The Untamed/33

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THE SONG OF THE UNTAMED


Buck and his father were learning of a thousand crimes charged against Dan. Wherever a man riding a black horse committed an outrage it was laid to the account of this new and most terrible of long riders. Two cowpunchers were found dead on the plains. Their half-emptied revolvers lay close to their hands, and their horses were not far off. In ordinary times it would have been accepted that they had killed each other, for they were known enemies, but now men had room for one thought only. And why should not a man with the courage to take an outlaw from the centre of Elkhead be charged with every crime on the range? Jim Silent had been a grim plague, but at least he was human. This devil defied death.

These were both sad and happy days for Kate. The chief cause of her sadness, strangely enough, was the rapidly returning strength of Dan. While he was helpless he belonged to her. When he was strong he belonged to his vengeance on Jim Silent; and when she heard Dan whistling softly his own wild, weird music, she knew its meaning as she would have known the wail of a hungry wolf on a winter night. It was the song of the untamed. She never spoke of her knowledge. She took the happiness of the moment to her heart and closed her eyes against tomorrow.

Then came an evening when she watched Dan play with Black Bart—a game of tag in which they darted about the room with a violence which threatened to wreck the furniture, but running with such soft footfalls that there was no sound except the rattle of Bart's claws against the floor and the rush of their breath. They came to an abrupt stop and Dan dropped into a chair while Black Bart sank upon his haunches and snapped at the hand which Dan flicked across his face with lightning movements. The master fell motionless and silent. His eyes forgot the wolf. Rising, they rested on Kate's face. They rose again and looked past her.

She understood and waited.

"Kate," he said at last, "I've got to start on the trail."

Her smile went out. She looked where she knew his eyes were staring, through the window and far out across the hills where the shadows deepened and dropped slanting and black across the hollows. Far away a coyote wailed. The wind which swept the hills seemed to her like a refrain of Dan's whistling—the song and the summons of the untamed.

"That trail will never bring you home," she said.

There was a long silence.

"You ain't cryin', honey?"

"I'm not crying, Dan."

"I got to go."

"Yes."

"Kate, you got a dyin' whisper in your voice."

"That will pass, dear."

"Why, honey, you are cryin'!"

He took her face between his hands, and stared into her misted eyes, but then his glance wandered past her, through the window, out to the shadowy hills.

"You won't leave me now?" she pleaded.

"I must!"

"Give me one hour more!"

"Look!" he said, and pointed.

She saw Black Bart reared up with his forepaws resting on the window-sill, while he looked into the thickening night with the eyes of the hunter which sees in the dark.

"The wolf knows, Kate," he said, "but I can't explain."

He kissed her forehead, but she strained close to him and raised her lips.

She cried, "My whole soul is on them."

"Not that!" he said huskily. "There's still blood on my lips an' I'm goin' out to get them clean."

He was gone through the door with the wolf racing before him.

She stumbled after him, her arms outspread, blind with tears; and then, seeing that he was gone indeed, she dropped into the chair, buried her face against the place where his head had rested, and wept. Far away the coyote wailed again, and this time nearer.