Part 2 out of 7
ain't. Some years ago Benson made a trip over the river to buy
mescal an' other drinks. He'll sneak over there once in a
while. An' as I get it he run across a gang of greasers with
some gringo prisoners. I don't know, but I reckon there was
some barterin', perhaps murderin'. Anyway, Benson fetched the
girl back. She was more dead than alive. But it turned out she
was only starved an' scared half to death. She hadn't been
harmed. I reckon she was then about fourteen years old.
Benson's idee, he said, was to use her in his den sellin'
drinks an' the like. But I never went much on Jackrabbit's
word. Bland seen the kid right off and took her--bought her
from Benson. You can gamble Bland didn't do thet from notions
of chivalry. I ain't gainsayin, however, but thet Jennie was
better off with Kate Bland. She's been hard on Jennie, but
she's kept Bland an' the other men from treatin' the kid
shameful. Late Jennie has growed into an all-fired pretty girl,
an' Kate is powerful jealous of her. I can see hell brewin'
over there in Bland's cabin. Thet's why I wish you'd come over
with me. Bland's hardly ever home. His wife's invited you.
Shore, if she gets sweet on you, as she has on--Wal, thet 'd
complicate matters. But you'd get to see Jennie, an' mebbe you
could help her. Mind, I ain't hintin' nothin'. I'm just wantin'
to put her in your way. You're a man an' can think fer
yourself. I had a baby girl once, an' if she'd lived she be as
big as Jennie now, an', by Gawd, I wouldn't want her here in
"I'll go, Euchre. Take me over," replied Duane. He felt
Euchre's eyes upon him. The old outlaw, however, had no more to
In the afternoon Euchre set off with Duane, and soon they
reached Bland's cabin. Duane remembered it as the one where he
had seen the pretty woman watching him ride by. He could not
recall what she looked like. The cabin was the same as the
other adobe structures in the valley, but it was larger and
pleasantly located rather high up in a grove of cottonwoods. In
the windows and upon the porch were evidences of a woman's
hand. Through the open door Duane caught a glimpse of bright
Mexican blankets and rugs.
Euchre knocked upon the side of the door.
"Is that you, Euchre?" asked a girl's voice, low, hesitatingly.
The tone of it, rather deep and with a note of fear, struck
Duane. He wondered what she would be like.
"Yes, it's me, Jennie. Where's Mrs. Bland?" answered Euchre.
"She went over to Deger's. There's somebody sick," replied the
Euchre turned and whispered something about luck. The snap of
the outlaw's eyes was added significance to Duane.
"Jennie, come out or let us come in. Here's the young man I was
tellin' you about," Euchre said.
"Oh, I can't! I look so--so--"
"Never mind how you look," interrupted the outlaw, in a
whisper. "It ain't no time to care fer thet. Here's young
Duane. Jennie, he's no rustler, no thief. He's different. Come
out, Jennie, an' mebbe he'll--"
Euchre did not complete his sentence. He had spoken low, with
his glance shifting from side to side.
But what he said was sufficient to bring the girl quickly. She
appeared in the doorway with downcast eyes and a stain of red
in her white cheek. She had a pretty, sad face and bright hair.
"Don't be bashful, Jennie," said Euchre. "You an' Duane have a
chance to talk a little. Now I'll go fetch Mrs. Bland, but I
won't be hurryin'."
With that Euchre went away through the cottonwoods.
"I'm glad to meet you, Miss--Miss Jennie," said Duane. "Euchre
didn't mention your last name. He asked me to come over to--"
Duane's attempt at pleasantry halted short when Jennie lifted
her lashes to look at him. Some kind of a shock went through
Duane. Her gray eyes were beautiful, but it had not been beauty
that cut short his speech. He seemed to see a tragic struggle
between hope and doubt that shone in her piercing gaze. She
kept looking, and Duane could not break the silence. It was no
"What did you come here for?" she asked, at last.
"To see you," replied Duane, glad to speak.
"Well--Euchre thought--he wanted me to talk to you, cheer you
up a bit," replied Duane, somewhat lamely. The earnest eyes
"Euchre's good. He's the only person in this awful place who's
been good to me. But he's afraid of Bland. He said you were
different. Who are you?"
Duane told her.
"You're not a robber or rustler or murderer or some bad man
come here to hide?"
"No, I'm not," replied Duane, trying to smile.
"Then why are you here?"
"I'm on the dodge. You know what that means. I got in a
shooting-scrape at home and had to run off. When it blows over
I hope to go back."
"But you can't be honest here?"
"Yes, I can."
"Oh, I know what these outlaws are. Yes, you're different." She
kept the strained gaze upon him, but hope was kindling, and the
hard lines of her youthful face were softening.
Something sweet and warm stirred deep in Duane as he realized
the unfortunate girl was experiencing a birth of trust in him.
"O God! Maybe you're the man to save me--to take me away before
it's too later"
Duane's spirit leaped.
"Maybe I am," he replied, instantly.
She seemed to check a blind impulse to run into his arms. Her
cheek flamed, her lips quivered, her bosom swelled under her
ragged dress. Then the glow began to fade; doubt once more
"It can't be. You're only--after me, too, like Bland--like all
Duane's long arms went out and his hands clasped her shoulders.
He shook her.
"Look at me--straight in the eye. There are decent men. Haven't
you a father--a brother?"
"They're dead--killed by raiders. We lived in Dimmit County. I
was carried away," Jennie replied, hurriedly. She put up an
appealing hand to him. "Forgive me. I believe--I know you're
good. It was only--I live so much in fear--I'm half crazy--I've
almost forgotten what good men are like, Mister Duane, you'll
"Yes, Jennie, I will. Tell me how. What must I do? Have you any
"Oh no. But take me away."
"I'll try," said Duane, simply. "That won't be easy, though. I
must have time to think. You must help me. There are many
things to consider. Horses, food, trails, and then the best
time to make the attempt. Are you watched--kept prisoner?"
"No. I could have run off lots of times. But I was afraid. I'd
only have fallen into worse hands. Euchre has told me that.
Mrs. Bland beats me, half starves me, but she has kept me from
her husband and these other dogs. She's been as good as that,
and I'm grateful. She hasn't done it for love of me, though.
She always hated me. And lately she's growing jealous. There
was' a man came here by the name of Spence--so he called
himself. He tried to be kind to me. But she wouldn't let him.
She was in love with him. She's a bad woman. Bland finally shot
Spence, and that ended that. She's been jealous ever since. I
hear her fighting with Bland about me. She swears she'll kill
me before he gets me. And Bland laughs in her face. Then I've
heard Chess Alloway try to persuade Bland to give me to him.
But Bland doesn't laugh then. Just lately before Bland went
away things almost came to a head. I couldn't sleep. I wished
Mrs. Bland would kill me. I'll certainly kill myself if they
ruin me. Duane, you must be quick if you'd save me."
"I realize that," replied he, thoughtfully. "I think my
difficulty will be to fool Mrs. Bland. If she suspected me
she'd have the whole gang of outlaws on me at once."
"She would that. You've got to be careful--and quick."
"What kind of woman is she?" inquired Duane.
"She's--she's brazen. I've heard her with her lovers. They get
drunk sometimes when Bland's away. She's got a terrible temper.
She's vain. She likes flattery. Oh, you could fool her easy
enough if you'd lower yourself to--to--"
"To make love to her?" interrupted Duane.
Jennie bravely turned shamed eyes to meet his.
"My girl, I'd do worse than that to get you away from here," he
"But--Duane," she faltered, and again she put out the appealing
hand. "Bland will kill you."
Duane made no reply to this. He was trying to still a rising
strange tumult in his breast. The old emotion--the rush of an
instinct to kill! He turned cold all over.
"Chess Alloway will kill you if Bland doesn't," went on Jennie,
with her tragic eyes on Duane's.
"Maybe he will," replied Duane. It was difficult for him to
force a smile. But he achieved one.
"Oh, better take me off at once," she said. "Save me without
risking so much--without making love to Mrs. Bland!"
"Surely, if I can. There! I see Euchre coming with a woman."
"That's her. Oh, she mustn't see me with you."
"Wait--a moment," whispered Duane, as Jennie slipped indoors.
"We've settled it. Don't forget. I'll find some way to get word
to you, perhaps through Euchre. Meanwhile keep up your courage.
Remember I'll save you somehow. We'll try strategy first.
Whatever you see or hear me do, don't think less of me--"
Jennie checked him with a gesture and a wonderful gray flash of
"I'll bless you with every drop of blood in my heart," she
It was only as she turned away into the room that Duane saw she
was lame and that she wore Mexican sandals over bare feet.
He sat down upon a bench on the porch and directed his
attention to the approaching couple. The trees of the grove
were thick enough for him to make reasonably sure that Mrs.
Bland had not seen him talking to Jennie. When the outlaw's
wife drew near Duane saw that she was a tall, strong, full-
bodied woman, rather good-looking with a fullblown, bold
attractiveness. Duane was more concerned with her expression
than with her good looks; and as she appeared unsuspicious he
felt relieved. The situation then took on a singular zest.
Euchre came up on the porch and awkwardly introduced Duane to
Mrs. Bland. She was young, probably not over twenty-five, and
not quite so prepossessing at close range. Her eyes were large,
rather prominent, and brown in color. Her mouth, too, was
large, with the lips full, and she had white teeth.
Duane took her proffered hand and remarked frankly that he was
glad to meet her.
Mrs. Bland appeared pleased; and her laugh, which followed, was
loud and rather musical.
"Mr. Duane--Buck Duane, Euchre said, didn't he?" she asked.
"Buckley," corrected Duane. "The nickname's not of my
"I'm certainly glad to meet you, Buckley Duane," she said, as
she took the seat Duane offered her. "Sorry to have been out.
Kid Fuller's lying over at Deger's. You know he was shot last
night. He's got fever to-day. When Bland's away I have to nurse
all these shot-up boys, and it sure takes my time. Have you
been waiting here alone? Didn't see that slattern girl of
She gave him a sharp glance. The woman had an extraordinary
play of feature, Duane thought, and unless she was smiling was
not pretty at all.
"I've been alone," replied Duane. "Haven't seen anybody but a
sick-looking girl with a bucket. And she ran when she saw me."
"That was Jen," said Mrs. Bland. "She's the kid we keep here,
and she sure hardly pays her keep. Did Euchre tell you about
"Now that I think of it, he did say something or other."
"What did he tell you about me?" bluntly asked Mrs. Bland.
"Wal, Kate," replied Euchre, speaking for himself, "you needn't
worry none, for I told Buck nothin' but compliments."
Evidently the outlaw's wife liked Euchre, for her keen glance
rested with amusement upon him.
"As for Jen, I'll tell you her story some day," went on the
woman. "It's a common enough story along this river. Euchre
here is a tender-hearted old fool, and Jen has taken him in."
"Wal, seein' as you've got me figgered correct," replied
Euchre, dryly, "I'll go in an' talk to Jennie if I may."
"Certainly. Go ahead. Jen calls you her best friend," said Mrs.
Bland, amiably. "You're always fetching some Mexican stuff, and
that's why, I guess."
When Euchre had shuffled into the house Mrs. Bland turned to
Duane with curiosity and interest in her gaze.
"Bland told me about you."
"What did he say?" queried Duane, in pretended alarm.
"Oh, you needn't think he's done you dirt Bland's not that kind
of a man. He said: 'Kate, there's a young fellow in camp--rode
in here on the dodge. He's no criminal, and he refused to join
my band. Wish he would. Slickest hand with a gun I've seen for
many a day! I'd like to see him and Chess meet out there in the
road.' Then Bland went on to tell how you and Bosomer came
"What did you say?" inquired Duane, as she paused.
"Me? Why, I asked him what you looked like," she replied,
"Well?" went on Duane.
"Magnificent chap, Bland said. Bigger than any man in the
valley. Just a great blue-eyed sunburned boy!"
"Humph!" exclaimed Duane. "I'm sorry he led you to expect
somebody worth seeing."
"But I'm not disappointed," she returned, archly. "Duane, are
you going to stay long here in camp?"
"Yes, till I run out of money and have to move. Why?"
Mrs. Bland's face underwent one of the singular changes. The
smiles and flushes and glances, all that had been coquettish
about her, had lent her a certain attractiveness, almost beauty
and youth. But with some powerful emotion she changed and
instantly became a woman of discontent, Duane imagined, of
deep, violent nature.
"I'll tell you, Duane," she said, earnestly, "I'm sure glad if
you mean to bide here awhile. I'm a miserable woman, Duane. I'm
an outlaw's wife, and I hate him and the life I have to lead. I
come of a good family in Brownsville. I never knew Bland was an
outlaw till long after he married me. We were separated at
times, and I imagined he was away on business. But the truth
came out. Bland shot my own cousin, who told me. My family cast
me off, and I had to flee with Bland. I was only eighteen then.
I've lived here since. I never see a decent woman or man. I
never hear anything about my old home or folks or friends. I'm
buried here--buried alive with a lot of thieves and murderers.
Can you blame me for being glad to see a young fellow--a
gentleman--like the boys I used to go with? I tell you it makes
me feel full--I want to cry. I'm sick for somebody to talk to.
I have no children, thank God! If I had I'd not stay here. I'm
sick of this hole. I'm lonely--"
There appeared to be no doubt about the truth of all this.
Genuine emotion checked, then halted the hurried speech. She
broke down and cried. It seemed strange to Duane that an
outlaw's wife--and a woman who fitted her consort and the wild
nature of their surroundings--should have weakness enough to
weep. Duane believed and pitied her.
"I'm sorry for you," he said.
"Don't be SORRY for me," she said. "That only makes me see
the--the difference between you and me. And don't pay any
attention to what these outlaws say about me. They're ignorant.
They couldn't understand me. You'll hear that Bland killed men
who ran after me. But that's a lie. Bland, like all the other
outlaws along this river, is always looking for somebody to
kill. He SWEARS not, but I don't believe him. He explains that
gunplay gravitates to men who are the real thing--that it is
provoked by the four-flushes, the bad men. I don't know. All I
know is that somebody is being killed every other day. He hated
Spence before Spence ever saw me."
"Would Bland object if I called on you occasionally?" inquired
"No, he wouldn't. He likes me to have friends. Ask him yourself
when he comes back. The trouble has been that two or three of
his men fell in love with me, and when half drunk got to
fighting. You're not going to do that."
"I'm not going to get half drunk, that's certain," replied
He was surprised to see her eyes dilate, then glow with fire.
Before she could reply Euchre returned to the porch, and that
put an end to the conversation.
Duane was content to let the matter rest there, and had little
more to say. Euchre and Mrs. Bland talked and joked, while
Duane listened. He tried to form some estimate of her
character. Manifestly she had suffered a wrong, if not worse,
at Bland's hands. She was bitter, morbid, overemotional. If she
was a liar, which seemed likely enough, she was a frank one,
and believed herself. She had no cunning. The thing which
struck Duane so forcibly was that she thirsted for respect. In
that, better than in her weakness of vanity, he thought he had
discovered a trait through which he could manage her.
Once, while he was revolving these thoughts, he happened to
glance into the house, and deep in the shadow of a corner he
caught a pale gleam of Jennie's face with great, staring eyes
on him. She had been watching him, listening to what he said.
He saw from her expression that she had realized what had been
so hard for her to believe. Watching his chance, he flashed a
look at her; and then it seemed to him the change in her face
Later, after he had left Mrs. Bland with a meaning
"Adios--manana," and was walking along beside the old outlaw,
he found himself thinking of the girl instead of the woman, and
of how he had seen her face blaze with hope and gratitude.
That night Duane was not troubled by ghosts haunting his waking
and sleeping hours. He awoke feeling bright and eager, and
grateful to Euchre for having put something worth while into
his mind. During breakfast, however, he was unusually
thoughtful, working over the idea of how much or how little he
would confide in the outlaw. He was aware of Euchre's scrutiny.
"Wal," began the old man, at last, "how'd you make out with the
"Kid?" inquired Duane, tentatively.
"Jennie, I mean. What'd you An' she talk about?"
"We had a little chat. You know you wanted me to cheer her up."
Euchre sat with coffee-cup poised and narrow eyes studying
"Reckon you cheered her, all right. What I'm afeared of is
mebbe you done the job too well."
"Wal, when I went in to Jen last night I thought she was half
crazy. She was burstin' with excitement, an' the look in her
eyes hurt me. She wouldn't tell me a darn word you said. But
she hung onto my hands, an' showed every way without speakin'
how she wanted to thank me fer bringin' you over. Buck, it was
plain to me thet you'd either gone the limit or else you'd been
kinder prodigal of cheer an' hope. I'd hate to think you'd led
Jennie to hope more'n ever would come true."
Euchre paused, and, as there seemed no reply forthcoming, he
"Buck, I've seen some outlaws whose word was good. Mine is. You
can trust me. I trusted you, didn't I, takin' you over there
an' puttin' you wise to my tryin' to help thet poor kid?"
Thus enjoined by Euchre, Duane began to tell the conversations
with Jennie and Mrs. Bland word for word. Long before he had
reached an end Euchre set down the coffee-cup and began to
stare, and at the conclusion of the story his face lost some of
its red color and beads of sweat stood out thickly on his brow.
"Wal, if thet doesn't floor me!" he ejaculated, blinking at
Duane. "Young man, I figgered you was some swift, an' sure to
make your mark on this river; but I reckon I missed your real
caliber. So thet's what it means to be a man! I guess I'd
forgot. Wal, I'm old, an' even if my heart was in the right
place I never was built fer big stunts. Do you know what it'll
take to do all you promised Jen?"
"I haven't any idea," replied Duane, gravely.
"You'll have to pull the wool over Kate Bland's eyes, ant even
if she falls in love with you, which's shore likely, thet won't
be easy. An' she'd kill you in a minnit, Buck, if she ever got
wise. You ain't mistaken her none, are you?"
"Not me, Euchre. She's a woman. I'd fear her more than any
"Wal, you'll have to kill Bland an' Chess Alloway an' Rugg, an'
mebbe some others, before you can ride off into the hills with
"Why? Can't we plan to be nice to Mrs. Bland and then at an
opportune time sneak off without any gun-play?"
"Don't see how on earth," returned Euchre, earnestly. "When
Bland's away he leaves all kinds of spies an' scouts watchin'
the valley trails. They've all got rifles. You couldn't git by
But when the boss is home there's a difference. Only, of
course, him an' Chess keep their eyes peeled. They both stay to
home pretty much, except when they're playin' monte or poker
over at Benson's. So I say the best bet is to pick out a good
time in the afternoon, drift over careless-like with a couple
of hosses, choke Mrs. Bland or knock her on the head, take
Jennie with you, an' make a rush to git out of the valley. If
you had luck you might pull thet stunt without throwin' a gun.
But I reckon the best figgerin' would include dodgin' some lead
an' leavin' at least Bland or Alloway dead behind you. I'm
figgerin', of course, thet when they come home an' find out
you're visitin' Kate frequent they'll jest naturally look fer
results. Chess don't like you, fer no reason except you're
swift on the draw--mebbe swifter 'n him. Thet's the hell of
this gun-play business. No one can ever tell who's the swifter
of two gunmen till they meet. Thet fact holds a fascination
mebbe you'll learn some day. Bland would treat you civil onless
there was reason not to, an' then I don't believe he'd invite
himself to a meetin' with you. He'd set Chess or Rugg to put
you out of the way. Still Bland's no coward, an' if you came
across him at a bad moment you'd have to be quicker 'n you was
"All right. I'll meet what comes," said Duane, quickly. "The
great point is to have horses ready and pick the right moment,
then rush the trick through."
"Thet's the ONLY chance fer success. An' you can't do it
"I'll have to. I wouldn't ask you to help me. Leave you
"Wal, I'll take my chances," replied Euchre, gruffly. "I'm
goin' to help Jennie, you can gamble your last peso on thet.
There's only four men in this camp who would shoot me--Bland,
an' his right-hand pards, an' thet rabbit-faced Benson. If you
happened to put out Bland and Chess, I'd stand a good show with
the other two. Anyway, I'm old an' tired--what's the difference
if I do git plugged? I can risk as much as you, Buck, even if I
am afraid of gun-play. You said correct, 'Hosses ready, the
right minnit, then rush the trick.' Thet much 's settled. Now
let's figger all the little details."
They talked and planned, though in truth it was Euchre who
planned, Duane who listened and agreed. While awaiting the
return of Bland and his lieutenants it would be well for Duane
to grow friendly with the other outlaws, to sit in a few games
of monte, or show a willingness to spend a little money. The
two schemers were to call upon Mrs. Bland every day--Euchre to
carry messages of cheer and warning to Jennie, Duane to blind
the elder woman at any cost. These preliminaries decided upon,
they proceeded to put them into action.
No hard task was it to win the friendship of the most of those
good-natured outlaws. They were used to men of a better order
than theirs coming to the hidden camps and sooner or later
sinking to their lower level. Besides, with them everything was
easy come, easy go. That was why life itself went on so
carelessly and usually ended so cheaply. There were men among
them, however, that made Duane feel that terrible inexplicable
wrath rise in his breast. He could not bear to be near them. He
could not trust himself. He felt that any instant a word, a
deed, something might call too deeply to that instinct he could
no longer control. Jackrabbit Benson was one of these men.
Because of him and other outlaws of his ilk Duane could
scarcely ever forget the reality of things. This was a hidden
valley, a robbers' den, a rendezvous for murderers, a wild
place stained red by deeds of wild men. And because of that
there was always a charged atmosphere. The merriest, idlest,
most careless moment might in the flash of an eye end in
ruthless and tragic action. In an assemblage of desperate
characters it could not be otherwise. The terrible thing that
Duane sensed was this. The valley was beautiful, sunny,
fragrant, a place to dream in; the mountaintops were always
blue or gold rimmed, the yellow river slid slowly and
majestically by, the birds sang in the cottonwoods, the horses
grazed and pranced, children played and women longed for love,
freedom, happiness; the outlaws rode in and out, free with
money and speech; they lived comfortably in their adobe homes,
smoked, gambled, talked, laughed, whiled away the idle
hours--and all the time life there was wrong, and the simplest
moment might be precipitated by that evil into the most awful
of contrasts. Duane felt rather than saw a dark, brooding
shadow over the valley.
Then, without any solicitation or encouragement from Duane, the
Bland woman fell passionately in love with him. His conscience
was never troubled about the beginning of that affair. She
launched herself. It took no great perspicuity on his part to
see that. And the thing which evidently held her in check was
the newness, the strangeness, and for the moment the
all-satisfying fact of his respect for her. Duane exerted
himself to please, to amuse, to interest, to fascinate her, and
always with deference. That was his strong point, and it had
made his part easy so far. He believed he could carry the whole
scheme through without involving himself any deeper.
He was playing at a game of love--playing with life and deaths
Sometimes he trembled, not that he feared Bland or Alloway or
any other man, but at the deeps of life he had come to see
into. He was carried out of his old mood. Not once since this
daring motive had stirred him had he been haunted by the
phantom of Bain beside his bed. Rather had he been haunted by
Jennie's sad face, her wistful smile, her eyes. He never was
able to speak a word to her. What little communication he had
with her was through Euchre, who carried short messages. But he
caught glimpses of her every time he went to the Bland house.
She contrived somehow to pass door or window, to give him a
look when chance afforded. And Duane discovered with surprise
that these moments were more thrilling to him than any with
Mrs. Bland. Often Duane knew Jennie was sitting just inside the
window, and then he felt inspired in his talk, and it was all
made for her. So at least she came to know him while as yet she
was almost a stranger. Jennie had been instructed by Euchre to
listen, to understand that this was Duane's only chance to help
keep her mind from constant worry, to gather the import of
every word which had a double meaning.
Euchre said that the girl had begun to wither under the strain,
to burn up with intense hope which had flamed within her. But
all the difference Duane could see was a paler face and darker,
more wonderful eyes. The eyes seemed to be entreating him to
hurry, that time was flying, that soon it might be too late.
Then there was another meaning in them, a light, a strange fire
wholly inexplicable to Duane. It was only a flash gone in an
instant. But he remembered it because he had never seen it in
any other woman's eyes. And all through those waiting days he
knew that Jennie's face, and especially the warm, fleeting
glance she gave him, was responsible for a subtle and gradual
change in him. This change he fancied, was only that through
remembrance of her he got rid of his pale, sickening ghosts.
One day a careless Mexican threw a lighted cigarette up into
the brush matting that served as a ceiling for Benson's den,
and there was a fire which left little more than the adobe
walls standing. The result was that while repairs were being
made there was no gambling and drinking. Time hung very heavily
on the hands of some two-score outlaws. Days passed by without
a brawl, and Bland's valley saw more successive hours of peace
than ever before. Duane, however, found the hours anything but
empty. He spent more time at Mrs. Bland's; he walked miles on
all the trails leading out of the valley; he had a care for the
condition of his two horses.
Upon his return from the latest of these tramps Euchre
suggested that they go down to the river to the boat-landing.
"Ferry couldn't run ashore this mornin'," said Euchre. "River
gettin' low an' sand-bars makin' it hard fer hosses. There's a
greaser freight-wagon stuck in the mud. I reckon we might hear
news from the freighters. Bland's supposed to be in Mexico."
Nearly all the outlaws in camp were assembled on the riverbank,
lolling in the shade of the cottonwoods. The heat was
oppressive. Not an outlaw offered to help the freighters, who
were trying to dig a heavily freighted wagon out of the
quicksand. Few outlaws would work for themselves, let alone for
the despised Mexicans.
Duane and Euchre joined the lazy group and sat down with them.
Euchre lighted a black pipe, and, drawing his hat over his
eyes, lay back in comfort after the manner of the majority of
the outlaws. But Duane was alert, observing, thoughtful. He
never missed anything. It was his belief that any moment an
idle word might be of benefit to him. Moreover, these rough men
were always interesting.
"Bland's been chased across the river," said one.
"New, he's deliverin' cattle to thet Cuban ship," replied
"Big deal on, hey?"
"Some big. Rugg says the boss hed an order fer fifteen
"Say, that order'll take a year to fill."
"New. Hardin is in cahoots with Bland. Between 'em they'll fill
orders bigger 'n thet."
"Wondered what Hardin was rustlin' in here fer."
Duane could not possibly attend to all the conversation among
the outlaws. He endeavored to get the drift of talk nearest to
"Kid Fuller's goin' to cash," said a sandy-whiskered little
"So Jim was tellin' me. Blood-poison, ain't it? Thet hole
wasn't bad. But he took the fever," rejoined a comrade.
"Deger says the Kid might pull through if he hed nursin'."
"Wal, Kate Bland ain't nursin' any shot-up boys these days. She
hasn't got time."
A laugh followed this sally; then came a penetrating silence.
Some of the outlaws glanced good-naturedly at Duane. They bore
him no ill will. Manifestly they were aware of Mrs. Bland's
"Pete, 'pears to me you've said thet before."
"Shore. Wal, it's happened before."
This remark drew louder laughter and more significant glances
at Duane. He did not choose to ignore them any longer.
"Boys, poke all the fun you like at me, but don't mention any
lady's name again. My hand is nervous and itchy these days."
He smiled as he spoke, and his speech was drawled; but the good
humor in no wise weakened it. Then his latter remark was
significant to a class of men who from inclination and
necessity practiced at gun-drawing until they wore callous and
sore places on their thumbs and inculcated in the very deeps of
their nervous organization a habit that made even the simplest
and most innocent motion of the hand end at or near the hip.
There was something remarkable about a gun-fighter's hand. It
never seemed to be gloved, never to be injured, never out of
sight or in an awkward position.
There were grizzled outlaws in that group, some of whom had
many notches on their gun-handles, and they, with their
comrades, accorded Duane silence that carried conviction of the
regard in which he was held.
Duane could not recall any other instance where he had let fall
a familiar speech to these men, and certainly he had never
before hinted of his possibilities. He saw instantly that he
could not have done better.
"Orful hot, ain't it?" remarked Bill Black, presently. Bill
could not keep quiet for long. He was a typical Texas
desperado, had never been anything else. He was
stoop-shouldered and bow-legged from much riding; a wiry little
man, all muscle, with a square head, a hard face partly black
from scrubby beard and red from sun, and a bright, roving,
cruel eye. His shirt was open at the neck, showing a grizzled
"Is there any guy in this heah outfit sport enough to go
swimmin'?" he asked.
"My Gawd, Bill, you ain't agoin' to wash!" exclaimed a comrade.
This raised a laugh in which Black joined. But no one seemed
eager to join him in a bath.
"Laziest outfit I ever rustled with," went on Bill,
discontentedly. "Nuthin' to do! Say, if nobody wants to swim
maybe some of you'll gamble?"
He produced a dirty pack of cards and waved them at the
"Bill, you're too good at cards," replied a lanky outlaw.
"Now, Jasper, you say thet powerful sweet, an' you look sweet,
er I might take it to heart," replied Black, with a sudden
change of tone.
Here it was again--that upflashing passion. What Jasper saw fit
to reply would mollify the outlaw or it would not. There was an
"No offense, Bill," said Jasper, placidly, without moving.
Bill grunted and forgot Jasper. But he seemed restless and
dissatisfied. Duane knew him to be an inveterate gambler. And
as Benson's place was out of running-order, Black was like a
fish on dry land.
"Wal, if you-all are afraid of the cairds, what will you bet
on?" he asked, in disgust.
"Bill, I'll play you a game of mumbly peg fer two bits."
Black eagerly accepted. Betting to him was a serious matter.
The game obsessed him, not the stakes. He entered into the
mumbly peg contest with a thoughtful mien and a corded brow. He
won. Other comrades tried their luck with him and lost.
Finally, when Bill had exhausted their supply of two-bit pieces
or their desire for that particular game, he offered to bet on
"See thet turtle-dove there?" he said, pointing. "I'll bet
he'll scare at one stone or he won't. Five pesos he'll fly or
he won't fly when some one chucks a stone. Who'll take me up?"
That appeared to be more than the gambling spirit of several
outlaws could withstand.
"Take thet. Easy money," said one.
"Who's goin' to chuck the stone?" asked another.
"Anybody," replied Bill.
"Wal, I'll bet you I can scare him with one stone," said the
"We're in on thet, Jim to fire the darnick," chimed in the
The money was put up, the stone thrown. The turtle-dove took
flight, to the great joy of all the outlaws except Bill.
"I'll bet you-all he'll come back to thet tree inside of five
minnits," he offered, imperturbably.
Hereupon the outlaws did not show any laziness in their
alacrity to cover Bill's money as it lay on the grass. Somebody
had a watch, and they all sat down, dividing attention between
the timepiece and the tree. The minutes dragged by to the
accompaniment of various jocular remarks anent a fool and his
money. When four and three-quarter minutes had passed a
turtle-dove alighted in the cottonwood. Then ensued an
impressive silence while Bill calmly pocketed the fifty
"But it hadn't the same dove!" exclaimed one outlaw, excitedly.
"This 'n'is smaller, dustier, not so purple."
Bill eyed the speaker loftily.
"Wal, you'll have to ketch the other one to prove thet. Sabe,
pard? Now I'll bet any gent heah the fifty I won thet I can
scare thet dove with one stone."
No one offered to take his wager.
"Wal, then, I'll bet any of you even money thet you CAN'T scare
him with one stone."
Not proof against this chance, the outlaws made up a purse, in
no wise disconcerted by Bill's contemptuous allusions to their
banding together. The stone was thrown. The dove did not fly.
Thereafter, in regard to that bird, Bill was unable to coax or
scorn his comrades into any kind of wager.
He tried them with a multiplicity of offers, and in vain. Then
he appeared at a loss for some unusual and seductive wager.
Presently a little ragged Mexican boy came along the river
trail, a particularly starved and poor-looking little fellow.
Bill called to him and gave him a handful of silver coins.
Speechless, dazed, he went his way hugging the money.
"I'll bet he drops some before he gits to the road," declared
Bill. "I'll bet he runs. Hurry, you four-flush gamblers."
Bill failed to interest any of his companions, and forthwith
became sullen and silent. Strangely his good humor departed in
spite of the fact that he had won considerable.
Duane, watching the disgruntled outlaw, marveled at him and
wondered what was in his mind. These men were more variable
than children, as unstable as water, as dangerous as dynamite.
"Bill, I'll bet you ten you can't spill whatever's in the
bucket thet peon's packin'," said the outlaw called Jim.
Black's head came up with the action of a hawk about to swoop.
Duane glanced from Black to the road, where he saw a crippled
peon carrying a tin bucket toward the river. This peon was a
half-witted Indian who lived in a shack and did odd jobs for
the Mexicans. Duane had met him often.
"Jim, I'll take you up," replied Black.
Something, perhaps a harshness in his voice, caused Duane to
whirl. He caught a leaping gleam in the outlaw's eye.
"Aw, Bill, thet's too fur a shot," said Jasper, as Black rested
an elbow on his knee and sighted over the long, heavy Colt. The
distance to the peon was about fifty paces, too far for even
the most expert shot to hit a moving object so small as a
Duane, marvelously keen in the alignment of sights, was
positive that Black held too high. Another look at the hard
face, now tense and dark with blood, confirmed Duane's
suspicion that the outlaw was not aiming at the bucket at all.
Duane leaped and struck the leveled gun out of his hand.
Another outlaw picked it up.
Black fell back astounded. Deprived of his weapon, he did not
seem the same man, or else he was cowed by Duane's significant
and formidable front. Sullenly he turned away without even
asking for his gun.
What a contrast, Duane thought, the evening of that day
presented to the state of his soul!
The sunset lingered in golden glory over the distant Mexican
mountains; twilight came slowly; a faint breeze blew from the
river cool and sweet; the late cooing of a dove and the tinkle
of a cowbell were the only sounds; a serene and tranquil peace
lay over the valley.
Inside Duane's body there was strife. This third facing of a
desperate man had thrown him off his balance. It had not been
fatal, but it threatened so much. The better side of his nature
seemed to urge him to die rather than to go on fighting or
opposing ignorant, unfortunate, savage men. But the perversity
of him was so great that it dwarfed reason, conscience. He
could not resist it. He felt something dying in him. He
suffered. Hope seemed far away. Despair had seized upon him and
was driving him into a reckless mood when he thought of Jennie.
He had forgotten her. He had forgotten that he had promised to
save her. He had forgotten that he meant to snuff out as many
lives as might stand between her and freedom. The very
remembrance sheered off his morbid introspection. She made a
difference. How strange for him to realize that! He felt
grateful to her. He had been forced into outlawry; she had been
stolen from her people and carried into captivity. They had met
in the river fastness, he to instil hope into her despairing
life, she to be the means, perhaps, of keeping him from sinking
to the level of her captors. He became conscious of a strong
and beating desire to see her, talk with her.
These thoughts had run through his mind while on his way to
Mrs. Bland's house. He had let Euchre go on ahead because he
wanted more time to compose himself. Darkness had about set in
when he reached his destination. There was no light in the
house. Mrs. Bland was waiting for him on the porch.
She embraced him, and the sudden, violent, unfamiliar contact
sent such a shock through him that he all but forgot the deep
game he was playing. She, however, in her agitation did not
notice his shrinking. From her embrace and the tender,
incoherent words that flowed with it he gathered that Euchre
had acquainted her of his action with Black.
"He might have killed your" she whispered, more clearly; and if
Duane had ever heard love in a voice he heard it then. It
softened him. After all, she was a woman, weak, fated through
her nature, unfortunate in her experience of life, doomed to
unhappiness and tragedy. He met her advance so far that he
returned the embrace and kissed her. Emotion such as she showed
would have made any woman sweet, and she had a certain charm.
It was easy, even pleasant, to kiss her; but Duane resolved
that, whatever her abandonment might become, he would not go
further than the lie she made him act.
"Buck, you love me?" she whispered.
"Yes--yes," he burst out, eager to get it over, and even as he
spoke he caught the pale gleam of Jennie's face through the
window. He felt a shame he was glad she could not see. Did she
remember that she had promised not to misunderstand any action
of his? What did she think of him, seeing him out there in the
dusk with this bold woman in his arms? Somehow that dim sight
of Jennie's pale face, the big dark eyes, thrilled him,
inspired him to his hard task of the present.
"Listen, dear," he said to the woman, and he meant his words
for the girl. "I'm going to take you away from this outlaw den
if I have to kill Bland, Alloway, Rugg--anybody who stands in
my path. You were dragged here. You are good--I know it.
There's happiness for you somewhere--a home among good people
who will care for you. Just wait till--"
His voice trailed off and failed from excess of emotion. Kate
Bland closed her eyes and leaned her head on his breast. Duane
felt her heart beat against his, and conscience smote him a
keen blow. If she loved him so much! But memory and
understanding of her character hardened him again, and he gave
her such commiseration as was due her sex, and no more.
"Boy, that's good of you," she whispered, "but it's too late.
I'm done for. I can't leave Bland. All I ask is that you love
me a little and stop your gun-throwing."
The moon had risen over the eastern bulge of dark mountain, and
now the valley was flooded with mellow light, and shadows of
cottonwoods wavered against the silver.
Suddenly the clip-clop, clip-clop of hoofs caused Duane to
raise his head and listen. Horses were coming down the road
from the head of the valley. The hour was unusual for riders to
come in. Presently the narrow, moonlit lane was crossed at its
far end by black moving objects. Two horses Duane discerned.
"It's Bland!" whispered the woman, grasping Duane with shaking
hands. "You must run! No, he'd see you. That 'd be worse. It's
Bland! I know his horse's trot."
"But you said he wouldn't mind my calling here," protested
Duane. "Euchre's with me. It'll be all right."
"Maybe so," she replied, with visible effort at self-control.
Manifestly she had a great fear of Bland. "If I could only
Then she dragged Duane to the door, pushed him in.
"Euchre, come out with me! Duane, you stay with the girl! I'll
tell Bland you're in love with her. Jen, if you give us away
I'll wring your neck."
The swift action and fierce whisper told Duane that Mrs. Bland
was herself again. Duane stepped close to Jennie, who stood
near the window. Neither spoke, but her hands were outstretched
to meet his own. They were small, trembling hands, cold as ice.
He held them close, trying to convey what he felt--that he
would protect her. She leaned against him, and they looked out
of the window. Duane felt calm and sure of himself. His most
pronounced feeling besides that for the frightened girl was a
curiosity as to how Mrs. Bland would rise to the occasion. He
saw the riders dismount down the lane and wearily come forward.
A boy led away the horses. Euchre, the old fox, was talking
loud and with remarkable ease, considering what he claimed was
his natural cowardice.
"--that was way back in the sixties, about the time of the
war," he was saying. "Rustlin' cattle wasn't nuthin' then to
what it is now. An' times is rougher these days. This
gun-throwin' has come to be a disease. Men have an itch for the
draw same as they used to have fer poker. The only real gambler
outside of greasers we ever had here was Bill, an' I presume
Bill is burnin' now."
The approaching outlaws, hearing voices, halted a rod or so
from the porch. Then Mrs. Bland uttered an exclamation,
ostensibly meant to express surprise, and hurried out to meet
them. She greeted her husband warmly and gave welcome to the
other man. Duane could not see well enough in the shadow to
recognize Bland's companion, but he believed it was Alloway.
"Dog-tired we are and starved," said Bland, heavily. "Who's
here with you?"
"That's Euchre on the porch. Duane is inside at the window with
Jen," replied Mrs. Bland.
"Duane!" he exclaimed. Then he whispered low--something Duane
could not catch.
"Why, I asked him to come," said the chief's wife. She spoke
easily and naturally and made no change in tone. "Jen has been
ailing. She gets thinner and whiter every day. Duane came here
one day with Euchre, saw Jen, and went loony over her pretty
face, same as all you men. So I let him come."
Bland cursed low and deep under his breath. The other man made
a violent action of some kind and apparently was quieted by a
"Kate, you let Duane make love to Jennie?" queried Bland,
"Yes, I did," replied the wife, stubbornly. "Why not? Jen's in
love with him. If he takes her away and marries her she can be
a decent woman."
Bland kept silent a moment, then his laugh pealed out loud and
"Chess, did you get that? Well, by God! what do you think of my
"She's lyin' or she's crazy," replied Alloway, and his voice
carried an unpleasant ring.
Mrs. Bland promptly and indignantly told her husband's
lieutenant to keep his mouth shut.
"Ho, ho, ho!" rolled out Bland's laugh.
Then he led the way to the porch, his spurs clinking, the
weapons he was carrying rattling, and he flopped down on a
"How are you, boss?" asked Euchre.
"Hello, old man. I'm well, but all in."
Alloway slowly walked on to the porch and leaned against the
rail. He answered Euchre's greeting with a nod. Then he stood
there a dark, silent figure.
Mrs. Bland's full voice in eager questioning had a tendency to
ease the situation. Bland replied briefly to her, reporting a
remarkably successful trip.
Duane thought it time to show himself. He had a feeling that
Bland and Alloway would let him go for the moment. They were
plainly non-plussed, and Alloway seemed sullen, brooding.
"Jennie," whispered Duane, "that was clever of Mrs. Bland.
We'll keep up the deception. Any day now be ready!"
She pressed close to him, and a barely audible "Hurry!" came
breathing into his ear.
"Good night, Jennie," he said, aloud. "Hope you feel better
Then he stepped out into the moonlight and spoke. Bland
returned the greeting, and, though he was not amiable, he did
not show resentment.
"Met Jasper as I rode in," said Bland, presently. "He told me
you made Bill Black mad, and there's liable to be a fight. What
did you go off the handle about?"
Duane explained the incident. "I'm sorry I happened to be
there," he went on. "It wasn't my business."
"Scurvy trick that 'd been," muttered Bland. "You did right.
All the same, Duane, I want you to stop quarreling with my men.
If you were one of us--that'd be different. I can't keep my men
from fighting. But I'm not called on to let an outsider hang
around my camp and plug my rustlers."
"I guess I'll have to be hitting the trail for somewhere," said
"Why not join my band? You've got a bad start already, Duane,
and if I know this border you'll never be a respectable citizen
again. You're a born killer. I know every bad man on this
frontier. More than one of them have told me that something
exploded in their brain, and when sense came back there lay
another dead man. It's not so with me. I've done a little
shooting, too, but I never wanted to kill another man just to
rid myself of the last one. My dead men don't sit on my chest
at night. That's the gun-fighter's trouble. He's crazy. He has
to kill a new man--he's driven to it to forget the last one."
"But I'm no gun-fighter," protested Duane. "Circumstances made
"No doubt," interrupted Bland, with a laugh. "Circumstances
made me a rustler. You don't know yourself. You're young;
you've got a temper; your father was one of the most dangerous
men Texas ever had. I don't see any other career for you.
Instead of going it alone--a lone wolf, as the Texans say--why
not make friends with other outlaws? You'll live longer."
Euchre squirmed in his seat.
"Boss, I've been givin' the boy egzactly thet same line of
talk. Thet's why I took him in to bunk with me. If he makes
pards among us there won't be any more trouble. An' he'd be a
grand feller fer the gang. I've seen Wild Bill Hickok throw a
gun, an' Billy the Kid, an' Hardin, an' Chess here--all the
fastest men on the border. An' with apologies to present
company, I'm here to say Duane has them all skinned. His draw
is different. You can't see how he does it."
Euchre's admiring praise served to create an effective little
silence. Alloway shifted uneasily on his feet, his spurs
jangling faintly, and did not lift his head. Bland seemed
"That's about the only qualification I have to make me eligible
for your band," said Duane, easily.
"It's good enough," replied Bland, shortly. "Will you consider
"I'll think it over. Good night."
He left the group, followed by Euchre. When they reached the
end of the lane, and before they had exchanged a word, Bland
called Euchre back. Duane proceeded slowly along the moonlit
road to the cabin and sat down under the cottonwoods to wait
for Euchre. The night was intense and quiet, a low hum of
insects giving the effect of a congestion of life. The beauty
of the soaring moon, the ebony canons of shadow under the
mountain, the melancholy serenity of the perfect night, made
Duane shudder in the realization of how far aloof he now was
from enjoyment of these things. Never again so long as he lived
could he be natural. His mind was clouded. His eye and ear
henceforth must register impressions of nature, but the joy of
them had fled.
Still, as he sat there with a foreboding of more and darker
work ahead of him there was yet a strange sweetness left to
him, and it lay in thought of Jennie. The pressure of her cold
little hands lingered in his. He did not think of her as a
woman, and he did not analyze his feelings. He just had vague,
dreamy thoughts and imaginations that were interspersed in the
constant and stern revolving of plans to save her.
A shuffling step roused him. Euchre's dark figure came crossing
the moonlit grass under the cottonwoods. The moment the outlaw
reached him Duane saw that he was laboring under great
excitement. It scarcely affected Duane. He seemed to be
acquiring patience, calmness, strength.
"Bland kept you pretty long," he said.
"Wait till I git my breath," replied Euchre. He sat silent a
little while, fanning himself with a sombrero, though the night
was cool, and then he went into the cabin to return presently
with a lighted pipe.
"Fine night," he said; and his tone further acquainted Duane
with Euchre's quaint humor. "Fine night for love-affairs, by
"I'd noticed that," rejoined Duane, dryly.
"Wal, I'm a son of a gun if I didn't stand an' watch Bland
choke his wife till her tongue stuck out an' she got black in
"No!" ejaculated Duane.
"Hope to die if I didn't. Buck, listen to this here yarn. When
I got back to the porch I seen Bland was wakin' up. He'd been
too fagged out to figger much. Alloway an' Kate had gone in the
house, where they lit up the lamps. I heard Kate's high voice,
but Alloway never chirped. He's not the talkin' kind, an' he's
damn dangerous when he's thet way. Bland asked me some
questions right from the shoulder. I was ready for them, an' I
swore the moon was green cheese. He was satisfied. Bland always
trusted me, an' liked me, too, I reckon. I hated to lie black
thet way. But he's a hard man with bad intentions toward
Jennie, an' I'd double-cross him any day.
"Then we went into the house. Jennie had gone to her little
room, an' Bland called her to come out. She said she was
undressin'. An' he ordered her to put her clothes back on.
Then, Buck, his next move was some surprisin'. He deliberately
thronged a gun on Kate. Yes sir, he pointed his big blue Colt
right at her, an' he says:
"'I've a mind to blow out your brains.'
"'Go ahead,' says Kate, cool as could be.
"'You lied to me,' he roars.
"Kate laughed in his face. Bland slammed the gun down an' made
a grab fer her. She fought him, but wasn't a match fer him, an'
he got her by the throat. He choked her till I thought she was
strangled. Alloway made him stop. She flopped down on the bed
an' gasped fer a while. When she come to them hardshelled
cusses went after her, trying to make her give herself away. I
think Bland was jealous. He suspected she'd got thick with you
an' was foolin' him. I reckon thet's a sore feelin' fer a man
to have--to guess pretty nice, but not to BE sure. Bland gave
it up after a while. An' then he cussed an' raved at her. One
sayin' of his is worth pinnin' in your sombrero: 'It ain't
nuthin' to kill a man. I don't need much fer thet. But I want
to KNOW, you hussy!'
"Then he went in an' dragged poor Jen out. She'd had time to
dress. He was so mad he hurt her sore leg. You know Jen got
thet injury fightin' off one of them devils in the dark. An'
when I seen Bland twist her--hurt her--I had a queer hot
feelin' deep down in me, an' fer the only time in my life I
wished I was a gun-fighter.
"Wal, Jen amazed me. She was whiter'n a sheet, an' her eyes
were big and stary, but she had nerve. Fust time I ever seen
her show any.
"'Jennie,' he said, 'my wife said Duane came here to see you. I
believe she's lyin'. I think she's been carryin' on with him,
an' I want to KNOW. If she's been an' you tell me the truth
I'll let you go. I'll send you out to Huntsville, where you can
communicate with your friends. I'll give you money.'
"Thet must hev been a hell of a minnit fer Kate Bland. If evet
I seen death in a man's eye I seen it in Bland's. He loves her.
Thet's the strange part of it.
"'Has Duane been comin' here to see my wife?' Bland asked,
"'No,' said Jennie.
"'He's been after you?'
"'He has fallen in love with you? Kate said thet.'
"'I--I'm not--I don't know--he hasn't told me.'
"'But you're in love with him?'
"'Yes,' she said; an', Buck, if you only could have seen her!
She thronged up her head, an' her eyes were full of fire. Bland
seemed dazed at sight of her. An' Alloway, why, thet little
skunk of an outlaw cried right out. He was hit plumb center.
He's in love with Jen. An' the look of her then was enough to
make any feller quit. He jest slunk out of the room. I told
you, mebbe, thet he'd been tryin' to git Bland to marry Jen to
him. So even a tough like Alloway can love a woman!
"Bland stamped up an' down the room. He sure was dyin' hard.
"'Jennie,' he said, once more turnin' to her. 'You swear in
fear of your life thet you're tellin' truth. Kate's not in love
with Duane? She's let him come to see you? There's been nuthin'
"'No. I swear,' answered Jennie; an' Bland sat down like a man
"'Go to bed, you white-faced--' Bland choked on some word or
other--a bad one, I reckon--an' he positively shook in his
"Jennie went then, an' Kate began to have hysterics. An' your
Uncle Euchre ducked his nut out of the door an' come home."
Duane did not have a word to say at the end of Euchre's long
harangue. He experienced relief. As a matter of fact, he had
expected a good deal worse. He thrilled at the thought of
Jennie perjuring herself to save that abandoned woman. What
mysteries these feminine creatures were!
"Wal, there's where our little deal stands now," resumed
Euchre, meditatively. "You know, Buck, as well as me thet if
you'd been some feller who hadn't shown he was a wonder with a
gun you'd now be full of lead. If you'd happen to kill Bland
an' Alloway, I reckon you'd be as safe on this here border as
you would in Santone. Such is gun fame in this land of the
Both men were awake early, silent with the premonition of
trouble ahead, thoughtful of the fact that the time for the
long-planned action was at hand. It was remarkable that a man
as loquacious as Euchre could hold his tongue so long; and this
was significant of the deadly nature of the intended deed.
During breakfast he said a few words customary in the service
of food. At the conclusion of the meal he seemed to come to an
end of deliberation.
"Buck, the sooner the better now," he declared, with a glint in
his eye. "The more time we use up now the less surprised
"I'm ready when you are," replied Duane, quietly, and he rose
from the table.
"Wal, saddle up, then," went on Euchre, gruffly. "Tie on them
two packs I made, one fer each saddle. You can't tell--mebbe
either hoss will be carryin' double. It's good they're both
big, strong hosses. Guess thet wasn't a wise move of your Uncle
Euchre's--bringin' in your hosses an' havin' them ready?"
"Euchre, I hope you're not going to get in bad here. I'm afraid
you are. Let me do the rest now," said Duane.
The old outlaw eyed him sarcastically.
"Thet 'd be turrible now, wouldn't it? If you want to know,
why, I'm in bad already. I didn't tell you thet Alloway called
me last night. He's gettin' wise pretty quick."
"Euchre, you're going with me?" queried Duane, suddenly
divining the truth. '
"Wal, I reckon. Either to hell or safe over the mountain! I
wisht I was a gun-fighter. I hate to leave here without takin'
a peg at Jackrabbit Benson. Now, Buck, you do some hard
figgerin' while I go nosin' round. It's pretty early, which 's
all the better."
Euchre put on his sombrero, and as he went out Duane saw that
he wore a gun-and-cartridge belt. It was the first time Duane
had ever seen the outlaw armed.
Duane packed his few belongings into his saddlebags, and then
carried the saddles out to the corral. An abundance of alfalfa
in the corral showed that the horses had fared well. They had
gotten almost fat during his stay in the valley. He watered
them, put on the saddles loosely cinched, and then the bridles.
His next move was to fill the two canvas water-bottles. That
done, he returned to the cabin to wait.
At the moment he felt no excitement or agitation of any kind.
There was no more thinking and planning to do. The hour had
arrived, and he was ready. He understood perfectly the
desperate chances he must take. His thoughts became confined to
Euchre and the surprising loyalty and goodness in the hardened
old outlaw. Time passed slowly. Duane kept glancing at his
watch. He hoped to start the thing and get away before the
outlaws were out of their beds. Finally he heard the shuffle of
Euchre's boots on the hard path. The sound was quicker than
When Euchre came around the corner of the cabin Duane was not
so astounded as he was concerned to see the outlaw white and
shaking. Sweat dripped from him. He had a wild look.
"Luck ours--so-fur, Buck!" he panted.
"You don't look it," replied Duane.
"I'm turrible sick. Jest killed a man. Fust one I ever killed!"
"Who?" asked Duane, startled.
"Jackrabbit Benson. An' sick as I am, I'm gloryin' in it. I
went nosin' round up the road. Saw Alloway goin' into Deger's.
He's thick with the Degers. Reckon he's askin' questions.
Anyway, I was sure glad to see him away from Bland's. An' he
didn't see me. When I dropped into Benson's there wasn't nobody
there but Jackrabbit an' some greasers he was startin' to work.
Benson never had no use fer me. An' he up an' said he wouldn't
give a two-bit piece fer my life. I asked him why.
"'You're double-crossin' the boss an' Chess,' he said.
"'Jack, what 'd you give fer your own life?' I asked him.
"He straightened up surprised an' mean-lookin'. An' I let him
have it, plumb center! He wilted, an' the greasers run. I
reckon I'll never sleep again. But I had to do it."
Duane asked if the shot had attracted any attention outside.
"I didn't see anybody but the greasers, an' I sure looked
sharp. Comin' back I cut across through the cottonwoods past
Bland's cabin. I meant to keep out of sight, but somehow I had
an idee I might find out if Bland was awake yet. Sure enough I
run plumb into Beppo, the boy who tends Bland's hosses. Beppo
likes me. An' when I inquired of his boss he said Bland had
been up all night fightin' with the Senora. An', Buck, here's
how I figger. Bland couldn't let up last night. He was sore,
an' he went after Kate again, tryin' to wear her down. Jest as
likely he might have went after Jennie, with wuss intentions.
Anyway, he an' Kate must have had it hot an' heavy. We're
"It seems so. Well, I'm going," said Duane, tersely.
"Lucky! I should smiler Bland's been up all night after a most
draggin' ride home. He'll be fagged out this mornin', sleepy,
sore, an' he won't be expectin' hell before breakfast. Now, you
walk over to his house. Meet him how you like. Thet's your
game. But I'm suggestin', if he comes out an' you want to
parley, you can jest say you'd thought over his proposition an'
was ready to join his band, or you ain't. You'll have to kill
him, an' it 'd save time to go fer your gun on sight. Might be
wise, too, fer it's likely he'll do thet same."
"How about the horses?"
"I'll fetch them an' come along about two minnits behind you.
'Pears to me you ought to have the job done an' Jennie outside
by the time I git there. Once on them hosses, we can ride out
of camp before Alloway or anybody else gits into action. Jennie
ain't much heavier than a rabbit. Thet big black will carry you
"All right. But once more let me persuade you to stay--not to
mix any more in this," said Duane, earnestly.
"Nope. I'm goin'. You heard what Benson told me. Alloway
wouldn't give me the benefit of any doubts. Buck, a last
word--look out fer thet Bland woman!"
Duane merely nodded, and then, saying that the horses were
ready, he strode away through the grove. Accounting for the
short cut across grove and field, it was about five minutes'
walk up to Bland's house. To Duane it seemed long in time and
distance, and he had difficulty in restraining his pace. As he
walked there came a gradual and subtle change in his feelings.
Again he was going out to meet a man in conflict. He could have
avoided this meeting. But despite the fact of his courting the
encounter he had not as yet felt that hot, inexplicable rush of
blood. The motive of this deadly action was not personal, and
somehow that made a difference.
No outlaws were in sight. He saw several Mexican herders with
cattle. Blue columns of smoke curled up over some of the
cabins. The fragrant smell of it reminded Duane of his home and
cutting wood for the stove. He noted a cloud of creamy mist
rising above the river, dissolving in the sunlight.
Then he entered Bland's lane.
While yet some distance from the cabin he heard loud, angry
voices of man and woman. Bland and Kate still quarreling! He
took a quick survey of the surroundings. There was now not even
a Mexican in sight. Then he hurried a little. Halfway down the
lane he turned his head to peer through the cottonwoods. This
time he saw Euchre coming with the horses. There was no
indication that the old outlaw might lose his nerve at the end.
Duane had feared this.
Duane now changed his walk to a leisurely saunter. He reached
the porch and then distinguished what was said inside the
"If you do, Bland, by Heaven I'll fix you and her!" That was
panted out in Kate Bland's full voice.
"Let me looser I'm going in there, I tell you!" replied Bland,
"I want to make a little love to her. Ha! ha! It'll be fun to
have the laugh on her new lover."
"You lie!" cried Kate Bland.
"I'm not saying what I'll do to her AFTERWARD!" His voice grew
hoarser with passion. "Let me go now!"
"No! no! I won't let you go. You'll choke the--the truth out of
her--you'll kill her."
"The TRUTH!" hissed Bland.
"Yes. I lied. Jen lied. But she lied to save me. You
needn't--murder her--for that."
Bland cursed horribly. Then followed a wrestling sound of
bodies in violent straining contact--the scrape of feet--the
jangle of spurs--a crash of sliding table or chair, and then
the cry of a woman in pain.
Duane stepped into the open door, inside the room. Kate Bland
lay half across a table where she had been flung, and she was
trying to get to her feet. Bland's back was turned. He had
opened the door into Jennie's room and had one foot across the
threshold. Duane caught the girl's low, shuddering cry. Then he
called out loud and clear.
With cat-like swiftness Bland wheeled, then froze on the
threshold. His sight, quick as his action, caught Duane's
menacing unmistakable position.
Bland's big frame filled the door. He was in a bad place to
reach for his gun. But he would not have time for a step. Duane
read in his eyes the desperate calculation of chances. For a
fleeting instant Bland shifted his glance to his wife. Then his
whole body seemed to vibrate with the swing of his arm.
Duane shot him. He fell forward, his gun exploding as it hit
into the floor, and dropped loose from stretching fingers.
Duane stood over him, stooped to turn him on his back. Bland
looked up with clouded gaze, then gasped his last.
"Duane, you've killed him!" cried Kate Bland, huskily. "I knew
you'd have to!"
She staggered against the wall, her eyes dilating, her strong
hands clenching, her face slowly whitening. She appeared
shocked, half stunned, but showed no grief.
"Jennie!" called Duane, sharply.
"Oh--Duane!" came a halting reply.
"Yes. Come out. Hurry!"
She came out with uneven steps, seeing only him, and she
stumbled over Bland's body. Duane caught her arm, swung her
behind him. He feared the woman when she realized how she had
been duped. His action was protective, and his movement toward
the door equally as significant.
"Duane," cried Mrs. Bland.
It was no time for talk. Duane edged on, keeping Jennie behind
him. At that moment there was a pounding of iron-shod hoofs out
in the lane. Kate Bland bounded to the door. When she turned
back her amazement was changing to realization.
"Where 're you taking Jen?" she cried, her voice like a man's.
"Get out of my way," replied Duane. His look perhaps, without
speech, was enough for her. In an instant she was transformed
into a fury.
"You hound! All the time you were fooling me! You made love to
me! You let me believe--you swore you loved me! Now I see what
was queer about you. All for that girl! But you can't have her.
You'll never leave here alive. Give me that girl! Let me--get
at her! She'll never win any more men in this camp."
She was a powerful woman, and it took all Duane's strength to
ward off her onslaughts. She clawed at Jennie over his upheld
arm. Every second her fury increased.
"HELP! HELP! HELP!" she shrieked, in a voice that must have
penetrated to the remotest cabin in the valley.
"Let go! Let go!" cried Duane, low and sharp. He still held his
gun in his right hand, and it began to be hard for him to ward
the woman off. His coolness had gone with her shriek for help.
"Let go!" he repeated, and he shoved her fiercely.
Suddenly she snatched a rifle off the wall and backed away, her
strong hands fumbling at the lever. As she jerked it down,
throwing a shell into the chamber and cocking the weapon, Duane
leaped upon her. He struck up the rifle as it went off, the
powder burning his face.
"Jennie, run out! Get on a horse!" he said.
Jennie flashed out of the door.
With an iron grasp Duane held to the rifle-barrel. He had
grasped it with his left hand, and he gave such a pull that he
swung the crazed woman off the floor. But he could not loose
her grip. She was as strong as he.
"Kate! Let go!"
He tried to intimidate her. She did not see his gun thrust in
her face, or reason had given way to such an extent to passion
that she did not care. She cursed. Her husband had used the
same curses, and from her lips they seemed strange, unsexed,
more deadly. Like a tigress she fought him; her face no longer
resembled a woman's. The evil of that outlaw life, the wildness
and rage, the meaning to kill, was even in such a moment
terribly impressed upon Duane.
He heard a cry from outside--a man's cry, hoarse and alarming.
It made him think of loss of time. This demon of a woman might
yet block his plan.
"Let go!" he whispered, and felt his lips stiff. In the
grimness of that instant he relaxed his hold on the
With sudden, redoubled, irresistible strength she wrenched the
rifle down and discharged it. Duane felt a blow--a shock--a
burning agony tearing through his breast. Then in a frenzy he
jerked so powerfully upon the rifle that he threw the woman
against the wall. She fell and seemed stunned.
Duane leaped back, whirled, flew out of the door to the porch.
The sharp cracking of a gun halted him. He saw Jennie holding
to the bridle of his bay horse. Euchre was astride the other,
and he had a Colt leveled, and he was firing down the lane.
Then came a single shot, heavier, and Euchre's ceased. He fell
from the horse.
A swift glance back showed to Duane a man coming down the lane.
Chess Alloway! His gun was smoking. He broke into a run. Then
in an instant he saw Duane, and tried to check his pace as he
swung up his arm. But that slight pause was fatal. Duane shot,
and Alloway was falling when his gun went off. His bullet
whistled close to Duane and thudded into the cabin.
Duane bounded down to the horses. Jennie was trying to hold the
plunging bay. Euchre lay flat on his back, dead, a bullet-hole
in his shirt, his face set hard, and his hands twisted round
gun and bridle.
"Jennie, you've nerve, all right!" cried Duane, as he dragged
down the horse she was holding. "Up with you now! There! Never
mind--long stirrups! Hang on somehow!"
He caught his bridle out of Euchre's clutching grip and leaped
astride. The frightened horses jumped into a run and thundered
down the lane into the road. Duane saw men running from cabins.
He heard shouts. But there were no shots fired. Jennie seemed
able to stay on her horse, but without stirrups she was thrown
about so much that Duane rode closer and reached out to grasp
Thus they rode through the valley to the trail that led up
over, the steep and broken Rim Rock. As they began to climb
Duane looked back. No pursuers were in sight.
"Jennie, we're going to get away!" he cried, exultation for her
in his voice.
She was gazing horror-stricken at his breast, as in turning to
look back he faced her.
"Oh, Duane, your shirt's all bloody!" she faltered, pointing
with trembling fingers.
With her words Duane became aware of two things--the hand he
instinctively placed to his breast still held his gun, and he
had sustained a terrible wound.
Duane had been shot through the breast far enough down to give
him grave apprehension of his life. The clean-cut hole made by
the bullet bled freely both at its entrance and where it had
come out, but with no signs of hemorrhage. He did not bleed at
the mouth; however, he began to cough up a reddish-tinged foam.
As they rode on, Jennie, with pale face and mute lips, looked
"I'm badly hurt, Jennie," he said, "but I guess I'll stick it
"The woman--did she shoot you?"
"Yes. She was a devil. Euchre told me to look out for her. I
wasn't quick enough."
"You didn't have to--to--" shivered the girl.
"No! no!" he replied.
They did not stop climbing while Duane tore a scarf and made
compresses, which he bound tightly over his wounds. The fresh
horses made fast time up the rough trail. From open places
Duane looked down. When they surmounted the steep ascent and
stood on top of the Rim Rock, with no signs of pursuit down in
the valley, and with the wild, broken fastnesses before them,
Duane turned to the girl and assured her that they now had
every chance of escape.
"But--your--wound!" she faltered, with dark, troubled eyes. "I
see--the blood--dripping from your back!"
"Jennie, I'll take a lot of killing," he said.
Then he became silent and attended to the uneven trail. He was
aware presently that he had not come into Bland's camp by this
route. But that did not matter; any trail leading out beyond
the Rim Rock was safe enough. What he wanted was to get far
away into some wild retreat where he could hide till he
recovered from his wound. He seemed to feel a fire inside his
breast, and his throat burned so that it was necessary for him
to take a swallow of water every little while. He began to
suffer considerable pain, which increased as the hours went by
and then gave way to a numbness. From that time on he had need
of his great strength and endurance. Gradually he lost his
steadiness and his keen sight; and he realized that if he were
to meet foes, or if pursuing outlaws should come up with him,
he could make only a poor stand. So he turned off on a trail
that appeared seldom traveled.
Soon after this move he became conscious of a further
thickening of his senses. He felt able to hold on to his saddle
for a while longer, but he was failing. Then he thought he
ought to advise Jennie, so in case she was left alone she would
have some idea of what to do.
"Jennie, I'll give out soon," he said. "No-I don't mean--what
you think. But I'll drop soon. My strength's going. If I
die--you ride back to the main trail. Hide and rest by day.
Ride at night. That trail goes to water. I believe you could
get across the Nueces, where some rancher will take you in."
Duane could not get the meaning of her incoherent reply. He
rode on, and soon he could not see the trail or hear his horse.
He did not know whether they traveled a mile or many times that
far. But he was conscious when the horse stopped, and had a
vague sense of falling and feeling Jennie's arms before all
became dark to him.
When consciousness returned he found himself lying in a little
hut of mesquite branches. It was well built and evidently some
years old. There were two doors or openings, one in front and
the other at the back. Duane imagined it had been built by a
fugitive--one who meant to keep an eye both ways and not to be
surprised. Duane felt weak and had no desire to move. Where was
he, anyway? A strange, intangible sense of time, distance, of
something far behind weighed upon him. Sight of the two packs
Euchre had made brought his thought to Jennie. What had become
of her? There was evidence of her work in a smoldering fire and
a little blackened coffee-pot. Probably she was outside looking
after the horses or getting water. He thought he heard a step
and listened, but he felt tired, and presently his eyes closed
and he fell into a doze.
Awakening from this, he saw Jennie sitting beside him. In some
way she seemed to have changed. When he spoke she gave a start
and turned eagerly to him.
"Duane!" she cried.
"Hello. How're you, Jennie, and how am I?" he said, finding it
a little difficult to talk.
"Oh, I'm all right," she replied. "And you've come to--your
wound's healed; but you've been sick. Fever, I guess. I did all
Duane saw now that the difference in her was a whiteness and
tightness of skin, a hollowness of eye, a look of strain.
"Fever? How long have we been here?" he asked.
She took some pebbles from the crown of his sombrero and
"Nine. Nine days," she answered.
"Nine days!" he exclaimed, incredulously. But another look at
her assured him that she meant what she said. "I've been sick
all the time? You nursed me?"
"Bland's men didn't come along here?"
"Where are the horses?"
"I keep them grazing down in a gorge back of here. There's good
grass and water."
"Have you slept any?"
"A little. Lately I couldn't keep awake."
"Good Lord! I should think not. You've had a time of it sitting
here day and night nursing me, watching for the outlaws. Come,
tell me all about it."
"There's nothing much to tell."
"I want to know, anyway, just what you did--how you felt."
"I can't remember very well," she replied, simply. "We must
have ridden forty miles that day we got away. You bled all the
time. Toward evening you lay on your horse's neck. When we came
to this place you fell out of the saddle. I dragged you in here
and stopped your bleeding. I thought you'd die that night. But
in the morning I had a little hope. I had forgotten the horses.
But luckily they didn't stray far. I caught them and kept them
down in the gorge. When your wounds closed and you began to
breathe stronger I thought you'd get well quick. It was fever
that put you back. You raved a lot, and that worried me,
because I couldn't stop you. Anybody trailing us could have
heard you a good ways. I don't know whether I was scared most
then or when you were quiet, and it was so dark and lonely and
still all around. Every day I put a stone in your hat."
"Jennie, you saved my life," said Duane.
"I don't know. Maybe. I did all I knew how to do," she replied.
"You saved mine--more than my life."
Their eyes met in a long gaze, and then their hands in a close
"Jennie, we're going to get away," he said, with gladness.
"I'll be well in a few days. You don't know how strong I am.
We'll hide by day and travel by night. I can get you across the
"And then?" she asked.
"We'll find some honest rancher."
"And then?" she persisted.
"Why," he began, slowly, "that's as far as my thoughts ever
got. It was pretty hard, I tell you, to assure myself of so
much. It means your safety. You'll tell your story. You'll be
sent to some village or town and taken care of until a relative
or friend is notified."
"And you?" she inquired, in a strange voice.
Duane kept silence.
"What will you do?" she went on.
"Jennie, I'll go back to the brakes. I daren't show my face
among respectable people. I'm an outlaw."
"You're no criminal!" she declared, with deep passion.
"Jennie, on this border the little difference between an out
law and a criminal doesn't count for much."
"You won't go back among those terrible men? You, with your
gentleness and sweetness--all that's good about you? Oh, Duane,
"I can't go back to the outlaws, at least not Bland's band. No,
I'll go alone. I'll lone-wolf it, as they say on the border.
What else can I do, Jennie?"
"Oh, I don't know. Couldn't you hide? Couldn't you slip,out of
Texas--go far away?"
"I could never get out of Texas without being arrested. I could
hide, but a man must live. Never mind about me, Jennie."
In three days Duane was able with great difficulty to mount his
horse. During daylight, by short relays, he and Jennie rode
back to the main trail, where they hid again till he had
rested. Then in the dark they rode out of the canons and
gullies of the Rim Rock, and early in the morning halted at the
first water to camp.
From that point they traveled after nightfall and went into
hiding during the day. Once across the Nueces River, Duane was
assured of safety for her and great danger for himself. They
had crossed into a country he did not know. Somewhere east of
the river there were scattered ranches. But he was as liable to
find the rancher in touch with the outlaws as he was likely to
find him honest. Duane hoped his good fortune would not desert
him in this last service to Jennie. Next to the worry of that
was realization of his condition. He had gotten up too soon; he
had ridden too far and hard, and now he felt that any moment he
might fall from his saddle. At last, far ahead over a barren
mesquite-dotted stretch of dusty ground, he espied a patch of
green and a little flat, red ranch-house. He headed his horse
for it and turned a face he tried to make cheerful for Jennie's
sake. She seemed both happy and sorry.
When near at hand he saw that the rancher was a thrifty farmer.
And thrift spoke for honesty. There were fields of alfalfa,
fruit-trees, corrals, windmill pumps, irrigation-ditches, all
surrounding a neat little adobe house. Some children were
playing in the yard. The way they ran at sight of Duane hinted
of both the loneliness and the fear of their isolated lives.
Duane saw a woman come to the door, then a man. The latter
looked keenly, then stepped outside. He was a sandy-haired,
"Howdy, stranger," he called, as Duane halted. "Get down, you
an' your woman. Say, now, air you sick or shot or what? Let
Duane, reeling in his saddle, bent searching eyes upon the
rancher. He thought he saw good will, kindness, honesty. He
risked all on that one sharp glance. Then he almost plunged
from the saddle.
The rancher caught him, helped him to a bench.
"Martha, come out here!" he called. "This man's sick. No; he's
shot, or I don't know blood-stains."
Jennie had slipped off her horse and to Duane's side. Duane
appeared about to faint.
"Air you his wife?" asked the rancher.
"No. I'm only a girl he saved from outlaws. Oh, he's so paler
"Buck Duane!" exclaimed the rancher, excitedly. "The man who
killed Bland an' Alloway? Say, I owe him a good turn, an' I'll
pay it, young woman."
The rancher's wife came out, and with a manner at once kind and
practical essayed to make Duane drink from a flask. He was not
so far gone that he could not recognize its contents, which he
refused, and weakly asked for water. When that was given him he
found his voice.
"Yes, I'm Duane. I've only overdone myself--just all in. The
wounds I got at Bland's are healing. Will you take this girl
in--hide her awhile till the excitement's over among the
"I shore will," replied the Texan.
"Thanks. I'll remember you--I'll square it."
"What 're you goin' to do?"
"I'll rest a bit--then go back to the brakes."
"Young man, you ain't in any shape to travel. See here--any
rustlers on your trail?"
"I think we gave Bland's gang the slip."
"Good. I'll tell you what. I'll take you in along with the
girl, an' hide both of you till you get well. It'll be safe. My
nearest neighbor is five miles off. We don't have much
"You risk a great deal. Both outlaws and rangers are hunting
me," said Duane.
"Never seen a ranger yet in these parts. An' have always got
along with outlaws, mebbe exceptin' Bland. I tell you I owe you
a good turn."
"My horses might betray you," added Duane.