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.