“It is murder!”
“You can prevent it,” he said. “They know Barry is on the trail, but I think they will do nothing unless he forces them into trouble. And he will force them unless you stop him. No other human being could take him off that trail.”
“I know! I know!” she muttered. “But I have already tried, and he will not listen to me!”
“But he will listen to you,” insisted Haines, “when you tell him that he will be fighting not one man, but six.”
“And if he doesn’t listen to me?”
Haines shrugged his shoulders.
“Can’t you promise that these men will not fight with him?”
“But I shall plead with them myself.”
He turned to her in alarm.
“No, you must not let them dream you know who they are,” he warned, “for otherwise—”
Again that significant shrug of the shoulders.
He explained: “These men are in such danger that they dare not take chances. You are a woman, but if they feel that you suspect them you will no longer be a woman in their eyes.”
“Then what must I do?”
“I shall ride ahead of you when we come to the willows, after I have pointed out the position of our camp. About an hour after I have arrived, for they must not know that I have brought you, you will ride down towards the camp. When you come to it I will make sure that it is I who will bring you in. You must pretend that you have simply blundered upon our fire. Whatever you do, never ask a question while you are there—and I’ll be your warrant that you will come off safely. Will you try?”
He attempted no further persuasion and contented himself with merely meeting the wistful challenge of her eyes.
“I will,” she said at last, and then turning her glance away she repeated softly, “I will.”
He knew that she was already rehearsing what she must say to Whistling Dan.
“You are not afraid?”
“Do you really trust me as far as this?”
With level-eyed tenderness that took his breath, she answered: “An absolute trust, Mr. Lee.”
“My name,” he said in a strange voice, “is Lee Haines.”
Of one accord they stopped their horses and their hands met.
The coming of the railroad had changed Elkhead from a mere crossing of the ways to a rather important cattle shipping point. Once a year it became a bustling town whose two streets thronged with cattlemen with pockets burdened with gold which fairly burned its way out to the open air. At other times Elkhead dropped back into a leaden-eyed sleep.