Part 1 out of 7
The Lone Star Ranger by Zane Grey
This etext was prepared by Ken Smidge of Mt. Clemens, MI.
THE LONE STAR RANGER
CAPTAIN JOHN HUGHES
and his Texas Rangers
It may seem strange to you that out of all the stories I heard
on the Rio Grande I should choose as first that of Buck
Duane--outlaw and gunman.
But, indeed, Ranger Coffee's story of the last of the Duanes
has haunted me, and I have given full rein to imagination and
have retold it in my own way. It deals with the old law--the
old border days--therefore it is better first. Soon, perchance,
I shall have the pleasure of writing of the border of to-day,
which in Joe Sitter's laconic speech, "Shore is 'most as bad
an' wild as ever!"
In the North and East there is a popular idea that the frontier
of the West is a thing long past, and remembered now only in
stories. As I think of this I remember Ranger Sitter when he
made that remark, while he grimly stroked an unhealed bullet
wound. And I remember the giant Vaughn, that typical son of
stalwart Texas, sitting there quietly with bandaged head, his
thoughtful eye boding ill to the outlaw who had ambushed him.
Only a few months have passed since then--when I had my
memorable sojourn with you--and yet, in that short time,
Russell and Moore have crossed the Divide, like Rangers.
Gentlemen,--I have the honor to dedicate this book to you, and
the hope that it shall fall to my lot to tell the world the
truth about a strange, unique, and misunderstood body of
men--the Texas Rangers--who made the great Lone Star State
habitable, who never know peaceful rest and sleep, who are
passing, who surely will not be forgotten and will some day
come into their own.
BOOK 1 THE OUTLAW
So it was in him, then--an inherited fighting instinct, a
driving intensity to kill. He was the last of the Duanes, that
old fighting stock of Texas. But not the memory of his dead
father, nor the pleading of his soft-voiced mother, nor the
warning of this uncle who stood before him now, had brought to
Buck Duane so much realization of the dark passionate strain in
his blood. It was the recurrence, a hundred-fold increased in
power, of a strange emotion that for the last three years had
arisen in him.
"Yes, Cal Bain's in town, full of bad whisky an' huntin' for
you," repeated the elder man, gravely.
"It's the second time," muttered Duane, as if to himself.
"Son, you can't avoid a meetin'. Leave town till Cal sobers up.
He ain't got it in for you when he's not drinkin'."
"But what's he want me for?" demanded Duane. "To insult me
again? I won't stand that twice."
"He's got a fever that's rampant in Texas these days, my boy.
He wants gun-play. If he meets you he'll try to kill you."
Here it stirred in Duane again, that bursting gush of blood,
like a wind of flame shaking all his inner being, and subsiding
to leave him strangely chilled.
"Kill me! What for?" he asked.
"Lord knows there ain't any reason. But what's that to do with
most of the shootin' these days? Didn't five cowboys over to
Everall's kill one another dead all because they got to jerkin'
at a quirt among themselves? An' Cal has no reason to love you.
His girl was sweet on you."
"I quit when I found out she was his girl."
"I reckon she ain't quit. But never mind her or reasons. Cal's
here, just drunk enough to be ugly. He's achin' to kill
somebody. He's one of them four-flush gun-fighters. He'd like
to be thought bad. There's a lot of wild cowboys who're
ambitious for a reputation. They talk about how quick they are
on the draw. T hey ape Bland an' King Fisher an' Hardin an' all
the big outlaws. They make threats about joinin' the gangs
along the Rio Grande. They laugh at the sheriffs an' brag about
how they'd fix the rangers. Cal's sure not much for you to
bother with, if you only keep out of his way."
"You mean for me to run?" asked Duane, in scorn.
"I reckon I wouldn't put it that way. Just avoid him. Buck, I'm
not afraid Cal would get you if you met down there in town.
You've your father's eye an' his slick hand with a gun. What
I'm most afraid of is that you'll kill Bain."
Duane was silent, letting his uncle's earnest words sink in,
trying to realize their significance.
"If Texas ever recovers from that fool war an' kills off these
outlaws, why, a young man will have a lookout," went on the
uncle. "You're twenty-three now, an' a powerful sight of a fine
fellow, barrin' your temper. You've a chance in life. But if
you go gun-fightin', if you kill a man, you're ruined. Then
you'll kill another. It'll be the same old story. An' the
rangers would make you an outlaw. The rangers mean law an'
order for Texas. This even-break business doesn't work with
them. If you resist arrest they'll kill you. If you submit to
arrest, then you go to jail, an' mebbe you hang."
"I'd never hang," muttered Duane, darkly.
"I reckon you wouldn't," replied the old man. "You'd be like
your father. He was ever ready to draw--too ready. In times
like these, with the Texas rangers enforcin' the law, your Dad
would have been driven to the river. An', son, I'm afraid
you're a chip off the old block. Can't you hold in--keep your
temper--run away from trouble? Because it'll only result in you
gettin' the worst of it in the end. Your father was killed in a
street-fight. An' it was told of him that he shot twice after a
bullet had passed through his heart. Think of the terrible
nature of a man to be able to do that. If you have any such
blood in you, never give it a chance."
"What you say is all very well, uncle," returned Duane, "but
the only way out for me is to run, and I won't do it. Cal Bain
and his outfit have already made me look like a coward. He says
I'm afraid to come out and face him. A man simply can't stand
that in this country. Besides, Cal would shoot me in the back
some day if I didn't face him."
"Well, then, what're you goin' to do?" inquired the elder man.
"I haven't decided--yet."
"No, but you're comin' to it mighty fast. That damned spell is
workin' in you. You're different to-day. I remember how you
used to be moody an' lose your temper an' talk wild. Never was
much afraid of you then. But now you're gettin' cool an' quiet,
an' you think deep, an' I don't like the light in your eye. It
reminds me of your father."
"I wonder what Dad would say to me to-day if he were alive and
here," said Duane.
"What do you think? What could you expect of a man who never
wore a glove on his right hand for twenty years?"
"Well, he'd hardly have said much. Dad never talked. But he
would have done a lot. And I guess I'll go down-town and let
Cal Bain find me."
Then followed a long silence, during which Duane sat with
downcast eyes, and the uncle appeared lost in sad thought of
the future. Presently he turned to Duane with an expression
that denoted resignation, and yet a spirit which showed wherein
they were of the same blood.
"You've got a fast horse--the fastest I know of in this
country. After you meet Bain hurry back home. I'll have a
saddle-bag packed for you and the horse ready."
With that he turned on his heel and went into the house,
leaving Duane to revolve in his mind his singular speech. Buck
wondered presently if he shared his uncle's opinion of the
result of a meeting between himself and Bain. His thoughts were
vague. But on the instant of final decision, when he had
settled with himself that he would meet Bain, such a storm of
passion assailed him that he felt as if he was being shaken
with ague. Yet it was all internal, inside his breast, for his
hand was like a rock and, for all he could see, not a muscle
about him quivered. He had no fear of Bain or of any other man;
but a vague fear of himself, of this strange force in him, made
him ponder and shake his head. It was as if he had not all to
say in this matter. There appeared to have been in him a
reluctance to let himself go, and some voice, some spirit from
a distance, something he was not accountable for, had compelled
him. That hour of Duane's life was like years of actual living,
and in it he became a thoughtful man.
He went into the house and buckled on his belt and gun. The gun
was a Colt .45, six-shot, and heavy, with an ivory handle. He
had packed it, on and off, for five years. Before that it had
been used by his father. There were a number of notches filed
in the bulge of the ivory handle. This gun was the one his
father had fired twice after being shot through the heart, and
his hand had stiffened so tightly upon it in the death-grip
that his fingers had to be pried open. It had never been drawn
upon any man since it had come into Duane's possession. But the
cold, bright polish of the weapon showed how it had been used.
Duane could draw it with inconceivable rapidity, and at twenty
feet he could split a card pointing edgewise toward him.
Duane wished to avoid meeting his mother. Fortunately, as he
thought, she was away from home. He went out and down the path
toward the gate. The air was full of the fragrance of blossoms
and the melody of birds. Outside in the road a neighbor woman
stood talking to a countryman in a wagon; they spoke to him;
and he heard, but did not reply. Then he began to stride down
the road toward the town.
Wellston was a small town, but important in that unsettled part
of the great state because it was the trading-center of several
hundred miles of territory. On the main street there were
perhaps fifty buildings, some brick, some frame, mostly adobe,
and one-third of the lot, and by far the most prosperous, were
saloons. From the road Duane turned into this street. It was a
wide thoroughfare lined by hitching-rails and saddled horses
and vehicles of various kinds. Duane's eye ranged down the
street, taking in all at a glance, particularly persons moving
leisurely up and down. Not a cowboy was in sight. Duane
slackened his stride, and by the time he reached Sol White's
place, which was the first saloon, he was walking slowly.
Several people spoke to him and turned to look back after they
had passed. He paused at the door of White's saloon, took a
sharp survey of the interior, then stepped inside.
The saloon was large and cool, full of men and noise and smoke.
The noise ceased upon his entrance, and the silence ensuing
presently broke to the clink of Mexican silver dollars at a
monte table. Sol White, who was behind the bar, straightened up
when he saw Duane; then, without speaking, he bent over to
rinse a glass. All eyes except those of the Mexican gamblers
were turned upon Duane; and these glances were keen,
speculative, questioning. These men knew Bain was looking for
trouble; they probably had heard his boasts. But what did Duane
intend to do? Several of the cowboys and ranchers present
exchanged glances. Duane had been weighed by unerring Texas
instinct, by men who all packed guns. The boy was the son of
his father. Whereupon they greeted him and returned to their
drinks and cards. Sol White stood with his big red hands out
upon the bar; he was a tall, raw-boned Texan with a long
mustache waxed to sharp points.
"Howdy, Buck," was his greeting to Duane. He spoke carelessly
and averted his dark gaze for an instant.
"Howdy, Sol," replied Duane, slowly. "Say, Sol, I hear there's
a gent in town looking for me bad."
"Reckon there is, Buck," replied White. "He came in heah aboot
an hour ago. Shore he was some riled an' a-roarin' for gore.
Told me confidential a certain party had given you a white silk
scarf, an' he was hell-bent on wearin' it home spotted red."
"Anybody with him?" queried Duane.
"Burt an' Sam Outcalt an' a little cowpuncher I never seen
before. They-all was coaxin' trim to leave town. But he's
looked on the flowin' glass, Buck, an' he's heah for keeps."
"Why doesn't Sheriff Oaks lock him up if he's that bad?"
"Oaks went away with the rangers. There's been another raid at
Flesher's ranch. The King Fisher gang, likely. An' so the
town's shore wide open."
Duane stalked outdoors and faced down the street. He walked the
whole length of the long block, meeting many people--farmers,
ranchers, clerks, merchants, Mexicans, cowboys, and women. It
was a singular fact that when he turned to retrace his steps
the street was almost empty. He had not returned a hundred
yards on his way when the street was wholly deserted. A few
heads protruded from doors and around corners. That main street
of Wellston saw some such situation every few days. If it was
an instinct for Texans to fight, it was also instinctive for
them to sense with remarkable quickness the signs of a coming
gun-play. Rumor could not fly so swiftly. In less than ten
minutes everybody who had been on the street or in the shops
knew that Buck Duane had come forth to meet his enemy.
Duane walked on. When he came to within fifty paces of a saloon
he swerved out into the middle of the street, stood there for a
moment, then went ahead and back to the sidewalk. He passed on
in this way the length of the block. Sol White was standing in
the door of his saloon.
"Buck, I'm a-tippin' you off," he said, quick and low-voiced.
"Cal Bain's over at Everall's. If he's a-huntin' you bad, as he
brags, he'll show there."
Duane crossed the street and started down. Notwithstanding
White's statement Duane was wary and slow at every door.
Nothing happened, and he traversed almost the whole length of
the block without seeing a person. Everall's place was on the
Duane knew himself to be cold, steady. He was conscious of a
strange fury that made him want to leap ahead. He seemed to
long for this encounter more than anything he had ever wanted.
But, vivid as were his sensations, he felt as if in a dream.
Before he reached Everall's he heard loud voices, one of which
was raised high. Then the short door swung outward as if
impelled by a vigorous hand. A bow-legged cowboy wearing wooley
chaps burst out upon the sidewalk. At sight of Duane he seemed
to bound into the air, and he uttered a savage roar.
Duane stopped in his tracks at the outer edge of the sidewalk,
perhaps a dozen rods from Everall's door.
If Bain was drunk he did not show it in his movement. He
swaggered forward, rapidly closing up the gap. Red, sweaty,
disheveled, and hatless, his face distorted and expressive of
the most malignant intent, he was a wild and sinister figure.
He had already killed a man, and this showed in his demeanor.
His hands were extended before him, the right hand a little
lower than the left. At every step he bellowed his rancor in
speech mostly curses. Gradually he slowed his walk, then
halted. A good twenty-five paces separated the men.
"Won't nothin' make you draw, you--!" he shouted, fiercely.
"I'm waitin' on you, Cal," replied Duane.
Bain's right hand stiffened--moved. Duane threw his gun as a
boy throws a ball underhand--a draw his father had taught him.
He pulled twice, his shots almost as one. Bain's big Colt
boomed while it was pointed downward and he was falling. His
bullet scattered dust and gravel at Duane's feet. He fell
loosely, without contortion.
In a flash all was reality for Duane. He went forward and held
his gun ready for the slightest movement on the part of Bain.
But Bain lay upon his back, and all that moved were his breast
and his eyes. How strangely the red had left his face--and also
the distortion! The devil that had showed in Bain was gone. He
was sober and conscious. He tried to speak, but failed. His
eyes expressed something pitifully human. They
Duane drew a deep breath and sheathed his gun. He felt calm and
cool, glad the fray was over. One violent expression burst from
him. "The fool!"
When he looked up there were men around him.
"Plumb center," said one.
Another, a cowboy who evidently had just left the gaming-table,
leaned down and pulled open Bain's shirt. He had the ace of
spades in his hand. He laid it on Bain's breast, and the black
figure on the card covered the two bullet-holes just over
Duane wheeled and hurried away. He heard another man say:
"Reckon Cal got what he deserved. Buck Duane's first gunplay.
Like father like son!"
A thought kept repeating itself to Duane, and it was that he
might have spared himself concern through his imagining how
awful it would be to kill a man. He had no such feeling now. He
had rid the community of a drunken, bragging, quarrelsome
When he came to the gate of his home and saw his uncle there
with a mettlesome horse, saddled, with canteen, rope, and bags
all in place, a subtle shock pervaded his spirit. It had
slipped his mind--the consequence of his act. But sight of the
horse and the look of his uncle recalled the fact that he must
now become a fugitive. An unreasonable anger took hold of him.
"The d--d fool!" he exclaimed, hotly. "Meeting Bain wasn't
much, Uncle Jim. He dusted my boots, that's all. And for that
I've got to go on the dodge."
"Son, you killed him--then?" asked the uncle, huskily.
"Yes. I stood over him--watched him die. I did as I would have
been done by."
"I knew it. Long ago I saw it comin'. But now we can't stop to
cry over spilt blood. You've got to leave town an' this part of
"Mother!" exclaimed Duane.
"She's away from home. You can't wait. I'll break it to
her--what she always feared."
Suddenly Duane sat down and covered his face with his hands.
"My God! Uncle, what have I done?" His broad shoulders shook.
"Listen, son, an' remember what I say," replied the elder man,
earnestly. "Don't ever forget. You're not to blame. I'm glad to
see you take it this way, because maybe you'll never grow hard
an' callous. You're not to blame. This is Texas. You're your
father's son. These are wild times. The law as the rangers are
laying it down now can't change life all in a minute. Even your
mother, who's a good, true woman, has had her share in making
you what you are this moment. For she was one of the
pioneers--the fightin' pioneers of this state. Those years of
wild times, before you was born, developed in her instinct to
fight, to save her life, her children, an' that instinct has
cropped out in you. It will be many years before it dies out of
the boys born in Texas."
"I'm a murderer," said Duane, shuddering.
"No, son, you're not. An' you never will be. But you've got to
be an outlaw till time makes it safe for you to come home."
"I said it. If we had money an' influence we'd risk a trial.
But we've neither. An' I reckon the scaffold or jail is no
place for Buckley Duane. Strike for the wild country, an'
wherever you go an' whatever you do-be a man. Live honestly, if
that's possible. If it isn't, be as honest as you can. If you
have to herd with outlaws try not to become bad. There are
outlaws who 're not all bad--many who have been driven to the
river by such a deal as this you had. When you get among these
men avoid brawls. Don't drink; don't gamble. I needn't tell you
what to do if it comes to gun-play, as likely it will. You
can't come home. When this thing is lived down, if that time
ever comes, I'll get word into the unsettled country. It'll
reach you some day. That's all. Remember, be a man. Goodby."
Duane, with blurred sight and contracting throat, gripped his
uncle's hand and bade him a wordless farewell. Then he leaped
astride the black and rode out of town.
As swiftly as was consistent with a care for his steed, Duane
put a distance of fifteen or eighteen miles behind him. With
that he slowed up, and the matter of riding did not require all
his faculties. He passed several ranches and was seen by men.
This did not suit him, and he took an old trail across country.
It was a flat region with a poor growth of mesquite and
prickly-pear cactus. Occasionally he caught a glimpse of low
hills in the distance. He had hunted often in that section, and
knew where to find grass and water. When he reached this higher
ground he did not, however, halt at the first favorable
camping-spot, but went on and on. Once he came out upon the
brow of a hill and saw a considerable stretch of country
beneath him. It had the gray sameness characterizing all that
he had traversed. He seemed to want to see wide spaces--to get
a glimpse of the great wilderness lying somewhere beyond to the
southwest. It was sunset when he decided to camp at a likely
spot he came across. He led the horse to water, and then began
searching through the shallow valley for a suitable place to
camp. He passed by old camp-sites that he well remembered.
These, however, did not strike his fancy this time, and the
significance of the change in him did not occur at the moment.
At last he found a secluded spot, under cover of thick
mesquites and oaks, at a goodly distance from the old trail. He
took saddle and pack off the horse. He looked among his effects
for a hobble, and, finding that his uncle had failed to put one
in, he suddenly remembered that he seldom used a hobble, and
never on this horse. He cut a few feet off the end of his lasso
and used that. The horse, unused to such hampering of his free
movements, had to be driven out upon the grass.
Duane made a small fire, prepared and ate his supper. This
done, ending the work of that day, he sat down and filled his
pipe. Twilight had waned into dusk. A few wan stars had just
begun to show and brighten. Above the low continuous hum of
insects sounded the evening carol of robins. Presently the
birds ceased their singing, and then the quiet was more
noticeable. When night set in and the place seemed all the more
isolated and lonely for that Duane had a sense of relief.
It dawned upon him all at once that he was nervous, watchful,
sleepless. The fact caused him surprise, and he began to think
back, to take note of his late actions and their motives. The
change one day had wrought amazed him. He who had always been
free, easy, happy, especially when out alone in the open, had
become in a few short hours bound, serious, preoccupied. The
silence that had once been sweet now meant nothing to him
except a medium whereby he might the better hear the sounds of
pursuit. The loneliness, the night, the wild, that had always
been beautiful to him, now only conveyed a sense of safety for
the present. He watched, he listened, he thought. He felt
tired, yet had no inclination to rest. He intended to be off by
dawn, heading toward the southwest. Had he a destination? It
was vague as his knowledge of that great waste of mesquite and
rock bordering the Rio Grande. Somewhere out there was a
refuge. For he was a fugitive from justice, an outlaw.
This being an outlaw then meant eternal vigilance. No home, no
rest, no sleep, no content, no life worth the livingl He must
be a lone wolf or he must herd among men obnoxious to him. If
he worked for an honest living he still must hide his identity
and take risks of detection. If he did not work on some distant
outlying ranch, how was he to live? The idea of stealing was
repugnant to him. The future seemed gray and somber enough. And
he was twenty-three years old.
Why had this hard life been imposed upon him?
The bitter question seemed to start a strange iciness that
stole along his veins. What was wrong with him? He stirred the
few sticks of mesquite into a last flickering blaze. He was
cold, and for some reason he wanted some light. The black
circle of darkness weighed down upon him, closed in around him.
Suddenly he sat bolt upright and then froze in that position.
He had heard a step. It was behind him--no--on the side. Some
one was there. He forced his hand down to his gun, and the
touch of cold steel was another icy shock. Then he waited. But
all was silent--silent as only a wilderness arroyo can be, with
its low murmuring of wind in the mesquite. Had he heard a step?
He began to breathe again.
But what was the matter with the light of his camp-fire? It had
taken on a strange green luster and seemed to be waving off
into the outer shadows. Duane heard no step, saw no movement;
nevertheless, there was another present at that camp-fire
vigil. Duane saw him. He lay there in the middle of the green
brightness, prostrate, motionless, dying. Cal Bain! His
features were wonderfully distinct, clearer than any cameo,
more sharply outlined than those of any picture. It was a hard
face softening at the threshold of eternity. The red tan of
sun, the coarse signs of drunkenness, the ferocity and hate so
characteristic of Bain were no longer there. This face
represented a different Bain, showed all that was human in him
fading, fading as swiftly as it blanched white. The lips wanted
to speak, but had not the power. The eyes held an agony of
thought. They revealed what might have been possible for this
man if he lived--that he saw his mistake too late. Then they
rolled, set blankly, and closed in death.
That haunting visitation left Duane sitting there in a cold
sweat, a remorse gnawing at his vitals, realizing the curse
that was on him. He divined that never would he be able to keep
off that phantom. He remembered how his father had been
eternally pursued by the furies of accusing guilt, how he had
never been able to forget in work or in sleep those men he had
The hour was late when Duane's mind let him sleep, and then
dreams troubled him. In the morning he bestirred himself so
early that in the gray gloom he had difficulty in finding his
horse. Day had just broken when he struck the old trail again.
He rode hard all morning and halted in a shady spot to rest and
graze his horse. In the afternoon he took to the trail at an
easy trot. The country grew wilder. Bald, rugged mountains
broke the level of the monotonous horizon. About three in the
afternoon he came to a little river which marked the boundary
line of his hunting territory.
The decision he made to travel up-stream for a while was owing
to two facts: the river was high with quicksand bars on each
side, and he felt reluctant to cross into that region where his
presence alone meant that he was a marked man. The bottom-lands
through which the river wound to the southwest were more
inviting than the barrens he had traversed. The rest or that
day he rode leisurely up-stream. At sunset he penetrated the
brakes of willow and cottonwood to spend the night. It seemed
to him that in this lonely cover he would feel easy and
content. But he did not. Every feeling, every imagining he had
experienced the previous night returned somewhat more vividly
and accentuated by newer ones of the same intensity and color.
In this kind of travel and camping he spent three more days,
during which he crossed a number of trails, and one road where
cattle--stolen cattle, probably--had recently passed. Thus time
exhausted his supply of food, except salt, pepper, coffee, and
sugar, of which he had a quantity. There were deer in the.
brakes; but, as he could not get close enough to kill them with
t a revolver, he had to satisfy himself with a rabbit. He knew
he might as well content himself with the hard fare that
assuredly would be his lot.
Somewhere up this river there was a village called Huntsville.
It was distant about a hundred miles from Wellston, and had a
reputation throughout southwestern Texas. He had never been
there. The fact was this reputation was such that honest
travelers gave the town a wide berth. Duane had considerable
money for him in his possession, and he concluded to visit
Huntsville, if he could find it, and buy a stock of provisions.
The following day, toward evening, he happened upon a road
which he believed might lead to the village. There were a good
many fresh horse-tracks in the sand, and these made him
thoughtful. Nevertheless, he followed the road, proceeding
cautiously. He had not gone very far when the sound of rapid
hoof-beats caught his ears. They came from his rear. In the
darkening twilight he could not see any great distance back
along the road. Voices, however, warned him that these riders,
whoever they were, had approached closer than he liked. To go
farther down the road was not to be thought of, so he turned a
little way in among the mesquites and halted, hoping to escape
being seen or heard. As he was now a fugitive, it seemed every
man was his enemy and pursuer.
The horsemen were fast approaching. Presently they were abreast
of Duane's position, so near that he could hear the creak of
saddles, the clink of spurs.
"Shore he crossed the river below," said one man.
"I reckon you're right, Bill. He's slipped us," replied
Rangers or a posse of ranchers in pursuit of a fugitive! The
knowledge gave Duane a strange thrill. Certainly they could not
have been hunting him. But the feeling their proximity gave him
was identical to what it would have been had he been this
particular hunted man. He held his breath; he clenched his
teeth; he pressed a quieting hand upon his horse. Suddenly he
became aware that these horsemen had halted. They were
whispering. He could just make out a dark group closely massed.
What had made them halt so suspiciously?
"You're wrong, Bill," said a man, in a low but distinct voice.
"The idee of hearin' a hoss heave. You're wuss'n a ranger. And
you're hell-bent on killin' that rustler. Now I say let's go
home and eat."
"Wal, I'll just take a look at the sand," replied the man
Duane heard the clink of spurs on steel stirrup and the thud of
boots on the ground. There followed a short silence which was
broken by a sharply breathed exclamation.
Duane waited for no more. They had found his trail. He spurred
his horse straight into the brush. At the second crashing bound
there came yells from the road, and then shots. Duane heard the
hiss of a bullet close by his ear, and as it struck a branch it
made a peculiar singing sound. These shots and the proximity of
that lead missile roused in Duane a quick, hot resentment which
mounted into a passion almost ungovernable. He must escape, yet
it seemed that he did not care whether he did or not. Something
grim kept urging him to halt and return the fire of these men.
After running a couple of hundred yards he raised himself from
over the pommel, where he had bent to avoid the stinging
branches, and tried to guide his horse. In the dark shadows
under mesquites and cottonwoods he was hard put to it to find
open passage; however, he succeeded so well and made such
little noise that gradually he drew away from his pursuers. The
sound of their horses crashing through the thickets died away.
Duane reined in and listened. He had distanced them. Probably
they would go into camp till daylight, then follow his tracks.
He started on again, walking his horse, and peered sharply at
the ground, so that he might take advantage of the first trail
he crossed. It seemed a long while until he came upon one. He
followed it until a late hour, when, striking the willow brakes
again and hence the neighborhood of the river, he picketed his
horse and lay down to rest. But he did not sleep. His mind
bitterly revolved the fate that had come upon him. He made
efforts to think of other things, but in vain.
Every moment he expected the chill, the sense of loneliness
that yet was ominous of a strange visitation, the peculiarly
imagined lights and shades of the night--these things that
presaged the coming of Cal Bain. Doggedly Duane fought against
the insidious phantom. He kept telling himself that it was just
imagination, that it would wear off in time. Still in his heart
he did not believe what he hoped. But he would not give up; he
would not accept the ghost of his victim as a reality.
Gray dawn found him in the saddle again headed for the river.
Half an hour of riding brought him to the dense chaparral and
willow thickets. These he threaded to come at length to the
ford. It was a gravel bottom, and therefore an easy crossing.
Once upon the opposite shore he reined in his horse and looked
darkly back. This action marked his acknowledgment of his
situation: he had voluntarily sought the refuge of the outlaws;
he was beyond the pale. A bitter and passionate curse passed
his lips as he spurred his horse into the brakes on that alien
He rode perhaps twenty miles, not sparing his horse nor caring
whether or not he left a plain trail.
"Let them hunt me!" he muttered.
When the heat of the day began to be oppressive, and hunger and
thirst made themselves manifest, Duane began to look about him
for a place to halt for the noon-hours. The trail led into a
road which was hard packed and smooth from the tracks of
cattle. He doubted not that he had come across one of the roads
used by border raiders. He headed into it, and had scarcely
traveled a mile when, turning a curve, he came point-blank upon
a single horseman riding toward him. Both riders wheeled their
mounts sharply and were ready to run and shoot back. Not more
than a hundred paces separated them. They stood then for a
moment watching each other.
"Mawnin', stranger," called the man, dropping his hand from his
"Howdy," replied Duane, shortly.
They rode toward each other, closing half the gap, then they
"I seen you ain't no ranger," called the rider, "an' shore I
He laughed loudly, as if he had made a joke.
"How'd you know I wasn't a ranger?" asked Duane, curiously.
Somehow he had instantly divined that his horseman was no
officer, or even a rancher trailing stolen stock.
"Wal," said the fellow, starting his horse forward at a walk,
"a ranger'd never git ready to run the other way from one man."
He laughed again. He was small and wiry, slouchy of attire, and
armed to the teeth, and he bestrode a fine bay horse. He had
quick, dancing brown eyes, at once frank and bold, and a
coarse, bronzed face. Evidently he was a good-natured ruffian.
Duane acknowledged the truth of the assertion, and turned over
in his mind how shrewdly the fellow had guessed him to be a
"My name's Luke Stevens, an' I hail from the river. Who're
you?" said this stranger.
Duane was silent.
"I reckon you're Buck Duane," went on Stevens. "I heerd you was
a damn bad man with a gun."
This time Duane laughed, not at the doubtful compliment, but at
the idea that the first outlaw he met should know him. Here was
proof of how swiftly facts about gun-play traveled on the Texas
"Wal, Buck," said Stevens, in a friendly manner, "I ain't
presumin' on your time or company. I see you're headin' fer the
river. But will you stop long enough to stake a feller to a
bite of grub?"
"I'm out of grub, and pretty hungry myself," admitted Duane.
"Been pushin' your hoss, I see. Wal, I reckon you'd better
stock up before you hit thet stretch of country."
He made a wide sweep of his right arm, indicating the
southwest, and there was that in his action which seemed
significant of a vast and barren region.
"Stock up?" queried Duane, thoughtfully.
"Shore. A feller has jest got to eat. I can rustle along
without whisky, but not without grub. Thet's what makes it so
embarrassin' travelin' these parts dodgin' your shadow. Now,
I'm on my way to Mercer. It's a little two-bit town up the
river a ways. I'm goin' to pack out some grub."
Stevens's tone was inviting. Evidently he would welcome Duane's
companionship, but he did not openly say so. Duane kept
silence, however, and then Stevens went on.
"Stranger, in this here country two's a crowd. It's safer. 1
never was much on this lone-wolf dodgin', though I've done it
of necessity. It takes a damn good man to travel alone any
length of time. Why, I've been thet sick I was jest achin' fer
some ranger to come along an' plug me. Give me a pardner any
day. Now, mebbe you're not thet kind of a feller, an' I'm shore
not presumin' to ask. But I just declares myself sufficient."
"You mean you'd like me to go with you?" asked Duane.
Stevens grinned. "Wal, I should smile. I'd be particular proud
to be braced with a man of your reputation."
"See here, my good fellow, that's all nonsense," declared
Duane, in some haste.
"Shore I think modesty becomin' to a youngster," replied
Stevens. "I hate a brag. An' I've no use fer these four-flush
cowboys thet 're always lookin' fer trouble an' talkin'
gun-play. Buck, I don't know much about you. But every man
who's lived along the Texas border remembers a lot about your
Dad. It was expected of you, I reckon, an' much of your rep was
established before you thronged your gun. I jest heerd thet you
was lightnin' on the draw, an' when you cut loose with a gun,
why the figger on the ace of spades would cover your cluster of
bullet-holes. Thet's the word thet's gone down the border. It's
the kind of reputation most sure to fly far an' swift ahead of
a man in this country. An' the safest, too; I'll gamble on
thet. It's the land of the draw. I see now you're only a boy,
though you're shore a strappin' husky one. Now, Buck, I'm not a
spring chicken, an' I've been long on the dodge. Mebbe a little
of my society won't hurt you none. You'll need to learn the
There was something sincere and likable about this outlaw.
"I dare say you're right," replied Duane, quietly. "And I'll go
to Mercer with you."
Next moment he was riding down the road with Stevens. Duane had
never been much of a talker, and now he found speech difficult.
But his companion did not seem to mind that. He was a jocose,
voluble fellow, probably glad now to hear the sound of his own
voice. Duane listened, and sometimes he thought with a pang of
the distinction of name and heritage of blood his father had
left to him.
Late that day, a couple of hours before sunset, Duane and
Stevens, having rested their horses in the shade of some
mesquites near the town of Mercer, saddled up and prepared to
"Buck, as we're lookin' fer grub, an' not trouble, I reckon
you'd better hang up out here," Stevens was saying, as he
mounted. "You see, towns an' sheriffs an' rangers are always
lookin' fer new fellers gone bad. They sort of forget most of
the old boys, except those as are plumb bad. Now, nobody in
Mercer will take notice of me. Reckon there's been a thousand
men run into the river country to become outlaws since yours
truly. You jest wait here an' be ready to ride hard. Mebbe my
besettin' sin will go operatin' in spite of my good intentions.
In which case there'll be--"
His pause was significant. He grinned, and his brown eyes
danced with a kind of wild humor.
"Stevens, have you got any money?" asked Duane.
"Money!" exclaimed Luke, blankly. "Say, I haven't owned a
two-bit piece since--wal, fer some time."
"I'll furnish money for grub," returned Duane. "And for whisky,
too, providing you hurry back here--without making trouble."
"Shore you're a downright good pard," declared Stevens, in
admiration, as he took the money. "I give my word, Buck, an'
I'm here to say I never broke it yet. Lay low, an' look fer me
With that he spurred his horse and rode out of the mesquites
toward the town. At that distance, about a quarter of a mile,
Mercer appeared to be a cluster of low adobe houses set in a
grove of cottonwoods. Pastures of alfalfa were dotted by horses
and cattle. Duane saw a sheep-herder driving in a meager flock.
Presently Stevens rode out of sight into the town. Duane
waited, hoping the outlaw would make good his word. Probably
not a quarter of an hour had elapsed when Duane heard the clear
reports of a Winchester rifle, the clatter of rapid hoof-beats,
and yells unmistakably the kind to mean danger for a man like
Stevens. Duane mounted and rode to the edge of the mesquites.
He saw a cloud of dust down the road and a bay horse running
fast. Stevens apparently had not been wounded by any of the
shots, for he had a steady seat in his saddle and his riding,
even at that moment, struck Duane as admirable. He carried a
large pack over the pommel, and he kept looking back. The shots
had ceased, but the yells increased. Duane saw several men
running and waving their arms. Then he spurred his horse and
got into a swift stride, so Stevens would not pass him.
Presently the outlaw caught up with him. Stevens was grinning,
but there was now no fun in the dancing eyes. It was a devil
that danced n them. His face seemed a shade paler.
"Was jest comin' out of the store," yelled Stevens. "Run plumb
into a rancher--who knowed me. He opened up with a rifle. Think
they'll chase us."
They covered several miles before there were any signs of
pursuit, and when horsemen did move into sight out of the
cottonwoods Duane and his companion steadily drew farther away.
"No hosses in thet bunch to worry us," called out Stevens.
Duane had the same conviction, and he did not look back again.
He rode somewhat to the fore, and was constantly aware of the
rapid thudding of hoofs behind, as Stevens kept close to him.
At sunset they reached the willow brakes and the river. Duane's
horse was winded and lashed with sweat and lather. It was not
until the crossing had been accomplished that Duane halted to
rest his animal. Stevens was riding up the low, sandy bank. He
reeled in the saddle. With an exclamation of surprise Duane
leaped off and ran to the outlaw's side.
Stevens was pale, and his face bore beads of sweat. The whole
front of his shirt was soaked with blood.
"You're shot!" cried Duane.
"Wal, who 'n hell said I wasn't? Would you mind givin' me a
lift--on this here pack?"
Duane lifted the heavy pack down and then helped Stevens to
dismount. The outlaw had a bloody foam on his lips, and he was
"Oh, why didn't you say so!" cried Duane. "I never thought. You
seemed all right."
"Wal, Luke Stevens may be as gabby as an old woman, but
sometimes he doesn't say anythin'. It wouldn't have done no
Duane bade him sit down, removed his shirt, and washed the
blood from his breast and back. Stevens had been shot in the
breast, fairly low down, and the bullet had gone clear through
him. His ride, holding himself and that heavy pack in the
saddle, had been a feat little short of marvelous. Duane did
not see how it had been possible, and he felt no hope for the
outlaw. But he plugged the wounds and bound them tightly.
"Feller's name was Brown," Stevens said. "Me an' him fell out
over a hoss I stole from him over in Huntsville. We had a
shootin'-scrape then. Wal, as I was straddlin' my hoss back
there in Mercer I seen this Brown, an' seen him before he seen
me. Could have killed him, too. But I wasn't breakin' my word
to you. I kind of hoped he wouldn't spot me. But he did--an'
fust shot he got me here. What do you think of this hole?"
"It's pretty bad," replied Duane; and he could not look the
cheerful outlaw in the eyes.
"I reckon it is. Wal, I've had some bad wounds I lived over.
Guess mebbe I can stand this one. Now, Buck, get me some place
in the brakes, leave me some grub an' water at my hand, an'
then you clear out."
"Leave you here alone?" asked Duane, sharply.
"Shore. You see, I can't keep up with you. Brown an' his
friends will foller us across the river a ways. You've got to
think of number one in this game."
"What would you do in my case?" asked Duane, curiously.
"Wal, I reckon I'd clear out an' save my hide," replied
Duane felt inclined to doubt the outlaw's assertion. For his
own part he decided his conduct without further speech. First
he watered the horses, filled canteens and water bag, and then
tied the pack upon his own horse. That done, he lifted Stevens
upon his horse, and, holding him in the saddle, turned into the
brakes, being careful to pick out hard or grassy ground that
left little signs of tracks. Just about dark he ran across a
trail that Stevens said was a good one to take into the wild
"Reckon we'd better keep right on in the dark--till I drop,"
concluded Stevens, with a laugh.
All that night Duane, gloomy and thoughtful, attentive to the
wounded outlaw, walked the trail and never halted till
daybreak. He was tired then and very hungry. Stevens seemed in
bad shape, although he was still spirited and cheerful. Duane
made camp. The outlaw refused food, but asked for both whisky
and water. Then he stretched out.
"Buck, will you take off my boots?" he asked, with a faint
smile on his pallid face.
Duane removed them, wondering if the outlaw had the thought
that he did not want to die with his boots on. Stevens seemed
to read his mind.
"Buck, my old daddy used to say thet I was born to be hanged.
But I wasn't--an' dyin' with your boots on is the next wust way
"You've a chance to-to get over this," said Duane.
"Shore. But I want to be correct about the boots--an' say,
pard, if I do go over, jest you remember thet I was
appreciatin' of your kindness."
Then he closed his eyes and seemed to sleep.
Duane could not find water for the horses, but there was an
abundance of dew-wet grass upon which he hobbled them. After
that was done he prepared himself a much-needed meal. The sun
was getting warm when he lay down to sleep, and when he awoke
it was sinking in the west. Stevens was still alive, for he
breathed heavily. The horses were in sight. All was quiet
except the hum of insects in the brush. Duane listened awhile,
then rose and went for the horses.
When he returned with them he found Stevens awake, bright-eyed,
cheerful as usual, and apparently stronger.
"Wal, Buck, I'm still with you an' good fer another night's
ride," he said. "Guess about all I need now is a big pull on
thet bottle. Help me, will you? There! thet was bully. I ain't
swallowin' my blood this evenin'. Mebbe I've bled all there was
While Duane got a hurried meal for himself, packed up the
little outfit, and saddled the horses Stevens kept on talking.
He seemed to be in a hurry to tell Duane all about the country.
Another night ride would put them beyond fear of pursuit,
within striking distance of the Rio Grande and the
hiding-places of the outlaws.
When it came time for mounting the horses Stevens said, "Reckon
you can pull on my boots once more." In spite of the laugh
accompanying the words Duane detected a subtle change in the
On this night travel was facilitated by the fact that the trail
was broad enough for two horses abreast, enabling Duane to ride
while upholding Stevens in the saddle.
The difficulty most persistent was in keeping the horses in a
walk. They were used to a trot, and that kind of gait would not
do for Stevens. The red died out of the west; a pale afterglow
prevailed for a while; darkness set in; then the broad expanse
of blue darkened and the stars brightened. After a while
Stevens ceased talking and drooped in his saddle. Duane kept
the horses going, however, and the slow hours wore away. Duane
thought the quiet night would never break to dawn, that there
was no end to the melancholy, brooding plain. But at length a
grayness blotted out the stars and mantled the level of
mesquite and cactus.
Dawn caught the fugitives at a green camping-site on the bank
of a rocky little stream. Stevens fell a dead weight into
Duane's arms, and one look at the haggard face showed Duane
that the outlaw had taken his last ride. He knew it, too. Yet
that cheerfulness prevailed.
"Buck, my feet are orful tired packin' them heavy boots," he
said, and seemed immensely relieved when Duane had removed
This matter of the outlaw's boots was strange, Duane thought.
He made Stevens as comfortable as possible, then attended to
his own needs. And the outlaw took up the thread of his
conversation where he had left off the night before.
"This trail splits up a ways from here, an' every branch of it
leads to a hole where you'll find men--a few, mebbe, like
yourself--some like me--an' gangs of no-good hoss-thieves,
rustlers, an' such. It's easy livin', Buck. I reckon, though,
that you'll not find it easy. You'll never mix in. You'll be a
lone wolf. I seen that right off. Wal, if a man can stand the
loneliness, an' if he's quick on the draw, mebbe lone-wolfin'
it is the best. Shore I don't know. But these fellers in here
will be suspicious of a man who goes it alone. If they get a
chance they'll kill you."
Stevens asked for water several times. He had forgotten or he
did not want the whisky. His voice grew perceptibly weaker.
"Be quiet," said Duane. "Talking uses up your strength."
"Aw, I'll talk till--I'm done," he replied, doggedly. "See
here, pard, you can gamble on what I'm tellin' you. An' it'll
be useful. From this camp we'll--you'll meet men right along.
An' none of them will be honest men. All the same, some are
better'n others. I've lived along the river fer twelve years.
There's three big gangs of outlaws. King Fisher--you know him,
I reckon, fer he's half the time livin' among respectable
folks. King is a pretty good feller. It'll do to tie up with
him ant his gang. Now, there's Cheseldine, who hangs out in the
Rim Rock way up the river. He's an outlaw chief. I never seen
him, though I stayed once right in his camp. Late years he's
got rich an' keeps back pretty well hid. But Bland--I knowed
Bland fer years. An' I haven't any use fer him. Bland has the
biggest gang. You ain't likely to miss strikin' his place
sometime or other. He's got a regular town, I might say. Shore
there's some gamblin' an' gun-fightin' goin' on at Bland's camp
all the time. Bland has killed some twenty men, an' thet's not
Here Stevens took another drink and then rested for a while.
"You ain't likely to get on with Bland," he resumed, presently.
"You're too strappin' big an' good-lookin' to please the chief.
Fer he's got women in his camp. Then he'd be jealous of your
possibilities with a gun. Shore I reckon he'd be careful,
though. Bland's no fool, an' he loves his hide. I reckon any of
the other gangs would be better fer you when you ain't goin' it
Apparently that exhausted the fund of information and advice
Stevens had been eager to impart. He lapsed into silence and
lay with closed eyes. Meanwhile the sun rose warm; the breeze
waved the mesquites; the birds came down to splash in the
shallow stream; Duane dozed in a comfortable seat. By and by
something roused him. Stevens was once more talking, but with a
"Feller's name--was Brown," he rambled. "We fell out--over a
hoss I stole from him--in Huntsville. He stole it fuss. Brown's
one of them sneaks--afraid of the open--he steals an' pretends
to be honest. Say, Buck, mebbe you'll meet Brown some day--You
an' me are pards now."
"I'll remember, if I ever meet him," said Duane.
That seemed to satisfy the outlaw. Presently he tried to lift
his head, but had not the strength. A strange shade was
creeping across the bronzed rough face.
"My feet are pretty heavy. Shore you got my boots off?"
Duane held them up, but was not certain that Stevens could see
them. The outlaw closed his eyes again and muttered
incoherently. Then he fell asleep. Duane believed that sleep
was final. The day passed, with Duane watching and waiting.
Toward sundown Stevens awoke, and his eyes seemed clearer.
Duane went to get some fresh water, thinking his comrade would
surely want some. When he returned Stevens made no sign that he
wanted anything. There was something bright about him, and
suddenly Duane realized what it meant.
"Pard, you--stuck--to me!" the outlaw whispered.
Duane caught a hint of gladness in the voice; he traced a faint
surprise in the haggard face. Stevens seemed like a little
To Duane the moment was sad, elemental, big, with a burden of
mystery he could not understand.
Duane buried him in a shallow arroyo and heaped up a pile of
stones to mark the grave. That done, he saddled his comrade's
horse, hung the weapons over the pommel; and, mounting his own
steed, he rode down the trail in the gathering twilight.
Two days later, about the middle of the forenoon, Duane dragged
the two horses up the last ascent of an exceedingly rough trail
and found himself on top of the Rim Rock, with a beautiful
green valley at his feet, the yellow, sluggish Rio Grande
shining in the sun, and the great, wild, mountainous barren of
Mexico stretching to the south.
Duane had not fallen in with any travelers. He had taken the
likeliest-looking trail he had come across. Where it had led
him he had not the slightest idea, except that here was the
river, and probably the inclosed valley was the retreat of some
No wonder outlaws were safe in that wild refuge! Duane had
spent the last two days climbing the roughest and most
difficult trail he had ever seen. From the looks of the descent
he imagined the worst part of his travel was yet to come. Not
improbably it was two thousand feet down to the river. The
wedge-shaped valley, green with alfalfa and cottonwood, and
nestling down amid the bare walls of yellow rock, was a delight
and a relief to his tired eyes. Eager to get down to a level
and to find a place to rest, Duane began the descent.
The trail proved to be the kind that could not be descended
slowly. He kept dodging rocks which his horses loosed behind
him. And in a short time he reached the valley, entering at the
apex of the wedge. A stream of clear water tumbled out of the
rocks here, and most of it ran into irrigation-ditches. His
horses drank thirstily. And he drank with that fullness and
gratefulness common to the desert traveler finding sweet water.
Then he mounted and rode down the valley wondering what would
be his reception.
The valley was much larger than it had appeared from the high
elevation. Well watered, green with grass and tree, and farmed
evidently by good hands, it gave Duane a considerable surprise.
Horses and cattle were everywhere. Every clump of cottonwoods
surrounded a small adobe house. Duane saw Mexicans working in
the fields and horsemen going to and fro. Presently he passed a
house bigger than the others with a porch attached. A woman,
young and pretty he thought, watched him from a door. No one
else appeared to notice him.
Presently the trail widened into a road, and that into a kind
of square lined by a number of adobe and log buildings of
rudest structure. Within sight were horses, dogs, a couple of
steers, Mexican women with children, and white men, all of whom
appeared to be doing nothing. His advent created no interest
until he rode up to the white men, who were lolling in the
shade of a house. This place evidently was a store and saloon,
and from the inside came a lazy hum of voices.
As Duane reined to a halt one of the loungers in the shade rose
with a loud exclamation:
"Bust me if thet ain't Luke's hoss!"
The others accorded their interest, if not assent, by rising to
advance toward Duane.
"How about it, Euchre? Ain't thet Luke's bay?" queried the
"Plain as your nose," replied the fellow called Euchre.
"There ain't no doubt about thet, then," laughed another, "fer
Bosomer's nose is shore plain on the landscape."
These men lined up before Duane, and as he coolly regarded them
he thought they could have been recognized anywhere as
desperadoes. The man called Bosomer, who had stepped forward,
had a forbidding face which showed yellow eyes, an enormous
nose, and a skin the color of dust, with a thatch of sandy
"Stranger, who are you an' where in the hell did you git thet
bay hoss?" he demanded. His yellow eyes took in Stevens's
horse, then the weapons hung on the saddle, and finally turned
their glinting, hard light upward to Duane.
Duane did not like the tone in which he had been addressed, and
he remained silent. At least half his mind seemed busy with
curious interest in regard to something that leaped inside him
and made his breast feel tight. He recognized it as that
strange emotion which had shot through him often of late, and
which had decided him to go out to the meeting with Bain. Only
now it was different, more powerful.
"Stranger, who are you?" asked another man, somewhat more
"My name's Duane," replied Duane, curtly.
"An' how'd you come by the hoss?"
Duane answered briefly, and his words were followed by a short
silence, during which the men looked at him. Bosomer began to
twist the ends of his beard.
"Reckon he's dead, all right, or nobody'd hev his hoss an'
guns," presently said Euchre.
"Mister Duane," began Bosomer, in low, stinging tones, "I
happen to be Luke Stevens's side-pardner."
Duane looked him over, from dusty, worn-out boots to his
slouchy sombrero. That look seemed to inflame Bosomer.
"An' I want the hoss an' them guns," he shouted.
"You or anybody else can have them, for all I care. I just
fetched them in. But the pack is mine," replied Duane. "And
say, I befriended your pard. If you can't use a civil tongue
you'd better cinch it."
"Civil? Haw, haw!" rejoined the outlaw. "I don't know you. How
do we know you didn't plug Stevens, an' stole his hoss, an'
jest happened to stumble down here?"
"You'll have to take my word, that's all," replied Duane,
"I ain't takin' your word! Savvy thet? An' I was Luke's pard!"
With that Bosomer wheeled and, pushing his companions aside, he
stamped into the saloon, where his voice broke out in a roar.
Duane dismounted and threw his bridle.
"Stranger, Bosomer is shore hot-headed," said the man Euchre.
He did not appear unfriendly, nor were the others hostile.
At this juncture several more outlaws crowded out of the door,
and the one in the lead was a tall man of stalwart physique.
His manner proclaimed him a leader. He had a long face, a
flaming red beard, and clear, cold blue eyes that fixed in
close scrutiny upon Duane. He was not a Texan; in truth, Duane
did not recognize one of these outlaws as native to his state.
"I'm Bland," said the tall man, authoritatively. "Who're you
and what're you doing here?"
Duane looked at Bland as he had at the others. This outlaw
chief appeared to be reasonable, if he was not courteous. Duane
told his story again, this time a little more in detail.
"I believe you," replied Bland, at once. "Think I know when a
fellow is lying."
"I reckon you're on the right trail," put in Euchre. "Thet
about Luke wantin' his boots took off--thet satisfies me. Luke
hed a mortal dread of dyin' with his boots on."
At this sally the chief and his men laughed.
"You said Duane--Buck Duane?" queried Bland. "Are you a son of
that Duane who was a gunfighter some years back?"
"Yes," replied Duane.
"Never met him, and glad I didn't," said Bland, with a grim
humor. "So you got in trouble and had to go on the dodge? What
kind of trouble?"
"Had a fight."
"Fight? Do you mean gun-play?" questioned Bland. He seemed
eager, curious, speculative.
"Yes. It ended in gun-play, I'm sorry to say," answered Duane,
"Guess I needn't ask the son of Duane if he killed his man,"
went on Bland, ironically. "Well, I'm sorry you bucked against
trouble in my camp. But as it is, I guess you'd be wise to make
"Do you mean I'm politely told to move on?" asked Duane,
"Not exactly that," said Bland, as if irritated. "If this isn't
a free place there isn't one on earth. Every man is equal here.
Do you want to join my band?"
"No, I don't."
"Well, even if you did I imagine that wouldn't stop Bosomer.
He's an ugly fellow. He's one of the few gunmen I've met who
wants to kill somebody all the time. Most men like that are
fourflushes. But Bosomer is all one color, and that's red.
Merely for your own sake I advise you to hit the trail."
"Thanks. But if that's all I'll stay," returned Duane. Even as
he spoke he felt that he did not know himself.
Bosomer appeared at the door, pushing men who tried to detain
him, and as he jumped clear of a last reaching hand he uttered
a snarl like an angry dog. Manifestly the short while he had
spent inside the saloon had been devoted to drinking and
talking himself into a frenzy. Bland and the other outlaws
quickly moved aside, letting Duane stand alone. When Bosomer
saw Duane standing motionless and watchful a strange change
passed quickly in him. He halted in his tracks, and as he did
that the men who had followed him out piled over one another in
their hurry to get to one side.
Duane saw all the swift action, felt intuitively the meaning of
it, and in Bosomer's sudden change of front. The outlaw was
keen, and he had expected a shrinking, or at least a frightened
antagonist. Duane knew he was neither. He felt like iron, and
yet thrill after thrill ran through him. It was almost as if
this situation had been one long familiar to him. Somehow he
understood this yellow-eyed Bosomer. The outlaw had come out to
kill him. And now, though somewhat checked by the stand of a
stranger, he still meant to kill. Like so many desperadoes of
his ilk, he was victim of a passion to kill for the sake of
killing. Duane divined that no sudden animosity was driving
Bosomer. It was just his chance. In that moment murder would
have been joy to him. Very likely he had forgotten his pretext
for a quarrel. Very probably his faculties were absorbed in
conjecture as to Duane's possibilities.
But he did not speak a word. He remained motionless for a long
moment, his eyes pale and steady, his right hand like a claw.
That instant gave Duane a power to read in his enemy's eyes the
thought that preceded action. But Duane did not want to kill
another man. Still he would have to fight, and he decided to
cripple Bosomer. When Bosomer's hand moved Duane's gun was
spouting fire. Two shots only--both from Duane's gun--and the
outlaw fell with his right arm shattered. Bosomer cursed
harshly and floundered in the dust, trying to reach the gun
with his left hand. His comrades, however, seeing that Duane
would not kill unless forced, closed in upon Bosomer and
prevented any further madness on his part.
Of the outlaws present Euchre appeared to be the one most
inclined to lend friendliness to curiosity; and he led Duane
and the horses away to a small adobe shack. He tied the horses
in an open shed and removed their saddles. Then, gathering up
Stevens's weapons, he invited his visitor to enter the house.
It had two rooms--windows without coverings--bare floors. One
room contained blankets, weapons, saddles, and bridles; the
other a stone fireplace, rude table and bench, two bunks, a box
cupboard, and various blackened utensils.
"Make yourself to home as long as you want to stay," said
Euchre. "I ain't rich in this world's goods, but I own what's
here, an' you're welcome."
"Thanks. I'll stay awhile and rest. I'm pretty well played
out," replied Duane.
Euchre gave him a keen glance.
"Go ahead an' rest. I'll take your horses to grass."
Euchre left Duane alone in the house. Duane relaxed then, and
mechanically he wiped the sweat from his face. He was laboring
under some kind of a spell or shock which did not pass off
quickly. When it had worn away he took off his coat and belt
and made himself comfortable on the blankets. And he had a
thought that if he rested or slept what difference would it
make on the morrow? No rest, no sleep could change the gray
outlook of the future. He felt glad when Euchre came bustling
in, and for the first time he took notice of the outlaw.
Euchre was old in years. What little hair he had was gray, his
face clean-shaven and full of wrinkles; his eyes were half shut
from long gazing through the sun and dust. He stooped. But his
thin frame denoted strength and endurance still unimpaired.
"Hey a drink or a smoke?" he asked.
Duane shook his head. He had not been unfamiliar with whisky,
and he had used tobacco moderately since he was sixteen. But
now, strangely, he felt a disgust at the idea of stimulants. He
did not understand clearly what he felt. There was that vague
idea of something wild in his blood, something that made him
Euchre wagged his old head sympathetically. "Reckon you feel a
little sick. When it comes to shootin' I run. What's your age?"
"I'm twenty-three," replied Duane.
Euchre showed surprise. "You're only a boy! I thought you
thirty anyways. Buck, I heard what you told Bland, an' puttin'
thet with my own figgerin', I reckon you're no criminal yet.
Throwin' a gun in self-defense--thet ain't no crime!"
Duane, finding relief in talking, told more about himself.
"Huh," replied the old man. "I've been on this river fer years,
an' I've seen hundreds of boys come in on the dodge. Most of
them, though, was no good. An' thet kind don't last long. This
river country has been an' is the refuge fer criminals from all
over the states. I've bunked with bank cashiers, forgers, plain
thieves, an' out-an'-out murderers, all of which had no bizness
on the Texas border. Fellers like Bland are exceptions. He's no
Texan--you seen thet. The gang he rules here come from all
over, an' they're tough cusses, you can bet on thet. They live
fat an' easy. If it wasn't fer the fightin' among themselves
they'd shore grow populous. The Rim Rock is no place for a
peaceable, decent feller. I heard you tell Bland you wouldn't
join his gang. Thet'll not make him take a likin' to you. Have
you any money?"
"Not much," replied Duane.
"Could you live by gamblin'? Are you any good at cards?"
"You wouldn't steal hosses or rustle cattle?"
"When your money's gone how'n hell will you live? There ain't
any work a decent feller could do. You can't herd with
greasers. Why, Bland's men would shoot at you in the fields.
What'll you do, son?"
"God knows," replied Duane, hopelessly. "I'll make my money
last as long as possible--then starve."
"Wal, I'm pretty pore, but you'll never starve while I got
Here it struck Duane again--that something human and kind and
eager which he had seen in Stevens. Duane's estimate of outlaws
had lacked this quality. He had not accorded them any virtues.
To him, as to the outside world, they had been merely vicious
men without one redeeming feature.
"I'm much obliged to you, Euchre," replied Duane. "But of
course I won't live with any one unless I can pay my share."
"Have it any way you like, my son," said Euchre,
good-humoredly. "You make a fire, an' I'll set about gettin'
grub. I'm a sourdough, Buck. Thet man doesn't live who can beat
"How do you ever pack supplies in here?" asked Duane, thinking
of the almost inaccessible nature of the valley.
"Some comes across from Mexico, an' the rest down the river.
Thet river trip is a bird. It's more'n five hundred miles to
any supply point. Bland has mozos, greaser boatmen. Sometimes,
too, he gets supplies in from down-river. You see, Bland sells
thousands of cattle in Cuba. An' all this stock has to go down
by boat to meet the ships."
"Where on earth are the cattle driven down to the river?" asked
"Thet's not my secret," replied Euchre, shortly. "Fact is, I
don't know. I've rustled cattle for Bland, but he never sent me
through the Rim Rock with them."
Duane experienced a sort of pleasure in the realization that
interest had been stirred in him. He was curious about Bland
and his gang, and glad to have something to think about. For
every once in a while he had a sensation that was almost like a
pang. He wanted to forget. In the next hour he did forget, and
enjoyed helping in the preparation and eating of the meal.
Euchre, after washing and hanging up the several utensils, put
on his hat and turned to go out.
"Come along or stay here, as you want," he said to Duane.
"I'll stay," rejoined Duane, slowly.
The old outlaw left the room and trudged away, whistling
Duane looked around him for a book or paper, anything to read;
but all the printed matter he could find consisted of a few
words on cartridge-boxes and an advertisement on the back of a
tobacco-pouch. There seemed to be nothing for him to do. He had
rested; he did not want to lie down any more. He began to walk
to and fro, from one end of the room to the other. And as he
walked he fell into the lately acquired habit of brooding over
Suddenly he straightened up with a jerk. Unconsciously he had
drawn his gun. Standing there with the bright cold weapon in
his hand, he looked at it in consternation. How had he come to
draw it? With difficulty he traced his thoughts backward, but
could not find any that was accountable for his act. He
discovered, however, that he had a remarkable tendency to drop
his hand to his gun. That might have come from the habit long
practice in drawing had given him. Likewise, it might have come
from a subtle sense, scarcely thought of at all, of the late,
close, and inevitable relation between that weapon and himself.
He was amazed to find that, bitter as he had grown at fate, the
desire to live burned strong in him. If he had been as
unfortunately situated, but with the difference that no man
wanted to put him in jail or take his life, he felt that this
burning passion to be free, to save himself, might not have
been so powerful. Life certainly held no bright prospects for
him. Already he had begun to despair of ever getting back to
his home. But to give up like a white-hearted coward, to let
himself be handcuffed and jailed, to run from a drunken,
bragging cowboy, or be shot in cold blood by some border brute
who merely wanted to add another notch to his gun--these things
were impossible for Duane because there was in him the temper
to fight. In that hour he yielded only to fate and the spirit
inborn in him. Hereafter this gun must be a living part of him.
Right then and there he returned to a practice he had long
discontinued--the draw. It was now a stern, bitter, deadly
business with him. He did not need to fire the gun, for
accuracy was a gift and had become assured. Swiftness on the
draw, however, could be improved, and he set himself to acquire
the limit of speed possible to any man. He stood still in his
tracks; he paced the room; he sat down, lay down, put himself
in awkward positions; and from every position he practiced
throwing his gun--practiced it till he was hot and tired and
his arm ached and his hand burned. That practice he determined
to keep up every day. It was one thing, at least, that would
help pass the weary hours.
Later he went outdoors to the cooler shade of the cottonwoods.
From this point he could see a good deal of the valley. Under
different circumstances Duane felt that he would have enjoyed
such a beautiful spot. Euchre's shack sat against the first
rise of the slope of the wall, and Duane, by climbing a few
rods, got a view of the whole valley. Assuredly it was an
outlaw settle meet. He saw a good many Mexicans, who, of
course, were hand and glove with Bland. Also he saw enormous
flat-boats, crude of structure, moored along the banks of the
river. The Rio Grande rolled away between high bluffs. A cable,
sagging deep in the middle, was stretched over the wide yellow
stream, and an old scow, evidently used as a ferry, lay
anchored on the far shore.
The valley was an ideal retreat for an outlaw band operating on
a big scale. Pursuit scarcely need be feared over the broken
trails of the Rim Rock. And the open end of the valley could be
defended against almost any number of men coming down the
river. Access to Mexico was easy and quick. What puzzled Duane
was how Bland got cattle down to the river, and he wondered if
the rustler really did get rid of his stolen stock by use of
Duane must have idled considerable time up on the hill, for
when he returned to the shack Euchre was busily engaged around
"Wal, glad to see you ain't so pale about the gills as you
was," he said, by way of greeting. "Pitch in an' we'll soon
have grub ready. There's shore one consolin' fact round this
"What's that?" asked Duane.
"Plenty of good juicy beef to eat. An' it doesn't cost a short
"But it costs hard rides and trouble, bad conscience, and life,
too, doesn't it?"
"I ain't shore about the bad conscience. Mine never bothered me
none. An' as for life, why, thet's cheap in Texas."
"Who is Bland?" asked Duane, quickly changing the subject.
"What do you know about him?"
"We don't know who he is or where he hails from," replied
Euchre. "Thet's always been somethin' to interest the gang. He
must have been a young man when he struck Texas. Now he's
middle-aged. I remember how years ago he was soft-spoken an'
not rough in talk or act like he is now. Bland ain't likely his
right name. He knows a lot. He can doctor you, an' he's shore a
knowin' feller with tools. He's the kind thet rules men.
Outlaws are always ridin' in here to join his gang, an' if it
hadn't been fer the gamblin' an' gun-play he'd have a thousand
men around him."
"How many in his gang now?"
"I reckon there's short of a hundred now. The number varies.
Then Bland has several small camps up an' down the river. Also
he has men back on the cattle-ranges."
"How does he control such a big force?" asked Duane.
"Especially when his band's composed of bad men. Luke Stevens
said he had no use for Bland. And I heard once somewhere that
Bland was a devil."
"Thet's it. He is a devil. He's as hard as flint, violent in
temper, never made any friends except his right-hand men, Dave
Rugg an' Chess Alloway. Bland'll shoot at a wink. He's killed a
lot of fellers, an' some fer nothin'. The reason thet outlaws
gather round him an' stick is because he's a safe refuge, an'
then he's well heeled. Bland is rich. They say he has a hundred
thousand pesos hid somewhere, an' lots of gold. But he's free
with money. He gambles when he's not off with a shipment of
cattle. He throws money around. An' the fact is there's always
plenty of money where he is. Thet's what holds the gang. Dirty,
"It's a wonder he hasn't been killed. All these years on the
border!" exclaimed Duane.
"Wal," replied Euchre, dryly, "he's been quicker on the draw
than the other fellers who hankered to kill him, thet's all."
Euchre's reply rather chilled Duane's interest for the moment.
Such remarks always made his mind revolve round facts
pertaining to himself.
"Speakin' of this here swift wrist game," went on Euchre,
"there's been considerable talk in camp about your throwin' of
a gun. You know, Buck, thet among us fellers--us hunted
men--there ain't anythin' calculated to rouse respect like a
slick hand with a gun. I heard Bland say this afternoon--an' he
said it serious-like an' speculative--thet he'd never seen your
equal. He was watchin' of you close, he said, an' just couldn't
follow your hand when you drawed. All the fellers who seen you
meet Bosomer had somethin' to say. Bo was about as handy with a
gun as any man in this camp, barrin' Chess Alloway an' mebbe
Bland himself. Chess is the captain with a Colt--or he was. An'
he shore didn't like the references made about your speed.
Bland was honest in acknowledgin' it, but he didn't like it,
neither. Some of the fellers allowed your draw might have been
just accident. But most of them figgered different. An' they
all shut up when Bland told who an' what your Dad was. 'Pears
to me I once seen your Dad in a gunscrape over at Santone,
years ago. Wal, I put my oar in to-day among the fellers, an' I
says: 'What ails you locoed gents? Did young Duane budge an
inch when Bo came roarin' out, blood in his eye? Wasn't he cool
an' quiet, steady of lips, an' weren't his eyes readin' Bo's
mind? An' thet lightnin' draw--can't you-all see thet's a
family gift?' "
Euchre's narrow eyes twinkled, and he gave the dough he was
rolling a slap with his flour-whitened hand. Manifestly he had
proclaimed himself a champion and partner of Duane's, with all
the pride an old man could feel in a young one whom he admired.
"Wal," he resumed, presently, "thet's your introduction to the
border, Buck. An' your card was a high trump. You'll be let
severely alone by real gun-fighters an' men like Bland,
Alloway, Rugg, an' the bosses of the other gangs. After all,
these real men are men, you know, an' onless you cross them
they're no more likely to interfere with you than you are with
them. But there's a sight of fellers like Bosomer in the river
country. They'll all want your game. An' every town you ride
into will scare up some cowpuncher full of booze or a
long-haired four-flush gunman or a sheriff--an' these men will
be playin' to the crowd an' yellin' for your blood. Thet's the
Texas of it. You'll have to hide fer ever in the brakes or
you'll have to KILL such men. Buck, I reckon this ain't
cheerful news to a decent chap like you. I'm only tellin' you
because I've taken a likin' to you, an' I seen right off thet
you ain't border-wise. Let's eat now, an' afterward we'll go
out so the gang can see you're not hidin'."
When Duane went out with Euchre the sun was setting behind a
blue range of mountains across the river in Mexico. The valley
appeared to open to the southwest. It was a tranquil, beautiful
scene. Somewhere in a house near at hand a woman was singing.
And in the road Duane saw a little Mexican boy driving home
some cows, one of which wore a bell. The sweet, happy voice of
a woman and a whistling barefoot boy--these seemed utterly out
of place here.
Euchre presently led to the square and the row of rough houses
Duane remembered. He almost stepped on a wide imprint in the
dust where Bosomer had confronted him. And a sudden fury beset
him that he should be affected strangely by the sight of it.
"Let's have a look in here," said Euchre.
Duane had to bend his head to enter the door. He found himself
in a very large room inclosed by adobe walls and roofed with
brush. It was full of rude benches, tables, seats. At one
corner a number of kegs and barrels lay side by side in a rack.
A Mexican boy was lighting lamps hung on posts that sustained
the log rafters of the roof.
"The only feller who's goin' to put a close eye on you is
Benson," said Euchre. "He runs the place an' sells drinks. The
gang calls him Jackrabbit Benson, because he's always got his
eye peeled an' his ear cocked. Don't notice him if he looks you
over, Buck. Benson is scared to death of every new-comer who
rustles into Bland's camp. An' the reason, I take it, is
because he's done somebody dirt. He's hidin'. Not from a
sheriff or ranger! Men who hide from them don't act like
Jackrabbit Benson. He's hidin' from some guy who's huntin' him
to kill him. Wal, I'm always expectin' to see some feller ride
in here an' throw a gun on Benson. Can't say I'd be grieved."
Duane casually glanced in the direction indicated, and he saw a
spare, gaunt man with a face strikingly white beside the red
and bronze and dark skins of the men around him. It was a
cadaverous face. The black mustache hung down; a heavy lock of
black hair dropped down over the brow; deep-set, hollow,
staring eyes looked out piercingly. The man had a restless,
alert, nervous manner. He put his hands on the board that
served as a bar and stared at Duane. But when he met Duane's
glance he turned hurriedly to go on serving out liquor.
"What have you got against him?" inquired Duane, as he sat down
beside Euchre. He asked more for something to say than from
real interest. What did he care about a mean, haunted, craven-
"Wal, mebbe I'm cross-grained," replied Euchre, apologetically.
"Shore an outlaw an' rustler such as me can't be touchy. But I
never stole nothin' but cattle from some rancher who never
missed 'em anyway. Thet sneak Benson--he was the means of
puttin' a little girl in Bland's way."
"Girl?" queried Duane, now with real attention.
"Shore. Bland's great on women. I'll tell you about this girl
when we get out of here. Some of the gang are goin' to be
sociable, an' I can't talk about the chief."
During the ensuing half-hour a number of outlaws passed by
Duane and Euchre, halted for a greeting or sat down for a
moment. They were all gruff, loud-voiced, merry, and good-
natured. Duane replied civilly and agreeably when he was
personally addressed; but he refused all invitations to drink
and gamble. Evidently he had been accepted, in a way, as one of
their clan. No one made any hint of an allusion to his affair
with Bosomer. Duane saw readily that Euchre was well liked. One
outlaw borrowed money from him: another asked for tobacco.
By the time it was dark the big room was full of outlaws and
Mexicans, most of whom were engaged at monte. These gamblers,
especially the Mexicans, were intense and quiet. The noise in
the place came from the drinkers, the loungers. Duane had seen
gambling-resorts--some of the famous ones in San Antonio and El
Paso, a few in border towns where license went unchecked. But
this place of Jackrabbit Benson's impressed him as one where
guns and knives were accessories to the game. To his perhaps
rather distinguishing eye the most prominent thing about the
gamesters appeared to be their weapons. On several of the
tables were piles of silver--Mexican pesos--as large and high
as the crown of his hat. There were also piles of gold and
silver in United States coin. Duane needed no experienced eyes
to see that betting was heavy and that heavy sums exchanged
hands. The Mexicans showed a sterner obsession, an intenser
passion. Some of the Americans staked freely, nonchalantly, as
befitted men to whom money was nothing. These latter were
manifestly winning, for there were brother outlaws there who
wagered coin with grudging, sullen, greedy eyes. Boisterous
talk and laughter among the drinking men drowned, except at
intervals, the low, brief talk of the gamblers. The clink of
coin sounded incessantly; sometimes just low, steady musical
rings; and again, when a pile was tumbled quickly, there was a
silvery crash. Here an outlaw pounded on a table with the butt
of his gun; there another noisily palmed a roll of dollars
while he studied his opponent's face. The noises, however, in
Benson's den did not contribute to any extent to the sinister
aspect of the place. That seemed to come from the grim and
reckless faces, from the bent, intent heads, from the dark
lights and shades. There were bright lights, but these served
only to make the shadows. And in the shadows lurked
unrestrained lust of gain, a spirit ruthless and reckless, a
something at once suggesting lawlessness, theft, murder, and
"Bland's not here to-night," Euchre was saying. "He left today
on one of his trips, takin' Alloway an' some others. But his
other man, Rugg, he's here. See him standin' with them three
fellers, all close to Benson. Rugg's the little bow-legged man
with the half of his face shot off. He's one-eyed. But he can
shore see out of the one he's got. An', darn me! there's
Hardin. You know him? He's got an outlaw gang as big as
Bland's. Hardin is standin' next to Benson. See how quiet an'
unassumin' he looks. Yes, thet's Hardin. He comes here once in
a while to see Bland. They're friends, which's shore strange.
Do you see thet greaser there--the one with gold an' lace on
his sombrero? Thet's Manuel, a Mexican bandit. He's a great
gambler. Comes here often to drop his coin. Next to him is Bill
Marr--the feller with the bandana round his head. Bill rode in
the other day with some fresh bullet-holes. He's been shot
more'n any feller I ever heard of. He's full of lead. Funny,
because Bill's no troublehunter, an', like me, he'd rather run
than shoot. But he's the best rustler Bland's got--a grand
rider, an' a wonder with cattle. An' see the tow-headed
youngster. Thet's Kid Fuller, the kid of Bland's gang. Fuller
has hit the pace hard, an' he won't last the year out on the
border. He killed his sweetheart's father, got run out of
Staceytown, took to stealin' hosses. An' next he's here with
Bland. Another boy gone wrong, an' now shore a hard nut."
Euchre went on calling Duane's attention to other men, just as
he happened to glance over them. Any one of them would have
been a marked man in a respectable crowd. Here each took his
place with more or less distinction, according to the record of
his past wild prowess and his present possibilities. Duane,
realizing that he was tolerated there, received in careless
friendly spirit by this terrible class of outcasts, experienced
a feeling of revulsion that amounted almost to horror. Was his
being there not an ugly dream? What had he in common with such
ruffians? Then in a flash of memory came the painful proof--he
was a criminal in sight of Texas law; he, too, was an outcast.
For the moment Duane was wrapped up in painful reflections; but
Euchre's heavy hand, clapping with a warning hold on his arm,
brought him back to outside things.
The hum of voices, the clink of coin, the loud laughter had
ceased. There was a silence that manifestly had followed some
unusual word or action sufficient to still the room. It was
broken by a harsh curse and the scrape of a bench on the floor.
Some man had risen.
"You stacked the cards, you--!"
"Say that twice," another voice replied, so different in its
cool, ominous tone from the other.
"I'll say it twice," returned the first gamester, in hot haste.
"I'll say it three times. I'll whistle it. Are you deaf? You
light-fingered gent! You stacked the cards!"
Silence ensued, deeper than before, pregnant with meaning. For
all that Duane saw, not an outlaw moved for a full moment. Then
suddenly the room was full of disorder as men rose and ran and
"Run or duck!" yelled Euchre, close to Duane's ear. With that
he dashed for the door. Duane leaped after him. They ran into a
jostling mob. Heavy gun-shots and hoarse yells hurried the
crowd Duane was with pell-mell out into the darkness. There
they all halted, and several peeped in at the door.
"Who was the Kid callin'?" asked one outlaw.
"Bud Marsh," replied another.
"I reckon them fust shots was Bud's. Adios Kid. It was comin'
to him," went on yet another.
"How many shots?"
"Three or four, I counted."
"Three heavy an' one light. Thet light one was the Kid's .38.
Listen! There's the Kid hollerin' now. He ain't cashed,
At this juncture most of the outlaws began to file back into
the room. Duane thought he had seen and heard enough in
Benson's den for one night and he started slowly down the walk.
Presently Euchre caught up with him.
"Nobody hurt much, which's shore some strange," he said. "The
Kid--young Fuller thet I was tellin' you about--he was drinkin'
an' losin'. Lost his nut, too, callin' Bud Marsh thet way.
Bud's as straight at cards as any of 'em. Somebody grabbed Bud,
who shot into the roof. An' Fuller's arm was knocked up. He
only hit a greaser."
Next morning Duane found that a moody and despondent spell had
fastened on him. Wishing to be alone, he went out and walked a
trail leading round the river bluff. He thought and thought.
After a while he made out that the trouble with him probably
was that he could not resign himself to his fate. He abhorred
the possibility chance seemed to hold in store for him. He
could not believe there was no hope. But what to do appeared
beyond his power to tell.
Duane had intelligence and keenness enough to see his
peril--the danger threatening his character as a man, just as
much as that which threatened his life. He cared vastly more,
he discovered, for what he considered honor and integrity than
he did for life. He saw that it was bad for him to be alone.
But, it appeared, lonely months and perhaps years inevitably
must be his. Another thing puzzled him. In the bright light of
day he could not recall the state of mind that was his at
twilight or dusk or in the dark night. By day these visitations
became to him what they really were--phantoms of his
conscience. He could dismiss the thought of them then. He could
scarcely remember or believe that this strange feat of fancy or
imagination had troubled him, pained him, made him sleepless
That morning Duane spent an unhappy hour wrestling decision out
of the unstable condition of his mind. But at length he
determined to create interest in all that he came across and so
forget himself as much as possible. He had an opportunity now
to see just what the outlaw's life really was. He meant to
force himself to be curious, sympathetic, clear-sighted. And he
would stay there in the valley until its possibilities had been
exhausted or until circumstances sent him out upon his
When he returned to the shack Euchre was cooking dinner.
"Say, Buck, I've news for you," he said; and his tone conveyed
either pride in his possession of such news or pride in Duane.
"Feller named Bradley rode in this mornin'. He's heard some
about you. Told about the ace of spades they put over the
bullet holes in thet cowpuncher Bain you plugged. Then there
was a rancher shot at a water-hole twenty miles south of
Wellston. Reckon you didn't do it?"
"No, I certainly did not," replied Duane.
"Wal, you get the blame. It ain't nothin' for a feller to be
saddled with gun-plays he never made. An', Buck, if you ever
get famous, as seems likely, you'll be blamed for many a crime.
The border'll make an outlaw an' murderer out of you. Wal,
thet's enough of thet. I've more news. You're goin' to be
"Popular? What do you mean?"
"I met Bland's wife this mornin'. She seen you the other day
when you rode in. She shore wants to meet you, an' so do some
of the other women in camp. They always want to meet the new
fellers who've just come in. It's lonesome for women here, an'
they like to hear news from the towns."
"Well, Euchre, I don't want to be impolite, but I'd rather not
meet any women," rejoined Duane.
"I was afraid you wouldn't. Don't blame you much. Women are
hell. I was hopin', though, you might talk a little to thet
poor lonesome kid."
"What kid?" inquired Duane, in surprise.
"Didn't I tell you about Jennie--the girl Bland's holdin'
here--the one Jackrabbit Benson had a hand in stealin'?"
"You mentioned a girl. That's all. Tell me now," replied Duane,
"Wal, I got it this way. Mebbe it's straight, an' mebbe it