Chapter XXIV SHORTY INVESTS A FIVE SPOT

SHORTY is getting gray of hair. His face is lined with the crinkling wrinkles that years have added to those already there from the touch of wind and sun. He measures barely five feet one in his high-heeled boots and weighs within a few ounces of one hundred and twenty-five pounds.

But Shorty is still a horseman.

There was a day when Shorty, then quite young, wore the silks of well-known racing-stables and when cheering crowds watched him boot them home at famous tracks, but time and weight took him out of the ranks of jocks and landed him in the stables. First as assistant, then as trainer, he became once more responsible for his owner's colors coming first under the wire.

But those days also passed and Shorty, like most of his kind, had failed to save anything out of his many winnings.

The advancing years found Shorty on the Texas border still following the horses without which he would have been as a mare robbed of her foal, his life an empty waste. But though miles and years separated him from the dash and color of the tracks where he had known fame, the oldster still had the cunning knowledge of horseflesh which had been his in the days of his glory.

As he sat on the top rail of the loading pens at the little way station on the Southern Pacific watching the milling horses in the dust below him, he suddenly uttered an expletive both prayerful and profane. For among a motley herd of equine wreckage being gathered for the reduction works he had spotted a horse! Unlike its companions it was not just a broonitail from the tule patches along the Rio but a mare of the blood which, despite the ragged condition of her coat, still showed signs of a distinguished pedigree. The signs were there, easily read by the horseman.

Her long, lean, powerful driving flanks, her springing pastern and the sweeping stride of her walk bespoke titled ancestry to Shorty as clearly as if the printed pedigree had been before him. Scratched and scarred by the tough desert brush, her mane and tail matted with burrs, her every line spelled thoroughbred to the wiry little man on the fence top. Then as she turned into the milling herd he got his first look at her face. She was blind.

Jack Van Ryder drawing of mare grazing

The little man jumped to the ground and trotted around the corral to where the owner of the horses was preparing to load them into the cars. "What do you hold this bunch at per head?" he asked.

"Three bucks a round," said the buyer. "Most of 'em are wild 'uns the Mexicans gathered along the river. Some of 'em are old ponies that are plumb worn out. They make dog meat out of 'em in California."

"I'll give you a five spot for my pick of the bunch," said Shorty and when the buyer agreed to the price the little man picked up a riata and slipped through the gate into the pen containing the blind mare.

A quick flip of the rope, a soothing word or two, and she walked out behind him. Paying the five dollars he led his newly acquired property off to one side to look her over.

"Hell," said he, "you're not so old. In fact according to your teeth you're only ten. You've just been neglected and treated rough because you couldn't see. But old girl you won't ever be chicken feed if I have to shoot you and dig your grave myself. Come on, let's go."

Home to Shorty was the Flying W ranch where as a general roustabout for Bill Ferguson he looked after this and that, drove Ferguson's car and in the warm soft air of the Texas spring and summer hand-gentled colts in the big round corral. His ways were not the ways of the Panhandle, but Bill Ferguson had found that a colt gentled by Shorty had a glove-soft mouth, a quick and easy gait and knew no fear. These colts could be taught cow work later and just as easily.

So Bill Ferguson let the little man have his way with the pick of the remuda and was well repaid for the Ferguson horses were beginning to find their way toward the polo fields of Long Island.

When Shorty arrived at the Flying W with the blood bay mare (He had walked the entire ten miles from the loading pens, leaving the ranch flivver to be driven home by another) he was plentifully hoo-rawed for the tale of his purchase had preceded him.

Even Bill Ferguson, whose eye for a horse was sharper than the average man's, felt that the little rider had permitted sentiment rather than judgment to squander his five dollar bill. The cowboys dubbed the mare Five Spot and razzed Shorty long and loud about his racing stable.

Shorty answered in kind, placed the mare in the round corral where she would not be injured and held his peace. He still had faith in his judgment. The kidding left him calm and unruffled.

That was some time ago. I saw the answer to whether or not Shorty knew horses seven years later when I was at the Flying W. Shorty was in the round corral working a blood bay two-year-old colt on a longe-line while Bill Ferguson sat with me on the fence.

"That's another of old Five Spot's babies," he said. "Shorty has raised four others out of her, all sired by Red Man, that thoroughbred of mine, and boy what polo ponies they make! The old man's made a real stake out of those colts and this one is the best of the lot.

"You never heard of Five Spot? Well, come here and I'll show her to you."

We walked over to the stables where Ferguson's stallion and personal saddle horses were sheltered during the cold of the Panhandle winter. There in a roomy box stall where the sun streamed in through the half open door stood a blood bay mare, her glistening coat telling of loving care. Despite her seventeen years she carried herself with queenly grace, her nose sensitively twitching as she made it serve in place of the eyes that had failed her.

She was a thoroughbred from the tips of her glossy ears to the last long black hair of her well kept tail. An honored dowager restored to her proper place in the scheme of things, she nickered a low-toned welcome as Ferguson called through the door.

It was there by the door as the velvet-nosed mare nuzzled his arm and the crooning, profane admonishments of Shorty could be heard from the round corral that Ferguson told me the story of Five Spot.

So there you have it. If you know horses and horsemen there is a lot in it that you will understand and appreciate.

Continue with Chapter XXV BRUISING MR. DEXTER