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Alcatraz by Max Brand

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MAX BRAND

Alcatraz

1922

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I.--CORDOVA

II.--THE COMING OF DAVID

III.--CONCERNING FIGHTERS

IV.--THE STRENGTH OF THE WEAK

V.--RETRIBUTION

VI.--FREEDOM

VII.--THE PROMISED LAND

VIII.--MURDER

IX.--THE STAMPEDE

X.--THE THIEF

XI.--THE FAILURE

XII.--FROM THE HIP

XIII.--THE BARGAIN

XIV.--STRATEGY

XV.--THE KING

XVI.--RED PERRIS: ADVOCATE

XVII.--INVISIBLE DANGER

XVIII.--VICTORY

XIX.--HERVEY TAKES A TRICK

XX.--THE TRAP SHUTS

XXI.--THE BATTLE

XXII.--MCGUIRE SLEEPS

XXIII.--LOBO

XXIV.--THE CRISIS

XXV.--THE LITTLE SMOKY

XXVI.--PARTNERS

XXVII.--THE END OF THE RACE

ALCATRAZ

_The characters, places, incidents and situations in this book are
imaginary and have no relation to any person, place or actual
happening._

CHAPTER I

CORDOVA

The west wind came over the Eagles, gathered purity from the evergreen
slopes of the mountains, blew across the foothills and league wide
fields, and came at length to the stallion with a touch of coolness and
enchanting scents of far-off things. Just as his head went up, just as
the breeze lifted mane and tail, Marianne Jordan halted her pony and
drew in her breath with pleasure. For she had caught from the chestnut
in the corral one flash of perfection and those far-seeing eyes called
to mind the Arab belief.

Says the Sheik: "I have raised my mare from a foal, and out of love for
me she will lay down her life; but when I come out to her in the
morning, when I feed her and give her water, she still looks beyond me
and across the desert. She is waiting for the coming of a real man, she
is waiting for the coming of a true master out of the horizon!"

Marianne had known thoroughbreds since she was a child and after coming
West she had become acquainted with mere "hoss-flesh," but today for the
first time she felt that the horse is not meant by nature to be the
servant of man but that its speed is meant to ensure it sacred freedom.
A moment later she was wondering how the thought had come to her. That
glimpse of equine perfection had been an illusion built of spirit and
attitude; when the head of the stallion fell she saw the daylight truth:
that this was either the wreck of a young horse or the sad ruin of a
fine animal now grown old. He was a ragged creature with dull eyes and
pendulous lip. No comb had been among the tangles of mane and tail for
an unknown period; no brush had smoothed his coat. It was once a rich
red-chestnut, no doubt, but now it was sun-faded to the color of sand.
He was thin. The unfleshed backbone and withers stood up painfully and
she counted the ribs one by one. Yet his body was not so broken as his
spirit. His drooped head gave him the appearance of searching for a
spot to lie down. He seemed to have been left here by the cruelty of his
owner to starve and die in the white heat of this corral--a desertion
which he accepted as justice because he was useless in the world.

It affected Marianne like the resignation of a man; indeed there was
more personality in the chestnut than in many human beings. Once he had
been a beauty, and the perfection which first startled her had been a
ghost out of his past. His head, where age or famine showed least, was
still unquestionably fine. The ears were short and delicately made, the
eyes well-placed, the distance to the angle of the jaw long--in brief,
it was that short head of small volume and large brain space which
speaks most eloquently of hot blood. As her expert eye ran over the rest
of the body she sighed to think that such a creature had come to such an
end. There was about him no sign of life save the twitch of his skin to
shake off flies.

Certainly this could not be the horse she had been advised to see and
she was about to pass on when she felt eyes watching her from the steep
shadow of the shed which bordered the corral. Then she made out a dapper
olive-skinned fellow sitting with his back against the wall in such a
position of complete relaxation as only a Mexican is capable of
assuming. He wore a short tuft of black moustache cut well away from the
edge of the red lip, a moustache which oddly accentuated his youth. In
body and features he was of that feminine delicacy which your
large-handed Saxon dislikes, and though Marianne was by no means a
stalwart, she detested the man at once. For that reason, being a lady to
the tips of her slim fingers, her smile was more cordial than necessary.

"I am looking for Manuel Cordova," she said.

"Me," replied the Mexican, and managed to speak without removing the
cigarette.

"I'm glad to know you." she answered. "I am Marianne Jordan."

At this, Manuel Cordova removed his cigarette, regardless of the ashes
which tumbled straightway down the bell-mouthed sleeve of his jacket;
for a Mexican deems it highly indecorous to pay the slightest heed to
his tobacco ashes. Whether they land on chin or waistcoat they are
allowed to remain until the wind carries them away.

"The pleasure is to me," said Cordova melodiously, and made painful
preparations to rise.

She gathered at once that the effort would spoil his morning and urged
him to remain where he was, at which he smiled with the care of a movie
star, presenting an even, white line of teeth.

Marianne went on: "Let me explain. I've come to the Glosterville fair to
buy some brood mares for my ranch and of course the ones I want are the
Coles horses. You've seen them?"

He nodded.

"But those horses," she continued, checking off her points, "will not be
offered for sale until after the race this afternoon. They're all
entered and they are sure to win. There's nothing to touch them and when
they breeze across the finish I imagine every ranch owner present will
want to bid for them. That would put them above my reach and I can only
pray that the miracle will happen--a horse may turn up to beat them. I
made inquiries and I was told that the best prospect was Manuel
Cordova's Alcatraz. So I've come with high hopes, Senor Cordova, and
I'll appreciate it greatly if you'll let me see your champion."

"Look till the heart is content, senorita," replied the Mexican, and he
extended a slim, lazy hand towards the drowsing stallion.

"But," cried the girl, "I was told of a real runner--"

She squinted critically at the faded chestnut. She had been told of a
four-year-old while this gaunt animal looked fifteen at least. However,
it is one thing to catch a general impression and another to read
points. Marianne took heed, now, of the long slope of the shoulders, the
short back, the well-let-down hocks. After all, underfeeding would dull
the eye and give the ragged, lifeless coat.

"He is not much horse, eh?" purred Cordova.

But the longer she looked the more she saw. The very leanness of
Alcatraz made it easier to trace his running-muscles; she estimated,
too, the ample girth at the cinches where size means wind.

"And that's Alcatraz?" she murmured.

"That is all," said the pleasant Cordova.

"May I go into the corral and look him over at close range? I never feel
that I know a horse till I get my hands on it."

She was about to dismount when she saw that the Mexican was hesitating
and she settled back in the saddle, flushed with displeasure.

"No," said Cordova, "that would not be good. You will see!"

He smiled again and rising, he sauntered to the fence and turned about
with his shoulders resting against the upper bar, his back to the
stallion. As he did so, Alcatraz put forward his ears, which, in
connection with the dullness of his eyes, gave him a peculiarly foolish
look.

"You will see a thing, senorita!" the Mexican was chuckling.

It came without warning. Alcatraz turned with the speed of a whiplash
curling and drove straight at the place where his master leaned.
Marianne's cry of alarm was not needed. Cordova had already started, but
even so he barely escaped. The chestnut on braced legs skidded to the
fence, his teeth snapping short inches from the back of his master. His
failure maddened Alcatraz. He reminded Marianne of the antics of a cat
when in her play with the mouse she tosses her victim a little too far
away and wheels to find her prospective meal disappearing down a hole.
In exactly similar wise the stallion went around the corral in a whirl
of dust, rearing, lashing out with hind legs and striking with fore,
catching imaginary things in his teeth and shaking them to pieces. When
the fury diminished he began to glide up and down the fence, and there
was something so feline in the grace of those long steps and the
intentness with which the brute watched Cordova that the girl remembered
a new-brought tiger in the zoo. Also, rage had poured him full of such
strength that through the dust cloud she caught again glimpses of that
first perfection.

He came at last to a stop, but he faced his owner with a look of steady
hate. The latter returned the gaze with interest, stroking his face and
snarling: "Once more, red devil, eh? Once more you miss? Bah! But I, I
shall not miss!"

It was not as one will talk to a dumb beast, for there was no mistaking
the vicious earnestness of Cordova, and now the girl made out that he
was caressing a long, white scar which ran from his temple across the
cheekbone. Marianne glanced away, embarrassed, as people are when
another reveals a dark and hidden portion of his character.

"You see?" said Cordova, "you would not be happy in the corral with him,
eh?"

He rolled a cigarette with smiling lips as he spoke, but all the time
his black eyes burned at the chestnut. He seemed to Marianne half child
and half old man, and both parts of him were evil now that she could
guess the whole story. Cordova campaigned through the country, racing
his horse at fairs or for side bets. For two reasons he kept the animal
systematically undernourished: one was that he was thereby able to get
better odds; the other was that only on a weakened Alcatraz would he
trust himself. At this she did not wonder for never had she seen such
almost human viciousness of temper in a dumb beast.

"As for running, senorita," continued Cordova, "sometimes he does very
well--yes, very well. But when he is dull the spurs are nothing to him."

He indicated a criss-crossing of scars on the flank of the stallion and
Marianne, biting her lips, realized that she must leave at once if she
wished to avoid showing her contempt, and her anger.

She was a mile down the road and entering the main street of
Glosterville before her temper cooled. She decided that it was best to
forget both Alcatraz and his master: they were equally matched in
devilishness. Her last hope of seeing the mares beaten was gone, and
with it all chance of buying them at a reasonable figure; for no matter
what the potentialities of Alcatraz in his present starved condition he
could not compare with the bays. She thought of Lady Mary with the
sunlight rippling over her shoulder muscles. Certainly Alcatraz would
never come within whisking distance of her tail!

CHAPTER II

THE COMING OF DAVID

Having reached this conclusion, the logical thing, of course, was for
Marianne to pack and go without waiting to see the race or hear the
bidding for the Coles horses; but she could not leave. Hope is as blind
as love. She had left the ranch saying to her father and to the foreman,
Lew Hervey: "The bank account is shrinking, but ideals are worth more
than facts and I _shall_ improve the horses on this place." It was a
rather too philosophical speech for one of her years, but Oliver Jordan
had merely shrugged his shoulders and rolled another cigarette; the
crushed leg which, for the past three years, had made him a cripple, had
taught him patience.

Only the foreman had ventured to smile openly. It was no secret that Lew
Hervey disliked the girl heartily. The fall of the horse which made
Jordan a semi-invalid, killed his ambition and self-reliance at the same
instant. Not only was it impossible for him to ride since the accident,
but the freeswinging self-confidence which had made him prosperous
disappeared at the same time; his very thoughts walked slowly on foot
since his fall. Hervey gathered the reins of the ranch affairs more and
more into his own hands and had grown to an almost independent power
when Marianne came home from school. Having studied music and modern
languages, who could have suspected in Marianne either the desire or
the will to manage a ranch, but to Marianne the necessity for following
the course she took was as plain as the palm of an open hand. The big
estate, once such a money-maker, was now losing. Her father had lost
his grip and could not manage his own affairs, but who had ever heard of
a hired man being called to run the Jordan business as long as there was
a Jordan alive? She, Marianne, was very much alive. She came West and
took the ranch in hand.

Her father smiled and gave her whatever authority she required; in a
week the estate was hers to control. But for all her determination and
confidence, she knew that she could not master cattle-raising in a few
weeks. She was unfemininely willing to take advice. She even hunted for
it, and though her father refused to enter into the thing even with
suggestions, a little help from Hervey plus her indomitable energy might
have made her attempt a success.

Hervey, however, was by no means willing to help. In fact, he was
profoundly disgruntled. He had found himself, beyond all expectation, in
a position almost as absolute and dignified as that of a real owner
with not the slightest interference from Jordan, when on a sudden the
arrival of this pretty little dark-eyed girl submerged him again in his
old role of the hired man. He took what Marianne considered a sneaking
revenge. He entered at once upon a career of the most perfect
subordination. No fault could be found with his work. He executed every
commission with scrupulous care. But when his advice was asked he became
a sphinx. "Some folks say one way and some another. Speaking personal, I
dunno, Miss Jordan. You just tell me what to do and I'll do it."

This attitude irritated her so that she was several times on the verge
of discharging him, but how could she turn out so old an employee and
one so painstaking in the duties assigned to him? Many a day she prayed
for "a new foreman or night," but Hervey kept his job, and in spite of
her best efforts, affairs went from bad to worse and the more
desperately she struggled the more hopelessly she was lost. This affair
of the horses was typical. No doubt the saddle stock were in sad need of
improved blood but this was hardly the moment to undertake such an
expenditure. Having once suggested the move, the quiet smiles of Hervey
had spurred her on. She knew the meaning of those smiles. He was waiting
till she should exhaust even the immense tolerance of her father; when
she fell he would swing again into the saddle of control. Yet she would
go on and buy the mares if she could. Hers was one of those militant
spirits which, once committed, fights to the end along every line. And
indeed, if she ever contemplated surrender, if she were more than once
on the verge of giving way to the tears of broken spirit, the vague,
uninterested eyes of her father and the overwise smiles of Hervey were
whips which sent her back into the battle.

But today, when she regained her room in the hotel, she walked up and
down with the feeling that she was struggling against manifest destiny.
And in a rare burst of self-pity, she paused in front of the window,
gritting her teeth to restrain a flood of tears.

A cowpuncher rocked across the blur of her vision on his pony, halted,
and swung down in front of the stable across the street. The horse
staggered as the weight came out of the stirrup and that made Marianne
watch with a keener interest, for she had seen a great deal of merciless
riding since she came West and it always angered her. The cowpunchers
used "hoss-flesh" rather than horses, a distinction that made her hot.
If a horse were not good enough to be loved it was not good enough to be
ridden. That was one of her maxims. She stepped closer to the window.
Certainly that pony had been cruelly handled for the little grey gelding
swayed in rhythm with his panting; from his belly sweat dripped steadily
into the dust and the reins had chafed his neck to a lather. Marianne
flashed into indignation and that, of course, made her scrutinize the
rider more narrowly. He was perfect of that type of cowboy which she
detested most: handsome, lithe, childishly vain in his dress. About his
sombrero ran a heavy width of gold-braid; his shirt was blue silk; his
bandana was red; his boots were shop-made beauties, soft and flexible;
and on his heels glittered--_gilded spurs_!

"And I'll wager," thought the indignant Marianne, "that he hasn't ten
dollars in the world!"

He unknotted the cinches and drew off the saddle, propping it against
one hip while he surveyed his mount. In spite of all his vainglory he
was human enough to show some concern, it appeared. He called for a
bucket of water and offered it to the dripping pony. Marianne repressed
a cry of warning: a drink might ruin a horse as hot as that. But the
gay rider permitted only a swallow and then removed the bucket from the
reaching nose.

The old man who apparently sat all day and every day beside the door of
the stable, only shifting from time to time to keep in shadow, passed
his beard through his fist and spoke. Every sound, even of the panting
horse, came clearly to her through the open window.

"Kind of small but kind of trim, that hoss."

"Not so small," said the rider. "About fifteen two, I guess."

"Measured him?"

"Never."

"I'd say nigher onto fifteen one."

"Bet my spurs to ten dollars that he's fifteen two; and that's good odds
for you."

The old man hesitated; but the stable boy was watching him with a grin.

"I'll take that bet if--" he began.

The rider snapped him up so quickly that Marianne was angered again. Of
course he knew the height of his own horse and it would be criminal to
take the old loafer's money, but that was his determination.

"Get a tape, son. We'll see."

The stable boy disappeared in the shadow of the door and came back at
once with the measure. The grey gelding, in the meantime, had smelled
the sweetness of hay and was growing restive but a sharp word from the
rider jerked him up like a tug on his bit. He tossed his head and
waited, his ears flat.

"Look out, Dad," called the rider, as he arranged the tape to fall from
the withers of the horse, "this little devil'll kick your head off
quicker than a wink if he gets a chance."

"He don't look mean," said the greybeard, stepping back in haste.

"I like 'em mean and I keep 'em mean," said the other. "A tame hoss is
like a tame man and I don't give a damn for a gent who won't fight."

Marianne covertly stamped. It was so easy to convert her worries into
anger at another that she was beginning to hate this brutal-minded Beau
Brummel of the ranges. Besides, she had had bitter experience with these
noisy, careless fellows when they worked on her ranch. Her foreman was
such a type grown to middle-age. Indeed her anger at the whole species
called "cowpuncher" now focused to a burning-point on him of the gilded
spurs.

The measuring was finished; he stepped back.

"Fifteen one and a quarter," he announced. "You win, Dad!"

Marianne wanted to cheer.

"You win, confound it! And where'll I get the mates of this pair? You
win and I'm the underdog."

"A poor loser, too," thought Marianne. She was beginning to round her
conception of the man; and everything she added to the picture made her
dislike him the more cordially.

He had dropped on one knee in the dust and was busily loosening the
spurs, paying no attention to the faint protests of the winner that he
"didn't have no use for the darned things no ways." And finally he
drowned the protests by breaking into song in a wide-ringing baritone
and tossing the spurs at the feet of the others. He rose--laughing--and
Marianne, with a mental wrest, rearranged one part of her
preconception, yet this carelessness was only another form of the curse
of the West and Westerners--extravagance.

He turned now to a tousle-headed three-year-old boy who was wandering
near, drawn by the brilliance of the stranger.

"Keep away from those heels, kiddie. Look out, now!"

The yellow-haired boy, however, dazed by this sudden centering of
attention on him, stared up at the speaker with his thumb in his mouth;
and with great, frightened eyes--he headed straight for the heels of the
grey!

"Take the hoss--" began the rider to the stable-boy. But the
stable-boy's sudden reaching for the reins made the grey toss its
head and lurch back towards the child. Marianne caught her breath as
the stranger, with mouth drawn to a thin, grim line, leaped for the
youngster. The grey lashed out with vicious haste, but that very haste
spoiled his aim. His heels whipped over the shoulder of his master as
the latter scooped up the child and sprang away. Marianne, grown sick,
steadied herself against the side of the window; she had seen the
brightness of steel on the driving hoofs.

A hasty group formed. The stable boy was guiltily leading the horse
through the door and around the gaudy rider came the old man, and a
woman who had run from a neighboring porch, and a long-moustached giant.
But all that Marianne distinctly saw was the white, set face of the
rescuer as he soothed the child in his arms; in a moment it had stopped
crying and the woman received it. It was the old man who uttered the
thought of Marianne.

"That was cool, young feller, and darned quick, and a nervy thing as I
ever seen."

"Tut!" said the other, but the girl thought that his smile was a little
forced. He must have heard those metal-armed hoofs as they whirred past
his head.

"There is distinctly something worth while about these Westerners, after
all," thought Marianne.

Something else was happening now. The big man with the sandy, long
moustaches was lecturing him of the gay attire.

"Nervy enough," he began, "but you'd oughtn't to take a hoss around
where kids are, a hoss that ain't learned to stop kicking. It's a fool
thing to do, I say. I seen once where--"

He stopped, agape on his next word, for the lectured had turned on the
lecturer, dropped his hands on his hips, and broke into loud laughter.

"Excuse me for laughing," he said when he could speak, "but I didn't see
you before and--those whiskers, partner--those whiskers are--"

The laughter came again, a gale of it, and Marianne found herself
smiling in sympathy. For they _were_ odd whiskers, to be sure. They hung
straight past the corners of the mouth and then curved sabre-like out
from the chin. The sabre parts now wagged back and forth, as their owner
moved his lips over words that would not come. When speech did break out
it was a raging torrent that made Marianne stop her ears with a shiver.

Looking down the street away from the storming giant and the laughing
cowpuncher, she saw that other folk had come out to watch, Westernlike.
An Eastern crowd would swiftly hem the enemies in a close circle and
cheer them on to battle; but these Westerners would as soon see far off
as close at hand. The most violent expression she saw was the broad grin
of the blacksmith. He was a fine specimen of laboring manhood, that
blacksmith, with the sun glistening on his sweaty bald head and over his
ample, soot-darkened arms. Beside his daily work of molding iron with
heat and hammer-blows, a fight between men was play; and now, with his
hands on his hips, his manner was that of one relaxed in mood and ready
for entertainment.

Presently he cast up his right arm and swayed to the left; then back;
then rocked forward on his toes presenting two huge fists red with
iron-rust and oil. It seemed that he was engaging in battle with some airy
figure before him.

That was enough of a hint to make Marianne look again towards the pair
directly below her; the hat of the gaudy cowpuncher lay in the dust
where it had evidently been knocked by the first poorly aimed blow of
him of the moustaches, and the owner of the hat danced away at a little
distance. Marianne saw what the hat had hitherto concealed, a shock of
flame-red hair, and she removed her fingers from her ears in time to
hear the big man roar: "This ain't a dance, damn you! Stand still and
fight!"

"Nope," laughed the other. "It ain't a dance. It's a pile more fun. Come
on you--"

The big man obscured the last of the insulting description of his
ancestry with the rush of a bull, his head lowered and his fists doing
duty as horns. Plainly the giant had only to get one blow home to end
the conflict, but swift and graceful as a tongue of fire dancing along a
log the red-headed man flashed to one side, and as he whirled Marianne
saw that he was laughing still, drunk with the joy of battle. Goliath
roared past, thrashing the air; David swayed in with darting fists. They
closed. They became obscure forms whirling in a fog of dust until
red-head leaped out of the mist.

Goliath followed with the cloud boiling away from him, a mountain of a
man above his foeman.

"It's unfair!" shrilled Marianne. "That great brute and--"

Red-head darted forward, a blue clad arm flicked out. She almost heard
and felt the jar of that astonishing shock which halted Goliath in his
tracks with one foot raised. He wobbled an instant, then his great knees
bent, and dropping inert on his face the dust spurted like steam under
the impact.

The crowd now washed in from every side to lift him up and revive him
with canteens of water, yet they were quite jovial in the midst of their
work of mercy and Marianne gathered that the fall of Goliath was not
altogether unwelcome to the townsmen. She saw the bulky figure raised to
a sitting posture, saw a dull-eyed face, bloody about the mouth, and
looked away hastily towards the red-headed victor.

He was in the act of picking the torn fragments of his sombrero from the
dust. It had probably come in contact with the giant's spurs as they
wrestled, for the crown was literally ripped to tatters. And when its
owner beat out the dirt and placed the hat on his head, the fiery hair
was still visible through the rents. Yet he was not downhearted, it
seemed. He leaned jauntily against a hitching post under her window and
rolled a cigarette, quite withdrawn from the crowd which was working
over his victim.

Marianne began to feel that all she had seen was an ordinary chapter in
his life; yet in the mere crossing of that street he had lost his spurs
on a bet; saved a youngster from death at the risk of his own head,
battled with a monster and now rolled a cigarette cheerily complacent.
If fifty feet of his life made such a story what must a year of it be?

As though he felt her wonder above him, he raised his head in the act of
lighting his cigarette and Marianne was looking down into bright,
whimsical blue eyes. She was utterly unconscious of it at the moment but
at the sight of that happy face and all the dust-dimmed finery of the
cavalier, Marianne involuntarily smiled. She knew what she had done the
moment he grinned in response and began to whistle, and whistle he did,
keeping the rhythm with the sway of his head:

"At the end of the trail I'll be weary riding
But Mary will wait with a smile at the door;
The spurs and the bit had been chinking and chiding
But the end of the trail--"

Marianne stepped back from the window with the blood tingling in her
face. She was terribly ashamed, for some reason, because she knew the
words of that song.

"A cowpuncher--actually _whistling_ at me!" she muttered, "I've never
known a red-headed man who wasn't insolent!"

The whistling died out, a clear-ringing baritone began a new air:

"Oh, father, father William, I've seen your daughter dear.
Will you trade her for the brindled cow and the yellow steer?
And I'll throw in my riding boots and...."

Marianne slammed down the window. A moment later she was horrified to
find herself smiling.

CHAPTER III

CONCERNING FIGHTERS

The race-track had come into existence by grace of accident for it
happened that a lane ran a ragged course about a big field taking the
corners without pretense of making true curves, with almost an
elbow-turn into the straightaway; but since the total distance around was
over a mile it was called the "track." The sprints were run on the
straightaway which was more than the necessary quarter of a mile but
occasionally there was a longer race and then the field had to take that
dangerous circuit, sloppy and slippery with dust. The land enclosed was
used for the bucking contest, for the two crowning events of the
Glosterville fiesta, the race and the horse-breaking, had been saved for
this last day. Marianne Jordan gladly would have missed the latter
event. "Because it sickens me to see a man fight with a horse," she
often explained. But she forced herself to go.

She was in the Rocky Mountains, now, not on the Blue Grass. Here riding
bucking horses was the order of the day. It might be rough, but this was
a rough country.

It was a day of undue humidity--and the Eagle Mountains were pyramids of
blue smoke. Closer at hand the roofs of Glosterville shone in the fierce
sun and between the village and the mountains the open fields shimmered
with rising heat waves. A hardy landscape meant only for a hardy people.

"One can't adopt a country," thought Marianne, "it's the country that
does the adopting. If I'm not pleased by what pleases other people in
the West, I'd better leave the ranch to Lew Hervey and go back East."

This was extraordinarily straight-from-the-shoulder thinking but all the
way out to the scene of the festivities she pondered quietly. The
episode of the mares was growing in importance. So far she had been able
to do nothing of importance on the ranch; if this scheme fell through
also it would be the proverbial last straw.

In spite of her intentions, she had delayed so long that the riding was
very nearly ended before she arrived. Buckboards and automobiles lined
the edges of the field in ragged lines, but these did not supply enough
seats and many were standing. They weaved with a continual life; now and
again the rider of one of the pitching horses bobbed above the crowd,
and the rattle of voices sharpened, with piercing single calls. Always
the dust of battle rose in shining wisps against the sun and Marianne
approached with a sinking heart, for as she crossed the track and
climbed through the fence she heard the snort and squeal of an angry,
fear-tormented horse. The crying of a child could not have affected her
so deeply.

The circle was too thick to be penetrated, it seemed, but as she drew
closer an opening appeared and she easily sifted through to the front
line of the circle. It was not the first time she had found that the way
of women is made easy in the West. Just as she reached her place a horse
scudded away from the far end of the field with a rider yelling; the
swaying head and shoulders back. He seemed to be shrinking from such
speed, but as a matter of fact he was poised and balanced nicely for any
chance whirl. When it had gained full speed the broncho pitched high in
the air, snapped its head and heels close together, and came down
stiff-legged. Marianne sympathetically felt that impact jar home in her
brain but the rider kept his seat. Worse was coming. For sixty seconds the
horse was in an ecstasy of furious and educated bucking, flinging itself
into odd positions and hitting the earth. Each whip-snap of that
stinging struggling body jarred the rider shrewdly. Yet he clung in his
place until the fight ended with startling suddenness. The grey dropped
out of the air in a last effort and then stood head-down, quivering,
beaten.

The victor jogged placidly back to the high-fenced corrals, with shouts
of applause going up about him.

"Hey, lady," called a voice behind and above Marianne. "Might be you
would like to sit up here with us?"

It was a high-bodied buckboard with two improvised seats behind the
driver's place and Marianne thanked him with a smile. A
fourteen-year-old stripling sprang down to help her but she managed the
step-up without his hand. She was taken at once, and almost literally,
into the bosom of the family, three boys, a withered father, a work-faded
mother, all with curious, kindly eyes. They felt she was not their order,
perhaps. The sun had darkened her skin but would never spoil it; into
their sweating noonday she carried a morning-freshness, so they propped
her in the angle of the driver's seat beside the mother and made her at
home. Their name was Corson; their family had been in the West "pretty
nigh onto always"; they had a place down the Taliaferro River; and they
had heard about the Jordan ranch. All of this was huddled into the first
two minutes. They brushed through the necessaries and got at the
excitement of the moment.

"I guess they ain't any doubt," said Corson. "Arizona Charley wins. He
won two years back, too. Minds me of Pete Langley, the way he rests in a
saddle. Now where's this Perris gent? D'you see him? My, ain't they
shouting for Arizona! Well, he's pretty bad busted up, but I guess he's
still good enough to hold this Perris they talk about. Where's Perris?"

The same name was being shouted here and there in the crowd. Corson
stood up and peered about him.

"Who is Perris?" asked Marianne.

"A gent that come out of the north, up Montana way, I hear. He's been
betting on himself to win this bucking contest, covering everybody's
money. A crazy man, he sure is!"

The voice drifted dimly to Marianne for she was falling into a pleasant
haze, comfortably aware of eyes of admiration lifted to her more and
more frequently from the crowd. She envied the blue coolness of the
mountains, or breathed gingerly because the sting of alkali-dust was in
the air, or noted with impersonal attention the flash of sun on a horse
struggling in the far off corrals. The growing excitement of the crowd,
as though a crisis were approaching, merely lulled her more. So the
voice of Corson was half heard; the words were unconnotative sounds.

"Let the winner pick the worst outlaw in the lot. Then Perris will ride
that hoss first. If he gets throwed he loses. If he sticks, then the
other gent has just got to sit the same hoss--one that's already had the
edge took off his bucking. Well, ain't that a fool bet?"

"It sounds fair enough," said Marianne. "Perris, I suppose, hasn't
ridden yet. And Arizona Charley is tired from his work."

"Arizona tired? He ain't warmed up. Besides, he's got a hoss here that
Perris will break his heart trying to ride. You know what hoss they got
here today? They got Rickety! Yep, they sure enough got old Rickety!"

He pointed.

"There he comes out!"

Marianne looked lazily in the indicated direction and then sat up, wide
awake. She had never seen such cunning savagery as was in the head of
this horse, its ears going back and forth as it tested the strength of
the restraining ropes. Now and then it crouched and shuddered under the
detested burden of the saddle. It was a stout-legged piebald with the
tell-tale Roman nose obviously designed for hard and enduring battle. He
was a fighting horse as plainly as a terrier is a fighting dog.

Arizona Charley, a tall man off a horse and walking with a limp, moved
slowly about the captive, grinning at his companions. It was plain that
he did not expect the stranger to survive the test.

A brief, deep-throated shout from the crowd.

"There's Perris!" cried Corson. "There's Red Perris, I guess!"

Marianne gasped.

It was the devil-may-care cavalier who had laughed and fought and
whistled under the window of her room. He stepped from the thick of the
circle near Rickety and responded to the voice of the crowd by waving
his hat. It would have been a trifle too grandiloquent had he not been
laughing.

"He's going through with it," said Corson, shivering and chuckling at
the same time. "He's going to try Rickety. They look like one and the
same kind to me--two reckless devils, that hoss and Red Jim Perris!"

"Is there real danger?" asked Marianne.

Corson regarded her with pity.

"Rickety _can_ be rode, they say," he answered, "but I disremember
anybody that's done it. Look! He's a man-killer that hoss!"

Perris had stepped a little too close and the piebald thrust out at him
with reaching teeth and striking forefoot. The man leaped back, still
laughing.

"Cool, all right," said Corson judicially. "And maybe he ain't just a
blow-hard, after all. There they go!"

It happened very quickly. Perris had shaken hands with Arizona, then
turned and leaped into the saddle. The ropes were loosed. Rickety
crouched a moment to feel out the reality of his freedom, then burst
away with head close to the ground and ragged mane fluttering. There was
no leaning back in this rider. He sat arrowy-straight save that his left
shoulder worked back in convulsive jerks as he strove to get the head of
Rickety up. But the piebald had the bit. Once his chin was tucked back
against his breast his bucking chances were gone and he kept his nose as
low as possible, like the trained fighter that he was. There were no
yells now. They received Rickety as the appreciative receive a great
artist--in silence.

The straight line of his flight broke into a crazy tangle of criss-cross
pitching. Out of this maze he appeared again in a flash of straight
galloping, used the impetus for a dozen jarring bucks, then reared and
toppled backward to crush the cowpuncher against the earth.

Marianne covered her eyes, but an invisible power dragged her hand down
and made her watch. She was in time to see Perris whisk out of the
saddle before Rickety struck the dirt. His hat had been snapped from his
head. The sun and the wind were in his flaming hair. Blue eyes and white
teeth flashed as he laughed again.

"I like 'em mean," he had said, "and I keep 'em mean. A tame horse is
like a tame man, and I don't give a damn for a fellow who won't fight!"

Once that had irritated her but now, remembering, it rang in her ear to
a different tune. As Rickety spun to his feet, Perris vaulted to the
saddle and found both stirrups in mid-leap, so to speak. The gelding
instantly tested the firmness of his rider's seat by vaulting high and
landing on one stiffened foreleg. The resultant shock broke two ways,
like a curved ball, snapping down and jerking to one side. But he
survived the blow, giving gracefully to it.

It was fine riding, very fine; and the crowd hummed with appreciation.

"A handsome rascal, eh?" said Mr. Corson.

But she caught at his arm.

"Oh!" gasped Marianne. "Oh! Oh!"

Three flurries of wild pitching drew forth those horrified whispers. But
still the flaming red head of the rider was as erect, as jaunty as ever.
Then the quirt flashed above him and cut Rickety's flank; the crowd
winced and gasped. He was not only riding straight up but he was putting
the quirt to Rickety--to Rickety!

The piebald seemed to feel the sting of the insult more than the lash.
He bolted across the field to gain impetus for some new and more
terrible feat but as he ran a yell from Perris thrilled across the
crowd.

"They do that, some men. Get plumb drunk with a fight!"

But Marianne did not hear Corson's remark. She watched Rickety slacken
his run as that longdrawn yell began, so wild and high that it put a
tingle in her nose. Now he was trotting, now he was walking, now he
stood perfectly still, become of a sudden, an abject, cowering figure.
The shout of the spectators was almost a groan, for Rickety had been
beaten fairly and squarely at last and it was like the passing of some
old master of the prize ring, the scarred veteran of a hundred battles.

"What happened?" breathed Marianne.

"Rickety's lost his spirit," said Corson. "That's all. I've seen it come
to the bravest men in the world. A two-year-old boy could ride Rickety
now. Even the whip doesn't get a single buck out of the poor rascal."

The quirt slashed the flank of the piebald but it drew forth only a meek
trot. The terrible Rickety went back to the corrals like a lamb!

"Arizona's got a good man to beat," admitted Corson, "but he's got a
chance yet. They won't get any more out of Rickety. He's not only been
rode--he's been broke. I could ride him myself."

"Mr. Corson," said Marianne, full of an idea of her own, "I'll wager
that Rickety is not broken in the least--except for Red Perris."

"Meaning Perris just sort of put a charm on him?" suggested Corson,
smiling.

"Exactly that. You see?"

In fact, the moment Perris slipped from the saddle, Rickety rocked
forward on his forelegs and drove both heels at one of the reckless who
came too near. A second later he was fighting with the activity and
venom of a cat to get away from the ropes. The crowd chattered its
surprise. Plainly the fierce old outlaw had not fought his last.

"What _did_ Perris do to the horse?" murmured Marianne.

"I don't know," said Corson. "But you seem to have guessed something.
See the way he stands there with his chin on his fist and studies
Rickety! Maybe Perris is one of these here geniuses and us ordinary
folks can only understand a genius by using a book on him."

She nodded, very serious.

"There _is_ a use for fighting men, isn't there?" she brooded.

"Use for 'em?" laughed Corson. "Why, lady, how come we to be sitting
here? Because gents have fought to put us here! How come this is part of
God's country? Because a lot of folks buckled on guns to make it that!
Use for a fighter? Well, Miss Jordan, I've done a little fighting of one
kind and another in my day and I don't blush to think about it. Look at
my kid there. What do you think I'm proudest of: because he was head of
his class at school last winter or because he could lick every other boy
his own size? First time he come home with a black eye I gave him a
dollar to go back and try to give the other fellow _two_ black eyes. And
he done it! All good fighters ain't good men; I sure know that. But they
never was a man that was good to begin with and was turned bad by
fighting. They's a pile of bad men around these parts that fight like
lions; but that part of 'em is good. Yes sirree, they's plenty of use
for a fighting man! Don't you never doubt that!"

She smiled at this vehemence, but it reinforced a growing respect for
Perris.

Then, rather absurdly, it irritated her to find that she was taking him
so seriously. She remembered the ridiculous song:

"Oh, father, father William, I've seen your daughter dear.
Will you trade her for the brindled cow and the yellow steer?"

Marianne frowned.

The shout of the crowd called her away from herself. Far from broken by
the last ride, the outlaw horse now seemed all the stronger for the
exercise. Discarding fanciful tricks, he at once set about sun-fishing,
that most terrible of all forms of bucking.

The name in itself is a description. Literally Rickety hurled himself at
the sun and landed alternately on one stiffened foreleg and then the
other. At each shock the chin of Arizona Charley was flung down against
his chest and at the same time his head snapped sideways with the uneven
lurch of the horse. An ordinary pony would have broken his leg at the
first or second of these jumps; but Rickety was untiring. He jarred to
the earth; he vaulted up again as from springs--over and over the same
thing.

It would eventually have become tiresome to watch had not both horse and
rider soon showed effects of the work. Every leap of Rickety's was
shorter. Sweat shone on his thick body. He was killing Arizona but he
was also breaking his own heart. Arizona weakened fast under that
continual battering at the base of his brain. His eyes rolled. He no
longer pretended to ride straight up, but clung to pommel and cantle. A
trickle of blood ran from his mouth. Marianne turned away only to find
that mild old Corson was crying: "Watch his head! When it begins to roll
then you know that he's stunned and the next jump or so will knock him
out of the saddle as limp as a half filled sack."

"It's too horrible!" breathed the girl. "I can't watch!"

"Why not? You liked it when a man beat a hoss. Now the tables are turned
and the hoss is beating the man. Ah, I thought so. There goes his head!
Rolls as if his neck was broken. Now! Now!"

Arizona Charley toppled loose-limbed from the saddle and lay twisted
where he fell, but it had taken the last of Rickety's power. His legs
were now braced, his head untriumphantly low, and the sweat dripped
steadily from him. He had not enough energy to flee from those who
approached to lift Arizona from the ground. Corson was pounding his knee
with a fat fist.

"Ever see a fight like that in your life? Nope, you never did! Me
neither! But Lord, Lord, won't Red Jim Perris take a mule-load of coin
out of Glosterville! They been giving five to one agin him. I was
touched a bit myself."

For the moment, Marianne was more keenly interested in the welfare of
Arizona Charley. Perris, with others following, reached him first and
strong hands carried the unconscious champion towards that corner of the
field where the Corson buckboard stood; for there were the
water-buckets. They were close to the goal when Arizona recovered
sufficiently to kick himself loose feebly from his supporters.

"What the hell's all this?" Marianne heard him say in a voice which he
tried to make an angered roar but which was only a shrill quaver from
his weakness. "Maybe I'm a lady? Maybe I've fainted or something? Not by
a damned sight! Maybe I been licked by that boiled-down bit of hell,
Rickety, but I ain't licked so bad I can't walk home. Hey, Perris, shake
on it! You trimmed me, all right, and you collect off'n me and a pile
more besides me. Here's my boodle."

At the mention of the betting a little circle cleared around Perris and
from every side hands full of greenbacks were thrust forward. The latter
pushed back his sombrero and scratched his head, apparently deep in
thought.

"It's a speech, boys," cried Arizona Charley, supporting himself on the
shoulder of a friend. "Give Red air; give him room; he's going to make a
speech! And then we'll pay him for what he's got to say."

There was much laughter, much slapping of backs.

"That's Arizona," remarked Corson. "Ain't he a game loser?"

"He's a fine fellow," said the girl, with emotion. "My heart goes out to
him!"

"Does it, now?" wondered Corson. "Well, I'd of figured more on Perris
being the man for the ladies to look at. He's sure set up pretty! Now he
makes his little talk."

"Ladies and gents," said Red Perris, turning the color of his sobriquet.
"I ain't any electioneer when it comes to speech making."

"That's all right, boy," shouted encouraging partisans. "You'll get my
vote if you don't say a word."

"But I'll make it short," said Perris. "It's about these bets. They're
all off. It just come to my mind that two winters back me and this same
Rickety had a run in up Montana-way and he come out second-best. Well,
he must of remembered me the way I just now remembered him. That's why
he plumb quit when I let out a whoop. If he'd turned loose all his
tricks like he done with Arizona, why most like Charley would never of
had to take his turn. I'd be where he is now and he'd be doing the
laughing. Anyway, boys, the bets are off. I don't take money on a sure
thing."

It brought a shout of protest which was immediately drowned in a hearty
yell of applause.

"Now, don't that warm your heart, for you?" said Corson as the noise
fell away a little. "I tell you what--" he broke off with a chuckle,
seeing that she had taken a pencil and a piece of paper from her purse
and was scribbling hastily: "Taking notes on the Wild West, Miss
Jordan?"

"Mental notes," she said quietly, but smiling at him as she folded the
slip. She turned to the stripling, who all this time had hardly taken
his eyes from her even to watch the bucking and to hear the speech of
Perris.

"Will you take this to Jim Perris for me?"

A gulp, a grin, a nod, he was down from the wagon in a flash and using
his leanness to wriggle snakelike through the crowd.

"Well!" chuckled Corson, not unkindly, "I thought it would be more
Perris than Arizona in the wind-up!"

She reddened, but not because of his words. She was thinking of the
impulsive note in which she asked Red Perris to call at the hotel after
the race and ask for Marianne Jordan. Remembering his song from the
street, she wondered if he, also, would have the grace to blush when
they met.

CHAPTER IV

THE STRENGTH OF THE WEAK

By simply turning about the crowd was in position to watch the race. Of
course it packed dense around the finish on both sides of the lane but
Corson had chosen his position well, the white posts were not more than
a dozen yards above them and they would be able to see the rush of
horses across the line. It was pleasant to Marianne to turn her back on
the scene of the horse-breaking and face her own world which she knew
and loved.

The ponies were coming out to be paraded for admiration and to loosen
their muscles with a few stretching gallops. Each was ridden by his
owner, each bore a range saddle. To one accustomed to jockeys and
racing-pads, these full-grown riders and cumbrous trappings made the
cowponies seem small but they were finely formed, the pick of the range.
The days of mongrel breeds are long since over in the West. Smaller
heads, longer necks, more sloping shoulders, told of good blood crossed
on the range stock. Still, the base-stock showed clearly when the Coles
mares came onto the track with mincing steps, turning their proud heads
from side to side and every one coming hard on the bit. Coles had taken
no chances, and though he had been forced by the rules of the race to
put up the regulation range saddles he had found the lightest riders
possible. Their small figures brought out the legginess of the mares;
beside the compact range horses their gait was sprawling, but the wise
eye of Marianne saw the springing fetlocks kiss the dust and the long,
telltale muscles. She cried out softly in admiration and pleasure.

"You see the Coles mares?" she said. "There go the winners, Mr. Corson.
The ponies won't be in it after two furlongs."

Corson regarded her with a touch of irritation: "Now, don't you be too
sure, lady," he growled. "Lots of legs, I grant you. Too much for me.
Are they pure bred?"

"No," she answered, "there's enough cold blood to bring the price down.
But Coles is a wise business man. After they've won this race in a
bunch they'll look, every one, like daughters of Salvator. See that! Oh,
the beauties!"

One of the range horses was loosed for a fifty yard sprint and as he
shot by, the mares swayed out in pursuit. There was a marked difference
between the gaits. The range horse pounded heavily, his head bobbing;
the mares stepped out with long, rocking gallop. They seemed to be going
with half the effort and less than half the speed, and yet, strangely,
they very nearly kept up with the sprinter until their riders took them
back to the eager, prancing walk. Marianne's eyes sparkled but the
little exhibition told a different story to old Corson. He snorted with
pleasure.

"Maybe you seen that, Miss Jordan? You seen Jud Hopkin's roan go by them
fancy Coles mares? Well, well, it done my heart good! This gent Coles
comes out of the East to teach us poor ignorant ranchers what right hoss
flesh should be. He's going to auction off them half dozen mares after
the race. Well, sir, I wouldn't give fifty dollars a head for 'em. Nor
neither will nobody else when they see them mares fade away in the home
stretch; nope, neither will nobody else."

In this reference to over-wise Easterners there was a direct thrust at
the girl, but she accepted it with a smile.

"Don't you think they'll last for the mile and a quarter, Mr. Corson?"

"Think? I don't think. I know! Picture hosses like them--well, they'd
ought to be left in books. They run a little. Inside a half mile they
bust down. Look how long they are!"

"But their backs are short," put in Marianne hastily.

"Backs short?" scoffed Corson, "Why, lady look for yourself!"

She choked back her answer. If the self-satisfied old fellow could not
see how far back the withers reached and how far forward the quarters,
so that the true back was very short, it was the part of wisdom to let
experience teach him. Yet she could not refrain from saying: "You'll see
how they last in the race, Mr. Corson."

"We'll both see," he answered. "There goes a gent that's going to lose
money today!"

A big red-faced man with his hat on the back of his head and sweat
coursing down his cheeks, was pushing through the crowd calling with a
great voice:

"Here's Lady Mary money. Evens or odds on Lady Mary!" "That's Colonel
Dickinson," said Corson. "He comes around every year to play the races
here and most generally he picks winners. But today he's gone wrong. His
eye has been took by the legs of them Coles hosses and he's gone crazy
betting on 'em. Well, he gets plenty of takers!"

Indeed, Colonel Dickinson was stopped right and left to record wagers.

"I got down a little bet myself, this morning, agin his Lady Mary."
Corson chuckled at the thought of such easy money.

"What makes you so sure?" asked Marianne, for even if she were lucky
enough to get the mares she felt that from Corson she could learn
beforehand the criticisms of Lew Hervey.

"So sure? Why anybody with half an eye--" here he remembered that he was
talking to a lady and continued more mildly. "Them bay mares ain't
hosses--they're tricks. Look how skinny all that underpinning is, Miss
Jordan."

"When they fill out--" she began.

"Tush! They won't never fill out proper. Too much leg to make a hoss.
Too much daylight under 'em. Besides, what good would they be for
cow-work? High headed fools, all of 'em, and a hoss that don't know enough
to run with his head low can't turn on a forty acre lot. Don't tell me!"

He forbade contradiction by raising an imperious hand. Marianne was so
exasperated that she looked to Mrs. Corson in the pinch, but that old
lady was smiling dimly behind her glasses; she seemed to be studying the
smoky gorges of the Eagles, so Marianne wisely deferred her answer and
listened to that unique voice which rises from a crowd of men and women
when horses are about to race. There is no fellow to the sound. The
voice of the last-chance better is the deep and mournful burden; the
steady rattle of comment is the body of it; and the edge of the noise is
the calling of those who are confident with "inside dope." Marianne,
listening, thought that the sound in Glosterville was very much like
the sound in Belmont. The difference was in the volume alone. The hosses
were now lining up for the start, it was with a touch of malice that
Marianne said: "I suppose that's one of your range types? That faded old
chestnut just walking up to get in line?"

Corson started to answer and then rubbed his eyes to look again.

It was Alcatraz plodding towards the line of starters, his languid hoofs
rousing a wisp of dust at every step. He went with head depressed, his
sullen; hopeless ears laid back. On his back sat Manuel Cordova,
resplendent in sky-blue, tight-fitting jacket. Yet he rode the
spiritless chestnut with both hands, his body canted forward a little,
his whole attitude one of desperate alertness. There was something so
ludicrous in the contrast between the hair-trigger nervousness of the
Mexican and the drowsy unconcern of the stallion that a murmur of
laughter rose from the crowd about the starting line and drifted across
the field.

"I suppose you'll say that long hair is good to keep him warm in
winter," went on the girl sarcastically. "As far as legs are concerned,
he seems to have about as much as the longest of the mares."

Corson shook his head in depreciation.

"You never can tell what a fool Mexican will do. Most like he's riding
in this race to show off his jacket, not because he has any hope of
winning. That hoss ain't any type of range--"

"Perhaps you think it's a thoroughbred?" asked Marianne.

Corson sighed, feeling that he was cornered.

"Raised on the range, all right," he admitted. "But you'll find freak
hosses anywhere. And that chestnut is just a plug."

"And yet," ventured Marianne, "it seems to me that the horse has some
points."

This remark drew a glance of scorn from the whole Corson family. What
would they think, she wondered, if they knew that her hopes centered on
this very stallion? Silence had spread over the field. The whisper of
Corson seemed loud. "Look how still the range hosses stand. They know
what's ahead. And look at them fool bays prance!"

The Coles horses were dancing eagerly, twisting from side to side at the
post.

"Oh!" cried Mrs. Corson. "What a vicious brute!"

Alcatraz had wakened suddenly and driven both heels at his neighbor.
Luckily he missed his mark, but the starter ran across the track and
lessoned Cordova with a raised finger. Then he went back; there was a
breath of waiting; the gun barked!

The answer to it was a spurt of low-running horses with a white cloud of
dust behind, and Corson laughed aloud in his glee. Every one of the
group in the lead was a range horse; the Coles mares were hanging in the
rear and last of all, obscured by the dust-cloud, Alcatraz ran sulkily.

"But you wait!" said Marianne, sitting tensely erect. "Those ponies with
their short legs can start fast, but that's all. When the mares begin to
run--Now, now, now! Oh, you beauties! You dears!"

The field doubled the first jagged corner of the track and the bay
mares, running compactly grouped, began to gain on the leaders hand over
hand. Looking first at the range hosses and then at the mares, it seemed
that the former were running with twice the speed of the latter, but the
long, rolling gallop of the bays ate up the ground, and bore them down
on the leaders in a bright hurricane. The cowpunchers, hearing that
volleying of hoofbeats, went to spur and quirt to stave off the
inevitable, but at five furlongs Lady Mary left her sisters and streaked
around the tiring range horses into the lead. Marianne cried out in
delight. She had forgotten her hope that the mares might not win. All
she desired now was that blood might tell and her judgment be
vindicated.

"They won't last," Corson was growling, his voice feeble in the roar of
the excited crowd. "They can't last that pace. They'll come back after a
while and the ponies will walk away to the finish."

"Have you noticed," broke in Mrs. Corson, "that the poor old faded
chestnut seems to be keeping up fairly well?"

For as the bay mares cut around into the lead, Alcatraz was seen at the
heels of the range horses, running easily. It seemed, with a great
elastic stride.

"But--but--it's not the same horse!" Marianne gasped.

To be sure, Alcatraz in motion was transformed, the hollows among his
ribs forgotten, and the broken spirit replaced by power, the electric
power of the racer.

"It looks very much to me as if the Mexican is pulling that horse, too,"
said Marianne. For Cordova rode with legs braced, keeping a tight pull
that bent the head of Alcatraz down. He might have served for a statue
of fear. "And notice that he makes no effort to break around the range
horses or through them. What's the matter with him?"

At seven furlongs the mares were in a group of themselves, lengths in
front and drawing away; the heads of the cowponies were going up, sure
sign that they were spent, and even Corson was gloomily silent. He was
remembering his bet against Lady Mary, and lo, Lady Mary was breezing in
front well within her strength. One glance at her pricking ears told an
eloquent story. Near them Marianne saw big Colonel Dickinson capering.
And the sight inspired a shrewd suspicion. What if he knew the
reputation of Alcatraz and to secure his bets on Lady Mary, had bribed
Cordova at the last moment to pull his horse. Certainly it seemed that
was what the Mexican was doing.

"There's a lady," the colonel was shouting. "Go it, girl. Go it, beauty.
Lady Mary! Lady Mary!"

Marianne raised her field glasses and studied the rush of horses through
the fog of dust.

"It's just as I thought," she cried, without lowering the glasses. "The
scoundrel is pulling Alcatraz! He rides as if he were afraid of
something--afraid that the horse might break away. Look, Mr. Corson."

"I dunno," said Corson. "It sure does look sort of queer!"

"Why, he's purposely keeping that horse in a pocket. Has him on the
rail. Oh, the villain!" It was a cry of shrill rage. "_He's sawing on
the bit!_ And the chestnut has his ears back. I can see the glint of his
eyes. As if he wants to run simply because he is being held. But there--
there--there! He's got the bit in his teeth. His head goes out. Mr.
Corson, is it too late for Alcatraz to win the race?"

She dropped the glasses. There was no need of them now. Rounding into
the long home stretch Cordova made a last frightened effort to regain
control and then gave up, his eyes rolling with fear; Alcatraz had got
his head.

He ran his own race from that point. He leaped away from the cowponies
in the first three strides and set sail for the leaders. Because of his
ragged appearance his name had been picked up by the crowd and sent
drifting about the field; now they called on him loudly. For every
rancher and every ranch-hand in Glosterville was summoning Alcatraz to
vindicate the range-stock against the long-legged mares which had been
imported from the East for the sole purpose of shaming the native
products. The cry shook in a wailing chorus across the field:
"Alcatraz!" and again: "Alcatraz!" With tingling cowboy yells in
between. And mightily the chestnut answered those calls, bolting down
the stretch.

The riders of the mares had sensed danger in the shouting of the crowd,
and though their lead seemed safe they took no chances but sat down and
began to ride out their mounts. Still Alcatraz gained. From the
stretching head, across the withers, the straight-driving croup, the
tail whipped out behind, was one even line. His ears were not flagging
back like the ears of a horse merely giving his utmost of speed; they
were dressed flat by a consuming fury, and the same uncanny rage gleamed
in his eyes and trembled in his expanding nostrils. It was like a human
effort and for that reason terrible in a brute beast. Marianne saw
Colonel Dickinson with the fingers of one hand buried in his plump
breast; the other had reared his hat aloft, frozen in place in the midst
of the last flourish; and never in her life had she seen such mingled
incredulity and terror.

She looked back again. There were three sections to the race now. The
range ponies were hopelessly out of it. The Coles horses ran well in the
lead. Between, coming with tremendous bounds, was Alcatraz. He got no
help from his rider. The light jockey on Lady Mary was aiding his mount
by throwing his weight with the swing of her gallop, but Manuel Cordova
was a leaden burden. The most casual glance showed the man to be in a
blue funk; he rode as one astride a thunderbolt and Alcatraz had both
to plan his race and run it.

A furlong from the finish he caught the rearmost of the mares and cut
around them, the dust spurting sidewise. The crowd gasped, for as he
passed the bays it was impossible to judge his speed accurately; and
after the breath of astonishment the cheers broke in a wave. There was a
confusion of emotion in Marianne. A victory for the chestnut would be a
coup for her pocketbook when it came to buying the Coles horses, but it
would be a distinct blow to her pride as a horsewoman. Moreover, there
was that in the stallion which roused instinctive aversion. Hatred for
Cordova sustained him, for there was no muscle in the lean shoulders or
the starved quarters to drive him on at this terrific pace.

In the corner of her vision she saw old Corson, agape, pale with
excitement, swiftly beating out the rhythm of Alcatraz's swinging legs;
and then she looked to Lady Mary. Every stride carried the bay back to
the relentless stallion. Her head had not yet gone up; she was still
stretched out in the true racing form; but there was a roll in her
gallop. Plainly Lady Mary was a very, very tired horse.

She shot in to the final furlong with whip and spur lifting her on,
every stroke brought a quivering response; all that was in her strong
heart was going into this race. And still the chestnut gained. At the
sixteenth her flying tail was reached by his nose And still he ate up
the distance. Yet spent as the mare was, the chestnut was much farther
gone. If there was a roll in her weary gallop, there was a stagger in
his gait; still he was literally flinging himself towards the finish. No
help from his rider certainly, but every rancher in the crowd was
shouting hoarsely and swinging himself towards the finish as though
that effort of will and body might, mysteriously, be transmitted to the
struggling horse and give him new strength.

Fifty yards from the end his nose was at Lady Mary's shoulder and
Marianne saw the head of the mare jerk up. She was through but the
stallion was through also. He had staggered in his stride, drunkenly.
She saw him shake his head, saw him fling forward again, and the snaky
head crept once more to the neck of the mare, to her ears, and on and
on.

Five hundred voices bellowed his name to lift him to the finish:
"Alcatraz!" Then they were over the line and the riders were pulling up.
It was not hard to stop Alcatraz. He went by Marianne at a reeling trot,
his legs shambling weakly and his head drooping, a weary rag of
horseflesh with his ears still gloomily flattened to his neck.

But who had won? The uproar was so terrific that Marianne could not
distinguish the name of the victor as the judges called it, waving their
arms to command silence. Then she saw Colonel Dickinson walking with
fallen head. The fat man was sagging in his step. His face had grown
pale and pouchy in the moment. And she knew that the ragged chestnut had
indeed conquered. Courage is the strength of the weak but in Alcatraz
hatred had occupied that place.

CHAPTER V

RETRIBUTION

Coles had advertised the auction sale of the mares to take place
immediately after the race and though he would gladly have postponed it
he had to live up to his advertisement. Naturally the result was
disastrous. The ranchers had seen the ragged Alcatraz win against the
imported horses and they felt they could only show their local
patriotism by failing to bid. There were one or two mocking offers of a
hundred dollars a head for the lot. "Something pretty for my girl to
ride," as one of the ranchers phrased it, laughing. The result was that
every one of the mares was knocked down to Marianne at a ludicrously
low price; so low that when it was over and Coles strolled about with
her to indicate the size of her bargain she felt that she was moving in
a dream.

"It's easy to see that you're not Western," he said in the end, "but you
have a Western horse to thank for putting this deal through--I mean
Alcatraz."

"He's too ugly for that," said Marianne, and yet on her way back to the
hotel she realized that the sun-faded chestnut had truly proved a gold
mine to her. It had been, she felt, the luckiest day of her business
life, for she knew that the price she had paid for the mares was less
than half a reasonable valuation of them. Here was her ranch ready
stocked, so to speak, with fine horses. It only needed, now, to end the
tyrannical sway of Lew Hervey and in that fighting man of men, Red
Perris, Marianne felt that the solution lay.

Once in her room at the hotel, she looked about her in some dismay. Of
course she was merely an employer receiving a prospective employee to
examine his qualifications, but she also remained, in spite of herself,
a girl receiving a man. She was glad that no one was there to watch with
quizzical eye as she rearranged the furniture; she was doubly glad that
he could not watch her at the mirror. She gave herself the most critical
examination since she left the East and on the whole she approved of the
changes. The stirring life in the open had darkened the olive of her
skin, she found, but also had made it more translucent; the curve of her
cheek was pleasantly filled; her throat rounder; her head better poised.
And above all excitement gave her the vital color.

She paused at this point to wonder why a stray cowpuncher should make
her flush but immediately decided that he had nothing to do with it; it
was the purchase of the mares that kept alive the little thrill of
happiness. But Marianne was essentially honest and when her heart jumped
as she heard a swift, light step come down the hall and pause at her
door, she admitted at once that horses had nothing to do with the
matter.

She wished ardently that she had made the discovery sooner. As it was,
before she composed herself, he had knocked, been bidden in and stood
before her. She knew, inwardly dismayed, that her eyes were wide, her
color high, and her whole expression one of childish expectancy. It
comforted her greatly to find that he was hardly more at ease than she.
He made futile efforts to rub some dust from his shirt.

"I wanted to get fixed up," he said, "but the note said to come _right_
after the race--Miss Jordan."

In fact he made a harum-scarum figure. The fight with him of the
moustaches had produced rents invisible at a distance but distinct at
close hand and the dust and the sweat had faded the blue of his shirt
and the red of his bandana. But the red flame of that hair and the keen
blue of that eye--they, to be sure, were not faded. She discovered other
things as he crossed the room to her. That he was far shorter than he
had seemed when he fought in the street. Indeed, he was middle height
and slenderly made at that. She felt that looking at him from her window
and watching him ride Rickety she had only seen the spirit of the man
and not the physical fact at all.

He shook hands. She was glad to see that he neither peered at her slyly
as a vain man is apt to do when he meets a girl who has sought him out
nor met her sullenly as is the habit of the bashful Westerner. His head
was high, his glance straight, and his smile appreciated her with frank
enjoyment.

She tried to match her speech with his outright demeanor: "I have a
business offer to make. I won't take a great deal of your time. Ten
minutes will do. Won't you sit down, Mr. Perris?"

She took his tattered hat and pointed out a seat to him, noting, as she
herself sat down, that he was as erect in his chair as he had been
standing. There was something so adventurously restless about Red Perris
that she thought of a thoroughbred fresh from the stable; just as a
blooded hunter is apt to be "too much horse under the saddle," so she
was inclined to feel that Perris was "too much man." Something about him
was always moving. Either his lean fingers fretted on the arm of the
chair, or his foot stirred, or his glance flickered, or his head turned
proudly. Going back to the thoroughbred comparison she decided that
Perris badly needed to have a race or two under his belt before he would
be worked down to normal. She noted another thing: at close hand he was
more handsome.

In the meantime, since she had to talk, it would be pleasanter to find
some indirect approach. One was offered by the fob which hung outside
the watchpocket of his trousers. It was a tarnished, misshapen lump of
metal.

"I can't help asking about that fob," she said. "I've never seen one
even remotely like it."

He fingered it with a singular smile.

"Tell you about it," he said amiably enough. "I was standing by looking
at a large-sized fracas one day and me doing nothing--just as peaceful
as an old plough-hoss--when a gent ups and drills me in the leg. His
bullet had to cut through my holster and then it jammed into my thigh
bone. Put me in bed for a couple of months and when I got out I had the
slug fixed up for a fob. Just so's I could remember the man that shot
me. That's about five years back. I ain't found him yet, but I'm still
remembering, you see?"

He finished the anecdote with a chuckle which died out as he saw her
eyes widen with horror. Five years ago? she was thinking, he must have
been hardly more than a boy. How many other chapters as violent as this
were in his story?

"And--he didn't even offer to pay your doctor bill, I'll wager?"

"Him?" Perris chuckled again. "He'll pay it, some day. It's just
postponed--slow collection--that's all!" He shrugged the thought of it
away, and straightened a little, plainly waiting to hear her business.
But her mind was still only half on her own affairs as she began
talking.

"I have to go into the affairs of our ranch a little," she said, "so
that you can understand why I've asked you to come here. My father was
hurt by a fall from a horse several years ago and the accident made him
an invalid. He can't sit a saddle and because of that he has lost all
touch with his business. Worst of all, he doesn't seem to care. The
result was that everything went into the hands of the foreman, but the
foreman was not very successful. As a matter of fact the ranch became a
losing investment and I came out to try to run it. I suppose that
sounds foolish?"

She looked sharply at him, but to her delight for the first time his
eyes had lighted with a real enthusiasm.

"It sounds pretty fine to me," said Red Perris.

"The foreman doesn't think so," she answered. "He wants his old
authority."

"So he makes your trail all uphill?"

"By simply refusing to advise me. My father won't talk business. Lew
Hervey won't. I'm trying to run a dollar business with a cent's worth
of knowledge and no experience. I can't discharge Hervey; his service
has been too long and faithful. But I want to have someone up there who
will go into training to take Hervey's place eventually. Someone who
knows cattle and can tell me what to do now and then. Mr. Perris, do you
know the cow business?"

Some of his interest faded.

"Most folks raised in these parts do," he answered obliquely. "I should
think you could get a dozen anywhere."

She explained eagerly: "It's not so simple. You see, Lew Hervey is
rather a rough character. In the old days I think he was quite a
fighter. I guess he still is. And he's gathered a lot of fighting men
for cowpunchers on the ranch. When he sees me bring in an understudy for
his part, so to speak, I'm afraid he might make trouble unless he was
convinced it would be safer to keep his hands off the new man."

The gloom of Perris returned. He was still politely attentive, but his
head turned, and the eager eyes found something of interest across the
street. She knew her grip on him was failing and she struggled to regain
it. Here was her man, she knew. Here was one who would ride the fiercest
outlaw horse on the ranch; wear out the toughest cowboy; play with them
to weariness when they wanted to play, fight with them to exhaustion
when they wanted to fight, and as her right-hand man, advise her for the
best.

"As for terms, the right man can make them for himself," she concluded,
hopelessly: "Mr. Perris, I think you could be the man for the place.
What do you say to trying?"

He paused, diffidently, and she knew that in the pause he was hunting
for polite terms of refusal.

"I'll tell you how it is. You're mighty kind to make the offer. You
haven't seen much of me and that little bit has been--pretty rough." He
laughed away his embarrassment. "So I appreciate your confidence--a lot.
But I'm afraid that I'd be a tolerable lot like Hervey." He hurried on
lest she should take offense. "You see, I don't like orders."

"Of course if it were a man who made the offer to you--" she began
angrily.

He raised his hand. There were little touches of formal courtesy in him
so contrasted with what she had seen of him in action, so at variance
with the childishly gaudy clothes he wore, that it put Marianne
completely at sea.

"It's just that I like my own way. I've been a rolling stone all my
life. About the only moss I've gathered is what you see." He touched the
dust-tarnished gold braid on his sombrero and his twinkling eyes
invited her to mirth. But Marianne was sternly silent. She knew that her
color was gone and that her beauty had in large part gone with it; a
reflection that did not at all help her mood or her looks. "I get my fun
out of playing a free hand," he was concluding. "I don't like partners.
Not that I'm proud of it, but so you can see where I stand. If I don't
like a bunkie you can figure why I don't want a boss."

She nodded stiffly, and at the unamiable gesture she saw him shrug his
shoulders very slightly, his eyes wandered again as though he were
seeking for a means to end the interview.

Marianne rose.

"I see your viewpoint, Mr. Perris," she said coldly. "And I'm sorry you
can't accept my offer."

He came to his feet at the same moment, but still he lingered a moment,
turning his hat thoughtfully so that she hoped, for an instant, that he
was on the verge of reconsidering. After all, she should have used more
persuasion; she was firmly convinced that at heart men are very close
to children. Then his head went up and he shook away the mood which had
come over him.

"Some time I'll come to it," he admitted. "But not yet a while. I take
it mighty kind of you to have thought I could fill the bill and--I'm
wishing you all sorts of luck, Miss Jordan."

"Thank you," said Marianne, and hated herself for her unbending
stiffness.

At the door he turned again.

"I sure hope it's easy for you to forget songs," he said.

"Songs?" echoed Marianne, and then turned crimson with the memory.

"'You see," explained Red Jim Perris, "it's a bad habit I've picked up--
of doing the first fool thing that comes into my head. Good-bye, Miss
Jordan."

He was gone.

She felt, confusedly, that there were many thing? she should have said
and at the same time there was a strange surety that sometime she would
see him again and say them. She walked absently to the window which
opened on the vacant lot to the rear of the hotel.

Red Perris vanished from her mind, for below her she saw Cordova in the
act of tethering Alcatraz to the rack which stood in the middle of the
lot; saddle and bridle had been removed--the stallion wore only a stout
halter.

The Mexican kept on the far side of the rack and whipped his knot
together hastily; it was not till he sprang back from his work that she
saw the snaky length of an eight foot blacksnake uncoil from his hand.
He passed the lash slowly through his fingers, while surveying the
stallion with great complacence. The ears of Alcatraz flattened back, a
sufficient proof that he knew what was coming; he maintained his weary
attitude, but it now seemed one of despair. As for Marianne she refused
to admit the ugly suspicion which began to occur to her. But Cordova
left her only a moment for doubt.

The black streak curled around his head, and through the open window she
heard the crack of the lash-end. Alcatraz did not stir under the blow.
Once more the blacksnake whirled, and Cordova leaned back to give the
stroke the full stretch of arm and body; yet Alcatraz did not so much as
lift an ear. Only when the lash hung in mid-air did he stir. The rope
which tethered him hung slack, and this enabled the stallion to give
impetus to his backward leap. All the weight of his body, all the strain
of his leg muscles snapped the rope taut. It vibrated to invisibility
for an instant, then parted with a sound as loud as the fall of the
whip. The straining body of Alcatraz, so released, toppled sidewise.
He rolled like a dog in the dust, and when, with the agility of a dog,
he gained his feet, Cordova was fleeing towards the hotel with a
horror-stricken face.

Even then she could not understand his terror--not until she saw that
Alcatraz had wheeled and was bolting in hot pursuit. He came like the
"devil-horse" that the Mexican called him, with his ears flattened and
his mouth gaping; he came with such velocity that Cordova, running as
only consummate terror can make a man run, seemed to be racing on a
treadmill--literally standing still.

The picket fence which set off the back yard of the hotel gave the man
an instant of delay--a terribly vital instant, indeed, that seemed to
Marianne to contain long, long minutes. But here he was over and
running again. In her dread she wondered why he was not shrieking for
aid, but the face of Cordova was rigid--a nightmare mask!

Twenty steps, now, to the hotel, and surely there was still hope. No,
for Alcatraz sailed across the pickets with a bound that cut in two the
distance still dividing him from his master. It had all happened,
perhaps, within the space of three breaths. Now Marianne leaned out of
the window and screamed her warning, for the faded chestnut was on the
very heels of the Mexican. He raised his contorted face at her cry, then
threw up both his arms to her in a gesture she could never forget.

"Shoot!" yelled Cordova. "Amigo, amigo, shoot! Quick--"

Then Alcatraz struck him!

Half the bones in his body must have been broken by the impact. It spun
him over and over in the dust, yet as the impetus of the chestnut
carried him far past, Cordova struggled to his feet and attempted to
flee again. Alas, it was only a step! His left leg crumpled under him.
He toppled sideways, still wriggling and twisting onwards through the
dirt--and then Alcatraz struck him again.

This time is was no blind rush. Back and forth, up and down, he crossed
and recrossed, wheeled and reared and stamped, until his one white
stocking was crimsoned and spurts of red flew out and turned black in
the dust.

The horror which had choked her relaxed and Marianne shrieked again. It
was that second cry which saved a faint spark of life for Cordova for at
the sound the stallion leaped sidewise from the body of his victim,
lifted his head towards the half fainting girl in the window, and
trumpeted a great neigh of defiance. Still neighing he swerved away into
a gallop, cleared the fence a second time, and fled from view.

CHAPTER VI

FREEDOM

Towards the Eagles, rolling up like wind-blown smoke, Alcatraz fled,
cleared one by one the fences about the small fields near Glosterville,
and so came at last to the broader domains under the foothills. Here, on
a rise of ground, he halted for the first time and looked back.

The heat waves, glimmering up endlessly, obscured Glosterville, but the
wind, from some hidden house among the hills, bore to him wood-smoke
scents with a mingling of the abhorrent odors of man. It made many an
old scar of spur-gore and biting whiplash tingle; it was a background of
pain which was like seasoning for the new delight of freedom.

As though there was a poundage of joy and additional muscle in
self-mastery, the frame of the chestnut filled, his neck arched, and
there came into his eyes that gleam which no man can describe and which
for lack of words he calls the light of the wild.

Fear, to be sure, was still with him; would ever be with him, for the
thought of man followed like galloping horses surrounding him, but what
a small shadow was that in the sunshine of this new existence! His life
had been the bitterness of captivity since Cordova took in part payment
of a drunken gambling debt a sickly foal out of an old thoroughbred
mare. The sire was unknown, and Cordova, disgusted at having to accept
this wretched horseflesh in place of money, had beaten the six months'
old colt soundly and turned it loose in the pasture. There followed a
brief season of happiness in the open pasture but when the new grass
came, short and thick and sweet and crisp under tooth, Cordova came by
the pasture and saw his yearling flirting away from the fastest of the
older horses with a stretch gallop that amazed the Mexican. He leaned a
moment on the fence watching with glittering eyes and then he passed
into a dream. At the end of the dream he took Alcatraz out of the
pasture and into the stable. That had been to Alcatraz, like the first
calamity falling on Job, the beginning of sorrow and for three years and
more he had endured not in patience but with an abiding hatred. For a
great hatred is a great strength, and the hatred for Cordova made the
chestnut big of heart to wait. He had learned to season his days with
the patience of the lynx waiting for the porcupine to uncurl or the
patience of the cat amazingly still for hours by the rat-hole. In such a
manner Alcatraz endured. Once a month, or once a year, he found an
opening to let drive at the master with his heels, or to rear and
strike, or to snap with his teeth wolfishly. If he missed it meant a
beating; if he landed it meant a beating postponed; and so the dream had
grown to have the man one day beneath his feet. Now, on the hilltop,
every nerve in his forelegs quivered in memory of the feel of live flesh
beneath his stamping hoofs.

It is said that sometimes one victory in the driving finish of a close
race will give a horse a great heart for running and one defeat,
similarly, may break him. But Alcatraz, who had endured so many defeats,
was at last victorious and the triumph was doubly sweet. It was not the
work of chance. More than once he had tested the strength of that old
halter rope, covertly, with none to watch, and had felt it stretch and
give a little under the strain of his weight; but he had long since
learned the futility of breaking ropes so long as there were stable
walls or lofty corral fences to contain him. A moment of local freedom
meant nothing, and he had waited until he should find open sky and clear
country; this was his reward of patience.

The short, frayed end of the rope dangled beneath his chin; his neck
stung where the rope had galled him; but these were minor ills and
freedom was a panacea. Later he would work off the halter as he alone
knew how. The wind, swinging sharply to the north and the west, brought
the fragrance of the forests on the slopes of the Eagles, and Alcatraz
started on towards them. He would gladly have waited and rested where he
was but he knew that men do not give up easily. What one fails to do a
herd comes to perform. Moreover, men struck by surprise, men stalked
with infinite cunning; the moment when he felt most secure in his stall
and ate with his head down, blinded by the manger, was the very moment
which the Mexican had often chosen to play some cruel prank. The lip of
Alcatraz twitched back from his teeth as he remembered. This lesson was
written into his mind with the letters of pain: in the moment of
greatest peace, beware of man!

That day he journeyed towards the mountains; that night he chose the
tallest hill he could find and rested there, trusting to the wide
prospect to give him warning; and no matter how soundly he slept the
horrid odor of man approaching would bring him to his feet. No man came
near but there were other smells in the night. Once the air near the
ground was rank with fox. He knew that smell, but he did not know the
fainter scent of wildcat. Neither could he tell that the dainty-footed
killer had slipped up within half a dozen yards of his back and crouched
a long moment yearning towards the mountain of warm meat but knowing
that it was beyond its powers to make the kill.

A thousand futile alarms disturbed Alcatraz, for freedom gave the nights
new meanings for him. Sometimes he wakened with a start and felt that
the stars were the lighted lanterns of a million men searching for him;
and sometimes he lay with his head strained high listening to the
strange silence of the mountains and the night which has a pulse in it
and something whispering, whispering forever in the distance. Hunted men
have heard it and to Alcatraz it was equally filled with charm and
terror. What made it he could not tell. Neither can men understand.
Perhaps it is the calling of the wild animals just beyond ear shot. That
overtone of the mountains troubled and frightened Alcatraz on his first
night; eventually he was to come to love it.

He was up in the first grey of the dawn hunting for food and he found it
in the form of bunchgrass. He had been so entirely a stable-raised horse
that this fodder was new to him. His nose assured him over and over
again that this was nourishment, but his eyes scorned the dusty patches
eight or ten inches across and half of that in height, with a few taller
spears headed out for seed. When he tried it he found it delicious, and
as a matter of fact it is probably the finest grass in the world.

He ate slowly, for he punctuated his cropping of the grass with glances
towards the mountains. The Eagles were growing out of the night, turning
from purple-grey to purple-blue, to daintiest lavender mist in the
hollows and rosy light on the peaks, and last the full morning came over
the sky at a step and the day wind rose and fluffed his mane.

He regarded these changes with a kindly eye, much as one who has never
seen a sunrise before; and just as he had always made the corral into
which he was put his private possession, and dangerous ground for any
other creature, so now he took in the down-sweep of the upper range and
the big knees of the mountains pushing out above the foothills and the
hills themselves modelled softly down towards the plain, and it seemed
to Alcatraz that this was one great corral, his private property. The
horizon was his fence, advancing and receding to attend him; all between
was his proper range. He took his station on a taller hilltop and gave
voice to his lordliness in a neigh that rang and re-rang down a hollow.
Then he canted his head and listened. A bull bellowed an answer fainter
than the whistle of a bird from the distance, and just on the verge of
earshot trembled another sound. Alcatraz did not know it, but it made
him shudder; before long he was to recognize the call of the lofer
wolf, that grey ghost which runs murdering through the mountains.

Small though the sounds were, they convinced Alcatraz that his claim to
dominion would be mightily disputed. But what is worth having at all if
it is not worth fighting for? He journeyed down the hillside stepping
from grass knot to grass knot. All the time he kept his sensitive
nostrils alert for the ground-smell of water and raised his head from
moment to moment to catch the upper-air scents in case there might be
danger. At length, before prime, he came down-wind from a water-hole and
galloped gladly to it. It was a muddy place with a slope of greenish
sun-baked earth on all sides. Alcatraz stood on the verge, snuffed the
stale odor in disgust and then flirted the surface water with his upper
lip before he could make himself drink. Yet the taste was far from evil,
and there was nothing of man about it. Yonder a deer had stepped, his
tiny footprint sun-burned into the mud, and there was the sprawling,
sliding track of a steer.

Alcatraz stepped further in. The feel of the cool slush was pleasant,
working above his hoofs and over the sensitive skin of the fetlock
joint. He drank again, bravely and deep, burying his nose as a good
horse should and gulping the water. And when he came out and stamped the
mud from his feet he was transformed. He had slept and eaten and drunk
in his own home.

After that, he idled through the hills eating much, drinking often, and
making up as busily as he could in a few weeks for the long years of
semi-starvation under the regime of the Mexican. His body responded
amazingly. His coat grew sleek, his barrel rounded, his neck arched with
new muscles and the very quality of mane and tail changed; he became the
horse of which he had previously been the caricature. It was a lonely
life in many ways but the very loneliness was sweet to the stallion.
Moreover, there was much to learn, and his brain, man-trained by his
long battle against a man, drank in the lessons of the wild country with
astonishing rapidity. Had it not been for intervention from the Great
Enemy, he might have continued for an indefinite period in the pleasant
foothills.

But Man found him. It was after some weeks, while he was intently
watching a chipmunk colony one day. Each little animal chattered at the
door of his home and so intent was Alcatraz's attention that he had no
warning of the approach of a rider up the wind until the gravel close
behind spurted under the rushing hoofs of another horse and the deadly
shadow of the rope swept over him. Terror froze him for what seemed a
long moment under the swing of the rope, in reality his side-leap was
swift as the bound of the wild cat and the curse of the unlucky
cowpuncher roared in his ear.

Alcatraz shot away like a thrown stone. The pursuit lasted only five
minutes, but to the stallion it seemed five ages, with the shouting of
the man behind him, for while he fled every scar pricked him and once
again his bones ached from every blow which the Mexican had struck. At
the end of the five minutes Alcatraz was hopelessly beyond reach and the
cowpuncher merely galloped to the highest hilltop to watch the runner.
As far as he could follow the course, that blinding speed was not
abated, and the cowpuncher watched with a lump growing in his throat. He
had fallen into a dream of being mounted on a stallion which no horse in
the mountains could overtake and which no horse in the mountains could
escape. To be safe in flight, to be inescapable in pursuit--that was, in
a small way, to be like a god.

But when Alcatraz disappeared in the horizon haze, the cowpuncher
lowered his head with a sigh. He realized that such a creature was not
for him, and he turned his horse's head and plodded back towards the
ranchhouse. When he arrived, he told the first story of the wild
red-chestnut, beautiful, swift as an eagle. He talked with the hunger and
the fire which comes on the faces of those who love horses. It was not
his voice but his manner which convinced his hearers, and before he
ended every eye in the bunkhouse was lighted.

That moment was the beginning of the end for Alcatraz. From the moment
men saw him and desired him the days of his freedom were limited; but
great should be the battle before he was subdued!

CHAPTER VII

THE PROMISED LAND

There was no thought of submission in Alcatraz at this moment, though
never for an instant did he under-rate the power of man. To Alcatraz the
Mexican was the type, and Cordova had seemed to unite in himself many
powers--strength like a herd of bulls, endurance greater than the
contemptible patience of the burro, speed like the lightning which winks
in the sky one instant and shatters the cottonwood tree the next. Such
as he were men, creatures who conquer for the sake of conquest and who
torment for the love of pain. His fear equalled his hatred, and his
hatred made him shake with fever.

The horseman had vanished but it was not well to trust to mere distance.
Had he not heard, more than once, the gun speaking from the hand of
Cordova, and presently the wounded hawk fluttered out of the sky and
dropped at the feet of the man? So Alcatraz kept on running. Besides, he
rejoiced in the gallop. He was like a boy who leaves his strength
untested for several years and when the crisis comes finds himself a
man. So the red-chestnut marvelled at the new wells of strength which he
was draining as he ran. That power which the Mexican had kept at low
tide with his systematic brutality was now developed to the full, very
near; and to Alcatraz it seemed exhaustless. He did not stop to look
about until two miles of climbing up the steep sides of the Eagles had
winded him.

He had risen above the foothills and the more laborious slopes of the
Eagles lifted at angles sheer and more sheer towards the top. But
decidedly he must cross the mountains. On the other side perhaps, there
would be no men. There could be no better time. Already the hollow
gorges were beginning to brim with blue-grey shadows and he would be
taking the worst of the climb in the cool of the evening. So Alcatraz
gave himself to the climb.

It was bitter work. Had he dropped a few miles south across the
foothills he would have found the road to the Jordan ranch climbing up
the Eagles with leisurely swinging curves, but the slopes just above him
were heart-breaking, and Alcatraz began to realize in an hour that a
mountainside from a distance is a far gentler thing than the same slope
underfoot. It was the heart of twilight before he came to the middle of
his climb and stepped onto a nearly level shoulder some acres in
compass. Here he stood for a moment while the muscles, cramped from
climbing, loosened again, and he looked down at the work he had already
accomplished. It was a dizzy fall to the lowlands. The big foothills
were mere dimples on the earth and limitless plain moved east towards
darkness. The stallion breathed deep of the pure mountain air,
contented. All his old life lay low beneath him in a thicker air and in
a deeper night. He had climbed out of it to a lonely height, perhaps,
but a free one. The wind, coming off the mountain top, curled his tail
along his flank. He turned and put his head into it, already refreshed
for more climbing. There was a strange scent in that wind, a rank, keen
odor that would have stopped him instantly had he been wiser in the life
of the wilderness. As it was, he trotted on through a skirting of
shrubbery and on the verge of a clearing was stopped by a snarl that
rolled out of the ground at his feet. Then he saw a dead deer on the
ground and over it a great tawny creature. One paw lay on the flank of
its prey; the bloody muzzle was just above.

There is no greater coward than the puma. Ordinarily she would have
hesitated before attacking the grown horse, but the surprise made her
desperate. She sprang even as Alcatraz whirled for flight, and in
whirling he saw that there was no escape from the leap of this monster
with the yawning teeth. He kicked high and hard, eleven hundred pounds
of seasoned muscle concentrated in the drive. The blow would have
smashed in the side of a bull. One hoof glanced off, but the other
struck fair and full between the eyes of the mountain-lion. The great
cat spun backwards, screeching, but Alcatraz saw no more than the fall.
He fled up the mountain with fear of death lightening his strides,
regardless of footing, crashing through underbrush, and came to the end
of his hysterical flight at the crest of the slope.

There he paused, shaking and weak, but the mountain top was bare of
covert, and scanning it eagerly through the treacherous moonlight he saw
there was no immediate danger. Down the Western slopes he saw a
fairyland for horses. Far beyond rose a second range nearly as lofty as
the peak on which he stood, but in between tumbled rolling ground, a
dreamy panorama in the moonshine. One feature was clear, and that was a
broad looping of silver among the hills, a river with slender
tributaries dodging swiftly down to it from either side. Alcatraz looked
with a swelling heart, thinking of the white-hot deserts which he had
known all his life. The wind which lifted his mane and cooled his hot
body carried up, also, the delicious fragrance of the evergreens and it
seemed to Alcatraz that he had come in view of a promised land. Surely
he had dreamed of it on many a day in burning, dusty corrals or in
oven-like sheds.

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