“Devil Marked” by Edwin L. Sabin

59 Devil Marked

Book 59 is “Devil Marked” by Edwin L. Sabin, returning to the series for the first time, since his inclusion with Book 2 in the original run.

The tale was originally printed in Argosy All-Story Weekly (1922 Sep: 9, 16, 23) in three installments, and also credited H. Bedford-Jones as a co-writer.

The date and era are never properly given to the reader, although we understand that it takes place some time during the mid-1800s. We are given real-life Governor Armijo, along with Bent’s Fort already being in existence.

The story opens with a backstabbing murder during a game of cards in New Orleans. A fourth player at the table steals away into the night and the remaining two take the money and likewise disappear.

Fast-forward a number of years, and we have two Cuban refugees (a boy and a girl) on a river boat. Of upper class, their parents are dead and they are seeking to locate their uncle in Santa Fe. While aboard, the boy is tricked into a game of cards and loses his family fortune. However, a brute of a man calls the bluff and announces the game to be “fixed.” Going by the name of Captain Badger, he takes he pair of Cubans under his assumed protective wing, while his true intentions are the gold doubloons.

Also aboard ship is the brother (Duprez) of the assassinated card-player. He has been hunting the killers his whole life, but is unaware that Badger is the backstabber.

After disembarking, Badger places the pair in a semi-reputable hotel (of sorts) and the girl stashes the gold among chimney ashes. The boy is lured away that night to play cards with Badger and company. Hours later, deeply drunk, he is duped by a note to hurry back to his sister. Likewise, the sister is informed that her brother is injured. She foolishly leaves hotel and gold behind, and is led away and confused in the by-streets and alleys, before the leading villain disappears without a trace. Lost and alone, she is shocked to find Duprez there and he brings her back to the hotel, only to find that ruffians are (falsely) assaulting the boy and Captain Badger.

Duprez vanishes too. In truth he snuck into the hotel, found the gold, and seized it for safekeeping, realizing the Captain to be a scoundrel.

However, one of the villains spotted Duprez depart the hotel and they convince the boy that he is a thief. The boy is entirely a (schmuck) throughout the entire novel, earnestly believing Badger and his claims.

Hiring a couple wagons to train down to Santa Fe, Badger insists on freely escorting the pair to the town. Meanwhile, he has abandoned the gold and wishes to avail himself of the girl.

Things go slightly awry, as the gold is recovered by the gang after they ambush Duprez in the desert and leaving him for dead. However, despite having been shot in the head (likely only grazed) he stalks the wagons and when a band of marauders attack the wagons, he rides in to save the day, only to ride out again when the girl is kidnapped.

Badger and the gang spot Duprez among the marauders and convince the boy that it was Duprez himself whom abducted the girl, and, has the gold, too! when in fact Badger has the bag of gold.

The whole story eventually shifts climatically to Santa Fe, where Duprez and Badger fight it out with large knives. You know the rest. Duprez slays Badger, gets the girl, and a ton of other details hanging in the wind prior as irrelevant suddenly manifest as important, but I rather not bog down this blog by ruining the background plot devices at work.

Unless “Loaded Dice,” this novelette here is far superior to that horrendous earlier piece, and while I dislike this genre, I do great dishonor to the tale itself were I not to recommend it for future reading among you fellow pulpsters!

“Devil Marked” by Edwin L. Sabin

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