Max Brand.

The garden of Eden : Max Brand's masterpiece online

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Dodd, Mead & Company
New York

Copyright 1922 by Popular Publications, Inc.
Copyright renewed 1950 by Dorothy Faust
All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form
without permission in writing from the publisher

First published in book form October, 1963

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 63-20473

Printed in the United States of America
by Vail-Ballou Press, Inc., Binghamton, N.Y.

The characters, places, incidents, and situations in this book
are imaginary and have no relation to any person, place, or
actual happening.


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

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 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

"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

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

"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."

"Why?" asked Connor. "Isn't Lukin Junction a good place for a village?"

"Fine. None better. But it's the principle of the thing, you see? Them
railroad magnates says to us: 'Come all the way.' 'Go to the devil,'
says we. And so we come halfway to the new railroad and built our town;
it'd be a pile more agreeable to have Lukin over where the railroad
ends - look at the way I have to drive back and forth for my trade? But
just the same, we showed that railroad that it couldn't talk us down."

He struck his horses savagely with the lines; they sprang from the
jog-trot into a canter, and the buckboard went bumping down the main
street of Lukin.


Ben Connor sat in his room overlooking the crossing of the streets. It
was by no means the ramshackle huddle of lean-to's that he had expected,
for Lukin was built to withstand a siege of January snows and
storm-winds which were scooped by the mountains into a funnel that
focused straight on the village. Besides, Lukin was no accidental,
crossroads town, but the bank, store, and amusement center of a big
country. The timber was being swept from the Black Mountain; there were
fairly prosperous mines in the vicinity; and cattlemen were ranging
their cows over the plateaus more and more during the spring and summer.
Therefore, Lukin boasted two parallel main streets, and a cross street,
looking forward to the day when it should be incorporated and have a
mayor of its own. At present it had a moving-picture house and a dance
hall where a hundred and fifty couples could take the floor at once;
above all, it had Jack Townsend's hotel. This was a stout, timber
building of two stories, the lower portion of which was occupied by the
restaurant, the drug store, the former saloon now transformed into an
ice-cream parlor, and other public places.

It was dark, but the night winds had not yet commenced, and Lukin
sweltered with a heat more unbearable than full noon.

It was nothing to Ben Connor, however, for he was fresh from the choking
summer nights of Manhattan, and in Lukin, no matter how hot it became,
the eye could always find a cool prospect. It had been unpleasant
enough when the light was burning, for the room was done in a hot,
orange-colored paper, but when he blew out the lamp and sat down before
the window he forgot the room and let his glance go out among the
mountains. A young moon drifted across the corner of his window, a
sickle of light with a dim, phosphorescent line around the rest of the
circle. It was bright enough to throw the peaks into strong relief, and
dull enough to let the stars live.

His upward vision had as a rule been limited by the higher stories of
some skyscraper, and now his eye wandered with a pleasant sense of
freedom over the snow summits where he could imagine a cold wind blowing
through reach after reach of the blue-gray sky. It pleased and troubled
Ben Connor very much as one is pleased and troubled by the first study
of a foreign language, with new prospects opening, strange turns of
thought, and great unknown names like stars. But after a time Ben Connor
relaxed. The first cool puff moved across his forehead and carried him
halfway to a dreamless sleep.

Here a chorus of mirth burst up at him from the street, men's voices
pitched high and wild, the almost hysterical laughter of people who are
much alone. In Manhattan only drunken men laughed like this. Among the
mountains it did not irritate Ben Connor; in tune with the rest, it was
full of freedom. He looked down to the street, and seeing half a dozen
bearded fellows frolic in the shaft of light from a window, he decided
that people kept their youth longer in Lukin.

All things seemed in order to Connor, this night. He rolled his sleeves
higher to let all the air that stirred get at his bulky forearms, and
then lighted a cigar. It was a dark, oily Havana - it had cost him a
great deal in money and nerves to acquire that habit - and he breathed
the scent deep while he waited for the steady wind which Jack Townsend
had promised. There was just enough noise to give the silence that
waiting quality which cannot be described; below him voices murmured,
and lifted now and then, rhythmically. Ben Connor thought the sounds
strangely musical, and he began to brim with the same good nature which
puffed the cheeks of Jack Townsend. There was a substantial basis for
that content in the broiled trout which he had had for dinner. It was
while his thoughts drifted back to those browned fish that the first
wind struck him. Dust with an acrid scent whirled up from the
street - then a steady stream of air swept his face and arms.

It was almost as if another personality had stepped into the room. The
sounds from the street fell away, and there was the rustling of cloth
somewhere, the cool lifting of hair from his forehead, and an odd sense
of motion - as if the wind were blowing through him. But something else
came with the breeze, and though he noted it at first with only a
subconscious discontent, it beat gradually into his mind, a light
ticking, very rapid, and faint, and sounding in an irregular rhythm. He
wanted to straighten out that rhythm and make the flutter of tapping
regular. Then it began to take on a meaning; it framed words.

"Philip Lord, jailed for embezzlement."

"Hell!" burst out Ben Connor. "The telegraph!"

He started up from his chair, feeling betrayed, for that light,
irregular tapping was the voice of the world from which he had fled. A
hard, cool mind worked behind the gray eyes of Ben Connor, but as he
fingered the cigar his brain was fumbling at a large idea. Forty-Second
and Broadway was calling him back.

When he looked out the window, now, the mountains were flat shapes
against a flat sky, with no more meaning than a picture.

The sounder was chattering: "Kid Lane wins title in eighth round. Lucky
punch dethrones lightweight champion." Ben Connor swallowed hard and
found that his throat was dry. He was afraid of himself - afraid that he
would go back. He was recalled from his ugly musing by the odor of the
cigar, which had burned out and was filling the room with a rank smell;
he tossed the crumbled remnants through the window, crushed his hat upon
his head, and went down, collarless, coatless, to get on the street in
the sound of men's voices. If he had been in Manhattan he would have
called up a pal; they would have planned an evening together; but in
Lukin -

At the door below he glared up and down the street. There was nothing to
see but a light buggy which rolled noiselessly through the dust. A dog
detached itself from behind the vehicle and came to bark furiously at
his feet. The kicking muscles in Connor's leg began to twitch, but a
voice shouted and the mongrel trotted away, growling a challenge over
its shoulder. The silence fell once more. He turned and strode back to
the desk of the hotel, behind which Jack Townsend sat tilted back in his
chair reading a newspaper.

"What's doing in this town of yours to-night?" he asked.

The proprietor moistened a fat thumb to turn the page and looked over
his glasses at Connor.

"Appears to me there ain't much stirrin' about," he said. "Except for
the movies down the street. You see, everybody's there."

"Movies," muttered Connor under his breath, and looked savagely around

What his eyes fell on was a picture of an old, old man on the wall, and
the rusted stove which stood in the center of the room with a pipe
zigzagging uncertainly toward the ceiling. Everything was out of order,
broken down - like himself.

"Looks to me like you're kind of off your feet," said Jack Townsend, and
he laid down his paper and looked wistfully at his guest. He made up his
mind. "If you're kind of dry for a drink," he said, "I might rustle you
a flask of red-eye - "

"Whisky?" echoed Connor, and moistened his lips. Then he shook his head.
"Not that."

He went back to the door with steps so long and heavy that Jack Townsend
rose from his chair, and spreading his hands on the desk, peered after
the muscular figure.

"That gent is a bad hombre," pronounced Jack to himself. He sat down
again with a sigh, and added: "Maybe."

At the door Connor was snarling: "Quiet? Sure; like a grave!"

The wind freshened, fell away, and the light, swift ticking sounded
again more clearly. It mingled with the alkali scent of the
dust - Manhattan and the desert together. He felt a sense of persecuted
virtue. But one of his maxims was: "If anything bothers you, go and find
out about it."

Ben Connor largely used maxims and epigrams; he met crises by
remembering what some one else had said. The ticking of the sounder was
making him homesick and dangerously nervous, so he went to find the
telegrapher and see the sounder which brought the voice of the world
into Lukin.

A few steps carried him to a screen door through which he looked upon a
long, narrow office.

In a corner, an electric fan swung back and forth through a hurried arc
and fluttered papers here and there. Its whining almost drowned the
ticking of the sounder, and Ben Connor wondered with dull irritation how
a tapping which was hardly audible at the door of the office could carry
to his room in the hotel. He opened the door and entered.


It was a room not more than eight feet wide, very long, with the floor,
walls, and ceiling of the same narrow, unpainted pine boards; the
flooring was worn ragged and the ceiling warped into waves. Across the
room a wide plank with a trapdoor at one end served as a counter, and
now it was littered with yellow telegraph blanks, and others, crumpled
up, were scattered about Connor's feet. No sooner had the screen door
squeaked behind him and shut him fairly into the place than the staccato
rattling of the sounder multiplied, and seemed to chatter from the wall
behind him. It left an echoing in the ear of Ben Connor which formed
into the words of his resolution, "I've made my stake and I'm going to
beat it. I'm going to get away where I can forget the worries. To-day I
beat 'em. Tomorrow the worries will beat me."

That was why he was in Lukin - to forget. And here the world had sneaked
up on him and whispered in his ear. Was it fair?

It was a woman who "jerked lightning" for Lukin. With that small finger
on the key she took the pulse of the world.

"Belmont returns - " chattered the sounder.

Connor instinctively covered his ears. Then, feeling that he was acting
like a silly child, he lowered his hands.

Another idea had come to him that this was fate - luck - his luck. Why not
take another chance?

He wavered a moment, fighting the temptation and gloomily studying the
back of the operator. The cheapness of her white cotton dress fairly
shouted at him. Also her hair straggled somewhat about the nape of her
neck. All this irritated Connor absurdly.

"Fifth race," said the sounder: "Lady Beck, first; Conqueror, second - "

Certainly this was fate tempting tune.

Connor snatched a telegraph blank and scribbled a message to Harry
Slocum, his betting commissioner during this unhappy vacation.

"Send dope on Murray handicaps time - trials of Trickster and Caledonian.
Hotel Townsend."

This done, having tapped sharply on the counter to call the operator's
attention, he dropped his elbows on the plank and scowled downward in
profound reverie. They were pouring out of Belmont Park, now, many a
grim face and many a joyous face. Money had come easy and gone easy. Ah,
the reckless bonhomie of that crowd, living for to-day only, because
"to-morrow the ponies may have it!" A good day for the bookies if that
old cripple, Lady Beck, had found her running legs. What a trimming they
must have given the wise ones!

At this point another hand came into the circle of his vision and turned
the telegram about. A pencil flicked across the words, checking them
swiftly. Connor was fascinated by that hand, it was so cool, so slender
and deft. He glanced up to her face and saw a resolute chin, a smiling
mouth which was truly lovely, and direct eyes as dark as his own. She
carried her head buoyantly, in a way that made Connor think, with a
tingle, of some clean-blooded filly at the post.

The girl made his change, and shoving it across, she bent her head
toward the sounder. The characters came through too swiftly for even Ben
Connor's sharp ear, but the girl, listening, smiled slowly.

"Something about soft pine?" queried Connor.

She brightened at this unexpected meeting-point. Her eyes widened as she
studied him and listened to the message at the same time, and she
accomplished this double purpose with such calm that Connor felt a
trifle abashed. Then the shadow of listening vanished, and she
concentrated on Connor.

"Soft pine is up," she nodded. "I knew it would climb as soon as old
Lucas bought in."

"Speculator in Lukin, is he?"

"No. California. The one whose yacht burned at Honolulu last year. Sold
pine like wild fire two months ago; down goes the price. Then he bought
a little while ago, and now the pine skyrockets. He can buy a new yacht
with what he makes, I suppose!"

The shade of listening darkened her eyes again. "Listen!" She raised a
hushing forefinger that seemed tremulous in rhythm with the ticking.

"Wide brims are in again," exclaimed the operator, "and wide hats are
awful on me; isn't that the luck?"

She went back to her key with the message in her hand, and Connor,
dropping his elbows on the counter, watched her send it with swift
almost imperceptible flections of her wrist.

Then she sat again with her hands folded in her lap, listening. Connor
turned his head and glanced through the door; by squinting he could look
over the roof just across the street and see the shadowy mountains
beyond; then he looked back again and watched the girl listening to the

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Online LibraryMax BrandThe garden of Eden : Max Brand's masterpiece → online text (page 1 of 17)