The marks of Coaley's hoofs were still fresh in the trail, but Lance did not appear to see them at all. He let the roan scramble over the shale as he would, let him take his own pace among the boulders and up through the Slide. At the top he put him into an easy lope which did not slacken until he reached the descent on the other side of the Ridge.
He knew it, knew just how loud were its mutterings, knew that it was gathering swiftly, pushing up over the horizon faster than did the storm of the morning. He would not put Coaley down the Slide trail, but took him around by the wagon road. They plodded along at a walk, Coaley's stiffened muscles giving him the gait of an old horse.
Into one of these Lance turned, rode deep into the sparse growth, stopped where the trail swung round a huge, detached boulder, dismounted and dropped Coaley's reins to the ground and retraced his steps some distance from the trail, stepping on rocks here and there and keeping off damp spots. He reached the thin edge of the grove, stood behind a stocky bush and waited.
Tom Lorrigan, she reminded herself, might force her to leave the schoolhouse, but he would scarcely dare to carry his abuse farther. She had gone perhaps ten rods when came a pounding of hoofs, and Coaley's head and proudly arched neck heaved alongside poor, draggle-maned old Rab. "You're headed wrong. Have I got to haze yuh all the way home? Might as well. I want to tell yore dad a few things."
It seemed incredible to Tom that squatters could have come in and taken possession of the place in his short absence, but there was no other explanation that seemed at all reasonable. Squatters were not welcome on the Devil's Tooth range. Tom rode up to the shack, dismounted and let Coaley's reins drop to the ground. He hesitated a minute before the door, in doubt as to the necessity for knocking.
Tom would just about murder you if he caught you at it. And where did you get hold of that hat?" Lance laughed queerly. "I just picked it off the table as I came out. Mine is too new and stiff yet. This seemed to fit. And Coaley's better off under the saddle than he is in the stable, Belle. He's a peach I always did want to ride Coaley, but I never had the nerve till I got big enough to lick dad."
He had thought at first that some one was trailing the Devil's Tooth outfit, as he had been doing, but now it seemed plain that he himself was the quarry. He flicked the reins on Coaley's satiny neck, and the horse broke at once into a springy, swift trot, following the purposeless winding of the cow path.
She breathed deep, reached up and caught the saddle horn, put her foot in the stirrup and let him lift her beside him. Against Coaley's nervous pull at the bit Lance held a steadying hand and laughed. "It's Fate, girl. Let the storm come. We'll beat it it can't hurt us. Nothing can hurt us now." He had to shout above the crashing thunder. "Do you love me, sweetheart?"