The Happy Family (B M Bower)/A Tamer of Wild Ones
A Tamer of Wild Ones
When the days grow crisp at each end and languorous in the middle; when a haze ripples the skyline like a waving ribbon of faded blue; when the winds and the grasses stop and listen for the first on-rush of winter, then it is that the rangeland takes on a certain intoxicating unreality, and range-wild blood leaps with desire to do something—anything, so it is different and irresponsible and not measured by precedent or prudence.
In days like that one grows venturesome and ignores difficulties and limitations with a fine disregard for probable consequences, a mental snapping of fingers. On a day like that, the Happy Family, riding together out of Dry Lake with the latest news in mind and speech, urged Andy Green, tamer of wild ones, to enter the rough-riding contest exploited as one of the features of the Northern Montana Fair, to be held at Great Falls in two weeks. Pink could not enter, because a horse had fallen with him and hurt his leg, so that he was picking the gentlest in his string for daily riding. Weary would not, because he had promised his Little Schoolma'am to take care of himself and not take any useless risks; even the temptation of a two-hundred-dollar purse could not persuade him that a rough-riding contest is perfectly safe and without the ban. But Andy, impelled by the leaping blood of him and urged by the loyal Family, consented and said he'd try it a whirl, anyway.
They had only ridden four or five miles when the decision was reached, and they straightway turned back and raced into Dry Lake again, so that Andy might write the letter that clinched matters. Then, whooping with the sheer exhilaration of living, and the exultation of being able to ride and whoop unhindered, they galloped back to camp and let the news spread as it would. In a week all Chouteau County knew that Andy Green would ride for the purse, and nearly all Chouteau County backed him with all the money it could command; certainly, all of it that knew Andy Green and had seen him ride, made haste to find someone who did not know him and whose faith in another contestant was strong, and to bet all the money it could lay hands upon.
For Andy was one of those mild-mannered men whose genius runs to riding horses which object violently to being ridden; one of those lucky fellows who never seems to get his neck broken, however much he may jeopardize it; and, moreover, he was that rare genius, who can make a "pretty" ride where other broncho-fighters resemble nothing so much as a scarecrow in a cyclone. Andy not only could ride—he could ride gracefully. And the reason for that, not many knew: Andy, in the years before he wandered to the range, had danced, in spangled tights, upon the broad rump of a big gray horse which galloped around a saw-dust ring with the regularity of movement that suggested a machine, while a sober-clothed man in the center cracked a whip and yelped commands. Andy had jumped through blazing hoops and over sagging bunting while he rode—and he was just a trifle ashamed of the fact. Also—though it does not particularly matter—he had, later in the performance, gone hurtling around the big tent dressed in the garb of an ancient Roman and driving four deep-chested bays abreast. As has been explained, he never boasted of his circus experience; though his days in spangled tights probably had much to do with the inimitable grace of him in the saddle. The Happy Family felt to a man that Andy would win the purse and add honor to the Flying U in the winning. They were enthusiastic over the prospect and willing to bet all they had on the outcome.
The Happy Family, together with the aliens who swelled the crew to round-up size, was foregathered at the largest Flying U corral, watching a bunch of newly bought horses circle, with much snorting and kicking up of dust, inside the fence. It was the interval between beef-and calf-roundups, and the witchery of Indian Summer held the range-land in thrall.
Andy, sizing up the bunch and the brands, lighted upon a rangy blue roan that he knew—or thought he knew, and the eyes of him brightened with desire. If he could get that roan in his string, he told himself, he could go to sleep in the saddle on night-guard; for an easier horse to ride he never had straddled. It was like sitting in grandma's pet rocking chair when that roan loosened his muscles for a long, tireless gallop over the prairie sod, and as a stayer Andy had never seen his equal. It was not his turn to choose, however, and he held his breath lest the rope of another should settle over the slatey-black ears ahead of him.
Cal Emmett roped a plump little black and led him out, grinning satisfaction; from the white saddle-marks back of the withers he knew him for a "broke" horse, and he certainly was pretty to look at. Andy gave him but a fleeting glance.
Happy Jack spread his loop and climbed down from the fence, almost at Andy's elbow. It was his turn to choose. "I betche that there blue roan over there is a good one," he remarked. "I'm going to tackle him."
Andy took his cigarette from between his lips. "Yuh better hobble your stirrups, then," he discouraged artfully. "I know that roan a heap better than you do."
"Aw, gwan!" Happy, nevertheless, hesitated. "He's got a kind eye in his head; yuh can always go by a horse's eye."
"Can yuh?" Andy smiled indifferently. "Go after him, then. And say, Happy: if yuh ride that blue roan for five successive minutes, I'll give yuh fifty dollars. I knew that hoss down on the Musselshell; he's got a record that'd reach from here to Dry Lake and back." It was a bluff, pure and simple, born of his covetousness, but it had the desired effect—or nearly so.
Happy fumbled his rope and eyed the roan. "Aw, I betche you're just lying," he hazarded; but, like many another, when he did strike the truth he failed to recognize it. "I betche—"
"All right, rope him out and climb on, if yuh don't believe me." The tone of Andy was tinged with injury. "There's fifty dollars—yes, by gracious, I'll give yuh a hundred dollars if yuh ride him for five minutes straight."
A conversation of that character, carried on near the top of two full-lunged voices, never fails in the range land to bring an audience of every male human within hearing. All other conversations and interests were immediately suspended, and a dozen men trotted up to see what it was all about. Andy remained roosting upon the top rail, his rope coiled loosely and dangling from one arm while he smoked imperturbably.
"Oh, Happy was going to rope out a sure-enough bad one for his night hoss, and out uh the goodness uh my heart, I put him wise to what he was going up against," he explained carelessly.
"He acts like he has some thoughts uh doubting my word, so I just offered him a hundred dollars to ride him—that blue roan, over there next that crooked post. GET a reserved seat right in front of the grand stand where all the big acts take PLACE;" he sung out suddenly, in the regulation circus tone. "GET-a-seat-right-in-front-where-Happy-Jack-the-WILD-Man-rides-the-BUCKING-BRONCHO—Go on, Happy. Don't keep the audience waiting. Aren't yuh going to earn that hundred dollars?"
Happy Jack turned half a shade redder than was natural. "Aw, gwan. I never said I was going to do no broncho-busting ack. But I betche yuh never seen that roan before he was unloaded in Dry Lake."
"What'll yuh bet I don't know that hoss from a yearling colt?" Andy challenged, and Happy Jack walked away without replying, and cast his loop sullenly over the first horse he came to—which was not the roan.
Chip, coming up to hear the last of it, turned and looked long at the horse in question; a mild-mannered horse, standing by a crooked corral post and flicking his ears at the flies. "Do you know that roan?" he asked Andy, in the tone which brings truthful answer. Andy had one good point: he never lied except in an irresponsible mood of pure deviltry. For instance, he never had lied seriously, to an employer.
"Sure, I know that hoss," he answered truthfully.
"Did you ever ride him?"
"No," Andy admitted, still truthfully. "I never rode him but once myself, but I worked right with a Lazy 6 rep that had him in his string, down at the U up-and-down, two years ago. I know the hoss, all right; but I did lie when I told Happy I knowed him from a colt. I spread it on a little bit thick, there." He smiled engagingly down at Chip.
"And he's a bad one, is he?" Chip queried Over his shoulder, just as he was about to walk away.
"Well," Andy prevaricated—still clinging to the letter, if not to the spirit of truth. "He ain't a hoss I'd like to see Happy Jack go up against. I ain't saying, though, that he can't be rode. I don't say that about any hoss."
"Is he any worse than Glory, when Glory is feeling peevish?" Weary asked, when Chip was gone and while the men still lingered. Andy, glancing to make sure that Chip was out of hearing, threw away his cigarette and yielded to temptation. "Glory?" he snorted with a fine contempt. "Why, Glory's—a—lamb beside that blue roan! Why, that hoss throwed Buckskin Jimmy clean out of a corral—Did yuh ever see Buckskin Jimmy ride? Well, say, yuh missed a pretty sight, then; Jimmy's a sure-enough rider. About the only animal he ever failed to connect with for keeps, is that same cow-backed hoss yuh see over there. Happy says he's got a kind eye in his head—" Andy stopped and laughed till they all laughed with him. "By gracious, Happy ought to step up on him, once, and see how kind he is!" He laughed again until Happy, across the corral saddling the horse he had chosen, muttered profanely at the derision he knew was pointed at himself.
"Why, I've seen that hoss—" Andy Green, once fairly started in the fascinating path of romance, invented details for the pure joy of creation. If he had written some of the tales he told, and had sold the writing for many dollars, he would have been famous. Since he did not write them for profit, but told them for fun, instead, he earned merely the reputation of being a great liar. A significant mark of his genius lay in the fact that his inventions never failed to convince; not till afterward did his audience doubt.
That is why the blue roan was not chosen in any of the strings, but was left always circling in the corral after a loop had settled. That is why the Flying U boys looked at him askance as they passed him by. That is why, when a certain Mr. Coleman, sent by the board of directors to rake northern Montana for bad horses, looked with favor upon the blue roan when he came to the Flying U ranch and heard the tale of his exploits as interpreted—I should say created—by Andy Green.
"We've got to have him," he declared enthusiastically. "If he's as bad as all that, he'll be the star performer at the contest, and make that two-hundred-dollar plum a hard one to pick. Some of these gay boys have entered with the erroneous idea that that same plum is hanging loose, and all they've got to do is lean up against the tree and it'll drop in their mouths. We've got to have that roan. I'll pay you a good price for him, Whitmore, if you won't let him go any other way. We've got a reporter up there that can do him up brown in a special article, and people will come in bunches to see a horse with that kind of a pedigree. Is it Green, here, that knows the horse and what he'll do? You're sure of him, are you, Green?"
Andy took time to roll a cigarette. He had not expected any such development as this, and he needed to think of the best way out. All he had wanted or intended was to discourage the others from claiming the blue roan; he wanted him in his own string. Afterwards, when they had pestered him about the roan's record, he admitted to himself that he had, maybe, overshot the mark and told it a bit too scarey, and too convincingly. Under the spell of fancy he had done more than make the roan unpopular as a roundup horse; he had made him a celebrity in the way of outlaw horses. And they wanted him in the rough-riding contest! Andy, perhaps, had never before been placed in just such a position.
"Are you sure of what the horse will do?" Mr. Coleman repeated, seeing that Andy was taking a long time to reply.
Andy licked his cigarette, twisted an end and leaned backward while he felt in his pocket for a match. From the look of his face you never could have told how very uncomfortable he felt "Naw," he drawled. "I ain't never sure of what any hoss will do. I've had too much dealings with 'em for any uh that brand uh foolishness." He lighted the cigarette as if that were the only matter in which he took any real interest, though he was thinking fast.
Mr. Coleman looked nonplussed. "But I thought—you said—"
"What I said," Andy retorted evenly, "hit the blue roan two years ago; maybe he's reformed since then; I dunno. Nobody's rode him, here." He could not resist a sidelong glance at Happy Jack. "There was some talk of it, but it never come to a head."
"Yuh offered me a hundred dollars—" Happy Jack began accusingly.
"And yuh never made no move to earn it, that I know of. By gracious, yuh all seem to think I ought to mind-read that hoss! I ain't seen him for two years. Maybe so, he's a real wolf yet; maybe so, he's a sheep." He threw out both his hands to point the end of the argument—so far as he was concerned—stuck them deep into his trousers' pockets and walked away before he could be betrayed into deeper deceit. It did seem to him rather hard that, merely because he had wanted the roan badly enough to—er—exercise a little diplomacy in order to get him, they should keep harping on the subject like that. And to have Coleman making medicine to get the roan into that contest was, to say the least, sickening. Andy's private belief was that a twelve-year-old girl could go round up the milk-cows on that horse. He had never known him to make a crooked move, and he had ridden beside him all one summer and had seen him in all places and under all possible conditions. He was a dandy cow-horse, and dead gentle; all this talk made him tired. Andy had forgotten that he himself had started the talk.
Coleman went often to the corral when the horses were in, and looked at the blue roan. Later he rode on to other ranches where he had heard were bad horses, and left the roan for further consideration. When he was gone, Andy breathed freer and put his mind to the coming contest and the things he meant to do with the purse and with the other contestants.
"That Diamond G twister is going t' ride," Happy Jack announced, one day when he came from town. "Some uh the boys was in town and they said so. He can ride, too. I betche Andy don't have no picnic gitting the purse away from that feller. And Coleman's got that sorrel outlaw uh the HS. I betche Andy'll have to pull leather on that one." This was, of course, treason pure and simple; but Happy Jack's prophecies were never taken seriously.
Andy simply grinned at him. "Put your money on the Diamond G twister," he advised calmly. "I know him—he's a good rider, too. His name's Billy Roberts. Uh course, I aim to beat him to it, but Happy never does like to have a sure-thing. He wants something to hang his jaw down over. Put your money on Billy and watch it fade away, Happy."
"Aw, gwan. I betche that there sorrel—"
"I rode that there sorrel once, and combed his forelock with both spurs alternate," Andy lied boldly. "He's pickings. Take him back and bring me a real hoss."
Happy Jack wavered. "Well, I betche yuh don't pull down that money," he predicted vaguely. "I betche yuh git throwed, or something. It don't do to be too blame sure uh nothing."
Whereat Andy laughed derisively and went away whistling. "I wish I was as sure uh living till I was a thousand years old, and able to ride nine months out of every year of 'em," he called back to Happy. Then he took up the tune where he had left off.
For the days were still crisp at both ends and languorous in the middle, and wind and grasses hushed and listened for the coming of winter. And because of these things, and his youth and his health, the heart of Andy Green was light in his chest and trouble stood afar off with its face turned from him.
It was but three days to the opening of the fair when Coleman, returning that way from his search for bad horses, clattered, with his gleanings and three or four men to help drive them, down the grade to the Flying U. And in the Flying U coulee, just across the creek from the corrals, still rested the roundup tents for a space. For the shipping was over early and work was not urgent, and Chip and the Old Man, in their enthusiasm for the rough-riding contest and the entry of their own man, had decided to take the wagons and crew entire to Great Falls and camp throughout the four days of the fair. The boys all wanted to go, anyway, as did everybody else, so that nothing could be done till it was over. It was a novel idea, and it tickled the humor of the Happy Family.
The "rough string," as the bad horses were called, was corralled, and the men made merry with the roundup crew. Diamond G men they were, loudly proclaiming their faith in Billy Roberts, and offering bets already against Andy, who listened undisturbed and had very little to say. The Happy Family had faith in him, and that was enough. If everybody, he told them, believed that he would win, where would be the fun of riding and showing them?
It was after their early supper that Coleman came down to camp at the heels of Chip and the Old Man. Straightway he sought out Andy like a man who has something on his mind; though Andy did not in the least know what it was, he recognized the indefinable symptoms and braced himself mentally, half suspecting that it was something about that blue roan again. He was getting a little bit tired of the blue roan—enough so that, though he had chosen him for his string, he had not yet put saddle to his back, but waited until the roundup started out once more, when he would ride him in his turn.
It was the blue roan, without doubt. Coleman came to a stop directly in front of Andy, and as directly came to the point.
"Look here, Green," he began. "I'm shy on horses for that contest, and Whitmore and Bennett say I can have that roan you've got in your string. If he's as bad as you claim, I certainly must have him. But you seem to have some doubts of what he'll do, and I'd like to see him ridden once. Your shingle is out as a broncho-peeler. Will you ride him this evening, so I can size him up for that contest?"
Andy glanced up under his eyebrows, and then sidelong at the crowd. Every man within hearing was paying strict attention, and was eyeing him expectantly; for broncho-fighting is a spectacle that never palls.
"Well, I can ride him, if yuh say so," Andy made cautious answer, "but I won't gamble he's a bad hoss now—that is, bad enough to take to the Falls. Yuh don't want to expect—"
"Oh, I don't expect anything—only I want to see him ridden once. Come on, no time like the present. If he's bad, you'll have to ride him at the fair, anyhow, and a little practice won't hurt you; and if he isn't, I want to know it for sure."
"It's a go with me," Andy said indifferently, though he secretly felt much relief. The roan would go off like a pet dog, and he could pretend to be somewhat surprised, and declare that he had reformed. Bad horses do reform, sometimes, as Andy and every other man in the crowd knew. Then there would be no more foolish speculation about the cayuse, and Andy could keep him in peace and have a mighty good cow-pony, as he had schemed. He smoked a cigarette while Chip was having the horses corralled, and then led the way willingly, with twenty-five men following expectantly at his heels. Unlike Andy, they fully expected an impromptu exhibition of fancy riding. Not all of them had seen Andy atop a bad horse, and the Diamond G men, in particular, were eager to witness a sample of his skill.
The blue roan submitted to the rope, and there was nothing spectacular in the saddling. Andy kept his cigarette between his lips and smiled to himself when he saw the saddle bunch hazed out through the gate and the big corral left empty of every animal but the blue roan, as was customary when a man tackled a horse with the record which he had given the poor beast. Also, the sight of twenty-five men roosting high, their boot-heels hooked under a corral rail to steady them, their faces writ large with expectancy, amused him inwardly. He pictured their disappointment when the roan trotted around the corral once or twice at his bidding, and smiled again.
"If you can't top him, Green, we'll send for Billy Roberts. He'll take off the rough edge and gentle him down for yuh," taunted a Diamond G man.
"Don't get excited till the show starts," Andy advised, holding the cigarette in his fingers while he emptied his lungs of smoke. Just to make a pretence of caution, he shook the saddle tentatively by the horn, and wished the roan would make a little show of resistance, instead of standing there like an old cow, lacking only the cud, as he complained to himself, to make the resemblance complete. The roan, however, did lay back an ear when Andy, the cigarette again in his lips, put his toe in the stirrup.
"Go after it, you weatherbeaten old saw-buck," he yelled, just to make the play strong, before he was fairly in the saddle.
Then it was that the Happy Family, heart and soul and pocket all for Andy Green and his wonderful skill in the saddle; with many dollars backing their belief in him and with voices ever ready to sing his praises; with the golden light of early sunset all about them and the tang of coming night-frost in the air, received a shock that made them turn white under their tan.
"Mama!" breathed Weary, in a horrified half-whisper.
And Slim, goggle-eyed beside him, blurted, "Well, by golly!" in a voice that carried across the corral.
For Andy Green, tamer of wild ones (forsooth!) broncho-twister with a fame that not the boundary of Chouteau County held, nor yet the counties beyond; Andy Green, erstwhile "André de Gréno, champion bare-back rider of the Western Hemisphere," who had jumped through blazing hoops and over sagging bunting while he rode, turned handsprings and done other public-drawing feats, was prosaically, unequivocally "piled" at the fifth jump!
That he landed lightly on his feet, with the cigarette still between his lips, the roosting twenty-five quite overlooked. They saw only the first jump, where Andy, riding loose and unguardedly, went up on the blue withers. The second, third and fourth jumps were not far enough apart to be seen and judged separately; as well may one hope to decide whether a whirling wheel had straight or crooked spokes. The fifth jump, however, was a masterpiece of rapid-fire contortion, and it was important because it left Andy on the ground, gazing, with an extremely grieved expression, at the uninterrupted convolutions of the "dandy little cow-hoss."
The blue roan never stopped so much as to look back. He was busy—exceedingly busy. He was one of those perverted brutes which buck and bawl and so keep themselves wrought up to a high pitch—literally and figuratively. He set himself seriously to throw Andy's saddle over his head, and he was not a horse which easily accepts defeat. Andy walked around in the middle of the corral, quite aimlessly, and watched the roan contort. He could not understand in the least, and his amazement overshadowed, for the moment, the fact that he had been thrown and that in public and before men of the Diamond G.
Then it was that the men of the Diamond G yelled shrill words of ironical sympathy. Then it was that the Happy Family looked at one another in shamed silence, and to the taunts of the Diamond Gs made no reply. It had never occurred to them that such a thing could happen. Had they not seen Andy ride, easily and often? Had they not heard from Pink how Andy had performed that difficult feat at the Rocking R—the feat of throwing his horse flat in the middle of a jump? They waited until the roan, leaving the big corral looking, in the fast deepening twilight, like a fresh-ploughed field, stopped dejectedly and stood with his nose against the closed gate, and then climbed slowly down from the top rail of the corral, still silent with the silence more eloquent than speech in any known language.
Over by the gate, Andy was yanking savagely at the latigo; and he, also, had never a word to say. He was still wondering how it had happened. He looked the roan over critically and shook his head against the riddle; for he had known him to be a quiet, dependable, all-round good horse, with no bad traits and an easy-going disposition that fretted at nothing. A high-strung, nervous beast might, from rough usage and abuse, go "bad"; but the blue roan—they had called him Pardner—had never showed the slightest symptom of nerves. Andy knew horses as he knew himself. That a horse like Pardner should, in two years, become an evil-tempered past-master in such devilish pitching as that, was past belief.
"I guess he'll do, all right," spoke Coleman at his elbow. "I've seen horses pitch, and I will say that he's got some specialties that are worth exhibiting." Then, as a polite way of letting Andy down easy, he added, "I don't wonder you couldn't connect."
"Connect—hell!" It was Andy's first realization of what his failure meant to the others. He left off wondering about the roan, and faced the fact that he had been thrown, fair and square, and that before an audience of twenty-five pairs of eyes which had seen rough riding before, and which had expected of him something better than they were accustomed to seeing.
"I reckon Billy Roberts will have to work on that cayuse a while," fleered a Diamond G man, coming over to them. "He'll gentle him down so that anybody—even Green, can ride him!"
Andy faced him hotly, opened his mouth for sharp reply, and closed it. He had been "piled." Nothing that he could say might alter that fact, nor explanations lighten the disgrace. He turned and went out the gate, carrying his saddle and bridle with him.
"Aw—and you was goin' t' ride in that contest!" wailed Happy Jack recriminatingly. "And I've got forty dollars up on yuh!"
"Shut up!" snapped Pink in his ear, heart-broken but loyal to the last. "Yuh going to blat around and let them Diamond Gs give yuh the laugh? Hunt up something you can use for a backbone till they get out uh camp, for Heaven's sake! Andy's our man. So help me, Josephine, if anybody goes rubbing it in where I can hear, he'll get his face punched!"
"Say, I guess we ain't let down on our faces, or anything!" sighed Cal Emmett, coming up to them. "I thought Andy could ride! Gee whiz, but it was fierce! Why, Happy could make a better ride than that!"
"By golly, I want t' have a talk with that there broncho-tamer," Slim growled behind them. "I got money on him. Is he goin t' ride for that purse? 'Cause if he is, I ain't going a foot."
These and other remarks of a like nature made up the clamor that surged in the ears of Andy as he went, disgraced and alone, up to the deserted bunk-house where he need not hear what they were saying. He knew, deep in his heart, that he could ride that horse. He had been thrown because of his own unpardonable carelessness—a carelessness which he could not well explain to the others. He himself had given the roan an evil reputation; a reputation that, so far as he knew, was libel pure and simple. To explain now that he was thrown simply because he never dreamed the horse would pitch, and so was taken unaware, would simply be to insult their intelligence. He was not supposed, after mounting a horse like that, to be taken unaware. He might, of course, say that he had lied all along—but he had no intention of making any confession like that. Even if he did, they would not believe him. Altogether, it was a very unhappy young man who slammed his spurs into a far corner and kicked viciously a box he had stumbled over in the dusk.
"Trying to bust the furniture?" it was the voice of the Old Man at the door.
"By gracious, it seems I can't bust bronks no more," Andy made rueful reply. "I reckon I'll just about have to bust the furniture or nothing."
The Old Man chuckled and came inside, sought the box Andy had kicked, and sat down upon it. Through the open door came the jumble of many voices upraised in fruitless argument, and with it the chill of frost. The Old Man fumbled for his pipe, filled it and scratched a match sharply on the box. In the flare of it Andy watched his kind old face with its fringe of grayish hair and its deep-graven lines of whimsical humor.
"Doggone them boys, they ain't got the stayin' qualities I give 'em credit for having," he remarked, holding up the match and looking across at Andy, humped disconsolately in the shadows. "Them Diamond G men has just about got 'em on the run, right now. Yuh couldn't get a hundred-t'-one bet, down there."
Andy merely grunted.
"Say," asked the Old Man suddenly. "Didn't yuh kinda mistake that blue roan for his twin brother, Pardner? This here cayuse is called Weaver. I tried t' get hold of t'other one, but doggone 'em, they wouldn't loosen up. Pardner wasn't for sale at no price, but they talked me into buying the Weaver; they claimed he's just about as good a horse, once he's tamed down some—and I thought, seein' I've got some real tamers on my pay-roll, I'd take a chance on him. I thought yuh knew the horse—the way yuh read up his pedigree—till I seen yuh mount him. Why, doggone it, yuh straddled him like yuh was just climbing a fence! Maybe yuh know your own business best—but didn't yuh kinda mistake him for Pardner? They're as near alike as two bullets run in the same mold—as far as looks go."
Andy got up and went to the door, and stood looking down the dusk-muffled hill to the white blotch which was the camp; listened to the jumble of voices still upraised in fruitless argument, and turned to the Old Man.
"By gracious, that accounts for a whole lot," he said ambiguously.
"I don't see," said Cal Emmett crossly, "what's the use uh this whole outfit trailing up to that contest. If I was Chip, I'd call the deal off and start gathering calves. It ain't as if we had a man to ride for that belt and purse. Ain't your leg well enough to tackle it, Pink?"
"No," Pink answered shortly, "it ain't."
"Riding the rough bunch they've rounded up for that contest ain't going to be any picnic," Weary defended his chum. "Cadwolloper would need two good legs to go up against that deal."
"I wish Irish was here," Pink gloomed. "I'd be willing to back him; all right. But it's too late now; he couldn't enter if he was here."
A voice behind them spoke challengingly. "I don't believe it would be etiquette for one outfit to enter two peelers. One's enough, ain't it?"
The Happy Family turned coldly upon the speaker. It was Slim who answered for them all. "I dunno as this outfit has got any peeler in that contest. By golly, it don't look like it since las' night!"
Weary was gentle, as always, but he was firm. "We kinda thought you'd want to withdraw," he added.
Andy Green, tamer of wild ones, turned and eyed Weary curiously. One might guess, from telltale eyes and mouth, that his calmness did not go very deep. "I don't recollect mentioning that I was busy penning any letter uh withdrawal," he said. "I got my sights raised to that purse and that belt. I don't recollect saying anything about lowering 'em."
"Aw, gwan. I guess I'll try for that purse, too! I betche I got as good a show as—"
"Sure. Help yourself, it don't cost nothing. I don't doubt but what you'd make a real pretty ride, Happy." Andy's tone was deceitfully hearty. He did not sound in the least as if he would like to choke Happy Jack, though that was his secret longing.
"Aw, gwan. I betche I could make as purty a ride as we've saw—lately." Happy Jack did not quite like to make the thing too personal, for fear of what might happen after.
"Yuh mean last night, don't yuh?" purred Andy.
"Well, by golly, I wish you'd tell us what yuh done it for!" Slim cut in disgustedly. "It was nacherlay supposed you could ride; we got money up on yuh! And then, by golly, to go and make a fluke like that before them Diamond G men—to go and let that blue roan pile yuh up b'fore he'd got rightly started t' pitch—If yuh'd stayed with him till he got t' swappin' ends there, it wouldn't uh looked quite so bad. But t' go and git throwed down right in the start—By golly!" Slim faced Andy accusingly. "B'fore them Diamond G men—and I've got money up, by golly!"
"Yuh ain't lost any money yet, have yuh?" Andy inquired patiently. What Andy felt like doing was to "wade into the bunch"; reason, however, told him that he had it coming from them, and to take his medicine, since he could not well explain just how it had happened. He could not in reason wonder that the faith of the Happy Family was shattered and that they mourned as lost the money they had already rashly wagered on the outcome of the contest. The very completeness of their faith in him, their very loyalty, seemed to them their undoing, for to them the case was plain enough. If Andy could not ride the blue roan in their own corral, how was he to ride that same blue roan in Great Falls? Or, if he could ride him, how could any sane man hope that he could win the purse and the belt under the stringent rules of the contest, where "riding on the spurs," "pulling leather" and a dozen other things were barred? So Andy, under the sting of their innuendoes and blunt reproaches, was so patient as to seem to them cowed.
"No, I ain't lost any yet, but by golly, I can see it fixin' to fly," Slim retorted heavily.
Andy looked around at the others, and smiled as sarcastically as was possible considering the mood he was in. "It sure does amuse me," he observed, "to see growed men cryin' before they're hurt! By gracious, I expect t' make a stake out uh that fall! I can get long odds from them Diamond Gs, and from anybody they get a chance to talk to. I'm kinda planning," he lied boldly, "to winter in an orange grove and listen at the birds singing, after I'm through with the deal."
"I reckon yuh can count on hearing the birds sing, all right," Pink snapped back. "It'll be tra-la-la for yours, if last night's a fair sample uh what yuh expect to do with the blue roan." Pink walked abruptly away, looking very much like a sulky cherub.
"I s'pose yuh're aiming to give us the impression that you're going to ride, just the same," said Cal Emmett.
"I sure am," came brief reply. Andy was beginning to lose his temper. He had expected that the Happy Family would "throw it into him," to a certain extent, and he had schooled himself to take their drubbing. What he had not expected was their unfriendly attitude, which went beyond mere disappointment and made his offence—if it could be called that—more serious than the occasion would seem to warrant. Perhaps Jack Bates unwittingly made plain the situation when he remarked:
"I hate to turn down one of our bunch; we've kinda got in the habit uh hanging together and backing each other's play, regardless. But darn it, we ain't millionaires, none of us—and gambling, it is a sin. I've got enough up already to keep me broke for six months if I lose, and the rest are in about the same fix. I ain't raising no long howl, Andy, but you can see yourself where we're kinda bashful about sinking any more on yuh than what we have. Maybe you can ride; I've heard yuh can, and I've seen yuh make some fair rides, myself. But yuh sure fell down hard last night, and my faith in yuh got a jolt that fair broke its back. If yuh done it deliberate, for reasons we don't know, for Heaven's sake say so, and we'll take your word for it and forget your rep for lying. On the dead, Andy, did yuh fall off deliberate?"
Andy bit his lip. His conscience had a theory of its own about truth-telling, and permitted him to make strange assertions at times. Still, there were limitations. The Happy Family was waiting for his answer, and he knew instinctively that they would believe him now. For a moment, temptation held him. Then he squared his shoulders and spoke truly.
"On the dead, I hit the ground unexpected and inadvertant. I—"
"If that's the case, then the farther yuh keep away from that contest the better—if yuh ask me." Jack turned on his heel and followed Pink.
Andy stared after him moodily, then glanced at the rest. With one accord they avoided meeting his gaze. "Damn a bunch uh quitters!" he flared hotly, and left them, to hunt up the Old Man and Chip—one or both, it did not matter to him.
Pink it was who observed the Old Man writing a check for Andy. He took it that Andy had called for his time, and when Andy rolled his bed and stowed it away in the bunk-house, saddled a horse and rode up the grade toward town, the whole outfit knew for a certainty that Andy had quit.
Before many hours had passed they, too, saddled and rode away, with the wagons and the cavvy following after—and they were headed for Great Falls and the fair there to be held; or, more particularly, the rough-riding contest to which they had looked forward eagerly and with much enthusiasm, and which they were now approaching gloomily and in deep humiliation. Truly, it would be hard to find a situation more galling to the pride of the Happy Family.
But Andy Green had not called for his time, and he had no intention of quitting; for Andy was also suffering from that uncomfortable malady which we call hurt pride, and for it he knew but one remedy—a remedy which he was impatient to apply. Because of the unfriendly attitude of the Happy Family, Andy had refused to take them into his confidence, or to ride with them to the fair. Instead, he had drawn what money was still placed to his credit on the pay-roll, had taken a horse and his riding outfit and gone away to Dry Lake, where he intended to take the train for Great Falls.
In Dry Lake, however, he found that the story of his downfall had preceded him, thanks to the exultant men of the Diamond G, and that the tale had not shrunk in the telling. Dry Lake jeered him as openly as it dared, and part of it—that part which had believed in him—was quite as unfriendly as was the Happy Family. To a man they took it for granted that he would withdraw from the contest, and they were not careful to conceal what they thought. Andy found himself rather left alone, and he experienced more than once the unpleasant sensation of having conversation suddenly lag when he came near, and of seeing groups of men dissolve awkwardly at his approach. Andy, before he had been in town an hour, was in a mood to do violence.
For that reason he kept his plans rigidly to himself. When someone asked him if he had quit the outfit, he had returned gruffly that the Flying U was not the only cow-outfit in the country, and let the questioner interpret it as he liked. When the train that had its nose pointed to the southwest slid into town, Andy did not step on, as had been his intention. He remained idly leaning over the bar in Rusty Brown's place, and gave no heed. Later, when the eastbound came schreeching through at midnight, it found Andy Green on the platform with his saddle, bridle, chaps, quirt and spurs neatly sacked, and with a ticket for Havre in his pocket. So the wise ones said that they knew Andy would never have the nerve to show up at the fair, after the fluke he had made at the Flying U ranch, and those whose pockets were not interested considered it a very good joke.
At Havre, Andy bought another ticket and checked the sack which held his riding outfit; the ticket had Great Falls printed on it in bold, black lettering. So that he was twelve hours late in reaching his original destination, and to avoid unwelcome discovery and comment he took the sleeper and immediately ordered his berth made up, that he might pass through Dry Lake behind the sheltering folds of the berth curtains. Not that there was need of this elaborate subterfuge. He was simply mad clear through and did not want to see or hear the voice of any man he knew. Besides, the days when he had danced in spangled tights upon the broad, gray rump of a galloping horse while a sober-clothed man in the middle of the ring cracked a whip and yelped commands, had bred in him the unconscious love of a spectacular entry and a dramatic finish.
That is why he sought out the most obscure rooming house that gave any promise of decency and comfort, and stayed off Central Avenue and away from its loitering groups of range dwellers who might know him. That is why he hired a horse and rode early and alone to the fair grounds on the opening day, and avoided, by a roundabout trail a certain splotch of gray-white against the brown of the prairie, which he knew instinctively to be the camp of the Flying U outfit, which had made good time and were located to their liking near the river. Andy felt a tightening of the chest when he saw the familiar tents, and kicked his hired horse ill-naturedly in the ribs. It was all so different from what he had thought it would be.
In those last two weeks, he had pictured himself riding vaingloriously through town on his best horse, with a new Navajo saddle-blanket making a dab of bright color, and a new Stetson hat dimpled picturesquely as to crown and tilted rakishly over one eye, and with his silver-mounted spurs catching the light; around him would ride the Happy Family, also in gala attire and mounted upon the best horses in their several strings. The horses would not approve of the street-cars, and would circle and back—and it was quite possible, even probable, that there would be some pitching and some pretty riding before the gaping populace which did not often get a chance to view the real thing. People would stop and gaze while they went clattering by, and he, Andy Green, would be pointed out by the knowing ones as a fellow that was going to ride in the contest and that stood a good chance of winning. For Andy was but human, that he dreamed of these things; besides, does not the jumping through blazing hoops and over sagging bunting while one rides, whet insiduously one's appetite for the plaudits of the crowd?
The reality was different. He was in Great Falls, but he had not ridden vaingloriously down Central Avenue surrounded by the Happy Family, and watched by the gaping populace. Instead, he had chosen a side street and he had ridden alone, and no one had seemed to know or care who he might be. His horse had not backed, wild-eyed, before an approaching car, and he had not done any pretty riding. Instead, his horse had scarce turned an eye toward the jangling bell when he crossed the track perilously close to the car, and he had gone "side-wheeling" decorously down the street—and Andy hated a pacing horse. The Happy Family was in town, but he did not know where. Andy kicked his horse into a gallop and swore bitterly that he did not care. He did not suppose that they gave him a thought, other than those impelled by their jeopardized pockets. And that, he assured himself pessimistically, is friendship!
He tied the hired horse to the fence and went away to the stables and fraternized with a hump-backed jockey who knew a few things himself about riding and was inclined to talk unprofessionally. It was not at all as Andy had pictured the opening day, but he got through the time somehow until the crowd gathered and the racing began. Then he showed himself in the crowd of "peelers" and their friends, as unconcernedly as he might; and as unobtrusively. The Happy Family, he observed, was not there, though he met Chip face to face and had a short talk with him. Chip was the only one, aside from the Old Man, who really understood. Billy Roberts was there, and he greeted Andy commiseratingly, as one speaks to the sick or to one in mourning; the tone made Andy grind his teeth, though he knew in his heart that Billy Roberts wished him well—up to the point of losing the contest to him, which was beyond human nature. Billy Roberts was a rider and knew—or thought he knew—just how "sore" Andy must be feeling. Also, in the kindness of his heart he tried blunderingly to hide his knowledge.
"Going up against the rough ones?" he queried with careful carelessness, in the hope of concealing that he had heard the tale of Andy's disgrace.
"I sure am," Andy returned laconically, with no attempt to conceal anything.
Billy Roberts opened his eyes wide, and his mouth a little before he recovered from his surprise. "Well, good luck to yuh," he managed to say, "only so yuh don't beat me to it. I was kinda hoping yuh was too bashful to get out and ride before all the ladies."
Andy, remembering his days in the sawdust ring, smiled queerly; but his heart warmed to Billy Roberts amazingly.
They were leaning elbows on the fence below the grand stand, watching desultorily the endless preparatory manoeuvres of three men astride the hind legs of three pacers in sulkies. "This side-wheeling business gives me a pain," Billy remarked, as the pacers ambled by for the fourth or fifth time. "I like caballos that don't take all day to wind 'em up before they go. I been looking over our bunch. They's horses in that corral that are sure going to do things to us twenty peelers!"
"By gracious, yes!" Andy was beginning to feel himself again. "That blue hoss—uh course yuh heard how he got me, and heard it with trimmings—yuh may think he's a man-eater; but while he's a bad hoss, all right, he ain't the one that'll get yuh. Yuh want t' watch out, Billy, for that HS sorrel. He's plumb wicked. He's got a habit uh throwing himself backwards. They're keeping it quiet, maybe—but I've seen him do it three times in one summer."
"All right—thanks. I didn't know that. But the blue roan—"
"The blue roan'll pitch and bawl and swap ends on yuh and raise hell all around, but he can be rode. That festive bunch up in the reserve seats'll think it's awful, and that the HS sorrel is a lady's hoss alongside him, but a real rider can wear him out. But that sorrel—when yuh think yuh got him beat, Billy, is when yuh want to watch out!"
Billy turned his face away from a rolling dustcloud that came down the home stretch with the pacers, and looked curiously at Andy. Twice he started to speak and did not finish. Then: "A man can be a sure-enough rider, and get careless and let a horse pile him off him when he ain't looking, just because he knows he can ride that horse," he said with a certain diffidence.
"By gracious, yes!" Andy assented emphatically. And that was the nearest they came to discussing a delicate matter which was in the minds of both.
Andy was growing more at ease and feeling more optimistic every minute. Three men still believed in him, which was much. Also, the crowd could not flurry him as it did some of the others who were not accustomed to so great an audience; rather, it acted as a tonic and brought back the poise, the easy self-confidence which had belonged to one André de Gréno, champion bareback rider. So that, when the rough-riding began, Andy's nerves were placidly asleep.
At the corral in the infield, where the horses and men were foregathered, Andy met Slim and Happy Jack; but beyond his curt "Hello" and an amazed "Well, by golly!" from Slim, no words passed. Across the corral he glimpsed some of the others—Pink and Weary, and farther along, Cal Emmett and Jack Bates; but they made no sign if they saw him, and he did not go near them. He did not know when his turn would come to ride, and he had a horse to saddle at the command of the powers that were. Coleman, the man who had collected the horses, almost ran over him. He said "Hello, Green," and passed on, for his haste was great.
Horse after horse was saddled and led perforce out into the open of the infield; man after man mounted, with more or less trouble, and rode to triumph or defeat. Billy Roberts was given a white-eyed little bay, and did some great riding. The shouts and applause from the grand stand rolled out to them in a great wave of sound. Billy mastered the brute and rode him back to the corral white-faced and with beads of sweat standing thick on his forehead.
"It ain't going to be such damn' easy money—that two hundred," he confided pantingly to Andy, who stood near. "The fellow that gets it will sure have to earn it."
Andy nodded and moved out where he could get a better view. Then Coleman came and informed him hurriedly that he came next, and Andy went back to his place. The horse he was to ride he had never seen before that day. He was a long-legged brown, with scanty mane and a wicked, rolling eye. He looked capable of almost any deviltry, but Andy did not give much time to speculating upon what he would try to do. He was still all eyes to the infield where his predecessor was gyrating. Then a sudden jump loosened him so that he grabbed the horn—and it was all over with that particular applicant, so far as the purse and the championship belt were concerned. He was out of the contest, and presently he was also back at the corral, explaining volubly—and uselessly—just how it came about. He appeared to have a very good reason for "pulling leather," but Andy was not listening and only thought absently that the fellow was a fool to make a talk for himself.
Andy was clutching the stirrup and watching a chance to put his toe into it, and the tall brown horse was circling backwards with occasional little side-jumps. When it was quite clear that the horse did not mean to be mounted, Andy reached out his hand, got a rope from somebody—he did not know who, though, as a matter of fact, it was Pink who gave it—and snared a front foot; presently the brown was standing upon three legs instead of four, and the gaping populace wondered how it was done, and craned necks to see. After that, though the horse still circled backwards, Andy got the stirrup and put his toe in it and went up so easily that the ignorant might think anybody could do it. He dropped the rope and saw that it was Pink who picked it up.
The brown at first did nothing at all. Then he gave a spring straight ahead and ran fifty yards or so, stopped and began to pitch. Three jumps and he ran again; stopped and reared. It was very pretty to look at, but Happy Jack could have ridden him, or Slim, or any other range rider. In two minutes the brown was sulking, and it took severe spurring to bring him back to the corral. Pitch he would not. The crowd applauded, but Andy felt cheated and looked as he felt.
Pink edged toward him, but Andy was not in the mood for reconciliation and kept out of his way. Others of the Happy Family came near, at divers times and places, as if they would have speech with him, but he thought he knew about what they would say, and so was careful not to give them a chance. When the excitement was all over for that day he got his despised hired horse and went back to town with Billy Roberts, because it was good to have a friend and because they wanted to talk about the riding. Billy did not tell Andy, either, that he had had hard work getting away from his own crowd; for Billy was kind-hearted and had heard a good deal, because he had been talking with Happy Jack. His sympathy was not with the Happy Family, either.
On the second afternoon, such is effect of rigid winnowing, there were but nine men to ride. The fellow who had grabbed the saddle horn, together with ten others, stood among the spectators and made caustic remarks about the management, the horses, the nine who were left and the whole business in general. Andy grinned a little and wondered if he would stand among them on the morrow and make remarks. He was not worrying about it, though. He said hello to Weary, Pink and Cal Emmett, and saddled a kicking, striking brute from up Sweetgrass way.
On this day the horses were wickeder, and one man came near getting his neck broken. As it was, his collar-bone snapped and he was carried off the infield on a stretcher and hurried to the hospital; which did not tend to make the other riders feel more cheerful. Andy noted that it was the HS sorrel which did the mischief, and glanced meaningly across at Billy Roberts.
Then it was his turn with the striking, kicking gray, and he mounted and prepared for what might come. The gray was an artist in his line, and pitched "high, wide and crooked" in the most approved fashion. But Andy, being also an artist of a sort, rode easily and with a grace that brought much hand-clapping from the crowd. Only the initiated reserved their praise till further trial; for though the gray was not to say gentle, and though it took skill to ride him, there were a dozen, probably twice as many, men in the crowd who could have done as well.
The Happy Family, drawn together from habit and because they could speak their minds more freely, discussed Andy gravely among themselves. Betting was growing brisk, and if their faith had not been so shaken they could have got long odds on Andy.
"I betche he don't win out," Happy Jack insisted with characteristic gloom. "Yuh wait till he goes up agin that blue roan. They're savin' that roan till the las' day—and I betche Andy'll git him. If he hangs on till the las' day." Happy Jack laughed ironically as he made the provision.
"Any you fellows got money yuh want to put up on this deal?" came the voice of Andy behind them.
They turned, a bit shamefaced, toward him.
"Aw, I betche—" began Happy.
"That's what I'm here for," cut in Andy. "What I've got goes up—saddle, spurs—all I've got. You've done a lot uh mourning, now here's a chance to break even on me. Speak up."
The Happy Family hesitated.
"I guess I'll stay out," dimpled Pink. "I don't just savvy your play, Andy, and if I lose on yuh—why, it won't be the first time I ever went broke."
"Well, by golly, I'll take a chance," bellowed Slim, whose voice was ever pitched to carry long distances in a high wind. "I'll bet yuh fifty dollars yuh don't pull down that belt or purse. By golly, there's two or three men here that can ride."
"There's only one that'll be the real star," smiled Andy with unashamed egotism. "Happy, how rich do you want to get off me?"
Happy said a good deal and "betche" several things would happen—things utterly inconsistent with one another. In the end, Andy pinned him down to twenty dollars against Andy's silver-mounted spurs—which was almost a third more than the spurs were worth; but Andy had no sympathy for Happy Jack and stuck to the price doggedly until Happy gave in.
Jack Bates advertised his lack of faith in Andy ten dollars worth, and Cal Emmett did the same. Irish, coming in on the afternoon train and drifting instinctively to the vicinity of the Happy Family, cursed them all impartially for a bunch of quitters, slapped Andy on the back and with characteristic impetuosity offered a hundred dollars to anybody who dared take him up, that Andy would win. And this after he had heard the tale of the blue roan and before they told him about the two rides already made in the contest.
It is true that Happy Jack endeavored to expostulate, but Irish glared at him in a way to make Happy squirm and stammer incoherently.
"I've heard all about it," Irish cut in, "and I don't have to hear any more. I know a rider when I see one, and my money's on Andy from start to finish. You make me sick. Weary, have you gone against our man?" The tone was a challenge in itself.
Weary grinned goodnaturedly. "I haven't pulled down any bets," he answered mildly, "and I haven't put up my last cent and don't intend to. I'm an engaged young man." He shrugged his shoulders to point the moral. "I sure do hope Andy'll win out," he added simply.
"Hope? Why, damn it, yuh know he'll win!" stormed Irish.
Men in their vicinity caught the belligerence of the tone and turned about, thinking there was trouble, and the Happy Family subsided into quieter discussion. In the end Irish, discovering that Andy had for the time being forsworn the shelter of the Flying U tents, stuck by him loyally and forswore it also, and went with Andy to share the doubtful comfort of the obscure lodging house. For Irish was all or nothing, and to find the Happy Family publicly opposed—or at most neutral—to a Flying U man in a rough-riding contest like this, incensed him much.
The Happy Family began to feel less sure of themselves and a bit ashamed—though of just what, they were not quite clear, for surely they had reason a-plenty for doubting Andy Green.
The last day found the Happy Family divided against itself and growing a bit venomous in its remarks. Andy had not as yet done anything remarkable, except perhaps keep in the running when the twenty had been culled to three: Billy Roberts, Andy and a man from the Yellowstone Valley, called Gopher by his acquaintances. Accident and untoward circumstances had thrown out the others—good riders all of them, or they would not have been there. Happy Jack proclaimed loudly in camp that Andy was still in because Andy had not had a real bad horse. "I seen Coleman looking over the blue roan and talkin' to them guys that runs things; they're goin' t' put Andy on him t-day, I betche—and we seen how he can ride him! Piled in a heap—"
"Not exactly," Pink interrupted. "I seem to remember Andy lighting on his feet; and he was smoking when he started, and smoking when he quit. It didn't strike me at the time, but that's kinda funny, don't yuh think?"
So Pink went back to his first faith, and the Happy Family straightway became loud and excited over the question of whether Andy did really light upon his feet, or jumped up immediately, and whether he kept his cigarette or made a new one. The discussion carried them to the fair grounds and remained just where it started, so far as any amicable decision was concerned.
Now this is a fair and true report of that last day's riding: There being but the three riders, and the excitement growing apace, the rough-riding was put first on the program and men struggled for the best places and the best view of the infield.
In the beginning, Andy drew the HS sorrel and Billy Roberts the blue roan. Gopher, the Yellowstone man, got a sulky little buckskin that refused to add one whit to the excitement, so that he was put back and another one brought. This other proved to be the wicked-eyed brown which Andy had ridden the first day. Only this day the brown was in different mood and pitched so viciously that Gopher lost control in the rapid-fire changes, and rode wild, being all over the horse and everywhere but on the ground. He did not pull leather, however though he was accused by some of riding on his spurs at the last. At any rate, Andy and Billy Roberts felt that the belt lay between themselves, and admitted as much privately.
"You've sure got to ride like a wild man if yuh beat me to it," grinned Billy.
"By gracious, I'm after it like a wolf myself," Andy retorted. "Yuh know how I'm fixed—I've just got to have it, Bill."
Billy, going out to ride, made no reply except a meaning head-shake. And Billy certainly rode, that day; for the blue roan did his worst and his best. To describe the performance, however, would be to invent many words to supply a dearth in the language. Billy rode the blue roan back to the corral, and he had broken none of the stringent rules of the contest—which is saying much for Billy.
When Andy went out—shot out, one might say—on the sorrel, the Happy Family considered him already beaten because of the remarkable riding of Billy. When the sorrel began pitching the gaping populace, grown wise overnight in these things, said that he was e-a-s-y—which he was not. He fought as some men fight; with brain as well as muscle, cunningly, malignantly. He would stop and stand perfectly still for a few seconds, and then spring viciously whichever way would seem to him most unexpected; for he was not bucking from fright as most horses do but because he hated men and would do them injury if he could.
When the crowd thought him worn out, so that he stood with head drooping all that Andy would permit, then it was that Andy grew most wary. It was as he had said. Of a sudden, straight into the air leaped the sorrel, reared and went backward in a flash of red. But as he went, his rider slipped to one side, and when he struck the ground Andy struck also—on his feet. "Get up, darn yuh," he muttered, and when the sorrel gathered himself together and jumped up, he was much surprised to find Andy in the saddle again.
Then it was that the HS sorrel went mad and pitched as he had never, even when building his record, pitched before. Then it was that Andy, his own temper a bit roughened by the murderous brute, rode as he had not ridden for many a day; down in the saddle, his quirt keeping time with the jumps. He was just settling himself to "drag it out of him proper," when one of the judges, on horseback in the field, threw up his hand.
"Get off!" he shouted, galloping closer. "That horse's got to be rode again to-day. You've done enough this time."
So Andy, watching his chance, jumped off when the sorrel stopped for a few seconds of breath, and left him unconquered and more murderous than ever. A man with a megaphone was announcing that the contest was yet undecided, and that Green and Roberts would ride again later in the afternoon.
Andy passed the Happy Family head in air, stopped a minute to exchange facetious threats with Billy Roberts, and went with Irish to roost upon the fence near the judge's stand to watch the races. The Happy Family kept sedulously away from the two and tried to grow interested in other things until the final test.
It came, when Billy Roberts, again first, mounted the HS sorrel, still in murderous mood and but little the worse for his previous battle. What he had done with Andy he repeated, and added much venom to the repetition. Again he threw himself backward, which Billy expected and so got clear and remounted as he scrambled up. After that, the sorrel simply pitched so hard and so fast that he loosened Billy a bit; not much, but enough to "show daylight" between rider and saddle for two or three high, crooked jumps. One stirrup he lost, rode a jump without it and by good luck regained it as it flew against his foot. It was great riding, and a gratifying roar of applause swept out to him when it was over.
Andy, saddling the blue roan, drew a long breath. This one ride would tell the tale, and he was human enough to feel a nervous strain such as had not before assailed him. It was so close, now! and it might soon be so far. A bit of bad luck such as may come to any man, however great his skill, and the belt would go to Billy. But not for long could doubt or questioning hold Andy Green. He led the Weaver out himself, and instinctively he felt that the horse remembered him and would try all that was in him. Also, he was somehow convinced that the blue roan held much in reserve, and that it would be a great fight between them for mastery.
When he gathered up the reins, the roan eyed him wickedly sidelong and tightened his muscles, as it were, for the struggle. Andy turned the stirrup, put in his toe, and went up in a flash, warned by something in the blue roan's watchful eye. Like a flash the blue roan also went up—but Andy had been a fraction of a second quicker. There was a squeal that carried to the grand stand as the Weaver, wild-eyed and with red flaring nostrils, pounded the wind-baked sod with high, bone-racking jumps; changed and took to "weaving" till one wondered how he kept his footing—more particularly, how Andy contrived to sit there, loose-reined, firm-seated, riding easily. The roan, tiring of that, began "swapping ends" furiously and so fast one could scarce follow his jumps. Andy, with a whoop of pure defiance, yanked off his hat and beat the roan over the head with it, yelling taunting words and contemptuous; and for every shout the Weaver bucked harder and higher, bawling like a new-weaned calf.
Men who knew good riding when they saw it went silly and yelled and yelled. Those who did not know anything about it caught the infection and roared. The judges galloped about, backing away from the living whirlwind and yelling with the rest. Came a lull when the roan stood still because he lacked breath to continue, and the judges shouted an uneven chorus.
"Get down—the belt's yours"—or words to that effect. It was unofficial, that verdict, but it was unanimous and voiced with enthusiasm.
Andy turned his head and smiled acknowledgment. "All right—but wait till I tame this hoss proper! Him and I've got a point to settle!" He dug in his spurs and again the battle raged, and again the crowd, not having heard the unofficial decision, howled and yelled approval of the spectacle.
Not till the roan gave up completely and owned obedience to rein and voiced command, did Andy take further thought of the reward. He satisfied himself beyond doubt that he was master and that the Weaver recognized him as such. He wheeled and turned, "cutting out" an imaginary animal from an imaginary herd; he loped and he walked, stopped dead still in two jumps and started in one. He leaned and ran his gloved hand forgivingly along the slatey blue neck, reached farther and pulled facetiously the roan's ears, and the roan meekly permitted the liberties. He half turned in the saddle and slapped the plump hips, and the Weaver never moved. "Why, you're an all-right little hoss!" praised Andy, slapping again and again.
The decision was being bellowed from the megaphone and Andy, hearing it thus officially, trotted over to where a man was holding out the belt that proclaimed him champion of the state. Andy reached out a hand for the belt, buckled it around his middle and saluted the grand stand as he used to do from the circus ring when one André de Grenó had performed his most difficult feat.
The Happy Family crowded up, shamefaced and manfully willing to own themselves wrong.
"We're down and ready to be walked on by the Champion," Weary announced quizzically. "Mama mine! but yuh sure can ride."
Andy looked at them, grinned and did an exceedingly foolish thing, just to humiliate Happy Jack, who, he afterwards said, still looked unconvinced. He coolly got upon his feet in the saddle, stood so while he saluted the Happy Family mockingly, lighted the cigarette he had just rolled, then, with another derisive salute, turned a double somersault in the air and lighted upon his feet—and the roan did nothing more belligerent than to turn his head and eye Andy suspiciously.
"By gracious, maybe you fellows'll some day own up yuh don't know it all!" he cried, and led the Weaver back into the corral and away from the whooping maniacs across the track.