"Speak up now, young man. What have you done to be roped that way?"
"It's a damned outrage!" burst out Venters. "I've done no wrong.
I've offended this Mormon Elder by being a friend to that woman."
"Ma'am, is it true--what he says?" asked the rider of Jane, but his quiveringly alert eyes never left the little knot of quiet men.
"True? Yes, perfectly true," she answered.
"Well, young man, it seems to me that bein' a friend to such a woman would be what you wouldn't want to help an' couldn't help....What's to be done to you for it?"
"They intend to whip me. You know what that means--in Utah!"
"I reckon," replied the rider, slowly.
With his gray glance cold on the Mormons, with the restive bit-champing of the horses, with Jane failing to repress her mounting agitations, with Venters standing pale and still, the tension of the moment tightened. Tull broke the spell with a laugh, a laugh without mirth, a laugh that was only a sound betraying fear.
"Come on, men!" he called.
Jane Withersteen turned again to the rider.
"Stranger, can you do nothing to save Venters?"
"Ma'am, you ask me to save him--from your own people?"
"Ask you? I beg of you!"
"But you don't dream who you're askin'."
"Oh, sir, I pray you--save him!"
These are Mormons, an' I..."
"At--at any cost--save him. For I--I care for him!"
Tull snarled. "You love-sick fool! Tell your secrets. There'll be a way to teach you what you've never learned....Come men out of here!"
"Mormon, the young man stays," said the rider.
Like a shot his voice halted Tull.
"Who'll keep him? He's my prisoner!" cried Tull, hotly.
"Stranger, again I tell you--don't mix here. You've meddled enough. Go your way now or--"
Absolute certainty, beyond any shadow of doubt, breathed in the rider's low voice.
"Who are you? We are seven here."
The rider dropped his sombrero and made a rapid movement, singular in that it left him somewhat crouched, arms bent and stiff, with the big black gun-sheaths swung round to the fore.
It was Venters's wondering, thrilling cry that bridged the fateful connection between the rider's singular position and the dreaded name.
Tull put out a groping hand. The life of his eyes dulled to the gloom with which men of his fear saw the approach of death. But death, while it hovered over him, did not descend, for the rider waited for the twitching fingers, the downward flash of hand that did not come. Tull, gathering himself together, turned to the horses, attended by his pale comrades.