Red Ok emo
A tale of men in love and a race that fulfilled a woman's hope
J. PAUL LOOMIS
WHEN Short Blakeney was sentenced to three years in the prison at Fort Saskatchewan,
Anse Kelso was left like a young horse lost from his band. But unlike a horse he didn’t race wildly up and down, whinnying.
For one thing he was too bewildered. Horse-stealing . . . Short !
Anse was dismissed. Robarge himself requested it. But to get along without Short? He felt numb.
“So long, kid. Never mind about me. Nor the horses neither—the mortgage company’ll see to them. Grab the first job you kin find an’ freeze on to it. An’ take keer o’ yourself.” A long speech for Short.
Anse tried to disobey five minutes later, when Robarge offered him a job wrangling horses on the Reversed R. Anse looked up, intending to tell thé old rancher to take his job and go jump in the river, but something in the kindly blue eyes and the fatherly hand on his shoulder tied his tongue.
“I know how you feel, son,” said the big man, “but don’t stick that fist into me. It’ll be hard to find a job just now ...” He didn’t say : “Because you’re Short’s partner.” He did say: “I’d like to prove I don’t hold this matter personal.”
Anse had been wrangler and stable monkey at the Reversed R a month when the black mare foaled. This year she was in good flesh, having wintered well in Short’s bunch, and there were no life-draining hours in a bog preliminary to the event as there had been last year. That colt had died before it was an hour old, but this year’s foal was spry as a deer on his long legs when Anse found him, and he hadn’t yet seen a sunset. He was a brickish brown with a star; would be a red bay some day. • Though the black mare was still a tender subject to Anse, he bore this news to his employer.
Robarge showed small enthusiasm.
“The mare is a thoroughbred,” he said, “that I bought when I was back in Ontario last year. Picked her ’specially to mate to my stallion Montrose. Then she ‘strayed’ from my pasture and wintered on the range, and the foal was lost. And this year’s colt, of course, is the get of some range scrub or Indian knothead. You might as well bring them in and we’ll knock it on the head.”
ANSE went away dumb. He hadn’t believed a man ■ with eyes like Harve Robarge could say such a thing He had opened his mouth to protest, in fact to reveal something enlightening, but it had to do with Short, so he couldn’t. But he spent the remainder of the day in driving the mare and colt by easy stages into some lonesome country beyond Mist Creek. At dark he reported to his boss that she was not to be found in
But the mounted policeman who had found Harve Robarge’s black mare in Short’s bunch of horses wouldn’t believe she was there by accident. Not when she’d been there a year, carrying the Reversed R, even though it was a light brand under her mane and not easy to see. The fact that Short and Anse had found the mare in a boghole nine-tenths dead and had saved her by much effort didn’t matter to the Court either. Short had driven her from
her home range. That was stealing. Short’s case must be a warning. Rustlers had been too active of late along the North Saskatchewan.
the region where he had seen her that morning. This worked for a week, then the mare wouldn’t be kept from her band. Wes Beiward brought her to the corral with the others.
Robarge’s frown was not for the fault he found in the colt but in his pedigree. It was a» smart a little fuzz-tail as ever shied at his own shadow.
“You didn’t do so bad at that, Bess,” the old horseman addressed his favorite mare, “and you don’t seem a blamed bit ashamed of him.” His eyes continued to rest on her as she lashed with jealous tooth and hoof at the inquisitive geldings. “We’re cayuse poor as it is,” he concluded, “but I reckon it’d be just too mean now to take away your baby.”
Anse watched the black mare with the bay colt at her flank starting back to the range. The sky was blue all at once, and he saw the green mist of new leaves on the grey poplar bluffs that dotted the innumerable knolls which fell away to the silver sweep of the North Saskatchewan. He was to help Wes Beiward break horses that day. It was mighty good to be alive.
Early in the day Anse decided that Wes had a deal more strength than patience, more skill than love of a horse. He roped the wild young geldings, blindfolded or threw them as was necessary, saddled swiftly, and rode them till they had no buck left. He was quiet, sure; a good rider beyond all question. Anse respected him. But he wasn’t Short. Short had a way with horses.
Days passed and Anse proved, all unconsciously, that he had a way with horses also. In a month every horse in the stable would whinny when Anse came to the door. Half a dozen of the recently broken colts came eagerly to him in the corral for nibbles of the oats that always bulged his pockets. When one of these was assigned to him i. s a saddle horse, it soon neck-reined perfectly.
Robarge nodded in shrewd-eyed approval, but Wes Beiward lost no chance to scoff at what he called chicken-hearted horsemanship.
None of the hands expected the tawnyhaired youngster to resent these slurs, and no one cared whether he did or not. So there was a hush of amused surprise one morning when Anse faced Beiward with something steely in his level grey eyes.
“So you think I pet horses because I’m afraid of ’em ! Can’t ride without a cushion in my saddle? Pick me n horse to rid«» this evenin’ when the men come in from work, will you?”
“I’ll do just that, young sprout,” said Wes with a burly chuckle. “An’ we’ll all be on hand with a blanket to catch you in—if you come down before it’s too dark for any of us to see you.”
The horse Wes had in the corral that evening was a dogie-looking brown. Anse colored angrily. Had Wes ignored his challenge; thought to ridicule him by giving him a deadhead? Then he saw the beast’s eye, under its drooping lid, following him. There was white in the corner of it, a reddish leer in the contracted pupil. Anse knew that kind. Short often used to swap for them.
Anse roped the horse, and it stood quietly to be saddled. They often did, those outlaws. He replaced the noose with a halter, tightened the látigo with a yank -and that same instant was in the saddle.
The horse lit a long way from there and kept lighting —headed this way and that—in every part of the corral. Sometimes he “threaded the needle” and plunged about like a headless thing. Then the evil head came up from between the front legs and yellow teeth flashed for Anse’s knee—to be met by a boot-heel. Finally the horse threw himself over backward. Anse was waiting when he started to rise and se tled coolly into the saddle again. The show didn’t last long after that. The brown quit. The fall had jarred the remaining ginger out of him.
This happened the evening of the day Nadia Robargecame home to the Reversed R from her first year at school in St. Boniface. Prairie wind smelled good to her again, and so did the odor of dust and horses in the corral. She was down from her perch on the high fence and gripping the hand of Anse when he swung off the sweating outlaw.
“You’ve got the stuff,” she congratulated. “Wes himself has to pull leather on old Vinegar.”
Anse was speechless, of course, and color spread from his brown cheeks to the roots of his tawny hair. He began fumblingly to strip off his saddle. He missed the thundercloud on Belward’s face. But he did notice how the fellows quit calling him “Kid” and “Button.” His heart swelled. No higher tribute could be asked.
Anse saw more of Nadia. In fact he saw her whether she was with him or not. She was like that; had sombre eyes with deep lights in them, and a boyish voice, and a dimple in her left cheek when she smiled that gave the lie to them both. Anse wanted to tell her that her laugh
was like the little Mist Creek falls. But he was inarticulate, though she seemed to find something comfortable in his silence. Moreover, Nadia couldn’t have been the owner of that dimple and not have enjoyed flashing him the unexpected glances which always caught a glow of worshipful admiration in his eyes.
Down by Mist Creek one day, Anse showed Nadia the Bess mare and her bay colt. She saw him all, from his sensitive close-set ears to his flat-boned legs and sloping pasterns. She liked him. She said so to Anse and to her father that night as they sat at supper.
“Oh, yes,” he answered, “they’re all pretty while they’re little.”
“But he isn’t just pretty, lie has the makings of a great horse.”
• “Bess did the best she could by him,” Robarge admitted. “But he’s half scrub, thanks to Short Blakeney. When he’s grown you’ll find a streak of coarseness through him. He’ll be lacking in heart and head.”
Then came the summer picnics, with their pony races, stampedes and dances. Anse would have given an arm for the courage to ask Nadia to go with him to just one of them. But each time he watched her ride away with Was Beiward, who sported a pink silk shirt and a pair of orange-colored Angora chaps and rode a great glass-eyed pinto. Anse learned new depths of misery. And yet on the day that preceded Nadia’s return to school she chose to ride with him again, down to the Mist Creek range to see Red Okemo. That was the name she had given the bay colt—Cree for “Chief.”
They found the horses by a little blue lake which was ringed by poplars that showed the first yellowing touch of fall. Nadia watched the colt as he frolicked with a yearling filly.
“Dad can call you a broom-tail if he wants to, but you’re a little champion,” she declared. “Anse, I know I’ll win a race—a big race with him some day.”
They rode homeward. The sunshine hung in the still air like gold milled infinitely fine; flame of sunset; a whistling flight of teal piercing the softly gathering dusk.
“Come alive, Anse! Race you to the haystack on the flats yonder.”
They were off to the drum of hoofs in hard prairie, the eager stretch of good horseflesh under them. Half a mile and Nadia’s leggy buckskin was well in the lead. Suddenly the ground seemed to pitch up to meet her. Anse saw the tawny belly of her horse in front of him, saw him crash with waving hoofs.
“Gopher hole,” he thought as he knelt to lift Nadia. How limp! How white her face in the dusk!
She had gone clear of the horse, thank heaven. Yet what difference—if the fall had killed her? He bent a frantic ear to her lips, could hear no breath. Reverently he put a hand upon her breast.
What if But no! Her heart was
beating. So great a throb of gladness went through him that his own heart nearly burst. Before he knew it he had kissed her; her lips, her brow, her hair.
He knelt there, holding herin mute wonder while the dawn of powerful sensations shook him to his fingertips.
At last he felt her quiver, saw that her eyes were open. He straightened. What had he done? But sliv nestled to him.
Some power he did not try to understand drew his face down again to hers.
Presently Nadia found that she was only bruised and shaken. By a miracle also, the hole that had thrown her horse had not gripped his hoof tightly enough to break his leg. They rode in to the Reversed R, their horses walking very close together. Once more their lips met.
“Good-by,” Nadia breathed. “It’s hard to go now when we’ve just discovered. But next year there’ll be the whole long summer.”
Anse heard his own lips, as though far off, say: “Good-by.”
But Wes Beiward, leaning against the corral in deep shadow, swore and bit his pipestem harshly.
V\ 7HEN Harve Robarge returned next evening from
* V the railway station at Brant Lake whence he had taken Nadia, it was reported to him that two young horses were missing from the pasture. They were among the best he had been training to ship East. No amount of riding the surrounding range located them. A month later two more disappeared, and three just before freeze-
up. Each loss was noticed on Monday, after Arise had been riding toward Mist Creek late Sunday afternoon.
Little was said. A few nods and glances under lowered eyelids. Sometimes low-toned reference to the name of Short. Suspicion is an unreasoning thing, air-borne like a taint. No one can be unaware of it, least of all the suspect. To Anse the atmosphere became stifling. He w'as young, and he did exactly the wrong thing. Toward spring they heard of him in the Peace River country. For a time no more horses disappeared from the Reversed R.
Nadia came home in June; and, as before, her father brought her and her trunk out to the ranch in a democrat.
“How is Anse?” she asked, then added, “and the other boys?”
Harve’s shrewd eyes saw more than the touch of brisk prairie wind in her smooth cheeks.
“He’s all right, I reckon.”
“Yes, he quit ’fore Christmas.”
“Wanted a change, he said or needed one.” Robarge spoke with sudden earnestness. “Girl, don’t you go bothering your pretty head about that Anse fellow. For a youngster, he’s a good horseman, I admit. I was mighty disappointed in him. But you know what I’ve told you about scrub stock. It goes unsound—sooner or later.”
“What do you mean?” Nadia’s cheeks were white now, with a red spot in each. “Anse isn’t scrub stock. What did he do to make you say that?”
“All 1 know about Anse,” Harve defended, “is that Short Blakeney raised him. And Short’s just a shiftless horse-trader, in the pen now for stealing. Anse is likely
something he just picked up trash. We lost horses last fall; seven good ones. It looked mighty like Anse had something to do with it. Then he just quitthat’s what looked worst —and shifted off toward Grande Prairie. Back at his old game of swappin’ horses, I suppose.” Anse thought of the bay colt often. As he rode the lonely ranges of the Kiskatinaw Hills, tending or shares
a herd of Dad Felton’s Crow-track horses, he pictured the leggy red-bay yearling back in the park land of the North Saskatchewan. The colt’s first winter, Anse knew, had been spent in a sheltered corral with plenty of oats, sheaves and hay. His second he must paw through the snow for the rich, cured, upland grass; following the wind-cleared ridges on still days, putting his rump to the wind behind some poplar bluff when storms howled. Okemo would grow thin and roughhaired perhaps, but he would keep on growing; and, barring the event of a midwinter chinook which sometimes melted the powdery snow to slush, after which the cold sealed the grass in ice, he would suffer not at all.
Soft winds and spring sun would sprout the new grass, summer would give it strength, and Okemo, sleek and fat, would drowse throughthe August moons in some shady bluff or stand flank-deep in a shallow lake to escape the flies. Evenings and twilight nights he would graze, pretend to fight with the other young horses, or lead them Anse was sure about the leading—in many a breakneck race over stony ridges and ground pocked with badger holes. But Anse wanted to see him. In all the two hundred odd horses in his charge there was not one to make him forget Red Okemo. Nor was there anything in his lonely life, free and virile as it was, to dull his thirst for the homelike feeling of the Reversed R, or his hunger for Nadia’s laugh that was like the Mist Creek falls
DUXOM red lilies on the prairie; shy, sweet roses -L' bordering the bluffs; whistle of plover and shrill cry of circling hawk. To these Nadia returned when Red Okemo was four. Her voice was deep but soft now, her brown eyes often dreamy. Home to stay this time. Home for what?
She took up again the life of the ranch abstractedly. Long rides looking after the mares along the sunny banks of the North Saskatchewan. She missed Red Okemo. A fear clutched her. She had watched his growth from year to year so eagerly; in her absence dreamed of him so often. Dreams into which grey eyes got mixed and an earnest voice repeated, “When Okemo is old enough I’ll help you train him. It’s more than one race you’ll win with that red horse.” “Kidstuff!” she told herself crossly.” Still ...
“Have you sold Red Okemo?” she asked her father.
“No,” he answered. “He just turned up missing. Wes combed the range for him. Seemed bent on breaking that particular horse. Likely-looking broomtail. Someone’s taken a fancy to him.” The indifference in his tone told Nadia he had never lost his resentment at Okemo that he was not Montrose’s colt. “We’ve missed a lot of stock lately,” he continued. “Maybe our old acquaintances are back.”
“Well”—he looked at her squarely— “Short is out of the pen now, and wherever he is I reckon Anse is along.” Nadia bit her lip.
“I’ve got to tell you, Nadia, that these losses and the poor markets lately have changed things a trifle at the Reversed R. You notice there’s only half the crew. The bank pressed me and I sold most of the cattle. They’ve got more of my paper that they’re losing flesh about right now.”
“Oh, dad, why didn’t you tell me? You’ve sent me a bushel of money the last two years.”
Robarge’s smile was affectionate and prideful.
“It’s all right. I wanted you to know something besides horses. But you can’t know too much about them, either. ’Specially right now. We’ve a great bunch of Montrose four-year-olds —if we can only sell them. A buyer from the Winnipeg Polo Club is coming West at fair time. Next to working night and day training these youngsters, the best thing we can do to land him is to win with one of them in the races. You’ve already seen the roan.”
Indeed Harve lost no time in taking Nadia to see Blue Bonnet. The colt had shown much promise in local races the season before.
“Wes handled him last year,” said her father, “but he’s been too busy with the others to touch him this season. I’ll hire a jockey when we get to Edmonton,
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but it’s your job to handle him right now.” Nadia found the sinewy blue roan gelding up to his looks for speed and remarkably consistent. He kicked dust in the face of every pacemaker the Reversed R could set ahead of him; which performance, though no real basis for rating, Robarge took to heart.
‘‘It’s a long while since I backed a horse in fast company,” he enthused ‘‘but my mem’ry don’t recall many that could show their heels to that gelding— not even down East.”
One thing troubled Nadia. It was Blue Bonnet’s aloofness. Here, after three weeks of the best she could give him he paid her little more heed than the first time she entered his stall. Was it herself? Piad she forgotten horses? Or did this one lack something, some part in the hook-up between rider and horse that was vital to win?
ON Dominion Day, Stub Gahan rode Blue Bonnet to a brilliant first in the half-mile open at Edmonton. On the second day of the Exhibition he repeated the performance in a faster field, holding to the haunch of Grenadier, the favorite, until well past the quarter and then steadily forging to the front.
‘‘And he’d only started to run when he went under the wire,” Robarge more than once repeated. He lost no time in entering the gelding in the Strathcona sweepstakes, the feature of the week’s events.
On the fourth day, in a mile race, Blue Bonnet was running close behind Golden Sheaf. That fiddle-headed sorrel was known to blow up usually at three-quarters; therefore Gahan was riding easy when Iron Man, an Eastern entry, came abreast of him. Golden Sheaf did as expected, but Iron Man shot to the front. Stub flattened to the blue roan’s neck, but the space between the two horses spread.
Nadia chilled suddenly; her premonition was verified. Blue Bonnet wouldn’t sprint ! And yet he won the race by honest plugging, and because Iron Man couldn’t quite hold out. But Nadia was troubled. Had Iron Man’s rider waited another five seconds to uncork that spurt . . .
That same day being the occasion of the Stampede finals, Wes Beiward was awarded first in broncho riding. That night, after a show and a supper at the Met' mitt, he asked Nadia to marry him.
She had foreseen this since her return, but could devise no way to prevent it or to temper the pain of her answer. His was the self-centred nature that can be so deeply hurt, so bitterly resentful. She could only be frank with an old friend.
“Wes, I’ve always liked you but I don’t love you. No, I’m sure that I never can.”
The next morning at breakfast and on
the way to the stable Nadia listened to her father as he cut to shreds the hopes of the other entries in the morrow’s sweepstakes, even the well-known Mountaineer and Proudfoot, Major Bill and Follow Me.
“Good horses, all of them, but not up to what Blue Bonnet had shown already. And since yesterday we don’t need to worry about Iron Man. Just a flash in the pan.”
“But a flash that might have cooked our goose,” Nadia replied sharply. She saw him wince and regretted the disloyalty in her tone. “Dear old dad,” she told herself, “he wants to win so! And he’s so stubborn when he likes or dislikes a horse.”
Nadia left Blue Bonnet’s stable before Robarge had finished his morning pleasantries with other owners. She was approached by a slender young man with the stilted walk of a rider. His face and throat above his loosely knotted purple scarf were a clear wind-burned brown. He took off his big hat, revealing a crest of tawny hair, while on his lips was a quaint, hesitant smile.
“Na —Miss Robarge?”
“Why . . . Anse! Where in the world did you come from?”
“Peace River.” Time and loneliness had not limbered his tongue.
He took her proffered hand. He did not know he hurt it. Yet a tingle aside from pain went through her at his rugged grip. As of old, his wide-set grey eyes were wells of wondering admiration, fired by a deep and seasoned hunger now. By a sudden effort Nadia brushed aside a mist of memories and centred on him an acute scrutiny. Trash? Never, with those eyes !
“Will you come see somebody else you know?” she heard him saying.
She followed to a stable in the corner ' of the fair grounds. A dark muzzle and j lean bay head with star showing through strands of untrimmed forelock was thrust over a stall door to greet them. They entered. No need to be told what horse.
“Red Okemo!” Nadia cried. “Oh, you beauty!”
Her eyes swept him. What breadth of forehead, smooth-laid shoulders, short, powerful back, chest for a Titan’s heart and lungs to toil in, deep quarters, legs clean as an antelope’s! And the coat of him-—almost wine color. Then she looked | into his deep, bluish-brown eye, and knew that years ago she had named him right. Okemo Chief !
“But Anse, how did he get here?” Nadia asked finally.
“I stole him,” he answered, and moved not a cool eyelash.
“I know. Your father has the goods on me now, though he’s mistaken about his other charges. But you didn’t think I’d forget my promise? Of course I’d
rather have bought him and given him back to you, but I knew Wes would never let your father sell him to me. Wes gets his way with your dad. But I couldn’t let him break Okemo for you. He does just that. He breaks a horse!”
Anse paused, his attention held by her look of understanding.
“Nadia, that’s why Blue Bonnet can’t win tomorrow. That’s why Okemo can.”
“Has he ever run?” Nadia asked, her practical self returning.
“Only against cayuses at a few picnics to get him used to a crowd. Will you try him now?”
At her room Nadia changed to her riding outfit with a quiver running through her. Red Okemo . . . after four years !
X /fUCH of that afternoon Nadia spent •LYJ. in trying to persuade her father to scratch Blue Bonnet and enter Red Okemo in the sweepstakes. She, at least, had been convinced.
“You’re crazy,” Robarge unflatteringly told her. “An untried horse in place of a winner in three events! Besides, it’s a son of Montrose I’m bound to win with. He’s the sire of the horses I’ve got to sell.
“No,” he went on, “I’ve seen that bay broom-tail often enough. Sure, you can I have him, but don’t be so dazzled by his looks — nor by what that Anse says of him. Remember there’s scrub stock in ¡ both of ’em. Anse has proved his.”
Wherefore Nadia put on her hat, shut I the door hard and paid a visit to the j committee on race entries. She • was barely in time. Perhaps they stretched a point in favor of her smile.
There was no one at Okemo’s stall next morning. Nadia slid the bolt and was met by a fearful, half-defiant snort. The bay horse backed to a corner, pawing and shaking his head. What was the matter? He had shown no fear of her the I day before.
She spent two hours in soothing Okemo before she ventured with him to the race track. At that, his nerves were like snarled piano wire, and sick at heart she returned to the stall. There she remained with him, trusting no one. Lunch time passed. Still no Anse! Her father, astonished at Okemo’s name among the entries and bursting with protest, at last found Nadia. He went away directly, shaking his head and muttering to himself.
The time crawled. But at last they went to the paddock. The red horse was still fidgeting. An outburst from the band set him all a-quiver. And now the parade before the buzzing stands. Okemo, by size and color and flowing mane, stood out among the slim, clipped bangtails. Nadia, in white shirt and khaki breeches, felt doubly conspicuous among the jockeys in silks.
Nine horses tossing and wheeling around her at the barrier. Follow Me mincing as though on nettles. Proudfoot rearing dangerously. Blue Bonnet cool as a rope-horse in a branding corral.
They breasted the tape and Okemo kept on going. Nadia’s cheeks flamed as she brought him back. Next, Mountaineer was the offender, then Okemo again. At last the tape was sprung — with the big bay prancing broadside. The heels of every horse were flying before them when he began to run.
He ran with his head high, a rack in his movement. He was shaking his head at the snaffle. He didn’t even know it was a race! Like a wave, despair surged over Nadia. She fought it as she would drowning. How could Okemo run unless she believed in him? Anse believed. Steady grey eyes were before hers an instant. “Not broken . . . That’s why Okemo can.”
Nadia bent to the crestefl neck, her knees gripping the powerful shoulders. She too became oblivious of the horses ahead, her whole being centred on the effort to connect with the splendid will she knew was in the horse. Gradually he steadied, she felt him answer to her
urging. Suddenly he saw the lengthening line of horses ahead. Click! Nadia felt a tug in her breast as when the current is switched through a belted motor. She and Red Okemo had begun the race.
They overhauled two stragglers as they went by the stands, a half-mile finished. The crowd was cheering. Never mind that. Catch the sweating, high-strung Proudfoot. Done. Now Major Bill and that grey who were running neck and neck. Eating their dust now. Would Okemo obey her? Hold till they made the turn rather than try to pass them by going wide. He knew! She could feel him easing. Then as the track straightened he shot by.
Four horses more, oh, so far ahead of them! Blue Bonnet passing Iron Man, passing Follow Me, hard after Mountaineer. How Okemo ate the distance to those leaders! The thrill of it! The powerful heart of that smooth-running machine seemed booming in Nadia’s own chest. “Not broken!” Stinging wind— or what?—brought tears to blur her eyes.
Five horses, head to tail, sweeping round the turn into the finish. Now for Iron Man’s sprint, timed right this trip. Follow Me and Blue Bonnet falling behind him as though they ran in a snowdrift. His lean grey head inching forward along Mountaineer’s flank. Follow Me going wide; cut to the left of him. Had Okemo been running? Then he was flying now. Past Blue Bonnet ! For an instant it choked Nadia. Her father’s pride, running honestly but with the spirit he might show in driving cows.
Only Mountaineer and his grey shadow ahead now. Life or death in their struggle. Fifty yards left to catch them. Trailing them. Flanking them. “Now, Okemo— now !”
Mountaineer was a length behind, the blast of Iron Man’s breath was against Nadia’s ankle as they shot under the wire.
A STOCKY man, rather gone to seed and grave as an owl in a belfry, awaited Harve Robarge and Nadia when they returned that evening to their rooms at the Continental.
“I’m Short,” was the length of his introduction. “I came to congratulate the lady . . . an’ to ask for a loan.”
Robarge smiled. He looked the proudest horseman that ever lost a race.
“You have the floor,” he said affably. “Or rather, we’ll all sit down.” Short perched on the edge of the chair Robarge drew up for him, twisted his battered hat and began.
“I’ll say first there never was a win I got more good out o’ seein’ than yours, Miss Robarge. I’m powerful sorry two of our friends missed out on it. Wes an’ Anse. One’s in the hospital an’ t’other’s in jail.”
Harve started and Nadia gave an audible gasp.
“I reckon Okemo wasn’t right this mornin,’ Miss,” the little man went on. “You were nervy to run him, an’ a wonder to straighten him out like you did. It was Wes Belward’s doin’. He’s sure been on the prod since he found Red Okemo • here with Anse, an’ he figgered to spoil the hoss by cornin’ to his stall last night an’ clubbin’ him over the head. Anse an’ me was sleepin’ in the next stall. Time I could come to life Anse was savagin’ Wes. I’d like to of seen the show; it sounded mighty int’rescin’. But when i a trey o’ dep’ty p’lice come in an’ switched on the lights they dragged Anse an’ me to the hurry-wagon. Wes they gathered up for the doctors to stitch together again.”
There were exclamations from the two listeners but Short went on:
“I don’t tell tales ord’narily but somethin’ come out last night worth repeatin’. Wes admitted—under Anse’s persuadin’
—that it was him got away wi.h seven Reversed R horses, the fall Anse worked for you.”
“I can’t believe that!” Robarge’s genial
face was suddenly harsh. “Wes has been my right-hand man for twelve years.”
“Yes, and robbin’ you that long—in cahoots with a gang o’ rustlers. Don’t I know it! Didn’t I spend three years makin’ big rocks into little ones rather than squeal on him? He’s my sister’s boy—though he’s no credit to her. He told me to keep the black mare for him, sayin’ he’d bought her from you; so when I got pulled for it I kept my head shut for Nettie’s sake an’ to give Wes another chance. But when I got out o’ the skookum-house an’ found Wes ornier than ever an’ that he’d throwed suspicion on Anse—well, I been busy fixin’ it for Wes to do his turn. I can’t .say I’m sorry, though, to have Anse prove he don’t need my lookin’ after. I kinda enjoyed hearin’ him knock a confession out o’ Wes.
“Now one thing more,” Short forged on, winded but not yet fully delivered. “Five years ago—when I had that mare— Wes had me bring her to your paddock sometimes while you was away. Robarge, if you’d ever looked at Red Okemo with even one eye wide open you’d seen he’s
old Montrose’s son. He’s the horse you’ dreamed of when you picked Black Bess down East. An’ didn't he prove it today?”
There was silence. Harve Robarge studied the keen eyes in the weathered face of the man before him. Credence and a deep satisfaction grew in his own.
“You mentioned a loan,” he finally suggested.
“Uh-huh,” said Short, talked out. “To | bail Anse. They let me out this noon but they’re holdin’ him.”
“Nadia,” called Robarge, “bring me my cheque book.”
There was no answer. Nadia, with the money of the Strat.hcona sweepstakes in her pocket, was already halfway to the city jail.
Down at the fair grounds an hour later Red Okemo stood again under saddle, tossing his proud head impatiently at the blanketed horses being led past him to the railway, cars. While Nadia, far from reforming Anse Kelso, was abetting him in another horse-lifting; Blue Bonnet this time, to ride with her along the moonlit North Saskatchewan.