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The Lone Star Ranger by Zane Grey

Part 4 out of 7

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riveted upon him. A soft-hearted woman, probably, who did not
want to see him hanged!

"Thar comes Jeff Aiken now," called a man, loudly.

The crowd shifted and trampled in eagerness.

Duane saw two men coming fast, one of whom, in the lead, was of
stalwart build. He had a gun in his hand, and his manner was
that of fierce energy.

The cowboy Sibert thrust open the jostling circle of men.

"Hold on, Jeff," he called, and he blocked the man with the
gun. He spoke so low Duane could not hear what he said, and his
form hid Aiken's face. At that juncture the crowd spread out,
closed in, and Aiken and Sibert were caught in the circle.
There was a pushing forward, a pressing of many bodies, hoarse
cries and flinging hands--again the insane tumult was about to
break out--the demand for an outlaw's blood, the call for a
wild justice executed a thousand times before on Texas's bloody

Sibert bellowed at the dark encroaching mass. The cowboys with
him beat and cuffed in vain.

"Jeff, will you listen?" broke in Sibert, hurriedly, his hand
on the other man's arm.

Aiken nodded coolly. Duane, who had seen many men in perfect
control of themselves under circumstances like these,
recognized the spirit that dominated Aiken. He was white, cold,
passionless. There were lines of bitter grief deep round his
lips. If Duane ever felt the meaning of death he felt it then.

"Sure this 's your game, Aiken," said Sibert. "But hear me a
minute. Reckon there's no doubt about this man bein' Buck
Duane. He seen the placard out at the cross-roads. He rides in
to Shirley. He says he's Buck Duane an' he's lookin' for Jeff
Aiken. That's all clear enough. You know how these gunfighters
go lookin' for trouble. But here's what stumps me. Duane sits
down there on the bench and lets old Abe Strickland grab his
gun ant get the drop on him. More'n that, he gives me some
strange talk about how, if he couldn't make you believe he's
innocent, he'd better be dead. You see for yourself Duane ain't
drunk or crazy or locoed. He doesn't strike me as a man who
rode in here huntin' blood. So I reckon you'd better hold on
till you hear what he has to say."

Then for the first time the drawn-faced, hungry-eyed giant
turned his gaze upon Duane. He had intelligence which was not
yet subservient to passion. Moreover, he seemed the kind of man
Duane would care to have judge him in a critical moment like

"Listen," said Duane, gravely, with his eyes steady on Aiken's,
"I'm Buck Duane. I never lied to any man in my life. I was
forced into outlawry. I've never had a chance to leave the
country. I've killed men to save my own life. I never
intentionally harmed any woman. I rode thirty miles
to-day--deliberately to see what this reward was, who made it,
what for. When I read the placard I went sick to the bottom of
my soul. So I rode in here to find you--to tell you this: I
never saw Shirley before to-day. It was impossible for me to
have--killed your wife. Last September I was two hundred miles
north of here on the upper Nueces. I can prove that. Men who
know me will tell you I couldn't murder a woman. I haven't any
idea why such a deed should be laid at my hands. It's just that
wild border gossip. I have no idea what reasons you have for
holding me responsible. I only know--you're wrong. You've been
deceived. And see here, Aiken. You understand I'm a miserable
man. I'm about broken, I guess. I don't care any more for life,
for anything. If you can't look me in the eyes, man to man, and
believe what I say--why, by God! you can kill me!"

Aiken heaved a great breath.

"Buck Duane, whether I'm impressed or not by what you say
needn't matter. You've had accusers, justly or unjustly, as
will soon appear. The thing is we can prove you innocent or
guilty. My girl Lucy saw my wife's assailant."

He motioned for the crowd of men to open up.

"Somebody--you, Sibert--go for Lucy. That'll settle this

Duane heard as a man in an ugly dream. The faces around him,
the hum of voices, all seemed far off. His life hung by the
merest thread. Yet he did not think of that so much as of the
brand of a woman-murderer which might be soon sealed upon him
by a frightened, imaginative child.

The crowd trooped apart and closed again. Duane caught a
blurred image of a slight girl clinging to Sibert's hand. He
could not see distinctly. Aiken lifted the child, whispered
soothingly to her not to be afraid. Then he fetched her closer
to Duane.

"Lucy, tell me. Did you ever see this man before?" asked Aiken,
huskily and low. "Is he the one--who came in the house that
day--struck you down--and dragged mama--?"

Aiken's voice failed.

A lightning flash seemed to clear Duane's blurred sight. He saw
a pale, sad face and violet eyes fixed in gloom and horror upon
his. No terrible moment in Duane's life ever equaled this one
of silence--of suspense.

"It's ain't him!" cried the child.

Then Sibert was flinging the noose off Duane's neck and
unwinding the bonds round his arms. The spellbound crowd awoke
to hoarse exclamations.

"See there, my locoed gents, how easy you'd hang the wrong
man," burst out the cowboy, as he made the rope-end hiss.
"You-all are a lot of wise rangers. Haw! haw!"

He freed Duane and thrust the bone-handled gun back in Duane's

"You Abe, there. Reckon you pulled a stunt! But don't try the
like again. And, men, I'll gamble there's a hell of a lot of
bad work Buck Duane's named for--which all he never done. Clear
away there. Where's his hoss? Duane, the road's open out of

Sibert swept the gaping watchers aside and pressed Duane toward
the horse, which another cowboy held. Mechanically Duane
mounted, felt a lift as he went up. Then the cowboy's hard face
softened in a smile.

"I reckon it ain't uncivil of me to say--hit that road quick!"
he said, frankly.

He led the horse out of the crowd. Aiken joined him, and
between them they escorted Duane across the plaza. The crowd
appeared irresistibly drawn to follow.

Aiken paused with his big hand on Duane's knee. In it,
unconsciously probably, he still held the gun.

"Duane, a word with you," he said. "I believe you're not so
black as you've been painted. I wish there was time to say
more. Tell me this, anyway. Do you know the Ranger Captain

"I do not," replied Duane, in surprise.

"I met him only a week ago over in Fairfield," went on Aiken,
hurriedly. "He declared you never killed my wife. I didn't
believe him--argued with him. We almost had hard words over it.
Now--I'm sorry. The last thing he said was: 'If you ever see
Duane don't kill him. Send him into my camp after dark!' He
meant something strange. What--I can't say. But he was right,
and I was wrong. If Lucy had batted an eye I'd have killed you.
Still, I wouldn't advise you to hunt up MacNelly's camp. He's
clever. Maybe he believes there's no treachery in his new ideas
of ranger tactics. I tell you for all it's worth. Good-by. May
God help you further as he did this day!"

Duane said good-by and touched the horse with his spurs.

"So long, Buck!" called Sibert, with that frank smile breaking
warm over his brown face; and he held his sombrero high.


When Duane reached the crossing of the roads the name Fairfield
on the sign-post seemed to be the thing that tipped the
oscillating balance of decision in favor of that direction.

He answered here to unfathomable impulse. If he had been driven
to hunt up Jeff Aiken, now he was called to find this unknown
ranger captain. In Duane's state of mind clear reasoning,
common sense, or keenness were out of the question. He went
because he felt he was compelled.

Dusk had fallen when he rode into a town which inquiry
discovered to be Fairfield. Captain MacNelly's camp was
stationed just out of the village limits on the other side.

No one except the boy Duane questioned appeared to notice his
arrival. Like Shirley, the town of Fairfield was large and
prosperous, compared to the innumerable hamlets dotting the
vast extent of southwestern Texas. As Duane rode through, being
careful to get off the main street, he heard the tolling of a
church-bell that was a melancholy reminder of his old home.

There did not appear to be any camp on the outskirts of the
town. But as Duane sat his horse, peering around and undecided
what further move to make, he caught the glint of flickering
lights through the darkness. Heading toward them, he rode
perhaps a quarter of a mile to come upon a grove of mesquite.
The brightness of several fires made the surrounding darkness
all the blacker. Duane saw the moving forms of men and heard
horses. He advanced naturally, expecting any moment to be

"Who goes there?" came the sharp call out of the gloom.

Duane pulled his horse. The gloom was impenetrable.

"One man--alone," replied Duane.

"A stranger?"


"What do you want?"

"I'm trying to find the ranger camp."

"You've struck it. What's your errand?"

"I want to see Captain MacNelly."

"Get down and advance. Slow. Don't move your hands. It's dark,
but I can see."

Duane dismounted, and, leading his horse, slowly advanced a few
paces. He saw a dully bright object--a gun--before he
discovered the man who held it. A few more steps showed a dark
figure blocking the trail. Here Duane halted.

"Come closer, stranger. Let's have a look at you," the guard
ordered, curtly.

Duane advanced again until he stood before the man. Here the
rays of light from the fires flickered upon Duane's face.

"Reckon you're a stranger, all right. What's your name and your
business with the Captain?"

Duane hesitated, pondering what best to say.

"Tell Captain MacNelly I'm the man he's been asking to ride
into his camp--after dark," finally said Duane.

The ranger bent forward to peer hard at this night visitor. His
manner had been alert, and now it became tense.

"Come here, one of you men, quick," he called, without turning
in the least toward the camp-fire.

"Hello! What's up, Pickens?" came the swift reply. It was
followed by a rapid thud of boots on soft ground. A dark form
crossed the gleams from the fire-light. Then a ranger loomed up
to reach the side of the guard. Duane heard whispering, the
purport of which he could not catch. The second ranger swore
under his breath. Then he turned away and started back.

"Here, ranger, before you go, understand this. My visit is
peaceful--friendly if you'll let it be. Mind, I was asked to
come here--after dark."

Duane's clear, penetrating voice carried far. The listening
rangers at the camp-fire heard what he said.

"Ho, Pickens! Tell that fellow to wait," replied an
authoritative voice. Then a slim figure detached itself from
the dark, moving group at the camp-fire and hurried out.

"Better be foxy, Cap," shouted a ranger, in warning.

"Shut up--all of you," was the reply.

This officer, obviously Captain MacNelly, soon joined the two
rangers who were confronting Duane. He had no fear. He strode
straight up to Duane.

"I'm MacNelly," he said. "If you're my man, don't mention your

All this seemed so strange to Duane, in keeping with much that
had happened lately.

"I met Jeff Aiken to-day," said Duane. "He sent me--"

"You've met Aiken!" exclaimed MacNelly, sharp, eager, low. "By
all that's bully!" Then he appeared to catch himself, to grow

"Men, fall back, leave us alone a moment."

The rangers slowly withdrew.

"Buck Duane! It's you?" he whispered, eagerly.


"If I give my word you'll not be arrested--you'll be treated
fairly--will you come into camp and consult with me?"


"Duane, I'm sure glad to meet you," went on MacNelly; and he
extended his hand.

Amazed and touched, scarcely realizing this actuality, Duane
gave his hand and felt no unmistakable grip of warmth.

"It doesn't seem natural, Captain MacNelly, but I believe I'm
glad to meet you," said Duane, soberly.

"You will be. Now we'll go back to camp. Keep your identity mum
for the present."

He led Duane in the direction of the camp-fire.

"Pickers, go back on duty," he ordered, "and, Beeson, you look
after this horse."

When Duane got beyond the line of mesquite, which had hid a
good view of the camp-site, he saw a group of perhaps fifteen
rangers sitting around the fires, near a long low shed where
horses were feeding, and a small adobe house at one side.

"We've just had grub, but I'll see you get some. Then we'll
talk," said MacNelly. "I've taken up temporary quarters here.
Have a rustler job on hand. Now, when you've eaten, come right
into the house."

Duane was hungry, but he hurried through the ample supper that
was set before him, urged on by curiosity and astonishment. The
only way he could account for his presence there in a ranger's
camp was that MacNelly hoped to get useful information out of
him. Still that would hardly have made this captain so eager.
There was a mystery here, and Duane could scarcely wait for it
to be solved. While eating he had bent keen eyes around him.
After a first quiet scrutiny the rangers apparently paid no
more attention to him. They were all veterans in service--Duane
saw that--and rugged, powerful men of iron constitution.
Despite the occasional joke and sally of the more youthful
members, and a general conversation of camp-fire nature, Duane
was not deceived about the fact that his advent had been an
unusual and striking one, which had caused an undercurrent of
conjecture and even consternation among them. These rangers
were too well trained to appear openly curious about their
captain's guest. If they had not deliberately attempted to be
oblivious of his presence Duane would have concluded they
thought him an ordinary visitor, somehow of use to MacNelly. As
it was, Duane felt a suspense that must have been due to a hint
of his identity.

He was not long in presenting himself at the door of the house.

"Come in and have a chair," said MacNelly, motioning for the
one other occupant of the room to rise. "Leave us, Russell, and
close the door. I'll be through these reports right off."

MacNelly sat at a table upon which was a lamp and various
papers. Seen in the light he was a fine-looking, soldierly man
of about forty years, dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a bronzed
face, shrewd, stern, strong, yet not wanting in kindliness. He
scanned hastily over some papers, fussed with them, and finally
put them in envelopes. Without looking up he pushed a cigar-
case toward Duane, and upon Duane's refusal to smoke he took a
cigar, rose to light it at the lamp-chimney, and then, settling
back in his chair, he faced Duane, making a vain attempt to
hide what must have been the fulfilment of a long-nourished

"Duane, I've been hoping for this for two years," be began.

Duane smiled a little--a smile that felt strange on his face.
He had never been much of a talker. And speech here seemed more
than ordinarily difficult.

MacNelly must have felt that.

He looked long and earnestly at Duane, and his quick, nervous
manner changed to grave thoughtfulness.

"I've lots to say, but where to begin," he mused. "Duane,
you've had a hard life since you went on the dodge. I never met
you before, don't know what you looked like as a boy. But I can
see what--well, even ranger life isn't all roses."

He rolled his cigar between his lips and puffed clouds of

"Ever hear from home since you left Wellston?" he asked,


"Never a word?"

"Not one," replied Duane, sadly.

"That's tough. I'm glad to be able to tell you that up to just
lately your mother, sister, uncle--all your folks, I
believe--were well. I've kept posted. But haven't heard

Duane averted his face a moment, hesitated till the swelling
left his throat, and then said, "It's worth what I went through
to-day to hear that."

"I can imagine how you feel about it. When I was in the war--
but let's get down to the business of this meeting."

He pulled his chair close to Duane's.

"You've had word more than once in the last two years that I
wanted to see you?"

"Three times, I remember," replied Duane.

"Why didn't you hunt me up?"

"I supposed you imagined me one of those gun-fighters who
couldn't take a dare and expected me to ride up to your camp
and be arrested."

"That was natural, I suppose," went on MacNelly. "You didn't
know me, otherwise you would have come. I've been a long time
getting to you. But the nature of my job, as far as you're
concerned, made me cautious. Duane, you're aware of the hard
name you bear all over the Southwest?"

"Once in a while I'm jarred into realizing," replied Duane.

"It's the hardest, barring Murrell and Cheseldine, on the Texas
border. But there's this difference. Murrell in his day was
known to deserve his infamous name. Cheseldine in his day also.
But I've found hundreds of men in southwest Texas who're your
friends, who swear you never committed a crime. The farther
south I get the clearer this becomes. What I want to know is
the truth. Have you ever done anything criminal? Tell me the
truth, Duane. It won't make any difference in my plan. And when
I say crime I mean what I would call crime, or any reasonable

"That way my hands are clean," replied Duane.

"You never held up a man, robbed a store for grub, stole a
horse when you needed him bad--never anything like that?"

"Somehow I always kept out of that, just when pressed the

"Duane, I'm damn glad!" MacNelly exclaimed, gripping Duane's
hand. "Glad for you mother's sakel But, all the same, in spite
of this, you are a Texas outlaw accountable to the state.
You're perfectly aware that under existing circumstances, if
you fell into the hands of the law, you'd probably hang, at
least go to jail for a long term."

"That's what kept me on the dodge all these years," replied

"Certainly." MacNelly removed his cigar. His eyes narrowed and
glittered. The muscles along his brown cheeks set hard and
tense. He leaned closer to Duane, laid sinewy, pressing fingers
upon Duane's knee.

"Listen to this," he whispered, hoarsely. "If I place a pardon
in your hand--make you a free, honest citizen once more, clear
your name of infamy, make your mother, your sister proud of
you--will you swear yourself to a service, ANY service I demand
of you?"

Duane sat stock still, stunned.

Slowly, more persuasively, with show of earnest agitation,
Captain MacNelly reiterated his startling query.

"My God!" burst from Duane. "What's this? MacNelly, you CAN'T
be in earnest!"

"Never more so in my life. I've a deep game. I'm playing it
square. What do you say?"

He rose to his feet. Duane, as if impelled, rose with him.
Ranger and outlaw then locked eyes that searched each other's
souls. In MacNelly's Duane read truth, strong, fiery purpose,
hope, even gladness, and a fugitive mounting assurance of

Twice Duane endeavored to speak, failed of all save a hoarse,
incoherent sound, until, forcing back a flood of speech, he
found a voice.

"Any service? Every service! MacNelly, I give my word," said

A light played over MacNelly's face, warming out all the grim
darkness. He held out his hand. Duane met it with his in a
clasp that men unconsciously give in moments of stress.

When they unclasped and Duane stepped back to drop into a chair
MacNelly fumbled for another cigar--he had bitten the other
into shreds--and, lighting it as before, he turned to his
visitor, now calm and cool. He had the look of a man who had
justly won something at considerable cost. His next move was to
take a long leather case from his pocket and extract from it
several folded papers.

"Here's your pardon from the Governor," he said, quietly.
"You'll see, when you look it over, that it's conditional. When
you sign this paper I have here the condition will be met."

He smoothed out the paper, handed Duane a pen, ran his
forefinger along a dotted line.

Duane's hand was shaky. Years had passed since he had held a
pen. It was with difficulty that he achieved his signature.
Buckley Duane--how strange the name looked!

"Right here ends the career of Buck Duane, outlaw and
gunfighter," said MacNelly; and, seating himself, he took the
pen from Duane's fingers and wrote several lines in several
places upon the paper. Then with a smile he handed it to Duane.

"That makes you a member of Company A, Texas Rangers."

"So that's it!" burst out Duane, a light breaking in upon his
bewilderment. "You want me for ranger service?"

"Sure. That's it," replied the Captain, dryly. "Now to hear
what that service is to be. I've been a busy man since I took
this job, and, as you may have heard, I've done a few things. I
don't mind telling you that political influence put me in here
and that up Austin way there's a good deal of friction in the
Department of State in regard to whether or not the ranger
service is any good--whether it should be discontinued or not.
I'm on the party side who's defending the ranger service. I
contend that it's made Texas habitable. Well, it's been up to
me to produce results. So far I have been successful. My great
ambition is to break up the outlaw gangs along the river. I
have never ventured in there yet because I've been waiting to
get the lieutenant I needed. You, of course, are the man I had
in mind. It's my idea to start way up the Rio Grande and begin
with Cheseldine. He's the strongest, the worst outlaw of the
times. He's more than rustler. It's Cheseldine and his gang who
are operating on the banks. They're doing bank-robbing. That's
my private opinion, but it's not been backed up by any
evidence. Cheseldine doesn't leave evidences. He's intelligent,
cunning. No one seems to have seen him--to know what he looks
like. I assume, of course, that you are a stranger to the
country he dominates. It's five hundred miles west of your
ground. There's a little town over there called Fairdale. It's
the nest of a rustler gang. They rustle and murder at will.
Nobody knows who the leader is. I want you to find out. Well,
whatever way you decide is best you will proceed to act upon.
You are your own boss. You know such men and how they can be
approached. You will take all the time needed, if it's months.
It will be necessary for you to communicate with me, and that
will be a difficult matter. For Cheseldine dominates several
whole counties. You must find some way to let me know when I
and my rangers are needed. The plan is to break up Cheseldine's
gang. It's the toughest job on the border. Arresting him alone
isn't to be heard of. He couldn't be brought out. Killing him
isn't much better, for his select men, the ones he operates
with, are as dangerous to the community as he is. We want to
kill or jail this choice selection of robbers and break up the
rest of the gang. To find them, to get among them somehow, to
learn their movements, to lay your trap for us rangers to
spring--that, Duane, is your service to me, and God knows it's
a great one!"

"I have accepted it," replied Duane.

"Your work will be secret. You are now a ranger in my service.
But no one except the few I choose to tell will know of it
until we pull off the job. You will simply be Buck Duane till
it suits our purpose to acquaint Texas with the fact that
you're a ranger. You'll see there's no date on that paper. No
one will ever know just when you entered the service. Perhaps
we can make it appear that all or most of your outlawry has
really been good service to the state. At that, I'll believe
it'll turn out so."

MacNelly paused a moment in his rapid talk, chewed his cigar,
drew his brows together in a dark frown, and went on. "No man
on the border knows so well as you the deadly nature of this
service. It's a thousand to one that you'll be killed. I'd say
there was no chance at all for any other man beside you. Your
reputation will go far among the outlaws. Maybe that and your
nerve and your gun-play will pull you through. I'm hoping so.
But it's a long, long chance against your ever coming back."

"That's not the point," said Duane. "But in case I get killed
out there--what--"

"Leave that to me," interrupted Captain MacNelly. "Your folks
will know at once of your pardon and your ranger duty. If you
lose your life out there I'll see your name cleared--the
service you render known. You can rest assured of that."

"I am satisfied," replied Duane. "That's so much more than I've
dared to hope."

"Well, it's settled, then. I'll give you money for expenses.
You'll start as soon as you like--the sooner the better. I hope
to think of other suggestions, especially about communicating
with me."

Long after the lights were out and the low hum of voices had
ceased round the camp-fire Duane lay wide awake, eyes staring
into the blackness, marveling over the strange events of the
day. He was humble, grateful to the depths of his soul. A huge
and crushing burden had been lifted from his heart. He welcomed
this hazardous service to the man who had saved him. Thought of
his mother and sister and Uncle Jim, of his home, of old
friends came rushing over him the first time in years that he
had happiness in the memory. The disgrace he had put upon them
would now be removed; and in the light of that, his wasted life
of the past, and its probable tragic end in future service as
atonement changed their aspects. And as he lay there, with the
approach of sleep finally dimming the vividness of his thought,
so full of mystery, shadowy faces floated in the blackness
around him, haunting him as he had always been haunted.

It was broad daylight when he awakened. MacNelly was calling
him to breakfast. Outside sounded voices of men, crackling of
fires, snorting and stamping of horses, the barking of dogs.
Duane rolled out of his blankets and made good use of the soap
and towel and razor and brush near by on a bench--things of
rare luxury to an outlaw on the ride. The face he saw in the
mirror was as strange as the past he had tried so hard to
recall. Then he stepped to the door and went out.

The rangers were eating in a circle round a tarpaulin spread
upon the ground.

"Fellows," said MacNelly, "shake hands with Buck Duane. He's on
secret ranger service for me. Service that'll likely make you
all hump soon! Mind you, keep mum about it."

The rangers surprised Duane with a roaring greeting, the warmth
of which he soon divined was divided between pride of his
acquisition to their ranks and eagerness to meet that violent
service of which their captain hinted. They were jolly, wild
fellows, with just enough gravity in their welcome to show
Duane their respect and appreciation, while not forgetting his
lone-wolf record. When he had seated himself in that circle,
now one of them, a feeling subtle and uplifting pervaded him.

After the meal Captain MacNelly drew Duane aside.

"Here's the money. Make it go as far as you can. Better strike
straight for El Paso, snook around there and hear things. Then
go to Valentine. That's near the river and within fifty miles
or so of the edge of the Rim Rock. Somewhere up there
Cheseldine holds fort. Somewhere to the north is the town
Fairdale. But he doesn't hide all the time in the rocks. Only
after some daring raid or hold-up. Cheseldine's got border
towns on his staff, or scared of him, and these places we want
to know about, especially Fairdale. Write me care of the
adjutant at Austin. I don't have to warn you to be careful
where you mail letters. Ride a hundred, two hundred miles, if
necessary, or go clear to El Paso."

MacNelly stopped with an air of finality, and then Duane slowly

"I'll start at once," he said, extending his hand to the
Captain. "I wish--I'd like to thank you."

"Hell, man! Don't thank me!" replied MacNelly, crushing the
proffered hand. "I've sent a lot of good men to their deaths,
and maybe you're another. But, as I've said, you've one chance
in a thousand. And, by Heaven! I'd hate to be Cheseldine or any
other man you were trailing. No, not good-by--Adios, Duane! May
we meet again!"



West of the Pecos River Texas extended a vast wild region,
barren in the north where the Llano Estacado spread its
shifting sands, fertile in the south along the Rio Grande. A
railroad marked an undeviating course across five hundred miles
of this country, and the only villages and towns lay on or near
this line of steel. Unsettled as was this western Texas, and
despite the acknowledged dominance of the outlaw bands, the
pioneers pushed steadily into it. First had come the lone
rancher; then his neighbors in near and far valleys; then the
hamlets; at last the railroad and the towns. And still the
pioneers came, spreading deeper into the valleys, farther and
wider over the plains. It was mesquite-dotted, cactus-covered
desert, but rich soil upon which water acted like magic. There
was little grass to an acre, but there were millions of acres.
The climate was wonderful. Cattle flourished and ranchers

The Rio Grande flowed almost due south along the western
boundary for a thousand miles, and then, weary of its course,
turned abruptly north, to make what was called the Big Bend.
The railroad, running west, cut across this bend, and all that
country bounded on the north by the railroad and on the south
by the river was as wild as the Staked Plains. It contained not
one settlement. Across the face of this Big Bend, as if to
isolate it, stretched the Ord mountain range, of which Mount
Ord, Cathedral Mount, and Elephant Mount raised bleak peaks
above their fellows. In the valleys of the foothills and out
across the plains were ranches, and farther north villages, and
the towns of Alpine and Marfa.

Like other parts of the great Lone Star State, this section of
Texas was a world in itself--a world where the riches of the
rancher were ever enriching the outlaw. The village closest to
the gateway of this outlaw-infested region was a little place
called Ord, named after the dark peak that loomed some miles to
the south. It had been settled originally by Mexicans--there
were still the ruins of adobe missions--but with the advent of
the rustler and outlaw many inhabitants were shot or driven
away, so that at the height of Ord's prosperity and evil sway
there were but few Mexicans living there, and these had their
choice between holding hand-and-glove with the outlaws or
furnishing target practice for that wild element.

Toward the close of a day in September a stranger rode into
Ord, and in a community where all men were remarkable for one
reason or another he excited interest. His horse, perhaps,
received the first and most engaging attention--horses in that
region being apparently more important than men. This
particular horse did not attract with beauty. At first glance
he seemed ugly. But he was a giant, black as coal, rough
despite the care manifestly bestowed upon him, long of body,
ponderous of limb, huge in every way. A bystander remarked that
he had a grand head. True, if only his head had been seen he
would have been a beautiful horse. Like men, horses show what
they are in the shape, the size, the line, the character of the
head. This one denoted fire, speed, blood, loyalty, and his
eyes were as soft and dark as a woman's. His face was solid
black, except in the middle of his forehead, where there was a
round spot of white.

"Say mister, mind tellin' me his name?" asked a ragged urchin,
with born love of a horse in his eyes.

"Bullet," replied the rider.

"Thet there's fer the white mark, ain't it?" whispered the
youngster to another. "Say, ain't he a whopper? Biggest hoss I
ever seen."

Bullet carried a huge black silver-ornamented saddle of Mexican
make, a lariat and canteen, and a small pack rolled into a

This rider apparently put all care of appearances upon his
horse. His apparel was the ordinary jeans of the cowboy without
vanity, and it was torn and travel-stained. His boots showed
evidence of an intimate acquaintance with cactus. Like his
horse, this man was a giant in stature, but rangier, not so
heavily built. Otherwise the only striking thing about him was
his somber face with its piercing eyes, and hair white over the
temples. He packed two guns, both low down--but that was too
common a thing to attract notice in the Big Bend. A close
observer, however, would have noted a singular fact--this
rider's right hand was more bronzed, more weather-beaten than
his left. He never wore a glove on that right hand!

He had dismounted before a ramshackle structure that bore upon
its wide, high-boarded front the sign, "Hotel." There were
horsemen coming and going down the wide street between its rows
of old stores, saloons, and houses. Ord certainly did not look
enterprising. Americans had manifestly assimilated much of the
leisure of the Mexicans. The hotel had a wide platform in
front, and this did duty as porch and sidewalk. Upon it, and
leaning against a hitching-rail, were men of varying ages, most
of them slovenly in old jeans and slouched sombreros. Some were
booted, belted, and spurred. No man there wore a coat, but all
wore vests. The guns in that group would have outnumbered the

It was a crowd seemingly too lazy to be curious. Good nature
did not appear to be wanting, but it was not the frank and
boisterous kind natural to the cowboy or rancher in town for a
day. These men were idlers; what else, perhaps, was easy to
conjecture. Certainly to this arriving stranger, who flashed a
keen eye over them, they wore an atmosphere never associated
with work.

Presently a tall man, with a drooping, sandy mustache,
leisurely detached himself from the crowd.

"Howdy, stranger," he said.

The stranger had bent over to loosen the cinches; he
straightened up and nodded. Then: "I'm thirsty!"

That brought a broad smile to faces. It was characteristic
greeting. One and all trooped after the stranger into the
hotel. It was a dark, ill-smelling barn of a place, with a bar
as high as a short man's head. A bartender with a scarred face
was serving drinks.

"Line up, gents," said the stranger.

They piled over one another to get to the bar, with coarse
jests and oaths and laughter. None of them noted that the
stranger did not appear so thirsty as he had claimed to be. In
fact, though he went through the motions, he did not drink at

"My name's Jim Fletcher," said the tall man with the drooping,
sandy mustache. He spoke laconically, nevertheless there was a
tone that showed he expected to be known. Something went with
that name. The stranger did not appear to be impressed.

"My name might be Blazes, but it ain't," he replied. "What do
you call this burg?"

"Stranger, this heah me-tropoles bears the handle Ord. Is thet
new to you?"

He leaned back against the bar, and now his little yellow eyes,
clear as crystal, flawless as a hawk's, fixed on the stranger.
Other men crowded close, forming a circle, curious, ready to be
friendly or otherwise, according to how the tall interrogator
marked the new-comer.

"Sure, Ord's a little strange to me. Off the railroad some,
ain't it? Funny trails hereabouts."

"How fur was you goin'?"

"I reckon I was goin' as far as I could," replied the stranger,
with a hard laugh.

His reply had subtle reaction on that listening circle. Some of
the men exchanged glances. Fletcher stroked his drooping
mustache, seemed thoughtful, but lost something of that
piercing scrutiny.

"Wal, Ord's the jumpin'-off place," he said, presently. "Sure
you've heerd of the Big Bend country?"

"I sure have, an' was makin' tracks fer it," replied the

Fletcher turned toward a man in the outer edge of the group.
"Knell, come in heah."

This individual elbowed his way in and was seen to be scarcely
more than a boy, almost pale beside those bronzed men, with a
long, expressionless face, thin and sharp.

"Knell, this heah's--" Fletcher wheeled to the stranger.
"What'd you call yourself?"

"I'd hate to mention what I've been callin' myself lately."

This sally fetched another laugh. The stranger appeared cool,
careless, indifferent. Perhaps he knew, as the others present
knew, that this show of Fletcher's, this pretense of
introduction, was merely talk while he was looked over.

Knell stepped up, and it was easy to see, from the way Fletcher
relinquished his part in the situation, that a man greater than
he had appeared upon the scene.

"Any business here?" he queried, curtly. When he spoke his
expressionless face was in strange contrast with the ring, the
quality, the cruelty of his voice. This voice betrayed an
absence of humor, of friendliness, of heart.

"Nope," replied the stranger.

"Know anybody hereabouts?"

"Nary one."

"Jest ridin' through?"


"Slopin' fer back country, eh?"

There came a pause. The stranger appeared to grow a little
resentful and drew himself up disdainfully.

"Wal, considerin' you-all seem so damn friendly an' oncurious
down here in this Big Bend country, I don't mind sayin' yes--I
am in on the dodge," he replied, with deliberate sarcasm.

"From west of Ord--out El Paso way, mebbe?"


"A-huh! Thet so?" Knell's words cut the air, stilled the room.
"You're from way down the river. Thet's what they say down
there--'on the dodge.' . . . Stranger, you're a liar!"

With swift clink of spur and thump of boot the crowd split,
leaving Knell and the stranger in the center.

Wild breed of that ilk never made a mistake in judging a man's
nerve. Knell had cut out with the trenchant call, and stood
ready. The stranger suddenly lost his every semblance to the
rough and easy character before manifest in him. He became
bronze. That situation seemed familiar to him. His eyes held a
singular piercing light that danced like a compass-needle.

"Sure I lied," he said; "so I ain't takin' offense at the way
you called me. I'm lookin' to make friends, not enemies. You
don't strike me as one of them four-flushes, achin' to kill
somebody. But if you are--go ahead an' open the ball.... You
see, I never throw a gun on them fellers till they go fer

Knell coolly eyed his antagonist, his strange face not changing
in the least. Yet somehow it was evident in his look that here
was metal which rang differently from what he had expected.
Invited to start a fight or withdraw, as he chose, Knell proved
himself big in the manner characteristic of only the genuine

"Stranger, I pass," he said, and, turning to the bar, he
ordered liquor.

The tension relaxed, the silence broke, the men filled up the
gap; the incident seemed closed. Jim Fletcher attached himself
to the stranger, and now both respect and friendliness tempered
his asperity.

"Wal, fer want of a better handle I'll call you Dodge," he

"Dodge's as good as any.... Gents, line up again--an' if you
can't be friendly, be careful!"

Such was Buck Duane's debut in the little outlaw hamlet of Ord.

Duane had been three months out of the Nueces country. At El
Paso he bought the finest horse he could find, and, armed and
otherwise outfitted to suit him, he had taken to unknown
trails. Leisurely he rode from town to town, village to
village, ranch to ranch, fitting his talk and his occupation to
the impression he wanted to make upon different people whom he
met. He was in turn a cowboy, a rancher, a cattleman, a stock-
buyer, a boomer, a land-hunter; and long before he reached the
wild and inhospitable Ord he had acted the part of an outlaw,
drifting into new territory. He passed on leisurely because he
wanted to learn the lay of the country, the location of
villages and ranches, the work, habit, gossip, pleasures, and
fears of the people with whom he came in contact. The one
subject most impelling to him--outlaws--he never mentioned; but
by talking all around it, sifting the old ranch and cattle
story, he acquired a knowledge calculated to aid his plot. In
this game time was of no moment; if necessary he would take
years to accomplish his task. The stupendous and perilous
nature of it showed in the slow, wary preparation. When he
heard Fletcher's name and faced Knell he knew he had reached
the place he sought. Ord was a hamlet on the fringe of the
grazing country, of doubtful honesty, from which, surely,
winding trails led down into that free and never-disturbed
paradise of outlaws--the Big Bend.

Duane made himself agreeable, yet not too much so, to Fletcher
and several other men disposed to talk and drink and eat; and
then, after having a care for his horse, he rode out of town a
couple of miles to a grove he had marked, and there, well
hidden, he prepared to spend the night. This proceeding served
a double purpose--he was safer, and the habit would look well
in the eyes of outlaws, who would be more inclined to see in
him the lone-wolf fugitive.

Long since Duane had fought out a battle with himself, won a
hard-earned victory. His outer life, the action, was much the
same as it had been; but the inner life had tremendously
changed. He could never become a happy man, he could never
shake utterly those haunting phantoms that had once been his
despair and madness; but he had assumed a task impossible for
any man save one like him, he had felt the meaning of it grow
strangely and wonderfully, and through that flourished up
consciousness of how passionately he now clung to this thing
which would blot out his former infamy. The iron fetters no
more threatened his hands; the iron door no more haunted his
dreams. He never forgot that he was free. Strangely, too, along
with this feeling of new manhood there gathered the force of
imperious desire to run these chief outlaws to their dooms. He
never called them outlaws--but rustlers, thieves, robbers,
murderers, criminals. He sensed the growth of a relentless
driving passion, and sometimes he feared that, more than the
newly acquired zeal and pride in this ranger service, it was
the old, terrible inherited killing instinct lifting its
hydra-head in new guise. But of that he could not be sure. He
dreaded the thought. He could only wait.

Another aspect of the change in Duane, neither passionate nor
driving, yet not improbably even more potent of new
significance to life, was the imperceptible return of an old
love of nature dead during his outlaw days.

For years a horse had been only a machine of locomotion, to
carry him from place to place, to beat and spur and goad
mercilessly in flight; now this giant black, with his splendid
head, was a companion, a friend, a brother, a loved thing,
guarded jealously, fed and trained and ridden with an intense
appreciation of his great speed and endurance. For years the
daytime, with its birth of sunrise on through long hours to the
ruddy close, had been used for sleep or rest in some rocky hole
or willow brake or deserted hut, had been hated because it
augmented danger of pursuit, because it drove the fugitive to
lonely, wretched hiding; now the dawn was a greeting, a promise
of another day to ride, to plan, to remember, and sun, wind,
cloud, rain, sky--all were joys to him, somehow speaking his
freedom. For years the night had been a black space, during
which he had to ride unseen along the endless trails, to peer
with cat-eyes through gloom for the moving shape that ever
pursued him; now the twilight and the dusk and the shadows of
grove and canon darkened into night with its train of stars,
and brought him calm reflection of the day's happenings, of the
morrow's possibilities, perhaps a sad, brief procession of the
old phantoms, then sleep. For years canons and valleys and
mountains had been looked at as retreats that might be dark and
wild enough to hide even an outlaw; now he saw these features
of the great desert with something of the eyes of the boy who
had once burned for adventure and life among them.

This night a wonderful afterglow lingered long in the west, and
against the golden-red of clear sky the bold, black head of
Mount Ord reared itself aloft, beautiful but aloof, sinister
yet calling. Small wonder that Duane gazed in fascination upon
the peak! Somewhere deep in its corrugated sides or lost in a
rugged canon was hidden the secret stronghold of the master
outlaw Cheseldine. All down along the ride from El Paso Duane
had heard of Cheseldine, of his band, his fearful deeds, his
cunning, his widely separated raids, of his flitting here and
there like a Jack-o'-lantern; but never a word of his den,
never a word of his appearance.

Next morning Duane did not return to Ord. He struck off to the
north, riding down a rough, slow-descending road that appeared
to have been used occasionally for cattle-driving. As he had
ridden in from the west, this northern direction led him into
totally unfamiliar country. While he passed on, however, he
exercised such keen observation that in the future he would
know whatever might be of service to him if he chanced that way

The rough, wild, brush-covered slope down from the foothills
gradually leveled out into plain, a magnificent grazing
country, upon which till noon of that day Duane did not see a
herd of cattle or a ranch. About that time he made out smoke
from the railroad, and after a couple of hours' riding he
entered a town which inquiry discovered to be Bradford. It was
the largest town he had visited since Marfa, and he calculated
must have a thousand or fifteen hundred inhabitants, not
including Mexicans. He decided this would be a good place for
him to hold up for a while, being the nearest town to Ord, only
forty miles away. So he hitched his horse in front of a store
and leisurely set about studying Bradford.

It was after dark, however, that Duane verified his suspicions
concerning Bradford. The town was awake after dark, and there
was one long row of saloons, dance-halls, gambling-resorts in
full blast. Duane visited them all, and was surprised to see
wildness and license equal to that of the old river camp of
Bland's in its palmiest days. Here it was forced upon him that
the farther west one traveled along the river the sparser the
respectable settlements, the more numerous the hard characters,
and in consequence the greater the element of lawlessness.
Duane returned to his lodging-house with the conviction that
MacNelly's task of cleaning up the Big Bend country was a
stupendous one. Yet, he reflected, a company of intrepid and
quick-shooting rangers could have soon cleaned up this

The innkeeper had one other guest that night, a long
black-coated and wide-sombreroed Texan who reminded Duane of
his grandfather. This man had penetrating eyes, a courtly
manner, and an unmistakable leaning toward companionship and
mint-juleps. The gentleman introduced himself as Colonel Webb,
of Marfa, and took it as a matter of course that Duane made no
comment about himself.

"Sir, it's all one to me," he said, blandly, waving his hand.
"I have traveled. Texas is free, and this frontier is one where
it's healthier and just as friendly for a man to have no
curiosity about his companion. You might be Cheseldine, of the
Big Bend, or you might be Judge Little, of El Paso-it's all one
to me. I enjoy drinking with you anyway."

Duane thanked him, conscious of a reserve and dignity that he
could not have felt or pretended three months before. And then,
as always, he was a good listener. Colonel Webb told, among
other things, that he had come out to the Big Bend to look over
the affairs of a deceased brother who had been a rancher and a
sheriff of one of the towns, Fairdale by name.

"Found no affairs, no ranch, not even his grave," said Colonel
Webb. "And I tell you, sir, if hell's any tougher than this
Fairdale I don't want to expiate my sins there."

"Fairdale.... I imagine sheriffs have a hard row to hoe out
here," replied Duane, trying not to appear curious.

The Colonel swore lustily.

"My brother was the only honest sheriff Fairdale ever had. It
was wonderful how long he lasted. But he had nerve, he could
throw a gun, and he was on the square. Then he was wise enough
to confine his work to offenders of his own town and
neighborhood. He let the riding outlaws alone, else he wouldn't
have lasted at all.... What this frontier needs, sir, is about
six companies of Texas Rangers."

Duane was aware of the Colonel's close scrutiny.

"Do you know anything about the service?" he asked.

"I used to. Ten years ago when I lived in San Antonio. A fine
body of men, sir, and the salvation of Texas."

"Governor Stone doesn't entertain that opinion," said Duane.

Here Colonel Webb exploded. Manifestly the governor was not his
choice for a chief executive of the great state. He talked
politics for a while, and of the vast territory west of the
Pecos that seemed never to get a benefit from Austin. He talked
enough for Duane to realize that here was just the kind of
intelligent, well-informed, honest citizen that he had been
trying to meet. He exerted himself thereafter to be agreeable
and interesting; and he saw presently that here was an
opportunity to make a valuable acquaintance, if not a friend.

"I'm a stranger in these parts," said Duane, finally. "What is
this outlaw situation you speak of?"

"It's damnable, sir, and unbelievable. Not rustling any more,
but just wholesale herd-stealing, in which some big cattlemen,
supposed to be honest, are equally guilty with the outlaws. On
this border, you know, the rustler has always been able to
steal cattle in any numbers. But to get rid of big
bunches--that's the hard job. The gang operating between here
and Valentine evidently have not this trouble. Nobody knows
where the stolen stock goes. But I'm not alone in my opinion
that most of it goes to several big stockmen. They ship to San
Antonio, Austin, New Orleans, also to El Paso. If you travel
the stock-road between here and Marfa and Valentine you'll see
dead cattle all along the line and stray cattle out in the
scrub. The herds have been driven fast and far, and stragglers
are not rounded up."

"Wholesale business, eh?" remarked Duane. "Who are
these--er--big stock-buyers?"

Colonel Webb seemed a little startled at the abrupt query. He
bent his penetrating gaze upon Duane and thoughtfully stroked
his pointed beard.

"Names, of course, I'll not mention. Opinions are one thing,
direct accusation another. This is not a healthy country for
the informer."

When it came to the outlaws themselves Colonel Webb was
disposed to talk freely. Duane could not judge whether the
Colonel had a hobby of that subject or the outlaws were so
striking in personality and deed that any man would know all
about them. The great name along the river was Cheseldine, but
it seemed to be a name detached from an individual. No person
of veracity known to Colonel Webb had ever seen Cheseldine, and
those who claimed that doubtful honor varied so diversely in
descriptions of the chief that they confused the reality and
lent to the outlaw only further mystery. Strange to say of an
outlaw leader, as there was no one w;ho could identify him, so
there was no one who could prove he had actually killed a man.
Blood flowed like water over the Big Bend country, and it was
Cheseldine who spilled it. Yet the fact remained there were no
eye-witnesses to connect any individual called Cheseldine with
these deeds of violence. But in striking contrast to this
mystery was the person, character, and cold-blooded action
of Poggin and Knell, the chief's lieutenants. They were
familiar figures in all the towns within two hundred miles of
Bradford. Knell had a record, but as gunman with an incredible
list of victims Poggin was supreme. If Poggin had a friend no
one ever heard of him. There were a hundred stories of his
nerve, his wonderful speed with a gun, his passion for
gambling, his love of a horse--his cold, implacable, inhuman
wiping out of his path any man that crossed it.

"Cheseldine is a name, a terrible name," said Colonel Webb.
"Sometimes I wonder if he's not only a name. In that case where
does the brains of this gang come from? No; there must be a
master craftsman behind this border pillage; a master capable
of handling those terrors Poggin and Knell. Of all the
thousands of outlaws developed by western Texas in the last
twenty years these three are the greatest. In southern Texas,
down between the Pecos and the Nueces, there have been and are
still many bad men. But I doubt if any outlaw there, possibly
excepting Buck Duane, ever equaled Poggin. You've heard of this

"Yes, a little," replied Duane, quietly. "I'm from southern
Texas. Buck Duane then is known out here?"

"Why, man, where isn't his name known?" returned Colonel Webb.
"I've kept track of his record as I have all the others. Of
course, Duane, being a lone outlaw, is somewhat of a mystery
also, but not like Cheseldine. Out here there have drifted many
stories of Duane, horrible some of them. But despite them a
sort of romance clings to that Nueces outlaw. He's killed three
great outlaw leaders, I believe--Bland, Hardin, and the other I
forgot. Hardin was known in the Big Bend, had friends there.
Bland had a hard name at Del Rio."

"Then this man Duane enjoys rather an unusual repute west of
the Pecos?" inquired Duane.

"He's considered more of an enemy to his kind than to honest
men. I understand Duane had many friends, that whole counties
swear by him--secretly, of course, for he's a hunted outlaw
with rewards on his head. His fame in this country appears to
hang on his matchless gun-play and his enmity toward outlaw
chiefs. I've heard many a rancher say: 'I wish to God that Buck
Duane would drift out here! I'd give a hundred pesos to see him
and Poggin meet.' It's a singular thing, stranger, how jealous
these great outlaws are of each other."

"Yes, indeed, all about them is singular," replied Duane. "Has
Cheseldine's gang been busy lately?"

"No. This section has been free of rustling for months, though
there's unexplained movements of stock. Probably all the stock
that's being shipped now was rustled long ago. Cheseldine works
over a wide section, too wide for news to travel inside of
weeks. Then sometimes he's not heard of at all for a spell.
These lulls are pretty surely indicative of a big storm sooner
or later. And Cheseldine's deals, as they grow fewer and
farther between, certainly get bigger, more daring. There are
some people who think Cheseldine had nothing to do with the
bank-robberies and train-holdups during the last few years in
this country. But that's poor reasoning. The jobs have been too
well done, too surely covered, to be the work of greasers or
ordinary outlaws."

"What's your view of the outlook? How's all this going to wind
up? Will the outlaw ever be driven out?" asked Duane.

"Never. There will always be outlaws along the Rio Grande. All
the armies in the world couldn't comb the wild brakes of that
fifteen hundred miles of river. But the sway of the outlaw,
such as is enjoyed by these great leaders, will sooner or later
be past. The criminal element flock to the Southwest. But not
so thick and fast as the pioneers. Besides, the outlaws kill
themselves, and the ranchers are slowly rising in wrath, if not
in action. That will come soon. If they only had a leader to
start the fight! But that will come. There's talk of
Vigilantes, the same hat were organized in California and are
now in force in Idaho. So far it's only talk. But the time will
come. And the days of Cheseldine and Poggin are numbered."

Duane went to bed that night exceedingly thoughtful. The long
trail was growing hot. This voluble colonel had given him new
ideas. It came to Duane in surprise that he was famous along
the upper Rio Grande. Assuredly he would not long be able to
conceal his identity. He had no doubt that he would soon meet
the chiefs of this clever and bold rustling gang. He could not
decide whether he would be safer unknown or known. In the
latter case his one chance lay in the fatality connected with
his name, in his power to look it and act it. Duane had never
dreamed of any sleuth-hound tendency in his nature, but now he
felt something like one. Above all others his mind fixed on
Poggin--Poggin the brute, the executor of Cheseldine's will,
but mostly upon Poggin the gunman. This in itself was a warning
to Duane. He felt terrible forces at work within him. There was
the stern and indomitable resolve to make MacNelly's boast good
to the governor of the state--to break up Cheseldine's gang.
Yet this was not in Duane's mind before a strange grim and
deadly instinct--which he had to drive away for fear he would
find in it a passion to kill Poggin, not for the state, nor for
his word to MacNelly, but for himself. Had his father's blood
and the hard years made Duane the kind of man who instinctively
wanted to meet Poggin? He was sworn to MacNelly's service, and
he fought himself to keep that, and that only, in his mind.

Duane ascertained that Fairdale was situated two days' ride
from Bradford toward the north. There was a stage which made
the journey twice a week.

Next morning Duane mounted his horse and headed for Fairdale.
He rode leisurely, as he wanted to learn all he could about the
country. There were few ranches. The farther he traveled the
better grazing he encountered, and, strange to note, the fewer
herds of cattle.

It was just sunset when he made out a cluster of adobe houses
that marked the half-way point between Bradford and Fairdale.
Here, Duane had learned, was stationed a comfortable inn for

When he drew up before the inn the landlord and his family and
a number of loungers greeted him laconically.

"Beat the stage in, hey?" remarked one.

"There she comes now," said another. "Joel shore is drivin'

Far down the road Duane saw a cloud of dust and horses and a
lumbering coach. When he had looked after the needs of his
horse he returned to the group before the inn. They awaited the
stage with that interest common to isolated people. Presently
it rolled up, a large mud-bespattered and dusty vehicle,
littered with baggage on top and tied on behind. A number of
passengers alighted, three of whom excited Duane's interest.
One was a tall, dark, striking-looking man, and the other two
were ladies, wearing long gray ulsters and veils. Duane heard
the proprietor of the inn address the man as Colonel
Longstreth, and as the party entered the inn Duane's quick ears
caught a few words which acquainted him with the fact that
Longstreth was the Mayor of Fairdale.

Duane passed inside himself to learn that supper would soon be
ready. At table he found himself opposite the three who had
attracted his attention.

"Ruth, I envy the lucky cowboys," Longstreth was saying.

Ruth was a curly-headed girl with gray or hazel eyes.

"I'm crazy to ride bronchos," she said.

Duane gathered she was on a visit to western Texas. The other
girl's deep voice, sweet like a bell, made Duane regard her
closer. She had beauty as he had never seen it in another
woman. She was slender, but the development of her figure gave
Duane the impression she was twenty years old or more. She had
the most exquisite hands Duane had ever seen. She did not
resemble the Colonel, who was evidently her father. She looked
tired, quiet, even melancholy. A finely chiseled oval face;
clear, olive-tinted skin, long eyes set wide apart and black as
coal, beautiful to look into; a slender, straight nose that had
something nervous and delicate about it which made Duane think
of a thoroughbred; and a mouth by no means small, but perfectly
curved; and hair like jet--all these features proclaimed her
beauty to Duane. Duane believed her a descendant of one of the
old French families of eastern Texas. He was sure of it when
she looked at him, drawn by his rather persistent gaze. There
were pride, fire, and passion in her eyes. Duane felt himself
blushing in confusion. His stare at her had been rude, perhaps,
but unconscious. How many years had passed since he had seen a
girl like her! Thereafter he kept his eyes upon his plate, yet
he seemed to be aware that he had aroused the interest of both

After supper the guests assembled in a big sitting-room where
an open fire place with blazing mesquite sticks gave out warmth
and cheery glow. Duane took a seat by a table in the corner,
and, finding a paper, began to read. Presently when he glanced
up he saw two dark-faced men, strangers who had not appeared
before, and were peering in from a doorway. When they saw Duane
had observed them they stepped back out of sight.

It flashed over Duane that the strangers acted suspiciously. In
Texas in the seventies it was always bad policy to let
strangers go unheeded. Duane pondered a moment. Then he went
out to look over these two men. The doorway opened into a
patio, and across that was a little dingy, dim-lighted
bar-room. Here Duane found the innkeeper dispensing drinks to
the two strangers. They glanced up when he entered, and one of
them whispered. He imagined he had seen one of them before. In
Texas, where outdoor men were so rough, bronzed, bold, and
sometimes grim of aspect, it was no easy task to pick out the
crooked ones. But Duane's years on the border had augmented a
natural instinct or gift to read character, or at least to
sense the evil in men; and he knew at once that these strangers
were dishonest.

"Hey somethin'?" one of them asked, leering. Both looked Duane
up and down.

"No thanks, I don't drink," Duane replied, and returned their
scrutiny with interest. "How's tricks in the Big Bend?"

Both men stared. It had taken only a close glance for Duane to
recognize a type of ruffian most frequently met along the
river. These strangers had that stamp, and their surprise
proved he was right. Here the innkeeper showed signs of
uneasiness, and seconded the surprise of his customers. No more
was said at the instant, and the two rather hurriedly went out.

"Say, boss, do you know those fellows?" Duane asked the


"Which way did they come?"

"Now I think of it, them fellers rid in from both corners
today," he replied, and he put both hands on the bar and looked
at Duane. "They nooned heah, comin' from Bradford, they said,
an' trailed in after the stage."

When Duane returned to the sitting-room Colonel Longstreth was
absent, also several of the other passengers. Miss Ruth sat in
the chair he had vacated, and across the table from her sat
Miss Longstreth. Duane went directly to them.

"Excuse me," said Duane, addressing them. "I want to tell you
there are a couple of rough-looking men here. I've just seen
them. They mean evil. Tell your father to be careful. Lock your
doors--bar your windows to-night."

"Oh!" cried Ruth, very low. "Ray, do you hear?"

"Thank you; we'll be careful," said Miss Longstreth,
gracefully. The rich color had faded in her cheek. "I saw those
men watching you from that door. They had such bright black
eyes. Is there really danger--here?"

"I think so," was Duane's reply.

Soft swift steps behind him preceded a harsh voice: "Hands up!"

No man quicker than Duane to recognize the intent in those
words! His hands shot up. Miss Ruth uttered a little frightened
cry and sank into her chair. Miss Longstreth turned white, her
eyes dilated. Both girls were staring at some one behind Duane.

"Turn around!" ordered the harsh voice.

The big, dark stranger, the bearded one who had whispered to
his comrade in the bar-room and asked Duane to drink, had him
covered with a cocked gun. He strode forward, his eyes
gleaming, pressed the gun against him, and with his other hand
dove into his inside coat pocket and tore out his roll of
bills. Then he reached low at Duane's hip, felt his gun, and
took it. Then he slapped the other hip, evidently in search of
another weapon. That done, he backed away, wearing an
expression of fiendish satisfaction that made Duane think he
was only a common thief, a novice at this kind of game.

His comrade stood in the door with a gun leveled at two other
men, who stood there frightened, speechless.

"Git a move on, Bill," called this fellow; and he took a hasty
glance backward. A stamp of hoofs came from outside. Of course
the robbers had horses waiting. The one called Bill strode
across the room, and with brutal, careless haste began to prod
the two men with his weapon and to search them. The robber in
the doorway called "Rustle!" and disappeared.

Duane wondered where the innkeeper was, and Colonel Longstreth
and the other two passengers. The bearded robber quickly got
through with his searching, and from his growls Duane gathered
he had not been well remunerated. Then he wheeled once more.
Duane had not moved a muscle, stood perfectly calm with his
arms high. The robber strode back with his bloodshot eyes
fastened upon the girls. Miss Longstreth never flinched, but
the little girl appeared about to faint.

"Don't yap, there!" he said, low and hard. He thrust the gun
close to Ruth. Then Duane knew for sure that he was no knight
of the road, but a plain cutthroat robber. Danger always made
Duane exult in a kind of cold glow. But now something hot
worked within him. He had a little gun in his pocket. The
robber had missed it. And he began to calculate chances.

"Any money, jewelry, diamonds!" ordered the ruffian, fiercely.

Miss Ruth collapsed. Then he made at Miss Longstreth. She stood
with her hands at her breast. Evidently the robber took this
position to mean that she had valuables concealed there. But
Duane fancied she had instinctively pressed her hands against a
throbbing heart.

"Come out with it!" he said, harshly, reaching for her.

"Don't dare touch me!" she cried, her eyes ablaze. She did not
move. She had nerve.

It made Duane thrill. He saw he was going to get a chance.
Waiting had been a science with him. But here it was hard. Miss
Ruth had fainted, and that was well. Miss Longstreth had fight
in her, which fact helped Duane, yet made injury possible to
her. She eluded two lunges the man made at her. Then his rough
hand caught her waist, and with one pull ripped it asunder,
exposing her beautiful shoulder, white as snow.

She cried out. The prospect of being robbed or even killed had
not shaken Miss Longstreth's nerve as had this brutal tearing
off of half her waist.

The ruffian was only turned partially away from Duane. For
himself he could have waited no longer. But for her! That gun
was still held dangerously upward close to her. Duane watched
only that. Then a bellow made him jerk his head. Colonel
Longstreth stood in the doorway in a magnificent rage. He had
no weapon. Strange how he showed no fear! He bellowed something

Duane's shifting glance caught the robber's sudden movement. It
was a kind of start. He seemed stricken. Duane expected him to
shoot Longstreth. Instead the hand that clutched Miss
Longstreth's torn waist loosened its hold. The other hand with
its cocked weapon slowly dropped till it pointed to the floor.
That was Duane's chance.

Swift as a flash he drew his gun and fired. Thud! went his
bullet, and he could not tell on the instant whether it hit the
robber or went into the ceiling. Then the robber's gun boomed
harmlessly. He fell with blood spurting over his face. Duane
realized he had hit him, but the small bullet had glanced.

Miss Longstreth reeled and might have fallen had Duane not
supported her. It was only a few steps to a couch, to which he
half led, half carried her. Then he rushed out of the room,
across the patio, through the bar to the yard. Nevertheless, he
was cautious. In the gloom stood a saddled horse, probably the
one belonging to the fellow he had shot. His comrade had
escaped. Returning to the sitting-room, Duane found a condition
approaching pandemonium.

The innkeeper rushed in, pitchfork in hands. Evidently he had
been out at the barn. He was now shouting to find out what had
happened. Joel, the stage-driver, was trying to quiet the men
who had been robbed. The woman, wife of one of the men, had
come in, and she had hysterics. The girls were still and white.
The robber Bill lay where he had fallen, and Duane guessed he
had made a fair shot, after all. And, lastly, the thing that
struck Duane most of all was Longstreth's rage. He never saw
such passion. Like a caged lion Longstreth stalked and roared.
There came a quieter moment in which the innkeeper shrilly

"Man, what're you ravin' aboot? Nobody's hurt, an' thet's
lucky. I swear to God I hadn't nothin' to do with them

"I ought to kill you anyhow!" replied Longstreth. And his voice
now astounded Duane, it was so full of power.

Upon examination Duane found that his bullet had furrowed the
robber's temple, torn a great piece out of his scalp, and, as
Duane had guessed, had glanced. He was not seriously injured,
and already showed signs of returning consciousness.

"Drag him out of here!" ordered Longstreth; and he turned to
his daughter.

Before the innkeeper reached the robber Duane had secured the
money and gun taken from him; and presently recovered the
property of the other men. Joel helped the innkeeper carry the
injured man somewhere outside.

Miss Longstreth was sitting white but composed upon the couch,
where lay Miss Ruth, who evidently had been carried there by
the Colonel. Duane did not think she had wholly lost
consciousness, and now she lay very still, with eyes dark and
shadowy, her face pallid and wet. The Colonel, now that he
finally remembered his women-folk, seemed to be gentle and
kind. He talked soothingly to Miss Ruth, made light of the
adventure, said she must learn to have nerve out here where
things happened.

"Can I be of any service?" asked Duane, solicitously.

"Thanks; I guess there's nothing you can do. Talk to these
frightened girls while I go see what's to be done with that
thick-skulled robber," he replied, and, telling the girls that
there was no more danger, he went out.

Miss Longstreth sat with one hand holding her torn waist in
place; the other she extended to Duane. He took it awkwardly,
and he felt a strange thrill.

"You saved my life," she said, in grave, sweet seriousness.

"No, no!" Duane exclaimed. "He might have struck you, hurt you,
but no more."

"I saw murder in his eyes. He thought I had jewels under my
dress. I couldn't bear his touch. The beast! I'd have fought.
Surely my life was in peril."

"Did you kill him?" asked Miss Ruth, who lay listening.

"Oh no. He's not badly hurt."

"I'm very glad he's alive," said Miss Longstreth, shuddering.

"My intention was bad enough," Duane went on. "It was a
ticklish place for me. You see, he was half drunk, and I was
afraid his gun might go off. Fool careless he was!"

"Yet you say you didn't save me," Miss Longstreth returned,

"Well, let it go at that," Duane responded. "I saved you

"Tell me all about it?" asked Miss Ruth, who was fast

Rather embarrassed, Duane briefly told the incident from his
point of view.

"Then you stood there all the time with your hands up thinking
of nothing--watching for nothing except a little moment when
you might draw your gun?" asked Miss Ruth.

"I guess that's about it," he replied.

"Cousin," said Miss Longstreth, thoughtfully, "it was fortunate
for us that this gentleman happened to be here. Papa
scouts--laughs at danger. He seemed to think there was no
danger. Yet he raved after it came."

"Go with us all the way to Fairdale--please?" asked Miss Ruth,
sweetly offering her hand. "I am Ruth Herbert. And this is my
cousin, Ray Longstreth."

"I'm traveling that way," replied Duane, in great confusion. He
did not know how to meet the situation.

Colonel Longstreth returned then, and after bidding Duane a
good night, which seemed rather curt by contrast to the
graciousness of the girls, he led them away.

Before going to bed Duane went outside to take a look at the
injured robber and perhaps to ask him a few questions. To
Duane's surprise, he was gone, and so was his horse. The
innkeeper was dumfounded. He said that he left the fellow on
the floor in the bar-room.

"Had he come to?" inquired Duane.

"Sure. He asked for whisky."

"Did he say anything else?"

"Not to me. I heard him talkin' to the father of them girls."

"You mean Colonel Longstreth?"

"I reckon. He sure was some riled, wasn't he? Jest as if I was
to blame fer that two-bit of a hold-up!"

"What did you make of the old gent's rage?" asked Duane,
watching the innkeeper. He scratched his head dubiously. He was
sincere, and Duane believed in his honesty.

"Wal, I'm doggoned if I know what to make of it. But I reckon
he's either crazy or got more nerve than most Texans."

"More nerve, maybe," Duane replied. "Show me a bed now,

Once in bed in the dark, Duane composed himself to think over
the several events of the evening. He called up the details of
the holdup and carefully revolved them in mind. The Colonel's
wrath, under circumstances where almost any Texan would have
been cool, nonplussed Duane, and he put it down to a choleric
temperament. He pondered long on the action of the robber when
Longstreth's bellow of rage burst in upon him. This ruffian, as
bold and mean a type as Duane had ever encountered, had, from
some cause or other, been startled. From whatever point Duane
viewed the man's strange indecision he could come to only one
conclusion--his start, his check, his fear had been that of
recognition. Duane compared this effect with the suddenly
acquired sense he had gotten of Colonel Longstreth's powerful
personality. Why had that desperate robber lowered his gun and
stood paralyzed at sight and sound of the Mayor of Fairdale?
This was not answerable. There might have been a number of
reasons, all to Colonel Longstreth's credit, but Duane could
not understand. Longstreth had not appeared to see danger for
his daughter, even though she had been roughly handled, and had
advanced in front of a cocked gun. Duane probed deep into this
singular fact, and he brought to bear on the thing all his
knowledge and experience of violent Texas life. And he found
that the instant Colonel Longstreth had appeared on the scene
there was no further danger threatening his daughter. Why? That
likewise Duane could not answer. Then his rage, Duane
concluded, had been solely at the idea of HIS daughter being
assaulted by a robber. This deduction was indeed a
thought-disturber, but Duane put it aside to crystallize and
for more careful consideration.

Next morning Duane found that the little town was called
Sanderson. It was larger than he had at first supposed. He
walked up the main street and back again. Just as he arrived
some horsemen rode up to the inn and dismounted. And at this
juncture the Longstreth party came out. Duane heard Colonel
Longstreth utter an exclamation. Then he saw him shake hands
with a tall man. Longstreth looked surprised and angry, and he
spoke with force; but Duane could not hear what it was he said.
The fellow laughed, yet somehow he struck Duane as sullen,
until suddenly he espied Miss Longstreth. Then his face
changed, and he removed his sombrero. Duane went closer.

"Floyd, did you come with the teams?" asked Longstreth,

"Not me. I rode a horse, good and hard," was the reply.

"Humph! I'll have a word to say to you later." Then Longstreth
turned to his daughter. "Ray, here's the cousin I've told you
about. You used to play with him ten years ago--Floyd Lawson.
Floyd, my daughter--and my niece, Ruth Herbert."

Duane always scrutinized every one he met, and now with a
dangerous game to play, with a consciousness of Longstreth's
unusual and significant personality, he bent a keen and
searching glance upon this Floyd Lawson.

He was under thirty, yet gray at his temples--dark,
smooth-shaven, with lines left by wildness, dissipation,
shadows under dark eyes, a mouth strong and bitter, and a
square chin--a reckless, careless, handsome, sinister face
strangely losing the hardness when he smiled. The grace of a
gentleman clung round him, seemed like an echo in his mellow
voice. Duane doubted not that he, like many a young man, had
drifted out to the frontier, where rough and wild life had
wrought sternly but had not quite effaced the mark of good

Colonel Longstreth apparently did not share the pleasure of his
daughter and his niece in the advent of this cousin. Something
hinged on this meeting. Duane grew intensely curious, but, as
the stage appeared ready for the journey, he had no further
opportunity to gratify it.


Duane followed the stage through the town, out into the open,
on to a wide, hard-packed road showing years of travel. It
headed northwest. To the left rose a range of low, bleak
mountains he had noted yesterday, and to the right sloped the
mesquite-patched sweep of ridge and flat. The driver pushed his
team to a fast trot, which gait surely covered ground rapidly.

The stage made three stops in the forenoon, one at a place
where the horses could be watered, the second at a chuck-wagon
belonging to cowboys who were riding after stock, and the third
at a small cluster of adobe and stone houses constituting a
hamlet the driver called Longstreth, named after the Colonel.
From that point on to Fairdale there were only a few ranches,
each one controlling great acreage.

Early in the afternoon from a ridge-top Duane sighted Fairdale,
a green patch in the mass of gray. For the barrens of Texas it
was indeed a fair sight. But he was more concerned with its
remoteness from civilization than its beauty. At that time, in
the early seventies, when the vast western third of Texas was a
wilderness, the pioneer had done wonders to settle there and
establish places like Fairdale.

It needed only a glance for Duane to pick out Colonel
Longstreth's ranch. The house was situated on the only
elevation around Fairdale, and it was not high, nor more than a
few minutes' walk from the edge of the town. It was a low,
flat-roofed structure made of red adobe bricks, and covered
what appeared to be fully an acre of ground. All was green
about it, except where the fenced corrals and numerous barns or
sheds showed gray and red.

Duane soon reached the shady outskirts of Fairdale, and entered
the town with mingled feelings of curiosity, eagerness, and
expectation. The street he rode down was a main one, and on
both sides of the street was a solid row of saloons, resorts,
hotels. Saddled horses stood hitched all along the sidewalk in
two long lines, with a buckboard and team here and there
breaking the continuity. This block was busy and noisy.

From all outside appearances Fairdale was no different from
other frontier towns, and Duane's expectations were scarcely
realized. As the afternoon was waning he halted at a little
inn. A boy took charge of his horse. Duane questioned the lad
about Fairdale and gradually drew to the subject most in mind.

"Colonel Longstreth has a big outfit, eh?"

"Reckon he has," replied the lad. "Doan know how many cowboys.
They're always comin' and goin'. I ain't acquainted with half
of them."

"Much movement of stock these days?"

"Stock's always movin'," he replied, with a queer look.


But he did not follow up that look with the affirmative Duane

"Lively place, I hear--Fairdale is?"

"Ain't so lively as Sanderson, but it's bigger."

"Yes, I heard it was. Fellow down there was talking about two
cowboys who were arrested."

"Sure. I heered all about that. Joe Bean an' Brick Higgins--
they belong heah, but they ain't heah much. Longstreth's boys."

Duane did not want to appear over-inquisitive, so he turned the
talk into other channels.

After getting supper Duane strolled up and down the main
street. When darkness set in he went into a hotel, bought
cigars, sat around, and watched. Then he passed out and went
into the next place. This was of rough crude exterior, but the
inside was comparatively pretentious and ablaze with lights. It
was full of men coming and going--a dusty-booted crowd that
smelled of horses and smoke. Duane sat down for a while, with
wide eyes and open ears. Then he hunted up the bar, where most
of the guests had been or were going. He found a great square
room lighted by six huge lamps, a bar at one side, and all the
floor-space taken up by tables and chairs. This was the only
gambling place of any size in southern Texas in which he had
noted the absence of Mexicans. There was some card-playing
going on at this moment. Duane stayed in there for a while, and
knew that strangers were too common in Fairdale to be
conspicuous. Then he returned to the inn where he had engaged a

Duane sat down on the steps of the dingy little restaurant. Two
men were conversing inside, and they had not noticed Duane.

"Laramie, what's the stranger's name?" asked one.

"He didn't say," replied the other.

"Sure was a strappin' big man. Struck me a little odd, he did.
No cattleman, him. How'd you size him?"

"Well, like one of them cool, easy, quiet Texans who's been
lookin' for a man for years--to kill him when he found him."

"Right you are, Laramie; and, between you an' me, I hope he's
lookin' for Long--"

"'S--sh!" interrupted Laramie. "You must be half drunk, to go
talkie' that way."

Thereafter they conversed in too low a tone for Duane to hear,
and presently Laramie's visitor left. Duane went inside, and,
making himself agreeable, began to ask casual questions about
Fairdale. Laramie was not communicative.

Duane went to his room in a thoughtful frame of mind. Had
Laramie's visitor meant he hoped some one had come to kill
Longstreth? Duane inferred just that from the interrupted
remark. There was something wrong about the Mayor of Fairdale.
Duane felt it. And he felt also, if there was a crooked and
dangerous man, it was this Floyd Lawson. The innkeeper Laramie
would be worth cultivating. And last in Duane's thoughts that
night was Miss Longstreth. He could not help thinking of
her--how strangely the meeting with her had affected him. It
made him remember that long-past time when girls had been a
part of his life. What a sad and dark and endless void lay
between that past and the present! He had no right even to
dream of a beautiful woman like Ray Longstreth. That
conviction, however, did not dispel her; indeed, it seemed
perversely to make her grow more fascinating. Duane grew
conscious of a strange, unaccountable hunger, a something that
was like a pang in his breast.

Next day he lounged about the inn. He did not make any
overtures to the taciturn proprietor. Duane had no need of
hurry now. He contented himself with watching and listening.
And at the close of that day he decided Fairdale was what
MacNelly had claimed it to be, and that he was on the track of
an unusual adventure. The following day he spent in much the
same way, though on one occasion he told Laramie he was looking
for a man. The innkeeper grew a little less furtive and
reticent after that. He would answer casual queries, and it did
not take Duane long to learn that Laramie had seen better
days--that he was now broken, bitter, and hard. Some one had
wronged him.

Several days passed. Duane did not succeed in getting any
closer to Laramie, but he found the idlers on the corners and
in front of the stores unsuspicious and willing to talk. It did
not take him long to find out that Fairdale stood parallel with
Huntsville for gambling, drinking, and fighting. The street was
always lined with dusty, saddled horses, the town full of
strangers. Money appeared more abundant than in any place Duane
had ever visited; and it was spent with the abandon that spoke
forcibly of easy and crooked acquirement. Duane decided that
Sanderson, Bradford, and Ord were but notorious outposts to
this Fairdale, which was a secret center of rustlers and
outlaws. And what struck Duane strangest of all was the fact
that Longstreth was mayor here and held court daily. Duane knew
intuitively, before a chance remark gave him proof, that this
court was a sham, a farce. And he wondered if it were not a
blind. This wonder of his was equivalent to suspicion of
Colonel Longstreth, and Duane reproached himself. Then he
realized that the reproach was because of the daughter. Inquiry
had brought him the fact that Ray Longstreth had just come to
live with her father. Longstreth had originally been a planter
in Louisiana, where his family had remained after his advent in
the West. He was a rich rancher; he owned half of Fairdale; he
was a cattle-buyer on a large scale. Floyd Lawson was his
lieutenant and associate in deals.

On the afternoon of the fifth day of Duane's stay in Fairdale
he returned to the inn from his usual stroll, and upon entering
was amazed to have a rough-looking young fellow rush by him out
of the door. Inside Laramie was lying on the floor, with a
bloody bruise on his face. He did not appear to be dangerously

"Bo Snecker! He hit me and went after the cash-drawer," said
Laramie, laboring to his feet.

"Are you hurt much?" queried Duane.

"I guess not. But Bo needn't to have soaked me. I've been
robbed before without that."

"Well, I'll take a look after Bo," replied Duane.

He went out and glanced down the street toward the center of
the town. He did not see any one he could take for the
innkeeper's assailant. Then he looked up the street, and he saw
the young fellow about a block away, hurrying along and gazing

Duane yelled for him to stop and started to go after him.
Snecker broke into a run. Then Duane set out to overhaul him.
There were two motives in Duane's action--one of anger, and the
other a desire to make a friend of this man Laramie, whom Duane
believed could tell him much.

Duane was light on his feet, and he had a giant stride. He
gained rapidly upon Snecker, who, turning this way and that,
could not get out of sight. Then he took to the open country
and ran straight for the green hill where Longstreth's house
stood. Duane had almost caught Snecker when he reached the
shrubbery and trees and there eluded him. But Duane kept him in
sight, in the shade, on the paths, and up the road into the
courtyard, and he saw Snecker go straight for Longstreth's

Duane was not to be turned back by that, singular as it was. He
did not stop to consider. It seemed enough to know that fate
had directed him to the path of this rancher Longstreth. Duane
entered the first open door on that side of the court. It
opened into a corridor which led into a plaza. It had wide,
smooth stone porches, and flowers and shrubbery in the center.
Duane hurried through to burst into the presence of Miss
Longstreth and a number of young people. Evidently she was
giving a little party.

Lawson stood leaning against one of the pillars that supported
the porch roof; at sight of Duane his face changed remarkably,
expressing amazement, consternation, then fear.

In the quick ensuing silence Miss Longstreth rose white as her
dress. The young women present stared in astonishment, if they
were not equally perturbed. There were cowboys present who
suddenly grew intent and still. By these things Duane gathered
that his appearance must be disconcerting. He was panting. He
wore no hat or coat. His big gun-sheath showed plainly at his

Sight of Miss Longstreth had an unaccountable effect upon
Duane. He was plunged into confusion. For the moment he saw no
one but her.

"Miss Longstreth--I came--to search--your house," panted Duane.

He hardly knew what he was saying, yet the instant he spoke he
realized that that should have been the last thing for him to
say. He had blundered. But he was not used to women, and this
dark-eyed girl made him thrill and his heart beat thickly and
his wits go scattering.

"Search my house!" exclaimed Miss Longstreth; and red succeeded
the white in her cheeks. She appeared astonished and angry.
"What for? Why, how dare you! This is unwarrantable!"

"A man--Bo Snecker--assaulted and robbed Jim Laramie," replied
Duane, hurriedly. "I chased Snecker here--saw him run into the

"Here? Oh, sir, you must be mistaken. We have seen no one. In
the absence of my father I'm mistress here. I'll not permit you
to search."

Lawson appeared to come out of his astonishment. He stepped

"Ray, don't be bothered now," he said, to his cousin. "This
fellow's making a bluff. I'll settle him. See here, Mister, you
clear out!"

"I want Snecker. He's here, and I'm going to get him," replied
Duane, quietly.

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