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Riders of the Purple Sage

18.
Oldring's Knell
Some forty hours or more later Venters created a commotion in Cottonwoods by
riding down the main street on Black Star and leading Bells and Night. He had
come upon Bells grazing near the body of a dead rustler, the only incident of his
quick ride into the village.
Nothing was farther from Venters's mind than bravado. No thought came to him
of the defiance and boldness of riding Jane Withersteen's racers straight into the
arch-plotter's stronghold. He wanted men to see the famous Arabians; he wanted
men to see them dirty and dusty, bearing all the signs of having been driven to
their limit; he wanted men to see and to know that the thieves who had ridden
them out into the sage had not ridden them back. Venters had come for that and
for more--he wanted to meet Tull face to face; if not Tull, then Dyer; if not Dyer,
then anyone in the secret of these master conspirators. Such was Venters's
passion. The meeting with the rustlers, the unprovoked attack upon him, the
spilling of blood, the recognition of Jerry Card and the horses, the race, and that
last plunge of mad Wrangle--all these things, fuel on fuel to the smoldering fire,
had kindled and swelled and leaped into living flame. He could have shot Dyer in
the midst of his religious services at the altar; he could have killed Tull in front of
wives and babes.
He walked the three racers down the broad, green-bordered village road. He
heard the murmur of running water from Amber Spring. Bitter waters for Jane
Withersteen! Men and women stopped to gaze at him and the horses. All knew
him; all knew the blacks and the bay. As well as if it had been spoken, Venters
read in the faces of men the intelligence that Jane Withersteen's Arabians had
been known to have been stolen. Venters reined in and halted before Dyer's
residence. It was a low, long, stone structure resembling Withersteen House. The
spacious front yard was green and luxuriant with grass and flowers; gravel walks
led to the huge porch; a well-trimmed hedge of purple sage separated the yard
from the church grounds; birds sang in the trees; water flowed musically along
the walks; and there were glad, careless shouts of children. For Venters the
beauty of this home, and the serenity and its apparent happiness, all turned red
and black. For Venters a shade overspread the lawn, the flowers, the old vine-
clad stone house. In the music of the singing birds, in the murmur of the running
water, he heard an ominous sound. Quiet beauty--sweet music--innocent
laughter! By what monstrous abortion of fate did these abide in the shadow of
Dyer?
Venters rode on and stopped before Tull's cottage. Women stared at him with
white faces and then flew from the porch. Tull himself appeared at the door, bent
low, craning his neck. His dark face flashed out of sight; the door banged; a
heavy bar dropped with a hollow sound.
Then Venters shook Black Star's bridle, and, sharply trotting, led the other horses
to the center of the village. Here at the intersecting streets and in front of the
stores he halted once more. The usual lounging atmosphere of that prominent
corner was not now in evidence. Riders and ranchers and villagers broke up
 
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