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MAX BRAND

THE CHAMPION

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First published in All-American Fiction, November 1937
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-10-23
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All-American Fiction, November 1937, with "The Champion"



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NEARLY thirty years ago, when beer was only five cents a schooner in the saloons near the Stockton Slough, Jumbo Cafferty looked with apparent suspicion on the change he received after buying a round of drinks. Like a champion prize-fighter, Jumbo usually did most of the buying because he was known through the length of the San Joaquin-Sacramento Valley as the greatest hay-press feeder in the land. There was even room in his huge body for an odd sense of humor. He picked up a quarter, shook his head over it, and bent it double between his thumbs and forefingers. He did the same to a solid fifty-cent piece and threw them back on the bar. "Why d'you pass out counterfeit in here?" he roared. "Whyn't you have honest money?"

The bartender, abashed, picked up the fallen coins and bit into the fifty-cent piece. Then his eyes screwed up in his head, for instead of sinking into lead, he had almost broken his teeth on the hard metal. Jumbo's followers bellowed laughter as though at a signal.

Then someone by the door yelled: "Hi, Jumbo! Here comes your girl!"

The many beers had rolled a mist over Jumbo's brain but the thought of the widow, like a sea-wind, cleared his mind again and he went to the door with great strides. He pushed the swing-doors open and stepped out into the heat and dazzle of the California sun. It was true that Mrs. Rosa Pinzone was coming up the street with her span of bright sorrels drawing the rubber-tired buggy. The silver mountings of the harness flashed like jewels in Jumbo's eyes but they were not half so brilliant as the thought of Rosa. If she inclined a little toward plumpness she made up for it by plenty of bounce. She was a dark beauty with brown eyes full of conversation and her skin was as golden as the dust of poppies. A month before, Jumbo had decided to marry her and settle down at last on her two hundred acres of unmortgaged land. For four successive Saturdays he had given up his evening beer and driven with her to dances to Ripon, to Lodi, and to points between; he had two-stepped and waltzed and schottisched with her until six in the morning and gone contentedly back to work with a feeling like that of money in the pocket. And for all that, behold her now shining under the wide brim of a Merry Widow hat and at her side his enemy, his rival, that handsome devil Frenchie who was almost as famous as Jumbo among the hay-press fans of the state. It was he who handled the reins.


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Now she saw Jumbo. She waved carelessly. She spoke with laughter to Frenchie, who looked back over his shoulder and laughed loudly in turn.

Jumbo's big hands doubled gradually into fists. "I don't make it out," he said.

A voice answered him. "Frenchie and the Moffett crew broke the hay-press record a couple of days ago. He fed in close to forty-eight tons."


THE tidings pierced the soul of Jumbo Cafferty. And then a stupor came upon him and remained in spite of all the beers he drank. It was late that night before he muttered: "Yeah, women are like that!" and roused from his coma. "Where's the boss? Where's McCann?" he asked.

"He's over at Shanley's Place," said someone.

Cafferty went to Shanley's and found the owner of the hay-press playing cards in a back room, dressed up for Sunday in a white shirt without a collar.

"Who taught Frenchie how to handle a fork? Who taught him how to build a feed and then feed it?" asked Cafferty.

"You did," said McCann.

"Who taught Frenchie everything he knows?" asked Cafferty.

"You did," said McCann. "And what of it?"

"I'll tell you what of it," answered Cafferty. "The dirty rat has gone and broke the record that him and me set three years ago. He's gone and broke it behind my back. Tomorrow we'll take that record and—"

"Not tomorrow," said McCann, checking a bet. "Not on Monday. The boys gotta get the Sunday beer out of them."

"We're in the Minnehan hay right now," said Cafferty, "and there ain't enough of it for two days' work. We're in the Minnehan hay, and it's the cleanest stack of wheat and barley that I ever seen."

"The boys'll be cooked," said McCann. "They'll all be weak in the knees. Anyway, it ain't a championship crew. Harry Lucas, he ain't no first-rate feeder. And that bale-roller, Sammy Pleasant, he's too young and soft."

"I'll make him big and strong!" exclaimed Cafferty. He thumped a fist against the great arch of his chest. "I'll make 'em all big and strong. I'll scare hell out of 'em. Go get the wagon. We're gunna pick up the crew and start home now."

"It ain't closing time for another hour," protested McCann.

"We're gunna start now."

"All right."

"Hey, you can't quit," said one of the players.

"Argue with this bohunk. Don't argue with me," answered McCann, and got up with a grin and his winnings.

He and Cafferty went the rounds of the Stockton saloons until they had picked up the entire crew. Old Steve, the derrick-driver, came weeping and promising to kill Jumbo when he could find a knife to cut the blackness out of his heart. Whelan, the power-driver, and Harry Lucas, the second feeder, were both in the same place and they fought Jumbo savagely to save their last hour for more beer until he bumped their heads together and lugged them out, one under each arm. Chicago, the wire-puncher, was a drunken, senseless log, and so was Sammy Pleasant, the young bale-roller. Jumbo put them in the bottom of the wagon where their heads rattled against the iron-bound floorboards all the eleven miles over the dusty, rutted highway until they came to the Minnehan hayfield. It was smoothed by silver moonshine, and the high-shouldered haystack, and the derrick rising above the adjoining hay-press was like a black gibbet among the stars.

"Monday is no good to try for a record," repeated McCann, when he pulled up the rig beside the cook-wagon.

"Any day is good if I wanta make it good," shouted Cafferty in high anger. "Any day is a Jumbo day, if I wanta make it!"

Jumbo Cafferty sat up in the black of the morning, put a knuckle in each eye to get the sleep out, and swept the straws out of his hair. The rest were struggling their feet into socks wet with dew and grunting as they pulled on their shoes. A half moon dazzled them from the west and only in the east the stars were bright above the gray-green mist of the dawn. Bessie McCann stood at the door of the cook-wagon beating on a tin pan and shouting: "Turn out! Turn out! Breakfast! Breakfast!"

Jumbo stretched himself luxuriously, swaying a little from side to side and twisting until he had flexed every pound of the muscle that draped his big bones with elastic ropes and rubbery sheets of strength; then he turned to the east and the pale beginning of what he intended to make the greatest day in his life.

He went to the cook-wagon and from a full bucket sloshed some cold water into a wash-basin.

It was young Sammy Pleasant, the bale-roller, about whom he was worrying, for Sammy, he was sure, would prove the weak link in the chain. He was too handsome to be strong, thought Jumbo.

It was Sammy who said, as they sat at breakfast: "There's no use trying. This is Monday, isn't it? And we're all sick with stale beer. We have to put off that try for the record, Jumbo."

There was a deep-throated, sudden assent from all the rest.

Jumbo looked up from his mush and milk, slowly. He saw the eyes of Mrs. McCann, frightened and curious, fixed upon him. Then he rose to his feet. Three other men sat on the same bench but the back-thrust of his great legs shoved it away shuddering inches.

"Whatta you mean?" thundered Jumbo. He paused, and a slight tingling of tinware on the stove followed his roar. "Lying down? Quitting? Yellow? . . . I'm gunna watch for the man that shows yellow today and when I see it I'm gunna break him wide open so's the rest of the world can know what's inside him."

He sat down. He could feel the beat of his pulse in the great artery that ran up the left side of his throat. There was no clatter of spoons or forks. The crew waited, silently, for someone to answer, but there was only a faint sighing sound as Jimmy McCann blew out a long breath of cigarette smoke.


IT was still a murky gray-green dawn-twilight when the derrick pulleys began to screech and the first hay dumped on the feeding-table. Cafferty weighted the forkful. It was from the sun-bleached top of the stack but the dew which soaked it made ample compensation. They would be baling heavy hay from the start. Then he built the first feed, swiftly, putting on the layers until they were stacked high. He looked over the battlefield with a calm eye. The men were all in place. Jumbo leaned around the edge of the press and looked down at Whelan. "What you say, Dick?" Whelan was knotting the bandana which he would pull up over his nose and mouth when the dust-cloud became too dense for clean breathing. "I'm gunna ride 'em all the way, Jumbo!"

"All-l-l right!" Jumbo yelled, and jumped back as Whelan tripped the beater and let it fall. It came down gradually, the apron lifting at the same time to force the feed of hay into the press, but such a morsel as Jumbo had prepared no Little Giant press in the country could swallow unassisted. Cafferty first jammed down the pyramided top of the load so that it commenced to spill into the box; then he pulled out the lower layer a bit, gave the whole mass of the feed an assisting thrust, and helped the apron to close with the push of his left hand. As the door clicked, the weighted, iron-bound beater descended with a rush that made the press shudder and set all the guy-cables trembling. Jumbo heard the hay crunch in the bottom of the box and stepped back as the apron fell. He built the second feed, then a third, a fourth, a fifth, each a diminishing mouthful, so that the bale would come compact and square out of the box.

"Bale!" yelled Dick Whelan, as the last feed rammed home.

Jumbo, building the first feed of the next bale with instinctive hands, listened hungrily and heard the clank of the iron as Sammy Pleasant knocked away the locking-bar. Then came an instant of silence. No, not utter silence, for Jumbo could hear the hiss of the steel needles as Chicago punched the wires through. He would have two of them through and be picking up the third before Sammy had the door wide and was at the tying with his gloved hands. Yet so quick was Sammy that a moment later his impatient voice, with a thrill of triumph in it, was piping: "Wire! Wire! Wire!" to prove that he had had to wait for the final strand. It was the old duel between roller and wire-puncher.

And now Jumbo heard the bale bump on the dusty floor of the doghouse beneath, and the soft slam of the door. He began to push down the top of the feed. He saw Sammy roll the bale onto the scales, weigh it, write the poundage on the red-wood tag. As he slipped the tag under the central wire, Sammy shouted over his shoulder: "Two hundred forty. Jumbo!"

Two hundred and forty pounds? And out of the lightest part of the hay? Jumbo laughed with joy.

A dust cloud was rising. Out of that cloud Jumbo shouted encouragement to the crew while his heart swelled with love for them. Even Chicago, with his beautiful face and his crippled body and the malicious devil inside him, seemed to Jumbo a glorious spirit.


THEY put out Jumbo's tally of twenty-five bales in under fifty minutes. Sammy Pleasant shouted the news as Jumbo climbed from the feeders'-table into the soft limbo of the stack and picked up the massive Jackson-fork lightly, with one hand.

"We're going to kill that record!" cried Sammy, shaking a fist above his head, laughing up at the giant on the stack.

But Jumbo felt the first cold touch of doubt, for the rolling of twenty-five bales had crimsoned the face of Sammy Pleasant; and where the dust whitened his cheeks, the rolling sweat inscribed lines of an undecipherable writing.

". . . but he's proud! Book-learning makes a man proud."

Sammy, in fact, had gone halfway through high school.

The sun was already hot but Jumbo, who never had known fatigue, could sweat a gallon and feel no difference. However, what would happen to the rest when flesh began to melt away?

Now his soul was pinched when he heard Sammy's voice calling out the lighter weights of Lucas' tally: "Two thirty-five; two twenty-five; two thirty-two ..."

Yet after all he could not expect Harry Lucas to jam the press as he did and build the bales up like the solid grain of wood from top to bottom. Lucas was no Frenchie, swift-handed, dexterous, with the strength of a bull behind a cat's-paw. Jumbo's heart softened, remembering Frenchie whom he had taken to his heart like a brother, confiding to him all the intricate little devices of the feeder's art. They had built the old record together and broken it over and over until it stood above forty-seven tons. He had given, always, a full share of the glory to Frenchie, but it was true that people looked up to him rather than to the foreigner for an explanation of the great runs the press had made in those days.

So Frenchie had gone off by himself and now, with his natural strength and with his purloined craft, he had helped to put the high mark within eight pounds of forty-eight tons! The loss of Frenchie had been like the loss of a hand.

An audience began to gather before the middle of the morning for the news had spread through the district that the McCann press was trying for the record. Before the morning-lunch period Sammy Pleasant shouted up at Jumbo: "Frenchie! Frenchie's here! He's got your gal!"

Jumbo saw the big fellow at once, in a blue silk shirt with a red necktie. His overalls fitted him as closely as a sailor's trousers around the narrow of the hips. He wore a hat of clean gray felt pushed back from his face, and, as usual, he was smiling, for Frenchie seemed to find the world around him a little ridiculous.

There was the widow sitting beside him in her rubber-tired buggy, in her fluffy yellow dress with a red something at her throat, paying no more attention to Jumbo than to a man in a picture but adoring Frenchie with upward eyes. And yet for the moment Jumbo could forget the two hundred acres and Rosa as well, he was so stirred by the sight of his old partner. Out of the hot days of struggle in the past he remembered only the singing voice of Frenchie calling through the dust-cloud:

"Courage! Le diable est mort!"

Jumbo delayed a first feed for a moment as he danced on the platform and waved his great arms. "Oh, Frenchie! Hi, Frenchie!" he shouted. "How y'are, boy?"

Frenchie turned at Jumbo's cry, lifted the hand which held a cigarette in a slight salute, and once more was laughing with Rosa.

Jumbo did not feel anger but only a sorrow for the old days when he had been to Frenchie a great and faultless god; and he knew that no one ever had been to him what Frenchie was in the other years: a tower of strength, a wall to lean on.


A MOMENT later Mrs. McCann came out with the mid-morning lunch of bread, butter, stewed plums, and a pail of steaming black coffee. Jumbo swung down from the table and went up to Frenchie. "Well, you come over to see how we can do it, eh? Wait! We're gunna stick that record where you'll never touch it!"

Having spoken, he waited with a childish eagerness for a flash of the old warm friendship.

"You won't do it with Sammy Pleasant," Frenchie said. He pointed. "He's sick. He's going to crash on you in an hour or so."

"Don't kill yourself trying, Jumbo," said Rosa. "You're not young like Frenchie, you know."

Disappointment, in Jumbo, turned into anger that made him clench his fists, but since his boyhood he had walked in fear of what his big hands might do, so he swallowed his first wrath.

Then he turned and regarded Sammy Pleasant. The big lad reclined with head and shoulders against the bottom of the bale-stack, holding a cup of coffee which the shudder of his hand kept spilling.

Jumbo went toward his bale-roller and heard Frenchie's laughter behind him. He dropped to one knee beside Sammy Pleasant. "How you feel?"

"Fine."

Jumbo pushed his fingers into Sammy's hair and tilted back his head. Against the heel of his palm he felt the rapid blood in the temple beating.

"I'm all right, Jumbo," said Sammy Pleasant. "Don't you worry. I've got a lot left in me and I'm going to pour it all in."

Jumbo stood up. "Stop piling them three high. Leave the tops till noon and I'll throw 'em up."

From that point on, Sammy Pleasant rolled the top bales to the side and left them on the ground.

Jumbo looked down on the greatness of his own body and laughed. "The kid ain't like me. He's made big but he ain't made same as me. God was taking His time when He made me."

He remembered what Rosa had said about youth and laughed again. He was thirty-five but he never had thought about time. Time to Jumbo was a child unworthy of consideration. But then the thought of Rosa's smile and her two hundred acres stabbed him again. He saw that he could win both Rosa and the record by this day's work.

When twelve o'clock was announced by the banging of the tin pan at the cookhouse, the bale-roller's tally showed two hundred and twenty-one bales tied and weighed, at an average of two hundred and thirty-five pounds to the bale. That gave them within a few pounds of twenty-six tons for the eight hours of work and Jumbo, as he went into the cookhouse, was jubilant.

But it was a cheerful, noisy crew that sat around the table in the cookhouse until Sammy Pleasant, with half of his steak uneaten, got up from the bench and went out of the wagon, steadying himself with his hands against the wall. The other men stopped eating for a moment and looked at one another with empty, staring eyes, and nothing moved except the streams of sweat that ran down their faces, for in the cookhouse the heat of the stove was added to the hundred and ten degrees of that blistering day.

"He's big, but he's a bum," exploded Dick Whelan, at last.


BUT Jumbo got up and left the cook-wagon, carrying Sammy's unfinished plate with him. His own stomach was clamoring for more food but he turned his back on thoughts of himself and went down to where Sammy Pleasant lay under the wagon with his face in his hat, groaning a little with every breath he drew.

Jumbo turned him on his back. The two hundred pounds of him was as loose as water.

"I'm fine. I wasn't hungry. I'm fine," said Sammy.

Jumbo fanned his face with his hat. "Take it easy ... I ain't gunna see you killed. Take it easy .. . Let the record go. I wouldn't want anything to happen to you."

"I'm going to last it out," said Sammy. "Did you see Frenchie laughing? .. . I'm going to last it out, all right."

"Not unless'n you eat," said Jumbo. "Leave your head rest on my knee, like that. ..."

"I won't be a baby. I'm not sick."

"You just leave go all holts and take it easy," ordered Jumbo. "There's nobody can see us."

"I'm no man. I haven't any guts," Sammy said, when the steak was finished, "like you got, Jumbo. There's nobody like you."

"I guess there ain't anybody like me, at that. I'll tell you what. I never was tired in my life. You lay there and rest while I go and throw up those bales."

He went off and spent the rest of the lunch hour completing the stack, throwing the bales up lightly, not with the craft of a bale-roller but with sheer, clumsy excess of power.

The whole audience from beneath the oak-tree, except Frenchie, came out to watch him. Frenchie, of course, had gone back to spend the heat of the day lolling on the Pinzone porch.

Jim Coffey's boy touched his leg and said: "Jumbo, is it true? Are you the strongest man in the world?" And nobody laughed.

But just at the end of the lunch hour, as he hoisted the last third-rank bale into place, old Tom Walters came and confronted him. "You're going to make yourself sick, Jumbo Cafferty," he said. "The bigger you are, the more there is for the sun to fry. A man isn't meant to work straight through a day as hot as this. A man is meant to take an hour off for lunch. God means him to!"

Heat was raging through Cafferty's brain so that the trees in the distance seemed to lift and fall on the waves of it. Those bales had turned to lead.

And then he was back on the platform with the sun focused as with a burning glass on the back of his head, and the dust cloud suspiring upward around the press. Straight up the dust lifted for there was not a breath of wind, not a touch of mercy in that terrible afternoon.

Yet Sammy Pleasant was carrying on very well. He looked sicker than ever but he was rolling and piling the bales steadily.

"How you making it?"

"That steak's working," yelled Sammy, white-faced but laughing.

Cafferty's heart opened. He and Rosa would have a son like Sammy, able to laugh, beautiful to behold, but harder in substance.

Then disaster struck suddenly, from an unexpected direction.

A Jackson-fork is the gift of a genius to men who have to handle hay swiftly, in large masses, but it has four tines as sharp as needles and the curve necessary to the steel prongs makes them clumsy and dangerous. Jumbo was on the twentieth bale after lunch when a voice screamed, and he saw the derrick was bringing in not only a forkload of hay but Harry Lucas writhing on top of it.

A tine had gone through the fleshy part of Harry's left forearm. Jumbo got him to the ground, and Bessie McCann bandaged the wound.

"There goes our record, and God help it," said Jimmy McCann.

"Jumbo, I'm sorry," said Harry Lucas, his long face twisting with pain. "I wanted to do it for you. We all wanta do it for you. But the fork just sort of flipped around and snagged me."

"Steve!" Jumbo shouted. "Steve, you could handle a Jackson-fork for half a day, couldn't you?"

"I handled a Jackson-fork before you were more'n born, son."

"Listen, Harry," said Jumbo, "you got hands enough to work the derrick horse. And we can go right on!"

"How can we go on?" asked Jimmy McCann. "With only one man to do the feeding . . . There ain't no man that can feed a press, without being spelled, for a whole half-day!"

"Can't nobody do it?" said Jumbo. He laughed. "Take a look and see. I can! Harry, get out there to the derrick-horse. Steve, let me see how good you are with that fork."


THE spectators had crowded in around the press crew and they began cheering when Lucas with his bandaged arm went out to take control of the derrick-horse. Jumbo looked and saw that only Frenchie, sitting beside Rosa Pinzone under the shadow of a great striped umbrella over her buggy, was silent, smiling with an inward, contemptuous knowledge. It was the only thing that could make Jumbo's heart sink.

He never had known fatigue before, but he knew it by the time he had pushed another ten tons through the jaws of that Little Giant press. A hay-press feeder works like a sprinter, at full capacity all the time. Some track athletes can sprint almost an entire quarter mile, but no one, no matter what his powers, can sprint a half mile or a mile. That, in a sense, was what Jumbo was trying to do.

He called to Jimmy McCann. "Hey, Jimmy, fetch the flask over."

McCann brought the whiskey flask and handed it up.

"That stuff's no good on a day like this," he said. "It'll boil in you."

Jumbo said nothing, but when the power horses were changed he used the spare moment to pour a long draught down his throat. Afterward, he had false power for half an hour. Then the fatigue grew greater, in a sudden wave, and he felt choked.

It was the dust that did it, he kept telling himself. No wind would come to slant the white smother away from the press. It boiled up, thick and heavy, thicker and whiter than a fog with the sun sparkling through its outer layers. One could feel it about the waist, like thin water. When it reached the nose, it poured into the lungs like a liquid and set the men gasping. It often made of Sammy Pleasant, seen from the feeders'-table above, a mere shadowy silhouette as he bobbed up and down, rolling his bale toward the stack. He was slow even in lifting the bales two high. Jumbo thought Sammy would faint.

The mid-afternoon lunch came at half past four and Jumbo felt his knees give way under him.

When he got to the lunch pails, the men stopped eating and looked at him. Young Sammy Pleasant pushed to his feet and came to him, wavering as though he were walking into a fierce wind.

"Jumbo," he said, "if it wasn't you, I'd say you were fagged out."

"Fagged?" shouted Jumbo. "I never was tired in my life."

Jimmy McCann brought matters back to a practical basis. He had the bale-roller's book in his hand as he said: "Boys, I want you to listen to something. We've bailed and piled thirty-eight tons of hay already. A hay-press day is from dawn to sunset. Keep on at this rate, and you're gunna turn out fifty tons of hay and break every record that ever was on the books."

He had his answer not from the panting crew of the press but from the crowd of spectators. There were two hundred of them, now shouting applause. Only Frenchie was silent and aloof, when it seemed to Jumbo that one word from his old partner would give him vital strength. But Rosa—bless her?—was clapping her hands vigorously. The very soul of Jumbo was comforted.

He munched a bit of bread, took a long swallow of whiskey, and began to pitch the bales, three high, to make the top row of the stack.

But the lifting of every bale sent a wave of hot blood bursting against his brain. A mist formed across his eyes; through it he could see Frenchie, standing somewhat apart.

Then the brief lunch-period ended as he put up the last bale, and turned back toward the press.


THERE came a time, about twenty bales later, when Jumbo began to forget the record and pray for the sun to go down. But it was plastered against one place in the sky and there it remained hour after hour, burning its rays through the welter of dust.

Now a voice called softly to Jumbo and frightened him a little. For it placed him back in the old, happy days when to his own exhaustless strength was added the river of power that flowed in Frenchie. He saw it was not a ghost but Frenchie himself, who had climbed up to the platform and crouched in a corner, calling:

"Jumbo, you can't do it. You'll kill yourself. You're dying on your feet now. Take a slip and fall and pretend you've knocked out your shoulder. Nobody'll know. . . . You're dying on your feet."

"Get off or I'll run the fork through you!" Jumbo yelled.

Frenchie disappeared, but his voice remained at Jumbo's ear saying:

"You're dying . . . you're dying . . . you're dying on your feet!"

When Frenchie said something it was apt to be true, but of course it was impossible that Jumbo should die like this. That wise God who had made him with such affectionate care would not throw away His handiwork in such a manner. This thought came to Jumbo rather dimly. All things were dim in the darkness of his eyes, the shadow from within that veiled everything. Through that impalpable curtain he saw Sammy Pleasant, all a-stagger with exhaustion, now piling the bales three high. He could not make the straight lift but he laid the lower rows in two steps, giving each of the top bales two lifts. That was slow work, but the ground would be clean when the sun set and the work ended.

And Jumbo knew this work was done for his sake. It was just after this that he heard the voice of Frenchie suddenly rising:

"Come on, Jumbo! Le diable est mort! Ten bales more, Jumbo, and you smash the record to hell. . . ."

Cafferty knew that cheerful battle cry. He had learned its meaning in the gay old days. The devil is dead. The voice was a fountain of brightness that cleared his brain. Once more the pitchfork was light in his hands, building the feeds high and heavy, ramming them down the throat of the press. If only the descending sun had not been a streak of blood-red, staining his consciousness! If only a little time remained!

He heard Frenchie's ringing voice like quicksilver running through his blood, and flicking the others also, touching the whole crew, taking the stagger out of young Sammy Pleasant with a word of praise.

"I gotta win," said Cafferty, to his soul. "Even Frenchie wants me to. Frenchie would be up here helping, if it wouldn't spoil the record. Frenchie —he's with me . . . and God wouldn't hold me back. Even Rosa is helping me now!"

For she had taken her stand near the dog-house in spite of the dust that boiled out around her and whitened her dress; and from a pail of water she sprayed Sammy with her wet fingertips, continual little showers of cool drops.

"For me!" said Jumbo to his bursting heart, and envisioned the pleasant future, the two hundred acres, the well-matched mule team, the heavy wagons with red-painted, shining wheels, until his thoughts settled upon the bigness, the black beauty, of Rosa's kitchen range and remained there.


HE discovered that for half of eternity he had been worrying about a certain sound, which was the noise his feet made as he lunged to thrust the feed down the throat of the press. Formerly, it had always been a steady, rhythmic beat but now there was a stutter in it, and he found that he was staggering each time that he stepped forward.

The hay grew heavy again.- It seemed to have turned to sticks of molasses, heavy, clinging to the tines, and his legs had no sense in them whatever.

As he worked, he saw Sammy Pleasant falling from the second tier of bales as he tried to lift a third-row bale into place. He thought that was the end, but a moment later Sammy was pushing the bale into place.

He saw the crowd that stood on the top of the bale stack, yelling itself hoarse every time a bale came out of the press. Hundreds of people had come for miles to see the end of that day.

The voice of Frenchie from beside the scales, where he was adding up the tally of the bales, sang out to him: "Jumbo, one more bale and you win; Jumbo, Jumbo, le diable est mort!"

"The devil is dead!" said Jumbo.

He laughed like a drunken, defiant Viking god. Then stilled.

Darkness like a hot, black night had gathered over Jumbo, but he found the hay through the instinctive swing and reach of the hay-fork, built the feed by instinct, and helped the closing apron home. One red glint out of the west told him that the sun still watched him as the beater carried down the fifth feed and the bale was made.

After that he felt himself falling. He heard the separate noises as his knees, his hips, his shoulder and elbows, and then his head struck the floor of the feeders'-table.


HE lived by fits and snatches, after that, for hours. First he was aware of Frenchie, kneeling by him and holding up a hand that stopped the cheering voices. Then they were lowering him from the table.

The next thing he knew was Jimmy McCann's voice saying: "My God, he's bleeding from the mouth; he's gunna die!" and then Frenchie silencing McCann with a ripple of cursing.

"How's Sammy?" asked Cafferty.

"Sammy, he is all right."

"He's game, ain't he?"

"Maybe," said Frenchie.

"Send everybody away except you," said Jumbo. Frenchie sent them all away. "Make me stop trembling," said Jumbo. "It's like I was afraid. If they see me, they'll think I'm afraid."

Frenchie took his hand and the trembling ceased. The doctor came. He spoke in a quiet, precise voice after he had listened with a stethoscope, and taken the temperature. "Can you hear me, Jumbo?"

Something locked Jumbo's jaws and he could not speak, but he heard Frenchie say: "He's gone again. It's like that. Comes and goes. Doctor, tell me what's gunna happen?"

Jumbo lost the doctor's words but he heard the slow, falling voice.

When clear consciousness came back to him again, his body was so cold that he felt he was afloat on a black sea, with the waters about to lap over his mouth. Above him the Milky Way was a dust cloud blowing through the sky and the stars were drawing down closer and closer to the earth. Some of the stars were blotted out by Frenchie's shoulders.

"Frenchie, there's a lot to think about that I never thought."

"Ah, my old!"

"Yeah, you never'll speak English very good," said Jumbo. He added: "But I like you the way you are; I like you fine."

"Mon vieux!" said Frenchie.

"What does that mean?" said Jumbo. "Don't be a fool like you was a woman or something."

But he knew by Frenchie's weeping voice that his life was feared for, and this made him want to laugh. Instead of laughing he fell asleep.

When he wakened again, a cold wind was blowing breath into his body. The stars were dim in the east and a gray light shone faintly on the dew which covered the head of Frenchie.

"Frenchie!" he said.

At the vigor in his voice, Frenchie leaned forward with a start. "Tiens!" said Frenchie. "The strength comes back to you! May all the doctors be—Ah hi, Jumbo, but I have been sitting here with some thoughts."

"Where is Rosa?" asked Jumbo.

"Tomorrow," said Frenchie, "I tell you tomorrow."

Jumbo lifted his head. "Now what are you talking about?"

"Listen, mon vieux," said Frenchie, bending to peer into the eyes of his friend. "When Sammy dropped, Rosa comes to him running and takes his head in her lap. Bah!... and calls him her darling!"

"Yeah?" said Jumbo, watching two hundred well-fenced acres fade from his vision.

"...and her sweetheart," continued Frenchie, "and helps him into her buggy. I spit upon it! . . . and takes his head on her shoulder and drives away. . . ."

"Yeah?" said Jumbo. "That kind of leaves the world to the two of us, don't it?" Jumbo held out his hand.

Frenchie took it in both of his. "My old!" said he.

"You gotta learn English right," said Jumbo, disturbed. "I'm gunna take some time off and teach you."

He looked beyond Frenchie into the green east, with a curious joy for his eye seemed to travel across the horizon and through an opening gate of amber light. Then from the trees near the slough some crows got up and flew in single file across the brilliance, slowly laboring their wings up and down, as though they were drawing the day after them across the great world.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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