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Wildfire by Zane Grey

Part 3 out of 6

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only at a distance. Here was a straight, broad trail, not too soft nor too
hard, and for all the years she could remember riders had tried out and
trained their favorites on that course.

Lucy reached down to assure herself that the cinch was tight, then she pulled
her sombrero down hard, slackened the bridle, and let the King go. He simply
broke his gait, he was so surprised. Lucy saw him trying to look back at her,
as if he could not realize that this young woman rider had given him a free
rein. Perhaps one reason he disliked her had been always and everlastingly
that tight rein. Like the wary horse he was he took to a canter, to try out
what his new freedom meant.

"Say, what's the matter with you?" called Lucy, disdainfully. "Are you lazy?
Or don't you believe I can ride you?"

Whereupon she dug him with her spurs. Sage King snorted. His action shifted
marvelously. Thunder rolled from under his hoofs. And he broke out of that
clattering roar into his fleet stride, where his hoof-beats were swift,
regular, rhythmic.

Lucy rode him with teeth and fists clenched, bending low. After all, she
thought, it was no trick to ride him. In that gait he was dangerous, for a
fall meant death; but he ran so smoothly that riding him was easy and
certainly glorious. He went so fast that the wind blinded her. The trail was
only a white streak in blurred gray. She could not get her breath; the wind
seemed to whip the air away from her. And then she felt the lessening of the
tremendous pace. Sage King had run himself out and the miles were behind her.
Gradually her sight became clear, and as the hot and wet horse slowed down,
satisfied with his wild run, Lucy realized that she was up on the slope only a
few miles from home. Suddenly she thought she saw something dark stir behind a
sage-bush just ahead. Before she could move a hand at the bridle Sage King
leaped with a frantic snort. It was a swerving, nimble, tremendous bound. He
went high. Lucy was unseated, but somehow clung on, and came down with him,
finding the saddle. And it seemed, while in the air, she saw a long, snaky,
whipping loop of rope shoot out and close just where Sage King's legs had

She screamed. The horse broke and ran. Lucy, righting herself, looked back to
see Joel Creech holding a limp lasso. He had tried to rope the King.

The blood of her father was aroused in Lucy. She thought of the horse--not
herself. If the King had not been so keen-sighted, so swift, he would have
gone down with a broken leg. Lucy never in her life had been so furious.

Joel shook his fist at her and yelled, "I'd 'a' got you--on any other hoss!"

She did not reply, though she had to fight herself to keep from pulling her
gun and shooting at him. She guided the running horse back into the trail,
rapidly leaving Creech out of sight.

"He's gone crazy, that's sure," said Lucy. "And he means me harm!"

She ran the King clear up to the corrals, and he was still going hard when she
turned down the lane to the barns. Then she pulled him in.

Farlane was there to meet her. She saw no other riders and was glad.

"Wal, Miss Lucy, the King sure looks good," said Farlane, as she jumped off
and flung him the bridle. "He's just had about right, judgin'. . . . Say,
girl, you're all pale! Oh, say, you wasn't scared of the King, now?"

"No," replied Lucy, panting.

"Wal, what's up, then?" The rider spoke in an entirely different voice, and
into his clear, hazel eyes a little dark gleam shot.

"Joel Creech waylaid me out in the sage--and--and tried to catch me." Lucy
checked herself. It might not do to tell how Joel had tried to catch her.

"He did? An' you on the King!" Farlane laughed, as if relieved. "Wal, he's
tried thet before. Miss Lucy. But when you was up on the gray--thet shows
Joel's crazy, sure."

"He sure is. Farlane, I--I am mad!"

"Wal, cool off, Miss Lucy. It ain't nothin' to git set up about. An' don't
tell the old man."

"Why not?" demanded Lucy.

"Wal, because he's in a queer sort of bad mood lately. It wouldn't be safe. He
hates them Creeches. So don't tell him."

"All right, Farlane, I won't. Don't you tell, either," replied Lucy, soberly.

"Sure I'll keep mum. But if Joel doesn't watch out I'll put a crimp in him

Lucy hurried away down the lane and entered the house without meeting any one.
In her room she changed her clothes and lay down to rest and think.

Strangely enough, Lucy might never have encountered Joel Creech out in the
sage, for all the thought she gave him. Her mind was busy with the crippled
rider. Who was he? Where was he from? What strange passion he had shown over
the recovery of that wonderful red horse! Lucy could not forget the feeling of
his iron arm when he held her in a kind of frenzied gratitude. A wild upland
rider, living only for a wild horse! How like Indians some of these riders!
Yet this fellow had seemed different from most of the uncouth riders she had
known. He spoke better. He appeared to have had some little schooling. Lucy
did not realize that she was interested in him. She thought she was sorry for
him and interested in the stallion. She began to compare Wildfire with Sage
King, and if she remembered rightly Wildfire, even in his disheveled state,
had appeared a worthy rival of the King. What would Bostil say at sight of
that flame-colored stallion? Lucy thrilled.

Later she left her room to see if the hour was opportune for her plan to make
up a pack of supplies for the rider. Her aunt was busy in the kitchen, and
Bostil had not come in. Lucy took advantage of the moment to tie up a pack and
carry it to her room. Somehow the task pleased her. She recalled the lean face
of the rider. And that recalled his ragged appearance. Why not pack up an
outfit of clothes? Bostil had a stock-room full of such accessories for his
men. Then Lucy, glowing with the thought, hurried to Bostil's stock-room, and
with deft hands and swift judgment selected an outfit for the rider, even down
to a comb and razor. All this she carried quickly to her room, where in her
thoughtfulness she added a bit of glass from a broken mirror, and soap and a
towel. Then she tied up a second pack.

Bostil did not come home to supper, a circumstance that made Lucy's aunt
cross. They ate alone, and, waiting awhile, were rather late in clearing away
the table. After this Lucy had her chance in the dusk of early evening, and
she carried both packs way out into the sage and left them near the trail.

"Hope a coyote doesn't come along," she said. That possibility, however, did
not worry her as much as getting those packs up on the King. How in the world
would she ever do it?

She hurried back to the house, stealthily keeping to the shadow of the
cottonwoods, for she would have faced an embarrassing situation if she had met
her father, even had he been in a good humor. And she reached the sitting-room
unobserved. The lamps had been lighted and a log blazed on the hearth. She was
reading when Bostil entered.

"Hello, Lucy!" he said.

He looked tired, and Lucy knew he had been drinking, because when he had been
he never offered to kiss her. The strange, somber shade was still on his face,
but it brightened somewhat at sight of her. Lucy greeted him as always.

"Farlane tells me you handled the King great--better 'n Van has worked him
lately," said Bostil. "But don't tell him I told you."

That was sweet praise from Farlane. "Oh, Dad, it could hardly be true,"
expostulated Lucy. "Both you and Farlane are a little sore at Van now."

"I'm a lot sore," replied Bostil, gruffly.

"Anyway, how did Farlane know how I handled Sage King?" queried Lucy.

"Wal, every hair on a hoss talks to Farlane, so Holley says. . . . Lucy, you
take the King out every day for a while. Ride him now an' watch out! Joel
Creech was in the village to-day. He sure sneaked when he seen me. He's up to
some mischief."

Lucy did not want to lie and she did not know what to say. Presently Bostil
bade her good night. Lucy endeavored to read, but her mind continually
wandered back to the adventure of the day.

Next morning she had difficulty in concealing her impatience, but luck favored
her. Bostil was not in evidence, and Farlane, for once, could spare no more
time than it took to saddle Sage King. Lucy rode out into the sage, pretty
sure that no one watched her.

She had hidden the packs near the tallest bunch of greasewood along the trail;
and when she halted behind it she had no fear of being seen from the corrals.
She got the packs. The light one was not hard to tie back of the saddle, but
the large one was a very different matter. She decided to carry it in front.
There was a good-sized rock near, upon which she stepped, leading Sage King
alongside; and after an exceedingly trying moment she got up, holding the
pack. For a wonder Sage King behaved well.

Then she started off, holding the pack across her lap, and she tried the
King's several gaits to see which one would lend itself more comfortably to
the task before her. The trouble was that Sage King had no slow gait, even his
walk was fast. And Lucy was compelled to hold him into that. She wanted to
hurry, but that seemed out of the question. She tried to keep from gazing out
toward the monuments, because they were so far away.

How would she find the crippled rider? It flashed into her mind that she might
find him dead, and this seemed horrible. But her common sense persuaded her
that she would find him alive and better. The pack was hard to hold, and Sage
King fretted at the monotonous walk. The hours dragged. The sun grew hot. And
it was noon, almost, when she reached the point where she cut off the trail to
the left. Thereafter, with the monuments standing ever higher, and the
distance perceptibly lessening, the minutes passed less tediously.

At length she reached the zone of lofty rocks, and found them different, how,
she could not tell. She rode down among them, and was glad when she saw the
huge mittens--her landmarks. At last she espied the green-bordered wash and
the few cedar-trees. Then a horse blazed red against the sage and another
shone black. That sight made Lucy thrill. She rode on, eager now, but moved by
the strangeness of the experience.

Before she got quite close to the cedars she saw a man. He took a few slow
steps out of the shade. His back was bent. Lucy recognized the rider, and in
her gladness to see him on his feet she cried out. Then, when Sage King
reached the spot, Lucy rolled the pack off to the ground.

"Oh, that was a job!" she cried.

The rider looked up with eyes that seemed keener, less staring than she
remembered. "You came? . . . I was afraid you wouldn't," he said.

"Sure I came. . . . You're better--not badly hurt?" she said, gravely, "I--I'm
so glad."

"I've got a crimp in my back, that's all."

Lucy was quick to see that after the first glance at her he was all eyes for
Sage King. She laughed. How like a rider! She watched him, knowing that
presently he would realize what a horse she was riding. She slipped off and
threw the bridle, and then, swiftly untying the second pack, she laid it down.

The rider, with slow, painful steps and bent back, approached Sage King and
put a lean, strong, brown hand on him, and touched him as if he wished to feel
if he were real. Then he whistled softly. When he turned to Lucy his eyes
shone with a beautiful light.

"It's Sage King, Bostil's favorite," said Lucy.

"Sage King! . . . He looks it. . . . But never a wild horse?"


"A fine horse," replied the rider. "Of course he can run?" This last held a
note of a rider's jealousy.

Lucy laughed. "Run! . . . The King is Bostil's favorite. He can run away from
any horse in the uplands."

"I'll bet you Wildfire can beat him," replied the rider, with a dark glance.

"Come on!" cried Lucy, daringly.

Then the rider and girl looked more earnestly at each other. He smiled in a
way that changed his face--brightened out the set hardness.

"I reckon I'll have to crawl," he said, ruefully. "But maybe I can ride in a
few days--if you'll come back again."

His remark brought to Lucy the idea that of course she would hardly see this
rider again after to-day. Even if he went to the Ford, which event was
unlikely, he would not remain there long. The sensation of blankness puzzled
her, and she felt an unfamiliar confusion.

"I--I've brought you--some things," she said, pointing to the larger pack.

"Grub, you mean?"


"That was all I asked you for, miss," he said, somewhat stiffly.

"Yes, but--I--I thought--" Lucy became unaccountably embarrassed. Suppose this
strange rider would be offended. "Your clothes were-- so torn. . . . And no
wonder you were thrown--in those boots! . . . So I thought I'd--"

"You thought I needed clothes as bad as grub," he said, bitterly. "I reckon
that's so."

His look, more than his tone, cut Lucy; and involuntarily she touched his arm.
"Oh, you won't refuse to take them! Please don't!"

At her touch a warmth came into his face. "Take them? I should smile I will."

He tried to reach down to lift the pack, but as it was obviously painful for
him to bend, Lucy intercepted him.

"But you've had no breakfast," she protested. "Why not eat before you open
that pack?"

"Nope. I'm not hungry. . . . Maybe I'll eat a little, after I dress up." He
started to walk away, then turned. "Miss Bostil, have you been so good to
every wanderin' rider you happened to run across?"

"Good!" she exclaimed, flushing. She dropped her eyes before his. "Nonsense. .
. . Anyway, you're the first wandering rider I ever met--like this."

"Well, you're good," he replied, with emotion. Then he walked away with slow,
stiff steps and disappeared behind the willows in the little hollow.

Lucy uncoiled the rope on her saddle and haltered Sage King on the best grass
near at hand. Then she opened the pack of supplies, thinking the while that
she must not tarry here long.

"But on the King I can run back like the wind," she mused.

The pack contained dried fruits and meat and staples, also an assortment of
good things to eat that were of a perishable nature, already much the worse
for the long ride. She spread all this out in the shade of a cedar. The
utensils were few--two cups, two pans, and a tiny pot. She gathered wood, and
arranged it for a fire, so that the rider could start as soon as he came back.
He seemed long in coming. Lucy waited, yet still he did not return. Finally
she thought of the red stallion, and started off down the wash to take a look
at him. He was grazing. He had lost some of the dirt and dust and the
bedraggled appearance. When he caught sight of her he lifted his head high and
whistled. How wild he looked! And his whistle was shrill, clear, strong. Both
the other horses answered it. Lucy went on closer to Wildfire. She was
fascinated now.

"If he doesn't know me!" she cried. Never had she been so pleased. She had
expected every sign of savageness on his part, and certainly had not intended
to go near him. But Wildfire did not show fear or hate in his recognition.
Lucy went directly to him and got a hand on him. Wildfire reared a little and
shook a little, but this disappeared presently under her touch. He held his
head very high and watched her with wonderful eyes. Gradually she drew his
head down. Standing before him, she carefully and slowly changed the set of
the hackamore, which had made a welt on his nose. It seemed to have been her
good fortune that every significant move she had made around this stallion had
been to mitigate his pain. Lucy believed he knew this as well as she knew it.
Her theory, an often disputed one, was that horses were as intelligent as
human beings and had just the same fears, likes, and dislikes. Lucy knew she
was safe when she untied the lasso from the strong root where she had fastened
it, and led the stallion down the wash to a pool of water. And she stood
beside him with a hand on his shoulder while he bent his head to sniff at the
water. He tasted it, plainly with disgust. It was stagnant water, full of
vermin. But finally he drank. Lucy led him up the wash to another likely
place, and tied him securely.

When she got back to the camp in the cedars the rider was there, on his knees,
kindling the fire. His clean-shaved face and new apparel made him vastly
different. He was young, and, had he not been so gaunt. he would have been
fine-looking, Lucy thought.

"Wildfire remembered me," Lucy burst out. "He wasn't a bit scary. Let me
handle him. Followed me to water."

"He's taken to you," replied the rider, seriously. "I've heard of the like,
but not so quick. Was he in a bad fix when you got to him yesterday?"

Lucy explained briefly.

"Aha! . . . If that red devil has any love in him I'll never get it. I wish I
could have done so much for him. But always when he sees me he'll remember."

Lucy saw that the rider was in difficulties. He could not bend his back, and
evidently it pained him to try. His brow was moist.

"Let me do that," she said.

"Thanks. It took about all my strength to get into this new outfit," he said,
relinquishing, his place to Lucy.

When she looked up from her task, presently, he was sitting in the shade of
the cedar, watching her. He had the expression of a man who hardly believed
what he saw.

"Did you have any trouble gettin' away, without tellin'--about me?" he asked.

"No. But I sure had a job with those packs," she replied.

"You must be a wonder with a horse."

As far as vanity was concerned Lucy had only one weakness--and he had touched
upon it.

"Well, Dad and Holley and Farlane argue much about me. Still, I guess they all
agree I can ride."

"Holley an' Farlane are riders?" he questioned.

"Yes, Dad's right-hand men."

"Your dad hires many riders, I supposed?"

"Sure I never heard of him turning any rider down, at least not without a

"I wonder if he would give me a job?"

Lucy glanced up quickly. The idea surprised her--pleased her. "In a minute,"
she replied. "And he'd be grand to you. You see, he'd have an eye for

The rider nodded his head as if he understood how that would be.

"And of course you'd never sell nor trade Wildfire?" went on Lucy.

The rider's smile was sad, but it was conclusive.

"Then you'd better stay away from Bostil," returned Lucy, shortly.

He remained silent, and Lucy, busy about the campfire, did not speak again
till the simple fare was ready. Then she spread a tarpaulin in the shade.

"I'm pretty hungry myself," she said. "But I don't suppose I know what hunger

"After a while a fellow loses the feelin' of hunger," he replied. "I reckon
it'll come back quick. . . . This all looks good."

So they began to eat. Lucy's excitement, her sense of the unreality of this
adventure, in no wise impaired her appetite. She seemed acutely sensitive to
the perceptions of the moment. The shade of the cedars was cool. And out on
the desert she could see the dark smoky veils of heat lifting. The breeze
carried a dry odor of sand and grass. She heard bees humming by. And all
around the great isolated monuments stood up, red tops against the blue sky.
It was a silent, dreaming, impressive place, where she felt unlike herself.

"I mustn't stay long," she said, suddenly remembering.

"Will you come back--again?" he asked.

The question startled Lucy. "Why--I--I don't know. . . . Won't you ride in to
the Ford just as soon as you're able?"

"I reckon not."

"But it's the only place where there's people in hundreds of miles. Surely you
won't try to go back the way you came?"

"When Wildfire left that country I left it. We can't back."

"Then you've no people--no one you care for?" she asked, in sweet seriousness.

"There's no one. I'm an orphan. My people were lost in an Indian
massacre--with a wagon-train crossin' Wyomin'. A few escaped, an' I was one of
the youngsters. I had a tough time, like a stray dog, till I grew up. An' then
I took to the desert."

"Oh, I see. I--I'm sorry," replied Lucy. "But that's not very different from
my dad's story, of his early years. . . . What will you do now?"

"I'll stay here till my back straightens out. . . . Will you ride out again?"

"Yes," replied Lucy, without looking at him; and she wondered if it were
really she who was speaking.

Then he asked her about the Ford, and Bostil, and the ranches and villages
north, and the riders and horses. Lucy told him everything she knew and could
think of, and, lastly, after waxing eloquent on the horses of the uplands,
particularly Bostil's, she gave him a graphic account of Cordts and Dick

"Horse-thieves!" exclaimed the rider, darkly. There was a grimness as well as
fear in his tone. "I've heard of Sears, but not Cordts. Where does this band
hang out?"

"No one knows. Holley says they hide up in the canyon country. None of the
riders have ever tried to track them far. It would be useless. Holley says
there are plateaus of rich grass and great forests. The Ute Indians say that
much, too. But we know little about the wild country."

"Aren't there any hunters at Bostil's Ford?"

"Wild-horse hunters, you mean?"

"No. Bear an' deer hunters."

"There's none. And I suppose that's why we're not familiar with the wild
canyon country. I'd like to ride in there sometime and camp. But our people
don't go in for that. They love the open ranges. No one I know, except a
half-witted boy, ever rode down among these monuments. And how wonderful a
place! It can't be more than twenty miles from home. . . . I must be going
soon. I'm forgetting Sage King. Did I tell you I was training him for the

"No, you didn't. What races? Tell me," he replied, with keen interest.

Then Lucy told him about the great passion of her father--about the long,
time-honored custom of free-for-all races, and the great races that had been
run in the past; about the Creeches and their swift horses; about the rivalry
and speculation and betting; and lastly about the races to be run in a few
weeks--races so wonderful in prospect that even the horse-thief, Cordts, had
begged to be allowed to attend.

"I'm going to see the King beat Creech's roan," shouted the rider, with red in
his cheeks and a flash in his eye.

His enthusiasm warmed Lucy's interest, yet it made her thoughtful. Ideas
flashed into her mind. If the rider attended the races he would have that
fleet stallion with him. He could not be separated from the horse that had
cost him so dearly. What would Bostil and Holley and Farlane say at sight of
Wildfire? Suppose Wildfire was to enter the races! It was probable that he
could run away from the whole field--even beat the King. Lucy thrilled and
thrilled. What a surprise it would be! She had the rider's true love of seeing
the unheralded horse win over the favorite. She had for years wanted to see a
horse--and ride a horse--out in front of Sage King. Then suddenly all these
flashing ideas coruscated seemingly into a gleam-- a leaping, radiant,
wonderful thought. Irresistibly it burst from her.

"Let ME ride your Wildfire in the great race?" she cried, breathlessly.

His response was instantaneous--a smile that was keen and sweet and strong,
and a proffered hand. Impulsively Lucy clasped that hand with both hers.

"You don't mean it," she said. "Oh, it's what Auntie would call one of my wild
dreams! . . . And I'm growing up--they say. . . . But-- Oh, if I could ride
Wildfire against the field in that race. . . . If I ONLY COULD!"

She was on fire with the hope, flushing, tingling. She was unconscious of her
effect upon the rider, who gazed at her with a new-born light in his eyes.

"You can ride him. I reckon I'd like to see that race just as much as Bostil
or Cordts or any man. . . . An' see here, girl, Wildfire can beat this gray
racer of your father's."

"Oh!" cried Lucy.

"Wildfire can beat the King," repeated the rider, intensely. "The tame horse
doesn't step on this earth that can run with Wildfire. He's a stallion. He has
been a killer of horses. It's in him to KILL. If he ran a race it would be
that instinct in him."

"How can we plan it?" went on Lucy, impulsively. She had forgotten to withdraw
her hands from his. "It must be a surprise--a complete surprise. If you came
to the Ford we couldn't keep it secret. And Dad or Farlane would prevent me,

"It's easy. Ride out here as often as you can. Bring a light saddle an' let me
put you up on Wildfire. You'll run him, train him, get him in shape. Then the
day of the races or the night before I'll go in an' hide out in the sage till
you come or send for Wildfire."

"Oh, it'll be glorious," she cried, with eyes like stars. "I know just where
to have you hide. A pile of rocks near the racecourse. There's a spring and
good grass. I could ride out to you just before the big race, and we'd come
back, with me on Wildfire. The crowd always stays down at the end of the
racecourse. Only the starters stay out there. . . . Oh, I can see Bostil when
that red stallion runs into sight!"

"Well, is it settled?" queried the rider, strangely.

Lucy was startled into self-consciousness by his tone.

How strangely he must have felt. And his eyes were piercing.

"You mean--that I ride Wildfire?" she replied, shyly. "Yes, if you'll let me."

"I'll be proud."

"You're very good. . . . And do you think Wildfire can beat the King?"

"I know it."

"How do you?"

"I've seen both horses."

"But it will be a grand race."

"I reckon so. It's likely to be the grandest ever seen. But Wildfire will win
because he's run wild all his life--an' run to kill other horses. . . . The
only question is--CAN you ride him?"

"Yes. I never saw the horse I couldn't ride. Bostil says there are some I
can't ride. Farlane says not. Only two horses have thrown me, the King and
Sarchedon. But that was before they knew me. And I was sort of wild. I can
make your Wildfire love me."

"THAT'S the last part of it I'd ever doubt," replied the rider. "It's settled,
then. I'll camp here. I'll be well in a few days. Then I'll take Wildfire in
hand. You will ride out whenever you have a chance, without bein' seen. An'
the two of us will train the stallion to upset that race."

"Yes--then--it's settled."

Lucy's gaze was impelled and held by the rider's. Why was he so pale? But then
he had been injured--weakened. This compact between them had somehow changed
their relation. She seemed to have known him long.

"What's your name?" she asked.

"Lin Slone," replied the rider.

Then she released her hands. "I must ride in now. If this isn't a dream I'll
come back soon." She led Sage King to a rock and mounted him.

"It's good to see you up there," said Slone. "An' that splendid horse! . . .
He knows what he is. It'll break Bostil's heart to see that horse beat."

"Dad'll feel bad, but it'll do him good," replied Lucy.

That was the old rider's ruthless spirit speaking out of his daughter's lips.

Slone went close to the King and, putting a hand on the pommel, he looked up
at Lucy. "Maybe--it is--a dream--an' you won't come back," he said, with
unsteady voice.

"Then I'll come in dreams," she flashed. "Be careful of yourself. . . .

And at a touch the impatient King was off. From far up the slope near a
monument Lucy looked back. Slone was watching her. She waved a gauntleted
hand--and then looked back no more.


Two weeks slipped by on the wings of time and opportunity and achievement, all
colored so wonderfully for Lucy, all spelling that adventure for which she had

Lucy was riding down into the sage toward the monuments with a whole day
before her. Bostil kept more and more to himself, a circumstance that worried
her, though she thought little about it. Van had taken up the training of the
King; and Lucy had deliberately quarreled with him so that she would be free
to ride where she listed. Farlane nagged her occasionally about her rides into
the sage, insisting that she must not go so far and stay so long. And after
Van's return to work he made her ride Sarchedon.

Things had happened at the Ford which would have concerned Lucy greatly had
she not been over-excited about her own affairs. Some one had ambushed Bostil
in the cottonwoods near his house and had shot at him, narrowly missing him.
Bostil had sworn he recognized the shot as having come from a rifle, and that
he knew to whom it belonged. The riders did not believe this, and said some
boy, shooting at a rabbit or coyote, had been afraid to confess he had nearly
hit Bostil. The riders all said Bostil was not wholly himself of late. The
river was still low. The boat had not been repaired. And Creech's horses were
still on the other side.

These things concerned Lucy, yet they only came and went swiftly through her
mind. She was obsessed by things intimately concerning herself.

"Oh, I oughtn't to go," she said, aloud. But she did not even check
Sarchedon's long swing, his rocking-chair lope. She had said a hundred times
that she ought not go again out to the monuments. For Lin Slone had fallen
despairingly, terribly in love with her.

It was not this, she averred, but the monuments and the beautiful Wildfire
that had woven a spell round her she could not break. She had ridden Wildfire
all through that strange region of monuments and now they claimed something of
her. Just as wonderful was Wildfire's love for her. The great stallion hated
Slone and loved Lucy. Of all the remarkable circumstances she had seen or
heard about a horse, this fact was the most striking. She could do anything
with him. All that savageness and wildness disappeared when she approached
him. He came at her call. He whistled at sight of her. He sent out a ringing
blast of disapproval when she rode away. Every day he tried to bite or kick
Slone, but he was meek under Lucy's touch.

But this morning there came to Lucy the first vague doubt of herself. Once
entering her mind, that doubt became clear. And then she vowed she liked Slone
as she might a brother. And something within her accused her own conviction.
The conviction was her real self, and the accusation was some other girl
lately born in her. Lucy did not like this new person. She was afraid of her.
She would not think of her unless she had to.

"I never cared for him--that way," she said, aloud. "I don't--I
couldn't--ever--I--I--love Lin Slone!"

The spoken thought--the sound of the words played havoc with Lucy's
self-conscious calmness. She burned. She trembled. She was in a rage with
herself. She spurred Sarchedon into a run and tore through the sage, down into
the valley, running him harder than she should have run him. Then she checked
him, and, penitent, petted him out of all proportion to her thoughtlessness.
The violent exercise only heated her blood and, if anything, increased this
sudden and new torment. Why had she discarded her boy's rider outfit and chaps
for a riding-habit made by her aunt, and one she had scorned to wear? Some
awful, accusing voice thundered in Lucy's burning ears that she had done this
because she was ashamed to face Lin Slone any more in that costume--she wanted
to appear different in his eyes, to look like a girl. If that shameful
suspicion was a fact why was it---what did it mean? She could not tell, yet
she was afraid of the truth.

All of a sudden Lin Slone stood out clearer in her mental vision-- the finest
type of a rider she had ever known--a strong, lithe, magnificent horseman,
whose gentleness showed his love for horses, whose roughness showed his
power--a strange, intense, lonely man in whom she had brought out pride,
gratitude, kindness, passion, and despair. She felt her heart swell at the
realization that she had changed him, made him kinder, made him divide his
love as did her father, made him human, hopeful, longing for a future
unfettered by the toils of desert allurement. She could not control her pride.
She must like him very much. She confessed that, honestly, without a qualm. It
was only bewildering moments of strange agitation and uncertainty that
bothered her. She had refused to be concerned by them until they had finally
impinged upon her peace of mind. Then they accused her; now she accused
herself. She ought not go to meet Lin Slone any more.

"But then--the race!" she murmured. "I couldn't give that up. . . . And oh!
I'm afraid the harm is done! What can I do?"

After the race--what then? To be sure, all of Bostil's Ford would know she had
been meeting Slone out in the sage, training his horse. What would people say?

"Dad will simply be radiant, IF he can buy Wildfire--and a fiend if he can't,"
she muttered.

Lucy saw that her own impulsiveness had amounted to daring. She had gone too
far. She excused that--for she had a rider's blood--she was Bostil's girl. But
she had, in her wildness and joy and spirit, spent many hours alone with a
rider, to his undoing. She could not excuse that. She was ashamed. What would
he say when she told him she could see him no more? The thought made her weak.
He would accept and go his way--back to that lonely desert, with only a horse.

"Wildfire doesn't love him!" she said.

And the scarlet fired her neck and cheek and temple. That leap of blood seemed
to release a riot of emotions. What had been a torment became a torture. She
turned Sarchedon homeward, but scarcely had faced that way when she wheeled
him again. She rode slowly and she rode swiftly. The former was hateful
because it held her back--from what she no longer dared think; the latter was
fearful because it hurried her on swiftly, irresistibly to her fate.

Lin Slone had changed his camp and had chosen a pass high up where the great
walls had began to break into sections. Here there was intimacy with the sheer
cliffs of red and yellow. Wide avenues between the walls opened on all points
of the compass, and that one to the north appeared to be a gateway down into
the valley of monuments. The monuments trooped down into the valley to spread
out and grow isolated in the distance. Slone's camp was in a clump of cedars
surrounding a spring. There was grass and white sage where rabbits darted in
and out.

Lucy did not approach this camp from that roundabout trail which she had made
upon the first occasion of her visiting Slone. He had found an opening in the
wall, and by riding this way into the pass Lucy cut off miles. In fact, the
camp was not over fifteen miles from Bostil's Ford. It was so close that Lucy
was worried lest some horse-tracker should stumble on the trail and follow her
up into the pass.

This morning she espied Slone at his outlook on a high rock that had fallen
from the great walls. She always looked to see if he was there, and she always
saw him. The days she had not come, which were few, he had spent watching for
her there. His tasks were not many, and he said he had nothing to do but wait
for her. Lucy had a persistent and remorseful, yet sweet memory of Slone at
his lonely lookout. Here was a fine, strong, splendid young man who had
nothing to do but watch for her--a waste of precious hours!

She waved her hand from afar, and he waved in reply. Then as she reached the
cedared part of the pass Slone was no longer visible. She put Sarchedon to a
run up the hard, wind-swept sand, and reached the camp before Slone had
climbed down from his perch.

Lucy dismounted reluctantly. What would he say about the riding-habit that she
wore? She felt very curious to learn, and shyer than ever before, and
altogether different. The skirt made her more of a girl, it seemed.

"Hello, Lin! " she called. There was nothing in her usual greeting to betray
the state of her mind.

"Good mornin'--Lucy," he replied, very slowly. He was looking at her, she
thought, with different eyes. And he seemed changed, too, though he had long
been well, and his tall, lithe rider's form, his lean, strong face, and his
dark eyes were admirable in her sight. Only this morning, all because she had
worn a girl's riding-skirt instead of boy's chaps, everything seemed
different. Perhaps her aunt had been right, after all, and now things were

Slone gazed so long at her that Lucy could not keep silent. She laughed.

"How do you like--me--in this?"

"I like you much better," Slone said, bluntly.

"Auntie made this--and she's been trying to get me to ride in it."

"It changes you, Lucy. . . . But can you ride as well?"

"I'm afraid not. . . . What's Wildfire going to think of me?"

"He'll like you better, too. . . . Lucy, how's the King comin' on?"

"Lin, I'll tell you, if I wasn't as crazy about Wildfire as you are, I'd say
he'll have to kill himself to beat the King," replied Lucy, with gravity.

"Sometimes I doubt, too," said Slone. "But I only have to look at Wildfire to
get back my nerve. . . . Lucy, that will be the grandest race ever run!"

"Yes," sighed Lucy.

"What's wrong? Don't you want Wildfire to win?"

"Yes and no. But I'm going to beat the King, anyway. . . . Bring on your

Lucy unsaddled Sarchedon and turned him loose to graze while Slone went out
after Wildfire. And presently it appeared that Lucy might have some little
time to wait. Wildfire had lately been trusted to hobbles, which fact made it
likely that he had strayed.

Lucy gazed about her at the great looming red walls and out through the
avenues to the gray desert beyond. This adventure of hers would soon have an
end, for the day of the races was not far distant, and after that it was
obvious she would not have occasion to meet Slone. To think of never coming to
the pass again gave Lucy a pang. Unconsciously she meant that she would never
ride up here again, because Slone would not be here. A wind always blew
through the pass, and that was why the sand was so clean and hard. To-day it
was a pleasant wind, not hot, nor laden with dust, and somehow musical in the
cedars. The blue smoke from Slone's fire curled away and floated out of sight.
It was lonely, with the haunting presence of the broken walls ever manifest.
But the loneliness seemed full of content. She no longer wondered at Slone's
desert life. That might be well for a young man, during those years when
adventure and daring called him, but she doubted that it would be well for all
of a man's life. And only a little of it ought to be known by a woman. She saw
how the wildness and loneliness and brooding of such a life would prevent a
woman's development. Yet she loved it all and wanted to live near it, so that
when the need pressed her she could ride out into the great open stretches and
see the dark monuments grow nearer and nearer, till she was under them, in the
silent and colored shadows.

Slone returned presently with Wildfire. The stallion shone like a flame in the
sunlight. His fear and hatred of Slone showed in the way he obeyed. Slone had
mastered him, and must always keep the upper hand of him. It had from the
first been a fight between man and beast, and Lucy believed it would always be

But Wildfire was a different horse when he saw Lucy. Day by day evidently
Slone loved him more and tried harder to win a little of what Wildfire showed
at sight of Lucy. Still Slone was proud of Lucy's control over the stallion.
He was just as much heart and soul bent on winning the great race as Lucy was.
She had ridden Wildfire bareback at first, and then they had broken him to the

It was serious business, that training of Wildfire, and Slone had peculiar
ideas regarding it. Lucy rode him up and down the pass until he was warm. Then
Slone got on Sarchedon. Wildfire always snorted and showed fight at sight of
Sage King or Nagger, and the stallion Sarchedon infuriated him because
Sarchedon showed fight, too. Slone started out ahead of Lucy, and then they
raced down the long pass. The course was hard-packed sand. Fast as Sarchedon
was, and matchless as a horseman as was Slone, the race was over almost as
soon as it began. Wildfire ran indeed like fire before the wind. He wanted to
run, and the other horse made him fierce. Like a burr Lucy stuck low over his
neck, a part of the horse, and so light he would not have known he was
carrying her but for the repeated calls in his ears. Lucy never spurred him.
She absolutely refused to use spurs on him. This day she ran away from Slone,
and, turning at the end of the two-mile course they had marked out, she loped
Wildfire back. Slone turned with her, and they were soon in camp. Lucy did not
jump off. She was in a transport. Every race kindled a mounting fire in her.
She was scarlet of face, out of breath, her hair flying. And she lay on
Wildfire's neck and hugged him and caressed him and talked to him in low tones
of love.

Slone dismounted and got Sarchedon out of the way, then crossed to where Lucy
still fondled Wildfire. He paused a moment to look at her, but when she saw
him he started again, and came close up to her as she sat the saddle.

"You went past me like a bullet," he said.

"Oh, can't he run!" murmured Lucy.

"Could he beat the King to-day?"

Slone had asked that question every day, more than once.

"Yes, he could--to-day. I know it," replied Lucy. "Oh--I get so-so excited.
I--I make a fool of myself--over him. But to ride him-- going like that--Lin!
it's just glorious!"

"You sure can ride him," replied Slone. "I can't see a fault anywhere --in
him--or in your handling him. He never breaks. He goes hard, but he saves
something. He gets mad--fierce--all the time, yet he WANTS to go your way.
Lucy, I never saw the like of it. Somehow you an' Wildfire make a combination.
You can't be beat."

"Do I ride him--well?" she asked, softly.

"I could never ride him so well."

"Oh, Lin--you just want to please me. Why, Van couldn't ride with you."

"I don't care, Lucy," replied Slone, stoutly. "You rode this horse perfect.
I've found fault with you on the King, on your mustangs, an' on this black
horse Sarch. But on Wildfire! You grow there."

"What will Dad say, and Farlane, and Holley, and Van? Oh, I'll crow over Van,"
said Lucy. "I'm crazy to ride Wildfire out before all the Indians and ranchers
and riders, before the races, just to show him off, to make them stare."

"No, Lucy. The best plan is to surprise them all. Enter your horse for the
race, but don't show up till all the riders are at the start."

"Yes, that'll be best. . . . And, Lin, only five days more--five days!"

Her words made Slone thoughtful, and Lucy, seeing that, straightway grew
thoughtful, too.

"Sure--only five days more," repeated Slone, slowly.

His tone convinced Lucy that he meant to speak again as he had spoken once
before, precipitating the only quarrel they had ever had.

"Does ANY ONE at Bostil's Ford know you meet me out here?" he asked, suddenly.

"Only Auntie. I told her the other day. She had been watching me. She thought
things. So I told her."

"What did she say?" went on Slone, curiously.

"She was mad," replied Lucy. "She scolded me. She said. . . . But, anyway, I
coaxed her not to tell on me."

"I want to know what she said," spoke up the rider, deliberately.

Lucy blushed, and it was a consciousness of confusion as well as Slone's tone
that made her half-angry.

"She said when I was found out there'd be a--a great fuss at the Ford. There
would be talk. Auntie said I'm now a grown-up girl. . . . Oh, she carried on!
. . . Bostil would likely shoot you. And if he didn't some of the riders
would. . . . Oh, Lin, it was perfectly ridiculous the way Auntie talked."

"I reckon not," replied Slone. "I'm afraid I've done wrong to let you come out
here. . . . But I never thought. I'm not used to girls. I'll--I'll deserve
what I get for lettin' you came."

"It's my own business," declared Lucy, spiritedly. "And I guess they'd better
let you alone."

Slone shook his head mournfully. He was getting one of those gloomy spells
that Lucy hated. Nevertheless, she felt a stir of her pulses.

"Lucy, there won't be any doubt about my stand--when I meet Bostil," said
Slone. Some thought had animated him.

"What do you mean?" Lucy trembled a little.

There was a sternness about Slone, a dignity that seemed new. "I'll ask him
to--to let you marry me."

Lucy stared aghast. Slone appeared in dead earnest.

"Nonsense!" she exclaimed, shortly.

"I reckon the possibility is--that," replied Slone, bitterly, "but my motive

"It is. Why, you've known me only a few days. . . . Dad would be mad. Like as
not he'd knock you down. . . . I tell you, Lin, my dad is--is pretty rough.
And just at this time of the races. . . . And if Wildfire beats the King! . .
. Whew!"

"WHEN Wildfire beats the King, not IF," corrected Slone.

"Dad will be dangerous," warned Lucy. "Please don't---don't ask him that. Then
everybody would know I--I--you---you--"

"That's it. I want everybody at your home to know."

"But it's a little place," flashed Lucy. "Every one knows me. I'm the only
girl. There have been--other fellows who. . . . And oh! I don't want you made
fun of!"

"Why?" he asked.

Lucy turned away her head without answering. Something deep within her was
softening her anger. She must fight to keep angry; and that was easy enough,
she thought, if she could only keep in mind Slone's opposition to her.
Strangely, she discovered that it had been sweet to find him always governed
by her desire or will.

"Maybe you misunderstand," he began, presently. And his voice was not steady.
"I don't forget I'm only--a beggarly rider. I couldn't have gone into the Ford
at all--I was such a ragamuffin--"

"Don't talk like that!" interrupted Lucy, impatiently.

"Listen," he replied. "My askin' Bostil for you doesn't mean I've any hope. .
. . It's just I want him an' everybody to know that I asked."

"But Dad--everybody will think that YOU think there's reason--why-- I--why,
you OUGHT to ask," burst out Lucy, with scarlet face.

"Sure, that's it," he replied.

"But there's no reason. None! Not a reason under the sun," retorted Lucy,
hotly. "I found you out here. I did you a--a little service. We planned to
race Wildfire. And I came out to ride him. . . . That's all."

Slone's dark, steady gaze disconcerted Lucy. "But, no one knows me, and we've
been alone in secret."

"It's not altogether--that. I--I told Auntie," faltered Lucy.

"Yes, just lately."

"Lin Slone, I'll never forgive you if you ask Dad that," declared Lucy, with
startling force.

"I reckon that's not so important."

"Oh!--so you don't care." Lucy felt herself indeed in a mood not
comprehensible to her. Her blood raced. She wanted to be furious with Slone,
but somehow she could not wholly be so. There was something about him that
made her feel small and thoughtless and selfish. Slone had hurt her pride. But
the thing that she feared and resented and could not understand was the
strange gladness Slone's declaration roused in her. She tried to control her
temper so she could think. Two emotions contended within her--one of intense
annoyance at the thought of embarrassment surely to follow Slone's action, and
the other a vague, disturbing element, all sweet and furious and inexplicable.
She must try to dissuade him from approaching her father.

"Please don't go to Dad." She put a hand on Slone's arm as he stood close up
to Wildfire.

"I reckon I will," he said.

"Lin!" In that word there was the subtle, nameless charm of an intimacy she
had never granted him until that moment. He seemed drawn as if by invisible
wires. He put a shaking hand on hers and crushed her gauntleted fingers. And
Lucy, in the current now of her woman's need to be placated if not obeyed,
pressed her small hand to his. How strange to what lengths a little submission
to her feeling had carried her! Every spoken word, every movement, seemed to
exact more from her. She did not know herself.

"Lin! . . . Promise not to--speak to Dad!"

"No." His voice rang.

"Don't give me away--don't tell my Dad!"

"What?" he queried, incredulously.

Lucy did not understand what. But his amazed voice, his wide-open eyes of
bewilderment, seemed to aid her into piercing the maze of her own mind. A
hundred thoughts whirled together, and all around them was wrapped the warm,
strong feeling of his hand on hers. What did she mean that he would tell her
father? There seemed to be a deep, hidden self in her. Up out of these depths
came a whisper, like a ray of light, and it said to her that there was more
hope for Lin Slone than he had ever had in one of his wildest dreams.

"Lin, if you tell Dad--then he'll know--and there WON'T be any hope for you!"
cried Lucy, honestly.

If Slone caught the significance of her words he did not believe it.

"I'm goin' to Bostil after the race an' ask him. That's settled," declared
Slone, stubbornly.

At this Lucy utterly lost her temper. "Oh! you--you fool!" she cried.

Slone drew back suddenly as if struck, and a spot of dark blood leaped to his
lean face. "No! It seems to me the right way."

"Right or wrong there's no sense in it--because--because. Oh! can't you see?"

"I see more than I used to," he replied. "I was a fool over a horse. An' now
I'm a fool over a girl. . . . I wish you'd never found me that day!"

Lucy whirled in the saddle and made Wildfire jump. She quieted him, and,
leaping off, threw the bridle to Slone. "I won't ride your horse in the race!"
she declared with sudden passion. She felt herself shaking all over.

"Lucy Bostil, I wish I was as sure of Heaven as I am you'll be up on Wildfire
in that race," he said.

"I won't ride your horse."

"MY horse. Oh, I see. . . . But you'll ride Wildfire."

"I won't."

Slone suddenly turned white, and his eyes flashed dark fire. "You won't be
able to help ridin' him any more than I could help it."

"A lot you know about me, Lin Slone!" returned Lucy, with scorn. "I can be
as--as bull-headed as you, any day."

Slone evidently controlled his temper, though his face remained white. He even
smiled at her.

"You are Bostil's daughter," he said.


"You are blood an' bone, heart an' soul a rider, if any girl ever was. You're
a wonder with a horse--as good as any man I ever saw. You love Wildfire. An'
look--how strange! That wild stallion--that killer of horses, why he follows
you, he whistles for you, he runs like lightnin' for you; he LOVES you."

Slone had attacked Lucy in her one weak point. She felt a force rending her.
She dared not look at Wildfire. Yes--all, that was true Slone had said. How
desperately hard to think of forfeiting the great race she knew she could win!

"Never! I'll never ride your Wildfire AGAIN!" she said, very, low.

"MINE! . . . So that's the trouble. Well, Wildfire won't be mine when you ride
the race."

"What do you mean?" demanded Lucy. "You'll sell him to Bostil. . . . Bah! you

"Sell Wildfire!--after what it cost me to catch an' break him? . . . Not for
all your father's lands an' horses an' money!"

Slone's voice rolled out with deep, ringing scorn. And Lucy, her temper
quelled, began to feel the rider's strength, his mastery of the situation, and
something vague, yet splendid about him that hurt her.

Slone strode toward her. Lucy backed against the cedar-tree and could go no
farther. How white he was now! Lucy's heart gave a great, fearful leap, for
she imagined Slone intended to take her in his arms. But he did not.

"When you ride--Wildfire in that--race he'll be--YOURS!" said Slone, huskily.

"How can that be?" questioned Lucy, in astonishment.

"I give him to you."

"You--give--Wildfire--to me?" gasped Lucy.

"Yes. Right now."

The rider's white face and dark eyes showed the strain of great and passionate

"Lin Slone! . . . I can't--understand you."

"You've got to ride Wildfire in that race. You've got to beat the King. . . .
So I give Wildfire to you. An' now you can't help but ride him."

"Why--why do you give him--to me?" faltered Lucy.

All her pride and temper had vanished, and she seemed lost in blankness.

"Because you love Wildfire. An' Wildfire loves you. . . . If that isn't reason
enough--then . . . because I love him--as no rider ever loved a horse. . . .
An' I love you as no man ever loved a girl!"

Slone had never before spoken words of love to Lucy. She dropped her head. She
knew of his infatuation. But he had always been shy except once when he had
been bold, and that had caused a quarrel. With a strange pain at her breast
Lucy wondered why Slone had not spoken that way before? It made as great a
change in her as if she had been born again. It released something. A bolt
shot back in her heart. She knew she was quivering like a leaf, with no power
to control her muscles. She knew if she looked up then Slone might see the
depths of her soul. Even with her hands shutting out the light she thought the
desert around had changed and become all mellow gold and blue and white,
radiant as the moonlight of dreams--and that the monuments soared above them
grandly, and were beautiful and noble, like the revelations of love and joy to
her. And suddenly she found herself sitting at the foot of the cedar, weeping,
with tear-wet hands over her face.

"There's nothin' to---to cry about," Slone was saying. "But I'm sorry if I
hurt you."

"Will--you--please--fetch Sarch?" asked Lucy, tremulously.

While Slone went for the horse and saddled him Lucy composed herself
outwardly. And she had two very strong desires--one to tell Slone something,
and the other to run. She decided she would do both together.

Slone brought Sarchedon. Lucy put on her gauntlets, and, mounting the horse,
she took a moment to arrange her skirts before she looked down at Slone. He
was now pale, rather than white, and instead of fire in his eyes there was
sadness. Lucy felt the swelling and pounding of her heart--and a long,
delicious shuddering thrill that ran over her.

"Lin, I won't take Wildfire," she said.

"Yes, you will. You can't refuse. Remember he's grown to look to you. It
wouldn't be right by the horse."

"But he's all you have in the world," she protested. Yet she knew any
protestations would be in vain.

"No. I have good old faithful Nagger."

"Would you go try to hunt another wild stallion--like Wildfire?" asked Lucy,
curiously. She was playing with the wonderful sweet consciousness of her power
to render happiness when she chose.

"No more horse-huntin' for me," declared Slone. "An' as for findin' one like
Wildfire--that'd never be."

"Suppose I won't accept him?"

"How could you refuse? Not for me but for Wildfire's sake! . . . But if you
could be mean an' refuse, why, Wildfire can go back to the desert."

"No!" exclaimed Lucy.

"I reckon so."

Lucy paused a moment. How dry her tongue seemed! And her breathing was
labored! An unreal shimmering gleam shone on all about her. Even the red
stallion appeared enveloped in a glow. And the looming monuments looked down
upon her, paternal, old, and wise, bright with the color of happiness

"Wildfire ought to have several more days' training--then a day of rest--and
then the race," said Lucy, turning again to look at Slone.

A smile was beginning to change the hardness of his face. "Yes, Lucy," he

"And I'll HAVE to ride him?"

"You sure will--if he's ever to beat the King."

Lucy's eyes flashed blue. She saw the crowd--the curious, friendly
Indians--the eager riders--the spirited horses--the face of her father --and
last the race itself, such a race as had never been ran, so swift, so fierce,
so wonderful.

"Then Lin," began Lucy, with a slowly heaving breast, "if I accept Wildfire
will you keep him for me--until . . . and if I accept him, and tell you why,
will you promise to say--"

"Don't ask me again!" interrupted Slone, hastily. "I WILL speak to Bostil."

"Wait, will you . . . promise not to say a word--a single word to ME --till
after the race?"

"A word--to you! What about?" he queried, wonderingly. Something in his eyes
made Lucy think of the dawn.

"About--the--Because--Why, I'm--I'll accept your horse."

"Yes," he replied, swiftly.

Lucy settled herself in the saddle and, shortening the bridle, she got ready
to spur Sarchedon into a bolt.

"Lin, I'll accept Wildfire because I love you."

Sarchedon leaped forward. Lucy did not see Slone's face nor hear him speak.
Then she was tearing through the sage, out past the whistling Wildfire, with
the wind sweet in her face. She did not look back.


All through May there was an idea, dark and sinister, growing in Bostil's
mind. Fiercely at first he had rejected it as utterly unworthy of the man he
was. But it returned. It would not be denied. It was fostered by singular and
unforeseen circumstances. The meetings with Creech, the strange, sneaking
actions of young Joel Creech, and especially the gossip of riders about the
improvement in Creech's swift horse--these things appeared to loom larger and
larger and to augment in Bostil's mind the monstrous idea which he could not
shake off. So he became brooding and gloomy.

It appeared to be an indication of his intense preoccupation of mind that he
seemed unaware of Lucy's long trips down into the sage. But Bostil had
observed them long before Holley and other riders had approached him with the

"Let her alone," he growled to his men. "I gave her orders to train the King.
An' after Van got well mebbe Lucy just had a habit of ridin' down there. She
can take care of herself."

To himself, when alone, Bostil muttered: "Wonder what the kid has looked up
now? Some mischief, I'll bet!"

Nevertheless, he did not speak to her on the subject. Deep in his heart he
knew he feared his keen-eyed daughter, and during these days he was glad she
was not in evidence at the hours when he could not very well keep entirely to
himself. Bostil was afraid Lucy might divine what he had on his mind. There
was no one else he cared for. Holley, that old hawk-eyed rider, might see
through him, but Bostil knew Holley would be loyal, whatever he saw.

Toward the end of the month, when Somers returned from horse-hunting, Bostil
put him and Shugrue to work upon the big flatboat down at the crossing. Bostil
himself went down, and he walked--a fact apt to be considered unusual if it
had been noticed.

"Put in new planks," was his order to the men. "An' pour hot tar in the
cracks. Then when the tar dries shove her in . . . but I'll tell you when."

Every morning young Creech rowed over to see if the boat was ready to take the
trip across to bring his father's horses back. The third morning of work on
the boat Bostil met Joel down there. Joel seemed eager to speak to Bostil. He
certainly was a wild-looking youth.

"Bostil, my ole man is losin' sleep waitin' to git the hosses over," he said,
frankly. "Feed's almost gone."

"That'll be all right, Joel," replied Bostil. "You see, the river ain't begun
to raise yet. . . . How're the hosses comin' on?"

"Grand, sir--grand!" exclaimed the simple Joel. "Peg is runnin' faster than
last year, but Blue Roan is leavin' her a mile. Dad's goin' to bet all he has.
The roan can't lose this year."

Bostil felt like a bull bayed at by a hound. Blue Roan was a young horse, and
every season he had grown bigger and faster. The King had reached the limit of
his speed. That was great, Bostil knew, and enough to win over any horse in
the uplands, providing the luck of the race fell even. Luck, however, was a
fickle thing.

"I was advisin' Dad to swim the hosses over," declared Joel, deliberately.

"A-huh! You was? . . . An' why?" rejoined Bostil.

Joel's simplicity and frankness vanished, and with them his rationality. He
looked queer. His contrasting eyes shot little malignant gleams. He muttered
incoherently, and moved back toward the skiff, making violent gestures, and
his muttering grew to shouting, though still incoherent. He got in the boat
and started to row back over the river.

"Sure he's got a screw loose," observed Somers. Shugrue tapped his grizzled
head significantly.

Bostil made no comment. He strode away from his men down to the river shore,
and, finding a seat on a stone, he studied the slow eddying red current of the
river and he listened. If any man knew the strange and remorseless Colorado,
that man was Bostil. He never made any mistakes in anticipating what the river
was going to do.

And now he listened, as if indeed the sullen, low roar, the murmuring hollow
gurgle, the sudden strange splash, were spoken words meant for his ears alone.
The river was low. It seemed tired out. It was a dirty red in color, and it
swirled and flowed along lingeringly. At times the current was almost
imperceptible; and then again it moved at varying speed. It seemed a petulant,
waiting, yet inevitable stream, with some remorseless end before it. It had a
thousand voices, but not the one Bostil listened to hear.

He plodded gloomily up the trail, resting in the quiet, dark places of the
canyon, loath to climb out into the clear light of day. And once in the
village, Bostil shook himself as if to cast off an evil, ever-present,
pressing spell.

The races were now only a few days off. Piutes and Navajos were camped out on
the sage, and hourly the number grew as more came in. They were building cedar
sunshades. Columns of blue smoke curled up here and there. Mustangs and ponies
grazed everywhere, and a line of Indians extended along the racecourse, where
trials were being held. The village was full of riders, horse-traders and
hunters, and ranchers. Work on the ranges had practically stopped for the time
being, and in another day or so every inhabitant of the country would be in
Bostil's Ford.

Bostil walked into the village, grimly conscious that the presence of the
Indians and riders and horses, the action and color and bustle, the near
approach of the great race-day--these things that in former years had brought
him keen delight and speculation--had somehow lost their tang. He had changed.
Something was wrong in him. But he must go among these visitors and welcome
them as of old; he who had always been the life of these racing-days must be
outwardly the same. And the task was all the harder because of the pleasure
shown by old friends among the Indians and the riders at meeting him. Bostil
knew he had been a cunning horse-trader, but he had likewise been a good
friend. Many were the riders and Indians who owed much to him. So everywhere
he was hailed and besieged, until finally the old excitement of betting and
bantering took hold of him and he forgot his brooding.

Brackton's place, as always, was a headquarters for all visitors. Macomber had
just come in full of enthusiasm and pride over the horse he had entered, and
he had money to wager. Two Navajo chiefs, called by white men Old Horse and
Silver, were there for the first time in years. They were ready to gamble
horse against horse. Cal Blinn and his riders of Durango had arrived; likewise
Colson, Sticks, and Burthwait, old friends and rivals of Bostil's.

For a while Brackton's was merry. There was some drinking and much betting. It
was characteristic of Bostil that he would give any odds asked on the King in
a race; and, furthermore, he would take any end of wagers on other horses. As
far as his own horses were concerned he bet shrewdly, but in races where his
horses did not figure he seemed to find fun in the betting, whether or not he

The fact remained, however, that there were only two wagers against the King,
and both were put up by Indians. Macomber was betting on second or third place
for his horse in the big race. No odds of Bostil's tempted him.

"Say, where's Wetherby?" rolled out Bostil. "He'll back his hoss."

"Wetherby's ridin' over to-morrow," replied Macomber. "But you gotta bet him
two to one."

"See hyar, Bostil," spoke up old Cal Blinn, "you jest wait till I git an eye
on the King's runnin'. Mebbe I'll go you even money."

"An' as fer me, Bostil," said Colson, "I ain't set up yit which hoss I'll

Burthwait, an old rider, came forward to Brackton's desk and entered a wager
against the field that made all the men gasp.

"By George! pard, you ain't a-limpin' along!" ejaculated Bostil, admiringly,
and he put a hand on the other's shoulder.

"Bostil, I've a grand hoss," replied Burthwait. "He's four years old, I guess,
fer he was born wild, an' you never seen him."

"Wild hoss? . . . Huh!" growled Bostil. "You must think he can run."

"Why, Bostil, a streak of lightnin' ain't anywheres with him."

"Wal, I'm glad to hear it," said Bostil, gruffly. "Brack, how many hosses
entered now for the big race?"

The lean, gray Brackton bent earnestly over his soiled ledger, while the
riders and horsemen round him grew silent to listen.

"Thar's the Sage King by Bostil," replied Brackton. "Blue Roan an' Peg, by
Creech; Whitefoot, by Macomber; Rocks, by Holley; Hoss-shoes, by Blinn; Bay
Charley, by Burthwait. Then thar's the two mustangs entered by Old Hoss an'
Silver--an' last--Wildfire, by Lucy Bostil."

"What's thet last?" queried Bostil.

"Wildfire, by Lucy Bostil," repeated Brackton.

"Has the girl gone an' entered a hoss?"

"She sure has. She came in to-day, regular an' business-like, writ her name
an' her hoss's--here 'tis--an' put up the entrance money."

"Wal, I'll be d--d!" exclaimed Bostil. He was astonished and pleased. "She
said she'd do it. But I didn't take no stock in her talk. . . . An' the hoss's


"Huh! . . . Wildfire. Mebbe thet girl can't think of names for hosses! What's
this hoss she calls Wildfire?"

"She sure didn't say," replied Brackton. "Holley an' Van an' some more of the
boys was here. They joked her a little. You oughter seen the look Lucy give
them. But fer once she seemed mum. She jest walked away mysterious like."

"Lucy's got a pony off some Indian, I reckon," returned Bostil, and he
laughed. "Then thet makes ten hosses entered so far?"

"Right. An' there's sure to be one more. I guess the, track's wide enough for

"Wal, Brack, there'll likely be one hoss out in front an' some stretched out
behind," replied Bostil, dryly. "The track's sure wide enough."

"Won't thet be a grand race!" exclaimed an enthusiastic rider. "Wisht I had
about a million to bet!"

"Bostil, I 'most forgot," went on Brackton, "Cordts sent word by the Piutes
who come to-day thet he'd be here sure."

Bostil's face subtly changed. The light seemed to leave it. He did not reply
to Brackton--did not show that he heard the comment on all sides. Public
opinion was against Bostil's permission to allow Cordts and his horse-thieves
to attend the races. Bostil appeared grave, regretful. Yet it was known by all
that in the strangeness and perversity of his rider's nature he wanted Cordts
to see the King win that race. It was his rider's vanity and defiance in the
teeth of a great horse-thief. But no good would come of Cordts's presence
--that much was manifest.

There was a moment of silence. All these men, if they did not fear Bostil,
were sometimes uneasy when near him. Some who were more reckless than discreet
liked to irritate him. That, too, was a rider's weakness.

"When's Creech's hosses comin' over?" asked Colson, with sudden interest.

"Wal, I reckon--soon," replied Bostil, constrainedly, and he turned away.

By the time he got home all the excitement of the past hour had left him and
gloom again abided in his mind. He avoided his daughter and forgot the fact of
her entering a horse in the race. He ate supper alone, without speaking to his
sister. Then in the dusk he went out to the corrals and called the King to the
fence. There was love between master and horse. Bostil talked low, like a
woman, to Sage King. And the hard old rider's heart was full and a lump
swelled in his throat, for contact with the King reminded him that other men
loved other horses.

Bostil returned to the house and went to his room, where he sat thinking in
the dark. By and by all was quiet. Then seemingly with a wrench he bestirred
himself and did what for him was a strange action. Removing his boots, he put
on a pair of moccasins. He slipped out of the house; he kept to the flagstone
of the walk; he took to the sage till out of the village, and then he sheered
round to the river trail. With the step and sureness and the eyes of an Indian
he went down through that pitch-black canyon to the river and the ford.

The river seemed absolutely the same as during the day. He peered through the
dark opaqueness of gloom. It moved there, the river he knew, shadowy,
mysterious, murmuring. Bostil went down to the edge of the water, and, sitting
there, he listened. Yes--the voices of the stream were the same. But after a
long time he imagined there was among them an infinitely low voice, as if from
a great distance. He imagined this; he doubted; he made sure; and then all
seemed fancy again. His mind held only one idea and was riveted round it. He
strained his hearing, so long, so intently, that at last he knew he had heard
what he was longing for. Then in the gloom he took to the trail, and returned
home as he had left, stealthily, like an Indian.

But Bostil did not sleep nor rest.

Next morning early he rode down to the river. Somers and Shugrue had finished
the boat and were waiting. Other men were there, curious and eager. Joel
Creech, barefooted and ragged, with hollow eyes and strange actions, paced the

The boat was lying bottom up. Bostil examined the new planking and the seams.
Then he straightened his form.

"Turn her over," he ordered. "Shove her in. An' let her soak up to-day."

The men seemed glad and relieved. Joel Creech heard and he came near to

"You'll--you'll fetch Dad's hosses over?" he queried.

"Sure. To-morrow," replied Bostil, cheerily.

Joel smiled, and that smile showed what might have been possible for him under
kinder conditions of life. "Now, Bostil, I'm sorry fer what I said," blurted

"Shut up. Go tell your old man."

Joel ran down to his skiff and, leaping in, began to row vigorously across.
Bostil watched while the workmen turned the boat over and slid it off the
sand-bar and tied it securely to the mooring. Bostil observed that not a man
there saw anything unusual about the river. But, for that matter, there was
nothing to see. The river was the same.

That night when all was quiet in and around the village Bostil emerged from
his house and took to his stealthy stalk down toward the river.

The moment he got out into the night oppression left him. How interminable the
hours had been! Suspense, doubt, anxiety, fear no longer burdened him. The
night was dark, with only a few stars, and the air was cool. A soft wind blew
across his heated face. A neighbor's dog, baying dismally, startled Bostil. He
halted to listen, then stole on under the cottonwoods, through the sage, down
the trail, into the jet-black canyon. Yet he found his way as if it had been
light. In the darkness of his room he had been a slave to his indecision; now
in the darkness of the looming cliffs he was free, resolved, immutable.

The distance seemed short. He passed out of the narrow canyon, skirted the
gorge over the river, and hurried down into the shadowy amphitheater under the
looming walls.

The boat lay at the mooring, one end resting lightly the sand-bar. With
strong, nervous clutch Bostil felt the knots of the cables. Then he peered
into the opaque gloom of that strange and huge V-shaped split between the
great canyon walls. Bostil's mind had begun to relax from the single idea. Was
he alone? Except for the low murmur of the river there was dead silence--a
silence like no other--a silence which seemed held under imprisoning walls.
Yet Bostil peered long into the shadows. Then he looked up. The ragged
ramparts far above frowned bold and black at a few cold stars, and the blue of
its sky was without the usual velvety brightness. How far it was up to that
corrugated rim! All of a sudden Bostil hated this vast ebony pit.

He strode down to the water and, sitting upon the stone he had occupied so
often, he listened. He turned his ear up-stream, then down-stream, and to the
side, and again up-stream and listened.

The river seemed the same.

It was slow, heavy, listless, eddying, lingering, moving--the same apparently
as for days past. It splashed very softly and murmured low and gurgled
faintly. It gave forth fitful little swishes and musical tinkles and lapping
sounds. It was flowing water, yet the proof was there of tardiness. Now it was
almost still, and then again it moved on. It was a river of mystery telling a
lie with its low music. As Bostil listened all those soft, watery sounds
merged into what seemed a moaning, and that moaning held a roar so low as to
be only distinguishable to the ear trained by years.

No--the river was not the same. For the voice of its soft moaning showed to
Bostil its meaning. It called from the far north--the north of great ice-clad
peaks beginning to glisten under the nearing sun; of vast snow-filled canyons
dripping and melting; of the crystal brooks suddenly colored and roiled and
filled bank-full along the mountain meadows; of many brooks plunging down and
down, rolling the rocks, to pour their volume into the growing turbid streams
on the slopes. It was the voice of all that widely separated water spilled
suddenly with magical power into the desert river to make it a mighty,
thundering torrent, red and defiled, terrible in its increasing onslaught into
the canyon, deep, ponderous, but swift --the Colorado in flood.

And as Bostil heard that voice he trembled. What was the thing he meant to do?
A thousand thoughts assailed him in answer and none were clear. A chill passed
over him. Suddenly he felt that the cold stole up from his feet. They were
both in the water. He pulled them out and, bending down, watched the dim, dark
line of water. It moved up and up, inch by inch, swiftly. The river was on the

Bostil leaped up. He seemed possessed of devils. A rippling hot gash of blood
fired his every vein and tremor after tremor shook him.

"By G---d! I had it right--she's risin'!" he exclaimed, hoarsely.

He stared in fascinated certainty at the river. All about it and pertaining to
it had changed. The murmur and moan changed to a low, sullen roar. The music
was gone. The current chafed at its rock-bound confines. Here was an uneasy,
tormented, driven river! The light from the stars shone on dark, glancing,
restless waters, uneven and strange. And while Bostil watched, whether it was
a short time or long, the remorseless, destructive nature of the river showed

Bostil began to pace the sands. He thought of those beautiful race-horses
across the river.

"It's not too late!" he muttered. "I can get the boat over an' back--yet!"

He knew that on the morrow the Colorado in flood would bar those horses,
imprison them in a barren canyon, shut them in to starve.

"It'd be hellish! . . . Bostil, you can't do it. You ain't thet kind of a man
. . . . Bostil poison a water-hole where hosses loved to drink, or burn over
grass! . . . What would Lucy think of you? . . . No, Bostil, you've let spite
rule bad. Hurry now and save them hosses!"

He strode down to the boat. It swung clear now, and there was water between it
and the shore. Bostil laid hold of the cables. As he did so he thought of
Creech and a blackness enfolded him. He forgot Creech's horses. Something
gripped him, burned him--some hard and bitter feeling which he thought was
hate of Creech. Again the wave of fire ran over him, and his huge hands
strained on the cables. The fiend of that fiendish river had entered his soul.
He meant ruin to a man. He meant more than ruin. He meant to destroy what his
enemy, his rival loved. The darkness all about him, the gloom and sinister
shadow of the canyon, the sullen increasing roar of the' river--these lent
their influence to the deed, encouraged him, drove him onward, fought and
strangled the resistance in his heart. As he brooded all the motives for the
deed grew like that remorseless river. Had not his enemy's son shot at him
from ambush? Was not his very life at stake? A terrible blow must be dealt
Creech, one that would crush him or else lend him manhood enough to come forth
with a gun. Bostil, in his torment, divined that Creech would know who had
ruined him. They would meet then, as Bostil had tried more than once to bring
about a meeting. Bostil saw into his soul, and it was a gulf like this canyon
pit where the dark and sullen river raged. He shrank at what he saw, but the
furies of passion held him fast. His hands tore at the cables. Then he fell to
pacing to and fro in the gloom. Every moment the river changed its voice. In
an hour flood would be down. Too late, then! Bostil again remembered the
sleek, slim, racy thoroughbreds--Blue Roan, a wild horse he had longed to own,
and Peg, a mare that had no equal in the uplands. Where did Bostil's hate of a
man stand in comparison with love of a horse? He began to sweat and the sweat
burned him.

"How soon'll Creech hear the river an' know what's comin'?" muttered Bostil,
darkly. And that question showed him how he was lost. All this strife of doubt
and fear and horror were of no use. He meant to doom Creech's horses. The
thing had been unalterable from the inception of the insidious, hateful idea.
It was irresistible. He grew strong, hard, fierce, and implacable. He found
himself. He strode back to the cables. The knots, having dragged in the water,
were soaking wet and swollen. He could not untie them. Then he cut one strand
after another. The boat swung out beyond his reach.

Instinctively Bostil reached to pull it back.

"My God! . . . It's goin'!" he whispered. "What have I done?"

He--Bostil--who had made this Crossing of the Fathers more famous as Bostil's
Ford--he--to cut the boat adrift! The thing was inconceivable.

The roar of the river rose weird and mournful and incessant, with few breaks,
and these were marked by strange ripping and splashing sounds made as the
bulges of water broke on the surface. Twenty feet out the boat floated,
turning a little as it drifted. It seemed loath to leave. It held on the shore
eddy. Hungrily, spitefully the little, heavy waves lapped it. Bostil watched
it with dilating eyes. There! the current caught one end and the water rose in
a hollow splash over the corner. An invisible hand, like a mighty giant's,
seemed to swing the boat out. It had been dark; now it was opaque, now
shadowy, now dim. How swift this cursed river! Was there any way in which
Bostil could recover his boat? The river answered him with hollow, deep
mockery. Despair seized upon him. And the vague shape of the boat, spectral
and instinct with meaning, passed from Bostil's strained gaze.

"So help me God, I've done it!" he groaned, hoarsely. And he staggered back
and sat down. Mind and heart and soul were suddenly and exquisitely acute to
the shame of his act. Remorse seized upon his vitals. He suffered physical
agony, as if a wolf gnawed him internally.

"To hell with Creech an' his hosses, but where do I come in as a man?" he
whispered. And he sat there, arms tight around his knees, locked both mentally
and physically into inaction.

The rising water broke the spell and drove him back. The river was creeping no
longer. It swelled. And the roar likewise swelled. Bostil hurried across the
flat to get to the rocky trail before he was cut off, and the last few rods he
waded in water up to his knees.

"I'll leave no trail there," he muttered, with a hard laugh. It sounded
ghastly to him, like the laugh of the river.

And there at the foot of the rocky trail he halted to watch and listen. The
old memorable boom came to his ears. The flood was coming. For twenty-three
years he had heard the vanguard boom of the Colorado in flood. But never like
this, for in the sound he heard the strife and passion of his blood, and
realized himself a human counterpart of that remorseless river. The moments
passed and each one saw a swelling of the volume of sound. The sullen roar
just below him was gradually lost in a distant roar. A steady wind now blew
through the canyon. The great walls seemed to gape wider to prepare for the
torrent. Bostil backed slowly up the trail as foot by foot the water rose. The
floor of the amphitheater was now a lake of choppy, angry waves. The willows
bent and seethed in the edge of the current. Beyond ran an uneven, bulging
mass that resembled some gray, heavy moving monster. In the gloom Bostil could
see how the river turned a corner of wall and slanted away from it toward the
center, where it rose higher. Black objects that must have been driftwood
appeared on this crest. They showed an instant, then flashed out of sight. The
boom grew steadier, closer, louder, and the reverberations, like low
detonations of thunder, were less noticeable because all sounds were being
swallowed up.

A harder breeze puffed into Bostil's face. It brought a tremendous thunder, as
if all the colossal walls were falling in avalanche. Bostil knew the crest of
the flood had turned the corner above and would soon reach him. He watched. He
listened, but sound had ceased. His cars seemed ringing and they hurt. All his
body felt cold, and he backed up and up, with dead feet.

The shadows of the canyon lightened. A river-wide froth, like a curtain, moved
down, spreading mushroom-wise before it, a rolling, heaving maelstrom. Bostil
ran to escape the great wave that surged into the amphitheater, up and up the
rocky trail. When he turned again he seemed to look down into hell. Murky
depths, streaked by pale gleams, and black, sinister, changing forms yawned
beneath them. He watched with fixed eyes until once more the feeling of filled
ears left him and an awful thundering boom assured him of actualities. It was
only the Colorado in flood.


Bostil slept that night, but his sleep was troubled, and a strange, dreadful
roar seemed to run through it, like a mournful wind over a dark desert. He was
awakened early by a voice at his window. He listened. There came a rap on the

"Bostil! . . . Bostil!" It was Holley's voice.

Bostil rolled off the bed. He had slept without removing any apparel except
his boots.

"Wal, Hawk, what d'ye mean wakin' a man at this unholy hour?" growled Bostil.

Holley's face appeared above the rude sill. It was pale and grave, with the
hawk eyes like glass. "It ain't so awful early," he said. "Listen, boss."

Bostil halted in the act of pulling on a boot. He looked at his man while he
listened. The still air outside seemed filled with low boom, like thunder at a
distance. Bostil tried to look astounded.

"Hell! . . . It's the Colorado! She's boomin'!"

"Reckon it's hell all right--for Creech," replied Holley. "Boss, why didn't
you fetch them hosses over?"

Bostil's face darkened. He was a bad man to oppose--to question at times.
"Holley, you're sure powerful anxious about Creech. Are you his friend?"

"Naw! I've little use fer Creech," replied Holley. "An' you know thet. But I
hold for his hosses as I would any man's."

"A-huh! An' what's your kick?"

"Nothin'--except you could have fetched them over before the flood come down.
That's all."

The old horse-trader end his right-hand rider looked at each other for a
moment in silence. They understood each other. Then Bostil returned to the
task of pulling on wet boots and Holley went away.

Bostil opened his door and stepped outside. The eastern ramparts of the desert
were bright red with the rising sun. With the night behind him and the morning
cool and bright and beautiful, Bostil did not suffer a pang nor feel a regret.
He walked around under the cottonwoods where the mocking-birds were singing.
The shrill, screeching bray of a burro split the morning stillness, and with
that the sounds of the awakening village drowned that sullen, dreadful boom of
the river. Bostil went in to breakfast.

He encountered Lucy in the kitchen, and he did not avoid her. He could tell
from her smiling greeting that he seemed to her his old self again. Lucy wore
an apron and she had her sleeves rolled up, showing round, strong, brown arms.
Somehow to Bostil she seemed different. She had been pretty, but now she was
more than that. She was radiant. Her blue eyes danced. She looked excited. She
had been telling her aunt something, and that worthy woman appeared at once
shocked and delighted. But Bostil's entrance had caused a mysterious break in
everything that had been going on, except the preparation of the morning meal.

"Now I rode in on some confab or other, that's sure," said Bostil,

"You sure did, Dad," replied Lucy, with a bright smile.

"Wal, let me sit in the game," he rejoined.

"Dad, you can't even ante," said Lucy.

"Jane, what's this kid up to?" asked Bostil, turning to his sister.

"The good Lord only knows!" replied Aunt Jane, with a sigh.

"Kid? . . . See here, Dad, I'm eighteen long ago. I'm grown up. I can do as I
please, go where I like, and anything. . . . Why, Dad, I could get--married."

"Haw! haw!" laughed Bostil. "Jane, hear the girl."

"I hear her, Bostil," sighed Aunt Jane.

"Wal, Lucy, I'd just like to see you fetch some fool love-sick rider around
when I'm feelin' good," said Bostil.

Lucy laughed, but there was a roguish, daring flash in her eyes. "Dad, you do
seem to have all the young fellows scared. Some day maybe one will ride
along--a rider like you used to be--that nobody could bluff. . . . And he can
have me!"

"A-huh! . . . Lucy, are you in fun?"

Lucy tossed her bright head, but did not answer.

"Jane, what's got into her?" asked Bostil, appealing to his sister.

"Bostil, she's in fun, of course," declared Aunt Jane. "Still, at that,
there's some sense in what she says. Come to your breakfast, now."

Bostil took his seat at the table, glad that he could once more be amiable
with his women-folk. "Lucy, to-morrow'll be the biggest day Bostil's Ford ever
seen," he said.

"It sure will be, Dad. The biggest SURPRISING day the Ford ever had," replied


"Yes, Dad."

"Who's goin' to get surprised?"


Bostil said to himself that he had been used to Lucy's banter, but during his
moody spell of days past he had forgotten how to take her or else she was

"Brackton tells me you've entered a hoss against the field."

"It's an open race, isn't it?"

"Open as the desert, Lucy," he replied. "What's this hoss Wildfire you've

"Wouldn't you like to know?" taunted Lucy.

"If he's as good as his name you might be in at the finish. . . . But, Lucy,
my dear, talkin' good sense now--you ain't a-goin' to go up on some unbroken
mustang in this big race?"

"Dad, I'm going to ride a horse."

"But, Lucy, ain't it a risk you'll be takin'--all for fun?"

"Fun! ... I'm in dead earnest."

Bostil liked the look of her then. She had paled a little; her eyes blazed;
she was intense. His question had brought out her earnestness, and straightway
Bostil became thoughtful. If Lucy had been a boy she would have been the
greatest rider on the uplands; and even girl as she was, superbly mounted, she
would have been dangerous in any race.

"Wal, I ain't afraid of your handlin' of a hoss, " he said, soberly. "An' as
long as you're in earnest I won't stop you. But, Lucy, no bettin'. I won't let
you gamble."

"Not even with you?" she coaxed.

Bostil stared at the girl. What had gotten into her? "What'll you bet?" he,
queried, with blunt curiosity.

"Dad, I'll go you a hundred dollars in gold that I finish one-- two--three."

Bostil threw back his head to laugh heartily. What a chip of the old block she
was! "Child, there's some fast hosses that'll be back of the King. You'd be
throwin' away money."

Blue fire shone in his daughter's eyes. She meant business, all right, and
Bostil thrilled with pride in her.

"Dad, I'll bet you two hundred, even, that I beat the King!" she flashed.

"Wal, of all the nerve!" ejaculated Bostil. "No, I won't take you up. Reckon I
never before turned down an even bet. Understand, Lucy, ridin' in the race is
enough for you."

"All right, Dad," replied Lucy, obediently.

At that juncture Bostil suddenly shoved back his plate and turned his face to
the open door. "Don't I hear a runnin' hoss?"

Aunt Jane stopped the noise she was making, and Lucy darted to the door. Then
Bostil heard the sharp, rhythmic hoof-beats he recognized. They shortened to
clatter and pound--then ceased somewhere out in front of the house.

"It's the King with Van up," said Lucy, from the door. "Dad, Van's jumped
off--he's coming in . . . he's running. Something has happened. . . . There
are other horses coming--riders--Indians."

Bostil knew what was coming and prepared himself. Rapid footsteps sounded

"Hello, Miss Lucy! Where's Bostil?"

A lean, supple rider appeared before the door. It was Van, greatly excited.

"Come in, boy," said Bostil. "What're you flustered about?"

Van strode in, spurs jangling, cap in hand. "Boss, there's--a sixty-foot
raise--in the river!" Van panted.

"Oh!" cried Lucy, wheeling toward her father.

"Wal, Van, I reckon I knowed thet," replied Bostil. "Mebbe I'm gettin' old,
but I can still hear. . . . Listen."

Lucy tiptoed to the door and turned her head sidewise and slowly bowed it till
she stiffened. Outside were, sounds of birds and horses and men, but when a
lull came it quickly filled with a sullen, low boom.

"Highest flood we--ever seen," said Van.

"You've been down?" queried Bostil, sharply.

"Not to the river," replied Van. "I went as far as--where the gulch opens--on
the bluff. There was a string of Navajos goin' down. An' some comin' up. I
stayed there watchin' the flood, an' pretty soon Somers come up the trail with
Blakesley an' Brack an' some riders. . . . An' Somers hollered out, 'The
boat's gone!'"

"Gone!" exclaimed Bostil, his loud cry showing consternation.

"Oh, Dad! Oh, Van!" cried Lucy, with eyes wide and lips parted.

"Sure she's gone. An' the whole place down there--where the willows was an'
the sand-bar--it was deep under water."

"What will become of Creech's horses?" asked Lucy, breathlessly.

"My God! ain't it a shame!" went on Bostil, and he could have laughed aloud at
his hypocrisy. He felt Lucy's blue eyes riveted upon his face.

"Thet's what we all was sayin'," went on Van. "While we was watchin' the awful
flood an' listenin' to the deep bum--bum--bum of rollin' rocks some one seen
Creech an' two Piutes leadin' the hosses up thet trail where the slide was. We
counted the hosses--nine. An' we saw the roan shine blue in the sunlight."

"Piutes with Creech!" exclaimed Bostil, the deep gloom in his eyes lighting.
"By all thet's lucky! Mebbe them Indians can climb the hosses out of thet hole
an' find water an' grass enough."

"Mebbe," replied Van, doubtfully. "Sure them Piutes could if there's a chance.
But there ain't any grass."

"It won't take much grass travelin' by night."

"So lots of the boys say. But the Navajos they shook their heads. An' Farlane
an' Holley, why, they jest held up their hands."

"With them Indians Creech has a chance to get his hosses out," declared
Bostil. He was sure of his sincerity, but he was not certain that his
sincerity was not the birth of a strange, sudden hope. And then he was able to
meet the eyes of his daughter. That was his supreme test.

"Oh, Dad, why, why didn't you hurry Creech's horses over?" said Lucy, with her
tears falling.

Something tight within Bostil's breast seemed to ease and lessen. "Why didn't
I? . . . Wal, Lucy, I reckon I wasn't in no hurry to oblige Creech. I'm sorry

"It won't be so terrible if he doesn't lose the horses," murmured Lucy.

"Where's young Joel Creech?" asked Bostil.

"He stayed on this side last night," replied Van. "Fact is, Joel's the one who
first knew the flood was on. Some one said he said he slept in the canyon last
night. Anyway, he's ravin' crazy now. An' if he doesn't do harm to some one or
hisself I'll miss my guess."

"A-huh!" grunted Bostil. "Right you are."

"Dad, can't anything be done to help Creech now?" appealed Lucy, going close
to her father.

Bostil put his arm around her and felt immeasurably relieved to have the
golden head press close to his shoulder. "Child, we can't fly acrost the
river. Now don't you cry about Creech's hosses. They ain't starved yet. It's
hard luck. But mebbe it'll turn out so Creech'll lose only the race. An',
Lucy, it was a dead sure bet he'd have lost thet anyway."

Bostil fondled his daughter a moment, the first time in many a day, and then
he turned to his rider at the door. "Van, how's the King?"

"Wild to run, Bostil, jest plumb wild. There won't be any hoss with the ghost
of a show to-morrow."

Lucy raised her drooping head. "Is THAT so, Van Sickle? . . . Listen here. If
you and Sage King don't get more wild running to-morrow than you ever had I'll
never ride again!" With this retort Lucy left the room.

Van stared at the door and then at Bostil. "What'd I say, Bostil?" he asked,
plaintively. "I'm always r'ilin' her."

"Cheer up, Van. You didn't say much. Lucy is fiery these days. She's got a
hoss somewhere an' she's goin' to ride him in the race. She offered to bet on
him--against the King! It certainly beat me all hollow. But see here, Van.
I've a hunch there's a dark hoss goin' to show up in this race. So don't
underrate Lucy an' her mount, whatever he is. She calls him Wildfire. Ever see

"I sure haven't. Fact is, I haven't seen Lucy for days an' days. As for the
hunch you gave, I'll say I was figurin' Lucy for some real race. Bostil, she
doesn't MAKE a hoss run. He'll run jest to please her. An' Lucy's lighter 'n a
feather. Why, Bostil, if she happened to ride out there on Blue Roan or some
other hoss as fast I'd--I'd jest wilt."

Bostil uttered a laugh full of pride in his daughter. "Wal, she won't show up
on Blue Roan," he replied, with grim gruffness. "Thet's sure as death. . . .
Come on out now. I want a look at the King."

Bostil went into the village. All day long he was so busy with a thousand and
one things referred to him, put on him, undertaken by him, that he had no time
to think. Back in his mind, however, there was a burden of which he was
vaguely conscious all the time. He worked late into the night and slept late
the next morning.

Never in his life had Bostil been gloomy or retrospective on the day of a
race. In the press of matters he had only a word for Lucy, but that earned a
saucy, dauntless look. He was glad when he was able to join the procession of
villagers, visitors, and Indians moving out toward the sage.

The racecourse lay at the foot of the slope, and now the gray and purple sage
was dotted with more horses and Indians, more moving things and colors, than
Bostil had ever seen there before. It was a spectacle that stirred him. Many
fires sent up blue columns of smoke from before the hastily built brush huts
where the Indians cooked and ate. Blankets shone bright in the sun; burros
grazed and brayed; horses whistled piercingly across the slope; Indians lolled
before the huts or talked in groups, sitting and lounging on their ponies;
down in the valley, here and there, were Indians racing, and others were
chasing the wiry mustangs. Beyond this gay and colorful spectacle stretched

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