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.
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.