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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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.
The others wedged in behind his bulk and stared into the blackness.
They stood with the wind taking them with its teeth and pressing them
heavily back. They could hear the fire flare and flutter in the stove;
then the wind screamed again, and the wail came down to them.
"Uncle Bill!" repeated Bull and, lowering his head, strode into the
The others exchanged frightened glances and then followed, but not
outside of the shaft of light from the door. In the first place it was
probably not their father. Who could imagine Bill shouting for help?
Such a thing had never been dreamed of by his worst enemies, and they
knew that their father's were legion. Besides it was cold, and this
was a wild-goose chase which meant a chilled hide and no gain.
But, presently, through the darkness they made out the form of a
horseman and the great bulk of Bull coming back beside him. Then they
ran out into the night.
They recognized the hatless, squat figure of their father at once,
even in the dark, with the wind twitching his beard sideways. When
they called to him he did not speak. Then they saw that Bull was
leading the horse.
Plainly something was wrong, and presently they discovered that Bill
Campbell was actually tied upon his horse. He gave no orders, and they
cut the ropes in silence. Still he did not dismount.
"Bull," he commanded, "lift me off the hoss!"
The giant plucked him out of the saddle and placed him on the ground,
but his legs buckled under him, and he fell forward on his face. Any
of the three could have saved him, but the spectacle of the terrible
old man's helplessness benumbed their senses and their muscles.
"Carry me in!" said Bill at last.
Bull lifted him and bore him gingerly through the door and placed him
on the bunk. The light revealed a grisly spectacle. Crimson stains and
dirt literally covered him; his left leg was bandaged below the knee;
his right shoulder was roughly splinted with small twigs and
swathed in cloth.
The long ride, with his legs tied in place, had apparently paralyzed
his nerves below the hips. He remained crushed against the wall, his
legs falling in the odd position in which they were put down by Bull.
It was illustrative of his character that, even in this crisis, not
one of the three dared venture an expression of sympathy, a question,
Crumpled against the wall, his head bowed forward and cramped, the
stern old man still controlled them with the upward glance of his eyes
through the shag of eyebrows.
"Gimme my pipe," he commanded.
Three hands reached for it—pipe, tobacco, matches were proffered to
him. Before he accepted the articles he swept their faces with a
glance of satisfaction. Without attempting to change the position
which must have been torturing him, he filled the pipe bowl, his
fingers moving as if he had partially lost control of them. He filled
it raggedly, shreds of tobacco hanging down around the bowl. He bent
his head to meet the left hand which he raised with difficulty, then
he tried to light a match. But he seemed incapable of moving the
sulphur head fast enough to bring it to a light with friction. Match
after match crumbled as he continued his efforts.
"Here, lemme light a match for you, Dad!"
Harry's offer was received with a silent curling of the lips and a
glint of the yellow teeth beneath that made him step back. The old man
continued his work. There were a dozen wrecked matches before the
blood began to stir in his numbed arm and he was able to light the
match and the pipe. He drew several breaths of the smoke deep into his
lungs. For the moment the savage, hungry satisfaction changed his
face; they could tell by that alteration what agonies he had been
Presently he frowned and set about changing his position with infinite
labor. The left leg was helpless, and so was the right arm. Yet, after
much labor, he managed to stuff a roll of the blankets into the corner
and then shift himself until his back rested against this support. But
his strength deserted him again. His pipe was dropped down in the left
hand, his head sagged back.
Still they dared not approach him. His two sons stood about, shifting
from one foot to another, as if they expected a blow to descend upon
them at any moment, as if each labored movement of terrible old Bill
Campbell caused them the agony which he must be suffering.
As for Bull Hunter, he sat again on the floor, his chin dropped upon
his great fist, and wondered for a time at his uncle. It was the
second great event to him, all in one day. First he had discovered
that by fighting a thing, one can actually conquer. Second, he
discovered that great fighter, his uncle, had been beaten. The
impossible had happened twice between one sunrise and sunset.
But men and the affairs of men could not hold his eye overlong.
Presently he dropped his head again and was deep in the pages of his
book. At length Bill Campbell heaved up his head. It was to glare into
the scared faces of his sons.
"How long are you goin' to keep me waiting for food?"
The order snapped them into action. They sprang here and there, and
presently the thick slices of bacon were hissing on the pan, and the
clouds of bacon smoke wafted through the cabin. When they reached Bill
Campbell he blinked. Pain had given him a maddening appetite, yet he
puffed steadily on his pipe and said nothing.
The tin plate of potatoes and bacon was shoved before him, and the big
tin cup of coffee. The three younger men sat in silence and devoured
their own meal; the two sons swiftly, but Bull Hunter fell into
musings, and part of his food remained uneaten. Then his glance
wandered to his uncle and saw a thing to wonder at—a horrible thing
in its own way.
The nerveless left hand of the mountaineer, which had barely possessed
steadiness to light a match, was far too inaccurate to handle a fork;
and Bull saw his uncle stuffing his mouth with his fingers and daring
the others to watch him.
Something like pity came to Bull. It was so rare an emotion to connect
with human beings that he hardly recognized it, for men and women, as
he knew them, were brilliant, clever creatures, perfectly at home in
the midst of difficulties that appalled him. But, as he watched the
old man feed himself like an animal, the emotion that rose in Bull was
the sadness he felt when he watched old Maggie stumbling among the
rocks. There was something wrong with the forelegs of Maggie, and she
was only half a horse when it came to going downhill on broken ground.
He had always thought of the great strength that once must have been
hers, and he pitied her for the change. He found himself pitying Uncle
Bill Campbell in much the same way.
When Bill raised his tin cup he spilled scalding coffee on his breast.
The old man merely set his teeth and continued to glare his challenge
at the three. But not one of the three dared speak a word, dared make
an offer of assistance.
What baffled the slow mind of Bull Hunter was the effort to imagine a
force so great that battle with it had reduced the invincible Campbell
to this shaken wreck of his old self. Mere bullets could tear wounds
in flesh and break bones; but mere bullets could not wreck the nerves
of a man so that his hand trembled as if he were drunk or hysterical
He tried to work out this problem. He conceived a man of gigantic
size, vast muscles, inexhaustible strength. The power of a bear and
the swift cunning of a wild cat—such must have been the man who
struck down Uncle Bill and sent him home a shattered remnant of
his old self.
There was another mystery. Why did the destroyer not finish his task?
Why did he take pity on Uncle Bill Campbell and bind up the wounds he
had himself made? Here the mind of Bull Hunter paused. He could not
pass the mysterious idea of another than himself pitying Uncle Bill.
It was pitying a hawk in the sky.
Harry was taking away the dishes and throwing them in the little tub
of lukewarm water where the grease would be carelessly soused
"Did you get up that stump?" asked Uncle Bill suddenly.
There was a familiar ring in his voice. Woe to them if they had not
carried out his orders! All three of the young men quaked, and Bull
laid aside his book.
"We done it," answered Joe in a quavering voice.
"You done it?" asked Bill.
"We—we dug her pretty well clear, then Bull pulled her up."
Some of the wrath ebbed out of the face of Bill as he glanced at the
huge form of Bull. "Stand up!" he ordered.
The keen eye of the old man went over him from head to foot slowly.
"Someday," he said slowly, speaking entirely to himself.
What he expected from Bull "someday" remained unknown. The dishwashing
was swiftly finished. Then Uncle Bill made a feeble effort to get off
his boots, but his strength had been ebbing for some time. His sons
dared not interfere as the old man leaned slowly over and strove to
tug the boot from his wounded leg; but Bull remembered, all in a flood
of tenderness, some half-dozen small, kind things that his uncle had
said to him.
That was long, long ago, when the orphan came into the Campbell
family. In those days his stupidity had been attributed largely to the
speed with which he had grown, and he was expected to become normally
bright later on; and in those days Bill Campbell occasionally let fall
some gentle word to the great boy with his big, frightened eyes. And
the half-dozen instances came back to Bull in this moment.
He stepped between his cousins and laid his hand on the foot of his
uncle. It brought a snarl from the old man, a snarl that made Bull
straighten and step back, but he came again and put aside the shaking
hand of Uncle Bill. His cousins stood at one side, literally quaking.
It was the first time that they had actually seen their father defied.
They saw the huge hand of Bull settle around the leg of their father,
well below the wound and then the grip closed to avoid the danger of
opening the wound when the boot was worked off. After this he pulled
the tight riding boot slowly from the swollen foot.
Uncle Bill was no longer silent. The moment the big hand of his nephew
closed over his leg he launched a stream of curses that chilled the
blood and drove his own sons farther back into the shadow of the
corner. He demanded that they stand forth and tear Bull limb from
limb. He disinherited them for cowardice. He threatened Bull with a
vengeance compared with which the thunderbolt would be a feeble flare
of light. He swore that he was entirely capable of taking care of
himself, that he would step down into his grave sooner than be nursed
and petted by any living human being.
All the while, the great Bull leaned impassively over the wounded man
and finally worked the boot free. That was not all. Uncle Bill had
slipped over until he could reach a billet of wood beside his bunk. He
struck at Bull's head with it, but the stick was brushed out of his
palsied fingers with a single gesture, and, while Uncle Bill groaned
with fury and impotence, Bull continued the task of preparing him for
bed. He straightened the old body of the terrible Campbell; he heated
water in the tub and washed away stains and dirt; he took off the
stained bandages and replaced them with clean ones.
His cousins helped in the latter part of this work. Weakness had
reduced Uncle Bill to speechlessness. Finally the head of Bill
Campbell was laid on a double fold of blanket in lieu of a pillow. A
pipe had been tamped full and lighted by Bull and—crowning
insult—set between Bill's teeth. When all this was accomplished Bull
retired to his corner, picked up his book, and was instantly absorbed.
In the hushed atmosphere it seemed that a terrible blow had fallen,
and that another was about to fall. Harry and Joe were as men stunned,
but they looked upon their father with a gathering complacency. They
had found it demonstrated that it was possible to disobey their father
without being instantly destroyed. They were taking the lesson to
heart. And indeed old Bill Campbell himself seemed to be slowly
admitting that he was beaten.
The illusion of absolute self-sufficiency, which he had built up
through the years for the sake of imposing upon his sons and Bull
Hunter, was now destroyed. At a single stroke he had been exposed as
an old man, already beaten in battle by a foeman and now requiring as
much care as a sick woman. The shame of it burned in him; but the
comfort of the smoothed bunk and the filled pipe between his teeth was
a blessing. He found to his own surprise that he was not hating Bull
with a tithe of his usual vigor. He began to realize that he had come
to the end of his period of command. When he left that sickbed he
could only advise.
As a king about to die he looked at his heirs and found them strong
and sufficient and pleasing to the eye. Nowhere in the mountains were
there two boys as tall, as straight, as deadly with rifle and
revolver, as fierce, as relentless, as these two boys of his. He had
sharpened their tempers, and he rejoiced in the sullen ferocity with
which they looked at him now, unloving, cunning, biding their time and
finding that it had almost come. But he was not yet done. His body was
wrecked; there remained his mind, and they would find it a great
power. But he did not talk until the lights had been put out and the
three youths were in their separate bunks. Then, without the light to
show them his helpless body, in the darkness, which would give his
mind a freer play, he began to tell his story.
It was a long narrative. Far back in the years he had prospected with
a youth named Pete Reeve. They had located a claim and they had gone
to town together to celebrate. In the celebration he had drunk with
Reeve till the boy stupefied. Then he had induced Reeve to gamble for
his share of the claim and had won it. Afterward Pete swore to be even
with him. But the years had gone by without another meeting of
Only today, riding through the mountains, he had come on a dried-up
wisp of a man with long, iron-gray hair, a sharp, withered face, and
hands like the claws of a bird. He rode a fine bay gelding, and had
stopped Bill to ask some questions about the region above the
timberline because he was drifting south and intended to cross the
summits. Bill had described the way, and suddenly, out of their talk,
came the revelation of their identities—the one was Bill Campbell,
the other was Pete Reeve.
At this point in the story Bull heaved himself slowly, softly up on
one arm to listen. He was beginning to get the full sense of the words
for the first time. This narrative was like a book done in a
The tale halted. To be defeated is one thing; to be forced to confess
defeat is another. Uncle Bill determined on the bitterer alternative.
"He made a clean fight," declared Uncle Bill. "First he cussed me out
proper. Then he went for his gat and he beat me to the draw. They
ain't no disgrace to that. You'll learn pretty soon that anybody might
get beaten sooner or later—if he fights enough men. And my gun hung
in the leather. Before I got it on him he'd shot me clean through the
right shoulder—a placed shot, boys. He wanted to land me there. It
tumbled me off my hoss. I rolled away and tried to get to my gun that
had fallen on the ground. He shot me ag'in through the leg and
"Then he got off his hoss and fixed up the wounds. He done a good job,
as you seen. 'Bill' says he, 'you ain't dead; you're worse'n dead.
That right arm of yours is going to be stiff the rest of your days.
You're a one-armed man from now on, and that one arm is the worst
"That was why he sent me home alive. To make me live and keep hating
him, the same's he'd lived and hated me. But he made a mistake. Pete
Reeve is a wise fox, but he made one mistake. He forgot that I might
have somebody to send on his trail. He didn't know that I had two boys
I'd raised so's they was each better with a gun nor me. He didn't
dream of that, curse him! But when you, Harry, or you, Joe, pump the
lead into him, shoot him so's he'll live long enough to know who
killed him and why!"
As he spoke, there was a quality in his voice that seemed to find the
boys in the darkness and point each of them out. "Which of you takes
A little silence followed. Bull wondered at it.
"He's gone by way of Johnstown," continued the wounded man. "If one of
you cuts across the summit toward Shantung he's pretty sure to cut in
across Pete's trail. Which is goin' to start? Well, you can match for
the chance! Because him that comes back with Pete Reeve marked off the
slate is a man!"
That chilly little silence made Bull's heart beat. To be called a man,
to be praised by stern Bill Campbell—surely these were things to make
anyone risk death!
"Is that the Pete Reeve," said Harry's voice, "that shot up Mike
Rivers over the hill to the Tompkins place, about four year back?"
"That's him. Why?"
Again the silence. Then Bull heard the old man cursing
softly—meditatively, one might almost have said.
"Cut across for Johnstown," said Joe softly, "in a storm like this?
They won't be no trails left to find above the timberline. It'd be
sure death. Listen!"
There was a lull in the wind, and in the breeze that was left, they
could hear the whisper of the snow crushing steadily against
"It's heavy fall, right enough," declared Harry.
"And this Pete Reeve—why, he's a gunfighter, Dad."
"And what are you?" asked the old man. "Ain't I labored and slaved all
my life to make you handy with guns? What for d'you think I wasted all
them hours showin' you how to pull a trigger and where to shoot and
how to get a gun out of the leather?"
"To kill for meat," suggested Harry.
"Meat, nothing! The kind of meat I mean walks on two feet and fights
"Maybe, if we started together—" ventured Joe.
His father broke in, "Boy, I ain't going to send out a pack of men to
run down Pete Reeve. He met me single and he fought me clean, and he's
going to be pulled down by no pack of yaller dogs! Go one of you alone
or else both of you stay here."
He waited, but there was no response. "Is this the way my blood is
showin' up in my sons? Is this the result of all my trainin'?"
After that there was no more talk. The long silence was not broken by
even the sound of breathing until someone began to snore. Then Bull
knew that the sleep of the night had settled down.
He lay with his hands folded behind his head, thinking. They were
willing enough to go together to do this difficult thing. But had they
not lifted together at the stump and failed to do the thing which he
had done single-handed? That thought stuck in his memory and would not
out. And suppose he, Bull, were to accomplish this great feat and
return to the shack? Would not Bill Campbell feel doubly repaid for
the living he had furnished for his nephew? More than once the grim
old man had cursed the luck that saddled him with a stupid incubus.
But the curses would turn to compliments if Bull left this little man,
this catlike and dangerous fighter, this Pete Reeve, dead on
Not that all this was clear in the mind of Bull, but he felt something
like a command pushing him on that difficult south trail, through the
storm and the snow that would now be piling above the timberline. He
waited until there was no noise but the snoring of the sleepers and
the rush and roar of the wind which continually set something stirring
in the room. These sounds served to cover effectually any noises he
made as he felt about and made up his small pack. His old canvas coat,
his most treasured article of apparel, he took down from the hook
where it accumulated dust from month to month. His ancient, secondhand
cartridge belt with the antiquated revolver he removed from another
hook—he had never been given enough ammunition to become a shot of
any quality—and he pushed quickly into the night.
The moment he was through the door, the storm caught him in the face a
stinging blow, and the rush of snow chilled his skin. That stinging
blow steadied to a blast. It was a tremendous, heavy fall. The wind
had scoured the drifts from the clearing and was already banking them
around the little house. In the morning, as like as not, the boys
would have to dig their way out.
He went straight to the horse shed for his snowshoes that hung on the
wall there. Ordinary snowshoes would not endure his ponderous weight,
and Uncle Bill Campbell had fashioned these himself, heavy and
uncomfortable articles, but capable of enduring the strain.
Fumbling his way down behind the stalls, Bill's roan lashed out at him
with savage heels; but Maggie, the old draft horse, whinnied softly,
greeting that familiar heavy step. He tied the snowshoes on his back
and then stopped for a last word to Maggie. She raised her head and
dropped it clumsily on his shoulder. She was among the little, agile
mountain ponies what he was among men, and their bulk had rendered
each of them more or less helpless. There seemed to be a mute
understanding between them, and it was never more apparent than when
Maggie whinnied gently in his ear. He stroked her big, bony head, a
lump forming in his throat. If the bullets of little Pete Reeve
dropped him in some far-off trail, the old-broken-down horse would be
the only living creature that would mourn for him.
Outside, the night and the storm swallowed him at once. Before he had
gone fifty feet the house was out of sight. Then, entering the forest
of balsam firs, the force of the wind was lessened, and he made good
time up the first part of the grade. There would probably be no use
for the snowshoes in this region of broken shrubbery before he came to
He swept on with a lengthening stride. He knew this part of the
country like a book, of course, and he seldom stumbled, save when he
came out into a clearing and the wind smote at him from an unexpected
angle. In one of these clearings he stopped and took stock of his
position. Far away to the west and the south, the head of Scalped
Mountain was lost in dim, rushing clouds. He must make for that goal.
Progress became less easy almost at once. The trees that grew in this
elevated region were not tall enough to act as wind breaks; they were
hardly more than shrubs a great deal of the time, and merely served to
force him into detours around dense hedges. Sometimes, in a clearing,
he found himself staggering to the knees in a compacted drift of snow;
sometimes an immense sheet of snow was picked up by the wind and flung
in his face like a blanket.
Indeed the cold and the snow were nothing compared with the wind. It
was now reaching the proportions of a westerly storm of the first
magnitude. Off the towering slopes above, it came with the chill of
the snow and with flying bits of sand, scooped up from around the base
of trees, or with a shower of twigs. Many a time he had to throw up
his arms across his face before he leaned and thrust on into the teeth
of the blast.
But he was growing accustomed to seeing through this veil of snow and
thick darkness. All things were dreamlike in dimness, of course, but
he could make out terrific cloud effects, as the clouds gushed over
the summit and down the slope a little way like the smoke of enormous
guns; and again a pyramid of mist was like a false mountain before
him, a mountain that took on movement and rushed to overwhelm him,
only to melt away and become simply a shadow among shadows above
Once or twice before the dawn, he rested, not from weariness perhaps,
but from lack of breath, turning his back to the west and bowing his
head. Walking into the wind it had become positively difficult to
Still it gained power incredibly. Up the side of Scalped Mountain it
was a steady weight pressing against him rather than a wind. And now
and then, when the weight relaxed, he stumbled forward on his knees.
For there was now hardly any shelter. He was approaching the
timberline where trees stand as high as a man and little higher.
Dawn found him at the edge of the tree line. He flung himself on his
face, his head on his arms, to rest and wait until the treacherous
time of dawn should have passed. While the day grew steadily his heart
sank. He needed the rest, but the cold bit into him while he lay
extended, and the peril of the summit would be before him for his
march of the day. The wind mourned over him as if it anticipated his
defeat. Never had there been such wind, he thought. It screamed above
him. It dropped away in sudden lulls of more appalling silence. Then,
far off, he would hear a wave of the storm begin, wash across a crest,
thunder in a canyon, and then break on the timberline with a prolonged
and mighty roaring. Those giant approaches made him hold his breath,
and when the wave of confusion passed, he found himself often
Day came. He was on the very verge of the line with a dense fence of
stunted trees just before him and the wilderness of snow beyond,
sloping up to the crest, outlined in white against the solid gray sky.
The Spartans of the forest were around him—fir, pine, spruce, birch,
and trembling little aspens up there among the stoutest. All were of
one height, clean-shaven by the volleys of the wind-driven sand and
pebbles that clipped off any treetop that aspired above the mass. In
solid numbers was their salvation, and they grew dense as grass, two
feet high on the battlefront. They were carved by that wind, for all
storms came here out of the west, and the storm face of every tree was
denuded of branches. To the east the foliage streamed away. Even in
calm weather those trees spoke of storm.
Bull Hunter sat up to put on his snowshoes. It was a white world below
him and above. Winter, which a day before had vanished, now came back
with a rush off the summits, where its snows were still piled. Again
the heart of the big man quaked. Down in the hollow, over that ridge,
was the house of the Campbells. They would be getting up now. Joe
would be making the fire, and Harry slicing the bacon. It made a
cheerful picture to Bull. He could close his eyes and hear the fire
snap and see the stove steam with smoke through every fissure before
the draft caught in the chimney. From the shed came the neigh of
Maggie, calling softly to him.
He shook his head with a groan, stood up, and strode out of the timber
into the summit lands. It was a great desert. Never could it be
construed as a place for life. Even lichens were almost out of place
here, and what folly could lead a man across the shifting snows? But
to be called a man, to be admired in silence, to be asked for
opinions, to be deferred to—this was a treasure worth any price! He
bowed himself to the wind again and made for the summit with the
peculiar stride which a man must use with snowshoes.
He dared not slacken his efforts now. The cold had been increasing,
and to pause meant peril of freezing. It was a highly electrified air,
and the result was a series of maddening mirages. He stumbled over
solid rocks where nothing seemed to be in his way; and again what
seemed a rock of huge size was nothing at all. Bull discovered that
what seemed firm ground beneath him, as he started to round a
precipice, might after all be the effect of the mirage.
Added to this was another difficulty. As he wound slowly, about
midday, up the last reach, with the summit just above him, the wind
carried masses of cloud over the crest and into his face. He walked
alternately in a bewildering, driving fog and then in an air made
crazy with electricity. Again and again, from one side or the other,
he started when the storm boomed and cannonaded down a ravine and then
belched out into the open. All this time the babel of the winds
overhead never ceased, and the force of the storm cut up under him
with such violence that he was almost raised from the earth.
Then an unexpected barrier obtruded—a literal mountain of ice was
before him. The snow of the recent fall had been whipped away, and the
surface of the mountain, here perilously steep, was now sleek and
solid with ice. Bull looked gloomily toward the summit so close above
him, and the ice glimmered in the dull light. There was only one way
to make even the attempt. He sat down, took off his snowshoes,
strapped them to his back, and began to work his way up the slope,
battering out each foothold with the head of his ax. It was possible
to ascend in this manner, but it would be practically impossible
Once committed to this way, he had either to go on to the summit, or
else perish. Working slowly, with little possible muscular exercise to
warm him, he began to grow chilled and the wind-driven cold numbed his
ears. But, more than that, the wind was now a grim peril, for, from
time to time, it swerved and leaped on him heavily from the side.
Once, off balance, he looked back at the dazzling slope below him. He
would be a shapeless mass of flesh long before he tumbled to
Vaguely, as he hewed his footholds and worked his way up, he yearned
for the cleverness of Harry or the wit of Joe. What an ally either of
them would be! That he was undertaking a task from which either of
them would have shrunk in horror never occurred to him. Yonder, beyond
the summit, lay his destiny—Johnstown—and this was the way toward
it; it was a simple thing to Bull. He could no more vary from his
course than a magnetic needle can vary from its pole.
Suddenly he came on a break in the solid face of the ice. Above him
was a narrow rift through the ice to the gravel beneath; how it was
made, Bull could not guess. But he took advantage of it. Presently he
was striding on toward the summit, beating his hands to restore the
circulation and gingerly rubbing his ears.
There was a magical change as he reached the summit and sat down
behind some rocks to regain his breath and quiet his shaken nerves.
The clouds split apart in the zenith; the sun burst through; on both
sides the broad mountain billowed away to white lowlands; the air was
alive with little, brilliant spots of electricity.
It cheered Bull Hunter vastly. The gale, which was tumbling the clouds
down the arch of the sky and toward the east, was more mighty than
ever, but he put his head down to it confidently and began
There was more snow on this side, and to travel through it he soon
found that he must put on the snowshoes again; but after that the
descent was actually restful compared with the labors of the climb.
Yonder was the dark streak of the timberline again. Far down the
valley he watched it curving in and out along the mountainside like a
water level. Below was the darkness of the forest where other things
lived, and where Bull could live more easily, also. Never had trees
seemed such beautiful and friendly things to him.
Once a thought stopped him completely. He was in a new world. He was
seeing everything for the first time. On other days he had gone out
with others. Under their guidance, not trusted to undertake an
expedition by himself, he looked at nothing until it was pointed out
to him, heard nothing that was not first called to his attention. He
had always wondered at the acuteness of the senses of all other men.
But now, looking on the mountains for himself, he decided, with a
start of the heart, that they were beautiful—beautiful and terrible
at once, with the reality that he had never found in his books. What
leveled spear of a knight, in the pages of romance, could equal the
invisible thrust of this wind?
He reached the timberline. Looking back, he saw the summit, a
brilliant line of white against a blue sky. Again the heart of Bull
Hunter leaped. Here was a great treasure that he had taken in with one
grasp of the eyes and which he could never lose!
He turned down the valley. Where it swerved out into the lower plain,
stood Johnstown, and there he was to cross the flight of Pete Reeve,
if Pete were indeed flying. But it was incredible that the man who had
struck down Uncle Bill Campbell should flee from any man or number
He had reached the bottom of the narrow valley. A dull noise came down
to him from the mountain in the lull of the wind. He looked up.
Far away, miles and miles, near the summit of Scalped Mountain, a
snaky form of mist was twisting swiftly down. He looked curiously. The
thing grew, traveling with great speed that increased with every
moment. It increased—it gained velocity—a snowslide!
He watched it in doubt. It was twisting like a snake down the farther
side of the mountain, but, in his experience, slides were as
treacherous as serpents. Bull started hastily for a low cliff that
stood up from the floor of the valley, clear of the trees.
He had not gone far when the wind fell away to a whisper, and a dull
roaring caught his ear. He looked back over his shoulder in alarm. A
great wall of white was shooting down the mountainside. The little
slide of surface snow, which had twisted across the surface of the old
snows of the winter, had been gaining in weight, in momentum, picking
up claws of shrubbery, teeth of stone, and eating through layer after
layer of the old snow, packed hard as ice. Now it was a roaring mass
with a front steadily increasing in height, and far away in the rear
it tossed up a tail of snow dust, a flying mist that gave Bull an
impression of speed greater than the main wall of the snow itself.
The noise grew amazingly, and coming in range of the opposite wall of
the valley, a low and steadily increasing thunder poured into the ears
of Bull. It was a fascinating thing to watch, and at this distance to
the side he was quite safe. But at the very moment that he reached
this decision, the front of the slide smashed with a noise like
volleyed canyon against the side of a hill, tossed immense arms of
white in the air, floundered, and then veered with the speed of an
express train rounding a curve and rocked away down the slope straight
for Bull. Turned cold with dread, he saw it hit the timberline with a
great crashing, and the dark forms of the trees were dashed up by the
running mass of stones and then swallowed in the boiling front of
He waited to see no more, but dashed on for the saving cliff. Once his
back was turned it seemed that the slide gained speed. The immense
roaring literally leaped on him from behind, and in the roar, his
senses were drowned. He could feel his knees weaken and buckle, but
the cliff, now just before him, gave him fresh strength. But was the
cliff high enough? He hurried up to higher ground and flung himself
prostrate. The front of the slide was cutting down the heavily
forested slope as though the trees were blades of grass before a keen
scythe. The noise passed all description.
Once he thought the mass was changing direction. It put out a massive
arm to the left, licked down five hundred trees at a gulp, and then,
smashing its fist into a hillside, flung back into the valley floor,
tossing the great trees in its top and poured straight at him. He
watched it in one of those dazes during which one sees everything. The
whole body came like water down a chute, but one part of the front
wall spilled out ahead and then another, and then the top, overtaking
the rest, toppled crashing to the bottom. And so it rushed out of
sight beneath the cliff. But would it wash over the top?
The first answer was an impact that shook the ground under him, and
then he heard a noise like a huge ripping explosion. A dozen lofty
geysers of snow streamed up into the air, dazzling against the sun,
misty at the edges of each column, whose center was solid tons and
tons of snow. Old pines and spruces, their branches shaved away in the
tumult of the slide, were picked up and hurled like javelins over the
cliff; a shower of fragments beat on the body of Bull; and then the
main mass of snow washed up over the edge of the cliff in a great
mound, and the slide was ended.
He crawled slowly back to his feet. Far up the mountainside, beginning
in a point, the track of the slide swept down in a broadening scar,
black and raw, across forest and snow. Far down the valley the last
echoes of thunder were passing away to a murmur, and the valley floor,
beneath the cliff, was a mass of snow and tree trunks.
Bull took off the snowshoes and climbed along the valley wall until he
could descend to the clear floor beneath him. Then he headed down
It was well past midday when he escaped the slide; it was the
beginning of night when, at the conclusion of that first heroic march,
he reached Johnstown. With hunger his stomach cleaved to his back, and
his knees were weak with the labor.
Stamping through the snow to the hotel he asked the idlers around the
stove, "Has any of you gents seen a man named Pete Reeve pass through
They looked at him in amazement. He had closed the door behind him,
and now, with his battered hat pushed high on his head, he seemed
taller than the entrance—taller and as wide, a mountain of a man. The
efforts of the march had collected a continual frown on his forehead,
and as he peered about from face to face, no one for a moment was able
to answer, but each looked to his companion.
It was the proprietor who answered finally. Talk was his commercial
medium and staff of life. "What sort of a looking man, captain?"
Bull blinked at him. He was not used to honorary epithets such as
this, and he searched the face of the proprietor carefully to detect
mockery. To his surprise the other showed signs of what Bull dimly
recognized as fear. Fear of him—of Bull Hunter!
"The way you look at me," said the other and laughed uneasily, "I
figure it's pretty lucky that I ain't this here Pete Reeve. That
The boys joined in the laughter, but they kept it subdued, their eyes
upon the giant at the door. He was leaning against the wall, and the
sight of his outspread hand was far from reassuring.
But Bull went on to describe his man. "Not very big; hands like the
claws of a bird's; iron-gray hair; quick ways." That was Uncle Bill's
"Sure he's been here," said the owner. "I recognized him right off. He
was through about dusk. He came over the mountains and just got past
the summit, he said, before the storm hit. Lucky, eh?" He looked at
the battered coat of Bull. "Kind of appears like you mightn't of been
"Me?" asked Bull gently. "Nope. I was at the timberline on the other
side about daybreak today."
There was a sudden and chilly silence; men looked at one another.
Obviously no man could have traveled that distance between dawn and
dark, but it was as well not to express disbelief to a man who could
tell a lie as big as his body.
"I got to eat," said Bull.
The proprietor jumped out of his chair. "I can fix you up, son."
He led the way, Bull following with his enormous strides, and, as the
floor creaked under him, the eyes of the others jerked after him,
stride by stride. It was beginning to seem possible that this man had
done what he said he had done. When the door slammed behind him and
his steps went creaking through the room beyond, a mutter of a hum
arose around the stove.
As a matter of fact it was the beginning of the great legend that was
finally to bulk around the name of the big man. And it was fitting
that the huge figure of Bull Hunter should have come upon the
attention of men in this way, descending out of the storm and the
That he had done something historic was far from the mind of Bull as
he stalked into the dining room.
"You sit right down here," his host was saying, placing a chair at the
Bull tried the chair with his hand. It groaned and squeaked under the
weight. "Chairs don't seem to be made for me," he said simply.
"Besides I'm more used to sitting on the floor." He dropped to the
floor accordingly, with the effect of a small earthquake. The
proprietor stared, but he swallowed his astonishment. "What you'd like
to eat is something hearty, I figure."
"What you got?" said Bull.
"Well, Mrs. Jarney come in this morning with a dozen fresh eggs. Got
some prime bacon, too, and some jerky and—"
"That dozen eggs," said Bull thoughtfully, "will start me, and then a
platter of bacon, and you might mix up a bowl of flapjacks. You ain't
got a quart or so of canned milk, partner?"
The proprietor could only nod, for he dared not trust his voice.
Fleeing to the kitchen he repeated the prodigious order to his wife.
Then he circled by a back way and communicated the tidings to the
"boys" around the stove.
"A couple of dozen eggs, he says to me, and a few pounds of beef and
three or four quarts of milk and a bowl of flapjacks and a platter of
bacon," was the way the second version of the historic order for food
came to the idlers.
Half a dozen of the men risked the cold and the wind to steal around
to the side of the house and peer through the window at the huge,
bunched figure that sat on the floor. They found him with his chin
dropped upon the burly fist and a frown on his forehead, for Bull
He would have been glad to have found Pete Reeve in Johnstown and have
the matter over with. But, after all, it was beginning to occur to him
that it might not be wise to kill the man in the presence of other
people. They might attempt to correct him with the assistance of a
rope and a limb of a tree. Somewhere he must cut in ahead of this
Reeve and start out at him if possible. As for his ability to keep
pace with a horse he had no doubt that he could do it fairly well.
More than once he had gone out on foot, while Harry and Joe rode, and
he had pressed the little ponies, bearing their riders slowly up and
down the slopes, to keep pace with him. On the level, of course, it
was a different matter, but in broken country he more than kept up.
"Have you got a grudge agin' Reeve?" asked the host, as he brought in
the fried eggs.
"Maybe," admitted Bull, and instantly he began to attack the food.
The proprietor watched with a growing awe. No chinook ever ate snow as
this hungry giant melted food to nothingness. He came back with the
first stack of flapjacks and bacon and more questions. "But I'd think
that a gent like you'd be pretty careful about tangling with Pete
Reeve—him being so handy with a gun and you such a tolerable
"I've figured that all out," said Bull calmly. "But they's so much of
me to kill that I don't figure one bullet could do the work. Do you?"
The eyes of the proprietor grew large. He swallowed, and before he
could answer Bull continued in the exposition of his theory. "Before
he shoots the next shot, maybe I can get my hands on him."
"You going to fight him bare hands agin' a gun?"
"You see," said Bull apologetically, "I ain't much good with a gun,
but I feel sort of curious about what would happen if I got my grip
on a man."
And that was the foundation on which another section of the Bull
Hunter legend was built.
The bed on which Bull Hunter reposed his bulk that night was not the
cot to which he was shown by his host. One glance at the spindling
wooden legs of the canvas-bottomed cot was enough for Bull, and having
wrapped himself in the covers he lay down on the floor and was
While it was still dark, he wakened out of a dream in which Pete Reeve
seemed to be riding far—far away on the rim of the world. Ten minutes
later Bull was on the trail out of Johnstown. There was only one trail
for a horseman south of Johnstown, and that trail followed the
windings of the valley. Bull planned to push across the ragged peaks
of the Little Cloudy Mountains and head off the fugitive at
Two days of stern labor went into the next burst. He followed the cold
stars by night and the easy landmarks by day, and for food he had the
stock of raisins he had bought at Johnstown. He came out of the
heights and dropped down into Glenn Crossing in the gloom of the
second evening. But raisins are meager support for such a bulk as that
of Bull Hunter. It was a gaunt-faced giant who looked in at the door
of the shop where the blacksmith was working late. The mechanic looked
up with a start at the deep voice of the stranger, but he managed to
stammer forth his tidings. Such a man as Pete Reeve had indeed been in
Glenn Crossing, but he had gone on at the very verge of day and night.
Bull Hunter set his teeth, for there was no longer a possibility of
cutting off Pete Reeve by crossing country. The immense labors of the
last three days had merely served to put him on the heels of the
horseman, and now he must follow straight down country and attempt to
match his long legs against the speed of a fine horse. He drew a deep
breath and plunged into the night out of Glenn Crossing, on the south
trail. At least he would make one short, stiff march before the
weariness overtook him.
That weariness clouded his brain ten miles out. He built a fire in a
cover of pines and slept beside it. Before dawn he was up and out
again. In the first gray of the daylight he reached a little store at
a crossroad, and here he paused for breakfast. A tousled girl, rubbing
the sleep out of her eyes, served him in the kitchen. The first
glimpse of the hollow cheeks and the unshaven face of Bull Hunter
quite awakened her. Bull could feel her watching him, as she glided
about the room. He sunk his head between his shoulders and glared down
at the table. No doubt she would begin to gibe at him before long.
Most women did. He prepared himself to meet with patience that
incredible sting and penetrating hurt of a woman's mockery.
But there was no mockery forthcoming. The sun was still not up when he
paid his bill and hastened to the door of the old building. Quick
footsteps followed him, a hand touched his shoulders, and he turned
and looked suspiciously down into the face of the girl. It was a
frightened face, he thought, and very pretty. At some interval between
the time when he first saw her and the present, she had found time to
rearrange her hair and make it smooth. Color was pulsing in
"Stranger," she said softly, "what are you running away from?"
The question slowly penetrated the mind of Bull; he was still
bewildered by the change in her—something electric, to be felt rather
than noted with the eye.
"They ain't any reason for hurrying on," she urged. "I—I can hide
you, easy. Nobody could find where I'll put you, and there you can
rest up. You must be tolerable tired."
There was no doubt about it. There was kindness as well as anxiety in
her voice. For the second time in his entire life, Bull decided that a
woman could be something more than an annoyance. She was placing a
value on him, just as Jessie, three days before, had placed a value on
him; and it disturbed Bull. For so many years, he had been mocked and
scorned by his uncle and cousins that deep in his mind was engraved
the certainty that he was useless. He decided to hurry on before the
girl found out the truth.
"I can still walk," he said, "and, while I can walk, I got to go
south. But—you gimme heart, lady. You gimme a pile of heart to keep
going. Maybe"—he paused, uncertain what to say next, and yet
obviously she expected something more—"I'll get a chance to come back
this way, and if I do, I'll see you! You can lay to that—I'll
He was gone before she could answer, and he was wondering why she had
looked down with that sudden color and that queer, pleased smile. It
would be long before Bull understood, but, even without understanding,
he found that his heart was lighter and an odd warmth suffused him.
The rising of the sun found him in the pale desert with the magic of
the hills growing distant behind him, and he settled to a different
step through the thin sand—a short, choppy step. His weight was
against him here, but it would be even a greater disadvantage to a
horseman, and with this in mind, he pressed steadily south.
Every day on that south trail was like a year in the life of Bull.
Heat and thirst wasted him, the constant labor of the march hardened
his muscles, and he got that forward look about his eyes, which comes
with shadows under the lids and a constant frown on the forehead. It
was long afterward that men checked up his march from date to date and
discovered that the distance between the shack of Bill Campbell and
Halstead in the South was one hundred and fifty miles over bitter
mountains and burning desert, and that Bull Hunter had made the
distance in five days.
All this was learned and verified later when Bull was a legend. When
he strode into Halstead on that late afternoon no one had ever heard
of the man out of the mountains. He was simply an oddity in a country
where oddities draw small attention.
Yet a rumor advanced before Bull. A child, playing in the incredible
heat of the sun, saw the dusty giant heaving in the distance and ran
to its mother, frightened, and the worn-faced mother came to the porch
and shaded her eyes to look. She passed on the word with a call that
traveled from house to house. So that, when Bull entered the long,
irregular street of Halstead, he found it lined on either side by
children, old men, women. It was almost as though they had heard of
the thing he had come to do and were there to watch.
Bull shrank from their eyes. He would far rather have slipped around
the back of the village and gone toward its center unobserved. A pair
of staring eyes to Bull was like the pointing of a loaded gun. He put
unspoken sentences upon every tongue, and the sentences were those he
had heard so often from his uncle and his uncle's sons.
"Too big to be any good."
"Bull's got the size of a hoss, and as a hoss he'd do pretty well, but
he ain't no account as a man."
His life had been paved with such burning remarks as these. Many an
evening had been long agony to him as the three sat about and baited
him. He hurried down the street, the pulverized sand squirting up
about his heavy boots and drifting in a mist behind him. When he was
gone an old man came out and measured those great strides with his eye
and then stretched his legs vainly to cover the same marks. But this,
of course, Bull did not see, and he would not have understood it, had
he seen, except as a mockery.
He paused in front of the hotel veranda, an awful figure to behold.
His canvas coat was rolled and tied behind his sweating shoulders; his
too-short sleeves had bothered him and they were now cut off at the
elbow and exposed the sun-blackened forearms; his overalls streamed in
rags over his scarred boots. He pushed the battered hat far back on
his head and looked at the silent, attentive line of idlers who sat on
"Excuse me, gents," he said mildly. "But maybe one of you might know
of a little gent with iron-gray hair and a thin face and quick ways of
acting and little, thin hands." He illustrated his meaning by
extending his own huge paws. "His name is Pete Reeve."
That name caused a sharp shifting of glances, not at Bull, but from
man to man. A tall fellow rose. He advanced with his thumbs hooked
importantly in the arm holes of his vest and braced his legs apart as
he faced Bull. The elevation of the veranda floor raised him so that
he was actually some inches above the head of his interlocutor, and
the tall man was deeply grateful for that advantage. He was, in truth,
a little vain of his own height, and to have to look up to anyone
irritated him beyond words. Having established his own superior
position, he looked the giant over from head to foot. He kept one eye
steadily on Bull, as though afraid that the big man might dodge out of
sight and elude him.
"And what might you have to do with Pete Reeve?" he asked. "Mightn't
you be a partner of Pete's? Kind of looks like you was following him
sort of eager, friend."
While this question was being asked, Bull saw that the line of idlers
settled forward in their chairs to hear the answer. It puzzled him.
For some mysterious reason these men disapproved of any one who was
intimately acquainted with Pete Reeve, it seemed. He looked blandly
upon the tall man.
"I never seen Pete Reeve," said Bull apologetically.
"Ah? Yet you're follerin' him hotfoot?"
"I was aiming to see him, you know," answered Bull.
The tall man regarded him with eyes that began to twinkle beneath his
frown. Then he jerked his head aside and cast at his audience a
prodigious wink. The cloudy eyes of Bull had assured him that he had
to do with a simpleton, and he was inviting the others in on the game.
"You never seen him?" he asked gruffly, turning back to Bull. "You
expect me to believe talk like that? Young man, d'you know who I am?"
"I dunno," murmured Bull, overawed and drawing back a pace.
The action drew a chuckle from the crowd. Some of the idlers even rose
and sauntered to the edge of the veranda, the better to see the
baiting of the giant. His prodigious size made his timidity the
"You dunno, eh?" asked the other. "Well, son, I'm Sheriff Bill
Anderson!" He waited to see the effect of this portentous
"I never heard tell of any Sheriff Bill Anderson," said Bull in the
same mild voice.
The sheriff gasped. The idlers hastily veiled their mouths with much
coughing and clearing of the throat. It seemed that the tables had
been subtly turned upon the sheriff.
"You!" exclaimed the sheriff, extending a bony arm. "I got to tell
you, partner, that I'm a pile suspicious. I'm suspicious of anybody
that's a friend of Pete Reeve. How long have you knowed him?"
Bull was very anxious to pacify the tall man. He shifted his weight to
the other foot. "Something less'n nothing," he hastened to explain. "I
ain't never seen him."
"And why d'you want to see him? What d'you know about him?"
It flashed through the mind of Bull that it would be useless to tell
what he knew of Pete. Obviously nobody would believe what he could
tell of how Reeve had met and shot down Uncle Bill Campbell. For Bill
Campbell was a historic figure as a fighter in the mountain regions,
and surely his face must be bright even at this distance from his
home. That he could have walked beyond the sphere of Campbell's fame
in five days never occurred to Bull Hunter.
"I dunno nothing good," he confessed.
There was a change in the sheriff. He descended from the floor of the
veranda with a stiff-legged hop and took Bull by the arm, leading him
down the street.
"Son," he said earnestly, walking down the street with Bull, "d'you
know anything agin' this Pete Reeve? I want to know because I got Pete
behind the bars for murder!"
"Murder?" asked Bull.
"Murder—regular murder—something he'll hang for. And if you got any
inside information that I can use agin' him, why I'll use it and I'll
be mighty grateful for it! You see everybody knows Pete Reeve.
Everybody knows that, for all these years, he's been going around
killing and maiming men, and nobody has been able to bring him up for
anything worse'n self-defense. But now I think I got him to rights,
and I want to hang him for it, stranger, partly because it'd be a
feather in my cap, and partly because it'd be doing a favor for every
good, law-abiding citizen in these parts. So do what you can to help
me, stranger, and I'll see that your time ain't wasted."
There was something very wheedling and insinuating about all this
talk. It troubled Bull. His strangely obscure life had left him a
child in many important respects, and he had a child's instinctive
knowledge of the mental processes of others. In this case he felt a
profound distrust. There was something wrong about this sheriff, his
instincts told him—something gravely wrong. He disliked the man who
had started to ridicule him before many men and was now so
confidential, asking his help.
"Sheriff Anderson," he said, "may I see this Reeve?"
"Come right along with me, son. I ain't pressing you for what you
know. But it may be a thing that'll help me to hang Reeve. And if it
is, I'll need to know it. Understand? Public benefit—that's what I'm
after. Come along with me and you can see if Reeve's the man
They crossed the street through a little maelstrom of fine dust which
a wind circle had picked up, and the sheriff led Bull into the jail.
They crossed the tawdry little outer room with its warped floor
creaking under the tread of Bull Hunter. Next they came face to face
with a cage of steel bars, and behind it was a little gray man on a
bunk. He sat up and peered at them from beneath bushy brows, a
thin-faced man, extremely agile. Even in sitting up, one caught many
possibilities of catlike speed of action.
Bull knew at once that this was the man he sought. He stood close to
the bars, grasping one in each great hand, and with his face pressed
against the steel, he peered at Pete Reeve. The other was very calm.
"Howdy, sheriff," he said. "Bringing on another one to look over your
The prisoner's good humor impressed Bull immensely. Here was a man
talking commonplaces in the face of death. A greater man than Uncle
Bill, he felt at once—a far greater man. It was impossible to
conceive of that keen, sharp eye and that clawlike hand sending a
bullet far from the center of the target.
He gave his eyes long sight of that face, and then turned from the
bars and went out with the sheriff.
"Is that your man?" asked the sheriff.
"I dunno," said Bull, fencing for time as they stood in front of the
jail. "What'd he do?"
"You mean why he's in jail? I'll tell you that, son, but first I want
to know what you got agin' him—and your proofs—mostly your proofs!"
The distaste which Bull had felt for the sheriff from the first now
became overpowering. That he should be the means of bringing that
terrible and active little man to an end seemed, as a matter of fact,
absurd. Guile must have played a part in that capture.
Suppose he were to tell the sheriff about the shooting of Uncle Bill?
That would be enough to convince men that Pete Reeve was capable of
murder, for the shooting of Uncle Bill had been worse than murder. It
spared the life and ruined it at the same time. But suppose he added
his evidence and allowed the law to take its course with Pete Reeve?
Where would be his own reward for his long march south and all the
pain of travel and the crossing of the mountains at the peril of his
life? There would be nothing but scorn from Uncle Bill when he
returned, and not that moment of praise for which he yearned. To gain
that great end he must kill Pete Reeve, but not by the aid of the law.
"I dunno," he said to the sheriff who waited impatiently. "I figure
that what I know wouldn't be no good to you."
The sheriff snorted. "You been letting me waste all this time on you?"
he asked Bull. "Why didn't you tell me that in the first place?"
Bull scratched his head in perplexity. But as he raised the great arm
and put his hand behind his head, the sheriff winced back a little.
"I'm sorry," said Bull.
The sheriff dismissed him with a grunt of disgust, and strode off.
Bull started out to find information. This idea was growing slowly in
his mind. He must kill Pete Reeve, and to accomplish that great end he
must first free him from the jail. He went back to the hotel and went
into the kitchen to find food. The proprietor himself came back to
serve him. He was a pudgy little man with a dignified pointed beard of
which he was inordinately proud.
"It's between times for meals," he declared, "but you being the
biggest man that ever come into the hotel, I'll make an exception."
And he began to hunt through the cupboard for cold meat.
"I seen Pete Reeve," began Bull bluntly. "How come he's in jail?"
"Him?" asked the other. "Ain't you heard?"
The little man sighed with pleasure; he had given up hope of finding a
new listener for that oft-told tale. "It happened last night," he
confided. "Along late in the afternoon in rides Johnny Strange. He
tells us he was out to Dan Armstrong's place when, about noon, a
little gray-headed man that give the name of Pete Reeve came in and
asked for chow. Of course Johnny Strange pricks up his ears when he
hears the name. We all heard about Pete Reeve, off and on, as about
the slickest gunman that the ranges ever turned out. So he looks Pete
over and wonders at finding such a little man."
The proprietor drew himself up to his full height. "He didn't know
that size don't make the man! Well, Armstrong trotted out some chuck
for Reeve, and after Pete had eaten, Johnny Strange suggested a game.
They sat in at three-handed stud poker.
"Things went along pretty good for Johnny. He made a considerable
winning. Then it come late in the afternoon, and he seen he'd have to
be getting back home. He offered to bet everything he'd won, or double
or nothing, and when the boys didn't want to do that, it give him a
clean hand to stand up and get out. He got up and said good-bye and
hung around a while to see how the next hands went. So far as he could
make out, Pete Reeve was losing pretty steady. Then he come on in.
"Well, when Johnny Strange told about Pete being out there, Sheriff
Anderson was in the room and he rises up.
"'Don't look good to me,' he says. 'If a gunfighter is losing money,
most like he'll fight to win it back. Maybe I'll go out and look that
"And saying that he slopes out of the room.
"Well, none of us took much stock in the sheriff going out to take
care of Armstrong. You see Armstrong was the old sheriff, and he give
Anderson a pretty stiff run for his money last election. They both
been spending most of their time and energy the last few years hating
each other. When one of 'em is in office the other goes around saying
that the gent that has the plum is a crook; and then Anderson goes
out, and Armstrong comes in, and Anderson says the same thing about
Armstrong. Take 'em general and they always had the boys worried when
they was together, for fear of a gunfight and bullets flying. And so,
when Anderson stands up and says he's going out to see that Reeve
don't do no harm to Armstrong, we all sat back and kind of laughed.
"But we laughed at the wrong thing. Long about an hour or so after
dark we hear two men come walking up on the veranda, and one of 'em we
knowed by the sound was the sheriff."
"How could you tell by the sound?" asked Bull innocently.
"Well, you see the sheriff always wears steel rims on his heels like
he was a horse. He's kind of close with his money is old Anderson,
I'll tell a man! We hear the ring of them heels on the porch, and
pretty soon in comes the sheriff, herding a gent in ahead of him. And
who d'you think that gent was? It was Reeve! Yes, sir, the old sheriff
had stepped out and grabbed his man. He wasn't there quick enough to
stop the killing of Armstrong, but he got there fast enough to nab
Reeve. Seems that when he was riding up to the house he heard a shot
fired, and then he seen a man run out of the house and jump on his
hoss, and the sheriff didn't stop to ask no questions. He just out
with his gat and drills the gent's hoss. And while Reeve was
struggling on the ground, with the hoss flopping around and dying, the
sheriff runs up and sticks the irons on Reeve. Then he goes into the
house and finds Armstrong lying shot through the heart. Clear as day!
Reeve loses a lot of money, and when it comes to a pinch he hates to
see that money gone when he could get it back for the price of one
slug. So he outs with his gun and shoots Armstrong. And the worst part
of it was that Armstrong didn't have no gun on at the time. The
sheriff found Armstrong's gun hanging on the wall along with his
cartridge belt. Yep, it was plain murder, and Pete Reeve'll hang as
high as the sky—and a good thing, too!"
This story was a shock to Bull for a reason that would not have
affected most men. That a man who had had the courage to stand up and
face Uncle Bill in a fair duel should have been so cowardly, so
venomous as to take a mean advantage of a gambling companion seemed to
Bull altogether too strange to be reasonable. Certainly, if he had had
a difference with this fellow, thought Bull, Pete Reeve was the man to
let the other use his own weapons before he fought. But to shoot him
down across a table, unwarned—this was too much to believe! And yet
it was the truth, and Pete Reeve was to hang for it.
The big man sat shaking his head. "And they found the money on Pete
Reeve?" he asked gloomily. "They found the money he took off this
"There's the funny part of the yarn," said the proprietor glibly.
"Pete had the nerve to shoot the gent down in cold blood, but when he
seen him fall he lost his nerve. He didn't wait to grab the money, but
ran out and jumped on his hoss and tried to get away. So there you
are. But it pretty often happens that way! Take the oldest gunfighter
in the world, and, if his stomach ain't resting just right, it sort of
upsets him to see a crimson stain. I seen it happen that way with the
worst of 'em, and in the old days they used to be a rough crowd in my
barroom. They don't turn out that style of gent no more!" He sighed as
his mind flickered back into the heroic past.
"And Reeve—he admits he done the killing?" Bull asked hopelessly.
"Him? Nope, he's too foxy for that. But the only story he told was so
foolish that we laughed at him, and he ain't had the nerve to try to
bluff us ever since. He says that he was sitting peaceable with
Armstrong when all at once without no warning they was a shot from the
window—the east window, I remember he was particular to say—and
Armstrong dropped forward on the table, shot through the heart.
"Reeve says that he didn't wait to ask no questions. He blew the
candle out, and having got the darkness on his side, he made a jump
through the door and got onto his hoss. He says that he wanted to
break away to the trees and try to get a shot at the murderer from
cover, but the minute he got onto his hoss, he had his hoss shot from
"Was they any shots fired then?"
"Yep. Reeve says that he fired a couple of times when he fell. But the
sheriff says that Reeve only fired once, as his hoss was falling, and
that the other shot that was found fired out of Reeve's gun was fired
into the heart of Armstrong. Oh, they ain't any doubt about it. All
Reeve has got is a cock-and-bull yarn that would make a fool laugh!"
Although Bull had been many times assured by his uncle and his cousins
that he was a fool of the first magnitude, he was in no mood for
laughter. Somewhere in the tale there was something wrong, for his
mind refused to conjure up the picture of Reeve pulling his gun and
shooting across the table into the breast of a helpless, unwarned man.
That would not be the method of a man who could stand up to Uncle
Bill. That would not be the method of the man who had sat up on his
bunk and looked so calmly into the face of the sheriff.
Bull stood up and dragged his hat firmly over his eyes. "I'd kind of
like to see the place where that shooting was done," he declared.
"You got lots of time before night," said the proprietor. "Ain't
more'n a mile and a half out the north trail. Take that path right out
there, and you can ride out inside of five minutes."
There was no horse for Bull Hunter to ride. But, having thanked his
host, he stepped out into the cooler sunshine of the late afternoon.
The trail led through scattering groves of cottonwood most of the way,
for it was bottom land, partially flooded in the winter season of
rain, and, even in the driest and hottest part of the summer, marshy
in places. He followed the twisting little trail through spots of
shadow and stretches of open sky until he reached the shack which was
obviously that of the dead Armstrong.
The moment he entered the little cabin he received proof positive.
The furniture had not apparently been disturbed since the shooting.
The table still leaned crazily, as though it had not recovered from a
violent shock on one side. One chair was overturned. A box had been
smashed to splinters, probably by having someone put a foot
Bull examined the deal table. Across the center of it there was a dark
stain, and on the farther side, two hands were printed distinctly into
the wood, in the same dull color. The whole scene rose revoltingly
distinct in the mind of Bull.
Here sat Dan Armstrong playing his cheerful game, laughing and
jesting, because forsooth he was the winner. And there, on the
opposite side of the table, sat Pete Reeve, the guest in the house of
his host, growing darker and darker as the money was transferred from
his pocket to the pocket of the jovial Armstrong. Then, a sudden
taking of offense at some harmless jest, the cold flash of steel as
Reeve leaned and jumped to his feet, and then the explosion of the
revolver, with Armstrong settling slowly, limply forward on the table.
There he lay with a stream pouring across the table from the death
wound, his helpless arms outstretched on the wood.
Then Reeve, panic-stricken, perhaps with a sudden stirring of remorse,
started for the door, struck the box on his way, smashing it to bits,
and as soon as he got outside, leaped for his horse. Luckily
retribution had overtaken the murderer in the very moment of escape.
Bull Hunter sighed. Never had the strength of the arm of the law been
so vividly brought home to him as by this incident. Suppose that he
had fulfilled his purpose and killed Reeve? Would not the law have
reached for him in the same fashion and taken and crushed him?
He shuddered, and looking up from his broodings, he glanced through
the opposite window and saw that the woods were growing dark in that
direction. Night was approaching, and, with the feeling of night,
there was a ghostly sense of death, as though the spirit of the dead
man were returning to his old home. On the other side of the house,
however, the woods showed brighter. This was the east window—the east
window through which Reeve declared that the shot had been fired.
Bull shook his head. He stepped out of the cabin and looked about. It
was a prosperous little stretch of meadow, cleared into the
cottonwoods and reclaiming part of the marshland—all very rich soil,
as one could see at a glance. There was a field which had been
recently upturned by the plow, perhaps the work of yesterday. The
furrows were still black, still not dried out by the sun. Today would
have been the time for harrowing, but that work was indefinitely
postponed by the grim visitor. No doubt this Armstrong was an
industrious man. The sense of a wasted life was brought home to Bull;
a bullet had ended it all!
Absent-mindedly he passed around the side of the house and started for
the east window through which Reeve had said that the bullet was
fired, but he shook his head at once.
On the east side the house leaned against a mass of white stone. It
rose high, rough, ragged. Certainly a man stalking a house to fire a
shot would never come up to it from this side! His own words were
convicting Reeve of the murder!
Still he continued to clamber over the stones until he stood by the
window. To be sure, if a man stood there, he could easily have fired
into the room and into the breast of a man sitting on the far side of
the table. Armstrong was found there. Bull looked down to his feet as
a thoughtful man will do, and there, very clearly marked against the
white of the stone, he saw a dark streak—two of them, side by side.
He bent and looked at them. Then he rubbed the places with his
fingertips and examined the skin. A stain had come away from the rock.
It was as if the rocks had been rubbed with lead or a soft iron. And
then, strangely, into the mind of Bull came the memory of what the
hotel man had said of the sheriff's iron-shod heels.
The sheriff had gone for many a year hating Armstrong. The truth
rushed over the brain of the big man. What a chance for a crafty mind!
To kill his enemy and place the blame on the shoulders of one already
known to be a man-killer! Bull Hunter leaped from the rocks and
started back for the town with long, ground-devouring strides.
There were two reasons for the happiness which lightened the step of
Bull Hunter as he strode back for the town. In the first place he saw
a hope of liberating Reeve from jail and accomplishing his own mission
of killing the man. In the second place he felt a peculiar joy at the
thought of freeing such a man from the imputation of a cowardly murder.
Yet he had small grounds for his hopes. Two little dark marks on the
white, friable stone, marks that the first small shower of rain would
wash away, marks that the first keen sandstorm would rub off—this was
his only proof. And with this to free one man from danger of the rope
and place the head of another under the noose—it was a task to try
the resources of a cleverer man than Bull.
Indeed, the high spirits of Bull in some measure left him as he drew
nearer and nearer to the village. How could he convict the sheriff?
How, with his clumsy wits and his clumsy tongue, could he bring the
truth to light? Had he possessed the keen eyes of his uncle he felt
that a single glance would have made the guilt stand up in the face of
Anderson. But his own eyes, alas, were dull and clouded.
Thoughtfully, with bowed head, he held his course. A strange picture,
surely, this man who so devoutly wished to free another from the
danger of the law in order that he might take a life into his own
hands. But the contrast did not strike home to Bull. To him everything
that he did was as clear as day. But how to go to work? If the man
were like himself it would be an easy matter. More than once he
remembered how his cousins had shifted the blame for their own boyish
pranks upon him. In the presence of their father they would accuse
Bull with a well-planned lie, and the very fact that he had been
accused made Bull blush and hang his head. Before he could be heard in
his own behalf the cruel eye of his uncle had grown stern, and Bull
was condemned as a culprit.
"The only time you show any sense," his uncle had said more than once,
"is when you want to do something you hadn't ought to do!"
Steadily through the years he had served as a scapegoat for his
cousins. They set a certain value upon him for his use in this
respect. Ah, if only he had that keen, embarrassing eye of Bill
Campbell with which to pierce to the guilty heart of the sheriff and
make him speak! The eye of his uncle was like the eye of a crowd. It
was an audience in itself and condemned or praised with the strength
It was this thought of numbers that brought the clue to a possible
solution to Bull Hunter. When it came to him he stopped short in the
road, threw back his head and laughed.
"And what's all the celebration about?" asked a voice behind him.
He turned and found Sheriff Anderson on his horse directly behind him.
The soft loam of the trail had covered the sound of the sheriffs
approach. Bull blushed with a sudden sense of shame. Moreover, the
sheriff seemed unapproachably stern and dignified. He sat erect in the
saddle, a cavalier figure with his long, well-drilled mustaches.
"I dunno," said Bull vaguely, pushing his hat back to scratch his
thatch of blond hair. "I didn't know I was celebrating, particular."
The sheriff watched him with small, evil eyes. "You been snooping
around, son," he said coldly. "And we folks in this part, we don't
like snoopers. Understand?"
"No," said Bull frankly, "I don't exactly figure what you mean." Then
he dropped his hand to his hip.
"Git your hand off that gun!" said the sheriff, his own weapon
flashing instantly in the light.
It had been a move like lightning. Its speed stunned and baffled Bull
Hunter. Something cold formed in his throat, choking him, and he
obediently drew his hand away. He did more. He threw both immense arms
above his head and stood gaping at the sheriff.
The latter eyed him for a moment with stern amusement, and then he
shoved the gun back into its holster. "I guess they ain't much harm in
you," he said more to himself than to Bull. "But I hate a snooper
worse than I do a rat. You can take them arms down."
Bull lowered them cautiously.
"You hear me talk?" asked the sheriff.
"I hear," said Bull obediently.
"I don't like snoopers. Which means that I don't like you none too
well. Besides, who in thunder are you? A wanderin' vagrant you look
to me, and we got a law agin' vagrants. You amble along on your trail
pretty pronto, and no harm'll come to you. But if you're around town
tomorrow—well, you've heard me talk!"
It was very familiar talk to Bull; not the words, but the commanding
and contemptuous tone in which they were spoken. Crestfallen, he
submitted. Of one thing he must make sure: that no harm befell him
before he faced Pete Reeve and Pete Reeve's gun. Then he could only
pray for courage to attack. But the effect of the sheriff's little
gunplay entirely disheartened Bull at the prospect of facing Pete.
With a noncommittal rejoinder he started down the road, and the
sheriff put the spurs to his horse and plunged by at a full gallop,
flinging the dust back into the face of the big man. Bull wiped it out
of his eyes and went on gloomily. He had been trodden upon in spirit
once more. But, after all, that was so old a story that it made little
difference. It convinced him, however, of one thing; he could never do
anything with the sheriff man to man. Certainly he would need the help
of a crowd before he faced the tall man and his cavalier mustaches.
He waited until after the supper at the hotel. It was a miserable
meal for Bull; he had already eaten, and he could not find a way of
refusing the invitation of the proprietor to sit down again. Seated at
the end of the long table he looked miserably up and down it. Nobody
had a look for him except one of contempt. The sheriff, it seemed, had
spread a story around about his lack of spirit, and if Bull remained
long in the village, he would be treated with little more respect than
he had been in the house of his uncle. Even now they held him in
contempt. They could not understand, for instance, why he sat so far
forward. He was resting most of his weight on his legs, for fear of
the weakness of the chair under his full bulk. But that very bulk made
them whisper their jokes and insults to one another.
When the long nightmare of that meal was ended, Bull began making his
rounds. He had chosen his men. Every man he picked was sharp-eyed like
Uncle Bill Campbell. They were the men whose inlooking eyes would
baffle the sheriff; they were the men capable of suspicions, and such
men Bull needed—not dull-glancing people like himself.
He went first to the proprietor of the hotel. "I got something to say
to the sheriff," he declared. "And I want to have a few important
gents around town to be there to listen and hear what I got to say. I
wonder, could you be handy?"
He was surprised at the avidity with which his invitation was
accepted. It was a long time since the hotel owner had been referred
to as an "important man."
Then he went with the same talk to five others—the blacksmith, the
carpenter and odd-jobber, the storekeeper, and two men whom he had
marked when he first halted near the hotel veranda. To his invitation
each of them gave a quick assent. There had been something mysterious
in the manner in which this timid-eyed giant had descended upon the
town from nowhere, and now they felt that they were about to come to
the heart of the reason of his visit.
The invitation to the sheriff was delivered by the proprietor of the
hotel, and he said just enough—and no more—to bring the sheriff
straight to the hotel. Anderson arrived with his best pair of guns in
his holsters, for the sheriff was a two-gun man of the best variety.
He came with the aggressive manner of one ready to beat down all
opposition, but when he stepped into the room, his manner changed. For
he found sitting about the table in the dining room, which was to be
the scene of the conference, the six most influential men of the
town—men strong enough to reelect him next year, or to throw him
permanently out of office.
At the lower end of the table stood Bull Hunter, his arms folded, his
face blank. Standing with the light from the lamp shining upon his
face, the others seated, he seemed a man among pygmies.
"Shall I lock the door?" asked the proprietor, and he turned to Bull,
as if the latter had the right to dictate.
"All right, sheriff," the proprietor went on to explain. "Our young
friend yonder says that he's got something to say to you. He's asked
each of us to hang around and be a witness. Are you ready?"
"Jud," burst out the sheriff, "you're an idiot! This overgrown booby
needs a horsewhipping, and that's the sort of an answer I'd like to
make to him."
Having delivered this broadside he strode up and confronted Bull. It
was a very poor move. In the first place, the sheriff had insulted one
of the men who was about to act as his official judge. In the second
place, by putting himself so close to Bull, he made himself appear a
trifle ludicrous. Also, if he expected to throw Bull out of the poise
with this blustering, he failed. It was not that Bull did not feel
fear, but he had seen a curious thing—the sinewy, long neck of the
sheriff—and he was wondering what would happen if one of his hands
should grip that throat for a single instant. He grew so fascinated by
this study that he forgot his fear of the sheriff's guns.
Anderson hastened to retreat from his false position. "Gents," he
said, "excuse me for getting edgy. But, if you want me to listen to
this fellow's talk—"
"Hunter is his name—Bull Hunter," said the proprietor.
The sheriff took his place at the far end of the long table. Like
Bull, he preferred to stand. "Start in your talk," he commanded.
"It looks to me," said Bull gently, "that they's only one gent here
that's wearing a gun." He had thrown his own belt on a chair; and now
he fixed his eyes on the weapons of Anderson.
The sheriff glared. "You want me to take off my guns? Son, I'd rather
Jud, the hotel man, had already been insulted once by the sheriff, and
he had been biding his time. This seemed an excellent opening. "Looks
to me," he remarked, "like Mr. Hunter was right. He's got something
pretty serious to say, and he don't want to take no chances on your
cutting him short with a bullet!"
The sheriff glared at Bull and then cast a swift glance over the faces
of the others. He read upon them only one expression—a cold
curiosity. Plainly they agreed with Jud, and the sheriff gave way. He
took off his belt and tossed it upon a chair near him. Then he faced
Bull again, but he faced the big man with half his confidence
destroyed. As he had said, he felt worse than naked without his
revolvers under his touch, but now he attempted to brave out the
"Well," he said jocularly, "what you going to accuse me of, Bull
"I'm just going to tell a little story that I been thinking about,"
"Story—nothing!" exclaimed Anderson.
"Wait a minute," broke in Jud. "Let him tell this his own way—I think
you'd best, sheriff!"
Bull was looking at the sheriff and through him into the distance.
After all, it was a story, as distinctly a story as if he had it in a
book. As he began to tell it, he forgot Sheriff Anderson at the
farther end of the table. He talked slowly, bringing the words out one
by one, as if what he said were coming to him by inspiration—a kind
of second sight.
"It starts in," said Bull, "the other night when the gent come in with
word that Pete Reeve was out playing cards with Armstrong and losing
money. When the sheriff heard that, he started to thinking. He was
remembering how he'd hated Armstrong for a good many years, and that
made him think that maybe Armstrong would get into trouble with Reeve,
because Reeve is a pretty good shot, and the sheriff hoped that, if it
come to a showdown, Reeve would shoot Armstrong full of holes. And
that started him wishing pretty strong that Armstrong would
"Do I have to stand here and listen to this fool talk?" demanded the
"I'm just supposing," said Bull. "Surely they ain't any harm in just
"Not a bit," decided Jud, who had taken the position of main arbiter.
"Well, the sheriff got to wishing Armstrong was dead so strong that it
didn't seem he could stand to have him living much more. He told the
folks that he was going out to see that no harm come to Armstrong from
Reeve. Then he got on his hoss and went out. All the way he was
thinking hard. Armstrong was the gent that was sheriff before
Anderson; Armstrong was the gent that might get the job and throw him
out again. Ain't that clear? Well, the sheriff gets close to the
He paused and slowly extended his long arm toward the sheriff. "What'd
you do then?"
"Me? I heard a shot—"
"You left your hoss standing in the brush near the house," interrupted
Bull, "and you went along on foot."
"Does that sound reasonable, a gent going on foot when he might ride?"
demanded the sheriff.
"You didn't want to make no noise," said Bull, and his great voice
swallowed the protest of the sheriff.
Anderson cast another glance at the listeners. Plainly they were
fascinated by this tale, and they were following it step by step
"You didn't make no noise, either," went on Bull Hunter. "You slipped
up to the cabin real soft, and you climbed up on the east side of the
house over some rocks."
"Why in reason should a man climb over rocks? Why wouldn't he go right
to the door?"
"Because you didn't want to be seen."
"Then why not the west window, fool!"
"You tried that window first, but they was some dry brush lying in
front of it, and you couldn't come close enough to look in without
making a noise stepping on the dead wood. So then you went around to
the other side and climbed over the rocks until you could look into
the cabin. Am I right?"
"I—no, curse you, no! Of course you ain't right!" shouted Anderson.
"Looking right through that window," said Bull heavily, "you seen
Armstrong, the man you hated, facing you, and, with his back turned,
was Pete Reeve. You said to yourself, 'Drop Armstrong with a bullet,
catch Reeve, and put the blame on him!' Then you pulled your gun."
He pushed aside the ponderous armchair which stood beside him at the
head of the table.
"Say," shouted the sheriff, paler than ever now, "what are you
accusing me of?"
"Murder!" thundered Bull Hunter.
The roar of Bull's voice chained every one in his place, the sheriff
with staring eyes, and Jud in the act of raising his hand.
"I'll jail you for slander!" said the sheriff, fighting to assurance
and knowing that he was betrayed by his pallor and by the icy
perspiration which he felt on his forehead.
"Anderson," said Bull, "I seen the marks of them iron heels of yours
on the rock!"
That was a little thing, of course. As evidence it would not have
convinced the most prejudiced jury in the world, but Sheriff Anderson
was not weighing small points. Into his mind leaped one image—the
whiteness of those rocks on which he had stood and the indelible mark
his heels must have made against that whiteness. He was lost, he felt,
and he acted on the impulse to fight for his life.
One last glance he cast at the six listeners, and in their wide-eyed
interest he read his own damnation. Then Anderson whirled and leaped
for his belt with the guns.
Out of six throats came six yells of fear; there was a noise of chairs
being pushed back and a wild scramble to find safety under the table.
Jud, risking a moment's delay, knocked the chimney off the lamp before
he dived. The flame leaped once and went out, but the pale moonshine
poured through the window and filled the room with a weird play
What Bull Hunter saw was not the escape of the sheriff, but a sudden
blind rage against everything and everybody. It was a passion that set
him trembling through all of his great body. One touch of trust, one
word of encouragement had been enough to make him a giant to tear up
the stump in the presence of Jessie and his cousins; how far more
mighty he was in the grip of this new emotion, this rage.
His own gun was far away, but guns were not what he wanted. They were
uncongenial toys to his great hands. Instead, he reached down and
caught up that massive chair of oak, built to resist time, built to
bear even such a bulk as that of Bull Hunter with ease. Yet he caught
it up in one hand, weighed it behind his head at the full limit of his
extended arm, and then, bending forward, he catapulted the great
missile down the length of the table. It hit the lamp on the way and
splintered it to small bits, its momentum unimpeded. Hurtling on
across the table it shot at the sheriff as he whirled with his guns in
Fast as the chair shot forward, the hand of the sheriff was faster
still. Bull saw the big guns twitch up, silver in the moonshine. They
exploded in one voice, as if the flying mass of wood were an animate
object. Then the sheriff was struck and hurled crashing along
At that fall the six men scampered from beneath the table to seize the
downed man. There was no need of their haste. Sheriff Anderson was a
wreck rather than a fighting man. One arm was horribly crumpled
beneath him; his ribs were shattered, there was a great gash where the
rung of the chair had cut into the bone like a knife.
They stood chattering about the fallen man, straightening him out,
feeling his pulse, making sure that he, who would soon hang at the
will of the law, was alive. Outside, voices were rushing toward them,
Bull Hunter broke through the circle, bent over the limp body, and
drew a big bundle of keys from a pocket. Then, without a word, he went
back to the far end of the room, buckled on his gun belt, and in
silence left the room.
The others paid no heed. They and the newcomers who had poured into
the room were fascinated by the work of the giant rather than the
giant's self. They had a lantern, swinging dull light and grotesque
shadows across the place now, and by the illumination, two of the men
went to the wall and picked up the great oaken chair. They raised it
slowly between them, a battered mass of disconnected wood. Then they
looked to the far end of the long table where he who had thrown the
missile had stood. Another line had been written into the history of
Bull Hunter—the first line that was written in red.
Bull himself was on his way to the jail. He found it unguarded. The
deputy had gone to find the cause of the commotion at the hotel. The
steel bars, moreover, were sufficient to retain the prisoner and keep
out would-be rescuers.
In the dim light of his lantern, Bull saw that Pete Reeve was sitting
cross-legged on his bunk, like a little, dried-up idol, smoking a
cigarette. His only greeting to the big man was a lifting of the
eyebrows. But, when the big key was fitted into the lock and the lock
turned, he showed his first signs of interest. He was standing up when
Bull opened the door and strode in.
"Have you got your things?" said Bull curtly.
"What things, big fellow?"
"Why, guns and things—and your hat, of course."
Pete Reeve walked to the corner of the cell and took a sombrero off
the wall. "Here's that hat," he answered, "but they ain't passing out
guns to jailbirds—not in these parts!"
"You ain't a jailbird," answered Bull, "so we'll get that gun. Know
where it is?"
Reeve followed without a question through the open door, only stopping
as he passed beyond the bars, to look back to them with a shudder. It
was the first sign of emotion he had shown since his arrest. But his
step was lighter and quicker as he followed Bull into the front room.
"In that closet, yonder," said Reeve, pointing to a door. "That's
where they keep the guns."
Bull shook out his bundle of keys into the great palm of his hand.
"Not those keys—the deputy has the key to the closet," said Pete. "I
saw Anderson give it to him."
Bull sighed. "I ain't got much time, partner," he said. Approaching
the door, he examined it wistfully. "But, maybe, they's another way."
He drew back a little, raised his right leg, and smashed the heavy
cowhide boot against the door. The wood split from top to bottom, and
Bull's leg was driven on through the aperture. He paused to wrench the
fragments of the door from lock and hinges and then beckoned to Pete
Reeve. "Look for your gun in here, Reeve."
The little man cast one twinkling glance at his companion and then was
instantly among the litter of the closet floor. He emerged strapping a
belt about him, the holster tugging far down, so that the muzzle of
the gun was almost at his knee. Bull appreciated the diminutive size
of the man for the first time, seeing him in conjunction with the big
gun on his thigh.
There was an odd change in the little man also, the moment his gun was
in place. He tugged his broad-brimmed hat a little lower across his
eyes and poised himself, as if on tiptoe; his glance was a constant
flicker about the room until it came to rest on Bull. "Suppose you
lemme in on the meaning of all this. Who are you and where do you
figure on letting me loose? What in thunder is it all about?"
"We'll talk later. Now you got to get started."
Bull waved to the door. Pete Reeve darted past him with noiseless
steps and paused a moment at the threshold of the jail. Plainly he was
ready for fight or flight, and his right hand was toying constantly
with the holstered butt of his gun. Bull followed to the outside.
"Hosses?" asked the little man curtly.
"On foot," answered Bull with equal brevity, and he led the way
straight across the street. There was no danger of being seen. All the
life of the town was drawn to a center about the hotel. Lights were
flashing behind its windows, men were constantly pounding across the
veranda, running in and out. Bull led the way past the building and
cut for the cottonwoods.
"And now?" demanded Pete Reeve. "Now, partner?"
That word stung Bull. It had not been applied to him more than a half
a dozen times in his life, together with its implications of free and
equal brotherhood. To be called partner by the great man who had
conquered terrible Uncle Bill Campbell!
"They's a mess in the hotel," said Bull, explaining as shortly as he
could. "Seems that Sheriff Anderson was the gent that done the killing
of Armstrong. It got found out and the sheriff tried to get away. Lots
of noise and trouble."
"Ah," said Reeve, "it was him, then—the old hound! I might have
knowed! But I kep' on figuring that they was two of 'em! Well, the
sheriff was a handy boy with his gun. Did he drop anybody before they
got him? I heard two guns go off like one. Them must of been the
"They was," said Bull, "but them bullets didn't hit nothing but wood."
"Wild, eh? Shot into the wall?"
"Nope. Into a chair."
The little man was struggling and panting sometimes breaking into a
trot to keep up with the immense strides of his companion. "A chair?
You don't say so!"
Bull was silent.
"How come he shot at a chair? Drunk?"
"The chair was sailing through the air at him."
"H'm!" returned Pete Reeve. "Somebody throwed a chair at him, and the
sheriff got rattled and shot at it instead of dodging? Well, I've seen
a pile of funnier things than that happen in gun play, off and on. Who
threw the chair?"
"You?" He squinted up at the lofty form of Bull Hunter. "What name did
you say?" he asked gently.
"Hunter is my name. Mostly they call me Bull."
"You got the size for that name, partner. So you cleaned up the
sheriff with a chair?" he sighed. "I wish I'd been there to see it.
But who got the inside on the sheriff?"
"I dunno what you mean?"
Pete Reeve looked closely at his companion. Plainly he was bewildered,
somewhere between a smile and a frown.
"I mean who found out that the sheriff done it?"
"He told it himself," said Bull.
"Nope. Not drunk. He was asked if he didn't do the murder."
"Great guns! Who asked him?"
"I done it," said Bull as simply as ever.
Reeve bit his lip. He had just put Bull down as a simple-minded hulk.
He was forced to revise his opinion.
"You done that? You follered him up, eh?"
"I just done a little thinking. So I asked him."
Reeve shook his head. "Maybe you hypnotized him," he suggested.
"Nope. I just asked him. I got a lot of folks sitting around, and then
I began telling the sheriff how he done the shooting."
"And he admitted it?"
"Nope. He jumped for a gun."
"And then you heaved a chair at him." Pete Reeve drew in a long
breath. "But what reason did you have, son? I got to ask you that
before I thank you the way I want to thank you. But, before you kick
out, you'll find that Pete Reeve is a friend."
"My reason was," said Bull, "that I had business to do with you that
couldn't be done in a jail. So I had to get you out."
"And now where're we headed?"
"Where we can do that business."
They had reached a broad break in the cottonwoods; the moonlight was
falling so softly and brightly.
Bull paused and looked around him. "I guess this'll have to do," he
"All right, son. You can be as mysterious as you want. Now what you
got me here for?"
"To kill you," said Bull gently.
Pete Reeve flinched back. Then he tapped his holster, made sure of the
gun, became more easy. "That's interesting," he announced. "You
couldn't wait for the law to hang me, eh?"
Bull began explaining laboriously. He pushed back his hat and began to
count off his points into the palm of one hand. "You shot up Uncle
Bill Campbell," he explained. "It ain't that I got any grudge agin'
you for that, but you see, Uncle Bill took me in young and give me a
home all these years. I thought it would sort of pay him back if I run
you down. So I walked across the mountains and come after you."
"Wait!" exclaimed Pete Reeve. "You walked?"
"Yep," he went on, heedless of the fact that Pete Reeve was peering
earnestly into the face of his companion, now puckered with the
earnest frown of thought. "I come down hoping to get you and kill you.
Besides, that wouldn't only pay back Uncle Bill. It would make him
think that I was a man. You see, Reeve, I ain't quick thinking, and I
ain't bright. I ain't got a quick tongue and sharp eyes, and they been
treating me like I was a kid all my life. So I got to do something. I
got to! I ain't got anything agin' you, but you just happen to be the
one that I got to fight. Stand over yonder by that stump. I'll stand
here, and we'll fight fair and square."
Pete Reeve obeyed, his movements slow, as if they were the result of
hypnotism. "Bull," he said rather faintly, looking at the towering
bulk of his opponent, "I dunno. Maybe I'm going nutty. But I figure
that you come down here to kill me for the sake of getting your uncle
to pat you on the back once or twice. And you find you can't get at me
because I'm in jail, so you work out a murder mystery to get me out,
and then you tackle me. You say you ain't very bright. I dunno. Maybe
you ain't bright, but you're mighty different!"
He paused and rubbed his forehead. "Son, I've seen pretty good men in
my day, but I ain't never seen one that I cotton to like I do to you.
You've saved my life. How can you figure on me going out and taking
"You ain't going to, maybe," said Bull calmly. "Maybe I'll get to
"Son," answered the other almost sadly, shaking his head, "when I'm
right, with a good, steady nerve, they ain't any man in the world that
can sling a gun with me. And tonight I'm right. If it comes to a
showdown—but are you pretty good with a gun yourself, Bull?"
"No," answered Bull frankly. "I ain't any good compared to an expert
like you. But I'm good enough to take a chance."
"Them sort of chances ain't taken twice, Bull!"
"You see," said Bull, "I'm going to make a rush as I pull the gun, and
if I get to you before I'm dead, well—all I ask is to lay my hands on
you, you see?"
The little man shuddered and blinked. "I see," he said, and swallowed
with difficulty. "But, in the name of reason, Bull, have sense! Lemme
talk! I'll tell you what that uncle of yours was—"
"Don't talk!" exclaimed Bull Hunter. "I sort of like you, partner, and
it sort of breaks me down to hear you talk. Don't talk, but listen.
The next time that frog croaks we go for our guns, eh? That frog off
in the marsh!"
He had hardly spoken before the ominous sound was heard, and Bull
reached for his gun. For all his bulk of hand and unwieldy arms, the
gun came smoothly, swiftly into his hand. He would have had an
ordinary man covered, long before the latter had his gun muzzle-clear
of the leather. But Pete Reeve was no ordinary man. His arm jerked
down; his fingers flickered down and up. They went down empty; they
came up with the burden of a long revolver, shining in the moonlight,
and he fired before Bull's gun came to the level for a shot.
Only Pete Reeve knew the marvel of his own shooting this day. He had
sworn a solemn and silent oath that he would not kill this faithful,
courageous fellow from the mountains. He could have planted a bullet
where the life lay, at any instant of the fight. But he fired for
another purpose. The moment Bull reached for his weapon he had lurched
forward, aiming to shoot as he ran. Pete Reeve set himself a double
goal. His first intention was to disarm the giant; the other was to
stop his rush. For, once within the grip of those big fingers, his
life would be squeezed out like the juice of an orange.
His task was doubly difficult in the moonlight. But the first shot
went home nicely, aimed as exactly as a scientist finds a spot with
his instruments. Where the moon's rays splashed across the bare right
forearm of Bull, he sent a bullet that slashed through the great
muscles. The revolver dropped from the nerveless hand of the giant,
but Bull never paused. On he came, empty-handed, but with power of
death, as the little man well knew, in the fingers of his extended
left hand. He came with a snarl, a savage intake of breath, as he felt
the hot slash of Pete's bullet. But Reeve, standing erect like some
duelist of old, his left hand tucked into the hollow of his back, took
the great gambling chance and refused to shoot to kill.
He placed his second shot more effectively, for this time he must stop
that tremendous body, advancing upon him. He found one critical spot.
Between the knee and the thigh, halfway up on the inside of the left
leg, he drove that second bullet with the precision of a surgeon. The
leg crumpled under Bull and sent him pitching forward on his face.
Perhaps the marsh ground was unstable, but it seemed to Pete Reeve
that the very earth quaked beneath his feet as the big man fell. He
swung his gun wide and leaned to see how serious was the damage he had
done. Bleeding would be the greater danger.
But that fraction of a second brought him into another peril. The
giant heaved up on his sound right leg and his sound left arm, and
flung himself forward, two limbs dangling uselessly. With a hideously
contorted face, Bull swung his left arm in a wide circle for a grip
and scooped in Pete Reeve, as the latter sprang back with a cry
The action swept Pete in and crushed his gun hand and arm against the
body of his assailant, paralyzing his only power of attack or defense.
Reeve was carried down to the ground as if beneath the bulk of a
mountain. There was no question of sparing life now. Pete Reeve began
to fight for life. He wrestled at his gun to tug it free, but found it
anchored. He pulled the trigger, and the gun spoke loud and clear, but
the bullet plunged into empty space. Then he felt that left arm begin
to move, and the hand worked up behind his back like a great spider.
Higher it rose, and the huge, thick fingers reached up and around his
throat, fumbling to get at the windpipe. Pete Reeve made his last
effort; it was like striving to free himself from a ton's weight.
Hysteria of fear and horror seized him, and his voice gave utterance
to his terror. As he screamed, the big fingers joined around his
throat. Any further pressure would end him!
He looked up into the glaring eyes and the contorted face of the
giant; the rasping, panting breathing paralyzed his senses. There was
a slight inward contraction of the grip; then it ceased.
Miraculously he felt the great hand relax and fall away. The bulk was
heaved away from him, and staggering to his own feet, he saw Bull
Hunter supported against a tree, one leg useless, one arm streaming.
"I couldn't seem to do it," said Bull Hunter thickly. "I couldn't
noways seem to do it, Reeve. You see, I sort of like you, and I
couldn't kill you, Pete."
When Pete Reeve recovered from his astonishment he said, "You can do
more. You can go home and tell that infernal hound of an uncle of
yours that you had the life of Pete Reeve under your fingertips and
that you didn't take it. It's the second time I've owed my life, and
both times in one day, and both times to one man. You tell your
The big man sagged still more against the tree. "I'll never go home,
Pete, unless ghosts walk; and I'll never tell Uncle Bill anything,
unless the ghosts talk. I'm dying pretty pronto, I think, Pete."
"Dyin'? You ain't hurt bad, Bull!"
"It's the bleeding; all the senses is running out of my head—like
water—and the moon—is turning black—and—" He slumped down at the
foot of the tree.
When old Farmer Morton and his son came in their buckboard through the
marshes, they heard the screaming of Pete Reeve for help. Leaving
their team, they bolted across country to the open glade. There they
found Pete still shouting for help, kneeling above the body of a man,
and working desperately to arrange an effectual tourniquet. They ran
close and discovered the two men.
Old Morton knew enough rude surgery to stop the bleeding. It was he
who counted the pulse and listened to the heart. "Low," he said, "very
low—life is just flickerin', stranger."
"If they's as much light of life in him," said Pete Reeve, "as the
flicker of a candle, I'll fan it up till it's as big as a forest fire.
Man, he's got to live."
"H'm!" said Morton. "And how come the shooting?"
"Stop your fool questions," said Reeve. "Help me get him to town and
to a bed."
It was useless to attempt to carry that great, loose-limbed body. They
brought the buckboard perilously through the shrubbery and then
managed, with infinite labor, to lift Bull Hunter into it. With Pete
Reeve supporting the head of the wounded man and cautioning them to
drive gently, they managed the journey to the town as softly as
possible. At the hotel a strong-armed cortege bore Bull to a bed, and
they carried him reverently. Had his senses been with him he would
have wondered greatly; and had his uncle, or his uncle's sons, been
there, they would surely have laughed uproariously.
In the hotel room Pete Reeve took command at once. "He's too big to
die," he told the dubious doctor. "He's got to live. And the minute
you say he can't, out you go and another doc comes in. Now do
The doctor, haunted by the deep, fiery eyes of the gunfighter, stepped
into the room to minister to his patient. He had a vague feeling that,
if Bull Hunter died, Pete Reeve would blame him for lack of care. In
truth, Pete seemed ready to blame everyone. He threatened to destroy
the whole village if a dog was allowed to howl in the night, or if the
baby next door were permitted to cry in the day.
Silence settled over the little town—silence and the fear of Pete
Reeve. Pete himself never left the sickroom. Wide-eyed, silent-footed,
he was ever about. He seemed never to sleep, and the doctor swore that
the only reason Bull Hunter did not die was because death feared to
enter the room while the awful Reeve was there.
But the long hours of unconsciousness and delirium wore away. Then
came the critical period when a relapse was feared. Finally the time
came when it could be confidently stated that Bull was recovering his
health and his strength.
All this filled a matter of weeks. Bull was still unable to leave his
bed. He was dull and listless, bony of hand, and liable to sleep many
hours through the very heart of the day. At this point of his recovery
the door opened one day, and, in the warmth of the afternoon, a big
man came into the room, shutting the door softly behind him.
Bull turned his head slowly and then blinked, for it was the unshaven
face of his cousin, Harry Campbell, that he saw. With his eyes closed,
Bull wondered why that face was so distinctly unpleasant. When he
opened them again, Harry had drawn closer, his hat pushed on the back
of his head after the manner of a baffled man, and a faint smile
working at the corners of his lips. He took the limp hand of Bull in
his and squeezed it cautiously. Then he laid the hand back on the
sheet and grinned more confidently at Bull.
"Well, I'll be hanged, Bull, here you are as big as life, pretty near,
and you don't act like you knew me!"
"Sure I do. Sit down, Harry. What brung you all this ways?"
"Why, anxious to see how you was doing."
Again Bull blinked. Such anxiety from Harry was a mystery.
"They ain't talking about much else up our way," said Harry, "but how
you come across the mountains in the storm, and how big you are, and
how you got the sheriff, and how you rushed Pete Reeve bare-handed.
Sure is some story! All the way down I just had to say that I was Bull
Hunter's cousin to get free meals!" He licked his lips and grinned
again. "So I come down to see how you was."
"I'm doing tolerable fair," said Bull slowly, "and it was good of you
to come this long ways to ask that question. How's things to home?"
"Dad's bunged up for life; can't do nothing but cuss, but at that he
lays over anything you ever hear." Harry's eyes flicked nervously
about the room. "It was him that sent me down! Where's Reeve?"
This was in a whisper. Bull gestured toward the next room.
"Asleep? Can he hear if I talk?"
"Asleep," said Bull. "Been up with me two days. I took a bad turn a
while back. Pete's helping himself to a nap, and he needs one!"
"Now, listen!" said Harry. "Dad figured this out, and Dad's mostly
never wrong. He says, 'Reeve shot up Bull. Now he's hanging around
trying to make up by nursing Bull, according to reports, because he's
afraid of what Bull'll do when he gets back on his feet. But Bull
has got to know that, even when he's back on his feet, he can't beat
Reeve—not while Reeve can pull a gun. Nobody can beat that devil.
If he wants to beat Reeve, just take advantage of him while Reeve
ain't expecting anything—which means while Bull is sick.' Do you
get what Dad means?"
"Sort of," said Bull faintly. He shut out the eager, dirty, unshaven
face. "I'll just close my eyes against the light. I can hear you
pretty well. Go on."
"Here's the idea. Everybody knows you hate Reeve, and Reeve fears you.
Otherwise would he act like this, aside from being afraid of a
lynching, in case you should die? No, he wouldn't. Well, one of these
days you take this gun"—here Harry shoved one under the pillow of
Bull—"and call Pete Reeve over to you, and when he leans over your
bed, blow his brains out! That's easy, and it'll do what you'll want
to do someday. You hear? Then you can say that Reeve started
something—that you shot in self-defense. Everybody'll believe you,
and you'll get one big name for killing Reeve! You foller me?"
Bull opened his eyes, but they were squinting as though he was in the
severest pain. "Listen, Harry," he said at last. "I been thinking
things out. I owe a lot to your dad for taking me in and keeping me.
But all I owe him I can pay back in cash—someday. I don't owe him
no love. Not you, neither."
Harry had risen to his feet with a snarl.
"Sit down," said Bull, letting his great voice swell ever so little.
"I'm pretty near dead, but I'm still man enough to wring the neck of
a skunk! Sit down!"
Harry obeyed limply, and his giant cousin went on, his voice softening
again. "When you come in I closed my eyes," said Bull, "because it
seemed to me like you was a dream. I'd been awake. I'd been living
among men that sort of liked me and respected me and didn't laugh at
me. And then you come, and I saw your dirty face, and it made me think
of a bad nightmare I'd had when you and your brother and your dad
treated me worse'n a dog. Well, Harry, I'm through with that dream.
I'll never go back to it. I'm going to stay awake the rest of my life.
It was your dad that put the wish to kill Reeve into my head with his
talk. I met Reeve, and Reeve pumped some bullets with sense into me.
He let out some of my life, but he let in a lot of knowledge. Among
other things he showed me what a friend might be. He's stayed here and
nursed me and talked to me—like I was his equal, almost, instead of
being sort of simple, like I really am. And I've made up my mind that
I'm going to cut loose from remembering you folks in the mountains.
I ain't your kind. I don't want to be your kind. I want to fight,
like Pete Reeve. I don't want to murder like a Campbell! All the way
through, I want to be like Pete Reeve. He don't know it. Maybe when
I'm well he'll go off by himself. But whether he's near or far, I've
adopted him. I'm going to pattern after him, and the happiest day of
my life will be when I earn the right to have this man, that I tried
to kill, come and take my hand and call me 'friend'! I guess that
answers you, Harry. Now get out and take my talk back to your dad,
and don't trouble me no more—you spoil my sleep!"
As he spoke the door of the next room opened softly. Peter Reeve stood
at the entrance. Harry, shaking with fear, backed toward the other
door, then leaped far out, and whirled out of sight with a slam and
clatter of feet on the stairs. Pete Reeve came slowly to the bedside.
"I was awake, son," he said, "and I couldn't help hearing."
Bull flushed heavily.
"It's the best thing I ever heard," said Pete. "The best thing that's
ever come to my ears—partner!"
With that word their hands joined. In reality, far more than he
dreamed, Bull had been born again.
When they were together, they made a study in contrasts. By seeing one
it was possible to imagine the other. For instance, seeing the high,
narrow forehead, peaked face, the gray-flecked hair of Pete Reeve, his
nervous step, his piercing and uneasy eyes—seeing this man with his
body from which all spare flesh was wasted so that he remained only
muscle and nerve, it was easy to conjure up the figure of Bull Hunter
by thinking of opposites.
Their very voices held a world of difference. The tone of Pete Reeve
was pitched a little high, hard, and somewhat nasal, and when he was
angry his words came shrill and ringing. The mere sound of his voice
was irritating—it put one on edge with expectancy of action. Whereas
the full, deep, slow, musical voice of Bull Hunter was a veritable
sleep producer. Men might fear Charlie Bull Hunter because of his
tremendous bulk; but children, hearing his voice, were unafraid.
The motions of Pete Reeve were as fast and as deft as the whiplash
striking of a snake. The motions of Bull Hunter were premeditated and
cautious, as befitting one whose hands might crush what they touched,
and whose footfall made a flooring groan.
He sat cross-legged on the floor, his back against the wall. They had
moved a ponderous stool into the room so that Bull might have
something on which to sit, but long habit had made him uneasy in a
chair, and he kept to the floor by preference, with the great square
chin resting on his fist and his knee supporting his elbow. That
position pressed the forearm against the biceps and the big muscles
bulged out on either side, vast as the thigh of a strong man.
With lionlike wrinkles of attention between his eyes, he listened to
the exposition of the little man, and followed his movements with
patient submission—like a pupil to whom a great master has consented
to unfold the secrets of his brushwork; in such a manner did Bull
Hunter drink in the words and the acts of Pete Reeve. And, indeed,
where guns were the subject of conversation it would have been hard to
find a man more thoroughly equipped to pose as an expert than Pete
Reeve. That fleshless hand, all speed of motion as it whipped out the
gun from the nerve and sinew, became an incredible ghost with the
holster and the long, heavy Colt danced and flashed at his fingertips
as though it were a gilded shadow.
As he worked he talked, and as he talked he strode constantly back and
forth through the room with his light-falling, mincing steps. He grew
excited. He flushed. There came a thrill and a ring and a deepening of
the voice. For the master was indeed talking of the secrets of
A thousand men of the mountains and the cattle ranges, men who, for
personal pride or for physical need, studied accuracy and speed in
gunplay, would have paid untold prices to learn these secrets from the
lips of the little man. To Bull Hunter the mysteries were revealed for
nothing, freely, and drilled and drummed into him through the weeks of
his convalescence; and still the lessons continued now that he was
hale and hearty once more—as the clean-swept platters from which he
ate three times a day gave evidence.
"I've practiced, you admit," said Bull in his slow voice, as Pete
Reeve came to a pause. "But I haven't got your way with a gun, Pete.
You've got a genius for it. I don't blame you for laughing at me when
I try to get out my gun fast. I can shoot straight. That's because I
haven't any nerves, as you say, but I'll never be able to get out a
gun as fast as a thought—the way you do. Fact is, Pete, I don't think
fast, you know."
"Shut up!" exploded Pete Reeve, who had been inwardly chafing with
impatience during the whole length of this speech. "Sometimes you talk
like a fool, Bull, and this is one time!"
Bull shook his head. "My arms are too big," he said sadly. "The muscle
gets in my way. I can feel it bind when I try to jerk out the gun
fast. Better give up the job, Pete. I sure appreciate all the pains
you've taken with me—but I'll never be a gunfighter."
Pete Reeve shook his head with a sigh and then dropped into a chair,
growing suddenly inert.
"No use," he groaned. "All because you ain't got any confidence,
Bull." He leaned forward in his sudden way. "Know something? I been
keeping it back, but now I'll tell you the straight of it. You're
faster with a gun right now than four men out of five!"
Bull gaped in amazement.
"Fact!" cried Reeve. "You get it out slicker than most; and after it's
out, you shoot as straight as any man I've ever seen. Trouble is, you
don't appreciate yourself. You've had it drilled into you so long that
you're stupid that now you believe it. All nonsense! You got more than
a million have and you're fast right now on the draw. Once get hold of
how important it is, and you'll keep trying. But you think it's only a
game. You just play at it; you don't work! I wish you could have seen
me when I was first practicing with a gun! I lived with it. Hours
every day it was my companion, and right up to now, there ain't a day
goes by that I don't spend some time keeping on edge with my revolver.
Bull, you'll have to do the same thing. You hear?"
He sprang up again. It was impossible for him to remain seated a long
"You think it don't mean much. Look here!"
The Colt flicked into his hand and lay trembling in his palm, and as
he talked, it shifted smoothly, as if of its own volition, forward
toward his fingertips, backward, to the side, dropping out until it
seemed about to fall, only to be caught with one finger through the
trigger-guard and spun up again. Always the heavy weapon was in motion
as though some of the nervous spirit of Reeve had entered the heavy
metal. It responded to his thoughts rather than to his muscles. Bull
Hunter gazed enchanted. He was accustomed to forgetting himself and
"Look here!" went on the little man. "Look at me. I weigh about a
hundred and twenty. I'm skinny. I'm a runt. And look at you. You
weigh—heaven knows what! No fat, but all muscle from your head to
your feet. You're the strongest man that I've ever seen. Take me, I'm
not a coward; but you, Bull, you don't know what fear means. Well,
there you are, without fear, and stronger than three strong men.
You're pretty fast with a gun, and you shoot straight as a hawk looks.
And still, if we stood face to face and went for our guns, I'd live;
and you with your muscle would be dead, Bull."
"I know," Bull nodded.
"That's what this gun means," cried Pete. "This gun, and the fact that
I can get it out of the leather faster'n you do. Not very much faster.
But by just as much quicker as it takes for an eyelid to wink. That
ain't much time, but it's enough time to mean life or death! That's
all! I'm not the only man that's faster'n you are. They's others. I've
never been beat to the draw, but they's some that's shot so close to
me that it sounded like one gun going off—with a sort of a stammer.
And any one of those men would of shot you dead, Bull, if you'd fought
'em. Now, knowing that, tell me, are you going to keep practicing?"
"I'll keep tryin', Pete. But I'll never get much faster. You see, my
arm—it's too big, too heavy. It gets in my way, handling a little
thing like a revolver!"
Pete spun the big Colt and shoved it back into the holster so
incredibly fast that the steel hissed against the leather.
"There you go running yourself down," he muttered.
He began to pace the room again, biting his nether lip, and now and
then shooting side glances at Bull, glances partly guilty and partly
scornful. Presently he came to a halt. He had also come to a new
resolution, one that cost him so much that beads of perspiration
came out on his forehead.
"Bull," he said gravely, "I'm going to tell you the secret."
"You've told me a dozen already," Bull sighed. "You've taught me how
to swing the muzzle up, and not too far up, and how to lean back
instead of forward, and how to harden the arm muscles just as I pull
the trigger, and how to squeeze with the whole hand and keep my wrist
stiff, and how—"
"None of them things counts," said Pete gravely, almost sadly,
"compared to what I'm going to tell you. Stand up!"
It was plain that he was going to give something from the depths of
his mind. The cost and importance of it made his eyes like steel and
drew his mouth to a thin, straight line.
Bull Hunter arose; and as the great body unfolded and the legs
straightened, it seemed that he would never reach his full height.
At length he stood, enormous, wide, towering. He was not a freak,
but simply a perfectly proportioned man increased to a huge scale.
Pete Reeve canted his head back and looked into the face of the giant.
There was a momentary affectionate appreciation in his eye. Then he
hardened his expression.
"Let your arm hang loose."
Bull Hunter obeyed. The hand came just above the holster that was
strapped on his thigh. All these weeks Pete Reeve had kept him from
going an instant without that gun except when he slept. And even when
he slept the gun had to be under his pillow.
"Because it helps to have it near all the time," Pete had explained.
"It sort of soaks into your dreams. It's never out of your mind. It
haunts you, like the face of the girl you love. You see!"
Bull Hunter did not see, but he had nodded humbly, after his fashion,
and obeyed. Now, with his arm fallen loose at his side he peered
studiously into the face of his master gunman and waited for the
The command was snapped out; Bull's gun whipped from the holster; and
Pete Reeve drew in the same instant, carelessly, his eyes watching the
movement of Bull instead of paying heed and put his gun up again, but
Bull followed the example almost reluctantly.
"Nearly beat you that time, Pete," he exclaimed happily. "But maybe
you weren't half trying?"
"Beat me?" sneered Pete. "I wasn't half trying, but you didn't beat
me. I shot you twice before you had your muzzle in line. I shot you in
the throat and through the teeth before your gun was ready."
Bull, with a shrug of the massive shoulders, touched the mentioned
places and looked with awe at the little man.
Bull grew tense.
"Watch my draw!"
Pete did not put his hand near the butt of his weapon. He held his arm
out before him, dangling in the air. There was a convulsive moment.
One could see the imaginary weapon shoot from the holster and become
level and rigid, pointed at its mark.
"I've seen before—fast as my eye could go," Bull sighed.
"Look again," said Pete, gritting his teeth with impatience. "This
time I'm going so slow a cow could see and beat me."
He made the same motion, but to an ordinary eye it was still as fast
as light. Bull shook his head.
"Idiot!" cried Pete, his voice jumping up the scale, flat and harsh
and piercing. "It's the wrist! Not the arm, but the—"
He stopped with an expression of dismay. Even now he regretted
revealing the mystery, it seemed. But then he went on.
"I found out quick that I couldn't beat a good gunman if I used the
old methods. Practice makes perfect; they practiced as much as I did.
So I studied the methods and the great idea come to me. They all use
the whole arm. Look at you! Your shoulder bulges up when you make the
draw, and you raise the whole arm. Matter of fact, you'd ought only to
use your fingers. Not stir a muscle above the wrist. Now try!"
Bull tried—the gun did come clear of the holster.
"No good," he said gravely. "It's magic when you do it, Pete. It just
makes a fool of me."
"Shut up and listen!" Pete said sharply. "I'm telling you a thing
that'll save your life some day!"
He drew a little closer. His emotion made him swell to a greater
stature, and he rose a little on tiptoe as if partly to make up for
the differences between their bulks.
"Now start thinking. Start concentrating on that right hand. There's
nothing else to your body. You see? You forget you got a muscle.
There's three things in the world. You see? Just three things and no
more. There's your gun with a bullet in it; there's your hand that's
going to get the gun out; and there's your target—that doorknob, say!
Keep on thinking. They ain't any more to your body. You're just a hand
and an eye. All your nerves are down there in that hand. They're all
piled down there. That hand is full of electricity. Don't let your
eyes wander. Keep on concentrating. You're stocking the electricity in
that hand. When your hand moves, it'll be as fast as the jump of a
spark! And when that hand moves, the gun is going to come out clean in
it. It's got to come out with it! You hear? It's got to! Your
fingertips catch under the butt; they flick up. They don't draw the
gun; they throw it out of the holster; they pitch the muzzle up, and
the butt comes smack back against the palm of your hand. And in the
same part of a second you pull the trigger. You hear?"
He leaned forward, trembling from head to foot. The eyes of the big
man were beginning to narrow.
"I hear; I understand!" he said through his teeth.
"You don't pull the gun. You think it out of the leather. And then
the bullet hits the doorknob. You don't move your arm. Your arm
doesn't exist. You're just a hand and a brain—thinking! And that
thought sends a bullet at the mark!" He leaped back. "Draw!"
There was a wink of light at the hip of Bull Hunter, and the gun
Instantly he cried out, alarmed, confused, ashamed.
"I didn't mean to shoot, Pete. I'm a fool! I didn't mean to! It—I
sort of couldn't help it. The—the trigger was just pulled without my
wanting it to! Lord, what'll people think!"
But Pete Reeve had flung his arms around the big man as far as they
would go, and he hugged him in a hysteria of joy. Then he leaped back,
dancing, throwing up his hands.
"You done it!" he cried, his voice squeaking, hysterical.
"I made a fool of myself, all right," said Bull, bewildered by this
exhibition of joy where he had expected anger.
"Fool nothing! Look at that knob!"
The doorknob was a smashed wreck, driven into the thick wood of the
door by the heavy slug of the revolver. Footsteps were running up the
stairs of the hotel. Pete Reeve ran to the door and flung it open.
"It's all right, boys," he called. "Cleaning a gun and it went off. No
"And now," said Pete Reeve, looking almost ruefully at his pupil,
"with a little practice on that, they ain't a man in the world that
could safely take a chance with you. I couldn't myself."
"I mean it, son. Not a man in the world. I was afraid all the time. I
was afraid you didn't have that there electricity in you or whatever
they call it. I was afraid you had too much beef and not enough
nerves. But you haven't. And now that you have the knack, keep
practicing every day—thinking the gun out of the leather—that's
Bull Hunter looked down to the gun with great, staring eyes, as though
it was the first time in his life that he had seen the weapon. Pete
Reeve noted his expression and abruptly became silent, grinning
happily, for there was the dawn of a great discovery in the eyes of
the big man.
The gun was no longer a gun. It was a part of him. It was flesh of his
flesh. He had literally thought it out of the holster, and the report
of the weapon had startled him more than it had frightened anyone else
in the building. He looked in amazement down to the broad expanse of
his right hand. It was trembling a little, as though, in fact, that
hand were filled with electric currents. He closed his fingers about
the butt of the gun. At once the hand became steady as a rock. He
toyed with the weapon in loosely opened fingers again, and it slid
deftly. It seemed impossible for it to fall into an awkward position.
The voice of Pete Reeve came from a great distance. "And they's only
one thing lacking to make you perfect—and that's to have to fight
once for your life and drop the other gent. After that happens—well,
Pete Reeve will have a successor!"
How much that meant Bull Hunter very well knew. The terrible fame of
Pete Reeve ran the length and the breadth of the mountains. Of course
Bull did not for a moment dream that Pete meant what he said. It was
all figurative. It was said to fill him with self-confidence, but part
of it was true. He was no longer the clumsy-handed Bull Hunter of the
A great change had taken place. From that moment his very ways of
thinking would be different. He would be capable of less misty
movements of the mind. He would be capable of using his brain as
fast as his hand acted. A tingle of new life, new possibilities were
opening before him. He had always accepted himself as a stupidly
hopeless burden in the world, a burden on his friends, useless,
cloddish. Now he found that he had hopes. His own mind and body was an
undiscovered country which he was just beginning to enter. What might
be therein was worth a dream or two, and Bull Hunter straightway began
to dream, happily. That was a talent which he had always possessed in
The brief remainder of the day passed quickly; and then just before
supper time a stranger came to call on Pete Reeve. He was a tall, bony
fellow with straight-looking eyes and an imperious lift of his head
when he addressed anyone. Manners was his name—Hugh Manners. When he
was introduced he ran his eyes unabashedly over the great bulk of Bull
Hunter, and then promptly he turned his back on the big man and
excluded him from the heart of the conversation. It irritated Bull
unwontedly. He discovered that he had changed a great deal from the
old days at his uncle's shack when he was used to the scorn and the
indifference of all men as a worthless and stupid hulk of flesh, with
no mind worth considering, but he said nothing. Another great talent
of Bull's was his ability to keep silent.
Shortly after this they went down to the supper table. All through the
meal Hugh Manners engaged Pete Reeve in soft, rapid-voiced
conversation which was so nicely gauged as to range that Bull Hunter
heard no more than murmurs. He seemed to have a great many important
things to say to Pete, and he kept Pete nodding and listening with a
frown of serious interest. At first Pete tried to make up for the
insolent neglect of his companion by drawing a word or two from Bull
from time to time, but it was easy for Bull to see that Pete wished to
hear his newfound friend hold forth. It hurt Bull, but he resigned
himself and drew out of the talk.
After supper he went up to the room and found a book. There had
been little time for reading since he passed the first stages of
convalescence from his wounds. Pete Reeve had kept him constantly
occupied with gun work, and the hunger for print had been accumulating
in Bull. He started to satisfy it now beside the smoking lamp. He
hardly heard Pete and Hugh Manners enter the room and go out again
onto the second story of the veranda on which their room opened. From
time to time the murmur of their voices came to him, but he
regarded it not.
It was only when he had lowered the book to muse over a strange
sentence that his wandering eye was caught beyond the window by the
flash of a falling star of unusual brilliance. It was so bright,
indeed, that he crossed the room to look out at the sky, stepping very
softly, for he had grown accustomed to lightening his footfall, and
now unconsciously the murmuring voices of the talkers made him move
stealthily—not to steal upon them, but to keep from breaking in on
their talk. But when he came to the door opening on the veranda the
words he heard banished all thought of falling stars. He listened,
Pete Reeve had just broken into the steady flow of the newcomer's
"It's no use, Hugh. I can't go, you see. I'm tied down here with the
"Tied down?" thought Bull Hunter, and he winced.
A curse, then, "Why don't you throw the big hulk over?"
"He ain't a hulk," protested Pete somewhat sharply, and the heart of
Bull warmed again.
"Hush," said Hugh Manners. "He'll be hearing."
"No danger. He's at his books, and that means that he wouldn't hear a
cannon. That's his way."
"He don't look like a book-learned gent," said Hugh Manners with more
respect in his voice.
"He don't look like a lot of things that he is," said Pete. "I don't
know what he is myself—except that he's the straightest, gentlest,
kindest, simplest fellow that ever walked."
Bull Hunter turned to escape from hearing this eulogy, but he dared
not move for fear his retreat might be heard—and that would be
"Just what he is I don't know," said Pete again. "He doesn't know
himself. He's had what you might call an extra-long childhood—that's
why he's got that misty look in his eyes."
"That fool look," scoffed Hugh Manners.
"You think so? I tell you, Manners, he's just waking up, and when he's
clear waked up he'll be a world-beater! You saw that doorknob?"
"Smashed? Yep. What of it?"
"He done it with a gun, standing clean across the room, with a flash
draw, shooting from the hip—and he made a clean center hit of it."
Pete brought out these facts jerkily, one by one, piling one
extraordinary thing upon the other; and when he had finished, Hugh
"I'm mighty glad," he said, "that you told me that, I—I might of made
"You'd sure've made an awful mistake if you tangle with him, Manners.
Don't forget it."
"Your work, I guess."
"Partly," said Pete modestly. "I speeded his draw up a bit, but he had
the straight eye and the steady hand when I started with him. He
didn't need much target practice—just the draw."
"And he's really fast?"
"He's got my draw."
That told volumes to Manners.
"And why not take him in with us?" he asked, after a reverent pause.
"Not that!" exclaimed Pete. "Besides, he couldn't ride and keep up
with us. He'd wear out three hosses a day with his weight."
"Maybe we could find an extra-strong hoss. He ain't so big as to kill
a good strong hoss, Pete. I've seen a hoss that carried—"
"No good," said Pete with decision. "I wouldn't even talk to him about
our business. He don't guess it. He thinks that I'm—well, he don't
have any idea about how I make a living, that's all!"
"But how will you make a living if you stick with him?"
"I dunno," Pete sighed. "But I'm not going to turn him down."
"But ain't you about used up your money?"
"It's pretty low."
"And you're supporting him?"
"Sure. He ain't got a cent."
Bull started. He had not thought of that matter at all, but it stood
to reason that Pete had expended a large sum on him.
"Sponging?" said Manners cynically.
"Don't talk about it that way," said Pete uneasily. "He's like a big
kid. He don't think about those things. If I was broke, he'd give me
his last cent."
"That's what you think."
"Shut up, Manners. Bull is like—a cross between a son and a brother."
"Pretty big of bone for your son, Pete. You'll have a hard time
supporting him," and Manners chuckled. Then, more seriously, "You're
making a fool of yourself, pardner. Throw this big hulk over and come
back—with me! They's loads of money staked out waiting for us!"
"Listen," said Pete solemnly. "I'm going to tell you why I'll never
turn Bull Hunter down if I live to be a hundred! When I was a kid a
dirty trick was done me by old Bill Campbell. I waited all these years
till a little while ago to get back at him. Then I found him and
fought him. I didn't kill him, but I ruined him and sent him back to
his home tied on his hoss with a busted shoulder that he'll never be
able to use again. His right shoulder, at that."
There was a subdued exclamation from Manners, but Pete went on, "Seems
he was the uncle of this Bull; took Bull in when Bull was orphaned,
because he had to, not because he wanted to, and he raised Bull up to
be a sort of general slave around the place. Well, when he comes back
home all shot up he tries to get his sons to take my trail, but they
didn't have the nerve. But Bull that they'd always looked down on for
a big good-for-nothing hulk—Bull stepped out and took my trail on
foot and hit across the mountains in a storm, above the timberline!
"And he followed till he come up with me here where he found me in
jail, accused of a murder. Did he turn back? He didn't. He didn't want
the law to hang me. He wanted to kill me with his own hands so's he
could go back home and hear his uncle call him a man and praise him a
little. That shows how simple he is.
"Well, I'll cut a long story short. Bull scouted around, found out
that the sheriff had done the killing himself and just saddled the
blame on me, and then he makes the sheriff confess, gets me out of
jail, and takes me out in the woods.
"'Now,' says he, 'you've got a gun, and I've got a gun, and I'm going
to kill you if I can.'
"No use arguing. He goes for his gun. I didn't want to kill a man
who'd saved my life. I tried to stop him with bullets. I shot him
through the right arm and made him drop his gun. Then he charged me
There was a gasp from Manners.
"Barehanded," repeated Pete. "That's the stuff that's in him! I shot
him through the left leg. He pitched onto his face, and then hanged if
he didn't get up on one arm and one leg and throw himself at me. He
got that big arm of his around me. I couldn't do a thing. My gun was
squeezed between him and me. He started fumbling. Pretty soon he found
my throat with them big gorilla fingers of his. I thought my last
minute had come. One squeeze would have smashed my windpipe—and
good-bye, Pete Reeve!
"But he wouldn't kill me. After I'd filled him full of lead, he let me
go. After he had the advantage he wouldn't take it." Pete choked. He
concluded briefly, "He mighty near bled to death before I could get
the wounds bandaged, and then I stayed on here and nursed him. Matter
of fact, Manners, he saved my life twice and that's why I'm tied to
him for life. Besides, between you and me, he means more to me than
the rest of the world put together."
"Listen," said Manners, after a pause. "I see what you mean and I'll
tell you what you got to do. That big boy will do anything you tell
him. He follers you with his eyes. Well, we'll find a hoss that will
carry him. I guarantee that. Then you put your game up to him, best
foot forward, and he'll come with us."
"Not in a thousand years," said Pete with emotion. "That boy will
never go crooked if I can keep him straight. Do you know what he's
done? Because his uncle and cousins tried to get me, he's sworn never
to see one of 'em again. He's given them up—his own flesh and
blood—to follow me, and I'm going to stick to him. That's complete
"No, Pete, of all the fools—"
Bull waited to hear no more. He stole back to the table on the far
side of the room sick at heart and sat down to think or try to think.
The truth came to him slowly. Pete Reeve, whom he had taken as his
ideal, was, as a matter of fact—he dared not think what! The blow
shook him to the center. But he had been living on the charity of
Reeve. He had been draining the resources of the generous fellow.
And how would he ever be able to pay him back?
One thing was definite. He must put an end to any increase of the
obligations. He must leave.
The moment the thought came to him he tore a flyleaf out of the book
and wrote in his big, sprawling hand:
I have to tell you that it has just occurred to me that you
have been paying all the bills, and I've been paying none. That
has to stop, and the only way for me to stop it is to go off
all by myself. I hate to sneak away, but if I stay to say
good-bye I know you'll argue me out of it because I'm no good
at an argument. Good-bye and good luck, and remember that I'm
not forgetting anything that has happened; that when I have
enough money to pay you back I'm coming to find you if I have
to travel all the way around the world.
That done, he paused a moment, tempted to tear up the little slip. But
the original impulse prevailed. He put the paper on the table, picked
up his hat, and stole slowly from the room.
He went out the back door of the hotel so that few people might mark
his leaving, and cut for the woods. Once in them, he changed his
direction to the east, heading for the lower, rolling hills in that
direction. He turned back when the lights of the town had drawn into
one small, glimmering ray. Then this, too, went out, and with it the
pain of leaving Pete Reeve became acute. He felt lost and alone, that
keen mind had guided him so long. As he stalked along with the great
swinging strides through the darkness, the holster rubbed on his thigh
and he remembered Pete. Truly he had come into the hands of Pete Reeve
a child, and he was leaving him as a man.
The dawn found him forty miles away and still swinging strongly down
the winding road. It was better country now. The desert sand had
disappeared, and here the soil supported a good growth of grass that
would fatten the cattle. It was a cheerful country in more ways than
the greenness of the grass, however. There were no high mountains, but
a continual smooth rolling of hills, so that the landscape varied with
every half-mile he traveled. And every now and then he had to jump a
runlet of water that murmured across his trail.
A pleasant country, a clear sky, and a cool wind touching at his face.
The contentment of Bull Hunter increased with every step he took. He
had diminished the sharpness of his hunger by taking up a few links of
his belt, but he was glad when he saw smoke twisting over a hill and
came, on the other side, in view of a crossroads village. He fingered
the few pieces of silver in his pocket. That would be enough for
breakfast, at least.
It was enough; barely that and no more, for the long walk had made him
ravenous, and the keenness of his spirits served to put a razor edge
on an appetite which was already sharp. He began eating before the
regular breakfast at the little hotel was ready. He ate while the
other men were present. He was still eating when they left.
"How much?" he said when he was done.
His host scratched his head.
"I figure three times a regular meal ought to be about it," he said.
"Even then it don't cover everything; but matter of fact, I'm ashamed
to charge any more."
His ruefulness changed to a grin when he had the money in his hand,
and Bull Hunter rose from the table.
"But you got something to feed, son," he said. "You certainly got
something to feed. And—is what the boys are saying right?"
It came to Bull that while he sat at the table there had been many
curious glances directed toward him, and a humming whisper had passed
around the table more than once. But he was accustomed to these side
glances and murmurs, and he had paid no attention. Besides, food had
been before him.
"I don't know. What do they say?"
"That you're Dunbar from the South—Hal Dunbar."
"That's not my name," said Bull. "My name is Hunter."
"I guess they were wrong," said the other. "Trouble is, every time
anybody sees a big man they say, 'There goes Hal Dunbar.' But you're
too big even to be Dunbar I reckon."
He surveyed the bulk of Bull Hunter with admiring respect. This
personal survey embarrassed the big man. He would have withdrawn, but
his host followed with his conversation.
"We know Dunbar is coming up this way, though. He sent the word on up
that he's going to come to ride Diablo. I guess you've heard
Bull averred that he had not, and his eyes went restlessly down the
road. It wove in long curves, delightfully white with the bordering of
green on either side. He could see it almost tossing among the far-off
hills. Now was the time of all times for walking, and if Pete Reeve
started to trail him this morning, he would need to put as much
distance behind him by night as his long legs could cover. But still
the hotel proprietor hung beside him. He wanted to make the big man
talk. It was possible that there might be in him a story as big as
"So you ain't heard of Diablo? Devil is the right name for him. Black
as night and meaner'n a mountain lion. That's Diablo. He's big enough
and strong enough to carry even you. Account of him being so strong,
that's why Dunbar wants him."
"Big enough and strong enough to carry me?" repeated Bull Hunter.
He had had unfortunate experiences trying to ride horses. His weight
crushed down their quarters and made them walk with braced legs. To be
sure, that was up in the high mountains where the horses were little
more than ponies.
"Yep. Big enough. He's kind of a freak hoss, you see. Runs to almost
seventeen hands, I've heard tell, though I ain't seen him. He's over
to the Bridewell place yonder in the hills—along about fifteen miles
by the road, I figure. He run till he was three without ever being
taken up, and he got wild as a mustang. They never was good on
managing on the Bridewell place, you see? And then when they tried to
break him he started doing some breaking on his own account. They say
he can jump about halfway to the sky and come down stiff-legged in a
way that snaps your neck near off. I seen young Huniker along about a
month after he tried to ride Diablo. Huniker was a pretty good rider,
by all accounts, but he was sure a sick gent around hosses after
Diablo got through with him. Scared of a ten-year-old mare, Huniker
was, after Diablo finished with him. Scott Porter tried him, too. That
was a fight! Lasted close onto an hour, they say, nip and tuck all the
way. Diablo wasn't bucking all the time. No, he ain't that way. He
waits in between spells till he's thought up something new to do. And
he's always thinking, they say. But if he wasn't so mean he'd be a
wonderful hoss. Got a stride as long as from here to that shed,
He rambled on with a growing enthusiasm.
"And think of a hoss like that being given away!"
"Given away?" said Bull with a sudden interest.
And then he remembered that horses were outside of his education
He listened with gloomy attention while his host went on. "Yes, sir.
Given away is what I said and given away is what I mean. Old Chick
Bridewell has kept him long enough, he says. He's tired of paying
buckaroos for getting busted up trying to ride that hoss. Man-eater,
that's what he calls Diablo, and he wants to give the hoss away to the
first man that can ride him. Hal Dunbar heard about it and sent up
word that he was coming up to ride him."
"He must be a brave man," said Bull innocently. He had an immense
capacity for admiring others.
"Brave?" The proprietor paused as though this had not occurred to him
before. "Why, they ain't such a thing as fear in Hal Dunbar, I guess.
But if he decides to ride Diablo, he'll ride him, well enough. He has
his way about things, Hal Dunbar does."
The sketchy portrait impressed Bull Hunter greatly. "You know him,
"How'd I be mistaking you for him if I knowed him? No, he lives way
down south, but they's a pile heard about him that's never seen him."
For some reason the words of his host remained in the mind of Bull as
he went down the road that day. Oddly enough, he pictured man and
horse as being somewhat alike—Diablo vast and black and fierce, and
Hal Dunbar dark and huge and terrible of eye, also; which was proof
enough that Bull Hunter was a good deal of a child. He cared less
about the world as it was than for the world as it might be, and as
long as life gave him something to dream about, he did not care in the
least about the facts of existence.
Another man would have been worried about the future; but Bull Hunter
went down the road with his swinging stride, perfectly at peace with
himself and with life. He had not enough money in his pocket to buy a
meal, but he was not thinking so far ahead.
It was still well before noon when he came in sight of the Bridewell
place. It varied not a whit from the typical ranch of that region, a
low-built collection of sheds and arms sprawling around the ranch
house itself. About the building was a far-flung network of corrals.
Bull Hunter found his way among them and followed a sound of
hammering. He was well among the sheds when a great black stallion
shot into view around a nearby corner, tossing his head and mane. He
was pursued by a shrill voice crying, "Diablo! Hey! You old fool!
Stand still … it's me … it's Tod!"
To the amazement of Bull Hunter, Diablo the Terrible, Diablo the
man-killer, paused and reluctantly turned about, shaking his head as
though he did not wish to obey but was compelled by the force of
conscience. At once a bare-legged boy of ten came in sight, running
and shaking his fist angrily at the giant horse. Indeed, it was a
tremendous animal. Not the seventeen hands that the hotel proprietor
had described to Bull, but a full sixteen three, and so proudly
high-headed, so stout-muscled of body, so magnificently long and
tapering of leg, that a wiser horseman than the hotelkeeper might have
put Diablo down for more than seventeen hands.
Most tall horses are like tall men—they are freakish and malformed in
some of their members; but Diablo was as trim as a pony. He had the
high withers, the mightily sloped shoulders, and the short back of a
weight carrier. And although at first glance his underpinning seemed
too frail to bear the great mass of his weight or withstand the effort
of his driving power of shoulders and deep, broad thighs, yet a closer
reckoning made one aware of the comfortable dimensions of the cannon
bone with all that this feature portended. Diablo carried his bulk
with the grace which comes of compacted power well in hand.
Not that Bull Hunter analyzed the stallion in any such fashion. He
was, literally, ignorant of horseflesh. But in spite of his ignorance
the long neck, not overfleshed, suggested length of stride and the
mighty girth meant wind beyond exhaustion and told of the great heart
within. The points of an ordinary animal may be overlooked, but a great
horse speaks for himself in every language and to every man. He was
coal-black, this Diablo, except for the white stocking of his off
forefoot; he was night-black, and so silken sleek that, as he turned
and pranced, flashes of light glimmered from shoulders to flanks.
Bull Hunter stared in amazement that changed to appreciation, and
appreciation that burst in one overpowering instant to the full
understanding of the beauty of the horse. Joy entered the heart of the
big man. He had looked on horses hitherto as pretty pictures perhaps,
but useless to him. Here was an animal that could bear him like the
wind wherever he would go. Here was a horse who could gallop
tirelessly under him all day and labor through the mountains, bearing
him as lightly as the cattle ponies bore ordinary men. The cumbersome
feeling of his own bulk, which usually weighed heavily on Bull,
disappeared. He felt light of heart and light of limb.
In the meantime the bare-legged boy had come to the side of the big
horse, still shrilling his anger. He stood under the lofty head of the
stallion and shook his small fist into the face of Diablo the
Terrible. And while Bull, quaking, expected to see the head torn from
the shoulders of the child, Diablo pointed his ears and sniffed the
fist of the boy inquisitively.
In fact, this could not be the horse of which the hotelkeeper had told
him, or perhaps he had been recently tamed and broken?
That, for some reason, made the heart of Bull Hunter sink.
The boy now reached up and twisted his fingers into the mane of the
"Come along now. And if you pull away ag'in, you old fool, Diablo,
I'll give you a thumping, I tell you. Git along!"
Diablo meekly lowered his head and made his step mincing to regulate
his gait to that of his tiny master. He was brought alongside a rail
fence. There he waited patiently while the boy climbed up to the top
rail and then slid onto his back. Again Bull Hunter caught his breath.
He expected to see the stallion leap into the air and snap the child
high above his head with a single arching of his back, but there was
no such violent reaction. Diablo, indeed, turned his head with his
ears flattened and bared his teeth, but it was only to snort at the
knee of the boy. Plainly he was bluffing, if horses ever bluffed. The
boy carelessly dug his brown toes into the cheek of the great horse
and shoved his head about.
"Giddap," he called. "Git along, Diablo!"
Diablo walked gently forward.
"Hurry up! I ain't got all day!" And the boy thumped the giant with
his bare heels.
Diablo broke into a trot as soft, as smooth flowing, as water passing
over a smooth bed of sand. Bull ran to the corner of the shed and
gaped after them until the pair slid around a corner and were gone.
Instinctively he drew off his hat and gaped.
He was startled back to himself by loud laughter nearby, and, looking
up, he saw an old fellow in overalls with a handful of nails and a
hammer. He stood among a scattering of uprights which represented,
apparently, the beginnings of the skeleton of a barn. Now he leaned
against one of these uprights and indulged his mirth. Bull regarded
him mildly; he was used to being laughed at.
"That's the way they all do," said the old man. "They all gape the
same fool way when they see Diablo the first time."
"Is that the wild horse?" asked Bull in his gentle voice. "That's him.
I s'pose after seeing Tod handle him, you'll want to try to ride him
Bull looked in the direction in which the horse had disappeared. He
swallowed a lump that had risen in his throat and shook his
"Nope. You see, I dunno nothing about horses, really."
The old man regarded him with a new and sudden interest.
"Takes a wise man to call himself a fool," he declared axiomatically.
Bull took this dubious bit of praise as an invitation and came slowly
closer to the other. He had the child's way of eyeing a stranger with
embarrassing steadiness at a first meeting and thereafter paying
little attention to the face. He wrote the features down in his memory
and kept them at hand for reference, as it were. As he drew nearer,
the old man grew distinctly serious, and when Bull was directly before
him he gazed up into the face of Bull with distinct amazement. At a
distance the big man did not seem so large because of the grace of his
proportions; when he was directly confronted, however, he seemed a
"By the Lord, you are big. And who might you be, stranger?"
"My name's Charlie Hunter; though mostly folks call me just plain
"That's queer," chuckled the other. "Well, glad to know you. I'm
They shook hands, and Bridewell noted the gentleness of the giant. As
a rule strong men are tempted to show their strength when they shake
hands; Bridewell appreciated the modesty of Charlie Hunter.
"And you didn't come to ride Diablo?"
"No. I just stopped in to see him. And—" Bull sighed profoundly.
"I know. He gives even me a touch now and then, though I know what a
devil he is!"
"Devil?" repeated Bull, astonished. "Why, he's as gentle as a kitten!"
"Because you seen Tod ride him?" Bridewell laughed. "That don't mean
nothing. Tod can bully him, sure. But just let a grown man come near
him—with a saddle! That'll change things pretty pronto! You'll see
the finest little bit of boiled-down hell-raising that ever was! The
jingle of a pair of spurs is Diablo's idea of a drum—and he makes his
charge right off! Gentle? Huh!" The grunt was expressive. "And what
good's a hoss if he can't be rode with a saddle?" He waved the subject
of Diablo into the distance. "They ain't any hope unless Hal Dunbar
can ride him. If he can't, I'll shoot the beast!"
"Shoot him?" echoed Bull Hunter. He took a pace back, and his big,
boyish face clouded to a frown. "Not that, I guess!"
"Why not?" asked Bridewell, curious at the change in the big stranger.
"Why not? What good is he?"
"Why—he's good just to look at. I'd keep him just for that."
"And you can have him just for that—if you can manage to handle him.
Want to try?"
Bull shook his head. "I don't know nothing about horses," he confessed
again. He glanced at the skeleton of standing beams. "Building a
"You wouldn't call it pitching hay or shoeing a hoss that I'm doing, I
guess," said the old fellow crossly. "I'm fussing at building a barn,
but a fine chance I got. I get all my timber here—look at that!"
He indicated the stacks of beams and lumber around him.
"And then I get some men out of town to work with me on it. But they
get lonely. Don't like working on a ranch. Besides, they had a scrap
with me. I wouldn't have 'em loafing around the job. Rather have no
help at all than have a loafer helping me. So they quit. Then I tried
to get my cowhands to give me a lift, but they wouldn't touch a
hammer. Specialists in cows is what they say they are, ding bust 'em!
So here I am trying to do something and doing nothing. How can I
handle a beam that it takes three men to lift?"
He illustrated by going to a stack of long and massive timbers and
tugging at the end of one of them. He was able to raise that end only
a few inches.
"Suppose you give me the job handling the timbers?" he suggested. "I
ain't much good with a hammer and nails, but I might manage
"All by yourself? One man?" he eyed the bulk of Bull hopefully for a
moment, then the light faded from his face. "Nope, you couldn't raise
'em. Not them joists yonder!"
"I think I could," said Bull.
Old Bridewell thrust out his jaw. He had been a combative man in his
youth; and he still had the instinct of a fighter.
"I got ten dollars," he said, "that says you can't lift that beam and
put her up on end! That one right there, that I tried to lift a
"All right," Bull nodded.
"You're on for the bet?" the old man chuckled gayly. "All right. Let's
see you give a heave!"
Bull Hunter obediently stepped to the timber. It was a twelve footer
of bulky dimensions, heavy wood not thoroughly seasoned. Yet he did
not approach one end of it. He laid his immense hands on the center of
it. Old Bridewell chuckled to himself softly as he watched; he was
beginning to feel that the big stranger was a little simple-minded.
His chuckling ceased when he saw the timber cant over on one edge.
"Look out!" he called, for Bull had slipped his hand under the lifted
side. "You'll get your fingers smashed plumb off that way."
"I have to get a hold under it, you see," explained Bull calmly, and
so saying his knees sagged a little and when they straightened the
timber rose lightly in his hands and was placed on his shoulder.
"Where'd you like to have it?" asked Bull.
Bridewell rubbed his eyes. "Yonder," he said faintly.
Bull walked to the designated place, the great timber teetering up and
down, quivering with the jar of each stride. There he swung one end to
the ground and thrust the other up until it was erect.
"Is this the way you want it?" said Bull.
By this time Bridewell had recovered his self-possession to some
degree, yet his eyes were wide as he approached.
"Yep. Just let it lean agin' that corner piece, will you, Hunter?"
"That might make a fellow's shoulder sort of sore," he remarked, "if
he had to carry those timbers all day."
"All day?" gasped Bridewell, and then he saw that the giant, indeed,
was not even panting from his effort. He was already turning his
attention to the pile of timbers.
"Here," he said, reluctantly drawing out some money. "Here's your
But Bull refused it. "Can't take it," he explained. "I just made the
bet by way of talk. You see, I knew I could lift it; and you didn't
have any real idea about me. Besides, if I'd lost I couldn't have
paid. I haven't any money."
He said this so gravely and simply that old Bridewell watched him
quizzically, half suspecting that there was a touch of irony hidden
somewhere. It gradually dawned on him that a man who was flat broke
was refusing money which he had won fairly on a bet. The idea
staggered Bridewell. He was within an ace of putting Bull Hunter down
as a fool. Something held him back, through some underlying respect
for the physical might of the big man and a respect, also, for the
honesty which looked out of his eyes. He pocketed the money slowly. He
was never averse to saving.
"But I've been thinking," said Bull, as he sadly watched the money
disappear, "that you might be needing me to help you put up the barn?
Do you think you could hire me?"
"H'm," grumbled Bridewell. "You think you could handle these big
timbers all day?"
"Yes," said Bull, "if none of 'em are any bigger than that last one.
Yes, I could handle 'em all day easily."
It was impossible to doubt that he said this judiciously and not with
a desire to overstate his powers. In spite of himself the old
"You see," explained Bull eagerly, "you said that you needed three men
for that work. That's why I ask."
"And I suppose you'd want the pay of three men?"
Bull shook his head. "Anything you want to pay me," he declared.
The rancher frowned. This sounded like the beginning of a shrewd
bargain, and his respect and suspicion were equally increased.
"Suppose you say what you want?" he asked.
"Well," Bull said slowly, "I'd have to have a place to sleep. And—I'm
a pretty big eater."
"I guess you are," said Bridewell. "But if you do three men's work you
got a right to three men's food. What else do you want?"
Bull considered, as though there were few other wishes that he could
express. "I haven't any money," he apologized. "D'you think maybe you
could pay me a little something outside of food and a place to sleep?"
Bridewell blinked, and then prepared himself to become angry, when it
dawned on him that this was not intended for sarcasm. He found that
Bull was searching his face eagerly, as though he feared that he were
asking too much.
"What would do you?" suggested Bridewell tentatively.
"I dunno," said Bull, sighing with relief. "Anything you think."
It was plain that the big man was half-witted—or nearly so. Bridewell
kept the sparkle of exultation out of his eyes.
"You leave it to me, then, and I'll do what's more'n right by you.
When d'you want to start work?"
When Bull left the dining room that night after supper, Mrs. Bridewell
looked across the table at her husband with horror in her eyes.
"Did you see?" she gasped. "He ate the whole pot of beans!"
"Sure I seen him," and he grinned.
"But—he'll eat us out of house and home! Why, he's like a wolf!"
Bridewell chuckled with superior knowledge. "He's ate enough for
three," he admitted, "but he's worked enough for six—besides, most of
his wages come in food. But work? I never seen anything like it! He
handled more timbers than a dozen. When it come to spiking them in
place he seen me swinging that twelve-pound sledge and near breaking
my back. 'I think it's easier this way,' he says. 'Besides you can hit
a lot faster if you use just one hand.' And he takes the hammer, and
sends that big spike in all the way to the head with one lick. And he
wondered why I didn't work the same way! Ain't got any idea how
strong he is."
Mrs. Bridewell listened with wide eyes. "The idea," she murmured. "The
idea! Where's he now?"
Her husband went to the back door. "He's sitting over by the pump
talking to Tod. Sitting talking like they was one age. I reckon he's
sort of half-witted."
"How come?" sharply asked Mrs. Bridewell. "Ain't Tod got more brains
than most growed-up men?"
"I reckon he has," admitted the proud father.
And if they had put the same question to Bull Hunter, the giant would
have agreed with them emphatically. He approached the child tamer of
Diablo with a diffidence that was almost reverence. The freckle-faced
boy looked up from his whittling when the shadow of Bull fell athwart
him, with an equal admiration; also with suspicion, for the
cowpunchers, on the whole, were apt to make game of the youngster and
his grave, grown-up ways. He was, therefore, shrewdly suspicious of
jests at his expense.
Furthermore, he had seen the big stranger heaving the great timbers
about and whirling the sledge with one hand; he half suspected that
the jokes might be pointed with the weight of that heavy hand. His
amazement was accordingly great when he found the big man actually
sitting down beside him, cross-legged, and he was absolutely stupefied
when Bull Hunter said, "I've been aiming at this chance to talk to
you, Tod, all day."
"H'm," grunted Tod noncommittally, and examined the other with a
cautious side glance.
But the face of Bull Hunter was unutterably free from guile. Tod
instantly began to adjust himself. The men he most worshiped were the
lean, swift, profanely formidable cowpunchers. But there was something
in him that responded with a thrill to this accepted equality with
such a man as Bull Hunter. Even his father he had seen stricken to an
awed silence at the sight of Bull's prowess.
"You see," explained Bull frankly, "I been wondering how you managed
to handle Diablo the way you do."
Tod chuckled. "It's just a trick. You watch me a while with him,
you'll soon catch on."
But Bull shook his head as he answered, "Maybe a mighty bright man
might figure it out, but I'm not good at figuring things out, Tod."
The boy blinked. He was accustomed to the studied understatement of
the cowpunchers and he was accustomed, also, to their real vanity
which underlay the surface shyness. But it was patent that Bull
Hunter, in spite of his size, was truly humble. This conception was
new to Tod and slowly grew in his brain. His active eyes ran over the
bulk beside him; he almost pitied the giant.
"Besides," pondered Bull heavily, "I guess there's a whole lot of
bright men that have seen you handle Diablo, but they couldn't make
out what you did. They tried to ride Diablo and got their necks nearly
broken. They were good riders, but I'm not. You see, Diablo's the
first horse I've ever seen that could really carry me." He added
apologetically, "I'm so heavy."
No vanity, certainly. He gestured toward himself as though he were
ashamed of his brawn, and the heart of Tod warmed and expanded. He
himself would never be large, and his heart had ached because of his
smallness many a time.
"Yep," he said judiciously, "you're pretty heavy. About the heaviest I
ever seen, I guess. Maybe Hal Dunbar is as big, but I never seen Hal."
"I've heard a good deal about Hal, but—"
He stopped short and stiffened. Tod saw that the eyes of the big man
had fixed on the corral in which stood Diablo. A puff of wind had
come, and the great black had thrown up his head into it, an imposing
picture with mane and tail blown sidewise. Not until the stallion
turned away from the unseen thing which he had scented in the wind,
did Bull turn to his small companion with a sigh.
Tod nodded, his eyes glinting. "I know," he said. "I used to feel that
way—before I learned how to handle Diablo." He interpreted, "You feel
like it'd be pretty fine to get onto Diablo's back and have him gallop
"About the finest thing in the world," sighed Bull Hunter. He cast out
his great hands before him as he tried to explain the mysterious
emotions which the horse had excited in him. "You see, Tod, I'm pretty
big and I'm pretty slow. Most folks have horses, and they get about
pretty lively on 'em, but I've always had to walk."
The enormity of this lack made Tod stare, for travel and horses were
inseparably connected in his mind. He shuddered a little at the
thought of the big man stalking across the burning and interminable
sands of the desert or toiling through the mountains. It seemed to him
that he could see the signs of that pain stamped in the face of Bull
Hunter, and his heart leaped again in sympathy.
"So when I saw Diablo—" Bull paused. But Tod had understood. Suddenly
the boy became excited.
"Suppose you was to learn to ride Diablo before Hal Dunbar come to try
him out? Suppose that?"
"Could you teach me?" the giant asked in an almost awed whisper.
The child looked over his companion with a vague wonder. It would be a
tremendous responsibility, this teaching of the giant, but what could
be more spectacular than to have such a man as his pupil? But to share
his unique empire over Diablo—that would be a great price to pay!
"No," he decided, "it wouldn't do. Besides, suppose even I could
teach you how to ride Diablo—with a saddle, which I don't think I
could—what would happen when Hal Dunbar come up to these parts and
found that the hoss he wanted was somebody else's? He'd make an awful
fuss—and he's a fighting man, Bull."
He said this impressively, leaning a little toward the giant, and he
was rewarded infinitely by seeing the right hand of the giant stir a
little toward the holster at his thigh.
"I guess I'd have to take my chance with him," was all Bull answered
in his mildest tone.
Tod was beginning to guess that there was a certain amount of mental
strength under this quiet exterior. He had often noted that his
father, who made by far the most noise, was more easily placated than
his mother, in spite of her gentle silences. The strength of Bull
Hunter had a strain of the same thing about it.
"You'd take a chance with Hal Dunbar?" he repeated wonderingly. He
trembled a little, with a sort of nervous ecstasy at the thought of
that coming encounter. "That's more'n anybody else in these parts
would do. Why, everybody's heard about Hal Dunbar. Everybody's scared
of him. He can ride anything that's big enough to carry him; he can
fight like a wildcat with his hands; and he can shoot like"—his eye
wandered toward a superlative—"like Pete Reeve, almost," he concluded
with a tone of awe.
A spark of tenderness shone in the eye of Bull. "D'you know Pete
"No, and I don't want to. Ma had a brother once, and he met up with
A tragedy was inferred in that oblique reference. Bull decided that
this was a conversational topic on which he must remain silent, and
yet he yearned to speak of the little withered catlike fellow with the
wise brain who had done so much for him.
"When I'm big enough," mused the boy with a quiet savagery, "maybe
I'll meet up with Pete Reeve."
Bull switched the talk to a more comfortable topic. "But how'd you
make a start with that man-eating Diablo?"
Tod studied, the question. "I got a way with hosses, you see," he
He played two brown fingers in his mouth and sent out a shrilling
whistle that was answered immediately by a whinny, and a little
chestnut gelding, sun-faded to a sand color nearly, cantered into view
around the corner of a shed and approached them. He came to a pause
nearby, and having studied Bull Hunter with large, unafraid, curious
eyes for a moment, began to nibble impertinently at the ragged hat
brim of the child.
"Git away!" exclaimed Tod, and when the chestnut made no move to go,
the brown fist flashed up at the reaching head. But the head was
jerked away with a motion of catlike deftness.
"He's a terrible bother, Crackajack is," said the boy angrily, and
from the corner of his eye he stole a glance of unspeakable pride at
the big man.
"He's a beauty," exclaimed Bull Hunter. "A regular beauty!"
For Crackajack combined the toughness of a mustang and the lean,
strong running lines of a thoroughbred in miniature. His legs were as
delicately made as the legs of a deer; his head was a little model of
impish intelligence and beauty.
"You and Crackajack are pals," said Bull. "I guess that's what you
"We get on tolerable well," admitted the boy, whose heart was full
with this praise of his pet.
Bull continued on the agreeable topic. "And I'll bet he's fast, too.
He looks like speed to me!"
"Maybe you don't know hosses, but you sure got hoss sense." Tod
chuckled. "Most folks take Crackajack for a toy pony. He ain't. I've
seen him carry a full-grown man all day and keep up with the best of
'em. He don't mind the weight of me no more'n if I was a feather. He's
fast, he's tough, and he knows more'n a hoss should know, you
He changed his voice, and a brief command made Crackajack give up his
teasing and retreat. Bull watched the exquisite little creature go,
with a smile of pleasure. He did not know it, but that smile unlocked
the last door to Tod's heart.
"He was pretty near as wild as Diablo when I first got him," said the
boy. "And mean—say, he'd been kicked around all his life. But I
fatted him up in the barn, and he got so's he'd follow me around. And
now he runs loose like a dog and comes when I whistle. He knows more
things than you could shake a stick at, Crackajack does." "I'll bet he
does," said Bull with shining eyes.
"Say," said the boy suddenly, "I'm going to tell you about the way I
worked with Diablo."
"I'll take that mighty kind," said Bull gratefully. "D'you think I'd
have a chance with him even if you showed me how?"
"You got to have a way with hosses," admitted the boy, and he examined
Bull again. "But I think you'll get on with hossflesh pretty well.
When Diablo first come, he used to go plumb crazy when anybody come
near his corral. He still does if a growed man comes there. Well, they
used to go out and stand and watch him and laugh at him prancing
around and kicking up a fuss at the sight of 'em.
"And it made me mad. Made me plumb mad to see them bother Diablo when
he wasn't doing no harm, when they wasn't gaining anything by
"I used to go out when nobody was around and stand by the bars with a
bit of hay and grain heads in my hand. First off he'd prance around
even at me, but pretty soon he seen that I wasn't big enough to do him
no harm, and then he'd just stand still and snort and look at me.
Along about the third time he took notice of the grain heads and come
and smelled them, and the next day he ate 'em.
"Well, I kept at it that way. Pretty soon I went inside the corral.
Diablo just come up sort of excited and trembling and didn't know
whether to bash my head in with his forehoofs or let me go. Then he
seen the grain heads and ate them while he was making up his mind what
to do about me. And he winded up by just having a little talk with me.
He was terribly dirty and dusty, and he was shedding. Nobody dared to
brush him, and so I took a soft-haired brush and started to work on
his neck. He liked it, and so I dressed him down and left him pretty
near shining. And every day after that I went and had a talk with him
and brushed him. Then I rode Crackajack up to the bars and let Diablo
see me on him, with no bridle or saddle. Pretty soon I found out that
it was the saddle and the bridle and the spurs that scared Diablo to
death. He didn't mind anything else so very much. So one day I climbed
up the fence and slid onto Diablo's back, and he just turned his head
and snorted at me. Just then Pa seen me and let out a terrible yell,
and Diablo pitched me right off over his head and over the fence. But
I got right up and came back to him. He seen that he could get me off
whenever he wanted to and he seen that I didn't do him no harm when
I got on.
"After that everything was easy. I never bothered him none with a
saddle or a bridle. And there you are. D'you think you can do
"But the saddle and the bridle?" said Bull. "What about them?"
"That's up to you to figure out a way of getting him used to 'em. I'll
go introduce you now, if I can."
Bull rose, and the boy led the way.
"If he takes to you pretty kind," said the boy, "you may have a
chance. But if he begins acting up, it won't be no use."
Diablo greeted them with a throwing up of his formidable head. He took
his place in the very middle of his corral, but when Bull Hunter and
his small guide reached the bars, the black stallion seemed to go
suddenly mad. He flung himself into the air and came down bucking.
Back and forth across the corral he threw himself in the wildest swirl
of pitching that Bull Hunter had ever seen or ever dreamed of.
"He's an educated bucker, you see?" said the boy in admiration. "They
ain't any trick that he don't know. Look!"
Diablo had begun to sunfish in the most approved method, and swirled
from this to some fence rowing as swift as the jagged course of
lightning. At every jump Bull could see an imaginary rider snapped
from the back of the black giant. A cloud of dust was sent swishing
up, and in the midst of this fog, Diablo came to a pause as sudden as
the beginning of his strange struggle against an imaginary foeman; but
it seemed to Bull Hunter that the ground beneath his feet was still
quivering from the impacts of that mighty body.
"That's just his way of telling you what he'll do when you try to
saddle him," chuckled the boy.
As he spoke he slipped through the bars of the corral.
"Look out!" exclaimed Bull in horror, for the stallion had rushed at
the small intruder with gaping mouth. Bull reached for his gun—Diablo
was already on the child, but at the last minute he swerved, and
flashed around Tod in a circle.
"He's all right," Tod was shrilling through his laughter, for the
horrified face of Bull amused him. "That's just his way of saying that
he's glad to see me!"
In fact, Diablo came to a sudden halt directly behind the child, his
head towering aloft above that of Tod while he flashed his defiance at
Bull Hunter, as though he were making use of the small bulwark of Tod
against the stranger.
"Diablo, you old fool," the boy was saying, as he reached up and
managed to wind his fingers in the end of Diablo's mane, "you come
along and meet my friend, Bull Hunter. I figure you're going to get to
know him pretty good before long. Hey, Bull, come up close to the bars
so's he can see you ain't got a rope or a whip or spurs, and stick
your hand out so's he can sniff at it. That's his way of saying
how d'ye do."
Bull obeyed, and to his amazement, Diablo responded to the small
forward urge of the child's hand and approached the bars one trembling
step at a time. Bull began to talk to him softly. He had never talked
like this to any living creature. He did not know exactly what he
said. The words came of their own accord into his throat. He only knew
that he wanted to reassure the big, powerful, uncertain brute, and
though Diablo stopped short at the first sound of Bull's voice and
laid his ears back, he presently pricked one of those ears again and
allowed himself to be drawn forward with long, crouching strides.
"That's the way!" said the child softly, as though he feared that a
loud voice might break in upon the spell. "You know how to talk to
him! And, outside of me, you're the only one that does! I knew you'd
have it in you!"
For Diablo had extended his long neck and actually sniffed the hand of
Bull Hunter. He immediately tossed his head aloft, but he did not
"That's half the fight won already," advised the boy in the same soft
voice. "D'you want to try the saddle on him now?"
"The saddle? Now?" exclaimed Bull. "I should say not! Why, he don't
hardly know me; I'll have to get acquainted before I try anything
He discovered that Tod was nodding in hearty approval.
"You do know," he said. "Don't tell me that you ain't been around
hosses a pile. Yep, you got to get acquainted. What you want to
Bull considered. "I'd like to have something to show him that it isn't
unpleasant having me around. I'd like to have him see some good
results, you know? Is there anything I could feed him?"
The boy chuckled. "Best thing is some dried prunes with the pits taken
out of 'em. I have some at the house. They get stuck in Diablo's teeth
and it's sure funny to see him eat 'em. But he just nacherally plumb
likes the taste of the prunes."
He followed his own suggestion by scampering away to the house and
returned almost at once with a hat full of the prunes.
"You want to feed him these now?"
"First," said Bull, "I'd like to have you leave us alone. If I can't
teach him to like me all by myself, then I'd better give up
The boy looked at him in surprise and then impulsively stretched out
his hand. They shook hands gravely.
"You got the right idea, pardner," said Tod. "Go ahead—and good luck!
And keep talking to him all the time. That's the main thing!"
He retreated accordingly, but before the evening was over, Bull
regretted dismissing his little ally so quickly, for although Diablo
indulged in no more threatening outbreaks of temper, he resolutely
refused to eat the prunes from Bull's hand. Several times he
approached the bars of the corral and the patiently extended hand, but
always he drew back, snorting, and sometimes he would run around the
corral, shaking his head and throwing up his heels after the manner of
a horse tempted but still afraid of being overruled.
It was long after dark when Bull gave up the attempt. He went back to
the bunkhouse, rolled up the blankets which had been assigned to him,
and carried them out to the corral. Close to the fence he laid them
down, and a few minutes later he was wrapped in them and sound asleep.
The last thing he remembered was the form of the great stallion,
standing watchfully in the exact middle of the corral, the starlight
glimmering very faintly in his big eyes.
Bull Hunter fell asleep and had a nightmare of the arrival of the
famous Hal Dunbar the next day, a fierce conquest of Diablo, and the
battle ending with the departure of Dunbar on the back of
The dream waked him, nervous, and he turned and saw Diablo standing
huge and formidable in the darkness, as though he had not moved from
his first position.
In the morning the arduous labors of the building began again, and
though the prodigious appetite of Bull at the breakfast table made
even old Bridewell look askance, Bull had not been at work an hour
handling the ponderous uprights and joists before his employer was
smiling to himself. His new hand was certainly worth his keep, and
more, for weariness seemed a stranger to that big body, and no weight
was too great to be cheerily assumed. And always he worked with a sort
of nervous anxiety as though he feared that he might not be
During the day Bridewell attempted to probe the past history of his
hired man, expecting a story as big as the body of the man, but Bull
was discreetly vague, for he had no wish to reveal his connection with
Pete Reeve; and if he left out Reeve, he felt that there was nothing
in his life worth talking about. Many a time he wondered what the
little gunfighter was doing, and what trail he was riding now. A
dangerous trail, he doubted not, and a lawless trail, he greatly
feared. But someday he might be able to find the terrible little man
and bring him back to a truer place in society.
That night he began again the long, quiet struggle with Diablo; and
before he ended, Diablo had gathered some of the dried fruit from the
palm of his hand with a sensitive, trembling pair of lips. And he had
come back for more, and more. Yet it was not until the next night that
Bull ventured inside the bars of the corral and sat cross-legged on
the ground, with a vague feeling that Diablo would be less alarmed if
his visitor bulked less large.
Inside the bars he seemed an entirely new proposition to the stallion.
The big black kept discreetly on the far side of the corral with much
snorting and stamping, and it was not until the next evening that he
ventured to approach the man. Still another day passed before Bull was
allowed to stand and touch the neck of the black; and that, it seemed
to him, was the greatest forward step toward the conquest.
It was terribly slow work, and in the meantime the skeleton frame of
the barn was fast rising. Would he accomplish his purpose by the time
the barn was completed and Bridewell no longer had a use for him? Or
would Hal Dunbar arrive before that appointed time? That night,
however, another portentous event happened. Waking in the night, Bull
heard a sound of deep, regular breathing close to him, and, turning on
his side, he saw that Diablo had lain down as close to him as the
corral fence would allow, and there he slept, panther-black, sleek in
the starlight. Bull stretched out his hand. The head of the stallion
jerked up, but a moment later he carelessly sniffed the extended
fingers and resumed his position of repose. And the heart of Bull
Hunter swelled with triumph.
That event gave him a new idea, and the following evening he made a
groundwork of branches in the corner of the corral itself, and put
down his blankets on the evergreens. Diablo was much concerned and
walked about examining the new work from every angle. There Bull
slept, and the next night he found that during the day the stallion
had torn the boughs to pieces and scattered them about. He patiently
laid a new foundation, and after this the bed was left strictly alone.
In the meantime Bull had made a light, strong halter of rawhide, and
after several attempts he managed to slip it onto the head of Diablo.
Once in place, it was easy to teach Diablo that he must follow when he
felt a pull on the halter—the first steps were rewarded with dried
prunes, and after that it was simple.
On that evening, also, Bull made his next step forward toward the most
difficult proposition of all—he took a partly filled barley sack and
put it on the back of Diablo. The next moment the sack was shot into
the air as Diablo leaped up and arched his back like a cat at the
height of his leap. He came down trembling and snorting, but Bull
picked up the fallen sack and allowed him to smell it. Diablo found
that the smell was good and that the hateful sack even contained
things very good to eat. The next time the sack was put on his back he
quivered and shrank, but he did not buck it off.
After that, Bull spent his evenings in gradually increasing the weight
of that sack until a full hundred pounds caused Diablo no worry
whatever, and when this point had been attained, Bull decided that he
might venture his own bulk on the back of Diablo. He confided his
purpose to Tod, and the boy, greatly excited, hid himself at a
distance to watch.
In the beginning it was deceptively easy. Diablo stood perfectly
unconcerned as Bull raised himself on the bars of the fence. And when
the long legs of Bull were passed over his back, Diablo merely turned
his head and sniffed the shoe tentatively. Slowly, very softly,
steadying himself on the top bar of the fence, Bull lowered his weight
more and more until the whole burden was on the back of the
stallion—and then he took his hands from the top rail.
But the moment he released that grip there was a change in Diablo, as
though he realized that the man had suddenly trusted himself entirely
to his mount. Bull felt a sudden wincing of all that great body; the
quarters sank and trembled. He thought at first that it was because
the horse was failing under the weight of this ponderous burden; but
instinct told him a moment later that it was fear, and a mixture of
Diablo took one of his long, catlike steps, and paused without
bringing up his other foot. In vain Bull spoke to him, softly,
steadily. Diablo took another step, quickened to a soft trot, and
stopped suddenly. That weight on his back failed to leave him. He
began to tremble violently. Bull felt the sudden thundering of the
great heart beneath the pressure of his knee.
To the stallion, this man had been a friend, a constant companion. The
touch of his hand was pleasant. Pleasanter still was the continual
deep murmur of the voice, reassuring, telling him of a superior and
guardian mind looking out for his interests. Now that hand was
stroking his sleek neck and that voice was steadily in his ear. But
the position was the most hated one. To be sure, there was no saddle,
no cutting, binding cinch, no drag of cruel Spanish curb to control
his head, no tearing spurs to threaten him. But his flanks twitched
where the spurs had dug in many a time, and he panted, remembering the
cinches. Those memories built up a panic. He became unsure. The voice
reached him less distinctly. Moreover it was a strange time of the
evening. The light of the day was nearly done; the moon was barely up,
and all things were ghostly and unreal in that slant light.
Something of all that went through the mind of Diablo was understood
by Bull Hunter. It was telegraphed to him by the twitching and
vibration of great muscles, by the stiff arching of the neck, and the
snorting breathing. But he was beginning to forget fear. The stallion
danced lightly forward, and as the wind struck the face of Bull Hunter
he suddenly rejoiced. This was what he had dreamed of, to be carried
thus lightly, easily. The weight that had crushed other horses was
nothing to Diablo. It made him feel buoyant. He became tinglingly
alert. On the back of Diablo not a horse of the mountains could
overtake him if he fled; and not a man of the mountains could escape
him if he pursued on the back of the stallion.
That thought had hardly formed in his excited mind when Diablo sprang,
cat-footed, to one side. It made Bull Hunter sway, and he naturally
sought to preserve his balance by gripping the powerful barrel of the
horse with his knees. But at the first touch of the knee Diablo went
suddenly mad. Exactly what he did Bull Hunter never knew. Indeed, it
seemed that Diablo left his feet, shot a dizzy height into the air,
and at the crest of his rise did three or four things at once. At any
rate, as the stallion landed, Bull pitched from the arched back and
hurtled forward and to the right side. He landed heavily against the
ground, his head striking a small rock; and he lay there a
Far off he heard Tod shrilling at him, "Bull! Are you hurt?"
He gathered himself together and arose, "I'm all right. Stay where you
"Don't try him again. He'll kill you, Bull!"
"Maybe. But I'm going to try."
Diablo stood on the far side of the corral in the moonlight, a
splendid figure with haughty tail and head. Inwardly he was trembling,
enraged. He knew what would come. He had thrown men before, and
usually he had tried to batter them to pieces after they fell. This
man he had no desire to batter. There had been no saddle, no bridle,
no spurs, no quirt—nevertheless, he must not be controlled by the
hand of any man! But having thrown the fellow, now other men would run
on him, swinging the accursed ropes over their heads, shouting,
cursing at him in strident voices. Vitally he yearned to break through
the bars of the corral and flee, but the bars were there and he must
stay in the inclosure with this friendly enemy. It was not the
prostrate man he feared so much as vengeance from other men, for that
had always been the way.
But no one came. No shouts were heard except from the small, thin,
familiar voice of Tod. And presently the giant arose from the ground
where he had fallen and came toward him. Diablo flattened his ears
expectantly. At the first throat-tearing curse he would charge. But no
curse came. The man approached, as always, with extended hand, and the
voice was the smooth, gentle murmur that carries peace into the
shadowy mind of a horse.
Something relaxed in Diablo. If the man did not resent being thrown
off—if that were a sort of game, as it were—why should he, Diablo,
resent having the man on his back? The hand touched his nose gently;
another hand was stroking his neck.
Presently he was led to the fence and again that heavy weight slid
onto his back. He crouched again, with waves of blind panic surging up
in him, but the panic did not master his sense this time, and as his
brain cleared he began to discover that there was no urging, no will
of another imposed upon him. He could walk where he pleased, following
his own sweet will, or else he could stand still. It made no
difference; but the soft-touching hand and the deep, quiet voice were
assuring him that the man was glad to be up there on his back.
Diablo turned his head. One ear quivered and came forward tentatively;
then the other. He had accepted Bull Hunter.
Afterward Bull found Tod. The boy wrung his hand ecstatically.
"That's what I call game!" he said.
"Why, Tod," the big man smiled, "you did the same thing."
"He knew I was nothing. But you're a growed man. But—what's this,
Bull? Your back's all wet."
"It's nothing much," said Bull calmly. "When I fell, my head hit a
stone. There's some things worth paying for, and Diablo's one
The cut proved, as he had said, to be a small thing; but it turned out
that Diablo was far from won. He was haltered and he would carry Bull
bareback. The saddle was quite another affair. So Bull returned to the
idea of the barley sack, with gradual additions. On each side of the
sack he attached hanging straps. Diablo snorted at these and tried
them with his teeth. They reminded him vaguely of the swinging
stirrups that had so often battered his tender sides. He discovered
that the straps were not alive, however, and were not harmful. And
when their length was increased and an uncovered stirrup was tied on
each side, he gradually became accustomed to these also. The next
stage was passing the straps under his belly. They were tied there
loosely, the circle was completed, and Diablo, examining them
critically, found nothing wrong. Then, a dozen times in a single
evening, the straps were drawn up, tighter and tighter, until they
touched him. At this he became excited, and it required all the
resourcefulness of Bull to quiet him. But in three days the barley
sack and its queer-looking additions had been changed for a true
saddle—with the cinches drawn up tight enough for riding. And this
without eliciting a single bucking spasm from Diablo!
Not even to Tod did Bull Hunter impart his great tidings. He had not
yet climbed into that real saddle; Diablo had not yet heard the creak
of the stirrup leathers under the weight of his rider. Indeed, there
was still much to be done before the happy day when he saddled the
black stallion and took down the bars of the corral gate and rode him
out. And rode him without a bit! For on the point of steel in the
mouth of Diablo, Bull Hunter knew that the horse would be against it
resolutely. So he confined himself to a light hackamore alone. That
was enough, for Diablo had learned to rein over the neck and stop at
the slightest pull of the reins.
The next morning he went out to his work with a light heart. They had
had the help of several new men during the past ten days and now the
frame of the roof was almost completed. It would not be long before
Bull's services could be dispensed with and he connected the idea of
the completion of the barn in a symbolic fashion with the completion
of his conquest of the stallion. The two would be accomplished in the
same moment, as it were. No wonder, then, that as he climbed the
ladder up the side of the barn, with the ladder quaking beneath his
weight, Bull Hunter began to sing, his thundering bass ringing among
the ranch buildings until Mrs. Bridewell opened the kitchen window to
hear the better, and old Bridewell stopped his ears in mock dismay at
the thunder of Bull's voice.
But the work was not two hours old when little Tod scampered up to his
"Bull," he whispered, "Hal Dunbar is down yonder with a couple of men.
He's come to ride Diablo. What'll we do, Bull? What'll we do?"
"Diablo will throw him," said Bull with conviction.
"But he won't. He can't," stammered the boy in his excitement.
"Nothing could throw Hal Dunbar. Wait till you see him! Just you wait
till you see. Gee, Bull, he's as big as you and—"
The other qualifications were apparently too amazing to be adequately
described by the vocabulary of Tod.
"If any other man can ride Diablo," said Bull at length, "I don't
think I care about him so much. I've been figuring that I'm the only
man who can get on his back. If somebody else can handle him, they're
welcome to the horse as far as I'm concerned."
"Are you going to let him go like that?" Tod was bitter with shame and
anger. "After all our work, are you going to give him up without
"A fight would be a gunfight, and a gunfight ends up in a death," said
Bull gently. "I don't like bloodshed, Tod!"
The boy writhed. Here was an idol smashed with a vengeance!
"I might of knowed!" he groaned. "You ain't nothing but—but a big
And he turned on his heel and gave the exciting news to his father.
For an event of this caliber, Bridewell called down all his men from
the building, and they started for the corral. Hal Dunbar and his two
men already were standing close to the bars, and Diablo stood
quivering, high-headed, in the center of the inclosure. But, of the
picture, the attention of Bull Hunter centered mainly on Hal Dunbar.
His dreams of the man had been true. He was a huge fellow, as tall as
Bull, or taller, and nearly as bulky. But about Bull Hunter there was
a suggestion of ponderous unwieldiness, and there was none of that
suggestion about Hal Dunbar. He was lithe and straight as a poplar,
and as supple in his movements. The poise of his head and the
alertness of his body and something of lightness in his whole posture
told of the trained athlete. Providence had given the man a marvelous
body, and he had improved it to the uttermost. To crown all, there was
a remarkably handsome face, dark eyes and coal-black hair.
Yet, more than the imposing body of this hero of the ranges, Bull was
impressed by the spirit of the man. The thing that Tod had felt, he
felt in turn. It shone from the eye, it spoke in the set of Dunbar's
mouth, something unconquerable. It was impossible, after a single
glance, to imagine this man failing. Diablo, it was true, had the same
invincible air. Indeed, they seemed meant for each other, this horse
and this man. They might have been picked from a crowd and the one
assigned to the other. Huge, lithe, fleet, powerful, and fiercely
free, surely Hal Dunbar was intended by fate to sit in the saddle and
govern Diablo according to his will.
The heart of Charlie Hunter sank. Here was the end, then, of all the
love he had put into his work, of all the feminine gentleness with
which he had petted Diablo and soothed him. And he discovered, in that
bitter moment, that he had not worked merely to gain control of the
horse. There would be no joy in making Diablo bend to his will. His
aim was, and from the first unconsciously had been, to win Diablo so
that the stallion would serve him joyously and freely out of the love
he bore him. As he thought of this, his glance rested on the long,
spoon-handled spurs of big Hal Dunbar.
Dunbar was shaking hands with Bridewell, leaning a trifle over the
little old man.
"Here's one that'll be sorry to see you ride Diablo," said Bridewell.
He pointed to Hunter. "He's been working weeks, trying to make a pet
out of the hoss."
"A pet out of him? A pet?" echoed Dunbar.
He measured Bull Hunter with a certain bright interest. The sleeves of
Bull were rolled up to the elbows and down the forearms ran the
tangling masses of muscle. But the interest of Dunbar was only
monetary. Presently his lip curled slightly, and he turned his haughty
head toward the great stallion.
"I'll do something more than pet him. Ill make something useful out of
the big brute. Saddle him, boys!"
He gestured carelessly, and his two attendants started toward the
corral, one with a heavy saddle and one with a rope. As he stood
rolling his cigarette and watching negligently, he impressed Bull as a
veritable knight of the ranges, a baron with baronial adherents. It
came partly from his splendid stature, and more from his flauntingly
rich costume. The heavy gold braid on the sombrero, the gilded spurs,
the brilliant silk shirt would have been out of place on another man,
but they fit in with Hal Dunbar. They were adjuncts to the pride of
his face. Bull's attention wavered to Tod.
"Are—are they going to rope Diablo?"
Tod flashed a half-disgusted, half-despairing glance up at his
"What d'you think they're going to do? What do you think?"
Bull turned away, sick hearted. He could not bear the thought of the
great stallion struggling helpless in the snaky coils of the rope. But
of course there was no other way. Yet his muscles tightened, and the
perspiration poured out on his forehead as he heard a shout from one
of the men, then a brief drumming of Diablo's hoofs, and finally the
heavy thud as the stallion struck full length on the ground.
That sound stunned Bull as though he had received a blow himself.
Every nerve in him was tingling, revolting against the brutality. They
were idiots, hopeless fools, to dream of conquering Diablo by brute
force. And if they succeeded, they would have a broken-spirited horse
on their hands, worse than useless, or else a treacherous man-killer
to the end of his days.
He looked again. Diablo, saddled and blindfolded was being driven out
of the corral; a man held him on either side, and his mouth, dragged
out, was already bleeding from the cruel Spanish bit. At that Bull
Hunter saw red.
When his senses returned to him, he went hurriedly to Dunbar.
"Friend," he said, earnestly pleading, "will you let me make a
The insolent dark eyes ran over him mockingly.
"Oh, you're the fellow who tried to make a pet out of Diablo? Well,
what's the suggestion?"
"If you wear those spurs you'll drive him mad! Take 'em off, Mr.
Dunbar stared at him in amazement, and then looked to the others. "Did
you hear that? This wise one wants me to try to ride without spurs.
Who taught you to ride, eh?"
"I don't know much about it," confessed Bull humbly, "but I know
you're apt to cut him up badly with those big spurs."
"And what the devil difference does that make to you?" cried Dunbar
with heat. "And what do you mean by all these fool suggestions? I'm
riding the horse!"
Bull drew back, downheaded. Hal Dunbar cast one contemptuous glance
toward him and then stepped to the side of Diablo. The stallion was
quivering and crouching with fear and anger, and shaking his head from
time to time to get clear of the bandage which blinded him and made
him helpless. Now and then he reared a little and came down on
prancing forefeet, and Bull noted the spring and play of the fetlock
joints. The whole running mechanism of the horse, indeed, seemed
composed of coiled springs. Once released, what would the result be?
And the first hope entered his mind, the first hope since he had seen
the proud form of Hal Dunbar.
Now the big man set his hand on the pommel and vaulted into the saddle
with a lightness that Bull admired hugely. Under the impact of that
descending bulk the stallion crouched almost to the earth, but he came
up again with a snort and a strangled neigh of rage.
"Are you ready?" called Dunbar, gathering the reins, and giving the
string of his quirt another twist around his right hand.
One of his men had mounted his horse with a rope, the noose end of
which was around Diablo's neck. This would serve as a pivot block to
keep Diablo running in a circle. If he tried to run in a straight line
the running noose would stop him and choke him down. He would have to
gallop in a circle for his bucking, and to help keep him in that
circle, the spectators now grouped themselves loosely in a wide rim.
But Bull Hunter did not move. From where he stood he could see all
that he wished.
"All ready!" called the man with the rope.
"Let her go, then!"
The bandage was torn from the eyes of the stallion by Dunbar's second
assistant, and the fellow leaped aside as he did so. Even then he
barely escaped. Diablo had launched himself in pursuit, and his teeth
snapped a fraction of an inch from the shoulder of the fugitive as the
rope came taut and jerked him aside, and the full weight of Dunbar was
thrown back on the reins.
That mighty wrench of back and shoulder and arm would have broken the
jaw of an ordinary horse; it hardly disturbed Diablo. His head was
first tucked back until his chin was against his breast, but a moment
later he was head down, bucking as never horse bucked before. One
second earlier Hal Dunbar had seemed almost as powerful as the animal
he rode; now he suddenly became small.
For one thing Diablo wasted no time running against the rope. He
followed the line of least resistance and bolted around the wide
circle with tremendous leaps, gathering impetus as he ran—then
stopping in mid-career by the terrific process of hurling himself in
the air and coming down on four stiff legs and with his back humped so
that the rider sat at the uneasy apex of a pyramid. And this was
merely a beginning. That wild category of tricks which Bull had seen
partially unraveled the first time he visited the horse was now
brought forth again, enlarged, improved upon, made more intricate,
intensified. But well and nobly did Hal Dunbar sustain his fame as a
peerless rider. He rode straight up, and a cheer came from the
spectators when they saw that he was not touching leather in the midst
of the fiercest contortions of Diablo. It seemed that the great brute
would snap the very saddle off his back, but still the rider sat
erect, swaying as though in a storm, but still firmly glued to
Even the heart of Bull Hunter warmed to the battle. They were a
brutally glorious pair as they struggled. The wrenching hand of the
rider and the Spanish bit had bloodied the mouth of the stallion, the
spurs were clinging horribly at his sides, and he fought back like a
mad thing. He flung himself on the ground, Dunbar barely slipped from
the saddle in time, and whipped onto his feet again, but as he lurched
up, he carried the weight of the rider again, for Dunbar had leaped
into his seat, and as Diablo came up on all fours, it could be seen
that the big man had secured both stirrups—the difficult thing in
that feature of the fight. Dunbar urged the stallion on with a yell;
and swinging the quirt over his head, he brought it down with a
stinging cut on the silky flanks of the great horse. Bull Hunter
crouched as though the lash had cut into his own flesh. He became
savage for the moment. He wanted to have his hands on that rider!
But the cut of the quirt transformed Diablo. If he had fought hard
before, he now fell into a truly demoniacal frenzy. The long flashing
legs were springs indeed, and the moment his hoofs struck the earth he
was flung up again to a greater height. He was sunfishing now in that
most deadly manner when the horse lands on one forehoof, the rider
receiving a double jar from the down-shock and then the whiplash snap
to the side. Hal Dunbar was no longer using his quirt. It dangled idly
at his side. The joy had gone from his face. In its place, as shock
after shock benumbed his brain, there was an expression of fierce
despair. Neither was he riding straight up, but he was pulling
Otherwise, nothing human could have retained a seat in the saddle for
an instant. Diablo, squealing, snorting, and grunting with effort, was
dashing back and forth, flinging himself aloft, coming down on one
stiff leg, doubling back with jackrabbit agility.
There was no longer applause from the onlookers. Old Bridewell himself
in all of his years had never seen riding such as this, and it seemed
that Diablo at last had met his master. Never had he fought as he
fought now; never had he been stayed with as he was now. With foam and
sweat the great black was reeking, but never once were the efforts
relaxed. It was too terrible a sight to be applauded.
Then, at the end of a run, instead of hurling himself into the air as
he had usually done before, Diablo flung himself down and rolled. It
caught Dunbar by surprise, but the yell of horror from the bystanders
stimulated him to sharp action, and he was out of the saddle in the
last hair's breadth of time.
Diablo had been carried on over to his feet by the impetus of the
fall, and he was already rising when Dunbar leaped for the saddle.
Fair and true he struck the saddle and with marvelous skill his left
foot caught the stirrup and clung to it—but the right foot missed its
aim, and, before Dunbar could lodge his foot squarely, the stirrup was
dancing crazily as Diablo began a wild combination of cross-bucking
and sunfishing. The hat snapped from the head of Dunbar and his long
black hair tossed; with both hands he was clinging. All joy of battle
was gone from him. In its place was staring fear, for his right foot
was still out of the stirrup.
"Choke him down! Choke him—" he shrieked.
Before he could be obeyed by his confused henchmen, Diablo shot into
the air and at the very crest of his rise, bucked. Dunbar lurched to
one side. There was a groan from the bystanders; and the next instant
the stallion, landing on the one stiffened foreleg, had snapped his
rider from the saddle and hurled him to the ground.
He lay in a shapeless heap, and the stallion whirled to finish his
Every second of the fight Bull Hunter had followed the actions of the
horse as though he were directing them from the distance with some
electric form of communication and control. When Hal Dunbar with a
yell of despair was flung sidewise in the saddle as Diablo bucked in
mid-air, Bull Hunter knew what was coming and lurched through the line
of watchers. Straight across the open space of the circle he raced as
he had never run before, and while the others stood frozen, while the
man with the rope tugged futilely, Bull came in front of the stallion
as Diablo whirled to smash his late rider to a pulp. There was no
question of Dunbar crawling out of the way. He had rolled on his back
with arms outstretched, helplessly stunned. Even in the lightning
speed of the action Bull found time to wonder what would be the result
if the hoof of the wild horse crashed down into that upturned,
handsome face, now stained with crimson and black with dust.
He had no time to imagine further. Diablo, red-eyed with anger, had
whirled on him and reared, and swerving from those terrible, pawing
hoofs, Bull Hunter leaped in and up. His goal was not the tossing
bridle rein, but the stout strap which circled the head just above the
bit, and his big right hand jarred home on this goal. All his weight
was behind his stiffened arm, and under the blow the stallion lurched
higher. A down-sweep of a forefoot gashed Bull's shoulder and tore his
shirt to shreds. But he pressed, expecting every instant the finishing
blow on his head. In he went, with all his weight behind the effort,
and felt the stallion stagger on his hind legs, then topple, lose
balance, and fall with a crash on his side!
Bull followed him in the fall, for half a step, then whirled, scooped
the nerveless body of Hal Dunbar in his arms, and rushed staggering
under the burden to the edge of the circle. Diablo had regained his
footing instantly, but as he strove to follow, the rope had drawn taut
about his throat, and he was checked.
As for Bull Hunter, he laid the senseless burden down in safety, and
turned toward the stallion. One haunting fear was in his mind. Had
Diablo been sufficiently blinded in the excitement of the battle to
fail to recognize him, or had the great horse known the hand that
toppled it back? In the latter case Bull Hunter could never come near
the black without peril of his life.
In a gloomy quandary he stared at the trembling, shining giant, who
stood with his head high and his tail flaunting, and all the fierce
pride of victory in his eye. One knot of people had gathered over the
fallen Hal Dunbar, but some remained, dazed and gaping, looking at the
form of the conqueror. A wild temptation came to Bull to test the
horse even in this crisis of excitement, with every evil passion
roused in him. He stepped out again, his right hand extended, his
The stallion jerked his head toward the voice, but the head was
twitched away as the man with the rope brought it taut again.
"You fool!" he shouted. "Get back, or the hoss'll nail you!"
Unreasoning rage poured thrilling through Bull Hunter. He shook his
great fist at the other.
"Slack away on that rope or I'll break you in two!"
There was a moment of amazed silence; then, with a curse, the rider
threw the rope on the ground.
"Get your head broke then!"
Bull Hunter had forgotten him already. He had resumed that approach.
At his voice the stallion turned that proud and terrible head—with
the ears flattened against his neck. It gave him an ominous, snakelike
appearance about the head, but still Bull went steadily and slowly
toward him with his hand out, that ancient gesture of peace and good
will. There were shouts and warnings from the others. Hal Dunbar, his
senses returned, had staggered to his feet; he had received no injury
in the fall, and now he gaped in amazement at this empty-handed man
approaching the stallion. And Diablo was no longer controlled by
But all the outcries meant nothing to Bull Hunter. They faded to a
blur. All he saw was the head of the stallion. Had he known and
remembered that fall and the hand that forced him to it? He could not
tell. There might be any murderous intent in that quivering,
Just that name, over and over again, very softly, "Diablo! Steady,
Now he was within two paces—within a yard—his fingers were close to
the terrible head and the ears of Diablo pricked forward.
"Ah, Diablo! They'll never touch you with the spurs again!"
The stallion made a long step, and with his head raised he looked over
the shoulder of Bull Hunter and snorted his defiance at all other men
in the world! And down his neck the big, gentle hand was running,
soothing his quivering body, and the steady voice was bringing
infinite messages of reassurance to the troubled brain. That hand was
loosening now the rope which was burning into his neck—loosening it,
drawing it off. And now the bridle followed; and Diablo's mouth was
free from the cruel taint of the steel. The head of the stallion
turned—great, soft eyes looked into the face of Bull Hunter and
accepted him as a friend forever.
Hal Dunbar, groggy from the shock of the fall, staggered toward them.
"Get away from the horse!" he commanded. "Hey, Riley, grab Diablo for
me again. I'll ride him this time."
He was too unsteady to walk in a straight line, but the fire of battle
was in his eyes again. There was no doubting the gameness of the big
man. Old Bridewell caught his arm and drew him back.
"If Diablo gets a sniff of you on the wind he'll come at you like a
wolf. Stand back here—and watch!"
Hal Dunbar was too dazed to resist. Besides, he began to see that all
eyes were focused on the black stallion and the man beside him. That
man was the huge, cloddish stranger who had advised him to ride
without spurs. Then the full meaning came to Dunbar. The rope was no
longer around the neck of the stallion. The very bridle had been taken
from his head, and yet the stranger stood undaunted beside him, and
the stallion did not seem to be angered by that nearness.
The next thing Dunbar heard was the voice of Bridewell saying,
"Nerviest thing I ever seen. I been putting this Bull Hunter down for
a half-wit, pretty near. All his strength in his back and none in his
head. But I changed my mind today. When you hit the ground, Diablo
whirled on you, and he'd of smashed you to bits before they could
choke him down and pull him away, but Bull came out of the crowd on
the run, grabbed the bridle, made Diablo rear, took that cut on his
shoulder, and threw him fair and square. Finest, coolest, headiest
thing I ever seen done with a hoss in a pinch. And he saved your skin,
Dunbar. You'd be a mess this minute, if it wasn't for Hunter! He threw
Diablo and turned around and picked you up as if you was a baby and
packed you over here. Then he went back—and you see what's
"He saved my life?" muttered Dunbar. "That big—He saved my life?"
Gratitude, for the moment at least, was obscured in his mind. All he
felt vividly was a burning shame. He, Hal Dunbar, the invincible, had
been beaten fairly and squarely in the battle with the horse; not only
this, he had been saved from complete destruction only by the
intervention of this nonentity, this Bull Hunter whom he had scorned
only a few moments before. He looked about him in blind anger at the
bystanders. Worst of all, this was a new country where he was only
vaguely known, and whenever his name was mentioned in these parts in
the future, there would be someone to tell of the superior prowess of
Hunter, and how the life of Dunbar was thrown away and saved by
another. No wonder that big Hal Dunbar writhed with the shame of it.
He forgot even that emotion now in wonder at what was happening.
Hunter had stepped to the side of the horse, raised his foot, and put
it in the stirrup. Did the fool intend to climb into the saddle while
that black devil was not blindfolded, without even a bridle?
That, in fact, was what he was doing. The steady murmur of the voice
of Hunter reached him as the big man soothed the horse. He saw the
head of Diablo turn, saw him sniff the shoulder of his companion, and
then Hunter lifted himself slowly into the saddle. There was a groan
of excitement from the spectators, and at the sound rather than at the
weight of his back, Diablo crouched. It was only for a moment that he
quivered, wild-eyed, irresolute. Then he straightened and threw up his
head. Bull Hunter, his face white and drawn but his mouth resolute,
had touched the shining flank of the stallion, and Diablo moved into a
soft trot, gentle as the flowing of water.
Before him the circle split and rolled back. He glided through, guided
by a hand that touched lightly on his neck, and in an utter silence he
was seen to turn the corner of the nearest shed and approach the
corral. Hal Dunbar, rubbing his eyes, was the first to speak.
"A trick horse!" he said. "By the Lord, a trick horse!"
"The first time I ever seen him play that trick," gasped old
Bridewell, his eyes huge and round, "except when Tod was up on him. I
dunno what's happened. It's like a dream. But there's a saddle on him
now, and that was something even Tod could never make him stand. I
dunno what's happened!"
The little crowd broke up into chattering groups. Here had been a
thing that would bear telling and retelling for many a year. In the
confusion Dunbar's man, Riley, approached his employer.
Both gratitude and shame were forgotten by Dunbar now. He gripped the
shoulder of this man and groaned, "I've lost him, Riley! The only
horse ever foaled that could have carried me the way a man should be
carried. Now I'll have to ride plow horses the rest of my life!"
He pointed to the cloddish, heavy-limbed gray which he had ridden in
his quest for the superhorse at the Bridewell place.
"I been thinking," said Riley. "I been thinking a pile the last few
"What you been thinking about? What good does thinking do me? I've
lost the horse, haven't I, and that half-wit has him?"
"He has him—now," suggested Riley, watching the face of the big man
for fear that he might go too far.
"You mean by that?" queried the master.
"Exactly," said Riley. "Because he has the black now, it doesn't mean
that he's going to have him forever, does it?"
"Riley, you're a devil. That fellow saved my life, they tell me."
"I don't mean you're going to bump him off. But suppose you get him to
come and work on your place? There might be ways of getting the
hoss—buying him or something. Get him there, and we'll find a way.
Besides, he can teach you how to handle the hoss before you get him. I
say it's all turned out for the best."
Dunbar frowned. "Take him with me? And every place I go I hear it
said, 'There's the man who rode the horse that threw Dunbar!' No, curse
him, I'll see him in Hades before I take him with me!"
"How else are you going to get the hoss? Tell me that?"
"That's it," muttered Dunbar. "I've got to have him. I've got to have
him! Did you watch? I felt as if the big black devil had wings."
"He had you in the air most of the time, all right," and Riley
"Shut up," snapped his master. "But the chief thing is, I want to show
that big black fiend that I'm his master. He—he's beaten me once. But
one beating doesn't finish me!"
"Then go get Hunter to come with us when we ride back."
Dunbar hesitated another instant and then nodded. "It has to be done."
He strode off in pursuit of Bull and presently found the big man in
the corral rubbing down the stallion; the little bright-eyed Tod was
close beside them. It had been a great day for Tod. First he had felt
that his giant pupil was disgraced—a man without spirit. And then, in
the time of blackest doubt, Bull Hunter had become a hero and
accomplished the great feat—ridden Diablo, before all the incredulous
eyes of the watchers. All of Tod's own efforts had been repaid a
thousandfold when he heard Bull say to one of those who followed with
questions and admiration, "It's not my work. Tod showed me how to go
about it. Tod deserves the credit."
That was the reason that Tod's eyes now were supernally bright when
big Hal Dunbar approached. Diablo showed signs of excitement, but
Charlie Hunter quieted him with a word and went to the bars of the
corral. The hand of Dunbar was stretched out, and Bull took it with
"I'm glad you weren't hurt bad," he said. "For a minute or two I was
scared that Diablo—"
"I know," cut in Dunbar, for he detested a new description of the
scene of his failure. Then he made himself smile. "But I've come to
thank you for what you did, Hunter. Between you and me, I know that I
talked rather sharp to you a while back. I'm sorry for that. And
now—why, man, your side must be wounded!"
"It's just a little scratch," said Bull good-naturedly. "It isn't the
first time that Diablo has made me bleed but now—well, isn't he worth
a fight, Mr. Dunbar?"
And he gestured to the magnificent, watchful head of the stallion. The
heart of Hal Dunbar swelled in him. By fair means or foul, he must
have that horse, and on the spot he made his proposition to Hunter. He
had only to climb on the back of Diablo and ride south with him; the
pay would be anything—double what he got from Bridewell, who,
besides, was almost through with him, Dunbar understood.
"But I'm not much good," and Bull sighed reluctantly. "I can't use a
rope, and I don't know cattle, and—"
"I'll find uses for you. Will you come?"
So it was settled. But before Bull climbed into the saddle and started
off after Dunbar, little Tod drew him to one side.
"There ain't any good in Dunbar. Watch him and—remember me, Bull."
That ride to the southern mountains seemed to Bull Hunter to mark a
great point of departure between his old life and a new life.
He had not heard Riley, fox-faced and wicked of eye, say to his
master, "What this big fool needs is a little kidding. Make him think
that we figure him to be a big gun." He had not seen Hal Dunbar make a
wry face before he nodded.
All that Bull Hunter could know was that the three men—Riley, Dunbar,
and Joe Castor—were all exceedingly pleasant to him on the way. Of
all the men in the world, only Pete Reeve had treated him as these men
were now doing, and it was sweet beyond measure to Bull Hunter to be
treated with considerate respect, to have his opinion asked, to be
deferred to and flattered. As for the thousand little asides with
which they made a mock of him, they were far above his head. It seemed
only patent to Bull Hunter that he had been accepted freely into the
equal society of men.
He drew a vague comparison between that success and his mastery of
Diablo. The big stallion was like a kitten under his hand. It required
much coaxing during the first half-day of riding to bring Diablo
within speaking distance of the other men, but gradually he discovered
that they could do him no harm so long as the gentle voice of Hunter
was near him; thereafter he was entirely amenable to reason. One could
see that the stallion was learning difficult lessons, but he was
learning them fast. Eye and ear and scent told him that these
creatures were dangerous. Old experience told him that they were
dangerous, and only a blind trust in Bull Hunter enabled him to
conquer the panic which surged up in his brain time and again. But he
kept on trying, and the constant struggle against men which had
featured his life made him astonishingly quick to pick up new facts.
The first step had been the hard one, and it seemed to Bull Hunter
that the close-knit, smooth-flowing muscles beneath him were carrying
him onward into the esteem of all men. To Diablo he gave the praise,
and after Diablo to little freckled Tod, and to Pete Reeve, the
fighter. As for taking any credit for himself, that idea never came to
him for a moment.
The long trip took two days. They crossed the green, rolling hills;
they passed the foothills, and climbing steadily they came onto a
broad, high plateau—it was a natural kingdom, this ranch of the
Dunbars. The fence around it was the continuous range of mountains
skirting the plateau on all sides, and in every direction up to those
blue summits as far as the eye carried, stretched the land which owned
Hal Dunbar as master. To Bull Hunter, when they reached the crest,
and the broad domain was pointed out to him, this seemed a princely
stretch indeed, and Hal Dunbar was more like a king than ever. It was
easy to forgive pride in such a man and a certain asperity of temper.
How could so rich and powerful a man be like others?
The ranch house was worthy of such a holding. A heavy growth of
beautiful silver spruce swept up the slope of some hills, and riding
through the forest, one caught the first glimpse of the building. It
was spread out carelessly, the foundations laid deep to cover the
irregularities of the ground. It was a heterogeneous mass, obviously
not the work of any one builder. Here a one-story wing rambled far to
the side, built heavily, of logs rudely squared, and there was a
three-story frame section of the house; and still again there was a
tall tower effect of rough stone. As for the barns and sheds which
swept away down the farther and lower slopes, the meanest of them
looked to Bull as though it might have made a home of more than
The three other riders noted the gaping astonishment of Bull and
passed the wink quietly around. To Hal Dunbar it was growing more and
more annoying that he had to trouble himself with such a clod of a man
and use diplomacy where contemptuous force would have been so much
more after his heart. But he continued to follow the scheme first laid
down for his pursuit by clever Riley, and when they came to the
wide-ranging stable he assigned the black stallion to a roomy box
stall. Bull Hunter thanked him for the courtesy as though it had been
a direct personal favor; as a matter of fact, Hal felt that he was
merely taking care of a horse which was already as good as his.
Coming back toward the house Bull walked slowly in the rear of the
little party. He wanted to take plenty of time and drink in the
astonishing details of what to him was a palace. And about the
weather-beaten old house he felt that there was a touch of mystery of
a more or less feudal romance. Climbing the steps to the porch he
turned; a broad sweep of hills opened above the tops of the spruces,
and the blue mountains were piled beyond.
While he stood, a door slammed, and he heard a girl's mellow voice
calling, "Hello, Hal, what luck?"
"What luck? No luck!" grumbled young Dunbar. "All the luck has gone
the way of my … friend … here." He brought out the last words
jokingly. "This is Charlie Hunter, commonly called Bull for reasons
you may guess. Bull, this is Mary Hood."
Bull had turned lumberingly, and he found himself staring at a girl in
a more formal riding outfit than he had ever seen before, with tall
boots of soft red leather, and a little round black hat set on her
hair, and a coat fitted somewhat closely. The rather masculine outfit
only served to make her freer, more independent, more delightfully
herself, Bull Hunter thought. She looked him up and down and reserved
judgment, it seemed.
"He rode Diablo," Dunbar was explaining.
"And that's why you brought him?" she asked, flashing a queer glance
Then she came a pace down the steps and shook hands with Bull. He took
the small hand carefully, with a fear that the bones would break
unless he were excessively gentle. At last she laughed so frankly that
a tingle went through his big body, and he peered closely at her. As a
rule the laughter of others made him hot with shame, but this laughter
was different; it seemed to invite him into a pleasant secret.
"I'm glad to meet the man who conquered Diablo," she was saying.
"I didn't beat Diablo," he hastened to explain. "We just sort of
reached an understanding. He saw that I didn't mean him any harm—so
he let me ride him. That's all there was to it!"
He saw her eyes narrow a trifle as she looked down at him, for she had
drawn back to the level of the porch. Was she despising him and
condemning him merely because he had told her the truth? He flushed at
the thought, and then he was called into the house by Dunbar and
brought to a room. The size of it inspired him with a profound awe,
and he was still gaping when Dunbar left him.
In the hall the master of the house met Riley, and the fox-faced
lieutenant drew him aside.
"I've got a plan," he said.
"You're full of plans," muttered Dunbar evilly.
All the way home he had been striving to find some way of explaining
his lack of success with the stallion to Mary Hood. She had grown up
on the ranch with him, for her father had been the manager of the
ranch for twenty years; and she had grown up with the feeling that Hal
Dunbar was infallible and invincible.
"Did you see the big hulk look at Mary Hood?" Riley asked.
The name came pat with the unpleasant part of Hal's brooding, and his
scowl grew blacker. "What about it?"
"Looked at her as though she was an angel—touched her hand as though
it was fire. I tell you, Hal, she knocked Hunter clean off
"Not the first she's done that to," said Hal with meaning.
"Maybe not. Maybe not," said Riley rather hastily. "But I been
thinking. Suppose you go to Mary and tell her that you're dead set on
keeping this Hunter with you. Tell her that he's a hard fellow to
handle, that he likes her, and that the best way to make sure of him
is for her to be nice to him. She can do that easy. She takes nacheral
"Flirt with that thick-head? She'd laugh in my face."
"She'd do more than that for you, Hal."
"H'm," grunted Dunbar, greatly mollified. "I ask her to make Hunter
happy. What comes of it? If her father sees Hunter make eyes at her
he'll blow the head off the clodhopper."
"I know." Riley nodded. "He's always afraid she'll take a fancy to one
of the hands and run off with him, or something like that. He's dead
set agin' her saying two words to anybody like me, say!"
He gritted his teeth and flushed at the thought. Then he continued.
"But that's just what you want. You want to get Hunter's head blown
off, don't you?"
Dunbar caught the shoulder of Riley and whirled him around.
"Are you talking murder to me, Riley?"
"I'm talking sense," said Riley.
"By the Lord," growled Dunbar, "you're a plain bad one, Riley. You
like deviltry for the sake of the deviltry itself. You want me
"How much do you want the black hoss, chief?" Dunbar sighed.
"You can't touch him, after him saving your life, and I can't touch
him, because everybody knows that I'm your man. But suppose you get
the girl and Hunter planted? Then when Jack Hood rides in this
afternoon, I'll take him where he can see 'em together. Leave the rest
to me. Will you? I'll have Jack Hood scared she's going to elope
before morning, and Jack will do the rest. You know his way."
"Suppose Hood gets killed?"
"Killed—by that? Jack Hood? Why, you know he's near as good as you
with his gat!"
Dunbar nodded slowly. After all, the scheme was a simple one.
"Well?" whispered Riley.
"You and the devil win," said Hal. "After all, what's this Hunter
amount to? Nothing. And I need the horse!"
He executed the first step of the scheme instantly. He went downstairs
and found the girl still on the veranda. She began to mock him
"You'll go to heaven, Hal, giving a home to the man who beats you."
He managed to smile, although the words were poison to him. He had
loved her as long as he could remember, and sooner or later she would
be his wife, but the period remained indefinitely in the future as the
whims of the girl changed. It was for that reason, as Hal very well
knew, that her father became furious when she smiled at another man.
The rich marriage was his goal; and when a second man stepped onto the
stage, old Jack Hood was ready to fight. Hal saw a way of stopping her
gibes and proving his good intentions toward Hunter all in a breath.
"He saved my life, Mary. I lost a stirrup, and the devil of a horse
Briefly he sketched in the story of the rescue, and how Bull Hunter
afterward had ridden the horse without spurs, without a bridle. Before
he ended her eyes were shining.
"That's what he meant when he said he hadn't beaten Diablo. I
understand now. At the time I thought he was a little simple, Hal."
"He's not exceptionally clever, Mary," said Hal, "and that's where the
point comes in of what I want you to do. Hunter is apt to take a fancy
that he isn't wanted here—that he's being kept out of charity because
he saved my life. Nothing I can say will convince him. I want you to
give him a better reason for staying around. Will you do it—as a
She dropped her chin into her hand and studied him.
"Just what are you driving at, Hal?"
"You know what I mean well enough. I want you to waste a smile or two
on him, Mary. Will you do that? Make him think you like him a good
deal, that you're glad to have him around. Will you? Take him out for
a walk this afternoon and get him to tell you the story of his life.
You can always make a man talk and generally you turn them into fools.
You've done it with me, often enough," he added gloomily.
"Flirt with that big, quiet fellow?" she said gravely. "Hal, you're
criminal. Besides, you know that I don't flirt. It's just the
opposite. When I like a man I'm simply frank about it."
"But you have a way of being frank so that a poor devil usually thinks
you want to marry him, and then there's the devil to pay. You know it
"That's not true, Hal!"
"I won't argue. But will you do it?"
"It might be quite a game. He may not be altogether a fool. And
suppose he were to wake up? Suppose he's simply half-asleep?"
He saw a gleam of excitement come in her eyes and wisely left her
without another word. After things had reached a certain point Mary
could be generally trusted to carry the action on.
Jack Hood had ridden out on his rounds with a new horse that morning,
and the new horse developed the gait of a plow horse. The result was
that grim old Jack reached the house that night with a body racked by
the labor of the day and a disposition poisoned for the entire
evening. He was met at the stable by Riley, and the sight of him
brought a spark for the moment into the eye of the foreman.
"You're back, then, and you got Diablo?"
Jack Hood went to the box stall and came back rubbing his hands, but
his exultation was cut short by Riley's remark. "He doesn't belong to
Hal. Hal was thrown and another gent rode him."
The amazement of Jack Hood took the shape of a wild torrent of
profanity. He was proud of the ranch which he had controlled for so
long, and still prouder of his young master. His creed included two
main points—the essential beauty of his daughter and the
infallibility of young Hal Dunbar; consequently his great ambition was
to unite the two.
"Mary took to Hunter pretty kindly," concluded Riley, as they walked
back toward the house at the conclusion of the story.
The foreman took off his hat and shook back his long, iron-gray hair.
"Trust her for that. Something new is always what she wants."
"They've got the new well pretty near sunk," said Riley. "Take a look
But before they had gone halfway down the path onto which Riley had
cunningly diverted the older man, he caught Hood's arm and stopped him
with a whisper.
"Look at that. Already! This Hunter ain't such a slow worker, eh,
They had come in view of the little terraced garden which was Mary's
particular property; it was screened from the house by a rank or two
of the spruce, and on a rustic bench, seated with their backs to the
witnesses, were Mary and Bull Hunter. The girl was rapt in attention,
and her eyes never left the face of Hunter. As for Bull, he was
talking steadily, and it seemed to Jack Hood that as the big stranger
talked he leaned closer and closer to the girl. The hint which Riley
had already dropped was enough to inflame the imagination of the
suspicious foreman; what he now saw was totally conclusive, he
thought. Now, under his very eyes, he saw the big man stretch out his
hand, and he saw the hand of Mary dropped into it.
It was more than Riley had dared to hope for. He caught Jack Hood by
the shoulders, and whirled him around, and half dragged him back to
"Not in front of your daughter, Jack," he pleaded. "I don't blame you
for being mad when a skunk like that starts flirting with a girl the
first day he's seen her. But if you got anything to say to him, wait
till Mary is out of the way. There goes the supper bell. Hurry on in.
Keep hold on yourself."
"Do I have to sit through supper and look at that hound?"
"Not at all," suggested the cunning Riley. "Have a bite in the kitchen
and go up to your room. I'll say that you got some figures to run
over. Afterward, you can come down and jump him!"
He watched Jack Hood disappear, grinning faintly, and then hunted for
"It's started," he said. "I dropped a word in Jack's ear and then
showed him the two of 'em sitting together. It was like a spark in the
powder. The old boy exploded."
"How close were they sitting?" asked Hal suspiciously.
"Close enough." Riley grinned, for he was not averse to making even
Dunbar himself writhe.
The result was that Hal maneuvered to draw Mary Hood aside when she
came in with big Hunter for supper. Something in Bull Hunter's face
disturbed the owner of the ranch, for the eyes of Bull were alight,
and he was smiling for no apparent reason.
"How did things go?" he asked carelessly.
"You were all wrong about him," said the girl earnestly. "He's not a
half-wit by any means, Hal. I had a hard time of it at first, but then
I got him talking about Diablo and the trouble ended. Not a bit of
sentiment in him; but just like a great big, simple, honest boy, with
a man's strength. It would have done you good to hear him!"
"And he'll stay with us?" asked Hal dryly, for he was far from
"Of course he'll stay. Do you know what he did? He promised to try to
teach me to ride Diablo, and he even shook hands on it! Hal, I like
All during the meal the glances of Hal Dunbar alternated between the
girl and the giant. He was more disturbed than he dared to confess
even to himself. It was not so much that Bull Hunter sat with a
faintly dreamy smile, staring into the future and forgetting his food,
but it was the fact that Mary Hood was continually smiling across the
table into that big, calm face. Dunbar began to feel that the devil
was indeed behind the wit of Riley.
He began to wait nervously for the coming of the girl's father and the
explosion. As soon as supper was over, following the time-honored
custom which the first Dunbar established on the ranch, Mary left the
room, and the men gathered in groups for cards or dice or talk, for
they were not ordinary hired hands, but picked men. Many of them had
grown gray in the Dunbar service. Now was the time for the coming of
Jack Hood, and Hal had not long to wait.
The door at the far side of the big room was thrown open not five
minutes after the disappearance of Mary Hood, and her father entered.
He came with a brow as black as night, tossed a sharp word here and
there in reply to the greetings, and going to the fireplace leaned
against the mantel and rolled a cigarette. While he smoked, from under
his shaggy brows he looked over the company.
Hal Dunbar waited, holding his breath. One brilliant picture was
dawning on his mind—himself mounted on great black Diablo and
swinging over the hills at a matchless gallop.
The picture vanished. Jack Hood had left the fireplace and was
crossing the room with his alert, quick step. His nerves showed in
that step; and it was nerve power that made him a dreaded gunfighter.
His gloom seemed to have vanished now. He smiled here; he paused there
for a cheery word; and so he came to where Bull Hunter sat with his
long legs stretched before him and the unchanging, dreamy smile on
Over those long legs Jack Hood stumbled. When he whirled on the seated
man his cheer was gone and a devil was in his face.
"You damned lummox," he said, "what d'ye mean by tripping me?"
"Me?" gasped Bull, the smile gradually fading and blank amazement
taking its place.
It was at this moment that a man stepped out of the shadow of the
kitchen doorway, a very small withered man. No doubt he was some late
arrival asking hospitality for the night; and having come after supper
was over, he had been fed in the kitchen and then sent in among the
other men; for no one was turned away hungry from the Dunbar house. He
was so small, so light-footed, that he would hardly have been noticed
at any time, and now that the roar from Jack Hood had focused all eyes
on Bull Hunter, the newcomer was entirely overlooked. He seemed to
make it a point to withdraw himself farther, for now he stepped into a
dense shadow near the wall where he could see and remain unseen.
Jack Hood had shaken his fist under the nose of the seated giant.
"I meant it," he cried. "You tripped me, you skunk, and Jack Hood
ain't old enough to take that from no man!"
Bull Hunter cast out deprecatory hands. The words of this fire-eyed
fellow were bad enough, but the tigerish tenseness of his muscles was
still worse. It meant battle, and the long, black, leather holster at
the thigh of Hood meant battle of only one kind. It had come so
suddenly on him that Bull Hunter was dazed.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I sure didn't mean to trip you—but maybe my
foot might of slipped out a little and—"
"Slipped out!" sneered Hood. He stopped, panting with fury. That a
comparative stranger should have dared to speak familiarly with his
daughter was bad enough; that a blank-faced coward should have dared
flirt with her, dared take her hand, was maddening.
"You infernal sneak!" he growled. "Are you going to try to get out of
it, now that you've seen you can't bluff me down—that I won't stand
for your tricks?"
Bull Hunter rose, slowly, unfolding his great bulk until he towered
above the other; and yet the condensed activity of Hood was fully as
formidable. There were pantherlike suggestions of speed about the arm
that dangled beside his holster.
The withered little man in the shadow by the kitchen door took one
noiseless step into the light—and then shrank back as though he had
changed his mind.
"It looks to me," said Bull Hunter mildly, "that you're trying to
force a fight on me. Stranger, I can't fight a man as old as you are."
Perhaps it was a tactless speech, but Bull was too dazed to think of
grace in words. It brought a murderous snarl from the other.
"I'm old enough to be Jack Hood—maybe you've heard of me? And I'm
young enough to polish off every unlicked cub in these parts. Now,
curse you, what d'ye say to that?"
"I can only say," said Bull miserably, feeling his way, "that I don't
want to fight."
With an oath Hood exclaimed, "A coward! They're all like that—every
one of the big fellers. A yaller-hearted sneak!"
"Easy, Jack!" broke in one of the men.
"Let Jack alone," called the commanding voice of Hal Dunbar. "I saw
Hunter trip him!"
"But," pleaded Bull Hunter, "I give you my word—"
"Shut up! I've heard enough of your talk."
Bull Hunter obediently stopped his talk.
A sickening quiet drew through the room. Men bowed their heads or
turned them away, for such cowardice was not pleasant to see. The
little man in the shadow raised one hand and brushed it across
"I'll let you off one way," said Jack Hood. "Stand up here, and face
the crowd and tell 'em you're a liar, that you're sorry for what
Bull faced the crowd. A shudder of expectancy went through them, and
then they saw that his face was working, not with shame or fear but
with a mental struggle, and then he spoke.
"Gents, it seems like I may be wrong. I may have tripped him which I
didn't mean to. But not knowing that I tripped him, I got to say that
I can't call myself a liar. I can't apologize."
They were shocked into a new attention; they saw him turn and face the
frown of Jack Hood.
"You're forcing this fight, stranger. And, if you keep on, you'll
drop, sir. I promise you that!"
The sudden change in affairs had astonished Jack Hood; now his
astonishment gave way to a sort of hungry joy.
"I never was strong on words. I got two ways of talking and here's the
one I like best!" As he uttered the last word he reached for his gun.
The little man glided out of the shadow, crouched, intense. It seemed
to him that the hand of Bull Hunter hung motionless at his side while
the gun flashed out from Hood's holster. He groaned at the thought,
but in the last second, there was a move of Hunter's hand that no eye
could follow, that singular convulsive twitch which Pete Reeve had
taught him so long before. Only one gun spoke. Jack Hood spun sidewise
and crashed to the floor, and his gun rattled far away.
By the time the first man had rushed to the fallen figure, the gun was
back in Bull's holster.
The little man in the shadow heard him saying, "Pardners, he's not
dead. He's shot through the right shoulder, low, beneath the joint.
That bullet won't kill him, but get him bandaged quick!"
A calm, clear voice, it rang through the room. The little man slipped
back into his shadow, and straightened against the wall.
"He's right," said Hal Dunbar, stepping back from the cluster. "Riley
and Jerry, get him up to his room and bandage him, quick! The rest of
you stay here. We got a job. Hood's gun hung in the holster, and this
fellow shot him down. A murdering, cowardly thing to do. You hear? A
murdering, cowardly thing to do!"
Obviously he was wrong, and obviously not one of his henchmen would
tell him so. For some reason the boss intended to take up the lost
battle of Jack Hood. Why, was not theirs to reason, though plainly the
fight had been fair, and Hood had been in the wrong from the first.
They shifted swiftly, a man to each door, the others along the wall
with their hands on their weapons. There was a change in Bull Hunter.
One long leap backward carried him into a corner of the room. He stood
erect, and they could see his eyes gleaming in the shadow.
"I think you got me here to trap me, Dunbar," he called in such a
voice that the little man in the shadow thrilled at the sound of it,
"but you'll find that you're trapped first, my friend. Touch that gun
of yours, and you're a dead man, Dunbar. Curse you, I dare you to
go for it!"
Could this be Bull Hunter speaking? The little man in the shadow
thrilled with joyous amazement.
Hal Dunbar evidently was going to fight the thing through. He stood
swaying a little from side to side. "No guns out, boys, as yet. Wait
till I take my crack at him, and then—"
The little man in the shadow stepped out into the light and walked
calmly toward the center of the room.
"Just a little wee minute, Dunbar," he was saying. "Just a little wee
minute, Mr. Man-trapper Dunbar! I got a word to say."
"Who the devil are you?" cried Hal Dunbar, turning on this puny
A joyous shout from Bull Hunter drowned the answer of the other.
"Pete! Pete Reeve!"
The little man waved his hand carelessly to the giant in the corner.
"You give me a hard trail, Bull, old boy. But you didn't think you
could slip me, did you? Not much. And here I am, pretty pronto on the
dot, I figure." He took in with a glance the men along the walls. "You
know me, boys, and I'm here to see fair play. They ain't going to be
fair play in this room with you boys lined up waiting to drop Bull in
case he plugs Dunbar. Dunbar, I know you. And between you and me, I
don't know no good of you. You're young, but you're going to show
later on. If you want to talk business to Bull Hunter some other time,
you're welcome to come finding him, and he won't be hard to find.
Bull, come along with me. Just back up, if you don't mind, Bull.
Because they's murder in our friend Dunbar's face. And here we are!"
Side by side they drew back to the outer door with big Hal Dunbar
watching them from under a scowl, with never a word, and so through
the door and into the night.
Two minutes later Diablo was rocking across the hills with his mighty
stride, and the cow pony of Pete Reeve was pattering beside him.
As they drove through the great spruces the moon rose. Bull Hunter
greeted it with a thundering song and threw up his hands to it.
Pete Reeve swore softly in amazement and drew his horse to a walk.
"By the Lord," cried Bull, "and I haven't thanked you yet for pulling
me out of that mess. I'd be crow's food by this time if it hadn't been
for you, Pete!"
"That only wipes out one score. Let's talk about you, Bull. Since I
last seen you, you've got to be a man. Was it dropping Hood that made
you buck up like this?"
"That old man?"
"That old man," snorted Pete, "is Jack Hood, one of the best of 'em
with a gun. But if it wasn't the fight that made you feel your oats,
was it breaking Diablo?"
"No breaking to it. We just got acquainted."
"But what's happened? What's wakened you, Bull?"
"I dunno," said Bull and became thoughtful.
"Pete," he said, after a long time, "have you ever noticed a sort of
chill that gets inside you when the right sort of a girl smiles and—"
"The devil," murmured Pete Reeve, "it's the girl that's happened to
you, eh? You forget her, Bull. I'm going to take you on the trail with
me and keep you from thinking. It's a new trail for me, Bull. It's a
trail where I'm going straight, I can't take you with me while I'm
playing against the law. So I'm going to stay inside the
"Maybe," and Bull Hunter sighed. "But no matter how far the trail
leads, I'm thinking that some day I'll ride in a circle and come back
to this place where we started out together."
He turned in the saddle.
The outline of the Dunbar house was fading into the night.