Part 6 out of 7
Again inaction and suspense dragged at Duane's spirit. Like a
leashed hound with a keen scent in his face Duane wanted to
leap forth when he was bound. He almost fretted. Something
called to him over the bold, wild brow of Mount Ord. But while
Fletcher stayed in Ord waiting for Knell and Poggin, or for
orders, Duane knew his game was again a waiting one.
But one day there were signs of the long quiet of Ord being
broken. A messenger strange to Duane rode in on a secret
mission that had to do with Fletcher. When he went away
Fletcher became addicted to thoughtful moods and lonely walks.
He seldom drank, and this in itself was a striking contrast to
former behavior. The messenger came again. Whatever
communication he brought, it had a remarkable effect upon the
outlaw. Duane was present in the tavern when the fellow
arrived, saw the few words whispered, but did not hear them.
Fletcher turned white with anger or fear, perhaps both, and he
cursed like a madman. The messenger, a lean, dark-faced,
hard-riding fellow reminding Duane of the cowboy Guthrie, left
the tavern without even a drink and rode away off to the west.
This west mystified and fascinated Duane as much as the south
beyond Mount Ord. Where were Knell and Poggin? Apparently they
were not at present with the leader on the mountain. After the
messenger left Fletcher grew silent and surly. He had presented
a variety of moods to Duane's observation, and this latest one
was provocative of thought. Fletcher was dangerous. It became
clear now that the other outlaws of the camp feared him, kept
out of his way. Duane let him alone, yet closely watched him.
Perhaps an hour after the messenger had left, not longer,
Fletcher manifestly arrived at some decision, and he called for
his horse. Then he went to his shack and returned. To Duane the
outlaw looked in shape both to ride and to fight. He gave
orders for the men in camp to keep close until he returned.
Then he mounted.
"Come here, Dodge," he called.
Duane went up and laid a hand on the pommel of the saddle.
Fletcher walked his horse, with Duane beside him, till they
reached the log bridge, when he halted.
"Dodge, I'm in bad with Knell," he said. "An' it 'pears I'm the
cause of friction between Knell an' Poggy. Knell never had any
use fer me, but Poggy's been square, if not friendly. The boss
has a big deal on, an' here it's been held up because of this
scrap. He's waitin' over there on the mountain to give orders
to Knell or Poggy, an' neither one's showin' up. I've got to
stand in the breach, an' I ain't enjoyin' the prospects."
"What's the trouble about, Jim?" asked Duane.
"Reckon it's a little about you, Dodge," said Fletcher, dryly.
"Knell hadn't any use fer you thet day. He ain't got no use fer
a man onless he can rule him. Some of the boys here hev blabbed
before I edged in with my say, an' there's hell to pay. Knell
claims to know somethin' about you that'll make both the boss
an' Poggy sick when he springs it. But he's keepin' quiet. Hard
man to figger, thet Knell. Reckon you'd better go back to
Bradford fer a day or so, then camp out near here till I come
"Wal, because there ain't any use fer you to git in bad, too."
"The gang will ride over here any day. If they're friendly,
I'll light a fire on the hill there, say three nights from
to-night. If you don't see it thet night you hit the trail.
I'll do what I can. Jim Fletcher sticks to his pals. So long,
Then he rode away.
He left Duane in a quandary. This news was black. Things had
been working out so well. Here was a setback. At the moment
Duane did not know which way to turn, but certainly he had no
idea of going back to Bradford. Friction between the two great
lieutenants of Cheseldine! Open hostility between one of them
and another of the chief's right-hand men! Among outlaws that
sort of thing was deadly serious. Generally such matters were
settled with guns. Duane gathered encouragement even from
disaster. Perhaps the disintegration of Cheseldine's great band
had already begun. But what did Knell know? Duane did not
circle around the idea with doubts and hopes; if Knell knew
anything it was that this stranger in Ord, this new partner of
Fletcher's, was no less than Buck Duane. Well, it was about
time, thought Duane, that he made use of his name if it were to
help him at all. That name had been MacNelly's hope. He had
anchored all his scheme to Duane's fame. Duane was tempted to
ride off after Fletcher and stay with him. This, however, would
hardly be fair to an outlaw who had been fair to him. Duane
concluded to await developments and when the gang rode in to
Ord, probably from their various hiding-places, he would be
there ready to be denounced by Knell. Duane could not see any
other culmination of this series of events than a meeting
between Knell and himself. If that terminated fatally for Knell
there was all probability of Duane's being in no worse
situation than he was now. If Poggin took up the quarrel! Here
Duane accused himself again--tried in vain to revolt from a
judgment that he was only reasoning out excuses to meet these
Meanwhile, instead of waiting, why not hunt up Cheseldine in
his mountain retreat? The thought no sooner struck Duane than
he was hurrying for his horse.
He left Ord, ostensibly toward Bradford, but, once out of
sight, he turned off the road, circled through the brush, and
several miles south of town he struck a narrow grass-grown
trail that Fletcher had told him led to Cheseldine's camp. The
horse tracks along this trail were not less than a week old,
and very likely much more. It wound between low, brush-covered
foothills, through arroyos and gullies lined with mesquite,
cottonwood, and scrub-oak.
In an hour Duane struck the slope of Mount Ord, and as he
climbed he got a view of the rolling, black-spotted country,
partly desert, partly fertile, with long, bright lines of dry
stream-beds winding away to grow dim in the distance. He got
among broken rocks and cliffs, and here the open,
downward-rolling land disappeared, and he was hard put to it to
find the trail. He lost it repeatedly and made slow progress.
Finally he climbed into a region of all rock benches, rough
here, smooth there, with only an occasional scratch of iron
horseshoe to guide him. Many times he had to go ahead and then
work to right or left till he found his way again. It was slow
work; it took all day; and night found him half-way up the
mountain. He halted at a little side-canon with grass and
water, and here he made camp. The night was clear and cool at
that height, with a dark-blue sky and a streak of stars
blinking across. With this day of action behind him he felt
better satisfied than he had been for some time. Here, on this
venture, he was answering to a call that had so often directed
his movements, perhaps his life, and it was one that logic or
intelligence could take little stock of. And on this night,
lonely like the ones he used to spend in the Nueces gorge, and
memorable of them because of a likeness to that old
hiding-place, he felt the pressing return of old haunting
things--the past so long ago, wild flights, dead faces--and the
places of these were taken by one quiveringly alive, white,
tragic, with its dark, intent, speaking eyes--Ray Longstreth's.
That last memory he yielded to until he slept.
In the morning, satisfied that he had left still fewer tracks
than he had followed up this trail, he led his horse up to the
head of the canon, there a narrow crack in low cliffs, and with
branches of cedar fenced him in. Then he went back and took up
the trail on foot.
Without the horse he made better time and climbed through deep
clefts, wide canons, over ridges, up shelving slopes, along
precipices--a long, hard climb--till he reached what he
concluded was a divide. Going down was easier, though the
farther he followed this dim and winding trail the wider the
broken battlements of rock. Above him he saw the black fringe
of pinon and pine, and above that the bold peak, bare, yellow,
like a desert butte. Once, through a wide gateway between great
escarpments, he saw the lower country beyond the range, and
beyond this, vast and clear as it lay in his sight, was the
great river that made the Big Bend. He went down and down,
wondering how a horse could follow that broken trail, believing
there must be another better one somewhere into Cheseldine's
He rounded a jutting corner, where view had been shut off, and
presently came out upon the rim of a high wall. Beneath, like a
green gulf seen through blue haze, lay an amphitheater walled
in on the two sides he could see. It lay perhaps a thousand
feet below him; and, plain as all the other features of that
wild environment, there shone out a big red stone or adobe
cabin, white water shining away between great borders, and
horses and cattle dotting the levels. It was a peaceful,
beautiful scene. Duane could not help grinding his teeth at the
thought of rustlers living there in quiet and ease.
Duane worked half-way down to the level, and, well hidden in a
niche, he settled himself to watch both trail and valley. He
made note of the position of the sun and saw that if anything
developed or if he decided to descend any farther there was
small likelihood of his getting back to his camp before dark.
To try that after nightfall he imagined would be vain effort.
Then he bent his keen eyes downward. The cabin appeared to be a
crude structure. Though large in size, it had, of course, been
built by outlaws.
There was no garden, no cultivated field, no corral. Excepting
for the rude pile of stones and logs plastered together with
mud, the valley was as wild, probably, as on the day of
discovery. Duane seemed to have been watching for a long time
before he saw any sign of man, and this one apparently went to
the stream for water and returned to the cabin.
The sun went down behind the wall, and shadows were born in the
darker places of the valley. Duane began to want to get closer
to that cabin. What had he taken this arduous climb for? He
held back, however, trying to evolve further plans.
While he was pondering the shadows quickly gathered and
darkened. If he was to go back to camp he must set out at once.
Still he lingered. And suddenly his wide-roving eye caught
sight of two horsemen riding up the valley. The must have
entered at a point below, round the huge abutment of rock,
beyond Duane's range of sight. Their horses were tired and
stopped at the stream for a long drink.
Duane left his perch, took to the steep trail, and descended as
fast as he could without making noise. It did not take him long
to reach the valley floor. It was almost level, with deep
grass, and here and there clumps of bushes. Twilight was
already thick down there. Duane marked the location of the
trail, and then began to slip like a shadow through the grass
and from bush to bush. He saw a bright light before he made out
the dark outline of the cabin. Then he heard voices, a merry
whistle, a coarse song, and the clink of iron cooking-utensils.
He smelled fragrant wood-smoke. He saw moving dark figures
cross the light. Evidently there was a wide door, or else the
fire was out in the open.
Duane swerved to the left, out of direct line with the light,
and thus was able to see better. Then he advanced noiselessly
but swiftly toward the back of the house. There were trees
close to the wall. He would make no noise, and he could
scarcely be seen--if only there was no watch-dog! But all his
outlaw days he had taken risks with only his useless life at
stake; now, with that changed, he advanced stealthy and bold as
an Indian. He reached the cover of the trees, knew he was
hidden in their shadows, for at few paces' distance he had been
able to see only their tops. From there he slipped up to the
house and felt along the wall with his hands.
He came to a little window where light shone through. He peeped
in. He saw a room shrouded in shadows, a lamp turned low, a
table, chairs. He saw an open door, with bright flare beyond,
but could not see the fire. Voices came indistinctly. Without
hesitation Duane stole farther along--all the way to the end of
the cabin. Peeping round, he saw only the flare of light on
bare ground. Retracing his cautious steps, he paused at the
crack again, saw that no man was in the room, and then he went
on round that end of the cabin. Fortune favored him. There were
bushes, an old shed, a wood-pile, all the cover he needed at
that corner. He did not even need to crawl.
Before he peered between the rough corner of wall and the bush
growing close to it Duane paused a moment. This excitement was
different from that he had always felt when pursued. It had no
bitterness, no pain, no dread. There was as much danger here,
perhaps more, yet it was not the same. Then he looked.
He saw a bright fire, a red-faced man bending over it,
whistling, while he handled a steaming pot. Over him was a
roofed shed built against the wall, with two open sides and two
supporting posts. Duane's second glance, not so blinded by the
sudden bright light, made out other men, three in the shadow,
two in the flare, but with backs to him.
"It's a smoother trail by long odds, but ain't so short as this
one right over the mountain," one outlaw was saying.
"What's eatin' you, Panhandle?" ejaculated another. "Blossom
an' me rode from Faraway Springs, where Poggin is with some of
"Excuse me, Phil. Shore I didn't see you come in, an' Boldt
never said nothin'."
"It took you a long time to get here, but I guess that's just
as well," spoke up a smooth, suave voice with a ring in it.
Longstreth's voice--Cheseldine's voice!
Here they were--Cheseldine, Phil Knell, Blossom Kane, Panhandle
Smith, Boldt--how well Duane remembered the names!--all here,
the big men of Cheseldine's gang, except the biggest--Poggin.
Duane had holed them, and his sensations of the moment deadened
sight and sound of what was before him. He sank down,
controlled himself, silenced a mounting exultation, then from a
less-strained position he peered forth again.
The outlaws were waiting for supper. Their conversation might
have been that of cowboys in camp, ranchers at a roundup. Duane
listened with eager ears, waiting for the business talk that he
felt would come. All the time he watched with the eyes of a
wolf upon its quarry. Blossom Kane was the lean-limbed
messenger who had so angered Fletcher. Boldt was a giant in
stature, dark, bearded, silent. Panhandle Smith was the
red-faced cook, merry, profane, a short, bow-legged man
resembling many rustlers Duane had known, particularly Luke
Stevens. And Knell, who sat there, tall, slim, like a boy in
build, like a boy in years, with his pale, smooth,
expressionless face and his cold, gray eyes. And Longstreth,
who leaned against the wall, handsome, with his dark face and
beard like an aristocrat, resembled many a rich Louisiana
planter Duane had met. The sixth man sat so much in the shadow
that he could not be plainly discerned, and, though addressed,
his name was not mentioned.
Panhandle Smith carried pots and pans into the cabin, and
cheerfully called out: "If you gents air hungry fer grub, don't
look fer me to feed you with a spoon."
The outlaws piled inside, made a great bustle and clatter as
they sat to their meal. Like hungry men, they talked little.
Duane waited there awhile, then guardedly got up and crept
round to the other side of the cabin. After he became used to
the dark again he ventured to steal along the wall to the
window and peeped in. The outlaws were in the first room and
could not be seen.
Duane waited. The moments dragged endlessly. His heart pounded.
Longstreth entered, turned up the light, and, taking a box of
cigars from the table, he carried it out.
"Here, you fellows, go outside and smoke," he said. "Knell,
come on in now. Let's get it over."
He returned, sat down, and lighted a cigar for himself. He put
his booted feet on the table.
Duane saw that the room was comfortably, even luxuriously
furnished. There must have been a good trail, he thought, else
how could all that stuff have been packed in there. Most
assuredly it could not have come over the trail he had
traveled. Presently he heard the men go outside, and their
voices became indistinct. Then Knell came in and seated himself
without any of his chief's ease. He seemed preoccupied and, as
"What's wrong, Knell? Why didn't you get here sooner?" queried
"Poggin, damn him! We're on the outs again."
"Aw, he needn't have got sore. He's breakin' a new hoss over at
Faraway, an you know him where a hoss 's concerned. That kept
him, I reckon, more than anythin'."
"What else? Get it out of your system so we can go on to the
"Well, it begins back a ways. I don't know how long ago--
weeks--a stranger rode into Ord an' got down easy-like as if he
owned the place. He seemed familiar to me. But I wasn't sure.
We looked him over, an' I left, tryin' to place him in my
"What'd he look like?"
"Rangy, powerful man, white hair over his temples, still, hard
face, eyes like knives. The way he packed his guns, the way he
walked an' stood an' swung his right hand showed me what he
was. You can't fool me on the gun-sharp. An' he had a grand
horse, a big black."
"I've met your man," said Longstreth.
"No!" exclaimed Knell. It was wonderful to hear surprise
expressed by this man that did not in the least show it in his
strange physiognomy. Knell laughed a short, grim, hollow laugh.
"Boss, this here big gent drifts into Ord again an' makes up to
Jim Fletcher. Jim, you know, is easy led. He likes men. An'
when a posse come along trailin' a blind lead, huntin' the
wrong way for the man who held up No. 6, why, Jim--he up an'
takes this stranger to be the fly road-agent an' cottons to
him. Got money out of him sure. An' that's what stumps me more.
What's this man's game? I happen to know, boss, that he
couldn't have held up No. 6."
"How do you know?" demanded Longstreth.
"Because I did the job myself."
A dark and stormy passion clouded the chief's face.
"Damn you, Knell! You're incorrigible. You're unreliable.
Another break like that queers you with me. Did you tell
"Yes. That's one reason we fell out. He raved. I thought he was
goin' to kill me."
"Why did you tackle such a risky job without help or plan?"
"It offered, that's all. An' it was easy. But it was a mistake.
I got the country an' the railroad hollerin' for nothin'. I
just couldn't help it. You know what idleness means to one of
us. You know also that this very life breeds fatality. It's
wrong--that's why. I was born of good parents, an' I know
what's right. We're wrong, an' we can't beat the end, that's
all. An' for my part I don't care a damn when that comes."
"Fine wise talk from you, Knell," said Longstreth, scornfully.
"Go on with your story."
"As I said, Jim cottons to the pretender, an' they get chummy.
They're together all the time. You can gamble Jim told all he
knew an' then some. A little liquor loosens his tongue. Several
of the boys rode over from Ord, an' one of them went to Poggin
an' says Jim Fletcher has a new man for the gang. Poggin, you
know, is always ready for any new man. He says if one doesn't
turn out good he can be shut off easy. He rather liked the way
this new part of Jim's was boosted. Jim an' Poggin always hit
it up together. So until I got on the deal Jim's pard was
already in the gang, without Poggin or you ever seein' him.
Then I got to figurin' hard. Just where had I ever seen that
chap? As it turned out, I never had seen him, which accounts
for my bein' doubtful. I'd never forget any man I'd seen. I dug
up a lot of old papers from my kit an' went over them. Letters,
pictures, clippin's, an' all that. I guess I had a pretty good
notion what I was lookin' for an' who I wanted to make sure of.
At last I found it. An' I knew my man. But I didn't spring it
on Poggin. Oh no! I want to have some fun with him when the
time comes. He'll be wilder than a trapped wolf. I sent Blossom
over to Ord to get word from Jim, an' when he verified all this
talk I sent Blossom again with a message calculated to make Jim
hump. Poggin got sore, said he'd wait for Jim, an' I could come
over here to see you about the new job. He'd meet me in Ord."
Knell had spoken hurriedly and low, now and then with passion.
His pale eyes glinted like fire in ice, and now his voice fell
to a whisper.
"Who do you think Fletcher's new man is?"
"Who?" demanded Longstreth.
Down came Longstreth's boots with a crash, then his body grew
"That Nueces outlaw? That two-shot ace-of-spades gun-thrower
who killed Bland, Alloway--?"
"An' Hardin." Knell whispered this last name with more feeling
than the apparent circumstance demanded.
"Yes; and Hardin, the best one of the Rim Rock fellows--Buck
Longstreth was so ghastly white now that his black mustache
seemed outlined against chalk. He eyed his grim lieutenant.
They understood each other without more words. It was enough
that Buck Duane was there in the Big Bend. Longstreth rose
presently and reached for a flask, from which he drank, then
offered it to Knell. He waved it aside.
"Knell," began the chief, slowly, as he wiped his lips, "I
gathered you have some grudge against this Buck Duane."
"Well, don't be a fool now and do what Poggin or almost any of
you men would--don't meet this Buck Duane. I've reason to
believe he's a Texas Ranger now."
"The hell you say!" exclaimed Knell.
"Yes. Go to Ord and give Jim Fletcher a hunch. He'll get
Poggin, and they'll fix even Buck Duane."
"All right. I'll do my best. But if I run into Duane--"
"Don't run into him!" Longstreth's voice fairly rang with the
force of its passion and command. He wiped his face, drank
again from the flask, sat down, resumed his smoking, and,
drawing a paper from his vest pocket he began to study it.
"Well, I'm glad that's settled," he said, evidently referring
to the Duane matter. "Now for the new job. This is October the
eighteenth. On or before the twenty-fifth there will be a
shipment of gold reach the Rancher's Bank of Val Verde. After
you return to Ord give Poggin these orders. Keep the gang
quiet. You, Poggin, Kane, Fletcher, Panhandle Smith, and Boldt
to be in on the secret and the job. Nobody else. You'll leave
Ord on the twenty-third, ride across country by the trail till
you get within sight of Mercer. It's a hundred miles from
Bradford to Val Verde--about the same from Ord. Time your
travel to get you near Val Verde on the morning of the
twenty-sixth. You won't have to more than trot your horses. At
two o'clock in the afternoon, sharp, ride into town and up to
the Rancher's Bank. Val Verde's a pretty big town. Never been
any holdups there. Town feels safe. Make it a clean, fast,
daylight job. That's all. Have you got the details?"
Knell did not even ask for the dates again.
"Suppose Poggin or me might be detained?" he asked.
Longstreth bent a dark glance upon his lieutenant.
"You never can tell what'll come off," continued Knell. "I'll
do my best."
"The minute you see Poggin tell him. A job on hand steadies
him. And I say again--look to it that nothing happens. Either
you or Poggin carry the job through. But I want both of you in
it. Break for the hills, and when you get up in the rocks where
you can hide your tracks head for Mount Ord. When all's quiet
again I'll join you here. That's all. Call in the boys."
Like a swift shadow and as noiseless Duane stole across the
level toward the dark wall of rock. Every nerve was a strung
wire. For a little while his mind was cluttered and clogged
with whirling thoughts, from which, like a flashing scroll,
unrolled the long, baffling order of action. The game was now
in his hands. He must cross Mount Ord at night. The feat was
improbable, but it might be done. He must ride into Bradford,
forty miles from the foothills before eight o'clock next
morning. He must telegraph MacNelly to be in Val Verde on the
twenty-fifth. He must ride back to Ord, to intercept Knell,
face him be denounced, kill him, and while the iron was hot
strike hard to win Poggin's half-won interest as he had wholly
won Fletcher's. Failing that last, he must let the outlaws
alone to bide their time in Ord, to be free to ride on to their
new job in Val Verde. In the mean time he must plan to arrest
Longstreth. It was a magnificent outline, incredible, alluring,
unfathomable in its nameless certainty. He felt like fate. He
seemed to be the iron consequences falling upon these doomed
Under the wall the shadows were black, only the tips of trees
and crags showing, yet he went straight to the trail. It was
merely a grayness between borders of black. He climbed and
never stopped. It did not seem steep. His feet might have had
eyes. He surmounted the wall, and, looking down into the ebony
gulf pierced by one point of light, he lifted a menacing arm
and shook it. Then he strode on and did not falter till he
reached the huge shelving cliffs. Here he lost the trail; there
was none; but he remembered the shapes, the points, the notches
of rock above. Before he reached the ruins of splintered
ramparts and jumbles of broken walls the moon topped the
eastern slope of the mountain, and the mystifying blackness he
had dreaded changed to magic silver light. It seemed as light
as day, only soft, mellow, and the air held a transparent
sheen. He ran up the bare ridges and down the smooth slopes,
and, like a goat, jumped from rock to rock. In this light he
knew his way and lost no time looking for a trail. He crossed
the divide and then had all downhill before him. Swiftly he
descended, almost always sure of his memory of the landmarks.
He did not remember having studied them in the ascent, yet here
they were, even in changed light, familiar to his sight. What
he had once seen was pictured on his mind. And, true as a deer
striking for home, he reached the canon where he had left his
Bullet was quickly and easily found. Duane threw on the saddle
and pack, cinched them tight, and resumed his descent. The
worst was now to come. Bare downward steps in rock, sliding,
weathered slopes, narrow black gullies, a thousand openings in
a maze of broken stone--these Duane had to descend in fast
time, leading a giant of a horse. Bullet cracked the loose
fragments, sent them rolling, slid on the scaly slopes, plunged
down the steps, followed like a faithful dog at Duane's heels.
Hours passed as moments. Duane was equal to his great
opportunity. But he could not quell that self in him which
reached back over the lapse of lonely, searing years and found
the boy in him. He who had been worse than dead was now
grasping at the skirts of life--which meant victory, honor,
happiness. Duane knew he was not just right in part of his
mind. Small wonder that he was not insane, he thought! He
tramped on downward, his marvelous faculty for covering rough
ground and holding to the true course never before even in
flight so keen and acute. Yet all the time a spirit was keeping
step with him. Thought of Ray Longstreth as he had left her
made him weak. But now, with the game clear to its end, with
the trap to spring, with success strangely haunting him, Duane
could not dispel memory of her. He saw her white face, with its
sweet sad lips and the dark eyes so tender and tragic. And time
and distance and risk and toil were nothing.
The moon sloped to the west. Shadows of trees and crags now
crossed to the other side of him. The stars dimmed. Then he was
out of the rocks, with the dim trail pale at his feet. Mounting
Bullet, he made short work of the long slope and the foothills
and the rolling land leading down to Ord. The little outlaw
camp, with its shacks and cabins and row of houses, lay silent
and dark under the paling moon. Duane passed by on the lower
trail, headed into the road, and put Bullet to a gallop. He
watched the dying moon, the waning stars, and the east. He had
time to spare, so he saved the horse. Knell would be leaving
the rendezvous about the time Duane turned back toward Ord.
Between noon and sunset they would meet.
The night wore on. The moon sank behind low mountains in the
west. The stars brightened for a while, then faded. Gray gloom
enveloped the world, thickened, lay like smoke over the road.
Then shade by shade it lightened, until through the transparent
obscurity shone a dim light.
Duane reached Bradford before dawn. He dismounted some distance
from the tracks, tied his horse, and then crossed over to the
station. He heard the clicking of the telegraph instrument, and
it thrilled him. An operator sat inside reading. When Duane
tapped on the window he looked up with startled glance, then
went swiftly to unlock the door.
"Hello. Give me paper and pencil. Quick," whispered Duane.
With trembling hands the operator complied. Duane wrote out the
message he had carefully composed.
"Send this--repeat it to make sure--then keep mum. I'll see you
The operator stared, but did not speak a word.
Duane left as stealthily and swiftly as he had come. He walked
his horse a couple miles back on the road and then rested him
till break of day. The east began to redden, Duane turned
grimly in the direction of Ord.
When Duane swung into the wide, grassy square on the outskirts
of Ord he saw a bunch of saddled horses hitched in front of the
tavern. He knew what that meant. Luck still favored him. If it
would only hold! But he could ask no more. The rest was a
matter of how greatly he could make his power felt. An open
conflict against odds lay in the balance. That would be fatal
to him, and to avoid it he had to trust to his name and a
presence he must make terrible. He knew outlaws. He knew what
qualities held them. He knew what to exaggerate.
There was not an outlaw in sight. The dusty horses had covered
distance that morning. As Duane dismounted he heard loud, angry
voices inside the tavern. He removed coat and vest, hung them
over the pommel. He packed two guns, one belted high on the
left hip, the other swinging low on the right side. He neither
looked nor listened, but boldly pushed the door and stepped
The big room was full of men, and every face pivoted toward
him. Knell's pale face flashed into Duane's swift sight; then
Boldt's, then Blossom Kane's, then Panhandle Smith's, then
Fletcher's, then others that were familiar, and last that of
Poggin. Though Duane had never seen Poggin or heard him
described, he knew him. For he saw a face that was a record of
great and evil deeds.
There was absolute silence. The outlaws were lined back of a
long table upon which were papers, stacks of silver coin, a
bundle of bills, and a huge gold-mounted gun.
"Are you gents lookin' for me?" asked Duane. He gave his voice
all the ringing force and power of which he was capable. And he
stepped back, free of anything, with the outlaws all before
Knell stood quivering, but his face might have been a mask. The
other outlaws looked from him to Duane. Jim Fletcher flung up
"My Gawd, Dodge, what'd you bust in here fer?" he said,
plaintively, and slowly stepped forward. His action was that of
a man true to himself. He meant he had been sponsor for Duane
and now he would stand by him.
"Back, Fletcher!" called Duane, and his voice made the outlaw
"Hold on, Dodge, an' you-all, everybody," said Fletcher. "Let
me talk, seein' I'm in wrong here."
His persuasions did not ease the strain.
"Go ahead. Talk," said Poggin.
Fletcher turned to Duane. "Pard, I'm takin' it on myself thet
you meet enemies here when I swore you'd meet friends. It's my
fault. I'll stand by you if you let me."
"No, Jim," replied Duane.
"But what'd you come fer without the signal?" burst out
Fletcher, in distress. He saw nothing but catastrophe in this
"Jim, I ain't pressin' my company none. But when I'm wanted
Fletcher stopped him with a raised hand. Then he turned to
Poggin with a rude dignity.
"Poggy, he's my pard, an' he's riled. I never told him a word
thet'd make him sore. I only said Knell hadn't no more use fer
him than fer me. Now, what you say goes in this gang. I never
failed you in my life. Here's my pard. I vouch fer him. Will
you stand fer me? There's goin' to be hell if you don't. An' us
with a big job on hand!"
While Fletcher toiled over his slow, earnest persuasion Duane
had his gaze riveted upon Poggin. There was something leonine
about Poggin. He was tawny. He blazed. He seemed beautiful as
fire was beautiful. But looked at closer, with glance seeing
the physical man, instead of that thing which shone from him,
he was of perfect build, with muscles that swelled and rippled,
bulging his clothes, with the magnificent head and face of the
cruel, fierce, tawny-eyed jaguar.
Looking at this strange Poggin, instinctively divining his
abnormal and hideous power, Duane had for the first time in his
life the inward quaking fear of a man. It was like a
cold-tongued bell ringing within him and numbing his heart. The
old instinctive firing of blood followed, but did not drive
away that fear. He knew. He felt something here deeper than
thought could go. And he hated Poggin.
That individual had been considering Fletcher's appeal.
"Jim, I ante up," he said, "an' if Phil doesn't raise us out
with a big hand--why, he'll get called, an' your pard can set
in the game."
Every eye shifted to Knell. He was dead white. He laughed, and
any one hearing that laugh would have realized his intense
anger equally with an assurance which made him master of the
"Poggin, you're a gambler, you are--the ace-high,
straight-flush hand of the Big Bend," he said, with stinging
scorn. "I'll bet you my roll to a greaser peso that I can deal
you a hand you'll be afraid to play."
"Phil, you're talkin' wild," growled Poggin, with both advice
and menace in his tone.
"If there's anythin' you hate it's a man who pretends to be
somebody else when he's not. Thet so?"
Poggin nodded in slow-gathering wrath.
"Well, Jim's new pard--this man Dodge--he's not who he seems.
Oh-ho! He's a hell of a lot different. But _I__ know him. An'
when I spring his name on you, Poggin, you'll freeze to your
gizzard. Do you get me? You'll freeze, an' your hand'll be
stiff when it ought to be lightnin'--All because you'll realize
you've been standin' there five minutes--five minutes ALIVE
If not hate, then assuredly great passion toward Poggin
manifested itself in Knell's scornful, fiery address, in the
shaking hand he thrust before Poggin's face. In the ensuing
silent pause Knell's panting could be plainly heard. The other
men were pale, watchful, cautiously edging either way to the
wall, leaving the principals and Duane in the center of the
"Spring his name, then, you--" said Poggin, violently, with a
Strangely Knell did not even look at the man he was about to
denounce. He leaned toward Poggin, his hands, his body, his
long head all somewhat expressive of what his face disguised.
"BUCK DUANE!" he yelled, suddenly.
The name did not make any great difference in Poggin. But
Knell's passionate, swift utterance carried the suggestion that
the name ought to bring Poggin to quick action. It was
possible, too, that Knell's manner, the import of his
denunciation the meaning back of all his passion held Poggin
bound more than the surprise. For the outlaw certainly was
surprised, perhaps staggered at the idea that he, Poggin, had
been about to stand sponsor with Fletcher for a famous outlaw
hated and feared by all outlaws.
Knell waited a long moment, and then his face broke its cold
immobility in an extraordinary expression of devilish glee. He
had hounded the great Poggin into something that gave him
vicious, monstrous joy.
"BUCK DUANE! Yes," he broke out, hotly. "The Nueces gunman!
That two-shot, ace-of-spades lone wolf! You an' I--we've heard
a thousand times of him--talked about him often. An' here he IN
FRONT of you! Poggin, you were backin' Fletcher's new pard,
Buck Duane. An' he'd fooled you both but for me. But _I_ know
him. An' I know why he drifted in here. To flash a gun on
Cheseldine--on you--on me! Bah! Don't tell me he wanted to join
the gang. You know a gunman, for you're one yourself. Don't you
always want to kill another man? An' don't you always want to
meet a real man, not a four-flush? It's the madness of the
gunman, an' I know it. Well, Duane faced you--called you! An'
when I sprung his name, what ought you have done? What would
the boss--anybody--have expected of Poggin? Did you throw your
gun, swift, like you have so often? Naw; you froze. An' why?
Because here's a man with the kind of nerve you'd love to have.
Because he's great--meetin' us here alone. Because you know
he's a wonder with a gun an' you love life. Because you an' I
an' every damned man here had to take his front, each to
himself. If we all drew we'd kill him. Sure! But who's goin' to
lead? Who was goin' to be first? Who was goin' to make him
draw? Not you, Poggin! You leave that for a lesser
man--me--who've lived to see you a coward. It comes once to
every gunman. You've met your match in Buck Duane. An', by God,
I'm glad! Here's once I show you up!"
The hoarse, taunting voice failed. Knell stepped back from the
comrade he hated. He was wet, shaking, haggard, but
"Buck Duane, do you remember Hardin?" he asked, in scarcely
"Yes," replied Duane, and a flash of insight made clear Knell's
"You met him--forced him to draw--killed him?"
"Hardin was the best pard I ever had."
His teeth clicked together tight, and his lips set in a thin
The room grew still. Even breathing ceased. The time for words
had passed. In that long moment of suspense Knell's body
gradually stiffened, and at last the quivering ceased. He
crouched. His eyes had a soul-piercing fire.
Duane watched them. He waited. He caught the thought--the
breaking of Knell's muscle-bound rigidity. Then he drew.
Through the smoke of his gun he saw two red spurts of flame.
Knell's bullets thudded into the ceiling. He fell with a scream
like a wild thing in agony.
Duane did not see Knell die. He watched Poggin. And Poggin,
like a stricken and astounded man, looked down upon his
Fletcher ran at Duane with hands aloft.
"Hit the trail, you liar, or you'll hev to kill me!" he yelled.
With hands still up, he shouldered and bodied Duane out of the
Duane leaped on his horse, spurred, and plunged away.
Duane returned to Fairdale and camped in the mesquite till the
twenty-third of the month. The few days seemed endless. All he
could think of was that the hour in which he must disgrace Ray
Longstreth was slowly but inexorably coming. In that waiting
time he learned what love was and also duty. When the day at
last dawned he rode like one possessed down the rough slope,
hurdling the stones and crashing through the brush, with a
sound in his ears that was not all the rush of the wind.
Something dragged at him.
Apparently one side of his mind was unalterably fixed, while
the other was a hurrying conglomeration of flashes of thought,
reception of sensations. He could not get calmness. By and by,
almost involuntarily, he hurried faster on. Action seemed to
make his state less oppressive; it eased the weight. But the
farther he went on the harder it was to continue. Had he turned
his back upon love, happiness, perhaps on life itself?
There seemed no use to go on farther until he was absolutely
sure of himself. Duane received a clear warning thought that
such work as seemed haunting and driving him could never be
carried out in the mood under which he labored. He hung on to
that thought. Several times he slowed up, then stopped, only to
go on again. At length, as he mounted a low ridge, Fairdale lay
bright and green before him not far away, and the sight was a
conclusive check. There were mesquites on the ridge, and Duane
sought the shade beneath them. It was the noon-hour, with hot,
glary sun and no wind. Here Duane had to have out his fight.
Duane was utterly unlike himself; he could not bring the old
self back; he was not the same man he once had been. But he
could understand why. It was because of Ray Longstreth.
Temptation assailed him. To have her his wife! It was
impossible. The thought was insidiously alluring. Duane
pictured a home. He saw himself riding through the cotton and
rice and cane, home to a stately old mansion, where long-eared
hounds bayed him welcome, and a woman looked for him and met
him with happy and beautiful smile. There might--there would be
children. And something new, strange, confounding with its
emotion, came to life deep in Duane's heart. There would be
children! Ray their mother! The kind of life a lonely outcast
always yearned for and never had! He saw it all, felt it all.
But beyond and above all other claims came Captain MacNelly's.
It was then there was something cold and death-like in Duane's
soul. For he knew, whatever happened, of one thing he was
sure--he would have to kill either Longstreth or Lawson.
Longstreth might be trapped into arrest; but Lawson had no
sense, no control, no fear. He would snarl like a panther and
go for his gun, and he would have to be killed. This, of all
consummations, was the one to be calculated upon.
Duane came out of it all bitter and callous and sore--in the
most fitting of moods to undertake a difficult and deadly
enterprise. He had fallen upon his old strange, futile dreams,
now rendered poignant by reason of love. He drove away those
dreams. In their places came the images of the olive-skinned
Longstreth with his sharp eyes, and the dark, evil-faced
Lawson, and then returned tenfold more thrilling and sinister
the old strange passion to meet Poggin.
It was about one o'clock when Duane rode into Fairdale. The
streets for the most part were deserted. He went directly to
find Morton and Zimmer. He found them at length, restless,
somber, anxious, but unaware of the part he had played at Ord.
They said Longstreth was home, too. It was possible that
Longstreth had arrived home in ignorance.
Duane told them to be on hand in town with their men in case he
might need them, and then with teeth locked he set off for
Duane stole through the bushes and trees, and when nearing the
porch he heard loud, angry, familiar voices. Longstreth and
Lawson were quarreling again. How Duane's lucky star guided
him! He had no plan of action, but his brain was equal to a
hundred lightning-swift evolutions. He meant to take any risk
rather than kill Longstreth. Both of the men were out on the
porch. Duane wormed his way to the edge of the shrubbery and
crouched low to watch for his opportunity.
Longstreth looked haggard and thin. He was in his shirt-
sleeves, and he had come out with a gun in his hand. This he
laid on a table near the wall. He wore no belt.
Lawson was red, bloated, thick-lipped, all fiery and sweaty
from drink, though sober on the moment, and he had the
expression of a desperate man in his last stand. It was his
last stand, though he was ignorant of that.
"What's your news? You needn't be afraid of my feelings," said
"Ray confessed to an interest in this ranger," replied
Duane thought Lawson would choke. He was thick-necked anyway,
and the rush of blood made him tear at the soft collar of his
shirt. Duane awaited his chance, patient, cold, all his
feelings shut in a vise.
"But why should your daughter meet this ranger?" demanded
"She's in love with him, and he's in love with her."
Duane reveled in Lawson's condition. The statement might have
had the force of a juggernaut. Was Longstreth sincere? What was
Lawson, finding his voice, cursed Ray, cursed the ranger, then
"You damned selfish fool!" cried Longstreth, in deep bitter
scorn. "All you think of is yourself--your loss of the girl.
Think once of ME--my home--my life!"
Then the connection subtly put out by Longstreth apparently
dawned upon the other. Somehow through this girl her father and
cousin were to be betrayed. Duane got that impression, though
he could not tell how true it was. Certainly Lawson's jealousy
was his paramount emotion.
"To hell with you!" burst out Lawson, incoherently. He was
frenzied. "I'll have her, or nobody else will!"
"You never will," returned Longstreth, stridently. "So help me
God I'd rather see her the ranger's wife than yours!"
While Lawson absorbed that shock Longstreth leaned toward him,
all of hate and menace in his mien.
"Lawson, you made me what I am," continued Longstreth. "I
backed you--shielded you. YOU'RE Cheseldine--if the truth is
told! Now it's ended. I quit you. I'm done!"
Their gray passion-corded faces were still as stones.
"GENTLEMEN!" Duane called in far-reaching voice as he stepped
out. "YOU'RE BOTH DONE!"
They wheeled to confront Duane.
"Don't move! Not a muscle! Not a finger!" he warned.
Longstreth read what Lawson had not the mind to read. His face
turned from gray to ashen.
"What d'ye mean?" yelled Lawson, fiercely, shrilly. It was not
in him to obey a command, to see impending death.
All quivering and strung, yet with perfect control, Duane
raised his left hand to turn back a lapel of his open vest. The
silver star flashed brightly.
Lawson howled like a dog. With barbarous and insane fury, with
sheer impotent folly, he swept a clawing hand for his gun.
Duane's shot broke his action.
Before Lawson ever tottered, before he loosed the gun,
Longstreth leaped behind him, clasped him with left arm, quick
as lightning jerked the gun from both clutching fingers and
sheath. Longstreth protected himself with the body of the dead
man. Duane saw red flashes, puffs of smoke; he heard quick
reports. Something stung his left arm. Then a blow like wind,
light of sound yet shocking in impact, struck him, staggered
him. The hot rend of lead followed the blow. Duane's heart
seemed to explode, yet his mind kept extraordinarily clear and
Duane heard Longstreth work the action of Lawson's gun. He
heard the hammer click, fall upon empty shells. Longstreth had
used up all the loads in Lawson's gun. He cursed as a man
cursed at defeat. Duane waited, cool and sure now. Longstreth
tried to lift the dead man, to edge him closer toward the table
where his own gun lay. But, considering the peril of exposing
himself, he found the task beyond him. He bent peering at Duane
under Lawson's arm, which flopped out from his side.
Longstreth's eyes were the eyes of a man who meant to kill.
There was never any mistaking the strange and terrible light of
eyes like those. More than once Duane had a chance to aim at
them, at the top of Longstreth's head, at a strip of his side.
Longstreth flung Lawson's body off. But even as it dropped,
before Longstreth could leap, as he surely intended, for the
gun, Duane covered him, called piercingly to him:
"Don't jump for the gun! Don't! I'll kill you! Sure as God I'll
Longstreth stood perhaps ten feet from the table where his gun
lay Duane saw him calculating chances. He was game. He had the
courage that forced Duane to respect him. Duane just saw him
measure the distance to that gun. He was magnificent. He meant
to do it. Duane would have to kill him.
"Longstreth, listen," cried Duane, swiftly. "The game's up.
You're done. But think of your daughter! I'll spare your
life--I'll try to get you freedom on one condition. For her
sake! I've got you nailed--all the proofs. There lies Lawson.
You're alone. I've Morton and men to my aid. Give up.
Surrender. Consent to demands, and I'll spare you. Maybe I can
persuade MacNelly to let you go free back to your old country.
It's for Ray's sake! Her life, perhaps her happiness, can be
saved! Hurry, man! Your answer!"
"Suppose I refuse?" he queried, with a dark and terrible
"Then I'll kill you in your tracks! You can't move a hand! Your
word or death! Hurry, Longstreth! Be a man! For her sake!
Quick! Another second now--I'll kill you!"
"All right, Buck Duane, I give my word," he said, and
deliberately walked to the chair and fell into it.
Longstreth looked strangely at the bloody blot on Duane's
"There come the girls!" he suddenly exclaimed. "Can you help me
drag Lawson inside? They mustn't see him."
Duane was facing down the porch toward the court and corrals.
Miss Longstreth and Ruth had come in sight, were swiftly
approaching, evidently alarmed. The two men succeeded in
drawing Lawson into the house before the girls saw him.
"Duane, you're not hard hit?" said Longstreth.
"Reckon not," replied Duane.
"I'm sorry. If only you could have told me sooner! Lawson, damn
him! Always I've split over him!"
"But the last time, Longstreth."
"Yes, and I came near driving you to kill me, too. Duane, you
talked me out of it. For Ray's sake! She'll be in here in a
minute. This'll be harder than facing a gun."
"Hard now. But I hope it'll turn out all right."
"Duane, will you do me a favor?" he asked, and he seemed
"Let Ray and Ruth think Lawson shot you. He's dead. It can't
matter. Duane, the old side of my life is coming back. It's
been coming. It'll be here just about when she enters this
room. And, by God, I'd change places with Lawson if I could!"
"Glad you--said that, Longstreth," replied Duane. "And
sure--Lawson plugged me. It's our secret."
Just then Ray and Ruth entered the room. Duane heard two low
cries, so different in tone, and he saw two white faces. Ray
came to his side, She lifted a shaking hand to point at the
blood upon his breast. White and mute, she gazed from that to
"Papa!" cried Ray, wringing her hands.
"Don't give way," he replied, huskily. "Both you girls will
need your nerve. Duane isn't badly hurt. But Floyd is--is dead.
Listen. Let me tell it quick. There's been a fight. It--it was
Lawson--it was Lawson's gun that shot Duane. Duane let me off.
In fact, Ray, he saved me. I'm to divide my property--return so
far as possible what I've stolen--leave Texas at once with
Duane, under arrest. He says maybe he can get MacNelly, the
ranger captain, to let me go. For your sake!"
She stood there, realizing her deliverance, with the dark and
tragic glory of her eyes passing from her father to Duane.
"You must rise above this," said Duane to her. "I expected this
to ruin you. But your father is alive. He will live it down.
I'm sure I can promise you he'll be free. Perhaps back there in
Louisiana the dishonor will never be known. This country is far
from your old home. And even in San Antonio and.Austin a man's
evil repute means little. Then the line between a rustler and a
rancher is hard to draw in these wild border days. Rustling is
stealing cattle, and I once heard a well-known rancher say that
all rich cattlemen had done a little stealing Your father
drifted out here, and, like a good many others, he succeeded.
It's perhaps just as well not to split hairs, to judge him by
the law and morality of a civilized country. Some way or other
he drifted in with bad men. Maybe a deal that was honest
somehow tied his hands. This matter of land, water, a few stray
head of stock had to be decided out of court. I'm sure in his
case he never realized where he was drifting. Then one thing
led to another, until he was face to face with dealing that
took on crooked form. To protect himself he bound men to him.
And so the gang developed. Many powerful gangs have developed
that way out here. He could not control them. He became
involved with them. And eventually their dealings became
deliberately and boldly dishonest. That meant the inevitable
spilling of blood sooner or later, and so he grew into the
leader because he was the strongest. Whatever he is to be
judged for, I think he could have been infinitely worse."
On the morning of the twenty-sixth Duane rode into Bradford in
time to catch the early train. His wounds did not seriously
incapacitate him. Longstreth was with him. And Miss Longstreth
and Ruth Herbert would not be left behind. They were all
leaving Fairdale for ever. Longstreth had turned over the whole
of his property to Morton, who was to divide it as he and his
comrades believed just. Duane had left Fairdale with his party
by night, passed through Sanderson in the early hours of dawn,
and reached Bradford as he had planned.
That fateful morning found Duane outwardly calm, but inwardly
he was in a tumult. He wanted to rush to Val Verde. Would
Captain MacNelly be there with his rangers, as Duane had
planned for them to be? Memory of that tawny Poggin returned
with strange passion. Duane had borne hours and weeks and
months of waiting, had endured the long hours of the outlaw,
but now he had no patience. The whistle of the train made him
It was a fast train, yet the ride seemed slow.
Duane, disliking to face Longstreth and the passengers in the
car, changed his seat to one behind his prisoner. They had
seldom spoken. Longstreth sat with bowed head, deep in thought.
The girls sat in a seat near by and were pale but composed.
Occasionally the train halted briefly at a station. The latter
half of that ride Duane had observed a wagon-road running
parallel with the railroad, sometimes right alongside,
at others near or far away. When the train was about twenty
miles from Val Verde Duane espied a dark group of horsemen
trotting eastward. His blood beat like a hammer at his temples.
The gang! He thought he recognized the tawny Poggin and felt a
strange inward contraction. He thought he recognized the
clean-cut Blossom Kane, the black-bearded giant Boldt, the
red-faced Panhandle Smith, and Fletcher. There was another man
strange to him. Was that Knell? No! it could not have been
Duane leaned over the seat and touched Longstreth on the
"Look!" he whispered. Cheseldine was stiff. He had already
The train flashed by; the outlaw gang receded out of range of
"Did you notice Knell wasn't with them?" whispered Duane.
Duane did not speak to Longstreth again till the train stopped
at Val Verde.
They got off the car, and the girls followed as naturally as
ordinary travelers. The station was a good deal larger than
that at Bradford, and there was considerable action and bustle
incident to the arrival of the train.
Duane's sweeping gaze searched faces, rested upon a man who
seemed familiar. This fellow's look, too, was that of one who
knew Duane, but was waiting for a sign, a cue. Then Duane
recognized him--MacNelly, clean-shaven. Without mustache he
appeared different, younger.
When MacNelly saw that Duane intended to greet him, to meet
him, he hurried forward. A keen light flashed from his eyes. He
was glad, eager, yet suppressing himself, and the glances he
sent back and forth from Duane to Longstreth were questioning,
doubtful. Certainly Longstreth did not look the part of an
"Duane! Lord, I'm glad to see you," was the Captain's greeting.
Then at closer look into Duane's face his warmth
fled--something he saw there checked his enthusiasm, or at
least its utterance.
"MacNelly, shake hand with Cheseldine," said Duane, low-voiced.
The ranger captain stood dumb, motionless. But he saw
Longstreth's instant action, and awkwardly he reached for the
"Any of your men down here?" queried Duane, sharply.
"No. They're up-town."
"Come. MacNelly, you walk with him. We've ladies in the party.
I'll come behind with them."
They set off up-town. Longstreth walked as if he were with
friends on the way to dinner. The girls were mute. MacNelly
walked like a man in a trance. There was not a word spoken in
Presently Duane espied a stone building on a corner of the
broad street. There was a big sign, "Rancher's Bank."
"There's the hotel," said MacNelly. "Some of my men are there.
We've scattered around."
They crossed the street, went through office and lobby, and
then Duane asked MacNelly to take them to a private room.
Without a word the Captain complied. When they were all inside
Duane closed the door, and, drawing a deep breath as if of
relief, he faced them calmly.
"Miss Longstreth, you and Miss Ruth try to make yourselves
comfortable now," he said. "And don't be distressed." Then he
turned to his captain. "MacNelly, this girl is the daughter of
the man I've brought to you, and this one is his niece."
Then Duane briefly related Longstreth's story, and, though he
did not spare the rustler chief, he was generous.
"When I went after Longstreth," concluded Duane, "it was either
to kill him or offer him freedom on conditions. So I chose the
latter for his daughter's sake. He has already disposed of all
his property. I believe he'll live up to the conditions. He's
to leave Texas never to return. The name Cheseldine has been a
mystery, and now it'll fade."
A few moments later Duane followed MacNelly to a large room,
like a hall, and here were men reading and smoking. Duane knew
MacNelly beckoned to his men.
"Boys, here he is."
"How many men have you?" asked Duane.
MacNelly almost embraced Duane, would probably have done so but
for the dark grimness that seemed to be coming over the man.
Instead he glowed, he sputtered, he tried to talk, to wave his
hands. He was beside himself. And his rangers crowded closer,
eager, like hounds ready to run. They all talked at once, and
the word most significant and frequent in their speech was
MacNelly clapped his fist in his hand.
"This'll make the adjutant sick with joy. Maybe we won't have
it on the Governor! We'll show them about the ranger service.
Duane! how'd you ever do it?"
"Now, Captain, not the half nor the quarter of this job's done.
The gang's coming down the road. I saw them from the train.
They'll ride into town on the dot--two-thirty."
"How many?" asked MacNelly.
"Poggin, Blossom Kane, Panhandle Smith, Boldt, Jim Fletcher,
and another man I don't know. These are the picked men of
Cheseldine's gang. I'll bet they'll be the fastest, hardest
bunch you rangers ever faced."
"Poggin--that's the hard nut to crack! I've heard their records
since I've been in Val Verde. Where's Knell? They say he's a
boy, but hell and blazes!"
"Ah!" exclaimed MacNelly, softly. Then he grew businesslike,
cool, and of harder aspect. "Duane, it's your game to-day. I'm
only a ranger under orders. We're all under your orders. We've
absolute faith in you. Make your plan quick, so I can go around
and post the boys who're not here."
"You understand there's no sense in trying to arrest Poggin,
Kane, and that lot?" queried Duane.
"No, I don't understand that," replied MacNelly, bluntly.
"It can't be done. The drop can't be got on such men. If you
meet them they shoot, and mighty quick and straight. Poggin!
That outlaw has no equal with a gun--unless--He's got to be
killed quick. They'll all have to be killed. They're all bad,
desperate, know no fear, are lightning in action."
"Very well, Duane; then it's a fight. That'll be easier,
perhaps. The boys are spoiling for a fight. Out with your plan,
"Put one man at each end of this street, just at the edge of
town. Let him hide there with a rifle to block the escape of
any outlaw that we might fail to get. I had a good look at the
bank building. It's well situated for our purpose. Put four men
up in that room over the bank--four men, two at each open
window. Let them hide till the game begins. They want to be
there so in case these foxy outlaws get wise before they're
down on the ground or inside the bank. The rest of your men put
inside behind the counters, where they'll hide. Now go over to
the bank, spring the thing on the bank officials, and don't let
them shut up the bank. You want their aid. Let them make sure
of their gold. But the clerks and cashier ought to be at their
desks or window when Poggin rides up. He'll glance in before he
gets down. They make no mistakes, these fellows. We must be
slicker than they are, or lose. When you get the bank people
wise, send your men over one by one. No hurry, no excitement,
no unusual thing to attract notice in the bank."
"All right. That's great. Tell me, where do you intend to
Duane heard MacNelly's question, and it struck him peculiarly.
He had seemed to be planning and speaking mechanically. As he
was confronted by the fact it nonplussed him somewhat, and he
became thoughtful, with lowered head.
"Where'll you wait, Duane?" insisted MacNelly, with keen eyes
"I'll wait in front, just inside the door," replied Duane, with
"Why?" demanded the Captain.
"Well," began Duane, slowly, "Poggin will get down first and
start in. But the others won't be far behind. They'll not get
swift till inside. The thing is--they MUSTN'T get clear inside,
because the instant they do they'll pull guns. That means death
to somebody. If we can we want to stop them just at the door."
"But will you hide?" asked MacNelly.
"Hide!" The idea had not occurred to Duane.
"There's a wide-open doorway, a sort of round hall, a
vestibule, with steps leading up to the bank. There's a door in
the vestibule, too. It leads somewhere. We can put men in
there. You can be there."
Duane was silent.
"See here, Duane," began MacNelly, nervously. "You shan't take
any undue risk here. You'll hide with the rest of us?"
"No!"The word was wrenched from Duane.
MacNelly stared, and then a strange, comprehending light seemed
to flit over his face.
"Duane, I can give you no orders to-day," he said, distinctly.
"I'm only offering advice. Need you take any more risks? You've
done a grand job for the service--already. You've paid me a
thousand times for that pardon. You've redeemed yourself.--The
Governor, the adjutant-general--the whole state will rise up
and honor you. The game's almost up. We'll kill these outlaws,
or enough of them to break for ever their power. I say, as a
ranger, need you take more risk than your captain?"
Still Duane remained silent. He was locked between two forces.
And one, a tide that was bursting at its bounds, seemed about
to overwhelm him. Finally that side of him, the retreating
self, the weaker, found a voice.
"Captain, you want this job to be sure?" he asked.
"I've told you the way. I alone know the kind of men to be met.
Just WHAT I'll do or WHERE I'll be I can't say yet. In meetings
like this the moment decides. But I'll be there!"
MacNelly spread wide his hands, looked helplessly at his
curious and sympathetic rangers, and shook his head.
"Now you've done your work--laid the trap--is this strange move
of yours going to be fair to Miss Longstreth?" asked MacNelly,
in significant low voice.
Like a great tree chopped at the roots Duane vibrated to that.
He looked up as if he had seen a ghost.
Mercilessly the ranger captain went on: "You can win her,
Duane! Oh, you can't fool me. I was wise in a minute. Fight
with us from cover--then go back to her. You will have served
the Texas Rangers as no other man has. I'll accept your
resignation. You'll be free, honored, happy. That girl loves
you! I saw it in her eyes. She's--"
But Duane cut him short with a fierce gesture. He lunged up to
his feet, and the rangers fell back. Dark, silent, grim as he
had been, still there was a transformation singularly more
"Enough. I'm done," he said, somberly. "I've planned. Do we
agree--or shall I meet Poggin and his gang alone?"
MacNelly cursed and again threw up his hands, this time in
baffled chagrin. There was deep regret in his dark eyes as they
rested upon Duane.
Duane was left alone.
Never had his mind been so quick, so clear, so wonderful in its
understanding of what had heretofore been intricate and elusive
impulses of his strange nature. His determination was to meet
Poggin; meet him before any one else had a chance--Poggin
first--and then the others! He was as unalterable in that
decision as if on the instant of its acceptance he had become
Why? Then came realization. He was not a ranger now. He cared
nothing for the state. He had no thought of freeing the
community of a dangerous outlaw, of ridding the country of an
obstacle to its progress and prosperity. He wanted to kill
Poggin. It was significant now that he forgot the other
outlaws. He was the gunman, the gun-thrower, the gun-fighter,
passionate and terrible. His father's blood, that dark and
fierce strain, his mother's spirit, that strong and
unquenchable spirit of the surviving pioneer--these had been in
him; and the killings, one after another, the wild and haunted
years, had made him, absolutely in spite of his will, the
gunman. He realized it now, bitterly, hopelessly. The thing he
had intelligence enough to hate he had become. At last he
shuddered under the driving, ruthless inhuman blood-lust of the
gunman. Long ago he had seemed to seal in a tomb that horror of
his kind--the need, in order to forget the haunting, sleepless
presence of his last victim, to go out and kill another. But it
was still there in his mind, and now it stalked out, worse,
more powerful, magnified by its rest, augmented by the violent
passions peculiar and inevitable to that strange, wild product
of the Texas frontier--the gun-fighter. And those passions were
so violent, so raw, so base, so much lower than what ought to
have existed in a thinking man. Actual pride of his record!
Actual vanity in his speed with a gun. Actual jealousy of any
Duane could not believe it. But there he was, without a choice.
What he had feared for years had become a monstrous reality.
Respect for himself, blindness, a certain honor that he had
clung to while in outlawry--all, like scales, seemed to fall
away from him. He stood stripped bare, his soul naked--the soul
of Cain. Always since the first brand had been forced and
burned upon him he had been ruined. But now with conscience
flayed to the quick, yet utterly powerless over this tiger
instinct, he was lost. He said it. He admitted it. And at the
utter abasement the soul he despised suddenly leaped and
quivered with the thought of Ray Longstreth.
Then came agony. As he could not govern all the chances of this
fatal meeting--as all his swift and deadly genius must be
occupied with Poggin, perhaps in vain--as hard-shooting men
whom he could not watch would be close behind, this almost
certainly must be the end of Buck Duane. That did not matter.
But he loved the girl. He wanted her. All her sweetness, her
fire, and pleading returned to torture him.
At that moment the door opened, and Ray Longstreth entered.
"Duane," she said, softly. "Captain MacNelly sent me to you."
"But you shouldn't have come," replied Duane.
"As soon as he told me I would have come whether he wished it
or not. You left me--all of us--stunned. I had no time to thank
you. Oh, I do-with all my soul. It was noble of you. Father is
overcome. He didn't expect so much. And he'll be true. But,
Duane, I was told to hurry, and here I'm selfishly using time."
"Go, then--and leave me. You mustn't unnerve me now, when
there's a desperate game to finish."
"Need it be desperate?" she whispered, coming close to him.
"Yes; it can't be else."
MacNelly had sent her to weaken him; of that Duane was sure.
And he felt that she had wanted to come. Her eyes were dark,
strained, beautiful, and they shed a light upon Duane he had
never seen before.
"You're going to take some mad risk," she said. "Let me
persuade you not to. You said--you cared for me--and I--oh,
The low voice, deep, sweet as an old chord, faltered and broke
Duane sustained a sudden shock and an instant of paralyzed
confusion of thought.
She moved, she swept out her hands, and the wonder of her eyes
dimmed in a flood of tears.
"My God! You can't care for me?" he cried, hoarsely.
Then she met him, hands outstretched.
"But I do-I do!"
Swift as light Duane caught her and held her to his breast. He
stood holding her tight, with the feel of her warm, throbbing
breast and the clasp of her arms as flesh and blood realities
to fight a terrible fear. He felt her, and for the moment the
might of it was stronger than all the demons that possessed
him. And he held her as if she had been his soul, his strength
on earth, his hope of Heaven, against his lips.
The strife of doubt all passed. He found his sight again. And
there rushed over him a tide of emotion unutterably sweet and
full, strong like an intoxicating wine, deep as his nature,
something glorious and terrible as the blaze of the sun to one
long in darkness. He had become an outcast, a wanderer, a
gunman, a victim of circumstances; he had lost and suffered
worse than death in that loss; he had gone down the endless
bloody trail, a killer of men, a fugitive whose mind slowly and
inevitably closed to all except the instinct to survive and a
black despair; and now, with this woman in his arms, her
swelling breast against his, in this moment almost of
resurrection, he bent under the storm of passion and joy
possible only to him who had endured so much.
"Do you care--a little?" he whispered, unsteadily.
He bent over her, looking deep into the dark wet eyes.
She uttered a low laugh that was half sob, and her arms slipped
up to his neck.
"A littler Oh, Duane--Duane--a great deal!"
Their lips met in their first kiss. The sweetness, the fire of
her mouth seemed so new, so strange, so irresistible to Duane.
His sore and hungry heart throbbed with thick and heavy beats.
He felt the outcast's need of love. And he gave up to the
enthralling moment. She met him half-way, returned kiss for
kiss, clasp for clasp, her face scarlet, her eyes closed, till,
her passion and strength spent, she fell back upon his
Duane suddenly thought she was going to faint. He divined then
that she had understood him, would have denied him nothing, not
even her life, in that moment. But she was overcome, and he
suffered a pang of regret at his unrestraint.
Presently she recovered, and she drew only the closer, and
leaned upon him with her face upturned. He felt her hands on
his, and they were soft, clinging, strong, like steel under
velvet. He felt the rise and fall, the warmth of her breast. A
tremor ran over him. He tried to draw back, and if he succeeded
a little her form swayed with him, pressing closer. She held
her face up, and he was compelled to look. It was wonderful
now: white, yet glowing, with the red lips parted, and dark
eyes alluring. But that was not all. There was passion,
unquenchable spirit, woman's resolve deep and mighty.
"I love you, Duane!" she said. "For my sake don't go out to
meet this outlaw face to face. It's something wild in you.
Conquer it if you love me."
Duane became suddenly weak, and when he did take her into his
arms again he scarcely had strength to lift her to a seat
beside him. She seemed more than a dead weight. Her calmness
had fled. She was throbbing, palpitating, quivering, with hot
wet cheeks and arms that clung to him like vines. She lifted
her mouth to his, whispering, "Kiss me!" She meant to change
him, hold him.
Duane bent down, and her arms went round his neck and drew him
close. With his lips on hers he seemed to float away. That kiss
closed his eyes, and he could not lift his head. He sat
motionless holding her, blind and helpless, wrapped in a sweet
dark glory. She kissed him--one long endless kiss--or else a
thousand times. Her lips, her wet cheeks, her hair, the
softness, the fragrance of her, the tender clasp of her arms,
the swell of her breast--all these seemed to inclose him.
Duane could not put her from him. He yielded to her lips and
arms, watching her, involuntarily returning her caresses, sure
now of her intent, fascinated by the sweetness of her,
bewildered, almost lost. This was what it was to be loved by a
woman. His years of outlawry had blotted out any boyish love he
might have known. This was what he had to give up--all this
wonder of her sweet person, this strange fire he feared yet
loved, this mate his deep and tortured soul recognized. Never
until that moment had he divined the meaning of a woman to a
man. That meaning was physical inasmuch that he learned what
beauty was, what marvel in the touch of quickening flesh; and
it was spiritual in that he saw there might have been for him,
under happier circumstances, a life of noble deeds lived for
such a woman.
"Don't go! Don't go!" she cried, as he started violently.
"I must. Dear, good-by! Remember I loved your"
He pulled her hands loose from his, stepped back.
"Ray, dearest--I believe--I'll come back!" he whispered.
These last words were falsehood.
He reached the door, gave her one last piercing glance, to fix
for ever in memory that white face with its dark, staring,
He fled with that moan like thunder, death, hell in his ears.
To forget her, to get back his nerve, he forced into mind the
image of Poggin-Poggin, the tawny-haired, the yellow-eyed, like
a jaguar, with his rippling muscles. He brought back his sense
of the outlaw's wonderful presence, his own unaccountable fear
and hate. Yes, Poggin had sent the cold sickness of fear to his
marrow. Why, since he hated life so? Poggin was his supreme
test. And this abnormal and stupendous instinct, now deep as
the very foundation of his life, demanded its wild and fatal
issue. There was a horrible thrill in his sudden remembrance
that Poggin likewise had been taunted in fear of him.
So the dark tide overwhelmed Duane, and when he left the room
he was fierce, implacable, steeled to any outcome, quick like a
panther, somber as death, in the thrall of his strange passion.
There was no excitement in the street. He crossed to the bank
corner. A clock inside pointed the hour of two. He went through
the door into the vestibule, looked around, passed up the steps
into the bank. The clerks were at their desks, apparently busy.
But they showed nervousness. The cashier paled at sight of
Duane. There were men--the rangers--crouching down behind the
low partition. All the windows had been removed from the iron
grating before the desks. The safe was closed. There was no
money in sight. A customer came in, spoke to the cashier, and
was told to come to-morrow.
Duane returned to the door. He could see far down the street,
out into the country. There he waited, and minutes were
eternities. He saw no person near him; he heard no sound. He
was insulated in his unnatural strain.
At a few minutes before half past two a dark, compact body of
horsemen appeared far down, turning into the road. They came at
a sharp trot--a group that would have attracted attention
anywhere at any time. They came a little faster as they entered
town; then faster still; now they were four blocks away, now
three, now two. Duane backed down the middle of the vestibule,
up the steps, and halted in the center of the wide doorway.
There seemed to be a rushing in his ears through which pierced
sharp, ringing clip-clop of iron hoofs. He could see only the
corner of the street. But suddenly into that shot lean-limbed
dusty bay horses. There was a clattering of nervous hoofs
pulled to a halt.
Duane saw the tawny Poggin speak to his companions. He
dismounted quickly. They followed suit. They had the manner of
ranchers about to conduct some business. No guns showed. Poggin
started leisurely for the bank door, quickening step a little.
The others, close together, came behind him. Blossom Kane had a
bag in his left hand. Jim Fletcher was left at the curb, and he
had already gathered up the bridles.
Poggin entered the vestibule first, with Kane on one side,
Boldt on the other, a little in his rear.
As he strode in he saw Duane.
"HELL'S FIRE!" he cried.
Something inside Duane burst, piercing all of him with cold.
Was it that fear?
"BUCK DUANE!" echoed Kane.
One instant Poggin looked up and Duane looked down.
Like a striking jaguar Poggin moved. Almost as quickly Duane
threw his arm.
The guns boomed almost together.
Duane felt a blow just before he pulled trigger. His thoughts
came fast, like the strange dots before his eyes. His rising
gun had loosened in his hand. Poggin had drawn quicker! A
tearing agony encompassed his breast. He pulled--pulled--at
random. Thunder of booming shots all about him! Red flashes,
jets of smoke, shrill yells! He was sinking. The end; yes, the
end! With fading sight he saw Kane go down, then Boldt. But
supreme torture, bitterer than death, Poggin stood, mane like a
lion's, back to the wall, bloody-faced, grand, with his guns
All faded, darkened. The thunder deadened. Duane fell, seemed
floating. There it drifted--Ray Longstreth's sweet face, white,
with dark, tragic eyes, fading from his sight . . . fading . .
. fading . . .
Light shone before Duane's eyes--thick, strange light that came
and went. For a long time dull and booming sounds rushed by,
filling all. It was a dream in which there was nothing; a
drifting under a burden; darkness, light, sound, movement; and
vague, obscure sense of time--time that was very long. There
was fire--creeping, consuming fire. A dark cloud of flame
enveloped him, rolled him away.
He saw then, dimly, a room that was strange, strange people
moving about over him, with faint voices, far away, things in a
dream. He saw again, clearly, and consciousness returned, still
unreal, still strange, full of those vague and far-away things.
Then he was not dead. He lay stiff, like a stone, with a weight
ponderous as a mountain upon him and all his bound body racked
in slow, dull-beating agony.
A woman's face hovered over him, white and tragic-eyed, like
one of his old haunting phantoms, yet sweet and eloquent. Then
a man's face bent over him, looked deep into his eyes, and
seemed to whisper from a distance: "Duane--Duane! Ah, he knew
After that there was another long interval of darkness. When
the light came again, clearer this time, the same earnest-faced
man bent over him. It was MacNelly. And with recognition the
past flooded back.
Duane tried to speak. His lips were weak, and he could scarcely
"Poggin!" he whispered. His first real conscious thought was
for Poggin. Ruling passion--eternal instinct!
"Poggin is dead, Duane; shot to pieces," replied MacNelly,
solemnly. "What a fight he made! He killed two of my men,
wounded others. God! he was a tiger. He used up three guns
before we downed him."
"Fletcher, the man with the horses. We downed all the others.
Duane, the job's done--it's done! Why, man, you're--"
"Miss Longstreth has been almost constantly at your bedside.
She helped the doctor. She watched your wounds. And, Duane, the
other night, when you sank low--so low--I think it was her
spirit that held yours back. Oh, she's a wonderful girl. Duane,
she never gave up, never lost her nerve for a moment. Well,
we're going to take you home, and she'll go with us. Colonel
Longstreth left for Louisiana right after the fight. I advised
it. There was great excitement. It was best for him to leave."
"Have I--a--chance--to recover?"
"Chance? Why, man," exclaimed the Captain, "you'll get well!
You'll pack a sight of lead all your life. But you can stand
that. Duane, the whole Southwest knows your story. You need
never again be ashamed of the name Buck Duane. The brand outlaw
is washed out. Texas believes you've been a secret ranger all
the time. You're a hero. And now think of home, your mother, of
this noble girl--of your future."
The rangers took Duane home to Wellston.
A railroad had been built since Duane had gone into exile.
Wellston had grown. A noisy crowd surrounded the station, but
it stilled as Duane was carried from the train.
A sea of faces pressed close. Some were faces he
remembered--schoolmates, friends, old neighbors. There was an
upflinging of many hands. Duane was being welcomed home to the
town from which he had fled. A deadness within him broke. This
welcome hurt him somehow, quickened him; and through his cold
being, his weary mind, passed a change. His sight dimmed.
Then there was a white house, his old home. How strange, yet
how real! His heart beat fast. Had so many, many years passed?
Familiar yet strange it was, and all seemed magnified.
They carried him in, these ranger comrades, and laid him down,
and lifted his head upon pillows. The house was still, though
full of people. Duane's gaze sought the open door.
Some one entered--a tall girl in white, with dark, wet eyes and
a light upon her face. She was leading an old lady,
gray-haired, austere-faced, somber and sad. His mother! She was
feeble, but she walked erect. She was pale, shaking, yet
maintained her dignity.
The some one in white uttered a low cry and knelt by Duane's
bed. His mother flung wide her arms with a strange gesture.
"This man! They've not brought back my boy. This man's his
father! Where is my son? My son--oh, my son!"
When Duane grew stronger it was a pleasure to lie by the west
window and watch Uncle Jim whittle his stick and listen to his
talk. The old man was broken now. He told many interesting
things about people Duane had known--people who had grown up
and married, failed, succeeded, gone away, and died. But it was
hard to keep Uncle Jim off the subject of guns, outlaws,
fights. He could not seem to divine how mention of these things
hurt Duane. Uncle Jim was childish now, and he had a great
pride in his nephew. He wanted to hear of all of Duane's exile.
And if there was one thing more than another that pleased him
it was to talk about the bullets which Duane carried in his
"Five bullets, ain't it?" he asked, for the hundredth time.
"Five in that last scrap! By gum! And you had six before?"
"Yes, uncle," replied Duane.
"Five and six. That makes eleven. By gum! A man's a man, to
carry all that lead. But, Buck, you could carry more. There's
that nigger Edwards, right here in Wellston. He's got a ton of
bullets in him. Doesn't seem to mind them none. And there's
Cole Miller. I've seen him. Been a bad man in his day. They say
he packs twenty-three bullets. But he's bigger than you--got
more flesh.... Funny, wasn't it, Buck, about the doctor only
bein' able to cut one bullet out of you--that one in your
breastbone? It was a forty-one caliber, an unusual cartridge. I
saw it, and I wanted it, but Miss Longstreth wouldn't part with
it. Buck, there was a bullet left in one of Poggin's guns, and
that bullet was the same kind as the one cut out of you. By
gum! Boy, it'd have killed you if it'd stayed there."
"It would indeed, uncle," replied Duane, and the old, haunting,
somber mood returned.
But Duane was not often at the mercy of childish old
hero-worshiping Uncle Jim. Miss Longstreth was the only person
who seemed to divine Duane's gloomy mood, and when she was with
him she warded off all suggestion.
One afternoon, while she was there at the west window, a
message came for him. They read it together.
You have saved the ranger service to the Lone Star State
Ray knelt beside him at the window, and he believed she meant
to speak then of the thing they had shunned. Her face was still
white, but sweeter now, warm with rich life beneath the marble;
and her dark eyes were still intent, still haunted by shadows,
but no longer tragic.
"I'm glad for MacNelly's sake as well as the state's," said
She made no reply to that and seemed to be thinking deeply.
Duane shrank a little.
"The pain--Is it any worse to-day?" she asked, instantly.
"No; it's the same. It will always be the same. I'm full of
lead, you know. But I don't mind a little pain."
"Then--it's the old mood--the fear?" she whispered. "Tell me."
"Yes. It haunts me. I'll be well soon--able to go out. Then
that--that hell will come back!"
"No, no!" she said, with emotion.
"Some drunken cowboy, some fool with a gun, will hunt me out in
every town, wherever I go," he went on, miserably. "Buck Duane!
To kill Buck Duane!"
"Hush! Don't speak so. Listen. You remember that day in Val
Verde, when I came to you--plead with you not to meet Poggin?
Oh, that was a terrible hour for me. But it showed me the
truth. I saw the struggle between your passion to kill and your
love for me. I could have saved you then had I known what I
know now. Now I understand that--that thing which haunts you.
But you'll never have to draw again. You'll never have to kill
another man, thank God!"
Like a drowning man he would have grasped at straws, but he
could not voice his passionate query.
She put tender arms round his neck. "Because you'll have me
with you always," she replied. "Because always I shall be
between you and that--that terrible thing."
It seemed with the spoken thought absolute assurance of her
power came to her. Duane realized instantly that he was in the
arms of a stronger woman that she who had plead with him that
"We'll--we'll be married and leave Texas," she said, softly,
with the red blood rising rich and dark in her cheeks.
"Yes we will, though you're laggard in asking me, sir."
"But, dear--suppose," he replied, huskily, "suppose there might
be--be children--a boy. A boy with his father's blood!"
"I pray God there will be. I do not fear what you fear. But
even so--he'll be half my blood."
Duane felt the storm rise and break in him. And his terror was
that of joy quelling fear. The shining glory of love in this
woman's eyes made him weak as a child. How could she love
him--how could she so bravely face a future with him? Yet she
held him in her arms, twining her hands round his neck, and
pressing close to him. Her faith and love and beauty--these she
meant to throw between him and all that terrible past. They
were her power, and she meant to use them all. He dared not
think of accepting her sacrifice.
"But Ray--you dear, noble girl--I'm poor. I have nothing. And
I'm a cripple."
"Oh, you'll be well some day," she replied. "And listen. I have
money. My mother left me well off. All she had was her
father's--Do you understand? We'll take Uncle Jim and your
mother. We'll go to Louisiana--to my old home. It's far from
here. There's a plantation to work. There are horses and
cattle--a great cypress forest to cut. Oh, you'll have much to
do. You'll forget there. You'll learn to love my home. It's a
beautiful old place. There are groves where the gray moss blows
all day and the nightingales sing all night."
"My darling!" cried Duane, brokenly. "No, no, no!"
Yet he knew in his heart that he was yielding to her, that he
could not resist her a moment longer. What was this madness of
"We'll be happy," she whispered. "Oh, I know.
Her eyes were closing, heavy-lidded, and she lifted sweet,
tremulous, waiting lips.
With bursting heart Duane bent to them. Then he held her, close
pressed to him, while with dim eyes he looked out over the line
of low hills in the west, down where the sun was setting gold
and red, down over the Nueces and the wild brakes of the Rio
Grande which he was never to see again.
It was in this solemn and exalted moment that Duane accepted
happiness and faced a new life, trusting this brave and tender
woman to be stronger than the dark and fateful passion that had