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Alcatraz by Max Brand

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"Hey there, Red!" he called, cheerily enough, but brusquely, and then,
bending over to fuss at a spur, he winked broadly at the other men.
They were instantly keen for the baiting of Perris, whatever form it
might take.

"Well?" said Red Perris.

"Trot over to the corral and rope that Roman-nosed buckskin with the
white stockings on her forelegs, will you? I got a few things to tend
to in here."

Now there was nothing entirely unheard of in a foreman ordering one of
his men to catch a saddle horse for him. But usually such things were
done by request rather than demand, and moreover, there was something
so breezy in the manner of Hervey, taking the compliance of Red so
for granted, that the latter raised his head slowly and turned to the
foreman with a gloomy eye. He had come to the ranch to hunt a wild
horse, not to play valet to a foreman.

"Partner," drawled Red Perris, and the silken smoothness of his tones
was ample proof that he was enraged. "I don't know the ways you folks
have up here, but around the parts where I've been, a gent that's big
enough to ride is big enough to saddle his own hoss."

The reply of Lew Hervey was just sharp enough to goad the
newcomer--just soft enough to stay on the windward side of an insult.

"I'll tell you," he said quietly. "Around the Valley of the Eagles,
the boys do what the foreman asks 'em to do, most generally. And the
foreman don't play favorites. I'm waiting for that hoss, Perris."

Perris rolled a cigarette, and smiled as he looked at Hervey. It was a
sickly smile, his lips being white and stiff. And in another, it might
have been considered a sign of fear. In Red Perris everyone there
knew it was simply the badge of a rising fury. They knew, by the same
token, that he was as dangerous as he had been advertised. Men whom
anger reddens are blinded by it; but those who turn pale never stop
thinking. Meantime, Red Jim looked at Hervey and looked at the
cowpunchers behind Hervey. It was not hard to see that in a pinch they
would be solid behind their foreman. They watched him with a wolfish
eagerness. Why they should be so instantly hostile he could not guess
but he was enough of a traveller to be prepared for strange customs
in strange places. There was only one important point: he would not
saddle the buckskin. Moreover, at sight of their solid front and their
aggressive sneers he grew fighting hot.

"How gents come in these parts," he said with deliberate scorn, "I
dunno. And I don't care a damn. If they brush their foreman's boots
and saddle his hosses for him, they can go ahead and do it. But I
come up here to catch a wild hoss that the gents in the Valley of the
Eagles couldn't get. That's my job, and nothing else."

The growl of his cowpunchers was sweetest music to the ear of Lew
Hervey. He glanced at them as much as to say: "You see what I got on
my hands?" Then he stepped forward and cleared his throat.

"You're young, kid," he declared. "When you grow up you'll know
better'n to talk like this. But cowpunchers we ain't going to make no
trouble for you. But I'll tell you short, Perris, you'll go out and
rope that hoss or else roll your blankets and clear out. Understand?
I was joking when I asked you to rope the hoss first. I wanted to see
what sort were. Well, I see, and I don't like what I see."

"Hervey," began Perris, trembling with his passion "Hervey--"

"Wait a minute," said the foreman, "I know your kind. You sign your
name with bullets. You pay your way with lead. You bully a crowd by
fingering a gun-butt. Well, son, that sort of thing don't go in the
Valley of the Eagles. Lay a hand on that gun and I'll have the boys
tie you in knots and roll you in a barrel of tar we got handy. Perris,
get that hoss for me, or get out!"

Red Perris sat down on the edge of his bunk. He made no move
towards his revolver. Indeed, it lay almost arm's length away.
Almost--everyone noted that. He crossed his legs and his glance
wandered slowly up and down the line of grim faces.

"Partner," he said softly to Hervey, "I'm not going to get the hoss
and I'm not going to get out. The next move is up to you. Is it tar?"

For a moment Hervey was dazed. No one could have foreseen such
daredeviltry as this. At the same time, he was badly cornered. If his
men rushed Red Perris, Red Perris would get his gun. And if Red Perris
got his gun the first shot would be for Hervey.

"Hold on, boys," he called suddenly, above the angry curses of his
men, "I'm not going to risk one of you in getting this fool. Miss
Jordan hired him. She can fire him if I can't. Which we'll find out
pronto. Slim, go get her, will you?"

Slim jumped through the door. They heard his footsteps fade away at a
run. And then, after an interval of steady silence, his voice began
in the distance, replying to sharp, hurried inquiries of Marianne. In
another moment Marianne was in the bunkhouse. Her glance shot from
Hervey to Perris and back again.

"I knew you'd be up to something like this!" she cried. "I knew it,
Lew Hervey!"

Hervey made a gesture of surrender.

"Ask the boys," he pleaded. "Ask them if I didn't try to go easy with
him. But he's all teeth. He wants to bite. And we ain't going to put
up with that sort of a gent here, I guess! I've ordered him off the
ranch. Does that go with you?"

"Oh, Jim Perris," cried the girl. "_Why_ have you let this happen!"

"I'm sure sorry," said Perris. He disdained further explanation.

"But," said Marianne, "I've got to have that terrible stallion killed.
And who can do it but Jim Perris, Mr. Hervey?"

"Gimme time," said Lew, "and I'll do it."

She stamped her foot in anger.

"How you wheedled the authority out of my father, I don't know," she
said. "But you have it and you can discharge him if you want. But
he'll hear another side to this when he returns, Mr. Hervey, I promise
you that!" She whirled on Red Jim. "Mr. Perris, if Mr. Hervey allows
you to stay, will you remain for--a week, say, and try to get rid of
Alcatraz for me? Mr. Hervey, will you let me have Mr. Perris for one
week?"

There was more angry demand than appeal in her voice, but Hervey knew
he must give way. After all, the way to carry this thing through
was to use the high hand as little as possible. Oliver Jordan would
certainly wait a week before he returned.

"I sure want to be reasonable, Miss Jordan," he said. "I'm only acting
in your father's interests. Of course he can stay for a week."

She whirled away from him with a glance of angry suspicion which
softened instantly as she faced Red Jim.

"You _will_ stay?" she pleaded.

Sullen pride drew Jim one way; the bright, eager eyes drew him
another.

"As long as you want," he said gravely.

CHAPTER XV

THE KING

If men may to some degree be classed in categories of bird and
beast, one like the eagle, another like the bear, some swinish, some
elephantine, some boldly leonine, unquestionably Red Perris must be
likened to the cat tribe. To some the comparison would have seemed
most opportune, having seen him in restless action; but the same idea
might have come to one who saw him lying prone on a certain hilltop in
the western foothills of the Eagle mountains, unmoving hour by hour,
his rifle shoved out before him among the dead grasses, his chin
resting on the back of his folded hands, and always his attentive eyes
roved from point to point over the landscape below him. A cat lies
passive in this manner half a day, watching the gopher hole.

It was not the first or the second time he had spent the afternoon in
this place. For nearly a week he had given the better part of every
day to the vigil on this hilltop. All this for very good reasons.
During ten days after his first coming to the ranch he tried the
ordinary methods of hunting down wild horses, and with a carefully
posted string of half a dozen horses, he twice attempted to run down
the outlaw, but he had never come within more than the most distant
and hazardous rifle range. To be sure he had fired some dozen shots
during the pursuits but they had been random efforts at times when the
red chestnut was flashing off in the distance, fairly walking away
from the best mounts the hunter could procure. Having logically
determined that it was not in the power of horse flesh burdened
with the weight of a rider to come within striking distance of the
stallion, Red Jim Perris passed from action to quiescence. If he could
not outrun Alcatraz he would outwait him.

First he studied the habits of the new king of the Eagle Mountains,
day by day following the trail. It was not hard to distinguish after
he had once measured the mighty stride of Alcatraz in full gallop and
he came to know to a hair's breath the distances which the chestnut
stepped when he walked or trotted or loped or galloped or ran. More
than that, he could tell by the print of the four hoofs, all of
the same size, the same roundness--token so dear to the heart of a
horseman! By such signs he identified old and new trails until he
could guess the future by the past, until he could begin to read the
character of the stallion. He knew, for instance, the insatiable
curiosity with which the chestnut studied his wilderness and its
inhabitants. He had seen the trail looping around the spot where the
rattler's length had been coiled in the sand, or where a tentative
hoof had opened the squirrel's hole. On a night of brilliant
moonshine, he had watched through his glass while Alcatraz galloped
madly, tossing head and tail, and neighing at a low-swooping owl.

Great, foolish impulses came to Alcatraz; he might gather his mares
about him and lead them for ten miles at a terrific pace and with a
blind destination; he might leave them and scout far and wide, alone,
always at dizzy speed. As the hunter stayed longer by his puzzling
task, he began to wonder if this sprang from mere running instinct, or
knowledge that he must keep himself in the pink of condition. Like
a man, the preferences of Alcatraz were distinctly formed and well
expressed. He disliked the middle day and during this period sought a
combination of wind and shade. Only in the morning and in the evening
he ranged for pasture or for pleasure. Impulse still guided him. Now
and again he wandered to the eastern or the western mountains, then
far into the hot heart of the desert, then, with incredible boldness,
he doubled back to the well-watered lands of the Jordan ranch, leaped
a fence, followed by the mares to whom he had taught the art of
jumping, and fed fat under the very eye of his enemies.

The boldness of these proceedings taught Perris what he already knew,
that the stallion knew man and hated as much as he dreaded his former
masters. These excursions were temptings of Providence, games
of hazard. Perris, gambler by instinct himself, understood and
appreciated, at the same time that his anger at being so constantly
outwitted, outdistanced, grew hot. Then there remained no kindness,
only desire to make the kill. His dreams had come to turn on one
picture--Alcatraz cantering in range of the waiting rifle!

That dream haunted even his walking moments as he lay here on the
hilltop, wondering if he had not been mistaken in selecting this place
of all the range. Yet he had chosen it with care as one of the points
of passage for Alcatraz during the stallion's wanderings to the four
quarters of his domains and though since he took up his station
here an imp of the perverse kept the stallion far away, the watcher
remained on guard, baked and scorched by the midday sun, constantly
surveying the lower hills nearby or sweeping more distant reaches with
his glass. This day he felt the long vigil to be definitely a failure,
for the sun was behind the western summits and the time of deepening
shadows most unfavorable to marksmanship had come. He swung the glass
for the last time to the south; it caught the glint of some moving
creature.

He focused his attention, but the object disappeared. A full five
minutes passed before it came out of the intervening valley but then,
bursting over the hilltop, it swept enormous into the power of the
glass--Alcatraz, and at full gallop!

There was no shadow of a doubt, for though it was the first time he
had been able to watch the stallion at close hand he recognized the
long and effortless swing of that gallop. Next he remembered those
stories of the charmed life and the tales he had mocked at before now
became possible truths. He caught up his gun to make sure, but when
his left hand slipped under the barrel to the balance and the butt of
the gun pulled into the hollow of his shoulder, he became of rocklike
steadiness. Swinging the gun to the left he caught Alcatraz full in
the readly circle of the sights and over his set teeth the lips curled
in a smile; the trail had ended! The slightest movement of his finger
would beckon the life out of that marauder, but as one who tastes the
wine slowly, inhales its bouquet, places the vintage, even so Red
Perris delayed to taste the fruition of his work. Pivoted on his
left elbow, he swung the rifle with frictionless ease and kept the
galloping stallion steadily in the center of the sight.

He smiled grimly now at those fables of the charmed life and drew
a bead just over the heart. The chestnut was very near. Along the
glorious slope of his shoulder Perris saw the long muscles playing
with every stride, and what strides they were! He floated rather than
galloped; his hoofs barely flicked the ground, and it seemed to Jim
Perris a shameful thing to smash that mechanism. He did not love
horses; he was raised in a land where they were too strictly articles
of use. But even as a machine he saw in Alcatraz perfection.

Not the body, then. He would drive the bullet home into the brain, the
cunning brain which had conceived and executed all the mischief the
chestnut had worked. Along the shining neck, so imperiously arched,
Perris swung the sights and rested his head, at last, just below the
ears with the forelock blown back between them by the wind of running.
Slowly his finger closed on the trigger. It seemed that in the silence
Alcatraz had found a signal of danger for now he swung that imperious
head about and looked full at Red Perris. By his own act he had
changed the aim of the hunter to a yet more fatal target--the
forehead.

The heart of Perris leaped even as it had stirred, more than once,
when he had looked into the eyes of fighting men. Here was an equal
pride, an equal fierceness looking forth at him. Then he remembered
the six mares somewhere at the center of the guarding circle which
Alcatraz now drew. What a dauntless courage was here in the brute mind
which, knowing the power of man, dared to rob him, to defy him! Truly
this was the king of horses meant for higher ends than to serve as
target of a Winchester. Ay, he could make his owner a king among men.
Mounted on the back of the chestnut no enemy could overtake him; from
that winged speed none could escape. The back of Alcatraz might be a
throne! He could end all that boundless strength by one pressure of
his finger but was that indeed a true conquest? It was calling to his
aid a trick, it was using an unfair advantage, it seemed to Perris;
but suppose that he, the rider who had never yet failed in the saddle,
were to sit on the stallion--there would be a battle for the Gods to
witness!

It was madness, sheer madness; it was throwing away the labor of the
patient days of waiting and working; but to Perris it seemed the only
thing to do. He leaped to his feet and brandished the gleaming rifle.

"Go it, boy!" he shouted. "We'll meet again!"

One snort from Alcatraz--then he changed to a red streak flashing down
the hollow.

Before the stallion was out of sight, a cry rang down the wind. It
was chopped off by the crack of a rifle, and Lew Hervey spurred from
behind a neighboring hill and plunged after Alcatraz pumping shot on
shot at the fugitive. In a frenzy Perris jerked his own gun to the
shoulder and drew down on the pursuer, but the red anger cleared from
his mind as he caught the burly shoulders of Hervey in the sights. He
lowered the rifle with a grim feeling that he had never before been so
close to a murder.

A moment later he began to chuckle behind his set teeth. No wonder
they credited the chestnut with a charmed life. As he raced away
gaining a yard at every leap, he swerved like a jackrabbit from side
to side. Perhaps the deadly hum of bullets on many another chase had
taught him this trick of dodging, but beyond all doubt when Hervey
returned to the ranch that night he would have a tale of mystery. To
preserve his self-respect as a good marksman, what else could he do?

In the meantime pursued and pursuer scurried out of sight beyond a
hill; the gun barked far away and the echoes murmured lightly from the
hollows. Then Perris turned his back and trudged homewards.

CHAPTER XVI

RED PERRIS: ADVOCATE

He did not choose to live in the ranch because of Hervey and because
it was too far removed from the scene of action. Instead, he selected
a shack stumbling with age on the west slope of the Eagle Mountains.
From his door many a time, with his glass, he picked out the shining
form of Alcatraz and the mares in the distance; he had even been able
to follow the maneuvers of the outlaw on several occasions when Hervey
and his men pursued with relays of horses, and on the whole he felt
that the site was such a position as a good general must prefer, being
behind the lines but with a view which enabled him to survey the whole
action. His quarters consisted of a single room while a shed leaned
against the back wall with one space for a horse, the other portion of
the shed being used as a mow for hay and grain.

It was the beginning of the long, still time of the mountain twilight
when Red Perris climbed to the clearing in which the cabin stood.
Ordinarily he would have set about preparing supper before the coming
of the dark, but now he watered and saddled his cowpony, a durable
little buckskin, and with a touch of the spurs sent him at a pitching
gallop down the slope.

It was not a kindly thing to do but Red Perris was not a kindly man
with horses and though he knew that it is hard on the shoulders of
even a mustang to be ridden downhill rapidly, he kept on with unabated
speed until he broke onto the well-established trail which led to the
Jordan house. Then a second touch of the spurs brought the pony close
to a full gallop. In fact, Perris was riding against time, for he
guessed that Lew Hervey, after quitting the trail of Alcatraz, would
veer straight towards the home place and there lay before Marianne
an account of how the chosen hunter had allowed the stallion to slip
through his hands. This, together with the fact that his week was up
was enough to bring about his discharge, for he had seen sufficient of
the girl to guess her fiery temper and he knew that she must have been
harshly tried during the last weeks by his lack of success and by the
continual sneers and mockery which the foreman and his followers had
directed at the imported horse-catcher. Before sunset of that day he
would have welcomed his discharge; now it loomed before him as the
greatest of all possible catastrophes.

Soon he was swinging down an easy road with the tilled lands on one
side, the pastures and broad ranges on the other, and even in the dim
light he guessed the wealth which the estate was capable of producing.
Even the deliberate mismanagement of Hervey was barely able to create
a deficit and Perris grew hot when he thought of the foreman. His own
dislikes found swift expression and were as swiftly forgotten; that
a grown ranchman could nourish resentment towards a girl, and that
because she was attempting to take charge of her own property, was
well beyond his comprehension. For he had that quality which is common
to all born leaders: he understood in what good and faithful service
should consist; with this addition, that he was far more fitted to
command than to be commanded.

It may be seen that there was a background of gloomy thought in his
mind, yet from time to time he startled the mustang to a harder
pace by a ringing burst of song. Remembering the windlike gallop of
Alcatraz, it seemed to him that the buckskin was hardly keeping to a
lope--as a matter of fact the cow pony was being ridden to the verge
of exhaustion. So the songs of Perris kept the rhythm of the departed
hoofs of wild Alcatraz and the shining form of the stallion wavered
and danced in his mind.

The ranch building grew out of the dun evening and he smiled at the
sight. The bank roll of Marianne had not been thick enough to enable
her to do the reconstruction she desired, but at least she had been
able to hire a corps of painters, so that the drab, weathered frame
structures had been lifted into crimson and green roofs, white yellow,
and flaming orange walls. "A little color is a dangerous thing,"
Marianne had said, somewhat overwisely, "but a great deal of it is
pretty certain to be pleasing." So she had let her fancy run amuck, so
to speak, and behind the merciful screen of trees there was now what
Lew Hervey profanely termed: "A whole damn rainbow gone plumb crazy."
Even Marianne at times had her doubts, but from a distance and by dint
of squinting, she was usually able to reduce the conglomerate to a
tolerably harmonious whole. "It's a promise of changes to come," she
told herself. "It's a milestone pointing towards new goals." But the
milestone set Perris chuckling. Yonder a scarlet roof burned through
the shadows above moonwhite walls--that was a winter-shed for cows.
Straight before him were the hot orange sides of the house itself. He
dismounted at the arched entrance and walked into the patio.

The first thing that Perris heard was the most provocative and
sneering tone of the foreman, and cursing the slowness of the
buckskin, he realized that he had been beaten to his goal. He paused
in the shadow of the arch to take stock of his position. The squat
arcade of 'dobe surrounding the patio was lighted vaguely by a single
lantern at his left. It barely served to make the shadowy outlines of
the house visible, the heavy arches, roughly sketched doorways, and
hinted at the forms of the cowpunchers who were ranged under the far
arcade for their after-dinner smoke, all eagerly listening to the
dialogue between the mistress and the foreman. When a breath of wind
made the flame jump in the lantern chimney a row of grinning faces
stood out from the shadow.

Marianne sat in a deep chair which made her appear girlishly slight.
The glow of the reading lamp on the table beside her fell on her hair,
cast a highlight on her cheek, and showed her hand lying on the open
book in her lap, palm up. There was something about that hand which
spoke to Perris of helpless surrender, something more in the gloomy
eyes which looked up to the foreman where he leaned against a pillar.
The voice drawled calmly to an end: "And that's what he is, this gent
you got to finish what me and the rest started. Here he is to tell you
that I've spoke the truth."

With the uncanny Western keenness of vision, Hervey had caught sight
of the approaching Perris from the corner of his eye. He turned now
and welcomed the hunter with a wave of his hand. Marianne drew herself
up with her hands clasped together in her lap and though in this new
attitude her face was in complete shadow, Perris felt her eyes
burning out at him. His dismissal was at hand, he knew, and then the
carelessly defiant speech which was forming in his throat died away.
Sick at heart, he realized that he must cringe under the hand which
was about to strike and be humble under the very eye of Hervey. He was
no longer free and the chain which held him was the conviction that
he could never be happy until he had met and conquered wild Alcatraz,
that he was as incomplete as a holster without a gun or a saddle
without stirrups until the speed and the great heart of the stallion
were his to control and command.

"I've heard everything from Lew Hervey," said the girl, in that low
strained voice which a woman uses when her self-control is barely as
great as her anger, "and I suppose I don't need to say that after
these days of waiting, Mr. Perris, I'm disappointed. I shall need you
no longer. You are free to go without giving notice. The experiment
has been--unfortunate."

He felt that she had searched as carefully as her passion permitted to
find a word that would sting him. The hot retort leaped to his lips
but he closed his teeth tight over it. A vision of Alcatraz with the
wind in tail and mane galloped back across his memory and staring
bitterly down at the girl he reflected that it was she who had brought
him face to face with the temptation of the outlaw horse.

Then he found that he was saying stupidly: "I'm sure sorry, Miss
Jordan. But I guess being sorry don't help much."

"None at all. And--we won't talk any longer about it, if you please.
The thing is done; another failure. Mr. Hervey will give you your pay.
You can do the rest of your talking to him."

She lowered her head; she opened the book; she adjusted it carefully
to the light streaming over her shoulder; she even summoned a faint
smile of interest as though her thoughts were a thousand miles from
this petty annoyance and back in the theme of the story. Perris, blind
with rage, barely saw the details, barely heard the many-throated
chuckle from the watchers across the patio. Never in his life had
he so hungered to answer scorn with scorn but his hands were tied.
Alcatraz he must have as truly as a starved man must have food; and to
win Alcatraz he must live on the Jordan ranch. He could not speak, or
even think, for that maddening laughter was growing behind him; then
he saw the hand of Marianne, as she turned a page, tremble slightly.
At that his voice came to him.

"Lady, I can't talk to Hervey."

She answered without looking up, and he hated her for it.

"Are you ashamed to face him?"

"I'm afraid to face him."

That, indeed, brought her head up and let him see all of her rage
translated into cruel scorn.

"Really afraid? I don't suppose I should be surprised."

He accepted that badgering as martyrs accept the anguish of fire.

"I'm afraid that if I turn around and see him, Miss Jordan, I ain't
going to stop at words."

The foreman acted before she could speak. The laughter across the
patio had stopped at Perris' speech; plainly Hervey must not remain
quiescent. He dropped his big hand on the shoulder of Perris.

"Look here, bucco," he growled, "You're tolerable much of a kid to use
man-sized talk. Turn around."

He even drew Perris slightly towards him, but the latter persisted
facing the girl even though his words were for the foreman. She was
growing truly frightened.

"Tell Hervey to take his hand off me," said the horse-breaker. "He's
old enough to know better!"

If his words needed amplification it could be found in the wolfish
malevolence of his lean face or in the tremor which shook him; the
thin space of a thought divided him from action. Marianne sprang from
her chair. She knew enough of Hervey to understand that he could not
swallow this insult in the presence of his cowpunchers. She knew also
by the sudden compression of his lips and the white line about them
that her foreman felt himself to be no match for this tigerish
fighter. She thrust between them. Even in her excitement she noticed
that Hervey's hand came readily from the shoulder of Perris. The older
man stepped back with his hand on his gun, but in a burst of pitying
comprehension she knew that it was the courage of hopelessness. She
swung about on Perris, all her control gone, and the bitterness of a
thousand aggravations and all her failures on the ranch poured out in
words.

"I know your kind and despise it. You practice with your guns getting
ready for your murders which you call fair fights. Fair fights! As
well race a thoroughbred against a cowpony! You wrong a man and then
bully him. That's Western fair play! But I swear to you, Mr. Perris,
that if you so much as touch your weapon I'll have my men run you down
and whip you out of the mountains!"

Her outbreak gave him, singularly, a more even poise. There was never
a fighter who was not a nervous man; there was never a fighter who in
a crisis was not suddenly calm.

"Lady," he answered, "you think you know the West, but you don't. If
me and Hervey fell out there wouldn't be a man yonder across the patio
that'd lift a hand till the fight was done. That ain't the Western
way."

He had spoken much more than he was assured of. He had even sensed,
behind him, the rising of the cowpunchers as the girl talked but at
this appeal to their spirit of fair-play they settled down again.

He went on, speaking so that every man in the patio could hear: "If
I won, they might tackle me one by one and we'd have it out till a
better man beat me fair and square. But mobs don't jump one man,
lady--not around these parts unless he's stole a hoss!"

"I don't ask no help," said Lew Hervey, but his voice was husky and
uneven. "I'll stand my ground with any man, gun-fighter or not!"

"Please be quiet and let me handle this affair," said the girl. "As
a matter of fact, it's ended. If you won't take the money from Mr.
Hervey, I'll pay it to you myself. How much?"

"Nothing," said Red Perris.

"Are you going to give me an example of wounded virtue?" cried
Marianne, white with contempt.

He was as pale as she, and taking off his hat he began to dent and
re-dent its four sides. The girl, looking at that red shock of hair
and the lowered eyes, guessed for the first time that he was suffering
an agony of humiliation. Half of her anger instantly vanished and
remembering her passion of the moment before, she began to wonder what
she had said. In the meantime, shrugging his shoulders with a forced
indifference, Hervey crossed the patio and she was aware that he was
received in silence--no murmurs of congratulation for the manner in
which he had borne himself during the interview.

"I got to ask you to gimme about two minutes of listening, Miss
Jordan. Will you do it?"

"At least I won't stop you. Say what you please, Mr. Perris."

She wished heartily that she could have spoken with a little show of
relenting but she had committed herself to coldness. In her soul of
souls she wanted to bid him take a chair and tell her frankly all
about it, assure him that after a moment of blind anger she had never
doubted his straightforward desire to serve her. He began to speak.

"It's this way. I come out here to shoot a hoss, and I've worked
tolerable hard to get in rifle range. I guess Hervey has been saying
that I've got into shooting distance a dozen times but it ain't true.
He happened to be sneaking about to-day, and he saw Alcatraz come
close by me for the first time."

He paused. "I'll give you my word on that."

"You don't need to" said the girl, impetuously.

His eyes flashed up at her, at that, and he stood suddenly straight as
though she had given him the right to stop cringing and talk like a
man. What on earth, she wondered, could have forced the man to such
humility? It made her shrink as one might on seeing an eagle cower
before a wren. As for Perris, his resentment was in no wise abated by
her friendliness. She had given him some moments of torture and the
memory of that abasement would haunt him many a day. He mutely vowed
that she should pay for it, and went on: "I sure wanted to sing when I
caught Alcatraz in the sights. I pulled a bead on him just behind the
shoulder but I could see the muscles along his shoulders working and
it was a pretty sight, Miss Jordan."

She nodded, frowning in the intentness with which she followed him.
She had thought of him as one with the careless, mischievous soul of
a child but now, in quick, deep glances, she reached to profounder
things.

"I held the bead," he kept repeating, his glance going blankly past
her as he struggled to find words for the strange experience, "but
then I saw his ribs going in and out. He was big where the cinches
would run, you see, and I began to understand where he got that wind
of his that never gives out. Besides, I somehow got to thinking about
his heart under the ribs, lady, and I figured it kind of low to stop
all the life in him with a bullet. So I swung my bead up along his
neck--he's got a long neck and that means a long stride--till I came
plump on his head, and just then he swung his head and gave me a
look."

He breathed deeply, and then: "It was like jumping into cold water all
of a sudden. I felt hollow inside. And then all at once I knew they'd
never been a hoss like him in the mountains. I knew he was an outlaw.
I knew he was plumb bad. But I knew he was a king, lady, and I
couldn't no more shoot him that I could lie behind a bush and shoot a
man." He was suddenly on fire.

"Looked to me like he was my hoss. Like he'd been planned for me.
I wanted him terrible bad, the way you want things when you're a
kid--the way you want Christmas the day before, when it don't seem
like you could wait for tomorrow."

"But--he's a man-killer, Mr. Perris. I've seen it!"

His hand went out to her and she listened in utter amazement while he
pleaded with all his heart in his voice.

"Lemme have a chance to make him my hoss, murders or not! Lemme stay
here on the ranch and work, because they's no other good place for
hunting him. I know you want them mares, but some day I'll get my rope
on him and then I swear I'll break him or he'll break me. I'll break
him, ride him to death, or he'll pitch me off and finish me liked he
finished Cordova. But I know I can handle him. I sure feel it inside
of me, lady! Pay? I don't want pay! I'll work for nothing. If I had a
stake, I'd give it to you for a chance to keep on trying for him. I
know I'm asking a pile. You want the mares and you can get them the
minute Alcatraz is dropped with a bullet,--but I tell you straight,
he's worth all of 'em--all six and more!"

A light came over his face. "Miss Jordan, lemme stay on and try my
luck and if I get him and break him, I'll turn him over to you. And I
tell you: he's the wind on four feet."

"You'll do all this and then give him to me when he's gentled and
broken--if that can be done? Then why do you want him?"

"I want to show him that he's got a master. He's played with me and
plumb fooled me all these weeks. I want to get on him and show him
he's beat." His fierce joy in the thought was contagious. "I want to
make him turn when I pull on the reins. I'll have him start when I
want to start and stop when I want to stop. I'll make him glad when I
talk soft to him and shake when I talk hard. He's made a fool of me;
I'll make a fool and a show of him. Lady, will you say yes?"

He had swept her off her feet and with a mind full of a riot of
imaginings--the frantic stallion, the clinging rider, the struggle for
superiority--she breathed: "Yes, yes! A thousand times yes--and good
luck, Mr. Perris."

He tossed his arms above his head and cried out joyously.

"Lady, it's more'n ten years of life to me!"

"But wait!" she said, suddenly aware of Hervey, lingering in the
background. "I haven't the power to let you stay. It's Mr. Hervey who
has authority while my father is away."

The lips of Red Jim twitched to a sneering malevolence mingled with
gloom.

"It's up to him?" he echoed. "Then I might of spared myself all of
this talk."

It would all be over in a moment. The foreman would utter the refusal.
Red Perris would be in his saddle and bound towards the mountains.
And that thought gave Marianne sudden insight into the fact that the
Valley of the Eagles would be a drear, lonely place without Red Jim.

"You don't know Mr. Hervey," she broke in before the foreman could
speak for himself. "He'll bear no malice to you. He's forgotten that
squabble over--"

"Sure I have," said Lew Hervey. "I've forgotten ten all about it.
But the way I figure, Miss Jordan, is that Perris is like a chunk of
dynamite on the ranch. Any day one of the boys may run into him and
there'll be a killing. They're red-hot against him. They might start
for him in a gang one of these days, for all I know. For his own sake,
Perris had better leave the Valley."

He had advanced his argument cunningly enough and by the way
Marianne's eyes grew large and her color changed, he knew that he had
made his point.

"Would they do that?" she gasped. "Have we such men?"

"I dunno," said Lew. "He sure rode 'em hard that morning."

"Then go," cried Marianne, turning eagerly to Red Jim. "For heaven's
sake, go at once! Forget Alcatraz--forget the mares--but start at
once, Mr. Perris!"

Even a blind man might have guessed many things from the tremor of
her voice. Lew Hervey saw enough to make his eyes contract to the
brightness of a ferret's as he glanced from the girl to handsome Jim
Perris. But the red-headed adventurer was quite blind, quite deaf.
No matter how the thing had been done, he knew that the girl and the
foreman were now both combined to drive him from the ranch, from
Alcatraz. For a moment of blind anger he wanted to crush, kill,
destroy. Then he turned on his heel and strode towards the arch which
led into the patio.

"Mind you!" called Lew Hervey in warning. "It's on your own head,
Perris. If you don't leave, I'll throw you off!"

Red Jim flashed about under the shade of the arch.

"Come get me, and be damned," he said.

And then he was gone. The cowpunchers, furious at this open defiance
of them all, boiled out into the patio, growling.

"You see?" said Hervey to the girl. "He won't be satisfied till
there's a killing!"

"Keep them back!" she pleaded. "Don't let them go, Mr. Hervey. Don't
let them follow him!"

One sharp, short order from Hervey stopped the foremost as they ran
for the entrance. In fact, not one of them was peculiarly keen to
follow such a trail as this in the darkness. Breathless silence fell
over the patio, and then they heard the departing beat of the hoofs of
Red's horse. And the shock of every footfall struck home in the heart
of Marianne and filled her with a great loneliness and terror. And
then the noise of the gallop died away in the far-off night.

CHAPTER XVII

INVISIBLE DANGER

Alcatraz, cresting the hill, warned the mares with a snort. One by one
the bays brought up their beautiful heads to attention but the grey,
as was her custom in moments of crisis or indecision, trotted forward
to the side of the leader and glanced over the rolling lands below.
Her decision was instant and decisive. She shook her head and turning
to the side, she started down the left slope at a trot. Alcatraz
called her back with another snort. He knew, as well as she did, the
meaning of that faint odor on the east wind: it was man, unmistakably
the great enemy; but during five days that scent had hung steadily
here and yet, over all the miles which he could survey there was no
sign of a man nor any places where man could be concealed. There was
not a tree; there was not a fallen log; there was not a stump; there
was not a rock of such respectable dimensions that even a rabbit would
dare to seek shelter behind it. Still, mysteriously, the scent of man
was there.

Alcatraz stamped with impatience and when the grey whinnied he merely
shook his head angrily in answer. It irritated him to have her always
right, always cautious, and besides he felt somewhat shamed by the
necessity of using her as a court of last appeal. To be sure, he was a
keener judge of the sights and scents of the mountain desert than any
of the half-bred mares but though he lived to fifty years he would
never approach the stored wisdom, the uncanny acuteness of eye, ear,
and nostril of the wild grey. Her view-point seemed, at times, that of
the high-sailing buzzards, for she guessed, miles and miles away, what
water-holes were dry and what "tanks" brimmed with water; what trails
were broken by landslides since they had last been travelled and where
new trails might be found or made; when it was wise to seek shelter
because a sand-storm was brewing; where the grass grew thickest and
most succulent on far-off hillsides; and so on and on the treasury of
her knowledge could be delved in inexhaustibly.

On only one point did he feel that his cleverness might rival hers and
that point was the most important of all--man the Great Destroyer. She
knew him only from a distance whereas had not Alcatraz breathed that
dreaded scent close at hand? Had he not on one unforgetable occasion
felt the soft flesh turn to pulp beneath his stamping feet, and heard
the breaking of bones? His nostrils distended at the memory and again
he searched the lowlands.

No, there was not a shadow of a place where man might be concealed and
that scent could be nothing but a snare and an illusion. To be sure
there were other ways hardly less convenient to the waterhole, but why
should he be turned from the easiest way day after day because of this
unbodied warning? He started down the slope.

It brought the grey after him, neighing wildly, but though she circled
around him at full speed time after time, he would not pause, and when
she attempted to block him he raised his head and pushed her away with
the resistless urge of breast and shoulders. At that she attempted no
more forceful persuasion but fell in behind him, still pausing from
time to time to send her mournfully persuasive whinny after the
obdurate leader until even the bays, usually so blindly docile, grew
alarmed and fell back to a huddled grouping half way between Alcatraz
and the trailing grey. It touched his pride sharply, this division of
their trust. Twice he slackened his lope and called to them to hasten
and when they responded with only a faint-hearted trot he was forced
to mask his impatience. Coming to a walk he cropped imaginary grasses
from time to time and so induced the others to draw nearer.

It was slow work going down the hollow in this way, and hot work, too,
but though he often glanced up yearningly towards the wooded hills
beyond, he kept to his pretense of carelessness and so managed to hold
the mares in a close-bunched group behind him. In the meantime the
scent grew stronger, closer to the ground on that east wind. Time and
again he raised his head and stared earnestly, but it was impossible
for any living creature to stalk within hundreds of yards of him
without being seen--whereas that scent spoke of one almost within
leaping distance. Once it seemed to his excited imagination--as he
lowered his head to sniff at a tuft of dead grasses--that he heard the
sound of human breathing.

He snorted the foolish thought into nothingness and after a glance
back to make sure that his companions followed, he resolutely stepped
out into the very heart of the man-scent. So closely was that phantom
located by the sense of smell that it seemed to Alcatraz he could see
the exact spot on the hillside behind a small rock where the ghost
must lie. Yet he disdained to flee from empty air and for all his
beating heart he raised his head and walked sedately on. The danger
spot was drifting past on his left when a squeal of fear from the
wild grey far in the rear made Alcatraz leap sidewise with catlike
suddenness.

Growing by magic from the sand behind the little rock the head and
shoulders of a man appeared, his shadow pouring down the sun-whitened
slope. In his hand he swung a rapidly lengthening loop of rope and as
his arm went back it knocked off the fellow's hat and exposed a shock
of red hair. So much Alcatraz saw while the paralysis of fear locked
every joint for the tenth part of a second, and deeply as he dreaded
the apparition itself he dreaded more the whipping circle of rope.
For had he not seen the dead thing become alive and snakelike in the
skilled hand of Manuel Cordova? The freezing terror relaxed; the sand
crunched away under the drive of his rear hoofs as he flung himself
forward--with firm footing to aid he would have slid from beneath the
flying danger, but as it was he heard the live rope whisper in the air
above his head.

He landed on stiff legs, checked his forward impetus and flung
sidewise. On solid footing he would have dodged successfully; as it
was the noose barely clipped past his ear.

As the rope touched his neck, it seemed to Alcatraz that every wound
dealt him by the hand of man was suddenly aching and bleeding again,
the skin along his flanks quivered where the spurs of Cordova had
driven home time and again, and on shoulders and belly and hips
there were burning stripes where the quirt had raised its wale. Most
horrible of all, in his mouth came the taste of iron and his own blood
where the Spanish bit had wrenched his jaws apart. Out of the old days
he might have remembered the first and bitterest lesson--that it is
folly to pull against a rope--but now he saw nothing save the fleeing
forms of the seven mares and his own freedom vanishing with them. In
his mid-leap the lariat hummed taut, sank in a burning circle into
the flesh at the base of his neck, and he was flung to the ground. No
man's power could have stopped him so short; the cunning enemy had
turned a half-hitch around the top of that deep-rooted rock.

He landed, not inert, but shocked out of hysteria into all his old
cunning--that wily savagery which had kept Cordova in fear, ten-fold
more terrible since the free life had clothed him with his full
strength. The very impetus of his fall he used to help him whirl to
his feet, and as he rose he knew what he must do. To struggle against
the tools of man was always madness and brought only pain as a result;
like a good general he determined to end the battle by getting at the
root of the enemy's fire, and wheeling on his hind legs he charged Red
Perris.

The first leap revealed the mystery of the man's appearance. Behind
this rock, which was barely sufficient shelter for his head, he had
excavated a pit sufficient to shelter his crouching body and the sand
which he removed for this purpose had been spread evenly over the
slope so that no suspicion might be created in the most watchful eye.
He had sprung from his concealment and was now working to loosen the
half-hitch from the rock. As the knot came free Alcatraz was turning
and now Perris faced the charge with the rope caught in his hand. What
could he do? There was only one thing, and the stallion saw the heavy
revolver bared and levelled at him, a flickering bit of metal. He knew
well what it meant but there was no hope save to rush on; another
stride and he would be on that frail creature, tearing with his teeth
and crushing with his hoofs. And then a miracle happened. The revolver
was flung aside, a gleaming arc and a splash of sand where it struck;
Red Perris preferred to risk his life rather than end the battle
before it was well begun with a bullet. He crouched over the rope
as though he had braced himself to meet the shock of the charging
stallion. But that was not his purpose. As the stallion rushed on him
he darted to one side and the fore hoof with which Alcatraz struck
merely slashed his shirt down the back.

A feint had saved him, but Alcatraz was no bull to charge blindly
twice. He checked himself so abruptly that he knocked up a shower
of sand, and he turned savagely out of that dust-cloud to end the
struggle. Yet this small, mad creature stood his ground, showed no
inclination to flee. With the rope he was doing strange things, making
it spin in swift spirals, close to the ground. Let him do what he
would, his days were ended. Alcatraz bared his teeth, laid back his
ears, and lunged again. Another miracle! As his forefeet struck
the ground in the midst of one of those wide circles of rope, the
red-headed man lunged back, the circle jumped like a living thing and
coiled itself around both forefeet, between fetlock and hoof. When he
attempted the next leap his front legs crumbled beneath him. At the
very feet of Red Perris he plunged into the sand.

Once more he whirled to regain his lost footing, but as he turned on
his back the rope twisted and whispered above him; the off hind leg
was noosed, and then the near one--Alcatraz lay on his side straining
and snorting but utterly helpless.

Of a sudden he ceased all struggle. About neck and all four hoofs was
the burning grip of the rope, so bitterly familiar, and man had once
again enslaved him. Alcatraz relaxed. Presently there would come a
swift volley of curses, then the whir and cut of the whip--no, for a
great occasion such as this the man would choose a large and durable
club and beat him across the ribs. Why not? Even as he had served
Cordova this man of the flaming hair would now serve him. He was very
like Cordova in one thing. He did not hurry, but first picked up his
revolver and replaced it in its holster, having blown the sand from
the mechanism as well as he could. Then he put on his fallen hat and
stood back with his hands dropped on his hips and eyed the captive.
For the first time he spoke, and Alcatraz shuddered at the sound of a
voice well-nigh as smooth as that of Cordova, with the same well-known
ring of fierce exultation.

"God A'mighty, God A'mighty! They can't be no hoss like this! Jim,
you're dreaming. Rub your fool eyes and wake up!"

He began to walk in a circle about his victim, and Alcatraz shuddered
when the conqueror came behind him. That had been Cordova's way--to
come to a place where he could not be seen and then strike cruelly and
by surprise. To his unspeakable astonishment, Perris presently leaned
over him--and then deliberately sat down on the shoulder of the
chestnut. Two thoughts flashed through the mind of the stallion; he
might heave himself over by a convulsive effort and attempt to crush
this insolent devil; or he might jerk his head around and catch Perris
with his teeth. A third and better thought, however, immediately
followed--that bound as he was he would have little chance to reach
this elusive will-o'-the-wisp. He could not repress a quiver of horror
and anger, but beyond that he did not stir.

Other liberties were being taken; Cordova in his maddest moments would
not have dared so much. Down the long muscles of his shoulder and
upper foreleg went curious and gently prying finger-tips, and where
they passed a tingling sensation followed, not altogether unpleasant.
Again beginning on his neck the hand trailed down beneath his mane and
at the same time the voice was murmuring: "Oh beauty! Oh beauty!"

The heart of Alcatraz swelled. He had felt his first caress.

CHAPTER XVIII

VICTORY

Not that he recognized it as such but the touch was a pleasure and the
quiet voice passed into his mind with a mild and soothing influence
that made the wide freedom of the mountain-desert seem a worthless
thing. The companionship of the mares was a bodiless nothing compared
with the hope of feeling that hand again, hearing that voice, and
knowing that all troubles, all worries were ended for ever. Like the
stout Odysseus of many devices Alcatraz scorned the ways of the lotus
eaters; for well he knew how Cordova had often lured him to perfect
trust with the magic of man's voice, only to waken him from the dream
of peace with the sting of a blacksnake. This red-headed man, so soft
of hand, so pleasant of voice, was for those very reasons the more to
be suspected. The chestnut bided his time; presently the torment would
begin.

The calm voice was proceeding: "Old sport, you and me are going to
stage a sure enough scrap right here and now. Speaking personal, I'd
like to take off the rope and go at you man to man with no saddle to
help me out. But if I did that I wouldn't have a ghost of a show. I'll
saddle you, right enough, but I'll ride you without spurs, and I'll
put a straight bit in your mouth--damn the Mexican soul of Cordova, I
see where he's sawed your mouth pretty near in two with his Spanish
contraptions! Without a quirt or spurs or a curb to choke you down,
you and me'll put on a square fight, so help me God! Because I think I
can beat you, old hoss. Here goes!"

The stallion listened to the soothing murmur, listened and waited, and
sure enough he had not long to stay in expectation. For Perris went
to the hole behind the rock and presently returned carrying that
flapping, creaking instrument of torture--a saddle.

To all that followed--the blind-folding, the bridling, the jerk which
urged him to his feet, the saddling,--Alcatraz submitted with the most
perfect docility. He understood now that he was to have a chance to
fight for his liberty on terms of equality and his confidence grew. In
the old days that consummate horseman, Manuel Cordova, had only
been able to keep his seat by underfeeding Alcatraz to the point of
exhaustion but now, from withers to fetlock joint, the chestnut was
conscious of a mighty harmony of muscles and reserves of energy. The
wiles which he had learned in many a struggle with the Mexican were
not forgotten and the tricks which had so often nearly unseated
the old master could now be executed with threefold energy. In the
meantime he waited quietly, assuming an air of the most perfect
meekness, with the toe of one hind foot pointed so that he sagged
wearily on that side, and with his head lowered in all the appearance
of mild subjection.

The cinches bit deep into his flesh. He tasted that horror of iron
in his mouth, with this great distinction: that whereas the bits of
Manuel Cordova had been heavy instruments of torture this was a light
thing, smooth and straight and without the wheel of spikes. The crisis
was coming. He felt the weight of the rider fall on the left stirrup,
the reins were gathered, then Perris swung lightly into the saddle and
leaning, snatched the blindfold from the eyes of the stallion.

One instant Alcatraz waited for the sting of the spurs, the resounding
crack of the heavy quirt, the voice of the rider raised in curses; but
all was silence. The very feel of the man in the saddle was different,
not so much in poundage as in a certain exquisite balance which he
maintained but the pause lasted no longer than a second after the
welcome daylight flashed on the eyes of Alcatraz. Fear was a spur
to him, fear of the unknown. He would have veritably welcomed the
brutalities of Cordova simply because they were familiar--but this
silent and clinging burden? He flung himself high in the air, snapped
up his back, shook himself in mid-leap, and landed with every leg
stiff. But a violence which would have hurled another man to the
ground left Perris laughing. And were beasts understood, that laughter
was a shameful mockery!

Alcatraz thrust out his head. In vain Perris tugged at the reins. The
lack of curb gave him no pry on the jaw of the chestnut and sheer
strength against strength he was a child on a giant. The strips of
leather burned through his fingers and the first great point of the
battle was decided in favor of the horse: he had the bit in his teeth.
It was a vital advantage for, as every one knows who has struggled
with a pitching horse, it cannot buck with abandon while its chin is
tucked back against its breast; only when the head is stretched out
and the nose close to the ground can a bucking horse double back and
forth to the full of his agility, twisting and turning and snapping as
an "educated" bucker knows how.

And Alcatraz knew, none so well! The deep exclamation of dismay from
the rider was sweetest music to his malicious ears, and, in sheer joy
of action, he rushed down the hollow at full speed, bucking "straight"
and with never a trick attempted, but when the first ecstasy cleared
from his brain he found that Perris was still with him, riding light
as a creature of mist rather than a solid mass of bone and muscle--in
place of jerking and straining and wrenching, in place of plying the
quirt or clinging with the tearing spurs, he was riding "straight up"
and obeying every rule of that unwritten code which prescribes the
manner in which a gentleman cowpuncher shall combat with his horse for
superiority. Again that thrill of terror of the unknown passed through
the stallion; could this apparently weaponless enemy cling to him
in spite of his best efforts? He would see, and that very shortly.
Without going through the intermediate stages by which the usual
educated bronco rises to a climax of his efforts, Alcatraz began at
once that most dreaded of all forms of bucking--sun-fishing. The
wooded hills were close now and the ground beneath him was firm
underfoot assuring him full use of all his agility and strength. His
motion was like that of a breaking comber. First he hurled himself
into the air, then pitched sharply down and landed on one stiffened
foreleg--the jar being followed by the deadly whiplash snap to the
side as he slumped over. Then again driven into the air by the impulse
of those powerful hind legs, he landed on the alternate foreleg and
snapped his rider in the opposite direction--a blow on the base of the
brain and another immediately following on the side.

Underfed mustangs have killed men by this maneuver, repeated without
end. Alcatraz was no starveling mongrel, but to the fierceness of a
wild horse and the tireless durability of a mustang he united the
subtlety which he had gained in his long battle with the Mexican and
above all this, his was the pride of one who had already conquered
man. His fierce assault began to produce results.

He saw Red Perris sway drunkenly at every shock; his head seemed to
swing on a pivot from side to side under that fearful jolting--his
mouth was ajar, his eyes staring, a fearful mask of a face; yet he
clung in place. When he was stunned, instinct still kept his feet in
the stirrups and taught him to give lightly to every jar. He fought
hard but in time even Red Perris must collapse.

But could the attack be sustained indefinitely? Grim as were results
of sun-fishing on the rider, they were hardly less vitiating for the
horse. The forelegs of Alcatraz began to grow numb below the shoulder;
his knees bowed and refused to give the shock its primal snap; to the
very withers he was an increasing ache. He must vary the attack. As
soon as that idea came, he reared and flung himself back to the earth.

He heard a sharp exclamation from the rider--he felt the tug as the
right foot of Perris hung in the stirrup, then the stunning impact on
the ground. To make sure of his prey he whirled himself to the left,
but even so his striking feet did not reach the Great Enemy. Perris
had freed himself in the last fraction of a second and pitching
headlong from the saddle he rolled over and over in the dirt, safe.
That fall opened a new hope to Alcatraz. Had he possessed his full
measure of agility he would have gained his feet and rushed the man,
but the long struggle had taken the edge from his activity and as he
lunged up he saw Perris, springing almost on all-fours, animal-like,
leap through the air and his weight struck home in the saddle.

Quick, now, before the Enemy gained a secure hold, before that
reaching foot attained the other stirrup, before the proper balance
was struck! Up in the air went the chestnut--down on one stiff foreleg
and with a great swelling of the heart he felt the rider slump far to
one side, clinging with one leg from the saddle, one hand wrapped in
the flying mane. Now victory with a last effort! Again he leaped high
and again struck stiffly on the opposite foreleg; but alas! that
very upward bound swung Perris to the erect, and with incredible and
catlike speed he slipped into the saddle. He received the shock with
both feet lodged again in the supporting stirrups.

The frenzy of disappointment gave Alcatraz renewed energy. It was not
sun-fishing now, but fence-rowing, cross-bucking, flinging himself to
the earth again and again, racing a little distance and stopping on
braced legs, sun-fishing to end the programme. As he fought he watched
results. It was as though invisible fists were crashing against the
head and body of the unfortunate rider. From nose and ears and gaping
mouth the blood trickled; his eyes were blurs of red; his head rolled
hideously on his shoulders. Ten times he was saved by a hair's-breadth
from a fall; ten times he righted himself again and a strange and
bubbling voice jerked out defiance to the horse.

"Buck--damn you!--go it, you devil--I'll--beat--you still! I'll break
you--I'll--make you come--when I whistle--I'll make you--a--lady's
hoss!"'

Consuming terror was in the stallion and the fear that, incredible as
it seemed, he was being beaten by a man who did not use man's favorite
weapon--pain. No, not once had the cruel spurs clung in his flanks, or
the quirt whirred and fallen; not once, above all, had his mouth been
torn and his jaw nearly broken by the wrenching of a curb. It came
vaguely into the brutes' mind that there was something to be more
dreaded than either bit, spur, or whip, and that was the controlling
mind which spoke behind the voice of Perris, which was telegraphed
again and again down the taut reins. That fear as much as the labor
drained his vigor.

His knees buckled now. He could no longer sunfish. He could not even
buck straight with the bone-breaking energy. He was nearly done, with
a tell-tale wheeze in his lungs, with blood pressure making his eyes
start well-nigh from his head, and a bloody froth choking him. Red
Perris also was in the last stage of exhaustion--one true pitch would
have hurled him limp from his seat--yet, with his body numb from head
to toe, he managed to keep his place by using that last and greatest
strength of feeble man--power of will. Alcatraz, coming at last to a
beaten stop, looked about him for help.

There was nothing to aid, nothing save the murmur of the wind in the
trees just before him. Suddenly his ears pricked with new hope and he
shut out the weak voice which murmured huskily: "I've got you now.
I've got you, Alcatraz. I've all by myself--no whip,--no spur--no
leather pulling--I've rode straight up and----"

Alcatraz lunged out into a rickety gallop. Only new hope sustained him
as he headed straight for the trees.

Even the dazed brain of Perris understood. With all his force he
wrenched at the bit--it was hopelessly lodged in the teeth of the
stallion--and then he groaned in despair and a moment later swayed
forward to avoid a bough brushing close overhead.

There were other branches ahead. On galloped Alcatraz, heading
cunningly beneath the boughs until he was stopped by a shock that
dropped him staggering to his knees. The pommel had struck a
branch--and Red Perris was still in place.

Once more the chestnut started, reeling heavily in his lope. This
time, to avoid the coming peril, the rider slipped far to one side and
Alcatraz veered swiftly towards a neighboring tree trunk. Too late Red
Perris saw the danger and strove to drag himself back into the saddle,
but his numbed muscles refused to act and Alcatraz felt the burden
torn from his back, felt a dangling foot tug at the left stirrup--then
he was free.

So utter was his exhaustion that in checking himself he nearly fell,
but he turned to look at the mischief he had worked.

The man lay on his back with his arms flung out cross-wise. From a
gash in his forehead the blood streamed across his face. His legs were
twisted oddly together. His eyes were closed. From head to foot the
stallion sniffed that limp body, then raised a forehoof to strike;
with one blow he could smash the face to a smear of red as he had
smashed Manuel Cordova the great day long before.

The hoof fell, was checked, and wondering at himself Alcatraz found
that his blow had not struck home. What was it that restrained him?
It seemed to the conqueror that he felt again the gentle finger-tips
which had worked down the muscles of his shoulder and trailed down his
neck. More than that, he heard the smooth murmur of the man's voice
like a kindly ghost beside him. He dreaded Red Perris still, but hate
the fallen rider he could not. Presently a loud rushing of the wind
among the branches above made him turn and in a panic he left the
forest at a shambling trot.

CHAPTER XIX

HERVEY TAKES A TRICK

The night before, when Perris rode off from the ranchhouse after
defying Hervey and his men, his hoofbeats had no sooner faded to
nothing than the cowpunchers swarmed out from the patio and into the
open; as though they wished to put their heads together and plan the
battle which the command of Hervey, to-night, had postponed. All of
that was perfectly clear to Marianne. Her call brought Hervey back to
her and she led him at once off the veranda and to the living room
where she could talk secure of interruption or of being overheard.
There he slumped uninvited into the first easy chair and sat twirling
his sombrero on his finger-tips, obviously well satisfied with
himself and the events of the evening. She herself remained standing,
carefully turning her back to the light so that her face might, as
much as possible, be in shadow. For she knew it was pale and the eyes
unnaturally large.

Hervey must not see. He must not guess at the torment in her mind and
all the self-revelations which had been pouring into her consciousness
during the past few moments. Greatest of all was one overshadowing
fact: she loved Red Jim Perris! What did it matter that she had seen
him so few times, and spoke to him so few words? A word might be a
thunderclap; a glance might carry into the very soul of a man. And
indeed she felt that she had seen that proud, gay, impatient soul in
Jim. What he thought of her was another matter. That he found a bar
between them was plain. But on the night of his first arrival at the
ranch, when she sang to him, had she not felt him, once, twice and
again, leaning towards her, into her life. And if they met once more,
might he not come all the way? But no matter. The thing now was to use
all her cunning of mind, all her strength of body, to save him from
imminent danger; and the satisfied glint of Hervey's eye convinced
her that the danger was imminent indeed. Why he should hate Jim
so bitterly was not clear; that he did so hate the stranger was
self-evident. The more she studied her foreman the more her terror
grew, the more her lonely sense of weakness increased.

"Mr. Hervey," she said suddenly. "What's to be done?"

Her heart fell. He had avoided her eyes.

"I dunno," said Hervey. "You seen to-night that I treated him plumb
white. I put my cards on the table. I warned him fair and square. And
that after I'd given him a week's grace. A gent couldn't do any more
than that, I guess!"

He was right, in a way. At least, the whole populace of the mountains
would agree that he had given Red Jim every chance to leave the ranch
peaceably. And if he would not go peaceably, who could raise a finger
against Hervey for throwing the man off by force?

"But something more _has_ to be done," she said eagerly. "It _has_ to
be done!"

Hervey frowned at her.

"Look here," he said, in a more dictatorial manner than he had ever
used before. "Why you so interested in this Perris?"

She hesitated, but only for an instant. What did such a thing as shame
matter when the life of Perris might be saved by a confession? And
certainly Hervey would not dare to proceed against Perris if she made
such a confession.

"I'm interested," she said steadily, "because he--he means more to me
than any other man in the world."

She saw the head of the foreman jerk back as though he had received a
blow in the face.

"More'n your father?"

"In a different way--yes, more than Dad!"

Hervey rose and stretched an accusing arm towards her.

"You're in love with Red Perris!"

And she answered him fiercely: "Yes, yes, yes! In love with Red
Perris! Go tell every one of your men. Shame me as far as you wish!
But--Mr. Hervey, you won't dare lead a gang against him now!"

He drew back from her, thrust away by her half-hysteria of emotion.

"Won't I?" growled Hervey, regarding her from beneath sternly gathered
brows. "I seen something of this to-night. I guessed it all. Won't I
lay a hand on a sneaking hound that comes grinning and talking soft
and saying things he don't half mean? Why, it's a better reason for
throwing him off the ranch than I ever had before, seems to me!"

"You don't mean that!" she breathed. "Say you don't mean that!"

"Your Dad ain't here. If he was, he'd say the same as me. I got to
act in his place. You think you like Perris. Why, you'd be throwing
yourself away. You'd break Oliver Jordan's heart. That's what you'd
do!"

Her brain was whirling. She grasped at the first thought that came to
her.

"Then wait till he comes back before you touch Jim Perris."

"And let Perris raise the devil in the meantime?"

He laughed in her face.

"At least," she cried, her voice shrill with anger and fear, "let me
know where he is. Let me send for him myself."

"Dunno that I'm exactly sure about where he is myself," fenced Lew
Hervey.

"Ah," moaned the girl, half-breaking down under the strain. "Why do
you hate me so? What have I done to you?"

"Nothing," said Hervey grimly. "Made me the laughing stock of the
mountains--that's all. Made me a joke--that's all you've done to me.
'Lew Hervey and his boss--the girl.' That's what they been saying
about me. But I ain't been taking that to heart. What I'm doing now is
for your own good, only you don't know it! You'll see it later on."

"Mr. Hervey," she pleaded, "if it will change you, I'll give you my
oath to stop bothering with the management of the ranch. You can run
it your own way. I'll leave if you say the word, but----"

"I know," said Hervey. "I know what you'd say. But Lord above, Miss
Jordan, I ain't doing this for my own sake. I'm doing it for yours
and your father's. He'll thank me if you don't! Far as Perris goes,
I'd----"

He halted. She had sunk into a chair--collapsed into it, rather, and
lay there half fainting with one arm thrown across her face. Hervey
glowered down on her a moment and then turned on his heel and left the
house.

He went straight to the bunkhouse, gathered the men about him, and
told them the news.

"Boys," he said, "the cat's out of the bag. I've found out everything,
and it's what I been fearing. She started begging me to keep off Red
Jim's trail. Wouldn't hear no reason. I told her there wasn't nothing
for me to gain by throwing him off the ranch. Except that he'd been
ordered off and he had to go. It'd make a joke of me and all of you
boys if the word got around that one gent had laughed at us and stayed
right in the Valley when we told him to get out."

A fierce volley of curses bore him out.

"Well," said Hervey, "then she come right out and told me the truth:
she's in love with Perris. She told me so herself!"

They gaped at him. They were young enough, most of them, and lonely
and romantic enough, to have looked on Marianne with a sort of sad
longing which their sense of humor kept from being anything more
aspiring. But to think that she had given her heart so suddenly and
so freely to this stranger was a shock. Hervey reaped the harvest of
their alarmed glances with a vast inward content. Every look he met
was an incipient gun levelled at the head of Red Jim.

"Didn't make no bones about it," he said, "she plumb begged for him.
Well, boys, she ain't going to get him. I think too much of old man
Jordan to let his girl run off with a man-killing vagabond like this
Perris. He's good looking and he talks dead easy. That's what's turned
the trick. I guess the rest of you would back me up?"

The answer was a growl.

"I'll go bust his neck," said Little Joe furiously. "One of them
heart-breakers, I figure."

"First thing," said the foreman, "is to see that she don't get to him.
If she does, she'll sure run off with him. But she's easy kept from
that. Joe, you and Shorty watch the hoss corrals to-night, will you?
And don't let her get through to a hoss by talking soft to you."

They vowed that they would be adamant. They vowed it with many oaths.
In fact, the rage of the cowpunchers was steadily growing. Red Perris
was more than a mere insolent interloper who had dared to scoff at the
banded powers of the Valley of the Eagles. He was far worse. He was
the most despicable sort of sneak and thief for he was trying to
steal the heart and ruin the life of a girl. They had looked upon
the approaching conflict with Perris as a bitter pill that must be
swallowed for the sake of the Valley of the Eagles outfit. They looked
upon it, from this moment, as a religious duty from which no one with
the name of a man dared to shrink. Little Joe and Shorty at once
started for the corral. The others gathered around the foreman for
further details, but he waved them away and retired to his own bunk.
For he never used the little room at the end of the building which
was set aside for the foreman. He lived and slept and ate among his
cowpunchers and that was one reason for his hold over them.

At his bunk, he produced writing materials scribbled hastily.

"Dear Jordan,

"Hell has busted loose.

"I played Perris with a long rope. I gave him a week because Miss
Jordan asked me to. But at the end of the week he still wasn't ready
to go. Seems that he's crazy to get Alcatraz. Talks about the horse
like a drunk talking about booze. Plumb disgusting. But when I told
him to go to-night, he up and said they wasn't enough men in the
Valley to throw him off the ranch. I would of taken a fall out of him
for that, but Miss Jordan stepped in and kept me away from him.

"Afterwards I had a talk with her. She begged me not to go after
Perris because he would fight and that meant a killing. I told her I
had to do what I'd said I'd do. Then she busted out and told me that
she loved Perris. Seemed to think that would keep me from going after
Perris. She might of knowed that it was the very thing that would
make me hit the trail. I'm not going to stand by and see a skunk like
Perris run away with your girl while you ain't on the ranch.

"I've just given orders to a couple of the boys to see that she don't
get a horse to go out to Perris. Tomorrow or the next day I'll settle
his hash.

"This letter may make you think that you'd better come back to the
ranch. But take my advice and stay off. I can handle this thing better
while you're away. If you're here you'll have to listen to a lot of
begging and crying. Come back in a week and everything will be cleared
up.

"Take it easy and don't worry none. I'm doing my best for you and your
daughter, even if she don't know it.

"Sincerely,

"LEW HERVEY."

This letter, when completed, he surveyed with considerable
complacence. If ever a man were being bound to another by chains of
inseparable gratitude, Oliver Jordan was he! Indeed, the whole affair
was working out so smoothly, so perfectly, that Hervey felt the thrill
of an artist sketching a large and harmonious composition. In the
first place, Red Jim Perris, whom he hated with unutterable fervor
because the younger man filled him with dread, would be turned, as
Hervey expressed it, "into buzzard food." And Hervey would be praised
for the act! Oliver Jordan, owing the preservation of his daughter
from a luckless marriage to the vigilance of his foreman, could
never regret the life-contract which he had drawn up. No doubt that
contract, as it stood, could never hold water in the law. But Jordan's
gratitude would make it proof. Last of all, and best of all, when
Perris was disposed of, Marianne would never be able to remain on the
ranch. She would go to forget her sorrow among her school friends in
the East. And Hervey, undisputed lord and master of the ranch, could
bleed it white in half a dozen years and leave it a mere husk,
overladen with mortgages.

No wonder a song was in the heart of the foreman as he sealed the
letter. He gave the message to Slim, and added directions.

"You'll be missing from the party," he said, as he handed over the
letter, "but the party we have with Perris is apt to be pretty much
like a party with a wild-cat. You can thank your stars you'll be on
the road when it comes off!"

And Slim had sense enough to nod in agreement.

CHAPTER XX

THE TRAP SHUTS

In one matter Lew Hervey had acted none too quickly. Shorty and Little
Joe arrived at the corral in time to find Marianne in the very act of
leading out her pony. They told her firmly and gently that the horse
must go back, and when she defied them, they astonished her by simply
removing her hand from the lead-rope and taking the horse away. In
vain she stormed and threatened. In vain, at length, she broke into
tears. Either of them would have given an arm to serve her. But in
fact they considered they were at that moment rendering the greatest
service possible. They were saving her from herself.

She fled back to the house again, finally, and threw herself face down
on her bed in an agony of dread, and helplessness, and shame. Shame
because from Little Joe's brief remarks, she gathered that Hervey had
already spread the news of her confession. But shame and fear were
suddenly forgotten. She found herself sitting wide-eyed on the edge
of the bed repeating over and over in a shaking voice "I have to get
there! I have to get there!"

But how utterly Hervey had tied her hands! She could not budge to warn
Perris or to join him!

The long night wore away with Marianne crouched at the window
straining her eyes towards the corrals. Night was the proper time for
such a thing as the murder of Red Perris. They would not dare, she
felt, for all their numbers, to face him in the honest sunshine. So
she peered eagerly towards the shadowy outlines of the barns and sheds
until at length a wan moon rose and gave her blessed light.

But no one approached the corrals from the bunkhouse, and at length,
when the dawn began to grow, she fell asleep. It was a sleep filled
with nightmares and before the sun was well up she was awake again,
and at watch.

Mid-morning came, yet still none of the men rode out to their ordinary
work. There could be only one meaning. They were held back to join the
expedition. They were at this very moment, perhaps, cleaning their
guns in the bunkhouse. Noon brought no action. They trooped cheerfully
towards the house in answer to the noon-gong. She heard them laughing
and jesting. What cold-blooded fiends they were to be able to conduct
themselves in this manner when they intended to do a murder before the
day had ended! And indeed, it was only for this meal they seemed to
have planned to wait.

Before the afternoon was well begun, there was saddling and mounting
and then Hervey, Little Joe, Shorty, Macintosh, and Scotty climbed
onto their mounts and jogged out towards the east. Her heart leaped
with only a momentary hope when she saw the direction, but instantly
she undeceived herself. They would, of course, swing north as soon as
they were well out of sight from the house, and then they would head
for the shack on the mountain-side, aiming to reach it at about the
fall of twilight. And what could she do to stop them?

She ran out through the patio and to the front of the house. The
dust-cloud already had swallowed the individual forms of the riders.
And turning to the left, she saw McGuire and Hastings lolling in full
view near the corrals. With consummate tact, Hervey had chosen those
of his men who were the oldest, the hardest, the least liable to be
melted by her persuasions.

Moaning, she turned back and looked east. The dust-cloud was dwindling
every minute. And without hope, she cast another glance towards the
corrals. Evidently, the men agreed that it was unnecessary for two of
them to stay in the heat of the sun to prevent her from getting at
a horse. Hastings had turned his back and was strolling towards the
bunkhouse. McGuire was perched on a stump rolling a cigarette and
grinning broadly towards her.

He would be a hard man to handle. But at least there was more hope
than before. One man was not so hard to manage as two, each shaming
the other into indifference. She went slowly towards McGuire, turning
again to see the dust-cloud roll out of view over a distant hill.

In that cloud of dust, Hervey kept the pace down to an easy dog-trot.
From mid-afternoon until evening--for he did not intend to expose
himself primarily and his men in the second place, to the accurate gun
of Red Jim in broad daylight--was a comfortable stretch in which
to make the journey to the shack on the mountain-side. Like a good
general, he kept the minds of his followers from growing tense by
deftly turning the talk, on the way, to other topics, as they swung
off the east trail towards Glosterville and journeyed due north over
the rolling foothills. There was only one chance in three that he
could have deceived the girl by his first direction, but that chance
was worth taking. He had a wholesome respect for the mental powers
of Oliver Jordan's daughter and he by no means wished to drive her
frantic in the effort to get to Perris with her warning. Of course
it would be impossible for her to wheedle McGuire and Hastings into
letting her have a horse, but if she should----

Here Hervey abruptly turned his thoughts in a new direction. The old
one led to results too unpleasant.

In the meantime, as they wore out the miles and the day turned towards
sunset time, the cheery conversation which Little Joe had led among
the riders fell away. They were coming too close to the time and place
of action. What that action must be was only too easy to guess. It
was simply impossible to imagine Red Perris submitting to an order to
leave. He had already defied their assembled forces once. He would
certainly make the attempt again. Of course odds of five to one were
too great for even the most courageous and skilful fighter to face.
But he might do terrible damage before the end.

And it was a solemn procession which wound up the hillside through
the darkening trees. Until at length, at a word from Hervey, they
dismounted, tethered their horses here and there where there was
sufficient grass to occupy them and keep them from growing nervous and
neighing, and then started on again on foot.

At this point Hervey took the lead. For that matter, he had never been
lacking in sheer animal courage, and now he wound up the path with
his long colt in his hand, ready to shoot, and shoot to kill. Once or
twice small sounds made him pause, uneasy. But his progress was fairly
steady until he came to the edge of the little clearing where the
shack stood.

There was no sign of life about it. The shack seemed deserted. Thick
darkness filled its doorway and the window, though the rest of the
clearing was still permeated with a faint afterglow of the sunset.

"He ain't here," said Little Joe softly, as he came to the side of the
watchful foreman.

"Don't be too sure," said the other. "I'd trust this Perris and
take about as many chances with him as I would with a rattler in a
six-by-six room. Maybe he's in there playing possum. Waiting for us to
make a break across the clearing. That'd be fine for Red Jim, damn his
heart!"

Little Joe peered back at the anxious faces of the others, as they
came up the path one by one. He did not like to be one of so large
a party held up by a single man. In fact, Joe was a good deal of a
warrior himself. He was new to the Valley of the Eagles, but there
were other parts of the mountain-desert where his fame was spread
broadcast. There were even places where sundry officers of the law
would have been glad to lay hands upon him.

"Well," quoth Joe, "we'll give him a chance. If he ain't a fighting
man, but just a plain murderer, we'll let him show it," and so saying,
he stepped boldly out from the sheltering darkness of the trees and
strode towards the hut, an immense and awesome figure in the twilight.

Lew Hervey followed at once. It would not do to be out-dared by one of
his crew in a crisis as important as this. But for all his haste the
long strides of Joe had brought him to the door of the hut many yards
in the lead, and he disappeared inside. Presently his big voice
boomed: "He ain't here. Plumb vanished."

They gathered in the hut at once.

"Where's he gone?" asked the foreman, scratching his head.

"Maybe he ain't acting as big as he talked," said Shorty. "Maybe he's
slid over the mountains."

"Strike a light, somebody," commanded the foreman.

Three or four sulphur matches were scratched at the same moment on
trousers made tight by cocking the knee up. Each match glimmered
through sheltering fingers with dull blue light, for a moment, and
then as the sulphur was exhausted and the flame caught the wood, the
hands opened and directed shafts of light here and there. The whole
cabin was dimly illumined for a moment while man after man thrust his
burning match towards something he had discovered.

"Here's his blankets. All mussed up."

"Here's a pair of boots."

"Here's the frying pan right on the stove."

They wandered here and there, lighting new matches until Little Joe
spoke.

"No use, boys," he declared. "Perris has hopped out. Wise gent, at
that. He seen the game was too big for him. And I don't blame him for
quitting. Ain't nothing here that he'd come after. Them boots are wore
out. The blankets and the cooking things he got from the ranch. Look
at the way the blankets are piled up. Shows he quit in a rush and
started away. When a gent figures on coming back, he tidies things
up a little when he leaves in the morning. No, boys, he's gone. Main
thing to answer is: If he ain't left the valley why ain't he here in
his shack now?"

"Maybe he's hunting that damn hoss?" suggested the foreman, but his
voice was weak with uncertainty.

"Hunting Alcatraz after dark?" queried Little Joe.

There was no answer possible. The last glow of twilight was fading
to deep night. The trees on the edge of the clearing seemed to grow
taller and blacker each moment. Certainly if it were well-nigh
impossible to hunt the stallion effectively in daylight it was sheer
madness to hunt him at night. Every moment they waited in the cabin,
the certainty that Perris had left the valley grew greater. It showed
in their voices, for every man had spoken softly at first as though
for fear the spirit of the inhabitant of the shack might drift near
unseen and overhear. Now their words came loud, disturbing and
startling Hervey in the midst of his thoughts, as he continued
wandering about the cabin, lighting match after match, striving in
vain to find something which would reawaken his hopes. But there was
nothing of enough worth to induce Perris to return, and finally Hervey
gave up.

"We'll start on," he said at length. "You boys ride along. I'll give
the place another look."

As a matter of fact, he merely wished to be alone, and he was dimly
pleased as they sauntered off through the trees, their voices coming
more and more vaguely back to him, until the far-off rattle of
hoofs began. The last he heard of them was a high-pitched laugh. It
irritated Hervey. It floated back to him thin and small, like mockery.
And indeed he had failed miserably. How great was his failure he could
hardly estimate in a moment and he needed quiet to sum up his losses.

First of all, he had hopelessly alienated the girl and while offending
her he had failed to serve the rancher. For Red Jim Perris, driven by
force from the ranch, would surely return again to exact payment
in full for the treatment he had received. The whole affair was a
hopeless muddle. He had staked everything on his ability to trap
Perris and destroy him, thereby piling upon the shoulders of Oliver
Jordan a burden of gratitude which the rancher could never repay. But
now that Perris was footloose he became a danger imperilling not only
Jordan but Hervey himself. The trap had closed and closed on nothing.
The future presented to Hervey stark ruin.

So enthralling was the gloom of these thoughts that the foreman did
not hear the thudding hoofs of a horse which trotted up through the
trees. Not until horse and rider appeared in the clearing was Hervey
roused and then in the first glance by the size and the tossing head
of the approaching pony, he recognized the horse of Red Perris!

CHAPTER XXI

THE BATTLE

He had time to burst from the hut and race across the clearing through
the darkness which would surely shelter him from the snap-shot of
even such an expert as Red Jim, but in mind and body Hervey was too
paralyzed by the appearance of his enemy to stir until he saw Perris
slip from his horse, slumping to the earth after the fashion of a
weary man, and drag off the saddle. He paid no attention to tethering
his pony, but started towards the shack, down-headed, heavy of foot.

Hervey had gained the door of the shack in the interim, and there he
crouched at watch, terrified at the thought of staying till the other
entered, still more terrified at the idea of bolting across the open
clearing. He could see Perris clearly, in outline, for just behind him
there was a rift in the circle of trees which fenced the clearing and
Red Jim was thrown into somewhat bold relief against the blue-black
of the night sky far beyond. He could even make out that a bandage
circled the head of Perris and with that sight a new thought leaped
into the brain of the foreman. The bandage, the stumbling walk, the
downward head, were all signs of a badly injured and exhausted man.
Suppose he were to attack Perris, single-handed and destroy him? The
entire problem would be solved! The respect of his men, the deathless
gratitude of Jordan were in the grip of his hand.

His fingers locked around the butt of his gun and yet he hesitated to
draw. One could never be sure. How fast, how lightning fast his mind
plunged through thought after thought, image after flocking image,
while Red Jim made the last dragging steps towards the door of the
shack! If he drew, Perris, despite his bent head might catch the
glimmer of steel and draw and fire at the glance of the gun. There
were tales of gun experts doing more remarkable feats. Wild Bill,
in his prime, from the corner of his eye saw a man draw a white
hankerchief, thought it a gun, whirled on his heel, and killed a
harmless stranger.

He who stops to think can rarely act. It was true of Hervey. Then
Perris, at the very door of the hut, dropped the flopping saddle to
the ground and the foreman saw that no holster swung at the hip of his
man. Joy leaped in him. There was no thought for the cruel cowardice
of his act but only overmastering gratitude that the enemy should be
thus delivered helpless into his hand. Through the split part of a
second that thrill passed tingling through and through him, then he
shouted: "Perris!" and at the same instant whipped out the gun and
fired pointblank.

A snake will rattle before it strikes and a dog will snarl before it
bares its teeth: instinct forced Hervey to that exulting cry and even
as the gun came into his hand he saw Perris spin sideways. He fired
and the figure at the door lunged down at him. The shoulder struck
Hervey in the upturned face and smashed him backwards so that his hand
flew out to break the force of the fall, knocked on the floor, and the
revolver shot from the unnerved fingers.

If he had any hope that his bullet had gone home and that this was the
fall of a dying man, it was instantly removed. Lean arms, amazingly
swift, amazingly strong, coiled round him. Hands gripped at him with a
clutch so powerful that the fingers burned into his flesh. And, most
horrible of all, Red Jim fought in utter silence, as a bull-terrier
fights when it goes for the throat.

The impetus of that unexpected attack, half-stunned Lew Hervey. Then
the spur of terror gave him hysterical strength.

A hand caught at his throat and got a choking hold. He whirled his
heavy body with all his might, tore lose, and broke to his feet.
Staggering back to the wall, he saw Red Perris crouch in the door and
then spring in again. Hervey struck out with all his might but felt
the blow glance and then the coiling arms were around him again. Once
again, in the crashing fall to the floor, the hold of Perris was
broken and Hervey leaped away for the door yelling: "Perris--it's a
mistake--for God's sake----"

The catlike body sprang out of the corner into which it had been flung
by Hervey as the foreman rose from the floor. As well attempt to elude
a panther by flight! Lew whirled with a sobbing breath of despair and
smashed out again with clubbed fist. But the lithe shadow swerved as
a leaf whirls from a beating hand and again their bodies crashed
together.

But was it a dream that there was less power in the arms of Perris
now? Had the foreman seen Red Jim lying prostrate and senseless after
his battle with Alcatraz on that day, he would have understood this
sudden failing of energy, but as it was he dared not trust his senses.
He only knew that it was possible to tear the twining grip away, to
spring back till he crashed against the side of the shanty, still
pleading in a fear-maddened voice: "Perris, d'you hear? I didn't
mean--"

As well appeal to a thunder-bolt. The shadowy form came again but now,
surely, it was less swift and resistless. He was able to leap from
the path but in dodging his legs entangled in a chair and he tumbled
headlong. It was well for Hervey then that his panic was not blind,
but with the surety that the end was come he whirled to his knees with
the chair which had felled him gripped in both hands and straight at
the lunging Perris he hurled it with all his strength. The missile
went home with a crash and Red Jim slumped into a formless shadow on
the floor.

Only now that a chance for flight was open to him did the strength of
Hervey desert him. A nightmare weakness was in his knees so that he
could hardly reel to his feet and he moved with outstretched hands
towards the door until his toe clicked against his fallen revolver. He
paused to scoop it up and turning back through the door, he realized
suddenly that Red Jim had not moved. The body lay spilled out where it
had fallen, strangely flat, strangely still.

With stumbling fingers, the foreman lighted a match and by that
wobbling light he saw Perris lying on his face with his arms thrown
out, as a man lies when he is knocked senseless--as a man lies when he
is struck dead! Yet Hervey stood drinking in the sight until his match
burned his fingers.

The old nightmare fear descended on him the moment the darkness closed
about him again. He seemed to see the limp form collect itself and
prepare to rise. But he fought this fancy away. He would stay and make
light enough to examine the extent of his victory.

He remembered having seen paper and wood lying beside the stove. Now
he scooped it up, threw off the covers of the stove, and in a moment
white smoke was pouring up from the paper, then flickering bursts of
flame every one of which made the body of Perris seem shuddering back
to life. But presently the fire rose and Hervey could clearly see the
cabin, sadly wrecked by the struggle, and the figure of Perris still
moveless.

Even now he went with gingerly steps, the gun thrust out before him.
It seemed a miracle that this tigerish fighter should have been
suddenly reduced to the helplessness of a child. Holding the gun
ready, he slipped his left hand under the fallen man and after a
moment, faintly but unmistakably, he felt the beating of the heart.
Let it be ended, then!

He pressed the muzzle of the revolver into the back of Perris but his
finger refused to tighten around the trigger. No, the powder-burn
would prove he had shot his man from behind, and that meant hanging.
A tug of his left hand flopped the limp body over, but then his hands
were more effectually tied than ever for the face of the unconscious
man worked strangely on him.

"It's him now," thought Hervey, "or me later on."

But still he could not shoot. "Helpless as a child"--why had that
comparison entered his mind? He studied the features, very pale
beneath the bloody bandage which Perris had improvised when
he recovered from his battle with the stallion. He was very
young--terribly young. Hervey was unnerved. But suppose he let Perris
come back to his senses, wakened those insolent blue eyes, started
that sharp tongue to life--then it would be a very much easier matter
to shoot.

So Lew went to the door, took the rope from Red Jim's saddle, and with
it bound the arms of Perris to his side. Then he lifted the hanging
body--how light a weight it was!--and placed it in a chair, where it
doubled over, limp as a loosely stuffed scarecrow. Hervey tossed more
wood on the fire and when he turned again, Perris was showing the
first signs of returning consciousness, a twitching of his fingers.

After that his senses returned with astonishing speed. In the space of
a moment or two he had straightened in the chair, opened dead eyes,
groaned faintly, and then tugged against his bonds. It seemed that
that biting of the rope into his arm-muscles cleared his mind. All in
an instant he was staring straight into the eyes and into the thoughts
of Hervey with full understanding.

"I see," said Perris, "it was the chair that turned the trick. You're
lucky, Hervey."

It seemed to Hervey a wonderful thing that the red-headed man could be
so quiet about it, and most wonderful of all that Perris could look at
anything in the world rather than the big Colt which hung in the hand
of the victor. And then, realizing that it was his own comparative
cowardice that made this seem strange, the foreman gritted his teeth.
Shame softens the heart sometimes, but more often it hardens the
spirit. It hardened the conqueror against his victim, now, and made it
possible for him to look down on Red Jim with a cruel satisfaction.

"Well?" he said, and the volume of his voice added to this
determination.

"Well?" said Perris, as calm as ever. "Waiting for me to whine?"

Hervey blinked.

"Who licked you?" he asked, forced to change his thoughts. "Who licked
you--before I got at you?"

Perris smiled, and there was something about the smile that made
Hervey flush to the roots of his grey hair.

"Alcatraz had the first innings," said Perris. "He cleaned me up. And
that, Hervey, was tolerably lucky for you."

"Was it?" sneered the victor. "You'd of done me up quick, maybe, if
Alcatraz hadn't wore you out?"

He waited hungrily for a reply that might give him some basis on which
to act, for after all, it was not going to be easy to fire pointblank
into those steady, steady eyes. And more than all, he hungered to see
some wavering of courage, some blenching from the thing to come.

"Done you up?" echoed Red Jim. And he ran his glance slowly,
thoughtfully over the body of the foreman. "I'd of busted you in two,
Hervey."

A little chilly shiver ran through Hervey but he managed to shrug
the feeling away--the feeling that someone was standing behind him,
listening, and looking into his shameful soul. But no one could be
near. It would be simple, perfectly simple. What person in the world
could doubt his story of how he met Perris at the shack and warned him
again to leave the Valley of the Eagles and of how Perris went for the
gun but was beaten in fair fight? Who could doubt it? An immense sense
of security settled around him.

"Well," he said, "second guessing is easy, even for a fool."

"Right," nodded Red Jim. "I should of knifed you when I had you down."

"If you'd had a knife," said Hervey.

"Look at my belt, Lew."

There it was, the stout handle of a hunting knife. The same chill
swept through Hervey a second time and, for a moment, he wavered
in his determination. Then, with all his heart, he envied that
indefinable thing in the eyes of Perris, the thing which he had hated
all his life. Some horses had it, creatures with high heads, and
always he had made it a point to take that proud gleam out.

"A hoss is made for work, not foolishness," he used to say.

Here it was, looking out at him from the eyes of his victim. He hated
it, he feared and envied it, and from the very bottom of his heart he
yearned to destroy it before he destroyed Perris.

"You know," he said with sudden savagery, "what's coming?"

"I'm a pretty good guesser," nodded Red Jim. "When a fellow tries to
shoot me in the dark, and then slugs me with a chair and ties me up, I
generally make it out that he figures on murder, Hervey."

He gave just the slightest emphasis to the important word, and yet
something in Hervey grew tense. Murder it was, and of the most
dastardly order, no matter how he tried to excuse it by protesting to
himself his devotion to Oliver Jordan. The lies we tell to our own
souls about ourselves are the most damning ones, as they are also the
easiest. But Hervey found himself so cornered that he dared not think
about his act. He stopped thinking, therefore, and began to shout.
This is logical and human, as every woman knows who has found an irate
husband in the wrong. Hervey began to hate with redoubled intensity
the man he was about to destroy.

"You come here and try to play the cock of the walk," cried the
foreman. "It don't work. You try to face me out before all my men. You
threaten me. You show off your gun-fighting, damn you, and then you
call it murder when I beat you fair and square and--"

He found it impossible to continue. The prisoner was actually smiling.

"Hound dogs always hunt in the dark," said Red Jim.

A quiver of fear ran through Hervey. Indeed, he was haunted by chilly
uneasiness all the time. In vain he assured himself with reason that
his victim was utterly helpless. A ghostly dread remained in the back
of his mind that through some mysterious agency the red-headed man
would be liberated, and then----. Hervey shuddered in vital earnest.
What would happen to a crow that dared trap an eagle.

"I'm due back at the ranch," said Hervey, "to tell 'em how you jumped
me here while I was waiting here quiet to warn you again to get out
of the Valley of the Eagles peaceable. Before I go, Perris, is they
anything you want done, any messages you want to leave behind you?"

And he set his teeth when he saw that Perris did not blench. He was
perfectly quiet. Nearness to death sometimes acts in this manner. It
reduces men to the unaffected simplicity of children.

"No message, thanks," said Red Jim. "Nobody to leave them to and
nothing to leave but a hoss that somebody else will ride and a gun
that somebody else will shoot."

"And the girl?" said Lew Hervey.

And a thrill of consummate satisfaction passed through him, for Red
Perris had plainly been startled out of his calm.

"A girl?"

"You know what I mean. Marianne Jordan."

He smiled knowingly.

"Well?" said Perris, breathing hard.

"Why, you fool," cried the foreman, "don't you know she's gone plumb
wild about you? Didn't she come begging to me to get you out of
trouble?"

"You lie!" burst out Perris.

But by his roving glance, by the sudden outpouring of sweat which
gleamed on his forehead, Hervey knew that he had shaken his man to the

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