Part 3 out of 7
"I'll hide them in a place where there's water an' grass.
Nobody goes to it. Come now, let me help you indoors."
Duane's last fading sensations of that hard day were the
strange feel of a bed, a relief at the removal of his heavy
boots, and of Jennie's soft, cool hands on his hot face.
He lay ill for three weeks before he began to mend, and it was
another week then before he could walk out a little in the dusk
of the evenings. After that his strength returned rapidly. And
it was only at the end of this long siege that he recovered his
spirits. During most of his illness he had been silent, moody.
"Jennie, I'll be riding off soon," he said, one evening. "I
can't impose on this good man Andrews much longer. I'll never
forget his kindness. His wife, too--she's been so good to us.
Yes, Jennie, you and I will have to say good-by very soon."
"Don't hurry away," she replied.
Lately Jennie had appeared strange to him. She had changed from
the girl he used to see at Mrs. Bland's house. He took her
reluctance to say good-by as another indication of her regret
that he must go back to the brakes. Yet somehow it made him
observe her more closely. She wore a plain, white dress made
from material Mrs. Andrews had given her. Sleep and good food
had improved her. If she had been pretty out there in the
outlaw den now she was more than that. But she had the same
paleness, the same strained look, the same dark eyes full of
haunting shadows. After Duane's realization of the change in
her he watched her more, with a growing certainty that he would
be sorry not to see her again.
"It's likely we won't ever see each other again," he said.
"That's strange to think of. We've been through some hard days,
and I seem to have known you a long time."
Jennie appeared shy, almost sad, so Duane changed the subject
to something less personal.
Andrews returned one evening from a several days' trip to
"Duane, everybody's talkie' about how you cleaned up the Bland
outfit," he said, important and full of news. "It's some
exaggerated, accordin' to what you told me; but you've shore
made friends on this side of the Nueces. I reckon there ain't a
town where you wouldn't find people to welcome you. Huntsville,
you know, is some divided in its ideas. Half the people are
crooked. Likely enough, all them who was so loud in praise of
you are the crookedest. For instance, I met King Fisher, the
boss outlaw of these parts. Well, King thinks he's a decent
citizen. He was tellin' me what a grand job yours was for the
border an' honest cattlemen. Now that Bland and Alloway are
done for, King Fisher will find rustlin' easier. There's talk
of Hardin movie' his camp over to Bland's. But I don't know how
true it is. I reckon there ain't much to it. In the past when a
big outlaw chief went under, his band almost always broke up
an' scattered. There's no one left who could run thet outfit."
"Did you hear of any outlaws hunting me?" asked Duane.
"Nobody from Bland's outfit is huntin' you, thet's shore,"
replied Andrews. "Fisher said there never was a hoss straddled
to go on your trail. Nobody had any use for Bland. Anyhow, his
men would be afraid to trail you. An' you could go right in to
Huntsville, where you'd be some popular. Reckon you'd be safe,
too, except when some of them fool saloon loafers or bad
cowpunchers would try to shoot you for the glory in it. Them
kind of men will bob up everywhere you go, Duane."
"I'll be able to ride and take care of myself in a day or two,"
went on Duane. "Then I'll go--I'd like to talk to you about
"She's welcome to a home here with us."
"Thank you, Andrews. You're a kind man. But I want Jennie to
get farther away from the Rio Grande. She'd never be safe here.
Besides, she may be able to find relatives. She has some,
though she doesn't know where they are."
"All right, Duane. Whatever you think best. I reckon now you'd
better take her to some town. Go north an' strike for
Shelbyville or Crockett. Them's both good towns. I'll tell
Jennie the names of men who'll help her. You needn't ride into
town at all."
"Which place is nearer, and how far is it?"
"Shelbyville. I reckon about two days' ride. Poor stock
country, so you ain't liable to meet rustlers. All the same,
better hit the trail at night an' go careful."
At sunset two days later Duane and Jennie mounted their horses
and said good-by to the rancher and his wife. Andrews would not
listen to Duane's thanks.
"I tell you I'm beholden to you yet," he declared.
"Well, what can I do for you?" asked Duane. "I may come along
here again some day."
"Get down an' come in, then, or you're no friend of mine. I
reckon there ain't nothin' I can think of--I just happen to
remember--" Here he led Duane out of earshot of the women and
went on in a whisper. "Buck, I used to be well-to-do. Got
skinned by a man named Brown--Rodney Brown. He lives in
Huntsville, an' he's my enemy. I never was much on fightin', or
I'd fixed him. Brown ruined me--stole all I had. He's a hoss
an' cattle thief, an' he has pull enough at home to protect
him. I reckon I needn't say any more."
"Is this Brown a man who shot an outlaw named Stevens?" queried
"Shore, he's the same. I heard thet story. Brown swears he
plugged Stevens through the middle. But the outlaw rode off,
an' nobody ever knew for shore."
"Luke Stevens died of that shot. I buried him," said Duane.
Andrews made no further comment, and the two men returned to
"The main road for about three miles, then where it forks take
the left-hand road and keep on straight. That what you said,
"Shore. An' good luck to you both!"
Duane and Jennie trotted away into the gathering twilight. At
the moment an insistent thought bothered Duane. Both Luke
Stevens and the rancher Andrews had hinted to Duane to kill a
man named Brown. Duane wished with all his heart that they had
not mentioned it, let alone taken for granted the execution of
the deed. What a bloody place Texas was! Men who robbed and men
who were robbed both wanted murder. It was in the spirit of the
country. Duane certainly meant to avoid ever meeting this
Rodney Brown. And that very determination showed Duane how
dangerous he really was--to men and to himself. Sometimes he
had a feeling of how little stood between his sane and better
self and a self utterly wild and terrible. He reasoned that
only intelligence could save him--only a thoughtful
understanding of his danger and a hold upon some ideal.
Then he fell into low conversation with Jennie, holding out
hopeful views of her future, and presently darkness set in. The
sky was overcast with heavy clouds; there was no air moving;
the heat and oppression threatened storm. By and by Duane could
not see a rod in front of him, though his horse had no
difficulty in keeping to the road. Duane was bothered by the
blackness of the night. Traveling fast was impossible, and any
moment he might miss the road that led off to the left. So he
was compelled to give all his attention to peering into the
thick shadows ahead. As good luck would have it, he came to
higher ground where there was less mesquite, and therefore not
such impenetrable darkness; and at this point he came to where
the road split.
Once headed in the right direction, he felt easier in mind. To
his annoyance, however, a fine, misty rain set in. Jennie was
not well dressed for wet weather; and, for that matter, neither
was he. His coat, which in that dry warm climate he seldom
needed, was tied behind his saddle, and he put it on Jennie.
They traveled on. The rain fell steadily; if anything, growing
thicker. Duane grew uncomfortably wet and chilly. Jennie,
however, fared somewhat better by reason of the heavy coat. The
night passed quickly despite the discomfort, and soon a gray,
dismal, rainy dawn greeted the travelers.
Jennie insisted that he find some shelter where a fire could be
built to dry his clothes. He was not in a fit condition to risk
catching cold. In fact, Duane's teeth were chattering. To find
a shelter in that barren waste seemed a futile task. Quite
unexpectedly, however, they happened upon a deserted adobe
cabin situated a little off the road. Not only did it prove to
have a dry interior, but also there was firewood. Water was
available in pools everywhere; however, there was no grass for
A good fire and hot food and drink changed the aspect of their
condition as far as comfort went. And Jennie lay down to sleep.
For Duane, however, there must be vigilance. This cabin was no
hiding-place. The rain fell harder all the time, and the wind
changed to the north. "It's a norther, all right," muttered
Duane. "Two or three days." And he felt that his extraordinary
luck had not held out. Still one point favored him, and it was
that travelers were not likely to come along during the storm.
Jennie slept while Duane watched. The saving of this girl meant
more to him than any task he had ever assumed. First it had
been partly from a human feeling to succor an unfortunate
woman, and partly a motive to establish clearly to himself that
he was no outlaw. Lately, however, had come a different sense,
a strange one, with something personal and warm and protective
As he looked down upon her, a slight, slender girl with
bedraggled dress and disheveled hair, her face, pale and quiet,
a little stern in sleep, and her long, dark lashes lying on her
cheek, he seemed to see her fragility, her prettiness, her
femininity as never before. But for him she might at that very
moment have been a broken, ruined girl lying back in that cabin
of the Blands'. The fact gave him a feeling of his importance
in this shifting of her destiny. She was unharmed, still young;
she would forget and be happy; she would live to be a good wife
and mother. Somehow the thought swelled his heart. His act,
death-dealing as it had been, was a noble one, and helped him
to hold on to his drifting hopes. Hardly once since Jennie had
entered into his thought had those ghosts returned to torment
To-morrow she would be gone among good, kind people with a
possibility of finding her relatives. He thanked God for ,that;
nevertheless, he felt a pang.
She slept more than half the day. Duane kept guard, always
alert, whether he was sitting, standing, or walking. The rain
pattered steadily on the roof and sometimes came in gusty
flurries through the door. The horses were outside in a shed
that afforded poor shelter, and they stamped restlessly. Duane
kept them saddled and bridled.
About the middle of the afternoon Jennie awoke. They cooked a
meal and afterward sat beside the little fire. She had never
been, in his observation of her, anything but a tragic figure,
an unhappy girl, the farthest removed from serenity and poise.
That characteristic capacity for agitation struck him as
stronger in her this day. He attributed it, however, to the
long strain, the suspense nearing an end. Yet sometimes when
her eyes were on him she did not seem to be thinking of her
freedom, of her future.
"This time to-morrow you'll be in Shelbyville," he said.
"Where will you be?" she asked, quickly.
"Me? Oh, I'll be making tracks for some lonesome place,' he
The girl shuddered.
"I've been brought up in Texas. I remember what a hard lot the
men of my family had. But poor as they were, they had a roof
over their heads, a hearth with a fire, a warm bed--somebody to
love them. And you, Duane--oh, my God! What must your life be?
You must ride and hide and watch eternally. No decent food, no
pillow, no friendly word, no clean clothes, no woman's hand!
Horses, guns, trails, rocks, holes--these must be the important
things in your life. You must go on riding, hiding, killing
until you meet--"
She ended with a sob and dropped her head on her knees. Duane
was amazed, deeply touched.
"My girl, thank you for that thought of me," he said, with a
tremor in his voice. "You don't know how much that means to
She raised her face, and it was tear-stained, eloquent,
"I've heard tell--the best of men go to the bad out there. You
won't. Promise me you won't. I never--knew any man--like you.
I--I--we may never see each other again--after to-day. I'll
never forget you. I'll pray for you, and I'll never give up
trying to--to do something. Don't despair. It's never too late.
It was my hope that kept me alive--out there at Bland's--before
you came. I was only a poor weak girl. But if I could hope--so
can you. Stay away from men. Be a lone wolf. Fight for your
life. Stick out your exile--and maybe--some day--"
Then she lost her voice. Duane clasped her hand and with
feeling as deep as hers promised to remember her words. In her
despair for him she had spoken wisdom--pointed out the only
Duane's vigilance, momentarily broken by emotion, had no sooner
reasserted itself than he discovered the bay horse, the one
Jennie rode, had broken his halter and gone off. The soft wet
earth had deadened the sound of his hoofs. His tracks were
plain in the mud. There were clumps of mesquite in sight, among
which the horse might have strayed. It turned out, however,
that he had not done so.
Duane did not want to leave Jennie alone in the cabin so near
the road. So he put her up on his horse and bade her follow.
The rain had ceased for the time being, though evidently the
storm was not yet over. The tracks led up a wash to a wide flat
where mesquite, prickly pear, and thorn-bush grew so thickly
that Jennie could not ride into it. Duane was thoroughly
concerned. He must have her horse. Time was flying. It would
soon be night. He could not expect her to scramble quickly
through that brake on foot. Therefore he decided to risk
leaving her at the edge of the thicket and go in alone.
As he went in a sound startled him. Was it the breaking of a
branch he had stepped on or thrust aside? He heard the
impatient pound of his horse's hoofs. Then all was quiet. Still
he listened, not wholly satisfied. He was never satisfied in
regard to safety; he knew too well that there never could be
safety for him in this country.
The bay horse had threaded the aisles of the thicket. Duane
wondered what had drawn him there. Certainly it had not been
grass, for there was none. Presently he heard the horse
tramping along, and then he ran. The mud was deep, and the
sharp thorns made going difficult. He came up with the horse,
and at the same moment crossed a multitude of fresh
He bent lower to examine them, and was alarmed to find that
they had been made very recently, even since it had ceased
raining. They were tracks of well-shod horses. Duane
straightened up with a cautious glance all around. His instant
decision was to hurry back to Jennie. But he had come a goodly
way through the thicket, and it was impossible to rush back.
Once or twice he imagined he heard crashings in the brush, but
did not halt to make sure. Certain he was now that some kind of
Suddenly there came an unmistakable thump of horses' hoofs off
somewhere to the fore. Then a scream rent the air. It ended
abruptly. Duane leaped forward, tore his way through the thorny
brake. He heard Jennie cry again--an appealing call quickly
hushed. It seemed more to his right, and he plunged that way.
He burst into a glade where a smoldering fire and ground
covered with footprints and tracks showed that campers had
lately been. Rushing across this, he broke his passage out to
the open. But he was too late. His horse had disappeared.
Jennie was gone. There were no riders in sight. There was no
sound. There was a heavy trail of horses going north. Jennie
had been carried off--probably by outlaws. Duane realized that
pursuit was out of the question--that Jennie was lost.
A hundred miles from the haunts most familiar with Duane's
deeds, far up where the Nueces ran a trickling clear stream
between yellow cliffs, stood a small deserted shack of covered
mesquite poles. It had been made long ago, but was well
preserved. A door faced the overgrown trail, and another faced
down into a gorge of dense thickets. On the border fugitives
from law and men who hid in fear of some one they had wronged
never lived in houses with only one door.
It was a wild spot, lonely, not fit for human habitation except
for the outcast. He, perhaps, might have found it hard to leave
for most of the other wild nooks in that barren country. Down
in the gorge there was never-failing sweet water, grass all the
year round, cool, shady retreats, deer, rabbits, turkeys,
fruit, and miles and miles of narrow-twisting, deep canon full
of broken rocks and impenetrable thickets. The scream of the
panther was heard there, the squall of the wildcat, the cough
of the jaguar. Innumerable bees buzzed in the spring blossoms,
and, it seemed, scattered honey to the winds. All day there was
continuous song of birds, that of the mocking-bird loud and
sweet and mocking above the rest.
On clear days--and rare indeed were cloudy days--with the
subsiding of the wind at sunset a hush seemed to fall around
the little hut. Far-distant dim-blue mountains stood
gold-rimmed gradually to fade with the shading of light.
At this quiet hour a man climbed up out of the gorge and sat in
the westward door of the hut. This lonely watcher of the west
and listener to the silence was Duane. And this hut was the one
where, three years before, Jennie had nursed him back to life.
The killing of a man named Sellers, and the combination of
circumstances that had made the tragedy a memorable regret, had
marked, if not a change, at least a cessation in Duane's
activities. He had trailed Sellers to kill him for the supposed
abducting of Jennie. He had trailed him long after he had
learned Sellers traveled alone. Duane wanted absolute assurance
of Jennie's death. Vague rumors, a few words here and there,
unauthenticated stories, were all Duane had gathered in years
to substantiate his belief--that Jennie died shortly after the
beginning of her second captivity. But Duane did not know
surely. Sellers might have told him. Duane expected, if not to
force it from him at the end, to read it in his eyes. But the
bullet went too unerringly; it locked his lips and fixed his
After that meeting Duane lay long at the ranchhouse of a
friend, and when he recovered from the wound Sellers had given
him he started with two horses and a pack for the lonely gorge
on the Nueces. There he had been hidden for months, a prey to
remorse, a dreamer, a victim of phantoms.
It took work for him to find subsistence in that rocky
fastness. And work, action, helped to pass the hours. But he
could not work all the time, even if he had found it to do.
Then in his idle moments and at night his task was to live with
the hell in his mind.
The sunset and the twilight hour made all the rest bearable.
The little hut on the rim of the gorge seemed to hold Jennie's
presence. It was not as if he felt her spirit. If it had been
he would have been sure of her death. He hoped Jennie had not
survived her second misfortune; and that intense hope had
burned into belief, if not surety. Upon his return to that
locality, on the occasion of his first visit to the hut, he had
found things just as they had left them, and a poor, faded
piece of ribbon Jennie had used to tie around her bright hair.
No wandering outlaw or traveler had happened upon the lonely
spot, which further endeared it to Duane.
A strange feature of this memory of Jennie was the freshness of
it--the failure of years, toil, strife, death-dealing to dim
it--to deaden the thought of what might have been. He had a
marvelous gift of visualization. He could shut his eyes and see
Jennie before him just as clearly as if she had stood there in
the flesh. For hours he did that, dreaming, dreaming of life he
had never tasted and now never would taste. He saw Jennie's
slender, graceful figure, the old brown ragged dress in which
he had seen her first at Bland's, her little feet in Mexican
sandals, her fine hands coarsened by work, her round arms and
swelling throat, and her pale, sad, beautiful face with its
staring dark eyes. He remembered every look she had given him,
every word she had spoken to him, every time she had touched
him. He thought of her beauty and sweetness, of the few things
which had come to mean to him that she must have loved him; and
he trained himself to think of these in preference to her life
at Bland's, the escape with him, and then her recapture,
because such memories led to bitter, fruitless pain. He had to
fight suffering because it was eating out his heart.
Sitting there, eyes wide open, he dreamed of the old homestead
and his white-haired mother. He saw the old home life,
sweetened and filled by dear new faces and added joys, go on
before his eyes with him a part of it.
Then in the inevitable reaction, in the reflux of bitter
reality, he would send out a voiceless cry no less poignant
because it was silent: "Poor fool! No, I shall never see mother
again--never go home--never have a home. I am Duane, the Lone
Wolf! Oh, God! I wish it were over! These dreams torture me!
What have I to do with a mother, a home, a wife? No
bright-haired boy, no dark-eyed girl will ever love me. I am an
outlaw, an outcast, dead to the good and decent world. I am
alone--alone. Better be a callous brute or better dead! I shall
go mad thinking! Man, what is left to you? A hiding-place like
a wolf's--lonely silent days, lonely nights with phantoms! Or
the trail and the road with their bloody tracks, and then the
hard ride, the sleepless, hungry ride to some hole in rocks or
brakes. What hellish thing drives me? Why can't I end it all?
What is left? Only that damned unquenchable spirit of the
gun-fighter to live--to hang on to miserable life--to have no
fear of death, yet to cling like a leach--to die as
gun-fighters seldom die, with boots off! Bain, you were first,
and you're long avenged. I'd change with you. And Sellers, you
were last, and you're avenged. And you others--you're avenged.
Lie quiet in your graves and give me peace!"
But they did not lie quiet in their graves and give him peace.
A group of specters trooped out of the shadows of dusk and,
gathering round him, escorted him to his bed.
When Duane had been riding the trails passion-bent to escape
pursuers, or passion-bent in his search, the constant action
and toil and exhaustion made him sleep. But when in hiding, as
time passed, gradually he required less rest and sleep, and his
mind became more active. Little by little his phantoms gained
hold on him, and at length, but for the saving power of his
dreams, they would have claimed him utterly.
How many times he had said to himself: "I am an intelligent
man. I'm not crazy. I'm in full possession of my faculties. All
this is fancy--imagination--conscience. I've no work, no duty,
no ideal, no hope--and my mind is obsessed, thronged with
images. And these images naturally are of the men with whom I
have dealt. I can't forget them. They come back to me, hour
after hour; and when my tortured mind grows weak, then maybe
I'm not just right till the mood wears out and lets me sleep."
So he reasoned as he lay down in his comfortable camp. The
night was star-bright above the canon-walls, darkly shadowing
down between them. The insects hummed and chirped and thrummed
a continuous thick song, low and monotonous. Slow-running water
splashed softly over stones in the stream-bed. From far down
the canon came the mournful hoot of an owl. The moment he lay
down, thereby giving up action for the day, all these things
weighed upon him like a great heavy mantle of loneliness. In
truth, they did not constitute loneliness.
And he could no more have dispelled thought than he could have
reached out to touch a cold, bright star.
He wondered how many outcasts like him lay under this
star-studded, velvety sky across the fifteen hundred miles of
wild country between El Paso and the mouth of the river. A vast
wild territory--a refuge for outlaws! Somewhere he had heard or
read that the Texas Rangers kept a book with names and records
of outlaws--three thousand known outlaws. Yet these could
scarcely be half of that unfortunate horde which had been
recruited from all over the states. Duane had traveled from
camp to camp, den to den, hiding-place to hiding-place, and he
knew these men. Most of them were hopeless criminals; some were
avengers; a few were wronged wanderers; and among them
occasionally was a man, human in his way, honest as he could
be, not yet lost to good.
But all of them were akin in one sense--their outlawry; and
that starry night they lay with their dark faces up, some in
packs like wolves, others alone like the gray wolf who knew no
mate. It did not make much difference in Duane's thought of
them that the majority were steeped in crime and brutality,
more often than not stupid from rum, incapable of a fine
feeling, just lost wild dogs.
Duane doubted that there was a man among them who did not
realize his moral wreck and ruin. He had met poor, half witted
wretches who knew it. He believed he could enter into their
minds and feel the truth of all their lives--the hardened
outlaw, coarse, ignorant, bestial, who murdered as Bill Black
had murdered, who stole for the sake of stealing, who craved
money to gamble and drink, defiantly ready for death, and, like
that terrible outlaw, Helm, who cried out on the scaffold, "Let
The wild youngsters seeking notoriety and reckless adventure;
the cowboys with a notch on their guns, with boastful pride in
the knowledge that they were marked by rangers; the crooked men
from the North, defaulters, forgers, murderers, all pale-faced,
flat-chested men not fit for that wilderness and not surviving;
the dishonest cattlemen, hand and glove with outlaws, driven
from their homes; the old grizzled, bow-legged genuine
rustlers--all these Duane had come in contact with, had watched
and known, and as he felt with them he seemed to see that as
their lives were bad, sooner or later to end dismally or
tragically, so they must pay some kind of earthly penalty--if
not of conscience, then of fear; if not of fear, then of that
most terrible of all things to restless, active men--pain, the
pang of flesh and bone.
Duane knew, for he had seen them pay. Best of all, moreover, he
knew the internal life of the gun-fighter of that select but by
no means small class of which he was representative. The world
that judged him and his kind judged him as a machine, a
killing-machine, with only mind enough to hunt, to meet, to
slay another man. It had taken three endless years for Duane to
understand his own father. Duane knew beyond all doubt that the
gun-fighters like Bland, like Alloway, like Sellers, men who
were evil and had no remorse, no spiritual accusing Nemesis,
had something far more torturing to mind, more haunting, more
murderous of rest and sleep and peace; and that something was
abnormal fear of death. Duane knew this, for he had shot these
men; he had seen the quick, dark shadow in eyes, the
presentiment that the will could not control, and then the
horrible certainty. These men must have been in agony at every
meeting with a possible or certain foe--more agony than the hot
rend of a bullet. They were haunted, too, haunted by this fear,
by every victim calling from the grave that nothing was so
inevitable as death, which lurked behind every corner, hid in
every shadow, lay deep in the dark tube of every gun. These men
could not have a friend; they could not love or trust a woman.
They knew their one chance of holding on to life lay in their
own distrust, watchfulness, dexterity, and that hope, by the
very nature of their lives, could not be lasting. They had
doomed themselves. What, then, could possibly have dwelt in the
depths of their minds as they went to their beds on a starry
night like this, with mystery in silence and shadow, with time
passing surely, and the dark future and its secret approaching
every hour--what, then, but hell?
The hell in Duane's mind was not fear of man or fear of death.
He would have been glad to lay down the burden of life,
providing death came naturally. Many times he had prayed for
it. But that overdeveloped, superhuman spirit of defense in him
precluded suicide or the inviting of an enemy's bullet.
Sometimes he had a vague, scarcely analyzed idea that this
spirit was what had made the Southwest habitable for the white
Every one of his victims, singly and collectively, returned to
him for ever, it seemed, in cold, passionless, accusing
domination of these haunted hours. They did not accuse him of
dishonor or cowardice or brutality or murder; they only accused
him of Death. It was as if they knew more than when they were
alive, had learned that life was a divine mysterious gift not
to be taken. They thronged about him with their voiceless
clamoring, drifted around him with their fading eyes.
After nearly six months in the Nueces gorge the loneliness and
inaction of his life drove Duane out upon the trails seeking
anything rather than to hide longer alone, a prey to the
scourge of his thoughts. The moment he rode into sight of men a
remarkable transformation occurred in him. A strange warmth
stirred in him--a longing to see the faces of people, to hear
their voices--a pleasurable emotion sad and strange. But it was
only a precursor of his old bitter, sleepless, and eternal
vigilance. When he hid alone in the brakes he was safe from all
except his deeper, better self; when he escaped from this into
the haunts of men his force and will went to the preservation
of his life.
Mercer was the first village he rode into. He had many friends
there. Mercer claimed to owe Duane a debt. On the outskirts of
the village there was a grave overgrown by brush so that the
rude-lettered post which marked it was scarcely visible to
Duane as he rode by. He had never read the inscription. But he
thought now of Hardin, no other than the erstwhile ally of
Bland. For many years Hardin had harassed the stockmen and
ranchers in and around Mercer. On an evil day for him he or his
outlaws had beaten and robbed a man who once succored Duane
when sore in need. Duane met Hardin in the little plaza of the
village, called him every name known to border men, taunted him
to draw, and killed him in the act.
Duane went to the house of one Jones, a Texan who had known his
father, and there he was warmly received. The feel of an honest
hand, the voice of a friend, the prattle of children who were
not afraid of him or his gun, good wholesome food, and change
of clothes--these things for the time being made a changed man
of Duane. To be sure, he did not often speak. The price of his
head and the weight of his burden made him silent. But eagerly
he drank in all the news that was told him. In the years of his
absence from home he had never heard a word about his mother or
uncle. Those who were his real friends on the border would have
been the last to make inquiries, to write or receive letters
that might give a clue to Duane's whereabouts.
Duane remained all day with this hospitable Jones, and as
twilight fell was loath to go and yielded to a pressing
invitation to remain overnight. It was seldom indeed that Duane
slept under a roof. Early in the evening, while Duane sat on
the porch with two awed and hero-worshiping sons of the house,
Jones returned from a quick visit down to the post-office.
Summarily he sent the boys off. He labored under intense
"Duane, there's rangers in town," he whispered. "It's all over
town, too, that you're here. You rode in long after sunup. Lots
of people saw you. I don't believe there's a man or boy that 'd
squeal on you. But the women might. They gossip, and these
rangers are handsome fellows--devils with the women."
"What company of rangers?" asked Duane, quickly.
"Company A, under Captain MacNelly, that new ranger. He made a
big name in the war. And since he's been in the ranger service
he's done wonders. He's cleaned up some bad places south, and
he's working north."
"MacNelly. I've heard of him. Describe him to me."
"Slight-built chap, but wiry and tough. Clean face, black
mustache and hair. Sharp black eyes. He's got a look of
authority. MacNelly's a fine man, Duane. Belongs to a good
Southern family. I'd hate to have him look you up."
Duane did not speak.
"MacNelly's got nerve, and his rangers are all experienced men.
If they find out you're here they'll come after you. MacNelly's
no gun-fighter, but he wouldn't hesitate to do his duty, even
if he faced sure death. Which he would in this case. Duane, you
mustn't meet Captain MacNelly. Your record is clean, if it is
terrible. You never met a ranger or any officer except a rotten
sheriff now and then, like Rod Brown."
Still Duane kept silence. He was not thinking of danger, but of
the fact of how fleeting must be his stay among friends.
"I've already fixed up a pack of grub," went on Jones. "I'll
slip out to saddle your horse. You watch here."
He had scarcely uttered the last word when soft, swift
footsteps sounded on the hard path. A man turned in at the
gate. The light was dim, yet clean enough to disclose an
unusually tall figure. When it appeared nearer he was seen to
be walking with both arms raised, hands high. He slowed his
"Does Burt Jones live here?" he asked, in a low, hurried voice.
"I reckon. I'm Burt. What can I do for you?" replied Jones.
The stranger peered around, stealthily came closer, still with
his hands up.
"It is known that Buck Duane is here. Captain MacNelly's
camping on the river just out of town. He sends word to Duane
to come out there after dark."
The stranger wheeled and departed as swiftly and strangely as
he had come.
"Bust me! Duane, whatever do you make of that?" exclaimed
"A new one on me," replied Duane, thoughtfully.
"First fool thing I ever heard of MacNelly doing. Can't make
head nor tails of it. I'd have said offhand that MacNelly
wouldn't double-cross anybody. He struck me as a square man,
sand all through. But, hell! he must mean treachery. I can't
see anything else in that deal."
"Maybe the Captain wants to give me a fair chance to surrender
without bloodshed," observed Duane. "Pretty decent of him, if
he meant that."
"He INVITES YOU out to his camp AFTER DARK. Something strange
about this, Duane. But MacNelly's a new man out here. He does
some queer things. Perhaps he's getting a swelled head. Well,
whatever his intentions, his presence around Mercer is enough
for us. Duane, you hit the road and put some miles between you
the amiable Captain before daylight. To-morrow I'll go out
there and ask him what in the devil he meant."
"That messenger he sent--he was a ranger," said Duane.
"Sure he was, and a nervy one! It must have taken sand to come
bracing you that way. Duane, the fellow didn't pack a gun. I'll
swear to that. Pretty odd, this trick. But you can't trust it.
Hit the road, Duane."
A little later a black horse with muffled hoofs, bearing a
tall, dark rider who peered keenly into every shadow, trotted
down a pasture lane back of Jones's house, turned into the
road, and then, breaking into swifter gait, rapidly left Mercer
Fifteen or twenty miles out Duane drew rein in a forest of
mesquite, dismounted, and searched about for a glade with a
little grass. Here he staked his horse on a long lariat; and,
using his saddle for a pillow, his saddle-blanket for covering,
he went to sleep.
Next morning he was off again, working south. During the next
few days he paid brief visits to several villages that lay in
his path. And in each some one particular friend had a piece of
news to impart that made Duane profoundly thoughtful. A ranger
had made a quiet, unobtrusive call upon these friends and left
this message, "Tell Buck Duane to ride into Captain MacNelly's
camp some time after night."
Duane concluded, and his friends all agreed with him, that the
new ranger's main purpose in the Nueces country was to capture
or kill Buck Duane, and that this message was simply an
original and striking ruse, the daring of which might appeal to
But it did not appeal to Duane. His curiosity was aroused; it
did not, however, tempt him to any foolhardy act. He turned
southwest and rode a hundred miles until he again reached the
sparsely settled country. Here he heard no more of rangers. It
was a barren region he had never but once ridden through, and
that ride had cost him dear. He had been compelled to shoot his
way out. Outlaws were not in accord with the few ranchers and
their cowboys who ranged there. He learned that both outlaws
and Mexican raiders had long been at bitter enmity with these
ranchers. Being unfamiliar with roads and trails, Duane had
pushed on into the heart of this district, when all the time he
really believed he was traveling around it. A rifle-shot from a
ranch-house, a deliberate attempt to kill him because he was an
unknown rider in those parts, discovered to Duane his mistake;
and a hard ride to get away persuaded him to return to his old
methods of hiding by day and traveling by night.
He got into rough country, rode for three days without covering
much ground, but believed that he was getting on safer
territory. Twice he came to a wide bottom-land green with
willow and cottonwood and thick as chaparral, somewhere through
the middle of which ran a river he decided must be the lower
One evening, as he stole out from a covert where he had camped,
he saw the lights of a village. He tried to pass it on the
left, but was unable to because the brakes of this bottom-land
extended in almost to the outskirts of the village, and he had
to retrace his steps and go round to the right. Wire fences and
horses in pasture made this a task, so it was well after
midnight before he accomplished it. He made ten miles or more
then by daylight, and after that proceeded cautiously along a
road which appeared to be well worn from travel. He passed
several thickets where he would have halted to hide during the
day but for the fact that he had to find water.
He was a long while in coming to it, and then there was no
thicket or clump of mesquite near the waterhole that would
afford him covert. So he kept on.
The country before him was ridgy and began to show cottonwoods
here and there in the hollows and yucca and mesquite on the
higher ground. As he mounted a ridge he noted that the road
made a sharp turn, and he could not see what was beyond it. He
slowed up and was making the turn, which was down-hill between
high banks of yellow clay, when his mettlesome horse heard
something to frighten him or shied at something and bolted.
The few bounds he took before Duane's iron arm checked him were
enough to reach the curve. One flashing glance showed Duane the
open once more, a little valley below with a wide, shallow,
rocky stream, a clump of cottonwoods beyond, a somber group of
men facing him, and two dark, limp, strangely grotesque figures
hanging from branches.
The sight was common enough in southwest Texas, but Duane had
never before found himself so unpleasantly close.
A hoarse voice pealed out: "By hell! there's another one!"
"Stranger, ride down an' account fer yourself!" yelled another.
"Thet's right, Jack; don't take no chances. Plug him!"
These remarks were so swiftly uttered as almost to be
continuous. Duane was wheeling his horse when a rifle cracked.
The bullet struck his left forearm and he thought broke it, for
he dropped the rein. The frightened horse leaped. Another
bullet whistled past Duane. Then the bend in the road saved him
probably from certain death. Like the wind his fleet steed wend
down the long hill.
Duane was in no hurry to look back. He knew what to expect. His
chief concern of the moment was for his injured arm. He found
that the bones were still intact; but the wound, having been
made by a soft bullet, was an exceedingly bad one. Blood poured
from it. Giving the horse his head, Duane wound his scarf
tightly round the holes, and with teeth and hand tied it
tightly. That done, he looked back over his shoulder.
Riders were making the dust fly on the hillside road. There
were more coming round the cut where the road curved. The
leader was perhaps a quarter of a mile back, and the others
strung out behind him. Duane needed only one glance to tell him
that they were fast and hard-riding cowboys in a land where all
riders were good. They would not have owned any but strong,
swift horses. Moreover, it was a district where ranchers had
suffered beyond all endurance the greed and brutality of
outlaws. Duane had simply been so unfortunate as to run right
into a lynching party at a time of all times when any stranger
would be in danger and any outlaw put to his limit to escape
with his life.
Duane did not look back again till he had crossed the ridgy
piece of ground and had gotten to the level road. He had gained
upon his pursuers. When he ascertained this he tried to save
his horse, to check a little that killing gait. This horse was
a magnificent animal, big, strong, fast; but his endurance had
never been put to a grueling test. And that worried Duane. His
life had made it impossible to keep one horse very long at a
time, and this one was an unknown quantity.
Duane had only one plan--the only plan possible in this
case--and that was to make the river-bottoms, where he might
elude his pursuers in the willow brakes. Fifteen miles or so
would bring him to the river, and this was not a hopeless
distance for any good horse if not too closely pressed. Duane
concluded presently that the cowboys behind were losing a
little in the chase because they were not extending their
horses. It was decidedly unusual for such riders to save their
mounts. Duane pondered over this, looking backward several
times to see if their horses were stretched out. They were not,
and the fact was disturbing. Only one reason presented itself
to Duane's conjecturing, and it was that with him headed
straight on that road his pursuers were satisfied not to force
the running. He began to hope and look for a trail or a road
turning off to right or left. There was none. A rough,
mesquite-dotted and yucca-spired country extended away on
either side. Duane believed that he would be compelled to take
to this hard going. One thing was certain--he had to go round
the village. The river, however, was on the outskirts of the
village; and once in the willows, he would be safe.
Dust-clouds far ahead caused his alarm to grow. He watched with
his eyes strained; he hoped to see a wagon, a few stray cattle.
But no, he soon descried several horsemen. Shots and yells
behind him attested to the fact that his pursuers likewise had
seen these new-comers on the scene. More than a mile separated
these two parties, yet that distance did not keep them from
soon understanding each other. Duane waited only to see this
new factor show signs of sudden quick action, and then, with a
muttered curse, he spurred his horse off the road into the
He chose the right side, because the river lay nearer that way.
There were patches of open sandy ground between clumps of
cactus and mesquite, and he found that despite a zigzag course
he made better time. It was impossible for him to locate his
pursuers. They would come together, he decided, and take to his
What, then, was his surprise and dismay to run out of a thicket
right into a low ridge of rough, broken rock, impossible to get
a horse over. He wheeled to the left along its base. The sandy
ground gave place to a harder soil, where his horse did not
labor so. Here the growths of mesquite and cactus became
scanter, affording better travel but poor cover. He kept sharp
eyes ahead, and, as he had expected, soon saw moving
dust-clouds and the dark figures of horses. They were half a
mile away, and swinging obliquely across the flat, which fact
proved that they had entertained a fair idea of the country and
the fugitive's difficulty.
Without an instant's hesitation Duane put his horse to his best
efforts, straight ahead. He had to pass those men. When this
was seemingly made impossible by a deep wash from which he had
to turn, Duane began to feel cold and sick. Was this the end?
Always there had to be an end to an outlaw's career. He wanted
then to ride straight at these pursuers. But reason outweighed
instinct. He was fleeing for his life; nevertheless, the
strongest instinct at the time was his desire to fight.
He knew when these three horsemen saw him, and a moment
afterward he lost sight of them as he got into the mesquite
again. He meant now to try to reach the road, and pushed his
mount severely, though still saving him for a final burst.
Rocks, thickets, bunches of cactus, washes--all operated
against his following a straight line. Almost he lost his
bearings, and finally would have ridden toward his enemies had
not good fortune favored him in the matter of an open
burned-over stretch of ground.
Here he saw both groups of pursuers, one on each side and
almost within gun-shot. Their sharp yells, as much as his cruel
spurs, drove his horse into that pace which now meant life or
death for him. And never had Duane bestrode a gamer, swifter,
stancher beast. He seemed about to accomplish the impossible.
In the dragging sand he was far superior to any horse in
pursuit, and on this sandy open stretch he gained enough to
spare a little in the brush beyond. Heated now and thoroughly
terrorized, he kept the pace through thickets that almost tore
Duane from his saddle. Something weighty and grim eased off
Duane. He was going to get out in front! The horse had speed,
Duane dashed out into another open place dotted by few trees,
and here, right in his path, within pistol-range, stood
horsemen waiting. They yelled, they spurred toward him, but did
not fire at him. He turned his horse--faced to the right. Only
one thing kept him from standing his ground to fight it out. He
remembered those dangling limp figures hanging from the
cottonwoods. These ranchers would rather hang an outlaw than do
anything. They might draw all his fire and then capture him.
His horror of hanging was so great as to be all out of
proportion compared to his gun-fighter's instinct of
A race began then, a dusty, crashing drive through gray
mesquite. Duane could scarcely see, he was so blinded by
stinging branches across his eyes. The hollow wind roared in
his ears. He lost his sense of the nearness of his pursuers.
But they must have been close. Did they shoot at him? He
imagined he heard shots. But that might have been the cracking
of dead snags. His left arm hung limp, almost useless; he
handled the rein with his right; and most of the time he hung
low over the pommel. The gray walls flashing by him, the whip
of twigs, the rush of wind, the heavy, rapid pound of hoofs,
the violent motion of his horse--these vied in sensation with
the smart of sweat in his eyes, the rack of his wound, the
cold, sick cramp in his stomach. With these also was dull,
raging fury. He had to run when he wanted to fight. It took all
his mind to force back that bitter hate of himself, of his
pursuers, of this race for his useless life.
Suddenly he burst out of a line of mesquite into the road. A
long stretch of lonely road! How fiercely, with hot, strange
joy, he wheeled his horse upon it! Then he was sweeping along,
sure now that he was out in front. His horse still had strength
and speed, but showed signs of breaking. Presently Duane looked
back. Pursuers--he could not count how many--were loping along
in his rear. He paid no more attention to them, and with teeth
set he faced ahead, grimmer now in his determination to foil
He passed a few scattered ranch-houses where horses whistled
from corrals, and men curiously watched him fly past. He saw
one rancher running, and he felt intuitively that this fellow
was going to join in the chase. Duane's steed pounded on, not
noticeably slower, but with a lack of former smoothness, with a
strained, convulsive, jerking stride which showed he was almost
Sight of the village ahead surprised Duane. He had reached it
sooner than he expected. Then he made a discovery--he had
entered the zone of wire fences. As he dared not turn back now,
he kept on, intending to ride through the village. Looking
backward, he saw that his pursuers were half a mile distant,
too far to alarm any villagers in time to intercept him in his
flight. As he rode by the first houses his horse broke and
began to labor. Duane did not believe he would last long enough
to go through the village.
Saddled horses in front of a store gave Duane an idea, not by
any means new, and one he had carried out successfully before.
As he pulled in his heaving mount and leaped off, a couple of
ranchers came out of the place, and one of them stepped to a
clean-limbed, fiery bay. He was about to get into his saddle
when he saw Duane, and then he halted, a foot in the stirrup.
Duane strode forward, grasped the bridle of this man's horse.
"Mine's done--but not killed," he panted. "Trade with me."
"Wal, stranger, I'm shore always ready to trade," drawled the
man. "But ain't you a little swift?"
Duane glanced back up the road. His pursuers were entering the
"I'm Duane--Buck Duane," he cried, menacingly. "Will you trade?
The rancher, turning white, dropped his foot from the stirrup
and fell back.
"I reckon I'll trade," he said.
Bounding up, Duane dug spurs into the bay's flanks. The horse
snorted in fright, plunged into a run. He was fresh, swift,
half wild. Duane flashed by the remaining houses on the street
out into the open. But the road ended at that village or else
led out from some other quarter, for he had ridden straight
into the fields and from them into rough desert. When he
reached the cover of mesquite once more he looked back to find
six horsemen within rifle-shot of him, and more coming behind
His new horse had not had time to get warm before Duane reached
a high sandy bluff below which lay the willow brakes. As far as
he could see extended an immense flat strip of red-tinged
willow. How welcome it was to his eye! He felt like a hunted
wolf that, weary and lame, had reached his hole in the rocks.
Zigzagging down the soft slope, he put the bay to the dense
wall of leaf and branch. But the horse balked.
There was little time to lose. Dismounting, he dragged the
stubborn beast into the thicket. This was harder and slower
work than Duane cared to risk. If he had not been rushed he
might have had better success. So he had to abandon the horse--
a circumstance that only such sore straits could have driven
him to. Then he went slipping swiftly through the narrow
He had not gotten under cover any too soon. For he heard his
pursuers piling over the bluff, loud-voiced, confident, brutal.
They crashed into the willows.
"Hi, Sid! Heah's your hoss!" called one, evidently to the man
Duane had forced into a trade.
"Say, if you locoed gents'll hold up a little I'll tell you
somethin'," replied a voice from the bluff.
"Come on, Sid! We got him corralled," said the first speaker.
"Wal, mebbe, an' if you hev it's liable to be damn hot. THET
FELLER WAS BUCK DUANE!"
Absolute silence followed that statement. Presently it was
broken by a rattling of loose gravel and then low voices.
"He can't git across the river, I tell you," came to Duane's
ears. "He's corralled in the brake. I know thet hole."
Then Duane, gliding silently and swiftly through the willows,
heard no more from his pursuers. He headed straight for the
river. Threading a passage through a willow brake was an old
task for him. Many days and nights had gone to the acquiring of
a skill that might have been envied by an Indian.
The Rio Grande and its tributaries for the most of their length
in Texas ran between wide, low, flat lands covered by a dense
growth of willow. Cottonwood, mesquite, prickly pear, and other
growths mingled with the willow, and altogether they made a
matted, tangled copse, a thicket that an inexperienced man
would have considered impenetrable. From above, these wild
brakes looked green and red; from the inside they were gray and
yellow--a striped wall. Trails and glades were scarce. There
were a few deer-runways and sometimes little paths made by
peccaries--the jabali, or wild pigs, of Mexico. The ground was
clay and unusually dry, sometimes baked so hard that it left no
imprint of a track. Where a growth of cottonwood had held back
the encroachment of the willows there usually was thick grass
and underbrush. The willows were short, slender poles with
stems so close together that they almost touched, and with the
leafy foliage forming a thick covering. The depths of this
brake Duane had penetrated was a silent, dreamy, strange place.
In the middle of the day the light was weird and dim. When a
breeze fluttered the foliage, then slender shafts and spears of
sunshine pierced the green mantle and danced like gold on the
Duane had always felt the strangeness of this kind of place,
and likewise he had felt a protecting, harboring something
which always seemed to him to be the sympathy of the brake for
a hunted creature. Any unwounded creature, strong and
resourceful, was safe when he had glided under the low,
rustling green roof of this wild covert. It was not hard to
conceal tracks; the springy soil gave forth no sound; and men
could hunt each other for weeks, pass within a few yards of
each other and never know it. The problem of sustaining life
was difficult; but, then, hunted men and animals survived on
Duane wanted to cross the river if that was possible, and,
keeping in the brake, work his way upstream till he had reached
country more hospitable. Remembering what the man had said in
regard to the river, Duane had his doubts about crossing. But
he would take any chance to put the river between him and his
hunters. He pushed on. His left arm had to be favored, as he
could scarcely move it. Using his right to spread the willows,
he slipped sideways between them and made fast time. There were
narrow aisles and washes and holes low down and paths brushed
by animals, all of which he took advantage of, running,
walking, crawling, stooping any way to get along. To keep in a
straight line was not easy--he did it by marking some bright
sunlit stem or tree ahead, and when he reached it looked
straight on to mark another. His progress necessarily grew
slower, for as he advanced the brake became wilder, denser,
darker. Mosquitoes began to whine about his head. He kept on
without pause. Deepening shadows under the willows told him
that the afternoon was far advanced. He began to fear he had
wandered in a wrong direction. Finally a strip of light ahead
relieved his anxiety, and after a toilsome penetration of still
denser brush he broke through to the bank of the river.
He faced a wide, shallow, muddy stream with brakes on the
opposite bank extending like a green and yellow wall. Duane
perceived at a glance the futility of his trying to cross at
this point. Everywhere the sluggish water raved quicksand bars.
In fact, the bed of the river was all quicksand, and very
likely there was not a foot of water anywhere. He could not
swim; he could not crawl; he could not push a log across. Any
solid thing touching that smooth yellow sand would be grasped
and sucked down. To prove this he seized a long pole and,
reaching down from the high bank, thrust it into the stream.
Right there near shore there apparently was no bottom to the
treacherous quicksand. He abandoned any hope of crossing the
river. Probably for miles up and down it would be just the same
as here. Before leaving the bank he tied his hat upon the pole
and lifted enough water to quench his thirst. Then he worked
his way back to where thinner growth made advancement easier,
and kept on up-stream till the shadows were so deep he could
not see. Feeling around for a place big enough to stretch out
on, he lay down. For the time being he was as safe there as he
would have been beyond in the Rim Rock. He was tired, though
not exhausted, and in spite of the throbbing pain in his arm he
dropped at once into sleep.
Some time during the night Duane awoke. A stillness seemingly
so thick and heavy as to have substance blanketed the black
willow brake. He could not see a star or a branch or tree-trunk
or even his hand before his eyes. He lay there waiting,
listening, sure that he had been awakened by an unusual sound.
Ordinary noises of the night in the wilderness never disturbed
his rest. His faculties, like those of old fugitives and hunted
creatures, had become trained to a marvelous keenness. A long
low breath of slow wind moaned through the willows, passed
away; some stealthy, soft-footed beast trotted by him in the
darkness; there was a rustling among dry leaves; a fox barked
lonesomely in the distance. But none of these sounds had broken
Suddenly, piercing the stillness, came a bay of a bloodhound.
Quickly Duane sat up, chilled to his marrow. The action made
him aware of his crippled arm. Then came other bays, lower,
more distant. Silence enfolded him again, all the more
oppressive and menacing in his suspense. Bloodhounds had been
put on his trail, and the leader was not far away. All his life
Duane had been familiar with bloodhounds; and he knew that if
the pack surrounded him in this impenetrable darkness he would
be held at bay or dragged down as wolves dragged a stag. Rising
to his feet, prepared to flee as best he could, he waited to be
sure of the direction he should take.
The leader of the hounds broke into cry again, a deep,
full-toned, ringing bay, strange, ominous, terribly significant
in its power. It caused a cold sweat to ooze out all over
Duane's body. He turned from it, and with his uninjured arm
outstretched to feel for the willows he groped his way along.
As it was impossible to pick out the narrow passages, he had to
slip and squeeze and plunge between the yielding stems. He made
such a crashing that he no longer heard the baying of the
hounds. He had no hope to elude them. He meant to climb the
first cottonwood that he stumbled upon in his blind flight. But
it appeared he never was going to be lucky enough to run
against one. Often he fell, sometimes flat, at others upheld by
the willows. What made the work so hard was the fact that he
had only one arm to open a clump of close-growing stems and his
feet would catch or tangle in the narrow crotches, holding him
fast. He had to struggle desperately. It was as if the willows
were clutching hands, his enemies, fiendishly impeding his
progress. He tore his clothes on sharp branches and his flesh
suffered many a prick. But in a terrible earnestness he kept on
until he brought up hard against a cottonwood tree.
There he leaned and rested. He found himself as nearly
exhausted as he had ever been, wet with sweat, his hands torn
and burning, his breast laboring, his legs stinging from
innumerable bruises. While he leaned there to catch his breath
he listened for the pursuing hounds. For a long time there was
no sound from them. This, however, did not deceive him into any
hopefulness. There were bloodhounds that bayed often on a
trail, and others that ran mostly silent. The former were more
valuable to their owner and the latter more dangerous to the
fugitive. Presently Duane's ears were filled by a chorus of
short ringing yelps. The pack had found where he had slept, and
now the trail was hot. Satisfied that they would soon overtake
him, Duane set about climbing the cottonwood, which in his
condition was difficult of ascent.
It happened to be a fairly large tree with a fork about fifteen
feet up, and branches thereafter in succession. Duane climbed
until he got above the enshrouding belt of blackness. A pale
gray mist hung above the brake, and through it shone a line of
dim lights. Duane decided these were bonfires made along the
bluff to render his escape more difficult on that side. Away
round in the direction he thought was north he imagined he saw
more fires, but, as the mist was thick, he could not be sure.
While he sat there pondering the matter, listening for the
hounds, the mist and the gloom on one side lightened; and this
side he concluded was east and meant that dawn was near.
Satisfying himself on this score, he descended to the first
branch of the tree.
His situation now, though still critical, did not appear to be
so hopeless as it had been. The hounds would soon close in on
him, and he would kill them or drive them away. It was beyond
the bounds of possibility that any men could have followed
running hounds through that brake in the night. The thing that
worried Duane was the fact of the bonfires. He had gathered
from the words of one of his pursuers that the brake was a kind
of trap, and he began to believe there was only one way out of
it, and that was along the bank where he had entered, and where
obviously all night long his pursuers had kept fires burning.
Further conjecture on this point, however, was interrupted by a
crashing in the willows and the rapid patter of feet.
Underneath Duane lay a gray, foggy obscurity. He could not see
the ground, nor any object but the black trunk of the tree.
Sight would not be needed to tell him when the pack arrived.
With a pattering rush through the willows the hounds reached
the tree; and then high above crash of brush and thud of heavy
paws rose a hideous clamor. Duane's pursuers far off to the
south would hear that and know what it meant. And at daybreak,
perhaps before, they would take a short cut across the brake,
guided by the baying of hounds that had treed their quarry.
It wanted only a few moments, however, till Duane could
distinguish the vague forms of the hounds in the gray shadow
below. Still he waited. He had no shots to spare. And he knew
how to treat bloodhounds. Gradually the obscurity lightened,
and at length Duane had good enough sight of the hounds for his
purpose. His first shot killed the huge brute leader of the
pack. Then, with unerring shots, he crippled several others.
That stopped the baying. Piercing howls arose. The pack took
fright and fled, its course easily marked by the howls of the
crippled members. Duane reloaded his gun, and, making certain
all the hounds had gone, he descended to the ground and set off
at a rapid pace to the northward.
The mist had dissolved under a rising sun when Duane made his
first halt some miles north of the scene where he had waited
for the hounds. A barrier to further progress, in shape of a
precipitous rocky bluff, rose sheer from the willow brake. He
skirted the base of the cliff, where walking was comparatively
easy, around in the direction of the river. He reached the end
finally to see there was absolutely no chance to escape from
the brake at that corner. It took extreme labor, attended by
some hazard and considerable pain to his arm, to get down where
he could fill his sombrero with water. After quenching his
thirst he had a look at his wound. It was caked over with blood
and dirt. When washed off the arm was seen to be inflamed and
swollen around the bullet-hole. He bathed it, experiencing a
soothing relief in the cool water. Then he bandaged it as best
he could and arranged a sling round his neck. This mitigated
the pain of the injured member and held it in a quiet and
restful position, where it had a chance to begin mending.
As Duane turned away from the river he felt refreshed. His
great strength and endurance had always made fatigue something
almost unknown to him. However, tramping on foot day and night
was as unusual to him as to any other riders of the Southwest,
and it had begun to tell on him. Retracing his steps, he
reached the point where he had abruptly come upon the bluff,
and here he determined to follow along its base in the other
direction until he found a way out or discovered the futility
of such effort.
Duane covered ground rapidly. From time to time he paused to
listen. But he was always listening, and his eyes were ever
roving. This alertness had become second nature with him, so
that except in extreme cases of caution he performed it while
he pondered his gloomy and fateful situation. Such habit of
alertness and thought made time fly swiftly.
By noon he had rounded the wide curve of the brake and was
facing south. The bluff had petered out from a high,
mountainous wall to a low abutment of rock, but it still held
to its steep, rough nature and afforded no crack or slope where
quick ascent could have been possible. He pushed on, growing
warier as he approached the danger-zone, finding that as he
neared the river on this side it was imperative to go deeper
into the willows. In the afternoon he reached a point where he
could see men pacing to and fro on the bluff. This assured him
that whatever place was guarded was one by which he might
escape. He headed toward these men and approached to within a
hundred paces of the bluff where they were. There were several
men and several boys, all armed and, after the manner of
Texans, taking their task leisurely. Farther down Duane made
out black dots on the horizon of the bluff-line, and these he
concluded were more guards stationed at another outlet.
Probably all the available men in the district were on duty.
Texans took a grim pleasure in such work. Duane remembered that
upon several occasions he had served such duty himself.
Duane peered through the branches and studied the lay of the
land. For several hundred yards the bluff could be climbed. He
took stock of those careless guards. They had rifles, and that
made vain any attempt to pass them in daylight. He believed an
attempt by night might be successful; and he was swiftly coming
to a determination to hide there till dark and then try it,
when the sudden yelping of a dog betrayed him to the guards on
The dog had likely been placed there to give an alarm, and he
was lustily true to his trust. Duane saw the men run together
and begin to talk excitedly and peer into the brake, which was
a signal for him to slip away under the willows. He made no
noise, and he assured himself he must be invisible.
Nevertheless, he heard shouts, then the cracking of rifles, and
bullets began to zip and swish through the leafy covert. The
day was hot and windless, and Duane concluded that whenever he
touched a willow stem, even ever so slightly, it vibrated to
the top and sent a quiver among the leaves. Through this the
guards had located his position. Once a bullet hissed by him;
another thudded into the ground before him. This shooting
loosed a rage in Duane. He had to fly from these men, and he
hated them and himself because of it. Always in the fury of
such moments he wanted to give back shot for shot. But he
slipped on through the willows, and at length the rifles ceased
He sheered to the left again, in line with the rocky barrier,
and kept on, wondering what the next mile would bring.
It brought worse, for he was seen by sharp-eyed scouts, and a
hot fusillade drove him to run for his life, luckily to escape
with no more than a bullet-creased shoulder.
Later that day, still undaunted, he sheered again toward the
trap-wall, and found that the nearer he approached to the place
where he had come down into the brake the greater his danger.
To attempt to run the blockade of that trail by day would be
fatal. He waited for night, and after the brightness of the
fires had somewhat lessened he assayed to creep out of the
brake. He succeeded in reaching the foot of the bluff, here
only a bank, and had begun to crawl stealthily up under cover
of a shadow when a hound again betrayed his position.
Retreating to the willows was as perilous a task as had ever
confronted Duane, and when he had accomplished it, right under
what seemed a hundred blazing rifles, he felt that he had
indeed been favored by Providence. This time men followed him a
goodly ways into the brake, and the ripping of lead through the
willows sounded on all sides of him.
When the noise of pursuit ceased Duane sat down in the
darkness, his mind clamped between two things--whether to try
again to escape or wait for possible opportunity. He seemed
incapable of decision. His intelligence told him that every
hour lessened his chances for escape. He had little enough
chance in any case, and that was what made another attempt so
desperately hard. Still it was not love of life that bound him.
There would come an hour, sooner or later, when he would wrench
decision out of this chaos of emotion and thought. But that
time was not yet.
he had remained quiet long enough to cool off and recover from
his run he found that he was tired. He stretched out to rest.
But the swarms of vicious mosquitoes prevented sleep. This
corner of the brake was low and near the river, a
breeding-ground for the blood-suckers. They sang and hummed and
whined around him in an ever-increasing horde. He covered his
head and hands with his coat and lay there patiently. That was
a long and wretched night. Morning found him still strong
physically, but in a dreadful state of mind.
First he hurried for the river. He could withstand the pangs of
hunger, but it was imperative to quench thirst. His wound made
him feverish, and therefore more than usually hot and thirsty.
Again he was refreshed. That morning he was hard put to it to
hold himself back from attempting to cross the river. If he
could find a light log it was within the bounds of possibility
that he might ford the shallow water and bars of quicksand. But
not yet! Wearily, doggedly he faced about toward the bluff.
All that day and all that night, all the next day and all the
next night, he stole like a hunted savage from river to bluff;
and every hour forced upon him the bitter certainty that he was
Duane lost track of days, of events. He had come to an evil
pass. There arrived an hour when, closely pressed by pursuers
at the extreme southern corner of the brake, he took to a dense
thicket of willows, driven to what he believed was his last
If only these human bloodhounds would swiftly close in on him!
Let him fight to the last bitter gasp and have it over! But
these hunters, eager as they were to get him, had care of their
own skins. They took few risks. They had him cornered.
It was the middle of the day, hot, dusty, oppressive,
threatening storm. Like a snake Duane crawled into a little
space in the darkest part of the thicket and lay still. Men had
cut him off from the bluff, from the river, seemingly from all
sides. But he heard voices only from in front and toward his
left. Even if his passage to the river had not been blocked, it
might just as well have been.
"Come on fellers--down hyar," called one man from the bluff.
"Got him corralled at last," shouted another.
"Reckon ye needn't be too shore. We thought thet more'n once,"
"I seen him, I tell you."
"Aw, thet was a deer."
"But Bill found fresh tracks an' blood on the willows. '
"If he's winged we needn't hurry."
"Hold on thar, you boys," came a shout in authoritative tones
from farther up the bluff. "Go slow. You-all air gittin'
foolish at the end of a long chase."
"Thet's right, Colonel. Hold 'em back. There's nothin' shorer
than somebody'll be stoppin' lead pretty quick. He'll be
huntin' us soon!"
"Let's surround this corner an' starve him out."
"Fire the brake."
How clearly all this talk pierced Duane's ears! In it he seemed
to hear his doom. This, then, was the end he had always
expected, which had been close to him before, yet never like
"By God!" whispered Duane, "the thing for me to do now--is go
That was prompted by the fighting, the killing instinct in him.
In that moment it had almost superhuman power. If he must die,
that was the way for him to die. What else could be expected of
Buck Duane? He got to his knees and drew his gun. With his
swollen and almost useless hand he held what spare ammunition
he had left. He ought to creep out noiselessly to the edge of
the willows, suddenly face his pursuers, then, while there was
a beat left in his heart, kill, kill, kill. These men all had
rifles. The fight would be short. But the marksmen did not live
on earth who could make such a fight go wholly against him.
Confronting them suddenly he could kill a man for every shot in
Thus Duane reasoned. So he hoped to accept his fate--to meet
this end. But when he tried to step forward something checked
him. He forced himself; yet he could not go. The obstruction
that opposed his will was as insurmountable as it had been
physically impossible for him to climb the bluff.
Slowly he fell back, crouched low, and then lay flat. The grim
and ghastly dignity that had been his a moment before fell away
from him. He lay there stripped of his last shred of
self-respect. He wondered was he afraid; had he, the last of
the Duanes--had he come to feel fear? No! Never in all his wild
life had he so longed to go out and meet men face to face. It
was not fear that held him back. He hated this hiding, this
eternal vigilance, this hopeless life. The damnable paradox of
the situation was that if he went out to meet these men there
was absolutely no doubt of his doom. If he clung to his covert
there was a chance, a merest chance, for his life. These
pursuers, dogged and unflagging as they had been, were mortally
afraid of him. It was his fame that made them cowards. Duane's
keenness told him that at the very darkest and most perilous
moment there was still a chance for him. And the blood in him,
the temper of his father, the years of his outlawry, the pride
of his unsought and hated career, the nameless, inexplicable
something in him made him accept that slim chance.
Waiting then became a physical and mental agony. He lay under
the burning sun, parched by thirst, laboring to breathe,
sweating and bleeding. His uncared-for wound was like a red-hot
prong in his flesh. Blotched and swollen from the never-ending
attack of flies and mosquitoes his face seemed twice its
natural size, and it ached and stung.
On one side, then, was this physical torture; on the other the
old hell, terribly augmented at this crisis, in his mind. It
seemed that thought and imagination had never been so swift. If
death found him presently, how would it come? Would he get
decent burial or be left for the peccaries and the coyotes?
Would his people ever know where he had fallen? How wretched,
how miserable his state! It was cowardly, it was monstrous for
him to cling longer to this doomed life. Then the hate in his
heart, the hellish hate of these men on his trail--that was
like a scourge. He felt no longer human. He had degenerated
into an animal that could think. His heart pounded, his pulse
beat, his breast heaved; and this internal strife seemed to
thunder into his ears. He was now enacting the tragedy of all
crippled, starved, hunted wolves at bay in their dens. Only his
tragedy was infinitely more terrible because he had mind enough
to see his plight, his resemblance to a lonely wolf,
bloody-fanged, dripping, snarling, fire-eyed in a last
Mounted upon the horror of Duane's thought was a watching,
listening intensity so supreme that it registered impressions
which were creations of his imagination. He heard stealthy
steps that were not there; he saw shadowy moving figures that
were only leaves. A hundred times when he was about to pull
trigger he discovered his error. Yet voices came from a
distance, and steps and crackings in the willows, and other
sounds real enough. But Duane could not distinguish the real
from the false. There were times when the wind which had arisen
sent a hot, pattering breath down the willow aisles, and Duane
heard it as an approaching army.
This straining of Duane's faculties brought on a reaction which
in itself was a respite. He saw the sun darkened by thick slow
spreading clouds. A storm appeared to be coming. How slowly it
moved! The air was like steam. If there broke one of those
dark, violent storms common though rare to the country, Duane
believed he might slip away in the fury of wind and rain. Hope,
that seemed unquenchable in him, resurged again. He hailed it
with a bitterness that was sickening.
Then at a rustling step he froze into the old strained
attention. He heard a slow patter of soft feet. A tawny shape
crossed a little opening in the thicket. It was that of a dog.
The moment while that beast came into full view was an age. The
dog was not a bloodhound, and if he had a trail or a scent he
seemed to be at fault on it. Duane waited for the inevitable
discovery. Any kind of a hunting-dog could have found him in
that thicket. Voices from outside could be heard urging on the
dog. Rover they called him. Duane sat up at the moment the dog
entered the little shaded covert. Duane expected a yelping, a
baying, or at least a bark that would tell of his hiding-place.
A strange relief swiftly swayed over Duane. The end was near
now. He had no further choice. Let them come--a quick fierce
exchange of shots--and then this torture past! He waited for
the dog to give the alarm.
But the dog looked at him and trotted by into the thicket
without a yelp. Duane could not believe the evidence of his
senses. He thought he had suddenly gone deaf. He saw the dog
disappear, heard him running to and fro among the willows,
getting farther and farther away, till all sound from him
"Thar's Rover," called a voice from the bluff-side. "He's been
through thet black patch."
"Nary a rabbit in there," replied another.
"Bah! Thet pup's no good," scornfully growled another man. "Put
a hound at thet clump of willows."
"Fire's the game. Burn the brake before the rain comes."
The voices droned off as their owners evidently walked up the
Then upon Duane fell the crushing burden of the old waiting,
watching, listening spell. After all, it was not to end just
now. His chance still persisted--looked a little brighter--led
him on, perhaps, to forlorn hope.
All at once twilight settled quickly down upon the willow
brake, or else Duane noted it suddenly. He imagined it to be
caused by the approaching storm. But there was little movement
of air or cloud, and thunder still muttered and rumbled at a
distance. The fact was the sun had set, and at this time of
overcast sky night was at hand.
Duane realized it with the awakening of all his old force. He
would yet elude his pursuers. That was the moment when he
seized the significance of all these fortunate circumstances
which had aided him. Without haste and without sound he began
to crawl in the direction of the river. It was not far, and he
reached the bank before darkness set in. There were men up on
the bluff carrying wood to build a bonfire. For a moment he
half yielded to a temptation to try to slip along the
river-shore, close in under the willows. But when he raised
himself to peer out he saw that an attempt of this kind would
be liable to failure. At the same moment he saw a rough-hewn
plank lying beneath him, lodged against some willows. The end
of the plank extended in almost to a point beneath him. Quick
as a flash he saw where a desperate chance invited him. Then he
tied his gun in an oilskin bag and put it in his pocket.,
The bank was steep and crumbly. He must not break off any earth
to splash into the water. There was a willow growing back some
few feet from the edge of the bank. Cautiously he pulled it
down, bent it over the water so that when he released it there
would be no springing back. Then he trusted his weight to it,
with his feet sliding carefully down the bank. He went into the
water almost up to his knees, felt the quicksand grip his feet;
then, leaning forward till he reached the plank, he pulled it
toward him and lay upon it.
Without a sound one end went slowly under water and the farther
end appeared lightly braced against the overhanging willows.
Very carefully then Duane began to extricate his right foot
from the sucking sand. It seemed as if his foot was incased in
solid rock. But there was a movement upward, and he pulled with
all the power he dared use. It came slowly and at length was
free. The left one he released with less difficulty. The next
few moments he put all his attention on the plank to ascertain
if his weight would sink it into the sand. The far end slipped
off the willows with a little splash and gradually settled to
rest upon the bottom. But it sank no farther, and Duane's
greatest concern was relieved. However, as it was manifestly
impossible for him to keep his head up for long he carefully
crawled out upon the plank until he could rest an arm and
shoulder upon the willows.
When he looked up it was to find the night strangely luminous
with fires. There was a bonfire on the extreme end of the,
bluff, another a hundred paces beyond. A great flare extended
over the brake in that direction. Duane heard a roaring on the
wind, and he knew his pursuers had fired the willows. He did
not believe that would help them much. The brake was dry
enough, but too green to burn readily. And as for the bonfires
he discovered that the men, probably having run out of wood,
were keeping up the light with oil and stuff from the village.
A dozen men kept watch on the bluff scarcely fifty paces from
where Duane lay concealed by the willows. They talked, cracked
jokes, sang songs, and manifestly considered this
outlaw-hunting a great lark. As long as the bright light lasted
Duane dared not move. He had the patience and the endurance to
wait for the breaking of the storm, and if that did not come,
then the early hour before dawn when the gray fog and gloom
were over the river.
Escape was now in his grasp. He felt it. And with that in his
mind he waited, strong as steel in his conviction, capable of
withstanding any strain endurable by the human frame.
The wind blew in puffs, grew wilder, and roared through the
willows, carrying bright sparks upward. Thunder rolled down
over the river, and lightning began to flash. Then the rain
fell in heavy sheets, but not steadily. The flashes of
lightning and the broad flares played so incessantly that Duane
could not trust himself out on the open river. Certainly the
storm rather increased the watchfulness of the men on the
bluff. He knew how to wait, and he waited, grimly standing pain
and cramp and chill. The storm wore away as desultorily as it
had come, and the long night set in. There were times when
Duane thought he was paralyzed, others when he grew sick,
giddy, weak from the strained posture. The first paling of the
stars quickened him with a kind of wild joy. He watched them
grow paler, dimmer, disappear one by one. A shadow hovered
down, rested upon the river, and gradually thickened. The
bonfire on the bluff showed as through a foggy veil. The
watchers were mere groping dark figures.
Duane, aware of how cramped he had become from long inaction,
began to move his legs and uninjured arm and body, and at
length overcame a paralyzing stiffness. Then, digging his hand
in the sand and holding the plank with his knees, he edged it
out into the river. Inch by inch he advanced until clear of the
willows. Looking upward, he saw the shadowy figures of the men
on the bluff. He realized they ought to see him, feared that
they would. But he kept on, cautiously, noiselessly, with a
heart-numbing slowness. From time to time his elbow made a
little gurgle and splash in the water. Try as he might, he
could not prevent this. It got to be like the hollow roar of a
rapid filling his ears with mocking sound. There was a
perceptible current out in the river, and it hindered straight
advancement. Inch by inch he crept on, expecting to hear the
bang of rifles, the spattering of bullets. He tried not to look
backward, but failed. The fire appeared a little dimmer, the
moving shadows a little darker.
Once the plank stuck in the sand and felt as if it were
settling. Bringing feet to aid his hand, he shoved it over the
treacherous place. This way he made faster progress. The
obscurity of the river seemed to be enveloping him. When he
looked back again the figures of the men were coalescing with
the surrounding gloom, the fires were streaky, blurred patches
of light. But the sky above was brighter. Dawn was not far off.
To the west all was dark. With infinite care and implacable
spirit and waning strength Duane shoved the plank along, and
when at last he discerned the black border of bank it came in
time, he thought, to save him. He crawled out, rested till the
gray dawn broke, and then headed north through the willows.
How long Duane was traveling out of that region he never knew.
But he reached familiar country and found a rancher who had
before befriended him. Here his arm was attended to; he had
food and sleep; and in a couple of weeks he was himself again.
When the time came for Duane to ride away on his endless trail
his friend reluctantly imparted the information that some
thirty miles south, near the village of Shirley, there was
posted at a certain cross-road a reward for Buck Duane dead or
alive. Duane had heard of such notices, but he had never seen
one. His friend's reluctance and refusal to state for what
particular deed this reward was offered roused Duane's
curiosity. He had never been any closer to Shirley than this
rancher's home. Doubtless some post-office burglary, some
gun-shooting scrape had been attributed to him. And he had been
accused of worse deeds. Abruptly Duane decided to ride over
there and find out who wanted him dead or alive, and why.
As he started south on the road he reflected that this was the
first time he had ever deliberately hunted trouble.
Introspection awarded him this knowledge; during that last
terrible flight on the lower Nueces and while he lay abed
recuperating he had changed. A fixed, immutable, hopeless
bitterness abided with him. He had reached the end of his rope.
All the power of his mind and soul were unavailable to turn him
back from his fate.
That fate was to become an outlaw in every sense of the term,
to be what he was credited with being--that is to say, to
embrace evil. He had never committed a crime. He wondered now
was crime close to him? He reasoned finally that the
desperation of crime had been forced upon him, if not its
motive; and that if driven, there was no limit to his
possibilities. He understood now many of the hitherto
inexplicable actions of certain noted outlaws--why they had
returned to the scene of the crime that had outlawed them; why
they took such strangely fatal chances; why life was no more to
them than a breath of wind; why they rode straight into the
jaws of death to confront wronged men or hunting rangers,
vigilantes, to laugh in their very faces. It was such
bitterness as this that drove these men.
Toward afternoon, from the top of a long hill, Duane saw the
green fields and trees and shining roofs of a town he
considered must be Shirley. And at the bottom of the hill he
came upon an intersecting road. There was a placard nailed on
the crossroad sign-post. Duane drew rein near it and leaned
close to read the faded print. $1000 REWARD FOR BUCK DUANE DEAD
OR ALIVE. Peering closer to read the finer, more faded print,
Duane learned that he was wanted for the murder of Mrs. Jeff
Aiken at her ranch near Shirley. The month September was named,
but the date was illegible. The reward was offered by the
woman's husband, whose name appeared with that of a sheriff's
at the bottom of the placard.
Duane read the thing twice. When he straightened he was sick
with the horror of his fate, wild with passion at those
misguided fools who could believe that he had harmed a woman.
Then he remembered Kate Bland, and, as always when she returned
to him, he quaked inwardly. Years before word had gone abroad
that he had killed her, and so it was easy for men wanting to
fix a crime to name him. Perhaps it had been done
often. Probably he bore on his shoulders a burden of numberless
A dark, passionate fury possessed him. It shook him like a
storm shakes the oak. When it passed, leaving him cold, with
clouded brow and piercing eye, his mind was set. Spurring his
horse, he rode straight toward the village.
Shirley appeared to be a large, pretentious country town. A
branch of some railroad terminated there. The main street was
wide, bordered by trees and commodious houses, and many of the
stores were of brick. A large plaza shaded by giant cottonwood
trees occupied a central location.
Duane pulled his running horse and halted him, plunging and
snorting, before a group of idle men who lounged on benches in
the shade of a spreading cottonwood. How many times had Duane
seen just that kind of lazy shirt-sleeved Texas group! Not
often, however, had he seen such placid, lolling, good-natured
men change their expression, their attitude so swiftly. His
advent apparently was momentous. They evidently took him for an
unusual visitor. So far as Duane could tell, not one of them
recognized him, had a hint of his identity.
He slid off his horse and threw the bridle.
"I'm Buck Duane," he said. "I saw that placard--out there on a
sign-post. It's a damn lie! Somebody find this man Jeff Aiken.
I want to see him."
His announcement was taken in absolute silence. That was the
only effect he noted, for he avoided looking at these
villagers. The reason was simple enough; Duane felt himself
overcome with emotion. There were tears in his eyes. He sat
down on a bench, put his elbows on his knees and his hands to
his face. For once he had absolutely no concern for his fate.
This ignominy was the last straw.
Presently, however, he became aware of some kind of commotion
among these villagers. He heard whisperings, low, hoarse
voices, then the shuffle of rapid feet moving away. All at once
a violent hand jerked his gun from its holster. When Duane rose
a gaunt man, livid of face, shaking like a leaf, confronted him
with his own gun.
"Hands up, thar, you Buck Duane!" he roared, waving the gun.
That appeared to be the cue for pandemonium to break loose.
Duane opened his lips to speak, but if he had yelled at the top
of his lungs he could not have made himself heard. In weary
disgust he looked at the gaunt man, and then at the others, who
were working themselves into a frenzy. He made no move,
however, to hold up his hands. The villagers surrounded him,
emboldened by finding him now unarmed. Then several men lay
hold of his arms and pinioned them behind his back. Resistance
was useless even if Duane had had the spirit. Some one of them
fetched his halter from his saddle, and with this they bound
People were running now from the street, the stores, the
houses. Old men, cowboys, clerks, boys, ranchers came on the
trot. The crowd grew. The increasing clamor began to attract
women as well as men. A group of girls ran up, then hung back
in fright and pity.
The presence of cowboys made a difference. They split up the
crowd, got to Duane, and lay hold of him with rough,
businesslike hands. One of them lifted his fists and roared at
the frenzied mob to fall back, to stop the racket. He beat them
back into a circle; but it was some little time before the
hubbub quieted down so a voice could be heard.
"Shut up, will you-all?" he was yelling. "Give us a chance to
hear somethin'. Easy now--soho. There ain't nobody goin' to be
hurt. Thet's right; everybody quiet now. Let's see what's come
This cowboy, evidently one of authority, or at least one of
strong personality, turned to the gaunt man, who still waved
"Abe, put the gun down," he said. "It might go off. Here, give
it to me. Now, what's wrong? Who's this roped gent, an' what's
The gaunt fellow, who appeared now about to collapse, lifted a
shaking hand and pointed.
"Thet thar feller--he's Buck Duane!" he panted.
An angry murmur ran through the surrounding crowd.
"The rope! The rope! Throw it over a branch! String him up!"
cried an excited villager.
"Buck Duane! Buck Duane!"
The cowboy silenced these cries.
"Abe, how do you know this fellow is Buck Duane?" he asked,
"Why--he said so," replied the man called Abe.
"What!" came the exclamation, incredulously.
"It's a tarnal fact," panted Abe, waving his hands importantly.
He was an old man and appeared to be carried away with the
significance of his deed. "He like to rid' his hoss right over
us-all. Then he jumped off, says he was Buck Duane, an' he
wanted to see Jeff Aiken bad."
This speech caused a second commotion as noisy though not so
enduring as the first. When the cowboy, assisted by a couple of
his mates, had restored order again some one had slipped the
noose-end of Duane's rope over his head.
"Up with him!" screeched a wild-eyed youth.
The mob surged closer was shoved back by the cowboys.
"Abe, if you ain't drunk or crazy tell thet over," ordered
With some show of resentment and more of dignity Abe reiterated
his former statement.
"If he's Buck Duane how'n hell did you get hold of his gun?"
bluntly queried the cowboy.
"Why--he set down thar--an' he kind of hid his face on his
hand. An' I grabbed his gun an' got the drop on him."
What the cowboy thought of this was expressed in a laugh. His
mates likewise grinned broadly. Then the leader turned to
"Stranger, I reckon you'd better speak up for yourself," he
That stilled the crowd as no command had done.
"I'm Buck Duane, all right." said Duane, quietly. "It was this
The big cowboy seemed to vibrate with a shock. All the ruddy
warmth left his face; his jaw began to bulge; the corded veins
in his neck stood out in knots. In an instant he had a hard,
stern, strange look. He shot out a powerful hand that fastened
in the front of Duane's blouse.
"Somethin' queer here. But if you're Duane you're sure in bad.
Any fool ought to know that. You mean it, then?"
"Rode in to shoot up the town, eh? Same old stunt of you
gunfighters? Meant to kill the man who offered a reward? Wanted
to see Jeff Aiken bad, huh?"
"No," replied Duane. "Your citizen here misrepresented things.
He seems a little off his head."
"Reckon he is. Somebody is, that's sure. You claim Buck Duane,
then, an' all his doings?"
"I'm Duane; yes. But I won't stand for the blame of things I
never did. That's why I'm here. I saw that placard out there
offering the reward. Until now I never was within half a day's
ride of this town. I'm blamed for what I never did. I rode in
here, told who I was, asked somebody to send for Jeff Aiken."
"An' then you set down an' let this old guy throw your own gun
on you?" queried the cowboy in amazement.
"I guess that's it," replied Duane.
"Well, it's powerful strange, if you're really Buck Duane."
A man elbowed his way into the circle.
"It's Duane. I recognize him. I seen him in more'n one place,"
he said. "Sibert, you can rely on what I tell you. I don't know
if he's locoed or what. But I do know he's the genuine Buck
Duane. Any one who'd ever seen him onct would never forget
"What do you want to see Aiken for?" asked the cowboy Sibert.
"I want to face him, and tell him I never harmed his wife."
"Because I'm innocent, that's all."
"Suppose we send for Aiken an' he hears you an' doesn't believe
you; what then?"
"If he won't believe me--why, then my case's so bad--I'd be
better off dead."
A momentary silence was broken by Sibert.
"If this isn't a queer deal! Boys, reckon we'd better send for
"Somebody went fer him. He'll be comin' soon," replied a man.
Duane stood a head taller than that circle of curious faces. He
gazed out above and beyond them. It was in this way that he
chanced to see a number of women on the outskirts of the crowd.
Some were old, with hard faces, like the men. Some were young
and comely, and most of these seemed agitated by excitement or
distress. They cast fearful, pitying glances upon Duane as he
stood there with that noose round his neck. Women were more
human than men, Duane thought. He met eyes that dilated, seemed
fascinated at his gaze, but were not averted. It was the old
women who were voluble, loud in expression of their feelings.
Near the trunk of the cottonwood stood a slender woman in
white. Duane's wandering glance rested upon her. Her eyes were