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   Chapter 12 No.12

I Conquered"" By Harold Titus Characters: 11832

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Woman Wants

Gail Thorpe rose from the piano in the big ranch house of the S Bar S, rearranged the mountain flowers that filled a vase on a tabouret, then knocked slowly, firmly, commandingly, on a door that led from the living room.

"Well, I don't want you; but I s'pose you might as well come in and get it off your mind!"

The voice from the other side spoke in feigned annoyance. It continued to grumble until a lithe figure, topped by a mass of hair like pulled sunshine, flung itself at him, twining warm arms about his neck and kissing the words from the lips of big Bob Thorpe as he sat before his desk in the room that served as the ranch office.

"Will you ever say it again-that you don't want me?" she demanded.

"No-but merely because I'm intimidated into promising," he answered. His big arms went tight about the slender body and he pulled his daughter up on his lap.

A silence, while she fussed with his necktie. Her blue eyes looked into his gray ones a moment as though absently, then back to the necktie. Her fingers fell idle; her head snuggled against his neck. Bob Thorpe laughed loud and long.

"Well, what is it this morning?" he asked between chuckles.

The girl sat up suddenly, pushed back the hair that defied fastenings, and tapped a stretched palm with the stiff forefinger of the other hand.

"I'm not a Western girl," she declared deliberately; and then, as the brown face before her clouded, hastened: "Oh, I'm not wanting to go away! I mean, I'm not truly a Western girl, but I want to be. I want to fit better.

"When we decided that I should graduate and come back here with my mommy and daddy for the rest of my life, I decided. There was nothing halfway about it. Some of the other girls thought it awful; but I don't see the attraction in their way of living.

"When I was a little girl I was a sort of tom-cow-boy. I could do things as well as any of the boys I ever knew could do them. But after ten years, mostly away in the East, where girls are like plants, I've lost it all. Now I want to get it back."

"Well, go to it!"

"Wait! I want to start well-high up. I want to have the best that there is to have. I-want-a-horse!"

"Horse? Bless me, bambino, there are fifty broken horses running in the back pasture now, besides what the boys have on the ride. Take your pick!"

"Oh, I know!" she said with gentle scoffing. "That sort of a horse-just cow-ponies. I love 'em, but I guess-well-"

"You've been educated away from 'em, you mean?" he chuckled.

"Well, whatever it is-I want something better. I, as a daughter of the biggest, best man in Colorado, want to ride the best animal that ever felt a cinch."

"Well?"

"And I want to have him now, so I can get used to him this fall and look forward to coming back to him in the spring."

Bob Thorpe took both her hands in one of his.

"And if a thing like that will make my bambino happy, I guess she'll have it."

The girl kissed him and held her cheek close against his for a breath.

"When I go to Denver for the stock show I'll pick the best blue ribbon-"

"Denver!" she exclaimed indignantly, sitting straight and tossing her head. "I want a real horse-a horse bred and raised in these mountains-a horse I can trust. None of your blue-blooded stock. They're like the girls I went to college with!"

Bob Thorpe let his laughter roll out.

"Well, what do you expect to find around here? Have you seen anything you like?"

She pulled her hands from his grasp and stretched his mouth out of shape with her little fingers until he squirmed.

"No, I haven't seen him; but I've heard the cowboys talking. Over at Mr. Avery's ranch they've caught a black horse-"

Bob Thorpe set her suddenly up on the arm of his chair and shook her soundly.

"Look here, young lady!" he exclaimed. "You're dreaming! I know what horse you're talking about. He's a wild devil that has run these hills for years. I heard he'd been caught. Get the notion of having him out of your head. I've never seen him but once, and then he was away off; but I've heard tales of him. Why-

"Nonsense! In the first place, he couldn't be broken to ride. Men aren't made big enough to break the spirit of a devil like that! They're bigger than humans. So we can end this discussion in peace. It's impossible!"

"All right," Gail said sweetly. "I just let you go on and get yourself into a corner. You don't know what you're talking about. He has been ridden. So there! I want him!"

He thrust her to one side, rose, and commenced to pace the room, gesticulating wildly. But it all came to the invariable end of such discussions, and twenty minutes later Gail Thorpe, her smoking, smiling dad at her side, piloted the big touring car down the road, bound for Jed Avery's ranch.

Young VB sat on a box behind the cabin working with a boot-heel that insisted on running over. He lifted the boot, held it before his face, and squinted one eye to sight the effect of his work-then started at a cry from the road.

The boot still in his hands, VB stopped squinting to listen. Undoubtedly whoever it was wanted Jed; but Jed was away with the horse buyer, looking over his young stuff. So Young VB, boot in hand, its foot clad in a service-worn sock, made his uneven way around the house to make any necessary explanations.

"That must be he!"

The light, high voice of the girl gave the cry just as VB turned the corner and came in sight, and her hand, half extended to point toward the corral, pointed directly into the face of the young man.

He did not hear what she had said, did not venture a greeting. He merely stood and stared at her, utterly without poise. In a crimson flash he realized that this was Gail Thorpe, that she was pretty, and that his bootless foot was covered by a sock that had given way before the stress of walking in high heels, allowing his great toe, with two

of its lesser conspirators, to protrude. To his confusion, those toes seemed to be swelling and for the life of him he could make them do nothing but stand stiffly in the air almost at right angles with the foot.

His breeding cried out for a retreat, for a leap into shelter; but his wits had lost all grace. He lifted the half-naked foot and carefully brushed the dirt from the sock. Then, leaning a shoulder against the corner of the cabin, he drew the boot on. Stamping it to the ground to settle his foot into place, he said, "Good morning," weakly and devoid of heartiness.

Bob Thorpe had not noticed this confusion, for his eyes were on the corral. But Gail, a peculiar twinkle in her eyes, had seen it all-and with quick intuition knew that it was something more than the embarrassment of a cow-puncher-and struggled to suppress her smiles.

"Good afternoon," Thorpe corrected. "Jed here?"

"No; he's riding," VB answered.

The cattleman moved a pace to the left and tilted his head to see better the Captain, who stormed around and around the corral, raising a great dust.

"We came over to look at a horse I heard was here-this one, I guess. Isn't he the wild stallion?"

"Used to be wild."

"He looks it yet. Watch him plunge!" Thorpe cried.

"He's never seen an automobile before," VB explained, as the three moved nearer the corral.

The horse was frightened. He quivered when he stood in one place, and the quivering always grew more violent until it ended in a plunge. He rose to his hind legs, head always toward the car, and pawed the air; then settled back and ran to the far side of the inclosure, with eyes for nothing but that machine.

They halted by the bars, Thorpe and his daughter standing close together, Young VB nearer the gate. The boy said something to the horse and laughed softly.

"Why, look, daddy," the girl cried, "he's beginning to calm down!"

The Captain stopped his antics and, still trembling, moved gingerly to the bars. Twice he threw up his head, looked at the machine, and breathed loudly, and once a quick tremor ran through his fine limbs, but the terror was no longer on him.

Bob Thorpe turned a slow gaze on VB. The girl stood with lips parted. A flush came under her fine skin and she clasped her hands at her breast.

"Oh, daddy, what a horse!" she breathed.

And Bob Thorpe echoed: "Lord, what a horse! Anybody tried to ride him?" he asked a moment later.

"He gets work every day," VB answered.

"Work? Don't tell me you work that animal!"

The young chap nodded. "Yes; he works right along."

The Captain snorted loudly and tore away in a proud circle of the corral, as though to flaunt his graces.

"Oh, daddy, it took a man to break that animal!" the girl breathed.

The bronze of VB's face darkened, then paled. He turned a steady look on the sunny-haired woman, and the full thanks that swelled in his throat almost found words. He wanted to cry out to her, to tell her what such things meant; for she was of his sort, highly bred, capable of understanding. And he found himself thinking: "You are! You are! You're as I thought you must be!"

Then he felt Thorpe's gaze and turned to meet it, a trifle guiltily.

"Yours?" the man asked.

"Mine."

Thorpe turned back to the Captain. Gail drew a quick breath and turned away from him-to the man.

"I thought so when he commenced to quiet," muttered Thorpe.

He looked then at his daughter and found her standing still, hands clasped, lips the least trifle parted, gazing at Young VB.

Something in him urged a quick step forward. It was an alarm, something primal in the fathers of women. But Bob Thorpe put the notion aside as foolishness-or tenderness-and walked closer to the corral, chewing his cigar speculatively. The stallion wrinkled his nose and dropped the ears flat, the orange glimmer coming into his eyes.

"Don't like strangers, I see."

"Not crazy about them," VB answered.

Thorpe walked off to the left, then came back. He removed his cigar and looked at Gail. She fussed with her rebellious hair and her face was flushed; she no longer looked at the horse-or at VB. He felt a curiosity about that flush.

"Well, want to get rid of him?"

Thorpe hooked his thumbs in his vest armholes and confronted VB.

No answer.

"What do you want for him?"

The young fellow started.

"What?" he said in surprise. "I was thinking. I didn't catch your question."

The fact was, he had heard, but had distrusted the sense. The idea of men offering money for the Captain had never occurred to him.

"What do you want for him?"

VB smiled.

"What do I want for him?" he repeated. "I want-feed and water for the rest of his life; shelter when he needs it; the will to treat him as he should be treated. And I guess that's about all."

The other again removed his cigar, and his jaw dropped. A cow-puncher talking so! He could not believe it; and the idea so confused him that he blundered right on with the bargaining. "Five hundred? Seven-fifty? No? Well, how much?"

VB smiled again, just an indulgent smile prompted by the knowledge that he possessed a thing beyond the power of even this man's wealth.

"The Captain is not for sale," he said. "Not to-day-or ever. That's final."

There was more talk, but all the kindly bluffness, all the desire instinctive in Bob Thorpe to give the other man an even break in the bargain, fell flat. This stranger, this thirty-five-dollar-a-month ranch hand, shed his offers as a tin roof sheds rain and with a self-possession characterized by unmistakable assurance.

"Tell Jed I was over," the big man said as they gave up their errand and turned to go. "And"-as he set a foot on the running board of his car-"any time you're our way drop in."

"Yes, do!" added the girl, and her father could not check the impulse which made him turn halfway as though to shut her off.

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