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The Quick and the Dead

Cover of The Quick and the Dead

The Quick and the Dead

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When Duncan McKaskel decided to move his family west, he knew he would face dangers, and he was prepared for them. He knew about the exhausting terrain, and he was expecting the punishing elements. What he worried about was having to use violence against other men--men who would follow him and try to steal the riches that he didn't even possess.

Yet bandits were only part of McKaskel's worries. For a mysterious stranger, Con Vallian, had appeared one night and saved his life. But was Vallian's true interest Duncan's wife, Susanna? And, more important, how did she feel about him?

As they push on into the wilderness, Duncan must discover who is the greater threat--the thieves outside his camp or the enigmatic stranger within....

When Duncan McKaskel decided to move his family west, he knew he would face dangers, and he was prepared for them. He knew about the exhausting terrain, and he was expecting the punishing elements. What he worried about was having to use violence against other men--men who would follow him and try to steal the riches that he didn't even possess.

Yet bandits were only part of McKaskel's worries. For a mysterious stranger, Con Vallian, had appeared one night and saved his life. But was Vallian's true interest Duncan's wife, Susanna? And, more important, how did she feel about him?

As they push on into the wilderness, Duncan must discover who is the greater threat--the thieves outside his camp or the enigmatic stranger within....

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    Chapter One


    When Susanna stepped down from the wagon Duncan had the fire going, but he sat staring into the flames, forearms resting on his knees, hands hanging loose.

    "Duncan?" She was a slender, graceful and unusually pretty woman. "Duncan? What is it?"

    "It's this . . . all of it." His gesture took in their surroundings. "I had no right to bring you and Tom into this, no right at all."

    "We discussed it, Duncan. We all took part in the decision. We all decided it was the best thing."

    "I know, Susanna, but that was back east. It was one thing to sit in a comfortable living room and talk about the west, but it's something else when you are face to face with it." He looked westward, toward the open plains. "What's out there, Susanna? What are we getting into?"

    "Somebody's coming, Pa." Tom was twelve. If his father had doubts, he had none.

    They looked where he pointed. A rider was coming through the scattered trees toward them. He was a tall, rough-looking man on a roan horse, and he carried his rifle as if born with it.

    He pulled up some fifty yards off. His eyes swept the camp. "Howdy. All right if I come in?"

    There was nothing about his looks to inspire confidence but Duncan McKaskel said, "Come on in. It's all right."

    He rode up, stopping across the fire from their wagon, dismounting with his horse between himself and the fire.

    "Seen your smoke. Figured you might have coffee."

    Rifle in hand he walked to the fire, seeing Susanna he removed his hat. "Sorry, ma'am. Don't like to butt in like this but I been ridin' all night, an' no coffee for three, four days."

    "Be seated. Breakfast will soon be ready."

    "I am Duncan McKaskel. My wife, Susanna, my son, Tom."

    "Howdy."

    He added a stick to the fire, glancing at the wagon and the deep-cut tracks. "You got quite a load there. Ain't goin' far, I guess."

    "We're going west," Duncan said.

    "You ain't goin' far with that load." He accepted the cup Susanna poured for him and squatted on his heels. "You got four head of mules out there . . . good mules. But that's too much load."

    "We will manage," Duncan's tone was cool.

    The stranger was, Susanna decided, very good-looking in a rough way. He wore a mustache, was unshaved, and his boots were down at the heel. All his clothes were shabby, yet there was an animal strength about him and an almost feline grace.

    "Good coffee." He reached for the pot and refilled his cup. "Ever driven on the prairie? I mean where there's no road?"

    "No, I haven't."

    "Had a sign of rain lately. The grass is good for the stock, but it makes the pullin' mighty hard. You ain't goin' far with just four mules an' a load that heavy. An' s'posin' your mules wander off? How'll you find 'em?"

    "We have riding horses."

    The stranger sipped his coffee. "Not no more, you don't. They've been took."

    "What's that?"

    "You had you a pair of sorrels? Big, handsome horses?"

    "Yes."

    "Then you don't have them no longer. They been stole."

    "What's that?" McKaskel came to his feet. "What do you mean?"

    "A couple of fellers drove them off just before full light. Fellers from the settlement, yonder."

    "I don't believe--" McKaskel started to move off, then glanced from the stranger to Susanna. He stopped. "Tom, you run and check on the horses."

    Susanna was slicing bacon into the frying-pan, her face flushed from the heat. "You're a mighty handsome woman, ma'am."

    "Thank you."

    "When you crossed the river, yonder? You come right up through the settlement?"

    "We stopped there." McKaskel decided...

About the Author-
  • LOUIS L'AMOUR is the only novelist in history to receive both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. He has published ninety novels; twenty-seven short-story collections; two works of nonfiction; a memoir, Education of a Wandering Man; and a volume of poetry, Smoke from This Altar. There are more than 300 million copies of his books in print.

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