The night horseman, p.28
The Night Horseman,
Bandages and antiseptics and constant care, by themselves could not havehealed Black Bart so swiftly, but nature took a strong hand. The woundclosed with miraculous speed. Three days after he had laid his head onthe feet of Kate Cumberland, the wolf-dog was hobbling about on threelegs and tugging now and again at the restraining chain; and the dayafter that the bandages were taken off and Whistling Dan decided thatBart might run loose. It was a brief ceremony, but a vital one. DoctorByrne went out with Barry to watch the loosing of the dog; from thewindow of Joe Cumberland's room he and Kate observed what passed. Therewas little hesitancy in Black Bart. He merely paused to sniff the footof Randall Byrne, snarl, and then trotted with a limp towards thecorrals.
Here, in a small enclosure with rails much higher than the othercorrals, stood Satan, and Black Bart made straight for the stallion. Hewas seen from afar, and the black horse stood waiting, his head thrownhigh in the air, his ears pricking forward, the tail flaunting, apicture of expectancy. So under the lower rail Bart slunk and stoodunder the head of Satan, growling terribly. Of this display of angerthe stallion took not the slightest notice, but lowered his beautifulhead until his velvet nose touched the cold muzzle of Bart. There wassomething ludicrous about the greeting--it was such an odd shade closeto the human. It was as brief as it was strange, for Black Bart at oncewhirled and trotted away towards the barns.
By the time Doctor Byrne and Whistling Dan caught up with him, thewolf-dog was before the heaps and ashes which marked the site of theburned barn. Among these white and grey and black heaps he picked hisway, sniffing hastily here and there. In the very centre of the place hesat down suddenly on his haunches, pointed his nose aloft, and wailedwith tremendous dreariness.
"Now," murmured the doctor to Dan, "that strikes me as a singularmanifestation of intelligence in an animal--he has found the site of thevery barn where he was hurt--upon my word! Even fire doesn't affect hismemory!"
Here he observed that the face of Whistling Dan had grown grim. He ranto Bart and crouched beside him, muttering; and Byrne heard.
"That's about where you was lyin'," said Dan, "and you smell your ownblood on the ground. Keep tryin', Bart. They's something else to findaround here."
The wolf-dog looked his master full in the face with pricking ears,whined and then started off sniffling busily at the heaps of ashes.
"The shooting of the dog is quite a mystery," said Byrne, by way ofconversation. "Do you suppose that one of the men from the bunk-housecould have shot him?"
But Dan seemed no longer aware of the doctor's presence. He slipped hereand there with the wolf-dog among the ash-heaps, pausing when Bartpaused, talking to the brute continually. Sometimes he pointed out toBart things which the doctor did not perceive and Bart whined with aterrible, slavering, blood-eagerness.
The wolf-dog suddenly left the ash-heaps and now darted in swiftlyentangled lines here and there among the barns. Dan Barry stoodthoughtfully still, but now and then he called a word of encouragement.
And Black Bart stayed with his work. Now he struck out a wide circle,running always with his nose close to the ground. Again he doubled backsharply to the barn-site, and began again in a new direction. He ranswiftly, sometimes putting his injured leg to the ground with hardly alimp, and again drawing it up and running on three feet. In a moment hepassed out of sight behind a slight rise of ground to the left of theash-heaps, and at some little distance. He did not reappear. Instead, along, shrill wail came wavering towards the doctor and Dan Barry. Itraised the hair on the head of the doctor and sent a chill through hisveins; but it sent Whistling Dan racing towards the place behind whichBlack Bart had disappeared. The doctor hurried after as fast as hemight and came upon the wolf-dog making small, swift circles, his noseto the ground, and then crossing to and fro out of the circles. And theface of the master was black while he watched. He ran again to Bart andbegan talking swiftly.
"D'you see?" he asked, pointing. "From behind this here hill you couldget a pretty good sight of the barn--and you wouldn't be seen, hardly,from the barn. Someone must have waited here. Look about, Bart, you'llbe findin' a pile of signs, around here. It means that them that donethe shootin' and the firin' of the barn stood right here behind thishill-top and watched the barn burn--and was hopin' that Satan and youwouldn't ever come out alive. That's the story."
He dropped to his knees and caught Bart as the big dog ran by.
"Find'em, Bart!" he whispered. "Find'em!"
And he struck sharply on the scar where the bullet had ploughed its wayinto Bart's flesh.
The answer of Bart was a yelp too sharp and too highly pitched to havecome from the throat of any mere dog. Once more he darted out and ranhere and there, and Doctor Byrne heard the beast moaning as it ran. ThenBart ceased circling and cut down the slope away from the hill at asharp trot.
A cry of inarticulate joy burst from Dan, and then: "You've found it!You have it!" and the master ran swiftly after the dog. He followed thelatter only for a short distance down the slope and then stood stilland whistled. He had to repeat the call before the dog turned and ranback to his master, where he whined eagerly about the man's feet. Therewas something uncanny and horrible about it; it was as if the dumb beastwas asking for a life, and the life of a man. The doctor turned back andwalked thoughtfully to the house.
At the door he was met by Kate and a burst of eager questions, and hetold, simply, all that he had seen.
"You'll get the details from Mr. Barry," he concluded.
"I know the details," answered the girl. "He's found the trail and heknows where it points, now. And he'll want to be following it beforemany hours have passed. Doctor Byrne, I need you now--terribly. You mustconvince Dan that if he leaves us it will be a positive danger to Dad.Can you do that?"
"At least," said the doctor, "there will be little deception in that. Iwill do what I can to persuade him to stay."
"Then," she said hurriedly, "sit here, and I shall sit here. We'll meetDan together when he comes in."
They had hardly taken their places when Barry entered, the wolf at hisheels; at the door he paused to flash a glance at them and then crossedthe room. On the farther side he stopped again.
"I might be tellin' you," he said in his soft voice, "that now's Bart'swell I got to be travellin' again. I start in the morning."
The pleading eyes of Kate raised Byrne to his feet.
"My dear Mr. Barry!" he called. The other turned again and waited. "Doyou mean that you will leave us while Mr. Cumberland is in this criticalcondition?"
A shadow crossed the face of Barry.
"I'd stay if I could," he answered. "But it ain't possible!"
"What takes you away is your affair, sir," said the doctor. "My concernis Mr. Cumberland. He is in a very precarious condition. The slightestnerve shock may have--fatal--results."
Dan Barry sighed.
"Seemed to me," he answered, "that he was buckin' up considerable. Don'tlook so thin, doc."
"His body may be well enough," said the doctor calmly, "but his nervesare wrecked. I am afraid to prophesy the consequences if you leave him."
It was apparent that a great struggle was going on in Barry. He answeredat length: "How long would I have to stay? One rain could wipe out allthe sign and make me like a blind man in the desert. Doc, how long wouldI have to stay?"
"A few days," answered Byrne, "may work wonders with him."
The other hesitated.
"I'll go up and talk with him," he said, "and what he wants I'll do."
The Night Horseman by Max Brand / Western have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on30 votes