Whenever Slone came in sight of him he had his head over his shoulder, watching.And on the soft ground of these canyons he had begun to recover from his lameness.But this did not worry Slone.Sooner or later Wildfire would go down into a high-walled wash, from which there would be no outlet; or he would wander into a box-canyon; or he would climb out on a mesa with no place to descend, unless he passed Slone; or he would get cornered on a soft, steep slope where his hoofs would sink deep and make him slow.The nature of the desert had changed.Slone had entered a wonderful region, the like of which he had not seen--a high plateau crisscrossed in every direction by narrow canyons with red walls a thousand feet high.
And one of the strange turning canyons opened into a vast valley of monuments.
The plateau had weathered and washed away, leaving huge sections of stone walls, all standing isolated, different in size and shape, but all clean-cut, bold, with straight lines.They stood up everywhere, monumental, towering, many-colored, lending a singular and beautiful aspect to the great green-and-gray valley, billowing away to the north, where dim, broken battlements mounted to the clouds.
The only living thing in Slone's sight was Wildfire.He shone red down on the green slope.
Slone's heart swelled.This was the setting for that grand horse-- a perfect wild range.But also it seemed the last place where there might be any chance to trap the stallion.Still that did not alter Slone's purpose, though it lost to him the joy of former hopes.He rode down the slope, out upon the billowing floor of the valley.Wildfire looked back to see his pursuers, and then the solemn stillness broke to a wild, piercing whistle.
Day after day, camping where night found him, Slone followed the stallion, never losing sight of him till darkness had fallen.The valley was immense and the monuments miles apart.But they always seemed close together and near him.
The air magnified everything.Slone lost track of time.The strange, solemn, lonely days and the silent, lonely nights, and the endless pursuit, and the wild, weird valley--these completed the work of years on Slone and he became satisfied, unthinking, almost savage.
The toil and privation had worn him down and he was like iron.His garments hung in tatters; his boots were ripped and soleless.Long since his flour had been used up, and all his supplies except the salt.He lived on the meat of rabbits, but they were scarce, and the time came when there were none.Some days he did not eat.Hunger did not make him suffer.He killed a desert bird now and then, and once a wildcat crossing the valley.Eventually he felt his strength diminishing, and then he took to digging out the pack-rats and cooking them.But these, too, were scarce.At length starvation faced Slone.
But he knew he would not starve.Many times he had been within rifle-shot of Wildfire.And the grim, forbidding thought grew upon him that he must kill the stallion.The thought seemed involuntary, but his mind rejected it.
Nevertheless, he knew that if he could not catch the stallion he would kill him.That had been the end of many a desperate rider's pursuit of a coveted horse.
While Slone kept on his merciless pursuit, never letting Wildfire rest by day, time went on just as relentlessly.Spring gave way to early summer.The hot sun bleached the grass; water-holes failed out in the valley, and water could be found only in the canyons; and the dry winds began to blow the sand.It was a sandy valley, green and gray only at a distance, and out toward the north there were no monuments, and the slow heave of sand lifted toward the dim walls.
Wildfire worked away from this open valley, back to the south end, where the great monuments loomed, and still farther back, where they grew closer, till at length some of them were joined by weathered ridges to the walls of the surrounding plateau.For all that Slone could see, Wildfire was in perfect condition.But Nagger was not the horse he had been.Slone realized that in one way or another the pursuit was narrowing down to the end.
He found a water-hole at the head of a wash in a split in the walls, and here he let Nagger rest and graze one whole day--the first day for a long time that he had not kept the red stallion in sight.That day was marked by the good fortune of killing a rabbit, and while eating it his gloomy, fixed mind admitted that he was starving.He dreaded the next sunrise.But he could not hold it back.There, behind the dark monuments, standing sentinel-like, the sky lightened and reddened and burst into gold and pink, till out of the golden glare the sun rose glorious.And Slone, facing the league-long shadows of the monuments, rode out again into the silent, solemn day, on his hopeless quest.
For a change Wildfire had climbed high up a slope of talus, through a narrow pass, rounded over with drifting sand.And Slone gazed down into a huge amphitheater full of monuments, like all that strange country.A basin three miles across lay beneath him.Walls and weathered slants of rock and steep slopes of reddish-yellow sand inclosed this oval depression.The floor was white, and it seemed to move gently or radiate with heat-waves.Studying it, Slone made out that the motion was caused by wind in long bleached grass.He had crossed small areas of this grass in different parts of the region.
Wildfire's tracks led down into this basin, and presently Slone, by straining his eyes, made out the red spot that was the stallion.
"He's lookin' to quit the country," soliloquized Slone, as he surveyed the scene.
With keen, slow gaze Slone studied the lay of wall and slope, and when he had circled the huge depression he made sure that Wildfire could not get out except by the narrow pass through which he had gone in.Slone sat astride Nagger in the mouth of this pass--a wash a few yards wide, walled by broken, rough rock on one side and an insurmountable slope on the other.