And onto the fourth book, Tuttle’s “Spawn of the Desert.” I did not find this book as pleasing to read as the prior title by Tuttle, however, like the former, his expression and realistic dealings with the humanistic viewpoint continues to enthrall me.
The novelette originates within the 10 May 1922 pages of Short Stories magazine while the cover art (by Nick Eggenhofer) is represented hails from the 25 June 1922 edition. It was also released as a motion film on 10 January 1923.
Enter two desert riders; “Le Saint” and “Duke Steele.” The names are truly quite absurd but I think Tuttle was honestly being playful. Neither character is portrayed as a good person. Both are man killers. How and why they have killed is irrelevant to the story as a whole, but, they have blood on their hands and neither are what they seem.
Duke joined up with Le Saint years ago but knows nothing about his pardner, save for his outward appearance(s). He is described as thus:
“…a mighty, weatherbeaten man, with a long, white beard…Surely he could not be a sinner, with the eyes of a dreamer, the nose of a prophet and the beard of a saint…”
Duke Steele is younger, given to be about 30 years of age and “…a face seemingly hewed from stone, although handsome…hair was black and he wore it low between his cheek and ear…”
They arrive in the midst of a funeral for the recently deceased Preacher Bill, whom was neither good nor bad, but had the habit of gambling. He was shot dead. Those in attendance spot the arrival of our pair, and mistake the elder man for a preacher. He does not deny the profession, and after some consideration, accepts their invitation to issue forth the final rites over Bill. Naturally, he thinks Bill a good soul but is interrupted and given the truth so he alters his recital to suit the purposes.
Le Saint and Duke are invited to stay at Calico, since they are now in need of a new preacher. They ask for a play to call home for the moment and take over Bill’s former abode, and quickly find the town run by one Silver Sleed, whom owns and runs much of the rocky, isolated desert town. With him are the traditional gunning henchman and a decent lass, his daughter, nickname “Luck.”
Turns out she, Luck, was being taught to read, etc, by the late Bill. She now shyly approaches Le Saint and asks if he will continue her studies, and remarkably, he agrees! Duke is likewise surprised, given their calling: gambler and killer.
Cutting out a lot of meat, Le Saint sets up a gambling table outside the saloon, and boldly proclaims that his game can’t be beat. Naturally, all the fools place their bets one at a time (his rules) and none ever win. They can’t. The pea is not under either walnut shell, of course.
Finally, Sleed tires of this and naturally, he knows the pea is not present. While he sends his goons out to deal with Sleed and uncover the other shell, call him a cheat, and gun him down, Sleed is in dire straights himself, playing cards against Duke, whom is cleaning him out. By the time they are finished, Sleed writes Duke a $46,000 I.O.U., at Duke’s insistence, rather than collecting on any of it.
He goes outside to find Le Saint being confronted. The henchman calls the bluff and wrenches up the other shell, and a gunfight ensues. Luck watches in horror as Le Saint is shot and Duke jumps out and shoots down the first, and direly wounds the rest. They run for their lives, or rather, Duke has to drag Le Saint, whom seems out of sorts.
Turns out, Le Saint is mentally unhinged, his mind thrown back a couple decades in time. We now are introduced to another man altogether, a Herculean beast, married with a baby, working the trappings of the Frozen wastelands with a partner, whom his wife insists is no good. He guffaws but one day returns early to find the truth. His partner is kidnapping wife and baby. He tosses them into a canoe and makes his escape.
Meanwhile, while his past comes gurgling forth from his incoherent lips, Luck finds them first and informs them the people of Calico are coming to hang them. She assists in getting them hidden in her father’s (Sleed’s) home, but this backfires, as the town figures it out. They then flee to the silver mines that dot the rocky terrain, but are thus chased.
Duke then notes that Le Saint has vanished! He refuses to escape without his pardner, and with Luck, return to the crowd chasing them, only to find that Le Saint is calling out Luck’s father, naming him Sleed Martin, the man whom killed his wife and (likely) child (though it is clear now to Duke at this point that Luck his Le Saint’s daughter).
The two clash, and everyone is awestruck that Le Saint is stronger than the other. He clubs him down, then carries him up to a high precipice, only to duke it out again. Eventually, he lifts Sleed and hurls him off the cliff, then whirling about, loses his own step and his body chases Sleed’s down to his own death.
Duke mounts up and departs Calico. Luck inherits all, becomes rich, can earn her own education if she wishes. And Duke? He does not inform Luck whom her real father is. He leaves, shreds the $46,000 I.O.U., and wonders, while riding away, if he is nuts…