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Max Brand

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  “Blondy” first appeared under the title “Bulldog” by Max Brand in Collier’s (2/23/24).

  Copyright © 1924 by P. F. Collier and Son.

  Published by Wildside Press LLC. |


  When Zinn came home from prison, no one was at the station to meet him except the constable, Tom Frejus, who laid a hand on his shoulder and said: “Now, Zinn, let this here be a lesson to you. Give me a chance to treat you white. I ain’t going to hound you. Just remember that because you’re stronger than other folks you ain’t got any reason to beat them up.”

  Zinn looked down upon him from a height. Every day of the year during which he swung his sledgehammer to break rocks for the state roads, he had told himself that one good purpose was served: his muscles grew harder, the fat dropped from his waist and shoulders, the iron square of his chin thrust out as in his youth, and, when he came back to town, he would use that strength to wreak upon the constable his old hate. For manifestly Tom Frejus was his archenemy. When he first came to Sioux Crossing and fought the three men in Joe Riley’s saloon—oh, famous and happy night!—Constable Frejus gave him a warning. When he fought the Gandil brothers and beat them both senseless, Frejus arrested him. When his old horse, Fidgety, balked in the back lot and Zinn tore a rail from the fence in lieu of a club, Tom Frejus arrested him for cruelty to dumb beasts. This was a crowning torment, for, as Zinn told the judge, he’d bought that old skate with good money and he had a right to do what he wanted with it. But the judge, as always, agreed with Tom Frejus. These incidents were only items in a long list that culminated when Zinn drank deep of bootleg whiskey and then beat up the constable himself. The constable, at the trial, pleaded for clemency on account, he said, of Zinn’s wife and three children; but Zinn knew, of course, that Frejus wanted him back only that the old persecution might begin. On this day, therefore, the ex-convict, in pure excess of rage, smiled down on the constable.

  “Keep out of my way, Frejus,” he said, “and you’ll keep a whole skin. But some day I’ll get you alone, and then I’ll bust you in two . . . like this!”

  He made an eloquent gesture, then he strode off up the street. As the sawmill had just closed, a crowd of returning workers swarmed on the sidewalks, and Zinn took off his cap so that they could see his cropped head. In his heart of hearts he hoped that someone would jibe, but the crowd split away before him and passed with cautiously averted eyes. Most of them were big, rough fellows, and their fear was pleasant balm for his savage heart. He went on with his hands a little tensed to feel the strength of his arms.

  * * * *

  The dusk was closing early on this autumn day with a chill whirl of snowflakes borne on a wind that had been iced in crossing the heads of the white mountains, but Zinn did not feel the cold. He looked up to the black ranks of the pine forest that climbed the sides of Sandoval Mountain, scattering toward the top and pausing where the sheeted masses of snow began. Life was like that—a struggle, an eternal fight, but never a victory on the mountaintop, which all the world could see and admire. When the judge sentenced him, he said: “If you lived in the days of armor, you might have been a hero, Zinn . . . but in these times you are a waster and an enemy of society.” He had grasped dimly at the meaning of this. Through his life he had always aimed at something that would set him apart from and above his fellows; now, at the age of forty, he felt in his hands an undiminished authority of might, but still those hands had not given him the victory. If he beat and routed four men in a huge conflict, society, instead of applauding, raised the club of the law and struck him down. It had always done so, but, although the majority voted against him, his tigerish spirit groped after and clung to this truth: to be strong is to be glorious!

  He reached the hilltop and looked down to his home in the hollow. A vague wonder and sorrow came upon him to find that all had been held together in spite of his absence. There was even a new coat of paint upon the woodshed, and a hedge of young firs was growing neatly around the front yard. In fact, the homestead seemed to be prospering as though his strength were not needed. He digested this reflection with an oath and looked sullenly about him. On the corner a little white dog watched him with lowered ears and a tail curved under its belly.

  “Get out, cur!” snarled Zinn. He picked up a rock and threw it with such good aim that it missed the dog by a mere inch or two, but the puppy merely pricked its ears and straightened its tail.

  “It’s silly with the cold,” said Zinn to himself, chuckling. “This time I’ll smear it.”

  He pried from the roadway a stone of three or four pounds, took good aim, and hurled it as lightly as a pebble flies from the sling. Too late the white dog leaped to the side, for the flying missile caught it a glancing blow that tumbled it over and over. Zinn, muttering with pleasure, scooped up another stone, but, when he raised it this time, the stone fell from his hand, so great was his surprise. The white dog, with a line of red along its side where a ragged edge of the stone had torn the skin, had gained its feet and now was driving silently straight at the big man. Indeed, Zinn had barely time to aim a kick at the little brute, which it dodged as a rabbit turns from the jaw of the hound. Then two rows of small, sharp teeth pierced his trousers and sank into the flesh of his leg. He uttered a yell of surprise rather than pain. He kicked the swaying, tugging creature, but still it clung, working the puppy teeth deeper with intent devotion. He picked up a fallen stone and brought it down heavily with a blow that laid open the skull and brought a gush of blood, but, although the body of the little savage grew limp, the jaws were locked. He had to pry them apart with all his strength. Then he swung the loose, senseless body into the air by the hind legs.

  What stopped him he could not tell. Most of all it was the stabbing pain in his leg and the marvel that so small a dog could have dared so much. But at last he tucked it under his arm, regardless of the blood that trickled over his coat. He went down the hill, kicked open the front door, and threw down his burden. Mrs. Zinn was coming from the kitchen with a shrill cry that sounded more like fear than like a welcome to Zinn.

  “Peter! Peter!” she cried at him, clasping her hands together and staring.

  “Shut up your yapping,” said Peter Zinn. “Shut up and take care of this pup. He’s my kind of a dog.”

  His three sons wedged into the doorway and gaped at him with round eyes and white faces.

  “Look here,” he said, pointing to his bleeding leg, “that damned pup done that. That’s the way I want you kids to grow up. Fight anything. Fight a buzz saw. You don’t need to go to no school for lessons. You can foller after Blondy, there.”

  So Blondy was christened; so he was given a home. Mrs. Zinn, who had been a trained nurse in her youth, nevertheless stood by with moans of sympathy while her husband took the necessary stitches in the head of Blondy.

  “Keep still, fool,” said Mr. Zinn. “Look at Blondy. He ain’t even whining. Pain don’t hurt nothing. Pain is the making of a dog . . . or a man! Look at there . . . if he ain’t licking my hand! He knows his master!”

  * * * *

  A horse kicked old Joe Harkness the next day, and Peter Zinn took charge of the blacksmith shop. He was greatly changed by his stay in the penitentiary, so that superficial observers in the town of Sioux Crossing declared that he had been reformed by punishment, inasmuch as he no longer blustered or hunted fights in the streets of the village. He attended to his work, and as everyone admitted that no farrier in the country could fit horseshoes better, or do a better job at welding, when Joe Harkness returned to his shop, he kept Zinn as a junior partner. Peter Zinn did not waste time or mon
ey on bootleg whiskey, but in spite of these and manifold virtues some of the very observant declared that there was more to be feared from the silent and settled ferocity of his manner than from the boisterous ways that had been his in other days. Constable Tom Frejus was among the latter. And it was noted that he practiced half an hour every day with his revolver in the back of his lot.

  Blondy, in the meantime, stepped into maturity in a few swift months. On his fore and hindquarters the big ropy muscles thrust out. His neck grew thicker and more arched, and in his dark brown eyes there appeared a wistful look of eagerness that never left him saving when Peter Zinn was near. The rest of the family he tolerated, but did not love. It was in vain that Mrs. Zinn, eager to please a husband whose transformation had filled her with wonder and awe, lavished attentions upon Blondy and fed him with dainties twice a day. It was in vain that the three boys petted and fondled and talked kindly to Blondy. He endured these demonstrations, but did not return them. When five o’clock came in the evening of the day, Blondy went out to the gate of the front yard and stood there like a white statue until a certain heavy step sounded on the wooden sidewalk up the hill. That noise changed Blondy into an ecstasy of impatience, and, when the big man came through the gate, Blondy raced and leaped about him with such a muffled whine of joy, coming from such depths of his heart, that his whole body trembled. At meals Blondy lay across the feet of the master. At night he curled into a warm circle at the foot of the bed.

  * * * *

  There was only one trouble with Blondy. When people asked—“What sort of dog is that?”—Peter Zinn could never answer anything except—“A hell of a good fighting dog . . . you can lay to that.” It was a stranger who finally gave them information, a lumber merchant who had come to Sioux Crossing to buy timberland. He stopped Peter Zinn on the street and crouched on his heels to admire Blondy.

  “A real white one,” he said. “As fine a bull terrier as I ever saw. What does he weigh?”

  “Fifty-five pounds,” said Zinn.

  “I’ll give you five dollars for every pound of him,” said the stranger.

  Peter Zinn was silent.

  “Love him too much to part with him, eh?” asked the other, smiling up at the big blacksmith.

  “Love him?” snorted Zinn. “Love a dog! I ain’t no fool.”

  “Ah?” said the stranger. “Then what’s your price?”

  Peter Zinn scratched his head, then he scowled, for when he tried to translate Blondy into terms of money, his wits failed him. “That’s two hundred and seventy-five dollars,” he said finally.

  “I’ll make it three hundred, even. And, mind you, my friend, this dog is useless for show purposes. You’ve let him fight too much, and he’s covered with scars. No trimming can make that right ear presentable. However, he’s a grand dog, and he’d be worth something in the stud.”

  Zinn hardly heard the last of this. He was considering that for three hundred dollars he could extend the blacksmith shop by one-half and get a full partnership with Harkness, or else he could buy that four-cylinder car that young Thompson wanted to sell. Yet even the showy grandeur of an automobile would hardly serve. He did not love Blondy. Love was an emotion that [he] scorned as beneath the dignity of a strong man. He had not married his wife because of love, but because he was tired of eating in restaurants and because other men had homes. The possession of an automobile would put the stamp upon his new prosperity, but could an automobile welcome him home at night or sleep at his feet?

  “I dunno,” he said at last. “I guess I ain’t selling.”

  And he walked on. He did not feel more kindly toward Blondy after this. In fact, he never mentioned the circumstance, even in his home, but often, when he felt the warmth of Blondy at his feet, he was both baffled and relieved.

  In the meantime, Blondy had been making history in Sioux Crossing hardly less spectacular than that of Zinn. His idea of play was a battle; his conception of a perfect day embraced the killing of two or three dogs. Had he belonged to anyone other than Zinn, he would have been shot before his career was well started, but his owner was such a known man that guns were handled but not used when the white terror came near. It could be said in his behalf that he was not aggressive and, unless urged on, would not attack another. However, he was a most hearty and capable finisher of a fight if one were started.

  He first took the eye of the town through a fracas with Bill Curry’s brindled bulldog, Mixer. Blondy was seven or eight pounds short of his magnificent maturity when he encountered Mixer and touched noses with him; the bulldog reached for Blondy’s foreleg, snapped his teeth in the empty air, and the fun began. As Harkness afterward put it: “Mixer was like thunder, but Blondy was lightning on wheels.” Blondy drifted around the heavier dog for five minutes as illusive as a phantom. Then he slid in, closed the long, pointed, fighting jaw on Mixer’s gullet, and was only pried loose from a dead dog.

  After that the Great Dane that had been brought to town by Mr. Henry Justice, the mill owner, took the liberty of snarling at the white dog and had his throat torn out in consequence. When Mr. Justice applied to the law for redress, the judge told him frankly that he had seen the fight and that he would sooner hang a man than hang Blondy. The rest of the town was of the same opinion. They feared but respected the white slayer, and it was pointed out that although he battled like a champion against odds, yet when little Harry Garcia took Blondy by the tail and tried to tie a knot in it, the great terrier merely pushed the little boy away with his forepaws and then went on his way.

  * * * *

  However, there was trouble in the air, and Charlie Kitchen brought it to a head. In his excursions to the north he had chanced upon a pack of hounds used indiscriminately to hunt and kill anything that walked on four legs, from wolves to mountain lions and grizzly bears. The leader of that pack was a hundred-and-fifty-pound monster—a cross between a gigantic timber wolf and a wolfhound. Charlie could not borrow that dog, but the owner himself made the trip to Sioux Crossing and brought Gray King, as the dog was called, along with him. Up to that time Sioux Crossing felt that the dog would never be born that could live fifteen minutes against Blondy, but, when the northerner arrived with a large roll of money and his dog, the town looked at Gray King and pushed its money deeper into its pocket. For the King looked like a fighting demon, and, in fact, was one. Only Peter Zinn had the courage to bring out a hundred dollars and stake it on the result.

  They met in the vacant lot next to the post office where the fence was loaded with spectators, and in this ample arena it was admitted that the wolf dog would have plenty of room to display all of his agility. As a matter of fact, it was expected that he would slash the heart out of Blondy in ten seconds. Slash Blondy he did, for there is nothing canine in the world that can escape the lightning flash of a wolf’s side rip. A wolf fights by charges and retreats, coming in to slash with its great teeth and try to knock down the foe with the blow of its shoulder. The Gray King cut Blondy twenty times, but they were only glancing knife-edge strokes. They took the blood, but not the heart from Blondy, who, in the meantime, was placed too low and solidly on the ground to be knocked down. At the end of twenty minutes, as the Gray King leaped in, Blondy side-stepped like a dancing boxer, then dipped in and up after a fashion that Sioux Crossing knew of old, and set that low, punishing jaw in the throat of the King. The latter rolled, writhed, and gnashed the air, but fate had him by the windpipe, and in thirty seconds he was helpless. Then Peter Zinn, as a special favor, took Blondy off.

  Afterward the big man from the north came to pay his bet, but Zinn, looking up from his task of dressing the terrier’s wounds, flung the money back in the face of the stranger.

  “Dogs ain’t the only things that fight in Sioux Crossing,” he announced, and the stranger, pocketing his pride and his money at the same time, led his staggering dog away.

  From that time Blondy was one of the sights of the town—like Sandoval Mountain. He was pointed out constantly, and people
said—“Good dog!”—from a distance, but only Tom Frejus appreciated the truth. He said: “What keeps Zinn from getting fight-hungry? Because he has a dog that does the fighting for him. Every time Blondy sinks his teeth in the hide of another dog, he helps to keep Zinn out of jail. But some day Zinn will bust through!”

  This was hardly a fair thing for the constable to say, but the nerves of honest Tom Frejus were wearing thin. He knew that sooner or later the blacksmith would attempt to execute his threat of breaking him in two, and the suspense lay heavily upon Tom. He was still practicing steadily with his guns; he was still as confident as ever of his own courage and skill; but, when he passed on the street the gloomy face of the blacksmith, a chill of weakness entered his blood.

  * * * *

  That dread, perhaps, had sharpened the perceptions of Frejus, for certainly he had looked into the truth, and, while Peter Zinn bided his time, the career of Blondy was a fierce comfort to him. The choicest morsel of enjoyment was delivered into his hands on a morning in September, the very day after Frejus had gained lasting fame by capturing the two Minster brothers, with enough robberies and murders to their credit to have hanged a dozen men.

  The Zinns took breakfast in the kitchen this Thursday, so that the warmth of the cook stove might fight the frost out of the air, and Oliver, the oldest boy, announced from the window that old Gripper, the constable’s dog, had come into the backyard. The blacksmith rose to make sure. He saw Gripper, a big black-and-tan sheepdog, nosing the top of the garbage can, and a grin of infinite satisfaction came to the face of Peter Zinn. First, he cautioned the family to remain discreetly indoors. Then he stole out by the front way, came around to the rear of the tall fence that sealed his backyard, and closed and latched the gate. The trap was closed on Gripper, after which Zinn returned to the house and lifted Blondy to the kitchen window. The hair lifted along the back of Blondy’s neck; a growl rumbled in the depths of his powerful body. Yonder was his domain, his own yard, of which he knew each inch—the smell of every weed and rock; yonder was the spot where he had killed the stray chicken last July; near it was the tall, rank nettle, so terrible to an over-inquisitive nose; and, behold, a strange dog pawing at the very place where, only yesterday, he had buried a stout bone with a rich store of marrow hidden within.