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