Trampling of hoofs interrupted the rider. More restless movements on the part of Tull's men broke up the little circle, exposing the prisoner Venters.
"Mebbe I've kind of hindered somethin'--for a few moments, perhaps?" inquired the rider.
"Yes," replied Jane Withersteen, with a throb in her voice.
She felt the drawing power of his eyes; and then she saw him look at the bound Venters, and at the men who held him, and their leader.
"In this here country all the rustlers an' thieves an' cut-throats an' gun-throwers an' all-round no-good men jest happen to be Gentiles. Ma'am, which of the no-good class does that young feller belong to?"
"He belongs to none of them. He's an honest boy."
"You KNOW that, ma'am?"
"Then what has he done to get tied up that way?"
His clear and distinct question, meant for Tull as well as for Jane Withersteen, stilled the restlessness and brought a momentary silence.
"Ask him," replied Jane, her voice rising high.
The rider stepped away from her, moving out with the same slow, measured stride in which he had approached, and the fact that his action placed her wholly to one side, and him no nearer to Tull and his men, had a penetrating significance.
"Young feller, speak up," he said to Venters.
"Here stranger, this's none of your mix," began Tull. "Don't try any interference. You've been asked to drink and eat. That's more than you'd have got in any other village of the Utah border.
Water your horse and be on your way."
"Easy--easy--I ain't interferin' yet," replied the rider. The tone of his voice had undergone a change. A different man had spoken. Where, in addressing Jane, he had been mild and gentle, now, with his first speech to Tull, he was dry, cool, biting.
"I've lest stumbled onto a queer deal. Seven Mormons all packin' guns, an' a Gentile tied with a rope, an' a woman who swears by his honesty! Queer, ain't that?"
"Queer or not, it's none of your business," retorted Tull.
"Where I was raised a woman's word was law. I ain't quite outgrowed that yet."
Tull fumed between amaze and anger.
"Meddler, we have a law here something different from woman's whim-- Mormon law!...Take care you don't transgress it."
"To hell with your Mormon law!"
The deliberate speech marked the rider's further change, this time from kindly interest to an awakening menace. It produced a transformation in Tull and his companions. The leader gasped and staggered backward at a blasphemous affront to an institution he held most sacred. The man Jerry, holding the horses, dropped the bridles and froze in his tracks. Like posts the other men stood watchful-eyed, arms hanging rigid, all waiting.