Just like the last John Frederick western I blogged about two years ago (Love Packs a Six-Gun) the title herewith was never a pulp story. The cover art depicts gamblers playing cards while a gunslinger walks up, gun drawn. There is no such scene anywhere in this story. Odds are, the cover (and title) was meant for some other western. Reading the first several pages clears up the mystery. How? Well, I had once-upon-a-time owned the original pulp it appeared in. Sadly, I auctioned it off in 2013 (the pulp depicted here was my sold copy).
Death on the Slow Draw was published by the Crown Novel Publishing Company (Canada, 1946). The artwork on the digest-paperback is unsigned. The tale originally debuted in Western Story Magazine, 21 June 1924 as “The Girl They Left Behind Them”.
Appearing via Frederick Schiller Faust’s alias John Frederick, the author achieved his greatest fame under the pseudonym of Max Brand.
The story involves a blonde giant called Jack Innis. He has traveled the lands and seas and built his bodily frame to steel and trained his hands to all manner of combat and can handle all weapons: from six-guns to rifles to knives. He is a proficient killing machine.
Innis makes his way to the town of Oakwood and falls in love, at first sight, with the beautiful face of Stella Cornish, daughter of the local sheriff. Stella feels no love for Innis; he is repulsive. The sheriff finds the brute appealing, for here at last is a real man. He tries though to explain (at various points) to Innis that he is wasting his time on his daughter…
Innis beats up her would-be dancing partner. Anyone gets in his way learns the error quickly, and painfully. It’s not long before Stella tires of his presence, and her inability to gaily attend dances and flirt with other young men. She learns of a man of famed fighting repute, and writes to his last known residence. That worthy Innis adversary arrives in the beastly and ugly form of Miles Ogden. Stella pours her heart out to Miles, and promises to marry him if he removes Innis, permanently.
Innis is lazily swimming in a creek when a voice-ashore hails him. He takes in the massive monster and realizes that here may well be his match. After a brief battle of vocal wits, they toss knives into a tree. Then swap bullets at a target. A perfect match, each time. Perfect shots, and quick draws, each. Finally they decide to settle things with fists. The battle royal ensues and sadly ends with Miles Ogden losing consciousness when his head strikes a rock. Innis retrieves his hat and douses the man. Convinced he was struck down and defeated by Innis, that latter worthy can’t honorably accept the win, and confesses that a rock did Ogden in. Ogden now is bolstered to his former self.
Innis demands an explanation for the assault, and Ogden explains he is in love with a girl, and that she has a suitor that won’t go away. The light dawns and Innis explains the only thing the girl loves is herself. To prove it, he surrenders one of his prized six-guns and instructs Ogden to show the gun to Stella and explain he has defeated Innis and has given him the boot.
Introducing himself to the sheriff, the latter is amused by the entrance of another man to woo his daughter and tries to warn him otherwise. Receiving permission to go inside, Ogden delivers his tale to Stella; he witnesses the pure evil delight in her eyes and finds that she wants to keep the six-gun as a souvenir. What’s more, she wiggles out of her promise to marry him and states they should get to know one another first. Realizing Innis was correct, he confesses the man is still in the picture, snatches the gun, and stalks out…and into town and into Innis’ room. From then on, the pair are roommates and both continue to court the girl until one man shall win her.
Skipping a lot of relevant padding, a hunter comes to Oakwood and proclaims that he has spotted an elusive silver fox. Stella is unclear as to the excitement, so her father explains its rarity and value. Into her eyes creeps a clever plan, a means to rid herself of both suitors. Offering herself as final prize to the first man who brings in the rare silver fox, the pair make off into the frozen wilderness.
Ogden is better suited to trap and secure the wolf, having a background in hunting. Innis lacks any hunting experience, but is game, nevertheless.
While inspecting his own traps, Innis tires halfway through and returns to his makeshift tent to find someone fleeing the scene. Inspecting the tent, he finds his ammunition and food stores missing. Angered by the deceit, he pursues the fleeing bastard, dead certain that he is on the trail of Ogden, for who else but Ogden would…?
Fueled by anger, he easily overtakes the fleeing man and discovers his quarry is an older, bearded man. Threatening death but granting life for a full, honest confession, the man proclaims he is in the hire of Miles Ogden. The food was stored away not far from Innis’ camp, and is restored. Likewise the munitions, which is in a pack on the old man’s back. The old man informs Innis where Ogden’s camp is, and Innis packs up, and heads out to deal death to Ogden.
Rifle readied and both six-guns loaded, he rapidly makes his way towards Ogden’s camp but foolishly loses his footing and slides down a hill, destroying a leg in the process and knocking himself unconscious. Coming to rapidly, he is mortified by his split open leg and immediately tourniquets it, tightly, which only pains him more. Dragging himself under the side of a fallen tree for shelter, Innis fires off an S.O.S. salvo from his guns until he is left with one last round in the chamber. Saving that to end his own life rather than freeze to death, he drowses off until he becomes aware of an evil creature staring at him. The fright fully awakens him to realize that the silver fox is there and just as it turns to flee, Innis wastes his final bullet killing the fox.
A pair of voices in the near distance proclaim that they heard a shot fired and stumble across the dead silver fox they were chasing. Turns out, of course, that the pair is Miles Ogden, and the other is the thieving old bearded man! Elated at the score, the old man dives upon the fox and begins cutting it up…but Ogden only has eyes for Innis. Discovering he slew the fox, Ogden confesses his deceit, admitting his fear that Innis, despite his clear hunting inexperience, might luck into fox, and sent his helper to trick Innis.
Spotting that Innis is bodily injured, he drags the man out from under the tree, has his helper start a fire, and sets to mend Innis’ deadly wound. He also proclaims that he will see to it that Innis not only survives, but will make sure he gets Innis and the silver fox to Stella. Ogden realizes that his honor and the man’s friendship means more to him than Stella Cornish’s false love.
Months transpire, and eventually the pair make their way out of the frozen wilderness. Innis is limping, and Ogden is on his bad side, supporting him. The people of Oakwood seem shocked, maybe even appalled, to see both of the two brutes making their way back into their lives. Knocking at the Cornish home, the door opens and they are met by the sheriff. He’s happy to see them, and explains that Stella sent them on a wild goose chase, that the silver fox does not exist…but he is shocked to witness Innis slowly extract from his pack the silvery-black pelt of the fox!
All for nothing, for the sheriff explains that Stella merely wanted them out of the way and…is married! She married a man that he describes as one that Innis can not kill, for he is not a man at all worthy of physical battering. But the sheriff states that the final laugh falls upon his daughter, who will learn that married life is work, for she hasn’t exerted a day of labor in her entire life!
The scene switches to find both men on horseback out around the Rio Grande, and Innis suddenly takes to whistling gaily. Ogden is shocked by Innis’ suddenly merry tune, and the latter explains that Stella’s father sure knew her way better than they did…but he also had a longer head-start! Sheriff Cornish had tried to warn the two men.
An amusing story from start to finish, leaving me wanting to read more works by Mr. Faust. For any interested in this story, it was reprinted in the collection Red Rock’s Secret (Five Star, 2006, 1st hardcover … Leisure Books, 2008, 1st paperback … an audiobook also exists) and contains 2 other novellas. The blurb online is partially accurate. It states: The Girl They Left Behind Them is an extraordinary story about big Jack Innis, who finds himself attracted to Stella Cornish, daughter of the local sheriff. The problem for Jack is that Miles Ogden claims Stella as his girlfriend and has terrified or intimidated every other man who has ever dared show any interest in her. Um…Miles did not come before Innis, so whoever constructed the blurb is in error.
Either way, the reprints are readily available, cheap, via eBay, ABEbooks, or any other used book site, etc. The original pulp is scarce and the Canadian digest-paperback version that I utilized is extremely rare.
As a side note, I was surprised to learn that Faust and his assorted aliases have largely fallen into obscurity. As a user of Instagram (via PULPCOLLECTOR), the hashtag #MaxBrand largely is used for a line of clothing / apparel and accessories. As for #FrederickFaust … the few that appear come from my own posts! Has this legendary, prolific, and highly competent western writer totally vanished from the reading public?
In a word: Yes
It’s plausible that the fate of his legacy has slid into the mired past due to dying young from a shrapnel wound in 1944 while acting as a correspondent in Italy during WW2. Another fact is that he wrote under over a dozen pseudonyms, instead of purely establishing himself under one or at worst two aliases. With over 500 novels and 300 stories, it’s hard to fathom this fiction factory could vanish.
Now, by comparison…
Zane Grey died in 1939, five years earlier than Faust. His literary output was much, much less and yet he left behind a larger footprint, with over 4000 posts attributed to his hashtag! He also did not use pseudonyms.
The only other western pulp fictioneer worthy to compare would be Louis Lamour, but he was born later than both men and survived four decades longer, outlasting the demise of the pulps, something neither Zane Grey nor Frederick Faust achieved, except posthumously. Despite that fact, Lamour incredibly has only netted over 5000 hashtags on Instagram. The clear winner as thus would be Zane Grey, on an output vs hashtag percentage basis.