Dwellers in the Hills (Chapter 1, page 1 of 7)


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Chapter 1

I sat on the ground with my youthful legs tucked under me, and the bridle rein of El Mahdi over my arm, while I hammered a copper rivet into my broken stirrup strap. A little farther down the ridge Jud was idly swinging his great driving whip in long, snaky coils, flicking now a dry branch, and now a red autumn leaf from the clay road. The slim buckskin lash would dart out hissing, writhe an instant on the hammered road-bed, and snap back with a sharp, clear report.

The great sorrel was oblivious of this pastime of his master. The lash whistled narrowly by his red ears, but it never touched them. In the evening sunlight the Cardinal was a horse of bronze.

Opposite me in the shadow of the tall hickory timber the man Ump, doubled like a finger, was feeling tenderly over the coffin joints and the steel blue hoofs of the Bay Eagle, blowing away the dust from the clinch of each shoe-nail and pressing the flat calks with his thumb. No mother ever explored with more loving care the mouth of her child for evidence of a coming tooth. Ump was on his never-ending quest for the loose shoe-nail. It was the serious business of his life.

I think he loved this trim, nervous mare better than any other thing in the world. When he rode, perched like a monkey, with his thin legs held close to her sides, and his short, humped back doubled over, and his head with its long hair bobbing about as though his neck were loose-coupled somehow, he was eternally caressing her mighty withers, or feeling for the play of each iron tendon under her satin skin. And when we stopped, he glided down to finger her shoe-nails.

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