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Red Fire

Max Brand

  Copyright © 2013 by Golden West Literary Agency

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

  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.

  “Master and Man” first appeared in Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine (1/5/24). Copyright © 1923 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1951 by Dorothy Faust. Copyright © 1997 by Jane Faust Easton and Adriana Faust Bianchi for restored material. Acknowledgment is made to Condé Nast Publications, Inc. for their co-operation.

  “A Lucky Dog” under the byline John Frederick first appeared in Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine (10/22/27). Copyright © 1927 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1955 by Dorothy Faust. Copyright © 1999 by Jane Faust Easton and Adriana Faust Bianchi for restored material. Acknowledgment is made to Condé Nast Publications, Inc., for their co-operation.

  “Red Fire” first appeared as “Fugitive’s Fire” in Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine (6/30/28). Copyright © 1928 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1956 by Dorothy Faust. Copyright © 2013 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material. Acknowledgment is made to Condé Nast Publications, Inc., for their co-operation.

  The name Max Brand® is a registered trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and cannot be used for any purpose without express written permission.

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

  Cover design by Brian Peterson

  Print ISBN: 978-1-63450-431-7

  Ebook ISBN: 978-1-5107-0041-3

  Printed in the United States of America


  Master and Man

  A Lucky Dog

  Red Fire

  Master and Man

  “Master and Man,” which appeared in the January 5, 1924 issue of Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine, is an unusual story since there were no black heroes in pulp magazines in the 1920s. But in “Master and Man” the real hero of the story is a black man named Bobbie, who not only can outride, outfight, and outshoot any white man in the mountain desert, but whose unwavering moral code serves as a model for his often cruel and dissolute white master.


  In his bare feet he was six feet three and a half inches in height. He weighed two hundred and twenty pounds. He could carry that weight over a hundred yards in ten seconds flat. He could jump over a bar as high as the top of his head. He could throw a sixteen-pound hammer fifty-five yards. And at Jefferson Thompson’s place, in the old blacksmith shop, ten good men and true saw him lift a canvas sack filled with iron junk off the floor and onto a scale, and those scales registered twelve hundred pounds, the weight of a sizable horse.

  His body was made not bulkily, but with smoothly sloping muscles, fitted one to another so deftly that his bared arm looked round and fat, almost like the arm of a woman. His limbs tapered to narrow, long hands and feet. He had the head of a Greek, with features chiseled with infinite care and strength—a long, high nose, a square, clipped chin, and big, confident, black eyes. His hair was like waving smoke, and his skin was as black as jet.

  Such was Bobbie. Had he been white, he would have been one of the famous figures of the community, the very pride of western Texas. But, as it was, he was only the Farnsworth Negro, Bobbie. In fact, his great size, his singular skill in many ways, which enabled him to crush the rebellion out of a vicious mustang, or to throw a rope with either hand, or to work two revolvers at the same time at two different targets—all of these assets were lost sight of and forgotten in the damning phrase: “The Farnsworth Negro.” The more formidable and exceptional he was, the more shameful it was considered that he should be treated like a slave. Apparently he freely accepted that treatment, which culminated on the famous occasion when his young master, Thomas Gainsborough Farnsworth, struck the big Negro squarely in the face with his fist and then beat him with his riding quirt in front of everybody in the town of Daggett. The occasion was an ugly one. Old Tom Farnsworth, who knew that his boy was wasting his time and squandering his money in a poker game in Daggett, reinforcing his waning spirits with bootleg whiskey from time to time, sent Bobbie in to give Thomas, Jr. a message that he must come home at once. Bobbie arrived just as the game was breaking up, and young Tom was sick and worried because his wallet, which had been fat, was now empty, and his future was mortgaged with certain IOUs. So he flew into a passion and beat the Negro soundly with his fists and his quirt.

  Bobbie was seen to endure this punishment without stirring so much as a muscle of his face, even when Tom, maddened by his own brutality, struck Bobbie squarely across the mouth with a lash of the quirt. There was neither complaint nor dodging on the part of Bobbie. The next day big Sam Chalmers and his brother Jud, acting on the principle that a man who would endure such treatment at the hands of another must be a cur at heart, started to harry and worry Bobbie through the streets of the town of Daggett. Bobbie gave them the slip and went to the house of the sheriff.

  “Sheriff Morgan,” he said, “the Chalmers boys are bothering me some.”

  The sheriff looked with curious contempt at the huge body and the handsome face of the Negro, marked with great bars and wales by the beating of the day before.

  “Can’t you take care of yourself, Bobbie?” he asked. “Do I got to put you in a cage, by gum, to keep you from being spoiled?”

  “Sheriff Morgan,” said the big fellow, “I only want your permission to protect myself.”

  “Say, man,” said the sheriff, whose heart was as big as his hand and as tough, “do you got to ask me for that?”

  “I am a Negro,” said Bobbie.

  At this the sheriff dismissed Bobbie, but he remained thoughtful after his visitor had departed. Through a window he beheld Bobbie encounter the Chalmers stalwarts. Both of these men were proven fighters. They went at their quarry with a rush, and the sheriff scratched his chin as he watched them split upon Bobbie like water on a reef. They rushed at him again. Sam drew a gun, and Jud whipped out a knife, and then Bobbie struck once with either hand. That was the end of the battle. Sam was carried to the next house with a broken rib, and Jud was dragged to the same place with a shattered jaw bone.

  “The big feller don’t know his strength,” said the town of Daggett. But, thereafter, it grew more and more curious and more and more disgusted with Bobbie. If he were truly fearless, as it seemed to be proven, what could have kept him in the service of the Farnsworth family, enduring such insult and brutality as Tom had used toward him?

  The explanation requires a backward look to a day when Bobbie was only ten years old. On that occasion his old grandfather, with black skin growing gray and dusty with age, talked to him while they sat, fishing, under a willow tree. The source of the complaint was that little Bobbie was making serious objections to certain things that were required of him. Why, he had asked, should he have to polish the boots of his mas
ter? Why should young Tom be privileged to use him like a dog? Why should he, Bobbie, with more strength and adroitness in a minute than young master Tom had in a year, be forced to sit back and play second fiddle to the white boy? Other Negroes did not have to. They were free. They claimed a right to life, liberty, and property. They could swagger as boldly as any white. What was the distinction, then, between Bobbie and the rest? These were the thoughts of Bobbie, if not almost his words, and his grandfather responded with much deliberation, but smoothly, as one who speaks of that which he has long pondered.

  “Bobbie,” he said, “the difference between you and them is that they’re growin’ up to be fool niggers, and you is growin’ up to be a wise one. I’ll tell you a little story. You set down and rest yore feet and look at that slap-daddle water dog, lying off yonder on that stone.”

  “But, oh, Granddaddy,” cried the little black boy, “why should we live like slaves?”

  “How you go talkin’, honey,” said the old man, chuckling hoarsely. “Is settin’ here, fishin’ and squintin’ at the sky through the trees, and watchin’ of the ripples that come wigglin’ on the bank . . . is that bein’ a pore slave?” He shook his old gray head.

  Here he launched into the body of his story that related how, in the old days when the Civil War passed across the land, he had remained with his master as a servant through the midst of the battling, and how he had fought at the side of the colonel, when it might be said that he was helping to tighten the rivets of the shackles that bound his own people. Afterward, when the war ended, and he and the colonel went back to the old place in Texas with their scars and their honors, he had served the bankrupt family for years after, years without a cent of pay, laboring and struggling night and day until at the last fortune changed. They moved into the western part of the state, and luck favored the colonel in the cow industry. He became wealthy. But he never could have crossed the dark hour of his life after the war had it not been for the devotion of the old Negro.

  “Hisself was what said it,” crooned that old toothless black man. “He said that I done help an’ saved him.”

  He continued his narrative with the growth to manhood of his only surviving child Charlie—how Charlie came to maturity with his head full of ideas of independence; how he went to school and fought to distinguish himself; how he left the Texas ranch and journeyed across the country to New York; how he grew fat and well-to-do in that far-off city; how he married, and how Bobbie was born; how misfortune and sickness robbed Charlie of his wife and all his property; how he dragged himself back to the old ranch, sick and with his little son in his hand; how he died wishing that he had never stirred beyond the peace and safety of his home ranch in the dear old Lone Star State.

  “He’d done gone and been a fool nigger,” concluded the old grandfather. “And every nigger is a fool that tries to live like what a white man does. Let them lead, and we’ll foller. Let them talk, and we’ll work. They know, Bobbie. And them that know is a heap better and stronger than them that can only work.”

  Such were the opinions of his grandfather, expressed with a solemnity that amazed and subdued Bobbie. He had argued as well as he could, but it was like questioning a prophet. The old man felt he knew the truth, and he began to roar and thunder like a preacher in a church. So Bobbie had it worked firmly home in his brain that, no matter what chanced, it was better to stay faithful to a white master than to be free, because some people were meant for freedom and others were meant to be in service all their days. Such was the opinion of the grandfather.

  “Them that looks high, stubs their toes and falls on their faces,” he declared.

  He had the glaring example of Bobbie’s very own father with which to fortify his remarks, and from this example Bobbie could not escape. As for cruelty and injustice, now and again it was much better for a Negro to endure it than to strike out on his own behalf. For in the end woe and misery would be very apt to come to him. To endure the dangers of life required, said the grandfather, the adroitness of a snake and the fierceness of a hawk, and only the white man possessed these qualities of the brain. Far, far better to rest an arm upon him than to struggle for oneself.

  Such was the opinion that he forced Bobbie to accept. But it was not a matter of one interview only. They talked the matter over time and time again. Little Bobbie had a thousand tests of the case. He could not reconcile himself to the manifest injustice of his grandfather’s advice for a while, but in time he began to feel the weight of the old man’s experience and will. In a year or so the creed had entered his mind as firmly as a religious faith, with a religious emotion behind it. If he were true to the Farnsworths, he felt, the Farnsworths would be true to him, and thus his happiness would be secured. More than this: to be faithful to the Farnsworths became more than duty and good sense. To have displeased them would have been to have committed sacrilege. Old Thomas Gainsborough Farnsworth, Sr., was a distant idol to be worshipped by Bobbie. But the immediate goal of his affections and his humble admiration was young Tom.

  Young Tom grew into a slender fellow, with some wit, more sarcasm, and fists as free and ready as his tongue. He had a sallow skin and a lean, thoughtful look. In dress, like every Farnsworth, he was something of a dandy. Altogether he was a dapper young exquisite, with a cultivated taste for leisure, cards, and books. He read everything, digesting it as fast as it was devoured by his eyes, and filing it away in a memory that could forget nothing. He read, moreover, with tremendous speed. By the time he was fifteen he had crowded into his young brain more historical information of various and sundry sorts than the average college professor could boast. The result was that when he went to a great Eastern university, the first thing he did was to contract the bad habit of despising his instructors. At seventeen he could talk freely about Critique of Pure Reason, for he had digested the thought of the difficult old German as readily as some children see to the heart of chess problems and bewilder older opponents.

  Like most prodigies, young Tom soon promised to come to a no-good end. He did not have to attend lectures in order to earn good marks. If he dodged classes, his examinations were always brilliant. His father, reading the flattering reports, decided that his boy was making a record for himself and acquiring a good and growing education. As a matter of fact, young Tom was letting his books take care of themselves. He was merely doing a little remembering from time to time, and his serious endeavors were lavished in winning the attentions of the prettiest girls in the college town. The only sport he favored was the old-fashioned and useless one—as far as newspapers were concerned—of fencing. Riding and fencing gave him his only exercise. His amusements were those of all prodigals, cards and drink, with other well-known things in between.

  The four years at college cost his father a small fortune, but the older man consoled himself with the fine marks that young Tom secured in his studies, and so the bills were duly paid. Tom came home, hating his prospective ranch life like so many days of threatened prison. He also came home bringing his manservant, Bobbie, who had been through the whole college career with his master. But where college had been wasted on the master, it had not been lost upon the slave. Where Tom sat up to finish a bottle, Bobbie sat up to finish a book. Where Tom lounged in bed till noon, Bobbie was swinging through his paces in the college gymnasium, or on the athletic fields. It was little that Tom himself could do for his alma mater, but at least he could lend the services of Bobbie, and this was enough. Bobbie was the standard in the school of the sprinters. He was the iron man against whom the star linemen of the football team tried their strength. And it was a thing of beauty to see Bobbie, playing on the second eleven, melt through the center of the line and stop the plunging fullback before he had well started to plunge. They used to say of him that he had the speed of a cat and the power of a horse, but he was always as gentle as a man playing with children. If he tackled a runner, it was done with an almost apologetic firmness; in the boxing ring, if he blocked a hard swing with a stiff cou
nter, he was busy with apologies at once. Someone told Farnsworth that he would have been detested for his profligacy in the university had it not been that one and all admitted that a man who could inspire such a servant with such devotion must have a good heart and a clean one. Bobbie was the shadow, it might be said, that set off young Tom and made him seem a highlight.

  Then they came back to the ranch together, Bobbie placid, as always, with that infinite good nature that was his, like continual springtime, and Tom surly and sullen because he faced the long exile away from his boon companions and the city he loved. He would have gone mad with discontent had it not been that he met Deborah Kinkaid and lost his heart to her at once.

  She was not at all of a type that one would have selected as an enchantress to enthrall young Tom. She was a small, wiry little person, with a head of the brightest red hair, a nose rather too short, blue, lively eyes, and a world of animation. When she met the young college man, she refused to be impressed by his dignity and sullen reserve.

  “Anyone can look like a blunderbuss,” said Deborah.

  That remark was carried to Tom. He was furious and interested at once. He formed a contemptible scheme on the spot of making desperate love to Deborah until he had broken her heart. So he called on her at once. She showed him her pet horse and her pet duck. With mischievous eyes she sang ragtime to him across her piano. She sat under the huge cypress tree by the river, with her arms tucked behind her head, and confessed that she didn’t know a thing about books now, didn’t ever expect to, and hoped that she never would.

  Tom went home with his head reeling. He could not sleep. Before morning he knew that he loved her, and he knew that she was below him. Moreover, he knew that on account of this girl he would have to stay in the West and endure people he despised and a country and climate made especially to be his bane. It was to forget Deborah that he had ridden into Daggett, played and lost his money, and then taken out his spite so shamefully on the big person of Bobbie.