Sunday, January 14, 2018

'It is the law if a man is in your way, kill him.'

Tom Gill didn't spend much time in the pulps. A forester by profession, he became a star western writer for the slicks in the 1930s, appearing mainly in the monthlies, Cosmopolitan and The American Magazine. "The Game" (January 10, 1926) was the second and last of his stories to appear in Adventure, the first being his debut story in 1923. It's a romantic tale of the rivalry of an American soldier and a Mexican rancher for the beautiful Senorita Isabella. The tale is told by the American's former servant, Pedro, but in oldschool style Pedro himself is introduced briefly by a present-day American to whom he tells the story. Pedro is a typical pulp subaltern: noble in his own fashion, faithful to his master, but uncomprehending of the finer points of honor. As it becomes apparent that Don Carlos Brevedo will not surrender his claim on Isabella, despite her clear preference for the American, the unnamed lieutenant anticipates a duel, while Pedro wonders why he doesn't just have Brevedo murdered. Pedro isn't just being practical; he's also looking out for his lieutenant's long-term interests. He understands that if Brevedo succeeds in provoking the American into a duel, that will get the lieutenant discharged and sent home. It will be the same even if the American manages to win without killing Brevedo. Warned of this, the lieutenant says, "I know, Pedro, but there are worse things than a dishonorable discharge. To be struck in the face with a sombrero is one of them." Throughout the buildup to the duel, Pedro expects Brevedo and his second, Isabella's father, to cheat, so he can shoot them. But Brevedo has "the heart of a brave man" and takes a non-fatal bullet without flinching. From there things happen as Pedro feared, but he apparently didn't anticipate the lieutenant eloping with Isabella. Much less did he expect Brevedo to intervene with a friendly warning so the elopers can avoid an ambush set up by the angry father. Again, Pedro is ready to shoot Brevedo on the least pretext, but the spurned suitor's only concern is that "no sorrow must come to the Senorita Isabella." It's all most likely too good to be true, but it's a fascinating little story for the way it posits a distinction between the primitive honor of Pedro -- for I doubt we're meant to see him as other than honorable -- and the romantic honor of the American lieutenant and his antagonist. It's a distinction that may not have existed in the real world, but it's one the pulp imagination believed did or should exist.

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