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Alcatraz by Max Brand

Part 4 out of 4

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soul. By playing carefully on this string might he not reduce even
this care-free fighter to trembling love of life? Might he not make
Red Perris cringe! All cowards feel that their own vice exists in
others. Hervey, in his entire life, had dreaded nothing saving Red
Jim, and now he felt that he had found the thing which would make life
too dear to Perris to be given up with a smile.

"Begging? I'll tell a man she did!" nodded Hervey.

"It's because she's plumb generous. She thought that might turn you.
Why--she don't hardly know me!"

"Don't she?" sneered Hervey. "You don't figure her right. She's one
of the hit or miss kind. She hated me the minute she laid eyes on
me--hated me for nothing! And you knocked her off her feet the first
shot. That's all there is to it. She'd give the Valley of the Eagles
for a smile from you."

He saw the glance of Perris wander into thin distance and soften. Then
the eye of Red Jim returned to his tormentor, desperately. The blow
had told better than Hervey could have hoped.

"And me a plain tramp--a loafer--me!" said Perris to himself. He added
suddenly: "Hervey, let's talk man to man!"

"Go on," said the foreman, and set his teeth to keep his exultation
from showing.

Five minutes more, he felt, and Perris would be begging like a coward
for his life.

CHAPTER XXII

MCGUIRE SLEEPS

Never did a fox approach a lion with more discretion than Marianne
approached the careless figure of McGuire. His very attitude was a
warning that her task was to be made as difficult as possible. He had
pushed his sombrero, limp with age and wear, far back on his head, and
now, gazing, apparently, into the distant blue depths of the sky, he
regarded vacancy with mild interest and blew in the same direction a
thin brownish vapor of smoke. Obviously he expected an argument; he
was leading her on. And just as obviously he wanted the argument
merely for the sake of killing time. He was in tremendous need of
amusement. That was all.

She wanted to go straight to him with a bitter appeal to his manhood,
to his mercy as a man. But she realized that this would not do at all.
A strenuous attack would simply rouse him. Therefore she called
up from some mysterious corner of her tormented heart a smile, or
something that would do duty as a smile. Strangely enough, no sooner
had the smile come than her whole mental viewpoint changed. It became
easy to make the smile real; half of her anxiety fell away. And
dropping one hand on her hip, she said cheerfully to McGuire.

"You look queer as a prison-guard, Mr. McGuire."

She made a great resolve, that moment, that if she were ever safely
through the catastrophe which now loomed ahead, she would diminish the
distance between her and her men and form the habit of calling them by
their first names. She could not change as abruptly in a moment, but
she understood perfectly, that if she had been able to call McGuire
by some foolish and familiar nickname, half of his strangeness would
immediately melt away. As it was, she made the best of a bad matter by
throwing all the gentle good nature possible into her voice, and she
was rewarded by seeing McGuire jerk up his head and jerk down his
glance at her. At the same time, he crimsoned to the eyes, changing
his weathered complexion to a flaring, reddish-brown.

"Prison-guard?" said McGuire. "Me?"

"Well," answered Marianne, "that's the truth, isn't it? You're the
guard and I'm the prisoner?"

"I'm watching these hosses," said McGuire. "That's all. They ain't no
money could hire me to guard a woman."

"Really?" said Marianne.

"Sure. I used to have a wife. I know."

She laughed, a little hysterically, but McGuire treated the mirth as
a compliment to his jest and joined in with a tremendous guffaw. His
eyes were still wet with mirth as she said: "Too bad you have to waste
time like this, with such a fine warm day for sleeping. Couldn't you
trust the corral bars to take care of the horses?"

His glance twinkled with understanding. It was plain that he
appreciated her point and the way she made it.

"Them hosses are feeling their oats," said McGuire. "Can't tell what
they'd be up to the minute I turned my back on 'em. Might jump that
old fence and be off, for all I know."

"Well," said Marianne, "they look quite contented. And if one of them
did take advantage of you and run away while you slept, I'm sure it
would come home again."

He had quite fallen into the spirit of the thing.

"Maybe," grinned McGuire, "but I might wake up out of a job."

"Well," said Marianne, "there have been times when I would have
weighed one hour of good sleep against two jobs as pleasant as this.
How much real damage might that sleep do?"

"If it took me out of the job? Oh, I dunno. Might take another month
before I landed a place as good."

"Surely not as long as that. But isn't it possible that your sleep
might be worth _two_ months' wages to you, Mr. McGuire?"

"H-m-m," growled McGuire, and his little shifty eyes fastened keenly
on her. "You sure mean business!"

"As much as anyone in the world could!" cried the girl, suddenly
serious.

And for a moment they stared at each other.

"Lady," said McGuire at length, "I begin to feel sort of yawny and
sleepy, like."

"Then sleep," said Marianne, her voice trembling in spite of herself.
"You might have pleasant dreams, you know--of a murder prevented--of a
man's life saved!"

McGuire jerked his sombrero low over his eyes.

"You think it's as bad as that?" he growled, glaring at her.

"I swear it is!"

He considered another moment. Then: "You'll have to excuse me, Miss
Jordan. But I'm so plumb tired out I can't hold up my end of this talk
no longer!"

So saying, he dropped his head on both his doubled fists, and she lost
sight of his face. It had come so inconceivably easily, this triumph,
that she was too dazed to move, for a moment. Then she turned and
fairly raced for the corral. It had all been the result of the first
smile with which she went to McGuire, she felt. And as she saddled her
bay in a shed a moment later she was blessing the power of laughter.
It had given her the horse. It had let her pass through the bars. It
placed her on the open road where she fled away at a swift gallop,
only looking back, as she reached the top of the first hill, to see
McGuire still seated on the stump, but now his head was canted far to
one side, and she had no doubt that he must be asleep in very fact.

Then the hill rose behind her, shutting out the ranch, and she
turned to settle to her work. Never in her life--and she had ridden
cross-country on blood horses in the East--had she ridden as she rode
on this day! She was striking on a straight line over hill and dale,
through the midst of barbed wire. But the wire halted her only for
short checks. The swift snipping of the pair of pliers which was ever
in her saddle bag cleared the way, and as the lengths of wire snapped
humming back, coiling like snakes, she rode through and headed into
the next field at a renewed gallop. She was leaving behind her a day's
work for half a dozen men, but she would have sacrificed ten times the
value of the whole ranch to gain another half hour of precious time.

For when she broke down the last of the small fenced fields the sun
was already down. And when twilight came, she knew by instinct, the
blow would fall. Yet the distance to the shack was still terribly far.

She straightened the gallant little bay to her work, but at every
stride she moaned. Oh for such legs beneath her as the legs of
Lady Mary, stretching swiftly and easily over the ground! But this
chopping, laboring stride--! She struck her hand against her forehead
and then spurred mercilessly. As a result, the bay merely tossed her
head, for she was already drawn straight as a string by the effort of
her gallop. And Marianne had to sit back in the saddle and simply pray
for time, while the little thirty-two revolver in the saddle holster
before her, flapped monotonously, beating out the rhythm of every
stride.

And the night rode over the mountains with mysterious speed. It seemed
to her frantic brain that the gap between crimson sunset and pallid
twilight could have been spanned by a scant five minutes. And now,
when she found herself at the foot of the last slope, it was the
utter dark, and above her head the white stars were rushing past the
treetops. The slope was killing the mare. She fell from her labored
gallop to a trot, from the trot to a shambling jog, and then to a
walk. And all the time Marianne found herself listening with desperate
intensity for the report of a gun out of the woods ahead!

She threw herself out of the saddle, cast hardly a glance at the
drooping figure of the bay, and ran forward on foot, stumbling in the
dark over fallen branches, slipping more than once and dropping flat
on her face as her feet shot back without foothold from the pine
needles. But she picked herself up again and flung herself at her work
with a frantic determination.

Through the trees, filtered by the branches, she saw a light. But
when she came to the edge of the clearing she made out that the
illumination came from a fire, not a lantern. The interior of the
cabin was awash with shadows, and across the open doorway of the hut
the monstrous and obscure outline of a standing man wavered to and
fro. There was no clamor of many voices. And her heart leaped with
relief. Hervey and his men, then, had lost heart at the last moment.
They had not dared to attack Red Jim Perris in spite of their numbers!

But her joy died, literally, mid-leap.

"Hervey," cried the voice of Perris, a trembling and fear-sharpened
voice, "for God's sake, wait!"

Red Perris begging, cringing to any man, to Lew Hervey? All at once
she went weak and sick, but she hurried straight towards the cabin,
trying to cry out. Her throat was closed. She could not utter so much
as a whisper.

"Listen to me!" went on Perris. "I've been a fool all my life. I know
it now. I've wandered around fighting and playing like a block-head.
I've wanted nothing but action and I've got it. But now you tell me
that I've had something else right in the hollow of my hand and I
didn't know it! Maybe you've lied about her. I dunno. But just the
thought that she might care a little about me has----"

Marianne stopped short in the darkness and a hot wave of shame blotted
out the rest of the words until the heavier voice of the foreman began
again.

"Maybe you'd have me think you're kind of fond of the girl--that you
love her, all at once, just because I told you she's in love with
you?"

"I'd have you think it and I'd have you believe it. When a gent sits
looking into the face of a gun he does his thinking and his living
mighty fast and condensed. And I know this, that if you turn me loose
alive, Hervey, I'll give you my word that I'll forget what's happened.
You think I'll hit your trail with a gat. But you're wrong. Make
your own bargain, partner. But when I think of what life might be
now--Hervey, I can't die now! I'm not ready to die!"

She had been stumbling in a daze towards the door. Now she came
suddenly in view of them, the broad back of Hervey turned towards her
and Perris facing her, his face white, drawn, and changed. And the
blood-stained bandage about his forehead. He leaned forward in his
chair in the fervor of his appeal, his arms lashed against his sides
with the loose of a lariat.

"Are you through begging?" sneered Hervey.

It threw Perris back in the chair like a blow in the face. Then he
straightened.

"You've told me all this just to see me weaken, eh, Hervey?"

"And I've seen it," said Hervey. "I've seen you ready to take water.
That's all I wanted. You've lost your grip and you'll never get it
back. Right now you're all hollow inside. Perris, you can't look me in
the eye!"

"You lie," said Red Jim quietly, and lifting his head, he stared full
into the face of his tormentor. "You made a hound out of me, but only
for a minute, Hervey."

And then she saw him stiffen in the chair, and his eyes narrow. The
chains of fear and of shame which had bound her snapped.

"Hervey!" she cried, and as he whirled she came panting into the door.

Just for an instant she saw a devil glitter in his eyes but in a
moment his glance wavered. He admitted himself beaten as he thrust his
revolver into the holster.

"Talk wouldn't make Perris leave," he mumbled. "I been trying to throw
a little scare into him. And the bluff would of worked if--"

She cut in on him: "I heard enough to understand. I know what you
tried to do. Oh, Lew Hervey, if this could be told, your own men would
run you down like a mad dog!"

He had grown livid with a mixture of emotions.

"If it could be told. Maybe. But it can't be told! Keep clear of him,
or I'll drill him, by God!" She obeyed, stepping back from Jim.

He backed towards the door where the saddle of Perris lay, and
stooping, he snatched the revolver of Red Jim from the saddle-holster.
For the moment, at least, his enemy was disarmed and there was no fear
of immediate pursuit.

"I still have a day or two," he said. "And the game ain't ended.
Remember that, Perris. It ain't ended till Jordan comes back."

And he turned into the darkness which closed over him at once like the
falling of a blanket.

"You won't follow him?" she pleaded.

He shook his head and a moment later, under the touch of his own
hunting knife which she drew, the rope parted and freed his arms.
At the same instant she heard the hoofs of Hervey's horse crashing
through the underbrush down the mountain side. And not till that final
signal of success reached her did Marianne give way to the hysteria
which had been flooding higher and higher in her throat ever since
those words of Hervey had arrested her in the clearing. But once
released it came in a rush, blinding her, so that she could not see
Perris through her tears as he placed her gently in the chair. Only
through the wild confusion of her sobbing she could hear his voice
saying words she did not understand, over and over again, but she knew
that his voice was infinitely soft, infinitely reassuring.

Then her mind cleared and her nerves steadied with amazing suddenness,
just as the wind at a stroke will tumble the storm clouds aside and
leave a placid blue sky above. She found Red Jim kneeling beside the
chair with his arms around her and her head on his shoulder, wet with
her tears. For the first time she could hear and really understand
what he had been saying over and over again. He was telling her that
he loved her, would always love her, that he could forgive Lew Hervey,
even, because of the message which he had brought.

Had she confessed everything, then, in the hysteria? Had she confirmed
what Lew Hervey said? Yes, for the voice of Red Jim was unquestioning,
cherishing as men will the thing which they love and own.

"You're better now?" he asked at length.

"Yes," she answered, "I'm weak--and ashamed--and--what have I said to
you?"

"Something that's made me happier than a king. And I'll make it a
thing you'll never have to regret, so help me God!"

He raised her to her feet.

"Now you have to go home--at once."

"And you?"

"Hervey will come hunting me again tomorrow, and he'll have his men
with him. He doesn't know I've forgotten him. He thinks it's his life
or mine, and he'll try to run me down."

"The sheriff--" she cried fiercely.

"That's where I'm going. To Glosterville to hide like a coward where
the sheriff can look out for me. I can't take chances now. I don't
belong to myself. When your father comes back and takes charge of the
ranch, and Hervey, I'll come when you send for me. I'll get my things
together to-night, ride down the valley so they can't trap me again
here, camp out for an hour or so in the morning, and then cut out
across the Eagles. But you're strong enough to ride home?"

She nodded, and they walked side by side out across the clearing and
down towards the place where she had left the bay. And it seemed to
Marianne, leaning a little on the arm of Red Jim, that she had shifted
the whole burden of her worries onto the shoulders of her lover. Her
troubles disappeared. The very sound of his voice assured her of
happiness forever.

They found the bay. The tough little mustang was already much
recuperated, and Perris swept Marianne into the saddle. She leaned to
kiss him. In the dark her lips touched the bandage around his head.

"It's where Hervey struck you down!" she exclaimed. "Jim, you can't
ride across the mountains so terribly hurt--"

"It's only a scratch," he assured her. "I met Alcatraz to-day, and he
won again! But the third time--"

Marianne shivered.

"Don't speak of him! He haunts me, Jim. The very mention of him takes
all the happiness out of me. I feel--almost as if there were a bad
fate in him. But you promise, that you won't stay to take one final
chance? You won't linger in the Valley to hunt Alcatraz again? You'll
ride straight across the mountains when the morning comes?"

"I promise," answered Perris.

But afterwards, as he watched her drift away through the darkness
calling back to him from time to time until her voice dwindled to a
bird-note and then faded away, Red Jim prayed in his heart of hearts
that he would not chance upon sight of the stallion in the morning,
for if he did, he knew that the first solemn promise of his life would
be broken.

CHAPTER XXIII

LOBO

The dawn of the next day came cold and grey about Alcatraz, grey
because the sheeted clouds that promised a storm were covering the
sky, and cold with a wind out of the north. When he lifted his head,
he saw where the first rains had covered the slopes of the Eagle
Mountains with tenderest green, and looking higher, the snows were
gathering on the summits. The prophetic thickening of his coat
foretold a hard winter.

Now he was on watch with the mares in the hollow behind and himself on
the crest rarely turning his head from a wisp of smoke which rose far
south. He knew what that meant. Red Perris was on his trail again,
and this was the morning-fire of the Great Enemy. He had lain on the
ground like a dead man the day before. Now he was risen to battle
again! Instinctively he swung his head and looked at the place where
the saddle had rested the day before, the saddle which he had worked
off with so much wild rolling and scraping against rocks.

He nibbled the grass as he watched, or now and again jerked up his
head to catch the scents which blow truer in the upper air-currents.

It was on one of these occasions that he caught an odor only vaguely
known to him, and known as a danger. He had never been able to label
it but he knew that when the grey mare caught such a scent she was
even more perturbed than when man rode into view. So now he breathed
deep, his great eyes shining with excitement. What could this danger
be which was more to be dreaded than the Great Enemy? Yielding to
curiosity, he headed straight up wind to make sure.

No doubt he thereby gave proof that he was unfitted to lead wild
horses in the mountains. The wise black of former days, or the grey
mare now, would never have stopped to question, but gathering the herd
with the alarm call, they would have busied themselves with unrolling
mile after mile behind their flying heels. Alcatraz increased his walk
to a trot, promptly lost the scent altogether, and headed onto the
next elevation to see if he could catch it again. He stood there for a
long moment, raising and lowering his head, and then turning a little
sidewise so that the wind would cut into his nostrils--which was a
trick the grey had taught him. The scent was gone and the wind blew to
him only the pure coolness of dew, just sharpened to fragrance by a
scent of distant sagebrush. He gave up and turned about to head for
the mares.

The step for which he raised his forefoot was not completed for down
the hollow behind him he saw a grey skulker slinking with its belly
close to the ground. If it stood erect it would be as tall as a calf
new-born. The tail was fluffy, the coat of fur a veritable mane around
the throat, the head long of muzzle and broad across the forehead with
dark marks between the eyes and arching like brows above them so that
the facial expression was one of almost human wisdom and wistfulness.
It was a beautiful creature to watch, as its smooth trot carried it
with incredible speed across the stallion's line of retreat, but
Alcatraz had seen those grey kings of the mountains before and knew
everything about them except their scent. He saw no beauty in the
lofer wolf.

The blood which congealed in his veins was released; he reared and
wheeled and burst away at full gallop; there was a sobbing whine of
eagerness behind him--the lobo was stretched in pursuit.

Never in his life had the chestnut run as he ran now, and never had he
fled so hopelessly. He knew that one slash of those great white teeth
would cut his throat to the vital arteries. He knew that for all
his speed he had neither the foot nor the wind to escape the grey
marauder. It was only a matter of time, and short time at that, before
the end came. The lofer prefers young meat and as a rule will cut
down a yearling colt, or dine on warm veal, eschewing cold flesh and
feeding only once from every kill--the lobo being the Lucullus of
beasts of prey--but this prowler had either found scanty fare in a
long journey across the mountains or else he wished to kill now for
pure deviltry and not from hunger. At any rate, he slid over the
ground like the shadow of a cloud driven in a storm.

Already he gained fast, and yet he had not attained top speed; when he
did, he would walk up on the chestnut as the latter could walk up on
the mares of his herd.

Over a hill bolted Alcatraz and beneath him he saw a faint hope of
escape--the flash of water where a brook, new-swelled by the rains,
was running bankfull, a noisy torrent. He went down the slope like the
wind, struck the level at such speed that the air stung his nostrils,
and leaped from the firm gravel at the edge of the stream.

The far bank seemed a mighty distance as he soared high--the water
rushed broad and swift beneath him, no swimming if he struck that
bubbling current--and then, a last pitch forwards in mid-air; a
forefoot struck ground, the bank crushed in beneath his weight, and
then he was scrambling to the safety beyond and reeling into a new
gallop.

Behind him, he saw the shadowy pursuer skim down the slope, fling
into the air, and drop out of sight. Had he reached the shore? Ten
seconds--no long and ominous head appeared--certainly he had fallen
short and landed in the furious current. Alcatraz dropped his
heart-breaking pace to a moderate gallop, but as he did so he saw
a form which dripped with water scramble into view fifty yards
down-stream--the lobo had managed to reach safety after all and now he
came like a bullet to end the chase.

There was only half a hope left to Alcatraz and that was to turn and
attempt to leave the wolf again at the water-jump; but now his renewed
panic paralyzed all power of thinking. He did not even do the next
best thing--race straight away in a true line, but bearing off first
to the left and then to the right, he shot across the hills in a
miserably wavering flight.

The lobo came like doom behind him. The chill of the water had enraged
him. Besides, he did not often have to waste such time and energy to
make a kill, and now, bent on a quick ending, the fur which fringed
his lean belly cut the dew from the grass as he stretched to his full
and matchless speed. Alcatraz saw and strained forward but he had
reached his limit and the wolf gained with the passage of every
second.

Another danger appeared. Off to the side and well ahead, spurring his
mount to top effort, came Red Perris, who must have marked the chase
with his glass. Alcatraz gave him not a glance, not a thought. What
was the whisper and burn of a rope, what was even the hum of a bullet
compared with the tearing teeth of the lofer wolf? So he kept to his
course, stretched straight from the tip of his nose to the end of his
flying tail and marking from the corner of his eye that the lobo still
gained vital inches at every leap.

The horseman to his left shot over a hill and disappeared into the
hollow beyond--he would be a scant hundred yards away when Alcatraz
raced by, if indeed he could keep beyond reach of the wolf as long as
this. And that was more than doubtful--impossible! For the grey streak
had shot from behind until it now was at his tail, at his flank, with
red tongue lolling and the sound of its panting audible. Half a minute
more and it would be in front and heading him, and when he whirled the
creature would spring.

And so it happened. The killer swept to the front and snapped--at
the flash of the teeth Alcatraz wheeled, saw the monster leave the
ground--and then a limp weight struck his shoulder and rolled heavily
back to the ground; but not until he had straightened away on his new
course did Alcatraz hear the report of the rifle, so much had the
bullet outdistanced the sound.

He looked back.

Red Perris sat in his saddle with the rifle coming slowly down from
his shoulder. The lofer wolf lay with a smear of red across one side
of his head. Then a hill rose behind the stallion and shut off his
view.

He brought down his gait to a stumbling canter for now a great
weakness was pouring through his legs and his heart fluttered and
trembled like the heart of a yearling when it first feels the strain
and burn of the rope. He was saved, but by how small a margin! He was
saved, but in his mind grew another problem. Why had the Great Enemy
chosen to kill the wolf and spare the horse? And how great was his
greatness who could strike down from afar that king of flesh-eaters in
the very moment of a kill! But he knew, very clearly, that he had been
in the hollow of the man's hand and had been spared; and that he had
been rescued from certain death; was not the scent of the wolf's pelt
still in his nostrils as the creature had leaped?

He came to the brook and snorted in wonder. In a sane moment he would
never have attempted that leap. For that matter, perhaps, no other
horse between the seas would have ever dreamed of the effort. Alcatraz
headed up the stream for a narrow place, shaking his head at the roar
of the current.

CHAPTER XXIV

THE CRISIS

When he found a place where he could jump the Little Smoky he picked
up his mares again and led them straight north, accepting their
whinnies of congratulation with a careless toss of his head as though
only women-folk would bother to think of such small matters. He had a
definite purpose, now. He had had enough of the Valley of the Eagles
with its haunting lobos and its cunning human hunters. And he chose
for exit the canon of the Little Smoky itself. For there were many
blind ravines pocketing the sides of the Valley of the Eagles, but the
little Smoky would lead him straight to the summits. He looked back
as he reached the mouth of the gorge, filled with the murmur of the
rain-swollen waters. Perris was drifting towards them. And Alcatraz
tossed his head and struck into a canter.

It was a precaution which he never abandoned, for while the Great
Enemy was most to be feared, there were other human foes and such a
narrow-throated gorge as this would ideally serve them as a trap. He
shortened his lope so as to be ready to whirl away as he came to the
first winding between the rugged walls of the valley--but the ground
was clear before him and calling up his lagging herd, he made on
towards a sound of falling water ahead. It was a new sound to Alcatraz
in that place, for he remembered no cataract in this gorge. But every
water-course had been greatly changed since the rains began, and who
could tell what alterations had occurred here?

Who, indeed, could have guessed it? For as he swung about the next
bend he was confronted by a sheer wall of rock over which the falling
torrent of the Little Smoky was churned to white spray by projecting
fragments. Far above, the side of the mountain was still marked by a
raw wound where the landslide had swept, cutting deeper and deeper,
until it choked the narrow ravine with an incalculable mass of sand,
crushed trees, and a rubble of broken stone. It had dammed the Little
Smoky, but soon topping the obstruction, the river now poured over the
crest and filled the valley with a noise of rushing and shouting so
caught up by echoes that Alcatraz seemed to be standing inside a whole
circle of invisible waterfalls.

He wondered at that sight for only an instant; then, as the meaning
drove home to him, he wheeled and raced down the valley. This was the
explanation of the Enemy's move towards the throat of the canon!

He passed the mares like a red streak of light, his ears flagging back
and his tail swept out straight behind by the wind of his gallop. He
rushed about the next turn of the cliff and saw that the race had been
in vain--the Great Enemy was spurring his reeling cowpony into the
mouth of the Little Smoky gap!

The chestnut made his calculations without slackening his pace. The
man was in the valley, but he had not yet reached that narrow throat
where his lariat was of sufficient radius to cover the space between
the wall of the canon and the stream. However, he was in excellent
position to maneuver for a throw in case Alcatraz tried to slip by.
Therefore he now brought his pony to a slow lope, and loosening his
rope, he swung the noose in a wide circle; he was ready to plunge to
either side and cast the lariat.

Being nearer to the river than to the canon wall it was in the latter
direction that the stallion found the wider free space and towards it,
accordingly, he directed his flight, running as he had only run when
the lofer wolf dogged his heels. It was only a feint. His eye was
too keen in the calculation of distances and relative speeds not to
realize that the cowpony would beat him to the goal, yet he kept up
his furious pace even when Perris had checked his horse to a trot.
Straight on swept Alcatraz until he saw the glitter of the hunter's
eyes beneath the wide brim of his sombrero--then he braced his legs,
knocking up a small shower of sand and rocks, swerved to the left, and
bolted for the river bank.

Even as he made the move, though blinded by the fierceness of his own
effort, he knew that it would be a tight squeeze. Had the pony under
Perris possessed half of its ordinary speed of foot it would easily
have headed the fugitive or at the least brought its rider in
rope-throw, now, outworn by the long trail it had followed, the little
animal stumbled and almost fell when Perris with iron hand swung it
around. That blunder lost fatal yards, but still it did its honest
best. It was a veteran of many a round-up. No pony in the arduous
work of cutting out was surer of eye or quicker of foot, and now this
dodging back and forth brought a gleam into the bronco's eyes. There
was no need of the goading spur of Perris to make it spring forth at
full speed, running on nerve-power in place of the sapped strength of
muscle.

The stumble had given Alcatraz a fighting chance for his freedom--that
was all. He recognized the flying peril as he raced in a wide loping
semicircle. If the river were twenty yards further off he, running two
feet to the cowpony's one, would brush through safely, but as it was
no one could tell. He knew the reach of a lariat as well as a man;
had not Cordova tormented him devilishly with one time and again?
Estimating the speed of his approaching enemy and the reach of the
rope he felt that he could still gain freedom--unless luck was against
him.

The burst of Alcatraz for the river and safety was a remarkable
explosion of energy. Out of the corner of his reddening eye, as he
gained swift impetus after his swerve, he saw the cowpony wheel,
falter, and then burst across in pursuit to close the gap. He heeled
over to the left, and found a mysterious source of energy within him
that enabled his speed to be increased, until, at the top of his
racing gait, he reached the very verge of the stream. There remained
nothing now but a straight dash for freedom.

Luck favored him in one respect at least. The swollen current of the
Little Smoky had eaten away its banks so that there was a sheer drop,
straight as a cliff in most places, to the water, and the cliff-edge
above was solidly compacted sand and gravel. A better race-track could
hardly have been asked and the heart of Alcatraz swelled with hope as
he saw the ground spin back behind him. Red Perris, too, shouting like
a mad man as he spurred in, realized that his opportunity was slipping
through his fingers. For now, though far away, he swung his rope in a
stiffly horizontal circle about his head. The time had come. Straight
before him shot the red streak of the stallion; and leaning in his
saddle to give greater length to the cast he made the throw.

It failed. Even as the noose whirled above him Alcatraz knew the cast
would fall short. An instant later, falling, it slapped against his
shoulder and he was through the gap free! But at the contact of that
dreaded lariat instinct forced him to do what reason told him was
unneeded--he veered some vital inches off towards the edge of the
bank.

Thereby his triumph was undone! The gravel which made so good a
footing was, after all, a brittle support and now, under his pounding
hoofs, the whole side of the bank gave way. A squeal of terror broke
from Alcatraz. He swerved sharply in, but it was too late. The very
effort to change direction brought a greater weight upon his rear
hoofs and now they crushed down through flying gravel and sand. He
faced straight in, pawing the yielding bank with his forehoofs and
suspended over the roar of the torrent. It was like striving to climb
a hill of quicksand. The greater his struggle the more swiftly the
treacherous soil melted under his pounding hoofs.

Last of all, he heard a yell of horror from the Great Enemy and saw
the hands of the man go up before his eyes to shut out the sight. Then
Alcatraz pitched back into thin air.

He caught one glimpse of the wildly blowing storm-clouds above him,
then he crashed with stinging force into the water below.

CHAPTER XXV

THE LITTLE SMOKY

Pure madness poured into the brain of Red Perris as he saw the fall.
Here, then was the end of the trail, and that great battle would never
be fought. Groaning he rode to the bank of the stream, mechanically
gathering up the rope as he went.

He saw below him nothing but the rush of water, white riffles showing
its speed. An occasional dark steak whirled past--the trunks of trees
which the Little Smoky had chewed away from their foothold on its
sides. Doubtless one of these burly missiles had struck and instantly
killed the stallion.

But no, yonder his head broke above the surface--a great log flung
past him, missing the goal by inches--a whirl in the current rolled
him under,--but up he came again, swimming gallantly. The selfish rage
which had consumed Red Perris broke out in words. Down the bank he
trotted the buckskin, shaking his fist at Alcatraz and pouring the
stream of his curses at that devoted head. Was this the reward of
labor, the reward of pain and patience through all the weeks, the
sleepless nights, the weary days?

"Drown, and be damned!" shouted Red Perris, and as if in answer, the
body of the stallion rose miraculously from the stream and the hunter
gasped his incredulity. Alcatraz was facing up stream, half his body
above the surface.

The explanation was simple. At this point the Little Smoky abated its
speed a little and had dropped a load of rolling stones and sand. An
hour later it might be washed away, but now it made a strong bank
with the current skimming above the surface. On this the stallion had
struck, and whirling with the current he faced towards the source of
the valley and looked into the volleying waters. Here, surely, was a
sight to make a weakling tremble. But to the astonishment of Perris,
he saw the head of the stallion raised, and the next moment the
thunder of his neigh rang high above the voices of the river, as
though he bade defiance to his destroyer, as though he called on the
God of Gods to bear witness that he died without fear.

"By the Eternal!" breathed Red Perris, smitten with awe, and the next
instant, the ground giving way beneath him, Alcatraz was bowled over
and over, only to come up again farther down the stream.

He turned his head. Far away he made out a line of horsemen--grey,
ghostly figures miles away. Hervey was keeping to his word, then.
But the thought of his own danger did not hold Red Jim Perris for a
moment. Down there in the thundering water Alcatraz was dying!

The heart of Red Perris went out to the dauntless chestnut. He spurred
down the bank until he was even with the struggler. He swayed far out,
riding the mustang so near the brink that the poor creature
shuddered. He capped his hands about his lips and the hunter screamed
encouragement to the hunted, yelled advice, shrieked his warnings when
treetrunks hurtled from behind.

It seemed to Red Perris that Alcatraz was not a brute beast but a soul
about to perish. So much do brave men love courage! Then he saw, a
hundred yards away, that the bank of the stream fell away until it
became a gradually shoaling beach to the water edge. With a shout of
hope he raced to this point of vantage and flung himself from the
saddle. Then, grasping the rope, he ran into the stream until it
foamed with staggering force about his hips.

But would Alcatraz live among those sweeping treetrunks and come
within casting distance of the rope? Even if he did, would the rope
catch around that head of which only the nose and eyes were showing?
Even if it caught could the stallion be drawn to shoal water without
being strangled by the slip-knot? Had Perris been a calm man he would
have discarded the thousandth chance which remained after all of these
possibilities. He would have looked, instead, to his cowpony which was
now cantering away towards liberty in the rear of the flying squadron
of mares. But Perris saw and lived for only one thing.

Down came that brave head, but now with the ears flattened, for in the
fury of the river his strength was being rapidly exhausted. Down the
current it came, momentarily nearer but always with dangers shooting
about it. Even while Perris looked, a great tree from which the
branches had not yet been stripped rushed from behind. The hunter's
yell of alarm was drowned by the thousand voices of the Little Smoky,
and over that head the danger swept.

Red Perris closed his eyes and his head fell, but when he looked
again the tree was far down stream and the stallion still swam in
the central current, but now near, very near. Only the slender outer
branches could have struck him, and these with barely sufficient force
to drive him under.

Perris strode still further into the wild water until it foamed about
his waist, and stretching out his arms he called to the stallion.
Had he possessed ten times the power of voice he could not have made
himself heard above the rioting of the Little Smoky but his gesture
could be seen, and even a dumb beast could understand it. The
chestnut, at least, comprehended for to the joy of Perris he now saw
those gallant ears come forward again, and turning as well as he
could, Alcatraz swam stoutly for the shore. In the hour of need, the
Great Enemy had become his last hope.

But his progress towards the sloping bank was small. For every inch
he fought to the bank the current carried him a foot down stream, yet
those inches gained in the lateral direction were every one priceless.
Finally Perris swung the lariat and shot it through the air. Fair and
true the circle struck above the head of the stallion and the hunter
shouted with hysterical triumph; a moment later he groaned as the
current whirled the rope over the head of Alcatraz and down stream.

Yet he fought the hopeless fight. Staggering in the currents, beaten
from his footing time and again, Perris stumbled down stream gathering
his rope for a new cast as he went. Neither had the chestnut abandoned
the struggle. His last efforts had swerved him about and now he headed
up stream with the water foaming about his red, distended nostrils;
but still through the whipping spray his great eyes were fixed on
Perris. As for the man, there was a prayer in the voice with which he
shouted: "Alcatraz!" and hurled the rope again.

Heavy with the water it had soaked up the noose splashed in a rough
circle around the head of the swimmer and then cut down into the
water. Hand over hand he drew in the slack, felt resistance, then a
jar that toppled him from his foothold. The noose had indeed caught
around the neck of the stallion, but the success threatened to be his
ruin. Toppled head over heels in the rush of the Little Smoky, still
his left hand gripped the rope and as he came gasping to the surface
his feet struck and lodged strongly against the surface of a great
boulder. His one stroke of luck!

He had no time to give thanks. The next moment the full weight of the
torrent on Alcatraz whipped the lariat quivering out of the water. The
horse was struggling in the very center of the strongest current and
the tug on the arms of Perris made his shoulder sockets ache. He
endured that pain, praying that his hands would not slip on the wet
rope. Then, little by little, he increased his pull until all the
strength of leg muscles, back, and arms was brought to bear. It seemed
that there was no result; Alcatraz did not change his position; but
inch by inch the rope crept in to him; he at length could shift holds,
whipping his right hand in advance of the left and tugging again.
There was more rapid progress, now, but as the first frenzy of nervous
energy was dissipated, a tremor of exhaustion passed through his limbs
and the beat of his heart redoubled until he was well-nigh stifled.
True, the rope was coming in hand over hand, now, but another danger.
The head of Alcatraz was sinking, his nostrils distended to the
bursting point, his eyes red and bulging from their sockets. He was
being throttled by the grip of the slip knot; and an instant later his
head disappeared beneath the surface.

Then all weakness passed from Red Perris; there was invigorating wine
in the air he breathed; a vast power clothed him suddenly and while
the frenzy endured he drew Alcatraz swiftly in from the gripping
currents and to the comparatively mild swirl of water where he stood.
Wavering, distorted, and dim as an image in a dull mirror, he saw
the form of the horse float towards him beneath the water. Still the
frenzy was on him. It enabled him to spring from his place, tear the
strangling noose from the neck of the stallion, and lifting that
lifeless head in both hands struggle towards the shore. The water
buoyed a weight which he could not otherwise have budged; he stumbled
in the shoaling gravel to his knees, rose again lifting and straining,
until blackness rushed across his eyes; and he pitched forward on his
face.

He wakened in a whipping rain that stung the back of his neck and as
he propped himself on his arms he found that he had been lying across
the neck and shoulders of the stallion. That much of him, and the
slender forelegs, was clear of the water. But had he not brought a
dead thing to land?

He bent his cheek to the nostrils of Alcatraz, but he felt no breath.
He came reeling to his knees and slid his hand beneath the water to
the heart of the horse; he felt no reassuring throb. Yet he could not
be sure that the end was indeed come, for the blood raged and surged
through his brain and waves of violent trembling passed over him so
that his sense of touch might well belie the truth. How long had he
lain unconscious--a minute or an hour?

At least, he must try to get the body farther ashore. Alas, his
strength hardly sufficed now to raise the head alone and when he made
his effort his legs crumpled beneath him. There he sat with the head
of Alcatraz in his lap--he the hunter and this the hunted!

There was small measure of religion in Red Perris but now, in
helplessness, he raised his trembling hands to the stormy grey of the
sky above him.

"God A'mighty," said Red Perris, "I sure ain't done much to make
You listen to me, but I got this to say: that if they's a call for
something to die right now it ain't the hoss that's to blame. It's me
that hounded him into the river. Alcatraz ain't any pet, but he's sure
lived according to his rights. Let him live and I'll let him go free.
I got no right to him. I didn't make him. I never owned him. But let
him stand up on his four legs again; let me see him go galloping once
more, the finest hoss that ever bucked a fool man out of the saddle,
and I'll call it quits!"

It was near to a prayer, if indeed this were not a prayer in
truth. And glancing down to the head on his lap, he shivered with
superstitious wonder. Alcatraz had unquestionably drawn a long and
sighing breath.

CHAPTER XXVI

PARTNERS

The recovery was no miracle. The strangling coil of rope which shut
off the wind of Alcatraz had also kept any water from passing into his
lungs, and as the air now began to come back and the reviving oxygen
reached his blood, his recovery was amazingly rapid. Before Perris had
ceased wondering at the first audible breath the eyes of Alcatraz were
lighted with flickering intelligence; then a snort of terror showed
that he realized his nearness to the Great Enemy. His very panic acted
as a thrillingly powerful restorative. By the time Perris got weakly
to his feet, Alcatraz was lunging up the river bank scattering gravel
and small rocks behind him.

And Perris made no attempt to throw the rope again. He allowed it to
lie limp and wet on the gravel, but turning to watch that magnificent
body, shining from the river, he saw the lines of Hervey's hunters
coming swinging across the plain, riding to the limit of the speed of
their horses.

This was the end, then. In ten minutes, or less, they would be on him,
and he without a gun in his hands!

As though he saw the same approaching line of riders, Alcatraz whirled
on the edge of the sand, but he did not turn to flee. Instead, he
lifted his head and turned his bright eyes on the Great Enemy, and
stood there trembling at their nearness! The heart of Perris leaped.
A great hope which he dared not frame in thought rushed through his
mind, and he stepped slowly forward, his hand extended, his voice
caressing. The chestnut winced one step back, and then waited,
snorting. There he waited, trembling with fear, chained by curiosity,
and ready to leap away in arrowy flight should the sun wink on the
tell-tale brightness of steel or the noosed rope dart whispering
through the air above him. But there was no such sign of danger. The
man came steadily on with his right hand stretched out palm up in the
age-old token of amity, and as he approached he kept talking. Strange
power was in that voice to enter the ears of the stallion and find a
way to his heart of hearts. The fierce and joyous battle-note which he
had heard on the day of the great fight was gone and in its place was
a fiber of piercing gentleness. It thrilled Alcatraz as the touch of
the man's fingers had thrilled him on another day.

Now he was very near, yet Perris did not hurry, did not change the
quiet of his words. By the nearness his face was become the dominant
thing. What was there between the mountains so terrible and so gentle,
so full of awe, of wisdom, and of beauty, as this human face? Behind
the eyes the outlaw horse saw the workings of that mystery which had
haunted his still evenings in the desert--the mind.

Far away the grey mare was neighing plaintively and the scared cowpony
trailed in the distance wondering why these free creatures should come
so close to man, the enslaver; but to Alcatraz the herd was no more
than a growth of trees; nothing existed under the sky saving that hand
ceaselessly outstretched towards him, and the steady murmur of the
voice.

He began to wonder: what would happen if he waited until the finger
tips were within a hair's-breadth of his nose? Surely there would be
no danger, for even if the Great Enemy slid onto his back again he
could not stay, weak as Red Perris now was.

Alcatraz winced, but without moving his feet; and when he straightened
the finger tips touched the velvet of his nose. He stamped and snorted
to frighten the hunter away but the hand moved dauntlessly high and
higher--it rested between his eyes--it passed across his head, always
with that faint tingle of pleasure trailing behind the touch; and the
voice was saying in broken tones: "Some damn fools say they ain't a
God! Some damn fools! Something for nothing. That's what He gives!
Steady, boy: steady!"

Between perfect fear and perfect pleasure, the stallion shuddered. Now
the Great Enemy was beside him with a hand slipping down his neck. Why
did he not swerve and race away? What power chained him to the place?
He jerked his head about and caught the shoulder of Perris in his
teeth. He could crush through muscles and sinews and smash the bone.
But the teeth of Alcatraz did not close for the hunter made no sign of
fear or pain.

"You're considerable of an idiot, Alcatraz, but you don't know no
better," the voice was saying. "That's right, let go that hold. In the
old days I'd of had my rope on you quicker'n a wink. But what good in
that? The hoss I love ain't a down-headed, mean-hearted man-killer
like you used to be; it's the Alcatraz that I've seen running free
here in the Valley of the Eagles. And if you come with me, you come
free and you stay free. I don't want to set no brand on you. If you
stay it's because you like me, boy; and when you want to leave the
corral gate will be sure open. Are you coming along?"

The fingers of that gentle hand had tangled in the mane of Alcatraz,
drawing him softly forward. He braced his feet, snorting, his ears
back. Instantly the pressure on his mane ceased. Alcatraz stepped
forward.

"By God," breathed the man. "It's true! Alcatraz, old hoss, d'you
think I'd ever of tried to make a slave out of you if I'd guessed that
I could make you a partner?"

Behind them, the rattle of volleying hoofs was sweeping closer. The
rain had ceased. The air was a perfect calm, and the very grunt of the
racing horses was faintly audible and the cursing of the men as they
urged their mounts forward. Towards that approaching fear, Alcatraz
turned his head. They came as though they would run him into the
river. But what did it all mean? So long as one man stood beside him,
he was shielded from the enmity of all other men. That had been true
even in the regime of the dastardly Cordova.

"Steady!" gasped Red Perris. "They're coming like bullets, Alcatraz,
old timer! Steady!"

One hand rested on the withers, the other on the back of the chestnut,
and he raised himself gingerly up. Under the weight the stallion
shrank catwise, aside and down. But there was no wrench of a curb in
his mouth, no biting of the cinches. In the old days of his colthood,
a barelegged boy used to come into the pasture and jump on his bare
back. His mind flashed back to that--the bare, brown legs. That was
before he had learned that men ride with leather and steel. He waited,
holding himself strongly on leash, ready to turn loose his whole
assortment of tricks--but Perris slipped into place almost as lightly
as that dimly remembered boy in the pasture.

To the side, that line of rushing riders was yelling and waving hats.
And now the light winked and glimmered on naked guns.

"Go!" whispered Perris at his ear. "Alcatraz!"

And the flat of his hand slapped the stallion on the flank. Was not
that the old signal out of the pasture days, calling for a gallop?

He started into a swinging canter. And a faint, half-choked cry of
pleasure from the lips of his rider tingled in his ears. For your born
horseman reads his horse by the first buoyant moment, and what Red Jim
Perris read of the stallion surpassed his fondest dreams. A yell of
wonder rose from Hervey and his charging troop. They had seen Red Jim
come battered and exhausted from his struggle with the stallion the
day before, and now he sat upon the bareback of the chestnut--a
miracle!

"Shoot!" yelled Hervey. "Shoot for the man. You can't hit the damned
hoss!"

In answer, a volley blazed, but what they had seen was too much for
the nerves of even those hardy hunters and expert shots. The volley
sang about the ears of Perris, but he was unscathed, while he felt
Alcatraz gather beneath him and sweep into a racing pace, his ears
flat, his neck extended. For he knew the meaning of that crashing
fire. Fool that he had been not to guess. He who had battled with him
the day before, but battled without man's ordinary tools of torture;
he who had saved him this very day from certain death in the water;
this fellow of the flaming red hair, was in truth so different from
other men, that they hunted him, they hated him, and therefore they
were sending their waspish and invisible messengers of death after
him. For his own safety, for the life of the man on his back, Alcatraz
gave up his full speed.

And Perris bowed low along the stallion's neck and cheered him on. It
was incredible, this thing that was happening. They had reached top
speed, and yet the speed still increased. The chestnut seemed to
settle towards the earth as his stride lengthened. He was not
galloping. He was pouring himself over the ground with an endless
succession of smooth impulses. The wind of that running became a gale.
The blown mane of Alcatraz whipped and cut at the face of Perris, and
still the chestnut drove swifter and swifter.

He was cutting down the bank of the river which had nearly seen his
death a few moments before, striving to slip past the left flank of
Hervey's men, and now the foreman, yelling his orders, changed his
line of battle, and the cowpunchers swung to the left to drive
Alcatraz into the very river. The change of direction unsettled their
aim. It is hard at best to shoot from the back of a running horse at
an object in swift motion; it is next to impossible when sharp orders
are being rattled forth. They fired as they galloped, but their shots
flew wild.

In the meantime, they were closing the gap between them and the
river bank to shut off Alcatraz, but for every foot they covered the
chestnut covered two, it seemed. He drove like a red lightning bolt,
with the rider flattened on his back, shaking his fist back at the
pursuers.

"Pull up!" shouted Lew Hervey, in sudden realization that Alcatraz
would slip through the trap. "Pull up! And shoot for Perris! Pull up!"

They obeyed, wrenching their horses to a halt, and as they drew them
up, Red Jim, with a yell of triumph, straightened on the back of the
flying horse and waved back to them. The next instant his shout of
defiance was cut short by the bark of three rifles, as Hervey and
Shorty and Little Joe, having halted their horses, pitched their guns
to their shoulders and let blaze after the fugitive. There was a sting
along the shoulder of Perris as though a red hot knife had slashed
him; a bullet had grazed the skin.

Ah, but they would have a hard target to strike, from now on! The
trick which Alcatraz had learned in his own flights from the hunters
he now brought back into play. He began to swerve from side to side as
he raced.

Another volley roared from the cursing cowpunchers behind them, but
every bullet flew wide as the chestnut swerved.

"Damn him!" yelled Lew Hervey. "Has the hoss put the charm on the hide
of that skunk, too?"

For in the fleeing form of Red Perris he saw all his hopes eluding
his grasp. With Red Jim escaped and his promise to the rancher
unfulfilled, what would become of his permanent hold on Oliver Jordan?
Ay, and Red Jim, once more in safety and mounted on that matchless
horse, would swoop down on the Valley of the Eagles and strike to
kill, again, again, and again!

No wonder there was an agony shrill in the voice of the foreman as he
shouted: "Once more!"

Up went the shining barrels of the rifles, followed the swerving form
of the horseman for a moment, and then, steadied to straight, gleaming
lines, they fired at the same instant, as though in obedience to an
unspoken order.

And the form of Red Perris was knocked forward on the back of
Alcatraz!

Some place in his body one of those bullets had struck. They saw him
slide far to one side. They saw, while they shouted in triumph, that
Alcatraz instinctively shortened his pace to keep his slipping burden
from falling.

"He's done!" yelled Hervey, and shoving his rifle back in its holster,
he spurred again in the pursuit.

But Red Perris was not done. Scrambling with his legs, tugging with
his arms, he drew himself into position and straightway collapsed
along the back of Alcatraz with both hands interwoven in the mane of
the horse.

And the stallion endured it! A shout of amazement burst from the
foreman and his men. Alcatraz had tossed up his head, sent a ringing
neigh of defiance floating behind him, and then struck again into his
matchless, smooth flowing gallop!

Perhaps it was not so astonishing, after all, as some men could have
testified who have seen horses that are devils under spur and saddle
become lambs when the steel and the leather they have learned to dread
are cast away.

But all Alcatraz could understand, as his mind grasped vaguely towards
the meaning of the strange affair, was that the strong, agile power on
his back had been suddenly destroyed. Red Perris was now a limp and
hanging weight, something no longer to be feared, something to be
treated, at will, with contempt. The very voice was changed and husky
as it called to him, close to his ear. And he no longer dared to
dodge, because at every swerve that limp burden slid far to one side
and dragged itself back with groans of agony. Then something warm
trickled down over his shoulder. He turned his head. From the breast
of the rider a crimson trickle was running down over the chestnut
hair, and it was blood. With the horror of it he shuddered.

He must gallop gently, now, at a sufficient distance to keep the
rifles from speaking behind him, but slowly and softly enough to
keep the rider in his place. He swung towards the mares, running,
frightened by the turmoil, in the distance. But a hand on his neck
pressed him back in a different direction and down into the trail
which led, eventually, to the ranch of Oliver Jordan. Let it be, then,
as the man wished. He had known how to save a horse from the Little
Smoky. He would be wise enough to keep them both safe even from other
men, and so, along the trail towards the ranch, the chestnut ran with
a gait as gentle as the swing and light fall of a ground swell in
mid-ocean.

CHAPTER XXVII

THE END OF THE RACE

Far behind him he could see the pursuers driving their horses at a
killing gallop. He answered their spurt and held them safely in the
distance with the very slightest of efforts. All his care was given
to picking out the easiest way, and avoiding jutting rocks and sharp
turns which might unsettle the rider. Just as, in those dim old
days in the pasture, when the short brown legs of the boy could not
encompass him enough to gain a secure grip, he used to halt gently,
and turn gently, for fear of unseating the urchin. How far more
cautious was his maneuvering now! Here on his back was the power which
had saved him from the river. Here on his back was he whose trailing
fingers had given him his first caress.

He had no power of reason in his poor blind brain to teach him the why
and the wherefore. But he had that overmastering impulse which lives
in every gentle-blooded horse--the great desire to serve. A mustang
would have been incapable of such a thing, but in Alcatraz flowed the
pure strain of the thoroughbred, tracing back to the old desert stock
where the horse lives in the tent of his master, the most cherished
member of the family. There was in him dim knowledge of events through
which he himself had never passed. By the very lines of his blood
there was bred in him a need for human affection and human care, just
as there was bred in him the keen heart of the racer. And now he knew
to the full that exquisite delight of service with the very life of a
helpless man given into his keeping.

One ear he canted back to the pain-roughened voice which spoke at his
ear. The voice was growing weaker and weaker, just as the grip of the
legs was decreasing, and the hands were tangled less firmly in his
mane, but now the bright-colored buildings of the ranch appeared
through the trees. They were passing between the deadly rows of barbed
wire with far-off mutter of the pursuing horses beating at his ear and
telling him that all escape was cut off. Yet still the man held him to
the way through a mingling of trails thick with the scents of man, of
man-ridden horses. The burden on his back now slipped from side to
side at every reach of his springy gallop.

They came in sight of the ranch house itself. The failing voice
rose for one instant into a hoarse cry of joy. Far behind, rose a
triumphant echo of shouting. Yes, the trap was closed, and his only
protection from the men riding behind was this half-living creature on
his back.

Out from the arched entrance to the patio ran a girl. She started back
against the 'dobe wall of the house and threw up one hand as though a
miracle had flashed across her vision. Alcatraz brought his canter to
a trot that shook the loose body on his back, and then he was walking
reluctantly forward, for towards the girl the rider was directing him
against all his own power of reason. She was crying out, now, in a
shrill voice, and presently through the shadowy arch swung the figure
of a big man on crutches, who shouted even as the girl had shouted.

Oliver Jordan, reading through the lines of his foreman's letter, had
returned to find out what was going wrong, and from his daughter's
tale he had learned more than enough.

Trembling at the nearness of these two human beings, but driven on by
the faint voice, and the guiding hands, Alcatraz passed shuddering
under the very arch of the patio entrance and so found himself once
more--and forever--surrendered into the power of men!

But the weak figure on his back had relaxed, and was sliding down. He
saw the gate closing the patio swing to. He saw the girl run with a
cry and receive the bleeding body of Red Perris into her arms. He saw
the man on crutches swing towards them, exclaiming "--without even a
bridle! Marianne, he must have hypnotized that hoss!"

"Oh, Dad," the girl wailed, "if he dies--if he dies----"

The eyes of Perris, where he lay on the flagging, opened wearily.

"I'll live--I can't die! But Alcatraz ... keep him from butcher
Hervey ... keep him safe...."

Then his gaze fixed on the face of Oliver Jordan and his eyes widened
in amazement.

"My father," she said, as she cut away the shirt to get at the wound.

"Him!" muttered Perris.

"Partner," said Oliver Jordan, wavering above the wounded man on his
crutches, "what's done is done."

"Ay," said Perris, smiling weakly, "if you're her father that trail
is sure ended. Marianne--get hold of my hand--I'm going out again ...
keep Alcatraz safe...."

His eyes closed in a faint.

Between the cook and Marianne they managed to carry the limp figure to
the shelter of the arcade just as Hervey and his men thundered up to
the closed gate of the patio, and there the foreman drew rein in a
cloud of dust and cursed his surprise at the sight of the ranchman.

The group in the patio, and the shining form of Alcatraz, were self
explanatory. His plans were ruined at the very verge of a triumph. He
hardly needed to hear the voice of Jordan saying: "I asked you to get
rid of a gun-fighting killer--and you've tried to murder a _man_.
Hervey, get out of the Valley and stay out if you're fond of a whole
skin!"

And Hervey went.

* * * * *

There followed a strange time for Alcatraz. He could not be led from
the patio. They could only take him by tying every hoof and dragging
him, and such force Marianne would not let the cowpunchers use. So day
after day he roamed in that strange corral while men came and stared
at him through the strong bars of the gate, but no one dared enter
the enclosure with the wild horse saving the girl alone, and even she
could not touch him.

It was all very strange. And strangest of all was when the girl came
out of the door through which the master had been carried and looked
at Alcatraz, and wept. Every evening she came but she had no way of
answering the anxious whinny with which he called for Red Jim again.

Strange, too, was the hush which brooded over the house. Even the
cowpunchers, when they came to the gate, talked softly. But still the
master did not come. Two weeks dragged on, weary weeks of waiting, and
then the door to the house opened and again they carried him out on
a wicker couch, a pale and wasted figure, around whom the man on the
crutches and the girl and half a dozen cowpunchers gathered laughing
and talking all at once.

"Stand back from him, now," ordered Marianne, "and watch Alcatraz."

So they drew away under the arcade and Alcatraz heard the voice of the
master calling weakly.

It was not well that the others should be so near. For how could one
tell from what hand a rope might be thrown or in what hand a gun might
suddenly flash? But still the voice called and Alcatraz went slowly,
snorting his protest and suspicion, until he stood at the foot of the
couch and stretching forth his nose, still with his frightened glance
fixed on the watchers, Alcatraz sniffed the hand of Red Jim. It
turned. It patted him gently. It drew his gaze away from the others
and into the eyes of this one man, the mysterious eyes which
understood so much.

"A lone trail is right enough for a while, old boy," Red Jim was
saying, "but in the end we need partners, a man and a woman and a
horse and a man."

And Alcatraz, feeling the trail of the finger tips across the velvet
skin of his muzzle, agreed.

THE END.

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