The Seventh Man

第21章

One Trail Ends

"You can trust Grey Molly to me, Vic," said Dan, standing at the head of the gray mare."I'll keep her as safe as if she was Satan."Gregg watched her almost sadly.He had always taken a rather childish pride in her fierceness.She knew him as a dog knows its master and he had always been the only one who could handle her readily in the saddle.But one who knew nothing of horses and their ways could see the entente which had been instantly established between Barry and Grey Molly.When he spoke her ears pricked.When he raised his hand she stretched her nose inquisitively.

There was no pitch in her when Barry swung into the saddle and that was a thing without precedent in Molly's history.She tried none of her usual catlike side-steps and throwing of the head.Altogether, Vic was troubled even as he would have been at the sight of Betty Neal in the arms of another man.It was desertion.

"Dan," he said, "I know what you've done for me and I know what you're doin' now." He took the slender hand of the other in his big paw.

"If the time comes when I can pay you back, so help me God--""Oaths don't do no good," cut in Barry without a trace of emotion.He added frankly: "It ain't altogether for your sake.Those gents down there have played tag once with me and now I'd like to play with them.Molly's fresh today."He was already looking over his shoulder while he spoke; as if his mind were even then at work upon the posse.

"S'long."

"S'long, partner.Good luck."

So they parted and Vic, jogging slowly up the steep path, saw Grey Molly wheeled and sent at a sweeping gallop over the meadow.His heart leaped jealously and the next moment went out in a flood of gratitude, admiration, as Barry swung off the shoulder of the mountain, waved his hat towards Kate, and dipped at once out of sight.

The shelving ground along which Barry rode sometimes was a broad surface like a spacious, graded road; again it shelved away and opened a view of all the valley.When he reached the first of these places the rider looked back and down and saw the posse skirting rapidly on his side of the river, behind him and close to the cliff.They rode at an easy lope, and he could see that their heads were bent to watch the ground.Even at this casual gait they would reach the point at which he and the gray must swing onto the floor of the valley before him unless he urged Molly to top speed.He must get there at a sufficient distance from them to escape close rifle fire, and certainly beyond point-blank revolver range.Accordingly he threw his weight more into the stirrups and over the withers of the mare.This brought greater poundage on her forehand and made her apt to stumble or actually miss her step, but it increased her running power.

There was no need of a touch of the spurs.The gathering of the reins seemed to tell Molly everything.One ear flickered back, then she leaped out at full speed.It was as though the mind of the man had sent an electric current down the reins and told her his thought.Now she floundered at her foot, struck a loose stone, now she veered sharply and wide to escape a boulder, now she cleared a gulley with a long leap, and riding high as he was, bent forward out of balance to escape observation from below.It was only a miracle of horsemanship that kept her from breaking her neck as they lurched down the pitch.Grey Molly seemed to be carrying no weight, only a clinging intelligence.

At this speed he was sure to reach the valley safely in front unless the posse caught sight of him on the way and gave chase, and Barry counted on that instinct in hunting men which makes them keep their eyes low--the same sense which leads a searcher to look first under the bed and last of all at the wall and ceiling.Once more, as he neared his goal, he looked back and down, and there came the six horsemen, their quirts swinging, their hat-brims blown straight up they raced at full speed.They had seen the gray and they rode for blood.

The outstretched neck of Grey Molly, her flattened ears, the rapid clangor of her hoofs on the rocks, seemed to indicate that she already was doing her uttermost, but after the glimpse of the pursuit, Barry crouched a little lower, his hand gathering the reins just behind her head, his voice was near her, speaking softly, quickly.She responded with a snort of effort, as though she realized the danger and willingly accepted it.One ear, as she rushed down the slope, was pricked and one flagged back to the guiding, strengthening voice of the rider.

Max Brand

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