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The Lure of the Dim Trails

B. M. Bower

  Produced by Simon Page


  By B. M. Bower


  "What do you care, anyway?" asked Reeve-Howard philosophically. "Itisn't as if you depended on the work for a living. Why worry over thefact that a mere pastime fails to be financially a success. You don'tneed to write--"

  "Neither do you need to slave over those dry-point things," Thurstonretorted, in none the best humor with his comforter "You've an incomebigger than mine; yet you toil over Grecian-nosed women with untidy hairas if each one meant a meal and a bed."

  "A meal and a bed--that's good; you must think I live like a king."

  "And I notice you hate like the mischief to fail, even though."

  "Only I never have failed," put in Reeve-Howard, with the amusedcomplacency born of much adulation.

  Thurston kicked a foot-rest out of his way. "Well, I have. The fashionnow is for swashbuckling tales with a haze of powder smoke risingto high heaven. The public taste runs to gore and more gore, andkidnappings of beautiful maidens-bah!"

  "Follow the fashion then--if you must write. Get out of your pink teaand orchid atmosphere, and take your heroines out West--away out, beyondthe Mississippi, and let them be kidnapped. Or New Mexico would do."

  "New Mexico is also beyond the Mississippi, I believe," Thurston hinted.

  "Perhaps it is. What I mean is, write what the public wants, since youdon't relish failure. Why don't you do things about the plains? Itought to be easy, and you were born out there somewhere. It should comenatural."

  "I have," Thurston sighed. "My last rejection states that the localcolor is weak and unconvincing. Hang the local color!" The foot-restsuffered again.

  Reeve-Howard was getting into his topcoat languidly, as he dideverything else. "The thing to do, then," he drawled, "is to go out andstudy up on it. Get in touch with that country, and your local colorwill convince. Personally though, I like those little society skits youdo--"

  "Skits!" exploded Thurston. "My last was a four-part serial. I never dida skit in my life."

  "Beg pardon-which is more than you did after accusing my studies ofhaving untidy hair. Don't look so glum, Phil. Go out and learn yourWest; a month or so will put you up to date--and by Jove! I half envyyou the trip."

  That is what put the idea into Thurston's head; and as Thurston's ideasgenerally bore fruit of one sort or another, he went out that very dayand ordered from his tailor a complete riding outfit, and because hewas a good customer the tailor consented to rush the work. It seemed toThurston, looking over cuts of the very latest styles in riding clothes,that already he was breathing the atmosphere of the plains.

  That night he stayed at home and dreamed, of the West. His memory,coupled with what he had heard and idealized by his imagination,conjured dim visions of what he had once known had known and forgotten;of a land here men and conditions harked back to the raw foundationsof civilization; where wide plains flecked with sage-brush and ribbonedwith faint, brown trails, spread away and away to a far sky-line. ForPhil Thurston was range-born, if not range-bred, His father had chosenalways to live out on the edge of things--out where the trails of menare dim and far apart-and the silent prairie bequeaths a heritage ofdistance-hunger to her sons.

  While he brooded grew a keen longing to see again the little townhuddled under the bare, brown hills that shut out the world; to see thegay-blanketed Indians who stole like painted shadows about the place,and the broad river always hurrying away to the sunrise. He had beenafraid of the river and of the bare hills and the Indians. He felt thathis mother, also, had been afraid. He pictured again--and he picture wasblurred and indistinct-the day when strange men had brought his fathermysteriously home; men who were silent save for the shuffling of theirfeet, and who carried their big hats awkwardly in their hands.

  There had been a day of hushed voices and much weeping and gloom, andhe had been afraid to play. Then they had carried his father asmysteriously away again, and his mother had hugged him close and criedbitterly and long. The rest was blank. When one is only five, thepresent quickly blurs what is past, and he wondered that, afterall these years, he should feel the grip of something very likehomesickness--and for something more than half forgotten. But thoughhe did not realize it, in his veins flowed the adventurous blood of hisfather, and to it the dim trails were calling.

  In four days he set his face eagerly toward the dun deserts and thesage-brush gray.

  At Chicago a man took the upper berth in Thurston's section, and settledinto the seat with a deep sigh--presumably of thankfulness. Thurston,with the quick eye of those who write, observed the whiteness of hisungloved hands, the coppery tan of cheeks and throat, the clear keennessof his eyes, and the four dimples in the crown of his soft, gray hat,and recognized him as a fine specimen of the Western type of farmer,returning home from the stockman's Mecca. After that he went calmly backto his magazine and forgot all about him.

  Twenty miles out, the stranger leaned forward and tapped him lightly onthe knee. "Say, I hate to interrupt yuh," he began in a whimsical drawl,evidently characteristic of the man, "but I'd like to know where it isI've seen yuh before."

  Thurston glanced up impersonally, hesitated between annoyance and anatural desire to, be courteous, and replied that he had no memory ofany previous meeting.

  "Mebby not," admitted the other, and searched the face of Thurston withhis keen eyes. It came to Phil that they were also a bit wistful, but hewent unsympathetically back to his reading.

  Five miles more and be touched Thurston again, apologetically yetinsistently. "Say," he drawled, "ain't your name Thurston? I'll beta carload uh steers it is--Bud Thurston. And your home range is FortBenton."

  Phil stared and confessed to all but the "Bud."

  "That's what me and your dad always called yuh," the man asserted."Well, I'll be hanged! But I knew it. I knew I'd run acrost yuhsomewheres. You're the dead image uh your dad, Bill Thurston. And me andBill freighted together from Whoop-up to Benton along in the seventies.Before yuh was born we was chums. I don't reckon you'd remember me? HankGraves, that used to pack yuh around on his back, and fill yuh up ondried prunes--when dried prunes was worth money? Yuh used to call 'em'frumes,' and--Why, it was me with your dad when the Indians pot-shothim at Chimney Rock; and it was me helped your mother straighten thingsup so she could pull out, back where she come from. She never took tothe West much. How is she? Dead? Too bad; she was a mighty fine woman,your mother was.

  "Well, I'll-be-hanged! Bud Thurston little, tow-headed Bud that used toholler for 'frumes' if he seen me coming a mile off. Doggone your measlyhide, where's all them pink apurns yuh used to wear?" He leaned back andlaughed--a silent, inner convulsion of pure gladness.

  Philip Thurston was, generally speaking, a conservative young manand one slow to make friends; slower still to discard them. He wasastonished to feel a choky sensation in his throat and a stinging ofeyelids, and a leap in his blood. To be thus taken possession of bya blunt-speaking stranger not at all in his class; to be addressedas "Bud," and informed that he once devoured dried prunes; to be told"Doggone your measly hide" should have affronted him much. Instead, heseemed to be swept mysteriously back into the primitive past, and tofeel akin to this stranger with the drawl and the keen eyes. It was theblood of his father coming to its own.

  From that hour the two were friends. Hank Graves, in his whimsicaldrawl, told Phil things about his father that made his blood tinglewith pride; his father, whom he had almost forgotten, yet who had livedbravely his life, daring where other men quailed, going steadfastly uponhis way when other men hesitated.

  So, borne swiftly into the West they talked, and the time seemed sho
rt.The train had long since been racing noisily over the silent prairiesspread invitingly with tender green--great, lonely, inscrutable, luringmen with a spell as sure and as strong as is the spell of the sea.

  The train reeled across a trestle that spanned a deep, dry gash in theearth. In the green bottom huddled a cluster of pygmy cattle and mountedmen; farther down were two white flakes of tents, like huge snowflakesleft unmelted in the green canyon.

  "That's the Lazy Eight--my outfit," Graves informed Thurston with theunconscious pride of possession, pointing a forefinger as they whirledon. "I've got to get off, next station. Yuh want to remember, Bud, theLazy Eight's your home from now on. We'll make a cow-puncher of yuh inno time; you've got it in yuh, or yuh wouldn't look so much like yourdad. And you can write stories about us all yuh want--we won't kick.The way I've got the summer planned out, you'll waller chin-deep inmaterial; all yuh got to do is foller the Lazy Eight through tillshipping time."

  Thurston had not intended learning to be a cow-puncher, or followingthe Lazy Eight or any other hieroglyphic through 'till shippingtime--whenever that was.

  But facing Hank Graves, he had not the heart to tell him so, or that hehad planned to spend only a month--or six weeks at most--in the West,gathering local color and perhaps a plot or two? and a few types.Thurston was great on types.

  The train slowed at a little station with a dismal red section house inthe immediate background and a red-fronted saloon close beside. "Herewe are," cried Graves, "and I ain't sorry; only I wisht you was goingto stop right now. But I'll look for yuh in three or four days at theoutside. So-long, Bud. Remember, the Lazy Eight's your hang-out."