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VII the third rider It seemed the end, and yet ’twas not the end. A day that wind of horror and surprise Blew high; and then, as when the tempest dies And only aspens prattle,1 as they will, Though pines win silence and the oaks are still, By furtive2 twos and threes the talk survived. To some it seemed that men were longer lived Who quarreled not over women. Others guessed That love was bad for marksmanship at best— The nerves, you know! Still others pointed out Why Mike should have the benefit of doubt; For every man, who knew a rifle, knew That there were days you’d split a reed in two, Off-hand at fifty paces; then, one day, Why, somehow, damn your eyes, you’d blaze away And miss a bull! No doubt regarding that! “But,” one replied, “’tis what you’re aiming at, Not what you hit, determines skill, you know!”— An abstract observation, apropos3 Of nothing in particular, but made As just a contribution to the trade Of gunnery! And others would recall The center of that silence in the hall The night one lay there waiting, splendid, still, And nothing left to wait for. Poor old Bill! There went a man, by God! Who knew his like— So meek in might? And some remembered Mike— The hearth-lit room—the way he came to look Upon that face—and how his shoulders shook With sobbing as he moaned: “My friend! My friend!” It seemed the end, and yet ’twas not the end, Though men cared less to know what cunning gnome4 Or eyeless thing of doom had ridden home The deadly slug. And then there came a day When Major Henry had a word to say That seemed, at last, to lay the ghost to rest. He meant to seek the River of the West Beyond the range, immensely rich in furs, And for the wiving prows of voyageurs A virgin yearning. Yonder one might glide A thousand miles to sunset, where the tide Is tempered with an endless dream of May! So much and more the Major had to say— Words big with magic for the young men’s ears. And finally he called for volunteers— Two men to hasten to the Moreau’s mouth,5 Meet Ashley’s party coming from the south And bid them buy more horses at the Grand Among the Rees. Then, pushing through the band, Mike Fink stood forth, and after him, Talbeau.6 Now Henry thought ’twere wiser they should go By land, although the river trail, he knew, Were better. But a wind of rumor blew Up stream. About the region of the Knife, 73 The Third Rider It seemed, the Grovans7 tarried, nursing strife Because the Whites were favoring their foes With trade for guns; and, looking on their bows, The Grovans hated. So the rumor said. And thus it came to pass the new trail led About six days by pony to the south; Thence eastward, five should find the Moreau’s mouth And Ashley toiling up among the bars. The still white wind was blowing out the stars When yawning trappers saw the two men row Across the river with their mounts in tow— A red roan stallion8 and a buckskin mare.9 And now the ponies gain the far bank there And flounder up and shake themselves like dogs. And now the riders mount and breast the fogs Flung down as wool upon the flat. They dip And rise and float, submerging to the hip, Turn slowly into shadow men, and fade. And some have said that when the ponies neighed, ’Twas like a strangled shriek; and far ahead Some ghostly pony,10 ridden by the dead, Called onward like a bugle singing doom. And when the valley floor, as with a broom, Was swept by dawn, men saw the empty land. Not now the Song shall tell of Henry’s band11 Ascending to the Falls, nor how they crossed The Blackfoot trail, nor how they fought and lost, Thrown back upon the Yellowstone to wait In vain for Ashley’s hundred.12 Yonder, Fate 74 the song of three friends Led southward through the fog, and thither goes The prescient13 Song. The April sun arose And fell; and all day long the riders faced A rolling, treeless, melancholy waste Of yellow grass; for ’twas a rainless time, Nor had the baby green begun to climb The steep-kneed...


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