The First Day

: 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 no
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


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


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


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.