Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Night Horseman by Max Brand

Part 1 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Produced by Suzanne Shell and PG Distributed Proofreaders

By Max Brand

The Untamed Trailin'
The Night Horseman



















































At the age of six Randall Byrne could name and bound every state in the
Union and give the date of its admission; at nine he was conversant with
Homeric Greek and Caesar; at twelve he read Aristophanes with perfect
understanding of the allusions of the day and divided his leisure
between Ovid and Horace; at fifteen, wearied by the simplicity of Old
English and Thirteenth Century Italian, he dipped into the history of
Philosophy and passed from that, naturally, into calculus and the higher
mathematics; at eighteen he took an A.B. from Harvard and while idling
away a pleasant summer with Hebrew and Sanscrit he delved lightly into
biology and its kindred sciences, having reached the conclusion that
Truth is greater than Goodness or Beauty, because it comprises both, and
the whole is greater than any of its parts; at twenty-one he pocketed
his Ph.D. and was touched with the fever of his first practical
enthusiasm--surgery. At twenty-four he was an M.D. and a distinguished
diagnostician, though he preferred work in his laboratory in his
endeavor to resolve the elements into simpler forms; also he published
at this time a work on anthropology whose circulation was limited to two
hundred copies, and he received in return two hundred letters of
congratulation from great men who had tried to read his book; at
twenty-seven he collapsed one fine spring day on the floor of his
laboratory. That afternoon he was carried into the presence of a great
physician who was also a very vulgar man. The great physician felt his
pulse and looked into his dim eyes.

"You have a hundred and twenty horsepower brain and a runabout body,"
said the great physician.

"I have come," answered Randall Byrne faintly, "for the solution of a
problem, not for the statement thereof."

"I'm not through," said the great physician. "Among other things you are
a damned fool."

Randall Byrne here rubbed his eyes.

"What steps do you suggest that I consider?" he queried.

The great physician spat noisily.

"Marry a farmer's daughter," he said brutally.

"But," said Randall Byrne vaguely.

"I am a busy man and you've wasted ten minutes of my time," said the
great physician, turning back to his plate glass window. "My secretary
will send you a bill for one thousand dollars. Good-day."

And therefore, ten days later, Randall Byrne sat in his room in the
hotel at Elkhead.

He had just written (to his friend Swinnerton Loughburne, M.A., Ph.D.,
L.L.D.): "Incontrovertibly the introduction of the personal equation
leads to lamentable inversions, and the perceptive faculties when
contemplating phenomena through the lens of ego too often conceive an
accidental connotation or manifest distortion to be actuality, for the
physical (or personal) too often beclouds that power of inner vision
which so unerringly penetrates to the inherent truths of incorporeity
and the extramundane. Yet this problem, to your eyes, I fear, not
essentially novel or peculiarly involute, holds for my contemplative
faculties an extraordinary fascination, to wit: wherein does the mind,
in itself a muscle, escape from the laws of the physical, and wherein
and wherefore do the laws of the physical exercise so inexorable a
jurisdiction over the processes of the mind, so that a disorder of the
visual nerve actually distorts the asomatous and veils the

"Your pardon, dear Loughburne, for these lapses from the general to the
particular, but in a lighter moment of idleness, I pray you give some
careless thought to a problem now painfully my own, though rooted
inevitably so deeply in the dirt of the commonplace.

"But you have asked me in letter of recent date for the particular
physical aspects of my present environment, and though (as you so well
know) it is my conviction that the physical fact is not and only the
immaterial is, yet I shall gladly look about me--a thing I have not yet
seen occasion to do--and describe to you the details of my present

Accordingly, at this point Randall Byrne removed from his nose his thick
glasses and holding them poised he stared through the window at the view
without. He had quite changed his appearance by removing the spectacles,
for the owlish touch was gone and he seemed at a stroke ten years
younger. It was such a face as one is glad to examine in detail, lean,
pale, the transparent skin stretched tightly over cheekbones, nose, and
chin. That chin was built on good fighting lines, though somewhat
over-delicate in substance and the mouth quite colourless, but oddly
enough the upper lip had that habitual appearance of stiff compression
which is characteristic of highly strung temperaments; it is a
noticeable feature of nearly every great actor, for instance. The nose
was straight and very thin and in a strong sidelight a tracery of the
red blood showed through at the nostrils. The eyes were deeply buried
and the lower lids bruised with purple--weak eyes that blinked at a
change of light or a sudden thought--distant eyes which missed the
design of wall paper and saw the trees growing on the mountains. The
forehead was Byrne's most noticeable feature, pyramidal, swelling
largely towards the top and divided in the centre into two distinct
lobes by a single marked furrow which gave his expression a hint of the
wistful. Looking at that forehead one was strangely conscious of the
brain beneath. There seemed no bony structure; the mind, undefended,
was growing and pushing the confining walls further out.

And the fragility which the head suggested the body confirmed, for he
was not framed to labor. The burden of the noble head had bowed the
slender throat and crooked the shoulders, and when he moved his arm it
seemed the arm of a skeleton too loosely clad. There was a differing
connotation in the hands, to be sure. They were thin--bones and sinews
chiefly, with the violet of the veins showing along the backs; but they
were active hands without tremor--hands ideal for the accurate scalpel,
where a fractional error means death to the helpless.

After a moment of staring through the window the scholar wrote again:
"The major portion of Elkhead lies within plain sight of my window. I
see a general merchandise store, twenty-seven buildings of a
comparatively major and eleven of a minor significance, and five
saloons. The streets--"

The streets, however, were not described at that sitting, for at this
juncture a heavy hand knocked and the door of Randall Byrne's room was
flung open by Hank Dwight, proprietor of Elkhead's saloon--a versatile
man, expert behind the bar or in a blacksmith shop.

"Doc," said Hank Dwight, "you're wanted." Randall Byrne placed his
spectacles more firmly on his nose to consider his host.

"What--" he began, but Hank Dwight had already turned on his heel.

"Her name is Kate Cumberland. A little speed, doc. She's in a hurry."

"If no other physician is available," protested Byrne, following slowly
down the stairs, "I suppose I must see her."

"If they was another within ten miles, d'you s'pose I'd call on you?"
asked Hank Dwight.

So saying, he led the way out onto the veranda, where the doctor was
aware of a girl in a short riding skirt who stood with one gloved hand
on her hip while the other slapped a quirt idly against her riding



"Here's a gent that calls himself a doc," said Hank Dwight by way of an
introduction. "If you can use him, Miss Cumberland, fly to it!"

And he left them alone.

Now the sun lay directly behind Kate Cumberland and in order to look at
her closely the doctor had to shade his weak eyes and pucker his brows;
for from beneath her wide sombrero there rolled a cloud of golden hair
as bright as the sunshine itself--a sad strain upon the visual nerve of
Doctor Randall Byrne. He repeated her name, bowed, and when he
straightened, blinked again. As if she appreciated that strain upon his
eyes she stepped closer, and entered the shadow.

"Doctor Hardin is not in town," she said, "and I have to bring a
physician out to the ranch at once; my father is critically ill."

Randall Byrne rubbed his lean chin.

"I am not practicing at present," he said reluctantly. Then he saw that
she was watching him closely, weighing him with her eyes, and it came to
the mind of Randall Byrne that he was not a large man and might not
incline the scale far from the horizontal.

"I am hardly equipped--" began Byrne.

"You will not need equipment," she interrupted. "His trouble lies in his
nerves and the state of his mind."

A slight gleam lighted the eyes of the doctor.

"Ah," he murmured. "The mind?"


He rubbed his bloodless hands slowly together, and when he spoke his
voice was sharp and quick and wholly impersonal. "Tell me the symptoms!"

"Can't we talk those over on the way to the ranch? Even if we start now
it will be dark before we arrive."

"But," protested the doctor, "I have not yet decided--this

"Oh," she said, and flushed. He perceived that she was on the verge of
turning away, but something withheld her. "There is no other physician
within reach; my father is very ill. I only ask that you come as a
diagnostician, doctor!"

"But a ride to your ranch," he said miserably. "I presume you refer to
riding a horse?"


"I am unfamiliar with that means of locomotion," said the doctor with
serious eyes, "and in fact have not carried my acquaintance with the
equine species beyond a purely experimental stage. Anatomically I have a
superficial knowledge, but on the one occasion on which I sat in a
saddle I observed that the docility of the horse is probably a poetic

He rubbed his left shoulder thoughtfully and saw a slight tremor at the
corners of the girl's mouth. It caused his vision to clear and
concentrate; he found that the lips were, in fact, in the very act of
smiling. The face of the doctor brightened.

"You shall ride my own horse," said the girl. "She is perfectly gentle
and has a very easy gait. I'm sure you'll have not the slightest trouble
with her."

"And you?"

"I'll find something about town; it doesn't matter what."

"This," said the doctor, "is most remarkable. You choose your mounts at

"But you will go?" she insisted.

"Ah, yes, the trip to the ranch!" groaned the doctor. "Let me see: the
physical obstacles to such a trip while many are not altogether
insuperable, I may say; in the meantime the moral urge which compels me
towards the ranch seems to be of the first order." He sighed. "Is it not
strange, Miss Cumberland, that man, though distinguished from the lower
orders by mind, so often is controlled in his actions by ethical
impulses which override the considerations of reason? An observation
which leads us towards the conclusion that the passion for goodness is a
principle hardly secondary to the passion for truth. Understand that I
build the hypothesis only tentatively, with many reservations, among

He broke off short. The smile was growing upon her lips.

"I will put together a few of my things," said the doctor, "and come
down to you at once."

"Good!" said the girl, "I'll be waiting for you with two horses before
you are ready."

He turned away, but had taken hardly a step before he turned, saying:
"But why are you so sure that you will be ready before I--" but she was
already down the steps from the veranda and stepping briskly down the

"There is an element of the unexplainable in woman," said the doctor,
and resumed his way to his room. Once there, something prompted him to
act with the greatest possible speed. He tossed his toilet articles and
a few changes of linen into a small, flexible valise and ran down the
stairs. He reached the veranda again, panting, and the girl was not in
sight; a smile of triumph appeared on the grave, colourless lips of the
doctor. "Feminine instinct, however, is not infallible," he observed to
himself, and to one of the cowboys, lounging loosely in a chair nearby,
he continued his train of thoughts aloud: "Though the verity of the
feminine intuition has already been thrown in a shade of doubt by many
thinkers, as you will undoubtedly agree."

The man thus addressed allowed his lower jaw to drop but after a moment
he ejaculated: "Now what in hell d'you mean by that?"

The doctor already turned away, intent upon his thoughts, but he now
paused and again faced the cowboy. He said, frowning: "There is
unnecessary violence in your remark, sir."

"Duck your glasses," said the worthy in question. "You ain't talkin' to
a book, you're talking to a man."

"And in your attitude," went on the doctor, "there is an element of
offense which if carried farther might be corrected by physical

"I don't foller your words," said the cattleman, "but from the drift of
your tune I gather you're a bit peeved; and if you are--"

His voice had risen to a ringing note as he proceeded and he now slipped
from his chair and faced Randall Byrne, a big man, brown, hard-handed.
The doctor crimsoned.

"Well?" he echoed, but in place of a deep ring his words were pitched in
a high squeak of defiance.

He saw a large hand contract to a fist, but almost instantly the big man
grinned, and his eyes went past Byrne.

"Oh, hell!" he grunted, and turned his back with a chuckle.

For an instant there was a mad impulse in the doctor to spring at this
fellow but a wave of impotence overwhelmed him. He knew that he was
white around the mouth, and there was a dryness in his throat.

"The excitement of imminent physical contest and personal danger," he
diagnosed swiftly, "causing acceleration of the pulse and attendant
weakness of the body--a state unworthy of the balanced intellect."

Having brought back his poise by this quick interposition of reason, he
went his way down the long veranda. Against a pillar leaned another tall
cattleman, also brown and lean and hard.

"May I inquire," he said, "if you have any information direct or casual
concerning a family named Cumberland which possesses ranch property in
this vicinity?"

"You may," said the cowpuncher, and continued to roll his cigarette.

"Well," said the doctor, "do you know anything about them?"

"Sure," said the other, and having finished his cigarette he introduced
it between his lips. It seemed to occur to him instantly, however, that
he was committing an inhospitable breach, for he produced his Durham and
brown papers with a start and extended them towards the doctor.

"Smoke?" he asked.

"I use tobacco in no form," said the doctor.

The cowboy stared with such fixity that the match burned down to his
fingertips and singed them before he had lighted his cigarette.

"'S that a fact?" he queried when his astonishment found utterance.
"What d'you do to kill time? Well, I been thinking about knocking off
the stuff for a while. Mame gets sore at me for having my fingers all
stained up with nicotine like this."

He extended his hand, the first and second fingers of which were
painted a bright yellow.

"Soap won't take it off," he remarked.

"A popular but inexcusable error," said the doctor. "It is the tarry
by-products of tobacco which cause that stain. Nicotine itself, of
course, is a volatile alkaloid base of which there is only the merest
trace in tobacco. It is one of the deadliest of nerve poisons and is
quite colourless. There is enough of that stain upon your fingers--if it
were nicotine--to kill a dozen men."

"The hell you say!"

"Nevertheless, it is an indubitable fact. A lump of nicotine the size of
the head of a pin placed on the tongue of a horse will kill the beast

The cowpuncher pushed back his hat and scratched his head.

"This is worth knowin'," he said, "but I'm some glad that Mame ain't
heard it."

"Concerning the Cumberlands," said the doctor, "I--"

"Concerning the Cumberlands," repeated the cattleman, "it's best to
leave 'em to their own concerns." And he started to turn away, but the
thirst for knowledge was dry in the throat of the doctor.

"Do I understand," he insisted, "that there is some mystery connected
with them?"

"From me," replied the other, "you understand nothin'." And he lumbered
down the steps and away.

Be it understood that there was nothing of the gossip in Randall Byrne,
but now he was pardonably excited and perceiving the tall form of Hank
Dwight in the doorway he approached his host.

"Mr. Dwight," he said, "I am about to go to the Cumberland ranch. I
gather that there is something of an unusual nature concerning them."

"There is," admitted Hank Dwight.

"Can you tell me what it is?"

"I can."

"Good!" said the doctor, and he almost smiled. "It is always well to
know the background of a case which has to do with mental states. Now,
just what do you know?"

"I know--" began the proprietor, and then paused and eyed his guest
dubiously. "I know," he continued, "a story."


"Yes, about a man and a hoss and a dog."

"The approach seems not quite obvious, but I shall be glad to hear it."

There was a pause.

"Words," said the host, at length, "is worse'n bullets. You never know
what they'll hit."

"But the story?" persisted Randall Byrne.

"That story," said Hank Dwight, "I may tell to my son before I die."

"This sounds quite promising."

"But I'll tell nobody else."


"It's about a man and a hoss and a dog. The man ain't possible, the
hoss ain't possible, the dog is a wolf."

He paused again and glowered on the doctor. He seemed to be drawn two
ways, by his eagerness to tell a yarn and his dread of consequences.

"I know," he muttered, "because I've seen 'em all. I've seen"--he looked
far, as though striking a silent bargain with himself concerning the sum
of the story which might safely be told--"I've seen a hoss that
understood a man's talk like you and me does--or better. I've heard a
man whistle like a singing bird. Yep, that ain't no lie. You jest
imagine a bald eagle that could lick anything between the earth and the
sky and was able to sing--that's what that whistlin' was like. It made
you glad to hear it, and it made you look to see if your gun was in good
workin' shape. It wasn't very loud, but it travelled pretty far, like it
was comin' from up above you."

"That's the way this strange man of the story whistles?" asked Byrne,
leaning closer.

"Man of the story?" echoed the proprietor, with some warmth. "Friend, if
he ain't real, then I'm a ghost. And they's them in Elkhead that's got
the scars of his comin' and goin'."

"Ah, an outlaw? A gunfighter?" queried the doctor.

"Listen to me, son," observed the host, and to make his point he tapped
the hollow chest of Byrne with a rigid forefinger, "around these parts
you know jest as much as you see, and lots of times you don't even know
that much. What you see is sometimes your business, but mostly it
ain't." He concluded impressively: "Words is worse'n bullets!"

"Well," mused Byrne, "I can ask the girl these questions. It will be
medically necessary."

"Ask the girl? Ask her?" echoed the host with a sort of horror. But he
ended with a forced restraint: "That's _your_ business."



Hank Dwight disappeared from the doorway and the doctor was called from
his pondering by the voice of the girl. There was something about that
voice which worried Byrne, for it was low and controlled and musical and
it did not fit with the nasal harshness of the cattlemen. When she began
to speak it was like the beginning of a song. He turned now and found
her sitting a tall bay horse, and she led a red-roan mare beside her.
When he went out she tossed her reins over the head of her horse and
strapped his valise behind her saddle.

"You won't have any trouble with that mare," she assured him, when the
time came for mounting. Yet when he approached gingerly he was received
with flattened ears and a snort of anger. "Wait," she cried, "the left
side, not the right!"

He felt the laughter in her voice, but when he looked he could see no
trace of it in her face. He approached from the left side, setting his

"You observe," he said, "that I take your word at its full value," and
placing his foot in the stirrup, he dragged himself gingerly up to the
saddle. The mare stood like a rock. Adjusting himself, he wiped a sudden
perspiration from his forehead.

"I quite believe," he remarked, "that the animal is of unusual
intelligence. All may yet be well!"

"I'm sure of it." said the girl gravely. "Now we're off."

And the horses broke into a dog trot. Now the gait of the red roan mare
was a dream of softness, and her flexible ankles gave a play of whole
inches to break the jar of every step, the sure sign of the good
saddle-horse; but the horse has never been saddled whose trot is really
a smooth pace. The hat of Doctor Byrne began to incline towards his
right eye and his spectacles towards his left ear. He felt a peculiar
lightness in the stomach and heaviness in the heart.

"The t-t-t-trot," he ventured to his companion, "is a d-d-d-dam--"

"Dr. Byrne!" she cried.

"Whoa!" called Doctor Byrne, and drew mightily in upon the reins. The
red mare stopped as a ball stops when it meets a stout wall; the doctor
sprawled along her neck, clinging with arms and legs. He managed to
clamber back into the saddle.

"There are vicious elements in the nature of this brute," he observed to
the girl.

"I'm very sorry," she murmured. He cast a sidelong glance but found not
the trace of a smile.

"The word upon which I--"

"Stopped?" she suggested.

"Stopped," he agreed, "was not, as you evidently assumed, an oath. On
the contrary, I was merely remarking that the trot is a damaging gait,
but through an interrupted--er--articulation--"

His eye dared her, but she was utterly grave. He perceived that there
was, after all, a certain kinship between this woman of the
mountain-desert and the man thereof. Their silences were filled with

"We'll try a canter," she suggested, "and I think you'll find that

So she gave the word, and her bay sprang into a lope from a standing
start. The red mare did likewise, nearly flinging the doctor over the
back of the saddle, but by the grace of God he clutched the pommel in
time and was saved. The air caught at his face, they swept out of the
town and onto a limitless level stretch.

"Sp-p-p-peed," gasped the doctor, "has never been a p-p-passion with

He noted that she was not moving in the saddle. The horse was like the
bottom of a wave swinging violently back and forth. She was the calm
crest, swaying slightly and graciously with a motion as smooth as the
flowing of water. And she spoke as evenly as if she were sitting in a
rocking chair.

"You'll be used to it in a moment," she assured him.

He learned, indeed, that if one pressed the stirrups as the shoulders of
the horse swung down and leaned a trifle forward when the shoulders rose
again, the motion ceased to be jarring; for she was truly a matchless
creature and gaited like one of those fabulous horses of old, sired by
the swift western wind. In a little time a certain pride went beating
through the veins of the doctor, the air blew more deeply into his
lungs, there was a different tang to the wind and a different feel to
the sun--a peculiar richness of yellow warmth. And the small head of the
horse and the short, sharp, pricking ears tossed continually; and now
and then the mare threw her head a bit to one side and glanced back at
him with what he felt to be a reassuring air. Life and strength and
speed were gripped between his knees--he flashed a glance at the girl.

But she rode with face straightforward and there was that about her
which made him turn his eyes suddenly away and look far off. It was a
jagged country, for in the brief rainy season there came sudden and
terrific downpours which lashed away the soil and scoured the face of
the underlying rock, and in a single day might cut a deep arroyo where
before had been smooth plain. This was the season of grass, but not the
dark, rank green of rich soil and mild air--it was a yellowish green, a
colour at once tender and glowing. It spread everywhere across the
plains about Elkhead, broken here and there by the projecting boulders
which flashed in the sun. So a great battlefield might appear,
pockmarked with shell-holes, and all the scars of war freshly cut upon
its face. And in truth the mountain desert was like an arena ready to
stage a conflict--a titanic arena with space for earth-giants to
struggle--and there in the distance were the spectator mountains. High,
lean-flanked mountains they were, not clad in forests, but rather
bristling with a stubby growth of the few trees which might endure in
precarious soil and bitter weather, but now they gathered the dignity of
distance about them. The grass of the foothills was a faint green mist
about their feet, cloaks of exquisite blue hung around the upper masses,
but their heads were naked to the pale skies. And all day long, with
deliberate alteration, the garb of the mountains changed. When the
sudden morning came they leaped naked upon the eye, and then withdrew,
muffling themselves in browns and blues until at nightfall they covered
themselves to the eyes in thickly sheeted purple--Tyrian purple--and
prepared for sleep with their heads among the stars.

Something of all this came to Doctor Randall Byrne as he rode, for it
seemed to him that there was a similarity between these mountains and
the girl beside him. She held that keen purity of the upper slopes under
the sun, and though she had no artifice or careful wiles to make her
strange, there was about her a natural dignity like the mystery of
distance. There was a rhythm, too, about that line of peaks against the
sky, and the girl had caught it; he watched her sway with the gallop of
her horse and felt that though she was so close at hand she was a
thousand miles from him. She concealed nothing, and yet he could no more
see her naked soul than he could tear the veils of shadow from the
mountains. Not that the doctor phrased his emotions in words. He was
only conscious of a sense of awe and the necessity of silence.

A strange feeling for the doctor! He came from the region of the mind
where that which is not spoken does not exist, and now this girl was
carrying him swiftly away from hypotheses, doubts, and polysyllabic
speech into the world--of what? The spirit? The doctor did not know. He
only felt that he was about to step into the unknown, and it held for
him the fascination of the suspended action of a statue. Let it not be
thought that he calmly accepted the sheer necessity for silence. He
fought against it, but no words came.

It was evening: the rolling hills about them were already dark; only the
heads of the mountains took the day; and now they paused at the top of a
rise and the girl pointed across the hollow. "There we are," she said.
It was a tall clump of trees through which broke the outlines of a
two-storied house larger than any the doctor had seen in the
mountain-desert; and outside the trees lay long sheds, a great barn, and
a wide-spread wilderness of corrals. It struck the doctor with its
apparently limitless capacity for housing man and beast. Coming in
contrast with the rock-strewn desolation of the plains, this was a great
establishment; the doctor had ridden out with a waif of the desert and
she had turned into a princess at a stroke. Then, for the first time
since they left Elkhead, he remembered with a start that he was to care
for a sick man in that house.

"You were to tell me," he said, "something about the sickness of your
father--the background behind his condition. But we've both forgotten
about it."

"I have been thinking how I could describe it, every moment of the
ride," she answered. Then, as the gloom fell more thickly around them
every moment, she swerved her horse over to the mare, as if it were
necessary that she read the face of the doctor while she spoke.

"Six months ago," she said, "my father was robust and active in spite of
his age. He was cheerful, busy, and optimistic. But he fell into a
decline. It has not been a sudden sapping of his strength. If it were
that I should not worry so much; I'd attribute it to disease. But every
day something of vitality goes from him. He is fading almost from hour
to hour, as slowly as the hour hand of a clock. You can't notice the
change, but every twelve hours the hand makes a complete revolution.
It's as if his blood were evaporating and nothing we can do will supply
him with fresh strength."

"Is this attended by irritability?"

"He is perfectly calm and seems to have no care for what becomes of

"Has he lost interest in the things which formerly attracted and
occupied him?"

"Yes, he minds nothing now. He has no care for the condition of the
cattle, or for profit or loss in the sales. He has simply stepped out of
every employment."

"Ah, a gradual diminution of the faculties of attention."

"In a way, yes. But also he is more alive than he has ever been. He
seems to hear with uncanny distinctness, for instance."

The doctor frowned.

"I was inclined to attribute his decline to the operation of old age,"
he remarked, "but this is unusual. This--er--inner acuteness is
accompanied by no particular interest in any one thing?".

As she did not reply for the moment he was about to accept the silence
for acquiescence, but then through the dimness he was arrested by the
lustre of her eyes, fixed, apparently, far beyond him.

"One thing," she said at length. "Yes, there is one thing in which he
retains an interest."

The doctor nodded brightly.

"Good!" he said. "And that--?"

The silence fell again, but this time he was more roused and he fixed
his eyes keenly upon her through the gloom. She was deeply troubled; one
hand gripped the horn of her saddle strongly; her lips had parted; she
was like one who endures inescapable pain. He could not tell whether it
was the slight breeze which disturbed her blouse or the rapid panting of
her breath.

"Of that," she said, "it is hard to speak--it is useless to speak!"

"Surely not!" protested the doctor. "The cause, my dear madame, though
perhaps apparently remote from the immediate issue, is of the utmost
significance in diagnosis."

She broke in rapidly: "This is all I can tell you: he is waiting for
something which will never come. He has missed something from his life
which will never come back into it. Then why should we discuss what it
is that he has missed."

"To the critical mind," replied the doctor calmly, and he automatically
adjusted his glasses closer to his eyes, "nothing is without

"It is nearly dark!" she exclaimed hurriedly. "Let us ride on."

"First," he suggested, "I must tell you that before I left Elkhead I
heard a hint of some remarkable story concerning a man and a horse and a
dog. Is there anything--"

But it seemed that she did not hear. He heard a sharp, low exclamation
which might have been addressed to her horse, and the next instant she
was galloping swiftly down the slope. The doctor followed as fast as he
could, jouncing in the saddle until he was quite out of breath.



They had hardly passed the front door of the house when they were met by
a tall man with dark hair and dark, deep-set eyes. He was tanned to the
bronze of an Indian, and he might have been termed handsome had not his
features been so deeply cut and roughly finished. His black hair was
quite long, and as the wind from the opened door stirred it, there was a
touch of wildness about the fellow that made the heart of Randall Byrne
jump. When this man saw the girl his face lighted, briefly; when his
glance fell on Byrne the light went out.

"Couldn't get the doc, Kate?" he asked.

"Not Doctor Hardin," she answered, "and I've brought Doctor Byrne

The tall man allowed his gaze to drift leisurely from head to foot of
Randall Byrne.

Then: "H'ware you, doc?" he said, and extended a big hand. It occurred
to Byrne that all these men of the mountain-desert were big; there was
something intensely irritating about their mere physical size; they
threw him continually on the defensive and he found himself making
apologies to himself and summing up personal merits. In this case there
was more direct reason for his anger. It was patent that the man did
not weight the strange doctor against any serious thoughts.

"And this," she was saying, "is Mr. Daniels. Buck, is there any change?"

"Nothin' much," answered Buck Daniels. "Come along towards evening and
he said he was feeling kind of cold. So I wrapped him up in a rug. Then
he sat some as usual, one hand inside of the other, looking steady at
nothing. But a while ago he began getting sort of nervous."

"What did he do?"

"Nothing. I just _felt_ he was getting excited. The way you know when
your hoss is going to shy."

"Do you want to go to your room first, doctor, or will you go in to see
him now?"

"Now," decided the doctor, and followed her down the hall and through a

The room reminded the doctor more of a New England interior than of the
mountain-desert. There was a round rag rug on the floor with every
imaginable colour woven into its texture, but blended with a rude
design, reds towards the centre and blue-greys towards the edges. There
were chairs upholstered in green which looked mouse-coloured where the
high lights struck along the backs and the arms--shallow-seated chairs
that made one's knees project foolishly high and far. Byrne saw a
cabinet at one end of the room, filled with sea-shells and knicknacks,
and above it was a memorial cross surrounded by a wreath inside a glass
case. Most of the wall space thronged with engravings whose subjects
ranged from Niagara Falls to Lady Hamilton. One entire end of the room
was occupied by a painting of a neck and neck finish in a race, and the
artist had conceived the blooded racers as creatures with tremendous
round hips and mighty-muscled shoulders, while the legs tapered to a
faun-like delicacy. These animals were spread-eagled in the most amazing
fashion, their fore-hoofs reaching beyond their noses and their rear
hoofs striking out beyond the tips of the tails. The jockey in the lead
sat quite still, but he who was losing had his whip drawn and looked
like an automatic doll--so pink were his cheeks. Beside the course, in
attitudes of graceful ease, stood men in very tight trousers and very
high stocks and ladies in dresses which pinched in at the waist and
flowed out at the shoulders. They leaned upon canes or twirled parasols
and they had their backs turned upon the racetrack as if they found
their own negligent conversation far more exciting than the breathless,
driving finish.

Under the terrific action and still more terrific quiescence of this
picture lay the sick man, propped high on a couch and wrapped to the
chest in a Navajo blanket.

"Dad," said Kate Cumberland, "Doctor Hardin was not in town. I've
brought out Doctor Byrne, a newcomer."

The invalid turned his white head slowly towards them, and his shaggy
brows lifted and fell slightly--a passing shadow of annoyance. It was a
very stern face, and framed in the long, white hair it seemed
surrounded by an atmosphere of Arctic chill. He was thin, terribly
thin--not the leanness of Byrne, but a grim emaciation which exaggerated
the size of a tall forehead and made his eyes supernally bright. It was
in the first glance of those eyes that Byrne recognized the restlessness
of which Kate had spoken; and he felt almost as if it were an inner fire
which had burned and still was wasting the body of Joseph Cumberland. To
the attentions of the doctor the old man submitted with patient
self-control, and Byrne found a pulse feeble, rapid, but steady. There
was no temperature. In fact, the heat of the body was a trifle
sub-normal, considering that the heart was beating so rapidly.

Doctor Byrne started. Most of his work had been in laboratories, and the
horror of death was not yet familiar, but old Joseph Cumberland was
dying. It was not a matter of moment. Death might be a week or a month
away, but die soon he inevitably must; for the doctor saw that the fire
was still raging in the hollow breast of the cattleman, but there was no
longer fuel to feed it.

He stared again, and more closely. Fire without fuel to feed it!

Doctor Byrne gave what seemed to be an infinitely muffled cry of
exultation, so faint that it was hardly a whisper; then he leaned closer
and pored over Joe Cumberland with a lighted eye. One might have thought
that the doctor was gloating over the sick man.

Suddenly he straightened and began to pace up and down the room,
muttering to himself. Kate Cumberland listened intently and she thought
that what the man muttered so rapidly, over and over to himself, was:
"Eureka! Eureka! I have found it!"

Found what? The triumph of mind over matter!

On that couch was a dead body. The flutter of that heart was not the
strong beating of the normal organ; the hands were cold; even the body
was chilled; yet the man lived.

Or, rather, his brain lived, and compelled the shattered and outworn
body to comply with its will. Doctor Byrne turned and stared again at
the face of Cumberland. He felt as if he understood, now, the look which
was concentrated so brightly on the vacant air. It was illumined by a
steady and desperate defiance, for the old man was denying his body to
the grave.

The scene changed for Randall Byrne. The girl disappeared. The walls of
the room were broken away. The eyes of the world looked in upon him and
the wise men of the world kept pace with him up and down the room,
shaking their heads and saying: "It is not possible!"

But the fact lay there to contradict them.

Prometheus stole fire from heaven and paid it back to an eternal death.
The old cattleman was refusing his payment. It was no state of coma in
which he lay; it was no prolonged trance. He was vitally, vividly alive;
he was concentrating with a bitter and exhausting vigour day and night,
and fighting a battle the more terrible because it was fought in
silence, a battle in which he could receive no aid, no reinforcement, a
battle in which he could not win, but in which he might delay defeat.

Ay, the wise men would smile and shake their heads when he presented
this case to their consideration, but he would make his account so
accurate and particular and so well witnessed that they would have to
admit the truth of all he said. And science, which proclaimed that
matter was indestructible and that the mind was matter and that the
brain needed nourishment like any other muscle--science would have to
hang the head and wonder!

The eyes of the girl brought him to halt in his pacing, and he stopped,
confronting her. His excitement had transformed him. His nostrils were
quivering, his eyes were pointed with light, his head was high, and he
breathed fast. He was flushed as the Roman Conqueror. And his excitement
tinged the girl, also, with colour.

She offered to take him to his room as soon as he wished to go. He was
quite willing. He wanted to be alone, to think. But when he followed her
she stopped him in the hall. Buck Daniels lumbered slowly after them in
a clumsy attempt at sauntering.

"Well?" asked Kate Cumberland.

She had thrown a blue mantle over her shoulders when she entered the
house, and the touch of boyish self-confidence which had been hers on
the ride was gone. In its place there was something even more difficult
for Randall Byrne to face. If there had been a garish brightness about
her when he had first seen her, the brilliancy of a mirror playing in
the sun against his feeble eyes, there was now a blending of pastel
shades, for the hall was dimly illumined and the shadow tarnished her
hair and her pallor was like cold stone; even her eyes were misted by
fear. Yet a vital sense of her nearness swept upon Byrne, and he felt as
if he were surrounded--by a danger.

"Opinions," said the doctor, "based on so summary an examination are
necessarily inexact, yet the value of a first impression is not
negligible. The best I can say is that there is probably no immediate
danger, but Mr. Cumberland is seriously ill. Furthermore, it is _not_
old age."

He would not say all he thought; it was not yet time.

She winced and clasped her hands tightly together. She was like a child
about to be punished for a crime it has not committed, and it came
vaguely to the doctor that he might have broached his ill tidings more

He added: "I must have further opportunities for observance before I
give a detailed opinion and suggest a treatment."

Her glance wandered past him and at once the heavy step of Buck Daniels

"At least," she murmured, "I am glad that you are frank. I don't want to
have anything kept from me, please. Buck, will you take the doctor up to
his room?" She managed a faint smile. "This is an old-fashioned house,
Doctor Byrne, but I hope we can make you fairly comfortable. You'll ask
for whatever you need?"

The doctor bowed, and was told that they would dine in half an hour,
then the girl went back towards the room in which Joe Cumberland lay.
She walked slowly, with her head bent, and her posture seemed to Byrne
the very picture of a burden-bearer. Then he followed Daniels up the
stairs, led by the jingling of the spurs, great-rowelled spurs that
might grip the side of a refractory horse like teeth.

A hall-light guided them, and from the hall Buck Daniels entered a room
and fumbled above him until he had lighted a lamp which was suspended by
two chains from the ceiling, a circular burner which cast a glow as keen
as an electric globe. It brought out every detail of the old-fashioned
room--the bare, painted floor; the bed, in itself a separate and
important piece of architecture with its four tall posts, a relic of the
times when beds were built, not simply made; and there was a chest of
drawers with swelling, hospitable front, and a rectangular mirror above
with its date in gilt paint on the upper edge. A rising wind shook the
window and through some crack stirred the lace curtains; it was a very
comfortable retreat, and the doctor became aware of aching muscles and a
heavy brain when he glanced at the bed.

The same gust of wind which rattled the window-pane now pushed, as with
invisible and ghostly hand, a door which opened on the side of the
bedroom, and as it swung mysteriously and gradually wide the doctor
found himself looking into an adjoining chamber. All he could see
clearly was a corner on which struck the shaft of light from the lamp,
and lying on the floor in that corner was something limp and brown. A
snake, he surmised at first, but then he saw clearly that it was a chain
of formidable proportions bolted against the wall at one end and
terminating at the other in a huge steel collar. A chill started in the
boots of the doctor and wriggled its uncomfortable way up to his head.

"Hell!" burst out Buck Daniels. "How'd _that_ door get open?" He slammed
it with violence. "She's been in there again, I guess," muttered the
cowpuncher, as he stepped back, scowling.

"Who?" ventured the doctor.

Buck Daniels whirled on him.

"None of your--" he began hotly, but checked himself with choking
suddenness and strode heavily from the room.



The doctor removed his coat with absent-minded slowness, and all the
time that he was removing the dust and the stains of travel, he kept
narrowing the eye of his mind to visualise more clearly that cumbersome
chain which lay on the floor of the adjoining room. Now, the doctor was
not of a curious or gossipy nature, but if someone had offered to tell
him the story of that chain for a thousand dollars, the doctor at that
moment would have thought the price ridiculously small.

Then the doctor went down to the dinner table prepared to keep one eye
upon Buck Daniels and the other upon Kate Cumberland. But if he expected
to learn through conversation at the table he was grievously
disappointed, for Buck Daniels ate with an eye to strict business that
allowed no chatter, and the girl sat with a forced smile and an absent
eye. Now and again Buck would glance up at her, watch her for an
instant, and then turn his attention back to his plate with a sort of
gloomy resolution; there were not half a dozen words exchanged from the
beginning to the end of the meal.

After that they went in to the invalid. He lay in the same position,
his skinny hands crossed upon his breast, and his shaggy brows were
drawn so low that the eyes were buried in profound shadow. They took
positions in a loose semi-circle, all pointing towards the sick man, and
it reminded Byrne with grim force of a picture he had seen of three
wolves waiting for the bull moose to sink in the snows: they, also, were
waiting for a death. It seemed, indeed, as if death must have already
come; at least it could not make him more moveless than he was. Against
the dark wall his profile was etched by a sharp highlight which was
brightest of all on his forehead and his nose; while the lower portion
of the face was lost in comparative shadow.

So perfect and so detailed was the resemblance to death, indeed, that
the lips in the shadow smiled--fixedly. It was not until Kate Cumberland
shifted a lamp, throwing more light on her father, that Byrne saw that
the smile was in reality a forcible compression of the lips. He
understood, suddenly, that the silent man on the couch was struggling
terribly against an hysteria of emotion. It brought beads of sweat out
upon the doctor's tall forehead; for this perfect repose suggested an
agony more awful than yells and groans and struggles. The silence was
like acid; it burned without a flame. And Byrne knew, that moment, the
quality of the thing which had wasted the rancher. It was this acid of
grief or yearning which had eaten deep into him and was now close to his
heart. The girl had said that for six months he had been failing. Six
months! Six eternities of burning at the stake!

He lay silent, waiting; and his resignation meant that he knew death
would come before that for which he waited. Silence, that was the
key-note of the room. The girl was silent, her eyes dark with grief; yet
they were not fixed upon her father. It came thrilling home to Byrne
that her sorrow was not entirely for her dying parent, for she looked
beyond him rather than at him. Was she, too, waiting? Was that what gave
her the touch of sad gravity, the mystery like the mystery of distance?

And Buck Daniels. He, also, said nothing. He rolled cigarettes one after
another with amazing dexterity and smoked them with half a dozen Titanic
breaths. His was a single-track mind. He loved the girl, and he bore the
sign of his love on his face. He wanted her desperately; it was a hunger
like that of Tantalus, too keen to be ever satisfied. Yet, still more
than he looked at the girl, he, also, stared into the distance. He,
also, was waiting!

It was the deep suspense of Cumberland which made him so silently alert.
He was as intensely alive as the receiver of a wireless apparatus; he
gathered information from the empty air.

So that Byrne was hardly surprised, when, in the midst of that grim
silence, the old man raised a rigid forefinger of warning. Kate and
Daniels stiffened in their chairs and Byrne felt his flesh creep. Of
course it was nothing. The wind, which had shaken the house with several
strong gusts before dinner, had now grown stronger and blew with
steadily increasing violence; perhaps the sad old man had been attracted
by the mournful chorus and imagined some sound he knew within it.

But now once more the finger was raised, the arm extended, shaking
violently, and Joe Cumberland turned upon them a glance which flashed
with a delirious and unhealthy joy.

"Listen!" he cried. "Again!"

"What?" asked Kate.

"I hear them, I tell you."

Her lips blanched, and parted to speak, but she checked the impulse and
looked swiftly about the room with what seemed to Byrne an appeal for
help. As for Buck Daniels, he changed from a dark bronze to an unhealthy
yellow; fear, plain and grimly unmistakable, was in his face. Then he
strode to the window and threw it open with a crash. The wind leaped in
and tossed the flame in the throat of the chimney, so that great shadows
waved suddenly through the room, and made the chairs seem afloat. Even
the people were suddenly unreal. And the rush of the storm gave Byrne an
eerie sensation of being blown through infinite space. For a moment
there was only the sound of the gale and the flapping of a loose picture
against the wall, and the rattling of a newspaper. Then he heard it.

First it was a single note which he could not place. It was music, and
yet it was discordant, and it had the effect of a blast of icy wind.

Once he had been in Egypt and had stood in a corridor of Cheops'
pyramid. The torch had been blown out in the hand of his guide. From
somewhere in the black depths before them came a laugh, made unhuman by
echoes. And Byrne had visioned the mummied dead pushing back the granite
lids of their sarcophagi and sitting upright.

But that was nothing compared with this. Not half so wild or strange.

He listened again, breathless, with the sharp prickling running up and
down his spine. It was the honking of the wild geese, flying north. And
out of the sound he builded a picture of the grey triangle cleaving
through the cold upper sky, sent on a mission no man could understand.

"Was I right? Was I right?" shrilled the invalid, and when Byrne turned
towards him, he saw the old man sitting erect, with an expression of
wild triumph. There came an indescribable cry from the girl, and a deep
throated curse from Buck Daniels as he slammed down the window.

With the chill blast shut off and the flame burning steadily once more
in the lamp, a great silence besieged the room, with a note of
expectancy in it. Byrne was conscious of being warm, too warm. It was
close in the room, and he was weighted down. It was as if another
presence had stepped into the room and stood invisible. He felt it with
unspeakable keenness, as when one knows certainly the thoughts which
pass in the mind of another. And, more than that, he knew that the
others in the room felt what he felt. In the waiting silence he saw that
the old man lay on his couch with eyes of fire and gaping lips, as if
he drank the wine of his joyous expectancy. And big Buck Daniels stood
with his hand on the sash of the window, frozen there, his eyes bulging,
his heart thundering in his throat. And Kate Cumberland sat with her
eyes closed, as she had closed them when the wind first rushed upon her,
and she still smiled as she had smiled then. And to Byrne, more terrible
than the joy of Joseph Cumberland or the dread of Buck Daniels was the
smile and the closed eyes of the girl.

But the silence held and the fifth presence was in the room, and not one
of them dared speak.



Then, with a shifting of the wind, a song was blown to them from the
bunk-house, a cheerful, ringing chorus; the sound was like daylight--it
drove the terror from the room. Joe Cumberland asked them to leave him.
That night, he said, he would sleep. He felt it, like a promise. The
other three went out from the room.

In the hall Kate and Daniels stood close together under a faint light
from the wall-lamp, and they talked as if they had forgotten the
presence of Byrne.

"It had to come," she said. "I knew it would come to him sooner or
later, but I didn't dream it would be as terrible as this. Buck, what
are we going to do?"

"God knows," said the big cowpuncher. "Just wait, I s'pose, same as
we've been doing."

He had aged wonderfully in that moment of darkness.

"He'll be happy now for a few days," went on the girl, "but
afterwards--when he realises that it means nothing--what then, Buck?"

The man took her hands and began to pat them softly as a father might
soothe a child.

"I seen you when the wind come in," he said gently. "Are you going to
stand it, Kate? Is it going to be hell for you, too, every time you hear

She answered: "If it were only I! Yes, I could stand it. Lately I've
begun to think that I can stand anything. But when I see Dad it breaks
my heart--and you--oh, Buck, it hurts, it hurts!" She drew his hands
impulsively against her breast. "If it were only something we could
fight outright!"

Buck Daniels sighed.

"Fight?" he echoed hopelessly. "Fight? Against him? Kate, you're all
tired out. Go to bed, honey, and try to stop thinkin'--and--God help us

She turned away from him and passed the doctor--blindly.

Buck Daniels had set his foot on the stairs when Byrne hurried after him
and touched his arm; they went up together.

"Mr. Daniels," said the doctor, "it is necessary that I speak with you,
alone. Will you come into my room for a few moments?"

"Doc," said the cattleman, "I'm short on my feed and I don't feel a pile
like talkin'. Can't you wait till the morning?"

"There has been a great deal too much waiting, Mr. Daniels," said the
doctor. "What I have to say to you must be said now. Will you come in?"

"I will," nodded Buck Daniels. "But cut it short."

Once in his room the doctor lighted the lamp and then locked the door.

"What's all the mystery and hush stuff?" growled Daniels, and with a
gesture he refused the proffered chair. "Cut loose, doc, and make it

The little man sat down, removed his glasses, held them up to the light,
found a speck upon them, polished it carefully away, replaced the
spectacles upon his nose, and peered thoughtfully at Buck Daniels.

Buck Daniels rolled his eyes towards the door and then even towards the
window, and then, as one who accepts the inevitable, he sank into a
chair and plunged his hands into his pockets, prepared to endure.

"I am called," went on the doctor dryly, "to examine a case in which the
patient is dangerously ill--in fact, hopelessly ill, and I have found
that the cause of his illness is a state of nervous expectancy on the
part of the sufferer. It being obviously necessary to know the nature of
the disease and its cause before that cause may be removed, I have asked
you to sit here this evening to give me whatever explanation you may
have for it."

Buck Daniels stirred uneasily. At length he broke out: "Doc, I size you
up as a gent with brains. I got one piece of advice for you: get the
hell away from the Cumberland Ranch and never come back again!"

The doctor flushed and his lean jaw thrust out.

"Although," he said, "I cannot pretend to be classed among those to whom
physical fear is an unknown, yet I wish to assure you, sir, that with me
physical trepidation is not an overruling motive."

"Oh, hell!" groaned Buck Daniels. Then he explained more gently: "I
don't say you're yellow. All I say is: this mess ain't one that you can
straighten out--nor no other man can. Give it up, wash your hands, and
git back to Elkhead. I dunno what Kate was thinkin' of to bring you out

"The excellence of your intention," said the doctor, "I shall freely
admit, though the assumption that difficulty in the essential problem
would deter me from the analysis is an hypothesis which I cannot leave
uncontested. In the vulgar, I may give you to understand that I am in
this to stay!"

Buck Daniels started to speak, but thinking better of it he shrugged his
shoulders and sat back, resigned.

"Well," he said, "Kate brought you out here. Maybe she has a reason for
it. What d'you want to know?"

"What connection," said the doctor, "have wild geese with a man, a
horse, and a dog?"

"What in hell d'you know about a horse and a man and a dog--and wild
geese?" inquired Buck in a strained voice.

"Rumour," said the doctor, "has been in this instance, unfortunately, my
only teacher. But, sir, I have ascertained that Mr. Cumberland, his
daughter, and you, sir, are all waiting for a certain thing to come to
this ranch, and that thing I naturally assume to be a man."

"Doc," said the cowpuncher sarcastically, "there ain't no doubt you got
a wonderful brain!"

"Mockery," pronounced the man of learning, "is a use of the mental
powers which is both unworthy and barren and does not in this case
advance the argument, which is: Who and what is this man for whom you

"He came," said Buck Daniels, "out of nowhere. That's all we know about
who he is. What is he? I'll tell you easy: He's a gent that looks like a
man, and walks like a man, and talks like a man--but he _ain't_ a man."

"Ah," nodded the philosopher, "a crime of extraordinary magnitude has,
perhaps, cut off this unfortunate fellow from communication with others
of his kind. Is this the case?"

"It ain't," replied Buck. "Doc, tell me this: Can a wolf commit a

"Admitting this definition: that crime is the breaking of law, and that
law is a force created by reason to control the rational, it may be
granted that the acts of the lower animals lie outside of categories
framed according to ethical precepts. To directly answer your not
incurious question: I believe that a wolf cannot commit a crime."

Buck Daniels sighed.

"D'you know, doc," he said gravely, "that you remind me of a side-hill

"Ah," murmured the man of learning, "is it possible? And what, Mr.
Daniels, is the nature of a side-hill goat?"

"It's a goat that's got the legs of one side shorter than the legs on
the other side, and the only way he can get to the top of a hill is to
keep trottin' around and around the hill like a five per cent. grade. He
goes a mile to get ten feet higher."

"This fact," said Byrne, and he rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "is not
without interest, though I fail to perceive the relation between me and
such a creature, unless, perhaps, there are biologic similarities of
which I have at present no cognition."

"I didn't think you'd follow me," replied Buck with an equal gravity.
"But you can lay to this, Doc; this gent we're waitin' for ain't
committed any more crimes than a wolf has."

"Ah, I see," murmured the doctor, "a man so near the brute that his
enormities pass beyond--"

"Get this straight," said Buck, interrupting with a sternly pointed
finger: "There ain't a kinder or a gentler man in the mountain-desert
than him. He's got a voice softer than Kate Cumberland's, which is some
soft voice, and as for his heart--Doc, I've seen him get off his horse
to put a wounded rabbit out of its pain!"

A ring of awe came in the throat of Daniels as he repeated the
incredible fact.

He went on: "If I was in trouble, I'd rather have him beside me than ten
other men; if I was sick I'd rather have him than the ten best doctors
in the world; if I wanted a pal that would die for them that done him
good and go to hell to get them that done him bad, I'd choose him first,
and there ain't none that come second."

The panegyric was not a burst of imagination. Buck Daniels was speaking
seriously, hunting for words, and if he used superlatives it was because
he needed them.

"Extraordinary!" murmured the doctor, and he repeated the word in a
louder tone. It was a rare word for him; in all his scholastic career
and in all of his scientific investigations he had found occasion to use
so strong a term not more than half a dozen times at the most. He went
on, cautiously, and his weak eyes blinked at Daniels: "And there is a
relation between this man and a horse and dog?"

Buck Daniels shuddered and his colour changed.

"Listen!" he said, "I've talked enough. You ain't going to get another
word out of me except this: Doc, have a good sleep, get on your hoss
to-morrow mornin', and beat it. Don't even wait for breakfast. Because,
if you _do_ wait, you may get a hand in this little hell of ours. You
may be waiting, too!" A sudden thought brought him to his feet. He stood
over the doctor. "How many times," he thundered, "have you seen Kate

"To-day, for the first time."

"Well," said Daniels, growling with relief, "you've seen her enough. I
_know_." And he turned towards the door. "Unlock," he commanded. "I'm
tired out--and sick--of talking about _him_."

But the doctor did not move.

"Nevertheless," he stated, "you will remain. There is something further
which you know and which you will communicate to me."

Buck Daniels turned at the door; his face was not pleasant.

"While observing you as you talked with the girl," Byrne said, "it
occurred to me that you were holding information from her. The exact
nature of that information I cannot state, but it is reasonable to
deduct that you could, at the present moment, name the place where the
man for whom Mr. Cumberland and his daughter wait is now located."

Buck Daniels made no reply, but he returned to his chair and slumped
heavily into it, staring at the little doctor. And Byrne realised with a
thrill of pleasure that he was not afraid of death.

"I may further deduct," said the doctor, "that you will go in person to
the place where you know this man may be found and induce him to come to
this ranch."

The silent anger of Daniels died away. He smiled, and at length he
laughed without mirth.

"Doc," he said, "if you knew where there was a gun, would that make you
want to put it up agin your head and pull the trigger?"

But the doctor proceeded inexorably with his deductions: "Because you
are aware, Mr. Daniels, that the presence of this man may save the life
of Mr. Cumberland, a thought, to be sure, which might not be accepted by
the medical fraternity, but which may without undue exaggeration
devolve from the psychological situation in this house."

"Doc," said Daniels huskily, "you talk straight, and you act straight,
and I think you are straight, so I'll take off the bridle and talk free.
I know where Whistling Dan is--just about. But if I was to go to him and
bring him here I'd bust the heart of Kate Cumberland. D'you understand?"
His voice lowered with an intense emotion. "I've thought it out sideways
and backwards. It's Kate or old Joe. Which is the most important?"

The doctor straightened in the chair, polished his glasses, and peered
once more at the cowpuncher.

"You are quite sure, also, that the return of this man, this strange
wanderer, might help Mr. Cumberland back to health?"

"I am, all right. He's sure wrapped up in Whistlin' Dan."

"What is the nature of their relations; what makes him so oddly
dependent upon the other?"

"I dunno, doc. It's got us all fooled. When Dan is here it seems like
old Cumberland jest nacherally lives on the things Dan does and hears
and sees. We've seen Cumberland prick up his ears the minute Dan comes
into the room, and show life. Sometimes Dan sits with him and tells him
what he's been doin'--maybe it ain't any more than how the sky looks
that day, or about the feel of the wind--but Joe sits with his eyes
dreamin', like a little kid hearin' fairy stories. Kate says it's been
that way since her dad first brought Dan in off'n the range. He's been
sort of necessary to old Joe--almost like air to breathe. I tell you,
it's jest a picture to see them two together."

"Very odd, very odd," brooded the doctor, frowning, "but this seems to
be an odd place and an odd set of people. You've no real idea why Dan
left the ranch?"

"Ask the wild geese," said Buck bitterly. He added: "Maybe you'd better
ask Dan's black hoss or his dog, Bart. They'd know better'n anything

"But what has the man been doing since he left? Have you any idea?"

"Get a little chatter, now and then, of a gent that's rid into a town on
a black hoss, prettier'n anything that was ever seen before.

"It's all pretty much the same, what news we get. Mostly I guess he jest
wanders around doin' no harm to nobody. But once in a while somebody
sicks a dog on Bart, and Bart jest nacherally chaws that dog in two.
Then the owner of the dog may start a fight, and Dan drops him and rides

"With a trail of dead men behind him?" cried the doctor, hunching his
shoulders as if to shake off a chill.

"Dead? Nope. You don't have to shoot to kill when you can handle a gun
the way Dan does. Nope, he jest wings 'em. Plants a chunk of lead in a
shoulder, or an arm, or a leg. That's all. They ain't no love of blood
in Dan--except-----"


"Doc," said Buck with a shudder, "I ain't goin' to talk about the
exceptions. Mostly the news we gets of Dan is about troubles he's had.
But sometimes we hear of gents he's helped out when they was sick, and
things like that. They ain't nobody like Dan when a gent is down sick,
I'll tell a man!"

The doctor sighed.

He said: "And do I understand you to say that the girl and this
man--Whistling Dan, as you call him--are intimately and sentimentally

"She loves him," said Daniels slowly. "She loves the ground he walks on
and the places where he's been."

"But, sir, it would seem probable from your own reasoning that the
return of the man, in this case, will not be unwelcome to her."

"Reason?" broke out Daniels bitterly. "What the hell has reason got to
do with Whistling Dan? Man, man! if Barry was to come back d'you suppose
he'd remember that he'd once told Kate he loved her? Doc, I know him as
near as any man can know him. I tell you, he thinks no more of her
than--than the wild geese think of her. If old Joe dies because Dan is
away--well, Cumberland is an old man anyway. But how could I stand to
see Barry pass Kate by with an empty eye, the way he'd do if he come
back? I'd want to kill him, and I'd get bumped off tryin' it, like as
not. And what would it do to Kate? It'd kill her, Doc, as sure as you're

"Your assumption being," murmured the doctor, "that if she never sees
the man again she will eventually forget him."

"D'you forget a knife that's sticking into you? No, she won't forget
him. But maybe after a while she'll be able to stand thinkin' about him.
She'll get used to the hurt. She'll be able to talk and laugh the way
she used to. Oh, doc, if you could of seen her as I've seen her in the
old days----"

"When the man was with her?" cut in the doctor.

Buck Daniels caught his breath.

"Damn your eternal soul, doc!" he said softly.

And for a time neither of them spoke. Whatever went on in the mind of
Daniels, it was something that contorted his face. As for Byrne, he was
trying to match fact and possibility and he was finding a large gap
between the two; for he tried to visualise the man whose presence had
been food to old Joe Cumberland, and whose absence had taken the oil
from the lamp so that the flame now flickered dimly, nearly out. But he
could build no such picture. He could merely draw together a vague
abstraction of a man to whom the storm and the wild geese who ride the
storm had meaning and relationship. The logic which he loved was
breaking to pieces in the hands of Randall Byrne.

Silence, after all, is only a name, never a fact. There are noises in
the most absolute quiet. If there is not even the sound of the cricket
or the wind, if there are not even ghost whispers in the house, there is
the sigh of one's own breathing, and in those moments of deadly waiting
the beat of the heart may be as loud and as awful as the rattle of the
death-march. Now, between the doctor and the cowpuncher, such a silence
began. Buck Daniels wanted nothing more in the world than to be out of
that room, but the eye of the doctor held him, unwilling. And there
began once more that eternal waiting, waiting, waiting, which was the
horror of the place, until the faint creakings through the windshaken
house took on the meaning of footsteps stalking down the hall and
pausing at the door, and there was the hushing breath of one who
listened and smiled to himself! Now the doctor became aware that the eye
of Buck Daniels was widening, brightening; it was as if the mind of the
big man were giving way in the strain. His face blanched. Even the lips
had no colour, and they moved, gibberingly.

"Listen!" he said.

"It is the wind," answered the doctor, but his voice was hardly audible.

"Listen!" commanded Daniels again.

The doctor could hear it then. It was a pulse of sound obscure as the
thudding of his heart. But it was a human sound and it made his throat
close up tightly, as if a hand were settling around his wind-pipe. Buck
Daniels rose from his chair; that half-mad, half-listening look was
still in his eyes--behind his eyes. Staring at him the doctor
understood, intimately, how men can throw their lives away gloriously in
battle, fighting for an idea; or how they can commit secret and foul
murder. Yet he was more afraid of that pulse of sound than of the face
of Buck Daniels. He, also, was rising from his chair, and when Daniels
stalked to the side door of the room and leaned there, the doctor

Then they could hear it clearly. There was a note of music in the voice;
it was a woman weeping in that room where the chain lay on the floor,
coiled loosely like a snake. Buck Daniels straightened and moved away
from the door. He began to laugh, guarding it so that not a whisper
could break outside the room, and his silent laughter was the most
horrible thing the doctor had ever seen. It was only for a moment. The
hysteria passed and left the big man shaking like a dead leaf.

"Doc," he said, "I can't stand it no longer. I'm going out and try to
get him back here. And God forgive me for it."

He left the room, slamming the door behind him, and then he stamped down
the hall as if he were trying to make a companion out of his noise.
Doctor Randall Byrne sat down to put his thoughts in order. He began at
the following point: "The physical fact is not; only the immaterial is."
But before he had carried very far his deductions from this premise, he
caught the neighing of a horse near the house; so he went to the window
and threw it open. At the same time he heard the rattle of galloping
hoofs, and then he saw a horseman riding furiously into the heart of the
wind. Almost at once the rider was lost from sight.



The wrath of the Lord seems less terrible when it is localised, and the
world at large gave thanks daily that the range of Jerry Strann was
limited to the Three B's. As everyone in the mountain-desert knows, the
Three B's are Bender, Buckskin, and Brownsville; they make the points of
a loose triangle that is cut with canyons and tumbled with mountains,
and that triangle was the chosen stamping ground of Jerry Strann. Jerry
was not born in the region of the Three B's and why it should have been
chosen specially by him was matter which the inhabitants could not
puzzle out; but they felt that for their sins the Lord had probably put
his wrath among them in the form of Jerry Strann.

He was only twenty-four, this Jerry, but he was already grown into a
proverb. Men of the Three B's reckoned their conversational dates by the
visits of the youth; if a storm hung over the mountains someone might
remark: "It looks like Jerry Strann is coming," and such a remark was
always received in gloomy silence; mothers had been known to hush their
children by chanting: "Jerry Strann will get you if you don't watch
out." Yet he was not an ogre with a red knife between his teeth. He
stood at exactly the perfect romantic height; he was just six feet tall;
he was as graceful as a young cotton-wood in a windstorm and he was as
strong and tough as the roots of the mesquite. He was one of those rare
men who are beautiful without being unmanly. His face was modelled with
the care a Praxiteles would lavish on a Phoebus. His brown hair was
thick and dark and every touch of wind stirred it, and his hazel eyes
were brilliant with an enduring light--the inextinguishable joy of life.

Consider that there was no malice in Jerry Strann. But he loved strife
as the young Apollo loved strife--or a pure-blooded bull terrier. He
fought with distinction and grace and abandon and was perfectly willing
to use fists or knives or guns at the pleasure of the other contracting
party. In another age, with armour and a golden chain and spurs, Jerry
Strann would have been--but why think of that? Swords are not
forty-fives, and the Twentieth Century is not the Thirteenth. He was, in
fact, born just six hundred years too late. From his childhood he had
thirsted for battle as other children thirst for milk: and now he rode
anything on hoofs and threw a knife like a Mexican--with either
hand--and at short range he did snap shooting with two revolvers that
made rifle experts sick at heart.

However, the men of the Three B's, as everyone understands, are not
gentle or long-enduring, and you will wonder why this young destroyer
was allowed to range at large so long. There was a vital reason. Up in
the mountains lived Mac Strann, the hermit-trapper, who hated everything
in the wide world except his young brother, the beautiful, wild, and
sunny Jerry Strann. And Mac Strann loved his brother as much as he hated
everything else; it is impossible to state it more strongly. It was not
long before the men of the Three B's discovered how Mac Strann felt
about his brother. After Jerry's famous Hallowe'en party in Buckskin,
for instance, Williamson, McKenna, and Rath started out to rid the
country of the disturber. They went out to hunt him as men go out to
hunt a wild mustang. And they caught him and bent him down--those three
stark men--and he lay in bed for a month; but before the month was over
Mac Strann came down from his mountain and went to Buckskin and gathered
Williamson and McKenna and Rath in one public place. And when the
morning came Williamson and McKenna and Rath had left this vale of tears
and Mac Strann was back on his mountain. He was not even arrested. For
there was a devilish cunning about the fellow and he made his victims,
without exception, attack him first; then he destroyed them, suddenly
and surely, and retreated to his lair. Things like this happened once or
twice and then the men of the Three B's understood that it was not wise
to lay plots for Jerry Strann. They accepted him, as I have said before,
as men accept the wrath of God.

Let it not be thought that Jerry Strann was a solitary like his brother.
When he went out for a frolic the young men of the community gathered
around him, for Jerry paid all scores and the red-eye flowed in his path
like wine before the coming of Bacchus; where Jerry went there was never
a dull moment, and young men love action. So it happened that when he
rode into Brownsville this day he was the leader of a cavalcade. Rumour
rode before them, and doors were locked and windows were darkened, and
men sat in the darkness within with their guns across their knees. For
Brownsville lay at the extreme northern tip of the triangle and it was
rarely visited by Jerry; and it is well established that men fear the
unfamiliar more than the known.

As has been said, Jerry headed the train of revellers, partially because
it was most unwise to cut in ahead of Jerry and partially because there
was not a piece of horseflesh in the Three B's which could outfoot his
chestnut. It was a gelding out of the loins of the north wind and sired
by the devil himself, and its spirit was one with the spirit of Jerry
Strann; perhaps because they both served one master. The cavalcade came
with a crash of racing hoofs in a cloud of dust. But in the middle of
the street Jerry raised his right arm stiffly overhead with a whoop and
brought his chestnut to a sliding stop; the cloud of dust rolled lazily
on ahead. The young men gathered quickly around the leader, and there
was silence as they waited for him to speak--a silence broken only by
the wheezing of the horses, and the stench of sweating horseflesh was
in every man's nostrils.

"Who own's that hoss?" asked Jerry Strann, and pointed.

He had stopped just opposite O'Brien's hotel, store, blacksmith shop,
and saloon, and by the hitching rack was a black stallion. Now, there
are some men who carry tidings of their inward strength stamped on their
foreheads and written in their eyes. In times of crises crowds will turn
to such men and follow them as soldiers follow a captain; for it is
patent at a glance that this is a man of men. It is likewise true that
there are horses which stand out among their fellows, and this was such
a horse. He was such a creature that, if he had been led to a barrier,
the entire crowd at the race track would rise as one man and say: "What
is that horse?" There were points in which some critics would find
fault; most of the men of the mountain-desert; for instance, would have
said that the animal was too lightly and delicately limbed for long
endurance; but as the man of men bears the stamp of his greatness in his
forehead and his eyes, so it was with the black stallion. When the
thunder of the cavalcade had rushed upon him down the street he had
turned with catlike grace and raised his head to see; and his forehead
and his eyes arrested Jerry Strann like a levelled rifle. Looking at
that proud head one forgot the body of the horse, the symmetry of curves
exquisite beyond the sculptor's dream, the arching neck and the steel
muscles; one was only conscious of the great spirit. In Human beings we
refer to it as "personality."

After a little pause, seeing that no one offered a suggestion as to the
identity of the owner, Strann said, softly: "That hoss is mine."

It caused a stir in the crowd of his followers. In the mountain-desert
one may deal lightly with a man's wife and lift a random cow or two and
settle the score, at need, with a snug "forty-five" chunk of lead. But
with horses it is different. A horse in the mountain-desert lies outside
of all laws--and above all laws. It is greater than honour and dearer
than love, and when a man's horse is taken from him the men of the
desert gather together and hunt the thief whether it be a day or whether
it be a month, and when they have reached him they shoot him like a dog
and leave his flesh to the buzzards and his bones to the merciless
stars. For all of this there is a reason. But Jerry Strann swung from
his mount, tossed the reins over the head of the chestnut, and walked
towards the black with hungry eyes. He was careless, also, and venturing
too close--the black whirled with his sudden, catlike agility, and two
black hoofs lashed within a hair's breadth of the man's shoulder. There
was a shout from the crowd, but Jerry Strann stepped back and smiled so
that his teeth showed.

"Boys," he said, but he was really speaking to himself, "there's nothing
in the world I want as bad as I want that hoss. Nothing! I'm going to
buy him; where's the owner?"

"Don't look like a hoss a man would want to sell, Jerry," came a
suggestion from the cavalcade, who had dismounted and now pressed behind
their leader.

Jerry favoured the speaker with another of his enigmatic smiles: "Oh,"
he chuckled, "he'll sell, all right! Maybe he's inside. You gents stick
out here and watch for him; I'll step inside."

And he strode through the swinging doors of the saloon.

It was a dull time of day for O'Brien, so he sat with his feet on the
edge of the bar and sipped a tall glass of beer; he looked up at the
welcome click of the doors, however, and then was instantly on his feet.
The good red went out of his face and the freckles over his nose stood
out like ink marks.

"There's a black hoss outside," said Jerry, "that I'm going to buy.
Where's the owner?"

"Have a drink," said the bartender, and he forced an amiable smile.

"I got business on my hands, not drinking," said Jerry Strann.

"Lost your chestnut?" queried O'Brien in concern.

"The chestnut was all right until I seen the black. And now he ain't a
hoss at all. Where's the gent I want?"

The bartender had fenced for time as long as possible.

"Over there," he said, and pointed.

It was a slender fellow sitting at a table in a corner of the long
room, his sombrero pushed back on his head. He was playing solitaire and
his back was towards Jerry Strann, who now made a brief survey, hitched
his cartridge belt, and approached the stranger with a grin. The man did
not turn; he continued to lay down his cards with monotonous regularity,
and while he was doing it he said in the gentlest voice that had ever
reached the ear of Jerry Strann: "Better stay where you are, stranger.
My dog don't like you."

And Jerry Strann perceived, under the shadow of the table, a blacker
shadow, huge and formless in the gloom, and two spots of incandescent
green twinkling towards him. He stopped; he even made a step back; and
then he heard a stifled chuckle from the bartender.

If it had not been for that untimely mirth of O'Brien's probably nothing
of what followed would have passed into the history of the Three B's.



"Your dog is your own dog," remarked Jerry Strann, still to the back of
the card-laying stranger, "but this ain't your back-yard. Keep your eye
on him, or I'll fix him so he won't need watching!"

So saying he made another step forward, and it brought a snarl from the
dog; not one of those high-whining noises, but a deep guttural that
sounded like indrawn breath. The gun of Jerry Strann leaped into his

"Bart," said the gentle-voiced stranger, "lie down and don't talk." And
he turned in his chair, pulled his hat straight, and looked mildly upon
the gunman. An artist would have made much of that picture, for there
was in this man, as in Strann, a singular portion of beauty. It was not,
however, free from objection, for he had not the open manliness of the
larger of the two. Indeed, a feminine grace and softness marked him; his
wrists were as round as a girl's, and his hands as slender and as
delicately finished. Whether it be the white-hot sun of summer or the
hurricane snows of winter, the climate of the mountain-desert roughens
the skin, and it cuts away spare flesh, hewing out the face in angles;
but with this man there were no rough edges, but all was smoothed over
and rounded with painful care; as if nature had concentrated in that
birth to show what she could do. Such fine workmanship, perhaps, would
be appreciated more by women than by men; for men like a certain weight
and bulk of bone and muscle--whereas this fellow seemed as light of body
as he was of hand. He sat now watching Strann with the utmost gravity.
He had very large brown eyes of a puzzling quality; perhaps that was
because there seemed to be no thought behind them and one caught the
mystery and the wistfulness of some animals from a glance at him.

The effect of that glance on Strann was to make him grin again, and he
at once banished the frown from his forehead and put away his gun; the
big dog had slunk deeper into the shadow and closer to his master.

"I'm Strann. Maybe you've heard of me."

"My name is Barry," said the other. "I'm sorry that I haven't heard of
you before."

And the sound of his voice made Jerry Strann grin again; it was such a
low, soft voice with the velvet of a young girl's tone in it; moreover,
the brown eyes seemed to apologise for the ignorance concerning Strann's

"You got a hoss out in front."

A nod of agreement.

"What's your price?"


"No price? Look here," argued Strann, "everything's got a price, and I
got to have that hoss, understand? _Got_ to! I ain't bargaining. I won't
try to beat you down. You just set a figger and I'll cover it. I guess
that's square!"

"He ain't a gentle hoss," said Barry. "Maybe you wouldn't like him.'

"Oh, that's all right about being gentle," chuckled Strann. Then he
checked his mirth and stared piercingly at the other to make out if
there were a secret mockery. It could not, however, be possible. The
eyes were as gravely apologetic as ever. He continued: "I seen the
hell-fire in him. That's what stopped me like a bullet. I like 'em that
way. Much rather have 'em with a fight. Well, let's have your price.
Hey, O'Brien, trot out your red-eye; I'm going to do some business

O'Brien came hastily, with drinks, and while they waited Strann queried
politely: "Belong around these parts?"

"No," answered the other softly.

"No? Where you come from?"

"Over there," said Barry, and waved a graceful hand towards half the
points of the compass.

"H-m-m!" muttered Strann, and once more he bent a keen gaze upon his
companion. The drinks were now placed before them. "Here," he concluded,
"is to the black devil outside!" And he swallowed the liquor at a gulp,
but as he replaced the empty glass on the table he observed, with
breathless amazement, that the whiskey glass of the stranger was still
full; he had drunk his chaser!

"Now, by God!" said Strann in a ringing voice, and struck a heavy hand
upon the top of the table. He regained his control, however, instantly.
"Now about that price!"

"I don't know what horses are worth," replied Barry.

"To start, then--five hundred bucks in cold cash--gold!--for
your--what's his name?"




"H-m-m!" murmured Strann again. "Five hundred for Satan, then. How about

"If you can ride him," began the stranger.

"Oh, hell," smiled Strann with a large and careless gesture, "I'll
_ride_ him, all right."

"Then I would let you take him for nothing," concluded Barry.

"You'd--what?" said Strann. Then he rose slowly from his chair and
shouted; instantly the swinging doors broke open and a throng of faces
appeared at the gap. "Boys, this gent here is going to give me the
black--ha, ha, ha!--if I can ride him!" He turned back on Barry.
"They've heard it," he concluded, "and this bargain is going to stick
just this way. If your hoss can throw me the deal's off. Eh?"

"Oh, yes," nodded the brown-eyed man.

"What's the idea?" asked one of Jerry's followers as the latter stepped
through the doors of the saloon onto the street.

"I dunno," said Jerry. "That gent looks kind of simple; but it ain't my
fault if he made a rotten bargain. Here, you!"

And he seized the bridle-reins of the black stallion. Speed, lightning
speed, was what saved him, for the instant his fingers touched the
leather Satan twisted his head and snapped like an angry dog. The teeth
clicked beside Strann's shoulder as he leaped back. He laughed savagely.

"That'll be took out of him," he announced, "and damned quick!"

Here the voice of Barry was heard, saying: "I'll help you mount, Mr.
Strann." And he edged his way through the little crowd until he stood at
the head of the stallion.

"Look out!" warned Strann in real alarm, "or he'll take your head off!"

But Barry was already beside his horse, and, with his back towards those
vicious teeth, he drew the reins over its head. As for the stallion, it
pricked one ear forward and then the other, and muzzled the man's
shoulder confidingly. There was a liberal chorus of astonished oaths
from the gathering.

"I'll hold his head while you get on," suggested Barry, turning his mild
eyes upon Strann again.

"Well," muttered the big man, "may I be eternally damned!" He added:
"All right. Hold his head, and I'll ride him without pulling leather. Is
that square?"

Barry nodded absently. His slender fingers were patting the velvet nose
of the stallion and he was talking to it in an affectionate
undertone--meaningless words, perhaps, such as a mother uses to soothe a
child. When Strann set his foot in the stirrup and gathered up the reins
the black horse cringed and shuddered; it was not a pleasant thing to
see; it was like a dog crouching under the suspended whip. It was worse
than that; it was almost the horror of a man who shivers at the touch of
an unclean animal. There was not a sound from the crowd; and every grin
was wiped out. Jerry Strann swung into the saddle lightly.

There he sat, testing the stirrups. They were too short by inches but he
refused to have them lengthened. He poised his quirt and tugged his hat
lower over his eyes.

"Turn him loose!" he shouted. "Hei!"

And his shrill yell went down the street and the echoes sent it barking

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest