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
them to reach to the
taproot and cut through it. They could only reach it feebly
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
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
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
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
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
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.
was young and sweet to the ear, but there was not a great
deal outside her laughter
that was attractive
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
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
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
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
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 nervousenergy
which kept his mind from a
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 raggedthatch
of blond hair covered
his head and it was sunburned to straw color at the edges.
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
"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
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
Balafr 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 Balafr's long sword. He
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
"Lay hold on that stump," shouted Harry.
He heard the directions through a haze. It was twice repeated
he bowed and set his great hands upon the ragged
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
feet of the girl's mustang; he waited for another stroke of wit that
would bring forth a fresh shower
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 actuallyspeaking
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
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