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Authors: The Garden of Eden

Max Brand

BOOK: Max Brand
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THE GARDEN OF EDEN
* * *
MAX BRAND
 
*
The Garden of Eden
First published in 1922
ISBN 978-1-62012-608-0
Duke Classics
© 2012 Duke Classics and its licensors. All rights reserved.
While every effort has been used to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information contained in this edition, Duke Classics does not assume liability or responsibility for any errors or omissions in this book. Duke Classics does not accept responsibility for loss suffered as a result of reliance upon the accuracy or currency of information contained in this book.
Contents
*
Chapter One
*

By careful tailoring the broad shoulders of Ben Connor were made to
appear fashionably slender, and he disguised the depth of his chest by a
stoop whose model slouched along Broadway somewhere between sunset and
dawn. He wore, moreover, the first or second pair of spats that had ever
stepped off the train at Lukin Junction, a glowing Scotch tweed, and a
Panama hat of the color and weave of fine old linen. There was a
skeleton at this Feast of Fashion, however, for only tight gloves could
make the stubby fingers and broad palms of Connor presentable. At
ninety-five in the shade gloves were out of the question, so he held a
pair of yellow chamois in one hand and in the other an amber-headed
cane. This was the end of the little spur-line, and while the train
backed off down the track, staggering across the switch, Ben Connor
looked after it, leaning upon his cane just forcibly enough to feel the
flection of the wood. This was one of his attitudes of elegance, and
when the train was out of sight, and only the puffs of white vapor
rolled around the shoulder of the hill, he turned to look the town over,
having already given Lukin Junction ample time to look over Ben Connor.

The little crowd was not through with its survey, but the eye of the
imposing stranger abashed it. He had one of those long somber faces
which Scotchmen call "dour." The complexion was sallow, heavy pouches of
sleeplessness lay beneath his eyes, and there were ridges beside the
corners of his mouth which came from an habitual compression of the
lips. Looked at in profile he seemed to be smiling broadly so that the
gravity of the full face was always surprising. It was this that made
the townsfolk look down. After a moment, they glanced back at him
hastily. Somewhere about the corners of his lips or his eyes there was a
glint of interest, a touch of amusement—they could not tell which, but
from that moment they were willing to forget the clothes and look at the
man.

While Ben Connor was still enjoying the situation, a rotund fellow bore
down on him.

"You're Mr. Connor, ain't you? You wired for a room in the hotel? Come
on, then. My rig is over here. These your grips?"

He picked up the suit case and the soft leather traveling bag, and led
the way to a buckboard at which stood two downheaded ponies.

"Can't we walk?" suggested Ben Connor, looking up and down the street at
the dozen sprawling frame houses; but the fat man stared at him with
calm pity. He was so fat and so good-natured that even Ben Connor did
not impress him greatly.

"Maybe you think this is Lukin?" he asked.

When the other raised his heavy black eyebrows he explained: "This ain't
nothing but Lukin Junction. Lukin is clear round the hill. Climb in, Mr.
Connor."

Connor laid one hand on the back of the seat, and with a surge of his
strong shoulders leaped easily into his place; the fat man noted this
with a roll of his little eyes, and then took his own place, the old
wagon careening toward him as he mounted the step. He sat with his right
foot dangling over the side of the buckboard, and a plump shoulder
turned fairly upon his passenger so that when he spoke he had to throw
his head and jerk out the words; but this was apparently his
time-honored position in the wagon, and he did not care to vary it for
the sake of conversation. A flap of the loose reins set the horses
jog-trotting out of Lukin Junction down a gulch which aimed at the side
of an enormous mountain, naked, with no sign of a village or even a
single shack among its rocks. Other peaks crowded close on the right and
left, with a loftier range behind, running up to scattered summits white
with snow and blue with distance. The shadows of the late afternoon were
thick as fog in the gulch, and all the lower mountains were already dim
so that the snow-peaks in the distance seemed as detached, and high as
clouds. Ben Connor sat with his cane between his knees and his hands
draped over its amber head and watched those shining places until the
fat man heaved his head over his shoulder.

"Most like somebody told you about Townsend's Hotel?"

His passenger moved his attention from the mountain to his companion. He
was so leisurely about it that it seemed he had not heard.

"Yes," he said, "I was told of the place."

"Who?" said the other expectantly.

"A friend of mine."

The fat man grunted and worked his head around so far that a great
wrinkle rolled up his neck close to his ear. He looked into the eye of
the stranger.

"Me being Jack Townsend, I'm sort of interested to know things like
that; the ones that like my place and them that don't."

Connor nodded, but since he showed no inclination to name his friend,
Jack Townsend swung on a new tack to come to the windward of this
uncommunicative guest. Lukin was a fairly inquisitive town, and the
hotel proprietor usually contributed his due portion and more to the
gossips.

"Some comes for one reason and some for another," went on Townsend,
"which generally it's to hunt and fish. That ain't funny come to think
of it, because outside of liars nobody ever hooked finer trout than what
comes out of the Big Sandy. Some of 'em comes for the mining—they was a
strike over to South Point last week—and some for the cows, but mostly
it's the fishing and the hunting."

He paused, but having waited in vain he said directly: "I can show you
the best holes in the Big Sandy."

There was another of those little waits with which, it seemed, the
stranger met every remark; not a thoughtful pause, but rather as though
he wondered if it were worth while to make any answer.

"I've come here for the silence," he said.

"Silence," repeated Townsend, nodding in the manner of one who does not
understand.

Then he flipped the roan with the butt of his lines and squinted down
the gulch, for he felt there might be a double meaning in the last
remark. Filled with the gloomy conviction that he was bringing a silent
man to his hotel, he gloomily surveyed the mountain sides. There was
nothing about them to cheer him. The trees were lost in shadows and all
the slopes seemed quite barren of life. He vented a little burst of
anger by yanking at the rein of the off horse, a dirty gray.

"Giddap, Kitty, damn your eyes!"

The mare jumped, struck a stone with a fore foot, and stumbled heavily.
Townsend straightened her out again with an expert hand and cursed.

"Of all the no-good hosses I ever see," he said, inviting the stranger
to share in his just wrath, "this Kitty is the outbeatingest, no good
rascal. Git on, fool."

He clapped the reins along her back, and puffed his disgust.

"And yet she has points. Now, I ask you, did you ever see a truer
Steeldust? Look at that high croup and that straight rump. Look at them
hips, I say, and a chest to match 'em. But they ain't any heart in her.
Take a hoss through and through," he went on oracularly, "they're pretty
much like men, mostly, and if a man ain't got the heart inside, it don't
make no difference how big around the chest he measures."

Ben Connor had leaned forward, studying the mare.

"Your horse would be all right in her place," he said. "Of course, she
won't do up here in the mountains."

Like any true Westerner of the mountain-desert, Jack Townsend would far
rather have been discovered with his hand in the pocket of another man
than be observed registering surprise. He looked carefully ahead until
his face was straight again. Then he turned.

"Where d'you make out her place to be?" he asked carelessly.

"Down below," said the other without hesitation, and he waved his arm.
"Down in soft, sandy irrigation country she'd be a fine animal."

Jack Townsend blinked. "You know her?" he asked.

The other shook his head.

"Well, damn my soul!" breathed the hotel proprietor. "This beats me.
Maybe you read a hoss's mind, partner?"

Connor shrugged his shoulders, but Townsend no longer took offense at
the taciturnity of his companion; he spoke now in a lower confiding
voice which indicated an admission of equality.

"You're right. They said she was good, and she was good! I seen her run;
I saddled her up and rode her thirty miles through sand that would of
broke the heart of anything but a Steeldust, and she come through
without battin' an eye. But when I got her up here she didn't do no
good. But"—he reverted suddenly to his original surprise—"how'd you
know her? Recognize the brand, maybe?"

"By her trot," said the other, and he looked across the hills.

They had turned an angle of the gulch, and on a shelf of level ground,
dishing out from the side of the mountain, stretched the town.

"Isn't it rather odd," said Connor, "for people to build a town over
here when they could have it on the railroad?"

"Maybe it looks queer to some," nodded Townsend.

He closed his lips firmly, determined to imitate the terseness of his
guest; but when he observed with a side-glance that Connor would not
press the inquiry, talk suddenly overflowed. Indeed, Townsend was a
running well of good nature, continually washing all bad temper over the
brim.

"I'll show you how it was," he went on. "You see that shoulder of the
mountain away off up there? If the light was clearer you'd be able to
make out some old shacks up there, half standin' up and half fallin'
down. That's where Lukin used to be. Well, the railroad come along and
says: 'We're goin' to run a spur into the valley, here. You move down
and build your town at the end of the track and we'll give you a hand
bringing up new timber for the houses.' That's the way with railroads;
they want to dictate; they're too used to handlin' folks back East
that'll let capital walk right over their backs."

Here Townsend sent a glance at Connor to see if he stirred under the
spur, but there was no sign of irritation.

"Out here we're different; nobody can't step in here and run us unless
he's asked. See? We said, you build the railroad halfway and we'll come
the other half, but we won't come clear down into the valley."

BOOK: Max Brand
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