Found Pages: The Remarkable Harold Ernest (“Darcy Glinto”) Kelly, 1899–1969.
Sidebar 9: Westerns
For someone who has done very little reading in Westerns, the ones I’ve read that may be by Kelly have been a major surprise.
I say “may be” because I’ve had to do some heavy guessing here.
At times it seems as though just about any hypothesis as to authorship can be entertained in the Mushroom Jungle of multiple pseudonyms, where Harold Kelly can also be Darcy Glinto, Eugene Ascher, Buck Toler, Preston Yorke, Gordon Holt, Lance Carson, Hank Janson, Duke Linton, maybe John Parsons, maybe Clinton Wayne, maybe Bryn Logan, maybe even, though I doubt it, Chuck Larsen.
The authorial names that keep coming up for Westerns in the Kellys’ lists are Lance Carson, Clinton Wayne, and Bryn Logan. (See Sidebar 7.)
The one about which there seems to be a consensus is Carson. Some Waynes and Logans also feel to me like Kellys, which is to say like Carsons.
But there are still over fifteen books that I haven’t been able to get hold of. And at least one Wayne and one Logan are manifestly not by Kelly. Obviously, too, he couldn’t have authored all the works standing to those three names.
Carson, Wayne, and Logan don’t figure in the standard American reference works about Westerns. The absence suggests cultural snobbishness, or else the books didn’t cross the Atlantic.
But in The Trouble-Kid Quits I’m hearing dialogue that reminds me of Donald Hamilton’s. It appeared before Hamilton embarked on his own excellent Westerns in 1953.
In any event, here are some more samples from books that are, or might be, or definitely aren’t by Kelly. There’s some lovely writing in there.
The best of the books are full of bodily energies flowing freely. Landscapes as sites in which to be are lovingly rendered. Women figure importantly. Individuals can successfully resist the predations of the powerful and the inchoate angers of mobs. Redemption and self-recovery are possible. The endings are upbeat. This is the opposite of noir.
I would guess, though I’m only now glimpsing it, that in his Westerns Kelly was figuring his way beyond the dichotomy set up by Orwell in “Raffles and Miss Blandish,” and creating heroes who are genuinely chivalric.
Which is to say, they are respectful towards women and concerned with moral obligations to individuals, but are utterly unwilling to be pushed around (though not in the grip of fictive ideas of honour) and have no qualms about killing defensively—all this in environments where the Law as represented by officials is often absent, or ineffective, or corrupt, or too rigid to accommodate complex individual cases.
I dealt with the books randomly as they came my way, and finally assembled my comments and quotations in chronological order.That prevented a mind-set from developing wherein I thought I knew what “must” be in a Carson, a Wayne, a Logan, given that there may be deliberately stylistic differences in them.
I was reading for quality and with a general concern for whether something felt like a possible Kelly.
I suspect that in the best of the Westerns Kelly may have been writing the most fully as the self that he enjoyed being.
I wish I had read more Westerns by other writers, though. As it is, I can’t tell which strengths are generic and which are peculiar to Kelly.
Clinton Wayne, Nesters on the Okara (1948)
Lance Carson, Brush Trail Feud (1949)
Lance Carson, The Boss of Kaspar’s Jump (1949)
Clinton Wayne, Tinhorns on the Tilted K’ (1949)
Bryn Logan, The Deputy of Squaw Rock (1949)
Clinton Wayne, Hell Driver on Nowhere Trail (1950)
Bryn Logan, Stage Line to Conchas (1950)
Lance Carson, The Trouble-Kid Quits (1951)
Bryn Logan, Gullytown Gets a Marshal (1951)
Clinton Wayne, Sodbuster’s Saga, hc, Hector Kelly (1952)
Bryn Logan, Medicine Man (1953)
Bryn Logan, When the Long Trail Calls (1956)
Lance Carson, Three Shells to Quit (1960)
Bryn Logan, Fence War Stampede (1961)
Lance Carson, Gambler’s Epitaph (n.d.)
Clinton Wayne, A Just Revenge (n.d.)
Chuck Larsen, Gun Barrels Aflame (n.d.)
Clinton Wayne, Nesters on Okara, 1948
A lovely book.
The assured first chapter introduces the weary trio of Dave, Maisie, and fifteen-year-old son Dan Curtis, with all their worldly goods on two horses, as they search for a place to “nest” and feel with a growing quiet certainty that now they have found it.
An authoritative two-page account of four conflicting interest-groups in the changing West establishes the threat to their modest and wholly legal enterprise. Things continue at the same level to a concluding chapter of breathtaking and, by me at any rate, wholly unforeseen rightness.
For three years the fiercely independent Curtises build a good homestead, under the word-ofmouth protection of biggest local rancher Sean O’Brien, after young Dan, who with secret practicing has become a brilliant shot, saves O’Brien’s life by killing a rival rancher Crab Amber.
But when O’Brien dies in a riding accident, leaving his young daughter Katie in charge, Amber’s brother Lou, who now has his ranch, launches an all-out assault on the Curtis homestead, after Lou’s bought sheriff Lou Farman blandly turns down Dan’s peace-desiring request that he warn Lou off.
At the end of a brilliantly described fourteen-page gun-battle, which takes a lot of the enemy down but leaves Dan and Maisie among the dead and the buildings in flames, Dan seeks out and shoots sheriff Forman, as he had promised to do if the attack that he sought to avert happened.
He is now a fugitive from justice, with nothing to go back to and the knowledge that someone who has deliberately murdered a sheriff will not be able to rest securely anywhere. He has even been let down by Kate, whose men failed to turn up when the Curtises sent up a smoke signal for her promised help.
That is almost exactly half-way through the book, and, for me at least, there seemed simply no way in which he could come back up out of this pit.
The account of his subsequent wanderings, encounters, and un-bitter thought processes is finely done. Its high point is a brilliant seven-and-a-half-page description of his attack on a bullion coach, starting with the beautifully observed “The horses came into view. They were streaked with white where the sweat had lathered along their flanks, and they had the look of running with their chests pushed out which tells that horses are pretty tired.”
With both the homestead battle and the hold-up, it’s as if Kelly is totally there in his mind’s eye and aware with his body’s knowledge that actions don’t go in straight lines and that if you start with certain combinations (spaces, structures, animals, men with different temperaments), each element will have its own momentum and each move will produce a shift in the sequences of action, at times totally unforeseen ones.
Incidentally, the word “But,” particularly when following after an “If” is often ominous in Kelly. IF something had been known or noticed or done, something bad would have been avoided, BUT … ! Kelly’s low-keyed forewarnings are masterly in the suspense that they generate.
There seems to me to be a strong personal weight behind the insistence on the right of “little” people to build their own small-scale operations without being stomped by big ones.
The cover illustration of four hombres engaged in entirely unreadable violence in front of a landscape is so incompetent as to make it natural, as it almost was for me, to give the book only the most perfunctory skim.
(a) [Nesters] saw no big-scale visions. Their picture was of small homesteads with neat shacks, maybe spread around with creepers, and the barns big enough for a couple of milch-cows, a plough-horse, and a buggy-horse. They saw quarter-sections cut off into tidy patches, with peas here and corn there, one square of potatoes, another of cabbages—if they thought of the prairie at all, they thought of it cut up into homes that fed the folks who lived on them and gave just enough over to bring back from market the Sunday-go-to-meeting suit and boots, the gingham gowns, the ribbons, and the neat lace frills. But to the cattlemen, to the tough apostles of the old and the ruthless introducers of the new, maybe even a herd of sheep looked less like poison than the quarter-section homestead that could be a family nest. That was the threat they saw. Thousands of families multiplying to tens of thousands of hombres, women, and kids, multiplying in a generation or two maybe to hundreds of thousands, and bringing the things that, if they began, would end by driving the cattle out—towns with their schools, factories and street-cars, towns to turn the West into a new East. (p. 16)
(b) “Mebbee thar’ is plenty hombres kin work for a bawss and be totally comfortable. Me, I ain’t made that way. I hev’ to stand on my own two laigs, on my own piece of ground, or I hev’ to git underneath the ground. . . . And there’s another thing. Who gives these folks the right to say I kin or I cain’t do this or that? You’re fencin’—the way I’ve heard it—a hundred thousand acres. I aim to fence this quarter-section—a hundred-and-ten acres. For goshamighty’s sake, what kinda justice is it that you kin be looked upon as a hombre entitled to respect, but me and my wife and kid hev’ to be worse nor coyotes?” (pp. 36-37)
(c) But these hombres making up Lou Amber’s posse were different from the Curtises. They had herded the tough obstinate Longhorns over the open range, and if each one of them had a special kind of feeling for his own horse, he had no kind of sentimental feelings about any other animal—maybe any other man, female, or kid—alive. Shooting down a scraggy old buggy horse looked no more to them than smacking down a fly that had pitched on their face. The horse had hardly moved five yards before he went down with three bullets in him.” (pp.70-71)
(d) This time it looked like the luck was with Dan Curtis. His bullet traveled true to its aim, and the driver of the coach suddenly spun over sideways, and stayed slumped across the rail of his seat. The thing that helped Curtis was that when the bullet smashed into the driver’s left shoulder, he must have been holding the reins in his right hand. And it was to the right that he twisted, which meant that he carried the reins around with him, and pulled the horses sharply across to the right. There was a low verge at the side of the trail with low brush clumps on the rough beyond it.
The near wheels went up over the verge and swung on to the rough, the front near wheel smashed against the low stump of some long broken-off chaparral trunk, the rear off-corner of the coach lifted bringing the rear-off wheel into the air, and then things had to happen. That chaparral stump was too stout to yield. Yet the momentum of the horses’ galloping could not be suddenly arrested that way—it could not be suddenly arrested without something smashing up.
The first thing that happened was the traces snapped. Then there was a cracking sound as the spokes of the near front wheel buckled. The coach hung for seconds half lifted cornerwise in the air. Then it dropped back, buckling several of the spokes of the off-rear wheel as it did so. (p.165)
Lance Carson, Brush Trail Feud, Robin Hood (1949)
For plot description, click on title.
Here is a paragraph from near the end, when a judicial lynching is in progress.
It was a queer, eerie kind of scene down there under the big oak. There was a clump of smaller spaced-out trees back of the big one, and all over the patch where the tree spread its shade, the grass was thicker than over the range. It showed green, too, now, in the light of the lamps. The hombres had brought about a dozen storm-lamps, and some had been left hanging on the pommels of the saddles, a couple had been hung over nobs on the great trunk of the oak, and others hung over short forks on the smaller trees. There was no even circle of light, but a ragged collection of small pools of the yellowish light those storm lanterns spread around, with patches of shadow between the pools. The hombres’ faces as they moved around looked grey and unreal under the brims of their ten-gallons. Only Slater was still on horseback. The rest had left their horses standing around any way, just as they swung down from them. And because being fetched out again this late at night was not so welcome to the horses, they stayed right where they were. (p.107)
Lance Carson, The Boss of Kaspar’s Jump (1949)
For plot description, click on title.
Clinton Wayne, Tinhorns on the Tilted ‘K’, R.C. Publishing (1949)
For plot description, click on title.
(a) Any hombres who have spent their lives on horseback will know this. A horse that has been raised right and is just one of a team of two, doesn’t need spurs nor yet a quirt. He doesn’t need any heel-kickings nor yet kneepressings. He has a way, an instinct, a knowledge, that maybe nothing else alive but horses and dogs do have, that tells him just what kind of need his rider is faced with. If this hombre who makes up the team of two with him is in a desperate rush, the horse is in a desperate rush too, and it doesn’t need words nor bawlings nor anything else. It was that way now with the gelding. He just came out of the saloon yard, stretched flat. He went up the road that way, swung at the pressure of Cullum’s knee which gave him his direction, and hurtled out across the range. Cullum felt a tremor run through him. A kind of rippling of the skin under his thigh. He knew what it meant. Knew that it meant the horse was just as much aware as he was of everything that he had to face in this ride. (p. 75)
(b) The queer thing was that although there were so many figures racing to and fro and although they mostly went right ahead with the things their maniac minds were set on, mostly ignoring the shots that were being fired at them, there were not so many casualties. But maybe it was not so queer. This was a new thing the M-Bar-O hombres were up against. They knew about gun-battles, too, but about “gun” battles. This was different. There was something that threw the hombres off their balance in not having their fire answered, except with an odd shot here and there that came as if it was just an odd thing being thrown aside. It was something totally new in their experience to be crouched around there, all set to fight out a battle to the bitter end, and then to find the other side was not fighting back, was not even thinking of them, was just ignoring their bullets and ignoring their own casualties. They were almighty serious. This was a thing of life and death to them. In the way that the cattle hombres on an outfit come to look upon it as theirs, and upon themselves as belonging to it, the M-Bar-O hombres had come racing out at Cullum’s alarm ready to do or die in loyalty to the outfit. That was the loyalty of the West. They were in the grimmest earnest about it. But they were not being met with any kind of awareness. They were being ignored. (p. 78)
Bryn Logan, The Deputy of Squaw Rock (1949)
For plot description, click on title.
(a) There was a sudden bawl, loud and lifting away on to a high note with utter panic. It was the roughneck Pete taking the diving fall and he was too late to check it. He went headlong over the cliff-edge.
Melanie said in a scared voice,
“One’s gone over.” Then she added, “I pushed him over.” Delane could not see this was anything to be worried about. He was thinking of the one still sitting there. He said,
“Git up, hombre,—an’ git up with yore arms up. I got a notion to hev’ your holsters empty.” The roughneck got up, but he was thinking of Pete. He said,
“He must’ve gone over head first. By this time he’ll be dead. That face is most of fifty feet down.”
“If he’s dead that’ll be a little improvement that’s happened in the world,” Delane said as he took the 45’s, but Melanie said behind him,
“We’ll have to go down.” She had gone to the edge and was looking over.
“What for do we hev’ to go down? You don’t fancy you hev’ to go into mournin’ about a rough-an’-tough waster like that.”
“Don’t you see—I killed him.” Her voice trembled as if she was very near to crying.
“All right, you killed him, but … ” It came clear to Delane then that knowing she had killed a man was going to look like the end of the world, no matter what kind of man he was, and instead of ending with what he had been going to say, he asked her:
“ … but how kin you be so shore he’s daid. If he fell on his haid, that could have saved him. This kinda dumb booze-soak mostly uses a block of wood fer a haid.”
“”I kin see his body lyin’ still. We hev’ to go down an’ find out.” (ch. 8, pp. 80-81)
(b) She had to stop talking because she had to start crying and she could not talk and cry at the same time. But the tears that came pouring down over her face were tears of happiness. And they streamed over Emperor’s face as well as her own. For he had stood and let her come to him. When she was close enough he had brought down his head and she took the whole of it into her crooked arm and pressed it against her breast, and she put her face down to his forehead and stood that way, crying, but maybe the happiest creature, human or animal, in the whole of the world. (p. 88)
(c) Then suddenly she knew she was experiencing something which many a wild rider of the West would have been ready to give his eyes to enjoy for just one ride. Emperor’s galloping was like a series of long, smooth leaps, and with each one he seemed to lift high into the air and soar a distance before he came to earth again. There was the speed, too, and the way he took obstacles. With never a measure of a step, still less a break in his speed, he would lift over the rocks four and five feet high and feet wide at the top. It was that length in his leaps which gave Melanie the feeling not of horse riding, but of flying on the back of some immense and wonderful bird. (p. 98)
Clinton Wayne (?), Hell-Driver on Nowhere Trail, Robin Hood (1950)
(a) The wind had changed and was coming down from the north now with a sharp bite in it. The men looked cold and a bit grim. The tang of the herd’s smell was sharp in the air, too, as their hides dried from the soaking they had received. Then suddenly he heard shouts from the far side of the herd. Shots followed. He swung the stallion and lifted in the saddle to see what was happening. The distance was perhaps half a mile and he could only see a mêlée of riders dashing wildly about and the head of the herd swinging off to the south. Already restive, the main body began to panic at once. They started with the swinging side to side movement that scared cattle will make before their slow brains build up an idea of what they have to do about some danger which they fancy threatens them. These cattle now very quickly had their minds made up for them by finding that those ahead were wheeling. (pp. 96-7)
(b) Logan had told the Dawson twins before they set out on their day’s riding:
“Open country with this kind of timbering is fine for Indians fixing an ambush, and between a thing that trapper told me and a kind of instinct I’ve got hanging around me like a smell in my nose, I’ve got a notion there’s Indians less than a thousand miles away. Here’s one or two little rules. Keep your eyes lifted for smoke. Any kind of smoke at all. If there’s any anywhere it has to be made by men. Find out about it, but keep outside of gun range while you do your first looking. And that goes for clumps of timber you can’t see right through. Take a look all round them, but outside of gun range. When you come out of timber to stretches of grass stop and look before you go ahead. Indians can lie in grass that is growing long the way the new grass is now, so that you can’t see hair nor hide of em though they ain’t more than forty-five yards away. But where an Indian’s lying there’s a difference in the lie of the grass tips. It’s a little thing but it makes the difference that the colour of his patch of grass seems different—a bit darker. It’s not so much that you’d notice it without looking special. But you fellers have to look special. If you see a spread of grassland that looks as if it’s got darker patches lyin’ around here and there, don’t give any sign that you’ve noticed. Just stick around right where you are, maybe dickering with your saddle or looking at your horse’s hooves. Then head back casual until you’re well clear. After that ride like hell and let me know about it.” (p. 126)
Bryn Logan, Stage Line to Conchas, (Robin Hood (1950)
Another good Robin Hood Western, 190 pages long. After gold is discovered nearby, the town of Conchas is taken over bit by not so small bit by crooks headed by smoothie Phineas Wookie. The good guys are Zed Burger, operator of a stage-coach line, his son Sam, Pug’ Ollis, hotel-keeper and former bare-knuckle prizefighter, prospector Silas Crabbe, and a hound, Ruckus, that Sam saves from being killed as incorrigible. Pug has his skull bashed in, lies in a coma, and his hotel/saloon is appropriated through a fraudulent “sale.” Zed is killed. Sam is framed for a robbery and sent to prison for four years. The action continues after his release.
Kelly touches are the relatively gentle man grown hard with mistreatment; false imprisonment; a would-be lynch mob out for the thrill of Sam’s blood; gentling and earning the loyalty of an “untameable” animal; a saloon fight (no guns fired) described in considerable detail ; some knowledge about the minds of horses; a man inveigled into doing something that he considers shameful, with serious damage to his reputation.
Against: Ruth Cavan is so little present in the action as scarcely to be missed if she weren’t there at all The violences to bodies (particularly those inflicted on Pug and by Crabbe) are more flesh-and-bloody than is customary in Kelly. The early information-providing about locale and characters is denser than is normal in Carson. And the greater-than-usual length would make 1949-50 a busy time for Kelly, particularly if—if—he also did Wayne’s Hell-Driver on Nowhere Trail.
Lance Carson, The Trouble-Kid Quits, Robin Hood (1951)
Here are some quotations from a book that is unquestionably Kelly’s. and perhaps the best of his Westerns. See also the plot description in “Violence, Inc.”
(a) Kit passed by [his mother] but she was working too hard to notice. Her mind was too obsessed with the thought that she had to get rid of this body. She dug a grave big enough and deep enough to put three or four bodies in, then she came back, got hold of [Marshal] Slavin’s body again, dragged it over, and let it topple down into the hole. It went in a heap and she had to get down into the hole and straighten it out. She left it lying straight and flat but over on the face. Then she climbed out, and she spent most of the rest of the day getting the grave filled in and the earth over it and all round it smoothed out to such a level that no one would be liable to suspect any such thing had happened. Then she cleaned the spade and put it back in the lean-to and went across to the pump over the well and washed her boots clean. They were her half-high laced boots that she put on for going into town. (p. 48)
(b) Dick Brody could never make sharp, decisive movements. If he set out towards a thing he was liable to angle off at a tangent away from it, and he tended to shamble in his walk, leaving his hands hanging limp and useless-looking half in front of him, and dropping his head over to one side in a limp way as if it had not occurred to the brain that it could be held erect. (p. 56)
(c) Kit said, “Aw to hell. He’s dead. It’s happened to smart fellers like him before. Do we have to stop everything and start some community weeping?”
Brody said, “This is—was—was going to be my girl’s husband.”
“Somebody ought to congratulate her that she’s missed the honour,” the Kid’ said. (p.71)
(d) “You don’t have to get worried about me. Trouble kinda follows me about and … ”
“It follows your gun about,” she said.
He looked at her at first with surprise and then thoughtfully. He said, “Mebbe there’s something to that.” (p.105)
(e) “Even if I never loved Phil Bray the way a girl loves the fellow she is going to marry, it was fixed that we were to marry. There was a time—a long time—when I figured I did love him. And even if he was the kind—the brash—even the blusteringt kind that he was, he could be gentle, too. Do you think I don’t have any memories about him that belong just to me? Do you fancy there haven’t been scores—maybe hundreds of times when I was like this—alone with him, when he had his arms round me—kissed me. When my arms were round him, when I kissed him. I allow I had been getting worried that it might not work out being married to him, but I could have been wrong. Whatever he was to the hands he worked with, to the fellows around, I would be doing him a terrible injustice if I let you believe he didn’t love me. He did.” (p. 134)
(f) Again Jeanne dropped to her knees. Kit’s mouth was half open, his face blackened and his eyes staring. In a panic Jeanne slid her arm under his shoulders and drew him against her breast. She was unthinking now and acting merely under the impulse of her love for him. She hugged him and murmured his name.
“Kit—Kit, dearest.” Then she said, so that it blurred the words, “They hanged him after all—they hanged him! They hanged him!”
In that moment she took it for granted that he was dead, and perhaps it was only her blind instinctive surge of affection that saved his life in that moment. Left alone to lie there on the ground a little longer, his lungs might never have made the effort that was necessary if he was ever again to draw down air through the terribly bruised and swollen windpipe. But Jeanne’s unthinking movements, jerking him convulsively up from the waist, hugging him, pressing him against her, flexed the muscles round his ribs and across his diaphragm. And it startled her almost into dropping him back to the ground that he suddenly gave vent to a sharp whistling heave of his chest. (p.173)
Bryn Logan (?), Gullytown Gets a Marshal, Hector Kelly (1951)
At least seven books bearing Logan’s name were published by the Kellys.
This one, which I’m not certain is by Kelly, falls into a series of sharp, cinematic scenes, beginning with an Italian-Western-type encounter out on the plains between an oddly dressed, dust-and-hair covered figure pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with his worldly goods, and a sadistic smoothie with two henchmen.
It results in the stranger being left to make his way to Gullytown across twenty or thirty more miles of plain with his wrists lashed behind him to each of the handles of the barrow, a feat which he finally accomplishes, out of his mind with exhaustion and thirst, and with his wrists torn bone-deep by the ropes.
Recovered, and now a personable young guy and crack shot, Barry Sims forces the smoothie town boss, Vincent Dane, into a duel with broken bottle-necks and, after disarming him, carefully makes deep gouges down both sides of his handsome face, turning him into an enemy glowing white hot with desire for a horrible revenge.
We also have a decent bar-girl, Cora, who helps Barry against the smoothie and straightforwardly offers herself to him as a companion in order to get out of town and away from the smoothie; a rancher and his ambivalent daughter, Janet; and plenty of good moves and counter-moves between the two antagonists after Barry is talked into becoming marshal in a town where anything goes, and which he doesn’t immediately clean up.
In a penultimate scene, when he is helpless in Vincent Dane’s hands, Dane tells him, and means it,
“You have to take a very, very long time dying. And you have to be hurt so badly that you will almost die of panic that the hurting will start all over again. But you won’t die of panic and the hurting will start all over again and then all over again and again and again.” (p.181)
Moreover he is going to see that “everything that happens to you will happen to her [Cora] as well. You’ll be able to watch. Maybe I’ll let you see how it all works on her before you go through with it yourself.” (p. 182)
I haven’t seen anything as sadistic as that, or as the opening cruelty, in the books that I’m certain are by Kelly, though the facial mutilation recalls Rita dealing with her rival in No Mortgage on a Coffin.
The accounts of Sim’s problem-solving thought processes and the highly physical body-contact action he takes near the end when he’s hemmed in in front of his ad-hoc office and jail by a lynch-minded mob and several of Vincent’s gunslingers on horseback recalls things in what I take to be Kelly’s Janson novels.
The prose isn’t cluttered up with fake Westernisms. No-one addresses anyone as “pardner,” let alone “hombre.” The dialogue doesn’t display Lance Carson’s stylistic tic of putting “He said” at the end of someone’s words rather than at the start of the line in which we’re given what the other speaker said. (Note 17) But then, neither do all the Carsons.
If not Kelly,who?
Clinton Wayne, Sodbuster’s Saga, hc, Hector Kelly (1952)
Excellent. One can say of it as Orwell said of No Orchids for Miss Blandish that there is scarcely a word wasted or a false note anywhere.
Obviously by the author of Hell-Driver on Nowhere Trail. Knowledgeable about the history of Western expansion, the variousness of homesteaders, the importance of terrain, the habits of cattle, the proper manners when visiting peaceably with Indians. Concerned with the importance of leadership and the need to make one’s own at times rough justice in a situation where there’s a big gap between the rights granted on paper in Washington and what powerful and violent men on the spot are prepared to allow one to have.
It’s fascinating following along with Crip, with his chess-player’s mind and nerveless determination, as he sees five moves ahead and achieves desired results in what look at various points along the way like situations that are hopeless, either because of the less than wholly warlike attitudes of most of his associates, or the ruthlessness of their opponents, or both. It’s a pleasure watching the bad guys given formally good, or at least formally virtuous, arguments that Crip than dismantles, defining the actual on-the-ground facts and intentions.
The book is a kind of teach-in about power, force, justice, and an earned state of peace. It reminds me a bit of Shakespeare’s analysis in The Tempest, as do Kelly’s Westerns more generally. There are major differences in them between old-style and new-style “authority” and strength of character.
We also have here a reversal of Bryn Logan’s inferior The Last of the Cattle Kings (1954), in which everything is presented from the point of view of the obsessively land-hungry cattle-rancher, willing to resort to legal chicanery and even murder to drive off homesteaders from “his” land.
Sodbuster’s Saga is wholly on the side of the sodbusters, the protective fencing in of their land, the proliferation of home-steads, and the benefits to Indians of taking up agriculture.
Clinton Wayne, The Grass Killers, Hector Kelly, 1953, 192 pp., hb.
It’s an Ugly Duckling story.
Sixteen-year-old Phil Dallas, cowardly son of a dirt-poor drunken father who beats him and a downtrodden mother who still nurses hopes for him, walks away from cattle-kingdom Paradise Plain and is invited into a battered little waggon-train of sheep families by Kit Egan, second-on-command, who senses potentials in him invisible to al other eyes.
After a couple of episodes of seemingly ineradicable cowardice, he sullenly rejects Kit’s help and trudges away, but returns, very much against his nature, to warn of an imminent attack by cattle-men. and later deliberately stops a bullet intended for Kit. During the next couple of years, properly fed, and with coaching by Kit, he grows physically and learns how to fight.
When the sheep community, driven away from yet another cattle area, arrives in Paradise Plain, things work out satisfactorily, though not in an entirely straight line, for Phil and the other good guys.
As I said, it’s an Ugly Duckling story. It’s also about being accepted because unacceptable (Paul Tillich’s phrase). The “old” Phil’s refusal to fight for the community after being treated decently (by Kit) for the first time of his life, is conventionally unforgivable, and the “new” Phil’s childishly jealous anger towards Kit leaves Kit and the girl in question, Claire Chantry, wholly baffled. But both see through to and care about, the “real” Phil.
Is The Grass Killers by Kelly? I would like it to be. There’s the same coming-back-up from ignominy that we’ve seen in several others of his novels, the same three-dimensional competence when describing fist-fights and fire-fights, the same skill at indicating movements of the mind below the level of articulation. When Phil saves Kit’s life, we read:
As he gave the cry he leapt across in front of Egan. It was a blind, irrational movement. Anyone less accustomed to springing into movement at the first sign of a threat of danger, would probably have been unable to move with the speed that it needed to cover the intervening distance and place himself in front of Egan before the bullet struck. Always before, Phil’s immediate springing into movement had been to escape, to run away from the danger. He had never, perhaps, in the whole of his life before leapt of his own volition, directly and unnecessarily into a threat of being hurt. Now he threw himself into the risk of being killed, and into the certainly of being wounded. (71-72)
But does wishing make it so? I mean, is this by Kelly? He would have had to be working at an absolutely white heat of creativity to have done all the original Glintos after 1946 plus the Carsons, Waynes, and Logans, at least the quality ones. A few, as I’ve indicated, were plainly not by him. But the others?
Carson, Wayne, and Logan don’t figure in the online Library of Congress catalogue or in the reference books about American Westerns that I consulted. But Leslie Ernenwein and Paul Evan Lehman, who are on the back cover of The Grass Killers, do, Ernenwein’s Renegade Ramrod having been first published in New Yorik in 1950.
So presumably the Carsons, Waynes, and Logans are British originals.
If one doesn’t accept the white-heat-of-creativity hypothesis, one would have to postulate at least one other good writer, most likely writing under more than one of the three names, given the resemblances of some of the books. But who? I haven’t the slightest idea.
It’s too late in the day for me to start exploring American Westerns, so I shall go on suspecting that the Kelly Westerns were more psychologically subtle than the American ones from those years. I shall read the two Ernenwein and Lehman titles to see if they shed any light on this.
[ I can now report that Leslie Ernenwein’s Renegade Ramrod is a very competent treatment of what may be basic elements in a lot of Westerns, including one or two of Kelly’s. See Note 61 ]
There’s an interesting couple of paragraphs, by the way, containing information that I haven’t seen in any other of the Kelly Westerns. Kit Egan is instructing Phil:
“You don’t drop your hand to your holster, pull out your gun, level, and fire. What you do is start moving your hand in a circle that goes just a bit further than once round. On the way your hand just naturally takes in the gun, your finger falls behind the trigger, an’ it’s that trigger finger, pressing gently, that sort of starts a return circle. …
It’s the same with aimin’. Yuh don’t stop an’ check you’re leveled on the thing you’re aimin’ at. You just press your trigger on the way past it, an’ you’ll come to find, that way, yuh can’t miss. Figure you are goin’ to throw a stone at that sheep walking along there. You don’t aim at a spot where the sheep is—he won’t be exactly there when your stone gets there. What you throw at is his movement. It’s the same firin’ a gun—only the other way round. You aim your movement at your target, and press your trigger when the two cross.” (90-91)
The (at times) grass killers were sheep.
Bryn Logan (no), Medicine Man, Hector Kelly (1953)
There’s not a chance that this could be by Kelly.
A Virginian gentleman-doctor, Carlton Digby, turns up in Burgos Town where massive single-note-wicked rancher Red Morgan is working at driving Indians off reservation land. The doctor (a crack shot) sides with the Indians, talky, talky, talky (“Indians, there are difficult and dangerous times coming for you.”)
Morgan’s sensuous nature-girl daughter Melanie comes on at him (“Her body, soft and very feminine, yet with its suppleness and splendid young strength coursing sensibly through it, was not merely pressing against him. It was thrusting into him, conveying her fire and ardour to him”.), and they become man and wife, “Indian fashion.” Less passionate schoolmarm Sally Dane is also interested in him.
He and Morgan have a twenty-page fight that the writer seems to be figuring his way through, at one point not knowing how long thirty seconds would actually be in a fight, at another telling how, “With distaste sweeping all other expression from his face he took a firm grip with his teeth on the wide splodgy red nose,” so that, “It was Morgan who was panicking now—or, perhaps, not so much panicking as reduced to helplessness.”(p. 95),
Rifle-wielding Melanie is shot and killed during an attack on Digby’s house, and he swears to kill Morgan in exactly the same way, which he does after successfully organizing Indian resistance. “Morgan’s body began writhing as a body will with a shattering stomach wound. Without the shadow of a doubt his consciousness was no longer functioning” (p.177). But our hero keeps his promise, shoots him in the thigh, the shoulder, the leg, and walks away, leaving him to die. Schoolmarm Sally has no trouble still wanting him. “It’s all part of the West, my dear,” she reassures him.
Earlier he’s finished off two Indian-hurting baddies in the saloon, pistol muzzle against temples, after downing them. Right-thinking about Indians excuses everything, virtually no supporting-player white characters are delineated, there’s little sense of physical spaces.
The cover, showing a frozen-faced doctor, bag in hand, engaged in a street shoot-out is dreadful, the two other principal figures looking like cut-outs that have been collaged.
Bryn Logan, When the Long Trail Calls, 1956; pb 1957, 162 pp. NEW
Lovely, moving, focused.
Two likeable kids, Stella Deane and Ricks Varney, watch from a hill a cattle-drive getting under way, he yearning for the time when he himself can go on one. Cut to the same scene three years later, Stella the maturing daughter of a big rancher, Ricks living light as a cowhand, working hard at improving his skills, and still intently focused on that dream. Nice dialogue between them, she unpriggishly trying to make points about futures and responsibilities, he good-humoredly certain of what kind of life he wants at present. Their relationship, the relationship of two decently proud individuals, with basically a lot in common, deepens. By the time that he’s been hired for a drive and she’s hoping and asking for a love that will keep him back with her, the complication is that she’s pregnant. But she won’t play that card, and he, with no idea of what’s behind her urgency, is comfortably confident that he’ll only be away for a few months, and that there’s no way in the world that he’ll give up his major ambition.
For the next sixty-four pages, we’re exclusively out on the trail, in a gripping narrative, without any macho competings for power, about how, after the sudden death of experienced trail boss Reuben (“Rube”) Anstey in a stampede, young Ricks is by common, if slightly skeptical consent, allowed to fill the role that no-one else is willing to take on. After which, he has to display a lot more of his practical skills, knowledge of men and cattle, and gift of quick decision-making about some pretty awesome problems, including getting the herd across the swollen Red River, a possible stampede at night down a dangerously steep slope, and the herd’s having to make its way through a sea of buffalo.
None of this is super-hero stuff. The kind of leadership that we see displayed, over and above involving a lot of courage, is a matter of reasoning effectively, so that what’s demanded of others has their assent. The trust that Ricks demands and gets has been earned.
While on the trail, Ricks learns, with furious incredulity, that his—as he now realizes, eternally his—Stella has married dull but decent young rancher Phil Hexam. And when Hexam joins the outfit to conduct the business dealings in Dodge, Ricks informs him, and means it, that he’s going to kill him once the trail’s business is done. In which cold conviction he persists, despite learning that Hexam had accepted Stella’s pregnancy ungrudgingly, and despite Hexam’s decency when Ricks acknowledges the parenthood.
In the last third of the book, Ricks and Hexam have to recover the outfit’s horses that had been stolen by toughs, and the author has to resolve the triangle of Ricks, Stella, and Hexam in a way that we will find psychologically credible and morally satisfying.
Which he does, in a way that demonstrates yet again that a major feature of a number, perhaps a large number, of Westerns is that they’re Homeric love stories with a hunger for final closure in a stable, fruitful marriage of equals.
The prose is a delight, what with the “felt life” of spirited cattle being “vaunting” and “high-stomached,” and Ricks telling Stella that Hexam has “about as much fire as a sick ten-year-old steer feelin’ sad about his wasted life “ (33), and, in bitterly cold rain, one of the outfit remarking that “I don’t feel like I got any outside at all, an’ the rest of me feels like it’s wrapped round a ball of ice.” (104), and, “The horse knew he was being praised and nibbled at Varney’s hand as gently as Varney had punched his muzzle.” (79), and, “Night fell with the first hint of chill that comes as summer drifts over into early fall” (130), and Ricks, himself a deadly shot, assuring Stella that,
“I know a real trigger-artist by the way his guns hang on him, by the way his hands set themselves any time he’s doin’ nothing, by his eyes, the lift of his head. Mebbe I even smell him.” (130)
Plus longer passages like:
(a) The flames [of the bonfires] seemed only to stress the distances all round them as, getting their grip on newly-piled wood, they first sprouted thinly and dropped back, then licked up again more strongly, wavered, dwindled once more, only to surge up finally to a steady blaze, edged with red and licked with blue and green. Even the smoke, billowing up and spreading overhead before it drifted off to lose itself in the darkness, gave the impression of having an infinity of space to lose itself in. (5)
(b) Dawn had come mistily with the appearance of a clouded sky, but the clouds were no more than the condensed dampness of an early summer night, a dew lying over the sky as it lay over the earth. With the first striking of the sun’s warmth as it came clear up over the eastern horizon the greyness overhead thinned and parted. Soon there was only a whiteness that moment by moment became attenuated and lost in emerging expanses of blue, and shortly there was only the blue over the whole great arch of the sky, except where the yellow ball of the sun climbed steadily along its arc. (50)
(c) Slowly, like some great leviathan hoisting its enormous body laboriously into movement, herd and convoy, the whole vast concourse, seemed to heave, ripple ponderously, and then surge slowly forward, very gradually elongating and turning itself from a mass without shape, first into a lopsided oval with a bunchy tail of wagon tops, and then, as distance began to smooth out the raggednesses, into an almost orderly train nosing away into the north-east. (7)
(d) “It’s might important you all get this totally clear. [Rick is briefing the outfit for the river crossing.] The herd has to go into the water at exactly the right place. I’ve got the bearings in my eye and I’ll get right out there now and point ‘em dead right. The reason they have to go in at the right place is to give them enough riverway to offset the rip-tide that will carry them along, but not to give them so much that they get to the other side where the bank is still sheer. The margin isn’t cut too dead fine because there’s a hundred yards wide bay for them to scramble out on. But they do have to be across the river by the time they get there. You can kiss goodbye to any that are out in the rip of the current.” (86)
(e) As he rode he reloaded his guns. Looking across as he finished he saw the herd literally pouring over the river bank as if they themselves were a flood of reddish brown liquid flecked with branching streaks of white and grey. At that distance the pounding of the hooves of those who had still to go over was a low rumbling. Even so, because of its higher timbre he could hear the tooth-edging clash and grind of the horns. Then he was at the river bank and looking upstream he could see the fantastic sight of a hundred yards wide ever-lengthening diagonal of massed heads, shoulders, and horns, moving like a traveling carpet across the river at what looked like a speed of ten miles an hour or more. (89)
The whole episode of the devising and carrying-through of an extremely dangerous crossing is superb.
Is this by Kelly? It could be, assuming I not out-to-lunch wrong about Logan being one of his pseudonyms. It has the hero’s problem-solving ingenuity, his shutting out of tender feelings, the esteem of both of them for one another, the vividly evoked landscapes, and weathers, the ability to describe complicated actions, the tactility, the charting of “natural” leadership. There is also the habit of introducing a speaker at the end of the preceding paragraph. At its simplest,
“Do you think it will rain tomorrow?” Bill said,
Lance Carson, Three Shells to Quit, Miller (1960)
Some more quotations:
(a) “My belly been turnin’ an’ turnin’ all through de day, an’ Ah knew he was thinkin’ it was me had heard him tell de hombres there was goin’ to be a raid on de store, an Ah had gone an’ tole yo’-all. Then, when he was going down to de bar tonight, he said: Ah got a little thing Ah need to have yo’ fix for me tonight, nigger. Yo’ know my shed wid’ de new roof?’ Ah done tell him Ah didn’t know nothin’ about no shed, an’ he done tole me: You’re a goddam liar, nigger. You served me there when we first rid in.’ Ah said: Dat shed didn’t have no new roof.’ He said: You’re tellin’ me yo’ didn’t know Ah’d had one put on?’ Ah tole him: Ah’s tellin’ yo’ dat, suh.’ He laughed then an’ it was as cold as his look, an’ he said: Anyways, be there midnight when Ah leaves de bar.’” (p. 126)
(b) Over the whole higgledy-piggledy spread of canvas and vehicles there was an odd mingling of silence and noises. The silence seemed somehow to be lying underneath, with the noises overlaying it. A light wind was blowing, and it set up a low sighing, punctuated with occasional flappings as it whipped across the canvas surfaces or set a loose rope-end swinging. (p. 128)
(c) With the light, the mood of the crowd began to change. Word had been passed everywhere that the fire had been started deliberately by a gang of gunmen from the town. There were enough among the crowd who, with their families, were strangers in a strange land, and utterly destitute now. All the cherished possessions of their broken-up homes back East—treasures that they had packed and loaded, and sweated and struggled to transport across the fifteen hundred miles of weary trail—had gone up in smoke. They had all come with hopeful dreams of starting a new and better life in this great, rich, open West, and what they had brought were the materials of that life’s making. Now they had nothing to build from. It would have been bad enough if they had been able to think that it had been mere malicious Chance which had robbed them of their all, but with the thought that the disaster had been brought about deliberately a fighting anger was beginning to mount and spread like a contagion. Kennedy moved among them and felt the great surge of rage and resentment. It was almost as if it was floating through the air in waves. He spoke to some, doing his best to calm them, telling them that the town would have to organize and subscribe to make their losses good, and look after them until some scheme be got going. He could talk to only a few, however, and from all sides mutterings were welling into louder talk, and from the talk shouts were beginning to burst like spouts shot out from a heaving tide. The settlers were bunched about in knots, and in each knot there was one more furious and excited than the rest, who put their thoughts and their feelings into agitated and more violent words. Something like inflammatory speeches were being made here, there, and everywhere.” (pp. 133-4)
(d) Kit and Sean Power are talking:
“The least I owe [Trixie] now is to try to find her some sort of job that would suit her, and fix it with some decent woman in the town to rent her a room.”
“She’s got a comfortable room, hasn’t she?”
“Sure. You been pretty kind to her.”
“You got that wrong, Kennedy. It’s she’s been pretty kind to me. I never knew rooms could look the way she fixes them. I never knew meals could look and taste the way they do when she serves them up. I never knew shirts and socks and things could be ironed and folded, and always be right under your hand when you want them, the way mine are now. I never knew a house could seem as snug and sociable and inviting after the store was shut the way it does here now. I never knew … ”
“I never knew you could get all this enthusiastic about things.”
“All right, you didn’t, but you’re toting a sheriff’s badge and I’m a citizen in my own shanty.
“What would that have to say?”
“That there are two orders I’m free to give you.”
“The two being?”
“Get the hell out’ve here, and don’t come back until later in the week, when Trixie’s had time to get whatever she fancies she ought to have to get married in.”
“And I had the notion you were Irish.”
“I’ll smack the teeth of the hombre who says I’m not Irish right back into his gullet.”
“I’m only saying you’re not like an Irishman.”
“I’ve been here most of ten minutes and I haven’t seen hair nor hide of the whisky bottle yet.”
“It’s maybe you ought to smack my teeth back.” (p. 151)
(e) Carmen said: “You keep on piling up that debt of obligation on my shoulders, don’t you?” There was no imperiousness in that. It was said almost tenderly.”
In reply Kennedy said: “Can’t you see that all I’ve told you wipes it out? If you owed me anything, everybody in every place would owe the sheriff or the town marshal everything. When a man is given rank and payment to do the job of established or keeping law and order nobody owes him anything.”
If there was imperiousness it was of a different sort as she said: “Kit Kennedy, there are some facts that can’t be talked away.” Then she asked him: “And my [property] title?”
“It won’t go through in a week or two, but I guess you can count on it being endorsed. No question has ever been raised as to the original title being valid, and when I report that you will ask only a nominal rent for the railroad … ”
She interrupted irrelevantly: “And you will be recalled and another sheriff sent out?”
He hesitated. Then he said: “I shall ask to be recalled.”
She got up and poured more whisky into his glass. Then, turning away to the fireplace, she said, not quite casually: “You wouldn’t want to stay?”
He got up, too. It was almost as if he was taking her rising as an indication that she would like him to go, but he moved nearer to her. For answer he said: “I never liked tormenting myself.”
She turned to face him: “How tormenting yourself?” she asked. (p. 158)
Bryn Logan, Fence War Stampede (1961)
Not strictly Jungle, being a Ward Lock hardback. But could just as well have been a Robin Hood or R.C. Publishing pb. with a tacky cover. So who was Logan, who I see is given as the copyright holder for this book? Was he Harold Kelly? Or a Robin Hood writer strongly influenced by Kelly writing as Lance Carson and a co-publisher with brother Hector Kelly?
In any event, Logan is so damn intelligent here, and so writerly, and so unpretentiously moral that he can’t but bring the whole Logan, Carson, and Wayne constellation to mind.
The story line is offbeat but simple—offbeat given the customary take on fencing in the open ranges.
Big rancher Bannerman, along with all the other ranchers in the area, is vehemently opposed to the range, with its longhorn cattle, being intruded upon by a Chicago company bent on putting up barbed-wire fences and introducing English-type cattle.
His foreman, young Chris Allard, though totally with them at first, is persuaded by smooth-talking Simon Calvin, an emissary from the company, that the old ways cannot produce the quantities of beef that America’s exploding population requires, and that a short-horned Hereford will carry the weight of beef of at least a couple of the old longhorns.
He allows himself to be signed as boss of the Eastern company’s new ranch in the alley. He does so for explicitly patriotic reasons, but infuriates all the other ranchers, including Bannerman, who considers him unarguably a traitor, as would have been, in many eyes, a Virginian officer who had chosen to fight for the Union. Bannerman’s daughter Ann is simply baffled by Chris’s conduct.
The rest of the novel shows us Chris’s determination to make the new ways work, in the face of the ranchers’ destruction of fences, their sabotaging of incoming supplies, and the likelihood of their attempting to prevent his new cattle from getting through to him. He also, after several lives are taken, wants to avoid the area’s erupting into an all-out shooting war.
The narrative reads like a miniaturized account of a Civil War campaign in which we can see more clearly than with actual campaigns what s required of a general. Chris, who has had no previous experience of command, is constantly having to guess at the possible actions of his opponents, study the terrain, keep his men from being needlessly killed,, and ensure that they understand what he is doing, and are willing to do what he asks of them. Oh, and there are cattle to cope with, both short-horned and long-, with desires and wills of their own.
I could keep quoting, but the following will give an idea of what I’m talking about.
At sundown a messenger from Evans rode in with the news that the herd was at Bullston range and the camp that night would be about eight miles in. So far there had been no interference and everything was okay. Allard had still not been able to think of anything effective which the ranchers might be able to do about the herd and which he ought to anticipate, but his mind kept coming back to the crossing of Gravelbed Creek. It was a sort of strategic point and he wondered if the ranchers might think of some last desperate means of baulking him there. Emerging from it on the higher level the cattle would be strung out in a long line only a few abreast. Did that offer any opportunity, he asked himself, for slaughtering them? Apart from that being a big job, the ranchers would know that it would involve another battle. Scattering them? The same things applied. Allard would have liked to know more about the casualties Moriarty’s resistance had caused. Had they been heavy enough to make it unlikely that the ranchers would risk another battle anywhere? But that would be tantamount to accepting defeat and Allard did not believe they would tamely accept an accomplished fact after so long a struggle at such cost. Short of another battle, and winning it this time, Allard could not see how it could be done, but he felt in his bones that they were going to stop those Herefords going inside the fences if it were humanly possible. He decided to ride across at sunup to meet Evans. If he was camping eight miles away in that night, it was likely that he would get to the creek crossing at just about sundown on the morrow. Again without knowing why, Allard felt that that would be wrong. (114–115)
When the ranchers burn his buildings, Chris decides that if he’s to prevent repetitions, he’d better do likewise to the three most important of the ranchers, the chief of whom is Bannerman—Ann’s father. In a serious piece of reasoning, he concludes that even if it devastates his hopes for Ann, he cannot spare Bannerman simply for his private convenience, given that, in the long run, what is at issue is the larger good of the country. It would, he explicitly figures, be dishonorable to do so.
And he quotes to a baffled, angry, and deeply hurt Ann those lines by the Cavalier poet Richard Lovelace that Jeff Daniels, as the future General Joshua Chamberlain who saved the day for the Union with his defence of Little Round Top, quotes to his wife in Gettysburg when he determines to enlist.: “I could not love thee, dear, so much/ Loved I not Honour more.”
So that it isn’t all one-way sailing, there are hints from time to time that Calvin may not be quite what he seems.
In Concluding, I suggest that:
In a time of largely gentlemanly British (fictional) heroes dealing with or in crime and employing relatively little in the way of violence. James Hadley Chase hardened and simplified the psyches involved. Kelly, as Glinto and later in the Westerns, kept things more open, took us into more complex attitudes and accomodations, and in the end came back to heroes, in the Westerns who were basically chivalric, but much more at home with respect to violence, and more sophisticated in their use of it and counters to it.
I would very much like to believe that Fence War Stampede is by Kelly. It certainly fits with the other Westerns and displays the sense of the physical, the knowledgeability about hand-to-hand combat (here a packed two-and-a-half-page fight between Chris and a massive Swede), and the interest in problem-solving that we see also in the Glintos and Tolers. Fence War Stampede, too, like the best of the other Westerns, is a story of love between equals. The closing pages are charming.
I don’t see how this and several of the other novels could have been written without some first-hand knowledge of the kinds of terrains, soundscapes, and weathers that we have in them. But if Kelly (judging from Deep South Slave) was down in the South at some point in the Thirties, there seems no reason why he couldn’t also have taken a swing through parts of the Southwest and West.
If ever biographical information can have a bearing on criticism, it does with Kelly.
Lance Carson, Gambler’s Epitaph (no date, but I would guess around 1950).
(a) He was more than four months getting as far as the Texas panhandle, and there it seemed that the picture in his mind was beginning to fade, and the feeling that he had been cherishing as something that had to find a fuller and more real expression if his life was going to mean anything, to peter out. Not that being in love—for that was what it amounted to—with a girl he might never see again, who might not have the slightest interest in him if he did, and who might in fact be already married, had put any soulful of melancholy stamp upon Dave… (p. 17)
(b) There was the roar of a gun then that seemed to fill the shack in a way that none of the other shots had done, and it seemed to fill Dave’s head as well. He felt a curious sensation along his side that was half, as it seemed, a burning and half a lifting as though a big half-round incision had been made and the cut away piece had been lifted and allowed to drop back again. What felt like the noise of the gun shot in his head made him feel dizzy, but he was still carrying on under the impetus of his rush forwards, and as the Montanan staggered away to one side in recoil from the gun butt jabbing right into his eye, Dave lurched outside of the hut. In that moment he was aware of the sound of another shot, and a sensation at his shoulder as though someone had prodded him with something hard and heavy. Then he was to one side from the doorway and in darkness. He controlled his lurching movement and started running.
He had a strange sense of effort as if he was running uphill. He was immediately breathless and within a few yards sweat was forming on his forehead. But a vagueness had come into his sense of what was happening now, and if he was thinking of where he was headed and what he aimed to do, he had no clear consciousness of it. Actually, he was hardly capable of more than a half-run. But even though he very soon became breathless to the point of sobbing, and sweat seemed to be pouring from the whole of his body, he did keep stumbling on.
(c) From time to time with quite unconscious movements of his legs, he did put the bay into a canter, and his luck held in so far as no one passed. Not that that was so very surprising. It was largely virgin country and the traffic between two such embryo towns as Bohawk and Gogart was very sporadic. There was still that near unconsciousness enveloping Dave most of the time. There were only momentary gleams of self-awareness. Yet all the time there was that underlying will to get into Gogart and find Eva’s [doctor] brother. And it was as if there was an intelligence attached to the will. It seemed content to leave him unworried, to let him lapse into unconsciousness while there was no more that he could do than sit in the saddle and let the horse carry him nearer and nearer to Gogart.
But when he came alert once more and realized it was dark, he reached a pitch of clarity of mind he had not done for many hours. He grasped that he must be approaching his destination. It might still be fifteen or twenty miles ahead, but he was able to tell himself that he must make every effort he could to hold on to his consciousness so that he ran no risk of passing through the town without realizing it. After that, though he lapsed again, it was not so long at a time, and he was constantly coming almost fully awake with something approaching a jolt. Once he found the horse just at the point of wandering off the trail. It had apparently decided that as this was night it was going to strike off and eat somewhere. He jerked the reins and brought it on to the trail once more. (pp. 100-101)
Here, now, are two more books that seem to me clearly not by Kelly.
Clinton Wayne, A Just Revenge (no date)
The paragraphs are short, often very short, padding out the book to 128 pages. There are no descriptions of landscapes and. almost no horses, though a hatless hombre firing downhill on the cover holds a horse by the bridle. The plot, involving former jailbirds and some buried treasure with various parties after it, is narrated so confusingly, with so many pop-ups from behind rocks and bushes, and shots, and put-yore-hands-in-the-airs that I couldn’t keep a hold on it while skimming.
There are unfamiliar and/or awkward turns of phrase— “a pair of sixers snugged to lean hips,” “range-waddies,”“”Something like the hand of a giant slammed into his shoulder, spewing him backwards in a blinding roar of yellow shot fire,” “The blended crash of shots reeled in the small clearing,” “a rundown, pinchbeck of a place,” “The man’s snarl came again, this time edged with a rankling spite. It was the edge of a man whose finger curls on the trigger.”—I could keep going, but enough’s enough. There’s no way this can be by Kelly, absent compensatory stretches of good writing anywhere.
Chuck Larsen, Gun Barrels Aflame, Moring (no date)
In the movie Wag the Dog, William H. Macy’s CIA agent says that one thing he knows for certain is that there’s no difference between good flan and bad flan. One thing that I know for certain is that Gun Barrels Aflame is not by Kelly.
This shortish narrative of how Steve Martin (the, uh, Whistling Ranger) arrives in Paradise, Texas, with his new bride Jean and mysterious killings ensue of which he is suspected doesn’t have a single fresh detail or turn of phrase in it anywhere, All is cliché
There are also virtual “Western” impossibilities, like:
—a Ranger’s word not being accepted by a sheriff who has no reason to believe that he’s gone crooked;
—Martin’s bullet hitting the muzzle of an opponent’s revolver (OK, unlikely);
—a word written on dead men’s foreheads in acid looking as though it had been hot-iron branded;
—Martin’s prissy wife saying, “I’ll make a gentleman of you yet if it’s the last thing I do. Ranger or no Ranger, you’re going to learn the way to behave. Now put those guns away and stop acting like a spoilt child”;
—Martin slapping the dude baddy’s face and then allowing the baddy time to knee and sock him.
There’s also diction that I don’t recall seeing in any Carson or Wayne, such as “batwings” (in Tinhorns of the Tilted ‘K’ the term is “swing doors”). “Honest Injun,” “face fungus” (beard), “salivated” (murdered).
The prosecution rests. I wonder what titles Steve Holland had in mind when he made the identification.
The following works (at least) stand to Bryn Logan’s name:
- 1949. Deputy of Squaw Rock.
- Definitely Kelly
- 1950. Sin Ross—Troubleshooter.
- 1950. Stage Line to Conchas,
- 1951. Gullytown Gets a Marshal
- A possible Kelly.
- 1952. Gunfighters Die Young.
- 1953. Medicine Man.
- Definitely not by Kelly.
- 1955. Longhorns and White Faces
- 1956. When the Long Trail Calls
- 1961. Fence War Stampede
- 1961. Get the Cattle Through.
- 1962. Hijackers on High Bench
- n.d. Last of the Cttle Kings
Not having seen the others, and with the odds against their all being Kellys, I’ve not included them in the BioBibliography.
I notice that the Westerns that I seem particularly to have liked come largely from 1948-1951.
A problem is that if one attributes to Kelly all the original works from those years that either are or feel as though they are by him, this would give us at least eight Kelly originals, including Glintos, in 1948, six in 1949, four in 1950, and three in 1951.
Moreover, one of those, Clinton Wayne’s Hell-Driver on Nowhere Trail, at almost two hundred pages, is so packed with incidents, characters, and knowledgeable-seeming details about the West as to pose somewhat the same problems as Deep South Slave. If this is Kelly, how did he come by the knowledge?
But then, if it wasn’t by him, who was it by? I’m put in mind of my favourite paranoid theory, found I forget where, that it wasn’t the Titanic that sank but its sister ship.
Unfortunately I simply don’t know who the other players in British Westerns were at that time, and what, apart from the un-Kelly passages here, the general level of the writing was.
- Sidebar 1. Some Orchids
- Sidebar 2. Chase and Glinto
- Sidebar 3. The Pre-trial Glintos
- Sidebar 4. Deep South Slavery
- Sidebar 5. Darcy Janson
- Sidebar 6. Rogues’ Gallery
- Sidebar 7. Kelly Brothers
- Sidebar 8. Scandal
- Sidebar 10. City Mid-Week
- Sidebar 11. Gangdom
- Sidebar 12. Jungle Books
- Sidebar 13. Bodily Harms
- Sidebar 14. Propaganda?