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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Eagle's Heart - Part 1 - Chapter 11. On The Round-Up
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The Eagle's Heart - Part 1 - Chapter 11. On The Round-Up Post by :pcmarket Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :2610

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The Eagle's Heart - Part 1 - Chapter 11. On The Round-Up


Mose was awakened next morning by the whirring of the coffee mill, a vigorous and cheerful sound. Mrs. Reynolds and Cora were busily preparing breakfast, and their housewifely movements about the kitchen below gave the boy a singular pleasure. The smell of meat in the pan rose to his nostrils, and the cooing laughter of the baby added a final strand in a homely skein of noises. No household so homelike and secure had opened to him since he said good-by to his foster parents in Rock River.

He dressed and hurried down and out to the barn. Frost lay white on the grass, cattle were bawling somewhere in the distance. The smoke of the kitchen went up into the sky straight as a poplar tree. The beautiful plain, hushed and rapt, lay waiting for the sun.

As he entered the stable, Mose found Reynolds looking carefully at Jack. "That looks a gentle horse; I can't see a mean thing about him. I don't reckon he's a cow hoss, is he?"

"No, I don't suppose he is a regular cow horse, but he'll soon learn."

"I must trade you outen that hoss. I certainly am 'blieged to do so. I'm growin' old, boy. I don't take the pleasu' in a broncho that I once did. I certainly am tired of hosses I can't touch with my hand. Fo' fo'ty yeahs I have handled these locoed hosses--they ah all locoed in my judgment--and I am plum tired of such. I shall send to Missouri aw Tennessee and get me a hoss I can trust. Meanwhile, you leave me yo' hoss an' take my bald-face pinto there; he is the fastest hoss on the range an' a plum devil, but that won't mattah to you, for you ah young an' frisky."

Mose hated to yield up his gentle and faithful horse even for a short time, but could not decently refuse. He shifted his saddle to the pinto with Reynolds' help.

"Whoa, there, Wild Cat," called the rancher, as the wicked eyes began to roll. "He'll get usen to ye after a day or two," he said reassuringly.

Mose's horsemanship was on trial, and though nervous and white, he led the pinto out and prepared to mount.

"If he wants to gambol a little, just let him go, only keep his head up," said Reynolds with careless glance.

Cora came out of the house and stood looking on, while Mose tightened the cinch again, and grasping the pommel with both hands put his toe in the stirrup. The pinto leaped away sidewise, swift as a cat, but before he could fairly get into motion Mose was astride, with both feet in the stirrups. With a series of savage sidewise bounds, the horse made off at a tearing pace, thrusting his head upon the bit in the hope to jerk his rider out of his seat. Failing of this he began to leap like a sheep. Just as he was about to let up on this Mose sank the rowels into him with a wild yell, and hotly lashed him from side to side with the end of his rope. For a few rods the horse continued to leap with stiffened legs and upraised back, then abandoned all tricks and ran up the hill like a scared antelope.

When Reynolds caught up with his new "hand" he smiled and said: "I reckon you can be trusted to look out fo' yo'sef," and the heart of the youth glowed with pleasure.

Again he felt the majesty and splendor of the life into which he had penetrated. The measureless plain, dimpled and wrinkled, swept downward toward the flaming eastern sky unmarked of man. To the west, cut close across their snow tops by the plain's edge, three enormous and snow-armored peaks arose, the sunlight already glittering on the thin, new-fallen snows.

Coyotes, still at vigil on the hills, slid out of sight at the coming of the horsemen. The prairie dogs peered sleepily from their burrows. Cattle in scattered bands snuffed and stared or started away hulking, yet swift, the bulls sullen and ferocious, the calves wild as deer. There were no fences, no furrows, no wagon tracks, no sign of sheep. It was the cow country in very truth.

On the way Reynolds said very little. Occasionally as they drew their ponies to a walk he remarked upon the kindliness of the horse, and said, "I hope you'll like my horse as well as I like youah's."

It was nearly twelve o'clock when they topped a treeless ridge and came in sight of the round-up. Below them, in the midst of a wide, grassy river flat, stood several tents and a covered wagon. Nearby lay a strong circular corral of poplar logs filled with steers. At some distance from the corral a dense mass of slowly revolving cattle moved, surrounded by watching horsemen. Down from the hills and up the valley came other horsemen, hurrying forward irregular bands of cows and calves. A small fire near the corral was sending up a pale strand of smoke, and at the tail of the wagon a stovepipe, emitting a darker column, told that dinner was in preparation. Over the scene the cloudless September sky arched. Dust arose under the heels of the herds, and the bawling roar of bulls, the call of agonized cows, and the answering bleat of calves formed the base of the shrill whoopings and laughter of the men. Nothing could be wilder, more stirring, more picturesque, except a camp of Sioux or Cheyennes in the days of the buffalo.

In a few minutes Mose was in the midst of the turmoil. Everyone greeted Reynolds with affection, and he replied in the stately phrases which had made him famous, "How do you do, gentlemen. I certainly am glad to see you enjoyin' this fine fall day. Captain Charlesworth, allow me to present my young friend, Moses Harding."

Captain Charlesworth, a tall man with a squint eye and a humorous glance, came up to shake hands as Mose slipped from his broncho.

Reynolds went on: "Captain Charlesworth is cow boss, an' will see that you earn yo' bo'd. Cap'n, this young man comes from my good friend, Cap'n Delmar, of Sante Fe. You know Delmar?"

"I should think so," said the boss. "It seems this youngster kin ride, seem's he's on Wild Cat."

Reynolds smiled: "I reckon you can consider him both able and willin', captain."

"Well, slip off an' eat. I'll take care o' the cayuses."

On the ground, scattered among the tents, and in the shade of the cook wagon, were some twenty or thirty herders. For the most part they were slender, bronzed, and active, of twenty-five or thirty, with broad white hats (faded and flapping in the brim), gray or blue woolen shirts (once gay with red lacing), and dark pantaloons, tucked into tall boots with long heels. Spurs jingled at the heels of their tall boots, and most of them wore bandannas of silk or cotton looped gracefully about their necks. A few of the younger ones wore a sort of rude outside trouser of leather called "chaps," and each of them carried a revolver slung at the hip. They were superb examples of adaptation to environment, alert, bold, and graceful of movement.

A relay of them were already at dinner, with a tin plate full of "grub" and a big tin cup steaming with coffee before each man. They sat almost anywhere to eat, on saddles, wagon tongues--any convenient place. Some of them, more orderly, were squatted along a sort of table made of folded blankets piled through the center of a tent. Here Reynolds took a seat, and Mose followed, shrinking a little from the keen scrutiny of the men. The fact that Reynolds vouched for him, however, was introduction, and the cook made a place for him readily enough, and brought him a plate and a cup.

"Boys," said Reynolds, "this young feller is just come to town. His name is Mose Harding, and he can ride a hoss all right, all right. He's a-goin' to make a hand here in my place; treat him fair."

There was a moment's awkward pause, and then Mose said: "I'm going to try to do my share."

As he had time to look around he began to individualize the men. One of the first to catch his eye was an Indian who sat near the door of the tent. He was dressed like the other men, but was evidently a full-blood. His skin was very dark, not at all red or copper colored, and Mose inferred that he was a Ute. His eyes were fixed on Mose with intent scrutiny, and when the boy smiled the Indian's teeth gleamed white in ready good nature, and they were friends at once. The talk was all about the work on hand, the tussles with steers, the number of unbranded calves, the queries concerning shipment, etc.

Dinner was soon over, and "Charley," as the cow boss was called by his men, walked out with Mose toward the corral. "Kin ye rope?" he asked.

"No, not for a cent."

"Let him hold the herd foh a day or two," suggested Reynolds. "Give him time to work in."

"All right, s'pose you look after him this afternoon."

Together Reynolds and Mose rode out toward the slowly "milling" herd, a hungry, hot, and restless mob of broadhorns, which required careful treatment. As he approached, the dull roar of their movement, their snuffling and moaning, thrilled the boy. He saw the gleaming, clashing horns of the great animals uplift and mass and change, and it seemed to him there were acres and acres of them.

Reynolds called out to two sweating, dusty, hoarse young fellows: "Go to grub, boys."

Without a word they wheeled their horses and silently withdrew, while Reynolds became as instantly active.

His voice arose to a shout: "Now, lively, Mose, keep an eye on the herd, and if any cow starts to break out--lively now--turn him in."

A big bay steer, lifting his head, suddenly started to leave the herd. Mose spurred his horse straight at him with a yell, and turned him back.

"That's right," shouted Reynolds.

Mose understood more of it than Reynolds realized. He took his place in the cordon, and aided in the work with very few blunders. The work was twofold in character. Fat cattle were to be cut out of the herd for shipment, unbranded calves were to be branded, and strays tallied and thrown back to their own feeding grounds. Into the crush of great, dusty, steaming bodies, among tossing, cruel, curving horns the men rode to "cut out" the beeves and to rope the calves. It was a furious scene, yet there was less excitement than Mose at first imagined. Occasionally, as a roper returned, he paused on the edge of the herd long enough to "eat" a piece of tobacco and pass a quiet word with a fellow, then spurring his horse, re-entered the herd again. No matter how swift his action, his eyes were quiet.

It was hard work; dusty, hot, and dangerous also. To be unhorsed in that struggling mass meant serious injury if not death. The youth was glad of heart to think that he was not required to enter the herd.

That night, when the horse herd came tearing down the mesa, Reynolds said: "Now, Mose, you fall heir to my shift of horses, too. Let me show them to you. Each man has four extra horses. That wall-eyed roan is mine, so is the sorrel mare with the star face. That big all-over bay, the finest hoss in the whole outfit, is mine, too, but he is unbroken. He shore is a hard problem. I'll give him to you, if you can break him, or I'll trade him for your Jack."

"I'll do it," cried Mose, catching his breath in excitement as he studied the splendid beast. His lithe, tigerlike body glittered in the sun, though his uplifted head bore a tangled, dusty mat of mane. He was neglected, wary, and unkempt, but he was magnificent. Every movement of his powerful limbs made the boy ache to be his master.

Thus Mose took his place among the cowboys. He started right, socially, this time. No one knew that he had been a sheep herder but Reynolds, and Reynolds did not lay it up against him. He was the equal of any of them in general horsemanship, they admitted that at the end of the second day, though he was not so successful in handling cattle as they thought he should be. It was the sense of inefficiency in these matters which led him to give an exhibition of his skill with the revolver one evening when the chance offered. He shot from his horse in all conceivable positions, at all kinds of marks, and with all degrees of speed, till one of the boys, accustomed to good shooting, said:

"You kin jest about shoot."

"That's right," said the cow boss; "I'd hate to have him get a grutch agin me."

Mose warmed with pardonable pride. He was taking high place in their ranks, and was entirely happy during these pleasant autumn days. On his swift and wise little ponies he tore across the sod in pursuit of swift steers, or came rattling down a hillside, hot at the heels of a wild-eyed cow and calf, followed by a cataract of pebbles. Each day he bestrode his saddle till his bones cried out for weariness, and his stomach, walls ground together for want of food, but when he sat among his fellows to eat with keenest pleasure the beef and beans of the pot wrestler's providing, he was content. He had no time to think of Jack or Mary except on the nights when he took his trick at watching the night herd. Then, sometimes in the crisp and fragrant dusk, with millions of stars blazing overhead, he experienced a sweet and powerful longing for a glimpse of the beautiful girlish face which had lightened his days and nights in prison.

The herders were rough, hearty souls, for the most part, often obscene and rowdy as they sat and sang around the camp fire. Mose had never been a rude boy; on the contrary, he had always spoken in rather elevated diction, due, no doubt, to the influence of his father, whose speech was always serious and well ordered. Therefore, when the songs became coarse he walked away and smoked his pipe alone, or talked with Jim the Ute, whose serious and dignified silence was in vivid contrast.

Some way, coarse speech and ribald song brought up, by the power of contrast, the pure, sweet faces of Mary and his sister Maud. Two or three times in his boyhood he had come near to slaying pert lads who had dared to utter coarse words in his sister's presence. There was in him too much of the essence of the highest chivalry to permit such things.

It happened, therefore, that he spent much time with "Ute Jim," who was a simple and loyal soul, thoughtful, and possessing a sense of humor withal. Mose took great pleasure in sitting beside the camp fire with this son of the plains, while he talked of the wild and splendid life of the days before the white man came. His speech was broken, but Mose pieced it out by means of the sign language, so graceful, so dignified, and so dramatic, that he was seized with the fervid wish to acquire a knowledge of it. This he soon did, and thereafter they might be seen at any time of day signaling from side to side of the herd, the Indian smiling and shaking his head when the youth made a mistake.

Jim believed in his new friend, and when questions brought out the history of the dispossession of his people he grew very sorrowful. His round cheeks became rigid and his eyes were turned away. "Injun no like fight white man all time. Injun gotta fight. White man crowd Injun back, back, no game, no rain, no corn. Injun heap like rivers, trees, all same--white man no like 'um, go on hot plain, no trees, no mountains, no game."

But he threw off these somber moods quickly, and resumed his stories of himself, of long trips to the snowpeaks, which he seemed to regard in the light of highest daring. The high mountains were not merely far from the land of his people; they were mythic places inhabited by monstrous animals that could change from beast to fowl, and talk--great, conjuring creatures, whose powers were infinite in scope. As the red man struggled forward in his story, attempting to define these conceptions, the heart of the prairie youth swelled with a poignant sense of drawing near a great mystery. The conviction of Jim's faith for the moment made him more than half believe in the powers of the mountain people. Day by day his longing for the "high country" grew.

At the first favorable moment he turned to the task of subduing the splendid bay horse for which he had traded his gentle Jack. One Sunday, when he had a few hours off, Mose went to Alf, the chief "roper," and asked him to help him catch "Kintuck," as Reynolds called the bay.

"All right," said Alf; "I'll tie him up in a jiffy."

"Can you get him without marking him all up?"

"I don't believe it. He's going to thrash around like h--l a-blazin'; we'll have to choke him down."

Mose shook his head. "I can't stand that. I s'pose it'll skin his fetlocks if you get him by the feet."

"Oh, it may, may not; depends on how he struggles."

Mose refused to allow his shining, proud-necked stallion to be roped and thrown, and asked the boys to help drive him into a strong corral, together with five or six other horses. This was done, and stripping himself as for a race, Mose entered the coral and began walking rapidly round and round, following the excited animals. Hour after hour he kept this steady, circling walk, till the other horses were weary, till Kintuck ceased to snort, till the blaze of excitement passed out of his eyes, till he walked with a wondering backward glance, as if to ask: "Two-legged creature, why do you so persistently follow me?"

The cowboys jeered at first, but after a time they began to marvel at the dogged walk of the youth. They gathered about the walls of the corral and laid bets on the outcome. At the end of the third hour Kintuck walked with a mechanical air, all the fire and fury gone out of him. He began to allow his pursuer to approach him closely, almost near enough to be touched. At the end of the four hours he allowed Mose to lay his hand on his nose, and Mose petted him and went to dinner. Odds stood in Mose's favor as he returned to the corral. He was covered with dust and sweat, but he was confident. He began to speak to the horse in a gentle, firm voice. At times the stallion faced him with head lifted, a singular look in his eyes, as though he meditated leaping upon his captor. At first Mose took no notice of these actions, did not slacken his pace, but continued to press the bay on and on. At last he began to approach the horse with his hand lifted, looking him in the eyes and speaking to him. Snorting as if with terror, the splendid animal faced him again and again, only to wheel at the last moment.

The cowboys were profanely contemptuous. "Think of taking all that trouble."

"Rope him, and put a saddle on him and bust him," they called resoundingly.

Mose kept on steadily. At last, when all the other horses had been turned loose, Kintuck, trembling, and with a curious stare in his eyes, again allowed Mose to lay his hand on his nose. He shrank away, but did not wheel. It was sunset, and the horse was not merely bewildered, he was physically tired. The touch of his master's hand over his eyes seemed to subjugate him, to take away his will. When Mose turned to walk away the horse followed him as though drawn by some magnetic force, and the herders looked at each other in amazement. Thereafter he had but to be accustomed to the bridle and saddle, and to be taught the duties of a cow horse. He had come to love his master.

This exploit increased the fame of "Dandy Mose," as the cowboys came to call him, because of the nature of his dress. He was bronzed now, and a very creditable brown mustache added to the maturity of his face. He was gaunt with hard riding, and somber and reticent in manner, so that he seemed to be much older than his years. Before the beef round-up was ended, he could rope a steer fairly well, could cut out or hold the herd as well as the best, and in pistol practice he had no equal.

He was well pleased with himself. He loved the swift riding, the night watches, the voices of wolves, the turmoil of the camp, the rush of the wild wide-horned herd, and the pounding roar of the relay horses as they came flying into camp of a morning. It all suited well with the leaping blood of his heart and the restless vigor of his limbs. He thought of his old home very little--even Mary was receding into the mist of distance.

When the beef herd was ready to be driven to the shipping point, Reynolds asked him if he wished to go. He shook his head. "No, I'll stay here." He did not say so, but he was still a little afraid of being called to account for his actions in Running Bear. He saw the herd move off with regret, for he would have enjoyed the ride exceedingly. He cared little for the town, though he would have liked the opportunity to make some purchases. He returned to the Reynolds ranch to spend the autumn and the winter in such duties as the stock required.

As the great peaks to the west grew whiter and whiter, looming ever larger at dawn, the heart of the boy grew restless. The dark canons allured him, the stream babbled strange stories to him--tales of the rocky spaces from which it came--until the boy dreamed of great white doors that opened on wondrous green parks.

One morning when Cora called the men to breakfast Mose and Jim did not respond. A scrawl from Mose said: "We've gone to the mountains. I'll be back in the spring. Keep my outfit for me, and don't worry."

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