He seized his head between his hands and beat his knuckles against the corrugated flesh of his forehead. She had thought that!
Desire for action, action, action, beset him like thirst. To close with this devil, this wolf-man, to set his big fingers in the smooth, almost girlish throat, to choke the yellow light out of those eyes—or else to die, but like a man proving his manhood before the girl.
He read the letter again and then in an agony he crumpled it to a ball and hurled it across the room. Catching up his hat and his belt he rushed wildly from the room, thundered down the crazy stairs, and out to the stable.
Long Bess, the tall, bay mare which had carried him through three years of adventure and danger and never failed him yet, raised her aristocratic head above the side of the stall and whinnied. For answer he shook his fist at her and cursed insanely.
The saddle he jerked by one stirrup leather from the wall and flung it on her back, and when she cringed to the far side of the stall, he cursed her again, bitterly, and drew up the cinch with a lunge that made her groan. He did not wait to lead her to the door before mounting, but sprang into the saddle.
Here he whirled her about and drove home the spurs. Cruel usage, for Long Bess had never denied him the utmost of her speed and strength at the mere sound of his voice. Now, half-mad with fear and surprise, she sprang forward at full gallop, slipped and almost sprawled on the floor, and then thundered out of the door.
At once the soft sandy-soil received and deadened the impact of her hoofs. Off she flew through the grey of the morning, soundless as a racing ghost.
Long Bess—there was good blood in her. She was as delicately limbed as an antelope, and her heart was as strong as the smooth muscles of her shoulders and hips. Yet to Buck Daniels her fastest gait seemed slower than a walk. Already his thoughts were flying far before. Already he stood before the ranch house calling to Dan Barry. Ay, at the very door of the place they should meet and one of them must die. And better by far that the blood of him who died should stain the hands of Kate Cumberland.
The grey light which Buck Daniels saw that morning, hardly brightened as the day grew, for the sky was overcast with sheeted mist and through it a dull evening radiance filtered to the earth. Wung Lu, his celestial, slant eyes now yellow with cold, built a fire on the big hearth in the living-room. It was a roaring blaze, for the wood was so dry that it flamed as though soaked in oil, and tumbled a mass of yellow fire up the chimney. So bright was the fire, indeed, that its light quite over-shadowed the meagre day which looked in at the window, and every chair cast its shadow away from the hearth. Later on Kate Cumberland came down the backstairs and slipped into the kitchen.