Prologue

ThestagofTexas,reclininginmidnightlair,isstartledfromhisslumbersbythehoofstrokeofahorse.

Hedoesnotforsakehiscovert,noryetrisetohisfeet.Hisdomainissharedbythewildsteedsofthesavannah,giventonocturnalstraying.Heonlyuprearshishead;and,withantlerso’ertoppingthetallgrass,listensforarepetitionofthesound.

Againisthehoofstrokeheard,butwithalteredintonation.Thereisaringofmetaltheclinkingofsteelagainststone.

Thesound,significanttotheearofthestag,causesaquickchangeinhisairandattitude.Springingclearofhiscouch,andboundingascoreofyardsacrosstheprairie,hepausestolookbackuponthedisturberofhisdreams.

Intheclearmoonlightofasouthernsky,herecognisesthemostruthlessofhisenemiesman.Oneisapproachinguponhorseback.

Yieldingtoinstinctivedread,heisabouttoresumehisflight:whensomethingintheappearanceofthehorsemansomeunnaturalseemingholdshimtransfixedtothespot.

Withhaunchesinquiveringcontactwiththesward,andfrontletfacedtotherear,hecontinuestogazehislargebrowneyesstrainingupontheintruderinamingledexpressionoffearandbewilderment.

Whathaschallengedthestagtosuchprotractedscrutiny?

Thehorseisperfectinallitspartsasplendidsteed,saddled,bridled,andotherwisecompletelycaparisoned.Initthereappearsnothingamissnothingtoproduceeitherwonderoralarm.Butthemantherider?

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