The wind from the window, indeed, struck against the door communicating with Joe Cumberland’s room, and shook it as if a hand were rattling at the knob.
The girl began to speak again, as swiftly as before, her voice the barely audible rushing of a whisper: “The law will trail him, but I won’t give him up. Dad, I’m going to fight once more to keep him here—and if I fail, I’ll follow him around the world.” Such words should have come loudly, ringing. Spoken so softly, they gave a terrible effect; like the ravings of delirium, or the monotone of insanity. And with the white light against her face she was more awe-inspiring than beautiful. “He loved me once; and the fire must still be in him; such fire can’t go out, and I’ll fan it back to life, and then if it burns me—if it burns us both—the fire itself cannot be more torture than to live on like this!”
“Hush, lass!” murmured her father. “Listen to what’s coming!”
It was a moan, very low pitched, and then rising slowly, and gaining in volume, rising up the scale with a dizzy speed, till it burst and rang through the house—the long-drawn wail of a wolf when it hunts on a fresh trail.
Buck Daniels opened his eyes and sat bolt-upright in bed. He had dreamed the dream again, and this time, as always, he awakened before the end. He needed no rubbing of eyes to rouse his senses. If a shower of cold water had been dashed upon him he could not have rallied from sound slumber so suddenly. His first movement was to snatch his gun from under his mattress, not that he dreamed of needing it, but for some reason the pressure of the butt against his palm was reassuring. It was better than the grip of his friend—a strong man.
It was the first grey of dawn, a light so feeble that it served merely to illuminate the darkness, so to speak. It fell with any power upon one thing alone, the bit of an old, dusty bridle that hung against the wall, and it made the steel glitter like a watchful eye. There was a great dryness in the throat of Buck Daniels; and his whole big body shook with the pounding of his heart.
He was not the only thing that was awake in the grey hour. For now he caught a faint and regular creaking of the stairs. Someone was mounting with an excessively cautious and patient step, for usually the crazy stairs that led up to this garret room of the Rafferty house creaked and groaned a protest at every footfall. Now the footfall paused at the head of the stairs, as when one stops to listen.
Buck Daniels raised his revolver and levelled it on the door; but his hand was shaking so terribly that he could not keep his aim—the muzzle kept veering back and forth across the door. He seized his right hand with his left, and crushed it with a desperate pressure. Then it was better. The quivering of the two hands counteracted each other and he managed to keep some sort of a bead.