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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Eagle's Heart - Part 1 - Chapter 10. The Young Eagle Mounts
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The Eagle's Heart - Part 1 - Chapter 10. The Young Eagle Mounts Post by :pcmarket Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :2444

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The Eagle's Heart - Part 1 - Chapter 10. The Young Eagle Mounts

PART I CHAPTER X. THE YOUNG EAGLE MOUNTS

After the momentary sorrow of parting from his good friend, Delmar, the youth's heart began to expand with joy. He lifted his arms and shook them as the young eagle exults. He was alone on the wide swells of plain enacting a part of the wild life of which he had read, and for which he had longed. He was riding a swift horse straight toward the mystic mountains of the West, leaving behind him the miserable wars of the sheep herders and the cattlemen. Every leap of his sturdy pony carried him deeper into the storied land and farther from the tumult and shame of the night at Running Bear.

He was not one to morbidly analyze, not even to feel remorse. He put the past behind him easily. Before him small grasshoppers arose in clapping, buzzing clouds. Prairie dogs squeaked and frisked and dived needlessly into their dens. Hawks sailed like kites in the glorious, golden, hazy air, and on the firm sod the feet of his pony steadily drummed. Once a band of antelope crossed a swale, running in silence, jerkily, like a train of some singular automatons, moved by sudden, uneven impulses of power. The deep-worn buffalo trails seemed so fresh the boy's heart quickened with the thought that he might by chance come suddenly upon a stray bunch of them feeding in some deep swale.

He had passed beyond fences, and his course was still substantially westward. His eyes constantly searched the misty purple-blue horizon for a first glimpse of the mountains, though he knew he could not possibly come in sight of them so soon. He rode steadily till the sun was overhead, when he stopped to let the pony rest and feed. He had a scanty lunch in his pocket, which he ate without water. Saddling up an hour or two later he continued his steady onward "shack" toward the West.

Once or twice he passed in sight of cattle ranches, but he rode on without stopping, though he was hungry and weary. Once he met a couple of cowboys who reined out and rode by, one on either side of him, to see what brands were on his horse. He was sufficiently waywise to know what this meant. The riders remained studiously polite in their inquiries:

"Where ye from, stranger?"

"Upper Cannon Ball."

"Eh--hah. How's the feed there this year?"

"Pretty good."

"Where ye aimin' at now, if it's a fair question?"

"Bob Reynolds' ranch."

"He's over on the head water of the South Fork, ain't he?"

"Yes."

"Well, it's a good piece yet. So long," they said in change of manner.

"So long."

They rode away, still filled with curiosity concerning the boy whose horse plainly showed hard riding. "He shore wants to git there," said one to the other.

Late in the afternoon the youth pulled in his horse and studied with the closest care a big cloud looming in the sky. All day snowy thunderheads had been emerging into view near the horizon, blooming like gigantic roses out of the deep purple of the sky, but this particular cloud had not changed its sharp, clean-cut outline for an hour, and, as he looked, a veil of vapor suddenly drifted away from it, and Mose's heart leaped with exultation, as though a woman's hand had been laid on his shoulder. That cloud-like form was a mountain! It could be nothing else, for while all around it other domes shifted line and mass, this one remained constant, riding through the mist as the moon endures in the midst of the flying vapor of the night.

Thereafter he rode with his eyes on that sunlit mass. The land grew wilder. Sharp hills broke the smooth expanses, and on these hills groves of dwarf pine appeared in irregular clumps like herds of cattle. He began to look for a camping place, for he was very tired. For an hour he led his spent horse, still moving toward the far-off shining peak, which glowed long after darkness had fallen on the plains. At last it grew too dim to guide him farther, and slipping the saddle from his horse, he turned him loose to feed upon the bunch grass.

As the light faded from the sky so the exultation and sense of freedom went out of the boy's heart. His mind went back to the struggle in the street. He felt no remorse, no pity for the drunken fools, but he was angry and discouraged and disgusted with himself. He had ended in failure and in flight where he should have won success and respect. He did not directly accuse himself; he had done as well as he could; he blamed "things," and said to himself, "it's my luck," by which he meant to express a profound feeling of dejection and weakness as of one in the grasp of inimical powers. By the working of unfriendly forces he was lying there under the pines, hungry, tired, chilled, and lone as a wolf. Jack was far away, Mary lost forever to him, and the officers of the law again on his trail. It was a time to make a boy a man, a bitter and revengeful man.

The night grew chill, and he was forced to walk up and down, wrapped in his saddle blanket to keep warm. Fuel was scarce, and his small fire sufficed only to warm him in minute sections, and hunger had thinned his blood. He was tired and sleepy, too, but dared not lie down for fear of being chilled. It would not do to be ill here alone in this land.

It was the loneliest night he had ever known in his life. On the hills near by the coyotes kept up ventriloquistic clamor, and from far off the bawling of great bulls and the bleating of the calves brought news of a huge herd of cattle, but these sounds only made his solitary vigil the more impressive. The sleepy chirp of the crickets and the sound of his horse nipping the grass, calmly careless of the wolves, were the only aids to sleep; all else had the effect to keep his tense nerves vibrating. As the cold intensified, the crickets ceased to cry, and the pony, having filled his stomach, turned tail to the wind and humped his back in drowse. At last, no friendly sounds were left in all the world, and shivering, sore, and sullen, the youth faced the east waiting for the dawn.

As the first faint light came into the east he turned his face to the west, anxiously waiting till the beautiful mountain should blossom from the dark. At last it came stealing forth, timid, delicate, blushing like a bride from nuptial chamber, ethereal as an angel's wing, persistent as a glacial wall. As it broadened and bloomed, the boy threw off his depression like a garment. Briskly saddling his shivery but well-fed horse he set off, keeping more and more to the left, as his instructions ran. But no matter in which direction he rode, his eyes were on the mountain. "There is where I end," was his constantly repeated thought. It would have been easy for him to have turned aside.

Shortly after sunrise he came upon a ranch set deep in a gully and sheltered by pinons. Smoke was curling from the stovepipe, but no other sign of life could be detected. He rode directly up to the door, being now too hungry and cold to pass by food and shelter, no matter what should follow.

A couple of cowboys, armed and armored, came out lazily but with menace in their glances.

"Good morning," said Mose.

"Howdy, stranger, howdy," they repeated with instant heartiness. "Git off your hoss and come in."

"Thanks, I believe I will. Can you tell me which-a-way is Bob Reynolds' ranch?" he asked.

Both men broke into grins. "Well, you've putt' nigh hit it right hyer. This is one o' his 'line camps.' The ranch house is about ten miles furder on--but slide off and eat a few."

One man took his horse while the other showed him into a big room where a huge stack of coals on a rude hearth gave out a cheerful heat. It was an ordinary slab shack with three rooms. A slatternly woman was busy cooking breakfast in a little lean-to at the back of the larger room, a child was wailing in a crib, and before the fire two big, wolfish dogs were sleeping. They arose slowly to sniff lazily at Mose's garments, and then returned to their drowse before the fire.

"Stranger, you look putt' nigh beat out," said the man who acted as host; "you look pale around the gills."

"I am," said Mose; "I got off my course last night, and had to make down under a pinon. I haven't had anything to eat since yesterday noon."

"Wal, we'll have some taters and sow-belly in a giff or two. Want 'o wash?"

Mose gladly took advantage of the opportunity to clean the dust and grime from his skin, though his head was dizzy with hunger. The food was bacon, eggs, and potatoes, but it was fairly well cooked, and he ate with great satisfaction.

The men were very much interested in him, and tried to get at the heart of his relation to Reynolds, but he evaded them. They were lanky Missourians, types already familiar to him, and he did not care to make confidants of them. The woman was a graceless figure, a silent household drudge, sullenly sad, and gaunt, and sickly.

Mose offered to pay for his breakfast, but the boss waved it aside and said: "Oh, that's all right; we don't see enough people pass to charge, for a breakfast. Besides, we're part o' the Reynolds' outfit, anyway."

As Mose swung into the saddle his heart was light. Away to the south a long low cloud of smoke hung. "What is that?" he asked.

"That's the bull-gine on the Great Western; we got two railroads now."

"Which is two too many," said the other man. "First you know the cattle business will be wiped out o' 'Rickaree County just as it is bein' wiped out in Cheyenne and Runnin' Bear. Nesters and cow milkers are comin' in, and will be buildin' fences yet."

"Not in my day," said the host.

"Well, so long," said Mose, and rode away.

The Reynolds' ranch house was built close beside a small creek which had cut deep into the bottom of a narrow valley between two pinon-covered hills. It squat in the valley like a tortoise, but was much more comfortable than most ranch houses of the county. It was surrounded by long sheds and circular corrals of pine logs, and looked to be what it was, a den in which to seek shelter. A blacksmith's forge was sending up a shower of sparks as Mose rode through the gate and up to the main stable.

A long-bearded old man tinkering at some repairs to a plow nodded at the youth without speaking.

"Is Mr. Reynolds at home?" asked Mose.

"No, but he'll be here in a second--jest rode over the hill to look at a sick colt. Git off an' make yuself comfortable."

Mose slipped off his horse and stood watching the queer old fellow as he squinted and hammered upon a piece of iron, chewing furiously meanwhile at his tobacco. It was plain his skill was severely taxed by the complexity of the task in hand.

As he stood waiting Mose saw a pretty young woman come out of the house and take a babe from the ground with matronly impatience of the dirt upon its dress.

The old man followed the direction of the young man's eyes and mumbled: "Old man's girl.... Her child."

Mose asked no questions, but it gave a new and powerful interest to the graceful figure of the girl.

Occasionally the old man lifted his eyes toward the ridge, as if looking for some one, and at last said, "Old man--comin'."

A horseman came into view on the ridge, sitting his horse with the grace and ease of one who lives in the saddle. As he zig-zagged down the steep bank, his pony, a vicious and powerful roan "grade," was on its haunches half the time, sliding, leaping, trotting. The rider, a smallish man, with a brown beard, was dressed in plain clothing, much the worse for wind and sun. He seemed not to observe the steepness and roughness of the trail.

As he rode up and slipped from his horse Mose felt much drawn to him, for his was a kindly and sad face. His voice, as he spoke, was low and soft, only his eyes, keen and searching, betrayed the resolute plainsman.

"Howdy, stranger?" he said in Southern fashion. "Glad to see you, sir."

Mose presented his note from Delmar.

"From old Delmar, eh? How did you leave him? In good health and spirits, I hope."

He spoke in the rhythmical way of Tennesseans, emphasizing the auxiliary verbs beyond their usual value. After reading the letter he extended his hand. "I am very glad to meet you, sir. I am indeed. Bill, take care of Mr.----" He paused, and looked at the latter.

"Mose--Mose Harding," interpolated Mose.

"Put in Harding's horse. Come right in, Mr. Harding; I reckon dinner is in process of simmering by this time."

"Call me Mose," said the youth. "That's what Delmar called me."

Reynolds smiled. "Very good, sir; Mose it shall be."

They entered the front door into the low-ceiled, small sitting room where a young girl was sitting sewing, with a babe at her feet.

"My daughter, Mrs. Craig," said Reynolds gently. "Daughter, this young man is Mr. Mose Harding, who comes from my old friend Delmar. He is going to stay with us for a time. Sit down, Mose, and make yourself at home."

The girl blushed painfully, and Mose flushed sympathetically. He could not understand the mystery, and ignored her confusion as far as possible. The room was shabby and well worn. A rag carpet covered the floor. The white plastered walls had pictures cut from newspapers and magazines pinned upon them to break the monotony. The floor was littered also with toys, clothing, and tools, which the baby had pulled about, but the room wrought powerfully upon the boy's heart, giving him the first real touch of homesickness he had felt since leaving the Burns' farm that bright March day, now so far away it seemed that it was deep in the past. For a few moments he could not speak, and the girl was equally silent. She gathered up the baby's clothes and playthings, and passed into another room, leaving the young man alone.

His heart was very tender with memories. He thought of Mary and of his sister Maud, and his throat ached. The wings of the young eagle were weary, and here was safety and rest, he felt that intuitively, and when Reynolds returned with his wife, a pleasant-featured woman of large frame, tears were in the boy's eyes.

Mrs. Reynolds wiped her fingers on her apron and shook hands with him cordially. "I s'pose you're hungry as a wolf. Wal, I'll hurry up dinner. Mebbe you'd like a biscuit?"

Mose professed to be able to wait, and at last convinced the hospitable soul. "Wal, I'll hurry things up a little," she said as she went out. Reynolds, as he took a seat, said: "Delmar writes that you just got mixed up in some kind o' fuss down there. I reckon you had better tell me how it was."

Mose was glad to unburden his heart. As the story proceeded, Reynolds sat silently looking at the stove hearth, glancing at the youth only now and again as he reached some dramatic point. The girl came back into the room, and as she listened, her timidity grew less painful. The boy's troubles made a bond of sympathy between them, and at last Mose found himself telling his story to her. Her beautiful brown eyes grew very deep and tender as he described his flight, his hunger, and his weariness.

When he ended, she drew a sigh of sympathetic relief, and Reynolds said: "Mm! you have no certain knowledge, I reckon, whether you killed your man or not?"

"I can't remember. It was dark. We fired a dozen shots. I am afraid I hit; I am too handy with the revolver to miss."

"Mm, so Delmar says. Well, you're out of the State, and I have no belief they will take the trouble to look you up. Anyhow, I reckon you better stay with us till we see how the fuss ends. You certainly are a likely young rider, an' I can use you right hyere till you feel like goin' farther."

A wave of grateful emotion rushed over the boy, blinding his eyes with tears, and before he could speak to thank his benefactor, dinner was called. The girl perceived the tears in his eyes, and as they went out to dinner she looked at him with a comradeship born of the knowledge that he, too, had suffered.

He returned her glance with one equally frank and friendly, and all through the meal he addressed himself to her more often than to her parents. She was of the most gentle, and patient, and yielding type. Her beautiful lips and eyes expressed only sweetness and feminine charm, and her body, though thin and bent, was of girlish slimness.

Reynolds warmed to the boy wondrously. As they arose from the table he said:

"We'll ride over to the round-up to-morrow, and I'll introduce you to the cow boss, and you can go right into the mess. I'll turn my horse over to you; I'm getting mighty near too old to enjoy rustlin' cattle together, and I'll just naturally let you take my place."

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