“So long, old timer,” he called, slapping Silent on the shoulder, “I’ll be seein’ you agin before long.”
Calder’s men looked up with curious eyes. Hardy watched Silent swing onto his horse and gallop down the street. Then he went hurriedly back to his office. Once inside he dropped into the big swivel-chair, buried his face in his arms, and wept like a child.
Dust powdered his hat and clothes as Tex Calder trotted his horse north across the hills. His face was a sickly grey, and his black hair might have been an eighteenth century wig, so thoroughly was it disguised. It had been a long ride. Many a long mile wound back behind him, and still the cattle pony, with hanging head, stuck to its task. Now he was drawing out on a highland, and below him stretched the light yellow-green of the willows of the bottom land. He halted his pony and swung a leg over the horn of his saddle. Then he rolled a cigarette, and while he inhaled it in long puffs he scanned the trees narrowly. Miles across, and stretching east and west farther than his eye could reach, extended the willows. Somewhere in that wilderness was the gang of Jim Silent. An army corps might have been easily concealed there.
If he was not utterly discouraged in the beginning of his search, it was merely because the rangers of the hills and plains are taught patience almost as soon as they learn to ride a horse. He surveyed the yellow-green forest calmly. In the west the low hanging sun turned crimson and bulged at the sides into a clumsy elipse. He started down the slope at the same dog-trot which the pony had kept up all day. Just before he reached the skirts of the trees he brought his horse to a sudden halt and threw back his head. It seemed to him that he heard a faint whistling.
He could not be sure. It was so far off and unlike any whistling he had ever heard before, that he half guessed it to be the movement of a breeze through the willows, but the wind was hardly strong enough to make this sound. For a full five minutes he listened without moving his horse. Then came the thing for which he waited, a phrase of melody undoubtedly from human lips.
What puzzled him most was the nature of the music. As he rode closer to the trees it grew clearer. It was unlike any song he had ever heard. It was a strange improvisation with a touch of both melancholy and savage exultation running through it. Calder found himself nodding in sympathy with the irregular rhythm.
It grew so clear at last that he marked with some accuracy the direction from which it came. If this was Silent’s camp, it must be strongly guarded, and he should approach the place more cautiously than he could possibly do on a horse. Accordingly he dismounted, threw the reins over the pony’s head, and started on through the willows. The whistling became louder and louder. He moved stealthily