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Wildfire by Zane Grey

Part 4 out of 6

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the valley, merging into the desert marked so strikingly and beautifully by
the monuments.

Bostil was among the last to ride down to the high bench that overlooked the
home end of the racecourse. He calculated that there were a thousand Indians
and whites congregated at that point, which was the best vantage-ground to see
the finish of a race. And the occasion of his arrival, for all the gaiety, was
one of dignity and importance. If Bostil reveled in anything it was in an hour
like this. His liberality made this event a great race-day. The thoroughbreds
were all there, blanketed, in charge of watchful riders. In the center of the
brow of this long bench lay a huge, flat rock which had been Bostil's seat in
the watching of many a race. Here were assembled his neighbors and visitors
actively interested in the races, and also the important Indians of both
tribes, all waiting for him.

As Bostil dismounted, throwing the bridle to a rider, he saw a face that
suddenly froze the thrilling delight of the moment. A tall, gaunt man with
cavernous black eyes and huge, drooping black mustache fronted him and seemed
waiting. Cordts! Bostil had forgotten. Instinctively Bostil stood on guard.
For years he had prepared himself for the moment when he would come face to
face with this noted horse-thief.

"Bostil, how are you?" said Cordts. He appeared pleasant, and certainly
grateful for being permitted to come there. From his left hand hung a belt
containing two heavy guns.

"Hello, Cordts," replied Bostil, slowly unbending. Then he met the other's
proffered hand.

"I've bet heavy on the King," said Cordts.

For the moment there could have been no other way to Bostil's good graces, and
this remark made the gruff old rider's hard face relax.

"Wal, I was hopin' you'd back some other hoss, so I could take your money,"
replied Bostil.

Cordts held out the belt and guns to Bostil. "I want to enjoy this race," he
said, with a smile that somehow hinted of the years he had packed those guns
day and night.

"Cordts, I don't want to take your guns," replied Bostil, bluntly. "I've taken
your word an' that's enough."

"Thanks, Bostil. All the same, as I'm your guest I won't pack them," returned
Cordts, and he hung the belt on the horn of Bostil's saddle. "Some of my men
are with me. They were all right till they got outside of Brackton's whisky.
But now I won't answer for them."

"Wal, you're square to say thet," replied Bostil. "An' I'll run this race an'
answer for everybody."

Bostil recognized Hutchinson and Dick Sears, but the others of Cordts's gang
he did not know. They were a hard-looking lot. Hutchinson was a spare,
stoop-shouldered, red-faced, squinty-eyed rider, branded all over with the
marks of a bad man. And Dick Sears looked his notoriety. He was a little knot
of muscle, short and bow-legged, rough in appearance as cactus. He wore a
ragged slouch-hat pulled low down. His face and stubby beard were
dust-colored, and his eyes seemed sullen, watchful. He made Bostil think of a
dusty, scaly, hard, desert rattlesnake. Bostil eyed this right-hand man of
Cordts's and certainly felt no fear of him, though Sears had the fame of swift
and deadly skill with a gun. Bostil felt that he was neither afraid nor loath
to face Sears in gun-play, and he gazed at the little horse-thief in a manner
that no one could mistake. Sears was not drunk, neither was he wholly free
from the unsteadiness caused by the bottle. Assuredly he had no fear of Bostil
and eyed him insolently. Bostil turned away to the group of his riders and
friends, and he asked for his daughter.

"Lucy's over there," said Farlane, pointing to a merry crowd.

Bostil waved a hand to her, and Lucy, evidently mistaking his action, came
forward, leading one of her ponies. She wore a gray blouse with a red scarf,
and a skirt over overalls and boots. She looked pale, but she was smiling, and
there was a dark gleam of excitement in her blue eyes. She did not have on her
sombrero. She wore her hair in a braid, and had a red band tight above her
forehead. Bostil took her in all at a glance. She meant business and she
looked dangerous. Bostil knew once she slipped out of that skirt she could
ride with any rider there. He saw that she had become the center toward which
all eyes shifted. It pleased him. She was his, like her mother, and as
beautiful and thoroughbred as any rider could wish his daughter.

"Lucy, where's your hoss?" he asked, curiously.

"Never you mind, Dad. I'll be there at the finish," she replied.

"Red's your color for to-day, then?" he questioned, as he put a big hand on
the bright-banded head.

She nodded archly.

"Lucy, I never thought you'd flaunt red in your old Dad's face. Red, when the
color of the King is like the sage out yonder. You've gone back on the King."

"No, Dad, I never was for Sage King, else I wouldn't wear red to-day."

"Child, you sure mean to run in this race--the big one?"

"Sure and certain."

"Wal, the only bitter drop in my cup to-day will be seein' you get beat. But
if you ran second I'll give you a present thet'll make the purse look sick."

Even the Indian chiefs were smiling. Old Horse, the Navajo, beamed benignly
upon this daughter of the friend of the Indians. Silver, his brother
chieftain, nodded as if he understood Bostil's pride and regret. Some of the
young riders showed their hearts in their eyes. Farlane tried to look
mysterious, to pretend he was in Lucy's confidence.

"Lucy, if you are really goin' to race I'll withdraw my hoss so you can win,"
said Wetherby, gallantly.

Bostil's sonorous laugh rolled down the slope.

"Miss Lucy, I sure hate to run a hoss against yours," said old Cal Blinn. Then
Colson, Sticks, Burthwait, the other principals, paid laughing compliments to
the bright-haired girl.

Bostil enjoyed this hugely until he caught the strange intensity of regard in
the cavernous eyes of Cordts. That gave him a shock. Cordts had long wanted
this girl as much probably as he wanted Sage King. There were dark and
terrible stories that stained the name of Cordts. Bostil regretted his impulse
in granting the horse-thief permission to attend the races. Sight of Lucy's
fair, sweet face might inflame this Cordts--this Kentuckian who had boasted of
his love of horses and women. Behind Cordts hung the little dust-colored
Sears, like a coiled snake, ready to strike. Bostil felt stir in him a
long-dormant fire--a stealing along his veins, a passion he hated.

"Lucy, go back to the women till you're ready to come out on your hoss," he
said. "An' mind you, be careful to-day!"

He gave her a meaning glance, which she understood perfectly, he saw, and then
he turned to start the day's sport.

The Indian races run in twos and threes, and on up to a number that crowded
the racecourse; the betting and yelling and running; the wild and plunging
mustangs; the heat and dust and pounding of hoofs; the excited betting; the
surprises and defeats and victories, the trial tests of the principals,
jealously keeping off to themselves in the sage; the endless moving, colorful
procession, gaudy and swift and thrilling--all these Bostil loved

But they were as nothing to what they gradually worked up to--the climax--the
great race.

It was afternoon when all was ready for this race, and the sage was bright
gray in the westering sun. Everybody was resting, waiting. The tense quiet of
the riders seemed to settle upon the whole assemblage. Only the thoroughbreds
were restless. They quivered and stamped and tossed their small, fine heads.
They knew what was going to happen. They wanted to run. Blacks, bays, and
whites were the predominating colors; and the horses and mustangs were alike
in those points of race and speed and spirit that proclaimed them

Bostil himself took the covering off his favorite. Sage King was on edge. He
stood out strikingly in contrast with the other horses. His sage-gray body was
as sleek and shiny as satin. He had been trained to the hour. He tossed his
head as he champed the bit, and every moment his muscles rippled under his
fine skin. Proud, mettlesome, beautiful!

Sage King was the favorite in the betting, the Indians, who were ardent
gamblers, plunging heavily on him.

Bostil saddled the horse and was long at the task.

Van stood watching. He was pale and nervous. Bostil saw this.

"Van," he said, "it's your race."

The rider reached a quick hand for bridle and horn, and when his foot touched
the stirrup Sage King was in the air. He came down, springy-quick, graceful,
and then he pranced into line with the other horses.

Bostil waved his hand. Then the troop of riders and racers headed for the
starting-point, two miles up the valley. Macomber and Blinn, with a rider and
a Navajo, were up there as the official starters of the day.

Bostil's eyes glistened. He put a, friendly hand on Cordts's shoulder, an
action which showed the stress of the moment. Most of the men crowded around
Bostil. Sears and Hutchinson hung close to Cordts. And Holley, keeping near
his employer, had keen eyes for other things than horses.

Suddenly he touched Bostil and pointed down the slope. "There's Lucy," he
said. "She's ridin' out to join the bunch."

"Lucy! Where? I'd forgotten my girl! . . . Where?"

"There," repeated Holly, and he pointed. Others of the group spoke up, having
seen Lucy riding down.

"She's on a red hoss, " said one.

"'Pears all-fired big to me--her hoss," said another. "Who's got a glass?"

Bostil had the only field-glass there and he was using it. Across the round,
magnified field of vision moved a giant red horse, his mane waving like a
flame. Lucy rode him. They were moving from a jumble of broken rocks a mile
down the slope. She had kept her horse hidden there. Bostil felt an added stir
in his pulse-beat. Certainly he had never seen a horse like this one. But the
distance was long, the glass not perfect; he could not trust his sight.
Suddenly that sight dimmed.

"Holley, I can't make out nothin'," he complained. "Take the glass. Give me a
line on Lucy's mount."

"Boss, I don't need the glass to see that she's up on a HOSS," replied Holley,
as he took the glass. He leveled it, adjusted it to his eyes, and then looked
long. Bostil grew impatient. Lucy was rapidly overhauling the troop of racers
on her way to the post. Nothing ever hurried or excited Holley.

"Wal, can't you see any better 'n me?" queried Bostil, eagerly.

"Come on, Holl, give us a tip before she gits to the post," spoke up a rider.

Cordts showed intense eagerness, and all the group were excited. Lucy's
advent, on an unknown horse that even her father could not disparage, was the
last and unexpected addition to the suspense. They all knew that if the horse
was fast Lucy would be dangerous.

Holley at last spoke: "She's up on a wild stallion. He's red, like fire. He's
mighty big--strong. Looks as if he didn't want to go near the bunch. Lord!
what action! . . . Bostil, I'd say--a great hoss!"

There was a moment's intense silence in the group round Bostil. Holley was
never known to mistake a horse or to be extravagant in judgment or praise.

"A wild stallion!" echoed Bostil. "A-huh! An' she calls him Wildfire. Where'd
she get him? . . . Gimme thet glass."

But all Bostil could make out was a blur. His eyes were wet. He realized now
that his first sight of Lucy on the strange horse had been clear and strong,
and it was that which had dimmed his eyes.

"Holley, you use the glass--an' tell me what comes off," said Bostil, as he
wiped his eyes with his scarf. He was relieved to find that his sight was
clearing. "My God! if I couldn't see this finish!"

Then everybody watched the close, dark mass of horses and riders down the
valley. And all waited for Holley to speak. "They're linin' up," began the
rider. "Havin' some muss, too, it 'pears. . . . Bostil, thet red hoss is
raisin' hell! He wants to fight. There! he's up in the air. . . . Boys, he's a
devil--a hoss-killer like all them wild stallions. . . . He's plungin' at the
King--strikin'! There! Lucy's got him down. She's handlin' him. . . . Now
they've got the King on the other side. Thet's better. But Lucy's hoss won't
stand. Anyway, it's a runnin' start. . . . Van's got the best position. Foxy
Van! . . . He'll be leadin' before the rest know the race's on.. . . Them
Indian mustangs are behavin' scandalous. Guess the red stallion scared 'em.
Now they're all lined up back of the post. . . . Ah! gun-smoke! They move. . .
. It looks like a go."

Then Holley was silent, strained. in watching. So were all the watchers
silent. Bostil saw far down the valley a moving, dark line of horses.

"THEY'RE OFF! THEY'RE OFF!" called Holley, thrillingly.

Bostil uttered a deep and booming yell, which rose above the shouts of the men
round him and was heard even in the din of Indian cries. Then as quickly as
the yells had risen they ceased.

Holley stood up on the rock with leveled glass.

"Mac's dropped the flag. It's a sure go. Now! . . . Van's out there
front--inside. The King's got his stride. Boss, the King's stretchin' out! . .
. Look! Look! see thet red hoss leap! . . . Bostil, he's runnin' down the
King! I knowed it. He's like lightnin'. He's pushin' the King over--off the
course! See him plunge! Lord! Lucy can't pull him! She goes
up--down--tossed--but she sticks like a burr. Good, Lucy! Hang on! . . . My
Gawd, Bostil, the King's thrown! He's down! . . . He comes up, off the course.
The others flash by. . . . Van's out of the race! . . . An', Bostil--an',
gentlemen, there ain't anythin' more to this race but a red hoss!"

Bostil's heart gave a great leap and then seemed to stand still. He was half
cold, half hot.

What a horrible, sickening disappointment. Bostil rolled out a cursing query.
Holley's answer was short and sharp. The King was out! Bostil raved. He could
not see. He could not believe. After all the weeks of preparation, of
excitement, of suspense-- only this! There was no race. The King was out! The
thing did not seem possible. A thousand thoughts flitted through Bostil's
mind. Rage, impotent rage, possessed him. He cursed Van, he swore he would
kill that red stallion. And some one shook him hard. Some one's incisive words
cut into his thick, throbbing ears: "Luck of the game! The King ain't beat!
He's only out!"

Then the rider's habit of mind asserted itself and Bostil began to recover.
For the King to fall was hard luck. But he had not lost the race! Anguish and
pride battled for mastery over him. Even if the King were out it was a Bostil
who would win the great race.

"He ain't beat!" muttered Bostil. "It ain't fair! He's run off the track by a
wild stallion!"

His dimmed sight grew clear and sharp. And with a gasp he saw the moving, dark
line take shape as horses. A bright horse was in the lead. Brighter and larger
he grew. Swiftly and more swiftly he came on. The bright color changed to red.
Bostil heard Holley calling and Cordts calling--and other voices, but he did
not distinguish what was said. The line of horses began to bob, to bunch. The
race looked close, despite what Holley had said. The Indians were beginning to
lean forward, here and there uttering a short, sharp yell. Everything within
Bostil grew together in one great, throbbing, tingling mass. His rider's eye,
keen once more, caught a gleam of gold above the red, and that gold was Lucy's
hair. Bostil forgot the King.

Then Holley bawled into his ear, "They're half-way!"

The race was beautiful. Bostil strained his eyes. He gloried in what he
saw--Lucy low over the neck of that red stallion. He could see plainer now.
They were coming closer. How swiftly! What a splendid race! But it was too
swift--it would not last. The Indians began to yell, drowning the hoarse
shouts of the riders. Out of the tail of his eye Bostil saw Cordts and Sears
and Hutchinson. They were acting like crazy men. Strange that horse-thieves
should care! The million thrills within Bostil coalesced into one great
shudder of rapture. He grew wet with sweat. His stentorian voice took up the
call for Lucy to win.

"Three-quarters!" bowled Holley into Bostil's ear. "An' Lucy's give thet wild
hoss free rein! Look, Bostil! You never in your life seen a hoss ran like

Bostil never had. His heart swelled. Something shook him. Was that his
girl--that tight little gray burr half hidden in the huge stallion's flaming
mane? The distance had been close between Lucy and the bunched riders.

But it lengthened. How it widened! That flame of a horse was running away from
the others. And now they were close--coming into the home stretch. A deafening
roar from the onlookers engulfed all other sounds. A straining, stamping,
arm-flinging horde surrounded Bostil.

Bostil saw Lucy's golden hair whipping out from the flame-streaked mane. And
then he could only see that red brute of a horse. Wildfire before the wind!
Bostil thought of the leaping prairie flame, storm-driven.

On came the red stallion--on--on! What a tremendous stride! What a marvelous
recovery! What ease! What savage action!

He flashed past, low, pointed, long, going faster every magnificent
stride--winner by a dozen lengths.


Wildfire ran on down the valley far beyond the yelling crowd lined along the
slope. Bostil was deaf to the throng; he watched the stallion till Lucy forced
him to stop and turn.

Then Bostil whirled to see where Van was with the King. Most of the crowd
surged down to surround the racers, and the yells gave way to the buzz of many
voices. Some of the ranchers and riders remained near Bostil, all apparently
talking at once. Bostil gathered that Holley's Whitefoot had ran second, and
the Navajo's mustang third. It was Holley himself who verified what Bostil had
heard. The old rider's hawk eyes were warm with delight.

"Boss, he run second!" Holley kept repeating.

Bostil had the heart to shake hands with Holley and say he was glad, when it
was on his lips to blurt out there had been no race. Then Bostil's nerves
tingled at sight of Van trotting the King up the course toward the slope.
Bostil watched with searching eyes. Sage King did not appear to be injured.
Van rode straight up the slope and leaped off. He was white and shaking.

The King's glossy hide was dirty with dust and bits of cactus and brush. He
was not even hot. There did not appear to be a bruise or mark on him. He
whinnied and rubbed his face against Bostil, and then, flinching, he swept up
his head, ears high. Both fear and fire shone in his eyes.

"Wal, Van, get it out of your system," said Bostil, kindly. He was a harder
loser before a race was run than after he had lost it.

"Thet red hoss run in on the King before the start an' scared the race out of
him," replied Van, swiftly. "We had a hunch, you know, but at thet Lucy's hoss
was a surprise. I'll say, sir, thet Lucy rode her wild hoss an' handled him.
Twice she pulled him off the King. He meant to kill the King! . . . Ask any of
the boys. . . . We got started. I took the lead, sir. The King was in the
lead. I never looked back till I heard Lucy scream. She couldn't pull
Wildfire. He was rushin' the King--meant to kill him. An' Sage King wanted to
fight. If I could only have kept him runnin'! Thet would have been a race! . .
. But Wildfire got in closer an' closer. He crowded us. He bit at the King's
flank an' shoulder an' neck. Lucy pulled till I yelled she'd throw the hoss
an' kill us both. Then Wildfire jumped for us. Runnin' an' strikin' with both
feet at once! Bostil, thet hoss's hell! Then he hit us an' down we went. I had
a bad spill. But the King's not hurt an' thet's a blessed wonder."

"No race, Van! It was hard luck. Take him home," said Bostil.

Van's story of the accident vindicated Bostil's doubts. A new horse had
appeared on the scene, wild and swift and grand, but Sage King was still
unbeaten in a fair race. There would come a reckoning, Bostil grimly muttered.
Who owned this Wildfire?

Holley might as well have read his mind. "Reckon this feller ridin' up will
take down the prize money," remarked Holley, and he pointed to a man who rode
a huge, shaggy, black horse and was leading Lucy's pony.

"A-huh!" exclaimed Bostil. "A strange rider."

"An' here comes Lucy coaxin' the stallion back," added Holley.

"A wild stallion never clear broke!" ejaculated Cordts.

All the men looked and all had some remark of praise for Lucy and her mount.

Bostil gazed with a strange, irresistible attraction. Never had he expected to
live to see a wild stallion like this one, to say nothing of his daughter
mounted on him, with the record of having put Sage King out of the race!

A thousand pairs of eyes watched Wildfire. He pranced out there beyond the
crowd of men and horses. He did not want to come closer. Yet he did not seem
to fight his rider. Lucy hung low over his neck, apparently exhausted, and she
was patting him and caressing him. There were horses and Indians on each side
of the race track, and between these lines Lucy appeared reluctant to come.

Bostil strode down and, waving and yelling for everybody to move back to the
slope, he cleared the way and then stood out in front alone.

"Ride up, now," he called to Lucy.

It was then Bostil discovered that Lucy did not wear a spur and she had
neither quirt nor whip. She turned Wildfire and he came prancing on, head and
mane and tail erect. His action was beautiful, springy, and every few steps,
as Lucy touched him, he jumped with marvelous ease and swiftness.

Bostil became all eyes. He did not see his daughter as she paraded the winner
before the applauding throng. And Bostil recorded in his mind that which he
would never forget--a wild stallion, with unbroken spirit; a giant of a horse,
glistening red, with mane like dark-striped, wind-blown flame, all muscle, all
grace, all power; a neck long and slender and arching to the small, savagely
beautiful head; the jaws open, and the thin-skinned, pink-colored nostrils
that proved the Arabian blood; the slanting shoulders and the deep, broad
chest, the powerful legs and knees not too high nor too low, the symmetrical
dark hoofs that rang on the little stones--all these marks so significant of
speed and endurance. A stallion with a wonderful physical perfection that
matched the savage, ruthless spirit of the desert killer of horses!

Lucy waved her hand, and the strange rider to whom Holley had called attention
strode out of the crowd toward Wildfire.

Bostil's gaze took in the splendid build of this lithe rider, the clean-cut
face, the dark eye. This fellow had a shiny, coiled lasso in hand. He advanced
toward Wildfire. The stallion snorted and plunged. If ever Bostil raw hate
expressed by a horse he saw it then. But he seemed to be tractable to the
control of the girl. Bostil swiftly grasped the strange situation. Lucy had
won the love of the savage stallion. That always had been the secret of her
power. And she had hated Sage King because he alone had somehow taken a
dislike to her. Horses were as queer as people, thought Bostil.

The rider walked straight up to the trembling Wildfire. When Wildfire plunged
and reared up and up the rider leaped for the bridle and with an iron arm
pulled the horse down. Wildfire tried again, almost lifting the rider, but a
stinging cut from the lasso made him come to a stand. Plainly the rider held
the mastery.

"Dad!" called Lucy, faintly.

Bostil went forward, close, while the rider held Wildfire. Lucy was as
wan-faced as a flower by moonlight. Her eyes were dark with emotions, fear
predominating. Then for Bostil the half of his heart that was human reasserted
itself. Lucy was only a girl now, and weakening. Her fear, her pitiful little
smile, as if she dared not hope for her father's approval yet could not help
it, touched Bostil to the quick, and he opened his arms. Lucy slid down into

"Lucy, girl, you've won the King's race an' double-crossed your poor old dad!"

"Oh, Dad, I never knew--I never dreamed Wildfire--would jump the King," Lucy
faltered. "I couldn't hold him. He was terrible. . . . It made me sick. . . .
Daddy, tell me Van wasn't hurt--or the King!"

"The hoss's all right an' so's Van," replied Bostil. "Don't cry, Lucy. It was
a fool trick you pulled off, but you did it great. By Gad! you sure was ridin'
thet red devil. . . . An' say, it's all right with me!"

Lucy did not faint then, but she came near it. Bostil put her down and led her
through the lines of admiring Indians and applauding riders, and left her with
the women.

When he turned again he was in time to see the strange rider mount Wildfire.
It was a swift and hazardous mount, the stallion being in the air. When he
came down he tore the turf and sent it flying, and when he shot up again he
was doubled in a red knot, bristling with fiery hair, a furious wild beast,
mad to throw the rider. Bostil never heard as wild a scream uttered by a
horse. Likewise he had never seen so incomparable a horseman as this stranger.
Indians and riders alike thrilled at a sight which was after their own hearts.
The rider had hooked his long spurs under the horse and now appeared a part of
him. He could not be dislodged. This was not a bucking mustang, but a fierce,
powerful, fighting stallion. No doubt, thought Bostil, this fight took place
every time the rider mounted his horse. It was the sort of thing riders loved.
Most of them would not own a horse that would not pitch. Bostil presently
decided, however, that in the case of this red stallion no rider in his right
senses would care for such a fight, simply because of the extraordinary
strengths, activity, and ferocity of the stallion.

The riders were all betting the horse would throw the stranger. And Bostil,
seeing the gathering might of Wildfire's momentum, agreed with them. No
horseman could stick on that horse. Suddenly Wildfire tripped in the sage, and
went sprawling in the dust, throwing his rider ahead. Both man and beast were
quick to rise, but the rider had a foot in the stirrup before Wildfire was
under way. Then the horse plunged, ran free, came circling back, and slowly
gave way to the rider's control. Those few moments of frenzied activity had
brought out the foam and the sweat--Wildfire was wet. The man pulled him in
before Bostil and dismounted.

"Sometimes I ride him. then sometimes I don't," he said, with a smile.

Bostil held out his hand. He liked this rider. He would have liked the frank
face, less hard than that of most riders, and the fine, dark eyes, straight
and steady, even if their possessor had not come with the open sesame to
Bostil's regard--a grand, wild horse, and the nerve to ride him.

"Wal, you rode him longer 'n any of us figgered " said Bostil, heartily
shaking the man's hand. "I'm Bostil. Glad to meet you."

"My name's Slone--Lin Slone," replied the rider, frankly. "I'm a wild-horse
hunter an' hail from Utah."

"Utah? How'd you ever get over? Wal, you've got a grand hoss--an' you put a
grand rider up on him in the race. . . . My girl Lucy--"

Bostil hesitated. His mind was running swiftly. Back of his thoughts gathered
the desire and the determination to get possession of this horse Wildfire. He
had forgotten what he might have said to this stranger under different
circumstances. He looked keenly into Slone's face and saw no fear, no
subterfuge. The young man was honest.

"Bostil, I chased this wild horse days an' weeks an' months, hundreds of
miles--across the canyon an' the river--"

"No!" interrupted Bostil, blankly.

"Yes. I'll tell you how later. . . . Out here somewhere I caught Wildfire,
broke him as much as he'll ever be broken. He played me out an' got away. Your
girl rode along--saved my horse--an' saved my life, too. I was in bad shape
for days. But I got well-- an'--an' then she wanted me to let her run Wildfire
in the big race. I couldn't refuse. . . . An' it would have been a great race
but for the unlucky accident to Sage King. I'm sorry, sir."

"Slone, it jarred me some, thet disappointment. But it's over," replied
Bostil. "An' so thet's how Lucy found her hoss. She sure was mysterious. . . .
Wal, wal." Bostil became aware of others behind him. "Holley, shake hands with
Slone, hoss-wrangler out of Utah. . . . You, too, Cal Blinn. . . . An'
Macomber--an' Wetherby, meet my friend here--young Slone. . . . An', Cordts,
shake hands with a feller thet owns a grand hoss!"

Bostil laughed as he introduced the horse-thief to Slone. The others laughed,
too, even Cordts joining in. There was much of the old rider daredevil spirit
left in Bostil, and it interested and amused him to see Cordts and Slone meet.
Assuredly Slone had heard of the noted stealer of horses. The advantage was
certainly on Cordts's side, for he was good-natured and pleasant while Slone
stiffened, paling slightly as he faced about to acknowledge the introduction.

"Howdy, Slone," drawled Cordts, with hand outstretched. "I sure am glad to
meet yuh. I'd like to trade the Sage King for this red stallion!"

A roar of laughter greeted this sally, all but Bostil and Slone joining in.
The joke was on Bostil, and he showed it. Slone did not even smile.

"Howdy, Cordts," he replied. "I'm glad to meet you--so I'll know you when I
see you again."

"Wal, we're all good fellers to-day," interposed Bostil. "An' now let's ride
home an' eat. Slone, you come with me."

The group slowly mounted the slope where the horses waited. Macomber,
Wetherby, Burthwait, Blinn--all Bostil's friends proffered their felicitations
to the young rider, and all were evidently prepossessed with him.

The sun was low in the west; purple shades were blotting out the gold lights
down the valley; the day of the great races was almost done. Indians were
still scattered here and there in groups; others were turning out the
mustangs; and the majority were riding and walking with the crowd toward the

Bostil observed that Cordts had hurried ahead of the group and now appeared to
be saying something emphatic to Dick Sears and Hutchinson. Bostil heard Cordts
curse. Probably he was arraigning the sullen Sears. Cordts had acted first
rate--had lived up to his word, as Bostil thought he would do. Cordts and
Hutchinson mounted their horses and rode off, somewhat to the left of the
scattered crowd. But Sears remained behind. Bostil thought this strange and
put it down to the surliness of the fellow, who had lost on the races. Bostil,
wishing Sears would get out of his sight, resolved never to make another
blunder like inviting horse-thieves to a race.

All the horses except Wildfire stood in a bunch back on the bench. Sears
appeared to be fussing with the straps on his saddle. And Bostil could not
keep his glance from wandering back to gloat over Wildfire's savage grace and
striking size.

Suddenly there came a halt in the conversation of the men, a curse in Holley's
deep voice, a violent split in the group. Bostil wheeled to see Sears in a
menacing position with two guns leveled low.

"Don't holler!" he called. "An' don't move!"

"What 'n the h--l now, Sears?" demanded Bostil.

"I'll bore you if you move--thet's what!" replied Sears. His eyes, bold,
steely, with a glint that Bostil knew, vibrated as he held in sight all points
before him. A vicious little sand-rattlesnake about to strike!

"Holley, turn yer back!" ordered Sears.

The old rider, who stood foremost of the group' instantly obeyed, with hands
up. He took no chances here, for he alone packed a gun. With swift steps Sears
moved, pulled Holley's gun, flung it aside into the sage.

"Sears, it ain't a hold-up!" expostulated Bostil. The act seemed too bold, too
wild even for Dick Sears.

"Ain't it?" scoffed Sears, malignantly. "Bostil, I was after the King. But I
reckon I'll git the hoss thet beat him!"

Bostil's face turned dark-blood color and his neck swelled. "By Gawd, Sears!
You ain't a-goin' to steal this boy's hoss!"

"Shut up!" hissed the horse-thief. He pushed a gun close to Bostil. "I've
always laid fer you! I'm achin' to bore you now. I would but fer scarin' this
hoss. If you yap again I'll KILL YOU, anyhow, an' take a chance!"

All the terrible hate and evil and cruelty and deadliness of his kind burned
in his eyes and stung in his voice.

"Sears, if it's my horse you want you needn't kill Bostil," spoke up Slone.
The contrast of his cool, quiet voice eased the terrible strain.

"Lead him round hyar!" snapped Sears.

Wildfire appeared more shy of the horses back of him than of the men. Slone
was able to lead him, however, to within several paces of Sears. Then Slone
dropped the reins. He still held a lasso which was loosely coiled, and the
loop dropped in front of him as he backed away.

Sears sheathed the left-hand gun. Keeping the group covered with the other, he
moved backward, reaching for the hanging reins. Wildfire snorted, appeared
about to jump. But Sears got the reins. Bostil, standing like a stone, his
companions also motionless, could not help but admire the daring of this
upland horse-thief. How was he to mount that wild stallion? Sears was noted
for two qualities--his nerve before men and his skill with horses. Assuredly
he would not risk an ordinary mount. Wildfire began to suspect Sears--to look
at him instead of the other horses. Then quick as a cat Sears vaulted into the
saddle. Wildfire snorted and lifted his forefeet in a lunge that meant he
would bolt.

Sears in vaulting up had swung the gun aloft. He swept it down, but
waveringly, for Wildfire had begun to rear.

Bostil saw how fatal that single instant would have been for Sears if he or
Holley had a gun.

Something whistled. Bostil saw the leap of Slone's lasso--the curling, snaky
dart of the noose which flew up to snap around Sears. The rope sung taut.
Sears was swept bodily clean from the saddle, to hit the ground in sodden

Almost swifter than Bostil's sight was the action of Slone--flashing by--in
the air--himself on the plunging horse. Sears shot once, twice. Then Wildfire
bolted as his rider whipped the lasso round the horn. Sears, half rising, was
jerked ten feet. An awful shriek was throttled in his throat.

A streak of dust on the slope--a tearing, parting line in the sage!

Bostil stood amazed. The red stallion made short plunges. Slone reached low
for the tripping reins. When he straightened up in the saddle Wildfire broke
wildly into a run.

It was characteristic of Holley that at this thrilling, tragic instant he
walked over into the sage to pick up his gun.

"Throwed a gun on me, got the drop, an' pitched mine away!" muttered Holley,
in disgust. The way he spoke meant that he was disgraced.

"My Gawd! I was scared thet Sears would get the hoss!" rolled out Bostil.

Holley thought of his gun; Bostil thought of the splendid horse. The thoughts
were characteristic of these riders. The other men, however, recovering from a
horror-broken silence, burst out in acclaim of Slone's feat.

"Dick Sears's finish! Roped by a boy rider!" exclaimed Cal Blinn, fervidly.

"Bostil, that rider is worthy of his horse," said Wetherby. "I think Sears
would have bored you. I saw his finger pressing--pressing on the trigger. Men
like Sears can't help but pull at that stage."

"Thet was the quickest trick I ever seen," declared Macomber.

They watched Wildfire run down the slope, out into the valley, with a streak
of rising dust out behind. They all saw when there ceased to be that peculiar
rising of dust. Wildfire appeared to shoot ahead at greater speed. Then he
slowed up. The rider turned him and faced back toward the group, coming at a
stiff gallop. Soon Wildfire breasted the slope, and halted, snorting, shaking
before the men. The lasso was still trailing out behind, limp and sagging.
There was no weight upon it now.

Bostil strode slowly ahead. He sympathized with the tension that held Slone;
he knew why the rider's face was gray, why his lips only moved mutely, why
there was horror in the dark, strained eyes, why the lean, strong hands,
slowly taking up the lasso, now shook like leaves in the wind.

There was only dust on the lasso. But Bostil knew--they all knew that none the
less it had dealt a terrible death to the horse-thief.

Somehow Bostil could not find words for what he wanted to say. He put a hand
on the red stallion--patted his shoulder. Then he gripped Slone close and
hard. He was thinking how he would have gloried in a son like this young, wild
rider. Then he again faced his comrades.

"Fellers, do you think Cordts was in on thet trick?" he queried.

"Nope. Cordts was on the square," replied Holley. "But he must have seen it
comin' an' left Sears to his fate. It sure was a fittin' last ride for a

Bostil sent Holley and Farlane on ahead to find Cordts and Hutchinson, with
their comrades, to tell them the fate of Sears, and to warn them to leave
before the news got to the riders.

The sun was setting golden and red over the broken battlements of the canyons
to the west. The heat of the day blew away on a breeze that bent the tips of
the sage-brush. A wild song drifted back from the riders to the fore. And the
procession of Indians moved along, their gay trappings and bright colors
beautiful in the fading sunset light.

When Bostil and, his guests arrived at the corrals, Holley, with Farlane and
other riders, were waiting.

"Boss," said Holley, "Cordts an' his outfit never rid in. They was last seen
by some Navajos headin' for the canyon."

"Thet's good!" ejaculated Bostil, in relief. "Wal boys, look after the hosses.
. . . Slone, just turn Wildfire over to the boys with instructions, an' feel

Farlane scratched his head and looked dubious. "I'm wonderin' how safe it'll
be fer us."

"I'll look after him," said Slone.

Bostil nodded as if he had expected Slone to refuse to let any rider put the
stallion away for the night. Wildfire would not go into the barn, and Slone
led him into one of the high-barred corrals. Bostil waited, talking with his
friends, until Slone returned, and then they went toward the house.

"I reckon we couldn't get inside Brack's place now," remarked Bostil. "But in
a case like this I can scare up a drink." Lights from the windows shone bright
through the darkness under the cottonwoods. Bostil halted at the door, as if
suddenly remembering, and he whispered, huskily: "Let's keep the women from
learnin' about Sears--to-night, anyway."

Then he led the way through the big door into the huge living-room. There were
hanging-lights on the walls and blazing sticks on the hearth. Lucy came
running in to meet them. It did not escape Bostil's keen eyes that she was
dressed in her best white dress. He had never seen her look so sweet and
pretty, and, for that matter, so strange. The flush, the darkness of her eyes,
the added something in her face, tender, thoughtful, strong--these were new.
Bostil pondered while she welcomed his guests. Slone, who had hung back, was
last in turn. Lucy greeted him as she had the others. Slone met her with
awkward constraint. The gray had not left his face. Lucy looked up at him
again, and differently.

"What--what has happened?" she asked.

It annoyed Bostil that Slone and all the men suddenly looked blank.

"Why, nothin'," replied Slone, slowly, "'cept I'm fagged out."

Lucy, or any other girl, could have seen that he, was evading the truth. She
flashed a look from Slone to her father.

"Until to-day we never had a big race that something dreadful didn't happen,"
said Lucy. "This was my day--my race. And, oh! I wanted it to pass

"Wal, Lucy dear," replied Bostil, as she faltered. "Nothin' came off thet'd
make you feel bad. Young Slone had a scare about his hoss. Wildfire's safe out
there in the corral, an' he'll be guarded like the King an' Sarch. Slone needs
a drink an' somethin' to eat, same as all of us."

Lucy's color returned and her smile, but Bostil noted that, while she was
serving them and brightly responsive to compliments, she gave more than one
steady glance at Slone. She was deep, thought Bostil, and it angered him a
little that she showed interest in what concerned this strange rider.

Then they had dinner, with twelve at table. The wives of Bostil's three
friends had been helping Aunt Jane prepare the feast, and they added to the
merriment. Bostil was not much given to social intercourse--he would have
preferred to be with his horses and riders--but this night he outdid himself
as host, amazed his sister Jane, who evidently thought he drank too much, and
delighted Lucy. Bostil's outward appearance and his speech and action never
reflected all the workings of his mind. No one would ever know the depth of
his bitter disappointment at the outcome of the race. With Creech's Blue Roan
out of the way, another horse, swifter and more dangerous, had come along to
spoil the King's chance. Bostil felt a subtly increasing covetousness in
regard to Wildfire, and this colored all his talk and action. The upland
country, vast and rangy, was for Bostil too small to hold Sage King and
Wildfire unless they both belonged to him. And when old Cal Blinn gave a
ringing toast to Lucy, hoping to live to see her up on Wildfire in the grand
race that must be run with the King, Bostil felt stir in him the birth of a
subtle, bitter fear. At first he mocked it. He--Bostil--afraid to race! It was
a lie of the excited mind. He repudiated it. Insidiously it returned. He
drowned it down--smothered it with passion. Then the ghost of it remained,

After dinner Bostil with the men went down to Brackton's, where Slone and the
winners of the day received their prizes.

"Why, it's more money than I ever had in my whole life!" exclaimed Slone,
gazing incredulously at the gold.

Bostil was amused and pleased, and back of both amusement and pleasure was the
old inventive, driving passion to gain his own ends.

Bostil was abnormally generous in many ways; monstrously selfish in one way.

"Slone, I seen you didn't drink none," he said, curiously.

"No; I don't like liquor."

"Do you gamble?"

"I like a little bet--on a race," replied Slone, frankly.

"Wal, thet ain't gamblin'. These fool riders of mine will bet on the switchin'
of a hoss's tail." He drew Slone a little aside from the others, who were
interested in Brackton's delivery of the different prizes. "Slone, how'd you
like to ride for me?"

Slone appeared surprised. "Why, I never rode for any one," he replied, slowly.
"I can't stand to be tied down. I'm a horse-hunter, you know."

Bostil eyed the young man, wondering what he knew about the difficulties of
the job offered. It was no news to Bostil that he was at once the best and the
worst man to ride for in all the uplands.

"Sure, I know. But thet doesn't make no difference," went on Bostil,
persuasively. "If we got along--wal, you'd save some of thet yellow coin
you're jinglin'. A roamin' rider never builds no corral!"

"Thank you, Bostil," replied Slone, earnestly. "I'll think it over. It would
seem kind of tame now to go back to wild-horse wranglin', after I've caught
Wildfire. I'll think it over. Maybe I'll do it, if you're sure I'm good enough
with rope an' horse."

"Wal, by Gawd!" blurted out Bostil. "Holley says he'd rather you throwed a gun
on him than a rope! So would I. An' as for your handlin' a hoss, I never seen
no better."

Slone appeared embarrassed and kept studying the gold coins in his palm. Some
one touched Bostil, who, turning, saw Brackton at his elbow. The other men
were now bantering with the Indians.

"Come now while I've got a minnit," said Brackton, taking up a lantern. "I've
somethin' to show you."

Bostil followed Brackton, and Slone came along. The old man opened a door into
a small room, half full of stores and track. The lantern only dimly lighted
the place.

"Look thar!" And Brackton flashed the light upon a man lying prostrate.

Bostil recognized the pale face of Joel Creech. "Brack! . . . What's this? Is
he dead?" Bostil sustained a strange, incomprehensible shock. Sight of a dead
man had never before shocked him.

"Nope, he ain't dead, which if he was might be good for this community,"
replied Brackton. "He's only fallen in a fit. Fust off I reckoned he was
drunk. But it ain't thet."

"Wal, what do you want to show him to me for?" demanded Bostil, gruffly.

"I reckoned you oughter see him."

"An' why, Brackton?"

Brackton set down the lantern and, pushing Slone outside, said: "Jest a
minnit, son," and then he closed the door. "Joel's been on my hands since the
flood cut him off from home," said Brackton. "An' he's been some trial. But
nobody else would have done nothin' for him, so I had to. I reckon I felt
sorry for him. He cried like a baby thet had lost its mother. Then he gets
wild-lookin' an' raved around. When I wasn't busy I kept an eye on him. But
some of the time I couldn't, an' he stole drinks, which made him wuss. An'
when I seen he was tryin' to sneak one of my guns, I up an' gets suspicious.
Once he said, 'My dad's hosses are goin' to starve, an' I'm goin' to kill
somebody!' He was out of his head an' dangerous. Wal, I was worried some, but
all I could do was lock up my guns. Last night I caught him confabin' with
some men out in the dark, behind the store. They all skedaddled except Joel,
but I recognized Cordts. I didn't like this, nuther. Joel was surly an' ugly.
An' when one of the riders called him he said: 'Thet boat NEVER DRIFTED OFF.
Fer the night of the flood I went down there myself an' tied the ropes. They
never come untied. Somebody cut them--jest before the flood--to make sure my
dad's hosses couldn't be crossed. Somebody figgered the river an' the flood.
An' if my dad's hosses starve I'm goin' to kill somebody!'"

Brackton took up the lantern and placed a hand on the door ready to go out.

"Then a rider punched Joel--I never seen who--an' Joel had a fit. I dragged
him in here. An' as you see, he ain't come to yet."

"Wal, Brackton, the boy's crazy," said Bostil.

"So I reckon. An' I'm afeared he'll burn us out--he's crazy on fires,
anyway--or do somethin' like."

"He's sure a problem. Wal, we'll see," replied Bostil, soberly.

And they went out to find Slone waiting. Then Bostil called his guests, and
with Slone also accompanying him, went home.

Bostil threw off the recurring gloom, and he was good-natured when Lucy came
to his room to say good night. He knew she had come to say more than that.

"Hello, daughter!" he said. "Aren't you ashamed to come facin' your poor old

Lucy eyed him dubiously. "No, I'm not ashamed. But I'm still a

"I'm harmless, child. I'm a broken man. When you put Sage King out of the race
you broke me."

"Dad, that isn't funny. You make me an--angry when you hint I did something

"Wal, you didn't consult ME."

"I thought it would be fun to surprise you all. Why, you're always delighted
with a surprise in a race, unless it beats you. . . . Then, it was my great
and only chance to get out in front of the King. Oh, how grand it'd have been!
Dad, I'd have run away from him the same as the others!"

"No, you wouldn't," declared Bostil.

"Dad, Wildfire can beat the King!"

"Never, girl! Knockin' a good-tempered hoss off his pins ain't beatin' him in
a runnin'-race."

Then father and daughter fought over the old score, the one doggedly,
imperturbably, the other spiritedly, with flashing eyes. It was different this
time, however, for it ended in Lucy saying Bostil would never risk another
race. That stung Bostil, and it cost him an effort to control his temper.

"Let thet go now. Tell me all about how you saved Wildfire, an' Slone, too."

Lucy readily began the narrative, and she had scarcely started before Bostil
found himself intensely interested. Soon he became absorbed. That was the most
thrilling and moving kind of romance to him, like his rider's dreams.

"Lucy, you're sure a game kid," he said, fervidly, when she had ended. "I
reckon I don't blame Slone for fallin' in love with you."

"Who said THAT!" inquired Lucy.

"Nobody. But it's true--ain't it?"

She looked up with eyes as true as ever they were, yet a little sad, he
thought, a little wistful and wondering, as if a strange and grave thing
confronted her.

"Yes, Dad--it's--it's true," she answered, haltingly.

"Wal, you didn't need to tell me, but I'm glad you did."

Bostil meant to ask her then if she in any sense returned the rider's love,
but unaccountably he could not put the question. The girl was as true as
ever--as good as gold. Bostil feared a secret that might hurt him. just as
sure as life was there and death but a step away, some rider, sooner or later,
would win this girl's love. Bostil knew that, hated it, feared it. Yet he
would never give his girl to a beggarly rider. Such a man as Wetherby ought to
win Lucy's hand. And Bostil did not want to know too much at present; he did
not want his swift-mounting animosity roused so soon. Still he was curious,
and, wanting to get the drift of Lucy's mind, he took to his old habit of

"Another moonstruck rider!" he said. "Your eyes are sure full moons, Lucy. I'd
be ashamed to trifle with these poor fellers."


"You're a heartless flirt--same as your mother was before she met ME."

"I'm not. And I don't believe mother was, either," replied Lucy. It was easy
to strike fire from her.

"Wal, you did dead wrong to ride out there day after day meetin' Slone,
because--young woman--if he ever has the nerve to ask me for you I'll beat him
up bad."

"Then you'd be a brute!" retorted Lucy.

"Wal, mebbe," returned Bostil, secretly delighted and surprised at Lucy's
failure to see through him. But she was looking inward. He wondered what hid
there deep in her. "But I can't stand for the nerve of thet."

"He--he means to--to ask you."

"The h---. . . . A-huh!"

Lucy did not catch the slip of tongue. She was flushing now. "He said he'd
never have let me meet him out there alone--unless --he--he loved me--and as
our neighbors and the riders would learn of it--and talk--he wanted you and
them to know he'd asked to--to marry me."

"Wal, he's a square young man!" ejaculated Bostil, involuntarily. It was hard
for Bostil to hide his sincerity and impulsiveness; much harder than to hide
unworthy attributes. Then he got back on the other track. "That'll make me
treat him decent, so when he rides up to ask for you I'll let him off with,

Lucy dropped her head. Bostil would have given all he had, except his horses,
to feel sure she did not care for Slone.

"Dad--I said--'No'--for myself," she murmured.

This time Bostil did not withhold the profane word of surprise. ". . . So he's
asked you, then? Wal, wal! When?"

"To-day--out there in the rocks where he waited with Wildfire for me.

Lucy slipped into her father's arms, and her slender form shook. Bostil
instinctively felt what she then needed was her mother. Her mother was dead,
and he was only a rough, old, hard rider. He did not know what to do--to say.
His heart softened and he clasped her close. It hurt him keenly to realize
that he might have been a better, kinder father if it were not for the fear
that she would find him out. But that proved he loved her, craved her respect
and affection.

"Wal, little girl, tell me," he said.

"He--he broke his word to me."

"A-huh! Thet's too bad. An' how did he?"

"He--he--" Lucy seemed to catch her tongue.

Bostil was positive she had meant to tell him something and suddenly changed
her mind. Subtly the child vanished--a woman remained. Lucy sat up
self-possessed once more. Some powerfully impelling thought had transformed
her. Bostil's keen sense gathered that what she would not tell was not hers to
reveal. For herself, she was the soul of simplicity and frankness.

"Days ago I told him I cared for him, she went on. "But I forbade him to speak
of it to me. He promised. I wanted to wait till after the race--till after I
had found courage to confess to you. He broke his word. . . . Today when he
put me up on Wildfire he--he suddenly lost his head."

The slow scarlet welled into Lucy's face and her eyes grew shamed, but bravely
she kept facing her father.

"He--he pulled me off--he hugged me--he k-kissed me. . . . Oh, it was
dreadful-shameful! . . . Then I gave him back--some--something he had given
me. And I told him I--I hated him--and I told him, 'No!'"

"But you rode his hoss in the race," said Bostil.

Lucy bowed her head at that. "I--I couldn't resist!"

Bostil stroked the bright head. What a quandary for a thick-skulled old
horseman! "Wal, it seems to me Slone didn't act so bad, considerin'. You'd
told him you cared for him. If it wasn't for thet! . . . I remember I did much
the same to your mother. She raised the devil, but I never seen as she cared
any less for me."

"I'll never forgive him," Lucy cried, passionately. "I hate him. A man who
breaks his word in one thing will do it in another."

Bostil sadly realized that his little girl had reached womanhood and love, and
with them the sweet, bitter pangs of life. He realized also that here was a
crisis when a word--an unjust or lying word from him would forever ruin any
hope that might still exist for Slone. Bostil realized this acutely, but the
realization was not even a temptation.

"Wal, listen. I'm bound to confess your new rider is sure swift. An', Lucy,
to-day if he hadn't been as swift with a rope as he is in love--wal, your old
daddy might be dead!"

She grew as white as her dress. "Oh, Dad! I KNEW something had happened," she
cried, reaching for him.

Then Bostil told her how Dick Sears had menaced him--how Slone had foiled the
horse-thief. He told the story bluntly, but eloquently, with all a rider's
praise. Lucy rose with hands pressed against her breast. When had Bostil seen
eyes like those--dark, shining, wonderful? Ah! he remembered her mother's
once--only once, as a girl.

Then Lucy kissed him and without a word fled from the room.

Bostil stared after her. "D--n me!" he swore, as he threw a boot against the
wall. "I reckon I'll never let her marry Slone, but I just had to tell her
what I think of him!"


Slone lay wide awake under an open window, watching the stars glimmer through
the rustling foliage of the cottonwoods. Somewhere a lonesome hound bayed.
Very faintly came the silvery tinkle of running water.

For five days Slone had been a guest of Bostil's, and the whole five days had
been torment.

On the morning of the day after the races Lucy had confronted him. Would he
ever forget her eyes--her voice? "Bless you for saving my dad!" she had said.
"It was brave. . . . But don't let dad fool you. Don't believe in his
kindness. Above all, don't ride for him! He only wants Wildfire, and if he
doesn't get him he'll hate you!"

That speech of Lucy's had made the succeeding days hard for Slone. Bostil
loaded him with gifts and kindnesses, and never ceased importuning him to
accept his offers. But for Lucy, Slone would have accepted. It was she who
cast the first doubt of Bostil into his mind. Lucy averred that her father was
splendid and good in every way except in what pertained to fast horses; there
he was impossible.

The great stallion that Slone had nearly sacrificed his life to catch was like
a thorn in the rider's flesh. Slone lay there in the darkness, restless, hot,
rolling from side to side, or staring out at the star-studded sky--miserably
unhappy all on account of that horse. Almost he hated him. What pride he had
felt in Wildfire! How he had gloried in the gift of the stallion to Lucy!
Then, on the morning of the race had come that unexpected, incomprehensible
and wild act of which he had been guilty. Yet not to save his life, his soul,
could he regret it! Was it he who had been responsible, or an unknown savage
within him? He had kept his word to Lucy, when day after day he had burned
with love until that fatal moment when the touch of her, as he lifted her to
Wildfire's saddle, had made a madman out of him. He had swept her into his
arms and held her breast to his, her face before him, and he had kissed the
sweet, parting lips till he was blind.

Then he had learned what a little fury she was. Then he learned how he had
fallen, what he had forfeited. In his amaze at himself, in his humility and
shame, he had not been able to say a word in his own defense. She did not know
yet that his act had been ungovernable and that he had not known what he was
doing till too late. And she had finished with: "I'll ride Wildfire in the
race--but I won't have him--and I won't have YOU! NO!"

She had the steel and hardness of her father.

For Slone, the watching of that race was a blend of rapture and despair. He
lived over in mind all the time between the race and this hour when he lay
there sleepless and full of remorse. His mind was like a racecourse with many
races; and predominating in it was that swift, strange, stinging race of his
memory of Lucy Bostil's looks and actions.

What an utter fool he was to believe she had meant those tender words when,
out there under the looming monuments, she had accepted Wildfire! She had been
an impulsive child. Her scorn and fury that morning of the race had left
nothing for him except footless fancies. She had mistaken love of Wildfire for
love of him. No, his case was hopeless with Lucy, and if it had not been so
Bostil would have made it hopeless. Yet there were things Slone could not
fathom--the wilful, contradictory, proud and cold and unaccountably sweet
looks and actions of the girl. They haunted Slone. They made him conscious he
had a mind and tortured him with his development. But he had no experience
with girls to compare with what was happening now. It seemed that accepted
fact and remembered scorn and cold certainty were somehow at variance with
hitherto unknown intuitions and instincts. Lucy avoided him, if by chance she
encountered him alone. When Bostil or Aunt Jane or any one else was present
Lucy was kind, pleasant, agreeable. What made her flush red at sight of him
and then, pale? Why did she often at table or in the big living-room softly
brush against him when it seemed she could have avoided that? Many times he
had felt some inconceivable drawing power, and looked up to find her eyes upon
him, strange eyes full of mystery, that were suddenly averted. Was there any
meaning attachable to the fact that his room was kept so tidy and neat, that
every day something was added to its comfort or color, that he found fresh
flowers whenever he returned, or a book, or fruit, or a dainty morsel to eat,
and once a bunch of Indian paint-brush, wild flowers of the desert that Lucy
knew he loved? Most of all, it was Lucy's eyes which haunted Slone--eyes that
had changed, darkened, lost their audacious flash, and yet seemed all the
sweeter. The glances he caught, which he fancied were stolen-- and then
derided his fancy--thrilled him to his heart. Thus Slone had spent waking
hours by day and night, mad with love and remorse, tormented one hour by
imagined grounds for hope and resigned to despair the next.

Upon the sixth morning of his stay at Bostil's Slone rose with something of
his former will reasserting itself. He could not remain in Bostil's home any
longer unless he accepted Bostil's offer, and this was not to be thought of.
With a wrench Slone threw off the softening indecision and hurried out to find
Bostil while the determination was hot.

Bostil was in the corral with Wildfire. This was the second time Slone had
found him there. Wildfire appeared to regard Bostil with a much better favor
than he did his master. As Slone noted this a little heat stole along his
veins. That was gall to a rider.

"I like your hoss," said Bostil, with gruff frankness. But a tinge of red
showed under his beard.

"Bostil, I'm sorry I can't take you up on the job," rejoined Slone, swiftly.
"It's been hard for me to decide. You've been good to me. I'm grateful. But
it's time I was tellin' you."

"Why can't you?" demanded Bostil, straightening up with a glint in his big
eyes. It was the first time he had asked Slone that.

"I can't ride for you," replied Slone, briefly.

"Anythin' to do with Lucy?" queried Bostil.

"How so?" returned Slone, conscious of more heat.

"Wal, you was sweet on her an' she wouldn't have you," replied Bostil.

Slone felt the blood swell and boil in his veins. This Bostil could say as
harsh and hard things as repute gave him credit for.

"Yes, I AM sweet on Lucy, an' she won't have me," said Slone, steadily. "I
asked her to let me come to you an' tell you I wanted to marry her. But she

"Wal, it's just as good you didn't come, because I might. . . ." Bostil broke
off his speech and began again. "You don't lack nerve, Slone. What'd you have
to offer Lucy?"

"Nothin' except--But that doesn't matter," replied Slone, cut to the quick by
Bostil's scorn. "I'm glad you know, an' so much for that."

Bostil turned to look at Wildfire once more, and he looked long. When he faced
around again he was another man. Slone felt the powerful driving passion of
this old horse-trader.

"Slone, I'll give you pick of a hundred mustangs an' a thousand dollars for

So he unmasked his power in the face of a beggarly rider! Though it struck
Slone like a thunderbolt, he felt amused. But he did not show that. Bostil had
only one possession, among all his uncounted wealth, that could win Wildfire
from his owner.

"No," said Slone, briefly.

"I'll double it," returned Bostil, just as briefly.



"Save your breath, Bostil," flashed Slone. "You don't know me. But let me tell
you--you CAN'T BUY my horse!"

The great veins swelled and churned in Bostil's bull neck; a thick and ugly
contortion worked in his face; his eyes reflected a sick rage.

Slone saw that two passions shook Bostil--one, a bitter, terrible
disappointment, and the other, the passion of a man who could not brook being
crossed. It appeared to Slone that the best thing he could do was to get away
quickly, and to this end he led Wildfire out of the corral to the stable
courtyard, and there quickly saddled him. Then he went into another corral for
his other horse, Nagger, and, bringing him out, returned to find Bostil had
followed as far as the court. The old man's rage apparently had passed or had
been smothered.

"See here," he began, in thick voice, "don't be a d--- fool an' ruin your
chance in life. I'll--"

"Bostil, my one chance was ruined--an' you know who did it," replied Slone, as
he gathered Nagger's rope and Wildfire's bridle together. "I've no hard
feelin's. . . . But I can't sell you my horse. An' I can't ride for
you--because--well, because it would breed trouble."

"An' what kind?" queried Bostil.

Holley and Farlane and Van, with several other riders, had come up and were
standing open-mouthed. Slone gathered from their manner and expression that
anything might happen with Bostil in such a mood.

"We'd be racin' the King an' Wildfire, wouldn't we?" replied Slone.

"An' supposin' we would?" returned Bostil, ominously. His huge frame vibrated
with a slight start.

"Wildfire would run off with your favorite--an' you wouldn't like that,"
answered Slone. It was his rider's hot blood that prompted him to launch this
taunt. He could not help it.

"You wild-hoss chaser," roared Bostil, "your Wildfire may be a bloody killer,
but he can't beat the King in a race!"

"Excuse ME, Bostil, but Wildfire did beat the King!"

This was only adding fuel to the fire. Slone saw Holley making signs that must
have meant silence would be best. But Slone's blood was up. Bostil had rubbed
him the wrong way.

"You're a lair!" declared Bostil, with a tremendous stride forward. Slone saw
then how dangerous the man really was. "It was no race. Your wild hoss knocked
the King off the track."

"Sage King had the lead, didn't he? Why didn't he keep it?"

Bostil was like a furious, intractable child whose favorite precious treasure
had been broken; and he burst out into a torrent of incoherent speech,
apparently reasons why this and that were so. Slone did not make out what
Bostil meant and he did not care. When Bostil got out of breath Slone said:

"We're both wastin' talk. An' I'm not wantin' you to call me a liar twice. . .
. Put your rider up on the King an' come on, right now. I'll--"

"Slone, shut up an' chase yourself," interrupted Holley

"You go to h--l!" returned Slone, coolly.

There was a moment's silence, in which Slone took Holley's measure. The
hawk-eyed old rider may have been square, but he was then thinking only of

"What am I up, against here?" demanded Slone. "Am I goin' to be shot because
I'm takin' my own part? Holley, you an' the rest of your pards are all afraid
of this old devil. But I'm not--an' you stay out of this."

"Wal, son, you needn't git riled," replied Holley, placatingly. "I was only
tryin' to stave off talk you might be sorry for."

"Sorry for nothin'! I'm goin' to make this great horse-trader, this rich an'
mighty rancher, this judge of grand horses, this BOSTIL! . . . I'm goin' to
make him race the King or take water!" Then Slone turned to Bostil. That
worthy evidently had been stunned by the rider who dared call him to his face.
"Come on! Fetch the King! Let your own riders judge the race!"

Bostil struggled both to control himself and to speak. "Naw! I ain't goin' to
see thet red hoss-killer jump the King again!"

"Bah! you're afraid. You know there'd be no girl on his back. You know he can
outrun the King an' that's why you want to buy him."

Slone caught his breath then. He realized suddenly, at Bostil's paling face,
that perhaps he had dared too much. Yet, maybe the truth flung into this hard
old rider's teeth was what he needed more than anything else. Slone divined,
rather than saw, that he had done an unprecedented thing.

"I'll go now, Bostil."

Slone nodded a good-by to the riders, and, turning away, he led the two horses
down the lane toward the house. It scarcely needed sight of Lucy under the
cottonwoods to still his anger and rouse his regret. Lucy saw him coming, and,
as usual, started to avoid meeting him, when sight of the horses, or something
else, caused her to come toward him instead.

Slone halted. Both Wildfire and Nagger whinnied at sight of the girl. Lucy
took one flashing glance at them, at Slone, and then she evidently guessed
what was amiss.

"Lucy, I've done it now--played hob, sure," said Slone.

"What?" she cried.

"I called your dad--called him good an' hard--an' he--he--"

"Lin! Oh, don't say Dad." Lucy's face whitened and she put a swift hand upon
his arm--a touch that thrilled him. "Lin! there's blood --on your face.
Don't--don't tell me Dad hit you?"

"I should say not," declared Slone, quickly lifting his hand to his face.
"Must be from my cut, that blood. I barked my hand holdin' Wildfire."

"Oh! I--I was sick with--with--" Lucy faltered and broke off, and then drew
back quickly, as if suddenly conscious of her actions and words.

Then Slone began to relate everything that had been said, and before he
concluded his story his heart gave a wild throb at the telltale face and eyes
of the girl.

"You said that to Dad!" she cried, in amaze and fear and admiration. "Oh, Dad
richly deserved it! But I wish you hadn't. Oh, I wish you hadn't!"

"Why?" asked Slone.

But she did not answer that. "Where are you going?" she questioned.

"Come to think of that, I don't know," replied Slone, blankly. "I started back
to fetch my things out of my room. That's as far as my muddled thoughts got."

"Your things? . . . Oh!" Suddenly she grew intensely white. The little
freckles that had been so indistinct stood out markedly, and it was as if she
had never had any tan. One brown hand went to her breast, the other fluttered
to his arm again. "You mean to--to go away--for good."

"Sure. What else can I do?"

"Lin! . . . Oh, there comes Dad! He mustn't see me. I must run. . . . Lin,
don't leave Bostil's Ford--don't go--DON'T!"

Then she flew round the comer of the house, to disappear. Slone stood there
transfixed and thrilling. Even Bostil's heavy tread did not break the trance,
and a meeting would have been unavoidable had not Bostil turned down the path
that led to the back of the house. Slone, with a start collecting his
thoughts, hurried into the little room that had been his and gathered up his
few belongings. He was careful to leave behind the gifts of guns, blankets,
gloves, and other rider's belongings which Bostil had presented to him. Thus
laden, he went outside and, tingling with emotions utterly sweet and
bewildering, he led the horses down into the village.

Slone went down to Brackton's, and put the horses into a large, high-fenced
pasture adjoining Brackton's house. Slone felt reasonably sure his horses
would be safe there, but he meant to keep a mighty close watch on them. And
old Brackton, as if he read Slone's mind, said this: "Keep your eye on thet
daffy boy, Joel Creech. He hangs round my place, sleeps out somewheres, an'
he's crazy about hosses."

Slone did not need any warning like that, nor any information to make him
curious regarding young Creech. Lucy had seen to that, and, in fact, Slone was
anxious to meet this half-witted fellow who had so grievously offended and
threatened Lucy. That morning, however, Creech did not put in an appearance.
The village had nearly returned to its normal state now, and the sleepy tenor
of its way. The Indians, had been the last to go, but now none remained. The
days were hot while the sun stayed high, and only the riders braved its heat.

The morning, however, did not pass without an interesting incident. Brackton
approached Slone with an offer that he take charge of the freighting between
the Ford and Durango. "What would I do with Wildfire?" was Slone's questioning
reply, and Brackton held up his hands. A later incident earned more of Slone's
attention. He had observed a man in Brackton's store, and it chanced that this
man heard Slone's reply to Brackton's offer, and he said: "You'll sure need to
corral thet red stallion. Grandest hoss I ever seen!"

That praise won Slone, and he engaged in conversation with the man, who said
his name was Vorhees. It developed soon that Vorhees owned a little house, a
corral, and a patch of ground on a likely site up under the bluff, and he was
anxious to sell cheap because he had a fine opportunity at Durango, where his
people lived. What interested Slone most was the man's remark that he had a
corral which could not be broken into. The price he asked was ridiculously low
if the property was worth anything. An idea flashed across Slone's mind. He
went up to Vorhees's place and was much pleased with everything, especially
the corral, which had been built by a man who feared horse-thieves as much as
Bostil. The view from the door of the little cabin was magnificent beyond
compare. Slone remembered Lucy's last words. They rang like bells in his ears.
"Don't go--don't!" They were enough to chain him to Bostil's Ford until the
crack of doom. He dared not dream of what they meant. He only listened to
their music as they pealed over and over in his ears.

"Vorhees, are you serious?" he asked. "The money you ask is little enough."

"It's enough an' to spare," replied the man. "An' I'd take it as a favor of

"Well, I'll go you," said Slone, and he laughed a little irrationally. "Only
you needn't tell right away that I bought you out."

The deal was consummated, leaving Slone still with half of the money that had
been his prize in the race. He felt elated. He was rich. He owned two
horses--one the grandest in all the uplands, the other the faithfulest--and he
owned a neat little cabin where it was a joy to sit and look out, and a corral
which would let him sleep at night, and he had money to put into supplies and
furnishings, and a garden. After he drank out of the spring that bubbled from
under the bluff he told himself it alone was worth the money.

"Looks right down on Bostil's place," Slone soliloquized, with glee. "Won't he
just be mad! An' Lucy! . . . Whatever's she goin' to think?"

The more Slone looked around and thought, the more he became convinced that
good fortune had knocked at his door at last. And when he returned to
Brackton's he was in an exultant mood. The old storekeeper gave him a nudge
and pointed underhand to a young man of ragged aspect sitting gloomily on a
box. Slone recognized Joel Creech. The fellow surely made a pathetic sight,
and Slone pitied him. He looked needy and hungry.

"Say," said Slone, impulsively, "want to help me carry some grub an' stuff?"

"Howdy!" replied Creech, raising his head. "Sure do."

Slone sustained the queerest shock of his life when he met the gaze of those
contrasting eyes. Yet he did not believe that his strange feeling came from
sight of different-colored eyes. There was an instinct or portent in that

He purchased a bill of goods from Brackton, and, with Creech helping, carried
it up to the cabin under the bluff. Three trips were needed to pack up all the
supplies, and meanwhile Creech had but few words to say, and these of no
moment. Slone offered him money, which he refused.

"I'll help you fix up, an' eat a bite," he said. "Nice up hyar."

He seemed rational enough and certainly responded to kindness. Slone found
that Vorhees had left the cabin so clean there was little cleaning to do. An
open fireplace of stone required some repair and there was wood to cut.

"Joel, you start a fire while I go down after my horses," said Slone.

Young Creech nodded and Slone left him there. It was not easy to catch
Wildfire, nor any easier to get him into the new corral; but at last Slone saw
him safely there. And the bars and locks on the gate might have defied any
effort to open or break them quickly. Creech was standing in the doorway,
watching the horses, and somehow Slone saw, or imagined he saw, that Creech
wore a different aspect.

"Grand wild hoss! He did what Blue was a-goin' to do--beat thet there d--d
Bostil's King!"

Creech wagged his head. He was gloomy and strange. His eyes were unpleasant to
look into. His face changed. And he mumbled. Slone pitied him the more, but
wished to see the last of him. Creech stayed on, however, and grew stranger
and more talkative during the meal. He repeated things often--talked
disconnectedly, and gave other indications that he was not wholly right in his
mind. Yet Slone suspected that Creech's want of balance consisted only in what
concerned horses and the Bostils. And Slone, wanting to learn all he could,
encouraged Creech to talk about his father and the racers and the river and
boat, and finally Bostil.

Slone became convinced that, whether young Creech was half crazy or not, he
knew his father's horses were doomed, and that the boat at the ferry had been
cut adrift. Slone could not understand why he was convinced, but he was.
Finally Creech told how he had gone down to the river only a day before; how
he had found the flood still raging, but much lower; how he had worked round
the cliffs and had pulled up the rope cables to find they had been cut.

"You see, Bostil cut them when he didn't need to," continued Creech, shrewdly.
"But he didn't know the flood was comin' down so quick. He was afeared we'd
come across an' git the boat thet night. An' he meant to take away them cut
cables. But he hadn't no time."

"Bostil?" queried Slone, as he gazed hard at Creech. The fellow had told that
rationally enough. Slone wondered if Bostil could have been so base. No! and
yet--when it came to horses Bostil was scarcely human.

Slone's query served to send Creech off on another tangent which wound up in
dark, mysterious threats. Then Slone caught the name of Lucy. It abruptly
killed his sympathy for Creech.

"What's the girl got to do with it?" he demanded, angrily. "If you want to
talk to me don't use her name."

"I'll use her name when I want," shouted Creech.

"Not to me!"

"Yes, to you, mister. I ain't carin' a d--n fer you!"

"You crazy loon!" exclaimed Slone, with impatience and disgust added to anger.
"What's the use of being decent to you?"

Creech crouched low, his hands digging like claws into the table, as if he
were making ready to spring. At that instant he was hideous.

"Crazy, am I?" he yelled. "Mebbe not d--n crazy! I kin tell you're gone on
Lucy Bostil! I seen you with her out there in the rocks the mornin' of the
race. I seen what you did to her. An' I'm a-goin' to tell it! . . . An' I'm
a-goin' to ketch Lucy Bostil an' strip her naked, an' when I git through with
her I'll tie her on a hoss an' fire the grass! By Gawd! I am!" Livid and wild,
he breathed hard as he got up, facing Slone malignantly.

"Crazy or not, here goes!" muttered Slone, grimly; and, leaping up, with one
blow he knocked Creech half out of the door, and then kicked him the rest of
the way. "Go on and have a fit!" cried Slone. "I'm liable to kill you if you
don't have one!"

Creech got up and ran down the path, turning twice on the way. Then he
disappeared among the trees.

Slone sat down. "Lost my temper again!" he said. "This has been a day. Guess
I'd better cool off right now an' stay here. . . . That poor devil! Maybe he's
not so crazy. But he's wilder than an Indian. I must warn Lucy. . . . Lord! I
wonder if Bostil could have held back repairin' that boat, an' then cut it
loose? I wonder? Yesterday I'd have sworn never. To-day--"

Slone drove the conclusion of that thought out of his consciousness before he
wholly admitted it. Then he set to work cutting the long grass from the wet
and shady nooks under the bluff where the spring made the ground rich. He
carried an armful down to the corral. Nagger was roaming around outside,
picking grass for himself. Wildfire snorted as always when he saw Slone, and
Slone as always, when time permitted, tried to coax the stallion to him. He
had never succeeded, nor did he this time. When he left the bundle of grass on
the ground and went outside Wildfire readily came for it.

"You're that tame, anyhow, you hungry red devil," said Slone, jealously.
Wildfire would take a bunch of grass from Lucy Bostil's hand. Slone's feelings
had undergone some reaction, though he still loved the horse. But it was love
mixed with bitterness. More than ever he made up his mind that Lucy should
have Wildfire. Then he walked around his place, planning the work he meant to
start at once.

Several days slipped by with Slone scarcely realizing how they flew.
Unaccustomed labor tired him so that he went to bed early and slept like a
log. If it had not been for the ever-present worry and suspense and longing,
in regard to Lucy, he would have been happier than ever he could remember.
Almost at once he had become attached to his little home, and the more he
labored to make it productive and comfortable the stronger grew his
attachment. Practical toil was not conducive to daydreaming, so Slone felt a
loss of something vague and sweet. Many times he caught himself watching with
eager eyes for a glimpse of Lucy Bostil down there among the cottonwoods.
Still, he never saw her, and, in fact, he saw so few villagers that the place
began to have a loneliness which endeared it to him the more. Then the view
down the gray valley to the purple monuments was always thrillingly memorable
to Slone. It was out there Lucy had saved his horse and his life. His keen
desert gaze could make out even at that distance the great, dark monument,
gold-crowned, in the shadow of which he had heard Lucy speak words that had
transformed life for him. He would ride out there some day. The spell of those
looming grand shafts of colored rock was still strong upon him.

One morning Slone had a visitor--old Brackton. Slone's cordiality died on his
lips before it was half uttered. Brackton's former friendliness was not in
evidence indeed, he looked at Slone with curiosity and disfavor

"Howdy, Slone! I jest wanted to see what you was doin' up hyar," he said.

Slone spread his hands and explained in few words.

"So you took over the place, hey? We all figgered thet. But Vorhees was mum.
Fact is, he was sure mysterious." Brackton sat down and eyed Slone with
interest. "Folks are talkin' a lot about you," he said, bluntly.

"Is that so?"

"You 'pear to be a pretty mysterious kind of a feller, Slone. I kind of took a
shine to you at first, an' thet's why I come up hyar to tell you it'd be wise
fer you to vamoose."

"What!" exclaimed Slone.

Brackton repeated substantially what he had said, then, pausing an instant,
continued: "I've no call to give you a hunch, but I'll do it jest because I
did like you fust off."

The old man seemed fussy and nervous and patronizing and disparaging all at

"What'd you beat up thet poor Joel Creech fer?" demanded Brackton.

"He got what he deserved," replied Slone, and the memory, coming on the head
of this strange attitude of Brackton's, roused Slone's temper.

"Wal, Joel tells some queer things about you--fer instance, how you took
advantage of little Lucy Bostil, grabbin' her an' maulin' her the way Joel
seen you."

"D--n the loon!" muttered Slone, rising to pace the path.

"Wal, Joel's a bit off, but he's not loony all the time. He's seen you an'
he's tellin' it. When Bostil hears it you'd better be acrost the canyon!"

Slone felt the hot, sick rush of blood to his face, and humiliation and rage
overtook him.

"Joel's down at my house. He had fits after you beat him, an' he 'ain't got
over them yet. But he could blab to the riders. Van Sickle's lookin' fer you.
An' to-day when I was alone with Joel he told me some more queer things about
you. I shut him up quick. But I ain't guaranteein' I can keep him shut up."

"I'll bet you I shut him up," declared Slone. "What more did the fool say?"

"Slone, hev you been round these hyar parts---down among the monuments --fer
any considerable time?" queried Brackton.

"Yes, I have--several weeks out there, an' about ten days or so around the

"Where was you the night of the flood?"

The shrewd scrutiny of the old man, the suspicion, angered Slone.

"If it's any of your mix, I was out on the slope among the rocks. I heard that
flood comin' down long before it got here," replied Slone, deliberately.

Brackton averted his gaze, and abruptly rose as if the occasion was ended.
"Wal, take my hunch an' leave!" he said, turning away.

"Brackton, if you mean well, I'm much obliged," returned Slone, slowly,
ponderingly. "But I'll not take the hunch."

"Suit yourself," added Brackton, coldly, and he went away.

Slone watched him go down the path and disappear in the lane of cottonwoods.

"I'll be darned!" muttered Slone. "Funny old man. Maybe Creech's not the only
loony one hereabouts."

Slone tried to laugh off the effect of the interview, but it persisted and
worried him all day. After supper he decided to walk down into the village,
and would have done so but for the fact that he saw a man climbing his path.
When he recognized the rider Holley he sensed trouble, and straightway he
became gloomy. Bostil's right-hand man could not call on him for any friendly
reason. Holley came up slowly, awkwardly, after the manner of a rider unused
to walking. Slone had built a little porch on the front of his cabin and a
bench, which he had covered with goatskins. It struck him a little strangely
that he should bend over to rearrange these skins just as Holley approached
the porch.

"Howdy, son!" was the rider's drawled remark. "Sure makes--me--puff to
climb--up this mountain."

Slone turned instantly, surprised at the friendly tone, doubting his own ears,
and wanting to verify them. He was the more surprised to see Holley
unmistakably amiable.

"Hello, Holley! How are you?" he replied. "Have a seat."

"Wal, I'm right spry fer an old bird. But I can't climb wuth a d--n . . . .
Say, this here beats Bostil's view."

"Yes, it's fine," replied Slone, rather awkwardly, as he sat down on the porch
step. What could Holley want with him? This old rider was above curiosity or

"Slone, you ain't holdin' it ag'in me--thet I tried to shut you up the other
day?" he drawled, with dry frankness

"Why, no, Holley, I'm not. I saw your point. You were right. But Bostil made
me mad."

"Sure! He'd make anybody mad. I've seen riders bite themselves, they was so
mad at Bostil. You called him, an' you sure tickled all the boys. But you hurt
yourself, fer Bostil owns an' runs this here Ford."

"So I've discovered," replied Slone.

"You got yourself in bad right off, fer Bostil has turned the riders ag'in
you, an' this here punchin' of Creech has turned the village folks ag'in you.
What'd pitch into him fer?"

Slone caught the kindly interest and intent of the rider, and it warmed him as
Brackton's disapproval had alienated him.

"Wal, I reckon I'd better tell you," drawled Holley, as Slone hesitated, "thet
Lucy wants to know IF you beat up Joel an' WHY you did."

"Holley! Did she ask you to find out?"

"She sure did. The girl's worried these days, Slone. . . . You see, you
haven't been around, an' you don't know what's comin' off."

"Brackton was here to-day an' he told me a good deal. I'm worried, too," said
Slone, dejectedly.

"Thet hoss of yours, Wildfire, he's enough to make you hated in Bostil's camp,
even if you hadn't made a fool of yourself, which you sure have."

Slone dropped his head as admission.

"What Creech swears he seen you do to Miss Lucy, out there among the rocks,
where you was hid with Wildfire--is there any truth in thet?" asked Holley,
earnestly. "Tell me, Slone. Folks believe it. An' it's hurt you at the Ford.
Bostil hasn't heard it yet, an' Lucy she doesn't know. But I'm figgerin' thet
you punched Joel because he throwed it in your face."

"He did, an' I lambasted him," replied Slone, with force.

"You did right. But what I want to know, is it true what Joel seen?"

"It's true, Holley. But what I did isn't so bad--so bad as he'd make it look."

"Wal, I knowed thet. I knowed fer a long time how Lucy cares fer you,"
returned the old rider, kindly.

Slone raised his head swiftly, incredulously. "Holley! You can't be serious."

"Wal, I am. I've been sort of a big brother to Lucy Bostil for eighteen years.
I carried her in these here hands when she weighed no more 'n my spurs. I
taught her how to ride--what she knows about hosses. An' she knows more 'n her
dad. I taught her to shoot. I know her better 'n anybody. An' lately she's
been different, She's worried an' unhappy."

"But Holley, all that--it doesn't seem--"

"I reckon not," went on Holley, as Slone halted. "I think she cares fer you.
An' I'm your friend, Slone. You're goin' to buck up ag'in some hell round here
sooner or later. An' you'll need a friend."

"Thanks--Holley," replied Slone, unsteadily. He thrilled under the iron grasp
of the rider's hard hand.

"You've got another friend you can gamble on," said Holley, significantly.

"Another! Who?"

"Lucy Bostil. An' don't you fergit thet. I'll bet she'll raise more trouble
than Bostil when she hears what Joel Creech is tellin'. Fer she's bound to
hear it. Van Sickle swears he's a-goin' to tell her an' then beat you up with
a quirt."

"He is, is he?" snapped Slone, darkly.

"I've a hunch Lucy's guessed why you punched Joel. But she wants to know fer
sure. Now, Slone, I'll tell her why."

"Oh, don't!" said Slone, involuntarily.

"Wal, it'll be better comin' from you an' me. Take my word fer thet. I'll
prepare Lucy. An' she's as good a scrapper as Bostil, any day."

"It all scares me," replied Slone. He did feel panicky, and that was from
thoughts of what shame might befall Lucy. The cold sweat oozed out of every
pore. What might not Bostil do? "Holley, I love the girl. So I--I didn't
insult her. Bostil will never understand. An' what's he goin' to do when he
finds out?"

"Wal, let's hope you won't git any wuss'n you give Joel."

"Let Bostil beat me!" ejaculated Slone. "I think I'm willin--now--the --way I
feel. But I've a temper, and Bostil rubs me the wrong way."

"Wall leave your gun home, an' fight Bostil. You're pretty husky. Sure he'll
lick you, but mebbe you could give the old cuss a black eye." Holley laughed
as if the idea gave him infinite pleasure.

"Fight Bostil? . . . Lucy would hate me!" cried Slone.

"Nix! You don't know thet kid. If the old man goes after you Lucy'll care more
fer you. She's jest like him in some ways." Holley pulled out a stubby black
pipe and, filling and lighting it, he appeared to grow more thoughtful. "It
wasn't only Lucy thet sent me up here to see you. Bostil had been pesterin' me
fer days. But I kept fightin' shy of it till Lucy got hold of me."

"Bostil sent you? Why?"

"Reckon you can guess. He can't sleep, thinkin' about your red hoss. None of
us ever seen Bostil have sich a bad case. He raised Sage King. But he's always
been crazy fer a great wild stallion. An' here you come along--an' your hoss
jumps the King--an' there's trouble generally."

"Holley, do you think Wildfire can beat Sage King?" asked Slone, eagerly.

"Reckon I do. Lucy says so, an' I'll back her any day. But, son, I ain't
paradin' what I think. I'd git in bad myself. Farlane an' the other boys,
they're with Bostil. Van he's to blame fer thet. He's takin' a dislike to you,
right off. An' what he tells Bostil an' the boys about thet race don't agree
with what Lucy tells me. Lucy says Wildfire ran fiery an' cranky at the start.
He wanted to run round an' kill the King instead of racin'. So he was three
lengths behind when Macomber dropped the flag. Lucy says the King got into his
stride. She knows. An' there Wildfire comes from behind an' climbs all over
the King! . . . Van tells a different story."

"It came off just as Lucy told you," declared Slone. "I saw every move."

"Wal, thet's neither here nor there. What you're up ag'in is this. Bostil is
sore since you called him. But he holds himself in because he hasn't given up
hope of gittin' Wildfire. An', Slone, you're sure wise, ain't you, thet if
Bostil doesn't buy him you can't stay on here?"

"I'm wise. But I won't sell Wildfire," replied Slone, doggedly.

"Wal, I'd never wasted my breath tellin' you all this if I hadn't figgered
about Lucy. You've got her to think of."

Slone turned on Holley passionately. "You keep hintin' there's a hope for me,
when I know there's none!"

"You're only a boy," replied Holley. "Son, where there's life there's hope. I
ain't a-goin' to tell you agin thet I know Lucy Bostil."

Slone could not stand nor walk nor keep still. He was shaking from head to

"Wildfire's not mine to sell. He's Lucy's!" confessed Slone.

"The devil you say!" ejaculated Holley, and he nearly dropped his pipe.

"I gave Wildfire to her. She accepted him. It was DONE. Then--then I lost my
head an' made her mad. . . . An'--she said she'd ride him in the race, but
wouldn't keep him. But he IS hers."

"Oho! I see. Slone, I was goin' to advise you to sell Wildfire-- all on
account of Lucy. You're young an' you'd have a big start in life if you would.
But Lucy's your girl an' you give her the hoss. . . . Thet settles thet!"

"If I go away from here an' leave Wildfire for Lucy--do you think she could
keep him? Wouldn't Bostil take him from her?"

"Wal, son, if he tried thet on Lucy she'd jump Wildfire an' hit your trail an'
hang on to it till she found you."

"What'll you tell Bostil?" asked Slone, half beside himself.

"I'm consarned if I know," replied Holley. "Mebbe I'll think of some idee.
I'll go back now. An' say, son, I reckon you'd better hang close to home. If
you meet Bostil down in the village you two'd clash sure. I'll come up soon,
but it'll be after dark."

"Holley, all this is--is good of you," said Slone. "I--I'll--"

"Shut up, son," interrupted the rider, dryly. "Thet's your only weakness, so
far as I can see. You say too much."

Holley started down then, his long, clinking spurs digging into the steep
path. He left Slone a prey to deep thoughts at once anxious and dreamy.

Next day Slone worked hard all day, looking forward to nightfall, expecting
that Holley would come up. He tried to resist the sweet and tantalizing
anticipation of a message from Lucy, but in vain. The rider had immeasurably
uplifted Slone's hope that Lucy, at least, cared for him. Not for a moment all
day could Slone drive away the hope. At twilight he was too eager to eat--too
obsessed to see the magnificent sunset. But Holley did not come, and Slone
went to bed late, half sick with disappointment.

The next day was worse. Slone found work irksome, yet he held to it. On the
third day he rested and dreamed, and grew doubtful again, and then moody. On
the fourth day Slone found he needed supplies that he must obtain from the
store. He did not forget Holley's warning, but he disregarded it, thinking
there would scarcely be a chance of meeting Bostil at midday.

There were horses standing, bridles down, before Brackton's place, and riders
lounging at the rail and step. Some of these men had been pleasant to Slone on
earlier occasions. This day they seemed not to see him. Slone was tingling all
over when he went into the store. Some deviltry was afoot! He had an angry
thought that these riders could not have minds of their own. Just inside the
door Slone encountered Wetherby, the young rancher from Durango. Slone spoke,
but Wetherby only replied with an insolent stare. Slone did not glance at the
man to whom Wetherby was talking. Only a few people were inside the store, and
Brackton was waiting upon them. Slone stood back a little in the shadow.
Brackton had observed his entrance, but did not greet him. Then Slone
absolutely knew that for him the good will of Bostil's Ford was a thing of the

Presently Brackton was at leisure, but he showed no disposition to attend to
Slone's wants. Then Slone walked up to the counter and asked for supplies.

"Have you got the money?" asked Brackton, as if addressing one he would not

"Yes," replied Slone, growing red under an insult that he knew Wetherby had

Brackton handed out the supplies and received the money, without a word. He
held his head down. It was a singular action for a man used to dealing fairly
with every one. Slone felt outraged. He hurried out of the place, with shame
burning him, with his own eyes downcast, and in his hurry he bumped square
into a burly form. Slone recoiled --looked up. Bostil! The old rider was eying
him with cool speculation.

"Wal, are you drunk?" he queried, without any particular expression.

Yet the query was to Slone like a blow. It brought his head up with a jerk,
his glance steady and keen on Bostil's.

"Bostil, you know I don't drink," he said.

"A-huh! I know a lot about you, Slone. . . . I heard you bought Vorhees's
place, up on the bench."


"Did he tell you it was mortgaged to me for more'n it's worth?"

"No, he didn't."

"Did he make over any papers to you?"


"Wal, if it interests you I'll show you papers thet proves the property's

Slone suffered a pang. The little home had grown dearer and dearer to him.

"All right, Bostil. If it's yours--it's yours," he said, calmly enough.

"I reckon I'd drove you out before this if I hadn't felt we could make a

"We can't agree on any deal, Bostil," replied Slone, steadily. It was not what
Bostil said, but the way he said it, the subtle meaning and power behind it,
that gave Slone a sense of menace and peril. These he had been used to for
years; he could meet them. But he was handicapped here because it seemed that,
though he could meet Bostil face to face, he could not fight him. For he was
Lucy's father. Slone's position, the impotence of it, rendered him less able
to control his temper.

"Why can't we?" demanded Bostil. "If you wasn't so touchy we could. An' let me
say, young feller, thet there's more reason now thet you DO make a deal with

"Deal? What about?"

"About your red hoss."

"Wildfire! . . . No deals, Bostil," returned Slone, and made as if to pass

The big hand that forced Slone back was far from gentle, and again he felt the
quick rush of blood.

"Mebbe I can tell you somethin' thet'll make you sell Wildfire," said Bostil.

"Not if you talked yourself dumb!" flashed Slone. There was no use to try to
keep cool with this Bostil, if he talked horses. "I'll race Wildfire against
the King. But no more."

"Race! Wal, we don't run races around here without stakes," replied Bostil,
with deep scorn. "An' what can you bet? Thet little dab of prize money is
gone, an' wouldn't be enough to meet me. You're a strange one in these parts.
I've pride an' reputation to uphold. You brag of racin' with me--an' you a
beggarly rider! . . . You wouldn't have them clothes an' boots if my girl
hadn't fetched them to you."

The riders behind Bostil laughed. Wetherby's face was there in the door, not
amused, but hard with scorn and something else. Slone felt a sickening,
terrible gust of passion. It fairly shook him. And as the wave subsided the
quick cooling of skin and body pained him like a burn made with ice.

"Yes, Bostil, I'm what you say," responded Slone, and his voice seemed to fill
his ears. "But you're dead wrong when you say I've nothin' to bet on a race."

"An' what'll you bet?"

"My life an' my horse!"

The riders suddenly grew silent and intense. Bostil vibrated to that. He
turned white. He more than any rider on the uplands must have felt the nature
of that offer.

"Ag'in what?" he demanded, hoarsely.


One instant the surprise held Bostil mute and motionless. Then he seemed to

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