“Whatever Whistlin’ Dan has done before,” he said, “this day he’s done a man-sized job in a man’s way. Morris, before he died, said enough to clear up most of this lad’s past, particular about the letter from Jim Silent that talked of a money bribe. Morris didn’t have a chance to swear to what he said, but a dying man speaks truth. Lee Haines had cleared up most of the rest. We can’t hold agin Dan what he done in breakin’ jail with Haines. Dan Barry was a marshal. He captured Haines and then let the outlaw go. He had a right to do what he wanted as long as he finally got Haines back. And Haines has told us that when he was set free Barry said he would get him again. And Barry did get him again. Remember that, and he got all the rest of Silent’s gang, and now there lies Jim Silent dead. They’s two things to remember. The first is that Whistlin’ Dan has rid away without any shootin’ irons on his hip. That looks as if he’s come to the end of his long trail. The second is that he was a bunkie of Tex Calder, an’ a man Tex could trust for the avengin’ of his death is good enough for me.”
There was a pause after this speech, and during the quiet the cowpunchers were passing from hand to hand the marshal’s badge which Calder, as he died, had given to Dan. The bright small shield was a more convincing proof than a hundred arguments. The bitterest of Dan’s enemies realized that the crimes of which he was accused were supported by nothing stronger than blind rumour. The marshal’s badge and the dead body of Jim Silent kept them mute. So an illegal judge and one hundred illegal jurymen found Whistling Dan “not guilty.”
Buck Daniels took horse and galloped for the Cumberland house with the news of the verdict. He knew that Whistling Dan was there.
THE WILD GEESE
So when the first chill days of the late autumn came the four were once more together, Dan, Kate, Black Bart, and Satan. Buck and old Joe Cumberland made the background of their happiness. It was the latter’s request which kept the wedding a matter of the indefinite future. He would assign no reason for his wish, but Kate guessed it.
All was not well, she knew. Day after day, as the autumn advanced, Dan went out with the wolf and the wild black stallion and ranged the hills alone. She did not ask him where or why, for she understood that to be alone was as necessary to him as sleep is to others. Yet she could not explain it all and the cold fear grew in her. Sometimes she surprised a look of infinite pity in the eyes of Buck or her father. Sometimes she found them whispering and nodding together. At last on an evening when the three sat before the fire in solemn silence and Dan was away, they knew not where, among the hills, she could bear it no longer.
“Do you really think,” she burst out, “that the old wildness is still in Dan?”