When a battered copy of Love Packs a Six-Gun by John Frederick slid across my field of vision, I didn’t wait a second to snatch it up. The author is one of many aliases used by Frederick Schiller Faust, better known under his most famous alias, Max Brand.
Interestingly enough (to me) I had never read (to my recollection) any works by Mr. Faust. And given the somewhat obscurity of this Canadian publication via the Crown Novel Publishing Company, now was my opportunity. Printed in 1946, and noted to be “complete and unexpurgated,” I dove right in.
The cover art depicts a blond gunslinger facing off against an unknown figure, his own hand resting casually by his own six-gun. Behind the blonde is a red-dressed lady. The lower portion of the cover is mangled, leaving me to guess whether an artist signed the book or not, but, I have seen one other copy, and no signature was in evidence on that copy, either. However, if I had to guess, I would choose my Canadian artist to be Harold Bennett, based on the style of the “fingers” on the foreground gunman.
The original publication of this story initially had me baffled. This novelette never appeared in the pulps under this title, under any of his aliases. Reading the story quickly cleared the air….
Love Packs a Six-Gun debuted in Western Story Magazine, 26 March 1923 as “The Abandoned Outlaw” under the John Frederick alias.
The story introduces readers to two young boys playing at a schoolyard. The first, Oliver Beam, is an intelligent jock-sized boy, the boy that nobody can beat. The second is Clancy Stewart, a year younger, and his family recently moved out West. His father assigns the young Clancy to pick out the school bully, essentially, and beat him up. Beam is bewildered that this young upstart should mess with him, especially since he is noticeably smaller in frame than himself. The duke it out and Beam is further dumbfounded to find the younger boy a fair match for his oversized brawn. Neither refuse to give up and only break when a young pretty girl, Sylvia West, runs over to stop them from killing each other. Both are bloodied and bruised beyond recognition.
Each boy goes home, and while at Beam’s home, a knock at the door reintroduces the battered Clancy, demanding Beam to continue the fight. Clancy’s father refuses to permit him to step indoors until the fight is settled, with Clancy as victor! So ends Chapter One.
The next chapter slings us into the future. The boys are grown, graduated, in one form or another, and Beam is in charge of his father’s estate, and the richest bachelor in the region. Clancy’s family has always been dirt-poor, inept farmers, and his family is dead and gone. The “estate” is deeply in debt, and creditors have all come upon his father’s recent death to call in their debt(s). Nearly penniless, Clancy laughs them away, but one returns to collect or kill, so being his reputation.
Clancy easily guns the man down, walks into his cabin, phones the sheriff, and confesses to the killing. However, with no witnesses, he’s leery of being arrested. The sheriff is certain of the man’s innocence, and fully aware of the dead man’s reputation.
However, a janitor in town despises Clancy, for he represents everything that he himself is not. A born coward, Clancy is brave in the face of any fear. So, overhearing the sheriff talking on the phone to Clancy, he devises a plan to race afoot out of town, run into the oncoming Clancy, and lying to him, inform that the sheriff intends to arrest Clancy for the murder and use him as a springboard toward the upcoming re-elections.
Convinced, Clancy turns and rides away. Meeting Sylvia West at her father’s ranch, she has yet to hear of the murder, but Clancy informs her and she finally extracts from him that he loves her. Taking a chance, she kisses him, and realizes now, fully, that she is in fact in love with Clancy and not Oliver Beam. That fact had always been left undecided. She cares not for Beam’s money or good-standing. She’s ready to throw her life away and marry an outlaw.
Departing town and region, Clancy flees to parts unknown, works an ore mine, strikes it relatively rich enough to be financially solvent, returns, and presenting his hard work to Sylvia, she finds him inside and out a new man. Clancy again leaves….
Oliver Beam is certain that the outlaw is in the region. In fact, he is certain. Sylvia West is, while always friendly toward him, affectionately cold and distant. On this basis, he spends time at her father’s ranch and one night spots her on horseback riding into the wilderness. Whilst on foot, he chases her, knowing he can keep up because she has to ride slowly at night.
Stealthily he follows and she eventually reaches a remote cabin and finds the two lovers. Listening in, he finally enters the cabin and…well, let’s just say it ends in a shootout. Clancy wins, despite Beam’s astoundingly fast draw. Shot down, but not dead, the mortally wounded Beam is taken in and Sylvia dresses his wound and sends Clancy out for help. He returns with a clergyman, and instructs the man to convince her to marry Beam! She has no certain future with himself, and Clancy knows it, having been convinced by Beam. Bewildered by his assignment, the man rides down and attempts to convince the girl to marry Beam…
Clancy rides away, only to find a notice hammered on a cabin stating that Clancy is a free man, all charges dropped! Turns out that the janitor, on his death-bed, confessed his sin to the sheriff.
Overjoyed, Clancy rides back quick as hell to save Sylvia from marrying Beam. He eventually comes upon the clergyman, whom explains that Sylvia fought him tooth and nail, but in the end, he prevailed, and the two are married.
Clancy, dejected, rides away, only to reflect in astonishment that he wasn’t beat by the law, by Beam’s quick draw, but by a janitor, the town outcast.
The story has subsequently been collected in 1997 and 1998, first by publisher Thomas T. Beeler (Circle V Western, large print edition) and next year via Dorchester / Leisure Books mass market paperback edition. The tale also exists narrated on audio cassette.