He had risen above the foothills and the more laborious slopes of the Eagles lifted at angles sheer and more sheer towards the top. But decidedly he must cross the mountains. On the other side perhaps, there would be no men. There could be no better time. Already the hollow gorges were beginning to brim with blue-grey shadows and he would be taking the worst of the climb in the cool of the evening. So Alcatraz gave himself to the climb.
It was bitter work. Had he dropped a few miles south across the foothills he would have found the road to the Jordan ranch climbing up the Eagles with leisurely swinging curves, but the slopes just above him were heart-breaking, and Alcatraz began to realize in an hour that a mountainside from a distance is a far gentler thing than the same slope underfoot. It was the heart of twilight before he came to the middle of his climb and stepped onto a nearly level shoulder some acres in compass. Here he stood for a moment while the muscles, cramped from climbing, loosened again, and he looked down at the work he had already accomplished. It was a dizzy fall to the lowlands. The big foothills were mere dimples on the earth and limitless plain moved east towards darkness. The stallion breathed deep of the pure mountain air, contented. All his old life lay low beneath him in a thicker air and in a deeper night. He had climbed out of it to a lonely height, perhaps, but a free one. The wind, coming off the mountain top, curled his tail along his flank. He turned and put his head into it, already refreshed for more climbing. There was a strange scent in that wind, a rank, keen odor that would have stopped him instantly had he been wiser in the life of the wilderness. As it was, he trotted on through a skirting of shrubbery and on the verge of a clearing was stopped by a snarl that rolled out of the ground at his feet. Then he saw a dead deer on the ground and over it a great tawny creature. One paw lay on the flank of its prey; the bloody muzzle was just above.
There is no greater coward than the puma. Ordinarily she would have hesitated before attacking the grown horse, but the surprise made her desperate. She sprang even as Alcatraz whirled for flight, and in whirling he saw that there was no escape from the leap of this monster with the yawning teeth. He kicked high and hard, eleven hundred pounds of seasoned muscle concentrated in the drive. The blow would have smashed in the side of a bull. One hoof glanced off, but the other struck fair and full between the eyes of the mountain-lion. The great cat spun backwards, screeching, but Alcatraz saw no more than the fall. He fled up the mountain with fear of death lightening his strides, regardless of footing, crashing through underbrush, and came to the end of his hysterical flight at the crest of the slope.