"Johnny had never been struck since he was a child. He was shocked . . . blood dripped from his smashed lips" . . .
Beginning of Western Story
Ben Scully was not a fast man with a gun, but the
quality that makes a man dangerous has nothing to do with speed or even accuracy. What was necessary, Ben Scully had ... the ability to stand flat-footed and look into gunfire and shoot back, coolly and carefully.
Johnny Webb had worked for several years perfecting his
draw and mentally he was comparing himself to Hardin and Hickok. He could draw and fire with speed, and he rarely missed a target, and he had killed two men. One of these a blustering drunk at a range of six feet, the second a man whose rearing horse had fumbled his draw and Johnny had time to shoot carefully.
Ben Scully was a stranger in Alamitos, a small,
unshaved man in a beat-up fur cap and a sheep-skin coat. There was a sour look about him when he rode into town that a shot of whiskey did nothing to change.
Johnny was a man who might, given time to get over his
youthful wish to emulate Wes Hardin, have turned into a solid citizen. Before a man belts a gun he should carefully consider the possibilities, and like many others, Johnny Webb could not imagine himself being killed.
Nobody was ever to know how it all began. Johnny was in
the saloon and some remark was made about the stranger’s horse, and Johnny made it.
He should have known better. Ben Scully was no wet-behind-the-ears youngster. Scully ignored the remark, and Johnny, joking with friends and showing off a little, pushed it.
Scully struck him across the mouth with the back of his
hard knuckles and knocked him sprawling against a table. And Johnny had never been struck since he was a child. He was shocked ... blood dripped from his smashed lips and he lifted his dazed eyes to see the stranger facing him. In that instant he knew he was in trouble. This was no drunk. He was no child. He was a hard, tough, dangerous man.
But Johnny’s friends were watching, and Johnny could not
take what had happened without losing reputation. He drew, and he drew very fast. The trouble was that he drew too fast, the gun came clear of the holster, and in his eagerness, he let his first shot go into the floor.
Panic welled up inside of him as he saw the stranger’s
gun lifting. The stranger was in no hurry. He was coolly lifting his gun and just as coolly he would take aim. Johnny shot again and the bullet was wild, his third shot drew dust from the man’s jacket at the shoulder and then the stranger shot him through the heart.
There was an instant of intense bitterness before he
died, an instant when he gasped and when he knew he was dying and all the fine dreams were gone, vanished in a puff of gunsmoke because of a boyish whim that inspired him to swagger and think of himself as a gunfighter.
The fight was fair enough. The trouble was that Ben
Scully was a stranger.
He backed out of the saloon and got into the saddle, but
he was under no illusions. The way Johnny was dressed told him he was no ordinary cowhand, and he had no doubt he would come out at the short end of the horn if he tried to stay around ... and he was just passing through, anyway.
Ben Scully was nobody in particular. He had come west
working on the railroad, and had gone from that to cutting timber in a tie-camp. He tried buffalo hunting, had a few scrapes with Indians, trapped a little. He had been shot in the leg once and dragged himself seven miles through the snow to get back to his camp. He had worked as a blacksmith’s helper, and cook for a trail drive. Nothing in all his life had been easy.
In the tie-camp, on the railroad gang and as a boy along
the waterfronts of Boston and New York he had fought many bruising fist and skull battles. He had worked hard all his life in heat and cold, in dust and rain. There was no gentleness in him, he was a hard man to the core, with no particular past and no particular future.
He was a man fiercely independent, prizing his freedom
above all else. Once, it seemed a long time ago, there had been a dream. He had wanted a place of his own. As a boy he had lived on a farm and he had a knack for working with stock and for making things grow. Yet somehow in the passing of years the dream had faded away. Now he worked from job to job with little hope for anything but a living. Twice he had managed to acquire a good stake, losing his furs to a pack of Utes on one occasion, and robbed of what he made buffalo-hunting on another.
He was under no illusions. He was a stranger and he had
killed a popular man and one with connections.
Ben Scully rode out of town and he rode slowly. He
walked his horse to the edge of town, went over the rise and down into the hollow on the other side and behind him heard yells, and he knew what was coming. They were recovering from the shock of the killing and they were angry.
In the hollow he turned at right angles and followed a
wash for a half mile, then came out of it with a hill between himself and the town and started back in the direction from which he had come. Striking a place where the rock was swept clean of sand, he followed it northward, and then loped his horse across the top of a mesa and down a precipitous slope into a canyon.
He had not eaten in two days when he saw the cabin. It
was alone in a small valley, and it was a rawhide outfit if he ever saw one. The house was nothing much, the corrals were poles tied at the corners to posts, there was a shed that had openings you could put your fist through between the upright slabs of the wall.
There was a flea-bitten mare in the corral and no stock
in sight. Somebody had made a mighty feeble attempt at a garden out back.
A raw wind was blowing and it was starting to spit snow.
He saw a women come out of the house and empty some dish-water at the edge of the garden, and later he saw a small boy and a girl collecting bits of wood along the edge of the pines.
Ben Scully was tired, hungry, and his eyes were red-
rimmed from riding into the wind.
There was a posse, if such it might be called, somewhere
He desperately needed a couple of good meals, some
sleep, and a bait of grub for his horse, but he was a cautious man, and the people down below might know about him. So far he had not seen the man of the house.
When he had watched the house for over an hour he got up
and went back to his horse. He walked his horse to keep himself warm, and led it down the draw and through the scattered woods along the back trail to the house.
From the woods he watched the house for some time.
Nell Thorpe saw the man first when she glanced from the
window to watch the children. He was roughly-dressed, unshaven and there was a tough, mean way about him that frightened her. She started to call the children in, then decided the best thing was to show no fear. She had lived in the cabin for four months now and had seen nobody but the CA hands, who occasionally stopped by, and lately, Rod Spencer, the boss of the CA.
She was a young woman and quite pretty and she had been
a widow for more than a year.
Several months had gone by before Rod Spencer heard
about her and then he assumed she was some nester’s wife and
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