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Hunter was a man who could rip a tree trunk from the ground with his bare hands or tame the wildest stallion with his kind manner. Nobody west of the Pecos would have dared run afoul of the mighty frontiersman. But Pete Reeve didn't have the reputation of a dead shot because he relied on his common sense. Then Bull and Pete crossed paths, and townsfolk from Cheyenne to San Antonio braced for the battle.Frederick Schiller Faust (1892-1944) was an American fiction author known primarily for his thoughtful and literary Westerns. Faust wrote mostly under pen names, and today he is primarily known by one, Max Brand. Others include George Owen Baxter, Martin Dexter, Evin Evans, David Manning, Peter Dawson, John Frederick, and Pete Morland. Faust was born in Seattle. He grew up in central California and later worked as a cowhand on one of the many ranches of the San Joaquin Valley. Faust attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he began to write frequently. During the 1910s, Faust started to sell stories to the many emerging pulp magazines of the era. In the 1920s, Faust wrote furiously in many genres, achieving success and fame, first in the pulps and later in the upscale "slick" magazines. His love for mythology was, however, a constant source of inspiration for his fiction and his classical and literary inclinations. The classical influences are particularly noticeable in his first novel The Untamed (1919), which was also made into a motion picture starring Tom Mix in 1920.
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IT WAS THE BIG central taproot which baffled them. They had hewed easily through the great side roots, large as branches, covered with soft brown bark; they had dug down and cut through the forest of tender small roots below; but when they had passed the main body of the stump and worked under it, they found that their hole around the trunk was not large enough in diameter to enable them to reach to the taproot and cut through it. They could only reach it feebly with the hatchet, fraying it, but there was no chance for a free swing to sever the tough wood. Instead of widening the hole at once, they kept laboring at the root, working the stump back and forth, as though they hoped to crystallize that stubborn taproot and snap it like a wire. Still it held and defied them. They laid hold of it together and tugged with a grunt; something tore beneath that effort, but the stump held, and upward progress ceased.
They stopped, too tired for profanity, and gazed down the mountainside after the manner of baffled men, who look far off from the thing that troubles them. They could tell by the trees that it was a high altitude. There were no cottonwoods, though the cottonwoods will follow a stream for more than a mile above sea level. Far below them a pale mist obscured the beautiful silver spruce which had reached their upward limit. Around the cabin marched a scattering of the balsam fir. They were nine thousand feet above the sea, at least. Still higher up the sallow forest of lodgepole pines began; and above these, beyond the timberline, rose the bald summit itself.
They were big men, framed for such a country, defying the roughness with a roughness of their own—these stalwart sons of old Bill Campbell. Both Harry and Joe Campbell were fully six feet tall, with mighty bones and sinews and work-toughened muscles to justify their stature. Behind them stood their home, a shack better suited for the housing of cattle than of men. But such leather-skinned men as these were more tender to their horses than to themselves. They slept and ate in the shack, but they lived in the wind and the sun.
Although they had looked down the stern slopes to the lower Rockies, they did not see the girl who followed the loosely winding trail. She was partly sheltered by the firs and came out just above them. They began moiling at the stump again, sweating, cursing, and the girl halted her horse near by. The profanity did not distress her. She was so accustomed to it that the words had lost all edge and point for her; but her freckled face stirred to a smile of pleasure at the sight of their strength, as they alternately smote at the taproot and then strove in creaking, grunting unison to work it loose.
They remained so long oblivious of her presence that at length she called, “Why don’t you dig a bigger hole, boys?”
She laughed in delight as they jerked up their heads in astonishment. Her laughter was young and sweet to the ear, but there was not a great deal outside her laughter that was attractive about her.
However, Joe and Harry gaped and grinned and blushed at her in the time-old fashion, for she lived in a country where to be a woman is sufficient, beauty is an unnecessary luxury, soon taxed out of existence by the life. She possessed the main essentials of social power; she could dance unflaggingly from dark to dawn at the nearest schoolhouse dance, chattering every minute; and she could maintain a rugged silence from dawn to dark again, as she rode her pony home.
Harry Campbell took off his hat, not in politeness, but to scratch his head. “Say, Jessie, where’d you drop from? Didn’t see you coming no ways.”
“Maybe I come down like rain,” said Jessie.
All three laughed heartily at this jest.
Jessie swung sidewise in her saddle with the lithe grace of a boy, dropped her elbow on the high pommel, and gave advice. “You got a pretty bad taproot under yonder. Better chop out a bigger hole, boys. But, say, what you clearing this here land for? Ain’t no good for nothing, is it?” She looked around her. Here and there the clearing around the shanty ate raggedly into the forest, but still the plowed land was chopped up with a jutting of boulders.
“Sure it ain’t no good for nothing,” said Joe. “It’s just the old man’s idea.”
He jerked a grimy thumb over his shoulder to indicate the controlling and absent power of the old man, somewhere in the woods.
“Sure makes him glum when we ain’t working. If they ain’t nothing worthwhile to do he always sets us to grubbing up roots; and if we ain’t diggin’ up roots, we got to get out old ‘Maggie’ mare and try to plow. Plow in rocks like them! Nobody but Bull can do it.”
“I didn’t know Bull could do nothing,” said the girl with interest.
“Aw, he’s a fool, right enough,” said Harry, “but he just has a sort of head for knowing where the rocks are under the ground, and somehow he seems to make old Maggie hoss know where they lie, too. Outside of that he sure ain’t no good. Everybody knows that.”
“Kind of too bad he ain’t got no brains,” said the girl. “All his strength is in his back, and none is in his head, my dad says. If he had some part of sense he’d be a powerful good hand.”
“Sure would be,” agreed Harry. “But he ain’t no good now. Give him an ax maybe, and he hits one or two wallopin’ licks with it and then stands and rests on the handle and starts to dreaming like a fool. Same way with everything. But, say, Joe, maybe he could start this stump out of the hole.”
“But I seen you both try to get the stump up,” said the girl in wonder.
“Get Bull mad and he can lift a pile,” Joe assured her. “Go find him,
Harry obediently shouted, “Bull! Oh, Bull!”
There was no answer.
“Most like he’s reading,” observed Joe. “He don’t never hear nothing then. Go look for him, Harry.”
Big Harry strode to the door of the hut.
“How come he understands books?” said the girl. “I couldn’t never make nothing out of ‘em.”
“Me neither,” agreed Joe in sympathy. “But maybe Bull don’t understand. He just likes to read because he can sit still and do it. Never was a lazier gent than Bull.”
Harry turned at the door of the shack. “Yep, reading,” he announced with disgust. He cupped his hands over his mouth and bellowed through the doorway, “Hey!”
There was a startled grunt within, a deep, heavy voice and a thick articulation. Presently a huge man came into the doorway and leaned there, his figure filling it. There was nothing freakish about his build. He was simply over-normal in bulk, from the big head to the heavy feet. He was no more than a youth in age, but the great size and the bewildered puckering of his forehead made him seem older. The book was still in his hand.
“Hey,” returned Harry, “we didn’t call you out here to read to us.
Leave the book behind!”
Bull looked down at the book in his hand, seemed to waken from a trance, then, with a muffled sound of apology, dropped the book behind him.
He slumped out from the house. His gait was like his body, his stride large and loose. The lack of nervous energy which kept his mind from a high tension was shown again in the heavy fall of his feet and the forward slump of his head. His hands dangled aimlessly at his sides, as though in need of occupation. A ragged thatch of blond hair covered his head and it was sunburned to straw color at the edges.
His costume was equally rough. He wore no belt, but one strap, from his right hip, crossed behind his back, over the bulging muscles of his shoulder to the front of his left hip. The trousers, which this simple brace supported, were patched overalls, frayed to loose threads halfway down the calf where they were met by the tops of immense cowhide boots. As for the shirt, the sleeves were inches too short, and the unbuttoned cuffs flapped around the burly forearms. If it had been fastened together at the throat he would have choked. He seemed, in a word, to be bulging out of his clothes. One expected a mighty rending if he made a strong effort.
This bulk of a man slouched forward with steps both huge and hesitant, pausing between them. When he saw the girl he stopped short, and his brow puckered more than before. One felt that, coming from the shadow, he was dazed and startled by the brilliant mountain sunshine; and the eyes were dull and alarmed. It was a handsome face in a way, but a little too heavy with flesh, too inert, like the rest of his body and his muscular movements.
“She ain’t going to bite you,” said Harry Campbell. “Come on over here to the stump.” He whispered to the girl, “Laugh at him!”
She obeyed his command. It brought a flush to the face of Bull Hunter and made his head bow. He shuffled to the stump and stood aimlessly beside it.
“Get down into the hole, you fool!” ordered Joe.
He and Harry took a certain pride in ordering their cousin around. It was like performing with a lion in the presence of a lady; it was manipulating an elephant by power of the unaided voice. Slowly Bull Hunter dropped his great feet into the hole and then raised his head a little and looked wistfully to the brothers for further orders.
But only half his mind was with them. The other half was with the story in the book. There Quentin Durward had been nodding at his guard in the castle, and the evil-faced little king had just sprung out and wrenched the weapon from the hands of the sleepy boy. Bull Hunter could see the story clearly, very clearly. The scar on the face of Le Balafré glistened for him; he had veritably tasted the little round loaves of French bread that the adventurer had eaten with the pseudo-merchant.
But to step out of that world of words into this keen sunlight—ah, there was the difference! The minds which one found in the pages of a book were understandable. But the minds of living men—how terrible they were! One could never tell what passed behind the bright eyes of other human beings. They mocked one. When they seemed sad they might be about to laugh. The minds of the two brothers eluded him, mocked him, slipped from beneath the slow grasp of his comprehension. They whipped him with their scorn. They dodged him with their wits. They bewildered him with their mockery.
But they were nothing compared with the laughter of the girl. It went through him like the flash and point of Le Balafré’s long sword. He was helpless before that sound of mirth. He wanted to hold up his hands and cower away from her and from her dancing eyes. So he stood, ponderous, tortured, and the three pairs of clear eyes watched him and enjoyed his torture. Better, far better, that dark castle in ancient France, and the wicked Oliver and the yet more wicked Louis.
“Lay hold on that stump,” shouted Harry.
He heard the directions through a haze. It was twice repeated before he bowed and set his great hands upon the ragged projections, where the side roots had been cut away. He settled his grip and waited. He was glad because this bowed position gave him a chance to look down to the ground and avoid their cruel eyes. How bright those eyes were, thought Bull, and how clearly they saw all things! He never doubted the justice behind their judgments of him; all that Bull asked from the world was a merciful silence—to let him grub in his books now and then, or else to tell him how to go about some simple work, such as digging with a pick. Here one’s muscles worked, and there was no problem to disturb wits which were still gathering wool in the pages of some old tale.
But they were shrilling new directions at him; perhaps they had been calling to him several times.
“You blamed idiot, are you goin’ to stand there all day? We didn’t give you that stump to rest on. Pull it up!”
He started with a sense of guilt and tugged up. His fingers slipped off their separate grips, and the stump, though it groaned against the taproot under the strain, did not come out.
“It don’t seem to budge, somehow,” said Bull in his big, soft, plaintive voice. Then he waited for the laughter. There was always laughter, no matter what he did or said, but he never grew calloused against it. It was the one pain which ever pierced the mist of his brain and cut him to the quick. And he was right. There was laughter again. He stood suffering mutely under it.
The girl’s face became grave. She murmured to Harry, “Ever try praisin’ to big stupid?”
“Him? Are you joshin’ me, Jessie? What’s he ever done to be praised about?”
“You watch!” said the girl. Growing excited with her idea, she called,
He lifted his head, but not his eyes. Those eyes studied the impatient feet of the girl’s mustang; he waited for another stroke of wit that would bring forth a fresh shower of laughter at his expense.
“Bull, you’re mighty big and strong. About the biggest and strongest man I ever seen!”
Was this a new and subtle form of mockery? He waited dully.
“I seen Harry and Joe both try to pull up that root, and they couldn’t so much as budge it. But I bet you could do it all alone, Bull! You just try! I bet you could!”
It amazed him. He lifted his eyes at length; his face suffused with a flush; his big, cloudy eyes were glistening with moisture.
“D’you mean that?” he asked huskily.
For this terrible, clear-eyed creature, this mocking mind, this alert, cruel wit was actually speaking words of confidence. A great, dim joy welled up in the heart of Bull Hunter. He shook the forelock out of his eyes.
“You just try, will you, Bull?”
He bowed. Again his thick fingers sought for a grip, found places, worked down through the soft dirt and the pulpy bark to solid wood, and then he began to lift. It was a gradual process. His knees gave, sagging under the strain from the arms. Then the back began to grow rigid, and the legs in turn grew stiff, as every muscle fell into play. The shoulders pushed forward and down. The forearms, revealed by the short sleeves, showed a bewildering tangle of corded muscle, and, at the wrists, the tendons sprang out as distinct and white as the new strings of a violin.
The three spectators were undergoing a change. The suppressed grins of the two brothers faded. They glanced at the girl to see if she were not laughing at the results of her words to big Bull, but the girl was staring. She had set that mighty power to work, and she was amazed by the thing she saw. And they, looking back at Bull, were amazed in turn. They had seen him lift great logs, wrench boulders from the earth. But always it had been a proverb within the Campbell family that Bull would make only one attempt and, failing in the first effort, would try no more. They had never seen the mysterious resources of his strength called upon.
Now they watched first the settling and then the expansion of the body of their big cousin. His shoulders began to tremble; they heard deep, harsh panting like the breathing of a horse as it tugs a ponderous load up a hill, and still he had not reached the limit of his power. He seemed to grow into the soil, and his feet ground deeper into the soft dirt, and ever there was something in him remaining to be tapped. It seemed to the brothers to be merely vast, unexplored recesses of muscle, but even then it was a prodigious thing to watch the strain on the stump increase moment by moment. That something of the spirit was being called upon to aid in the work was quite beyond their comprehension.
There was something like a groan from Bull—a queer, animal sound that made all three spectators shiver where they stood. For it showed that the limit of that apparently inexhaustible strength had been reached and that now the anguish of last effort was going into the work. They saw the head bowed lower; the shoulders were now bunching and swelling up on either side.
Then came a faint rending sound, like cloth slowly torn. It was answered by something strangely like a snarl from the laborer. Something jerked through his body as though a whip had been flicked across his back. With a great rending and a loud snap the big stump came up. A little shower of dirt spouted up with the parting of the taproot. The trunk was flung high, but not out of the hands of Bull Hunter. He whirled it around his head, laughing. There was a ring and clearness in that laughter that they had never heard before. He dashed the stump on the ground.
“It’s out!” exclaimed Bull. “Look there!”
He strode upon them. As he straightened up he became huger than ever. They shrank from him—from the veins which still bulged on his forehead and from the sweat and pallor of that vast effort. The very mustang winced from this mountain of a man who came with a long, sweeping, springing stride. On his face was a strange joy as of the explorer who tops the mountains and sees the beauty of the promised land beneath him. He held out his hand.
“Lady, I got to thank you. You—taught me how!”
But she shrank from his outstretched hand—as though she had labored to a larger end than she dreamed and was terrified by the thing she had made.
“You—you got a red stain on your hands. Oh!”
He came to a stop sharply. The sharp edges, where the roots had been cut away had worked through the skin and his hands were literally caked with mud and stained red. Bull looked down at his hands vaguely.
It came to Harry that Bull was taking up a trifle too much of Jessie’s attention. The next thing they knew she would be inviting him to come to the next dance down her way, and they would have the big hulk of a man shaming himself and his uncle’s family.
“Go on back to the house,” he ordered sharply. “We don’t have no more need of you.”
Bull obeyed, stumbling along and still looking down at his wounded hands.
HE LEFT THE THREE behind him, bewildered and frightened. Had lightning split a thick tree beside them, or an unexpected landslide thundered past and swept the ground away at their feet, they could have been hardly more disturbed.
“Who’d of thought he could act like that!” remarked Joe. “My gosh,
They went and looked at the hole where the stump had stood. At the bottom was the white remnant of the taproot where it had burst under the strain.
“It wasn’t so much how he pulled up the stump,” said the girl faintly.
“But—but did you see his face, boys, after he heaved the stump up?
I—just pick that stump up, will you?”
They went to the misshapen, ragged monster and lifted it, puffing under the weight.
They dropped it obediently.
“And he—he just swung it around his head like it was nothing!” declared the girl. “Look how it smashed into the gravel where he threw it down! Why—why—I didn’t know men was made like that. And his face—the way he laughed—why he didn’t look like no fool at all, boys. But just as if he’d waked up!”
“You act so interested,” said Harry Campbell dryly, “that maybe you’d like to have us call him out again so’s you can talk to him?”
Apparently she did not hear, but stared down into the mist of the late afternoon, warning her that she must start home. She seemed puzzled and a little frightened. When she left them it was with a wave of the hand and with no words of farewell. They watched her go down the trail that jerked back and forth across the pitch of the slope; twice her pony stumbled, a sure sign that the rider was absent-minded.
“Jessie didn’t seem to know what to make of it,” said Harry.
“Neither do I,” returned his brother.
Both of them spoke in subdued voices as if they were afraid of being overheard.
“And think if he’d ever lay a hold on one of us like that!” said
Harry. He went to the stump and examined the side of one of the roots.
It was stained with crimson.
“Look where his finger tips worked through the dirt and the bark, right down to the solid wood,” murmured Joe.
They looked at each other uneasily. “My gosh,” said Joe, “think of the way I handled him the other night! He—he let me trip him up and throw him!” He shuddered. “Why, if he’d laid hold of me just once, he’d of squashed my muscles like they was rotten fruit!”
Of one accord they turned back to the house. At the door they paused and peered in, as into the den of a bear. There sat Bull on the floor—he risked his weight to none of the crazy chairs—still looking at his stained hands. Then they drew back and again looked at each other with scared eyes and spoke in undertones.
“After this maybe he won’t want to follow orders. Maybe he’ll get sort of free and easy and independent.”
“If he does, you watch Dad give him his marching orders. Dad won’t have no one lifting heads agin’ him.”
“Neither will I,” snapped Joe. “I guess we own this house. I guess we support that big hulk. I’m going to try him right quick.”
He went back to the door of the shack. “Bull, they ain’t any wood for the stove tonight. Go chop some quick.”
The floor squeaked and groaned under Bull’s weight as he rose, and again the brothers looked to each other.
“All right,” came cheerily from Bull Hunter.
He came through the door with his ax and went to the log pile. The brothers watched him throw aside the top logs and get at the heavier trunks underneath. He tore one of these out, laid it in place, and the sun flashed on the swift circle of the ax. Joe and Harry stepped back as though the light had blinded them.
“He didn’t never work like that before,” declared Joe.
The ax was buried almost to the haft in the tough wood, and the steel was wrenching out with a squeak of the metal against the resisting wood. Again the blinding circle and the indescribable sound of the ax’s impact, slicing through the wood. A great chip snapped up high over the shoulder of the chopper and dropped solidly to the ground at the feet of the brothers. Again they exchanged glances and drew a little closer together. The log divided under the shower of eating blows, and Bull attacked the next section.
Presently he came to a pause, leaning on the handle of the ax and staring into the distance. At this the brothers sighed with relief.
“I guess he ain’t changed so much,” said Harry. “But it was queer, eh?
Kind of like a bear waking up after he’d been sleeping all winter!”
They jarred Bull out of his dream with a shout and set him to work again; then they started the preparations for the evening meal. The simple preparations were soon completed, but after the potatoes were boiled, they delayed frying the bacon, for their father, old Bill Campbell, had not yet returned from his hunting trip and he disliked long-cooked food. Things had to be freshly served to suit Bill, and his sons dared the wrath of heaven rather than the biting reproaches of the old man.
It was strange that Bill delayed his coming so long. As a rule he was always back before the coming of evening. An old and practiced mountaineer, he had never been known to lose sense of direction or sense of distance, and he was an hour overdue when the sun went down and the soft, beautiful mountain twilight began.
There were other reasons which would ordinarily have disturbed Bill and brought him home even ahead of time. Snow had fallen heavily above the timberline a few days before, and now the keen whistling of the wind and the swift curtaining of clouds, which was drawing across the sky, threatened a new storm that might even reach down to the shack.
And yet no Bill appeared.
The brothers waited in the shack, and the darkness was increasing. Any one of a number of things might have happened to their father, but they were not worried. For one thing, they wasted no love on the stern old man. They knew well enough that he had plenty of money, but he kept them here to a dog’s life in the shack, and they hated him for it. Besides, they had a keen grievance which obscured any worry about Bill—they were hungry, wildly hungry. The darkness set in, and the feeble light wandered from the smoked chimney of the lantern and made the window black.
Outside, the wind began to scream, sighing in the distance among the firs, and then pouncing upon the cabin and shaking it as though in rage. The fire would smoke in the stove at every one of these blasts, and the flame leaped in the lantern.
Bull Hunter had to lean closer to the light and frown to make out the print of his book. The sight of his stolid immobility merely sharpened their hunger, for there was never any passion in this hulk of a man. When he relaxed over a book the world went out like a snuffed candle for him. He read slowly, lingering over every page, for now and again his eyes drifted away from the print, and he dreamed over what he had read. In reality he was not reading for the plot, but for the pictures he found, and he dreaded coming to the end of a book also, for books were rare in his life. A scrap of a magazine was a treasure. A full volume was a nameless delight.
And so he worked slowly through every paragraph and made it his and dreamed over it until he knew every thought and every picture by heart. Once slowly devoured in this way, it was useless to reread a book. It was far better to simply sit and let the slow memory of it trail through his mind link by link, just as he had first read it and with all the embroiderings which his own fancy had conjured up.
Often this stupid pondering over a book would madden the two brothers. It irritated them till they would move the lantern away from him. But he always followed the light with a sigh and uncomplainingly settled down again. Sometimes they even snatched the book out of his hands. In that case he sat looking down at his empty fingers, dreaming over his own thoughts as contentedly as though the living page were in his vision. There was small satisfaction in tormenting him in these ways.
Tonight they dared not bother him. The stained hands were still in their minds, and the tremendous, joyous laughter as he whirled the stump over his head still rang in their ears. But they watched him with a sullen envy of his immobility. Just as a man without an overcoat envies the woolly coat of a dog on a windy December day.
Only one sound roused the reader. It was a sudden loud snorting from the shed behind the house and a dull trampling that came to him through the noise of the rising wind. It brought Bull lurching to his feet, and the stove jingled as his weight struck the yielding center boards of the floor. Out into the blackness he strode. The wind shut around him at once and plastered his clothes against his body as if he had been drenched to the skin in water. Then he closed the door.
“What brung him to life?” asked Harry.
“Nothin’, He just heard ol’ Maggie snort. Always bothers him when
Maggie gets scared of something—the old fool!”
Maggie was an ancient, broken-down draft horse. Strange vicissitudes had brought her up into the mountains via the logging camp. She was kept, not because there was any real hauling to be done for Bill Campbell, but because, having got her for nothing, she reminded him of the bargain she had been. And Bull, apparently understanding the sluggish nature of the old mare by sympathy of kind, use to work her to the single plow among the rocks of their clearing. Here, every autumn, they planted seed that never grew to mature grain. But that was Bill Campbell’s idea of making a home.
Presently Bull came back and settled with a slump into his old place.
“Going to snow?” asked Harry.
“Feel it in the wind?”
It was an old joke among them, for Bull often declared with ridiculous solemnity that he could foretell snow by the change in the air.
“Yep,” answered Bull, “I felt the wind.”
He looked up at them, abashed, but they were too hungry to waste breath with laughter. They merely sneered at him as he settled back into his book. And, just as his head bowed, a far shouting swept down at them as the wind veered to a new point.
“Uncle Bill!” said Bull and rose again to open the door.
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