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.