“That’s what a lot of us thought,” he said at last, “but she breaks all the rules. She’s got her heart set on another man, an’ she’s that funny sort that don’t never love twice. Maybe you’ll guess who the man is?”
Buck frowned thoughtfully to cover his growing excitement.
“Give it up, Buck,” advised Purvis. “The feller she loves is Whistlin’ Dan Barry. You wouldn’t think no woman would look without shiverin’ at that hell-raiser. But she’s goin’ on a hunger strike on account of him. Since yesterday she wouldn’t eat none. She says she’ll starve herself to death unless we turn her loose. The hell of it is that she will. I know it an’ so does the rest of the boys.”
“Starve herself to death?” said Buck exuberantly. “Wait till I get hold of her!”
Purvis viewed him with compassion.
“Me bein’ your friend, Buck,” he said, “take my tip an’ don’t try no fool stunts around that girl. Which she once belongs to Whistlin’ Dan Barry an’ therefore she’s got the taboo mark on her for any other man. Everything he’s ever owned is different, damned different!”
His voice lowered to a tone which was almost awe.
“Speakin’ for myself, I don’t hanker after his hoss like Bill Kilduff; or his girl, like Lee Haines; or his life, like the chief. All I want is a shot at that wolf-dog, that Black Bart!”
“You look sort of het up, Hal.”
“He come near puttin’ his teeth into my leg down at Morgan’s place the day Barry cleaned up the chief.”
“Why, any dog is apt to take a snap at a feller.”
“This ain’t a dog. It’s a wolf. An’ Whistlin’ Dan—” he stopped.
“You look sort of queer, Hal. What’s up?”
“You won’t think I’m loco?”
“They’s some folks away up north that thinks a man now an’ then turns into a wolf.”
Buck nodded and shrugged his shoulders. A little chill went up and down his back.
“Here’s my idea, Buck. I’ve been thinkin’—no, it’s more like dreamin’ than thinkin’—that Dan Barry is a wolf turned into a man, an’ Black Bart is a man turned into a wolf.”
“Hal, you been drinkin’.”
“What made you think—” began Buck, but the long rider put spurs to his horse and once more broke into a fast gallop.
It was close to sunset time when they reached the old Salton place, where they found Silent sitting on the porch with Haines, Kilduff, Jordan, and Rhinehart. They stood up at sight of the newcomers and shouted a welcome. Buck waved his hand, but his thoughts were not for them. The music he had heard Dan whistle formed in his throat. It reached his lips not in sound but as a smile.
At the house he swung from the saddle and shook hands with Jim Silent. The big outlaw retained Buck’s fingers.