The Morgan Hills





Once out of Rickett, Barry pulled the stallion back to an easy canter. He

had camped during the latter part of the night near the town and ridden in

in the morning, so that Satan was full of running. He rebelled now against

this easy pace, and tossed his head with impatience. No curb restrained

him, not even a bit; the light hackamore could not have held him for an

instant, but the voice of the rider kept him in hand. Now, out of Rickett's

one street, came the thing for which Barry had waited, and delayed his

course--a scudding dust cloud. On the top of a rise of ground he brought

Satan to a halt and looked back, though Black Bart ran in a circle around

him, and whined anxiously. Bart knew that they should be running; there was

no good in that ragged dust-cloud. Finally he sat down on his haunches and

looked his master in the face, quivering with eagerness. The posse came

closer, at the rate of a racing horse, and near at hand the tufts of dust

which tossed up above and behind the riders dissolved, and Whistling Dan

made them out clearly, and more clearly.



For one form he looked above all, a big man who rode somewhat slanting; but

Vic Gregg was not among the crowd, and for the rest, Barry had no wish to

come within range of their harm. The revolver at his side, the rifle in the

case, were for the seventh man who must die for Grey Molly. These who

followed him mattered nothing--except that he must not come within their

reach. He studied them calmly as they swept nearer, fifteen chosen men as

he could tell by their riding, on fifteen choice horses as he could tell by

their gait. If they pushed him into a corner--well, five men were odds

indeed, yet he would not have given them a thought; ten men made it a grim

affair, but still he might have taken a chance; however, fifteen men made a

battle suicide--he simply must not let them corner him. Particularly

fifteen such men as these, for in the mountain-desert where all men are

raised gun in hand, these were the quickest and the surest marksmen. Each

one of them had struck that elusive white ball in motion, and each had done

it with a revolver. What could they do with a rifle?



That thought might have sent him rushing Satan down the farther slope, but

instead, he raised his head a little more and began to whistle softly to

himself. Satan locked an ear back to listen; Black Bart rose with a muffled

growl. The posse rode in clear view now, and at their head was a tall, lean

man with the sun glinting now and again on his yellow moustaches. He threw

out his arm and the posse scattered towards the left. Obviously he was the

accepted leader, and indeed few men in the mountain-desert would not willingly

have followed Mark Retherton. Another gesture from Retherton, and at

once a dozen guns gleaned, and a dozen bullets whizzed perilously close to

Barry, then the reports came barking up to him; he was just a little out of

range.



Still he lingered for a moment before he turned Satan reluctantly, it

seemed, and started him down the far slope, straightaway for the Morgan

Hills as old Billy had prophesied. It would be no exercise canter even for

Satan, for the horses which followed were rare of their kind, and the

western horse at the worst has manifold fine points. His ancestor is the

Barb or the Arab which the Spaniards brought with them to Mexico and the

descendants of that finest of equine bloods made up the wild herds which

soon roamed the mountain-desert to the north. Long famines of winter, hot

deserts in summer, changed their appearance. Their heads grew lumpier,

their necks more scraggy, their croups more slanting, their legs shorter;

but their hoofs grew denser, hardier, their shorter coupling gave them

greater weight-carrying possibilities, the stout bones and the clean lines

of their legs meant speed, and above all they kept the stout heart of the

thoroughbred and they gained more than this, an indomitable, bulldog

persistence. The cheapest Western cow-pony may look like the cartoon of a

horse, but he has points which a judge will note, and he will run a picture

horse to death in three days.



Such were the horses which took the trail of Satan and they were chosen

specimens of their kind. Up the slope they stormed and there went Satan

skimming across the hollow beneath them. Their blood was his blood, their

courage his courage, their endurance his endurance. The difference between

them was the difference between the factory machine and the hand made work

of art. From his pasterns to his withers, from his hoofs to his croup every

muscle was perfectly designed and perfectly placed for speed, tireless

running; every bone was the maximum of lightness and strength combined. A

feather bloom on a steady wind, such was the gait of Satan.



Down the hollow the posse thundered, and up the farther slope, and still

the black slipped away from them until Mark Retherton cursed deeply to

himself.



"Don't race your hosses, boys," he shouted. "Keep 'em in hand. That devil

is playing with us."



As a result, they checked their mounts to merely a fast gallup, and Barry,

looking back, laughed softly with understanding. Far different the

laborious pounding of the posse and the light stretch of Satan beneath him.

He leaned a little until he could catch the sound of the breathing, big,

steady draughts with comfortable intervals between. He could run like that

all day, it seemed, and Whistling Dan ran his fingers luxuriously down the

shining neck. Instantly the head tossed up, and a short whinney whipped

back to him like a question. Just before them the Morgan Hills jutted up,

like stiff mud chopped by the tread of giants. "Now, partner," murmured

Barry, "show 'em what you can do! Jest lengthen out a bit."



The steady breeze from the running sharpened into a gale, whisking about

his face; there was no longer the wave-like rock of that swinging gallup

but a smooth, swift succession of impulses. Rocks, shrubs darted past him,

and he felt a gradual settling of the horse beneath him as the strides

lengthened, From behind a yell of dismay, and with a backward glance he

saw every man of the posse leaning forward and swinging his quirt. An

instant later half a dozen of the ragged little hills closed between them.



Once fairly into the heart of the Morgans, he called the stallion back from

the racing stride to a long canter, and from the gallop to a rapid trot,

for in this broken country it was wearing on an animal to maintain a lope

up hill and down the quick, jerking falls. The cowpuncher hates the trot,

for his ponies are not built for it, but the deep play of Satan's fetlock

joints broke the hard impacts; his gait now was hardly more jarring than

the flow of the single-foot in an ordinary animal.



Black Bart, who had been running directly under the nose of the stallion,

now skirted away in the lead. Here and there he twisted among the gullies

at a racing clip, his head high, and always he picked out the smoothest

ground, the easiest rise, the gentlest descent which lay more or less

straight in the line of his master's flight. It cut down the work of the

stallion by half to have this swift, sure scout run before and point out

the path, yet it was stiff labor at the best and Barry was glad when he

came on the hard gravel of an old creek bed cutting at right angels to his

course.



From the first he had intended to run towards the Morgans only to cover the

true direction of his flight, and now, since the posse was hopelessly left

behind him, well out of hearing, he rode Satan into the middle of the creek

bed and swung him north.



It was bad going for a horse carrying a rider, and even the catlike

certainty of Satan's tread could not avoid sharp edges here and there that

might cut his hoofs. So Barry leaped to the ground and ran at full speed

down the bed. Behind him Satan followed, his ears pricked uneasily, and

Black Bart, at a signal from the master, dropped back and remained at the

first bend of the old, empty stream. In a moment they wound out of sight

even of Bart, but Barry kept steadily on. It would take a magnifying glass

to read his trail over those rocks.



He had covered a mile, perhaps, when Bart came scurrying again and leaped

joyously around the master.



"They've hit the creek, eh?" said Whistling Dan. "Well, they'll mill around

a while and like as not they'll run a course south to pick me up agin."



He gestured toward the side, and as soon as Satan stood on the good going

once more, Barry swung into the saddle and headed straight back west. No

doubt the posse would ride up and down the creek bed until they found his

trail turning back, but they would lose precious minutes picking it up,

and in the meantime he would be far, far away toward the ford of Tucker

Creek. Then, clearly, but no louder than the snapping of a dry twig near

his ear, he heard the report of a revolver and it spoke to him of many

things as the baffled posse rode up and down the creek bed hunting for the

direction of his escape. Some one had fired that shot to relieve his anger.



He neither spoke to Satan nor struck him, but there was a slight leaning

forward, an imperceptible flexing of the leg muscles, and in response the

black sprang again into the swift trot which sent him gliding over the

ground, and twisting back and forth among the sharp-sided gullies with a

movement as smooth as the run of the wolf-dog, which once again raced

ahead.



When they came out in view of the rolling plain Barry stopped again and

glanced to the west and the north, while Black Bart ran to the top of the

nearest hill and looked back, an ever vigilant outpost. To the north lay

the fordable streams near Caswell City, and that way was perfect safety, it

seemed. Not perfect, perhaps, for Barry knew nothing of the telephones by

which the little bald headed clerk at the sheriff's office was rousing the

countryside, but if he struck toward Caswell City from the Morgans, there

was not a chance in ten that scouts would catch him at the river which was

fordable for mile after mile.



That way, then, lay the easiest escape, but it meant a long detour out of

the shortest course, which struck almost exactly west, skirting dangerously

close to Rickett. But, as Billy had presupposed, it was the very danger

which lured the fugitive. Behind him, entangled in the gullies of the

bad-lands, were the fifteen best men of the mountain-desert. In front of

him lay nothing except the mind of Billy the clerk. But how could he know

that?



Once again he swayed a little forward and this time the stallion swung at

once into his ranging gallop, then verged into a half-racing gait, for

Barry wished to get out of sight among the rolling ground before the posse

came out from the Morgan Hills on his back trail.





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