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December 10 , 2008

Soft Metal


All the earth was black, but there was still light in the heavens when Larry Givain came over the hills and into the valley. He paused on the upper slope between a great Spanish dagger plant and a scrub cedar. Below him the darkness was broken, not by forms, but by black hints of shapes like arms thrust up at the sky. More Spanish daggers, then, marched down in their grisly ranks to the bottom of the hollow.
Larry Givain dismounted from the saddle, loosened the throat latch of his mare, and took off his glove to rub her wet muzzle. "Dear old Sally," he said to her, and stopped patting her nose to slick her ears between his fingertips. Even her ears were wet almost to the points, for Sally had labored mightily that day, and, when Larry looked back in mind to the wilderness of desert and rocks and mountains which the dainty-footed mare had covered, it seemed that they must have been given wings.
In this hollow beyond the rise he had hoped to find the light of a house. Once before he had traveled in that general direction, and he could be almost certain that he had passed a house in this very place, although that was years before, and the whole remembrance was as dim as the light in which he was riding. But he needed water very badly. It did not so much matter that his own throat was lined with fire. It had been in that condition many a time before, when he was compelled by certain exigencies to plunge out of one town and away toward another of vague location, somewhere beyond a gigantic screen of desert. For, like most men who make their living by their luck at cards, Larry Givain was apt to run into streaks of violent unpopularity after he had been in a town a few days.
In the old days he had been able to arrange a career across the mountains so that he flitted safely on like a bee, sipping the honey at one flower patch and then darting away to the next before the hornets were aroused. But having been five years on the road, he now found that he had to retrace his steps across known country. Of course, he never went back to the same town he had been in before, but even to be in the near vicinity of a town that had known him in the past was dangerous. If one man saw him, talk was started. And shortly after talk was started, it became an essential for Larry to use the legs of a fast horse.

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