“What’s the reason of it?” queried Sam helplessly. “The damn wolf let us take Dan off the hoss without makin’ any fuss.”
“Sure he did,” assented Buck, “but he ain’t sure of me yet, an’ every time he comes near me he sends the cold chills up my back.”
Having decided that he might safely trust them to touch Dan’s body, the great wolf went the round and sniffed them carefully, his hair bristling and the forbidding growl lingering in his throat. In the end he apparently decided that they might be tolerated, though he must keep an eye upon their actions. So he sat down beside the bed and followed with an anxious eye every movement of Mrs. Daniels. The men went back to the stallion. He still stood with legs braced far apart, and head hanging low. Another mile of that long race and he would have dropped dead beneath his rider.
Nevertheless at the coming of the strangers he reared up his head a little and tried to run away. Buck caught the dangling reins near the bit. Satan attempted to strike out with his forehoof. It was a movement as clumsy and slow as the blow of a child, and Buck easily avoided it. Realizing his helplessness Satan whinnied a heart-breaking appeal for help to his unfailing friend, Black Bart. The wail of the wolf answered dolefully from the house.
“Good Lord,” groaned Buck. “Now we’ll have that black devil on our hands again.”
“No, we won’t,” chuckled Sam, “the wolf won’t leave Dan. Come on along, old hoss.”
Nevertheless it required hard labour to urge and drag the stallion to the stable. At the end of that time they had the saddle off and a manger full of fodder before him. They went back to the house with the impression of having done a day’s work.
“Which it shows the fool nature of a hoss,” moralized Sam. “That stallion would be willin’ to lay right down and die for the man that’s jest rode him up to the front door of death, but he wishes everlastingly that he had the strength to kick the daylight out of you an’ me that’s been tryin’ to take care of him. You jest write this down inside your brain, Buck: a hoss is like a woman. They jest nacherally ain’t no reason in ’em!”
They found Dan in a heavy sleep, his breath coming irregularly. Mrs. Daniels stated that it was the fever which she had feared and she offered to sit up with the sick man through the rest of that night. Buck lifted her from the chair and took her place beside the bed.
“No one but me is goin’ to take care of Whistlin’ Dan,” he stated.
So the vigil began, with Buck watching Dan, and Black Bart alert, suspicious, ready at the first wrong move to leap at the throat of Buck.
That night the power which had sent Dan into Elkhead, Jim Silent, stood his turn at watch in the narrow canyon below the old Salton place. In the house above him sat Terry Jordan, Rhinehart, and Hal Purvis playing poker, while Bill Kilduff drew a drowsy series of airs from his mouth-organ. His music was getting on the nerves of the other three, particularly Jordan and Rhinehart, for Purvis was winning steadily.