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The Rider Of The Black Horse








From: 'firebrand' Trevison

The trail from the Diamond K broke around the base of a low hill dotted
thickly with scraggly oak and fir, then stretched away, straight and
almost level (except for a deep cut where the railroad gang and a steam
shovel were eating into a hundred-foot hill) to Manti. A month before,
there had been no Manti, and six months before that there had been no
railroad. The railroad and the town had followed in the wake of a party of
khaki-clad men that had made reasonably fast progress through the country,
leaving a trail of wooden stakes and little stone monuments behind.
Previously, an agent of the railroad company had bartered through,
securing a right-of-way. The fruit of the efforts of these men was a dark
gash on a sun-scorched level, and two lines of steel laid as straight as
skilled eye and transit could make them--and Manti.

Manti could not be overlooked, for the town obtruded upon the vision from
where "Brand" Trevison was jogging along the Diamond K trail astride his
big black horse, Nigger. Manti dominated the landscape, not because it was
big and imposing, but because it was new. Manti's buildings were
scattered--there had been no need for crowding; but from a distance--from
Trevison's distance, for instance, which was a matter of three miles or
so--Manti looked insignificant, toy-like, in comparison with the vast
world on whose bosom it sat. Manti seemed futile, ridiculous. But Trevison
knew that the coming of the railroad marked an epoch, that the two thin,
thread-like lines of steel were the tentacles of the man-made monster that
had gripped the East--business reaching out for newer fields--and that
Manti, futile and ridiculous as it seemed, was an outpost fortified by
unlimited resource. Manti had come to stay.

And the cattle business was going, Trevison knew. The railroad company had
built corrals at Manti, and Trevison knew they would be needed for several
years to come. But he could foresee the day when they would be replaced by
building and factory. Business was extending its lines, cattle must
retreat before them. Several homesteaders had already appeared in the
country, erecting fences around their claims. One of the homesteaders,
when Trevison had come upon him a few days before, had impertinently
inquired why Trevison did not fence the Diamond K range. Fence in five
thousand acres! It had never been done in this section of the country.
Trevison had permitted himself a cold grin, and had kept his answer to
himself. The incident was not important, but it foreshadowed a day when a
dozen like inquiries would make the building of a range fence imperative.

Trevison already felt the irritation of congestion--the presence of the
homesteaders nettled him. He frowned as he rode. A year ago he would have
sold out--cattle, land and buildings--at the market price. But at that
time he had not known the value of his land. Now--

He kicked Nigger in the ribs and straightened in the saddle, grinning.

"She's not for sale now--eh, Nig?"

Five minutes later he halted the black at the crest of the big railroad
cut and looked over the edge appraisingly. Fifty laborers--directed by a
mammoth personage in dirty blue overalls, boots, woolen shirt, and a
wide-brimmed felt hat, and with a face undeniably Irish--were working
frenziedly to keep pace with the huge steam shovel, whose iron jaws were
biting into the earth with a regularity that must have been discouraging
to its human rivals. A train of flat-cars, almost loaded, was on the track
of the cut, and a dinky engine attached to them wheezed steam from a
safety valve, the engineer and fireman lounging out of the cab window,
lazily watching.

Patrick Carson, the personage--construction boss, good-natured, keen,
observant--was leaning against a boulder at the side of the track, talking
to the engineer at the instant Trevison appeared at the top of the cut. He
glanced up, his eyes lighting.

"There's thot mon, Trevison, ag'in, Murph'," he said to the engineer.
"Bedad, he's a pitcher now, ain't he?"

An imposing figure Trevison certainly was. Horse and rider were outlined
against the sky, and in the dear light every muscle and feature of man and
beast stood but boldly and distinctly. The big black horse was a powerful
brute, tall and rangy, with speed and courage showing plainly in contour,
nostril and eye; and with head and ears erect he stood motionless,
statuesque, heroic. His rider seemed to have been proportioned to fit the
horse. Tall, slender of waist, broad of shoulder, straight, he sat loosely
in the saddle looking at the scene below him, unconscious of the
admiration he excited. Poetic fancies stirred Carson vaguely.

"Luk at 'im now, Murph; wid his big hat, his leather pants, his spurs, an'
the rist av his conthraptions! There's a divvil av a conthrast here now,
if ye'd only glimpse it. This civillyzation, ripraysinted be this
railroad, don't seem to fit, noways. It's like it had butted into a
pitcher book! Ain't he a darlin'?"

"I've never seen him up close," said Murphy. There was none of Carson's
enthusiasm in his voice. "It's always seemed to me that a felluh who rigs
himself out like that has got a lot of show-off stuff in him."

"The first time I clapped me eyes on wan av them cowbhoys I thought so,
too," said Carson. "That was back on the other section. But I seen so
manny av them rigged out like thot, thot I comminced to askin' questions.
It's a domned purposeful rig, mon. The big felt hat is a daisy for keepin'
off the sun, an' that gaudy bit av a rag around his neck keeps the sun and
sand from blisterin' the skin. The leather pants is to keep his legs from
gettin' clawed up be the thorns av prickly pear an' what not, which he's
got to ride through, an' the high heels is to keep his feet from slippin'
through the stirrups. A kid c'ud tell ye what he carries the young cannon
for, an' why he wears it so low on his hip. Ye've nivver seen him up
close, eh Murph'? Well, I'm askin' him down so's ye can have a good look
at him." He stepped back from the boulder and waved a hand at Trevison,
shouting:

"Make it a real visit, bhoy!"

"I'll be pullin' out of here before he can get around," said Murphy,
noting that the last car was almost filled.

Carson chuckled. "Hold tight," he warned; "he's comin'."

The side of the cut was steep, and the soft sand and clay did not make a
secure footing. But when the black received the signal from Trevison he
did not hesitate. Crouching like a great cat at the edge, he slid his
forelegs over until his hoofs sank deep into the side of the cut. Then
with a gentle lurch he drew his hind legs after him, and an instant later
was gingerly descending, his rider leaning far back in the saddle, the
reins held loosely in his hands.

It looked simple enough, the way the black was doing it, and Trevison's
demeanor indicated perfect trust in the animal and in his own skill as a
rider. But the laborers ceased working and watched, grouped, gesturing;
the staccato coughing of the steam shovel died gaspingly, as the engineer
shut off the engine and stood, rooted, his mouth agape; the fireman in the
dinky engine held tightly to the cab window. Murphy muttered in
astonishment, and Carson chuckled admiringly, for the descent was a full
hundred feet, and there were few men in the railroad gang that would have
dared to risk the wall on foot.

The black had gained impetus with distance. A third of the slope had been
covered when he struck some loose earth that shifted with his weight and
carried his hind quarters to one side and off balance. Instantly the rider
swung his body toward the wall of the cut, twisted in the saddle and swung
the black squarely around, the animal scrambling like a cat. The black
stood, braced, facing the crest of the cut, while the dislodged earth,
preceded by pebbles and small boulders, clattered down behind him. Then,
under the urge of Trevison's gentle hand and voice, the black wheeled
again and faced the descent.

"I wouldn't ride a horse down there for the damned railroad!" declared
Murphy.

"Thrue for ye--ye c'udn't," grinned Carson.

"A man could ride anywhere with a horse like that!" remarked the fireman,
fascinated.

"Ye'd have brought a cropper in that slide, an' the road wud be minus a
coal-heaver!" said Carson. "Wud ye luk at him now!"

The black was coming down, forelegs asprawl, his hind quarters sliding in
the sand. Twice as his fore-hoofs struck some slight obstruction his hind
quarters lifted and he stood, balanced, on his forelegs, and each time
Trevison averted the impending catastrophe by throwing himself far back in
the saddle and slapping the black's hips sharply.

"He's a circus rider!" shouted Carson, gleefully. "He's got the coolest
head of anny mon I iver seen! He's a divvil, thot mon!"

The descent was spectacular, but it was apparent that Trevison cared
little for its effect upon his audience, for as he struck the level and
came riding toward Carson and the others, there was no sign of
self-consciousness in his face or manner. He smiled faintly, though, as a
cheer from the laborers reached his ears. In the next instant he had
halted Nigger near the dinky engine, and Carson was introducing him to the
engineer and fireman.

Looking at Trevison "close up," Murphy was constrained to mentally label
him "some man," and he regretted his deprecatory words of a few minutes
before. Plainly, there was no "show-off stuff" in Trevison. His feat of
riding down the wall of the cut had not been performed to impress anyone;
the look of reckless abandon in the otherwise serene eyes that held
Murphy's steadily, convinced the engineer that the man had merely
responded to a dare-devil impulse. There was something in Trevison's
appearance that suggested an entire disregard of fear. The engineer had
watched the face of a brother of his craft one night when the latter had
been driving a roaring monster down a grade at record-breaking speed into
a wall of rain-soaked darkness out of which might thunder at any instant
another roaring monster, coming in the opposite direction. There had been
a mistake in orders, and the train was running against time to make a
switch. Several times during the ride Murphy had caught a glimpse of the
engineer's face, and the eyes had haunted him since--defiance of death,
contempt of consequences, had been reflected in them. Trevison's eyes
reminded him of the engineer's. But in Trevison's eyes was an added
expression--cold humor. The engineer of Murphy's recollection would have
met death dauntlessly. Trevison would meet it no less dauntlessly, but
would mock at it. Murphy looked long and admiringly at him, noting the
deep chest, the heavy muscles, the blue-black sheen of his freshly-shaven
chin and jaw under the tan; the firm, mobile mouth, the aggressive set to
his head. Murphy set his age down at twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Murphy
was sixty himself--the age that appreciates, and secretly envies, the
virility of youth. Carson was complimenting Trevison on his descent of the
wall of the cut.

"You're a daisy rider, me bhoy!"

"Nigger's a clever horse," smiled Trevison. Murphy was pleased that he was
giving the animal the credit. "Nigger's well trained. He's wiser than some
men. Tricky, too." He patted the sleek, muscular neck of the beast and the
animal whinnied gently. "He's careful of his master, though," laughed
Trevison. "A man pulled a gun on me, right after I'd got Nigger. He had
the drop, and he meant business. I had to shoot. To disconcert the fellow,
I had to jump Nigger against him. Since then, whenever Nigger sees a gun
in anyone's hand, he thinks it's time to bowl that man over. There's no
holding him. He won't even stand for anyone pulling a handkerchief out of
a hip pocket when I'm on him." Trevison grinned. "Try it, Carson, but get
that boulder between you and Nigger before you do."

"I don't like the look av the baste's eye," declined the Irishman. "I
wudn't doubt ye're worrud for the wurrold. But he wudn't jump a mon divvil
a bit quicker than his master, or I'm a sinner!"

Trevison's eyes twinkled. "You're a good construction boss, Carson. But
I'm glad to see that you're getting more considerate."

"Av what?"

"Of your men." Trevison glanced back; he had looked once before, out of
the tail of his eye. The laborers were idling in the cut, enjoying the
brief rest, taking advantage of Carson's momentary dereliction, for the
last car had been filled.

"I'll be rayported yet, begob!"

Carson waved his hands, and the laborers dove for the flat-cars. When the
last man was aboard, the engine coughed and moved slowly away. Carson
climbed into the engine-cab, with a shout: "So-long bhoy!" to Trevison.
The latter held Nigger with a firm rein, for the animal was dancing at the
noise made by the engine, and as the cars filed past him, running faster
now, the laborers grinned at him and respectfully raised their hats. For
they had come from one of the Latin countries of Europe, and for them, in
the person of this heroic figure of a man who had ridden his horse down
the steep wall of the cut, was romance.





Next: In Which Hatred Is Born

Previous: Peace And A Sunset



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