“Shut up,” muttered Silent, and the words were formed by the motion of his lips rather than through any sound. “That damned whistling again.”
Every face changed. At a rustling in a near-by willow, Terry Jordan started and then cursed softly to himself. That broke the spell.
“It’s the whisperin’ of the willows,” said Purvis.
“You lie,” said Silent hoarsely. “I hear the sound growing closer.”
“Barry is dead,” said Haines.
Silent whipped out his revolver—and then shoved it back into the holster.
“Stand by me, boys,” he pleaded. “It’s his ghost come to haunt me! You can’t hear it, because he ain’t come for you.”
They stared at him with a fascinated horror.
“How do you know it’s him?” asked Shorty Rhinehart.
“There ain’t no sound in the whole world like it. It’s a sort of cross between the singing of a bird an’ the wailin’ of the wind. It’s the ghost of Whistlin’ Dan.”
The tall roan raised his head and whinnied softly. It was an unearthly effect—as if the animal heard the sound which was inaudible to all but his master. It changed big Jim Silent into a quavering coward. Here were five practised fighters who feared nothing between heaven and hell, but what could they avail him against a bodiless spirit? The whistling stopped. He breathed again, but only for a moment.
It began again, and this time much louder and nearer. Surely the others must hear it now, or else it was certainly a ghost. The men sat with dilated eyes for an instant, and then Hal Purvis cried, “I heard it, chief! If it’s a ghost, it’s hauntin’ me too!”
Silent cursed loudly in his relief.
“It ain’t a ghost. It’s Whistlin’ Dan himself. An’ Terry Jordan has been carryin’ us lies! What in hell do you mean by it?”
“I ain’t been carryin’ you lies,” said Jordan, hotly. “I told you what I heard. I didn’t never say that there was any one seen his dead body!”
The whistling began to die out. A babble of conjecture and exclamation broke out, but Jim Silent, still sickly white around the mouth, swung up into the saddle.
“That Whistlin’ Dan I’m leavin’ to you, Haines,” he called. “I’ve had his blood onct, an’ if I meet him agin there’s goin’ to be another notch filed into my shootin’ iron.”
THE STRENGTH OF WOMEN
He rode swiftly into the dark of the willows, and the lack of noise told that he was picking his way carefully among the bended branches.
“It seems to me,” said Terry Jordan, “which I’m not suggestin’ anything—but it seems to me that the chief was in a considerable hurry to leave the camp.”
“He was,” said Hal Purvis, “an’ if you seen that play in Morgan’s place you wouldn’t be wonderin’ why. If I was the chief I’d do the same.”
“Me speakin’ personal,” remarked Shorty Rhinehart, “I ain’t layin’ out to be no man-eater like the chief, but I ain’t seen the man that’d make me take to the timbers that way. I don’t noways expect there is such a man!”