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.
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.