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WILD HORSES 











J 

WILD HORSES 


A NOVEL 


BY 

HENRY HERBERT KNIBBS 

Author of “ Partners of Chance” “ Sundown Slim” 
“ Overland Red ” etc. 



BOSTON AND NEW YORK 

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY 

&tber£ttie ^reass Cambridge 

1924 




COPYRIGHT, 1923, BY STREET & SMITH CORPORATION 
COPYRIGHT, 1924 , BY HENRY HERBERT KNIBBS 


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 



% 


Wfje fttoersibe JJregf* 

CAMBRIDGE . MASSACHUSETTS 
PRINTED IN THE U.S.A. 

FEB 27 1924 

©C1A777324 

*X\4 





V3+- 

A 



TO 

JAMES FRANKLIN 






















INTRODUCTION 


For a hundred spacious miles across the golden 
mesas of Arizona the wagon trail is unfenced and 
knows no stubborn, formal cross-gate or wood- 
planked cattle guard. Nearing the southern hills, 
blue-topped with spruce and pine, the wagon 
trail hesitates, then in a generous, untrammeled 
curve it bears eastward, passing through Solano 
as though the little cow-town were merely an in¬ 
cident, not to be taken seriously. Beyond Solano 
the wagon trail, constrained, ill-at-ease, and 
shorn of its free contours, narrows to a lane be¬ 
tween fenced ranches — but not for long. It is 
obviously intent upon taking a holiday in the 
mountains; so presently it sweeps sedately past 
low, black-crested craters and progresses ear¬ 
nestly toward the blue timberlands of the high 
country, making its way. like an experienced 
mountaineer; steadily, yet with foresight as to 
staggering grades and abrupt canons. Tempted 
to thrust out an exploring arm and cautiously in¬ 
vestigate the country across the Little Colorado, 
the old wagon trail climbs to the tree-girdled 
mesas of lush grass and flaming wild flowers 
where horses and cattle graze until winter turns 
them toward the plains below. 


Introduction 

Crossing a meadow nine thousand feet above 
sea level, the wagon trail finally gives up its ex¬ 
plorations to fade into faint wheel tracks and 
final nothingness. 

Beyond the meadow where the old road ends is 
a bridle trail which, if followed faithfully — and 
it calls for exceeding great faith in horse-flesh and 
luck to follow it long — leads to wild canons 
somberly beautiful; upland meadows where the 
grasses and flowers brush your stirrups as you 
ride; gaunt, rocky pinnacles above timber-line 
from which you may view immensities that sub¬ 
due your ego and make you a better citizen. And 
incidentally, as you journey on, wild turkey, deer, 
blue grouse, lynx, and his alert majesty the silver- 
tip will share this chosen land with you and never 
wittingly obtrude upon your venture. 

In spring and summer a band of wild horses 
frequents the high mesas, drifting down into the 
basin of the southern desert when the snow falls. 
Leading the band is a great gray stallion, a horse 
once captured and then set free. According to 
the local historians of Solano but one man has 
ever ridden the stallion, and few, save the occa¬ 
sional riders of the high country, have ever seen 
the gray leader of the wild horses running with 
his kind. Once the stallion was actually seen in 
Solano, on that memorable day when Johnny 
Trent rode him down from the hills as a present 


Vlll 


Introduction 

for Grace Percival. Accounts differ as to why 
Johnny Trent, after talking with the young 
woman, suddenly dismounted, stripped saddle 
and bridle from the horse, and turned him loose. 
Frank Lopez, who was with Johnny at the time, 
might tell if he would. 

Yet there is one familiar with the subsequent 
events in Johnny’s tumultuous career who is un¬ 
utterably glad that the magnificent captive was 
given his freedom; one who has seen the untam¬ 
able gray stallion poised upon a rise as the meadow 
mist curled up before the morning sun, crested 
proud as an emperor, his mane like new-spun silk 
lifting in the breeze, his flanks touched with the 
creeping golden fire of dawn; pride of the wild in 
his full, dark eye, burning with scorn for all life 
less virile; a challenge to the skill of man to shape 
his like in bronze or living word. 

Yet Johnny Trent once captured him, subdued 
him for a time, and then gave him back to free¬ 
dom that he might fulfill a destiny strange and 
undreamed of by his captor. 




WILD HORSES 


CHAPTER I 

A cowboy riding Solano slope, 

With a brand-new saddle and a brand-new rope. 

And a grain-fed horse with a wide-awake eye. 

Saw a wild horse band go rocketing by; 

Then the cowboy whistled like a mockingbird. 

And he sang a song that you may have heard, 

And the little old song he sang that day. 

Was the story of the wild horse, stallion gray. 

J OHNNY TRENT, riding down from his 
homestead on the high mesas, kept within the 
morning shadows of the timberland until he came 
to the edge of what is known as First Meadow — 
a circular, tree-girdled space of wavering grasses 
— often the feeding-place of wild turkeys. At 
the meadow’s rim he reined up, reached for his 
carbine and then, sitting straight in the saddle, 
he laughed. A band of wild horses broke from 
the middle of the meadow and, with flickering 
manes and tails floating on the breeze of their go¬ 
ing, they swept across the open and into the for¬ 
est beyond. Johnny counted twelve in the band, 
led by a high-crested gray stallion. Several 
times before, Johnny Trent had seen the gray, at 
a distance, but not until this morning had he 
1 


Wild Horses 

been close enough to realize what a magnificent 
animal the stallion was. “Let ’em go,” said 
Johnny, as his own horse fretted to make a chase 
of it. 

Crossing the sunlit meadow he again took the 
trail through the timber. Presently he was at the 
edge of another open space fronting on Twin 
Blue Canon. Again he saw the wild horses 
bunched toward the far end of the grassy space, 
heads high, tails curled, sniffing the breeze. The 
instant they saw him they dashed toward the 
canon rim, bunched, reared, and then one by one 
they disappeared over the rim and vanished. 
Johnny was tempted to take after them for the 
sheer fun of it — but he had a long journey 
ahead, so he saved his horse, jogging down the 
trail until it dipped into Twin Blue. Beyond the 
wide mouth of the canon lay Solano, his destina¬ 
tion and his hope. Johnny was looking for work. 
True, his homestead furnished grazing for his 
two milch cows, their calves, his three horses — 
grazing and good water, and the freedom of isola¬ 
tion. But it did not furnish coffee, flour, bacon, 
or clothing. Occasionally Johnny wondered why 
he had undertaken the task of homesteading so 
far from town and from a railroad. 

Yet, as he gazed down upon distant Solano, 
sitting his horse sidewise and allowing his gaze to 
roam over some few hundred square miles of open 
2 


Wild Horses 

country — a land dotted with mysteriously 
beautiful and natural structures, time-wrought 
into cities, cathedrals, and all imaginable forms 
of romantic desert architecture, he knew why he 
had chosen to make a home for himself in that 
land. He loved it — loved the lowland spaces, 
the timber of the high country, the thin, pure air, 
the ice-cold mountain water, the vista of weird 
buttes shadowing the far distant plain. The 
country was unfenced, unspoiled. “Free coun¬ 
try,” Johnny called it. Fish and game were abun¬ 
dant. Horses were cheap. Of grazing there was 
much, with plenty of water. Once, when younger, 
he had left the mesas to punch cattle down in 
The Tonto. In two years he returned with 
enough money to venture on homesteading a 
place of his own. He was still in the twenties, his 
face unlined, his eyes clear and cool, his vigorous 
body alive in every atom. 

Solano knew Johnny and liked him, from the 
little, barefooted Mexican children to the propri¬ 
etor of the general store who was considered the 
richest man in the county. In fact Baker had of¬ 
fered to lend money on Johnny Trent’s home¬ 
stead, not alone because he liked the young cow¬ 
boy, but because he realized that some day 
Johnny’s place would make an excellent head¬ 
quarters for tourists who would eventually “dis¬ 
cover” one of the richest fish and game areas in 
3 


Wild Horses 

the West. Thus far Johnny had not had to bor¬ 
row. With Baker’s offer in mind, however, he 
rode into Solano and tied his horse in front of the 
big brick building — trading-post, incidental po¬ 
litical headquarters, post-office, and warehouse. 
Baker, at his desk in the cool, ample office, 
scowled through his spectacles as Johnny saun¬ 
tered in. Baker indicated a chair with a short, 
jerky gesture. He was short, stout, ruddy, bald, 
keen of eye, and, withal, jovial. He knew the 
financial standing of every individual in the 
county. Johnny, with his hat on his knees, stared 
at Baker and smiled slowly. “No, Mr. Baker, I 
don’t want to borrow a cent. I may ask for credit. 
I need some flour and beans. But what I’m after 
is a job.” 

“ All right! ” said Baker briskly. “ Build a road 
up to your place. Open up the country so that 
some of these hunting parties can get back into 
your location. That means trade. Trade means 
money, and money is what you are after, isn’t 
it?” 

“Work,” declared Johnny succinctly. 

“Same thing. But I’ll arrange credit for you. 
Just tell Simpson what you want. How is the 
grass up your way?” 

“Good. But it will be better after the July 
rains.” 

“Wish I had something for you to do — but I 
4 


Wild Horses 

haven’t, just now. Got some stuff coming in next 
week. If you were hooked up to freight it in I 
could give you a job.” 

“ No chance of riding for you this summer, Mr. 
Baker?” 

“ No. Got more boys loafing out on The Blue 
now than I need. Who will look after your ranch 
if you get work down here? ” 

“Oh, I can get Felipe or old Anastacio to camp 
up there a month or two. Or I can turn the calves 
loose with the cows and turn them and the horses 
out on the range — pick ’em up before snow 
flies.” 

“Winter,” said Baker, frowning. “And four 
feet of snow on the level, up your way. Reminds 
me — only yesterday I was talking with a young 
lady from the East, and she wouldn’t believe 
that we ever had snow up this way. She’s board¬ 
ing over at Mrs. Johnson’s. Kind of resting up, I 
guess. Mighty pretty girl. No — it wasn’t the 
girl. It’s roads! That’s it. Got a crew working on 
the Antelope road down near Black Mesa wash, 
trying to patch up the road so it will stand the 
rains. Frank Lopez is in charge. He’s drunk — 
as usual. If I thought you could get any work 
out of that gang — you speak Spanish, don’t 
you?” 

“You’re joshing me! I was just about raised 
on chili.” 


5 


Wild Horses 

€€ Well, it’s no kid’s job, handling that bunch of 
never-sweats. The hardest work they do is figur¬ 
ing how to get out of doing any. But if you think 
you can get that strip of road patched up be¬ 
tween the mesa and the wash, before the big 
rains, I might send you down there as foreman.” 

Johnny smiled. “Try it. I get along pretty 
well with the Chili Beans. But one thing, Mr. 
Baker — I want five dollars a day, and also un¬ 
derstood with you that I don’t have to lift a pick 
or shovel while I’m on the job.” 

“That’s the way with all you punchers,” de¬ 
clared Baker testily. “You want work, but you 
don’t want to spoil your hands. Now Frank Lo¬ 
pez worked right along with the gang. I gave him 
three dollars a day and he was glad to get it.” 

“Oh, yes, Mr. Baker. Frank works when he 
sees somebody coming up the road. Most of the 
time he sleeps in the shade with that little old 
wicker jug handy. No, it won’t do for a white 
man to get down off his horse and swing a pick 
with a bunch like that. If he does, he loses out, 
every time. Me, I aim to sit my horse and watch 
’em sweat and see that they earn their wages, 
anyhow.” 

“Don’t know but what you’re right, Johnny. 
But suppose Lopez talks them into quitting, if I 
fire him?” 

“Why, I’ll just chouse over to Sandoval and 


Wild Horses 

pick up five or six men and a cook, and make a 
regular camp of it. Did you ever figure that you 
lose about half a day on each man that lives in 
Solano and goes home each night? And then, 
Mr. Baker, you are too busy to get around and 
see what your men are doing. You just about 
need somebody like me to rep for you and report 
in once in a while. Mebby I could save you some¬ 
thing on your freighting, too. Last time I rode 
over to Antelope I ran into one of your outfits at 
the first water-hole, and they were holding a reg¬ 
ular fiesta about ten in the morning, instead of 
hooking up and pulling the grade.” 

“Why in thunder didn’t you tell me about it! 
I’d have fired the whole lot of ’em.” 

“You see, I wasn’t working for you, then.” 

“And you are now, eh?” 

“You bet! Just send word to Lopez that I’ll 
take charge of that road gang, and turn me loose. 
If I don’t earn my five a day, the Mexicans will.” 

Baker pushed up his glasses and blinked at 
Johnny Trent. The storekeeper was not quite 
sure that Johnny was serious. He would make 
the experiment. “Sounds like you meant busi¬ 
ness, Johnny. Go over to Mrs. Johnson’s and get 
your dinner. Then come back here ready to make 
good. I’ll send word to Lopez to lay off, right 
now.” 

Johnny put on his hat, rose briskly, and trailed 
7 


Wild Horses 

his spurs across the office floor. Turning in the 
doorway he ventured a question. “Do I charge 
my dinner up to The Baker Trading Company, 
or pay for it myself?” 

Baker swung round in his chair. “ Charge it to 
me. I’ll take a chance.” 


CHAPTEK II 

“ The mesa wind blows high and free. 

But never a wind can outrun me: 

You may sink your rowels out of sight. 

And quirt your hoss till his eye rolls white, 

But I’ll be far away.” 

M RS. JOHNSON was something more than s 
complacent, plump, and dark-eyed widow 
who furnished meals and a few well-kept rooms 
for those who had occasion to stop overnight in 
Solano; Mrs. Johnson was an institution. She 
was a sort of mother to half of the itinerant board¬ 
ers, and aunt to the other half—punchers, 
freighters, and cattlemen who happened in town 
on various missions. Many a young cowboy had 
occasion to bless her when he had spent his wages 
foolishly and then asked her to let his little ac¬ 
count run until he next came to town, because 
Mrs. Johnson seemed always benevolently un¬ 
aware of the reason. And the boys always paid, 
eventually. Mrs. Johnson was quick with sym¬ 
pathy, shrewd, slow to advise, and swift to resent 
anything said against one of her “boys.” One of 
these might be a young rider from the high coun¬ 
try with a pocket full of dollars that fairly itched 
to get into some one’s else pocket, or a deliberate, 
seamy-necked, and dryly humorous old cattle- 
9 


Wild Horses 

man with a fancy for sitting in at poker and a 
check-book equal to the occasion. 

When Johnny Trent breezed into the neat and 
homelike dining-room that noon — having for¬ 
gotten for the moment that a young lady from 
the East was stopping there — his exuberance 
suffered a check. He had intended telling Mrs. 
Johnson of his good luck in getting work and that 
he would possibly board there for a month or so. 
Johnny had anticipated an enthusiastic chat, but 
the slender, dark-eyed girl with the golden brown 
hair and the pongee silk gown trimmed with 
touches of pale green, utterly eclipsed both Mrs. 
Johnson and the anticipated chat. A clerk from 
Baker’s was at the table, a pallid young fellow 
with a straw-colored mustache; a red-visaged 
cattleman from The Blue; a young ranger in to 
report to the supervisor; and a traveling man 
from Kansas City. Johnny nodded to the guests 
in a general way and was about to sit down when 
Mrs. Johnson introduced him formally to the 
new guest. Miss Percival. Johnny bowed and 
hesitated. Miss Percival’s brown eyes widened 
the least bit as though she were suddenly inter¬ 
ested and pleased to behold such a striking young 
example of the real West, booted and belted and 
carelessly unaware of its picturesque individual¬ 
ity. Johnny’s pulse quickened at the unspoken 
flattery. He was all but swamped with emotion 
10 


Wild Horses 

when Miss Percival, with the merest hesitation in 
the world, offered her slim and graceful hand in 
greeting. Her brown eyes widened again as 
Johnny grasped her hand and shook it heartily. 
Nor could Johnny understand why a slight frown 
touched Mrs. Johnson’s comely forehead as he sat 
down and glanced swiftly at his hostess, who, in 
turn, glanced swiftly, questioningly at Miss Per¬ 
cival. Weeks later Mrs. Johnson said to Julia 
Baker: “I knew it — the minute she shook hands 
with him!” 

Johnny was not altogether embarrassed — but 
he was exceedingly interested and curious. He 
ate deliberately and tried not to look at the girl 
from the city. Yet he glanced at her many times 
during the dinner hour. Something about her 
fascinated him. Johnny Trent had met few 
women — and never one like her. There was an 
assurance mingled with a peculiar expression of 
timidity that set her apart from the rest of the 
feminine world. And her eyes! Johnny could 
think of nothing but a startled doe grazing in 
some mountain meadow, surprised by the ap¬ 
pearance of a man — the warm, dark color of 
eyes timid, questioning. 

Johnny would have been ready to do battle 
had any one suggested that Miss Percival used 
her fine eyes as she did — with deliberate intent 
to ensnare. But why not? If our immortal 
11 


Wild Horses 

Mother Eve in her younger days yearned for a 
change of menu, it’s a cinch — speaking in a 
roundabout way — that Eve glanced signifi¬ 
cantly at the apple tree, and that Adam saw the 
apple mirrored in her eyes. 

Mrs. Johnson asked Johnny if he would be in 
town overnight. He suddenly realized that he 
would be in town many nights — and he flushed 
boyishly as he briefly outlined his plans for the 
summer. Mrs. Johnson led him to talk about his 
plans and his prospects, his homestead, and the 
precarious livelihood of a homesteader. Johnny 
resented what appeared to be an attempt to en¬ 
lighten Miss Percival as to his social and financial 
standing in the community — a subject which 
would have been more or less of a joke had the 
young lady from the East not been present. He 
felt as though Mrs. Johnson, for some peculiar 
reason, was taking a mean advantage of the oc¬ 
casion — and he had never known her to be mean. 
His one solace came after dinner when he sought 
a veranda chair for a smoke and incidentally to 
wait for an opportunity to chat with his landlady. 
Miss Percival, who had disappeared immediately 
after dinner, swept regally out to the wide shady 
veranda and without any apparent timidity en¬ 
throned herself in the big rocking-chair next to 
Johnny, and asked him to tell her all about home¬ 
steading and cowboys. It was a large order — but 
12 


Wild Horses 

Johnny did his best to fill it. With quickened in¬ 
terest in her personality he became enthusiastic 
in describing his place in the hills, the bigness of 
the country and its beauty. He was at his best, 
and utterly unaware that the girl from the East 
was drawing him out with all the subtlety she 
possessed — and for no other reason than leaven¬ 
ing the drear monotony of Solano, of which, thus 
far, she had only seen the outer walls and habili¬ 
ments. Grace Percival had come to Solano to 
rest. “For her health,” as Mrs. Johnson put it 
later — “ but not for ours.” 

Johnny Trent knew little enough about 
women. He was so utterly a man’s man that 
Miss Percival became interested in spite of her¬ 
self and determined that that which had begun as a 
mild flirtation should continue, as a diversion, so 
long as she stayed in the mesa town. Then, it 
would give her something to write about when 
she answered letters from her guardian in Chi¬ 
cago. He would be amused, hearing that she had 
made another tentative conquest. He would also 
be jealous, because he was administrator of her 
estate and wanted to marry her. His fortune and 
hers combined would make him one of the wealth¬ 
iest men in the Middle West. 

Johnny Trent did not realize, until he had left 
Mrs. Johnson’s and was waiting for Baker in the 
latter’s office, that the young lady from the city 
13 


Wild Horses 

had done all the listening and that he had done all 
the talking. Yet he was a bit mistaken in his con¬ 
clusion. True, he had talked — but so had Miss 
Percival — with her eyes. Admiration, interest, 
query, sympathy — expressed even more elo¬ 
quently than in speech — and so much more 
safely! Grace Percival was young in years, but 
she was as old as Circe in experience. Mrs. John¬ 
son had been told that Miss Percival had come to 
Solano to rest. Already Mrs. Johnson had begun 
to surmise that this young woman’s manner of 
resting would not be conducive to a like condition 
among the masculine population of the town. 

But Johnny, being a mere man, and a West¬ 
erner, never for a moment dreamed that the girl 
from the city was anything but a charming inva¬ 
lid, heart-free and mightily interested in the 
country and its folk. He was so filled with the 
idea that he mentioned it to Baker, who smiled 
non-committally and immediately turned to a 
matter of much deeper interest to him — the re¬ 
pairing of the mesa road between Black Mesa and 
the draw. Johnny was given detailed instruc¬ 
tions, and a note to Frank Lopez which informed 
that bibulous individual that his time as foreman 
of the road gang had expired. Johnny served this 
notice that afternoon and discharged two of Lo¬ 
pez’s men who seemed inclined to resent a new 
foreman. Lopez spent the afternoon screwing his 
14 


Wild Horses 

courage up to a point where he could make it 
stick long enough to challenge Johnny to mortal 
combat for having ousted him from an easy job. 
Johnny, of course, knew nothing of this until he 
returned to Solano that evening with his men. 

Mrs. Johnson said nothing about Miss Perci- 
val’s absence from the supper table until Johnny 
questioned her. Then Mrs. Johnson told him 
that Miss Percival had a slight headache and was 
resting in her room. Mrs. Johnson also told her¬ 
self that Miss Percival’s headache had been pre¬ 
arranged — that the young lady had stayed 
away from the table that evening deliberately, 
knowing how effective her absence would be un¬ 
der the circumstances. It was. Johnny felt disap¬ 
pointed, even cheated of an anticipated enjoy¬ 
ment. He strayed out to the veranda, smoked a 
cigarette and wondered why the town seemed 
“ so blamed empty.” It was not so blamed empty 
as he thought it was — for it stands to reason 
that if one person can make a town seem empty, 
another, under certain conditions, may make the 
same town seem exceedingly populous. Some¬ 
thing like a half-hour after Johnny had smoked 
his first cigarette, Frank Lopez did his best to 
prove the town not devoid of interest. 

Grace Percival, having deliberately recovered 
from her headache, appeared on the veranda, 
gowned exquisitely in a pale-green silk creation, 
15 


Wild Horses 

stylishly severe, yet exceedingly effective with 
her golden-brown hair and dark eyes. There were 
no jewels upon her slender fingers. The only 
adornment noticeable was a jade bracelet and a 
thin gold chain with a jade ornament, curiously 
carved. Johnny rose and bowed, hat in hand. 
Miss Percival sank into the chair nearest him 
and, taking his hat, examined it. Laughing, she 
put it on. Her glance was a challenge. 

“ Looks mighty pretty,” blurted Johnny, feeling 
that he simply had to make some comment. In 
fact her eyes had demanded it. “But it don’t go 
with that dress, somehow.” 

With indolent grace she laid the sombrero aside. 

“Now if you was to dress up in riding-clothes, 
and then wore a Stetson —” said Johnny. 

“You think it would be becoming?” 

“I’ll just bet it would!” 

“I’ll send for my riding things to-morrow,” de¬ 
clared Grace Percival easily. And that was all — 
which was more than sufficient to make Johnny 
feel that she was sending for her riding-habit 
simply to please him. 

The mesa road entered the town of Solano with 
some diffidence, but it never became a street, 
remaining always the old wagon trail from Ante¬ 
lope on the north to Solano in the southern foot¬ 
hills. But Solano folk called it a street from Bak¬ 
er’s store to the first ranch east of and adjoining 
16 


Wild Horses 

the town. Most of the buildings were of adobe — 
a few of brick or stone — and all seemed comfort¬ 
ably settled for life except the small wooden 
church, which, owing to its aspiring but sadly dis- 
proportioned half-tower and two small, round, 
and useless windows above the entrance, looked 
as though it would welcome a cloudburst that 
might float it off to that far shore where demented 
architects could use it as a house-boat. The 
low, flat-roofed adobes were of a neutral brown, 
too dark to reflect anything save the comfortable 
indifference of their occupants. Baker’s square 
brick store looked solid and business-like, like its 
owner. Two or three of the more pretentious 
dwellings were of stone, and shaded by dusty cot¬ 
tonwood trees. The local livery was like all other 
small-town public stables, with the inevitable 
false front, grimy cobwebbed windows, and 
darkly mysterious interior. The cantina, with its 
sky-blue door, hitch-rail, and rickety porch-roof, 
bore no lettered sign of its excuse for existing, yet 
it was never mistaken for a library. The Mexi¬ 
can poolroom was next door to the cantina, and 
not an integral part of it for the very good reason 
that the proprietor of the poolroom could, and 
would, upon demand, shave or cut hair. His 
place was popular as a sort of club wherein the 
Mexican population, especially, foregathered and 
chattered in the evenings. 

17 


Wild Horses 

A lean, shaggy dog stood just outside the door¬ 
way of the poolroom, obviously waiting for some 
one. The evening air was pleasantly cool. The 
street was tinged with a faint golden light from 
the setting sun. At the farther end of the board¬ 
ing-house veranda three of Mrs. Johnson’s board¬ 
ers sat conversing in a low tone and casting occa¬ 
sional glances at Grace Percival and Johnny 
Trent. He asked her to tell him about Chicago, 
but she shook her head, declaring that she was in¬ 
finitely more interested in Solano and its people. 
Some of the Mexicans were picturesque and in¬ 
teresting, she thought. She asked Johnny if he 
spoke Spanish. Learning that he did, she won¬ 
dered if he would teach her to speak it. This im¬ 
plied a future companionship that was not at all 
displeasing to Johnny, who promised to teach her 
what he knew of the language, and suggested 
that she ask him the Spanish for any word she 
wished to know. Miss Percival hesitated, then 
gestured gracefully toward the poolroom down 
the street. A Mexican had just come from the 
place. The shaggy dog was following him. 
Johnny glanced carelessly in the direction indi¬ 
cated, and he smiled. “That’s Frank Lopez, and 
he ain’t just what you’d call sober.” 

Lopez came opposite the boarding-house, 
stopped in the middle of the street, and then 
headed for the veranda. Johnny greeted him 
18 


Wild Horses 

pleasantly. Within six feet of the veranda rail 
Lopez steadied himself and addressed Johnny in 
Spanish. Johnny was incidentally glad that Miss 
Percival did not understand the language, just 
then. Not realizing the situation, she asked 
Johnny what the other was saying. She felt 
piqued that Johnny paid so little attention to her 
question and so much attention to the Mexican. 
Johnny excused himself, and vaulting the ve¬ 
randa rail stepped up to Lopez and spoke to him 
in a quiet tone. Lopez gesticulated and argued. 
Johnny turned his back and walked toward the 
poolroom down the street. Lopez followed, still 
chattering and gesticulating. Miss Percival re¬ 
alized that the Mexican was drunk; but she 
could see no reason for Johnny Trent’s abrupt 
behavior. The group of men on the farther end 
of the veranda had risen and were sauntering 
down the street. Suddenly Mrs. Johnson ap¬ 
peared. 

“Was that Frank Lopez carrying on out 
here?” she queried. 

Miss Percival raised her eyebrows slightly. 
Mrs. Johnson’s tone had been peremptory. 

“I can’t say. I think Mr. Trent said it was 
Frank Lopez.” 

“Where’s Johnny Trent?” queried Mrs. John¬ 
son. 

“Really!” Miss Percival’s tone was a rebuke. 

19 


Wild Horses 

Mrs. Johnson shook her head. “I knew it!” 
she declared ambiguously, and vanished into the 
house. 

Lopez had but one idea, and that was to exter¬ 
minate the man who had succeeded him as boss 
of the road gang. It had taken much liquor to 
arrive at this conclusion, and Lopez had arrived. 
Back of the poolroom the Mexican prepared to 
follow up his declaration of cutting Johnny into 
small pieces and feeding him to his dog. With 
Johnny trying to reason with him, Lopez jerked a 
knife from his pocket and slashed at Johnny’s 
face. Johnny jumped away. The point of the 
knife slit his coat-sleeve from shoulder to elbow. 
It was Johnny’s best coat, donned especially for 
the occasion of Miss Percival’s presence. Johnny 
did not resent the drunken rage of the Mexican 
half so much as he resented the damage to his 
coat. As Lopez lurched forward, Johnny planted 
a hundred-and-seventy-odd pounds of live weight 
on the Mexican’s jaw. The battle was as brief 
and conclusive as Caesar’s letter. Lopez went 
down in a heap. Johnny picked up the knife and 
handed it to one of the men who came hurriedly 
round the corner of the poolroom. There had 
been no noise, no outcry. Only three men had 
witnessed the combat. The Mexican’s dog stood 
over his fallen master. The dog showed his fangs 
and bristled. The sallow clerk from Baker’s 
20 


Wild Horses 

drew a small automatic from his hip-pocket and 
offered it to Johnny. 

“What for?” queried Johnny, waving the 
proffered pistol away. 

The clerk mumbled something about “killing 
the dog if he showed fight.” 

“This don’t call for a gun,” declared Johnny, 
glancing at the slit in his coat-sleeve. 

“What do you aim to do with him?” asked 
the cattleman from The Blue, gesturing toward 
Lopez. 

“Frank? WTiy, let him sleep it off. It’s cooler 
out here than in the little old ’dobe jail. And say, 
don’t spread the news of this ruckus. Frank 
was drunk. He ain’t a bad Mexican when he’s 
sober.” 

“That’s right,” said the cattleman turning to 
the clerk and the drummer from Kansas City. 
“We’ll just pull our freight like we had stepped 
down here to have a little private talk — or a 
drink, mebby. If nobody tells Lopez he got 
licked, mebby-so he’ll forget just how it hap¬ 
pened.” The old cattleman turned to Johnny. 
“But next time, son, you want to use that gun 
you pack under your arm. I admire to say that 
you’re a right forgivin’ hombre not to bust him 
wide open when he came for you with that knife. 
You can pick your string from my cavvy any 
time you want a job.” 


21 


Wild Horses 

“I’m obliged,” said Johnny, “but Baker has 
just put me on, handling the road gang. 

“ Now I get the hang of it,” declared the cattle¬ 
man. “First off, I thought that Lopez insulted 
that city girl, back yonder.” 

Johnny slipped out of his coat, folded it, and 
carried it over his arm as the group sauntered 
back to the veranda. Miss Percival smiled en¬ 
couragingly as he hesitated to take the chair he 
had so recently vacated. She patted the chair 
invitingly. Her face was delicately flushed, her 
fine eyes warm with interest. Johnny’s heart 
thumped. He sat down and draped his coat 
across the veranda rail. 

“It is warm,” said Miss Percival. “And you 
seem more like yourself without a coat.” 

“I — yes, mam, it’s right warm for a cool 
evening. Now about talking Spanish — ” 

Miss Percival’s gaze was fixed on Johnny’s 
shirt-sleeve, which, unknown to him, was also slit 
from shoulder to elbow, and as he bent his arm, a 
thin, red scratch showed on his firm white skin. 
He was conscious of her scrutiny, but altogether 
unaware of the reason for it. Her gaze lifted to 
his face. “What happened?” she whispered. 

“Why — I had a little talk with that Mexican 
you saw, about a job.” 

Miss Percival leaned back in her chair and 
studied Johnny’s face with an inscrutable gaze 
22 


Wild Horses 

that sent the blood racing through his veins. It 
seemed to him as though they had suddenly be¬ 
come intimate friends — that a glance, a gesture, 
a silence, was mutually understood, without ne¬ 
cessity for speech. And Miss Percival appeared 
exceedingly attractive in the fading light of the 
setting sun. Her jade-green gown seemed irides¬ 
cent, like the iris of a peacock feather. The 
smooth, faultless line of her chin, the curve of her 
cheek, the now somber brown depths of her eyes, 
and the tawny-gold mass of her hair, in the all- 
but-dusk of that summer evening would have 
charmed a much more sophisticated man than 
Johnny Trent. Then there was the additional 
charm of poise and the extreme contrast of 
each to each — itself potent with possibilities. 
Johnny was hard hit, and he knew T it. 

“About a job,” he reiterated, hardly realizing 
that he had spoken. 

“Are you sure it wasn’t about me?” 

“Yes, mam.” 

Miss Percival laughed softly. “How did you 
happen to cut your arm?” 

Johnny straightened his arm and glanced at the 
slit in his shirt-sleeve. “Damn Lopez!” he 
blurted. 

Snatching his coat from the veranda rail he 
rose and, without a word to his companion, 
marched into the boarding-house. 

23 


Wild Horses 

Grace Percival smiled to herself in the dusk. 
She toyed caressingly with the jade bracelet on 
her wrist. The sun was gone. Darkness suddenly 
obliterated the angles of the buildings across the 
way. The stars expanded from mere pin-points of 
pallid fire to a mellow brilliance. “I suppose he 
could be tamed,” she murmured. Then she rose 
and swept languidly into the house and up the 
narrow stairway to her room. She shrugged her 
shoulders as she stood gazing at the quaint, old- 
fashioned wall-paper, the marble-topped wash- 
stand and dresser, the walnut rocking-chair, and 
the ample and neatly made bed. Then she smiled 
as she viewed herself in the mirror. The oil-lamp, 
which she had lighted as she came in, was smok¬ 
ing. She turned it low. Curtain, she mur¬ 
mured, intimating to herself, watching herself, 
that the evening performance was concluded. 
From down the hall came the clink of a wash- 
pitcher against a basin. Then the vigorous 
splashing of water. Commingled with the 
splashing came the sound of a song, not boister¬ 
ous, but virile and distinct: 

“I’m hard to catch and hard to tame, 

I got no brand — but I got a name ; 

So when you think to down my pride, 

Build a right-swift loop and build it wide. 

For I’m called stallion gray: 

“ The mesa wind blows high and free. 

But never a wind can outrun me. 

24 


Wild Horses 

You can sink your rowels out of sight. 

And quirt your hoss till his eye rolls white. 

But I’ll be far away ... 

But I’ll be far away.” 

Standing in her dimly lighted room, Grace 
Percival listened. A peculiar expression flitted 
across her face. “ But I’ll be far away,” she whis¬ 
pered — and laughed softly. She stepped out in 
the hall, and tapped at the door of Johnny 
Trent’s room. The splashing ceased. 

“That you, Miss Johnson?” came in Johnny’s 
robust voice. Then he stepped close to the closed 
door. 

“If you will hang your coat on the doorknob, 
I’ll come and get it, and mend it,” said Miss Per¬ 
cival. “ Good-night.” 

Johnny blinked, ran his fingers through his 
damp hair, stared at the doorknob. “All right. 
And thanks.” He listened with his head close to 
the door. “She said, ‘Good-night.’ She thinks I 
had that little argument with Lopez on her ac¬ 
count. Well, Frank did kind of include her in 
what he called me — in Spanish. Shucks! I got 
to tell her different.” 

Johnny put on the clean shirt which he had 
carried rolled in his slicker, combed his hair, 
brushed his Stetson with his elbow, dusted his 
boots with one of Mrs. Johnson’s neatly ironed 
towels, and, catching up his coat, strode out and 
25 


Wild Horses 

hung the garment on the doorknob of the room 
up the hall. As he turned the angle of the hall¬ 
way toward the stairs, he all but ran into Mrs. 
Johnson, who stared at him, recovered herself, 
and stepped aside as he apologized. 

He clattered on down and out to the dim, star¬ 
lit street. He crossed over to Baker’s house back 
of the cottonwoods. The picket gate clicked be¬ 
hind him. The wide front door was open. A hang¬ 
ing lamp shed a glow down the graveled pathway. 
The rest of the house was in darkness. 

“Good-evening,” came from the depths of the 
veranda. 

“Good-evening, Miss Baker. I just stepped 
round to speak to your father.” 

“Dad’s out — somewhere. He left right after 
supper. Won’t you come in?” 

“Thanks. It’s right pleasant out here on the 
steps. I’ll wait a few minutes. Mebby your father 
will be back soon. How is that little coyote I 
fetched in from the Black Mesa? ” 

“Oh, he’s as tame as a coyote ever gets. I’m 
going to let him go.” 

“ Guess that’s right, Miss Baker. I fetched him 
in to you because I didn’t want to kill the little 
squee — but I ought to done it.” Johnny rolled a 
cigarette and smoked. Julia Baker, because she 
knew him so well, did not again invite him to 
come up and sit on the veranda with her, but 
26 


Wild Horses 

came and sat beside him on the steps. They had 
been friends for a long time, ever since they were 
children. Then, Johnny had called her Julia, but 
of late he always addressed her as “Miss Baker.” 
This evening Johnny felt peculiarly unlike him¬ 
self, in that he could find nothing to say to Julia 
whom he had always liked and admired for her 
frankness. 

“ Did you really have a fight with Frank Lopez, 
this evening?” Her question startled him, an¬ 
noyed him. 

“Who’s been telling you that?” he asked 
sharply. 

“Why, everybody in town knows it. Simpson 
told father. Simpson said he thought you fought 
about that woman from Chicago — that Frank 
Lopez insulted her, or something.” 

“Well, there wasn’t any fight — regular. 
Frank and I had a word or two.” 

“Oh, it doesn’t really matter. She’s awfully 
pretty, though, isn’t she?” 

“She’s kind of interesting — and different. I 
just met her to-day.” Johnny’s tone was deliber¬ 
ately casual. 

“Dad told us you were going to take charge of 
the road work. I suppose you’ll stay at Mrs. 
Johnson’s this summer?” 

“I figured to. I’ll be there evenings.” 

“Mrs. Johnson’s place is interesting — and 
27 


Wild Horses 

different/* declared Julia, somewhat causti¬ 
cally. 

Johnny glanced at her, and he saw her smile. 
Johnny frowned. “If you’re meaning Mrs. 
Johnson’s is different since Miss Percival came 
to board there — it sure is!” 

“I’m awfully glad,” sighed Julia. 

“And likewise sarcastic,” said Johnny. 

“Really? I didn’t know it. Would you call it 
sarcastic if I offered to mend your coat? Jimmy 
Simpson said that Lopez slashed your sleeve with 
his knife, when you were having that little word 
or two. Of course—” 

“Thanks,” said Johnny stiffly. “But it just so 
happens that my coat is being mended right now. 
Guess your dad ain’t coming back right away. 
I’ll be saying good-night.” And Johnny rose and 
raised his hat with the formality of offended 
youth. He strode down the path a pace or two, 
then turned. “Good-night, Miss Julia.” 

“Oh, haven’t you gone yet?” 

She laughed. Johnny swung away, his back 
stiff, his boot heels clicking down the gravel path. 
“Damn Frank Lopez!” he muttered. 

It scarcely occurred to Johnny that in quarrel¬ 
ing with Julia Baker when she was simply teasing 
him, he was admitting that he cared considerably 
for her opinion. And he could hardly be supposed 
to know that Julia’s slightly sarcastic remarks in- 
28 


Wild Horses 

dicated an interest in him that she herself would 
have denied to any one but herself. Julia Baker 
was rather plump, practical, fair-haired, gray¬ 
eyed — a girl loyal to her community while real¬ 
izing its shortcomings. She kept house for her 
father, who was a widower. Simpson the clerk 
would have been glad to marry her. Julia was ex¬ 
ceedingly fond of Johnny Trent. 

Shortly after Johnny left Mrs. Johnson’s to 
call at the Bakers’, Miss Percival stepped qui¬ 
etly from her room and down the hallway. John¬ 
ny’s coat was not hanging on the doorknob for the 
very good reason that Mrs. Johnson was busily 
mending the slashed sleeve in her own room. Mrs. 
Johnson, coming up from the kitchen, had over¬ 
heard Miss Percival offer to mend the coat. Mrs. 
Johnson was not eavesdropping intentionally. 

“Mend his coat, indeed!” Mrs. Johnson was 
saying as her needle flickered back and forth. 
Yet she had to admit that the offer in itself was 
kindly enough, especially as swift-footed gossip 
had it that Johnny Trent had battled with Lopez 
because the Mexican had insulted Miss Percival. 
“And it was about that road job — or I don’t 
know Frank Lopez,” said Mrs. Johnson as she 
completed her task and stepped to the kitchen to 
heat an iron. She worked swiftly and efficiently. 

Miss Percival, lying on her bed reading, heard 
Mrs. Johnson come upstairs and then descend 
29 


Wild Horses 

again to her own room. She laid the novel aside, 
yawned prettily, rose and slipped from her room 
to Johnny’s door, and glided back swiftly with 
the mended coat. About ten minutes later 
Johnny came in. As he passed her door, she 
opened it. He stopped as the light shot across 
the dim hallway. “ Your coat,” she said, smiling. 
He had a vision of a lissom creature in pale pink 
diaphanous silk, of a slender, rounded arm, and a 
mass of golden-brown hair. Then he was in his 
room, gazing at the neatly mended sleeve. 
“She’s a regular humdinger!” he exclaimed soul- 
fully. “She can sew! Who’d ever guess she could 
do a job like that? Can’t hardly see where it s 
mended. I bet she’s a peach in riding-clothes. 
Now you might say riding-clothes is all the 
clothes I got.” 

Johnny sat on the edge of the bed, his elbows 
on his knees, his chin in his hands. It struck him 
suddenly that he wasn’t a millionaire, nor well- 
to-do, or even able to command a decent salary. 
“Now I wonder how she came to pick on me — 
right from the start?” he asked himself. “It 
can’t be for my money — so it must be my good 
looks.” He grinned boyishly. 

Miss Percival heard a vigorous chant coming 
from the end of the hall. 

, You can quirt your boss till his eye rolls white. 

But I’ll be far away.” 

30 


CHAPTER III 

“For such would I pawn my hope of rest in that far, dim Other¬ 
where; 

For such would I filch the silver dust that floats in the starlit air, 
Melt it, mould it, and draw it, till fashioned a slender rod, 

Then shaped round the horn of the anvil-moon that he should go 
silver-shod.” 

J OHNNY kept his men at it, with team and 
scraper, shovel and pick and bar, accomplish¬ 
ing more in one week than Lopez had in two. It 
was evident that the road job would not last more 
than a month at the rate he was going. He was 
out each morning on his bay pony Chico and 
planning each day’s work before the road gang 
arrived. And while bossing the job he was seldom 
afoot. Consequently the men loading rock in the 
wagons in an arroyo, a quarter of a mile from the 
road, kept busy, not knowing at what moment he 
might appear; and the men on the road worked 
under a similar and alert supervision. Often 
Johnny sat his horse, from the vantage of some 
knoll watching the operations for an hour or more 
without changing his position or issuing an order. 
He knew his men, and the prestige of a man in 
the saddle. Each morning he invariably began 
operations by asking: 44 Anybody want to quit 
this morning?” Repetition tinged the question 
with a humorous quality which the Mexicans ap- 
31 


Wild Horses 

predated while realizing that he would have dis¬ 
charged them all without hesitation and replaced 
them with men from Salvador. Baker left him to 
himself, satisfied that Johnny was saving him 
money. 

Each evening Johnny rode back to Solano and 
spent the hours after supper chatting with Grace 
Percival on the boarding-house veranda, or walk¬ 
ing with her down the long street to the foothills 
and back — moonlight hours on a winding, white 
road bordered with fantastic shadows of brush 
and rock. Solano folk talked — but Johnny was 
utterly oblivious to anything save his work and 
Grace Percival. Julia Baker was not altogether 
pleased, yet she did not join in the town gossip, 
but kept to herself, hoping that the girl from Chi¬ 
cago would grow tired of Solano and the compan¬ 
ionship of Johnny Trent. 

If Grace Percival overheard an occasional re¬ 
mark hinting at the absurdity of Johnny Trent 
“keeping company’’ with her, it in no way af¬ 
fected her attitude toward him or toward the 
townspeople, whom she ignored with polite indif¬ 
ference. There were three exceptions, however: 
Mrs. Johnson, who had suddenly become quite 
friendly, Alonzo Baker, and his daughter Julia. 
Miss Percival was invited to dine at the Bakers’ 
home — and the president of the Baker Trading 
Company found her interesting and different. 

82 


Wild Horses 

Yet, unlike Johnny Trent, Baker never took 
Miss Percival seriously, but joked with her in his 
bluff, hearty way, and hinted that Solano was not 
the worst place in the world in which to settle 
permanently. And Julia Baker, like Mrs. John¬ 
son, suddenly decided to be nice to Miss Percival, 
whose gowns and jewels she admired and whose 
poise she envied. Miss Percival frequently spent 
the afternoon at the Baker home. Julia Baker, 
realizing how completely Johnny was enmeshed, 
went over to the enemy — with mental reserva¬ 
tions, however. 

The post-office was in Baker’s store. When 
Miss Percival’s mail arrived, Julia Baker always 
delivered it to her personally. When the package 
containing Miss Percival’s riding-habit arrived, 
Julia Baker also delivered that — and was in¬ 
vited by Miss Percival to inspect it, which led to 
a promise on Julia’s part to find a good saddle- 
horse for her. A few days later Julia sent over a 
little formal note inviting Grace Percival to a ride 
on the mesas. Miss Percival replied, by messen¬ 
ger, that she would be delighted to accept. At 
two that afternoon Miss Percival appeared on 
the veranda of Mrs. Johnson’s place attired 
in English whipcord riding-breeches and coat, 
brown leather boots, a gray silk waist with man¬ 
nish collar and tie, and a stylish, soft felt sport 
hat, with a soft rolled gray silk band. And she 
33 


Wild Horses 

was Grace — all of it, with the added charm of 
excellent form in sitting a horse. Yes, she had 
ridden much, she told Julia, both at home and 
abroad; in England, at Monaco, in Vienna, and 
Germany. She was not accustomed to a Western 
saddle, but the one which Miss Baker had pro¬ 
vided seemed quite satisfactory. Nor was she ac¬ 
customed to single reins, but that, she informed 
Julia, was a mere detail. 

Julia Baker had deliberately secured an active 
horse, which she had hoped would discourage the 
young woman from Chicago but the young 
woman from Chicago, having three Kentucky 
saddle-animals and two imported English hunters 
in her own stables, sat the quick little Western 
pony with a thoroughbred assurance that was a 
revelation to Miss Julia. In fact Julia Baker 
made the mistake of premising that horseman¬ 
ship was a matter of latitude. Riders in her coun¬ 
try called an English saddle a poultice. 

Grace Percival was oblivious to the curious 
glances cast at her, while Julia was uncomfort¬ 
ably conscious of her own faded riding-skirt and 
simple but exceedingly durable equipment. Out 
on the mesa beyond town they put their horses to 
a lope. Miss Percival rode with the same assur¬ 
ance with which she walked across a room or 
flung a wrap about her shoulders. Without a 
definite objective they took the road leading to 
34 



Wild Horses 

the Black Mesa, finally pulling their horses to a 
walk. 

“You ride well,” declared Miss Percival. 

Julia flushed. “Oh, everybody rides, out 
here.” Julia Baker resented what she deemed 
patronage. 

“Johnny looks well on a horse,” continued 
Grace Percival, gesturing down the road where 
Johnny, in the saddle as usual, was watching the 
laborers. 

“Oh — you mean Mr. Trent?” 

“Oh, dear, no! Johnny could never be Mr. 
Trent to his friends. He’s such a charming boy 
— interesting, and different.” 

Julia Baker bit her lip. She was tired of hear¬ 
ing people describe other people as “interesting 
and different.” She did not know what to say — 
and she wanted to say something. She thought it 
would not sound out of tune to speak of the road 
work, just then. “Yes,” she concurred with an 
effort, “Mr. Trent is interesting and different, 
and I know nearly all the real riders down this 
way. I suppose you heard about his fight with 
Frank Lopez? Frank Lopez used to be foreman 
of the road gang. Johnny asked Dad for the job, 
and got it. They say Frank Lopez slashed Johnny 
with a knife.” 

“Yes, I heard,” declared Miss Percival. 
“Johnny told me, only he didn’t put it just that 
35 


Wild Horses 

way. I suppose he’ll be rather surprised to see 
us. I didn’t know just where he was working.” 

“He doesn’t really work very much,” said Ju¬ 
lia, as though defending the dignity of Johnny’s 
position of foreman. 

“ Do you think one has to — if one has person¬ 
ality enough to manage people?” queried Grace 
Percival sweetly. 

Julia was saved the necessity of a reply by the 
arrival of Johnny Trent who had recognized who 
his visitors were and had ridden to meet them. 
He doffed his hat, dismounted, shook hands 
with Julia and then with her companion. Julia 
thought that Grace Percival’s hand lingered 
longer in Johnny’s than the occasion seemed to 
call for. 

“Mighty pleasant to have you ride over and 
visit our camp,” Johnny was saying. He nodded 
and smiled at Julia, then turned toward Grace 
Percival. “That’s the draw I was telling you 
about, day before yesterday. We aim to lay a 
concrete road across that stretch. Nothing else’ll 
hold against high water. And say, Grace — 
about that saddle of Turner’s; it’s genuine hand- 
carved, and I think it would suit you. If you 
want it, I can get it for you for fifty dollars, which 
is mighty reasonable.” 

“ If you think it would suit me—” Grace Per¬ 
cival was smiling down at Johnny, and it was 
36 


Wild Horses 

only too obvious that she was not thinking of 
saddlery. 

46 So,” thought Julia Baker, “it’s ‘Johnny’ and 
* Grace,’ now!” A sudden hot anger flamed in 
Julia’s face. The woman from Chicago was play¬ 
ing with Johnny — leading him on, making a fool 
of him. Yet Johnny did not look so very much 
like a fool as he stood, hat in hand, talking with 
the stylishly clad girl. He looked, in fact, rather 
masterful and independent. Julia herself felt ut¬ 
terly helpless, inexperienced — a toy in the hands 
of so clever a person as Miss Percival. If Johnny 
only knew how heartless and unscrupulous these 
society women were! Julia Baker turned toward 
Miss Percival. “If you’re interested in the road 
work, I think I’ll ride over to the Brown ranch, 
and see Mrs. Brown.” 

Grace Percival turned, noticed the expression 
on Julia Baker’s face, and smiled. “I don’t mind, 
Johnny can ride home with me. Of course I’d 
rather go with you — but you haven’t invited me, 
have you?” 

That was the last straw, Julia pulled her horse 
round. Her pretty, flushed face betrayed her an¬ 
ger. “Just as you wish, Miss Percival. I’m sure 
Mr. Trent will not object.” And she lifted her 
pony to a lope. 

“What’s it all about?” queried Johnny, grin¬ 
ning. 


37 


Wild Horses 

44 I’m sure I don’t know. Julia is displeased 
about something.” 

“I don’t see what made her mad,” declared 
Johnny — although he did see, with all his eyes. 
And then: “Grace, when you’re dressed like that 
you look prettier than I ever thought a girl could 
look. I just want to tell you that. Let’s ride over 
to the juniper, where there’s some shade. Say, 
you ought to have a real horse, that could step. 
The little bay is all right, but he ain’t up to your 
style.” 

Grace Percival laughed. Johnny Trent was so 
utterly frank and sincere. Johnny swung up on 
his horse and they rode slowly across the golden 
mesa toward the distant juniper, the cowboy sit¬ 
ting his horse like a young conqueror, his gaze 
fixed on the eastern hills, for the moment oblivi¬ 
ous to the shimmering sunlight, the girl riding be¬ 
side him, the workmen down the road. 

Presently she reined her horse close and 
touched Johnny’s arm. “ What are you dreaming 
about, laddie?” 

“You,” he said, without turning. 

In the shade of the big juniper they dis¬ 
mounted, dropped the reins, stood gazing out 
across the spaces. The mesa grass, as yet un¬ 
touched by summer rains, moved in gentle undu¬ 
lations of pallid gold as the breeze ran lightly 
down the slope of the far hills. The naked buttes, 
88 


Wild Horses 

wind-worn and sharply defined in the clear light, 
were magic fortresses, enchanted citadels of ame¬ 
thyst, sentinels of silence, each in its isolated 
majesty a perfection weirdly beautiful and each 
of individual hue and charm. South ran the Blue 
Range, its several canons sealed with black shad¬ 
ows. And over all a turquoise sky, and light in¬ 
describable which revealed in infinite detail, and 
yet mocked the imagination, cheating the gaze 
that sought to measure distances, and playing 
with realities until all became unreal, mysteri¬ 
ous. 

Grace Percival, her eyes alight with a new in¬ 
terest, experienced for the first time the actual 
charm of Arizona. She felt free to do as she 
pleased, to journey forever, with no objective, 
and no thought of time, or a returning. She 
yearned to live as the folk of the open country 
live — to be herself; to find, beyond the farthest 
range, another land, even more wonderful than 
the land upon which she gazed. 

Johnny Trent, standing close to her, was 
speaking. “I know the horse for you! He’s the 
gray stallion that leads that band of wild horses 
up in the high country. He’s like a streak of mist 
when the wind drives down a canon after the rain. 
Silver-gray, with a dark mane and tail. I reckon 
his dam was a white mustang, and his sire must 
have been a thunder-cloud. He just floats over 
39 


Wild Horses 

the ground, leading his band of rope-dodgers 
and he’s the proudest animal I ever laid eyes on. 
But he’s wild! I’ve laid my twine on a few wild 
horses—” 

Grace Percival heard him, his voice low, in¬ 
tense; an accompaniment to her vision of illimi¬ 
table spaces, of the freedom of the wild. Yet she 
could not withdraw her gaze from the golden 
mesas, the changing hues of spire and minaret 
and shadowed wall. “Wild horses!” she whis¬ 
pered, echoing his words. 

“That horse — they call him Stallion Gray. 
He’s never been caught. Sometimes they can be 
tamed. I don’t know. I’ve seen a horse like that 
let a woman handle him when he wouldn’t let a 
man come near.” Johnny pushed back his hat. 
His young face was radiant, his blue eyes glowing 
with admiration, sentiment, enthusiasm. He 
could picture this girl riding the great gray stal¬ 
lion, the untamed horse of the high country. 
Slowly Grace Percival turned her head. Her 
eyes were wide, filled with a dream. A horse like 
the silver mist of rain blown by the wind! A 
brute unconquerable; a fierce danger, a delight! 
She breathed deep, nor did she realize that the 
spell of the land was upon her, that not until that 
moment had she ever been her true self, untram¬ 
meled by convention, the heritage of wealth and 
artificiality. And then, she was in Johnny’s 
40 


Wild Horses 

strong young arms, her face upturned to his, her 
lips parted, trembling. 

“And now,” she said, drawing away from his 
embrace, leaving his arms empty, his heart hun¬ 
gry for another kiss, “ catch the gray stallion for 
me! Break him! I want to see him fight, and see 
you master him! I want him, as I never wanted 
anything in my life!” 

“Yes, mam,” said Johnny quaintly. “That 
will be my next job.” 


CHAPTER IV 

“The filly won’t stand for curb and spur, 

She’ll plunge and rear and fight: 

But use the snaffle and talk to her, 

And she’ll travel as sweet as light.” 

H AVING decided that she would make Julia 
Baker apologize for her rudeness, Grace Per- 
cival asked Johnny the way to the Brown ranch. 
Johnny, disappointed, and a bit surprised, indi¬ 
cated a hill to the west of the road camp. He of¬ 
fered to accompany her, but Grace Percival said 
she preferred to go alone. It was but a mile or so 
to the ranch and there was no possibility of get¬ 
ting lost. 

Julia Baker was surprised when she met Miss 
Percival riding across the mesa toward Brown’s. 
Julia had made but a brief visit, and her temper 
having cooled, she decided to ride back to the 
road camp as though nothing had happened, and 
show, if merely by her presence, that she wished 
to be friendly. 

Grace Percival was first to speak. “It was 
dreadfully dull at the road camp,” she said, rein¬ 
ing her horse round and riding beside Julia. 
“And I had rather ride home with you than 
with Johnny, as much as I admire him. Don’t 
you think you were the least bit unkind when 
42 


Wild Horses 

you rode away, leaving me to make the best of an 
awkward situation?” 

Julia flushed and felt instantly guilty of having 
acted like an unmannerly child. She had been 
hasty; and Miss PercivaFs manner was so sincere 
and friendly. “Pm sorry —” she faltered. 

“ Of course you are. So am I. You had a right 
to do as you pleased.” Grace PercivaFs fine eyes 
became misty, as though some unhappy memory 
had touched her. A slight pause emphasized 
what seemed to be a difficulty in proceeding. 
Then, “ Julia, you are the only woman who has 
shown me any real kindness since I came here — 
alone. Mrs. Johnson tolerates me because I pay 
her well for my room and meals. It was a big 
change to come here from Chicago. I felt terribly 
lonely at first. And I was not feeling at all well. 
My mother and father separated, years ago. 
They are both dead. I have no relatives. Of 
course I have money; but my guardian, who was 
father’s business partner, is impossible. It hap¬ 
pens that his name is Samuel Percival, although 
he is not related to our family. He is a stock¬ 
broker, and conducts business under the old firm 
name, Percival & Percival. It has led to endless 
complications, socially. I left Chicago really be¬ 
cause he insists, almost every time he sees me, 
upon marrying me. Of course he wants to get 
complete control of my money. Recently he be- 
43 


Wild Horses 

came so obnoxious to me that I simply left town 
and came out here. I’ll not tell you what I know 
of him. And you can hardly realize how helpless 
I was to avoid him socially. He made business his 
constant excuse to call upon me, and be seen with 
me. It seems that father’s will left about every¬ 
thing in his hands. I have had different attorneys 
investigate. They say there is nothing to do but 
wait until I am twenty-four; then I will have 
charge of my own affairs. Poor father was so 
afraid that some one would marry me simply for 
my money that he stipulated in his will that I 
was not to have control of it until I was twenty- 
four. But I must not thrust my troubles upon 
you. I want to get really well and strong, and 
stay here just as long as I can” -— Grace Percival 
smiled sweetly — <s and feel that I have one lit¬ 
tle friend at least, who understands.” 

Julia Baker was filled with quick sympathy. 
She was flattered by this display of confidence, 
and her intuition told her that Miss Percival 
really liked her. Yet Julia could not forget that 
Johnny Trent was infatuated with Miss Percival. 

“Pm sorry I got huffy,” declared Julia. “ And 
I am sorry that you have been unhappy. But — 
is it fair to Johnny Trent?” 

“My liking him because he is such a nice 
boy? If you’ll introduce me to a nicer boy in 
Solano—” Grace Percival laughed softly. She 
44 


Wild Horses 

avoided the issue by a subtle change of subject. 
“Johnny was telling me about the wild horses 
of the high mesas, this afternoon. He said they 
were wonderful creatures, especially one — a 
gray stallion that led them. He offered to catch 
the stallion and break him for me to ride. Do 
you think he meant it—or was he carried away 
by enthusiasm?” 

“Oh, if Johnny said he would catch the stallion 
and break him, he’ll do it. But Stallion Gray — 
as we call him — is an outlaw. I don’t believe 
any one could break him. I have known men to 
be killed trying to break horses like him. But 
Johnny Trent would take any risk to make his 
word good.” 

A startled expression touched Grace Percival’s 
dark eyes — and was gone. Then she talked of 
clothes — a subject especially dear to Julia Ba¬ 
ker, who could have anything within reason that 
she wished, but often did not know what to wish 
for. “You admired my riding-habit this morning. 
Won’t you let me send to Chicago for you and 
have one made? You have a good figure, and my 
habit would almost fit you. Suppose you come 
over to my room after we get in this afternoon, 
and we’ll see what we can do.” 

“If I could have some riding-clothes like 
yours —” Julia hesitated, wondering what the 
townsfolk would think and say if she appeared in 
45 


Wild Horses 

garments of such an ultra-fashionable cut. Yet 
she knew that girls were now wearing jacket and 
breeches — a truly sensible costume, despite lo¬ 
cal comment. Bertha Judd, of the Diamond-S 
ranch, wore such apparel, and Bertha could have 
anything she desired in the way of clothing. Her 
father was wealthy. “I would like a suit like 
yours,” confessed Julia. “I don’t think father 
would mind.” 

“ Of course not! I’ll be glad to take the respon¬ 
sibility. And please call me ‘Grace.’ ‘Miss Per- 
cival ’ is so stiff, and formal. And that will help 
me forget many things I wish to forget.” 

Julia Baker laughed happily. They rode across 
the sunlit mesa, side by side — the girl from the 
East and the girl of the West, companions, yet 
widely separated by tradition and social circum¬ 
stance. Curiously enough Grace Percival was 
thinking that Julia would make an excellent wife 
for Johnny Trent — a sensible girl who would de¬ 
mand so little and be so much to him. And Julia 
Baker, in the most matter-of-fact way in the 
world, was thinking that Grace Percival, despite 
her wealth and her personal attractiveness, would 
not make a good wife for Johnny Trent — that 
she could never be satisfied with Johnny’s limita¬ 
tions as to education and ambition — for Johnny 
could never be anything other than a cattleman, 
and would never live anywhere other than in the 
46 


Wild Horses 

country of which he was a part. And Julia tried 
to be fair about it all, especially for the potent 
reason that she was interested in Johnny, and in¬ 
clined to resent his infatuation for the girl from 
Chicago. 

The two girls came home with the afternoon 
shadows. Mrs. Johnson was in the doorway of 
the store, talking with Baker when they passed. 
She waved a greeting. Baker gazed at them, 
smiled, and gestured. 

“The East and the West,” he said. 

“The least and the best,” said Mrs. John¬ 
son. 

Baker naturally looked puzzled. 

That evening it was talked about Solano that 
Johnny Trent had taken a contract to catch and 
break one of the wild horses of the high mesas for 
that Chicago girl. It was said he was to receive 
five hundred dollars for the animal. It was never 
learned who added the five hundred dollars to the 
facts. Yet the little monetary postscript had its 
influence on Frank Lopez, who was out of work 
and without money. He decided that he would 
trap and break the gray stallion and sell him to 
the rich lady from Chicago, and do it before 
Johnny Trent even came within sight of the horse. 
Five hundred dollars was a fortune to Lopez; and 
Johnny Trent was his enemy. In the cantina 
that evening Lopez boasted of his intent. His 
47 


Wild Horses 

compatriots encouraged him. Three of them of¬ 
fered to help capture the stallion. 

Meanwhile Johnny had his work to do, and the 
weeks slipped by until the first heavy summer 
rain held up the road-mending for a few days. 
Johnny, taking advantage of the lay-off, got into 
his slicker and rode up to his homestead to assure 
himself that everything was snug against the 
weather and that his stock was all right. Before 
tackling the road work he had turned his saddle- 
horses to graze on the mesas, and had let the 
calves run with their mothers. He found every¬ 
thing taking care of itself. Spending the night in 
his cabin he left early the following morning for 
Solano. A day later he was back at his task 
again, and while he held his men faithfully to it, 
he had lost real interest in the road-mending. 
The trip to the high country had awakened his 
old desire for individual activity. He complained 
to himself that he needed exercise, and that the 
road work, while essential, was mighty monoto¬ 
nous. He longed for the day when his time would 
be up — when he could saddle his top-horse and, 
with plenty to lack and little to pack, make the 
ride he had been planning for weeks, which con¬ 
templated the trapping of the gray stallion in 
Twin Blue Canon, breaking him, and offering 
him to Grace Percival in fulfillment of his prom¬ 
ise. 


48 


Wild Horses 

Followed another week of monotonous toil, 
and another. The stretch of road which he had 
contracted to repair was now in good shape. He 
reported to Baker, spent an unforgettable eve¬ 
ning with Grace Percival, and might have lingered 
a day or two longer in Solano had he not learned 
that Lopez and two or three of his kindred had re¬ 
cently left for the high country, presumably to 
capture the stallion. To let the Mexican get 
ahead of him was not to be thought of. Johnny, 
again riding toward the high country, whistled a 
range tune. On the rim of the canon bordering 
First Mesa, he reined in and sat gazing down at 
the far cottonwoods and clustered adobes of So¬ 
lano. He was going it alone, unaided: undertak¬ 
ing a task which he knew would be the hardest he 
had ever tackled. And for what? To please a 
girl whose whim it was to ride an outlaw horse, 
when she could have purchased the best-man¬ 
nered saddle-animal in the country. But was it 
entirely her whim? Had he not suggested the 
gray stallion, himself? Johnny shook his head. 
He tried to recall Grace Percival as he had last 
seen her bidding him farewell on the moonlit road 
leading to Solano, for that evening she had 
walked with him beyond the town, and as they 
paused to turn back, she had implored him to 
give up the idea of catching the outlaw horse — 
to forget what she had said, and to forgive her for 
49 


Wild Horses 

her selfishness, which she now sincerely regretted. 
Her persuasions had been more intimate than 
speech, when he had stubbornly refused to give 
up the quest. And now, as he gazed down upon 
the distant town, it seemed a long time since he 
had said: “Grace, I’ll ride back to Solano on that 
gray outlaw — or quit the country.” 


50 


CHAPTER V 

“Then there shall be wild horses running the fenceless plain, 
Free as the vagrant wind that sweeps their unpossessed domain. 
Studs with a strain of Arab stock, mares of the Morgan breed. 
Winter and drought shall winnow them — and then for the per¬ 
fect steed!” 

T OWARD midnight the heavy sky cleared, 
swept clean by a steady drift of wind that 
left strips of mist along the rim of Twin Blue 
Canon — mist that wavered, clung to brush and 
rock, and finally melted into the invisible depths, 
as the stars, coldly brilliant, flickered and glowed 
from horizon to horizon. The mesa grass, as yet 
short, was soggy with the recent rains. This 
meant easy tracking so long as the gray stallion 
and his mares kept to the high country. Once 
they knew that they were followed, they would 
take to the timber, but would invariably turn to 
the open again and again. The Twin Blue Canon 
country was dotted with meadows. 

Johnny’s one fear was that the wild horses 
might break off toward the south if the chase be¬ 
came too hot, where the gray stallion, with his 
uncanny instinct for danger, would outrun the 
band and slip away down one of the many track¬ 
less canons leading to the desert. Yet Johnny 
had determined to follow the stallion even down 
into The Tonto, if necessary. 

51 


Wild Horses 

Snug in his cabin on the homestead, far from 
Solano and Grace Percival, Johnny had opportu¬ 
nity to readjust himself to the isolation and free¬ 
dom to which he had been accustomed. And in 
spite of the silence and loneliness — or perhaps 
because of it — he stepped back into the old, in¬ 
dependent life with the feeling of one who shuffles 
into a pair of comfortable slippers after a hard 
day’s work. And there was intimate companion¬ 
ship in the inanimate things about him. His rifle, 
hanging on the cabin wall in its worn and bat¬ 
tered scabbard, recalled many a hunt when he ac¬ 
tually needed fresh meat; his trout rod — a pres¬ 
ent from an Easterner who had camped, at his 
homestead one season and had taught him the 
gentle art of fly-casting; his spurs, with the rowel- 
pins worn thin and the shanks polished by hard 
use; his worn gloves, his chaps — all these things 
recalled long rides alone in the hills, solitary 
camps with his pack-horse and saddle-horse; little 
night-fires, and the smoke-blackened skillet and 
coffee-pot specked with white ashes. Or the biting 
dust of the round-up, the smell of sweaty horses 
and saddle-blankets, the clatter of knives and 
forks as his outfit squatted near the chuck- 
wagon. 

That the definiteness of days when he had lived 
and toiled And faced tense actualities should be¬ 
come blurred and indistinct when he allowed him- 
52 


Wild Horses 

self to think of Grace Percival — and then again, 
that the vision of her as that of one seen in a 
dream when he realized his actual surroundings 
* was a puzzle that he did not endeavor to solve. 
He recalled the tones of her voice, the expression 
of her eyes, the delicate perfume of her hair, and 
even the shape of her slender hand —but he 
could not recall her features distinctly. He won¬ 
dered if influence reached beyond the circle of her 
immediate and visible presence. Johnny Trent 
was experiencing the romance of the unattaina¬ 
ble. His intuition told him that that which he 
yearned to touch, to grasp and hold, was as silver 
mist on the rim of a canon, beautiful to behold, 
beautiful to remember; impalpable, and most 
beautiful in the moment of its vanishing. 

He roused himself, put wood in the stove, and 
then, mixing flour and water and salt, rolled out 
a thin dough and made tortillas on the hot stove- 
lids. He made tortillas because they would not 
crumble and break in his saddle-pockets, as 
bread would. He rolled the tortillas and some 
venison jerky in a clean flour sack. With matches 
and tobacco and a meat-and-bread ration that 
would last him three days, he was provisioned to 
make what he termed his first ride after the gray 
stallion. If unsuccessful within that time, he 
would trust to finding a sheep camp or shooting a 
wild turkey. He regretted having to take only 
53 


Wild Horses 

his six-shooter; but his rifle meant additional 

He fetched his saddle in from the porch, untied 
his slicker, and in its stead tied a spare rope back 
of the can tie. About two in the morning he 
strode out, caught up his blue roan, Pronto, and, 
saddling him, turned the other horses loose to run 
the mesas. Pronto, a big-boned, deliberate, and 
altogether dependable animal, stood out in front 
of the cabin, his ears pricked forward curiously, 
the reflection of the doorway light shining m his 
eyes. A cold wind sifted through the pines and 
ruffled the big roan’s mane. Stars keen as dia- 
mond points sparkled in the blue-black of the 
summer sky. Johnny put out the fire, made 
things neat in the cabin, and then, drawing on 
his gloves, stepped out and closed the dooi. 

He crossed the open meadow and pattered 
along the dim trail arched by the somber pines, 
until he was again in the open the Big South 
Meadow where the gray stallion and his band oc¬ 
casionally came to graze. The cienaga in the mid¬ 
dle of the meadow was soggy with the weight 
of the recent rains. Johnny circled it and bore 
on, toward the south. He reined up suddenly. 
Pronto turned his head and nickered. The bay 
pony, Chico, was following his old corral com¬ 
panion. Johnny told him, expressively, to go 
back. Chico stopped, just beyond rope cast. 

54 


Wild Horses 

Johnny shrugged his shoulders. The pony would 
soon grow tired of following when he realized the 
extent of the venture. 

Toward the extreme end of the Big South 
Meadow Johnny reined up again as he heard the 
thud of hoofs on firmer ground. He did not know 
whether it was one of his own horses or some 
stray from Solano. “ Let’s go see,” he said. 
Pronto broke into a lope. Nearing the timber 
Johnny heard that indescribable sound of horses 
bunching to run. “That’s the stallion and his 
band — or Pm asleep.” He knew the horses 
ahead would string out on the trail if he did not 
follow too close. So he held Pronto to a trot and, 
leaning forward, peered into the black bulk of 
the forest. Within the timber he dismounted, 
struck a match and examined the trail. Track 
upon track showed in the soft earth, and not a 
shod hoof among them. It was evident the band 
was headed for Turkey Springs, far to the south. 
Johnny left the trail and, riding west, made for 
the hills, planning to circle and cut the horses off 
from water. The recent heavy rains made good 
tracking, but also had filled many erstwhile dry 
hollows and natural rock basins where the horses 
could drink. Johnny was correct in surmising 
that the band had headed for Turkey Springs, 
not alone because they were followed, but 
through force of habit. He knew that they wat- 
55 


Wild Horses 

ered there nearly every morning. Many times 
when he had been riding that section of the 
country, he had seen their tracks fresh on the rim 
of the water-hole. There was the chance that 
the band might turn and circle back to South 
Meadow, especially if they were aware that he had 
swung west. The gray stallion had been hunted 
so often by men that he seemed to know just how 
and when to cheat them by anticipating their 
plans. So Johnny did not turn immediately from 
the foothills after he had left the timber, but kept 
on toward the west. 

The first tinge of dawn rippled across the 
sparsely timbered country round Turkey Springs 
as Johnny topped a rise and gazed down upon the 
mammoth, squat junipers dotting the hidden val¬ 
ley. On the western side of the hills lay the des¬ 
ert, dim in the faint dawn. Johnny watched the 
morning light play on the tips of the isolated black 
cones of extinct volcanoes; noted the patches of 
greasewood, the flat dry-lake beds, the occasional 
abrupt ridges of tufa, the great reaches of abso¬ 
lutely naked sand, and all that made that sinister 
land a place to shun. He turned toward the east. 
He could barely discern the irregular rim of San¬ 
chez Canon. Between the canon and his vantage 
of height lay Turkey Springs. To break to the 
desert the wild horses would have to cross Turkey 
Springs country. Johnny put his horse down the 
56 


Wild Horses 

long, easy slope. There were no fresh tracks 
near the water-hole. Johnny let Pronto drink, 
then lifted the saddle and recinehed. He was 
pulling up the leather when a sound caused him 
to hesitate. Chico, the bay pony, appeared 
among the junipers. Johnny grinned. He told 
Chico that he was a fool horse to run after them 
when he might be taking his ease in some grassy 
meadow. 

Suddenly both Chico and the blue roan raised 
their heads and pointed their ears. Johnny 
turned to see what had interested them — and in 
the same movement he led Pronto behind a clump 
of junipers. Chico followed, now close to Pron- 
to’s heels, seemingly aware that Johnny did not 
intend to catch him. As the two horses disap¬ 
peared behind the screen of junipers, three riders 
drifted out into the open a half-mile east of the 
water-hole. Johnny had but a fleeting glimpse of 
them, but he surmised correctly that they were 
Mexicans, and that one of them was Frank Lopez, 
out to catch the gray stallion and make good his 
boast in Solano that he would have him before 
the change of the moon. Johnny led his horse 
still farther back among the junipers and, keep¬ 
ing under cover, rode slowly toward the western 
ridge. From behind a rise which concealed his 
horses he lay and watched the Mexicans, who 
came toward the water-hole, let their horses 
57 


Wild Horses 

drink, and were about to ride away when one of 
them gestured and called to his companions. The 
three dismounted and examined the fresh tracks 
of Johnny’s two horses. A discussion followed, 
evident as they gesticulated and moved about as 
though undecided. Johnny felt relieved when 
they finally mounted and rode north. 

Farther back in the hills Johnny hobbled Pronto 
in a pocket of lush grass, and, choosing a spot 
where the slant of the sun would reach him 
about an hour before noon, he took off his boots 
and stretched out. Almost instantly he was 
asleep. 

He awoke with the high sun burning on the sole 
of his stockinged feet. He stretched, sat up, and 
looked to see that his horses were all right. Then 
he curled a cigarette and smoked. Somewhere in 
the country north of Turkey Springs the gray 
stallion was running with his band, which had not 
come to the water-hole that morning, possibly be¬ 
cause Lopez was riding the country and tracking 
him. And Johnny was not displeased that the 
Mexicans had discovered the tracks of his horses. 
The Mexicans would argue that the tracks of two 
shod horses up in that country meant that two 
men were riding together — in other words, that 
Johnny Trent had a companion with him, which 
was exactly what Lopez concluded after reading 
the sign. And in view of his recent argument with 
58 


Wild Horses 

Lopez, Johnny was not averse to having the 
Mexican reach such a conclusion. 

Johnny finally decided that Lopez had been 
out after the gray stallion several days, endeavor¬ 
ing to keep him and his band from water, and 
so wear them down. But the rains must have 
spoiled that plan. Twin Blue Canon was the 
logical trap for the horses. Once aware that they 
were constantly followed, they would in all 
probability leave the mesas and take off down 
into the canon, where there were water and grass. 
Lopez had evidently blocked them from break¬ 
ing off over the range and into the desert. Other¬ 
wise he would have ridden south. Johnny Trent 
knew nothing about chess, but he was playing the 
game on a large scale. 

Keeping within the timber along the foothills, 
he rode past meadow after meadow, alert for the 
appearance of the gray stallion. He reasoned 
that, if crowded too close, the stallion might 
break back alone and make for the desert. Late 
that afternoon Johnny came upon the tracks of 
several unshod horses crossing the course he had 
laid. He followed the tracks, which led toward 
the east. The horses had been running among the 
trees, at times scattering and then bunching 
again. Later he came upon the tracks of shod 
horses cutting diagonally into the trail — three 
of them, and their riders had been going fast. 

59 


Wild Horses 

“Twin Blue for sure!” murmured Johnny. Lopez 
and his companions had at last headed the band 
toward the trap. 

Johnny thought that his chance was gone. Yet 

there was the possibility of some of the horses 
breaking back. But Lopez was crafty — a keen 
hand at the game. And any one of a hundred 
things might happen to prevent Lopez from get¬ 
ting a rope on the stallion. Johnny was not dis¬ 
couraged just so long as the gray stallion was 
free and his own horse stayed under him. He 
followed along, riding slowly until he reached the 
rim of Twin Blue Canon. In the fading light of 
sunset he knelt and examined the trampled 
ground near the head of the canon trail. The 
wild horses had evidently milled and tiied to 
swing back from the rim, but had finally been 
driven into the trap. Johnny patted Pronto’s 
muscular neck. Don’t know as we want that 
gray outlaw, anyway. But Lopez hasn’t got his 
twine on him yet.” 

While riding that afternoon Johnny had eaten 
a tortilla and some jerky. He was now raven¬ 
ously hungry, so he rode back from the rim to a 
pool of water in a rock basin. Chico followed. 
The horses drank. Johnny hobbled the blue 
roan, and then, after eating sparingly, he made a 
bed of pine needles — and he did not have to be 
sung to sleep. While riding that day he had 
60 



Wild Horses 

thought of Grace Percival. Even if he caught the 
gray stallion, the chances were that the horse 
could never be made safe for her to ride. And 
why had she at first seemed so anxious to have 
the outlaw, as against any number of excellent 
horses from which to choose? Yet he himself had 
suggested the wild horse. It was following his 
suggestion that she became enthusiastic, declar¬ 
ing that she wanted nothing in the world so much 
as the wild horse for her own. And she had reit¬ 
erated this desire, evening after evening, until 
that night when she had implored him to give up 
the idea and return to her whether he caught the 
gray stallion or not. Nor could Johnny know 
what his failure to return would mean to her, not 
aware how she had sacrificed her pride in making 
the request. 

The abrupt, rocky wall of the canon, the hud¬ 
dled junipers, the pines beyond them toward the 
west, and the great sweep of country round¬ 
about seemed to lift up out of the blank level of 
night as the invisible fires of dawn were faintly 
mirrored in the eastern sky. Ash-gray dawn 
light, shot with radiations of pallid gold, was 
absorbed swiftly — and the edge of the far hills 
lost its keen outline in a spreading pool of crimson 
from which burst the flaming disc of the sun. 
Yet no hue, no magic contour, held for long. The 
enchantment passed and the reality of earth 
61 


Wild Horses 

asserted itself. The early shadows of butte and 
pinnacle and range, hesitant and vague, grew 
boldly black and distinct. From somewhere back 
in the pines a forest bird paid shrill, sweet tribute 
to the recurrent wonder of the awakening day. 

Johnny Trent sat up. “That means me,” he 
said, stretching lazily as he felt the first faint 
warmth of the sun. Then he was on his feet. 
The blue roan, Pronto, was standing in a little 
opening warming his back. The bay pony was 
not in sight. Johnny caught up the roan and 
saddled him. Then he ate a scant ration, drank 
from the rock pool, and, mounting, rode over to 
the canon rim. He could discern the movement 
of horses far below in the natural rock-walled 
corral where the canon boxed. Three riders, tiny 
in the distance, moved across the canon floor. 
As one of the riders drew away from the others, 
the band of wild horses, milling near the end of 
the canon, suddenly broke and separated. 
Johnny saw the rider in advance of the others 
whirl his horse and swing his arm. Johnny could 
almost imagine he heard the hiss of the loop 
through the air as the cast was made. Instantly a 
gray horse leaped out from the others, passed the 
rider, and charged down the canon. A second 
Lilliputian horseman swung his rope. The gray 
horse went to the end of it, reared backward, 
plunged and fought. The third rider swung in, 
62 


Wild Horses 

and his arm flickered. “Two ropes on him!” 
breathed Johnny. He saw the flash of the gray’s 
belly as he turned over. He was down — cap¬ 
tured ! But before the riders could stretch him he 
was up, and fighting. A whirl of horses and men, 
a gray shape that heaved and struggled and 
battled with all the fury of the untamed — and 
like a flash a horse and rider went down. Johnny 
whooped joyously. The gray was putting up a 
mighty battle. He struck with his forefeet, and, 
instead of fighting back on the rope, charged his 
captors. Then one of the riders who had his rope 
on the gray stallion seemed to leap straight into 
the air. His horse, riderless, braced against the 
shock as the stallion ran past him. The rope 
came taut — snapped. The third man’s arm 
swung. “ Missed him! ” cried Johnny. His heart 
was with the gray in that fierce and pitiless 
struggle. As Johnny gazed, his pulses drumming 
in his ears, he saw the stallion rear and come for¬ 
ward in a leap which cleared the riderless horse 
just as the third rider built another loop for a 
final, desperate cast. But the cast was never 
made. The stallion was past the horsemen and 
out of the pocket like a streak of wind-blown 
mist. He took the first long slope of the canon 
trail on the run. The turn and the steeper suc¬ 
ceeding grade slowed him down. Johnny’s hand 
closed over the coiled rope at his knee. The gray 
63 


Wild Horses 

would have to pass within ten feet of him when 
he topped the canon rim. Moreover, the stallion 
would reach the rim before he saw either horse 
or rider waiting. Johnny took down his rope, 
flipped out a loop, and reined his horse back a 
few feet. He was afraid that, if he crowded the 
wild horse too close, the gray would whirl and 
leap into space. Johnny sat tense, listening to the 
faint hoofbeats of the stallion as he came up the 
trail. 

Then, from behind him came another sound — 
a voice. Johnny turned swiftly. Felipe Ortega, 
cousin of Lopez, was sitting a buckskin cayuse, a 
few paces off. 

‘‘Hello, Felipe!” called Johnny. 

“Como ’sta! I look for Frank. He say to find 
him in these canon, yes? I come last night from 
Solano.” Felipe eyed the rope in Johnny Trent’s 
hand, then reined his horse over toward the rim 
of the canon and peered down. He saw the gray 
stallion halfway up the trail — and, below, three 
riders crossing the canon floor. Felipe realized 
that something had happened; the gray was 
separated from the band, and those who fol¬ 
lowed him rode horses which he knew. The 
stallion, worn by his terrific fight, came slowly as 
he neared the top of the cliff. Felipe turned 
toward Johnny. “I think it is the horse my 
cousin would catch, yes? He break the rope.” 

64 


Wild Horses 

The young Mexican’s keen eyes had discerned a 
piece of reata trailing from the stallion’s neck. 
Felipe had been told that his cousin would sell 
the horse for much money. Felipe also knew that 
Frank Lopez and Johnny Trent were enemies. 
He took down his own rope swiftly. 

“What you aim to do?” queried Johnny. 

“I rope him.” 

“You mean you’ll kill him. That horse will 
whirl and jump clean over the edge, when he 
sees you. Come back from the rim! Give him a 
show. He just about put your outfit out of busi¬ 
ness, and I’m dinged if I’m going to sit here and 
see you murder him.” 

Johnny realized that there was also the pos¬ 
sibility of the stallion turning on the trail and 
running back down into the canon again, where 
three men were waiting to rope him — for should 
the gray turn back, Lopez would know that some 
one or something was blocking the upper end of 
the trail. 

But Felipe was not to be discouraged. The 
horse was anybody’s property — would belong 
to the first man who put a rope on him — and 
made it stick. Felipe eyed the rope in Johnny’s 
hand. “I think you make to catch him. I think 
I catch him, too.” 

“No. I was just taking up my rope when you 
rode in. I figured to let him make it to the top, 
65 


Wild Horses 

and then take after him down through the 
timber. He’ll run south, and head for the desert. 
But he’ll just naturally jump off the edge if you 
swing a loop when he hits the top.” 

“Then he jump,” declared Felipe, reining a 
few yards back from the rim. 

“All right,” said Johnny, shrugging his shoul¬ 
ders. Slowly he began to coil his rope. Felipe 
saw — and thought Johnny was through with 
all argument. Felipe turned to the task before 
him. He stood in his stirrups, his loop made, his 
hand moving gently to keep the loop alive and 
ready to flip the instant the stallion’s head 
showed above the rim. The plod of the stallion’s 
hoofs sounded heavier. Some twelve feet behind 
the Mexican, Johnny Trent sat his horse, waiting 
for the other to raise his arm. Unshod hoofs 
struck dully on the rocky trail below. The 
stallion was coming at a fast walk. Felipe leaned 
forward. His arm moved. Johnny’s rope shot 
out, his noose settled with a hiss over the Mexi¬ 
can’s shoulders — and Johnny whirled his own 
horse and started toward the timber. The gray 
stallion, possibly because he sniffed danger, 
breasted the last few yards of the steep trail on 
the run, his great chest flecked with foam, his eye- 
sockets rimmed with red, his tense nostrils work¬ 
ing, as he heaved up to the open and thundered 
across the flat rock bordering Twin Blue Canon. 

66 


Wild Horses 

Johnny slackened his rope. Felipe Ortega 
came to his feet cursing. Johnny laughed. 
“Keep your hand from your gun, hombre, or 
I’ll blow your head off! You spoiled my throw. 
Now, chouse along down to Frank and tell him 
it’ll take a real hand to put that gray man-eater 
down. If you got some vino rolled in your 
slicker, there, tell Frank to drink my health, just 
for luck. Vamose! ’ ’ 

“I tell him! An’ he kill you!” cried Felipe, as 
he turned and limped over to his horse. 

“ Shucks! ” And Johnny Trent coiled his rope. 


67 


CHAPTER VI 

“My dam was a mustang, white and proud; 

My sire was as black as a thunder-cloud; 

I was foaled on the mesas cold and high, 

Where the strong ones live and the weak ones die, 
And the mountain lion steals! 

*‘1 knew no foe and I knew no fear, 

With a milk-white mustang grazing near: 

When the grass grew green in the summer sun, 

I learned to dodge and I learned to run, 

And I learned to use my heels!” 

S ULLENLY the young Mexican turned to¬ 
ward the canon trail. Below, the tiny 
figures of horsemen moved about, as though un¬ 
decided as to what course to take. Eelipe sui- 
mised that they would ask him why he had let 
the gray stallion escape — and Felipe would have 
to admit that Johnny Trent had tricked him. 

Meanwhile, Johnny was riding swiftly south 
along the rim-rock. The gray had headed toward 
the Turkey Springs country. Cutting diagonally 
through the timberland, Johnny arrived at 
Turkey Springs about an hour later, where he 
found fresh tracks in the mud round the water- 
hole. The stallion had paused to drink, circled 
the water-hole, and swung off toward the desert. 
Realizing that he could never overtake the 
stallion this side of the western hills, Johnny 
68 


Wild Horses 

filled his canteen and examined his equipment. 
Chico, trotting up, drank at the springs, keeping 
close to the blue roan as though he intended to 
see the game through. 

With careful deliberation Johnny took up the 
task of tracking the gray stallion. He rode west 
through the dwindling junipers and into the pine 
timber, swung to the left and dropped down into 
Red Rock Canon, and in the dry, sandy river-bed 
traced the course of the fugitive. He could not 
help but admire the persistence and courage of 
the gray stallion in his battle for freedom. 
Johnny wondered if Lopez and his kin would 
take up the trail of the stallion again. If they did, 
there was the possibility of further argument, 
out there on the desert. Johnny recalled the old 
cattleman’s advice: “But the next time he comes 
at you — use that gun you pack under your 
arm.” Johnny hoped there would be no necessity 
for that kind of argument. Moreover, Lopez 
would be sober, which meant that he would hesi¬ 
tate to crowd a handy gun too close. 

Far ahead of his tracker the wild horse fled 
down the widening floor of the canon and out on 
to the greasewood flats edging the actual desert. 
Visible on an occasional rise, then disappearing 
to blend with the color of the desert itself, the 
stallion swung on as though winged with light. 
A piece of the broken reata dangled from his 
69 


Wild Horses 

neck. Occasionally his knee would strike the 
reata, when it would whip forward and flick him 
on the nose. Then the stallion would jump side¬ 
ways, shake his head, and roll his upper lip back. 
But he never faltered in his stride, boring straight 
on toward the upheaval of shattered rock and 
somber black crater cones that marked the edge 
of the bad-lands. As yet, Johnny had not seen 
him. The wild horse had disappeared within the 
maze of shimmering spires, squat buttes, and 
malpai ridges, long before Johnny rode out of the 
narrow, winding canon at an easy trot, followed 
by the bay pony Chico, a self-elected member of 
the enterprise. Somewhere in the bad-lands was 
a spring of clear, cold water. Johnny had heard 
old-timers talk about it, describing with slow 
emphasis the peculiarities of the volcanic cone in 
which it was hidden. The crater itself, so he had 
been told, was lined with loose cinder clear to the 
bottom, which was flat, covered with fine sand, 
and some three hundred yards in circumference. 
The spring seeped from a crevice in the western 
side of the crater, dripping into a smooth, shal¬ 
low basin of rock shielded from the sun by a 
freakish arch of red lava. It was said the spring 
had been discovered by an old prospector, who, 
perishing of thirst, had climbed the cone to look 
for some landmark of hope, and had blindly 
stumbled upon the hidden water. Searchers had 
70 


Wild Horses 

finally trailed him, found the skeleton of a burro 
near the outside edge of the cone, and with the 
precaution of strung reatas had descended into 
the crater where they discovered the bones of the 
prospector near the spring. He had apparently 
been unable to climb the steep, cinder-covered 
sides of the crater. In fact, the searchers, even 
with the help of reatas, had found it difficult to 
gain the top on account of the shifting, loose 
cinders that slid down upon them at each step. 
Johnny recalled the story as he jogged along, 
keeping an eye on the tracks of the stallion. He 
had heard many such tales which he had dis¬ 
counted liberally, aware of the fondness of many 
old-timers for creating romance out of materials 
that, if exposed to the actual light of investiga¬ 
tion, would fade swiftly. Several natives of 
Solano had told of the hidden spring, but, when 
questioned, admitted that they did not know in 
which of the extinct volcano craters it was to be 
found. 

Waves of heat buffeted horse and rider as they 
left the greasewood flats and struck into the 
actual desert. Toward noon the sun hammered 
hard, but the refraction of heat and light from 
the glaring sand was even worse. Johnny al¬ 
lowed himself a taste of water from his canteen. 
Now at a walk, now at a trot, he followed the 
evenly spaced tracks of the gray stallion. And 
71 


Wild Horses 

because the horse might finally circle back to the 
mesas, Johnny kept a vigilant eye on the open 
reaches toward the north. Hour after hour he 
slipped along, riding with his shadow; followed 
persistently by the bay pony to which he now 
paid no attention whatever. Grudgingly the sun 
rounded toward the horizon. At about four 
o’clock the heat seemed to concentrate, sweeping 
across the rustling sand in billows that seared like 
the blast from an open furnace. Before he real¬ 
ized it, Johnny was among the scattered buttes 
and pinnacles that dotted the great, hill-girdled 
basin of the desert. He counted seven cones so 
similar in contour and size that they seemed as 
though made from the same gigantic mould. 
The stallion’s tracks bore on toward the west. 

Johnny passed the first black, mountainous 
cone, which, owing to its steepness and sym¬ 
metry, seemed much higher than it really was. 
He passed the second. Here the tracks of the 
stallion swerved toward the north. 

Rounding the base of the third cone, Johnny 
paused in the scant shade of its northern side. 
The stallion’s tracks held close to the base of the 
crater, finally disappearing on a slant of smooth, 
caked lava which spread in black undulations 
toward the outlying level of sand. Intent on the 
tracks, Johnny did not at first realize why 
Pronto and the bay pony had stopped and were 
72 


Wild Horses 

both looking at the peak above. He glanced up. 
On the rim of the crater, outlined like a cameo 
against the turquoise sky, stood the gray stallion, 
his neck arched, his muscular body poised in 
challenging surprise. Johnny was lost in sheer 
admiration for the intrepid animal. The sides of 
the volcanic cone were steep — in places treach¬ 
erously smooth, in others equally treacherous in 
broken and jagged tufa. That any horse should 
attempt to climb that height! And why had the 
horse made that mighty effort, instead of bearing 
on, off toward the north and the mesas? Johnny 
was puzzled. He could not believe that the wild 
horse had deliberately chosen the peak as a 
refuge from pursuit. 

Pronto and Chico, with pricked ears and heads 
lifted, gazed at the silhouette above them. Im¬ 
mobile as the black hill itself, the gray stallion 
stood with nostrils belled, his muscles tense, 
poised as though carven from dull silver. 
Johnny’s heart thumped heavily. His throat 
constricted. If the wild horse should start down 
the outside of the cone, Johnny knew that he 
could head him and rope him before he got out 
on to the sand. As Johnny gazed, the gray stal¬ 
lion whirled and lunged from sight. 

“His grave was waiting for him,” whispered 
Johnny. 

He tied Pronto to a ragged chunk of rock and 
73 


Wild Horses 

slowly climbed the dangerous steep of the great 
cone. On the rim he paused to get his breath. 
He glanced into the crater, whistled his surprise, 
and then sat down, rolled a cigarette and smoked. 
The gray stallion was circling the level, sand- 
strewn floor of the crater as though searching for 
a way out. Across from where Johnny sat, and 
some sixty feet below, a freakish red arch sprang 
from the western wall near its base. “Did he 
know there was water down there?” murmured 
Johnny, almost willing to believe anything pos¬ 
sible. 

Yet he soon turned to the practical, estimating 
the distance from the rim to the bottom, the 
steepness of the funnel-like sides, the circum¬ 
ference of the sandy bottom itself, and the pos¬ 
sibility of getting out again, should he decide to 
venture into the trap and make a last desperate 
effort to capture the stallion. He concluded that 
there was one slim chance in a hundred that the 
stallion could be saved; for the problem was not 
one of getting down into the trap, but of getting 
out again. The funnel of the cone was lined with 
fine cinders that rustled down at the slightest 
touch. Even now the tracks where the stallion 
had lunged down into the trap were disappearing 
as the cinders whispered in slow movement. If 
the wild horse were left in the pit, he would 
starve. “And it was me drove you into this,” 
74 


Wild Horses 

said Johnny. “It’s up to me to save you, even if 
you give me the slip in the wind-up / 5 And 
Johnny thought of Grace Percival and his prom¬ 
ise to her — but that was insignificant, now. 
For Johnny was fundamentally unselfish and 
appreciated a fine animal for the thing it was 
rather than for its usefulness to man. Primarily 
he had intended capturing the stallion, breaking 
him, and presenting him to Grace Percival to 
please her, to gain her favor. He was through 
with that idea. 

To Johnny the task of liberating the stallion 
seemed more like a civil engineer’s job than a 
cowpuncher’s. He surveyed the rim of the 
crater, encircled by huge fragments of tufa, some 
of them too massive to move with anything less 
powerful than dynamite. 

Rising he stepped to a block of tufa which 
seemed balanced on the rim. He put his shoulder 
to it, but it did not budge. He dug the smaller 
fragments away from its lower side, realizing the 
risk he ran if the fragment toppled suddenly. 
Finally the chunk toppled over and slid, drawing 
after it a rushing stream of cinders which banked 
up at the bottom, all but burying the chunk 
itself. The gray stallion, terrified by the descend¬ 
ing mass, lunged up the opposite slope a few 
yards, struggled knee-deep in the treacherous, 
shifting trail, and finally turned and ploughed his 
75 


Wild Horses 

way down to the bottom. Johnny loosed another 
huge fragment. A fine stream of loose cinders 
followed it, banked up against it, ceased to move. 
He did not cheat himself into the belief that he 
was building a feasible trail; but he did believe 
that the sliding chunks would finally strip the 
loose cinders from the coarser foundation be¬ 
neath. Fragment after fragment he moved, toil¬ 
ing until his glove-fingers wore through as he dug 
down beneath the base of each fragment. Pres¬ 
ently one huge chunk rolled to the bottom — 
significant, in that it did not slide. The loose 
cinder was being worn away in a narrow strip 
down the side of the funnel. Yet even as Johnny 
paused and congratulated himself that he was 
engineering a way down — and, possibly, up 
again — the sides of the trench melted and ran 
into the channel. Still, a shallow depression re¬ 
mained as evidence that he had made some head¬ 
way toward firm footing on the treacherous 
cinder-slide. 

He mopped the grimy sweat from his face and 
went at it again. Finally he took to carrying 
smaller chunks and rolling them down the 
trench, until he had built something that looked 
like a series of steps from the rim to the crater 
floor. Meanwhile, the gray stallion, having ex¬ 
hausted himself in trying to climb the opposite 
slope, retreated toward the red arch of lava and 
76 


Wild Horses 

there he watched his natural enemy toil at an 
incomprehensible task in a thin haze of cinder 
dust. Johnny ceased working, to survey the 
bottom of the crater more carefully. He noted 
the red arch — and again he recalled the story of 
the lost prospector and the hidden water. He 
could not believe it possible that he had stumbled 
upon the secret — yet the stallion had passed 
two crater cones and had ascended the third. 

Returning to his horses, Johnny drank from 
the canteen, fortified himself with food, and, 
taking his two ropes, reascended the cone. Fast¬ 
ening one rope to a block of lava, he worked his 
way down the improvised trail, testing it step by 
step. Coming to the end of the first rope, he 
knotted it to the other. He had barely set foot on 
the sandy floor of the crater when the stallion 
charged. Johnny leaped up on the pile of tufa. 
The gray stallion swerved and ran to the opposite 
side of the enclosure. Johnny estimated the dis¬ 
tance to the red lava arch, stepped down to the 
sand, and began to walk toward it, keeping a 
cautious eye on the stallion. The big gray 
watched him, then suddenly laid back his ears, 
and with teeth bared charged again. Johnny ran 
for it, and slipped behind the low arch a second 
before the stallion swept past. Each time 
Johnny showed himself, the wild horse made for 
him. Finally Johnny retreated beneath the arch 
77 


Wild Horses 

and, with considerable curiosity, examined the 
shallow rocky basin at the farther side. A thin 
trickle of water kept the natural hollow about 
half filled. There was no outlet. Evaporation 
maintained what seemed to be an unvarying 
level. The water was cool and tasted of sulphur. 
The air beneath the arch was comparatively 
cool. Beyond, the crater was a pocket of stag¬ 
nant heat. Shadows slipped across the bottom of 
the crater, leaving a scant quarter of its sand- 
strewn surface in the sunlight. The wild horse 
trotted round the base of the funnel, stopped and 
sniffed at Johnny’s tracks in the sand, and 
seemed inclined to try the trail down which 
Johnny had come, yet he hesitated. “Afraid of 
the rope,” thought Johnny. Then, without other 
urge than sheer impulse, he whipped out his gun 
and fired a shot into the air. At the crash of the 
explosion, the stallion leaped straight for the pile 
of tufa, clawed over it like a cat, and, with his 
great haunches heaving, lunged up the slope and 
vanished over the rim. Johnny was up and run¬ 
ning across the sand. He labored up the slope, 
his chest heaving, his mouth set in a hard grin. 

From the crest he saw the stallion plunge and 
slip and slide to the desert floor — heard him 
whistle a challenge to the two horses, and then 
with head up and tail out strike into a smooth 
run. The bay pony, Chico, circling, finally took 
78 


Wild Horses 

after the stallion. Johnny laughed. Then he 
turned, and, drawing up his ropes, coiled them 
separately. 

Early dusk filled the crater. The desert sky 
was faintly pricked with stars. Johnny sat down 
and smoked, gazing out across the dim reaches. 
He had accomplished nothing — and yet he felt 
rather satisfied with the result of his day’s work. 
The wild horse had headed north. And as long as 
Johnny had been able to see him, he had not 
swerved toward the high mesas. There was noth¬ 
ing to do but ride back to the Turkey Springs 
country, where Pronto could rest and graze, and 
then take up the trail in the morning. Johnny 
grinned as he recalled how the pony Chico had 
taken after the gray stallion. 

“Well,” he observed, as he rose, and began to 
descend the cone, “some folks like ’em wild.” 


79 


CHAPTER VII 

ARIZONA 


“You step from the saddle, too tired to eat. 

You hobble your horse, and then, 

You drift into slumber dreamless, sweet. 

Nor care if you rise again, 

“Till the dawn discovers a brand-new day, 

And the dawn-wind tunes a reed, 

Then it’s song, and saddle, and on your way. 

Wherever the trail may lead.” 

J OHNNY TRENT, however, delayed long 
enough to eat, and drink from the ice-cold 
spring — and wish that he had some hot coffee. 
A thin, chill wind whispered among the junipers 
round Turkey Springs, a wind that inclined him to 
step briskly as he sought Pronto and led him 
down to the water-hole. Chico, that ambitious 
young renegade who had evidently thrown in 
with the gray stallion, deserting his old corral 
companion Pronto without even a neigh of ex¬ 
planation, had not returned during the night. 
Johnny was rather pleased about it than other¬ 
wise. Chico might possibly keep somewhere in 
the neighborhood of the stallion for a day or so, 
unless the wild horse turned on him and fought 
him off. Moreover, two horses were easier to 
track than one — and Chico was shod and could 
be tracked across rocky ground, while the wild 
80 


Wild Horses 

horse would be difficult to track across the rocks. 
So Johnny reasoned, which makes it obvious that 
he had not given up his intention of capturing 
the gray stallion. Many reasons might be ad¬ 
vanced as to why Johnny had changed his mind. 
Yet the pertinent reason and urge sprang from 
the fact that there was nothing else to do, unless 
he threw up his hands and admitted that the un¬ 
dertaking had been too much for him. When he 
told Grace Percival that he would either return 
with the gray stallion or not return at all, he 
meant it. Then, Lopez and his kin were out after 
the wild horse. If Lopez captured him and 
fetched him into town, Johnny knew that his own 
reputation would be dimmed even if not obliter¬ 
ated; and as a rider of “salty ones” Johnny had 
not yet been obliged to hand his spurs to any man. 

“Just naturally got to trail that Chico horse 
and head him back to his own range,” was John¬ 
ny’s concession to his conscience which hinted 
that he had yesterday given up the idea of captur¬ 
ing the gray. It did not bother Johnny that his 
conscience further hinted that trailing Chico was 
an insipid excuse to take after the stallion again. 
So, saddling Pronto, Johnny stepped up and 
reined toward the desert. Crossing the range di¬ 
agonally, he cut into the stallion’s trail far north 
of the crater cones. Chico had been following the 
stallion, evident in that the bay pony’s tracks fre- 
81 


Wild Horses 

quently covered those of the wild horse. Hour 
after hour Johnny followed the plain trail, which 
crossed arroyos, swung past buttes, grew dim on 
the malpai, and showed strong and clear again in 
the sand. Presently the tracks indicated that 
Chico had come up with the stallion, and that the 
stallion had turned, evidently to drive him off, 
for Chico’s tracks swerved circumspectly in a 
wide arc, yet still bore on toward the north. 

About noon, Johnny, who had been following 
at an easy trot, reined in toward the foothills look¬ 
ing for water. Happening to glance back, he no¬ 
ticed a tiny cloud of dust on the southern horizon. 
The light desert breeze was from the west; yet 
the dust cloud forged ahead persistently, coming 
up out of the south, near the craters. Johnny 
kept his horse moving toward the foothills. 
He trailed up a wash littered with dead trees 
and mud-encrusted branches half-buried in the 
coarse gravel and sand. Where the wash nar¬ 
rowed and deepened to a miniature canon, he 
found water back of a wedge-like boulder; and in 
the moist sand bordering the pool, the unmistak- % 
able tracks of his pony Chico and those of an 
unshod horse. “Over the hills and home,” said 
Johnny as he cooled Pronto before letting him 
drink. For the tracks of the two horses led on, up 
the canon, nor was there any indication that they 
had turned back toward the desert. 

82 


Wild Horses 

Once more in the saddle, Johnny worked on up 
the rugged stream-bed till he came to a sloping 
cutbank of red clay. Diagonally across the cut- 
bank ran the tracks, where the horses had 
climbed up and out. Johnny took it easy, fearing 
to trail them too close and so turn the gray back 
to the desert again. An occasional bunch of 
freshly nipped grass showed that the horses were 
hungry, and grazing as they moved on up the 
slope of the range. Occasionally Pronto sniffed 
the tracks; and once where the horses had turned 
and had struck up the slope at another angle, 
Pronto stopped and twitched his ears toward the 
desert. Far south, and far below, four horsemen 
swung along toward the north, Lilliputian riders 
on a vast, barren floor of sand and scattered rock. 
“Those fellows will learn to ride, if they keep on 
practicing,” Johnny observed confidentially to a 
lone pinon. Within the hour he was on the crest, 
in the timber. The gray and his running mate 
had headed back toward the high mesas. 

The lone pine on the edge of Big South Meadow 
^cast a three o’clock shadow when Johnny pushed 
out from the timber and surveyed the green emp¬ 
tiness of sod-grass girdled by the austere and si¬ 
lent forest. Out toward the middle of the meadow 
the short grass twinkled and quivered as the 
breeze touched it. Mellowed by distance, yet dis¬ 
tinct and silver-shrill came the neigh of a horse. 

83 


Wild Horses 

“And the breeze blowing from me right straight 
toward him/’ said Johnny. He reined round, rode 
back into the timber, then circled the meadow, 
screened by the trunks of the somber pines. 
As he approached the east side of the meadow, 
Pronto fretted and tossed his head. Johnny 
grinned. He pulled up. The blue roan quivered 
with excitement, although there was nothing to 
be seen save the red trunks of the trees and the 
shadowy aisles of the timberlands. Without any 
apparent reason for it, Johnny dismounted and 
pulled up the slackened cinch. As he swung to 
the saddle again he heard a faint crash in the dis¬ 
tance. The blue roan jumped as though he had 
been struck with a quirt. “Trying to pull off a 
ghost dance, or something? said Johnny, hold¬ 
ing the roan’s head in. Yet Johnny’s own casual 
attitude was not altogether sincere. He had the 
peculiar feeling of one about to experience a sur¬ 
prise. It came — with a rush and a rip and the 
dull thunder of hoofs. A shadow swept past a dis¬ 
tant tree-trunk — then another shadow, of a dif¬ 
ferent color. He saw a lithe gray shape leap as 
though to clear a fallen tree — and then horse af¬ 
ter horse burst from the edge of the timber into 
the sunlit meadow, swept halfway across it, 
crowded together, turned and milled like a brown 
whirlpool, their flickering manes and tails whip¬ 
ping up like wind-tossed foam. And in their 
84 


Wild Horses 

midst the great gray stallion reared and struck 
and squealed like a demon-horse. “ Ghost dance! 
I said it!” muttered Johnny as he took down his 
rope. The quivering blue roan leaped to the spur. 
Johnny’s loop was up and going. His teeth were 
clenched, his lips set in a hard line. He swayed to 
the lunge of his horse as it tore across the level 
mesa. The milling band broke as though against 
a rock. Their second of indecision was Johnny 
Trent’s unanticipated vantage. The gray stal¬ 
lion fought to break through his frenzied mates. 
Chico, seemingly as wild as the wildest, blun¬ 
dered into him, went down with a flash of belly 
and threshing feet. The singing loop swept out 
like a live thing borne up by wings. The stallion 
leaped over the fallen horse, the upper edge of the 
loop struck the gray’s nose, twitched down, and 
both forelegs shot into the diminishing noose. 
Johnny, stifling a groan, jerked his right arm 
high. His hand flashed to the horn of the saddle 
—a lightning swift dally, and the gray turned over 
in the air as Pronto braced himself for the shock. 

Stunned, the M gray stallion lay where he had fal¬ 
len. Johnny untied his spare rope, dismounted 
swiftly, and, running to the gray, hog-tied him. 
At first, Johnny thought the stallion’s neck was 
broken: but finally the wild horse raised his head 
and struggled to rise. The bay pony, Chico, 
jarred by his own fall, seemed to have given up 
85 


Wild Horses 

all idea of running wild. He stood dejectedly 
watching Johnny, who in turn stood watching the 
fallen horse. Pronto, with a wary eye on the stal¬ 
lion, kept the rope taut. Finally Johnny cast it 
off. He had captured the wild horse, had him 
down, hog-tied; and largely because luck had sent 
the pony Chico blundering into the gray when 
the latter had dodged the loop. The actual cap¬ 
ture had been almost too easy. Yet Johnny knew 
only too well that the real battle was still in the 
future, provided he was able to get the wild horse 
into a corral at all. With one man to help, it 
would not be such a difficult task. But alone, 
unaided, there was the ever-present chance that 
luck might switch to the other side of the mesa — 
or table if you wish — and substitute, in a single 
twist, a broken leg, neck, collar-bone, arm, or 
other essential for a captive gray stallion, now 
down and beating his head on the meadow sod as 
he struggled to rise. The hazard of physical in¬ 
jury did not bother Johnny Trent. But the 
thought of losing the stallion did. Lopez and his 
kindred were somewhere in the high country, un¬ 
doubtedly alert for any slip on Johnny’s part that 
would favor them. And that was fair enough. 
“Might as well try to bottle a streak of lightning 
with a teaspoon,” soliloquized Johnny. “The 
gray is gaunt: he ain’t had much chance to eat 
lately.” 


86 


Wild Horses 

The long shadows of the tall pines slanted 
down across the western edge of the meadow. 
Pronto and Chico grazed placidly, side by side. 
Johnny, with a coiled rope in his hand, sat gaz¬ 
ing at the gray stallion. 

He elected himself chairman of the commit¬ 
tee on ways and means, and studied the situa¬ 
tion. If he could manage to get a saddle on 
the wild horse, and should then try to ride him 
down, there on the meadow, the stallion would 
undoubtedly pitch straight for the timber. 
Johnny visualized himself hanging by his belt 
from a high branch, a warning to all aspiring 
bronco-twisters. No, it wouldn’t do to risk riding 
him down in the meadow. It was a spacious cor¬ 
ral and the ground was not hard, but the posts 
were too far apart. Johnny still had some water 
in his canteen and enough food for a meal. And 
in thinking of food, he thought of his cabin, and 
how he would enjoy a cup of strong, hot coffee. 
He could make it to the cabin and back in an 
hour. He had decided to keep the stallion hog- 
tied and down until daybreak, next morning. 
Yes, he would risk a trip to his cabin to get some 
fresh supplies. A good idea! Then, happening to 
glance toward the western rim of the meadow, he 
noticed something moving back in the timber. 
Presently he caught the glimmer of steel, or sil¬ 
ver. A little later four horsemen pushed out from 
87 


Wild Horses 

the timber, reining up as they saw him. No, the 
trip to the cabin was not a good idea. Wouldn’t 
Lopez and his friends have been in luck if they 
had arrived just a few minutes later and found 
the wild horse down and tied — just like a Christ¬ 
mas present! 

Johnny, still sitting cross-legged, reached back 
and drew his six-shooter from the holster. He 
laid the gun on the sod in front of him, and placed 
his hat over it. Then, to occupy his hands he 
made a cigarette, slowly, and with his eyes fixed 
on the riders, who, after a brief consultation, rode 
toward him. Presently they saw the gray stallion 
— and then they understood. Johnny Trent 
had captured the horse, but could get no further 
with the job. Frank Lopez headed the cavalcade, 
his black eyes wary and his right hand on his 
thigh. 

The Mexicans pulled up a few yards from the 
captive horse. They evidently expected Johnny 
to say something, but he merely nodded, and 
smoked. 

“You think you pretty smart,” said Lopez 
finally. 

“I sure do!” 

There was no chance for an argument there. 
“I put two reata on those horse before you catch 
him,” declared Lopez. 

“I don’t see any rawhide on him,” said Johnny. 

88 


Wild Horses 

Lopez communed with his fellows, then turned 
to the alert cowpuncher, who smoked his cigar¬ 
ette lazily. “I have those gray horse trap, and he 
go.” And Lopez gestured toward young Felipe, 
who nodded. 

“Where did you go?” queried Johnny, ad¬ 
dressing Felipe. 

“I mean those horse!” cried Lopez. 

“That’s all right,” observed Johnny languidly. 
And languidly Johnny gestured toward the stal¬ 
lion. “He’s mine. Look at him as long as you 
like. It won’t cost you anything.” 

Lopez said something to the Mexican nearest 
him, then addressed Johnny. “Mebby you sell 
those horse, yes?” But Johnny was watching 
the man on Lopez’s left. And that swarthy gen¬ 
tleman was slyly taking down his rope. Johnny 
saw through the scheme in a flash. They in¬ 
tended to ride round him before he realized 
what was up, get a rope on him and probably tie 
him to a convenient tree from whence he could 
watch them make away with his captive. Johnny 
didn’t quite fancy the idea. It wasn’t so much a 
matter of losing the horse, either: but a matter of 
racial pride. He knew that he must not blunder, 
or make one false move. He did not intend to kill 
or be killed: yet he did not intend to be backed 
down by these men just so long as he could see to 
shoot. And it was this determination, subtly 
89 


Wild Horses 

transmitted to the Mexicans, that averted a real 
tragedy. Had they thought that Johnny Trent 
was bluffing, they might have tried him out. As 
it was, Johnny reached for his hat — a most nat¬ 
ural thing to do, as the low sun was now shining 
in his eyes. He came to his feet with his hat in 
one hand and his six-shooter in the other. “Take 
your hand off that reata!” he said. Then quietly 
to Lopez. “Frank, if one of you try to ride 
round me, or put a hand on that horse, I’ll kill 
you — and get that man next.” 

The low sunlight shone softly on the group — 
the four swarthy horsemen of Solano, each an in¬ 
dividual statue of instant attention and immobil¬ 
ity : the Mexican on Lopez’s left with his rope in 
his hand, the young Felipe, sitting his horse with 
unnatural rigidity, and watching his cousin’s face; 
Lopez and the little, old weazened Anastacio 
both gazing at Johnny Trent’s right hand, at the 
hammer of the six-shooter cocked like the head of 
a snake before it strikes. Between them and the 
keen-eyed young cowpuncher lay the great gray 
stallion, feet bunched and tied, flank-muscles 
twitching, and his head half-raised from the 
meadow grass. Beyond, Chico and the blue roan 
grazed quietly, as though the argument were 
none of their affair, but supper was. 

Frank Lopez did some mental arithmetic, hav¬ 
ing in mind that Johnny Trent was somewhat of 
90 


Wild Horses 

a lightning calculator himself. Lopez wisely de¬ 
cided that the stallion was not worth a gun-fight 
and the inevitable results—billing, outlawry, 
and more killing. “I think those horse he kill 
you, sometime,” said Lopez. He had to say some¬ 
thing to save his face and maintain some kind of 
prestige. But Rico, he with the rope in his hand 
holding it as though waiting for some one to tell 
him what to do next, was not altogether pleased 
with the situation. “Dare principio!” he mut¬ 
tered. But old Anastacio spoke. “We will make 
the camp, here — and wait.” 

“Great idea!” declared Johnny. 


91 


CHAPTER VIII 

“I’m afoot, and you’re mounted on a fast one,” said Buck to the 
horsethief. “But I’ve got a Colt that can outrun anything that 
wears legs. Yes, you’re looking at him, right now. How do you 
like his eye?” (From “Buck Yardlaw’s Ride.”) 

T HE smoke of their fire drifted across the 
meadow from the edge of the timber. Min¬ 
gled with the smoke came the subtle fragrance of 
coffee, and the more pronounced aroma of meat, 
cooking. Johnny had hobbled Pronto, and had a 
small fire of his own going, both for warmth, and 
light, which would discover any one coming 
within a too familiar proximity to the captive 
stallion. While he did not anticipate any trouble, 
he was not taking any chances. He had dragged 
several fallen limbs to the fire — enough fuel to 
last through the night. Lopez, old Anastacio, 
Rico, and the young Felipe were waiting, 
comfortably encamped beneath the sheltering 
"branches of a low spruce. And Johnny was only 
too well aware of what they waited for—the pos¬ 
sibility of the stallion breaking loose, through 
some slip or miscalculation; and if he did manage 
to saddle and mount him, in the morning, there 
was always the sprightly possibility of getting 
pitched and left holding on to the world while the 
wild horse spread its wings and floated off into 
92 


Wild Horses 

space, or into the ready loops of Lopez and his 
kindred. Johnny knew that his only chance was 
to keep the stallion down and tied, and without 
food or watfcr for the next eight or ten hours. 
This would weaken him and tame him to some 
extent. Nevertheless, Johnny realized that he 
would have to ride, and ride hard, any time he 
mounted the gray. Johnny dried his saddle- 
blanket by the fire and then put it round his 
shoulders. Light from the other fire flickered up 
the trunks of the pines and spruce across the 
meadow. He could hear the Mexicans chattering, 
and occasionally caught the drift of their talk, 
which was about the gray stallion, and himself. 
Once he was amused to hear Rico tell Lopez that 
he (Johnny) was a horsethief. Rico was vehe¬ 
ment, and talked loud. 

The first few hours of his vigil were not so bad. 
Toward midnight, however, Johnny fought a 
heavy desire to sleep. He poked the fire and 
moved around, toasted some jerky and ate it, 
smoked, and tried, as he had often done of late, 
to recall Grace Percival’s face clearly. But al¬ 
ways the features would blur in his vision, and 
while he knew exactly how she looked, he could 
not visualize her. This puzzled him. He could 
visualize Mrs. Johnson, or Julia Baker, or any of 
the Solano folk. “Mebby I think I know what 
she looks like, but don’t,” he soliloquized. “I’ve 
93 


Wild Horses 

seen many a mirage, and I always knew ’em for 
what they were. And I’ve rode over to where 
they ought to be, and they weren’t there. But 
she’s there, waiting. And I’m here, waiting. And 
Lopez is over there —” 

Johnny straightened his shoulders and turned 
his head. The sound of hoofs moving steadily 
came softly across the starlit meadow. Johnny 
poked the fire and threw on a piece of a pine 
branch. The flame danced up. The men over in 
Lopez’s camp had ceased talking. 

A soft, drawling voice announced that it was 
Wether ill. Johnny was up and blinking into the 
darkness. A horse’s head poked into the circle of 
light. 44 That you, Trent?” said the voice. Then 
the rider became visible — the lean, slow-speak¬ 
ing Texan, up from the supervisor’s office at So¬ 
lano, and evidently on his way to the San Carlos 
reservation: ranger Wetherill, poking along in his 
easy way, never surprised at anything, and sel¬ 
dom by anything: a man who, in gathering in¬ 
formation, used his ears rather than his voice. 
Johnny and the ranger had met aforetime as 
competitors in a pistol match, at a local barbecue. 
The Texan had won by so narrow a margin that 
he would not take the prize — nor would Johnny 
Trent. So they compromised by presenting it to 
a third competitor who had done some excellent 
work with a borrowed gun. Moreover, the third 
94 


Wild Horses 

man was married and they felt sorry for him 
— so they said. Consequently Wetherill and 
Johnny foregathered on the stamping-ground of 
single blessedness and mutual respect. 

The ranger walked round the captive stallion, 
glanced across the meadow toward the camp-fire 
under the trees. Having heard in Solano that 
both Lopez and Trent were out after the wild 
horse, he stepped over to his own pack-animal 
and threw off the hitch. He spread his bed-roll 
near the fire, hobbled both horses, and, returning 
with his saddle, made himself comfortable. 

“How did you happen to get your twine on 
him?” he queried, and Johnny appreciated the 
compliment implied by Silent Wetherill’s ques¬ 
tion. 

“You said it! It just happened. I was lucky, 
just like in our shooting-match last year.” And 
Johnny told him briefly, with interspaces of si¬ 
lence, comprehensively expressive: as in the con¬ 
clusion of his sketch — “ And then Frank Lopez 
tried to run a whizzer on me, but I said ‘No/ 
Frank and his bunch are over there ...” Johnny 
gestured. 

Wetherill pulled off his boots. “I’d just natu¬ 
rally hate to see you lose him — now.” The 
ranger kicked off his overalls. “This old tarp is 
wide enough to sleep two.” He yawned, crawled 
in, wound his watch, and placed it with his six- 
95 


Wild Horses 

shooter in his hat. “I saw a hoss, just like him, 
once, down along the Kio Grande, and a Mexican 
wanted him a whole lot. I rode that hoss quite a 
spell afterwards, but he always was a little gun- 
shy.” 

Johnny grinned and pulled off his boots. The 
tiny fire flickered and died down. It was so still 
that Johnny could hear the ranger’s watch tick. 
Johnny stretched, pulled the edge of the tarp over 
his ear — and then he was gazing at a slant of 
sunlight on the meadow grass. He had slept four 
hours. 


CHAPTER IX 

“The wild horse fought for his right to roam 
On the mesas far and still: 

Crimson flecks in the clotted foam 

That danced in the sun as they hazed him home, 

Over hollow land and hill. 

“They have bound his neck with the searing rope. 

They have ridged his sweating side, 

Roweled from flank to shoulder-slope, 

Yet courage nor skill nor strength may hope 
To conquer his crested pride.” 

W ITHOUT oral preliminaries, Johnny Trent 
and Wetherill went at it. Lopez and his 
disgruntled companions watched, sitting their 
horses near the edge of the morning meadow. 
Wetherill dropped a loop over the stallion’s neck, 
while Johnny cautiously loosed the hog-tie. As 
the gray horse came up, Wetherill spurred round 
him. The taut rope swept the stallion’s legs from 
under him. The stallion fell hard; came up again, 
trembling. Johnny heeled him. If the wild horse 
had not been worn down by hunger and lack of 
water, he would have fought until his heart burst 
in a frenzy of rage. But he was growing weak, 
and his nerve was shaken. Yet he reared in a 
mighty effort to break free from the searing rope 
that was choking him. Johnny turned his horse 
and jerked the stallion’s legs from under him. 
97 


Wild Horses 

Again the stallion heaved himself up and started 
toward the timber. “Let him come,” said Weth- 
erill. Johnny allowed the captive to kick free 
from, his loop, and, building another as all three 
horses swept toward the trees, rode close. As the 
stallion went past a tree on one side, Wetherill 
spurred by on the other. The rope came taut 
with a twang like a fiddle-string. The stallion 
was whipped round, facing the tree. Johnny 
dashed in behind him and struck his flanks. 
Wetherill took in the slack as the wild horse 
forged ahead. The ranger was out of the saddle 
and had a turn round the tree before the rope 
came taut again. Together the ranger and 
Johnny snubbed him up close, fighting for every 
inch of rope. Finally the stallion was choked 
down and saddled. He was let up — and Johnny 
was in the saddle. Yet, contrary to the expecta¬ 
tions of those who watched, the gray horse did 
not pitch, but broke into a run, heading for the 
timber on the opposite side of the meadow. 
Wetherill turned him, and, riding with his loop 
ready, hazed him along. 

Out in the sunlit meadow they had just left, 
Lopez watched the blue roan, Pronto, roll, get up 
and shake himself, and then philosophically take 
to grazing while Chico grazed alongside. 

Lopez shrugged his shoulders. “Next time,” 
he told his companions, “that gray horse will 
98 


Wild Horses 

fight until he kills himself, or the man that rides 
him. Then it is that I get him. Felipe, you will 
ride to Solano and bring back food. There is no 
brand on that gray horse — yet.” 

Johnny and Wetherill were surprised when the 
stallion walked sullenly into the corral at John¬ 
ny’s place. 

Wetherell shook his head. “I’d rather see him 
fight, right now, than act like he does. What you 
aim to do with him, anyhow?” 

“ Oh, just sit and look at him. I like the way he 
is built.” 

“So do I. But you’ll never make a horse of 
him.” 

“ Mebby not. But speaking of horses, what do 
you say if I make some coffee?” 

“You might do worse.” 

“ Yes — and I’m sorry I haven’t got anything 
worse, even for snake-bites. But the next time 
we meet up in town it will be different.” 

“Mebby so,” drawled Wetherill, “if you keep 
on monkeying with that outlaw hoss. Look at 
him. Would you say he is all unwound yet?” 

“Nope! He’s just resting himself up for the 
next dance. Let’s eat.” 

After breakfast, Johnny caught up his old 
pack-horse which never grazed far from the cabin, 
and rode with Wetherill back to the Big South 
Meadow, where he bid farewell to the ranger and 
99 


Wild Horses 

then hazed Pronto and Chico back to his home¬ 
stead. He turned them into the pasture lot, left a 
bucket of water in the corral for the stallion, and, 
as the sun struck hot on the cabin roof, he fell 
asleep on his bed. He lay limp and utterly spent, 
every line of his body expressive of exhaustion. 
Flies buzzed in the open doorway and on the 
window-panes. The sun mounted to noon. The 
short, intense shadows swung slowly toward the 
east. Johnny slept throughout the long after¬ 
noon, nor did the chill of evening awaken him. 
Sleep was generously restoring his worn energies, 
building him up to his normal strength again. 
Stars flickered, grew bright, and waned, and still 
he slept. The first cold, hard light of dawn was 
edged with gold which spread swiftly to the tall 
tops of the silent pines, slid across the faint green 
of the rain-freshened grass, burned ruddy on the 
red boles of the trees, and was reflected in the 
glowing eyes of the gray stallion, a silver statue 
in the stake corral, his slim ears pricked forward, 
his whole being intent upon the two horses that 
grazed so placidly in the pasture. They were of 
his kind but not of his kin. The stallion stamped, 
switched his long tail, tossed his head. Relieved 
of the binding cinch, free from the fear of the 
stinging rowels — for Johnny had not spared the 
iron during his ride down the mesas — the wild 
horse resented his imprisonment, resented the 
100 


Wild Horses 

memory of his capture, and, although his flanks 
were drawn from lack of food, the lusty pride of 
the wild stood out in every muscle, every curve 
of his splendid body. 

Had some one fired a gun within fifty yards of 
the cabin, it is doubtful if Johnny would have 
been disturbed by the sound. But when the 
captive stallion whistled shrilly and lunged round 
the corral with sudden, fierce energy, Johnny 
stirred and muttered. Again the shrill challenge 
of the stallion. Johnny sat up, almost mechani¬ 
cally, at first not wholly conscious of what had 
wakened him. Then he recalled the happenings 
of the past few days — a vague, nightmarish 
panorama of canons, meadows, timberland, 
dead-black cones of extinct volcanoes, wild 
horses in flight — and finally the horse, captured, 
secure in the corral — and, down in Solano, 
Grace Percival was waiting, wondering, perhaps, 
when he would return. Johnny stretched, and, 
as though his uplifted hands had caught hold of 
some invisible object, he pulled himself to his 
feet. Turning, he gazed through the south win¬ 
dow of the cabin. His sleep-heavy eyes realized 
the back and shoulders of the gray stallion, 
and his gaze followed the line of his pricked 
ears. Four horsemen were crossing the pasture. 
Johnny rubbed his eyes and stared again. He 
recognized the riders as Frank Lopez and his kin. 

101 


Wild Horses 

Johnny’s gun had slipped from the holster. He 
picked it up, glanced at the cylinder, and hol- 
stered it. He stepped to the water-bucket and 
drank greedily of the stale water. He felt numb, 
all but powerless to drag himself back to the 
window again. He broke the tip from a dried 
chili and chewed the stinging seeds. Slowly the 
blood crept back into his heavy pulses. A wave 
of heat ran up the back of his neck. He was not 
hungry, but he felt the dull ache of an empty 
stomach. He spat out the seeds. Lopez and his 
companions were heading straight for the corral. 
Johnny reasoned that having seen no smoke they 
had taken it for granted that he was away. He 
waited until the Mexicans were within a few 
yards of the corral — thus tentatively establish¬ 
ing their purpose in trespassing on the homestead 

— then he picked up the water-bucket and 
sauntered out. The riders were discussing the 
gray stallion. They ceased suddenly, surprised 
into silence. 

“ ’Morning, Frank? ” said Johnny. “ What can 
I do for you?” 

Lopez mumbled something to his companions 

— then stepped his horse forward. “You steal 
that caballo from me, I think yes.” 

“Steal your grandmother! I trapped him out 
on the desert and turned him back to the meadow 
and roped him. You know the rest.” 

102 


Wild Horses 

“I rope him first !’ 5 declared Lopez, gesturing 
excitedly. 

“Mebby-so, Frank. But I got him.” 

“I ride five day” — Lopez spread his fingers 
— “all over those mesa for that caballo. I run 
him in the canon and rope him. He break the 
rope — two time. Then it is that you stop 
Felipe when he make to catch him. I guess I don’ 
like that.” 

“Frank,” said Johnny, endeavoring to keep 
his temper, “we had it out, once before, when 
you were drunk. If you’d been sober there 
wouldn’t have been any scrap. Don’t forget that 
two or three folks saw you come at me with a 
knife — and they won’t forget it if they hear we 
locked horns again. Now I don’t like the way 
you and your bunch rode into my pasture with¬ 
out an invitation. I caught the stallion and I’m 
going to keep him. You know where the gate 
is — and just fasten it when you go out.” 

“You steal my job — then you steal those 
caballo — ” 

“Just a minute. That talk don’t go, old- 
timer. Liquor stole your job; not me. I told you 
once to vamose. Now I tell you again. And to 
make it legal — get off this ranch and keep off. 
I have warned you three times, Frank. I’m 
done.” 

The Mexican’s face turned a mottled red. 

103 


Wild Horses 

“You say I don’ get those caballo? Then you 
don’ get him!” Lopez, enraged, jerked out his 
gun, intending to shoot the stallion down. But 
Johnny, recalling in a flash their former quarrel, 
read other and more sinister intent. He swung 
his arm. The empty water-bucket whirled 
through the air and took Lopez square on the 
head. He reeled, clutched the saddle-horn, and 
as his horse, startled by the sudden activity, 
whirled to run, he fired at Johnny. The shot 
was wild, but by chance it grazed Johnny’s ribs, 
searing like a white-hot iron. 

With the snap of his hand Johnny pulled and 
fired. Lopez dropped from his horse and sprawled 
on the trampled ground. Lopez’s kindred hesi¬ 
tated, yelled, and then spurred scattering toward 
the distant gateway. Johnny stared at the gun 
in his hand, shrugged his shoulders, put his hand 
to his side, and walked slowly over to where 
Lopez lay, face down and still. Johnny had shot 
to take Lopez between the shoulders, and he 
thought he had killed him. But the shot had 
gone high and had torn the big muscle from the 
side of the Mexican’s neck. Johnny stooped, ex¬ 
amined the wounded man, saw that the shot had 
missed the spine by a scant two inches. Lopez 
was bleeding so much that Johnny roughly 
bandaged the wound and then went to the spring 
for water. He would need water — and plenty of 
104 


Wild Horses 

it. None of Lopez’s kin had returned when 
Johnny came back with the water. He carried 
the wounded man into the cabin and stanched 
the flow of blood as best he could. While working 
over the half-conscious Mexican, Johnny silently 
congratulated himself because of the swift inter¬ 
vention of Chance that had left Frank Lopez a 
live man with a superficial bullet wound, instead 
of an exceedingly dead one with a shattered 
spine: for the very good reason that Johnny did 
not care to bear the reputation of a killer and 
eventually be forced to ride with his gun ready 
every time one of Lopez’s kin showed up on the 
sky-line. 

The wounded man made as comfortable as 
possible, Johnny prepared a much-needed break¬ 
fast. He planned to ride down to Solano and get 
a doctor. He had cleared away the breakfast 
things and was about ready to leave when Lopez 
gestured feebly. 

“Want a drink?” queried Johnny. 

Lopez beckoned Johnny to come nearer. “I 
think it is that I make the mistake, yes?” 
whispered Lopez. 

“Kind of looks like it.” 

“You go to Solano?” 

“Yes. You need a doctor.” 

“Where is Anastacio and Felipe?” queried 
Lopez. 


105 


Wild Horses 

“Why, they lit out, about the time the trouble 
started. I guess you don’t know who your real 
friends are, Frank.” 

“I know you, when you muchacho. That time 
we good friend, yes?” 

Johnny shrugged his shoulders. 

“I make what you say, the WTong move,” 
whispered Lopez. 

Johnny ignored the other’s intent to explain 
himself. “You better keep quiet. I’ll get Doc 
Wordle, and—” 

“I don’ want those doctor,” said Lopez. “One 
time I get shoot and I don’ have those doctor 
and I get well. My brother he have the horse 
fall on him and those doctor come and he is 
dead.” 

“You are kind of a tough old bacon rind,” said 
Johnny. “And you ain’t hit bad: tore the 
muscle on your neck, some. You won’t die.” 

“Then you stay? I don’ like those doctor.” 

Johnny nodded. “I’ll see how you make it, 
to-morrow.” 

Lopez closed his eyes. Johnny placed the 
water-bucket and dipper beside the bed, took his 
rifle and, crossing the clearing on foot, entered 
the timber. He had a supply of canned provi¬ 
sions and bacon in the cabin, but he wanted 
fresh meat. About four o’clock that afternoon 
he returned with a huge turkey gobbler slung 
106 


Wild Horses 

over his back. “How do you feel?” he asked as 
he entered the cabin. 

“I sleep all time. Then you come.” 

Johnny gave the wounded man a drink of 
water. Lopez reached out his hand. Johnny 
stared at it. Then, flushing, he shook hands. 

“If that’s the way you feel about it, we’ll call 
it a day,” declared Johnny. 

Yet he w^as not too sanguine as to the other’s 
actual change of heart. He had known sick men 
to become suddenly penitent and then as sud¬ 
denly revert to their former tactics upon recov¬ 
ery. However, Frank Lopez was not a bad fellow 
when sober, and it seemed to Johnny better to 
cast a grudge aside than to grow stoop-shouldered 
carrying it. So Johnny turned to biscuits and 
coffee and roast turkey, and felt better all round. 
In a day or so it might be possible for Lopez to 
ride to Solano. The wound was a clean wound. 
Lopez had bled freely. The only possible danger 
would be from blood-poisoning. The case called 
for much cold water and scant rations until the 
wounded man was on his feet again. Meanwhile, 
Johnny would not lack diversion. There was the 
gray stallion to break — and the sooner the 
better. The wild horse was rapidly regaining his 
strength and spirit, evident as he began to eat 
the meadow hay Johnny gave him that evening. 

The following morning Johnny tackled the 
107 


Wild Horses 

job, after a night’s sleep that put him in shape 
for the battle. And Frank Lopez, somewhat of a 
horseman himself, begged Johnny to help him to 
a chair by the open window that he might watch 
the fight. “You’re weaker than a sick turkey,’’ 
said Johnny. “You stay right where you are.” 
And Johnny took his rope and saddle and stepped 
across to the corral. Without help it took him 
the better part of an hour to get the saddle on 
the stallion, and then he had to all but choke him 
to death to get that far. When Johnny finally 
cheeked him and swung up, the stallion, instead 
of going into the air, balked —* refused to move 
an inch in spite of spur and rope-end plied hard 
and fast. Finally, a bit ashamed of the red that 
dripped from his rowels, Johnny stepped down 
and fought the horse all over the corral unsad¬ 
dling him. 

“Next time, something is going to pop,” de¬ 
clared Johnny as he brushed the sweat from his 
face. 

That evening Johnny fed Lopez some turkey 
broth, and later propped him up in bed so that he 
could smoke a cigarette. They talked about 
horses, an interest that drew them together on a 
common ground, roomy enough for much dis¬ 
cussion and some argument, but allowing 
no standing-room for even the ghost of a 
grudge. Lopez was evidently feeling much bet- 
108 


Wild Horses 

ter, although his neck was rigid and his right 
arm seemingly paralyzed. Johnny bathed and 
cleansed the open wound and rebandaged it, 
soaking the bandages in hot water and soda to 
allay the inflammation. Like most hardy sons 
of the outlands they made a joke of the situation, 
Lopez cursing with extreme sincerity when the 
cleansing process wrought a dull ache into a 
stinging pain: Johnny cursing Lopez, in turn, 
when the latter squirmed and fidgeted. 

The following morning Johnny was up and out 
early, having planned another session with the 
stallion. The plan included the use of the blue 
roan Pronto, but when Johnny glanced down the 
pasture neither Pronto nor Chico was in evi¬ 
dence. Johnny followed along the fence, found a 
fallen tree across the wire, and tracks that an¬ 
swered his silent question. He caught up his old 
pack-horse and fetched him up to the cabin. 

“No show this morning,” he told Lopez. 
“Both horses strayed. Don’t you ride that gray 
while I’m gone.” 

“I ride this chair long time, I think,” said 
Lopez. 

A fillip of Chance sent Johnny Trent out 
across the high mesas hunting strayed horses 
while a deputy sheriff, burdened with the news 
that this same Johnny Trent had shot and killed 
Frank Lopez in a quarrel about a horse, left 
109 


Wild Horses 

Solano and Lopez’s kin, and rode briskly toward 
the timberlands. The deputy approached the 
cabin whistling a tune, riding in the open, and 
anxious to let it be known that he was coming. 
He liked Johnny, and had reason to suspect that 
Johnny had been crowded into the quarrel. He 
wanted to talk with Johnny as friend to friend 
— and also as an officer of the law. While the 
deputy was utterly fearless, he was discreet. 
Hence he whistled a tune and rode in the open. 
The tune he whistled was one that he had heard 
in a dance-hall in Antelope, although he was 
utterly unaware of it. He wasn’t thinking of 
music, just then. 

And Frank Lopez, propped up in bed, heard 
the whistling, and called out, thinking it was 
Johnny. “Just tell them that you saw me—” 
ceased. The deputy called Johnny’s name and 
was answered by a strange, muffled voice. He 
entered the cabin to find the dead man propped 
up in bed smoking a cigarette. 

“Hello, Frank!” he called heartily, allowing 
the vehemence of his surprise to express itself in a 
conventional greeting. “Heard you got hurt.” 

“Si! I have the bad fall. I think it is my 
shoulder she is break.” 

The deputy didn’t think so, as he viewed the 
bandages, but he made no comment, other than 
to indicate that he had hoped to see Johnny Trent. 

110 


Wild Horses 

Lopez, who surmised that his companions had 
told the deputy a different story, and anxious to 
shield Johnny, explained that the latter was out 
looking up some strayed stock and might not 
return until late that evening. 

“Anything I can do for you?” queried the 
deputy. 

“I am all fix good,” declared Lopez. “Johnny 
he is my amigo. He do everything, yes?” 

“Then I guess I’ll mosey along. Horse throw 
you?” 

“Si. I fall on the neck pretty bad.” 

“Thought you said it was your shoulder?” 

“Si. I fall on the shoulder.” 

The deputy laughed. “Kind of fell all over 
yourself, eh?” 

“I make dam’ bad fall pretty good.” 

“I see you got that wild stallion corraled out 
there. He looks like a bad one.” 

“I tell Johnny that. Johnny say he just 
as wild as those horse, and he laugh. I think 
it is, Johnny he don’ know to get the scare, 
yes?” 

“Kind of figured him that way, myself. Say, 
Frank, how is it that Anastacio and Rico and 
young Felipe are telling folks down in Solano 
that Johnny bumped you off?” 

“The horse he bump me off,” declared Lopez 
stubbornly; and the deputy, who was pretty 
111 


Wild Horses 

well convinced that Lopez was suffering from a 
bullet wound and not a broken shoulder, realized 
that he was wasting his time trying to get Lopez 
to admit a quarrel or a shooting. 

“Well, so-long,” he said, helping himself to a 
drink of water. “Tell Johnny I just dropped in 
to see how he was making it.” 

“Adios. I tell him.” 

The deputy stepped out, stood a while looking 
at the captive stallion, and then mounted and 
rode back toward the low country. “Like hell 
Lopez’ll tell him what I said,” soliloquized the 
deputy as he jogged across the meadow. “He’ll 
tell Johnny just what he wants him to know — 
same as he did me. Somethin’ funny about it. 
Lopez and Johnny friendly — and old Anastacio 
says Johnny shot Lopez out of the saddle. Both 
Johnny and Frank are pretty tough proposi¬ 
tions to handle trottin’ single: but hitched in 
double harness —” The deputy shook his head. 
He whistled the same tune he had whistled when 
riding up to the cabin. After all, he was glad that 
he had not been obliged to approach Johnny in a 
strictly official capacity. 

When Johnny returned, late that afternoon, he 
hesitated as he lifted his saddle and glanced at 
the ground in front of the cabin. “Who’s been 
here?” he called to Lopez. 

“Ward, he come,” replied Lopez. 

m 


Wild Horses 

“Who?” Johnny lugged his saddle to the 
porch and stepped into the cabin. 

“Ward, he come. He say how you are making 
it.” 

“Oh, did he say all that?” 

“And I say to him,” declared Lopez with some 
show of righteous pride, “that my horse jump 
and I fall on the shoulder and she is break. He 
shake the head and think it is funny how so 
much blood on the rag. Then he makes the 
pasear back to Solano. I think he shake the head 
all the time.” 

“Then mebby Felipe or Anastacio didn’t tell 
him you took a shot at me just for luck?” 

“I think it is Felipe he get the excite and forget 
that,” said Lopez blandly. 

“My dam was a mustang, white and proud,” 
sang Johnny as he flopped his bed-roll open and 
straightened it. Frank Lopez had been pretty 
decent, after all. “My sire was as black as a 
thunder-cloud,” sang Johnny. Yet Johnny was 
still the least bit skeptical as to Lopez’s change 
of heart. Perhaps Lopez had been inspired to 
fabricate the “fall from a horse” yarn by the 
hope that the gray stallion would kill the man 
who tried to break him single-handed. Johnny 
glanced across at Lopez, whose gaze had been 
following his movements. 

“If I don’t get the shot, I help break those 
113 


Wild Horses 

caballo,” he said. And Johnny knew that he 
meant it. 

“My mistake,” muttered Johnny, somewhat 
ambiguously. 


114 


CHAPTER X 

“There is never a hoss that can’t be rode, 

And never a man that can’t be throwed.” 

(From “Luck of the Range.”) 

T HE following morning Lopez was able to 
move about, although he was still weak 
from loss of blood and the terrific shock. He had 
breakfast with Johnny and later followed him 
out to the corral to watch the breaking of the 
gray stallion. Unable to view the proceedings 
from the ground, Lopez asked Johnny to make a 
platform of empty boxes close to the corral 
stakes. Helped up on his improvised box seat, 
Lopez’s head showed just above the corral top. 
The torn shoulder-muscle made it impossible for 
him to move his head, but his active eyes missed 
nothing. Johnny roped the stallion, snubbed him 
to the post, and fought him up, inch by inch. He 
heaved up the saddle and caught the cinch on the 
swing. 

As Johnny slackened the rope, the stallion 
reared and deliberately threw himself. When he 
came up, Johnny was in the saddle. The stallion 
lunged and reared again. Johnny hit him be¬ 
tween the ears with the butt of his heavy quirt. 
The stallion came down, forelegs rigid. A thin 
dust cloud gathered. With a grunt and a squeal 
115 


Wild Horses 

of rage the wild horse ran at the side of the corral 
and tried to crush Johnny’s leg against the 
stakes. Johnny jerked his foot free from the 
stirrup and turned his toe out. As the horse 
crashed against the stakes, the spur sank into the 
stallion’s side. He pitched across to the other 
side of the enclosure, reared, went up in the air, 
and came down with all four legs set. A thin 
streak of blood showed on Johnny’s upper lip. 
He was taking some terrific punishment. The 
stallion was both big and quick. He had no 
special system of pitching, but tried everything 
in the calendar of outlaws, and it kept Johnny 
busy trying to out-guess the probabilities. 

The stallion’s eyes were filmed with blind rage. 
He swung his head and tried to bite Johnny’s leg. 
Johnny promptly kicked him in the nose. Again 
the wild horse threw himself and tried to roll on 
his rider — to crush him. But Johnny kept the 
hackamore taut. The stallion could not raise his 
head to turn over. Then Johnny let him up. The 
stallion went into the air, “swapped ends,” and 
came down with his back arched. The instant he 
hit the ground he went up again, forward and 
sideways, pitching with a roll and a swing that 
snapped Johnny’s head back and forth until he 
was almost blind. 

Lopez sat huddled up, watching Johnny with 
admiration and envy. The Mexican’s little 
116 


Wild Horses 

bloodshot eyes burned with an intensity of feel¬ 
ing that made him forget his wound, his weak¬ 
ened condition, everything, save that the fight 
would not end until one or the other was either 
killed or subdued — and neither seemed to know 
what it meant to quit. The stallion went into the 
air again, bunched his feet, and hit the ground 
like a falling meteor. The cinch snapped. The 
saddle turned. Johnny tried to save himself, but 
he was thrown head first against the side of the 
corral. He lay inert, crumpled up like an empty 
sack. The stallion circled the corral, his ears flat, 
his teeth bared. Lopez called to Johnny; clam¬ 
bered down from the box, hobbled to the cabin 
and snatched the rope from his saddle. He 
groaned as he hastened back. The stallion, gone 
mad with fear and hate, rushed at the inert 
figure on the ground and sank his teeth into 
Johnny’s shoulder. Lopez, balancing himself on 
the boxes, muttered a prayer to the saints, and 
flipped a loop. It was a difficult cast, over the 
side of the corral, yet the loop dropped true, 
struck on edge, and turned. As the noose 
touched the stallion’s off hind foot, he kicked, 
and virtually looped himself. 

Lopez dallied round one of the corral stakes. 
The stallion, fighting the snare, let go of Johnny’s 
shoulder. Lopez clambered down from the boxes 
and hobbled round to the corral gate. He felt 
117 


Wild Horses 

sick. The corral veered and rocked as he entered. 
The gray stallion, his hind leg outstretched, was 
kicking to free himself from the rope. He was 
still between Lopez and the crumpled figure on 
the ground. The Mexican stepped nearer. The 
wild horse lunged away to one side. Lopez gath¬ 
ered all his waning strength, and, groaning as the 
pain of his movements bit into his neck and 
shoulder, ran in and dragged Johnny to the 
gateway. 

He barely made it through when the rope 
snapped and the stallion charged him. He 
crashed against the bars, battered at them with 
his forefeet. Lopez just managed to drag Johnny 
beyond the gate, when the corral and the 
frenzied horse, the distant trees, the sky, faded 
into night. Lopez sank down. A faint red tinge 
spread on his bandages. His tremendous exer¬ 
tions had burst open the wound. 

When he came to he was lying in the cabin and 
Johnny was dashing water in his face. For an 
hour Lopez lay watching Johnny as he moved 
about the room, restless with the pain of his own 
injured shoulder. Johnny smoked innumerable 
cigarettes, muttered to himself, and occasionally 
stopped pacing up and down, to get a drink of 
water. Dazed, he did not know just what had 
happened after he was thrown: but he surmised 
that Lopez must have dragged him from the 
118 


Wild Horses 

corral, knew that his companion must have made 
some tremendous exertion because the wound 
had begun to bleed again. Johnny had reband¬ 
aged it with strips torn from an old shirt. 

Not until sundown was Lopez able to speak, 
other than to ask for water occasionally. And 
then he told Johnny briefly what had happened. 
Johnny had noticed the broken bit of rope on the 
stallion’s hind leg — and he knew that it was the 
Mexican’s rope. When Lopez had finished telling 
just what had happened, Johnny grasped his 
hand. 

“At first I got you wrong, Frank. But now I 
sabe.” 

Lopez blinked. “You make to ride those wild 
horse some more?” 

“Sure! Why, we ain’t even got acquainted, 
yet.” 


119 


CHAPTER XI 

“Such a horse! but to name him, from barrel that’s deep and 
round, 

To pastern slender and fetlock firm and hoof square-set to 
ground; 

A ripple of moving muscles that play to the reaching stride — 
No mortal attains perfection — but give me that horse to ride!” 

T HE two huge trunks had been taken down¬ 
stairs to the veranda. About two o’clock, 
that afternoon, Grace Percival came down from 
her room attired in a smart traveling gown. She 
was gloved and wore a veil. Seated in the big 
chair at the end of the veranda she waited for the 
stage which, she had been advised, was to leave 
an hour later than usual owing to some necessary 
repairs. Early that morning she had received a 
telegram, relayed from Antelope, stating that her 
guardian, Samuel Percival, had been seriously 
injured in an automobile accident — and that 
his recovery was doubtful. The message implied 
further that her presence in Chicago was advis¬ 
able in order that she might look after her inter¬ 
ests in case Percival succumbed to his injuries. 
The message contained no details as to the acci¬ 
dent. It was signed by Percival’s secretary. 

Grace Percival was too well aware of her 
guardian’s habits to be altogether surprised by 
HO 


Wild Horses 

the news. He was noted as a reckless driver 
when, upon occasion, his chauffeur grudgingly 
relinquished the wheel to him. Only for a mo¬ 
ment did Grace Percival allow herself to doubt 
the veracity of the message, and that was because 
she had recently advised her guardian, by letter, 
that her stay in Arizona would be indefinite. 
Percival had argued against her going to Arizona 
in the first place, declaring that it was a whim 
which she would regret. In a year she would 
become mistress of her own fortune. He had so 
long been a member of the firm and had con¬ 
trolled its policy so many years that the idea of 
losing even partial control of the finances was 
distasteful to him. Grace Percival had been far 
from flattered by his reiterated proposals of 
marriage, resenting his insistence almost as 
much as his reason for it. 

However, it was the coincidence of her own 
desire to leave Arizona, and the receipt of the 
telegram importuning her to come home, which 
troubled Grace Percival. She tried to believe 
that it was mere chance, that her recently formed 
decision to return to Chicago had nothing to do 
with the news of Percival’s accident. Alone much 
of the time since Johnny Trent had left Solano, 
and free from the anticipation of seeing him 
daily, she took time to reflect and decided that 
her romance with the young cowboy was a mis- 
121 


Wild Horses 

take which she did not altogether regret, yet 
realized fully. And it was because she cared for 
him that she determined to leave, as the quickest 
and simplest solution of the difficulty. While she 
had been momentarily sincere, when with him, 
she felt that it was utterly unfair even to inti¬ 
mate, by a longer sojourn in Solano, that their 
companionship could become more than it was. 
He would be hurt, angry, and would hardly for¬ 
give her. Yet that would be better than a pre¬ 
tense on her part that she cared enough for him 
to marry him. She had lived upon his enthusi¬ 
asms, his virile personality. She saw the land as 
he saw it, a spacious and wonderful empire of 
range and mesa, of sunlight and clean air, and 
vistas limitless and alluring. To Johnny Trent it 
was home. To her it was a magnificent picture, 
an experience, an adventure. But to live in the 
picture all her days, to become a part of it, to be 
loyal to her decision and to Johnny Trent — 
that, she dared not believe, was possible. The 
habit of wealth subdued and smothered her 
actual self. And, paradoxically, she was more her 
actual self, when she decided never to see him 
again, than when she had begged him to come 
back to her that night when he had left for the 
hills. But Johnny would not understand: yet the 
telegram was an uncontrovertible reason for her 
leaving. 


122 


Wild Horses 

Mrs. Johnson would tell Johnny. Grace 
Percival wondered what he would say when he 
heard the news. She was glad he was away, that 
she would not have to tell him herself. She was 
both glad, and relieved, because she really feared 
that should she see him again, some gesture, 
word or glance might persuade her that she could 
live in the picture and be content. 

Gazing down the sleepy street toward the dis¬ 
tant mesa, wondering when the stage would 
come for her, wishing, in spite of her conclusions 
that she might see Johnny Trent again, even 
though she dreaded the interview, Grace Per- 
cival’s brown eyes widened the slightest bit as 
she saw two horsemen drawing slowly toward 
Solano. As they came nearer, she saw that there 
was something familiar about the horseman 
who rode the big gray — a handsome animal, 
viciously active under restraint, difficult to 
handle. Unconsciously she clutched the arm of 
the chair. One of the horsemen was Johnny 
Trent, returned from his quest. And the gray 
horse? Could it be the gray stallion? Johnny had 
said he would not return without the horse. If 
only he had returned a day later! Or if the stage 
had not been delayed for repairs! What could she 
say? 

Down the long and all-but-empty street he 
rode, swaying to the restless lunge of the wild 

123 


Wild Horses 

horse. Flecks of foam danced in the sunlit air. 
Close to him rode Frank Lopez, sitting his horse 
stiffly, yet as watchful as a coyote, his hand on 
the rope coiled at the saddle-fork. The stallion 
was wet with sweat. He tossed his head and his 
mane rippled along the great arch of his neck 
like flowing silver. And Johnny? He was the 
same — and yet not the same. Grace Percival 
saw — and realized that he had both lost and 
gained something. His face was less boyish, the 
quick laughter of his eyes was gone, his manner 
more subdued — yet against the loss he had 
gained a visible maturity, and with it something 
akin to the quality of the horse he rode. To 
Grace Percival it was so obvious that she caught 
her breath. While Johnny rode with quiet poise 
and lithe assurance, there was no trace of reck¬ 
lessness or unwarranted pride in his bearing — 
but there was evident a grim restraint of which 
she had not deemed him capable. She had 
begged him to come back to her. He had come 
back. Already she felt that his eyes accused her. 
Not that — yet they appraised her frankly. And 
she was afraid of him. 

Johnny reined the stallion toward the veranda 
and raised his battered sombrero. “I fetched 
this one in alive,” he said, smiling. 

His swift glance shifted from her face to the 
two trunks and then back again. The stallion 
1U 


Wild Horses 

curveted and reared. Johnny brought him round 
and down, and Grace Percival glanced at the 
rowels of his spurs. She shivered within herself. 
Here was the reality — a great, and still uncon¬ 
quered beast, foam-breasted in the sun, beautiful 
in the wonder of his strength and symmetry, 
wild pride burning in his quick, full eyes, and a 
threat of disaster in every breath that filled his 
rounded nostrils. The battered saddle, the close- 
coiled rope, the heavy hackamore, knotted close; 
Johnny’s gloved hand, the fingers of the glove 
worn to shreds, his boots, his spurs, his hat 
scored by the brush — everything about him 
accentuated the reality that accused her, mocked 
her, and told her that she was a lie and a re¬ 
proach. For she had given her lips to his, and an 
unuttered promise which she did not mean to 
keep. 

“I came back,” said Johnny. And in that 
brief declaration Grace Percival read, not only 
his promise fulfilled, but a challenge. 

Johnny sat the gray stallion like a conqueror. 
He had not offered to dismount. He was in the 
saddle, solid in his mastery, playing his own 
game and playing it well, although he did not 
realize it. And suddenly Grace Percival realized 
that, no matter how much she cared for him, and 
how much he cared for her, her mastery of him 
could never become an accomplished fact. He 
125 


Wild Horses 

was like the magnificent animal he rode, un¬ 
tamed, and would be so as long as he lived. 

“No — he ain’t a safe horse,” said Johnny as 
though he had read her thought. 

Grace Percival rose and drew a crumpled slip 
of yellow paper from her glove. The stallion 
jumped sideways as she reached out to give the 
paper to Johnny. “I wanted you to read it,” she 
said. 

Frank Lopez reined over and took the tele¬ 
gram. As Johnny brought the stallion under con¬ 
trol, he took the paper from Lopez. Johnny 
flicked the telegram open and read it. The 
stallion fretted and pawed the road. Grace Perci¬ 
val watched Johnny’s face, her own eyes wide, 
startled, and intense. Johnny Trent glanced up 
from the telegram, met her gaze; and she never 
forgot the look in his eyes. It seemed to her as 
though he was impersonally studying some curi¬ 
ous object that he had just discovered and 
which puzzled him. There was no warmth in his 
gaze, no sign of their earlier intimacy, no hint of 
his own silent fight with himself to keep from 
speaking. Grace Percival knew that the tele¬ 
gram was to him as transparent as crystal; that 
he read in it her excuse for leaving Solano, and 
through it saw the reason for her going. It 
flashed across her mind that he was master of 
himself. She tried to vision his battle with the 
126 


Wild Horses 

wild stallion, and she was horsewoman enough to 
know that it had been a bitter fight: and, withal, 
that while the gray stallion submitted to being 
handled at the moment, he could never be tamed. 

Again Johnny Trent seemed to interpret her 
thought. “ Once in a while there’s one you can’t 
tame,” he said, and as he spoke he swung down 
and stood beside the stallion. Before Grace 
Percival realized what Johnny intended, he had 
jerked the cinch loose. Simultaneously he slipped 
saddle and hackamore from the wild horse. For 
an instant the gray stallion stood motionless, not 
aware that he was free. Then, with a snort, he 
whirled, flung up his head and thundered down 
the street. He sped straight for the open mesa, 
for the hills beyond, boring into the west, grow¬ 
ing smaller. Topping the distant mesa rim, he 
turned, the long, slanting sunlight of mid¬ 
afternoon rippling on his back, his shoulders, his 
mane like flowing silver. With high, disdainful 
crest curved like the arch of a drawn bow, with 
proud forefoot raised, he whistled a challenge: a 
living statue framed by the turquoise of the 
Arizona sky. Then with a lift and turn, he flung 
away into the spaces — a flash of silver-gray 
vanishing across the wild to seek his kindred and 
his home. 

Johnny shouldered his saddle. With his free 
hand he gave the telegram back to Grace Per- 
127 


Wild Horses 

cival. “Once in a while there’s one you can’t 
tame,” he said again, gazing at the woman who 
had been his vision and his desire. She seemed 
strange to him now — another being. He heard a 
small voice within himself reiterating: “She 
made a fool of me! She made a fool of me!” His 
face went white. “Good-bye, Grace,” he mur¬ 
mured. For an instant the Johnny Trent she had 
known returned in his farewell. She flung out her 
slender arms, her hands appealing. She knew 
from his eyes, heavy with unutterable grief, that 
she had killed the Johnny Trent whom she had 
loved. Her heart swelled with pity, with a sud¬ 
den longing. Yet she did not speak — she could 
not. 

Johnny turned and strode across the street, 
the saddle on his shoulder, the hackamore reins 
trailing in the dust. Frank Lopez reined his 
horse round and followed him. 

Julia Baker, screened by the veranda vines, 
watched from her home across the street. She 
saw Johnny and Frank Lopez drift toward the 
Mexican end of the town. A few minutes later 
the stage drew up to Johnson’s, the two trunks 
were loaded in, and Grace Percival, taking her 
seat beside the driver, turned and glanced toward 
the Baker home. Julia Baker had not appeared 
to bid her farewell. 

The stage stopped at the store, the mail sacks 
128 


Wild Horses 

were roped on top of the trunks. A thin cloud of 
dust trailed after the stage as it departed. Pass¬ 
ing through the Mexican quarter, Grace Percival 
saw Johnny Trent and Frank Lopez in the lat¬ 
ter’s corral, Johnny talking earnestly to the 
Mexican, who held a coiled reata in his hand. 
Three horses were huddled together in the far 
end of the corral. She noted them indifferently, 
a buckskin, a bay, and a sorrel. The sorrel was a 
big horse for that country, possibly fifteen-and- 
a-half hands high. The bay had a blaze face and 
one white foot. The stage swept past on the 
smooth mesa road. Neither Johnny nor Lopez 
glanced toward it, though they must have known 
that it was passing. The afternoon mesa spread 
wide, green, illimitable, and across it ran a thread 
of gray road, winding into space. 

“Reckon we’ll be late getting into Concho,” 
declared the driver of the buckboard, gesturing 
with his whip. “Had to have a tire set. Held 
me up ’most two hours.” 


CHAPTER XII 

“When Carmen sang in Sandoval — that summer night in San¬ 
doval — 

Yaqueros drank tequila with Rurales from the South, 

While scornful of the show they made, a somber Gringo renegade 
Watched dark Felipe as he played —and Carmen’s saucy 
mouth.” 

S ANDOVAL happens to be in Old Mexico, 
and is not to be confused with Solano, 
Arizona. Yet their adobe cantinas with sky-blue 
doors and window-frames, their earthen floors 
beaten hard and smooth by the comings and 
goings of the many, their small battered tables 
and chairs and their meager interior decorations, 
are similar, even to the tequila, which is an 
interior decoration amazing and potent. It has 
been said that three drinks of tequila and a 
loaded six-shooter will make a bandit out of the 
most timid chola that ever hoed beans. 

No somber Gringo renegade sat in Jose de la 
Cruz y Barra’s cantina that afternoon, but 
Johnny Trent was somber enough as he drank 
tequila with Frank Lopez, both standing at the 
narrow, blue-topped bar, each with a glass in his 
fist and each occupied with his own thoughts. 
The tequila was incidental to the mood and the 
hour. Something in Johnny’s attitude disturbed 
130 



Wild Horses 

the serenity of the proprietor, Jose, who knew 
him ordinarily as a sprightly youth who laughed 
and talked. But this afternoon Johnny was 
silent and exceedingly formal in everything he 
did, from rolling a cigarette to paying for the 
liquor. Old Jose, while familiar with all the 
moods prompted by tequila, read, in Johnny 
Trent’s altogether too quiet attitude, a subdued 
recklessness, a smouldering antipathy unac¬ 
countably strange. Johnny stepped to the door¬ 
way, glanced at the two saddled horses standing 
at the hitch-rail, and returned to the bar. 

“We can fan it in about half-an-hour,” he said 
to Lopez. “Have another, Frank.” 

Again they drank together. Johnny made a 
cigarette. Lopez hastily struck a match and 
proffered a light. Jose stared. A few weeks ago 
Lopez and Johnny Trent had been bitter 
enemies. 

Johnny considered old Jose for a cold few sec¬ 
onds. “Your eyes hurt you?” he asked in 
Spanish. 

Jose, to escape Johnny’s gaze, wiped the bar 
and was about to remove the bottle and glasses 
— six glasses of tequila within a half-hour was 
sufficient for the hardiest — when Lopez slapped 
the top of the bar. 

“Aqui!” he growled. “My amigo drinks with 
me, the next one.” 


131 


Wild Horses 

Old Jose replaced the bottle and glasses. 
Johnny was smiling. His somber eyes were un¬ 
readable. Jose muttered an apology. 

Again they drank together, mechanically. 
And again Johnny stepped to the doorway and 
glanced at the horses, and down the street. The 
long shadows lay black against the far, white 
road beyond the town where the junipers grew 
along the winding ditches of the highway. A 
tiny cloud of dust rolled low in the distance, 
and ahead of it a dark speck moved on and on 
toward the north. The dust cloud settled, van¬ 
ished, rose again, still farther away. The Solano 
stage was making good time, yet it would not 
reach Concho before dark. The stage always 
stopped at Concho for the night, proceeding 
toward Antelope in the early morning. Johnny 
tossed his half-smoked cigarette into the street 
and, turning, gazed toward the south, the far, 
blue ranges rising above the mesa land, the hills 
that he called home. 

Then, Lopez was beside him in the doorway, 
his hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “You will not go 
back to-night, my friend?” said Lopez in Span¬ 
ish. “My casa is yours.” 

“Then why did you saddle up and ride over 
here with me?” 

Lopez shrugged his broad shoulders and 
winced as he awakened the pain of his wound. 

13 % 


Wild Horses 

“Quien sabe? Perhaps it is good that I go with 
you.” 

“How about your wife and the kids?” 

“Oh, I give my wife the money you give me — 
but not all. I think it is that my wife does not 
say where I go.” 

“Come on, then,” said Johnny. 

They rode over to Lopez’s corral as the brief 
twilight absorbed the shadows, where they dis¬ 
mounted. Lopez stepped round to the house and 
told his wife that he was going over to La Cienaga 
to visit a cousin. While he was in the house, 
Johnny caught and saddled the buckskin. When 
Lopez came out to the corral, Johnny was knot¬ 
ting a lead-rope on the spare horse. 

“I’m going to borrow this cayuse for a couple 
of days,” he declared. 

Lopez nodded. He was not surprised: in fact, 
nothing could have surprised him very much, 
just then. He felt blandly indifferent to any¬ 
thing save the fact that he and Johnny Trent had 
consumed much tequila and were still sober. He 
was the least bit annoyed because they were both 
sober. 

Johnny took the lead-rope of the buckskin and 
mounted the bay. “If I don’t show up right 
away, you needn’t worry about the horses.” 

“’Sta bueno!” 

Lopez felt assured that his friend was not going 
133 


Wild Horses 

back to his mountain cabin. Yet he was going 
somewhere, taking a led horse along. A great 
change had come over his friend since he had 
talked with the beautiful senorita of the brown 
eyes — and since he had so foolishly freed the 
gray stallion. Also his friend had drunk much 
tequila, which was an unusual thing for him to 
do. Lopez took the reins of the big sorrel, swung 
to the saddle, and, leaning forward, touched 
Johnny’s arm. “I think it is good that I go with 
you,” he said. 

Night was upon the mesas. The stars were 
brilliant in a cloudless sky. Once clear of the 
town they rode swiftly, cutting across the wagon- 
road and heading into the north. They crossed 
the Black Mesa wash some two miles west of the 
highway. Lopez surmised that their destination 
was Concho. Of a truth, the stage would stop 
there for the night. Perhaps Johnny and the 
young senorita had arranged to meet in Concho 
and get married. They had quarreled, but then, 
that was a small matter. No doubt the senorita 
had been provoked because Johnny had let the 
gray stallion go, knowing that it was unsafe for 
her to ride. So Frank Lopez reasoned as the 
three horses moved briskly across the starlit 
mesa. The pace grew slower as they entered the 
junipers bordering the low hills surrounding 
Concho. Moving shadows among the stiff shad- 
134 


Wild Horses 

ows of the trees, they climbed the easy slope. 
Topping the slope they struck a faster gait. 
Johnny reined up. From the east came the faint 
sound of plodding horses and the rattle of a 
wagon. 

“It is the stage,” said Lopez. 

“You take the buckskin, and wait here,” said 
Johnny. “If you hear a shot, light out for 
Solano and forget where you been.” 

“I wait,” said Lopez as he dismounted and 
held the two horses. 

Johnny drifted away in the starlight. Below, 
and to the left lay the dim road, the highway 
between Solano and Concho. He crossed the 
road and, turning, faced it, screened by a clump 
of junipers. The clattering wagon drew nearer, 
the horses coming at a fast trot. Old Henry 
Watkins, the driver, was telling Grace Percival 
that they would soon be in Concho, and that 
they had escaped considerable heat by driving at 
night, when a horseman moved out from the 
shadowy roadside and stopped directly in front 
of the team. Old Henry pulled up, thinking that 
some belated cowboy wished to speak to him. 

Immediately it became evident that some one 
did wish to speak to him. 

“Drop the reins,” said a voice, and it was not 
the circumstance itself, but the quality of the 
voice that caused Old Henry to thrust up his 
135 


Wild Horses 

hands. He knew when a voice meant business. 
“I got a lady with me,” declared the old man. 
“You needn’t to git careless with that gun.” 

“You can both step down,” said the voice. 

Grace Percival, even then, did not realize what 
had actually happened — that the stage had 
been held up and that the highwayman was invit¬ 
ing her to get down from the seat and stand in 
the road. She did not realize it, because she had 
been thinking of Johnny Trent — and now he 
was speaking. She knew his voice, and that was 
real, although the place, the circumstance, and 
the dim figure on horseback seemed unreal, im¬ 
possible. Old Henry obeyed the command and 
Grace Percival followed him mechanically. 

“Got a gun on you?” queried Johnny, through 
the handkerchief masking his face. 

“No, I ain’t!” spluttered Old Henry. “It’s in 
the rig, under a ton of trunks and mail.” 

Suddenly Grace Percival realized where she 
was and what was happening. Her blood quick¬ 
ened. She feared the man whom she thought she 
had cheated. Why had he followed her, inter¬ 
cepted her? 

“Got any cash, this trip?” asked Johnny. 

“Nope! Nothin’ but trunks and mail and a 
tourist.” 

“I’ll take your word for it. Get back into the 
rig.” 


136 


Wild Horses 

“You mean both me and her?” queried Old 
Henry. 

“Yes. I’ll help the lady in.” 

Old Henry, glad to be let off so easily — for he 
had decided to make a fight should the highway¬ 
man offer harm to the woman — scrambled stif¬ 
fly up to the seat. Before he could gather up the 
reins, Johnny swung his quirt and struck the off 
horse across the flank. The team lunged forward 
and broke into a run as Old Henry fumbled for 
the reins. The buckboard veered into the ditch, 
struck a juniper-root, and bounced back into the 
road again. The reins flipped up over the dash 
and dropped between the horses. 

“And now, Grace,” said Johnny quietly, “you 
can step upon my horse and I’ll lead him. I 
rode down here to have a little talk with you — 
and I’m going to have it.” 

“But — Johnny! What does this mean?” 

“I said it. Step up on that horse. You 
needn’t be afraid I’ll touch you. But you’re going 
to listen to what I got to say.” 

“So this is what one may expect from the 
chivalrous Westerner who never mistreats a 
woman?” 

“When the woman is your kind — yes. If Old 
Henry Watkins gets his team stopped and turns 
back, somebody is going to get hurt. Suit your¬ 
self.” 


137 


Wild Horses 

Grace Percival shrugged her shoulders. “I 
thought I cared for you — a little. But I hate 
you!” Nevertheless, she allowed Johnny to help 
her to the saddle, where she sat sideways, poised, 
and never anything but graceful. Johnny led 
the horse from the road and into the junipers of 
the low hillside. On the crest of a rounded hill he 
whistled. A voice answered his signal. Lopez ap¬ 
peared in an opening among the junipers, leading 
the two horses. 

Johnny shortened the stirrups on the buck¬ 
skin. “ It’ll be a long ride,” he said, turning to 
Grace Percival. 

She shrugged her shoulders assuming an indif¬ 
ference she did not feel. “Of course I’ll go with 
you, if you make me. Don’t think I am the least 
bit afraid. But I hope you realize what you are 
doing.” 

“I do. But you don’t. Try the stirrups. If 
they ain’t right. I’ll change ’em. It’s a long drill 
— and I want you to be comfortable.” 

“Comfortable! How considerate of you!” 

Johnny felt the hot blood surge to his face. “I 
could have killed you — to-day; shot you down 
where you stood. But to-night, why, shucks! I 
wouldn’t lift a finger to even touch you. The idea 
is, we’re going to begin all over again, right from 
the start. I’m the same man you made a fool of; 
but you, you are not the same woman, now. I 
138 


Wild Horses 

guess it’s the first time you ever took orders from 
anybody. But you are taking orders from me, 
from now on. Stirrups all right? Then come on. 
Mebby you don’t know what holding up the 
United States mail means, but I do.” 

To be ordered from a vehicle, even as poor a 
contraption as the Solano stage, and ordered to 
mount a horse and ride wherever her captor 
chose to take her, was an experience that had no 
parallel in Grace Percival’s hitherto conventional 
life. The abruptness of the occurrence itself 
startled and shocked her, yet deep in her heart 
she experienced a thrill of anticipation, of awe, 
and, while she resented the method, the adven¬ 
ture was not altogether unpleasant. And the con¬ 
trast of Johnny Trent’s present attitude toward 
her, with his behavior at parting in Solano, was 
not as displeasing as she wished to make it ap¬ 
pear. She thought that he had given her up — 
as she had given him up when he had turned 
away from her a few hours before. And now he 
had claimed her again — literally kidnaped her. 
She could understand that. Intuitively she had 
known all along he was capable of carrying out 
almost anything he set his hand to, either within 
or without the law. She had admired him for the 
hearty common sense that had heretofore held 
him steady. But that he, knowing her mission in 
Chicago — for she would not admit even to her- 
139 


Wild Horses 

self that she had planned to run away from him 
— could deliberately set his heel upon her intent 
and crush it without a sign of remorse was be¬ 
yond her comprehension. 

Accustomed to the barriers of convention 
which none of the men she had known would 
think of scaling, Grace Percival suddenly faced a 
reality as primitive as drinking from a mountain 
spring in the wild Solano hills. Her social pres¬ 
tige, her wealth, meant nothing whatever to 
Johnny Trent; and the law, written or unwritten, 
meant nothing to him. He had said he could 
have killed her. She believed him. She had al¬ 
ways known that beneath his genial manner ran 
a strong current of determination against which 
she would be powerless, should some issue force 
the test. And as she rode between the swart si¬ 
lent Mexican and Johnny Trent, across the fra¬ 
grant night-spaces, beneath the Arizona stars, 
she realized at last why individuals made laws 
for themselves in that far-reaching and sparsely 
inhabited land. 

They rode toward the south, swinging wide of 
Solano and bearing toward the dim ranges that 
bulked against the velvet sky. The junipers gave 
place to greasewood. The sandy plain of a dry 
lake hushed the sound of their progress. Again 
the junipers crept round them, shadowy and 
grotesque. Presently they were riding among the 
140 


Wild Horses 

cypress and small pine. The fragrance of the 
night forest came intermittently on the cool 
breezes of the uplands. A wooded canon wound 
on and up toward the high mesas and the spruce. 
Until then, none of them had spoken. The nar¬ 
row trail forced them to ride single-file, Johnny in 
the lead, Grace Percival following, and Lopez 
riding behind her. 

“That horse you’re riding is used to this trail,” 
said Johnny, turning in the saddle. 

“Thank you. I am not at all afraid of the 
horse.” 

Grace Percival smiled at Johnny’s somewhat 
incongruous solicitude. Not so many hours ago 
he had ridden into Solano on a horse as wild and 
as vicious as she had ever seen — and the gray 
stallion of the high mesas was to have been hers. 

When the canon trail found the level of the up¬ 
land meadows, edged with the deep night-shad¬ 
ows of the encircling timber, Johnny sent Lopez 
on ahead, telling him in Spanish to make a fire in 
the cabin stove and put some fresh water in the 
coffee-pot. 

About an hour later Johnny and Grace Perci¬ 
val dismounted at a small cabin fronting a wide, 
starlit meadow. Lopez took the horses. Johnny 
stepped aside, gesturing to Grace Percival to en¬ 
ter the cabin. “It didn’t cost a million dollars,” 
he said as she gazed round the orderly room, “ but 
141 


Wild Horses 

it’s clean and decent/’ A fire was going in the 
stove, and the warmth was welcome, as was the 
hot coffee which Lopez had made. 

Grace Percival drew off her gloves and placed 
them daintily on the edge of the home-made ta¬ 
ble. “I would like a drink of water, first,” she 
said. 

Johnny filled the one and only glass and prof¬ 
fered it. She glanced up at him as she gave the 
glass back. The slender oval of her face, her dark 
eyes, glowing softly in the lamplight, the shim¬ 
mering luster of her hair — she had removed her 
hat and veil — recalled poignant memories that 
Johnny would not have chosen to recall just 
then. His hand trembled as he took the glass. 

She glanced round the room, then swept across 
it to a chair by the south window. Seating her¬ 
self she again glanced round the room. 

4 ‘The looking-glass is here,” said Johnny, indi¬ 
cating a small shaving-glass against the cabin wall. 

“Thank you. But I’m not so frightfully disar¬ 
ranged by my ride. At least your eyes do not ac¬ 
cuse me —” 

“At your old game?” said Johnny, shrugging 
his shoulders. 

“Of making myself agreeable? Yes. You have 
been rough — at times — but that is the first 
rude thing you have ever said to me,” she de¬ 
clared, smiling. 


142 


Wild Horses 

Johnny flushed. But he was not to be cajoled 
into a humor to suit her fancy — not he! 

“Besides, if it is a game, what other game 
could I play, to please you?” she said. “Would 
you have me flatter you by pretending that I am 
frightened? Perhaps you thought I would be¬ 
come hysterical and plead for my freedom. You 
have brought me here — I really can’t imagine 
why — and, as you intimated not long ago, you 
want me to be comfortable. But how can I feel 
comfortable when you act like a chained bear?” 

Johnny laughed harshly. “No chains on me 
now, Miss Percival.” 

“But yes! You have chained yourself to me, 
haven’t you?” 

“No. But you are going to promise to marry 
me before you leave this wickiup, or —” 

“Or what, Johnny?” 

“Or tell me on your oath that you never did 
care enough for me to look at me twice. Just say 
without lying, that you were stringing me along 
for the fun of it. Then you can leave here any 
minute you want to. You wouldn’t be worth 
your keep.” 

“Without lying? Did I lie to you when I told 
you — but why discuss it? Besides, I’m rather 
sleepy.” 

“I don’t say you lied to me, in words,” as¬ 
serted Johnny. “But you did as much when you 
143 


Wild Horses 

pretended you liked me well enough to marry me. 
You strung me along —” 

“Do you believe I ‘strung you along/ as you 
say?” 

Johnny clenched his hands. The sweat stood 
out on his flushed forehead. “No — damn it! I 
wish you had. Then I could forget.” 

Grace Percival rose and faced Johnny, the 
flame of pride in her cheeks, her little head held 
haughtily. “I did lie to you, when I allowed you 
to believe that I cared enough to marry you. 
And now I am paying for the lie — and I’ll pay 
the full price. Putting aside what you have done 
— and what you made me do, to-night, I am 
your prisoner. We will make a new beginning. 
You say you love me. Oh, yes, or you wouldn’t 
have made me come here after I showed you the 
telegram stating that my guardian was not ex¬ 
pected to live. And I please to stay here, to hu¬ 
mor your mood. I’ll not try to run away. I’ll 
stay. What are you going to do with me?” 

Johnny flung round and started toward the 
door. Yet the fascination of her personality was 
upon him like a net within which he might strug¬ 
gle, but from which he could never break free. 
He wanted to rush from her presence, to breathe 
the cool night air — 

“Johnny!” 

He turned toward her as she whispered his name. 

144 


Wild Horses 

“Johnny!” she whispered again. 

Defiantly he faced her, strode to her, his eyes 
burning into hers like the eyes of a desert wan¬ 
derer dying of thirst, yet knowing that the mirage 
is cheating his desire. She touched his sleeve. 
Her slender hand crept to his shoulder. All of 
herself was in her eyes, questioning, wondering, 
speaking a truth beyond the grace of word or ges¬ 
ture. Slowly she drew her veil from the table, 
stepped back from him, toyed with the soft, 
silken folds, crushed the veil in her hands, gazing 
at it unseeingly. 

“Strike me, or kill me,” she murmured, “but 
don’t act like a sullen brute.” 

Her mood changed. She smiled again. “If you 
really want to please me, tell me where I’ll find 
a brush and comb, and some soap, for the morn¬ 
ing.” 

“I got that — that satchel of yours from the 
buekboard,” stammered Johnny. 

Grace Percival remembered having seen Johnny 
hand something to the other man just before they 
began their long ride to the hills. She thought 
it significant that Johnny had been even that 
thoughtful of her, and she showed her appre¬ 
ciation in both tone and manner as she asked him 
to get the satchel for her. In a few minutes he re¬ 
turned with it and bade her a gruff good-night. 

Lopez, who had left the cabin after serving the 
145 


Wild Horses 

coffee, was sitting out by the corral, smoking. “I 
fix those bed,” he said, gesturing toward the edge 
of the timber back of the stable. 

“ Well, we might as well turn in,” said Johnny. 
“Fm going to light out early for Solano. I may 
be gone two, three days.” 

“Solano! I think if you go there you stay long 
time. They look for the hombre that make the 
hold-up, and you get catch.” 

“No. If I show up in Solano to-morrow, it will 
look better than if we both stayed away. Be¬ 
sides, they won’t be so likely to come up here. 
You are supposed to be in La Cienaga. Your job 
is to stick right here, cook the meals, and look af¬ 
ter the place. Whatever Miss Percival tells you 
to do, do it — but don’t saddle a horse for her. 
Sabe?” 

“Si. If those mans come —” 

“ Stand ’em off from the cabin if you can, but no 
shooting. If they find out, why, we’re up against 
it. Don’t talk. Just tell ’em you’re working for 
me, and to hunt me up and I’ll explain.” 

Lopez shook his head. He did not quite catch 
Johnny’s drift, yet he had explicit faith in his 
ability — and marksmanship. 

“I’m trusting you, Frank,” said Johnny. 

“I think I can only get kill once,” declared 
Lopez. 


146 


CHAPTER Xm 

“ You’ll be able to recognize me in that crowd,” said the cow- 
puncher, “because I’ll have my hands in my own pockets.” 
(From Gene Rhodes, “Cigarette Papers.”) 

S AMUEL PERCIVAL and his secretary 
Thompson, in the offices of Percival & Perci¬ 
val, of Chicago, were discussing a telegram from 
Antelope, Arizona. The telegram stated that 
Grace Percival would take the first available 
train for Chicago. 

“My little scheme worked,” declared Percival, 
swinging round in his desk-chair and rising heav¬ 
ily. “She’ll be pretty mad when she finds out 
there wasn’t any accident. But I had to do some¬ 
thing to get her back here. She simply ignored 
my recent letters telling her that it was abso¬ 
lutely necessary that she return. I tell you, Dick, 
we’re running too dam’ close to the edge on that 
Superior deal. We’ve got to get hold of more cap¬ 
ital, or we’ll wake up some fine morning in the 
pententiary. Grace has been away over a month, 
now, and every letter from her indicates that she 
doesn’t want to come back to this little old town. 
And, honest, I was getting lonesome.” 

“Your own fault, then,” said Thompson, a 
sallow, smooth-mannered, and exceedingly well- 
groomed individual. His dark eyebrows raised 
147 


Wild Horses 

slightly as Percival opened the safe and fetched 
out a squat bottle and glasses. Thompson de¬ 
clined the proffered drink with a gesture. “You 
drink too much, Sam.” 

“But I’m never drunk,” chuckled Percival. 
“Here’s a lone toast to little Grace with the high 
head. But I guess I’ve let the check-rein get a 
little slack, lately, eh?” 

“Yours?” 

“Can that! You don’t know a thing. Now 
would you imagine that Grace would fall so hard 
for that outdoor stuff, right after three years in 
Europe, and spending all kinds of money? I tell 
you, Dick, I made a mistake when I consented to 
her trip West. Why, she actually wants to stay 
out there in that cow-town six months! Says so. 
Maybe she likes the looks of some of those young 
Buffalo Bills out there. You can’t always tell.” 

“Sometimes it’s a good plan not to.” 

“That’s the big reason why you work for me, 
Dick.” Percival was plainly irritated by his sec¬ 
retary’s evident lack of sympathy. 

“And the big reason you are afraid to fire me,” 
said Thompson. “Put that bottle of Scotch back 
in the safe and come on and have dinner with me. 
I’m famished. It’s eight o’clock. I’ll get a time¬ 
table in the lobby. It’s about a day and a half 
from Antelope to Chicago, I believe.” 

“Just one more nip and I’m with you. I see 
148 


Wild Horses 

Quigley got his when Great Northerns broke to¬ 
day.” 

“Yes, the Hathaway bunch got him.” 

“Glad of it! Wish I’d been the one to knife 
him. And say, Dick, that little touch about my 
getting hurt on the way from Blake’s was a peach. 
Grace will believe that. I took her out to Blake’s 
once. She knows I like that joint. But it feels 
queer even to have somebody wire that you are 
dying. Gives me the Willies. I look like I was go¬ 
ing toicash in, don’t I?” 

“You carry too much fat — and your hand 
shakes,” said Thompson, impersonally. “But 
what’s the use talking to you?” 

“No use at all. Grace knows that. I do as I 
dam’ please, and I make money enough to pay 
the shot, and then some. And money, my boy, is 
the whole thing. And don’t you forget that little 
Grace knows it!” 

“Miss Percival can spend money,” said 
Thompson, smiling. 

“Spend it! You bet your sweet life! And 
that’s what’s worrying me, right now. She 
hasn’t drawn on her account since she left. Using 
her personal income. Something funny about 
that. She sent for her riding-togs. She’s going in 
for that simple life stuff. Tell you what, Dick, 
it’s time she got back. She might learn to enjoy 
herself without a bank-roll.” 

149 


Wild Horses 

“Or marry some rancher, and change the firm 
name of Percival & Percival. But you’ve got 
power of attorney — and if that Superior deal 
gets too heavy to swing — ” Thompson shrugged 
his shoulders. 

Samuel Percival replaced the squat bottle and 
glasses and closed the safe. He took his Panama 
hat from the desk. “If it gets too heavy, Grace 
will have to help us out. Now if she was my wife ” 

Percival gestured toward the northern windows 
“ I could hold that Superior stock until hell 
froze over the bunch that’s trying to put out my 
light. And if we can hold on another month, we 
can retire. If we can’t, we’ll be retired all right.” 

They made their way to the elevator. As it 
reached the street floor with a rush, Percival 
staggered and grasped Thompson’s arm. Thomp¬ 
son steadied him out to the street. Percival’s 
face was dead white and he gasped for breath. 

“Dam’ those express elevators,” he whispered. 

“ And a weak heart,” said Thompson. “ You’re 
racing your engine, Sam. Don’t forget that it’s 
August — and this is Chicago.” 

“Call a taxi. I’ll be all right in a minute.” 

Thompson glanced quickly at his employer, 
who had asked for a taxi when his own private 
car was standing almost directly in front of them, 
parked close to the high curb. He helped Percival 
in and took a seat beside him. 

150 


Wild Horses 

An hour later Percival and his secretary were 
dining in a fashionable cafe, scantily attended by 
guests on account of the season. Percival had re¬ 
covered from his dizziness and ate heartily. His 
secretary, who was tall, spare, and of an aus¬ 
tere inclination, dined with some regard for the 
weather — and his health. 

Twelve hours later Percival received a tele¬ 
gram from the sheriff of Antelope County, stating 
that the Solano stage had been held up near,Con- 
cho, and that Miss Percival, en route to Antelope, 
had disappeared. The wire stated further that a 
posse was already out, riding the country — that 
every effort was being made to find the lone ban¬ 
dit and Miss Percival. 

Samuel Percival, because of business necessity 
which demanded the presence of Grace Percival, 
or the failure of the firm, was more enraged than 
solicitous when he took the evening train for Kan¬ 
sas City and west. If he could talk with his ward, 
explain matters, he might be able to induce her 
to take some actual interest in the affairs of Per¬ 
cival & Percival. He could hardly believe there 
was not some mistake about her having been lost 
or kidnaped. He wired to Antelope from the 
train, directing the sheriff to spare no expense in 
locating the missing young woman. 


151 


CHAPTER XIV 

“Do you remember the camp we made in the noon of an idle day? 
The hot, white light and the velvet shade, with the world so far 
away, 

When the mesa wide to the ranges blue was a golden hush of 
space? 

You said no word, yet your eyes were true. Do you remember, 
Grace?” 

J OHNNY and Frank Lopez were up at day¬ 
break, watered the horses, and, without rec¬ 
ognizing their position as ludicrous, smoked and 
stared gloomily at the cabin. Under pressure of 
necessity, either man could and would have gone 
hours without food with no slightest hint of irri¬ 
tation betraying his hunger. But with provisions 
so near and yet so unavailable, a tantalizing 
hunger gnawed them, perversely increased by 
their mental attitude. They drank from the 
spring and obtained a brief satisfaction. The low 
morning sun blazed across the eastern tree-tops 
and flung slender golden shafts on the wet grass 
of the meadow. Lopez glanced furtively at John¬ 
ny’s sober countenance. He saw no sign of enter¬ 
prise there. 

“If it is that I go to the senorita, and say 
that you sick — and need the bacon and the 
coffee —” 

Johnny waved a negative to the suggestion. 

1 52 


Wild Horses 

“Then we wait,” declared Lopez philosophi¬ 
cally. 

They waited. It was Lopez who first noticed 
the thin thread of smoke curling up from the cabin 
stovepipe. He stared at this unexpected indica¬ 
tion of activity within the cabin. Johnny fol¬ 
lowed his gaze, his own face awakening with sur¬ 
prise. He had anticipated getting breakfast for 
all hands as soon as Grace Percival’s appearance 
made the undertaking possible. “Of course, 
she’s got to have warm water to wash with,” he 
muttered scornfully. 

A half-hour passed. The smoke from the stove¬ 
pipe ascended in puffs, and in greater volume. 
Presently the thin, enticing aroma of coffee crept 
insidiously out across the keen morning air. 
Johnny glanced at Lopez. Lopez glanced at 
Johnny. The senorita was not altogether help¬ 
less, then? Mingled with the fragrance of coffee 
was the more substantial tang of frying bacon. 
And it was not yet six o’clock! Ordinarily Grace 
Percival took breakfast between eight and nine. 

Presently a vision appeared on the cabin ve¬ 
randa; a slender being, golden-haired, fresh as the 
morning, graceful as the swaying of a young 
branch in the breeze. The cabin, the corral, and 
all the immediate surroundings became suddenly 
crude and primitive. Only the morning sunlight, 
framing the girl’s head in an aura of coppery gold, 
153 


Wild Horses 

seemed friendly to her presence — all else was 
harsh and nakedly austere. It was then that 
Johnny realized that the girl, though in the 
country, was not of it — could never be of it as 
he had wished her to be. She liked the great vis¬ 
tas, the horses, the untamed spaciousness of it all, 
yet as a spectator, not as a part of it. And it was 
then he felt his selfishness and recognized vaguely 
that he was playing a small game, and not the big 
game which he thought he had been playing. And 
he resented the wound he had given his own pride, 
and because of the sting of it he bridled and balked 
at the prospect of turning from his chosen trail. 

“Breakfast is ready,” called Grace Percival. 
Her voice was neither overly cordial, nor frigid, 
but rather conveyed a plain statement of fact. 
Johnny felt embarrassed. Lopez felt hungry. 
Like two boys called by their mother to the morn¬ 
ing table, they strode to the cabin. 

Already the homely interior had taken on a 
different aspect. An indescribable tidiness was 
apparent in the arrangement of the meager fur¬ 
nishings. Plates, cups, knives, and forks were 
in orderly array on the little table. Two chairs 
invited, and a box, up-ended, served as a third 
seat. Lopez wished the young lady a gallant 
good-morning. Johnny mumbled a greeting, and 
stood waiting until Grace Percival had fetched 
the bacon and coffee from the stove. When the 
154 


Wild Horses 

oven disclosed a pan of hot biscuits, Johnny was 
dumbfounded. He had not even dreamed that 
the girl from the city had any domestic ability. 
He could not imagine her helping herself. She 
had always been served by others. 

Without a trace of hesitancy she took her place 
at the table and ate of the coarse, substantial 
fare. Johnny’s face betrayed a new interest in 
the individuality of his self-appointed hostess. 
Her poise he took for granted, but the gracious¬ 
ness of her dignity rather awed him. And how 
completely her expressive eyes masked all expres¬ 
sion save a natural interest in the details of the 
meal. He could not believe that he had ever 
touched her hand, her lips. She seemed so ut¬ 
terly aloof from anything approaching friendly 
intimacy. He had imagined that he knew her. 
Now he realized that he had never known the real 
Grace Percival. His process of thought was not 
subtle, but intuitively direct. Nor could he know 
that he was falling in love with the real Grace 
Percival, and not with an ideal — a vision 
woman of fashionable gowns and social subtleties. 
He saw her as she was — a human being making 
the best of a difficult and rude situation without 
pose, without recourse to feminine wiles. She was 
beautiful. But what of that, now? She was real! 
She was — and he hesitated as he mentally 
framed the word — a thoroughbred! 

155 


Wild Horses 

Breakfast over, they rose. Lopez began to 
clear away the dishes. “I wash those dishes,” 
he declared. It was the first word spoken since 
they sat at table. 

“Then I’ll dry them,” said Grace Percival. 

“I’ll do that,” said Johnny. “Frank, will you 
catch up Chico for me? ” 

“Si! I catch him.” 

As Lopez left the cabin, Johnny turned to 
Grace Percival. “I’m going down to Solano,” he 
declared. “But first, I’m asking you if you will 
promise to marry me.” 

“No,” she replied quietly. “You should not 
ask me. Can’t you see —” 

Johnny interrupted with a gesture. “I don’t 
care when. I’ll wait, if you’ll just promise.” 

“And if I should promise — even while my 
guardian is dying in Chicago, and I am needed 
there — then I suppose you would say I could go ? ” 

“That’s what I would tell you.” 

“I can’t promise. But I can go. You will not 
hinder me if I ask to go.” 

“You’re fooling yourself about that.” 

“ No, I am not. But why are you going to Solano. 
Isn’t that an unnecessary risk, after last night?” 

Johnny hesitated and flushed. “Oh, I’m going 
on down just to see how folks take the news of the 
hold-up. I’m interested.” 

“When will you come back?” 

156 


Wild Horses 

“You asked me that question once before — 
remember? Well, this time I aim to come back in 
two, three days, if I have luck. Lopez will do 
what you tell him. You can trust him. Nobody 
knows you’re up here. When I get back I’m going 
to ask you the same question again.” 

“I suppose you realize what you are doing — 
what a position you have placed me in, because 
you love me?” 

“ I don’t count that. All that counts, is you, I 
ain’t good at arguing.” 

Grace Percival gazed at Johnny’s troubled face, 
her own eyes filled with the light of that familiar, < 
startled expression that both enraptured and 
enraged him. “Johnny,” she said softly, “do 
you hate me, or do you really love me?” 

“Both,” he replied hesitatingly, held to answer 
honestly by the sincerity of her voice, her manner. 

“Do you think I could live away up here, far 
from everybody and everything all my life? 
Can’t you see that as you are now, and as I am 
now, it would be a dreadful mistake for us to 
marry?” 

“I think you would be good at anything you 
tackled. But I didn’t think so until this morning.” 
“No?” 

Johnny nodded. “You set to and got that 
breakfast better than I could. You got all kinds 
of nerve to tackle anything. I know it, now. 

157 


Wild Horses 

Why, you would have rode that gray stallion if 
I’d let you. But I would never let you. I fetched 
him down, just to make good on what I promised. 
I would have turned him loose anyhow, later. I 
wasn’t going to try to make a real saddle-horse 
out of him. To tame him would have meant to 
kill him — and he sure belonged up here, running 
wild with the mares and colts. I wouldn’t have 
kept him, even if you had asked me to. That 
horse and I had a good battle. I couldn t break 
him right, ever. So he wins.” 

“Western standards?” and Grace Percival 
smiled. 

44 By God, no! Human standards — and I’m 
human, and so are you. And you’re going to 
marry me if it takes a hundred years!” 

44 1 wouldn’t be quite so — so attractive, in a 
hundred years, Johnny. 

44 That ain’t it,” declared Johnny. 44 At first it 
was your looks, and your way of saying things. 
But now it’s you . It don’t matter now what you 
say, or what you do. Mebby you don’t sabe 
what I mean, but you will.” 

And Johnny swung away abruptly and strode 
from the cabin. He dared not stay longer. He 
felt that he would have taken her in his arms, 
that he would have kissed her, held her close to 
him. Because he actually loved her, he did not. 
Yet he did not know why he had turned away. 

158 


Wild Horses 

With a word to Lopez, Johnny swung to the 
saddle and set out across the meadow, without a 
word, a gesture, or a glance of farewell. Grace 
Percival, standing in the doorway, watched him 
until he had disappeared within the far edge of 
the timber. Her heart held no scorn for him, no 
rebuke, but rather the pity of a mother for a 
wayward son. She saw clearly. And because she 
saw clearly, she knew that she could never be to 
him the woman that he thought she w^as. 

When Lopez came and found her washing the 
dishes, he tried to make her understand that it 
was his work, but she shook her head as she 
cleaned plate and cup, knife and fork; so he took 
the dish-towel and dried the things clumsily, 
pleased with his unaccustomed task because of 
the companionship of a beautiful young woman, 
to him little less than a saint and considerably 
more, viewed from another angle. 

Presently they were in the sunshine, Grace 
Percival seated on the edge of the narrow cabin 
veranda, and Lopez, his back against the logs of 
the cabin wall, smoking a cigarette and gesturing 
as he told her of the capture and the breaking of 
the gray stallion. 

“But why,” said Grace Percival as Lopez con¬ 
cluded, “did Johnny Trent try to break the 
horse when he knew he couldn’t be tamed?” 

Lopez shrugged his broad shoulders. “Quien 
159 


Wild Horses 

sabe? Johnny is like that. And I think he is learn 
something from those horse. But Juan, he don’ 
go what you say, tame.” Pausing, Lopez glanced 
across the wide meadow, his keen eyes catching a 
movement among the distant trees. He touched 
his lips with his finger. Grace Percival followed 
the direction of his eyes. She saw something 
emerge from the dark edge of the forest like a 
silver shadow. Then followed another moving 
shadow, and another. “Why,” she whispered, 
“they are horses. They are —” 

“What you say, wild. Si! Now they go — 
quick!” 

The girl recognized the gray stallion by his 
color and poise. Even as she stared, the band 
halted, their heads lifted, and the shrill challenge 
of the stallion rippled across the still air. A flash 
and flicker of tossing manes and the band 
swung and disappeared within the dusk of the 
forest. Grace Percival sighed. The strange, 
primordial ecstasy passed. The unreal became 
real. Lopez was smiling. Past the opening of his 
shirt collar she saw the raw, red welt of a freshly 
healed wound. Blue flowers nodded in the 
meadow grass as a light breeze ran out across the 
clearing and, hesitating, became lost in the hush 
of the uplands. 


CHAPTER XV 

“With little to gain and much to lose. 

And a dozen trails from which to choose, 

The men of the mesas framed a plan, 

To sit and wait for the hunted man.” 

D ROPPING down from the high country to 
the ranchland around Solano, Johnny Trent 
jogged along, greeting an occasional rancher with 
a gesture or a brief word. Cutting across the un¬ 
fenced acres near town, he tied his horse at the 
rail in front of Baker’s store. Nodding to the 
clerk who was hosing down the store platform, 
Johnny entered the store and found Baker in his 
office opening the mail. Baker’s manner was ex¬ 
ceptionally formal as he glanced over his specta¬ 
cles at Johnny and gestured significantly toward 
the office door. Johnny closed it and returned to 
the desk. 

“I suppose you’ve heard the news?” said 
Baker. 

Johnny shook his head. 

Baker gave him a recent issue of 4 ‘The Antel¬ 
ope News.” The front page was headlined with 
two leading articles — the recent stage hold-up 
and the new oil project in the Petrified Forest. 
“All kinds of excitement,” declared Johnny. 
161 


Wild Horses 

“The oil people don’t take it away from folks so 
quick, but they get more of it. But you can’t 
believe everything you read.” 

“I’d hate to,” said Baker, “especially as they 
mention your name in connection with the hold¬ 
up.” 

“Yes, I noticed that. The paper says Old 
Henry thought he recognized my voice. Funny 
what queer ideas some folks get when they have 
a little age on them. Have they found out what 
has become of Miss Percival yet?” 

“No. There’s a posse out from Antelope. I 
understand they’re working this way.” 

“Thanks, Mr. Baker: but that needn’t worry 
you any.” 

Baker, who had been casually glancing at his 
mail while he talked, swung round and faced 
Johnny. Baker’s round, ruddy face was stern, 
his manner peremptory. “Why did you do it, 
Johnny?” 

Johnny laughed. “So you fell in line with the 
rest of the Solano hay-tossers, eh? I reckon 
everybody on the flat is saying that Johnny Trent 
has turned outlaw and run off with that city 
woman. Well, Baker, you’re a special deputy 
sheriff, and a game warden. I’m here. Bring on 
your bear-dogs.” 

“Johnny, why did you do it?” 

“Well, judge, if I had done it, I might give you 
162 


Wild Horses 

two, three reasons. But you ain’t produced any 
evidence, yet.” 

“No. But I can put two and two together —” 

“That makes a crowd. Make it one and one.” 

“Besides,” continued Baker, “I know you. 
You’re not the same boy that bossed the road 
gang this summer.” 

“You said it! I’m a hundred years older.” 

“And if you choose to run wild — you know 
the finish.” 

Johnny waved a negative. “I don’t figure to 
move a foot. All I came for was for the pay that’s 
owing to me, and to settle my board-bill with Mrs. 
Johnson. I aim to stay in town two, three days. 
And seeing that you’re a friend of mine, you 
might wire the posse that I’m here and I’ll wait 
— but tell ’em to come heeled.” 

“A posse is usually heeled, John.” 

“And I’ve seen some of ’em fore-footed.” 

Baker turned back to his desk. “I had figured 
you as straight,” he said feelingly, as he penciled 
a reckoning of Johnny’s time on the road work. 
Baker made out a check and turned toward 
Johnny. 

“You don’t need to wear out your pencil figur¬ 
ing I ain’t straight,” said Johnny, ignoring the 
check. “I never robbed a man of a cent, cheated 
a Mexican, or lied to a woman. I wonder if some 
of the storekeepers in Arizona can say that? 

163 


Wild Horses 

’Course, I’ve done some horse-trading — but 
that’s like running a store; the buyer’s got to take 
what you give him, and he’s lucky if it runs 
twelve to the dozen.” 

“Here’s your check,” said Baker. “You asked 
me for a job, once, riding for me, down on The 
Blue. I can use you, right away, if you want to 
go to work.” 

“Thanks, I can’t tie up with you, just now. 
Anyway, ain’t it against the rules to hire an out¬ 
law?” 

“Suit yourself,” said Baker brusquely. “But 
if I were in your boots, I’d ride south — and keep 
going. And that’s the last word I’ve got to say.” 

“Ain’t a bad idea, at that. But I got my home¬ 
stead up in the hills to look after. And do you 
think I’m going to let a two-page newspaper run 
me out of the country? Not this morning!” 

“Seen Lopez, lately?” queried Baker. 

“Yes. He’s up to my place, looking after the 
stock.” 

“Did you just come from there?” 

“Sure! That’s where I live.” 

Baker turned back to his desk, shook his head, 
fumbled with the mail. Johnny jingled out of the 
store, crossed to Mrs. Johnson’s, and, after a 
brief visit with that good woman — who assured 
him that she did not believe a single word that 
the papers had printed about him — he paid his 
164 


Wild Horses 

bill and departed, riding down the long gray 
road that led to Concho and beyond. Mrs. John¬ 
son had said that she was dreadfully worried 
about Miss Percival’s disappearance. Yet Mrs. 
Johnson was even more worried about Johnny 
Trent’s appearance, shrewdly aware that he wsls 
in trouble, the cause of which she would not 
even allow herself to imagine. 

Distressed by the hard look in Johnny’s eyes, 
Mrs. Johnson made it her business, shortly after 
he left, to interview Baker. Mrs. Johnson had re¬ 
course to no subtleties. “ Johnny is in trouble,” 
she said, in the seclusion of Baker’s office. Baker 
nodded. Mrs. Johnson was not pleased by so cas¬ 
ual an acceptance of her declaration. “Maybe 
you know more about it than I do,” continued 
Mrs. Johnson. “But I didn’t come over here to 
find out, and I don’t suppose there’s anything 
that I can do to help. If there is, I’d like to 
know it.” 

“Johnny didn’t seem to want any advice or 
help,” declared Baker. 

“Of course he didn’t! What he needs now, is 
friends! You got money, Baker, and you got in¬ 
fluence. You’re the big man of this county. You 
think Johnny Trent held up that stage. I can see 
it in your eye. Now I know Johnny wouldn’t do 
a thing like that. I wouldn’t be surprised if that 
Percival woman was living right in Concho, or 
165 


Wild Horses 

Antelope, and just letting the papers make a 
sensation about her. Them society folks will do 
anything to get their name in the paper. Why, 
the idea of Johnny Trent kidnaping her! He —” 

“Did he?” 

Mrs. Johnson did her best to control her 
temper. “No matter what he did, he’s got a 
home as long as I can keep a roof over my 
head.” 

“I tried to talk to him —” began Baker. 

Mrs. Johnson sniffed. “Talk to him! If I was 
a man, I would saddle a horse and ride out there 
where he’s gone. And if he was up to some devil¬ 
try, I’d stay right with him no matter what hap¬ 
pened. If he wasn’t, I’d just keep him company 
and say nothing. That boy is having a big fight 
with himself, Baker, or I don’t know a cabbage 
from a squash.” 

Mrs. Johnson departed abruptly, and in the 
seclusion of her room wept silently, dried her 
tears, and felt better. Baker, for some reason or 
other, felt decidedly uncomfortable. 

Riding slowly across the mesas, Johnny Trent 
communed with himself and was not pleased with 
the result. Johnny’s mental attitude was some¬ 
what like that of a small boy who, having wan¬ 
tonly broken a window in an abandoned house, 
because the original owner had been considered 
an enemy, stoops for another stone, yet hesitates 
166 


Wild Horses 

to justify the success of his first misdemeanor by 
breaking another window merely for the sake of 
hearing the glass tinkle. 

Baker knew that he had held up the Solano 
stage — knew it with an absolute conviction re¬ 
quiring no evidence — and this irritated Johnny, 
even as the small boy is irritated when accused 
of window-breaking, knowing that no one actu¬ 
ally saw him throw the stone. Too intent upon 
appearing casual under Baker’s honest eyes, 
Johnny failed to see, or refused to see, the stout 
little storekeeper’s real purpose in accusing him 
of the crime. As it was, Baker, his daughter Ju¬ 
lia, whom Johnny had deliberately avoided, Mrs. 
Johnson, even Frank Lopez, were as vague fig¬ 
ures in a background against which Grace Perci- 
val stood revealed as the one exquisite allure¬ 
ment, the being round which his every thought 
was shaped. Yet he was quite aware that the 
horsemen who were coming toward him were 
members of a posse; that he was the man they 
were searching for, and that in a few minutes he 
would meet them. They were from Antelope, 
and none among them knew him. The chief 
asked Johnny a few questions about the sur¬ 
rounding country and was about to ride on, when 
Johnny informed him that Baker was expecting 
a posse — that the storekeeper had mentioned it 
to him just before he left Solano. 

167 


Wild Horses 

“Know anything about this man Trent?” 
queried the chief deputy. 

“Oh, I heard he was mixed up in the stage- 
robbery that everybody is talking about. He 
hangs around Solano a whole lot.” 

“Seen him lately?” 

“Why, he was in, talking to Baker, about an 
hour ago. He didn’t seem worried a whole lot.” 

“Well, there’s five thousand reward for him, 
and five thousand more for the man that finds 
where that young lady from Chicago is. Might 
pay you to keep your eye peeled.” 

“Thanks. I’ll do that. You can save time by 
cutting straight across the mesa toward those 
cottonwoods. So-long.” 

Johnny continued along the Concho road for 
an hour, then turned and cut across the mesa to¬ 
ward Solano. He had ridden out of town with no 
definite intent, save that he did not wish to be in 
Solano when the posse arrived. And he returned 
to Solano because his presence there might deter 
them from riding up to his homestead. Baker 
was the big man in Solano and the deputies 
would naturally look to him for information. 
But first they would put up their horses and have 
supper. Johnny took his time, riding slowly. He 
entered town through the Mexican quarter, and 
turned his horse into Lopez’s corral. He had sup¬ 
per with Mrs. Lopez and her five unusually silent 
168 


Wild Horses 

children. It was seldom that a guest sat at their 
table. After supper Johnny gave Mrs. Lopez a 
twenty-dollar bill — more money than her hus¬ 
band had ever given her from his earnings — and 
assured her that Frank was in good health and 
would return to his own fireside before long. 
About eight, that evening, Johnny sent the eldest 
Lopez youngster over to Baker’s for some to¬ 
bacco and cigarette papers. The store usually 
closed at six. The boy returned with the tobacco 
and all the candy he could purchase for two-bits, 
and told his mother that some big men with guns 
were in the store talking to the patron in that lit¬ 
tle room where he kept all his money. Johnny 
stepped out, and as a precaution saddled his 
horse and left him tied outside the corral. Keep¬ 
ing within the shadows he skirted the town and 
made his way to the high-fenced yard back of 
Baker’s. The big double gate fronting the alley 
was locked. Johnny jumped, caught the top, and 
swung over. He made his way cautiously among 
the crates, boxes, and barrels, toward the lighted 
window of the office. The window was heavily 
barred, but the wooden shutters were open. The 
back door was closed. Johnny crept up, keeping 
out of the light, and seated himself directly un¬ 
der the window on the ground. He heard the 
clink of glasses and Baker’s voice reproving some 
one for declining a second glass of the best 
169 


Wild Horses 

whiskey in town. Because of the high desk back 
from the window, Johnny could not see the per¬ 
sons whom Baker was entertaining; but he could 
hear distinctly, and it was not long before he rec¬ 
ognized the voice of the deputy who had talked 
with him on the Concho road. He was asking 
questions about water, trails, and grazing. Bak¬ 
er’s answers were direct and comprehensive. 
Johnny experienced a peculiar thrill when one of 
the men mentioned his name and asked where he 
was supposed to live. And he heard Baker de¬ 
scribe the homestead and the way to it with what 
seemed to be painstaking accuracy. Then the 
chief deputy, with a casual drawl, asked who this 
man Trent was and what kind of an hombre was 
he, anyway? 

“A pretty lively boy,” was Baker’s reply. 

“Heard that, in Antelope. But what kind of a 
reputation has he got in this section? ” 

“The best in the world. He worked for me this 
summer, and he can’t be beat when it comes to 
handling men.” 

“Now that’s curious!” said another voice. 
“We got it that he was kind of a wild bird. You 
say he was in town this afternoon?” 

“ Yes. He came in to see me and I gave him his 
pay. He said he would be in town two or three 
days. I haven’t seen him this evening.” 

“Bluff, most likely,” said the chief deputy. * 
170 


Wild Horses 

“Perhaps. I advised him to ride south, and 
keep going,” declared Baker. 

“Knowing we was on our way here? Well, 
Baker, that ain’t what I’d call friendly to Uncle 
Sam. There’s a deputy United States marshal on 
the job, right now. ’Course he ain’t after any re¬ 
ward money.” There was a pause, which Johnny 
interpreted as a gentle insinuation that the posse 
was after the money as well as the man. Then 
the voice in the office continued: “But you had a 
right to tell young Trent to vamose — at that. 
You must have figured he done the job, or you 
wouldn’t have advised him to pull his freight.” 

“I didn’t want to see him get into trouble, 
whether he did the job or not,” declared Baker. 
“You see, he’ll be a hard man to handle if he’s 
cornered. Now, question for question. What 
evidence have you that Johnny Trent held up 
the Solano stage?” 

“ Why, Old Henry says he recognized his voice. 
Then, it seems that this man Trent and that 
young woman from Chicago knew each other 
pretty well. It was a queer deal —his making 
away with the woman and not making any play 
to rob the mail.” 

“Queer enough. And when it comes to a show¬ 
down, I wonder if the Government or the county 
has a case against him. As I understand it, some¬ 
body stopped the stage between here and Con- 
171 


Wild Horses 

cho, told Old Henry to climb down along with 
Miss Percival, and then ordered Old Henry to get 
back in the rig again. Something frightened the 
team and they started to run, with Old Henry in 
the rig and the young woman standing beside the 
road. When Henry and the Concho constable 
went back to look for Miss Percival she had dis¬ 
appeared. The inference is that she was kidnaped 
by the bandit. But there seems to be no evidence 
that his intention was to rob the mail, or inter¬ 
fere with it in any way, or rob either the driver 
or the passenger. Besides, I understand from Old 
Henry that the highwayman did not molest him, 
or even lay a finger on him or the contents of the 
stage. Technically, Miss Percival was a passenger 
on the Solano stage. The revenue derived from 
passengers reverts to me as the owner of the stage 
line. The passenger business is incidental to car¬ 
rying the mail. As owner of the stage line I am 
personally responsible for the safety of passen¬ 
gers, and for the safe delivery of the mail. Even 
suppose you did arrest Johnny Trent, it would be 
a difficult matter to prove that he held up the 
stage, and you could hardly prove that he robbed 
the mail or the passengers. I am trying to view 
the matter impersonally. By the way, did you 
pick up any tracks down around Concho?” 

“That’s the worst of it!” declared another 
voice. “We cut sign that said three hosseswas 
172 


Wild Horses 

used in the hold-up, and we trailed ’em clean to 
the flats south of Concho. That storm that hit 
us just after we left Antelope washed out the 
tracks on the flats. Never did pick ’em up again.” 

“Then you think that the highwaymen rode 
south from Concho?” 

“Started south. Maybe swung off east or 
west, later.” 

“Three horses?” 

“Yes.” 

“Then,” queried Baker, “which one of the 
three held up the stage? Old Henry says one man 
did, and he thinks he recognized Johnny Trent’s 
voice.” 

“Well,” came the voice of the chief deputy, 
“somebody did. Just what does this young 
Trent look like, anyhow?” 

Johnny, squatting beneath the window, felt 
considerable interest in the reply. Would Baker 
describe him fairly — and his horse? Or would 
he try to mislead the posse with a false descrip¬ 
tion. Baker’s answer was deliberate and ac¬ 
curate. 

“Why,” said the deputy, “we met a quiet- 
spoken young hombre on the way over, that fills 
your description to the muzzle! And he was 
ridin’ a little bay cow-hoss with a white star in 
his forehead, and one white foot. Now if that 
was young Trent —” 


173 


Wild Horses 

“Might have been,” said Baker. “He’s not 
the kind to cut and run just because of a little 
dust. He’s young, but don’t you make any mis¬ 
take about his being full-grown. I’d hate to see 
any of you boys get hurt.” 

“I’ll take a chance — for five thousand,” de¬ 
clared a voice. 

Johnny edged from beneath the window and 
rising made for the back fence. Presently he 
was knocking at Old Henry Watkins’s door. 
That he rapped on the door with the muzzle 
of his six-shooter is merely a matter of record. 
Possibly he didn’t want to get any slivers in his 
knuckles. It was the lay-over day for the stage. 
The old man was not at the cantina. Johnny 
had investigated the cantina. 

Old Henry, in undershirt, pants, and stock¬ 
inged feet, answered the summons. His eye¬ 
glasses were pushed up on his forehead. He had 
been proudly perusing “The Antelope News” 
and regaling himself with the account of the 
hold-up, in which he was described as “a splendid 
example of the coolness and courage which 
marked that fast-disappearing type, the old 
frontiersman, who, although in the sere and yel¬ 
low, and enfeebled by weight of years and a life¬ 
long battle with the elements, still clung to the 
noble traditions of the historic past.” It sounded 
good to Old Henry, although he disliked the 
174 


Wild Horses 

word 44 yellow” and the only 64 sere” he knew 
about was the 44 sear 55 in the mechanism of a 
six-shooter. 

44 1 want you to come over to Baker’s with me,” 
said Johnny, and because Old Henry seemed so 
utterly amazed at this mild request, Johnny 
punctuated the sentence with the muzzle of his 
gun. 44 And don’t yip, or I’ll just naturally drill 
you,” continued Johnny. 44 Never mind your 
boots. Don’t worry about your feet. It’s your 
head you want to think about. Come on!” 

Old Henry stammered and stuttered and 
boiled internally, but, as on a similar occasion, he 
recognized a business man when he heard his 
voice. 

Johnny escorted Old Henry across the street 
and deviously round to the back of Baker’s store. 
Old Henry protested that the grit hurt his feet — 
but he kept on going. 44 And now you can step up 
and knock, and Baker will ask you what you 
want. Tell him you have something important 
to unload, and he’ll let you in. I’ll be right 
behind you. It’ll be dark, but he'll recognize your 
voice .” 

Old Henry groaned. He was paying a heavy 
price for 44 The Antelope News” eulogy. Wrath 
and helplessness made him groan — not fear. 
He proved an expert pupil under the tuition of 
that peremptory instructor Mr. Colt. 

175 


Wild Horses 

He rapped on the back door. “I want to see 
you a minute, Mr. Baker,” he quavered. 

“That you, Henry?” 

“Yes, it’s me.” 

“All right,” came Baker’s voice. Footsteps 
sounded on the board floor as the storekeeper 
strode across the office. The spring lock clicked. 

“Somethin’ mighty important,” declared Old 
Henry as Baker opened the door. Old Henry’s 
unconventional attire substantiated the state¬ 
ment. He stepped into the room, blinking in the 
strong light. 

“It’s all right,” said Baker as Old Henry 
stared round at the posse. “ Glad you came over. 
The boys here may want to ask you a few ques¬ 
tions about —” 

“Johnny Trent,” said Johnny as he stepped in 
and shoved Old Henry to one side. Johnny’s 
right arm lay on the top of the high desk. Beyond 
it sat the four horsemen whom he had met that 
afternoon. The four horsemen stared intently at 
Johnny’s right hand, the thumb and forefinger 
of which were held in a technically correct posi¬ 
tion on trigger and hammer. Crystal-gazing 
isn’t in it with the hypnotic influence of the 
polished ring surrounding the bore of an ade¬ 
quate six-gun. “Lay ’em on the desk — one at a 
time,” invited Johnny, and the four horsemen 
accepted the invitation with a quiet alacrity that 
176 


Wild Horses 

was eloquent of former experiences, similar and 
sad. Not that they were fear-driven. They were 
simply sensible, and wished to live a few years 
longer. The four members of the posse, rosy with 
good liquor and the heat of the evening, retired 
from the desk with their eight hands aloft as 
though feeling for that old, proverbial clothesline 
invisible to the average eye. 

“Sit down,” said Johnny, with genial intona¬ 
tion. “You, too, Baker.” 

The posse resumed their chairs, and sighed as 
one man. This young Trent was exceedingly 
business-like and bland. His nerves were under 
control. An indescribable directness of purpose 
emanated from him like the steady heat from a 
steam radiator that may not look hot, but is. It 
was evident to the posse that he was a good work¬ 
man in this special line, and whatever he did he 
would not bungle. Inversely, the posse decided, 
as one man, that they wouldn’t, either. 

Johnny gestured to Baker to sit down. “Sorry 
to break up the meeting, Mr. Baker, but she’s 
broke. And” — Johnny turned his head slightly 
— “if any of you goats think I’m kidding, just 
butt in — and I’ll do the rest. Mr. Baker, you’re 
foreman of this jury. Henry, you can take the 
stand — and keep standing. Me — I aim to play 
both lawyers. All you man-chasers got to do is to 
listen. If your ear itches, don’t scratch it. I’m 
177 


Wild Horses 

feeling kind of suspicious, to-night. All set to go? 
Well, I’m Johnny Trent, post-office, Solano, 
Arizona, general delivery. White, unmarried, 
and in my right mind. Age and politics none of 
your dam’ business. Now we’ll open the toma¬ 
toes.” 

Baker, naturally resenting this intrusion from 
a social standpoint, if for no other reason, eyed 
Johnny sternly. “ Trent, this is a mighty serious 
matter — forcing entrance to a man’s private 
office under arms, and disarming and insulting 
officers of the law.” 

“You’re right,” said Johnny. “It’s serious, or 
I wouldn’t be here. Just how serious depends on 
just how quiet your friends keep. As for forcing 
my way in, you’re wrong. Henry Watkins here 
asks to get in, and you let him. He could have 
told you I was with him. You can settle that 
with Henry. Push your chair back from the 
desk, Mr. Baker. Now let’s start right. I’m the 
man that the papers say held up the stage down 
near Concho, recent, when a lady, riding on the 
stage, disappeared and ain’t been heard of since. 
That’s what the papers say. I was outside, 
under the window, listening to what you deputies 
had to say to Baker, and what he said to you, 
quite a spell before I invited Henry to step in 
and tell his story. My name was mentioned fre¬ 
quent, and, judging by what you all said, you 
173 


Wild Horses 

gentlemen came down here to Solano to see what 
I look like. Well, take a good look. Now I’m 
going to ask Henry a few questions. He can 
answer, or not, just as he sees fit. Henry, did you 
tell the sheriff in Antelope that I held you up?” 

Old Henry gazed at the deputies, then at 
Baker, who nodded. “Not first off,” said Henry. 
“ I said first, somebody held me up. Then I got to 
thinkin’, and I said to Sheriff Hawley that I 
thought I recognized your voice when you ast 
me if I had any cash on the stage.” 

“You thought you recognized my voice? Was 
it dark when this hold-up was pulled off?” 

“Middlin’ dark. I could see as fur as the 
horses’ heads.” 

“Could you describe the horse the bandit 
rode?” 

“Well, not exact. Kind of a dark hoss, rnebby 
a bay or a sorrel.” 

“Or a buckskin, or chestnut, or a dark gray?” 
Johnny nodded encouragingly to the chief wit¬ 
ness. 

“Might ’a’ been. It was middlin’ dark.” 

“And your eyesight is middling poor. Could 
you see the bandit’s face?” 

“Nope. When he come up dost I seen he had 
somethin’ over his face — a handkerchief, or 
somethin’.” 

“How was he dressed?” 

179 


Wild Horses 

“Like any puncher — shirt and pants and 
boot and hat.” 

“So all you had to go by was his voice?” 

“Not first off. Later, I got to think his voice 
sounded mighty like yourn. And seem’ as how 
you made that young woman git down from the 
rig, kind of like you was acquainted, I knowed 
you and her was friends.” 

“Would you go on the witness stand and 
swear that I was the man that held you up?” 

Old Henry fidgeted, combed his beard with his 
bony fingers, gazed helplessly at the posse, at 
Baker, at Johnny’s face, and then his eyes took 
on a crafty expression. “You’re forcin’ me to 
talk, at the point of a gun. That ain’t like it 
would be in a law court.” 

“All right! Now I’m giving my word, with 
Baker to witness, that you can say anything you 
like, and I won’t lift a finger to harm you, now, or 
later. What I want to know is — would you go 
on the witness stand and swear that I held you 
up, just because you thought you recognized my 
voice?” 

“I told Sheriff Hawley that I thought it was 
your voice,” said Old Henry weakly. 

“And you imagined the rest, eh?” 

Old Henry bristled, recalling his struggle with 
the runaway team. “It was no imaginin’ about 
my bosses dog-gone near ditchin’ me and the 
180 


Wild Horses 

whole outfit. And it wasn’t no imaginin’ when 
me and the constable come back and looked for 
that young woman, and she wan’t there.” 

“Could you prove to a jury that the woman 
didn’t fall out of the rig when your horses ran 
away?” 

“I sure could! She was standin’ alongside the 
road when I dumb in, and you — er — the 
hold-up — hits the off hoss with his quirt, and 
we started north on the jump.” 

“Did you have hold of the reins?” 

“ Nope — dog-gone it! I didn’t git holt of them 
reins till we hit the turn goin’ into Concho.” 

“Then you were pretty busy trying to stop the 
team?” 

“I can take my oath to that!” 

“Then, seeing it was dark, and you were busy 
trying to stop the horses, how do you know your 
passenger wasn’t on the seat beside you and was 
thrown out? ” 

“They was nobody in the seat when the team 
started,” declared Old Henry. 

“I thought you said you were?” 

Old Henry combed his beard rapidly. “ ’Course 
I was settin’ in the seat, or how could I’d stopped 
the team?” 

Johnny gestured. “Stand over there, Henry. 
Now one of you members of this here jury tie a 
handkerchief over your face and step behind the 
181 


Wild Horses 

desk and stoop down so the witness can’t see you. 
What? Contempt of court? I’d ask you, Mr. 
Baker, only Henry knows your voice.” 

“You can’t prove anything by that method,” 
declared Baker. 

“I’m going to,” asserted Johnny. 

“That’s all right,” said the chief deputy, will¬ 
ing to do as Johnny requested, thinking that he 
might trap him into some careless admission of 
his guilt. He tied a bandanna over his mouth and 
nose and stood up. Johnny reached over the desk 
and pushed the roll-top down. The catch clicked. 
The deputies’ guns were in a safe place for the 
present. With his left hand Johnny pulled up the 
bandanna on his own neck until it covered his 
nose and mouth. “ Don’t anybody make a move, 
or he’ll need a coroner and a couple of shovels,” 
advised Johnny as he stepped behind the desk 
with the chief deputy. They stooped. Then from 
behind the desk came a voice. “ Tell the court 
what you want the prisoner to say.” 

Old Henry hesitated. Then, “Say, ‘Put up 
your hands.’” 

“Put up your hands,” came in muffled tones 
from behind the desk. 

“That was him!” exclaimed Old Henry. “I’d 
know his voice anywhere.” 

“Whose voice?” queried Johnny, and he and 
the deputy came from behind the desk. 

182 


Wild Horses 

“Why, yourn! I could tell it in a minute!” 

“You slipped up on that,” declared the dep¬ 
uty. “I did all the talking.” 

Old Henry stammered, swore, vowed that he 
had been tricked. He babbled along, like an 
idler pulley on a shaft, but no one paid any atten¬ 
tion to him. 

Johnny backed slowly toward the rear door. 

And now what do you think a smart lawyer 
would do to your chief witness, if you took me to 
Antelope to stand trial?” he queried sharply. 
“I don’t want trouble with any of you folks, but 
I aim to stay right here in Solano till I get ready 
to leave. If you think you want to take me in on 
the evidence you got, come over to the cantina 
and get me. Only, get Baker to give you your 
guns — for you’ll need ’em!” 

Johnny reached behind him and opened the 
door. He lowered his gun-hand, knowing that 
the unarmed posse would hardly risk rushing 
him. 

Then his hand came up like a flash of light. 
The roar of the heavy gun and darkness were all 
but instantaneous. 

In the succeeding silence some one struck a 
match. 

“The son-of-a-gun shot the light out!” ex¬ 
claimed one of the deputies. 

“No,” said Baker, turning on a side-light near 
183 


Wild Horses 

the door. “He nipped the wire. I’ve always 
understood he was a pretty fair shot.” 

The shaded bulb which had hung above 
Baker’s desk lay in fragments on the office floor, 
with a scant foot of cord attached to the socket. 
The deputies, Baker, and Old Henry gazed at the 
dangling wire above the desk. 

Baker turned to his visitors. “He said he’d be 
at the cantina, this evening. He’ll be there. He 
said he expected to stay in Solano two or three 
days. He’ll stay. And while it is none of my 
business why or how he leaves, I don’t believe 
anything will be gained by trying to hurry him.” 

“Baker,” said the chief deputy, “did you 
frame this little party? It looks like you were 
pretty strong for this young Trent.” 

“I’ll accept that as a compliment, as you are 
my guests. No, I didn’t frame it. I couldn’t have 
done better, though. Perhaps Henry can en¬ 
lighten you.” 

Old Henry shook his head like a dog with a 
burr in its ear. “If Johnny Trent didn’t hold up 
the stage and run off with that young woman, 
nobody did.” 

“If he did, he’s just slick enough to get out of 
it,” declared the chief deputy. “That boy ain’t 
naturally bad. He’s just wild.” 

“But that don’t explain about the missin’ 
woman,” said a deputy. 

184 


Wild Horses 

“If he don’t know where she is, nobody does,” 
declared Old Henry. 

“You might ask him,” suggested the chief. 
“He might recognize your voice.” Old Henry 
glared at the posse. 

“If you are at all unsatisfied about my posi¬ 
tion,” said Baker, restraining a tendency to 
resent the chief deputy’s insinuation, “here are 
your guns.” 

Baker unlocked the roll-top desk. “Johnny 
Trent hasn’t left town. He’s at the cantina. He 
said he’d wait for you. Nothing could be fairer 
than that.” 

The chief shook his head. 

“I ain’t so sure young Trent is the man we 
want,” he declared, glancing at his compan¬ 
ions. “Mr. Watkins kind of weakened on his 
evidence.” 

Old Henry blinked and combed his beard. 
“Mebby he ain’t,” said Old Henry, arching his 
shaggy eyebrows like the village preacher who 
accepts a premise with intent to subtly contro¬ 
vert it, “but he would make a pert little sub¬ 
stitute, wouldn’t he?” 

“You talk like he was a friend of yours,” said 
the chief. 

“I ain’t so durned sure he ain’t,” asserted Old 
Henry. “And seein’ as how you let him slip 
through your fingers after I done fetched him 
185 


Wild Horses 

over here, I’m through givin’ evidence ag’in’ him. 
You can help yourself to the chile.” 

“ You fetched him over!” snorted the chief. 

“He come over with me, didn’t he?” Old 
Henry arched his eyebrows again. 

The deputy turned toward Baker. “We’ll use 
your corral. It’s handier than the livery. And 
thanks — for the whiskey. See you in the 
morning.” 

The posse decided to remain in Solano for a 
day or so, to rest tired horses and incidentally 
keep an eye on the movements of Johnny Trent. 
The chief was not at all sure that Johnny was 
innocent of holding up the stage. Johnny had 
shown himself capable, nervy, and a good shot. 
Later, when it became generally known that the 
posse was in Solano for the purpose of shadowing 
Johnny, public feeling veered from dubious head- 
shakings of suspicion toward outspoken friendli¬ 
ness for him, whose presence in town attested his 
innocence. Moreover, Johnny had always been 
popular. Solano was not pleased that officers 
from Antelope should camp in its peaceful pre¬ 
serves. Tribal instinct came to the surface. The 
old primordial hatred of law in evidence on the 
streets seethed in the simple hearts of Solano 
folk. While an individual may like and respect a 
policeman, the mob does not. The deputies were 
fed and housed at Mrs. Johnson’s; and while 
186 


Wild Horses 

Mrs. Johnson scorned them and their mission, 
they were treated with courtesy so unusual that 
they suspected that good woman of concealing a 
method beneath her mildness. Otherwise, and 
abroad in Solano, they were left strictly to their 
own devices. 


187 


CHAPTER XVI 

“When in Rome, let the other fellow do the talking.” (From 
Gene Rhodes, “Cigarette Papers.”) 

S AMUEL PERCIVAL’S arrival in Antelope 
caused no visible excitement, in fact hardly 
rippled the slow current of Antelope’s placid 
existence. Mr. Percival, of Chicago, interviewed 
the editor of the local paper, who, after a brief 
conversation with the broker, concluded that the 
latter was not worth the labor of setting up a 
notice of his arrival, especially when Percival up¬ 
braided him for not having run extensive ad¬ 
vertisements of the reward for information as to 
the whereabouts of Grace Percival. The editor 
calmly explained that the first account of the 
hold-up, and a subsequent notice of the reward, 
had created all the interest possible to create in a 
community that spread news by word of mouth 
faster than print could travel. Mr. Percival, 
observing that the lank editor was not particu¬ 
larly impressed by his arrival, stated acrimoni¬ 
ously that he could buy the paper and never miss 
the money. The editor acknowledged that he 
could, for a nickel a throw. 

Mr. Percival blustered out of the editor’s 
office and hunted up the sheriff. The sheriff was 
cool, calm, collected. He informed his visitor 
188 


Wild Horses 

that a posse was out riding the country and 
would continue to do so as long as there was the 
least clue to follow. 

“It’s a big country to cover, 5 ’ he added. “ We 
have wired every railroad town within a hundred 
miles. All we can do now is to wait and see what 
turns up . 55 

“How much does the county pay you for hold¬ 
ing down that chair ? 55 queried the broker, irri¬ 
tated by the other’s placidity. 

“A whole lot more than I’m worth,” replied 
the sheriff genially. “But you know how that is, 
being in politics yourself.” 

“You’re a poor judge of men,” asserted 
Percival. 

“Honest? Then I’ll guess again. You’re in the 
milk business.” 

“Milk business! Where do you get that funny 
stuff?” 

“Well, your eyes water when you try to look 
square at a man.” 

Percival stared at the sheriff’s bronzed face 
and steel-gray eyes. The sheriff gazed mildly at 
his fat and flushed visitor. Samuel Percival had 
always had a political pull in Chicago—but 
somehow or other, he felt small and helpless fac¬ 
ing this quiet little man of the mesa country. “I 
could buy your whole blasted county!” he de¬ 
clared with a contemptuous wave of his arm. 

189 


Wild Horses 

“I can sell you a couple of sections, right 
now!” said the sheriff enthusiastically. “I’ve 
got a ranch down near Concho —” 

“This is an outrage!” thundered the broker. 
“Here I—” 

“No — it’s a ranch. Finest piece of grazing 
land, with water — four wells, and fifty acres in 
alfalfa. Ever hear of Concho. Well, it’s a—” 

“I suppose a mere five thousand dollars re¬ 
ward doesn’t interest you enough to make you 
quit kidding and get down to business. The fact 
that the stage was held up and my ward mur¬ 
dered doesn’t seem to bother you much.” 

“I know who held up the stage,” declared the 
sheriff quietly. “But Miss Percival was not 
murdered.” 

“Then I suppose you know where she is?” 

“No. I wish I did. But I’m reasonably sure 
that she has not been harmed in any way. I 
understand you telegraphed her that you were 
seriously injured in an automobile accident — 
wasn’t expected to live? You look in pretty good 
health right now.” 

“My private affairs don’t concern you, Mr. 
Sheriff. I’m out here to find out where Miss 
Percival is, and I intend to find out, if it costs 
twenty thousand, instead of ten. There’s some¬ 
thing crooked about this hold-up deal. If you 
know who held up the stage, why don’t you get 
190 


Wild Horses 

busy and pinch him? There’s more than one 
way to make him talk.” 

“My chief deputy will use his own judgment 
about that, Mr. Percival. In discussing your 
profession, your appearance, and real estate, I 
am only following your lead. About the first 
thing you asked me was how much I was paid to 
hold down this chair. If you really want to talk 
business, I’ll listen. Or suppose you listen, and 
learn a few things about this country. You may 
have noticed that it’s pretty open and roomy 
around here. And there isn’t a policeman on 
every corner. In fact there aren’t many corners 
between here and Solano. It takes time and 
patience to trail a law-breaker in this section. 
My boys are doing all that can be done.” 

“How far is this town of Solano from here, 
anyway?” queried the broker, as he lighted a 
cigar and deliberately ignored the sheriff as a 
man who might smoke. The sheriff rolled a 
cigarette. 

“Oh, about a hundred miles, south.” 

“When’s the next train?” 

“There’s no train — just the stage.” 

“Stage, eh? Hell of a note! How long does it 
take the stage?” 

“About two days, in good weather. Relay at 
Concho, and McAllister’s ranch.” 

“When does the stage leave here?” 

191 


Wild Horses 

“To-morrow morning, at six, if the mail is on 
time.” 

“You mean to say I can’t get out of this burg 
till to-morrow morning?” 

“I wouldn’t say that. You can take the west¬ 
bound at four-thirty this afternoon for Los An¬ 
geles. Some mighty interesting country round 
Los Angeles. Or you can take the eight-ten for 
Kansas City and Chicago, this evening. You 
could hire a rig at the livery but you wouldn t 
make any better time than the stage that car¬ 
ries the mail, and relays about every thirty-five 
miles.” 

“I’ll just hunt up that stage driver. I guess I 
can show him something that will make him get a 
move on.” 

“You might. But, you see, Mr. Percival, he 
carries for Uncle Sam, and he s some fussy about 
sticking to his regular run. Number Eight, west¬ 
bound, drops a sack here at four-thirty,. to¬ 
morrow morning. Old Henry that s the driver 
— leaves here at six.” 

“Then I guess it’s the hotel for me, if you got 
one in this dump.” 

“ Sure we got one — a little one with win¬ 
dows in it, and a door, and no extra charge for 
going up and down stairs. The rooms on the 
north are cooler.” 

“You’re some comedian, now, ain’t you! 

192 


Wild Horses 

snorted Percival. “You ought to be on the 
stage.” 

“You mean I ought to have been a few nights 
ago. Glad I wasn’t, for I would have missed 
meeting you to-day. And now that you have a 
little time to spare — and Miss Percival’s disap¬ 
pearance is a serious matter — suppose you give 
me all the information about her you can, instead 
of finding fault with my office and criticizing my 
methods, in a country you know nothing about. 
Suppose you forget that you’re rich, and that I’m 
poor, and take me for just what I am — sheriff 
of Antelope County, with no strings attached. 
And remember — I’d do just as much for a Mexi¬ 
can section-hand as I would for you. If you’ll 
just hang on to that idea, we’ll get along fine.” 

“You mean the reward I offered don’t cut any 
ice with you?” suggested Percival. 

“Not with me, personally. It does with my 
office. The boys will work harder and longer, 
with a little money in sight. If my boys find 
Miss Percival, they get the money. My office gets 
the credit. The credit is worth more to me in the 
long run than the money, or any share of it.” 

“That’s all right,” declared Percival. “But I 
can make it worth your while to put more men on 
the job — and speed this thing up.” 

The sheriff shook his head. “ There’s a deputy 
United States marshal on the job now. The 
193 


Wild Horses 

stage carried mail. Four of my men are down 
toward Solano, whipsawing that country. Baker 
of Solano sent word that he has instructed his 
boys on The Blue to be on the lookout. And 
there ain’t a rancher between here and the 
mountains that ain’t just as anxious to find five 
thousand dollars as his neighbor is. More men 
from here would only be an additional expense, 
and they wouldn’t accomplish anything more 
than the men now on the job. Miss Percival is 
alive, and she’ll be found, sooner or later.” 

“But suppose she was murdered?” 

“If I thought that, I’d be out on the job my¬ 
self. I’m here — if that is any consolation to you. 
Besides, the man that held up the stage is not a 
murderer — but he’s a fighter. If he’s cornered, 
he’ll fight. If he isn’t cornered, he’ll tell where 
Miss Percival is, some day.” 

“That’s all right. But I suspect you’ve got 
something up your sleeve. You say you know 
who held up the stage. I suppose that is none of 
my business.” 

“It wouldn’t do any good if I told you, and it 
might do harm. There are occasions when money 
has to mark time, Mr. Percival. This is one of 
those times. It’s a warm day. Suppose we step 
across the street and get something for it?” 

“Most sensible thing you’ve said yet.” Perci¬ 
val was beginning to feel the need of a little 
194 


Wild Horses 

internal support. He was unaccustomed to 
altitude — although Antelope is a mere six thou¬ 
sand feet — and never before had he imbibed 
soda-water raised to the nth degree by a dis¬ 
criminating drug-clerk. Like most dry sections, 
Arizona is wet in spots. 

The apparently innocent beverage stole a 
march on him, so to speak. He became loqua¬ 
cious, jovial, patronizing — superficially a good 
fellow. When they returned to the sheriff’s 
office, the little brown-visaged man with the 
steel-gray eyes studied the broker as one would 
study some playful leviathan disporting itself on 
dry land when its natural habitat is the ocean. 
Percival talked of his money, his motors, his 
house, his business, his influence in Chicago: and 
he hinted lightly of occasional escapades — but 
not once did he mention Miss Percival’s name. 
Sheriff Hawley smoked and listened politely, his 
first impression of the broker confirmed beyond 
all doubt. Corn whiskey and soda-water com¬ 
bined may not be a technically honest drink, but 
it has enough specific gravity to float a modicum 
of truth. The sheriff eventually escorted his 
visitor, who needed an escort — to the hotel 
with the windows and doors and stairway — and 
left him explaining to the proprietor what a great 
man he was, and that he wanted the best room in 
the house, with a bath. 


195 


CHAPTER XVII 

“I’ve woke up and found a rattler coiled on my blankets, and felt 
oneasy until I had shook him off and stomped on him. But when 
I see a coward with a gun on him, I get plumb scared.” (Indigo 
Pete.) 

B ENDER and his companion, Hartshorn, 
dropped down from Utah through the Hopi 
country with a killing charged against them. 
They rode tired horses and swung wide of settle¬ 
ments, living as best they could on the charity of 
a chance Navajo sheep-herder until they reached 
Antelope, where they arrived late at night and 
where they found brief sanctuary in the adobe of 
a man whom they had known in the north. They 
hinted at splitting the loot they carried, ate 
wolfishly, and in payment for hospitality left 
their worn-out animals in exchange for two 
belonging to their host, with the covert threat 
that if he talked they would shoot him on sight. 
And he knew that they would, provided they 
were not captured and jailed before they reached 
the Mexican border. 

Consequently, their arrival and departure 
were not advertised. They left before daybreak 
and headed south, skirting the highway to avoid 
leaving a plain trail. At dawn they camped in 
a deep arroyo. Bender slept while Hartshorn, 
a lank, tow-headed, pale-eyed cow-hand from 
196 


Wild Horses 

Wyoming, kept first watch. Bender’s swarthy, 
broad face, unshaven cheeks, and matted black 
hair were not beautiful to gaze upon, as he lay on 
his back, snoring heavily. Hartshorn experienced 
a sudden hatred for the companion with whom he 
had risked so much. He turned from looking at 
Bender and gazed across the mesas, sitting as 
motionless as an Indian sentinel. Occasionally he 
smoked a cigarette. When the noon sun warmed 
the arroyo, he strode down and touched the 
sleeping mgn with his boot. Bender sat up 
quickly, his look of apprehension changing to one 
of disgust as he glanced up at the sun, round¬ 
about at the bleak arroyo, and finally at the two 
horses moving restlessly on their stake-ropes. 

Neither man spoke. Each saddled, tightened 
cinchas, and mounted. They struck south again, 
keeping a course some two miles west of the road, 
and scanning the surrounding country for sign of 
a ranch or homestead. In two hours they had 
reached the first water-hole south, where they 
paused only long enough to drink and water 
their horses. They would not have risked travel¬ 
ing in daytime had they not known that the 
great mesa between Antelope and Concho was 
all but uninhabited. They ran the risk of meeting 
some chance cow-hand or sheep-herder, but that 
risk they were willing to take for the sake of mak¬ 
ing time to the border. 

197 


Wild Horses 

Late that afternoon, after pushing their horses 
steadily, they drew up within sight of Concho, 
foot-roped their horses and allowed them to 
graze while they waited for dusk. They planned 
buying extra provisions at Concho, the last town 
they would risk visiting until they were safely 
across the range and in the Tonto Valley. They 
would swing wide of Solano, the natural gateway 
to the southern hills. Their usual procedure was 
for one to drift quietly into a town while the 
other stayed in camp, taking turns at purchasing 
supplies. It was Bender’s turn to ride in. He 
caught up his horse, and when night settled over 
the mesa he rode ’cross country toward the town, 
arriving just as the Antelope mail stage pulled up 
at the store platform. His covert glance slid over 
the roped mail sacks, the old bearded driver, and 
the stout and impressive figure of Samuel Perci- 
val, in long linen duster. Mr. Percival’s rotund¬ 
ity and his general appearance suggested money. 
Bender strode into the store, bought provisions, 
and dropped them in a gunnysack, and strode 
out, mounting his horse just as Percival asked 
Old Henry Watkins where the hotel was. 

“Ain’t none,” declared Old Henry. “Just 
rooms in that there ’dobe acrost the street. Here 
is where you take what you git, and your money 
won’t git you any more than what you see. This 
here is Concho. It ain’t Chicago.” 

198 


Wild Horses 

Bender reined round and drifted away in the 
night. He judged that the fat man had money; 
also that the stage driver did not like the fat man. 

Hartshorn was waiting on a ridge a short way 
from his horse, which he had saddled. “ What rig 
was that dusted into town?” he queried. 

“ Stage. Fat guy lookin’ for a hotel.” 

After eating they rode to the edge of the mesa 
town, watered their horses, and again struck 
south. Two hours out from Concho they fed 
their tired animals the corn Bender had pur¬ 
chased, and later allowed them to graze on the 
short grass until midnight. Hartshorn knew that 
a break was inevitable — Bender’s sullen silence 
indicating that he was planning some oblique 
move from their present course. Finally he 
spoke. 

“That night-rider that stuck up the stage and 
took the woman has got the name. We can use 
it.” 

“Not me!” said Hartshorn. “We played in 
luck this far. I’ll stick to the brush.” 

“Then here’s where we split. When I want 
company I can pick up another yellow dog, ’most 
anywhere.” 

Hartshorn swallowed the insult, laughed and 
strode over to his horse. “Well, let’s get going,” 
he said as though satisfied with Bender’s plan to 
hold up the stage. He waited until Bender was 
199 


Wild Horses 

stooping to untie the hobbles, then mounted 
swiftly and struck into a lope. He was not 
afraid of Bender, but he would not risk a quarrel, 
there in the dark. Bender was quite capable of 
shooting him in the back. As for Bender himself, 
he cared little enough where Hartshorn went or 
what became of him. They had been close com¬ 
panions, but never friends. Together they had 
fled from a common enemy, the law, and success¬ 
fully. When they felt that they were com¬ 
paratively safe, they began to hate and distrust 
each other; sullenly brooding animals, bound to 
fight or separate in the long run. It was merely a 
matter of time when each would pay the penalty. 
In fact no man may escape the retribution follow¬ 
ing deliberate murder, even though society does 
not capture and punish him. 

Bender had determined to hold up the stage, 
single-handed, surmising that the fat man, evi¬ 
dently from Chicago, had considerable money 
with him. Several miles north of Solano, Bender 
concealed himself in an arroyo near the road, 
waiting for dawn and the arrival of the stage. 
Hartshorn, riding swiftly, made for the hills. 
Daylight found him well within the shelter of the 
timberlands. 

About two hours after sunrise the stage rattled 
down the slope which approached the end of 
the draw where Bender was concealed. Samuel 
200 


Wild Horses 

Percival, heavy-eyed from lack of sleep, and in an 
ill temper, lurched to the unaccustomed swing of 
the buckboard, while Old Henry Watkins, with a 
loaded shotgun beside his leg, held the team to 
the road, and covertly enjoyed the discomfort of 
Mr. Percival. Old Henry did not anticipate a 
reappearance of the bandit, whom he still be¬ 
lieved to be Johnny Trent, but his recent experi¬ 
ence both on the road and in Baker’s office had 
awakened his old-time caution. As carrier of the 
mail he was entitled to protect himself and his 
cargo. Some one in Antelope had said that as 
carrier of the mails he was all right, but as a 
carrier of females he was not a shining success. 
He resented the insinuation that he was too old 
to fight; hence the loaded shotgun. 

Bender jumped his horse out of the draw and 
in front of the team before Old Henry realized 
that there was any one within ten miles of him. 
The horses shied. Old Henry pulled them to a 
standstill. 

“You fat man,” said Bender, “just light 
down.” 

Percival, whose brain was still heavy from lack 
of sleep and fatigue, hesitated. 

“You better light down,” advised Old Henry. 
“He’s done stuck us up again.” 

The transition from stupor to panic was swift. 
Percival’s eyes grew wild, his hand shook. His 

m 


Wild Horses 

first impulse was to speak — to argue, to tell who 
he was and try to bluff it out. Bender realized 
that the fat man was utterly unnerved. He 
didn’t count. The outlaw’s attention was focused 
on Old Henry, who was cool and consequently 
more likely to make some unexpected move. 

“I’m having no trouble with you,” said 
Bender, indicating Old Henry. “You can drive 
on while I talk to the fat man.” 

Bender was so sure of his game that he over¬ 
looked the chance of an exception to the rule: 
that a panic-stricken man sometimes fights like a 
cornered wolf. Percival’s bulk and clumsiness, as 
he half-rose as though to alight, also served to 
mash the broker’s desperate intent. Percival 
grabbed frantically for the shotgun, jerked it up, 
and crouched as he was, fired both barrels 
blindly. The team lunged into a gallop. Percival 
was pitched out. Old Henry lay back on the 
reins as the team swerved from the road and 
swept crashing through the scattered brush. 
Finally he brought the careening buckboard to a 
stop and glanced back. The outlaw’s riderless 
horse was running in a circle with reins dragging. 
The figure of a stout man in a linen duster was 
just rising from the roadside. 

“ Got him, by gravy! ” snorted Old Henry as he 
swung the team round and drove back. 

Percival was walking up and down, rubbing 
202 


Wild Horses 

his shoulder and cursing. The shotgun lay in the 
ditch. Across the road, limp and motionless, lay 
the figure of the outlaw. A glance assured Old 
Henry that there was nothing to fear from that 
quarter. Percival’s wild bombardment had lit¬ 
erally blown off the top of the outlaw’s head. 

Pacing up and down, Percival groaned and 
clutched his shoulder. 

Guess we’ll have to pack this here carcass 
into town,” said Old Henry, gesturing. “Just 
lend a hand.” 

Percival stopped walking and gazed at the 
figure on the ground. “My God! I killed him!” 
he groaned. 

“What was you aimin’ to do?” queried Old 
Henry. 

Percival, realizing that he had actually killed a 
man, and yet unable to recall just how it had 
happened, turned and began to walk back toward 
Concho. “ Here! Where you headin’ for? ” called 
Old Henry. “You gone loco?” 

The broker stopped, turned back, walking 
slowly. “Is he dead?” he whispered, licking his 
lips. 

“Dead as they make ’em in this country. You 
sure spread his brains a plenty. Quit feelin’ sad 
for yourself, and lend a hand. We got to pack 
this here carcass into town and report to the 
coroner.” 


203 


Wild Horses 

“Don’t ask me to touch that thing!” wailed 
Percival. “I’m sick.” 

“Well, so am I,” declared Old Henry, staring 
at the broker. “You make me sick! Here you 
gone and bumped off a coyote that would ’a’ 
tooken every cent you had, and your watch and 
them diamonds, and, most like, beefed you if 
you’d ’a’ got sassy — and now you’re moanin’ 
and groanin’ ’cause you done it!” Old Henry’s 
back grew chilly. Percival might have blown his 
head off instead of the bandit’s. The broker’s 
fusillade had been the result of blind fear. 
Afraid to let go of the team, which stood tensely 
eyeing that huddled shape by the roadside, ears 
aslant, and backs curved, ready to break and run 
at the least excuse, Henry Watkins’s temperature 
mounted to normal again. He had asked Percival 
to help him. Now he commanded. “Take holt 
of the hosses’ heads — and hang to ’em. I’m 
goin’ to load this here stage-robber aboard. And 
don’t forgit, if them hosses git away from you, 
it’s ten miles to Solano, and you’d blow up before 
you made five. Ain’t no water, neither.” 

Percival knew enough about horses to take a 
short hold back of the bits and talk to them 
while he held them. The animals sensed his fear 
and trembled. Percival’s pallid face was glossy 
with sweat. He was in mortal dread of being 
dragged and trampled, but the mere act of hav- 
204 


Wild Horses 

ing something definite to do helped steady him 
somewhat. 

Old Henry managed to hoist his burden to the 
top of the mail sacks and lash it there. Then he 
picked up the shotgun, gazed at it as though it 
were some strange and curious thing, and shoved 
it, unloaded, beneath the ropes on the mail sacks. 
He climbed to the seat, took the reins and re¬ 
leased the brake. “Hop in!” he called to Perci- 
val. The broker limped round and clambered up 
heavily. 

They swept along the morning road at a trot, 
the horses eager to reach home. Old Henry pres¬ 
ently turned to the broker. “I reckon you figure 
you owe yourself five thousand dollars,” he re¬ 
marked. “Heard tell you offered five thousand 
for the capture of that bandit.” 

“Well, I guess I earned it,” said Percival, 
reaching in his vest for a cigar. 

“Only that wasn’t the one what held me up 
the other night and made Miss Percival light 
down,” declared Old Henry. “This here one is 
short and stocky. The other was slim-built and 
kind of supple. Wonder what the next one will 
look like?” 

“ When will we get to Solano? ” queried Percival, 
who did not care to discuss bandits, dead or alive. 

“Oh, in time to warsh up and eat,” said Old 
Henry nonchalantly. 


205 


Wild Horses 

“You — you don’t seem to mind this sort of 
thing?” said Percival, glancing over his shoulder. 

“Drivin’team? Nope. I been at it, off and on, 
since I was a boy, back in Texas.” 

“I mean the — the —” 

“Oh, him! Well, I’ll allow this ain’t no 
hearse. But he’s plumb peaceful, now. Out here 
you kind of take what comes and jog along. 
Nothin’ else to do. Feelin’ better since you lit 
one of them cigars which you don’t offer to 
nobody?” 

“I think my shoulder is dislocated,” declared 
Percival with some austerity. 

“Wonderful shot you made, aimin’ plumb at 
the off hoss’s head and pluggin’ the night-rider 
like that. Now I’d ’a’ been so scared I couldn’t 
hit a flock of bandits.” 

“I didn’t intend to sit still and be murdered in 
cold blood,” said Percival. “I noticed that you 
didn’t do anything.” 

“Well, not much. All I done was to knock up 
the barrel of that gun when you fired at the 
hoss’s head. Wonderful shot!” 

“You needn’t get sarcastic. And you can 
thank me that you are living, this minute.” 

“Mebbylkin. But I ain’t goin’to. You’re a 
bluff! You was scared most to death, and you 
went plumb loco, and him with the drop on us! 
I ain’t freighted you from Antelope without 
206 


Wild Horses 

sizin’ you up, Percy. And you sound kind of hol¬ 
low to me. You been ridin’ me pretty hard for 
lettin’ your young lady git took, and suggestin’ 
I ought to be in the Old Folks’ Home, ’stead of 
drivin’ stage. Next, you’ll be braggin’ as how 
you saved my life by shuttin’ your eyes and 
firin’ both barrels in the air. You are the kind 
that has to buy everything you git, but I admire 
to say you don’t git everything you buy — with 
money. I’m goin’ to give you a little free advice. 
Don’t let the folks around Solano git the idea you 
kin shoot, or somebody’ll git so durned curious 
he’ll call your hand — and I don’t aim to freight 
any more free corpses on this here line.” 

Percival, who had begun to regain his nerve, 
puffed at his cigar and squared his shoulders. 
His manner was distinctly professional. “I’m 
quite capable of taking care of myself without 
advice from any hack-driver. And, moreover, 
don’t call me Percy. My name is Percival— 
understand?” 

44 All right, Percy. But you sound hollow to 
me.” 

The broker’s pallid face grew red. 44 You ought 
to be fired, and if I have any influence, you’ll get 
fired! I’ll show some of you hicks a trick or two! 
I’m on to your game with both feet! You frame 
it up with some thug to kidnap my ward and 
hold her for ransom. I suppose, if I were fool 
207 


Wild Horses 

enough to pay, you and your pal would split the 
money and figure you trimmed a sucker. If the 
man back here on the mail sacks is your friend, 
I’m dam’ glad I got him! Why, your own sheriff 
says he knows who held up this stage, the first 
time! Swell bunch of crooks for a white man to 
associate with!” 

“Kind of hazin’ your nerve back into the 
home corral by gittin’ mad, ain’t you? Now you 
ought to tell that to Johnny Trent. He’d be 
interested.” 

“Who in hell is Johnny Trent?” 

“Him? Oh, he’s just a young, good-lookin’, 
no-account puncher that took to runnin’ wild, a 
spell back. He done stuck me up and took Miss 
Percival from the stage, one night. Mebby you 
heard tell of it? It was in the papers.” 

“Another one of your friends, I suppose!” 

“Him? Well, I’d hate to say. But they’s folks 
will tell you he was pow’ful friendly with Miss 
Percival. And since I got acquainted with you, 
I can’t say I blame her. You come out here for in¬ 
formation, and I reckon I’ve give you some. Only, 
if you meet up with Johnny Trent, don’t take 
to abusin’ him like you done me, for he’s mighty 
touchy, and a right good shot, if I do say it.” 

“I’ll get to the bottom of this!” declared 
Percival, tossing away his half-smoked cigar. 

“Plumb to the bottom, if your foot slips.” 


CHAPTER XVIII 

“Flowers,” declared Tecolote Pete to the card-man from Silver 
City, “don’t care who they lay on.” (From “Coroner Pike’s 
Notebook.”) 

S OLANO, awaiting the arrival of the mail 
stage, viewed the removal of the dead out¬ 
law to the back of Baker’s store with various 
low-voiced comments, chiefly interested in the 
fact that the man was unknown in that section of 
the country. Samuel Percival’s arrival created a 
livelier interest, especially after Old Henry Wat¬ 
kins, when questioned as to details, admitted 
that Percival had shot the bandit. Solano folk 
found it difficult to reconcile Percival’s demeanor 
with the cold fact in the back of the store. The 
broker was so obviously ill at ease, nervous, all 
but hysterical under the calmly curious scrutiny 
of the people. 

Baker, called from his office, questioned Perci¬ 
val in the doorway of the store. But the bro¬ 
ker seemed to hear nothing that Baker said. 
The storekeeper’s naturally pertinent questions 
seemed insulting to Percival, whose conventional 
mind demanded a more formal recognition of his 
presence and his immediate needs. He was hot, 
tired, dusty. His unsettled nerves called for 
their customary stimulant. His suitcases and 
bags had not been taken from the buckboard by a 
209 


Wild Horses 

flunkey. No one came forward to show him to a 
hotel and flatter him with the obsequiousness he 
was accustomed to in Chicago. He felt that cir¬ 
cumstances had discounted his importance. He 
raised his arms and shook his hands as though to 
silence his questioner. 

44 For God’s sake, give me a drink, if there’s 
any decent whiskey in this dump!” he blurted. 
44 I’ll pay for it.” 

44 Certainly, Mr. Percival,” said Baker sooth¬ 
ingly. “Just step back here to my office. You 
have had quite a shock. I feel upset myself.” 

44 I’m not a bit nervous! Never felt better in 
my life. But I don’t intend to stand here like a 
witness in a murder case with these hicks staring 
at me. I want a room and a bath and a decent 
meal. Worst food —” 

“Which would you like first?” queried Baker 
mildly. 

“A drink. If you’ve got any good whiskey, 
trot it out. I’ll pay for it.” 

44 We sell almost everything but that,” stated 
Baker. 44 And I make it a rule not to serve 
whiskey in public. If you’ll step back here —” 

Old Henry Watkins touched Percival’s arm. 
44 You’re forgettin’ your baggage, Mr. Percy.” 

“Well, bring it in, can’t you! Get a move on! 
Here!” And Percival fished a dollar from his 
pocket and thrust it at Old Henry. 

210 


Wild Horses 

Henry took the coin and gazed at it curiously, 
then with huge disdain for both donation and 
donor, he tossed the dollar toward the group 
around the mail stage. A Mexican boy caught 
the piece of silver and scampered for home. 
Baker pushed past Old Henry and fetched Per¬ 
civaFs baggage into the store. 

Old Henry, still barring PercivaFs way, seemed 
to be waiting for something. Baker questioned 
the driver. 

“I’m waitin’ for my money for freightin' 
Mr. Percy from Antelope to Solano — twenty 
dollars.” 

“Twenty what?” PercivaFs voice was high- 
pitched in affected astonishment and indigna¬ 
tion. He was of the kind that always quarrels 
with hotel bills and service. 

“Twenty — of the same as I thrun out in the 
street a minute ago,” replied Old Henry. “Reg¬ 
ular charge.” 

“This is absolute robbery!” stormed Percival, 
turning to Baker. 

“ Yes, it is,” said Baker. “The mail contract is 
robbing me every day. The stage doesn’t pay 
expenses. I am thinking of raising the charge 
to twenty-five dollars, one way.” 

“Well, you’ll keep on losing money as long as 
that old fossil drives your stage,” asserted Per¬ 
cival, producing a bill. It was a new, one-hun- 
211 


Wild Horses 

dred-dollar bill drawn from a wallet containing a 
neat packet of similar bank-notes. It was in¬ 
tended to create astonishment and embarrass¬ 
ment. 

“You’re taking chances,” said Baker, shaking 
his head. “A check-book would be much safer, 
and I think I can always accommodate you.” 
Baker stepped to the post-office window and had 
the bill changed. 

When Baker turned his back, Old Henry thrust 
his lean fist under Samuel Percival’s nose. “For 
two pins and a button, I’d push your face down 
your throat!” and Old Henry’s voice sounded 
somewhat like seltzer siphoned against a brick 
wall. “If I ever get a fair chance at you —” Old 
Henry lowered his arm as Baker returned with 
the change. 

The group outside the store had witnessed this 
little tentative passage-at-arms. “What’s the 
matter with the hombre in the nightshirt?” 
called one of the group. Solano was not accus¬ 
tomed to linen dusters. 

Old Henry muttered and shook his head like a 
horse that has been stung on the nose by a bee. 
He pushed his way through the folk around the 
stage, climbed up and drove to the stable. 

“Somethin’ queer goin’ on,” declared a bright 
citizen. 

And this sage remark fixed itself in the minds 
212 


Wild Horses 

of those who heard it to be resurrected as a handle 
for much discussion that afternoon and succeed¬ 
ing afternoons, when Percival, entrenched in a 
room in the Johnson boarding-house, refused to 
show himself on the street in the daytime, con¬ 
ducting his affairs by proxy in the person of Mrs. 
Johnson, whom he paid lavishly to carry his notes 
and messages to Baker. And Baker, as overlord 
of Solano, found time to attend to the dispatch¬ 
ing of telegrams by special courier to Antelope, 
putting himself and his organization at the service 
of the broker with the courtesy of the small-town 
potentate who takes pride in being hospitable to 
visitors. And day after day the whisper ran about 
town: “Something queer is going on.” 

Nothing was heard of Grace Percival. The 
indentity of the person responsible for her disap¬ 
pearance remained unknown. Johnny Trent was 
in and out of town from day to day. It was ru¬ 
mored that the Chicago broker was sick: also 
that he was drinking heavily — and, again, that 
he was afraid to be seen on the street for fear of 
meeting with Old Henry Watkins who had 
threatened him. Others, deaf to these rumors, 
frowned sagely and declared that the broker 
would never show himself in public so long as 
Johnny Trent was in the vicinity. Neither Baker 
nor Mrs. Johnson had a word to say anent the 
matter. Consequently the town mind hardened 
213 


Wild Horses 

against them, jealous of their silence. Curiously 
enough, Johnny Trent became a sort of hero to 
the townsfolk. No one declared outright that 
Johnny had held up the stage and kidnaped Miss 
Percival — yet the glory was all his. Mr. Perci- 
val represented the unknown, outside world and 
all the naughtiness thereof. Johnny stood for the 
known, the familiar condition and prospect, and 
the concrete romance of the West. And it has 
been said that East is East. 


CHAPTER XIX 

He who hides behind a tree to spy upon a lady, 
Intensifies the obvious by doing something shady. 

O LD HENRY WATKINS, returning from 
Antelope the week following the arrival of 
Mr. Samuel Percival, was unaccompanied and 
consequently found time to piece together the 
puzzle which had been distracting him for several 
days. From Concho to Solano he drove in the 
rain, shrouded in an old slicker, humped over, 
and peering with incurious eyes at the familiar 
road while he endeavored to visualize the miss¬ 
ing piece of the puzzle. His preoccupation was 
so intense that he allowed the team to lag, arriv¬ 
ing in Solano some two hours behind his usual 
schedule. He blamed the road, complaining to 
Baker that the Black Mesa section had been 
crowned too high — that the wheels slipped side¬ 
ways on the light scum of mud covering the high¬ 
way. Baker took mild exception to the criticism, 
declaring that Johnny Trent’s road work had 
been well done. 

“ ‘ Road work ’ is right,” said Old Henry. “ You 
could pretty nigh call him a ‘Road Agent’ and 
not stretch the truth any.” 

“Hear anything about Miss Percival while you 
were in Antelope?” queried Baker. 

215 


Wild Horses 

“I been workin’ out some ideas of my own,” 
declared Old Henry obliquely. “ Mebby I can 
tell you more in a couple of days.” 

Next day was lay-over day for the stage. Long 
before Solano was awake. Old Henry had sad¬ 
dled one of his spare horses and had taken the 
foothill trail leading to the timberlands south of 
town. Leaving the trail before he reached the 
high mesas, he rode through the timberlands, 
always toward the south, and ever alert to avoid 
being seen. A little before noon he arrived within 
the dense timber back of Johnny Trent’s home¬ 
stead. He tied his horse and proceeded to inves¬ 
tigate on foot. 

He stalked the shadows until within a hundred 
yards of the cabin and then concealed himself 
behind a giant spruce and spent the succeeding 
two hours watching the cabin and the clearing 
roundabout it. His one regret was that he could 
not see the doorway from where he was concealed. 
The cabin faced the east and the open meadow. 
Old Henry argued that he had nothing else to do 
but watch and wait, and incidentally chew to¬ 
bacco. The elation of the quest kept his ancient 
pulse going steadily. However, he was imper¬ 
sonal in his attitude toward the mystery. The 
persons involved in the mystery meant little to 
him — the mystery, everything. No appeal of 
sentiment stirred him. The cleverest Pinkerton 
216 


Wild Horses 

in the country could not have made him jealous. 
He flattered himself that he was about to solve a 
problem which had baffled the local authorities 
and that is the way he phrased it to himself, 
having, in common with his kind, the gift of 
quoting handsomely from newspaper articles 
when he felt the occasion called for convincing 
speech. And this was an occasion. Old Henry, 
watching and waiting behind a giant spruce, was 
convincing himself that his efforts were chastely 
altruistic, and in no way founded upon a subcon¬ 
scious desire to 44 get even” with Johnny Trent. 
As for the matter of the reward money — Old 
Henry disliked to think about that. The reward 
would be paid by Mr. Samuel Percival. Old 
Henry finally concluded, however, that the two 
could be separated, and should be separated, and 
that he was the man to do it. Meanwhile, he paid 
strict attention to his chewing tobacco from 
which he drew great solace. Constant gazing 
dims the eye. Old Henry’s eyes were already dim 
from age and weather. Consequently, when a 
woman came from Johnny Trent’s cabin and 
stood gazing out across the meadow and then 
turned and walked to the corral. Old Henry’s 
eyes had to adjust themselves to the vision, even 
after his mind had adjusted itself to the vehement 
conclusion that it was a woman and was the 
woman. There was no mistaking that slender 
217 


Wild Horses 

and graceful figure that stood close to the corral 
bars, evidently making friends with the two 
horses that switched flies lazily in the midday 
heat. Old Henry felt that his quest had been a 
success. Yet, now that he had solved the prob¬ 
lem, another problem presented itself. If the 
young woman from Chicago were a prisoner, why 
did she not saddle one of the horses and ride to 
Solano? She seemed to be alone. And Old Henry 
knew that Johnny Trent was in Solano. 

Satisfied with the result of his morning’s out¬ 
ing, Old Henry stepped back cautiously, intend¬ 
ing to blend himself with the deeper and farther 
shadows that concealed his horse. He could have 
turned and walked away naturally: but he chose 
to back away, meanwhile keeping his gaze fixed 
on the figure by the corral. His heel caught in 
the loop of a root. He sat down suddenly upon 
the splintered stub of a broken branch. He de¬ 
clared “Ouch!” and other superlatives of dis¬ 
tress. He was up like a scared cat. With a fleet¬ 
ing glance toward the distant corral, he turned 
and ran through the forest. 

Grace Percival had already noticed that the 
horse she was patting had been gazing curiously 
past her and not at her. Then came the crackling 
sound of some one or something falling, followed 
immediately by the distinctly human “Ouch!” 
and similar minor explosions. Both the corralled 
218 


Wild Horses 

horses snorted and jumped. Grace Percival 
turned swiftly, and just in time to catch a glimpse 
of a man disappearing hastily within the shadows 
of the timber. 

Frank Lopez, seated in the shed back of the 
cabin, was mending a pack-harness. He came on 
the run, as Grace Percival called to him. When 
she told Lopez what had startled her, Lopez im¬ 
mediately saddled one of the horses and spurred 
into the timberlands. He picked up Old Henry’s 
tracks and followed them to where a horse had 
been tied. Lopez read the sign with the thorough¬ 
ness of a good tracker, following Old Henry’s 
swift career until assured that the tracks led to¬ 
ward Solano. Wondering who had been spying 
upon the cabin, Lopez turned and rode back, 
wisely refusing to be drawn too far away from 
the cabin by a possible ruse. 

Johnny Trent had been gone several days. 
Lopez wondered that the senorita, as he called 
Grace Percival, should seem so contented in the 
obvious loneliness of the high country. The Mex¬ 
ican surmised that present conditions could not 
exist indefinitely. Something would happen to 
change the monotony of the idle days. He had 
little to do, which suited him exceedingly well; 
yet he would have preferred action, adventure, 
anything that would trend toward clearing away 
a certain somber misgiving that troubled him. 

219 


Wild Horses 

Frank Lopez feared that the senorita would cease 
to love Johnny if Johnny continued to spend his 
time in Solano and not at the cabin. Johnny had 
stolen her, had run off with her, which was under¬ 
standable and very fine, according to the Mexi¬ 
can’s ethics. But to neglect her! PorDios! But 
that was the great sin. 

Meanwhile, Old Henry Watkins, having John- 
Gilpined into Solano, was telling the deputy sher¬ 
iff to watch Johnny Trent. 


CHAPTER XX 

“When he who fled the wrath of man, a stranger to the land, 
Reined round and gazed toward Salvador, far miles across the 
sand. 

While Thirst and Madness waited still, hard-by on either hand.” 

I N the rugged, wild, and untraveled country, 
far miles to the south of Solano — a country 
ridged with densely timbered hills and furrowed 
by deep and tortuous canons — Hartshorn, the 
outlaw and murderer, a victim of the elements, 
had been three days on foot trying to find his way 
to some known landmark. He climbed the brushy 
wall of a box canon into which he had strayed, 
and, realizing that, if he did not arrive at some 
habitation soon, or chance upon some kind of 
wild game, he would starve to death, he delib¬ 
erately set his face toward the north and trudged 
doggedly across the timbered crest of an un¬ 
named range, heading, so far as he could ap¬ 
proximate, toward the last habitation he had 
noticed when coming into the hills — the home¬ 
stead of Johnny Trent. Three days behind him 
lay the rain-flattened ashes of a tiny camp-fire, 
and the white and scattered splinters of a pine, 
shattered by the thunderbolt that set him afoot 
in the wilderness. Ever fearful of pursuit, he had 
made an early camp, allowed his horse to graze 
221 


Wild Horses 

for an hour or so, and then he had saddled him 
and tied him to a low spruce beneath which he 
himself intended to sleep. When the mountain 
storm shook the earth with bolts that seemed to 
drive straight down, Hartshorn had watched the 
horse closely, fearing that he might stampede. 
The bolt that shattered the giant pine near the 
camp stunned Hartshorn for a moment. The 
horse reared back and broke the tie-rope. Harts¬ 
horn heard him crash through the underbrush. 
With no chance of following the frightened ani¬ 
mal, Hartshorn waited until daybreak and then 
trailed him to a mountain meadow several miles 
north. He saw the horse grazing near the edge 
of the meadow. Hartshorn walked toward him 
slowly. The horse continued to graze, merely lift¬ 
ing his head to gaze at the man on foot. Then, 
startlingly shrill came the nicker of another 
horse. Hartshorn dropped flat in the meadow 
grass anticipating the appearance of a rider. Had 
he kept on toward his horse, he might have caught 
him; but following the trumpet challenge from 
the timber encircling the meadow came a band of 
wild horses, manes flickering and tails floating as 
they charged out into the meadow, stopped, 
whirled, and rocketed back into the forest. Harts¬ 
horn’s horse, with head up and nostrils quiver¬ 
ing, followed them — disappeared in the morn¬ 
ing shadows of the dripping pines. Not daring to 


Wild Horses 

risk the southern desert on foot, the outlaw 
chose to risk being captured rather than attempt 
to reach the Mexican border. He did not intend 
to give himself up. He planned to steal a horse 
from the corral of the lone homestead on the 
mesas and again turn south — if necessary, 
shoot down any one who happened to oppose 
him, help himself to provisions, and trust to the 
frequent mountain rains to obliterate his tracks. 

For two days after he had lost his horse he had 
managed to exist on the "can of tomatoes and a 
few crackers that he had left rolled in his slicker 
the evening of the storm. The rest of his pro¬ 
visions was in the saddle-pockets. 

The third day of his wandering he had eaten 
nothing, and strangely enough he had seen 
neither deer nor turkey in a country where such 
game was plentiful. He had counted upon killing 
a deer in the high country. There were many 
tracks in the soft earth beneath the trees, but 
through some strange freak of circumstance the 
wild things of the summer forest had remained in¬ 
visible. Hartshorn’s usually alert senses became 
numbed through fatigue and weakness. Capable 
of long hours in the saddle, yet he was unused to 
walking, and the country which he traversed was 
of such a nature as to try the hardiest. Unshaven, 
haggard, his clothing torn by the brush, he fought 
his way across ridges, through canons, and down 
223 


Wild Horses 

hillside brush until late in the afternoon when he 
came suddenly out upon the mesa trail a half- 
mile below Johnny Trent’s homestead. 

Realizing that he had overshot his mark, 
Hartshorn back-tracked through the timber- 
lands, paralleling the trail until he reached the 
edge of the clearing round the cabin. There he 
lay watching while the long shadows of early 
evening deepened and spread. He had kept a 
packet of tobacco dry in his hat. He chewed the 
powdery tobacco and it dulled his hunger. 

An hour before sunset a woman appeared, com¬ 
ing from the cabin and carrying an empty pail. 
The woman called to some one. A man’s figure 
appeared from somewhere back of the cabin. 
Hartshorn heard the woman ask the man to get 
some water. Not knowing how many folk might 
be about the place, the outlaw decided to wait 
until supper-time — then steal up to the cabin 
and take them unaware. 


CHAPTER XXI 

“Oh, East is East and West is West.. . 

They met in a desert town. 

And each did his [something unprintable] best, 

To stare the other down.” 

J OHNNY TRENT had witnessed Percival’s 
arrival in Solano, and all subsequent gossip 
did not change Johnny’s immediate opinion of 
the broker. Johnny kept his opinion to himself 
despite the many opportunities for giving, or 
lending it. Johnny did not draw any hasty con¬ 
clusions. He was not in the habit of doing so. In 
fact he did not have to. Johnny’s conclusions 
were already sketched on Mr. Percival’s person. 
Overlooking the too ample belt-line, the fat 
shoulders, and the general physical flabbiness of 
the broker, despite well-tailored garments, Per- 
cival’s face plainly told what manner of man he 
was. The direct and arrogant stare of his full 
eyes was not inspired by fearlessness and frank¬ 
ness, but rather by a brazen disregard for that or 
those at which he stared. His mouth was dis¬ 
proportionately small and straight-lipped. His 
jaws were wide with fat and his ears small and set 
close to his head. There were those in his home 
town who considered him genial, forceful — a 
strong character. Rather, he was superficially 
suave, stubborn, and intolerant. Johnny Trent 
225 


Wild Horses 

did not catalogue; he got it all at once, as did 
Baker and Mrs. Johnson. Percival was what is 
commonly called a “four-flusher,” the type of 
man who quarrels with waiters, bell-boys, hotel 
clerks, and Pullman conductors, believing, with 
a pitiful lack of intelligence, that he is asserting 
his own importance, whereas a truly superior man 
does not have to assert anything to make his 
worth apparent. 

Johnny Trent was intuitively aware of all this 
at a glance. And knowing his man, Johnny 
arrived with primitive directness at a hopeful 
conclusion. Grace Percival should have the op¬ 
portunity to choose between the broker and him¬ 
self, and, in so doing, put an end to the impos¬ 
sible situation which existed. Her decision 
would settle the matter, once and for all. Should 
she choose to go back to Chicago with the 
broker — then she could go, and there would be 
no further argument. Should she choose to stay, 
Johnny would protect her and also protect him¬ 
self if need be. As to the right or wrong of it all, 
whatever Grace Percival decided would be right. 
To arrange a meeting, it would be necessary that 
Percival be told that his ward was at the cabin in 
the hills. Percival could talk with her there, 
alone. Johnny did not intend to give Percival a 
chance to summon witnesses or aid of any sort. 
Johnny would handle the matter himself. 

226 


Wild Horses 

Against this decision rose the barrier of con¬ 
vention and circumstance. Percival was en¬ 
trenched in his room at Mrs. Johnson’s, unwilling 
to show himself on the street and chary of giving 
audience to any one save the deputies, with 
whom he held lengthy discussions. And the four 
deputies, lingering in Solano, with instructions 
from the sheriff to keep an eye on Johnny Trent, 
were not admitted to the broker’s room until 
they had been vouched for by Baker as officers, 
and not highwaymen in disguise. During their 
interviews Percival emphasized his power to pur¬ 
chase service. The deputies listened politely, but 
were in no way deceived by the broker’s vehe¬ 
mence. It was only too evident to them that the 
broker’s chief concern was for his own life. He 
seemed to think that having shot and killed the 
bandit, Bender, he had in some way laid himself 
open to attack by the lawless of the country. He 
even went so far as to donate four hundred dol¬ 
lars toward expenses entailed in searching for 
Grace Percival, but as the donation was made in 
cash — a hundred to each deputy — it was 
tacitly understood by these officers that they 
should constitute themselves an unofficial body¬ 
guard while he was in Solano. Naturally, Johnny 
Trent knew nothing of this, so when he asked for 
an interview with the broker, and was refused, he 
followed up his request by climbing the stairway 
227 


Wild Horses 

and entering Percival’s room, unaware that one 
of the deputies was in an adjoining room, an un¬ 
locked door between them. 

“My name is Trent,” said Johnny as the 
broker started up. “Mrs. Johnson said you 
couldn’t see me, so I thought I’d see you.” 
“But—” 

“Sit still and listen. I’ll make it short. Walk 
out to the first bridge west of town, on the 
Concho road, in about an hour, and you’ll meet 
somebody who can tell you where Miss Percival 
is. But come alone, or you won’t find anybody 
there. Leave your money here. This deal don’t 
call for money.” 

Percival stared. Johnny regarded the broker 
with a gaze as fixed and as impersonal as the gaze 
of a sleepy panther bored by a curious crowd. 

“But see here!” exclaimed Percival. “This is 
a matter for the authorities! You don’t expect 
me to risk my life —” 

“You won’t risk anything — if you got sense. 
I’m the last man that wants to tangle with you. 
Only — come alone, if you’ve got the nerve.” 

Percival tried again to stare Johnny down, but 
Johnny seemed to grow in size and potency. 
“Just a minute and I’ll call —” The broker ges¬ 
tured. 

“Don’t call any one,” said Johnny quietly. 

Percival, recalling what Old Henry Watkins 
228 


Wild Horses 

had said about a certain Johnny Trent, feigned 
willingness to consider the proposal. If this was 
the man who had held up the stage and kidnaped 
his ward, this would be a rare opportunity to trap 
him and put him where he belonged — in the 
penitentiary. There was a deputy in the next 
room. Percival’s preoccupation was not alto¬ 
gether assumed. “Til meet you,” he declared 
finally. 

“I didn’t say I’d be there,” corrected Johnny. 
“I said you would meet somebody that could tell 
you where Miss Percival is.” 

“I see. Well, I’m greatly indebted to you, 
Mr. Trent. But I could hardly arrange to be at 
the place mentioned in an hour. There are some 
business matters requiring immediate attention. 
In fact, I was writing a letter when you inter¬ 
rupted me. Suppose we say two hours from now. 
It is two o’clock. You may expect me at four.” 

“ I didn’t say I’d meet you,” reiterated 
Johnny. “But somebody will.” 

Johnny backed out, closed the door and swung 
downstairs. Immediately he mounted his horse 
and rode out of town — but not toward the 
bridge on the Concho highway. Rather, Johnny 
circled toward the foothills south of Solano, and 
there, screened by the junipers, he watched to 
see if he had been followed. Percival’s intent 
was only too obvious. He meant to tell the dep- 
229 


Wild Horses 

uties of the proposed meeting and ask their ad¬ 
vice before appearing anywhere in person. And 
that was what Johnny had anticipated and de¬ 
sired. From the vantage of the foothills Johnny 
watched the Concho road and within the hour 
he saw four riders leave town and drift slowly 
toward the bridge. Nearing the bridge they 
drew apart, evidently intending to surround the 
low wooden structure. Johnny mounted and 
rode swiftly back to Solano. Tying his horse out¬ 
side the livery corral, he climbed the fence and 
came through the back entrance to the office. 
Upon inquiry, Johnny learned that the livery¬ 
man had instructions to have a buckboard and 
team ready for the broker at half-past three. 
Wishing to gain time against the deputies’ mis¬ 
trusting that something was amiss when Percival 
did not appear at the bridge at the appointed 
hour, Johnny invited the liveryman over to the 
cantina. Fifteen minutes later the liveryman 
drove over to Johnson’s and sent up word that he 
was waiting. Percival came down, declaring that 
the other was ahead of time by a half-hour. The 
liveryman produced a thick watch and an¬ 
nounced that it was just three-thirty. The 
broker was too excited to dispute the assertion. 
He climbed to the seat, settled himself, and 
glanced round nervously. The team started with 
a lunge. The nigh front wheel screeched as the 
230 


Wild Horses 

buckboard swung round in a sharp curve. The 
driver’s breath was significantly aromatic, and 
Percival attributed the other’s mistake as to the 
correct time to liquor. Then, the liveryman was 
driving east instead of west. 

“Hold on!” cried Percival. “You’re going the 
wrong way!” 

The driver was evidently having trouble with 
the team. The lean, wall-eyed buckskins showed 
a sincere desire to run. The buckboard swept 
down the street, the horses at a gallop. “They’ll 
ease down after they run a couple of miles. Then 
we’ll head back for the bridge,” declared the 
driver, casually. 

Percival gripped the seat-rail and held his 
breath. Finally he realized that the driver was 
allowing the team to take its own wild pace. 
“You’re headed the wrong way!” cried Percival. 

The driver nodded. “Turn ’em and swing 
back, in a minute. They’ll steady down in 
another half-mile.” 

The buckboard lurched from the highway and 
down into a sandy draw. The team stopped, and 
one of the buckskins bit the other on the neck, by 
way of encouraging further wild progress; but 
the driver seemed exceedingly sober and cap¬ 
able, holding the team with one hand and helping 
himself to plug-tobacco with the other. 

Johnny Trent, astride a horse and leading 
231 


Wild Horses 

another, appeared round a shoulder of the draw, 
reined up, and sat smiling at the broker. “There 
used to be a bridge here, but it was washed out a 
couple of years ago. Mebby I forgot, but I 
thought I said for you to meet me at the bridge 
west of town, at four? You’re ahead of time and 
at the wrong place. And I think I said to walk 
out, alone.” 

Samuel Percival saw that his treachery had 
been anticipated. This young, casual Westerner 
had been too shrewd for him. The liveryman, 
sedately chewing tobacco, seemed altogether dis¬ 
interested in the meeting. 

Percival summoned all the nerve he had left. 
44 Well, say what you’ve got to say, young man. 
This party driving the team don’t count.” 

“Nope — I only figure,” murmured the livery¬ 
man. 

Percival gained a little nerve through heat of 
anger. “You were ordered to drive to the 
bridge, and not out here!” he declared. “And 
you’re drunk!” 

“Mebby that accounts for it,” responded the 
driver. “East and west is all the same to me 
when I’m in liquor. All I remember is north.” 

“I’ll see you in jail for this!” cried Percival, 
swinging his arms in a manner intended to be 
forceful and impressive. 

“For what?” queried Johnny. 

232 


Wild Horses 

“For your damned impertinence, young fel¬ 
low! If you think you can bluff me —” 

“Get down!” said Johnny. 

Johnny gazed at the broker’s flaccid face. 
Percival assumed a jovial manner. “Go ahead! 
Say what you’ve got to say, and —” 

The driver of the buckboard sat gazing at the 
horses’ ears. Johnny Trent flicked a fly from the 
shoulder of his horse with the end of the reins. 
Percival felt the sweat trickling down his back 
and chest. 

“Get down,” said Johnny. And Percival got 
down. 

Coincident with his alighting, the team be¬ 
came restive again. The buckboard was 
cramped sharply. Before Percival could summon 
breath to protest, the liveryman whipped the 
team up out of the arroyo and disappeared. 

“Now,” said Johnny with a quick gesture, 
“you can step up on this horse. He won’t pitch 
you if you don’t try to hold him in too strong or 
jerk his head round. If you do, he’ll pitch you so 
high your clothes’ll be out of style when you 
light. You’re fat — and most like you’ll break 
your neck. Ride ahead, up this draw. You won’t 
get lost, because I’ll be with you. I’m taking you 
to have a talk with Miss Percival.” 

Percival did as he was told for the very good 
reason that he was doubly afraid of Johnny 
233 


Wild Horses 

Trent — because of what Old Henry Watkins 
had said, and because he himself had informed 
the sheriff’s men of the proposed meeting. 

“You’ll give me a square deal?” quavered the 
broker. 

“I’ll do that!” declared Johnny. “And not 
because I got any liking for you, or got anything 
against you, even if you did try to rope me and 
tie me by setting the man-chasers after some¬ 
body at the west bridge. I’m forgetting that. All 
I know about you is what Grace has told me 
and that’s plenty. Seems you been pestering her 
to marry you till she just naturally left town and 
come out here. Now I got an idea she don’t like 
you a whole lot. Mebby I’m wrong.” 

“Then Grace is safe?” 

“You bet! And a darned sight safer than her 
money, from what she told me of the folks han¬ 
dling it. And you’re one of ’em.” 

“But if she is living up here — in this country, 
why couldn’t she come down to Solano to see me? 
Did she send for me?” 

“Not that you’d notice. This is my party. 
Keep on riding, and nobody is going to harm a 
hair of your head, if you behave. Only, I got 
some use for you, and you’re going with me. Just 
let that horse have his head and he’ll take you 
where you’re going.” 

Mr. Samuel Percival of Chicago was surprised 
234 


Wild Horses 

that he felt no inclination to do other than he was 
told. Here he was, accompanying this irresponsi¬ 
ble, uncouth, illiterate young cow-puncher — Mr. 
Percival knew what illiterate meant when applied 
to any other than himself — into a wild and un¬ 
inhabited country, and no telling what might 
happen, or when he would be allowed to return. 
He reasoned that young Trent’s promise of an 
audience with Grace Percival might be a trick to 
lure him into the wilderness and hold him for 
ransom. Or Trent might have been friendly with 
the dead outlaw. Percival did not care to pursue 
that idea to a definite conclusion. If his ward had 
actually sent for him, well and good. He thought 
he could reason with her, persuade her to return 
with him. He could not conceive that Grace 
cared anything for the young ruffian. Why, the 
man was nothing but a common laborer who had 
worked on the road — so Baker had said: al¬ 
though Baker had called him a foreman — same 
thing. As for Grace marrying the man! 

Samuel Percival’s fat back grew cold. Perhaps 
she had married him! Grace was headstrong, in 
her way. And if she had, her inheritance, of 
which the interest had been more than sufficient 
for her expenses, would be transferred to her on 
her marriage day. Percival dreaded even to 
imagine such a contingency. Her money, to 
which he had access, was already involved in a 
23 5 


Wild Horses 

speculation that threatened to bankrupt the firm 
of Percival & Percival. 

As the draw grew deeper and the country more 
rugged, the broker paid strict and unnecessary 
attention to the trail, fearful that the horse might 
lose its footing. Climbing out of the draw to the 
timberlands they rode through a still and shad¬ 
owy forest — a ride that seemed interminable to 
the Easterner who began to lose his earlier confi¬ 
dence in the good-will of his companion. He 
wondered if the deputies were still waiting for 
him at the bridge, and what they would do when 
they heard that he was missing from Solano. He 
realized that he was virtually a prisoner of the 
grim young fellow he had so recently planned to 
trap. He surmised that he would appear ridicu¬ 
lous before Grace Percival. He had hoped to pose 
as her rescuer, make her appreciate the hazards 
he had run in searching for her. As for the matter 
of the telegram calling her to Chicago because of 
the motor accident — that could be put aside as 
a joke. 

Twice during the long ride through the after¬ 
noon forest, Percival thrust his hand into his 
coat-pocket and fingered the little automatic he 
always carried, in town or abroad. And the 
nearer he came to the end of his journey — 
Trent had told him they would arrive at their 
destination before sundown — the more deter- 
236 


Wild Horses 

mined he became to declare himself, chiefly be¬ 
cause of the change in Trent’s manner from that 
of captor to that of one performing an unpleasant 
but imperative duty. Percival surmised that the 
young fellow might be in love with his ward, but 
that his real purpose in kidnaping her was for 
ransom. The broker even went so far as to con¬ 
clude that the sheriff, the stage driver, and 
Trent were all in the plot. Well, they wouldn’t 
get one cent of his money. This young Trent had 
been the active figure in the enterprise, and, 
judging from his present manner, he regretted 
his act. 

Suddenly the forest opened upon a wide, 
grassy meadow. The horses stopped. Across the 
meadow, against the edge of the farther forest, 
stood a log cabin. “Grace is over there,” said 
Johnny, gesturing. 

“Before we go any farther,” said Percival, as¬ 
suming an offhand manner, “I might as well tell 
you that the young lady you have been calling 
‘Grace ’ is my wife. Kind of jars you, doesn’t it? 
Yes, we were married, secretly, just before she 
came out here. Maybe that’ll make a difference 
— when we have that little talk about the matter 
you want to settle.” 

Johnny laughed. “You’re a mighty smooth 
liar, ain’t you?” 

Samuel Percival, inspired by the dread of 
237 


Wild Horses 

financial ruin and the threat of the penitentiary, 
held himself to a measured and natural reply, 
which seemed sincere, emanating from the sin¬ 
cerity of desperation. “ Just as you like,” he said, 
and he smiled casually. 

He lied so well that Johnny believed him. 
Johnny’s gaze turned toward the distant cabin 
against the forest. “That’s all right,” he said 
presently. “But up here it’s just you and me and 
Grace. She’s going to say which is the man she 
wants — you or me. And there won’t be any 
argument after that.” 

They rode on across the meadow. Johnny 
hallooed. Frank Lopez appeared from back of 
the cabin, a rifle in the hollow of his arm. Then 
Grace Percival came to the doorway, hesitated, 
stepped out, and stood watching the horsemen 
approach. A glint of hate showed in Percival’s 
full eyes as he glanced at Johnny Trent s young, 
lusty figure: but Johnny was gazing straight 
ahead as though there were nothing in the world 
more worth his attention than the slender, grace¬ 
ful figure, bareheaded in the afternoon sunlight, 
poised as though questioning the reality of that 
which she saw. Percival grew hot with anger as 
he realized that this girl, whom he had known 
since she was a baby, seemed unmoved, quite 
herself, aside from the startled look that shone 
for an instant in her eyes and was gone. 

238 


Wild Horses 

Percival got heavily from his horse, walked up 
and down a few paces to ease his stiffened mus¬ 
cles, and then turning raised his hat with mock 
politeness. He assumed the attitude and manner 
of the generous tyrant — for Johnny Trent’s 
benefit. “Well, Grace, I suppose you call this a 
vacation; but I don’t.” 

“Why, Sam! I didn’t expect you.” 

“I guess you didn’t!” Percival took in the 
surroundings with a deliberately scornful stare. 
“So you prefer this sort of thing to Solano? And 
God knows that’s bad enough.” 

Grace Percival hesitated, glancing at Johnny. 
Then she turned to the broker. “I suppose 
you know what happened, or you wouldn’t be 
here?” 

“I know, well enough. You seem mighty glad 
to see me, don’t you?” 

“I am very glad you have recovered from your 
accident.” 

“We needn’t discuss that, just now. What 
are you doing up here?” 

“Doing? Why, making the best of it. Try to 
do that, and you’ll really feel more comfort¬ 
able.” 

Johnny excused himself and led the horses to 
the corral, Lopez striding beside him and talking 
earnestly. 

Percival stepped close to the girl. “What does 


Wild Horses 

it mean — the whole business?” he queried 
brusquely. 

“It means that I made a mistake when I al¬ 
lowed you even to think that I could marry you. 
I made another mistake when I thought I could 
flirt with Johnny Trent and not fall in love with 
him. When I received the telegram about your 
accident, I started for Antelope immediately. I 
think you know the rest.” 

“Letting yourself off easy, eh? Well, I don’t 
know the rest, but I’m going to. I am supposed 
to be your guardian, and I’m responsible for 
what you do.” 

“Yes? Mr. Trent asked me to marry him.” 

“Huh! Is that all?” 

“Absolutely. But of course I can’t. It would 
not be fair to him. I shall go back with you. 
There is really nothing else to do. But I want you 
to know how I feel about it all. Don’t imagine I 
am unhappy, or that I have been mistreated. To 
the contrary, I have rather enjoyed this experi¬ 
ence. I am wondering what would have hap¬ 
pened if you had not come. You see, I can trust 
Johnny Trent.” 

“Trust him! And he’s the man that kidnaped 
you and bundled you off up here to this shack! 
You mean to stand there and tell me that you 
care enough for that common cow-puncher to 
marry him? You’d look swell washing the dishes, 
£40 


Wild Horses 

and his clothes, and mopping the floor and feed¬ 
ing the hick! Why, he couldn’t buy you a pair of 
shoes a year! Are you crazy?” 

“Please come inside!” said Grace Percival, 
gesturing toward the cabin. “You are tired and 
hot — and utterly out of your element. We’ll 
be having supper directly. After supper we can 
talk all we wish, while I wash the dishes.” 

“You wash the dishes! You must like the 
life!” 

“I do.” 

Percival stared at her, unable to believe that 
she meant what she said. So that was it? She 
intended to live on her own income, and support 
that fellow Trent. She didn’t know, however, 
that her income and capital were involved — 
her bonds put up as collateral in a speculation 
that might or might not turn out well. The 
broker followed Grace Percival into the cabin 
where he made it obvious that combing his 
scanty hair with a ten-cent comb and washing in 
a common tin basin was not what he was accus¬ 
tomed to. He glanced at the table — the cheap 
knives and forks, the plates and cups, and the 
sugar in a lidless coffee can. 

“You mean to say those guys out there are 
going to eat with us?” he queried as Grace Per¬ 
cival fetched some biscuits from the oven. 

“Why not? This is Mr. Trent’s home.” 

241 


Wild Horses 

“And you’re the cook, eh?” 

“Yes. I’m not altogether helpless.” 

“Well, I’m damned if I’ll sit down with those 
highbinders,” declared Percival. 

Grace Percival smiled. The broker appeared 
ludicrous, out of poise, and unable or unwilling to 
exhibit the slightest degree of courtesy, even for 
her sake. His “ My-dear-young-lady ” attitude 
irritated her. His coarseness she could overlook 
as it was innate and not deliberate. 

“Uncle Sam,” she said, knowing how he dis¬ 
liked to be considered anything other than a 
suitor, “hadn’t you better take a walk over to 
the edge of the woods and back — and cool off? 
We’ll wait supper for you. You’ll be hungry 
when you return — and when one is actually hun¬ 
gry, tin plates really don’t matter so much.” 

“Thanks for the suggestion. You can feed 
those two cow-punchers, and when they’re 
through I’ll come back and have dinner with 
you.” 

Samuel Percival could not adjust himself to 
conditions as he found them in the household of 
Johnny Trent. Grace was actually cooking and 
waiting upon Trent and Lopez as though they 
were her kin. Nor did she seem to find it an effort 
to do so, but rather a pleasure. He had imagined 
his ward would consider him a rescuer, a hero — 
one who had risked his life to find her and take 
242 


Wild Horses 

her home. To the contrary, Grace Percival had 
shown no great surprise at his arrival, but seemed 
altogether absorbed in the menial occupation of 
housekeeper, not even pausing in her tasks as she 
talked with him. He took his hat and strode out, 
as he thought, impressively. 

The heat of his irritation carried him briskly 
across the meadow to the edge of the silent and 
austere forest. He paused, surveying the unfamil¬ 
iar solitude with disdain, then, gradually, with 
respect and awe.. For the first time in his life he 
realized how infinitesimal he was in the great plan 
and movement of the universe. But his egotism 
would not allow him to ponder long. He turned 
to walk back to the cabin, glancing about nerv¬ 
ously. To his right, a few yards from where he 
stood, he saw the figure of a man, crouched be¬ 
hind a tree, evidently watching him. Percival’s 
first impulse was to demand what the other 
wanted, but he lacked the nerve. So, pretending 
that he had not seen the other, he took a cigar 
from his pocket and lighted it. Then he began to 
walk slowly toward the cabin. As for the fellow 
behind the tree, he was some friend of Trent’s set 
to guard the place against a surprise. So Perci¬ 
val argued, but changed his mind before he was 
halfway across the evening meadow. Chances 
were that the watcher behind the tree was one of 
the deputies from Solano who had trailed them 
£43 


Wild Horses 

that afternoon and was waiting for the right mo¬ 
ment to make himself known and arrest young 
Trent. And the idea appealed to the broker ex¬ 
ceedingly. With Trent out of the way, it would 
not be difficult to persuade Grace that there could 
be no reason in the world for her remaining in the 
West. The cowboy had been so sure of himself — 
so autocratic. But there was a surprise coming — 
and soon. Percival felt elated — so elated, in 
fact, that he entered the cabin and took his place 
at the table with the others, and even essayed a 
jovial remark or so: but he got no response from 
either of the men. Lopez ate hurriedly, and, pick¬ 
ing up his rifle, left the room. 

“I suppose that friend of yours stands outside 
so that he can drop anybody that comes or goes 
without the boss’s consent, eh?” said Percival. 

Johnny glanced up. His gray eyes held the 
broker’s uneasy glance for an instant. “Yes — 
that’s my friend, Frank Lopez. He’s a good shot 
when he’s sober, and he hasn’t had a drink for 
two weeks.” 

The outlaw. Hartshorn, crouched behind a 
tree, had been watching the cabin as the sunset 
shadows drew down. He had seen the two riders 
cross the farther meadow, and he had wondered 
what the fat city man wanted up in that country. 
Later, and believing himself invisible in the dusk 
244 


Wild Horses 

of the timberlands. Hartshorn had viewed the 
city man at close range. He looked prosperous — 
but the outlaw was not after money. He needed 
food and a horse. And the other had not seen 
him, but had lighted a cigar and had strolled 
across the meadow. The four persons were all in 
the cabin, probably having supper. And there 
seemed to be no one else about the place. He had 
about made up his mind to cross the clearing, but 
hesitated on account of the faint light which still 
flickered over the meadow. In a few minutes it 
would be dark. And as he waited he saw the fig¬ 
ure of a man come through the doorway, and pro¬ 
ceed to the back of the house. Then came the 
sound of a horse plodding toward him. Harts¬ 
horn drew back into the deeper shadows. The 
horseman rode past and continued on along the 
trail toward Solano. 


CHAPTER XXII 

. “And we found eight empty shells and one of those little 
automatics on the floor. Seven of the shots had gone wild. The 
eighth, or maybe it was the first, got Johnny right between the 
shoulders. He didn’t know that it was Percival got him. He 
thought it was the other man...(From Undersheriff Owens s 
Report.) 

T HE swiftly fading twilight accentuated the 
stillness and solemnity of the high country. 
The small kerosene lamp in Johnny Trent’s cabin 
illumined the faces of the three, gathered about 
the table as though waiting for something to 
break the natural pause in conversation follow¬ 
ing the evening meal. Johnny rose and cleared 
away the dishes and stacked them on the sink- 
shelf near the stove. Grace Percival sat with her 
hands folded in her lap, gazing pensively at her 
slim, white fingers, and especially at a jeweled 
platinum ring, a trinket worth more money than 
Johnny Trent could earn in a year of hard work. 
She had purchased the ring herself, and occa¬ 
sionally wore it, and because Percival had tried 
to buy jewels for her, which she refused to accept, 
the broker observed her preoccupation frown- 
ingly. She ought to be wearing his ring, or, 
rather, several of his rings. He knew how to buy 
for a woman — dresses and jewelry and such 
things. Percival grew aware that she was then 
246 


Wild Horses 

quite unaware of his presence. Her habit of drift¬ 
ing into day-dreams had always irritated him. 
He could never understand why one person in 
company with another should not talk. She 
could talk entertainingly when she chose. 

While the lack of convention in the appoint¬ 
ments of the queer cabin annoyed him, Percival 
felt that somehow the place was a home, and he 
attributed this to Grace Percival’s presence. And 
he felt safer in her presence — free to assume his 
old, blustering importance and say what he 
thought. And this man Trent of whom he so re¬ 
cently had been afraid: why, the fellow was actu¬ 
ally boorish in his silence. He seemed depressed, 
aware of his uncouthness. Now was the time to 
show him up, and let Grace see what sort of a 
man he really was. 

Percival ran his thick finger round the inside of 
his collar. “Well, what have you got to say?” 

PercivaFs manner was that of a cross-exam¬ 
ining attorney who knows that the court will 
countenance almost anything from him except 
physical violence. In this case — so the broker 
assumed — Grace Percival was the court, and the 
man hiding in the forest, the constable. Johnny 
found it exceedingly difficult to keep his temper, 
yet he held to the main issue, chiefly because both 
Grace Percival and the broker were guests in his 
home. 


247 


Wild Horses 

Percival misinterpreted Johnny’s awkward re¬ 
straint. Assuming that the deputy would soon 
make his appearance, the broker became ponder¬ 
ously subtle. “I suppose you sleep with that belt 
and gun on you,” he said, “but you don’t need it 
when you are talking to a gentleman.” 

Johnny refrained from making the obvious re¬ 
joinder. He unbuckled his belt and hung the hol- 
stered gun on the wall. He turned toward Perci¬ 
val. “I fetched you up here to tell you that I 
took Miss Percival from the Solano stage, that 
night, and that she came up here against her w T ill. 
I asked her to marry me and she said she 
wouldn’t. I’m taking all the blame for this deal. 
She couldn’t help herself. Once I thought mebby 
she liked me pretty well — but she don’t care 
anything about me. It was my mistake. I had no 
business letting myself get to care for her. She 
never gave me a reason to think I ought to care 
for her, and —” 

Percival gestured impatiently. “What’s the 
use of telling me that stuff? Money’s what you’re 
after. I offered a reward for the discovery of Miss 
Percival. I’ll write you a check and we’ll call it 
square.” 

“No, you won’t,” said Johnny. 

“It isn’t a question of money, at all,” declared 
Grace Percival. 

“Then I suppose it’s case of love at first sight, 
248 


Wild Horses 

or something like that? Well, don’t you forget 
I’ve got something to say as executor of your es¬ 
tate. You are my ward, and, until you are mar¬ 
ried, the bulk of your estate is invested according 
to my judgment.” Percival saw the flush that 
darkened Johnny Trent’s face, and he smiled, 
Grace Percival turned swiftly to the broker. 
“You haven’t a right to disturb one cent of my 
money — and you never had. And you needn’t 
mention it again. I am going back with you. 
There is nothing else to do. But that is my own 
decision, not yours.” 

“So you’re sick of-all this Western bunk, eh? 
Well, I don’t blame you. And your bandit friend, 
here! Why, he’s licked, right now.” 

Grace Percival rose. “Sam, I wish you 
wouldn’t make a fool of yourself.” Then she 
turned to Johnny. “It is my fault — all my 
fault! I know you can never forgive me. I 
thought I cared for you — when you told me 
about the wild horses, and the gray stallion. But 
when you went away, and I realized that I could 
never marry you —” Grace Percival hesitated, 
then swiftly, gracefully, she drew the jeweled 
ring from her finger. “Please take it as a keep¬ 
sake. You risked your life to catch the gray stal¬ 
lion for me. Surely you have earned —” 

Johnny shook his head. “I don’t need that to 
remember you by.” He turned away, swung 
249 


Wild Horses 

round again. “You can have the cabin to-night, 
Grace. Mr. Percival can sleep in the lean-to, 
back of the house. M have horses ready for you 
in the morning.” 

Johnny was halfway to the door when a step 
sounded outside. A ragged figure, gaunt and 
soiled with pine needles and dirt, with sunken 
eyes glaring like those of a famished wolf, stood 
framed in the doorway. Johnny, who had antici¬ 
pated the appearance of Lopez, did not at first 
realize what that fearsome figure meant. The out¬ 
law, Hartshorn glanced at the three in the cabin, 
but held his gun centered on Johnny Trent’s 
belt-buckle. Johnny thrust up his hands, and 
Percival thrust up his hands, not realizing that 
he had done so. Hartshorn sidled round the cabin 
to the stove and snatched a biscuit from the plate 
on the sink-shelf. He ate wolfishly, his deep-set 
eyes glaring from beneath his matted hair. He 
kept his right hand advanced, covering Johnny, 
who noticed that, in spite of the man’s famished 
condition, the hand that held the gun was as 
steady as a rock. Percival shook as though with 
a chill. This man, that he had thought was a 
deputy, was obviously some outlaw, perhaps a 
murderer, and desperate beyond all argument or 
suasion. 

Grace Percival’s face was pale but she did not 
lose her poise. “Why, he’s starving!” she ex- 
250 


Wild Horses 

claimed, as the outlaw gulped down chunks of 
biscuit. 

“You said it!” 

“But we will give you something to eat. You 
don’t have to steal it.” 

“That ain’t the idea,” mumbled Hartshorn. 

“What is the idea?” queried Johnny. The ob¬ 
vious danger — for it was only too evident that 
the stranger was a hunted man and desperate — 
seemed to restore Johnny to his old, sprightly 
self. “You can have all you want to eat without 
sticking us up for it,” he continued. “And if you 
want to see how the country looks, over toward 
the desert, I can let you have a horse, if you’ll 
turn him loose when you get back to your own 
wagon. It ain’t the first time a puncher has got 
lost up here, and couldn’t connect up with his 
own outfit. Just take it easy — and we’ll sure 
forget that we saw you.” 

Grace Percival, and even Percival himself, 
frightened as he was, realized that Johnny was 
endeavoring to placate the man by assuming, or 
pretending, that the other was some puncher who 
had become lost in the high country. Yet Harts¬ 
horn suspected treachery, knowing no other 
than his own standard. He grabbed up the re¬ 
maining biscuits and thrust them into his pock¬ 
ets. He sidled along the wall, snatched Johnny’s 
belt and gun from the nail, and tossed them 
251 


Wild Horses 

through the open window. Johnny was wondering 
how the man got past Frank Lopez, and where 
Lopez was. As Hartshorn passed close to Grace 
Percival, he noticed the jeweled ring on her hand. 
‘Til take that!” he said, gesturing with his gun. 

“Let him have it, Grace!” quavered Percival. 

Hartshorn, inferring from Percival’s dress and 
manner that the woman was his wife, glared at 
the broker contemptuously. “ You ain’t even got 
nerve enough to fight for your own woman! Do 
you want me to bump off this buckaroo fearin’ 
he’ll get her?” 

Johnny saw the glitter of the jeweled trinket as 
Grace Percival drew it from her finger and held it 
for the fraction of a second before she dropped it 
into the outlaw’s clutching hand. Johnny had no 
romantic idea of making a dead hero of himself. 
But Grace Percival had offered to give him the 
ring as a keepsake. And, moreover, a guest had 
been robbed in his own house and that guest a 
woman — the woman. 

Unwittingly Grace Percival turned the trem¬ 
bling balance that launched Johnny at the outlaw 
like a panther leaping upon a steer. She gestured 
appealingly toward the hunted man, surmising 
the desperate physical need that swayed him. 
“I’m sure no one here wishes you any harm,” she 
said. And as she said it, Johnny leaped and 
grabbed for the outlaw’s arm. 

252 


Wild Horses 

Percival saw the two men strain together, 
heaving up on their toes as Johnny thrust the 
outlaw’s arm above his head. “Outside!” 
cried Johnny to Grace Percival, fearing that a 
chance shot might hit one or the other of the ter¬ 
ror-stricken onlookers. Hartshorn snarled, and 
fought to free his arm. They spun round, 
crashed against the cabin wall, and staggered to¬ 
ward the middle of the room. Grace Percival 
cowered in a corner of the cabin, her hands 
against her breast. Percival, seemingly paralyzed 
with fright, stood stiffly watching, his hands still 
above his head. Hartshorn’s shirt-sleeve ripped 
from wrist to shoulder, freeing his arm from 
Johnny’s clutch. Grace Percival screamed — 
and Percival, shivering like a man with palsy, 
went mad. He thrust his hand in his coat pocket, 
jerked out the automatic and fired blindly at the 
two men. Johnny, poised to charge at the out¬ 
law again, stopped as though stricken by a thun¬ 
derbolt. The outlaw jumped back and dashed 
through the doorway. The blunt roar of a shot 
shook the imprisoned air of the room. The lamp 
on the table seemed to burst of its own volition. 
Percival gasped at the sudden shock of darkness, 
then, dropping his pistol, turned and ran, out and 
across the meadow, stumbling, cursing, trying to 
shout for help, and by chance barely clearing a 
post of the open gateway — open because of 
253 


Wild Horses 

Hartshorn’s precaution in leaving a free way for 
himself if he succeeded in stealing a horse. Far 
out on the dim, starlit meadow Samuel Percival 
stumbled along, heading toward the south, think¬ 
ing that he was going toward Solano. 

Hartshorn, after shooting out the light in the 
cabin, jerked Johnny’s saddle from the peg be¬ 
neath the porch roof, and made for the corral. 
He caught up and saddled the bay pony, Chico, 
and swung out toward the south and the timber. 
Crossing the second meadow at a lope, he heard 
the sound of hoofs pounding along the edge of the 
farther forest. He swerved sharply, then, after a 
few seconds of listening, he headed south again. 
He had startled a band of horses grazing in the 
big meadow — the wild horses of the high coun¬ 
try, although he did not know it, but thought 
they were stock belonging to some isolated home¬ 
steader; possibly to the man back there in the 
cabin whom the fat man from the city had shot in 
the back. 


CHAPTER XXIII 

‘‘Once it was told of the stallion gray, 

That he bowed his neck to a cunning hand: 

Yet free with his kind he runs to-day. 

Like a storm-blown cloud of the mesa land. 

“Once, in the light of the upland stars, 

The ghost of an old hate barred his way, 

And he struck, that carried the rowel-scars, 

And flayed as the hoofs of the lightning flay.” 

P ERCIVAL’S blind panic drove him to super¬ 
human effort. His overworked heart forced 
the blood into the swelling veins of his throat 
until he could scarcely breathe. Finally he sank 
down on the meadow grass and lay trembling and 
gasping, and, as he thought, utterly spent. Yet as 
he lay writhing, clutching at the grass, sobbing, 
and altogether demoralized — paying in those 
brief moments of helplessness and self-torture 
for years of loose habit and indulgence — terror 
prodded him to his feet again. He must keep on 
until he came to some habitation, and safety. He 
could still hear the sharp, staccato bark of the 
automatic as he had emptied it at the two strug¬ 
gling figures. He had heard a woman scream, as 
Johnny Trent, poised to charge at the outlaw a 
second time, dropped as though struck by a 
great, invisible fist. Perhaps the bullet that had 
255 


Wild Horses 

shattered the lamp on the table had struck that 
slender, staring figure in the corner! 

Crazed by fear and horror, the broker stag¬ 
gered on, stumbling over the hummocks. Some 
one had been shot, in the cabin, back there! But 
he was alive, unharmed. If he could reach So¬ 
lano — 

Slowly his bemused faculties awakened to the 
sound of another drumming than that of his 
overworked heart. Some one was coming after 
him, riding swiftly. The soft thudding of hoofs 
sounded behind him. He began to run, his arms 
outstretched against the blackness around him. 
He had crossed to the middle of the big mesa 
south of the homestead when the speeding hoofs 
swept past. Again he stopped, through sheer 
physical inability to go farther. He sank to the 
earth, hiding his face in his arms. He was afraid 
to raise his head, to try even to ascertain where 
he was. But he would get up again and go on — 
reach Solano. Like a man lost in the wilderness 
and blindly positive that his compass is wrong, 
and that he knows the way out to safety, Per- 
cival made himself believe that he was on the way 
to Solano, while at the same time he realized that 
he did not know where he was going. Yes, he 
would rest a few minutes, then get up and con¬ 
tinue toward Solano. He repeated the name of 
the town to himself — because obsessed with the 
256 


Wild Horses 

sound of it. Presently he was conscious of the 
sound of another horse speeding past in the 
night. The sound grew fainter, faded into silence. 
A strange weakness crept over him, as though he 
had been immersed in tepid water, realizing it, 
yet scarcely feeling it. He had no desire to get up 
now — to go on. He wanted to rest, to drift into 
forgetfulness, to get away from the strident 
pounding of his heart that seemed to be hammer¬ 
ing the word “Solano” into his brain. Each beat 
of his heart shook him as the throb of an engine 
shakes a ship fast-moored to a wharf. 

In the stupor of fatigue he was slow to grasp 
the significance of a deep, muffled roar, like the 
mutter of far thunder in the hills. The distant 
thundering swelled and ebbed and seemed to 
shake the very ground on which he lay. He 
ceased clawing at the grass roots and heaved him¬ 
self to his knees. The grim muttering grew heav¬ 
ier, deeper. A quick gust of wind swept across the 
starlit mesa. The viewless horror was almost 
upon him. He did not know what it was — save 
that it was some mighty force, loosed, his final 
instinct told him, to destroy, to annihilate. He 
gazed with staring eyeballs into the night. He 
thought he could see the wavering outline of some 
gigantic thing moving swiftly toward him. With 
a last, flickering effort of will, he rose to his feet, 
flung out his arms against the grim shadow that 
257 


Wild Horses 

drove down upon him. Then he saw, almost 
upon him, the hurtling shapes of many horses 
a mass that split and swerved suddenly past on 
either side, even as the gray stallion, the fighting 
horse that had once felt the sting of rope and 
rowel, reared and struck downward with hoofs 
that slashed and flayed and beat like muffled 
hammers upon a crumpled and quivering heap in 
the misty meadow grass. 

The wild horses flung on — two flying wedges 
that were united again as they swung sharply to¬ 
ward the east. With heads high they swerved 
and swung and surged back from the rim of Twin 
Blue Canon, stringing out and running south, 
fearful of the canon trail and the remembered 
trap below. Without a leader, presently they 
stopped, sniffed the cool air, milled restlessly. A 
far, shrill trumpeting startled them to action. 
They flung up their heads, trotted toward the 
sound, stopped. Then a silvery shadow drifted 
toward them. A mare trotted from the band to 
meet the gray leader. Their nostrils touched. 
The mare leapt back, squealed, and whirling 
kicked at him, as she smelled that which had 
splotched the stallion’s hoofs and forelegs with 
red. 


CHAPTER XXIV 

“A puncher, riding Solano slope. 

With a brand-new saddle and a brand-new rope, 

Sang a little old song you may have heard. 

And then he whistled like a mockingbird —” 

J OHNNY TRENT, however, had not whis¬ 
tled for many a long month. It is doubtful 
that he would have been allowed to whistle in the 
hospital at Antelope, where he had lain with a 
bullet-hole through his lungs, unconscious for 
hours, and for days afterward scarcely aware that 
he was actually alive. He knew that some one 
other than the nurse came to his room frequently, 
nodded and smiled and stole softly away again. 
Finally, as he grew stronger, he learned that this 
person, coming, as it were, out of a dream, and 
vanishing again, was the girl he had met in the 
high country, ages ago, when he was young and 
able to ride the trails, and was his own man. 
Now he belonged to any one that chose to own 
him, and the doctor and the nurses seemed to 
have taken possession of him. As yet too weak to 
realize time as marked by the hours and the days, 
he did, however, realize that the girl who was not 
a nurse did not come to see him any more. So the 
next day after the girl failed to appear — Johnny 
thought it was the next day, although a week had 
elapsed since Grace Percival had left Antelope — 
259 


Wild Horses 

he asked where she was. He was told that Miss 
Percival had left for Chicago, but only after the 
surgeon had assured her that his patient was out 
of danger. Well, Johnny considered that natural 
enough. Grace Percival had decided to return to 
Chicago in any event. Later, when he found that 
his hospital bills had been paid, he worried a bit, 
and asked questions, and became generally irri¬ 
table, which was a good sign. 

The day he left the hospital, free to face the 
southern hills and home, the head nurse gave 
him a tiny parcel, explaining that Miss Percival 
had left it with her to give to him. Johnny 
wanted to know if any one had left a note or a 
message for him. Yes, the nurse told him, Mrs. 
Johnson of Solano had called at the hospital, as 
had Mr. Baker and his daughter Julia. “Sure 
they would,” said Johnny, “but there wasn’t 
anything else — any other message? ” The nurse 
shook her head. Johnny thrust the little parcel 
into his coat pocket. He did not know what it 
contained — and he thought he didn’t care. 
Grace was gone — and that was all that mattered, 
one way or the other. Johnny thought that she 
might at least have said good-bye, not aware that 
Grace Percival had come to his room when he 
was asleep — that she had knelt down beside his 
bed, taken his limp and all-but-bloodless hand in 
her hands, and kissed it again and again in fare- 
260 


Wild Horses 

well, just before she had left for Chicago. John¬ 
ny’s nurse might have told him this, but she did 
not, because she was a woman, young, good-look¬ 
ing, and poor — while Grace Percival was young, 
good-looking, and wealthy. However, it is doubt¬ 
ful that such news would have cheered Johnny in 
the least. 

He opened the parcel before he left Antelope 
and found within it the jeweled, platinum ring 
which he knew so well. But he could not under¬ 
stand how Grace had recovered the ring. The 
last time he had seen it, it was in the clutching 
hand of the outlaw with whom he had fought in 
the cabin. Not until he returned to Solano did 
Johnny learn how and when the ring had been 
recovered — and Frank Lopez did not elaborate, 
stating simply that he had returned the ring to 
Miss Percival after he had himself returned from 
a two days’ ride in the desert south of the home¬ 
stead. With Johnny and his friend, a nod and a 
gesture were sufficient. 

Frank Lopez was more eloquent about the 
finding of the body of Samuel Percival, possibly 
because he was in no way connected with the 
broker’s sudden and horrible and almost literal 
transmutation to clay. He explained, carefully, 
however, that the Chicago man was dead when 
he found him, significant, as Lopez had not stated 
the same thing about the outlaw, Hartshorn, 

261 


Wild Horses 

One tiling troubled Johnny considerably, and 
that was the realization that he actually cared 
nothing for Julia Baker, other than considering 
her a stanch friend. Once he had thought that he 
cared for her, but that was before he met Grace 
Percival. Now, he felt as though he had been, in 
some vague way, disloyal to Julia; that she de¬ 
served of him more than he could ever give. 
Even the belief that he would never see Grace 
Percival again did not change him in his attitude 
toward Julia Baker. He could not go back. It 
was too late fox that. There was but one woman 
in the world he could ever really care for — and 
she was as far from him as the farthest star. 
Johnny thought that the best thing he could do 
was to try to forget — and in setting himself the 
task, he managed to think of Grace Percival more 
often than he cared to acknowledge to himself. 
As he found that it was too late to go back to 
Julia, so he found that it was too late to forget 
Grace Percival — that forgetting is accomplished 
only through its own volition. His illness had re¬ 
fined and sharpened his sensibilities until they 
became somewhat like the proverbial quills of the 
“fretful porpentine.” 

Johnny had been back in what he called his 
own country for a year. He had not heard from 
Grace Percival nor had he written to her. His 
pride carried him past the gaze of curious towns- 
262 


Wild Horses 

folk, who wondered and gossiped. Work carried 
him past many a sullen hour of pondering and 
revolt at that which he knew he could not change. 

Baker, keeping stride with the times, had be¬ 
gun to build roads — and one especially, tra¬ 
versing the high country back of Solano. Eastern 
folk were just beginning to discover that section 
of Arizona which offered excellent hunting and 
fishing, and vistas so varied and magnificent 
that each new discoverer told his friend, and so 
enthusiasm grew into demands for pack-horses 
and saddle-horses and guides. Johnny Trent, 
who knew the back country better than even 
Baker himself, was put in charge of the road¬ 
making, and Frank Lopez became foreman of 
one of the road gangs. 

Winter finally put a stop to the work, so Johnny 
moved over to Baker’s ranch and went to work 
repairing and rehabilitating the one-hundred-and 
twenty miles of fence that enclosed the store¬ 
keeper’s range. Johnny was not content to lose a 
working day. He had determined to repay Grace 
Percival for her generosity in taking care of his 
hospital bills if it took him the rest of his life to 
save the necessary money. Of course, she could 
afford what she had given — she was wealthy. 
But that did not make it less imperative to repay. 
Johnny reasoned that he would never see her 
again. He would send the money through Baker, 
263 


Wild Horses 

who would know how to handle the matter. 
When the money had been repaid, Johnny planned 
to build a comprehensive camp for hunters and 
fishermen and tourists, to be located on the site 
of his homestead. He spoke to Baker about it. 
The storekeeper was interested in the idea, realiz¬ 
ing the value of such an establishment in that 
isolated section. 

Meanwhile, Johnny rode along miles of fence, 
inspecting, repairing — but not whistling. The 
winter swung round to the dry season and every¬ 
body prayed for summer rains. 

Then the high-country road-making began 
again. Johnny did not visit Solano often, and 
when he did, he stayed only long enough to order 
supplies and check up pay-roll and time-sheet. 

Biding down to Solano one pleasant summer 
morning he found himself pondering the happen¬ 
ings of the past two years. He believed that he 
could almost come to forget some of these hap¬ 
penings, if he kept busy at road-building. He 
made up his mind that Grace Percival meant less 
to him now. No doubt she had resumed her so¬ 
cial life and would recall him only occasionally. 
Well, that was all right! But she might at least 
have left some message of farewell at the hos¬ 
pital. And she had — but Johnny would have 
treasured a note from her, in her own handwrit¬ 
ing, more than all the jewels in the world. Johnny 
264 


Wild Horses 

asked himself why he had not written to her? He 
might have done so, and might have received a 
reply. He was still thinking about it when he tied 
his horse in front of Baker’s store; and while 
waiting for Baker, he picked up an old mail-order 
catalogue and glanced through it. He finally laid 
it aside and picked up another catalogue. It was 
of a Chicago firm. He did not open the catalogue, 
but replaced it, and while doing so came upon 
a wrapped newspaper addressed to himself. He 
tore the wrapper off. The paper was nearly a 
year old. It seemed that everything he touched 
on the desk had “Chicago” printed on it. The 
paper was a Chicago paper, and among the items 
was one telling of the failure of Percival & Per- 
cival, emphasizing in detail the financial catas- 
trophy which had left Grace Percival penniless, 
her personal fortune having been used, without 
her knowledge, in bolstering up a shaky specula¬ 
tion in which Samuel Percival had involved more 
than one shrewd business man. 

Johnny folded the paper and tucked it in his 
hip pocket. Presently Baker came in. They dis¬ 
cussed the road work. That afternoon, while rid¬ 
ing back to camp, Johnny Trent whistled, for the 
first time in many a long month. It seemed a 
strange thing to do, when he had just learned that 
the woman he cared for was practically a pauper. 
Yet it was because of this that Johnny whistled. 

265 


Wild Horses 

That morning he had told himself that he would 
never see Grace again. Now he knew that he 
would see her again — and that he would have 
something to say to her. 

The next time that he rode down to Solano, 
Johnny asked his employer for a two-weeks’ leave 
of absence. This was granted grudgingly. Baker 
depended a greal deal on Johnny’s knowledge of 
the high country and his ability to run a line for a 
practical road. “Lopez will stay with it till I get 
back,” said Johnny, but he did not say where he 
was going. 

It remained for Old Henry Watkins to spread 
the news that Johnny Trent had taken the East- 
bound train at Antelope. When Julia Baker 
heard this, she thought she knew where and why 
Johnny had gone. But not even Grace Percival 
herself knew what Johnny went through, nor how 
desperately close he came to not finding her, be¬ 
fore he finally discovered her teaching school in a 
not too select section of Chicago. 


CHAPTER XXY 

THE NEW ROAD 

I T was remarked by two or three of the more 
observant that Johnny Trent had returned to 
Solano alone. It was also remarked that he whis¬ 
tled cheerfully. He immediately reported to Ba¬ 
ker, and the following day returned to his work in 
the high country. The big log camp and the in¬ 
dividual cabins, work on which had begun the 
week before he left, were already beginning to 
look like an establishment. In order to anticipate 
the fall hunters, Baker had sent up an extra force 
of men. Baker had financed the project under a 
partnership arrangement which contemplated 
Johnny’s personality making the venture a suc¬ 
cess. Johnny was to assume the responsibility of 
laying out new trails to favorable hunting and 
fishing locations, select and purchase saddle and 
pack animals, arrange for competent horse- 
wrangles, cooks, and guides, and see to provisions 
and equipment. And he went at it with a zest 
which kept his right-hand man, Frank Lopez, on 
the trot most of the time. Baker finally suggested 
a formal opening of the camp with the usual loeal 
advertising, local crowd, and barbecue. Johnny 
held out against the idea. 

267 


Wild Horses 

“Lots of hunting camps in the West,” de¬ 
clared Johnny. “Most of ’em are advertised in 
the magazines, back East. And those little old 
advertisements read about alike. If we want to 
fall in line and advertise like they do, we can get 
some trade, at first. But the best trade — the 
kind that keeps coming year after year and 
fetches along some friends each trip — is the kind 
that thinks they have discovered a real place that 
nobody else knows about. Real sportsmen don’t 
like to sit in with the kind you find at the regular 
dude camps. I aim to run this place like I would 
run a cow-outfit — top hands and top horses. 
It’ll make its own name in two, three years. And 
we got the finest game country, and the most 
beautiful. Some folks are just naturally going to 
fall over backwards when they take a look at the 
canons and hills up here. But we’ll have some¬ 
body standing behind ’em, to catch ’em and prop 
’em up so they can take a second look. It’s new 
country — and nobody can really say how fine it 
is.” 

“It’s wild country, yet,” said Baker, in a tone 
which implied a lingering regret that it should 
ever become otherwise. 

Johnny glanced shrewdly at the storekeeper. 
“I had an idea, once, that I could hold out against 
what was bound to happen to the West — sort of 
keep some of these hills and canons to myself. 

268 


Wild Horses 

But the East is discovering us mighty fast. What 
helps some is that a fellow is so proud of this 
country he is willing to show it to any one — like 
you would show a good horse or a fine bunch of 
cattle.” 

Baker, who had ridden up to see how the work 
was progressing, called attention to the men who 
were dismantling Johnny’s old cabin. 

Johnny nodded. “ Don’t fit in with the rest of 
the buildings,” he said casually. “ I aim to use the 
north wing of the main camp for my headquarters. ’ ’ 

“Suit yourself,” said Baker, “but the north 
wing is big enough to house a small family.” 

“Maybe it will — some day,” said Johnny. 

On the high mesas the grass stood to the 
horses’ knees. The October air, so clear, so radi¬ 
ant with the sparkle of sunlight, had an indescrib¬ 
able tang that inspired to activity. On the far 
meadows colts, that had lived close to their moth¬ 
ers’ shadows all that summer, grew suddenly in¬ 
dependent, clicking playful heels at the amiable 
mares who watched them run and cavort in wide 
circles. The rich, black soil of the timberlands 
was aflame with innumerable bright-hued flow¬ 
ers. Lush, green-edged, were the banks of the 
meandering hill streams, and emerald hollows 
marked the cienagas of coarse grass and purple 
water-plants. Round each broad meadow swung 
269 


Wild Horses 

a circle of stalwart pines, blue-topped, aloof, sub¬ 
limely indifferent to the flower-dappled grasses at 
their feet: their business was with great vistas 
and the sky. 

The new road from Solano approached these 
magic highlands with circumspection, as a good 
road should. It neither hurried nor lagged, but 
climbed steadily. Here it showed on the cut of a 
scarred hillside, and there it disappeared within a 
brown-pillared archway of shadowy blue. Rising 
to the first mesa level, it seemed to hesitate, as 
though undecided as to where it should go. But 
Johnny Trent had overcome the road’s indeci¬ 
sion. Instead of crossing the open, the new road 
swung into the timberlands, breaking from the 
forest suddenly at the second mesa where it swept 
straight on to a high gateway above which ran the 
simple legend: “Trent’s Camp.” 

As Johnny rode down to Solano that morning, 
he whistled. He seemed to have acquired the 
habit. He tickled Pronto with the spurs and 
grinned as Pronto jumped and shied. There was 
room to shy — on the new road. Johnny talked 
to Pronto, who carried one ear back and the other 
forward. It wasn’t exactly the square thing to do. 
It was a new road, and Pronto was much more at 
home on the old, rough pitches of the original 
train. Johnny had deliberately chosen the new 
road, in spite of a peculiar urge to take the old, 
270 


Wild Horses 

narrow trail with its hazards and quickening 
memories. The trail was the shorter route to So¬ 
lano, but then, Johnny was in no special hurry. 
The stage would not arrive until noon. 

In Solano, Johnny strode into Baker’s store 
and found the rotund little man at his desk look¬ 
ing very judicial. “Now, what have you been up 
to?” he queried, his blue eyes twinkling. 

“Up to the camp,” replied Johnny innocently. 

With great deliberation Baker chose a slip of 
paper from among the letters on his desk — the 
copy of a telegram relayed by telephone from An¬ 
telope. Johnny waited while Baker read the mes¬ 
sage, although he knew Baker was familiar with 
it, word for word. Baker thrust the slip of paper 
at Johnny. 

Johnny took it, glanced casually at it, and 
tucked it in his belt. “Thanks,” he said, as 
though the other had given him a match. 

“Oh, I’m not as surprised as you think, young 
man!” declared Baker, still maintaining his judi¬ 
cial air. 

“No? ’Course, Grace could have signed it 
‘Mrs. Johnny Trent,’ and that would have looked 
mighty fine to me. But she knows I like her first 
name better than I like my last name —” 

“Your wife! You young scoundrel, do you 
mean to tell me that you are married? Of course, 
I knew that you went to Chicago. But —” 

271 


Wild Horses 

“I did mean to tell you, but I won’t, now. 
Yes, I’m married.” Johnny nodded vigorously. 
“Don’t I look all right?” He drew himself up, 
flexed his arms, stamped his heels until his spurs 
jingled, and then, with a glance at the clock, he 
strode from the office, swung up on his horse . . . 

Baker rose and walked slowly to the doorway. 
Johnny was dusting it down the Concho road. 

The Solano stage, a mile or so out on the mesa 
road, drew toward the speeding horseman. And 
the speeding horseman, standing in his stirrups, 
took the copy of the telegram from his belt and 
read it again. “Will arrive in Solano Monday. — 
Grace.” 


THE END 


























































































































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