Stepsons of light, p.1
Stepsons of Light,
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STEPSONS OF LIGHT
EUGENE MANLOVE RHODES
_Author of "Good Men and True," "Bransford of Rainbow Range," "The Desire of the Moth," "West is West," etc._
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY The Riverside Press Cambridge 1921
Copyright, 1920, by THE CURTIS PUBLISHING COMPANY
Copyright, 1921, by HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
TO MY WIFE
STEPSONS OF LIGHT
There are two sorts of people--those who point with pride and thosewho view with alarm. They are quite right. The world will not soonforget Parkman "of Ours." Here was a man of learning, common sense,judgment and wide sympathies. Yet once he stumbled; the paregoricalimperative, which impels each of us to utter ignominious nonsense,urged Francis Parkman to the like unhappiness, drove him to fatherand put forth this void and singular statement:
I have often perplexed myself to divine the various motives that give impulse to this strange migration; but whatever they may be, whether an insane hope of a better condition of life, or a desire of shaking off the restraints of law and society, or mere restlessness, certain it is that multitudes bitterly repent the journey.
The year was 1846; the place, Independence, in Missouri; that strangemigration was the winning of the West. Mr. Parkman viewed it withalarm. The passage quoted may yet be found in the first chapter of"The Oregon Trail." We, wise after the event, now point with pride tothat strange migration of our fathers. The Great Trek has lasted threehundred years. To-day we dimly perceive that the history of America isthe story of the pioneer; that on our shifting frontiers the race hasbeen hammered and tempered to a cutting edge.
That insane hope of better things--the same which beckoned on theIsraelites and the Pilgrim Fathers; restraints of law and society,which in Egypt made the Israelite a slave, in England gave the Puritanto the pillory and the stocks, and in this western world of ours tookthe form of a hollow squire, founder by letters patent of a landedoligarchy--so that the bold and venturesome sought homes in theunsquired wilderness; and restlessness, that quality which marks themost notable difference between man and sandstone. Restlessness,shaking off restraints, insane hopes--in that cadence of ideas what isthere of haunting, echolike and familiar? Restraints of society? Whenthe very stones of the streets shrieked at him the name of thattown--Independence! Now we know the words that haunted us: "Life,liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!" Never was echo clearer.The emigrants were there in exercise of those unavoidable rights.Not happiness, or the overtaking of happiness; the pursuit ofhappiness--the insane hope of a better condition of life.
That which perplexed Parkman looked upon, disapproving, was thesettlement of America--the greatest upbuilding of recorded time; andthe prime motive of that great migration was the motive of allmigrations--the search for food and land. They went west for food.What they did there was to work; if you require a monument--take agood look!
Here is the record of a few late camp fires of the Great Trek.
"Why-Why had been principally beaten about the face, and his injuries, therefore, were slight." --_The Romance of the First Radical._
"A fine face, marred by an expression of unscrupulous integrity." --_Credit Lost._
The lady listened with fluttering attention. The lady was sweet andtwenty, and the narrator--myself--was spurred to greater effort.Suddenly a thought struck her. It was a severe blow. She sat upstraight, she stiffened her lips to primness, her fine eyes darkenedwith suspicion, her voice crisped to stern inquiry.
"I suppose, when Sunday came, you kept right on working?"
It was an acid supposition. Her dear little nose squinched to expresssome strong emotion--loving-kindness, perhaps; her dear little upperlip curled ominous. She looked as though she might bite.
"Kept right on working is right. We had to keep on working," Iexplained. "We couldn't very well work six days gathering cattle andthen turn them all loose again on the seventh day--could we now?"
The lady frowned. The lady sniffed. She was not one to be turned asideby subterfuge. She leaned forward to strike, and flattened her browsin scorn. She looked uncommonly like a rattlesnake. She said:
"I suppose you couldn't put them in the barn-yards?"
And I learned about readers from her.
* * * * *
Cattle were once grazed to the nearest railroad--say, a thousandmiles--yes, and beyond that railroad to Wyoming grass; or Montana. Noone who saw those great herds forgot them or ever quite refrained fromspeech of those stirring days, to children or grandchildren. That iswhy so many think--not unnaturally--that range cattle were always heldunder herd. But it is a mistaken impression. Cattle do not thriveunder herd.
Cattle on the free range--everybody's cattle--were turned loose andmixed together. There were no fences except as deep rivers counted forsuch; the Panama Canal was yet undug. Twice a year, in spring andfall, everybody gets together to work the cattle at the rodeo, orround-up. They brand the calves; they take into the day herd allstrays, all steers or cows to be shipped, and nothing more. Fromcattle gathered each day steers and strays are cut out and thrown intothe day herd; all the others, the range cattle, are turned loose witha vigorous shove in that direction most remote from to-morrow'sround-up.
Again, your ranch was that land to which you had either title orclaim; its purpose was to give a water right on stream or lake or tohold spring, well or tank. But your range was either Texas land orUncle Sam's land as far as your cattle would range from your variouswater rights--say, twenty-five miles in each direction. Your range wasthat country where you were reasonably sure your cattle would not bestolen by strangers.
Here was the way of the Bar Cross round-up; with slight variations itwas the way of any round-up. The Bar Cross Company, running thebiggest brand on the Jornada range, supplied one foreman, one strawboss, three top hands and the captain of the day herd; one horsewrangler, who herded the saddle horses by day; one night wrangler, whoherded them by night; and mounts for these eight. The Bar Cross alsofurnished one red-headed cook; one chuck wagon and the chuck--chuckbeing grub--and one bed wagon to haul bed rolls from camp to camp, andalso to haul wood and water between times. Item: Four mules for thechuck wagon, and two for the bed wagon. The night wrangler drove thebed wagon; night wranglers were not supposed to sleep.
Other ranchmen, co-users of the Bar Cross range, sent each a man andhis mount to represent. A man with many cattle might send two or moremen; the 7 T X--next to the Bar Cross the biggest brand on theJornada--sent four. Each man or each two men brought tarp and beddingon a pack horse.
From north, south, east and west came the stray men, each with mountand bed. Stray men stayed with the outfit as long as it pleased them.When they were satisfied they cut out from the day herd their owncattle, together with those of their neighbors, and drove them home.As a usual thing, three or four would throw in and drive backtogether. If by chance some man was homeward bound and alone, the BarCross detailed a man to help him home; a friendly and not imprudentcustom.
To sum up: The Bar Cross paid nine men, and provided good grub for allcomers; in return it had the help of twenty-five to forty men inworking the range; the rodeo, or round-up.
During the weeks or months of that working, wherever some other outfitgave a round-up--east, west, south or north--there, with mount andbed, went either a Bar Cross man or one from some other brand of theJorna
A word about horses. In the fall, when grass was green and good, amount was eight to thirteen head. One must be gentle; he was nighthorse; every man stood guard at night two and a half to three hours;all night in case of storm. For the others, the best were cuttinghorses, used afternoons, when the day's drive was worked; the poorestwere circle horses and were ridden in the forenoon, when the round-upwas made. But in the spring it is different. Grass is scant and short;corn is fed, and four horses go to a mount; the range is workedlightly.
So much was needful by way of glossary and guide; so partly to avoidsuch handicap as we meet in telling a baseball story to an Englishman.
It is a singular thing that with the Bar Cross were found the topropers, crack riders, sure shots--not only the slickest cowmen, butalso the wisest cow ponies. Our foremen were "cowmen right," ourwranglers held the horses, our cooks would fry anything once. But youknow how it is--your own organization--firm, farm or factory--isdoubtless the best of its kind. No? You surprise me. You have missedmuch--faith in others, hope for others, comradeship.
It is laughable to recall that men of other brands disputed theheadship of the Bar Cross. Nor was this jest or bravado; the poorfellows were sincere enough. Indeed, we thought this pathetic loyaltyrather admirable than otherwise. Such were the 101, in Colorado; the XI T, in the Panhandle; the Block and the V V, between the Pecos andthe Front Range; the Bar W, west of the White Mountain; the V Cross T,the John Cross, the Diamond A and the L C, west of the Rio Grande.Even from Arizona, the T L, the Toltec Company--Little Colorado Riverway--put forth absurd pretensions.
The Bar Cross men smiled, knowing what they knew. That sure knowledgewas the foundation of the gay and holdfast spirit they brought toconfront importunate life. No man wanted to be the weak link of thatstrong chain; each brought to his meanest task the earnestness that isremarked upon when Mr. Ty Cobb slides into second base; they bentevery energy on the thing they did at the joyful time of doing it. Inthis way only is developed that rare quality to which the scientificgive the name of pep or punch. Being snappy made them happy, and beinghappy made them snappy; establishing what is known to philosophers asthe virtuous circle. The nearest parallel is newspaper circulation,which means more advertising, which boosts circulation, and so onwardand upward.
In that high eagerness of absorption, a man "working for the brand"did not, could not, center all thoughts on self; he trusted hisfellows, counted upon them, joyed in their deeds. And to forget selfin the thought of others is for so long to reach life at its highest.
* * * * *
The Bar Cross had worked the northern half of the range, getting backto Engle, the center and the one shipping point of the Jornada, withfifteen hundred steers--finding there no cars available, no prospectof cars for ten days to come. To take those steers to the south andback meant that they would be so gaunted as to be unfit for shipment.
So the wagon led on softly, drifting down to the river, to a beatingof _bosques_ for outlaw cattle and a combing of half-forgotten ridgesand pockets behind Christobal Mountain. It was a work which because ofits difficulty had been shirked for years; the river cattle mostlycame out on the plains in the rainy season, and got their just desertsthere. Waiting for cars, the outfit was marking time anyhow. Anycattle snared on the river were pure gain. The main point was tohandle the stock tenderly. From working the _bosques_ the outfitexpected few cattle and got less.--The poets babble about the boskydell; _bosque_, literally translated, means "woods." Yet for thispurpose if you understand the word as "jungle," you will be the lessmisled.
Johnny Dines sat tailor-wise on his horse at the crest of a sandyknoll and looked down at the day herd, spread out over a square mileof tableland, and now mostly asleep in the brooding heat of afternoon.About the herd other riders, six in all, stood at attention, blacksilhouettes, or paced softly to turn back would-be stragglers.
Of these riders Neighbor Jones alone was a Bar Cross man. He wascaptain of the day herd, a fixture; for him reluctant straymen weredetailed in turn, day by day, as day herders. Johnny represented anumber of small brands in the north end of the Black Range. His facewas sparkling, all alive; he was short, slender, black-haired,black-eyed, two and twenty. He saw--Neighbor Jones himself notsooner--what turmoil rose startling from a lower bench to riverward; ariot of wild cattle with riders as wild on lead and swing and point.As a usual thing, the day's catch comes sedately to the day herd; butthis day's catch was _bosque_ cattle--renegades and desperates of adozen brands.
Jody Weir, on Johnny's right, sat on the sand in the shadow of hishorses. This was not ethical; seeing him, Yoast and Ralston, leadingthe riot, turned that way, drew aside to right and left, and so loosedthe charging hurricane directly at the culprit.
Weir scrambled to saddle and spurred from under. The other ridersclosed in on the day herd, stirring them up the better to check theoutlaws. Half of the round-up crew followed Yoast to the right of thenow roused and bellowing day herd, bunching them; the others followedRalston on Johnny's side of the herd.
Cole Ralston was the Bar Cross foreman. Overtaking Johnny, he raiseda finger; the two drew rein and let the others pass by. Cole spoke tothe last man.
"Spike, when they quiet down you ride round and tell all theseday-herder waddies that if any of 'em want to write letters they canslip in to the wagon. I'm sending a man to town soon after supper."
He turned to Johnny, laughing.
"Them outcasts was sure snaky. We near wasted the whole bunch. Had tostring 'em out and let 'em run so they thought they was getting awayor they'd ha' broke back into the brush."
"Two bull fights started already," observed Johnny. "YourSunday-School bulls are hunting up the wild ones, just a-snuffin'."
"The boys will keep 'em a-moving," said Cole. "Dines, you ride yourown horses, so I reckon you're not drawing pay from the ninety-sevenpiney-woods brands you're lookin' out for. Just turning their cattlein a neighborly way?"
"Someone had to come."
"Well, then," said Cole, "how would you like a Bar Cross mount?"
Slow red tinged the olive of Johnny's cheek, betraying the quickenedheartbeats.
"You've done hired a hand--quick as ever I throw these cattle backhome."
"Wouldn't Walter Hearn cut out your milk-pen brands as close as youwould?"
"Sure! He's one of the bunch."
"Your pay started this morning, then. Here's the lay. To-morrow wework the herd and start the west-bound strays home. Walt can throw inwith the S S Bar man and I'll send Lon along to represent the BarCross. Hiram goes to the John Cross work, at the same time helpin'Pink throw back the John Cross stuff. So that leaves us shy a shortman. That's you. Send your horses home with Walt."
"I'd like to keep one with me for my private."
"All right. Leave him at the horse camp. Can't carry any idlers withthe _caballada_--makes the other horses discontented. You drift intothe wagon early, when you see the horse herd coming. I'm goin' to sendyou to the horse camp to get you a mount. We'll cut out all the lameones and sore backs from our mounts too. I'll give you a list of freshones to bring back for us. You go up to Engle after supper and thenslip out to Moongate to-morrow. We'll be loadin' 'em at Engle when youget back. No hurry; take your time."
He rode on. Behind him the most joyous heart between two oceansthumped at Johnny's ribs. It is likely that you see no cause forpride. You see a hard job for a scanty wage; to Johnny Dines it wasaccolade and shoulder stroke. Johnny's life so far had been made upall of hardships well borne. But that was what Johnny did not know ordream; to-day, hailed man-grown, he thought of his honors, prince andpeer, not as deserved and earned, but as an unmerited stroke of goodfortune.
The herd, suddenly roused, became vociferous with query and rumor;drifted uneasily a little, muttered, whispered, tittered, fell quietagain, to cheerful grazing. The fresh wild cattle, nearing theperiphery, glimpsed the dreaded horsemen beyond, and turned again tohiding i
Jody Weir rode over to Johnny.
"Old citizen," he said, "the rod tells me you are for Engle, and if Iwanted to send letters I might go write 'em. But I beat him to it.Letter to my girl all written and ready. All I had to do was to put ina line with my little old pencil, telling her we'd work the herdto-morrow and start home next day. She'll be one pleased girl; shesure does love her little Jody."
Johnny knotted his brows in puzzlement. "But who reads your letters toher?" he said wonderingly.
"Now what you doin'--tryin' to slur my girl? She's educated, thatchild is."
"No; but when you said she--she liked her little Jody--why, Inaturally supposed"--Johnny hesitated--"her eyesight, you know, mightbe--"
Weir slapped his leg and guffawed.
"Thought she was blind, did you? Well, she ain't. If she was Iwouldn't be writing this letter. Most of it is heap private andconfidential." His face took on a broad and knowing leer as he handedover the letter. It was fat; it was face up; it bore the address:
MR. J. D. WEIR, HILLSBORO, N. M.
Johnny put the letter carefully in his saddle pocket.
"Don't you think maybe you're leaving an opening for some of thecattle to slip out?" he said, twitching his thumb toward Weir'sdeserted post.
"Let them other waddies circulate a little--lazy dogs! Won't hurt 'emany. Cattle ain't troublin', nohow. Cole, he told me himself to slideover and give you my letters. Darned funny if a man can't gas a littleonce in a while." He gave Johnny a black look. "Say, feller! Maybe youdon't like my talk?"
"No," said Johnny, "I don't. Not unless you change the subject. Thatyoung lady wouldn't want you to be talking her over with any toughyou meet."
Jody Weir checked his horse and regarded Dines with a truculent stare."Aw, hell! She ain't so particular! Here, let me show you the stuffshe writes, herself." His hand went to his vest pocket. "Some baby!"
"Here! That's enough! I'm surprised at you, Jody. I never was plumbfoolish about you, but I suhtenly thought you was man enough not tokiss and tell. That's as low-down as they ever get, I reckon."
"You ain't got no gun. And you're too little for me to maul round--saynothing of scaring the herd and maybe wasting a lot."
"All that is very true--to-day. But it isn't a question of guns, justnow. I'm trying to get you to shut up that big blackguard mouth ofyours. If you wasn't such a numskull you'd see that I'm a-doin' you agood turn."
"You little sawed-off, bench-legged pup! I orter throw this gun awayand stomp you into the sand! Aw, what's a-bitin' you? I ain't named nonames, have I? You're crowdin' me purty hard. What's the matter,feller? Got it in for me, and usin' this as an excuse? When'd I everdo you any dirt?"
"Never," said Johnny. "Get this straight: I'm not wanting any fight.It's decency I'm trying to crowd on to you--not a fight."
"I can't write to my girl without your say-so, hey?"
"Now you listen! Writing to a girl, fair and above-board, is onething. Writing unbeknownst to her folks, with loose talk about her onthe side, is another thing altogether. It's yourself you're doing dirtto--and to this girl that trusted you."
Jody's face showed real bewilderment. "How? You don't know her name.Nobody knows her name. No one knows I have more than a noddingacquaintance with her--unless she told you!" His eyes flamed withsudden suspicion. "You know her yourself--she told you!"
"Jody, you put me in mind of the stealthy hippopotamus, and likewiseof the six-toed Wallipaloova bird, that hides himself under hiswing," said Dines. "I've never been in Hillsboro, and I never saw yourgirl. But when you write her a letter addressed to yourself--why don'tyour dad take that letter home and keep it till you come? How is shegoing to get it out of the post office? She can't--unless she works inthe post office herself. Old man Seiber is postmaster at Hillsboro.I've heard that much. And he's got a daughter named Kitty. You see nowI was telling you true--you talk too much."
Weir's face went scarlet with rage.
"Here's a fine how-de-do about a damn little--"
That word was never uttered. Johnny's horse, with rein and knee andspur to guide and goad, reared high and flung sidewise. White hoofsflashed above Weir's startled eyes; Johnny launched himself throughthe air straight at Jody's throat. Johnny's horse fell crashing after,twisting, bestriding at once the other horse and the two locked andstraining men. Weir's horse floundered and went down, men and horsesrolled together in the sand. From first to last you might havecounted--one--two--three--four! Johnny came clear of the tangle withJody's six-shooter in his hand. He grabbed Jody by the collar anddragged him from under the struggling horses.
"We can't go on with this, Jody!" he said gravely. "You've got nogun!"
Stepsons of Light by Eugene Manlove Rhodes / Western have rating 4.3 out of 5 / Based on17 votes