At the same instant, another smoke-clad figure lunged from the door of the barn, his hands outstretched as though he felt and fumbled his way through utter darkness. It was Buck Daniels, and as he cleared the door the section of tottering wall which he had upheld to keep the way clear for the Three, wavered, sagged, and then sank in thunder to the floor, and the whole barn lay a flame-tossed mass of ruin.
The watchers had scattered before the plunge of Satan, but he came to a sliding halt, as if his rider had borne heavily back upon the reins. Barry slipped from the stallion’s back with the wounded dog, and kneeled above the limp figure.
“It ain’t the end,” growled Mac Strann, “that hoss will go runnin’ back into the fire. It ain’t hoss nature to keep from goin’ mad at the sight of a fire!”
In answer to him, the black stallion whirled, raised his head high, and, with flaunting mane and tail, neighed a ringing defiance at the rising flames. Then he turned back and nuzzled the shoulder of his master, who was working with swift hands over the body of Black Bart.
“Anyway,” snarled Haw-Haw Langley, “the damned wolf is dead.”
“I dunno,” said Mac Strann. “Maybe—maybe not. They’s quite a pile that we dunno.”
“If you want to get rid of the hoss,” urged Haw-Haw, writhing in the glee of a new inspiration, “now’s the time for it, Mac. Get out your gun and pot the black. Before the crowd can get after us, we’ll be miles away. They ain’t a saddled hoss in sight. Well, if you don’t want to do it, I will!” And he whipped out his gun.
But Mac Strann reached across and dragged the muzzle down.
“We done all we’re goin’ to do to-night. Seems like God’s been listenin’ pretty close, around here!”
He turned his horse, and Haw-Haw, reluctantly, followed suit. Still, as they trotted slowly away from the burning barn, Haw-Haw kept his glance fixed behind him until a final roaring crash and a bellying cloud of fire that smote the zenith announced the end of the barn. Then Haw-Haw turned his face to his companion.
“Now what?” he demanded.
“We go to Elkhead and sit down and wait,” answered Mac Strann. “If the dog gets well he’ll bring Barry to us. Then all I’ve got to do is defend myself.”
Haw-Haw Langley twisted up his face and laughed, silently, to the red-stained sky.
DOCTOR BYRNE LOOKS INTO THE PAST
The black head of Barry, the brown head of Randall Byrne, the golden head of Kate Cumberland, were all bowed around the limp body of Black Bart. Buck Daniels, still gasping for breath, stood reeling nearby.
“Let me attempt to resuscitate the animal,” offered the doctor.
He was met by a blank look from Barry. The hair of the man was scorched, his skin was blistered and burned. Only his hands remained uninjured, and these continued to move over the body of the great dog. Kate Cumberland was on her knees over the brute.