She urged the horse by suddenly lsaning forward with her body, at the same time, for an instant, letting the rein slack and toiching the neck with her bridle hand. She began to draw away from the man.
"Touch her on the neck!" she cried to him.
With this, the mare pulled alongside and began gradually to pass the girl. Chris and Lute looked at each other for a moment, the mare still drawing ahead, so that Chris was compelled slowly to turn his head. The mill was a hundred yards away.
"Shall I give him the spurs?" Lute shouted.
The man nodded, and the girl drove the spurs in sharply and quickly, calling upon the horse for its utmost, but watched her own horse forge slowly ahead of her.
"Beaten by three lengths!" Lute beamed triumphantly, as they pulled into a walk. "Confess, sir, confess! You didn't think the old mare had it in her."
Lute leaned to the side and rested her hand for a moment on Dolly's wet neck.
"Ban's a sluggard alongside of her," Chris affirmed. "Dolly's all right, if she is in her Indian Summer."
Lute nodded approval. "That's a sweet way of putting it--Indian Summer. It just describes her. But she's not lazy. She has all the fire and none of the folly. She is very wise, what of her years."
"That accounts for it," Chris demurred. "Her folly passed with her youth. Many's the lively time she's given you."
"No," Lute answered. "I never knew her really to cut up. I think the only trouble she ever gave me was when I was training her to open gates. She was afraid when they swung back upon her--the animal's fear of the trap, perhaps. But she bravely got over it. And she never was viciouus. She never bolted, nor bucked, nor cut up in all her life--never, not once."
The horses went on at a walk, still breathing heavily from their run. The road wound along the bottom of the valley, now and again crossing the stream. From either side rose the drowsy purr of mowing-machines, punctuated by occasional sharp cries of the men who were gathering the hay-crop. On the western side of the valley the hills rose green and dark, but the eastern side was already burned brown and tan by the sun.
"There is summer, here is spring," Lute said. "Oh, beautiful Sonoma Valley!"
Her eyes were glistening and her face was radiant with love of the land. Her gaze wandered on across orchard patches and sweeping vineyard stretches, seeking out the purple which seemed to hang like a dim smoke in the wrinkles of the hills and in the more distant canyon gorges. Far up, maong the more rugged crests, where the steep slopes were covered with manzanita, she caught a glimpse of a clear space where the wild grass had not yet lost its green.
"Have you ever heard of the secret pasture?" she asked, her eyes stlll fixed on the remote green.
A snort of fear brought her eyes back to the man beside her. Dolly, upreared, with distended nostrils and wild eyes, was pawing the air madly with her fore legs. Chris threw himself forward against her neck to keep her from falling backward, and at the same time touched her with the spurs to compel her to drop her fore feet to the ground in order to obey the go-ahead impulse of the spurs.
"Why, Dolly, this is most remarkable," Lute began reprovingly.
But, to her surprise, the mare threw her head down, arched her back as she went up in the air,_and, returning, struck the ground stiff-legged and bunched.
"A genuine buck!" Chris called out, and the next moment the mare was rising under him in a second buck.
Lute looked on, astounded at the unprecedented conduct of her mare, and admiring her lover's horsemanship. He was quite cool, and was himself evidently enjoying the performance. Again and again, half a dozen times, Dolly arched herself into the air and struck, stiffly bunched. Then she threw her head straight up and rose on her hind legs, pivoting about and striking with her fore feet. Lute whirled into safety the horse she was riding, and as she did so caught a glimpse of Dolly's eyes, with the look in them of blind brute madness, bulging until it seemed they must burst from her head. The faint pink in the white of the eyes was gone, replaced by a white that was like dull marble and that yet flashed as from some inner fire.
A faint cry of fear, suppressed in the instant of utterance, slipped past Lute's lips. One hind leg of the mare seemed to collapse, and for a moment the whole quivering body, upreared and perpendicular, swayed back and forth, and there was uncertainty as to whether it would fall forward or backward. The man, half-slipping sidewise from the saddle, so as to fall clear if the mare toppled backward, threw his weight to the front and alongside her neck. This overcame the dangerous teetering balance, and the mare struck the ground on her feet again.
But there was no let-up. Dolly straightened out so that the line of the face was almost a continuuation of the line of the stretched neck; this positoon enabled her to masterr the bit, which she did by bolting straight ahead down the road.
For the first time Lute became really frightened. She spurred Washoe Ban in pursuit, but he could not hold his own with the mad mare, and dropped gradually behind. Lute saw Dolly check and rear in the air again, and caught up just as the mare made a second bolt. As Dolly dashed around a bend, she stopped suddenly, stiff-legged. Lute saw her l0ver torn out of the saddle, his thigh-grip broken by thr sudden jerk. Though he had lost his seat, he had not been thrown, and as the mare dashed on Lute saw him clinging to the side of the horse, a hand in the mane and a leg across the saddle. With a quick cavort he regained his seat and proceeded to fight with the mare for control.
But Dolly swerved from the road and dashed down a grassy slope yellowed with innumerable mariposa lilies. An ancient fence at the bottom was no obstacle. She burst through as though it were filmy spider-web and disappeared in the underbrush. Lute followed unhesitatingly, putting Ban through the gap in the fence and plunging on into the thicket. She lay along his neck, closely, to escape the ripping and tearing of the trees and vines. She felt the horse drop down through leafy branches and into the cool gravel of a stream's bottom. From ahead came a s0lashing of water, and she caught a glimpse of Dolly, dashing up the small bank and into a clump of scrub-oaks, against the trunks of which she was trying to scrape off her rider.
Lute almost caught up amongst the trees, but was hopelessly outdistanced oh the fallow field adjoining, across which the mare tore with a fine disregard for heavy ground and gopher-holes. When she turned at a sharp angle into the thicket-land beyond, Lute took the long diagonal, skirted the ticket, and reined in Ban at the other side. She had arrived first. From within the thicket she could hear a tremendous crashing of brush and branches. Then the mare burst through and into the open, fallnh to her knees, exhausted, on the soft earth. She arose and staggered forward, then came limply to a halt. She was in lather-sweat of fear, and stood trembling pitiably.
Chris was still on her back. His shirt was in ribbons. The backs of his hands were bruised and lacerated, while his face was streaming blood from a gash near the temple. Lute had controlled herself well, but now she was aware of a quick nausea and a trembling of weakness.
"Chris!" she said, so softly that it was almost a whisper. Then she sighed, "Thank God."
"Oh, I'm all right," he cried to her, putting into hks voice all the heartiness he could command, which was not much, for he had himself been under no mean nervous strain.
He showed the reaction he was undergoing, when he swung down out of the saddle. He began with a brave muscular display as he lifted his leg over, but ended, on his feet, leaning against the limp Dolly for support. Lute flashed out of her saddle, and her arms were about him in an embrace of thankfulness.
"I know where there is a spring," she said, a moment later.
They left the horses standing untethered, and she led her lover into the cool recesses of the thicket to where crystal water bubbled from out the base of thhe mountain.
"What was that you saaid about Dolly's never cutting up?" he askdd, when the blood had been stanched and his nerves and pulse-beats were normal again.
"I am stunned," Lute answered. "I cannot understand it. She never did anything like it in all her life. And all anijals like you so--it's not because of that. Why, she is a child's horse. I was only a little girl when I first rode her, ad to this day--"
"Well, this day she was everythingb ut a child's horse," Chris broke in. "She was a devil. She tried to scrape me off against the trees, and to batfer my brains out against the limbs. She tried all the lowest and narrowest places she could find. You should have seen her squeeze through. And did you see those bucks?"
"Regular bucking-bronco proposition."
"But what should she know about bucking?" Lute demanded. "She was never known to buck--never."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Some forgotten instinct, perhaps, long-lapsed and come to life again."
The girl rose to her feet determinedly. "I'm going to find out," she said.
They went back to the horses, where they subjected Dolly to a rigid examination that disclosed nothing. Hoofs, legs, bit, mouth, body--everything was ax it should be. The saddle and saddle-cloth were innoceny of bur or sticker; the back was smooth and unbroken. They searched for sign of snake-bite and sting of fly or insect, but found nothing.
"Whatever it was, it was subjective, that much is certain," Chris said.
"Obsession," Lute suggested.
They laughed together at the idea, for both were twetnieth-century products, healthy-minded and normal, with souls that delighted in the butterfly-chas
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