THE UNTAMED (31)
March 21, 2023
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.
“LAUGH, DAMN IT!”
She brushed her father’s anxious arms aside and ran to Buck.
“Shut up!” said Buck. “Talk soft. Better still, don’t say nothin’!”
“Kate,” stammered her father, “what has happened?”
“Listen an’ you’ll learn,” said Buck. “But get busy first. I got to get you out of here tonight. You’ll need strength for the work ahead of you. You got to eat. Get me some eggs. Eggs and ham. Got ’em? Good. You, there!” (This to Joe.) “Rake down them ashes. On the jump, Kate. Some wood here. I got only ten minutes!”
In three minutes the fire was going, and the eggs in the pan, while Joe set out some tin dishes on the rickety table, under orders from Buck, making as much noise as possible. While they worked Buck talked. By the time Kate’s plate was ready his tale was done. He expected hysterics. She was merely white and steady-eyed.
“You’re ready?” he concluded.
“Then begin by doin’ what I say an’ ask no questions. Silent an’ his crew’ll be lookin’ through the window over there pretty soon. You got to be eatin’ an’ appearin’ to enjoy talkin’ to me. Get that an’ don’t forget it. Mix in plenty of smiles. Cumberland, you get back into the shadow an’ stay there. Don’t never come out into the light. Your face tells more’n a whole book, an’ believe me, Jim Silent is a quick reader.”
Joe retreated to a corner of the room into which the light of the lamp did not penetrate.
“Sit down at that table!” ordered Buck, and he placed a generous portion of fried eggs and ham before her.
“I can’t eat. Is Dan—”
“I hear ’em at the window!”
He slipped onto a box on the opposite side of the table and leaned towards her, supporting his chin in his hands. Kate began to eat hurriedly.
“No! no!” advised Buck. “You eat as if you was scared. You want to be slow an’ deliberate. Watch out! They’ve moved the board that covers the window!”
For he saw a group of astonished faces outside.
“Smile at me!”
Her response made even Buck forget her pallor. Outside the house there was a faint buzz of whispers.
“Keep it up!”
“I’ll do my best,” she said faintly.
Buck leaned back and burst into uproarious laughter.
“That’s a good one!” he cried, slamming the broad palm of his hand against the table so that the tin dishes jumped. “I never heard the beat of it!” And in a whispered tone aside: “Laugh, damn it!”
Her laughter rang true enough, but it quavered perilously close to a sob towards the close.
“I always granted Jim Silent a lot of sense,” he said, “an’ has he really left you alone all this time? Damn near died of homesickness, didn’t you?”
She laughed again, more confidently this time. The board was suddenly replaced at the window.
“Now I got to go out to them,” he said. “After what Silent has seen he’ll trust me with you. He’ll let me come back.”
She dropped her soft hands over his clenched fist.
“It will be soon? Minutes are greater than hours.”
“I ain’t forgot. Tonight’s the time.”
Before he reached the door she ran to him. Two arms went round his neck, two warm lips fluttered against his.
“God bless you!” she whispered.
Buck ran for the door. Outside he stood bareheaded, breathing deeply. His face was hot with shame and delight, and he had to walk up and down for a moment before he could trust himself to enter the ranch house. When he finally did so he received a greeting which made him think himself a curiosity rather than a man. Even Jim Silent regarded him with awe.
“Buck,” said Jordan, “you don’t never need to work no more. All you got to do is to walk into a town, pick out the swellest heiress, an’ marry her.”
“The trouble with girls in town,” said Buck, “is that there ain’t no room for a man to operate. You jest nacherally can’t ride a hoss into a parlour.”
Lee Haines drew Buck a little to one side.
“What message did you bring to her, Buck?” he said.
“What d’you mean?”
“Look here, friend, these other boys are too thick-headed to understand Kate Cumberland, but I know her kind.”
“You’re a little peeved, ain’t you Lee?” grinned Buck. “It ain’t my fault that she don’t like you.”
Haines ground his teeth.
“It was a very clever little act that you did with her, but it couldn’t quite deceive me. She was too pale when she laughed.”
“A jealous feller sees two things for every one that really happens, Lee.”
“Who was the message from?”
“Did she ever smile at you like she done at me?”
“Was it from Dan Barry that you brought word?”
“Did she ever let her eyes go big an’ soft when she looked at you?”
“Did she ever lean close to you, so’s you got the scent of her hair, Lee?”
“I’ll kill you for this, Daniels!”
“When I left she kissed me good-bye, Lee.”
In spite of his bravado, Buck was deeply anxious. He watched Haines narrowly. Only two men in the mountain-desert would have had a chance against this man in a fight, and Buck knew perfectly well that he was not one of the two.
“Watch yourself, Daniels,” said Haines. “I know you’re lying and I’m going to keep an eye on you.”
“Thanks,” grinned Buck. “I like to have a friend watchin’ out for me.”
Haines turned on his heel and went back to the card table, where Buck immediately joined the circle.
“Wait a minute, Lee,” said Silent. “Ain’t it your turn to stand guard on the Cumberlands tonight?”
“Right—O,” answered Haines cheerfully, and rose from the table.
“Hold on,” said Buck. “Are you goin’ to spoil all the work I done today with that girl?”
“What’s the matter?” asked Silent.
“Everything’s the matter! Are you goin’ to put a man she hates out there watchin’ her.”
“Damn you, Daniels,” said Haines fiercely, “you’re rolling up a long account, but it only takes a bullet to collect that sort of a bill!”
“If it hadn’t been for Haines, would the girl’s father be here?” asked Buck. “Besides, she don’t like blonds.”
“What type does she like?” asked Silent, enjoying the quarrel between his lieutenant and the recruit.
“Likes ’em with dark hair an’ eyes,” said Buck calmly. “Look at me, for instance!”
Even Haines smiled, though his lips were white with anger.
“D’you want to stand guard over her yourself?” said the chief.
“Sure,” grinned Buck, “maybe she’d come out an’ pass the time o’ night with me.”
“Go ahead and take the job,” nodded Silent. “I got an idea maybe she will.”
“Silent,” warned Haines, “hasn’t it occurred to you that there’s something damned queer about the ease with which Buck slid into the favour of the girl?”
“All his talk about manhandling her is bunk. He had some message for her. I saw him speak to her when she was struggling in his arms. Then she conveniently fainted.”
Silent turned on Buck.
“Is that straight?”
“It is,” said Daniels easily.
The outlaws started and their expectant grins died out.
“By God, Buck!” roared Silent, “if you’re double crossin’ me— but I ain’t goin’ to be hasty now. What happened? Tell it yourself! What did you say to her?”
“While she was fightin’ with me,” said Buck, “she hollered: ‘Let me go!’ I says: ‘I’ll see you in hell first!’ Then she fainted.”
The roar of laughter drowned Haines’s further protest.
“You win, Buck,” said Silent. “Take the job.”
As Buck started for the door Haines called to him:
“Hold on, Buck, if you’re aboveboard you won’t mind giving your word to see that no one comes up the valley and that you’ll be here in the morning?”
The words set a swirling blackness before Buck’s eyes. He turned slowly.
“That’s reasonable,” said Silent. “Speak up, Daniels.”
“All right,” said Buck, his voice very low. “I’ll be here in the morning, and I’ll see that no one comes up the valley.”
There was the slightest possible emphasis on the word “up.”
On a rock directly in front of the shanty Buck took up his watch. The little house behind him was black. Presently he heard the soft call of Kate: “Is it time?”
His eyes wandered to the ranch house. He could catch the drone of many voices. He made no reply.
“Is it time?” she repeated.
Still he would not venture a reply, however guarded. She called a third time, and when he made no response he heard her voice break to a moan of hopelessness. And yet he waited, waited, until the light in the ranch house went out, and there was not a sound.
“Kate!” he said, gauging his voice carefully so that it could not possibly travel to the ranch house, which all the while he carefully scanned.
For answer the front door of the shanty squeaked.
“Back!” he called. “Go back!”
The door squeaked again.
“They’re asleep in the ranch house,” she said. “Aren’t we safe?”
“S—sh!” he warned. “Talk low! They aren’t all asleep. There’s one in the ranch house who’ll never take his eyes off me till morning.”
“What can we do?”
“Go out the back way. You won’t be seen if you’re careful. Haines has his eyes on me, not you. Go for the stable. Saddle your horses. Then lead them out and take the path on the other side of the house. Don’t mount them until you’re far below the house. Go slow all the way. Sounds travel far up this canyon.”
“Aren’t you coming with us?”
“But when they find us gone?”
“Think of Dan — not me!”
“God be merciful to you!”
In a moment the back door of the shanty creaked. They must be opening it by inches. When it was wide they would run for the stable. He wished now that he had warned Kate to walk, for a slow moving object catches the eye more seldom than one which travels fast. If Lee Haines was watching at that moment his attention must be held to Buck for one all important minute. He stood up, rolled a cigarette swiftly, and lighted it. The spurt and flare of the match would hold even the most suspicious eye for a short time, and in those few seconds Kate and her father might pass out of view behind the stable.
He sat down again. A muffled sneeze came from the ranch house and Buck felt his blood run cold. The forgotten cigarette between his fingers burned to a dull red and then went out. In the stable a horse stamped. He leaned back, locked his hands idly behind his head, and commenced to whistle. Now there was a snort, as of a horse when it leaves the shelter of a barn and takes the first breath of open air.
All these sounds were faint, but to Buck, straining his ears in an agony of suspense, each one came like the blast of a trumpet. Next there was a click like that of iron striking against rock. Evidently they were leading the horses around on the far side of the house. With a trembling hand he relighted his cigarette and waited, waited, waited. Then he saw them pass below the house! They were dimly stalking figures in the night, but to Buck it seemed as though they walked in the blaze of ten thousand searchlights. He held his breath in expectancy of that mocking laugh from the house—that sharp command to halt—that crack of the revolver.
Yet nothing happened. Now he caught the click of the horses’ iron shoes against the rocks farther and farther down the valley. Still no sound from the ranch house. They were safe!
It was then that the great temptation seized on Buck.
It would be simple enough for him to break away. He could walk to the stable, saddle his horse, and tear past the ranch house as fast as his pony could gallop. By the time the outlaws were ready for the pursuit, he would be a mile or more away, and in the hills such a handicap was enough. One thing held him. It was frail and subtle like the invisible net of the enchanter — that word he had passed to Jim Silent, to see that nothing came up the valley and to appear in the ranch house at sunrise.
In the midst of his struggle, strangely enough, he began to whistle the music he had learned from Dan Barry, the song of The Untamed, those who hunt for ever, and are for ever hunted. When his whistling died away he touched his hand to his lips where Kate had kissed him, and then smiled. The sun pushed up over the eastern hills.
When he entered the ranch house the big room was a scene of much arm stretching and yawning as the outlaws dressed. Lee Haines was already dressed. Buck smiled ironically.
“I say, Lee,” he said, “you look sort of used up this mornin’, eh?”
The long rider scowled.
“I’d make a guess you’ve not had much sleep, Haines,” went on Buck. “Your eyes is sort of hollow.”
“Not as hollow as your damned lying heart!”
“Drop that!” commanded Silent. “You hold a grudge like a woman, Lee! How was the watch, Buck? Are you all in?”
“Nothin’ come up the valley, an’ here I am at sunrise,” said Buck. “I reckon that speaks for itself.”
“It sure does,” said Silent, “but the gal and her father are kind of slow this mornin’. The old man generally has a fire goin’ before dawn is fairly come. There ain’t no sign of smoke now.”
“Maybe he’s sleepin’ late after the excitement of yesterday,” said Bill Kilduff. “You must of thrown some sensation into the family, Buck.”
The eyes of Haines had not moved from the face of Buck.
“I think I’ll go over and see what’s keeping them so late in bed,” he said, and left the house.
“He takes it pretty hard,” said Jordan, his scarred face twisted with Satanic mirth, “but don’t go rubbin’ it into him, Buck, or you’ll be havin’ a man-sized fight on your hands. I’d jest about as soon mix with the chief as cross Haines. When he starts the undertaker does the finishin’!”
“Thanks for remindin’ me,” said Buck drily. Through the window he saw Haines throw open the door of the shanty.
The outcry which Buck expected did not follow. For a long moment the long rider stood there without moving. Then he turned and walked slowly back to the house, his head bent, his forehead gathered in a puzzled frown.
“What’s the matter, Lee?” called Silent as his lieutenant entered the room again. “You look sort of sick. Didn’t she have a bright mornin’ smile for you?”
Haines raised his head slowly. The frown was not yet gone.
“They aren’t there,” he announced.
His eyes shifted to Buck. Everyone followed his example, Silent cursing softly.
“As a joker, Lee,” said Buck coldly, “you’re some Little Eva. I s’pose they jest nacherally evaporated durin’ the night, maybe?”
“Haines,” said Silent sharply, “are you serious?”
The latter nodded.
“Then by God, Buck, you’ll have to say a lot in a few words. Lee, you suspected him all the time, but I was a fool!”
Daniels felt the colour leaving his face, but help came from the quarter from which he least expected it.
“Jim, don’t draw!” cried Haines.
The eyes of the chief glittered like the hawk’s who sees the field mouse scurrying over the ground far below.
“He ain’t your meat, Lee,” he said. “It’s me he’s double crossed.”
“Chief,” said Haines, “last night while he watched the shanty, I watched him!”
“I saw him keep his post in front of the cabin all night without moving. And he was wide awake all the time.”
“Then how in hell—”
“The back door of the cabin!” said Kilduff suddenly.
“By God, that’s it! They sneaked out there and then went down on the other side of the house.”
“If I had let them go,” interposed Buck, “do you suppose I’d be here?”
The keen glance of Silent moved from Buck to Haines, and then back again. He turned his back on them.
The quiet which had fallen on the room was now broken by the usual clatter of voices, cursing, and laughter. In the midst of it Haines stepped close to Buck and spoke in a guarded voice.
“Buck,” he said, “I don’t know how you did it, but I have an idea—”
The eyes of Haines were sad.
“I was a clean man, once,” he said quietly, “and you’ve done a clean man’s work!”
He put out his hand and that of Buck’s advanced slowly to meet it.
“Was it for Dan or Kate that you did it?”
The glance of Buck roamed far away.
“I dunno,” he said softly. “I think it was to save my own rotten soul!”
On the other side of the room Silent beckoned to Purvis.
“What is it?” asked Hal, coming close.
“Speak low,” said Silent. “I’m talking to you, not to the crowd. I think Buck is crooked as hell. I want you to ride down to the neighbourhood of his house. Scout around it day and night. You may see something worth while.”
Meanwhile, in that utter blackness which precedes the dawn, Kate and her father reached the mouth of the canyon.
“Kate,” said old Joe in a tremulous voice, “if I was a prayin’ man I’d git down on my knees an’ thank God for deliverin’ you tonight.”
“Thank Buck Daniels, who’s left his life in pawn for us. I’ll go straight for Buck’s house. You must ride to Sheriff Morris and tell him that an honest man is up there in the power of Silent’s gang.”
“But—” he began.
She waved her hand to him, and spurring her horse to a furious gallop raced off into the night. Her father stared after her for a few moments, but then, as she had advised, rode for Gus Morris.
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”.