FICTION

Feud on High Plateau

In a mountain paradise of timid wild-life, killer stalked killer with relentless hate

PAUL ANNIXTER March 15 1940
FICTION

Feud on High Plateau

In a mountain paradise of timid wild-life, killer stalked killer with relentless hate

PAUL ANNIXTER March 15 1940

AT THAT hour of the afternoon the region of High Plateau was beautiful beyond reach of thought. The gold of approaching sunset lay thick upon the green of pines, like light through amber glasses. Behind rose white-toothed peaks against a sky that verged upon cobalt. Blue shadows beginning to well up from the valleys, softened all contours, blending near peaks and far in a magic penumbra.

Cupped in the lap of the great hills, watered by a rushing, icy little stream from the glaciers above, High Plateau was like a cradle, a natural paradise for wild things. It lay far from any life save that of hoof and horn, of padding foot and spreading wing. For years it had known neither hunter nor trapper, but on this fall afternoon a shadow of fear and death hung over every living thing which dwelt there; a threat in the form of a man, the trapper, Peter Kaboush.

He had come up along the aspen-fringed stream that morning, on his back a heavy sack that bulged and clanked with traps. In his hand he carried a 30.30 rifle, in his mouth a vile-smelling black pipe. He was one part Indian and three parts no-good white. He called himself an old-timer, but he was really an old reprobate, a poacher and a booze fighter.

The thickening shadows dimmed him as he crouched, waiting, in a covert of brush a hundred yards above a natural spring where animals came down to drink. Roundabout, the sharp peaks stood out in a deathless beauty in the last of the yellow light. Below him, along the bright gleaming necklace of the mountain stream, the slim aspens were beginning to don the pale gold of October. The whole picture, save for the man himself, was perfect beyond compare. But one could not help sensing Peter Kaboush lurking there in his covert.

Very watchful, very attentive he was, his eyes filled with a gloating light as they scanned the slopes below. Not that Peter was sensitive to any thrill in the bewitching scene about him. No, it was merely that by numerous signs that stood out for his practiced eye, Kaboush knew that he had chanced upon a veritable gold mine for one of his calling—that High Plateau had long been a sheltered paradise for deer. And it was Peter’s mission here, resolved within the past half hour, to exterminate every deer buck, doe and fawn—that roamed this virgin forest. Whether or not a wild thing lived for the morrow did not trouble such as he, for on the morrow he was sure to be somewhere else.

The signs told Kaboush that many deer were in the habit of drinking here each day. After years of lawlessness, including poaching out of season and running whisky to the Indians, Peter had taken to the sanguine occupation of hunting deer for their hides. A clever hide-hunter in a good range could often kill five deer a day, and hides brought good money if one was familiar with certain secret avenues of trade.

It was approaching the hour at which all wild things come to water, as Kaboush knew. In fact, he was aware that a family of deer were even now approaching, for his schooled and cunning ear had caught the faint twitch and crackle of a deer’s step in the near-by brush. It was only a matter of minutes before the animals would emerge in the open to be viewed along his rifle sights. They would never suspect his presence. He had posted himself well down wind from the spring, and his was the Indian's trick of waiting as moveless and inanimate as a stone.

Finally a dun shadow loomed, faded, loomed again amid the farther shadows of the aspens. Then two delicate, lifted heads, half-masked among the leaves. Peter Kaboush stiffened ever so slightly, a blunt dirty finger crooking about his trigger. A ten-point buck had advanced straight into the open, followed by a doe.

Still Kaboush held his fire. Other deer were close behind the first pair, and there was no reason why a marksman like himself could not bring down a second animal after bagging the leading buck. The fact that it still lacked a month of being open season meant nothing to him. In this remote region a man could kill and laugh at the law.

Another minute passed—a small delay, but one of vital import to the brooding gods of forest affairs. Kaboush was just taking careful aim when there came an abrupt shift behind the scenes of things. The man had not been watching the spring alone. Another killer, even more crafty than he, had hidden himself in the depths of a gnarled spruce some twenty feet above the water. Largely because each of the pair was such an accomplished still hunter, neither had been apprised of the other’s presence.

In the instant that Kaboush's finger crooked around his rifle trigger, something like a streak of tawny lightning lanced between him and the drinking deer. The buck went to earth with an almost human cry of pain, its neck twisted and broken. The other deer had become mere diminishing whispers of sound amid the thickets. And Peter Kaboush found himself glaring down his rifle barrel at the biggest cougar he had ever seen.

THE insensate snarl of blood lust the great cat uttered as it struck, startled the trapper, robbing him for the moment of the fine edge of his control. It was a thing to freeze the blood at such close range. Not until Kaboush realized that the killer was tearing the buck’s precious pelt to ribbons did he regain presence of mind enough to fire, and then his rage was such that he scarcely took aim at all. His bullet tore through the right hind leg of the cougar, just missing the bone. The blood-choked snarls of the creature turned to a squall of fear and pain. A single loose rubbery undulation of the long body carried the cat ten feet from the kill, where he crouched glaring for a moment—and was gone. He simply dissolved into nothing, like a puff of tawny smoke.

Peter sent another bullet whining harmlessly after the beast. Then he stood for a space in black conjecture. The hide of the slain buck was not even worth the skinning, so mutilated it was. And his carelessness had lost him a perfect chance at the killer as well. Kaboush estimated the length of the cougar at a good nine and a half feet from the tip of the long ropelike tail to the end of his black cleft nose, a big specimen. Temporarily the animal had slipped through his fingers, but then and there the trapper swore that he would never leave the region until he had stretched the big cat’s tawny pelt.

Thus it was that the poacher Kaboush unwittingly took a hand in a feud of the forest that had been going on for fully a year. The man, of course, knew nothing about this, but all the wild folk on High Plateau, from the deer down to the rabbits, the squirrels and the little mountain marmots, knew that a case of bad blood had long been growing between Mishi, the great cougar who was overlord of the plateau, and a morose old cinnamon bear who had taken up his abode on the heights. It was a remorseless feud, as all knew, waged for the mastery of High Plateau; and it had had its inception in a strange way.

Ordinarily neither bear nor cougar would have had occasion to cross trails, and had they done so by chance, each would have treated the other with a wholesome respect for the grim battler that he was. But, as sometimes happens when a male bear grows old and surly and no longer cares to mate, the big cinnamon had ceased to hibernate two seasons before. As if out of sheer excess of ill temper he had elected to wander ceaselessly through the cold weather, seeking what food could be found in the winter woods. And this quite naturally had led to the animal’s turning almost wholly carnivorous in its habits.

Mokwa, as the cinnamon bear was known to the Indians, had come upon a deer-yard in the deep snow one winter, and had discovered that by pulling down a deer he could have abundance of food for a week. From then on, his appetite for meat grew and grew until he was ever on the hunt for deer, and so by natural course he came to haunt the deer forests of High Plateau.

But in doing so he encroached upon the hunting range over which Mishi had been top tyrant for nearly five years. There were deer enough for both hunters, but quite naturally a clash came about between the two within the first few weeks. The cougar, wanton slayer that he was, killed on the average of three deer a week in his arrogance, while the slow and stodgy bear had difficulty in killing one. He was not fitted for the niceties of the still hunt, and only because the deer were so numerous was he able to compete in the game. Often he was drawn to feast upon the remains of a kill the cougar had made the previous night.

It was thus Mishi came upon him one early morning, crunching down the last scraps of a discarded kill. Nothing could have been more perfectly designed to bring to a head the antagonism that already existed between the bear and cougar. The big cat flew into an ungovernable rage. It mattered not that he was satiated after a night’s hunting and would never have touched the kill again. Here was an interloper devouring the meat he had killed.

With the warning snarl that served as a relief valve for his murderous nature, the cougar launched out of a thicket of buckthorn, landing two feet in front of the bear and delivering a boxer’s blow to the shoulder as he landed. The cat poised there for an instant on three legs, bristling, hissing and backfiring, his eyes sheer balls of fire, his gaping jaws showing the gleaming ivory clear back to the pink of his gullet, from which horrible sounds came tearing like water sucking down a drain. He was the greatest bluffer the forest knew, and such dramatics often had won a battle for him before it had even begun. But stolid old Mokwa, the natural berry-eater and honey-grubber, didn’t bluff worth a cent. He was ravenous, and had been rudely interrupted at his banquet. With a squealing bawl of defiance he rose to his full height above the carcass and cut loose with a full-armed swipe that meant sure death. Of course, it never landed, for Mishi was crouched, snarling, six feet away.

So the pair faced each other for a full minute, voicing threat for threat. They were two desperately well-matched antagonists, and each of them knew it. The bear, still in possession of the meat, saw no reason to carry the battle farther; the cougar was full fed and, besides, deep down in his crafty soul he had a most wholesome fear of Mokwa. It was the cougar who, after a fitting interval, turned and melted away in the buckthorn. He left behind him, however, the knowledge of his deadly lasting hate and the ultimatum that this was but the beginning of a bitter feud that could never end so long as both beasts hunted the same district.

THUS THINGS had stood for some six months before the coming of Peter Kaboush. Bear and cougar continued to hunt the same range; each was continually aware of the other’s presence, yet it was not in the nature of either to bring matters to the issue of combat. They contented themselves with voicing dire threats at the rare intervals when their trails crossed.

With the coming of the trapper their war became a three-cornered feud. Each found now that he had two grim rivals to deal with instead of one, for Kaboush was the natural enemy of them both. There began now for the peaceful inhabitants of High Plateau a reign of terror, for the trapper was a fellow murderer who outkilled even the cougar, five or six to one, among the deer herds.

Two weeks passed before the poacher was aware of his second rival, the bear, and even then he did not take old Mokwa seriously. He sighted him one day on a distant hillside, pawing over the remains of a kill, and for a startled moment took him for a grizzly, because of the almost identical brown of his coat. Then he saw his mistake, the cinnamon bear, as he knew, being only a color phase of the black bear. It was plain that the creature was old and ill-conditioned, its ragged hide scarcely worth skinning. Kaboush lowered his rifle with a grunt.

From that time on Mokwa had done very well for himself. Although deer killing had become more and more difficult for him, wherever he went among the hills he came upon the carcasses of the trapper’s kills. On these he fed fat as the days passed. He lacked the cougar’s innate fear of man and so his phlegmatic nature was but little disturbed by the presence of the hide-hunter on the plateau.

Peter Kaboush never dreamed of the far-reaching effect of his hastily aimed shot by the spring that first day. His bullet, tearing through a tendon in the cougar’s hind leg, had made a partial cripple of Mishi, so that for several days thereafter the big cat had been unable to make a kill. Even when the wound had quite healed, it left Mishi with a bad limp, and one can scarcely imagine the significance of such an infirmity to a meat-eating creature whose hunting has always depended upon his chain-lightning speed and the ability to leap five times his own length, aiming both fang and claw with the accuracy of a rifle shot.

His lame leg ruined Mishi’s timing, and put all the wonderful resiliency of his other muscles to nought. The wary, fleet-footed deer began to elude him with ludicrous ease. Five times he missed his kill in as many days, for always at the final moment of his spring, the weakened tendon gave way, leaving Mishi snarling explosively in rage and disappointment in the direction of the vanishing prey. Too, there was the lingering pain in the injured leg which left a memory and a hate of man in his heart which increased from day to day.

Man was his only real natural enemy, and now wherever he went he found that Peter Kaboush had been ahead of him on the trail. A master woodsman, the hide-hunter had an unerring instinct as to where to look for the deer at any given hour. Mishi was forever coming upon his tracks, hearing his progress through the thickets. At sunrise and at sunset he heard the echoing crack of the trapper’s rifle, and the high slopes became dotted with the carcasses of his victims, all skinned but otherwise intact, except for an occasional missing hind quarter. These became a feast for the ravens and magpies by day and for innumerable coyotes by night.

Such a state of affairs wrought havoc with the cougar’s nerves. Competing against man was not at all in his line; the very proximity of the hunter filled his wicked heart with terror. All too often he was cheated of a possible kill by the nearness of the trapper. His careful, patient stalking at the deer springs would be frustrated by the appearance of the man, or the sudden roar of his rifle near by. A kill became harder and harder to make, for Mishi, that cruel, handsome villain, had become overnight as maladroit as old Mokwa on the deer trails, and like Mokwa he descended to vying with the coyotes over the trapper’s discarded kills, under the urge of stark hunger.

All this had a disastrous effect on his pride and his temper. He grew more savage each day; an uneasiness rode him constantly, for there was no telling when the roar of the trapper’s rifle, that killed so easily at a distance, might not stretch him twitching on the ground as it had stretched so many deer.

Though he did not know it, the cougar was equally the evil genius of his human rival. His constant prowling continually frustrated the trapper in his still-hunting. Time and again Kaboush would take up the trail of some fine big buck, only to have the quarry startled into flight by the rank cougar taint on the breeze, or he would come upon the freshly killed carcass, with big round pad marks in the earth close by, telling who the killer had been.

Every now and then Kaboush would take an entire day off for the express purpose of hunting the big cat down, but in this he was sadly outmatched. Mishi avoided the man with ease; nor was the poacher able to discover the cougar’s den. Mishi lived in a cleft among high rocks, surrounded for a hundred yards and more by rock rubble in which all trails were lost. Had the hide-hunter gone down to the nearest settlement and brought back dogs, he might easily have won out, but with a record such as his, anything was better than advertising his whereabouts to men.

Sometimes, out of malign curiosity and growing hate, the cougar would patiently stalk the man on his rounds. Often he would conceal himself beside some trail along which the trapper would have to pass, and wait for hours, with murder in his heart; but when at last the man appeared, the three parts cowardice would prevail over the one part frenzied courage which makes up cougar nature, turning his blood to water at sight of the upright spine.

At such times Mishi’s hate and his fear so nearly balanced that the result almost short-circuited his high-strung nervous system. He was not yet ready to risk life in an attack on the most dangerous enemy of all, yet the fact was continually impressed upon him, how puny this two-legged lord of creation really was. The trapper was not yet in actual danger, but the mood for attack was growing upon Mishi. Soon it would need only the perfect opportunity to turn him into a man killer.

And all this time the deer were dying, three and four each day, their unused carcasses littering the slopes, an orgy for the scavengers. Such an orgy of slaughter was of necessity short-lived. All three of the killers on High Plateau had departed from the protective routine of nature, and already nature was moving swiftly in her own way to correct the aberration.

NEWT FULLER, game warden of the great mountain park of which High Plateau was a part, was puzzled and out of sorts as he sat beside his supper fire. For two days he had been tramping the woods with tireless persistence, seeking to discover the cause of the alarming shortage of deer in the vicinity of the plateau. He had covered over twenty miles each day, and what he had found had kindled a slow wrath in his breast.

He had been drawn originally from his cabin ten miles distant by the sight of ravens and other meat birds drifting against the fall sky, like the dots and dashes of a forest telegraph code, signalling that something was very much wrong among the higher peaks. He knew at once the trouble was with the deer. He had thought at first the slaughter was the work of cougars, but before he had been an hour on the plateau he knew, past doubt, that the killing of cougars was negligible compared to the systematic butchery being perpetrated by some human hide-hunter. For many years the wild life of this remote region had remained tame under Government protection; now some unscrupulous hunter was taking advantage of the condition for wholesale slaughter. The many skinned carcasses told the story, and on the second day Newt had come upon a set of weather-stained drying racks where at least fifty deer skins had been cured during the past six weeks.

And so now there were four hunters on High Plateau, and a strange quartet they made—the poacher, the game warden, the ill-natured old bear and the lame cougar. Plainly nature had chosen this remote and lovely spot for the staging of one of her outlaw dramas.

For three or four days at least, three of the quartet did nothing but hunt one another. Quite naturally it was Mishi, the cat, master of woodcraft, who was first to be aware of Newt Fuller’s presence; and guilt and instinct seemed to whisper to him from the first what lay ahead. He had been tempted to put the region far behind him, but, in his lame condition, the uncertainty of that was too great. The world was full of enemies for such as he, and so he stayed. Hatred caused him to trail the warden artfully all the first day, and at night he watched the man as he sat beside his camp fire. But his great cowardice as always held him back.

Newt Fuller trailed both the cougar and the hide-hunter steadily and conscientiously from the start. And Peter Kaboush, sighting the warden crossing an open glade that first twilight, began to hunt him straightway as he hunted the cougar, in hatred and self-defense. Newt Fuller never dreamed that rifle sights in the hands of a master marksman covered him for a full minute that first evening, while a dirty finger itched and trembled at the trigger. It was no moral compunction that caused Peter Kaboush to hold his fire. It was the same blend of viciousness and cowardice that checked the cougar’s spring, and it showed itself in similar fashion in Kaboush’s wildcat eyes.

The third day Newt Fuller began setting traps and laying out poison bait for the cougar as Kaboush had done, and he watched with the patience of one of the wild things, beside the deer trails and drinking pools, but still nothing came to his lures. Nothing, that is, but two coyotes he took in his traps the first night. Not even a glimpse was vouchsafed him of the great cougar whose pad marks he had seen beside numerous kills. All Fuller sighted that day was an old cinnamon bear pawing over the remains of a kill, and, like Peter Kaboush, he never dreamed that Mokwa, too, had turned to killing deer.

While he waited for results from his traps, he focused his trailing efforts on the human hunter, but with as little result. He did not know that by night of the second day Kaboush had departed to a secret hide-out over the mountain, to wait until danger passed.

For ten days more Newt Fuller plied the forest ceaselessly. He became convinced, during that time, that the hide-hunter had departed, but each day brought fresh evidence of the boldness and cunning of the cougar. Yet Fuller was no nearer to conquering him than before. Like Kaboush he failed utterly to locate the killer’s den, and a disgust for himself and his woodcraft settled upon the warden.

At the end of two weeks Newt had to acknowledge himself defeated at every turn of the game. With all his fatiguing work he had gained not the slightest vantage, and he came to the grudging conclusion that both the cougar and the hide-hunter were too much for him. The following morning, he decided, he would have to trek down to the nearest settlement and collect a pack of dogs, a thing which sorely piqued his woodsman’s pride. However, it was the one way left for him to win, for in another week or so winter would be closing in and it would be impossible to remain longer in the open.

It was while resting at midday that Newt made this decision and, having made it, he deemed there was nothing left to do until the dogs arrived. Nature’s conflict, however, had been in progress long before the warden arrived, and it was at this juncture that one of the other players unwittingly put a foot into the machinery of things. It was old Mokwa, and he put a foot into one of Newt Fuller’s Number Three traps planted beside a recent kill.

AS HAS been pointed out, Mokwa possessed the most irascible temper in all the forest. It is quite likely that, at the vicious snap of the trap and the paralyzing pain as the jaws locked on his left hind leg, Mokwa imagined that his hated enemy, the cougar, had launched a surprise attack upon him. At any rate he raised a hubbub that startled the countryside for a mile around. But with all his strength and wrath the clamp of the steel jaws was inexorable; he could not free himself, but after a furious minute or two he succeeded in unearthing the trap chain and the heavy log clog to which it was fastened. With these dragging noisily after him, he set off through the woods. His fiery little eyes glowed red, and every few moments he voiced his wrath in a squealing bellow as the clog caught in the underbrush.

The deer fled away at his coming, to their remotest sanctuaries; the rabbits and marmots dived to their deepest burrow; the squirrels and jays, those noisy alarm bells of the woods, forgot even to revile him in their curiosity. And far up the mountain Mishi, the cougar, heard him, and paused to turn outraged eyes in the direction of the sounds. Then softly as temptation’s own shadow, he melted away in the direction of his den, for he sensed that trouble was afoot.

And trouble was.

Real fear rode Mokwa now, for his aroused senses told him that Newt Fuller was following along his back trail. Up the mountain he labored, seeking some sanctuary where he could rest and deal with the clinging thing of steel and the pain that ran like fire up his injured leg.

Out of the shadows of the spruce he clambered toward the bare rock slopes above. Terror made him mindless; only instinct drove him now, and instinct is nature’s very whisper. Out across a slope of sliding rubble he went; then the sight of a black cleft in the rocks above made him climb again. As he gained the narrow ledge before the cave opening, something bade him pause a moment; something stiffened the shaggy hair along his shoulders like the lifting of a dog’s hackles. In the same instant he saw the glow of greenish-yellow eyes from the cavern depths.

The moment was a tense one, for the cave was the den of Mishi, the cougar. Mokwa sensed it even before the form of the big cat emerged from the shadows. Mishi voiced a whining scream of anger. For seven months the feud between these hereditary foes had hung at a precarious balance; now the final restraint was swept away. To the cougar, the bear was attempting to encroach upon his stronghold, a thing which no wild creature will permit. The bear, maddened by pain, was beyond all fear and caution, so far as Mishi went.

The cougar moved first. Swift as the strike of a snake he sprang in, landing on Mokwa’s neck and shoulders, and next instant the rocky cliffs and canyons echoed to an inferno of battle sounds.

Newt Fuller, panting upgrade on the trail of the bear, arrived at the edge of the trees below just in time to see the battle start. Instantly he dropped from sight amid the undergrowth. His lean face was taut and glowing, every sense on the qui vive at his great good fortune. Chance had led him to the den of the cougar. Before him was the cougar himself, within easy range of his rifle.

Crouched there, Newt had it in mind to bring the killer down as soon as the whirl of battle permitted, but as the moments passed and the fight waxed ever fiercer, the warden’s rifle lowered. Something of a mystic was Newt Fuller, and it came over him that an old feud, a vengeance of nature perhaps, was being settled here—a drama he would gladly have given three months pay to witness.

Mokwa was flung forward upon his snout as the cougar’s hurling weight landed upon his shoulders. The vantage at the outset was all with the cat, whose long fangs achieved the hold for which he sought, in the side of the bear’s throat beneath the jaw. There were five purchases in all for the cat, counting the four sets of sabrelike claws that locked and clung like grappling hooks.

THE COUGAR’S tactics were bloody and terrible during those first few seconds, for he knew he had not the endurance of his rival. He must use his advantage to kill swiftly, otherwise he would be downed and outmatched in a close-up fight. So he did his evil best to tear his opponent to ribbons with his terrible rowelling hind claws, at the same time cutting in and in. with his long dog fangs, toward the arteries in Mokwa’s neck. The devastation he wrought was appalling.

Then the bear, staggering under the killer’s weight, slipped off the narrow ledge of rock, and the fighters went rolling down the steep slope of rubble below. When next they came upright, Newt Fuller saw with a thrill that the tables were turned. Mokwa had torn himself partly free and had his adversary’s lithe body in the grip of his vast forearms. That was the hold he wanted; and he flung all his great strength into the struggle, his mouth open in the savage caricature of a grin that is the bear’s fighting mask. In that position the cougar inadvertently rendered his opponent an incalculable service. His full weight came down on the spring clamp of the trap, so that the jaws suddenly fell apart, leaving the bear free. But in the heat of the struggle it is doubtful if Mokwa was even aware of the fact.

Mishi felt his ribs literally cracking under the bear's hug. He released his throat hold to yowl in pain. His struggles were already growing weaker; his first savage fury was turning into something like dementia. He fought now to free himself, battering one forepaw against his enemy’s face. That was the unwisest move of all, for the paw came within reach of Mokwa’s powerful jaws, which closed instantly upon it and locked.

The tawny beast’s yowling turned to fiendish screams of agony. From that moment on, the cougar’s tactics were minus all reason, while the bear, though desperately wounded, fought on with a silent, dogged determination. In-fighting was what he loved; never for an instant did his wrestler’s grip relax. His tolerant, slow-going nature had finally been lashed to fury, and it took only that to turn old Mokwa into the most terrible fighter in all the wilderness.

With a final, agonized squall the cougar suddenly collapsed; his struggles became weaker and weaker. He would have broken away and fled had he been able. But Mokwa did not release his opponent for an instant, simply reared above him on his great hind legs, one gorilla arm descending again and again with the shattering force of a pile driver. The first blow rid the plateau of the cougar for all time, but Mokwa, unheeding, slew with a fury that left nothing to chance.

Minutes passed before the old bear was satisfied that the battle was really over, that the still form beneath him could never defy him again. At last he drew off, and, squatting among the rocks, began doctoring his own grievous wounds with a flicking, red tongue.

Still palpitating from the excitement of the battle, Newt Fuller slowly raised his rifle to his shoulder. It had been a glorious fight, the greatest he had ever seen, and from the first his sympathy had been all with the bear. He had always liked and respected the law-abiding tribe of bears. He hated the idea of having to execute this one, yet it was a duty as Newt saw it, for he had found certain evidence that the old bear was a killer, one of the old solitaries soured by age and circumstance that woodsmen call “rogues.”

But of course, the thought struck him, Mokwa would most likely hibernate within a month, and the killing he might perpetrate in the meantime would be negligible. Thus Newt Fuller reasoned as he viewed the old warrior along his rifle sights—and hesitated. Afterward, he never ceased to be thankful for that momentary tolerance.

The silence following the battle was broken just there by the faint slither of loose stones. Something was coming cautiously along the mountainside, and to Newt Fuller came a conviction, sudden and sure, as to who the oncomer was. Old Mokwa likewise heard, and when he turned and shuffled off with low mumblings of irritation, Newt made no move to stop him.

Half-masked amid the undergrowth a hundred yards away, the head and shoulders of a man took form, crowned by a dusty black hat. Peter Kaboush had likewise heard the far-carrying sounds of the battle, and had come. Like the despoiler he was, he scanned the slope long and carefully before emerging.

The warden let him advance well into the open before he stood up with a shouted order, gun at point.