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The First Day








From: The Fighting Edge

In the wake of Hawks Bob rode through the buckbrush. There was small
chance for conversation, and in any case neither of them was in the mood
for talk. Bob's sensitive soul did not want to risk the likelihood of a
rebuff. He was susceptible to atmospheres, and he knew that Buck was
sulky at being saddled with him.

He was right. Buck did not see why Harshaw had put this outcast
tenderfoot on him. He did not see why he had hired him at all. One thing
was sure. He was not going to let the fellow get round him. No, sir. Not
on his tintype he wasn't.

Since it was the only practical way at present to show his disgust and
make the new puncher feel like a fool, Hawks led him through the roughest
country he could find at the fastest feasible gait. Buck was a notably
wild rider in a country of reckless horsemen. Like all punchers, he had
been hurt time and again. He had taken dozens of falls. Two broncos had
gone down under him with broken necks. A third had twisted its leg in a
beaver burrow and later had to be shot. This day he outdid himself.

As young Dillon raced behind him along side hills after dogies fleet as
blacktails, the heart fluttered in his bosom like a frightened bird in a
cage. He did not pretend to keep up with Hawks. The best he could do was
to come loping up after the excitement was over. The range-rider made no
spoken comment whatever, but his scornful blue eyes said all that was
necessary.

The day's work did not differ except in details from that of yesterday
and to-morrow. They headed back two three-year-olds drifting too far
north. They came on a Slash Lazy D cow with a young calf and moved it
slowly down to better feed near the creek. In the afternoon they found a
yearling sunk in a bog. After trying to pull it out by the ears, they
roped its body and tugged together. Their efforts did not budge the
animal. Hawks tied one end of the rope to the saddle-horn, swung up, and
put the pony to the pull. The muscles of the bronco's legs stood out as
it leaned forward and scratched for a foothold. The calf blatted with
pain, but presently it was snaked out from the quagmire to the firm
earth.

They crossed the creek and returned on the other side. Late in the
afternoon they met half a dozen Utes riding their inferior ponies. They
had evidently been hunting, for most of them carried deer. Old Colorow
was at their head.

He grunted "How!" sulkily. The other braves passed without speaking.
Something in their manner sent a shiver up Dillon's spine. He and Hawks
were armed only with revolvers. It would be the easiest thing in the
world for the Indians to kill them if they wished.

Hawks called a cheerful greeting. It suggested the friendliest of
feeling. The instructions given to the punchers were to do nothing to
irritate the Utes just now.

The mental attitude of the Indians toward the cattlemen and cowboys was a
curious one. They were suspicious of them. They resented their presence
in the country. But they felt a very wholesome respect for them. These
leather-chapped youths could outride and outshoot them. With or without
reason, the Utes felt only contempt for soldiers. They were so easily led
into traps. They bunched together when under fire instead of scattering
for cover. They did not know how to read sign on the warmest trail. These
range-riders were different. If they were not as wary as the Utes, they
made up for it by the dash and aplomb with which they broke through
difficulties.

In Bear Cat the day before Bob had heard settlers discuss the unrest of
the Indians. The rumor was that soon they meant to go on the warpath
again. Colorow himself, with a specious air of good will, had warned a
cattleman to leave the country while there was time.

"You mebbe go--mebbe not come back," he had suggested meaningly. "Mebbe
better so. Colorow friend. He speak wise words."

Until the Utes were out of gunshot Bob felt very uneasy. It was not many
years since the Meeker massacre and the ambushing of Major Thornburg's
troops on Milk Creek.

Reeves and Hollister were in the bunkhouse when Bob entered it just
before supper. He heard Dud's voice.

"... don't like a hair of his red haid, but that's how it'll be far as
I'm concerned."

There was a moment's awkward silence. Dillon knew they had been talking
about him. Beneath the deep gold of his blond skin Hollister flushed. Boy
though he was, Dud usually had the self-possession of the Sphinx. But
momentarily he was embarrassed.

"Hello, fellow!" he shouted across the room. "How'd she go?"

"All right, I reckon," Bob answered. "I wasn't much use."

He wanted to ask Dud a question, but he dared not ask it before anybody
else. It hung in his mind all through supper. Afterward he found his
chance. He did not look at Hollister while he spoke.

"Did--did you hear how--Miss Tolliver is?" he asked.

"Doc says he can't tell a thing yet. She's still mighty sick. But Blister
he sent word to you that he'd let you know soon as there is a change."

"Much obliged."

Bob moved away. He did not want to annoy anybody by pressing his
undesirable society upon him.

That night he slept like a hibernating bear. The dread of the morrow was
no longer so heavy upon him. Drowsily, while his eyes were closing, he
recalled the prediction of the fat justice that no experience is as bad
as one's fears imagine it will be. That had been true to-day at least.
Even his fight with the sorrel, the name of which he had later discovered
to be Powder River, was now only a memory which warmed and cheered.

Cowpunchers usually rode in couples. Bob learned next morning that he was
paired with Dud. They were to comb the Crooked Wash country.





Next: Dud Qualifies As Court Jester

Previous: The Back Of A Bronc



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