Man-hunting





As Vic Gregg left the house, the new moon peered at him over a black

mountain-top, a sickle of white with a half imaginary line rounding the

rest of the circle, and to the shaken mind of Vic it seemed as if a ghostly

spectator had come out to watch the tragedy among the peaks. At the line of

the rocks the sheriff spoke.



"Gregg, you've busted your contract. You didn't bring him out."



Vic threw his revolver on the ground.



"I bust the rest of it here and now. I'm through. Put on your irons and

take me back. Hang me and be damned to you, but I'll do no more to

double-cross him."



Sliver Waldron drew from his pocket something which jangled faintly, but

the sheriff stopped him with a word. He sat up behind his rock.



"I got an idea, Gregg, that you've finished up your job and double-crossed

us! Does he know that I'm out here? Sit down there out of sight."



"I'll do that," said Gregg, obeying, "because you got the right to make me,

but you ain't got the right to make me talk, and nothin' this side of hell

can pry a word out of me!"



The sheriff drew down his brows until his eyes were merely cavities of

blackness. Very tenderly he fondled the rifle-butt which lay across his

knees, and never in the mountain-desert had there been a more humbly

unpretentious figure of a man.



He said: "Vic, I been thinkin' that you had the man-sized makin's of a

skunk, but I'm considerable glad to see I've judged you wrong. Sit quiet

here. I ain't goin' to put no irons on you if you give me your parole."



"I'll see you in hell before I give you nothin'. I was a man, or a partways

man, till I met up with you tonight, and now I'm a houn'-dog that's done my

partner dirt! God amighty, what made me do it?"



He beat his knuckles against his forehead.



"What you've done you can't undo," answered the sheriff. "Vic, I've seen

gents do considerable worse than you've done and come clean afterwards.

You're goin' to get off for what you've done to Blondy, and you're goin' to

live straight afterwards. You're goin' to get married and you're goin' to

play white. Why, man, I had to use you as far as I could. But you think I

wanted you to bring me out Barry? You couldn't look Betty square in the

face if you'd done what you set out to do. Now, I ain't pressin' you, but I

done some scouting while you was away, and I heard four men's voices in

the house. Can you tell me who's there?"



"You've played square, Pete," answered Vic hoarsely, "and I'll do my part.

Go down and get on your hosses and ride like hell; because in ten minutes

you're goin' to have three bad ones around your necks."



A mutter came from the rest of the posse, for this was rather more than

they had planned ahead. The sheriff, however, only sighed, and as the

moonlight increased Vic could see that he was deeply, childishly contented,

for in the heart of the little dusty man there was that inextinguishable

spark, the love of battle. Chance had thrown him on the side of the law,

but sooner or later dull times were sure to come and then Pete Glass would

cut out work of his own making go bad. The love of the man-trail is a

passion that works in two ways, and they who begin by hunting will in the

end be the hunted; the mountain-desert is filled with such histories.



"Three to five," said the sheriff, "sounds more interestin', Vic."



A sudden passion to destroy that assured calm rose in Gregg.



"Three common men might make you a game," he said, glowering, "but them

ain't common ones. One of 'em I don't know, but he has a damned nervous

hand. Another is Lee Haines!"



He had succeeded in part, at least. The sheriff sat bolt erect; he seemed

to be hearing distant music.



"Lee Haines!" he murmured. "That was Jim Silent's man. They say he was as

fast with a gun as Jim himself." He sighed again. "They's nothing like a

big man, Vic, to fill your sights."



"Daniels and Haines, suppose you count them off agin' the rest of your

gang, Pete. That leaves Barry for you." He grinned maliciously. "D'you know

what Barry it is?"



"It's a kind of common name, Vic."



"Pete, have you heard of Whistlin' Dan?"



No doubt about it, he had burst the confidence of the sheriff into

fragments. The little man began to pant and even in the dim light Vic could

see that his face was working.



"Him!" he said at length. And then: "I might of knowed! Him!" He leaned

closer. "Keep it to yourself, Vic, or you'll have the rest of the boys

runnin' for cover before the fun begins."



He snuggled a little closer to his rock and turned his head towards the

house.



"Him!" he said again.



Columbus, when he saw the land of his dream wavering blue in the distance,

might have hailed it with such a heart-filling whisper, and Vic knew that

when these two met, these two slender, small men--with the uneasy hands,

there would be a battle whose fame would ring from range to range.



"If they was only a bit more light," muttered the sheriff. "My God, Vic,

why ain't the moon jest a mite nearer the full!"



After that, not a word for a long time until the lights in the house were

suddenly extinguished,



"So they won't show up agin no background when they make their run,"

murmured the sheriff. He pushed up his hat brim so that it covered his eyes

more perfectly. "Boys, get ready. They're comin' now!"



Mat Henshaw took up the word, and repeated it, and the whisper ran down

the line of men who lay irregularly among the rocks, until at last Sliver

Waldron brought it to a stop with a deep murmur. Not even a whisper could

altogether disguise his booming bass. It seemed to Vic Gregg that the air

about him grew more tense; his arm muscles commenced to ache from the

gripping of his hands. Then a door creaked--they could tell the indubitable

sound as if there were a light to see it swing cautiously wide.



"They're goin' out the back way," interpreted the sheriff, "but they'll

come around in front. They ain't any other way they can get out of here.

Pass that down the line, Mat."



Before the whisper had trailed out half its course, a woman screamed in the

house. It sent a jag of lightning through the brain of Vic Gregg; he

started up.



"Get down," commanded the sheriff 'curtly. "Or they'll plant you."



"For God's sake, Pete, he's killin' his wife--an'--he's gone mad--I seen it

comin' in his eyes!"



"Shut up," muttered Glass, "an' listen."



A pulse of sound floated out to them, and stopped the breath of Gregg; it

was a deep, stifled sobbing.



"She's begged him to stay with her; he's gone," said the sheriff. "Now

it'll come quick."



But the sheriff was wrong. There was not a sound, not a sign of a rush.



Presently: "What sort of a lass is she, Gregg?"



"All yaller hair, Pete, and the softes' blue eyes you ever see."



The sheriff made no answer, but Vic saw the little bony hand tense about

the barrel of the rifle. Still that utter quiet, with the pulse of the

sobbing lying like a weight upon the air, and the horror of the waiting

mounted and grew, like peak upon peak before the eyes of the climber.



"Watch for 'em sneakin' up on us through the rocks. Watch for 'em close,

lads. It ain't goin' to be a rush."



Once more the sibilant murmur ran down the line, and the voice of Sliver

Waldron brought it faintly to a period.



"Three of 'em," continued the sheriff, "and most likely they'll come at us

three ways."



Through the shadow Vic watched the lips of Glass work and caught the end of

his soft murmur to himself : ". . . . all three!"



He understood; the sheriff had offered up a deep prayer that all three

might fall by his gun.



Up from the farther end of the line the whisper ran lightly, swiftly, with

a stammer of haste in it: "To the right!"



Ay, there to the right, gliding from the corner of the house, went a dark

form, and then another, and disappeared among the rocks. They had offered

not enough target for even chance shooting.



"Hold for close range" ordered the sheriff, and the order was repeated.

However much he might wish to win all the glory of the fray, the sheriff

took no chances--threw none of his odds away. He was a methodical man.



A slight patter caught the ear of Vic, like the running of many small

children over a heavy carpet, and then two shades blew around the side of

the house, one small and scudding close to the ground, the other vastly

larger--a man on horseback. It seemed a naked horse at first, so close to the

back did the rider lean, and before Vic could see clearly the vision

burst on them all. Several things kept shots from being fired earlier.



The first alarm had called attention to the opposite side of the house from

that on which the rider appeared; then, the moon gave only a vague,

treacherous light, and the black horse blended into it--the grass lightened

the fall of his racing feet.



Like a ship driving through a fog they rushed into view, the black

stallion, and Bart fleeting in front, and the surprise was complete. Vic

could see it work even in the sheriff, for the latter, having his rifle

trained towards his right jerked it about with a short curse and blazed at

the new target, again, again, and the line of the posse joined the fire.

Before the crack of their guns went from the ears of Vic, long before the

echoes bellowed back from the hills, Satan leaped high up. Perhaps that

change of position saved both it and its rider. Straight across the pale

moon drove the body with head stretched forth, ears back, feet gathered

close--a winged horse with a buoyant figure upon it. It cleared a five foot

rock, and rushed instantly out of view among the boulders. The fugitive had

fired only one shot, and that when the stallion was at the crest of its

leap.





M'cay's Recruit Many Barren Months And Miles facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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