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30,000 on the Hoof
Zane Grey (1940) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
Lucinda allowed herself to be persuaded again by Barbara and Grant to attend a dance at Pine.
These occasions had been few and far between as the years flew by. In that country they were the only social gatherings of any kind, and were attended by all the scant populace for fifty miles around, irrespective of character.
Whatever Lucinda's qualities--which Logan so often maintained, with solid pride, were perfect for a pioneer's wife--she had never favoured these country affairs until the children, grew far beyond the age of the other young people who gave themselves so avidly to this one pleasure. Dances were the only means by which the older folk got acquainted and the youngsters had a chance to court each other. The drawbacks, from Lucinda's point of view, were the invariable and often serious fights among the young backwoodsmen, and the cowboys, not to mention the men of doubtful prestige.
So the time had come when Lucinda was reluctantly compelled to attend an occasional one of these functions. Logan enjoyed them immensely. He talked cattle to the other ranchers, and watched the young folk dance. It did not seem to worry him that the young bucks fought over Barbara. She was the prettiest and most popular girl between Flagg and the Matazels. Logan took vast pride in that. Nevertheless he did not encourage young men to call at Sycamore Canyon. He still clung jealously to the secret and the dream of his isolated range.
But Lucinda saw things differently. She had forestalled the courting of Barbara until the girl was older than most young mothers of that region. She would have put it off altogether, or indefinitely, if either had been possible.
A very beautiful relationship existed between Barbara and Abe. If they thought about it at all they probably regarded it as sister and brother love, but Lucinda believed their worship was deeper than they had conceived. Abe had paid little attention to other girls, while Barbara would have been content always to dance, ride, work, and talk with Abe.
The respect and devotion Grant held for Barbara were a joy to Lucinda, although they were purely of a brotherly nature. Grant held no favourite among the country belles, although he interested himself in many of them. George, however, was different. He made no secret of his affection for Barbara, but his interest in other women was more violent and possessive than either of his brothers'.
Lucinda pondered over these things all morning of the November day when the Huetts were preparing to drive to Pine for the Thanksgiving turkey shoot and dance. Logan was intent on loading more produce to sell in Pine than one wagon would contain. Barbara laboured between ecstasy and despair over the white gown Lucinda had given her. Grant and George decked themselves out in all the cowboy finery they possessed. Abe came in dressed in buckskin, carrying his rifle.
"Abe Huett!" exclaimed Barbara. "You're not going to this dance in buckskin?"
"Bab, I'm going to a turkey shoot," replied Abe, mildly. "But you promised to come to the dance...Abe, I won't have any fun without you."
"Sure I'll come. You don't think I'd leave you to that pack of hombres, do you?...But I don't want to wear pants and boots when I can be comfortable in buckskin. Barbara, I'm going to win that turkey shoot."
"Win! Of course you'll win. But, Abe, please dress up, and look like--like somebody. You can't dance in moccasins."
"I can't dance in boots or shoes either."
"You can too."
"I never get much chance to dance with you, anyway."
"You shall to-night. I promise. Please, Abe."
"Say, you don't have to coax me. I'm tickled to death. But, darn it, Barbara, I'm no good as a dancer."
"You're not so bad, Abe. Sure, you're no dancing dude him George."
George took the sly dig as a compliment. Lucinda divined something untoward was brewing here. Barbara was not jealous of George's attentions to his other friends, but she took exception to a great many of them. Lucinda thought this an opportune moment to bring matters to a head.
"George, you're not going to take that Mil Campbell to this dance?" hazarded Lucinda, with pretended assurance.
"Why, yes, Maw--I'd thought of it," drawled George, as he carefully adjusted his scarf.
"Yes, really," retorted George, the red leaping to his cheek. "Mil can dance rings round that outfit. It's a mixed crowd, you know...and why shouldn't I?"
"I shouldn't think you'd need to be told," returned Lucinda, coldly.
"Brother, the reason you shouldn't take that hussy is because Ma and I will be there," spoke up Barbara, her eyes blazing.
"Aw, I don't see it!" ejaculated George. But he was aware of it, and he was angry.
Abe eyed him 'penetratingly. "Say, don't look for me to help you fight that Campbell outfit again."
"You can all go to the devil," shouted George, furiously.
"If we did we'd meet you there, George Washington Huett," said Barbara, cuttingly. "But don't misunderstand me...George, it's really none of my business whom you take--or what you do. Only I've blinded myself to your actions. Mil Campbell is handsome, and I'll bet she's lots of fun. She certainly can start fights among her beaux. But, you know, she's hardly a--a person to flaunt in front of Mother and me...Don't expect me to speak to you, let alone dance with you."
George's tanned face turned white and his eyes held a passionate reproach. But he strode out silently, his head up.
"Aw, Bab, you raked him over pretty hard," said Grant. "After all, blood is thicker than water."
"Served the lady-killer just right," added Abe. "George has got some sense, but he doesn't use it until he's waked up by a jar...And, Bab, don't you feel sorry. That Campbell outfit hate George because Mil is crazy about him. There'll be a fight. And George will come sloping home sure ashamed of himself and probably licked bad."
Lucinda reproached herself for this issue, yet could not but feel that good would come of it. No doubt George was more deeply involved with the Campbell girl than they had suspected.
"Say, the stuck-up hombre rode off by himself," said Abe, from the door. "Maw, I'll put my good clothes in the wagon and change down there...Bab, I'll bet you'll just dazzle them to-night...Sorry you won't be there in time to see me win that turkey shoot."
"Abe, you couldn't lose."
"All the crack shots of the Tonto will be there," he rejoined dubiously. "I'll have to do some tall shooting."
"Here," flashed Barbara, leaping up from her box of finery to tie a bit of bright ribbon upon his buckskin coat. "There, Abe Huett, you dare to lose now."
"Thanks, Bab...I reckon It'd be kinda bad for some hombre if I was shooting at him."
Barbara watched them ride away up the canyon road.
"Ma, if I could only meet some fellow like Abe!" murmured Barbara.
"Abe is a real man, Barbara," replied Lucinda pridefully. At that moment the impulse welled up within her to reveal the truth about Barbara's past to the girl, but another more disturbing emotion thrust it back. Eventually Barbara must know the fact of her adoption, but Lucinda still dreaded the time when she would have to tell her.
"Well, I'll never marry till I do find someone like him," said Barbara, as if to herself.
Logan rushed them in order to be ready for the drive down to Pine before noonday. It was quite far, but downhill all the way, and they accomplished the journey by sunset. Logan let them out at the log schoolhouse in the woods just on the edge of the little hamlet.
Already a number of families had arrived. Children were making merry around a big fire, while women were carrying utensils and packs from the wagons. Lucinda and Barbara deposited their heavy donations on the rough clapboard table that looked as if it had done duty for many years of weathering. Then while Lucinda made herself agreeable to old and new acquaintances, Barbara, with her precious box, ran into the cabin to change, along with other young women who had journeyed far for this night's pleasure.
While the sun set and dusk gathered, one by one horsemen arrived, singly and in couples and groups, buckboards and wagons. The Holberts and Colliers had travelled sixty and seventy miles to attend this dance. Lucinda met several new families, now calling themselves neighbours, who had homesteaded between Mormon Lake and Sycamore Canyon. All of Pine and most of Payson were represented, and many from the Verdi and Tonto.
They thronged around the fires and tables, eating and talking and laughing, until the fiddler arrived. He was a lean old man who had played one tune on his instrument for thirty years. The only other variation in music the dancers received were the tones struck from another violin by the accompanist who beat rhythmically and monotonously on it with little pine sticks while the fiddler sawed with his squeaky bow.
Lamps at each end of the schoolroom shed a yellow glare upon the circling dancers. As before, Lucinda looked on curiously, wonderingly, not quite understandingly. How seriously these young people took their dancing! It might almost have been a solemn occasion. No smiles, no whispers, no coquettish glances nor lover-like embraces! There were pretty girls there, as well-dressed as Barbara, but none of them could equal her grace. She danced first with Grant, while Lucinda kept her eyes fastened upon them.
After a dance the young people would stream Gut into the firelight, some to slip off into the woods, the majority crowding first around the tables, then the fixes. The big blazes Were kept roaring by attendants. The November night was still, clear, cold. Between dances the older folk sauntered through the schoolroom, gossiping and meeting neighbours they had not seen for months. The children romped here, there, and everywhere until they fell of sheer exhaustion and were put to bed behind the stove, where a generous space was allotted them. Thus the young people grew up in celebration.
Presently Abe approached Lucinda. She hardly knew his lithe, powerful figure in the unaccustomed garb. How handsome he was! Lucinda thrilled at his clear, fine, tanned face, dark almost as an Indian's, at his shining eyes. He put his arm around her.
"Maw, I won the turkey shoot," he announced, proudly. "Best shooting I ever did. But I sure had to."
"I'm glad, Abe. What'd you win?"
"All three shoots, Three gobblers and fifty-odd dollars."
"So much!--Have you told Dad?"
"Yes, he's bragging around. But I haven't told Barbara. She's been so corralled I couldn't even see her...Awl there she comes. She saw me...Maw, she's just too lovely."
Barbara came running, her dark eyes beaming upon Abe.
"Oh Abe! I heard. It's just wonderful. But I knew you'd win," she cried, and embraced him shyly.
"Wal, if you ask me, this is what made me win," Abe drawled, touching a bit of ribbon in his buttonhole. "What do I get for winning? 'Cause sure I'll spend most of that prize money on you?"
"What do you want, Abe?" she asked, wistfully.
"I reckon seeing you like this is enough."
"But Abe! You'll dance with me?"
"Sure...Bab, I ran plump into George with his lady. Doggone, but she's handsome! Made eyes at me! But I didn't speak. I'll bet George will raise hell with me."
"Neither did I, Abe," replied Barbara. "George has danced only with her so far."
"Gosh, the fool is loco: That Campbell outfit will break loose pronto."
Lucinda intervened, troubled by these disclosures, and she begged Abe to warn George to avoid a fight.
"All right, Maw, I'll try," said Abe dubiously. "But it won't be no use. George is riding high, and he's due for a spill...Come, Barbara, see if you can make me dance as well as you made me shoot."
Affairs of this kind lasted all night, to break up at daylight. As the hours wore on the dancers grew more and more obsessed with something that Lucinda thought for most of them was physical contact. They swayed to the music, but it was only a means to an end. The young men outnumbered the young women, and, as a result, the latter had little rest during the evening. The best girl dancer, in the estimation of the majority of men, was the one who could dance all the men down. Mil Campbell had enjoyed such reputation before she had become infatuated with George Huett. She was a strongly built, wiry young woman in her twenties, with a bold, flashing kind of beauty and allurement that went to the heads of young swains like wine.
For that matter, few indeed were the boys who did not drink as the dance wore on. A local liquor, called white mule, distilled by moonshiners down in the wild Tonto, was far from being conducive to the peaceful continuance of the dance. On rare occasions Logan had indulged in a drink or two of this fiery liquid that was so disarmingly named. Lucinda thought it had rather an amusing and relaxing effect upon her husband. Grant became exuberant under its influence. Abe never touched it, nor any other kind of drink. Fortunately for George and his family, dances and other festive occasions were rare, for he was fond of the sorghum juice, and it always acted subtly and oppositely on his genial temperament.
These reflections had passed through Lucinda's mind, and had been forgotten, at least for the period of agreeable intercourse with some new women acquaintances. But not all the conversations Lucinda happened upon, or could not avoid hearing, were agreeable. There were cliques in that section of Arizona--homesteaders, squatters, pioneers, cattlemen, ranchers, Mormons, and others of whom it was not safe to speak.
Lucinda heard a swarthy woman say, "Thet stuck-up Huett outfit," which remark gave violent check to her friendly feelings of the moment. When later her ears burned at inuendoes that could not have concerned anyone else but George and the Campbell girl, Lucinda thought her hopes of enjoying one dance without distress were futile.
There were few intermissions between dances. The fiddler and his accompanist played through long intervals, only stopping to wet their throats before beginning again. When, however, there was excitement outside, those who were dancing and watching would rush madly from the cabin.
This inevitable circumstance held off so long that Lucinda's fears began to wane. They were revived quickly, however, when she encountered Barbara at the wide front door, attempting to drag Grant inside. Barbara was pale and her eyes were purple blazes.
"Now!" ejaculated Lucinda, her heart sinking like lead.
"Mother--don't go out," panted Barbara. "There's a fight--about----"
"What's happened?" interrupted Lucinda, aghast.
"Oh, if it hadn't been one thing it'd have been another. But they had to drag me into it...All George's fault!...Jack Campbell just asked me to dance. He wasn't drunk. And he was decent about it. Said I might stop a fight if I'd dance with him. But I was confused--angry, and I said no...Oh, I should have danced with him whether Abe liked it or not!"
"You did right to refuse him. How can that start a fight?"
"I don't know. But it will. He said so."
"You stay with Grant. I'll go out and get Abe. We'll go home."
"Maw, we can't do that," objected Grant, sharply. "George is a jackass. But Abe won't leave him here alone to be half beaten to death by that Campbell outfit. And neither will I."
"He went off to town with Holbert."
Lucinda pushed through the crowded door, followed by Grant and Barbara. The excitement of the jostling couples could have been felt even if it had been suppressed. Brush had been thrown upon the fires, and flames with great sparks leaped high towards the black pines. In the open space before the cabin it was as light as day. A circle of men and women extended from one fire to the other. The dancers were craning their necks to see, climbing up on tables, and stumps in the background, trying to edge through the cordon.
Lucinda scorched her gown squeezing near the fire into the circle. In the full glare of the twin blazes George stood confronted by the dark, long-haired, uncouth-appearing Jack Campbell. Behind them Mil Campbell was struggling with her other two brothers to keep from being dragged into the crowd. On the instant she broke loose to run and take hold of Jack, who fiercely shoved her back. Lucinda had the same impulse, but Abe, who came from behind, laid powerful hold on her.
"Too late, Maw," he whispered, tensely. "Just as well they have it out."
What Lucinda hated most at that instant was not to see George standing there, pale, with gimlet eyes of fire, plainly at the end of his tether, but the tension of the onlookers, the suspended whispers of eager speculation and passion that rail through them, the raw something in their gleaming faces. Dance, drink, and fight were the only emotional outlets these backwoods and cattle people enjoyed in their lonely, elemental lives.
"I told you to leave Mil to her own outfit," rasped out Campbell.
"Sure. But you're a damn fool! She didn't want that," replied George, hotly.
"All Mil wants is to make trouble. An' all you want, Huett, is to play fast an' loose with her. Wal, I'm callin' you right heah an' now."
"Holler your head off. It won't stop me. But if you had and decency you wouldn't drag your sister's name in the dirt, rejoined George, scornfully. He was roused to wrath, probably inflamed by drink, but hard, calculating, holding himself in check. On the other hand, Jack Campbell appeared to be under the influence of the liquor as well as a malignant purpose which he would not see thwarted. His swaggering, bold front attested to an issue long desired. He had at last hounded this son of the exclusive Huetts into the open.
"George Huett, I'm gonna mess up yore dude clothes an' mash yore pretty mug," declared Campbell, with robust satisfaction.
"Like hell you are! But if you pick a fight with me, I'm telling everybody it's just hate. You've no cause."
"Didn't I accuse you of playin' fast an' loose with Mil?" demanded Campbell.
"That's a lie, Jack. And I can prove it."
"Bah, you cain't prove nothin' to me."
"Ask Mil. Only to-night I told her I'd marry her if she'd turn her back on your rotten outfit."
Campbell wheeled in amaze and fury. "Mil, is thet so?"
"Yes, it's so," cried the young woman, wildly, divided between shame and fright. Her flashing dark beauty gained from genuine distress and the play of the firelight upon her face. "Jack, this--this deal is outrageous...For my sake--"
"Aha. You can declare yourself, Mil Campbell, right heah an' now. Are you playin' fast an' loose with Huett?"
"No--I'm not," she panted.
"Wal, how aboot Rich Harvey? You're thick with him. You was gonna marry him till this dude Huett--"
"Shut your dirty mouth!" screamed his sister, in her rage and evident guilt. "You're drunk."
"I'm sober enough to see through you, Mil Campbell. You're dishin' my pard Rich for this Huett guy. Wal, I'm givin' you away to him."
Mil hissed like a snake at her brother and, turning to flee, she almost ran across the fire, in her madness to escape.
"Huett, I'm tellin' you," went on Campbell, sombrely. "If Mil dishes Rich Harvey it won't change the fact thet she ought to marry him."
"Campbell, I wouldn't believe a word you said," declared George.
"Huett, mebbe you'll believe this," launched Campbell, craning his black, ragged head at George. "I jest asked yore sister to dance with me. She said no! an' she drew back her white duds as if she might dirty them if they touched me."
"Campbell, I can believe that last. But you leave her name out of this," retorted George, subtly transformed.
"She's no better than Mil," burst out Campbell, surrendering to the passion he knew would break Huett's restraint. "Some folks down heah hints she's unnatural fond of her brothers----"
George leaped to swing a terrific blow upon Campbell's mouth. Loosened teeth rattled on the leaves as he fell. The men onlookers shouted lustily; some of the women screamed. Lucinda pressed behind Abe, against Barbara, who was clinging to Grant. But Lucinda's instinct was only to get out of the open. A burning within her burst all bounds.
Campbell bounded up and with lowered head plunged at George like a bull. He swung both fists wildly. Then came a furious exchange of blows, finishing with a sodden thump upon Campbell's nose that spattered blood and upset him. The backwoodsman plumped down ridiculously, to the hoarse guffaws of the men. He snarled like a beast, and, leaping up, tried again to beat down Huett's defence. But he was outmatched. His opponent's longer reach and cooler method put Campbell at a disadvantage. The break in his confidence was manifest to all and it transformed him into a savage.
"Look out, George!" yelled Abe, piercingly. "Knife!"
Lucinda saw the bright glitter of a blade in the firelight. She staggered back upon Grant, crying out: "For God's sake stop them!" A husky acclaim from men and screams from women gave way to a strained silence.
"Huett, I'll cut yore heart out," hissed Campbell, crouching with his right hand low.
"Jack, thet ain't fair play," yelled some man from the crowd.
Huett appeared cornered between his assailant and the nearer fire. Campbell had so manoeuvred as to be facing both George and Abe.
"George, if he swings, grab his arm," whispered Abe, in a silence so deep that all heard. Then Abe turned to call caustically: "Somebody pass me a gun--if you're not ail Campbells!"
"Jim--Sandy," shouted Campbell, manifestly to his brothers. "Copper any more there...This's my deal, an' I shore got a hand!"
The white-faced George swayed a little to and fro in his intense wariness. Then Campbell leaped, whirling the blade so swiftly that only its glitter could be seen. He evidently cut George's right arm, for it fell limp. Then his next move was a downward stab that wrenched a cry of agony from George. But with left hand he held Campbell's wrist momentarily.
On that instant Abe sprang in to deal Campbell a blow that resounded suddenly through the woods, lifting Campbell clear from his feet and knocking him into the fire. Screeching horribly, the man rolled out, his clothes blazing, his visage ghastly, his hands beating like broken wings. The knife was gone. The nearest onlookers broke out of their trance to drag Campbell away from the fire. Then the hoarse cries and lamentations were suddenly hushed as Abe Huett flung himself upon Jack Campbell's brothers.
A battle began that drew wild delight from the watching men and turned the women's faces white and tense. Lucinda had almost fainted when George was stabbed, but she revived to an appalling interest in Abe's onslaught upon the other two. The three combatants moved so swiftly that Lucinda could not tell who was who, until one of them went down. But Abe was not that one. The crowd stilled to the heavy blows, the tearing of garments, the deep curses and pants of the fighting men. Then the smaller of the Campbells stumbled, and fell flat on his back. Groggily he staggered half-way to his knees, when a powerful kick under his chin flattened him again. This coup left Abe engaged with the larger Campbell, who, unable to keep his feet before his agile and 'powerful opponent, resorted to the backwoods rough-and-tumble fight, which went obviously, from the first, against Campbell. His wrestling, his beating grew less fierce, until it was plain he had been bested. But when he bawled enough, Abe dragged him up to his knees and struck one final blow at the distorted visage. Campbell's head struck the ground with a thud, and he lay prone like his brother.
The dance sustained a longer intermission than usual. There was a woman among the guests who professed skill with wounds, and who bound up George's gashes. The cut on his arm was nothing to be concerned about, but the stab high on his breast had just escaped the lung. It would be painful, but not necessarily serious. According to talk in the cabin, Jack Campbell had been hauled away to the village, terribly burned, and in a critical condition.
After some of the men carried George to the Huett wagon the old musician began fiddling more engagingly than ever, and the dance went on as if nothing had happened. When Lucinda expressed wonder at this, one of her women listeners replied: "Shucks, there's been more'n one dancer carried oot of heah feet first!"
Lucinda had not heard from Abe since the fight, but Barbara, pale and distraught, told her that she had seen him run to bend over George, and that he had arisen to say: "Not bad knifed. Tie him up and send him home."
"But Abe...wasn't he hurt?" queried Lucinda, poignantly.
"Hurt? I couldn't tell," replied the girl, tragically. "But he slipped away--from me. Oh, he was all rags, mud, blood!"
Logan soon appeared on the scene. He had heard all about the fight. Lucinda had always feared what his wrath might be, yet here, as always, he was calm, practical, apparently unfeeling.
"Come, Luce, we'll go home," he said. "Barbara, stay with Grant if you want. The dance has hardly begun."
"Thanks, but I'll go with mother," declared Barbara, constrainedly. "No more Tonto dances for me!"
"Abe's horse is gone," said Grant, when they reached the wagon. "I reckon I'll fork mine and amble along."
George came out of his dazed state to ask from his bed in the wagon, "Dad, where's Abe?"
"Gone home, I reckon, which is where we're going pronto."
"Was he bad hurt?"
"Not so you'd notice it, Grant said," drawled Huett. "Ben Holbert saw the fight. According to Ben that Campbell outfit made a mistake to jump you when Abe was around."
"Abe saved my life. Aw, Dad, I've been such a--a fool."
"Well, son, they say you had cause, with that handsome, black-eyed cat throwing herself at you. Let it be a lesson. Keep quiet now...Lucinda, are you ready to leave?"
"Yes, unless Barbara wants to change her dress."
"I'll ride as I am. Give me a blanket," said the girl, and she climbed into the wagon upon the hay beside George. Grant rode behind, leading George's horse.
Lucinda thought she would never forget the bonfires, blazing up anew, the square log cabin with its gleaming lights, the pioneers standing around discussing the fight, the young couples coming out of the dark woods to join the dancers, the monotonous squeak of the fiddle and the strange, intense, rhythmic tread of feet. How weird were the tall black pines! They reminded Lucinda of those she had seen first in Arizona, a score and more of years ago.
Logan wrapped a blanket around her and clucked to the horses.
"Well, home by sun-up," he said, cheerfully. "Maw, I tell you I made a good deal to-night. Holbert put me on to it. Pretty decent of him. But he's in no shape to take up any deal. Besides, he couldn't find the browse. That's where Sycamore Canyon has all these ranges beat. My oak thickets, my maple thickets with all their browsing leafage--they'll sure make my fortune yet!"