In Andre Norton’s action-filled story Stand to Horse, the tensions of men against men are balanced by the tensions of men against nature, often a cruel and unequal struggle. Throughout it all, the reader senses the nation’s growing unrest as events lead up to the Civil War. Many of the incidents and much of the colorful dialogue are based on actual journals and diaries kept by men who lived through these perilous times. Stand to Horse is fiction of high order that re-creates a dangerous and exciting period in our country’s history.
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About the Author
For well over a half century, Andre Norton was one of the most popular science fiction and fantasy authors in the world. With series such as Time Traders, Solar Queen, Forerunner, Beast Master, Crosstime, and Janus, as well as many standalone novels, her tales of adventure have drawn countless readers to science fiction. Her fantasy novels, including the bestselling Witch World series, her Magic series, and many other unrelated novels, have been popular with readers for decades. Lauded as a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, she is the recipient of a Life Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention. An Ohio native, Norton lived for many years in Winter Park, Florida, and died in March 2005 at her home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Read an Excerpt
Stand to Horse
By Andre Norton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1956 Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
All rights reserved.
"Sergeant, Dismiss the Detachment"
To hunch one's shoulders and still stand at attention is something of an acrobatic feat, but Ritchie Peters, Private, First Dragoons, tried to do it as the keen mountain wind picked at the line of men on the Santa Fe parade ground. Late November in the First Military District of New Mexico meant winter—just as it had back home in New York. Only here were no buffalo robes and hot soapstones to comfort the toes. And an army overcoat had none of the wind-beating properties of the fur-lined one he had worn last winter. Ritchie abruptly tried to turn off those straying thoughts. He was not going to think of last winter! Instead he concentrated on here and now.
As one of the recruits arriving after the fall march from Jefferson Barracks and as green to his job as the droop-eared remount he had ridden most of the way, he found his present surroundings vaguely depressing. The small group of officers who had assembled to inspect the newcomers had very little swank or gold braid about them. Bearded, their faces coarsely reddened by exposure to just such winds as punished them now, they were bundled up in a motley collection of fur coats, heavy Indian-style leggings, and scarves. They appeared far less military than the ragged line they had come to assess, because those of the recruits who hadn't traded most of their worldly goods for whisky still were in regulation uniform.
By lottery, company commanders had drawn each man's name in turn from a hat. Willy-nilly, he, Ritchie Peters, was now attached to Company K. with four years, eight months to serve in its ranks. For a second time he had to jerk his mind back to the matter at hand. The Colonel was speaking. He had a high rasping voice, which sounded tired and old, as if it had fought against the wind too many times on too many parade grounds making the same little welcoming speech.
"... credit to yourself and your comrades, holding a frontier against an enemy more determined and bitter than any the arms of the United States has faced before. Your duty and your life ..."
Ritchie blinked and tried to wriggle his numbed toes inside his boots. The remount behind him stamped and blew impatiently. Shrewdly Ritchie squirmed an inch or so forward—that roan bit at times.
He let his eyes travel from the Colonel to the officers who stood behind their commander. There were four of them, one a pace or so beyond the other three. And he was the one who had held the hat for the lottery. Unlike the others he was clean shaven, not even wearing a cavalryman's full mustache, and he held himself lance straight in spite of the wind. His face was only a handsbreadth of tanned skin between cap brim and upturned collar, but Ritchie found himself wishing he could see more of it. Something in the lithe way the unknown officer moved suggested that he was younger than most of his companions.
"... depends upon your own conduct." The Colonel's voice dropped. He moved his feet in the light scuff of snow that had fallen as they stood there. Now he jerked his head around to the man Ritchie had been watching.
"Sergeant, dismiss the detachment!"
So he was the Troop Sergeant! Mechanically Ritchie's body obeyed the orders that had been drilled into him during the past bewildering months. He went through the business of stabling the roan, dodged the last vicious snap of that animal's yellow teeth, and followed the rest of his fellows into the barracks.
The fort was constructed after the usual pattern of a hollow square with the parade ground in the center, bordered on one side by the low adobe officers' quarters facing the guard house, the commissary department, and the offices. On the other two sides were barracks. Ritchie, having learned to be thankful for the smallest of favors bestowed by fate, was glad that the one he was to inhabit was nearer to the stable yard. The buildings were all of one story with flat roofs and a parapet protecting the outer wall, a parapet which was loopholed. There were no windows in the outer wall of any building.
It was already dusk in the barracks, and small lanterns and flickering candles made pools of light to fight against shadows. But the thick 'dobe walls kept out the wind, and there was a fire on a sort of raised hearth at the far end of the room.
Ritchie had a quick impression of masses of raw color—Indian blankets, weapons, baskets, illustrations clipped from old papers and pasted to the walls. But he was so tired that he stumbled thankfully toward the bunk pointed out to him and dumped his small collection of baggage on the floor beside it, content for a moment or two just to squat there and let the warmth sink in through the layers of all the warm clothing he possessed to his ice-touched bones.
"Hi, there, Johnny Raw! Green as they come, ain't he, fellas?"
Ritchie looked up. He had to raise his eyes some distance to meet those in the round head with unclipped shoulder-length hair that met and was lost in a wiry mat of black beard. A thick boot nudged his knee.
"Yo'—I'm talkin' t' yo', Johnny Raw! Does yore Maw know yo're playin' soljer with us bad boys? Does she now?"
Ritchie got wearily to his feet. This was a greeting he had had to face before. There always was one of these would-be-funny men in every barracks. But if you didn't take your own part against them, nobody else was going to stand up for you. He hated fights; the cold little tingle of fear that ran along his backbone every time he faced up to one began to run down from the nape of his neck. He still wore a fading bruise along his jaw as a souvenir from the last one, fought on board the steamer which had brought them to Independence. But there was never any other way out of this.
"Rather out of your class, aren't you, Birke?" The new voice was low, and a drawl slurred the words. "Tigre facing down a ring cat?"
There was some laughter in answer to that. The speaker lounged past the tall Birke and sat down on the next bunk. "Seeing as how this is my front parlor, so to speak, I'm not hankering to have it discommoded. Go roar somewhere else, man."
Surprisingly Birke accepted that suggestion with good humor.
"Johnny Raw's got him a bunkie. Smell out th' pennies, d'ya, Sturgis?"
For a single tense second there was a dead quiet as if all the men in the little circle about them had been struck dumb. Then the lounger on the bunk laughed.
"Six months since payday. Anybody who shows a penny around here is like to be mobbed. Hear that, Johnny Raw?" He turned to Ritchie.
Birke guffawed and shambled away, taking his followers with him. Ritchie gave his full attention to the man who had saved him from battle—or who had at least deferred the encounter.
He was much slighter than the black-haired giant he had quelled, slender, narrow of waist and hip even in the bulk of winter clothing. A light-brown beard had been trimmed into a dashing imperial, and mustaches had been lovingly and painstakingly rolled into needle points. His features were finely cut, his hands those of an expert horseman. He smiled at Ritchie and then rose and bowed with a grace only one trained from birth to the social niceties could equal.
"St. George (it sounded more like S'George) Sturgis, at your service, sir."
Automatically Ritchie slipped back into the old, familiar world and responded as he would have six months before to one of his father's friends.
"Ritchie Peters, sir." His answering salutation was as unstudied as the other's had been.
Sturgis nodded, as if some question of his own had been answered. With the air of a host aiding a welcome guest, he began to help Ritchie stow away what remnants of personal property still remained to him. There was little enough in his blanket roll, though at that he had come far better equipped than had most of the other recruits. He had taken the tip of the recruiting officer and had laid out most of the cash that remained from the sale of his watch, his two hunters, and the brace of pistols his father had given him on his last birthday to buy extra clothing and other small supplies, worth more than their weight in placer gold on the frontier. Sturgis looked over this wealth and then glanced at Ritchie with a tinge of real respect.
"You can't be on a second hitch," he mused. "By the look of you in a clear light you have no right to be signed up for your first. Was the recruiting officer blind on the day you signed papers?"
Ritchie shrugged. "They don't ask too many questions when a man wants to sign up. If I have a few added birthdays on the company roles, it doesn't concern anyone but myself!"
"That's the right spirit, m'boy!" Sturgis was grinning. "But you've better than a good head on you if you picked out all this on your own." He motioned to the stuff Ritchie was unpacking. "Lord, most of the boys show up here with one pair of socks and their shirttails flapping in the breeze. You'll be a nabob here. And now, what will you do with yourself the rest of this fine afternoon?"
Ritchie stood up and gave his short cavalry jacket a jerk to bring it smoothly down at his waist.
"If we linger here, Herndon will find a little work for idle hands," Sturgis continued.
"Our worshipful Troop Sergeant—the sternest slave driver west of the Mississippi. I'll bet a month's pay he could make a cane-field boss look like a cooing dove! Stay clear of Sergeant Scott Herndon, m'lad, and you'll live an easier life. Would you care to see the town?"
Ritchie looked doubtful. "Can we?"
Sturgis produced a slip of paper. "There are ways, Peters, of getting what you want—even in this man's army. This is a pass. We can take it and go—right through that gate and into the big wicked city of Santa Fe. Santa Fe"—his voice fell into a sort of chant—"in the valley of the Rio de Santa Fe, where the river emerges from the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the east. And on the west is the Jemez Range, most times full of Apaches. Is that what you remember from your school days?"
Ritchie laughed. "Don't think they ever mentioned the place. There was too much agitation most of the time about Greek irregular verbs and such—"
Sturgis was buttoning his jacket. "My, my"—he shook his head sadly—"how your education has been neglected, my son. It is now my duty as a sober and respectable member of this community to remedy that lack. Let us fare forth and add to the sum of your knowledge of this rare beauty spot of nature. I would suggest pulling another scarf about the ears. In this season our breezes are not so much balmy as straight."
Santa Fe was brown adobe houses with the scent of piñon smoke fighting older and less pleasant odors; it was irrigation ditches through the town; it was creaking oxcarts and shawled women; it was blanketed Indians staring about them with oddly blank eyes; and, last of all, after a most perfunctory tour led by Sturgis, it was the Eagle.
At first the cloud of heavy tobacco smoke tainted with whisky fumes almost made Ritchie gag. He might have stepped out again, but Sturgis caught his sleeve and tugged him through the murk raised by the long cigarrillos, which most of the patrons seemed to smoke incessantly, to an empty table.
"We must blood you right." Sturgis banged on the table for the attention of one of the hurrying Mexican waiters. "They serve the real food of the country here. You, Jose, we'll have chile Colorado and tortillas and all the rest—"
The brown-skinned boy nodded. "Si, señor."
"A man needs a decent meal once in a while, maybe only to realize how bad army grub can be. We have us a cook who knows just how many coffee beans to put in to color the water—and uses those—no more, no less! Hello! There's Tuttle. Wonder when he got back." He pointed to a man crossing the room toward the long table where a faro game was in progress.
The long hair and pointed beard of the newcomer were iron gray, and he walked with a limp, which, while it gave him a rocking gait, did not seem to slow his pace any.
"Tuttle's one of the scouts attached to us. Old Mountain Man! Ran furs through here twenty years ago, made his pile in the gold fields, and lost it all again. But he's come back here to stay. Knows more about the Indians than they do themselves. Some say he was blood brother to Mangus Colorado, the great Apache chief. He's a darn good scout and a fool gambler. Ha—here we are! Now lift a lip over that, son, and tell me what you think of our native dishes!"
Ritchie regarded with some wariness the contents of the earthenware plate that had been slammed down before him. The smell, spicy and strange, was not too forbidding, and he took a cautious spoonful, a spoonful which set him gasping openmouthed for air to cool his blistered tongue. Sturgis, laughing, thrust a glass into his hand, and he swallowed a good half of its contents in one gulp before he discovered that it too was misleading. He then faced his companion with suspicion.
"Go on; it's harmless. Just tiswin. The native youngsters are weaned on it. Take it easy—slow and sure—"
Ritchie chose a minute portion of what looked like a grayish mush and chewed it thoughtfully with no bad aftereffects. And then he tried a tortilla but with none of the nonchalance with which Sturgis swallowed.
Now that his eyes had become more accustomed to the smoke, he looked at those around them. The weathered, worn blue of army uniforms mingled with buckskin and the gaudy shoulder blankets and embroidered coats of the Mexicans. He was so busy watching this constantly changing crowd of fellow diners that he did not see the small man who came drifting up until he had slipped into the empty seat at their table.
"You hav' seen Pedro, señores?" His voice was very soft, hardly pitched above a whisper, and he looked from Sturgis to Ritchie, a thick line of worry scored the skin between eyes which were brown and curiously childlike. It was hard to judge his age, for his face was boyishly smooth except for a jagged white scar along the angle of his jaw.
"No." Sturgis shook his head and spoke slowly. "I have not seen him, Ramon. Here!" He filled his own glass from the bottle Jose had brought and pushed it into the little man's hand. "Have a drink, amigo."
"Drink," repeated the little man and stared at the glass as if he did not quite understand what he was to do with it. Then he took a single sip. "You will pardon me please, señores. It is necessary that I find my brother Pedro—" He slipped out of the chair, bowed, his hat in his hands, and wandered off.
"Where is his brother?" Ritchie asked.
Sturgis answered almost harshly. "Under some rocks in Bloody Canyon about a hundred miles from here—where he has been lying some five years now. The Salazars had a rancho down along the river, raised cattle and some horses. Then the Apaches came raiding. They took a big slice of the Salazar herd with them. Pedro Salazar came up to the fort for help. He and a squad of the boys hit a hot trail leading back into the mountains. They followed it and were ambushed. The lucky ones were killed outright. By the look of Pedro when he was found, he wasn't one of the lucky ones.
"When they didn't come back, Ramon came up to the Colonel. He was only a kid then, but he said he was riding alone to hunt his brother if we wouldn't help. So the dragoons went out again. They found what was left of the first gang and were picking them up for burial when"—Sturgis made a quick gesture with his hands—"the world blew up. The Apaches had set a trap—set it with the bait of the bodies of their first victims. If one buck hadn't been just a little too eager and shot a second too soon, they would have had a full bag the second time, too. As it was, about ten escaped. Ramon came back, his face hanging in shreds, with the memory of how his brother looked after the Apaches had amused themselves in their usual fashion. It was a little too much for his mind. So now he can't remember Pedro's death, and he waits here for him. Five years he's been waiting. Finished eating? Let's see some action."
Jose, who had been hovering beyond the table, now pounced, assembling a pile of dishes in a lingering way. Sturgis grinned.
"Birke was right, y'know. Months since the paymaster hit these parts. Can you spare a little of the needful?"
Ritchie spun a coin across to the waiter. "And what if I keep accounts?"
Sturgis shot him a single glance. For a moment there was a hint of something less than laughter about his mobile mouth. But when he answered, his words were light enough.
"As you wish, sir, as you wish. Now for the action—"
Excerpted from Stand to Horse by Andre Norton. Copyright © 1956 Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Contents1. "Sergeant, Dismiss the Detachment",
2. "Company K Has Style",
3. "Ain't No Winter Fer Apaches",
4. "The Game's Made, 'n the Ball's Rollin'!",
5. "A Right Smart Lot of Snow",
6. "They Brought All Their Sand—",
7. Cold-Pork Christmas,
8. Mounted Pass,
9. "Rather Have Me a Mule!",
10. Never Stick a Picket in an Anthill,
11. "You Ride to Your Funerals, Soldados!",
12. "Mort à Cheval à Galop",
13. "If We Had Water—",
14. One From Five Leaves—Death,
15. "Camels'n Apaches Don't Drink",
16. "Reckon I'll Cross Over—",
17. "This Is as Good a Place to Die as Any",
18. "I Have Drunk of These Waters—",