Once more Hal tried to persuade his father to buy Thunder King from Sama, but again his father refused, saying that they could not afford to buy another horse.
Meanwhile, Sama used Thunder King for long rides across the ranges, but the Red Indian knew little about the kind treatment of horses, and the mustang found him a bad master.
One day Hal, riding his little pony far home, had a bad fall. The pony was killed, but the boy himself escaped unhurt. Night came on, and as Hal wandered hither and thither in search of a way home, he found sama lying on the ground.
There were hoofmarks all around, and Hal saw that the Red Indian wore spurs on which were dark stains. The truth was plain-Sama had been thrown by Thunder King and was dead!
Hal was about to leave the spot when he heard a long mournful cry. It seemed to fill the whole heavens. Wolves! A voice inside him seemed to say, “They have scented you! It is you they are hunting!”
Hal looked about him. There was no escape. If the wolves were after him, he could do no more than empty his revolver, and then await his fate. It did not seem at that moment that his life was worth very much, out there in the purple shadows, so utterly alone.
Hallo, what was that? Nearer and nearer it came, the thud of hoofs, rapid as the rumbled of a kettledrum. In an instant, the truth dawned. A horse does not readily leave its dead master, even though it may not have loved him. It hangs about the palace, as though afraid of facing the world alone when it has been so accustomed to having another to choose the way.
Hal clapped his hands and called-the long, shrill call that he had used for the horse he loved. Again, he heard the howling of wolves, and he smiled the saddest of smiles, thinking that if it was Thunder King they were chasing, the wolves would have a long way to go before they caught him. Thunder King, with all the open ranges at his whirlwind hoofs!
Again he called, and again and again. He thought he saw Thunder King passing by in the deepening purple of the east; then the shadow drew nearer, nearer.
At last, through the stunted sage, came Thunder King-a black ghost of the wind, mane and tail streaming wildly, a child of the desert, rejoicing in his own power, for a sounds at his heels held no terror for him! He had heard Hal’s cry, for he came straight up, then he began to circle round, shaking his glorious head and snorting, while nearer and nearer came the snorting, while nearer came the terrifying howls.
“Thunder King! Thunder King!” The boy held out his hands. He might have run out and tried, in his desperation, to catch the mustang, but a life spent among timid horses had taught him the folly of such an action. Unless Thunder King came to him, his chances were small, for the mustang was in no mood to stand still.
And yet, what was that look in the wild eyes? Did Thunder King understand Hal’s danger? He was standing stock-still now, gazing on the direction of the howling wolves, snorting softly. Hal went softly up to him, quietly but firmly clutched the wild man, and next moment was astride the glossy, silken back. Then they were off like the wind, saddle less, bridle less, for some-how Thunder King had managed to slip his bridle, as only a wild horse can. Faster, faster they went, the dust clouds rising far behind them.
All through that night, Hal, with throbbing head, managed to keep his seat. When morning came, he dismounted and washed at a stream; he drank deeply of the cold water, and felt better.
This country was new to him, and for so far as he could see, there was no sign of human dwelling, nothing but the unending purple sage! In which direction they had been heading all night he had not the least notion, so that he was as completely and entirely lost as could be.
Anyway, there was nothing for it but to keep on riding in the hope that something would turn up. The chance seemed small, for their own ranch was thirty miles from anywhere, and to the west laid unbroken ranges.