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Riders of the Purple Sage

22.
Riders Of The Purple Sage
Black Star and Night, answering to spur, swept swiftly westward along the white,
slow-rising, sage-bordered trail. Venters heard a mournful howl from Ring, but
Whitie was silent. The blacks settled into their fleet, long-striding gallop. The wind
sweetly fanned Venters's hot face. From the summit of the first low-swelling ridge
he looked back. Lassiter waved his hand; Jane waved her scarf. Venters replied
by standing in his stirrups and holding high his sombrero. Then the dip of the
ridge hid them. From the height of the next he turned once more. Lassiter, Jane,
and the burros had disappeared. They had gone down into the Pass. Venters felt
a sensation of irreparable loss.
"Bern--look!" called Bess, pointing up the long slope.
A small, dark, moving dot split the line where purple sage met blue sky. That dot
was a band of riders.
"Pull the black, Bess."
They slowed from gallop to canter, then to trot. The fresh and eager horses did
not like the check.
"Bern, Black Star has great eyesight."
"I wonder if they're Tull's riders. They might be rustlers. But it's all the same to
us."
The black dot grew to a dark patch moving under low dust clouds. It grew all the
time, though very slowly. There were long periods when it was in plain sight, and
intervals when it dropped behind the sage. The blacks trotted for half an hour, for
another half-hour, and still the moving patch appeared to stay on the horizon line.
Gradually, however, as time passed, it began to enlarge, to creep down the
slope, to encroach upon the intervening distance.
"Bess, what do you make them out?" asked Venters. "I don't think they're
rustlers."
"They're sage-riders," replied Bess. "I see a white horse and several grays.
Rustlers seldom ride any horses but bays and blacks."
"That white horse is Tull's. Pull the black, Bess. I'll get down and cinch up. We're
in for some riding. Are you afraid?"
"Not now," answered the girl, smiling.
"You needn't be. Bess, you don't weigh enough to make Black Star know you're
on him. I won't be able to stay with you. You'll leave Tull and his riders as if they
were standing still."
"How about you?"
"Never fear. If I can't stay with you I can still laugh at Tull."
"Look, Bern! They've stopped on that ridge. They see us."
"Yes. But we're too far yet for them to make out who we are. They'll recognize
the blacks first. We've passed most of the ridges and the thickest sage. Now,
when I give the word, let Black Star go and ride!"
Venters calculated that a mile or more still intervened between them and the
riders. They were approaching at a swift canter. Soon Venters recognized Tull's
white horse, and concluded that the riders had likewise recognized Black Star
 
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