"I'm just passing' through," the rider said when they asked him his name. And from then on, in the high country around Parrot City, he was called just that: Mr. Passing' Through, a man who rode a blue roan with a skull and crossbones brand and didn't know to keep to himself. And he wouldn't keep to himself. Because something about a parched and dusty ranch appealed to him, and something about a woman's hair made him think of not being alone, and something about a scheme to grab the land away from its rightful owner made him want to stay and fight. And so he stayed and fought. Because liars, killers, and cheaters were coming after Passing' Through with murder in their eyes, and a gun had a way of making him feel at home.
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December 31, 1984
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Excerpt from Passin' Through by Louis L'Amour
BEHIND ME A noose hung empty and before me the land was wild.
I rode a blue horse to the trail's divide and tossed a coin to choose my way. The coin fell left and I turned the roan, but doubt rode my shoulders like an evil thing.
The rimrock broke and the trail dipped through the crack, and my horse picked a careful way to the bottom, down the earth and rockslide that lay below the notch. Sweat stung my neck where the rope burns were, for the flesh was torn and raw. At the bottom of the slide I turned left again and the roan moved eagerly forward.
There would be riders behind me now, eager to hang me again, for they were fierce and bitter men with hatred for me, a stranger.
Yet when had I not been a stranger, riding alone
There had been nothing ahead to look to, and nothing behind I wanted to remember, so I'd headed west into new country simply because it was new country. Wild and reckless and hard I was, and quick with a gun to shoot, with a face honed down by sun, wind, and hardship, and eyes, some said, like chunks of blue ice.
When I came upon them standing beside the trail I was headed for a far-off town. An Indian woman with an Indian boy, an old man and a horse dead beside them.
They lifted no hand and made no sign, but the look of trouble was harsh upon them. The desert lay wide around them, a desolate land where no water was. Turning my horse, I rode to where they stood, and their lips were parched and cracked. The boy's eyes went to my canteen but he said nothing.
They stood and looked at me and I took the canteen from its lashings and passed it to the woman. She passed it first to the boy and he took it and drank, then returned it to her.
From the last of my hoarded biscuits I gave them food, then helped to bury the old man, safe from wolves and buzzards.
Then I put them up on my packhorse and carried them to the town, where I gave each a silver dollar. I stabled my horses, stowed my gear in the corner of a dusty, rarely used tack room, and walked to the saloon for a drink. A bad choice in a bad town.
There was a tall man at the bar, a man with a mustache and goatee, his black coat drawn back to reveal a pearl-handled gun. A mean man, a cruel man, a man looking for trouble, and here was I, a stranger.
When I saw his face I knew his kind and went to the far end of the bar. Heat and weariness had shortened my temper so I wanted space about me and no words with anyone until I had eaten and rested.