the Strong Shall Live (Ss) (1980)

BOOK: the Strong Shall Live (Ss) (1980)
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the Strong Shall Live (Ss) (1980)
L'amour, Louis
Published:
2010
The Strong Shall Live (ss) (1980)<br/>

The Strong Shall Live

Louis L'amour

*

"You're Said To Be A Tough Man, Cavagan. I've Heard It Until I'm Sick Of It, So I've Brought You Here To See How Much Is Tough And
how much is shanty Irish bluff. We're leaving you here."

Those were Sutton's ruthless last words be-fore riding off. Cavagan stood in the searing desert heat at the bottom of the deep sand pits, sixty miles from water, his hands tied and his body stiff from repeated beatings.

Sixty miles from the nearest water. On foot, in one hundred and twenty degree heat. Only one thought gave Cavagan his driving strength:

"I shall live! I shall live to see Sutton die!"

*

FOREWORD:

This book is a partial answer to those readers who have been asking where my short stories could be found. A previous collection appeared as WAR PARTY, and now these.

A few of the stories were written long ago, others quite recently. All are, I believe, illustrative of the title of the collection.

Not long ago a writer, attempting to find a progression in the development of my stories according to a pattern of his own devising, predicted that soon I would write a story with an ethnic hero. He was over thirty years late. Merrano, in this volume, is one such case, although there were others.

My stories have nothing to do with race, creed, or nationality. They are simply stories of people on the frontier, and those people were of all kinds. If sometimes they resemble one another it is simply a pattern imposed upon them by the country and the time.

The frontier was itself selective. It tended to eliminate the weak and the inefficient by one means or another.

In these stories there are no "heroes" in the usual sense, although in the Homeric sense there may be. These are stories of people living out their lives against a background that demanded all they could give and often a bit more. They were people trying to find acceptable patterns of behavior in a totally new environment, drawing upon their past but adjusting themselves to new situations and attitudes.

The frontier demanded they be self-reliant. Group-thinking and peer behavior had only a limited application.

The West has been portrayed as lawless. This is literally untrue. The pioneers brought their church, their schools, and their town meetings with them. Necessarily, there were alterations in the laws they established to conform with changed conditions, but the law was there. It is true there were many free spirits who resented this, and there were others who came west intending to do as they pleased. The existence of Boot Hills in many western towns is ample evidence of how the frontier coped with such problems.

It had been the custom of men, from the beginning of time, to settle disputes by combat. From the club and spear, men progressed to the lance and the sword and then to the pistol. Senators, cabinet officers, admirals and generals regularly settled their disputes with weapons. There were undoubtedly as many duels in the early American Navy as in any region of the West. Stephen Decatur, one of our early naval heroes, killed as many men in duels as did Bat Masterson, who, incidentally wound up his days as a sportswriter on a New York newspaper, and died not with a pistol in his hands, but a typewriter.

*

The Strong Shall Live (ss) (1980)<br/>THE STRONG SHALL LIVE

The land was fire beneath and the sky was brass above, but throughout the day's long riding the bound man sat erect in the saddle and cursed them for thieves and cowards. Their blows did not silence him, although the blood from his swollen and cracked lips had dried on his face and neck.

Only John Sutton knew where they rode and only he knew what he planned for Cavagan, and John Sutton sat thin and dry and tall on his long-limbed horse, leading the way.

Nine men in all, tempered to the hard ways of an unforgiving land, men strong in the strengths needed to survive in a land that held no place for the weak or indecisive. Eight men and a prisoner taken after a bitter chase from the pleasant coastal lands to the blazing desert along the Colorado River.

Cavagan had fought on when the others quit. They destroyed his crops, tore down his fences, and burned his home. They killed his hired hand and tried to kill him. When they burned his home he rebuilt it, and when they shot at him he shot back.

When they ambushed him and left him for dead, he crawled into the rocks like a wounded grizzly, treated his own wounds, and then caught a horse and rode down to Sutton's Ranch and shot out their lights during the victory celebration.

Two of Button's men quit in protest, for theyadmired a game man, and Cavagan was winning sympathy around the country.

Cavagan was a black Irishman from County Sligo. His mother died on the Atlantic crossing and his father was killed by Indians in Tennessee. At sixteen Cavagan fought in the Texas war for independence, trapped in the Rockies for two years, and in the war with Mexico he served with the Texas Rangers and learned the value of a Walker Colt.

At thirty he was a man honed by desert fires and edged by combat with fist, skull, and pistol. Back in County Sligo the name had been O'Cavagan and the family had a reputation won in battle.

Sutton's men surrounded his house a second time thinking to catch him asleep. They fired at the house and waited for him to come out. Cavagan had slept on the steep hillside behind the house and from there he opened fire, shooting a man from his saddle and cutting the lobe from Sutton's ear with a bullet intended to kill.

Now they had him, but he sat straight in the saddle and cursed them. Sutton he cursed but he saved a bit for Beef Hannon, the Sutton foreman.

"You're a big man, Beef," he taunted, "but untie my hands and I'll pound that thick skull of yours until the yellow runs out of your ears."

Their eyes squinted against the white glare and the blistering heat from off the dunes, and they tried to ignore him. Among the sand dunes there was no breeze, only the stifling heaviness of hot, motionless air. Wearily their horses plodded along the edge of a dune where the sand fell steeply off into a deep pit among the dunes. John Sutton drew rein. "Untie his feet," he said.

Juan Velasquez swung down and removed the rawhide thongs from Cavagan's feet, and then stood back, for he knew the manner of man that was Cavagan.

"Get down," Sutton told Cavagan.

Cavagan stared his contempt from the slits where his eyes peered through swollen, blackened flesh, then he swung his leg across the saddle, kicked his boot free of the stirrup and dropped to the ground.

Sutton regarded him for several minutes, savoring his triumph, then he put the flat of his boot against Cavagan's back and pushed. Cavagan staggered, fought for balance, but the sand crumbled beneath him and he fell, tumbling to the bottom of the hollow among the dunes.

With his hands tied and his body stiff from the beatings he had taken he needed several minutes to get to his feet. When he stood erect he stared up at Sutton. "It is what I would have expected from you," he said.

Sutton's features stiffened, and he grew white around the mouth. "You're said to be a tough man, Cavagan. I've heard it until I'm sick of it, so I've brought you here to see how much is tough and how much is shanty Irish bluff. I am curious to see how tough you will be without food or water. We're leaving you here."

Hannon started to protest. He had himself tried to kill Cavagan, but to leave a man to die in the blazing heat of the desert without food or water and with his hands bound ... a glance at Sutton's face and the words died on his lips.

"It's sixty miles to water," he managed, at last.

John Sutton turned in his saddle and measured Hannon with a glance, then deliberately he faced front and started away. Reluctantly, the others followed.

Juan Velasquez looked down into the pit at Cavagan. He carried a raw wound in his side from a Cavagan bullet, but that pit was seventy feet deep. Slowly, thinking as he did it, Juan unfastened his canteen and was about to toss it to Cavagan when he caught Sutton's eyes on him.

"Throw it," Sutton suggested, "but if you do you will follow it."

Juan balanced the canteen on his palm, tempted beyond measure. Sixty miles? With the temperature at one hundred and twenty degrees? Reluctantly, he re-tied the canteen to his saddle horn. Sutton watched him, smiling his thin smile.

"I'll remember that, Juan," Cavagan said. "It was a good thought."

John Sutton turned his square thin shoulders and rode away, the others following. Hannon's shoulders were hunched as if expecting a blow.

When the last of them had disappeared from sight, Cavagan stood alone at the bottom of the sand pit.

This was 1850 and even the Indians avoided the sand hills. There was no law west of Santa Fe or east of the coast mountains. Cavagan had settled on land that Sutton considered his, although he had no legal claim to it. Other would-be settlers had been driven off, but Cavagan would not be driven. To make matters worse he courted the girl Sutton had marked for himself.

Cavagan stood in the bottom of the sand pit, his eyes closed against the glare of the sun on the white sand. He told himself, slowly, harshly, that he would not, he must not die. Aloud he said. "I shall live! I shall see him die!"

There was a burning fury within him but a caution born of experience. Shade would come first to the west side of the pit, so with his boot he scraped a small pit in the sand. There, several Inches below the surface, it was a little cooler. He sat down, his back to the sun, and waited.

More than seven hours of sunlight remained. To attempt climbing from the pit or even to fight the thongs on his wrists would cause him to perspire profusely and lessen his chances of ultimate survival. From this moment he must be patient, he must think.

Sweat dripped from his chin, his throat was parched and the sun on his back and shoulders was like the heat from a furnace. An hour passed, and then another. When at last he looked up there was an inch of shadow under the western lip of the pit.

He studied the way his wrists were bound. His hands had been tied to the pommel, so they were in front of him. He lifted his wrists to his teeth and began ever so gently to work at the rawhide knots. It took nearly an hour, but by the time his wrists were free the shade had reached the bottom of the pit. He coiled the rawhide and slipped it into his pocket.

The east slope was somewhat less steep, with each step he slid back, but with each he gained a little. Finally he climbed out and stood in the full glare of the setting sun.

He knew where the nearest water hole lay but knew Sutton would have it guarded. His problem was simple. He had to find water, get out of the desert, then find a horse and weapons. He intended to destroy Sutton as he would destroy a rabid wolf.

Shadows stretched out from the mountains. To the north the myriad pinnacles of the Chocolate Mountains crowned themselves with gold from the setting sun. He started to walk.

It was not sixty miles to the nearest water, for Cavagan knew the desert better than Sutton. West of him, but in a direction he dare not chance, lay Sunset Spring. Brackish water, and off the line for him.

Twenty-five miles to the northwest among the pinnacles of the Chocolates were rock tanks that might contain water. A Cahuilla Indian had told him of the natural reservoir, and upon this feeble chance he rested his life.

He walked northwest, his chances a thousand to one. He must walk only in the early hours of the morning and after sundown. During the dayhe must lie in the shade, if he found any, and wait. To walk in the sun without water was to die.

The sand was heavy and at each step he sank to his ankles. Choosing a distant peak in the Chocolates he pointed himself toward it. When the stars came out he would choose a star above it for a guide. At night landmarks have a way of losing themselves and what was familiar by day becomes strange and unfamiliar in the darkness.

To reach the vicinity of the rock tanks was one thing, to find them quite another. Near such tanks in the Tinajas Altas men had died of thirst within a few feet of water, unaware of its presence. Such tanks were natural receptacles catching the runoff from infrequent rains, and so shaded, that evaporation was slow. As there was no seepage there was no vegetation to indicate the presence of water.

BOOK: the Strong Shall Live (Ss) (1980)
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