A "Garrison finish" is a finish in a contest or race in which the winner comes from behind at the last moment. Named after the American jockey Edward Henry ("Snapper") Garrison, (1868-1930), who often won races in this fashion.
WHEN Sue Hampton looked down to the pale, lithe hands which were folded in her lap, Jim Orchard had his first opportunity to examine her face. He thought her whiter than ever, and thinner, and he disliked the heavy shadows around her eyes. But when she looked up to him, the thick lashes lifting slowly, he forgot the pallor.
That slow trick with the eyes had first won him—that, and a certain wistfulness in her smile. There was nothing direct and commanding about Sue. Most girls a tithe as pretty as she were in the habit of demanding things. They accepted applause and admiration, as a barbarian king accepts tribute from the conquered. It was no more than their due. But it seemed to Jim that Sue Hampton was never quite sure of herself.
She turned her engagement ring absently and waited for Jim to go on.
"Let's see," he said, going back with difficulty to the thread of his story. "I left off where...?"
"You and Chalmers had started for the claim."
"Sue, you don't seem half glad to see me."
He went to her, half angry and half impatient, and took her hands. They were limp under his touch, and the limpness baffled him. The absence of resistance in her was always the stone wall which stopped him. Sometimes he grew furious. Sometimes it made him feel like a brute.
"I am glad to see you," she said in her gentle voice.
"But... confound it... pardon me, Sue! Look up... smile, can't you?"
She obeyed to the letter; and he at once felt that he had struck a child. He went gloomily back to his chair. "All right," he said, "go ahead and talk."
"If you wish me to, Jim."
"Confound it, Sue, are you ever going to stop being so... so..."
"Oh, I don't know! Well, I'll tell you why I came back ahead of time."
"Ahead of time?"
"In a way. Someone drifted up where I was and told me that Garry Munn was hanging around and getting pretty thick with you."
There was no answer. That was one of the maddening things about her. She never went out of her way to show her innocence of blame, or to win over the hostile.
"Well," went on Jim Orchard, growing less and less sure of himself and more and more inclined to bully his way out of the scene, in spite of the fact that he loved her, "well, Sue, is it straight? Has Garry Munn been around a lot?"
He had come some two hundred miles for the pleasure of seeing her, but chiefly for the joy of a denial of this tale.
"You mean to say that Garry is getting sort of... sort of...?"
She did not help him out either by an indignant denial or laughter. Accordingly his sentence stumbled away to obscurity. "Well," he said finally, "what do you think of him?"
"I like him a great deal."
He became seriously alarmed. "You don't mean to say that he's turned your head with his fine riding and all that?"
Tomorrow would be the last day of the great rodeo which had packed the little town of Martinville with visitors, and in that rodeo the spectacular name, from first to last, had been that of Garry Munn. In the bucking and roping and shooting contests he had carried away the first prize. The concern of Jim Orchard had some foundation. When he reached Martinville that day, the first thing of which he was told had been the exploits of Garry.
"Sue," he said suddenly, "what they told me is true!"
She merely watched him in her unemotional way. In her gentleness there was a force that tied his hands. It had always been so. In another moment he was on his knees beside her chair, leaning close to her.
"Honey, have you stopped loving me?"
The beat of his heart returned to the normal.
"Then say it."
"I love you, Jim." She turned on him those calm eyes which never winced, and which from the first had always looked straight into his heart.
"Just for a minute...," he said, stammering, and then finished by touching her hands with his lips and returning to his chair. Another girl would have gloried in her triumph, but in the smile of Sue Hampton he saw no pride. How she did it he was never able to learn, but she was continually holding him at arm's length and wooing him toward her.
"I know you're the straightest of the straight," confessed Jim Orchard. "If you changed your mind about me, I'd be the first one to hear of it. Well... where was I?"
"You were telling me about the trip to the mines."
"Chalmers had the main idea. I staked the party, and we hit it rich!"
He paused. The slight brightening of her face meant more to him than tears or laughter in another woman.
"I didn't want to see how things would pan out. The second day after we'd made the strike I asked Chalmers if he'd buy my share for five thousand. I didn't care much about having more than that. Five thousand was the figure you named, wasn't it? Five thousand before we could safely get married?"
"Chalmers jumped at the chance, and I beat it with the coin. Five thousand iron boys!"
"That was nearly five months ago?"
His jubilation departed. "You see, honey, on the way back I ran into McGuire. You know Mac?"
"I've heard you talk about him."
"Well, Mac was down and out. Doctor told him he'd have to take a long rest, and he needed a thousand to rest on. Lung trouble, you see? So, what could I do? There was a dying man, you might say, and I had five thousand in my wallet. What would you have done?"
"You gave him the money?" she countered, adroitly enough.
"I had to. And then, instead of going away for his rest, he blew it in one big drunk! Can you beat that, Sue?"
She was looking down at her hands again, and Jim began to show signs of distress.
"Well, I looked at my coin and saw that I was a thousand short. Four thousand was short of the mark, anyway, so I thought I might as well spend a little of it getting over my disappointment about Mac. I started out on a quiet little party. Well, when I woke up the next day, what do you think?"
"The money was gone, I think," said the girl.
"All except about a hundred," replied Jim. "But I took that hundred and started to play with it. I'm a pretty good hand at the cards, you know. For three months I played steadily, stopping when I'd won my percentage. The hundred grew like a weed. When I landed six thousand, I thought it was safe to quit. Just about then I met Ferguson. Fergie had a fine claim going. Just finished timbering the shaft and laying in a bunch of machinery. Mortgaged his soul to get the stuff sometime before, and they were pinching in on him. He needed four thousand to save forty. There wasn't any doubt that he was right. What could I do? What would you have done?"
"You gave him the money?" murmured Sue Hampton.
"I sure did. And then what do you think?"
"He lost it?"
"The mine burned, the shafts caved, and there was Ferguson flat busted, and my four thousand gone. But I took what I had left... and here I am with two thousand, Sue. I would have tried to get a bigger stake, and I would have made it, sure, but this news about Garry had me bothered a lot. I came back to find out how things stood and... Sue... I want you to take the chance. It's a small start, but with you to manage things we'll get on fine. Isn't two thousand enough in a pinch for a marriage?"
He had grown enthusiastic as he talked, but when she did not raise her eyes again the flush went out of his face.
"Jim, how old are you?"
"Thirty-two... thirty-three... never did know exactly which."
"Twelve years ago you had a whole ranch."
"Loaded to the head with debts."
"Not your debts. You came into the ranch without a cent against it. They were your brother's debts, and you took them over."
"What would you have done, Sue? Good heavens, there's such a thing as the family honor, you know! Billy didn't have any money; I did. What could I do? I had to make his word good, didn't I?"
"And the debts kept piling up until finally the ranch had to be sold."
"Ah," sighed Jim Orchard, remembering.
"For eight years you fought against it. Finally you were beaten. Then you became a manager for another rancher. You had a big salary and a part interest, but the rancher had a younger brother who couldn't fit into life. You stepped out and let the younger brother buy your interest for a song."
"What would you have done? It was his own brother. I couldn't very well break up a family, could I?"
"After that," went on the gentle voice, "you did a number of things. Among others, you asked me to marry you. How long ago was that?"
"Three years ago last April fifth."
She smiled at this instant accuracy—the small, wistful smile that always made the heart of Jim Orchard ache.
"And for three years we've been waiting to be married. Three years is a long time, Jim."
This brought him out of his chair. "Yes," he admitted huskily, "it's a long time."
"Don't stand there like... like a man about to be shot, Jim," she whispered.
He attempted to laugh. "Go on."
"I've kept on teaching school... and waiting."
"It's been hard, and you're a trump, Sue!"
"But I think it's no use. You'll never have enough money. Not that I want money. But, if we marry, I want children... right away... and that means money."
"You know I'd slave for you and them!"
"I know you would, and after you'd made a lot of money, somebody would come along who needed it more than we did."
"Never in the world, Sue!"
"You can't help it."
"You'd keep me from being a fool."
"I couldn't, because I believe in every gift you've ever made. What could I do?"
"Then... I'm simply a failure?"
"A glorious failure... yes."
"And that means?"
"That I'd better give back your ring."
"Is that final, Sue?"
"Then I was right. Mind you, I don't blame you a bit. I know you're tired out waiting and hoping. And finally, you've stopped loving me."
She went to him with a smile that he was never to forget. "Don't you see," she said, "that every failure, which has made it a little more impossible for me to marry you, has made me love you a little more? But when we marry, we put our lives in trust for the children."
"And you couldn't trust me like that, of course."
She held out the ring.
"Sue," he cried in agony, "when a man's sentenced to die he isn't killed right away. Give me a chance... a time limit... a week... two days. I'll get that five thousand."
"If you wish it, Jim."
"First... put back that ring!"
He caught her in his arms in an anguish of love, of despair.
"I'll get it somehow."
"But no violence, Jim?" All at once she clung to him. "Promise!"
In the past of Jim Orchard there had been certain scenes of violence never dwelt upon by his friends. There was a battered look about his face which time alone did not account for, or mere mental strain. In cold weather he limped a little with his right leg; and on his body there was a telltale story of scars.
Not that his worst enemies would accuse him of cruelty or malignancy, but when Jim was wronged a fiendish temper possessed him. Some of those tales of Jim Orchard in action with fist, knife, or gun came back to the girl, and now she pleaded with him.
"All right," he said at length. "I promise! It's two days, Sue?"
"One last thing... if any man..."
"All right. I've promised... and I won't harm him."
HE went out and stood with his hat in his hand, heedless of the blinding sunshine. In the distance, from the field of the rodeo, there was a chorus of shouting, and Jim Orchard glared in that direction. In all the ups and downs of his life, this was the first time that the happiness of others had roused in him something akin to hatred.
"They've given me a rotten deal—they've stacked the cards!" thought Jim. And certainly he was right. The history of his hard work, all undone by fits of blind generosity which Susan Hampton had outlined to him, was only a small portion of the truth.
They said of Jim Orchard: "He's got a heart too big for his own good!" And again: "An easy mark!"
There was just a touch of contempt in these judgments. Generosity is a virtue admired nowhere more ardently than in the West; but reckless generosity never wins respect. Because of the speed of his hand and the accuracy of his eye, no one was apt to taunt Jim with his failings in this respect, but there was a good deal of talk behind his back. He knew it and despised the talkers.
But now his weakness had been driven home as never before. Jim felt that the world owed him something. He could be even more exact. He needed five thousand, and he had two thousand. In terms of cold cash he felt that the world owed him exactly three thousand dollars, and he was determined to get it. Sue had not judged him wrongly. For a moment a grim determination, to take by force what he needed, had formed in his mind, but now his hands were tied, and that possibility was closed to him.
However, there were always the gaming tables, and his luck was proverbial. He turned in that direction to see a little procession coming slowly up the street. Four men were carrying another on a stretcher, and a small crowd was following them. They stopped near Jim Orchard to rest a moment.
"Jerico's got another man," he was told briefly.
He went to the side of the litter. It was Bud Castor, his face white 190 with pain, the freckles standing out on his forehead. The heavy splints and bandages around his right leg and the swathing of his body were eloquent. Jerico had done a "brown" job of Bud. He had never seen the horse, but everyone had heard of Sam Jordan's great black stallion. As a rule he pitched off those who attempted to ride him. Again he might submit with scarcely a struggle, only to bide his time and attack his would-be master at an opportune moment with tigerish ferocity.
"Jim," pleaded the injured man, "do me a favor. Get your gat and plug that black devil, will you?"
But Jim Orchard turned and went on his way. After all he felt a poetic justice in the deviltry of Jerico. They had run that black mustang for a whole season and, when they could not wear him down, had captured him by a trick. This was part of his revenge—a trick for a trick. Who could blame him?
Savagery of any kind was easily understandable by Jim Orchard on this day. In the meantime he headed straight for the big gaming house of Fitzpatrick. He entered and walked straight to that last resort of the desperate—the roulette wheel. Fitzpatrick welcomed him with both a sigh and a smile; if he was a royal spender, he was also a lucky winner.
But the little buzz of pleasure and recognition which met Jim Orchard was not music to his ears today. He nodded to the greetings and took his place in the crowded semicircle before the wheel. He began playing tentatively, a five here, a ten there, losing steadily. And then, as all gamblers who play on sheer chance will do, he got his hunch and began betting in chunks of fifty and a hundred on the odd.
"Orchard has started a run," the rumor ran through the room, and the little crowd began to grow.
As he played, wholly intent on the work before him, he heard someone say: "Who'd he get?"
"Bud Castor. Nice for Bud, eh?"
"But who'll take care of Bud's family? Sam Jordan?"
"Bah! Sam Jordan wouldn't take care of a dog."
"They'll take up a collection, maybe."
"They's been too many collections at this here rodeo, I say, for one."
"And you're right, too."
Again the odd won, and Jim, raking in his money, prepared to switch his bets. His momentary withdrawal was taken advantage of by a squat-built, powerful fellow who touched his arm.
"How are you, Jim?"
"Hello, Harry. What you want?"
"How'd you know I was busted?"
"Are you flat, Harry?"
"I'll tell a man!"
"What'll fix you up?"
"Sure hate to touch you, Jim, but if you can let a hundred go for a couple of days...?"
His hand was on his wallet when he remembered—remembered about Sue Hampton, his grudge against the world, and that debt which he felt society owed him.
He hesitated. "Haven't you got a cent, Harry?"
"Not a red, partner."
Orchard set his jaw in the face of the ingratiating grin. From a corner of his eye he had noted the passing of a wink and a wise smile between a couple of bystanders. There followed a sudden scuffle, without warning, without words. At the end of it, Harry, with one arm crooked into the small of his back, had been jammed into the bar in a position of absolute helplessness, and the deft hands of Jim Orchard went swiftly through the pockets of his victim. Presently he found what he wanted. He drew forth the chamois bag, shook it, and a little shower of gold pieces fell to the floor.
He released Harry with a jerk that sent him spinning across the floor.
"A cold hundred if you got a cent," he declared. "Is that what you call flat broke? You skunk!"
The crowd split away and drew back, like a wave receding from two high rocks. There was a very good possibility of gun play, and no one wanted to be within the direct course of the bullets. It required a very steady nerve to face Jim Orchard, but Harry Jarvis was by no means a coward. He was half turned away from Jim, with his face fully toward him; the hidden arm was crooked and tensed, with the hand near the holster of his gun. The weight of a hair might turn the balance and substitute bullets for words. Jim Orchard was talking softly and coldly.
"You come to me like a drowned rat," he said, "and you beg for a hundred. Where's the hundred I gave you six months ago? There was another hundred before that, and a fifty and a couple of twenties still further back. You've used me like a sponge and squeezed me dry. And there's a lot of the rest of you that've done the same thing. Where's the gent in this room that's ever heard of me begging or borrowing a cent from anybody? Let him step out and say his little piece. But the next four-flushing hound dog that tries a bluff with me like Harry's is going to get paid in lead on the spot. Gents, I'm tired... I'm considerable tired of the way things have been going. There's going to be a change. I'm here to announce it."
Then he deliberately turned his back on Harry Jarvis and stepped to the bar. Harry Jarvis, great though the temptation of that turned back was, knew perfectly well by the sternness of the faces around him that his gun would be better off in its leather than exposed to the air. Jarvis, also, turned and disappeared through the door.
"Well, Jim," said the bartender, "there's a hundred saved."
"There's more than a hundred spent," answered Jim gloomily. "He's busted up my run."
For the gamester's superstition had hold on Jim Orchard. Nothing could have persuaded him to tempt fortune again on that day, once his happy streak of winning had been interrupted from the outside. He counted his winnings as he left the gaming hall. He was some five hundred and fifty dollars ahead, as the result of the few moments he had spent in the place. At least it was a comfortable beginning toward the goal which had been set for him by Susan Hampton. When he reached the dust of the street, he had so far relaxed his grim humor that he was humming softly to himself. The result of his contentment was that he nearly ran over a barefooted urchin who was scuffing his way moodily through the dust.
"Hey!" yelled the youngster, "whatcha doing?" He changed to a surly grin. "Hello, Jim."
"Hello," said Jim Orchard. "You're Bud Castor's boy, I figure."
"What's the news? What's the doctor say?"
"He says pa won't never be able to ride ag'in."
Fate made the fingers of Jim Orchard at that moment close over the money which he had just won at the gaming hall. Before the impulse left him he had counted out five hundred and fifty dollars into the hand of the youngster.
"You take that to your mother, you hear? Tell her to put it away for the rainy day. Or, maybe she can use it to help get Bud fixed up."
"Gee," exclaimed the boy, "you're white. I'll tell a man you're white. I... I'd about die for you, Jim Orchard!"
"Hm," mused the spendthrift. "Now, you cotton on to this: if you ever tell your ma or your pa where you got the money, I'll come and skin you alive. Don't forget!"
He accompanied this warning with a scowl so terrible that the child changed color. Jim Orchard left him agape and went on down the street, smiling faintly. When he reached the hotel, his smile went out suddenly.
"Good glory," said Jim, "I've done it ag'in! I've done it ag'in!" But he instantly consoled himself in his usual manner. "What else was they for me to do? Bud needs it more'n I do, I guess!"
HE was beginning to feel a certain leaden helplessness, as men will when they think that destiny is against them. He had had half of the five thousand in his pocket, but now he was back to the two thousand again. He went with a heavy step into the bar of the hotel and leaned against the wall. Here the heroes of that day's events at the rodeo were holding forth on their luck. With immense grins and crimson blushes they accepted the congratulations of the less daring or the less lucky. He was picked out by one or two and invited to drink, but he shook his head. The invitations were not pressed home, for Jim Orchard was obviously in one of his moods. At such times those who knew him best avoided him the most.
Only the hotel proprietor ventured to pause for an exchange of words. "How's things?"
"Rotten! I'd staked every cent I have on Jerico, and now he's out of the running for the race tomorrow."
"Ain't Bud Castor all mashed up? Who'll ride Jerico?"
"That's right. I forgot. Maybe you'd try a fling at him, Jim?"
"I'm not that tired of living, partner."
"Then they's no hope unless Garry Munn takes on the job."
Jim Orchard pricked his ears. "Yep, there's Garry. Handy on a horse, too."
"Not the man you are in the saddle," said the flattering host.
"I'm past my day," said Jim Orchard. "I've seen the time... but let that go. By the way, where's Garry?"
"Gone up to his room."
"I want to see him," replied Jim. Having learned the room number, he straightway climbed the stairs.
What were the emotions that made it so necessary to see Garry Munn, he did not know until he had entered the room and shaken hands with the man. Then he understood. A strong premonition told him that this was the man who would eventually marry Susan Hampton. Here, again, there was a feeling of fate. Indeed, Garry Munn had so often secured the things he wished that it was hard to imagine him failing with the woman he wanted to make his wife. He was a fine, handsome fellow with a clear-blue eye and decidedly blond hair—the Scandinavian type. He was as tall as Jim Orchard, and far more heavily set. Altogether he was a fine physical specimen, and his brain did not lag behind his body. He had been born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, and it was well known that he had improved his opportunities from the first. The ranch, which his father left him as a prosperous property, had been flourishing ever since, as Munn bought adjacent land. He was well on his way, indeed, to becoming a true cattle king. No wonder that Jim Orchard had to swallow a lump of envy that rose in his throat as he looked at his companion.
"I hear you been tearing things up at the rodeo," he began, "and walking off with the prizes, Garry."
"Because you weren't around to give me a run for my money," answered the diplomatic Garry. "How's things, Jim? How's mining coming on?"
For all of his diplomacy, Garry could not keep a little twinkle of gratification out of his eye, and Jim felt an overwhelming desire to drive his bony fist into the smirk on the other's lips. He wanted trouble, and only his promise to Sue Hampton kept him from plunging into a fight on the spur of the moment.
"Mining's always a hard gamble," went on Garry.
"But the luck still stays good with you, Garry?"
"Sue has been telling me a lot about you."
The diplomatic Garry became instantly wary.
"You been seeing a good deal of her lately, I guess?"
"Sure," said Garry Munn. "I tried to keep her company while you were out of town. No harm done, I guess?"
"Sure not. Mighty thoughtful of you, Garry."
Down in his heart he had always felt that Garry was a good deal of a clever sneak, and now he gave his voice a proper edge of irony. Yet the younger man was continually surprising him by unexpected bursts of frankness. One of these bursts came now.
"You see, Jim," he declared, "I always aim to let Sue know that, while I ain't running any competition with you, I'd rather be second best with her than first with any other girl around these parts."
"That's kind of consoling for Sue, I figure."
"Oh, she don't take me no ways serious. I'm just a sort of handy man for her. I take her around to the parties when you ain't here to do it. She treats me like an old shoe. Nothing showy, but sort of comfortable to have around." He chuckled at his statement of the case.
"Sort of queer," murmured Jim Orchard. "Here you are with mostly everything that I lack and still I got something, it appears, that you want for yourself."
"You don't mean that serious, Jim?"
"You don't think I'm trying to cut in between you and Sue Hampton?"
"Garry, all I think would near fill a book."
It was plain that Garry Munn did not desire trouble. He even cast one of those wandering glances around the room which proclaim the man who knows he is cornered. Then he looked steadily at his guest.
"Let's hear a couple of chapters."
"You been running a pretty good man-sized bluff, Garry. You been playing rough and ready all your life. Underneath I figure you for a fox!"
"Kind of looks as though you're aiming at trouble, Jim."
"Take it anyway you want."
Garry shrugged his shoulders. He saw the twin devils gleaming in the eyes of Orchard and knew what they meant. He had seen Orchard at work in more than one brawl, and the memories were not pleasant.
"You can't insult me, Jim."
"Seems that way," returned Jim Orchard. "Somehow, I never had a hunch that you was as low as this, Garry."
"What have I got to gain by fighting you up here? You're a shifter, a wastrel... pretty close to a tramp. Why should I risk myself in a mix-up with you? Where's the audience?"
"I'll try you in a crowd, Garry."
The other became deadly serious. "Don't do it, Jim. Between you and me, I know you're a bad man in a fight. So am I. But in private I'm going to dodge trouble. If you cut loose in public, I'll fight back, and it'll be the hottest fight of your life."
"I think it would be," admitted Jim with candid interest, as he ran his glance over the powerful body of the other.
"Now that we've got down to facts," ran on Munn, "I don't mind saying that I'm out for you, Orchard. I'm out to get Sue Hampton, and I'm going to get her. In the first place she's waited long enough for you. In the second place there never was a time when you been worthy of looking twice at her."
"You get more and more interesting," said Orchard, smiling. He appeared to grow cooler as the other increased in heat. "But you never took no notice of Sue until I began to call on her."
"A good reason, Orchard. We started out with an even break. We both had ranches, and about the same layout of stock, and things like that. I made up my mind I was going to beat you out... and I did it. Who started by lending you money? I did! Who kept on lending? I did! And who finally bought the whole shebang? I did! I got your ranch, I got your cows, I got your horses. I put you right off the cow map."
"And you decided to keep right on?" queried Jim Orchard pleasantly.
"Why not? I started you downhill and I'm going to keep you going. And the job ain't complete if I don't get your girl away from you. I'm going to get her. You can lay to that!"
Orchard's face flushed crimson, as his hand instinctively reached out. Then he remembered his promise. With difficulty he controlled himself and moved toward the door. There he paused and looked back over his shoulder.
"It does me a pile of good to have the mask off your good-lookin' face, Garry. I've had one look at the skunk you are inside and I won't forget!"
"Fair means or foul," replied Garry calmly, settling back into his chair. "I was always out for your scalp, Orchard, and now I'm sure I'm going to get it."
There was a tensing of the gaunt figure at the door, and for a moment Garry thought he had gone too far. But instead of making the fatal move toward his gun, Jim Orchard allowed his long face to wrinkle into a smile. He swept his hat in mock politeness toward the floor and then disappeared with his usual slow, stalking walk.
AMONG the unnamed good things which Sue Hampton had done in her life, a prevented homicide was now to be numbered, and Jim Orchard was well aware of it as he closed the door and went down the groaning stairs. His muscles were still hard set, and he was struggling to keep himself in hand. When he reached the verandah, he stopped to breathe deeply, waiting for the red mist to clear away. But in spite of the passing of moments, the tips of the fingers of his right hand still itched for the feel of the handle of his revolver.
Into his mind cut the sharp, small voice of Sam Jordan. He turned and saw the man coming with difficulty toward him. His legs trailed behind him or wobbled awkwardly to the sides, as he dragged himself on with the crutches. For many a month, now, every waking moment of Sam Jordan's life had been a torture. His face was old and gray with pain, and his smile was a ghastly caricature. Yet he never complained; he never surrendered to whining.
He had been a sound and hale man when he attempted to ride Jerico. The former owner of that fierce mustang had a standing offer of the gift of the beast and five hundred dollars besides, to any man who could stay on his back for five minutes. Sam Jordan had made the attempt—and he stayed on for the prescribed length of time.
Sam's riding of Jerico was something of which even strong men still talked with a shudder. For Jerico had been posed by his captor as an "outlaw" and had already gone to a finishing school of bucking. There have been fables of men who could ride anything "on four feet and with hair on its back," but these are truly fables. Jerico was a king among outlaws. He leaped like a bouncing spring, and with equal uncertainty of direction, and his endurance was a bottomless pit.
He was full of freaky humors, however. Sometimes he pitched like a fiend, while on other occasions he demonstrated for only a moment or so and waited for another day, when he was more in the humor of deviltry. With Sam Jordan he began mildly with straight bucking as he ran. Then he turned and came back fence rowing, and then, getting warmed to his work, he commenced to weave. And still Sam Jordan stayed to his work, until, at the end of the fourth minute, the great black stallion began to sunfish.
Of all forms of bucking this is the most dreaded, and Jerico "fished for the sun" almost literally. In other words, he leaped a prodigious height and then came down on stiffened forelegs. The result was a shock that stunned the brain and nearly wrenched the head from the shoulders of Sam Jordan.
With only one minute remaining for him to fulfill his contract, Jordan was doing well enough when Jerico began his master work. The third of these grim shocks sent the blood bursting from the nose and mouth of the unfortunate Jordan. But Jerico was only beginning. He added a consummate touch. Instead of landing on both stiff forelegs, he struck on only one. The result was a heavy impact, and then a swift lurch to one side—a snap-the-whip effect. With glazing eye and awful face Sam Jordan stayed in the saddle, rapidly being jarred into unconsciousness.
But the minute slipped past, and exactly at the end of the scheduled five minutes, Jerico reared and pitched back. His whole weight crushed upon the body of Sam Jordan and, when the latter was raised from the ground, he was an unspeakable wreck with hardly six inches of sound bone in either of his legs. He was now the proud possessor of the fiend who had wrecked his body and his life.
One might have expected Sam Jordan to spend the rest of his days tormenting the wild mustang. He did quite the reverse. He managed to secure an old Negro, named Tom, who was the first and only human being whom the stallion could endure around him, and he made Tom care for the mustang as if for a great race horse. Nothing was too good for Jerico, as far as the fortune of Sam Jordan extended.
One by one Sam hired or tempted famous riders to back his horse. The results were usually disastrous. Sometimes it was merely a broken arm or leg; sometimes it was much worse. Sometimes, to be sure, a lucky fellow got off with merely a stunning fall. But the great danger from Jerico lay not in the fall, but in what was apt to happen afterward—for Jerico would whirl on the fallen man like a tiger and do his best with teeth and hoofs to end his life. Sooner or later, of course, he would succeed and kill his rider—and then it would be necessary to kill Jerico. In fact, why Sam Jordan allowed the beast to live was more than anyone could tell. Yet he professed a great affection for Jerico, and the mustang continued to live on the fat of the land.
Of late, an ugly rumor had sprung up to the effect that Sam Jordan, crippled for life and in constant torment, had come to hate the world, and he kept Jerico merely for the pleasure of seeing the great horse do to others as he had already done to Sam Jordan. But the whisper was so ugly that it was not generally believed. Indeed, it seemed that Bud Castor, the last hero to attempt the subjugation of Jerico, had almost succeeded. The horse had even begun to evince signs of affection for his rider and had never been known to buck his hardest when Bud was in the saddle. Today, however, had ended the reign of Bud Castor in a horrible manner. Jerico was once more free, and the thought of entering him in the race, which was to end the festivities of the rodeo, had become a complete illusion and a dream.
Something of all this went through the mind of Jim Orchard, as he watched Sam drag his body across the verandah. He picked up a chair and met the cripple halfway with it and forced him to sit down. Sam accepted it with a grunt. Lowering himself cautiously into it, he remained speechless for a moment, leaning on his crutches, with his eyes closed and his face covered with perspiration. The agony of moving that deformed body on the crutches would have brought groans from the most stoical, but after a while Sam recovered his self-possession and actually looked up to Jim with a smile. They were unpleasant things to see, those smiles of Jordan's. Still he did not speak until his breathing became regular and easy and Jim Orchard, looking down at the other in horror and pity, did not offer to begin the talk.
"So you're back, Jim?" began the cripple.
"You see me. Back from the mines, Sam."
"And what luck?"
"My usual luck."
"That's been pretty bad, lately. Eh?"
"Worst in the world."
Jordan changed the conversation suddenly. "Did you ever see Jerico run?"
"Don't know how fast he is?"
"Sure. I have an idea. I've heard them tell how they ran him for a whole season with relays of fresh horses and never could get nearer than the smell of his dust. He used to just loaf along and play with the fastest horseflesh they could bring out."
"Play with 'em... that's it!" Sam chuckled. "He's a playful horse, is Jerico... playful all the way through, he is!"
The thought convulsed him with silent mirth, which he checked to look slyly up at Jim Orchard, as though in fear the other might have understood too much. It was sickening to the cowpuncher.
He had known Sam in the old days, free and easy, good-looking, strong, recklessly brave, open of heart as a child. But now there was an indescribable malice in that face. He did not talk, but he purred with caressing tones, and under the purr Orchard was horribly conscious of the malignant heart. The fellow had suffered so much and so long that he seemed to be living on hatred.
"Fast!" went on Sam. "Why, you ain't got no idea how fast he is! Why, Jerico could run a circle around the fastest horse that's entered for the race tomorrow. That's how fast he is. Sort of a shame he ain't going to have the chance at it, eh?"
"Too bad. No way of getting him ridden?"
"Not a chance, unless you'd try, Jim. That'd be a thing to see... a man that's never been throwed, and a hoss that's never been rode! That'd be a thing to see!"
All at once Orchard saw the whole point to the talk. Sam Jordan was up to his old tricks, and this time he had picked on Orchard to be the victim of this trained devil in the hide of a horse.
"Who told you I'd never been thrown?" demanded Jim. "I've been thrown, and often, too."
"Not that nobody knows about," put in Jordan eagerly. "Not that anybody around here remembers! Just this morning I heard a couple of the boys talking. 'Who's the best rider around these parts?' they say. 'Hawkins,' says one. 'Lorrimer,' says another. 'Garry Munn,' says another. 'You're fools, all of you,' says the first gent. 'They ain't one of 'em that can touch Jim Orchard. Why he's never been throwed!' That's the way they talk about you around these parts, Jim, and if you was to ride Jerico, everybody'd believe it!"
The malice of the man was patent, now. He kept smiling and nodding so that it would be unnecessary for him to meet the eye of Jim Orchard. But why should he hate such an old friend and companion? Simply because he, Sam Jordan, was a shapeless wreck, and Jim Orchard was as tall and straight and agile as ever.
"It's no good, Sam. I won't try Jerico. My pride isn't that kind. I don't pretend to be the best rider in the world. Maybe I'm not half as good as the fellows Jerico has pretty near killed in the past."
Sam Jordan sighed. "I thought maybe I'd find you kind of down in the pocket. I figured on paying quite a bit if you could ride Jerico in the race."
Temptation surged up in the mind of Jim Orchard, but he shook his head. The memory of Bud Castor came back upon his mind. "I'm not your man, Sam."
"It ain't so easy to pick up a hundred every day."
"I'll take my money the harder ways, then."
"Or two hundred, say. I'd like to see my hoss entered, Jim."
"Not any hope of it, as far as I'm concerned."
The face of Sam Jordan went black and he bowed his head for a moment. "Five hundred," he whispered suddenly, and Jim winced as though he had been struck.
"What makes you so sure that I've got a price today?" he asked fiercely.
"I can tell it by the hungry look you got in your eye. How about it? Five hundred, Jim, payable the minute that horse finishes the race."
"No. No use in talking, Sam."
"You're a hard gent to do business with. Well, here's my rock-bottom offer: one thousand cold iron men for you, if you ride Jerico in the race, Orchard!"
"It's a lot of money," said Jim, "but it's not as much as I need."
"Besides, you can bet. The minute they know that Jerico is in the race the odds will drop. They won't give you even money, but for every three bucks you bet you can win two."
He paused, for the face of Jim Orchard had become troubled, and he wisely allowed the temptation to work. It was the way the proposition came pat that appealed to the gambling instinct in Orchard. He had two thousand; then a thousand from Jordan would make three thousand; and the amount won would add two thousand, making up the total of five thousand which he needed. It was almost as if Jordan knew the amount of money in his pocket and the need he had for exactly three thousand more.
"Sam," he said, "I take you."
"Good boy! I knew I'd fetch you!" He was rubbing his hands together in glee. "When do you want to try out Jerico?"
"Now's as good a time as any. Go down and have him taken out into the corral. Do I have to rope him and saddle him, or do you give me a flying start?"
"Give you every sort of a start. All you have to do is climb into the saddle, and off you go!"
But Jim Orchard turned away with a sick smile. He had not the slightest of hopes; only his gambler's instinct had ruled him, and the crushed body of Bud Castor came back into his mind with a premonition of death.
But if he were crippled, who would be the donor of five hundred dollars to "give him a chance?" Or would he live a cripple with a mind poisoned like that of Sam Jordan? He did one of those foolish things which the oldest and strongest men are apt to do now and then in a pinch. He took out a little leather folder from his pocket, opened a picture of Sue Hampton, and touched it covertly with his lips.
THERE was no need to spread the tidings through the village with messengers. It was late afternoon by this time and, the events of the rodeo having been entirely completed and the crowd packed back into the town to wait for the crowning glory of the race of the next day, rumor took up the tale of what Jim intended to attempt.
Most people were incredulous, but not only did rumor say he was to attempt the riding, but that he would make the first experiment with Jerico on that very day. It was remembered that he had passed the broken body of Bud Castor earlier in the day. The romantic took up the story and embroidered it. Jim Orchard, being an old friend of Bud's, had sworn to him to ride the stallion into submission, or else die in the attempt. The conversation between Bud and Jim was even invented and elaborated.
All this took place within some thirty minutes. At the end of that time Sue Hampton came to the hotel asking for Jim Orchard. She was shown to his room.
"Shucks," said the disgusted public, "she'll keep Jim from going through with it."
"You don't know Jim," answered the fat proprietor of the hotel. "Nothing'll stop him."
Jim Orchard had just finished dressing. He knew that he was about to take the center of the stage in a public manner and, whether it ended tragically or happily, he wanted to fit the great occasion. A rap at his door interrupted him, and he opened it to Sue Hampton.
He was so astonished by her appearance that he retreated before her into the center of the room as though she had presented a loaded revolver to his head. She closed the door behind her without taking her resolute eyes from him, and then she followed him a little ways.
"What's the matter, Sue?" he kept repeating helplessly.
For he was completely at sea. How had the dim, quiet Sue Hampton he knew been transformed into this creature with eyes of fire and trembling lips and flaring color?
"You coward!" cried Sue Hampton. "You coward, Jim Orchard!"
Orchard stood agape. "What's wrong, Sue?"
"You promised me that you'd play square... and now... you're going to ride Jerico... and get killed like Bud... oh, is it fair, Jim?"
"Bud wasn't killed. He..."
"What happened to him was worse. I know. I talked to the doctor. Lucky for Bud that you gave him five hundred dollars!"
So that was known! Jim set his teeth. If he ever found that worthless boy, he would skin him alive and throw the skin away! On this day of all days to have such a thing brought to the ear of Sue!
She went running on in a storm of protest. "It isn't the money. You know it isn't. All that I want you to prove is that you can make it and keep it long enough. And now you're throwing yourself away... do you think I could ever raise my head again if anything happened? I want you to promise that you'll not try to ride Jerico."
He took her by the arm and led her to the window.
"Look down there!"
A crowd of a hundred or more persons had gathered, and more people were constantly arriving.
"They're getting ready to go along with me when I start for Jerico. That's why they're there. Everybody in town knows that I've told Sam Jordan I'm going to ride the brute. Do you think I can back down, now?"
"You value your pride more than you do me, Jim!"
He lost a good deal of color at her reply, but he answered gravely: "It's more than pride. It's a matter of honor."
All at once she had slipped into his arms, and her hands were locked behind his head.
"Dear Jim! Dear old Jim! Tell me you won't?"
It was another revelation to Jim. Something in him started toward her like iron toward a magnet.
"We won't wait for the money. We'll marry now... Today... this minute. But promise me to give up Jerico! Oh, I've seen that horse fight!"
He managed to say the word after a bitter effort. And the girl slipped away and looked at him, bewildered.
"Is that the last word, Jim?"
With despair he saw her returning to her habitual placidity. The fire died away and left her more colorless than ever. Her eyes went down to her folded hands.
"It's a matter of honor, Sue."
At that she went toward the door, and Jim, sick at heart, tried to stop her. Something about her lowered head, however, warned him not to touch her. She went out, the door closed, and he heard her light, quick step fade away down the hall. It was to Jim as if she had stepped out of his life.
It was a long minute later that the growing murmur of the crowd below gave him the courage to put on his hat and go down. When he came onto the verandah, there was a murmur, and then followed an actual shout of greeting. He saw the weaving faces in a haze. Particularly, as he remembered later, there was the handsome face of Garry Munn at the outskirts of the crowd, and Garry was indubitably worried.
The crowd trailed out behind Jim, as he went down the street, like the tail streaming behind a comet; and so he came to the shack where Sam Jordan was staying until the rodeo ended. Sam himself was seated in a wheel chair in front of the door, and he began waving and nodding a greeting to the crowd. He seemed in amazing good humor. But Jim Orchard had only a casual glance for the owner. His attention was for the horse. The great black stood in the corral where he had been roped, thrown, blindfolded, and saddled. He was still blindfolded, but as one who senses danger, he stood with his head thrown high and his ears flat against his neck.
Orchard had never seen such a horse. He must have stood a full sixteen hands. Every ounce of him was made for speed and strength in the best combination. There was the long forehead, which meant the rider's ease in controlling him; there was the long back of the racer, but not too long for weight-carrying purposes; the great breast spoke of the generous heart beneath; the head was poised with exquisite nicety. All this strength was superimposed upon legs slender and strong as hammered iron. There was not a mar in the black, except an irregular white splotch between the eyes, and a single white fetlock.
Such was Jerico. And at sight of him the crowd murmured in fear and admiration. He was like one of those rarely beautiful women who are always new.
At the murmur Jim Orchard looked back across the crowd. In his heart of hearts he despised them. They had come with divided will to see one of the two beaten—either the horse or the man—and he knew that they hardly cared which. To see the horse beaten into submission would be gratifying; to see the rider thrown and broken would be infinitely more exciting. What right had they to come like spectators to a gladiatorial combat?
His heart went out with a sudden sympathy to the beautiful mustang. The saddle on his back and the heavily curbed bridle were a travesty. He should be shaking that glorious mane in the wind, at the head of a band of his mates. What right had they to imprison and torture him? With speed against speed, which was all that he was supposed to know, he had beaten them. Only by a trick they had taken him. The lesson of cunning and cruelty which they had taught him he now used against his captors. And Jim Orchard silently approved. Strangely he felt a kinship with this imprisoned beast. He was imprisoned, also—blindfolded by a promise to a man—the love of a woman.
He climbed the high fence and dropped into the corral. "We'll have an even break," he said to the old Negro who stood near the head of the stallion. "Take the blindfold off Jerico. Take it off, I say," he repeated, as the other merely gaped at him.
The white-haired old fellow groaned. "Does this heah man knows what all he's talking about, Glory?" He bowed his head and addressed a fat-bodied, sleepy-eyed bull terrier beside him, and the dog twitched the stump of his tail.
"Don't act crazy, Orchard!" called someone from the mob. "You'll never get on that horse unless he's blindfolded!"
"Let him alone. Jim'll work it out his own way. He's going to teach us something new about horse-breaking!"
That was Garry Munn's voice. Jim deliberately turned and smiled over the heads of the crowd into the face of Garry. This was another thing to be remembered.
He turned back and, at his repeated order, the Negro finally climbed up on the side of the fence and, leaning cautiously, jerked away the bandage from Jerico's eyes. The latter tossed his head to the light and at the same instant left the ground, bucked in midair, and came down with stiffly braced legs, before he seemed to realize that there was no rider in the saddle. Then he stood quivering with excitement and anger in the center of the corral, until he caught sight of Jim Orchard standing alone, unprotected by the fence which kept Jerico from that hated mass of faces.
He snorted once in amazement and suspicion—then lunged straight at the solitary stranger. From the crowd there went up a yell of horror—a familiar music to the ear of Jerico—he had heard it many a time when the would-be rider was flung like a stone from the saddle and crushed against the ground. So let it be with this man!
But Jim Orchard did not stir. All in a split part of a second he reviewed his life, knew he was a fool, and cursed his luck, because there was no escape from this tigerish devil of a horse. And then he stood his ground without lifting a hand and watched death come at him.
It came—and swerved aside. Jerico leaped away and stood beside the bars once more, snorting, stamping, flaunting his tail. Things which did not stir when he charged them were usually lifeless, like the post of a fence. And, if one rashly collided with such things, there was only a stunning repulse for a reward. Certainly, said the brute mind, that is a man, and yet he did not stir. A doubt came to Jerico. This was a man, and yet no man had ever approached him before on foot, unarmed with even the stinging whip. Besides, the others, who had screamed a moment ago and stood so hushed, so terribly silent now, were protected by the fence. This creature must be different from the others.
He made a step toward Jim Orchard, paused, made another step, and then sprang away. The man had slowly raised his hand and now held it out in the immemorial sign of friendship and conciliation which even brute beasts learn sooner than any other human gesture. Jerico cocked his head and watched in amazement.
Then a voice began over the silence of the hundreds, a smooth, steady voice. It was an oddly fascinating voice, and it instantly convinced him that this was a new species—not a man at all. Other men yelled and made harsh sounds of fury, while they beat him with quirts and tore his tender sides with spurs. Yes, this creature was not a man at all. The sound of his voice took hold of the nerves of Jerico and soothed them and gave him queer reassurance.
But what was this? The creature was walking straight toward him.
Jerico flung himself away into the farthest corner like a flash and waited again, very curious. Behold, the man came toward him again, always speaking steadily, softly, his hand extended.
It was not altogether new. One other human being had seemed not dangerous to Jerico, and that was old Tom, the Negro. He had learned from Tom that it is not unpleasant to have a hand run down one's neck, or across the velvet of the nose. And the approach of this stranger bore with it infinite promises of pleasure, safety, protection from that horde of white, mute faces beyond the fence.
He began to tremble, more in curiosity than fear or, rather, with a mixture of both emotions. And now the man was close, closer! The hand moved out. Should he tear it with his strong teeth? No, there was no danger. There was no dreaded rope in those fingers. He waited, blinked, and then, as he had almost known, the finger tips trailed across his nose. A miracle!
A miracle, indeed, it seemed to the waiting throng when, after some breathless moments, they beheld the black stallion actually drop his nose on the shoulder of Jim Orchard and stare defiantly at the faces beyond the fence.
There was only one sound. It was the voice of old Tom, the Negro, saying in a sort of chant: "Glory be! Glory be!"
And still the crowd was incredulous. They would not believe their eyes as they saw Jim Orchard work his way to the side of the animal, test the stirrup, and put weight upon it with his hand. The stallion winced and turned his head with the ears flattened. His great teeth closed on the arm of Jim and crushed the flesh against the bone but, in spite of the torture, Orchard did not vary the tone of his voice a jot. Presently the teeth relaxed their hold. There was a groan of relief from the crowd—a groan full of horror and tense excitement. In a way this was the most horrible horse-breaking that had ever been seen.
Finally the foot of Jim Orchard was in that stirrup, his weight grew heavier, and at length he raised himself slowly up, and up, swung his leg over, and settled into the stirrups. That familiar burden for one moment drove the stallion mad with fear and rage. He hurtled in the air and gave for ten seconds a hair-raising exhibition of bucking. And then, with the shrieking of the delighted spectators in his ears, he stopped abruptly.
He was right. This was some other creature and not a man at all. In spite of his frantic efforts, no tearing steel points had been driven into his sides, no stinging whip had cut his flanks, no hoarse voice had bellowed curses at him.
Instead, the smooth, even voice had begun again—steadying, steadying, steadying. The sound of that voice fell like sleep upon the ragged nerves of Jerico. Someone near the fence yelled and waved a hat. Jerico tossed up his head and crouched for a leap.
"Gents!" rang the voice of Jim Orchard. "Another stunt like that and I out with my gun and start spraying lead. I mean it! You're going to give me and Jerico a fair chance to get acquainted. Show's over for the day!"
But before he dismounted, he glanced across to the door of the shack and saw the face of Sam Jordan convulsed with wonder and ugly malice!
UNTIL the very last act of that little drama Garry Munn had not stirred. For five minutes he had been praying silently. If Jerico had been susceptible to the influence of mental telepathy, he would certainly have smashed Jim Orchard to small bits. Instead, the miracle had happened, and Garry turned away and hurried back to the hotel. There he swung into his saddle, trotted to the outskirts of the town, and then rode at full speed out the road, deep in the dust which the unaccustomed traffic had churned up around the town.
Two miles of hard galloping, and he swung from the road down a cattle trail which brought him, almost at once, to a right-angled bend, and then to a full view of a little shack. There was a broad, perfectly level meadowland stretching away to the left, and across this smooth ground a midget of a man was galloping a long-legged bay. Garry Munn drew his own horse down to a walk and watched with a brightening eye. Yet the bay was not a horse to win the admiration of the ordinary cowpuncher. He was too long in the back, too thin of legs, too gaunt of neck, too meager of shoulders and hips to please men who look at a horse with an eye for his usefulness on long journeys and the heart-breaking labors of the roundup.
The bay was a horse which, it could be seen at a glance, needed the proverbial "forty-acre lot" to turn around in. Neither was his action imposing. He stood awkwardly; his trot was a spiritless shamble, his canter a loose-jointed, shuffling gait. But, when he began to run, there was a distinct difference. He thrust out his long neck, and the Roman-nosed head at the end of it. His little thin ear flagged back along his neck, the lengthy legs flung out in amazing strides, and the ground whirled under him with deceptive speed. He ran not with the jerky labor of a cowpony, but with jack-rabbit bounds, and he was far faster than he looked. Garry Munn eyed him with distinct favor. When the midget rider saw him, he brought the bay to a jolting trot that landed him in front of the shack.
"He's coming into shape," said Garry, joining the other.
The only reply was a brief grunt. The little man industriously set about removing the saddle and then began to rub the bay. He continued his ministrations with a sort of grim energy for a full twenty minutes; then, having tethered the horse in the lean-to beside the shack, he gave some attention to Garry.
"He ain't in shape. Not by a lot," he declared. "How d'you expect me to get him in shape, running on plowed ground?"
"Plowed ground?" asked Garry Munn. "Why, Tim, I picked this place out because it's the smoothest ground around the town. You can't beat it anywhere."
"Smooth, eh?" demanded little Tim. "It's so rough that I ain't dared to let him out. I ain't been able to give Exeter his head, once."
"Wasn't he going full tilt a minute ago?" asked Garry, admiringly.
"Him? Nothing like it! Now when Exeter..."
"Cut out that name. He's in this race as Long Tom. You'll spoil everything if you let that name drop."
"He's long enough, and the rules will find him a bit too long when he gets going. Only I wish I was down to weight."
"What's your weight now?"
"Clothes and all, maybe I tip the old beam around a hundred and fifteen."
He was well under five feet tall, with a withered skull face, a pinched neck, and diminutive legs. All his strength lay in the abnormally long arms and the sturdy shoulders.
"Why, Hogan," said Garry Munn, "that's a good thirty pounds lighter than any other rider."
"Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But Exeter... Long Tom, I mean... is cut out for flyweight racing. Put him in with ninety pounds, and he's a whirlwind. Stick more'n a hundred on him, and he don't like it. He ain't got the underpinning for weight."
"It's only a mile," said Garry eagerly. "He'll surely last that?"
"Easy, if I don't have to stretch him out. How's the black? What come of that Castor fellow?"
"He's smashed. One arm and both legs busted up."
The little man sighed.
"You owe me a lot for that little piece of work," he said gloomily.
"You'll find I'll pay," said Garry. "How'd you fix it?"
"I just sneaked around until I found out what saddle they were going to use on the black. Then I fixed the saddle."
He grinned briefly with malicious pleasure, and then his expression sobered.
"Jerico went mad. That's all. He smashed Bud to pieces. I never saw such a devil when it comes to bucking."
"Well, now that we got the black out of the race, I ain't worrying. I've timed the others, and they're a cinch."
Garry delivered his bad news.
"Tim, Jerico is in the race again."
Tim Hogan blinked.
"A dare-devil named Orchard rode Jerico just a while ago and got on with him, as if Jerico were an old pack horse. We're in for it. How fast can the black go?"
"How fast? Too fast!"
"How far did you see him run?"
"It ain't what the clock told me. It's what my eyes told me. That Jerico has a racing heart. You'll find him doing about twice better in a race than he does in practice. Well, put Exeter on a good fast track with ninety pounds up, a little racing luck, and he'd trim all the Jeri-cos that ever stepped on plates. But Exeter had to pack thirty pounds more'n he likes, and I don't know what he'll do. He may quit on me. Chief, you got to get Jerico out of the way, if you want to win that race!"
Garry Munn cursed softly and fluently.
"It can't be done, now. You don't know this fellow Orchard. He has an eye like a hawk's and, if he finds anyone around tampering with a bridle, or saddle, he'll fill the man full of lead. That's Orchard's way. He shoots first, and asks his questions of the coroner. But there's one thing to help us, Tim. That's the weight. Orchard is a big fellow. He must weigh a hundred and eighty... thirty pounds more than Castor."
"A hundred and eighty?" asked Tim Hogan cheerfully. "Why that'd anchor another Salvator!"
"It'll beat Jerico, then?"
But Tim had grown thoughtful. "You can't always tell about a horse," he declared. "No way of figuring whether a horse will be a hog for carrying the weight or not. And Jerico looks like an iron horse. Never saw such legs. He could carry a ton, from his looks. A hundred and eighty would break Exeter's back; but Jerico might dance with it. It ain't likely... but then you never can tell. You got to fix that horse so's he can't run if you want to be sure of the race."
"I've got to win," declared Munn. "They'll give me odds of three to one against Long Tom, and I've raked together thousands for the plunge. They don't like the looks of Tom. They think he'll break to pieces when he starts running. I can get any odds I want against him."
"What'd happen if they knew Exeter was off a race track, with a record of wins as long as my arm? What'd happen if they knew I was a jockey, that I don't own the horse, and that you brought me on for this clean-up? I've been sizing up the boys around here, guns and all, and I just been wondering what would happen to us both, Mr. Munn, if they had a hunch about what's happening."
"They'd string us up to the nearest tree and fill us full of lead," said Garry quickly. "That's their way."
Tim Hogan shook himself. "It don't bother me none," he declared. "I was in the ring before I started riding a string. I won't get cold feet. But say, Mr. Munn, why don't you fix this rider... this Orchard... as long as you can't fix the horse."
"Fix him? How?"
"Get him to pull Jerico in the race."
Garry started, but then shook his head. "You don't know Jim Orchard. Besides, I couldn't approach him."
"You don't have to. I'll do it. I've done it before. They all got a price, if you can go high enough."
"I wonder," said Garry, sweating with anxiety. "Nine chances out of ten he'd throw you out the window."
"I don't pack much weight... I'd light easy."
"It can't be done."
"It can be done. They all got a price. How high could I go with him?"
His confidence was contagious.
"You could go to the sky," said Garry Munn. "Why, if Jerico's in the race, the men around here will bet everything down to their socks. I know half a dozen ranchers who'd go ten thousand apiece on Jerico if they could find anyone to cover their money. There's an idea around these parts that Jerico can't be beaten by anything in the shape of horseflesh." He became excited. "If Jerico runs, there'll be a hundred thousand... maybe more... in sight to bet on him."
"Then cop it. Cop it, Mr. Munn. But where do I come in?"
"If you work the deal, Tim, it means a thousand flat to you, and ten percent of everything I make!"
"And how'd I be sure you'd come through?"
"I've never gone back on a promise in my life."
The little man watched him with a peculiar glance of scorn. "I guess you ain't," he admitted at last. "Besides, you don't dare go back on me. How high with this Jim Orchard?"
"A thousand, five thousand, ten thousand... anything you want. There's a better way. Get him to bet his money on Exeter."
"Chief," declared the jockey with a grin, "you learn fast."
AS for Jim Orchard, when he swung down gently from the saddle on Jerico, there was a relieved groan of appreciation and wonder, but he paid no further attention to the crowd.
"He's just putting off your little party," one of the men called warningly to Orchard.
And perhaps he was, but something told Orchard that for the first time a man had stepped into the confidence of the black stallion. After all, had not many a stranger thing than this episode been told of horses? And was it not possible that Jerico, having battled and hated his would-be masters for so long, had finally decided that one, at least, might be accepted on trust? Jim Orchard decided to take the chance.
All his life he had done nothing but play some such chance—whether he were gambling on the turn of a card, or the dependable qualities in a man. Deliberately he raised the stirrup and stirrup flap and put them across the saddle. Then he commenced to work at the knots of the cinches. The moment he had brought them loose and drew on the cinch straps to free them, the head of Jerico swung on him again. But this time the stallion merely bared his teeth without touching Orchard. The ears, which were flattened against the horse's neck, pricked a little as he watched Orchard loose the cinches and remove the saddle.
It was the first time that Jerico had seen this done. Hitherto he had been roped and blinded for saddling or unsaddling, to keep his murderous, striking hoofs still. Now he discovered that no matter what hateful agency put the saddle upon him, this man, this stranger of the gentle voice, could remove it. Jerico was not quite sure of any of this, but his misty animal brain was moving faintly toward the conviction that the man was at least not harmful. At the first suspicious move he was ready to scatter the brains of Jim Orchard in the dust of the corral; in the meantime his would be a policy of watchful waiting.
Orchard was keen enough to sense what went on behind the suspicious eyes of the horse. No matter how well he had succeeded so far, he took care to make every motion slow, gentle, and kept up a steady stream of talk. Then with the saddle over the crook of his arm, he walked calmly out of the corral, his back actually turned upon the man-killer! His hand was wrung on every side the moment the gate closed behind him.
It was: "Good old Jim, I sure was saying good bye to you for a minute or two!"
"That's the nerve, Jim!"
"You win, old boy."
"Tame the lions, Orchard."
But Jim Orchard wondered if everyone of them was not just a trifle disappointed. It would have been sufficiently thrilling to see either man or horse beaten, but this compromise, which left dignity and physical soundness to both man and beast, was a wretched compromise. Jim hung the saddle on its peg in the barn. The crowd had already scattered, now that the crisis had passed. There was only the grinning old Negro, Tom, and the fat bull terrier which trailed at his heels, almost bumping his nose against them. No matter where Tom turned, the dog made it an earnest practice to keep directly behind him.
"I knowed it all the time, Mistah Orchard," averred Tom. "Trouble with all them others was they was sure dead set on breaking Jerico's heart. For why? Had poor ol' Jerico done 'em any harm? No, suh, that he hadn't! But I take off my hat to you, suh. It took a brave man to find out that Jerico weren't no murderer, but jus' an honest hoss that had been taught all wrong."
"I hear you've got on pretty well with Jerico yourself," said Jim Orchard.
"Couldn't be better, suh. When I first come, Jerico he takes a couple of swipes at ol' Tom's head. But he missed, praise the Lawd, and pretty soon he find out that Tom ain't doin' him no harm, jus' foolin' aroun' and feedin' him and bringin' him out to water. He's been mighty afraid, that's all that's been wrong with ol' Jerico, Mistah Orchard."
"You broke the ice for me," said Jim. "If it hadn't been for what you'd taught him, he'd've busted me into little bits. I'm going to saddle him up myself later on, when there isn't a crowd to watch, and we'll try a canter down the road together."
"He's a wise hoss, Mistah Orchard. He'll know you same's if you raised him from a colt, by morning. All Jerico needs is just to make up his mind about something. Look at ol' Glory, now. Jerico wouldn't have my dog aroun' for a long time. And now they're jus' plumb friendly. Go talk to Jerico, Glory!"
Old Glory, hearing this order, cast a skulking glance at Jim Orchard and then slunk toward the corral. Once outside the barn he seemed to gather courage. He trotted straight for the stallion and, rising on his hind legs under the nose of the horse, barked at him softly. Jerico in answer deliberately and gently tipped old Glory over with a push of his nose. But Glory came up again and danced, with all the agility his fat allowed, around the great horse. Jerico followed, pretending anger, striking gently with his forefeet, wide of the mark.
"Look there, now," exclaimed Tom delighted. "I ask you, Mistah Orchard, is that the way a man-killin' hoss ought to act? Why, Jerico's plumb gentle, once he gets to know you! It's the cussin' and the whips that he's been fighting, not the men."
"You're right," agreed Jim Orchard, amazed at that dumb show in the corral. "You're right from the first. But what's the matter with that dog, Tom? Has somebody been beating him?"
"They's a long story about ol' Glory, Mistah Orchard. You see him sneakin' aroun' like he didn't have no soul of his own? Well, suh, I seen him the best fighting dog that ever was. Plumb wild, ol' Glory was. His master used to keep him half starved to have him wild, and then he'd bet on Glory to his last nickel... and always Glory won, chewin' up the other dog sump'n terrible to talk of. But one time Mistah Simpson... that was him that owned Glory... done le' him go without no food for a long time. Po' white trash, that man was, suh! An' he put ol' Glory all weak and tremblin' into the ring. Shucks, Glory would've made jus' two mouthfuls of the other dog, if he'd been strong. But he was like a little puppy afraid of the cold, that day... he was so weak.
"He got chewed up scandalous, suh, Glory did that day. They got the other dog off'n him just in time, and after that Glory ain't been no good. They fatted him up and got him strong and put him back ag'in another dog, suh, but Glory jus' got down in the corner an' wouldn't come out. His heart had been broke, suh, you see? An' ever since he's been like this. Jus' draggin' around dodgin' eyes when folks look at him. Even ol' Tom can't get Glory to look him in the eye, but he keeps skulkin' and draggin' and bumpin' his nose ag'in my heels, suh."
"But why do you keep him, Tom?"
"You git sorter fond of a dog, suh. But always I keep dreamin' and thinkin' of the dog that ol' Glory used to be and the dog he might've been... if the heart hadn't been plumb busted in him, suh!"
"Tom," said Jim Orchard, much moved, "you're a good sort. And you're right, I figure. I've known horses the same way. Particular the wild ones. Beat 'em once and they're no good ever after. I'll wager that Jerico might be that sort of a horse. What do you think?"
"They ain't no doubt. Beat him once and he'll go aroun' hangin' his head... an' any boy could git on him and thump him with his bare heels."
Orchard sighed. "Kind of a responsibility, a horse like that. How much do you think Sam Jordan would be wanting for Jerico?"
The Negro shrugged his shoulders and peered up into the face of Orchard with a timid smile.
"I don't think no man has got money to buy him from Mistah Jordan, suh."
"Why not? Sam isn't rich."
"Well, suh..." Tom paused.
"I won't repeat what you say. Go ahead, Tom."
"Ever get stung by wasps, Mistah Orchard, and go back to the rest of the boys and say nothin' about it and get 'em to come and walk over the same hole in the ground to see what'd happen to 'em?"
There was a pause during which the whole meaning of this sunk into the brain of Jim Orchard. He had had the ugly suspicion concerning Sam Jordan before, and he could not forget the singular expression on the face of the cripple at the moment when Jerico stopped bucking. It was a bad affair from the beginning to end.
He glanced out the barn door and saw old Glory trotting back to his master. At that moment a cowpuncher sauntered past. The terrier crouched till his belly touched the ground, skidded deftly around the stranger, and then raced for dear life until he was safe behind the shoes of Tom.
Jim Orchard had seen enough. He was filled with an insane desire to find that former master of the fighting bull terrier and beat the brutal fellow to a pulp, until he became as cringing a coward as he had made his dog.
In the meantime he walked to the front of the shack and stopped beside Sam Jordan. There was no hint of friendliness in the glance which the cripple cast at him. There was a smile, to be sure, but it was so forced and bespoke so much hidden malice, that it chilled the tall 'puncher's blood.
"That was a pretty clever trick," said Sam Jordan, still smiling. "What'd you do? Dope Jerico first? Get old Tom to mix something in his feed before you tried him out?"
"Did I have a chance to get at Tom before I tried to ride Jerico?"
Sam Jordan thought a moment. "I dunno," he admitted grudgingly. "It don't seem no ways possible."
"How about selling Jerico, Sam?"
"Selling him? Not in a thousand years!"
"But what's he worth to you, man?"
The grin of Sam Jordan became a horrible caricature of mirth. "He's worth... this!" With a slow, inclusive gesture, he indicated the crippled legs. "I've paid for him with my legs. D'you think you could raise that price, maybe, Jim?"
"But what use is he to you, man?"
"I dunno. I'm just sort of used to having him around. You planning on turning him into a family pet, Jim? Just keep watching your step, partner. Jerico ain't through by no means!"
"But I've thought of this, Sam. By the time I have him tame enough to ride in the race tomorrow he'll be pretty well broken. Besides, I don't think the thousand is worth the chance I'm taking."
"You ain't calling the bargain off, Jim?" asked the cripple, growing suddenly conciliatory. His expression made Orchard think of the spider that sees the fly creeping off beyond his reach. He decided to see what bluffing would do.
"I'll stick to the bargain, if you'll let me make another deal with you. Suppose I take all the chances, and I'm able to ride Jerico in the race? Well, then, name a reasonable price and let me buy him when the race is over."
"No chance, Jim!"
"Then I'm through. Try out somebody else for your jockey!"
"You've heard me, Sam. I mean it."
"Take a price after the race is finished?" argued Sam Jordan, evidently turning the proposition in his mind and deciding that there was very little chance of Jim Orchard or any other man staying on the back of the stallion through the excitement which was bound to seize the mustang during a contest with other horses.
"Name a good round figure, Sam."
"One thousand for Jerico, then, if you stick on him through the whole race."
"A thousand it is!"
They shook hands, and the fingers of Sam Jordan were bloodless and cold to the touch.
TURNING his back on Jordan, Jim Orchard strode off down the street. He had taken on a new obligation. To the original five thousand which had been his goal, and which he now had an excellent chance of winning, provided Jerico was first in the race, there was added the purchase price of the stallion. The total he needed was six thousand dollars.
Again he was glad that the girl could not know. He had already placed his chance of happiness under the danger of a mortgage. What would she think if she knew that he had admitted a brute beast—a horse—on the same plane with her?
He turned on his heel. Jerico was still visible. He had pressed forward against the fence of the corral, and he was watching his late rider disappear. He even tossed up his head and whinnied when he saw Jim turn. The latter remained for a moment staring, a lump growing in his throat. Then he resumed his walk.
"I've got to have that horse," said Orchard conclusively. Then his mind turned happily to Sue Hampton. Of course, she would not have had the courage to come to see the riding and, though she must have learned of the outcome of his daring by this time, no doubt she would be glad to see him and be reassured that all was well. He went to her house.
She was on the little verandah with a heap of silky stuff in her lap and a basket beside her. She raised her head and watched him coming up the path. When she saw him, she laid aside the sewing and folded her hands, and Jim Orchard knew that he was distinctly out of favor. Another girl in such a mood would have pretended not to see him. But it was one of Sue's peculiarities that she made no pretenses. She was as inexorable with herself as she was with others. He had known her to go out of her way to make quaint confessions of wrong thoughts that had been in her mind, after she had been proved wrong. But the terrible part of this was that she more or less expected others to treat her as she treated them. Unfortunately she expected the qualities of a saint in an ordinary cowpuncher.
It was one of the things that made Orchard love her; it was also one of the things that kept him at arm's length and gave him occasionally a little touch of dread. Today it made him a little more swaggering. He tried to bluff his way through.
"Well," he greeted her, "you see everything's all right?"
It was always wonderful to see her brighten. "Then you're not going to ride Jerico?"
"But, Sue, I've already ridden him!"
"I mean in the race tomorrow?"
"But he's safe enough. Haven't I just finished trying him out?"
"I heard about it," said the girl. "They told me how you... almost tempted him to kill you!"
"It was the only thing to do," said Jim, growing sullen as he saw what position she was going to take. "Other fellows have fought Jerico... plenty of them... and I thought I'd try persuasion."
"I think I know," she answered with that deadly softness. "There was such a crowd... you had to do something to thrill them. So you forgot about your own safety... you forgot about me... you gave the crowd a show!"
The injustice of it rankled in him. "Do you think, sure enough, that I'm low enough for that?"
It was her turn to flush with anger. "You shouldn't have said that, Jim. But if we start out with misunderstanding..."
"You're going to threaten to give that ring back to me again?" he asked coldly.
"I think it would be better."
Jim Orchard for the moment almost forgot that he was talking to a woman—the woman he loved. He put his boot on the edge of the verandah, dropped his elbow on his knee, and lectured her with a raised forefinger.
"You'll keep that ring till the end of tomorrow," he said fiercely. "It makes me tired, Sue, the way you women act. A gent might think that honor didn't have nothing to do with women. It's just for men only. I give you a promise and I got to stick to it to the bitter end. You give me a promise that you're going to stick by me until tomorrow night. Now you welch and try to get out of your promise, but it don't work with me. You're going to keep that ring, Sue. And, if I've got the money by tomorrow night, you're going to marry me. Don't you forget it in the meanwhile!"
Then he turned his back on her and strode away without further adieu, rage straightening his shoulders. Sue Hampton gazed after him as though a new star had swum into her heaven—a blazing comet dazzling her. She sat for a long time with her sewing unheeded, while the day faded, and the darkness came. Before the end she was smiling tenderly to herself.
"There's something about Jim," she decided, "something different."
The "something different" made Jim stamp his way up the stairs of the hotel to his room and fling himself on his cot. In the nick of time recalled a comforting remark which a friend of his had once made.
"No man that's worth his salt ever understands his womenfolk, really. The point is women are like mules... they go by opposites."
This reflection cheered Jim Orchard vastly, and he was about to go downstairs for his dinner when a knock came at the door, and a little man with a fleshless face of excessive ugliness stood before him.
"You're Jim Orchard?"
"You're interested in the race?"
"I'm riding Jerico."
"Can you give me half an hour, Mr. Orchard?"
He was putting his hat on as he spoke. Of course it might be some sort of a trap, but the little man was reckless, indeed, if he were trying to bait a trap for Jim Orchard. He followed down the stairs and stepped into a buckboard beside the other.
"I'm Tim Hogan," said the small man, and not once did he open his lips after that, but sent his span of horses at full speed across the town and over the dusty road. They turned to the left after a time and bumped over a cattle trail, the driver skillfully picking his way in spite of the dimness of the moonlight. When they reached a little shack, before which a tall bay horse stood saddled, they stopped and climbed down.
"Now," said Tim Hogan, "have you got a stop watch?"
"I have. Here it is. You take it. It works like this." He explained deftly. He went on: "It's four hundred yards from the stump yonder to that white rock. Want to pace it?"
"I'll take your word," said Jim Orchard, wondering if he had fallen into the hands of a maniac.
Tim Hogan climbed up the lofty side of the bay and dropped into the saddle. He rode to the stump.
"Now raise your left arm."
"When you drop that arm, I'm going to start the bay for the rock; when I start the bay, you start the watch."
At last Orchard understood. "Good."
He raised his arm, and as he did so the rider raised himself a little in his short stirrups and threw his weight well over the withers of the horse. He was bowed so that his body was straightened out at right angles to the perpendicular.
"Go!" exclaimed Jim, dropping his arm, and with the word the long bay gathered himself and flung out.
He was going at full speed in half a dozen jumps—and such jumps! The flying legs well-nigh disappeared in that dim light. It seemed that the rakish body and the long, snaky neck were shooting through space with no visible means of support. The dark outline whipped past the white rock, and Jim stopped the watch.
He raised it high to read the hand in the dim light, and in this position he remained as one turned to stone. So Tim Hogan found him when he jogged back on Exeter, alias Long Tom. He dismounted, grinning broadly, but the dimness concealed his exultation.
"What do you think?" he asked.
Without a word Jim Orchard returned the stop watch to the jockey. "A quarter of a mile is not a mile," he said.
"Never anything truer that I've heard say," returned Tim. "And the longer the distance the better for the horse with the lightest weight up. I guess that's straight, Mr. Orchard."
"Hm," said Jim.
"Jerico never saw the day he could step a quarter as fast as that one... and he never will!"
"What's the main idea behind all this?" asked Jim suspiciously.
"The main idea is that Long Tom is going to win tomorrow."
"Why bring me out in the night to show that to me? Why not win my money and tell me after the race is run?"
"Look here," said Tim, "I'm laying my cards on the table."
"That's the way to talk to me. Now come out with it."
"Well, sir, I've put up a lot of hard cash on this race, and tomorrow I'm going to get down a lot more."
"What do you think of the chances of the rest of the ponies against Long Tom... eh?"
"Leave out Jerico."
"Leave out Jerico and there's no race. They'll be too far back of Long Tom... the rest of 'em... to eat his dust."
"You've said a mouthful, general. With Jerico out it'd be just an exercise gallop for Long Tom. But the rest of the boys around don't know it. They ain't seen what Ex... Long Tom can do. They haven't any idea. They figure his long legs will get all tied up in knots, and he'll break down inside a hundred yards. But he ain't going to get tied up. He's going to win."
"You've said that plenty of times, partner. What's the point?"
"The point is the rest of the gents around here are going to plunge on Jerico. They got an idea that nothing can beat that horse. They're going to give me big odds on Long Tom, and I'm going to cover every cent they'll put up. Besides, I've got backing. I've got a backer who's investing every cent he can rake together... going into this up to his eyes. Now you can figure for yourself that he wants to make this a safe race, eh?"
"That's easy to follow."
"And there's only one danger... that's Jerico. You see, I'm putting the cards on the table."
"What we want to be sure of is that no matter what happens to the rest of the horses, and no matter how fast Long Tom has to run to beat 'em, he won't have to worry about Jerico."
"But you've already tried to show me, partner, that you ain't a bit afraid of Jerico."
"Have I? Well, we are afraid, a little. At least he's what keeps our game from being a sure thing. Nobody knows just how fast Jerico can run if he's put to it, or how far he can carry the weight. Now, our proposition is to make sure that Jerico finishes behind Long Tom. That is, if Tom's leading. Mind you, if one of the other ponies gets out in front, then you're free to let go with Jerico and win if you can. But as long as Tom's in front you're to keep back with the black. Is that clear?"
"I hear you talk," said Jim Orchard, "but I don't get you. It ain't no ways possible that you figure I'd pull Jerico? That I'd keep him from doing his best?"
"Look here," replied Tim Hogan, "I ask you man to man: do you think Jerico can beat Long Tom?"
"Man to man, I don't think he can. But I don't know."
"You don't think so; neither do I. But I simply want to make it a sure thing. I'm putting up too much coin to take a chance, no matter how small the chance is. Orchard, I am asking you to pull Jerico!"
Something came into the face of Orchard that made the other spring away.
"Easy!" he cried. "Easy, Orchard! Jerico hasn't a chance in a hundred. I'm just asking you to wipe out even that hundredth chance. And I'm talking business. I'm talking money."
"Get into that buckboard," said Jim Orchard hoarsely, "and drive me back to town."
"D'you mean that? But I say, I'm talking money. I'm talking a thousand dollars, man, if you'll pull Jerico on the hundredth chance!"
"Climb into that buckboard and drive me back. If you had a gun, Hogan, I'd do more than talk to you!"
"I'm talking two thousand... three thousand dollars, Orchard. Are you deaf?"
"Deaf as a stone!"
"Four thousand. I'll do better. Give me what money you have, and I'll get it down for you on Long Tom at three to one. How does that sound to you?"
"Hogan, for the last time, will you drive me back, or do I drive back alone?"
Tim Hogan climbed obediently into the buckboard. Not once on the return trip did he speak, feeling the silent loathing and scorn of the big man. But when Jim Orchard climbed down near the hotel, the jockey leaned far out across the wheel and whispered: "Think it over, Orchard. I'll expect an answer. Think it over. Easy money, man. Easy money! Three dollars for one!" He put the whip to the mustangs, and the buckboard jumped away from the curse of Jim Orchard.
THE cowpuncher felt that the matter was closed the moment the wagon whirled out of sight around the corner but, oddly enough, the silence that followed was more tempting than the voice of the jockey. It was the first time in his life that anyone had ever attempted to bribe him. Ordinarily he would have made his revolver reply to such an offer, but one could not draw a weapon on an unarmed man, and it was impossible to use fists on a fellow of the size of Tim Hogan.
The heart of Jim Orchard was heavy. He pushed through a crowd on the verandah—a crowd that wanted to tell him one by one how much they thought of the nerve he had shown in the riding of Jerico that day. He broke through them and entered the hotel.
To those men on the verandah the race was already run and won. They would bet their last dollars on Jerico, for had they not heard how he had been run? Were there not men at the rodeo who had actually taken part in the chase of the wild mustang, and who had seen him wear out horse after horse in the relay that followed Jerico?
But Jerico was beaten. He was as sure of it as if he had actually seen the gallant black pounding down the home stretch, behind the flaunting tail of the long-legged bay. Nothing equine that he had ever seen had moved with the speed of Long Tom. Of course there were unknown possibilities in Jerico. And in a longer race—five or six miles, say—in spite of the greater weight he had to carry, he would undoubtedly break the heart of Long Tom and win as he pleased. But for a single flash of speed—a single mile of sprinting—what chance had Jerico against the long legs and the flyweight rider of the bay?
Jim Orchard dragged a chair up to the window of his room and looked gloomily into the night. He looked forward to the beating of Jerico as to a personal shame and mortification. There was something wrong about it. It should not be allowed. Take Long Tom in the open desert with a day's ride ahead, and what use would he be? And, therefore, was it not bitterer than words could tell that he should be allowed to win fame and name by outstepping the staunch Jerico over a single mile?
There was a sudden outburst of noise, a chorus of voices, shouts, laughter, mocking yells, spilling across the verandah.
What was it?
"On what? On Long Tom?"
"What horse is that?"
"Never seen him."
"I have, it's a bay with legs almost as long as I'm tall."
Then, as the hubbub died away, he made out a clear, strong voice: "All right, boys, have your laugh. But I think those long legs can carry the horse over the ground. What's more, I'll back up what I say with money."
It was the voice of Garry Munn.
"But you're nutty, Munn. Jerico's in the race! And he's like a lamb with Jim Orchard in the saddle. Didn't you see Jim ride the black today?"
"I saw it. Still I have some faith in Long Tom. What odds will you give me, chief?"
"Anything you want."
"Five to one."
"Five to one what?"
"Five thousand to one thousand!"
"Take you, Garry!"
The hubbub roared again. It became a blur, blotting the mind of Jim Orchard.
Garry Munn was the backer of Tim Hogan and the bay horse? Garry Munn was the man who was prepared to plunge "up to the eyes?" Jim bowed his head, for this was more than he could bear. The very day which was to see him fail to make good in making six thousand, which he had set his heart on possessing, this was to be the day of all days for Garry Munn. The very day which saw him fail to win either Sue Hampton or the black stallion, this was the day which was to give Garry Munn a real fortune—and Sue Hampton as well. About the girl, Jim was perfectly certain. She had waited too long. When she finally left him, she would go to the man who could offer her all that Jim lacked.
Then, into the confusion of his mind, came the voice of the little man with the withered face as he leaned out across the wheel of the buckboard. What was it he had said with so much confidence?
"You'll think it over. Easy money, man. Easy money. Three dollars for one."
Of course it was easy money. It was more than easy. It was picking the gold out of the street. What difference did it make? Garry Munn would never bet on a rash chance, and yet he was apparently backing Long Tom with thousands. And whether Jerico were "pulled" or not in the race, he had not a chance in ten of winning. Why not get in on the clean-up? Why not wager his two thousand at odds of three or four to one? Then, even if Jerico were beaten, he would win both the girl and the horse. Was it double-crossing those men who were wagering their very boots on Jerico?
"Forget them!" said Jim Orchard savagely to himself, as this thought came home to him. "The world owes me something!"
On that thought he stuck. The world did, indeed, owe him something. Tomorrow should be his collection day. There might be some pangs of conscience afterward, but in the end Sue Hampton and Jerico would certainly salve those wounds. The babble had increased on the verandah.
"Wait a minute! One at a time!"
Garry Munn was fighting them off. They were wild with joy at the thought of putting a bet on Jerico. They were offering any odds he would take. Five, seven, ten to one.
It was too much for Jim Orchard.
He counted out the two thousand which made up his worldly fortune, scribbled a brief note which he stuffed into the mouth of the bag and, going down to the back of the hotel, found and saddled his horse and galloped to the shack of Tim Hogan. He kicked open the door without dismounting.
The little man with the withered face sauntered out to meet him.
"I knew..." he began.
"Take this and be hanged!" said Orchard. Flinging down the bag, he wheeled his horse and spurred away.
As for Tim Hogan, he picked up the bag and opened it gingerly. His face lighted at the sight of the contents, and then he drew out the paper. He stood for a long time looking down at it. Finally he crumpled it again and dropped it into its former place.
"I didn't think he'd come around," said Tim. "Didn't really think it."
He added joyously after a time: "But I guess they all got their price. Every one of 'em's got the tag on if you can only hit the right figure!" He was not half an hour alone before a second horseman galloped to his door. "He's changed his mind!" said Tim Hogan, almost happily.
But it was Garry Munn. He came in pale with excitement.
"What's happened?" he asked. "Anything happened?"
"That," said Tim dryly, and pointed to the little sack of money.
"From Orchard? He's come through?"
"We're to bet this on Long Tom?"
Garry Munn shouted with relief and joy.
"I knew it'd work!"
"What you done?"
"When you told me that Orchard had turned you down, I made up my mind to try a little bluff. I went to the verandah of the hotel and started betting on Long Tom to win."
"Before you knew Orchard would pull Jerico?"
"Sure! I was playing for Jim. I knew he'd hear me and get to thinking that Tom was sure to win no matter what he does."
"And Tom will win."
"Aye, but we can't take chances. They went mad when they heard that there was actually money out against Jerico. They gave me any odds I could ask. I didn't get much down. I let them waste time talking and making a noise to reach the ears of Orchard. All I bet was a few hundred... at anything from five to one to ten to one! Think of that! And it hooked him?"
"He came riding up a half hour ago and threw down that."
"Why, you fool, aren't you pleased?"
"I s'pose so. But it means one more good man gone to the bad. You won't hear me cheer. I've seen too much of it."
"But suppose something happens to Long Tom? Suppose he don't win? I'm ruined, Tim, because I'm going to plunge in this up to the eyes. I'm going to soak every cent I can get my hands on into this race." He broke off as he drew out the paper which was in the mouth of the money bag.
"What's here?" He read aloud:
Here you are, Hogan. Bet this on Long Tom for me.
He repeated that message, a smile slowly growing on his face.
"Well?" asked Tim Hogan. "Anything mysterious about that?"
But Garry Munn slowly spread and closed into a fist the fingers of one hand, as though he were strangling a creature of thin air.
"I've got him," he said.
"He'll get paid the money he wins... and long odds at that, as pat as I can get for him. But he loses everything else."
"His honor, Tim, and his girl!"
FORTUNATELY for his own self-esteem, Garry Munn did not see the cynical smile with which Tim Hogan greeted his last speech. Tim had long since buried the last of his own scruples and could not even remember the long-distant day when he had decided to get along in the world minus the burden of a sense of honor. In his palmy times on the track he had done everything, from artistically "roughing" the most dangerous of his competitors to cleverly "pocketing" or "pulling" his own mount.
He had made a great deal of money in this manner and had always been clever enough to keep away from suspicion. But for the very reason that he had decided to do without moral scruples in his own life, Tim was the keener critic of the morals of others. There was something highly repulsive to him in the apparent good nature of Garry Munn and the real, cold unscrupulousness which underlay the surface appearances.
Unaware of the scorn which was sneering behind his back, Garry went out from the shack singing gaily, and he took his way straight back to the town and then to the house of Susan Hampton. In the old days he had never paid much attention to Sue. Indeed, it was not until Jim Orchard took her up that Garry wakened to her possibilities. But he had long since formed such a habit of trying to get the same things that Jim Orchard wanted that, when Jim seriously courted a woman, it seemed perfectly natural for Garry to desire the same girl.
He never pretended to understand Sue. But, next to his own fortunes, he loved her as much as he was able to love anything. And the pleasure of beating out Jim Orchard in this most important of competitions would suffice to sweeten an entire married life, he felt.
Before he knocked at her door he composed himself. In his hand he carried that sack of Orchard's money with which he was to destroy forever Jim's chances with the girl. In his mind he carried a convincing story. When he had arranged the details, he tapped. The lamp was picked up in the sitting room. He saw the light slant across the window and fade. Then the crack around the front door became an edging of light. The door was opened by Sue herself, who stood back, shading the lamp to keep the glare out of her eyes. It seemed to Garry Munn that the fingers of that hand were transparent.
"Is there anyone with you?" he asked.
"Then come out on the verandah, Sue. I've got something to tell you. You don't mind me calling as late as this?"
"Of course not."
She disappeared and joined him at once in the semi-darkness. He was glad to have that sheltering dark, for from the first he had never been entirely at ease, so long as the grave, quiet eyes of the girl could probe his face. The lamplight, he felt, would have been an ally for Jim Orchard. The darkness, on the other hand, would be an ally for Garry Munn. He struck at once into the heart of his subject, because he knew that she was too clever to be fooled by his diplomacy.
"Sue," he said, "I've got a mighty ugly job, tonight. Before I get through talking you'll know I'm the best friend you've got in the world, or else you'll think I'm a hound. Shall I go ahead?"
"I don't know," answered the smooth voice of Sue Hampton. "Of course I won't know till I hear."
That was a characteristic speech, he felt. It would also be characteristic for Sue to suspend judgment to the very end of his story. He felt that he must prepare her.
"Well, we'll start supposing. Suppose you had a friend you thought a lot of... and that friend had another friend he thought a lot of..."
"I'm getting the friends all mixed up, Garry."
He blurted out impatiently: "It's about Jim Orchard!"
There was a long pause. He was not so sure that he was glad to have darkness. He would have given a good deal to be able to make out more than the blur of her features.
"Well?" she said at length.
"I've never bluffed with you, Sue," he went on. "I guess you know where I stand?"
"Just what do you mean?"
This coolness was always a dash of water in his face.
"I mean you know my attitude toward you."
She hesitated just a trifle: "I think you've acted as if... as if you're a firm friend of mine, Garry. Is that what you mean?"
"Nothing more than a friend?"
"Yes," she admitted willingly enough, "more than a friend."
"And it hasn't bothered you to have me around so much?"
"I don't know just what all this leads to, Garry."
"Nothing that'll embarrass you, Sue. I'll give you my word."
"Then... of course, it hasn't bothered me. I like you a lot, Garry. Partly for reasons that aren't reasons. Partly because you're so clean."
"That's fine to hear. It gives me courage to go ahead and take chances with what's to come. But in the first place you admit that I've never tried to force myself on you, Sue. I've just gone on being fond of you for quite a time now, and never asking any return, never expecting anything? Is that true?"
"I think it is, Garry."
"Because I've taken it for granted that you belong to Jim Orchard."
She paused again. And he was glad of it. "No woman belongs to a man, until they're married."
"Not even then, really, Sue."
"Oh, yes. After a marriage... that means a giving without any reservation... a giving of the whole heart, Garry. But I don't think a man can understand."
"The point is this. You know that I've never made any pretenses about you. I've never asked any return. I've never had any hopes. Do you know why? Because I've always thought Jim was worthy of you."
"Go on," said a faint voice.
"Tonight it's different!"
He had ventured everything on the blunt statement; he half expected that she would order him to leave. But she made no murmur of a reply.
"I'm going to tell you why. It may seem like coming behind Jim's back. I'm sorry, but I don't see any other way out of it. You can be the judge. Sue, you know that he's going to ride Jerico tomorrow?"
"Which isn't a very peaceful thing for a man about to be married to do. Anyway, he's going to ride Jerico. But do you know what horse he's betting on?"
"On Long Tom!"
"But... I don't understand. He's riding Jerico!"
"And surely no horse can beat Jerico. Everyone says no horse around here can beat Jerico."
"And maybe they're right."
"Then why should Jim bet on another horse?"
"Because he's riding Jerico."
"My brain is whirling, Garry. What does it mean?"
"You understand that everyone who bets against Jerico will get long odds... five dollars for one?"
"I've heard that."
"Doesn't Jim need money?"
"I think so."
"Then don't you see? He's betting on Long Tom because he's going to see to it that Jerico won't win the race."
"You mean he won't give Jerico an honest ride?"
He thought that the silence which followed would never end. Then: "It isn't possible."
"I've brought you the proof."
He placed the sack of money on her knees, lighted a match, and by that light spread out Jim Orchard's note for her to read. Of course she would know the handwriting. And she did know it. She suddenly sank back into the chair, and Garry Munn removed both money and paper.
"I'm sorry, Sue," he said, after a proper interval.
"It isn't a pleasant thing to do, but you see the boat I'm in? I ask you, friend to friend, could I let you go on with a man like Jim Orchard... a man who would even cheat a horse?"
"You don't hold it against me?"
For some reason he would have preferred it if she had broken into tears. This thin whisper spoke of a heart withering with pain.
"Once more I'm sorry, Sue... and good night."
"Good night, Garry."
And that was all.
But Garry knew well enough that no matter how honestly Jim Orchard rode the next day, if Jerico lost the race Jim had lost Sue Hampton.
IT should have been a very quiet and unimportant affair, that race of the next day, because there was a horse entered whose appearance seemed to remove all hope of competition. In spite of the fact that Jerico was entered, several of the cattlemen had decided to let their horses run, but that was merely because they were good sports, and not because they had any hope of beating the black stallion. Garrison had put in his Foxy; Oldham had entered Snorter; Lewis had Trix; and Noonan was backing Mame; to say nothing of Long Tom, the stranger. But it was felt that these horses were merely a background against which Jerico would appear the more glorious.
There were two elements, however, which gave the race a touch of the spectacular. In the first place one could never tell if the mustang would run quietly from the beginning to the end, There seemed every possibility that Jim Orchard had mastered the strange horse, but that remained to be seen. He was as apt as not to stop in the middle of the race and buck like a devil. The second exciting element was that a head as cool as that of Garry Munn had actually chosen to bet against Jerico.
A little money would not have made a great deal of difference, but Garry was apparently willing to stake his entire fortune. It became known that he had stretched his credit at the bank to the uttermost limit to supply the cash and, when that cash was gone, he was willing to give his note for any amount. At first the cattlemen held back, suspecting a trick. After they had gone down to see Jerico out for an exercise canter with Jim Orchard in the saddle, acting like a docile old family pet under the hand of the cowpuncher; and when, again, they had seen Tim Hogan trotting Long Tom at a shuffling, far-stepping gait, they decided that a temporary insanity had taken possession of the young rancher, and they began to cover his money in great chunks. Bets began to be registered in sums of a thousand up. Under the hammering of Garry Munn's fortune the odds dropped slowly from ten to one to two to one.
The cattlemen were as sure that Jerico would win as they were that they walked and breathed, but the confidence of Garry, backed by money, made them more conservative, as the hour for the race approached. Yet two to one was "fat" enough, when a man was betting on a sure thing; and Garry Munn kept pouring out his fortune in money and notes, until the very value of his ranch itself was almost represented in his outstanding promises.
In spite of that it was the happiest morning of Munn's life. He went to the race track as if he were stepping into a gold mine.
A full mile around, the track had been hastily constructed and roughly leveled. A flimsy fence on either side of the roadway directed the horses and riders. There was no pretense at a stand to hold the crowd. Both inside and outside the oval track the throng stood along the fences, or sat in their buckboards, or in the saddle to look over the heads of the early comers. But the noise of wagering was confined to one moving spot, and that was where Garry Munn walked. He paused near Sue Hampton. She stood close to the fence, both hands resting on the top of the post, as though she needed that support. When he spoke to her, she returned no answer. Indeed, her face was that of a sleepwalker. It troubled even the cold nerve of Garry Munn as he turned away.
"But, after all," he argued to himself, "Jim's as big a crook as I am... almost. What's to choose between us except that he's a beggar, and I'll be rich before tonight?"
His smile returned, and his voice rang as gaily as ever, shouting: "My last thousand, gentlemen. Who'll cover it? One to two on Long Tom. There he goes. How d'you like his looks? I'm betting on those long legs. Two jumps and he'll be around the track. Who takes me up?"
The ring of that familiar voice struck across to Jim Orchard as he stood beside the head of Jerico. Tom, the old Negro, was close by.
"You see them others?" he said, pointing to the cattle ponies which were being trotted up and down to make sure they would be warm and loose-muscled for the race. "Them boys thinks they's on hosses, but they ain't. There's only one hoss here, and that's Jerico. Oh, Jerry'll show 'em what's what today!"
Jim Orchard returned no answer. He had seen close to the fence the white face of Sue Hampton, and the ugly thought had come to him: how was it possible for him to win the woman he most loved and honored in the world by a piece of mean chicanery? How would it be possible for him to face her level eyes after this race?
He turned for consolation to Jerico himself. The great stallion kept always behind his new rider, as though he wanted protection from the crowd, which he hated. If a man passed too close to him, his ears flattened instantly, and his nostrils expanded and quivered; but, as soon as the shadow of fear had passed, he would touch the shoulder of Jim Orchard with his nose and then meet the glance of the rider with pricking ears. It was as though he said in mute language: "I understand. You look the same, but you're different."
Every time Jim Orchard saw that noble head his heart sank.
Long Tom came onto the track and was greeted by a murmur of mingled interest and amusement. They were not used to seeing such horses as this, these cattlemen. They could not understand how those gaunt muscles, flattening and sinking at shoulders and thighs, might mean elastic striding power and astonishing speed. To them he was more a freak than a horse for riding.
But Jim Orchard had seen the bay in action, and he understood. It comforted him to see Long Tom. No matter how he rode, what chance had Jerico against this speed machine?
Now they were summoning the horses to the post. He mounted Jerico and jogged slowly to the position. Opposite Sue Hampton, in spite of Jerico's plunging, as they approached the fence and the crowd, he cut far in and leaned to speak to her.
"Give Jerico luck, Sue!" he called.
She raised her white face and murmured an answer. It was not until he had passed on that he straightened out the meaning of the words.
"Oh, Jim, I'm praying for you!"
Why for him?
He had no time to get to the meaning of the riddle. He was coming past the main section of the crowd, where they were packed around the line which was both start and finish. What a roar went up to greet the black! Jerico crouched and quivered before it; then, as though he understood that this was a welcome and not a threat, he tossed up his head proudly and looked across the mass of faces.
The places were tossed for. Foxy got the inside; Snorter was number two; then came Jerico with an ample space on either side for fear of his heels; then Trix, then Mame, and last of all, on the outside, was Long Tom.
"There's your luck. There's the end of your freak horse, Garry!" shouted someone in the crowd.
The voice was hissed. It was thought a shameful thing to laugh at a man who had wagered the very home over his head on a horse race. Betting on such a scale was a thing to be almost reverenced.
Jerico behaved at the post as though he had raced a hundred times, standing perfectly still, with the steady voice of Jim Orchard to steady him. Jim looked across the line of horses and saw little Tim Hogan bouncing up and down, as Long Tom pranced awkwardly, eager to be away.
A voice came to him from a distance. It was Judge McCreavy giving the riders their instructions and telling them not to swing wide at the turns, for fear of cutting off horses behind them. He added other instructions. There was a pause; the crowd became deadly silent, and then the crack of the pistol.
The others were off their marks in a flash, but Jim Orchard purposely allowed Jerico to twist his head around at the last moment. When he twitched the head around and straightened Jerico to run after the pack, there was a groan from the crowd—the rest of the horses were lengths and lengths away! Jim Orchard, calmly, bitterly, cast his eye over that straining line of horseflesh ahead, with the riders bending low over their necks. Each was laboring to the full speed—each except Long Tom. The gaunt bay galloped clumsily, slowly, slowly, on the outside of the string—and yet, somehow, he floated along abreast of the best of the others, and a yell of wonder came from the crowd.
Jim Orchard understood and swallowed a smile. Tim Hogan must have been instructed to make this seem as much like a race as possible, He would race Long Tom along with the rest of the pack, until they straightened away around the last turn with the finish in sight.
Suddenly all things were blotted from the mind of Jim except the one miraculous fact that the horses, which raced ahead of him, were coming back to Jerico as if they were walking, and he running at full speed. Running, indeed!
The evening before, for a hundred yards or so, he had loosed Jerico down the open road and had thought the gait of the stallion breathtaking, but that was nothing compared to the way the black was running now. His body seemed to settle more and more to the ground as his stride lengthened. His ears were blown back flat against his neck. He poured himself over the track. Run? Jim Orchard had never dreamed that horseflesh could race with such smooth, machine-like strides, never a jolt up and down, but driving always straight ahead with dizzy speed.
There was no question that Jerico understood that this was a race, and that he loved it. As for the riders on the other horses, he did not appear to think of them. All that he knew was that here was an old custom of the free days, when the wild band of horses had raced for the water hole. And in the old days his place had always been in the front, leading the rest. He hated this rear running. Snorting the dust out of his nostrils, he sprang on at a harder pace.
Each furlong was marked by a white post and, as the signal for the first eighth flashed by him, Orchard found himself on the very heels of the pack. He drew back on the reins with an iron hand. There was not the slightest response. Jerico had the bit securely in his teeth.
Would the black devil run away and make him break that contract with Tim Hogan? He leaned desperately and called gently to Jerico, and suddenly the head was raised, the ears pricked, and from his running gait the stallion broke into a great rocking gallop. Yet even that pace held him up with the others.
In the distance Jim heard the crowd yelling its delight. That first burst of Jerico's speed meant everything to them. They would expect him to go on now, and leave the others trailing behind them.
He swung Jerico to the right and drove him straight into a pocket! Trix and Mame ran to left and right of him, and Long Tom and Foxy were in front. The crowd shouted: "Dirty work! They're boxing Jerico! Let him through!"
They called to each of the other riders in turn, berating them, but the wedge-like formation held, and Jerico galloped easily, easily in the rear.
HE could only pray that that pocket formation would hold. They were yelling advice to him to draw back and ride around the others, but he stuck doggedly in his place. To Jerico it was a manifest torment. Again and again he came up against the bit, and then tossed his head impatiently as he heard the steady voice of the master calling him back. Plainly the heart of the stallion was breaking. His place was in front, with the sweet, clean air in his nostrils, not back there breathing the dust of all these horses.
Jim Orchard heard a shrill, cracked cry above the rest. He looked across the track and saw old Tom standing beside the track with old Glory, terrified by the noise, trying to wedge his way to a place of safety between the legs of the Negro.
When they reached the turn at the first quarter, the pocket opened as the horses swung wide around the turn, and a clear way opened before Jerico. He would have sprung through like a greyhound, but the voice of the rider called him back. Then Jim Orchard heard a cry of dismay from the crowd and, looking ahead, he saw the reason for it.
Tim Hogan had apparently decided that he had waited long enough and now he was out to show the "rubes" what real speed in horseflesh meant.
Long Tom had thrust out his long neck, and now he was driving away from the rest. In vain they flogged and yelled at their mounts—Long Tom still drew away, and the crowd groaned.
For one thing Jim was glad; it was no longer necessary to disguise the speed of Jerico. There went Long Tom full tilt; he could loose the black and let him do his best with his sixty-pound handicap. The gap was still opened before him and now, touching the flank of the stallion with his open hand, he sent Jerico through it. It was a marvelous thing, that response from the black. Foxy and Trix drifted back to him and then disappeared behind his shoulders, their heads jerking foolishly up and down as they strove in vain to meet that terrific pace.
But Jerico had slipped through, and there was only Long Tom racing ahead. The three-furlong pole whipped past in a flash of white.
"Oh, Jerry, boy," said Orchard. "You ain't got a chance. If we had that skinny bay in the open country, we'd make a fool of him inside half an hour. Go it, boy, but there's not a chance."
He dropped his head and waited—waited for Jerico to slacken and fall back under that grilling strain. But there was no slackening. Instead there was a perceptible increase in the rush of wind that beat down the brim of his sombrero.
The groaning of the crowd had ceased, followed by a prolonged series of wild, cowboy yells. Jim looked up again and to his astonishment he saw that Long Tom had not increased his lead. Was Tim Hogan keeping the bay back?
No, Tim Hogan rode with his tiny body flattened along Tom's neck, giving his mount his head, and Long Tom was doing his noble best. But that best was not good enough!
The stunning truth came home to Jim Orchard. In spite of the cruel handicap of weight, in spite of the poor start, Jerico was slowly, surely, methodically cutting down the lead. Indeed, it might be that the very slowness of the start and the delay while he was held in the pocket were helping him now. It might be that early handicap and restraint had allowed the great stallion to come slowly into his pace, warming him for the greater test, sharpening his nerves and rousing his mighty heart.
All that heart, beyond a doubt, was going into the race for supremacy. By the quiver of the strong body beneath him, Jim knew that the stallion was giving his best. He spoke again, and slowly, unwillingly, tossing his head as though to ask for an explanation, Jerico answered the call and slackened his pace.
But Tim Hogan had been frightened. Jim saw the little fellow glance back and then draw his whip! Long Tom shot into a great lead at once, and there was the long, despairing murmur from the crowd.
The half-mile post gleamed and was gone behind them.
But, oddly enough, a picture came into the mind of Jim Orchard, of old Glory, the bull terrier, crowding close to the Negro for protection. Once that dog might have been among other dogs what Jerico was among other horses. One beating had robbed him of his spirit. One beating had made him what he was today, broken, skulking, a creature that made even the spirit of a man cringe with shame to see. And might not one beating do the same for Jerico? To be conquered by one of his kind, under the handicap which men had imposed on him, might well break his heart. And what would Jerico be then? A stumbling, worthless, shameful caricature of the horse he was today. Whose work? The work of Jim Orchard!
Still keeping the rein taut, he looked ahead. Long Tom had opened up a great gap, and the five-furlong post darted like a ghost behind them! Seeking for courage, Jim Orchard looked back where the crowd was packed at the finish. It was a white blur of faces, and somewhere among them was the face of the girl praying for him—for Jim Orchard. Underneath him Jerico was straining to be free from the restraint, praying, if ever a horse could pray, to follow Long Tom with every ounce of energy in his glorious body.
It was already hopeless to overtake Tim Hogan, surely. And, besides, there was the girl—but logic had no hold on Jim Orchard. Suddenly he had dashed the hat from his head with a yell that went pealing across the track and thrilled the crowd. It caught the ear of Tim Hogan and made him turn again in the saddle to look back. It caught Jerico as if with a new force and shot him forward at full speed.
Jim was riding for victory—victory for Jerico, and wretched defeat for himself. But the latter seemed nothing. His fortune—Sue Hampton—nothing mattered except that Jerico should have an honest chance to win his race. A weight fell from his heart as he made that resolve; and it seemed as though a literal weight fell from the back of Jerico, as lightly he sprang forward.
Tim Hogan had taken warning. His whip was out again, and he turned the last corner and drove the tall bay frantically into the homestretch. Jim Orchard swung forward in the stirrups, throwing his weight across the withers, where weight least burdens a racing horse.
"Jerico," he whispered, "give all you've got. It may be enough. It's got to be enough. Go after 'em! Go after 'em."
It had seemed impossible for the stallion to gain another particle of speed, and yet there was a perceptible response now. He streaked around the turn. The three-quarters post gleamed and fled behind them, and the shout of the crowd at the finish crashed up the track and thundered in the ears of Orchard.
The bit was no longer in the teeth of Jerico. He had loosed his grip as though he felt that there could be no danger in the guidance of this rider. He had surrendered himself to the will of a master as though he knew that will would lift him on to overtake the flying bay.
The eager eye of Jim Orchard saw the distance between them diminish. Long Tom was still running nobly, but he was not ready for such a test as this. His strength was failing and Jerico, like a creature possessed with a devil, seemed to gain with every stride he made. Well did the rider know the secret of that strength! It was the strength which men use in lost causes and forlorn hopes; it was the generous last effort of the fighter.
Now he heard Tim Hogan cursing—a shrill voice that piped back at him, the words cut short and blown away by the wind of the mad gallop. And then the yelling of the crowd drowned all other sound.
One name on all those lips. It roared and beat into the very soul of Orchard. One name all those frantic hands were imploring: "Jerico! Jerico! Jerico!"
Tim Hogan glanced back for the third time, and Jim Orchard caught a glimpse of a white, convulsed face. Then the jockey whirled and was back at his work, lifting Long Tom ahead with savage slashes of the whip.
The seven-furlong post shot past; the finish lay straight ahead. Two breaths and the race would be over!
The cry of the mob became Orchard's cry in the ear of the straining stallion: "Jerico! Jerico!" Every time there was a quiver of the thin ears which flattened against the stallion's neck.
Now they were on the hip of Long Tom, and the tail, flying straight back with the wind of the gallop, was blowing beside Jim Orchard's stirrup.
For every call there was an effort like the efforts which answered the whip of Tim Hogan! Orchard felt that his voice had become a power. It was pouring an electric energy out of his body, and out of his soul into the body and soul of his horse. It lifted him past the hip of Long Tom; it brought the black nose to the flank of the bay—the flank so gaunt and hollow with the strain of the gallop. It carried him to the saddle girth.
Too late, for the massed faces at the finish line were straight before them. "Jerico!"
Oh, great heart, what an answer! The scream of Tim Hogan and the sting of his whip brought no such response as this. Foam spattered the breast of Long Tom, and still he labored, still he winced under the whip, but his speed was slackening, his head was going up, up—the head of a beaten horse. Beaten he was in spirit, whether he won or lost.
Would he win? There was Judge McCreavy standing at the finish post with his arm extended, as though to point out to them that this was the end.
Past the girth and to the shoulder with one lunge.
And now only the snaky head of the bay is in the lead.
They are over the finish. The shout of the mob was a scream and a sob in one.
But who had conquered? There stood Long Tom, with dropped head, and here was Jerico, dancing beneath him, as he drew to a halt and then turned and faced the crowd with his glorious head raised. He waited like a gladiator for their judgment, and with what a voice they gave it, all in a chorus, thundering in waves around Jim Orchard.
Jerico had won! After that, all things grew hazy before the staring eyes of Jim Orchard. He was searching in that crowd for one face.
He saw Tim Hogan slowly dismounting. He saw Garry Munn standing like one who has been stunned. And then she came to him through the mob! For all their excitement, they gave way before her as though they knew it was her right.
Here was old Tom with the terrible head of Jerico in his fearless arms, weeping like a child.
Here was Sue Hampton holding up both her hands to him, with a face that opened heaven to Jim Orchard.
"Jerico's won," he said miserably, "but I've lost... everything!"
"But nothing matters... don't you see?... except..."
She was sobbing, in her excitement, so that she could scarcely speak.
"Except what, Sue?"
"Except that Jerico has won, Jim... for you and for me!"