Part 2 out of 6
was pleasant and warm and still. Every once in a while a little breath of wind
would bring a fragrance of cedar and pinyon, and a sweet hint of pine and
sage. At every turn he looked ahead, expecting to see the green of pine and
the gray of sage. Toward the middle of the afternoon, coming to a place where
Wildfire had taken to a trot, he put Nagger to that gait, and by sundown had
worked up to where the canyon was only a shallow ravine. And finally it turned
once more, to lose itself in a level where straggling pines stood high above
the cedars, and great, dark-green silver spruces stood above the pines. And
here were patches of sage, fresh and pungent, and long reaches of bleached
grass. It was the edge of a forest. Wildfire's trail went on. Slone came at
length to a group of pines, and here he found the remains of a camp-fire, and
some flint arrow-heads. Indians had been in there, probably having come from
the opposite direction to Slone's. This encouraged him, for where Indians
could hunt so could he. Soon he was entering a forest where cedars and pinyons
and pines began to grow thickly. Presently he came upon a faintly defined
trail, just a dim, dark line even to an experienced eye. But it was a trail,
and Wildfire had taken it.
Slone halted for the night. The air was cold. And the dampness of it gave him
an idea there were snow-banks somewhere not far distant. The dew was already
heavy on the grass. He hobbled the horses and put a bell on Nagger. A bell
might frighten lions that had never heard one. Then he built a fire and cooked
It had been long since he had camped high up among the pines. The sough of the
wind pleased him, like music. There had begun to be prospects of pleasant
experience along with the toil of chasing Wildfire. He was entering new and
strange and beautiful country. How far might the chase take him? He did not
care. He was not sleepy, but even if he had been it developed that he must
wait till the coyotes ceased their barking round his camp-fire. They came so
close that he saw their gray shadows in the gloom. But presently they wearied
of yelping at him and went away. After that the silence, broken only by the
wind as it roared and lulled, seemed beautiful to Slone. He lost completely
that sense of vague regret which had remained with him, and he forgot the
Stewarts. And suddenly he felt absolutely free, alone, with nothing behind to
remember, with wild, thrilling, nameless life before him. Just then the long
mourn of a timber wolf wailed in with the wind. Seldom had he heard the cry of
one of those night wanderers. There was nothing like it--no sound like it to
fix in the lone camper's heart the great solitude and the wild.
In the early morning when all was gray and the big, dark pines were shadowy
specters, Slone was awakened by the cold. His hands were so numb that he had
difficulty starting a fire. He stood over the blaze, warming them. The air was
nipping, clear and thin, and sweet with frosty fragrance.
Daylight came while he was in the midst of his morning meal. A white frost
covered the ground and crackled under his feet as he went out to bring in the
horses. He saw fresh deer tracks. Then he went back to camp for his rifle.
Keeping a sharp lookout for game, he continued his search for the horses.
The forest was open and park-like. There were no fallen trees or evidences of
fire. Presently he came to a wide glade in the midst of which Nagger and the
pack-mustang were grazing with a herd of deer. The size of the latter amazed
Slone. The deer he had hunted back on the Sevier range were much smaller than
these. Evidently these were mule deer, closely allied to the elk. They were so
tame they stood facing him curiously, with long ears erect. It was sheer
murder to kill a deer standing and watching like that, but Slone was out of
meat and hungry and facing a long, hard trip. He shot a buck, which leaped
spasmodically away, trying to follow the herd, and fell at the edge of the
glade. Slone cut out a haunch, and then, catching the horses, he returned to
camp, where he packed and saddled, and at once rode out on the dim trail.
The wildness of the country he was entering was evident in the fact that as he
passed the glade where he had shot the deer a few minutes before, there were
coyotes quarreling over the carcass.
Stone could see ahead and on each side several hundred yards, and presently he
ascertained that the forest floor was not so level as he had supposed. He had
entered a valley or was traversing a wide, gently sloping pass. He went
through thickets of juniper, and had to go around clumps of quaking aspen. The
pines grew larger and farther apart. Cedars and pinyons had been left behind,
and he had met with no silver spruces after leaving camp. Probably that point
was the height of a divide. There were banks of snow in some of the hollows on
the north side. Evidently the snow had very recently melted, and it was
evident also that the depth of snow through here had been fully ten feet,
judging from the mutilation of the juniper-trees where the deer, standing on
the hard, frozen crust, had browsed upon the branches.
The quiet of the forest thrilled Slone. And the only movement was the
occasional gray flash of a deer or coyote across a glade. No birds of any
species crossed Stone's sight. He came, presently, upon a lion track in the
trail, made probably a day before. Slone grew curious about it, seeing how it
held, as he was holding, to Wildfire's tracks. After a mile or so he made sure
the lion had been trailing the stallion, and for a second he felt a cold
contraction of his heart. Already he loved Wildfire, and by virtue of all this
toil of travel considered the wild horse his property.
"No lion could ever get close to Wildfire," he soliloquized, with a short
laugh. Of that he was absolutely certain.
The sun rose, melting the frost, and a breath of warm air, laden with the
scent of pine, moved heavily under the huge, yellow trees. Slone passed a
point where the remains of an old camp-fire and a pile of deer antlers were
further proof that Indians visited this plateau to hunt. From this camp
broader, more deeply defined trails led away to the south and east. Slone kept
to the east trail, in which Wildfire's tracks and those of the lion showed
clearly. It was about the middle of the forenoon when the tracks of the
stallion and lion left the trail to lead up a little draw where grass grew
thick. Slone followed, reading the signs of Wildfire's progress, and the
action of his pursuer, as well as if he had seen them. Here the stallion had
plowed into a snow-bank, eating a hole two feet deep; then he had grazed
around a little; then on and on; there his splendid tracks were deep in the
soft earth. Slone knew what to expect when the track of the lion veered from
those of the horse, and he followed the lion tracks. The ground was soft from
the late melting of snow, and Nagger sunk deep. The lion left a plain track.
Here he stole steadily along; there he left many tracks at a point where he
might have halted to make sure of his scent. He was circling on the trail of
the stallion, with cunning intent of ambush. The end of this slow, careful
stalk of the lion, as told in his tracks, came upon the edge of a knoll where
he had crouched to watch and wait.
From this perch he had made a magnificent spring--Slone estimating it to be
forty feet-but he had missed the stallion. There were Wildfire's tracks again,
slow and short, and then deep and sharp where in the impetus of fright he had
sprung out of reach. A second leap of the lion, and then lessening bounds, and
finally an abrupt turn from Wildfire's trail told the futility of that stalk.
Slone made certain that Wildfire was so keen that as he grazed along he had
kept to open ground.
Wildfire had run for a mile, then slowed down to a trot, and he had circled to
get back to the trail he had left. Slone believed the horse was just so
intelligent. At any rate, Wildfire struck the trail again, and turned at right
angles to follow it.
Here the forest floor appeared perfectly level. Patches of snow became
frequent, and larger as Slone went on. At length the patches closed up, and
soon extended as far as he could see. It was soft, affording difficult travel.
Slone crossed hundreds of deer tracks, and the trail he was on eventually
became a deer runway.
Presently, far down one of the aisles between the great pines Slone saw what
appeared to be a yellow cliff, far away. It puzzled him. And as he went on he
received the impression that the forest dropped out of sight ahead. Then the
trees grew thicker, obstructing his view. Presently the trail became soggy and
he had to help his horse. The mustang floundered in the soft snow and earth.
Cedars and pinyons appeared again, making travel still more laborious.
All at once there came to Slone a strange consciousness of light and wind and
space and void. On the instant his horse halted with a snort. Slone quickly
looked up. Had he come to the end of the world? An abyss, a canyon, yawned
beneath him, beyond all comparison in its greatness. His keen eye, educated to
desert distance and dimension, swept down and across, taking in the tremendous
truth, before it staggered his comprehension. But a second sweeping glance,
slower, becoming intoxicated with what it beheld, saw gigantic cliff-steps and
yellow slopes dotted with cedars, leading down to clefts filled with purple
smoke, and these led on and on to a ragged red world of rock, bare, shining,
bold, uplifted in mesa, dome, peak, and crag, clear and strange in the morning
light, still and sleeping like death.
This, then, was the great canyon, which had seemed like a hunter's fable
rather than truth. Slone's sight dimmed, blurring the spectacle, and he found
that his eyes had filled with tears. He wiped them away and looked again and
again, until he was confounded by the vastness and the grandeur and the vague
sadness of the scene. Nothing he had ever looked at had affected him like this
canyon, although the Stewarts had tried to prepare him for it.
It was the horse-hunter's passion that reminded him of his pursuit. The deer
trail led down through a break in the wall. Only a few rods of it could be
seen. This trail was passable, even though choked with snow. But the depth
beyond this wall seemed to fascinate Slone and hold him back, used as he was
to desert trails. Then the clean mark of Wildfire's hoof brought back the old
"This place fits you, Wildfire," muttered Slone, dismounting.
He started down, leading Nagger. The mustang followed. Slone kept to the wall
side of the trail, fearing the horses might slip. The snow held firmly at
first and Slone had no trouble. The gap in the rim-rock widened to a slope
thickly grown over with cedars and pinyons and manzanita. This growth made the
descent more laborious, yet afforded means at least for Slone to go down with
less danger. There was no stopping. Once started, the horses had to keep on.
Slone saw the impossibility of ever climbing out while that snow was there.
The trail zigzagged down and down. Very soon the yellow wall hung tremendously
over him, straight up. The snow became thinner and softer. The horses began to
slip. They slid on their haunches. Fortunately the slope grew less steep, and
Slone could see below where it reached out to comparatively level ground.
Still, a mishap might yet occur. Slone kept as close to Nagger as possible,
helping him whenever he could do it. The mustang slipped, rolled over, and
then slipped past Slone, went down the slope to bring up in a cedar. Slone
worked down to him and extricated him. Then the huge Nagger began to slide.
Snow and loose rock slid with him, and so did Slone. The little avalanche
stopped of its own accord, and then Slone dragged Nagger on down and down,
presently to come to the end of the steep descent. Slone looked up to see that
he had made short work of a thousand-foot slope. Here cedars and pinyons grew
thickly enough to make a forest. The snow thinned out to patches, and then
failed. But the going remained bad for a while as the horses sank deep in a
soft red earth. This eventually grew more solid and finally dry. Slone worked
out of the cedars to what appeared a grassy plateau inclosed by the great
green-and-white slope with its yellow wall over hanging, and distant mesas and
cliffs. Here his view was restricted. He was down on the first bench of the
great canyon. And there was the deer trail, a well-worn path keeping to the
edge of the slope. Slone came to a deep cut in the earth, and the trail headed
it, where it began at the last descent of the slope. It was the source of a
canyon. He could look down to see the bare, worn rock, and a hundred yards
from where he stood the earth was washed from its rims and it began to show
depth and something of that ragged outline which told of violence of flood.
The trail headed many canyons like this, all running down across this bench,
disappearing, dropping invisibly. The trail swung to the left under the great
slope, and then presently it climbed to a higher bench. Here were brush and
grass and huge patches of sage, so pungent that it stung Slone's nostrils.
Then he went down again, this time to come to a clear brook lined by willows.
Here the horses drank long and Slone refreshed himself. The sun had grown hot.
There was fragrance of flowers he could not see and a low murmur of a
waterfall that was likewise invisible. For most of the time his view was shut
off, but occasionally he reached a point where through some break he saw
towers gleaming red in the sun. A strange place, a place of silence, and smoky
veils in the distance. Time passed swiftly. Toward the waning of the afternoon
he began to climb to what appeared to be a saddle of land, connecting the
canyon wall on the left with a great plateau, gold-rimmed and pine-fringed,
rising more and more in his way as he advanced. At sunset Slone was more shut
in than for several hours. He could tell the time was sunset by the golden
light on the cliff wall again overhanging him. The slope was gradual up to
this pass to the saddle, and upon coming to a spring, and the first
pine-trees, he decided to halt for a camp. The mustang was almost exhausted.
Thereupon he hobbled the horses in the luxuriant grass round the spring, and
then unrolled his pack. Once as dusk came stealing down, while he was eating
his meal, Nagger whistled in fright. Slone saw a gray, pantherish form gliding
away into the shadows. He took a quick shot at it, but missed.
"It's a lion country, all right," he said. And then he set about building a
big fire on the other side of the grassy plot, so to have the horses between
fires. He cut all the venison into thin strips, and spent an hour roasting
them. Then he lay down to rest, and he said: "Wonder where Wildfire is
to-night? Am I closer to him? Where's he headin' for?"
The night was warm and still. It was black near the huge cliff, and overhead
velvety blue, with stars of white fire. It seemed to him that he had become
more thoughtful and observing of the aspects of his wild environment, and he
felt a welcome consciousness of loneliness. Then sleep came to him and the
night seemed short. In the gray dawn he arose refreshed.
The horses were restive. Nagger snorted a welcome. Evidently they had passed
an uneasy night. Slone found lion tracks at the spring and in sandy places.
Presently he was on his way up to the notch between the great wall and the
plateau. A growth of thick scrub-oak made travel difficult. It had not
appeared far up to that saddle, but it was far. There were straggling
pine-trees and huge rocks that obstructed his gaze. But once up he saw that
the saddle was only a narrow ridge, curved to slope up on both sides.
Straight before Slone and under him opened the canyon, blazing and glorious
along the peaks and ramparts, where the rising sun struck, misty and smoky and
shadowy down in those mysterious depths.
It took an effort not to keep on gazing. But Slone turned to the grim business
of his pursuit. The trail he saw leading down had been made by Indians. It was
used probably once a year by them; and also by wild animals, and it was
exceedingly steep and rough. Wildfire had paced to and fro along the narrow
ridge of that saddle, making many tracks, before he had headed down again.
Slone imagined that the great stallion had been daunted by the tremendous
chasm, but had finally faced it, meaning to put this obstacle between him and
his pursuers. It never occurred to Slone to attribute less intelligence to
Wildfire than that. So, dismounting, Slone took Nagger's bridle and started
down. The mustang with the pack was reluctant. He snorted and whistled and
pawed the earth. But he would not be left alone, so he followed.
The trail led down under cedars that fringed a precipice. Slone was aware of
this without looking. He attended only to the trail and to his horse. Only an
Indian could have picked out that course, and it was cruel to put a horse to
it. But Nagger was powerful, sure-footed, and he would go anywhere that Slone
led him. Gradually Slone worked down and away from the bulging rim-wall. It
was hard, rough work, and risky because it could not be accomplished slowly.
Brush and rocks, loose shale and weathered slope, long, dusty inclines of
yellow earth, and jumbles of stone--these made bad going for miles of slow,
zigzag trail down out of the cedars. Then the trail entered what appeared to
be a ravine.
That ravine became a canyon. At its head it was a dry wash, full of gravel and
rocks. It began to cut deep into the bowels of the earth. It shut out sight of
the surrounding walls and peaks. Water appeared from under a cliff and,
augmented by other springs, became a brook. Hot, dry, and barren at its
beginning, this cleft became cool and shady and luxuriant with grass and
flowers and amber moss with silver blossoms. The rocks had changed color from
yellow to deep red. Four hours of turning and twisting, endlessly down and
down, over boulders and banks and every conceivable roughness of earth and
rock, finished the pack-mustang; and Slone mercifully left him in a long reach
of canyon where grass and water never failed. In this place Slone halted for
the noon hour, letting Nagger have his fill of the rich grazing. Nagger's
three days in grassy upland, despite the continuous travel by day, had
improved him. He looked fat, and Slone had not yet caught the horse resting.
Nagger was iron to endure. Here Slone left all the outfit except what was on
his saddle, and the sack containing the few pounds of meat and supplies, and
the two utensils. This sack he tied on the back of his saddle, and resumed his
Presently he came to a place where Wildfire had doubled on his trail and had
turned up a side canyon. The climb out was hard on Slone, if not on Nagger.
Once up, Slone found himself upon a wide, barren plateau of glaring red rock
and clumps of greasewood and cactus. The plateau was miles wide, shut in by
great walls and mesas of colored rock. The afternoon sun beat down fiercely. A
blast of wind, as if from a furnace, swept across the plateau, and it was
laden with red dust. Slone walked here, where he could have ridden. And he
made several miles of up-and-down progress over this rough plateau. The great
walls of the opposite side of the canyon loomed appreciably closer. What,
Slone wondered, was at the bottom of this rent in the earth? The great desert
river was down there, of course, but he knew nothing of it. Would that turn
back Wildfire? Slone thought grimly how he had always claimed Nagger to be
part fish and part bird. Wildfire was not going to escape.
By and by only isolated mescal plants with long, yellow-plumed spears broke
the bare monotony of the plateau. And Slone passed from red sand and gravel to
a red, soft shale, and from that to hard, red rock. Here Wildfire's tracks
were lost, the first time in seven weeks. But Slone had his direction down
that plateau with the cleavage lines of canyons to right and left. At times
Slone found a vestige of the old Indian trail, and this made him doubly sure
of being right. He did not need to have Wildfire's tracks. He let Nagger pick
the way, and the horse made no mistake in finding the line of least
resistance. But that grew harder and harder. This bare rock, like a file,
would soon wear Wildfire's hoofs thin. And Slone rejoiced. Perhaps somewhere
down in this awful chasm he and Nagger would have it out with the stallion.
Slone began to look far ahead, beginning to believe that he might see
Wildfire. Twice he had seen Wildfire, but only at a distance. Then he had
resembled a running streak of fire, whence his name, which Slone had given
This bare region of rock began to be cut up into gullies. It was necessary to
head them or to climb in and out. Miles of travel really meant little progress
straight ahead. But Slone kept on. He was hot and Nagger was hot, and that
made hard work easier. Sometimes on the wind came a low thunder. Was it a
storm or an avalanche slipping or falling water? He could not tell. The sound
was significant and haunting.
Of one thing he was sure--that he could not have found his back-trail. But he
divined he was never to retrace his steps on this journey. The stretch of
broken plateau before him grew wilder and bolder of outline, darker in color,
weirder in aspect, and progress across it grew slower, more dangerous. There
were many places Nagger should not have been put to--where a slip meant a
broken leg. But Slone could not turn back. And something besides an
indomitable spirit kept him going. Again the sound resembling thunder assailed
his ears, louder this time. The plateau appeared to be ending in a series of
great capes or promontories. Slone feared he would soon come out upon a
promontory from which he might see the impossibility of further travel. He
felt relieved down in the gullies, where he could not see far. He climbed out
of one, presently, from which there extended a narrow ledge with a slant too
perilous for any horse. He stepped out upon that with far less confidence than
Nagger. To the right was a bulge of low wall, and a few feet to the left a
dark precipice. The trail here was faintly outlined, and it was six inches
wide and slanting as well. It seemed endless to Slone, that ledge. He looked
only down at his feet and listened to Nagger's steps. The big horse trod
carefully, but naturally, and he did not slip. That ledge extended in a long
curve, turning slowly away from the precipice, and ascending a little at the
further end. Slone, drew a deep breath of relief when he led Nagger up on
Suddenly a strange yet familiar sound halted Slone, as if he had been struck.
The wild, shrill, high-pitched, piercing whistle of a stallion! Nagger neighed
a blast in reply and pounded the rock with his iron-shod hoofs. With a thrill
Slone looked ahead.
There, some few hundred yards distant, on a promontory, stood a red horse.
"My Lord! . . . It's Wildfire!" breathed Slone, tensely.
He could not believe his sight. He imagined he was dreaming. But as Nagger
stamped and snorted defiance Slone looked with fixed and keen gaze, and knew
that beautiful picture was no lie.
Wildfire was as red as fire. His long mane, wild in the wind, was like a
whipping, black-streaked flame. Silhouetted there against that canyon
background he seemed gigantic, a demon horse, ready to plunge into fiery
depths. He was looking back over his shoulder, his head very high, and every
line of him was instinct with wildness. Again he sent out that shrill,
air-splitting whistle. Slone understood it to be a clarion call to Nagger. If
Nagger had been alone Wildfire would have killed him. The red stallion was a
killer of horses. All over the Utah ranges he had left the trail of a
murderer. Nagger understood this, too, for he whistled back in rage and
terror. It took an iron arm to hold him. Then Wildfire plunged, apparently
down, and vanished from Slone's sight.
Slone hurried onward, to be blocked by a huge crack in the rocky plateau. This
he had to head. And then another and like obstacle checked his haste to reach
that promontory. He was forced to go more slowly. Wildfire had been close only
as to sight. And this was the great canyon that dwarfed distance and magnified
proximity. Climbing down and up, toiling on, he at last learned patience. He
had seen Wildfire at close range. That was enough. So he plodded on, once more
returning to careful regard of Nagger. It took an hour of work to reach the
point where Wildfire had disappeared.
A promontory indeed it was, overhanging a valley a thousand feet below. A
white torrent of a stream wound through it. There were lines of green
cottonwoods following the winding course. Then Slone saw Wildfire slowly
crossing the flat toward the stream. He had gone down that cliff, which to
Slone looked perpendicular.
Wildfire appeared to be walking lame. Slone, making sure of this, suffered a
pang. Then, when the significance of such lameness dawned upon him he whooped
his wild joy and waved his hat. The red stallion must have heard, for he
looked up. Then he went on again and waded into the stream, where he drank
long. When he started to cross, the swift current drove him back in several
places. The water wreathed white around him. But evidently it was not deep,
and finally he crossed. From the other side he looked up again at Nagger and
Slone, and, going on, he soon was out of sight in the cottonwoods.
"How to get down!" muttered Slone.
There was a break in the cliff wall, a bare stone slant where horses had gone
down and come up. That was enough for Slone to know. He would have attempted
the descent if he were sure no other horse but Wildfire had ever gone down
there. But Slone's hair began to rise stiff on his head. A horse like
Wildfire, and mountain sheep and Indian ponies, were all very different from
Nagger. The chances were against Nagger.
"Come on, old boy. If I can do it, you can," he said.
Slone had never seen a trail as perilous as this. He was afraid for his horse.
A slip there meant death. The way Nagger trembled in every muscle showed his
feelings. But he never flinched. He would follow Slone anywhere, providing
Slone rode him or led him. And here, as riding was impossible, Slone went
before. If the horse slipped there would be a double tragedy, for Nagger would
knock his master off the cliff. Slone set his teeth and stepped down. He did
not let Nagger see his fear. He was taking the greatest risk he had ever run.
The break in the wall led to a ledge, and the ledge dropped from step to step,
and these had bare, slippery slants between. Nagger was splendid on a bad
trail. He had methods peculiar to his huge build and great weight. He crashed
down over the stone steps, both front hoofs at once. The slants he slid down
on his haunches with his forelegs stiff and the iron shoes scraping. He
snorted and heaved and grew wet with sweat. He tossed his head at some of the
places. But he never hesitated and it was impossible for him to go slowly.
Whenever Slone came to corrugated stretches in the trail he felt grateful. But
these were few. The rock was like smooth red iron. Slone had never seen such
hard rock. It took him long to realize that it was marble. His heart seemed a
tense, painful knot in his breast, as if it could not beat, holding back in
the strained suspense. But Nagger never jerked on the bridle. He never
faltered. Many times he slipped, often with both front feet, but never with
all four feet. So he did not fall. And the red wall began to loom above Slone.
Then suddenly he seemed brought to a point where it was impossible to descend.
It was a round bulge, slanting fearfully, with only a few little rough
surfaces to hold a foot. Wildfire had left a broad, clear-swept mark at that
place, and red hairs on some of the sharp points. He had slid down. Below was
an offset that fortunately prevented further sliding, Slone started to walk
down this place, but when Nagger began to slide Slone had to let go the bridle
and jump. Both he and the horse landed safely. Luck was with them. And they
went on, down and down, to reach the base of the great wall, scraped and
exhausted, wet with sweat, but unhurt. As Slone gazed upward he felt the
impossibility of believing what he knew to be true. He hugged and petted the
horse. Then he led on to the roaring stream.
It was green water white with foam. Slone waded in and found the water cool
and shallow and very swift. He had to hold to Nagger to keep from being swept
downstream. They crossed in safety. There in the sand showed Wildfire's
tracks. And here were signs of another Indian camp, half a year old.
The shade of the cottonwoods was pleasant. Slone found this valley
oppressively hot. There was no wind and the sand blistered his feet through
his boots. Wildfire held to the Indian trail that had guided him down into
this wilderness of worn rock. And that trail crossed the stream at every turn
of the twisting, narrow valley. Slone enjoyed getting into the water. He hung
his gun over the pommel and let the water roll him. A dozen times he and
Nagger forded the rushing torrent. Then they came to a box-like closing of the
valley to canyon walls, and here the trail evidently followed the stream bed.
There was no other way. Slone waded in, and stumbled, rolled, and floated
ahead of the sturdy horse. Nagger was wet to his breast, but he did not fall.
This gulch seemed full of a hollow rushing roar. It opened out into a wide
valley. And Wildfire's tracks took to the left side and began to climb the
Here the traveling was good, considering what had been passed. Once up out of
the valley floor Slone saw Wildfire far ahead, high on the slope. He did not
appear to be limping, but he was not going fast. Slone watched as he climbed.
What and where would be the end of this chase?
Sometimes Wildfire was plain in his sight for a moment, but usually he was
hidden by rocks. The slope was one great talus, a jumble of weathered rock,
fallen from what appeared a mountain of red and yellow wall. Here the heat of
the sun fell upon him like fire. The rocks were so hot Slone could not touch
them with bare hand. The close of the afternoon was approaching, and this
slope was interminably long. Still, it was not steep, and the trail was good.
At last from the height of slope Wildfire appeared, looking back and down.
Then he was gone. Slone plodded upward. Long before he reached that summit be
heard the dull rumble of the river. It grew to be a roar, yet it seemed
distant. Would the great desert river stop Wildfire in his flight? Slone
doubted it. He surmounted the ridge, to find the canyon opening in a
tremendous gap, and to see down, far down, a glittering, sun-blasted slope
merging into a deep, black gulch where a red river swept and chafed and
Somehow the river was what he had expected to see. A force that had cut and
ground this canyon could have been nothing but a river like that. The trail
led down, and Slone had no doubt that it crossed the river and led up out of
the canyon. He wanted to stay there and gaze endlessly and listen. At length
he began the descent. As he proceeded it seemed that the roar of the river
lessened. He could not understand why this was so. It took half an hour to
reach the last level, a ghastly, black, and iron-ribbed canyon bed, with the
river splitting it. He had not had a glimpse of Wildfire on this side of the
divide, but he found his tracks, and they led down off the last level, through
a notch in the black bank of marble to a sand-bar and the river.
Wildfire had walked straight off the sand into the water. Slone studied the
river and shore. The water ran slow, heavily, in sluggish eddies. From far up
the canyon came the roar of a rapid, and from below the roar of another,
heavier and closer. The river appeared tremendous, in ways Slone felt rather
than realized, yet it was not swift. Studying the black, rough wall of rock
above him, he saw marks where the river had been sixty feet higher than where
he stood on the sand. It was low, then. How lucky for him that he had gotten
there before flood season! He believed Wildfire had crossed easily, and he
knew Nagger could make it. Then he piled and tied his supplies and weapons
high on the saddle, to keep them dry, and looked for a place to take to the
Wildfire had sunk deep before reaching the edge. Manifestly he had lunged the
last few feet. Slone found a better place, and waded in, urging Nagger. The
big horse plunged, almost going under, and began to swim. Slone kept up-stream
beside him. He found, presently, that the water was thick and made him tired,
so it was necessary to grasp a stirrup and be towed. The river appeared only a
few hundred feet wide, but probably it was wider than it looked. Nagger
labored heavily near the opposite shore; still, he landed safely upon a rocky
bank. There were patches of sand in which Wildfire's tracks showed so fresh
that the water had not yet dried out of them.
Slone rested his horse before attempting to climb out of that split in the
rock. However, Wildfire had found an easy ascent. On this side of the canyon
the bare rock did not predominate. A clear trail led up a dusty, gravelly
slope, upon which scant greasewood and cactus appeared. Half an hour's
climbing brought Slone to where he could see that he was entering a vast
valley, sloping up and narrowing to a notch in the dark cliffs, above which
towered the great red wall and about that the slopes of cedar and the yellow
And scarcely a mile distant, bright in the westering sunlight, shone the red
stallion, moving slowly.
Slone pressed on steadily. Just before dark he came to an ideal spot to camp.
The valley had closed up, so that the lofty walls cast shadows that met. A
clump of cottonwoods surrounding a spring, abundance of rich grass, willows
and flowers lining the banks, formed an oasis in the bare valley. Slone was
tired out from the day of ceaseless toil down and up, and he could scarcely
keep his eyes open. But he tried to stay awake. The dead silence of the
valley, the dry fragrance, the dreaming walls, the advent of night low down,
when up on the ramparts the last red rays of the sun lingered, the strange
loneliness--these were sweet and comforting to him.
And that night's sleep was as a moment. He opened his eyes to see the crags
and towers and peaks and domes, and the lofty walls of that vast, broken chaos
of canyons across the river. They were now emerging from the misty gray of
dawn, growing pink and lilac and purple under the rising sun.
He arose and set about his few tasks, which, being soon finished, allowed him
an early start.
Wildfire had grazed along no more than a mile in the lead. Slone looked
eagerly up the narrowing canyon, but he was not rewarded by a sight of the
stallion. As he progressed up a gradually ascending trail he became aware of
the fact that the notch he had long looked up to was where the great red walls
closed in and almost met. And the trail zigzagged up this narrow vent, so
steep that only a few steps could be taken without rest. Slone toiled up for
an hour--an age--till he was wet, burning, choked, with a great weight on his
chest. Yet still he was only half-way up that awful break between the walls.
Sometimes he could have tossed a stone down upon a part of the trail, only a
few rods below, yet many, many weary steps of actual toil. As he got farther
up the notch widened. What had been scarcely visible from the valley below was
now colossal in actual dimensions. The trail was like a twisted mile of thread
between two bulging mountain walls leaning their ledges and fronts over this
Slone rested often. Nagger appreciated this and heaved gratefully at every
halt. In this monotonous toil Slone forgot the zest of his pursuit. And when
Nagger suddenly snorted in fright Slone was not prepared for what he saw.
Above him ran a low, red wall, around which evidently the trail led. At the
curve, which was a promontory, scarcely a hundred feet in an airline above
him, he saw something red moving, bobbing, coming out into view. It was a
Wildfire--no farther away than the length of three lassoes!
There he stood looking down. He fulfilled all of Slone's dreams. Only he was
bigger. But he was so magnificently proportioned that he did not seem heavy.
His coat was shaggy and red. It was not glossy. The color was what made him
shine. His mane was like a crest, mounting, then failing low. Slone had never
seen so much muscle on a horse. Yet his outline was graceful, beautiful. The
head was indeed that of the wildest of all wild creatures--a stallion born
wild--and it was beautiful, savage, splendid, everything but noble. Whatever
Wildfire was, he was a devil, a murderer--he had no noble attributes. Slone
thought that if a horse could express hate, surely Wildfire did then. It was
certain that he did express curiosity and fury.
Slone shook a gantleted fist at the stallion, as if the horse were human. That
was a natural action for a rider of his kind. Wildfire turned away, showed
bright against the dark background, and then disappeared.
That was the last Slone saw of Wildfire for three days.
It took all of this day to climb out of the canyon. The second was a slow
march of thirty miles into a scrub cedar and pinyon forest, through which the
great red and yellow walls of the canyon could be seen. That night Slone found
a water-hole in a rocky pocket and a little grass for Nagger. The third day's
travel consisted of forty miles or more through level pine forest, dry and
odorous, but lacking the freshness and beauty of the forest on the north side
of the canyon. On this south side a strange feature was that all the water,
when there was any, ran away from the rim. Slone camped this night at a muddy
pond in the woods, where Wildfire's tracks showed plainly.
On the following day Slone rode out of the forest into a country of scanty
cedars, bleached and stunted, and out of this to the edge of a plateau, from
which the shimmering desert flung its vast and desolate distances, forbidding
and menacing. This was not the desert upland country of Utah, but a naked and
bony world of colored rock and sand-- a painted desert of heat and wind and
flying sand and waterless wastes and barren ranges. But it did not daunt
Slone. For far down on the bare, billowing ridges moved a red speck, at a
snail's pace, a slowly moving dot of color which was Wildfire.
On open ground like this, Nagger, carrying two hundred and fifty pounds,
showed his wonderful quality. He did not mind the heat nor the sand nor the
glare nor the distance nor his burden. He did not tire. He was an engine of
Slone gained upon Wildfire, and toward evening of that day he reached to
within half a mile of the stallion. And he chose to keep that far behind. That
night he camped where there was dry grass, but no water.
Next day he followed Wildfire down and down, over the endless swell of rolling
red ridges, bare of all but bleached white grass and meager greasewood, always
descending in the face of that painted desert of bold and ragged steps. Slone
made fifty miles that day, and gained the valley bed, where a slender stream
ran thin and spread over a wide sandy bottom. It was salty water, but it was
welcome to both man and beast.
The following day he crossed, and the tracks of Wildfire were still wet on the
sand-bars. The stallion was slowing down. Slone saw him, limping along, not
far in advance. There was a ten-mile stretch of level ground, blown hard as
rock, from which the sustenance had been bleached, for not a spear of grass
grew there. And following that was a tortuous passage through a weird region
of clay dunes, blue and violet and heliotrope and lavender, all worn smooth by
rain and wind. Wildfire favored the soft ground now. He had deviated from his
straight course. And he was partial to washes and dips in the earth where
water might have lodged. And he was not now scornful of a green-scummed
water-hole with its white margin of alkali. That night Slone made camp with
Wildfire in plain sight. The stallion stopped when his pursuers stopped. And
he began to graze on the same stretch with Nagger. How strange this seemed to
Here at this camp was evidence of Indians. Wildfire had swung round to the
north in his course. Like any pursued wild animal, he had began to circle. And
he had pointed his nose toward the Utah he had left.
Next morning Wildfire was not in sight, but he had left his tracks in the
sand. Slone trailed him with Nagger at a trot. Toward the head of this sandy
flat Slone came upon old corn-fields, and a broken dam where the water had
been stored, and well-defined trails leading away to the right. Somewhere over
there in the desert lived Indians. At this point Wildfire abandoned the trail
he had followed for many days and cut out more to the north. It took all the
morning hours to climb three great steps and benches that led up to the summit
of a mesa, vast in extent. It turned out to be a sandy waste. The wind rose
and everywhere were moving sheets of sand, and in the distance circular yellow
dust-devils, rising high like waterspouts, and back down in the sun-scorched
valley a sandstorm moved along majestically, burying the desert in its yellow
Then two more days of sand and another day of a slowly rising ground growing
from bare to gray and gray to green, and then to the purple of sage and
cedar--these three grinding days were toiled out with only one water-hole.
And Wildfire was lame and in distress and Nagger was growing gaunt and showing
strain; and Slone, haggard and black and worn, plodded miles and miles on foot
to save his horse.
Slone felt that it would be futile to put the chase to a test of speed. Nagger
could never head that stallion. Slone meant to go on and on, always pushing
Wildfire, keeping him tired, wearied, and worrying him, till a section of the
country was reached where he could drive Wildfire into some kind of a natural
trap. The pursuit seemed endless. Wildfire kept to open country where he could
not be surprised.
There came a morning when Slone climbed to a cedared plateau that rose for a
whole day's travel, and then split into a labyrinthine maze of canyons. There
were trees, grass, water. It was a high country, cool and wild, like the
uplands he had left. For days he camped on Wildfire's trail, always
relentlessly driving him, always watching for the trap he hoped to find. And
the red stallion spent much of this time of flight in looking backward.
Whenever Slone came in sight of him he had his head over his shoulder,
watching. And on the soft ground of these canyons he had begun to recover from
his lameness. But this did not worry Slone. Sooner or later Wildfire would go
down into a high-walled wash, from which there would be no outlet; or he would
wander into a box-canyon; or he would climb out on a mesa with no place to
descend, unless he passed Slone; or he would get cornered on a soft, steep
slope where his hoofs would sink deep and make him slow. The nature of the
desert had changed. Slone had entered a wonderful region, the like of which he
had not seen--a high plateau crisscrossed in every direction by narrow canyons
with red walls a thousand feet high.
And one of the strange turning canyons opened into a vast valley of monuments.
The plateau had weathered and washed away, leaving huge sections of stone
walls, all standing isolated, different in size and shape, but all clean-cut,
bold, with straight lines. They stood up everywhere, monumental, towering,
many-colored, lending a singular and beautiful aspect to the great
green-and-gray valley, billowing away to the north, where dim, broken
battlements mounted to the clouds.
The only living thing in Slone's sight was Wildfire. He shone red down on the
Slone's heart swelled. This was the setting for that grand horse-- a perfect
wild range. But also it seemed the last place where there might be any chance
to trap the stallion. Still that did not alter Slone's purpose, though it lost
to him the joy of former hopes. He rode down the slope, out upon the billowing
floor of the valley. Wildfire looked back to see his pursuers, and then the
solemn stillness broke to a wild, piercing whistle.
Day after day, camping where night found him, Slone followed the stallion,
never losing sight of him till darkness had fallen. The valley was immense and
the monuments miles apart. But they always seemed close together and near him.
The air magnified everything. Slone lost track of time. The strange, solemn,
lonely days and the silent, lonely nights, and the endless pursuit, and the
wild, weird valley--these completed the work of years on Slone and he became
satisfied, unthinking, almost savage.
The toil and privation had worn him down and he was like iron. His garments
hung in tatters; his boots were ripped and soleless. Long since his flour had
been used up, and all his supplies except the salt. He lived on the meat of
rabbits, but they were scarce, and the time came when there were none. Some
days he did not eat. Hunger did not make him suffer. He killed a desert bird
now and then, and once a wildcat crossing the valley. Eventually he felt his
strength diminishing, and then he took to digging out the pack-rats and
cooking them. But these, too, were scarce. At length starvation faced Slone.
But he knew he would not starve. Many times he had been within rifle-shot of
Wildfire. And the grim, forbidding thought grew upon him that he must kill the
stallion. The thought seemed involuntary, but his mind rejected it.
Nevertheless, he knew that if he could not catch the stallion he would kill
him. That had been the end of many a desperate rider's pursuit of a coveted
While Slone kept on his merciless pursuit, never letting Wildfire rest by day,
time went on just as relentlessly. Spring gave way to early summer. The hot
sun bleached the grass; water-holes failed out in the valley, and water could
be found only in the canyons; and the dry winds began to blow the sand. It was
a sandy valley, green and gray only at a distance, and out toward the north
there were no monuments, and the slow heave of sand lifted toward the dim
Wildfire worked away from this open valley, back to the south end, where the
great monuments loomed, and still farther back, where they grew closer, till
at length some of them were joined by weathered ridges to the walls of the
surrounding plateau. For all that Slone could see, Wildfire was in perfect
condition. But Nagger was not the horse he had been. Slone realized that in
one way or another the pursuit was narrowing down to the end.
He found a water-hole at the head of a wash in a split in the walls, and here
he let Nagger rest and graze one whole day--the first day for a long time that
he had not kept the red stallion in sight. That day was marked by the good
fortune of killing a rabbit, and while eating it his gloomy, fixed mind
admitted that he was starving. He dreaded the next sunrise. But he could not
hold it back. There, behind the dark monuments, standing sentinel-like, the
sky lightened and reddened and burst into gold and pink, till out of the
golden glare the sun rose glorious. And Slone, facing the league-long shadows
of the monuments, rode out again into the silent, solemn day, on his hopeless
For a change Wildfire had climbed high up a slope of talus, through a narrow
pass, rounded over with drifting sand. And Slone gazed down into a huge
amphitheater full of monuments, like all that strange country. A basin three
miles across lay beneath him. Walls and weathered slants of rock and steep
slopes of reddish-yellow sand inclosed this oval depression. The floor was
white, and it seemed to move gently or radiate with heat-waves. Studying it,
Slone made out that the motion was caused by wind in long bleached grass. He
had crossed small areas of this grass in different parts of the region.
Wildfire's tracks led down into this basin, and presently Slone, by straining
his eyes, made out the red spot that was the stallion.
"He's lookin' to quit the country," soliloquized Slone, as he surveyed the
With keen, slow gaze Slone studied the lay of wall and slope, and when he had
circled the huge depression he made sure that Wildfire could not get out
except by the narrow pass through which he had gone in. Slone sat astride
Nagger in the mouth of this pass--a wash a few yards wide, walled by broken,
rough rock on one side and an insurmountable slope on the other.
"If this hole was only little, now," sighed Slone, as he gazed at the
sweeping, shimmering oval floor, "I might have a chance. But down there--we
couldn't get near him."
There was no water in that dry bowl. Slone reflected on the uselessness of
keeping Wildfire down there, because Nagger could not go without water as long
as Wildfire. For the first time Slone hesitated. It seemed merciless to Nagger
to drive him down into this hot, windy hole. The wind blew from the west, and
it swooped up the slope, hot, with the odor of dry, dead grass.
But that hot wind stirred Slone with an idea, and suddenly he was tense,
excited, glowing, yet grim and hard.
"Wildfire, I'll make you run with your namesake in that high grass," called
Slone. The speech was full of bitter failure, of regret, of the hardness of a
rider who could not give up the horse to freedom.
Slone meant to ride down there and fire the long grass. In that wind there
would indeed be wildfire to race with the red stallion. It would perhaps mean
his death; at least it would chase him out of that hole, where to follow him
would be useless.
"I'd make you hump now to get away if I could get behind you," muttered Slone.
He saw that if he could fire the grass on the other side the wind of flame
would drive Wildfire straight toward him. The slopes and walls narrowed up to
the pass, but high grass grew to within a few rods of where Slone stood. But
it seemed impossible to get behind Wildfire.
"At night--then--I could get round him," said Slone, thinking hard and
narrowing his gaze to scan the circle of wall and slope. "Why not? . . . No
wind at night. That grass would burn slow till mornin' --till the wind came
up--an' it's been west for days."
Suddenly Slone began to pound the patient Nagger and to cry out to him in wild
"Old horse, we've got him! . . . We've got him! . . . We'll put a rope on him
before this time to-morrow!"
Slone yielded to his strange, wild joy, but it did not last long, soon
succeeding to sober, keen thought. He rode down into the bowl a mile, making
absolutely certain that Wildfire could not climb out on that side. The far
end, beyond the monuments, was a sheer wall of rock. Then he crossed to the
left side. Here the sandy slope was almost too steep for even him to go up.
And there was grass that would burn. He returned to the pass assured that
Wildfire had at last fallen into a trap the like Slone had never dreamed of
The great horse was doomed to run into living flame or the whirling noose of a
Then Slone reflected. Nagger had that very morning had his fill of good
water--the first really satisfying drink for days. If he was rested that day,
on the morrow he would be fit for the grueling work possibly in store for him.
Slone unsaddled the horse and turned him loose, and with a snort he made down
the gentle slope for the grass. Then Slone carried his saddle to a shady spot
afforded by a slab of rock and a dwarf cedar, and here he composed himself to
rest and watch and think and wait.
Wildfire was plainly in sight no more than two miles away. Gradually he was
grazing along toward the monuments and the far end of the great basin. Slone
believed, because the place was so large, that Wildfire thought there was a
way out on the other side or over the slopes or through the walls. Never
before had the far-sighted stallion made a mistake. Slone suddenly felt the
keen, stabbing fear of an outlet somewhere. But it left him quickly. He had
studied those slopes and walls. Wildfire could not get out, except by the pass
he had entered, unless he could fly.
Slone lay in the shade, his head propped on his saddle, and while gazing down
into the shimmering hollow he began to plan. He calculated that he must be
able to carry fire swiftly across the far end of the basin, so that he would
not be absent long from the mouth of the pass. Fire was always a difficult
matter, since he must depend only on flint and steel. He decided to wait till
dark, build a fire with dead cedar sticks, and carry a bundle of them with
burning ends. He felt assured that the wind caused by riding would keep them
burning. After he had lighted the grass all he had to do was to hurry back to
his station and there await developments.
The day passed slowly, and it was hot. The heat-waves rose in dark, wavering
lines and veils from the valley. The wind blew almost a gale. Thin, curling
sheets of sand blew up over the crests of the slopes, and the sound it made
was a soft, silken rustling, very low. The sky was a steely blue above and
copper close over the distant walls.
That afternoon, toward the close, Slone ate the last of the meat. At sunset
the wind died away and the air cooled. There was a strip of red along the wall
of rock and on the tips of the monuments, and it lingered there for long, a
strange, bright crown. Nagger was not far away, but Wildfire had disappeared,
probably behind one of the monuments.
When twilight fell Slone went down after Nagger and, returning with him, put
on bridle and saddle. Then he began to search for suitable sticks of wood.
Farther back in the pass he found stunted dead cedars, and from these secured
enough for his purpose. He kindled a fire and burnt the ends of the sticks
into red embers. Making a bundle of these, he put them under his arm, the
dull, glowing ends backward, and then mounted his horse.
It was just about dark when he faced down into the valley. When he reached
level ground he kept to the edge of the left slope and put Nagger to a good
trot. The grass and brush were scant here, and the color of the sand was
light, so he had no difficulty in traveling.
From time to time his horse went through grass, and its dry, crackling rustle,
showing how it would burn, was music to Slone. Gradually the monuments began
to loom up, bold and black against the blue sky, with stars seemingly hanging
close over them. Slone had calculated that the basin was smaller than it
really was, in both length and breadth. This worried him. Wildfire might see
or hear or scent him, and make a break back to the pass and thus escape. Slone
was glad when the huge, dark monuments were indistinguishable from the black,
frowning wall. He had to go slower here, because of the darkness. But at last
he reached the slow rise of jumbled rock that evidently marked the extent of
weathering on that side. Here he turned to the right and rode out into the
valley. The floor was level and thickly overgrown with long, dead grass and
dead greasewood, as dry as tinder. It was easy to account for the dryness;
neither snow nor rain had visited that valley for many months. Slone whipped
one of the sticks in the wind and soon had the smoldering end red and
showering sparks. Then he dropped the stick in the grass, with curious intent
and a strange feeling of regret.
Instantly the grass blazed with a little sputtering roar. Nagger snorted.
"Wildfire!" exclaimed Slone. That word was a favorite one with riders, and now
Slone used it both to call out his menace to the stallion and to express his
feeling for that blaze, already running wild.
Without looking back Slone rode across the valley, dropping a glowing stick
every quarter of a mile. When he reached the other side there were a dozen
fires behind him, burning slowly, with white smoke rising lazily. Then he
loped Nagger along the side back to the sandy ascent, and on up to the mouth
of the pass. There he searched for tracks. Wildfire had not gone out, and
Slone experienced relief and exultation. He took up a position in the middle
of the narrowest part of the pass, and there, with Nagger ready for anything,
he once more composed himself to watch and wait.
Far across the darkness of the valley, low down, twelve lines of fire, widely
separated, crept toward one another. They appeared thin and slow, with only an
occasional leaping flame. And some of the black spaces must have been
monuments, blotting out the creeping snail-lines of red. Slone watched,
"What do you think of that?" he said, aloud, and he meant his query for
As he watched the lines perceptibly lengthened and brightened and pale shadows
of smoke began to appear. Over at the left of the valley the two brightest
fires, the first he had started, crept closer and closer together. They seemed
long in covering distance. But not a breath of wind stirred, and besides they
really might move swiftly, without looking so to Slone. When the two lines met
a sudden and larger blaze rose.
"Ah!" said the rider, and then he watched the other lines creeping together.
How slowly fire moved, he thought. The red stallion would have every chance to
run between those lines, if he dared. But a wild horse feared nothing like
fire. This one would not run the gantlet of flames. Nevertheless, Slone felt
more and more relieved as the lines closed. The hours of the night dragged
past until at length one long, continuous line of fire spread level across the
valley, its bright, red line broken only where the monuments of stone were
silhouetted against it.
The darkness of the valley changed. The light of the moon changed. The
radiance of the stars changed. Either the line of fire was finding denser fuel
to consume or it was growing appreciably closer, for the flames began to grow,
to leap, and to flare.
Slone strained his ears for the thud of hoofs on sand.
The time seemed endless in its futility of results, but fleeting after it had
passed; and he could tell how the hours fled by the ever-recurring need to
replenish the little fire he kept burning in the pass.
A broad belt of valley grew bright in the light, and behind it loomed the
monuments, weird and dark, with columns of yellow and white smoke wreathing
Suddenly Slone's sensitive ear vibrated to a thrilling sound. He leaned down
to place his ear to the sand. Rapid, rhythmic beat of hoofs made him leap to
his feet, reaching for his lasso with right hand and a gun with his left.
Nagger lifted his head, sniffed the air, and snorted. Slone peered into the
black belt of gloom that lay below him. It would be hard to see a horse there,
unless he got high enough to be silhouetted against that line of fire now
flaring to the sky. But he heard the beat of hoofs, swift, sharp,
louder--louder. The night shadows were deceptive. That wonderful light
confused him, made the place unreal. Was he dreaming? Or had the long chase
and his privations unhinged his mind? He reached for Nagger. No! The big black
was real, alive, quivering, pounding the sand. He scented an enemy.
Once more Slone peered down into the void or what seemed a void. But it, too,
had changed, lightened. The whole valley was brightening. Great palls of
curling smoke rose white and yellow, to turn back as the monuments met their
crests, and then to roll upward, blotting out the stars. It was such a light
as he had never seen, except in dreams. Pale moonlight and dimmed starlight
and wan dawn all vague and strange and shadowy under the wild and vivid light
of burning grass.
In the pale path before Slone, that fanlike slope of sand which opened down
into the valley, appeared a swiftly moving black object, like a fleeting
phantom. It was a phantom horse. Slone felt that his eyes, deceived by his
mind, saw racing images. Many a wild chase he had lived in dreams on some far
desert. But what was that beating in his ears--sharp, swift, even, rhythmic?
Never had his ears played him false. Never had he heard things in his dreams.
That running object was a horse and he was coming like the wind. Slone felt
something grip his heart. All the time and endurance and pain and thirst and
suspense and longing and hopelessness--the agony of the whole endless chase--
closed tight on his heart in that instant.
The running horse halted just in the belt of light cast by the burning grass.
There he stood sharply defined, clear as a cameo, not a hundred paces from
Slone. It was Wildfire.
Slone uttered an involuntary cry. Thrill on thrill shot through him. Delight
and hope and fear and despair claimed him in swift, successive flashes. And
then again the ruling passion of a rider held him--the sheer glory of a grand
and unattainable horse. For Slone gave up Wildfire in that splendid moment.
How had he ever dared to believe he could capture that wild stallion? Slone
looked and looked, filling his mind, regretting nothing, sure that the moment
was reward for all he had endured.
The weird lights magnified Wildfire and showed him clearly. He seemed
gigantic. He shone black against the fire. His head was high, his mane flying.
Behind him the fire flared and the valley-wide column of smoke rolled
majestically upward, and the great monuments seemed to retreat darkly and
mysteriously as the flames advanced beyond them. It was a beautiful, unearthly
spectacle, with its silence the strangest feature.
But suddenly Wildfire broke that silence with a whistle which to Slone's
overstrained faculties seemed a blast as piercing as the splitting sound of
lightning. And with the whistle Wildfire plunged up toward the pass. Slone
yelled at the top of his lungs and fired his gun before he could terrorize the
stallion and drive him back down the slope. Soon Wildfire became again a
running black object, and then he disappeared.
The great line of fire had gotten beyond the monuments and now stretched
unbroken across the valley from wall to slope. Wildfire could never pierce
that line of flames. And now Slone saw, in the paling sky to the east, that
dawn was at hand.
Slone looked grimly glad when simultaneously with the first red flash of
sunrise a breeze fanned his cheek. All that was needed now was a west wind.
And here came the assurance of it.
The valley appeared hazy and smoky, with slow, rolling clouds low down where
the line of fire moved. The coming of daylight paled the blaze of the grass,
though here and there Slone caught flickering glimpses of dull red flame. The
wild stallion kept to the center of the valley, restlessly facing this way and
that, but never toward the smoke. Slone made sure that Wildfire gradually gave
ground as the line of smoke slowly worked toward him.
Every moment the breeze freshened, grew steadier and stronger, until Slone saw
that it began to clear the valley of the low-hanging smoke. There came a time
when once more the blazing line extended across from slope to slope.
Wildfire was cornered, trapped. Many times Slone nervously uncoiled and
recoiled his lasso. Presently the great chance of his life would come--the
hardest and most important throw he would ever have with a rope. He did not
miss often, but then he missed sometimes, and here he must be swift and sure.
It annoyed him that his hands perspired and trembled and that something
weighty seemed to obstruct his breathing. He muttered that he was pretty much
worn out, not in the best of condition for a hard fight with a wild horse.
Still he would capture Wildfire; his mind was unalterably set there. He
anticipated that the stallion would make a final and desperate rush past him;
and he had his plan of action all outlined. What worried him was the
possibility of Wildfire doing some unforeseen feat at the very last. Slone was
prepared for hours of strained watching, and then a desperate effort, and then
a shock that might kill Wildfire and cripple Nagger, or a long race and fight.
But he soon discovered that he was wrong about the long watch and wait. The
wind had grown strong and was driving the fire swiftly. The flames, fanned by
the breeze, leaped to a formidable barrier. In less than an hour, though the
time seemed only a few moments to the excited Slone, Wildfire had been driven
down toward the narrowing neck of the valley, and he had begun to run, to and
fro, back and forth. Any moment, then, Slone expected him to grow terrorized
and to come tearing up toward the pass.
Wildfire showed evidence of terror, but he did not attempt to make the pass.
Instead he went at the right-hand slope of the valley and began to climb. The
slope was steep and soft, yet the stallion climbed up and up. The dust flew in
clouds; the gravel rolled down, and the sand followed in long streams.
Wildfire showed his keenness by zigzagging up the slope.
"Go ahead, you red devil!" yelled Slone. He was much elated. In that soft bank
Wildfire would tire out while not hurting himself.
Slone watched the stallion in admiration and pity and exultation. Wildfire did
not make much headway, for he slipped back almost as much as he gained. He
attempted one place after another where he failed. There was a bank of clay,
some few feet high, and he could not round it at either end or surmount it in
the middle. Finally he literally pawed and cut a path, much as if he were
digging in the sand for water. When he got over that he was not much better
off. The slope above was endless and grew steeper, more difficult toward the
top. Slone knew absolutely that no horse could climb over it. He grew
apprehensive, however, for Wildfire might stick up there on the slope until
the line of fire passed. The horse apparently shunned any near proximity to
the fire, and performed prodigious efforts to escape.
"He'll be ridin' an avalanche pretty soon," muttered Slone.
Long sheets of sand and gravel slid down to spill thinly over the low bank.
Wildfire, now sinking to his knees, worked steadily upward till he had reached
a point halfway up the slope, at the head of a long, yellow bank of
treacherous-looking sand. Here he was halted by a low bulge, which he might
have surmounted had his feet been free. But he stood deep in the sand. For the
first time he looked down at the sweeping fire, and then at Slone.
Suddenly the bank of sand began to slide with him. He snorted in fright. The
avalanche started slowly and was evidently no mere surface slide. It was deep.
It stopped--then started again--and again stopped. Wildfire appeared to be
sinking deeper and deeper. His struggles only embedded him more firmly. Then
the bank of sand, with an ominous, low roar, began to move once more. This
time it slipped swiftly. The dust rose in a cloud, almost obscuring the horse.
Long streams of gravel rattled down, and waterfalls of sand waved over the
steps of the slope.
Just as suddenly the avalanche stopped again. Slone saw, from the great oval
hole it had left above, that it was indeed deep. That was the reason it did
not slide readily. When the dust cleared away Slone saw the stallion, sunk to
his flanks in the sand, utterly helpless.
With a wild whoop Slone leaped off Nagger, and, a lasso in each hand, he ran
down the long bank. The fire was perhaps a quarter of a mile distant, and,
since the grass was thinning out, it was not coming so fast as it. had been.
The position of the stallion was half-way between the fire and Slone, and a
hundred yards up the slope.
Like a madman Slone climbed up through the dragging, loose sand. He was beside
himself with a fury of excitement. He fancied his eyes were failing him, that
it was not possible the great horse really was up there, helpless in the sand.
Yet every huge stride Slone took brought him closer to a fact he could not
deny. In his eagerness he slipped, and fell, and crawled, and leaped, until he
reached the slide which held Wildfire prisoner.
The stallion might have been fast in quicksand, up to his body, for all the
movement he could make. He could move only his head. He held that up, his eyes
wild, showing the whites, his foaming mouth wide open, his teeth gleaming. A
sound like a scream rent the air. Terrible fear and hate were expressed in
that piercing neigh. And shaggy, wet, dusty red, with all of brute savageness
in the look and action of his head, he appeared hideous.
As Slone leaped within roping distance the avalanche slipped a foot or two,
halted, slipped once more, and slowly started again with that low roar. He did
not care whether it slipped or stopped. Like a wolf he leaped closer, whirling
his rope. The loop hissed round his head and whistled as he flung it. And when
fiercely he jerked back on the rope, the noose closed tight round Wildfire's
"By G--d--I--got--a rope-on him!" cried Slone, in hoarse pants.
He stared, unbelieving. It was unreal, that sight--unreal like the slow,
grinding movement of the avalanche under him. Wildfire's head seemed a demon
head of hate. It reached out, mouth agape, to bite, to rend. That horrible
scream could not be the scream of a horse.
Slone was a wild-horse hunter, a rider, and when that second of incredulity
flashed by, then came the moment of triumph. No moment could ever equal that
one, when he realized he stood there with a rope around that grand stallion's
neck. All the days and the miles and the toil and the endurance and the
hopelessness and the hunger were paid for in that moment. His heart seemed too
large for his breast.
"I tracked--you!" he cried, savagely. "I stayed--with you! . . . An' I got a
rope--on you! An'--I'll ride you--you red devil!"
The passion of the man was intense. That endless, racking pursuit had brought
out all the hardness the desert had engendered in him. Almost hate, instead of
love, spoke in Slone's words. He hauled on the lasso, pulling the stallion's
head down and down. The action was the lust of capture as well as the rider's
instinctive motive to make the horse fear him. Life was unquenchably wild and
strong in that stallion; it showed in the terror which made him hideous. And
man and beast somehow resembled each other in that moment which was inimical
to noble life.
The avalanche slipped with little jerks, as if treacherously loosing its hold
for a long plunge. The line of fire below ate at the bleached grass and the
long column of smoke curled away on the wind.
Slone held the taut lasso with his left hand, and with the right he swung the
other rope, catching the noose round Wildfire's nose. Then letting go of the
first rope he hauled on the other, pulling the head of the stallion far down.
Hand over hand Slone closed in on the horse. He leaped on Wildfire's head,
pressed it down, and, holding it down on the sand with his knees, with swift
fingers he tied the noose in a hackamore--an improvised halter. Then, just as
swiftly, he bound his scarf tight round Wildfire's head, blindfolding him.
"All so easy!" exclaimed Slone, under his breath. "Lord! who would believe it!
. . . Is it a dream?"
He rose and let the stallion have a free head.
"Wildfire, I got a rope on you--an' a hackamore--an' a blinder," said Slone.
"An' if I had a bridle I'd put that on you. . . . Who'd ever believe you'd
catch yourself, draggin' in the sand?"
Slone, finding himself failing on the sand, grew alive to the augmented
movement of the avalanche. It had begun to slide, to heave and bulge and
crack. Dust rose in clouds from all around. The sand appeared to open and let
him sink to his knees. The rattle of gravel was drowned in a soft roar. Then
he shot down swiftly, holding the lassoes, keeping himself erect, and riding
as if in a boat. He felt the successive steps of the slope, and then the long
incline below, and then the checking and rising and spreading of the avalanche
as it slowed down on the level. All movement then was checked violently. He
appeared to be half buried in sand. While he struggled to extricate himself
the thick dust blew away and settled so that he could see. Wildfire lay before
him, at the edge of the slide, and now he was not so deeply embedded as he had
been up on the slope. He was struggling and probably soon would have been able
to get out. The line of fire was close now, but Slone did not fear that.
At his shrill whistle Nagger bounded toward him, obedient, but snorting, with
ears laid back. He halted. A second whistle started him again. Slone finally
dug himself out of the sand, pulled the lassoes out, and ran the length of
them toward Nagger. The black showed both fear and fight. His eyes roiled and
he half shied away.
"Come on!" called Slone, harshly.
He got a hand on the horse, pulled him round, and, mounting in a flash, wound
both lassoes round the pommel of the saddle.
"Haul him out, Nagger, old boy!" cried Slone, and he dug spurs into the black.
One plunge of Nagger's slid the stallion out of the sand. Snorting, wild,
blinded, Wildfire got up, shaking in every limb. He could not see his enemies.
The blowing smoke, right in his nose, made scent impossible. But in the taut
lassoes he sensed the direction of his captors. He plunged, rearing at the end
of the plunge, and struck out viciously with his hoofs. Slone, quick with spur
and bridle, swerved Nagger aside and Wildfire, off his balance, went down with
a crash. Slone dragged him, stretched him out, pulled him over twice before he
got forefeet planted. Once up, he reared again, screeching his rage, striking
wildly with his hoofs. Slone wheeled aside and toppled him over again.
"Wildfire, it's no fair fight," he called, grimly. "But you led me a chase. .
. . An' you learn right now I'm boss!"
Again he dragged the stallion. He was ruthless. He would have to be so,
stopping just short of maiming or killing the horse, else he would never break
him. But Wildfire was nimble. He got to his feet and this time he lunged out.
Nagger, powerful as he was, could not sustain the tremendous shock, and went
down. Slone saved himself with a rider's supple skill, falling clear of the
horse, and he leaped again into the saddle as Nagger pounded up. Nagger braced
his huge frame and held the plunging stallion. But the saddle slipped a
little, the cinches cracked. Slone eased the strain by wheeling after
The horses had worked away from the fire, and Wildfire, free of the stifling
smoke, began to break and lunge and pitch, plunging round Nagger in a circle,
running blindly, but with unerring scent. Slone, by masterly horsemanship,
easily avoided the rushes, and made a pivot of Nagger, round which the wild
horse dashed in his frenzy. It seemed that he no longer tried to free himself.
He lunged to kill.
"Steady, Nagger, old boy!" Slone kept calling. "He'll never get at you. . . .
If he slips that blinder I'll kill him!"
The stallion was a fiend in his fury, quicker than a panther, wonderful on his
feet, and powerful as an ox. But he was at a disadvantage. He could not see.
And Slone, in his spoken intention to kill Wildfire should the scarf slip,
acknowledged that he never would have a chance to master the stallion.
Wildfire was bigger, faster, stronger than Slone had believed, and as for
spirit, that was a grand and fearful thing to see.
The soft sand in the pass was plowed deep before Wildfire paused in his mad
plunges. He was wet and heaving. His red coat seemed to blaze. His mane stood
up and his ears lay flat.
Slone uncoiled the lassoes from the pommel and slacked them a little. Wildfire
stood up, striking at the air, snorting fiercely. Slone tried to wheel Nagger
in close behind the stallion. Both horse and man narrowly escaped the vicious
hoofs. But Slone had closed in. He took a desperate chance and spurred Nagger
in a single leap as Wildfire reared again. The horses collided. Slone hauled
the lassoes tight. The impact threw Wildfire off his balance, just as Slone
had calculated, and as the stallion plunged down on four feet Slone spurred
Nagger close against him. Wildfire was a little in the lead. He could only
half rear now, for the heaving, moving Nagger, always against him, jostled him
down, and Slone's iron arm hauled on the short ropes. When Wildfire turned to
bite, Slone knocked the vicious nose back with a long swing of his fist.
Up the pass the horses plunged. With a rider's wild joy Slone saw the long
green-and-gray valley, and the isolated monuments in the distance. There, on
that wide stretch, he would break Wildfire. How marvelously luck had favored
him at the last!
"Run, you red devil!" Slone called. "Drag us around now till you're done!"
They left the pass and swept out upon the waste of sage. Slone realized, from
the stinging of the sweet wind in his face, that Nagger was being pulled along
at a tremendous pace. The faithful black could never have made the wind cut
so. Lower the wild stallion stretched and swifter he ran, till it seemed to
Slone that death must end that thunderbolt race.
Lucy Bostil had called twice to her father and he had not answered. He was out
at the hitching-rail, with Holley, the rider, and two other men. If he heard
Lucy he gave no sign of it. She had on her chaps and did not care to go any
farther than the door where she stood.
"Somers has gone to Durango an' Shugrue is out huntin' hosses," Lucy heard
Bostil say, gruffly.
"Wal now, I reckon I could handle the boat an' fetch Creech's hosses over,"
Bostil raised an impatient hand, as if to wave aside Holley's assumption.
Then one of the other two men spoke up. Lucy had seen him before, but did not
know his name.
"Sure there ain't any need to rustle the job. The river hain't showed any
signs of risin' yet. But Creech is worryin'. He allus is worryin' over them
hosses. No wonder! Thet Blue Roan is sure a hoss. Yesterday at two miles he
showed Creech he was a sight faster than last year. The grass is gone over
there. Creech is grainin' his stock these last few days. An' thet's
"How about the flat up the canyon?" queried Bostil. "Ain't there any grass
"Reckon not. It's the dryest spell Creech ever had," replied the other. "An'
if there was grass it wouldn't do him no good. A landslide blocked the only
"Bostil, them hosses, the racers special, ought to be brought acrost the
river," said Holley, earnestly. He loved horses and was thinking of them.
"The boat's got to be patched up," replied Bostil, shortly.
It occurred to Lucy that her father was also thinking of Creech's
thoroughbreds, but not like Holley. She grew grave and listened intently.
There was an awkward pause. Creech's rider, whoever he was, evidently tried to
conceal his anxiety. He flicked his boots with a quirt. The boots were covered
with wet mud. Probably he had crossed the river very recently.
"Wal, when will you have the hosses fetched over?" he asked, deliberately.
"Creech'll want to know."
"Just as soon as the boat's mended," replied Bostil. "I'll put Shugrue on the
"Thanks, Bostil. Sure, thet'll be all right. Creech'll be satisfied," said the
rider, as if relieved. Then he mounted, and with his companion trotted down
The lean, gray Holley bent a keen gaze upon Bostil. But Bostil did not notice
that; he appeared preoccupied in thought.
"Bostil, the dry winter an' spring here ain't any guarantee thet there wasn't
a lot of snow up in the mountains." Holley's remark startled Bostil.
"No--it ain't--sure, " he replied.
"An' any mornin' along now we might wake up to hear the Colorado boomin',"
went on Holley, significantly.
Bostil did not reply to that.
"Creech hain't lived over there so many years. What's he know about the river?
An' fer that matter, who knows anythin' sure about thet hell-bent river?"
"It ain't my business thet Creech lives over there riskin' his stock every
spring," replied Bostil, darkly.
Holley opened his lips to speak, hesitated, looked away from Bostil, and
finally said, "No, it sure ain't." Then he turned and walked away, head bent
in sober thought. Bostil came toward the open door where Lucy stood. He looked
somber. At her greeting he seemed startled.
"What?" he said.
"I just said, 'Hello, Dad,'" she replied, demurely. Yet she thoughtfully
studied her father's dark face.
"Hello yourself. . . . Did you know Van got throwed an' hurt?"
Bostil swore under his breath. "There ain't any riders on the range thet can
be trusted," he said, disgustedly. "They're all the same. They like to get in
a bunch an' jeer each other an' bet. They want MEAN hosses. They make good
hosses buck. They haven't any use for a hoss thet won't buck. They all want to
give a hoss a rakin' over. . . . Think of thet fool Van gettin' throwed by a
two-dollar Ute mustang. An' hurt so he can't ride for days! With them races
comin' soon! It makes me sick."
"Dad, weren't you a rider once?" asked Lucy.
"I never was thet kind."
"Van will be all right in a few days."
"No matter. It's bad business. If I had any other rider who could handle the
King I'd let Van go."
"I can get just as much out of the King as Van can," said Lucy, spiritedly.
"You!" exclaimed Bostil. But there was pride in his glance.
"I know I can."
"You never had any use for Sage King," said Bostil, as if he had been wronged.
"I love the King a little, and hate him a lot," laughed Lucy.
"Wal, I might let you ride at thet, if Van ain't in shape," rejoined her
"I wouldn't ride him in the race. But I'll keep him in fine fettle."
"I'll bet you'd like to see Sarch beat him," said Bostil, jealously.
"Sure I would," replied Lucy, teasingly. "But, Dad, I'm afraid Sarch never
will beat him."
Bostil grunted. "See here. I don't want any weight up on the King. You take
him out for a few days. An' ride him! Savvy thet?"
"Give him miles an' miles--an' then comin' home, on good trails, ride him for
all your worth. . . . Now, Lucy, keep your eye open. Don't let any one get
near you on the sage."
"I won't. . . . Dad, do you still worry about poor Joel Creech?"
"Not Joel. But I'd rather lose all my stock then have Cordts or Dick Sears get
within a mile of you."
"A mile!" exclaimed Lucy, lightly, though a fleeting shade crossed her face.
"Why, I'd run away from him, if I was on the King, even if he got within ten
yards of me."
"A mile is close enough, my daughter," replied Bostil. "Don't ever forget to
keep your eye open. Cordts has sworn thet if he can't steal the King he'll get
"Oh! he prefers the horse to me."
"Wal, Lucy, I've a sneakin' idea thet Cordts will never leave the uplands
unless he gets you an' the King both."
"And, Dad--you consented to let that horse-thief come to our races?" exclaimed
Lucy, with heat.
"Why not? He can't do any harm. If he or his men get uppish, the worse for
them. Cordts gave his word not to turn a trick till after the races."
"Do you trust him?"
"Yes. But his men might break loose, away from his sight. Especially thet Dick
Sears. He's a bad man. So be watchful whenever you ride out."
As Lucy went down toward the corrals she was thinking deeply. She could always
tell, woman-like. when her father was excited or agitated. She remembered the
conversation between him and Creech's rider. She remembered the keen glance
old Holley had bent upon him. And mostly she remembered the somber look upon
his face. She did not like that. Once, when a little girl, she had seen it and
never forgotten it, nor the thing that it was associated with--something
tragical which had happened in the big room. There had been loud, angry voices
of men--and shots--and then the men carried out a long form covered with a
blanket. She loved her father, but there was a side to him she feared. And
somehow related to that side was his hardness toward Creech and his
intolerance of any rider owning a fast horse and his obsession in regard to
his own racers. Lucy had often tantalized her father with the joke that if it
ever came to a choice between her and his favorites they would come first. But
was it any longer a joke? Lucy felt that she had left childhood behind with
its fun and fancies, and she had begun to look at life thoughtfully.
Sight of the corrals, however, and of the King prancing around, drove serious
thoughts away. There were riders there, among them Farlane, and they all had
pleasant greetings for her.
"Farlane, Dad says I'm to take out Sage King," announced Lucy.
"No!" ejaculated Farlane, as he pocketed his pipe.
"Sure. And I'm to RIDE him. You know how Dad means that."
"Wal, now, I'm doggoned!" added Farlane, looking worried and pleased at once.
"I reckon, Miss Lucy, you--you wouldn't fool me?"
"Why, Farlane!" returned Lucy, reproachfully. "Did I ever do a single thing
around horses that you didn't want me to?"
Farlane rubbed his chin beard somewhat dubiously. "Wal, Miss Lucy, not exactly
while you was around the hosses. But I reckon when you onct got up, you've
sorta forgot a few times."
All the riders laughed, and Lucy joined them.
"I'm safe when I'm up, you know that," she replied.
They brought out the gray, and after the manner of riders who had the care of
a great horse and loved him, they curried and combed and rubbed him before
"Reckon you'd better ride Van's saddle," suggested Farlane. "Them races is
close now, an' a strange saddle--"
"Of course. Don't change anything he's used to, except the stirrups," replied
Despite her antipathy toward Sage King, Lucy could not gaze at him without all
a rider's glory in a horse. He was sleek, so graceful, so racy, so near the
soft gray of the sage, so beautiful in build and action. Then he was the kind
of a horse that did not have to be eternally watched. He was spirited and full
of life, eager to run, but when Farlane called for him to stand still he
obeyed. He was the kind of a horse that a child could have played around in
safety. He never kicked. He never bit. He never bolted. It was splendid to see
him with Farlane or with Bostil. He did not like Lucy very well, a fact that
perhaps accounted for Lucy's antipathy. For that matter, he did not like any
woman. If he had a bad trait, it came out when Van rode him, but all the
riders, and Bostil, too, claimed that Van was to blame for that.
"Thar, I reckon them stirrups is right," declared Farlane. "Now, Miss Lucy,
hold him tight till he wears off thet edge. He needs work."
Sage King would not kneel for Lucy as Sarchedon did, and he was too high for
her to mount from the ground, so she mounted from a rock. She took to the
road, and then the first trail into the sage, intending to trot him ten or
fifteen miles down into the valley, and give him some fast, warm work on the
The day was early in May and promised to grow hot. There was not a cloud in
the blue sky. The wind, laden with the breath of sage, blew briskly from the
west. All before Lucy lay the vast valley, gray and dusky gray, then blue,
then purple where the monuments stood, and, farther still, dark ramparts of
rock. Lucy had a habit of dreaming while on horseback, a habit all the riders
had tried to break, but she did not give it rein while she rode Sarchedon, and
assuredly now, up on the King, she never forgot him for an instant. He shied
at mockingbirds and pack-rats and blowing blossoms and even at butterflies;
and he did it, Lucy thought, just because he was full of mischief. Sage King
had been known to go steady when there had been reason to shy. He did not like
Lucy and he chose to torment her. Finally he earned a good dig from a spur,
and then, with swift pounding of hoofs, he plunged and veered and danced in
the sage. Lucy kept her temper, which was what most riders did not do, and by
patience and firmness pulled Sage King out of his prancing back into the
trail. He was not the least cross-grained, and, having had his little spurt,
he settled down into easy going.
In an hour Lucy was ten miles or more from home, and farther down in the
valley than she had ever been. In fact, she had never before been down the
long slope to the valley floor. How changed the horizon became! The monuments
loomed up now, dark, sentinel-like, and strange. The first one, a great red
rock, seemed to her some five miles away. It was lofty, straight-sided, with a
green slope at its base. And beyond that the other monuments stretched out
down the valley. Lucy decided to ride as far as the first one before turning
back. Always these monuments had fascinated her, and this was her opportunity
to ride near one. How lofty they were, how wonderfully colored, and how
Presently, over the left, where the monuments were thicker, and gradually
merged their slopes and lines and bulk into the yellow walls, she saw low,
drifting clouds of smoke.
"Well, what's that, I wonder?" she mused. To see smoke on the horizon in that
direction was unusual, though out toward Durango the grassy benches would
often burn over. And these low clouds of smoke resembled those she had seen
"It's a long way off," she added.
So she kept on, now and then gazing at the smoke. As she grew nearer to the
first monument she was surprised, then amazed, at its height and surpassing
size. It was mountain-high--a grand tower--smooth, worn, glistening, yellow
and red. The trail she had followed petered out in a deep wash, and beyond
that she crossed no more trails. The sage had grown meager and the greasewoods
stunted and dead; and cacti appeared on barren places. The grass had not
failed, but it was not rich grass such as the horses and cattle grazed upon
miles back on the slope. The air was hot down here. The breeze was heavy and
smelled of fire, and the sand was blowing here and there. She had a sense of
the bigness, the openness of this valley, and then she realized its wildness
and strangeness. These lonely, isolated monuments made the place different
from any she had visited. They did not seem mere standing rocks. They seemed
to retreat all the time as she approached, and they watched her. They
interested her, made her curious. What had formed all these strange monuments?
Here the ground was level for miles and miles, to slope gently up to the bases
of these huge rocks. In an old book she had seen pictures of the Egyptian
pyramids, but these appeared vaster, higher, and stranger, and they were
Suddenly Sage King halted sharply, shot up his ears, and whistled. Lucy was
startled. That from the King meant something. Hastily, with keen glance she
swept the foreground. A mile on, near the monument, was a small black spot. It
seemed motionless. But the King's whistle had proved it to be a horse. When
Lucy had covered a quarter of the intervening distance she could distinguish
the horse and that there appeared some thing strange about his position. Lucy
urged Sage King into a lope and soon drew nearer. The black horse had his head
down, yet he did not appear to be grazing. He was as still as a statue. He
stood just outside a clump of greasewood and cactus.
Suddenly a sound pierced the stillness. The King jumped and snorted in fright.
For an instant Lucy's blood ran cold, for it was a horrible cry. Then she
recognized it as the neigh of a horse in agony. She had heard crippled and
dying horses utter that long-drawn and blood-curdling neigh. The black horse
had not moved, so the sound could not have come from him. Lucy thought Sage
King acted more excited than the occasion called for. Then remembering her
father's warning, she reined in on top of a little knoll, perhaps a hundred
yards from where the black horse stood, and she bent her keen gaze forward.
It was a huge, gaunt, shaggy black horse she saw, with the saddle farther up
on his shoulders than it should have been. He stood motionless, as if utterly
exhausted. His forelegs were braced, so that he leaned slightly back. Then
Lucy saw a rope. It was fast to the saddle and stretched down into the cactus.
There was no other horse in sight, nor any living thing. The immense monument
dominated the scene. It seemed stupendous to Lucy, sublime, almost frightful.
She hesitated. She knew there was another horse, very likely at the other end
of that lasso. Probably a rider had been thrown, perhaps killed. Certainly a
horse had been hurt. Then on the moment rang out the same neigh of agony, only
weaker and shorter. Lucy no longer feared an ambush. That was a cry which
could not be imitated by a man or forced from a horse. There was probably
death, certainly suffering, near at hand. She spurred the King on.
There was a little slope to descend, a wash to cross, a bench to climb --and
then she rode up to the black horse. Sage King needed harder treatment than
Lucy had ever given him.
"What's wrong with you?" she demanded, pulling him down. Suddenly, as she felt
him tremble, she realized that he was frightened. "That's funny!" Then when
she got him quiet she looked around.
The black horse was indeed huge. His mane, his shaggy flanks, were lathered as
if he had been smeared with heavy soap-suds. He raised his head to look at
her. Lucy, accustomed to horses all her life, saw that this one welcomed her
arrival. But he was almost ready to drop.
Two taut lassoes stretched from the pommel of his saddle down a little into a
depression full of brush and cactus and rocks. Then Lucy saw a red horse. He
was down in a bad position. She heard his low, choking heaves. Probably he had
broken legs or back. She could not bear to see a horse in pain. She would do
what was possible, even to the extent of putting him out of his misery, if
nothing else could be done. Yet she scanned the surroundings closely, and
peered into the bushes and behind the rocks before she tried to urge Sage King
closer. He refused to go nearer, and Lucy dismounted.
The red horse was partly hidden by overbending brush. He had plunged into a
hole full of cactus. There was a hackamore round his nose and a tight noose
round his neck. The one round his neck was also round his forelegs. And both
lassoes were held taut by the black horse. A torn and soiled rider's scarf
hung limp round the red horse's nose, kept from falling off by the hackamore.
"A wild horse, a stallion, being broken!" exclaimed Lucy, instantly grasping
the situation. "Oh! where's the rider?"
She gazed around, ran to and fro, glanced down the little slope, and beyond,
but she did not see anything resembling the form of a man. Then she ran back.
Lucy took another quick look at the red stallion. She did not believe either
his legs or back were hurt. He was just played out and tangled and tied in the
ropes, and could not get up. The shaggy black horse stood there braced and
indomitable. But he, likewise, was almost ready to drop. Looking at the
condition of both horses and the saddle and ropes, Lucy saw what a fight there
had been, and a race! Where was the rider? Thrown, surely, and back on the
trail, perhaps dead or maimed.
Lucy went closer to the stallion so that she could almost touch him. He saw
her. He was nearly choked. Foam and blood wheezed out with his heaves. She
must do something quickly. And in her haste she pricked her arms and shoulders
on the cactus.
She led the black horse closer in, letting the ropes go, slack. The black
seemed as glad of that release as she was. What a faithful brute he looked!
Lucy liked his eyes.
Then she edged down in among the cactus and brush. The red horse no longer lay
in a strained position. He could lift his head. Lucy saw that the noose still
held tight round his neck. Fearlessly she jerked it loose. Then she backed
away, but not quite out of his reach. He coughed and breathed slowly, with
great heaves. Then he snorted.
"You're all right now," said Lucy, soothingly. Slowly she reached a hand
toward his head. He drew it back as far as he could. She stepped around,
closer, and more back of him, and put a hand on him, gently, for an instant.
Then she slipped out of the brush and, untying one lasso from the pommel, she
returned to the horse and pulled it from round his legs. He was free now,
except the hackamore, and that rope was slack. Lucy stood near him, watching
him, talking to him, waiting for him to get up. She could not be sure he was
not badly hurt till he stood up. At first he made no efforts to rise. He
watched Lucy, less fearfully, she imagined. And she never made a move. She
wanted him to see, to understand that she had not hurt him and would not hurt
him. It began to dawn upon her that he was magnificent.
Finally, with a long, slow heave he got to his feet. Lucy led him out of the
hole to open ground. She seemed somehow confident. There occurred to her only
one way to act.
"A little horse sense, as Dad would say," she soliloquized, and then, when she
got him out of the brush, she stood thrilled and amazed.
"Oh, what a wild, beautiful horse! What a giant! He's bigger than the King.
Oh, if Dad could see him!"
The red stallion did not appear to be hurt. The twitching of his muscles must
have been caused by the cactus spikes embedded in him. There were drops of
blood all over one side. Lucy thought she dared to try to pull these thorns
out. She had never in her life been afraid of any horse. Farlane, Holley, all
the riders, and her father, too, had tried to make her realize the danger in a
horse, sooner or later. But Lucy could not help it; she was not afraid; she
believed that the meanest horse was actuated by natural fear of a man; she was
not a man and she had never handled a horse like a man. This red stallion
showed hate of the black horse and the rope that connected them; he showed
some spirit at the repeated blasts of Sage King. But he showed less fear of
"He has been a proud, wild stallion," mused Lucy. "And he's now
broken--terribly broken--all but ruined."
Then she walked up to him naturally and spoke softly, and reached a hand for
"Whoa, Reddy. Whoa now. . . . There. That's a good fellow. Why, I wouldn't
rope you or hit you. I'm only a girl."
He drew up, made a single effort to jump, which she prevented, and then he
stood quivering, eying her, while she talked soothingly, and patted him and
looked at him in the way she had found infallible with most horses. Lucy
believed horses were like people, or easier to get along with. Presently she
gently pulled out one of the cactus spikes. The horse flinched, but he stood.
Lucy was slow, careful, patient, and dexterous. The cactus needles were loose
and easily removed or brushed off. At length she got him free of them, and was
almost as proud as she was glad. The horse had gradually dropped his head; he
was tired and his spirit was broken.
"Now, what shall I do?" she queried. "I'll take the back trail of these
horses. They certainly hadn't been here long before I saw them. And the rider
may be close. If not I'll take the horses home."
She slipped the noose from the stallion's head, leaving the hackamore, and,
coiling the loose lasso, she hung it over the pommel of the black's saddle.
Then she took up his bridle.
"Come on," she called.
The black followed her, and the stallion, still fast to him by the lasso Lucy
had left tied, trooped behind with bowed head. Lucy was elated. But Sage King
did not like the matter at all. Lucy had to drop the black's bridle and catch
the King, and then ride back to lead the other again.
A broad trail marked the way the two horses had come, and it led off to the
left, toward where the monuments were thickest, and where the great sections
of wall stood, broken and battlemented. Lucy was hard put to it to hold Sage
King, but the horses behind plodded along. The black horse struck Lucy as
being an ugly, but a faithful and wonderful animal. He understood everything.
Presently she tied the bridle she was leading him by to the end of her own
lasso, and thus let him drop back a few yards, which lessened the King's
Intent on the trail, Lucy failed to note time or distance till the looming and
frowning monuments stood aloft before her. What weird effect they had! Each
might have been a colossal statue left there to mark the work of the ages.
Lucy realized that the whole vast valley had once been solid rock, just like
the monuments, and through the millions of years the softer parts had eroded
and weathered and blown away--gone with the great sea that had once been
there. But the beauty, the solemnity, the majesty of these monuments
fascinated her most. She passed the first one, a huge square butte, and then
the second, a ragged, thin, double shaft, and then went between two much
alike, reaching skyward in the shape of monstrous mittens. She watched and
watched them, sparing a moment now and then to attend to the trail. She
noticed that she was coming into a region of grass, and faint signs of water
in the draws. She was getting high again, not many miles now from the wall of
All at once Sage King shied, and Lucy looked down to see a man lying on the
ground. He lay inert. But his eyes were open--dark, staring eyes. They moved.
And he called. But Lucy could not understand him.
In a flash she leaped off the King. She ran to the prostrate man-- dropped to
"Oh!" she cried. His face was ghastly. "Oh! are you--you badly hurt?"
"Lift me--my head," he said, faintly.
She raised his head. What a strained, passionate, terrible gaze he bent upon
"Boy, they're mine--the black an' the red!" he cried.
"They surely must be," replied Lucy. "Oh! tell me. Are you hurt?"
"Boy! did you catch them--fetch them back--lookin' for me?"
"I sure did."
"You caught-that red devil--an' fetched him--back to me?" went on the
wondering, faint voice. "Boy--oh--boy!"
He lifted a long, ragged arm and pulled Lucy down. The action amazed her
equally as his passion of gratitude. He might have been injured, but he had an
arm of iron. Lucy was powerless. She felt her face against his--and her breast
against his. The pounding of his heart was like blows. The first instant she
wanted to laugh, despite her pity. Then the powerful arm--the contact affected
her as nothing ever before. Suppose this crippled rider had taken her for a
boy--She was not a boy! She could not help being herself. And no man had ever
put a hand on her. Consciousness of this brought shame and anger. She
struggled so violently that she freed herself. And he lay back.
"See here--that's no way to act--to hug--a person," she cried, with flaming
"I'm NOT a boy. I'm a girl."
Lucy tore off her sombrero, which had been pulled far forward, and this
revealed her face fully, and her hair came tumbling down. The rider gazed,
stupefied. Then a faint tinge of red colored his ghastly cheeks.
"A girl! . . . Why--why 'scuse me, miss. I--I took you--for a boy."
He seemed so astounded, he looked so ashamed, so scared, and withal, so
haggard and weak, that Lucy immediately recovered her equanimity.
"Sure I'm a girl. But that's no matter. . . . You've been thrown. Are you
He smiled a weak assent.
"Badly?" she queried. She did not like the way he lay--so limp, so motionless.
"I'm afraid so. I can't move."
"Oh! . . . What shall I do?"
"Can you--get me water?" he whispered, with dry lips.
Lucy flew to her horse to get the small canteen she always carried. But that
had been left on her saddle, and she had ridden Van's. Then she gazed around.
The wash she had crossed several times ran near where the rider lay. Green
grass and willows bordered it. She ran down and, hurrying along, searched for
water. There was water in places, yet she had to go a long way before she
found water that was drinkable. Filling her sombrero, she hurried back to the
side of the rider. It was difficult to give him a drink.
"Thanks, miss," he said, gratefully. His voice was stronger and less hoarse.
"Have you any broken bones?" asked Lucy.
"I don't know. I can't feel much."
"Are you in pain?"
"Hardly. I feel sort of thick."
Lucy, being an intelligent girl, born in the desert and used to its needs, had
not often encountered a situation with which she was unable to cope.
"Let me feel if you have any broken bones. . . . THAT arm isn't broken, I'm
The rider smiled faintly again. How he stared with his strained, dark eyes!
His face showed ghastly through the thin, soft beard and the tan. Lucy found
his right arm badly bruised, but not broken. She made sure his collar-bones
and shoulder-blades were intact. Broken ribs were harder to locate; still, as
he did not feel pain from pressure, she concluded there were no fractures
there. With her assistance he moved his legs, proving no broken bones there.
"I'm afraid it's my--spine," he said.
"But you raised your head once," she replied. "If your back was-- was broken
or injured you couldn't raise your head."
"So I couldn't. I guess I'm just knocked out. I was--pretty weak before
Wildfire knocked me--off Nagger."
"That's the red stallion's name."
"Oh, he's named already?"
"I named him--long ago. He's known on many a range."
"I think far north of here. I--trailed him--days--weeks--months. We crossed
the great canyon--"
"The Grand Canyon?"
"It must be that."
"The Grand Canyon is down there," said Lucy, pointing. "I live on it. . . .
You've come a long way."
"Hundreds of miles! . . . Oh, the ground I covered that awful canyon country!
. . . But I stayed with Wildfire. An' I put a rope on him. An' he got away. .
. . An' it was a boy--no--a GIRL who--saved him for me--an' maybe saved my
Lucy looked away from the dark, staring eyes. A light in them confused her.
"Never mind me. You say you were weak? Have you been ill?"
"No, miss. just starved. . . . I starved on Wildfire's trail."
Lucy ran to her saddle and got the biscuits out of the pockets of her coat,
and she ran back to the rider.
"Here. I never thought. Oh, you've had a hard time of it! I understand. That
wonderful flame of a horse! I'd have stayed, too. My father was a rider once.
Bostil. Did you ever hear of him?"
"Bostil. The name--I've heard." Then the rider lay thinking, as he munched a
biscuit. "Yes, I remember, but it was long ago. I spent a night with a
wagon-train, a camp of many men and women, religious people, working into
Utah. Bostil had a boat at the crossing of the Fathers."
"Yes, they called the Ferry that."
"I remember well now. They said Bostil couldn't count his horses-- that he was
a rich man, hard on riders--an' he'd used a gun more than once."
Lucy bowed her head. "Yes, that's my dad."
The rider did not seem to see how he had hurt her.
"Here we are talking--wasting time," she said. "I must start home. You can't
be moved. What shall I do?"
"That's for you to say, Bostil's daughter."
"My name's Lucy," replied the girl, blushing painfully, "I mean I'll be glad
to do anything you think best."
"You're very good."
Then he turned his face away. Lucy looked closely at him. He was indeed a
beggared rider. His clothes and his boots hung in tatters. He had no hat, no
coat, no vest. His gaunt face bore traces of what might have been a fine,
strong comeliness, but now it was only thin, worn, wan, pitiful, with that
look which always went to a woman's heart. He had the look of a homeless
rider. Lucy had seen a few of his wandering type, and his story was so plain.
But he seemed to have a touch of pride, and this quickened her interest.
"Then I'll do what I think best for you," said Lucy.
First she unsaddled the black Nagger. With the saddle she made a pillow for
the rider's head, and she covered him with the saddle blanket. Before she had
finished this task he turned his eyes upon her. And Lucy felt she would be
haunted. Was he badly hurt, after all? It seemed probable. How strange he was!
"I'll water the horses--then tie Wildfire here on a double rope. There's
"But you can't lead him," replied the rider.
"He'll follow me."
"That red devil!" The rider shuddered as he spoke.
Lucy had some faint inkling of what a terrible fight that had been between man
and horse. "Yes; when I found him he was broken. Look at him now."
But the rider did not appear to want to see the stallion. He gazed up at Lucy,
and she saw something in his eyes that made her think of a child. She left
him, had no trouble in watering the horses, and haltered Wildfire among the
willows on a patch of grass. Then she returned.
"I'll go now," she said to the rider.
"Home. I'll come back to-morrow, early, and bring some one to help you--"
"Girl, if YOU want to help me more--bring me some bread an' meat. Don't tell
any one. Look what a ragamuffin I am. . . . An' there's Wildfire. I don't want
him seen till I'm--on my feet again. I know riders. . . . That's all. If you
want to be so good--come."
"I'll come," replied Lucy, simply.
"Thank you. I owe you--a lot. . . . What did you say your name was?"
"Oh, I forgot. . . . Are you sure you tied Wildfire good an' tight?"
"Yes, I'm sure. I'll go now. I hope you'll be better to-morrow."
Lucy hesitated, with her hand on the King's bridle. She did not like to leave
this young man lying there helpless on the desert. But what else could she do?
What a strange adventure had befallen her! At the following thought that it
was not yet concluded she felt a little stir of excitement at her pulses. She
was so strangely preoccupied that she forgot it was necessary for her to have
a step to mount Sage King. She realized it quickly enough when she attempted
it. Then she led him off in the sage till she found a rock. Mounting, she
turned him straight across country, meaning to cut out miles of travel that
would have been necessary along her back-trail. Once she looked back. The
rider was not visible; the black horse, Nagger, was out of sight, but
Wildfire, blazing in the sun, watched her depart.
Lucy Bostil could not control the glow of strange excitement under which she
labored, but she could put her mind on the riding of Sage King. She did not
realize, however, that she was riding him under the stress and spell of that
She had headed out to make a short cut, fairly sure of her direction, yet she
was not unaware of the fact that she would be lost till she ran across her
trail. That might be easy to miss and time was flying. She put the King to a
brisk trot, winding through the aisles of the sage.
Soon she had left the monument region and was down on the valley floor again.
From time to time she conquered a desire to look back. Presently she was
surprised and very glad to ride into a trail where she saw the tracks she had
made coming out. With much relief she turned Sage King into this trail, and
then any anxiety she had felt left her entirely. But that did not mitigate her
excitement. She eased the King into a long, swinging lope. And as he warmed to
the work she was aroused also. It was hard to hold him in, once he got out of
a trot, and after miles and miles of this, When she thought best to slow down
he nearly pulled her arms off. Still she finally got him in hand. Then
followed miles of soft and rough going, which seemed long and tedious. Beyond
that was the home stretch up the valley, whose gradual slope could be seen