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

The Night Horseman by Max Brand

Part 2 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.

back from wall to wall; Barry stepped back from the head of the black.
But for an instant the horse did not stir. He was trembling violently,
but his blazing eyes were fixed upon the face of his owner. Barry raised
his hand.

And then it happened. It was like the release of a coiled watch-spring;
the black whirled as a top spins and Strann sagged far to the left;
before he could recover the stallion was away in a flash, like a racer
leaving the barrier and reaching full speed in almost a stride. Not
far--hardly the breadth of the street--before he pitched up in a long
leap as if to clear a barrier, landed stiff-legged with a sickening jar,
whirled again like a spinning top, and darted straight back. And Jerry
Strann pulled leather--with might and main--but the short stirrups were
against him, and above all the suddenness of the start had taken him off
guard for all his readiness. When the stallion dropped stiff-legged
Jerry was thrown forward and an unlucky left foot jarred loose from the
stirrup; and when the horse whirled Strann was flung from the saddle. It
was a clean fall. He twisted over in the air as he fell and landed in
deep dust. The black stallion had reached his master and now he turned,
in that same catlike manner, and watched with pricking ears as Strann
dragged himself up from the dust.

There was no shout of laughter--no cheer for that fall, and without a
smile they watched Strann returning. Big O'Brien had seen from his open
door and now he laid a hand on the shoulder of one of the men and
whispered at his ear: "There's going to be trouble; bad trouble, Billy.
Go for Fatty Matthews--he's a deputy marshal now--and get him here as
quick as you can. Run!"

The other spared time for a last glance at Strann and then hurried down
the street.

Now, a man who can lose and smile is generally considered the most
graceful of failures, but the smile of Jerry Strann as he walked slowly
back worried his followers.

"We all hit dust sometime," he philosophized. "But one try don't prove
nothin'. I ain't near through with that hoss!"

Barry turned to Strann. If there had been mockery in his eyes or a
smile on his lips as he faced Jerry there would have been a gun play on
the spot; but, instead, the brown eyes were as dumbly apologetic as

"We didn't talk about two tries," he observed.

"We talk about it now," said Strann.

There was one man in the crowd a little too old to be dangerous and
therefore there was one man who was in a position to speak openly to
Strann. It was big O'Brien.

"Jerry, you named your game and made your play and lost. I guess you
ain't going to turn up a hard loser. Nobody plays twice for the same

The hazel eye of Strann was grey with anguish of the spirit as he looked
from O'Brien to the crowd and from the crowd to Satan, and from Satan to
his meek-eyed owner. Nowhere was there a defiant eye or a glint of scorn
on which he could wreak his wrath. He stood poised in his anger for the
space of a breath; then, in the sharp struggle, his better nature

"Come on in, all of you," he called. "We'll liquor, and forget this."



O'Brien pressed close to Barry.

"Partner," he said rapidly, "you're clear now--you're clear of more hell
that you ever dream. Now climb that hoss of yours and feed him leather
till you get clear of Brownsville--and if I was you I'd never come
within a day's ride of the Three B's again."

The mild, brown eyes widened.

"I don't like crowds," murmured Barry.

"You're wise, kid," grinned the bartender--"a hell of a lot wiser than
you know right now. On your way!"

And he turned to follow the crowd into the saloon. But Jerry Strann
stood at the swinging doors, watching, and he saw Barry linger behind.

"Are you coming?" he called.

"I got an engagement," answered the meek voice.

"You got another engagement here," mocked Strann. "Understand?"

The other hesitated for an instant, and then sighed deeply. "I suppose
I'll stay," he murmured, and walked into the bar. Jerry Strann was
smiling in the way that showed his teeth. As Barry passed he said
softly: "I see we ain't going to have no trouble, you and me!" and he
moved to clap his strong hand on the shoulder of the smaller man. Oddly
enough, the hand missed, for Barry swerved from beneath it as a wolf
swerves from the shadow of a falling branch. No perceptible effort--no
sudden start of tensed muscles, but a movement so smooth that it was
almost unnoticeable. But the hand of Strann fell through thin air.

"You're quick," he said. "If you was as quick with your hands as you are
with your feet----"

Barry paused and the melancholy brown eyes dwelt on the face of Strann.

"Oh, hell!" snorted the other, and turned on his heel to the bar. "Drink
up!" he commanded.

A shout and a snarl from the further end of the room.

"A wolf, by God!" yelled one of the men.

The owner of the animal made his way with unobtrusive swiftness the
length of the room and stood between the dog and a man who fingered the
butt of his gun nervously.

"He won't hurt you none," murmured that softly assuring voice.

"The hell he wont!" responded the other. "He took a pass at my leg just
now and dam' near took it off. Got teeth like the blades of a

"You're on a cold trail, Sam," broke in one of the others. "That ain't
any wolf. Look at him now!"

The big, shaggy animal had slunk to the feet of his master and with
head abased stared furtively up into Barry's face. A gesture served as
sufficient command, and he slipped shadow-like into the corner and
crouched with his head on his paws and the incandescent green of his
eyes glimmering; Barry sat down in a chair nearby.

O'Brien was happily spinning bottles and glasses the length of the bar;
there was the chiming of glass and the rumble of contented voices.

"Red-eye all 'round," said the loud voice of Jerry Strann, "but there's
one out. Who's out? Oh, it's _him_. Hey O'Brien, lemonade for the lady."

It brought a laugh, a deep, good-natured laugh, and then a chorus of
mockery; but Barry stepped unconfused to the bar, accepted the glass of
lemonade, and when the others downed their fire-water, he sipped his
drink thoughtfully. Outside, the wind had risen, and it shook the hotel
and carried a score of faint voices as it whirred around corners and
through cracks. Perhaps it was one of those voices which made the big
dog lift its head from its paws and whine softly! surely it was
something he heard which caused Barry to straighten at the bar and cant
his head slightly to one side--but, as certainly, no one else in the
barroom heard it. Barry set down his glass.

"Mr. Strann?" he called.

And the gentle voice carried faintly down through the uproar of the bar.

"Sister wants to speak to you," suggested O'Brien to Strann.

"Well?" roared the latter, "what d'you want?"

The others were silent to listen; and they smiled in anticipation.

"If you don't mind, much," said the musical voice, "I think I'll be
moving along."

There is an obscure little devil living in all of us. It makes the child
break his own toys; it makes the husband strike the helpless wife; it
makes the man beat the cringing, whining dog. The greatest of American
writers has called it the Imp of the Perverse. And that devil came in
Jerry Strann and made his heart small and cold. If he had been by nature
the bully and the ruffian there would have been no point in all that
followed, but the heart of Jerry Strann was ordinarily as warm as the
yellow sunshine itself; and it was a common saying in the Three B's that
Jerry Strann would take from a child what he would not endure from a
mountain-lion. Women loved Jerry Strann, and children would crowd about
his knees, but this day the small demon was in him.

"You want to be moving along" mimicked the devil in Jerry Strann. "Well,
you wait a while. I ain't through with you yet. Maybe--" he paused and
searched his mind. "You've given me a fall, and maybe you can give the
rest of us--a laugh!"

The chuckle of appreciation went up the bar and down it again.

"I want to ask you," went on the devil in Jerry Strann, "where you got
your hoss?"

"He was running wild," came the gentle answer. "So I took a walk, one
day, and brought him in."

A pause.

"Maybe," grinned the big man, "you creased him?"

For it is one of the most difficult things in the world to capture a
wild horse, and some hunters, in their desperation at seeing the
wonderful animals escape, have tried to "crease" them. That is, they
strive to shoot so that the bullet will barely graze the top of the
animal's vertebrae, just behind the ears, stunning the horse and making
it helpless for the capture. But necessarily such shots are made from a
distance, and little short of a miracle is needed to make the bullet
strike true--for a fraction of an inch too low means death. So another
laugh of appreciation ran around the barroom at the mention of creasing.

"No," answered Barry, "I went out with a halter and after a while Satan
got used to me and followed me home."

They waited only long enough to draw deep breath; then came a long yell
of delight. But the obscure devil was growing stronger and stronger in
Strann. He beat on the bar until he got silence. Then he leaned over to
meet the eyes of Barry.

"That," he remarked through his teeth, "is a damned--lie!"

There is only one way of answering that word in the mountain-desert, and
Barry did not take it. The melancholy brown eyes widened; he sighed, and
raising his glass of lemonade sipped it slowly. Came a sick silence in
the barroom. Men turned their eyes towards each other and then flashed
them away again. It is not good that one who has the eyes and the tongue
of a man should take water from another--even from a Jerry Strann. And
even Jerry Strann withdrew his eyes slowly from his prey, and shuddered;
the sight of the most grisly death is not so horrible as cowardice.

And the devil which was still strong in Strann made him look about for a
new target; Barry was removed from all danger by an incredible barrier.
He found that new target at once, for his glance reached to the corner
of the room and found there the greenish, glimmering eyes of the dog. He
smote upon the bar.

"Is this a damned kennel?" he shouted. "Do I got to drink in a barnyard?
What's the dog doin' here?"

And he caught up the heavy little whiskey glass and hurled it at the
crouching dog. It thudded heavily, but it brought no yelp of pain;
instead, a black thunderbolt leaped from the corner and lunged down the
room. It was the silence of the attack that made it terrible, and Strann
cursed and pulled his gun. He could never have used it. He was a whole
half second too late, but before the dog sprang a voice cut in: "Bart!"

It checked the animal in its very leap; it landed on the floor and slid
on stiffly extended legs to the feet of Strann.

"Bart!" rang the voice again.

And the beast, flattening to the floor, crawled backwards, inch by inch;
it was slavering, and there was a ravening madness in its eyes.

"Look at it!" cried Strann. "By God, it's mad!"

And he raised his gun to draw the bead.

"Wait!" called the same voice which had checked the spring of the dog.
Surely it could not have come from the lips of Barry. It held a
resonance of chiming metal; it was not loud, but it carried like a
brazen bell. "Don't do it, Strann!"

And it came to every man in the barroom that it was unhealthy to stand
between the two men at that instant; a sudden path opened from Barry to

"Bart!" came the command again. "Heel!"

The dog obeyed with a slinking swiftness; Jerry Strann put up his gun
and smiled.

"I don't take a start on no man," he announced quite pleasantly. "I
don't need to. But--you yaller hearted houn'--get out from between. When
I make my draw I'm goin' to kill that damn wolf."

Now, the fighting face of Jerry Strann was well known in the Three B's,
and it was something for men to remember until they died in a peaceful
bed. Yet there was not a glance, from the bystanders, for Strann. They
stood back against the wall, flattening themselves, and they stared,
fascinated, at the slender stranger. Not that his face had grown ugly by
a sudden metamorphosis. It was more beautiful than ever, for the man was
smiling. It was his eyes which held them. Behind the brown a light was
growing, a yellow and unearthly glimmer which one felt might be seen on
the darkest night.

There was none of the coward in Jerry Strann. He looked full into that
yellow, glimmering, changing light--he looked steadily--and a strange
feeling swept over him. No, it was not fear. Long experience had taught
him that there was not another man in the Three B's, with the exception
of his own terrible brother, who could get a gun out of the leather
faster than he, but now it seemed to Jerry Strann that he was facing
something more than mortal speed and human strength and surety. He could
not tell in what the feeling was based. But it was a giant, dim
foreboding holding dominion over other men's lives, and it sent a train
of chilly-weakness through his blood.

"It's a habit of mine," said Jerry Strann, "to kill mad dogs when I see
'em." And he smiled again.

They stood for another long instant, facing each other. It was plain
that every muscle in Strann's body was growing tense; the very smile was
frozen on his lips. When he moved, at last, it was a convulsive jerk of
his arm, and it was said, afterward, that his gun was all clear of the
leather before the calm stranger stirred. No eye followed what happened.
Can the eye follow such speed as the cracking lash of a whip?

There was only one report. The forefinger of Strann did not touch his
trigger, but the gun slipped down and dangled loosely from his hand. He
made a pace forward with his smile grown to an idiotic thing and a
patch of red sprang out in the centre of his breast. Then he lurched
headlong to the floor.



Fatty Matthews came panting through the doors. He was one of those men
who have a leisurely build and a purely American desire for action; so
that he was always hurrying and always puffing. If he mounted a horse,
sweat started out from every pore; if he swallowed a glass of red-eye he
breathed hard thereafter. Yet he was capable of great and sustained
exertions, as many and many a man in the Three B's could testify. He was
ashamed of his fat. Imagine the soul of a Bald Eagle in the body of a
Poland China sow and you begin to have some idea of Fatty Matthews. Fat
filled his boots as with water and he made a "squnching" sound when he
walked; fat rolled along his jowls; fat made his very forehead flabby;
fat almost buried his eyes. But nothing could conceal the hawk-line of
his nose or the gleam of those half-buried eyes. His hair was
short-cropped, grey, and stood on end like bristles, and he was in the
habit of using his panting breath in humming--for that concealed the
puffing. So Fatty Matthews came through the doors and his little,
concealed eyes darted from face to face. Then he kneeled beside Strann.

He was humming as he opened Jerry's shirt; he was humming as he pulled
from his bag--for Fatty was almost as much doctor as he was marshal,
cowpuncher, miner, and gambler--a roll of cotton and another roll of
bandages. The crowd grouped around him, fascinated, and at his
directions some of them brought water and others raised and turned the
body while the marshal made the bandages; Jerry Strann was unconscious.
Fatty Matthews began to intersperse talk in his humming.

"You was plugged from in front--my beauty--was you?" grunted Fatty, and
then running the roll of bandage around the wounded man's chest he
hummed a bar of:

_"Sweet Adeline, my Adeline,
At night, dear heart, for you I pine."_

"Was Jerry lookin' the other way when he was spotted?" asked Fatty of
the bystanders. "O'Brien, you seen it?"

O'Brien cleared his throat.

"I didn't see nothin'," he said mildly, and began to mop his bar, which
was already polished beyond belief.

"Well," muttered Fatty Matthews, "all these birds get it. And Jerry was
some overdue. Lew, you seen it?"


"Some drunken bum do it?"

Lew leaned to the ear of the kneeling marshal and whispered briefly.
Fatty opened his eyes and cursed until his panting forced him to break
off and hum.

"Beat him to the draw?" he gasped at length.

"Jerry's gun was clean out before the stranger made a move," asserted

"It ain't possible," murmured the deputy, and hummed softly:

_"In all my dreams, your fair face beams."_

He added sharply, as he finished the bandaging: "Where'd he head for?"

"No place," answered Lew. "He just now went out the door."

The deputy swore again, but he added, enlightened; "Going to plead
self-defense, eh?"

Big O'Brien leaned over the bar.

"Listen, Fatty," he said earnestly, "There ain't no doubt of it. Jerry
had his war-paint on. He tried to kill this feller Barry's wolf."

"Wolf?" cut in the deputy marshal.

"Dog, I guess," qualified the bartender. "I dunno. Anyway, Jerry made
all the leads; this Barry simply done the finishing. I say, don't put
this Barry under arrest. You want to keep him here for Mac Strann."

"That's my business," growled Fatty. "Hey, half a dozen of you gents.
Hook on to Jerry and take him up to a room. I'll be with you in a

And while his directions were being obeyed he trotted heavily up the
length of the barroom and out the swinging doors. Outside, he found only
one man, and in the act of mounting a black horse; the deputy marshal
made straight for that man until a huge black dog appeared from nowhere
blocking his path. It was a silent dog, but its teeth and eyes said
enough to stop Fatty in full career.

"Are you Barry?" he asked.

"That's me. Come here, Bart."

The big dog backed to the other side of the horse without shifting his
eyes from the marshal. The latter gingerly approached the rider, who sat
perfectly at ease in the saddle; most apparently he was in no haste to

"Barry," said the deputy, "don't make no play when I tell you who I am;
I don't mean you no harm, but my name's Matthews, and--" he drew back
the flap of his vest enough to show the glitter of his badge of office.
All the time his little beady eyes watched Barry with bird-like
intentness. The rider made not a move. And now Matthews noted more in
detail the feminine slenderness of the man and the large, placid eyes.
He stepped closer and dropped a confidential hand on the pommel of the

"Son," he muttered, "I hear you made a clean play inside. Now, I know
Strann and his way. He was in wrong. There ain't a doubt of it, and if I
held you, you'd get clear on self-defense. So I ain't going to lay a
hand on you. You're free: but one thing more. You cut off
there--see?--and bear away north from the Three B's. You got a boss that
_is_, and believe me, you'll need him before you're through." He
lowered his voice and his eyes bulged with the terror of his tidings:
"Feed him the leather; ride to beat hell; never stop while your hoss can
raise a trot; and then slide off your hoss and get another. Son, in
three days Mac Strann'll be on your trail!"

He stepped back and waved his arms.

"Now, _vamos!_"

The black stallion flicked back its ears and winced from the outflung
hands, but the rider remained imperturbed.

"I never heard of Mac Strann," said Barry.

"You never heard of Mac Strann?" echoed the other.

"But I'd like to meet him," said Barry.

The deputy marshal blinked his eyes rapidly, as though he needed to
clear his vision.

"Son," he said hoarsely. "I c'n see you're game. But don't make a fall
play. If Mac Strann gets you, he'll California you like a yearling. You
won't have no chance. You've done for Jerry, there ain't a doubt of
that, but Jerry to Mac is like a tame cat to a mountain-lion. Lad, I c'n
see you're a stranger to these parts, but ask me your questions and I'll
tell you the best way to go."

Barry slipped from the saddle.

He said: "I'd like to know the best place to put up my hoss."

The deputy marshal was speechless.

"But I s'pose," went on Barry, "I can stable him over there behind the

Matthews pushed off his sombrero and rubbed his short fingers through
his hair. Anger and amazement still choked him, but he controlled
himself by a praiseworthy effort.

"Barry," he said, "I don't make you out. Maybe you figure to wait till
Mac Strann gets to town before you leave; maybe you think your hoss can
outrun anything on four feet. And maybe it can. But listen to me: Mac
Strann ain't fast on a trail, but the point about him is that he never
leaves it! You can go through rain and over rocks, but you can't never
shake Mac Strann--not once he gets the wind of you."

"Thanks," returned the gentle-voiced stranger. "I guess maybe he'll be
worth meeting."

And so saying he turned on his heel and walked calmly towards the big
stables behind the hotel and at his heels followed the black dog and the
black horse. As for deputy marshal Matthews, he moistened his lips to
whistle, but when he pursed them, not a sound came. He turned at length
into the barroom and as he walked his eye was vacant. He was humming

_"Sweet Adeline, my Adeline,
At night, dear heart, for you I pine."_

Inside, he took firm hold upon the bar with both pudgy hands.

"O'Brien," he said, "red-eye."

He pushed away the small glass which the bartender spun towards him and
seized in its place a mighty water-tumbler.

"O'Brien," he explained, "I need strength, not encouragement." And
filling the glass nearly to the brim he downed the huge potion at a
single draught.



Most animals have their human counterparts, and in that room where Jerry
Strann had fallen a whimsical observer might have termed Jerry, with his
tawny head, the lion, and O'Brien behind the bar, a shaggy bear, and the
deputy marshal a wolverine, fat but dangerous, and here stood a man as
ugly and hardened as a desert cayuse, and there was Dan Barry, sleek and
supple as a panther; but among the rest this whimsical observer must
have noticed a fellow of prodigious height and negligible breadth, a
structure of sinews and bones that promised to rattle in the wind, a
long, narrow head, a nose like a beak, tiny eyes set close together and
shining like polished buttons, and a vast Adam's apple that rolled up
and down the scraggy throat. He might have done for the spirit of Famine
in an old play; but every dweller of the mountain-desert would have
found an apter expression by calling him the buzzard of the scene.
Through his prodigious ugliness he was known far and wide as "Haw-Haw"
Langley; for on occasion Langley laughed, and his laughter was an
indescribable sound that lay somewhere between the braying of a mule and
the cawing of a crow. But Haw-Haw Langley was usually silent, and he
would sit for hours without words, twisting his head and making little
pecking motions as his eyes fastened on face after face. All the
bitterness of the mountain-desert was in Haw-Haw Langley; if his body
looked like a buzzard, his soul was the soul of the vulture itself, and
therefore he had followed the courses of Jerry Strann up and down the
range. He stuffed his gorge with the fragments of his leader's food; he
fed his soul with the dangers which Jerry Strann met and conquered.

In the barroom Haw-Haw Langley had stood turning his sharp little eyes
from Jerry Strann to Dan Barry, and from Dan Barry back to Strann; and
when the shot was fired something like a grin twisted his thin lips; and
when the spot of red glowed on the breast of the staggering man, the
eyes of Haw-Haw blazed as if with the reflection of a devouring fire.
Afterwards he lingered for a few minutes making no effort to aid the
fallen man, but when he had satisfied himself with the extent of the
injury, and when he had noted the froth of bloody bubbles which stained
the lips of Strann, Haw-Haw Langley turned and stalked from the room.
His eyes were points of light and his soul was crammed to repletion with

At the hitching rack he stepped into the saddle of a diminutive horse,
whirled it into the street with a staggering jerk of the reins, and
buried the spurs deep in the cow-pony's flanks. The poor brute snorted
and flirted its heels in the air, but Langley wrapped his long legs
around the barrel of his mount and goaded it again.

His smile, which began with the crack of Barry's gun in O'Brien's place,
did not die out until he was many a mile away, headed far up through the
mountains; but as he put peak after peak behind him and as the white
light of the day diminished and puffs of blue shadow drowned the
valleys, the grin disappeared from Haw-Haw's face. He became keenly
intent on his course until, having reached the very summit of a tall
hill, he came to a halt and peered down before him.

It was nearly dusk by this time and the eyes of an ordinary man could
not distinguish a tree from a rock at any great distance; but it seemed
that Haw-Haw was gifted with eyes extraordinary--the buzzard at the top
of its sky-towering circles does not see the brown carcass far below
with more certainty than Haw-Haw sensed his direction. He waited only a
few seconds before he rolled the rowel once more along the scored flanks
of his mustang and then plunged down the slope at a reckless gallop.

His destination was a hut, or rather a lean-to, that pressed against the
side of the mountain, a crazy structure with a single length of stove
pipe leaning awry from the roof. And at the door of this house Haw-Haw
Langley drew rein and stepped to the ground. The interior of the hut was
dark, but Haw-Haw stole with the caution of a wild Indian to the
entrance and reconnoitered the interior, probing every shadowy corner
with his glittering eyes. For several long moments he continued this
examination, and even when he was satisfied that there was no one in the
place he did not enter, but moved back several paces from the door and
swept the sides of the mountains with an uneasy eye. He made out, a
short distance from the door, a picketed horse which now reared up its
head from the miserable scattering of grass on which it fed and stared
at the stranger. The animal must have bulked at least twice as large as
the mount which had brought Langley to the mountain-side. And it was
muscled even out of proportion to its bulk. The head was so tremendously
broad that it gave an almost square appearance, the neck, short and
thick, the forelegs disproportionately small but very sturdy; and the
whole animal was built on a slope towards the hind quarters which seemed
to equal in massiveness all the rest of the body. One would have said
that the horse was a freak meant by nature for the climbing of hills.
And to glance at it no man could suppose that those ponderous limbs
might be moved to a gallop. However, Haw-Haw Langley well knew the
powers of the ugly beast, and he even made a detour and walked about the
horse to view it more closely.

Now he again surveyed the darkening landscape and then turned once more
to the house. This time he entered with the boldness of a possessor
approaching his hearth. He lighted a match and with this ignited a
lantern hanging from the wall to the right of the door. The furnishings
of the dwelling were primitive beyond compare. There was no sign of a
chair; a huddle of blankets on the bare boards of the floor made the
bed; a saddle hung by one stirrup on one side and on the other side
leaned the skins of bob-cats, lynx, and coyotes on their stretching and
drying boards. Haw-Haw took down the lantern and examined the pelts. The
animals had been skinned with the utmost dexterity. As far as he could
see the hides had not been marred in a single place by slips of the
knife, nor were there any blood stains to attest hurried work, or
careless shooting in the first place. The inner surfaces shone with the
pure white of old parchment But Haw-Haw gave his chief attention to the
legs and the heads of the skins, for these were the places where
carelessness or stupidity with the knife were sure to show; but the work
was perfect in every respect. Until even the critical Haw-Haw Langley
was forced to step back and shake his head in admiration. He continued
his survey of the room.

In one corner stood a rifle and a shot-gun; in another was a pile of
provisions--bacon, flour, salt, meal, and little else. Spices and
condiments were apparently unknown to this hermit; nor was there even
the inevitable coffee, nor any of the molasses or other sweets which the
tongue of the desert-mountainer cannot resist. Flour, meat, and water,
it seemed, made up the entire fare of the trapper. For cookery there was
an unboarded space in the very centre of the floor with a number of
rocks grouped around in the hole and blackened with soot. The smoke
must rise, therefore, and escape through the small hole in the centre of
the roof. The length of stove-pipe which showed on the roof must have
been simply the inhabitant's idea of giving the last delicate touch of
civilisation; it was like a tassel to the cap of the Turk.

As Haw-Haw's observations reached this point his sharp ear caught the
faint whinny of the big horse outside. He started like one caught in a
guilty act, and sprang to the lantern. However, with his hands upon it
he thought better of it, and he placed the light against the wall; then
he turned to the entrance and looked anxiously up the hillside.

What he saw was a form grotesque beyond belief. It seemed to be some
gigantic wild beast--mountain lion or great bear, though of a size
beyond credence--which slowly sprawled down the slope walking erect upon
its hind feet with its forelegs stretched out horizontal, as if it were
warning all who might behold it away. Haw-Haw grew pale and
involuntarily reached for his gun as he first beheld this apparition,
but instantly he saw the truth. It was a man who carried a burden down
the mountain-side. The burden was the carcass of a bear; the man had
drawn the forelegs over his shoulders--his jutting elbows making what
had seemed the outstretched arms--and above the head of the
burden-bearer rose the great head of the bear. As the man came closer
the animal's head flopped to one side and a red tongue lolled from its
mouth. Haw-Haw Langley moved back step by step through the cabin until
his shoulders struck the opposite wall, and at the same time Mac Strann
entered the room. He had no ear for his visitor's hail, but cast his
burden to the floor. It dropped with a shock that shook the house from
the rattling stove-pipe to the crackling boards. For a moment Mac Strann
regarded his prey. Then he stooped and drew open the great jaws. The
mouth within was not so red as the bloody hands of Mac Strann; and the
big, white fangs, for some reason, did not seem terrible in comparison
with the hunter. Having completed his survey he turned slowly upon
Haw-Haw Langley and lowered his eyebrows to stare.

So doing, the light for the first time struck full upon his face.
Haw-Haw Langley bit his thin lips and his eyes widened almost to the

For the ugliness of Mac Strann was that most terrible species of
ugliness--not disfigured features but a discord which pervaded the man
and came from within him--like a sound. Feature by feature his face was
not ugly. The mouth was very large, to be sure, and the jaw too heavily
square, and the nose needed somewhat greater length and less width for
real comeliness. The eyes were truly fine, being very large and black,
though when Mac Strann lowered his bush of brows his eyes were
practically reduced to gleams of light in the consequent shadow. There
was a sharp angle in his forehead, the lines of it meeting in the centre
and shelving up and down. One felt, unpleasantly, that there were heavy
muscles overlaying that forehead. One felt that to the touch it would be
a pad of flesh, and it gave to Mac Strann, more than any other feature,
a peculiar impression of resistless physical power.

In the catalogue of his features, indeed, there was nothing severely
objectionable; but out of it came a feeling of _too much strength!_ A
glance at his body reinsured the first thought. It was not normal. His
shirt bulged tightly at the shoulders with muscles. He was not
tall--inches shorter than his brother Jerry, for instance--but the bulk
of his body was incredible. His torso was a veritable barrel that bulged
out both in the chest and the back. And even the tremendous thighs of
Mac Strann were perceptibly bowed out by the weight which they had to
carry. And there was about his management of his arms a peculiar
awkwardness which only the very strongest of men exhibit--as if they
were burdened by the weight of their mere dangling hands.

This giant, having placed his eyes in shadow, peered for a long moment
at Haw-Haw Langley, but very soon his glance began to waver. It flashed
towards the wall--it came back and rested upon Langley again. He was
like a dog, restless under a steady stare. And as Haw-Haw Langley noted
this a glitter of joy came in his beady eyes.

"You're Jerry's man," said Mac Strann at length.

There was about his voice the same fleshy quality that was in his face;
it came literally from his stomach, and it made a peculiar rustling
sound such as comes after one has eaten sticky sweet things. People
could listen to the voice of Mac Strann and forget that he was speaking
words. The articulation ran together in a sort of glutinous mass.

"I'm a friend of Jerry's," said the other. "I'm Langley."

The big man stretched out his hand. The hair grew black, down to the
knuckles; the blood of the bear still streaked it; it was large enough
to be an organism with independent life. But when Langley, with some
misgiving, trusted his own bony fingers within that grasp, in was only
as if something fleshy, soft, and bloodless had closed over them. When
his hand was released he rubbed it covertly against his trowser leg--to
remove dirt--restore the circulation. He did not know why.

"Who's bothering Jerry?" asked Mac Strann. "And where is he?"

He went to the wall without waiting for an answer and took down the
saddle. Now the cowpuncher's saddle is a heavy mass of leather and
steel, and the saddle of Mac Strann was far larger than the ordinary.
Yet he took down the saddle as one might remove a card from a rack.
Haw-Haw Langley moved towards the door, to give himself a free space for

"Jerry's hurt," he said, and he watched.

There was a ripple of pain on the face of Mac Strann.

"Hoss kicked him--fall on him?" he asked.

"It weren't a hoss."

"Huh? A cow?"

"It weren't no cow. It weren't no animal."

Mac Strann faced full upon Langley. When he spoke it seemed as if it
were difficult for him to manage his lips. They lifted an appreciable
space before there was any sound.

"What was it?"

"A man."

Langley edged back towards the door.

"What with?"

"A gun."

And Langley saw the danger that was coming even before Mac Strann moved.
He gave a shrill yelp of terror and whirled and sprang for the open. But
Mac Strann sprang after him and reached. His whole body seemed to
stretch like an elastic thing, and his arm grew longer. The hand
fastened on the back of Langley, plucked him up, and jammed him against
the wall. Haw-Haw crumpled to the floor.

He gasped: "It weren't me, Mac. For Gawd's sake, it weren't me!"

His face was a study. There was abject terror in it, and yet there was
also a sort of grisly joy, and his eyes feasted on the silent agony of
Mac Strann.

"Where?" asked Mac Strann.

"Mac," pleaded the vulture who cringed on the floor, "gimme your word
you ain't goin' to hold it agin me."

"Tell me," said the other, and he framed the face of the vulture between
his large hands. If he pressed the heels of those hands together bones
would snap, and Haw-Haw Langley knew it. And yet nothing but a wild
delight could have set that glitter in his little eyes, just as nothing
but a palsy of terror could have set his limbs twitching so.

"Who shot him from behind?" demanded the giant.

"It wasn't from behind," croaked the bearer of ill-tidings. "It was from
the front."

"While he wasn't looking?"

"No. He was beat to the draw."

"You're _lyin'_ to me," said Mac Strann slowly.

"So help me God!" cried Langley.

"Who done it?"

"A little feller. He ain't half as big as me. He's got a voice like
Kitty Jackson, the school-marm; and he's got eyes like a starved
pup. It was him that done it."

The eyes of Mac Strann grew vaguely meditative.

"Nope," he mused, in answer to his own thoughts, "I won't use no rope.
I'll use my hands. Where'd the bullet land?"

A fresh agony of trembling shook Langley, and a fresh sparkle came in
his glance.

"Betwixt his ribs, Mac. And right on through. And it come out his back!"

But there was not an answering tremor in Mac Strann. He let his hands
fall away from the face of the vulture and he caught up the saddle.
Langley straightened himself. He peered anxiously at Strann, as if he
feared to miss something.

"I dunno whether he's livin' right now, or not," suggested Haw-Haw.

But Mac Strann was already striding through the door.

* * * * *

Sweat was pouring from the lather-flecked bodies of their horses when
they drew rein, at last, at the goal of their long, fierce ride; and
Haw-Haw slunk behind the broad form of Mac Strann when the latter strode
into the hotel. Then the two started for the room in which, they were
told, lay Jerry Strann.

"There it is," whispered Haw-Haw, as they reached the head of the
stairs. "The door's open. If he was dead the door would be closed, most

They stood in the hall and looked in upon a strange picture, for flat in
the bed lay Jerry Strann, his face very white and oddly thin, and over
him leaned the man who had shot him down.

They heard Dan Barry's soft, gentle voice query: "How you feelin' now,

He leaned close beside the other, his fingers upon the wrist of Jerry.

"A pile better," muttered Jerry Strann. "Seems like I got more'n a
fightin' chance to pull through now."

"Jest you keep lyin' here quiet," advised Dan Barry, "and don't stir
around none. Don't start no worryin'. You're goin' to live's long as you
don't lose no more blood. Keep your thoughts quiet. They ain't no cause
for you to do nothin' but jest keep your eyes closed, and breathe, and
think of yaller sunshine, and green grass in the spring, and the wind
lazyin' the clouds along across the sky. That's all you got to think
about. Jest keep quiet, partner."

"It's easy to do it now you're with me. Seems like they's a pile of
strength runnin' into me from the tips of your fingers, my frien'.
And--I was _some_ fool to start that fight with you, Barry."

"Jest forget all that," murmured the other. "And keep your voice down.
I've forgot it; you forget it. It ain't never happened."

"What's it mean?" frowned Mac Strann, whispering to Haw-Haw.

The eyes of the latter glittered like beads.

"That's him that shot Jerry," said Haw-Haw. "Him!"

"Hell!" snarled Mac Strann, and went through the door.

At the first sound of his heavy footfall, the head of Barry raised and
turned in a light, swift movement. The next instant he was on his feet.
A moment before his face had been as gentle as that of a mother leaning
over a sick child; but one glimpse of the threat in the contorted brows
of Mac Strann set a gleam in his own eyes, an answer as distinct as the
click of metal against metal. Not a word had been said, but Jerry, who
had lain with his eyes closed, seemed to sense a change in the
atmosphere of peace which had enwrapped him the moment before. His eyes
flashed open; and he saw his burly brother.

But Mac Strann had no eye for any saving Dan Barry.

"Are you the creepin', sneakin' snake that done--this?"

"You got me figured right," answered Dan coldly.

"Then, by God------" began the roaring voice of Mac, but Jerry Strann
stirred wildly on the bed.

"Mac!" he called, "Mac!" His voice went suddenly horribly thick, a
bubbling, liquid sound. "For God's sake, Mac!"

He had reared himself up on one elbow, his arm stretched out to his
brother. And a foam of crimson stood on his lips.

"Mac, don't pull no gun! It was me that was in wrong!"

And then he fell back in the bed, and into the arms of Mac, who was
beside him, moaning: "Buck up, Jerry. Talk to me, boy!"

"Mac, you've finished the job," came the husky whisper.

Mac Strann raised his head, and his terrible eyes fixed upon Dan Barry.
And there was no pity in the face of the other. The first threat had
wiped every vestige of human tenderness out of his eyes, and now, with
something like a sneer on his lips, and with a glimmer of yellow light
in his eyes, he was backing towards the door, and noiselessly as a
shadow he slipped out and was gone.



"A man talks because he's drunk or lonesome; a girl talks because that's
her way of takin' exercise."

This was a maxim of Buck Daniels, and Buck Daniels knew a great deal
about women, as many a school marm and many a rancher's daughter of the
mountain-desert could testify.

Also Buck Daniels said of women: "It ain't what you say to 'em so much
as the tune you put it to."

Now he sat this day in O'Brien's hotel dining-room. It was the lazy and
idle hour between three and four in the afternoon, and since the men of
the mountain-desert eat promptly at six, twelve, and six, there was not
a soul in the room when he entered. Nor was there a hint of eating
utensils on the tables. Nevertheless Buck Daniels was not dismayed. He
selected a corner-table by instinct and smote upon the surface with the
flat of his hand. It made a report like the spat of a forty-five; heavy
footsteps approached, a door flung open, and a cross-eyed slattern stood
in the opening. At the sight of Buck Daniels sitting with his hands on
his hips and his sombrero pushed back to a good-natured distance on his
head the lady puffed with rage.

"What in hell d'you think this is?" bellowed this gentle creature, and
the tone echoed heavily back from all four walls. "You're three hours
late and you get no chuck here. On your way, stranger!"

Buck Daniels elevated himself slowly from the chair and stood at his
full height. With a motion fully as deliberate he removed his sombrero
and bowed to such a depth that the brim of the hat brushed the floor.

"Lady," he said humbly, "I was thinkin' that some gent run this here
eatin' place. Which if you'll excuse me half a minute I'll ramble
outside and sluice off some of the dust. If I'd known you was here I
wouldn't of thought of comin' in here like this."

The lady with the defective eyes glared fiercely at him. Her judgment
wavered two ways. Her first inclination was to hold that the fellow was
jibing at her covertly, and she followed her original impulse far enough
to clasp a neighboring sugar-bowl in a large, capable hand. A second and
more merciful thought entered her brain and stole slowly through it,
like a faint echo in a great cave.

"You don't have to make yourself pretty to talk to me," she said
thoughtfully. "But if you're here for chow you're too late."

"Ma'am," said Buck Daniels instantly, "when I come in here I was hungry
enough to eat nails; but I'll forget about chuck if you'll sit down an'
chin with me a while."

The large hand of the cross-eyed lady stole out once more and rested
upon the sugar-bowl.

"D'you mind sayin' that over agin?" she queried.

"Lonesomeness is worse'n hunger," said Buck Daniels, and he met her gaze
steadily with his black eyes.

The hand released the sugar-bowl once more; something resembling colour
stole into the brown cheeks of the maiden.

She said, relentingly: "Maybe you been off by yourse'f mining,

Buck Daniels drew a long breath.

"Mines?" he said, and then laughed bitterly. "If that was all I been
doin'--" he began darkly--and then stopped.

The waitress started.

"Maybe this here is my last chance to get chuck for days an' days. Well,
let it go. If I stayed here with you I'd be talkin' too much!"

He turned slowly towards the door. His step was very slow indeed.

"Wait a minute," called the maiden. "There ain't any call for that play.
If you're in wrong somewhere--well, stranger, just take that chair and
I'll have some ham-and in front of you inside of a minute."

She had slammed through the door before Buck turned, and he sat down,
smiling pleasantly to himself. Half of a mirror decorated the wall
beside his table, and into this Buck peered. His black locks were sadly
disarrayed, and he combed them into some semblance of order with his
fingers. He had hardly finished this task when the door was kicked open
with such force that it whacked against the wall, and the waitress
appeared with an armful of steaming food. Before Buck's widening eyes
she swiftly set forth an array of bread, butter in chunks, crisp
French-fried potatoes, a large slab of ham on one plate and several
fried eggs on another, and above all there was a mighty pewter cup of
coffee blacker than the heart of night. Yearning seized upon Buck
Daniels, but policy was stronger than hunger in his subtle mind. He rose
again; he drew forth the chair opposite his own.

"Ma'am," said Buck Daniels, "ain't you going to favor me by sittin'

The lady blinked her unfocused eyes.

"Ain't I what?" she was finally able to ask.

"I know," said Buck Daniels swiftly, "that you're terrible busy; which
you ain't got time to waste on a stranger like me."

She turned upon Buck those uncertain and wistful eyes. It was a generous
face. Mouth, cheekbones, and jaw were of vast proportions, while the
forehead, eyes, and nose were as remarkably diminutive. Her glance
lowered to the floor; she shrugged her wide shoulders and began to wipe
the vestiges of dishwater from her freckled hands.

"You men are terrible foolish," she said. "There ain't no tellin' what
you mean by what you say."

And she sank slowly into the chair. It gave voice in sharp protest at
her weight. Buck Daniels retreated to the opposite side of the table
and took his place.

"Ma'am," he began, "don't I look honest?" So saying, he slid half a
dozen eggs and a section of bacon from the platter to his plate.

"I dunno," said the maiden, with one eye upon him and the other plunging
into the future. "There ain't no trusting men. Take 'em by the lot and
they're awful forgetful."

"If you knowed me better," said Buck sadly, disposing of a slab of bread
spread thick with the pale butter and following this with a pile of
fried potatoes astutely balanced on his knife. "If you knowed me better,
ma'am, you wouldn't have no suspicions."

"What might it be that you been doin'?" asked the girl.

Buck Daniels paused in his attack on the food and stared at her.

He quoted deftly from a magazine which had once fallen in his way: "Some
day maybe I can tell you. There's something about your eyes that tells
me you'd understand."

At the mention of her eyes the waitress blinked and stiffened in her
chair, while a huge, red fist balled itself in readiness for action. But
the expression of Buck Daniels was as blandly open as the smile of
infancy. The lady relaxed and an unmistakable blush tinged even her nose
with colour.

"It ain't after my nature to be askin' questions," she announced. "You
don't have to tell me no more'n you want to."

"Thanks," said Buck instantly. "I knew you was that kind. It ain't
hard," he went on smoothly, "to tell a lady when you see one. I can tell
you this much to start with. I'm lookin' for a quiet town where I can
settle down permanent. And as far as I can see, Brownsville looks sort
of quiet to me."

So saying, he disposed of the rest of his food by an act akin to
legerdemain, and then fastened a keen eye upon the lady. She was in the
midst of a struggle of some sort. But she could not keep the truth from
her tongue.

"Take it by and large," she said at length, "Brownsville is as peaceable
as most; but just now, stranger, it's all set for a big bust." She
turned heavily in her chair and glanced about the room. Then she faced
Daniels once more and cupped her hands about her mouth. "Stranger," she
said in a stage whisper, "Mac Strann is in town!"

The eyes of Buck Daniels wandered.

"Don't you know him?" she asked.


"Never heard of him?"


"Well," sighed the waitress, "you've had some luck in your life. Take a
cross between a bulldog and a mustang and a mountain-lion--that's Mac
Strann. He's in town, and he's here for killin'."

"You don't say, ma'am. And why don't they lock him up?"

"Because he ain't done nothin' yet to be locked up about. That's the way
with him. And when he does a thing he always makes the man he's after
pull his gun first. Smart? I'll say he's just like an Indian, that Mac

"But who's he after?"

"The feller that plugged his brother, Jerry."

"Kind of looks like he had reason for a killing, then."

"Nope. Jerry had it comin' to him. He was always raising trouble, Jerry
was. And this time, he pulled his gun first. Everybody seen him."

"He run into a gunman?"

"Gunman?" she laughed heartily. "Partner, if it wasn't for something
funny about his eyes, I wouldn't be no more afraid of that gunman than I
am of a tabby-cat. And me a weak woman. The quietest lookin' sort that
ever come to Brownsville. But there's something queer about him. He
knows that Mac Strann is here in town. He knows that Mac Strann is
waiting for Jerry to die. He knows that when Jerry dies Mac will be out
for a killin'. And this here stranger is just sittin' around and waitin'
to be killed! Can you beat that?"

But Buck Daniels had grown strangely excited.

"What did you say there was about his eyes?" he asked sharply.

She grew suddenly suspicious.

"D' you know him?"

"No. But you was talkin' about his eyes?"

"I dunno what it is. I ain't the only one that's seen it. There ain't no
word you can put to it. It's just there. That's all."

The voice of Buck Daniels fell to a whisper.

"It's sort of fire," he suggested. "Ain't it a kind of light _behind_
his eyes?"

But the waitress stared at him in amazement.

"Fire?" she gasped. "A light _behind_ his eyes? M'frien', are you tryin'
to string me?"

"What's his name?"

"I dunno."

"Ma'am," said Daniels, rising hastily. "Here's a dollar if you'll take
me to him."

"You don't need no guide," she replied. "Listen to that, will you?"

And as he hearkened obediently Buck Daniels heard a strain of whistling,
needle-sharp with distance.

"That's him," nodded the woman. "He's always goin' about whistling to
himself. Kind of a nut, he is."

"It's him!" cried Buck Daniels. "It's him!"

And with this ungrammatical burst of joy he bolted from the room.



The whistling came from behind the hotel, and although it ended as soon
as he reached the veranda of the building, Buck Daniels hurried to the
rear of the place. There were the long, low sheds of the barn, and
behind these, he knew, must be the corrals. He raced around the corner
of the shed and there came to a halt, for he saw a thing that turned his
blood to ice.

One of those rare rains of the mountain-desert had recently fallen and
the corrals behind the barn were carpeted with a short, thick grass. In
the small corral nearest him he beheld, rolling on that carpet of grass,
a great wolf--or a dog as large and as rough-coated as a wolf, and a
man; and they were engaged in a desperate and silent struggle for
mastery. Their movements were so lightning fast that Buck Daniels could
not make out distinct forms from the tangle. But he saw the great white
teeth of the wolf flash in the sun one instant, and the next the man had
whirled on top. It was Dan and Bart at play.

No outcry from Dan; no growl from the wolf. Buck felt the old chill
which never left him when he saw the fierce game of the wolf and the
wolf-man. All this passed in the twinkling of an eye, and then Dan, by a
prodigious effort, had thrown the great beast away from him, so that
Bart fell upon its back. Dan leaped with outstretched arms upon the
fallen animal, and buried his clutching hands in the throat of the

Yet still there was a thrill to add to these, for now a black horse
appeared in the picture, a miracle of slender, shimmering grace--and he
rushed with flattened ears upon the two twisting, writhing, prostrate
figures. His teeth were bared--he was more like a prodigious dog than a
horse. And those teeth closed on the back of the man's neck--or did they
merely pinch his shirt?--and then Dan was dragged bodily away from the
wolf and thrown through the air by a flirt of the stallion's head.

Horrible! Buck Daniels shuddered and then he grinned shamefacedly in
apology to himself.

"The three of 'em!" he grunted, and stepped closer to the fence to

The instant the man was torn away by the intercession of the horse, the
wolf regained its feet and rushed upon him; but Dan had landed from his
fall upon his feet, with catlike agility, and now he dodged the rush of
the wolf and the arrowy spring of the creature, and sprang in his turn
towards the stallion.

The black met this attack by rearing, his ears flattened, his teeth
bared, his eyes terrible to behold. As the man raced close the stallion
struck with lightning hoofs, but the blow failed of its mark--by the
breadth of a hair. And the assailant, swerving like a will-o'-the-wisp,
darted to the side of the animal and leaped upon its back. At the same
instant the wolf left the ground with terribly gaping mouth in a spring
for the rider; but Dan flattened himself along the shining back of his
mount and the wolf catapulted harmlessly past.

After this failure the wolf-dog seemed to desire no further active part
in the struggle, but took up a position to one side, and there, with
lolling tongue and red-stained eyes, watched the battle continue. The
stallion, to be sure, kept up the conflict with a whole-hearted energy.
Never had Buck Daniels in a long and varied career seen such wild
pitching. The black leaped here and there, doubling about with the
sinuous speed of a snake, springing high in the air one instant, and
landing the next on stiff legs; dropping to the ground the next second,
and rolling to crush the rider; up again like a leaf jerked up by a gale
of wind, and so the fierce struggle continued, with the wild rider
slapping the neck of the horse as if he would encourage it to more
terrible efforts, and drumming its round barrel with vindictive heels.
His hair blew black; his face flushed; and in his eyes there was the joy
of the sailor, long land-bound, who climbs at last the tallest mast and
feels it pitch beneath him and catches the sharp tang of the travelled

The struggle ceased as if in obedience to an inaudible command. From the
full frenzy of motion horse and man were suddenly moveless. Then Dan
slipped from his seat and stood before his mount. At once the ears of
the stallion, which had been flat back, pricked sharply forward; the
eyes of the animal grew luminous and soft as the eyes of a woman, and he
dropped the black velvet of his muzzle beneath the master's chin. As for
Dan Barry, he rewarded this outburst of affection with no touch of his
hand; but his lips moved, and he seemed to be whispering a secret to his
horse. The wolf in the meantime had viewed this scene with growing
unrest, and now it trotted up and placed itself at the side of the man.
Receiving no attention in this position, it caught the arm of the man
between its great fangs and drew his hands down. The stallion, angered
by this interruption, raised a delicate forefoot to strike, and was
received with a terrific snarl--the first sound of the entire scene.

"Bart," said the man, and his voice was not raised or harsh, but came as
softly as running water, "if you ain't going to be a gentleman, I got
to teach you manners. Get up on Satan's back and lie down till I tell
you to get off."

The wolf received this command with a snarl even more blood-curdling
than before, but he obeyed, slinking sidewise a reluctant pace or two,
and then springing to the back of the stallion with a single bound.
There he crouched, still snarling softly until his master raised a
significant forefinger. At that he lowered his head and maintained a
fiercely observant silence.

"Dan!" called Buck Daniels.

The other whirled.

"Speakin' of pets," observed Buck Daniels, "I heard tell once about a
gent that had a tame lion. Which you got the outbeatingest pair I ever
see, Dan. Gentle, ain't they, like a stampede of cows!"

But Barry left this remark unanswered. He ran to the tall fence, placed
his hand on the top rail, and vaulted lightly over it. Then he clasped
the hand of the larger man, and his face lighted.

"Buck," he said, "I been sort of lonesome. It feels pretty good to see
you agin."

"Oh man," answered Buck Daniels, "speakin' of bein' lonesome------" He
checked himself. "How about steppin' inside and havin' a talk?"

The other started forward agreeably, but stopped almost at once.

"Heel!" he called, without turning his head.

Black Bart left the back of the stallion in a long bound that carried
him half way to the fence. His next leap brought him over the rail and
beside his master. Buck Daniels moved back a step involuntarily.

"Bart," he said, "d'you know me?"

He stretched out his hand; and was received with a sudden baring of the

"Nice dog!" said Buck sarcastically. "Regular house-pet, ain't he?"

The other apparently missed the entire point of this remark. He said in
his gentle, serious way: "He used to be real wild, Buck. But now he
don't mind people. He let the cook feed him a chunk o' meat the other
day; and you remember he don't usually touch stuff that other men have

"Yep," grunted Buck, "it's sure disgustin' to have a dog as tame as
that. I'd bet he ain't killed another dog for a whole day, maybe!"

And still Barry saw no irony in this.

He answered, as gravely as before: "No, it was the day before yesterday.
Somebody come to town and got drunk. He had two dogs, and sicked 'em on

Buck Daniels controlled an incipient shudder.

"Both dead?"

"I was inside the house," said Dan sadly, "and it took me a couple of
seconds to get outside. Of course by that time Bart had cut their

"Of course. Didn't the drunk guy try to pot Bart?"

"Yes, he got out his gun; but, Mr. O'Brien, the bartender, persuaded him
out of it. I was glad there wasn't no trouble."

"My God!" exclaimed Buck Daniels. And then: "Well, let's go inside.
We'll take your man-eater along, if you want to."

A shadow came in the eyes of Barry.

"Can't we talk jest as well out here?"

"What's the matter with findin' some chairs?"

"Because I don't like to get inside walls. You know how four walls seem
like so many pairs of eyes standin' around you?"

"No," said Buck bluntly, "I don't know nothin' of the kind. What d'you

"I dunno," answered Barry, depressed. "It jest seems that way. Ain't you
noticed how sort of close it is in a house? Hard to breath? Like you had
on a shirt too small for you."

"We'll stay out here, then."

The other nodded, smiled, and made a gesture to the dog behind him.
Black Bart crouched on the ground, and Dan Barry sat down cross-legged,
his shoulders leaning against the shaggy pelt of Bart. Daniels followed
the example with less grace. He was thinking very hard and fast, and he
rolled a Durham cigarette to fill the interlude.

"I s'pose you're bustin' to find out the news about the folks," he said
dryly, at last.

The other sat with his hands loosely clasped in his lap. His wide eyes
looked far away, and there was about his lips that looseness, that lack
of compression, which one sees so often in children. He might have sat,
in that posture, for the statue of thoughtlessness.

"What folks?" he asked at last

Buck Daniels had lighted a match, but now he sat staring blank until the
match burned down to his fingers. With an oath he tossed the remnant
away and lighted another. He had drawn down several long breaths of
smoke to the bottom of his lungs before he could speak again.

"Some people you used to know; I suppose you've forgotten all about 'em,
eh?" His eyes narrowed; there was a spark of something akin to dread in
them. "Kate Cumberland?" he queried.

A light came in the face of Dan Barry.

"Kate Cumberland?" he repeated. "How is she, Buck? Lately, I been
thinkin' about her every day."

A trembling took the body and the voice of Daniels; his errand, after
all, might meet some success.

"Kate?" he repeated. "Oh, ay, she's well enough. But Joe Cumberland


"He's dyin' Dan."

And Dan replied calmly. "He's kind of old, I s'pose."

"Old?" said Buck, with a sort of horror. "Yes, he's old, right enough.
D'you know why he's dying? It's because you went away the way you done,
Dan. That's what's killin' him."

Something of thought came in the face of Barry.

"Maybe I understand," he said slowly. "If I was to lose Satan, or
Bart--" here the great dog whined at the mention of his name, and Barry
dropped a slender hand across the scarred forehead of his servant. "If I
was to lose 'em, I'd sort of mourn for 'em, maybe."

Buck Daniels set his teeth.

"I don't suppose it seems possible," he said, "that a man could miss
another man the way you could miss your--dog, eh? But it is! Joe
Cumberland is dying for you, Dan, as sure as if you'd put a bullet in
his bowels."

The other hesitated and then frowned and made a gesture of vague

"Don't you figure on doin' nothing about it?" asked Buck softly.

"What could I do?"

"My God A'mighty, ain't you got no human feelin's?"

"I dunno what you mean," said the soft voice.

"This! Can't you git on your hoss and ride back with me to Cumberland
Ranch? Stay with the old man till he gets back on his feet. Ain't that
easy to do? Is your time so damned valuable you can't spare a few days
for that?"

"But I am goin' back," answered Dan, in a rather hurt voice. "They ain't
no need for cussin' me, Buck. I been thinkin' of Kate, every day,

"Since when?"

"I dunno." Dan stirred uneasily. He looked up, and far above Buck,
following the direction of Dan's eyes, saw a pattern of wild geese. "I
been sort of driftin' North towards the Cumberland Ranch and Kate," went
on Dan. He sighed: "I been thinkin' of her eyes, which is blue, Buck,
and her hair, and the soft sound of her voice. They been hangin' in my
ears, stayin' behind my eyes, lately, and I been driftin' up that way

"Why, man," cried Buck, "then what's there to keep you here? Jump on
your hoss, and we'll head North in ten minutes."

"I will!" said Dan, full as eagerly. "We'll start full speed."

"Come on, then."

"Wait a minute!" said Dan, his voice growing suddenly cold. "I been
forgettin' something."

Buck Daniels turned and found his companion strangely changed. There was
a set expression of coldness about his face, and a chill glitter in his

"I got to wait here for something."

"What's that?"

"They's a man in town that may want to see me."

"Mac Strann! I've heard about him. Dan, are you goin' to let Joe
Cumberland die because you want to stay here and fight it out with a
dirty cutthroat?"

"I don't want to fight," protested Barry. "No, there ain't nothin' I
like less than fightin'!"

Buck Daniels cursed softly and continuously to himself.

"Dan," he said, "can you sit there and lie like that to me? Ain't I seen
you in action? Don't I remember the way you trailed Jim Silent? Don't I
remember how we all got down and prayed you to keep away from Jim? Don't
I remember how you threw everything to hell so's you could get your
hands on Jim? My God A'mighty, man, didn't I see your face when you had
your fingers in Silent's throat?"

An expression of unutterable revulsion rippled over the face of Dan

"Stop!" he commanded softly, and raised his slender hand. "Don't keep on
talkin' about it. It makes me sick--all through. Oh, Buck, they's a
tingle in the tips of my fingers still from the time I had 'em in his
throat. And it makes me feel unclean--the sort of uncleanness that won't
wash out with no kind of soap and water. Buck, I'd most rather die
myself than fight a man!"

A vast amazement overspread the countenance of Buck Daniels as he
listened to this outburst; it was as if he had heard a healthy man
proclaim that he had no desire for bread and meat. Something rose to his
lips, but he swallowed it.

"Then it looks kind of simple to me," he said. "You hate fightin'. This
gent Mac Strann likes it; he lives on it; he don't do nothing but wait
from day to day hungerin' for a scrap. What's the out? Jest this! You
hop on your hoss and ride out with me. Young Jerry Strann kicks out--Mac
Strann starts lookin' for you--he hears that you've beat it--he goes off
and forgets about you. Ain't that simple?"

The old uneasiness returned to the far-seeing eyes of Dan Barry.

"I dunno," he said, "maybe----"

Then he paused again.

"Have you got anything to say agin it?" urged Buck, arguing desperately.

"I dunno," repeated Barry, confused, "except that I keep thinking what a
terrible disappointment it'll be to this Mac Strann when his brother
dies and I ain't around."

Buck Daniels stared, blinked, and then burst into unmelodious laughter.
Satan trotted across the corral and raised his head above the fence,
whinnying softly. Barry turned his head and smiled up to the horse.

Then he said: "Seems like if Jerry Strann dies I owe somebody something.
Who? Mac Strann, I reckon. I sort of got to stay and give him his

"I hope to God," burst out Daniels, smashing his hands together, "that
Mac Strann beats you to a pulp! That's what I hope!"

The eyes of Dan Barry widened.

"Why d'you hope that?" he asked gently.

It brought Daniels again to speechlessness.

"Is it possible?" he growled to himself. "Are you a human bein' and yet
you think more of your hoss and your damned wolf-dog than you do of the
life of a man? Dan, I'm askin' you straight, is that a square thing to

The fragile hands went out to him, palm up.

"Don't you see, Buck? I don't want to be this way. I jest can't help

"Then the Lord help poor old Joe Cumberland--him that took you in out of
the desert--him that raised you from the time you was a kid--him that
nursed you like you was his own baby--him that loved you more'n he loved
Kate--him that's lyin' back there now with fire in his eyes, waitin',
waitin', waitin', for you to come back. Dan, if you was to see him you'd
go down on your knees and ask him to forgive you!"

"I s'pose I would," murmured Barry thoughtfully.

"Dan, you're goin' to go with me!"

"I don't somehow think its my time for movin', Buck."

"Is that all you got to say to me?"

"I guess maybe it is, Buck."

"If I was to beg you to come for old-time's sake, and all we been
through together, you and me, wouldn't it make no difference to you?"

The large, gentle eyes focused far beyond Buck Daniels, somewhere on a
point in the pale, hazy blue of the spring sky.

"I'm kind of tired of talkin', Buck," he said at length.

And Buck Daniels rose and walked slowly away, with his head fallen.
Behind him the stallion neighed suddenly and loud, and it was so much
like a blast of defiant triumph that Buck whirled and shook his clenched
fist at Satan.



A thought is like a spur. It lifts the head of a man as the spur makes
the horse toss his; and it quickens the pace with a subtle addition of
strength. Such a thought came to Buck Daniels as he stepped again on the
veranda of the hotel. It could not have been an altogether pleasant
inspiration, for it drained the colour from his face and made him clench
his broad hands; and next he loosened his revolver in its holster. A
thought of fighting--of some desperate chance he had once taken,

But also it was a thought which needed considerable thought. He slumped
into a wicker chair at one end of the porch and sat with his chin
resting on his chest while he smoked cigarette after cigarette and
tossed the butts idly over the rail. More than once he pressed his hand
against his lips as though there were sudden pains there. The colour did
not come back to his face; it continued as bloodless as ever, but there
was a ponderable light in his eyes, and his jaws became more and more
firmly set. It was not a pleasant face to watch at that moment, for he
seemed to sit with a growing resolve.

Long moments passed before he moved a muscle, but then he heard, far
away, thin, and clear, whistling from behind the hotel. It was no
recognisable tune. It was rather a strange improvisation, with singable
fragments here and there, and then wild, free runs and trills. It was as
if some bird of exquisite singing powers should be taken in a rapture of
song, so that it whistled snatches here and there of its usual melody,
but all between were great, whole-throated rhapsodies. As the sound of
this whistling came to him, Buck raised his head suddenly. And finally,
still listening, he rose to his feet and turned into the dining-room.

There he found the waitress he had met before, and he asked her for the
name of the doctor who took care of the wounded Jerry Strann.

"There ain't no doc," said the waitress. "It's Fatty Matthews, the
deputy marshal, who takes care of that Strann--bad luck to him! Fatty's
in the barroom now. But what's the matter? You seem like you was hearin'

"I am," replied Daniels enigmatically. "I'm hearin' something that would
be music for the ears of Old Nick."

And he turned on his heel and strode for the barroom. There he found
Fatty in the very act of disposing of a stiff three-fingers of red-eye.
Daniels stepped to the bar, poured his own drink, and then stood toying
with the glass. For though the effect of red-eye may be pleasant enough,
it has an essence which appalls the stoutest heart and singes the most
leathery throat; it is to full-grown men what castor oil is to a child.
Why men drink it is a mystery whose secret is known only to the
profound soul of the mountain-desert. But while Daniels fingered his
glass he kept an eye upon the other man at the bar.

It was unquestionably the one he sought. The excess flesh of the deputy
marshal would have brought his nickname to the mind of an imbecile.
However, Fatty was humming softly to himself, and it is not the habit of
men who treat very sick patients to sing.

"I'll hit it agin," said Fatty. "I need it."

"Have a bad time of it to-day?" asked O'Brien sympathetically.

"Bad time to-day? Yep, an' every day is the same. I tell you, O'Brien,
it takes a pile of nerve to stand around that room expectin' Jerry to
pass out any minute, and the eyes of that devil Mac Strann followin' you
every step you make. D'you know, if Jerry dies I figure Mac to go at my
throat like a bulldog."

"You're wrong, Fatty," replied O'Brien. "That ain't his way about it. He
takes his time killin' a man. Waits till he can get him in a public
place and make him start the picture. That's Mac Strann! Remember
Fitzpatrick? Mac Strann followed Fitz nigh onto two months, but Fitz
knew what was up and he never would make a move. He knowed that if he
made a wrong pass it would be his last. So he took everything and let it
pass by. But finally it got on his nerves. One time--it was right here
in my barroom, Fatty----"

"The hell you say!"

"Yep, that was before your time around these parts. But Fitz had a
couple of jolts of red-eye under his vest and felt pretty strong. Mac
Strann happened in and first thing you know they was at it. Well, Fitz
was a big man. I ain't small, but I had to look up when I talked to
Fitz. Scotch-Irish, and they got fightin' bred into their bone. Mac
Strann passed him a look and Fitz come back with a word. Soon as he got
started he couldn't stop. Wasn't a pretty thing to watch, either. You
could see in Fitz's face that he knew he was done for before he started,
but he wouldn't, let up. The booze had him going and he was too proud to
back down. Pretty soon he started cussing Mac Strann.

"Well, by that time everybody had cleared out of the saloon, because
they knowed that them sort of words meant bullets comin'. But Mac Strann
jest stood there watchin', and grinnin' in his ugly way--damn his soul
black!--and never sayin' a word back. By God, Fatty, he looked sort of
hungry. When he grinned, his upper lip went up kind of slow and you
could see his big teeth. I expected to see him make a move to sink 'em
in the throat of Fitz. But he didn't. Nope, he didn't make a move, and
all the time Fitz ravin' and gettin' worse and worse. Finally Fitz made
the move. Yep, he pulled his gun and had it damned near clean on Mac
Strann before that devil would stir. But when he _did_, it was jest a
flash of light. Both them guns went off, but Mac's bullet hit Fitz's
hand and knocked the gun out of it--so of course his shot went wild.
But Fitz could see his own blood, and you know what that does to the
Scotch-Irish? Makes _some_ people quit cold to see their own blood. I
remember a kid at school that was a whale at fightin' till his nose got
to bleedin', or something, and then he'd quit cold. But you take a
Scotch-Irishman and it works just the other way. Show him his own colour
and he goes plumb crazy.

"That's what happened to Fitz. When he saw the blood on his hand he made
a dive at Mac Strann. After that it wasn't the sort of thing that makes
a good story. Mac Strann got him around the ribs and I heard the bones
crack. God! And him still squeezin', and Fitz beatin' away at Mac's face
with his bleedin' hand.

"Will you b'lieve that I stood here and was sort of froze? Yes, Fatty, I
couldn't make a move. And I was sort of sick and hollow inside the same
way I went one time when I was a kid and seen a big bull horn a

"Then I heard the breath of Fitz comin' hoarse, with a rattle in it--and
I heard Mac Strann whining like a dog that's tasted blood and is
starvin' for more. A thing to make your hair go up on end, like they say
in the story-books.

"Then Fitz--he was plumb mad--tried to bite Mac Strann. And then Mac let
go of him and set his hands on the throat of Fitz. It happened like a
flash--I'm here to swear that I could hear the bones crunch. And then
Fitz's mouth sagged open and his eyes rolled up to the ceiling, and Mac
Strann threw him down on the floor. Just like that! Damn him! And then
he stood over poor dead Fitz and kicked him in those busted ribs and
turned over to the bar and says to me: 'Gimme!'

"Like a damned beast! He wanted to drink right there with his dead man
beside him. And what was worse, I had to give him the bottle. There was
a sort of haze in front of my eyes. I wanted to pump that devil full of
lead, but I knowed it was plain suicide to try it.

"So there he stood and ups with a glass that was brimmin' full, and
downs it at a swallow--gurglin'--like a hog! Fatty, how long will it be
before there's an end to Mac Strann?"

But Fatty Matthews shrugged his thick shoulders and poured himself
another drink.

"There ain't a hope for Jerry Strann?" cut in Buck Daniels.

"Not one in a million," coughed Fatty, disposing of another formidable

"And when Jerry dies, Mac starts for this Barry?"

"Who's been tellin' you?" queried O'Brien dryly. "Maybe you been readin'
minds, stranger?"

Buck Daniels regarded the bartender with a mild and steadfast interest.
He was smiling with the utmost good-humour, but there was that about him
which made big O'Brien flush and look down to his array of glasses
behind the bar.

"I been wondering," went on Daniels, "if Mac Strann mightn't come out
with Barry about the way Jerry did. Ain't it possible?"

"No," replied Fatty Matthews with calm decision. "It ain't possible.
Well, I'm due back in my bear cage. Y'ought to look in on me, O'Brien,
and see the mountain-lion dyin' and the grizzly lookin' on."

"Will it last long?" queried O'Brien.

"Somewhere's about this evening."

Here Daniels started violently and closed his hand hard around his
whiskey glass which he had not yet raised towards his lips.

"Are you sure of that, marshal?" he asked. "If Jerry's held on this long
ain't there a chance that he'll hold on longer? Can you date him up for
to-night as sure as that?"

"I can," said the deputy marshal. "It ain't hard when you seen as many
go west as I've seen. It ain't harder than it is to tell when the sand
will be out of an hour glass. When they begin going down the last hill
it ain't hard to tell when they'll reach the bottom."

"Ain't you had anybody to spell you, Fatty?" broke in O'Brien.

"Yep. I got Haw-Haw Langley up there. But he ain't much help. Just sits
around with his hands folded. Kind of looks like Haw-Haw _wanted_ Jerry
to pass out."

And Matthews went humming through the swinging door.



For some moments after this Buck Daniels remained at the bar with his
hand clenched around his glass and his eyes fixed before him in the
peculiar second-sighted manner which had marked him when he sat so long
on the veranda.

"Funny thing," began O'Brien, to make conversation, "how many fellers go
west at sunset. Seems like they let go all holts as soon as the dark
comes. Hey?"

"How long before sunset now?" asked Buck Daniels sharply.

"Maybe a couple of hours."

"A couple of hours," repeated Daniels, and ground his knuckles across
his forehead. "A couple of hours!"

He raised his glass with a jerky motion and downed the contents; the
chaser stood disregarded before him and O'Brien regarded his patron with
an eye of admiration.

"You long for these parts?" he asked.

"No, I'm strange to this range. Riding up north pretty soon, if I can
get someone to tell me the lay of the land. D'you know it?"

"Never been further north than Brownsville."

"Couldn't name me someone that's travelled about, I s'pose?"

"Old Gary Peters knows every rock within three day's riding. He keeps
the blacksmith shop across the way."

"So? Thanks; I'll look him up."

Buck Daniels found the blacksmith seated on a box before his place of
business; it was a slack time for Gary Peters and he consoled himself
for idleness by chewing the stem of an unlighted corn-cob, whose bowl
was upside down. His head was pulled down and forward as if by the
weight of his prodigious sandy moustache, and he regarded a vague
horizon with misty eyes.

"Seen you comin' out of O'Brien's," said the blacksmith, as Buck took
possession of a nearby box. "What's the news?"

"Ain't any news," responded Buck dejectedly. "Too much talk; no news."

"That's right," nodded Gary Peters. "O'Brien is the out-talkingest man I
ever see. Ain't nobody on Brownsville can get his tongue around so many
words as O'Brien."

So saying, he blew through his pipe, picked up a stick of soft pine, and
began to whittle it to a point.

"In my part of the country," went on Buck Daniels, "they don't lay much
by a man that talks a pile."

Here the blacksmith turned his head slowly, regarded his companion for
an instant, and then resumed his whittling.

"But," said Daniels, with a sigh, "if I could find a man that knowed
the country north of Brownsville and had a hobble on his tongue I could
give him a night's work that'd be worth while."

Gary Peters removed his pipe from his mouth and blew out his dropping
moustaches. He turned one wistful glance upon his idle forge; he turned
a sadder eye upon his companion.

"I could name you a silent man or two in Brownsville," he said, "but
there ain't only one man that knows the country right."

"That so? And who might he be?"


"You?" echoed Daniels in surprise. He turned and considered Gary as if
for the first time. "Maybe you know the lay of the land up as far as
Hawkin's Arroyo?"

"Me? Son, I know every cactus clear to Bald Eagle."

"H-m-m!" muttered Daniels. "I s'pose maybe you could name some of the
outfits from here on a line with Bald Eagle--say you put 'em ten miles

"Nothin' easier. I could find 'em blindfold. First due out they's
McCauley's. Then lay a bit west of north and you hit the Circle K
Bar--that's about twelve mile from McCauley's. Hit 'er up dead north
again, by east, and you come eight miles to Three Roads. Go on to--"

"Partner," cut in Daniels, "I could do business with you."

"Maybe you could."

"My name's Daniels."

"I'm Gary Peters. H'ware you?"

They shook hands.

"Peters," said Buck Daniels, "you look square, and I need you in square
game; but there ain't any questions that go with it. Twenty iron men for
one day's riding and one day's silence."

"M'frien'," murmured Peters. "In my day I've gone three months without
speakin' to anything in boots; and I wasn't hired for it, neither."

"You know them people up the line," said Daniels. "Do they know you?"

"I'll tell a man they do! Know Gary Peters?"

"Partner, this is what I want. I want you to leave Brownsville inside of
ten minutes and start riding for Elkhead. I want you to ride, and I want
you to ride like hell. Every ten miles, or so, I want you to stop at
some place where you can get a fresh hoss. Get your fresh hoss and leave
the one you've got off, and tell them to have the hoss you leave ready
for me any time to-night. It'll take you clear till to-morrow night to
reach Elkhead, even with relayin' your hosses?"

"Round about that, if I ride like hell. What do I take with me?"

"Nothing. Nothing but the coin I give you to hire someone at every stop
to have that hoss you've left ready for me. Better still, if you can
have 'em, get a fresh hoss. Would they trust you with hosses that way,

"Gimme the coin and where they won't trust me I'll pay cash."

"I can do it. It'll about bust me, but I can do it."

"You going to try for a record between Brownsville and Elkhead, eh? Got
a bet up, eh?"

"The biggest bet you ever heard of," said Daniels grimly. "You can tell
the boys along the road that I'm tryin' for time. Have you got a fast
hoss to start with?"

"Got a red mare that ain't much for runnin' cattle, but she's greased
lightnin' for a short bust."

"Then get her out. Saddle her up, and be on your way. Here's my
stake--I'll keep back one twenty for accidents. First gimme a list of
the places you'll stop for the relays."

He produced an old envelope and a stub of soft pencil with which he
jotted down Gary Peters' directions.

"And every second," said Buck Daniels in parting, "that you can cut off
your own time will be a second cut off'n mine. Because I'm liable to be
on your heels when you ride into Elkhead."

Gary Peters lifted his eyebrows and then restored his pipe. He spoke
through his teeth.

"You ain't got a piece of money to bet on that, partner?" he queried

"Ten extra if you get to Elkhead before me."

"They's limits to hoss-flesh," remarked Peters. "What time you ridin'

"Against a cross between a bullet and a nor'easter, Gary. I'm going
back to drink to your luck."

A promise which Buck Daniels fulfilled, for he had need of even borrowed
strength. He drank steadily until a rattle of hoofs down the street
entered the saloon, and then someone came in to say that Gary Peters had
started out of town to "beat all hell, on his red mare."

After that, Buck started out to find Dan Barry. His quarry was not in
the barn nor in the corral behind the barn. There stood Satan and Black
Bart, but their owner was not in sight. But a thought came to Buck while
he looked, rather mournfully, at the stallion's promise of limitless
speed. "If I can hold him up jest half a minute," murmured Buck to
himself, "jest half a minute till I get a start, I've got a rabbit's
chance of livin' out the night!"

From the door of the first shed he took a heavy chain with the key in
the padlock. This chain he looped about the post and the main timber of
the gate, snapped the padlock, and threw the key into the distance. Then
he stepped back and surveyed his work with satisfaction. It would be a
pretty job to file through that chain, or to knock down those ponderous
rails of the fence and make a gap. A smile of satisfaction came on the
face of Buck Daniels, then, hitching at his belt, and pulling his
sombrero lower over his eyes, he started once more to find Dan Barry.

He was more in haste now, for the sun was dipping behind the mountains
of the west and the long shadows moved along the ground with a
perceptible speed. When he reached the street he found a steady drift of
people towards O'Brien's barroom. They came by ones and twos and idled
in front of the swinging doors or slyly peeked through them and then
whispered one to the other. Buck accosted one of those by the door and
asked what was wrong.

"He's in there," said the other, with a broad and excited grin. "He's in

And when Buck threw the doors wide he saw, at the farther end of the
deserted barroom, Dan Barry, seated at a table braiding a small
horsehair chain. His hat was pushed far back on his head; he had his
back to the door. Certainly he must be quite unaware that all
Brownsville was waiting, breathless, for his destruction. Behind the bar
stood O'Brien, pale under his bristles, and his eyes never leaving the
slender figure at the end of his room; but seeing Buck he called with
sudden loudness: "Come in, stranger. Come in and have one on the house.
There ain't nothing but silence around this place and it's getting on my

Buck Daniels obeyed the invitation at once, and behind him, stepping
softly, some of them entering with their hats in their hands and on
tiptoe, came a score of the inhabitants of Brownsville. They lined the
bar up and down its length; not a word was spoken; but every head turned
as at a given signal towards the quiet man at the end of the room.



It was not yet full dusk, for the shadows were still swinging out from
the mountains and a ghost of colour lingered in the west, but midnight
lay in the open eyes of Jerry Strann. There had been no struggle, no
outcry, no lifting of head or hand. One instant his eyes were closed,
and then, indeed, he looked like death; the next instant the eyes open,
he smiled, the wind stirred in his bright hair. He had never seemed so
happily alive as in the moment of his death. Fatty Matthews held the
mirror close to the faintly parted lips, examined it, and then drew
slowly back towards the door, his eyes steady upon Mac Strann.

"Mac," he said, "it's come. I got just this to say: whatever you do, for
God's sake stay inside the law!"

And he slipped through the door and was gone.

But Mac Strann did not raise his head or cast a glance after the
marshal. He sat turning the limp hand of Jerry back and forth in his
own, and his eyes wandered vaguely through the window and down to the
roofs of the village.

Night thickened perceptibly every moment, yet still while the eastern
slope of every roof was jet black, the western slopes were bright, and
here and there at the distance the light turned and waned on upper
windows. Sleep was coming over the world, and eternal sleep had come for

Book of the day: