“He’s having fun with them. He’s just rattling them to warm himself up—the little beggar. I didn’t know it was in him.”
Back went Oscar toward the two horsemen he had passed less than a minute before, still yelling, and this time he discharged his revolver with seeming unconcern, for the value of ammunition, and as he again dashed between them, and back through the gray curtain, Armitage gave the word, and he and Claiborne swept on at a gallop.
Durand was out of sight, and Chauvenet turned and looked behind him uneasily; then he spoke sharply to Zmai. Oscar’s wild ride back and forth had demoralized the horses, which were snorting and plunging wildly. As Armitage and Claiborne advanced Chauvenet spoke again to Zmai and drew his own revolver.
“Oh, for a saber now!” growled Claiborne.
But it was not a moment for speculation or regret. Both sides were perfectly silent as Claiborne, leading slightly, with Armitage pressing close at his left, galloped toward the two men who faced them at the gray wall of mist. They bore to the left with a view of crowding the two horsemen off the road and into the preserve, and as they neared them they heard cries through the mist and rapid hoof-beats, and Durand’s horse leaped the ditch at the roadside just before it reached Chauvenet and Zmai and ran away through the rough underbrush into the wood, Oscar close behind and silent now, grimly intent on his business.
The revolvers of Zmai and Chauvenet cracked together, and they, too, turned their horses into the wood, and away they all went, leaving the road clear.
“My horse got it that time!” shouted Claiborne.
“So did I,” replied Armitage; “but never you mind, old man, we’ve got them cornered now.”
Claiborne glanced at Armitage and saw his right hand, still holding his revolver, go to his shoulder.
“It struck a hard place, but I am still fit.”
The blood streamed from the neck of Claiborne’s horse, which threw up its head and snorted in pain, but kept bravely on at the trot in which Armitage had set the pace.
“Poor devil! We’ll have a reckoning pretty soon,” cried Armitage cheerily. “No kingdom is worth a good horse!”
They advanced at a trot toward the Port.
“You’ll be afoot any minute now, but we’re in good shape and on our own soil, with those carrion between us and a gap they won’t care to drop into! I’m off for the gate—you wait here, and if Oscar fires the signal, give the answer.”
Armitage galloped off to the right and Claiborne jumped from his horse just as the wounded animal trembled for a moment, sank to its knees and rolled over dead.
THE PORT OF MISSING MEN
Fast they come, fast they come;
See how they gather!
Wide waves the eagle plume,
Blended with heather.
Cast your plaids, draw your blades,
Forward each man set!
Pibroch of Donuil Dhu
Knell for the onset!