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Bred of the Desert - A Horse and a Romance
by Marcus Horton
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As he rode forward through the quiet of the afternoon he found his thoughts a curious conflict. At times he would think of the girl, and of his love for her, and of the long, still hours spent in the ranch-house brooding, especially the nights, when, gazing out at the stars, he had wondered whether she knew, or, knowing, whether, after all, she really cared. They had been lonely nights, fever-tossed and restless, nights sometimes curiously made up of pictures—pictures of a runaway horse and of a girl mounted upon the horse, and of long walks and rides and talks with her afterward, and of the last night in her company, outside a corral and underneath a smiling moon, the girl in white, her eyes burning with a strange glow, himself telling his love for her, and hearing in return only that she did not and could not return that love.

These were his thoughts at times as he rode forward through the desert solitude. Then he would awaken to his physical torture, and in this he would completely forget his spiritual distress, would ask why he had flung himself into this mocking silence and plunged into all this misery and pain. He knew why—knew it was because of the girl. But would it have been better to accept her dismissal and, returning to the East, let her pass out of his memory? In his heart he knew that he could not.

There followed the thought of his responsibility for Pat, and of what was left for him to do. He recalled the theft, and his weeks of futile riding to recover the horse, and the thrill accompanying risk of life when he finally recovered him. And after that the second theft, and another and more dreadful ride when he raced through the night after the cavalry—the torture of it, the agony of his arm, the shooting, and the grappling hand to hand, and Pat sinking with exhaustion, and the thrill again, his own, at having the horse once more in his possession. It was worth it—all of it—and he was glad—glad to have had an object for once in his life. And he still had that object, for was he not riding the horse on a journey which would end in placing Pat in the hands of the adorable girl who owned him?

Thus he rode through the afternoon and on into an early dusk. Suddenly awaking to the Stygian darkness around him, he gave over thinking of the past and future and turned uneasy thoughts upon the present. Above him was a black, impenetrable dome, seemingly within touch of his hand; around and about him pressed a dense wall that gave no hint of his whereabouts. Yet he believed that he was pursuing the right direction; and, forgetting that Pat, no more than himself, knew the route, he gave the horse loose rein. Thus for an hour, two hours, three, he rode slowly forward, when like a flash it came to him that he was hopelessly lost. He reined in the horse sharply.

For a time he sat trying to place himself. Failing in this, he raised his eyes, hoping for a break in the skies. But there was no glimmer of light, and after a while, not knowing what else to do, he sent Pat forward again. But his uneasiness would not down, and presently he drew rein again, dismounted, and fell to listening. There was not a breath of air. He took a step forward, his uneasiness becoming fear, and again stood motionless, listening, gripped by the oppressive stillness of the desert. It crept upon him, this death-quiet, seemed to close about him suffocatingly. Suddenly he started. Out of the dense blackness had come a voice, weak and plaintive. He turned tense with excitement and listened keenly.

"Hello, there! This—over this way!"

He could see nothing; but he moved in the direction of the voice. After a few strides he was stopped by a consciousness of something before him, and there was a constrained groan.

"Careful, man—I'm hurt. Unhorsed this morning. Been crawling all day for shade. Strike a match, will you? God! but it's a night!"

Stephen struck a light. As it flared up he saw prone in the sand a young man, his face drawn with pain, his eyes dark and hunted. The match went out. He struck another. The man was pitifully bruised and broken. A leg of his trousers had been torn away, and the limb lay exposed, strangely twisted. His track, made in crawling through the sand, stood out clearly, trailing away beyond the circling glow of light. A moment of flickering, and the second match went out.

"Which way were you headed, friend?" Stephen asked, pityingly. His heart went out to the stricken stranger. He wanted to ask another question, too, but he hesitated. But finally he asked it. "Who are you, old man?"

For a moment the fellow did not reply. The silence was oppressive. Stephen regretted his question. Then suddenly the man answered him, weakly, bitterly, as one utterly remorseful.

"I'm Jim," he blurted out. "Horse-thief, cattle-rustler."

Stephen bit his lip. More than ever he regretted that he had asked. Well, something had to be done, and done quickly. Could he but feel sure of his direction, he might place this unfortunate upon Pat and walk with him to the railroad town, where proper medical and surgical attendance could be obtained. But this he was unable to do, since he fully realized he was astray.

"Brother," he suddenly explained, "I was headed, myself, toward the railroad. A little before dark I lost my way. Do you happen to know—"

"Sit down," interrupted the other, faintly. "I've been—been lost—a week."

Stephen sat down thoughtfully. All hope of serving the man for the present was gone. He must wait till daybreak at least. Then somebody or something might appear to show him the way out. He thought of the ranch wagon, and of Buddy's offer, and it occurred to him that unless he was too far off the regular course he might attract Buddy. It was a chance, anyway.

"I've been 'most dead, too, for a week," suddenly began the other. "I 'ain't eat regularly, for one thing—'most a month of that, I reckon. Been times, too, when I couldn't—couldn't find water. I didn't know the country over here. Had to change—change horses a couple times, too. Because—" He checked himself. "I made a mistake—the last horse. He give me all—all that was comin'—"

A nicker from Pat interrupted him. Stephen felt him cringe. Directly he felt something else. It was a cold hand groping to find his own. The whole thing was queer, uncanny, and he was glad when the man went on.

"Did—did you hear that?" breathed the fellow, a note of suppressed terror in his voice. "Did you hear it, friend? Tell me!" His voice was shrill now.

Stephen reassured him, explaining that it was his horse. But a long time the man held fast, fingers gripping his hand, as if he did not believe, and was listening to make sure. At length he relaxed, and Stephen, still seated close beside him, heard him sink back into the sand.

"I was getting away from—from—Oh, well, it don't—don't make any difference." The fellow was silent. "I needed a—a horse," he continued, finally. "My own—the third since—since—my own had played out. I was near a ranch, and—and it was night, and I—I seen a corral with a horse standing in it—a gray. It was moonlight. I—I got the gate open, and I—I roped him, and—" He interrupted himself, was upon one elbow again. "It was a stallion—a cross-bred, maybe—and—and say, friend, he rode me to death! I got on him before I knowed what he was. Bareback. He shot out of that corral like he was crazy. But I—I managed to hold—hold to him and—if he'd only bucked me off! But he didn't. He just raced for it—tore across the country like a cyclone. He rode me to death, a hundred miles, I bet, without a stop. And I held on—couldn't let go—was afraid to let go." He was silent. "Are you—you dead sure, friend, that was your horse?"

Stephen again reassured him, realizing the fear upon the man and now understanding it. But he said nothing.

"And then somewhere off here he throwed me," went on the man. "But he—he was a raving maniac. He turned on me before I could get up, and bit and kicked and trampled me till I didn't know nothing—was asleep, or something. When I came to—woke up—he was still hanging around. He's around here yet! I heard him all day—yesterday! He's off there to the east somewheres. He's—he's looking for me. I kept still whenever I'd see him or hear him, and then when he'd move off out of sight, or quit—quit his nickering, I'd crawl along some more. I'm—I'm done, stranger," he concluded, weakly, dropping over upon his back. "I'm done, and I know it. And it was that horse that—that—" He was silent.

Stephen did not speak. He could not speak after this fearsome tale. Its pictures haunted him. He could see this poor fellow racing across the desert, clinging for life to that which meant death. His own condition had been brought about through a horse, a horse and wild rides at a time when he should have been, as this unfortunate undoubtedly should have been, in bed under medical care. For a moment he thought he would tell him a tale of misery equal to his own, in the hope that he might turn him from thoughts of his own misfortunes. But before he could speak the other broke in upon his thoughts with a shrill outcry. He had raised himself upon one elbow again, and now was pointing toward the eastern sky.

"Look!" he cried. "Look off there!"

Stephen turned his eyes in the direction of the pointing finger. He saw a faint light breaking through the black dome of the sky. As he watched it, it trickled out steadily, like slow-spreading water, filtering slowly through dense banks of clouds, folding them back like the shutter of a giant camera, until the whole eastern sky was a field of gray clouds with frosty edges, between which, coming majestically forward through the green-white billow, appeared finally a moon, big and round and brilliant, casting over the earth a flood of wonderland light, streaming down upon the dunes and flats in mystic sheen, bringing out the desert in soft outline. Near by, the light brought out the form of Pat, standing a short distance off with drooping head, motionless in all the splendor of his perfect outline. Stephen turned back to the man. He found him staring hard at the horse. He did not understand this until the fellow burst out excitedly, his eyes still fixed on Pat.

"Whose horse is that?" he demanded. "Tell me. Do you own that black horse?"

Stephen slowly shook his head. He thought the question but another expression of the stranger's nervous apprehension due to his experience. Yet he explained.

"He belongs back in New Mexico," he said, quietly—"the Rio Grande Valley. He was stolen last spring. Been ridden pretty hard since, I guess. I happen to know where he belongs, though, and I was taking him to a shipping-point when I lost my way. That's the horse you heard nicker a while ago," he added, soothingly.

The man sank flat again.

"I stole him," he blurted out. "I—I hope you'll get him back where he belongs. His—his name is Pat. He's—he's the best horse I ever rode." He relapsed, into silence, motionless, as one dead.

Stephen himself remained motionless. He looked at the man curiously. He believed that he ought to feel bitter toward him, since he saw in him the cause of all his own misery. But somehow he found that he could feel nothing but pity. In this man with eyes closed and gasping lips Stephen saw only a brother-mortal in distress, as he himself was in distress, and he forgave him for anything he had done.

He looked at Pat, understanding the temptation, and then turned his eyes pityingly toward the man—the stranger, dozing, murmuring strangely in his sleep. Seeing him at rest, and realizing the long hours before daybreak, Stephen finally dropped over upon one elbow, and prepared to pass the night as best he could. He was suffering torture from his arm and shoulder, and burning with the fever shown in his hot skin and parched lips.

The night passed restlessly. He saw the first rays of dawn break over the range and creep farther and farther down the valley, throwing a pale pink over the landscape and sending gaunt shadows slinking off into the light. A whinny from Pat aroused him. He arose painfully, gazed at the man at his feet, and then turned his eyes toward the distant horizon. A second whinny disturbed him and he shifted his gaze. Far above two great buzzards, circling round and round, faded into the morning haze. From a neighboring sand-dune a jack-rabbit appeared, paused a quivering moment, then scurried from view. The morning light grew brighter. A third whinny, and Pat now slowly started toward him. But again he fastened his eyes upon the distant horizon, hoping for a sight of the ranch wagon. But no wagon appeared. At length he turned to the horse. Pat stood soberly regarding the man, his ears forward, head drooping, tail motionless, as if recognizing in this mute object an erstwhile master. And suddenly lifting his head, he sounded a soft nicker, tremulously. Then again he fell to regarding the still form with strange interest.

The form was still, still for all eternity. For the man was dead.

Stephen sat down. He was shaking with fever and weakness. He placed a handkerchief over the face in repose, almost relieved that peace had come to this troubled soul. Then he thought of possible action. He realized that he was utterly lost. He had Pat, and for this he was thankful, since he knew that he could at least mount the horse and leave him to find a way out. But the horse alone must do it. He himself was bewildered, for the desert in broad day, as much as in the long night, revealed nothing. On every hand it lay barren, destitute of movement, wrapped in silence, seeming to mock his predicament. Yet he could not bring himself to mount at once. He sat motionless, suffering acutely, knowing that the least exertion would increase his pain—a machine run down—not caring to move.

Suddenly, off to the east appeared a horse—a gray. It cantered majestically to the top of a dune, and stood there—head erect, nostrils quivering, ears alert, cresting the hillock like a statue. Stephen shivered. For instinctively he knew this to be the gray stallion, the cross-bred, that had trampled the form beside him. His first impulse was to mount Pat and spur him in a race for life; his second impulse was to crouch in hiding in the hope of escaping the keen scrutiny of that merciless demon. He chose the race. Springing to his feet, he leaped for Pat, and he grasped the saddle-horn. In his haste he slipped, lost his stirrup, and fell back headlong. The shock made him faint, and for a time he was unconscious. Shrill neighing aroused him, and, hastily gaining his feet, he saw Pat running lightly, well-contained, to meet the swiftly advancing gray stallion. Then events moved with a terrible unreality.

The gray screamed defiantly and leaped toward Pat faster and faster. Pat braced his legs to meet the assault. But no assault came. With rare craft the gray suddenly checked himself, coming to a full stop two lengths away. Here, with ears flat and lashing tail, he glared at Pat, who, equally tense, returned defiance. Thus they stood in the desert, quiet, measuring each other, while Stephen, crouched, watching them, remembering the lifeless form beside him, prayed that Pat would prove equal to the mighty stallion. He had no gun. Pat alone could save him. If Pat were conquered nothing remained but death for both. For with Pat dead—and surely this masterful foe would stop at nothing short of death—Stephen realized that he himself, in his present condition, would never see civilization again. He could not walk the distance even if he knew the way, nor could he hope to mount the victorious stallion, should Pat be defeated, because only one man had done that, and that man lay dead beside him. The thought of being alone in the desert with the dead struck chill to his heart. He recalled his first ride with Helen, and her tales of men and horses in the early days, and what it meant to a man to have his horse stolen from him. It was all clear to him now, and he clenched his sound hand till the nails cut the flesh. Unless Pat fought a successful fight he was doomed to die of thirst, even if the stallion did not attack him. As he looked at Pat, his only hope in this dread situation, he prayed harder and more fervently than before that his champion would win.

Pat thrilled with the sense of coming battle, but he did not fear this horse. He remembered that once he had struck down a rival, and before that he had twice given successful battle to men—to a finish with the Mexican hostler, another time when he had brought his enemy to respect and consider him. Therefore he had no reason to fear this horse, even though he saw in the gray's splendid figure an enemy to be carefully considered. But not for an instant did Pat relax. For this was a crafty foe, as shown by his sudden halt, which Pat knew was the prelude to a swift attack. So he watched with keen alertness the flattened ears, the lashing tail—his own muscles held rigid, waiting.

The gray began a cautious approach. He put forward his legs one after another slowly, the while he held his eyes turned away, as if he were wholly absorbed in the vastness of the desert reaches. This was but a mere feint, as Pat understood it, and yet he waited, curious to know the outcome, still holding himself rigidly on guard. Closer came the gray, closer still, until he was almost beside him. Pat heard the whistle of his breath and saw the wild light in his eyes, and for an instant feared him. Yet there was no attack. The gray calmly gained a point immediately alongside and stopped, head to Pat's rump, separated from him by not more than half his length. Yet he did not attack; but Pat did not relax. And again they stood, end to end now and side by side, until Pat, coming finally to think, against his better judgment, that this was, after all, only a friendly advance, became less watchful. Then the blow fell. With a shrill scream that chilled Pat's heart the gray leaped sideways with a peculiar broadside lunge intended to hurl him off his feet. It was a form of attack new to Pat, and therefore never known to his ancestors, and before he could brace himself to meet it he found himself rolling over and over frantically in the sand.

He sprang up, screaming with rage, while the gray was trampling him with fiendish hoofs. He steadied himself, resisted the onslaught, took the offensive himself. He lunged with bared teeth, sank them into yielding flesh, and wheeled away quickly. But not fast enough. The gray slashed his rump. He turned back, tore the gray's shoulder, wheeled sharply, attacked with lightning heels, and darted away again. But again the gray sprang upon him, ripped his rump a second time, and sprang off like a fiend. Raging, vindictive, Pat hurtled after him, and snapped again and again, drawing hot blood pungent of taste and smell, and then he leaped aside. But not far enough. The gray dashed into him, enveloped him in a whirlwind of clashing teeth and flashing heels, and wheeled away in a wide circle, screaming to the heavens, leaving Pat, with a dozen stinging wounds, dazed and exhausted.

But Pat was quick to recover himself. Also, he took council. Never had he fought like this. His battle with the white horse had been brief—brief because of sudden releasing of weeks of venom stored within him by the white's continuous nagging, brief because of the white's inability to spring from each attack in season to protect himself. But no such sluggishness hampered this enemy, and he grimly realized that this was a struggle to the death. But he felt no fear. He respected the other's craft and wit and strength. Yet he knew that he himself had strength, while he realized that strength alone would not conquer. Craft and wit must serve with strength. Having strength, he himself must adopt the other qualities, must adapt himself to the occasion, exercise wit and craft, wait for openings, feint and withdraw, feint and attack, until, wearying this enemy, and puzzling him, there would come the chance to strike a death-blow. He knew what the death-blow was—knew it from his encounter with the white. He must inflict it first, lest the gray anticipate him, for the gray undoubtedly knew, also, from his experience and from his ancestors, what the death-blow was.

After a moment of gasping breath and gradually clearing eyes he felt self-control and assurance return. Since his enemy appeared to be waiting, he himself continued to wait. He waited three minutes, five minutes, ten, until the nervous tension would permit him to wait no longer. Remembering his plans, and emulating the first approach of the gray, he started slowly toward him, putting forward one foot after another quietly, his eyes upon the distant horizon. He even outdid the gray in his craft. As he drew near, he suddenly took on the manner of one seeking friendliness, nickering once softly, as if he had had enough of this and would ask reconciliation. But his ruse failed. The gray was wise with the wisdom of the world-free. Plunging suddenly upon him, he snapped for his ears, but missed. His teeth flashed at Pat's neck, lodged, and ripped the flesh. He whirled, lashed out with his heels, missed, and sped away. Pat wheeled again and again, almost overthrown, and staggered away.

Again he took council with himself. He was not beaten, he knew that. But neither was the enemy beaten. He knew that also. And he knew he must bide his time. Twice he had closed with the enemy, and twice he had come away the worse. Nothing was to be gained by this method. He must bide his time, wait for an encounter, dodge it if the moment proved unpropitious, but refrain from close attack. He must wait for his chance.

As he stood there, alert to every least thing, he suddenly awoke to tease breathing close behind him. For one flaming moment he was puzzled. Then he remembered that he had been watching the gray out of the corner of his eye. He had seemed to be off guard, and the other had stolen cautiously around behind him, evidently to take advantage of this chance. He swallowed hard. The enemy was stealing upon him. He wanted to wheel, believed he ought to wheel if he would save himself, but he did not. Instead, he brought craft into play. He listened patiently, intensely alert, and bided his time. The breathing came closer, closer still, and stopped. He heard the enemy swallow. He conquered his longing to turn, and remained still as death. The gray drew no closer. He seemed to be waiting, also biding his time. And now it became a test, a matter of nervous endurance, each waiting for the other. Around them pressed the desert solitude. There was no sound anywhere. The sun beat down upon the earth remorselessly. And still Pat waited, but not for long. There was a soft tread behind him, and he knew that he had won in the contest of endurance. With the footfalls he heard spasmodic breathing. And yet he waited. But he was ready to strike—to deal the death-blow. Closer came the restrained breathing, was close behind him. Then he struck with all his strength.

And his lightning heels found their mark. He heard the crack of bone and a long, terrible scream. He wheeled and saw the gray limping away. Gripped in sudden overwhelming fury, sounding a cry no less shrill than that of the gray, he leaped upon the enemy, bore him to earth, and, knowing no mercy, he trampled and slashed the furiously resisting foe into a bleeding mass. Then he dashed off, believing that it was all over. He turned toward Stephen and flung up his head to sound a cry of joy. But he did not sound it, for, taken off his guard, he suddenly found himself bowled over by the frenzied impact of the gray.

And Stephen, tense with suspense, felt hope sink within him. For the gray stallion, even with fore leg broken, was smothering the prostrate Pat in a raging attack. He saw Pat struggle time and again to gain his feet. At last, only after desperate effort, he saw him rise. He saw him spring upon the crippled gray and tear his back and neck and withers until his face and chest were covered with blood. And then—and at sight of this he went limp in joy and relief—he saw Pat wheel against the gray and lash out mightily, and he saw the gray drop upon breast and upper fore legs—hopelessly out of the struggle. For Pat had broken the second fore leg, and this fiend of the desert was down for all time.

And now Pat did a strange thing. As if it suddenly came to him that he had done a forbidden thing—for, after all, he was a product of advanced civilization—he flung up his head a second time and sounded a babyish whimper. Then he trotted straight to Stephen, there to nestle, as one seeking sympathy, under his master's enfolding arms. And Stephen, understanding, caressed and hugged and talked to him in a fervor of gratitude, until, awaking to the distress of the stallion, he staggered to his feet, intent upon a search for a revolver in the clothing of the still form. He found one, unexpectedly, in concealing folds, and with it shot the gray. Then he dragged himself to Pat, clambered dizzily into the saddle, gave the horse loose rein.

Pat set out at a walk. He was bleeding in many places, and he was sore and burning in many others. But he did not permit these things to divert him from his task. He went on steadily, going he knew not whither, until he felt his master become inert in the saddle. This troubled him, and, without knowing precisely why he did it, he freshened his gait and continued at a fox-trot well into the morning, until his alert eyes suddenly caught sight of a thin column of dust flung up by galloping horses and swiftly revolving wheels. Then he came to a halt, and, still not understanding his motives, he pointed his head toward the distant vehicle and sounded a shrill nicker.

The effort brought disaster. He felt his young master slip out of the saddle, saw him totter and sink in a heap on the sand. And now he understood fully. Throwing up his head again, he awoke the desert with an outcry that racked his whole body. But he did not stop. Again and again he flung his call across the silence, hurling it in mighty staccato in the direction of the ranch wagon until he saw the man suddenly draw rein, remain still for a time, then start up the horses again, this time in his direction. And now, and not till now, he ceased his nickering, and, in the great weariness and fatigue upon him, let his head droop, with eyes closed, until his nose almost touched the ground.

And although he did not know it, in the past four hours this dumb animal had in every way lived up to the faith and trust reposed in him by the little woman in the distant valley.



CHAPTER XXII

QUIESCENCE

After long jogging behind the ranch wagon Pat found himself back in a stable. He found himself attended once more by the round-faced and smiling young man who had looked after him before. This friend put salve upon his wounds, and after that, for days and days, provided him with food and water, sometimes talking to him hopefully, sometimes talking with quiet distress in his voice, sometimes attending to his wants without talking at all. It was all a dread monotony. The days became shorter; the nights became longer; a chill crept into the stable. All day long he stamped away the hours in restless discontent, longing for a change of some sort, longing for a sight of his young master, wanting to get out into the open, there to race his legs off in thrilling action.

Once this wish was granted. The weather was quite cold, and his round-faced friend came to him that morning showing every sign of haste. Hurriedly he bridled and saddled Pat, rushed him out of the stable, flung up across his back, and put spur to him with such vigor that he was forced into a gait the like of which he had not taken since his breathless speeding to the accompaniment of shots. Out across the desert he raced, breasting a cold wind, on and on till he found himself in a small railroad town. Here he was pulled up before a little cottage, and saw his friend mount the front steps and pull a tiny knob in the frame of the door. A moment of waiting and he saw a portly man appear, heard sharp conversation, saw his friend run down the steps. Then again he felt the prick of spurs, and found himself once more cantering across the desert. But not toward home. Late in the afternoon, wearied and suffering hunger pangs, he found himself in another small town and before another tiny cottage, with his friend pulling at a knob as before, and entering into crisp conversation with the person who answered, a lean man this time, who nodded his head and withdrew. After this he once more breasted the cold winds, worse now because of the night, and continued to breast them until he found himself back in the stable.

Thus he had his wish. But it was really more than he had wanted, and thereafter he was content to remain in peace and rest in the stable. But he was not always confined to the stable now. His friend began to permit him privileges, and one of these was the spending of long hours outdoors in a private corral. Here, basking in the sunlight, which was not free from winter chill, he would spend whole days dreaming and wondering—wondering for the most part about his master, the master he liked, and finding himself ever more distressed because of his continued absence. Sometimes, in the corral, he would see men walk slowly in and out of the ranch-house, or come to a halt outside his fence and stand for long minutes gazing at him, a look in their eyes, he thought, though he was not quite sure, of pity mingled with sorrow. But though these men came to him frequently, yet they rarely ever spoke to him; even as his round-faced friend, though still regularly attentive, rarely ever spoke to him now. It was all mysterious. He knew that something of a very grave nature was in the air, but what it was and why his real master never came to him as did the other men, he did not know, though sometimes he would be obsessed with troubled thoughts that all was not well with the young man.

Then one day, with spring descending upon the desert, he saw something that quickened his interest in life. He saw a door open in the house, saw a very thin young man appear on the threshold, saw him slowly descend the steps and walk toward him. It was his master. Yet was it? He pressed close to the fence, gazed at the man long and earnestly. Then he knew. It was indeed the same young man. He was much thinner now than when last he had come to him, and he seemed to lack his old-time energy, but nevertheless it was he. In a moment he knew it for certain, for the man held out a long, thin, white hand and called his name.

This was the beginning of the end. Thereafter two and three times a day the young man came to him, sometimes in the corral, sometimes in the stable, but always with each successive visit, it seemed to Pat, revealing increasing buoyancy and strength. And finally there came a day, bright and warm, when his master came to him, as it proved, to remain with him. The young man was dressed for riding, and he was surrounded by all the men Pat had ever seen about the place, and not a few whose faces were new to him. They led him out of the stable into the open, a dozen hands bridled and saddled him, then all crowded close in joyful conversation.

"Well, sir," began the round-faced young man, slapping Pat resoundingly upon the rump, "you're off again! And believe me I'm one that's right sorry to see you go. I don't care nothin' about this pardner o' yours—he don't count nohow, anyway. He's been sick 'most to death, shore, but he's all right now as far as that goes. His arm is all healed up, and he's fit in every other way—some ways—yet he's takin' himself off from as nice people as ever dragged saddles through a bunk-house at midnight. But that ain't it. He's takin' old black hoss away with him, and it don't jest set. I shore do hate to see you go."

Which seemed to express the opinions of the others. And somehow, even when his master was in the saddle and everything pointing to a final departure, Pat found himself hating to go. But duty was duty, and after his master had gathered up the reins and all had cordially shaken hands he broke into a canter, and, followed by a chorus of mighty yells, headed into the interminable desert, within him the feeling of one upon the threshold of new life, or of old and delightful life returned. Before he realized either the lapse of time or the distance traveled, he found himself cantering into the little railroad town he had visited so hurriedly in the winter. And there followed another experience new to Pat—a journey by train back to his home.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE REUNION

Stephen awoke quite late in the morning after his arrival in Pat's home town. Standing before a window in his room at the hotel, he saw a young woman cantering across the railroad tracks in the direction of the mesa. It was Helen, and, at sight of her, for a brief and awful moment he wavered in his decision. Then he remembered his suffering, and the determination made while convalescing, and, hastening his toilet, he hurried through breakfast and made his way to the livery-stable where Pat had spent the night. Pat nickered joyful greeting, as if understanding what was to come. Bridling and saddling him, Stephen mounted and rode into the street at a canter. He turned into the avenue, crossed the railroad tracks, and mounted the long, slow rise to the mesa at a walk. He moved slowly because he wanted time to think, to pull himself together, to the end that he might hold himself firmly to his decision in this last talk. And yet—and this was the conflict he suffered—he could hardly restrain himself, hold himself back, from urging Pat to his utmost.

He reached the first flat in the long rise. Absorbed in troubled reflections, he was barely conscious of the nods from two men he passed whom he knew—Hodgins, kindly old soul, book in hand; Maguire, truest of Celts, a twenty-inch slide-rule under his arm. Nodding in friendly recognition, both men gazed at the horse, seeming to understand, and glad to know that he was back. Mounting the second rise, he saw another whom he knew. A quarter of a mile to his left, on the tiny porch of a lone adobe, sat Skeet under a hat, feet elevated to the porch railing, head turned in a listening attitude, as though heeding a call, or many calls, from the direction of a brick-and-stone structure to the southwest. Everywhere familiar objects, scenes, stray people, caught his eye as he rode slowly out upon the mesa, trying to get his thoughts away from the immediate future, from Helen, his successful return of the horse, and that other thing, his determination to leave this spacious land for ever.

Suddenly he saw her. She was standing beside her brown saddler, her hand upon the bridle, gazing thoughtfully toward the mountains, now in their morning splendor. He rode Pat to a point perhaps twenty feet behind her, and then quietly let go of the reins and dropped to earth. For a moment he stood, his heart a well of bitterness; then, taking Pat's rein, he stepped toward her, quietly and slowly, intent upon making her surprise complete, because of her great love for the horse. She continued motionless, her hand upon the bridle, facing the mountains, and he came close before she turned.

He stopped. She stood perfectly still, eyes upon him, upon the horse, a slow pallor creeping into her face. Presently, as one in a spell, she let fall the reins, slowly, mechanically, and stepped toward him, a step ever quickening, her face drawn, in her eyes a strange, unchanging glow, until, when almost upon him, she held out both arms in trembling welcome and uttered a pitiful outcry.

"Stephen! Pat!" she sobbed. "Why—why didn't you—" She checked herself, came close, reached one arm around Pat, the other around Stephen, and went on. "I am—am glad you—you have come back—back to me." Her white face quivered. "Both of you. I—I have suffered."

And Stephen, swept away by the tide of his great love, and forgetting his determination, forgetting everything, bent his head and kissed her. She did not shrink, and he kissed her again. Then he began to talk, to tell her of her wonderful horse. Slowly at first, hesitating, then, as the spirit of the drama gripped him, rapidly, sometimes incoherently, he told of his adventures with the horse, and of Pat's unwavering loyalty throughout, and of that last dread situation when both their lives depended upon Pat's winning in a death-grapple with a wild horse. And then, as the gates of speech were opened, he showed her his own part, telling her that as Pat had been true to her trust, so he himself had tried to be true to her faith and trust, and was still trying and hoping, against his convictions, that she understood, that she would consider his love for her and would take him, because he loved her wholly and he needed her love to live. His tense words broke at last, and then he saw her looking up at him through tear-dimmed eyes and smiling, and in the smile he saw the opening of a life new and wonderful.

After a little she turned to Pat. She fell to stroking him in thoughtful silence. Then she turned back.

"I had heard much of what you have been through," she began, slowly, her voice soft and vibrant with deep sympathy, in her eyes that same steady glow. "The rangers reported to headquarters, and headquarters reported to Daddy. They told of the running fight, Stephen, and how—how you were hurt. And they told of the renegades, and their descent upon your camp, and of Pat's disappearance. And they told of the way you mounted another horse, hurt and sick though you were, and rode off in pursuit. But from there they knew nothing more. But they had spoken of the cavalry, and I wrote to Fort Wingate, inquiring, and they told me what they knew—that you had joined them and ridden with them through that dreadful fight, though they had tried to keep you out of it on account of your condition, and that afterward you had gone off with some cowboys—they didn't know to what ranch. So I looked up every brand in that section, Stephen," she went on, her voice beginning to break. "And I wrote to every place that might by any possible chance know something. But nobody knew. And—and—there I—I was stopped. You had been swallowed up in that desert, and I—I knew you must be ill—and I realized that I—I had sent you into it all." She sobbed and leaned her head against him. "I couldn't do anything, Stephen. I was helpless. All I have been able to do at any time, Stephen, was to—to sit at a window and wait—wait to hear from you—wait for your return—and hope, hope day in and day out that—that you were safe. I—I have—have suffered, Stephen," she concluded, sobbing wretchedly now. "I have suffered—suffered so much!"

He drew her close in his arms, united at last in complete understanding. The brown saddler, left free, wandered away indifferently; but Pat remained beside them, and presently they felt the tender touch of his beautiful head, as if in comprehension and blessing. Their hands went out to him, and Pat nickered softly at the love in their caress. Then Stephen gently raised Helen's sweet, tear-stained face to his, and in her eyes he read the certainty of the great happiness of years to come, while Pat, raising his head proudly to the desert, stood above them as if in solemn protection.

THE END



ZANE GREY'S NOVELS

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list

THE LIGHT OF WESTERN STARS

Colored frontispiece by W. Herbert Dunton.

Most of the action of this story takes place near the turbulent Mexican border of the present day. A New York society girl buys a ranch which becomes the center of frontier warfare. Her loyal cowboys defend her property from bandits, and her superintendent rescues her when she is captured by them. A surprising climax brings the story to a delightful close.

DESERT GOLD

Illustrated by Douglas Duer.

Another fascinating story of the Mexican border. Two men, lost in the desert, discover gold when, overcome by weakness, they can go no farther. The rest of the story describes the recent uprising along the border, and ends with the finding of the gold which the two prospectors had willed to the girl who is the story's heroine.

RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE

Illustrated by Douglas Duer.

A picturesque romance of Utah of some forty years ago when Mormon authority ruled. In the persecution of Jane Withersteen, a rich ranch owner, we are permitted to see the methods employed by the invisible hand of the Mormon Church to break her will.

THE LAST OF THE PLAINSMEN

Illustrated with photograph reproductions.

This is the record of a trip which the author took with Buffalo Jones, known as the preserver of the American bison, across the Arizona desert and of a hunt in "that wonderful country of yellow crags, deep canons and giant pines." It is a fascinating story.

THE HERITAGE OF THE DESERT

Jacket in color. Frontispiece.

This big human drama is played in the Painted Desert. A lovely girl, who has been reared among Mormons, learns to love a young New Englander. The Mormon religion, however, demands that the girl shall become the second wife of one of the Mormons—

Well, that's the problem of this sensational, big selling story.

BETTY ZANE

Illustrated by Louis F. Grant.

This story tells of the bravery and heroism of Betty, the beautiful young sister of old Colonel Zane, one of the bravest pioneers. Life along the frontier, attacks by Indians, Betty's heroic defense of the beleaguered garrison at Wheeling, the burning of the Fort, and Betty's final race for life make up this never-to-be-forgotten story.

GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK



NOVELS OF FRONTIER LIFE BY WILLIAM MacLEOD RAINE

HANDSOMELY BOUND IN CLOTH. ILLUSTRATED.

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's list

MAVERICKS.

A tale of the western frontier, where the "rustler," whose depredations are so keenly resented by the early settlers of the range, abounds. One of the sweetest love stories ever told.

A TEXAS RANGER.

How a member of the most dauntless border police force carried law into the mesquite, saved the life of an innocent man after a series of thrilling adventures, followed a fugitive to Wyoming, and then passed through deadly peril to ultimate happiness.

WYOMING.

In this vivid story of the outdoor West the author has captured the breezy charm of "cattleland," and brings out the turbid life of the frontier with all its engaging dash and vigor.

RIDGWAY OF MONTANA.

The scene is laid in the mining centers of Montana, where politics and mining industries are the religion of the country. The political contest, the love scene, and the fine character drawing give this story great strength and charm.

BUCKY O'CONNOR,

Every chapter teems with wholesome, stirring adventures, replete with the dashing spirit of the border, told with dramatic dash and absorbing fascination of style and plot.

CROOKED TRAILS AND STRAIGHT.

A story of Arizona; of swift-riding men and daring outlaws; of a bitter feud between cattle-men and sheep-herders. The heroine is a most unusual woman and her love story reaches a culmination that is fittingly characteristic of the great free West.

BRAND BLOTTERS.

A story of the Cattle Range. This story brings out the turbid life of the frontier, with all its engaging dash and vigor, with a charming love interest running through its 320 pages.

GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK



JACK LONDON'S NOVELS

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.

JOHN BARLEYCORN. Illustrated by H. T. Dunn.

This remarkable book is a record of the author's own amazing experiences. This big, brawny world rover, who has been acquainted with alcohol from boyhood, comes out boldly against John Barleycorn. It is a string of exciting adventures, yet it forcefully conveys an unforgettable idea and makes a typical Jack London book.

THE VALLEY OF THE MOON. Frontispiece by George Harper.

The story opens in the city slums where Billy Roberts, teamster and ex-prize fighter, and Saxon Brown, laundry worker, meet and love and marry. They tramp from one end of California to the other, and in the Valley of the Moon find the farm paradise that is to be their salvation.

BURNING DAYLIGHT. Four illustrations.

The story of an adventurer who went to Alaska and laid the foundations of his fortune before the gold hunters arrived. Bringing his fortunes to the States he is cheated out of it by a crowd of money kings, and recovers it only at the muzzle of his gun. He then starts out as a merciless exploiter on his own account. Finally he takes to drinking and becomes a picture of degeneration. About this time he falls in love with his stenographer and wins her heart but not her hand and then—but read the story!

A SON OF THE SUN. Illustrated by A. O. Fischer and C. W. Ashley.

David Grief was once a light-haired, blue-eyed youth who came from England to the South Seas in search of adventure. Tanned like a native and as lithe as a tiger, he became a real son of the sun. The life appealed to him and he remained and became very wealthy.

THE CALL OF THE WILD. Illustrations by Philip R. Goodwin and Charles Livingston Bull. Decorations by Charles E. Hooper.

A book of dog adventures as exciting as any man's exploits could be. Here is excitement to stir the blood and here is picturesque color to transport the reader to primitive scenes.

THE SEA WOLF. Illustrated by W. J. Aylward.

Told by a man whom Fate suddenly swings from his fastidious life into the power of the brutal captain of a sealing schooner. A novel of adventure warmed by a beautiful love episode that every reader will hail with delight.

WHITE FANG. Illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull.

"White Fang" is part dog, part wolf and all brute, living in the frozen north; he gradually comes under the spell of man's companionship, and surrenders all at the last in a fight with a bull dog. Thereafter he is man's loving slave.

GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK



STORIES OF RARE CHARM BY GENE STRATTON-PORTER

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's list

LADDIE.

Illustrated by Herman Pfeifer.

This is a bright, cheery tale with the scenes laid in Indiana. The story is told by Little Sister, the youngest member of a large family, but it is concerned not so much with childish doings as with the love affairs of older members of the family. Chief among them is that of Laddie, the older brother whom Little Sister adores, and the Princess, an English girl who has come to live in the neighborhood and about whose family there hangs a mystery. There is a wedding midway in the book and a double wedding at the close.

THE HARVESTER.

Illustrated by W. L. Jacobs.

"The Harvester," David Langston, is a man of the woods and fields, who draws his living from the prodigal hand of Mother Nature herself. If the book had nothing in it but the splendid figure of this man it would be notable. But when the Girl comes to his "Medicine Woods," and the Harvester's whole being realizes that this is the highest point of life which has come to him—there begins a romance of the rarest idyllic quality.

FRECKLES.

Decorations by E. Stetson Crawford.

Freckles is a nameless waif when the tale opens, but the way in which he takes hold of life; the nature friendships he forms in the great Limberlost Swamp; the manner in which everyone who meets him succumbs to the charm of his engaging personality; and his love-story with "The Angel" are full of real sentiment.

A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST.

Illustrated by Wladyslaw T. Brenda.

The story of a girl of the Michigan woods; a buoyant, lovable type of the self-reliant American. Her philosophy is one of love and kindness towards all things; her hope is never dimmed. And by the sheer beauty of her soul, and the purity of her vision, she wins from barren and unpromising surroundings those rewards of high courage.

AT THE FOOT OF THE RAINBOW.

Illustrations in colors by Oliver Kemp.

The scene of this charming love story is laid in Central Indiana. The story is one of devoted friendship, and tender self-sacrificing love. The novel is brimful of the most beautiful word painting of nature, and its pathos and tender sentiment will endear it to all.

GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK



JOHN FOX, JR'S.

STORIES OF THE KENTUCKY MOUNTAINS

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's list

THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE.

Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

The "lonesome pine" from which the story takes its name was a tall tree that stood in solitary splendor on a mountain top. The fame of the pine lured a young engineer through Kentucky to catch the trail, and when he finally climbed to its shelter he found not only the pine but the foot-prints of a girl. And the girl proved to be lovely, piquant, and the trail of these girlish foot-prints led the young engineer a madder chase than "the trail of the lonesome pine."

THE LITTLE SHEPHERD OF KINGDOM COME

Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

This is a story of Kentucky, in a settlement known as "Kingdom Come." It is a life rude, semi-barbarous; but natural and honest, from which often springs the flower of civilization.

"Chad," the "little shepherd," did not know who he was nor whence he came—he had just wandered from door to door since early childhood, seeking shelter with kindly mountaineers who gladly fathered and mothered this waif about whom there was such a mystery—a charming waif, by the way, who could play the banjo better than anyone else in the mountains.

A KNIGHT OF THE CUMBERLAND.

Illustrated by F. C. Yohn.

The scenes are laid along the waters of the Cumberland, the lair of moonshiner and feudsman. The knight is a moonshiner's son, and the heroine a beautiful girl perversely christened "The Blight." Two impetuous young Southerners fall under the spell of "The Blight's" charms and she learns what a large part jealousy and pistols have in the love making of the mountaineers.

Included in this volume is "Hell fer-Sartain" and other stories, some of Mr. Fox's most entertaining Cumberland valley narratives.

Ask for complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



B. M. Bower's Novels

THRILLING WESTERN ROMANCES

Large 12 mos. Handsomely bound in cloth. Illustrated

CHIP, OF THE FLYING U

A breezy wholesome tale, wherein the love affairs of Chip and Della Whitman are charmingly and humorously told. Chip's jealousy of Dr. Cecil Grantham, who turns out to be a big blue eyed young woman is very amusing. A clever, realistic story of the American Cowpuncher.

THE HAPPY FAMILY

A lively and amusing story, dealing with the adventures of eighteen jovial, big hearted Montana cowboys. Foremost amongst them, we find Ananias Green, known as Andy, whose imaginative powers cause many lively and exciting adventures.

HER PRAIRIE KNIGHT

A realistic story of the plains, describing a gay party of Easterners who exchange a cottage at Newport for the rough homeliness of a Montana ranch-house. The merry-hearted cowboys, the fascinating Beatrice, and the effusive Sir Redmond, become living, breathing personalities.

THE RANGE DWELLERS

Here are everyday, genuine cowboys, just as they really exist. Spirited action, a range feud between two families, and a Romeo and Juliet courtship make this a bright, jolly, entertaining story, without a dull page.

THE LURE OF DIM TRAILS

A vivid portrayal of the experience of an Eastern author, among the cowboys of the West, in search of "local color" for a new novel. "Bud" Thurston learns many a lesson while following "the lure of the dim trails" but the hardest, and probably the most welcome, is that of love.

THE LONESOME TRAIL

"Weary" Davidson leaves the ranch for Portland, where conventional city life palls on him. A little branch of sage brush, pungent with the atmosphere of the prairie, and the recollection of a pair of large brown eyes soon compel his return. A wholesome love story.

THE LONG SHADOW

A vigorous Western story, sparkling with the free, outdoor, life of a mountain ranch. Its scenes shift rapidly and its actors play the game of life fearlessly and like men. It is a fine love story from start to finish.

Ask for a complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction.

Grosset & Dunlap, 526 West 26th St., New York

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