Buck’s cattle pony broke from the lope into a steady dog-trot. Now and then Buck’s horse tossed his head high and jerked his ears quickly back and forth as if he were trying to shake off a fly. As a matter of fact he was bothered by his master’s whistling. The only sound which he was accustomed to hear from the lips of his rider was a grunted curse now and then. This whistling made the mustang uneasy.
Buck himself did not know what the music meant, but it brought into his mind a thought of strong living and of glorious death. He had heard it whistled several times by Dan Barry when the latter lay delirious. It seemed to Buck, while he whistled this air, that the spirit of Dan travelled beside him, nerving him to the work which lay ahead, filling the messenger with his own wild strength.
As Buck dropped into a level tract of country he caught sight of a rider coming from the opposite direction. As they drew closer the other man swung his mount far to one side. Buck chuckled softly, seeing that the other evidently desired to pass without being recognized. The chuckle died when the stranger changed direction and rode straight for Buck. The latter pulled his horse to a quick stop and turned to face the on-comer. He made sure that his six-gun was loose in the holster, for it was always well to be prepared for the unusual in these chance meetings in the mountain-desert.
“Hey, Buck!” called the galloping horseman.
The hand of Daniels dropped away from his revolver, for he recognized the voice of Hal Purvis, who swiftly ranged alongside.
“What’s the dope?” asked Buck, producing his tobacco and the inevitable brown papers.
“Jest lookin’ the landscape over an’ scoutin’ around for news,” answered Purvis.
“Pick up anything?”
“Yeh. Ran across some tenderfoot squatters jest out of Elkhead.”
Buck grunted and lighted his cigarette.
“Which you’ve been sort of scarce around the outfit lately,” went on Purvis.
“I’m headin’ for the bunch now,” said Buck.
“D’you bring along that gun of mine I left at your house?”
“Didn’t think of it.”
“Let’s drop back to your house an’ get it. Then I’ll ride up to the camp with you.”
Buck drew a long puff on his cigarette. He drew a quick mental picture of Purvis entering the house, finding Dan, and then—
“Sure,” he said, “you c’n go back to the house an’ ask pa for the gun, if you want to. I’ll keep on for the hills.”
“What’s your hurry? It ain’t more’n three miles back to your house. You won’t lose no time to speak of.”
“It ain’t time I’m afraid of losin’,” said Buck significantly.
“Then what the devil is it? I can’t afford to leave that gun.”
“All right,” said Buck, forcing a grin of derision, “so long, Hal.”