<SPAN name="link2HCH0017" id="link2HCH0017">
<!-- H2 anchor --> </SPAN>
<div style="height: 4em;">
<br /><br /><br /><br />
CHAPTER XVII. WRANGLE'S RACE RUN
The plan eventually decided upon by the lovers was for Venters to go to
the village, secure a horse and some kind of a disguise for Bess, or at
least less striking apparel than her present garb, and to return
post-haste to the valley. Meanwhile, she would add to their store of gold.
Then they would strike the long and perilous trail to ride out of Utah. In
the event of his inability to fetch back a horse for her, they intended to
make the giant sorrel carry double. The gold, a little food, saddle
blankets, and Venters's guns were to compose the light outfit with which
they would make the start.
"I love this beautiful place," said Bess. "It's hard to think of leaving
"Hard! Well, I should think so," replied Venters. "Maybe—in years—"
But he did not complete in words his thought that might be possible to
return after many years of absence and change.
Once again Bess bade Venters farewell under the shadow of Balancing Rock,
and this time it was with whispered hope and tenderness and passionate
trust. Long after he had left her, all down through the outlet to the
Pass, the clinging clasp of her arms, the sweetness of her lips, and the
sense of a new and exquisite birth of character in her remained hauntingly
and thrillingly in his mind. The girl who had sadly called herself
nameless and nothing had been marvelously transformed in the moment of his
avowal of love. It was something to think over, something to warm his
heart, but for the present it had absolutely to be forgotten so that all
his mind could be addressed to the trip so fraught with danger.
He carried only his rifle, revolver, and a small quantity of bread and
meat, and thus lightly burdened, he made swift progress down the slope and
out into the valley. Darkness was coming on, and he welcomed it. Stars
were blinking when he reached his old hiding-place in the split of canyon
wall, and by their aid he slipped through the dense thickets to the grassy
enclosure. Wrangle stood in the center of it with his head up, and he
appeared black and of gigantic proportions in the dim light. Venters
whistled softly, began a slow approach, and then called. The horse snorted
and, plunging away with dull, heavy sound of hoofs, he disappeared in the
gloom. "Wilder than ever!" muttered Venters. He followed the sorrel into
the narrowing split between the walls, and presently had to desist because
he could not see a foot in advance. As he went back toward the open
Wrangle jumped out of an ebony shadow of cliff and like a thunderbolt shot
huge and black past him down into the starlit glade. Deciding that all
attempts to catch Wrangle at night would be useless, Venters repaired to
the shelving rock where he had hidden saddle and blanket, and there went
The first peep of day found him stirring, and as soon as it was light
enough to distinguish objects, he took his lasso off his saddle and went
out to rope the sorrel. He espied Wrangle at the lower end of the cove and
approached him in a perfectly natural manner. When he got near enough,
Wrangle evidently recognized him, but was too wild to stand. He ran up the
glade and on into the narrow lane between the walls. This favored
Venters's speedy capture of the horse, so, coiling his noose ready to
throw, he hurried on. Wrangle let Venters get to within a hundred feet and
then he broke. But as he plunged by, rapidly getting into his stride,
Venters made a perfect throw with the rope. He had time to brace himself
for the shock; nevertheless, Wrangle threw him and dragged him several
yards before halting.
"You wild devil," said Venters, as he slowly pulled Wrangle up. "Don't you
know me? Come now—old fellow—so—so—"
Wrangle yielded to the lasso and then to Venters's strong hand. He was as
straggly and wild-looking as a horse left to roam free in the sage. He
dropped his long ears and stood readily to be saddled and bridled. But he
was exceedingly sensitive, and quivered at every touch and sound. Venters
led him to the thicket, and, bending the close saplings to let him squeeze
through, at length reached the open. Sharp survey in each direction
assured him of the usual lonely nature of the canyon, then he was in the
saddle, riding south.
Wrangle's long, swinging canter was a wonderful ground-gainer. His stride
was almost twice that of an ordinary horse; and his endurance was equally
remarkable. Venters pulled him in occasionally, and walked him up the
stretches of rising ground and along the soft washes. Wrangle had never
yet shown any indication of distress while Venters rode him. Nevertheless,
there was now reason to save the horse, therefore Venters did not resort
to the hurry that had characterized his former trip. He camped at the last
water in the Pass. What distance that was to Cottonwoods he did not know;
he calculated, however, that it was in the neighborhood of fifty miles.
Early in the morning he proceeded on his way, and about the middle of the
forenoon reached the constricted gap that marked the southerly end of the
Pass, and through which led the trail up to the sage-level. He spied out
Lassiter's tracks in the dust, but no others, and dismounting, he
straightened out Wrangle's bridle and began to lead him up the trail. The
short climb, more severe on beast than on man, necessitated a rest on the
level above, and during this he scanned the wide purple reaches of slope.
Wrangle whistled his pleasure at the smell of the sage. Remounting,
Venters headed up the white trail with the fragrant wind in his face. He
had proceeded for perhaps a couple of miles when Wrangle stopped with a
suddenness that threw Venters heavily against the pommel.
"What's wrong, old boy?" called Venters, looking down for a loose shoe or
a snake or a foot lamed by a picked-up stone. Unrewarded, he raised
himself from his scrutiny. Wrangle stood stiff head high, with his long
ears erect. Thus guided, Venters swiftly gazed ahead to make out a
dust-clouded, dark group of horsemen riding down the slope. If they had
seen him, it apparently made no difference in their speed or direction.
"Wonder who they are!" exclaimed Venters. He was not disposed to run. His
cool mood tightened under grip of excitement as he reflected that, whoever
the approaching riders were, they could not be friends. He slipped out of
the saddle and led Wrangle behind the tallest sage-brush. It might serve
to conceal them until the riders were close enough for him to see who they
were; after that he would be indifferent to how soon they discovered him.
After looking to his rifle and ascertaining that it was in working order,
he watched, and as he watched, slowly the force of a bitter fierceness,
long dormant, gathered ready to flame into life. If those riders were not
rustlers he had forgotten how rustlers looked and rode. On they came, a
small group, so compact and dark that he could not tell their number. How
unusual that their horses did not see Wrangle! But such failure, Venters
decided, was owing to the speed with which they were traveling. They moved
at a swift canter affected more by rustlers than by riders. Venters grew
concerned over the possibility that these horsemen would actually ride
down on him before he had a chance to tell what to expect. When they were
within three hundred yards he deliberately led Wrangle out into the trail.
Then he heard shouts, and the hard scrape of sliding hoofs, and saw horses
rear and plunge back with up-flung heads and flying manes. Several little
white puffs of smoke appeared sharply against the black background of
riders and horses, and shots rang out. Bullets struck far in front of
Venters, and whipped up the dust and then hummed low into the sage. The
range was great for revolvers, but whether the shots were meant to kill or
merely to check advance, they were enough to fire that waiting ferocity in
Venters. Slipping his arm through the bridle, so that Wrangle could not
get away, Venters lifted his rifle and pulled the trigger twice.
He saw the first horseman lean sideways and fall. He saw another lurch in
his saddle and heard a cry of pain. Then Wrangle, plunging in fright,
lifted Venters and nearly threw him. He jerked the horse down with a
powerful hand and leaped into the saddle. Wrangle plunged again, dragging
his bridle, that Venters had not had time to throw in place. Bending over
with a swift movement, he secured it and dropped the loop over the pommel.
Then, with grinding teeth, he looked to see what the issue would be.
The band had scattered so as not to afford such a broad mark for bullets.
The riders faced Venters, some with red-belching guns. He heard a sharper
report, and just as Wrangle plunged again he caught the whim of a leaden
missile that would have hit him but for Wrangle's sudden jump. A swift,
hot wave, turning cold, passed over Venters. Deliberately he picked out
the one rider with a carbine, and killed him. Wrangle snorted shrilly and
bolted into the sage. Venters let him run a few rods, then with iron arm
Five riders, surely rustlers, were left. One leaped out of the saddle to
secure his fallen comrade's carbine. A shot from Venters, which missed the
man but sent the dust flying over him made him run back to his horse. Then
they separated. The crippled rider went one way; the one frustrated in his
attempt to get the carbine rode another, Venters thought he made out a
third rider, carrying a strange-appearing bundle and disappearing in the
sage. But in the rapidity of action and vision he could not discern what
it was. Two riders with three horses swung out to the right. Afraid of the
long rifle—a burdensome weapon seldom carried by rustlers or riders—they
had been put to rout.
Suddenly Venters discovered that one of the two men last noted was riding
Jane Withersteen's horse Bells—the beautiful bay racer she had given
to Lassiter. Venters uttered a savage outcry. Then the small, wiry,
frog-like shape of the second rider, and the ease and grace of his seat in
the saddle—things so strikingly incongruous—grew more and more
familiar in Venters's sight.
"Jerry Card!" cried Venters.
It was indeed Tull's right-hand man. Such a white hot wrath inflamed
Venters that he fought himself to see with clearer gaze.
"It's Jerry Card!" he exclaimed, instantly. "And he's riding Black Star
and leading Night!"
The long-kindling, stormy fire in Venters's heart burst into flame. He
spurred Wrangle, and as the horse lengthened his stride Venters slipped
cartridges into the magazine of his rifle till it was once again full.
Card and his companion were now half a mile or more in advance, riding
easily down the slope. Venters marked the smooth gait, and understood it
when Wrangle galloped out of the sage into the broad cattle trail, down
which Venters had once tracked Jane Withersteen's red herd. This
hard-packed trail, from years of use, was as clean and smooth as a road.
Venters saw Jerry Card look back over his shoulder, the other rider did
likewise. Then the three racers lengthened their stride to the point where
the swinging canter was ready to break into a gallop.
"Wrangle, the race's on," said Venters, grimly. "We'll canter with them
and gallop with them and run with them. We'll let them set the pace."
Venters knew he bestrode the strongest, swiftest, most tireless horse ever
ridden by any rider across the Utah uplands. Recalling Jane Withersteen's
devoted assurance that Night could run neck and neck with Wrangle, and
Black Star could show his heels to him, Venters wished that Jane were
there to see the race to recover her blacks and in the unqualified
superiority of the giant sorrel. Then Venters found himself thankful that
she was absent, for he meant that race to end in Jerry Card's death. The
first flush, the raging of Venters's wrath, passed, to leave him in
sullen, almost cold possession of his will. It was a deadly mood, utterly
foreign to his nature, engendered, fostered, and released by the wild
passions of wild men in a wild country. The strength in him then—the
thing rife in him that was not hate, but something as remorseless—might
have been the fiery fruition of a whole lifetime of vengeful quest.
Nothing could have stopped him.
Venters thought out the race shrewdly. The rider on Bells would probably
drop behind and take to the sage. What he did was of little moment to
Venters. To stop Jerry Card, his evil hidden career as well as his present
flight, and then to catch the blacks—that was all that concerned
Venters. The cattle trail wound for miles and miles down the slope.
Venters saw with a rider's keen vision ten, fifteen, twenty miles of clear
purple sage. There were no on-coming riders or rustlers to aid Card. His
only chance to escape lay in abandoning the stolen horses and creeping
away in the sage to hide. In ten miles Wrangle could run Black Star and
Night off their feet, and in fifteen he could kill them outright. So
Venters held the sorrel in, letting Card make the running. It was a long
race that would save the blacks.
In a few miles of that swinging canter Wrangle had crept appreciably
closer to the three horses. Jerry Card turned again, and when he saw how
the sorrel had gained, he put Black Star to a gallop. Night and Bells, on
either side of him, swept into his stride.
Venters loosened the rein on Wrangle and let him break into a gallop. The
sorrel saw the horses ahead and wanted to run. But Venters restrained him.
And in the gallop he gained more than in the canter. Bells was fast in
that gait, but Black Star and Night had been trained to run. Slowly
Wrangle closed the gap down to a quarter of a mile, and crept closer and
Jerry Card wheeled once more. Venters distinctly saw the red flash of his
red face. This time he looked long. Venters laughed. He knew what passed
in Card's mind. The rider was trying to make out what horse it happened to
be that thus gained on Jane Withersteen's peerless racers. Wrangle had so
long been away from the village that not improbably Jerry had forgotten.
Besides, whatever Jerry's qualifications for his fame as the greatest
rider of the sage, certain it was that his best point was not
far-sightedness. He had not recognized Wrangle. After what must have been
a searching gaze he got his comrade to face about. This action gave
Venters amusement. It spoke so surely of the facts that neither Card nor
the rustler actually knew their danger. Yet if they kept to the trail—and
the last thing such men would do would be to leave it—they were both
This comrade of Card's whirled far around in his saddle, and he even
shaded his eyes from the sun. He, too, looked long. Then, all at once, he
faced ahead again and, bending lower in the saddle, began to fling his
right arm up and down. That flinging Venters knew to be the lashing of
Bells. Jerry also became active. And the three racers lengthened out into
"Now, Wrangle!" cried Venters. "Run, you big devil! Run!"
Venters laid the reins on Wrangle's neck and dropped the loop over the
pommel. The sorrel needed no guiding on that smooth trail. He was
surer-footed in a run than at any other fast gait, and his running gave
the impression of something devilish. He might now have been actuated by
Venters's spirit; undoubtedly his savage running fitted the mood of his
rider. Venters bent forward swinging with the horse, and gripped his
rifle. His eye measured the distance between him and Jerry Card.
In less than two miles of running Bells began to drop behind the blacks,
and Wrangle began to overhaul him. Venters anticipated that the rustler
would soon take to the sage. Yet he did not. Not improbably he reasoned
that the powerful sorrel could more easily overtake Bells in the heavier
going outside of the trail. Soon only a few hundred yards lay between
Bells and Wrangle. Turning in his saddle, the rustler began to shoot, and
the bullets beat up little whiffs of dust. Venters raised his rifle, ready
to take snap shots, and waited for favorable opportunity when Bells was
out of line with the forward horses. Venters had it in him to kill these
men as if they were skunk-bitten coyotes, but also he had restraint enough
to keep from shooting one of Jane's beloved Arabians.
No great distance was covered, however, before Bells swerved to the left,
out of line with Black Star and Night. Then Venters, aiming high and
waiting for the pause between Wrangle's great strides, began to take snap
shots at the rustler. The fleeing rider presented a broad target for a
rifle, but he was moving swiftly forward and bobbing up and down.
Moreover, shooting from Wrangle's back was shooting from a thunderbolt.
And added to that was the danger of a low-placed bullet taking effect on
Bells. Yet, despite these considerations, making the shot exceedingly
difficult, Venters's confidence, like his implacability, saw a speedy and
fatal termination of that rustler's race. On the sixth shot the rustler
threw up his arms and took a flying tumble off his horse. He rolled over
and over, hunched himself to a half-erect position, fell, and then dragged
himself into the sage. As Venters went thundering by he peered keenly into
the sage, but caught no sign of the man. Bells ran a few hundred yards,
slowed up, and had stopped when Wrangle passed him.
Again Venters began slipping fresh cartridges into the magazine of his
rifle, and his hand was so sure and steady that he did not drop a single
cartridge. With the eye of a rider and the judgment of a marksman he once
more measured the distance between him and Jerry Card. Wrangle had gained,
bringing him into rifle range. Venters was hard put to it now not to
shoot, but thought it better to withhold his fire. Jerry, who, in
anticipation of a running fusillade, had huddled himself into a little
twisted ball on Black Star's neck, now surmising that this pursuer would
make sure of not wounding one of the blacks, rose to his natural seat in
In his mind perhaps, as certainly as in Venters's, this moment was the
beginning of the real race.
Venters leaned forward to put his hand on Wrangle's neck, then backward to
put it on his flank. Under the shaggy, dusty hair trembled and vibrated
and rippled a wonderful muscular activity. But Wrangle's flesh was still
cold. What a cold-blooded brute thought Venters, and felt in him a love
for the horse he had never given to any other. It would not have been
humanly possible for any rider, even though clutched by hate or revenge or
a passion to save a loved one or fear of his own life, to be astride the
sorrel to swing with his swing, to see his magnificent stride and hear the
rapid thunder of his hoofs, to ride him in that race and not glory in the
So, with his passion to kill still keen and unabated, Venters lived out
that ride, and drank a rider's sage-sweet cup of wildness to the dregs.
When Wrangle's long mane, lashing in the wind, stung Venters in the cheek,
the sting added a beat to his flying pulse. He bent a downward glance to
try to see Wrangle's actual stride, and saw only twinkling, darting
streaks and the white rush of the trail. He watched the sorrel's savage
head, pointed level, his mouth still closed and dry, but his nostrils
distended as if he were snorting unseen fire. Wrangle was the horse for a
race with death. Upon each side Venters saw the sage merged into a
sailing, colorless wall. In front sloped the lay of ground with its purple
breadth split by the white trail. The wind, blowing with heavy, steady
blast into his face, sickened him with enduring, sweet odor, and filled
his ears with a hollow, rushing roar.
Then for the hundredth time he measured the width of space separating him
from Jerry Card. Wrangle had ceased to gain. The blacks were proving their
fleetness. Venters watched Jerry Card, admiring the little rider's
horsemanship. He had the incomparable seat of the upland rider, born in
the saddle. It struck Venters that Card had changed his position, or the
position of the horses. Presently Venters remembered positively that Jerry
had been leading Night on the right-hand side of the trail. The racer was
now on the side to the left. No—it was Black Star. But, Venters
argued in amaze, Jerry had been mounted on Black Star. Another clearer,
keener gaze assured Venters that Black Star was really riderless. Night
now carried Jerry Card.
"He's changed from one to the other!" ejaculated Venters, realizing the
astounding feat with unstinted admiration. "Changed at full speed! Jerry
Card, that's what you've done unless I'm drunk on the smell of sage. But
I've got to see the trick before I believe it."
Thenceforth, while Wrangle sped on, Venters glued his eyes to the little
rider. Jerry Card rode as only he could ride. Of all the daring horsemen
of the uplands, Jerry was the one rider fitted to bring out the greatness
of the blacks in that long race. He had them on a dead run, but not yet at
the last strained and killing pace. From time to time he glanced backward,
as a wise general in retreat calculating his chances and the power and
speed of pursuers, and the moment for the last desperate burst. No doubt,
Card, with his life at stake, gloried in that race, perhaps more wildly
than Venters. For he had been born to the sage and the saddle and the
wild. He was more than half horse. Not until the last call—the
sudden up-flashing instinct of self-preservation—would he lose his
skill and judgment and nerve and the spirit of that race. Venters seemed
to read Jerry's mind. That little crime-stained rider was actually
thinking of his horses, husbanding their speed, handling them with
knowledge of years, glorying in their beautiful, swift, racing stride, and
wanting them to win the race when his own life hung suspended in quivering
balance. Again Jerry whirled in his saddle and the sun flashed red on his
face. Turning, he drew Black Star closer and closer toward Night, till
they ran side by side, as one horse. Then Card raised himself in the
saddle, slipped out of the stirrups, and, somehow twisting himself, leaped
upon Black Star. He did not even lose the swing of the horse. Like a leech
he was there in the other saddle, and as the horses separated, his right
foot, that had been apparently doubled under him, shot down to catch the
stirrup. The grace and dexterity and daring of that rider's act won
something more than admiration from Venters.
For the distance of a mile Jerry rode Black Star and then changed back to
Night. But all Jerry's skill and the running of the blacks could avail
little more against the sorrel.
Venters peered far ahead, studying the lay of the land. Straightaway for
five miles the trail stretched, and then it disappeared in hummocky
ground. To the right, some few rods, Venters saw a break in the sage, and
this was the rim of Deception Pass. Across the dark cleft gleamed the red
of the opposite wall. Venters imagined that the trail went down into the
Pass somewhere north of those ridges. And he realized that he must and
would overtake Jerry Card in this straight course of five miles.
Cruelly he struck his spurs into Wrangle's flanks. A light touch of spur
was sufficient to make Wrangle plunge. And now, with a ringing, wild
snort, he seemed to double up in muscular convulsions and to shoot forward
with an impetus that almost unseated Venters. The sage blurred by, the
trail flashed by, and the wind robbed him of breath and hearing. Jerry
Card turned once more. And the way he shifted to Black Star showed he had
to make his last desperate running. Venters aimed to the side of the trail
and sent a bullet puffing the dust beyond Jerry. Venters hoped to frighten
the rider and get him to take to the sage. But Jerry returned the shot,
and his ball struck dangerously close in the dust at Wrangle's flying
feet. Venters held his fire then, while the rider emptied his revolver.
For a mile, with Black Star leaving Night behind and doing his utmost,
Wrangle did not gain; for another mile he gained little, if at all. In the
third he caught up with the now galloping Night and began to gain rapidly
on the other black.
Only a hundred yards now stretched between Black Star and Wrangle. The
giant sorrel thundered on—and on—and on. In every yard he
gained a foot. He was whistling through his nostrils, wringing wet, flying
lather, and as hot as fire. Savage as ever, strong as ever, fast as ever,
but each tremendous stride jarred Venters out of the saddle! Wrangle's
power and spirit and momentum had begun to run him off his legs. Wrangle's
great race was nearly won—and run. Venters seemed to see the expanse
before him as a vast, sheeted, purple plain sliding under him. Black Star
moved in it as a blur. The rider, Jerry Card, appeared a mere dot bobbing
dimly. Wrangle thundered on—on—on! Venters felt the increase
in quivering, straining shock after every leap. Flecks of foam flew into
Venters's eyes, burning him, making him see all the sage as red. But in
that red haze he saw, or seemed to see, Black Star suddenly riderless and
with broken gait. Wrangle thundered on to change his pace with a violent
break. Then Venters pulled him hard. From run to gallop, gallop to canter,
canter to trot, trot to walk, and walk to stop, the great sorrel ended his
Venters looked back. Black Star stood riderless in the trail. Jerry Card
had taken to the sage. Far up the white trail Night came trotting
faithfully down. Venters leaped off, still half blind, reeling dizzily. In
a moment he had recovered sufficiently to have a care for Wrangle. Rapidly
he took off the saddle and bridle. The sorrel was reeking, heaving,
whistling, shaking. But he had still the strength to stand, and for him
Venters had no fears.
As Venters ran back to Black Star he saw the horse stagger on shaking legs
into the sage and go down in a heap. Upon reaching him Venters removed the
saddle and bridle. Black Star had been killed on his legs, Venters
thought. He had no hope for the stricken horse. Black Star lay flat,
covered with bloody froth, mouth wide, tongue hanging, eyes glaring, and
all his beautiful body in convulsions.
Unable to stay there to see Jane's favorite racer die, Venters hurried up
the trail to meet the other black. On the way he kept a sharp lookout for
Jerry Card. Venters imagined the rider would keep well out of range of the
rifle, but, as he would be lost on the sage without a horse, not
improbably he would linger in the vicinity on the chance of getting back
one of the blacks. Night soon came trotting up, hot and wet and run out.
Venters led him down near the others, and unsaddling him, let him loose to
rest. Night wearily lay down in the dust and rolled, proving himself not
Then Venters sat down to rest and think. Whatever the risk, he was
compelled to stay where he was, or comparatively near, for the night. The
horses must rest and drink. He must find water. He was now seventy miles
from Cottonwoods, and, he believed, close to the canyon where the cattle
trail must surely turn off and go down into the Pass. After a while he
rose to survey the valley.
He was very near to the ragged edge of a deep canyon into which the trail
turned. The ground lay in uneven ridges divided by washes, and these
sloped into the canyon. Following the canyon line, he saw where its rim
was broken by other intersecting canyons, and farther down red walls and
yellow cliffs leading toward a deep blue cleft that he made sure was
Deception Pass. Walking out a few rods to a promontory, he found where the
trail went down. The descent was gradual, along a stone-walled trail, and
Venters felt sure that this was the place where Oldring drove cattle into
the Pass. There was, however, no indication at all that he ever had driven
cattle out at this point. Oldring had many holes to his burrow.
In searching round in the little hollows Venters, much to his relief,
found water. He composed himself to rest and eat some bread and meat,
while he waited for a sufficient time to elapse so that he could safely
give the horses a drink. He judged the hour to be somewhere around noon.
Wrangle lay down to rest and Night followed suit. So long as they were
down Venters intended to make no move. The longer they rested the better,
and the safer it would be to give them water. By and by he forced himself
to go over to where Black Star lay, expecting to find him dead. Instead he
found the racer partially if not wholly recovered. There was recognition,
even fire, in his big black eyes. Venters was overjoyed. He sat by the
black for a long time. Black Star presently labored to his feet with a
heave and a groan, shook himself, and snorted for water. Venters repaired
to the little pool he had found, filled his sombrero, and gave the racer a
drink. Black Star gulped it at one draught, as if it were but a drop, and
pushed his nose into the hat and snorted for more. Venters now led Night
down to drink, and after a further time Black Star also. Then the blacks
began to graze.
The sorrel had wandered off down the sage between the trail and the
canyon. Once or twice he disappeared in little swales. Finally Venters
concluded Wrangle had grazed far enough, and, taking his lasso, he went to
fetch him back. In crossing from one ridge to another he saw where the
horse had made muddy a pool of water. It occurred to Venters then that
Wrangle had drunk his fill, and did not seem the worse for it, and might
be anything but easy to catch. And, true enough, he could not come within
roping reach of the sorrel. He tried for an hour, and gave up in disgust.
Wrangle did not seem so wild as simply perverse. In a quandary Venters
returned to the other horses, hoping much, yet doubting more, that when
Wrangle had grazed to suit himself he might be caught.
As the afternoon wore away Venters's concern diminished, yet he kept close
watch on the blacks and the trail and the sage. There was no telling of
what Jerry Card might be capable. Venters sullenly acquiesced to the idea
that the rider had been too quick and too shrewd for him. Strangely and
doggedly, however, Venters clung to his foreboding of Card's downfall.
The wind died away; the red sun topped the far distant western rise of
slope; and the long, creeping purple shadows lengthened. The rims of the
canyons gleamed crimson and the deep clefts appeared to belch forth blue
smoke. Silence enfolded the scene.
It was broken by a horrid, long-drawn scream of a horse and the thudding
of heavy hoofs. Venters sprang erect and wheeled south. Along the canyon
rim, near the edge, came Wrangle, once more in thundering flight.
Venters gasped in amazement. Had the wild sorrel gone mad? His head was
high and twisted, in a most singular position for a running horse.
Suddenly Venters descried a frog-like shape clinging to Wrangle's neck.
Jerry Card! Somehow he had straddled Wrangle and now stuck like a huge
burr. But it was his strange position and the sorrel's wild scream that
shook Venters's nerves. Wrangle was pounding toward the turn where the
trail went down. He plunged onward like a blind horse. More than one of
his leaps took him to the very edge of the precipice.
Jerry Card was bent forward with his teeth fast in the front of Wrangle's
nose! Venters saw it, and there flashed over him a memory of this trick of
a few desperate riders. He even thought of one rider who had worn off his
teeth in this terrible hold to break or control desperate horses. Wrangle
had indeed gone mad. The marvel was what guided him. Was it the
half-brute, the more than half-horse instinct of Jerry Card? Whatever the
mystery, it was true. And in a few more rods Jerry would have the sorrel
turning into the trail leading down into the canyon.
"No—Jerry!" whispered Venters, stepping forward and throwing up the
rifle. He tried to catch the little humped, frog-like shape over the
sights. It was moving too fast; it was too small. Yet Venters shot once...
twice... the third time... four times... five! all wasted shots and
With a deep-muttered curse Venters caught Wrangle through the sights and
pulled the trigger. Plainly he heard the bullet thud. Wrangle uttered a
horrible strangling sound. In swift death action he whirled, and with one
last splendid leap he cleared the canyon rim. And he whirled downward with
the little frog-like shape clinging to his neck!
There was a pause which seemed never ending, a shock, and an instant s
Then up rolled a heavy crash, a long roar of sliding rocks dying away in
distant echo, then silence unbroken.
Wrangle's race was run.