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       Bred of the Desert: A Horse and a Romance, p.1

           Charles M. Horton
 
Bred of the Desert: A Horse and a Romance


  Produced by Roger Frank and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at https://www.fadedpage.com

  BRED OF THE DESERT

  A HORSE AND A ROMANCE

  BY

  MARCUS HORTON

  NEW YORK

  GROSSET & DUNLAP

  PUBLISHERS

  Published by Arrangement with Harper & Brothers

  COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY HARPER & BROTHERS

  PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

  PUBLISHED APRIL, 1915

  TO

  A. D. B. S. H.

  WHO TAUGHT CONSIDERATION FOR THE DUMB

  THIS WORK IS LOVINGLY INSCRIBED

  CONTENTS

  Chapter Page I. A COLT IS BORN 1 II. FELIPE CELEBRATES 15 III. A SURPRISE 27 IV. A NEW HOME 35 V. LONELINESS 47 VI. THE FIRST GREAT LESSON 57 VII. A STRANGER 72 VIII. FELIPE MAKES A DISCOVERY 85 IX. THE SECOND GREAT LESSON 98 X. THE STRANGER AGAIN 112 XI. LOVE REJECTED 126 XII. ADVENTURE 145 XIII. IN THE WASTE PLACES 156 XIV. A PICTURE 172 XV. CHANGE OF MASTERS 175 XVI. PAT TURNS THIEF 186 XVII. A RUNNING FIGHT 199 XVIII. AN ENEMY 210 XIX. ANOTHER CHANGE OF MASTERS 228 XX. FIDELITY 240 XXI. LIFE AND DEATH 256 XXII. QUIESCENCE 280 XXIII. THE REUNION 285

  BRED OF THE DESERT

  CHAPTER I

  A COLT IS BORN

  It was high noon in the desert, but there was no dazzling sunlight. Overthe earth hung a twilight, a yellow-pink softness that flushed acrossthe sky like the approach of a shadow, covering everything yetconcealing nothing, creeping steadily onward, yet seemingly still,until, pressing low over the earth, it took on changing color, from pinkto gray, from gray to black--gloom that precedes tropical showers. Thenthe wind came--a breeze rising as it were from the hot earth--forcingthe Spanish dagger to dipping acknowledgment, sending dust-devilsswirling across the slow curves of the desert--and then the storm burstin all its might. For this was a storm--a sand-storm of the Southwest.

  Down the slopes to the west billowed giant clouds of sand. At the bottomthese clouds tumbled and surged and mounted, and then, resuming theirheadlong course, swept across the flat land bordering the river, hurtledacross the swollen Rio Grande itself, and so on up the gentle rise ofground to the town, where they swung through the streets in ruthlessstrides--banging signs, ripping up roofings, snapping off branches--andthen lurched out over the mesa to the east. Here, as if in glee overtheir escape from city confines, they redoubled in fury and tore down toearth--and enveloped Felipe Montoya, a young and good-looking Mexican,and his team of scrawny horses plodding in a lumber rigging, all in astinging swirl.

  "Haya!" cried Felipe, as the first of the sand-laden winds struck him,"Chivos--chivos!" And he shot out his whip, gave the lash a twist overthe off mare, and brought it down with a resounding thwack. "R-run!" hesnarled, and again brought the whip down upon the emaciated mare. "Youjoost natural lazy! Thees storm--we--we get-tin'--" His voice wascarried away on the swirling winds.

  But the horses seemed not to hear the man; nor, in the case of the offmare, to feel the bite of his lash. They continued to plod along thebeaten trail, heads drooping, ears flopping, hoofs scufflingdisconsolately. Felipe, accompanying each outburst with a mighty swingof his whip, swore and pleaded and objurgated and threatened in turn.But all to no avail. The horses held stolidly to their gait,plodding--even, after a time, dropping into slower movement. WhereatFelipe, abandoning all hope, flung down reins and whip, and leaped offthe reach of the rigging. Prompt with the loosened lines the team cameto a full stop; and Felipe, snatching up a blanket, covered his head andshoulders with it and squatted in the scant protection of a forwardwheel.

  The storm whipped and howled past. Felipe listened, noting each changein its velocity as told by the sound of raging gusts outside, himselfraging. Once he lifted a corner of the blanket and peered out--only tosuffer the sting of a thousand needles. Again, he hunched his shouldersguardedly and endeavored to roll a cigarette; but the tempestuous blastsdiscouraged this also, and with a curse he dashed the tobacco from him.After that he remained still, listening, until he heard an agreeablechange outside. The screeching sank to a crooning; the crooning droppedto a low, musical sigh. Flinging off the blanket, he rose and swept thedesert with eyes sand-filled and blinking.

  The last of the yellow winds was eddying slowly past. All about him theair, thinning rapidly, pulsated in the sun's rays, which, beaming mildlydown upon the desert, were spreading everywhere in glorious sheen. Tothe east, the mountains, stepping forth in the clearing atmosphere, layrevealed in a warmth of soft purple; while the slopes to the west, overwhich the storm had broken, shone in a wealth of dazzling yellow-whitelight--sunbeams scintillating off myriads of tiny sand-cubes. The desertwas itself again--bright, resplendent-gripped in the clutch of solitude.

  Felipe tossed his blanket back upon the reach of the rigging. Then hecaught up reins and whip, ready to go on. As he did so he paused indismay.

  For one of the mares was down! It was the off mare, the slower and theolder mare of the two. She was lying prone and she was breathingheavily. Covered as she was with a thin layer of fine sand, and tightlygirdled with chaotic harness straps, she was a spectacle of abjectmisery.

  But Felipe did not see this. All he saw, in the blinding rage whichsuddenly possessed him, was a horse down, unready for duty, and besideher a horse standing, ready for duty, but restrained by the other.Stringing out a volley of oaths, he stepped to the side of the mare andjerked at her head, but she refused stubbornly to get up on her feet.

  Gripped in dismay deeper than at first, Felipe fell back in mechanicalresignation.

  Was the mare dying? he asked himself. He could ill afford to lose amare. Horses cost seven and eight dollars, and he did not possess somuch money. Indeed, all the money he had in the world was three dollars,received for this last load of wood in town. So, what to do! Cursing themare had not helped matters; nor could he accuse the storm, for therehad been other storms, many of them, and each had she successfullyweathered--been ready, with its passing, to go on! But not so this one!She--Huh? Could it be possible? Ah!

  He looked at the mare with new interest. And the longer he gazed themore his anger subsided, became finally downright compassion. For he wasreviewing a something he had contemplated at odd times for weeks withmany misgivings and tenacious unbeliefs. Never had he understood it!Never would he understand that thing! So why lose time in an effort tounderstand it now?

  Dropping to his knees, he fell to work with feverish haste unbucklingstraps and bands. With the harness loose, he dragged it off and tossedit to one side. Then, still moving feverishly, he led the mate to themare off the trail, turned to the wagon with bracing shoulder, backed itclear of the prostrate animal, and swung it out of the way of futurepassing vehicles. It was sweltering work. When it was done
, with thesun, risen to its fierce zenith, beating down upon him mercilessly, hestrode off the trail, blowing and perspiring, and flung himself down inthe baking sand, where, though irritated by particles of sand which hadsifted down close inside his shirt, he nevertheless gave himself over tosober reflections.

  He was stalled till the next morning--he knew that. And he was withoutfood-supplies to carry him over. And he was ten miles on the one hand,and five up-canyon miles on the other, from all source of supplies. Butagainst these unpleasant facts there stood many pleasant facts--he wason the return leg of his journey, his wagon was empty, and he had in hispossession three dollars. Then, too, there was another pleasant fact.The trip as a trip had been unusual; never before had he, or any oneelse, made it under two days--one for loading and driving into town, anda second for getting rid of the wood and making the return. Yet hehimself had been out now only the one day, and he was on his way home.He had whipped and crowded his horses since midnight to just this end.Yet was he not stalled now till morning? And would not this delay sethim back the one day he had gained over his fellow-townsmen? And wouldnot these same fellow-townsmen rejoice in this opportunity to overtakehim--worse, to leave him behind? They would!

  "Oh, well," he concluded, philosophically, stretching out upon his backand drawing his worn and ragged sombrero over his eyes, "soon is comin'a _potrillo_." With this he deliberately courted slumber.

  Out of the stillness rattled a wagon. Like Felipe's, it was a lumberrigging, and the driver, a fat Mexican with beady eyes, pulled up hishorses and gazed at the disorder. It was but a perfunctory gaze,however, and revealed to him nothing of the true situation. All he sawwas that Felipe was drunk and asleep, and that before dropping besidethe trail he had had time, and perhaps just enough wit, to unhitch onehorse. The other, true to instinct and the law of her underfed andoverworked kind, had lain down. With this conclusion, and out of sheerexuberance of alcoholic spirits, he decided to awaken Felipe. And thishe did--in true Mexican fashion. With a curse of but five words--wordsof great scope and finest selection, however--he mercilessly rakedFelipe's ancestors for five generations back; he objurgated Felipe'sholdings--chickens, adobe house, money, burro, horses, pigs. He closed,snarling not obscurely at Felipe the man and at any progeny of his whichmight appear in the future. Then he dropped his reins and sprang off thereach of his rigging.

  Felipe was duly awakened. He gained his feet slowly.

  "You know me, eh?" he retorted, advancing toward the other. "Allright--_gracios_!" And by way of coals of fire he proffered thefellow-townsman papers and tobacco.

  The new-comer revealed surprise, not alone at Felipe's sobriety, thoughthis was startling in view of the disorder in the trail, but also at theproffer of cigarette material. And he was about to speak when Felipeinterrupted him.

  "You haf t'ink I'm drunk, eh, Franke?" he said. "Sure! Why not?" And hewaved his hand in the direction of the trail. Then, after the other hadrolled a cigarette and returned the sack and papers, he laid a firm handupon the man's shoulder. "You coom look," he invited. "You tell me whatyou t'ink thees!"

  They walked to the mare, and Franke gazed a long moment in silence.Felipe stood beside him, eying him sharply, hoping for an expression ofapproval--even of congratulation. In this he was doomed todisappointment, for the other continued silent, and in silence finallyturned back, his whole attitude that of one who saw nothing in thespectacle worthy of comment. Felipe followed him, nettled, and sat downand himself rolled a cigarette. As he sat smoking it the other seatedhimself beside him, and presently touched him on the arm and began tospeak. Felipe listened, with now and again a nod of approval, and, whenthe _compadre_ was finished, accepted the brilliant proposition.

  "A bet, eh?" he exclaimed. "All right!" And he produced his sheepskinpouch and dumped out his three dollars. "All right! I bet you feetycents, Franke, thot eet don' be!"

  Frank looked his disdain at the amount offered. Also, his eyes blazedand his round face reddened. He shoved his hand into his overalls,brought forth a silver dollar, and tossed it down in the sand.

  "A bet!" he yelled. "Mek eet a bet! A dolar!" Then he narrowed his eyesin the direction of the mare. "Mek eet a good bet! You have chonce towin, too, Felipe--you know!"

  Felipe did not respond immediately. Money was his all-absorbingdifficulty. Never plentiful with him, it was less than ever plentifulnow, and was wholly represented in the three dollars before him. A sumlittle enough in fact, it dwindled rapidly as he recalled one by one hisnumerous debts. For he owed much money. He owed for food in thesettlement store; he owed for clothing he had bought in town; and heowed innumerable gambling debts--big sums, sums mounting to heights hedared not contemplate. And all he had to his name was the three dollarslying so peacefully before him, with the speculative Franke hoveringover them like a fat buzzard over a dead coyote. What to do! He couldnot decide. He had ways for this money, other than paying on his debtsor investing in a gambling proposition. There was to be a _baile_soon, and he must buy for Margherita (providing her father, a caustic_hombre_, bitter against all wood-haulers, permitted him the girl'ssociety) peanuts in the dance-hall and candy outside the dance-hall. Thecandy must be bought in the general store, where, because of his manydebts, he must pay cash now--always cash! So what to do! All thesethings meant money. And money, as he well understood, was a thing hardto get. Yet here was a chance, as Franke had generously indicated, forhim to win some money. But, against this chance for him to win somemoney was the chance also, as conveyed inversely by Franke, of hislosing some money--money he could ill afford to lose.

  "You afraid?" suddenly cut in Franke, nastily, upon these reflections."I don' see you do soomt'ing!"

  Which decided Felipe for all time. "Afraid?" he echoed, disdainfully."Sure! But not for myself! You don' have mooch money to lose! But I mekeet a bet--a good bet! I bet you two dolars thot eet--thot eet don' be!"

  It was now the other who hesitated. But he did not hesitate for long.Evidently the spirit of the gambler was more deeply rooted in him thanit was in Felipe, for, after gazing out in the trail a moment, theneying Felipe another moment, both speculatively, he extracted from hispockets two more silver dollars and tossed them down with the others.Then he fixed Felipe with a malignant stare.

  "I bet you t'ree dolars thot eet cooms what I haf say!"

  Felipe laughed. "All right," he agreed, readily. "Why not?" He heapedthe money under a stone, sank over upon his back with an affected yawn,drew his hat over his eyes, and lay still. "We go to sleep now, Franke,"he proposed. "Eet's long time--I haf t'ink."

  Soon both were snoring.

  Out in the trail hung the quiet of a sick-room. The long afternoonwaned. Once a wagon appeared from the direction of town, but the driver,evidently grasping the true situation, turned out and around the mare inrespectful silence. Another time a single horseman, riding from themountains, cantered upon the scene; but this man, also with a look ofunderstanding, turned out and around the mare in careful regard for hercondition. Then came darkness. Shadows crept in from nowhere, stealingover the desert more and more darkly, while, with their coming, birds ofthe air, seeking safe place for night rest, flitted about in nervousuncertainty. And suddenly in the gathering dusk rose the long-drawn howlof a coyote, lifting into the stillness a lugubrious note of appeal.Then, close upon the echo of this, rose another appeal in the trailclose by, the shrill nicker of the mate to the mare.

  It awoke Felipe. He sat up quickly, rubbed his eyes dazedly, and peeredout with increasing understanding. Then he sprang to his feet.

  "Coom!" he called, kicking the other. "We go now--see who is winnin'thot bet!" And he started hurriedly forward.

  But the other checked him. "Wait!" he snapped, rising. "You wait! You intoo mooch hurry! You coom back--I have soomt'ing!"

  Felipe turned back, wondering. The other nervously produced material fora cigarette. Then he cleared his throat with needless protraction.

  "Felipe," he began, evidently laboring under excitement, "I mek ee
t a_bet_ now! I bet you," he went on, his voice trembling withfervor--"I bet you my wagon, thee horses--thee wholeshutting-match--against thot wagon and horses yours, and theeharness--thee whole damned shutting-match--thot I haf win!" He proceededto finish his cigarette.

  Felipe stared at him hard. Surely his ears had deceived him! If they hadnot deceived him, if, for a fact, the _hombre_ had expressed awillingness to bet all he had on the outcome of this thing, then Franke,fellow-townsman, _compadre_, brother-wood-hauler, was crazy! But hedetermined to find out.

  "What you said, Franke?" he asked, peering into the glowing eyes of theother. "Say thot again, _hombre_!"

  "I haf say," repeated the other, with lingering emphasis upon eachword--"I haf say I bet you everyt'ing--wagon, harness,_caballos_--everyt'ing!--against thot wagon, harness,_caballos_ yours--everyt'ing--thee whole shutting-match--thot I hafwin thee bet!"

  Again Felipe lowered his eyes. But now to consider suspicions. He hadheard rightly; Franke really wanted to bet all he had. But he could notbut wonder whether Franke, by any possible chance, knew in advance theoutcome of the affair in the trail. He had heard of such things, thoughnever had he believed them possible. Yet he found himself troubled withinsistent reminder that Franke had suggested this whole thing. Thensuddenly he was gripped in another unwelcome thought. Could it bepossible that this scheming _hombre_, awaking at a time when hehimself was soundest asleep, had gone out into the trail on tiptoe foradvance information? It was possible. Why not? But that was not thepoint exactly. The point was, had he done it? Had this buzzard circledout into the trail while he himself was asleep? He did not know, and hecould not decide! For the third time in ten hours, though puzzled andgroping, trembling between gain and loss, he plunged on the gambler'schance.

  "All right!" he agreed, tensely. "I take thot bet! I bet you theeswagon, thees _caballos_, thees harness--everyt'ing--againsteveryt'ing yours--wagon, horses, harness--everyt'ing! Wait!" hethundered, for the other now was striding toward the mare. "Wait! You intoo mooch hurry yourself now!" Then, as the other returned: "Is eet abet? Is eet a bet?"

  The fellow-townsman nodded. Whereat Felipe nodded approval of the nod,and stepped out into the trail, followed by the other.

  It was night, and quite a dark night. Stretching away to east and west,the dimly outlined trail was lost abruptly in engulfing darkness; while,overhead, a starless sky, low and somber and frowning, pressed close.But, dark though the night was, it did not wholly conceal the outlinesof the mare. She was standing as they approached, mildly encouraging atiny something beside her, a wisp of life, her baby, who was strugglingto insure continued existence. And it was this second outline, not theother and larger outline, that held the breathless attention of the men.Nervously Felipe struck a match. As it flared up he stepped close,followed by the other, and there was a moment of tense silence. Then thematch went out and Felipe straightened up.

  "Franke," he burst out, "I haf win thee bet! Eet is not a mare; eet is ali'l' horse!" He struck his _compadre_ a resounding blow on theback. "I am mooch sorry, Franke," he declared--"not!" He turned back tothe faint outline of the colt. "Thees _potrillo_," he observed,"he's bringin' me mooch good luck! He's--" He suddenly interruptedhimself, aware that the other was striding away. "Where you go now,Franke?" he asked, and then, quick to sense approaching trouble: "Nevermind thee big bet, Franke! You can pay me ten dolars soom time! Allright?"

  There was painful silence.

  "All right!" came the reply, finally, through the darkness.

  Then Felipe heard a lumber rigging go rattling off in the direction ofthe canyon, and, suddenly remembering the money underneath the stone,hurried off the trail in a spasm of alarm. He knelt in the sand andstruck a match.

  The money had disappeared.

 
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