Three men came up from the vault, each carrying a sack. The teller was pushed into the street first, and the rest followed. A scattering fire began to converge at once upon them. The roan with the white stockings showed a red ridge across its flank where a bullet had furrowed a path.
The teller dropped, wounded by his friends. Two of the robbers loaded the horses, while the others answered the townsmen. In the inevitable delay of getting started, every moment seemed an hour to the harassed outlaws.
But at last they were in the saddle and galloping down the street, firing right and left as they went. At the next street crossing two men, one fat and the other lean, came running, revolvers in hands, to intercept them. They were too late. Before they reached the corner the outlaws had galloped past in a cloud of white dust, still flinging bullets at the invisible they were escaping.
The big lean cow-puncher stopped with an oath as the riders disappeared. “Nothing doing, Budd,” he called to the fat man. “The show’s moved on to a new stand.”
Jim Budd, puffing heavily and glistening with perspiration, nodded the answer he could not speak. Presently he got out what he wanted to say.
“Notice that leading hawss on the nigh side, Slim?” he asked.
“So you noticed it, too, Jim. I could swear to that roan with the four stockings. It’s the hawss Mr. Larrabie Keller mavericks around on, durn his forsaken hide! And the man on it wore a polka-dot bandanna. So does Keller. He’ll have to go some to explain away that. I reckon the others must be nesters from Bear Creek, too.”
“We’ve got ’em where the wool’s short this time,” Budd agreed. “They been shootin’ around right promiscuous. If anybody’s dead, then Keller has put a rope round his own neck.”
Men were already saddling and mounting for the first unorganized pursuit. Slim and his friend joined these, and cantered down the dusty street scarce ten minutes after the robbers.
The suburbs of the town fell to the rear, and left them in the fall and rise of the foothills that merged to the left in the wide, flat, shimmering plain of the Malpais, and on the other side in the saw-toothed range that notched the horizon from north to south. Somewhere in that waste of cow-backed hills, in that swell of endless land waves, the trail of the robbers vanished.
Men rode far and wide, carrying the pursuit late into the night, but the lost trail was not to be picked up again. So one by one, or in pairs, under the yellow stars, they drifted back to Noches, leaving behind the black depths of blue-canopied hills that had swallowed the fleeing quartette.
BRILL HEALY AIRS HIS SENTIMENTS
To Phyllis, riding from school near the close of a hot Friday afternoon along the old Fort Lincoln Trail, came the voice of Brill Healy from the ridge above. She waved to him the broad-brimmed hat she was carrying in her hand, and he guided his pony deftly down the edge of the steep slope.