High up on the long hill they called the Saddle Back, behind the ranch and the county road, the boy sat his horse, facing east, his eyes dazzled by the rising sun.
It seemed like a personage come to visit; appearing all of a sudden over the dark bank of clouds in the east, coming up over the edge of it smiling; bowing right and left; lighting up the whole world so that everything smiled back.
The snug, huddled roofs of the ranch house, way below him, began to be red instead of just dark; and the spidery arms of the windmill in the Gorge glinted and twinkled. They were smiling back at the sun.
"Good morning, mister!" shouted Ken, swinging his arm in salute; and the chunky brown mare he rode gave a wild leap.
To keep his seat, riding bareback as he was, he clapped his heels into her sides, and she leaped again, this time with her head down. Stiff-legged and with arched back she landed; and then bucked.
Once, twice, three times; and Ken was off, slung under her nose, hanging on to the reins.
She backed away and pulled to get free, braced like a dog tugging at a man's trouser leg.
"No you don't!" gasped Ken, sitting up to face her and clinging to the reins. "Not that time you didn't --"
She jerked her head viciously from side to side. Ken's teeth set in anger. "If you break another bridle --"
This thought made him crafty and his voice fell to a coaxing note. "Now Cigarette -- be a good girl -- thatsa baby -- good girl -- ."
Responsive to the change of tone, one of her flattened ears came forward as if to peer at him and see if he spoke in good faith. Reassured, she stopped pulling and moved up a step.
Ken got warily to his feetand went to her head, still talking soothingly but with insulting words.
"Thatsa girl -- stupid face -- whoa, baby -- jughead -- no sense at all --" and this last was the worst possible insult on the Goose Bar Ranch where a horse without sense was a horse without a right to existence.
Cigarette was not wholly deceived but stood enjoying the stroking of Ken's hand and awaiting developments.
"D'you think I'd ever ride a ornery old plug like you if I had a horse of my own like Howard's?"
The frown faded from his face and his eyes took on a dreamy look. "If I had a colt --"
He had been saying that for a long time. Sometimes he said it in his sleep at night. It was the first thing he had thought when he got to the ranch three days ago. He said it or thought it every time he saw his brother riding Highboy. And when he looked at his father, the longing in his eyes was for that -- for a colt of his own. "If I had a colt, I'd make it the most wonderful horse in the world. I'd have it with me all the time, eating and sleeping, the way the Arabs do in the book Dad's got on the kitchen shelf." He stroked Cigarette's nose with the unconscious gesture of an automaton. "I'd get a tent and sleep in it myself, and I'd have the colt beside me, and it would have to learn to live just the way I do; and I'd feed it so well it would grow bigger than any other horse on the ranch; and it would be the fastest; and I'd school it so it would follow me wherever I went, like a dog --" At this he paused, struck through and through with bliss at the thought of arousing such devotion in a horse that it would follow him.
There was no warmth yet in the level rays of the sun, and the dawn windwas cold on the mountain side, so that Ken presently began to shiver in his thin dark blue cotton jersey. He turned to face the wind, tasting something of freshness and wildness that went to his head and made him want to run and shout -- and ride and ride -- to go on all day -- as fast as he could and never stop -- He was hatless, and the wind made a tousled mop of his soft straight brown hair, and whipped color into his thin cheeks that had not yet lost the whiteness of winter school-days. His face was beautiful with the young look of wildness and freedom, and his dark blue dreaming eyes.
He must get on Cigarette again.
The moment this thought passed through his mind, Cigarette knew it and turned her head a little to look at him. Her whole body got ready. Not exactly resistant, but waiting.
First he had an apology to make. In all fairness, he must tell Cigarette that the fault had been his own. He had put his heels into her.
He knew exactly what his father would say if he told him about it.
"Cigarette bucked and tossed me."
"What did you do? Put your heels into her?"
He and Howard had to say Yes, sir, and No, sir, to their father because he had been an Army officer before he had the ranch, and believed in respect and discipline.
Gathering up the rein, slipping it over Cigarette's head, Ken was humming, "Yes, sir -- No, sir -- Yes, sir -- No, sir --" and this seemed to have a soothing effect on Cigarette.
When his father had mounted Cigarette, to show him how, she stood like a statue; never started or jumped; and then had moved off slowly and comfortably like a well-behaved horse in a park. When he mounted her, like as not she wouldtoss him four or five times running, all because he couldn't help trying to grab on with his heels the moment he straddled her. That she wouldn't stand; and that he couldn't help doing.
A timeless favorite of children and adults alike, this resides in "that borderland where some of the best-loved books in the English tongue hold their immortality."--New York Herald Tribune