“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.
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.