Riders Of The Purple Sage
From: Riders Of The Purple Sage
Black Star and Night, answering to spur, swept swiftly westward
along the white, slow-rising, sage-bordered trail. Venters heard
a mournful howl from Ring, but Whitie was silent. The blacks
settled into their fleet, long-striding gallop. The wind sweetly
fanned Venters's hot face. From the summit of the first
low-swelling ridge he looked back. Lassiter waved his hand; Jane
waved her scarf. Venters replied by standing in his stirrups and
holding high his sombrero. Then the dip of the ridge hid them.
From the height of the next he turned once more. Lassiter, Jane,
and the burros had disappeared. They had gone down into the Pass.
Venters felt a sensation of irreparable loss.
"Bern--look!" called Bess, pointing up the long slope.
A small, dark, moving dot split the line where purple sage met
blue sky. That dot was a band of riders.
"Pull the black, Bess."
They slowed from gallop to canter, then to trot. The fresh and
eager horses did not like the check.
"Bern, Black Star has great eyesight."
"I wonder if they're Tull's riders. They might be rustlers. But
it's all the same to us."
The black dot grew to a dark patch moving under low dust clouds.
It grew all the time, though very slowly. There were long periods
when it was in plain sight, and intervals when it dropped behind
the sage. The blacks trotted for half an hour, for another
half-hour, and still the moving patch appeared to stay on the
horizon line. Gradually, however, as time passed, it began to
enlarge, to creep down the slope, to encroach upon the
"Bess, what do you make them out?" asked Venters. "I don't think
"They're sage-riders," replied Bess. "I see a white horse and
several grays. Rustlers seldom ride any horses but bays and
"That white horse is Tull's. Pull the black, Bess. I'll get down
and cinch up. We're in for some riding. Are you afraid?"
"Not now," answered the girl, smiling.
"You needn't be. Bess, you don't weigh enough to make Black Star
know you're on him. I won't be able to stay with you. You'll
leave Tull and his riders as if they were standing still."
"How about you?"
"Never fear. If I can't stay with you I can still laugh at
"Look, Bern! They've stopped on that ridge. They see us."
"Yes. But we're too far yet for them to make out who we are.
They'll recognize the blacks first. We've passed most of the
ridges and the thickest sage. Now, when I give the word, let
Black Star go and ride!"
Venters calculated that a mile or more still intervened between
them and the riders. They were approaching at a swift canter.
Soon Venters recognized Tull's white horse, and concluded that
the riders had likewise recognized Black Star and Night. But it
would be impossible for Tull yet to see that the blacks were not
ridden by Lassiter and Jane. Venters noted that Tull and the line
of horsemen, perhaps ten or twelve in number, stopped several
times and evidently looked hard down the slope. It must have been
a puzzling circumstance for Tull. Venters laughed grimly at the
thought of what Tull's rage would be when he finally discovered
the trick. Venters meant to sheer out into the sage before Tull
could possibly be sure who rode the blacks.
The gap closed to a distance to half a mile. Tull halted. His
riders came up and formed a dark group around him. Venters
thought he saw him wave his arms and was certain of it when the
riders dashed into the sage, to right and left of the trail. Tull
had anticipated just the move held in mind by Venters.
"Now Bess!" shouted Venters. "Strike north. Go round those riders
and turn west."
Black Star sailed over the low sage, and in a few leaps got into
his stride and was running. Venters spurred Night after him. It
was hard going in the sage. The horses could run as well there,
but keen eyesight and judgment must constantly be used by the
riders in choosing ground. And continuous swerving from aisle to
aisle between the brush, and leaping little washes and mounds of
the pack-rats, and breaking through sage, made rough riding. When
Venters had turned into a long aisle he had time to look up at
Tull's riders. They were now strung out into an extended line
riding northeast. And, as Venters and Bess were holding due
north, this meant, if the horses of Tull and his riders had the
speed and the staying power, they would head the blacks and turn
them back down the slope. Tull's men were not saving their
mounts; they were driving them desperately. Venters feared only
an accident to Black Star or Night, and skilful riding would
mitigate possibility of that. One glance ahead served to show him
that Bess could pick a course through the sage as well as he. She
looked neither back nor at the running riders, and bent forward
over Black Star's neck and studied the ground ahead.
It struck Venters, presently, after he had glanced up from time
to time, that Bess was drawing away from him as he had expected.
He had, however, only thought of the light weight Black Star was
carrying and of his superior speed; he saw now that the black was
being ridden as never before, except when Jerry Card lost the
race to Wrangle. How easily, gracefully, naturally, Bess sat her
saddle! She could ride! Suddenly Venters remembered she had said
she could ride. But he had not dreamed she was capable of such
superb horsemanship. Then all at once, flashing over him,
thrilling him, came the recollection that Bess was Oldring's
He forgot Tull--the running riders--the race. He let Night have a
free rein and felt him lengthen out to suit himself, knowing he
would keep to Black Star's course, knowing that he had been
chosen by the best rider now on the upland sage. For Jerry Card
was dead. And fame had rivaled him with only one rider, and that
was the slender girl who now swung so easily with Black Star's
stride. Venters had abhorred her notoriety, but now he took
passionate pride in her skill, her daring, her power over a
horse. And he delved into his memory, recalling famous rides
which he had heard related in the villages and round the
camp-fires. Oldring's Masked Rider! Many times this strange
rider, at once well known and unknown, had escaped pursuers by
matchless riding. He had to run the gantlet of vigilantes down
the main street of Stone Bridge, leaving dead horses and dead
rustlers behind. He had jumped his horse over the Gerber Wash, a
deep, wide ravine separating the fields of Glaze from the wild
sage. He had been surrounded north of Sterling; and he had broken
through the line. How often had been told the story of day
stampedes, of night raids, of pursuit, and then how the Masked
Rider, swift as the wind, was gone in the sage! A fleet, dark
horse--a slender, dark form--a black mask--a driving run down the
slope--a dot on the purple sage--a shadowy, muffled steed
disappearing in the night!
And this Masked Rider of the uplands had been Elizabeth Erne!
The sweet sage wind rushed in Venters's face and sang a song in
his ears. He heard the dull, rapid beat of Night's hoofs; he saw
Black Star drawing away, farther and farther. He realized both
horses were swinging to the west. Then gunshots in the rear
reminded him of Tull. Venters looked back. Far to the side,
dropping behind, trooped the riders. They were shooting. Venters
saw no puffs or dust, heard no whistling bullets. He was out of
range. When he looked back again Tull's riders had given up
pursuit. The best they could do, no doubt, had been to get near
enough to recognize who really rode the blacks. Venters saw Tull
drooping in his saddle.
Then Venters pulled Night out of his running stride. Those few
miles had scarcely warmed the black, but Venters wished to save
him. Bess turned, and, though she was far away, Venters caught
the white glint of her waving hand. He held Night to a trot and
rode on, seeing Bess and Black Star, and the sloping upward
stretch of sage, and from time to time the receding black riders
behind. Soon they disappeared behind a ridge, and he turned no
more. They would go back to Lassiter's trail and follow it, and
follow in vain. So Venters rode on, with the wind growing sweeter
to taste and smell, and the purple sage richer and the sky bluer
in his sight; and the song in his ears ringing. By and by Bess
halted to wait for him, and he knew she had come to the trail.
When he reached her it was to smile at sight of her standing with
arms round Black Star's neck.
"Oh, Bern! I love him!" she cried. "He's beautiful; he knows; and
how he can run! I've had fast horses. But Black Star!...Wrangle
never beat him!"
"I'm wondering if I didn't dream that. Bess, the blacks are
grand. What it must have cost Jane--ah!--well, when we get out of
this wild country with Star and Night, back to my old home in
Illinois, we'll buy a beautiful farm with meadows and springs and
cool shade. There we'll turn the horses free--free to roam and
browse and drink--never to feel a spur again--never to be
"I would like that," said Bess.
They rested. Then, mounting, they rode side by side up the white
trail. The sun rose higher behind them. Far to the left a low
fine of green marked the site of Cottonwoods. Venters looked once
and looked no more. Bess gazed only straight ahead. They put the
blacks to the long, swinging rider's canter, and at times pulled
them to a trot, and occasionally to a walk. The hours passed, the
miles slipped behind, and the wall of rock loomed in the fore.
The Notch opened wide. It was a rugged, stony pass, but with
level and open trail, and Venters and Bess ran the blacks through
it. An old trail led off to the right, taking the line of the
wall, and his Venters knew to be the trail mentioned by Lassiter.
The little hamlet, Glaze, a white and green patch in the vast
waste of purple, lay miles down a slope much like the Cottonwoods
slope, only this descended to the west. And miles farther west a
faint green spot marked the location of Stone Bridge. All the
rest of that world was seemingly smooth, undulating sage, with no
ragged lines of canyons to accentuate its wildness.
"Bess, we're safe--we're free!" said Venters. "We're alone on the
sage. We're half way to Sterling."
"Ah! I wonder how it is with Lassiter and Miss
"Never fear, Bess. He'll outwit Tull. He'll get away and hide her
safely. He might climb into Surprise Valley, but I don't think
he'll go so far."
"Bern, will we ever find any place like our beautiful valley?"
"No. But, dear, listen. Well go back some day, after years--ten
years. Then we'll be forgotten. And our valley will be just as we
"What if Balancing Rock falls and closes the outlet to the Pass?"
"I've thought of that. I'll pack in ropes and ropes. And if the
outlet's closed we'll climb up the cliffs and over them to the
valley and go down on rope ladders. It could be done. I know just
where to make the climb, and I'll never forget."
"Oh yes, let us go back!"
"It's something sweet to look forward to. Bess, it's like all the
future looks to me."
"Call me--Elizabeth," she said, shyly.
"Elizabeth Erne! It's a beautiful name. But I'll never forget
Bess. Do you know--have you thought that very soon--by this time
to-morrow--you will be Elizabeth Venters?"
So they rode on down the old trail. And the sun sloped to the
west, and a golden sheen lay on the sage. The hours sped now; the
afternoon waned. Often they rested the horses. The glisten of a
pool of water in a hollow caught Venters's eye, and here he
unsaddled the blacks and let them roll and drink and browse. When
he and Bess rode up out of the hollow the sun was low, a crimson
ball, and the valley seemed veiled in purple fire and smoke. It
was that short time when the sun appeared to rest before setting,
and silence, like a cloak of invisible life, lay heavy on all
that shimmering world of sage.
They watched the sun begin to bury its red curve under the dark
"We'll ride on till late," he said. "Then you can sleep a little,
while I watch and graze the horses. And we'll ride into Sterling
early to-morrow. We'll be married!...We'll be in time to catch
the stage. We'll tie Black Star and Night behind--and then--for a
country not wild and terrible like this!"
"Oh, Bern!...But look! The sun is setting on the sage--the last
time for us till we dare come again to the Utah border. Ten
years! Oh, Bern, look, so you will never forget!"
Slumbering, fading purple fire burned over the undulating sage
ridges. Long streaks and bars and shafts and spears fringed the
far western slope. Drifting, golden veils mingled with low,
purple shadows. Colors and shades changed in slow, wondrous
Suddenly Venters was startled by a low, rumbling roar--so low
that it was like the roar in a sea-shell.
"Bess, did you hear anything?" he
"Listen!...Maybe I only imagined--Ah!"
Out of the east or north from remote distance, breathed an
infinitely low, continuously long sound--deep, weird, detonating,
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