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In the foothills of the southern California mountains are the Rancho del Ganado, owned by Colonel Pennington, and a smaller ranch on which Mrs. Evan lives with her daughter Grace and her son Guy. Grace feels that she has dramatic talent and is determined to make a bid for fame as a motionpicture actress. Guy has become involved inthe schemes of Slick Allen who is selling stolen whisky. Another neighbor is Mrs. Burke whose daughter, known as Gaza de Lure in Hollywood, has developed a morphine habit.
265 pages, with a reading time of ~4.25 hours (66,428 words), and first published in 1922. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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The two horses picked their way carefully downward over the loose shale of the steep hillside. The big bay stallion in the lead sidled mincingly, tossing his head nervously, and flecking the flannel shirt of his rider with foam. Behind the man on the stallion a girl rode a clean-limbed bay of lighter color, whose method of descent, while less showy, was safer, for he came more slowly, and in the very bad places he braced his four feet forward and slid down, sometimes almost sitting upon the ground.
At the base of the hill there was a narrow level strip; then an eight- foot wash, with steep banks, barred the way to the opposite side of the canyon, which rose gently to the hills beyond. At the foot of the descent the man reined in and waited until the girl was safely down; then he wheeled his mount and trotted toward the wash. Twenty feet from it he gave the animal its head and a word. The horse broke into a gallop, took off at the edge of the wash, and cleared it so effortlessly as almost to give the impression of flying.
Behind the man came the girl, but her horse came at the wash with a rush - not the slow, steady gallop of the stallion—and at the very brink he stopped to gather himself. The dry bank caved beneath his front feet, and into the wash he went, head first.
The man turned and spurred back. The girl looked up from her saddle, making a wry face.
“No damage?” he asked, an expression of concern upon his face.
“No damage,” the girl replied. “Senator is clumsy enough at jumping, but no matter what happens he always lights on his feet.”
“Ride down a bit,” said the man. “There’s an easy way out just below.”
She moved off in the direction he indicated, her horse picking his way among the loose boulders in the wash bottom.
“Mother says he’s part cat,” she remarked. “I wish he could jump like the Apache!”
The man stroked the glossy neck of his own mount.
“He never will,” he said. “He’s afraid. The Apache is absolutely fearless; he’d go anywhere I’d ride him. He’s been mired with me twice, but he never refuses a wet spot; and that’s a test, I say, of a horse’s courage.”
They had reached a place where the bank was broken down, and the girl’s horse scrambled from the wash.
“Maybe he’s like his rider,” suggested the girl, looking at the Apache; “brave, but reckless.”
“It was worse than reckless,” said the man. “It was asinine. I shouldn’t have led you over the jump when I know how badly Senator jumps.”
“And you wouldn’t have, Custer,”—she hesitated— “if—”
“If I hadn’t been drinking,” he finished for her. “I know what you were going to say, Grace; but I think you’re wrong. I never drink enough to show it. No one ever saw me that way—not so that it was noticeable.”
“It is always noticeable to me and to your mother,” she corrected him gently. “We always know it, Custer. It shows in little things like what you did just now. Oh, it isn’t anything. I know, dear; but we who love you wish you didn’t do it quite so often. “
“It’s funny,” he said, “but I never cared for it until it became a risky thing to get it. Oh, well, what’s the use? I’ll quit it if you say so. It hasn’t any hold on me.”
Involuntarily he squared his shoulders—an unconscious tribute to the strength of his weakness.
Together, their stirrups touching, they rode slowly down the canyon trail toward the ranch. Often they rode thus, in the restful silence that is a birthright of comradeship. Neither spoke until after they reined in their sweating horses beneath the cool shade of the spreading sycamore that guards the junction of El Camino Largo and the main trail that winds up Sycamore Canyon.
The girl pointed up into the cloudless sky, where several great birds circled majestically, rising and falling upon motionless wings.
“The vultures are back,” she said. “I am always glad to see them come again.”
“Yes,” said the man. “They are bully scavengers, and we don’t have to pay ‘em wages.”
The girl smiled up at him.
“I’m afraid my thoughts were more poetic than practical,” she said. “I was only thinking that the sky looked less lonely now that they have come. Why suggest their diet?”
“I know what you mean,” he said, “I like them too. Maligned as they are, they are really wonderful birds, and sort of mysterious. Did you ever stop to think that you never see a very young one or a dead one? Where do they die? Where do they grow to maturity? I wonder what they’ve found up there! Let’s ride up. Martin said he saw a new calf up beyond Jackknife Canyon yesterday. That would be just about under where they’re circling now.”
They guided their horses around a large, flat slab of rock that some camper had contrived into a table beneath the sycamore, and started across the trail toward the opposite side of the canyon.
They were in the middle of the trail when the man drew in and listened.
“Someone is coming,” he said, “Let’s wait and see who it is. I haven’t sent any one back into the hills today.”