“I ought to let him set his teeth in you,” said Dan, “but I’m goin’ to let you off if you’ll tell me what I want to know.”
“Where’s Jim Silent?”
All eyes flashed towards Morris. The latter, as the significance of the question came home to him, went even a sicklier white, like the belly of a dead fish. His eyes moved swiftly about the circle of his posse. Their answering glares were sternly forbidding.
“Out with it!” commanded Dan.
The sheriff strove mightily to speak, but only a ghastly whisper came: “You got the wrong tip, Dan. I don’t know nothin’ about Silent. I’d have him in jail if I did!”
“Bart!” said Dan.
The wolf slunk closer to the kneeling man. His hot breath fanned the face of the sheriff and his lips grinned still farther back from the keen, white teeth.
“Help!” yelled Morris. “He’s at the shanty up on Bald-eagle Creek.”
A rumble, half cursing and half an inarticulate snarl of brute rage, rose from the cowpunchers.
“Bart,” called Dan again, and leaped back from the door, raced out to Satan, and drove into the night at a dead gallop.
Half the posse rushed after him. A dozen shots were pumped after the disappearing shadowy figure. Two or three jumped into their saddles. The others called them back.
“Don’t be an ass, Monte,” said one. “You got a good hoss, but you ain’t fool enough to think he c’n catch Satan?”
They trooped back to the dining-room, and gathered in a silent circle around the sheriff, whose little fear-bright eyes went from face to face.
“Ah, this is the swine,” said one, “that was guardin’ our lives!”
“Fellers,” pleaded the sheriff desperately, “I swear to you that I jest heard of where Silent was today. I was keepin’ it dark until after we got Whistling Dan. Then I was goin’ to lead you—”
The flat of a heavy hand struck with a resounding thwack across his lips. He reeled back against the wall, sputtering the blood from his split mouth.
“Pat,” said Monte, “your hoss is done for. Will you stay here an’ see that he don’t get away? We’ll do somethin’ with him when we get back.”
Pat caught the sheriff by his shirt collar and jerked him to a chair. The body of the fat man was trembling like shaken jelly. The posse turned away.
They could not overtake Whistling Dan on his black stallion, but they might arrive before Silent and his gang got under way. Their numbers were over small to attack the formidable long riders, but they wanted blood. Before Whistling Dan reached the valley of Bald-eagle Creek they were in the saddle and riding hotly in pursuit.
In that time ruined shack towards which the posse and Dan Barry rode, the outlaws sat about on the floor eating their supper when Hal Purvis entered. He had missed the trail from the Salton place to the Bald-eagle half a dozen times that day, and that had not improved his bitter mood.