Before noon they were obliged to stop and rest their horses at a water hole that afforded a brackish but refreshing drink for the three jaded animals. In the mud at the border they saw the fresh tracks of Colby’s pony and Diana’s. It was evident that they had stopped here for a considerable time, which, in truth, they had, so positive was Colby that he had thrown their pursuers off the track, leading them into a gun fight with a superior force that might reasonably have been expected to have accounted for them to the last man.
Five minutes was all the rest that the pursuers allowed their horses. Once again they were in the saddle. “Lookee yender!” exclaimed Texas Pete, pointing toward the south. “Ef it ain’t rainin’ there I’m a siwash.”
“It’s about a month too early for the rains,” said Bull, “but it shore is rainin’—rainin’ like hell. Look at thet lightnin’. Say, if they ain’t crossed Salee’s Flats yet they won’t never git acrost, not while thet rain lasts.”
“’N’ if they has crossed we won’t never catch ’em,” said Shorty.
“I’ll catch ’em ef I hev to ride plumb to hell an’ it takes me a hundred years,” said Bull.
The rain struck Colby and Diana at the northern edge of the Flats. It came in driving sheets and sometimes in solid masses that almost crushed them. It came with deafening reverberations of Titantic thunder and vivid, almost terrifying, displays of lightning. It was bad where they were, but Colby knew from experience of the country that in the low hills at the upper end of the Flats it was infinitely worse—that there had been a cloudburst. He put spurs to his horse and dragging Diana’s into a gallop urged them both to greater speed, knowing that if he did not cross the wash in the center of the Flats within a few minutes he might not cross it again for days. When they reached it three feet of turbid water tumbled madly down the narrow bed between the precipitous clay walls. The man found a steep path that stock had made for crossing when the bed of the wash was dry and urged his horse downward. The force of the current almost swept the animal from its feet, but with wide-spread legs it stemmed the torrent, while Colby, taking a few turns of the lead rope around his horn, dragged Diana’s pony through in safety after him. At the top of the bank the man turned and looked toward the north and then down at the rising flood.
“If this rain holds out they won’t nothin’ more cross here fer a spell,” he said, smiling. “In ten minutes she’ll be plumb full. We kin take it easier now.”
He started off again, but now at a walk, for he knew that there was no longer need for haste, if there had been before, which he had doubted. The horses, cooled and refreshed by the rain, would have been equal to a spurt now, but none was necessary, and so they came after a mile to the dim outlines of an adobe house showing through the driving downpour, directly ahead. Colby rode close to the door, and leaning from his saddle, pounded upon it. There was no reply.
“I reckon we’ll stop here a while,” he said, dismounting.
He opened the door and looked in. The place was deserted. In rear of it was an open shed for stock and to this they rode. Colby helped Diana from her horse, removed the saddles and bridles from the animals and tied them beneath the shed, then he led the girl to the house, her arms still bound by the reata. There was no chance that she could escape now; so the man removed her bonds.
“We’ll rest here a few hours an’ give the horses a chance, then we’ll hit the trail. We gotta find a place where we kin feed, my belly’s wrapped around my back-bone. Let’s be friends, Di. You might as well make the best of it. You cain’t blame a feller fer lovin’ you, an’ I ain’t so bad—you might a-done a lot worse.” He came toward her and raised his hand as though to place it on her arm.
“Don’t touch me!” She drew back with an appreciable shudder or revulsion.
He laughed. “You’ll feel better after a while,” he said. “We’re both too dog tired to be very good company. I’m goin’ to get in a little sleep. You’d better do the same; but I’ll have to tie you up again unless you’ll promise not to try to escape.”
She made no reply. “All right,” he said, “ef you’d rather be tied.” He came then and tied her hands behind her. Keeping one end of the rope in his own hand he lay down upon the dirt floor and was soon asleep. Diana sat with her back against the wall listening to the rain beating upon the roof and driving against the walls. The roof leaked badly in several places and the water that came through formed puddles on the floor which joined together into a little rivulet that wound to the doorway and disappeared beneath the door.
How hopeless! Diana stifled a sob. She was tired and hungry and weak from exhaustion. The frightful rain had cut off the frail vestige of a chance of rescue that there had been before. By now no man or beast could cross Salee’s Flats. She knew one man who would try had he known of her predicament, but how was he to know of it—a hunted fugitive hiding in the mountains far to the north.
Realizing the necessity for haste if they were to cross the Flats before the wash became an impassable torrent, the three pursuers drove their tired horses onward at the top of their diminished speed. The race became at once a test for the survival of the fittest, and Blazes forged steadily farther and farther, ahead of the ponies. Long before Bull reached the Flats the rain was upon him, refreshing both horse and man, and Blazes, as though imbued with new life, increased the distance between himself and the two ponies now far behind. The driving rain was rapidly obliterating the trail that the man followed, yet he managed to cling to it to the very brink of the wash—to the very point where Colby and Diana had crossed, and there Bull drew rein to look down, scowling, upon a seething barrier of yellow water. Twenty feet wide it was and ten feet deep, swirling and boiling like a cauldron of hell. He eyed the greasy, muddy footing of the bank. Had it been firm and dry he had put Blazes to it for a jump, but he knew that it could not be done, nor could he swim the horse. Even could the animal have made the crossing it could not have clambered out upon the top of that perpendicular, constantly caving wall, with the mighty current always dragging at it. But Bull was not hopeless—he was merely devising ways and means. Not an instant had he considered the possibility of giving up the pursuit, or even of delaying it by waiting for the waters to recede. Taking his rope in hand he dismounted and stepped close to the brink of the torrent, upon both sides of which grew numerous clumps of grease-wood. He seemed already to have formed a plan, for he drew one of his six-guns and hurled it across the wash. He followed it with the second gun and then with his heavy belt of cartridges. Then came his boots, one by one.
Shaking down the honda he swung a noose at the end of his rope, which, opening up, described a circle that seemed to revolve about his head at an angle of forty-five degrees with the ground, like a rakish halo just for an instant, and then it rose and sailed gracefully across the new-born river to drop around a clump of grease-wood upon the opposite bank.
“Come here!” said Bull to Blazes, and the horse stepped to his side, close to the water’s edge. “Stand!” commanded Bull, knowing that Blazes would stand where he was for hours, if necessary, until his master gave a new order.
Bull drew in his rope until it became taut and then he dragged heavily upon the grease-wood across the channel. It held despite his most strenuous efforts. He tied the loose end about his waist, stepped to the edge of the water and leaped in.
Hal Colby awoke and looked about him. His eyes fell upon the girl sitting with her back against the wall across the room.
“Feelin’ better?” he asked. “I am. Nothin’ like sleep, onless it be grub.”
She did not reply. He rose to his feet and approached her. “You’re shore a sullen little devil, but I’ll take that out o’ youa little lovin’ll do that. Git up an’ kiss me!”
“You unspeakable—thing! It would be an insult to a cur to call you that.”
Colby laughed good-naturedly. “Ef you’d ruther have a bandit, I might turn one,” he said, and again he laughed, this time at his own joke.
“If you are trying to suggest that I would prefer Bull, you are right. You may thank God that he is not here—but he will come—and you will pay.”
“Well, you ain’t got up and kissed me yet,” said Colby. “Do you want me to yank you up? You got a lot to learn an’ I’m the hombre what can learn you. I’ve hed a lot o’ experience—I’ve tamed ’em before, as good as you. Tamed ’em an’ made ’em like it. If it cain’t be did one way it can another. Sometimes a quirt helps.” He struck his chaps with the lash of the one he carried. “Git up, you!” He seized her by the arm and jerked her roughly to her feet. Again she struck him, and this time the man struck back—a stinging blow across her shoulders with the quirt. “I’ll learn you!” he cried.
She tried to free herself, striking him repeatedly, but he held her off and lashed her cruelly, nor did he appear to care where the quirt fell.
The tumbling waters, engulfing Bull, rolled him over and over before, half-drowned, his powerful strokes succeeded in raising his head above the surface. He had had no conception of the tremendous strength of the current. He was but a bobbing bit of flotsam upon its surface. He could not stem it. He was helpless. The rope about his waist suddenly tautened and he was again dragged beneath the surface. He grasped it with his hands and tried to pull himself in toward shore, but the giant waters held him in their grip, dragging him downward, stronger by far than the strength of many men.
Suddenly the muddy flood spewed him to the surface once more—this time against the bank to which the opposite end of his rope was fastened and was dragging heavily upon its precarious anchor. He clutched at the slippery, red mud, clawing frantically for a hand-hold. The waters leaped upon him and beat him down, but still he fought on valiantly, not for his life but for the girl he loved, and at last he won, dragging himself slowly out upon the bank. Almost exhausted he rose, staggering, to his feet and looked back across the torrent at Blazes.
“It ain’t no use, boy,” he said, with a shake of his head. “I was a-goin’ to rope you an’ drag you acrost, but it cain’t be did. Now I reckon I’ll hev to hoof it.”
He sat down in the mud and pulled on his boots, gathered up his guns and belt, coiled his rope and turned his face southward. “Ef it takes a hundred years an’ I hev to foller him plumb to hell,” he muttered, “I’ll git him!”
Still spent and blowing from his tremendous exertions against the flood, he staggered on through the sticky clay and the blinding rain, his head bent down against the storm. It was hard work, but never once did a thought of surrender enter his mind. He would find a ranch house somewhere and get a horse—he might even come upon some range stock. He had his lariat and there was a bare chance that he might get close enough to an animal to rope it. But he must have a horse! He felt helpless—entirely impotent—without one.
Imagine yourself thrust into a cold and unfriendly world, if you are a man, without a pocket knife, a bunch of keys, a handkerchief, money, or a pair of shoes and you will be able to appreciate how a cowboy feels without a horse.
Thus, buffeted by the storm, he shouldered on until suddenly there loomed almost directly in his path the outlines of an adobe house. Fortune smiled upon him! Here he would find a horse! He stepped to the door and was about to knock when he heard the voice of a woman crying out in protestation and pain. Then he flung the door wide and stepped into the interior. Colby, holding Diana’s wrist, was twisting it in an excess of rage, for she had struck him and repulsed him until the last vestige of his thin veneer of manhood had fallen from him, leaving exposed the raw, primordial beast.
He saw Bull the instant that the latter opened the door and swinging the girl in front of him reached for a gun. Diana, too, saw the figure in the doorway. A great wave of joy swept through her, and then she saw Colby’s gun flash from its holster and knew that Bull could not shoot because of fear of hitting her; but she did not know Bull as well as she thought she knew him, and similarly was Colby deceived, for the man in the doorway fired from the hip the instant that Colby’s gun was raised. The weapon fell from nerveless fingers, the grasp upon Diana’s wrist relaxed, and Hal Colby pitched forward upon his face, a bullet hole between his eyes.
Diana swayed for an instant, dazed by the wonder of her deliverance, and then as Bull stepped toward her she went to meet him and put her arms about his neck.
“Bull!” It was half a sob. The man took her in his arms.
“Diana!” The word carried all the reverence of a benediction.
Raising her face from his shoulder she pushed him away a little. “Bull,” she said, “once you told me that you loved me. Tell me so again.”
“’Love’ don’t tell half of it, girl,” he said, his voice husky with emotion.
“Oh, Bull,” she cried, “I have been such a fool. I love you! I have always loved you, but I did not know it until that night—the night they came after you at the West Ranch.”
“But you couldn’t love me, Diana, thinkin’ I was The Black Coyote!”
“I don’t care, Bull, what you are. All I care or know is that you are my man. We will go away together and start over again—will you, Bull, for my sake?”
And then he told her that he didn’t have to go away—told her who The Black Coyote had been.
“Why, he even planted one o’ the bullion sacks under my bed-roll at The West Ranch to prove I was the right hombre,” said Bull. “Saw a sack o’ dust I brung from Idaho, an’ he tried to make ’em think it was yours. He used to send me off alone the days he was a-goin’ to hold up the stage, so’s when the time was ripe he could throw suspicion on me. He shore was a clever feller, Hal was.”
“But the day Mack was wounded?” she asked. “We saw you coming in from the north and there was blood on your shirt.”
“I got in a brush with Apaches up Cottonwood, me an’ Gregorio, an’ I got scratched. ’Twasn’t nothin’.”
“And to think that all the time he was professing friendship for you he was trying to make me believe that you were The Black Coyote.,” cried Diana. “He was worse than Mr. Corson and I thought him about the wickedest man I had ever known.”
“We gotta think about gittin’ back an’ havin’ a friendly pow-wow with thet there Corson gent,” said Bull. “By golly, the sun’s out! Everything’s happy, Diana, now thet you’re safe.”
They walked to the doorway. The rain had stopped as suddenly as it had begun, and now the fierce sun blazed down upon the steaming mud.
“Where’s your horses?” asked Bull.
“In a shed behind the house.”
“Good! We’ll start along. They’s a bridge twenty-five miles below here ef I ain’t mistaken. I think I know this here shack. I was down this way two year ago.”
“But what about him?” She nodded back toward the body of Colby.
“He kin rot here fer all I care,” said Bull, bitterly—“a-hurtin’ you! God, I wisht he had nine lives like a cat, so’s I could kill him a few more times.”
She closed the door behind them. “We’ll have to notify Gum Smith, so they can send down and bury him.”
“Gum Smith won’t never get the chanct,” he said.
They walked to the shed and he saddled the two horses, rested now and refreshed a little by the past hours of relief from the heat, and after they had mounted and ridden halfway to the wash they saw the figures of two men upon the opposite bank.
“Texas Pete and Shorty,” he told her. They recognized the girl and Bull and whooped and shouted in the exuberance of youth and joy.
It was a hard ride to the bridge through the heavy mud, but it was made at last and then the four joined upon the same side and set out toward home, picking up Idaho en route, still weak, but able to sit on a horse.
It was two days later before they rode into the Bar Y ranch yard, where they were met with wild acclaim by Willie, Wong and the men’s cook.
“Where’s Corson?” demanded Bull.
“The whole bunch has gone to town to close the deal. They was some hitch the other day. Wong said he heard ’em talkin’. Corson wouldn’t take nothin’ but gold an’ Wainright had to send up to Aldea fer it. They say it’s comin’ in on today’s stage.”
“I’m goin’ to town,” announced Bull.
“So am I,” said Diana.
“We’ll all go,” said Shorty.
“Git us up some fresh horses, Willie,” said Texas Pete. Then he turned to Diana. “You ain’t said yit thet I ain’t foreman no more.” They both smiled.
“Not yet, Pete. I’ll have to talk it over with Bull,” said Diana.
Remounted, they galloped off toward Hendersville—all but Idaho. Him they left behind, much to his disgust, for he needed rest.
They reached town half an hour after the stage had pulled in and, entering The Donovan House, found Corson, Lillian Manill, the two Wainrights, together with the attorney from Aldea and Gum Smith.
At sight of Bull, Gum Smith leaped to his feet. “Yo-all’s undeh arrest!” he squealed.
“What fer?” asked Bull.
“Fer robbin’ the United States Mail, thet’s what fer.”
“Hold your horses, Gum,” admonished Bull, “I ain’t quite ready fer you yet. I craves conversation with these here dudes fust.” He turned to the elder Wainright. “’You was honin’ to pay a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars to this here dude fer the Bar Y?’
“’Tain’t none o’ yore business,” snapped Wainright.
Bull laid a hand upon the butt of one of his guns. “Does I hev to run you out o’ Hendersville to git a civil answer?” he demanded.
Wainright paled. “I’ve paid already, an’ the Bar Y’s mine,” he answered surlily.
“You’ve ben stung. Them two’s crooks. The girl ain’t no relation to Miss Henders’ uncle an’ we got the papers to prove it. We got the will, too, thet this skunk tried to git hold of an’ destroy. Leastwise Miss Henders had ’em, but she sent ’em to Kansas City before Corson could git holt of ’em. Texas Pete, here, took ’em to Aldea. That’s why you didn’t find ’em in the office, Corson, when you robbed the safe. Wong saw you and told us about it just before we left the ranch today. All you got was the copies she made. I don’t wonder you wanted gold from Wainright.”
“He’s lyin,” cried Corson to Wainright. “Do you believe what a fellow like he is says? Why, he’ll be in a federal penitentiary inside another month for robbing the mail. There isn’t a jury on earth would take his word for anything.”
“I ain’t there yit an’ no more I don’t expect to be,” said Bull.
“Yo-all’s undeh arrest, jes the same, right now,” cried Gum Smith, “an Ah warns yo to come along peacable-like with me.”
“Now I’m comin’ to you, Gum,” said Bull. “You better beat it, Gum. You ain’t wuth shootin’, with cartridges the price they be,” he continued. “Gregorio had told me the whole story. He’s goin’ straight now an’ wants to square himself. He’s writ out an’ signed a confession thet’s goin’ to make this climate bad fer your rheumatism.”
“Gregorio’s a dirty, lyin’ greaser,” screamed Gum. “They won’t no one bulieve him neither. They ain’t no one got. the goods on me.”
“No,” said Bull, “but you have. Nearly every ounce of thet gold—except what you an’ Colby spent an’ what little you giv Gregorio’s buried underneath the floor of the back room o’ your saloon, an’ me an’ Pete an’ Shorty’s right here to see thet no hombre don’t git it what don’t belong to it.”
Gum Smith paled. “’Tain’t so! It’s a damn lie”’
“Thet’s the second time I ben called a liar in five minutes,” said Bull. “I ain’t did nothin’ ’cause they’s ladies present, but I’m goin’ to send ’em outen the room in a minute an’ then we’ll talk about thet—ef you’re still here. I’d advise you not to be, though. Wainright, I seen your buckboard tied out in front here. By crowdin’ it’ll hold five—meanin’ you, thet ornery lookin’ dude son o’ yourn, Corson, Miss Manill an’ Gum. You all be in it an’ hittin’ the trail north fer tother side o’ the hill inside o’ five minutes or me an’ the boys is goin’ to start shootin’, On the way, Wainright, you an’ Corson kin settle thet little matter o’ the hundred an’ twenty-five thousand. Ef you kin git it back from him ’tain’t nothin’ to me, but ef you don’t you deserve to lose it, fer you’re jest as big a thief as he is, only not quite so bright in the head. Now git, an’ git damn pronto!” His voice had suddenly changed from mocking irony to grim earnestness. It was a savage voice that uttered the final command. Gum Smith was the first out of the room. He was followed by the others. “See ’em to the edge of town, boys, an’ see that they don’t linger,” said Bull to Shorty an’ Texas Pete.
“Oh, mamma!” exclaimed Shorty. “Lead me to them funny pants!”
Bull turned to the attorney from Aldea. “I ain’t got no proof thet you were in on this deal,” he said; “so you kin wait an’ go in on the stage tomorrer.”
“Thanks,” said the attorney. “No, I thought it a perfectly legitimate transaction; but I am glad they called me down, for now perhaps I can transact some real business for some other clients of mine. I had not been aware that the Bar Y was for sale, or I had been over here before. I represent a large syndicate of eastern packers whom I know would be interested in this property, and if Miss Henders will make me a proposition I shall be glad to transmit it to them—you will find them very different people to deal with than these others seem to have been.”
“I thank you,” said Diana, “but the Bar Y is not for sale. We are going to run the ranch together, aren’t we, Bull?”
“You bet we are,” he replied.
Mary Donovan burst from an inner room at the moment. “Bliss me heart!” she exclaimed. “An’ I niver knew you was here ’til this very minute, an’ I heard what yese jest said, Diana Henders, an’ I’m not after bein’ such a fool that I don’t know what yese means. It makes me happy, God bless ye! I must be after runnin’ in an’ tellin’ me ould man—he’ll be that glad, he will.”
“Your old man!” exclaimed Diana.
“Sure now,” said Mary Donovan, blushing, “didn’t yese know ’at me and Bob was married the day before yesterday? Shure they had to shoot him before I c’d git him. He niver was much, an’ havin’ a bullet hole clean through him don’t make him no better, but thin he’s a man, an’ a poor one’s better than none at all.”