In twenty minutes their breakfast was eaten and they were in the saddle. The sun had not yet risen when they came out of the willows to the broad shallow basin of the river. In spring, when the snow of the mountains melted, that river filled from bank to bank with a yellow torrent; at the dry season of the year it was a dirty little creek meandering through the sands. Down the bank they rode at a sharp trot for a mile and a half until Black Bart, who scouted ahead of them at his gliding wolf-trot, came to an abrupt stop. Dan spoke to Satan and the stallion broke into a swift gallop which left the pony of Tex Calder labouring in the rear. When they drew rein beside the wolf, they found seven distinct tracks of horses which went down the bank of the river and crossed the basin. Calder turned with a wide-eyed amazement to Dan.
“You’re right again,” he said, not without a touch of vexation in his voice; “but the dog stopped at these tracks. How does he know we are hunting for Silent’s crew?”
“I dunno,” said Dan, “maybe he jest suspects.”
“They can’t have a long start of us,” said Calder. “Let’s hit the trail. Well get them before night.”
“No,” said Dan, “we won’t.”
“Why won’t we?”
“I’ve seen Silent’s hoss, and I’ve ridden him. If the rest of his gang have the same kind of hoss flesh, you c’n never catch him with that cayuse of yours.”
“Maybe not today,” said Calder, “but in two days we’ll run him down. Seven horses can’t travel as two in a long chase.”
They started out across the basin, keeping to the tracks of Silent’s horses. It was the marshal’s idea that the outlaws would head on a fairly straight line for the railroad and accordingly when they lost the track of the seven horses they kept to this direction. Twice during the day they verified their course by information received once from a range rider and once from a man in a dusty buck-board. Both of these had sighted the fast travelling band, but each had seen it pass an hour or two before Calder and Dan arrived. Such tidings encouraged the marshal to keep his horse at an increasing speed; but in the middle of the afternoon, though black Satan showed little or no signs of fatigue, the cattle-pony was nearly blown and they were forced to reduce their pace to the ordinary dog-trot.
THE PANTHER’S PAW
Evening came and still they had not sighted the outlaws. As dark fell they drew near a house snuggled away among a group of cottonwoods. Here they determined to spend the night, for Calder’s pony was now almost exhausted. A man of fifty came from the house in answer to their call and showed them the way to the horse-shed. While they unsaddled their horses he told them his name was Sam Daniels, yet he evinced no curiosity as to the identity of his guests, and they volunteered no information. His eyes lingered long and fondly over the exquisite lines of Satan. From behind, from the side, and in front, he viewed the stallion while Dan rubbed down the legs of his mount with a care which was most foreign to the ranges. Finally the cattleman reached out a hand toward the smoothly muscled shoulders.