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Ride a golden horse.


Chess was just a young boy when he found the orphan colt on the open range. He did not touch it because he wanted it to grow up wild, and so it did--so wild that it killed two men who sought its capture. Thus the horse became a legend called Gateado. No one after that was willing to chase Gateado until P.T. Barnum's men came to town offering $5,000 for the horse' capture. Then a greedy man ran Gateado to exhaustion and began to tie him up. Chess' father, Ollie Yalden, offered to ransom the horse for $8,000, but Barnum's men countered with $10,000. It seemed Gateado's fate was sealed, but then, in one last burst of fury, the horse kicked free.


Men had thought about how Gateado got away--Ollie Yalden for one. He eased his horse out of the ring and got his rope so he could swing. And two brothers on the other side were doing the same and they were watching Ollie. And Gateado was looking over his shoulder and watching the hole he was carving, and he tore the tied ropes loose and jumped out and was free, except for the one more dead man he had to cross. For the dancing man who had almost touched a fortune couldn't let it go, not even if he had to hold it with his bare hands.

Ollie Yalden was the first after him. But the two brothers had thought of that. One roped Ollie right off his horse, while the other roped Gateado, and bothkept roping and tying. Before the horse could do anything but scream, they had eight ropes on him, and all he could move was his ears and his eyes and his teeth, biting for men. And the brothers said they'd be pleased to sell him for $10,000. Gold. They'd have the money or Gateado's leather. And to make sure that eight ropes were enough, and no one would have to take watch and watchabout, they got teams and moved boulders until there was a rock corral like a mountain around him. And they topped that with a few loads of cactus and horned skulls lying here and there. And the brothers said they'd give $1,000 to anyone who would go rip up a railroad spur, wherever there might be one, and bring a smith and let him bar up a cage that would be stronger than a train and could be pulled right over the horse as he stood. They were clever-thinking men. This time there wasn't any doubting about it being their gold.

And everyone wanted to be their friend and set them up for a drink or two, for the drinking parlos had brought out their barrels. And the Eating Palace had brought a kettle and beans and butchered a steer, and the tonsorial parlor brought its mugs and perfumes, and the gamblers some cards and tricks, and it was like fair time.

The fires burned all night and the night beyond, and the laughter was louder than it should be, for a beast that had been stronger than all wasn't any more. And a man--he wasn't rich enough to buy the horse he wanted, wasn't strong enough to take it and he had been laid in the dirt, and the men who did it lived. People shrugged and looked at the som and said, "Blood will tell." It was a good-tasting bitterness on their tongues, for it is a pleasant thing to watch the crumbling of a king.

And Ollie Yalden sat his horse and listened and watched his son, standing by the great iron cage that was almost done. Chess walked inside and tried it bar by bar. Then he went to the rock corral and climbed on the jumble of horns.

It was sunset and the time of the wild horses. Only Gateado had been tied to the east, so even this had been stolen from him--the last sunset. And he was grieving for it. It was the loneliest look that Chess had ever seen.

And he ran to his father and he said, "Pa, is it true that things can die of no more than a broken heart?"

And his father said he thought it could be true. And he looked at his boy he didn't know, at the urgency that had made Chess forget he was shy. Ollie Yalden slid off his horse. He said, "The will to live is sometimes so strong that things will die for it--the wild, free things that are not born to be caged and cannot understand that all of us are caged. There are bars of iron about each of us. You are bound by everything people thought you ought to be because you are your father's son. And I am bound by everything people want to take from me because I have been strong too long." And he thought about that. "The horse Gateado has the easier cage. Come let us roll in our blankets and sleep."

They walked beyond the fires and rolled in their saddle blankets, and Chess said he was cold and asked to sleep close to his father--so close his hand lay on the gun in the gun belt under his father's head. And when Ollie was breathing slow enough to be asleep, Chess pulled out the gun and tiptoed into the night.

He went to the rock corral and crawled up and over and down into the blackness of it. And he said, "If your heart is too strong to die, I will set you free. I have a gun, and there are two bullets in it." And he thought about what two men would do if, instead of $10,000, all they had was leather. And he knew. The prey had chosen its hunters. And he was not afraid. And after a little he said, "But tonight we are alive and together and we will talk of what might have been."

And he told of the colt he had wanted as his friend. Only he'd been too poor and weak a thing to own and guard a friend. And he told about men, about their gold and their measures--about his father and how Chess had cried because he could not be like him.

And the horse blew softly in his nose, testing to see if there was breath enough. And he snapped his teeth to see if the taste of freedom was in them still.

And the boy and the night listened. Then, the boy began talking again, for it seemed easy to talk once you started. He said, "Do you know what men call you? They say you are an honest horse because you know what you are. You have counted out all your talents and you tell what they are and you are what you are."

He looked at his hands, as though he had never seen them before--as he never really had, for all his life he had measured only the talents he didn't own. He had never been honest with himself, but only tried to be a counterfeit. He looked at the horse and its talents, and he said, "I have a talent too. I have gentle hands." And he searched all inside himself to see if there might be another talent. And he found understanding for the lost and lonely. He had two talents, and that ought to be enough for any man.

And he crouched there looking at the horse, for he had talked the night away, and it was the time just before the morning, the time when ghosts can be seen and before you can know they are only mist. And he saw all the things that used to be when the horse was second only to God, when his name was the name as God. That was what the Indian called the horse, and how he loved him. One does not beat down gods. And so, for his horse, the fierce Indian had only held gentle hands--for his horse and his son. It was the way he tamed them. And Chess thought about that, but still he talked--little cooings and softlings of words that had nothing to tell but love, as the sound of the anvil thundered over the land, louder than a boy voice or the roaring of a gun if one should roar.

The cage was finished, even to
ankle irons. And they dragged it to alooked as though he slept. And th
 rd D ahorse Gateado, tied rigid in his r
 rd D aseemed to be sleeping too.
 rd D a And the brothers yelled, "Ho!" s
 rd D aevery shoulder would bend and push
 rd D athe cage through and over the hors
 rd D alike a sock coming over a leg. An
 rd D athey got their knives to cut the r
 rd D aas the bars passed. But before th
 rd D acage could move, there came the so
 rd D
 sound, like a hissing.

"No!" The leaning men leaned a little more. And it came again. "How can a man have a thing to sell if all he owns of it is the wrapping?"

The brothers cursed their way into the corral. A hundred men tore their clothes and hands crawling over the rocks and cactus and horns to see if what they'd heard was what they heard. And they saw the horse Gateado drowsing in his ropes and they saw the boy Chess drowsing against the wall and the brothers lifting him up by the coat on the point of their knives. He hung there between them like a long, thin sack of meal. One of the brothers slapped him across the mouth, for slapped mouths usually say what you want them to say. And sure enough, this mouth said something.

It said, "The ropes are yours. But the horse Gateado is mine. And he is not for sale."

This time the slap was harder. It bloodied him and sent him into the dirt. And the horse Gateado opened his eyes to watch. And a hundred men turned to watch Ollie Yalden, and Ollie Yalden watched his son as he was laid in the dirt and drawn upon, for the brothers held guns. And Chess looked at them and went on sleeving off the blood, but he never moved his right hand that still stayed in his coat pocket.

He said, "I stole my pa's gun last night, for I though I might have some killings to do. I don't know how I'll do, for I've never killed before. But I might have beginner's luck." And he smiled as if he weren't afraid at all--to kill or die, whichever it was to be. And he wasn't. For what the brothers couldn't see beneath the coat was that the gun was pointed at Gateado, there just between the fire of his eyes. And Chess said, because he had figured it all out before, "I wonder if the papers back East would like to know what Mr. Barnum bought a stolen horse for his two bags of gold."

Ah! The papers back East that thought all the world was their prey and that they were stronger than gold, or boys or even men with guns.

And the man in the beaver hat said, "I saw them rope him, and that is all one has to do to own a wild horse. Who says they do not own him?"

"The horse. And horses are honest, and men can lie. The brothers' ropes say he is theirs; my tongue says he is mine. Let us prove how lies. Let the horse have his say. Let him sit his master on his back."

A hundred tongues licked as many lips and said, "Let the horse have his say!" For if there was one thing the West liked better than living, it was seeing how fools died. So, they looked at the freight wagon with the remnants of three dead men painted on its splinters and they yelled, "Let the horse decide!"

And Ollie Yalden said not a word. He'd told enough when he told his son to choose his hunters. He'd heard enough when he pretended sleep to know what had wrapped his boy's hand about a gun; and he heard him talking a horse all the long of a night, doing what he didn't know he did--for horses like to be talked to most of all. It seems that words soothe the furies in them.

The brothers looked to the mounds no one had bothered to put crosses on and they said no. "The ropes are ours--that is proof enough!"

Chess picked up one of the knives, "I'll give you back your ropes, and that will be a better proof."

They meant to, they could have shot him right then--only there is a fascination that holds one rigid watching a man walking to his death.

Chess cut the neck ropes from the boulders and he bundled them and walked along them, closer and closer still, not a stalking walking, but a strolling--like a man who has no place to go and all of a lifetime to go it in. He reached the end of the rope and laid a hand on the gold-colored horse that was still tied too tight to do anymore than scream and tremble.

And the throng held its breath and watched and knew what he was doing. For most had heard of how the Indians tamed their horses; for with the scalps of all hs battles plain on his lance, an Indian didn't need to break his horse with fury. He didn't have to ride him down to prove his strength; he could gentle him and not be ashamed, as Chess wasn't ashamed. For he had two talents and he laid them on that horse, on every inch of him. He crawled under the belly, he laid his hands in the warmth of the thighs, he cut the ropes. One by one he dropped them in a little pile like dead snakes. And then he came tothe ropes on the hind legs that had crushed three skulls. He leaned his cheek against one leg, and there were men later who said he cried. Surely he was trembling, as the horse trembled.

And when he found he wasn't dead, Chess stood, laid his arms across the horse' back and lifted himself a little, hardly more than tiptoe. He did it again and again, each time a mite higher, until he raised his leg and sat that horse. And the beast's eyes showed more white than dark as Chess closed his knees and wrapped his fingers in the thick of the mane. The ears were so far back that he did not seem to have ears, and he pawed the ground. Chess lay along his neck and said things men couldn't hear because of the shouting from that throng--for if there's one thing the West liked better than most, it was a strong man being strong.

But the brothers yelled and cursed--in fury--and poverty. "It's a trick! He's a horse thief!" And they triggered their guns, for anyone has the right to kill a horse thief.

One bullet went for the heart and one for the head, for the brothers always worked in a team like that.

But Chess had known he was the prey; he knew his hunters, and that the moment he sat that horse he would be dead--if he sat there longer than it took to trigger a gun. He didn't wait. Just as though he had practiced it most of his life, Chess fell off the horse and let the bullets find some place else to go. But as he landed, he grabbed hold of the mane like it was a drag rope and he yelled, "How do you want to be dead, from the front hoofs or the hind?" And he touched the horse, not with a firm gentleness, but with a tiny, hating tickling like the biting of a fly, and up went those front hoofs in a terrible climb. And away went the brothers, as if they had just remembered they'd promised the smith $1,000 to make an iron cage out of any handy railroad track. And Chess stood there quiet and safe beneath those hoofs, for he had built a stronger cage.

And the man in the beaver hat looked on and puzzled over his bags of gold, and men crowded around Ollie Yalden so he could know they were his friends, and said what a wonderful son he had and how blood will tell. They didn't know how he'd done it, but he'd won again. He looked around this land he had carved out of the unknown of a wilderness. He looked at the man his son had carved out of the unknown of a boy. And he said, "Chess, I only hope it can be true that a father can be the shadow of his son."

And Chess looked at the pride in his father's eyes, and for a moment he cried, and he climbed on the stallion and walked him out of the corral into the west. They went slowly, awkwardly, because he was lame from being tied too long. Or maybe it was only that they would learn of this new world together just step by step.
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Title Annotation:story
Author:Toland, Stewart
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Dec 1, 1984
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Next Article:Animals are good for what ails you.

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