“Some one was listening—did you not see him? Was it the old man?” asked Brace hurriedly.
“Blast the old man! It was only one of them Mexican packers chock-full of whisky, and trying to hold up the house. What are you thinking of? We shall be late.”
In spite of his weakness, the wounded man hurriedly urged Brace forward, until they reached the latter’s lodgings. To his surprise, the horse and buggy were already before the door.
“Then you reckoned to go, any way?” said Dunn, with a searching look at his companion.
“I calkilated somebody would go,” returned Brace, evasively, patting the impatient Buckskin; “but come in and take a drink before we leave.”
Dunn started out of a momentary abstraction, put his hand on his hip, and mechanically entered the house. They had scarcely raised the glasses to their lips when a sudden rattle of wheels was heard in the street. Brace set down his glass and ran to the window.
“It’s the mare bolted,” he said, with an oath. “We’ve kept her too long standing. Follow me,” and he dashed down the staircase into the street. Dunn followed with difficulty; when he reached the door he was already confronted by his breathless companion. “She’s gone off on a run, and I’ll swear there was a man in the buggy!” He stopped and examined the halter-strap, still fastened to the fence. “Cut! by God!”
Dunn turned pale with passion. “Who’s got another horse and buggy?” he demanded.
“The new blacksmith in Main Street; but we won’t get it by borrowing,” said Brace.
“How then?” asked Dunn savagely.
“Seize it, as the sheriff of Yuba and his deputy, pursuing a confederate of the Injin Low—the horse thief!”
The brief hour of darkness that preceded the dawn was that night intensified by a dense smoke, which, after blotting out horizon and sky, dropped a thick veil on the high road and the silent streets of Indian Spring. As the buggy containing Sheriff Dunn and Brace dashed through the obscurity, Brace suddenly turned to his companion.
“Some one ahead!”
The two men bent forward over the dashboard. Above the steady plunging of their own horse-hoofs they could hear the quicker irregular beat of other hoofs in the darkness before them.
“It’s that horse thief!” said Dunn, in a savage whisper. “Bear to the right, and hand me the whip.”
A dozen cuts of the cruel lash, and their maddened horse, bounding at each stroke, broke into a wild canter. The frail vehicle swayed from side to side at each spring of the elastic shafts. Steadying himself by one hand on the low rail, Dunn drew his revolver with the other. “Sing out to him to pull up, or we’ll fire. My voice is clean gone,” he added, in a husky whisper.
They were so near that they could distinguish the bulk of a vehicle careering from side to side in the blackness ahead. Dunn deliberately raised his weapon. “Sing out!” he repeated impatiently. But Brace, who was still keeping in the shadow, suddenly grasped his companion’s arm.