To the high valleys then, came a lone rider, a man who rode with the caution born of riding long on strange trails in a land untamed and restless with danger.
The Indian Wars were largely of the past, although there were still the Sioux, the Cheyenne, Nez Percé and the Apache with fight left in them, but on the land from which the Indian had been driven or from which he was being driven, the white man had not found peace — or at best an uneasy peace when men rode with guns at hand and eyes alert for danger.
Cattle had come to replace the buffalo, and then bolder men had pushed their herds into the mountain valleys — valleys lush with grass that fattened cattle amazingly fast — and as these valleys began to be settled, some men drifted to the high meadows among the peaks.
Lonely, largely overlooked, but excellent grazing in spring, summer, and early fall, the valleys were the last land to be taken. It was to one such valley that Kilkenny rode, and when he drew up and looked around him, he made his decision. This was the home he had been seeking, on this land would he stay.
Riding on, he studied the valley. To right and left lay towering ridges that walled the valley in, and to the east other peaks lifted, and west the valley swung hard around and at one corner the wall was broken sharply off to fall sheer away for more than 600 feet. Kilkenny paused long upon the lip, looking out over that immeasurable distance toward the faraway line of the purple hills. It was then that he first became conscious of the sound, a faint scarcely discernible whispering. Holding himself erect, he listened intently. It was the wind! The whispering wind!
Wind among the tall pines, among the rocks and the erosion-gnawed holes, a sound such as he had never heard, a sound like far off music in which no notes could be detected, a sound so strange that he could not stop listening. He turned then in his saddle and looked back over the valley he had found. At least 2,000 acres! Grassy and lush with growth, water aplenty, and that whispering! The valley of the whispering wind!
It was a strange thing to find this place now, this place where he knew he could find happiness, the place from which he would not move again. He had told himself that before he realized what it might mean, and when he did know, he nodded his head as if at last he could be sure.
Yes. Here he would stop. Here he would cease being the restless drifter that he had become, a man fleeing from a reputation; fleeing from the reputation of a killer. But in this place he would stay, and he would find peace — if they let him.
There was always the chance that some stranger from the Plains might drift into the country and recognize him as Kilkenny, yet he was fortunate in that few men knew him well, and most descriptions of him were mistaken. There was always the chance of such a killing as the affair at Clifton’s. That man had not even known who he was, just a trouble-hunting kid wanting to prove how tough he could be. But that was over, and it was miles away over some of the roughest land in the world. And here he would stay.
His fire was a lonely gleam in the vast darkness of the valley, and in the morning he saw where the cougars had come down from the rocks to investigate. Once he found the tracks of a grizzly. Killing a deer for food, he started in to work. Living on the ground under the stars, he laid the foundations of his home, choosing flat stones from the talus of the ridges, carefully laying the foundation and the floor. When a space for three rooms was carefully laid, he crushed limestone, and with sand made a crude mortar and began building the walls from selected chunks of rock.
It was slow, bitterly hard work, but he enjoyed it, and during that first month in the high meadow there was no sound or sight of anything man had done but what he did with his own hands. While he worked, he thought carefully of what he would do now. The house was nearing completion, and he had cleaned the waterholes and walled up the spring near the cabin.
Soon he must go to a settlement for supplies and ammunition. He felt a curious hesitancy about that, for he had no desire to go. Always now he found himself remembering the queer horror on that girl’s face after he had shot Tetlow. She did not understand what it meant. She was new to the West. Still, it was not pleasant to have one looked at with such horror. Who was she? She was without doubt beautiful — very beautiful.
As beautiful as …? He shook his head. No. There was no other like Nita, and there would be no other like her.
On the first day of the seventh week in the high meadow, Kilkenny saddled up and started for town. He knew nothing of the place. Horsehead, they called it, and while riding toward it he had heard it mentioned, but no more. He did not even know how to get there, but must find his way through the canyons.
Horsehead sprawled in lazy comfort along both banks of a creek called Westwater, and the town’s main street crossed the creek at right angles. The ancient stone stage station, a veteran of Indian fighting and earlier Mormon settlement, stood near the east bank of the creek. It was a low-roofed, single-storied building with an awning that projected 8 feet from the roof and offered shelter to a couple of initial-carved benches polished by the seats of many breeches. …
Lance Kilkenny rode down from the hills into the east side of town, riding on until he reached the stage station, where he dismounted and tied the buckskin at the hitch rail. Pausing there, he took out the makings and rolled a smoke, scanning the town with careful eyes, alert to any attention he might be getting and curious about the town itself.
Bantam Books will be publishing, through 2018 and 2019, a large quantity of new material from Louis L’Amour as part of a project called “Louis L’Amour’s Lost Treasures.” Bantam has published the first volume of LOUIS L’AMOUR’S LOST TREASURES available in the GrIt bookstore. Volume 2 will follow in 2019. The Lost Treasures project was created to release many works Louis L’Amour was never able to publish during his lifetime.
From the book KILKENNY by Louis L’Amour. Copyright © 1954, 1982 by Louis & Katherine L’Amour Trust. Reprinted by arrangement with Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.