The Story of a Bad Boy

by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

X. Riding the Ranges

THE shepherds were home in the oasis that evening, and next day the tragedy of the sheep was a thing of the past. No other circumstance of Hare's four months with the Naabs had so affected him as this swift inevitable sweeping away of the flock; nothing else had so vividly told him the nature of this country of abrupt heights and depths. He remembered August Naab's magnificent gesture of despair; and now the man was cheerful again; he showed no sign of his great loss. His tasks were many, and when one was done, he went on to the next. If Hare had not had many proofs of this Mormon's feeling he would have thought him callous. August Naab trusted God and men, loved animals, did what he had to do with all his force, and accepted fate. The tragedy of the sheep had been only an incident in a tragical life--that Hare divined with awe.

Mescal sorrowed, and Wolf mourned in sympathy with her, for their occupation was gone, but both brightened when August made known his intention to cross the river to the Navajo range, to trade with the Indians for another flock. He began his preparations immediately. The snow-freshets had long run out of the river, the water was low, and he wanted to fetch the sheep down before the summer rains. He also wanted to find out what kept his son Snap so long among the Navajos.

"I'll take Billy and go at once. Dave, you join George and Zeke out on the Silver Cup range. Take Jack with you. Brand all the cattle you can before the snow flies. Get out of Dene's way if he rides over, and avoid Holderness's men. I'll have no fights. But keep your eyes sharp for their doings."

It was a relief to Hare that Snap Naab had not yet returned to the oasis, for he felt a sense of freedom which otherwise would have been lacking. He spent the whole of a long calm summer day in the orchard and the vineyard. The fruit season was at its height. Grapes, plums, pears, melons were ripe and luscious. Midsummer was vacationtime for the children, and they flocked into the trees like birds. The girls were picking grapes; Mother Ruth enlisted Jack in her service at the pear-trees; Mescal came, too, and caught the golden pears he threw down, and smiled up at him; Wolf was there, and Noddle; Black Bolly pushed her black nose over the fence, and whinnied for apples; the turkeys strutted, the peafowls preened their beautiful plumage, the guinea-hens ran like quail. Save for those frowning red cliffs Hare would have forgotten where he was; the warm sun, the yellow fruit, the merry screams of children, the joyous laughter of girls, were pleasant reminders of autumn picnic days long gone. But, in the face of those dominating wind-scarred walls, he could not forget.

That night Hare endeavored to see Mescal alone for a few moments, to see her once more with unguarded eyes, to whisper a few words, to say good-bye; but it was impossible.

On the morrow he rode out of the red cliff gate with Dave and the pack- horses, a dull ache in his heart; for amid the cheering crowd of children and women who bade them good-bye he had caught the wave of Mescal's hand and a look of her eyes that would be with him always. What might happen before he returned, if he ever did return! For he knew now, as well as he could feel Silvermane's easy stride, that out there under the white glare of desert, the white gleam of the slopes of Coconina, was wild life awaiting him. And he shut his teeth, and narrowed his eyes, and faced it with an eager joy that was in strange contrast to the pang in his breast.

That morning the wind dipped down off the Vermillion Cliffs and whipped west; there was no scent of river-water, and Hare thought of the fatality of the sheep-drive, when, for one day out of the year, a moistened dank breeze had met the flock on the narrow bench. Soon the bench lay far behind them, and the strip of treacherous sand, and the maze of sculptured cliff under the Blue Star, and the hummocky low ridges beyond, with their dry white washes. Silvermane kept on in front. Already Hare had learned that the gray would have no horse before him. His pace was swift, steady, tireless. Dave was astride his Navajo mount, an Indian-bred horse, half mustang, which had to be held in with a firm rein. The pack train strung out far behind, trotting faithfully along, with the white packs, like the humps of camels, nodding up and down. Jack and Dave slackened their gait at the foot of the stony divide. It was an ascent of miles, so long that it did not appear steep. Here the pack-train caught up, and thereafter hung at the heels of the riders.

From the broad bare summit Jack saw the Silver Cup valley - range with eyes which seemed to magnify the winding trail, the long red wall, the green slopes, the dots of sage and cattle. Then he made allowance for months of unobstructed vision; he had learned to see; his eyes had adjusted themselves to distance and dimensions.

Silver Cup Spring lay in a bright green spot close under a break in the rocky slope that soon lost its gray cliff in the shaggy cedared side of Coconina.

The camp of the brothers was situated upon this cliff in a split between two sections of wall. Well sheltered from the north and west winds was a grassy plot which afforded a good survey of the valley and the trails. Dave and Jack received glad greetings from Zeke and George, and Silvermane was an object of wonder and admiration. Zeke, who had often seen the gray and chased him too, walked round and round him, stroking the silver mane, feeling the great chest muscles, slapping his flanks.

"Well, well, Silvermane, to think I'd live to see you wearing a saddle and bridle! He's even bigger than I thought. There's a horse, Hare! Never will be another like him in this desert. If Dene ever sees that horse he'll chase him to the Great Salt Basin. Dene's crazy about fast horses. He's from Kentucky, somebody said, and knows a horse when he sees one."

"How are things?" queried Dave.

"We can't complain much," replied Zeke, "though we've wasted some time on old Whitefoot. He's been chasing our horses. It's been pretty hot and dry. Most of the cattle are on the slopes; fair browse yet. There's a bunch of steers gone up on the mountain, and some more round toward the Saddle or the canyon."

"Been over Seeping Springs way?"

"Yes. No change since your trip. Holderness's cattle are ranging in the upper valley. George found tracks near the spring. We believe somebody was watching there and made off when we came up."

"We'll see Holderness's men when we get to riding out," put in George. "And some of Dene's too. Zeke met Two-Spot Chance and Culver below at the spring one day, sort of surprised them."

"What day was that?"

"Let's see, this's Friday. It was last Monday."

"What were they doing over here?"

"Said they were tracking a horse that had broken his hobbles. But they seemed uneasy, and soon rode off."

"Did either of them ride a horse with one shoe shy?"

"Now I think of it, yes. Zeke noticed the track at the spring."

"Well, Chance and Culver had been out our way," declared Dave. "I saw their tracks, and they filled up the Blue Star waterhole--and cost us three thousand sheep."

Then he related the story of the drive of the sheep, the finding of the plugged waterhole, the scent of the Colorado, and the plunge of the sheep into the canyon.

"We've saved one, Mescal's belled lamb," he concluded.

Neither Zeke nor George had a word in reply. Hare thought their silence unnatural. Neither did the mask-like stillness of their faces change. But Hare saw in their eyes a pointed clear flame, vibrating like a compass-needle, a mere glimmering spark.

"I'd like to know," continued Dave, calmly poking the fire, "who hired Dene's men to plug the waterhole. Dene couldn't do that. He loves a horse, and any man who loves a horse couldn't fill a waterhole in this desert."

Hare entered upon his new duties as a range-rider with a zeal that almost made up for his lack of experience; he bade fair to develop into a right-hand man for Dave, under whose watchful eye he worked. His natural qualifications were soon shown; he could ride, though his seat was awk- ward and clumsy compared to that of the desert rangers, a fault that Dave said would correct itself as time fitted him close to the saddle and to the swing of his horse. His sight had become extraordinarily keen for a new-comer on the ranges, and when experience had taught him the land- marks, the trails, the distances, the difference between smoke and dust and haze, when he could distinguish a band of mustangs from cattle, and range-riders from outlaws or Indians; in a word, when he had learned to know what it was that he saw, to trust his judgment, he would have acquired the basic feature of a rider's training. But he showed no gift for the lasso, that other essential requirement of his new calling.

"It's funny," said Dave, patiently, "you can't get the hang of it. Maybe it's born in a fellow. Now handling a gun seems to come natural for some fellows, and you're one of them. If only you could get the rope away as quick as you can throw your gun!"

Jack kept faithfully at it, unmindful of defeats, often chagrined when he missed some easy opportunity. Not improbably he might have failed altogether if he had been riding an ordinary horse, or if he had to try roping from a fiery mustang. But Silvermane was as intelligent as he was beautiful and fleet. The horse learned rapidly the agile turns and sudden stops necessary, and as for free running he never got enough. Out on the range Silvermane always had his head up and watched; his life had been spent in watching; he saw cattle, riders, mustangs, deer, coyotes, every moving thing. So that Hare, in the chasing of a cow, had but to start Silvermane, and then he could devote himself to the handling of his rope. It took him ten times longer to lasso the cow than it took Silvermane to head the animal. Dave laughed at some of Jack's exploits, encouraged him often, praised his intent if not his deed; and always after a run nodded at Silvermane in mute admiration.

Branding the cows and yearlings and tame steers which watered at Silver Cup, and never wandered far away, was play according to Dave's version. "Wait till we get after the wild steers up on the mountain and in the canyons," he would say when Jack dropped like a log at supper. Work it certainly was for him. At night he was so tired that he could scarcely crawl into bed; his back felt as if it were broken; his legs were raw, and his bones ached. Many mornings he thought it impossible to arise, but always he crawled out, grim and haggard, and hobbled round the camp-fire to warm his sore and bruised muscles. Then when Zeke and George rode in with the horses the day's work began. During these weeks of his "hardening up," as Dave called it, Hare bore much pain, but he continued well and never missed a day. At the most trying time when for a few days he had to be helped on and off Silvermane--for he insisted that he would not stay in camp--the brothers made his work as light as possible. They gave him the branding outfit to carry, a running-iron and a little pot with charcoal and bellows; and with these he followed the riders at a convenient distance and leisurely pace.

Some days they branded one hundred cattle. By October they had August Naab's crudely fashioned cross on thousands of cows and steers. Still the stock kept coming down from the mountain, driven to the valley by cold weather and snow-covered grass. It was well into November before the riders finished at Silver Cup, and then arose a question as to whether it would be advisable to go to Seeping Springs or to the canyons farther west along the slope of Coconina. George favored the former, but Dave overruled him.

"Father's orders," he said. "He wants us to ride Seeping Springs last because he'll be with us then, and Snap too. We're going to have trouble over there."

"How's this branding stock going to help the matter any, I'd like to know?" inquired George. "We Mormons never needed it."

"Father says we'll all have to come to it. Holderness's stock is branded. Perhaps he's marked a good many steers of ours. We can't tell. But if we have our own branded we'll know what's ours. If he drives our stock we'll know it; if Dene steals, it can be proved that he steals."

"Well, what then? Do you think he'll care for that, or Holderness either?"

"No, only it makes this difference: both things will then be barefaced robbery. We've never been able to prove anything, though we boys know; we don't need any proof. Father gives these men the benefit of a doubt. We've got to stand by him. I know, George, your hand's begun to itch for your gun. So does mine. But we've orders to obey."

Many gullies and canyons headed up on the slope of Coconina west of Silver Cup, and ran down to open wide on the flat desert. They contained plots of white sage and bunches of rich grass and cold springs. The steers that ranged these ravines were wild as wolves, and in the tangled thickets of juniper and manzanita and jumbles of weathered cliff they were exceedingly difficult to catch.

Well it was that Hare had received his initiation and had become inured to rough, incessant work, for now he came to know the real stuff of which these Mormons were made. No obstacle barred them. They penetrated the gullies to the last step; they rode weathered slopes that were difficult for deer to stick upon; they thrashed the bayonet-guarded manzanita copses; they climbed into labyrinthine fastnesses, penetrating to every nook where a steer could hide. Miles of sliding slope and marble-bottomed streambeds were ascended on foot, for cattle could climb where a horse could not. Climbing was arduous enough, yet the hardest and most perilous toil began when a wild steer was cornered. They roped the animals on moving slopes of weathered stone, and branded them on the edges of precipices.

The days and weeks passed, how many no one counted or cared. The circle of the sun daily lowered over the south end of Coconina; and the black snow-clouds crept down the slopes. Frost whitened the ground at dawn, and held half the day in the shade. Winter was close at the heels of the long autumn.

As for Hare, true to August Naab's assertion, he had lost flesh and suffered, and though the process was heartbreaking in its severity, he hung on till he hardened into a leather lunged, wire-muscled man, capable of keeping pace with his companions.

He began his day with the dawn when he threw off the frost-coated tarpaulin; the icy water brought him a glow of exhilaration; he drank in the spiced cold air, and there was the spring of the deer-hunter in his step as he went down the slope for his horse. He no longer feared that Silvermane would run away. The gray's bell could always be heard near camp in the mornings, and when Hare whistled there came always the answering thump of hobbled feet. When Silvermane saw him striding through the cedars or across the grassy belt of the valley he would neigh his gladness. Hare had come to love Silvermane and talked to him and treated him as if he were human.

When the mustangs were brought into camp the day's work began, the same work as that of yesterday, and yet with endless variety, with ever-changing situations that called for quick wits, steel arms, stout hearts, and unflagging energies. The darkening blue sky and the sun-tipped crags of Vermillion Cliffs were signals to start for camp. They ate like wolves, sat for a while around the camp-fire, a ragged, weary, silent group; and soon lay down, their dark faces in the shadow of the cedars.

In the beginning of this toil-filled time Hare had resolutely set himself to forget Mescal, and he had succeeded at least for a time, when he was so sore and weary that he scarcely thought at all. But she came back to him, and then there was seldom an hour that was not hers. The long months which seemed years since he had seen her, the change in him wrought by labor and peril, the deepening friendship between him and Dave, even the love he bore Silvermane--these, instead of making dim the memory of the dark-eyed girl, only made him tenderer in his thought of her.

Snow drove the riders from the canyon-camp down to Silver Cup, where they found August Naab and Snap, who had ridden in the day before.

"Now you couldn't guess how many cattle are back there in the canyons," said Dave to his father.

"I haven't any idea," answered August, dubiously.

"Five thousand head."

"Dave!" His father's tone was incredulous.

"Yes. You know we haven't been back in there for years. The stock has multiplied rapidly in spite of the lions and wolves. Not only that, but they're safe from the winter, and are not likely to be found by Dene or anybody else."

"How do you make that out?"

"The first cattle we drove in used to come back here to Silver Cup to winter. Then they stopped coming, and we almost forgot them. Well, they've got a trail round under the Saddle, and they go down and winter in the canyon. In summer they head up those rocky gullies, but they can't get up on the mountain. So it isn't likely any one will ever discover them. They are wild as deer and fatter than any stock on the ranges."

"Good! That's the best news I've had in many a day. Now, boys, we'll ride the mountain slope toward Seeping Springs, drive the cattle down, and finish up this branding. Somebody ought to go to White Sage. I'd like to know what's going on, what Holderness is up to, what Dene is doing, if there's any stock being driven to Lund."

"I told you I'd go," said Snap Naab.

"I don't want you to," replied his father. "I guess it can wait till spring, then we'll all go in. I might have thought to bring you boys out some clothes and boots. You're pretty ragged. Jack there, especially, looks like a scarecrow. Has he worked as hard as he looks?"

"Father, he never lost a day," replied Dave, warmly, "and you know what riding is in these canyons."

August Naab looked at Hare and laughed. "It'd be funny, wouldn't it, if Holderness tried to slap you now? I always knew you'd do, Jack, and now you're one of us, and you'll have a share with my sons in the cattle."

But the generous promise failed to offset the feeling aroused by the presence of Snap Naab. With the first sight of Snap's sharp face and strange eyes Hare became conscious of an inward heat, which he had felt before, but never as now, when there seemed to be an actual flame within his breast. Yet Snap seemed greatly changed; the red flush, the swollen lines no longer showed in his face; evidently in his absence on the Navajo desert he had had no liquor; he was good-natured, lively, much inclined to joking, and he seemed to have entirely forgotten his ani- mosity toward Hare. It was easy for Hare to see that the man's evil nature was in the ascendancy only when he was under the dominance of drink. But he could not forgive; he could not forget. Mescal's dark, beautiful eyes haunted him. Even now she might be married to this man. Perhaps that was why Snap appeared to be in such cheerful spirits. Suspense added its burdensome insistent question, but he could not bring himself to ask August if the marriage had taken place. For a day he fought to resign himself to the inevitability of the Mormon custom, to forget Mescal, and then he gave up trying. This surrender he felt to be something crucial in his life, though he could not wholly understand it. It was the darkening of his spirit; the death of boyish gentleness; the concluding step from youth into a forced manhood. The desert regeneration had not stopped at turning weak lungs, vitiated blood, and flaccid muscles into a powerful man; it was at work on his mind, his heart, his soul. They answered more and more to the call of some outside, ever-present, fiercely subtle thing.

Thenceforth he no longer vexed himself by trying to forget Mescal; if she came to mind he told himself the truth, that the weeks and months had only added to his love. And though it was bitter-sweet there was relief in speaking the truth to himself. He no longer blinded himself by hoping, striving to have generous feelings toward Snap Naab; he called the inward fire by its real name--jealousy--and knew that in the end it would become hatred.

On the third morning after leaving Silver Cup the riders were working slowly along the slope of Coconina; and Hare having driven down a bunch of cattle, found himself on an open ridge near the temporary camp. Happening to glance up the valley he saw what appeared to be smoke hanging over Seeping Springs.

"That can't be dust," he soliloquized. "Looks blue to me."

He studied the hazy bluish cloud for some time, but it was so many miles away that he could not be certain whether it was smoke or not, so he decided to ride over and make sure. None of the Naabs was in camp, and there was no telling when they would return, so he set off alone. He expected to get back before dark, but it was of little consequence whether he did or not, for he had his blanket under the saddle, and grain for Silvermane and food for himself in the saddle-bags.

Long before Silvermane's easy trot had covered half the distance Hare recognized the cloud that had made him curious. It was smoke. He thought that range-riders were camping at the springs, and he meant to see what they were about. After three hours of brisk travel he reached the top of a low rolling knoll that hid Seeping Springs. He remembered the springs were up under the red wall, and that the pool where the cattle drank was lower down in a clump of cedars. He saw smoke rising in a column from the cedars, and he heard the lowing of cattle.

"Something wrong here," he muttered. Following the trail, he rode through the cedars to come upon the dry hole where the pool had once been. There was no water in the flume. The bellowing cattle came from beyond the cedars, down the other side of the ridge. He was not long in reaching the open, and then one glance made all clear.

A new pool, large as a little lake, shone in the sunlight, and round it a jostling horned mass of cattle were pressing against a high corral. The flume that fed water to the pool was fenced all the way up to the springs.

Jack slowly rode down the ridge with eyes roving under the cedars and up to the wall. Not a man was in sight.

When he got to the fire he saw that it was not many hours old and was surrounded by fresh boot and horse tracks in the dust. Piles of slender pine logs, trimmed flat on one side, were proof of somebody's intention to erect a cabin. In a rage he flung himself from the saddle. It was not many moments' work for him to push part of the fire under the fence, and part of it against the pile of logs. The pitch-pines went off like rockets, driving the thirsty cattle back.

"I'm going to trail those horse-tracks," said Hare.

He tore down a portion of the fence enclosing the flume, and gave Silvermane a drink, then put him to a fast trot on the white trail. The tracks he had resolved to follow were clean-cut. A few inches of snow had fallen in the valley, and melting, had softened the hard ground. Silvermane kept to his gait with the tirelessness of a desert horse. August Naab had once said fifty miles a day would be play for the stallion. All the afternoon Hare watched the trail speed toward him and the end of Coconina rise above him. Long before sunset he had reached the slope of the mountain and had begun the ascent. Half way up he came to the snow and counted the tracks of three horses. At twilight he rode into the glade where August Naab had waited for his Navajo friends. There, in a sheltered nook among the rocks, he unsaddled Silvermane, covered and fed him, built a fire, ate sparingly of his meat and bread, and rolling up in his blanket, was soon asleep.

He was up and off before sunrise, and he came out on the western slope of Coconina just as the shadowy valley awakened from its misty sleep into daylight. Soon the Pink Cliffs leaned out, glimmering and vast, to change from gloomy gray to rosy glow, and then to brighten and to redden in the morning sun.

The snow thinned and failed, but the iron-cut horsetracks showed plainly in the trail. At the foot of the mountain the tracks left the White Sage trail and led off to the north toward the cliffs. Hare searched the red sagespotted waste for Holderness's ranch. He located it, a black patch on the rising edge of the valley under the wall, and turned Silvermane into the tracks that pointed straight toward it.

The sun cleared Coconina and shone warm on his back; the Pink Cliffs lifted higher and higher before him. From the ridge-tops he saw the black patch grow into cabins and corrals. As he neared the ranch he came into rolling pasture-land where the bleached grass shone white and the cattle were ranging in the thousands. This range had once belonged to Martin Cole, and Hare thought of the bitter Mormon as he noted the snug cabins for the riders, the rambling, picturesque ranch-house, the large corrals, and the long flume that ran down from the cliff. There was a corral full of shaggy horses, and another full of steers, and two lines of cattle, one going into a pond-corral, and one coming out. The air was gray with dust. A bunch of yearlings were licking at huge lumps of brown rock-salt. A wagonful of cowhides stood before the ranch-house.

Hare reined in at the door and helloed.

A red-faced ranger with sandy hair and twinkling eyes appeared.

"Hello, stranger, get down an' come in," he said.

"Is Holderness here?" asked Hare.

"No. He's been to Lund with a bunch of steers. I reckon he'll be in White Sage by now. I'm Snood, the foreman. Is it a job ridin' you want?"


"Say! thet hoss--" he exclaimed. His gaze of friendly curiosity had moved from Hare to Silvermane. "You can corral me if it ain't thet Sevier range stallion!"

"Yes," said Hare.

Snood's whoop brought three riders to the door, and when he pointed to the horse, they stepped out with good-natured grins and admiring eyes.

"I never seen him but onc't," said one.

"Lordy, what a hoss!" Snood walked round Silvermane. "If I owned this ranch I'd trade it for that stallion. I know Silvermane. He an' I hed some chases over in Nevada. An', stranger, who might you be?"

"I'm one of August Naab's riders."

"Dene's spy!" Snood looked Hare over carefully, with much interest, and without any show of ill-will. "I've heerd of you. An' what might one of Naab's riders want of Holderness?"

"I rode in to Seeping Springs yesterday," said Hare, eying the foreman. "There was a new pond, fenced in. Our cattle couldn't drink. There were a lot of trimmed logs. Somebody was going to build a cabin. I burned the corrals and logs--and I trailed fresh tracks from Seeping Springs to this ranch."

"The h--l you did!" shouted Snood, and his face flamed. "See here, stranger, you're the second man to accuse some of my riders of such dirty tricks. That's enough for me. I was foreman of this ranch till this minute. I was foreman, but there were things gain' on thet I didn't know of. I kicked on thet deal with Martin Cole. I quit. I steal no man's water. Is thet good with you?"

Snood's query was as much a challenge as a question. He bit savagely at his pipe. Hare offered his hand.

"Your word goes. Dave Naab said you might be Holderness's foreman, but you weren't a liar or a thief. I'd believe it even if Dave hadn't told me."

"Them fellers you tracked rode in here yesterday. They're gone now. I've no more to say, except I never hired them."

"I'm glad to hear it. Good-day, Snood, I'm in something of a hurry."

With that Hare faced about in the direction of White Sage. Once clear of the corrals he saw the village closer than he had expected to find it. He walked Silvermane most of the way, and jogged along the rest, so that he reached the village in the twilight. Memory served him well. He rode in as August Naab had ridden out, and arrived at the Bishop's barn-yard, where he put up his horse. Then he went to the house. It was necessary to introduce himself for none of the Bishop's family recognized in him the young man they had once befriended. The old Bishop prayed and reminded him of the laying on of hands. The women served him with food, the young men brought him new boots and garments to replace those that had been worn to tatters. Then they plied him with questions about the Naabs, whom they had not seen for nearly a year. They rejoiced at his recovered health; they welcomed him with warm words.

Later Hare sought an interview alone with the Bishop's sons, and he told them of the loss of the sheep, of the burning of the new corrals, of the tracks leading to Holderness's ranch. In turn they warned him of his danger, and gave him information desired by August Naab. Holderness's grasp on the outlying ranges and water-rights had slowly and surely tightened; every month he acquired new territory; he drove cattle regularly to Lund, and it was no secret that much of the stock came from the eastern slope of Coconina. He could not hire enough riders to do his work. A suspicion that he was not a cattle-man but a rustler had slowly gained ground; it was scarcely hinted, but it was believed. His friendship with Dene had become offensive to the Mormons, who had formerly been on good footing with him. Dene's killing of Martin Cole was believed to have been at Holderness's instigation. Cole had threatened Holderness. Then Dene and Cole had met in the main street of White Sage. Cole's death ushered in the bloody time that he had prophesied. Dene's band had grown; no man could say how many men he had or who they were. Chance and Culver were openly his lieutenants, and whenever they came into the village there was shooting. There were ugly rumors afloat in regard to their treatment of Mormon women. The wives and daughters of once peaceful White Sage dared no longer venture out-of-doors after nightfall. There was more money in coin and more whiskey than ever before in the village. Lund and the few villages northward were terrorized as well as White Sage. It was a bitter story.

The Bishop and his sons tried to persuade Hare next morning to leave the village without seeing Holderness, urging the futility of such a meeting.

"I will see him," said Hare. He spent the morning at the cottage, and when it came time to take his leave he smiled into the anxious faces. "If I weren't able to take care of myself August Naab would never have said so."

Had Hare asked himself what he intended to do when he faced Holderness he could not have told. His feelings were pent-in, bound, but at the bottom something rankled. His mind seemed steeped in still thunderous atmosphere.

How well he remembered the quaint wide street, the gray church! As he rode many persons stopped to gaze at Silvermane. He turned the corner into the main thoroughfare A new building had been added to the several stores. Mustangs stood, bridles down, before the doors; men lounged along the railings.

As he dismounted he heard the loungers speak of his horse, and he saw their leisurely manner quicken. He stepped into the store to meet more men, among them August Naab's friend Abe. Hare might never have been in White Sage for all the recognition he found, but he excited something keener than curiosity. He asked for spurs, a clasp-knife and some other necessaries, and he contrived, when momentarily out of sight behind a pile of boxes, to whisper his identity to Abe. The Mormon was dumbfounded. When he came out of his trance he showed his gladness, and at a question of Hare's he silently pointed toward the saloon.

Hare faced the open door. The room had been enlarged; it was now on a level with the store floor, and was blue with smoke, foul with the fumes of rum, and noisy with the voices of dark, rugged men.

A man in the middle of the room was dancing a jig.

"Hello, who's this?" he said, straightening up.

It might have been the stopping of the dance or the quick spark in Hare's eyes that suddenly quieted the room. Hare had once vowed to himself that he would never forget the scarred face; it belonged to the outlaw Chance.

The sight of it flashed into the gulf of Hare's mind like a meteor into black night. A sudden madness raced through his veins.

"Hello, Don't you know me?" he said, with a long step that brought him close to Chance.

The outlaw stood irresolute. Was this an old friend or an enemy? His beady eyes scintillated and twitched as if they sought to look him over, yet dared not because it was only in the face that intention could be read.

The stillness of the room broke to a hoarse whisper from some one.

"Look how he packs his gun."

Another man answering whispered: "There's not six men in Utah who pack a gun thet way."

Chance heard these whispers, for his eye shifted downward the merest fraction of a second. The brick color of his face turned a dirty white.

"Do you know me?" demanded Hare.

Chance's answer was a spasmodic jerking of his hand toward his hip. Hare's arm moved quicker, and Chance's Colt went spinning to the floor.

"Too slow," said Hare. Then he flung Chance backward and struck him blows that sent his head with sodden thuds against the log wall. Chance sank to the floor in a heap.

Hare kicked the outlaw's gun out of the way, and wheeled to the crowd. Holderness stood foremost, his tall form leaning against the bar, his clear eyes shining like light on ice.

"Do you know me?" asked Hare, curtly.

HolderDess started slightly. "I certainly don't," he replied.

"You slapped my face once." Hare leaned close to the rancher. "Slap it now--you rustler!"

In the slow, guarded instant when Hare's gaze held Holderness and the other men, a low murmuring ran through the room.

"Dene's spy!" suddenly burst out Holderness.

Hare slapped his face. Then he backed a few paces with his right arm held before him almost as high as his shoulder, the wrist rigid, the fingers quivering.

"Don't try to draw, Holderness. Thet's August Naab's trick with a gun," whispered a man, hurriedly.

"Holderness, I made a bonfire over at Seeping Springs," said Hare. "I burned the new corrals your men built, and I tracked them to your ranch. Snood threw up his job when he heard it. He's an honest man, and no honest man will work for a water-thief, a cattle-rustler, a sheep-killer. You're shown up, Holderness. Leave the country before some one kills you--understand, before some one kills you!"

Holderness stood motionless against the bar, his eyes fierce with passionate hate.

Hare backed step by step to the outside door, his right hand still high, his look holding the crowd bound to the last instant. Then he slipped out, scattered the group round Silvermane, and struck hard with the spurs.

The gray, never before spurred, broke down the road into his old wild speed.

Men were crossing from the corner of the green square. One, a compact little fellow, swarthy, his dark hair long and flowing, with jaunty and alert air, was Dene, the outlaw leader. He stopped, with his companions, to let the horse cross.

Hare guided the thundering stallion slightly to the left. Silvermane swerved and in two mighty leaps bore down on the outlaw. Dene saved himself by quickly leaping aside, but even as he moved Silvermane struck him with his left fore-leg, sending him into the dust.

At the street corner Hare glanced back. Yelling men were rushing from the saloon and some of them fired after him. The bullets whistled harmlessly behind Hare. Then the corner house shut off his view.

Silvermane lengthened out and stretched lower with his white mane flying and his nose pointed level for the desert.


Return to the The Story of a Bad Boy Summary Return to the Thomas Bailey Aldrich Library

© 2022