Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Wildfire by Zane Grey

Part 6 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

of hurry. For a time he succeeded by dreaming of Lucy's sweetness, of her
courage, of what a wonderful girl she was. Hours and hours he had passed in
such dreams. One dream in particular always fascinated him, and it was one in
which he saw the girl riding Wildfire, winning a great race for her life.
Another, just as fascinating, but so haunting that he always dispelled it, was
a dream where Lucy, alone and in peril, fought with Cordts or Joel Creech for
more than her life. These vague dreams were Slone's acceptance of the blood
and spirit in Lucy. She was Bostil's daughter. She had no sense of fear. She
would fight. And though Slone always thrilled with pride, he also trembled
with dread.

At length even wilder dreams of Lucy's rare moments, when she let herself go,
like a desert whirlwind, to envelop him in all her sweetness, could not avail
to keep Slone patient. He began to pace to and fro under the big tree. He
waited and waited. What could have detained her? Slone inwardly laughed at the
idea that either Holley or Aunt Jane could keep his girl indoors when she
wanted to come out to meet him. Yet Lucy had always said something might
prevent. There was no reason for Slone to be concerned. He was mistaking his
thrills and excitement and love and disappointment for something in which
there was no reality. Yet he could not help it. The longer he waited the more
shadows glided beneath the cottonwoods, the more faint, nameless sounds he

He waited long after he became convinced she would not come. Upon his return
through the grove he reached a point where the unreal and imaginative
perceptions were suddenly and stunningly broken. He did hear a step. He kept
on, as before, and in the deep shadow he turned. He saw a man just faintly
outlined. One of the riders had been watching him--had followed him! Slone had
always expected this. So had Lucy. And now it had happened. But Lucy had been
too clever. She had not come. She had found out or suspected the spy and she
had outwitted him. Slone had reason to be prouder of Lucy, and he went back to
his cabin free from further anxiety.

Before he went to sleep, however, he heard the clatter of a number of horses
in the lane. He could tell they were tired horses. Riders returning, he
thought, and instantly corrected that, for riders seldom came in at night. And
then it occurred to him that it might be Bostil's return. But then it might be
the Creeches. Slone had an uneasy return of puzzling thoughts. These, however,
did not hinder drowsiness, and, deciding that the first thing in the morning
he would trail the Creeches, just to see where they had gone, he fell asleep.

In the morning the bright, broad day, with its dispelling reality, made Slone
regard himself differently. Things that oppressed him in the dark of night
vanished in the light of the sun. Still, he was curious about the Creeches,
and after he had done his morning's work he strolled out to take up their
trail. It was not hard to follow in the lane, for no other horses had gone in
that direction since the Creeches had left.

Once up on the wide, windy slope the reach and color and fragrance seemed to
call to Slone irresistibly, and he fell to trailing these tracks just for the
love of a skill long unused. Half a mile out the road turned toward Durango.
But the Creeches did not continue on that road. They entered the sage.
Instantly Slone became curious.

He followed the tracks to a pile of rocks where the Creeches had made a
greasewood fire and had cooked a meal. This was strange--within a mile of the
Ford, where Brackton and others would have housed them. What was stranger was
the fact that the trail started south from there and swung round toward the

Slone's heart began to thump. But he forced himself to think only of these
tracks and not any significance they might have. He trailed the men down to a
bench on the slope, a few hundred yards from Bostil's grove, and here a
trampled space marked where a halt had been made and a wait.

And here Slone could no longer restrain conjecture and dread. He searched and
searched. He got on his knees. He crawled through the sage all around the
trampled space. Suddenly his heart seemed to receive a stab. He had found
prints of Lucy's boots in the soft earth! And he leaped up, wild and fierce,
needing to know no more.

He ran back to his cabin. He never thought of Bostil, of Holley, of anything
except the story revealed in those little boot-tracks. He packed a saddle-bag
with meat and biscuits, filled a canvas water-bottle, and, taking them and his
rifle, he hurried out to the corral. First he took Nagger down to Brackton's
pasture and let him in. Then returning, he went at the fiery stallion as he
had not gone in many a day, roped him, saddled him, mounted him, and rode off
with a hard, grim certainty that in Wildfire was Lucy's salvation.

Four hours later Slone halted on the crest of a ridge, in the cover of sparse
cedars, and surveyed a vast, gray, barren basin yawning and reaching out to a
rugged, broken plateau.

He expected to find Joel Creech returning on the back-trail, and he had taken
the precaution to ride on one side of the tracks he was following. He did not
want Joel to cross his trail. Slone had long ago solved the meaning of the
Creeches' flight. They would use Lucy to ransom Bostil's horses, and more than
likely they would not let her go back. That they had her was enough for Slone.
He was grim and implacable.

The eyes of the wild-horse hunter had not searched that basin long before they
picked out a dot which was not a rock or a cedar, but a horse. Slone watched
it grow, and, hidden himself, he held his post until he knew the rider was
Joel Creech. Slone drew his own horse back and tied him to a sage-bush amidst
some scant grass. Then he returned to watch. It appeared Creech was climbing
the ridge below Slone, and some distance away. It was a desperate chance Joel
ran then, for Slone had set out to kill him. It was certain that if Joel had
happened to ride near instead of far, Slone could not have helped but kill
him. As it was, he desisted because he realized that Joel would acquaint
Bostil with the abducting of Lucy, and it might be that this would be well.

Slone was shaking when young Creech passed up and out of sight over the
ridge--shaking with the deadly grip of passion such as he had never known. He
waited, slowly gaining control, and at length went back for Wildfire.

Then he rode boldly forth on the trail. He calculated that old Creech would
take Lucy to some wild retreat in the canyons and there wait for Joel and the
horses. Creech had almost certainly gone on and would be unaware of a pursuer
so closely on his trail. Slone took the direction of the trail, and he saw a
low, dark notch in the rocky wall in the distance. After that he paid no more
attention to choosing good ground for Wildfire than he did to the trail. The
stallion was more tractable than Slone had ever found him. He loved the open.
He smelled the sage and the wild. He settled down into his long, easy,
swinging lope which seemed to eat up the miles. Slone was obsessed with
thoughts centering round Lucy, and time and distance were scarcely

The sun had dipped full red in a golden west when Slone reached the wall of
rocks and the cleft where Creech's tracks and Lucy's, too, marked the camp.
Slone did not even dismount. Riding on into the cleft, he wound at length into
a canyon and out of that into a larger one, where he found that Lucy had
remembered to leave a trail, and down this to a break in a high wall, and
through it to another winding, canyon. The sun set, but Slone kept on as long
as he could see the trail, and after that, until an intersecting canyon made
it wise for him to halt.

There were rich grass and sweet water for his horse. He himself was not
hungry, but he ate; he was not sleepy, but he slept. And daylight found him
urging Wildfire in pursuit. On the rocky places Slone found the cedar berries
Lucy had dropped. He welcomed sight of them, but he did not need them. This
man Creech could never hide a trail from him, Slone thought grimly, and it
suited him to follow that trail at a rapid trot. If he lost the tracks for a
distance he went right on, and he knew where to look for them ahead. There was
a vast difference between the cunning of Creech and the cunning of a wild
horse. And there was an equal difference between the going and staying powers
of Creech's mustangs and Wildfire. Yes, Slone divined that Lucy's salvation
would be Wildfire, her horse. The trail grew rougher, steeper, harder, but the
stallion kept his eagerness and his pace. On many an open length of canyon or
height of wild upland Slone gazed ahead hoping to see Creech's mustangs. He
hoped for that even when he knew he was still too far behind. And then,
suddenly, in the open, sandy flat of an intersecting canyon he came abruptly
on a fresh trail of three horses, one of them shod.

The surprise stunned him. For a moment he gazed stupidly at these strange
tracks. Who had made them? Had Creech met allies? Was that likely when the man
had no friends? Pondering the thing, Slone went slowly on, realizing that a
new and disturbing feature confronted him. Then when these new tracks met the
trail that Creech had left Slone found that these strangers were as interested
in Creech's tracks as he was. Slone found their boot-marks in the sand--the
hand-prints where some one had knelt to scrutinize Creech's trail.

Slone led his horse and walked on, more and more disturbed in mind. When he
came to a larger, bare, flat canyon bottom, where the rock had been washed
clear of sand, he found no more cedar berries. They had been picked up. At the
other extreme edge of this stony ground he found crumpled bits of cedar and
cedar berries scattered in one spot, as if thrown there by some one who read
their meaning.

This discovery unnerved Slone. It meant so much. And if Slone had any hope or
reason to doubt that these strangers had taken up the trail for good, the next
few miles dispelled it. They were trailing Creech.

Suddenly Slone gave a wild start, which made Wildfire plunge.

"CORDTS!" whispered Slone and the cold sweat oozed out of every pore.

These canyons were the hiding-places of the horse-thief. He and two of his men
had chanced upon Creech's trail; and perhaps their guess at its meaning was
like Slone's. If they had not guessed they would soon learn. It magnified
Slone's task a thousandfold. He had a moment of bitter, almost hopeless
realization before a more desperate spirit awoke in him. He had only more men
to kill--that was all. These upland riders did not pack rifles, of that Slone
was sure. And the sooner he came up with Cordts the better. It was then he let
Wildfire choose his gait and the trail. Sunset, twilight, dusk, and darkness
came with Slone keeping on and on. As long as there were no intersecting
canyons or clefts or slopes by which Creech might have swerved from his
course, just so long Slone would travel. And it was late in the night when he
had to halt.

Early next day the trail led up out of the red and broken gulches to the
cedared uplands. Slone saw a black-rimmed, looming plateau in the distance.
All these winding canyons, and the necks of the high ridges between, must run
up to that great table-land.

That day he lost two of the horse tracks. He did not mark the change for a
long time after there had been a split in the party that had been trailing
Creech. Then it was too late for him to go back to investigate, even if that
had been wise. He kept on, pondering, trying to decide whether or not he had
been discovered and was now in danger of ambush ahead and pursuit from behind.
He thought that possibly Cordts had split his party, one to trail along after
Creech, the others to work around to head him off. Undoubtedly Cordts knew
this broken canyon country and could tell where Creech was going, and knew how
to intercept him.

The uncertainty wore heavily upon Slone. He grew desperate. He had no time to
steal along cautiously. He must be the first to get to Creech. So he held to
the trail and went as rapidly as the nature of the ground would permit,
expecting to be shot at from any clump of cedars. The trail led down again
into a narrow canyon with low walls. Slone put all his keenness on what lay
before him.

Wildfire's sudden break and upflinging of head and his snort preceded the
crack of a rifle. Slone knew he had been shot at, although he neither felt nor
heard the bullet. He had no chance to see where the shot came from, for
Wildfire bolted, and needed as much holding and guiding as Slone could give.
He ran a mile. Then Slone was able to look about him. Had he been shot at from
above or behind? He could not tell. It did not matter, so long as the danger
was not in front. He kept a sharp lookout, and presently along the right
canyon rim, five hundred feet above him, he saw a bay horse, and a rider with
a rifle. He had been wrong, then, about these riders and their weapons. Slone
did not see any wisdom in halting to shoot up at this pursuer, and he spurred
Wildfire just as a sharp crack sounded above. The bullet thudded into the
earth a few feet behind him. And then over bad ground, with the stallion
almost unmanageable, Slone ran a gantlet of shots. Evidently the man on the
rim had smooth ground to ride over, for he easily kept abreast of Slone. But
he could not get the range. Fortunately for Slone, broken ramparts above
checked the tricks of that pursuer, and Slone saw no more of him.

It afforded him great relief to find that Creech's trail turned into a canyon
on the left; and here, with the sun already low, Slone began to watch the
clumps of cedars and the jumbles of rock. But he was not ambushed. Darkness
set in, and, being tired out, he was about to halt for the night when he
caught the flicker of a campfire. The stallion saw it, too, but did not snort.
Slone dismounted and, leading him, went cautiously forward on foot, rifle in

The canyon widened at a point where two breaks occurred, and the
less-restricted space was thick with cedar and pinyon. Slone could tell by the
presence of these trees and also by a keener atmosphere that he was slowly
getting to a higher attitude. This camp-fire must belong to Cordts or the one
man who had gone on ahead. And Slone advanced boldly. He did not have to make
up his mind what to do.

But he was amazed to see several dark forms moving to and fro before the
bright camp-fire, and he checked himself abruptly. Considering a moment, Slone
thought he had better have a look at these fellows. So he tied Wildfire and,
taking to the darker side of the canyon, he stole cautiously forward.

The distance was considerable, as he had calculated. Soon, however, he made
out the shadowy outlines of horses feeding in the open. He hugged the canyon
wall for fear they might see him. As luck would have it the night breeze was
in his favor. Stealthily he stole on, in the deep shadow of the wall, and
under the cedars, until he came to a point opposite the camp-fire, and then he
turned toward it. He went slowly, carefully, noiselessly, and at last he
crawled through the narrow aisles between thick sage-brush. Another clump of
cedars loomed up, and he saw the flickering of firelight upon the pale-green

He heard gruff voices before he raised himself to look, and by this he gauged
his distance. He was close enough--almost too close. But as he crouched in
dark shade and there were no horses near, he did not fear discovery.

When he peered out from his covert the first thing to strike and hold his
rapid glance was the slight figure of a girl. Slone stifled a gasp in his
throat. He thought he recognized Lucy. Stunned, he crouched down again with
his hands clenched round his rifle. And there he remained for a long moment of
agony before reason asserted itself over emotion. Had he really seen Lucy? He
had heard of a girl now and then in the camps of these men, especially Cordts.
Maybe Creech had fallen in with comrades. No, he could not have had any
comrades there but horse-thieves, and Creech was above that. If Creech was
there he had been held up by Cordts; if Lucy only was with the gang, Creech
had been killed.

Slone had to force himself to look again. The girl had changed her position.
But the light shone upon the men. Creech was not one of the three, nor Cordts,
nor any man Slone had seen before. They were not honest men, judging from
their hard, evil looks. Slone was nonplussed and he was losing self-control.
Again he lowered himself and waited. He caught the word "Durango" and "hosses"
and "fer enough in," the meaning of which was, vague. Then the girl laughed.
And Slone found himself trembling with joy. Beyond any doubt that laugh could
not have been Lucy's.

Slone stole back as he had come, reached the shadow of the wall, and drew away
until he felt it safe to walk quickly. When he reached the place where he
expected to find Wildfire he did not see him. Slone looked and looked. Perhaps
he had misjudged distance and place in the gloom. Still, he never made
mistakes of that nature. He searched around till he found the cedar stump to
which he had tied the lasso. In the gloom he could not see it, and when he
reached out he did not feel it. Wildfire was gone! Slone sank down, overcome.
He cursed what must have been carelessness, though he knew he never was
careless with a horse. What had happened? He did not know. But Wildfire was
gone--and that meant Lucy's doom and his! Slone shook with cold.

Then, as he leaned against the stump, wet and shaking, familiar sound met his
ears. It was made by the teeth of a grazing horse--a slight, keen, tearing
cut. Wildfire was close at hand! With a sweep Slone circled the stump and he
found the knot of the lasso. He had missed it. He began to gather in the long
rope, and soon felt the horse. In the black gloom against the wall Slone could
not distinguish Wild-fire.

"Whew!" he muttered, wiping the sweat off his face. "Good Lord! . . . All for

It did not take Slone long to decide to lead the horse and work up the canyon
past the campers. He must get ahead of them, and once there he had no fear of
them, either by night or day. He really had no hopes of getting by
undiscovered, and all he wished for was to get far enough so that he could not
be intercepted. The grazing horses would scent Wildfire or he would scent

For a wonder Wildfire allowed himself to be led as well as if he had been old,
faithful Nagger. Slone could not keep close in to the wall for very long, on
account of the cedars, but he managed to stay in the outer edge of shadow cast
by the wall. Wildfire winded the horses, halted, threw up his head. But for
some reason beyond Slone the horse did not snort or whistle. As he knew
Wildfire he could have believed him intelligent enough and hateful enough to
betray his master.

It was one of the other horses that whistled an alarm. This came at a point
almost even with the camp-fire. Slone, holding Wildfire down, had no time to
get into a stirrup, but leaped to the saddle and let the horse go. There were
hoarse yells and then streaks of fire and shots. Slone heard the whizz of
heavy bullets, and he feared for Wildfire. But the horse drew swiftly away
into the darkness. Slone could not see whether the ground was smooth or
broken, and he left that to Wildfire. Luck favored them, and presently Slone
pulled him in to a safe gait, and regretted only that he had not had a chance
to take a shot at that camp.

Slone walked the horse for an hour, and then decided that he could well risk a
halt for the night.

Before dawn he was up, warming his chilled body by violent movements, and
forcing himself to eat.

The rim of the west wall changed from gray to pink. A mocking-bird burst into
song. A coyote sneaked away from the light of day. Out in the open Slone found
the trail made by Creech's mustangs and by the horse of Cordts's man. The
latter could not be very far ahead. In less than an hour Slone came to a clump
of cedars where this man had camped. An hour behind him!

This canyon was open, with a level and narrow floor divided by a deep wash.
Slone put Wildfire to a gallop. The narrow wash was no obstacle to Wildfire;
he did not have to be urged or checked. It was not long before Slone saw a
horseman a quarter of a mile ahead, and he was discovered almost at the same
time. This fellow showed both surprise and fear. He ran his horse. But in
comparison with Wildfire that horse seemed sluggish. Slone would have caught
up with him very soon but for a change in the lay of the land. The canyon
split up and all of its gorges and ravines and washes headed upon the
pine-fringed plateau, now only a few miles distant. The gait of the horses had
to be reduced to a trot, and then a walk. The man Slone was after left
Creech's trail and took to a side cleft. Slone, convinced he would soon
overhaul him, and then return to take up Creech's trail, kept on in pursuit.
Then Slone was compelled to climb. Wildfire was so superior to the other's
horse, and Slone was so keen at choosing ground and short cuts, that he would
have been right upon him but for a split in the rock which suddenly yawned
across his path. It was impassable. After a quick glance Slone abandoned the
direct pursuit, and, turning along this gulch, he gained a point where the
horse-thief would pass under the base of the rim-wall, and here Slone would
have him within easy rifle shot.

And the man, intent on getting out of the canyon, rode into the trap,
approaching to within a hundred yards of Slone, who suddenly showed himself on
foot, rifle in hand. The deep gulch was a barrier to Slone's further progress,
but his rifle dominated the situation.

"Hold on!" he called, warningly.

"Hold on yerself!" yelled the other, aghast, as he halted his horse. He gazed
down and evidently was quick to take in the facts.

Slone had meant to kill this man without even a word, yet now when the moment
had come a feeling almost of sickness clouded his resolve. But he leveled the

"I got it on you," he called.

"Reckon you hev. But see hyar--"

"I can hit you anywhere."

"Wal, I'll take yer word fer thet."

"All right. Now talk fast. . . . Are you one of Cordts's gang?"


"Why are you alone?"

"We split down hyar."

"Did you know I was on this trail?"

"Nope. I didn't sure, or you'd never ketched me, red hoss or no."

"Who were you trailin'?"

"Ole Creech an' the girl he kidnapped."

Slone felt the leap of his blood and the jerk it gave the rifle as his tense
finger trembled on the trigger.

"Girl. . . . What girl?" he called, hoarsely.

"Bostil's girl."

"Why did Cordts split on the trail?"

"He an' Hutch went round fer some more of the gang, an' to head off Joel
Creech when he comes in with Bostil's hosses."

Slone was amazed to find how the horse thieves had calculated; yet, on second
thought, the situation, once the Creeches had been recognized, appeared simple

"What was your game?" he demanded.

"I was follerin' Creech jest to find out where he'd hole up with the girl."

"What's Cordts's game--AFTER he heads Joel Creech?"

"Then he's goin' fer the girl."

Slone scarcely needed to be told all this, but the deliberate words from the
lips of one of Cordts's gang bore a raw, brutal proof of Lucy's peril. And yet
Slone could not bring himself to kill this man in cold blood. He tried, but in

"Have you got a gun?" called Slone, hoarsely.


"Ride back the other way! . . . If you don't lose me I'll kill you!"

The man stared. Slone saw the color return to his pale face. Then he turned
his horse and rode back out of sight. Slone heard him rolling the stones down
the long, rough slope; and when he felt sure the horse-thief had gotten a fair
start he went back to mount Wildfire in pursuit.

This trailer of Lucy never got back to Lucy's trail--never got away.

But Slone, when that day's hard, deadly pursuit ended, found himself lost in
the canyons. How bitterly he cursed both his weakness in not shooting the man
at sight, and his strength in following him with implacable purpose! For to be
fair, to give the horse-thief a chance for his life, Slone had lost Lucy's
trail. The fact nearly distracted him. He spent a sleepless night of torture.

All next day, like a wild man, he rode and climbed and descended, spurred by
one purpose, pursued by suspense and dread. That night he tied Wildfire near
water and grass and fell into the sleep of exhaustion.

Morning came. But with it no hope. He had been desperate. And now he was in a
frightful state. It seemed that days and days had passed, and nights that were
hideous with futile nightmares.

He rode down into a canyon with sloping walls, and broken, like all of these
canyons under the great plateau. Every canyon resembled another. The upland
was one vast network. The world seemed a labyrinth of canyons among which he
was hopelessly lost. What would--what had become of Lucy? Every thought in his
whirling brain led back to that--and it was terrible.

Then--he was gazing transfixed down upon the familiar tracks left by Creech's
mustangs. Days old, but still unfollowed!


That track led up the narrowing canyon to its head at the base of the plateau.

Slone, mindful of his horse, climbed on foot, halting at the zigzag turns to
rest. A long, gradually ascending trail mounted the last slope, which when
close at hand was not so precipitous as it appeared from below. Up there the
wind, sucked out of the canyons, swooped and twisted hard.

At last Slone led Wildfire over the rim and halted for another
breathing-spell. Before him was a beautiful, gently sloping stretch of waving
grass leading up to the dark pine forest from which came a roar of wind.
Beneath Slone the wild and whorled canyon breaks extended, wonderful in
thousands of denuded surfaces, gold and red and yellow, with the smoky depths

Wildfire sniffed the wind and snorted. Slone turned, instantly alert. The wild
horse had given an alarm. Like a flash Slone leaped into the saddle. A faint
cry, away from the wind, startled Slone. It was like a cry he had heard in
dreams. How overstrained his perceptions! He was not really sure of anything,
yet on the instant he was tense.

Straggling cedars on his left almost wholly obstructed Slone's view.
Wildfire's ears and nose were pointed that way. Slone trotted him down toward
the edge of this cedar clump so that he could see beyond. Before he reached
it, however, he saw something blue, moving, waving, lifting.

"Smoke!" muttered Slone. And he thought more of the danger of fire on that
windy height than he did of another peril to himself.

Wildfire was hard to hold as he rounded the edge of the cedars.

Slone saw a line of leaping flame, a line of sweeping smoke, the grass on fire
. . . horses!--a man!

Wildfire whistled his ringing blast of hate and menace, his desert challenge
to another stallion.

The man whirled to look.

Slone saw Joel Creech--and Sage King--and Lucy, half naked, bound on his back!

Joy, agony, terror in lightning-swift turns, paralyzed Slone. But Wildfire
lunged out on the run.

Sage King reared in fright, came clown to plunge away. and with a magnificent
leap cleared the line of fire.

Slone, more from habit than thought, sat close in the saddle. A few of
Wildfire's lengthening strides, quickened Slone's blood. Then Creech moved,
also awaking from a stupefying surprise, and he snatched up a gun and fired.
Slone saw the spurts of red, the puffs of white. But he heard nothing. The
torrent of his changed blood, burning and terrible, filled his ears with hate
and death.

He guided the running stallion. In a few tremendous strides Wildfire struck
Creech, and Slone had one glimpse of all awful face. The impact was terrific.
Creech went hurtling through the air, limp and broken, to go down upon a rock,
his skull cracking like a melon.

The horse leaped over the body and the stone, and beyond he leaped the line of
burning grass.

Slone saw the King running into the forest. He saw poor Lucy's white body
swinging with the horse's motion. One glance showed the great gray to be
running wild. Then the hate and passion cleared away, leaving suspense and

Wildfire reached the pines. There down the open aisles between the black trees
ran the fleet gray racer. Wildfire saw him and snorted. The King was a hundred
yards to the fore.

"Wildfire--it's come--the race--the race!" called Slone. But he could not hear
his own call. There was a roar overhead, heavy, almost deafening. The wind!
the wind! Yet that roar did not deaden a strange, shrieking crack somewhere
behind. Wildfire leaped in fright. Slone turned. Fire had run up a pine-tree,
which exploded as if the trunk were powder!


In that poignant cry Slone uttered his realization of the strange fate that
had waited for the inevitable race between Wildfire and the King; he uttered
his despairing love for Lucy, and his acceptance of death for her and himself.
No horse could outrun wind-driven fire in a dry pine forest. Slone had no hope
of that. How perfectly fate and time and place and horses, himself and his
sweetheart, had met! Slone damned Joel Creech's insane soul to everlasting
torment. To think-- to think his idiotic and wild threat had come true--and
come true with a gale in the pine-tops! Slone grew old at the thought, and the
fact seemed to be a dream. But the dry, pine-scented air made breathing hard;
the gray racer, carrying that slender, half-naked form, white in the forest
shade, lengthened into his fleet and beautiful stride; the motion of Wildfire,
so easy, so smooth, so swift, and the fierce reach of his head shooting
forward--all these proved that it was no dream.

Tense questions pierced the dark chaos of Slone's mind--what could he do? Run
the King down! Make 'him kill Lucy! Save her from horrible death by fire!

The red horse had not gained a yard on the gray. Slone, keen to judge
distance, saw this, and for the first time he doubted Wildfire's power to ran
down the King. Not with such a lead! It was hopeless-- so hopeless--

He turned to look back. He saw no fire, no smoke--only the dark trunks, and
the massed green foliage in violent agitation against the blue sky. That
revived a faint hope. If he could get a few miles ahead, before the fire began
to leap across the pine-crests, then it might be possible to run out of the
forest if it were not wide.

Then a stronger hope grew. It seemed that foot by foot Wildfire was gaining on
the King. Slone studied the level forest floor sliding toward him. He lost his
hope--then regained it again, and then he spurred the horse. Wildfire hated
that as he hated Slone. But apparently he did not quicken his strides. And
Slone could not tell if he lengthened them. He was not running near his limit
but, after the nature of such a horse, left to choose his gait, running
slowly, but rising toward his swiftest and fiercest.

Slone's rider's blood never thrilled to that race, for his blood had curdled.
The sickness within rose to his mind. And that flashed up whenever he dared to
look forward at Lucy's white form. Slone could not bear this sight; it almost
made him reel, yet he was driven to look. He saw that the King carried no
saddle, so with Lucy on him he was light. He ought to run all day with only
that weight. Wildfire carried a heavy saddle, a pack, a water bag, and a
rifle. Slone untied the pack and let it drop. He almost threw aside the
water-bag, but something withheld his hand, and also he kept his rifle. What
were a few more pounds to this desert stallion in his last run? Slone knew it
was Wildfire's greatest and last race.

Suddenly Slone's ears rang with a terrible on-coming roar. For an instant the
unknown sound stiffened him, robbed him of strength. Only the horn of the
saddle, hooking into him, held him on. Then the years of his desert life
answered to a call more than human.

He had to race against fire. He must beat the flame to the girl he loved.
There were miles of dry forest, like powder. Fire backed by a heavy gale could
rage through dry pine faster than any horse could run. He might fail to save
Lucy. Fate had given him a bitter ride. But he swore a grim oath that he would
beat the flame. The intense and abnormal rider's passion in him, like
Bostil's, dammed up, but never fully controlled, burst within him, and
suddenly he awoke to a wild and terrible violence of heart and soul. He had
accepted death; he had no fear. All that he wanted to do, the last thing he
wanted to do, was to ride down the King and kill Lucy mercifully. How he would
have gloried to burn there in the forest, and for a million years in the dark
beyond, to save the girl!

He goaded the horse. Then he looked back.

Through the aisles of the forest he saw a strange, streaky, murky something
moving, alive, shifting up and down, never an instant the same. It must have
been the wind--the heat before the fire. He seemed to see through it, but
there was nothing beyond, only opaque, dim, mustering clouds. Hot puffs shot
forward into his face. His eyes smarted and stung. His ears hurt and were
growing deaf. The tumult was the rear of avalanches, of maelstroms, of rushing
seas, of the wreck of the uplands and the ruin of the earth. It grew to be so
great a roar that he no longer heard. There was only silence.

And he turned to face ahead. The stallion stretched low on a dead run; the
tips of the pines were bending before the wind; and Wildfire, the terrible
thing for which his horse was named, was leaping through the forest. But there
was no sound.

Ahead of Slone, down the aisles, low under the trees spreading over the
running King, floated swiftly some medium, like a transparent veil. It was
neither smoke nor air. It carried faint pin points of light, sparks, that
resembled atoms of dust floating in sunlight. It was a wave of heat driven
before the storm of fire. Slone did not feel pain, but he seemed to be drying
up. parching. And Lucy must be suffering now. He goaded the stallion, raking
his flanks. Wildfire answered with a scream and a greater speed. All except
Lucy and Sage King and Wildfire seemed so strange and unreal--the swift rush
between the pines, now growing ghostly in the dimming light, the sense of a
pursuing, overpowering force, and yet absolute silence.

Slone fought the desire to look back. But he could not resist it. Some
horrible fascination compelled him. All behind had changed. A hot wind, like a
blast from a furnace, blew light, stinging particles into his face. The fire
was racing in the tree-tops, while below all was yet clear. A lashing, leaping
flame engulfed the canopy of pines. It was white, seething, inconceivably
swift, with a thousand flashing tongues. It traveled ahead of smoke. It was so
thin he could see the branches through it, and the fiery clouds behind. It
swept onward, a sublime and an appalling spectacle. Slone could not think of
what it looked like. It was fire, liberated, freed from the bowels of the
earth, tremendous, devouring. This, then, was the meaning of fire. This, then,
was the horrible fate to befall Lucy.

But no! He thought he must be insane not to be overcome in spirit. Yet he was
not. He would beat the flame to Lucy. He felt the loss of something, some kind
of a sensation which he ought to have had. Still he rode that race to kill his
sweetheart better than any race he had ever before ridden. He kept his seat;
he dodged the snags; he pulled the maddened horse the shortest way, he kept
the King running straight.

No horse had ever run so magnificent a race! Wildfire was outracing wind and
fire, and he was overhauling the most noted racer of the uplands against a
tremendous handicap. But now he was no longer racing to kill the King; he was
running in terror. For miles he held that long, swift, wonderful stride
without a break. He was running to his death, whether or not he distanced the
fire. Nothing could stop him now but a bursting heart.

Slone untied his lasso and coiled the noose. Almost within reach of the King!
One throw--one sudden swerve--and the King would go down. Lucy would know only
a stunning shock. Slone's heart broke. Could he kill her--crush that dear
golden head? He could not, yet he must! He saw a long, curved, red welt on
Lucy's white shoulders. What was that? Had a branch lashed her? Slone could
not see her face. She could not have been dead or in a faint, for she was
riding the King, bound as she was!

Closer and closer drew Wildfire. He seemed to go faster and faster as that
wind of flame gained upon them. The air was too thick to breathe. It had an
irresistible weight. It pushed horses and riders onward in their
flight--straws on the crest of a cyclone.

Again Slone looked back and again the spectacle was different. There was a
white and golden fury of flame above, beautiful and blinding; and below,
farther back, an inferno of glowing fire, black-streaked, with trembling,
exploding puffs and streams of yellow smoke. The aisles between the burning
pines were smoky, murky caverns, moving and weird. Slone saw fire shoot from
the tree-tops down the trunks, and he saw fire shoot up the trunks, like
trains of powder. They exploded like huge rockets. And along the forest floor
leaped the little flames. His eyes burned and blurred till all merged into a
wide, pursuing storm too awful for the gaze of man.

Wildfire was running down the King. The great gray had not lessened his speed,
but he was breaking. Slone felt a ghastly triumph when he began to whirl the
noose of the lasso round his head. Already he was within range. But he held
back his throw which meant the end of all. And as he hesitated Wildfire
suddenly whistled one shrieking blast.

Slone looked. Ahead there was light through the forest! Slone saw a white,
open space of grass. A park? No--the end of the forest! Wildfire, like a
demon, hurtled onward, with his smoothness of action gone, beginning to break,
within a length of the King.

A cry escaped Slone--a cry as silent as if there had been no deafening
roar--as wild as the race, and as terrible as the ruthless fire. It was the
cry of life--instead of death. Both Sage King and Wildfire would beat the

Then, with the open just ahead, Slone felt a wave of hot wind rolling over
him. He saw the lashing tongues of flame above him in the pines. The storm had
caught him. It forged ahead. He was riding under a canopy of fire. Burning
pine cones, like torches, dropped all around him. He had a terrible blank
sense of weight, of suffocation, of the air turning to fire.

Then Wildfire, with his nose at Sage King's flank, flashed out of the pines
into the open. Slone saw a grassy wide reach inclining gently toward a dark
break in the ground with crags rising sheer above it, and to the right a great
open space.

Slone felt that clear air as the breath of deliverance. His reeling sense
righted. There--the King ran, blindly going to his death. Wildfire was
breaking fast. His momentum carried him. He was almost done.

Slone roped the King, and holding hard, waited for the end. They ran on,
breaking, breaking. Slone thought he would have to throw the King, for they
were perilously near the deep cleft in the rim. But Sage King went to his

Slone leaped off just as Wildfire fell. How the blade flashed that released
Lucy! She was wet from the horse's sweat and foam. She slid off into Slone's
arms, and he called her name. Could she hear above that roar back there in the
forest? The pieces of rope hung to her wrists and Slone saw dark bruises, raw
and bloody. She fell against him. Was she dead? His heart contracted. How
white the face! No; he saw her breast heave against his! And he cried aloud,
incoherently in his joy. She was alive. She was not badly hurt. She stirred.
She plucked at him with nerveless hands. She pressed close to him. He heard a
smothered voice, yet so full, so wonderful!

"Put--your--coat--on me!" came somehow to his ears.

Slone started violently. Abashed, shamed to realize he had forgotten she was
half nude, he blindly tore off his coat, blindly folded it around her.

"Lin! Lin!" she cried.

"Lucy--Oh! are y-you--" he replied, huskily.

"I'm not hurt. I'm all right."

"But that wretch, Joel. He--"

"He'd killed his father--just a--minute--before you came. I fought him! Oh! .
. . But I'm all right. . . . Did you--"

"Wildfire ran him down--smashed him. . . . Lucy! this can't be true. . . . Yet
I feel you! Thank God!"

With her free hand Lucy returned his clasp. She seemed to be strong. It was a
precious moment for Slone, in which he was uplifted beyond all dreams.

"Let me loose--a second," she said. "I want to--get in your coat."

She laughed as he released her. She laughed! And Slone thrilled with
unutterable sweetness at that laugh.

As he turned away he felt a swift wind, then a strange impact from an
invisible force that staggered him, then the rend of flesh. After that came
the heavy report of a gun.

Slone fell. He knew he had been shot. Following the rending of his flesh came
a hot agony. It was in his shoulder, high up, and the dark, swift fear for his
life was checked.

Lucy stood staring down at him, unable to comprehend, slowly paling. Her hands
clasped the coat round her. Slone saw her, saw the edge of streaming clouds of
smoke above her, saw on the cliff beyond the gorge two men, one with a smoking
gun half leveled.

If Slone had been inattentive to his surroundings before, the sight of Cordts
electrified him.

"Lucy! drop down! quick!"

"Oh, what's happened? You--you--"

"I've been shot. Drop down, I tell you. Get behind the horse an' pull my

"Shot!" exclaimed Lucy, blankly.

"Yes--Yes. . . . My God! Lucy, he's goin' to shoot again!"

It was then Lucy Bostil saw Cordts across the gulch. He was not fifty yards
distant, plainly recognizable, tall, gaunt, sardonic. He held the half-leveled
gun ready as if waiting. He had waited there in ambush. The clouds of smoke
rolled up above him, hiding the crags.

"CORDTS!" Bostil's blood spoke in the girl's thrilling cry.

"Hunch down, Lucy!" cried Slone. "Pull my rifle. . . . I'm only winged--not
hurt. Hurry! He's goin'--"

Another heavy report interrupted Slone. The bullet missed, but Slone made a
pretense, a convulsive flop, as if struck.

"Get the rifle! Quick!" he called.

But Lucy misunderstood his ruse to deceive Cordts. She thought he had been hit
again. She ran to the fallen Wildfire and jerked the rifle from its sheath.

Cordts had begun to climb round a ledge, evidently a short cut to get down and
across. Hutchinson saw the rifle and yelled to Cordts. The horse-thief halted,
his dark face gleaming toward Lucy.

When Lucy rose the coat fell from her nude shoulders. And Slone, watching,
suddenly lost his agony of terror for her and uttered a pealing cry of
defiance and of rapture.

She swept up the rifle. It wavered. Hutchinson was above, and Cordts, reaching
up, yelled for help. Hutchinson was reluctant. But the stronger force
dominated. He leaned down--clasped Cordts's outstretched hands, and pulled.
Hutchinson bawled out hoarsely. Cordts turned what seemed a paler face. He had
difficulty on the slight footing. He was slow.

Slone tried to call to Lucy to shoot low, but his lips had drawn tight after
his one yell. Slone saw her white, rounded shoulders bent, with cold, white
face pressed against the rifle, with slim arms quivering and growing tense,
with the tangled golden hair blowing out.

Then she shot.

Slone's glance shifted. He did not see the bullet strike up dust. The figures
of the men remained the same--Hutchinson straining, Cordts. . . . No, Cordts
was not the same! A strange change seemed manifest in his long form. It did
not seem instinct with effort. Yet it moved.

Hutchinson also was acting strangely, yelling, heaving, wrestling. But he
could not help Cordts. He lifted violently, raised Cordts a little, and then
appeared to be in peril of losing his balance.

Cordts leaned against the cliff. Then it dawned upon Slone that Lucy had hit
the horse-thief. Hard hit! He would not--he could not let go of Hutchinson.
His was a death clutch. The burly Hutchinson slipped from his knee-hold, and
as he moved Cordts swayed, his feet left the ledge, he hung, upheld only by
the tottering comrade.

What a harsh and terrible cry from Hutchinson! He made one last convulsive
effort and it doomed him. Slowly he lost his balance. Cordts's dark, evil,
haunting face swung round. Both men became lax and plunged, and separated. The
dust rose from the rough steps. Then the dark forms shot down--Cordts falling
sheer and straight, Hutchinson headlong, with waving arms--down and down,
vanishing in the depths. No sound came up. A little column of yellow dust
curled from the fatal ledge and, catching the wind above, streamed away into
the drifting clouds of smoke.


A darkness, like the streaming clouds overhead, seemed to blot out Slone's
sight, and then passed away, leaving it clearer.

Lucy was bending over him, binding a scarf round his shoulder and under his
arm. "Lin! It's nothing!" she was saying, earnestly. "Never touched a bone!"

Slone sat up. The smoke was clearing away. Little curves of burning grass were
working down along the rim. He put out a hand to grasp Lucy, remembering in a
flash. He pointed to the ledge across the chasm.

"They're--gone!" cried Lucy, with a strange and deep note in her voice. She
shook violently. But she did not look away from Slone.

"Wildfire! The King!" he added, hoarsely.

"Both where they dropped. Oh, I'm afraid to--to look. . . . And, Lin, I saw
Sarch, Two Face, and Ben and Plume go down there."

She had her back to the chasm where the trail led down, and she pointed
without looking.

Slone got up, a little unsteady on his feet and conscious of a dull pain.

"Sarch will go straight home, and the others will follow him," said Lucy.
"They got away here where Joel came up the trail. The fire chased them out of
the woods. Sarch will go home. And that'll fetch the riders."

"We won't need them if only Wildfire and the King--" Slone broke off and
grimly, with a catch in his breath, turned to the horses.

How strange that Slone should run toward the King while Lucy ran to Wildfire!

Sage King was a beaten, broken horse, but he would live to run another race.

Lucy was kneeling beside Wildfire, sobbing and crying: "Wildfire! Wildfire!"

All of Wildfire was white except where he was red, and that red was not now
his glossy, flaming skin. A terrible muscular convulsion as of internal
collapse grew slower and slower. Yet choked, blinded, dying, killed on his
feet, Wildfire heard Lucy's voice.

"Oh, Lin! Oh, Lin!" moaned Lucy.

While they knelt there the violent convulsions changed to slow heaves.

"He run the King down--carryin' weight--with a long lead to overcome!" Slone
muttered, and he put a shaking hand on the horse's wet neck.

"Oh, he beat the King!" cried Lucy. "But you mustn't--you CAN'T tell Dad!"

"What CAN we tell him?"

"Oh, I know. Old Creech told me what to say!"

A change, both of body and spirit, seemed to pass over the great stallion.


Again the rider called to his horse, with a low and piercing cry. But Wildfire
did not hear.

The morning sun glanced brightly over the rippling sage which rolled away from
the Ford like a gray sea.

Bostil sat on his porch, a stricken man. He faced the blue haze of the north,
where days before all that he had loved had vanished. Every day, from sunrise
till sunset, he had been there, waiting and watching. His riders were grouped
near him, silent, awed by his agony, awaiting orders that never came.

From behind a ridge puffed up a thin cloud of dust. Bostil saw it and gave a
start. Above the sage appeared a bobbing, black object --the head of a horse.
Then the big black body followed.

"Sarch!" exclaimed Bostil.

With spurs clinking the riders ran and trooped behind him.

"More hosses back," said Holley, quietly.

"Thar's Plume!" exclaimed Farlane.

"An' Two Face!" added Van.

"Dusty Ben!" said another.

"RIDERLESS!" finished Bostil.

Then all were intensely quiet, watching the racers come trotting in single
file down the ridge. Sarchedon's shrill neigh, like a whistle-blast, pealed in
from the sage. From, fields and corrals clamored the answer attended by the
clattering of hundreds of hoofs.

Sarchedon and his followers broke from trot to canter--canter to gallop--and
soon were cracking their hard hoofs on the stony court. Like a swarm of bees
the riders swooped down upon the racers, caught them, and led them up to

On Sarchedon's neck showed a dry, dust-caked stain of reddish tinge. Holley,
the old hawk-eyed rider, had precedence in the examination.

"Wal, thet's a bullet-mark, plain as day," said Holley.

"Who shot him?" demanded Bostil.

Holley shook his gray head.

"He smells of smoke," put in Farlane, who had knelt at the black's legs. "He's
been runnin' fire. See thet! Fetlocks all singed!"

All the riders looked, and then with grave, questioning eyes at one another.

"Reckon thar's been hell!" muttered Holley, darkly.

Some of the riders led the horses away toward the corrals. Bostil wheeled to
face the north again. His brow was lowering; his cheek was pale and sunken;
his jaw was set.

The riders came and went, but Bostil kept his vigil. The hours passed.
Afternoon came and wore on. The sun lost its brightness and burned red.

Again dust-clouds, now like reddened smoke, puffed over the ridge. A horse
carrying a dark, thick figure appeared above the sage.

Bostil leaped up. "Is thet a gray hoss--or am--I blind?" he called,

The riders dared not answer. They must be sure. They gazed through narrow
slits of eyelids; and the silence grew intense.

Holley shaded the hawk eyes with his hand. "Gray he is--Bostil--gray as the

"Yes, it's the King!" cried the riders, excitedly. "Sure! I reckon! No mistake
about thet! It's the King!"

Bostil shook his huge frame, and he rubbed his eyes as if they had become dim,
and he stared again.

"Who's thet up on him?"

"Slone. I never seen his like on a hoss," replied Holley.

"An' what's--he packin'?" queried Bostil, huskily.

Plain to all keen eyes was the glint of Lucy Bostil's golden hair. But only
Holley had courage to speak.

"It's Lucy! I seen thet long ago."

A strange, fleeting light of joy died out of Bostil's face. The change once
more silenced his riders. They watched the King trotting in from the sage. His
head drooped. He seemed grayer than ever and he limped. But he was Sage King,
splendid as of old, all the more gladdening to the riders' eyes because he had
been lost. He came on, quickening a little to the clamoring welcome from the

Holley put out a swift hand. "Bostil--the girl's alive--she's smilin'!" he
called, and the cool voice was strangely different.

The riders waited for Bostil. Slone rode into the courtyard. He was white and
weary, reeling in the saddle. A bloody scarf was bound round his shoulder. He
held Lucy in his arms. She had on his coat. A wan smile lighted her haggard

Bostil, cursing deep, like muttering thunder, strode out. "Lucy! You ain't bad
hurt?" he implored, in a voice no one had ever heard before.

"I'm--all right--Dad," she said, and slipped down into his arms.

He kissed the pale face and held her up like a child, and then, carrying her
to the door of the house, he roared for Aunt Jane.

When he reappeared the crowd of riders scattered from around Slone. But it
seemed that Bostil saw only the King. The horse was caked with dusty lather,
scratched and disheveled, weary and broken, yet he was still beautiful. He
raised his drooping head and reached for his master with a look as soft and
dark and eloquent as a woman's.

No rider there but felt Bostil's passion of doubt and hope. Had the King been
beaten? Bostil's glory and pride were battling with love. Mighty as that was,
it did not at once overcome his fear of defeat.

Slowly the gaze of Bostil moved away from Sage King and roved out to the sage
and back, as if he expected to see another horse. But no other horse was in
sight. At last his hard eyes rested upon the white-faced Slone.

"Been some--hard ridin'?" he queried, haltingly. All there knew that had not
been the question upon his lips.

"Pretty hard--yes," replied Slone. He was weary, yet tight-lipped, intense.

"Now--them Creeches?" slowly continued Bostil.


A murmur ran through the listening riders, and they drew closer.

"Both of them?"

"Yes. Joel killed his father, fightin' to get Lucy. . . . An' I ran--Wildfire
over Joel--smashed him!"

"Wal, I'm sorry for the old man," replied Bostil, gruffly. "I meant to make up
to him. . . . But thet fool boy! . . . An' Slone--you're all bloody."

He stepped forward and pulled the scarf aside. He was curious and kindly, as
if it was beyond him to be otherwise. Yet that dark cold something, almost
sullen clung round him.

"Been bored, eh? Wal, it ain't low, an' thet's good. Who shot you?"


"CORDTS!" Bostil leaned forward in sudden, fierce eagerness.

"Yes, Cordts. . . . His outfit run across Creech's trail an' we bunched. I
can't tell now. . . . But we had--hell! An' Cordts is dead--so's Hutch--an'
that other pard of his. . . . Bostil, they'll never haunt your sleep again!"

Slone finished with a strange sternness that seemed almost bitter.

Bostil raised both his huge fists. The blood was bulging his thick neck. It
was another kind of passion that obsessed him. Only some violent check to his
emotion prevented him from embracing Slone. The huge fists unclenched and the
big fingers worked.

"You mean to tell me you did fer Cordts an' Hutch what you did fer Sears?" he
boomed out.

"They're dead--gone, Bostil--honest to God!" replied. Slone.

Holley thrust a quivering, brown hand into Bostil's face. "What did I tell
you?" he shouted. "Didn't I say wait?"

Bostil threw away all that deep fury of passion, and there seemed only a
resistless and speechless admiration left. Then ensued a moment of silence.
The riders watched Slone's weary face as it drooped, and Bostil, as he loomed
over him.

"Where's the red stallion?" queried Bostil. That was the question hard to get

Slone raised eyes dark with pain, yet they flashed as he looked straight up
into Bostil's face. "Wildfire's dead!"

"DEAD!" ejaculated Bostil.

Another moment of strained exciting suspense.

"Shot?" he went on.


"What killed him?"

"The King, sir! . . . Killed him on his feet!"

Bostil's heavy jaw bulged and quivered. His hand shook as he laid it on Sage
King's mane--the first touch since the return of his favorite.

"Slone--what--is it?" he said, brokenly, with voice strangely softened. His
face became transfigured.

"Sage King killed Wildfire on his feet. . . . A grand race, Bostil! . . . But
Wildfire's dead--an' here's the King! Ask me no more. I want to forget."

Bostil put his arm around the young man's shoulder. "Slone, if I don't know
what you feel fer the loss of thet grand hoss, no rider on earth knows! . . .
Go in the house. Boys, take him in--all of you--an' look after him."

Bostil wanted to be alone, to welcome the King, to lead him back to the home
corral, perhaps to hide from all eyes the change and the uplift that would
forever keep him from wronging another man.

The late rains came and like magic, in a few days, the sage grew green and
lustrous and fresh, the gray turning to purple.

Every morning the sun rose white and hot in a blue and cloudless sky. And then
soon the horizon line showed creamy clouds that rose and spread and darkened.
Every afternoon storms hung along the ramparts and rainbows curved down
beautiful and ethereal. The dim blackness of the storm-clouds was split to the
blinding zigzag of lightning, and the thunder rolled and boomed, like the
Colorado in flood.

The wind was fragrant, sage-laden, no longer dry and hot, but cool in the

Slone and Lucy never rode down so far as the stately monuments, though these
held memories as hauntingly sweet as others were poignantly bitter. Lucy never
rode the King again. But Slone rode him, learned to love him. And Lucy did not
race any more. When Slone tried to stir in her the old spirit all the response
he got was a wistful shake of head or a laugh that hid the truth or an excuse
that the strain on her ankles from Joel Creech's lasso had never mended. The
girl was unutterably happy, but it was possible that she would never race a
horse again.

She rode Sarchedon, and she liked to trot or lope along beside Slone while
they linked hands and watched the distance. But her glance shunned the north,
that distance which held the wild canyons and the broken battlements and the
long, black, pine-fringed plateau.

"Won't you ever ride with me, out to the old camp, where I used to wait for
you?" asked Slone.

"Some day," she said, softly.


"When--when we come back from Durango," she replied, with averted eyes and
scarlet cheek. And Slone was silent, for that planned trip to Durango, with
its wonderful gift to be, made his heart swell.

And so on this rainbow day, with storms all around them, and blue sky above,
they rode only as far as the valley. But from there, before they turned to go
back, the monuments appeared close, and they loomed grandly with the
background of purple bank and creamy cloud and shafts of golden lightning.
They seemed like sentinels-- guardians of a great and beautiful love born
under their lofty heights, in the lonely silence of day, in the star-thrown
shadow of night. They were like that love. And they held Lucy and Slone,
calling every day, giving a nameless and tranquil content, binding them true
to love, true to the sage and the open, true to that wild upland home.

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest