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Chapter XXXI. The Trap
He had already covered a good ten miles, and a large part of that through
extremely rough going, but the black ran with his head as high as the
moment he pulled out of Rickett that morning, and there was only enough
sweat to make his slender neck and greyhound flanks flash in the sun. Back
he winged toward Rickett, running as freely as the wild leader of a herd,
sometimes turning his fine head to one side to look back at the master or
gaze over the hills, sometimes slackening to a trot up a sharper ascent or
lengthening into a fuller gallop on an easy down-slope. There seemed no
purpose in the reins which were kept just taut enough to give the rider
the feel of his mount, and the left hand which held them was never still
for a moment, but played back and forth slightly with the motion of the
head. Except in times of crisis those reins were not for the transmission
of orders, it seemed, but they served as the wires through which the mind
of the man and the mind of the horse kept in telegraphic touch.
In the meantime Black Bart loafed behind, lingering on the crest of each
rise to look back, and then racing to catch up, but halfway back to
Rickett he came up beside the master, whining, and leaping as high as
"You seen something?" queried Barry. "Are they comin' on the trail again?"
He swayed a bit to one side and diverted Satan out of his course so as to
climb one of the more commanding swells. From this point he glanced back
and saw a dust cloud, much like that which a small whirlwind picks up,
rolling down the nearest slope of the Morgan Hills. At that distance the
posse looked hardly larger than one unit, and certainly they could not see
the single horseman they followed; however, they could follow the trail
easily across this ground. Satan had turned to look back.
"Shall we go back and play around 'em, boy?" asked Barry.
Black Bart had run on ahead, and now he turned with a short howl.
"The partner says 'no,'" continued the master. "Of all the dogs I ever
see, Bart plays the most careful game, but out on the trail, Satan"—here
he sent the stallion into the sweeping lope—"Bart knows more'n you
an' me put together, so we'll do what he says."
For answer, Satan lengthened a little into his stride. As for the
wolf-dog, he went off like a black bolt into the eye of the wind,
streaking it west to hunt out the easiest course. A wolf—and surely
there was more of wolf than of dog in Black Bart—has a finer sense
for the lay of ground than anything on four feet. He knows how to come
down the wind on his quarry keeping to the depressions and ravines so that
not a taint of his presence is blown to the prey; and he will skulk across
an open plain, stealing from hollow to hollow and stalking from bush to
bush, so that the wariest are taken by surprise. As for Black Bart, he
knew the kind of going which the stallion liked as well, almost, as he
knew his own preferences, and he picked out a course which a surveyor with
line and spirit-level could hardly have bettered. He wove across the
country in loosely thrown semicircles, and came back in view of the master
at the proper point. There was hardly much point in such industry in a
country as smooth as this, not much more difference, say, than the saving
of distance which the horse makes who hugs the fence on the turn and on
account of that sticks his head under the finish wire a nose in front; and
Bart clung to his work with scrupulous care.
Sometimes he ran back with lolling, red tongue, when the course lay clear
even to the duller sense of a human, and frisked under the nose of Satan
until a word from Barry sent him scurrying away like a pleased child. His
duties comprehended not only the selection of the course but also an eagle
vigilance before and behind, so that when he came again with a peculiar
whine, Barry leaned a little from the saddle and spoke to him anxiously.
"D'you mean to say that they been gainin' ground on us old boy?"
Black Bart leaped sidewise, keeping his head toward the master, and he
howled in troubled fashion.
"Whereaway are they now?" muttered Barry, and looked back again.
A great distance behind, hardly distinguishable now, the dust of the posse
was blending into the landscape and losing itself against a gray
"If they's nothin' wrong behind, what's bitin' you, Bart. You gettin'
hungry, maybe? Want to hurry home?"
Another howl, still louder, answered him.
"Go on, then, and show me where they's trouble."
Black Bart whirled and darted off almost straight ahead, but bearing up a
hill slightly south of their course. Toward the top of this eminence he
changed his lope for a skulking trot that brought his belly fur trailing
on the ground.
"They's somethin' ahead of us, Satan!" cried the master softly. "What
could that be? It's men, by the way Bart sneaks up to look at 'em. They's
nothin' else that he'd do that way for. Easy, boy, and go soft!"
The stallion cut his gallop into a slinking trot, his head lowered, even
his ears flat back, and glided up the hillside. Barry swung to the ground
and crawled to the top of the hill. What he saw was a dozen mounted men
swinging down into the low, broad scoop of ground beyond the hill. They
raced with their hatbrims standing stiff up in the wind.
"They've been watchin' us with glasses!" whispered Dan to Bart, and the
wolf-dog snarled savagely, his neck-fur ruffling up.
The dozen directly in front were not all, for to the right, bearing
straight across his original course, came another group almost as strong,
and to the left eight more riders spurred at top speed.
"We almost walked into 'em," said Barry, "but they ain't got us yet. Back,
The wolf dog slunk down the hill until it was out of sight from the
farther side of the slope, and the master imitated these tactics until he
was close to Satan. Once in the saddle he made up his mind quickly.
Someone in Rickett had guessed his intention to double back toward Tucker
Creek, and they had cut him off cleverly enough and in overwhelming force.
However, no one in Rickett could guess that another way out remained for
him in the fords below Caswell City, and even if they knew, their
knowledge would do them no good. They could not wing a message to that
place to head him off; it was not humanly possible. For Dan knew nothing
of the telephone lines which brought Caswell City itself within speaking
distance of far away Rickett. Caswell City, then, was his goal, but to get
toward it he must circle far back toward the Morgan Hills, back almost
into the teeth of the posse in order to skirt around the right wing of
these new enemies. Even then, to double that flank, he must send Satan
ahead at full speed. As he swung around, the eight men of that end party
crashed over the hill five hundred yards away, and their yell at the view
of the quarry went echoing up the shallow valley.
The slayer of Pete Glass, he who had done the notorious Killing at Alder,
was almost in touch of their revolvers—and their horses were fresh.
Not one of that eight but would have given odds on his chances of sharing
the capture money. There were no spurs on the heels of Barry to urge
Satan, and no quirt in his hand, but a single word sent the black
streaking down the hill.
Going into the Morgan Hills he had gone like the wind, but now he rushed
like a thoroughbred standing a challenge in the homestretch. His nose, and
his flying tail were a straight line and the flash of his legs was a
tangle which no eye could follow as he shot east on the back trail,
straight toward the posse. For a mile or more that speed did not slacken,
and at the end of that distance he began to edge to the right.
The men behind him knew well enough what the plan of the fugitive was, and
they angled farther toward the north; there in the distance came the
posse, the cloud of dust breaking up now into the dark figures of the
fifteen, and if the men from St. Vincent could hold the pace a little
longer they would drive Barry between two fires. They flattened themselves
along their horses' necks at infinite risk to their necks in case of a
stumble, and every spur in the crowd was dripping red; horseflesh could do
no more, and still the black drew ahead inches and inches with every
If they could not turn him with their speed another way remained, and by
swift agreement the four best horses were sent ahead at full speed while
the other riders caught their reins over the pommels and jerked out their
rifles; a quartet of bullets went screaming after the black horse.
Indeed, there was little enough chance that a placed shot would go home,
but their magazines were full, and a chance hit would do the work and kill
both man and horse at that rate of speed. Dan Barry knew it, and when the
bullets sang he whirled in the saddle and swept out his rifle from its
case in the same movement. That yellow devil of anger flared in his eyes
as he pitched the butt to his shoulder and straight into the circle of the
sight rode Johnny Gasney of St. Vincent. Another volley whistled about him
and his finger trembled on the trigger. No chance work with Barry, for he
knew the gait of Satan as a practized naval gunner knows the swing of his
ship in a smooth sea, and that circle of doom wavered over Johnny Gasney
for a dozen strides before Dan turned with a faint moan and jammed the
rifle back in its case. Once again he was balancing in his stirrups,
leaning close to cut the wind with his shoulders.
"I can't do it, Satan. I got nothin' agin them. They think they're playin'
square. I can't do it. Stretch out, old boy. Stretch out!" It seemed
impossible that the stallion could increase his exertions, but with that
low voice at his ear he did literally stretch along the ground and jerked
himself away from the pursuit like a tall ship when a new sail spreads in
The men from St. Vincent saw that the game was lost. Every one of the
eight had his rifle at the shoulder and the bullets hissed everywhere
about him. Right into his face, but a greater distance away, rode the
posse from Rickett, the fifteen tried men and true; and having caught the
scheme of the trap they were killing their horses with a last effort.
It failed through no fault of theirs. Just as the jaws of the trap were
about to close the black stallion whisked out from danger, lunged over a
swell of ground, and was out of view. When they reached that point,
yelling, Barry raced his black out of range of all except the wildest
chance shot. The eight from St. Vincent drove their weapons sullenly into
the holsters; for the last five minutes they had been silently dividing
ten thousand dollars by eight, and the awakening left a taste of ashes.
They could only follow him now at a moderate pace in the hope of wearing
him down, and since a slight pause made little difference in the result—it
would even be an advantage to breathe their horses after that burst,—they
drew rein and cursed in chorus.