“Well, is it settled?” queried the rider, strangely.
Lucy was startled into self-consciousness by his tone.
How strangely he must have felt. And his eyes were piercing.
“You mean—that I ride Wildfire?” she replied, shyly. “Yes, if you’ll let me.”
“I’ll be proud.”
“You’re very good. . . . And do you think Wildfire can beat the King?”
“I know it.”
“How do you?”
“I’ve seen both horses.”
“But it will be a grand race.”
“I reckon so. It’s likely to be the grandest ever seen. But Wildfire will win because he’s run wild all his life—an’ run to kill other horses. . . . The only question is—can you ride him?”
“Yes. I never saw the horse I couldn’t ride. Bostil says there are some I can’t ride. Farlane says not. Only two horses have thrown me, the King and Sarchedon. But that was before they knew me. And I was sort of wild. I can make your Wildfire love me.”
“That’s the last part of it I’d ever doubt,” replied the rider. “It’s settled, then. I’ll camp here. I’ll be well in a few days. Then I’ll take Wildfire in hand. You will ride out whenever you have a chance, without bein’ seen. An’ the two of us will train the stallion to upset that race.”
Lucy’s gaze was impelled and held by the rider’s. Why was he so pale? But then he had been injured—weakened. This compact between them had somehow changed their relation. She seemed to have known him long.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Lin Slone,” replied the rider.
Then she released her hands. “I must ride in now. If this isn’t a dream I’ll come back soon.” She led Sage King to a rock and mounted him.
“It’s good to see you up there,” said Slone. “An’ that splendid horse! . . . He knows what he is. It’ll break Bostil’s heart to see that horse beat.”
“Dad’ll feel bad, but it’ll do him good,” replied Lucy.
That was the old rider’s ruthless spirit speaking out of his daughter’s lips.
Slone went close to the King and, putting a hand on the pommel, he looked up at Lucy. “Maybe—it is—a dream—an’ you won’t come back,” he said, with unsteady voice.
“Then I’ll come in dreams,” she flashed. “Be careful of yourself. . . . Good-by.”
And at a touch the impatient King was off. From far up the slope near a monument Lucy looked back. Slone was watching her. She waved a gauntleted hand—and then looked back no more.
Two weeks slipped by on the wings of time and opportunity and achievement, all colored so wonderfully for Lucy, all spelling that adventure for which she had yearned.
Lucy was riding down into the sage toward the monuments with a whole day before her. Bostil kept more and more to himself, a circumstance that worried her, though she thought little about it. Van had taken up the training of the King; and Lucy had deliberately quarreled with him so that she would be free to ride where she listed. Farlane nagged her occasionally about her rides into the sage, insisting that she must not go so far and stay so long. And after Van’s return to work he made her ride Sarchedon.