew.
Cherry turned to look down the barrel of the gun Matthew held at his hip. The barrel was still. Stone-steady. No use to gamble, although for an instant the thought lived in Cherry's eyes. Instead, he laughed and crossed his forearms on the pommel.
"Damn it all, Matthew, put that gun away!" said Dunson. And, without a glance to verify the order, he moved in to tap a square finger against Meeker's knee. "All right, John, there's a few of your steers in that herd. Some with Diego's brand on them. None of you have held a roundup in three years. Your cows are scattered over ten thousand square miles and you haven't money to hire riders to bring them in." He indicated the men near the herd. "My last silver went into wages for this roundup—that and food for our drive to Missouri. Yes, we've brought in some of your stock. I haven't time to cut it from the rest. But I'll drive it to Missouri and give you two dollars a head when I get back."
"If you get back," said Meeker, and he grinned.
"That's your gamble."
"I like it," said Meeker at long length. "And sometimes—sometimes I like you, Dunson. You're a strange man. But maybe that's because you're an Englishman."
"Maybe it's because I'm a Texan."
"That," said Meeker after thought, "is open to question." He turned to his companion. "Come along, Cherry."
"I'll stay awhile." Cherry lifted a hand in a friendly good-by as Meeker rode off, then turned to the others. "Thought you might need a man."
"Sorry," said Matthew. "We're full up."
"One moment, Matthew," said Dunson. He measured Cherry with an appraising glance. "They say this man is good with a gun." And then to Cherry, "Is that true?"
"I manage to keep alive."
"You might find it more difficult along the Missouri border."
"I might, at that."
"Wages ten dollars a month," said Dunson abruptly. "Triple that if the steers bring better than fifteen dollars a head at the railroad. If we lose the herd, you lose your wages."
"One thing more. A man who signs for this drive finishes the drive. No quitting along the way."
"Then I take it I'm hired." Cherry turned those mad eyes toward Matthew. "Where do I ride?"
"On point," said Matthew quietly/
“On point?" Cherry echoed the words in surprise. "I thought that was reserved for your best riders."
"I figure you to be my best rider."
"I don't understand."
"Is that important?" said Matthew. He turned to Dunson. "Any further orders? "
Dunson shook his head, then swung a blunt hand to indicate the herd. "Take them to Missouri, Matthew."
Just that. No handclasp. No ceremony. "Take them to Missouri, Matthew," and Dunson turned his broad back on the herd that must travel a thousand miles to market.
A thousand miles! And a thousand deaths. Coyotes and wolves and men with the habits of both. Torrents and gales and rivers in flood, badlands, dry wells, stampedes; ten miles a day, fifteen with luck. But there was a market in Missouri—a market for beef.
Matthew motioned to Teeler Yacey.
“Move them along!"
The riders turned their mounts toward the herd. Two high-wheeled wagons rolled, bucketing and bumping slowly over the hard ground. A lean cook with long hair waved to the riders. He cracked his bull whip at Teeler, who cursed him blue. Cheerfully the cook cursed back. Dust lifted in a sullen cloud. The great beasts stirred. Movement in the herd. Slow, almost imperceptible. It rippled along the rim like the first swelling lift of a giant wave. Bending outward. Heaving, breathing, filled with the irresistible force that is found in countless tons of muscle and flesh. Frightening in its immensity. Moving north and east toward the morning sun. Held in movement by the constant herding of some thirty men.
This was the drive. Matthew and Cherry, acting as pointers, swung out the lead steers, easing them into line at the tip of a crescent that seemed to form of its own accord. Flankers and swing men moved into place, guiding the monstrous long-horned beasts into a loosely built trail herd. Four, five hundred yards across, thinning as the point moved out, broken in places with gaps that closed as the drag men urged the stragglers forward.
"Hi-ya-a-a! Git along, little dogies!"
And once again Texas beef started for the Missouri market. Long horns rattled and clashed, cleft hoofs cut into the dry earth; there was a bawling and lunging—hides ripped with the needle-sharp points as the herd adjusted itself to driving space. Then the crackle of sharper, finer hoofs as Bunk Kenelly brought up the remuda.
Matthew gave way at point to Teeler Yacey. He turned to run a quick glance over the remuda. Three hundred shaggy mustangs picked from the thousand-odd head that grazed on Dunson's range. Cutting horses, ropers, broncs and "last year's broncs," each with a name given by the wrangler, and usually with a disposition to match. Sail-Away Blue, Red Hell, Lightnin', Big Enough, Stinker, Straight Edge, Cannon Ball, Crawfish, Few Brains, Gray Whizzer, Lonesome— and sometimes the men wondered if Bunk would ever run short.
Matthew dropped past the swing and rode into the dust of the drag. Here, as the drive moved on, would be found the lame, the weak and the misfit—meat for the cook fires. And here, too, was Old Leather Monte, born on the Pecos at the turn of the century, still straight in the saddle and loaded with wisdom. His watery blue eyes cut through the dust cloud to watch the work of the raw riders assigned to the drag. Buster McGee, freckled and thin, with hair that flamed like the morning sun—a nice kid in his late teens, "off for Missoura t'see the elephant." And there was Laredo Downs, from Uvalde—quiet, serious, given to long silences and dark moods of thought; laughing Tom Kinney from the Corazones; Andres and Lovelock and other sons of Texas. They turned their horses against the stragglers, urging them on. And always and ever the dust of the drag billowed about their unfortunate heads.
Thinned out, the drive moved north and east across the range, winding like a giant brown snake. Matthew circled it once, then joined Cherry Valance on point. For a time both rode in silence.
"Likely you're wondering," said Matthew at length, "why I didn't want you on the drive."
"Didn't?" laughed Cherry. "Or still don't?"
"Dunson hired you," said Matthew.
"That's good enough for me. But maybe you'd like to know why I was against it."
"Maybe I would."
"I know you by name—know you for a rider, cattleman and gun fighter."
"Thanks," said Cherry. And the mad lights danced in his eyes. "It's the last that bothers you?"
"You're not afraid of me."
"No, I'm not afraid of you, Cherry. Just worried about you." Matthew half turned in his saddle to look at the herd. "You know what happens if this drive doesn't get to the market?"
Again the laugh that ran through four notes of the octave. "We lose oyr wages, according to Dunson."
"And what happens to Texas?"
"I don't understand."
"You're a Texan, Cherry," said Matthew. "You've ridden, as I have, from the Pecos to the Sabine. And what did you see? Stock roaming wild, ranchers roasting grain and calling it coffee, Yankee carpetbaggers grabbing land with both hands, men who fought with you during the war trying to swap a four-year steer for a half sack of flour. I asked these men to make the drive with us—asked them to try for the market in Missouri. They shook their heads. Said it can't be done."
"You know what I think?" said Cherry seriously. "I think they're right.” And as Matthew looked at him astonishment, Cherry continued, I’ve ridden the border—crossed the Nations and Arkansas clear to Kansas. They've got a hundred men for every one of yours. You'll never get through."
“We've got to get through."
“Why?" said Cherry. He rapped hisknuckles irritably against the pommel of his saddle. "Why drive five thousand steers to Missouri when there’s a market in Kansas?"
“Since…now, I guess. I met a man; he told me the railroad was going through to a town called Abilene. Said there’d be cattle pens and a stockyard."
“An honest man?"
“I found him to be," said Cherry, “Told me the rails were fifty miles west of Kansas City. I rode out, and there they were."
"You saw the rails?"
"Almost to Topeka."
"And Abilene's farther west?"
"West and south—maybe a hundred miles, so the man says."
"You didn't see Abilene?" Cherry shook his head and those mad eyes knew laughter again. "Had to get back to Memphis. There was a girl there. Do you like girls, Matthew?”
"You'd like Tess of the River. Her hair is the color of Mexican gold when you hold it under the light of a lamp. And she sings, Matthew; sings for Frenchy De Longe at the River Palace in Memphis. There was a rainy night when I rode in with my troop——"
But Matthew wasn't listening. His eyes studied the tips of his sorrel stud's ears while his mind rode out over the unborn trail that led to the Great Plains and beyond. A market for beef in Kansas?
A WEEK on the trail; seven days of driving, and the herd was bedded down for the night beyond the south branch of the Concho. Seven days during which the monstrous beasts had walked with the grass, straggling along singly or in pairs, at times ten abreast. Long days and short nights. Dunson had set a hard pace, anxious to shake down the herd and make it trail-wise quickly. Now a wood fire burned between the wagons a half mile from the bed grounds. There was the smell of sizzling beef. Groot Nadine, the long-haired cook, sampled the brew that passed for coffee. He nodded to the men near the fire. "Drink it if y'can," he said in disgust. "Nature an' me, we done our best. But y' can't make this stuff taste good, no matter if you be the best cook in Texas!"
"Why don't you try using coffee instead of grain?" said Teeler Yacey. "An' while you're at it, mix a little more flour with the water, so you get more bread."
"All right!" said Groot. "All right! So the bread is short an' the coffee is bad. Is that my fault? Dunson says we drive a hundred days. We got ten sacks of flour. One sack for ten days. You want to drive them last few weeks with no bread?"
"Ten sacks of flour?" said Teeler.
"An' less'n that of beans!" added Groot. "You'll chew beef an' drink water from the Red to Missouri if I ain't careful!"
There was a murmur of voices. "I don't like it," said Teeler. "Dunson should've told us we were on starvation rations."
There was movement in the darkness beyond the circle of firelight. A blocky shadow, then heavy steps, each foot set deliberately before the other. Dunson stepped up to the coffee boiler. He filled a cup. Sipped the hot brew.
"What's this Dunson should have told you?" he asked quietly.
"That we're drivin' on poverty- short rations," said Teeler. "It's not that I'm objectin', but there's things I like to know."
"You know it now."
"Yes, a week out on the drive."
Dunson simply looked down at Teeler. Then that lower lip jutted. A breath whistled in through the flared nostrils. "Teeler, I don't like your tone. I don't like your words." And as Teeler put aside his plate and prepared to stand, "Stay where you are!"
Something in the words stopped Teeler's movement. The lank ex-cavalryman looked up at the gray eyes above him. "I can draw from here, if that's what you mean."
"Don't try it, Teeler," said Dunson. "You're a good man. Don't make me kill you."
"What is it you want?" said Teeler.
"The obedience I learned as a boy aboard a British man-o'-war," said Dunson. "This much I'll tell you, and nothing more—you've got a thousand miles of trail. Short rations. Bad coffee. At the end, a gang of border ruffians who will make you fight every inch of the way to the market." Dunson spread his legs wider; swept his bullet-gray eyes over the men. "I can take you through. I mean to take you through. But, I've got to have obedience to do it!"
There was silence, save for the snap and crackle of the flames.
Then the voice of Cherry Valance, "I like what the man says."
Dunson turned abruptly, motioned to Matthew and walked to where two saddled horses stood ground-tied. Both guided the horses past the litter of gear spread near the wagons and rode toward the herd. Bunched in an irregular circle, a quarter mile through at its widest point, the great beasts slept.
"Cherry Valance tells me," said Matthew, "they're building a railroad across Kansas. Says there'll be cattle yards at Abilene."
"That's a town?"
"A hundred and fifty miles south and west of Kansas City. It might be we could swing north when we cross the Red and head for Kansas."
"Forget it," said Dunson. "We'll drive to Missouri."
"If we drive north through the Nations and west of the Arkansas, there'll be two hundred miles between us and the border gangs. Might be we could slip past without a fight."
"If they want fight, we'll give it to them."
"Fighting isn't good. Killing isn't good," said Matthew quietly. "I had to do both. I didn't like it."
Silence again—dark silence that was made more intense by the plaintive crooning of the night hawks. Dunson and Matthew circled the herd and stopped by the wagons. Matthew slipped from his mount and uncoiled his reata. Dunson did the same. No pulled saddle and slipped bridle these first weeks on the trail. Each man of the drive slept with a reata about his wrist and the end looped on the saddle horn.
Matthew slept. The sorrel stud drooped its head. Two hours, three, then wakefulness came when the herd, following the strange custom of all cattle, stirred at midnight. Why, there is no telling. But always and ever since the dawn of creation cattle in herds have stood erect at midnight. They look about, take a dozen steps, then wearily bed down again. A wary moment on the drive. A dangerous moment. The mournful song of the guards grew an edge of tension. "Sleep! cow, sleep. I got a girl in Memphis town. Sleep, cow, sleep." And Matthew stirred in his blanket. StirreBd and listened as little Bunk Kenelly, the wrangler, crossed to his mount to ride out for a look-see.
Half asleep, tired, stumbling in the darkness, Bunk stepped into the worn saddle. A leather thong broke. Just a small thong, but it held the mouth of his gun boot in place. The ancient Sharps slid out of the boot. A shot bucketed through the stillness as the stock jarred against the hard earth.
One shot, but it leaped through the night like a live thing. A steer snorted. Then another. Sudden movement. And the herd crashed into action. Lunging, bellowing, fear-crazed beasts! Long horns rattling and the rumble of hoofs. Instant action. With one accord, the entire herd started in mad rush toward the horizon.
"Stampede!" The wild cry of rider. No need for warning. Each man was on his feet and running. The slow were whipped erect by the tug of the reata fastened to the saddle horn. No time to look about. No time to think. Matthew leaped to the of his stud. The reins hung free. He bent forward, knees pressing to keep his seat. Horse and rider became one. They breathed alike, moved in rhythm. One mad leap and then another. Stampede!
(TO BE CONTINUED)