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   Chapter 7 No.7

I Conquered"" By Harold Titus Characters: 11618

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

With Hoof and Tooth

So it came to pass that Danny Lenox of New York ceased to exist, and a new man took his place-Young VB, of Clear River County, Colorado.

"Who's your new hand?" a passing rider asked Jed one morning, watching with interest as the stranger practiced with a rope in the corral.

"Well, sir, he's th' ridin'est tenderfoot you ever see!" Jed boasted. "I picked him up out at Colt an' put him to work-after Charley went away."

"Where'd he come from? What's his name?" the other insisted.

"From all appearances, he ain't of these parts," replied Jed, squinting at a distant peak. "An' around here we've got to callin' him Young VB."

The rider, going south, told a man he met that Jed had bestowed his brand on a human of another generation. Later, he told it in Ranger. The man he met on the road told it on Sand Creek; those who heard it in Ranger bore it off into the hills, for even such a small bit of news is a meaty morsel for those who sit in the same small company about bunk-house stoves months on end. The boy became known by name about the country, and those who met him told others what the stranger was like. Men were attracted by his simplicity, his desire to learn, by his frank impulse to be himself yet of them.

"Oh, yes, he's th' feller," they would recall, and then recite with the variations that travel gives to tales the incident that transpired in the Anchor bunk house.

Young VB fitted smoothly into the work of the ranch. He learned to ride, to rope, to shoot, to cook, and to meet the exigencies of the range; he learned the country, cultivated the instinct of directions. And, above all, he learned to love more than ever the little old man who fathered and tutored him.

And Young VB became truly useful. It was not all smooth progress. At times-and they were not infrequent-the thirst came on him with vicious force, as though it would tear his will out by the roots.

The fever which that first run after the Captain aroused, and which made him stronger than doubtings, could not endure without faltering. The ideal was ever there, but at times so elusive! Then the temptings came, and he had to fight silently, doggedly.

Some of these attacks left him shaking in spite of his mending nerves-left him white in spite of the brown that sun and wind put on him. During the daytime it was bad enough, but when he woke in the night, sleep broken sharply, and raised unsteady hands to his begging throat, there was not the assuring word from Jed, or the comfort of his companionship.

The old man took a lasting pride in Danny's adaptability. His comments were few indeed, but when the boy came in after a day of hard, rough, effective toil, having done all that a son of the hills could be expected to do, the little man whistled and sang as though the greatest good fortune in the world had come to him.

One morning Jed went to the corral to find VB snubbing up an unbroken sorrel horse they had brought in the day before. He watched from a distance, while the young man, after many trials, got a saddle on the animal's back.

"Think you can?" he asked, his eyes twinkling, as he crawled up on the aspen poles to watch.

"I don't know, Jed, but it's time I found out!" was the answer, and in it was a click of steely determination.

It was not a nice ride, not even for the short time it lasted. Young VB "went and got it" early in the mêlée. He clung desperately to the saddle horn with one hand, but with the other he plied his quirt and between every plunge his spurs raked the sides of the bucking beast.

He did not know the art of such riding, but the courage was there and when he was thrown it was only at the moment when the sorrel put into the battle his best.

VB got to his feet and wiped the dust from his eyes.

"Hurt?" asked Jed.

"Nothing but my pride," muttered the boy. He grasped the saddle again, got one foot in the stirrup, and, after being dragged around the inclosure, got to the seat.

Again he was thrown, and when he arose and made for the horse a third time Jed slipped down from the fence to intervene.

"Not again to-day," he said, with a pride that he could not suppress. "Take it easy; try him again to-morrow."

"But I don't want to give up!" protested the boy. "I can ride that horse."

"You ain't givin' up; I made you," the other smiled. "You ought to have been born in the hills. You'd have made a fine bronc twister. Ain't it a shame th' way men are wasted just by bein' born out of place?"

VB seemed not to hear. He rubbed the nose of the frantic horse a moment, then said:

"If I could get this near the Captain- Jed, if I could ever get a leg over that stallion he'd be mine or I'd die trying!"

"Still thinkin' of him?"

"All the time! I never forget him. That fellow has got into my blood. He's the biggest thing in this country-the strongest-and I want to show him that there's something a little stronger, something that can break the power he's held so long-and that I am that something!"

"That's considerable ambition," Jed said, casually, though he wanted to hug the boy.

"I know it. Most people out here would think me a fool if they heard me talk this way. Me, a greenhorn, a tenderfoot, talking crazily about doing what not one of you has ever been able to do!"

"Not exactly, VB. It's th' wantin' to do things bad enough that makes men do 'em, remember. This feller busted you twice, but you've got th' stuff under your belt that makes horses behave. That's th' only stuff that'll ever make th' Captain anything but th' wild thing he is now. Sand! Grit! Th' wantin' to do it!"

A cautious whistle from Jed that afternoon called VB into a thicket of low trees, from where he looked down on a scene that drove home even more forcibly the knowle

dge of the strength of spirit that was incased in the glossy coat of the great stallion.

"Look!" the old man said in a low voice, pointing into the gulch. "It's a Percheron-one of Thorpe's stallions. He's come into th' Captain's band an' they're goin' to fight!"

VB looked down on the huge gray horse, heavier by three hundred pounds than the black, stepping proudly along over the rough gulch bottom, tossing his head, twisting it about on his neck, his ears flat, his tail switching savagely.

Up the far rise huddled the mares. The Captain was driving the last of them into the bunch as VB came in sight. That done, he turned to watch the coming of the gray.

Through the stillness the low, malicious, muffled crying of the Percheron came to them clearly as he pranced slowly along, parading his graces for the mares up there, displaying his strength to their master, who must come down and battle for his sovereignty.

The Captain stood and watched as though mildly curious, standing close to his mares. His tail moved slowly, easily, from side to side. His ears, which had been stiffly set forward at first, slowly dropped back.

The gray drew nearer, to within fifty yards, forty, thirty. He paused, pawed the ground, and sent a great puff of dust out behind him.

Then he swung to the left and struck up the incline, headed directly for the Captain, striding forward to humble him under the very noses of his mares-the band that would be the prize of that coming conflict!

He stopped again and pawed spitefully. He rose on his hind legs slowly, head shaking, forefeet waving in the air, as though flexing his muscles before putting them to the strain of combat.

He settled to the ground barely in time, for with a scream of rage the black horse hurtled. He seemed to be under full speed at the first leap, and the speed was terrific!

Foam had gathered on his lips, and the rush down the pitch flung it spattering against his glossy chest. His shrilling did not cease from the time he left his tracks until, with front hoofs raised, a catapult of living, quivering hate, he hurled himself at the gray. It ended then in a wail of frenzy-not of fear, but of royal rage at the thought of any creature offering challenge!

The gray dropped back to all fours, whirled sharply, and took the impact at a glancing blow, a hip cringing low as the ragged hoofs of the black crashed upon it. The Captain stuck his feet stiffly into the ground, plowing great ruts in the earth in his efforts to stop and turn and meet the rush of the other, as he recovered from the first shock, gathered headway, and bore down on him. He overcame his momentum, turning as he came to a stop, lifted his voice again, and rose high to meet hoof for hoof the ponderous attack that the bigger animal turned on him.

The men above heard the crash of their meeting. The impact of flesh against flesh was terrific. For the catch of an instant the horses seemed to poise, the Captain holding against the fury that had come upon him, holding even against the odds of lightness and up-hill fighting. Then they swayed to one side, and VB uttered a low cry of joy as the Captain's teeth buried themselves in the back of the Percheron's neck.

Close together then they fought, throwing dirt and stones, ripping up the brush as their rumbling feet found fresh hold and then tore away the earth under the might that was brought to bear in the assault and resistance. A dozen times they rushed upon each other, a dozen times they parted and raised for fresh attack. And each time the gray body and the black met in smacking crash it was the former that gave way, notwithstanding his superior weight.

"Look at him!" whispered Jed. "Look at that cuss! He hates that gray so that he's got th' fear of death in him! Look at them ears! Hear him holler! He's too quick. Too quick, an' he's got th' spirit that makes up th' difference in weight-an' more, too!"

He stopped with a gasp as the Captain, catching the other off balance, smote him on the ribs with his hoofs until the blows sounded like the rumble of a drum. The challenger threw up his head in agony and cringed beneath the torment, running sidewise with bungling feet.

"He like to broke his back!" cried Jed.

"And look at him bite!" whispered VB.

The Captain tore at the shoulders and neck of the gray horse with his gleaming, malevolent teeth. Again and again they found fleshhold, and his neck bowed with the strength he put into the wrenching, while his feet kept up their terrific hammering.

No pride of challenge in the gray now; no display of graces for the onlooking mares; no attacking; just impotent resistance, as the Captain drove him on and on down the gulch, humbled, terrified, routed.

The sounds of conflict became fainter as the Percheron strove to make his escape and the Captain relentlessly followed him, the desire to kill crying from his every line.

The battling beasts rounded a point of rocks, and the two men sprang to their horses to follow the moving fight. But they were no more than mounted when the Captain came back, swinging along in his wonderful trot, ears still flat, head still shaking, anger possessing him-anger and pride.

He was unmarked by the conflict, save with sweat and dust and foam; he was still possessed of his superb strength. He went up the pitch to his band with all the vigor of stride he had displayed in flying from it to answer the presumption of the gray. And the mares, watching him, seemed to draw long breaths, dropped their heads to the bunch grass, and, one by one, moved along in their grazing.

Jed looked at VB. What he saw in the boy's face made him nod his head slowly in affirmation.

"You're that sort, too," he whispered exultingly. "You're that sort! His kind!"

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