“They give him lots of credit,” said Buck. “An’ Haines has said a lot in favour of Dan, explainin’ how the jail bustin’ took place. Lee is sure provin’ himself a white man. He’s gettin’ well of his wounds and it’s said the Governor will pardon him. You see, Haines went bad because the law done him dirt a long time ago, and the Governor is takin’ that into account.”
“But they’d still want to kill Dan?”
“Half of the boys wouldn’t,” said Buck. “The other half is all wrought up over the killings that’s been happenin’ on the range in the last month. Dan is accused of about an even half of ’em, an’ the friends of dead men don’t waste no time listenin’ to arguments. They say Dan’s an outlawed man an’ that they’re goin’ to treat him like one.”
“Damn them!” groaned Cumberland. “Don’t Morris’s confession make no difference?”
“Morris was lynched before he had a chance to swear to what he said in Dan’s favour. Kilduff an’ Jordan an’ Rhinehart might testify that Dan wasn’t never bought over by Silent, but they know they’re done for themselves, an’ they won’t try to help anybody else, particular the man that put ’em in the hands of the law. Kilduff has swore that Dan was bribed by Silent, that he went after Silent not for revenge, but to get some more money out of him, an’ that the fight in the shanty up at Bald-eagle Creek was because Silent refused to give Dan any more money.”
“Then there ain’t no hope,” muttered Cumberland. “But oh, lad, it breaks my heart to think of Kate! Dan c’n only die once, but every minute is a death to her!”
Before noon of the next day Buck joined the crowd which had been growing for hours around Tully’s saloon. Men gave way before him, whispering. He was a marked man—the friend of Whistling Dan Barry. Cowpunchers who had known him all his life now avoided his eyes, but caught him with side glances. He smiled grimly to himself, reading their minds. He was more determined than ever to stand or fall with Whistling Dan that day.
There was not an officer of the law in sight. If one were present it would be his manifest duty to apprehend the outlaws as soon as they appeared, and the plan was to allow them to fight out their quarrel and perhaps kill each other.
Arguments began to rise among separate groups, where the crimes attributed to Whistling Dan Barry were numbered and talked over. It surprised Buck to discover the number who believed the stories which he and Haines had told. They made a strong faction, though manifestly in the minority.
Hardly a man who did not, from time to time, nervously fumble the butt of his six-gun. As three o’clock drew on the talk grew less and less. It broke out now and again in little uneasy bursts. Someone would tell a joke. Half hysterical laughter would greet it, and die suddenly, as it began. These were all hard-faced men of the mountain-desert, warriors of the frontier. What unnerved them was the strangeness of the thing which was about to happen. The big wooden clock on the side of the long barroom struck once for half-past two. All talk ceased.