The rider thundered up and almost threw his foam-flecked horse in the sudden stop. He was a giant form, and with fearless eyes.
"Judkins, you're all bloody!" cried Jane, in affright. "Oh, you've been shot!"
"Nothin' much Miss Withersteen. I got a nick in the shoulder. I'm some wet an' the hoss's been throwin' lather, so all this ain't blood."
"What's up?" queried Venters, sharply.
"Rustlers sloped off with the red herd."
"Where are my riders?" demanded Jane.
"Miss Withersteen, I was alone all night with the herd. At daylight this mornin' the rustlers rode down. They began to shoot at me on sight. They chased me hard an' far, burnin' powder all the time, but I got away."
"Jud, they meant to kill you," declared Venters.
"Now I wonder," returned Judkins. "They wanted me bad. An' it ain't regular for rustlers to waste time chasin' one rider."
"Thank heaven you got away," said Jane. "But my riders--where are they?"
"I don't know. The night-riders weren't there last night when I rode down, en' this mornin' I met no day-riders."
"Judkins! Bern, they've been set upon--killed by Oldring's men!"
"I don't think so," replied Venters, decidedly. "Jane, your riders haven't gone out in the sage."
"Bern, what do you mean?" Jane Withersteen turned deathly pale.
"You remember what I said about the unseen hand?"
"I hope so. But I fear--" Venters finished, with a shake of his head.
"Bern, you're bitter; but that's only natural. We'll wait to see what's happened to my riders. Judkins, come to the house with me.
Your wound must be attended to."
"Jane, I'll find out where Oldring drives the herd," vowed Venters.
"No, no! Bern, don't risk it now--when the rustlers are in such shooting mood."
"I'm going. Jud, how many cattle in that red herd?"
"Twenty-five hundred head."
"Whew! What on earth can Oldring do with so many cattle? Why, a hundred head is a big steal. I've got to find out."
"Don't go," implored Jane.
"Bern, you want a hoss thet can run. Miss Withersteen, if it's not too bold of me to advise, make him take a fast hoss or don't let him go."
"Yes, yes, Judkins. He must ride a horse that can't be caught.
Which one--Black Star--Night?"
"Jane, I won't take either," said Venters, emphatically. "I wouldn't risk losing one of your favorites."
"Thet's the hoss," replied Judkins. "Wrangle can outrun Black Star an' Night. You'd never believe it, Miss Withersteen, but I know. Wrangle's the biggest en' fastest hoss on the sage."
"Oh no, Wrangle can't beat Black Star. But, Bern, take Wrangle if you will go. Ask Jerd for anything you need. Oh, be watchful careful.... God speed you."