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CHAPTER III. FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Thurston, dressed immaculately in riding clothes of the latest English
cut, went airily down the stairs and discovered that he was not early, as
he had imagined. Seven o'clock, he had told himself proudly, was not bad
for a beginner; and he had smiled in anticipation of Hank Graves' surprise
which was fortunate, since he would otherwise have been cheated of smiling
at all. For Hank Graves, he learned from the cook, had eaten breakfast at
five and had left the ranch more than an hour before; the men also were
scattered to their work.
Properly humbled in spirit, he sat down to the kitchen table and ate his
belated breakfast, while the cook kneaded bread at the other end of the
same table and eyed Thurston with frank amusement. Thurston had never
before been conscious of feeling ill at ease in the presence of a servant,
and hurried through the meal so that he could escape into the clear
sunshine, feeling a bit foolish in the unaccustomed bagginess of his
riding breeches and the snugness of his leggings; for he had never taken
to outdoor sports, except as an onlooker from the shade of a grand stand
While he was debating the wisdom of writing a detailed description of
yesterday's tragedy while it was still fresh in his mind and stowing it
away for future "color," Park Holloway rode into the yard and on to the
stables. He nodded at Thurston and grinned without apparent cause, as the
cook had done. Thurston followed him to the corral and watched him pull
the saddle off his horse, and throw it carelessly to one side. It looked
cumbersome, that saddle; quite unlike the ones he had inspected in the New
York shops. He grasped the horn, lifted upon it and said, "Jove!"
"Heavy, ain't it?" Park laughed, and slipped the bridle down over the ears
of his horse and dismissed him with a slap on the rump. "Don't yuh like
the looks of it?" he added indulgently.
Thurston, engaged in wondering what all those little strings were for,
felt the indulgence and straightened. "How should I know?" he retorted.
"Anyone can see that my ignorance is absolute. I expect you to laugh at
me, Mr. Holloway."
"Call me Park," said he of the tawny hair, and leaned against the fence
looking extremely boyish and utterly incapable of walking calmly down upon
a barking revolver and shooting as he went. "You're bound to learn all
about saddles and what they're made for," he went on. "So long as yuh
don't get swell-headed the first time yuh stick on a horse that side-steps
a little, or back down from a few hard knocks, you'll be all right."
Thurston had not intended getting out and actually living the life he had
come to observe, but something got in his nerves and his blood and bred an
impulse to which he yielded without reserve. "Park, see here," he said
eagerly. "Graves said he'd turn me over to you, so you could—er—teach
me wisdom. It's deuced rough on you, but I hope you won't refuse to be
bothered with me. I want to learn—everything. And I want you to find
fault like the mischief, and—er—knock me into shape, if it's
possible." He was very modest over his ignorance, and his voice rang true.
Park studied him gravely. "Bud," he said at last, "you'll do. You're
greener right now than a blue-joint meadow in June, but yuh got the right
stuff in yuh, and it's a go with me. You come along with us after that
trail-herd, and you'll get knocked into shape fast enough. Smoke?"
Thurston shook his head. "Not those."
"I dunno I'm afraid yuh can't be the real thing unless yuh fan your lungs
with cigarette smoke regular." The twinkle belied him, though. "Say, where
did you pick them bloomers?"
"They were made in New York." Thurston smiled in sickly fashion. He had
all along been uncomfortably aware of the sharp contrast between his own
modish attire and the somewhat disreputable leathern chaps of his host's
"Well," commented Park, "you told me to find fault like the mischief, and
I'm going to call your bluff. This here's Montana, recollect, and I raise
the long howl over them habiliments. The best thing you can do is pace
along to the house and discard before the boys get sight of yuh. They'd
queer yuh with the whole outfit, sure. Uh course," he went on soothingly
when he saw the resentment in Thurston's eyes, "I expect they're real
stylish—back East—but the boys ain't educated to stand for
anything like that; they'd likely tell yuh they set like the hide on the
hind legs of an elephant—which is a fact. I hate to say it, Kid, but
they sure do look like the devil."
"So would you, in New York," Thurston flung back at him.
"Why, sure. But this ain't New York; this here's the Lazy Eight corral,
and I'm doing yuh a favor. You wouldn't like to have the boys shooting
holes through the slack, would yuh? You amble right along and get some
pants on—and when you've wised up some you'll thank me a lot. I'm
going on a little jaunt down the creek, before dinner, and you might go
along; you'll need to get hardened to the saddle anyway, before we start
for Billings, or you'll do most uh riding on the mess-wagon."
Thurston, albeit in resentful mood, went meekly and did as he was
commanded to do; and no man save Park and the cook ever glimpsed those
smart riding clothes of English cut.
"Now yuh look a heap more human," was the way Park signified his approval
of the change. "Here's a little horse that's easy to ride and dead gentle
if yuh don't spur him in the neck, which you ain't liable to do at
present; and Hank says you can have this saddle for keeps. Hank used to
ride it, but he out-growed it and got one longer in the seat. When we
start for Billings to trail up them cattle, of course you'll get a string
of your own to ride."
"A string? I'm afraid I don't quite understand."
"Yuh don't savvy riding a string? A string, m'son, is ten or a dozen
saddle-horses that yuh ride turn about, and nobody else has got any right
to top one; every fellow has got his own string, yuh see."
Thurston eyed his horse distrustfully. "I think," he ventured, "one will
be enough for me. I'll scarcely need a dozen." The truth was that he
thought Park was laughing at him.
Park slid sidewise in the saddle and proceeded to roll another cigarette.
"I'd be willing to bet that by fall you'll have a good-sized string rode
down to a whisper. You wait; wait till it gets in your blood. Why, I'd die
if you took me off the range. Wait till yuh set out in the dark, on your
horse, and count the stars and watch the big dipper swing around towards
morning, and listen to the cattle breathing close by—sleeping while
you ride around 'em playing guardian angel over their dreams. Wait till
yuh get up at daybreak and are in the saddle with the pink uh sunrise, and
know you'll sleep fifteen or twenty miles from there that night; and yuh
lay down at night with the smell of new grass in your nostrils where your
bed had bruised it.
"Why, Bud, if you're a man, you'll be plumb spoiled for your little old
East." Then he swung back his feet and the horses broke into a lope which
jarred the unaccustomed frame of Thurston mightily, though he kept the
"I've got to go down to the Stevens place," Park informed him. "You met
Mona yesterday—it was her come down on the train with me, yuh
remember." Thurston did remember very distinctly. "Hank says yuh compose
stories. Is that right?"
Thurston's mind came back from wondering how Mona Stevens' mouth looked
when she was pleased with one, and he nodded.
"Well, there's a lot in this country that ain't ever been wrote about, I
guess; at least if it was I never read it, and I read considerable. But
the trouble is, them that know ain't in the writing business, and them
that write don't know. The way I've figured it, they set back East
somewhere and write it like they think maybe it is; and it's a hell of a
job they make of it."
Thurston, remembering the time when he, too, "set back East" and wrote it
like he thought maybe it was, blushed guiltily. He was thankful that his
stories of the West had, without exception, been rejected as of little
worth. He shuddered to think of one of them falling into the hands of Park
"I came out to learn, and I want to learn it thoroughly," he said, in the
face of much physical discomfort. Just then the horses slowed for a climb,
and he breathed thanks. "In the first place," he began again when he had
readjusted himself carefully in the saddle, "I wish you'd tell me just
where you are going with the wagons, and what you mean by trailing a
"Why, I thought I said we were going to Billings," Park answered,
surprised. "What we're going to do when we get there is to receive a
shipment of cattle young steer that's coming up from the Panhandle which
is a part uh Texas. And we trail 'em up here and turn 'em loose this side
the river. After that we'll start the calf roundup. The Lazy Eight runs
two wagons, yuh know. I run one, and Deacon Smith runs the other; we work
together, though, most of the time. It makes quite a crew, twenty-five or
"I didn't know," said Thurston dubiously, "that you ever shipped cattle
into this country. I supposed you shipped them out. Is Mr. Graves buying
"Hank? I guess yes! six thousand head uh yearlings and two year-olds, this
spring; some seasons it's more. We get in young stock every year and turn
'em loose on the range till they're ready to ship. It's cheaper than
raising calves, yuh know. When yuh get to Billings, Bud, you'll see some
cattle! Why, our bunch alone will make seven trains, and that ain't a
commencement. Cattle's cheap down South, this year, and seems like
everybody's buying. Hank didn't buy as much as some, because he runs quite
a bunch uh cows; we'll brand six or seven thousand calves this spring.
Hank sure knows how to rake in the coin."
Thurston agreed as politely as he could for the jolting. They had again
struck the level and seven miles, at Park's usual pace, was heartbreaking
to a man not accustomed to the saddle. Thurston had written, just before
leaving home, a musical bit of verse born of his luring dreams, about "the
joy of speeding fleetly where the grassland meets the sky," and he was
gritting his teeth now over the idiotic lines.
When they reached the ranch and Mona's mother came to the door and invited
them in, he declined almost rudely, for he had a feeling that once out of
the saddle he would have difficulty in getting into it again. Besides,
Mona was not at home, according to her mother.
So they did not tarry, and Thurston reached the Lazy Eight alive, but with
the glamour quite gone from his West. If he had not been the son of his
father, he would have taken the first train which pointed its nose to the
East, and he would never again have essayed the writing of Western stories
or musical verse which sung the joys of galloping blithely off to the
sky-line. He had just been galloping off to a sky-line that was always
just before and he had not been blithe; nor did the memory of it charm. Of
a truth, the very thought of things Western made him swear mild, city-bred
He choked back his awe of the cook and asked him, quite humbly, what was
good to take the soreness from one's muscles; afterward he had crept
painfully up the stairs, clasping to his bosom a beer bottle filled with
pungent, home-made liniment which the cook had gravely declared "out uh
sight for saddle-galls."
Hank Graves, when he heard the story, with artistic touches from the cook,
slapped his thigh and laughed one of his soundless chuckles. "The
son-of-a-gun! He's the right stuff. Never whined, eh? I knew it. He's his
dad over again, from the ground up." And loved him the better.