Wrangle's Race Run
From: Riders Of The Purple Sage
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
"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 to sleep.
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
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
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
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
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 checked him.
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
"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 note hate,
but something as remorseless--might have been the fiery fruition
of a whole lifetime of vengeful quest. Nothing could have stopped
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
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 closer.
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 doomed.
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 a run.
"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
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 the saddle.
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 ride.
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
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 race.
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
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 yet spent.
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
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 precious seconds!
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 silence.
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.
Next: Oldring's Knell