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Max Brand

  First Skyhorse Publishing edition published 2015 by arrangement with Golden West Literary Agency

  Copyright © 2012 by Golden West Literary Agency

  “Comanche” first appeared as a five-part serial in Street & Smith’s Far West Illustrated (12/26-4/27). Copyright © 1926 and 1927 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1954 and 1955 by Dorothy Faust. Copyright © 2012 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material. Acknowledgment is made to Condé Nast Publications, Inc., for their co-operation.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Skyhorse Publishing, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018.

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  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.

  Cover design by Eric Kang

  Print ISBN: 978-1-63220-268-0

  Ebook ISBN: 978-1-63220-914-6

  Printed in United States of America

  Chapter One

  There was just enough current sliding down the black face of the East River to keep a bow wave whispering about the prow of the Nancy Lou. The night was still, and close, and the two men on the deck were soothed by the cool lapping of the water. There was peace on the river such as could not be found in the town. The humming voice of Manhattan never died away, and Brooklyn murmured behind them, but these sounds were far away. Closer and more disturbing were the occasional tugs that went grinding by between them and Blackwell’s Island, and now a Boston passenger ship, a vision of light and shadow, went by with deeply singing engines. However, on the whole the river was very still, and there was only a background of sound from the cities.

  Upon the broad poop of the little yacht sat two men with a bottle of chilled wine, and cigars to pass the warmth of the evening until the night coolness should begin. They sat at ease, rarely stirring, rarely even speaking, and then in half sentences. But the dog that was chained close to the hatch was constantly on the move. Sometimes he strained toward the side of the boat as far as his chain would allow. Sometimes he scratched restlessly at the deck. Again, he lifted a massive head with a bristling ruff of fur around his neck and two short, pointed ears—very like the head of a wolf—and from his throat there issued a deep, wild cry that went ringing across the river.

  “Stop him,” said David Apperley, the younger of the two. “Stop him, Andrew. It curdles my blood to hear him.”

  “Let Comanche sing.” The older brother chuckled. “The poor devil has had no fun since the day I caught him.”

  “Was that fun for him?”

  “He chewed up seven out of my twelve dogs . . . of course it was fun for him.”

  “Seven out of twelve! What sort of mangy mongrels did you use to chase him?”

  “I’ll tell you what they were. Big devils. Old, hardened wolfhounds. Dash of greyhound for speed and a dash of mastiff for nerve and jaw power. Two or three of them could handle almost any wolf. But they couldn’t handle Comanche. It was a grand mêlée to watch, I can tell you. I was glad when we got the lariats on him. Gad, Dave, he slashed two of those lariats in two as cleanly as though those white teeth of his were a sharp sword.”

  “Maybe the rope was old.”

  “Rope? Rawhide, Dave. Like flexible steel. But those teeth are chilled steel, too. Stop it, Comanche!”

  He spoke in the midst of another howl with which the whole body of the big wolf dog was quivering. The effect of his voice was to stop the howl short. Comanche leaped at the speaker until the chain checked him. Then, straining against the broad collar, his teeth snapping, and his eyes green with devilish hatred, he strove to get at his owner.

  “Pretty boy, isn’t he?” asked Andrew Apperley, leaning forward to watch.

  “One of these days, he’ll break that rusty chain. And he’ll about finish you, Andy.”

  The other nodded. “I’ll change that chain tomorrow.”

  “Change the wolf, rather. Larkin has given him up. You promised me if Larkin couldn’t train the beast, you’d give up that four-footed murderer. Larkin can handle tigers and panthers, but he admits that he can do nothing with this brute.”

  “He’s rather a bad dog,” said the elder brother, nodding. “But suppose that one day I learn the key to his heart. Suppose that he grows to love me as much as he hates me and all men, just now?”

  “And what of it, Andrew? Even supposing that you could do what no man could do?”

  “What of it? He would be the best bodyguard in the world. And we need bodyguards, out West. I have twenty rustlers who’d be happy fellows if they could sink a bullet between my shoulders. A dog like this . . .”

  “Dog? Confound it, Andrew, he has wolf written all over him!”

  “Look at him again. Buffalo wolves are lower and narrower in the hindquarters. And he’s splashed with brown. Besides, his whole pelt is finer than a lobo’s. And most of all, when I weighed him . . . though he was thinner, even, than he is now . . . he tipped the scales at a hundred and fifty pounds. Timber wolves don’t grow to that size. No, Dave, there’s dog in him. Saint Bernard, perhaps.”

  “I won’t argue with you,” grumbled David Apperley. “You keep waiting for the dog instincts to wake up in him, but dogs don’t only howl. They bark, and then whine. This beast can only howl and snarl.”

  “I admit that,” said the owner. “But you can’t budge me, Dave. I’ll never give him up till I find a man who’s a better master for him than I am.”

  David leaned back in his chair, muttering. “I won’t ask you to explain,” he said. “Every man has weak spots. And, besides, to own a wolf is rather spectacular.”

  “Don’t be nasty about it. As a matter of fact, I don’t think about that. But he fills my mind’s eye. He’s a picture that I like to have in front of me as often as I can. Because he’s a hero, Dave. Ah, man, if you’d seen him slash his way through that dog pack of mine, you would have loved him. I covered him with my rifle. He knew well enough that that was the finish of him, but, instead of slinking away with his tail between his legs, he lifted his head and looked me in the eye as brave as you please, and dared me to do my worst. I couldn’t kill him then. I can’t kill him now, and he’ll go back with me to my own country . . .”

  “Your own country?” echoed Dave coldly.

  A little silence fell between them. The Apperleys were of an old family and a good one, and they had been for many generations in New York, growing greater and richer as the city grew. But Andrew had tried his fortunes in the West. An accidental hunting trip showed the country to him, and he had remained in it ever since. This Eastern trip of his was merely to induce his younger brother to come to the new region with him, but to David there was a species of treason in abandoning New York, and he looked upon a shift in the family seat very much as he would have looked upon changing his citizenship. It was a sore topic that had caused many a bitter discussion between them. And so they fell silent.

  “The long and sh
ort of it,” said David at last, “is that you’re an enthusiast, old fellow. You believe in that country because you’ve grown rich there.”

  “Not a bit. I believe in that country, because it’s a country worthy of belief.”

  “Half an ounce of culture to the square league.”

  “Perhaps not that much. But culture is a luxury, not a necessity to me. If you have the same blood in you, you’ll agree with me. However, I’m not trying to persuade you to come West with me, any more than I can persuade you to believe that Comanche is not pure wolf.”

  David laughed a little. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said. “I’ll give you my word to go West with you to your ranch and try to like the wild life there, the instant that I see any man brave enough to put his hand on the head of Comanche . . . while he’s still unmuzzled.”

  Once more the silence fell between them. Comanche grew quieter. But now there was a sudden outbreak of clamor from the big square-shouldered building on Blackwell’s Island. They knew it was the prison.

  A dozen repeating rifles seemed to be at work. They could hear distant voices calling orders and shouting answers. Then the broad bright eye of a searchlight began to twist back and forth across the black surface of the East River.

  “Someone has escaped,” said Andrew Apperley. “Some poor devil has made a break for it, and he’s away, by this time. There goes one of the guard boats!”

  They saw a long, shadowy hull splitting the water. A shower of sparks rose from the chimney of the speed boat, and a white wake glistened behind it.

  “They’ve got enough equipment to make it hot for the poor rat.” said David as he and his brother stood together at the side of the little yacht. “Isn’t that a Gatling gun forward?”

  “That’s it, and another of them at the rear.”

  “And they can shoot faster and straighter than even your Western desperadoes, eh?”

  “I don’t know,” answered Andrew calmly. “I’ve seen a man fan two Colts so fast that there was just one blur of reports from the beginning to the end. Hello, have they got him?”

  The guard boat had veered sharply around and cut up against the current of the tide, throwing a sharp thin bow wave high on each side. They could see the uniformed guards with glistening guns in hand crowding onto the prow of the speedboat.

  At the same time, the searchlight of the guard boat and the searchlight from the prison centered on one spot in the river, and the two watchers could plainly see the head of a swimmer who was forging across the current.

  “They’ve got him,” said Andrew Apperley.

  “Game devil!” exclaimed David, filled with admiration. “He doesn’t let up a stroke. Hello, Andy, is he going to swim right into the path of that passenger ship?”

  For now the towering height of a Boston passenger boat appeared slipping down the stream, and to the amazement of the Apperleys they saw the swimmer turn and head straight across the way of the speeding ship.

  “He’ll be free, or else die trying!” exclaimed Andrew. “There’s a man of steel, Dave. Look, the boat has him. Comanche, you devil, be still.”

  For the wolf dog had broken into a furious howling, and pawed frantically to break loose from his chain. At the same moment, the escaped prisoner swam straight into the path of the speeding boat, and the big ship passed over him.

  Chapter Two

  “He’s gone,” said Andrew Apperley. “But it’s a dreadful thing to see, Brother.”

  “A murderer, most likely,” said David calmly. “He’s taking the medicine from his own hand that he didn’t want to take from the law. We can’t waste sympathy on such as he probably was. Look at the guard boat running amuck to make sure that he’s gone.”

  For as the passenger ship passed on, and the waves of her deep wake tossed the little yacht up and down, the guard boat was weaving here and there across the river, searching for the fugitive. Apparently it had no success, and the searchlight from the prison flashed wildly about, sometimes throwing its blinding brightness straight into the eyes of the two brothers who watched.

  “What’s quieted Comanche?” asked David at last. He added suddenly: “And where is he? By gad, he’s broken the chain!”

  There it lay, a snaky length upon the deck. Apparently it had broken off short beside the collar as the big brute strained and tugged at it for liberty.

  “Watch the deck!” said Andrew Apperley briskly. He hurried below. But he came back almost at once with a gloomy face.

  “He must have made for the shore,” he said. “And that’s the last that we’ll see of him. He’ll go through the city like a streak and get to the open country beyond. I tell you, Dave, that I’d rather have lost ten thousand dollars than that monster. We’ll never see his like again.”

  “I’ve never seen anything that’s pleased me more,” answered David. “But hadn’t we better send in a warning to the shore? A wild wolf running amuck through the streets . . .”

  “It’s too late for warnings. Wherever he’s headed, he has gone at full speed, and I know what his speed is like. Hello . . . my word, what’s this?”

  He pointed with a rigid arm into the darkness of the river, and David, staring in the same direction, saw something swimming slowly in across the tidal drift. He looked again, and it seemed to him that it was a double shadow. It came closer, and now they made sure of the broad head and the pricking ears of Comanche, with a man’s body trailing behind him.

  “Do you see? Do you see?” gasped Andrew Apperley. “What was it you said about wolf? Did you ever hear of a wolf going into a river to bring out a drowning man? Is that a dog strain, or is it not?”

  They ran down to the prow of the boat, for it was in that direction that the laboring Comanche was making, though it seemed doubtful that the strength of his swimming would enable him to cut in across the sharp sweep of the tidal current.

  Andrew Apperley jumped down on the mooring rope, and, thrusting his hand far out, he managed to catch the scruff of Comanche’s mane as the big animal was carried past. He drew in the dog. It was all his strength could manage, with the assistance of David, to pass the exhausted brute up to the deck.

  It was an easier task to draw in the man who had been clinging to Comanche. For all the uproar from Blackwell’s Island, and all the play of searchlights and the activity of the guard boat had been done for the sake of a slender youth who seemed in his early twenties. Andrew passed him to David, and the latter stretched the half-conscious body on the deck.

  The next instant he sprang back with a yell of alarm. “Andrew! That devil of a wolf nearly got me then, and now he’s murdering this man from the river . . . hold on . . . no, by the Eternal . . .”

  He fell silent, while the older brother, clambering back to the deck, saw a most strange sight.

  The rescued man lay at full length, his face turned toward the stars, while he drew each breath with an audible effort. At his head sat Comanche, his legs trembling with weariness but his strength and ferocity rapidly returning.

  “By the Eternal,” said Andrew. “He’s taking charge.”

  “Signal to the guard boat,” said David.

  “Not for a million. Turn this poor devil over to the law, after Comanche has saved him from the river? No chance that I’ll do that, Dave. But how can we help him with that brute standing over him?”

  “I don’t know. It’s the oddest thing that I’ve ever known. Makes me dizzy to see it. What happened to the brain of that beast?”

  “The dog strain, Dave, the dog strain. In spite of you and the experts, I was right. He’s not pure wolf. There, our man from the river is beginning to come to life. He’ll pull through. But how could he have missed that ship? It seemed to pass straight over him.”

  “He must have dived and swum under the surface until he was clear of it.”

  The fugitive came swaying to a sitting posture, at which Comanche, with a throat-tearing snarl, crowded closer.

  “Look out!” warned Andrew Apperley. “Tha
t dog is dangerous, my friend.”

  “This dog? Dangerous?” said the man from the river. Then he laughed, weakly, and passed his arm around the neck of Comanche. “Dangerous?” said the fugitive.

  And Comanche turned and licked the face of him he had saved. The brothers, filled with wonder and awe, could not speak.

  “I’d offer you something,” said Andrew, “if I could get it past Comanche.”

  “You’ve given me enough,” said the other. “I’ll have my pins steady under me in a minute, and then I’ll cut on for the shore.”

  “How did that ship happen to miss you?

  “It happened to save me. They were right at my back, yapping that they’d turn the Gatling loose if I didn’t give up and let them take me in. But I tried for the big ship and made it. Then, I dived.” He closed his eyes. His nostrils quivered as he drew down the deep breaths. “Swimming is not my game,” he said, his eyes still closed. Then he stiffened a little, and, rising to his feet, he stepped toward the rail of the boat nearest the shore, but his legs sagged under him.

  It was easy to understand what had stirred him, for the guard boat—its captain apparently guessing what had happened—had swept in suddenly straight toward the yacht.

  “Do you know my face?” asked the man from the river.

  “No,” said David Apperley.

  “Have you ever heard of Jack Deems?”


  “Think again.”

  “Hold on now. Not Single Jack Deems!”

  “Does that give you the horrors?”

  The two brothers were silent.

  “I’m going down into the cabin,” said the fugitive. “When they come to search the boat, perhaps you’ll stave them off. If you do, that means my life. Perhaps you won’t. In that case, I’m getting only what’s coming to me. At any rate, I’ll wait down there.”

  No matter what his fatigue, or how complete his bodily exhaustion, his mind, it was clear, strong, and steady. And he had gained perfect control of his voice before he uttered a word. Yet, when he started down the little hatch, he was reeling and drooping with every step he made. Comanche advanced, growling at his heels, and disappeared behind him.