The French-Indian trapper hitched the team to the wagon. Presently it moved beyond the circle of firelight into the darkness. Morse sat beside the driver, the short-barreled weapon across his knees. Three men walked behind the wagon. A fourth, in the uniform of the North-West Mounted, brought up the rear on horseback.
SCARLET-COATS IN ACTION
When Bully West discovered that such part of the cargo of wet goods as was in wagon number two had disappeared and along with it the four mule-skinners, his mind jumped to an instant conclusion. That it happened to be the wrong one was natural enough to his sulky, suspicious mind.
“Goddlemighty, they’ve double-crossed us,” he swore to his partner, with an explosion of accompanying profanity. “Figure on cleanin’ up on the goods an’ cuttin’ back to the States. Tha’s what they aim to do. Before I can head ’em off. Me, I’ll show ’em they can’t play monkey tricks on Bully West.”
This explanation did not satisfy Whaley. The straight black line of the brows above the cold eyes met in frowning thought.
“I’ve got a hunch you’re barkin’ up the wrong tree,” he lisped with a shrug of shoulders.
Voice and gesture were surprising in that they were expressions of this personality totally unexpected. Both were almost womanlike in their delicacy. They suggested the purr and soft padding of a cat, an odd contradiction to the white, bloodless face with the inky brows. The eyes of “Poker” Whaley could throw fear into the most reckless bull-whacker on the border. They held fascinating and sinister possibilities of evil.
“Soon see. We’ll hit the trail right away after them,” Bully replied.
Whaley’s thin lip curled. He looked at West as though he read to the bottom of that shallow mind and meant to make the most of his knowledge.
“Yes,” he murmured, as though to himself. “Some one ought to stay with the rest of the outfit, but I reckon I’d better go along. Likely you couldn’t handle all of ’em if they showed fight.”
West’s answer was a roar of outraged vanity. “Me! Not round up them tame sheep. I’ll drive ’em back with their tongues hangin’ out. Understand?”
At break of day he was in the saddle. An experienced trailer, West found no difficulty in following the wagon tracks. No attempt had been made to cover the flight. The whiskey-runner could trace at a road gait the narrow tracks along the winding road.
The country through which he traveled was the border-land between the plains and the great forests that rolled in unbroken stretch to the frozen North. Sometimes he rode over undulating prairie. Again he moved through strips of woodland or skirted beautiful lakes from the reedy edges of which ducks or geese rose whirring at his approach. A pair of coyotes took one long look at him and skulked into a ravine. Once a great moose started from a thicket of willows and galloped over a hill.