He chuckled and made ahead as fast as his long legs could carry him. Haines dropped back beside Kate.
“Everything goes finely,” he assured her. “I told Rhinehart what to do. He’s gone ahead to the camp. Now all you have to do is to keep your head. One of the boys will tell you that we’ve heard some whistling near the camp this evening. Then I’ll ask you to stay around for a while in case the whistling should sound again, do you see? Remember, never ask a question!”
It was even more simple than Haines had hoped. Silent’s men suspected nothing. After all, Kate’s deception was a small affair, and her frankness, her laughter, and her beauty carried all before her.
The long riders became quickly familiar with her, but through their rough talk, the Westerners’ reverence for a woman ran like a thread of gold over a dark cloth. Her fear lessened and almost passed away while she listened to their talk and watched their faces. The kindly human nature which had lain unexpressed in most of them for months together burst out torrent-like and flooded about her with a sense of security and power. These were conquerors of men, fighters by instinct and habit, but here they sat laughing and chattering with a helpless girl, and not a one of them but would have cut the others’ throats rather than see her come to harm. The roughness of their past and the dread of their future they laid aside like an ugly cloak while they showed her what lies in the worst man’s heart—a certain awe of woman. Their manners underwent a sudden change. Polite words, rusted by long disuse, were resurrected in her honour. Tremendous phrases came labouring forth. There was a general though covert rearranging of bandanas, and an interchange of self-conscious glances. Haines alone seemed impervious to her charm.
The red died slowly along the west. There was no light save the flicker of the fire, which played on Kate’s smile and the rich gold of her hair, or caught out of the dark one of the lean, hard faces which circled her. Now and then it fell on the ghastly grin of Terry Jordan and Kate had to clench her hand to keep up her nerve.
It was deep night when Jim Silent rode into the clearing. Shorty Rhinehart and Hal Purvis went to him quickly to explain the presence of the girl and the fact that they were all members of the Y Circle X outfit. He responded with nods while his gloomy eyes held fast on Kate. When they presented him as the boss, Jim, he replied to her good-natured greeting in a voice that was half grunt and half growl.
Haines muttered at Kate’s ear: “This is the man. Now keep up your courage.”
“He doesn’t like this,” went on Haines in the same muffled voice, “but when he understands just why you’re here I think he’ll be as glad as any of us.”
Silent beckoned to him and he went to the chief.