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Beyond Rope and Fence

100 pages
Library of Alexandria
ROLLING hills and shallow valleys—an ocean of brown waves with fast drying sloughs, like patches of sunshine on the surface of the sea—such was the Canadian prairie that autumn day—such were the miles and miles of Alberta range, bounded by a barbed wire fence that was completely lost in the unobstructed play of sunshine. It was an open wilderness, so vast that it seemed to stretch on almost endlessly beyond the horizon, which lay desolate and unbroken like a rusty, iron ring, girding the earth. Its immensity, by an inexorable contrast, dwarfed everything that crept over the surface of the plains into a helpless puniness. The hundred horses on the range, scattered and grouped by their predilections for each other, looked, in the distance, like ants crawling over the surface of a rock. Within sight of each other, bound by the ties of race, they nevertheless had their loves and their preferences. Most of the mothers with their little colts grazed in a group by themselves; while a few mothers, as if they felt that their children were better than their neighbour’s children, kept themselves apart from the herd, though always within sight. Among the latter was a shapely, light-brown or buckskin mare who was grazing peacefully about her precious, buckskin coloured daughter. The little one was asleep on the grass. Her graceful little legs were stretched as far as she could stretch them. Her lovely little head lay flat on the ground. Her fluffy tail was thrown back on the grass with a delicious carelessness. She was only six months old, but already the very image of her mother. From the white strip on her forehead and the heavy black mane down to the unequal white spots on her two hind fetlocks, she was like her. Only her wiry, delicately wrought little legs seemed somewhat too long for her. Suddenly the old mare’s head went up high in the air; her grinding teeth ceased grinding as a broken machine comes to a dead stop; and the round, dilated, knowing eyes pierced the slight haze in the atmosphere. The little head on the grass raised just a bit, looked inquiringly at her beloved mother—quite near; then with the innocent confidence of childhood, dropped back again, rubbing the soft fragrant grass in an ecstasy of contentment. But the old mare continued to gaze intently, standing motionless as a stone. She saw that all the other horses were gazing just as intently as she was. Small moving objects—two men on horseback—had broken over the line of shadow along the southern horizon. One of them was loping away to the right and the other to the left. The old buckskin mare had already lived more than twenty years. Not only had she herself suffered at the hands of man, but she had had so many of her babies taken from her and cruelly abused—often before her very eyes. Her mother’s heart began beating fast and apprehensively. The other mares, not far from her, also showed signs of extreme nervousness. The buckskin saw them run off for a short distance as if in panic, then stop and gaze anxiously at the approaching riders. It was time to act. She looked questioningly a moment toward the north; but she realised that that direction would soon be closed to her, for she could tell that the riders, loping straight north, meant to turn in time and come back upon them. She called nervously to her little one. The little thing sprang to its feet, sidled up to her and gazed at the dark specks that were coming together in the north, with fear glowing moist in her large, round eyes. Until she had seen a group of horsemen dismount, one day, she had thought that man was a monstrous sort of horse with a frightful hump on its back. What little she had been able to learn about him since that time had served only to intensify her fear of him; and despite her abiding confidence in her mother, she trembled timorously as she heard the ominous hoof-beats in the distance.