Read CHAPTER XIV of The Young Surveyor / Jack on the Prairies, free online book, by J. T. Trowbridge, on ReadCentral.com.

SNOWFOOT’S NEW OWNER.

Jack left the gun standing by the fence, leaped over, gave a familiar whistle, and called, “Come, Snowfoot! Co’ jock! co’ jock!”

There were two horses feeding in the pasture, not far apart. But only one heeded the call, lifted head, pricked up ears, and answered with a whinny. It was the lost Snowfoot, giving unmistakable signs of pleasure and recognition, as he advanced to meet his young master.

Jack threw his arms about the neck of his favorite, and hugged and patted and I don’t know but kissed him; while the Betterson boys went up to the fence and looked wonderingly over.

In a little while, as they did not venture to go to him, Jack led Snowfoot by the forelock up to the rails, which they had climbed for a better view.

“Is he your horse?” they kept calling to him.

“Don’t you see?” replied Jack, when he had come near enough to show the white feet and the scars; and his face gleamed with glad excitement. “Look! he and the dog know each other!”

It was not a Betterson, but a Peakslow style of fence, and Lion could not leap it; but the two animals touched noses, with tokens of friendly recognition, between the rails.

“I never expected such luck!” said Jack. “I’ve not only found my horse, but I’ve saved the reward offered.”

“You haven’t got him yet,” said Rufe. “I guess Peakslow will have something to say about that.”

“What he says won’t make much difference. I’ve only to prove property, and take possession. A stolen horse is the owner’s, wherever he finds him. But of course I’ll act in a fair and open way in the matter; I’ll go and talk with Peakslow, and if he’s a reasonable man

“Reasonable!” interrupted Wad. “He holds a sixpence so near to his eye, that it looks bigger to him than all the rest of the world; he can’t see reason, nor anything else.”

“I’ll make him see it. Will you go and introduce me?”

“You’d better not have one of our family introduce you, if you want to get anything out of Dud Peakslow!” said Rufe. “We’ll wait here.”

Jack got over the fence, and walked quickly along on the Betterson side of it, followed by Lion, until he reached the road. A little farther down was a house; behind the house was a yard; and in the yard was a swarthy man with a high, hooked nose, pulling a wheel off a wagon, the axletree of which, on that side, was supported by a propped rail. Close by was a boy stirring some grease in a pot, with a long stick.

Jack waited until the man had got the wheel off and rested it against the wagon; then said,

“Is this Mr. Peakslow?”

“That happens to be my name,” replied the man, scarcely giving his visitor a glance, as he turned to take the stick out of the grease, and to rub it on the axletree.

The boy, on one knee in the dirt, holding the grease-pot to catch the drippings, looked up and grinned at Jack.

“I should like a few minutes’ talk with you, Mr. Peakslow, when you are at leisure,” said Jack, hardly knowing how to introduce his business.

“I’m at leisure now, much as I shall be to-day,” said Mr. Peakslow with the air of a man who did not let words interfere with work. “I’ve got to grease this wagon, and then harness up and go to haulin’. I haven’t had a hoss that would pull his share of a decent load till now. Tend to what you’re about, Zeph!”

“I have called to say,” remarked Jack as calmly as he could, though his heart was beating fast, “that there is a horse in your pasture which belongs to me.”

The man straightened his bent back, and looked blackly at the speaker, while the grease dripped from the end of the stick.

“A hoss in my pastur’ that belongs to you! What do ye mean by that?”

“Perhaps you haven’t seen this handbill?” And Jack took the printed description of Snowfoot from his pocket, unfolded it, and handed it to the astonished Peakslow.

“‘Twenty dollars reward,’” he read. “’Stolen from the owner a light, reddish roan hoss white forefeet scar low down on the near side, jest behind the shoulder smaller scar on the off hip.’ What’s the meanin’ of all this?” he said, glancing at Jack.

“Isn’t it plain enough?” replied Jack, quietly standing his ground. “That is the description of the stolen horse; the horse is down in your pasture.”

“Do you mean to say Ive stole your hoss?” demanded Peakslow, his voice trembling with passion.

“Not by any means. He may have passed through a dozen hands since the thief had him. All I know is, he is in your possession now.”

“And what if he is?”

“Why, naturally a man likes to have what is his own, doesn’t he? Suppose a man steals your horse; you find him after a while in my stable; is he your horse, or mine?”

“But how do I know but this is a conspyracy to cheat me out of a hoss?” retorted Peakslow, looking again at the handbill, with a terrible frown. “It may have all been cut and dried aforehand. You’ve your trap sot, and, soon as ever the animal is in my hands, ye spring it. How do I know the hoss is yourn, even if ye have got a description of him? Anybody can make a description of anybody’s hoss, and then go and claim him. Besides, how happens it a boy like you owns a hoss, anyway?”

In a few words Jack told his story, accounting at once for his ownership, and for the scars on the horse’s side and hip.

“There are two other scars I can show you, under his belly. I didn’t mention them in the handbill, because they are not noticeable, unless one is looking for them.”

“Ye may show me scars all over him, fur’s I know,” was Peakslow’s reply to this argument. “That may prove that he’s been hurt by suth’n or other, elephant, or not; but it don’t prove you ever owned him.”

“I can satisfy you with regard to that,” said Jack, confidently. “Do you object to going down with me and looking at him?”

“Not in the least, only wait till I git this wheel on. Ye may go and see the hoss in my presence, but ye can’t take the hoss, without I’m satisfied you’ve the best right to him.”

“That’s all I ask, Mr. Peakslow; I want only what belongs to me. If you are a loser, you must look for redress to the man who sold you my property; and he must go back on the next man.”

“How’s that?” put in Zeph, grinning over his grease-pot. “Pa thinks he’s got a good deal better hoss than he put away; and you ain’t agoin’ to crowd him out of a good bargain, I bet!”

“Hold your tongue!” growled Peakslow. “I can fight my own battles, without any of your tongue. I put away a pooty good hoss, and I gin fifteen dollars to boot.”

“What man did you trade with?” Jack inquired.

“A truckman in Chicago. He liked my hoss, and I liked hisn, and we swapped. He wanted twenty dollars, I offered him ten, and we split the difference. He won’t want to give me back my hoss and my money, now; and ye can’t blame him. And the next man won’t want to satisfy him. Grant the hoss is stole, for the sake of the argyment,” said Peakslow. “I maintain that when an animal that’s been stole, and sold, and traded, finally gits into an honest man’s hands, it’s right he should stay there.”

“Even if it’s your horse, and the honest man who gets him is your neighbor?” queried Jack.

“I do’no’ wal yes!” said Peakslow. “It’s a hard case, but no harder one way than t’ other.”

“But the law looks at it in only one way,” replied Jack. “And with reason. Men must be careful how they deal with thieves or get hold of stolen property. How happens it that you, Mr. Peakslow, didn’t know that such a horse had been stolen? Some of your neighbors knew it very well.”

“Some of my neighbors I don’t have nothin’ to say to,” answered Peakslow, gruffly. “If you mean the Bettersons, they’re a pack of thieves and robbers themselves, and I don’t swap words with none of ’em, without ’t is to tell ’em my mind; that I do, when I have a chance.”

“You use pretty strong language when you call them thieves and robbers, Mr. Peakslow.”

“Strong or not, it’s the truth. Hain’t they cheated me out o’ the best part of my farm?”

“The Bettersons cheated you!” exclaimed Jack.

They were now on the way to the pasture; and Peakslow, in a sort of lurid excitement, pointed to the boundary fence.

“My line, by right, runs five or six rod t’ other side. I took up my claim here, and Betterson bought hisn, ’fore ever the guv’ment survey run through. That survey fixed my line ’way over yender in their cornfield. And there I claim it belongs, to this day.”

“But, Mr. Peakslow, how does it happen that a man like Mr. Betterson has been able to rob a man like you, take a part of your farm before your very eyes? He is a rather slack, easy man; while you, if I’m not greatly mistaken, are in the habit of standing up for your rights.”

“I can gin’ly look out for myself,” said Peakslow. “And don’t suppose that Lord Betterson took me down and put his hands in my pockets, alone.”

“Nine men, with masks on,” cried Zeph, “come to our house one night, and told pa they’d jest tear his ruf right down over his head, and drive him out of the county, if he didn’t sign a deed givin’ Betterson that land.”

“Hold your yawp, Zeph!” muttered Peakslow. “I can tell my own story. There was nine of ’em, all armed, and what could I do?”

“This is a most extraordinary story!” exclaimed Jack. “Did you sign the deed?”

“I couldn’t help myself,” said Peakslow.

“It seems to me I would have helped myself, if the land was rightfully mine!” cried Jack. “They might tear my house down, they might try to drive me out of the county, I don’t believe I would deed away my land, just because they threatened me, and I was afraid.”

“It’s easy to talk that way,” Peakslow replied. “But, come case in hand, the loaded muzzles in your face, you’d change your mind.”

“Didn’t they pay for the land they took?”

“Barely nothin’; jest the guv’ment price; dollar ‘n’ a quarter an acre. But jest look at that land to-day, the best in the State, wuth twenty dollars an acre, if ’t is a cent.”

“What was Betterson’s claim?” Jack asked; “for men don’t often do such things without some sort of excuse.”

“They hild that though the survey gin me the land, it was some Betterson had supposed belonged to his purchase. Meanwhile he had j’ined a land-claim society, where the members all agreed to stand by one another; and that was the reason o’ their takin’ sich high-handed measures with me.”

Jack was inclined to cross-question Peakslow, and sift a little this astonishing charge against Betterson and the land-claim society. But they had now reached the pasture bars, and the question relating to the ownership of the horse was to be settled.

The Betterson boys were still sitting on the fence, where Jack had left them; but Snowfoot had returned to his grazing.

“Call him,” said Jack. “If he doesn’t come for you, then see if he will come for me.”

Peakslow grumblingly declined the test.

“He doesn’t always come when I call him,” said Jack. “I’ll show you what I do then. Here, Lion!”

He took from his pocket an ear of corn he had picked by the way, placed one end of it between the dog’s jaws, saying, “Bring Snowfoot, Lion! bring Snowfoot!” and let him through the bars.

Lion trotted into the pasture, trotted straight up to the right horse, coaxed and coquetted with him for a minute, and then trotted back. Snowfoot followed, leering and nipping, and trying to get the ear of corn.

Lion brought the ear to Jack, and Jack gave it to Snowfoot, taking him at the same time by the forelock.

“What do you think of that?” he said, looking round in triumph at Peakslow.

“I don’t see as it’s anything to make sich a fuss over,” said Peakslow, looking angrily across at the spectators on the boundary fence, as they cheered the success of the man[oe]uvre. “It shows you’ve larnt your dog tricks, nothin’ more. ’Most any hoss would foller an ear of corn that way.”

“Why didn’t your hoss follow it?”

“The dog didn’t go for my hoss.”

“Why didn’t he go for your horse, as soon as for mine?” urged Jack.

To which Peakslow could only reply,

“Ye needn’t let down the top bar; ye can’t take that hoss through! I traded for him, and paid boot, and you’ve got to bring better evidence than your say-so, or a dog’s trick, ’fore I give up my claim.”

“I’ll bring you evidence,” said Jack, turning away in no little impatience and disgust.

He hastened back to Mr. Betterson’s house, and was met by the boys as he came into the yard.

“What did I tell you?” said Rufe. “Couldn’t get him, could you?”

“No, but I will!” replied Jack, untying the horse, which he had left hitched to an oak-tree. “I’m going for a witness.” He backed the wagon around. “Get in, if you like,” to Rufus.

Rufus did like; and the two rode off together, to the great dissatisfaction of Wad and Link, who also wanted to go and see the fun.