The Untamed/21

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ONE WAY OUT


In a room of the Salton place, on the evening of the next day after Calder's death, sat Silent, with Kilduff, Rhinehart, and Jordan about him. Purvis was out scouting for the news of Haines, whose long absence commenced to worry the gang. Several times they tried to induce Kate to come out and talk with them, but she was resolute in staying alone in the room which they had assigned to her. Consequently, to while away the time, Bill Kilduff produced his mouth organ and commenced a dolorous ballad. He broke short in the midst of it and stared at the door. The others followed the direction of his eyes and saw Black Bart standing framed against the fading daylight. They started up with curses; Rhinehart drew his gun.

"Wait a minute," ordered Silent.

"Damn it!" exclaimed Jordan, "don't you see Whistling Dan's wolf? If the wolf's here, Dan isn't far behind."

Silent shook his head.

"If there's goin' to be any shootin' of that wolf leave it to Hal Purvis. He's jest nacherally set his heart on it. An' Whistlin' Dan ain't with the wolf. Look! there's a woman's glove hangin' out of his mouth. He picked that up in the willows, maybe, an' followed the girl here. Watch him!"

The wolf slunk across the room to the door which opened on Kate's apartment. Kate threw the door open—cried out at the sight of Bart—and then snatched up the glove he let drop at her feet.

"No cause for gettin' excited," said Silent. "Whistlin' Dan ain't comin' here after the wolf."

For answer she slammed the door.

At the same moment Hal Purvis entered. He stepped directly to Silent, and stood facing him with his hands resting on his hips. His smile was marvellously unpleasant.

"Well," said the chief, "what's the news? You got eloquent eyes, Hal, but I want words."

"The news is plain hell," said Purvis, "Haines——"

"What of him?"

"He's in Elkhead!"

"Elkhead?"

"Whistling Dan got him at Morris's place and took him in along with the body of Tex Calder. Jim, you got to answer for it to all of us. You went to Morris's with Lee. You come away without him and let him stay behind to be nabbed by that devil Whistlin' Dan."

"Right," said Kilduff, and his teeth clicked. "Is that playin' fair?"

"Boys," said Silent solemnly, "if I had knowed that Whistlin' Dan was there, I'd of never left Haines to stay behind. Morris said nothin' about Calder havin' a runnin' mate. Me an' Haines was in the upstairs room an' about suppertime up came a feller an' told us that Tex Calder had jest come into the dinin'-room. That was all. Did Whistlin' Dan get Lee from behind?"

"He got him from the front. He beat Lee to the draw so bad that Haines hardly got his gun out of its leather!"

"The feller that told you that lied," said Silent. "Haines is as fast with his shootin' iron as I am—almost!"

The rest of the outlaws nodded to each other significantly.

Purvis went on without heeding the interruption. "After I found out about the fight I swung towards Elkhead. About five miles out of town I met up with Rogers, the deputy sheriff at Elkhead. I thought you had him fixed for us, Jim?"

"Damn his hide, I did. Is he playing us dirt now?"

"A frosty mornin' in December was nothin' to the way he talked."

"Cut all that short," said Rhinehart, "an' let's know if Rogers is goin' to be able to keep the lynching party away from Haines!"

"He says he thinks it c'n be done for a couple of days," said Purvis, "but the whole range is risin'. All the punchers are ridin' into Elkhead an' wantin' to take a look at the famous Lee Haines. Rogers says that when enough of 'em get together they'll take the law in their own hands an' nothin' can stop 'em then."

"Why don't the rotten dog give Haines a chance to make a getaway?" asked Silent. "Ain't we paid him his share ever since we started workin' these parts?"

"He don't dare take the chance," said Purvis. "He says the boys are talkin' mighty strong. They want action. They've put up a guard all around the jail an' they say that if Haines gets loose they'll string up Rogers. Everyone's wild about the killin' of Calder. Jim, ol' Saunderson, he's put up five thousand out of his own pocket to raise the price on your head!"

"An' this Whistlin' Dan," said Silent. "I s'pose they're makin' a hero out of him?"

"Rogers says every man within ten miles is talkin' about him. The whole range'll know of him in two days. He made a nice play when he got in. You know they's five thousand out on Haines's head. It was offered to him by Rogers as soon as Dan brought Lee in. What d'you think he done? Pocketed the cheque? No, he grabbed it, an' tore it up small: 'I ain't after no blood money,' he says."

"No," said Silent. "He ain't after no money—he's after me!"

"Tomorrow they bury Calder. The next day Whistlin' Dan'll be on our trail again—an' he'll be playin' the same lone hand. Rogers offered him a posse. He wouldn't take it."

"They's one pint that ain't no nearer bein' solved," said Bill Kilduff in a growl, "an' that's how you're goin' to get Haines loose. Silent, it's up to you. Which you rode away leavin' him behind."

Silent took one glance around that waiting circle. Then he nodded.

"It's up to me. Gimme a chance to think."

He started walking up and down the room, muttering. At last he stopped short.

"Boys, it can be done! They's nothin' like talkin' of a woman to make a man turn himself into a plumb fool, an' I'm goin' to make a fool out of Whistlin' Dan with this girl Kate!"

"But how in the name of God c'n you make her go out an' talk to him?" said Rhinehart.

"Son," answered Silent, "they's jest one main trouble with you—you talk a hell of a pile too much. When I've done this I'll tell you how it was figgered out!"