Part 4 out of 5
By the time they reached the shoulder of the hill on the farther side, with
a long stretch of down slope before, they had placed a large handicap
between them and the danger of pursuit, but still they were not at ease. On
their trail, sooner or later, would come three powers working towards one
end, the surety of Black Bart following a scent, the swiftness of Satan
which never tired, and above all the rider who directed them both and kept
them to their work. His was the arm which could strike from the distance
and bring them down. They spurted down the hill.
No sooner were they in full motion than Joan, for the first time, seemed to
realize what it was all about. She was still carried by Lee Haines, who
cradled her easily in his powerful left arm, but now she began to struggle.
Then she stiffened and screamed: "Daddy Dan! Daddy Dan!"
"For God's sake, stop her mouth or he'll hear!" groaned Buck Daniels.
"He can't!" said Haines. "We're too far away even if he were at the cave
"I tell you he'll hear! Don't talk to me about distance."
Kate reined her horse beside Lee.
"Joan!" she commanded.
They were sweeping across the meadow now at an easy gallop. Joan screamed
again, a wild plea for help.
"Joan!" repeated Kate, and her voice was fierce. She raised her quirt and
shook it. "Be quiet, Munner whip--hard!"
Another call died away on the lips of Joan. She looked at her mother with
astonishment and then with a new respect.
"If you cry once more, munner whip!"
And Joan was silent, staring with wonder and defiance.
When they came close to the cabin, Lee Haines drew rein, but Kate motioned
"Where to?" he called.
"Back to the old ranch," she answered. "We've got to have help."
He nodded in grim understanding, and they headed on and down the slope
towards the valley.
Chapter XXIX. Billy The Clerk
If Sheriff Pete Glass had been the typical hard-riding, sure-shooting
officer of the law as it is seen in the mountain-desert, his work would
have died with his death, but Glass had a mind as active as his hands, and
therefore, for at least a little while, his work went on after him. He had
gathered fifteen practiced fighters who represented, it might be said, the
brute body of the law, and when they, with most of Rickett at their heels,
burst down the door of the Sheriff's office and found his body, they had
only one thought, which was to swing into the saddle and ride on the trail
of the killer, who was even now in a diminishing cloud of dust down the
street. He was riding almost due east, and the cry went up: "He's streakin'
it for the Morgan Hills. Git after him, boys!" So into the saddle they went
with a rush, fifteen tried men on fifteen chosen horses, and went down the
street with a roar of hoof-beats. That was the body and muscle of the
sheriff's work going out to avenge him, but the mind of the law remained
It was old Billy, the clerk. No one paid particular attention to Billy, and
they never had. He was useless on a horse and ridiculous with a gun, and
the only place where he seemed formidable was behind a typewriter. Now he
sat looking, down into the dead face of Pete Glass, trying to grasp the
meaning of it all. From the first he had been with Pete, from the first the
invincibility of the little dusty man had been the chief article of Billy's
creed, and now his dull eyes, bleared with thirty years of clerical labor,
wandered around on the galaxy of dead men who looked down at him from the
wall. He leaned over and took the hand of the sheriff as one would lean to
help up a fallen man, but the fingers were already growing cold, and then
Billy realized for the first time that this was death. Pete Glass had been;
Pete Glass was not.
Next he knew that something had to be done, but what it was he could not
tell, for he sat in the sheriff's office and in that room he was accustomed
to stop thinking and receive orders. He went back to his own little
cubby-hole, and sat down behind the typewriter; at once his mind cleared,
thoughts came, and linked themselves into ideas, pictures, plans.
The murderer must be taken, dead or alive, and those fifteen men had ridden
out to do the necessary thing. They had seemed irresistible, as they
departed; indeed, no living thing they met could withstand them, human or
otherwise, as Billy very well knew. Yet he recalled a saying of the
sheriff, a thing he had insisted upon: "No man on no hoss will ever ride
down Whistlin' Dan Barry. It's been tried before and it's never worked.
I've looked up his history and it can't be done. If he's goin' to be ran
down it's got to be done with relays, like you was runnin' down a wild
hoss." Billy rubbed his bald head and thought and thought.
With that orderliness which had become his habit of mind, from work with
reports and papers, sorting and filing away, Billy went back to the
beginning. Dan Barry was fleeing. He started from Rickett, and nine chances
out of ten he was heading, eventually, towards those practically
impenetrable mountain ranges where the sheriff before had lost the trail
after the escape from the cabin and the killing of Mat Henshaw. Towards
this same region, again, he had retreated after the notorious Killing at
Alder. There was no doubt, then, humanly speaking, that he would make for
the same safe refuge.
At first glance this seemed quite improbable, to be sure, for the Morgan
Hills lay due east, or very nearly east, while the place from which Barry
must have sallied forth and to which be would return was somewhere well
north of west, and a good forty miles away. It seemed strange that he
should strike off in the opposite direction, so Billy closed his eyes,
leaned back in his chair, and summoned up a picture of the country.
Five miles to the east the Morgan Hills rolled, sharply broken ups and
downs of country--bad lands rather than real hills, and a difficult region
to keep game in view. That very idea gave Billy his clue. Barry knew that
he would be followed hard and fast, and he headed straight for the Morgan's
to throw the posse off the final direction he intended to take in his
flight. In spite of the matchless speed of that black stallion of which the
sheriff had learned so much, he would probably let the posse keep within
easy view of him until he was deep within the bad-lands. Then he would
double, sharply around and strike out in the true direction of his flight.
Having reached this point in his deductions, Billy smote his hands
together. He was trembling with excitement so that he filled his pipe with
difficulty. By the time it was drawing well he was back examining his
mental picture of the country.
West of Rickett about the same distance as Morgan Hills, ran the Wago
Mountains, low, rolling ranges which would hardly form an impediment for a
horseman. Across these Barry might cut at a good speed on his western
course, but some fifteen or twenty miles from Rickett he was bound to reach
a most difficult barrier. It was the Asper river, at this season of the
year swollen high and swift with snow-water--a rare feat indeed if a man
could swim his horse across such a stream. There were only two places in
which it could be forded.
About fifty miles north and a little east of the line from Rickett the
Asper spread out into a broad, shallow bed, its streams dispersed for
several miles into a number of channels which united again, farther down
the course, and made the same strong river. Towards this ford, therefore,
it was possible that Dan Barry would head, in the region of Caswell City.
There was, however, another way of crossing the stream. Almost due west of
Rickett, a distance of fifteen miles, Tucker Creek joined the Asper. Above
the point of junction both the creek and the river were readily fordable,
and Barry could cross them and head straight for his goal.
It was true that to make Tucker Creek he would have to double out of the
Morgan Hills and brush back perilously close to Rickett, but Billy was
convinced that this was the outlaw's plan; for though the Caswell City
fords would be his safest route it would take him a day's ride, on an
ordinary horse, out of his way. Besides, the sheriff had always said:
"Barry will play the chance!"
Billy would have ventured his life that the fugitive would strike straight
for the Creek as soon as he doubled out of Morgan Hills.
Doors began to bang; a hundred pairs of boots thudded and jingled towards
Billy; the noise of voices rolled through the outer hall, poured through
the door, burst upon his ears. He looked up in mild surprise; the first
wave of Rickett's men had swept out of the courthouse to take the trail of
the fugitive or to watch the pursuit; in this second wave came the
remnants, the old men, the women; great-eyed children. In spite of their
noise of foot and voice they appeared to be trying to walk stealthily, talk
so softly. They leaned about his desk and questioned him with
gesticulations, but he only stared. They were all dim as dream people to
Billy the clerk, whose mind was far away struggling with his problem.
"Pore old Billy is kind of dazed," suggested a woman. "Don't bother him,
Bud. Look here!"
The tide of noise and faces broke on either side of the desk and swayed off
towards the inner office and vaguely Billy felt that they should not be
there--the sheriff's privacy--the thought almost drew him back to complete
consciousness, but he was borne off from them, again, on a wave of study,
pictures. Off there to the east went the fifteen best men of the mountain-
desert on the trail of the slender fellow with the black hair and the soft
brown eyes. How he had seemed to shrink with aloofness, timidity, when he
stood there at the door, giving his name. It was not modesty. Billy knew
now; it was something akin to the beasts of prey, who shrink from the eyes
of men until they are mad with hunger, and in the slender man Billy
remembered the same shrinking, the same hunger. When he struck, no wonder
that even the sheriff went down; no wonder if even the fifteen men were
baffled on that trail; and therefore, it was sufficiently insane for him,
Billy the clerk, to sit in his office and dream with his ineffectual hands
of stopping that resistless flight. Yet he pulled himself back to his
Considering his problem in general, the thing was perfectly simple: Barry
was sure to head west, and to the west there were only two gates--fording
the creek and the river above the junction in the first place, or in the
second place cutting across the Asper far north at Caswell City.
If he could be turned from the direction of Tucker Creek he would head for
the second possible crossing, and when he drew near Caswell City if he were
turned by force of numbers again he would unquestionably skirt the Asper,
hoping against hope that he might find a fordable place as he galloped
south. But, going south, he might be fenced again from Tucker Creek, and
then his case would be hopeless and his horse worn down.
It was a very clever plan, quite simple after it was once conceived, but in
order to execute it properly it was necessary that the outlaw be pressed
hard every inch of the way and never once allowed to get out of sight. He
must be chased with relays. In ordinary stretches of the mountain-desert
that would have been impossible, but the country around Rickett was not
Between the Morgan Hills and Wago there were considerable stretches of
excellent farm land in the center of which little towns had grown up.
Running north from the country seat, they were St. Vincent, Wago, and
Caswell City. Coming south again along the Asper River there were Ganton
and Wilsonville, and just above the junction of the river with Tucker Creek
lay the village of Bly Falls. There was no other spot in the
mountain-desert, perhaps, which could show so many communities. Also it was
possible to get in touch with the towns from Rickett, for in a wild spirit
of enterprise telephones had been strung to connect each village of the
His hand went out mechanically and pushed in an open drawer of his filing
cabinet as if he were closing up the affair, putting away the details of
the plan. Each point was now clear, orderly assembled. It meant simply
chasing Barry along a course which covered close to a hundred miles and
which lay in a loosely shaped U. St. Vincent's was the tip of the eastern
side of that U. The men of St. Vincent's were to be called out to turn the
outlaw out of his course towards Tucker Creek, and then, as he struck
northeast towards Caswell City, they were to furnish the posse with fifteen
fresh horses, the best they could gather on such short notice. Swinging
north along that side of the U, Wago would next be warned to get its
contribution of fifteen horses ready, and this fresh relay would send Barry
thundering along towards Caswell City at full speed. Then Caswell City
would send out its contingent of men and horses, and turn the fugitive back
from the fords. By this time, unless his horse were better winded than any
that Billy had ever dreamed of, it would be staggering at every stride, and
the fresh horses from Caswell City would probably ride him down before he
had gone five miles. Even in case they failed in this, there was the little
town of Ganton, which would be ready with its men and mounts. Perhaps they
could hem in the desperado from the front and shoot him down there, as he
skirted along the river. At the worst they would furnish the fresh horses
and the fifteen hardy riders would spur at full speed south along the
river. If again, by some miracle, the black stallion lasted out this run,
Wilsonville lay due ahead, and that place would again give new horses to
Last of all, the men of Bly Falls could be warned. Bly Falls was a town of
size and it could turn out enough men to block a dozen Dan Barrys, no
matter how desperate. If he reached that point, he must turn back. The
following posse would catch him from the rear, and between two fires he
must die ingloriously. Taking the plan as a whole it meant running Barry
close to a hundred miles with six sets of horses.
It all hinged, however, on the first step: Could the men of St. Vincent
turn him out of his western course and send him north towards Caswell City?
If they could, he was no better than a dead man. All things favored Billy.
In the first place it was still morning, and eight hours of broad daylight
would keep the fugitive in view every inch of the way. In the second place,
much of the distance was cut up by the barb-wire fences of the farm-lands,
and he must either jump these or else stop to cut them.
A crackle of laughter cut in on Billy the clerk. They were laughing in that
inner office, where the sheriff lay dead. Blood swept across his eyes, set
his brain whirling, and he rushed to the door.
"You yelpin' coyotes!" shouted Billy the clerk. "Get out. I got to be
alone! Get out, or by God--"
It was not so much his words, or the fear of his threats, but the very fact
that Billy the clerk, harmless, smiling old Billy, had burst into noisy
wrath, scared them as if an earthquake had gripped the building. They went
out sidling, and left the rooms in quiet. Then Billy took up the phone.
"Pete Glass is dead," he was saying a moment later to the owner of the
general merchandise store at St. Vincent. "Barry came in this morning and
shot him. The boys have run him east to the Morgan Hills. Johnny, listen
hard and shut up. You got half an hour to turn out every man in your town.
Ride south till you get in the hills on a bee-line east of where Tucker
Creek runs into the old Asper. D'ye hear? Then keep your eyes peeled to
the east, and watch for a man on a black hoss ridin' hard, because Barry is
sure as hell goin' to double back out of the Morgan Hills and come west
like a scairt coyote. The posse will be behind him, but they most like be a
hell of a ways to the bad. Johnny, everything hangs on your turnin' Barry
back. And have fifteen fresh hosses, the best St. Vincent has, so that the
boys in the posse can climb on 'em and ride hell-bent for Wago. Johnny, if
we get him started north he's dead--and if you turn him like I say I'll
see that you come in on the reward. D'ye hear?"
But there was only an inarticulate whoop from the other end of the
Billy hung up. A little later he was talking to Wago.
Chapter XXX. The Morgan Hills
Once out of Rickett, Barry pulled the stallion back to an easy canter. He
had camped during the latter part of the night near the town and ridden in
in the morning, so that Satan was full of running. He rebelled now against
this easy pace, and tossed his head with impatience. No curb restrained
him, not even a bit; the light hackamore could not have held him for an
instant, but the voice of the rider kept him in hand. Now, out of Rickett's
one street, came the thing for which Barry had waited, and delayed his
course--a scudding dust cloud. On the top of a rise of ground he brought
Satan to a halt and looked back, though Black Bart ran in a circle around
him, and whined anxiously. Bart knew that they should be running; there was
no good in that ragged dust-cloud. Finally he sat down on his haunches and
looked his master in the face, quivering with eagerness. The posse came
closer, at the rate of a racing horse, and near at hand the tufts of dust
which tossed up above and behind the riders dissolved, and Whistling Dan
made them out clearly, and more clearly.
For one form he looked above all, a big man who rode somewhat slanting; but
Vic Gregg was not among the crowd, and for the rest, Barry had no wish to
come within range of their harm. The revolver at his side, the rifle in the
case, were for the seventh man who must die for Grey Molly. These who
followed him mattered nothing--except that he must not come within their
reach. He studied them calmly as they swept nearer, fifteen chosen men as
he could tell by their riding, on fifteen choice horses as he could tell by
their gait. If they pushed him into a corner--well, five men were odds
indeed, yet he would not have given them a thought; ten men made it a grim
affair, but still he might have taken a chance; however, fifteen men made a
battle suicide--he simply must not let them corner him. Particularly
fifteen such men as these, for in the mountain-desert where all men are
raised gun in hand, these were the quickest and the surest marksmen. Each
one of them had struck that elusive white ball in motion, and each had done
it with a revolver. What could they do with a rifle?
That thought might have sent him rushing Satan down the farther slope, but
instead, he raised his head a little more and began to whistle softly to
himself. Satan locked an ear back to listen; Black Bart rose with a muffled
growl. The posse rode in clear view now, and at their head was a tall, lean
man with the sun glinting now and again on his yellow moustaches. He threw
out his arm and the posse scattered towards the left. Obviously he was the
accepted leader, and indeed few men in the mountain-desert would not willingly
have followed Mark Retherton. Another gesture from Retherton, and at
once a dozen guns gleaned, and a dozen bullets whizzed perilously close to
Barry, then the reports came barking up to him; he was just a little out of
Still he lingered for a moment before he turned Satan reluctantly, it
seemed, and started him down the far slope, straightaway for the Morgan
Hills as old Billy had prophesied. It would be no exercise canter even for
Satan, for the horses which followed were rare of their kind, and the
western horse at the worst has manifold fine points. His ancestor is the
Barb or the Arab which the Spaniards brought with them to Mexico and the
descendants of that finest of equine bloods made up the wild herds which
soon roamed the mountain-desert to the north. Long famines of winter, hot
deserts in summer, changed their appearance. Their heads grew lumpier,
their necks more scraggy, their croups more slanting, their legs shorter;
but their hoofs grew denser, hardier, their shorter coupling gave them
greater weight-carrying possibilities, the stout bones and the clean lines
of their legs meant speed, and above all they kept the stout heart of the
thoroughbred and they gained more than this, an indomitable, bulldog
persistence. The cheapest Western cow-pony may look like the cartoon of a
horse, but he has points which a judge will note, and he will run a picture
horse to death in three days.
Such were the horses which took the trail of Satan and they were chosen
specimens of their kind. Up the slope they stormed and there went Satan
skimming across the hollow beneath them. Their blood was his blood, their
courage his courage, their endurance his endurance. The difference between
them was the difference between the factory machine and the hand made work
of art. From his pasterns to his withers, from his hoofs to his croup every
muscle was perfectly designed and perfectly placed for speed, tireless
running; every bone was the maximum of lightness and strength combined. A
feather bloom on a steady wind, such was the gait of Satan.
Down the hollow the posse thundered, and up the farther slope, and still
the black slipped away from them until Mark Retherton cursed deeply to
"Don't race your hosses, boys," he shouted. "Keep 'em in hand. That devil
is playing with us."
As a result, they checked their mounts to merely a fast gallup, and Barry,
looking back, laughed softly with understanding. Far different the
laborious pounding of the posse and the light stretch of Satan beneath him.
He leaned a little until he could catch the sound of the breathing, big,
steady draughts with comfortable intervals between. He could run like that
all day, it seemed, and Whistling Dan ran his fingers luxuriously down the
shining neck. Instantly the head tossed up, and a short whinney whipped
back to him like a question. Just before them the Morgan Hills jutted up,
like stiff mud chopped by the tread of giants. "Now, partner," murmured
Barry, "show 'em what you can do! Jest lengthen out a bit."
The steady breeze from the running sharpened into a gale, whisking about
his face; there was no longer the wave-like rock of that swinging gallup
but a smooth, swift succession of impulses. Rocks, shrubs darted past him,
and he felt a gradual settling of the horse beneath him as the strides
lengthened, From behind a yell of dismay, and with a backward glance he
saw every man of the posse leaning forward and swinging his quirt. An
instant later half a dozen of the ragged little hills closed between them.
Once fairly into the heart of the Morgans, he called the stallion back from
the racing stride to a long canter, and from the gallop to a rapid trot,
for in this broken country it was wearing on an animal to maintain a lope
up hill and down the quick, jerking falls. The cowpuncher hates the trot,
for his ponies are not built for it, but the deep play of Satan's fetlock
joints broke the hard impacts; his gait now was hardly more jarring than
the flow of the single-foot in an ordinary animal.
Black Bart, who had been running directly under the nose of the stallion,
now skirted away in the lead. Here and there he twisted among the gullies
at a racing clip, his head high, and always he picked out the smoothest
ground, the easiest rise, the gentlest descent which lay more or less
straight in the line of his master's flight. It cut down the work of the
stallion by half to have this swift, sure scout run before and point out
the path, yet it was stiff labor at the best and Barry was glad when he
came on the hard gravel of an old creek bed cutting at right angels to his
From the first he had intended to run towards the Morgans only to cover the
true direction of his flight, and now, since the posse was hopelessly left
behind him, well out of hearing, he rode Satan into the middle of the creek
bed and swung him north.
It was bad going for a horse carrying a rider, and even the catlike
certainty of Satan's tread could not avoid sharp edges here and there that
might cut his hoofs. So Barry leaped to the ground and ran at full speed
down the bed. Behind him Satan followed, his ears pricked uneasily, and
Black Bart, at a signal from the master, dropped back and remained at the
first bend of the old, empty stream. In a moment they wound out of sight
even of Bart, but Barry kept steadily on. It would take a magnifying glass
to read his trail over those rocks.
He had covered a mile, perhaps, when Bart came scurrying again and leaped
joyously around the master.
"They've hit the creek, eh?" said Whistling Dan. "Well, they'll mill around
a while and like as not they'll run a course south to pick me up agin."
He gestured toward the side, and as soon as Satan stood on the good going
once more, Barry swung into the saddle and headed straight back west. No
doubt the posse would ride up and down the creek bed until they found his
trail turning back, but they would lose precious minutes picking it up,
and in the meantime he would be far, far away toward the ford of Tucker
Creek. Then, clearly, but no louder than the snapping of a dry twig near
his ear, he heard the report of a revolver and it spoke to him of many
things as the baffled posse rode up and down the creek bed hunting for the
direction of his escape. Some one had fired that shot to relieve his anger.
He neither spoke to Satan nor struck him, but there was a slight leaning
forward, an imperceptible flexing of the leg muscles, and in response the
black sprang again into the swift trot which sent him gliding over the
ground, and twisting back and forth among the sharp-sided gullies with a
movement as smooth as the run of the wolf-dog, which once again raced
When they came out in view of the rolling plain Barry stopped again and
glanced to the west and the north, while Black Bart ran to the top of the
nearest hill and looked back, an ever vigilant outpost. To the north lay
the fordable streams near Caswell City, and that way was perfect safety, it
seemed. Not perfect, perhaps, for Barry knew nothing of the telephones by
which the little bald headed clerk at the sheriff's office was rousing the
countryside, but if he struck toward Caswell City from the Morgans, there
was not a chance in ten that scouts would catch him at the river which was
fordable for mile after mile.
That way, then, lay the easiest escape, but it meant a long detour out of
the shortest course, which struck almost exactly west, skirting dangerously
close to Rickett. But, as Billy had presupposed, it was the very danger
which lured the fugitive. Behind him, entangled in the gullies of the
bad-lands, were the fifteen best men of the mountain-desert. In front of
him lay nothing except the mind of Billy the clerk. But how could he know
Once again he swayed a little forward and this time the stallion swung at
once into his ranging gallop, then verged into a half-racing gait, for
Barry wished to get out of sight among the rolling ground before the posse
came out from the Morgan Hills on his back trail.
Chapter XXXI. The Trap
He had already covered a good ten miles, and a large part of that through
extremely rough going, but the black ran with his head as high as the
moment he pulled out of Rickett that morning, and there was only enough
sweat to make his slender neck and greyhound flanks flash in the sun. Back
he winged toward Rickett, running as freely as the wild leader of a herd,
sometimes turning his fine head to one side to look back at the master or
gaze over the hills, sometimes slackening to a trot up a sharper ascent or
lengthening into a fuller gallop on an easy down-slope. There seemed no
purpose in the reins which were kept just taut enough to give the rider the
feel of his mount, and the left hand which held them was never still for a
moment, but played back and forth slightly with the motion of the head.
Except in times of crisis those reins were not for the transmission of
orders, it seemed, but they served as the wires through which the mind of
the man and the mind of the horse kept in telegraphic touch.
In the meantime Black Bart loafed behind, lingering on the crest of each
rise to look back, and then racing to catch up, but halfway back to Rickett
he came up beside the master, whining, and leaping as high as Barry's knee.
"You seen something?" queried Barry. "Are they comin' on the trail again?"
He swayed a bit to one side and diverted Satan out of his course so as to
climb one of the more commanding swells. From this point he glanced back
and saw a dust cloud, much like that which a small whirlwind picks up,
rolling down the nearest slope of the Morgan Hills. At that distance the
posse looked hardly larger than one unit, and certainly they could not see
the single horseman they followed; however, they could follow the trail
easily across this ground. Satan had turned to look back.
"Shall we go back and play around 'em, boy?" asked Barry.
Black Bart had run on ahead, and now he turned with a short howl.
"The partner says 'no,'" continued the master. "Of all the dogs I ever see,
Bart plays the most careful game, but out on the trail, Satan"--here he
sent the stallion into the sweeping lope--"Bart knows more'n you an' me put
together, so we'll do what he says."
For answer, Satan lengthened a little into his stride. As for the wolf-dog,
he went off like a black bolt into the eye of the wind, streaking it west
to hunt out the easiest course. A wolf--and surely there was more of wolf
than of dog in Black Bart--has a finer sense for the lay of ground than
anything on four feet. He knows how to come down the wind on his quarry
keeping to the depressions and ravines so that not a taint of his presence
is blown to the prey; and he will skulk across an open plain, stealing from
hollow to hollow and stalking from bush to bush, so that the wariest are
taken by surprise. As for Black Bart, he knew the kind of going which the
stallion liked as well, almost, as he knew his own preferences, and he
picked out a course which a surveyor with line and spirit-level could
hardly have bettered. He wove across the country in loosely thrown
semicircles, and came back in view of the master at the proper point. There
was hardly much point in such industry in a country as smooth as this, not
much more difference, say, than the saving of distance which the horse
makes who hugs the fence on the turn and on account of that sticks his head
under the finish wire a nose in front; and Bart clung to his work with
Sometimes he ran back with lolling, red tongue, when the course lay clear
even to the duller sense of a human, and frisked under the nose of Satan
until a word from Barry sent him scurrying away like a pleased child. His
duties comprehended not only the selection of the course but also an eagle
vigilance before and behind, so that when he came again with a peculiar
whine, Barry leaned a little from the saddle and spoke to him anxiously.
"D'you mean to say that they been gainin' ground on us old boy?"
Black Bart leaped sidewise, keeping his head toward the master, and he
howled in troubled fashion.
"Whereaway are they now?" muttered Barry, and looked back again.
A great distance behind, hardly distinguishable now, the dust of the posse
was blending into the landscape and losing itself against a gray
"If they's nothin' wrong behind, what's bitin' you, Bart. You gettin'
hungry, maybe? Want to hurry home?"
Another howl, still louder, answered him.
"Go on, then, and show me where they's trouble."
Black Bart whirled and darted off almost straight ahead, but bearing up a
hill slightly south of their course. Toward the top of this eminence he
changed his lope for a skulking trot that brought his belly fur trailing on
"They's somethin' ahead of us, Satan!" cried the master softly. "What could
that be? It's men, by the way Bart sneaks up to look at 'em. They's nothin'
else that he'd do that way for. Easy, boy, and go soft!"
The stallion cut his gallop into a slinking trot, his head lowered, even
his ears flat back, and glided up the hillside. Barry swung to the ground
and crawled to the top of the hill. What he saw was a dozen mounted men
swinging down into the low, broad scoop of ground beyond the hill. They
raced with their hatbrims standing stiff up in the wind.
"They've been watchin' us with glasses!" whispered Dan to Bart, and the
wolf-dog snarled savagely, his neck-fur ruffling up.
The dozen directly in front were not all, for to the right, bearing
straight across his original course, came another group almost as strong,
and to the left eight more riders spurred at top speed.
"We almost walked into 'em," said Barry, "but they ain't got us yet. Back,
The wolf dog slunk down the hill until it was out of sight from the farther
side of the slope, and the master imitated these tactics until he was close
to Satan. Once in the saddle he made up his mind quickly. Someone in
Rickett had guessed his intention to double back toward Tucker Creek, and
they had cut him off cleverly enough and in overwhelming force. However, no
one in Rickett could guess that another way out remained for him in the
fords below Caswell City, and even if they knew, their knowledge would do
them no good. They could not wing a message to that place to head him off;
it was not humanly possible. For Dan knew nothing of the telephone lines
which brought Caswell City itself within speaking distance of far away
Rickett. Caswell City, then, was his goal, but to get toward it he must
circle far back toward the Morgan Hills, back almost into the teeth of the
posse in order to skirt around the right wing of these new enemies. Even
then, to double that flank, he must send Satan ahead at full speed. As he
swung around, the eight men of that end party crashed over the hill five
hundred yards away, and their yell at the view of the quarry went echoing
up the shallow valley.
The slayer of Pete Glass, he who had done the notorious Killing at Alder,
was almost in touch of their revolvers--and their horses were fresh. Not one
of that eight but would have given odds on his chances of sharing the
capture money. There were no spurs on the heels of Barry to urge Satan, and
no quirt in his hand, but a single word sent the black streaking down the
Going into the Morgan Hills he had gone like the wind, but now he rushed
like a thoroughbred standing a challenge in the homestretch. His nose, and
his flying tail were a straight line and the flash of his legs was a tangle
which no eye could follow as he shot east on the back trail, straight
toward the posse. For a mile or more that speed did not slacken, and at the
end of that distance he began to edge to the right.
The men behind him knew well enough what the plan of the fugitive was, and
they angled farther toward the north; there in the distance came the posse,
the cloud of dust breaking up now into the dark figures of the fifteen, and
if the men from St. Vincent could hold the pace a little longer they would
drive Barry between two fires. They flattened themselves along their
horses' necks at infinite risk to their necks in case of a stumble, and
every spur in the crowd was dripping red; horseflesh could do no more, and
still the black drew ahead inches and inches with every stride.
If they could not turn him with their speed another way remained, and by
swift agreement the four best horses were sent ahead at full speed while
the other riders caught their reins over the pommels and jerked out their
rifles; a quartet of bullets went screaming after the black horse.
Indeed, there was little enough chance that a placed shot would go home,
but their magazines were full, and a chance hit would do the work and kill
both man and horse at that rate of speed. Dan Barry knew it, and when the
bullets sang he whirled in the saddle and swept out his rifle from its case
in the same movement. That yellow devil of anger flared in his eyes as he
pitched the butt to his shoulder and straight into the circle of the sight
rode Johnny Gasney of St. Vincent. Another volley whistled about him and
his finger trembled on the trigger. No chance work with Barry, for he knew
the gait of Satan as a practized naval gunner knows the swing of his ship
in a smooth sea, and that circle of doom wavered over Johnny Gasney for a
dozen strides before Dan turned with a faint moan and jammed the rifle back
in its case. Once again he was balancing in his stirrups, leaning close to
cut the wind with his shoulders.
"I can't do it, Satan. I got nothin' agin them. They think they're playin'
square. I can't do it. Stretch out, old boy. Stretch out!" It seemed
impossible that the stallion could increase his exertions, but with that
low voice at his ear he did literally stretch along the ground and jerked
himself away from the pursuit like a tall ship when a new sail spreads in a
The men from St. Vincent saw that the game was lost. Every one of the eight
had his rifle at the shoulder and the bullets hissed everywhere about him.
Right into his face, but a greater distance away, rode the posse from
Rickett, the fifteen tried men and true; and having caught the scheme of
the trap they were killing their horses with a last effort.
It failed through no fault of theirs. Just as the jaws of the trap were
about to close the black stallion whisked out from danger, lunged over a
swell of ground, and was out of view. When they reached that point,
yelling, Barry raced his black out of range of all except the wildest
chance shot. The eight from St. Vincent drove their weapons sullenly into
the holsters; for the last five minutes they had been silently dividing ten
thousand dollars by eight, and the awakening left a taste of ashes.
They could only follow him now at a moderate pace in the hope of wearing
him down, and since a slight pause made little difference in the result--it
would even be an advantage to breathe their horses after that burst,--they
drew rein and cursed in chorus.
Chapter XXXII. Relays
The horses from St. Vincent already wheezed from the run, but the mounts of
the posse were staggering completely blown. Ever since they left Rickett
they had been going at close to top speed and the last rush finished them;
at least seven of that chosen fifteen would never be worth their salt
again, and they stood with hanging heads, bloody foam upon their breasts
and dripping from their mouths, their sides laboring, and breathing with
that rattle which the rider dreads. The posse, to a man, swung sullenly to
"Who's boss, boys?" called Johnny Gasney, puffing in his saddle as he rode
up. "By God, we'll get him yet! They's a devil in that black hoss! Who's
"I ain't exactly boss," answered Mark Retherton, whom not even fear of
death could hurry in his ways of speech, "but maybe I can talk for the
boys. What you want, Johnny?"
"You gents'll be needin' new hosses?"
"We'll be needin' graves for the ones we got," growled Mark, and he stared
gloomily at the dull eye of his pinto. "The best cuttin' out hoss I ever
throwed a leg over, and now--look at him!"
"Here's your relay!" cut in Johnny Gasney. "Old Billy 'phoned down." Five
men came leading three spare horses apiece. "He phoned down and asked me to
get fifteen hosses ready. He must of guessed where Barry would head. And
here they are--the best ponies in St. Vincent--but for God's sake use 'em
better'n you did that set!"
The other members of the posse set to work silently changing their saddles
to the new relay, and Mark Retherton tossed his answer over his shoulder to
Johnny Gasney while he drew his cinch brutally tight.
"They's a pile of hoss-flesh in these parts, but they ain't more'n one
Barry. You gents can say good-bye to your hosses unless we nail him
before they're run down,"
Johnny Gasney rubbed his red, fat forehead, perplexed.
"It's all right," he decided, "because it ain't possible the black hoss can
outlast these. But--he sure seemed full of runnin! One thing more, Mark.
You don't need to fear pressin' Barry, because he won't shoot. He had his
gun out, but I guess he don't want to run up his score any higher'n it is.
He put it back without firin' a shot. Go on, boys, and go like hell. Billy
has lined up a new relay for you at Wago."
They made no pause to start in a group, but each sent home the spurs as
soon as he was in the saddle. They had ridden for the blood of Pete Glass
before, but now at least seven of them rode for the sake of the horses they
had ruined, and to a cow-puncher a favorite mount is as dear as a friend.
They expected to find the black out of sight, but it was a welcome surprise
to see him not half a mile away wading across St. Vincent Creek; for Barry
quite accurately guessed that there would be a pause in the pursuit after
that hair-breadth escape, and at the creek he stopped to let Satan get his
wind. He would not trust the stallion to drink, but gave him a bare mouthful
from his hat and loosened the cinches for an instant.
Not that this was absolutely necessary, for Satan was neither blown nor
leg-weary. He stood dripping with sweat, indeed, but poised lightly, his
head high, his ears pricked, his nostrils distended to transparency as he
drew in great breaths. Even that interval Barry used, for he set to work
vigorously massaging the muscles of shoulders and hips and whipping off the
sweat from neck and flank. It was several moments, and already Satan's
breath came easily, when Black Bart shot down from his watch-post and
warned them on with a snarl, but still, before he tightened the cinches
again and climbed to the saddle Barry took the fine head of the stallion
between his hands.
"Between you and me, Satan," he murmured, "our day's work is jest
beginnin'. Are you feelin' fit?"
Satan nuzzled the shoulder of the master and snorted his answer; Black Bart
had given the warning, and the stallion was eager to be off.
They crossed the creek at a place where the stones came almost to the
surface, since nothing is more detrimental to the speed of a horse than a
plunge in cold water, and with the hoofbeats of the posse growing up behind
they cantered off again a little cast of north, straight for Caswell City.
There was little work for Black Bart in such country as this, for there was
rarely a rise of ground over which a man on horseback could not look, and
the surface was race-track fast. Once Satan knew the direction there was
nothing for it but to sit the saddle and let him work, and he fell into his
long-distance gait. It was a smart pace for any ordinary animal to follow
through half a day's journey, and Barry knew with perfect certainty that
there was not the slightest chance of even the fresh horses behind him
wearing down Satan before night; but to his astonishment the trailers rode
as if they had limitless horseflesh at their command. Perhaps they were
unaware of the running that was still in Satan, so Barry sent the stallion
on at a free gallop that shunted the sagebrush past him in a dizzy whirl.
A mile of this, but when he looked back the posse were even closer. They
were riding still with the spur! It was madness, but it was not his part to
worry for them, and it was necessary that he maintain at least this
interval, so he leaned a little forward to cut the wind more easily, and
Satan leaped into a faster pace. He had several distinct advantages over
the mounts of the posse. At their customary rolling lope they will travel
all day with hardly a break, but they have neither the size nor the length
of leg for sustained bursts of speed. Moreover, most of the cowponies who
now raced on the trail of Satan carried riders who outweighed Barry by
twenty pounds and in addition to this they were burdened by saddles made
ponderously to stand the strain of roping cattle, whereas Barry's specially
made saddle was hardly half that weight. Perhaps more than all this, the
cowponies rode by compulsion, urged with sharp spurs, checked and guided by
the jaw-breaking curb, whereas Satan frolicked along at his own will, or at
least at the will of a master which was one with his. No heavy bit worried
his mouth, no pointed steel tormented his flanks. He had only one
handicap--the weight of his rider, and that weight was balanced and
distributed with the care of a perfect horseman.
With all this in mind it was hardly wonderful that the stallion kept the
posse easily in play. His breathing was a trifle harder, now, and perhaps
there was not quite the same light spring in his gallop, but Barry, looking
back, could tell by the tossing heads of the horses which followed that
they were being quickly run down to the last gasp. Mile after mile there
was not a pause in that murderous pace, and then, cutting the sky with a
row of sharply pointed roofs, he saw a town straight ahead and groaned in
It was rather new country to Barry, but the posse must know it like a book.
They were spending their horses freely because they hoped to arrange for a
fresh series of mounts in Wago. However, it would take some time for them
to arrange the details of the loan, and by that time he would be out of
sight among the hills which stretched ahead. That would give him a
sufficient start, and he would make the fords near Caswell City comfortably
ahead. At Caswell City, indeed, they might get a still other relay, but
just beyond the Asper River rose the Grizzly Peaks--his own country, and
once among them he could laugh the posse to scorn.
He patted Satan on the shoulder and swept on at redoubled speed, skirting
close to the town, while the posse plunged straight into it.
Listening closely, he could hear their shouts as they entered the village,
could mark the cessation of their hoof-beats.
Ten minutes, five minutes at least for the change of horses, and that time
would put him safety among the hills.
But the impossible happened. There was no pause of minutes, hardly a pause
of seconds, when the rush of hoofbeats began again and poured out from the
town, fifteen desperate riders on fifteen fresh mounts. By some miracle
Wago had been warned and the needed horses had been kept there saddled and
ready for the relay.
It turned an easy escape into a close chance, but still his faith in Satan
was boundless to reach the fords in time, and the safety of the mountains
beyond. Another word, and with a snort the great-hearted stallion swept up
the slope, with Black Bart at his old work, skirting ahead and choosing the
easiest way. That was another great handicap in favor of the fugitive, and
every advantage counted with redoubled significance now, every foot of
distance saved, every inch of climb avoided.
A new obstacle confronted him, for the low, rolling hills were everywhere
checkered with squares and oblongs of plowed ground, freshly turned, and
guarded by tall fences of barbed-wire. They could be jumped, but jumping
was no easy matter for a tiring horse, and Barry saw, with a sigh of
relief, a sharp gulch to the left which cut straight through that region of
broken farms and headed north and east pointing like an arrow in the
direction of the fords. He swung down into it without a thought and pressed
on. The bottom was gravelly, here and there, from the effect of the waters
which had once washed through the ravine and cut these sides so straight,
but over the greater part of the bottom sand had drifted, and the going was
hardly worse than the hilly stretches above.
The sides grew higher, now, with great rapidity. Already they were up to
the shoulder of Satan, now up to his withers, and from behind the roar of
the posse racing at full speed, filled the gulch with confusion of echoes.
They must be racing their horses as if they were entering the homestretch,
as if they were sure of the goal. It was strange.
Chapter XXXIII. The Jump
He brought Satan back to a hand canter, and so he pulled around the next
curve of the gulch and saw the trap squarely in front. He came to a full
halt. For he saw a tall, strong barbed-wire fence stretching across the
stream-bed, and beyond the fence were a litter of chicken-coops, iron bands
from broken barrels, and a thousand other of those things which brand the
typical western farm-yard; above the top of the bank to his left he caught
a glimpse of the sharp roof of the house.
He looked back, but it was far too late to turn, ride down the ravine to a
place where the bank could be scaled, and cut across country once more. The
posse came like a whirlwind, yelling, shooting as if they hoped to attract
attention, and attention they certainly won, for now Dan saw a tall
middle-aged fellow, his long beard blowing over one shoulder as he ran,
come down into the farm-yard with a double-barreled shotgun in his hands.
He was a type of those who do not know what it is to miss their
target--probably because ammunition comes so high; and with a double load of
buckshot it was literally death to come within his range.
Dan knew that a great many chances may be taken against a revolver and even
a rifle can be tricked, but it is suicide to flirt with a shotgun in the
hands of one used to bring down doves as they sloped out of the air toward
a water-hole. The farmer stood with his broad-brimmed straw hat pushed far
back on his head looking up and down the ravine, a perfect target, and
Barry's hand slipped automatically over his rifle.
His fingers refused to close upon it.
"I can't do it, Satan," he whispered. "We got to take our chances of
gettin' by, that's all. He couldn't have no hand with Grey Molly."
Narrow chances indeed, by this time, for the brief pause had brought the
posse fairly upon his heels; the farmer saw the fugitive and brought his
shotgun to the ready; and Black Bart in an agony of impatience raced round
and round the master. A wild cheer rose from the posse and came echoing
about him; they had sighted their quarry. From Rickett to Morgan Hills,
from Morgan Hills to St. Vincent, from St. Vincent to Wago and far beyond;
but this was the end of an historic run.
"D'ye see?" whispered Barry, leaning close to Satan's ears. "Lad, d'ye see
what you've got to do?"
The black stood with his head very high, quivering through his whole body
while he eyed the fence. It was murderously high, and all things were
against him, the long run, the rise of the ground going toward the fence,
and the gravel from which he must take off for the jump.
"You can do it," said the master. "You got to do it! Go for it, boy. We win
or lose together!"
He swayed forward, and Satan leaped ahead at full speed, gathering impetus,
scattering the gravel on either side. The farmer on the inside of the fence
raised his shotgun leisurely to his shoulder and took a careful aim. He
knew what it all meant. He had heard of the outlaw, Barry, with his
black horse and his wolf-dog--everyone in the desert had, for that matter--
and even had he been ignorant the shouting of the posse which now raced
down the canyon in full view would have told him all that he needed to
know. How many things went through his mind while he squinted down the
gleaming barrel! He thought of the long labor on the farm and the mortgage
which still ate the life of his produce every year; he thought of the
narrow bowed shoulders of his wife; he thought of the meager faces of his
children; and he thought first and last of ten thousand dollars reward! No
wonder the hand which supported the barrels was steady as an iron prop. He
was shooting for his life and the happiness of five souls!
He would save his fire till he literally saw the white of the enemy's eyes:
until the outlaw reached the fence, No horse on the mountain-desert could
top that highest strand of wire as he very well knew; and in his youth,
back in Kentucky, he had ridden hunters. That fence came exactly to the top
of his head, and the top of his head was six feet and two inches from the
ground. To make assurance doubly sure he dropped upon one knee and made
that shotgun an unstirring part and portion of himself.
Nobly, nobly the black came on, his ears pricking as he judged the great
task and his head carried a little high and back as any good jumper knows
his head must be carried.
The practiced eye of the farmer watched the outlaw gather his horse under
him. Well he knew the meaning of that shortening grip on the reins to give
the horse the last little lift that might mean success or failure in the
jump. Well he knew that rise in the stirrups, that leaning forward, and his
heart rose in unison and went back to the blue grass of Kentucky glittering
in the sun.
Before them went the wolf-dog, skimming low, reached the fence, and shot
over it in a graceful, high-arched curve.
Then the shout of the rider: "Up! Up!"
And the stallion reared and leaped. He seemed to graze it coming up, so
close was his take-off; he seemed to be pawing his way over with the
forefeet; and then with both legs doubled close, hugging his body, he shot
across and left the highest strand of the wire quivering and humming.
The farmer hurled his best shotgun a dozen yards away and threw up his
"Go it, lad! God bless ye; and good luck!"
The hand of the rider lifted in mute acknowledgment, and as he shot past,
the farmer caught a glimpse of a delicately handsome face that smiled down
"The left gate! The left gate!" he shouted through his cupped hands, and as
the fugitive rushed through the upper gate he turned to face the posse
which was already pulling up at the fence and drawing their wirecutters.
As Barry shot out onto the higher ground on the other side of the farmhouse
he could see them severing the wires and the interruption of the chase
would be only a matter of seconds. But seconds counted triply now, and the
halt and the time they would spend getting up impetus all told in favor of
Thirty-five miles, or thereabouts, since they left Rickett that morning,
and still the black ran smoothly, with a lilt to his gallop. Dan Barry
lifted his head and his whistling soared and pulsed and filled the air. It
made Bart come back to him; it made Satan toss his head and glance at the
master from the corner of his bright eye, for this was an assurance that
the battle was over and the rest not far away.
On they drove, straight as a bird flies for Caswell City, and Black Bart,
ranging ahead among the hills, was picking the way once more. If the
stallion were tired, he gave no sign of it. The sweep of his stride brushed
him past rocks and shrubs, and he literally flowed uphill and down, far
different from the horses which scampered in his rear, for they pounded the
earth with their efforts, grunting under the weight of fifty pound saddles
and heavy riders. Another handicap checked them, for while Satan ran on
alone, freely, the bunched pursuers kept a continual friction back and
forth. The leaders reined in to keep back with the mass of the posse, and
those in the rear by dint of hard spurring would rush up to the front in
turn until some spirited nag challenged for the lead, so that there was a
steady interplay among the fifteen. Their gait at the best could not be
more than the pace, of their slowest member, but even that pace was
diminished by the difficulties of group riding. Yet Mark Retherton refused
to allow his men to scatter and stretch out. He kept them in hand steadily,
a bunched unit ready to strike together, for he had seen the dead body of
Pete Glass and he kept in mind a picture of what might happen if this
fellow should whirl and pick off the posse man by man. Better prolong the
run, for in the end no single horse could stand up against so many relays.
Yet it was maddening to watch the stallion float over hill and dale with
that same unbroken stride.
Once and again he sent the fresh horses from Wago after the fugitive in a
sprinting burst, but each time the black drifted farther away, and mile
after mile Mark Retherton pulled his field glasses to his eyes and strained
his vision to make out some sign of labor in the gait of Satan. There was
no change. His head was still high, the rhythm of his lope unfaltering.
But here the Wago Mountains--not more than ragged hills, to be sure--cut
across the path of the outlaw and in those hills, unless the message which
waited for him at Wago had been false, should be the men of Caswell City,
two score or more besides the fifteen fresh horses for the posse. Two score
of men, at least, Caswell could send out, and from the heights they could
surely detect the coming of Barry and plant themselves in his way. An
ambush, a volley, would end this famous ride.
The hills came up on them swiftly, now, and if the men of Caswell failed in
their duty it meant safety for the fugitive, because two miles beyond were
the willows of the marshes and the fords across the Asper River. There
could only be two alternatives, since not a man showed on the hills. Either
they waited in ambush, or else they had mistaken the route along which
Barry would come, and the latter was hardly possible. With his glasses Mark
Retherton scanned the hills anxiously and it was then that he saw the dark
form of the wolf-dog skulking on before the outlaw. He had watched Black
Bart before this, of course, but never with suspicion until he noted the
peculiar manner in which the animal skirted here and there through the
rough ground, pausing on high places, weaving back and forth across the
course of his master.
"Like a scout," thought Retherton. "And by God, there he comes to report!"
For Black Bart had whirled and raced straight back for Dan. There was no
need of howl or whine to give the reason of his coming; the speed of his
running meant business, and Barry shortened the pace of Satan while he
looked over the hills, incredulous, despairing.
It could not be that men lurked there to cut him off. No living thing could
have raced from Rickett to Caswell City to warn them of his coming.
Nevertheless, there came Bart with the ill tidings, and it only remained to
skirt swiftly east, round the dangerous ground, and strike the marshes
first. He swung Satan around on the new course with a pressure of his knees
and loosed him into a freer gallop.
They must have sensed the meaning of this maneuver at once, for hardly had
he stretched out east when voices shouted out of the hills, and around and
over several low knolls came forty horsemen, racing. Half a dozen were
already due east--no escape that way; and the long line of the others came
straight at him with the slope of the ground to give them velocity.
Chapter XXXIV. The Warning
All in a grim instant he saw the trap. It closed upon his consciousness
with a click, and as he doubled Satan around he knew that the only escape
was in running southeast along the banks of the Asper. Even that was a
desperate, a forlorn chance, for if that omnipotent voice could reach from
Rickett to Caswell City, fifty miles away, certainly it must have warned
the river towns of Ganton and Wilsonville and Bly Falls where Tucker Creek
ran into the Asper. But this was no time for thinking. Already, looking
back, he saw the posse changing their saddles to fifteen fresh mounts, and
he headed Satan across the Wago Hills, West and South.
It was hot work. Even the steel-wire muscles of Black Bart were weakening
under the tremendous labors of that day, and as he scouted ahead his head
was low and his red tongue lolled, and surest sign of all, the bushy tail
drooped; yet it was time to make a new call upon both wolf-dog and horse,
for the posse was racing after him as before, giving even the fresh, willing
mounts the urge of spurs and quirts. He ran his hand down the dripping
neck and shoulder of Satan; he called to him; and with a snort the stallion
responded. He felt the quiver as the muscles tightened for the work; he
felt the settling as Satan lengthened to racing speed.
Through the Wago Hills, then, with Bart picking the way as before, and
never a falter in the sweep of Satan's running. If his head was a little
lower, if his ears lay flat, only the master knew the meaning, and still,
when he spoke, the glistening ears pricked up, and they bounded on to a
greater speed than before. The flight of a gull on unstirring wings when
the wind buoys it, the glide of water over the descent of smooth rock, with
never a ripple, like all things effortless, swift, and free, such was the
gait of Satan as he fled. Let them spur the fresh horses from Caswell City
till their flanks dripped red, they would never gain on him.
On through the hills, and now the heave of his great breaths told of the
strain, down like an arrow into the rolling ground, and now they galloped
beside the Asper banks. The master looked darkly upon that water.
Ten days before, when the snows had not yet reached the climax of melting,
ten days later when that climax was overpassed, the Asper would have been
fordable, but now a brown flood stormed along the gully, ate away the
banks, undermined the willows here and there, and rolled stones larger than
a man could lift. It went with an angry shouting as if it defied the
fugitive. It was narrow, maddeningly narrow, almost small enough to attempt
a leap across to the safety of the thickets on the farther side, but the
force of the water alone was enough to warn the bravest swimmer away, and
here and there, like teeth in the mouth of the shark, jagged stones cut the
surface with white foam streaking out below them; as if to prove its power,
even while Dan turned South along the bank a dead trunk shot down the
stream and split on one of the Asper's teeth.
Even then he felt the temptation. There lay the forest on the farther side,
a forest which would shelter him, and above the forest, hardly a mile back,
began the Grizzly Peaks. They lunged straight up to snowy summits, and all
along their sides blue shadows of the afternoon drifted through a network
of ravines--a promise of peace, a surety of safety if he could reach that
He was almost glad when he left the mockery of the river's noise to turn
aside for Ganton. There it lay in a bend of the Asper in the low-lands, and
every town where men lived was an enemy. He could see them now gathered
just outside the village, twenty men, perhaps and fifteen spare horses, the
best they had, for the posse.
On past Ganton, and again a call upon Satan to meet the first spurt of the
posse on its new horses. There was something in the stallion to answer,
some incredible reserve of nerve strength and courage. There was a slight
labor, now, and something of the same heave and pitch which comes in the
gait of a common horse; also, when he put Satan up the first slope beyond
Ganton he noted a faltering, a deeper lowering of the head. When his hoofs
struck a loose rock he no longer had the easy recoil of the morning. He
staggered like a graceful yacht chopped by a cross-current. Now down the
slope, now back to the roar of the Asper once more, for there the going was
most level, but always the strides were shortening, shortening, and the
head of the stallion nodded at his work.
All that was seen by Mark Retherton through his glasses, though they were
almost close enough now to see details through the naked eye. He turned in
the saddle to the posse, grim faces, sweat and dust clotted in their
moustaches, their faces drawn and gray with streaks over the nose and under
the eyes where perspiration ran. They rode crookedly, now, for seventy
miles at full speed had racked them, twisted them, cramped their muscles.
Scotty kept his head tilted far back, for his spinal column seemed about to
snap. Walsh leaned to his right side which a tormenting pain drew at every
stride, and Hendricks cursed in gasps through a wry mouth. It had been an
hour since Mark Retherton last spoke, and when he attempted it now his
voice was as hoarse as a croaking frog.
"Boys, buck up! He's done! D'ye see the black laborin'. D'ye see it? Hey,
Lew, Garry, we've got the best hosses among us three. Now's the time for a
spurt, and by God, we'll run him down. I'm startin!"
He made his word good with an Indian yell and a wave of his hat that sent
his buckskin leaping straight into the air, to land with stiff legs,
"swallowing its head," but then it straightened out in earnest. That
buckskin had a name from Bly Falls to Caswell City speed and courage, and
it lived up to the record in the time of need. Close behind it came Lew and
Garry ponies scarcely slower than the buckskin, and they closed rapidly on
Satan. The plan of Retherton was plain: now that the black was running on
its nerve a spurt might bring them within striking distance and if they
could check the flight for an instant by opening advance guard fire, they
might drive the fugitive into a corner by the river and hold him there
until the main body the posse came up. The three of them running alone the
lead could do five yards for every four of the slow horses, and the effect
showed at once.
Going up a slope the trot of the stallion maintained or even increased his
lead, but when they reached the easier ground beyond they drew rapidly upon
him. They saw Barry bend low; they saw the stallion increase its pace.
"By God," shouted Retherton in involuntary admonition, "I'd rather have
that hoss than the ten thousand. But feed 'em the spurs, boys, and he'll
come back to us inside a mile."
And Retherton was right. Before that mile was over the black slipped back
inch by inch, until at length Retherton called: "Now grab your guns boys
and see if you can salt him down with lead. Give your hosses their heads
and turn loose!"
They pulled their guns to their shoulders and sent a volley at the outlaw.
One bullet clipped a spark from the rocks just behind the stallion's feet;
the other two must have gone wide. Once more Barry flinched closer over the
neck of Satan and once again the horse answered with a fresh burst of
speed, but in a few moments he came back to them. Flesh could not stand
that pace after seventy-five miles of running.
They saw the rider straighten and look back; then the sun flashed on his
"Feed 'em the spur!" shouted Retherton. "If we can't hit him shooting
ahead, he ain't got a chance to hit us shootin' backwards." For it is
notoriously hard to turn in the saddle and accomplish anything with a
rifle. One is moving away from the target instead of toward it, and every
condition of ordinary shooting is reversed; above all, the moment a man
turns his head he is completely out of touch with his horse. Apparently the
fugitive knew this and made no attempt to place his shots. He merely jerked
his gun to the shoulder and blazed away as soon as it was in place; half a
dozen yards in front of Retherton the bullet kicked up the dust.
"I told you," he shouted. "He can't do nothin' that way. Close in, boys.
Close in for God's sake!"
He himself was flailing with his quirt, and the buckskin grunted at every
strike. Once more the rifle pitched to the outlaw's shoulder, and this time
the bullet clicked on a rock not ten feet from Retherton, and again on a
straight line for him.
"Damned if that ain't shootin'!" called Garry, and Retherton, alarmed,
swung the buckskin out to one side to throw the marksman out of line. He
had turned again in the saddle, and as though the episode were at an end,
restored his rifle to its case, but when they poured in another volley
about him, he swung sharply roundabout again, gun in hand. Once more the
rifle went to his shoulder, and this time the bullet knocked a puff of dust
into the very nostrils of the buckskin. Retherton reined in with an oath.
"He's been warn in' me, boys," he called. "That devil has the range like he
was sitting in a rockin' chair shooting at a tin-can. He's warnin' us back
to the rest of the gang. And damned if we ain't goin'!"
It was quite patent that he was right, for three bullets sent on a line for
one horse, and each of them closer, could mean only one thing. They checked
their horses, and in a moment the rest of the posse was clattering around
"It don't make no difference," called Retherton, "savin' in time. Maybe
he'll last to Wilsonville, but he can't stay in three miles when we hang
onto him with fresh hosses. The black is runnin' on nothin' but guts right
Chapter XXXV. The Asper
Ninety miles of ground, at least, had been covered by the black stallion,
since he left Rickett that morning, yet when he galloped across the plain
in full sight of Wilsonville there were plenty of witnesses who vowed that
Satan ran like a colt frolicking over a pasture. Mark Retherton knew
better, and the posse to a man felt the end was near. They changed saddles
in a savage silence and went down the street out of town with a roar of
And Barry too, as he watched them whip around the corner of the last house
and streak across the fields, knew that the end of the ride was near.
Strength, wind and nerve were gone from Satan; his hoofs pounded the ground
with the stamp of a plowhorse; his breath came in wheezes with a rattle
toward the end; the tail no longer fluttered out straight behind. Yet when
the master leaned and called he found something in his great heart with
which to answer. A ghost of his old buoyancy came in his stride, the
drooping head rose, one ear quivered up, and he ran against the challenge
of those fresh ponies from Wilsonville. There were men who doubted it when
the tale was told, but Mark Retherton swore to the truth of it.
Even then that desperate effort was failing. Not all the generous will in
the heart of the stallion could give his legs the speed they needed; and he
fell back by inches, by feet, by yards, toward the posse. They disdained
their guns now, and kept them in the cases; for the game was theirs.
And then they noted an odd activity in the fugitive, who had slipped to one
side and was fumbling at his cinches. They could not understand for a time,
but presently the saddle came loose, the cinches flipped out, and the whole
apparatus crashed to the ground. Nor was this all. The rider leaned forward
and his hands worked on the head of his mount until the hackamore also came
free and was tossed aside. To that thing fifteen good men and true swore
the next day with strange oaths, and told how a man rode for his life on a
horse that wore neither saddle nor bridle but ran obediently to voice and
Every ounce counted, and there were other ounces to be spared. He was
leaning again, to this side and then to that, and presently the posse
rushed past the discarded riding-boots.
There lay the rifle in its case on the saddle far behind. And with the
rifle remained all the fugitive's chances of fighting at long range. Now,
following, came the heavy cartridge belt and the revolver with it. The very
sombrero was torn from his head and thrown away.
His horse was failing visibly; not even this lightening could keep it away
from the posse long; and yet the man threw away his sole chance of safety.
And the fifteen pursuers cursed solemnly as they saw the truth. He would
run his horse to death and then die with it empty handed rather than let
either of them fall a captive.
Unburdened by saddle or gun or trapping, the stallion gave himself in the
last effort. There ahead lay safety, if they could shake off this last
relay of the posse, and for a time he pulled away until Retherton grew
anxious, and once more the bullets went questing around the fugitive. But
it was a dying effort. They gained; they drew away; and then they were only
holding the posse even, and then once more, they fell back gradually toward
the pursuit. It was the end, and Barry sat bolt erect and looked around
him; that would be the last of him and the last scene he should see.
There came the posse, distant but running closer. With every stride Satan
staggered; with every stride his head drooped, and all the lilt of his
running was gone. Ten minutes, five minutes more and the fifteen would be
around him. He looked to the river which thundered there at his side.
It was the very swiftest portion of all the Asper between Tucker Creek and
Caswell City. Even at that moment, a few hundred yards away, a tall tree
which had been undermined, fell into the stream and dashed the spray high;
yet even that fall was silent in the general roar of the river. Checked by
the body and the branches of the tree for an instant before it should be
torn away from the bank and shot down stream, the waters boiled and left a
comparatively smooth, swift sliding current beyond the obstruction; and it
gave to Barry a chance or a ghost of a chance:
The central portion of the river bed was chopped with sharp rocks which
tore the stream into white rages of foam; but beyond these rocks, a little
past the middle, the tree like a dam smoothed out the current; it was still
swift but not torn with swirls or cross-currents, and in that triangle of
comparatively still water of which the base was the fallen tree, the apex
lay on a sand bar, jutting a few yards from the bank. And the forlorn hope
of Barry was to swing the stallion a little distance away from the banks,
run him with the last of his ebbing strength straight for the bank, and try
to clear the rocky portion of the river bed with a long leap that might, by
the grace of God, shoot him into the comparatively protected current. Even
then it would be a game only a tithe won, for the chances were ten to one
that before they could struggle close to the shore, the currents would
suck them out toward the center. They would never reach that shelving bit
of sand, but the sharp rocks of the stream would tear them a moment later
like teeth. Yet the dimmest chance was a good chance now.
He called Satan away from his course, and at the change of direction the
stallion staggered, but went on, turned at another call, and headed
straight for the stream. He was blind with running; he was numbed by the
long horror of that effort, no doubt, but there was enough strength left in
him to understand the master's mind. He tossed his head high, he flaunted
out his tail, and sped with a ghost of his old sweeping gallop toward the
"Bart!" shouted the master, and waved his arm.
And the wolf saw too. He seemed to cringe for a moment, and then, like some
old leader of a pack who knows he is about to die and defies his death, he
darted for the river and flung himself through the air.
An instant later Satan reared on the bank and shot into the air. Below him
the teeth of the rocks seemed to lift up in hunger, and the white foam
jumped to take him. The crest of the arc of his jump was passed; he shot
lower and grazing the last of the stones he plunged out of sight in the
swift water beyond. There were two falls, not one, for even while the black
was in the air Barry slipped from his back and struck the water clear of
They came up again struggling in the last effort toward the shore. The
impetus of their leap had washed them well in toward the bank, but the
currents dragged them out again toward the center of the stream where the
rocks waited. Down river they went, and Black Bart alone had a ghost of a
chance for success. His leap had been farther and he skimmed the surface
when he struck so that by dint of fierce swimming he hugged close to the
shore, and then his claws bedded in the sand-bank.
As for Barry, the waters caught him and sent him spinning over and over,
like a log, whipping down stream, while the heavier body of Satan was
struggling whole yards above. There was no chance for the master to reach
the sand-bank, and even if he reached it he could not cling; but the
wolf-dog knew many things about water. In the times of famine long years
before the days of the master there had been ways of catching fish.
He edged forward until the water foamed about his shoulders. Down came Dan,
his arms tumbling as he whirled, and on the sleeve of one of those arms the
teeth of Bart closed. The cloth was stout, and yet it ripped as if it were
rotten veiling, and the tug nearly swept Bart from his place. Still, he
clung; his teeth shifted their hold with the speed of light and closed over
the arm of the master itself, slipped, sank deeper, drew blood, and held.
Barry swung around and a moment later stood with his feet buried firmly in
He had not a moment to spare, for Satan, only his eyes and his nose
showing, rushed down the current, making his last fight. Barry thrust his
feet deeper in the sand, leaned, buried both hands in the mane of the
stallion. It was a far fiercer tug-of-war this time, for the ample body of
the horse gave the water a greater surface to grapple on, yet the strength
of the man sufficed. His back bowed; his shoulders ached with the strain;
and then the forefeet of Satan pawed the sand, and all three staggered up
the shelving bank, reeled among the trees, and collapsed in safety.
So great was the roar of the water that they heard neither shouts nor the
reports of the guns, but for several minutes the bullets of the posse
combed the shrubbery as high as the breast of a man.
Chapter XXXVI. The Empty Cave
Through ten months of the year a child of ten could wade the Asper but now
its deep roaring that set the ground quivering under Barry gave him perfect
assurance of safety. Not one of that posse would attempt the crossing, he
felt, but he slipped back through the shrubbery close to the bank to make
sure. He was in time to see Mark Retherton give a command with gestures
that sent reluctant guns into the holsters. Fists were brandished toward
the green covert on the farther side of the river, so close, such an
unreachable distance. One or two rode their horses down to the very edge of
the water, but they gave up the thought and the whole troop turned back
toward Wilsonville; even the horses were down-headed.
Back in the covert he found Bart lying with his head on his paws, his eyes
closed, his sides swelling and closing till every rib seemed broken; yet
now and then he opened one red eye to look at Satan. The stallion lay in
almost exactly the same position, and the rush and rattle of his breathing
was audible even in the noise of the Asper; Barry dropped prone and pressed
his ear against the left side of the horse, just behind the shoulder. The
fierce vibration fairly shook his head; he could hear the rush of the blood
except when that deadly rattling of the breath came. When he rose to his
knees the face of the master was serious, thoughtful.
"Satan!" he called, but the river must have drowned his voice. Only when he
passed his fingers down the wet neck, one of Satan's ears pricked, and fell
instantly back. It would not do to let him lie there in the cool mold by
the water, for he knew that the greatest danger in overheating a horse is
that it may cool too quickly afterward.
He stooped directly in front of Satan and swept up an arm in command; it
brought only a flicker of the eyelid, the eyelid which drooped over a
"Up!" he commanded.
One ear again pricked; the head lifted barely clear of the ground; the
forelegs stiffened with effort, trembled, and were still again.
"Bart!" shouted the master, "wake him up!"
The voice could not have carried to the wolf through the uproar of the
waters, but the gesture, the expression brought home the order, and Black
Bart came to his feet, staggering. Right against the nose of Satan he bared
his great teeth and his snarl rattled. No living creature could hear that
sound without starting, and the head of Satan raised high. Still before him
Bart growled and under his elbow and his chest the hands of the master
strained up. He swayed with a snort very like a human groan, struggled, the
forelegs secured their purchase, and he came slowly to his feet. There he
stood, braced and head low; a child might have caught him by the mane and
toppled him upon his side, and already his hind legs were buckling.
"Get on!" cried Barry.
There was a lift of the head, a quivering of the tensed nostrils, but that
was all. He seemed to be dying on his feet, when the master whistled. The
sound cut through the rushing of the Asper as a ray of light probes a dark
room, shrill, harsh, like the hissing of some incredible snake, and Satan
went an uncertain step forward, reeled, almost fell; but the shoulder of
the master was at his side lifting up, and the arm of the master was under
his chest, raising. He tried another step; he went on among the trees with
his forelegs sprawling and his head drooped as though he were trying to
crop grass. Black Bart did his part to recall that flagging spirit.
Sometimes it was his snarl that startled the black; sometimes he leaped,
and his teeth clashed a hair's breadth from Satan's nose.
By degrees the congealing blood flowed freely again through Satan's body;
he no longer staggered; and now he lifted a forepaw and struck vaguely at
Bart as the wolf-dog leaped. Barry stepped away.
"Bart!" he called, and the shouting of the Asper was now so far away that
he could be heard. "Come round here, old boy, and stop botherin' him. He's
goin' to pull through."
He leaned against a willow, his face suddenly old and white with something
more than exhaustion, and laughed in such an oddly pitched, cracked tone
that the wolf-dog slunk to him on his belly and licked the dangling hand.
He caught the scarred head of Bart and looked steadily down into the eyes
of the wolf.
"It was a close call, Bart. There wasn't more than half an inch between
The black turned his head and whinnied feebly.
"Listen to him callin' for help like a new-foaled colt," said the master,
and went to Satan.
The head of the stallion rested on his shoulder as they went slowly on.
"Tonight," said the master, "you get two pieces of pone without askin'."
The cold nose of the jealous wolf-dog thrust against his left hind. "You
too, Bart. You showed us the way."
The rattle had left the breathing of Satan, the stagger was gone from his
walk; with each instant he grew perceptibly larger as they approached the
border of the wood. It fell off to a scattering thicket with the Grizzly
Peaks stepping swiftly up to the sky. This was their magic instant in all
the day, when the sun, grown low in the west, with bulging sides, gave the
mountains a yellow light. They swelled up larger with warm tints of gold
rolling off into the blue of the canyons; at the foot of the nearest slope
a thicket of quaking aspens was struck by a breeze and flashed all silver.
Not many moments more, and all the peaks would be falling back into the
It seemed that Satan saw this, for he raised his head from the shoulder of
the master and stopped to look.
"Step on," commanded Barry.
The stallion shook himself violently as a dog that knocks the water from
his pelt, but he took no pace forward.
The order made him sway forward, but he checked the movement.
"I ask you man to man, Bart," said the master in sudden anger, "was there
ever a worse fool hoss than him? He won't budge till I get on his back."
The wolf-dog shoved his nose again into Barry's hand and growled. He seemed
quite willing to go on alone with the master and leave Satan forgotten.
"All right," said Barry. "Satan, are you comin'?"
The horse whinnied, but would not move.
"Then stay here."
He turned his back and walked resolutely across the meadow, but slowly, and
more slowly, until a ringing neigh made him stop and turn. Satan had not
stirred from his first halting place, but now his head was high and his
cars pricked anxiously. He pawed the ground in his impatience.
"Look there, Bart," observed the master gloomily. "There's pride for you.
He won't let on that he's too weak to carry me. Now I'd ought to let him
stay there till he drops."
He whistled suddenly, the call sliding up, breaking, and rising again with
a sharp appeal. Satan neighed again as it died away.
"If that won't bring him, nothin' will. Back we got to go. Bart, you jest
take this to heart: It ain't any use tryin' to bring them to reason that
ain't got any sense."
He went back and sprang lightly to the back of the horse and Satan
staggered a little under the weight but once, as if to prove that his
strength was more than equal to the task, he broke into a trot. A harsh
order called him back to a walk, and so they started up into the Grizzly
By dark, however, a few halts, a chance to crop grass for a moment here and
there, a roll by the next creek and a short draught of water, restored a
great part of the black's strength, and before the night was an hour old he
was heading up through the hills at a long, swift trot.
Even then it was that dark, cold time just before dawn when they wound up
the difficult pass toward the cave. The moon had gone down; a thin, high
mist painted out the stars; and there were only varying degrees of
blackness to show them the way, with peaks and ridges starting here and
there out of the night, very suddenly. It was so dark, indeed, that
sometimes Dan could not see where Bart skulked a little ahead, weaving
among the boulders and picking the easiest way. But all three of them knew
the course by instinct, and when they came to a more or less commanding
rise of ground in the valley Dan checked the stallion and whistled.
Then he sat canting his head to one side to listen more intently. A rising
wind brought about him something like an echo of the sound, but otherwise
there was no answer.
"She ain't heard," muttered Dan to Bart, who came running back at the call,
so familiar to him and to the horse. He whistled again, prolonging the call
until it soared and trembled down the gulch, and this time when he stopped
he sat for a long moment, waiting, until Black Bart whined at his side.
"She ain't learned to sleep light, yet," muttered Barry. "An' I s'pose
she's plumb tired out waitin' for me. But if something's happened--Satan!"
That word sent the stallion leaping ahead at a racing gait, swerving among
rocks which he could not see.
"They's nothin' wrong with her," whispered Barry to himself. "They can't be
nothin' happened to her!"
He was in the cave, a moment later, standing in the center of the place
with the torch high above his head; it flared and glimmered in the great
eyes of Satan and the narrow eyes of Bart. At length he slipped down to a
rock beside him while the torch, fallen from his hand, sputtered and
whispered where it lay on the gravel.
"She's gone," he said to emptiness. "She's lef' me--" Black Bart licked his
limp hand but dared not even whine.
Chapter XXXVII. Ben Swann
Since the night when old Joe Cumberland died and Kate Cumberland rode off
after her wild man, Ben Swann, the foreman of the Cumberland ranch, had
lived in the big house. He would have been vastly more comfortable in the
bunkhouse playing cards with the other hands, but Ben Swann felt vaguely
that it was a shame for so much space in the ranch house to go to waste,
and besides, Ben's natural dignity was at home in the place even if his
mind grew lonely. It was Ben Swann, therefore, who ran down and flung open
the door, on which a heavy hand was beating. Outside stood two men, very
tall, taller than himself, and one of them a giant. They had about them a
strong scent of horses.
"Get a light" said one of these. "Run for it. Get a light. Start a fire,
and be damned quick about it!"
"And who the hell might you gents be?" queried Ben Swann, leaning against
the side of the doorway to dicker.
"Throw that fool on his head," said one of the strangers, "and go on in,
"Stand aside," said the other, and swept the doorknob out of Ben's grip,
flattening Ben himself against the wall. While he struggled there, gasping,
a man and a woman slipped past him.
"Tell him who we are," said the woman's voice. "We'll go to the
living-room, Buck, and start a fire."
The strangers apparently knew their way even in the dark, for presently he
heard the scraping of wood on the hearth in the living-room. It bewildered
Ben Swann. It was dream-like, this sudden invasion.
"Now, who the devil are you?"
A match was scratched and held under his very nose, until Ben shrank back
for fear that his splendid mustaches might ignite. He found himself
confronted by one of the largest men he had ever seen, a leonine face,
"You Lee Haines!" he gasped. "What are you doin' here?"
"You're Swann, the foreman, aren't you?" said Haines. "Well, come out of
your dream, man. The owner of the ranch is in the living-room."
"Joe Cumberland's dead," stammered Ben Swann.
"Her! And--Barry--the Killing at Alder--"
"Shut up!" ordered Haines, and his face grew ugly. "Don't let that chatter
get to Kate's ears. Barry ain't with her. Only his kid. Now stir about."
After the first surprise was over, Ben Swann did very well. He found the
fire already started in the living-room and on the rug before the hearth a
yellow-haired little girl wrapped in a tawny hide. She was sound asleep,
worn out by the long ride, and she seemed to Ben Swann a very pretty
picture. Surely there could be in her little of the father of whom he had
heard so much--of whom that story of the Killing at Alder was lately told,
He took in that picture at a glance and then went to rustle food; afterward
he went down to sleep in the bunkhouse and at breakfast he recounted the
events of the night with a relish. Not one of the men had been more than
three years on the place, and therefore their minds were clean slates on
which Swann could write his own impressions.
"Appearances is deceivin'" concluded the foreman. "Look at Mrs. Dan Barry.
They tell you around these parts that she's pretty, but they don't tell you
how damned fine lookin' she is. She's got a soft look and you'd never pick
her for the sort that would run clean off with a gent like Barry. Barry
himself wasn't so bad for looks, but they'll tell you in Elkhead how bad be
is in action, and maybe they's some widders in Alder that could put in a
word. Take even the kid. She looks no more'n a baby, but what d'you know is
inside of her?
"Speakin' personal, gents, I don't put no kind of trust in that houseful
yonder. Here they come in the middle of the night like there was a posse
after 'em. They climb that house and sit down and eat like they'd ridden
all day. Maybe they had. Even while they was eatin' they didn't seem none
"That loose shutter upstairs come around in the wind with a bang and Buck
Daniels comes out of his chair as fast as powder could blow him. He didn't
say nothin'. Just sat down lookin' kind of sick, and the other two was the
same way. When they talked, they'd bust off in the middle of a word and let
their eyes go trailin' into some corner of the room that was plumb full of
shadow. Then Lee Haines gets up and walks up and down.
"'Swann,' says he, 'how many good men have you got on the place?'
"'Why,' says I, 'they're all good!'
"'Huh,' says Haines, and he puts a hand on my shoulder, 'Just how good are
"I seen what he wanted. He wanted to know how many scrappy gents was
punchin' cows here; maybe them three up there figures that they might need
help. From what? What was they runnin' away from?"
"Hey!" broke in one of the cowpunchers, pointing with a dramatic fork
through the window.
It was a bright spot of gold that disappeared over the top of the nearest
hill; then it came into view again, the whole body of a yellow-haired
child, clothed in a wisp of white, and running steadily toward the north.
"The kid!" gasped the foreman. "Boys, grab her. No, you'd bust her; I know
how to handle her!"
He was gone through the door with gigantic leaps and shot over the crest of
the low hill. Then those in the cookhouse heard a small, tingling scream;
after it, came silence, and the tall foreman striding across the hill with
the child high in his arms. He came panting through the door and stood her
up on the end of the table, a small and fearless creature. She wore on her
feet the little moccasins which Dan himself had fashioned for her, but the
tawny hide was not on her--perhaps her mother had thrown the garment away.
The moccasins and the white nightgown were the sum and substance of her
apparel, and the cowpunchers stood up around the table to admire her spunk.
"Damed near spat pizen," observed Ben Swann, "when I hung into her--tried
to bite me, but the minute I got her in my hands she quit strugglin', as
reasonable as a grown-up, by God!"
"Shut up, Ben. Don't you know no better'n to cuss in front of a kid?"
The great, dark eyes of Joan went somberly from face to face. If she was
afraid, she disguised it well, but now and then, like a wild thing which
sees that escape is impossible, she looked through the window and out over
the open country beyond.
"Where was you headed for, honey?" queried Ben Swann.
The child considered him bravely for a time before she replied.
"Over there? Now what might she mean by that? Headed for Elkhead--in a
nightgown? Any place I could take you, kid?"
If she did not altogether trust Ben Swann, at least she preferred him to
the other unshaven, work-thinned faces which leered at her around the
"Daddy Dan," she said softly. "Joan wants to go to Daddy Dan."
"Daddy Dan--Dan Barry," translated Ben Swann, and he drew a bit away from
her. "Boys, that mankillin' devil must be around here; and that's what them
up to the house was runnin' from--Barry!"
It scattered the others to the windows, to the door.
"What d'you see?"
"Swann, if Barry is comin' to these parts, I'm goin' to pack my war-bag."
"Me too, Ben. Them that get ten thousand'll earn it. I heard about the
Killin' at Alder."
"Listen to me, gents," observed Ben Swann. "If Barry is comin' here we ain't
none of us goin' to stay; but don't start jumpin' out from under till I get
the straight of it. I'm goin' to take the kid up to the house right now and
So he wrapped up Joan in an old blanket, for she was shivering in the cold
of the early morning, and carried her up to the ranchhouse. The alarm had
already been given. He saw Buck Daniels gallop toward the front of the
place leading two saddled horses; he saw Haines and Kate run down the steps
to meet them, and then they caught sight of the foreman coming with Joan on
The joy of that meeting, it seemed to Ben Swann, was decidedly one-sided.
Kate ran to Joan with a little wailing cry of happiness and gathered her
close, but neither big Lee Haines nor ugly Buck Daniels seemed overcome
with happiness at the regaining of Joan, and the child herself merely
endured the caresses of her mother. Ben Swann made them a speech.
He told them that anybody with half an eye could tell they were bothered by
something, that they acted as if they were running away. Now, running in
itself was perfectly all right and quite in order when it was impossible to
outface or outbluff a danger. He himself, Ben Swann, believed in such
tactics. He wasn't a soldier; he was a cowpuncher. So were the rest of the
boys out yonder, and though they'd stay by their work in ordinary times,
and they'd face ordinary trouble, they were not minded to abide the coming
of Dan Barry.
"So," concluded Swann, "I want to ask you straight. Is him they call
Whistlin' Dan comin' this way? Are you runnin' from him? And did you steal
the kid from him?"
Lee Haines took upon his competent shoulders the duty of answering.
"You look like a sensible man, Swann," he said severely. "I'm surprised at
you. In the first place, two men don't run away from one."
A fleeting smile appeared and disappeared on the lips of Ben Swann. Haines
hastily went on: "As for stealing the baby from Dan Barry, good heavens,
man, don't you think a mother has a right to her own child? Now go back to
that scared bunch and tell them that Dan Barry is back in the Grizzly
For several reasons this did not completely satisfy the foreman, but he
postponed his decision. Lee Haines spoke like one in the habit of giving
orders, and Swann walked slowly back to the cookhouse.
Chapter XXXVIII. The New Alliance
"And so," said Lee Haines, when he joined Buck Daniels in the living-room,
"there goes our reinforcements. That whole crew will scatter like dead
leaves when Barry breezes in. It looks to me--"
"Shut up!" cut in Daniels. "Shut up!"
His dark, homely face turned to the larger man with a singular expression
of awe. He whispered: "D'you hear? She's in the next room whippin' Joan for
runnin' away, and never a yap out of the kid!"
He held up a lean finger for caution and then Haines heard the sound of the
willow switch. It stopped.
"If you run away again," warned Kate, her voice pitched high and trembling,
"munner will whip harder, and put you in a dark place for a long, long
Still there was not a sound of the child's voice, not even the pulse of
stifled weeping. Presently the door opened and Kate stood there.
"Go out in the kitchen and tell Li to give you breakfast. Naughty girls
can't eat with munner."
Through the door came Joan, her little round face perfectly white,
perfectly expressionless. She did not cringe, passing her mother; she
walked steadily across the room, rose on tip-toe to open the kitchen door,
and disappeared through it. Kate dropped into a chair, shaking.
"Out!" whispered Buck to Lee Haines. "Beat it. I got to talk alone." And as
soon as Haines obeyed, Buck sat down close to the girl. She was twisting
and untangling her fingers in a dumb agony.
"What has he done to her, Buck? What has he done?"
It was a maxim with Buck that talk is to woman what swearing is to man; it
is a safety valve, and therefore he waited in silence until the first rush
of her grief had passed.
"She only looked at me when I whipped her. My heart turned in me. She
didn't cry; she wasn't even angry. She just stood there--my baby!--and
looked at me!"
She threw herself back in the chair with her eyes closed, and he saw where
the trouble had marked her face. He wanted to lean over and take her in his
"I'm going mad, Buck. I can't stand it. How could he have changed her to
"Listen to me, Kate. Joan ain't been changed. She's only showin' what she
The mother stared wildly at him.
"Don't look like I was a murderer. God knows I'm sorry, Kate, but if they's
Dan's blood in your little girl it ain't my fault. It ain't anything he's
taught her. It's just that bein' alone with him has brought out what she
"I won't believe you, Buck. I don't dare listen to you!"
"You got to listen, Kate, because you know I'm right. D'you think that any
kind of teachin' could make her learn how to stand and keep from cryin'
when she was whipped?"
She spoke softly, as if some terrible power might overhear them talk, and
Buck lowered his voice in turn.
"She's wild, Kate, I knew it when I seen the way she handled Bart. She's
"Then I'll have her tame again."
"You tried that once and failed."
"Dan was a man when I tried, and his nature was formed. Joan is only a
baby--my baby. She's half mine. She has my hair and my eyes."
"I don't care what the color of her eyes is, I know what's behind them.
Look at 'em, and then tell me who she takes after."
"Buck, why do you talk like this? What do you want me to do?"
"A hard thing. Send Joan back to Dan."
"He'll never give her up, I tell you."
"Oh, God help me. What shall I do? I'll keep her! I'll make her tame."
"But you'll never keep her that way. Think of Dan. Think of the yaller in
his eyes, Kate."
"Until I die," she said with sudden quiet, "I'll fight to keep her."
And he answered with equal solemnity: "Until Dan dies he'll fight to have
her. And he's never been beat yet."
Through a breathing space he stared at her and she at him, and the eyes of
Buck Daniels were the first to turn. Everything that was womanly and gentle
had died from her face, and in its stead was something which made Buck rise
and wander from the room.
He found Lee Haines and told him briefly all that had passed. The great
battle, they decided, had begun between Kate and Barry for the sake of the
child, and that battle would go on until one of them was dead or the prize
for which they struggled lost. Barry would come on the trail and find them
at the ranch, and then he would strike for Joan. And they had no help for
the struggle against him. The cowpunchers would scatter at the first sign
of Barry, at the first shrill of his ill-omened whistling. They might ride
for Elkhead and raise a posse from among the citizens, but it would take
two days to do that and gather a number of effective fighters for the
crisis, and in the meantime the chances were large that Barry would strike
the ranch while the messenger was away. There was really nothing to do but
sit patiently and wait. They were both brave men, very; and they were both
not unpracticed fighters; but they began to wait for the coming of Barry as
the prisoner waits for the day of his execution.
It spoke well for the quality of their nerves that they would not speak to
Kate of the time to come; they sat back like spectators at a play and
watched the maneuvers of the mother to win back Joan.
There was not an idle moment from breakfast to dark. They went out to
gather wildflowers on the western hill from the house; they sat on the
veranda where Kate told Joan stories of the ranch and pointed out the
distant mountains which were its boundaries, and explained that all between
them would one day be her own land; that the men who rode yonder were doing
her work; that the cattle who ranged the hills were marked with her brand.
She said it all in small words so that Joan could understand, but as far as
Buck and Lee could make out, there was never a flicker of intelligence or
interest in the eyes of the child.
It was a hard battle every hour, and after supper Kate sat in a big chair
by the fire with her eyes half closed, admitting defeat, perhaps. For Joan
was curled up on the couch at the farthest, dimmest end of the room, and
with her chin propped in both small hands she stared in silence through the
window and over the darkening hills. Buck and Lee were there, never speaking,
but now and then their eyes sought each other with a vague hope. For
Kate might see that her task was impossible, send Joan back, and that would
free them of the danger.
But where Kate left off, chance took up the battle and turned the scales.
Old Li, the Chinese cook, had not seen Kate for six long years, and now he
celebrated the return by hanging about her on a thousand pretexts. It was
just after he had brought in some delicacy from the kitchen, leaving the
door a little ajar, when a small ball of gray fur nosed its way through the
aperture and came straight for the glare of the fire on the hearth. It was
a small shepherd puppy, and having observed the faces of the men with
bright, unafraid eyes, it went wobbling on to the very hearth, sniffling.
Even at that age it knew enough to keep away from the bright coals of wood,
but how could it know that the dark, cold-looking andirons had been heated
to the danger point by the fire? It thrust out a tentative nose, touched
the iron, and then its shrill yelp of pain went startlingly through the
room. It pulled the three grown-ups out of their thoughts; it brought Joan
scampering across the room with a little happy cry.
The puppy would have escaped if it could, for it had in mind the dark,
warm, familiar corner in Li's kitchen where no harm ever came near, but the
agile hands of Joan caught him; he was swept into her arms. That little
wail of helpless pain, the soft fluff of fur against her cheek, wiped all
other things from Joan's mind. Out the window and across the gloomy hills
she had been staring at the picture of the cave, and bright-eyed Satan, and
the shadowy form of Bart, and the swift, gentle hand of Daddy Dan; but the
cry of the puppy blotted the picture out. She was no longer lonely, having
this small, soft body to protect. There sat her mother, leaning a little
toward her with a glance at once misted and bright, and she forgot forthwith
all the agency of Kate in carrying her away from that cave of delight.
"Look, munner! He's burned his nose!"
The puppy was licking the injured nose industriously and whimpering the
while. And Joan heard no answer from her mother except an inarticulate
little sound somewhere deep in Kate's throat. Over her child mind, vaguely,
like all baby memories, moved a recollection of the same sound, coming
deeply from the throat of the mother and marvelously soothing, reassuring.
It moved a fiber of trust and sympathy in Joan, an emotion as real as the
sound of music, and with the puppy held idly in her arms for a moment, she
looked curiously into Kate's face. On her own, a faint smile began in the
eyes and spread to the lips.
"Poor little puppy, munner," said Joan.
The hands of Kate trembled with desire to bring Joan closer to her, but
very wisely she merely stroked the cringing head of the dog.
"Poor little puppy," she echoed.
Chapter XXXIX. Victory
The entrance of the puppy, to liken small things to great, was the coming
of Blucher in Kate's life, for the battle turned, and all in five minutes
she had gone from defeat to victory. She sat by the fire with Joan sleeping
in her arms, and the puppy in turn in the arms of Joan. It was such a
foolish trick of chance that had given her all this, she was almost
inclined to laugh, but something of tragedy in the faces of Buck and Lee
Haines made her thoroughly serious. And she readily saw the truth for after
all a child's brain is a small affair; it holds so much and no more. One
instant the longing for Dan was all that Joan could think of; the next she
had no room for anything more than the burned nose of the puppy--if there
were other phases to this matter--such as Buck Daniels had pointed out--fear
that in some future crisis the blood of the father might show in the child,
Kate pushed such thoughts away. She was too full of the present happiness.
Now, while she sat there in the firelight, she sang softly into the dreams
of Joan, and watched the smile of sleep grow and wane faintly on the lips
of the child as the rhythm of her singing lifted and fell. One half of her
mind was empty, that part where Dan should have been, and a dozen times she
checked an impulse to turn to him in the place where he should be sitting
and invite him with a smile to share her happiness. When her eyes moved
they only fell on the gaunt, intent face of Buck or the leonine head of
Haines. Whistling Dan was gone and if he ever came again her fear of him,
her fear for Joan, would be greater than her love. Yet Dan being gone so
finally, she knew that she would never be truly happy again. Her spring of
life was ended, but even now she was grateful for the full richness of
those six years with Dan; and if she turned from him now it was only
because a mighty instinct commanded her and a voice without words drove
her--Joan must go on to a normal, womanly happiness. Dan Barry lived from
day to day, glutting himself with a ride in the wind, or the whistle of a
far-off bird, or the wail of a mountain-lion through the night. Each
instant was to him complete, but the eye of Kate looked far away and saw
the night when this daughter of hers should sit holding an infant by such a
fire, and her heart was both empty and full.
It was no wonder, then, that she heard the first sound long before either
Haines or Buck Daniels, for her mind was on guard against dangers which
might threaten her baby. It was a faint slipping, scratching noise on the
veranda; then a breathing at the front door. Kate turned, and the men
followed the terror of her eyes in time to see the door fall open, and a
broad paw appear in the interval. The snaky head of Black Bart thrust into
Without a word, Daniels drew his gun.