"Keep out of the way, Bug," Vic cried, as the two men clinched.
And the struggle began. They were evenly matched, and both had the sinews of giants. The outlaw had the advantage of an iron strength, hardened by years of out-door life. But the college that had softened the country boy somewhat gave in return the quick judgment and superior agility of the trained power that counts against weight before the battle is over. But withal, it was terrible. One fighter was a murderer by trade, his hand steady for the blackest deeds, and here was a man he had waited long months to destroy. The other fighter was in the struggle to save a life dear to him, a life that must vindicate his conscience and preserve his soul's peace.
Across the stone-floored cave they threshed in fury, until at the farther wall Gresh flung Vic from him against the jagged rock with a force that cut a gash across the boy's head. The blood splashed on both men's faces as they renewed the strife. Then with a quick twist Burleigh threw the outlaw to the floor and held him in a clutch that weighed him down like a ledge of rock; and it was pound for pound again.
Away from the mass of burning coals the blackness was horrible. Beyond that fire Bug sat, silent as the stone wall behind him. Gresh gained the mastery again, and with a grip on Vic's throat was about to thrust his head, face downward, into the burning embers. Vic understood and strove for his own life with a maniac's might, for he knew that one more wrench would end the thing.
"You first, and then the baby; I'll roast you both," Gresh hissed, and Vic smelled the heat of the wood flame.
But who had counted on Bug? He had watched this fearful grapple, motionless and terror-stricken, and now with a child's vision he saw what Gresh meant to do. Springing up, he caught the heavy coat on which he had been sitting and flung it on the fire, smothering the embers and putting the cavern into complete darkness.
Vic gained the vantage by this unlooked for movement and the grip shifted. The fighters fell to the floor and then began the same kind of struggle by which Burleigh had out-generaled big, unconquerable Trench one day. The two had rolled and fought in college combat from the top of the limestone ridge to the lower campus and landed with Burleigh gripping Trench helpless to defend further. That battle was friend with friend. This battle was to the death. The blood of both men smeared the floor as they tore at each other like wild beasts, and no man could have told which oftenest had the vantage hold, nor how the strife would end. But it did end soon. The heavy coat, that had smothered the fire and saved Vic, smoldered a little, then flared into flame, lighting the whole cave, and throwing out black and awful shadows of the two fighters. They were close to the hole in the inner wall now. Gresh's face in that unsteady glare was horrible to see. He loosed his hold a second, then lunged at Vic with the fury of a mad brute. And Vic, who had fought the devil in himself to a standstill three hours ago, now caught the fiend outside of him for a finishing blow, and the strength of that last struggle was terrific.
Up to this time Vic had not spoken.