LE NOIR

A stirring tale of a range country feud and its aftermath

J. PAUL LOOMIS January 1 1930

LE NOIR

A stirring tale of a range country feud and its aftermath

J. PAUL LOOMIS January 1 1930

LE NOIR

A stirring tale of a range country feud and its aftermath

J. PAUL LOOMIS

A WHITE horse for peace, a black horse for power, an’ a red horse for war,” you say. You’re gettin’ mighty stylish in your classification of cowponies. Accurate too, I don’t think, if you’re referrin’ to the black crow-bait Jim’s a-ridin’, your dead-head roan, an’ my old grey—which piled me twice this mornin’ ! But since your mind is runnin’ to classical allusions I’ll tell you about a black horse I knew once that was up to specifications. Knew more than his share about Women, Horses, Power an’ War; the four greatest things on earth, so old Kipling tells us.

It was here in the park country along the North Saskatchewan. The horse I’m tellin’ you about carried the Drunken Wineglass iron—that’s a wineglass with a Wiggly stem; Buck Harron’s brand—an’ he ran a stud on the Butte Creek range till he was four. Which gave him his crest an’ kinky mane an’ “look here at me” style that kept you lookin’ as long as he was in sight. Which wasn’t long, usually.

Le Noir is what Ken Norman named him. Ken had a fancy for French names an’ things. French girls, too, it

proved later. He first saw “The Black” one rainy morning leadin’ about thirty cayuses out of his young oats. Ken hopped on one of his cow-hocked ponies to chase ’em through the gate, but they went by it asnortin’ down to the corner of the fence. There Le Noir sailed over the poles an’ the rest smashed through ’em. And in spite of the extra rails Ken put on the fence this happened about twice a week till the oats was ruined. Still, Ken couldn’t hate the horse. Not even when he got close enough to see the Wineglass on his shoulder— an’ Ken had reason enough to hate Buck Harron.

Ken’s homestead by Bright Sand Lake was right in the heart of the Wingeglass range, an’ till he came along with his little bunch of scrub heifers ev’rybody had called the ground a muskeg. But the level reach of

wavin’ slough-grass set there between the .blue lake an’ the grey-green hills looked like a great hay-meadow to Ken’s high-an’-dry Foothills eye.

We boys ridin’ for Buck hoped the “frog-rancher” would last long enough to get his placed fenced, for he was tired of snakin’ Wineglass cows out of the bog each spring an’ fall. Then one evenin’ Billy Sykes rode in an’ said he was cuttin’ hay.

“Must be polin’ his mower on a raft,” says Slats Eagen.

“Or else he an’ his ponies are web-footed,” declares Athabaska Charlie.

But it wasn’t such a mystery. When Buck an’ I rode by, next day, we found that this saddle-bowed youngster had been spendin’ some weary months diggin’ drainage ditches. Buck cussed right handsome. Hay-meadows are “it” on this northern rim of cow-country: the thing that determines your holding. An’ here was a first-rate meadow goin’ right from under his nose, because he’d never looked sharp enough to see how easy it could be drained.

Strange things began to happen by Bright Sand. Ken’s little bunch of doggies that had ranged close home all summer was scattered from hell to breakfast in the fall. After ev’ry rain he’d find his ditches dammed so lots of his hay rotted in the coil. In the winter two of his stacks burned; his cattle starved; and half of ’em died before spring. It near broke the kid’s heart to listen to their empty-bellied bawlin’, an’ he knew it was all Buck’s doin’; tryin’ to run him out.

Ken had the level grey eyes an’ clean bony jaw of the sort that’s hard to bluff. He stayed by his claim an’ broke an’ sowed his patch of ground to ensure feed for the next winter; but now the black gelding had fixed that. An’ yet Ken found himself fairly achin’ for a closer acquaintance, for from his old run-over boot-heels up Ken loved a good horse. Knew one too, an’ used to spend his nights an’ days imaginin’ what it would be like to ride the prairie atop that shiny black.

ONE day while still tryin’ to save his oats he chased Le Noir an’ his bunch of bronchos clean over beyond Willow Creek, hopin’ they’d stay put. There he met Buck Harron.

“You little runt,” roars Buck—which Ken wasn’t— “I’ll larn you to run my stock all over the map!” An’ with that his rope shot out an’ snaked Ken from his saddle. Buck whirled his horse an’ set his spurs.

It was while Ken was lyin’ in the hot sun where Buck left him, half-stunned, an’ arm broke, an’ ev’ry inch of him bruised or cut, that Wilda McKinnon found him.

She was a slip of a girl; flat-chested, overworked. She got Ken on to her pony somehow an’ led it to their shack. There she an’ her mother patched him up the best they could. Mrs. McKinnon even set his arm. She was a tanned, whipcord woman—a sure-enough pioneer. With Wilda an’ the boy named Alec she ran the homestead Sandy McKinnon had left her when a quarrel with Buck Harron put the hot-headed Scotsman under the sod.

While Ken was mendin’, Wilda found an’ caught his horse, still carryin’ his saddle. His thanks, awkward as they were, seemed to make her mighty glad. Whenever she wasn’t in the field she was doin’ somethin’ for him or just watchin’ him with her bit wistful eyes.

This was hayin’ time an’ soon as Ken could ride a mower he was back at work, drivin’ with one hand. But the McKinnon youngsters stacked most of the hay, an’ of course Ken divided with them, puttin’ himself short again. As winter neared it seemed he just couldn’t face the chance of again starvin’ his cattle. What was the sense of fightin’ a big outfit like the Drunken Wineglass anyway? Why not pull out an’ start somewhere else? Debating this, he saw Le Noir come down out of the hills an’ hop the fence into his meadow, extra poles an’ all. It gave Ken a feelin’ that a man ought to do like that too with the hurdles Fate put in his way. But he shook his head. It was a lead-colored day-, an’ he was lonely an’ glum.

' I 'HIS was after freeze-up, but no snow had come.

It’s a dangerous time of year for stock still on the range, for the only place they can get water is at the spring-holes in the tricky muskegs. There was one of these in Ken’s meadow which all his ditchin’ wouldn’t dry. Two mornings later Ken noticed something black in the meadow, an’ found Le Noir bogged to his ears. The front-crust by the spring-hole had broken through.

Ken nigh drownded himself gettin’ a rope down around theblack’s shoulders. Then with two horses he tried to pull him out. Nary an inch. He put on four. Finally, with a hungry suckin’ an slobberin’, the bog gave up the horse.

Le Noir was a pretty tame critter, I tell you. Ken relied him on to a stone-boat an’ drew him to his stable. There with rubbin’ an’ hot blankets he brought him back to life so’s he got wild again. With oats an’ pettin’ Ken started gentlin’ the horse, till in a few days he was halter-broke. When he didn’t dare to keep him any longer Ken led him to the gate, but afore he slipped the headstall he ran his hand once more down that crested satin neck. His eye followed like a hungry thing from the gelding’s wide-set ears down over his slopin’ shoulders

an’ short powerful back to his clean legs an’ hard black hoofs.

“Good-by, Le Noir,” he said at last.

The horse gave Ken a little root with his nose an’ tossed his head. It was an invite—a dare. The chance he’d dreamed of. An’ it wouldn’t come again.

When Ken eased into his old Montana saddle an’ slipped the blindfold, the gelding just squatted in surprise. Then, bundle of whalebone that he was, he shot into the air. He came down like a carload of brick on the frozen ground; a jolt that nigh uncoupled ev’ry joint in Ken’s body. But Ken’s legs didn’t have that bow in ’em without meaning. It wasn’t the first broncho he’d ever forked.

There were no snaky tricks in Le Noir’s bucking. He was just a powerful horse, eagle-wild. When four soarin’ jumps had taken him across the corral an’ Ken was still in the saddle, he just lifted himself over that five-foot fence an’ hit for the open range. The hackamore on his nose didn’t faze him. He ripped through the willow brush till he came to Ken’s outside fence—at the one place where it was made of barbed wire ! Ken heard

the screech of wire an’ snappin’ of posts. Then the sun went out for a spell. When he come to, Le Noir was still strugglin’ in the wire. Ken got him free an’ on to his feet. On the ground was a sticky puddle, an’ the blood bubbled from a great slash across the horse’s shoulder an’ breast. Ken’s own leg was cut to the bone, but his shin had saved Le Noir’s flank.

Boy an’ horse hobbled back to the corral. Ken put a squeeze-pole against Le Noir to hold him still. With an awl an’ some moose sinew he was stitchin’ up the cut when Buck an’ me an’ Billy Sykes rode up. Buck’s cuss-word nearly made Ken jump out of his shirt. “No wonder the black wasn’t with the bunch ! What the blazin’ Tophet is goin’ on here?”

The kid’s face was white, where it wasn’t bloodsmeared. He stammers an explanation, takin’ all the blame. He begs to be allowed to pay for the horse if he don’t get well.

“Get well!” shouts Buck, “Cut half in two like that? He’ll bleed to death in an hour. An iron poultice is the only thing that can help him now. Get out o’ the way.”

Buck hitched out his six-shooter an’ stepped in front of the horse. The droopin’ black head came up to meet him, with its wide, sufferin’, but steady eyes. Ken’s eyés were round with horror. Even me an’ Billy would have rather seen a man shot. Some men, anyhow. The second we waited for the report was like an hour. Then it came—but with the pistol pointed skyward. Next instant the gun went sailin’ over the corral, for Ken, with a queer wild squeal, had dived into Buck an’ was fightin’, devil-possessed.

Down they went an’ over an’ over. Me an’ Billy hopped around the tangle, anxious to prevent murder, for Buck was a bad hombre when riled. But ev’ry time we tried to pull him off, blamed if it wasn’t the kid we’d tied on to. Finally we stood back an’ let Nature take its course. When the bully of the North Saskatchewan could neither stand nor yell nor see, Ken read the Riot Act to him. He’d pay for the hay he burned an’ rotted an’ the heifers that starved, with Wineglass cattle an’ good bright hay. For the ruined oats he could give the fellow that did the damage. Did he savvy that? Buck nodded that he did, an’ he stood by it.

An’ that’s how Ken-Norman came by Le Noir.

T5Y SPRING there was only a big scar on the black gelding’s chest to tell of the injury. But Ken had sure cared for him like a doctor an’ a mother combined. He trained him, as time went on, into a first-rate cow horse, an’ taught him little tricks like bowin’ an’ shakin’ hands. When Ken rode him in the cowboy race at the Moccasin Hill stampede that summer he left the other entries like they was stuck in the mud. Hank Brassington offered three hundred dollars for him, an’ Slats Eagen ran him up to five. Some price in a land of fifty-dollar cayuses, but I don’t blame the boys. Le Noir sure cut a figure in a parade; steppin’ like he owned creation, his coat shinin’ the blacker under Ken’s silver-mounted saddle an’ a bridle of Indian beadwork—white an’ blue an’ gold—an’ a martingale of same that hid the scar.

You wouldn’t want to hear no more about Ken if he had listened to their offers. It wasn’t just that he prized a showy horse. He an’ the black were pards. Things went well for a while with Ken. Buck swallowed his medicine an’ let him alone. His herd grew an’ his crops were good. He won some money an’ lots of local fame ridin’ at the contests along the North Saskatchewan. It didn’t spoil him. To ev’ryone he was still the Bright Sand Kid.

Often he was at McKinnon’s. Perhaps to help them brand calves or stack grain. Or just to pass a Sunday afternoon. He took Wilda’s an’ Alic’s admiration unconcerned, not noticin’ Wilda’s shyness when alone with him nor the fillin’ out of her thin form, the richenin’ color in her cheeks an’ depth to her brown eyes. Le Noir the kids both worshipped, an that pleased him.

To Ken, the sun rose an’ set by Le Noir.

rT"'HEN came the -*• war an’ Ken went over with Strathcona’s Horse. Before he left he sold ev’rything but his land, his saddle an’ Le Noir. He brought that rascal to me, an’ I knew how I was honored. Leavin’ a wife an’ baby in my care wouldn’t have shown a greater trust.

This was down by Spirit Lake where I was workin’ for old Dan Lawton. I put Le Noir in the horse pasture an’ he jumped out, takin’ the L-Cross saddle-stock with him. I rounded ’em up an’ put the mischief-maker in a stall. He couldn’t live there without exercise, so one day I slapped my saddle on him. I slipped my foot in the stirrup — an’ stopped. Now I can savvy hosslanguage. It’s been my business since I was hock high. I never got a plainer message than was told me in that proud brown eye, those ears set stiff an’ just a little back.

“Just you dare —an’ I’ll break your neck!”

Quite some hard-ridin’ years ago I welcomed that sort of a challenge. But enough of my bones have got splints an’ spavins on ’em to make me stop an’ think. An’ thinkin’, I run my eye over that twelve hundred pounds of dynamite—an’ led it back to the stall. Since nobody was lookin’ I wasn’t ashamed to renig, for I knew then an’ there that Le Noir was a one-man horse.

One day he had a caller. Wilda rode up on her shaggy little buckskin. Asked if I’d seen any of their cattle, though their cows never was known to range two mile from home.

Then she went over to the paddock I’d built for Le Noir. I heard her give a clear little whistle—two short notes like the call of a green-winged teal. The gelding pricked up his ears. She tried it again, an’ he trotted to her an’ put his muzzle in her hand.

“You know him better than I do,” I says to myself.

After she had chummed with him half an hour, Wilda got on her horse to go. She come over to where I was doin’ the chores. She seemed awfully fussed about something, but finally she asked me if I’d heard from Ken.

I said I had, but that he didn’t say much except that he was all right and asked about Le Noir. Didn’t have sense enough to lie an’ say. he’d asked about her, too.

That wasn’t the only time she came. Whether the prairie lay warm an’ dusty-gold in the sunshine or blurry in the drift of fall rain, or whether it dazzled you

with all its cold midwinter brightness, not a week passed without her. I grew to look forward to her visits, but not so much as did Le Noir. He was more restless than ever for two days before she was due. Then come spring with the chuckle of runnin’ water an’ the smell of clean sod once more. Le Noir jumped the paddock, though his forelegs whacked the top rail an’ stood him on his head. I thought he’d broke his neck, but he was away in no time toward the Bright Sand Hills. I didn’t chase after him. I’d had all I could stand of keepin’ his wild heart in a cage.

' I saw him often; always leadin’ a band of horses an’ always wild as a hawk. Then one day I got the jolt of my life. I found his band without him, then turnin’ home, I saw a black horse racin’ against the settin’ sun with a girl on his hack! They dropped out of sight in a

coulee, an’ I tried to tell myself it was some other horse. But I knew it wasn’t any horse but Le Noir. It sure stayed in my mind, till one day I was ridin’ up to a little meadow ringed by willow brush when I heard again that little two-note whistle, an’ the black gelding trotted into view. Then near me, Wilda stepped out of the bushes toward him.

I noticed how her hair wasn’t in braids down her back, but loose an’ curly about her face. I noticed how straight she stood, how strong an’ “all-alive” she looked. Seemed like she was a woman, all at once. Yes, and without the slightest doubt a handsome one at that.

The big horse seemed to think so too, as he nibbled the oats she’d brought him, an’ pulled the corner of her scarf with his velvet lips. Ás she patted his neck I heard her saying : “You want him, too; don’t you, old fellow? Oh, is he all right, I wonder. When will he come back again?’’ An’ Le Noir bobbed his head an’ offered to shake hands. Then Wilda caught his mane in her left hand, an’ lighter than any cowboy she swung to his naked back. Away they went across the meado w an’ up through a patch of timber; that slim girl ridin’ without a strap the horse that had me buffaloed.

AT LAST Ken did come home. There was a strip of ribbons on his tunic an’ a limp in his off leg an’ a tight sober look about his mouth an’ eyes. His greeting was: “Hello, Pete, how’s Le Noir?” Butte Creek

folks gave a dance in Ken’s honor. Wilda was there, but while Ken was lookin’ for the stoop-shouldered girl with sunburned pigtails he remembered, Marie Monselle got him in tow. Marie was pretty as a doll an’ saucy as a thoroughbred filly. Her hair was black, but her eyes were blue, an’ her eyebrows were arched an’ ran out to slender points. Her lips had the same “just so” shape with thin corners that turned quickly up or down. She danced like a puff of thistle-

down, an’ Ken had to stay mighty close to her to keep a dozen cowboys from rushin’ her off her feet each time a dance was called.

Her brother, Lou Monselle, was floor-manager, Pierre played the fiddle, an’ old Vic, her dad, cantered his two hundred and forty pounds around the floor with the young girls and old ladies alike. You might say the Anchor M was about runnin’ the show, just as they was about runnin’ the Butte Creek country of late.

They’d come in the fall before from south of the Saskatchewan. It was hinted that folks down there had wished ’em a safe journey—an’ a long one also. Their cattle multiplied too amazin’ well. They had scads of bronchos too, not worth the grass they ate, an’ bad to lead off little bands of settlers’ stock. Old Monselle had bought hay right an’ left around Butte Creek an’ Bright Sand to winter his thousand cattle. Lou an’ Pierre an’ three-four half-breed hands was busy all winter haulin’ feed. When they wasn’t sky-hootin’ around to dances, or givin’ keg-parties, or otherwise raisin’ Ned.

They was livin’ down on the Labreque place an’ Ken an’ Le Noir just about took up quarters there. Soon he was haulin’ hay while Lou went to Vawter “on business,” or breakin’ Anchor M colts because he was “the only man who could do it right,” accordin’ to Vic Monselle. When the snow finally went off, Ken went ridin’ nearly ev’ry day with Marie. One evenin’ she gave her old man a nod, an’ after supper he sprung his proposition. Wanted Ken to take the whole raft of Anchor M cattle on shares. Ken said he couldn’t handle ’em. Vic told him he’d buy what winter feed Ken couldn’t raise. It was pasture he was after, not bein’ allowed to run cattle north of the Saskatchewan because he wasn’t a landowner there. It was a great chance for Ken, declared the old palaverer. He liked Ken. He was gettin’ old. The boys would soon be pullin’ out for themselves an’ he needed help.

His wink an’ oily smile grated on Ken as rude as when your loaded sleigh-runner hits a stone. The very fact that he could still feel two soft arms around his neck made him want to choke Monselle. Of course he was dizzily in love with Marie, but he wanted to win her. Not have her offered in a cattle deal!

’XTEXT day Ken rode with Marie to the North Saskatchewan. From, the valley rim they looked out over sunny banks dotted with crocuses an’ grey poplar bluffs that still sheltered snowdrifts, an’ over the big sweepin’ river to the blue distance that wrapped the buttes beyond. It looked mighty good to Ken after empty oceans an’ curried, crowded England an’ wargutted France. But he was thinkin’ what a thousand “outside” cattle would do when turned loose on this range which was already overstocked. It would be grazed to the grass-roots. Hay meadows would be trampled out an’ settlers’ fences broken. What of the McKinnons an’ a dozen such?

“Why didn’t you tell Papa you would take the cattle?” asked Marie all at once.

“I’ve no right to. They’re not mine,” Ken answered when he could speak, after seein’ his idol fall off its perch.

“No right, fiddlesticks! We’ll give you a bill of sale and the cattle will be yours so far as the law is concerned.”

Ken shook his head. “It’s only a trick,” he said.

“But what of that. We’re the ones that are taking the risk, in case you tried to doublecross. But of course not! Forgive me. Come, Ken, that’s a dear.” She put her arms around Ken’s neck an’ they hurt worse than a quirtlash. In his eyes she read his disappointment in her. A woman don’t like that. Her own eyes snapped an’ the slim corners of her mouth went down. She pushed him back.

“All right, old goody-goody. I know someone who will.”

“Who?” Ken blurted.

“Buck Harron. He likes me a lot, too.”

It was like jabbing an old hurt that lays alongside a fresh one. But Marie didn’t let Ken get away. “You might as well have the cattle as Buck,” she coaxed, all mellow again. “They’ll be on this range anyway, an’ if Buck takes them you won’t have a chance to get started again with a herd of your own.” Ken knew if he took the cattle he could keep ’em from doin’ near the mischief Buck would let ’em do. And Marie—well, maybe a woman shouldn’t be expected to look at a thing the same way as a man. There she was with her red lips coaxin’ an’ her slim arms tuggin’ at l>is neck. Ken’s breath came hard, an’ his hands on her shoulders was slowly takin’ her to him when a low nicker made him look past her to Le Noir. The black had stopped grazin’ an’ was studyin’ Ken with a queer look in his eyes. He gave a stamp of his foot. Call it bunk if you want to—somethin’ about the proud rascal made Ken stop.

“I’m a man’s horse,” he seemed to be sayin’, “and I want only a real man for my master. Come away. Ride.”

Ride they did a stormy ten minutes later. The bottom had fallen out of creation, the sunshine was gloomy blue. Ken slouched in his saddle as he studied Marie’s straight angry back all the way home. He knew, too, this misery wasn’t all of his punishment. You don’t turn down a girl like Marie when she throws herself at you an’ have a chance to forget it right soon.

WHAT with the Wineglass an’Anchor cattle, there was no room on the range for the little bunch Ken bought. They strayed into herd-law territory, an’ cost Ken half their worth in damage bills. One day, passin’ McKinnon’s, he found Wilda drivin’ cattle out of a ruined crop. Ken took them straight on to pound. Buck sued him an’ won the case, for he not only had a phony bill of sale, but a transfer of ownership of the Anchor M brand to prove the cattle had a right on the Butte Creek range.

Ken paid the fine for illegally impounding the cattle, though to do it he had to borrow from the bank. Then Marie played her hand. Ken had placed his entry in the Moccasin Hill Stampede as usual. As he an’ I rode into town the day of the “bust,” we met Marie an’ Buck. Very gay they looked—till Marie’s eyes fell on Le Noir in all his flashy trappings. Then I swear they turned green. Lookin’ back, I saw her arguin’ with Buck to beat the bank.

The rodeo started with a parade as usual. Ken an’ Le Noir were put in the lead. The crowd cheered as they came in the gate. Then Corporal Segner in his scarlet tunic advanced. Buck Harron was at his elbow. The parade stopped.

We saw Ken get down an’ we saw Buck point to the Drunken Wineglass on Le Noir’s shoulder. We caught the words “not vented ... no bill of sale.” We saw the mountie nod an’ turn to Ken, an’ Ken’s face grow a sickly color. Slowly, like he was stunned, he pulled his saddle off Le Noir. The crowd buzzed like a beehive. Segner motioned the parade to go on. There were hoots from the stand, but Marie clapped her hands an’ laughed in Ken’s face as Buck led Le Noir away.

Out across the flat I saw Ken footin’ it for tall timber. As I rode after him a little buckskin pony passed me like a streak. Wilda McKinnon had Ken by his shirt front when I rode up.

“Of course you can ride—now as well as any time!” she was saying. “You’re no quitter, even though they have robbed you of Le Noir.”

Ken’s face was blank, ’cept that his eyes were blazing. He shook his head.

“The boys are betting on you,” went on Wilda. “I’m betting on you, too. That little witch, Marie, sneered at me that her brothers had a h’orse to bluff yoq out. It’s that mean trick horse they cali Diable Rouge. I bet her all I had you would ride him. I know you will, too!”

'"T'HEY’D tell you yet, the folks that L were at Moccasin Hill that day, about the ride Ken Norman made on Red Devil. But they can’t—’count of what happened after that’s made ’em forget. It was a rangy, hammer-headed roan, trained an’ tormented into one pure hunk of cussedness that came out of the chute under Ken’s saddle, an’ all the dirt a

horse can know he tried it all out on Ken.

The crowd went wild, but Ken didn’t hear nor care. He wiped away the blood that was tricklin’ from his nose an’ leaned against the fence, lettin’ us shake a hand that was limp as rawhide in the rain. Then he stiffened all at once. Across the field came a short blast of a whinny. Both a challenge and a call.

They were windin’ up the programme with a “cowgirls’ race.” At the starting fine stood Le Noir. Marie Monselle was on his back, Buck Harron hangin’ on to his bridle with both hands. An’ next him on that little goose-rumped buckskin, was Wilda, her head high, never hearin’ the crowd’s laugh.

The starter yelled an’ the horses leaped forward. But Le Noir plunged sideways, knockin’ over the horse on his left. He bucked, an’ at his first jump Marie left him. Slats Eagen, I think it was, caught her as she fell. Lou Monselle grabbed Le Noir’s bridle. Buck Harron, swearin’ like a trooper, yanked off Marie’s saddle an’ slapped on his own. “I’ll learn you, you black devil,” he yelled, an’ set his spurs in Le Noir’s shoulders, an’ slammed him with a chain auirt between the ears.

I know if Ken had had a gun he’d have done murder. But Le Noir didn’t look to be needin’ help. Buck was a good rider, and soon he’d pulled all the tie-strings off the saddle an’ for dear life’s sake was hangin’ to the horn. The black went higher than I ever dreamed a horse could go, stood straight on his hind legs an’ pawed the air, swapped ends, sunfished; then broke away, blind-crazy-mad.

No pick-up men were near; nobody on a horse ’cept Wilda McKinnon. We knew the man an’ horse were goin’ straight to a smash-up in the heavy spruce-rail fence. Wilda tried to turn ’em. Like shoutin’ at the wind! An’ then, while we gasped, she jammed her knot-head pony in front of that black thunderbolt just as it hit the fence.

There was a sickenin’ thud an’ the scream of a dyin’ horse. We surged forward. Someone almost knocked me over. It was Ken. From between Le Noir’s threshin’ hoofs he snatched Wilda. Rage was gone from his face. There was only a great wonder.

Half a dozen of us flopped on Le Noir an’ held him so’s he wouldn’t rip himself open on the jagged end of a fence-rail which was against his flank. The poor little buckskin was like he’d been hit by a locomotive. Buck Harron’s head was crushed against a post of the fence.

KEN came to me in our tepee down by Moccasin Creek in the long twilight. “She’s all right now,” he said, headin’ off the question I was startin’ to ask.

“Pete,” says he, half an hour later. “Which did she do it for—me or Le Noir?”

“It was for both of you,” I tells him shortly, “and in addition to bein’ the blindest fool I know of, you’re the luckiest.”

Behind us came fast hoof-beats. Ken stood up to see who it was. He mighty near dropped in his astonishment. It was Wilda ridin’ Le Noir.

She slipped to the ground an’ handed Ken the bridle. “He’s yours,” she said. “Corporal Segner said so when he heard all the story. But may I ride him when I go to collect from Marie Monselle?’ Ken made a queer noise in his throat, but he could only nod.

Wishin’ always to be obligin’ I backed crawfish-like into the tepee. But after a bit I raised the flap. All three of ’em was strollin’ along the creek bank. The white night mist was blurring the moonlight, so I couldn’t be sure about Ken’s arm. But Le Noir dropped behind an’ fell to grazin’. Realized, prob’ly, that as a chapyrone he wasn’t greatly in demand.