Freed from the weight on the geometric centre of his being, Colonel Pennington stretched his legs, rolled his head from side to side, and snorted violently several times like a buck. After the sixth snort he felt so much better that a clear understanding of the exact nature of the catastrophe came to him; he struggled and sat up, looking around a little wildly.
“Where—did—Cardigan—go?” he gasped.
One of his men pointed to the timber into which the enemy had just disappeared.
“Surround him—take him,” Pennington ordered. “I’ll give—a month’s pay—to each of—the six men that bring—that scoundrel to me. Get him—quickly! Understand?”
Not a man moved. Pennington shook with fury. “Get him,” he croaked. “There are enough of you to do—the job. Close in on him—everybody. I’ll give a month’s pay to—everybody.”
A man of that indiscriminate mixture of Spaniard and Indian known in California as cholo swept the circle of men with an alert and knowing glance. His name was Flavio Artelan, but his straight black hair, dark russet complexion, beady eyes, and hawk nose gave him such a resemblance to a fowl that he was known among his fellows as the Black Minorca, regardless of the fact that this sobriquet was scarcely fair to a very excellent breed of chicken. “That offer’s good enough for me,” he remarked in businesslike tones. “Come on— everybody. A month’s pay for five minutes’ work. I wouldn’t tackle the job with six men, but there are twenty of us here.”
“Hurry,” the Colonel urged them.
Shirley Sumner’s flashing glance rested upon the Black Minorca. “Don’t you dare!” she cried. “Twenty to one! For shame!”
“For a month’s pay,” he replied impudently, and grinned evilly. “And I’m takin’ orders from my boss.” He started on a dog-trot for the timber, and a dozen men trailed after him.
Shirley turned helplessly on her uncle, seized his arm and shook it frantically. “Call them back! Call them back!” she pleaded.
Her uncle got uncertainly to his feet. “Not on your life!” he growled, and in his cold gray eyes there danced the lights of a thousand devils. “I told you the fellow was a ruffian. Now, perhaps, you’ll believe me. We’ll hold him until Rondeau revives, and then—”
Shirley guessed the rest, and she realized that it was useless to plead—that she was only wasting time. “Bryce! Bryce!” she called. “Run! They’re after you. Twenty of them! Run, run—for my sake!”
His voice answered her from the timber: “Run? From those cattle? Not from man or devil.” A silence. Then: “So you’ve changed your mind, have you? You’ve spoken to me again!” There was triumph, exultation in his voice. “The timber’s too thick, Shirley. I couldn’t get away anyhow—so I’m coming back.”
She saw him burst through a thicket of alder saplings into the clearing, saw half a dozen of her uncle’s men close in around him like wolves around a sick steer; and at the shock of their contact, she moaned and hid her face in her trembling hands.