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   Chapter 10 No.10

I Conquered"" By Harold Titus Characters: 13772

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


It does not take a horse that is bearing a rider downhill an appreciable length of time to take one more stride. Gravity does the work. The horse jerks his fore legs from under his body and then shoots them out again for fresh hold to keep his downward progress within reason.

VB's pony went down the drop with much more rapidity than safety, in short, jerky, stiff-legged plunges, hindquarters scrooged far under his body; alert, watching his footing, grunting in his care not to take too great risks.

When the Captain, fooled by false footing, was whirled about to face the down-coming rider, the pony's fore feet had just drawn themselves out of the way to let his body farther down the slope. And when the sturdy legs again shot out to strike rock and keep horse and VB upright, the black stallion had started to wheel. But in the split second which intervened between the beginning and ending of that floundering jump, eyes met eyes. The eyes of a man met the eyes of a beast, and heart read heart. The eyes of a man who had frittered his life, who had flaunted his heritage of strength in body and bone until he had become a weakling, a cringing, whining center of abnormal nervous activities, fearing himself, met the eyes of a beast that knew himself to be a paragon of his kind, the final achievement of his strain, a commanding force that had never been curbed, that had defied alike his own kingdom and the race from which had sprung the being now confronting him.

The eyes of him who had been a weakling met the eyes of that which had been superstrong and without a waver; they held, they penetrated, and, suddenly born from the purposeless life of Danny Lenox, flamed Young VB's soul. All the emulation, all the lust this beast before him had roused in his heart, became amalgamated with that part of him which subtly strove to drag him away from debauchery, and upon those blending elements of strength was set the lasting stamp of his individuality.

His purpose flamed in his eyes and its light was so great that the horse read, and, reading, set his ears forward and screamed-not so much a scream of anger as of wondering terror. For the beast caught the significance of that splendid determination which made for conquest with a power equal to his own strength, which was making for escape. The telepathic communication from the one to the other was the same force that sends a jungle king into antics at the pleasure of his trainer-the language that transcends species!

The pony's hoofs dug shale once more, and the upraised right arm whipped about the tousled head. The rope swished angrily as it slashed the air. Once it circled-and the Captain jumped, lunging off to the left. Twice it cut its disk-and the stallion's quivering flanks gathered for a second leap. It writhed; it stretched out waveringly, seekingly, feelingly as though uncertain, almost blindly, but swiftly-so swiftly! The loop flattened and spread and undulated, drawing the long stretch of hemp after it teasingly. It stopped, as though suddenly tired. It poised with uncanny deliberation. Then, as gently as a maiden's sigh, it settled-settled-drooped-and the Captain's nose, reaching out for liberty, to be free of this man whose eyes flamed a determination so stanch that it went down to his beast heart, thrust itself plumb through the middle.

The hoarse rip of the hard-twist coming through its hondu, the whistle of breath from the man's tight teeth, the rattle of stone on stone; then the squeal from the stallion as for the first time in his life a bond tightened on him!

He shook his head angrily, and even as he leaped a third time back toward his free hills one forefoot was raised to strike from him the snaring strand. The pawing hoof did not reach its mark, did not find the thin, lithe thing which throttled down on him, for the Captain's momentum carried him to the end of the rope.

They put the strain on the hemp, both going away, those horses. VB struggled with his mount to have him ready for the shock, but before he could bring about a full stop that shock arrived. It seemed as though it would tear the horn from the saddle. The pony, sturdy little beast, was yanked to his knees and swung half about, and VB recovered himself only by grabbing the saddle fork.

The black stallion again faced the man-faced him because his heels had been cracked in a semicircle through the air by the force of that burning thing about his neck. For ten long seconds the Captain stood braced against the rope, moving his head slowly from side to side for all the world as a refractory, gentled colt might do, with as much display of fight as would be shown by a mule that dissented at the idea of being led across a ditch. He just stood there stupidly, twisting his head.

The thick mane rumpled up under the tightening rope, some of the drenched hair of the neck was pulled out as the hemp rolled upward, drawing closer, shutting down and down. The depression in the flesh grew deeper. One hind foot lost its hold in the shale and shot out; the Captain lifted it and moved it forward again slowly, cautiously, for fresh, steady straining.

Then it came. The windpipe closed; he coughed, and like the sudden fury of a mountain thunderstorm the Captain turned loose his giant forces. The thing had jerked him back in his rush toward freedom. It held him where he did not want to be held! And it choked!

Forefeet clawing, rearing to his hind legs with a quivering strength of lift that dragged the bracing pony through the shale, the great, black horse-regal screamed and coughed his rage and beat upon that vibrating strand which made him prisoner-that web-that fragile thing!

Again and again he struck it, but it only danced-only danced, and tightened its clutch on his throat! He reached for it with his long teeth and clamped them on it, but the thing would not yield. He settled to all fours again, threw his head from side to side, and strove to move backward with a frenzied floundering that sent the pebbles rattling yards about him.

It was a noble effort. Into the attempt to drag away from that anchorage the Captain put his very spirit. He struggled and choked and strained. And all the time that man sat there on his horse, tense, watching silently, moving his free hand slightly to and fro, as though beating time to music. His lips were parted, his face still blanched. And in his eyes glowed that purpose which knows no defeat!

System departed. Like a hot blast wickedness came. Teeth bared, ears flat, with sounds like an angered child's ranting coming from his throat, the stallion charged his man enemy just as he had charged the powerful Percheron who had come to challenge him a month ago. The saddle horse, seeing it, avoided the brunt of the first blind rush, taking the Captain's shoulder on his rump as the black hu

rtler went past, striking thin air.

VB felt the Captain's breath, saw from close up the lurid flame in his eyes, sensed the power of those teeth, the sledge-hammer force behind those untrimmed hoofs. And he came alive, the blood shooting close under his skin again and making the gray face bronze, then deeper than bronze. His eyes puffed under the stress of that emotion, and he felt a primitive desire to growl as the Captain whirled and came again. It was man to beast, and somewhere down yonder through the generations a dead racial memory came back and Young VB, girded for the conflict, ached to have his forest foe in reach, to have the fight run high, to have his chance to dare and do in fleshly struggle!

It was not long in coming. The near hoof, striking down to crush his chest, fell short, and the hair of VB's chap leg went ripping from the leather, while along his thigh crept a dull, spreading ache.

He did not notice that, though, for he was raised in his stirrups, right hand lifted high, its fingers clutched about the lash of his loaded quirt. He felt the breath again, hot, wet, and a splatter of froth from the flapping lips struck his cheek. Then the right hand came down with a snap and a jerk, with all the vigor of muscular force that VB could summon.

His eye had been good, his judgment true. The Captain's teeth did not sink into his flesh, for the quirt-butt, a leaden slug, crunched on the horse's skull, right between the ears!

The fury of motion departed, like the going of a cyclone. The Captain dropped to all fours and hung his head, staggered a half-dozen short paces drunkenly, and then sighed deeply-

He reached the end of the rope. It came tight again, and with the tightening-the battle! Thrice more he charged the man with all the hate his wild heart could summon, but not once did those dreadful teeth find that which they sought. Again the front hoof met its mark and racked the flesh of VB's leg, but that did not matter. He could stand that punishment, for he was winning! He was countering the stallion's efforts, which made the contest an even break; and his rope was on and he had dealt one telling blow with his quirt. Two points! And the boy screamed his triumph as the missile he swung landed again, on the soft nose this time, the nose so wrinkled with hateful desire-and the Captain swung off to one side from the stinging force of it.

Not in delight at punishment was that cry. The blow on the skull, the slug at the nose stabbed VB to his tenderest depths. But he knew it must be so, and his shout was a shout of conquest-of the first man asserting primal authority, of the last man coming into his own!

The dust they stirred rose stiflingly. Down there under the hill no moving breath of air would carry it off. The pony under VB grunted and strained, but was jerked sharply about by the rushes of the heavier stallion, heavier and built of things above mere flesh and bone and tendon. The Captain's belly dripped water; VB's face was glossy with it, his hair plastered down to brow and temple.

The three became tired. In desperation the Captain dropped the fight, turned to run, plunged out as though to part the strands. VB's heart leaped as his faith in the rope faltered-but it held, and the stallion, pulled about, lost his footing, floundered, stumbled, went down, and rolled into the shale, feet threshing the air.

It was an opening-the widest VB had had, wider than he could have hoped for, and he rushed in, stabbing his horse shamelessly with spurs and babbling witlessly as he strove to make slack in the rope. The slack came. Then the quick jerk of the wrist-the trick he had perfected back there in Jed's corral-and a potential half-hitch traveled down the rope.

The Captain floundered to get his feet under him, and the loop in the rope dissolved. Again the wrist twitch, again the shooting loop and-

"Scotched!" screamed Young VB. "Scotched! You're my property!"

Scotched! The rope had found its hold about the off hind ankle of the soiled stallion, and there it clung in a tight, relentless grasp. The rope from neck to limb was so short that it kept the foot clear of the ground, crippling the Captain, and as the great horse floundered to his feet VB had him powerless. The stallion stood dazed, looking down at the thing which would not let him kick, which would not let him step.

Then he sprang forward, and when the rope came tight he was upended, a shoulder plowing the shale.

"It's no use!" the man cried, his voice crackling in excitement. "I've got you right-right-right!"

But the Captain would not quit. He tried even then to rise to his hind legs and make assault, but the effort only sent him falling backward, squealing-and left him on his side, moaning for his gone liberty.

For he knew. He knew that his freedom was gone, even as he made his last floundering, piteous endeavors. He got up and tried to run, but every series of awkward moves only sent his black body down into the dust and dirt, and at last he rested there, head up, defiance still in his eyes, but legs cramped under him.

And then VB wanted to cry. He went through all the sensations-the abrupt drop of spirits, the swelling in the throat, the tickling in the nostrils.

"Oh, Captain!" he moaned. "Captain, don't you see I wouldn't harm you? Only you had to be mine! I had to get bigger than you were, Captain-for my own salvation. It was the only way, boy; it was the only way!"

And he sat there for a long time, his eyes without the light of triumph, on his captive.

His heart-beats quickened, a new warmth commenced to steal through his veins, a new faith in self welled up from his innermost depths, making his pulses sharp and hard, making his muscles swell, sending his spirit up and up.

He had fought his first big fight and he had won!

Blood began to drip from the stallion's nose.

"It's where I struck you!" whispered VB, the triumph all gone again, solicitation and a vast love possessing him. "It's where I struck you, Captain. Oh, it hurts me, too-but it must be so, because things are as they are. There will be more hurts, boy, before we're through. But it must be!"

His voice gritted on the last.

Sounds from behind roused VB, and he looked around.

The sunlight was going even from the ridge up there, and the whole land was in shadow. He was a long way from the ranch with this trophy-his, but still ready to do battle at the end of his rope.

"Got one?" a man cried, coming up, and VB recognized him as one of the trio of fence builders, riding back to their camp.

"Yes-one," muttered VB, and turned to look at the Captain.

Then the man cried: "You've got th' Captain!"

"It's the Captain," said VB unsteadily, as though too much breath were in his lungs. "He's mine-you know-mine!"

The others looked at him in silent awe.

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