Valley of Wild Horses
by Zane Grey
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[Transcriber's note: Extensive research found no evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]






GROSSET & DUNLAP — Publishers




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pan encountered his father at the barn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Say kid, I'll swap saddles with you," spoke up the one who had first addressed him.

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

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

"I'll bet he kin," added a third.

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

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

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

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

"Come on, Pan," shouted one. "Ride in heah an' help me.... Turn 'em back, kid."

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

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

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

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

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

"No—sir," faltered Pan. "My mama—said for me to hurry back."

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

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

After dinner the cowboys resumed work.

"Stand heah by the fire, kid," said Tex.

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

"The brand!" he yelled.

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

Then one of the cowboys came to him: "Reckon thet's yore mammy come for you."

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

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


So this was how Panhandle Smith, at the mature age of five, received the stimulus that set the current of his life in one strong channel. He called himself "Tex." If his mother forgot to use this thrilling name he was offended. He adopted Tex's way of walking, riding, talking. And all the hours of daylight, outdoors or indoors, he played roundup. Stones, chips, nails—anything served for cattle—and he had a special wooden image of himself and horse. Much of this time he spent on the back of Curly, in the corral or the field, rounding up an imaginary herd. At night his dreams were full of cowboys, chuck wagons, pitching horses and bawling steers.

Every new sight of a snaky slim cowpuncher on a racy horse intensified this impression in Pan's mind, stamped the future more vividly on his heart. It was what he had been born to.

One by one pioneers came in their covered wagons to this promising range and took up homesteads of one hundred and sixty acres each. Some of these men, like Pan's father, had to work part of the time away from home, to earn much-needed money.

Jim Blake, the latest of these incoming settlers, had chosen a site down in a deep swale that Pan always crossed when he went to visit his uncle. It was a pretty place, with grass and cottonwoods, and a thin stream of water, a lonesome and hidden spot which other homesteaders had passed by.

Pan met Jim one day and rode with him. He was a young man, pleasant and jolly, a farmer and would-be rancher, without any of the signs of cowboy about him. Pan thought this a great detriment, but he managed to like Jim and loftily acquainted him with his achievements on Curly.

One day Pan saw Jim's wife, a pretty blonde girl, strong and healthy and rosy cheeked. Her sleeves were rolled up showing round bare arms. Her smile won Pan, yet he was too shy to go in and take the cookies she offered.

Autumn days came, dull and gray, with cold wind sweeping the plain, and threatening clouds lodging against the mountain peaks. Another winter was coming. Pan hated the thought. Snow, ice, piercing winds would prevent him from riding Curly. With this fact pressing closer he rode as much as his mother would let him and some more besides.

His father and mother wanted him to go with them to the settlement one Saturday. They were taking the wagon in for winter supplies. Pan's yearning for adventure almost persuaded him, but he preferred to stay with Curly. His mother demurred, but his father said he might remain at home.

"Pan, you can ride over to Uncle George's with some things. But be careful not to get caught in a storm."

Thus it came about that Pan found himself alone for the first time in his life, master of himself, free to act as he chose. And he did not choose to go at once to Uncle George's. His uncle was nice, but did not accord Pan the freedom that he craved. So what with one and another of his important cowboy tasks the hours flew and it was late before he got started across the prairie toward his uncle's homestead.

Pan never needed an excuse to ride fast, but now he had one that justified him. The two miles would not take long. He would have to hurry back, for indeed it looked as if a storm were sweeping down from the black peaks. Pan realized that he should have gotten his errand done earlier in the day.

The cold wind stung his face and made his eyes water. Curly loped at his easy swift stride over the well-trodden trail. The bleached grass waved, the tumbleweeds rolled along the brown ground. There was no sun. All the west was draped in drab clouds. Soon Pan was riding down into the swale where Blake lived. The cottonwoods were almost bare. Only a few yellow leaves clung to the branches, and every moment a leaf fluttered down. Here in this swale Pan caught the autumn smells, dank and woody.

Once across the swale he put his pony to a gallop and soon reached Uncle George's homestead. No one at home! The horse and wagon were gone. Pan left his package and turned back. As he trotted past the Blake gate Pan heard a faint call. It startled him. Reining in Curly he listened and looked. Blake's cabin stood back out of sight among the Cottonwoods. The barn, however, with its low open-sided shed, stood just inside the gate. The cows had been brought in for milking. A lusty calf was trying to steal milk from its mother. Chickens were going to roost. Pan did not believe that any of these had made the call. He was about to ride on by when suddenly he again caught a strange cry that appeared to come from the barn or shed. It excited rather than frightened him. Sliding off Curly he pushed open the big board gate and ran in.

Under the open shed he found Mrs. Blake lying on some hay which evidently she had just pulled down from the loft. When she saw Pan her pale convulsed face changed somehow. "Oh—thank God!" she cried.

"Are you hurted?" asked Pan in hurried sympathy. "Did you fall out of the haymow?"

"No, but I'm in terrible pain."

"Aw—you're sick?"

"Yes. And I'm alone. Will you please—go for your mother?"

"Mama an' Daddy went to town," replied Pan in distress. "An' nobody's home at Uncle George's."

"Then you must be a brave little man and help me."

Bill Smith hurrying homeward with his wife and Jim Blake were belated by the storm. It was midnight when they arrived at Bill's house. They found Curly with bridle hanging, standing in the snow beside the barn. Mrs. Smith was distracted. Bill and Jim, though worried, did not fear the worst. But with lanterns they set out upon the tracks Curly had left in the snow. Bill's wife would not remain behind.

Soon they arrived at Blake's homestead, though the pony tracks became difficult to follow and found Pan wide awake, huddled beside the cow, true to the trust that had been given him. Mrs. Blake was not in bad condition, considering the circumstances, nor was the baby. It was a girl, whom Jim named Lucy right then and there, after his wife.

The men carried the mother and her babe up to the house, while Mrs. Smith followed with the now sleepy Pan. They built fires in the open grate, and in the kitchen stove, and left Mrs. Smith to attend to the mother. Both women heard the men talking. But Pan never heard, for he had been put to bed in a corner, rolled in blankets.

"Doggone my hide!" exclaimed Bill. "Never seen the beat of that kid of mine!"

"Mebbe Pan saved both their lives, God bless him," replied Blake with emotion.

"Quien sabe? It might be.... Wal, strange things happen. Jim, that kid of mine was born right out on the plowed field. An' here comes your kid—born in the cowshed on the hay!"

"It is strange," mused Blake, "though we ought to look for such happenin's out in this great west."

"Wal, Pan an' Lucy couldn't have a better birthright. It ought to settle them two kids for life."

"You mean grow up an' marry some day? Now that would be fine. Shake on it, Bill."

Pan asleep in the corner of the other room and Lucy wailing at her mother's breast were pledged to each other by their fathers.

The winter passed for Pan much as had the preceding one, except that he had more comfort to play his everlasting game of roundup.

"When will Lucy be big enough to play with me?" he often asked. The strange little baby girl had never passed from his mind, though he had never seen her. She seemed to form the third link in his memory of the forging of his life. Curly—the cowboys—and Lucy! He did not know how to reconcile her with the other two. But those three events stood out above the blur of the past.

At last the snow melted, the prairie took on a sheen of green, the tree burst into bud, and birds returned to sing once more. All of this was beautiful, but insignificant beside Curly. He was fatter and friskier than ever.

Pan's father came home once or twice a month that spring, always arriving late and leaving at an early hour. How Pan longed for his father's coming!

Then there came the fourth epoch in Pan's life. His father brought him a saddle. It was far from new, of Mexican make, covered with rawhide, and had an enormous shiny horn. Pan loved it almost as much as he loved Curly; and when it was not on the pony it adorned the fence or a chair, always with Pan astride it, acting like Tex.

The fifth, and surely the greatest event in Pan's rapidly developing career, though he did not know it then, was when his mother took him over to see his baby, Lucy Blake. It appeared that the parents in both homesteads playfully called her "Pan's baby." That did not displease Pan, but it made him singularly shy. So it was long before his mother could get him to make the acquaintance of his protegee.

Pan's first sight of Lucy was when she crawled over the floor to get to him. How vastly different she really was from the picture he recalled of a moving bundle wrapped in a towel! She was quite big and very wonderful. She was dressed in a little white dress. Her feet and legs were chubby. She had tiny pink hands. Her face was like a wild rose dotted with two violets for eyes. And her hair was spun gold. Marvelous as were all these things they were as nothing to the light of her smile. Pan's shyness vanished, and he sat on the floor to play with her. He produced little chips and pebbles, and stones, with which he played roundup. Lucy grew most gratifyingly interested in Pan's game, but she made it hard for him to play it, and also embarrassing, by clinging with most tenacious and unshakable grip to his finger.

Every Sunday that summer the Smiths visited at the homestead of the Blakes. They became fast friends. Bill and Jim discussed the cattle business. The mothers sewed and talked hopefully of the future. Pan never missed one of these Sunday visits, and the time came when he rode over on his own account. Lucy was the most satisfactory cowgirl in all the world. She did not object to his being Tex. She tried her best to call him Tex. And she crawled after him and toddled after him with unfailing worship. The grown folks looked on and smiled.

Meanwhile the weeks and months passed, the number of homesteaders increased, more and more cattle dotted the range. When winter came some of the homesteaders, including Pan and his mother, moved into Littleton to send their children to school.

Pan's first teacher was Emma Jones. He liked her immediately which was when she called to take him to school. Pan was not used to strangers. The men in the streets, the grown boys all bothered him. Cowboys were scarce, and that was a great disappointment to Pan. It lowered Littleton in his estimation.

It developed that Pan was left handed. Now Miss Jones considered it wrong for anyone to write with his left hand so she tied Pan's fast to the desk, and made him practice letters with his right. What a dreary unprofitable time Pan had of it! So many little boys and girls confused him, though he was not backward in making acquaintance. But he wanted Curly and the prairie. He would rather be with Lucy. Most of all he wanted the cowboys.

Dick Hardman came again into Pan's life, fatefully, inevitably, as if the future had settled something inscrutable and sinister, and childhood days, school days, days of youth and manhood had been inextricably planned before they were born. Dick was in a higher grade and made the fact known to Pan. He had grown into a large boy, handsomer, bolder, with a mop of red hair that shone like a flame. He called Pan "the little skunk tamer," and incited other boys to ridicule. So the buried resentment in Pan's depths smoldered and burst into blaze again, and found fuel to burn it into hate. He told his mother what Dick had got the boys to call him. Then he was indeed surprised to see his sweet soft-eyed mother give way to quick-flashing passion. Somehow this leap of her temper strengthened Pan in his resentment. He had her blood, her fire, her pride, though he was only a child.

Then the endless school days were over for a while. Summer had come. Pan moved back to the beloved homestead, to the open ranges, to Curly and Lucy. Only she had changed. She could stand at his knee and call him Tex. He resumed his old games with her, and in time graduated her to a seat on the back of Curly. If she had not already unconsciously filled his heart that picture of her laughing and unafraid would have done so.

Another uncle had moved into the country to take up a homestead. Pan now had a second place to ride to, farther away, over a wilder bit of range, and much to his liking. He saw cowboys every time he rode there.

One day while Pan was at this new uncle's, a dreadful thing happened—his first real tragedy. Some cowboy left the slide door of the granary open. Curly got in there at the wheat. Before it became known he ate enormously and then drank copiously. It foundered him. It killed him.

When Pan came out of his stupefaction to realize his actual loss he was heartbroken. He could not be consoled. Hours he spent crying over his saddle. Not for a long time did he go to see little Lucy. His father could not afford to buy him another horse then and indeed it was a long time before he did get one.

Days and weeks passed, and fall came, then winter with more school, tedious and wearing, and again spring and summer. Cowboys were plentiful now in the growing range, but Pan avoided them, ashamed and sick because he could not approach them without Curly. He never got over grieving for his pony, though he reached a stage where any horse would have freed him from his melancholy. He played alone, or with Lucy. She was the one bright spot in all that gray prairie. Lucy was growing fast now; her golden curly head seemed to spring up at him.

That autumn the homesteaders erected a schoolhouse of their own. It was scarcely three miles from Pan's home.

"Pan, can you walk it?" asked Bill Smith with his keen eye on the lad. "Yes Daddy—but—but," replied Pan, unable to finish with the thought so dear to his heart.

"Ah—huh. An' before long Lucy will be old enough to go too," added his father. "Reckon you'll take her?"

"Yes, Daddy." And for Pan there was real gladness in that promise.

"Wal, you're a good boy," declared the father. "An' you won't have to walk to school. I've traded for two horses for you."

"Two!" screamed Pan, wild with joy. "Oh! Oh! Oh!"

In due time the new horses arrived at the Smith homestead. Their names were Pelter and Pilldarlick. Pelter was a pinto, snappy and pretty, though he had a wicked eye. Pilldarlick was not showy, but he was small and strong, easy gaited and gentle. Pan thought he was going to like Pelter best, although Pilldarlick was surely a cowboy name and therefore all satisfying. It turned out, however, that Pan could not ride Pelter. He was locoed. He bucked Pan off every time. Pilldarlick was really much better than he looked, and soon filled the void in Pan's heart.

The first time he rode Pilldarlick to the new school marked another red-letter day in the life of Panhandle Smith, cowboy. There were many boys and a few girls who had come to attend the school, only a few of whom had horses to ride. Pan was the proud cynosure of all eyes as he rode Pilldarlick round the yard for the edification of his schoolmates. It was the happiest day of Pan's life—up until Dick Hardman arrived on a spirited little black mustang.

"Hey, where'd you git that nag?" yelled Dick, when he sighted Pan. "An' say, your saddle ain't nothin' but rawhide on a stump."

"You're a liar!" shouted Pan, fiercely tumbling off Pilldarlick.

The red-headed lad pitched out of his saddle and made for Pan. They began to fight. Instinct was Pan's guide. He hit and scratched and kicked. But Dick being the larger began to get the better of the battle, and soon was beating Pan badly when the new teacher came out to his rescue.

"Stop it," she ordered, separating the belligerents. "Only cats and dogs fight."

"So—do—cowboys!" panted Pan.

"Not nice ones. Only bad cowboys," she replied, leading Pan away.

"I'll lick you next time," yelled Dick, evilly. "You stuck-up little snot!"


Miss Amanda Hill, the teacher, rang the bell, calling all her scholars in, and school began once more.

Dick Hardman sat across the room from Pan and behind the teacher's back he made ugly faces at Pan and, more than that, put his nose to his thumb. Pan understood that, and quick as a flash, he returned the compliment.

Recess came. Before half the scholars were out of the room Dick and Pan had run to the barn, out of the teacher's sight, and here they fell upon each other like wildcats. It did not take Dick long to give Pan the first real beating of his life. Cut lip, bloody nose, black eye, dirty face, torn blouse—these things betrayed Pan at least to Miss Hill. She kept him in after school, and instead of scolding she talked sweetly and kindly. Pan came out of his sullenness, and felt love for her rouse in him. But somehow he could not promise not to fight again.

"S'pose Dick Hardman does that all over again!" expostulated Pan in despair. He did not realize what he felt. He wanted to please and obey this sweet little woman, but there was a revolt in him. "What'll my—my daddy—say when he hears I got licked!" he sobbed.

She compromised finally by accepting Pan's willing promise not to pick a fight with Dick.

Despite the unpleasant proximity of Dick Hardman, that winter at school promised to be happy and helpful to Pan. There were three large boys, already cowboys, who attended Miss Hill's school. Pan gravitated at once to them, and to his great satisfaction they accepted him.

Later his old cowboy friend of the roundup arrived on the range with a trail herd of cattle from Texas. Their brand was an O X, a new one to Pan. He kept a record of all the brands he had seen, and practiced drawing them on paper. Moore and three of his cowboys came to board at Pan's home, and kept their string of horses there. Pan's cup was full. The days flew by. Snow and cold were nothing to him. Not even study, and the ever-malicious Dick Hardman could daunt his spirit. Moore meant to winter his herd there, and wait for spring before he drove it farther north.

The cowboys' nickname for Moore was Pug, and another fellow whose real name Pan never heard was called Slats. They taught Pan all the cowboy songs from "Ti yi oop oop ya ya" to "Bury me on the Lone Prairie." Every night Pan listened to them sing by the fire in their bunkhouse, and many times he had to be called to do his chores.

Another of the cowboys was called Hookey. His nose resembled that of a parrot and he had the disposition of a locoed coyote, according to Pug and Slats. Hookey took a dislike to Pan, and always sought to arouse the boy's temper. These cowboys were always gone in the morning before Pan got up, but by the time he arrived home from school on Pilldarlick they were usually there.

Slats, who wanted to be a lady killer, would say: "Wal, Button, what did your school marm say about me today?" And Hookey would make fun of Pilldarlick, which ridicule had more power to hurt Pan than anything else. One day Pan gave way to fury, and with flying rocks he chased Hookey into the cellar, and every time Hookey poked up his head Pan would fling a stone with menacing accuracy. That time his mother came to the rescue of the cowboy. After that Hookey bought a new saddle and gave Pan his old one. That settled hostilities. Pan had a change of heart. No matter how Hookey teased or tormented him he could never again make him angry. Pan saw Hookey with different eyes.

He was unutterably happy now with a horse and saddle too, and went about singing: "My trade is cinchin' saddles an' pullin' bridle reins."

One day two strange men arrived at the Smith homestead. They had still hard faces, intent gray eyes; they packed guns, and one of them wore a bright star on his vest. These men took Hookey away with them. And after they were gone the cowboys told Pan that Hookey was wanted for horse stealing. Young as Pan was he understood the enormity of that crime in the eyes of cowboys. He felt terribly hurt and betrayed. Long indeed was it before he forgot Hookey.

Swiftly that winter passed. Pan had a happy growing time of it. Study had not seemed so irksome, perhaps owing to the fact that he had a horse and saddle; he could ride to and fro; he often stopped to see Lucy who was now big enough to want to go to school herself; and the teacher had won his love. Pan kept out of fights with Dick Hardman until one recess when Dick called him "teacher's pet." That inflamed Pan, as much because of the truth of it as the shame. So this time, though he had hardly picked a fight, he was the first to strike. With surprising suddenness he hit the big Dick square on the nose. When Dick got up howling and swearing, his face was hideous with dirt and blood. Then began a battle that dwarfed the one in the barn. Pan had grown considerably. He was quick and strong, and when once his mother's fighting blood burned in him he was as fierce as a young savage. But again Dick whipped him.

Miss Hill, grieved and sorrowful, sent Pan home with a note. It chanced that both his father and mother were at home when he arrived. They stood aghast at his appearance.

"You dirty ragged bloody boy!" cried his mother, horrified.

"Huh! You oughta see Dick Hardman!" ejaculated Pan.

The lad thought he had ruined himself forever with Miss Amanda Hill. But to his amaze and joy he had not. Next day she kept him in after school, cried over him, kissed him, talked long and earnestly. All that Pan remembered was: "Something terrible will come of your hate for Dick Hardman if you don't root it out of your heart."

"Teacher—why don't you—talk to Dick this way?" faltered Pan, always won by her tenderness.

"Because Dick is a different kind of a boy," she replied, but never explained what she meant.

At Christmas time the parents of the school children gave a party at the schoolhouse. Every one on the range for miles around was there. Pan for once had his fill of seeing cowboys. Miss Amanda was an attraction no cowboys could resist. That night Pan spoke his first piece entitled: "Sugar-tooth Dick for sweeties was sick."

To Pan it seemed a silly piece, but he spoke it to please Miss Amanda, and because it was a hit at Dick Hardman. To his surprise he received a roar of applause. After the supper, dancing began. Some of the cowboys got drunk. There were fights, two of which Pan saw, to his thrilling fear and awe. It was long past midnight when he yielded to the intense drowsiness that overcame him. When he awoke at dawn they were still dancing.

Winter passed. Spring came with roundups too numerous for Pan to keep track of. And a swift happy summer sped by.

That fall a third uncle settled in the valley. He was an older brother of Pan's father, whom they called Old Uncle Ike. He was a queer old bachelor, lived alone, and did not invite friendliness. Pan was told to stay away from him. Old Uncle Ike was crabby and hard; when a boy, his heart had been broken by an unfaithful sweetheart; he had shot her lover and run away to war. After serving through the Civil War he fought Indians, and had lived an otherwise wild life.

But Pan was only the keener to see and know Old Uncle Ike. He went boldly to make his acquaintance. He found a sad-faced, gray old man, sitting alone.

Pan said bravely: "Uncle, I'm Pan Smith, your brother Bill's boy, an' I've come to see you because I'm sure I'll like you."

He did not find the old man unfriendly. Pan was welcome, and soon they became fast friends. Every Saturday Pan rode over to Uncle Ike's place, stealing some of the time he was supposed to be spending with Lucy. The little girl pouted and cried and railed at Pan for such base desertion, but he only laughed at her. Any time he wanted he could have Lucy. She grew sweeter and more lovable as she grew older, facts Pan took to his heart, but he chose the old man's stories of war and Indians in preference to Lucy's society.

Months passed, and Pan grew tall and supple, with promise of developing the true horseman's build. Then the spring when he was twelve years old arrived and his father consented to let him ride for wages at the roundup.

He joined a big outfit. There were over fifty cowboys, two bed wagons, two chuck wagons, and strings of horses too numerous to count. A new horse to ride twice a day! This work was as near paradise as Pan felt he had ever been. But for one circumstance, it would have been absolutely perfect, and that was that he had no boots. A fast-riding cowboy without boots!

In the heat of action, amid the whirling loop of bawling calves and cows, when the dry dust rose to stop up Pan's nostrils and cake on his hot sweaty face, when the ropes were whistling, the cowboys yelling, the brand iron sizzling, all he felt was the wild delight of it, the thrill of the risk, the excitement, the constant stirring life and motion. During leisure hours, however, he was always confronted with his lack of rider's equipment.

"Say, kid, who built them top boots of yourn?" asked one cowboy.

"Shore, I'll trade spurs with you," drawled another.

"Whar's yore fur chaps there, cowboy?" queried a third.

And so it went always and forever. The cowboys could not help that. It was born in them, born of the atmosphere and spirit of the singular life they lived. Nevertheless Pan loved them, and they were good to him.

His best friends in this outfit were Si and Slick, both horse wranglers, whose real names Pan never learned.

That roundup was prolific of wonderful experiences. One night when a storm threatened the foreman called to the cowboys not on duty; "Talk to 'em low, boys, fer they're gettin' ready."

He meant that the herd of cattle was likely to stampede. And when the thunder and rain burst the herd broke away with a trampling roar. Pan got soaked to the skin and lost in the rain. When he returned to camp only the cook and wagons were there. Next morning the cowboys straggled in in bunches, each driving part of the stampeded herd.

At breakfast one morning Pan heard a yell. "Ride him, cowboy!"

"Whoopee! Look at that outlaw comin' high, wide an' handsome!"

Pan just had time to see a terribly pitching red horse come tearing into the circle of cowboys. His rider went shooting over his head to alight among them. Then what a scattering! That red fiend spoiled the breakfast and cleaned out the camp. How the cowboys reviled the poor fellow who had been thrown!

"Huh! Broke yore collar bone?" yelled one. "Why you dod-blasted son of a sea cook, he oughta hev broke yore neck!"

And Si, the horse wrangler said: "Charlie, I reckon it's onconsiderate of you to exercise yore pet hoss on our stummicks."

One of the amazing things that happened during the winter was the elopement of Miss Amanda Hill with a cowboy. Pan did not like this fellow very well, but the incident heightened his already magnificent opinion of cowboys.

Pan never forgot Lucy's first day of school when he rode over with her sitting astride behind him, "ringin' his neck," as a cowboy remarked. Pan had not particularly been aware of that part of the performance for he was used to having Lucy cling to him. That embarrassed him. He dropped her off rather unceremoniously at the door, and went to put his horse in the corral. She was little and he was big, which fact further bore upon his consciousness, through the giggles of the girls and gibes of the boys. But they did not make any change in his attitude toward Lucy. All winter he took her to and from school on his horse. The summer following, he worked for his Uncle Ike.

As Pan grew older time seemed so much shorter than when he was little. There was so much to do. And all at once he was fifteen years old. His mother gave him a party on that birthday, which was marked on his memory by the attention his boy friends paid to Lucy. She was by far the prettiest girl in the valley. He did not know exactly what to make of his resentment, nor of the queer attitude of proprietorship he had assumed over her.

He was destined to learn more about his state of mind. It happened the next day at school during the noon hour. That late November, a spell of Indian summer weather had lingered, and the pupils ate their lunches out under the trees.

Suddenly Lucy came running up to Pan, who as usual was having a care for his horse. Her golden hair was flying, disheveled. She was weeping. Her big violet eyes streamed with tears. She was wiping her face with most expressive disgust.

"Pan—you go right off—and thrash Dick Hardman," she cried, passionately.

"Lucy!—What's he done?" queried Pan, after a sudden sense of inward shock.

"He's always worrying me—when you're not around. I never told 'cause I knew you'd fight.... But now he's done it. He grabbed me and kissed me! Before all the boys!"

Pan looked steadily at her tear-wet face, seeing Lucy differently. She was not a baby any more. For some strange reason beyond his understanding he was furious with her. Pushing her aside he strode toward the group of boys, leering close by.

Dick Hardman, a strapping big lad now, edged back into the crowd. Pan violently burst into it, forcing the boys back, until he confronted his adversary. On Dick's sallow face the brown freckles stood out prominently. Something in the look and advance of Pan had intimidated him. But he blustered, he snarled.

"You're a skunk," said Pan fiercely, and struck out with all his might.

One hour from that moment they were still fighting. They had fought from the grove to the schoolyard, from there down the road and back again. Bloody, ragged, black, they beat, tore, hit, bit and clawed each other. The teacher, wringing her hands, called upon the other boys to separate the belligerents. They had tried, but in vain, and only got kicked for their pains. The girls, most of them, screamed and cried. But not Lucy! White faced and with dilated eyes she watched that struggle. All the spectators, even the youngest, seemed to recognize it as a different kind of a fight from any that had ever occurred before. At last the teacher sent some of the children for help from the nearest farmhouse.

Dick would lower his head and lunge at Pan, trying to butt him in the abdomen. Twice he had bowled Pan over, to his distinct advantage. But the crafty Pan, timing another and last attack of this kind, swung up his knee with terrific force, square into Dick's face.

Down Dick plumped, rolled over on his back, yelling loudly. Suddenly he ceased, he raised up on one elbow, he spat blood, and something that rattled on the gravel. A tooth! His grimy hand went trembling to his blood-stained mouth. He felt of his front teeth. One was gone, others were loose. Vanity, Dick's distinguishing characteristic, suffered a terrible blow. Staggering to his feet, fetching a stone with him, he glared at Pan: "I'll—kill—you!"

He flung the stone with deadly intent. But Pan dodged it and leaped at him. Dick ran hard toward the schoolhouse, stooping to snatch up stones, and turning to fling them at Pan. The yelling boys scattered, the frightened girls fled. Pan was not to be outdone at any kind of fight. He returned stone for stone, the last of which struck Dick low down in the leg. Like a crippled beast Dick shrieked and plunged into the schoolhouse, slamming shut the door. But Pan, rushing after, grabbed up a rock and flung it so powerfully that it split the door and knocked it off the hinges.

Pan rushed in to receive full in the face a long, thick teacher's ruler thrown by Dick. It knocked him flat. Picking it up Pan brandished it and charged his enemy. Dick ran along the blackboard, and jerking up one eraser after another he threw them. His aim was poor. His strength waning. His courage had gone. As for Pan it was as if the long fight had only inspired him to renewed ferocity and might. The truth was that a hot dancing fire in Pan's blood had burned to white intensity, unquenchable and devastating.

Suddenly Dick made for the teacher's table. An idea, an inspiration showed in his renewed speed. Pan divined its purpose. Leaping upon the desks he endeavored to head Dick off. Too late! When Pan sprang off the last desk to the platform Dick had turned—with the teacher's long paper knife in his hand and baleful hate in his prominent eyes.

Later, when the children outside dared to peep into the schoolroom they neither saw nor heard anything of the fighters. But fearing they were just hiding behind the benches, ready for a renewed fusillade, not one of the pupils dared go in. The teacher had hurried down the road to meet the men some of the boys had fetched.

And these men were Jim Blake and Bill Smith who had been riding home from the range. When they entered the schoolroom with the teacher fearfully following, and only Lucy of all the scholars daring to come too, they found the fight was over.

Dick lay unconscious on the floor with a bloody forehead. Pan sat crouched on the platform, haggard and sullen, with face, shirt, hands all bloody.

"Ah-uh! Reckon you've been fightin' like a cowboy for shore this time," said Pan's father in his matter of fact way. "Stand up. Let's look at you.... Jim, take a look at that lad on the floor."

While Pan painfully endeavored to get up, Blake knelt beside Dick.

"Bill, this heah rooster has had a wallop," said Blake.

"You little cowpunchin' ruffian," exploded Smith angrily, reaching a large arm for Pan. "Now then.... What the hell? ... Boy, you've been stabbed!"

"Yes—Dad—he stuck me—with teacher's knife," replied Pan faintly. He tottered on his feet, and his right hand was pressed tight to his left shoulder, high up, where the broken haft of the paper knife showed between his red-stained fingers.

Bill Smith's anger vanished in alarm, and something stern and grim took its place. Just then Lucy broke away from the teacher and confronted him.

"Oh—please don't punish him, Mr. Smith," she burst out poignantly. "It was all my fault. I—I stuck up my nose at Dick. He said things that—that weren't nice.... I slapped him. Then he grabbed me, kissed me.... I ran to Pan—and—and told him.... Oh, that made Pan fight."

Smith looked gravely down into the white little face with the distended violet eyes, slowly losing their passion. He seemed to be struck with something that he had never seen before.

"Wal, Lucy, I'll not punish Pan," he said, slowly. "I think more of him for fightin' for you."


They did not meet again during the winter. It was a hard winter. Pan left school and stayed close to home, working for his mother, and playing less than any time before.

"I heard Dick say he'd kill you someday," said one cowboy seriously. "An' take it from me, kid, he's a bad hombre."

"Ah-uh!" was all the reply Pan vouchsafed, as he walked away. He did not like to be reminded of Dick. It sent an electric spark to the deep-seated smoldering mine in his breast.

When springtime came Pan joined the roundup in earnest, for part of the cattle and outfit now belonged to his father. Out on the range the forty riders waited for the wagons. There were five cowboys from Big Sandy in Pan's bunch and several more arrived from the Crow Roost country. Old Dutch John, a famous range character, was driving the chuck wagon. At one time he had been a crony of Pan's father, and that attracted Pan to the profane old grizzled cook. He could not talk without swearing and, if he replied to a question that needed only yes or no, he would supplement it with a string of oaths.

Next day the outfit rode the west side of Dobe Creek, rounding up perhaps a thousand cattle. Pete Blaine and Hookey roped calves while Pan helped hold up.

On the following day the riders circled Blue Lakes, where cattle swarmed. Old John had yelled to the boys: "Hey, punchers, heave at them today. You gotta throw an awful mess of 'em heah."

These two lakes were always dry, except during the spring; and now they were full, with green grass blanketing the range as far as eye could see. By Monday long lines of cattle moved with flying dust down to the spot chosen for the roundup. As the herds closed in, the green range itself seemed to be moving. When thrown together all these cattle formed a sea of red and white, from which roared an incessant bawling. It looked impossible to separate cows and calves from the others. But dozens of fearless cowboys, riding in here and in there, soon began to cut out the cows and calves.

It was a spectacle that inspired Pan as never before. The wagons were lined up near the lake, their big white canvas tops shining in the afternoon sun, and higher on a bench stood the "hoodelum" or bed wagon, so stocked with bedrolls that it resembled a haystack. Beyond the margin of the lake, four hundred fine saddle horses grazed and kicked and bit at one another. Beyond the saddle horses grazed the day herd of cattle. And over on the other side dinned the melee over the main herd, the incessant riding, yelling of the cowboys and the bawling of the cows.

When all the cows and calves were cut out, a rider of each outfit owning cattle on that range would go through to claim those belonging to his brand. Next the herd of bulls and steers, old cows and yearlings, would be driven back out upon the range.

Fires were started, and as there was no wood on that range, buffalo chips were used instead. It took many cowboys to collect sufficient for their needs.

At sunset, when the branding of calves was finished, each cowboy caught a horse for night duty. Pan got one he called Old Paint.

"Say, kid," called one of the Crow Nest cowboys, "ain't you tyin' up a pretty fancy hoss fer night work?"

"Oh, I guess not," laughed Pan.

"Come heah, Blowy," called the cowboy to another. "See what I found."

A long lanky red-faced rider detached himself from the others, and strode with jingling spurs over to look at Pan's horse.

"Wal, I'll go to hell, Ben Bolt, if it ain't ol' Calico!" he ejaculated, in amaze and pleasure. "Kid, whar'd you ever git him?"

"Dad made a trade," replied Pan.

"Kid, look a heah. Don't ever tie that hoss to a stake pin. He's the best cow hoss I ever slung a leg over. The puncher who broke him an' reached him all he knows was my pard, long ago. An' he's daid. Kid, he'd roll over in his grave if he knowed ol' Cal was tied to a picket pin."

"Aw, is that so?" replied Pan. "Fact is, I don't know much about him. We called him Old Paint. Haven't forked him yet. Dad got him from a lady last winter. She was trying to work him to a cart. But he balked. She said she poured some hot water on...."

"Lady, hell!" shouted the cowboy, growing redder of face. "She wasn't no lady if she treated that grand hoss that way.... See heah, kid, I'll stake you to a good night hoss. Turn Ol' Cal loose, an' whenever you need to do some real fancy separatin' jest set your frusky on ol' Cal. Better tie to your stirrups if you're perticler aboot keepin' your seat, 'cause 'at ol' pony can sure git from under a cowhand."

"All right, I'll turn Old Calico loose," replied Pan. "And I'll remember what you said about him."

Blowy pointed out one of his horses. "Kid, screw your wood to thet Jasper, an' you'll never be walkin'."

"Thanks, but I got lots of horses," said Pan.

"Aw go on—lots of horses. Why bunkie, I got more mean horses than I can start to keep gentle. I just fetched thet one to stake my friends."

Pan saddled up the horse indicated, and found him the best he had ever mounted. That experience led to his acquaintance with Blowy. He was a ceaseless talker, hence his name, but beloved by all the outfit. Pan learned something from every cowboy he met and it was not all for the best.

That roundup was Pan's real introduction to the raw range. When the time came for the outfit to break up, with each unit taking its own cattle, the boss said to Pan, "Come ride fer me."

Pan, flushed and pleased, mumbled his thanks, but he had to work for his father. Then he and the boy with him, Joe Crawley, bade their comrades good-by, especially loath to part with Old Dutch, and started home with their cows and calves. They crossed the old Indian battlefield where Colonel Shivington gave the famous order to his soldiers: "Kill 'em all. Nits make lice!"

Pan and Joe set out from there for Limestone Creek with their small herd and extra horses. Pan wanted to bring Old Calico, but he had drifted off to the range.

"Heel flies are workin', kid," said Joe, who was older and more experienced. "We're shore goin' to be on the mud fer the next month."

There was something in the air, storm perhaps, or such conditions that have strange effect upon beasts. Pan and Joe fought their cattle and horses all that day, and most of the night. They could not make them travel. Halting where they were they kept guard till dawn, then tried to drive their outfit on. But not for several hours could they move them. At length, however, the stock began to get dry, and string out and travel.

Late in the afternoon the boys reached Limestone. They found three old cows stuck in the mud, up to their eyes, with only their horns and faces showing. It took long hard work to get them out. They made camp there, turning the cows and calves loose, as this was their range.

The following morning Pan and Joe rode up to the next boghole. They found seventeen mired cattle.

"Nice an' deep," said Joe. "Damn these heah cows, allus pickin' out quicksand!"

It took until noon to pull them out. Another boghole showed twenty-four more in deep.

"How many more bogholes on Limestone?" asked Pan.

"Only four an' the wust ones," replied Joe, groaning. "If they're boggin' as good up there in them big holes, your dad will sure have to ship more cattle in soon."

There were six thousand cattle watering along that stream. When the water was low, as it was then, the cattle mired by the hundreds.

"Looks bad, Pan," remarked the older cowboy. "We're goin' to need help."

They returned to camp, got their supper, took fresh horses, and worked half the night pulling cows out of the mud.

By sunrise the next morning the boys were at work again. Some of the mired cattle had died, others had kinks in their necks and had to be killed. Farther up the creek conditions grew worse, and the biggest pool on the range looked from a distance like a small lake dotted with ducks.

"I'm cussin' the world by sections," growled Joe. "Wal, kid, you g'on up the crick, and get as near a count as you can. I'm ridin' in after men an' wagons. We'll move the camp up heah. It's the wust I ever seen, an' we'll lose a heap of stock. There's a loblolly of blue gumbo mud an' no bottom. An' by thunder we're stuck heah for Lord knows how long."

That fall Jim Blake sold his farm, and took his family to New Mexico. He had not been prospering in the valley, and things had gone from bad to worse. Pan did not get home in time to say good-by to Lucy—something that hurt in an indefinable way. He had not forgotten Lucy for in his mind she had become a steadfast factor in his home life. She left a little note of farewell, simple and loyal, hopeful, yet somehow stultified. Not so childish as former notes! Time flew by and Lucy might be growing up.

The Hardmans had also moved away from the valley, where, none of the neighbors appeared to know. But Pan was assured of two facts concerning them; firstly that Dick had gotten into a serious shooting scrape in which he had wounded a rancher's son, and secondly that from some unexpected and unknown source the Hardmans had acquired or been left some money.

Pan promptly forgot his boyhood enemy. This winter was the last that he spent at home. He rode the Limestone range that summer, and according to cowboys' gossip was fast developing all the qualities that pertained to the best riders of the day.

Upon returning home he found that his father had made unwise deals and was not getting along very well. Grasping settlers had closed in on the range. Rustlers had ridden down from the north, raiding the valley. During Pan's absence a little sister was born, which was indeed joyful news for him. And as he played with the baby he was reminded of Lucy. What had become of her? It occurred to Pan that sooner or later he must hunt her up.

Pan decided that he could not remain idle during the winter. He could have had plenty to do at home, working without wages, but that was no longer to be thought of. So he decided to join two other adventurous cowboys who had planned to go south, and in the spring come back with some of the great herds being driven north.

But Pan liked the vast ranges of the Lone Star State, and he rode there for two years, inevitably drifting into the wild free life of the cowboys. Sometimes he sent money home to his mother, but that was seldom, because he was always in debt. She wrote him regularly, which fact was the only link between him and the old home memories. Thought of Lucy returned now and then, on the lonely rides on night watches, and it seemed like a sweet melancholy dream. Never a word did he hear of her.

Spring had come again when he rode into the Panhandle, and as luck would have it he fell in with an outfit who were driving cattle to Montana, a job that would take until late fall. To his chagrin stories of his wildness had preceded him. Ill rumor travels swiftly. Pan was the more liked and respected by these riders. But he feared that gossip of the southern ranges would reach his mother. He would go home that fall to reassure her of his well-being, and that he was not one of those "bad, gun-throwing cowboys."

But late fall found him cheated of his long summer's wages, without money and job. He would not ride a "grub line" home, so he found a place with a rancher in Montana. He learned to hate the bleak ranges of that northern state, the piercing blasts of wind, the ice and snow. Spring saw him riding south toward his old stamping grounds. But always he was drifting, with the swift months flying by as fleet as the mustangs he rode, and he did not reach home. The Cimarron, the Platte, the Arkansas ranges came to know the tracks of his horses; and after he had drifted on, to remember him as few cowboys were remembered.

At twenty years of age Panhandle Smith looked older—looked the hard life, the hard fare, the hard companionship that had been his lot as an American cowboy. He had absorbed all the virtues of that remarkable character, and most of the vices. But he had always kept aloof from women. His comrades gave many forceful and humorous reasons for his apparent fear of the sex, but they never understood him. Pan never lost the reverence for women his mother had instilled in him, nor his first and only love for Lucy Blake.

One summer night Pan was standing night-guard duty for his cowboy comrade, who was enamored of the daughter of the rancher for whom they worked. Jim was terribly in love, and closely pressed by a rival from another outfit. This night was to be the crucial one.

Pan had to laugh at his friend. He was funny, he was pathetic, so prone to be cast down one moment and the next raised aloft to the skies, according to the whim of the capricious young lady. Many times Pan had ridden and worked with a boy afflicted with a similar malady.

This night, however, Pan had been conscious of encroaching melancholy. Perhaps it was a yearning for something he did not know how to define.

The night was strange, a sultry oppressive one, silent except for the uneasy lowing of the herd, a rumble of thunder from the dark rolling clouds. A weird yellow moon hung just above the horizon. The range spread away dark, lonely and wild. No wind stirred. The wolves and coyotes were quiet. All at once to Pan the whole world seemed empty. It was an unaccountable feeling. The open range, the solitude, the herd of cattle in his charge, the comrades asleep, the horses grazing round their pickets—these always sufficient things suddenly lost their magic potency. He divined at length that he was homesick. And by the time the lay watch was ended he had determined to quit his job and ride home.


On his way home Panhandle Smith rode across the old Limestone range that had been the scene of his first cowboy activities. It had not changed, although the cattle were not so numerous. Familiar as yesterday were the bogholes, where he and his partner—what was that cow-puncher's name?—had spent so many toilsome days and nights.

Pan made camp on the rocky ford where a brook joined the Limestone. It was thirty miles to Littleton, farther to Las Animas, and his pack horse was tired. He cooked his meager meal, and unrolled his bed, and as on many a hundred other nights he lay down under the open sky. But his wakefulness was new. He could not get to sleep for long. The nearer he got home the stranger and deeper his thoughts.

Moving on next day he kept sharp lookout among the cattle for his father's brand. But he saw no sign of it. At length, toward sunset, after passing thousands of cattle, he concluded in surprise that his father's stock no longer ran this range. Too many homesteads and fences! He reached Littleton at dark. It had grown to be a sizable settlement. Pan treated himself to a room at the new hotel, and after supper went out to find somebody he knew. It was Saturday night and the town was full of riders and ranchers. He expected to meet an old acquaintance any moment, but to his further surprise he did not. Finally he went to Campbell's store, long a fixture in the settlement of that country. John Campbell, huge of build, with his long beard and ruddy face, appeared exactly the same as when he used to give Pan a stick of candy. It did seem a long time, now. Campbell did not recognize him.

"Howdy, stranger, reckon you've got the best of me," he replied to Pan's question, and he sized up the tall lithe rider with curious and appreciating eyes.

"Now, John, you used to give me a stick of candy, every time I came to town," said Pan, with a laugh.

"Wal, I done that for every Tom, Dick an' Harry of a kid in this heah country," returned the old man, stroking his beard. "But durn if I recollect you."

"Panhandle Smith," announced Pan, with just a little diffidence. Perhaps if he was not remembered personally he might have the good luck to be unknown in reputation.

"Wal—Pan, if 't ain't you, by gosh!" ejaculated Campbell, cordially, and there was unmistakable welcome in his grip. "But no one here will ever recognize you. Say, you've sprung up. We've heerd a lot about you—nothin' of late years, though, now I tax myself... Cowboy, you've seen some range life, if talk is true."

"You mustn't believe all you hear, Mr. Campbell," replied Pan, with a smile. "I'd like to know about my dad and mother."

"Wal, haven't you heerd?" queried Campbell, hesitatingly.

"What?" flashed Pan, noting the other's sudden change to gravity. "It's two years and more since I got a letter from Mother. I wrote a couple of times, but she never answered."

"You ought to have come home long ago," said Campbell. "Your father lost his cattle. Old deal with Hardman that stood for years. Mebbe you never knowed about it. There are ranchers around here who swear Hardman drove sharp deals. Wal, your father sold the homestead an' left. Reckon it's been over a year."

"Where'd they go?"

"Your pa never told me where, but I heerd afterward that he hit Hardman's trail an' went to western New Mexico. Marco is the name of the place. New country up there. Gold an' silver minin', some cattle outfits goin' in, an lately I heerd of some big wild-hoss deals on."

"Well," exclaimed Pan, in profound amaze and sorrow at this news.

"It's a wide-open frontier place, all right," declared Campbell. "Some cowpuncher rode through here an' talked about Marco. He said they stepped high, wide an' handsome up there."

"Why did Dad go?" asked Pan in wonder.

"Reckon I couldn't say fer sure. But he was sore at Hardman, an' the funny thing is he wasn't sore till some time after Hardman left these parts. Mebbe he learned somethin'. An' you can learn whatever it was if you hunt up them ranchers who once got stung by Hardman."

"Ah-uh!" muttered Pan, thoughtfully. "Don't know as I care to learn. Dad will tell me.... Jim Blake, now, what become of him?"

"Jim, a while back, I reckon some years though after you left home, was foreman for Hardman's outfit. An' he went to Marco first. Reckon Hardman sent him up there to scout around."

"Did Jim take his family along?" inquired Pan, pondering.

"No. But they left soon after. In fact, now I tax myself, several homesteaders from hereabouts went. There's a boom over west, Pan, an' this here country is gettin' crowded."

"Marco. How do you get there?"

"Wal, it's on the old road to Californy."

Pan went to the seclusion of his room, and there in the dark, sleepless, he knew the pangs of remorse. Without realizing the flight of years, always meaning to return home, to help father, mother, little sister, to take up again with his never-forgotten Lucy—he had allowed the wild life of the range to hold him too long. Excuses were futile. Suppose he had failed to save money—suppose he had become numbered among those whom his old schoolteacher had called "bad cowboys"! Pride, neglect, love of the range and new country, new adventure had kept him from doing his duty by his parents. That hour was indeed dark and shameful for Panhandle Smith. Instead of drowning his grief in drink, as would have been natural for a cowboy, he let it work its will upon him. He deserved the pangs of self-reproach, the futile wondering, the revived memories that roused longings stronger than that which had turned him on the homeward trail.

Next day Pan sold his outfit except the few belongings he cherished, and boarded a west-bound stage. Once on the way he recovered from his brooding mood and gradually awakened to the fact that he was riding to a new country, a new adventure—the biggest of his life—in which he must make amends to his mother, and to Lucy. Quite naturally he included Lucy in the little circle of beloved ones—Lucy, whom he had deserted for the open range, for pitching horses and running steers, for the dust and turmoil of the roundup, for the long day ride and the lonely night watch, for the gaming table, the bottle, the gun—for all that made life so thrilling to the American cowboy.

Riding by stage was not new to Pan, though he had never before taken more than a day's journey. The stage driver, Jim Wells, was an old-timer. He had been a pony-express rider, miner, teamster and freighter, and now, grizzled and scarred he liked to perch upon the driver's seat of the stage, chew tobacco and talk. His keen eyes took Pan's measure in one glance.

"Pitch your bag up, cowboy, an' climb aboard," he said. "An' what might your handle be?"

"Panhandle Smith," replied Pan nonchalantly, "late of Sycamore Bend."

"Wal, now, whar'd I hear thet name? I got a plumb good memory fer names an' faces. 'Pears I heerd thet name in Cheyenne, last summer.... I got it. Cowpuncher named Panhandle rode down street draggin' a bolt of red calico thet unwound an' stampeded all the hosses. Might thet lad have happened to be you?"

"I reckon it might," replied Pan, with a grin. "But if you know any more about me keep it under your sombrero, old-timer."

"Haw! Haw!" roared Wells, slapping his knee. "By golly, I will if I can. There's a funny old lady inside what's powerful afeerd of bandits, an' there's a gurl. I seen her takin' in your size an' spurs, an' thet gun you pack sort of comfortable like. An' there's a gambler, too, if I ever seen one. Reckon I'm agoin' to enjoy this ride."

After the next stop, where the travelers got dinner, Pan returned to the stage to find a young lady perched upon the driver's seat. She had serious gray eyes and pale cheeks.

"I took your seat," she said, shyly, "but there's enough room."

"Thanks, I'll ride inside," replied Pan.

"But if you don't sit here—someone else might—and I—he—" she faltered, flushing a little.

"Oh, in that case, I'll be glad to," interrupted Pan, and climbed to the seat beside her. He had become aware of the appearance of a flashily dressed, hawk-eyed individual about to enter the stage. "Are you traveling alone?"

"No, thank you. Father is with me, but he never sees anything. I have been annoyed," she replied.

The stage driver arrived, and surveyed the couple on the seat with a wink and a grin and a knowing look that quite embarrassed the young lady.

"Wal, now, this here stage drivin' is gettin' to be mighty fine," he said, as he clambered up to the seat, and unwound the reins from the brake handle. "Lady, I reckon I seen you didn't like ridin' inside. Wal, you'll shore be all right ridin' between me an' my young friend Panhandle Smith."

"I think I will," replied the girl, dimpling prettily. "My name is Emily Newman. I'm on my way with my father to visit relatives in California."

Pan soon found it needful to make conversation, in order to keep the loquacious old stage driver from talking too much. He had told Miss Newman about Pan's escapade with the red calico, and had launched upon another story about him, not funny at all to Pan, but one calculated to make conquest of a romancing young girl. Pan managed to shut Wells up, but too late. Miss Newman turned bright eyes upon Pan.

"Oh, of course, I saw you were a cowboy," she said, dimpling again. "Those enormous spurs you wear! I wondered how you could walk."

"These spurs? They're nothing. I sleep in them," replied Pan.

"Indeed. You're not serious.... Was that true about your riding round Cheyenne dragging yards and yards of red calico behind your horse?"

"Yes. It was silly of me. I fear I had been looking upon something beside calico that was red."

"Oh, you mean red liquor? ... You were—under its influence!"

"A little," replied Pan laughing, yet not liking the turn of the conversation.

"I wouldn't have guessed that you—" she added, without concluding what she meant to say. But her tone, her look, and the intimation conveyed a subtle flattery to Pan. It seemed that whenever he approached young women he always received similar impressions. That was seldom, for his encounters with girls were few and far between. He could not help feeling pleased, somehow embarrassed, and rather vaguely elated. He divined danger for him in these potent impressions. Without ever understanding why he had avoided friendships with girls.

"Miss Newman, cowboys as a rule aren't worth much," rejoined Pan, submerging his annoyance in good humor. "But at that they are not terrible liars like most of the stage drivers you meet."

"Haw! Haw!" roared Jim Wells, cracking his long whip, as the stage bowled over the road. "He's a modest young fellar, Miss, a most extraordinary kind of a cowboy."

And so they bandied words and laughs from one to another, while the long white road stretched ahead, and rolled behind under the wheels. The girl was plainly curious, interested, fascinated. Old Jim, after the manner of westerners, was bent on making a conquest for Pan. And Pan, trying hard to make himself appear only an ordinary and quite worthless cowboy, succeeded only in giving an opposite impression.

The little lady rode three whole days on the driver's seat between Pan and Wells. She made the hours flee. When the stage reached Las Vegas, she got off with her father and turned in the crowd to wave good-by. Her eyes were wistful with what might have been. They haunted Pan for days, over the mountain uplands and on and on. Pan cherished the experience. To him it had been just a chance meeting with a nice girl, but somehow it opened his eyes to what he had missed. The way of cowboys with girls was the one way in which he had been totally unfamiliar. What he had missed was not the dancing and flirting and courting that cowboys loved so well, but something he could not quite grasp. It belonged to the never-fading influence of his mother; and likewise it had some inscrutable association with little Lucy Blake. Little? Surely she could not be little now. She was a grown girl, a young woman like this Emily Newman, beautiful perhaps, with all the nameless charms women had for men. Pan grew conscious of a mounting eagerness to see Lucy, and each day during the ride across the desert the feeling augmented, and with it a bewilderment equally incomprehensible to him.

New Mexico was strange and new. He saw the desert through eyes intensified by emotion. He knew the plains from Montana to Texas. But this was different country, with its stretches of valley, its walls of red and yellow, its strange shafts of rock, its amber ranges, and far away on every horizon the dim purple and white of great peaks were magnificent.

The Mormon ranches were scattered along the few green valleys. Cattle were scarce, only a few herds dotting the endless sweeps of green sage and bleached grass. As he traveled farther westward, however, the numbers of wild horses increased until they ran into the thousands.

Horses had meant more to Pan than anything. In his wanderings up and down the western slope of the prairie land east of the Rockies he had often encountered wild horses, and had enjoyed many a chase after them. Every cowboy was a wild horse hunter, on occasions. If he had ridden these desert ranges, he would inevitably have become permanently a hunter and lover of wild horses. Moreover, Pan did not see why there would not be vastly more money in it than in punching cows. He grew charmed with the idea.

Western New Mexico at last! It appeared a continuation and a magnifying of all the color and wildness and vastness. Sand dunes and wastes of black lava, dry lake beds and cone-shaped extinct volcanoes, with the ragged crater mouths gaping, low ranges of yellow cedar-dotted hills, valleys of purple, and green forests on the mountain slopes—all these in endless variety were new to the cowboy of the plains. Water was conspicuous for its absence, though at long intervals of travel he crossed a stream. The homesteader, that hopeful and lonely pioneer, was as scarce as the streams.

One night, hours after dark, the stage rolled into Marco, with Pan one of five passengers. Sunset had overtaken them miles from their destination. At that time Pan thought the country wild and beautiful in the extreme. Darkness had soon blotted out the strange formations of colored rocks, the endless sweep of valley, the cold white peaks in the far distance.

Marco! How unusual the swelling of his heart! The long three-week ride had ended. The stage had rolled down a main street the like of which Pan had never even imagined. It was crude, rough, garish with lights and stark board fronts of buildings, and a motley jostling crowd of men; women, too, were not wanting in the throngs streaming up and down. Again it was Saturday night. Always it appeared Pan hit town on this of all nights. Noise and dust filled the air. Pan pulled down his bag, and mounted the board steps of the hotel the stage driver had announced.

If Pan had not been keenly strung, after long weeks, with the thought of soon seeing his mother, father, his little sister and Lucy, he would yet have been excited over this adventure beyond the Rockies.

Contrary to his usual habit of throwing his money to the winds like most cowboys, he had exercised rigid economy on this trip. Indeed, it was the first time he had ever done such a thing. He had between four and five hundred dollars, consisting of wages he had saved and the proceeds from the sale of his horses and outfit. There was no telling in what difficulties he might find his father and what need there might be for his money. So Pan took cheap lodgings, and patronized a restaurant kept by a Chinaman.

He chose a table at which sat a young man whose face and hands and clothes told of rough life in the open in contact with elemental things. Pan could catch such significance as quickly as he could the points of a horse. He belonged to that fraternity himself.

"Mind if I sit here?" he asked, indicating the vacant chair.

"Help yourself, stranger," was the reply, accompanied by an appraising glance from level quiet eyes.

"I'm sure hungry. How's the chuck here?" went on Pan, seating himself.

"The Chink is a first rate cook an' clean.... Just come to town?"

"Yes," replied Pan, and after giving his order to a boy waiter he turned to his companion across the table and continued. "And it took a darn long ride to get here. From Texas."

"That so? Well, I come from western Kansas, just across the Texas line."

"Been here long?"

"Reckon a matter of six months."

"What's your work, if you'll excuse curiosity. I'm green, you see, and want to know."

"I've been workin' a minin' claim. Gold."

"Ah-huh!" replied Pan with quickened interest. "Sounds awful good to me. I never saw any gold but a few gold eagles, and they've sure been scarce enough."

Pan's frankness, and that something simple and careless about him, combined with his appearance, always created the best of impressions upon men.

His companion grinned across the table, as if he had shared Pan's experience. "Reckon you needn't tell me you're a cowpuncher. I heard you comin' before I saw you.... My name's Brown."

"Howdy, glad to meet you," replied Pan, and then with evident hesitation. "Mine is Smith."

"Panhandle Smith?" queried the other, quickly.

"Why, sure," returned Pan with a laugh.

"Shake," was all the reply Brown made, except to extend a lean strong hand.

"I'm most as lucky as I am unlucky," said Pan warmly. "It's a small world.... Now tell me, Brown, have you seen or heard anything of my dad, Bill Smith?"

"No, sorry to say. But I haven't mingled much. Been layin' pretty low, because the fact is I think I've struck a rich claim. An' it's made me cautious."

"Ah-uh. Pretty wide open town, I'll bet. I appreciate your confidence in me."

"To tell you the truth I'm darn glad to run into some one from near home. Lord, I wish you could have brought word from my wife an' baby."

"Married, and got a kid. That's fine. Boy or girl?"

"It's a girl. I never saw her, as she was born after I left home. My wife wasn't very well when she wrote last. She wants to come out here, but I can't see that yet a while."

"Well, wish I could have brought you news. It must be tough to be separated from your family. I'm not married, but I know what a little girl means.... Say, Brown, did you ever run into a man out here named Jim Blake?"


"Or a man named Hardman? Jard Hardman?"

"Hardman! Now you're talkin', Panhandle. I should smile I have," replied Brown, with a flash of quiet eyes that Pan had learned to recognize as dangerous in men. His own pulse heightened. It was like coming suddenly on a track for which he had long been searching. The one word Hardman had struck fire from this young miner.

"What's Hardman doing?" asked Pan quietly.

"Everythin' an' between you an' me, he's doin' everybody. Jard Hardman is in everythin'. Minin', ranchin', an' I've heard he's gone in for this wild horse chasin'. That's the newest boom around Marco. But Hardman has big interests here in town. It's rumored he's back of the Yellow Mine, the biggest saloon an' gamblin' hell in town."

"Well, I'll be doggoned," ejaculated Pan thoughtfully. "Things turn out funny. You can show me that place presently. Does Hardman hang out here in Marco?"

"Part of the time. He travels to Frisco, Salt Lake, an' St. Louis where he sells cattle an' horses. He has a big ranch out here in the valley, an' stays there some. His son runs the outfit."

"His son?" queried Pan, suddenly hot with a flash of memory.

"Yes, his son," declared Brown eyeing Pan earnestly. "Reckon you must know Dick Hardman?"

"I used to—long ago," replied Pan, pondering. How far in the past that seemed! How vivid now in memory!

"Old Hardman makes the money an' Dick blows it in," went on Brown, with something of contempt in his voice. "Dick plays, an' they say he's a rotten gambler. He drinks like a fish, too. I don't run around much in this burg, believe me, but I see Dick often. I heard he'd fetched a girl here from Frisco."

"Ah-uh! Well, that's enough about my old schoolmate, thank you," rejoined Pan. "Tell me, Brown, what's this Marco town anyway?"

"Well, it's both old an' new," replied the other. "That's about all, I reckon. Findin' gold an' silver out in the hills has made a boom this last year or so. That's what fetched me. The town is twice the size it was when I saw it first, an' many times more people. There's a lot of these people, riffraff, that work these minin' towns. Gamblers, sharks, claim jumpers, outlaws, adventurers, tramps, an' of course the kind of women that go along with them. A good many cow outfits make this their headquarters now. An' last, this horse tradin', an' wild horse catchin'. Sellin' an' shippin' has attracted lots of men. Every day or so a new fellar, like you, drops in from east of the Rockies. There are some big mining men investigatin' the claims. An' if good mineral is found Marco will be solid, an' not just a mushroom town."

"Any law?" inquired Pan thoughtfully.

"Not so you'd notice it much, especially when you need it," asserted Brown grimly. "Matthews is the town marshal. Self-elected so far as I could see. An' he's hand an' glove with Hardman. He's mayor, magistrate, sheriff, an' the whole caboodle, includin' the court. But there are substantial men here, who sooner or later will organize an' do things. They're too darned busy now workin', gettin' on their feet."

"Ah-uh. I savvy. I reckon you're giving me a hunch that in your private opinion Matthews isn't exactly straight where some interests are concerned. Hardman's for instance. I've run across that sort of deal in half a dozen towns."

"You got me," replied Brown, soberly. "But please regard that as my confidential opinion. I couldn't prove it. This town hasn't grown up to political corruption an' graft. But it's headed that way."

"Well, I was lucky to run into you," said Pan with satisfaction. "I'll tell you why some other time. I'm pretty sure to stick here.... Now let's go out and see the town, especially the Yellow Mine."

Pan had not strolled the length of the main street before he realized that there was an atmosphere here strangely unfamiliar to him. Yet he had visited some fairly wild and wide-open towns. But they had owed their wildness and excitement and atmosphere to the range and the omnipresent cowboy. Old-timers had told him stories of Abilene and Dodge, when they were in their heyday. He had gambled in the hells of Juarez, across the Texas border where there was no law. Some of the Montana cattle towns were far from slow, in cowboy vernacular. But here he sensed a new element. And soon he grasped it as the fever of the rush for gold. The excitement of it took hold of him, so that he had to reason with himself to shake it off.

The town appeared about a mile long, spread out on two sides of the main street, graduating from the big buildings of stone and wood in the center to flimsy frame structures and tents along the outskirts. Pan estimated that he must have passed three thousand people during his stroll, up one side of the street and down the other. Even if these made up the whole population it was enough to insure a good-sized town. There were no street lamps. And the many yellow lights from open doors and windows fell upon the throngs moving to and fro, in the street as well as on the sidewalks.

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