Valley of Wild Horses - Zane Grey - ebook

Valley of Wild Horses ebook

Zane Grey



This is a classic story of the Wild West, a story of reinvention, of justice, of right makes might. Panhandle Smith develops a wild free life as a cowboy until homesickness and a longing for his childhood sweetheart, Lucy, leads him to find them moved to Marco, a town in New Mexico. His childhood enemy Dick Hardman is ensconced there with his grasping father and their power seems invincible. Smith has a plan. Fighting down his past as a gunman, he prepared to start a new life with only a saloon girl and an itinerant cowboy as his allies. But even the best plans have a way of going awry. Set against the dramatic background of a wild-horse roundup, the plot leads to the inevitable clash between two strong and stubborn men. The action escalates toward the end, but as in most of Zane’s novels, the good folk finally win out and the man gets his girl, finally.

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Liczba stron: 395

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The Panhandle was a lonely purple range land, unfenced and wind swept. Bill Smith, cattleman, threw up a cabin and looked at the future with hopeful eyes. One day while plowing almost out of sight of his little home–which that morning he had left apprehensively owing to an impending event–he espied his wife Margaret coming along the edge of the plowed field. She had brought his lunch this day, despite his order to the contrary. Bill dropped the loop of his driving reins over the plow handle and strode toward her. Presently she halted wearily and sat down where the dark rich overturned earth met the line of bleached grass. Bill meant to scold Margaret for bringing his lunch, but it developed she had brought him something more. A son!

This boy was born on the fragrant fresh soil, out on the open prairie, under the steely sun and the cool wind from off the Llano Estacado. He came into the world protesting against this primitive manner of his birth. Bill often related that the youngster arrived squalling and showed that his lung capacity fitted his unusual size. Despite the mother’s protestations, Bill insisted on calling the lad Panhandle.

Panhandle’s first memory was of climbing into the big cupboard in the cabin, falling out upon his head and getting blood all over his white dress. His next adventurous experience was that of chewing tobacco he found in his father’s coat. This made him very sick. His mother thought he was poisoned, and as Bill was away, she ran to the nearest neighbors for help. By the time she returned with the experienced neighbor woman Panhandle had gotten rid of the tobacco and was bent upon further conquest.

Another day Panhandle manifested a growing tendency toward self- assertion. He ran away from home. Owing to his short legs and scant breath he did not get very far down over the slope. His will and intention were tremendous. Did the dim desert call to the child? His parents had often seen him stand gazing into the purple distance. But Panhandle on this runaway occasion fell asleep on the dry grassy bottom of an irrigation ditch. Bye and bye he was missed, and father and mother, and the farm hands ran hither and thither in wild search for him. No one, however, found him. In the haste of the search some one left his work at the irrigation dam, and the water running down rudely awoke the child out of his dreams. Wet and bedraggled, squalling at the top of his lungs, Panhandle trudged back home to the relief of a distracted mother.

“Doggone it,” ejaculated Bill to his neighbors. “That kid’s goin’ to be just like me. I never could stay home.”

A year later Bill Smith sold his farm and moved farther west in Texas, where he took up a homestead, and divided his time between that and work on a big irrigating canal which was being constructed.

Panhandle now lived on a ranch and it was far lonelier than his first home, because his father was away so much of the time. At first the nearest neighbor was Panhandle’s uncle, who lived two long prairie miles away. His house was a black dot on the horizon, not unattainable, it seemed to Panhandle, but very far away. He would have risked the distance, save for his mother, who was very timid in this country so new to her. Panhandle would never forget how she was frightened at a crazy wanderer who happened to come along, and another time by some drunken Mexican laborers.

Panhandle undoubtedly had an adventuring soul. One day he discovered that a skunk had dug a hole under the front porch and had given birth to her kittens there. Panhandle was not afraid of them, and neither hurt nor frightened them. After a time he made playmates of them, and was one day hugely enjoying himself with them when his mother found him. She was frightened, enraged and horrified all at once. She entreated Panhandle to let the dirty little skunks alone. Panhandle would promise and then forget. His mother punished him, all to no avail. Then she adopted harsher measures.

Homesteaders had located near by and Mrs. Smith called on them, in the hope that she could hire a cowboy or ranch hand to come over and destroy the skunks. It chanced there was no one but a Mrs. Hardman and her only boy. His name was Dick. He was seven years old, large for his age, a bold handsome lad with red hair. Mrs. Smith made a bargain with Dick, and led him back with her.

Here Panhandle took violent exception to having his pets killed or routed out by this boy he had never before seen. He did not like his looks anyway. But Dick paid little heed to Panhandle, except once when Mrs. Smith went into the house, and then he knocked Panhandle down. For once Panhandle did not squall. He got up, round eyed, pale, with his hands clenched. He never said a word. Something was born in the depths of his gentle soul then.

Dick tore a hole in the little wall of rocks that supported the porch, and with a lighted torch on a stick he wormed his way in to rout out the skunks.

Panhandle suddenly was thrilled and frightened by a bellowing from Dick. The boy came hurriedly backing out of the hole. He fetched an odor with him that nearly suffocated Panhandle, so strange and raw and terrible was it. Dick’s eyes were shut. For the time being he had been blinded. He bounced around like a chicken with its head cut off, bawling wildly.

What had happened Panhandle did not know, but it certainly suited him. “Goody! Goody!” he shouted, holding his nose, and edging away from the lad.

Then Panhandle saw smoke issuing from the hole under the porch. The mother skunk and her kittens scampered out into the weeds. He heard the crackle of flames. That boy had dropped his torch under the porch. Screaming, Panhandle ran to alarm his mother. But it was too late. There were no men near at hand, so nothing could be done. Panhandle stood crying beside his mother, watching their little home burn to the ground. Somehow in his mind the boy, Dick, had been to blame. Panhandle peered round to find him, but he was gone. Never would Panhandle forget that boy.

They walked to the uncle’s house and spent the night there. Soon another home was under construction on the same site. It was more of a shack than a house, for building materials were scarce, and the near approach of winter made hasty construction imperative. Winter came soon, and Panhandle and his mother were alone. It was cold and they huddled over the little wood fire. They had plenty to eat, but were very uncomfortable in the one-room shack. Bill Smith came home but seldom. That fall the valley had been overrun with homesteaders, “nesters,” they were called, and these newcomers passed by often from the town drunk and rough.

Panhandle used to lie awake a good deal. During these lonely hours the moan of the prairie wind, the mourn of wolves and yelp of coyotes became part of his existence. He understood why his mother barred and blocked the one door, placed the ax by the bed and the gun under her pillow. Even then he longed for the time when he would be old and big enough to protect her.

The lonely winter, with its innumerable hours of solitude for Mrs. Smith and the boy, had incalculable influence upon his character. She taught him much, ways and things, words and feelings that became an integral part of his life.

At last the long winter ended. With spring came the gales of wind which, though no longer cold, were terrible in their violence. Many a night Panhandle lay awake, shrinking beside his mother, fearing the shack would blow away over their heads. Many a day the sun was obscured, and nothing could be cooked, no work done while the dust storm raged.

As spring advanced, with a lessening of the tornadoes, a new and fascinating game came into Panhandle’s life. It was to sit at the one little window and watch the cowboys ride by. How he came to worship them! They were on their way to the spring roundups. His father had told him all about them. Panhandle would strain his eyes to get a first glimpse of them, to count the shaggy prancing horses, the lithe supple riders with their great sombreros, their bright scarfs, guns and chaps, and boots and spurs. Their lassos! How they fascinated Panhandle! Ropes to whirl and throw at a running steer! That was a game he resolved to play when he grew up. And his mother, discovering his interest, made him a little reata and taught him how to throw it, how to make loops and knots. She told him how her people had owned horses, thrown lassos, run cattle.

Panhandle was always watching for the cowboys. When they passed by he would run to the other side of the shack where there was a knothole stuffed with a rag, and through this he would peep until he was blinded by dust. These were full days for the lad, rousing in him wonder and awe, eagerness and fear– strange longings for he knew not what.

Then one day his father brought home a black pony with three white feet and a white spot on his face. Panhandle was in rapture. For him! He could have burst for very joy, but he could not speak. It developed that his mother would not let him ride the pony except when she led it. This roused as great a grief as possession was joy. A beautiful little pony he could not ride! Ideas formed in his mind, scintillated and grew into dark purpose.

One day he stole Curly, and led him out of sight behind the barn, and mounting him rode down to the spring. Panhandle found himself alone. He was free. He was on the back of a horse. Mighty and incalculable fact!

Curly felt the spirit of that occasion. After drinking at the spring he broke into a lope. Panhandle stuck on somehow and turned the pony toward the house. Curly loped faster. Panhandle felt the wind in his hair. He bounced up and down. Squealing with delight he twisted his hands in the flowing mane and held on. At the top of the hill his joy became divided by fear. Curly kept on loping down the hill toward the house. Faster and faster! Panhandle bounced higher and higher, up on his neck, back on his haunches, until suddenly his hold broke and he was thrown. Down he went with a thud. It jarred him so he could hardly get up, and he reeled dizzily. There stood his mother, white of face, reproachful of eye. “Oh mama–I ain’t hurt!” he cried.

Bill Smith was approached about this and listened, stroking his lean chin, while the mother eloquently enlarged upon the lad’s guilt.

“Wal, wife, let the boy ride,” he replied. “He’s a nervy kid. I named him well. He’ll make a great cowboy. Panhandle Smith. Pan, for short!”

Pan heard that and his heart beat high. How he loved his dad then! “Cowboy” meant one of the great riders of the range. He would be one. Thereafter he lived on the back of Curly. He learned to ride, to stick on like a burr, to keep his seat on the bare back of the pony, to move with him as he moved. One day Pan was riding home from his uncle’s, and coming to a level stretch of ground he urged Curly to his topmost speed. The wind stung him, the motion exhilarated him, controlling the pony awoke and fixed some strange feeling in him. He was a cowboy. Suddenly Curly put a speeding foot into a prairie-dog hole. Something happened. Pan felt himself jerked loose and shot through the air. He struck the ground and all went black. When he came to, he found he had plowed the soft earth with his face, skinned nose and chin, but was not badly hurt. That was his first great spill. It sobered him. Curly waited for him a little way farther on and he was lame. Pan knew he could not hide the evidences of his rashness, so he decided to tell the truth.

Pan encountered his father at the barn.

“Say, you bloody cowpuncher,” demanded his parent, “did he pitch with you?”

“No, Dad,” replied Pan, with effort. “I runned him fast.”

“Ah–huh, so I see,” went on the father; and after a searching look over the boy he fell to examining the pony.

Pan emboldened by what his father had called him went straight to his mother. She screamed at sight of him, and that struck Pan to the heart. “Aw, mama, it ain’t nuthin’. I’m just a bloody cowpuncher.”

Pan was not quite six years old when he rode to his first roundup, which occurred that summer early in June. His glory in the experience was marred by shame because he had to appear before all these cowboys without a saddle on his horse. He had feared just exactly what happened.

“Wal, heah comes the Ridin’ Kid from Loco Range,” said one, edging near to Pan, with a smile on his shining red face.

“Sonny, yo’re forkin’ a grand hoss, but you forgot to saddle him,” remarked another, with a twinkle of gray eyes.

“Fellars, this heah is Panhandle Smith, kid of the homesteader, over by the river. I heerd Pan’s a trick bareback rider.”

These genial fiery young men, lithe and tall and round limbed, breathing the life and spirit of the range, crowded round Pan, proving that there never was a cowboy who did not like youngsters.

“Say kid, I’ll swap saddles with you,” spoke up the one who had first addressed him.

Pan’s heart was palpitating. How could they know how beautiful and wonderful they looked to him? If it had not been that he was riding Curly bareback! They were making fun of him. Tears were not far from his eyes.

“Young fellar, I’ll bet this nag of yourn can’t run fast enough to ketch cold,” spoke up another.

“I’ll bet he kin,” added a third.

“Pan, do this to them,” put in the cowboy who appeared to know him, and suiting act to word he placed his thumb to his nose and twiddled his finger. “Do that, Pan. That’ll shore shut them up.”

Pan found himself impelled to do as he was bidden, which action raised a howl of mirth from the cowboys.

And so at that early age Panhandle Smith was initiated into the hilarity and trickery and spirit common to these carefree riders of the ranges.

When the roundup began he found that he was far from forgotten.

“Come on, Pan,” shouted one. “Ride in heah an’ help me…. Turn ‘em back, kid.”

Pan rode like the wind, breathless and radiant, beside himself with bliss.

Then another rider would yell to him: “Charge him, cowboy. Fetch him back.”

And Pan, scarcely knowing what he was doing, saw with wild eyes how the yearling or calf would seem to be driven by him. There was always a cowboy near him, riding fast, yet close, yelling to him, making him a part of the roundup.

At the noon hour an older man, no doubt the rancher who owned the cattle, called off the work. A lusty voice from somewhere yelled: “Come an’ git it!”

The rancher, espying Pan, rode over to him and said: “Stranger, did you fetch your chuck with you?”

“No–sir,” faltered Pan. “My mama–said for me to hurry back.”

“Wal, you stay an’ eat with me,” replied the man, kindly. “Shore them varmints might stampede an’ we’d need you powerful bad.”

Pan sat next this big black-eyed man, in the circle of hungry cowboys. They made no more fun of Pan. He was one of them. Hard indeed was it for him to sit cross-legged, after the fashion of cowboys, with a steady plate upon his knees. But he had no trouble disposing of the juicy beefsteak and boiled potatoes and beans and hot biscuits that Tex, the boss, piled upon his plate.

After dinner the cowboys resumed work.

“Stand heah by the fire, kid,” said Tex.

Then Pan saw a calf being dragged across the ground. A mounted cowboy held the rope.

“The brand!” he yelled.

Pan stood there trembling while one of the flankers went down the tight rope to catch the bawling, leaping calf. Its eyes stood out, it foamed at the mouth. The flanker threw it over his leg on its back with feet sticking up. A brander with white iron leaped close. The calf bellowed. There was a sizzling of hair, a white smoke, the odor of burned hide, all of which sickened Pan.

Then one of the cowboys came to him: “Reckon thet’s yore mammy come for you.”

He lifted Pan up on Curly and led the pony away from the roundup, out in the open where Pan espied his mother, eager and anxious with her big dark eyes strained.

“Beg pardon, lady,” spoke up the cowboy, touching his sombrero. “It’s our fault yore boy stayed so long. We’re sorry if you worried. Please don’t blame him. He’s shore a game kid an’ will make a grand cowboy some day.”

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