FOR an instant Hare's brain reeled, and Mescal's broken murmurings were meaningless Then his faculties grew steady and acute; he held the girl as if he intended never to let her go. Mescal clung to him with a wildness that gave him anxiety for her reason; there was something almost fierce in the tension of her arms, in the blind groping for his face.
"Mescal! It's Jack, safe and well," he said. "Let me look at you."
At the sound of his voice all her rigid strength changed to a yielding weakness; she leaned back supported by his arms and looked at him. Hare trembled before the dusky level glance he remembered so well, and as tears began to flow he drew her head to his shoulder. He had forgotten to prepare himself for a different Mescal. Despite the quivering smile of happiness, her eyes were strained with pain. The oval contour, the rich bloom of her face had gone; beauty was there still, but it was the ghost of the old beauty.
"Jack--is it--really you?" she asked.
He answered with a kiss.
She slipped out of his arms breathless and scarlet. "Tell me all--"
"There's much to tell, but not before you kiss me. It has been more than a year."
"Only a year! Have I been gone only a year?"
"Yes, a year. But it's past now. Kiss me, Mescal. One kiss will pay for that long year, though it broke my heart."
Shyly she raised her hands to his shoulders and put her lips to his. "Yes, you've found me, Jack, thank God! just in time!"
"Mescal! What's wrong? Aren't you well?"
"Pretty well. But if you had not come soon I should have starved."
"Starved? Let me get my saddle-bags--I have bread and meat."
"Wait. I'm not so hungry now. I mean very soon I should not have had any food at all."
"But your peon--the dumb Indian? Surely he could find something to eat. What of him? Where is he?"
"My peon is dead. He has been dead for months, I don't know how many."
"Dead! What was the matter with him?"
"I never knew. I found him dead one morning and I buried him in the sand."
Mescal led Hare under the cottonwoods and pointed to the Indian's grave, now green with grass. Farther on in a circle of trees stood a little hogan skilfully constructed out of brush; the edge of a red blanket peeped from the door; a burnt-out fire smoked on a stone fireplace, and blackened earthen vessels lay near. The white seeds of the cottonwoods were flying light as feathers; plum-trees were pink in blossom; there were vines twining all about; through the openings in the foliage shone the blue of sky and red of cliff. Patches of blossoming Bowers were here and there lit to brilliance by golden shafts of sunlight. The twitter of birds and hum of bees were almost drowned in the soft roar of water.
"Is that the Colorado I hear?" asked Hare.
"No, that's Thunder River. The Colorado is farther down in the Grand Canyon."
"Farther down! Mescal, I must have come a mile from the rim. Where are we?"
"We are almost at the Colorado, and directly under the head of Coconina. We can see the mountain from the break in the valley below."
"Come sit by me here under this tree. Tell me--how did you ever get here?"
Then Mescal told him how the peon had led her on a long trail from Bitter Seeps, how they had camped at desert waterholes, and on the fourth day descended to Thunder River.
"I was quite happy at first. It's always summer down here. There were rabbits, birds, beaver, and fruit--we had enough to eat I explored the valley with Wolf or rode Noddle up and down the canyon. Then my peon died, and I had to shift for myself. There came a time when the beaver left the valley, and Wolf and I had to make a rabbit serve for days. I knew then I'd have to get across the desert to the Navajos or starve in the canyon. I hesitated about climbing out into the desert, for I wasn't sure of the trail to the waterholes. Noddle wandered off up the canyon and never came back. After he was gone and I knew I couldn't get out I grew homesick. The days weren't so bad because I was always hunting for something to eat, but the nights were lonely. I couldn't sleep. I lay awake listening to the river, and at last I could hear whispering and singing and music, and strange sounds, and low thunder, always low thunder. I wasn't really frightened, only lonely, and the canyon was so black and full of mutterings. Sometimes I'd dream I was back on the plateau with you, Jack, and Bolly and the sheep, and when I'd awake in the loneliness I'd cry right out--"
"Mescal, I heard those cries," said Hare.
"It was strange--the way I felt. I believe if I'd never known and--and loved you, Jack, I'd have forgotten home. After I'd been here a while, I seemed to be drifting, drifting. It was as if I had lived in the canyon long before, and was remembering. The feeling was strong, but always thoughts of you, and of the big world, brought me back to the present with its loneliness and fear of starvation. Then I wanted you, and I'd cry out. I knew I must send Wolf home. How hard it was to make him go! But at last he trotted off, looking backward, and I--waited and waited."
She leaned against him. The hand which had plucked at his sleeve dropped to his fingers and clung there. Hare knew how her story had slighted the perils and privations of that long year. She had grown lonely in the canyon darkness; she had sent Wolf away and had waited--all was said in that. But more than any speech, the look of her, and the story told in the thin brown hands touched his heart. Not for an instant since his arrival had she altogether let loose of his fingers, or coat, or arm. She had lived so long alone in this weird world of silence and moving shadows and murmuring water, that she needed to feel the substance of her hopes, to assure herself of the reality of the man she loved.
"My mustang--Bolly--tell me of her," said Mescal.
"Bolly's fine. Sleek and fat and lazy! She's been in the fields ever since you left. Not a bridle on her. Many times have I seen her poke her black muzzle over the fence and look down the lane. She'd never forget you, Mescal."
"Oh! how I want to see her! Tell me--everything."
"Wait a little. Let me fetch Silvermane and we'll make a fire and eat. Then--"
"Tell me now."
"Well, Mescal, it's soon told." Then came the story of events growing out of her flight. When he told of the shooting at Silver Cup, Mescal rose with heaving bosom and blazing eyes.
"It was nothing--I wasn't hurt much. Only the intention was bad. We saw no more of Snap or Holderness. The worst of it all was that Snap's wife died."
"Oh, I am sorry--sorry. Poor Father Naab! How he must hate me, the cause of it all! But I couldn't stay--I couldn't marry Snap."
"Don't blame yourself, Mescal. What Snap might have done if you had married him is guesswork. He might have left drink alone a while longer. But he was bad clean through. I heard Dave Naab tell him that. Snap would have gone over to Holderness sooner or later. And now he's a rustler, if not worse."
"Then those men think Snap killed you?"
"What's going to happen when you meet Snap, or any of them?"
"Somebody will be surprised," replied Hare, with a laugh.
"Jack, it's no laughing matter." She fastened her hands in the lapels of his coat and her eyes grew sad. "You can never hang up your gun again."
"No. But perhaps I can keep out of their way, especially Snap's. Mescal, you've forgotten Silvermane, and how he can run."
"I haven't forgotten. He can run, but he can't beat Bolly." She said this with a hint of her old spirit. "Jack--you want to take me back home?"
"Of course. What did you expect when you sent Wolf?"
"I didn't expect. I just wanted to see you, or somebody, and I thought of the Navajos. Couldn't I live with them? Why can't we stay here or in a canyon across the Colorado where there's plenty of game?"
"I'm going to take you home and Father Naab shall marry you--to--to me."
Startled, Mescal fell back upon his shoulder and did not stir nor speak for a long time. "Did--did you tell him?"
"What did he say? Was he angry? Tell me."
"He was kind and good as he always is. He said if I found you, then the issue would be between Snap and me, as man to man. You are still pledged to Snap in the Mormon Church and that can't be changed. I don't suppose even if he's outlawed that it could be changed."
"Snap will not let any grass grow in the trails to the oasis," said Mescal. "Once he finds I've come back to life he'll have me. You don't know him, Jack. I'm afraid to go home."
"My dear, there's no other place for us to go. We can't live the life of Indians."
"But Jack, think of me watching you ride out from home! Think of me always looking for Snap! I couldn't endure it. I've grown weak in this year of absence."
"Mescal, look at me." His voice rang as he held her face to face. "We must decide everything. Now--say you love me!"
"Say you'll marry me!"
"I will marry you."
"Then listen. I'll get you out of this canyon and take you home. You are mine and I'll keep you." He held her tightly with strong arms; his face paled, his eyes darkened. "I don't want to meet Snap Naab. I shall try to keep out of his way. I hope I can. But Mescal, I'm yours now. Your happiness--perhaps your life--depends on me. That makes a difference. Understand!"
Silvermane walked into the glade with a saddle-girth so tight that his master unbuckled it only by dint of repeated effort. Evidently the rich grass of Thunder River Canyon appealed strongly to the desert stallion.
"Here, Silver, how do you expect to carry us out if you eat and drink like that?" Hare removed the saddle and tethered the gray to one of the cottonwoods. Wolf came trotting into camp proudly carrying a rabbit.
"Mescal, can we get across the Colorado and find a way up over Coconina?" asked Hare.
"Yes, I'm sure we can. My peon never made a mistake about directions. There's no trail, but Navajos have crossed the river at this season, and worked up a canyon."
The shadows had gathered under the cliffs, and the rosy light high up on the ramparts had chilled and waned when Hare and Mescal sat down to their meal. Wolf lay close to the girl and begged for morsels. Then in the twilight they sat together content to be silent, listening to the low thunder of the river. Long after Mescal had retired into her hogan Hare lay awake before her door with his head in his saddle and listened to the low roll, the dull burr, the dreamy hum of the tumbling waters. The place was like the oasis, only infinitely more hidden under the cliffs. A few stars twinkled out of the dark blue, and one hung, beaconlike, on the crest of a noble crag. There were times when he imagined the valley was as silent as the desert night, and other times when he imagined he heard the thundering roll of avalanches and the tramp of armies. Then the voices of Mescal's solitude spoke to him--glorious laughter and low sad wails of woe, sweet songs and whispers and murmurs. His last waking thoughts were of the haunting sound of Thunder River, and that he had come to bear Mescal away from its loneliness.
He bestirred himself at the first glimpse of day, and when the gray mists had lifted to wreathe the crags it was light enough to begin the journey. Mescal shed tears at the grave of the faithful peon. "He loved this canyon," she said, softly. Hare lifted her upon Silvermane. He walked beside the horse and Wolf trotted on before. They travelled awhile under the flowering cottonwoods on a trail bordered with green tufts of grass and great star-shaped lilies. The river was still hidden, but it filled the grove with its soft thunder. Gradually the trees thinned out, hard stony ground encroached upon the sand, bowlders appeared in the way; and presently, when Silvermane stepped out of the shade of the cottonwoods, Hare saw the lower end of the valley with its ragged vent.
"Look back!" said Mescal.
Hare saw the river bursting from the base of the wall in two white streams which soon united below, and leaped down in a continuous cascade. Step by step the stream plunged through the deep gorge, a broken, foaming raceway, and at the lower end of the valley it took its final leap into a blue abyss, and then found its way to the Colorado, hidden underground.
The flower-scented breeze and the rumbling of the river persisted long after the valley lay behind and above, but these failed at length in the close air of the huge abutting walls. The light grew thick, the stones cracked like deep bell-strokes; the voices of man and girl had a hollow sound and echo. Silvermane clattered down the easy trail at a gait which urged Hare now and then from walk to run. Soon the gully opened out upon a plateau through the centre of which, in a black gulf, wound the red Colorado, sullen-voiced, booming, never silent nor restful. Here were distances by which Hare could begin to comprehend the immensity of the canyon, and he felt lost among the great terraces leading up to mesas that dwarfed the Echo Cliffs. All was bare rock of many hues burning under the sun.
"Jack, this is mescal," said the girl, pointing to some towering plants.
All over the sunny slopes cacti lifted slender shafts, unfolding in spiral leaves as they shot upward and bursting at the top into plumes of yellow flowers. The blossoming stalks waved in the wind, and black bees circled round them.
"Mescal, I've always wanted to see the Flower of the Desert from which you're named. It's beautiful."
Hare broke a dead stalk of the cactus and was put to instant flight by a stream of bees pouring with angry buzz from the hollow centre. Two big fellows were so persistent that he had to beat them off with his hat.
"You shouldn't despoil their homes," said Mescal, with a peal of laughter.
"I'll break another stalk and get stung, if you'll laugh again," replied Hare.
They traversed the remaining slope of the plateau, and entering the head of a ravine, descended a steep cleft of flinty rock, rock so hard that Silvermane's iron hoofs not so much as scratched it. Then reaching a level, they passed out to rounded sand and the river.
"It's a little high," said Hare dubiously. "Mescal, I don't like the looks of those rapids."
Only a few hundred rods of the river could be seen. In front of Hare the current was swift but not broken. Above, where the canyon turned, the river sheered out with a majestic roll and falling in a wide smooth curve suddenly narrowed into a leaping crest of reddish waves. Below Hare was a smaller rapid where the broken water turned toward the nearer side of the river, but with an accompaniment of twisting swirls and vicious waves.
"I guess we'd better risk it," said Hare, grimly recalling the hot rock, the sand, and lava of the desert.
"It's safe, if Silvermane is a good swimmer," replied Mescal. "We can take the river above and cut across so the current will help."
"Silvermane loves the water. He'll make this crossing easily. But he can't carry us both, and it's impossible to make two trips. I'll have to swim."
Without wasting more words and time over a task which would only grow more formidable with every look and thought, Hare led Silvermane up the sand-bar to its limit. He removed his coat and strapped it behind the saddle; his belt and revolver and boots he hung over the pommel.
"How about Wolf? I'd forgotten him."
"Never fear for him! He'll stick close to me."
"Now, Mescal, there's the point we want to make, that bar; see it?"
"Surely we can land above that."
"I'll be satisfied if we get even there. You guide him for it. And, Mescal, here's my gun. Try to keep it from getting wet. Balance it on the pommel--so. Come, Silver; come, Wolf."
"Keep up-stream," called Mescal as Hare plunged in. "Don't drift below us."
In two steps Silvermane went in to his saddle, and he rolled with a splash and a snort, sinking Mescal to her hips. His nose level with the water, mane and tail floating, he swam powerfully with the current.
For Hare the water was just cold enough to be delightful after the long hot descent, but its quality was strange. Keeping up-stream of the horse and even with Mescal, he swam with long regular strokes for perhaps one-quarter of the distance. But when they reached the swirling eddies he found that he was tiring. The water was thick and heavy; it compressed his lungs and dragged at his feet. He whirled round and round in the eddies and saw Silvermane doing the same. Only by main force could he breast his way out of these whirlpools. When a wave slapped his face he tasted sand, and then he knew what the strange feeling meant. There was sand here as on the desert. Even in the depths of the canyon he could not escape it. As the current grew rougher he began to feel that he could scarcely spread his arms in the wide stroke. Changing the stroke he discovered that he could not keep up with Silvermane, and he changed back again. Gradually his feet sank lower and lower, the water pressed tighter round him, his arms seemed to grow useless. Then he remembered a saying of August Naab that the Navajos did not attempt to swim the river when it was in flood and full of sand. He ceased to struggle, and drifting with the current, soon was close to Silvermane, and grasped a saddle strap.
"Not there!" called Mescal. "He might strike you. Hang to his tail!"
Hare dropped behind, and catching Silvermane's tail held on firmly. The stallion towed him easily. The waves dashed over him and lapped at Mescal's waist. The current grew stronger, sweeping Silvermane down out of line with the black wall which had frowned closer and closer. Mescal lifted the rifle, and resting the stock on the saddle, held it upright. The roar of the rapids seemed to lose its volume, and presently it died in the splashing and slapping of broken water closer at hand. Mescal turned to him with bright eyes; curving her hand about her lips she shouted:
"Can't make the bar! We've got to go through this side of the rapids. Hang on!"
In the swelling did Hare felt the resistless pull of the current. As he held on with both hands, hard pressed to keep his grasp, Silvermane dipped over a low fall in the river. Then Hare was riding the rushing water of an incline. It ended below in a red-crested wave, and beyond was a chaos of curling breakers. Hare had one glimpse of Mescal crouching low, shoulders narrowed and head bent; then, with one white flash of the stallion's mane against her flying black hair, she went out of sight in leaping waves and spray. Hare was thrown forward into the backlash of the wave. The shock blinded him, stunned him, almost tore his arms from his body, but his hands were so twisted in Silvermane's tail that even this could not loosen them. The current threw him from wave to wave. He was dragged through a caldron, blind from stinging blows, deaf from the tremendous roar. Then the fierce contention of waves lessened, the threshing of crosscurrents straightened, and he could breathe once more. Silvermane dragged him steadily; and, finally, his feet touched the ground. He could scarcely see, so full were his eyes of the sandy water, but he made out Mescal rising from the river on Silvermane, as with loud snorts he climbed to a bar. Hare staggered up and fell on the sand.
"Jack, are you all right?" inquired Mescal.
"All right, only pounded out of breath, and my eyes are full of sand. How about you?"
"I don't think I ever was any wetter," replied Mescal, laughing. "It was hard to stick on holding the rifle. That first wave almost unseated me. I was afraid we might strike the rocks, but the water was deep. Silvermane is grand, Jack. Wolf swam out above the rapids and was waiting for us when we landed."
Hare wiped the sand out of his eyes and rose to his feet, finding himself little the worse for the adventure. Mescal was wringing the water from the long straight braids of her hair. She was smiling, and a tint of color showed in her cheeks. The wet buckskin blouse and short skirt clung tightly to her slender form. She made so pretty a picture and appeared so little affected by the peril they had just passed through that Hare, yielding to a tender rush of pride and possession, kissed the pink cheeks till they flamed.
"All wet," said he, "you and I, clothes, food, guns--everything."
"It's hot and we'll soon dry," returned Mescal. "Here's the canyon and creek we must follow up to Coconina. My peon mapped them in the sand for me one day. It'll probably be a long climb."
Hare poured the water out of his boots, pulled them on, and helping Mescal to mount Silvermane, he took the bridle over his arm and led the way into a black-mouthed canyon, through which flowed a stream of clear water. Wolf splashed and pattered along beside him. Beyond the marble rock this canyon opened out to great breadth and wonderful walls. Hare had eyes only for the gravelly bars and shallow levels of the creek; intent on finding the easy going for his horse he strode on and on thoughtless of time. Nor did he talk to Mescal, for the work was hard, and he needed his breath. Splashing the water, hammering the stones, Silvermane ever kept his nose at Hare's elbow. They climbed little ridges, making short cuts from point to point, they threaded miles of narrow winding creek floor, and passed under ferny cliffs and over grassy banks and through thickets of yellow willow. As they wound along the course of the creek, always up and up, the great walls imperceptibly lowered their rims. The warm sun soared to the zenith. Jumble of bowlders, stretches of white gravel ridges of sage, blocks of granite, thickets of manzanita long yellow slopes, crumbling crags, clumps of cedar and lines of pinon--all were passed in the persistent plodding climb. The canon grew narrower toward its source; the creek lost its volume; patches of snow gleamed in sheltered places. At last the yellow-streaked walls edged out upon a grassy hollow and the great dark pines of Coconina shadowed the snow.
"We're up," panted Hare. "What a climb! Five hours! One more day--then home!"
Silvermane's ears shot up and Wolf barked. Two gray deer loped out of a thicket and turned inquisitively. Reaching for his rifle Hare threw back the lever, but the action clogged, it rasped with the sound of crunching sand, and the cartridge could not be pressed into the chamber or ejected. He fumbled about the breach of the gun and his brow clouded.
"Sand! Out of commission!" he exclaimed. "Mescal, I don't like that."
"Use your Colt," suggested Mescal.
The distance was too great. Hare missed, and the deer bounded away into the forest.
Hare built a fire under a sheltering pine where no snow covered the soft mat of needles, and while Mescal dried the blankets and roasted the last portion of meat he made a wind-break of spruce boughs. When they had eaten, not forgetting to give Wolf a portion, Hare fed Silvermane the last few handfuls of grain, and tied him with a long halter on the grassy bank. The daylight failed and darkness came on apace. The old familiar roar of the wind in the pines was disturbing; it might mean only the lull and crash of the breaking night-gusts, and it might mean the north wind, storm, and snow. It whooped down the hollow, scattering the few scrub-oak leaves; it whirled the red embers of the fire away into the dark to sputter in the snow, and blew the burning logs into a white glow. Mescal slept in the shelter of the spruce boughs with Wolf snug and warm beside her. Hare stretched his tired limbs in the heat of the blaze.
When he awakened the fire was low and he was numb with cold. He took care to put on logs enough to last until morning; then he lay down once more, but did not sleep. The dawn came with a gray shade in the forest; it was a cloud, and it rolled over him soft, tangible, moist, and cool, and passed away under the pines. With its vanishing the dawn lightened. "Mescal, if we're on the spur of Coconina, it's only ten miles or so to Silver Cup," said Hare, as he saddled Silvermane. "Mount now and we'll go up out of the hollow and get our bearings."
While ascending the last step to the rim Hare revolved in his mind the probabilities of marking a straight course to Silver Cup.
"Oh! Jack!" exclaimed Mescal, suddenly. "Vermillion Cliffs and home!"
"I've travelled in a circle!" replied Hare.
Mescal was enraptured at the scene. Vermillion Cliffs shone red as a rose. The split in the wall marking the oasis defined its outlines sharply against the sky. Miles of the Colorado River lay in sight. Hare knew he stood on the highest point of Coconina overhanging the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert, thousands of feet below. He noted the wondrous abyss sleeping in blue mist at his feet, while he gazed across to the desert awakening in the first red rays of the rising sun.
"Mescal, your Thunder River Canyon is only one little crack in the rocks. It is lost in this chasm," said Hare.
"It's lost, surely. I can t even see the tip of the peak that stood so high over the valley."
Once more turning to the left Hare ran his eye over the Vermillion Cliffs, and the strip of red sand shining under them, and so calculating his bearings he headed due north for Silver Cup. What with the snow and the soggy ground the first mile was hard going for Hare, and Silvermane often sank deep. Once off the level spur of the mountain they made better time, for the snow thinned out on the slope and gradually gave way to the brown dry aisles of the forest. Hare mounted in front of Mescal, and put the stallion to an easy trot; after two hours of riding they struck a bridle-trail which Hare recognized as one leading down to the spring. In another hour they reached the steep slope of Coconina, and saw the familiar red wall across the valley, and caught glimpses of gray sage patches down through the pines.
"I smell smoke," said Hare.
"The boys must be at the spring," rejoined Mescal.
"Maybe. I want to be sure who's there. We'll leave the trail and slip down through the woods to the left. I wish we could get down on the home side of the spring. But we can't; we've got to pass it."
With many a pause to peer through openings in the pines Hare traversed a diagonal course down the slope, crossed the line of cedars, and reached the edge of the valley a mile or more above Silver Cup. Then he turned toward it, still cautiously leading Silvermane under cover of the fringe of cedars.
"Mescal, there are too many cattle in the valley," he said, looking at her significantly.
"They can't all be ours, that's sure," she replied. "What do you think?"
"Holderness!" With the word Hare's face grew set and stern. He kept on, cautiously leading the horse under the cedars, careful to avoid breaking brush or rattling stones, occasionally whispering to Wolf; and so worked his way along the curve of the woody slope till further progress was checked by the bulging wall of rock.
"Only cattle in the valley, no horses," he said. "I've a good chance to cut across this cube and reach the trail. If I take time to climb up and see who's at the spring maybe the chance will be gone. I don't believe Dave and the boys are there."
He pondered a moment, then climbed up in front of Mescal, and directed the gray out upon the valley. Soon he was among the grazing cattle. He felt no surprise to see the H brand on their flanks.
"Jack, look at that brand," said Mescal, pointing to a white-flanked steer. "There's an old brand like a cross, Father Naab's cross, and a new brand, a single bar. Together they make an H!"
"Mescal! You've hit it. I remember that steer. He was a very devil to brand. He's the property of August Naab, and Holderness has added the bar, making a clumsy H. What a rustler's trick! It wouldn't deceive a child."
They had reached the cedars and the trail when Wolf began to sniff suspiciously at the wind.
"Look!" whispered Mescal, calling Hare's attention from the dog. "Look! A new corral!"
Bending back to get in line with her pointing finger Hare looked through a network of cedar boughs to see a fence of stripped pines. Farther up were piles of unstripped logs, and close by the spring there was a new cabin with smoke curling from a stone chimney. Hare guided Silvermane off the trail to softer ground and went on. He climbed the slope, passed the old pool, now a mud-puddle, and crossed the dry wash to be brought suddenly to a halt. Wolf had made an uneasy stand with his nose pointing to the left, and Silvermane pricked up his ears. Presently Hare heard the stamping of hoofs off in the cedars, and before he had fully determined the direction from which the sound came three horses and a man stepped from the shade into a sunlit space.
As luck would have it Hare happened to be well screened by a thick cedar; and since there was a possibility that he might remain unseen he chose to take it. Silvermane and Wolf stood still in their tracks. Hare felt Mescal's hands tighten on his coat and he pressed them to reassure her. Peeping out from his covert he saw a man in his shirt-sleeves leading the horses--a slender, clean-faced, dark-haired man--Dene! The blood beat hotly in Hare's temples and he gripped the handle of his Colt. It seemed a fatal chance that sent the outlaw to that trail. He was whistling; he had two halters in one hand and with the other he led his bay horse by the mane. Then Hare saw that he wore no belt; he was unarmed; on the horses were only the halters and clinking hobbles. Hare dropped his Colt back into its holster.
Dene sauntered on, whistling "Dixie." When he reached the trail, instead of crossing it, as Hare had hoped, he turned into it and came down.
Hare swung the switch he had broken from an aspen and struck Silvermane a stinging blow on the flanks. The gray leaped forward. The crash of brush and rattle of hoofs stampeded Dene's horses in a twinkling. But the outlaw paled to a ghastly white and seemed rooted to the trail. It was not fear of a man or a horse that held Dene fixed; in his starting eyes was the terror of the supernatural.
The shoulder of the charging stallion struck Dene and sent him spinning out of the trail. In a backward glance Hare saw the outlaw fall, then rise unhurt to shake his fists wildly and to run yelling toward the cabin.