The Lure of the Dim Trails - B.M. Bower - ebook

The Lure of the Dim Trails ebook

B.M. Bower



Take a trip along the dusty byways of the Old West in this book from renowned author B.M. Bowers. Phil Thurston was born on the range where the trails are dim and silent under the big sky. It was the place his father loved, the place he had to be. After the death of his father when he was five, his mother brought him back to the city, where he grew up and became a writer. To revive his stale writing, he returns to the West, and may just find what he is really missing. Thurston learns many a lesson while following „The Lure of the Dim Trails” but the hardest, and probably the most welcome, is that of love.

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“WHAT do you care, anyway?” asked Reeve-Howard philosophically. “It isn’t as if you depended on the work for a living. Why worry over the fact that a mere pastime fails to be financially a success. You don’t need to write–”

“Neither do you need to slave over those dry-point things,” Thurston retorted, in none the best humor with his comforter “You’ve an income bigger than mine; yet you toil over Grecian-nosed women with untidy hair as if each one meant a meal and a bed”

“A meal and a bed–that’s good; you must think I live like a king.”

“And I notice you hate like the mischief to fail, even though.”

“Only I never have failed,” put in Reeve-Howard, with the amused complacency born of much adulation.

Thurston kicked a foot-rest out of his way. “Well, I have. The fashion now is for swashbuckling tales with a haze of powder smoke rising to high heaven. The public taste runs to gore and more gore, and kidnappings of beautiful maidens-bah!”

“Follow the fashion then–if you must write. Get out of your pink tea and orchid atmosphere, and take your heroines out West- -away out, beyond the Mississippi, and let them be kidnapped. Or New Mexico would do.”

“New Mexico is also beyond the Mississippi, I believe,” Thurston hinted.

“Perhaps it is. What I mean is, write what the public wants, since you don’t relish failure. Why don’t you do things about the plains? It ought to be easy, and you were born out there somewhere. It should come natural.”

“I have,” Thurston sighed. “My last rejection states that the local color is weak and unconvincing. Hang the local color!” The foot-rest suffered again.

Reeve-Howard was getting into his topcoat languidly, as he did everything else. “The thing to do, then,” he drawled, “is to go out and study up on it. Get in touch with that country, and your local color will convince. Personally though, I like those little society skits you do–”

“Skits!” exploded Thurston. “My last was a four-part serial. I never did a skit in my life.”

“Beg pardon-which is more than you did after accusing my studies of having untidy hair. Don’t look so glum, Phil. Go out and learn your West; a month or so will put you up to date–and by Jove! I half envy you the trip.”

That is what put the idea into Thurston’s head; and as Thurston’s ideas generally bore fruit of one sort or another, he went out that very day and ordered from his tailor a complete riding outfit, and because he was a good customer the tailor consented to rush the work. It seemed to Thurston, looking over cuts of the very latest styles in riding clothes, that already he was breathing the atmosphere of the plains.

That night he stayed at home and dreamed, of the West. His memory, coupled with what he had heard and idealized by his imagination, conjured dim visions of what he had once known had known and forgotten; of a land here men and conditions harked back to the raw foundations of civilization; where wide plains flecked with sage-brush and ribboned with faint, brown trails, spread away and away to a far sky-line. For Phil Thurston was range-born, if not range-bred, His father had chosen always to live out on the edge of things–out where the trails of men are dim and far apart-and the silent prairie bequeaths a heritage of distance-hunger to her sons.

While he brooded grew a keen longing to see again the little town huddled under the bare, brown hills that shut out the world; to see the gay-blanketed Indians who stole like painted shadows about the place, and the broad river always hurrying away to the sunrise. He had been afraid of the river and of the bare hills and the Indians. He felt that his mother, also, had been afraid. He pictured again–and he picture was blurred and indistinct-the day when strange men had brought his father mysteriously home; men who were silent save for the shuffling of their feet, and who carried their big hats awkwardly in their hands.

There had been a day of hushed voices and much weeping and gloom, and he had been afraid to play. Then they had carried his father as mysteriously away again, and his mother had hugged him close and cried bitterly and long. The rest was blank. When one is only five, the present quickly blurs what is past, and he wondered that, after all these years, he should feel the grip of something very like homesickness–and for something more than half forgotten. But though he did not realize it, in his veins flowed the adventurous blood of his father, and to it the dim trails were calling.

In four days he set his face eagerly toward the dun deserts and the sage-brush gray.

At Chicago a man took the upper berth in Thurston’s section, and settled into the seat with a deep sigh- presumably of thankfulness. Thurston, with the quick eye of those who write, observed the whiteness of his ungloved hands, the coppery tan of cheeks and throat, the clear keenness of his eyes, and the four dimples in the crown of his soft, gray hat, and recognized him as a fine specimen of the Western type of farmer, returning home from the stockman’s Mecca. After that he went calmly back to his magazine and forgot all about him.

Twenty miles out, the stranger leaned forward and tapped him lightly on the knee. “Say, I hate to interrupt yuh,” he began in a whimsical drawl, evidently characteristic of the man, “but I’d like to know where it is I’ve seen yuh before.”

Thurston glanced up impersonally, hesitated between annoyance and a natural desire to, be courteous, and replied that he had no memory of any previous meeting.

“Mebby not,” admitted the other, and searched the face of Thurston with his keen eyes. It came to Phil that they were also a bit wistful, but he went unsympathetically back to his reading.

Five miles more and be touched Thurston again, apologetically yet insistently. “Say,” he drawled, “ain’t your name Thurston? I’ll bet a carload uh steers it is–Bud Thurston. And your home range is Fort Benton.”

Phil stared and confessed to all but the “Bud.”

“That’s what me and your dad always called yuh,” the man asserted. “Well, I’ll be hanged! But I knew it. I knew I’d run acrost yuh somewheres. You’re the dead image uh your dad, Bill Thurston. And me and Bill freighted together from Whoop-up to Benton along in the seventies. Before yuh was born we was chums. I don’t reckon you’d remember me? Hank Graves, that used to pack yuh around on his back, and fill yuh up on dried prunes– when dried prunes was worth money? Yuh used to call ‘em ‘frumes,’ and–Why, it was me with your dad when the Indians pot-shot him at Chimney Rock; and it was me helped your mother straighten things up so she could pull out, back where she come from. She never took to the West much. How is she? Dead? Too bad; she was a mighty fine woman, your mother was.

“Well, I’ll-be-hanged! Bud Thurston little, tow-headed Bud that used to holler for ‘frumes’ if he seen me coming a mile off. Doggone your measly hide, where’s all them pink apurns yuh used to wear?” He leaned back and laughed–a silent, inner convulsion of pure gladness.

Philip Thurston was, generally speaking, a conservative young man and one slow to make friends; slower still to discard them. He was astonished to feel a choky sensation in his throat and a stinging of eyelids, and a leap in his blood. To be thus taken possession of by a blunt-speaking stranger not at all in his class; to be addressed as “Bud,” and informed that he once devoured dried prunes; to be told “ Doggone your measly hide” should have affronted him much. Instead, he seemed to be swept mysteriously back into the primitive past, and to feel akin to this stranger with the drawl and the keen eyes. It was the blood of his father coming to its own.

From that hour the two were friends. Hank Graves, in his whimsical drawl, told Phil things about his father that made his blood tingle with pride; his father, whom he had almost forgotten, yet who had lived bravely his life, daring where other men quailed, going steadfastly upon his way when other men hesitated.

So, borne swiftly into the West they talked, and the time seemed short. The train had long since been racing noisily over the silent prairies spread invitingly with tender green- great, lonely, inscrutable, luring men with a spell as sure and as strong as is the spell of the sea.

The train reeled across a trestle that spanned a deep, dry gash in the earth. In the green bottom huddled a cluster of pygmy cattle and mounted men; farther down were two white flakes of tents, like huge snowflakes left unmelted in the green canyon.

“That’s the Lazy Eight–my outfit,” Graves informed Thurston with the unconscious pride of possession, pointing a forefinger as they whirled on. “I’ve got to get off, next station. Yuh want to remember, Bud, the Lazy Eight’s your home from now on. We’ll make a cow- puncher of yuh in no time; you’ve got it in yuh, or yuh wouldn’t look so much like your dad. And you can write stories about us all yuh want–we won’t kick. The way I’ve got the summer planned out, you’ll waller chin-deep in material; all yuh got to do is foller the Lazy Eight through till shipping time.”

Thurston had not intended learning to be a cow-puncher, or following the Lazy Eight or any other hieroglyphic through ‘till shipping time–whenever that was.

But facing Hank Graves, he had not the heart to tell him so, or that he had planned to spend only a month–or six weeks at most- -in the West, gathering local color and perhaps a plot or two? and a few types. Thurston was great on types.

The train slowed at a little station with a dismal red section house in the immediate background and a red- fronted saloon close beside. “Here we are,” cried Graves, “and I ain’t sorry; only I wisht you was going to stop right now. But I’ll look for yuh in three or four days at the outside. So-long, Bud. Remember, the Lazy Eight’s your hang-out.”


FOR the rest of the way Thurston watched the green hills slide by–and the greener hollows–and gave himself up to visions of Fort Benton; visions of creaking bull-trains crawling slowly, like giant brown worms, up and down the long hill; of many high-piled bales of buffalo hides upon the river bank, and clamorous little steamers churning up against the current; the Fort Benton that had, for many rushing miles, filled and colored the speech of Hank Graves and stimulated his childish half-memory.

But when he reached the place and wandered aimlessly about the streets, tile vision faded into half-resentful realization that these things were no more forever. For the bull-trains, a roundup outfit clattered noisily out of town and disappeared in an elusive dust-cloud; for the gay-blanketed Indians slipping like painted shadows from view, stray cow-boys galloped into town, slid from their saddles and clanked with dragging rowels into the nearest saloon, or the post-office. Between whiles the town cuddled luxuriously down in the deep little valley and slept while the river, undisturbed by pompous steamers, murmured a lullaby.

It was not the Fort Benton he had come far to see, so that on the second day he went away up the long hill that shut out the world and, until the east-bound train came from over the prairies, paced the depot platform impatiently with never a vision to keep him company.

For a long time the gaze of Thurston clung fascinated to the wide prairie land, feeling again the stir in his blood. Then, when a deep cut shut from him the sight of the wilderness, he chanced to turn his head, and looked straight into the clear, blue-gray eyes of a girl across the aisle. Thurston considered himself immune from blue-gray –or any other-eyes, so that he permitted himself to regard her calmly and judicially, his mind reverting to the fact that he would need a heroine to be kidnapped, and wondering if she would do. She was a Western girl, he could tell that by the tan and by her various little departures from the Eastern styles–such as doing her hair low rather than high. Where he had been used to seeing the hair of woman piled high and skewered with many pins, hers was brushed smoothly back-smoothly save for little, irresponsible waves here and there. Thurston decided that the style was becoming to her. He wondered if the fellow beside her were her brother; and then reminded himself sagely that brothers do not, as a rule, devote their time quite so assiduously to the entertainment of their sisters. He could not stare at her forever, and so he gave over his speculations and went back to the prairies.

Another hour, and Thurston was stiffing a yawn when the coaches bumped sharply together and, with wheels screeching protest as the brakes clutched them, the train, grinding protest in every joint, came, with a final heavy jar, to a dead stop. Thurston thought it was a wreck, until out ahead came the sharp crackling of rifles. A passenger behind him leaned out of the window and a bullet shattered the glass above his head; he drew back hastily.

Some one hurried through the front vestibule, the door was pushed unceremoniously open and a man–a giant, he seemed to Thurston–stopped just inside, glared down the length of the coach through slits in the black cloth over his face and bawled, “Hands up!”

Thurston was so utterly surprised that his hands jerked themselves involuntarily above his head, though he did not feel particularly frightened; he was filled with a stupefied sort of curiosity to know what would come next. The coach, so far as he could see, seemed filled with uplifted, trembling hands, so that he did not feel ashamed of his own. The man behind him put up his hands with the other– but one of them held a revolver that barked savagely and unexpectedly close against the car of Thurston. Thurston ducked. There was an echo from the front, and the man behind, who risked so much on one shot, lurched into the aisle, swaying uncertainly between the seats. He of the mask fired again, viciously, and the other collapsed into a still, awkwardly huddled heap on the floor. The revolver dropped from his fingers and struck against Thurston’s foot, making him wince.

Thurston had never before seen death come to a man, and the very suddenness of it unnerved him. All his faculties were numbed before that terrible, pitiless form in the door, and the limp, dead body at his feet in the aisle. He did not even remember that here was the savage local color he had come far a-seeking. He quite forgot to improve the opportunity by making mental note of all the little, convincing details, as was his wont.

Presently he awoke to the realization of certain words spoken insistently close beside him. He turned his eyes and saw that the girl, her eyes staring straight before her, her slim, brown hands uplifted, was yet commanding him imperiously, her voice holding to that murmuring monotone more discreet than a whisper.

“The gun–drop down–and get it. He can’t see to shoot for the seat in front. Get the gun. Get the gun!” was what she was saying.

Thurston looked at her helplessly, imploringly. In truth, he had never fired a gun in all his peaceful life.

“The gun–get it–and shoot!” Her eyes moved quickly in a cautious, side-long glance that commanded impatiently. Her straight eyebrows drew together imperiously. Then, when he met her eyes with that same helpless look, she said another word that hurt. It was “ Coward!”

Thurston looked down at the gun, and at the huddled form. A tiny river of blood was creeping toward him. Already it had reached his foot, and his shoe was red along the sole. He moved his foot quickly away from it, and shuddered.

“Coward!” murmured the girl contemptuously again, and a splotch of anger showed under the tan of her cheek.

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