Part I. The Man from the Panhandle
Chapter XII. Exit Dunke
 

Dunke plowed back through the tunnel in a blind whirl of passion. Rage, chagrin, offended vanity, acute disappointment, all blended with a dull heartache to which he was a stranger. He was a dangerous man in a dangerous mood, and so Wolf Struve was likely to discover. But the convict was not an observant man. His loose upper lip lifted in the ugly sneer to which it was accustomed.

"Got onto you, didn't she?"

Dunke stuck his candle in a niche of the ragged granite wall, strode across to his former partner in crime, and took the man by the throat.

"I'll learn you to keep that vile tongue of yours still," he said between set teeth, and shook the hapless man till he was black in the face.

Struve hung, sputtering and coughing, against the wall where he had been thrown. It was long before he could do more than gasp.

"What-- what did you do-- that for?" His furtive ratlike face looked venomous in its impotent anger. "I'll pay you for this-- and don't you-- forget it, Joe Dunke!"

"You'd shoot me in the back the way you did Jim Kinney if you got a chance. I know that; but you see you won't get a chance."

"I ain't looking for no such chance. I--"

"That's enough. I don't have to stand for your talk even if I do have to take care of you. Light your candle and move along this tunnel lively."

Something in Dunke's eye quelled the rebellion the other contemplated. He shuffled along, whining as he went that he would never have looked for his old pal to treat him so. They climbed ladders to the next level, passed through an empty stope, and stopped at the end of a drift.

"I'll arrange to get you out of here to-night and have you run across the line. I'm going to give you three hundred dollars. That's the last cent you'll ever get out of me. If you ever come back to this country I'll see that you're hanged as you deserve."

With that Dunke turned on his heel and was gone. But his contempt for the ruffian he had cowed was too fearless. He would have thought so if he could have known of the shadow that dogged his heels through the tunnel, if he could have seen the bare fangs that had gained Struve his name of "Wolf," if he could have caught the flash of the knife that trembled in the eager hand. He did not know that, as he shot up in the cage to the sunlight, the other was filling the tunnel with imprecations and wild threats, that he was hugging himself with the promise of a revenge that should be sure and final.

Dunke went about the task of making the necessary arrangements personally. He had his surrey packed with food, and about eleven o'clock drove up to the mine and was lowered to the ninth level. An hour later he stepped out of the cage with a prisoner whom he kept covered with a revolver.

"It's that fellow Struve," he explained to the astonished engineer in the shaft-house. "I found him down below. It seems that Fraser took him down the Jackrabbit and he broke loose and worked through to our ground."

"Do you want any help in taking him downtown, sir? Shall I phone for the marshal?"

His boss laughed scornfully.

"When I can't handle one man after I've got him covered I'll let you know, Johnson."

The two men went out into the starlit night and got into the surrey. The play with the revolver had hitherto been for the benefit of Johnson, but it now became very real. Dunke jammed the rim close to the other's temple.

"I want that letter I wrote you. Quick, by Heaven! No fairy-tales, but the letter!"

"I swear, Joe--"

"The letter, you villain! I know you never let it go out of your possession. Give it up! Quick!"

Struve's hand stole to his breast, came out slowly to the edge of his coat, then leaped with a flash of something bright toward the other's throat. Simultaneously the revolver rang out. A curse, the sound of a falling body, and the frightened horses leaped forward. The wheels slipped over the edge of the narrow mountain road, and surrey, horses, and driver plunged a hundred feet down to the sharp, broken rocks below.

Johnson, hearing the shot, ran out and stumbled over a body lying in the road. By the bright moonlight he could see that it was that of his employer. The surrey was nowhere in sight, but he could easily make out where it had slipped over the precipice. He ran back into the shaft-house and began telephoning wildly to town.