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The Big-Town Round-Up by William MacLeod Raine

As she stood on the spit of the ridge


As

she stood on the spit of the ridge, a slim, light figure silhouetted against the skyline, the young man guarding the beef herd called something to her that was lost in the bawling of the cattle. From the motion of his hand she knew that he was telling her to get back to the car. But the girl saw no reason for obeying the orders of a range-rider she had never seen before and never expected to see again. Nobody had ever told her that a rider is fairly safe among the wildest hill cattle, but a man on foot is liable to attack at any time when a herd is excited.

She turned her shoulder a little more definitely to the man who had warned her and looked across the _parada_ grounds to the hills swimming in a haze of violet velvet. Her heart throbbed to a keen delight in them, as it might have done at the touch of a dear friend's hand long absent. For she had been born in the Rockies. They belonged to her and she to them. Long years in New York had left her still an alien.

A shout of warning startled her. Above the bellowing of the herd she heard another yell.

"Hi-yi-ya-a!"

A red-eyed steer, tail up, was crashing through the small brush toward the branders. There was a wild scurry for safety. The men dropped iron and ropes and fled to their saddles. Deflected by pursuers, the animal turned. By chance it thundered straight for the girl on

the sand spit.

She stood paralyzed for a moment.

Out of the gathering darkness a voice came to her sharp and clear. "Don't move!" It rang so vibrant with crisp command that the girl, poised for flight, stood still and waited in white terror while the huge steer lumbered toward her.

A cowpony, wheeled as on a dollar, jumped to an instant gallop. The man riding it was the one who had warned her back to the car. Horse and _ladino_ pounded over the ground toward her. Each stride brought them closer to each other as they converged toward the sand spit. It came to her with a gust of panicky despair that they would collide on the very spot where she stood. Yet she did not run.

The rider, lifting his bronco forward at full speed, won by a fraction of a second. He guided in such a way as to bring his horse between her and the steer. The girl noticed that he dropped his bridle rein and crouched in the saddle, his eyes steadily upon her. Without slackening his pace in the least as he swept past, the man stooped low, caught the girl beneath the armpits, and swung her in front of him to the back of the horse. The steer pounded past so close behind that one of its horns grazed the tail of the cowpony.

It was a superb piece of horsemanship, perfectly timed, as perfectly executed.

The girl lay breathless in the arms of the man, her heart beating against his, her face buried in his shoulder. She was dazed, half fainting from the reaction of her fear. The next she remembered clearly was being lowered into the arms of her father.


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