He had turned to cross the road, when he heard the sound of quick hoof-beats. Surely Dorothy had not caught up the horses so soon? Bartley turned toward the bend of the road. Presently a rider, his worn chaps flapping, his shapeless hat pulled low, and his quirt swinging at every jump of the horse, pounded up and had almost passed Bartley, when he set up his horse and dismounted. Bartley did not recognize him until he spoke.
“My name’s Hull. I was lookin’ for you.”
“All right, Mr. Hull. What do you want?”
Hull’s gaze traveled up and down the Easterner. Hull was looking to see if the other carried a gun. Bartley expected argument and inwardly braced himself. Meanwhile he wondered if he could find Hull’s chin again, and as easily as he had found it that night back of the livery barn. Hull loomed big and heavy, and it was evident from the minute he dismounted that he meant business.
Without a word, Hull swung at Bartley, smashing in with right and left, fighting like a wild-cat, forcing his weight into the fight, and kicking wickedly when he got a chance. Finally, after taking a straight blow in the face, Hull clinched—and the minute Bartley felt those tough-sinewed arms around him he knew that he was in for a licking.
Bartley’s only chance, and that a pretty slim one, lay in getting free from the grip of those arms. He used his knee effectively. Hull grunted and staggered back. Bartley jumped forward and bored in, knocking Hull off his feet. The cow-puncher struck the ground, rolled over, and was up and coming like a cyclone. It flashed through Bartley’s mind that the only thing to do was to stay with it till the finish. Hull was beating him down slowly, but surely.
Dully conscious that some one was calling, behind him, Bartley struck out, straight and clean, but he might as well have tried to stop a runaway freight with a whisk-broom. He felt the smashing impact of a blow—then suddenly he was on his back in the road—and he had no desire to get up. Free from the hammering of those heavy fists, he felt comparatively comfortable.
“You brute!” It was Dorothy’s voice, tense with anger.
Bartley heard another voice, thick with heavy breathing. “That’s all right, Miss Gray. But the dude had it comin’.”
Then Bartley heard the sound of hoof-beats—and somehow or other, Dorothy was helping him to his feet. He tried to grin—but his lips would not obey his will.
“I’m all right,” he mumbled.
“Perhaps,” said Dorothy, steady and cool. “But you’ll want to wash your face at the spring. I fetched your horse.”
“Lord, Miss Gray, let’s walk. I’m more used to it.”
“It was that man Hull, from the mountain, wasn’t it?”
“I don’t know his name. I did meet him once, in San Andreas, after dark.”
“I’ll just tie the horses, here. It’s not far to the spring. Feel dizzy?”