The Mill-wheel Of Steers





Meantime, at the ranch, when Judkins's news had sent Venters on



the trail of the rustlers, Jane Withersteen led the injured man



to her house and with skilled fingers dressed the gunshot wound



in his arm.







"Judkins, what do you think happened to my riders?"







"I--I d rather not say," he replied.







"Tell me. Whatever you'll tell me I'll keep to myself. I'm



beginning to worry about more than the loss of a herd of cattle.



Venters hinted of-- but tell me, Judkins."







"Well, Miss Withersteen, I think as Venters thinks--your riders



have been called in."







"Judkins!...By whom?"







"You know who handles the reins of your Mormon riders."







"Do you dare insinuate that my churchmen have ordered in my



riders?"







"I ain't insinuatin' nothin', Miss Withersteen," answered



Judkins, with spirit. "I know what I'm talking about. I didn't



want to tell you."







"Oh, I can't believe that! I'll not believe it! Would Tull leave



my herds at the mercy of rustlers and wolves just



because--because--? No, no! It's unbelievable."







"Yes, thet particular thing's onheard of around Cottonwoods But,



beggin' pardon, Miss Withersteen, there never was any other rich



Mormon woman here on the border, let alone one thet's taken the



bit between her teeth."







That was a bold thing for the reserved Judkins to say, but it did



not anger her. This rider's crude hint of her spirit gave her a



glimpse of what others might think. Humility and obedience had



been hers always. But had she taken the bit between her teeth?



Still she wavered. And then, with quick spurt of warm blood along



her veins, she thought of Black Star when he got the bit fast



between his iron jaws and ran wild in the sage. If she ever



started to run! Jane smothered the glow and burn within her,



ashamed of a passion for freedom that opposed her duty.







"Judkins, go to the village," she said, "and when you have



learned anything definite about my riders please come to me at



once."







When he had gone Jane resolutely applied her mind to a number of



tasks that of late had been neglected. Her father had trained her



in the management of a hundred employees and the working of



gardens and fields; and to keep record of the movements of cattle



and riders. And beside the many duties she had added to this work



was one of extreme delicacy, such as required all her tact and



ingenuity. It was an unobtrusive, almost secret aid which she



rendered to the Gentile families of the village. Though Jane



Withersteen never admitted so to herself, it amounted to no less



than a system of charity. But for her invention of numberless



kinds of employment, for which there was no actual need, these



families of Gentiles, who had failed in a Mormon community, would



have starved.







In aiding these poor people Jane thought she deceived her keen



churchmen, but it was a kind of deceit for which she did not pray



to be forgiven. Equally as difficult was the task of deceiving



the Gentiles, for they were as proud as they were poor. It had



been a great grief to her to discover how these people hated her



people; and it had been a source of great joy that through her



they had come to soften in hatred. At any time this work called



for a clearness of mind that precluded anxiety and worry; but



under the present circumstances it required all her vigor and



obstinate tenacity to pin her attention upon her task.







Sunset came, bringing with the end of her labor a patient



calmness and power to wait that had not been hers earlier in the



day. She expected Judkins, but he did not appear. Her house was



always quiet; to-night, however, it seemed unusually so. At



supper her women served her with a silent assiduity; it spoke



what their sealed lips could not utter--the sympathy of Mormon



women. Jerd came to her with the key of the great door of the



stone stable, and to make his daily report about the horses. One



of his daily duties was to give Black Star and Night and the



other racers a ten-mile run. This day it had been omitted, and



the boy grew confused in explanations that she had not asked for.



She did inquire if he would return on the morrow, and Jerd, in



mingled surprise and relief, assured her he would always work for



her. Jane missed the rattle and trot, canter and gallop of the



incoming riders on the hard trails. Dusk shaded the grove where



she walked; the birds ceased singing; the wind sighed through the



leaves of the cottonwoods, and the running water murmured down



its stone-bedded channel. The glimmering of the first star was



like the peace and beauty of the night. Her faith welled up in



her heart and said that all would soon be right in her little



world. She pictured Venters about his lonely camp-fire sitting



between his faithful dogs. She prayed for his safety, for the



success of his undertaking.







Early the next morning one of Jane's women brought in word that



Judkins wished to speak to her. She hurried out, and in her



surprise to see him armed with rifle and revolver, she forgot her



intention to inquire about his wound.







"Judkins! Those guns? You never carried guns."







"It's high time, Miss Withersteen," he replied. "Will you come



into the grove? It ain't jest exactly safe for me to be seen



here."







She walked with him into the shade of the cottonwoods.







"What do you mean?"







"Miss Withersteen, I went to my mother's house last night. While



there, some one knocked, an' a man asked for me. I went to the



door. He wore a mask. He said I'd better not ride any more for



Jane Withersteen. His voice was hoarse an' strange, disguised I



reckon, like his face. He said no more, an' ran off in the



dark."







"Did you know who he was?" asked Jane, in a low voice.







"Yes."







Jane did not ask to know; she did not want to know; she feared to



know. All her calmness fled at a single thought







"Thet's why I'm packin' guns," went on Judkins. "For I'll never



quit ridin' for you, Miss Withersteen, till you let me



go."







"Judkins, do you want to leave me?"







"Do I look thet way? Give me a hoss--a fast hoss, an' send me out



on the sage."







"Oh, thank you, Judkins! You're more faithful than my own people.



I ought not accept your loyalty--you might suffer more through



it. But what in the world can I do? My head whirls. The wrong to



Venters--the stolen herd--these masks, threats, this coil in the



dark! I can't understand! But I feel something dark and terrible



closing in around me."







"Miss Withersteen, it's all simple enough," said Judkins,



earnestly. "Now please listen--an' beggin' your pardon--jest turn



thet deaf Mormon ear aside, an' let me talk clear an' plain in



the other. I went around to the saloons an' the stores an' the



loafin' places yesterday. All your riders are in. There's talk of



a vigilance band organized to hunt down rustlers. They call



themselves 'The Riders.' Thet's the report--thet's the reason



given for your riders leavin' you. Strange thet only a few riders



of other ranchers joined the band! An' Tull's man, Jerry Card--



he's the leader. I seen him en' his hoss. He 'ain't been to



Glaze. I'm not easy to fool on the looks of a hoss thet's



traveled the sage. Tull an' Jerry didn't ride to Glaze!...Well, I



met Blake en' Dorn, both good friends of mine, usually, as far as



their Mormon lights will let 'em go. But these fellers couldn't



fool me, an' they didn't try very hard. I asked them, straight



out like a man, why they left you like thet. I didn't forget to



mention how you nursed Blake's poor old mother when she was sick,



an' how good you was to Dorn's kids. They looked ashamed, Miss



Withersteen. An' they jest froze up--thet dark set look thet



makes them strange an' different to me. But I could tell the



difference between thet first natural twinge of conscience an'



the later look of some secret thing. An' the difference I caught



was thet they couldn't help themselves. They hadn't no say in the



matter. They looked as if their bein' unfaithful to you was bein'



faithful to a higher duty. An' there's the secret. Why it's as



plain as--as sight of my gun here."







"Plain!...My herds to wander in the sage--to be stolen! Jane



Withersteen a poor woman! Her head to be brought low and her



spirit broken!...Why, Judkins, it's plain enough."







"Miss Withersteen, let me get what boys I can gather, an' hold



the white herd. It's on the slope now, not ten miles out--three



thousand head, an' all steers. They're wild, an' likely to



stampede at the pop of a jack-rabbit's ears. We'll camp right



with them, en' try to hold them."







"Judkins, I'll reward you some day for your service, unless all



is taken from me. Get the boys and tell Jerd to give you pick of



my horses, except Black Star and Night. But--do not shed blood



for my cattle nor heedlessly risk your lives."







Jane Withersteen rushed to the silence and seclusion of her room,



and there could not longer hold back the bursting of her wrath.



She went stone-blind in the fury of a passion that had never



before showed its power. Lying upon her bed, sightless,



voiceless, she was a writhing, living flame. And she tossed there



while her fury burned and burned, and finally burned itself out.







Then, weak and spent, she lay thinking, not of the oppression



that would break her, but of this new revelation of self. Until



the last few days there had been little in her life to rouse



passions. Her forefathers had been Vikings, savage chieftains who



bore no cross and brooked no hindrance to their will. Her father



had inherited that temper; and at times, like antelope fleeing



before fire on the slope, his people fled from his red rages.



Jane Withersteen realized that the spirit of wrath and war had



lain dormant in her. She shrank from black depths hitherto



unsuspected. The one thing in man or woman that she scorned above



all scorn, and which she could not forgive, was hate. Hate headed



a flaming pathway straight to hell. All in a flash, beyond her



control there had been in her a birth of fiery hate. And the man



who had dragged her peaceful and loving spirit to this



degradation was a minister of God's word, an Elder of her church,



the counselor of her beloved Bishop.







The loss of herds and ranges, even of Amber Spring and the Old



Stone House, no longer concerned Jane Withersteen, she faced the



foremost thought of her life, what she now considered the



mightiest problem--the salvation of her soul.







She knelt by her bedside and prayed; she prayed as she had never



prayed in all her life--prayed to be forgiven for her sin to be



immune from that dark, hot hate; to love Tull as her minister,



though she could not love him as a man; to do her duty by her



church and people and those dependent upon her bounty; to hold



reverence of God and womanhood inviolate.







When Jane Withersteen rose from that storm of wrath and prayer



for help she was serene, calm, sure--a changed woman. She would



do her duty as she saw it, live her life as her own truth guided



her. She might never be able to marry a man of her choice, but



she certainly never would become the wife of Tull. Her churchmen



might take her cattle and horses, ranges and fields, her corrals



and stables, the house of Withersteen and the water that



nourished the village of Cottonwoods; but they could not force



her to marry Tull, they could not change her decision or break



her spirit. Once resigned to further loss, and sure of herself,



Jane Withersteen attained a peace of mind that had not been hers



for a year. She forgave Tull, and felt a melancholy regret over



what she knew he considered duty, irrespective of his personal



feeling for her. First of all, Tull, as he was a man, wanted her



for himself; and secondly, he hoped to save her and her riches



for his church. She did not believe that Tull had been actuated



solely by his minister's zeal to save her soul. She doubted her



interpretation of one of his dark sayings--that if she were lost



to him she might as well be lost to heaven. Jane Withersteen's



common sense took arms against the binding limits of her



religion; and she doubted that her Bishop, whom she had been



taught had direct communication with God--would damn her soul for



refusing to marry a Mormon. As for Tull and his churchmen, when



they had harassed her, perhaps made her poor, they would find her



unchangeable, and then she would get back most of what she had



lost. So she reasoned, true at last to her faith in all men, and



in their ultimate goodness.







The clank of iron hoofs upon the stone courtyard drew her



hurriedly from her retirement. There, beside his horse, stood



Lassiter, his dark apparel and the great black gun-sheaths



contrasting singularly with his gentle smile. Jane's active mind



took up her interest in him and her half-determined desire to use



what charm she had to foil his evident design in visiting



Cottonwoods. If she could mitigate his hatred of Mormons, or at



least keep him from killing more of them, not only would she be



saving her people, but also be leading back this bloodspiller to



some semblance of the human.







"Mornin', ma'am," he said, black sombrero in hand.







"Lassiter I'm not an old woman, or even a madam," she replied,



with her bright smile. "If you can't say Miss Withersteen--call



me Jane."







"I reckon Jane would be easier. First names are always handy for



me."







"Well, use mine, then. Lassiter, I'm glad to see you. I'm in



trouble."







Then she told him of Judkins's return, of the driving of the red



herd, of Venters's departure on Wrangle, and the calling-in of



her riders.







"'Pears to me you're some smilin' an' pretty for a woman with so



much trouble," he remarked.







"Lassiter! Are you paying me compliments? But, seriously I've



made up my mind not to be miserable. I've lost much, and I'll



lose more. Nevertheless, I won't be sour, and I hope I'll never



be unhappy--again."







Lassiter twisted his hat round and round, as was his way, and



took his time in replying.







"Women are strange to me. I got to back-trailin' myself from them



long ago. But I'd like a game woman. Might I ask, seein' as how



you take this trouble, if you're goin' to fight?"







"Fight! How? Even if I would, I haven't a friend except that boy



who doesn't dare stay in the village."







"I make bold to say, ma'am--Jane--that there's another, if you



want him."







"Lassiter!...Thank you. But how can I accept you as a friend?



Think! Why, you'd ride down into the village with those terrible



guns and kill my enemies--who are also my churchmen."







"I reckon I might be riled up to jest about that," he replied,



dryly.







She held out both hands to him.







"Lassiter! I'll accept your friendship--be proud of it--return



it--if I may keep you from killing another Mormon."







"I'll tell you one thing," he said, bluntly, as the gray



lightning formed in his eyes. "You're too good a woman to be



sacrificed as you're goin' to be....No, I reckon you an' me can't



be friends on such terms."







In her earnestness she stepped closer to him, repelled yet



fascinated by the sudden transition of his moods. That he would



fight for her was at once horrible and wonderful.







"You came here to kill a man--the man whom Milly Erne--"







"The man who dragged Milly Erne to hell--put it that way!...Jane



Withersteen, yes, that's why I came here. I'd tell so much to no



other livin' soul....There're things such a woman as you'd never



dream of-- so don't mention her again. Not till you tell me the



name of the man!"







"Tell you! I? Never!"







"I reckon you will. An' I'll never ask you. I'm a man of strange



beliefs an' ways of thinkin', an' I seem to see into the future



an' feel things hard to explain. The trail I've been followin'



for so many years was twisted en' tangled, but it's straightenin'



out now. An', Jane Withersteen, you crossed it long ago to ease



poor Milly's agony. That, whether you want or not, makes Lassiter



your friend. But you cross it now strangely to mean somethin to



me--God knows what!--unless by your noble blindness to incite me



to greater hatred of Mormon men."







Jane felt swayed by a strength that far exceeded her own. In a



clash of wills with this man she would go to the wall. If she



were to influence him it must be wholly through womanly



allurement. There was that about Lassiter which commanded her



respect. She had abhorred his name; face to face with him, she



found she feared only his deeds. His mystic suggestion, his



foreshadowing of something that she was to mean to him, pierced



deep into her mind. She believed fate had thrown in her way the



lover or husband of Milly Erne. She believed that through her an



evil man might be reclaimed. His allusion to what he called her



blindness terrified her. Such a mistaken idea of his might



unleash the bitter, fatal mood she sensed in him. At any cost she



must placate this man; she knew the die was cast, and that if



Lassiter did not soften to a woman's grace and beauty and wiles,



then it would be because she could not make him.







"I reckon you'll hear no more such talk from me," Lassiter went



on, presently. "Now, Miss Jane, I rode in to tell you that your



herd of white steers is down on the slope behind them big ridges.



An' I seen somethin' goin' on that'd be mighty interestin' to



you, if you could see it. Have you a field-glass?"







"Yes, I have two glasses. I'll get them and ride out with you.



Wait, Lassiter, please," she said, and hurried within. Sending



word to Jerd to saddle Black Star and fetch him to the court, she



then went to her room and changed to the riding-clothes she



always donned when going into the sage. In this male attire her



mirror showed her a jaunty, handsome rider. If she expected some



little need of admiration from Lassiter, she had no cause for



disappointment. The gentle smile that she liked, which made of



him another person, slowly overspread his face.







"If I didn't take you for a boy!" he exclaimed. "It's powerful



queer what difference clothes make. Now I've been some scared of



your dignity, like when the other night you was all in white but



in this rig--"







Black Star came pounding into the court, dragging Jerd half off



his feet, and he whistled at Lassiter's black. But at sight of



Jane all his defiant lines seemed to soften, and with tosses of



his beautiful head he whipped his bridle.







"Down, Black Star, down," said Jane.







He dropped his head, and, slowly lengthening, he bent one



foreleg, then the other, and sank to his knees. Jane slipped her



left foot in the stirrup, swung lightly into the saddle, and



Black Star rose with a ringing stamp. It was not easy for Jane to



hold him to a canter through the grove. and like the wind he



broke when he saw the sage. Jane let him have a couple of miles



of free running on the open trail, and then she coaxed him in and



waited for her companion. Lassiter was not long in catching up,



and presently they were riding side by side. It reminded her how



she used to ride with Venters. Where was he now? She gazed far



down the slope to the curved purple lines of Deception Pass and



involuntarily shut her eyes with a trembling stir of nameless



fear.







"We'll turn off here," Lassiter said, "en' take to the sage a



mile or so. The white herd is behind them big ridges."







"What are you going to show me?" asked Jane. "I'm prepared--don't



be afraid."







He smiled as if he meant that bad news came swiftly enough



without being presaged by speech.







When they reached the lee of a rolling ridge Lassiter dismounted,



motioning to her to do likewise. They left the horses standing,



bridles down. Then Lassiter, carrying the field-glasses began to



lead the way up the slow rise of ground. Upon nearing the summit



he halted her with a gesture.







"I reckon we'd see more if we didn't show ourselves against the



sky," he said. "I was here less than an hour ago. Then the herd



was seven or eight miles south, an' if they ain't bolted yet--"







"Lassiter!...Bolted?"







"That's what I said. Now let's see."







Jane climbed a few more paces behind him and then peeped over the



ridge. Just beyond began a shallow swale that deepened and



widened into a valley and then swung to the left. Following the



undulating sweep of sage, Jane saw the straggling lines and then



the great body of the white herd. She knew enough about steers,



even at a distance of four or five miles, to realize that



something was in the wind. Bringing her field-glass into use, she



moved it slowly from left to right, which action swept the whole



herd into range. The stragglers were restless; the more compactly



massed steers were browsing. Jane brought the glass back to the



big sentinels of the herd, and she saw them trot with quick



steps, stop short and toss wide horns, look everywhere, and then



trot in another direction.







"Judkins hasn't been able to get his boys together yet," said



Jane. "But he'll be there soon. I hope not too late. Lassiter,



what's frightening those big leaders?"







"Nothin' jest on the minute," replied Lassiter. "Them steers are



quietin' down. They've been scared, but not bad yet. I reckon the



whole herd has moved a few miles this way since I was here."







"They didn't browse that distance--not in less than an hour.



Cattle aren't sheep."







"No, they jest run it, en' that looks bad."







"Lassiter, what frightened them?" repeated Jane, impatiently.







"Put down your glass. You'll see at first better with a naked



eye. Now look along them ridges on the other side of the herd,



the ridges where the sun shines bright on the sage....That's



right. Now look en' look hard en' wait."







Long-drawn moments of straining sight rewarded Jane with nothing



save the low, purple rim of ridge and the shimmering sage.







"It's begun again!" whispered Lassiter, and he gripped her arm.



"Watch....There, did you see that?"







"No, no. Tell me what to look for?"







"A white flash--a kind of pin-point of quick light--a gleam as



from sun shinin' on somethin' white."







Suddenly Jane's concentrated gaze caught a fleeting glint.



Quickly she brought her glass to bear on the spot. Again the



purple sage, magnified in color and size and wave, for long



moments irritated her with its monotony. Then from out of the



sage on the ridge flew up a broad, white object, flashed in the



sunlight and vanished. Like magic it was, and bewildered



Jane.







"What on earth is that?"







"I reckon there's some one behind that ridge throwin' up a sheet



or a white blanket to reflect the sunshine."







"Why?" queried Jane, more bewildered than ever.







"To stampede the herd," replied Lassiter, and his teeth



clicked.







"Ah!" She made a fierce, passionate movement, clutched the glass



tightly, shook as with the passing of a spasm, and then dropped



her head. Presently she raised it to greet Lassiter with



something like a smile. "My righteous brethren are at work



again," she said, in scorn. She had stifled the leap of her



wrath, but for perhaps the first time in her life a bitter



derision curled her lips. Lassiter's cool gray eyes seemed to



pierce her. "I said I was prepared for anything; but that was



hardly true. But why would they--anybody stampede my



cattle?"







"That's a Mormon's godly way of bringin' a woman to her



knees."







"Lassiter, I'll die before I ever bend my knees. I might be led I



won't be driven. Do you expect the herd to bolt?"







"I don't like the looks of them big steers. But you can never



tell. Cattle sometimes stampede as easily as buffalo. Any little



flash or move will start them. A rider gettin' down an' walkin'



toward them sometimes will make them jump an' fly. Then again



nothin' seems to scare them. But I reckon that white flare will



do the biz. It's a new one on me, an' I've seen some ridin' an'



rustlin'. It jest takes one of them God-fearin' Mormons to think



of devilish tricks."







"Lassiter, might not this trick be done by Oldring's men?" asked



Jane, ever grasping at straws.







"It might be, but it ain't," replied Lassiter. "Oldring's an



honest thief. He don't skulk behind ridges to scatter your cattle



to the four winds. He rides down on you, an' if you don't like it



you can throw a gun."







Jane bit her tongue to refrain from championing men who at the



very moment were proving to her that they were little and mean



compared even with rustlers.







"Look!...Jane, them leadin' steers have bolted. They're drawin'



the stragglers, an' that'll pull the whole herd."







Jane was not quick enough to catch the details called out by



Lassiter, but she saw the line of cattle lengthening. Then, like



a stream of white bees pouring from a huge swarm, the steers



stretched out from the main body. In a few moments, with



astonishing rapidity, the whole herd got into motion. A faint



roar of trampling hoofs came to Jane's ears, and gradually



swelled; low, rolling clouds of dust began to rise above the



sage.







"It's a stampede, an' a hummer," said Lassiter.







"Oh, Lassiter! The herd's running with the valley! It leads into



the canyon! There's a straight jump-off!"







"I reckon they'll run into it, too. But that's a good many miles



yet. An', Jane, this valley swings round almost north before it



goes east. That stampede will pass within a mile of us."







The long, white, bobbing line of steers streaked swiftly through



the sage, and a funnel-shaped dust-cloud arose at a low angle. A



dull rumbling filled Jane's ears.







"I'm thinkin' of millin' that herd," said Lassiter. His gray



glance swept up the slope to the west. "There's some specks an'



dust way off toward the village. Mebbe that's Judkins an' his



boys. It ain't likely he'll get here in time to help. You'd



better hold Black Star here on this high ridge."







He ran to his horse and, throwing off saddle-bags and tightening



the cinches, he leaped astride and galloped straight down across



the valley.







Jane went for Black Star and, leading him to the summit of the



ridge, she mounted and faced the valley with excitement and



expectancy. She had heard of milling stampeded cattle, and knew



it was a feat accomplished by only the most daring riders.







The white herd was now strung out in a line two miles long. The



dull rumble of thousands of hoofs deepened into continuous low



thunder, and as the steers swept swiftly closer the thunder



became a heavy roll. Lassiter crossed in a few moments the level



of the valley to the eastern rise of ground and there waited the



coming of the herd. Presently, as the head of the white line



reached a point opposite to where Jane stood, Lassiter spurred



his black into a run







Jane saw him take a position on the off side of the leaders of



the stampede, and there he rode. It was like a race. They swept



on down the valley, and when the end of the white line neared



Lassiter's first stand the head had begun to swing round to the



west. It swung slowly and stubbornly, yet surely, and gradually



assumed a long, beautiful curve of moving white. To Jane's amaze



she saw the leaders swinging, turning till they headed back



toward her and up the valley. Out to the right of these wild



plunging steers ran Lassiter's black, and Jane's keen eye



appreciated the fleet stride and sure-footedness of the blind



horse. Then it seemed that the herd moved in a great curve, a



huge half-moon with the points of head and tail almost opposite,



and a mile apart But Lassiter relentlessly crowded the leaders,



sheering them to the left, turning them little by little. And the



dust-blinded wild followers plunged on madly in the tracks of



their leaders. This ever-moving, ever-changing curve of steers



rolled toward Jane and when below her, scarce half a mile, it



began to narrow and close into a circle. Lassiter had ridden



parallel with her position, turned toward her, then aside, and



now he was riding directly away from her, all the time pushing



the head of that bobbing line inward.







It was then that Jane, suddenly understanding Lassiter's feat



stared and gasped at the riding of this intrepid man. His horse



was fleet and tireless, but blind. He had pushed the leaders



around and around till they were about to turn in on the inner



side of the end of that line of steers. The leaders were already



running in a circle; the end of the herd was still running almost



straight. But soon they would be wheeling. Then, when Lassiter



had the circle formed, how would he escape? With Jane Withersteen



prayer was as ready as praise; and she prayed for this man's



safety. A circle of dust began to collect. Dimly, as through a



yellow veil, Jane saw Lassiter press the leaders inward to close



the gap in the sage. She lost sight of him in the dust, again she



thought she saw the black, riderless now, rear and drag himself



and fall. Lassiter had been thrown--lost! Then he reappeared



running out of the dust into the sage. He had escaped, and she



breathed again.







Spellbound, Jane Withersteen watched this stupendous millwheel of



steers. Here was the milling of the herd. The white running



circle closed in upon the open space of sage. And the dust



circles closed above into a pall. The ground quaked and the



incessant thunder of pounding hoofs rolled on. Jane felt



deafened, yet she thrilled to a new sound. As the circle of sage



lessened the steers began to bawl, and when it closed entirely



there came a great upheaval in the center, and a terrible



thumping of heads and clicking of horns. Bawling, climbing,



goring, the great mass of steers on the inside wrestled in a



crashing din, heaved and groaned under the pressure. Then came a



deadlock. The inner strife ceased, and the hideous roar and



crash. Movement went on in the outer circle, and that, too,



gradually stilled. The white herd had come to a stop, and the



pall of yellow dust began to drift away on the wind.







Jane Withersteen waited on the ridge with full and grateful



heart. Lassiter appeared, making his weary way toward her through



the sage. And up on the slope Judkins rode into sight with his



troop of boys. For the present, at least, the white herd would be



looked after.







When Lassiter reached her and laid his hand on Black Star's mane,



Jane could not find speech.







"Killed--my--hoss," he panted.







"Oh! I'm sorry," cried Jane. "Lassiter! I know you can't replace



him, but I'll give you any one of my racers--Bells, or Night,



even Black Star."







"I'll take a fast hoss, Jane, but not one of your favorites," he



replied. "Only--will you let me have Black Star now an' ride him



over there an' head off them fellers who stampeded the herd?"







He pointed to several moving specks of black and puffs of dust in



the purple sage.







"I can head them off with this hoss, an' then--"







"Then, Lassiter?"







"They'll never stampede no more cattle."







"Oh! No! No!...Lassiter, I won't let you go!"







But a flush of fire flamed in her cheeks, and her trembling hands



shook Black Star's bridle, and her eyes fell before Lassiter's.





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