Wildfire by Zane Grey
Bostil slept that night, but his sleep was troubled, and a strange, dreadful roar seemed to run through it, like a mournful wind over a dark desert. He was awakened early by a voice at his window. He listened. There came a rap on the wood.
"Bostil! ... Bostil!" It was Holley's voice.
Bostil rolled off the bed. He had slept without removing any apparel except his boots.
"Wal, Hawk, what d'ye mean wakin' a man at this unholy hour?" growled Bostil.
Holley's face appeared above the rude sill. It was pale and grave, with the hawk eyes like glass. "It ain't so awful early," he said. "Listen, boss."
Bostil halted in the act of pulling on a boot. He looked at his man while he listened. The still air outside seemed filled with low boom, like thunder at a distance. Bostil tried to look astounded.
"Hell! ... It's the Colorado! She's boomin'!"
"Reckon it's hell all right—for Creech," replied Holley. "Boss, why didn't you fetch them hosses over?"
Bostil's face darkened. He was a bad man to oppose—to question at times. "Holley, you're sure powerful anxious about Creech. Are you his friend?"
"Naw! I've little use fer Creech," replied Holley. "An' you know thet. But I hold for his hosses as I would any man's."
"A-huh! An' what's your kick?"
"Nothin'—except you could have fetched them over before the flood come down. That's all."
The old horse-trader and his right-hand rider looked at each other for a moment in silence. They understood each other. Then Bostil returned to the task of pulling on wet boots and Holley went away.
Bostil opened his door and stepped outside. The eastern ramparts of the desert were bright red with the rising sun. With the night behind him and the morning cool and bright and beautiful, Bostil did not suffer a pang nor feel a regret. He walked around under the cottonwoods where the mocking-birds were singing. The shrill, screeching bray of a burro split the morning stillness, and with that the sounds of the awakening village drowned that sullen, dreadful boom of the river. Bostil went in to breakfast.
He encountered Lucy in the kitchen, and he did not avoid her. He could tell from her smiling greeting that he seemed to her his old self again. Lucy wore an apron and she had her sleeves rolled up, showing round, strong, brown arms. Somehow to Bostil she seemed different. She had been pretty, but now she was more than that. She was radiant. Her blue eyes danced. She looked excited. She had been telling her aunt something, and that worthy woman appeared at once shocked and delighted. But Bostil's entrance had caused a mysterious break in everything that had been going on, except the preparation of the morning meal.
"Now I rode in on some confab or other, that's sure," said Bostil, good-naturedly.
"You sure did, Dad," replied Lucy, with a bright smile.
"Wal, let me sit in the game," he rejoined.
"Dad, you can't even ante," said Lucy.
"Jane, what's this kid up to?" asked Bostil, turning to his sister.
"The good Lord only knows!" replied Aunt Jane, with a sigh.
"Kid? ... See here, Dad, I'm eighteen long ago. I'm grown up. I can do as I please, go where I like, and anything.... Why, Dad, I could get—married."
"Haw! haw!" laughed Bostil. "Jane, hear the girl."
"I hear her, Bostil," sighed Aunt Jane.
"Wal, Lucy, I'd just like to see you fetch some fool love-sick rider around when I'm feelin' good," said Bostil.
Lucy laughed, but there was a roguish, daring flash in her eyes. "Dad, you do seem to have all the young fellows scared. Some day maybe one will ride along—a rider like you used to be—that nobody could bluff.... And he can have me!"
"A-huh! ... Lucy, are you in fun?"
Lucy tossed her bright head, but did not answer.
"Jane, what's got into her?" asked Bostil, appealing to his sister.
"Bostil, she's in fun, of course," declared Aunt Jane. "Still, at that, there's some sense in what she says. Come to your breakfast, now."
Bostil took his seat at the table, glad that he could once more be amiable with his women-folk. "Lucy, to-morrow'll be the biggest day Bostil's Ford ever seen," he said.
"It sure will be, Dad. The biggest SURPRISING day the Ford ever had," replied Lucy.
"Who's goin' to get surprised?"
Bostil said to himself that he had been used to Lucy's banter, but during his moody spell of days past he had forgotten how to take her or else she was different.
"Brackton tells me you've entered a hoss against the field."
"It's an open race, isn't it?"
"Open as the desert, Lucy," he replied. "What's this hoss Wildfire you've entered?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?" taunted Lucy.
"If he's as good as his name you might be in at the finish.... But, Lucy, my dear, talkin' good sense now—you ain't a-goin' to go up on some unbroken mustang in this big race?"
"Dad, I'm going to ride a horse."
"But, Lucy, ain't it a risk you'll be takin'—all for fun?"
"Fun! ... I'm in dead earnest."
Bostil liked the look of her then. She had paled a little; her eyes blazed; she was intense. His question had brought out her earnestness, and straightway Bostil became thoughtful. If Lucy had been a boy she would have been the greatest rider on the uplands; and even girl as she was, superbly mounted, she would have been dangerous in any race.
"Wal, I ain't afraid of your handlin' of a hoss," he said, soberly. "An' as long as you're in earnest I won't stop you. But, Lucy, no bettin'. I won't let you gamble."
"Not even with you?" she coaxed.
Bostil stared at the girl. What had gotten into her? "What'll you bet?" he, queried, with blunt curiosity.
"Dad, I'll go you a hundred dollars in gold that I finish one—two—three."
Bostil threw back his head to laugh heartily. What a chip of the old block she was! "Child, there's some fast hosses that'll be back of the King. You'd be throwin' away money."
Blue fire shone in his daughter's eyes. She meant business, all right, and Bostil thrilled with pride in her.
"Dad, I'll bet you two hundred, even, that I beat the King!" she flashed.
"Wal, of all the nerve!" ejaculated Bostil. "No, I won't take you up. Reckon I never before turned down an even bet. Understand, Lucy, ridin' in the race is enough for you."
"All right, Dad," replied Lucy, obediently.
At that juncture Bostil suddenly shoved back his plate and turned his face to the open door. "Don't I hear a runnin' hoss?"
Aunt Jane stopped the noise she was making, and Lucy darted to the door. Then Bostil heard the sharp, rhythmic hoof-beats he recognized. They shortened to clatter and pound—then ceased somewhere out in front of the house.
"It's the King with Van up," said Lucy, from the door. "Dad, Van's jumped off—he's coming in ... he's running. Something has happened.... There are other horses coming—riders—Indians."
Bostil knew what was coming and prepared himself. Rapid footsteps sounded without.
"Hello, Miss Lucy! Where's Bostil?"
A lean, supple rider appeared before the door. It was Van, greatly excited.
"Come in, boy," said Bostil. "What're you flustered about?"
Van strode in, spurs jangling, cap in hand. "Boss, there's—a sixty-foot raise—in the river!" Van panted.
"Oh!" cried Lucy, wheeling toward her father.
"Wal, Van, I reckon I knowed thet," replied Bostil. "Mebbe I'm gettin' old, but I can still hear.... Listen."
Lucy tiptoed to the door and turned her head sidewise and slowly bowed it till she stiffened. Outside were, sounds of birds and horses and men, but when a lull came it quickly filled with a sullen, low boom.
"Highest flood we—ever seen," said Van.
"You've been down?" queried Bostil, sharply.
"Not to the river," replied Van. "I went as far as—where the gulch opens—on the bluff. There was a string of Navajos goin' down. An' some comin' up. I stayed there watchin' the flood, an' pretty soon Somers come up the trail with Blakesley an' Brack an' some riders.... An' Somers hollered out, 'The boat's gone!'"
"Gone!" exclaimed Bostil, his loud cry showing consternation.
"Oh, Dad! Oh, Van!" cried Lucy, with eyes wide and lips parted.
"Sure she's gone. An' the whole place down there—where the willows was an' the sand-bar—it was deep under water."
"What will become of Creech's horses?" asked Lucy, breathlessly.
"My God! ain't it a shame!" went on Bostil, and he could have laughed aloud at his hypocrisy. He felt Lucy's blue eyes riveted upon his face.
"Thet's what we all was sayin'," went on Van. "While we was watchin' the awful flood an' listenin' to the deep bum—bum—bum of rollin' rocks some one seen Creech an' two Piutes leadin' the hosses up thet trail where the slide was. We counted the hosses—nine. An' we saw the roan shine blue in the sunlight."
"Piutes with Creech!" exclaimed Bostil, the deep gloom in his eyes lighting. "By all thet's lucky! Mebbe them Indians can climb the hosses out of thet hole an' find water an' grass enough."
"Mebbe," replied Van, doubtfully. "Sure them Piutes could if there's a chance. But there ain't any grass."
"It won't take much grass travelin' by night."
"So lots of the boys say. But the Navajos they shook their heads. An' Farlane an' Holley, why, they jest held up their hands."
"With them Indians Creech has a chance to get his hosses out," declared Bostil. He was sure of his sincerity, but he was not certain that his sincerity was not the birth of a strange, sudden hope. And then he was able to meet the eyes of his daughter. That was his supreme test.
"Oh, Dad, why, why didn't you hurry Creech's horses over?" said Lucy, with her tears falling.
Something tight within Bostil's breast seemed to ease and lessen. "Why didn't I? ... Wal, Lucy, I reckon I wasn't in no hurry to oblige Creech. I'm sorry now."
"It won't be so terrible if he doesn't lose the horses," murmured Lucy.
"Where's young Joel Creech?" asked Bostil.
"He stayed on this side last night," replied Van. "Fact is, Joel's the one who first knew the flood was on. Some one said he said he slept in the canyon last night. Anyway, he's ravin' crazy now. An' if he doesn't do harm to some one or hisself I'll miss my guess."
"A-huh!" grunted Bostil. "Right you are."
"Dad, can't anything be done to help Creech now?" appealed Lucy, going close to her father.
Bostil put his arm around her and felt immeasurably relieved to have the golden head press close to his shoulder. "Child, we can't fly acrost the river. Now don't you cry about Creech's hosses. They ain't starved yet. It's hard luck. But mebbe it'll turn out so Creech'll lose only the race. An', Lucy, it was a dead sure bet he'd have lost thet anyway."
Bostil fondled his daughter a moment, the first time in many a day, and then he turned to his rider at the door. "Van, how's the King?"
"Wild to run, Bostil, jest plumb wild. There won't be any hoss with the ghost of a show to-morrow."
Lucy raised her drooping head. "Is THAT so, Van Sickle? ... Listen here. If you and Sage King don't get more wild running to-morrow than you ever had I'll never ride again!" With this retort Lucy left the room.
Van stared at the door and then at Bostil. "What'd I say, Bostil?" he asked, plaintively. "I'm always r'ilin' her."
"Cheer up, Van. You didn't say much. Lucy is fiery these days. She's got a hoss somewhere an' she's goin' to ride him in the race. She offered to bet on him—against the King! It certainly beat me all hollow. But see here, Van. I've a hunch there's a dark hoss goin' to show up in this race. So don't underrate Lucy an' her mount, whatever he is. She calls him Wildfire. Ever see him?"
"I sure haven't. Fact is, I haven't seen Lucy for days an' days. As for the hunch you gave, I'll say I was figurin' Lucy for some real race. Bostil, she doesn't MAKE a hoss run. He'll run jest to please her. An' Lucy's lighter 'n a feather. Why, Bostil, if she happened to ride out there on Blue Roan or some other hoss as fast I'd—I'd jest wilt."
Bostil uttered a laugh full of pride in his daughter. "Wal, she won't show up on Blue Roan," he replied, with grim gruffness. "Thet's sure as death.... Come on out now. I want a look at the King."
Bostil went into the village. All day long he was so busy with a thousand and one things referred to him, put on him, undertaken by him, that he had no time to think. Back in his mind, however, there was a burden of which he was vaguely conscious all the time. He worked late into the night and slept late the next morning.
Never in his life had Bostil been gloomy or retrospective on the day of a race. In the press of matters he had only a word for Lucy, but that earned a saucy, dauntless look. He was glad when he was able to join the procession of villagers, visitors, and Indians moving out toward the sage.
The racecourse lay at the foot of the slope, and now the gray and purple sage was dotted with more horses and Indians, more moving things and colors, than Bostil had ever seen there before. It was a spectacle that stirred him. Many fires sent up blue columns of smoke from before the hastily built brush huts where the Indians cooked and ate. Blankets shone bright in the sun; burros grazed and brayed; horses whistled piercingly across the slope; Indians lolled before the huts or talked in groups, sitting and lounging on their ponies; down in the valley, here and there, were Indians racing, and others were chasing the wiry mustangs. Beyond this gay and colorful spectacle stretched 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 tremendously.
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 thoroughbreds.
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 thet!"
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.