It was a word of command. With the word Pat felt his ears released. As he thrilled with relief the cloth was jerked off his eyes. For a time the fierce daylight blinded him. Then the pupils of his eyes contracted and all objects stood out clearly again—the men in the corral, the spectators on the fence, his mistress outside the fence. Also he saw the sunlit stable, and Miguel in the doorway, and the house in the trees. All had come back to him, and he stood gazing about him blinkingly, trying to understand, conscious of straps binding his body and restraining his breathing.
Then suddenly he understood—remembered—remembered that he had been abused, had been tortured as never before. And he awoke to the fact that he was still being tortured. There was this thing in his mouth. There was this contraption on his head. There was that thing on his back, and the weight upon the thing. Also, there was that binding of his belly, and the irritation due to the prickly something pressing his back and sides. All these facts stung him, and under the whip of them he awoke to a mighty urging within. It was his fighting spirit rekindling—the thing that was his birthright, the thing come down to him from his ancestors, the thing that told him to rebel against the unnatural. And heeding this, voice, heeding it because he knew no other, he decided to give decisive battle.
In a frenzy of effort he suddenly reared. He pirouetted on hind legs; pawed the air with fore legs; lost his balance. Failing to recover himself, he went over backward. He struck the earth resoundingly, but he realized that the weight was gone, and he felt a faint glow of victory!
"Wow!" yelled a spectator, excitedly.
Pat heard this and hastily regained his feet. And because he was uncertain of his next move he remained motionless. This was a mistake, as he soon discovered. For he saw two men leap, grasp both his ears; felt the dread twist again. So he remained still, and he felt the man mount again. Then came rumbling in upon his tortured soul again the insistent voice telling him to rebel further, and to keep on rebelling until through sheer brute strength he had mastered these unnatural things. With the grip on his ears released he once more gave heed to this clamoring within.
He leaped straight up into the air. Returning to earth with nerve-shattering shock, he whirled suddenly, pitched and bucked, tossed and twisted, all in mad effort. But the weight clung fast. He whirled again, and again leaped, leaped clear of the ground, returning to it this time on stiffened legs. But he could not shake off the weight. He flung across the corral, twisting, writhing, bucking; flung back again—heart thumping, lungs shrieking for air, muscles wrenching and straining; and again across, responding, and continuing to respond, to the ringing voice within, like the king of kings that he was. But he could not dislodge the weight.
"Great!" yelled an excited spectator.
"See that hoss sunfishin'!" burst out another.
"An' corkscrewin'!" added a third.
"Better 'n a outlaw!" amplified a fourth.
And now the first again: "Stay with him, Alex! I got two dollars—Oh, hell!"—this disgustedly. "Come out o' that corner!" Then suddenly he turned, face red as fire, and apologized to Helen. "I beg your pardon, Miss Richards," he offered, meekly. But he turned back to the spectacle and promptly forgot all else in his returning excitement. "Shoot it to him, Alex!" he yelled. "Shoot it; shoot it! He's a helldinger, that hoss!" Frenziedly he then yawped, cowboy fashion: "Whe-e-e-o-o-o-yip-yip! Whe-e-e-o-o-o-yip-yip!"
Yet Helen—poor Helen!—had not heard. Holding her breath in tense fear, eyes upon her pride fighting his fight of pride, half hopeful that he would win, yet fearful of that very thing, she watched the strife of man skill against brute strength, keyed up almost to snapping-point.
But her horse did not win. Neither did he lose. She saw him take up, one after another, every trick known to those familiar with horses, and she marveled greatly at his unexpected knowledge of things vicious. Along one side of the inclosure, across the side adjacent to it, back along the side opposite to the second, then forward along the first again—thus round the corral—he writhed and twisted in mighty effort, bucking and pitching and whirling and flinging, the while the sun rose higher in the morning sky. Spectators clambered down from the fence, stood awhile to relieve cramped muscles, clambered on the fence again; but the horse fought on; coat necked with white slaver, glistening with streaming sweat in the sunlight, eyes wild, mouth grim, ears back, he fought on and on till it seemed that he must stop through sheer exhaustion. But still he fought, valiantly, holding to the battle until, with a raging, side-pitching twist, one never before seen, he lost his footing, plunged to the ground, tore up twenty feet of earth, crashed headlong into the fence, ripped out three boards clean as though struck by lightning—lay motionless in a crumpled heap.
The man was thrown. He arose hastily. As he wiped away his perspiration and grime he saw blood on his handkerchief. He was bruised and bleeding, and wrenched inwardly, yet when Pat, returning to consciousness, hastily gained his feet, the man leaped for the horse, sounding a muffled curse. But he did not mount. And for good reason. For Pat was reeling like a drunken man—head drooping, fore parts swaying, eyes slowly closing. At the sight one of the spectators made a plea in Pat's behalf.
"Whyn't you take him outside?" he demanded. "Into the open. This ain't no place to bust a horse like him! That horse needs air! Get him out into about three-quarters of these United States! Git ginerous! Git ginerous! I hate a stingy man!"
Whereupon Helen at last found voice. "Wait!" she cried, evenly, and, turning, sped along the fence to the gate. Inside the corral she hurried to the horse and flung her arms around his neck. "Pat dear," she began, tenderly, "I am so sorry! But it's 'most over with now, if you'll only accept it! Can't you see, Pat? It is so very necessary to both of us! For then I myself can ride you! Please, Pat—please, for my sake!" Whereupon Pat, as if all else were forgotten—all the torture, all the struggle and shock—nickered softly and nuzzled her hands for sugar and apples. Suppressing a smile, and accepting this as a good omen, she stroked him a few times more and then stepped back. "Later, dear!" she promised and left him, suddenly mindful of spectators. But, though she felt the blood rush into her cheeks, she did not leave the inclosure. The horse-breaker stepped resolutely to Pat and, laying firm hands upon the bridle, waited a moment, eying Pat narrowly, then flung up into the saddle. Pat's sides heaved, his knees trembled, but he did not resist. Eyes trained upon his mistress, as if he would hold her to her promise, he set out peacefully, and of his own volition, across the inclosure. Further, even though he could not see his mistress now, he turned in response to the rein and started back across the inclosure. And he kept this up, holding to perfect calm, breaking into a trot when urged to it, falling back into a walk in response to the bridle, round and round and round until, with a grunt of satisfaction, the man dismounted close beside the girl and handed her the reins.
"Rides easy as a single-footer, Miss Richards," he declared. "Where can I wash up?"
Which ended Pat's first great lesson at the hands of man. But though this lesson had its values, since he was destined to serve mankind, yet he had learned another thing that held more value to him as an animal than all the teachings within the grasp of men—he had learned the inevitable workings of cause and effect. His nose was scraped and his knees were scraped, and all these places burned intensely. And, intelligent horse that he was, he knew why he suffered these burns—knew that he had brought them about through his own sheer wilfulness. True, he was still girt with bands and straps, and in a way they were uncomfortable. But they did not pain him as the wounds pained him. Not that he reasoned all this out. He was but a dumb animal, and pure reasoning was blissfully apart from him. But he did know the difference between what had been desired of him and what he himself had brought on through sheer wilfulness. Thus he awakened, having learned this lesson with his headlong plunge into the fence, and having added to the lesson of the futility of rebellion the very clear desires of his mistress. Other and less intelligent horses would have continued to respond to the ancestral voice within till death. But Pat was more than such a horse.
With the men gone, he revealed his intelligence further. Helen commissioned Miguel to fit him with her saddle and bridle, then hurried herself off to the house. Returning, clad in riding-habit and with hands full of sugar and quartered apples, she fed these delectables to him till his mouth dripped delightful juices. Then, while yet he munched the sweets, she mounted fearlessly. Sitting perfectly still for a time to accustom him to her weight, she then gave him the rein and word. Without hesitation he responded, stepping out across the inclosure, acknowledging her guiding rein in the corner, returning to the starting-place and, with the word, coming to a stop. It was all very beautiful, rightly understood, and, thrilled with her success, Helen sat still again, sat for a long time, gazing soberly down upon him. Then she bent forward.
"Pat," she began, her voice breaking a little with emotion suddenly overwhelming her, "this begins our real friendship and understanding. Let us try to make it equal"—she straightened up, narrow eyes off toward the mountains—"equal to the best that lies within us both."
As the weeks passed, each day bringing its period of companionship, this friendship and understanding between them became perfect in its simplicity. Pat learned to know her wishes almost without the reins, and he showed that he loved to carry her. Also, with these daily canters on the mesa he developed in bodily strength, and it was not long before he was in the pink of condition. Yet it was a perfection that was only natural for him. The quality of his blood was shown in his nostrils, which were wide and continuously atremble; in his eyes, which were bright and keenly alert; and in his ears, which were fine and vibrant. Stepping through town each morning under Helen's restraining hand, he would pick up his hoofs with a cleanliness and place them down with a grace that always commanded the attention of admiring eyes. But he seemed unconscious of his quality.
Dressed in her usual dark riding-habit, Helen entered the corral one morning for her daily canter across the mesa. Already Pat was bridled and saddled. But as she stepped alongside to mount, Miguel appeared in the stable door with a brief tale of trouble and a warning. It seemed that he had experienced difficulty in preparing the horse, and between puffs at a cigarette he strongly advised Helen to be careful.
"He's a-very fresh thees mornin'," he concluded, with an ominous shake of his head.
Helen looked Pat over. He appeared in anything but a cantankerous mood. He was standing quietly, eyes blinking sleepily, ears wriggling lazily, in an attitude of superior indifference toward all the world. So, untroubled by the hostler's tale, she slipped her foot into the stirrup. Instantly the horse nickered queerly and stepped away.
"Steady, Pat!" she gently admonished, and again attempted to mount. But, as before, he stepped away, this time more abruptly. He began to circle around her, prancing nervously, pausing to paw the ground, prancing again nervously. She held firm grip on his bridle, however, and sharply rebuked him. "Pat," she exclaimed, "this is a new trait!" And then, before he could resist again, she caught hold of the saddle-horn, leaped up, hardly touching the stirrup, and gathered the reins quickly to meet further rebellion.
But with her in the saddle Pat was quite another horse. He snapped his ears at attention, wheeled to the gate, and cantered briskly out of the corral.
It was a beautiful morning. The air nipped with a tang of frost, and she rode swiftly through town and up the hill to the mesa in keen exhilaration. Once on the mesa, Pat dashed off ecstatically in the direction of the mountains. The pace was thrilling. The rush of the crisp wind, together with the joy of swift motion, sent tingling blood into Helen's cheeks, while the horse, racing along at top speed, flung out his hoofs with a vigor that told of the riot of blood within him. Thus they continued, until in the shadow of the mountains—just now draped in their most delicate coloring, the pink that accompanies sunbeams streaming through fading haze—she pulled Pat down and gave herself over to the beauty of the scene. The horse, also appreciative, came to a ready stop and turned his eyes out over the desert in slow-blinking earnestness.
"Pat!" suddenly cried Helen. She pulled his head gently around in the direction of the mountain trail. "Look off there!"
Above the distant trail hung a thin cloud of dust, and under the cloud of dust, and rolling heavily toward town, creaked a lumber rigging, piled high with wood and drawn by a pair of plodding horses—plodding despite the bite and snarl of a whip swung with merciless regularity. The whip was in the hands of a brawny Mexican, who, seated confidently on the high load, appeared utterly indifferent to the trembling endeavors of his scrawny team. He was inhaling the smoke of a cigarette, and with every puff mechanically flaying the horses. The spectacle aroused deep sympathy in the girl.
"Only consider, Pat!" she exclaimed, after a while. "Those poor, miserable horses—half-starved, cruelly beaten, yet of God's own making!" She was silent. "Suppose you had been born to that service, Pat—born to that oppression! You are one of the fortunate!" And she bent forward and stroked him. "One of the fortunate!" she repeated, thoughtfully.
Indeed Pat was just that. But not in the way Helen meant. For such was the whim of Fate, and such is the limit of human understanding, she did not know, and never would know, save by the grace of that Fate, that Pat had been born in just that service, born to just that oppression; that only by the kindness of Fate he had been released from that service, that oppression, that he had been guided out of that environment and cast into a more kindly, bigger, and truer environment—her own!
But Pat only blinked stolid indifference at the spectacle. He appeared to care nothing for the misery of other horses, nor to appreciate her tenderness when directed elsewhere than toward himself. After a time, as if to reveal this, he set out of his own volition toward a particularly inviting bit of flower, dainty yellow in the brown of the desert. Plucking this morsel, he fell to munching it in contentment, and continued to munch it till the last vestige disappeared. Then, again of his own volition, he broke into a canter. Helen smiled and pulled him down.
"You're a strange horse, Pat," she declared, and fell to stroking him again. "And not the least strange thing about you is your history. Sometimes I wonder whether you are actually blooded. Certainly you look it, and at times assuredly you act it; yet if you are so valuable, why didn't somebody claim you that time? It is all very mysterious." And she relapsed into silence, gazing at him thoughtfully.
Aroused by sudden faint gusts of wind, she glanced around and overhead. She saw unmistakable signs of an approaching storm, and swung Pat about toward home. As the horse broke into a canter the gusts became more fitful and sharper, while the sun, growing dim and hazy, cast ever-increasing shadow before her. Presently, as far as the eye could reach, she saw the landscape spring into active life. Dust-devils whirled about in quick eddies, stray sheets of paper leaped up, tumbleweed began steady forward movement, rabbit-like, scurrying before the winds, the advance occupied by largest growths, the rear brought up with smallest clumps, the order determined by the area each presented to the winds. It was all very impressive, but, knowing the uncertain character of the elements, and uncertain whether this foretold violent sand-storm or milder wind-storm, she was gripped with apprehension. She urged Pat to his utmost.
And Pat responded, though he really needed but little urging. With each sudden gust he became increasingly afraid. Holding himself more and more alert to every least movement about him, he was steadily becoming keyed up to a dangerous pitch. Rollicking tumbleweed did not worry him any more than did the swirling dust-devils. These were things of the desert, each the complexion of the desert. But not so with scraps of paper. Their whiteness offered a startling contrast to the others, and, whisking about frantically, they increased his fears. Then suddenly a paper struck him, whipped madly across his eyes. It was unexpected, and for an instant blinded him. Gripping the bit in his teeth, he bolted.
His sudden plunge almost unseated Helen. But, recovering, she braced herself grimly in the stirrups and pulled mightily on the reins. But she could not hold him. He increased his speed, if anything, and hurtled across the desert—head level, ears flat, legs far-reaching. She braced herself again, flinging back head and shoulders, thrusting her feet far forward, and continued to pull. But it counted for nothing. Yet she did not weaken, and under her vigorous striving, coupled with the jolting of the horse, her tam-o'-shanter flew off, and her hair loosened and fell, streaming out whippingly behind. And then suddenly, struck with terror herself, she cried out in terror.
"Pat!" she burst out. "Pat! Pat!"
But the horse seemed not to hear. Thundering madly forward, he appeared blind as well as fear-stricken, and Helen, suddenly seeing a barb-wire fence ahead, felt herself go faint, for she had never taken a fence, and she knew that Pat never had. She must get control of herself again. And this she did. Stiffening in the stirrups, she gripped a single rein in both hands and pulled with all her strength. But she could not swerve the horse. On he plunged for the obstruction, evidently not seeing it. She screamed again.
"Pat! Pat! Pat!"
But, as before, the horse did not heed. He dashed to the fence. He hesitated, but only for an instant. Throwing up his head, he rose and took the fence cleanly. Once on the other side, he resumed his frantic racing—pounding along in the mountain trail, his course clearly defined, hurtling madly straight toward town. With the fence safely cleared, and the way ahead free of vehicles, Helen regained much of her composure. Settling calmly to the rhythmic movement, she permitted the horse free rein. Once she reached back to gather up her hair, but the motion of the horse forbade this. So she fell to watching his splendid energy, finding herself quite calm and collected again, vaguely wondering how it would end. For the horse seemed tireless.
Wise in his knowledge of first principles, and remembering the terrible slap across his eyes, Pat continued to rush forward. As he ran he kept eyes alert about him, fearing another blow. He knew that the thing was white, and he watched for a white something. Instead of a white something, however, there presently loomed up beside him a brown something, browner even than the desert, a something racing along beside him, moving with a speed equal to his own—even greater than his own! But he did not pause to analyze this. Instead, he forced himself to greater efforts, pounding the hardened trail with an energy that hurt his ankles, stretching neck and legs to their utmost limit of fiber—on and on in increased frenzy. But he could not best this object beside him. Yet that did not discourage him. He continued grimly forward, stung to desperation now by a double purpose, which was to outrun this thing on his right as well as get away from the other possible pursuing object. Yet the brown thing gained upon him—drew steadily nearer, steadily closer—he saw a hand shoot out. He felt a strong pull on his bridle, a tearing twist on the bit in his mouth, and found himself thrown out of his stride. But not even with this would he accept defeat. He reared in a nervous effort to shake off the hand. Finding this futile, he dropped back again, and at last came to a trembling, panting, nerve-racked pause.
The thing was a horseman. He hurriedly dismounted, still retaining hold on Pat's bridle, and smiled up at Helen.
"I—I tried to overtake you—to overtake you before you reached the fence," he began to explain, pausing between words for breath. "This horse of yours can—can claim—claim anything on record—for speed." And he looked Pat over admiringly.
Helen did not speak at once. In the moment needed to regain her self-possession she could only regard him with mute gratitude. She saw that he was young and well-built, though lean of features, but with frank, healthy eyes. He was not at all bad-looking. Also she observed that he was neatly garbed in puttees and knickerbockers, and she quickly appraised him as the usual type of Easterner come into the valley to spend the winter. Then she suddenly remembered her hair. Woman-like, she hastily gathered it up into a knot at the back of her head before she answered this young man smiling up at her.
"Pat never ran like that before," she explained, a bit nervously. "I was beginning to wonder what would happen at the railroad crossing. You checked him just in time. I—I really owe—"
"Sure he won't charge again?" interrupted the young man, evidently wishing to avoid any expression of gratitude on her part.
"I—I am quite certain," she replied, and then, after thanking him, slowly gathered up the reins. But she did not ride on, for the reason that the other, now absorbed in a cool survey of Pat's outlines, retained his hold on the bridle. Yet neither the survey nor the grip on the bridle displeased her.
"A splendid horse," he declared, after a moment. "A beautiful animal!" Then, evidently suddenly mindful that he was detaining her, he stepped back.
Helen again prepared to ride on.
"Pat is a beautiful horse," she agreed, still a little nervous. "And like all beauty," she added, "he develops strange moods at times." Then, her sense of deep gratitude moving her, she asked, "Were you going toward town?"
For reply he swung into the saddle. He wheeled close, and they set out. He appeared a little ill at ease, and Helen took the initiative.
"From the East, I take it?" she inquired. "There are not a few Easterners down here. Some have taken up permanent residence."
"Yes," he replied, "I'm from the East—New York."
She liked his voice.
"We are here for the winter—mother and myself. Mother isn't strong, and your delightful climate ought to improve her. I myself came along"—he turned twinkling eyes toward her—"as guide and comforter and—I fear—all-round nuisance." He was silent. "I like this country," he added, after a moment.
Helen liked him for liking her country, for she had true Western pride for her birthplace. So she said the natural thing, though without display of pride. "Everybody likes it down here."
He looked at her hesitatingly. "You're not from the outside, then?"
"No," she rejoined. "I am a native."
He showed restless curiosity now. "Tell me," he began, engagingly, "about this country. What, for instance, must one do, must one be, to—to be—well, to be accepted as a native!" He said this much as one feeling his way among a people new to him, as if, conscious of the informal nature of their meeting, he would ease that informality, yet did not know precisely how.
Yet Helen found herself quite comfortable in his society now, and, permitting herself great freedom, she spoke almost with levity.
"You have asked me a difficult question," she said. "Offhand I should say you must ride every morning, sleep some part of the early afternoon, and—oh, well, ride the next morning again, I reckon." And she smiled across at him. "Are you thinking of staying with us?"
He nodded soberly. Then he went on. "What else must one do?" he asked. "Is that all?" His eyes were still twinkling.
Helen herself was sober now. "No," she replied, "not quite. One must think a little, work a little, do a little good. We are very close together down here—very close to one another—and very, very far from the rest of the world. So we try to make each day register something of value, not alone for ourselves, but for our neighbors as well." She was silent. "We are a distinct race of people," she concluded, after a moment.
He turned his head. "I like all that," he declared, simply. "Though I'm afraid I won't do—much as I dislike to admit it. You see, I've never learned to live much in the interest of others." He regarded her with steady eyes.
Helen liked him for that, too. Evidently he had had too much breeding, and, from his remark, knew it. So she took it upon herself at least to offer him encouragement.
"You will learn," she rejoined, smiling. "Everybody does."
With this, Helen discreetly changed the subject. She entered upon less intimate matters, and soon, sweeping off into a rhapsody over the country—its attraction for Easterners, its grip on Westerners—she was chatting with a freedom typical of the country. For by now she was interested, and for some inexplicable reason she found herself drawn to the smiling stranger.
Also, Pat was interested. But not in the things which appealed to his mistress. Pat was pondering the sullen nature of the horse beside him, and as they rode slowly toward town he stole frequent sidelong glances at his unfriendly companion. But all he could arrive at was that, while appearing peaceable enough, this horse was the most self-satisfied animal chance had ever thrown his way. After a time he ceased all friendly advances, such as pressing close beside him and now and again playfully nipping at him, and took up his own affairs, finding deep cause for satisfaction in the return of his breath after the long race, and in the passing of pain from his strained legs, to say nothing of the complete absence of flying papers around him.
They crossed the railroad track and entered the town. Here the young man took a polite leave of Helen, and Pat, seeing the unfriendly horse canter away at a brisk gait, himself set out briskly, feeling somehow called upon to emulate the step of the other. And thus he continued through town to the river trail, which he followed at an even brisker stride, and thence to the ranch and the corral. Here his mistress took leave of him—abruptly, it seemed—and made her way straight into the house. Directly the Mexican came and removed his saddle and bridle. With these things off, he shook himself vigorously, and then took up his customary stand in the corner, and confidently awaited the reappearance of his mistress with sugar and apples—a reward she never had denied him.
But he waited this time in vain.
FELIPE MAKES A DISCOVERY
Pat waited in vain two whole days. Not once did she come to him, not once did he lay eyes upon her. He became nervous and irritable, and in this emptiness, equal to that which he had suffered during the three years she was away, he spent every waking moment in the corral, standing in his favorite corner, eyes strained toward the house, occasionally interrupting the silence with a pleading nicker. But his vigil gained him nothing, his watching remained unrewarded, his outcries went unanswered. Finally, with the close of each day he would enter the stable, but only to brood through half the night—wondering, wondering. But never did he give up hope. Nor had he given up hope now, this morning of the third day, when, standing in his corner as usual, he heard a door close in the house.
As always, his heart leaped with expectation, and he gave off a protracted whinny. Also he pressed close to the fence. This time he was not disappointed. For coming slowly toward him, with her hands behind her back, was his mistress.
"Pat," she began, standing close before him, "I have neglected you purposely. And I did it because I have lost confidence in you." She regarded him a long moment coldly, then was forced to smile. "I suppose I feel toward you much as I used to feel toward a doll of mine that had fallen and cracked its head. I want to shake you, yet I can't help but feel sorry for you, too." And again she was silent.
Pat shifted his feet uneasily. He did not quite understand all this, though he knew, despite the smile of his mistress, that it was serious. Still, encouraged by the smile, he pressed close and asked for sweets, nuzzling her coat-sweater persistently. But she stepped away. Whereupon he reached his neck after her, and became almost savage in his coaxing. Finally he was relieved to see her burst into a peal of laughter.
"Here!" she said, and held out both hands. "I don't care if your head is broken!"
Glory be! Two red apples in one hand; a whole handful of loaf sugar in the other! If ever a horse smiled, he smiled then. Also, he promptly accepted some of the sugar, and, enjoying every delicious mouthful, reached for an apple. But she drew back. Evidently she was not yet finished with her reprimand.
"Blissfully unconscious of your behavior that morning, aren't you?" she continued. "Not a bit ashamed; not one speck regretful!"
Well—he wasn't. He was not a bit ashamed, not one speck regretful. Merely, he was sweet-hungry. And now that the sugar was gone, he wanted one of those apples mightily. Finally she gave him one, and then the other, feeding them to him rapidly, but not more rapidly than he wanted them. Then she spoke again.
"Pat dear," she said, her voice undergoing change, "I'm troubled. I am foolish, I know. But I can't help it. I advised that very nice young man to ride every morning. And he may do it. But if he does, sooner or later, perhaps the very first morning, we shall meet up there on the mesa. I want that, of course; but for reasons best known to Easterners, I don't want it—not yet." She gazed off toward the mountains. "I reckon, Pat dear," she concluded, after a moment, turning her eyes back to him, "we'd better ride in the afternoons for a time. Yet the afternoons are so uncomfortably hot. Oh, dear! What shall I do?"
But the horse did not answer her. All he did was stand very still, eyes blinking slowly, seemingly aware of the gravity of the situation, yet unable to help her. Indeed, that her serious demeanor had struck a note of sympathy within him he presently revealed by once more pressing very close to her—this in the face of the fact that she had no more sweets with her and he could see that she had no more. The movement forced her back, and evidently he perceived his mistake, for he quickly retraced one step. Then he fell to regarding her with curious intentness, his head twisting slowly in a vertical plane, much as a dog regards his master, until, evidently finding this plane of vision becoming awkward, he stopped. After which Helen playfully seized his ears and shook his head.
"You're a perfect dear!" she exclaimed. "And I love you! But I'm afraid we—we can't ride mornings any more—not for a while, at any rate." With this she left him.
He followed her to the gate, and with reluctance saw her enter the house. Then he rested his head upon the topmost board and, though he hardly expected it, waited for her return. Finally he abandoned his vigil, making his way slowly into the stable. He found both horses in their stalls, restlessly whisking their tails, offering nothing of friendliness or invitation. Also he awoke to the depressing atmosphere here, and after a time returned to the corral, where he took up a stand in his favorite corner and closed his eyes. Soon he was dreaming.
Sound as from a great distance awoke him. He opened his eyes. Outside the fence, and regarding him gloatingly, were two swarthy Mexicans in conversation. This was what had awakened him.
"Bet you' life!" one was saying, the taller man of the two. "Thot's my li'l' horse grown big lak a house—and a-fine! Franke, we gettin' thot caballo quick. We—"
A door had closed somewhere. The men heard it and crouched. But neither abandoned the ground. After some little time, hearing nothing further to alarm them, they set out along the fence to a rear door in the stable. It was not locked, and they lifted the latch and tiptoed inside. Up past the stalls they crept with cat-like stealth, gained the door leading into the corral, came to a pause, and gazed outside. The horse was still in his corner, his black coat glistening in the sunlight, and Felipe once more burst into comment, excited, but carefully subdued.
"A-fine! A-fine!" he breathed, rapturously. "He's lookin' joost lak a circus horse! You know, Franke," he added, turning to the other, "I haf see thee pictures on thee fences—" He interrupted himself, for the man had disappeared. "Franke!" he called, whispering. "You coom here. You all thee time—" He checked himself and smiled at the other's forethought. For Franke was emerging from a stall, carrying a halter. "Good!" he murmured. "I am forgettin' thot, compadre!" Then once more he turned admiring eyes upon the horse. "Never—never—haf I see a horse lak thot! Mooch good luck is comin' now, Franke! Why not?"
They stepped bravely forth into the corral. Yet their hour had been well timed. The house was still, quiet in its morning affairs, while the countryside around, wrapped in pulsating quiet, gave off not a sound. Cautiously approaching the horse, Franke slipped the halter into position, the while Felipe once more uttered his admiration. He was a little more direct and personal, however, this time.
"Well, you black devil!" he began, doubling his fist under Pat's nose. "You haf run away from me thot time, eh? But you don' run away again—bet you' life! I got you now and I keep you thees time! I haf work for you—you black devil—mooch work! You coom along now!"
They led the horse into the stable, down past the stalls, and out the back door. Then they set out toward the river trail, and, with many furtive glances toward the house, gained it without interruption. Felipe's lumber rigging and team of scrawny horses stood in the shade of a cottonwood, and Franke made the horse fast to the outhanging end of the reach. When he was secure both men seated themselves just back of the forward bolster, one behind the other, and Felipe sent his horses forward. Safely out of the danger zone, though Felipe entertained but little fear of the consequences of this act, believing that he could easily prove his ownership, he became more elated with his success and burst out into garrulous speech.
"You know, Franke," he began, with a backward glance at the horse ambling along peacefully in the dust, "thot caballo he's strong lak a ox. He's makin' a fine horse—a fine horse—in thees wagon! He's—" He suddenly interrupted himself. "Franke," he offered, generously, "for thees help I'm takin' off five dolars on thot debt now. You know? You haf never pay me thot bet—thee big bet—thee one on thee wagon and thee horses. And you haf steal seex dolars, too! But I'm forgettin' thot, now, too. All right?"
The other nodded grateful acceptance. Then, as if to show gratitude further, he very solicitously inquired into the matter, especially with reference to Felipe's discovery of the horse after all these years. They were clattering across the mesa now, having come to it by way of a long detour round the town, and before replying Felipe gave his team loose rein.
"Well," he began, as the horses fell back into a plodding walk, "I haf know about thot couple weeks before. I haf see thees caballo in town one mornin', and a girl she is ridin' heem, and everybody is lookin', and so I'm lookin'." He paused to roll a cigarette. "And then," he continued, drawing a deep inhale of smoke, "I haf know quick lak thot"—he snapped his fingers sharply—"quick lak thot"—he snapped his fingers again—"there's my potrillo grown big lak a house! And so—"
"But how you knowin' thot's thee horse?" interrupted the other. "How you knowin' thot for sure?" Evidently Franke was beginning to entertain grave doubts concerning this visit to the corral.
But Felipe only sneered. "How I know thot?" he asked, disdainfully. "I'm joost tellin' you! I know! Thot's enough! A horse is a horse! And I know thees horse! I know every horse! I got only to see a horse once—once only—and I'm never forgettin' thot horse! And I'm makin' no meestake now—bet you' life!" Nevertheless, flicked with doubt because of the gravity of the other, he turned his head and gazed back at the horse long and earnestly. Finally he turned around again. "I know thot horse!" he yelled. "And I'm tellin' you thees, Franke," he went on, suddenly belligerent toward the other. "If you don' t'ink I'm gettin' thee right caballo, I have you arrested for stealin' thot seex dolars thot time! Money is money, too. But a horse is a horse. I know thees horse. Thot's enough!" Yet he relapsed into a moody silence, puffing thoughtfully on his cigarette.
Behind the outfit, Pat continued along docilely. In a way he was enjoying this strange journey across the mesa. It was all very new to him, this manner of crossing, this being tied to the rear of a wagon, and he found himself pleasantly mystified. Nor was that all. Not once had he felt called upon to rebel. In perfect contentment he followed the rigging, eyes upon the outhanging reach, for he was intent upon maintaining safe distance between this thing and himself. Once, when they were mounting up to the mesa, he had met with a sharp blow from this projection—due to sudden change of gait in the horses—and he only required the one lesson to be ever after careful. As for the men forward, he knew nothing of them, and never, to his knowledge, had seen them before. But in no way was he concerning himself about them. Nor, indeed, was he worrying over any part of this proceeding. For in his dumb animal way he was coming to know, as all dumb servants of man come to know, that life, after all, is service, a kind of self-effacing series of tasks in the interests of others, and that this ambling along behind the vehicle was but one of the many kinds.
"And," suddenly broke out Felipe, who, having threshed the matter out to his satisfaction, now felt sure of his position once more, "I haf follow thees girl and thee horse. I haf see thee place where she's goin'—you know." And he winked foxily. "And then I haf coom to thees place, two, three times after thee horse. But always thee man is there. But thees mornin' I'm seein' thot hombre in town, and so I haf go gettin' you to coom help me. But you haf steal seex dolars. I'm forgettin' thot—not! And if you say soomt'ing to soombody soomtime, I'm havin' you arrested, Franke, for a t'ief and a robber—same as I ought to arrest thot Pedro Garcia oop in the canyon."
Franke maintained discreet silence. But not for long. Evidently he suddenly thought of a point in his own favor.
"You' havin' good luck thees time, Felipe," he declared, tranquilly, "especially," he hastened to add, "when I'm t'inkin' of thee halter. Without thee halter, you know, you don' gettin' thees caballo."
Felipe ignored this. "I haf need a horse," he went on, thoughtfully. "Thee mot'er of thees black fel'r—you know, thot's thee mot'er—she's gettin' old all time. She's soon dyin', thot caballo. Thees black horse he's makin' a fine one in thees wagon." Franke said nothing. Nor did Felipe speak again. And thus, in silence, they continued across the mesa and on up the canyon to the little adobe in the settlement. Arrived before the house, Franke quickly disappeared in the direction of his home, leaving Felipe to unhitch and unharness alone. But Felipe cared nothing for this. He was supremely happy—happy in the return of the long-lost colt, doubly happy in the possession of so fine a horse without outlay of money. Whistling blithely, he unhitched the team, led them back into the corral, returned to the wagon again. Here, still whistling, he untied the black and escorted him also into the inclosure. Then, after scratching his head a long moment in thought, he set out in the direction of the general store and a bottle of vino.
As the man disappeared, Pat, standing uncertainly in the middle of the corral, followed him with a look in his eyes that hinted of vague memories that would not down. And well he might be flicked with vague memories. For he was at last returned to the brief cradle of his babyhood.
Late that same afternoon, Helen, attired in riding-habit, left the house for her first afternoon canter. As she slowly crossed the patio, she noted the absence of Pat from his usual corner, but, assuming that he was inside the stable, called to him from the gate. But she received no answering whinny. Slightly worried, she entered the corral and stepped to the stable door, and again sounded his name. Again she received no answering whinny. She entered the stable, walked past the stalls, peered in at each with increasing alarm. Only the saddle-horse and the family horse met her troubled eyes. She stood for a moment dismayed, then once more she sounded the horse's name. But, as before, she received no answering whinny.
Puzzled, perplexed, troubled with misgivings, yet refusing to believe the worst, she fell to analyzing the thing. She knew that since coming to the ranch Pat at no time had been outside the corral save in her charge. Also she recalled that only a short hour or two before she had given him sweets and had talked with him. Nor could the horse have strayed out of the inclosure, because she remembered that the gate was latched when she had reached it. All these facts flashed across her as she stood with grave eyes sweeping the stable. Finally she stepped back to the door and gazed out into the sunlight of the corral; but, as before, the inclosure was empty and silent, and now, somehow, forbidding. She called again—called to the horse, called to the Mexican. But again came only the echo of her voice, sounding hollow and solemn and plaintive through the stable.
Suddenly her heart stopped beating. She remembered that the hostler had left for town on foot early in the morning. And now her fears broke bounds. The horse was gone! Some one had come in Miguel's absence. Her Pat had been stolen! He was gone for ever out of her life! Standing a moment, trembling with bitterness, she darted out of the stable, out of the corral, across the patio. She sped into the house and her father's study, caught up the receiver of the telephone.
And then, after a long time, the connection. And her father's voice. And her frantic inquiry. And the Judge's smiling reply. And her recital of the facts—pleading, pitiful, almost whimpering. And now the Judge's serious rejoinder. And then her imperious request that he come home. And the Judge's regretful reply—could not on account of pressing matters. And then her tearful, choking outburst into the transmitter! And now suddenly the wires crossing and a strange voice demanding that she get off. And with it her utter collapse. She whirled away from the telephone, flung herself down upon a couch, and gave way to a wild outburst of tears.
The thing was pitiful. The horse had occupied a very big place in her life. And because that place now was empty, and because she saw no promise of its ever being filled, she sobbed wretchedly a long time. Then, rising quietly, she ascended the stairs to her room. Here she sank into a chair, one that overlooked the corral, and began an analysis of the case, taking the affair up from the very first day of Pat's coming into her life. She did not go further than that. Woman that she was, endowed with strongest intuitions and insight, she knew she had sounded the mystery of his disappearance, had sounded it as clearly as though she had been present.
"Pat's rightful owners have found him and put in their claim!" She got up and began to pace the floor. "I know it," she declared with conviction. "I know it as well as I know I'm in this room. Pat—Pat has been—been taken and—and—" Tears choked back her words. Again she turned to her bed and gave way to a paroxysm of grief.
Her tears lasted until sleep mercifully descended. And thus she lay, outstretched and disheveled, until the sun, slanting across the room, settled its mellow rays upon her. And even though the touch was light and gentle and somehow sympathetic, it awoke her. She rose and hurried to a window. Out in the corral all was quiet. She dropped into a chair and turned her eyes to the east—out over the mesa to the distant mountains. The mountains were draped in their evening purple, which seemed to her like mourning for her lost happiness—a happiness that might have been hers always with the horse.
THE SECOND GREAT LESSON
Next morning Pat, imprisoned in a tiny stable, tried to get out by thrusting his head against the door. But the door would not give. Alone in semi-darkness, therefore, he spent the day. Twice a Mexican youth came to feed and water him, but always the quantity was insufficient, and always the boy carefully locked the door after him. Because of this, together with the poor ventilation, Pat became irritable. He longed for the freedom of the big corral—its sunlight, the visits of his mistress—but these were steadfastly denied him. And so through another night and another day, until he became well-nigh distracted. He stamped the floor, fought flies, dozed, dreamed strange dreams, stamped the floor again. After three days of this, sounds outside told him of the return of man and horses. But not till the next morning, and then quite late, was he released from the odious confinement.
Felipe bustled in, all eager for business. He drove his recent acquisition out into the corral and set to work harnessing one of the team—the mate of the aged mare. When she was bridled and standing in the trail in front of his empty wagon, he hurriedly returned to the new horse, placed a bridle upon his head, led him forth, and swung him close beside the other horse. He winced just a little at the incongruity of the team, though he did not let it delay him. He picked up the half of the harness and tossed it over the mare's back. Then he caught up the other half, and, preparing to toss it upon the black, began to straighten out deep and unexpected tangles.
"Well, you black devil," he began, as he twisted and turned the much-bepatched harness, "you doin' soom work now! All you' life you havin' mooch good times! Eet is not for thee fun thot you live, you know?" he went on, academically, continuing to disentangle the harness. "Eet is for thee work thot you live! Work—thot's thee answer!" Then, having straightened the harness at last, with a grunt of satisfaction he tossed it lightly up.
Instantly there was wild commotion. With a kick and a plunge the horse flung off the harness.
Felipe stood dumfounded. It had never occurred to him that the horse was not broken to harness. Horses reared as this one evidently had been reared ought certainly to be educated to all kinds of service. Yet this horse evidently was not. He scratched his head in perplexity. To break a horse to harness was no child's play, as he well knew. To break a horse of this character to harness, as he well understood also, was a task that required exceptional patience and hardihood. What should he do? There was his constant press for money. The aged mare having almost dropped in the trail the evening before, was unfit for toil, and to break a horse to harness meant loss of time, and, as every one knows, loss of time meant loss of money. So what should he do? He was utterly at a loss.
Striding to the doorstep, he sat down and regarded the horse with malevolent disgust. After a time, jerking off his hat savagely, he burst out into a thundering tirade.
"You black devil! You haf give me more trouble than anyt'ing I haf ever own—chickens, burro, pigs, horses, money—money, even—money I haf owe thot robber Pedro! First you haf run away thot time! Then you haf mek me steal you out of thot place couple days before! And now"—he suddenly leaped to his feet—"now you haf mek me break you to thees wagon and harness!" He advanced to the startled horse and brandished his fist. "But I break you!" he snarled—"I break you like a horse never was broke before! And—and if I don' break you—if you don' do what I haf say—I break every bone inside!" With this he began feverishly to peel off his coat.
And this is the lot of the dumb. Merely for not knowing what a man believed he should know, Pat was to be humiliated, was to be punished far beyond justice and decency. And because he was a horse abnormally highstrung and sensitive, this punishment was to be doubly cruel. To him a blow was more painful than to the average horse, even as a word of kindness sank deeper and remained longer to soften his memory. On his maternal side he was the offspring of native stock, but he was blooded to the last least end of him, and while from his mother he had inherited his softer traits, like his affection for those who showed affection for him, it was from his sire, unknown though he was, that he inherited an almost human spirit of rebellion when driven by lash or harsh word, and also the strength to exercise it. In the face of these qualities, then, he was to be broken to harness and a wagon by a man!
Felipe lost little time in preparation. He set out through the settlement, his destination a distant and kindly neighbor. He moved at a stride so vigorous that the good townspeople, roused by the rare spectacle of a man in a hurry, interrupted their passive loafing beside well and in doorway, and turned wondering eyes after him. But if their eyes showed wonderment at his going, on his return they showed amazement and a kind of horror. For Felipe, acting for once in the capacity of work-horse, was straining along at the end of a huge wagon-tongue affixed to a crude and mastodonic axle which in turn supported two monolithic cart-wheels. It was a device by which he meant to break the horse to harness, and, perspiring freely, and swearing even more freely, he dragged it shrieking for grease through the settlement, really at work, but work which was not to be admired. Reaching the clearing in front of his house, he dropped the heavy tongue and whipped out a red handkerchief with a sigh of relief. Also, as he wiped away the perspiration on his forehead and neck and arms, he turned baleful eyes upon the innocent cause of his toil.
"You black devil!" he growled, after a moment. "I feex you now—bet you' life! And you can keeck—and keeck and keeck! You don' worry thees cart mooch! You black devil!"
Then he became active again. He strode back into the corral, sought out an old harness and a huge collar, and dragged them forward into the trail. Flinging them aside in the direction of the cart, he then turned to the mare, removed the work-harness from her, and led her into position before the warlike vehicle. Again perspiring freely, but losing no breath now in abusive talk, he quickly harnessed her up and then strode forward to the black. After eying him narrowly a moment, he seized his bridle and led him back alongside the mare, where he proceeded nervously to harness him.
"We see now," he began, as he picked up the massive collar. "You can stond still—thot's right! And maybe you can take thees t'ing—we see!"
The collar was much too large for workaday use, but it was not too large for this purpose. Its very size gave it freedom to pass over the head without the usual twisting and turning. Nor did the horse rebel when it was so placed—a fact which gave Felipe much relief, since he now believed that he would not have the trouble he had anticipated. Also, with the collar in position, he was but a moment in adjusting the hames, making fast the bottom strap, and hooking the tugs securely. With everything in readiness he then caught up the reins and the whip, and stepped away to begin the real work of breaking.
"Haya!" he cried, and touched up the off-horse. She started forward, as always with this command from her master. But she did not go far.
Pat was the cause of the delay. Understanding neither the contraption at his heels, nor the word of command from the man, he held himself motionless and pleasantly uninterested, gazing slowly about at the landscape. Nor did he offer to move when the man cut him viciously with the whip. The lash pitted his tender flesh and hurt mightily; but even though he now understood what was required of him, he only became stubborn—bracing his legs and flattening his ears, forcefully resisting the counter efforts of the mare beside him.
And this was his nature. Long before he had demonstrated that he would not be governed by a whip. That day in the Richardses' corral, when he was broken to saddle, cruelty alone would never have conquered him. Cruelty there had been, and much of it; but with the cruelty there had been other things—evidence of affection at the right moment, both in his mistress and in the men about him, and these, coupled with quick understanding, had made the breaking a success. And had there been evidence of kindness now, somewhere revealed early by this man, Pat might have drawn the cart as the straining mate at his side was attempting to draw it. But there was no evidence of kindness, and as a result he remained stubborn and wilful, standing braced and trembling, true in every particular to the spirit of his forebears.
Nor was Felipe less true to the spirit within himself. Infuriated, uncompromising, believing this to be merely the cussedness natural with the native horses, he abandoned all hope of instant success and gave way to brutality. Dropping the reins and reversing the whip in his hands, he began to beat the horse unmercifully, bringing the heavy butt down again and again, each mighty thwack echoing down the canyon. The result was inevitable. The horse began to kick—straight back at first, then, finding his hoofs striking the cart, he swung sideways to the tongue and kicked straight out. This last was sudden, and narrowly missed Felipe, who leaped to one side. Then, unable to reach the horse with the butt, he reversed the whip again and resumed his first torture, that of pitting the legs of the horse with the lash.
"Keeck!" he snarled, continuing to swing the whip. "Keeck! Keeck! I can keeck, too!" He swung his arm till it ached, when he stopped.
Whereupon the horse settled down. But his eyes were ablaze and he was trembling all over. Also, while undoubtedly suffering added distress from the taut and binding traces, he continued to stand at right angles to the mare—head high, nostrils quivering, mouth adrip with white slaver—until the spirit of rebellion appeared to grip him afresh. With a convulsive heave he moved again, making another quarter turn, which brought him clear of the tongue and facing the vehicle. Then he set up a nervous little prancing, whisking his tail savagely, now and again lifting his heels as if to strike. That was all. He gained no ground forward, nor did it appear as if he would ever move forward.
"You—you—" began Felipe, then subsided, evidently too wrathful for words. And he remained silent, gazing wearily toward the settlement, as though about to call assistance.
The stillness was heavy and portentous. Both horses were motionless. Felipe continued silent. Off toward the settlement all was still. Overhead, the early-morning sky pressed low, spotless and shimmering, brooding. Around and about, the flies seemed to stop buzzing. Everywhere lurked the quiet. The earth appeared bowed in humiliation, hushed in prayer as for the unfortunate one, while up and down the trail, basking in world-old light, lay dust of centuries, smug and contented in its quiescence. All nature was still, gripped in tense quiet.
The crack of a whip broke it. Felipe, suddenly bestirring himself, had sprung forward and dealt the horse a blow with the butt. Across the nose, it had sounded hollow and distant; and the horse, whipping up his head in surprised pain, now turned upon the man a look at once sorrowful and terrible, a look which spelled death and destruction. Nor did he only look. With a strange outcry, shrill and piercing, awaking the canyon in unnatural echoes, he whirled in his harness and reared, reared despite his harness, and struck out with venomous force. It was quick as a lightning flash, but, quick as it was, Felipe avoided it. And it was fortunate that he did. Terror-stricken and dropping the whip, he sped to the rear, to a point behind the cart, and there turned amazed eyes at the pirouetting horse.
What manner of horse was this, he asked himself. Could it be that this horse, black as night, was truly of the lower regions? Certainly he looked it, balancing there on his hind legs, with his reddened eyes and inflamed nostrils! And—But what was this? From the corral had come a shrill nicker, the voice of the aged mare. But that was not it! With the outcry, seemingly an answer to the black's maddened outcry, the black dropped to all-fours again, turning quick ears and eyes in the direction of the sound! What manner of horse was this, anyway? Never before had he seen such a horse! He felt himself go limp.
There is a call in nature that sounds for life against death. It is a call put forth in innumerable different tongues around the world, and it sounds somewhere every second of the day and darkness—through jungles, across swamps, down mountains, over plains, out of valleys. It is a cry of warning, a cry to disarm foes. It is an outcry of good as against evil—the squawk of a hen to her chicks, the bleat of a sheep to her lambs, the grunt of a sow to her sucklings, the bellow of a cow to her calf, the purr of a cat to her kittens, the whine of a dog to her puppies, the drum of a partridge to her young. A cry from the heart to the heart, an appeal of flesh to its own flesh, it is the world-old mother-call.
And the horse heard this call. He probably did not recognize in it a call of the mother-heart, any more than it was possible for the aged mare to recognize in his outcry the voice of her own flesh. What he did hear, no doubt, was the voice of a friend, one who understood and pitied, and would help if it could help. At any rate, he stood very still, seemingly grateful for the evidence of a champion, seemingly anxious that it sound again. But it did not sound again. Yet he made no further effort to give battle. He held to his attitude of intent listening, ears cocked forward and eyes straining and tail at rest, until Felipe, stung into action by an idea wrought out of all this, hastened out from behind the cart and away in the direction of the corral. At sight of him the horse became restless again, squaring himself once more to the mare, stamping his feet and champing his bit nervously. He seemed to lose all recollection of the outcry, all the peace it had engendered within him. Of such are the kingdom of the dumb.
Possessed by his idea, an idea so brilliant that he himself marveled, Felipe was not long in putting it to test. He hurriedly bridled the aged mare and led her out into the trail. He placed her alongside the black—for reasons which, had the compadre Franke been present, Felipe might have suggested with a crafty wink—then hastily began to unhitch the team-mate. And it was just here that he proved his foresight. In the work of unhitching the mate, he should have encountered, and had expected, trouble from the black. But he did not. The mare sounded another friendly nicker when arranged beside him, and the black, pricking up his ears sharply, turned to her and proceeded to establish his friendship by licking her. So Felipe did not meet with difficulty from that direction; nor did he have trouble in the direction of the team-mate herself. She seemed glad to be relieved from her unsuccessful task, and Felipe, glad to relieve her in the light of his brilliant idea, led her off to one side quickly, then returned and swung the old mare into her place. He hitched her up, picked up the reins and whip, and set about with his test.
"We see now," he began, his voice quiet and encouraging. "Maybe you work wit' thee old woman! We see!" And he gave a low command.
With the command Pat started forward, urged to it by the aged mare—pulling more than his share of the load. Perhaps it was due to her presence; perhaps to the note of kindness in Felipe's voice. At any rate, he moved, and he moved forward, and he moved with a steady pull. Yet he did not proceed far. Though he did not stop through rebellion. It was simply to renew his attentions to the old mare. He began to caress her as if he really recognized in this rack of an animal his own lost mother. But recognition, of course, was impossible. Long before, the only source of recognition, appeal made through digestive organs, had disappeared. Nevertheless, he lavished upon her unwonted affection until Felipe gently but firmly urged him forward again. Then again he proceeded, pulling all of the load this time, bringing about a slack in the traces of the mare and a consequent bumping of her hind legs against the cart which seemed to awaken some of her dying spirit.
Up and down the trail they moved, the mare sedately, the horse actively, prancing gaily, appearing to take gleeful pleasure in his task, until Felipe, kindled with elation and pride, decided to drive on into the settlement and there become the object of covetous eyes. Therefore he urged the team forward to a point in front of the general store, where in lordly composure sat Pedro, occupying his customary seat on an empty keg on the porch. At sight of him Felipe's joy leaped to the heavens, and he pulled up the team, ostensibly to adjust a forward buckle, but in reality to afford Pedro an uninterrupted view of the beautiful black. Moving forward to the head of the horses, he watched out of the tail of his eye Pedro's lazy survey of the team.
"Where you got thot horse?" inquired Pedro, after a long moment, as he slowly removed a cigarette from between his lips. "I mean," he added, "where you haf steal thot caballo?"
Felipe winced. But he did not immediately retort. He carried out his bluff, unbuckling and buckling one of the straps, then mildly straightened up and faced the man.
"Pedro," he began, tensely, "you haf know—Jose, Juan, Manuel, Francisco, Carlotta—all haf know—thot eet is only one t'ief in all thees place! And thot man—thot t'ief—is Pedro Garcia!"
Pedro grunted. "Where you haf steal thot horse?" he repeated, without show of anger. "You can give me thot horse," he continued, placidly. "You haf owe me mooch money. I take thot horse for payment—everyt'ing. You give thot caballo to me."
Felipe turned to the team. "I give you one keeck in thee belly!" he roared. Then he touched up the horses and started back toward the house. Gone was all elation, all pride, all gleeful consciousness of possession.
Gaining the clearing, he decided to try out the other horse with the black. He realized that the aged mare was unfit, even though in the last hour she had appeared greatly to improve, and he must accordingly match up a team. So he unhitched her and swung the mate into place. He met with disagreeable surprise, however. The black would not pull with this horse. Instead, he held himself quietly at rest, gazing about sleepily over the landscape, a trick of his, as Felipe had learned, when quietly rebelling. Felipe looked at him a moment, but did not try to force him with tongue or lash. For he was coming to understand this horse, and, concluding that sooner or later, under proper treatment, he would probably accept duty with any mate, determined to abandon work for the day. Whereupon he unhitched the horses and led them all back into the corral. Then he put up the bars and set out in the direction of the settlement.
Which ended Pat's second great lesson at the hand of man. He was sore and somewhat stiff from the struggle, but he did not fret long over his condition, for he soon awoke to the presence of that beside him in the corral which caused him to forget himself completely. It was the worn-out structure of skin and bones who had befriended him in his hour of trial. He gazed at her a moment, then approached and fell to caressing her, showing in this attention his power to forget self—aches, sores, troubles—in his affection and gratitude toward all things warranting affection and gratitude.
THE STRANGER AGAIN
Meantime, Helen was becoming desperate over her loss. Unwilling to accept the theory of her household, which was that Pat had been stolen by a band of organized thieves and ere this was well out of the neighborhood and probably the county, she had held firmly to her original idea, viz., that the horse was in the possession of his rightful owners, and so could not be far out of the community. Therefore, the morning following his disappearance, having with sober reflection lightened within her the seriousness of it all, she had set out in confident search for him, mounted on her brown saddler. But though she had combed the town and the trails around the town, quietly interviewing all such teamsters and horsemen as might by any chance know something about it, yet in answer to her persistent inquiries all she had received was a blank shake of the head or an earnest expression of willingness to assist her. So, because she had continued her search for three days without success, inquiring and peering into every nook and corner of the community, she finally had come to regard her quest as hopeless, and to become more than ever an image of despair.
The evening of the fourth day there was a dance. It was one of the regular monthly affairs, and because Helen was a member of the committee she felt it her duty to attend. One of the young men, accompanied by his mother and sister, drove out for her, but she left the house with reluctance and a marked predisposition not to enjoy herself. But she forgot this when she presently beheld the young man from the East whom she had encountered on the mesa. He was standing close beside a rather frail little woman, undoubtedly his mother, who with the matrons of the town was seated near a fireplace watching the dancers. He was introduced. Later they sat out one of his numbers alone together in a corner behind some potted palms. In the course of their conversation Helen informed him of the disappearance of her horse, and asked him, as she asked everybody she met now, if he knew anything or had heard anything concerning the loss. The young man knew nothing of the great disappearance, however, though he did offer it as his belief that a horse of Pat's obvious value could not long remain in obscurity. This was encouraging, and Helen felt herself become hopeful again. But when he offered his services in the search, as he did presently, she felt not only hopeful again, but somehow quite certain now that it would all be cleared up. For there was that in this young gentleman which caused confidence. What she told him, however, was that she was grateful for his offer, and should be greatly pleased to have him with her.
And thus it was that, on the morning of the fifth day, Helen Richards and Stephen Wainwright—the young man's name—together with two of Helen's close friends, were riding slowly across the mesa, alert for any combination in harness which might reveal the lost Pat. Helen and Stephen were well in the lead, and Helen had broken the silence by addressing Stephen as a native, recalling their first meeting. Whereupon the young man, smiling quietly, had wanted to know why; but after she had explained that it was because he had enlisted himself in the search for a horse, adding that in doing so he had conformed with one of the unwritten laws of the country, he still confessed himself in the dark. This had been but a moment before, and she now settled herself to explain more fully.
"A horse is, or was, our most valued property," she began. "I reckon the past tense is better—though we'll never quite live down our interest in horses." She smiled across at him. "Long ago," she went on, "in the days of our Judge Lynch, you know, a stolen horse meant a hanged man—or two or three—as not infrequently happened. But all that is history now. Yet the feeling remains. And whenever one of our horses disappears—it is rare now—we all take it more or less as a personal loss. In your willingness to help find Pat, therefore, you declare yourself one of us—and are gladly admitted."
He rode along in silence. "Why was the feeling so intense in the old days?" he inquired, after a time.
"It was due to physical conditions," she replied—"the geography of the country. Water-holes were few and very far apart, and to get from one to another often entailed a journey impossible to a man without a horse. To steal his horse, therefore, was to deprive him of his sole means of getting to water—practically to deprive him of his life. If he didn't die of thirst, which frequently he did, at best it was a very grave offense. It isn't considered so now—not so much so, at any rate—unless in the desert wastes to the west of us. Yet the feeling still lurks within us, and a stolen horse is a matter that concerns the whole community."
He nodded thoughtfully, but remained silent. Suddenly Helen drew rein. Before her was a horned toad, peculiarly a part of the desert, blinking up at them wickedly. He drew rein and followed her eyes.
"A horned toad, isn't it?"
Helen shook her head. "Are you interested in such things?" she inquired.
"In a way—yes," he affirmed, doubtfully. "Though I can't see good reason for their existence." His eyes twinkled. "Can you?"
Helen was thoughtful a moment. "Well, no," she admitted, finally. "Yet there must be a good reason. Reptiles must live for some good purpose. All things do—don't you think?" Then, before he could make a rejoinder, she went on: "I sometimes feel that these creatures were originally placed here to encourage other and higher forms of life to come and locate in the desert—were placed here, in other words, to prove that life is possible in all this desolation."
He glanced at her. "Certainly it has worked out that way, at any rate," he ventured. "Good old Genesis!" He smiled.
"It seems to have," she agreed, thoughtfully. "Because you and I are here. But it goes a long way back—to Genesis—yes. Following the initial placing, other and higher organisms, finding in their migratory travels this evidence of life, accepted the encouragement to remain, and did remain, feeding upon the life found here in the shape of toads and lizards—to carry the theory forward a step—even as the toads and lizards—to carry it back again—fed upon the insects which they in their turn found here. Then along came other forms of life, higher in the cosmic setting, and these, finding encouragement in the presence of the earlier arrivals, fed upon them and remained. And so on up, to the forerunners of our present-day animals—coyotes and prairie-dogs. And after these, primitive man—to find encouragement in the coyotes and prairie-dogs—and to feed upon them and remain. Then after primitive man, the second type—the brown man; and after the brown man, the red man; and after the red man, the white man—all with an eye to sustenance, and finding it, and remaining."
Stephen's eyes swept around the desert absently. He knew—this young man—that he was in the presence of a personality. For he could not help but draw comparisons between the young woman beside him and the young women of his acquaintance in the East. While he had found Eastern girls vivacious, and attractive with a kind of surface charm, never had he known one to take so quiet and unassuming an outlook upon so broad a theme. It was the desert, he told himself. Here beside him was a type unknown to him, and one so different from any he had as yet met with, he felt himself ill at ease in her presence—a thing new to him, too—and which in itself gave him cause to marvel. Yes, it was the desert. It must be the desert! In this slender girl beside him he saw a person of insight and originality, a girl assuredly not more than twenty years of age, attractive, and thoroughly feminine. How ever did they do it?
He harked back in his thoughts to her theory. And he dwelt not so much upon the theory itself as upon her manner of advancing it. Running back over these things, recalling the music of her voice, together with her spoken musings, he came to understand why, with that first encounter, he had found himself almost instantly curious concerning desert folk. Not that he had known why at the time, or had given that phase of it consideration. He did remember that he had been strongly impressed by the way she had managed her bolting horse. But aside from that, there had been something in her personality, an indefinable calm and sureness, a grip upon herself, that he had felt the very first moment. Undoubtedly all this had flicked him into a novel curiosity. He pulled himself together with an effort.
"I like your theory," he answered, smiling. "And it must be true, because I am told horned toads are fast disappearing. Evidently they have served their purpose. But tell me," he concluded, "what is becoming of them? Where are they going?"
She laughed. "I can't tell you that. Perhaps they just vanish into the fourth—or maybe the fifth—dimension!"
And this was the other side of her, a side he had come to learn while with her at the dance, and which made her lovable as well as admirable. But she was speaking again, and again was serious.
"I have yet another theory," she said—"one as to why these creatures are here, you know." She smiled across at him. "It is all my very own, too! It is that in their presence among us—among mankind—they unwittingly develop us through thought. Thinking exercises the brain, we are told, and exercising the brain makes for world-advancement—we are told." Then, suddenly, "I hope you don't think me silly—Mr. Native?"
But he remained sober. "Tell me," he asked, after a time, "what it is about this country—I mean other than friendships, of course—that gets under a fellow's soul and lifts it—to the end that he wants to remain here? I know there is something, though I can't for the life of me place it. What is it, anyway?"
She turned upon him sharply. "Do you really feel that way?" she asked, evidently pleased.
"I feel that way. But why do I feel that way? What is it? You know what I mean. There is something—there must be!"
"I know what you mean—yes," she replied, thoughtfully. "Yet I doubt if I myself, even after all these years, can define it. What you 'feel' must be our atmosphere—its rarity, its power to exhilarate. Though that really doesn't explain it. I reckon it's the same thing—only much more healthful, more soulful—that one feels in large cities after nightfall. I mean, the glare of your incandescent lights. I honestly believe that that glare, more than any other single thing, holds throngs of people to an existence not only unnatural, but laden with a something that crushes as well." She was silent.
Again Stephen felt the strange pull on his interest, but he said nothing. After a time she went on.
"City-dwellers," she explained, "don't begin their day till the approach of dark. It's true of both levels of society, too—lower as well as upper. And I believe the reason for this lies, as I have said, in the atmosphere—their man-made atmosphere—just as the secret of your feeling the way you do lies in our atmosphere—God-made. Were this atmosphere suddenly to disappear, both out of your cities and out of my deserts, both your world and my own would lose all of their charm."
Stephen bestirred himself. "What psychology do you find in that?" he asked, dwelling upon the fact that she knew his East so well.
"Merely the effect of softening things—for the soul as well as the eye—through the eye, indeed, to the soul. Our atmosphere here does that—softens the houses, and the trees, and the cattle, and the mountains, and the distant reaches. It softens our nights, too. Perhaps you have noticed it? How everything appears shrouded in a kind of hazy, mellow, translucent something that somehow reacts upon you? I have. And I believe that is the secret of one's wanting to remain in the country, once he has exposed himself to it. It is a kind of spell—a hypnosis. When out of it one wants to get back into it.
"I know I felt it when I was East, attending school," she went on, quietly. "Living always in this atmosphere, I somehow had forgotten its charm—as one will forget all subtle beauty unless frequently and forcibly reminded of it. But in the East I missed it, and found myself restless and anxious to get back into it. Indeed, I felt that I must get back or die! So one day, when your Eastern spirit of sudden change was upon me, I packed and came home. It was a year short of my degree, too. But I could not remain away another day—simply had to get back—and back I came. My degree—my sheepskin"—she was smiling—"couldn't hold me!"
"Then you've spent some time in the East?" he asked, tentatively.
"Yes," she replied, "that much—three years. And I didn't like it."
"Why?" he asked, a little surprised.
She regarded him curiously. He saw a look of mild annoyance in her eyes, one that seemed to tell of her inability to understand so needless a question.
"I just didn't," she rejoined, after a moment. "I discovered that you Easterners value things which are diametrically opposite to the things we value, and that you value not at all those things which we value most of all."
He had to laugh. "What are they?" he wanted to know.
For an instant she showed shyness. "Oh, I can't say," she declared, finally. "Some day I may tell you."
Stephen realized that it must be serious. He was hesitating whether to press her further, when he saw her tighten her reins, put spurs to her horse, and go flashing off in the direction of the mountain trail. As she dashed off he heard her call out:
"Pat!" she cried. "Pat! It's Pat!" Then she glanced to the rear. "Adele! Sam! It's Pat! Come, quick!"
Stephen spurred on with the others. He galloped after this hard-riding girl—so intensely alive—a girl past his understanding. Over dunes and across flats he charged, followed closely by the others, urging his horse to his utmost. But, try as he might, he could not overtake her or even lessen the distance between them, so furious was her race for her lost horse. Finally he burst out upon the trail and drew rein beside her, standing with the others in the path of an oncoming wood-wagon, anxiously awaiting its slow approach.
It was a curious outfit. One of the team, an aged and decrepit horse, was laboring along with head drooping and hoofs scuffling the trail, while beside it, with head erect and nostrils aquiver and hoofs lifting eagerly, stepped the glorious Pat! Both horses were draped in a disreputable harness, crudely patched with makeshift string and wire, and both were covered with a fine coating of dust. Atop all this, high and mighty upon an enormous load of wood, sat a Mexican, complacently smoking a cigarette and contentedly swinging his heels, evidently elated with this prospect of parading his horse before a group of Americans. But as he drew close a look of uneasiness crept over him, and he pulled up his team and shrugged his shoulders, as a preliminary, no doubt, to disappearance behind the Mexican shield of "No sabe!"
Helen swung close to him. There was a choice between a contest and diplomatic concession. She decided to offer to purchase the horse at once, believing this to be the easiest way out of the trouble.
"Senor," she began in Spanish, "deseo comprar aquel caballo negro. Puedo pagar cualquire cantidad razonable por el. Se perdio y nosotros lo cuidamos, y he aprendido a quererlo mucho. Si usted quiere venderlo me haria un gran favor. Siento mucho que me lo hayan quitado."
The Mexican looked relieved. He slowly removed his hat with true Castilian courtesy.
"Senorita," he replied, "lo venderia con gusto pero pienso que me paga lo que quiero por el."
Which delighted Helen. "Pagare lo que sea."
The Mexican hesitated a moment. "?Pagara cuarenta pesos?" he asked, finally. "Yo tambien quiero al caballo mucho," he added. "Pero por cuarenta pesos pienso—pienso que lo olvido." And he grinned.
Helen turned to the others. For Stephen's benefit she explained what had been said, and the men promptly offered to make up the required forty dollars. Helen turned to the Mexican, accepted his price, and requested him to release Pat from the harness. Whereat the Mexican smiled broadly; shrugged his shoulders suddenly; forgot his role of "No sabe."
"How," he burst out—"how I'm gettin' thees wagon to town? I'm pullin' eet myself?"
The others laughed. Then Helen, deciding upon another arrangement, instructed him to drive forward. She could see her father in town, she explained to the others, and there also, after the exchange of money, the Mexican could purchase another horse. Which closed the matter. The Mexican started the team forward, while the others fell in alongside, ranging themselves on either side. Thus they journeyed into town—a strange cavalcade—Pat prancing, the mare drooping, the Mexican visibly pleased, the others gratified by their unexpected success. In town they turned into a side street, and there Helen left them, going off in the direction of her father's office. When she returned, the Judge was with her. He read the Mexican a brief but stern lecture on the law pertaining to the recovery of lost property, and closed the deal. Whereupon the wood-hauler unharnessed Pat, bestowed him smilingly upon Helen, and took himself off, evidently in quest of another horse, for he headed straight as a plumb-line for the city pound.
* * * * *
Pat was home again. He knew it from many things—the white fence, the clean stable, the Mexican hostler with broom in hand. And though he was at home where he wanted to be, yet he found himself filled with vague uneasiness. After a time he sought to relieve it. He made his way into the stable, but he found no relief there. He returned to the corral, and began slowly to circle inside the fence, but neither did this relieve him. Finally he took up his old stand in the sunlit corner, where he fell to listening with ears and eyes attentive to least sounds. But even this did not relieve him.
Nor would anything ever relieve him. Never would he find absolute solace from his inner disquiet. For what he sought and could not find, what he listened for and could not hear, was another of those sounds which had relieved the tedium of his brief stay in the mountains, the friendly nicker of the aged mare, gone to toil out her life in the racking treadmill between town and mountain.
Pat had just been clipped. And never was there a horse nearer perfection! Shorn of all hair, his splendid physique, now in fullest maturity, stood out clean-cut and fascinating.
In weight he might have tipped the scales at ten hundred pounds. In color his skin, which now showed clearly, was a shade darker than that of the elephant, but it showed the richness of velvet. His body through the trunk was round and symmetrical; his haunches were wide without projection of the hip-bones; and his limbs, the stifle and lower thigh, were long and strong and fully developed. Added to these, he was high in the withers, the line of back and neck curving perfectly; his shoulders were deep and oblique; and his long, thick fore arm, knotty with bulging sinews, told of powerful muscles. And finally, his knees across the pan were wide, the cannon-bone below thin and short, the pasterns long and sloping, and the hoofs round and dark and neatly set on. While over all—over the small, bony head, beautiful neck and shoulders—over the entire body, clear down to the hoofs—ran a network of veins like those on the back of a leaf, only more irregular—veins which stood out as though the skin were but thin parchment through which the blood might burst. A rare horse, rare in any country, doubly rare in this land of the small Spanish product, was the rating given to Pat by men trained to judge value at sight. And so widespread did this appraisal become, along trail, beside camp-fire, in bunk-house, that it was known throughout the length and breadth of the Territory, and beyond the Territory, that Judge Richards was the owner of a horse the like of which never had been seen south of the Pecos.
For several days after the clipping, Helen did not choose to ride. So Pat was permitted the doubtful pleasure of loafing about in the inclosure. Then one morning, when the winter day was unusually warm, he awoke to a great clatter of hoofs outside the corral. Directly he saw a party of young people, men and girls under the chaperonage of a comely matron, dismounting in high spirits. As the party swung down he saw his mistress appear from the house, attired in her riding-habit, and, understanding the object of all this, since these parties had become frequent in the past two months, he pressed close to the fence, anxious to be off. The Mexican bridled and saddled him; his mistress and the others mounted; soon all clattered out upon the river-trail.
The day was beautiful, and Helen, riding, as usual, beside Stephen, both in the rear, enjoyed the morning keenly. Overhead, out of a shimmering azure sky, the sun beamed mildly down, penetrating the chill of the morning, yet leaving enough tang to bring a bloom to their cheeks. On their left the river, high with melted snows from the north, moved in slow eddies near the shore, quicker eddies away from the shore, steady and swift flow in the middle—a changing, fascinating panorama. There fell a long silence before she turned to the young man beside her.
"Well, Mr. Native," she began, smiling, "I hope you don't mean to bury yourself this morning! For more than a month you have had very little to say to me. I don't like it, because I can't understand it, and so I won't have it!" Then she became serious. "Whatever is the matter, Stephen?"
Pat, walking slowly beside the unfriendly horse, was attentive. He heard his mistress's voice, and somehow knew she was troubled. Then directly he had positive proof of this, for she suddenly began to stroke his neck and shoulders. Always she did this when thoughtful, but though he strained his ears for further sounds of her voice, he did not hear her. What he did hear presently was the voice of the young man, and having learned long before to discriminate between different shades of the human voice, he knew from its low and tense quality that the topic was a vital one. He listened sharply, heedful of any least change of intonation that might be interpreted as a climax. But instead he was relieved presently to hear the voice of his mistress again, breaking in upon the low, constrained tones of the young man.
Pat held his ears steadily back. He noted that her voice was well under control, and she appeared to be answering the young man. Also, it was quite evident that she was not accepting his argument, whatever it was. Yet her voice took on many delicate changes. Sometimes he heard a note of pleading; again, mild exasperation; and once a falling inflection which hinted at sadness. So it continued, his mistress talking as he had never heard her talk before, until the group ahead drew rein and wheeled, indicating their intention of returning. Then once more the voice of his mistress changed suddenly and became light, even gay, leaving Pat, as he himself was turned around, a very much mystified horse.
Yet this gaiety did not last. When they were well on their way back toward the ranch, with the sun higher and brighter in the heavens, and the trail correspondingly whiter and more dazzling to the eye, he found himself listening to grave tones again—the voice of the young man. He talked steadily now, his flow of words always tense, though occasionally interrupted by the other with a quiet rejoinder. Then suddenly he ceased altogether, and Pat, acutely conscious of the silence which descended upon them, was relieved when it was broken by sounds of laughter ahead. Still the pair above him did not speak. Each appeared to be adrift on a sea of thought the like of which he had never known. And it continued, this ominous silence, and became heavier, until he saw the ranch loom up ahead. Then he felt his mistress urge him into a canter that she might join the others for the parting. But when the party broke up, as it did with much good feeling, and he found himself turned loose to one side, with his mistress and the young man walking into the shade of a cottonwood, he found himself forced, since he now was out of range of their voices, to forego any further listening, keenly against his desires. So he gave it all up as a bad job.
"Stephen," began Helen, seating herself upon a hummock of earth, "I am sorry—sorry beyond words—that it has turned out this way! I must admit that I like you—like you very much! But—but I am afraid it is not the sort of liking you ask."
He was seated beside her, reclining upon one elbow, absently thrusting the tip of his riding-whip into a tuft of grass. And now again, as before that morning, he told her of his very great love for her, his deep voice vibrant with emotion, grimly acknowledging himself as unworthy of her, yet asking with rare simplicity that she take him anyway, take him in spite of his unworthiness, declaring it as his belief she would find him in time worthy—that he would try to make himself worthy—would make himself worthy—would overcome those faults which evidently—though she had not as yet told him what they were—made him impossible in her eyes. Then suddenly he asked her to tell him precisely what these faults were. He knew that he had many and could only blame himself for them. But which of them did she find chiefly objectionable? He was pitiable in his pleading.
But Helen shook her head. "I—I can't tell you, Stephen," she declared, her voice breaking. "It—it is too much to ask of—of any girl."
He rose, turning toward the distant mountains, bright and smiling in their noonday splendor. As his eyes dwelt upon them in brooding silence, Helen gained her feet. And, aware of her great part in this wretchedness, she took his hand very gently in her own. Subtly conscious of the touch, realizing the tumult in his soul, she found herself suddenly alive to a feeling within her deeper than mere pity and sympathy. It was the anguish preceding tears. Quickly withdrawing her hand, she turned and fled to the house. Inside, she slowly approached a window. He was leading Pat into the corral; and, watching him unsaddle and unbridle her horse, her treasure, she awoke to something else within her, a strange swelling of her heart, different from anything she had ever known. It was like ownership; it was a something as of maternal pride, a something new to her which she could not fathom. She turned away. When she looked out again, her eyes dry and burning, he was riding slowly along the trail toward town.