Overview: John Parrish, an Easterner come West to recover from war wounds, did not count on trouble in the Basin. But when feuding bullies shot the sheriff and one of Parrish's cowhands, Parrish decided to pick up a gun and prove to the locals that a skinny tenderfoot would--and could--defend his land.

 

Smoky Valley by Donald Hamilton Book Chapter One

 


AFTER leaving his horse at Bickford’s Livery, John Parrish walked up Front Street. He had his hat pulled down against the bright Western sunshine that still sometimes seemed to him a little too hot and brilliant for a man to endure. The sky was a glaring blue overhead, and the dust was white and inches deep underfoot. John Parrish’s search for health had, in ten years, brought him a long way from the red mud and the smoky skies that he remembered from the war that had almost cost him his life. He breathed deeply now of the thin, warm air. This is a luxury that other men do not appreciate, he thought, the simple joy of being able to breathe without pain or effort.
“Pleasant day, Mr. Parrish,” someone said.
 Parrish stopped. Preoccupied, he had not seen Martin Coe sitting on the front porch of the jail. Coe was a tall old man with a long, seamed face, a white mustache, and very pale blue eyes. His years in office had worn the silver plating from the star pinned to his shirt and had polished smooth the cedar grips of the revolver strapped to his side.
“Good afternoon, Sheriff,” Parrish said, looking up. “I didn’t see you there. Yes, it is indeed a fine day.”
“I’d get out of the street, son,” Coe said quietly.
 Parrish had learned that out here in the Colorado Territory the most you could expect, even in an emergency, was a mild warning: a man was supposed to look out for himself. Suddenly aware of a sound behind him, he ran quickly up onto the porch. He looked around in time to see a buckboard, an old-fashioned carriage, and six horsemen thunder past at a dead run. The two vehicles were making a race for the stage depot up the street, the riders cheering them on.
 The sheriff spat as the dust settled. “Well,” he said flatly, “the Anchor outfit’s in town.”
“It would seem so,” Parrish said. He tried to appear unconcerned as he brushed the dust from his clothes. The buckboard had deliberately swerved toward him as he had run; he had even heard the driver laugh. But there was nothing to be gained by dwelling on this, and he suppressed the small, cold stirring of temper inside him, reminding himself that as an Easterner and a tenderfoot—as the people here still considered him—he was fair game for such jokes. He had not come out here to pick fights with anybody: he had had enough fighting for one lifetime.
 Watching the group up the street, the sheriff said, “I hear you’re losing a neighbor, Mr. Parrish.”
“That’s right,” Parrish said. “Jack Mahoney sold his place a few days ago.”
“Fine people, the Mahoneys.”
Parrish nodded and said, “They were very kind to me while I was ill.”
“Yes,” the sheriff said in an absent-minded way and glanced up at Parrish.
 The younger man felt the pale blue eyes study him carefully, noting in particular, it seemed, his lack of height and the absence of a gun. Parrish endured the scrutiny without resentment. In the three years he had been here he had become used to the way these people tended to dismiss as insignificant any man who was not weighted down with firearms, unless he was at least six and a half feet tall and suitably broad-shouldered.
 There had been a time in John Parrish’s life when he had felt a need to compensate for his relatively slight build and pleasant, boyish appearance—he had been a belligerent youth when he joined the Union Army. But the war had taught him many things. Having learned his own capabilities thoroughly, he no longer had any urge to demonstrate them to others. He never disturbed himself nowadays over what impression he might be making here by not wearing a gun.
 The sheriff looked away and said, “Well, I won’t keep you, son. Give Miss Vail my regards, if you should happen to meet her.” The last words were spoken in the tolerantly amused way in which older men referred to the romantic vagaries of youth.

 Parrish touched his hatbrim and went on, vaguely puzzled as to why Martin Coe, who had never shown him any particular friendship before, had chosen to stop him on the street today. He felt the sheriff had been intending to say something, but for some reason had decided not to say it after all. As he walked on, Parrish thought of how the sheriff’s motives in everything he did were obscured—as were the motives of everyone else in this place—by old feuds and loyalties. Local attitudes were based on conflicts that went back to the time cattle had first been brought into the Big Gun River Basin in the wake of the gold rush, and an outsider could never hope to understand them. Now, in 1875, the farmers had formed an uneasy and insecure settlement of sorts near the south end of the valley, and their presence simply complicated an already tangled situation. The only thing that was clear was that the time would soon come when John Parrish, a young man from the East with peaceful intentions, would be wise to get his money out of a ranch that had served his purpose. It would be best if he went back to people of his own kind, leaving these violent folk to settle their differences in their own way.
 

HE PUT his long-range problem aside. Ahead of him were the riders who had passed him; they had dismounted and were lounging around the stage depot. They were a hard-looking crew, typical of the kind of men the big Anchor Ranch liked to hire. The leader was a thin, dark boy whose clothes and equipment made him conspicuous. He was wearing a black hat and a black, double-breasted shirt liberally trimmed with silver. His boots were as ornate as his shirt. And around his narrow hips was strapped a heavy, carved and silver-mounted double-gun belt supporting two large revolvers with curved-ivory grips.