The sheriff was on his feet, whining with eagerness and with the rest of his men he sent a shower of lead splashing vainly into the deeper night beside the mountain, where the path wound down.
"It's done! Hold up, lads!" called Pete Glass. "He's beat us!"
The firing ceased, and they heard the rush of the hoofs along the graveled slope and the clanging on rocks.
"It's done," repeated the sheriff. "How?"
And he stood staring blankly, with a touch or horror in his face.
"By God, Mat's plugged."
"Mat Henshaw? Wha—?"
"Clean through the head."
He lay in an oddly twisted heap, as though every bone in his body were broken, and when they drew him about they found the red mark in his forehead and even made out the dull surprise in his set face. There had been no pain in that death, the second for the sake of Grey Molly.
"The other two!" said the sheriff, more to himself than to Vic, who stood beside him.
"Easy, Pete," he cautioned. "You got nothin' agin Haines and Daniels."
The sheriff flashed at him that hungry, baffled glance.
"Maybe I can find something. You Gregg, keep your mouth shut and stand back. Halloo!"
He sent a long call quavering between the lonely mountains.
"You yonder—Lee Haines! D'you give up to the law?"
A burst of savage laughter flung back at him, and then: "Why the hell should I?"
"Haines, I give you fair warnin'! For resistin' the law and interferin', I ask you, do you surrender?"
"Who are you?"
The big voice fairly swallowed the rather shrill tone of the sheriff.
"I'm sheriff Pete Glass."
"You lie. Whoever heard of a sheriff come sneakin' round like a coyote lookin' for dead meat?"
Pete Glass grinned with rage.
"Haines, you ain't much better'n spoiled meat if you keep back. I gave you till I count ten—"
"Why, you bob-tailed skunk," shouted a new voice. "You bone-spavined, pink-eyed rat-catcher," continued this very particular describer, "what have you got on us? Come out and dicker and we'll do the same!"
The sheriff sighed, softly, deeply.
"I thought maybe they wouldn't get down to talk," he murmured. But since the last chance for a battle was gone, he stepped fearlessly from behind his rock and advanced into the open. Two tall figures came to meet him.
"Now," said Lee Haines, stalking forward. "One bad move, just the glint of a single gun from the rest of you sheep thieves, and I'll tame your pet sheriff and send him to hell for a model."
They halted, close to each other, the two big men, Haines in the front, and the sheriff.
"You're Lee Haines?"
"You've named me."
"And you're Buck Daniels?"
"Gents, you've resisted an officer of the law in the act of makin' an arrest. I s'pose you know what that means?"
Big Lee Haines laughed.
"Don't start a bluff, sheriff. I know a bit about the law."
"Maybe by experience?"
It was an odd thing to watch the three, every one of them a practiced fighter, every one of them primed for trouble, but each ostentatiously keeping his hands away from the holsters.
"What we might have done if we had come to a pinch," said Haines, "is one thing, and what we did do is another. Barry was started and off before we had a chance to show teeth, my friend, and you never even caught the flash of our guns. If he'd waited but he didn't. There's nothing left for us to do except say good-by."
The little dusty man stroked his moustaches thoughtfully. He had gone out there hoping against hope that his chance might come—to trick the two into violence, even to start an arrest for reasons which he knew his posse would swear to; but it must be borne in mind that Pete Glass was a careful man by instinct. Taking in probable speed of hand and a thousand other details at a glance, Pete sensed the danger of these two and felt in his heart of hearts that he was more than master of either of them, considered alone; better than Buck Daniels by an almost safe margin of steadiness; better than Lee Haines by a flickering instant of speed. Had either of them alone faced him, he would have taken his chance, perhaps, to kill or be killed, for the long trail and the escape had fanned that spark within him to a cold, hungry fire; but to attempt a play with both at the same time was death, and he knew it. Seeing that the game was up, he laid his cards on the table with characteristic frankness.
"Gents," he said, "I reckon you've come clean with me. You ain't my meat and I ain't goin' to clutter up your way. Besides"—even in the dull moonshine they caught the humorous glint of his eyes—"a friend is a friend, and I'll say I'm glad that you didn't step into the shady side of the law while Barry was gettin' away."
No one could know what it cost Pete Glass to be genial at that instant, for this night he felt that he had just missed the great moment which he had yearned for since the day when he learned to love the kick of a six-shooter against the heel of his hand. It was the desire to meet face to face one whose metal of will and mind was equal to his own, whose nerves were electric energies perfectly under command, whose muscles were fine spun steel. He had gone half a lifetime on the trail of fighters and always he had known that when the crisis came his hand would be the swifter, his eyes the more steady; the trailing was a delight always, but the actual kill was a matter of slaughter rather than a game of hazard. Only the rider of the black stallion had given him the sense of equal power, and his whole soul had risen for the great chance of All. That chance was gone; he pushed the thought of it away—for the time—and turned back to the business at hand.
"They's only one thing," he went on. "Sliver! Ronicky! Step along, gents, and we'll have a look at the insides of that house."
"Steady!" broke in Haines. He barred the path to the front door. "Sheriff, you don't know me, but I'm going to ask you to take my word for what's in that house."
Glass swept him with a look of a new nature.
"I got an idea your word might do. Well, what's in the house?"
"A little five-year-old girl and her mother; nothing else worth seeing."
"Nothing else," considered the sheriff, "but that's quite a lot. Maybe his wife could tell me where he's going? Give me an idea where I might call on him?"
"Partner, you can't see her."
"No, by God!"
"H-m-m!" murmured the sheriff. He watched the big man plant himself, swaying a little on his feet as though poising for action, and beside him a slightly smaller figure not less determined.
"That girl in there is old man Cumberlan's daughter," said Daniels, "and no matter what her—what Dan Barry may be, Kate Cumberland is white folks."
The sheriff remembered what Vic had said of yellow hair and soft blue eyes.
"Leastways," he said, "she seems to have a sort of way with the men."
"Sheriff you're on a cold trail," said Haines. "Inside that house is just a heart-broken girl and her baby. If you want to see them—go ahead!"
"She might know something," mused the sheriff, "and I s'pose I'd ought to pry it out of her right now: but I don't care for that sort of pickin's." He repeated softly: "A girl and a baby!" and turned on his heel. "All right, boys, climb your hosses. Two of you take Mat. We'll bury him where we put Harry. I guess we can pack him that far."
"How's that?" This from Haines. "One of your gang dropped?"
They followed him and stood presently beside the body. Aside from the red mark in the forehead he seemed asleep, and smiling at some pleasant dream; a handsome fellow in the strength of first manhood, this man who was the second to die for Grey Molly.
"It's the end of Dan Barry," said Buck. "Lee, we'll never have Whistlin' Dan for a friend again. He's wild for good."
The sheriff turned and eyed him closely.
"He's got to come back," said Haines. "He's got to come back for the sake of Kate."
"He'd better be dead for the sake of Kate," answered Buck.
"Why, partner, this isn't the first time he's gone wild."
"Don't you see, Lee?"
"He's fighting to kill. He's shooting to kill, and he ain't ever done that before. He crippled his men; he put 'em out of the way with a busted leg or a plugged shoulder; but now he's out to finish 'em. Lee, he'll never come back."
He looked to the white face of Vic Gregg, standing by, and he said without anger; "Maybe it ain't your fault, but you've started a pile of harm. Look at these gents around you, the sheriff and all—they're no better'n dead, Gregg, and that's all along of you. Barry has started on the trail of all of you. Look at that house back there. It's packed full of hell, and all along of you. Lee, let's get back. I'm feelin' sick inside."