“If you’d kep’ ridin’ him, ’stead of changin’ off on your hawss, they’d have behaved quieter,” said the foreman.

“That’s good seasonable advice,” said Balaam, sarcastically. “I could have told you that now.” “I could have told you when you started,” said the Virginian, heating the coffee for Balaam.

Balaam was eloquent on the outrageous conduct of the horses. He had come up with them evidently striking back for Butte Creek, with the old mare in the lead.

“But I soon showed her the road she was to go,” he said, as he drove them now to the water.

The Virginian noticed the slight limp of the mare, and how her pastern was cut as if with a stone or the sharp heel of a boot.

“I guess she’ll not be in a hurry to travel except when she’s wanted to,” continued Balaam. He sat down, and sullenly poured himself some coffee. “We’ll be in luck if we make any Sunk Creek this night.” He went on with his breakfast, thinking aloud for the benefit of his companion, who made no comments, preferring silence to the discomfort of talking with a man whose vindictive humor was so thoroughly uppermost. He did not even listen very attentively, but continued his preparations for departure, washing the dishes, rolling the blankets, and moving about in his usual way of easy and visible good nature.

“Six o’clock, already,” said Balaam, saddling the horses. “And we’ll not get started for ten minutes more.” Then he came to Pedro. “So you haven’t quit fooling yet, haven’t you?” he exclaimed, for the pony shrank as he lifted the bridle. “Take that for your sore mouth!” and he rammed the bit in, at which Pedro flung back and reared.

“Well, I never saw Pedro act that way yet,” said the Virginian.

“Ah, rubbish!” said Balaam. “They’re all the same. Not a bastard one but’s laying for his chance to do for you. Some’ll buck you off, and some’ll roll with you, and some’ll fight you with their fore feet. They may play good for a year, but the Western pony’s man’s enemy, and when he judges he’s got his chance, he’s going to do his best. And if you come out alive it won’t be his fault.” Balaam paused for a while, packing. “You’ve got to keep them afraid of you,” he said next; “that’s what you’ve got to do if you don’t want trouble. That Pedro horse there has been fed, hand-fed, and fooled with like a damn pet, and what’s that policy done? Why, he goes ugly when he thinks it’s time, and decides he’ll not drive any horses into camp this morning. He knows better now.” “Mr. Balaam,” said the Virginian, “I’ll buy that hawss off yu’ right now.” Balaam shook his head. “You’ll not do that right now or any other time,” said he. “I happen to want him.” The Virginian could do no more. He had heard cow-punchers say to refractory ponies, “You keep still, or I’ll Balaam you!” and he now understood the aptness of the expression.

Meanwhile Balaam began to lead Pedro to the creek for a last drink before starting across the torrid drought. The horse held back on the rein a little, and Balaam turned and cut the whip across his forehead. A delay of forcing and backing followed, while the Virginian, already in the saddle, waited. The minutes passed, and no immediate prospect, apparently, of getting nearer Sunk Creek.

“He ain’ goin’ to follow you while you’re beatin’ his haid,” the Southerner at length remarked.

“Do you think you can teach me anything about horses?” retorted Balaam.

“Well, it don’t look like I could,” said the Virginian, lazily.

“Then don’t try it, so long as it’s not your horse, my friend.” Again the Southerner levelled his eye on Balaam. “All right,” he said, in the same gentle voice. “And don’t you call me your friend. You’ve made that mistake twiced.” The road was shadeless, as it had been from the start, and they could not travel fast. During the first few hours all coolness was driven out of the glassy morning, and another day of

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.