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Wildfire by Zane Grey

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For some reason the desert scene before Lucy Bostil awoke varying emotions--a
sweet gratitude for the fullness of her life there at the Ford, yet a haunting
remorse that she could not be wholly content--a vague loneliness of soul--a
thrill and a fear for the strangely calling future, glorious, unknown.

She longed for something to happen. It might be terrible, so long as it was
wonderful. This day, when Lucy had stolen away on a forbidden horse, she was
eighteen years old. The thought of her mother, who had died long ago on their
way into this wilderness, was the one drop of sadness in her joy. Lucy loved
everybody at Bostil's Ford and everybody loved her. She loved all the horses
except her father's favorite racer, that perverse devil of a horse, the great
Sage King.

Lucy was glowing and rapt with love for all she beheld from her lofty perch:
the green-and-pink blossoming hamlet beneath her, set between the beauty of
the gray sage expanse and the ghastliness of the barren heights; the swift
Colorado sullenly thundering below in the abyss; the Indians in their bright
colors, riding up the river trail; the eagle poised like a feather on the air,
and a beneath him the grazing cattle making black dots on the sage; the deep
velvet azure of the sky; the golden lights on the bare peaks and the lilac
veils in the far ravines; the silky rustle of a canyon swallow as he shot
downward in the sweep of the wind; the fragrance of cedar, the flowers of the
spear-pointed mescal; the brooding silence, the beckoning range, the purple

Whatever it was Lucy longed for, whatever was whispered by the wind and
written in the mystery of the waste of sage and stone, she wanted it to happen
there at Bostil's Ford. She had no desire for civilization, she flouted the
idea of marrying the rich rancher of Durango. Bostil's sister, that stern but
lovable woman who had brought her up and taught her, would never persuade her
to marry against her will. Lucy imagined herself like a wild horse--free,
proud, untamed, meant for the desert; and here she would live her life. The
desert and her life seemed as one, yet in what did they resemble each
other--in what of this scene could she read the nature of her future?

Shudderingly she rejected the red, sullen, thundering river, with its swift,
changeful, endless, contending strife--for that was tragic. And she rejected
the frowning mass of red rock, upreared, riven and split and canyoned, so grim
and aloof--for that was barren. But she accepted the vast sloping valley of
sage, rolling gray and soft and beautiful, down to the dim mountains and
purple ramparts of the horizon. Lucy did not know what she yearned for, she
did not know why the desert called to her, she did not know in what it
resembled her spirit, but she did know that these three feelings were as one,
deep in her heart. For ten years, every day of her life, she had watched this
desert scene, and never had there been an hour that it was not different, yet
the same. Ten years--and she grew up watching, feeling--till from the desert's
thousand moods she assimilated its nature, loved her bonds, and could never
have been happy away from the open, the color, the freedom, the wildness. On
this birthday, when those who loved her said she had become her own mistress,
she acknowledged the claim of the desert forever. And she experienced a deep,
rich, strange happiness.

Hers always then the mutable and immutable desert, the leagues and leagues of
slope and sage and rolling ridge, the great canyons and the giant cliffs, the
dark river with its mystic thunder of waters, the pine-fringed plateaus, the
endless stretch of horizon, with its lofty, isolated, noble monuments, and the
bold ramparts with their beckoning beyond! Hers always the desert seasons: the
shrill, icy blast, the intense cold, the steely skies, the fading snows; the
gray old sage and the bleached grass under the pall of the spring sand-storms;
the hot furnace breath of summer, with its magnificent cloud pageants in the
sky, with the black tempests hanging here and there over the peaks, dark veils
floating down and rainbows everywhere, and the lacy waterfalls upon the
glistening cliffs and the thunder of the red floods; and the glorious golden
autumn when it was always afternoon and time stood still! Hers always the
rides in the open, with the sun at her back and the wind in her face! And hers
surely, sooner or later, the nameless adventure which had its inception in the
strange yearning of her heart and presaged its fulfilment somewhere down that
trailless sage-slope she loved so well!

Bostil's house was a crude but picturesque structure of red stone and white
clay and bleached cottonwoods, and it stood at the outskirts of the cluster of
green-inclosed cabins which composed the hamlet. Bostil was wont to say that
in all the world there could hardly be a grander view than the outlook down
that gray sea of rolling sage, down to the black-fringed plateaus and the
wild, blue-rimmed and gold-spired horizon.

One morning in early spring, as was Bostil's custom, he ordered the racers to
be brought from the corrals and turned loose on the slope. He loved to sit
there and watch his horses graze, but ever he saw that the riders were close
at hand, and that the horses did not get out on the slope of sage. He sat back
and gloried in the sight. He owned bands of mustangs; near by was a field of
them, fine and mettlesome and racy; yet Bostil had eyes only for the blooded
favorites. Strange it was that not one of these was a mustang or a broken wild
horse, for many of the riders' best mounts had been captured by them or the
Indians. And it was Bostil's supreme ambition to own a great wild stallion.
There was Plume, a superb mare that got her name from the way her mane swept
in the wind when she was on the ran; and there was Two Face, like a coquette,
sleek and glossy and running and the huge, rangy bay, Dusty Ben; and the black
stallion Sarchedon; and lastly Sage King, the color of the upland sage, a
racer in build, a horse splendid and proud and beautiful.

"Where's Lucy?" presently asked Bostil.

As he divided his love, so he divided his anxiety.

Some rider had seen Lucy riding off, with her golden hair flying in the wind.
This was an old story.

"She's up on Buckles?" Bostil queried, turning sharply the speaker.

"Reckon so," was the calm reply.

Bostil swore. He did not have a rider who could equal him in profanity.

"Farlane, you'd orders. Lucy's not to ride them hosses, least of all Buckles.
He ain't safe even for a man."

"Wal, he's safe fer Lucy."

"But didn't I say no?"

"Boss, it's likely you did, fer you talk a lot," replied Farlane. "Lucy pulled
my hat down over my eyes--told me to go to thunder-- an' then, zip! she an'
Buckles were dustin' it fer the sage."

"She's got to keep out of the sage," growled Bostil. "It ain't safe for her
out there. . . . Where's my glass? I want to take a look at the slope. Where's
my glass?"

The glass could not be found.

"What's makin' them dust-clouds on the sage? Antelope? . . . Holley, you used
to have eyes better 'n me. Use them, will you?"

A gray-haired, hawk-eyed rider, lean and worn, approached with clinking spurs.

"Down in there," said Bostil, pointing.

"Thet's a bunch of hosses," replied Holley.

"Wild hosses?"

"I take 'em so, seein' how they throw thet dust."

"Huh! I don't like it. Lucy oughtn't be ridin' round alone."

"Wal, boss, who could catch her up on Buckles? Lucy can ride. An' there's the
King an' Sarch right under your nose--the only hosses on the sage thet could
outrun Buckles."

Farlane knew how to mollify his master and long habit had made him proficient.
Bostil's eyes flashed. He was proud of Lucy's power over a horse. The story
Bostil first told to any stranger happening by the Ford was how Lucy had been
born during a wild ride--almost, as it were, on the back of a horse. That, at
least, was her fame, and the riders swore she was a worthy daughter of such a
mother. Then, as Farlane well knew, a quick road to Bostil's good will was to
praise one of his favorites.

"Reckon you spoke sense for once, Farlane," replied Bostil, with relief. "I
wasn't thinkin' so much of danger for Lucy. . . . But she lets thet
half-witted Creech go with her."

"No, boss, you're wrong," put in Holley, earnestly. "I know the girl. She has
no use fer Joel. But he jest runs after her."

"An' he's harmless," added Farlane.

"We ain't agreed," rejoined Bostil, quickly. "What do you say, Holley?"

The old rider looked thoughtful and did not speak for long.

"Wal, Yes an' no," he answered, finally. "I reckon Lucy could make a man out
of Joel. But she doesn't care fer him, an' thet settles thet. . . . An' maybe
Joel's leanin' toward the bad."

"If she meets him again I'll rope her in the house," declared Bostil.

Another clear-eyed rider drew Bostil's attention from the gray waste of
rolling sage.

"Bostil, look! Look at the King! He's watchin' fer somethin'. . . . An' so's

The two horses named were facing a ridge some few hundred yards distant, and
their heads were aloft and ears straight forward. Sage King whistled shrilly
and Sarchedon began to prance.

"Boys, you'd better drive them in," said Bostil. "They'd like nothin' so well
as gettin' out on the sage. . . . Hullo! what's thet shootin' up behind the

No more 'n Buckles with Lucy makin' him run some," replied Holley, with a dry

"If it ain't! . . . Lord! look at him come!"

Bostil's anger and anxiety might never have been. The light of the upland
rider's joy shone in his keen gaze. The slope before him was open, and almost
level, down to the ridge that had hidden the missing girl and horse. Buckles
was running for the love of running, as the girl low down over his neck was
riding for the love of riding. The Sage King whistled again, and shot off with
graceful sweep to meet them; Sarchedon plunged after him; Two Face and Plume
jealously trooped down, too, but Dusty Ben, after a toss of his head, went on
grazing. The gray and the black met Buckles and could not turn in time to stay
with him. A girl's gay scream pealed up the slope, and Buckles went lower and
faster. Sarchedon was left behind. Then the gray King began to run as if
before he had been loping. He was beautiful in action. This was play--a
game--a race--plainly dominated by the spirit of the girl. Lucy's hair was a
bright stream of gold in the wind. She rode bareback. It seemed that she was
hunched low over Buckles with her knees high on his back-- scarcely astride
him at all. Yet her motion was one with the horse. Again that wild, gay scream
pealed out--call or laugh or challenge. Sage King, with a fleetness that made
the eyes of Bostil and his riders glisten, took the lead, and then sheered off
to slow down, while Buckles thundered past. Lucy was pulling him hard, and had
him plunging to a halt, when the rider Holley ran out to grasp his bridle.
Buckles was snorting and his ears were laid back. He pounded the ground and
scattered the pebbles.

"No use, Lucy," said Bostil. "You can't beat the King at your own game, even
with a runnin' start."

Lucy Bostil's eyes were blue, as keen as her father's, and now they flashed
like his. She had a hand twisted in the horse's long mane, and as, lithe and
supple, she slipped a knee across his broad back she shook a little gantleted
fist at Bostil's gray racer.

"Sage King, I hate you!" she called, as if the horse were human. "And I'll
beat you some day!"

Bostil swore by the gods his Sage King was the swiftest horse in all that wild
upland country of wonderful horses. He swore the great gray could look back
over his shoulder and run away from any broken horse known to the riders.

Bostil himself was half horse, and the half of him that was human he divided
between love of his fleet racers and his daughter Lucy. He had seen years of
hard riding on that wild Utah border where, in those days, a horse meant all
the world to a man. A lucky strike of grassy upland and good water south of
the Rio Colorado made him rich in all that he cared to own. The Indians, yet
unspoiled by white men, were friendly. Bostil built a boat at the Indian
crossing of the Colorado and the place became known as Bostil's Ford. From
time to time his personality and his reputation and his need brought
horse-hunters, riders, sheep-herders, and men of pioneer spirit, as well as
wandering desert travelers, to the Ford, and the lonely, isolated hamlet
slowly grew. North of the river it was more than two hundred miles to the
nearest little settlement, with only a few lonely ranches on the road; to the
west were several villages, equally distant, but cut off for two months at a
time by the raging Colorado, flooded by melting snow up in the mountains.
Eastward from the Ford stretched a ghastly, broken, unknown desert of canyons.
Southward rolled the beautiful uplands, with valleys of sage and grass, and
plateaus of pine and cedar, until this rich rolling gray and green range broke
sharply on a purple horizon line of upflung rocky ramparts and walls and
monuments, wild, dim, and mysterious.

Bostil's cattle and horses were numberless, and many as were his riders, he
always could use more. But most riders did not abide long with Bostil, first
because some of them were of a wandering breed, wild-horse hunters themselves;
and secondly, Bostil had two great faults: he seldom paid a rider in money,
and he never permitted one to own a fleet horse. He wanted to own all the fast
horses himself. And in those days every rider, especially a wild-horse hunter,
loved his steed as part of himself. If there was a difference between Bostil
and any rider of the sage, it was that, as he had more horses, so he had more

Whenever Bostil could not get possession of a horse he coveted, either by
purchase or trade, he invariably acquired a grievance toward the owner. This
happened often, for riders were loath to part with their favorites. And he had
made more than one enemy by his persistent nagging. It could not be said,
however, that he sought to drive hard bargains. Bostil would pay any price
asked for a horse.

Across the Colorado, in a high, red-walled canyon opening upon the river,
lived a poor sheep-herder and horse-trader named Creech. This man owned a
number of thoroughbreds, two of which he would not part with for all the gold
in the uplands. These racers, Blue Roan and Peg, had been captured wild on the
ranges by Ute Indians and broken to racing. They were still young and getting
faster every year. Bostil wanted them because he coveted them and because he
feared them. It would have been a terrible blow to him if any horse ever beat
the gray. But Creech laughed at all offers and taunted Bostil with a boast
that in another summer he would see a horse out in front of the King.

To complicate matters and lead rivalry into hatred young Joel Creech, a great
horseman, but worthless in the eyes of all save his father, had been heard to
say that some day he would force a race between the King and Blue Roan. And
that threat had been taken in various ways. It alienated Bostil beyond all
hope of reconciliation. It made Lucy Bostil laugh and look sweetly mysterious.
She had no enemies and she liked everybody. It was even gossiped by the women
of Bostil's Ford that she had more than liking for the idle Joel. But the
husbands of these gossips said Lucy was only tender-hearted. Among the riders,
when they sat around their lonely camp-fires, or lounged at the corrals of the
Ford, there was speculation in regard to this race hinted by Joel Creech.
There never had been a race between the King and Blue Roan, and there never
would be, unless Joel were to ride off with Lucy. In that case there would be
the grandest race ever run on the uplands, with the odds against Blue Roan
only if he carried double. If Joel put Lucy up on the Roan and he rode Peg
there would be another story. Lucy Bostil was a slip of a girl, born on a
horse, as strong and supple as an Indian, and she could ride like a burr
sticking in a horse's mane. With Blue Roan carrying her light weight she might
run away from any one up on the King--which for Bostil would be a double
tragedy, equally in the loss of his daughter and the beating of his
best-beloved racer. But with Joel on Peg, such a race would end in heartbreak
for all concerned, for the King would outrun Peg, and that would bring riders
within gunshot.

It had always been a fascinating subject, this long-looked-for race. It grew
more so when Joel's infatuation for Lucy became known. There were fewer riders
who believed Lucy might elope with Joel than there were who believed Joel
might steal his father's horses. But all the riders who loved horses and all
the women who loved gossip were united in at least one thing, and that was
that something like a race or a romance would soon disrupt the peaceful,
sleepy tenor of Bostil's Ford.

In addition to Bostil's growing hatred for the Creeches, he had a great fear
of Cordts, the horse-thief. A fear ever restless, ever watchful. Cordts hid
back in the untrodden ways. He had secret friends among the riders of the
ranges, faithful followers back in the canyon camps, gold for the digging,
cattle by the thousand, and fast horses. He had always gotten what he wanted
--except one thing. That was a certain horse. And the horse was Sage King.

Cordts was a bad man, a product of the early gold-fields of California and
Idaho, an outcast from that evil wave of wanderers retreating back over the
trails so madly traveled westward. He became a lord over the free ranges. But
more than all else he was a rider. He knew a horse. He was as much horse as
Bostil. Cordts rode into this wild free-range country, where he had been,
heard to say that a horse-thief was meaner than a poisoned coyote.
Nevertheless, he became a horse-thief. The passion he had conceived for the
Sage King was the passion of a man for an unattainable woman. Cordts swore
that he would never rest, that he would not die, till he owned the King. So
there was reason for Bostil's great fear.


Bostil went toward the house with his daughter, turning at the door to call a
last word to his riders about the care of his horses.

The house was a low, flat, wide structure, with a corridor running through the
middle, from which doors led into the adobe-walled rooms. The windows were
small openings high up, evidently intended for defense as well as light, and
they had rude wooden shutters. The floor was clay, covered everywhere by
Indian blankets. A pioneer's home it was, simple and crude, yet comfortable,
and having the rare quality peculiar to desert homes it was cool in summer and
warm in winter.

As Bostil entered with his arm round Lucy a big hound rose from the hearth.
This room was immense, running the length of the house, and it contained a
huge stone fireplace, where a kettle smoked fragrantly, and rude home-made
chairs with blanket coverings, and tables to match, and walls covered with
bridles, guns, pistols, Indian weapons and ornaments, and trophies of the
chase. In a far corner stood a work-bench, with tools upon it and horse
trappings under it. In the opposite comer a door led into the kitchen. This
room was Bostil's famous living-room, in which many things had happened, some
of which had helped make desert history and were never mentioned by Bostil.

Bostil's sister came in from the kitchen. She was a huge person with a severe
yet motherly face. She had her hands on her hips, and she cast a rather
disapproving glance at father and daughter.

"So you're back again?" she queried, severely.

"Sure, Auntie," replied the girl, complacently.

"You ran off to get out of seeing Wetherby, didn't you?"

Lucy stared sweetly at her aunt.

"He was waiting for hours," went on the worthy woman. "I never saw a man in
such a stew. . . . No wonder, playing fast and loose with him the way you do."

"I told him No!" flashed Lucy.

"But Wetherby's not the kind to take no. And I'm not satisfied to let you mean
it. Lucy Bostil, you don't know your mind an hour straight running. You've
fooled enough with these riders of your Dad's. If you're not careful you'll
marry one of them. . . . One of these wild riders! As bad as a Ute Indian! . .
. Wetherby is young and he idolizes you. In all common sense why don't you
take him?"

"I don't care for him," replied Lucy.

"You like him as well as anybody. . . . John Bostil, what do you say? You
approved of Wetherby. I heard you tell him Lucy was like an unbroken colt and
that you'd--"

"Sure, I like Jim," interrupted Bostil; and he avoided Lucy's swift look.

"Well?" demanded his sister.

Evidently Bostil found himself in a corner between two fires. He looked
sheepish, then disgusted.

"Dad!" exclaimed Lucy, reproachfully.

"See here, Jane," said Bostil, with an air of finality, "the girl is of age
to-day--an' she can do what she damn pleases!"

"That's a fine thing for you to say," retorted Aunt Jane. "Like as not she'll
be fetching that hang-dog Joel Creech up here for you to support."

"Auntie!" cried Lucy, her eyes blazing.

"Oh, child, you torment me--worry me so," said the disappointed woman. "It's
all for your sake. . . . Look at you, Lucy Bostil! A girl of eighteen who
comes of a family! And you riding around and going around as you are now--in a
man's clothes!"

"But, you dear old goose, I can't ride in a woman's skirt," expostulated Lucy.
"Mind you, Auntie, I can RIDE!"

"Lucy, if I live here forever I'd never get reconciled to a Bostil woman in
leather pants. We Bostils were somebody once, back in Missouri."

Bostil laughed. "Yes, an' if I hadn't hit the trail west we'd be starvin' yet.
Jane, you're a sentimental old fool. Let the girl alone an' reconcile yourself
to this wilderness."

Aunt Jane's eyes were wet with tears. Lucy, seeing them, ran to her and hugged
and kissed her.

"Auntie, I will promise--from to-day--to have some dignity. I've been free as
a boy in these rider clothes. As I am now the men never seem to regard me as a
girl. Somehow that's better. I can't explain, but I like it. My dresses are
what have caused all the trouble. I know that. But if I'm grown up--if it's so
tremendous --then I'll wear a dress all the time, except just WHEN I ride.
Will that do, Auntie?"

"Maybe you will grow up, after all," replied Aunt Jane, evidently surprised
and pleased.

Then Lucy with clinking spurs ran away to her room.

"Jane, what's this nonsense about young Joel Creech?" asked Bostil, gruffly.

"I don't know any more than is gossiped. That I told you. Have you ever asked
Lucy about him?"

"I sure haven't," said Bostil, bluntly.

"Well, ask her. If she tells you at all she'll tell the truth. Lucy'd never
sleep at night if she lied."

Aunt Jane returned to her housewifely tasks, leaving Bostil thoughtfully
stroking the hound and watching the fire. Presently Lucy returned--a different
Lucy--one that did not rouse his rider's pride, but thrilled his father's
heart. She had been a slim, lithe, supple, disheveled boy, breathing the wild
spirit of the open and the horse she rode. She was now a girl in the graceful
roundness of her slender form, with hair the gold of the sage at sunset, and
eyes the blue of the deep haze of distance, and lips the sweet red of the
upland rose. And all about her seemed different.

"Lucy--you look--like--like she used to be," said Bostil, unsteadily.

"My mother!" murmured Lucy.

But these two, so keen, so strong, so alive, did not abide long with sad

"Lucy, I want to ask you somethin'," said Bostil, presently. "What about this
young Joel Creech?"

Lucy started as if suddenly recalled, then she laughed merrily. "Dad, you old
fox, did you see him ride out after me?"

"No. I was just askin' on--on general principles."

"What do you mean?"

"Lucy, is there anythin' between you an' Joel?" he asked, gravely.

"No," she replied, with her clear eyes up to his.

Bostil thought of a bluebell. "I'm beggin' your pardon," he said, hastily.

"Dad, you know how Joel runs after me. I've told you. I let him till lately. I
liked him. But that wasn't why. I felt sorry for him--pitied him."

"You did? Seems an awful waste," replied Bostil.

"Dad, I don't believe Joel is--perfectly right in his mind," Lucy said,

"Haw! haw! Fine compliments you're payin' yourself."

"Listen. I'm serious. I mean I've grown to see---looking back-- that a slow,
gradual change has come over Joel since he was kicked in the head by a
mustang. I'm sure no one else has noticed it."

"Goin' batty over you. That's no unusual sign round this here camp. Look at--"

"We're talking about Joel Creech. Lately he has done some queer things.
To-day, for instance. I thought I gave him the slip. But he must have been
watching. Anyway, to my surprise he showed up on Peg. He doesn't often get Peg
across the river. He said the feed was getting scarce over there. I was dying
to race Buckles against Peg, but I remembered you wouldn't like that."

"I should say not," said Bostil, darkly.

"Well, Joel caught up to me--and he wasn't nice at all. He was worse to-day.
We quarreled. I said I'd bet he'd never follow me again and he said he'd bet
he would. Then he got sulky and hung back. I rode away, glad to be rid of him,
and I climbed to a favorite place of mine. On my way home I saw Peg grazing on
the rim of the creek, near that big spring-hole where the water's so deep and
clear. And what do you think? There was Joel's head above the water. I
remembered in our quarrel I had told him to go wash his dirty face. He was
doing it. I had to laugh. When he saw me--he--then--then he--" Lucy faltered,
blushing with anger and shame.

"Well, what then?" demanded Bostil, quietly.

"He called, 'Hey, Luce--take off your clothes and come in for a swim!'"

Bostil swore.

"I tell you I was mad," continued Lucy, "and just as surprised. That was one
of the queer things. But never before had he dared to--to-"

"Insult you. Then what 'd you do?" interrupted Bostil, curiously.

"I yelled, 'I'll fix you, Joel Creech!'. . . His clothes were in a pile on the
bank. At first I thought I'd throw them in the water, but when I got to them I
thought of something better. I took up all but his shoes, for I remembered the
ten miles of rock and cactus between him and home, and I climbed up on
Buckles. Joel screamed and swore something fearful. But I didn't look back.
And Peg, you know--maybe you don't know--but Peg is fond of me, and he
followed me, straddling his bridle all the way in. I dropped Joel's clothes
down the ridge a ways, right in the trail, so he can't miss them. And that's
all. . . . Dad, was it--was it very bad?"

"Bad! Why, you ought to have thrown your gun on him. At least bounced a rock
off his head! But say, Lucy, after all, maybe you've done enough. I guess you
never thought of it."


"The sun is hot to-day. Hot! An' if Joel's as crazy an' mad as you say he'll
not have sense enough to stay in the water or shade till the sun's gone down.
An' if he tackles that ten miles before he'll sunburn himself within an inch
of his life."

"Sunburn? Oh, Dad! I'm sorry," burst out Lucy, contritely. "I never thought of
that. I'll ride back with his clothes."

"You will not," said Bostil.

"Let me send some one, then," she entreated.

"Girl, haven't you the nerve to play your own game? Let Creech get his lesson.
He deserves it. . . . An' now, Lucy, I've two more questions to ask."

"Only two?" she queried, archly. "Dad, don't scold me with questions."

"What shall I say to Wetherby for good an' all?"

Lucy's eyes shaded dreamily, and she seemed to look beyond the room, out over
the ranges.

"Tell him to go back to Durango and forget the foolish girl who can care only
for the desert and a horse."

"All right. That is straight talk, like an Indian's. An' now the last
question--what do you want for a birthday present?"

"Oh, of course," she cried, gleefully clapping her hands. I'd forgotten that.
I'm eighteen!"

"You get that old chest of your mother's. But what from me?"

"Dad, will you give me anything I ask for?"

"Yes, my girl."

"Anything--any HORSE?"

Lucy knew his weakness, for she had inherited it.

"Sure; any horse but the King."

"How about Sarchedon?"

"Why, Lucy, what'd you do with that big black devil? He's too high. Seventeen
hands high! You couldn't mount him."

"Pooh! Sarch KNEELS for me."

"Child, listen to reason. Sarch would pull your arms out of their sockets."

"He has got an iron jaw," agreed Lucy. "Well, then--how about Dusty Ben?" She
was tormenting her father and she did it with glee.

"No--not Ben. He's the faithfulest hoss I ever owned. It wouldn't be fair to
part with him, even to you. Old associations . . . a rider's loyalty . . .
now, Lucy, you know--"

"Dad, you're afraid I'd train and love Ben into beating the King. Some day
I'll ride some horse out in front of the gray. Remember, Dad! . . . Then give
me Two Face."

"Sure not her, Lucy. Thet mare can't be trusted. Look why we named her Two

"Buckles, then, dear generous Daddy who longs to give his grown-up girl

"Lucy, can't you be satisfied an' happy with your mustangs? You've got a
dozen. You can have any others on the range. Buckles ain't safe for you to

Bostil was notably the most generous of men, the kindest of fathers. It was an
indication of his strange obsession, in regard to horses, that he never would
see that Lucy was teasing him. As far as horses were concerned he lacked a
sense of humor. Anything connected with his horses was of intense interest.

"I'd dearly love to own Plume," said Lucy, demurely.

Bostil had grown red in the face and now he was on the rack. The monstrous
selfishness of a rider who had been supreme in his day could not be changed.

"Girl, I--I thought you hadn't no use for Plume," he stammered.

"I haven't--the jade! She threw me once. I've never forgiven her . . . . Dad,
I'm only teasing you. Don't I know you couldn't give one of those racers away?
You couldn't!"

"Lucy, I reckon you're right," Bostil burst out in immense relief.

"Dad, I'll bet if Cordts gets me and holds me as ransom for the King --as he's
threatened--you'll let him have me!"

"Lucy, now thet ain't funny!" complained the father.

"Dear Dad, keep your old racers! But, remember, I'm my father's daughter. I
can love a horse, too. Oh, if I ever get the one I want to love! A wild
horse--a desert stallion--pure Arabian-- broken right by an Indian! If I ever
get him, Dad, you look out! For I'll run away from Sarch and Ben--and I'll
beat the King!"

The hamlet of Bostil's Ford had a singular situation, though, considering the
wonderful nature of that desert country, it was not exceptional. It lay under
the protecting red bluff that only Lucy Bostil cared to climb. A hard-trodden
road wound down through rough breaks in the canyon wall to the river. Bostil's
house, at the head of the village, looked in the opposite direction, down the
sage slope that widened like a colossal fan. There was one wide street
bordered by cottonwoods and cabins, and a number of gardens and orchards,
beginning to burst into green and pink and white. A brook ran out of a ravine
in the huge bluff, and from this led irrigation ditches. The red earth seemed
to blossom at the touch of water.

The place resembled an Indian encampment--quiet, sleepy, colorful, with the
tiny-streams of water running everywhere, and lazy columns of blue wood-smoke
rising. Bostil's Ford was the opposite of a busy village, yet its few
inhabitants, as a whole, were prosperous. The wants of pioneers were few.
Perhaps once a month the big, clumsy flatboat was rowed across the river with
horses or cattle or sheep. And the season was now close at hand when for
weeks, sometimes months, the river was unfordable. There were a score of
permanent families, a host of merry, sturdy children, a number of idle young
men, and only one girl--Lucy Bostil. But the village always had transient
inhabitants--friendly Utes and Navajos in to trade, and sheep-herders with a
scraggy, woolly flock, and travelers of the strange religious sect identified
with Utah going on into the wilderness. Then there were always riders passing
to and fro, and sometimes unknown ones regarded with caution. Horse-thieves
sometimes boldly rode in, and sometimes were able to sell or trade. In the
matter of horse-dealing Bostil's Ford was as bold as the thieves.

Old Brackton, a man of varied Western experience, kept the one store, which
was tavern, trading-post, freighter's headquarters, blacksmith's shop, and any
thing else needful. Brackton employed riders, teamsters, sometimes Indians, to
freight supplies in once a month from Durango. And that was over two hundred
miles away. Sometimes the supplies did not arrive on time--occasionally not at
all. News from the outside world, except that elicited from the taciturn
travelers marching into Utah, drifted in at intervals. But it was not missed.
These wilderness spirits were the forerunners of a great, movement, and as
such were big, strong, stern, sufficient unto themselves. Life there was made
possible by horses. The distant future, that looked bright to far-seeing men,
must be and could only be fulfilled through the endurance and faithfulness of
horses. And then, from these men, horses received the meed due them, and the
love they were truly worth. The Navajo was a nomad horseman, an Arab of the
Painted Desert, and the Ute Indian was close to him. It was they who developed
the white riders of the uplands as well as the wild-horse wrangler or hunter.

Brackton's ramshackle establishment stood down at the end of the village
street. There was not a sawed board in all that structure, and some of the
pine logs showed how they had been dropped from the bluff. Brackton, a little
old gray man, with scant beard, and eyes like those of a bird, came briskly
out to meet an incoming freighter. The wagon was minus a hind wheel, but the
teamster had come in on three wheels and a pole. The sweaty, dust-caked,
weary, thin-ribbed mustangs, and the gray-and-red-stained wagon, and the huge
jumble of dusty packs, showed something of what the journey had been.

"Hi thar, Red Wilson, you air some late gettin' in," greeted old Brackton.

Red Wilson had red eyes from fighting the flying sand, and red dust pasted in
his scraggy beard, and as he gave his belt an upward hitch little red clouds
flew from his gun-sheath.

"Yep. An' I left a wheel an' part of the load on the trail," he said.

With him were Indians who began to unhitch the teams. Riders lounging in the
shade greeted Wilson and inquired for news. The teamster replied that travel
was dry, the water-holes were dry, and he was dry. And his reply gave both
concern and amusement.

"One more trip out an' back--thet's all, till it rains," concluded Wilson.

Brackton led him inside, evidently to alleviate part of that dryness.

Water and grass, next to horses, were the stock subject of all riders.

"It's got oncommon hot early," said one.

"Yes, an' them northeast winds--hard this spring," said another.

"No snow on the uplands."

"Holley seen a dry spell comin'. Wal, we can drift along without freighters.
There's grass an' water enough here, even if it doesn't rain."

"Sure, but there ain't none across the river."

"Never was, in early season. An' if there was it'd be sheeped off."

"Creech'll be fetchin' his hosses across soon, I reckon."

"You bet he will. He's trainin' for the races next month."

"An' when air they comin' off?"

"You got me. Mebbe Van knows."

Some one prodded a sleepy rider who lay all his splendid lithe length, hat
over his eyes. Then he sat up and blinked, a lean-faced, gray-eyed fellow,
half good-natured and half resentful.

"Did somebody punch me?"

"Naw, you got nightmare! Say, Van, when will the races come off?"

"Huh! An, you woke me for thet? . . . Bostil says in a few weeks, soon as he
hears from the Indians. Plans to have eight hundred Indians here, an' the
biggest purses an' best races ever had at the Ford."

"You'll ride the King again?"

"Reckon so. But Bostil is kickin' because I'm heavier than I was," replied the

"You're skin an' bones at thet."

"Mebbe you'll need to work a little off, Van. Some one said Creech's Blue Roan
was comin' fast this year."

"Bill, your mind ain't operatin'," replied Van, scornfully. "Didn't I beat
Creech's hosses last year without the King turnin' a hair?"

"Not if I recollect, you didn't. The Blue Roan wasn't runnin'."

Then they argued, after the manner of friendly riders, but all earnest, an
eloquent in their convictions. The prevailing opinion was that Creech's horse
had a chance, depending upon condition and luck.

The argument shifted upon the arrival of two new-comers, leading mustangs and
apparently talking trade. It was manifest that these arrivals were not loath
to get the opinions of others.

"Van, there's a hoss!" exclaimed one.

"No, he ain't," replied Van.

And that diverse judgment appeared to be characteristic throughout. The
strange thing was that Macomber, the rancher, had already traded his mustang
and money to boot for the sorrel. The deal, whether wise or not, had been
consummated. Brackton came out with Red Wilson, and they had to have their

"Wal, durned if some of you fellers ain't kind an' complimentary," remarked
Macomber, scratching his head. "But then every feller can't have hoss sense."
Then, looking up to see Lucy Bostil coming along the road, he brightened as if
with inspiration.

Lucy was at home among them, and the shy eyes of the younger riders,
especially Van, were nothing if not revealing. She greeted them with a bright
smile, and when she saw Brackton she burst out:

"Oh, Mr. Brackton, the wagon's in, and did my box come? . . . To-day's my

"'Deed it did, Lucy; an' many more happy ones to you!" he replied, delighted
in her delight. "But it's too heavy for you. I'll send it up--or mebbe one of
the boys--"

Five riders in unison eagerly offered their services and looked as if each had
spoken first. Then Macomber addressed her:

"Miss Lucy, you see this here sorrel?"

"Ah! the same lazy crowd and the same old story--a horse trade!" laughed Lucy.

"There's a little difference of opinion," said Macomber, politely indicating
the riders. "Now, Miss Lucy, we-all know you're a judge of a hoss. And as good
as thet you tell the truth. Thet ain't in some hoss-traders I know. . . . What
do you think of this mustang?"

Macomber had eyes of enthusiasm for his latest acquisition, but some of the
cock-sureness had been knocked out of him by the blunt riders.

"Macomber, aren't you a great one to talk?" queried Lucy, severely. "Didn't
you get around Dad and trade him an old, blind, knock-kneed bag of bones for a
perfectly good pony--one I liked to ride?"

The riders shouted with laughter while the rancher struggled with confusion.

"'Pon my word, Miss Lucy, I'm surprised you could think thet of such an old
friend of yours--an' your Dad's, too. I'm hopin' he doesn't side altogether
with you."

"Dad and I never agree about a horse. He thinks he got the best of you. But
you know, Macomber, what a horse-thief you are. Worse than Cordts!"

"Wal, if I got the best of Bostil I'm willin' to be thought bad. I'm the first
feller to take him in. . . . An' now, Miss Lucy, look over my sorrel."

Lucy Bostil did indeed have an eye for a horse. She walked straight up to the
wild, shaggy mustang with a confidence born of intuition and experience, and
reached a hand for his head, not slowly, nor yet swiftly. The mustang looked
as if he was about to jump, but he did not. His eyes showed that he was not
used to women.

"He's not well broken," said Lucy. "Some Navajo has beaten his head in
breaking him."

Then she carefully studied the mustang point by point.

"He's deceiving at first because he's good to look at," said Lucy. "But I
wouldn't own him. A saddle will turn on him. He's not vicious, but he'll never
get over his scare. He's narrow between the eyes--a bad sign. His ears are
stiff--and too close. I don't see anything more wrong with him."

"You seen enough," declared Macomber. "An' so you wouldn't own him?"

"You couldn't make me a present of him--even on my birthday."

"Wal, now I'm sorry, for I was thinkin' of thet," replied Macomber, ruefully.
It was plain that the sorrel had fallen irremediably in his estimation.

"Macomber, I often tell Dad all you horse-traders get your deserts now and
then. It's vanity and desire to beat the other man that's your downfall."

Lucy went away, with Van shouldering her box, leaving Macomber trying to
return the banter of the riders. The good-natured raillery was interrupted by
a sharp word from one of them.

"Look! Darn me if thet ain't a naked Indian comin'!"

The riders whirled to see an apparently nude savage approaching, almost on a

"Take a shot at thet, Bill," said another rider. "Miss Lucy might see--No,
she's out of sight. But, mebbe some other woman is around."

"Hold on, Bill," called Macomber. "You never saw an Indian run like thet."

Some of the riders swore, others laughed, and all suddenly became keen with

"Sure his face is white, if his body's red!"

The strange figure neared them. It was indeed red up to the face, which seemed
white in contrast. Yet only in general shape and action did it resemble a man.

"Damned if it ain't Joel Creech!" sang out Bill Stark.

The other riders accorded their wondering assent.

"Gone crazy, sure!"

"I always seen it comin'."

"Say, but ain't he wild? Foamin' at the mouth like a winded hoss!"

Young Creech was headed down the road toward the ford across which he had to
go to reach home. He saw the curious group, slowed his pace, and halted. His
face seemed convulsed with rage and pain and fatigue. His body, even to his
hands, was incased in a thick, heavy coating of red adobe that had caked hard.

"God's sake--fellers--" he panted, with eyes rolling, "take this-- 'dobe mud
off me! . . . I'm dyin'!"

Then he staggered into Brackton's place. A howl went up from the riders and
they surged after him.

That evening after supper Bostil stamped in the big room, roaring with
laughter, red in the face; and he astonished Lucy and her aunt to the point of

"Now--you've--done--it--Lucy Bostil!" he roared.

"Oh dear! Oh dear!" exclaimed Aunt Jane.

"Done what?" asked Lucy, blankly.

Bostil conquered his paroxysm, and, wiping his moist red face, he eyed Lucy in
mock solemnity.

"Joel!" whispered Lucy, who had a guilty conscience.

"Lucy, I never heard the beat of it. . . . Joel's smarter in some ways than we
thought, an' crazier in others. He had the sun figgered, but what'd he want to
run through town for? Why, never in my life have I seen such tickled riders."

"Dad!" almost screamed Lucy. "What did Joel do?"

"Wal, I see it this way. He couldn't or wouldn't wait for sundown. An' he
wasn't hankerin' to be burned. So he wallows in a 'dobe mud-hole an' covers
himself thick with mud. You know that 'dobe mud! Then he starts home. But he
hadn't figgered on the 'dobe gettin' hard, which it did--harder 'n rock. An'
thet must have hurt more 'n sunburn. Late this afternoon he came runnin' down
the road, yellin' thet he was dyin'. The boys had conniption fits. Joel ain't
over-liked, you know, an' here they had one on him. Mebbe they didn't try hard
to clean him off. But the fact is not for hours did they get thet 'dobe off
him. They washed an' scrubbed an' curried him, while he yelled an' cussed.
Finally they peeled it off, with his skin I guess. He was raw. an' they say,
the maddest feller ever seen in Bostil's Ford!"

Lucy was struggling between fear and mirth. She did not look sorry. "Oh! Oh!
Oh, Dad!"

"Wasn't it great, Lucy?"

"But what--will he--do?" choked Lucy.

"Lord only knows. Thet worries me some. Because he never said a word about how
he come to lose his clothes or why he had the 'dobe on him. An' sure I never
told. Nobody knows but us."

"Dad, hell do something terrible to me!" cried Lucy, aghast at her premonition


The days did not pass swiftly at Bostil's Ford. And except in winter, and
during the spring sand-storms, the lagging time passed pleasantly. Lucy rode
every day, sometimes with Van, and sometimes alone. She was not over-keen
about riding with Van--first, because he was in love with her; and secondly,
in spite of that, she could not beat him when he rode the King. They were
training Bostil's horses for the much-anticipated races.

At last word arrived from the Utes and Navajos that they accepted Bostil's
invitation and would come in force, which meant, according to Holley and other
old riders, that the Indians would attend about eight hundred strong.

"Thet old chief, Hawk, is comin'," Holley informed Bostil. "He hasn't been
here fer several years. Recollect thet bunch of colts he had? They're bosses,
not mustangs. . . . So you look out, Bostil!"

No rider or rancher or sheepman, in fact, no one, ever lost a chance to warn
Bostil. Some of it was in fun, but most of it was earnest. The nature of
events was that sooner or later a horse would beat the King. Bostil knew that
as well as anybody, though he would not admit it. Holley's hint made Bostil
look worried. Most of Bostil's gray hairs might have been traced to his years
of worry about horses.

The day he received word from the Indians he sent for Brackton, Williams,
Muncie, and Creech to come to his house that night. These men, with Bostil,
had for years formed in a way a club, which gave the Ford distinction. Creech
was no longer a friend of Bostil's, but Bostil had always been fair-minded,
and now he did not allow his animosities to influence him. Holley, the veteran
rider, made the sixth member of the club.

Bostil had a cedar log blazing cheerily in the wide fireplace, for these early
spring nights in the desert were cold.

Brackton was the last guest to arrive. He shuffled in without answering the
laconic greetings accorded him, and his usually mild eyes seemed keen and

"John, I reckon you won't love me fer this here I've got to tell you, to-night
specially," he said, seriously.

"You old robber, I couldn't love you anyhow," retorted Bostil. But his humor
did not harmonize with the sudden gravity of his look. "What's up?"

"Who do you suppose I jest sold whisky to?"

"I've no idea," replied Bostil. Yet he looked as if he was perfectly sure.

"Cordts! . . . Cordts, an' four of his outfit. Two of them I didn't know. Bad
men, judgin' from appearances, let alone company. The others was Hutchinson
an'--Dick Sears."

"DICK SEARS!" exclaimed Bostil.

Muncie and Williams echoed Bostil. Holley appeared suddenly interested. Creech
alone showed no surprise.

"But Sears is dead," added Bostil.

"He was dead--we thought," replied Brackton, with a grim laugh. "But he's
alive again. He told me he'd been in Idaho fer two years, in the gold-fields.
Said the work was too hard, so he'd come back here. Laughed when he said it,
the little devil! I'll bet he was thinkin' of thet wagon-train of mine he

Bostil gazed at his chief rider.

"Wal, I reckon we didn't kill Sears, after all," replied Holley. "I wasn't
never sure."

"Lord! Cordts an' Sears in camp," ejaculated Bostil, and he began to pace the

"No, they're gone now," said Brackton.

"Take it easy, boss. Sit down," drawled Holley. "The King is safe, an' all the
racers. I swear to thet. Why, Cordts couldn't chop into thet log-an'-wire
corral if he an' his gang chopped all night! They hate work. Besides, Farlane
is there, an' the boys."

This reassured Bostil, and he resumed his chair. But his hand shook a little.

"Did Cordts have anythin' to say?" he asked.

"Sure. He was friendly an' talkative," replied Brackton. "He came in just
after dark. Left a man I didn't see out with the hosses. He bought two big
packs of supplies, an' some leather stuff, an', of course, ammunition. Then
some whisky. Had plenty of gold an' wouldn't take no change. Then while his
men, except Sears, was carryin' out the stuff, he talked."

"Go on. Tell me," said Bostil.

"Wal, he'd been out north of Durango an' fetched news. There's wild talk back
there of a railroad goin' to be built some day, joinin' east an' west. It's
interestin', but no sense to it. How could they build a railroad through thet

"North it ain't so cut up an' lumpy as here," put in Holley.

"Grandest idea ever thought of for the West," avowed Bostil. "If thet railroad
ever starts we'll all get rich. . . . Go on, Brack."

"Then Cordts said water an' grass was peterin' out back on the trail, same as
Red Wilson said last week. Finally he asked, 'How's my friend Bostil?' I told
him you was well. He looked kind of thoughtful then, an' I knew what was
comin'. . . .'How's the King?' 'Grand' I told him--'grand.' 'When is them
races comin' off?' I said we hadn't planned the time yet, but it would be
soon--inside of a month or two. 'Brackton,' he said, sharp-like, 'is Bostil
goin' to pull a gun on me at sight?' 'Reckon he is,' I told him. 'Wal, I'm not
powerful glad to know thet. . . . I hear Creech's blue hoss will race the King
this time. How about it?' 'Sure an' certain this year. I've Creech's an'
Bostil's word for thet.' Cordts put his hand on my shoulder. You ought to 've
seen his eyes!. . .'I want to see thet race. . . . I'm goin' to.' 'Wal,' I
said, 'you'll have to stop bein'--You'll need to change your bizness.' Then,
Bostil, what do you think? Cordts was sort of eager an' wild. He said thet was
a race he jest couldn't miss. He swore he wouldn't turn a trick or let a man
of his gang stir a hand till after thet race, if you'd let him come."

A light flitted across Bostil's face.

"I know how Cordts feels," he said.

"Wal, it's a queer deal," went on Brackton. "Fer a long time you've meant to
draw on Cordts when you meet. We all know thet."

"Yes, I'll kill him!" The light left Bostil's face. His voice sounded
differently. His mouth opened, drooped strangely at the corners, then shut in
a grim, tense line. Bostil had killed more than one man. The memory, no doubt,
was haunting and ghastly.

"Cordts seemed to think his word was guarantee of his good faith. He said he'd
send an Indian in here to find out if he can come to the races. I reckon,
Bostil, thet it wouldn't hurt none to let him come. An' hold your gun hand fer
the time he swears he'll be honest. Queer deal, ain't it, men? A hoss-thief
turnin' honest jest to see a race! Beats me! Bostil, it's a cheap way to get
at least a little honesty from Cordts. An' refusin' might rile him bad. When
all's said Cordts ain't as bad as he could be."

"I'll let him come," replied Bostil, breathing deep. "But it'll be hard to see
him, rememberin' how he's robbed me, an' what he's threatened. An' I ain't
lettin' him come to bribe a few weeks' decency from him. I'm doin' it for only
one reason. . . . Because I know how he loves the King--how he wants to see
the King run away from the field thet day! Thet's why!"

There was a moment of silence, during which all turned to Creech. He was a
stalwart man, no longer young, with a lined face, deep-set, troubled eyes, and
white, thin beard.

"Bostil, if Cordts loves the King thet well, he's in fer heartbreak," said
Creech, with a ring in his voice.

Down crashed Bostil's heavy boots and fire flamed in his gaze. The other men
laughed, and Brackton interposed:

"Hold on, you boy riders!" he yelled. "We ain't a-goin' to have any arguments
like thet. . . . Now, Bostil, it's settled, then? You'll let Cordts come?"

"Glad to have him," replied Bostil.

"Good. An' now mebbe we'd better get down to the bizness of this here

They seated themselves around the table, upon which Bostil laid an old and
much-soiled ledger and a stub of a lead-pencil.

"First well set the time," he said, with animation, "an' then pitch into
details. . . . What's the date?"

No one answered, and presently they all looked blankly from one to the other.

"It's April, ain't it?" queried Holley.

That assurance was as close as they could get to the time of year.

"Lucy!" called Bostil, in a loud voice.

She came running in, anxious, almost alarmed.

"Goodness! you made us jump! What on earth is the matter?"

"Lucy, we want to know the date," replied Bostil.

"Date! Did you have to scare Auntie and me out of our wits just for that?"

"Who scared you? This is important, Lucy. What's the date?"

"It's a week to-day since last Tuesday," answered Lucy, sweetly.

"Huh! Then it's Tuesday again," said Bostil, laboriously writing it down.
"Now, what's the date?"

"Don't you remember?"

"Remember? I never knew."

"Dad! . . . Last Tuesday was my birthday--the day you DID NOT give me a

"Aw, so it was," rejoined Bostil, confused at her reproach. "An' thet date
was--let's see--April sixth. . . . Then this is April thirteenth. Much
obliged, Lucy. Run back to your aunt now. This hoss talk won't interest you."

Lucy tossed her head. "I'll bet I'll have to straighten out the whole thing."
Then with a laugh she disappeared.

"Three days beginnin--say June first. June first--second, an' third. How about
thet for the races?"

Everybody agreed, and Bostil laboriously wrote that down. Then they planned
the details. Purses and prizes, largely donated by Bostil and Muncie, the rich
members of the community, were recorded. The old rules were adhered to. Any
rider or any Indian could enter any horse in any race, or as many horses as he
liked in as many races. But by winning one race he excluded himself from the
others. Bostil argued for a certain weight in riders, but the others ruled out
this suggestion. Special races were arranged for the Indians, with saddles,
bridles, blankets, guns as prizes.

All this appeared of absorbing interest to Bostil. He perspired freely. There
was a gleam in his eye, betraying excitement. When it came to arranging the
details of the big race between the high-class racers, then he grew intense
and harder to deal with. Many points had to go by vote. Muncie and Williams
both had fleet horses to enter in this race; Holley had one; Creech had two;
there were sure to be several Indians enter fast mustangs; and Bostil had the
King and four others to choose from. Bostil held out stubbornly for a long
race. It was well known that Sage King was unbeatable in a long race. If there
were any chance to beat him it must be at short distance. The vote went
against Bostil, much to his chagrin, and the great race was set down for two

"But two miles! . . . Two miles!" he kept repeating. "Thet's Blue Roan's
distance. Thet's his distance. An' it ain't fair to the King!"

His guests, excepting Creech, argued with him, explained, reasoned, showed him
that it was fair to all concerned. Bostil finally acquiesced, but he was not
happy. The plain fact was that he was frightened.

When the men were departing Bostil called Creech back into the sitting-room.
Creech appeared surprised, yet it was evident that he would have been glad to
make friends with Bostil.

"What'll you take for the roan?" Bostil asked, tersely,' as if he had never
asked that before.

"Bostil, didn't we thresh thet out before--an' FELL out over it?" queried
Creech, with a deprecating spread of his hands.

"Wal, we can fall in again, if you'll sell or trade the hoss."

"I'm sorry, but I can't."

"You need money an' hosses, don't you?" demanded Bostil, brutally. He had no
conscience in a matter of horse-dealing.

"Lord knows, I do," replied Creech.

"Wal, then, here's your chance. I'll give you five hundred in gold an'
Sarchedon to boot."

Creech looked as if he had not heard aright. Bostil repeated the offer.

"No," replied Creech.

"I'll make it a thousand an' throw Plume in with Sarch," flashed Bostil.

"No!" Creech turned pale and swallowed hard.

"Two thousand an' Dusty Ben along with the others?" This was an unheard-of
price to pay for any horse. Creech saw that Bostil was desperate. It was an
almost overpowering temptation. Evidently Creech resisted it only by applying
all his mind to the thought of his clean-limbed, soft-eyed, noble horse.

Bostil did not give Creech time to speak. "Twenty-five hundred an' Two Face
along with the rest!"

"My God, Bostil--stop it! I can't PART with Blue Roan. You're rich an' you've
no heart. Thet I always knew. At least to me you never had, since I owned them
two racers. Didn't I beg you, a little time back, to lend me a few hundred? To
meet thet debt? An' you wouldn't, unless I'd sell the hosses. An' I had to
lose my sheep. Now I'm a poor man--gettin' poorer all the time. But I won't
sell or trade Blue Roan, not for all you've got!"

Creech seemed to gain strength with his speech and passion with the strength.
His eyes glinted at the hard, paling face of his rival. He raised a clenching

"An' by G--d, I'm goin' to win thet race!"

During that week Lucy had heard many things about Joel Creech, and some of
them were disquieting.

Some rider had not only found Joel's clothes on the trail, but he had
recognized the track of the horse Lucy rode, and at once connected her with
the singular discovery. Coupling that with Joel's appearance in the village
incased in a heaving armor of adobe, the riders guessed pretty close to the
truth. For them the joke was tremendous. And Joel Creech was exceedingly
sensitive to ridicule. The riders made life unbearable for him. They had fun
out of it as long as Joel showed signs of taking the joke manfully, which was
not long, and then his resentment won their contempt. That led to sarcasm on
their part and bitter anger on his. It came to Lucy's ears that Joel began to
act and talk strangely. She found out that the rider Van had knocked Joel down
in Brackton's store and had kicked a gun out of his hand. Van laughed off the
rumor and Brackton gave her no satisfaction. Moreover, she heard no other
rumors. The channels of gossip had suddenly closed to her. Bostil, when
questioned by Lucy, swore in a way that amazed her, and all he told her was to
leave Creech alone. Finally, when Muncie discharged Joel, who worked now and
then, Lucy realized that something was wrong with Joel and that she was to
blame for it.

She grew worried and anxious and sorry, but she held her peace, and determined
to find out for herself what was wrong. Every day when she rode out into the
sage she expected to meet him, or at least see him somewhere; nevertheless
days went by and there was no sign of him.

One afternoon she saw some Indians driving sheep down the river road toward
the ford, and, acting upon impulse, she turned her horse after them.

Lucy seldom went down the river road. Riding down and up was merely work, and
a horse has as little liking for it as she had. Usually it was a hot, dusty
trip, and the great, dark, overhanging walls had a depressing effect, upon
her. She always felt awe at the gloomy canyon and fear at the strange,
murmuring red river. But she started down this afternoon in the hope of
meeting Joel. She had a hazy idea of telling him she was sorry for what she
had done, and of asking him to forget it and pay no more heed to the riders.

The sheep raised a dust-cloud in the sandy wash where the road wound down, and
Lucy hung back to let them get farther ahead. Gradually the tiny roar of
pattering hoofs and the blended bleating and baaing died away. The dust-cloud,
however, hung over the head of the ravine, and Lucy had to force Sarchedon
through it. Sarchedon did not mind sand and dust, but he surely hated the
smell of sheep. Lucy seldom put a spur to Sarchedon; still, she gave him a
lash with her quirt, and then he went on obediently, if disgustedly. He
carried his head like a horse that wondered why his mistress preferred to
drive him down into an unpleasant hole when she might have been cutting the
sweet, cool sage wind up on the slope.

The wash, with its sand and clay walls, dropped into a gulch, and there was an
end of green growths. The road led down over solid rock. Gradually the rims of
the gorge rose, shutting out the light and the cliffs. It was a winding road
and one not safe to tarry on in a stormy season. Lucy had seen boulders
weighing a ton go booming down that gorge during one of the sudden fierce
desert storms, when a torrent of water and mud and stone went plunging on to
the river. The ride through here was short, though slow. Lucy always had time
to adjust her faculties for the overpowering contrast these lower regions
presented. Long before she reached the end of the gorge she heard the sullen
thunder of the river. The river was low, too, for otherwise there would have
been a deafening roar.

Presently she came out upon a lower branch of the canyon, into a great
red-walled space, with the river still a thousand feet below, and the cliffs
towering as high above her. The road led down along this rim where to the left
all was open, across to the split and peaked wall opposite. The river appeared
to sweep round a bold, bulging comer a mile above. It was a wide, swift,
muddy, turbulent stream. A great bar of sand stretched out from the shore.
Beyond it, through the mouth of an intersecting canyon, could be seen a clump
of cottonwoods and willows that marked the home of the Creeches. Lucy could
not see the shore nearest her, as it was almost directly under her. Besides,
in this narrow road, on a spirited horse, she was not inclined to watch the
scenery. She hurried Sarchedon down and down, under the overhanging brows of
rock, to where the rim sloped out and failed. Here was a half-acre of sand,
with a few scant willows, set down seemingly in a dent at the base of the
giant, beetling cliffs. The place was light, though the light seemed a kind of
veiled red, and to Lucy always ghastly. She could not have been joyous with
that river moaning before her, even if it had been up on a level, in the clear
and open day. As a little girl eight years old she had conceived a terror and
hatred of this huge, jagged rent so full of red haze and purple smoke and the
thunder of rushing waters. And she had never wholly outgrown it. The joy of
the sun and wind, the rapture in the boundless open, the sweetness in the
sage--these were not possible here. Something mighty and ponderous, heavy as
those colossal cliffs, weighted down her spirit. The voice of the river drove
out any dream. Here was the incessant frowning presence of destructive forces
of nature. And the ford was associated with catastrophe--to sheep, to horses
and to men.

Lucy rode across the bar to the shore where the Indians were loading the sheep
into an immense rude flatboat. As the sheep were frightened, the loading was
no easy task. Their bleating could be heard above the roar of the river.
Bostil's boatmen, Shugrue and Somers, stood knee-deep in the quicksand of the
bar, and their efforts to keep free-footed were as strenuous as their handling
of the sheep. Presently the flock was all crowded on board, the Indians
followed, and then the boatmen slid the unwieldy craft off the sand-bar. Then,
each manning a clumsy oar, they pulled up-stream. Along shore were whirling,
slow eddies, and there rowing was possible. Out in that swift current it would
have been folly to try to contend with it, let alone make progress. The method
of crossing was to row up along the shore as far as a great cape of rock
jutting out, and there make into the current, and while drifting down pull
hard to reach the landing opposite. Heavily laden as the boat was, the chances
were not wholly in favor of a successful crossing.

Lucy watched the slow, laborious struggle of the boatmen with the heavy oars
until she suddenly remembered the object of her visit down to the ford. She
appeared to be alone on her side of the river. At the landing opposite,
however, were two men; and presently Lucy recognized Joel Creel and his
father. A second glance showed Indians with burros, evidently waiting for the
boat. Joel Creech jumped into a skiff and shoved off. The elder man, judging
by his motions, seemed to be trying to prevent his son from leaving the shore.
But Joel began to row up-stream, keeping close to the shore. Lucy watched him.
No doubt he had seen her and was coming across. Either the prospect of meeting
him or the idea of meeting him there in the place where she was never herself
made her want to turn at once and ride back home. But her stubborn sense of
fairness overruled that. She would hold her ground solely in the hope of
persuading Joel to be reasonable. She saw the big flatboat sweep into line of
sight at the same time Joel turned into the current. But while the larger
craft drifted slowly the other way, the smaller one came swiftly down and
across. Joel swept out of the current into the eddy, rowed across that, and
slid the skiff up on the sand-bar. Then he stepped out. He was bareheaded and
barefooted, but it was not that which made him seem a stranger to Lucy.

"Are you lookin' fer me?" he shouted.

Lucy waved a hand for him to come up.

Then he approached. He was a tall, lean young man, stoop-shouldered and
bow-legged from much riding, with sallow, freckled face, a thin fuzz of beard,
weak mouth and chin, and eyes remarkable for their small size and piercing
quality and different color. For one was gray and the other was hazel. There
was no scar on his face, but the irregularity of his features reminded one who
knew that he had once been kicked in the face by a horse.

Creech came up hurriedly, in an eager, wild way that made Lucy suddenly pity
him. He did not seem to remember that the stallion had an antipathy for him.
But Lucy, if she had forgotten, would have been reminded by Sarchedon's

"Look out, Joel!" she called, and she gave the black's head a jerk. Sarchedon
went up with a snort and came down pounding the sand. Quick as an Indian Lucy
was out of the saddle.

"Lemme your quirt," said Joel, showing his teeth like a wolf.

"No. I wouldn't let you hit Sarch. You beat him once, and he's never
forgotten," replied Lucy.

The eye of the horse and the man met and clashed, and there was a hostile
tension in their attitudes. Then Lucy dropped the bridle and drew Joel over to
a huge drift-log, half buried in the sand. Here she sat down, but Joel
remained standing. His gaze was now all the stranger for its wistfulness. Lucy
was quick to catch a subtle difference in him, but she could not tell wherein
it lay.

"What'd you want?" asked Joel.

"I've heard a lot of things, Joel," replied Lucy, trying to think of just what
she wanted to say.

"Reckon you have," said Joel, dejectedly, and then he sat down on the log and
dug holes in the sand with his bare feet.

Lucy had never before seen him look tired, and it seemed that some of the
healthy brown of his cheeks had thinned out. Then Lucy told him, guardedly, a
few of the rumors she had heard.

"All thet you say is nothin' to what's happened," he replied, bitterly. "Them
riders mocked the life an' soul out of me."

"But, Joel, you shouldn't be so--so touchy," said Lucy, earnestly. "After all,
the joke WAS on you. Why didn't you take it like a man?"

"But they knew you stole my clothes," he protested.

"Suppose they, did. That wasn't much to care about. If you hadn't taken it so
hard they'd have let up on you."

"Mebbe I might have stood that. But they taunted me with bein'-- loony about

Joel spoke huskily. There was no doubt that he had been deeply hurt. Lucy saw
tears in his eyes, and her first impulse was to put a hand on his and tell him
how sorry she was. But she desisted. She did not feel at her ease with Joel.

"What'd you and Van fight about?" she asked, presently. Joel hung his head. "I
reckon I ain't a-goin' to tell you."

"You're ashamed of it?"

Joel's silence answered that.

"You said something about me?" Lucy could not resist her curiosity, back of
which was a little heat. "It must have been--bad--else Van wouldn't have
struck you. "

"He hit me--he knocked me flat," passionately said Joel.

"And you drew a gun on him?"

"I did, an' like a fool I didn't wait till I got up. Then he kicked me! . . .
Bostil's Ford will never be big enough fer me an' Van now."

"Don't talk foolish. You won't fight with Van. . . . Joel, maybe you deserved
what you got. You say some--some rude things."

"I only said I'd pay you back," burst out Joel.


"I swore I'd lay fer you--an' steal your clothes--so you'd have to run home

There was indeed something lacking in Joel, but it was not sincerity. His hurt
had rankled deep and his voice trembled with indignation.

"But, Joel, I don't go swimming in spring-holes," protested Lucy, divided
between amusement and annoyance.

"I meant it, anyhow," said Joel, doggedly.

"Are you absolutely honest? Is that all you said to provoke Van?"

"It's all, Lucy, I swear."

She believed him, and saw the unfortunate circumstance more than ever her
fault. "I'm sorry, Joel. I'm much to blame. I shouldn't have lost my temper
and played that trick with your clothes. . . . If you'd only had sense enough
to stay out till after dark! But no use crying over spilt milk. Now, if you'll
do your share I'll do mine. I'll tell the boys I was to blame. I'll persuade
them to let you alone. I'll go to Muncie--"

"No you won't go cryin' small fer me!" blurted out Joel.

Lucy was surprised to see pride in him. "Joel, I'll not make it appear--"

"You'll not say one word about me to any one," he went on, with the blood
beginning to darken his face. And now he faced her. How strange the blaze in
his differently colored eyes! "Lucy Bostil, there's been thet done an' said to
me which I'll never forgive. I'm no good in Bostil's Ford. Mebbe I never was
much. But I could get a job when I wanted it an' credit when I needed it. Now
I can't get nothin'. I'm no good! . . . I'm no good! An' it's your fault!"

"Oh, Joel, what can I do?" cried Lucy.

"I reckon there's only one way you can square me," he replied, suddenly
growing pale. But his eyes were like flint. He certainly looked to be in
possession of all his wits.

"How?" queried Lucy, sharply.

"You can marry me. Thet'll show thet gang! An' it'll square me. Then I'll go
back to work an' I'll stick. Thet's all, Lucy Bostil."

Manifestly he was laboring under strong suppressed agitation. That moment was
the last of real strength and dignity ever shown by Joel Creech.

"But, Joel, I can't marry you--even if I am to blame for your ruin," said
Lucy, simply.


"Because I don't love you."

"I reckon thet won't make any difference, if you don't love some one else."

Lucy gazed blankly at him. He began to shake, and his eyes grew wild. She rose
from the log.

"Do you love anybody else?" he asked, passionately.

"None of your business!" retorted Lucy. Then, at a strange darkening of his
face, an aspect unfamiliar to her, she grew suddenly frightened.

"It's Van!" he said, thickly.

"Joel, you're a fool!"

That only infuriated him.

"So they all say. An' they got my old man believin' it, too. Mebbe I am. . . .
But I'm a-goin' to kill Van!"

"No! No! Joel, what are you saying? I don't love Van. I don't care any more
for him than for any other rider--or--or you."

"Thet's a lie, Lucy Bostil!"

"How dare you say I lie?" demanded Lucy. "I've a mind to turn my back on you.
I'm trying to make up for my blunder and you--you insult me!"

"You talk sweet . . . but talk isn't enough. You made me no-good . . . . Will
you marry me?"

"I will not!" And Lucy, with her blood up, could not keep contempt out of
voice and look, and she did not care. That was the first time she had ever
shown anything, approaching ridicule for Joel. The effect was remarkable. Like
a lash upon a raw wound it made him writhe; but more significant to Lucy was
the sudden convulsive working of his features and the wildness of his eyes.
Then she turned her back, not from contempt, but to hurry away from him.

He leaped after her and grasped her with rude hands.

"Let me go!" cried Lucy, standing perfectly motionless. The hard clutch of his
fingers roused a fierce, hot anger.

Joel did not heed her command. He was forcing her back. He talked
incoherently. One glimpse of his face added terror to Lucy's fury.

"Joel, you're out of your head!" she cried, and she began to wrench and writhe
out of his grasp. Then ensued a short, sharp struggle. Joel could not hold
Lucy, but he tore her blouse into shreds. It seemed to Lucy that he did that
savagely. She broke free from him, and he lunged at her again. With all her
strength she lashed his face with the heavy leather quirt. That staggered him.
He almost fell.

Lucy bounded to Sarchedon. In a rush she was up in the saddle. Joel was
running toward her. Blood on his face! Blood on his hands! He was not the Joel
Creech she knew.

"Stop!" cried Lucy, fiercely. "I'll run you down!"

The big black plunged at a touch of spur and came down quivering, ready to

Creech swerved to one side. His face was lividly white except where the bloody
welts crossed it. His jaw seemed to hang loosely, making speech difficult.

"Jest fer--thet--" he panted, hoarsely, "I'll lay fer you--an' I'll strip
you---an' I'll tie you on a hoss--an' I'll drive you naked through Bostil's

Lucy saw the utter futility of all her good intentions. Something had snapped
in Joel Creech's mind. And in hers kindness had given precedence to a fury she
did not know was in her. For the second time she touched a spur to Sarchedon.
He leaped out, flashed past Creech, and thundered up the road. It was all Lucy
could do to break his gait at the first steep rise.


Three wild-horse hunters made camp one night beside a little stream in the
Sevier Valley, five hundred miles, as a crow flies, from Bostil's Ford.

These hunters had a poor outfit, excepting, of course, their horses. They were
young men, rangy in build, lean and hard from life in the saddle, bronzed like
Indians, still-faced, and keen-eyed. Two of them appeared to be tired out, and
lagged at the camp-fire duties. When the meager meal was prepared they sat,
cross-legged, before a ragged tarpaulin, eating and drinking in silence.

The sky in the west was rosy, slowly darkening. The valley floor billowed
away, ridged and cut, growing gray and purple and dark. Walls of stone, pink
with the last rays of the setting sun, inclosed the valley, stretching away
toward a long, low, black mountain range.

The place was wild, beautiful, open, with something nameless that made the
desert different from any other country. It was, perhaps, a loneliness of vast
stretches of valley and stone, clear to the eye, even after sunset. That black
mountain range, which looked close enough to ride to before dark, was a
hundred miles distant.

The shades of night fell swiftly, and it was dark by the time the hunters
finished the meal. Then the campfire had burned low. One of the three dragged
branches of dead cedars and replenished the fire. Quickly it flared up, with
the white flame and crackle characteristic of dry cedar. The night wind had
risen, moaning through the gnarled, stunted cedars near by, and it blew the
fragrant wood-smoke into the faces of the two hunters, who seemed too tired to

"I reckon a pipe would help me make up my mind," said one.

"Wal, Bill," replied the other, dryly, "your mind's made up, else you'd not
say smoke."


"Because there ain't three pipefuls of thet precious tobacco left."

"Thet's one apiece, then. . . . Lin, come an' smoke the last pipe with us."

The tallest of the three, he who had brought the firewood, stood in the bright
light of the blaze. He looked the born rider, light, lithe, powerful.

"Sure, I'll smoke," he replied.

Then, presently, he accepted the pipe tendered him, and, sitting down beside
the fire, he composed himself to the enjoyment which his companions evidently
considered worthy of a decision they had reached.

"So this smokin' means you both want to turn back?" queried Lin, his sharp
gaze glancing darkly bright in the glow of the fire.

"Yep, we'll turn back. An', Lordy! the relief I feel!" replied one.

"We've been long comin' to it, Lin, an' thet was for your sake," replied the

Lin slowly pulled at his pipe and blew out the smoke as if reluctant to part
with it. "Let's go on," he said, quietly.

"No. I've had all I want of chasin' thet damn wild stallion," returned Bill,

The other spread wide his hands and bent an expostulating look upon the one
called Lin. "We're two hundred miles out," he said. "There's only a little
flour left in the bag. No coffee! Only a little salt! All the hosses except
your big Nagger are played out. We're already in strange country. An' you know
what we've heerd of this an' all to the south. It's all canyons, an'
somewheres down there is thet awful canyon none of our people ever seen. But
we've heerd of it. An awful cut-up country."

He finished with a conviction that no one could say a word against the common
sense of his argument. Lin was silent, as if impressed.

Bill raised a strong, lean, brown hand in a forcible gesture. "We can't ketch

That seemed to him, evidently, a more convincing argument than his comrade's.

"Bill is sure right, if I'm wrong, which I ain't," went on the other. "Lin,
we've trailed thet wild stallion for six weeks. Thet's the longest chase he
ever had. He's left his old range. He's cut out his band, an' left them, one
by one. We've tried every trick we know on him. An' he's too smart for us.
There's a hoss! Why, Lin, we're all but gone to the dogs chasin' Wildfire. An'
now I'm done, an' I'm glad of it."

There was another short silence, which presently Bill opened his lips to

"Lin, it makes me sick to quit. I ain't denyin' thet for a long time I've had
hopes of ketchin' Wildfire. He's the grandest hoss I ever laid eyes on. I
reckon no man, onless he was an Arab, ever seen as good a one. But now, thet's
neither here nor there. . . . We've got to hit the back trail."

"Boys, I reckon I'll stick to Wildfire's tracks," said Lin, in the same quiet

Bill swore at him, and the other hunter grew excited and concerned.

"Lin Slone, are you gone plumb crazy over thet red hoss?"

"I--reckon," replied Slone. The working of his throat as he swallowed could be
plainly seen by his companions.

Bill looked at his ally as if to confirm some sudden understanding between
them. They took Slone's attitude gravely and they wagged their heads
doubtfully, as they might have done had Slone just acquainted them with a
hopeless and deathless passion for a woman. It was significant of the nature
of riders that they accepted his attitude and had consideration for his
feelings. For them the situation subtly changed. For weeks they had been three
wild-horse wranglers on a hard chase after a valuable stallion. They had
failed to get even close to him. They had gone to the limit of their endurance
and of the outfit, and it was time to turn back. But Slone had conceived that
strange and rare longing for a horse--a passion understood, if not shared, by
all riders. And they knew that he would catch Wildfire or die in the attempt.
From that moment their attitude toward Slone changed as subtly as had come the
knowledge of his feeling. The gravity and gloom left their faces. It seemed
they might have regretted what they had said about the futility of catching
Wildfire. They did not want Slone to see or feel the hopelessness of his task.

"I tell you, Lin," said Bill, "your hoss Nagger's as good as when we started."

"Aw, he's better," vouchsafed the other rider. "Nagger needed to lose some
weight. Lin, have you got an extra set of shoes for him?"

"No full set. Only three left," replied Lin, soberly.

"Wal, thet's enough. You can keep Nagger shod. An' MEBBE thet red stallion
will get sore feet an' go lame. Then you'd stand a chance."

"But Wildfire keeps travelin' the valleys--the soft ground," said Slone.

"No matter. He's leavin' the country, an' he's bound to strike sandstone
sooner or later. Then, by gosh! mebbe he'll wear off them hoofs."

"Say, can't he ring bells offen the rocks?" exclaimed Bill. "Oh, Lordy! what a

"Boys, do you think he's leavin' the country?" inquired Slone, anxiously.

"Sure he is," replied Bill. "He ain't the first stallion I've chased off the
Sevier range. An' I know. It's a stallion thet makes for new country, when you
push him hard."

"Yep, Lin, he's sure leavin'," added the other comrade. "Why, he's traveled a
bee-line for days! I'll bet he's seen us many a time. Wildfire's about as
smart as any man. He was born wild, an' his dam was born wild, an' there you
have it. The wildest of all wild creatures--a wild stallion, with the
intelligence of a man! A grand hoss, Lin, but one thet'll be hell, if you ever
ketch him. He has killed stallions all over the Sevier range. A wild stallion
thet's a killer! I never liked him for thet. Could he be broke?"

"I'll break him," said Lin Slone, grimly. "It's gettin' him thet's the job.
I've got patience to break a hoss. But patience can't catch a streak of

"Nope; you're right," replied Bill. "If you have some luck you'll get
him--mebbe. If he wears out his feet, or if you crowd him into a narrow
canyon, or ran him into a bad place where he can't get by you. Thet might
happen. An' then, with Nagger, you stand a chance. Did you ever tire thet

"Not yet."

"An' how fur did you ever run him without a break? Why, when we ketched thet
sorrel last year I rode Nagger myself--thirty miles, most at a hard gallop.
An' he never turned a hair!"

"I've beat thet," replied Lin. "He could run hard fifty miles-- mebbe more.
Honestly, I never seen him tired yet. If only he was fast!"

"Wal, Nagger ain't so durned slow, come to think of thet," replied Bill, with
a grunt. "He's good enough for you not to want another hoss."

"Lin, you're goin' to wear out Wildfire, an' then trap him somehow-- is thet
the plan?" asked the other comrade.

"I haven't any plan. I'll just trail him, like a cougar trails a deer."

"Lin, if Wildfire gives you the slip he'll have to fly. You've got the best
eyes for tracks of any wrangler in Utah."

Slone accepted the compliment with a fleeting, doubtful smile on his dark
face. He did not reply, and no more was said by his comrades. They rolled with
backs to the fire. Slone put on more wood, for the keen wind was cold and
cutting; and then he lay down, his head in his saddle, with a goatskin under
him and a saddle-blanket over him.

All three were soon asleep. The wind whipped the sand and ashes and smoke over
the sleepers. Coyotes barked from near in darkness, and from the valley ridge
came the faint mourn of a hunting wolf. The desert night grew darker and

The Stewart brothers were wild-horse hunters for the sake of trades and
occasional sales. But Lin Slone never traded nor sold a horse he had captured.
The excitement of the game, and the lure of the desert, and the love of a
horse were what kept him at the profitless work. His type was rare in the

These were the early days of the settlement of Utah, and only a few of the
hardiest and most adventurous pioneers had penetrated the desert in the
southern part of that vast upland. And with them came some of that wild breed
of riders to which Slone and the Stewarts belonged. Horses were really more
important and necessary than men; and this singular fact gave these lonely
riders a calling.

Before the Spaniards came there were no horses in the West. Those explorers
left or lost horses all over the southwest. Many of them were Arabian horses
of purest blood. American explorers and travelers, at the outset of the
nineteenth century, encountered countless droves of wild horses all over the
plains. Across the Grand Canyon, however, wild horses were comparatively few
in number in the early days; and these had probably come in by way of

The Stewarts and Slone had no established mode of catching wild horses. The
game had not developed fast enough for that. Every chase of horse or drove was
different; and once in many attempts they met with success.

A favorite method originated by the Stewarts was to find a water-hole
frequented by the band of horses or the stallion wanted, and to build round
this hole a corral with an opening for the horses to get in. Then the hunters
would watch the trap at night, and if the horses went in to drink, a gate was
closed across the opening. Another method of the Stewarts was to trail a
coveted horse up on a mesa or highland, places which seldom had more than one
trail of ascent and descent, and there block the escape, and cut lines of
cedars, into which the quarry was ran till captured. Still another method,
discovered by accident, was to shoot a horse lightly in the neck and sting
him. This last, called creasing, was seldom successful, and for that matter in
any method ten times as many horses were killed as captured.

Lin Slone helped the Stewarts in their own way, but he had no especial liking
for their tricks. Perhaps a few remarkable captures of remarkable horses had
spoiled Slone. He was always trying what the brothers claimed to be
impossible. He was a fearless rider, but he had the fault of saving his mount,
and to kill a wild horse was a tragedy for him. He would much rather have
hunted alone, and he had been alone on the trail of the stallion Wildfire when
the Stewarts had joined him.

Lin Slone awoke next morning and rolled out of his blanket at his usual early
hour. But he was not early enough to say good-by to the Stewarts. They were

The fact surprised him and somehow relieved him. They had left him more than
his share of the outfit, and perhaps that was why they had slipped off before
dawn. They knew him well enough to know that he would not have accepted it.
Besides, perhaps they felt a little humiliation at abandoning a chase which he
chose to keep up. Anyway, they were gone, apparently without breakfast.

The morning was clear, cool, with the air dark like that before a storm, and
in the east, over the steely wall of stone, shone a redness growing brighter.

Slone looked away to the west, down the trail taken by his comrades, but he
saw nothing moving against that cedar-dotted waste.

"Good-by," he said, and he spoke as if he was saying good-by to more than

"I reckon I won't see Sevier Village soon again--an' maybe never," he

There was no one to regret him, unless it was old Mother Hall, who had been
kind to him on those rare occasions when he got out of the wilderness. Still,
it was with regret that he gazed away across the red valley to the west. Slone
had no home. His father and mother had been lost in the massacre of a
wagon-train by Indians, and he had been one of the few saved and brought to
Salt Lake. That had happened when he was ten years old. His life thereafter
had been hard, and but for his sturdy Texas training he might not have
survived. The last five years he had been a horse-hunter in the wild uplands
of Nevada and Utah.

Slone turned his attention to the pack of supplies. The Stewarts had divided
the flour and the parched corn equally, and unless he was greatly mistaken
they had left him most of the coffee and all of the salt.

"Now I hold that decent of Bill an' Abe," said Slone, regretfully. "But I
could have got along without it better 'n they could."

Then he swiftly set about kindling a fire and getting a meal. In the midst of
his task a sudden ruddy brightness fell around him. Lin Slone paused in his
work to look up.

The sun had risen over the eastern wall.

"Ah!" he said, and drew a deep breath.

The cold, steely, darkling sweep of desert had been transformed. It was now a
world of red earth and gold rocks and purple sage, with everywhere the endless
straggling green cedars. A breeze whipped in, making the fire roar softly. The
sun felt warm on his cheek. And at the moment he heard the whistle of his

"Good old Nagger!" he said. "I shore won't have to track you this mornin'."

Presently he went off into the cedars to find Nagger and the mustang that he
used to carry a pack. Nagger was grazing in a little open patch among the
trees, but the pack-horse was missing. Slone seemed to know in what direction
to go to find the trail, for he came upon it very soon. The pack-horse wore
hobbles, but he belonged to the class that could cover a great deal of ground
when hobbled. Slone did not expect the horse to go far, considering that the
grass thereabouts was good. But in a wild-horse country it was not safe to
give any horse a chance. The call of his wild brethren was irresistible.
Slone, however, found the mustang standing quietly in a clump of cedars, and,
removing the hobbles, he mounted and rode back to camp. Nagger caught sight of
him and came at his call.

This horse Nagger appeared as unique in his class as Slone was rare among
riders. Nagger seemed of several colors, though black predominated. His coat
was shaggy, almost woolly, like that of a sheep. He was huge, raw-boned,
knotty, long of body and long of leg, with the head of a war charger. His
build did not suggest speed. There appeared to be something slow and ponderous
about him, similar to an elephant, with the same suggestion of power and
endurance. Slone discarded the pack-saddle and bags. The latter were almost
empty. He roped the tarpaulin on the back of the mustang, and, making a small
bundle of his few supplies, he tied that to the tarpaulin. His blanket he used
for a saddle-blanket on Nagger. Of the utensils left by the Stewarts he chose
a couple of small iron pans, with long handles. The rest he left. In his
saddle-bags he had a few extra a horseshoes, some nails, bullets for his
rifle, and a knife with a heavy blade.

"Not a rich outfit for a far country," he mused. Slone not talk very much, and
when he did he addressed Nagger and himself simultaneously. Evidently he
expected a long chase, one from which he would not return, and light as his
outfit was it would grow too heavy.

Then he mounted and rode down the gradual slope, facing the valley and the
black, bold, flat mountain to the southeast. Some few hundred yards from camp
he halted Nagger and bent over in the saddle to scrutinize the ground.

The clean-cut track of a horse showed in the bare, hard sand. The hoof-marks
were large, almost oval, perfect in shape, and manifestly they were beautiful
to Lin Slone. He gazed at them for a long time, and then he looked across the
dotted red valley up the vast ridgy steps, toward the black plateau and
beyond. It was the look that an Indian gives to a strange country. Then Slone
slipped off the saddle and knelt to scrutinize the horse tracks. A little sand
had blown into the depressions, and some of it was wet and some of it was dry.
He took his time about examining it, and he even tried gently blowing other
sand into the tracks, to compare that with what was already there. Finally he
stood up and addressed Nagger.

"Reckon we won't have to argue with Abe an' Bill this mornin'," he said, with
satisfaction. "Wildfire made that track yesterday, before sun-up.

Thereupon Slone remounted and put Nagger to a trot. The pack-horse followed
with an alacrity that showed he had no desire for loneliness.

As straight as a bee-line Wildfire had left a trail down into the floor of the
valley. He had not stopped to graze, and he had not looked for water. Slone
had hoped to find a water-hole in one of the deep washes in the red earth, but
if there had been any water there Wildfire would have scented it. He had not
had a drink for three days that Slone knew of. And Nagger had not drunk for
forty hours. Slone had a canvas water-bag hanging over the pommel, but it was
a habit of his to deny himself, as far as possible, till his horse could drink
also. Like an Indian, Slone ate and drank but little.

It took four hours of steady trotting to reach the middle and bottom of that
wide, flat valley. A network of washes cut up the whole center of it, and they
were all as dry as bleached bone. To cross these Slone had only to keep
Wildfire's trail. And it was proof of Nagger's quality that he did not have to
veer from the stallion's course.

It was hot down in the lowland. The heat struck up, reflected from the sand.
But it was a March sun, and no more than pleasant to Slone. The wind rose,
however, and blew dust and sand in the faces of horse and rider. Except
lizards, Slone did not see any living things.

Miles of low greasewood and sparse yellow sage led to the first almost
imperceptible rise of the valley floor on that side. The distant cedars
beckoned to Slone. He was not patient, because he was on the trail of
Wildfire; but, nevertheless. the hours seemed short.

Slone had no past to think about, and the future held nothing except a horse,
and so his thoughts revolved the possibilities connected with this chase of
Wildfire. The chase was hopeless in such country as he was traversing, and if
Wildfire chose to roam around valleys like this one Slone would fail utterly.
But the stallion had long ago left his band of horses, and then, one by one
his favorite consorts, and now he was alone, headed with unerring instinct for
wild, untrammeled ranges. He had been used to the pure, cold water and the
succulent grass of the cold desert uplands. Assuredly he would not tarry in
such barren lands as these.

For Slone an ever-present and growing fascination lay in Wildfire's clear,
sharply defined tracks. It was as if every hoof-mark told him something. Once,
far up the interminable ascent, he found on a ridge-top tracks showing where
Wildfire had halted and turned.

"Ha, Nagger!" cried Slone, exultingly. "Look there! He's begun facin' about.
He's wonderin' if we're still after him. He's worried. . . . But we'll keep
out of sight--a day behind."

When Slone reached the cedars the sun was low down in the west. He looked back
across the fifty miles of valley to the colored cliffs and walls. He seemed to
be above them now, and the cool air, with tang of cedar and juniper,
strengthened the impression that he had climbed high.

A mile or more ahead of him rose a gray cliff with breaks in it and a line of
dark cedars or pinyons on the level rims. He believed these breaks to be the
mouths of canyons, and so it turned out. Wildfire's trail led into the mouth
of a narrow canyon with very steep and high walls. Nagger snorted his
perception of water, and the mustang whistled. Wildfire's tracks led to a
point under the wall where a spring gushed forth. There were mountain-lion and
deer tracks also, as well as those of smaller game.

Slone made camp here. The mustang was tired. But Nagger, upon taking a long
drink, rolled in the grass as if he had just begun the trip. After eating,
Slone took his rifle and went out to look for deer. But there appeared to be
none at hand. He came across many lion tracks and saw, with apprehension,
where one had taken Wildfire's trail. Wildfire had grazed up the canyon,
keeping on and on, and he was likely to go miles in a night. Slone reflected
that as small as were his own chances of getting Wildfire, they were still
better than those of a mountain-lion. Wildfire was the most cunning of all
animals--a wild stallion; his speed and endurance were incomparable; his scent
as keen as those animals that relied wholly upon scent to warn them of danger,
and as for sight, it was Slone's belief that no hoofed creature, except the
mountain-sheep used to high altitudes, could see as far as a wild horse.

It bothered Slone a little that he was getting into a lion country. Nagger
showed nervousness, something unusual for him. Slone tied both horses with
long halters and stationed them on patches of thick grass. Then he put a cedar
stump on the fire and went to sleep. Upon awakening and going to the spring he
was somewhat chagrined to see that deer had come down to drink early.
Evidently they were numerous. A lion country was always a deer country, for
the lions followed the deer.

Slone was packed and saddled and on his way before the sun reddened the canyon
wall. He walked the horses. From time to time he saw signs of Wildfire's
consistent progress. The canyon narrowed and the walls grew lower and the
grass increased. There was a decided ascent all the time. Slone could find no
evidence that the canyon had ever been traveled by hunters or Indians. The day

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