THE WORLD PUBLISHING COMPANY CLEVELAND AND NEW YORK
Published by The World Publishing Company 2231 West 110th Street, Cleveland 2, Ohio
Published simultaneously in Canada by Nelson, Foster & Scott Ltd.
Copyright (C) 1962 by Andre Norton
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, except for brief passages included in a review appearing in a newspaper or magazine. Printed in the United States of America.
For HENDRY PEART and CARROLL COLLINS who share my interest in "The West."
Jacket painting by Peter Burchard
(front dusk jacket)
In 1866, only men uprooted by war had reason to ride into Tubacca, Arizona, a nondescript town as shattered and anonymous as the veterans drifting through it. So when Drew Rennie, newly discharged from Forrest's Confederate scouts, arrived leading everything he owned behind him—his thoroughbred stud Shiloh, a mare about to foal, and a mule—he knew his business would not be questioned. To anyone in Tubacca there could be only one extraordinary thing about Drew, and that he could not reveal: his name, Rennie.
Drew had come west from Kentucky to find a father he had thought dead until the year before. Kinship with a man like Hunt Rennie, however—the legendary Don Cazar, owner of a matchless range and prize stallions—was not a claim to be made quickly or lightly. Posing as Drew Kirby the young veteran contrived to get himself and his friend Anse hired as corral hands at Rennie's Range, but he was hardly prepared for the suspicion and danger which stood between him and his father. As hotheaded as his father, Drew was ready to move on to California—until the day all proof of his Rennie name was stolen from him, and his unwarranted arrest for horse-thieving brought on the accusations of the one man whose trust he needed.
Andre Norton's Ride Proud, Rebel! dramatically portrayed the last year of the Confederacy, when brave men like Drew Rennie met defeat with honor. In this sequel, Drew's struggle to establish his identity and begin life anew in a raw, unsettled land reflects the courage of thousands of rootless men set adrift by the Civil War.
BY ANDRE NORTON
The Defiant Agents Ride Proud, Rebel! Storm Over Warlock Galactic Derelict The Time Traders Star Born Yankee Privateer The Stars Are Ours!
EDITED BY ANDRE NORTON
Space Pioneers Space Service
Even the coming of an autumn dusk could not subdue the color of this land. Shadows here were not gray or black; they were violet and purple. The crumbling adobe walls were laced by strings of crimson peppers, vivid in the torch and lantern light. It had been this way for days, red and yellow, violet—colors he had hardly been aware existed back in the cool green, silver, gray-brown of Kentucky.
So this was Tubacca! The rider shifted his weight in the saddle and gazed about him with watchful interest. Back in '59 this had been a flourishing town, well on its way to prominence in the Southwest. The mines in the hills behind producing wealth, the fact that it was a watering place on two cross-country routes—the one from Tucson down into Sonora of Old Mexico, the other into California—had all fed its growth.
Then the war.... The withdrawal of the army, the invasion of Sibley's Confederate forces which had reached this far in the persons of Howard's Arizona Rangers—and most of all the raiding, vicious, deadly, and continual, by Apaches and outlaws—had blasted Tubacca. Now, in the fall of 1866, it was a third of what it had been, with a ragged fringe of dilapidated adobes crumbling back into the soil. Only this heart core was still alive in the dusk.
Smell, a myriad of smells, some to tickle a flat stomach, others to wrinkle the nose. Under the rider the big stud moved, tossed his head, drawing the young man's attention from the town back to his own immediate concerns. The animal he rode, the two he led were, at first glance, far more noticeable than the dusty rider himself.
His saddle was cinched about the barrel of a big gray colt, one that could not have been more than five years old but showed enough power and breeding to attract attention in any horse-conscious community. Here was a thoroughbred of the same blood which had pounded race tracks in Virginia and in Kentucky to best all comers. Even now, after weeks on the trail, with a day's burden of alkali dust grimed into his coat, the stud was a beautiful thing. And his match was the mare on the lead rope, plainly a lady of family, perhaps of the same line, since her coat was also silver. She crowded closer, nickered plaintively.
She was answered by an anxious bray from the fourth member of the party. The mule bearing the trail pack was in ludicrous contrast to his own aristocratic companions. His long head, with one entirely limp and flopping ear, was grotesquely ugly, the carcass beneath the pack a bone rack, all sharp angles and dusty hide. Looks, however, as his master could have proven, were deceiving.
"Soooo—" The rider's voice was husky from swallowing trail grit, but it was tuned to the soothing croon of a practiced horse trainer. "Sooo—lady, just a little farther now, girl...."
From the one-story building on the rider's right a man emerged. He paused to light a long Mexican cigarillo, and as he held the match to let the sulfur burn away, his eyes fell upon the stallion. A casual interest tightened into open appreciation as he stepped from under the porch-overhang into the street.
"That is some horse, sir." His voice was that of an educated gentleman. The lantern at the end of the porch picked out the fine ruffled linen of his shirt, a vest with a painted design of fighting cocks, and the wink of gold buttons. The rather extravagant color of his clothing matched well with the town.
"I think so." The answer was short and yet not discourteous.
Again the mare voiced her complaint, and the rider turned to the gentleman. "There is a livery stable here, suh?" Unconsciously he reverted in turn to the rather formal speech pattern of another place and time.
The man in the painted vest had transferred his attention from stallion to mare. "Yes. Quickest way is down this alley. Tobe Kells owns it. He's a tolerable vet, too. She's near her time, ain't she?"
"Yes." The rider raised one finger to the straight wide brim of his low-crowned black hat. He was already turning his mount when the townsman added:
"No hotel here, stranger. But the Four Jacks serves a pretty good meal and keeps a couple of beds for overnighters. You're welcome back when you've settled the little lady. She Virginia stock?"
"Kentucky," the rider answered, and then his lips tightened into a compressed line. Was it a mistake to admit even that much? He would have to watch every word he said in this town. He tugged gently at the lead rope and walked Shiloh ahead at a pace which did not urge Shadow to any great effort. The mule, Croaker, fell in behind her so that they were strung out in the familiar pattern which had been theirs clear from Texas.
Minutes later her owner was rubbing down the fretful Shadow, murmuring the soothing words to quiet her. The lean, gray-haired man who had ushered them into the stable stood eyeing the mare's distended sides.
"I'd say, young fellow, you didn't git her here a mite too soon, no, siree. She's due right quick. Carryin' a blood foal, I'm thinkin'—"
"Yes. How soon? Tonight?"
Tobe Kells made a quick examination. The mare, after a first nervous start, stood easy under his sure and gentle hands. "Late, maybe. First foal?"
"Yes." Her owner hesitated and then added, "You give me a hand with her?"
"You bet, son. She's a pretty thing, an' she's been a far piece, I'd say. Now you looky here, boy—you sure look like you could take some curryin' an' corn fodder under your belt too. You git over to th' Four Jacks. Topham's got him a Chinee cookin' there who serves up th' best danged grub in this here town. Fill up your belly an' take some ease. Then if we do have this little lady gittin' us up tonight, you'll be ready for it. I'll see t' th' stud an' th' mule. That colt's not a wild one." Kells surveyed Shiloh knowingly. "No, I seed he was gentle-trained when you come in." He ran his hand down Shiloh's shoulder, touched the brand. "Spur R? That ain't no outfit I heard tell of before."
"From Eastern ... Texas—" That much was true. All three animals had been given the brand in the small Texas town where the wagon train had assembled. And perhaps this was the time when he should begin building up the background one Drew Kirby must present to Tubacca, Arizona Territory. "All right, I'll go eat." He picked up his saddlebags. "You'll call me if——"
"Sure, son. Say, I don't rightly know your name...."
"Wal, sure, Kirby, Tobe Kells is a man o' his word. Iffen there's any reason to think you'll be needed, I'll send Callie along for you. Callie!"
At Kells' hail a boy swung down the loft ladder. He was wiry thin, with a thick mop of sun-bleached hair and a flashing grin. At the sight of Shiloh and Shadow he whistled.
"Now ain't they th' purtiest things?" he inquired of the stable at large. "'Bout th' best stock we've had here since th' last time Don Cazar brought in a couple o' hissen. Where'll I put your plunder, mister?" He was already loosing Croaker's pack. "You be stayin' over to th' Jacks?"
Drew glanced up at the haymow from which Callie had just descended. "Any reason why I can't bunk up there?" he asked Kells.
"None 'tall, Kirby, none 'tall. Know you want to be handy like. Stow that there gear up above, Callie, an' don't you drop nothin'. Rest yourself easy, son. These here hosses is goin' to be treated jus' like th' good stuff they is."
"Croaker, also." Drew stopped by the mule, patted the long nose, gave a flip to the limp ear. "He's good stuff, too—served in the cavalry...."
Kells studied the young man by the mule. Cavalry saddle on the stud, two Colt pistols belted high and butt forward, and that military cord on his hat—army boots, too. The liveryman knew the signs. This was not the first veteran to drift into Tubacca; he wouldn't be the last either. Seems like half of both them armies back east didn't want to go home an' sit down peaceful like now that they was through wi' shootin' at each other. No, siree, a right big herd o' 'em was trailin' out here. An' he thought he could put name to the color of coat this young'un had had on his back, too. Only askin' more than a man volunteered to tell, that warn't neither manners nor wise.
"He gits th' best, too, Kirby." Kells shifted a well-chewed tobacco cud from one cheek to the other.
He could trust Kells, Drew thought. A little of his concern over Shadow eased. He shouldered the saddlebags and made his way back down the alley, beginning to see the merit in the liveryman's suggestions. Food—and a bath! What he wouldn't give for a bath! Hay to sleep on was fine; he had had far worse beds during the past four years. But a hot bath to be followed by a meal which was not the jerky, corn meal, bitter coffee of trail cooking! His pace quickened into a trot but slackened again as he neared the Four Jacks and remembered all the precautions he must take in Tubacca.
In the big room of the cantina oil lamps made yellow pools of light. The man in the painted vest was seated at a table laying out cards in a complicated pattern of a solitaire game. And at one side a round-faced Mexican in ornate, south-of-the-border clothing held a guitar across one plump knee, now and then plucking absent-mindedly at a single string as he stared raptly into space. A third man stood behind the bar polishing thick glasses.
"Greetings!" As Drew stood blinking just within the doorway the card player rose. He was a tall, wide-shouldered man, a little too thin for his height. Deep lines in his clean-shaven face bracketed his wide mouth. His curly hair was a silvery blond, and he had dark, deeply set eyes. "I'm Reese Topham, owner of this oasis," he introduced himself.
"Drew Kirby." He must remember that always—he was Drew Kirby, a Texan schooled with kinfolk in Kentucky, who served in the war under Forrest and was now drifting west, as were countless other rootless Confederate veterans. Actually the story was close enough to the truth. And he had had months on the trail from San Antonio to Santa Fe, then on to Tucson, to study up on any small invented details. He was Drew Kirby, Texan, not Drew Rennie of Red Springs, Kentucky.
"For a man just off the trail, Kirby, the Four Jacks does have a few of the delights of civilization. A bath...." One of Topham's dark eyebrows, so in contrast to his silvery hair, slid up inquiringly, and he grinned at Drew's involuntary but emphatic nod. "One of nature's gifts to our fair city is the hot spring. Hamilcar!" His hand met table top in a sharp slap. The Mexican jerked fully awake and looked around. From the back of the cantina emerged a middle-aged Negro.
"Yes, Mistuh Reese, suh?"
"Customer for you, Hamilcar. I would judge he wants the full treatment. This, Mister Kirby, is the best barber, valet, and general aid to comfort in town, the sultan of our bath. Hamilcar, Mister Kirby would like to remove the layers of dust he has managed to pick up. Good luck to you both!"
Drew found himself laughing as he followed Hamilcar to the rear of the building.
Topham had reason to be proud of his bath, Drew admitted some time later. A natural hot spring might be the base of the luxury, but man's labor had piped the water into stone-slab tubs and provided soap and towels. To sit and soak was a delight he had forgotten. He shampooed his unkempt head vigorously and allowed himself to forget all worries, wallowing in the sheer joy of being really clean again.
Hamilcar had produced a clean shirt and drawers from the saddlebags, even managing to work up a shadow of shine on the scuffed cavalry boots, and had beat the worst of the trail dust from the rest of the traveler's clothing. Drew had re-dressed except for his gun belt when he heard a voice call from the next cubicle.
"Ham—Ham! You git yourself in here, 'fore I skin that black hide—"
"Johnny!" Topham's voice cut through the other's thickened slur. "You soak that rot-gut out of you, and mind your tongue while you do it!"
"Sure, sure, Reese—" The voice was pitched lower this time, but to Drew the tone was more mocking than conciliatory. Drunk or sober, that stranger did not hold very kindly thoughts of Topham. But that was none of the Kentuckian's business.
"Yore hat, suh." Hamilcar brought in the well-brushed headgear, much more respectable looking than it had been an hour ago. The cord on it glistened. Army issue—brave gold bullion—made for a general's wearing. Drew straightened it, remembering....
Sergeant Rennie of the Scouts, in from an independent foray into enemy-held Tennessee, reporting to the Old Man himself—General Bedford Forrest. And Forrest saying:
"We don't give medals, Sergeant. But I think a good soldier might just be granted a birthday present without any one gittin' too excited about how military that is." Then he had jerked the cord off his own hat and given it to Drew. It was something big to remember when you were only nineteen and had been soldiering three years, three years with a dogged army that refused to be beaten. That hat cord, the spurs on his boots, they were all he had brought home from war—save a tough body and a mind he hoped was as hard.
"Mighty pretty hat trimmin', that, suh," Hamilcar admired.
"Mighty big man wore it once." Drew was still half in the past. "What do I owe you more'n the thanks of a mighty tired man you've turned out brand new again?" He smiled and was suddenly all boy.
"Foah bits, suh. An' it was a pleasure to do fo' a gentleman. It truly was. Come agin, suh—come, agin!"
Drew went down the corridor, his spurs answering with a chiming ring each time his heels met planking. Worn at Chapultepec by a Mexican officer, they had been claimed as spoils of war in '47 by a Texas Ranger. And in '61 the Ranger's son, Anson Kirby, had jingled off in them to another war. Then Kirby had disappeared during that last scout in Tennessee, vanishing into nowhere when he fell wounded from the saddle, smashing into a bushwhackers' hideout.
On a Sunday in May of '65, back in Gainesville, when Forrest's men had finally accepted surrender and the deadness of defeat, a Union trooper had worn those spurs into church. And Boyd Barrett had sold his horse the same day to buy back those silver bits because he knew what they meant to his cousin Drew. Now here Drew was, half the continent away from Gainesville and Tennessee, wearing Anse's spurs and half of Anse's name—to find a father he had not known was still alive, until last year.
The Kentuckian was sure of only one thing right now, he was not going to enter a town or a stretch of country where Hunt Rennie was the big man, and claim to be Rennie's unknown son. Maybe later he could come to a decision about his action. But first he wanted to be sure. There might well be no place for a Drew Rennie in Hunt Rennie's present life. They were total strangers and perhaps it must be left that way.
There was no reason for him to claim the kinship. He was independent. Drew Kirby had a mule and two good horses, maybe three by tomorrow. Aunt Marianna had insisted that he accept part of the Mattock estate, even though his Kentucky grandfather had left him penniless. He'd made his choice without hesitation: the colt Shiloh, the mare Shadow, and she bred to Storm Cloud for what should be a prize foal. His aunt had made him take more—gold in his money belt, enough to give him a start in the west. He was his own man, not Rennie's son, unless he chose....
Two more lamps had been lighted in the cantina. Drew sat down at a table. There was a swish of full skirts, and he looked up at a girl. She smiled as if she liked what she saw of this brown-faced stranger with quiet, disciplined features and eyes older than his years.
"You like, senor ... tequila ... whiskee ... food?"
"Food, senorita. You see a most hungry man."
She laughed and then frowned anxiously. "Ah, but, senor, this is a time when the cupboard is, as you would say, bare! When the wagons come—then what a difference! Now, tortillas, frijoles, maybe some fruit ... sweet for the tongue, like wine in the throat. Perhaps an egg—"
"To me that is a feast." Drew fell into the formal speech which seemed natural here. "You see one who has done his own trail cooking too long."
"Ah—el pobrete—poor man! Surely there will be an egg!" She was gone and Drew began covertly to study the other men in the room.
In any western town the cantina, or saloon, was the meeting place for masculine society. Even if Hunt Rennie did not appear bodily in the Four Jacks tonight, Drew could pick up information about his father merely by keeping open ears. As far away as Santa Fe he had heard of Rennie's Range and Don Cazar (the name the Mexicans had given its owner, Hunt Rennie).
Escaped from a Mexican prison in 1847, believing his wife and the son he had never seen to be dead, Hunt Rennie had gone west. In contrast to the tragedy of his personal life, whatever Rennie had turned his hand to in the new territory had prospered. A prospector he had grub-staked, found the Oro Cruz, one of the richest mines in the Tubacca hills. Rennie owned two freighting lines, one carrying goods to California, the other up from Sonora. And his headquarters in the fertile Santa Cruz Valley was a ranch which was also a fort, a fort even the Apaches avoided after they had suffered two overwhelming defeats there.
That was Rennie's Range—cultivated fields, fruit orchards, manadas of fine horses. Don Cazar supplied Tucson and the army posts with vegetables and superb hams. He had organized a matchless company of Pima Indian Scouts after the army pulled out in '61, had fought Apaches, but had sided with neither Union nor Confederate forces. During the war years he had more or less withdrawn within the borders of the Range, offering refuge to settlers and miners fleeing Indian attacks. Don Cazar was a legend now, and a man did not quickly claim kinship with a legend.
"Want a room, Kirby?" Topham paused beside his table.
"No. I have to stay close to the mare."
"Yes. I can understand that. Kells is good with horses, so you needn't worry. Ever raced that colt of yours?"
"Not officially." Drew smiled. There was that lieutenant with the supply wagons. The man hadn't talked so loudly about Johnny Rebs after Shiloh showed his heels to the roan the soldiers had bragged up.
"This is a sporting town when the wagons come in, and they're due tomorrow. Johnny Shannon just rode in to report. Might be some racing. You aim to stay on in Tubacca?"
"Have to until Shadow can trail again. How's the prospect for a job?"
"Horses, I guess."
"Well, Don Cazar—Rennie—runs the best manadas. You might hit him for work. He'll be riding in to meet the wagons. Carmencita, did you bring all that was left of the supplies?" Topham's quizzical eyebrows lifted in greeting to the waitress's loaded tray. "I'd say, young man, that you are facing a full-time job now, getting all that inside of you."
Drew ate steadily, consuming eggs and beans, tortillas, and fruit. Topham joined three men at the next table, substantial town citizens, Drew judged. The owner of the cantina raised his glass.
"Gentlemen, I give you another successful trading trip!"
"Saw Johnny ride in," one of the men returned. "Kid seems to be settlin' down, ain't he? That ought to be good news for Rennie."
"One believes in reformations when they are proven by time, Senor Cahill," the man wearing rich but somber Spanish clothing replied.
"It sure must go hard with a man to have his son turn out a wild one," commented the third.
Drew's cup was at his lips, but he did not drink. Whose son? Rennie's?
"No son by blood, that much comfort Don Cazar has. But foster ties are also strong. And the boy is still very young—"
"A rattler with only one button on the tail carries as much poison as a ten-button one. Rennie ought to cut losses and give that kid the boot. The way he's going he could involve Hunt in a real mess," Cahill said.
"You are Don Cazar's good friend, Don Reese, his compadre of many years. Can you not do something?"
"Don Lorenzo, all men have blind spots. And Johnny Shannon is Rennie's. Bob Shannon helped free Hunt out of Mex prison in the war and was killed doing it. Soon as Hunt set up here he sent for the boy and tried to give him a father."
"It is a great pity he has no child of his own blood. I have seen him stand here in Tubacca giving toys and candy to the little ones. Yet he has only this wild one under his roof, and perhaps that Juanito will break his heart in the end...."
Drew put down his cup. It was very hard not to turn and ask questions. Dropping some coins on the table, he rose and started back to the stable, to the world of Shiloh and Shadow where he was unable to betray Drew Rennie. But there was so much Drew Kirby must learn—and soon!
Two lighted lanterns hung from pegs along the center of the stable, and Callie had mounted a barrel to put up a third as Drew entered. There were the soft peaceful sounds of horses crunching fodder, hoofs rustling in straw. Shadow turned her head and nickered as Drew came up to her box stall. She was answered by a blowing from Shiloh, a bray out of Croaker.
"It's all right, girl—pretty lady—" Drew fondled her mane, stroked the satin-smooth arch of neck. Callie dropped from his barrel perch.
"She sure is right purty, Mister Kirby. Mister Kells said as to tell you he's sleepin' on a cot in th' tack room over there, should you be needin' him." Callie pointed. "Me, I'm beddin' down in the last stall. I put your gear up right over here, so's you can hear if she gits to movin'—"
"Thanks." Drew felt in a pocket, tossed Callie the coin his fingers found.
The boy caught the piece, his eyes round as he looked at it. "Lordy! Thanks, Mister Kirby! You must be near as shiny as Don Cazar—or Mister Topham!"
Callie laughed. "Silver-shiny! Ain't too many men as goes round Tubacca throwin' out good money thataway. 'Less it's ringin' down on th' bar, or slidin' 'cross some table 'cause they found out as how they was holdin' Jacks against some other fella's Kings. You want anything—you jus' holler, Mister Kirby!"
"Mister?" Drew thought he did not have the advantage of Callie by more than four or five years.
"Oh—Captain Kirby, maybe? Or Lieutenant? Johnny Shannon—now he was a lieutenant with Howard's Rangers." Callie gave Drew a shrewd measuring look.
"Sergeant." Drew corrected automatically and then asked: "How did you know I'd been in the army?"
"Well, you wear them two shootin' irons army style, belted high an' butt to front. Must use a flip-hand draw as do all th' hoss soldiers. Listen, Mister Kirby, iffen you rode with th' Rebs, you better keep your lip buttoned up when th' Blue Bellies hit town. There's been a pile of fightin' an' folks is gittin' mad 'bout it—"
"Blue Bellies?" Drew was wrenched back months, a year, by that old army slang. "Union troops stationed here?" He had unconsciously tensed, his body responding nerve and muscle to past training and alarms. But there were no Yanks or Rebs any more, no riders or marchers in blue and gray—just United States troops.
"There's a garrison out to the Mesa camp. An' Cap'n Bayliss, he don't take kindly to Rebs. You see, it's this way.... Out in th' breaks there's a bunch of Rebs-leastways they claim as how they's Rebs—still holdin' out. They hit an' run, raidin' ranches an' mines; they held up a coach a while back. An' so far they've ridden rings round th' cap'n. Now he thinks as how any Reb blowin' in town could be one of 'em, comin' to sniff out some good pickin's. So anyone as can't explain hisself proper to th' cap'n gits locked up out at camp till he can—"
"Trifle highhanded, ain't he?"
"Well, th' cap'n's for law an' order, an' he's army. But folks ain't likin' it too much. So far he's been doin' it though."
Drew frowned. So even this far away from the scene of old battles the war still smoldered; the black bitterness of defeat was made harder by the victor. Drew's hand rubbed across the bulge beneath his shirt. In one pocket of the money belt were his papers, among them the parole written out in Gainesville which could prove he had ridden with General Forrest's command, far removed from any Arizona guerrilla force. But to produce that would change Drew Kirby to Drew Rennie, and that he did not want to do.
"I rode with General Forrest, attached to General Buford's Scouts," he said absently.
"General Forrest!" Callie glowed. "Lordy, Mister Kirby, that's sure somethin', it sure is! Only don't be sayin' that round Cap'n Bayliss neither. He has him a big hate for General Forrest—seems like Bayliss was a colonel once till th' General outsmarted him back east. An' there was a big smoke-up 'bout it. They cut th' cap'n's spurs for him, an' he ended th' war out here. Now he ain't no patient man; he's th' kind as uses his hooks hard when he's ridin'.
"You know, you sure can tell a lot 'bout a man when you give a look at his hoss after he's come off th' trail. That there Shiloh colt o' yours, an' this here lady hoss, an' that old mule ... anyone can see as how they's always been handled nice an' easy. They ain't got no spite 'gainst nobody as wants to rub 'em down an' give 'em a feed. But some hosses what git brung in here—they's white-eyed an' randy, does you give 'em a straight stare. For that there's always a reason. Mostly you can see what it is when you look good an' steady at th' men who was ridin' 'em!"
Drew laughed. "Glad I passed your test, Callie. Guess I'll turn in now. Been a long day travelin'—"
"Sure thing. An' from up there you can hear this little old mare, does she need you."
The Kentuckian's pack had been hoisted into the mow, and Callie had even humped up the fragrant hay to mattress his bedroll. A window was open to the night, and as Drew stretched out wearily, he could hear the distant tinkle of a guitar, perhaps from the Four Jacks. Somewhere a woman began to sing, and the liquid Spanish words lulled him asleep.
He roused suddenly, his hand flashing under his head before he returned to full consciousness, fingers tightening on the Colt he had placed there. Not the mare—no—rather the pound of running feet and then a cry....
"No, senor, no! No es verdad—it is not true! Teodoro, he meant no harm—!"
Drew scrambled to the window. Out in the alley below, three figures reeled in the circle of light afforded by the door lantern. The Kentuckian marked the upward swing of a quirt lash, saw a smaller shape fling up an arm in a vain attempt to ward off the blow. Another, the one who cried out, was belaboring the flogger with empty fists, and the voice was that of a girl!
To slide down the loft ladder was again nearer instinct than planned action. Shiloh snorted as Drew's boots rapped on the stable floor. The Kentuckian had no idea of the reason for that fight, but he ran out with the vague notion that an impartial referee was needed.
"You there—what's goin' on!" Sergeant Rennie came to life again in the snapped demand.
The one who fled the quirt came up against the side of the building almost shoulder to shoulder with Drew. And he was only a boy, about Callie's age, his black hair flopping over eyes wide with shock and fright. Drew's hand moved, and the lantern light glinted plainly on the barrel of the Colt. For a moment they were all still as if sight of the weapon had frozen them.
The attacker faced Drew directly. He was young and handsome, if you discounted a darkening bruise already puffing under one eye, a lip cut and swelling, a scowl twisting rather heavy brows and making an ugly square of his mistreated mouth.
"An' who th' devil are you?"
His voice was thick and slurred. Drew guessed that he had not only been in a fight but that he was partly drunk. Yet, as he faced the stranger eye to eye, the Kentuckian was as wary as he had been when bellying down a Tennessee ridge crest to scout a Yankee railroad blockhouse. He knew what he fronted; this was more than a drunken bully—a really dangerous man.
That queer little moment of silence lengthened, shutting the two of them up—alone. Drew could not really name the emotion he felt. Deliberately he tried to subdue the sensation as he turned to the girl.
"What's the matter?"
At first glance he might have thought her a boy, for she wore hide breeches and boots, a man's shirt now hanging loosely about her hips. She jerked her head, and a thick braid flopped from under her wide-brimmed hat.
"Senor, por favor—please—we have done no wrong. We are the Trinfans—Teodoro and me. Teodoro, he finds Senor Juanito's purse in the road, he follows to give it back. He is not a bandido—he is not espia, a spy one. We are mustangers. Ask of Don Reese, of Senor Kells. Why, Senor Juanito, do you say Teodoro spy on you, why you hit him with the whip?"
"Not thief, not spy!" The boy beside Drew dropped a wealed hand from his face. "The man who says Teodoro Trinfan is ladron—bad one—him I kill!"
Drew's left arm swept out across the boy's chest, pinning him back against the stable.
"Now, what's your story?" the Kentuckian asked the man he fronted.
"An' jus' what's all this smokin' 'bout?" Kells came out. "You, Shannon, what're you doin' here? Been drinkin' again, fightin', too, by th' look of you."
"Senor Kells." The girl caught at the older man's arm. "Por favor, senor, we are not thieves, not spies. We come after Senor Juanito because he dropped his purse. Then he see Teodoro coming, he not listen—he beat on him with quirt. You know, we are honest peoples!"
"Now then, Faquita, don't you git so upset, gal!" She was wailing aloud, making no effort to wipe away the tears running down her cheeks. "Johnny, what kinda game you tryin'? You know these kids are straight; them an' their ol' man's come to work th' Range for wild ones on Rennie's own askin'. Takin' a quirt to th' kid, eh?" Kells' voice slid up the scale. "You sure have yourself a snootful tonight! Now you jus' walk yourself outta here on th' bounce. I'm doin' th' sayin' of what goes on, on my own property."
"You do a lotta sayin', Kells." The scowl was gone; Shannon's battered mouth was actually smiling. But, Drew decided, he liked the scowl better than the smile and the tone of the voice accompanying it. "Some men oughtta put a hobble on their tongues. Sure, I know these young whelps an' their pa too. Sniffin' round where they ain't wanted. An' mustangers ain't above throwin' a sticky loop when they see a hoss worth it. We ain't blind on th' Range." His head swung a little so he was looking at the girl. "You'd better hold that in mind, gal. Double R hosses have come up missin' lately. It's easy to run a few prime head south to do some moonlight tradin' at th' border. An' we don't take kindly to losin' good stock!"
The boy lunged against Drew's pinioning arm. "Now he says we are horse thieves! Tell that to us before the Don Cazar!"
Shannon curled the quirt lash about his wrist. "Don't think I won't, Mex! He don't like havin' his colt crop whittled down. You—" Those blue eyes, brilliant, yet oddly shallow and curtained, met Drew's for the second time. "Don't know who you are, stranger, but you had no call to mix in. I'll be seein' you. Kinda free with a gun, leastwise at showin' it. As quick to back up your play?"
"Try me!" The words came out of Drew before he thought.
Why had he said that? He had never been one to pick a fight or take up a challenge. What was there about Shannon that prodded Drew this way? He'd met the gamecock breed before and had never known the need to bristle at their crowing. Now he was disturbed that Shannon could prick him so.
Odd, the other had been successfully turned from his purpose here. Yet now as he swung around and walked away down the alley Drew was left with a nagging doubt, a feeling that in some way or other Shannon had come off even in this encounter.... But how and why?
Teodoro spat. His sister tugged at Kells' sleeve. "It is not true what he said. Why does he wish to make trouble?"
"Lissen, gal, an' you, too, Teodoro—jus' keep clear of Johnny Shannon when he's on th' prod that way. I've knowed that kid since he didn't have muscle enough to pull a gun 'less he took both hands to th' job. But he's not needin' any two hands to unholster now. An' he's drinkin' a lot—mean, ugly drunk, he is. Somethin' must have riled him good tonight—"
"In the cantina there was a soldier from the camp," Faquita volunteered. "They call names. He and Senor Juanito fight. Don Reese, he put them both out in the street. Senor Juanito he falls, drops purse. Teodoro picks it up, and we follow. When we try to give it back Senor Juanito yell, 'spy,' hit with whip. That is the truth, por Dios, the truth!"
"Yeah, sounds jus' like Johnny these days. Him with a snootful an' somebody yellin' Reb and Yank. Some men can't forgit an' don't seem to want to. Johnny sure takes it hard bein' on th' losin' side—turned him dirt mean. Now, you kids, you stayin' in town?"
"Si." Faquita nodded vigorously. "With Tia Maria."
"Then you git there an' stay clear of Johnny Shannon, sabe? No more trouble."
"Si, Senor Kells. You, senor," she spoke to Drew, "to you we owe a big debt. Come, Teodoro!" She caught at her brother and pulled him away.
"What makes a kid go sour?" Kells asked of the shadows beyond rather than of Drew. "Johnny warn't no real trouble 'fore he skinned off to ride with Howard. Sure he was always a wild one, but no more'n a lotta kids. An' he'd answer th' lead rein. 'Course we don't know what happened to him in Texas after th' big retreat th' Rebs made outta here. Could be he larned a lot what was no good. Now he sops up whisky when he hits town an' picks fights, like he didn't git his belly full of that in th' war. You can't never tell how a kid's gonna turn out."
"Hey! Mister Kirby, you better git in here!" Callie hailed from the stable. "Th' mare ... she's...."
Drew jammed the Colt under his belt and ran.
The scent of hay, of grain, of horse.... Drew's head rolled on the pillow improvised from hay and blanket as sun lay hot across his face. He rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes and then came fully awake to remember the night before.
It took only a minute to get down the ladder into Shadow's stall where a broom tail jiggled up and down above absurdly long baby legs and small rounded haunches. Shadow's small daughter breakfasted. Callie squatted on his heels near-by watching the process benignly.
"Ain't she 'bout th' best-favored filly you ever saw?" he asked. "How come all your hosses is grays? Shiloh her pa?"
Drew shook his head. "No, her sire's Storm Cloud. But all that line are grays."
"This Storm Cloud, he's a runnin' hoss?"
"About the runnin'est horse in his part of the country, Callie. This filly ought to pick up her heels some, if she takes after her dam and sire."
"What you namin' her?"
Up to that moment Drew had not really thought about it. The crisp air blowing into the stable, carrying something beside the scents of the town, gave him a suggestion.
"How about Sage, Callie?"
The boy thought seriously and then nodded. "Yeah—Sage. That's gray an' it's purty, smells good, too."
Drew pulled up his shirt, dug into the pocket of the money belt for the horse papers. "Got a pencil—or better—pen and ink around here anywhere?"
"Mister Kells, he keeps ledgers over in th' tack room. Got some ink an' a pen there. How come you need that? You ain't makin' out no bill of sale on her already, are you?" Callie was shocked.
"Hardly. Just want to put her down right and proper on the tally sheet."
The boy followed to watch Drew make the record on the margin of Shadow's papers. As the Kentuckian explained, Callie was deeply interested.
"You mean as how you can tell way back jus' what hosses bred your hosses? That's sure somethin'! Round here we knows a good hoss, but we ain't always sure of his pa, not if he's wild stuff."
"Lots of wild horses hereabouts then?"
"Sure. Some're jus' mustangs; other's good stuff gone wild—run off by th' 'Paches an' broke loose, or got away from a 'wet hoss' band—"
"'Wet horse' band?"
Callie glanced at him a little sharply. "How come you ain't knowin' 'bout 'wet hosses'? Heard tell as how they have 'em that same trouble down Texas way—"
"But I don't come from the border country."
"Well, Texas sure is a great big piece o' country, so maybe you don't know 'bout them river tricks. Wet hosses—they's hosses what is run off up here, driven down to th' border where they's swapped for hosses what some Mex bandidos have thrown a sticky loop over. Then th' Mexes take them Anglo hosses south an' sell 'em, where their brands ain't gonna git nobody into noose trouble. An' th' stolen Mex hosses, they's drove up here an' maybe sold to some of th' same fellas what lost th' others. Hosses git themselves lost 'long them back-country trails, specially if they's pushed hard. So them strays join up with th' wild ones. Iffen a mustanger can rope him one an' bring it in ... well, if it's a good one, maybe so he'll git a reward from th' man what's lost him. Heard tell that Don Cazar, he's set some good rewards on a coupla studs as was run off th' Range this summer."
"Don Cazar has good horses?"
"'Bout th' best in these here parts. He runs 'em on th' Range th' old style—stud an' twenty—twenty-five mares together in a manada, all one color to a band. They sure is a grand sight: band o' roans, then one o' duns, an' some blacks. He's got one manada all of grullas. Sells some to th' army, drives more clear to Californy. An' th' old Dons down in Sonora come up once in a while to pick them out some fancy saddle stock. He sure would enjoy seem' these grays o' yours. Iffen you ever want to sell, Don Cazar'd give you top price."
"But I'm not sellin'." Drew folded the piece of paper he had been waving to dry the ink and put it back in the belt pocket. "What's that?"
He could almost believe he heard an army bugle, but the call it sounded was unlike any cavalry signal he had known. Callie was already on his way to the door.
"Wagon train's comin'!" he cried as he ran out.
Drew lingered by Shadow's box. The filly was resting in the straw, her match-stick legs folded under her, and the mare was munching the extra feed of oats the Kentuckian had tipped in for her. He could hear the sound of other running feet outside. It would seem that all Tubacca was turning out to welcome the wagon train of traders from the south. Drew's curiosity got the better of him. He went on out to the plaza.
Only a well-armed and convoyed set of wagons with a highly experienced and competent master could dare travel the Apache-infested trails these days. The first of the freighters, pulled by a sixteen-mule team, fairly burst into the plaza, outriders fanning about it. One of the mounted men was dressed in fringed buckskin, his shoulder-length hair and bushy black beard the badge of a frontier already passing swiftly into history. He rode a big black mule and carried a long-barreled rifle, not in the saddle boot, but resting across the horn as if even here in Tubacca there might be reason for instant action.
The mule trotted on to the middle of the plaza. Then the weapon pointed skyward as its owner fired into the air, voicing a whoop as wild as the Rebel Yell from the throat of a charging Texas trooper.
He was answered by cries and shouts from the gathering crowd as five more wagons, each with a trailer hooked to its main bulk, pulled in around the edge of the open area, until the center of the town was full and the din of braying mules was deafening.
Drew retreated to the roofed entrance of the Four Jacks. The extra step of height there enabled him to get a good look at two more horsemen pushing past the end wagon. Both wore the dress of Mexican gentlemen, their short jackets glinting with silver braid and embroidery; their bridles, horse gear, and saddles were rich in scrolls and decorations of the same metal. Navajo blankets lay under the saddles, and serapes were folded over the shoulder of one rider, tied behind the cantle of the other.
They pulled up before the cantina, and one man took the reins of both mounts. If the riders' clothing and horse furnishings were colorful, the horses themselves were equally striking. One was a chestnut, a warm, well-groomed red. But the other ... Drew stared. In all his years about the stables and breeding farms of Kentucky, and throughout his travels since, he had never seen a horse like this. Its coat was pure gold, a perfect match to one of the eagles in his money belt. But the silky locks of mane and tail were night black. Its breeding was plainly Arab, and it walked with a delicate pride as gracefully as a man might foot a dance measure.
Drew had a difficult time breaking his gaze from the horse to the man dismounting. The ranchero was tall, perhaps an inch or so taller than Drew, and his body had the leanness of the men who worked the range country, possessing, too, a lithe youthfulness of carriage. Until one looked directly into his sun-browned face he could pass as a man still in his late twenties.
But he was older, perhaps a decade older than that, Drew thought. Too high and prominent cheekbones with slight hollows below them, and a mouth tight set, made more for strength of will and discipline of feeling than conventional good looks. Yet his was a face not easily forgotten, once seen. Black hair was pepper-salted for a finger-wide space above his ears, which were fronted by long sideburns, and black brows were straight above dark eyes. In spite of his below-the-border dress and his coloring, he was unmistakably Anglo, just as the man looping both horses' reins to the rack was Mexican.
"So, you're still wearing your hair in good order? No trouble this trip?" Topham had come to the door of the cantina, his hand outstretched. "Welcome back, Hunt!"
"Paugh!" The Mexican spat. "Where is there one Indio who is able to face Don Cazar on his own ground? The folly of that they learned long ago."
Don Cazar smiled. That mask of aloofness was wiped away as if he were ten years younger and twenty years less responsible than he had been only seconds earlier. "And if they did not beware our rifles, Bartolome here would talk them to death! Is that not so, amigo?" His speech was oddly formal, as if he were using a language other than his own, but there was a warmth to the tone which matched that sudden and surprising smile.
Topham's arm went about the shoulders under the black-and-silver jacket, drawing Don Cazar into the light, music, and excitement of the cantina. While Drew watched, the stouter back of Bartolome cut off his first good look at his father.
So ... that was Don Cazar—Hunt Rennie! Drew did not know what he had expected of their first meeting. Now he could not understand why he felt so chilled and lost. He had planned it this way—no demands, no claims on a stranger, freedom to make the decision of when or how he would see his father; that was the only path he could take. But now he turned slowly away from that open door, the light, the laughter and singing, and walked back toward the stable, loneliness cutting into him.
Tubacca had slumbered apathetically before; now the town was wide awake. In a couple of days the wagon train would head on north to Tucson, but now the activity in the plaza was a mixture of market day and fiesta. Small traders from Sonora took advantage of the protection afforded by Don Cazar's outriders and had trailed along with their own products, now being spread out and hawked.
Parrots shrieked from homemade cages; brightly woven fabrics were draped to catch the eye. As he wandered about viewing cactus syrup, sweet, brown panocha-candy, fruit, dried meat, blankets, saddles, Drew was again aware of the almost strident color of this country. He fingered appreciatively a horn goblet carved with intricate figures of gods his Anglo eyes did not recognize. The hum of voices, the bray of mules, the baa-ing and naa-ing of sheep and goats, kept up a roar to equal surf on a seacoast. Afternoon was fast fading into evening, but Tubacca, aroused from the post-noon siesta, was in tumult.
A fighting cock tethered to a cart wheel stretched its neck to the utmost in an attempt to peck at Drew's spurs. He laughed, attracted, wrenched out of his own private world. The smell of spicy foods, of fruit, of animals and people ... the clamor ... the sights....
Drew rounded one end of a wagon and stepped abruptly into yet another world and time. All the stories which had been dinned warningly into his ears since he had left the Mississippi now brought his hand to one of the Colts at his belt. Most of the half-dozen men squatting on their heels about a fire were three-quarters bare, showing dusty, brown bodies. Two had dirty calico shirts loose above hide breech-clouts. Dark-brown eyes, as unreadable as Johnny Shannon's, surveyed Drew, but none of the Indians moved or spoke.
Common sense took over, and Drew's hand dropped from the gun butt. Hostiles would not be camping peacefully here in the heart of town. He could not be facing wild Apaches or Navajos. But they were the first Indians he had seen this close since he had ridden out of Texas.
"Somethin' buggin' you, boy?"
Drew's war-trained muscles took over. He was in a half crouch, the Colt flipped over and out, pointing into the shadows where the newcomer emerged. Then the Kentuckian flushed and slammed his weapon back into the holster. This was the buckskinned man who had whooped the train into town that morning.
"Mite quick to show your iron, ain't you?" There was a chill in the question, and Drew saw that the long rifle was still held at alert by its owner.
"Cat-footin' up on a man ought to make you expect somethin' of a reception," Drew countered.
"Yep, guess some men has sure got 'em a bellyful of lead doin' that." To Drew's surprise the other was now grinning. "You huntin' someone?"
"No, just lookin' around." Drew longed to ask some things himself, but hesitated. Frontier etiquette was different from Kentucky custom; it was safer to be quiet when not sure.
"Wal, thar's aplenty to see tonight, right enough. Me—I'm Crow Fenner; I ride scout fur th' train. An' these here—they're Rennie's Pimas, what o' 'em is runnin' th' trail this trip."
So these were the famous Pima Scouts! No wonder they took their ease in the Tubacca plaza. Every man, woman, and child in those adobe buildings had reason to be thankful for their skill and cunning—the web of protection Rennie's Pima Scouts had woven in this river valley.
"I'm Kirby, Drew Kirby." He hastened to match one introduction with another. "This is my first time in the valley—"
"From th' east, eh?"
"Texas...." Something in the way Fenner repeated that made it sound not like a confirmation but a question. Or was Drew overly suspicious? After all, as Callie had agreed last night, the late Republic of Texas was a very large strip of country, housing a multitude of native sons, from the planting families of the Brazos to the ranchers in crude cabins of the Brasado. There were Texans and Texans, differing greatly in speech, manners, and background. And one did not ask intimate questions of a man riding west of the Pecos. Too often he might have come hunting a district where there was a longer distance between sheriffs. What a man volunteered about his past was accepted as the truth.
"Rode a far piece then," Fenner commented. "Me, I've been trailin' round this here country since th' moon was two-bit size. An' I ain't set my moccasins on all o' it yet. Thar's parts maybe even an Injun ain't seed neither. You jus' outta th' army, son?"
Drew nodded. Apparently he could not escape that part of his past, and there was no reason to deny it.
"Iffen you be huntin' a job—Don Cazar, he's always ready to hire on wagon guards. Any young feller what knows how to handle a gun, he's welcome—"
"Can't leave Tubacca, at least for now. Have me a mare over in the livery that just foaled. I'm not movin' until she's ready to travel—"
"Must be right good stock," Fenner observed. "Me, I has me a ridin' mule as kin smell Apaches two miles off. Two, three times that thar mule saved m' skin fur me. Got Old Tar when he turned up in a wild-hoss corral th' mustangers set over in th' Red River country—"
"I saw him when you rode into town. Good-lookin' animal."
Crow Fenner nodded vigorously. "Shore is, shore is. Don Cazar, he's partial to good stock—favors Tar, too. Th' Don has him a high-steppin' hoss every hoss thief in this here territory'd like to run off. Bright yaller—"
"Saw that one, too. Unusual colorin' all right."
"He put a white stud—white as milk—to run with some light buckskin mares back 'fore th' war. First colt out of that thar breedin' was that Oro hoss. Never got 'nother like him; he's special. Shows his heels good, too. They's gonna race him out on th' flats tomorrow if anyone is fool 'nough to say as he has a hoss as can beat Oro. Thar's always some greenhorn as thinks he has—"
"Oh?" Drew wondered aloud. The black-and-gold horse was beautiful and plainly of good breeding. That he was also a runner was not out of the question. But that Oro could best Gray Eagle-Ariel stock on the track, Drew doubted. There were unbroken records set on eastern tracks by horses in Shiloh's direct blood line. And the local talent that had been matched against Oro in the past had probably not been much competition. The Kentuckian began to speculate about a match between the gray stallion and the horse foaled on the Arizona range.
"Yep, we'll see some race, does anyone turn up with a hoss t' match Oro."
One of the shirted Indians rose to his feet. With rifle sloped over forearm, he padded into the dark. Fenner's relaxed posture tensed into alert readiness. His head turned, his attitude now one of listening concentration. Drew strained to see or hear what lay beyond. But the noise from the plaza and torchlight made a barrier for eye and ear.
Fenner's rifle barrel dropped an inch or so; he stood easy again. Drew heard a jingle of metal, the creak of saddle leather, the pound of shod hoofs.
"Soldiers!" Fenner sniffed. "Wonder what they's doin', hittin' town now. Wal, that ain't no hair off m' skull. Me, I'm gonna git Tar his treat. Promised him some time back he could have a bait o' oats—oats an' salt, an' jus' a smidgen o' corn cake. That thar mule likes t' favor his stomach. Kells, he ought t' have them vittles put together right 'bout now. This mare o' yourn what's so special, young feller.... Me, I'd like t' see a hoss what's got to be took care of like she was a bang-up lady!"
He put two fingers to his lips and whistled. A mule head, attached to a rangy mule body, weaved forward to follow dog-at-heel fashion behind the scout.
A squad of blue coats was riding in—an officer and six men. They threaded their way to the cantina where the officer dismounted and went inside. The troopers continued to sit their saddles and regard the scene about them wistfully.
"Looks like a duty patrol," Fenner remarked. "Maybe Cap'n Bayliss. He's gittin' some biggety idear as how it's up t' him t' police this here town. Does he start t' crow too loud, Don Cazar or Reese Topham'll cut his spurs. Maybe he sets up th' war shield an' does th' shoutin' back thar in front o' all them soldier boys. In this town he ain't no gold-lace general!"
"Troops and the town not friendly?" Drew asked.
"Th' soldiers—they ain't no trouble. Some o' 'em have their heads screwed on straight an' know what they's doin' or tryin' t' do. But a lot o' them officers now—they come out here wi' biggety idears 'bout how t' handle Injuns, thinkin' they knows all thar's t' be knowed 'bout fightin'—an' them never facin' up to a Comanche in war paint, let alone huntin' 'Paches. 'Paches, they know this here country like it was part o' their own bodies—can say 'Howdy-an'-how's-all-th'-folks, bub?' t' every lizard an' snake in th' rocks. Ain't no army gonna pull 'em out an' make 'em fight white-man style.
"Don Cazar—he goes huntin' 'em when they've come botherin' him an' does it right. But he knows you think Injun, you live Injun, you eat Injun, you smell Injun when you do. They don't leave no more trail than an ant steppin' high, 'less they want you should foller them into a nice ambush as they has all figgered out. Put Greyfeather an' his Pimas on 'em an' then leg it till your belly's near meetin' your backbone an' you is all one big tired ache. Iffen you kin drink sand an' keep on footin' it over red-hot rocks when you is nigh t' a bag o' bones, then maybe—jus' maybe—you kin jump an Apache. Comanches, now, an' Cheyenne an' Kiowa an' Sioux ride out to storm at you—guns an' arrows all shootin'—wantin' to count coup on a man by hittin' him personal. But th' 'Pache ain't wastin' hisself that way. Nope—git behind a rock an' ambush ... put th' whole hell-fired country t' work fur them. That's how th' 'Pache does his fightin'. An' th' spit-an'-polish officers what come from eastward—they's got t' larn that. Only sometimes they ain't good at larnin', an' then they gits larned—good an' proper. Hey, Kells!"
They were at the stable and Fenner lifted a hand, palm out, in greeting to the liveryman. "Here's Ole Tar wantin' his special grub—"
Drew went on to Shiloh's stall. Reese Topham, the Spaniard Don Lorenzo who had been in the cantina last night, the stout Mexican Bartolome, and Don Cazar himself were all there before him.
"Here he is now." Reese Topham waved a hand at Drew. "This is Mister Kirby, from Texas."
"You have a fine horse there, Kirby—the mare, too. Eastern stock, I would judge, perhaps Kentucky breeding?" Rennie asked.
Drew was taut inside. To say the wrong thing, to admit the line of that breeding, might be a bad slip. Yet he could only evade, not lie directly.
"Yes, Kentucky." He answered the first words his father had ever addressed to him.
"And the line?"
To be too evasive would invite suspicion. However, the Gray Eagle get was in more than one Kentucky stable.
"Eclipse...." Drew set back the pedigree several equine generations. Shiloh tossed his head, looked over his shoulder at Drew, who entered the stall and began quieting the stallion with hands drawn gently over the back and up the arch of the neck.
"The mare also?" Don Cazar continued.
"Yes." The Kentuckian's answer sounded curt in his own ears, but he could not help it.
"This Eclipse, amigo," Don Lorenzo turned to Rennie for enlightenment—"he was a notable horse?"
"Si, of the Messenger line. But a gray of that breeding—" Don Cazar's forefinger ran nail point along his lower lip. "Ariel blood, perhaps?"
Drew busied himself adjusting Shiloh's hackamore. This was getting close. Hunt Rennie had lived in Kentucky over a year once. He had visited Red Springs many times before he had dared to court Alexander Mattock's daughter and been forbidden the place. His visits to the stable must have familiarized him with the Gray Eagle-Ariel strain bred there. On the other hand, horses of the same combination were the pride of several other families living around Lexington.
"A racing line of high blood," Don Lorenzo said thoughtfully. "Si, this one has the pride, the appearance. You have raced him, senor?" he asked Drew with formal courtesy.
"Not on any real track, senor. During the war there were no races."
"He wasn't a cavalry mount?" Don Cazar looked surprised.
"No, suh. Too young for that. He was foaled on April sixth in sixty-two. That's why they called him Shiloh."
There was a moment of silence, broken by a hail from the door.
Drew saw the involuntary spasm of Don Cazar's lips, the shadow of an expression which might mean he anticipated a distasteful scene to come. But the quirk disappeared as he turned to face the man in the blue uniform.
"Captain Bayliss." It was acknowledgment rather than a greeting, delivered in a cool tone.
"I want to see you, Rennie!" The officer stamped forward a step or so, to stand in the full light of the first lantern. He was of medium height, and his blue blouse had been cut by a good tailor, though now it was worn. He was a good-looking man, though jowly about the mouth, above which a closely cropped mustache bristled. His color was high under a pink skin which in this hot country must burn painfully. And there was the permanent stamp of uncertain temper in the lines about his prominent eyes.
"So, you see me, Bayliss," Don Cazar returned evenly. "There is some trouble?"
Bartolome shifted from one foot to the other, his spurs ringing. Don Lorenzo's expression was one of withdrawal, but on the round countenance of the Mexican was open dislike.
The sun-reddened skin flushed darker. "All right, Rennie!" the captain exploded. "If you want it straight, that's the way you're going to get it! You've been hiring Rebs again!"
Once before Drew had seen explosive anger curbed visibly by a man who knew the folly of losing control over his emotions. It had been on a hilltop back in Tennessee, with the storm clouds of January overhead. General Bedford Forrest, watching men driven to the limit by necessity and his own orders, had looked just that way when he had rounded on Drew, bearing news of yet another break-through by the Federals. Now it was this Anglo wearing Spanish dress and standing in a dim stable, reining temper to meet the open hostility of the captain.
"Captain Bayliss." The words sounded as remote as if the speaker bestrode some peak of the Chiricahuas to address a pygmy in a canyon below. "I know of no law which states that I may not employ whom I choose on my own land. If a man does his job and makes no trouble, his past does not matter. I am as ready to fire a former Union soldier as I am a Confederate—"
"I tell you again: I'm not going to have Rebs around here passing on information to Kitchell!"
"And I say once again, Captain, that men who ride for me do not in addition ride for Kitchell."
"Si—!" Bartolome's face was as flushed as Bayliss' now. "We do not help those bandidos. Do they not also raid us? Two weeks ago Francisco Perez, his horse comes in with blood on the saddle. We ride out and find him—shot, dragged with the rope. That is not Apache trick, that, but the work of Kitchell and his snakes!"
"Peace, amigo." Don Cazar's raised finger silenced his man. "Bartolome is right, Bayliss. Kitchell is beginning to nibble at the Range. He has not many sources of supply left. Soon he will either have to cross the border to stay or make some reckless raid which will give us a chance at him."
"These damned Rebs around here will keep him going! You can't tell me they don't back him every chance they get. And I'm warning you, Rennie, if you hire any man you can't answer for, he's going to the stockade and you'll hear about it from the army!"
"And you also listen, Captain. I will not be dictated to, and the army had best understand that. I do not want Kitchell in this country any more than you do. He has made a boast of being Confederate leading what he terms Mounted Irregulars. But to my knowledge he never held a commission from the South, and he is nothing but an outlaw trading on the unsettled state of the territory. That is recognized by every decent man in Arizona. And that covers those you call 'Rebels' as well as former Union men."
Bayliss was silent for a long second, and then he jerked his hat farther down on his peeling forehead. "You've had notice, Rennie, that's all I have to say. I'm going to clear all the Rebs out of this section. Then we will be able to get at Kitchell, and the army will settle him for good and all!"
"Bayliss!" The captain had half turned, but Don Cazar's call halted him. "Don't you try harassing any of my riders. They mind their business and will not make any trouble as long as they are left in peace. If there are any problems in town, Don Lorenzo Sierra, here, is the alcalde and they must be referred to him."
The captain favored Rennie with a last glare and was gone. Tobe Kells spoke first.
"That one's chewin' th' bit an' gittin' ready to hump under th' saddle. This business of tryin' to run out th' Rebs, it'll cause smokin'!"
"He has no right to give such an order," Don Cazar was beginning when the alcalde interrupted:
"Compadre, for a man such as that your talk of rights means nothing. He is eaten by the need to impress his will here, and that will bring trouble. I do not like what I have heard, no, I do not like it at all."
"You know what may be really eating at him this time, Hunt?" Topham spoke from where he was leaning against the wall of Shadow's box stall. "Johnny was throwing his weight around again last night. Had a set-to in the Jacks with a trooper. Unless the kid quits trying to fight the war over again every time he sees an army blouse—or until he stops pouring whisky down him every time he hits town—there may be shooting trouble. There're some equal hot-heads in Bayliss' camp, and if Johnny goes up against one of them, a scuffle could become a battle."
"Yeah, an' that warn't all Johnny was doin' last night." Kells shifted his tobacco cud from one cheek to the other. "Iffen Kirby here hadn't been to hand, Johnny would have skinned th' Trinfan kid with his quirt—jus' 'cause he dropped his purse outside th' Jacks an' th' kid followed him to give it back. Johnny's meaner than a drunk Injun these days. That's Bible-swear truth, Rennie."
"To lose a war makes a man bitter," Don Cazar said slowly. "Johnny was far too young when he ran away to join Howard. And after that defeat at Glorieta, the retreat to Texas was pure hell with the fires roaring. It seems to have done something to the boy—inside."
"Johnny wasn't the only boy at Glorieta. From what I've heard most of them weren't old enough to grow a good whisker crop." Topham's voice had lost its detached note. "And he sure wasn't the only Confederate to surrender. Hunt, he's got to learn that losing a war doesn't mean that a man has lost the rest of his life. But the way he's been acting these past months, Johnny might just lose it. Bayliss' tongue is hanging out a yard or more he's panting so hard to get back at you. That captain has heady ambitions under his hat, maybe like setting up here as a tinpot governor or something like. If he can discredit you, well, he probably thinks he's got a chance to rake in the full pot, and it's a big one. Get Johnny back on the Range, Hunt—put him to work, hard. Sweat that sour temper and whisky out of him. He used to be a promising youngster; now he's turning bronco fast. All he seems to have learned in the war is how to use those guns of his to lord it over anyone he believes he can push around. And someday he'll try to push the wrong man—"
Don Cazar was staring ahead of him now at Drew and Shiloh. But Drew knew that Hunt Rennie was not seeing either man or horse, but a mental picture which was not too pleasing.
"He's just a boy." Rennie did not utter that as an excuse; rather he said it as if to reassure himself. Then his eyes really focused on Drew, and he changed the subject abruptly.
"Kirby, when the train comes in we sometimes set up a race or two. Any thought of trying your colt against some of the local champions?"
"Oro perhaps?" Drew counter-questioned.
Rennie laughed. "Oh, so you've been talking, Fenner?"
The scout came away from where Tar was still very audibly munching his treat. "Didn't know as how th' younker had him a runnin' hoss, Don Cazar." He inspected Shiloh critically. "But that thar sure looks a lotta hoss. 'Course maybe he ain't used t' runnin' out here whar th' ground ain't made all nice an' easy fur his feet. But I dunno, I dunno at all."
"Anyway he'll give Oro stiffer competition than he's had in the last two races. Unless that Lieutenant Spath up at the camp tries again with that long-legged black of his," Topham added. "What about it, Kirby? You willing to match Shiloh?"
"He's green, but, yes, I'll do it."
Drew's motives were mixed. His pride in the colt had been pushing him toward such a trial ever since he had heard Fenner speak of Oro. In addition, as the owner of a noted horse, he would take a place in this community, establish his identity as Drew Kirby. And in some way he could not define, this put him, at least in his own mind, on an equal footing with Don Cazar.
But by the next morning a few doubts troubled him as he tightened saddle cinches on the stallion. Shiloh's only races so far had been impromptu matches along the trail. Though the colt had been consistently the victor, none of his rivals had been in his class. And if Oro's speed was as striking as his coloring, the Range stud would prove a formidable opponent.
"Walk him up and down here by the corral." The Kentuckian handed the reins to Callie. "Got something I have to do."
Drew went directly to the Four Jacks. This time the cantina was filled, with a double row of the thirsty demanding attention at the bar. But Topham was seated at a table with Don Lorenzo and Zack Cahill of the stage line. The Kentuckian went over to them.
"You have come to back your horse, senor?" Don Lorenzo smiled up at Drew. There were piles of coins on the table as Cahill listed bets for the men crowding around.
"Yes, suh." Drew spun down two double eagles. "What're the odds?"
"Started six to one for Oro," Topham told him. "Coasted down after a few of the boys had a look at Shiloh. Can give you four to one now. Anything else we can do for you?"
Drew dropped his voice. "Do you have a safe here?"
Topham's eyebrows climbed. "Do you foresee a deposit or a withdrawal?"
"Deposit. I want to ride light today."
"Then I'll admit possession of a safe, such as it is. Don Lorenzo, por favor, will you act as banker?" He beckoned Drew after him into a small back room which was in sharp contrast to the main part of the Four Jacks.
On one wall was a fanned display of old daggers and swords which dated a century or so back to the Spanish colonial days. A bookcase crammed with tightly squeezed volumes provided a resting place for pieces of native pottery bearing grotesque animal designs. On the far wall were strips of brightly colored woven materials flanking a huge closed cupboard, a very old one, Drew thought. Its paneled front was carved with deeply incised patterns centering about a shield bearing arms. Only the battered desk and an attendant chair with a laced rawhide seat were of the frontier.
Topham took a chained key from the pocket of his fancy vest and went to fit it into a lock concealed in the carved foliage of the cupboard. The shield split down the middle, revealing shelves of metal boxes and packets of papers. Drew unfastened his money belt and handed it over. As he was tucking his shirt in his belt once more the gambler nodded at the cupboard.
"This is about as near a bank as we boast in Tubacca. Cahill has a strongbox at the stage station, and Stein some kind of a lockup at his store—that's the total for the town. We haven't grown to the size for a real banking establishment—"
"Hey, Reese, th' Old Man about—?"
Shannon was in the doorway. In the full light of day he looked younger. Drew was puzzled. That strange animosity which had flashed between them last night—why had he felt it? There was nothing like that emotion now. But as Johnny Shannon's gaze flitted from Topham to the Kentuckian, Drew was once more aware that, whatever he might outwardly seem, Johnny Shannon was no boy. Behind that disarmingly youthful facade was another person altogether.
"Kirby, ain't it?" Shannon smiled. "Understand I got outta line th' other night ... stepped on a lotta toes." That gaze flickered for the merest instant to the Colts at the Kentuckian's belt. "I sure had me a real snootful an' I guess I was jus' fightin' th' war all over again. No hard feelin's?"
That guileless confession was very convincing on the surface. How did you assess an emotion you did not understand yourself? Drew was teased by a fleeting memory of the past, of a time when he had faced another pair of eyes such as those, surface eyes behind which you could see nothing. Then he became conscious that the pause was too lengthy, and he replied with a hurry he immediately regretted:
"No hard feelin's."
This time he was able to recognize the meaning of that quirk of Shannon's lips. But prudence controlled the small flare of temper he felt inside him. It did not really matter. Let Shannon think he was backing down. If the time ever came that they did have to have a showdown, Johnny Shannon might be the surprised one.
"You're sure a trustin' fella." Shannon's fingers hooked to the front of the gun belt riding low on the hip. "Not askin' for no receipt or nothin'...."
Topham laughed. "We don't forget what is due a customer, Johnny." He went to the desk, scribbled a line on a piece of paper, and held it out to Drew. "This should meet all contingencies, such as some patron out there getting downright ornery and putting a couple of extra buttonholes in my vest by the six-gun slug method."
"Heard tell as how you're fixin' to race your plug 'gainst Oro, Kirby," Johnny drawled. "Also as how you laid down some good round boys to back his chance. I took me a piece of them—easy pickin's." The sneer was plainer in his voice than it had been in his smile.
Drew's puzzlement grew. Why was Shannon leaning on him this way? Because he had stepped in to stop the quirting of Teodoro? That was the only reason the Kentuckian could think of.
"That's a matter of opinion." Topham was studying them both with interest. "I'd say Oro has him some real competition at last. None of the Eclipse blood was ever backward on the track."
"You ridin' yourself?" Shannon paid no attention to the gambler's comment.
Drew nodded. "He knows me, and I ride light—"
"Sure, I suppose you do—now." Shannon's eyes flickered again, this time to the locked cupboard. "Heard tell—leastways Callie's been spoutin' it around—that you was with General Forrest."
"You sure musta pulled outta th' war better'n th' rest of us poor Rebs. Got you a couple of blooded hosses an' a good heavy money belt. A sight more luck than th' rest of us had—"
"Don't include yourself in the empty-pocket brigade, Johnny," Topham rapped out. "I don't see you going without eating money, drinking money either, more's a pity. And if you're really looking for Rennie now, you'll find him down at the course."
Shannon's smile was gone. He straightened away from the door frame which had been supporting his shoulders. "Thanks a lot, Reese." He left with the same abruptness as he had from the stable alley.
"So you're riding yourself." Topham ignored the departure. "Leon Rivas, Bartolome's son, will be up on Oro; he always rides for Rennie. He's younger than you, but I'd say"—the gambler studied Drew's lithe body critically—"you're about matched in weight. I'd shuck that gun belt, though, and anything else you can. And good luck, Kirby. You'll need all of it you can muster."
An hour later Drew followed Topham's advice, leaving gun belt, carbine, and everything else he could unload in Callie's keeping before he swung up on Shiloh. The big colt was nervous, tending to dance sideways, tossing his head high. Drew concentrated on the business at hand, striving to forget the crowd opening up to let him through, shouting encouragement or disparagement. Ahead was the appointed track, a beaten stretch of earth, part of the old road leading to the mines. The Kentuckian talked to Shiloh as they went, keeping up a stream of words to firm the bond between horse and rider.
There was a knot of men surrounding the golden horse, and as his rider mounted, Oro put on a good show, rearing to paw the air with his forefeet as if he wished nothing better than to meet his gray rival in an impromptu boxing match. Then he nodded his head vigorously, acknowledging the shouts from his enthusiastic supporters. Beside that magnificent blaze of color Shiloh was drab, a shadow about to be put to flight by the sun.
They were to break at a starting shot, head to the big tree which made an excellent landmark in the flat valley, rounding its patch of shade before returning to the starting point. Drew brought Shiloh, still prancing and playing with his bit, up beside Oro. The slim boy on the golden horse shot the Kentuckian a shoulder-side look and grinned, raising his quirt in salute as Drew nodded and smiled back.
Some of the noise died. Don Lorenzo pointed a pistol skyward. Drew strove to make his body one with Shiloh's small easy movements. The big gray knew very well what was in progress, was tensing now for a swift getaway leap. And he made it on the crack of the gun.
But if Shiloh had easily outdistanced all opposition before on those improvised tracks, he was now meeting a far more equal race. The gray colt's stride was effortless, he was pounding out with power—more than Drew had ever known him to exert. Yet those golden legs matched his pace, reach for reach, hoofbeat for hoofbeat.
"Come on, boy!" Drew's urging was lost in the wild shouting of the spectators. Some who were mounted were trying to parallel the runners. But Shiloh responded to his rider's encouragement even if he could not hear or understand. Drew would never use quirt or spur on the stud. What Shiloh had to give must come willingly and because he delighted in the giving.
They swept in and around the shade of the tree, made the arc to return. That golden head with its tossing crown of black forelock; it was slipping back! Oro was no longer nose to nose with Shiloh, rather now nose to neck. Drew could hear Rivas' voice encouraging, pleading....
A mass of men, mounted and on foot, funneled the runners down to where the line of rope lay straight to mark the finish. Oro was creeping up once more, inch by hard-won inch.
Drew's head went up, his throat was rasped raw by the Yell which had taken desperate gray-coated troopers down hedge-bordered roads in Kentucky and steep ravines in Tennessee, sending them, if need be, straight into the mouths of Yankee field guns. And the Yell brought Shiloh home, only a nose ahead of his rival—as if he had been spurred by the now outlawed war cry. Then Drew found he had his hands full trying to pull up the colt and persuade him that the race was indeed over.
A black mule came up beside Drew as he slowly pulled Shiloh down to a canter. Fenner, a wide grin splitting his beard, bellowed:
"That shore was a race! Need any help, son?"
Drew shook his head, wanting to bring Shiloh under full control at a rate which would quiet the colt before they headed back to the furor about the finish line. And only now did he have time to relish his own excited pride and pleasure.
Since he had first seen Shiloh on that scouting trip back to Kentucky in '64, he had known he must someday own the gray colt. He had lain out in the brush for a long time that morning to watch the head groom of Red Springs put the horse through his paces in the training paddock. And watching jealously, Drew had realized that Shiloh was one of those mounts that a man discovers only once in his life-time, though he may breed and love their kind all his years.
Drew would have been content with Shiloh as a mount and a companion, but now he was sure that the colt was more, so much more. This gray was going to be one of the Great Ones, a racer and a sire—to leave his mark in horse history and stamp his own quality on foals throughout miles and years in this southwestern land. Drew licked the grit of dust from his lips, filled his lungs with a deep breath as Shiloh turned under rein pressure.
It was a long time before the Kentuckian was able to separate Shiloh from his ring of new admirers and bring him back to the stable. Drew refused several offers for the colt, some of them so fantastic he could only believe their makers sun-touched or completely carried away by the excitement of the race.
But when he found Don Cazar waiting for him at Kells', he guessed that this was serious.
"You do not wish to sell him, I suppose?" Hunt Rennie smiled at Drew's prompt shake of head. "No, that would be too much to hope for, you are not a fool. But I have something else to suggest. Reese Topham tells me you are looking for work, preferably with horses. Well, I have a contract to gentle some remounts for the army, and I need some experienced men to help break them—"
Drew could not understand the sudden pinch of—could it be alarm? Here it was: a chance to work on the Range, to know Hunt Rennie, and learn whether Don Cazar was to remain a legend or become a father. But now he was not sure.
"I'm no breaker, suh. I've gentled, yes—but eastern style."
"Breaking horses can be brutal, though we don't ride with red spurs on the Range. Suppose we try some of the eastern methods and see how they work on our wild ones. Do you think you can do it?"
"A man can't tell what he can do until he tries." Drew still hedged.
There was a trace of frown now between Rennie's brows. "You told Topham you wanted work." His tone implied that he found Drew's present hesitancy odd. And—from Don Cazar's point of view—it was. Tubacca was still in a slump; the rest of the valley held about as many jobs for a man as Drew had fingers on one hand. The Range was the big holding, and to ride there meant security and an established position in the community. Also, perhaps it was not an offer lightly made to an unknown newcomer.
"I can't promise you blue-grass training, suh. That has to begin with a foal." He hoped Rennie would credit his wavering to a modest appraisal of his own qualifications.
As his father repeated the expression Drew realized the slip of tongue he had made. And if he took the job, there might be other slips, perhaps far more serious ones. But to refuse, after Topham had spoken for him ... he was caught in a pinch with cause for suspicion closing in on either side.
"I was in Kentucky for about a year after the war. I went to stay with a friend—"
"But you are from Texas?"
Was Rennie watching him too intently? No, he must ride a tighter rein on his imagination. There was no reason in the wide world why Don Cazar should expect him to be anyone except Drew Kirby.
"Yes, suh. Didn't have anythin' to go back to there. Thought I'd try for a new start out here." There was the story of several thousand veterans. Rennie should have heard it a good many times already.
"Well, come and try some blue-grass training on our colts. And should you let this stud of yours run with a picked manada of mares, I could promise good fees."
"Suppose I said yes if the fees were some of the foals—of my own choosing, suh?" Drew asked.
Rennie ran a finger across the brand which scarred the gray's hide. "Spur R—that's a new one to me."
"My own. Heard tell as how there's a custom of the country that a slick this old can be branded and claimed by anyone bringing him in. I wasn't going to lose him that way should he do any straying, accidental or intentional."
Don Cazar laughed. "That's using your head, Kirby. All right. It's a deal as far as I'm concerned. You draw wrangler's pay and take stud fees in foals—say one in three, your choosing. Register that brand of yours with Don Lorenzo to be on the safe side. Then you're welcome to run Spur R with the Double R on the Range."
He held out his hand, and Drew grasped it for a quick shake to seal their agreement. He was committed now—to the Range and to a small partnership with its master. But he still wondered if he had made the right choice.
Two days later he dropped bedroll and saddlebags on the spare bunk at one end of the long adobe-walled room and studied his surroundings with deep curiosity. It was a fort, all right, this whole stronghold of Rennie's—not just the bunkhouse which formed part of a side wall. Bunkhouse, feed store, and storage room, blacksmith shop, cookhouse, stables, main house, the quarters for the married men and their families—all arranged to enclose a patio into which choice stock could be herded at the time of an attack, with a curbed well in the center.
The roofs of all the buildings were flat, with loopholed parapets to be manned at need. A sentry post on the main house was occupied twenty-four hours a day by relays of Pimas. A loaded rifle leaned at every window opening, ready to be fired through loopholes in the wooden war shutters. The walls were twenty-five inches thick, and mounted on the roof of the stable, facing the hills from which Apache attacks usually came, was a small brass cannon—Don Cazar's legacy from troops marching away in '61.
What he saw of the resources of this private fort led Drew to accept the other stories he had heard of the Range, like the one that Don Cazar's men practiced firing blindfolded at noise targets to be prepared for night raids. The place was self-contained and almost self-supporting, with stores of food, good water, its own forge and leather shop, its own craftsmen and experts. No wonder the Apaches had given up trying to break this Anglo outpost and Rennie had accomplished what others found impossible. He had held his land secure against the worst and most unbeatable enemy this country had nourished.