“’Lo, Gum,” greeted Bill Gatlin. “I reckon you hearn we got The Black Coyote.”
“Ah hain’t see no one sence Ah reached town,” replied Smith, “but Ah knowed Colby’d git the critter,” yet withall he looked a bit mystified and uneasy. “Whar be he?” he asked.
“He’s safe in The Chicago,” said Wildcat Bob.
“Ah reckon Ah’d better git him over to the jail,” said Gum Smith.
“I reckon you’ll leave him at The Chicago,” replied Wildcat. “Do you know who he is?”
“Bull, o’ course.”
“Bull, hell—it’s Colby.”
Gum Smith paled, just a trifle. “They must be some mistake,” he said, weakly. “Who got him?”
“Bull got him an’ they ain’t no mistake,” said Bill Gatlin. “I knew all along ’twarn’t Bull.”
“Well,” said Gum Smith, “The Chicago Saloon ain’t no place fer a dangerous prisoner. Soon’s Ah’ve et my victuals Ah’ll take him over to the jail whar he’ll be safe.”
“I tells you you’ll leave him at The Chicago,” said Wildcat Bob.
“Ah’m sheriff o’ this yere county,” bawled Gum Smith, “an’ nobody don’t want to interfere with me in the discharge o’ mah duties. Do yo-all hear me, Wildcat Bob?”
“I hears you, but jest like a jack-ass brayin’ it don’t make no impression on my onderstandin’,” replied Wildcat, embellishing his remarks with lurid and descriptive profanity. He finished his meal first and went out. When Gum Smith left The Donovan House he repaired at once to his own saloon. Here he deputized a half a dozen loafers, gave each of them several drinks, and led them to The Chicago Saloon, where he demanded of the proprietor that he turn over to him, forthwith, the person of Hal Colby, otherwise known as The Black Coyote.
“He’s in the back room yonder,” replied the owner of The Chicago Saloon. “Ef you craves him, go git him. I don’t want him.”
In front of the door to the back room sat Wildcat Bob. His elbows were resting on his knees and from each hand dangled a .45.
“In the name o’ the lawr,” piped Gum Smith in his high voice, “Ah demands the pusson o’ one Hal Colby.”
“Git the hell outen here, you blankety, blank, blank, blank!” screamed Wildcat Bob.
“Yo-all better listen to reason, Wildcat Bob,” yelled the sheriff, “or Ah’ll have the lawr on yo.”
Wildcat Bob, raising his voice yet higher again than that of his ancient enemy bawled out an incoherent volley of blasphemous and obscene invective. Gum Smith turned and whispered to one of his followers, who withdrew from the room with two others. Presently Gum Smith stepped to one side of the room and, pointing at the little old man sitting before the locked door, called to his remaining deputies: “Take him, men—do yore duty!”
One of the men stepped forward. Wildcat Bob whirled a gun about his forefinger and without taking aim shot the fellow’s hat from his head. The three stepped back. Almost simultaneously there came the sound of the crashing of glass from the interior of the room where Colby was confined, the voice of Thompson raised in protest, and then shots. Wildcat Bob leaped to his feet and reached for the knob of the door. As he did so his back was toward the barroom for an instant and in that instant Gum Smith raised his six-shooter and fired. Without a word Wildcat Bob crumpled to the floor and lay there motionless.
Smith and his men leaped for the door. It was locked, and being a strong door, withstood their combined efforts for several minutes. When at last it gave before their assault and they stepped across the threshold they saw only the body of Thompson sprawled upon the floor in a pool of blood. The Black Coyote was gone.
Surrounded by masked men, her escort shot from his horse, Diana Henders realized only too well the gravity of her situation and though she recognized no individual among those who had lain in ambush for her she guessed well enough that they had acted under orders from Corson. Her note to him, revealing the fact that she knew the entire truth concerning his duplicity and was in possession of the papers that proved it beyond peradventure of a doubt, had, she guessed, prompted the desperate adventure in which he pitted all against all. So suddenly had the masked riders come upon them from the bed of a dry wash that they had had them covered before they could draw, yet Idaho, true to the unwritten code of his calling and his time, had invited death by drawing in the face of their levelled guns in defense of a woman. Had he been alone, or with another man, his hands had gone up the moment he had realized that the odds were all against him, and one of them had gone up, but it had carried a six-gun with it, and he had been shot out of the saddle for his chivalry, and left for dead upon the parched ground as his assailants galloped off toward the south with Diana.
Night fell and yet the men kept on, two riding ahead of Diana Henders and four behind. They rode rapidly, not sparing their horses, and from both their haste and the direction of their way the girl guessed that they were making a try for the border. Once in the mountains they were forced to a slower gait, and around nine o’clock they halted for a brief rest where there was water for both the horses and their riders.
At first Diana had attempted to question them relative to their intentions, but they would not tell her where they were taking her and at last silenced her with oaths and threats. Nor did they remove their masks until darkness equally as well hid their features from her. This and their almost unbroken silence convinced her that her abductors were men who feared recognition and therefore must have been recruited in the neighborhood.
A shrewd guess suggested that an habitue of Gum’s Place—Liquors and Cigars—would have recognized them all. The abduction had therefore been engineered or at least connived in by the sheriff, and this line of reasoning but corroborated what was already a foregone conclusion that it had been done at Corson’s behest.
What their purpose was with her she could not guess. It might be a plan to remove her temporarily to some hidden spot where she might not further interfere with the plans of the New Yorker, or it might easily have a more sinister purpose. She knew that Corson would never be safe in possession of the Bar Y property while she lived and she did not believe that he was fool enough not to appreciate that fact; but would he dare to have her done away with? She wondered.
It was after midnight when they crossed the summit, at a point where there appeared not the slightest vestige of a trail, and dropped down a dangerous and rocky declivity into a wooded canyon. A dozen times the girl’s life was in jeopardy—her only safeguard the agility and sure-footedness of Captain. A half-hour later the canyon widened into a little pocket in the mountains and here they stopped again. Through the gloom of the deep gorge her eyes finally distinguished the outlines of a small cabin.
The men dismounted. “Get down,” said one of them to Diana, and when she had done so the fellow took her by the arm, with a gruff, “Come along!” and led her toward the shack. He pushed open the door and told her to enter. Following behind her, he struck a match, revealing a single room, rudely furnished with a table, a few benches and a couple of cots, all constructed in rustic fashion from branches of the trees which grew about the place. On the table was a candle holder and a candle, which the man lighted. At one end of the room was a blackened fireplace above which a long shelf supported a few small boxes and cans. On pegs, flanking the fireplace, were crude cooking utensils—a frying pan, a stew pan and a coffee pot, while a larger kettle, for heating water, squatted in the ashes of the dirty hearth.
The other men came in presently. All were masked again. One of them took the kettle and went out, returning shortly with water. Another brought wood and then a third set about preparing a meal. They had brought some flour and bacon with them. There were baking powder, salt, pepper and sugar in the cans upon the mantel shelf, together with one of coffee and another of tea.
The aroma of cooking food awoke Diana to a realization of the fact that she was hungry. Her situation, while grave, had not as yet reached a point that she might consider dangerous. The attitude of the men had been determined, albeit somewhat nervous, yet never at any time actually menacing. What they had done had evidently been accomplished under orders from some person or persons who were taking no active part in the actual abduction—who were not even present when the thing was done nor now that they had reached this hiding place in the mountains.
Diana Henders was more or less familiar with these southern hills and she knew that she never had been in this spot before. What an ideal place it would be to commit and effectually hide all traces of a crime! She put such unpleasant thoughts from her and turned her attention to the bacon sizzling upon the hearth the while it filled the room with its delicious aroma. She was given a portion of the food and, seated upon one of the rude cots, devoured it ravenously. Her fears, of what ever magnitude they might be, had not spoiled her appetite, nor did she show in any other outward manner that she was afraid, either of her abductors or contemplation of the fate that awaited her.
The meal over, one of the men arose and left the cabin. From the monosyllabic conversation that ensued she gathered that he had been sent back along their route to a point where he could act as sentinel and thus safeguard them from surprise. They did not appear to expect pursuit, but took this precaution. evidently, in accordance with orders previously received, or a plan prearranged.
After the meal the men smoked for a while and then, one by one, lay down upon the rough boards to sleep, so disposing themselves that the girl could not approach either the door or the single window without disturbing one or more of them. The last man blew out the candle before he lay down. Diana Henders stretched herself at length upon the rough branches that formed the bottom of one of the cots and tried to sleep. How long she lay awake she did not know, but eventually she fell into a light slumber, from which she was awakened about three in the morning by the sound of horses’ feet on the ground outside the cabin. Then she heard men’s voices, speaking in subdued tones. A sudden premonition seized her—rescue was at hand! She heard the door open and immediately two of the men upon the floor awoke and sat up.
“Who’s that?” demanded one.
“Me,” replied one of the newcomers. “The rest o’ you fellers wake up—we got to get outta here.” He stepped to the table, struck a match and lighted the candle. In its first flare Diana recognized his figure as that of the man who had gone out after the meal to act as guard along the trail—the man with him was Hal Colby.
“Put out that light, you damn fool!” cried one of the awakened sleepers. “Do you want this girl to reco’nize us all?” The light went out, quickly. Hal Colby stepped across the room to her side.
“Everything’s all right, Di,” he said. “I’ve come for you.”
The other man was speaking to his fellows. “They’s someone on our trail—Colby passed them on the cut-off. He’d ben ridin’ behind ’em fer an hour. He says they’s three o’ ’em. We gotta git out.” Hastily the men rose and sought their horses. Colby took Diana by the arm.
“Come!” he said. “I’ll get you out o’ here.”
“Why should I want to get out when someone is coming to take me away from these men?” she demanded.
“But I’m here—I’ll take you out, Di. Come, we must hurry.”
She shook her head. “No! I shall stay here.”
“They won’t let you—they’ll take you along. You had better come with me. I am your friend.”
“You cannot be a friend of theirs arid mine, both.”
He took her by the arm again. “Come! This is no time for fooling.”
She struggled to free herself and when he attempted to drag her forcibly she struck him in the face with a clenched fist.
“You—!” he cried, applying a vile epithet to her “You’ll come, damn you,” and he picked her up and carried her out into the waning night.
Most of the men had found their horses and mounted. “Where’s her horse?” demanded Colby of one of them, and when it was led forward he threw her roughly into the saddle and with her own reata he bound her there. Then he mounted his own animal and, leading hers, started down the rough and wooded gorge, toward the south.
A few miles away three men drew rein upon a ridge. “We’ve lost the damn trail agin,” muttered Texas Pete, sourly.
Bull sat erect upon Blazes, his head thrown far back, his nostrils dilated.
“What you lookin’ up yender fer?” demanded Shorty. “The trail thet bunch o’ short-horn’s on don’t lead to heavin.”
“Smell it?” asked Bull.
“Wood smoke! They’s a east wind. Come on!” He rode blindly through the darkness, trusting to the instinct and the eyesight of his horse, toward the east and the fire from which that tenuous suggestion of wood smoke emanated. Where there was fire there should be a man—thus reasoned Bull.
A half-hour later the three slid and rolled with their horses down the steep side of a gorge into a cup-like opening in the hills and before them, in the growing dawn, they saw a mean, weatherworn shack. From the crumbling chimney a thin wisp of smoke arose into the still air, to be wafted gently westward after it had topped the summit of the canyon walls. They hid their horses among the trees and the under-brush and crept stealthily toward the building from three sides. Bull was the first to come into the open and as he did so he stood erect and sprang toward the doorway of the building, bursting into the interior with two guns ready in his hands. The place was empty. Embers smouldered upon the dirty hearth. A greasy frying pan lay upon the floor at one side, a kettle half filled with warm water upon the other. There was the odor of cigarette smoke in the air of the single room.
“They ben here, but they’s gone,” said Bull as his two friends joined him.
“They ain’t ben gone long,” said Shorty.
They found the trail leading down the canyon and followed it, while a few miles ahead Colby and Diana with the six masked men debouched upon the wide flat at the foot of the hills. Here they halted.
“One o’ you fellers swap horses with the girl,” commanded Colby, “and then you all circle back to the west an’ north an’ hit the high spots fer Hendersville. Here, Grift, you take her horse.”
“How come?” demanded Grift.
“Why to lead the folks back at Hendersville offen the trail, o’ course,” replied Colby. “You’ll tell ’em you found her horse tother side o’ the West Ranch an’ they’ll look there ’til the cows comes home.”
Grift, satisfied with this explanation, dismounted and took Diana’s horse, after which she was bound to the one he had quitted.
“Now beat it!” said Colby. “I’ll take care o’ the girl,” and he started off toward the south, while the others turned westward.
“I reckon I fooled ’em,” remarked Colby when the others were out of hearing.
Diana made no reply.
“Them three hombres is trailin’ you, Di,” he continued, “an they’ll be jest wise enough to foller Captain’s tracks. I reckon I fooled ’em fine. Grift never would o’ swapped ef he’d a-knowed what my reason was.”
Diana said nothing. She did not even look at him. They rode on in silence then for some time.
“Look here, Di,” he exclaimed finally. “You might as well come down offen your high horse. You’re mine now an’ I’m agoin’ to keep you—as long as I want you. I’m rich now. I’ll git all the money I wants from Lillian, but you’re the one I love—you’re the one I want and you’re the one I’m a-goin’ to have. After I gits all o’ Lillian’s money I’ll quit her an’ you an’ me’ll do some travelin’, but in the meantime I gotta marry her to git the money. Sabe?”
“Cur!” muttered Diana, shuddering.
“Well, ef you wants to belong to a cur, call me one,” he said, laughing. “’cause you’re goin’ to belong to me after today. You won’t never want to go back then. You thought you’d turn me down, did you? You wanted that dirty damn bandit, didn’t cha? Well, you won’t never git him. If he isn’t follerin’ you with the three thets behind us he won’t never catch up to us this side o’ the border, an’ after that he couldn’t never find us in a hundred years. If he is with them he’ll foller the Captain’s hoof prints until he catches up with ’em an’ then that bunch o’ bad-uns’ll shoot him full o’ holes. I guess maybe I wasn’t foolin’ the whole bunch on ’em, eh?”
Diana Henders looked her unutterable contempt and loathing. Colby fell silent after a bit, seeing that it was impossible to draw the girl into conversation. Thus they continued on for miles. Suddenly, from far away toward the north, came, just barely audible to their ears, faintly the sound of distant firearms.
Bull and his pals had come upon the six. There had been no preliminary—no questions asked. The three had but put spurs to their horses and overtaken the fleeing abductors, who, their work done, had no desire to enter into an argument with anyone. The moment he thought that he was within safe range Bull had opened with a single gun, and at the first shot a man had tumbled from his saddle. It was a running fight from then on until but a single one of the six remained. Holding one hand far above his head he reined in his jaded mount, at the same time letting his gun fall to the ground. Bull drew up beside him.
“Where’s Miss Henders?” he demanded.
“I don’t know nothin’ about her—I ain’t seen her.”
“You lie,” said Bull, in a low voice. “You’re riding her horse now. Where is she? I’ll give you five seconds to answer before I send you to hell.”
“Colby taken her—south—toward the border,” cried Grift, and Bull wondered, for he had left the man safely in Hendersville.
“You take thet horse home, Grift,” said Bull, “to the Bar Y. Ef you’ve lied to me about Miss Henders, or ef thet horse ain’t in a Bar Y corral when I gets back, I bore you. Sabe?”
“Now beat it,” said Bull, and reined about toward the south.
Again the hard, pitiless grind commenced. Beneath a scorching sun, over blistering alkali flats, the three urged their weary horses on.
“You gotta make it, Blazes. You gotta make it,” whispered Bull in the ear of the pony. “She cain’t be much ahead, an’ there ain’t nothin’ can step away from me an’ you, Blazes, forever. We’ll catch up with ’em some day.”