THE UNTAMED (7)

By: Max Brand
October 7, 2022

AI-assisted illustration by HILOBROW

HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize Max Brand’s 1919 western novel The Untamed for HILOBROW’s readers. The original spaghetti western (complete with a Morricone-style whistling score), this yarn features a protagonist with uncanny violent abilities… leading one to wonder whether it’s a Sarah Canary-esque work of Radium Age proto-sf about a mutant or possibly an alien? (Note that in 1919, Brand also serialized the superman novel Children of Night.) We’ll let you decide.

ALL INSTALLMENTS: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38.

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CHAPTER VII

THE MUTE MESSENGER

Almost at once Haines raised a hand and spoke to the crowd: “He’s all right, boys. Badly cut across the head and stunned, but he’ll live.”

There was a deep gash on the upper part of the forehead. If the cross-bar of the chair had not broken, the skull might have been injured. The impact of the blow had stunned him, and it might be many minutes before his senses returned.

As the crowd closed around Dan, a black body leaped among them, snarling hideously. They sprang back with a yell from the rush of this green-eyed fury; but Black Bart made no effort to attack them. He sat crouching before the prostrate body, licking the deathly white face, and growling horribly, and then stood over his fallen master and stared about the circle. Those who had seen a lone wolf make its stand against a pack of dogs recognized the attitude. Then without a sound, as swiftly as he had entered the room, he leaped through the door and darted off up the road. Satan, for the first time deserted by this wolfish companion, turned a high head and neighed after him, but he raced on.

The men returned to their work over Dan’s body, cursing softly. There was a hair-raising unearthliness about the sudden coming and departure of Black Bart. Jim Silent and his comrades waited no longer, but took to their saddles and galloped down the road.

Within a few moments the crowd at Morgan’s place began to thin out. Evening was coming on, and most of them had far to ride. They might have lingered until midnight, but this peculiar accident damped their spirits. Probably not a hundred words were spoken from the moment Silent struck Dan to the time when the last of the cattlemen took to the saddle. They avoided each other’s eyes as if in shame. In a short time only Morgan remained working over Dan.

In the house of old Joe Cumberland his daughter sat fingering the keys of the only piano within many miles. The evening gloom deepened as she played with upward face and reminiscent eyes. The tune was uncertain, weird — for she was trying to recall one of those nameless airs which Dan whistled as he rode through the hills. There came a patter of swift, light footfalls in the hall, and then a heavy scratching at the door.

“Down, Bart!” she called, and went to admit him to the room.

The moment she turned the handle the door burst open and Bart fell in against her. She cried out at sight of the gleaming teeth and eyes, but he fawned about her feet, alternately whining and snarling.

“What is it, boy?” she asked, gathering her skirts close about her ankles and stepping back, for she never was without some fear of this black monster. “What do you want, Bart?”

For reply he stood stock still, raised his nose, and emitted a long wail, a mournful, a ghastly sound, with a broken-hearted quaver at the end. Kate Cumberland shrank back still farther until the wall blocked her retreat. Black Bart had never acted like this before. He followed her with a green light in his eyes, which shone phosphorescent and distinct through the growing shadows. And most terrible of all was the sound which came deep in his throat as if his brute nature was struggling to speak human words. She felt a great impulse to cry out for help, but checked herself. He was still crouching about her feet. Obviously he meant no harm to her.

He turned and ran towards the door, stopped, looked back to her, and made a sound which was nearer to the bark of a dog than anything he had ever uttered. She made a step after him. He whined with delight and moved closer to the door. Now she stopped again. He whirled and ran back, caught her dress in his teeth, and again made for the door, tugging her after him.

At last she understood and followed him. When she went towards the corral to get her horse, he planted himself in front of her and snarled so furiously that she gave up her purpose. She was beginning to be more and more afraid. A childish thought came to her that perhaps this brute was attempting to lure her away from the house, as she had seen coyotes lure dogs, and then turn his teeth against her. Nevertheless she followed. Something in the animal’s eagerness moved her deeply. When he led her out to the road he released her dress and trotted ahead a short distance, looking back and whining, as if to beg her to go faster. For the first time the thought of Dan came into her mind. Black Bart was leading her down the road towards Morgan’s place. What if something had happened to Dan?

She caught a breath of sharp terror and broke into a run. Bart yelped his pleasure. Yet a cold horror rose in her heart as she hurried. Had her father after all been right? What power had Dan, if he needed her, to communicate with this mute beast and send him to her? As she ran she wished for the day, the warm, clear sun — for these growing shadows of evening bred a thousand ghostly thoughts. Black Bart was running backwards and forwards before her as if he half entreated and half threatened her.

Her heart died within her as she came in sight of Morgan’s place. There was only one horse before it, and that was the black stallion. Why had the others gone so soon? Breathless, she reached the door of the saloon. It was very dim within. She could make out only formless shades at first. Black Bart slid noiselessly across the floor. She followed him with her eyes, and now she saw a figure stretched straight out on the floor while another man kneeled at his side. She ran forward with a cry.

Morgan rose, stammering. She pushed him aside and dropped beside Dan. A broad white bandage circled his head. His face was almost as pale as the cloth. Her touches went everywhere over that cold face, and she moaned little syllables that had no meaning. He lived, but it seemed to her that she had found him at the legended gates of death.

“Miss Kate!” said Morgan desperately.

“You murderer!”

“You don’t think that I did that?”

“It happened in your place — you had given Dad your word!”

Still she did not turn her head.

“Won’t you hear me explain? He’s jest in a sort of a trance. He’ll wake up feelin’ all right. Don’t try to move him tonight. I’ll go out an’ put his hoss up in the shed. In the mornin’ he’ll be as good as new. Miss Kate, won’t you listen to me?”

She turned reluctantly towards him. Perhaps he was right and Dan would waken from his swoon as if from a healthful sleep.

“It was that big feller with them straight eyes that done it,” began Morgan.

“The one who was sneering at Dan?”

“Yes.”

“Weren’t there enough boys here to string him up?”

“He had three friends with him. It would of taken a hundred men to lay hands on one of those four. They were all bad ones. I’m goin’ to tell you how it was, because I’m leavin’ in a few minutes and ridin’ south, an’ I want to clear my trail before I start. This was the way it happened —”

His back was turned to the dim light which fell through the door. She could barely make out the movement of his lips. All the rest of his face was lost in shadow. As he spoke she sometimes lost his meaning and the stir of his lips became a nameless gibbering. The grey gloom settled more deeply round the room and over her heart while he talked. He explained how the difference had risen between the tall stranger and Whistling Dan. How Dan had been insulted time and again and borne it with a sort of childish stupidity. How finally the blow had been struck. How Dan had crouched on the floor, laughing, and how a yellow light gathered in his eyes.

At that, her mind went blank. When her thoughts returned she stood alone in the room. The clatter of Morgan’s galloping horse died swiftly away down the road. She turned to Dan. Black Bart was crouched at watch beside him. She kneeled again — lowered her head — heard the faint but steady breathing. He seemed infinitely young — infinitely weak and helpless. The whiteness of the bandage stared up at her like an eye through the deepening gloom. All the mother in her nature came to her eyes in tears.

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SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable | Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire” | Francis Stevens’s “Friend Island” | George C. Wallis’s “The Last Days of Earth” | Frank L. Pollock’s “Finis” | A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool | E. Nesbit’s “The Third Drug” | George Allan England’s “The Thing from — ‘Outside'” | Booth Tarkington’s “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” | H.G. Wells’s “The Land Ironclads” | J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder | Valery Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross” | Algernon Blackwood’s “A Victim of Higher Space” | A. Merritt’s “The People of the Pit” | Max Brand’s The Untamed | Julian Huxley’s “The Tissue-Culture King” | Clare Winger Harris’s “A Runaway World” | Francis Stevens’s “Thomas Dunbar” | George Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales” | Robert W. Chambers’s “The Harbor-Master”.