2015 October 10 “Sontag of Sundown” by W. C. Tuttle

It is with great pleasure that I bring forth the third title in the Garden City series of adventure stories. Pleasure, because, unlike the first two novelettes, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, from start to finish. Tuttle knows his shit and doesn’t play with conventional plot demands. And nor shall I, in the telling of the story….

03 Sontag Of Sundown

Today’s read comes straight from the 10 July 1922 pages of Short Stories magazine, and the cover art, by Edgar Franklin Wittmack, originally hails from the 25 Oct 1922 edition.

We are never given to understand just why Sontag bears the nickname of “Sad,” the one calamity of this great story. He rides with Harrigan, a great bear of a Swede. Somehow-or-other, Sontag learns that his uncle, a man whom he has never met, died and apparently left the TJ Ranch to his top man. Sontag feels cheated, seeing as he was the only living relative. That aside, the uncle could hardly have known that he himself had any living relations, since none went so far as to associate with him.

But, when Sontag and Harrigan decide to take a gander at the ranch that he lost out on, they stumble against someone murdering a cow and slashing the TJ brand from the hide. Come to think on it, this matter is not really expounded upon later in the story, either, but is a point of contention. They bring the man into town to a sheriff, whom while innocent of any wrong-doing, has apparently been sitting on his laurels so long as to not know when he ought to know best how to DO his job. Sontag and Harrigan harass the sheriff throughout the tale and he eventually pulls through to doing his job proper.

Events come about that Sontag feels something is fishy surrounding his uncle’s death to small-pox, the untimely demise of the town doctor AFTER visiting his uncle, and the murder of the town’s only Chinaman, known as Hong Kee. Now, here is where the story is most interesting. Most stories of the time brush of a “chinks” murder as filler space in as much as one does smile at the lynching of a “Nigger,” but, much to my extreme pleasure, I found myself reading none of this within this 1920s tale. No, Mr. Tuttle actually appears to write from the heart against such tragedies, with the foregoing paragraphs, after a townsman’s bluff retort:

“All this fuss over killin’ a Chink…Sundown’s better of without him.”

Sontag retorts: “It ain’t a case of color nor nationality…It’s a case of right and wrong. A human life is a human life, whether the skin is black or white, and it’s just as much of a murder to kill a Chinaman as it is a white man.”

Incidentally, I hear the echoes of this same statement even today, in the bland proclamations in print, on television, on the radio, everywhere the word can be spread, that “Black Lives Matter.” Is is possible that Tuttle was championing the rights to live for all humans of any color, back in the 1920s, in such an open and bold manner as in a fiction publication? Maybe not. But the mere fact that he set in print that black, yellow, and white are equal in his [or, Sontag’s] eyes, is remarkable.

Will W. C. Tuttle hold true to this expression of his own personal views? One hardly can say, however, I aim to find out soon enough, for the fourth title in this series is also a W. C. Tuttle title, sporting the title “Spawn of the Desert.”

It is worth noting that Sontag reappears at least 30 more times. I would love to be able to read all his other assorted tales, and see how he grows over the ensuing 25 years since his first incarnation in 1922. He also comes to sport a first name: Henry. Just when this occurs is unknown to me. I’m a poor pulpster and may never  have the opportunity to read these other tales, but, maybe, just maybe, I’ll get in one more….

2015 October 10 “Sontag of Sundown” by W. C. Tuttle

2015 October 9 “Loaded Dice” by Edwin L. Sabin

Tackling the second title in the Garden City Publications dime novel (sic) series.

These were actually NOT dime novels. But, they were printed in much the same format, and do not belong to any other publication type. So, yes, for the time being, I refer to them as dime novels, as do many used book sellers.

02 Loaded Dice

This novelette originally appeared in Short Stories, April 1920,  issue, sporting cover illustrated by Edgar Franklin Wittmack. I do not know which issue originally featured the cover art, since it is not represented on the FictionMags Index site. The artwork is signed and dated 1921.

The story takes place circa 1802….

Ellis Bean is a youth barely into manhood, a wiry fellow whom travels down and lands in Louisiana. He wishes to see the world, and the world is ruthlessly imposed upon him in a roughian’s bar when a brute attempts to force a gorgeous Spanish lass to drink with him. Bean challenges him, but dropping to the ground and crab-like fighting the brute. He wins with his legs, kicking the brute in all manner of places. ‘Nuff said.

He is later rewarded by the lady with a doubloon, which he earnestly turns down but she forces him to keep, not as payment, but the only way she has to thank him.

Bean is approached by one Captain Nolan, whom is assembling a quasi-secret skilled force to invade and attempt to wrest Texas from Spain. Bean is recruited and spills the beans (pun intended) to the Spanish lady, and, a man she claims to be her uncle. She claims that they are interested in the rebellion, etc.

Nolan later discovers that Bean can’t be trusted to keep his trap shut, but, none-the-less, keeps him on, and the entire entourage head West to Texas. Nolan informs Bean that the girl is a spy, informing on Nolan’s actions, and that they may be thwarted, but will continue to try, in the name of Freedom, and all that jazz.

They are intercepted by a Spanish patrol, but present passport papers, though quite dated and well-expired, but the patrol permits them to pass and they set up a base-camp deep in Texas. Here, they meet with local Indians and Bean is gobsmacked to spot the Spanish girl here, in a loose yellow outfit, in the Indian camp, as a prisoner. They chit-chat; he is mad with her regarding the spying and being made a fool of, but agrees to try and save her white skin from the red devils (sigh). He bargains a dozen horses in trade for her, and the chieftain agrees to sell a girl in the yellow dress.

They make the trade in horses and Bean is presented with a girl in a yellow dress. An Indian girl!!! Bean is incensed by the treachery and abandons his own camp to try and again rescue the Spanish girl. This he does, but before escaping, Captain Nolan creeps up on him. Nolan was savvy to his plan and informs that Bean should be killed for what he has done, but backs his play. He has brought along, magically, some clothes for her to switch into, and insists she chops her hair off to that of a youth. Donning the clothes, she now resembles a young boy.

They return to camp, with the unbelievable story that they found this wayward boy out in the wild, blah blah blah. Bunch of bullshit, and one night, Bean foolishly talks to her openly and another of the team confirms his own hunch that the boy is indeed a girl. He wants to have sex with her, naturally, but Bean threatens to kill him, stating that he is dreaming, there is no girl, etc.

She vanishes from camp and they are assaulted by a Spanish patrol, bombarded by canon-fire. Nolan’s wick is snuffed in the initial assault, and disorganized, the group begins to fall apart. Bean assumes command of the motley crew, and they eventually surrender.

While under arrest, Bean and company spot the girl among the Spaniards, and Bean laments openly to the Spaniard in charge that she is a spy and gave them away. He is nonplussed, thinking the girl a boy, and finally she confesses, shocking the Spaniard further, especially when she notes she is the daughter of a man of note. She is given escort to Chihuahua, her home.

The men are imprisoned, their fates unknown. The year is 1803 (at some point) and they eventually end up imprisoned in Chihuahua. The girl, with the aid of an old crone and a peon, attempt numerous times to save and free Bean. But, he refuses to abandon his men. Eventually, the King of Spain sends orders to have one-fifth of the ten imprisoned men to be hung, this to be determined by the roll of dice. Lowest roll loses.

Well, before this occurs, one of the detainees dies. They are now baffled as to how to handle the King’s 1/5th order with only 9 souls to choose from. The number simply doesn’t divide. They finally agree to allow the 10th dead soul to be one of the 5th chosen.

Overnight, while in his cell, someone tosses a pair of dice up and into Bean’s cell, with the note that they only roll high. Baffled, he pockets them, and as you gather, he is to use them at the rolling competition. However, he keeps the pocketed, and refuses to cheat his mates. He rolls with real ones and barely scrapes by.

He is visited afterward by the peon and shown that the highly mounted prison bars are weak, having been recently installed and not firmly set yet. Bean at 11pm squeezes through, though it is tough, and nearly falls out the other side. They meet with the girl, and ride to meet with a freedom fighter group the edges of town, but are trapped by the police instead. Fighting fiercely and blindly upon horseback, the peon and Bean escape, leaving the girl in the clutches and to her own fate.

Well and far away, Bean insists repeatedly on returning to save the girl, and the peon argues the case. Eventually, Bean confesses he loves the girl and for all their joint faults, he acquiesces that he was wrong about her. The peon throws back his cloak and it is revealed that we are actually dealing with the girl. They repent one another’s stupidities, and kiss tenderly.

The peon then thunders up, shockingly having managed to escape, and the three are met by the insurgentes. The story ends, and we are led to believe that he lives out the remainder of his life betrothed (in sin, for he is a heretic and she is a true Christian) to the girl and they work with the locals to fight oppression, etc.

The above plot sounds okay, sure enough, but, reading the damn novelette was painfully droll. Edwin insists on writing in what he and others may only assume to be each regions way of old-speak. The story indeed feels like a wretched dime novel, and if you told me it had been actually written decades earlier than 1920, I should readily agree. If you can stomach the period writing style and the attempts and how old-school Americans, Frenchman, and Spaniards all may have spoken, then this is the stuff for you.

Another thing to note is, again, the story takes place in 1802-1803. Look again at the cover art. We have a cowboy. The cover doesn’t even begin to appropriately reflect the contents within. This cover was better-suited for the prior read title, “Don Quickshot of the Rio Grande.”

2015 October 9 “Loaded Dice” by Edwin L. Sabin

2015 October 7 “Don Quickshot of the Rio Grande” by Stephen Chalmers

In a switch from prolifically reading British wartime (that would be the Second World War) and American science fiction tales, I will be reading henceforward a series of books ostensibly nearly printed in the format of dime novels, issued by Garden City Publications, during the 1920s.

It is unclear how or when the first true issues were released, but one thing is known for certain, the series initially began with 12 issues. The earliest ads (the oldest being in February 1923) clearly advertised 12 titles.

1923 03-17 adTrue FIRST EDITIONS are marked as thus on the copyright page. Furthermore, they also sport plain white spines and blank rear covers, free from advertising.

What I believe, after years of exhaustive research, to be the Second Editions, would be the Sears, Roebuck & Co. editions. These feature white spines again, but, support ads on the reverse for owners to buy other titles in the series (see image below). Furthermore, unlike the above ad, this ad showcases 16 titles.

ad Sears Roebuck

Oddly enough, the Sears, Roebuck & Co. advert notes that the first dozen titles are broken into two series, representing 8 each. Garden City would come to eventually run off 8 more in the original adventure stories series to bring the total to 24.

A third edition exists with blank spine and ads on the rear cover and with FIRST EDITION firmly stamped on the copyright page. Quite irksome….

A fourth edition also features a blank spine, with various miscellaneous adverts per title on the rear, but no FIRST EDITION designation. These are fun to collect for the rear cover ads, honestly. They each advertise for Garden City Publications, but one ad is uniquely adapted strictly for the series (see below). Most (not all) of the first 24 titles in the run all borrowed their origins from Short Stories magazine.

ad 12 Short Stories

After this, the series morphed into the Famous Authors Series (numbers 25 through 36), then veered off into the Mystery and Detection Series (37 through 48). Numbers 49 and 50 are non-fiction, self-help titles. Numbers 51 though 60 returned to the publishers roots with The Western Series. Numbers 61 and 62 are denoted as Boy’s Adventure Series, and 63 returned, bafflingly, to a non-fiction edition.

Hereafter the number can become mind-boggling. The run ostensibly becomes known as The New Western Series, and totals 24 in all, though it appears the series was cancelled precisely at the 16th title, despite announcing on the rear of these later editions forthcoming titles and dates! Theoretically, these last 16 published editions ought to represent numbers 64 through 79, however, the 75th title is the last (that I have found) to sport that sequential numbering upon the spine. What should be numbers 76, 77, 78, and 79 actually sport spine numbers 13, 14, 15, and 16, a clear indication that Garden City had decided to treat the run, entirely, as a NEW SERIES separate from the original 63 titles.

Overall, the whole series has never had an official designation, though an interview with one of the original staffers at Garden City Publications (the infamous Robert de Graff, later of Pocket Books fame) comically referred to the items as the Omelet Library series. Sadly, several researchers have taken this to heart and continue to refer to the “dime novels” as this, even though this is far from accurate. It was de Graff’s first venture into trying to offer the American reading public a soft cover of quality at a reasonable price. History shows that he eventually would come to succeed….

Switching gears, slightly, de Graff and staff editors further confused the publications. Rather than resort to utilizing the covers featured on the original pulp magazines in which the stories were featured, they recycled alternative covers that they felt were more appropriately connected to the tales themselves, since the covers on the pulps did not necessarily pertain to the novelette itself.

So, without further ado, let us proceed to the first book in the series which I am covering….

“Don Quickshot of the Rio Grande,” by Stephen Chalmers, was originally printed in Short Stories (25 October 1921). However, the book’s cover originated with Short Stories (25 August 1922) edition. The story itself was translated into a motion picture (4 June 1923) in America, and later, overseas in English and foreign-speaking countries.

01 Don Quickshot of the Rio Grande                                     short_stories_19220825
NOTE: copy above has writing on the cover below the author name, from the original owner.

The story opens with our hero, William John Pepper, a bored cowpuncher on a ranch, mentally lamenting that he, not his bunk-mates, is the freak, the outcast, working the ranch. He dresses and behaves exactly like a throwback western character, down to the dress code, the guns, the mannerisms, etc. His mates are literate, pursue music endeavors, and are most notably modernly dressed. Regretting that he was born decades too late, he yearns for that earlier era into which he was born. While digressing upon his lamentations, the literary member of the group discusses with him Don Quixote.

Impulsive and fickle by nature, with a queer sense of humor, Pepper is enthralled with the ideals of the character. He immediately takes to calling himself Don Quickshot and resigns his post at the ranch to pursue livelier pursuits.

His first job entails a railroad hold-up, in which he brings the local to a stop, and instructs the workers to issue refunds to those aboard, detailing that the rail industry is a hoax and ought to be freely giving rides, that they are clearly overcharging. This leads to much mirth, especially when he breaks out into comedic sing-song banter. He facetiously flaunts his new chosen name, and his middle name is “Lookin’-f’r-Trouble.” (NOTE: Pepper returns in the 10 March 1925 issue of Short Stories magazine with his nickname being the story’s title; this is also #69 in the soft cover series as “Don Quickshot Looking for Trouble”).

The story is briefly marred by Chalmers referencing the black railway staff as “colored staff” and as “Niggers,” though he does not do so in a racial manner.

While aboard, a young lady, Miss Tulip Hellier, can’t resist laughing at the man’s antics. While most are afraid for their lives, Tulip, returning from her Eastern formal education, finds Pepper to be amusing. Their eyes meet and while winking playfully at her, he unwittingly reveals his identity. The wink causes his red handkerchief to fall off his face for a brief second. Despite this, she does not reveal the knowledge to the sheriff, whom is dang-blasted elated to welcome her back home to Los Indios.

The sheriff drafts a wanted poster, and in breezes Ranger Bolton, on the trail of some other unmentioned desperado. Reading the poster, Bolton takes on the task of bringing the hold-up man to justice. He rides out to where the hold-up occurred and finds one set of horse tracks leading north. The horse is clearly lame, and he follows the tracks to Tres Hermanas ranch, where her father is holding a dance party in honor of his returning daughter, Tulip.

Pepper, erstwhile known to us as the playful Don Quickshot, crashes the party, politely, and asks for Tulip’s hand in the dance. They do the twirl and she teasingly states “You must be looking for trouble,” indicating she knows his true identity. He snatches a playful kiss but defends his motion by stating he is impulsive by nature, that it was harmless.

In walks the Ranger, and he confronts the father, asking if there are any strangers present (which seems absurd, since clearly the hold-up man need not be a stranger, but an employee). Annoyed that the Ranger is there on business while he is holding his daughter’s party, Mr. Hellier is gruff and unhelpful. Unfortunately for Pepper, song breaks out and he takes to boisterously singing the same as that which he sang on the train! Ranger Bolton notices and taps Pepper on the shoulder, and Pepper denies him the right to “cut in,” tells him to beg off and find another gal. Pepper then catches on that the law has caught up to him, trips Bolton, bolts for an exit, only to find that barred access by the local sheriff. The girl snatches a whisper to him to jump to the rafters and out the ceiling, onto the roof.

While performing aerial acrobatics up to the sky, Bolton recovers from his fall and escapes without and waits Pepper’s arrival at his lame horse. Pepper, upon the roof, takes in the situation, dives off the other side and ends up accidentally stealing Bolton’s ultra-fast black steed!

Bolton is denied access to the rancher’s horses, and ends up pursuing using Pepper’s lame horse, all the way back to Los Indios. Here, he gambles away some of his money and discovers the wheel is fixed by the man running it, Lazaire. Plying the wheel with his waning earnings is Hale, a drunkard with a wife (Jenny, an old childhood friend of Tulip’s) and four children, waiting for him back home. Seeing a bad situation, Pepper draws Lazaire into drawing his gun and shoots him dead, but not before telling him to return the misbegotten funds to Hale. He instructs Hale to head home, never spend his money the like again, and reform himself, which, remarkably, Hale takes to heart and does just that!

Before escaping, Pepper is arrested on the spot by Bolton, whom arrived and heard the gunshot. Locked away in Los Idios’ pathetic excuse for a jail cell (a converted clothes’ closet), Bolton listens to Pepper’s life story as Don Quickshot and his rationale behind everything. The next day Bolton manacles the man, stops a federal express loaded to bear with firearms and ammunition, and boards the last rail car with his man, to be brought to trial.

Unbeknownst to all (save the savvy readers) we are further introduced to the Mexican desperado Chico Villegas. He has arranged to heist the train within the Grand Canyon, just across the border. He and his men succeed and the train derails, rolls, and most on-board die or are shot dead by Chico’s men.

Pepper comes to, and finds Bolton either dead or unconscious. Neither way matters to him at the moment. He is unclear what happened, save that the train flipped, he’s alive, and must escape. Finding the keys inside Bolton’s pocket, and unlocks the manacles and makes to blow, when Bolton finally groggily comes to. Unable to leave the man to die in the raging inferno, he assists Bolton out of the train, steals a horse from Chico’s men, borrows one of Bolton’s revolvers, and takes off, but only after ascertaining that Bolton is safe and will survive.

While crossing the border, the train explodes and the local brush erupts into a wildfire and burns north toward the nearest ranch. Hale and Jenny’s! Realizing they’ll die, he declines freedom and races his horse to their rescue. Alerting Hale of impending doom, together they hoe and hack away all the brush nearby while Jenny hits and sparks with her brush into submission. This goes on all day long, and they find themselves in a bitter battle against a raging fire. Likely to lose, they are astounded to see a figure appear out of the flames. It’s Bolton!

Pepper curses himself, for he left Bolton’s revolver at the ranch. Unarmed, he finds himself shocked to learn that Bolton is more interested in saving the ranchers, too. Pepper insists the best way to save them is for Bolton to ride like the wind to Hellier’s ranch, and get help. He promises Bolton that he won’t flee. Bolton believes him, and does just that.

Halfway there, a rainstorm miraculously kicks up and saves the day. Desperately in need of rest, rather than return and arrest Pepper, Bolton continues on to Hellier’s. He returns the next day with Hellier, Tulip, and others. They beg him not to arrest Pepper, and he agrees to give Pepper a 30-minute head start. Tulip surrenders her pinto, which is nicknamed “Pep.” Turns out “Pep” is a real pip, for sure can sure churn up the dirt under her hooves!

Pepper barely beats out Bolton to the border and crosses safely. Unfortunately, the plot becomes further twisted when he comes across the Mexican bandit again, and overhears a plot to raid the town with their weapons, and worst yet, kidnap Tulip, for a hefty ransom.

Pepper returns to Los Indios, alerts the town, and flees toward the Hellier ranch to save girl. He fails. The bandit, Chico, has already been there, and even now, is fleeing toward Mexico. However, he is burdened by his horse carrying two. Pepper eventually overtakes Chico and draws him into a gun-battle that leaves Chico blinded in an eye when sand spurts in from one of Pepper’s shots. Tulip alerts him to this fact, and permits Chico to escape, since he respects the hombre’s motives, on some level.

Faced with the unerring reality of impending doom, Pepper saddles up and returns to the ranch with Tulip. Bolton is waiting for him. While all try to argue with Bolton, begging for him to not arrest Pepper, Bolton explains that he represents the law, and must perform his duties, but, however, explains that Pepper will be tried by a jury of his peers, and might either get off or do light time in a penitentiary.

The book ends with him being taken away and a last parting kiss with Tulip, asserting that unless they put him away for the next 67-years, she can rest assured that he will be back!

2015 October 7 “Don Quickshot of the Rio Grande” by Stephen Chalmers

2015 October 1 “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe

Here’s a snippet of an entry to hold you over until I return to reading vintage material…..

VALLANCEY PRESS The Masque Of The Red Death

This is a short collection of tales by American weird writer Edgar Allan Poe.
It is a 16-page stapled booklet issued during wartime rations by the Vallancey Press (1944), with excellent artwork by Jeffrey depicting “Death” from the lead story. Also enclosed, the classic “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and, “The Oval Portrait.”

I had never read the titled tale prior, so it was truly a pleasure to plow through the tantalizingly depressing tale. No weird writer has ever held me more “consistently” than Poe.

2015 October 1 “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe