He began to walk in a circle about his victim, and Alcatraz shuddered when the conqueror came behind him. That had been Cordova’s way—to come to a place where he could not be seen and then strike cruelly and by surprise. To his unspeakable astonishment, Perris presently leaned over him—and then deliberately sat down on the shoulder of the chestnut. Two thoughts flashed through the mind of the stallion; he might heave himself over by a convulsive effort and attempt to crush this insolent devil; or he might jerk his head around and catch Perris with his teeth. A third and better thought, however, immediately followed—that bound as he was he would have little chance to reach this elusive will-o’-the-wisp. He could not repress a quiver of horror and anger, but beyond that he did not stir.
Other liberties were being taken; Cordova in his maddest moments would not have dared so much. Down the long muscles of his shoulder and upper foreleg went curious and gently prying finger-tips, and where they passed a tingling sensation followed, not altogether unpleasant. Again beginning on his neck the hand trailed down beneath his mane and at the same time the voice was murmuring: “Oh beauty! Oh beauty!”
The heart of Alcatraz swelled. He had felt his first caress.
Not that he recognized it as such but the touch was a pleasure and the quiet voice passed into his mind with a mild and soothing influence that made the wide freedom of the mountain-desert seem a worthless thing. The companionship of the mares was a bodiless nothing compared with the hope of feeling that hand again, hearing that voice, and knowing that all troubles, all worries were ended for ever. Like the stout Odysseus of many devices Alcatraz scorned the ways of the lotus eaters; for well he knew how Cordova had often lured him to perfect trust with the magic of man’s voice, only to waken him from the dream of peace with the sting of a blacksnake. This red-headed man, so soft of hand, so pleasant of voice, was for those very reasons the more to be suspected. The chestnut bided his time; presently the torment would begin.
The calm voice was proceeding: “Old sport, you and me are going to stage a sure enough scrap right here and now. Speaking personal, I’d like to take off the rope and go at you man to man with no saddle to help me out. But if I did that I wouldn’t have a ghost of a show. I’ll saddle you, right enough, but I’ll ride you without spurs, and I’ll put a straight bit in your mouth—damn the Mexican soul of Cordova, I see where he’s sawed your mouth pretty near in two with his Spanish contraptions! Without a quirt or spurs or a curb to choke you down, you and me’ll put on a square fight, so help me God! Because I think I can beat you, old hoss. Here goes!”
The stallion listened to the soothing murmur, listened and waited, and sure enough he had not long to stay in expectation. For Perris went to the hole behind the rock and presently returned carrying that flapping, creaking instrument of torture—a saddle.