Carolyn June’s face was as white as marble. Her breast heaved and fell as if it would burst. Dry-eyed, every nerve tense, she stared at the straining racers. Unconsciously she gripped into hard knots of flesh and bone, both hands, while she bit at her underlip until a red drop of blood started from the gash made in the tender skin by her teeth.
“Drunk!” she thought, “drunk! Beastly drunk—and throwing away the greatest race ever run on a Texas track!”
Old Heck sat impassive as though carved from stone and said nothing.
Ophelia nervously chewed at the finger of her glove while her eyes moistened with sympathy and pity.
Skinny, Chuck and Bert sat gloomily, moodily, on their bronchos and watched Thunderbolt lead the quintette of running horses.
For the life of him Skinny could not keep from thinking of the five hundred dollars he had bet with Sabota, on the race, and the number of white shirts and purple ties he might have bought with the money!
Over in the track-field Parker, Charley and Pedro saw the start of the race and each swore softly and silently to himself.
Sing Pete, alone of the Quarter Circle KT crowd, in the jam of the grandstand, stretched his neck and followed with inscrutable eyes the close-bunched racers. The start had puzzled him, yet he murmured hopefully:
“Maybe all samee Lamblin’ Kid he beatee hell out of ’em yet!”
The loyal Chinese cook had wagered the savings of a dozen years on the speed of the Gold Dust maverick’s nimble legs and his faith in the “Lamblin’ Kid.”
A blanket might have covered the five horses as they swung around the first mile.
The speed-mad animals roared down the homestretch, finishing the first half of the race in the almost identical position each had taken in the getaway.
The Ramblin’ Kid rode the mile more as an automaton than as a living, conscious human being. He had no memory of time, place, events—save for the instants of rationality he forced his will to bring.
Gradually, though, his mind was clearing.
But which was it—the first half?—the last half? How long had they been running? How many times had they gone around the track? He could not remember!
Down the straight stretch the racers came in a mighty whirlwind of speed.
“Thunderbolt is taking it!”
“The Y-Bar horse leads!”
“Th’ black’s got ’em!” roared from the throats of the crowd in the grandstand and the mass of humanity crushing the railing along the track.
Dorsey and Sabota leaped to the edge of the box as the horses thundered past the judges’ stand. The voice of the owner of Thunderbolt shrieked out in a hoarse bellow:
“Hold him to it, Flip! Keep your lead—you’ve got the filly!”
The Ramblin’ Kid heard again—or thought he heard again—the voice of the Vermejo cattleman. He caught, as an echo, a note of triumph in it. It was like a tonic to his drug-numbed faculties.