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7ebbdbe06d7678e2078dbb157fd8f47f by Les Weil

7ebbdbe06d7678e2078dbb157fd8f47f by Les Weil

Author:Les Weil
Format: epub


19

LAT TOLD HIMSELF they were here, they were real -these people, these few friends, these strangers and Indians, some afoot, some in the saddle, some in buggies and wagons. They appeared and made sounds and so must be real, like the sky and the hills and this flat under foot where without fail two horses would race. Sugar stood real or followed along, led by real reins that felt unreal to the hand.

"'Bout ready?" It was Whitey at his side.

To him he could say, "This me, Whitey?"

"What's your name, huh? Puddin-an-Tame, like it says in the pome." Whitey took his arm. His over-size eyes showed understanding. From Lat they went to the men who kept circling around. "Don't let 'em fever you."

One of the men dug a chew of tobacco out of his whiskers. He called out, "Can that big bronc untrack himself?"

"And don't let 'em stampede you," Whitey went on. "It's your money ridin'."

Beyond the man who had spoken, beyond a farther scattering of people where a couple of dogs smelled the ground, another bunch, mostly Indians, formed a ring. Through the screen they made came glimpses of the dappled horse. A horse to knock a man's eye out, seen close. An Appaloosie they would call him in Oregon, one of the strain bred for bottom and foot by the Nez Perces.

"Them brands ain't been questioned so far, though it's just as well we bet Jehu's ponies with Injuns," Whitey said under his breath.

Lat nodded. Horses, men and outfits seemed to dance and mix and voices high and low to be one flowing voice. "You did a fine job."

"Not up to my old self."

The secret days and nights of work came back, of hunting, chasing and corralling horses and of throwing them when dusk or dark provided cover. Then Whitey, sobered up and eager, would get busy with his knife. "Can't risk a fire," he'd said, "so irons is out. Knife's nigh as good, but this night work strains my peepers. Lucky for that moon. Remember, just in case, Lat, to cut always with the hair. Won't do to go against it. Leaves blood beadin' out."

The circle of men had drawn closer. Out of their talk a voice rose. "Let's get on with the race, boy! That horse'll putrefy."

Whitey moved back and stroked Sugar and looked him over with an old horseman's eye. He would be wondering if Sugar was conditioned enough. A few days of good oats and good hay, which hadn't filled out all the wrinkles. A few days of exercise with Jehu's ten broncs. That was all. That was everything possible. No time for more. No use to wonder. No use to worry that the false brands would be found false.

Back there in his office, before the branding, Whitey had figured. "Jehu's brand's a Lazy F," he'd said and with his stub of pencil branded a piece of paper F. "Now the way I see it, don't take no horses with prior brands, no matter if they're vented and Jehu's later brand put on.



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