Between twilight and dark Whistling Dan entered Elkhead. He rose in the stirrups, on his toes, stretching the muscles of his legs. He was sensing his strength. So the pianist before he plays runs his fingers up and down the keys and sees that all is in tune and the touch perfect.
Two rival saloons faced each other at the end of the single street. At the other extremity of the lane stood the house of deputy sheriff Rogers, and a little farther was the jail. A crowd of horses stood in front of each saloon, but from the throngs within there came hardly a sound. The hush was prophetic of action; it was the lull before the storm. Dan slowed his horse as he went farther down the street.
The shadowy figure of a rider showed near the jail. He narrowed his eyes and looked more closely. Another, another, another horseman showed—four in sight on his side of the jail and probably as many more out of his vision. Eight cattlemen guarded the place from which he must take Lee Haines, and every one of the eight, he had no doubt, was a picked man. Dan pulled up Satan to a walk and commenced to whistle softly. It was like one of those sounds of the wind, a thing to guess at rather than to know, but the effect upon Satan and Black Bart was startling.
The ears of the stallion dropped flat on his neck. He began to slink along with a gliding step which was very like the stealthy pace of Black Bart, stealing ahead. His footfall was as silent as if he had been shod with felt. Meantime Dan ran over a plan of action. He saw very clearly that he had little time for action. Those motionless guards around the jail made his task difficult enough, but there was a still greater danger. The crowds in the two saloons would be starting up the street for Haines before long. Their silence told him that.
A clatter of hoofs came behind him. He did not turn his head, but his hand dropped down to his revolver butt. The fast riding horseman swept and shot on down the street, leaving a pungent though invisible cloud of dust behind him. He stopped in front of Rogers’s house and darted up the steps and through the door. Acting upon a premonition, Dan dismounted a short distance from Rogers’s house and ran to the door. He opened it softly and found himself in a narrow hall dimly lighted by a smoking lamp. Voices came from the room to his right.
“What d’you mean, Hardy?” the deputy sheriff was saying.
“There’s a good many kinds of hell. Come out with it, Lee. I ain’t no mind reader.”
“They’re gettin’ ready for the big bust!”
“What big bust?”
“It ain’t no use bluffin’. Ain’t Silent told you that I’m on the inside of the game?”
“You fool!” cried Rogers. “Don’t use that name!”
Dan slipped a couple of paces down the hall and flattened himself against the wall just as the door opened. Rogers looked out, drew a great breath of relief, and went back into the room. Dan resumed his former position.