Silvermane





LITTLE dew fell on the night of July first; the dawn brightened without

mists; a hot sun rose; the short summer of the plateau had begun.



As Hare rose, refreshed and happy from his breakfast, his whistle was

cut short by the Indian.



"Ugh!" exclaimed Piute, lifting a dark finger. Black Bolly had thrown

her nose-bag and slipped her halter, and she moved toward the opening in

the cedars, her head high, her black ears straight up.



"Bolly!" called Mescal. The mare did not stop.



"What the deuce?" Hare ran forward to catch her.



"I never knew Bolly to act that way," said Mescal. "See--she didn't eat

half the oats. Well, Bolly--Jack! look at Wolf!"



The white dog had risen and stood warily shifting his nose. He sniffed

the wind, turned round and round, and slowly stiffened with his head

pointed toward the eastern rise of the plateau.



"Hold, Wolf, hold!" called Mescal, as the dog appeared to be about to

dash away.



"Ugh!" grunted Piute.



"Listen, Jack; did you hear?" whispered the girl.



"Hear what?"



"Listen."



The warm breeze came down in puffs from the crags; it rustled in the

cedars and blew fragrant whiffs of camp-fire smoke into his face; and

presently it bore a low, prolonged whistle. He had never before heard

its like. The sound broke the silence again, clearer, a keen, sharp

whistle.



"What is it?" he queried, reaching for his rifle.



"Wild mustangs," said Mescal.



"No," corrected Piute, vehemently shaking his head. "Clea, Clea."



"Jack, he says 'horse, horse.' It's a wild horse."



A third time the whistle rang down from the ridge, splitting the air,

strong and trenchant, the fiery, shrill challenge of a stallion.



Black Bolly reared straight up.



Jack ran to the rise of ground above the camp, and looked over the

cedars. "Oh!" he cried, and beckoned for Mescal. She ran to him, and

Piute, tying Black Bolly, hurried after. "Look! look!" cried Jack. He

pointed to a ridge rising to the left of the yellow crags. On the bare

summit stood a splendid stallion clearly silhouetted against the ruddy

morning sky. He was an iron-gray, wild and proud, with long silver-white

mane waving in the wind.



"Silvermane! Silvermane!" exclaimed Mescal.



"What a magnificent animal!" Jack stared at the splendid picture for

the moment before the horse moved back along the ridge and disappeared.

Other horses, blacks and bays, showed above the sage for a moment, and

they, too, passed out of sight.



"He's got some of his band with him," said Jack, thrilled with

excitement. "Mescal, they're down off the upper range, and grazing along

easy. The wind favors us. That whistle was just plain fight, judging

from what Naab told me of wild stallions. He came to the hilltop, and

whistled down defiance to any horse, wild or tame, that might be below.

I'll slip round through the cedars, and block the trail leading up to

the other range, and you and Piute close the gate of our trail at this

end. Then send Piute down to tell Naab we've got Silvermane."



Jack chose the lowest edge of the plateau rim where the cedars were

thickest for his detour to get behind the wild band; he ran from tree

to tree, avoiding the open places, taking advantage of the thickets,

keeping away from the ridge. He had never gone so far as the gate, but,

knowing where the trail led into a split in the crags, he climbed the

slope, and threaded a way over masses of fallen cliff, until he reached

the base of the wall. The tracks of the wildhorse band were very fresh

and plain in the yellow trail. Four stout posts guarded the opening,

and a number of bars lay ready to be pushed into place. He put them

up, making a gate ten feet high, an impregnable barrier. This done, he

hurried back to camp.



"Jack, Bolly will need more watching to-day than the sheep, unless I let

her loose. Why, she pulls and strains so she'll break that halter."



"She wants to go with the band; isn't that it?"



"I don't like to think so. But Father Naab doesn't trust Bolly, though

she's the best mustang he ever broke."



"Better keep her in," replied Jack, remembering Naab's warning. "I'll

hobble her, so if she does break loose she can't go far."



When Mescal and Jack drove in the sheep that afternoon, rather earlier

than usual, Piute had returned with August Naab, Dave, and Billy, a

string of mustangs and a pack-train of burros.



"Hello, Mescal," cheerily called August, as they came into camp. "Well

Jack--bless me! Why, my lad, how fine and brown--and yes, how you've

filled out!" He crushed Jack's hand in his broad palm, and his gray eyes

beamed. "I've not the gift of revelation--but, Jack, you're going to get

well."



"Yes, I--" He had difficulty with his enunciation, but he thumped his

breast significantly and smiled.



"Black sage and juniper!" exclaimed August. "In this air if a man

doesn't go off quickly with pneumonia, he'll get well. I never had a

doubt for you, Jack--and thank God!"



He questioned Piute and Mescal about the sheep, and was greatly

pleased with their report. He shook his head when Jack spread out the

grizzly-pelt, and asked for the story of the killing. Jack made a poor

showing with the tale and slighted his share in it, but Mescal told it

as it actually happened. And Naab's great hand resounded from Jack's

shoulder. Then, catching sight of the pile of coyote skins under the

stone shelf, he gave vent to his surprise and delight. Then he came back

to the object of his trip upon the plateau.



"So you've corralled Silvermane? Well, Jack, if he doesn't jump over the

cliff he's ours. He can't get off any other way. How many horses with

him?"



"We had no chance to count. I saw at least twelve."



"Good! He's out with his picked band. Weren't they all blacks and bays?"



"Yes."



"Jack, the history of that stallion wouldn't make you proud of him.

We've corralled him by a lucky chance. If I don't miss my guess he's

after Bolly. He has been a lot of trouble to ranchers all the way from

the Nevada line across Utah. The stallions he's killed, the mares he's

led off! Well, Dave, shall we thirst him out, or line up a long corral?"



"Better have a look around to-morrow," replied Dave. "It'll take a lot

of chasing to run him down, but there's not a spring on the bench where

we can throw up a trap-corral. We'll have to chase him."



"Mescal, has Bolly been good since Silvermane came down?"



"No, she hasn't," declared Mescal, and told of the circumstance.



"Bolly's all right," said Billy Naab. "Any mustang will do that. Keep

her belled and hobbled."



"Silvermane would care a lot about that, if he wanted Bolly, wouldn't

he?" queried Dave in quiet scorn. "Keep her roped and haltered, I say."



"Dave's right," said August. "You can't trust a wild mustang any more

than a wild horse."



August was right. Black Bolly broke her halter about midnight and

escaped into the forest, hobbled as she was. The Indian heard her first,

and he awoke August, who aroused the others.



"Don't make any noise," he said, as Jack came up, throwing on his coat.

"There's likely to be some fun here presently. Bolly's loose, broke her

rope, and I think Silvermane is close. Listen sharp now."



The slight breeze favored them, the camp-fire was dead, and the night

was clear and starlit. They had not been quiet many moments when the

shrill neigh of a mustang rang out. The Naabs raised themselves and

looked at one another in the starlight.



"Now what do you think of that?" whispered Billy.



"No more than I expected. It was Bolly," replied Dave.



"Bolly it was, confound her black hide!" added August. "Now, boys, did

she whistle for Silvermane, or to warn him, which?"



"No telling," answered Billy. "Let's lie low, and take a chance on him

coming close. It proves one thing--you can't break a wild mare. That

spirit may sleep in her blood, maybe for years, but some time it'll

answer to--"



"Shut up--listen," interrupted Dave.



Jack strained his hearing, yet caught no sound, except the distant yelp

of a coyote. Moments went by.



"There!" whispered Dave.



From the direction of the ridge came the faint rattling of stones.



"They're coming," put in Billy.



Presently sharp clicks preceded the rattles, and the sounds began to

merge into a regular rhythmic tramp. It softened at intervals, probably

when the horses were under the cedars, and strengthened as they came out

on the harder ground of the open.



"I see them," whispered Dave.



A black, undulating line wound out of the cedars, a line of horses

approaching with drooping heads, hurrying a little as they neared the

spring.



"Twenty-odd, all blacks and bays," said August, "and some of them are

mustangs. But where's Silvermane?--hark!"



Out among the cedars rose the peculiar halting thump of a hobbled horse

trying to cover ground, followed by snorts and crashings of brush and

the pound of plunging hoofs. The long black line stopped short and began

to stamp. Then into the starlit glade below moved two shadows, the first

a great gray horse with snowy mane; the second, a small, shiny, black

mustang.



"Silvermane and Bolly!" exclaimed August, "and now she's broken her

hobbles."



The stallion, in the fulfilment of a conquest such as had made him

king of the wild ranges, was magnificent in action. Wheeling about her,

neighing, and plunging, he arched his splendid neck and pushed his

head against her. His action was that of a master. Suddenly Black Bolly

snorted and whirled down the glade. Silvermane whistled one blast of

anger or terror and thundered after her. They vanished in the gloom of

the cedars, and the band of frightened horses and mustangs clattered

after them.



"It's one on me," remarked Billy. "That little mare played us at the

finish. Caught when she was a yearling, broken better than any mustang

we ever had, she has helped us run down many a stallion, and now she

runs off with that big white-maned brute!"



"They'll make a team, and if they get out of here we'll have to chase

them to the Great Salt Basin," replied Dave.



"Mescal, that's a well-behaved mustang of yours," said August; "not only

did she break loose, but she whistled an alarm to Silvermane and his

band. Well, roll in now, everybody, and sleep."



At breakfast the following day the Naabs fell into a discussion upon the

possibility of there being other means of exit from the plateau than

the two trails already closed. They had never run any mustangs on the

plateau, and in the case of a wild horse like Silvermane, who would take

desperate chances, it was advisable to know the ground exactly. Billy

and Dave taking their mounts from the sheep-corral, where they had put

them up for the night, rode in opposite directions around the rim of

the plateau. It was triangular in shape, and some six or seven miles in

circumference; and the brothers rode around it in less than an hour.



"Corralled," said Dave, laconically.



"Good! Did you see him? What kind of a bunch has he with him?" asked his

father.



"If we get the pick of the lot it will be worth two weeks' work,"

replied Dave. "I saw him, and Bolly, too. I believe we can catch her

easily. She was off from the bunch, and it looks as though the mares

were jealous. I think we can run her into a cove under the wall, and get

her. Then Mescal can help us run down the stallion. And you can look out

on this end for the best level stretch to drop the line of cedars and

make our trap."



The brothers, at their father's nod, rode off into the forest. Naab had

detained the peon, and now gave him orders and sent him off.



"To-night you can stand on the rim here, and watch him signal across to

the top of Echo Cliffs to the Navajos," explained August to Jack. "I've

sent for the best breaker of wild mustangs on the desert. Dave can

break mustangs, and Piute is very good; but I want the best man in the

country, because this is a grand horse, and I intend to give him to

you."



"To me!" exclaimed Hare.



"Yes, and if he's broken right at the start, he'll serve you faithfully,

and not try to bite your arm off every day, or kick your brains out. No

white man can break a wild mustang to the best advantage."



"Why is that?"



"I don't know. To be truthful, I have an idea it's bad temper and lack

of patience. Just wait till you see this Navajo go at Silvermane!"



After Mescal and Piute drove down the sheep, Jack accompanied Naab to

the corral.



"I've brought up your saddle," said Naab, "and you can put it on any

mustang here."



What a pleasure it was to be in the saddle again, and to feel strength

to remain there! He rode with August all over the western end of the

plateau. They came at length to a strip of ground, higher than the

bordering forest, which was comparatively free of cedars and brush; and

when August had surveyed it once he slapped his knee with satisfaction.



"Fine, better than I hoped for! This stretch is about a mile long, and

narrow at this end. Now, Jack, you see the other side faces the rim,

this side the forest, and at the end here is a wall of rock; luckily it

curves in a half circle, which will save us work. We'll cut cedars, drag

them in line, and make a big corral against the rock. From the opening

in the corral we'll build two fences of trees; then we'll chase

Silvermane till he's done, run him down into this level, and turn him

inside the fence. No horse can break through a close line of cedars.

He'll run till he's in the corral, and then we'll rope him."



"Great!" said Jack, all enthusiasm. "But isn't it going to take a lot of

work?"



"Rather," said August, dryly. "It'll take a week to cut and drag the

cedars, let alone to tire out that wild stallion. When the finish comes

you want to be on that ledge where we'll have the corral."



They returned to camp and prepared supper. Mescal and Piute soon

arrived, and, later, Dave and Billy on jaded mustangs. Black Bolly

limped behind, stretching a long halter, an unhappy mustang with dusty,

foam-stained coat and hanging head.



"Not bad," said August, examining the lame leg. "She'll be fit in a few

days, long before we need her to help run down Silvermane. Bring the

liniment and a cloth, one of you, and put her in the sheep-corral

to-night."



Mescal's love for the mustang shone in her eyes while she smoothed out

the crumpled mane, and petted the slender neck.



"Bolly, to think you'd do it!" And Bolly dropped her head as though

really ashamed.



When darkness fell they gathered on the rim to watch the signals. A fire

blazed out of the black void below, and as they waited it brightened and

flamed higher.



"Ugh!" said Piute, pointing across to the dark line of cliffs.



"Of course he'd see it first," laughed Naab. "Dave, have you caught it

yet? Jack, see if you can make out a fire over on Echo Cliffs."



"No, I don't see any light, except that white star. Have you seen it?"



"Long ago," replied Naab. "Here, sight along my finger, and narrow your

eyes down."



"I believe I see it--yes, I'm sure."



"Good. How about you, Mescal?"



"Yes," she replied.



Jack was amused, for Dave insisted that he had been next to the Indian,

and Billy claimed priority to all of them. To these men bred on the

desert keen sight was preeminently the chief of gifts.



"Jack, look sharp!" said August. "Peon is blanketing his fire. See the

flicker? One, two--one, two--one. Now for the answer."



Jack peered out into the shadowy space, star-studded above, ebony below.

Far across the depths shone a pinpoint of steady light. The Indian

grunted again, August vented his "ha!" and then Jack saw the light blink

like a star, go out for a second, and blink again.



"That's what I like to see," said August. "We're answered. Now all's

over but the work."



Work it certainly was, as Jack discovered next day. He helped the

brothers cut down cedars while August hauled them into line with his

roan. What with this labor and the necessary camp duties nearly a week

passed, and in the mean time Black Bolly recovered from her lameness.



Twice the workers saw Silvermane standing on open high ridges, restive

and suspicious, with his silver mane flying, and his head turned over

his shoulder, watching, always watching.



"It'd be worth something to find out how long that stallion could go

without water," commented Dave. "But we'll make his tongue hang out

to-morrow. It'd serve him right to break him with Black Bolly."



Daylight came warm and misty; veils unrolled from the desert; a purple

curtain lifted from the eastern crags; then the red sun burned.



Dave and Billy Naab mounted their mustangs, and each led another mount

by a halter.



"We'll go to the ridge, cut Silvermane out of his band and warm him up;

then we'll drive him down to this end."



Hare, in his eagerness, found the time very tedious while August delayed

about camp, punching new holes in his saddle-girth, shortening his

stirrups, and smoothing kinks out of his lasso. At last he saddled the

roan, and also Black Bolly. Mescal came out of her tent ready for the

chase; she wore a short skirt of buckskin, and leggings of the same

material. Her hair, braided, and fastened at the back, was bound by a

double band closely fitting her black head. Hare walked, leading two

mustangs by the halters, and Naab and Mescal rode, each of them followed

by two other spare mounts. August tied three mustangs at one point along

the level stretch, and three at another. Then he led Mescal and Jack to

the top of the stone wall above the corral, where they had good view of

a considerable part of the plateau.



The eastern rise of ground, a sage and juniper slope, was in plain

sight. Hare saw a white flash; then Silvermane broke out of the cedars

into the sage. One of the brothers raced him half the length of the

slope, and then the other coming out headed him off down toward the

forest. Soon the pounding of hoofs sounded through the trees nearer and

nearer. Silvermane came out straight ahead on the open level. He was

running easily.



"He hasn't opened up yet," said August.



Hare watched the stallion with sheer fascination; He ran seemingly

without effort. What a stride he had. How beautifully his silver mane

waved in the wind! He veered off to the left, out of sight in the brush,

while Dave and Billy galloped up to the spot where August had tied the

first three mustangs. Here they dismounted, changed saddles to fresh

horses, and were off again.



The chase now was close and all down-hill for the watchers. Silvermane

twinkled in and out among the cedars, and suddenly stopped short on the

rim. He wheeled and coursed away toward the crags, and vanished. But

soon he reappeared, for Billy had cut across and faced him about. Again

he struck the level stretch. Dave was there in front of him. He shot

away to the left, and flashed through the glades beyond. The brothers

saved their steeds, content to keep him cornered in that end of

the plateau. Then August spurred his roan into the scene of action.

Silvermane came out on the one piece of rising ground beyond the level,

and stood looking backward toward the brothers. When the great roan

crashed through the thickets into his sight he leaped as if he had been

stung, and plunged away.



The Naabs had hemmed him in a triangle, Dave and Billy at the broad end,

August at the apex, and now the real race began. August chased him up

and down, along the rim, across to the long line of cedars, always in

the end heading him for the open stretch. Down this he fled with flying

mane, only to be checked by the relentless brothers. To cover this broad

end of the open required riding the like of which Hare had never

dreamed of. The brothers, taking advantage of the brief periods when the

stallion was going toward August, changed their tired mustangs for fresh

ones.



"Ho! Mescal!" rolled out August's voice. That was the call for Mescal to

put Black Bolly after Silvermane. Her fleetness made the other mustangs

seem slow. All in a flash she was round the corral, with Silvermane

between her and the long fence of cedars. Uttering a piercing snort of

terror the gray stallion lunged out, for the first time panic-stricken,

and lengthened his stride in a wonderful way. He raced down the stretch

with his head over his shoulder watching the little black. Seeing her

gaining, he burst into desperate headlong flight. He saved nothing; he

had found his match; he won that first race down the level but it had

cost him his best. If he had been fresh he might have left Black Bolly

far behind, but now he could not elude her.



August Naab let him run this time, and Silvermane, keeping close to

the fence, passed the gate, ran down to the rim, and wheeled. The black

mustang was on him again, holding him in close to the fence, driving him

back down the stretch.



The brothers remorselessly turned him, and now Mescal, forcing the

running, caught him, lashed his haunches with her whip, and drove him

into the gate of the corral.



August and his two sons were close behind, and blocked the gate.

Silvermane's race was nearly run.



"Hold here, boys," said August. "I'll go in and drive him round and

round till he's done, then, when I yell, you stand aside and rope him as

he comes out."



Silvermane ran round the corral, tore at the steep scaly walls, fell

back and began his weary round again and yet again. Then as sense and

courage yielded gradually to unreasoning terror, he ran blindly; every

time he passed the guarded gateway his eyes were wilder, and his stride

more labored.



"Now!" yelled August Naab.



Mescal drew out of the opening, and Dave and Billy pulled away, one on

each side, their lassoes swinging loosely.



Silvermane sprang for the opening with something of his old speed. As he

went through, yellow loops flashed in the sun, circling, narrowing, and

he seemed to run straight into them. One loop whipped close round his

glossy neck; the other caught his head. Dave's mustang staggered under

the violent shock, went to his knees, struggled up and held firmly.

Bill's mount slid on his haunches and spilled his rider from the saddle.

Silvermane seemed to be climbing into the air. Then August Naab, darting

through the gate in a cloud of dust, shot his lasso, catching the

right foreleg. Silvermane landed hard, his hoofs striking fire from the

stones; and for an instant strained in convulsive struggle; then fell

heaving and groaning. In a twinkling Billy loosened his lasso over a

knot, making of it a halter, and tied the end to a cedar stump.



The Naabs stood back and gazed at their prize.



Silvermane was badly spent; he was wet with foam, but no fleck of blood

marred his mane; his superb coat showed scratches, but none cut into the

flesh. After a while he rose, panting heavily, and trembling in every

muscle. He was a beaten horse; the noble head was bowed; yet he showed

no viciousness, only the fear of a trapped animal. He eyed Black Bolly

and then the halter, as though he had divined the fatal connection

between them.





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