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Gayley The Troubadour
by [?]

Through the tremulous beauty of the California woods, in the silent April afternoon, came Sammy Peneyre, riding Clown. The horse chose his own way on the corduroy road, for the rider was lost in dreams. Clown was a lean old dapple gray so far advanced in years and ailments that when Doctor Peneyre had bought him, the year before, the dealer had felt constrained to remark:

“He’s better’n he looks, Doc’. You’ll get your seven dollars’ worth out of him yet!”

To which the doctor had amiably responded:

“Your saying so makes me wonder if I WILL, Joe. However, I’ll have my boy groom him and feed him, and we’ll see!”

But, as Clown had stubbornly refused to respond to grooming and feeding, he was, like other despised and discarded articles, voted by the Peneyre family quite good enough for Sammy, and Sammy accepted him gratefully.

The spirit of spring was affecting them both to-day–a brilliant day after long weeks of rain. Sammy whistled softly. Clown coquetted with the bit, danced under the touch of the whip, and finally took the steep mountain road with such convulsive springs as jolted his rider violently from dreams.

“Why, you fool, are you trying to run away?” said Sammy, suddenly alive to the situation. The road here was a mere shelf on the slope of the mountain, constantly used by descending lumber teams, and dangerous at all times. A runaway might easily be fatal. Sammy pulled at the bit; but, at the first hard tug, the old bridle gave way, and Clown, maddened by a stinging blow from the loose flying end of the strap, bolted blindly ahead.

Terrified now, Sammy clung to the pommel and shouted. The trees flew by; great clods of mud were flung up by the horse’s feet. From far up the road could be heard the creaking of a lumber team and the crack of the lumberman’s long whip.

“My Lord!” said Sammy, aloud, in a curious calm, “we’ll never pass THAT!”

And then, like a flash, it was all over. Clown, suddenly freed from his rider, galloped violently for a moment, stopped, snorted suspiciously, galloped another twenty feet, and stood still, his broken bridle dangling rakishly over one eye. Sammy, dragged from the saddle at the crucial instant to the safety of Anthony Gayley’s arms, as he brought his own horse up beside her, wriggled to the ground.

“That was surely going some!” said Anthony, breathing hard. “Hurt?”

“No-o!” said Sammy. But she leaned against the tall, big fellow, as he stood beside her, and was glad of his arm about her shoulders.

They had known each other by sight for years, but this was the first speech between them. Anthony suddenly realized that the doctor’s youngest daughter, with her shy, dark eyes and loosened silky braids, had grown from an awkward child into a very pretty girl. Sammy, glancing up, thought–what every other woman in Wheatfield thought–that Anthony Gayley was the handsomest man she had ever seen, in his big, loose corduroys, with a sombrero on the back of his tawny head.

“I was awfully afraid I’d grate against your leg,” said the boy, with his sunny smile; “but I couldn’t stop to figure it out. I just had to hustle!”

“There’s a lumber wagon ahead there,” Sammy said. “I’m–I’m very much obliged to you!”

They both laughed. Presently Anthony made the girl mount his own beautiful mare.

“Ride Duchess home. I’ll take your horse,” said he.

“Oh, no, indeed; PLEASE don’t bother!” protested Sammy, eagerly.

But Anthony only laughed and gave her a hand up. Sammy settled herself on the Spanish saddle with a sigh of satisfaction.

“I’ve always wanted to ride your horse!” said she, delightedly, as the big muscles moved smoothly under her.

Anthony smiled. “She’s the handsomest mare here-abouts,” said he. “I wouldn’t take a thousand dollars for her!”

Sammy watched him deftly repair the broken bridle of the now docile and crestfallen Clown, and spring to the saddle.