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Winter came on in its delectable way in the Valley of the Moon. The last Mariposa lily vanished from the burnt grasses as the California Indian summer dreamed itself out in purple mists on the windless air. Soft rain- showers first broke the spell. Snow fell on the summit of Sonoma Mountain. At the ranch house the morning air was crisp and brittle, yet mid-day made the shade welcome, and in the open, under the winter sun, roses bloomed and oranges, grape-fruit, and lemons turned to golden yellow ripeness. Yet, a thousand feet beneath, on the floor of the valley, the mornings were white with frost.
And Michael barked twice. The first time was when Harley Kennan, astride a hot-blooded sorrel colt, tried to make it leap a narrow stream. Villa reined in her steed at the crest beyond, and, looking back into the little valley, waited for the colt to receive its lesson. Michael waited, too, but closer at hand. At first he lay down, panting from his run, by the stream-edge. But he did not know horses very well, and soon his anxiety for the welfare of Harley Kennan brought him to his feet.
Harley was gentle and persuasive and all patience as he strove to make the colt take the leap. The urge of voice and rein was of the mildest; but the animal balked the take-off each time, and the hot
thoroughbredness in its veins made it sweat and lather. The velvet of young grass was torn up by its hoofs, and its terror of the stream was such, that, when fetched to the edge at a canter, it stiffened and crouched to an abrupt stop, then reared on its hind-legs. Which was too much for Michael.
He sprang at the horse's head as it came down with forefeet to earth, and as he sprang he barked. In his bark was censure and menace, and, as the horse reared again, he leaped into the air after it, his teeth clipping together as he just barely missed its nose.
Villa rode back down the slope to the opposite bank of the stream.
"Mercy!" she cried. "Listen to him! He's actually barking."
"He thinks the colt is trying to do some damage to me," Harley said. "That's his provocation. He hasn't forgotten how to bark. He's reading the colt a lecture."
"If he gets him by the nose it will be more than a lecture," Villa warned. "Be careful, Harley, or he will."
"Now, Michael, lie down and be good," Harley commanded. "It's all right, I tell you. It's an right. Lie down."
Michael sank down obediently, but protestingly; and he had eyes only for the horse's antics, while all his muscles were gathered tensely to spring in case the horse threatened injury to Harley again.
"I can't give in to him now, or he never will jump anything," Harley said to his wife, as he whirled about to gallop back to a distance. "Either I lift him over or I take a cropper."
He came back at full speed, and the colt, despite himself, unable to stop, lifted into the leap that would avoid the stream he feared, so that he cleared it with a good two yards to spare on the other side.