A New Trail Begins





If he had been an ordinary rider, sitting heavily far back in the saddle,

at the end of a long ride, Barry would either have been flung clear and

smashed horribly against the rocks, or, more likely, he would have been

entangled in the stirrups and crushed to death instantly by the weight of

his horse; but he rode always lightly poised and when the mare pitched

forward his feet were already clear of the stirrups. He landed, catlike,

on hands and feet, unhurt.



It had been a long shot, a lucky hit even for a marksman of the sheriff's

caliber, and now the six horsemen streamed over a distant hilltop and swept

into the valley to take their quarry dead, or half dead, from his fall.

However, that approaching danger was nothing in the eye of Barry. He ran to

the fallen mare and caught her head in his arms. She ceased her struggles

to rise as soon as he touched her and whinneyed softly. The left foreleg

lay twisted horribly beneath her, broken. Grey Molly had run her last race,

and as Barry kneeled, holding the brave head close to him, he groaned, and

looked away from her eyes. It was only an instant of weakness, and when he

turned to her again he was drawing his gun from its holster.



The beating hoofs of the posse as they raced towards him made a growing

murmur through the clear air. Barry glanced towards them with a consummate

loathing. They had killed a horse to stop a man, and to him it was more

than murder. What harm had she done them except to carry her rider bravely

and well? The tears of rage and sorrow which a child sheds welled into the

eyes of Dan Barry. Every one of them had a hand in this horrible killing; was,

to that half animal and half-childish nature, a murderer.



His chin was on his shoulder; the quiver of pain in her nostrils ended as

he spoke; and while the fingers of his left hand trailed caressingly across

her forehead, his right carried the muzzle to her temple.



"Brave Molly, good girl," he whispered, "they'll pay for you a death for a

death and a man for a hoss." The yellow which had glinted in his eyes

during the run was afire now. "It ain't far; only a step to go; and then

you'll be where they ain't any saddles, nor any spurs to gall you, Molly,

but just pastures that's green all year, and nothin' to do but loaf in the

sun and smell the wind. Here's good luck to you, girl."



His gun spoke sharp and short and he laid the limp head reverently on the

ground.



It had all happened in very few seconds, and the posse was riding through

the river, still a long shot off, when Barry drew his rifle from its case

on the saddle. Moreover, the failing light which had made the sheriff's hit

so much a matter of luck was now still dimmer, yet Barry snapped his gun to

the shoulder and fired the instant the butt lay in the grove. For another

moment nothing changed in the appearance of the riders, then a man leaned

out of his saddle and fell full length in the water.



Around him his companions floundered, lifted and placed him on the bank,

and then threw themselves from their horses to take shelter behind the

first rocks they could find; they had no wish to take chances with a man

who could snap-shoot like this in such a light, at such a distance. By the

time they were in position their quarry had slipped out of sight and they

had only the blackening boulders for targets.



"God amighty," cried Ronicky Joe, "are you goin' to let that murderin'

hound-dog get clear off, Pete? Boys, who's with me for a run at him?"



For it was Harry Fisher who had fallen and lay now on the wet bank with his

arms flung wide and a red spot rimmed with purple in the center of his

forehead; and Fisher was Ronicky Joe's partner.



"You lay where you are," commanded the sheriff, and indeed there had been

no rousing response to Ronicky Joe's appeal.



"You yaller quitters," groaned Joe. "Give me a square chance and I'll

tackle Vic Gregg alone day or night, on hoss or on foot. Are we five goin'

to lay down to him?"



"If that was Vic Gregg," answered the sheriff, slipping over the insult

with perfect calm, "I wouldn't of told you to scatter for cover; but that

ain't Vic."



"Pete, what in hell are you drivin' at?"



"I say it ain't Vic," said the sheriff. "Vic is a good man with a hoss and

a good man with a gun, but he couldn't never ride like the gent over there

in the rocks, and he couldn't shoot like him."



He pointed, in confirmation, at the body of Harry Fisher.



"You can rush that hill if you want, but speakin' personal, I ain't ready

to die."



A thoughtful silence held the others until Sliver Waldron broke it with his

deep bass. "You ain't far off, Pete. I done some thinkin' along them lines

when I seen him standin' up there over the arroyo wavin' his hat at the

bullets. Vic didn't never have the guts for that."



All the lower valley was gray, dark in comparison with the bright peaks

above it, before the sheriff rose from his place and led the posse towards

the body of Grey Molly. There they found as much confirmation of Pete's

theory as they needed, for Vic's silver-mounted saddle was known to all of

them, and this was a plain affair which they found on the dead horse.

Waldron pushed back his hat to scratch his head.



"Look at them eyes, boys," he suggested. "Molly has been beatin' us all day

and she looks like she's fightin' us still."



The sheriff was not a man of very many words, and surely of little

sentiment; perhaps it was the heat of the long chase which now made him

take off his hat so that the air could reach his sweaty forehead. "Gents,"

he said, "she lived game and she died game. But they ain't no use of

wastin' that saddle. Take it off."



And that was Grey Molly's epitaph.





They decided to head straight back for the nearest town with the body of

Harry Fisher, and, fagged by the desperate riding of that day, they let

their horses go with loose rein, at a walk. Darkness gathered; the last

light faded from even the highest peaks; the last tinge of color dropped

out of the sky as they climbed from the valley. Now and then one of the

horses cleared its nostrils with a snort, but on the whole they went in

perfect silence with the short grass silencing the hoofbeats, and never a

word passed from man to man.



Beyond doubt, if it had not been for that same silence, if it had not been

for the slowness with which they drifted through the dark, what follows

could never have happened. They had crossed a hill, and descended into a

very narrow ravine which came to so sharp a point that the horses had to be

strung out in single file. The ravine twisted to the right and then the

last man of the procession heard the sheriff call: "Halt, there! Up with

your hands, or I'll drill you!" When they swung from side to side, craning

their heads to look, they made out a shadowy horseman facing Pete head on.

Then the sheriff's voice again: "Gregg, I'm considerable glad to meet up

with you."



If that meeting had taken place in any other spot probably Gregg would have

taken his chance on escaping through the night, but in this narrow pass he

could swing to neither side and before he could turn the brown horse

entirely around the sheriff might pump him full of lead. They gathered in a

solemn quiet around him; the irons were already upon his wrists.



"All right, boys," he said, "you've got me, but you'll have to give in that

you had all the luck."



A moment after that sharp command in the familiar, dreaded voice of Pete

Glass, Vic had been glad that the lone flight was over. Eventually this was

bound to come. He would go back and face the law, and three men lived to

swear that Blondy had gone after his gun first.



"Maybe luck," said the sheriff. "How d' you come back this way?"



"Made a plumb circle," chuckled Gregg. "Rode like a fool not carin' where I

hit out for, and the end of it was that it was dark before I'd had sense to

watch where the sun went down."



"Kind of cheerful, ain't you?" cut in Ronicky Joe, and his voice was as dry

as the crisping leaves in an autumn wind.



"They ain't any call for me to wear crepe yet," answered Gregg. "Worst

fool thing I ever done was to cut and run for it. The old Captain will tell

you gents that Blondy went for his gun first--had it clean out of the

leather before I touched mine."



He paused, and the silence of those dark figures sank in upon him.



"I got to warn you," said Pete Glass, "that what you say now can be used

again you later on before the jury."



"My God, boys," burst out Vic, "d'you think I'm a plain, low-down,

murderin' snake? Harry, ain't you got a word for me? Are you like the rest

of 'em?"



No voice answered.



"Harry," said Ronicky, "why don't you speak to him?"



It was a brutal thing to do, but Ronicky was never a gentle sort in his

best moments; he scratched a match and held it so that under the

spluttering light Gregg found himself staring into the face of Harry

Fisher. And he could not turn his eyes away until the match burned down to

Ronicky's finger tip and then dropped in a streak of red to the ground.



Then the sheriff spoke cold and hard.



"Partner," he said, "in the old days, maybe your line of talk would do some

good, but not now. You picked that fight with Blondy. You knew you was

faster on the draw and Hansen didn't have a chance. He was the worst shot

in Alder and everybody in Alder knew it. You picked that fight and you

killed your man, and you're goin' to hang for it."



Another hush; no murmur of assent or dissent.



"But they's one way out for you, Gregg, and I'm layin' it clear. We wanted

you bad, and we got you; but they's another man we want a lot worse. A

pile! Gregg, take me where I can find the gent what done for Harry Fisher

and you'll never stand up in front of a jury. You got my word on that."





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