Part 8 out of 8
"If I keep along the edge of the hills where these trails
are," muttered the dentist, "I ought to find water up in the
arroyos from time to time."
At once he uttered an exclamation. The mule had begun to
squeal and lash out with alternate hoofs, his eyes rolling,
his ears flattened. He ran a few steps, halted, and
squealed again. Then, suddenly wheeling at right angles, set
off on a jog trot to the north, squealing and kicking from
time to time. McTeague ran after him shouting and swearing,
but for a long time the mule would not allow himself to be
caught. He seemed more bewildered than frightened.
"He's eatun some of that loco-weed that Cribbens spoke
about," panted McTeague. "Whoa, there; steady, you." At
length the mule stopped of his own accord, and seemed to
come to his senses again. McTeague came up and took the
bridle rein, speaking to him and rubbing his nose.
"There, there, what's the matter with you?" The mule
was docile again. McTeague washed his mouth and set forward
The day was magnificent. From horizon to horizon was one
vast span of blue, whitening as it dipped earthward. Miles
upon miles to the east and southeast the desert unrolled
itself, white, naked, inhospitable, palpitating and
shimmering under the sun, unbroken by so much as a rock or
cactus stump. In the distance it assumed all manner of
faint colors, pink, purple, and pale orange. To the west
rose the Panamint Range, sparsely sprinkled with gray sage-
brush; here the earths and sands were yellow, ochre, and
rich, deep red, the hollows and canyons picked out with
intense blue shadows. It seemed strange that such
barrenness could exhibit this radiance of color, but nothing
could have been more beautiful than the deep red of the
higher bluffs and ridges, seamed with purple shadows,
standing sharply out against the pale-blue whiteness of the
By nine o'clock the sun stood high in the sky. The heat was
intense; the atmosphere was thick and heavy with it.
McTeague gasped for breath and wiped the beads of
perspiration from his forehead, his cheeks, and his neck.
Every inch and pore of his skin was tingling and pricking
under the merciless lash of the sun's rays.
"If it gets much hotter," he muttered, with a long breath,
"if it gets much hotter, I--I don' know--" He wagged his
head and wiped the sweat from his eyelids, where it was
running like tears.
The sun rose higher; hour by hour, as the dentist tramped
steadily on, the heat increased. The baked dry sand
crackled into innumerable tiny flakes under his feet. The
twigs of the sage-brush snapped like brittle pipestems as he
pushed through them. It grew hotter. At eleven the earth
was like the surface of a furnace; the air, as McTeague
breathed it in, was hot to his lips and the roof of his
mouth. The sun was a disk of molten brass swimming in the
burnt-out blue of the sky. McTeague stripped off his
woollen shirt, and even unbuttoned his flannel
undershirt, tying a handkerchief loosely about his neck.
"Lord!" he exclaimed. "I never knew it COULD get as hot
The heat grew steadily fiercer; all distant objects were
visibly shimmering and palpitating under it. At noon a
mirage appeared on the hills to the northwest. McTeague
halted the mule, and drank from the tepid water in the
canteen, dampening the sack around the canary's cage. As
soon as he ceased his tramp and the noise of his crunching,
grinding footsteps died away, the silence, vast,
illimitable, enfolded him like an immeasurable tide. From
all that gigantic landscape, that colossal reach of baking
sand, there arose not a single sound. Not a twig rattled,
not an insect hummed, not a bird or beast invaded that huge
solitude with call or cry. Everything as far as the eye
could reach, to north, to south, to east, and west, lay
inert, absolutely quiet and moveless under the remorseless
scourge of the noon sun. The very shadows shrank away,
hiding under sage-bushes, retreating to the farthest nooks
and crevices in the canyons of the hills. All the world was
one gigantic blinding glare, silent, motionless. "If it
gets much hotter," murmured the dentist again, moving his
head from side to side, "if it gets much hotter, I don' know
what I'll do."
Steadily the heat increased. At three o'clock it was even
more terrible than it had been at noon.
"Ain't it EVER going to let up?" groaned the dentist,
rolling his eyes at the sky of hot blue brass. Then, as he
spoke, the stillness was abruptly stabbed through and
through by a shrill sound that seemed to come from all sides
at once. It ceased; then, as McTeague took another forward
step, began again with the suddenness of a blow, shriller,
nearer at hand, a hideous, prolonged note that brought both
man and mule to an instant halt.
"I know what THAT is," exclaimed the dentist. His eyes
searched the ground swiftly until he saw what he expected he
should see--the round thick coil, the slowly waving clover-
shaped head and erect whirring tail with its vibrant
For fully thirty seconds the man and snake remained
looking into each other's eyes. Then the snake uncoiled and
swiftly wound from sight amidst the sagebrush. McTeague
drew breath again, and his eyes once more beheld the
illimitable leagues of quivering sand and alkali.
"Good Lord! What a country!" he exclaimed. But his voice
was trembling as he urged forward the mule once more.
Fiercer and fiercer grew the heat as the afternoon advanced.
At four McTeague stopped again. He was dripping at every
pore, but there was no relief in perspiration. The very
touch of his clothes upon his body was unendurable. The
mule's ears were drooping and his tongue lolled from his
mouth. The cattle trails seemed to be drawing together
toward a common point; perhaps a water hole was near by.
"I'll have to lay up, sure," muttered the dentist. "I ain't
made to travel in such heat as this."
He drove the mule up into one of the larger canyons and
halted in the shadow of a pile of red rock. After a long
search he found water, a few quarts, warm and brackish, at
the bottom of a hollow of sunwracked mud; it was little more
than enough to water the mule and refill his canteen. Here
he camped, easing the mule of the saddle, and turning him
loose to find what nourishment he might. A few hours later
the sun set in a cloudless glory of red and gold, and the
heat became by degrees less intolerable. McTeague cooked
his supper, chiefly coffee and bacon, and watched the
twilight come on, revelling in the delicious coolness of the
evening. As he spread his blankets on the ground he
resolved that hereafter he would travel only at night,
laying up in the daytime in the shade of the canyons. He
was exhausted with his terrible day's march. Never in his
life had sleep seemed so sweet to him.
But suddenly he was broad awake, his jaded senses all alert.
"What was that?" he muttered. "I thought I heard something
He rose to his feet, reaching for the Winchester. Desolation
lay still around him. There was not a sound but his own
breathing; on the face of the desert not a grain of sand was
in motion. McTeague looked furtively and quickly from
side to side, his teeth set, his eyes rolling. Once more
the rowel was in his flanks, once more an unseen hand reined
him toward the east. After all the miles of that dreadful
day's flight he was no better off than when he started. If
anything, he was worse, for never had that mysterious
instinct in him been more insistent than now; never had the
impulse toward precipitate flight been stronger; never had
the spur bit deeper. Every nerve of his body cried aloud
for rest; yet every instinct seemed aroused and alive,
goading him to hurry on, to hurry on.
"What IS it, then? What is it?" he cried, between his
teeth. "Can't I ever get rid of you? Ain't I EVER going
to shake you off? Don' keep it up this way. Show
yourselves. Let's have it out right away. Come on. I
ain't afraid if you'll only come on; but don't skulk this
way." Suddenly he cried aloud in a frenzy of exasperation,
"Damn you, come on, will you? Come on and have it out."
His rifle was at his shoulder, he was covering bush after
bush, rock after rock, aiming at every denser shadow. All
at once, and quite involuntarily, his forefinger crooked,
and the rifle spoke and flamed. The canyons roared back the
echo, tossing it out far over the desert in a rippling,
widening wave of sound.
McTeague lowered the rifle hastily, with an exclamation of
"You fool," he said to himself, "you fool. You've done it
now. They could hear that miles away. You've done it now."
He stood listening intently, the rifle smoking in his hands.
The last echo died away. The smoke vanished, the vast
silence closed upon the passing echoes of the rifle as the
ocean closes upon a ship's wake. Nothing moved; yet
McTeague bestirred himself sharply, rolling up his blankets,
resaddling the mule, getting his outfit together again.
From time to time he muttered:
"Hurry now; hurry on. You fool, you've done it now. They
could hear that miles away. Hurry now. They ain't far off
As he depressed the lever of the rifle to reload it, he
found that the magazine was empty. He clapped his hands to
his sides, feeling rapidly first in one pocket, then in
another. He had forgotten to take extra cartridges
with him. McTeague swore under his breath as he flung the
rifle away. Henceforth he must travel unarmed.
A little more water had gathered in the mud hole near which
he had camped. He watered the mule for the last time and
wet the sacks around the canary's cage. Then once more he
But there was a change in the direction of McTeague's
flight. Hitherto he had held to the south, keeping upon the
very edge of the hills; now he turned sharply at right
angles. The slope fell away beneath his hurrying feet; the
sage-brush dwindled, and at length ceased; the sand gave
place to a fine powder, white as snow; and an hour after he
had fired the rifle his mule's hoofs were crisping and
cracking the sun-baked flakes of alkali on the surface of
Tracked and harried, as he felt himself to be, from one
camping place to another, McTeague had suddenly resolved to
make one last effort to rid himself of the enemy that seemed
to hang upon his heels. He would strike straight out into
that horrible wilderness where even the beasts were afraid.
He would cross Death Valley at once and put its arid wastes
between him and his pursuer.
"You don't dare follow me now," he muttered, as he hurried
on. "Let's see you come out HERE after me."
He hurried on swiftly, urging the mule to a rapid racking
walk. Towards four o'clock the sky in front of him began to
flush pink and golden. McTeague halted and breakfasted,
pushing on again immediately afterward. The dawn flamed and
glowed like a brazier, and the sun rose a vast red-hot coal
floating in fire. An hour passed, then another, and another.
It was about nine o'clock. Once more the dentist paused,
and stood panting and blowing, his arms dangling, his eyes
screwed up and blinking as he looked about him.
Far behind him the Panamint hills were already but blue
hummocks on the horizon. Before him and upon either side,
to the north and to the east and to the south, stretched
primordial desolation. League upon league the infinite
reaches of dazzling white alkali laid themselves out like an
immeasurable scroll unrolled from horizon to horizon; not a
bush, not a twig relieved that horrible monotony. Even the
sand of the desert would have been a welcome sight; a single
clump of sage-brush would have fascinated the eye; but this
was worse than the desert. It was abominable, this hideous
sink of alkali, this bed of some primeval lake lying so far
below the level of the ocean. The great mountains of Placer
County had been merely indifferent to man; but this awful
sink of alkali was openly and unreservedly iniquitous and
McTeague had told himself that the heat upon the lower
slopes of the Panamint had been dreadful; here in Death
Valley it became a thing of terror. There was no longer any
shadow but his own. He was scorched and parched from head to
heel. It seemed to him that the smart of his tortured body
could not have been keener if he had been flayed.
"If it gets much hotter," he muttered, wringing the sweat
from his thick fell of hair and mustache, "if it gets much
hotter, I don' know what I'll do." He was thirsty, and
drank a little from his canteen. "I ain't got any too much
water," he murmured, shaking the canteen. "I got to get out
of this place in a hurry, sure."
By eleven o'clock the heat had increased to such an extent
that McTeague could feel the burning of the ground come
pringling and stinging through the soles of his boots.
Every step he took threw up clouds of impalpable alkali
dust, salty and choking, so that he strangled and coughed
and sneezed with it.
"LORD! what a country!" exclaimed the dentist.
An hour later, the mule stopped and lay down, his jaws wide
open, his ears dangling. McTeague washed his mouth with a
handful of water and for a second time since sunrise wetted
the flour-sacks around the bird cage. The air was quivering
and palpitating like that in the stoke-hold of a steamship.
The sun, small and contracted, swam molten overhead.
"I can't stand it," said McTeague at length. "I'll have to
stop and make some kinda shade."
The mule was crouched upon the ground, panting rapidly,
with half-closed eyes. The dentist removed the saddle, and
unrolling his blanket, propped it up as best he could
between him and the sun. As he stooped down to crawl
beneath it, his palm touched the ground. He snatched it
away with a cry of pain. The surface alkali was oven-hot;
he was obliged to scoop out a trench in it before he dared
to lie down.
By degrees the dentist began to doze. He had had little or
no sleep the night before, and the hurry of his flight under
the blazing sun had exhausted him. But his rest was broken;
between waking and sleeping, all manner of troublous images
galloped through his brain. He thought he was back in the
Panamint hills again with Cribbens. They had just
discovered the mine and were returning toward camp.
McTeague saw himself as another man, striding along over the
sand and sagebrush. At once he saw himself stop and wheel
sharply about, peering back suspiciously. There was
something behind him; something was following him. He
looked, as it were, over the shoulder of this other
McTeague, and saw down there, in the half light of the
canyon, something dark crawling upon the ground, an
indistinct gray figure, man or brute, he did not know. Then
he saw another, and another; then another. A score of
black, crawling objects were following him, crawling from
bush to bush, converging upon him. "THEY" were after
him, were closing in upon him, were within touch of his
hand, were at his feet--WERE AT HIS THROAT.
McTeague jumped up with a shout, oversetting the blanket.
There was nothing in sight. For miles around, the alkali
was empty, solitary, quivering and shimmering under the
pelting fire of the afternoon's sun.
But once more the spur bit into his body, goading him on.
There was to be no rest, no going back, no pause, no stop.
Hurry, hurry, hurry on. The brute that in him slept so
close to the surface was alive and alert, and tugging to be
gone. There was no resisting that instinct. The brute felt
an enemy, scented the trackers, clamored and struggled and
fought, and would not be gainsaid.
"I CAN'T go on," groaned McTeague, his eyes
sweeping the horizon behind him, "I'm beat out. I'm dog
tired. I ain't slept any for two nights." But for all that
he roused himself again, saddled the mule, scarcely less
exhausted than himself, and pushed on once more over the
scorching alkali and under the blazing sun.
From that time on the fear never left him, the spur never
ceased to bite, the instinct that goaded him to fight never
was dumb; hurry or halt, it was all the same. On he went,
straight on, chasing the receding horizon; flagellated with
heat; tortured with thirst; crouching over; looking
furtively behind, and at times reaching his hand forward,
the fingers prehensile, grasping, as it were, toward the
horizon, that always fled before him.
The sun set upon the third day of McTeague's flight, night
came on, the stars burned slowly into the cool dark purple
of the sky. The gigantic sink of white alkali glowed like
snow. McTeague, now far into the desert, held steadily on,
swinging forward with great strides. His enormous strength
held him doggedly to his work. Sullenly, with his huge jaws
gripping stolidly together, he pushed on. At midnight he
"Now," he growled, with a certain desperate defiance, as
though he expected to be heard, "now, I'm going to lay up
and get some sleep. You can come or not."
He cleared away the hot surface alkali, spread out his
blanket, and slept until the next day's heat aroused him.
His water was so low that he dared not make coffee now, and
so breakfasted without it. Until ten o'clock he tramped
forward, then camped again in the shade of one of the rare
rock ledges, and "lay up" during the heat of the day. By
five o'clock he was once more on the march.
He travelled on for the greater part of that night, stopping
only once towards three in the morning to water the mule
from the canteen. Again the red-hot day burned up over the
horizon. Even at six o'clock it was hot.
"It's going to be worse than ever to-day," he groaned. "I
wish I could find another rock to camp by. Ain't I ever
going to get out of this place?"
There was no change in the character of the desert.
Always the same measureless leagues of white-hot alkali
stretched away toward the horizon on every hand. Here and
there the flat, dazzling surface of the desert broke and
raised into long low mounds, from the summit of which
McTeague could look for miles and miles over its horrible
desolation. No shade was in sight. Not a rock, not a stone
broke the monotony of the ground. Again and again he
ascended the low unevennesses, looking and searching for a
camping place, shading his eyes from the glitter of sand and
He tramped forward a little farther, then paused at length
in a hollow between two breaks, resolving to make camp
Suddenly there was a shout.
"Hands up. By damn, I got the drop on you!"
McTeague looked up.
It was Marcus.
Within a month after his departure from San Francisco,
Marcus had "gone in on a cattle ranch" in the Panamint
Valley with an Englishman, an acquaintance of Mr. Sieppe's.
His headquarters were at a place called Modoc, at the lower
extremity of the valley, about fifty miles by trail to the
south of Keeler.
His life was the life of a cowboy. He realized his former
vision of himself, booted, sombreroed, and revolvered,
passing his days in the saddle and the better part of his
nights around the poker tables in Modoc's one saloon. To
his intense satisfaction he even involved himself in a
gun fight that arose over a disputed brand, with the result
that two fingers of his left hand were shot away.
News from the outside world filtered slowly into the
Panamint Valley, and the telegraph had never been built
beyond Keeler. At intervals one of the local papers of
Independence, the nearest large town, found its way into the
cattle camps on the ranges, and occasionally one of the
Sunday editions of a Sacramento journal, weeks old, was
passed from hand to hand. Marcus ceased to hear from the
Sieppes. As for San Francisco, it was as far from him as
was London or Vienna.
One day, a fortnight after McTeague's flight from San
Francisco, Marcus rode into Modoc, to find a group of men
gathered about a notice affixed to the outside of the Wells-
Fargo office. It was an offer of reward for the arrest and
apprehension of a murderer. The crime had been committed in
San Francisco, but the man wanted had been traced as far as
the western portion of Inyo County, and was believed at that
time to be in hiding in either the Pinto or Panamint hills,
in the vicinity of Keeler.
Marcus reached Keeler on the afternoon of that same day.
Half a mile from the town his pony fell and died from
exhaustion. Marcus did not stop even to remove the saddle.
He arrived in the barroom of the hotel in Keeler just after
the posse had been made up. The sheriff, who had come down
from Independence that morning, at first refused his offer
of assistance. He had enough men already--too many, in
fact. The country travelled through would be hard, and it
would be difficult to find water for so many men and horses.
"But none of you fellers have ever seen um," vociferated
Marcus, quivering with excitement and wrath. "I know um
well. I could pick um out in a million. I can identify um,
and you fellers can't. And I knew--I knew--good GOD! I
knew that girl--his wife--in Frisco. She's a cousin of
mine, she is--she was--I thought once of--This thing's a
personal matter of mine--an' that money he got away with,
that five thousand, belongs to me by rights. Oh, never
mind, I'm going along. Do you hear?" he shouted, his fists
raised, "I'm going along, I tell you. There ain't a
man of you big enough to stop me. Let's see you try and
stop me going. Let's see you once, any two of you." He
filled the barroom with his clamor.
"Lord love you, come along, then," said the sheriff.
The posse rode out of Keeler that same night. The keeper of
the general merchandise store, from whom Marcus had borrowed
a second pony, had informed them that Cribbens and his
partner, whose description tallied exactly with that given
in the notice of reward, had outfitted at his place with a
view to prospecting in the Panamint hills. The posse
trailed them at once to their first camp at the head of the
valley. It was an easy matter. It was only necessary to
inquire of the cowboys and range riders of the valley if
they had seen and noted the passage of two men, one of whom
carried a bird cage.
Beyond this first camp the trail was lost, and a week was
wasted in a bootless search around the mine at Gold Gulch,
whither it seemed probable the partners had gone. Then a
travelling peddler, who included Gold Gulch in his route,
brought in the news of a wonderful strike of gold-bearing
quartz some ten miles to the south on the western slope of
the range. Two men from Keeler had made a strike, the
peddler had said, and added the curious detail that one of
the men had a canary bird in a cage with him.
The posse made Cribbens's camp three days after the
unaccountable disappearance of his partner. Their man was
gone, but the narrow hoof prints of a mule, mixed with those
of huge hob-nailed boots, could be plainly followed in the
sand. Here they picked up the trail and held to it steadily
till the point was reached where, instead of tending
southward it swerved abruptly to the east. The men could
hardly believe their eyes.
"It ain't reason," exclaimed the sheriff. "What in thunder
is he up to? This beats me. Cutting out into Death Valley
at this time of year."
"He's heading for Gold Mountain over in the Armagosa, sure."
The men decided that this conjecture was true. It was the
only inhabited locality in that direction. A
discussion began as to the further movements of the posse.
"I don't figure on going into that alkali sink with no eight
men and horses," declared the sheriff. "One man can't carry
enough water to take him and his mount across, let alone
EIGHT. No, sir. Four couldn't do it. No, THREE
couldn't. We've got to make a circuit round the valley and
come up on the other side and head him off at Gold Mountain.
That's what we got to do, and ride like hell to do it, too."
But Marcus protested with all the strength of his lungs
against abandoning the trail now that they had found it. He
argued that they were but a day and a half behind their man
now. There was no possibility of their missing the trail--
as distinct in the white alkali as in snow. They could make
a dash into the valley, secure their man, and return long
before their water failed them. He, for one, would not give
up the pursuit, now that they were so close. In the haste
of the departure from Keeler the sheriff had neglected to
swear him in. He was under no orders. He would do as he
"Go on, then, you darn fool," answered the sheriff. "We'll
cut on round the valley, for all that. It's a gamble he'll
be at Gold Mountain before you're half way across. But if
you catch him, here"--he tossed Marcus a pair of handcuffs--
"put 'em on him and bring him back to Keeler."
Two days after he had left the posse, and when he was
already far out in the desert, Marcus's horse gave out. In
the fury of his impatience he had spurred mercilessly
forward on the trail, and on the morning of the third day
found that his horse was unable to move. The joints of his
legs seemed locked rigidly. He would go his own length,
stumbling and interfering, then collapse helplessly upon the
ground with a pitiful groan. He was used up.
Marcus believed himself to be close upon McTeague now. The
ashes at his last camp had still been smoldering. Marcus
took what supplies of food and water he could carry, and
hurried on. But McTeague was farther ahead than he had
guessed, and by evening of his third day upon the desert
Marcus, raging with thirst, had drunk his last mouthful
of water and had flung away the empty canteen.
"If he ain't got water with um," he said to himself as he
pushed on, "If he ain't got water with um, by damn! I'll be
in a bad way. I will, for a fact."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
At Marcus's shout McTeague looked up and around him. For the
instant he saw no one. The white glare of alkali was still
unbroken. Then his swiftly rolling eyes lighted upon a head
and shoulder that protruded above the low crest of the break
directly in front of him. A man was there, lying at full
length upon the ground, covering him with a revolver. For a
few seconds McTeague looked at the man stupidly, bewildered,
confused, as yet without definite thought. Then he noticed
that the man was singularly like Marcus Schouler. It
WAS Marcus Schouler. How in the world did Marcus Schouler
come to be in that desert? What did he mean by pointing a
pistol at him that way? He'd best look out or the pistol
would go off. Then his thoughts readjusted themselves with
a swiftness born of a vivid sense of danger. Here was the
enemy at last, the tracker he had felt upon his footsteps.
Now at length he had "come on" and shown himself, after all
those days of skulking. McTeague was glad of it. He'd show
him now. They two would have it out right then and there.
His rifle! He had thrown it away long since. He was
helpless. Marcus had ordered him to put up his hands. If
he did not, Marcus would kill him. He had the drop on him.
McTeague stared, scowling fiercely at the levelled pistol.
He did not move.
"Hands up!" shouted Marcus a second time. "I'll give you
three to do it in. One, two----"
Instinctively McTeague put his hands above his head.
Marcus rose and came towards him over the break.
"Keep 'em up," he cried. "If you move 'em once I'll kill
He came up to McTeague and searched him, going through
his pockets; but McTeague had no revolver; not even a
"What did you do with that money, with that five thousand
"It's on the mule," answered McTeague, sullenly.
Marcus grunted, and cast a glance at the mule, who was
standing some distance away, snorting nervously, and from
time to time flattening his long ears.
"Is that it there on the horn of the saddle, there in that
canvas sack?" Marcus demanded.
"Yes, that's it."
A gleam of satisfaction came into Marcus's eyes, and under
his breath he muttered:
"Got it at last."
He was singularly puzzled to know what next to do. He had
got McTeague. There he stood at length, with his big hands
over his head, scowling at him sullenly. Marcus had caught
his enemy, had run down the man for whom every officer in
the State had been looking. What should he do with him now?
He couldn't keep him standing there forever with his hands
over his head.
"Got any water?" he demanded.
"There's a canteen of water on the mule."
Marcus moved toward the mule and made as if to reach the
bridle-rein. The mule squealed, threw up his head, and
galloped to a little distance, rolling his eyes and
flattening his ears.
Marcus swore wrathfully.
"He acted that way once before," explained McTeague, his
hands still in the air. "He ate some loco-weed back in the
hills before I started."
For a moment Marcus hesitated. While he was catching the
mule McTeague might get away. But where to, in heaven's
name? A rat could not hide on the surface of that
glistening alkali, and besides, all McTeague's store of
provisions and his priceless supply of water were on the
mule. Marcus ran after the mule, revolver in hand, shouting
and cursing. But the mule would not be caught. He
acted as if possessed, squealing, lashing out, and galloping
in wide circles, his head high in the air.
"Come on," shouted Marcus, furious, turning back to
McTeague. "Come on, help me catch him. We got to catch him.
All the water we got is on the saddle."
McTeague came up.
"He's eatun some loco-weed," he repeated. "He went kinda
crazy once before."
"If he should take it into his head to bolt and keep on
Marcus did not finish. A sudden great fear seemed to widen
around and inclose the two men. Once their water gone, the
end would not be long.
"We can catch him all right," said the dentist. "I caught
him once before."
"Oh, I guess we can catch him," answered Marcus,
Already the sense of enmity between the two had weakened in
the face of a common peril. Marcus let down the hammer of
his revolver and slid it back into the holster.
The mule was trotting on ahead, snorting and throwing up
great clouds of alkali dust. At every step the canvas sack
jingled, and McTeague's bird cage, still wrapped in the
flour-bags, bumped against the saddlepads. By and by the
mule stopped, blowing out his nostrils excitedly.
"He's clean crazy," fumed Marcus, panting and swearing.
"We ought to come up on him quiet," observed McTeague.
"I'll try and sneak up," said Marcus; "two of us would scare
him again. You stay here."
Marcus went forward a step at a time. He was almost within
arm's length of the bridle when the mule shied from him
abruptly and galloped away.
Marcus danced with rage, shaking his fists, and swearing
horribly. Some hundred yards away the mule paused and began
blowing and snuffing in the alkali as though in search of
feed. Then, for no reason, he shied again, and started
off on a jog trot toward the east.
"We've GOT to follow him," exclaimed Marcus as McTeague
came up. "There's no water within seventy miles of here."
Then began an interminable pursuit. Mile after mile, under
the terrible heat of the desert sun, the two men followed
the mule, racked with a thirst that grew fiercer every hour.
A dozen times they could almost touch the canteen of water,
and as often the distraught animal shied away and fled
before them. At length Marcus cried:
"It's no use, we can't catch him, and we're killing
ourselves with thirst. We got to take our chances." He drew
his revolver from its holster, cocked it, and crept forward.
"Steady, now," said McTeague; "it won' do to shoot through
Within twenty yards Marcus paused, made a rest of his left
forearm and fired.
"You GOT him," cried McTeague. "No, he's up again.
Shoot him again. He's going to bolt."
Marcus ran on, firing as he ran. The mule, one foreleg
trailing, scrambled along, squealing and snorting. Marcus
fired his last shot. The mule pitched forward upon his
head, then, rolling sideways, fell upon the canteen,
bursting it open and spilling its entire contents into the
Marcus and McTeague ran up, and Marcus snatched the battered
canteen from under the reeking, bloody hide. There was no
water left. Marcus flung the canteen from him and stood up,
facing McTeague. There was a pause.
"We're dead men," said Marcus.
McTeague looked from him out over the desert. Chaotic
desolation stretched from them on either hand, flaming and
glaring with the afternoon heat. There was the brazen sky
and the leagues upon leagues of alkali, leper white. There
was nothing more. They were in the heart of Death Valley.
"Not a drop of water," muttered McTeague; "not a drop of
"We can drink the mule's blood," said Marcus. "It's
been done before. But--but--" he looked down at the
quivering, gory body--"but I ain't thirsty enough for that
"Where's the nearest water?"
"Well, it's about a hundred miles or more back of us in the
Panamint hills," returned Marcus, doggedly. "We'd be crazy
long before we reached it. I tell you, we're done for, by
damn, we're DONE for. We ain't ever going to get outa
"Done for?" murmured the other, looking about stupidly.
"Done for, that's the word. Done for? Yes, I guess we're
"What are we going to do NOW?" exclaimed Marcus,
sharply, after a while.
"Well, let's--let's be moving along--somewhere."
"WHERE, I'd like to know? What's the good of moving
"What's the good of stopping here?"
There was a silence.
"Lord, it's hot," said the dentist, finally, wiping his
forehead with the back of his hand. Marcus ground his
"Done for," he muttered; "done for."
"I never WAS so thirsty," continued McTeague. "I'm that
dry I can hear my tongue rubbing against the roof of my
"Well, we can't stop here," said Marcus, finally; "we got to
go somewhere. We'll try and get back, but it ain't no
manner of use. Anything we want to take along with us from
the mule? We can----"
Suddenly he paused. In an instant the eyes of the two
doomed men had met as the same thought simultaneously rose
in their minds. The canvas sack with its five thousand
dollars was still tied to the horn of the saddle.
Marcus had emptied his revolver at the mule, and though he
still wore his cartridge belt, he was for the moment as
unarmed as McTeague.
"I guess," began McTeague coming forward a step, "I guess,
even if we are done for, I'll take--some of my truck along."
"Hold on," exclaimed Marcus, with rising aggressiveness.
"Let's talk about that. I ain't so sure about who
that--who that money belongs to."
"Well, I AM, you see," growled the dentist.
The old enmity between the two men, their ancient hate, was
flaming up again.
"Don't try an' load that gun either," cried McTeague, fixing
Marcus with his little eyes.
"Then don't lay your finger on that sack," shouted the
other. "You're my prisoner, do you understand? You'll do as
I say." Marcus had drawn the handcuffs from his pocket, and
stood ready with his revolver held as a club. "You
soldiered me out of that money once, and played me for a
sucker, an' it's my turn now. Don't you lay your finger on
Marcus barred McTeague's way, white with passion. McTeague
did not answer. His eyes drew to two fine, twinkling
points, and his enormous hands knotted themselves into
fists, hard as wooden mallets. He moved a step nearer to
Marcus, then another.
Suddenly the men grappled, and in another instant were
rolling and struggling upon the hot white ground. McTeague
thrust Marcus backward until he tripped and fell over the
body of the dead mule. The little bird cage broke from the
saddle with the violence of their fall, and rolled out upon
the ground, the flour-bags slipping from it. McTeague tore
the revolver from Marcus's grip and struck out with it
blindly. Clouds of alkali dust, fine and pungent, enveloped
the two fighting men, all but strangling them.
McTeague did not know how he killed his enemy, but all at
once Marcus grew still beneath his blows. Then there was a
sudden last return of energy. McTeague's right wrist was
caught, something licked upon it, then the struggling body
fell limp and motionless with a long breath.
As McTeague rose to his feet, he felt a pull at his right
wrist; something held it fast. Looking down, he saw that
Marcus in that last struggle had found strength to handcuff
their wrists together. Marcus was dead now; McTeague was
locked to the body. All about him, vast interminable,
stretched the measureless leagues of Death Valley.
McTeague remained stupidly looking around him, now at the
distant horizon, now at the ground, now at the half-dead
canary chittering feebly in its little gilt prison.