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The Crimson Bookshelf

RIDING THE MUSTANG TRAIL, by Forrester Blake. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons. 261 pages. $2.50

By H. V. P.

All who are anticipating intensive study during the coming months would do well to avail themselves of two dollars and fifty cents' worth of as exciting and diverting relaxation as they are likely to find in contemporary literature. "Riding the Mustang Trail," the narrative of a four-hundred-mile "trail drive" of a large herd of wild mustangs from the Mescalero country of New Mexico to a shipping point in Cimarron County, Oklahoma, is a saga proving beyond all doubt that there still is a West, in the realest sense of the term, that it is still full of pitfalls, even to its most hardened inhabitants, and that for the uninitiated it is as full of adventure and excitement as ever.

Forrester Blake made the drive of which he writes while still a college student, but for all his youth and inexperience, he writes as though the West were continually coursing through his voins. His book is a peculiarly happy mixture of the simplicity, honesty and quiet humor indigenous to the countryborn, with a style so facile and fluent as to put the majority of his elders to shame. At times, his descriptions are startingly effective. The "trail drive" becomes an actual experience for the reader, and when the last page is regretfully turned, one's mind travels back o episodes which the author has left indelibly on one's memory. There is nothing sensational or cheap in Mr. Blake's story; he doesn't have to resuscitate bands of wild Indians or buffalo to make his reader's spine tingle with excitement.

A rough idea of the effectiveness of several descriptions can be gleaned from the following passage, which epitomizes Mr. Blake's style, and the spirit in which he writes. "We killed rattlesnakes, big ones, the mottled brown diamond backs that were everywhere, among the rocks, on the glaring open salt fiats, in the sage country. I shudder to think, of those ugly reptiles coiled and ratting, ready to strike venom into a man's leg and turn his red blood a vivid, poisonous green. And I feel the cold shivers on my spine when I realize that I stepped within a foot of one of them, one that did not strike and did not rattle, but like a silent thing uncoiled at my very feet and crawled toward a hole in a clump of greasewood. I shot it three times and killed it. It had thirteen rattles on its stubby tail. I sweat now to think of that, how I started to brush between two clumps of bushes and saw it at my very feet, how I leaped like a man shot, backward and high in the air, away from that repulsive killer. I shouted, a cold yell of horror, and my heart filled my chest and almost suffocated me. For I am afraid of rattlesnakes. Time and again today a rider got down from his horse and bat one to death with the heavy hondo of his lariat. It was a cruel and sinister country, that country of canyons and rocky gulches and rattle-snakes."

For a first book, this of Mr. Blake's is a definite achievement. He has recreated the country of Billy the Kid. He has an attachment for the Southwest that is deep in his blood, but it is to be hoped he will not run the danger of so restricting himself to the district as to imperil his writings about other sections, and that when and if he turns to fiction he will not have become typed. For American literature is in need of writers as unassuming and yet as penetrating as is Mr. Blake in "Riding the Musiang Trail."

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