After a half hour thus we came to the long string of wire and the huge, awkward gate that marked the limit of Hooper’s “pasture.” Of course the open range was his real pasture; but every ranch enclosed a thousand acres or so somewhere near the home station to be used for horses in active service. Before I could anticipate him, he had sidled his horse skillfully alongside the gate and was holding it open for me to pass. I rode through the opening murmuring thanks and an apology. The old man followed me through, and halted me by placing his horse square across the path of mine.
“You are now, sir, outside my land and therefore no longer my guest,” he said, and the snap in his voice was like the crackling of electricity. “Don’t let me ever see you here again. You are keen and intelligent. You spoke the truth a short time since. You were right. I tolerate nothing in my place that is not my own—no man, no animal, no bird, no insect nor reptile even—that will not obey my lightest order. And these creatures, great or small, who will not—or even cannot—obey my orders must go—or die. Understand me clearly?
“You have come here, actuated, I believe, by idle curiosity, but without knowledge. You made yourself—ignorantly—my guest; and a guest is sacred. But now you know my customs and ideas. I am telling you. Never again can you come here in ignorance; therefore never again can you come here as a guest; and never again will you pass freely.”
He delivered this drily, precisely, with frost in his tones, staring balefully into my eyes. So taken aback was I by this unleashed hostility that for a moment I had nothing to say.
“Now, if you please, I will take both notes from that poor idiot: the one I handed you and the one she handed you.”
I realized suddenly that the two lay together in the breast pocket of my shirt; that though alike in tenor, they differed in phrasing; and that I had no means of telling one from the other.
“The paper you gave me I read and threw away,” I stated, boldly. “It meant nothing to me. As to any other, I do not know what you are talking about.”
“You are lying,” he said, calmly, as merely stating a fact. “It does not matter. It is my fancy to collect them. I should have liked to add yours. Now get out of this, and don’t let me see your face again!”
“Mr. Hooper,” said I, “I thank you for your hospitality, which has been complete and generous. You have pointed out the fact that I am no longer your guest. I can, therefore, with propriety, tell you that your ideas and prejudices are noted with interest; your wishes are placed on file for future reference; I don’t give a damn for your orders; and you can go to hell!”
“Fine flow of language. Educated cowpuncher,” said the old man, drily. “You are warned. Keep off. Don’t meddle with what does not concern you. And if the rumour gets back to me that you’ve been speculating or talking or criticizing——”