The White-slashed Bull





HER back crushed beneath the massive weight of a "deadfall," the

mother moose lay slowly sobbing her life out on the sweet spring air.

The villainous log, weighted cunningly with rocks, had caught her just

above the withers, bearing her forward so that her forelegs were

doubled under her, and her neck outstretched so that she could not

lift her muzzle from the wet moss. Though her eyes were already

glazing, and her nostrils full of a blown and blood-streaked froth,

from time to time she would struggle desperately to raise her head,

for she yearned to lick the sprawling, wobbling legs of the ungainly

calf which stood close beside her, bewildered because she would not

rise and suckle him.



The dying animal lay in the middle of the trail, which was an old,

half-obliterated logger's road, running straight east into the glow of

the spring sunrise. The young birches and poplars, filmed with the

first of the green, crowded close upon the trail, with, here and

there, a rose-blooming maple, here and there, a sombre, black-green

hemlock, towering over the thick second growth. The early air was

fresh, but soft; fragrant with the breath of opening buds. Faint mists

streamed up into the sunlight along the mossy line of the trail, and

the only sounds breaking the silence of the wilderness were the

sweetly plaintive calls of two rain-birds, answering each other slowly

over the treetops. Everything in the scene--the tenderness of the

colour and the air, the responses of the mating birds, the hope and

the expectancy of all the waking world--seemed piteously at variance

with the anguish of the stricken mother and her young, down there in

the solitude of the trail.



Presently, in the undergrowth beside the trail, a few paces beyond the

deadfall, a twig snapped sharply. Admonished by that experience of a

thousand ancestral generations which is instinct, the calf lifted his

big awkward ears apprehensively, and with a shiver drew closer to his

mother's crushed body. A moment later a gaunt black bear thrust his

head and shoulders forth from the undergrowth, and surveyed the scene

with savage, but shrewd, little eyes. He was hungry, and to his

palate no other delicacy the spring wilderness could ever afford was

equal to a young moose calf. But the situation gave him pause. The

mother moose was evidently in a trap; and the bear was wary of all

traps. He sank back into the undergrowth, and crept noiselessly nearer

to reconnoitre. In his suspicious eyes even a calf might be dangerous

to tamper with, under such unusual conditions as these. As he vanished

the calf shuddered violently, and tried to climb upon his mother's

mangled body.



In a few seconds the bear's head appeared again, close by the base of

the deadfall. With crafty nose he sniffed at the great timber which

held the moose cow down. The calf was now almost within reach of the

deadly sweep of his paw; but the man-smell was strong on the deadfall,

and the bear was still suspicious. While he hesitated, from behind a

bend in the trail came a sound of footsteps. The bear knew the sound.

A man was coming. Yes, certainly there was some trick about it. With a

grunt of indignant disgust he shrank back again into the thicket and

fled stealthily from so dangerous a neighbourhood. Hungry as he was,

he had no wish to try conclusions with man.



The woodsman came striding down the trail hurriedly, rounded the turn,

and stopped abruptly. He understood at a glance the evil work of the

game poachers. With indignant pity, he stepped forward and drew a

merciful knife across the throat of the suffering beast. The calf

shrank away and stood staring at him anxiously, wavering between

terror and trust.



For a moment or two the man hesitated. Of one thing he was certain:

the poachers who had set the deadfall must not profit by their

success. Moreover, fresh moose-meat would not be unappreciated in his

backwoods cabin. He turned and retraced his steps at a run, fearing

lest some hungry spring marauders should arrive in his absence. And

the calf, more than ever terrified by his mother's unresponsiveness,

stared after him uneasily as he vanished.



For half an hour nothing happened. The early chill passed from the

air, a comforting warmth glowed down the trail, the two rain-birds

kept whistling to each other their long, persuasive, melancholy call,

and the calf stood motionless, waiting, with the patience of the wild,

for he knew not what. Then there came a clanking of chains, a

trampling of heavy feet, and around the turn appeared the man again,

with a pair of big brown horses harnessed to a drag-sled. The calf

backed away as the man approached, and watched with dull wonder as the

great log was rolled aside and his mother's limp, crushed form was

hoisted laboriously upon the sled. This accomplished, the man turned

and came to him gently, with hand outstretched. To run away would have

been to run away from the shelter of his mother's presence; so, with a

snort of apprehension, he submitted to being stroked and rubbed about

the ears and neck and throat. The sensation was curiously comforting,

and suddenly his fear vanished. With his long, mobile muzzle he began

to tug appealingly at a convenient fold of the man's woollen sleeve.

Smiling complacently at this sign of confidence, the man left him, and

started the team at a slow walk up the trail. With a hoarse bleat of

alarm, thinking he was about to be deserted, the calf followed after

the sled, his long legs wobbling awkwardly.



From the first moment that she set eyes upon him, shambling awkwardly

into the yard at her husband's heels, Jabe Smith's wife was

inhospitable toward the ungainly youngling of the wild. She

declared that he would take all the milk. And he did. For the next

two months she was unable to make any butter, and her opinions on

the subject were expressed without reserve. But Jabe was inflexible,

in his taciturn, backwoods way, and the calf, till he was old enough

to pasture, got all the milk he wanted. He grew and throve so

astonishingly that Jabe began to wonder if there was not some

mistake in the scheme of things, making cows' milk the proper

nutriment for moose calves. By autumn the youngster was so big and

sleek that he might almost have passed for a yearling.



Jabe Smith, lumberman, pioneer and guide, loved all animals, even

those which in the fierce joy of the hunt he loved to kill. The young

moose bull, however, was his peculiar favourite--partly, perhaps,

because of Mrs. Smith's relentless hostility to it. And the ungainly

youngster repaid his love with a devotion that promised to become

embarrassing. All around the farm he was for ever at his heels, like a

dog; and if, by any chance, he became separated from his idol, he

would make for him in a straight line, regardless of currant bushes,

bean rows, cabbage patches or clothes-lines. This strenuous directness

did not further endear him to Mrs. Smith. That good lady used to lie

awake at night, angrily devising schemes for getting rid of the "ugly

brute." These schemes of vengeance were such a safety-valve to her

injured feelings that she would at last make up her mind to content

herself with "takin' it out on the hide o' the critter" next day, with

a sound hickory stick. When next day came, however, and she went out

to milk, the youngster would shamble up to greet her with such amiable

trust in his eyes that her wrath would be, for the moment, disarmed,

and her fell purpose would fritter out in a futile "Scat, you brute!"

Then she would condone her weakness by thinking of what she would do

to the animal "some day."



That "some day," as luck would have it, came rather sooner than

she expected. From the first, the little moose had evinced a

determination to take up his abode in the kitchen, in his dread of

being separated from Jabe. Being a just man, Jabe had conceded at

once that his wife should have the choosing of her kitchen guests;

and, to avoid complications, he had rigged up a hinged bar across

the kitchen doorway, so that the door could safely stand open. When

the little bull was not at Jabe's heels, and did not know where to

find him, his favourite attitude was standing in front of the

kitchen door, his long nose thrust in as far as the bar would permit,

his long ears waving hopefully, his eyes intently on the mysterious

operations of Mrs. Jabe's housework. Though she would not have

acknowledged it for worlds, even to her inmost heart, the good woman

took much satisfaction out of that awkward, patient presence in the

doorway. When things went wrong with her, in that perverse way so

trying to the careful housewife, she could ease her feelings

wonderfully by expressing them without reserve to the young moose, who

never looked amused or attempted to answer back.



But one day, as it chanced, her feelings claimed a more violent

easement--and got it. She was scrubbing the kitchen floor. Just in the

doorway stood the scrubbing-pail, full of dirty suds. On a chair close

by stood a dish of eggs. The moose calf was nowhere in sight, and the

bar was down. Tired and hot, she got up from her aching knees and went

over to the stove to see if the pot was boiling, ready to make fresh

suds.



At this moment the young bull, who had been searching in vain all over

the farm for Jabe, came up to the door with a silent, shambling rush.

The bar was down. Surely, then, Jabe was inside! Overjoyed at the

opportunity he lurched his long legs over the threshold. Instantly his

great, loose hoofs slid on the slippery floor, and he came down

sprawling, striking the pail of dirty suds as he fell. With a seething

souse the slops went abroad, all over the floor. At the same time the

bouncing pail struck the chair, turned it over, and sent the dish of

eggs crashing in every direction.



For one second Mrs. Jabe stared rigidly at the mess of eggs, suds and

broken china, at the startled calf struggling to his feet. Then, with

a hysterical scream, she turned, snatched the boiling pot from the

stove, and hurled it blindly at the author of all mischief.



Happily for the blunderer, Mrs. Jabe's rage was so unbridled that she

really tried to hit the object of it. Therefore, she missed. The pot

went crashing through the leg of a table and shivered to atoms against

the log wall, contributing its full share to the discouraging mess on

the floor. But, as it whirled past, a great wedge of the boiling water

leaped out over the rim, flew off at a tangent, and caught the

floundering calf full in the side, in a long flare down from the tip

of the left shoulder. The scalding fluid seemed to cling in the

short, fine hair almost like an oil. With a loud bleat of pain the

calf shot to his feet and went galloping around the yard. Mrs. Jabe

rushed to the door, and stared at him wide-eyed. In a moment her

senses came back to her, and she realized what a hideous thing she had

done. Next she remembered Jabe--and what he would think of it!



Then, indeed, her conscience awoke in earnest, and a wholesome dread

enlivened her remorse. Forgetting altogether the state of her kitchen,

she rushed through the slop to the flour-barrel. Flour, she had always

heard, was the thing for burns and scalds. The pesky calf should be

treated right, if it took the whole barrel. Scooping up an extravagant

dishpanful of the white, powdery stuff, and recklessly spilling a lot

of it to add to the mixture on the floor, she rushed out into the yard

to apply her treatment, and, if possible, poultice her conscience.



The young moose, anguished and bewildered, had at last taken refuge in

the darkest corner of the stable. As Mrs. Jabe approached with her pan

of flour, he stood staring and shaking, but made no effort to avoid

her, which touched the over-impetuous dame to a fresh pang of

penitence. She did not know that the stupid youngster had quite failed

to associate her in any way with his suffering. It was only the

pot--the big, black thing which had so inexplicably come bounding at

him--that he blamed. From Mrs. Jabe's hands he expected some kind of

consolation.



In the gloom of the stall Mrs. Jabe could not see the extent of the

calf's injury. "Mebbe the water wasn't quite bilin'!" she murmured

hopefully, coaxing and dragging the youngster forth into the light.

The hope, however, proved vain as brief. In a long streak down behind

the shoulder the hair was already slipping off.



"Sarved ye right!" she grumbled remorsefully, as with gentle fingers

she began sifting the flour up and down over the wound. The light

stuff seemed to soothe the anguish for the moment, and the sufferer

stood quite still till the scald was thoroughly covered with a

tenacious white cake. Then a fresh and fiercer pang seized the wound.

With a bleat he tore himself away, and rushed off, tail in air, across

the stump-pasture and into the woods.



"Mebbe he won't come back, and then Jabe won't never need to know!"

soliloquized Mrs. Jabe, returning to clean up her kitchen.



The sufferer returned, however, early in the afternoon, and was in his

customary attitude before the door when Jabe, a little later, came

back also. The long white slash down his favourite's side caught the

woodsman's eye at once. He looked at it critically, touched the flour

with tentative finger-tips, then turned on his wife a look of poignant

interrogation. But Mrs. Jabe was ready for him. Her nerve had

recovered. The fact that her victim showed no fear of her had

gradually reassured her. What Jabe didn't know would never hurt him,

she mused.



"Yes, yer pesky brat come stumblin' into the kitchen when the bar was

down, a-lookin' for ye. An' he upset the bilin' water I was goin' to

scrub with, an' broke the pot. An' I've got to have a new pot right

off, Jabe Smith--mind that!"



"Scalded himself pretty bad!" remarked Jabe. "Poor little beggar!"



"I done the best I know'd how fer him!" said his wife with an

injured air. "Wasted most a quart o' good flour on his worthless hide!

Wish't he'd broke his neck 'stead of the only pot I got that's big

enough to bile the pig's feed in!"



"Well, you done jest about right, I reckon, Mandy," replied Jabe,

ashamed of his suspicions. "I'll go in to the Cross Roads an' git ye a

new pot to-morrer, an' some tar for the scald. The tar'll be better'n

flour, an' keep the flies off."



"I s'pose some men ain't got nothin' better to do than be doctorin'

up a fool moose calf!" assented Mrs. Jabe promptly, with a snort of

censorious resignation.



Whether because the flour and the tar had virtues, or because the

clean flesh of the wild kindreds makes all haste to purge itself of

ills, it was not long before the scald was perfectly healed. But the

reminder of it remained ineffaceable--a long, white slash down across

the brown hide of the young bull, from the tip of the left fore

shoulder.



Throughout the winter the young moose contentedly occupied the

cow-stable, with the two cows and the yoke of red oxen. He throve on

the fare Jabe provided for him--good meadow hay with armfuls of

"browse" cut from the birch, poplar and cherry thickets. Jabe trained

him to haul a pung, finding him slower to learn than a horse, but

making up for his dulness by his docility. He had to be driven with a

snaffle, refusing absolutely to admit a bit between his teeth; and,

with the best good-will in the world, he could never be taught to

allow for the pung or sled to which he was harnessed. If left alone

for a moment he would walk over fences with it, or through the most

tangled thickets, if thereby seemed the most direct way to reach Jabe;

and once, when Jabe, vaingloriously and at great speed, drove him in

to the Cross Roads, he smashed the vehicle to kindling-wood in the

amiable determination to follow his master into the Cross Roads store.

On this occasion also he made himself respected, but unpopular, by

killing, with one lightning stroke of a great fore hoof, a huge

mongrel mastiff belonging to the storekeeper. The mastiff had sprung

out at him wantonly, resenting his peculiar appearance. But the

storekeeper had been so aggrieved that Jabe had felt constrained to

mollify him with a five-dollar bill. He decided, therefore, that his

favourite's value was as a luxury, rather than a utility; and the

young bull was put no more to the practices of a horse. Jabe had

driven a bull moose in harness, and all the settlement could swear to

it. The glory was all his.



By early summer the young bull was a tremendous, long-legged,

high-shouldered beast, so big, so awkward, so friendly, and so sure

of everybody's good-will that everybody but Jabe was terribly afraid

of him. He had no conception of the purposes of a fence; and he could

not be taught that a garden was not meant for him to lie down in. As

the summer advanced, and the young bull's stature with it, Jabe Smith

began to realize that his favourite was an expensive and sometimes

embarrassing luxury. Nevertheless, when September brought budding

spikes of horns and a strange new restlessness to the stalwart

youngster, and the first full moon of October lured him one night away

from the farm on a quest which he could but blindly follow, Jabe was

inconsolable.



"He ain't no more'n a calf yet, big as he is!" fretted Jabe. "He'll be

gittin' himself shot, the fool. Or mebbe some old bull'll be after

givin' him a lickin' fer interferin', and he'll come home to us!"



To which his wife retorted with calm superiority: "Ye're a bigger

fool'n even I took ye fer, Jabe Smith."



But the young bull did not come back that winter, nor the following

summer, nor the next year, nor the next. Neither did any Indian or

hunter or lumberman have anything to report as to a bull moose of

great stature, with a long white slash down his side. Either his quest

had carried him far to other and alien ranges, or some fatal mischance

of the wild had overtaken his inexperience. The latter was Jabe's

belief, and he concluded that his ungainly favourite had too soon

taken the long trail for the Red Men's land of ghosts.



Though Jabe Smith was primarily a lumberman and backwoods farmer, he

was also a hunter's guide, so expert that his services in this

direction were not to be obtained without very special inducement. At

"calling" moose he was acknowledged to have no rival. When he laid his

grimly-humourous lips to the long tube of birch-bark, which is the

"caller's" instrument of illusion, there would come from it a strange

sound, great and grotesque, harsh yet appealing, rude yet subtle, and

mysterious as if the uncomprehended wilderness had itself found voice.

Old hunters, wise in all woodcraft, had been deceived by the

sound--and much more easily the impetuous bull, waiting, high-antlered

and eager, for the love-call of his mate to summon him down the shore

of the still and moon-tranced lake.



When a certain Famous Hunter, whose heart took pride in horns and

heads and hides--the trophies won by his unerring rifle in all four

corners of earth--found his way at last to the tumbled wilderness that

lies about the headwaters of the Quah Davic, it was naturally one of

the great New Brunswick moose that he was after. Nothing but the

noblest antlers that New Brunswick forests bred could seem to him

worthy of a place on those walls of his, whence the surly front of a

musk-ox of the Barren Grounds glared stolid defiance to the snarl of

an Orinoco jaguar, and the black, colossal head of a Kadiak bear was

eyed derisively by the monstrous and malignant mask of a two-horned

rhinoceros. With such a quest upon him, the Famous Hunter came, and

naturally sought the guidance of Jabe Smith, whom he lured from the

tamer distractions of a "timber cruise" by double pay and the pledge

of an extravagant bonus if the quest should be successful.



The lake, lying low between its wooded hills, was like a glimmering

mirror in the misty October twilight when Jabe and the Famous Hunter

crept stealthily down to it. In a dense covert beside the water's edge

they hid themselves. Beside them stretched the open ribbon of a narrow

water-meadow, through which a slim brook, tinkling faintly over its

pebbles, slipped out into the stillness. Just beyond the mouth of the

brook a low, bare spit of sand jutted forth darkly upon the pale

surface of the lake.




CALL."]



It was not until the moon appeared--a red, ominous segment of a

disk--over the black and rugged ridge of the hills across the lake,

that Jabe began to call. Three times he set the hollow birch-bark to

his mouth, and sent the hoarse, appealing summons echoing over the

water. And the man, crouching invisible in the thick shadow beside

him, felt a thrill in his nerves, a prickling in his cheeks, at that

mysterious cry, which seemed to him to have something almost of menace

in its lure. Even so, he thought, might Pan have summoned his

followers, shaggy and dangerous, yet half divine, to some symbolic

revel.



The call evoked no answer of any kind. Jabe waited till the moon,

still red and distorted, had risen almost clear of the ridge. Then he

called again, and yet again, and again waited. From straight across

the strangely-shadowed water came a sudden sharp crashing of

underbrush, as if some one had fallen to beating the bushes furiously

with sticks.



"That's him!" whispered Jabe. "An' he's a big one, sure!"



The words were not yet out of his mouth when there arose a most

startling commotion in the thicket close behind them, and both men

swung around like lightning, jerking up their rifles. At the same

instant came an elusive whiff of pungency on the chill.



"Pooh! only a bear!" muttered Jabe, as the commotion retreated in

haste.



"Why, he was close upon us!" remarked the visitor. "I could have poked

him with my gun! Had he any special business with us, do you

suppose?"



"Took me for a cow moose, an' was jest a-goin' to swipe me!" answered

Jabe, rather elated at the compliment which the bear had paid to his

counterfeit.



The Famous Hunter drew a breath of profound satisfaction.



"I'll be hanged," he whispered, "if your amiable New Brunswick

backwoods can't get up a thrill quite worthy of the African jungle!"



"St!" admonished Jabe. "He's a-comin'. An' mad, too! Thinks that

racket was another bull, gittin' ahead of 'im. Don't ye breathe now,

no more!" And raising the long bark, he called through it again, this

time more softly, more enticingly, but always with that indescribable

wildness, shyness and roughness rasping strangely through the note.

The hurried approach of the bull could be followed clearly around the

head of the lake. It stopped, and Jabe called again. In a minute or

two there came a brief, explosive, grunting reply--this time from a

point much nearer. The great bull had stopped his crashing progress

and was slipping his vast, impetuous bulk through the underbrush as

noiselessly as a weasel. The stillness was so perfect after that one

echoing response that the Famous Hunter turned a look of interrogation

upon Jabe's shadowy face. The latter breathed almost inaudibly: "He's

a-comin'. He's nigh here!" And the hunter clutched his rifle with that

fine, final thrill of unparalleled anticipation.



The moon was now well up, clear of the treetops and the discolouring

mists, hanging round and honey-yellow over the hump of the ridge. The

magic of the night deepened swiftly. The sandspit and the little

water-meadow stood forth unshadowed in the spectral glare. Far out in

the shine of the lake a fish jumped, splashing sharply. Then a twig

snapped in the dense growth beyond the water-meadow. Jabe furtively

lifted the bark, and mumbled in it caressingly. The next moment--so

suddenly and silently that it seemed as if he had taken instant shape

in the moonlight--appeared a gigantic moose, standing in the meadow,

his head held high, his nostrils sniffing arrogant inquiry. The

broadly-palmated antlers crowning his mighty head were of a spread and

symmetry such as Jabe had never even imagined.



Almost imperceptibly the Hunter raised his rifle--a slender shadow

moving in paler shadows. The great bull, gazing about expectantly for

the mate who had called, stood superb and indomitable, ghost-gray in

the moonlight, a mark no tyro could miss. A cherry branch intervened,

obscuring the foresight of the Hunter's rifle. The Hunter shifted his

position furtively. His crooked finger was just about to tighten on

the trigger. At this moment, when the very night hung stiller as if

with a sense of crisis, the giant bull turned, exposing his left flank

to the full glare of the moonlight. Something gleamed silver down his

side, as if it were a shining belt thrown across his shoulder.






With a sort of hiss from between his teeth Jabe shot out his long arm

and knocked up the barrel of the rifle. In the same instant the

Hunter's finger had closed on the trigger. The report rang out,

shattering the night; the bullet whined away high over the treetops,

and the great bull, springing at one bound far back into the thickets,

vanished like an hallucination.



Jabe stood forth into the open, his gaunt face working with suppressed

excitement. The Hunter followed, speechless for a moment between

amazement, wrath and disappointment. At last he found voice, and quite

forgot his wonted courtesy.



"D--n you!" he stammered. "What do you mean by that? What in----"



But Jabe, suddenly calm, turned and eyed him with a steadying gaze.



"Quit all that, now!" he retorted crisply. "I knowed jest what I was

doin'! I knowed that bull when he were a leetle, awkward staggerer. I

brung him up on a bottle; an' I loved him. He skun out four years ago.

I'd most ruther 'ave seen you shot than that ther' bull, I tell

ye!"



The Famous Hunter looked sour; but he was beginning to understand the

situation, and his anger died down. As he considered, Jabe, too,

began to see the other side of the situation.



"I'm right sorry to disapp'int ye so!" he went on apologetically.

"We'll hev to call off this deal atween you an' me, I reckon. An'

there ain't goin' to be no more shooting over this range, if I kin

help it--an' I guess I kin!--till I kin git that ther' white-slashed

bull drove away back over on to the Upsalquitch, where the hunters

won't fall foul of him! But I'll git ye another guide, jest as good as

me, or better, what ain't got no particular friends runnin' loose in

the woods to bother 'im. An' I'll send ye 'way down on to the Sevogle,

where ther's as big heads to be shot as ever have been. I can't do

more."



"Yes, you can!" declared the Famous Hunter, who had quite recovered

his self-possession.



"What is it?" asked Jabe doubtfully.



"You can pardon me for losing my temper and swearing at you!" answered

the Famous Hunter, holding out his hand. "I'm glad I didn't knock over

your magnificent friend. It's good for the breed that he got off. But

you'll have to find me something peculiarly special now, down on that

Sevogle."





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