Part 4 out of 6
In answer to him, the black stallion whirled, raised his head high, and,
with flaunting mane and tail, neighed a ringing defiance at the rising
flames. Then he turned back and nuzzled the shoulder of his master, who
was working with swift hands over the body of Black Bart.
"Anyway," snarled Haw-Haw Langley, "the damned wolf is dead."
"I dunno," said Mac Strann. "Maybe--maybe not. They's quite a pile that
"If you want to get rid of the hoss," urged Haw-Haw, writhing in the
glee of a new inspiration, "now's the time for it, Mac. Get out your gun
and pot the black. Before the crowd can get after us, we'll be miles
away. They ain't a saddled hoss in sight. Well, if you don't want to do
it, I will!" And he whipped out his gun.
But Mac Strann reached across and dragged the muzzle down.
"We done all we're goin' to do to-night. Seems like God's been listenin'
pretty close, around here!"
He turned his horse, and Haw-Haw, reluctantly, followed suit. Still, as
they trotted slowly away from the burning barn, Haw-Haw kept his glance
fixed behind him until a final roaring crash and a bellying cloud of
fire that smote the zenith announced the end of the barn. Then Haw-Haw
turned his face to his companion.
"Now what?" he demanded.
"We go to Elkhead and sit down and wait," answered Mac Strann. "If the
dog gets well he'll bring Barry to us. Then all I've got to do is defend
Haw-Haw Langley twisted up his face and laughed, silently, to the
DOCTOR BYRNE LOOKS INTO THE PAST
The black head of Barry, the brown head of Randall Byrne, the golden
head of Kate Cumberland, were all bowed around the limp body of Black
Bart. Buck Daniels, still gasping for breath, stood reeling nearby.
"Let me attempt to resuscitate the animal," offered the doctor.
He was met by a blank look from Barry. The hair of the man was scorched,
his skin was blistered and burned. Only his hands remained uninjured,
and these continued to move over the body of the great dog. Kate
Cumberland was on her knees over the brute.
"Is it fatal, Dan?" she asked. "Is there no hope for Bart?"
There was no answer from Barry, and she attempted to raise the fallen,
lifeless head of the animal; but instantly a strong arm darted out and
brushed her hands away. Those hands fell idly at her sides and her head
went back as though she had been struck across the face. She found
herself looking up into the angry eyes of Randall Byrne. He reached down
and raised her to her feet; there was no colour in her face, no life in
"There's nothing more to be done here, apparently," said the doctor
coldly. "Suppose we take your father and go back to the house."
She made neither assent nor dissent. Dan Barry had finished a swift,
deft bandage and stopped the bleeding of the dog's wounds. Now he raised
his head and his glance slipped rapidly over the faces of the doctor and
the girl and rested on Buck Daniels. There was no flash of kindly
thanks, no word of recognition. His right hand raised to his cheek, and
rested there, and in his eyes came that flare of yellow hate. Buck
Daniels shrank back until he was lost in the crowd. Then he turned and
stumbled back towards the house.
Instantly, Barry began to work at expanding and depressing the lungs of
the huge animal as he might have worked to bring a man back to life.
"Watch him!" whispered the doctor to Kate Cumberland. "He is closer to
that dog--that wolf, it looks like--than he has ever been to any human
She would not answer, but she turned her head quickly away from the man
and his beast.
"Are you afraid to watch?" challenged Byrne, for his anger at Barry's
blunt refusals still made his blood hot. "When your father lay at
death's door was he half so anxious as he is now? Did he work so hard,
by half? See how his eyes are fixed on the muzzle of the beast as if he
were studying a human face!"
"No, no!" breathed the girl.
"I fell you, look!" commanded the doctor. "For there's the solution of
the mystery. No mystery at all. Barry is simply a man who is closer akin
to the brute forces in nature. See! By the eternal heavens, he's
dragging that beast--that dumb beast--back from the door of death!"
Barry had ceased his rapid manipulations, and turned the big dog back
upon its side. Now the eyes of Black Bart opened, and winked shut again.
Now the master kneeled at the head of the beast and took the scarred,
shaggy head between his hands.
"Bart!" he commanded.
Not a stir in the long, black body. The stallion edged a pace closer,
dropped his velvet muzzle, and whinnied softly at the very ear of the
dog. Still, there was not an answering quiver.
"Bart!" called the man again, and there was a ring of wild grief--of
fear--in his cry.
"Do you hear?" said Byrne savagely, at the ear of the girl. "Did you
ever use such a tone with a human being? Ever?"
"Take me away!" she murmured. "I'm sick--sick at heart. Take me away!"
Indeed, she was scarcely sure of her poise, and tottered where she
stood. Doctor Byrne slipped his arm about her and led her away,
supporting half her weight. They went slowly, by small, soft steps,
towards the house, and before they reached it, he knew that she was
weeping. But if there was sadness in Byrne, there was also a great joy.
He was afire, for there is a flamelike quality in hope. Loss of blood
and the stifling smoke, rather than a mortal injury or the touch of
fire, had brought Black Bart close to death, but now that his breathing
was restored, and almost normal, he gained rapidly. One instant he
lingered on the border between life and death; the next, the brute's
eyes opened and glittered with dim recognition up towards Dan, and he
licked the hand which supported his head. At Dan's direction, a blanket
was brought, and after Dan had lifted Black Bart upon it, four men
raised the corners of the blanket and carried the burden towards the
house. One of the cowpunchers went ahead bearing the light. This was the
sight which Doctor Byrne and Kate Cumberland saw from the veranda of the
ranch-house as they turned and looked back before going in.
"A funeral procession," suggested the doctor.
"No," she answered positively. "If Black Bart were dead, Dan wouldn't
allow any hands save his own to touch the body. No, Black Bart is alive!
Yet, it's impossible."
The word "impossible," however, was gradually dropping from the
vocabulary of Randall Byrne. True, the wolf-dog had seemed dead past
recovery and across the eyes of Byrne came a vision of the dead rising
from their graves. Yet he merely shook his head and said nothing.
"Ah!" she broke in. "Look!"
The procession drew nearer, heading towards the back of the big house,
and now they saw that Dan Barry walked beside the body of Black Bart, a
smile on his lifted face. They disappeared behind the back of the
Byrne heard the girl murmuring, more to herself than to him: "Once he
was like that all the time."
"Like what?" he asked bluntly.
She paused, and then her hand dropped lightly on his arm. He could not
see more than a vague outline of her in the night, only the dull glimmer
of her face as she turned her head, and the faint whiteness of her hand.
"Let's say good-night," she answered, at length. "Our little worlds have
toppled about our heads to-night--all your theories, it seems, and, God
knows, all that I have hoped. Why should we stay here and make ourselves
miserable by talk?"
"But because we have failed," he said steadily, "is that a reason we
should creep off and brood over our failure in silence? No, let's talk
it out, man to man."
"You have a fine courage," said the girl. "But what is there we can
He answered: "For my part, I am not so miserable as you think. For I
feel as if this night had driven us closer together, you see; and I've
caught a perspective on everything that has happened here."
"Tell me what you know."
"Only what I think I know. It may be painful to hear."
"I'm very used to pain."
"Well, a moment ago, when Barry was walking beside his dog, smiling, you
murmured that he once was like that always. It gave me light. So I'd
say that there was a time when Dan Barry lived here with you and your
father. Am I right?"
"Yes, for years and years."
"And in those times he was not greatly different from other men. Not on
"You came to be very fond of him."
"We were to marry," answered Kate Cumberland, and Byrne winced.
He went on: "Then something happened--suddenly--that took him away from
you, and you did not see him again until to-night. Am I right?"
"Yes. I thought you must have heard the story--from the outside. I'll
tell you the truth. My father found Dan Barry wandering across the hills
years ago. He was riding home over the range and he heard a strange and
beautiful whistling, and when he looked up he saw on the western ridge,
walking against the sky, a tattered figure of a boy. He rode up and
asked the boy his name. He learned it was Dan Barry--Whistling Dan, he
was called. But the boy could not, or would not, tell how he came to be
there in the middle of the range without a horse. He merely said that he
came from 'over there,' and waved his hand to the south and east. That
was all. He didn't seem to be alarmed because he was alone, and yet he
apparently knew nothing of the country; he was lost in this terrible
country where a man could wander for days without finding a house, and
yet the boy was whistling as he walked! So Dad took him home and sent
out letters all about--to the railroad in particular--to find out if
such a boy was missing.
"He received no answer. In the meantime he gave Dan a room in the house;
and I remember how Dan sat at the table the first night--I was a very
little girl then--and how I laughed at his strange way of eating. His
knife was the only thing he was interested in and he made it serve for
knife, fork, and spoon, and he held the meat in his fingers while he cut
it. The next morning he was missing. One of Dad's range riders picked up
Dan several miles to the north, walking along, whistling gayly. The next
morning he was missing again and was caught still farther away. After
that Dad had a terrible scene with him--I don't know exactly what
happened--but Dan promised to run away no more, and ever since then Dad
has been closer to Dan than anyone else.
"So Dan grew up. From the time I could first distinctly remember, he was
very gentle and good-natured, but he was different, always. After a
while he got Black Bart, you know, and then he went out with a halter
and captured Satan. Think of capturing a wild mustang with nothing but a
halter! He played around with them so much that I was jealous of them.
So I kept with them until Bart and Satan were rather used to me. Bart
would even play with me now and then when Dan wasn't near. And so
finally Dan and I were to be married.
"Dad didn't like the idea. He was afraid of what Dan might become. And
he was right. One day, in a saloon that used to stand on that hill over
there, Dan had a fight--his first fight--with a man who had struck him
across the mouth for no good reason. That man was Jim Silent. Of course
you've heard of him?"
"He was a famous long-rider--an outlaw with a very black record. At the
end of that fight he struck Dan down with a chair and escaped. I went
down to Dan when I heard of the fight--Black, Bart led me down, to be
exact--but Dan would not come back to the house, and he'd have no more
to do with anyone until he had found Jim Silent. I can't tell you
everything that happened. Finally he caught Jim Silent and killed
him--with his bare hands. Buck Daniels saw it. Then Dan came back to us,
but on the first night he began to grow restless. It was last Fall--the
wild geese were flying south--and while they were honking in the sky Dan
got up, said good-bye, and left us. We have never seen him again until
to-night. All we knew was that he had ridden south--after the wild
A long silence fell between them, for the doctor was thinking hard.
"And when he came back," he said, "Barry did not know you? I mean you
were nothing to him?"
"You were there," said the girl, faintly.
"It is perfectly clear," said Byrne. "If it were a little more
commonplace it might be puzzling, but being so extraordinary it clears
itself up. Did you really expect the dog, the wolf-dog, Black Bart, to
"I may have expected it."
"But you were not surprised, of course!"
"Yet you see that Dan Barry--Whistling Dan, you call him--was closer to
Black Bart than he was to you?"
"Why should I see that?"
"You watched him a moment ago when he was leaning over the dog."
He watched her draw her dressing gown closer about her, as though the
cold bit more keenly then.
She said simply: "Yes, I saw."
"Don't you see that he is simply more in tune with the animal world? And
it's really no more reasonable to expect Black Bart to remember you than
it is to expect Dan Barry to remember you? It's quite plain. When you go
back to the beginning man was simply an animal, without the higher
senses, as we call them. He was simply a brute, living in trees or in
caves. Afterwards he grew into the thing we all know. But why not
imagine a throw-back into the earlier instincts? Why not imagine the
creature devoid of the impulses of mind, the thing which we call man,
and see the splendid animal? You saw in Dan Barry simply a biological
sport--the freak--the thing which retraces the biological progress and
comes close to the primitive. But of course you could not realise this.
He seemed a man, and you accepted him as a man. In reality he was no
more a man than Black Bart is a man. He had the face and form of a man,
but his instincts were as old as the ages. The animal world obeys him.
Satan neighs in answer to his whistle. The wolf-dog licks his hand at
the point of death. There is the profound difference, always. You try to
reconcile him with other men; you give him the attributes of other men.
Open your eyes; see the truth: that he is no more akin to man than Black
Bart is like a man. And when you give him your affection, Miss
Cumberland, _you are giving your affection to a wild wolf!_ Do you
He knew that she was shaken. He could feel it, even without the
testimony of his eyes to witness. He went on, speaking with great
rapidity, lest she should escape from the influence which he had already
gained over her.
"I felt it when I first saw him--a certain nameless kinship with
elemental forces. The wind blew through the open door--it was Dan Barry.
The wild geese called from the open sky--for Dan Barry. These are the
things which lead him. These the forces which direct him. You have loved
him; but is love merely a giving? No, you have seen in him a man, but I
see in him merely the animal force."
She said after a moment: "Do you hate him--you plead against him so
He answered: "Can you hate a thing which is not human? No, but you can
dread it. It escapes from the laws which bind you and which bind me.
What standards govern it? How can you hope to win it? Love? What beauty
is there in the world to appeal to such a creature except the beauty of
the marrow-bone which his teeth have the strength to snap?"
"Ah, listen!" murmured the girl. "Here is your answer!"
And Doctor Randall Byrne heard a sound like the muted music of the
violin, thin and small and wonderfully penetrating. He could not tell,
at first, what it might be. For it was as unlike the violin as it was
like the bow and the rosined strings. Then he made out, surely, that it
was the whistling of a human being.
It followed no tune, no reasoned theme. The music was beautiful in its
own self. It rose straight up like the sky-lark from the ground, sheer
up against the white light of the sky, and there it sang against
heaven's gate. He had never heard harmony like it. He would never again
hear such music, so thin and yet so full that it went through and
through him, until he felt the strains take a new, imitative life within
him. He would have whistled the strains himself, but he could not follow
them. They escaped him, they soared above him. They followed no law or
rhythm. They flew on wings and left him far below. The girl moved away
from him as if led by an invisible hand, and now she stood at the
extremity of the porch. He followed her.
"Do you hear?" she cried, turning to him.
"What is it?" asked the doctor.
"It is he! Don't you understand?"
"Barry? Yes! But what does the whistling mean; is it for his wolf-dog?"
"I don't know," she answered quickly. "All I understand is that it is
beautiful. Where are your theories and explanations now, Doctor Byrne?".
"It _is_ beautiful--God knows!--but doesn't the wolf-dog understand it
better than either you or I?"
She turned and faced Byrne, standing very close, and when she spoke
there was something in her voice which was like a light. In spite of the
dark he could guess at every varying shade of her expression.
"To the rest of us," she murmured, "Dan has nothing but silence, and
hardly a glance. Buck saved his life to-night, and yet Dan remembered
nothing except the blow which had been struck. And now--now he pours out
all the music in his soul for a dumb beast. Listen!"
He saw her straighten herself and stand taller.
"Then through the wolf--I'll conquer through the dumb beast!"
She whipped past Byrne and disappeared into the house; at the same
instant the whistling, in the midst of a faint, high climax, broke,
shivered, and was ended. There was only the darkness and the silence
around Byrne, and the unsteady wind against his face.
Doctor Byrne, pacing the front veranda with his thoughtful head bowed,
saw Buck Daniels step out with his quirt dangling in his hand, his
cartridge belt buckled about his waist, and a great red silk bandana
knotted at his throat.
He was older by ten years than he had been a few days before, when the
doctor first saw him. To be sure, his appearance was not improved by a
three days' growth of beard. It gave his naturally dark skin a dirty
cast, but even that rough stubble could not completely shroud the new
hollows in Daniels' cheeks. His long, black, uncombed hair, sagged down
raggedly across his forehead, hanging almost into his eyes; the eyes
themselves were sunk in such formidable cavities that Byrne caught
hardly more than two points of light in the shadows. All the
devil-may-care insouciance of Buck Daniels was quite, quite gone. In its
place was a dogged sullenness, a hang-dog air which one would not care
to face of a dark night or in a lonely place. His manner was that of a
man whose back is against the wall, who, having fled some keen pursuit,
has now come to the end of his tether and prepares for desperate even
if hopeless battle. There was that about him which made the doctor
hesitate to address the cowpuncher.
At length he said: "You're going out for an outing, Mr. Daniels?"
Buck Daniels started violently at the sound of this voice behind him,
and whirled upon the doctor with such a set and contorted expression of
fierceness that Byrne jumped back.
"Good God, man!" cried the doctor, "What's up with you?"
"Nothin'," answered Buck, gradually relaxing from his first show of
suspicion. "I'm beating it. That's all."
"D'you think I ought to stay?" asked Buck, with something of a sneer.
The doctor hesitated, frowning in a puzzled way. At length he threw out
his hands in a gesture of mute abandonment.
"My dear fellow," he said with a faint smile, "I've about stopped trying
At this Buck Daniels grinned mirthlessly.
"Now you're talkin' sense," he nodded. "They ain't no use in thinking."
"But why do you leave so suddenly?"
Buck Daniels shrugged his broad shoulders.
"I am sure," went on Byrne, "that Miss Cumberland will miss you."
"She will not," answered the big cowpuncher. "She's got her hands full
"Exactly. But if it is more than she can do, if she makes no headway
with that singular fellow--she may need help----"
He was interrupted by a slow, long-drawn, deep-throated curse from Buck
"Why in hell should I help her with--_him?_"
"There is really no reason," answered the doctor, alarmed, "except, I
suppose, old friendship----"
"Damn old friendship!" burst out Buck Daniels. "There's an end to all
things and my friendship is worn out--on both sides. It's done!"
He turned and scowled at the house.
"Help her to win _him_ over? I'd rather stick the muzzle of my gun down
my throat and pull the trigger. I'd rather see her marry a man about to
hang. Well--to hell with this place. I'm through with it. S'long, doc."
But Doctor Byrne ran after him and halted him at the foot of the steps
down from the veranda.
"My dear Mr. Daniels," he urged, touching the arm of Buck. "You really
mustn't leave so suddenly as this. There are a thousand questions on the
tip of my tongue."
Buck Daniels regarded the professional man with a hint of weariness and
"Well," he said, "I'll hear the first couple of hundred. Shoot!"
"First: the motive that sends you away."
"Ah--ah--fear of what he may do?"
"Damn the fear. At least, it's him that makes me go."
"It seems an impenetrable mystery," sighed the doctor. "I saw you the
other night step into the smoking hell of that barn and keep the way
clear for this man. I knew, before that, how you rode and risked your
life to bring Dan Barry back here. Surely those are proofs of
Buck Daniels laughed unpleasantly. He laid a large hand on the shoulder
of the doctor and answered: "If them was the only proofs, doc, I
wouldn't feel the way I do. Proofs of friendship? Dan Barry has saved me
from the--rope!--and he's saved me from dyin' by the gun of Jim Silent.
He took me out of a rotten life and made me a man that could look honest
men in the face!"
He paused, swallowing hard, and the doctor's misty, overworked eyes
lighted with some comprehension. He had felt from the first a certain
danger in this big fellow, a certain reckless disregard of laws and
rules which commonly limit the actions of ordinary men. Now part of the
truth was hinted at. Buck Daniels, on a time, had been outside the law;
and Barry had drawn him back to the ways of men. That explained some of
the singular bond that lay between them.
"That ain't all," went on Buck. "Blood is thick, and I've loved him
better nor a brother. I've gone to hell and back for him. For him I took
Kate Cumberland out of the hands of Jim Silent, and I left myself in
her place. I took her away and all so's she could go to him. Damn him!
And now on account of him I got to leave this place."
His voice rose to a ringing pitch.
"D'you think it's easy for me to go? D'you think it ain't like tearing a
finger-nail off'n the flesh for me to go away from Kate? God knows what
she means to me! God knows, but if He does, He's forgotten me!"
Anguish of spirit set Buck Daniels shaking, and the doctor looked on in
amazement. He was like one who reaches in his pocket for a copper coin
and brings out a handful of gold-pieces.
"Kind feelin's don't come easy to me," went on Buck Daniels. "I been
raised to fight. I been raised to hard ridin' and dust in the throat. I
been raised on whiskey and hate. And then I met Dan Barry, and his voice
was softer'n a girl's voice, and his eyes didn't hold no doubt of me. Me
that had sneaked in on him at night and was goin' to kill him in his
sleep--because my chief had told me to! That was the Dan Barry what I
first knew. He give me his hand and give me the trust of his eyes, and
after he left me I sat down and took my head between my hands and my
heart was like to bust inside me. It was like the clouds had blowed away
from the sun and let it shine on me for the first time in my life. And I
swore that if the time come I'd repay him. For every cent he give me I'd
pay him back in gold. I'd foller to the end of the world to do what he
bid me do."
His voice dropped suddenly, choked with emotion.
"Oh, doc, they was tears come in my eyes; and I felt sort of clean
inside, and I wasn't ashamed of them tears! That was what Dan Barry done
"And I _did_ pay him back, as much as I could. I met Kate Cumberland and
she was to me among girls what Dan Barry was to me among men. I ain't
ashamed of sayin' it. I loved her till they was a dryness like ashes
inside me, but I wouldn't even lift up my eyes to her, because she
belonged to him. I follered her around like a dog. I done her bidding. I
asked no questions. What she wanted--that was law to me, and all the law
I wanted. All that I done for the sake of Dan Barry. And then I took my
life in my hands for him--not once, but day after day.
"Then he rode off and left her and I stayed behind. D'you think it's
been easy to stay here? Man, man, I've had to hear her talkin' about Dan
Barry day after day, and never a word for me. And I had to tell her
stories about Dan and what he'd used to do, and she' sit with her eyes
miles away from me, listenin' an smilin' and me there hungerin' for just
one look out of her eyes--hungerin' like a dyin' dog for water. And then
for her and Joe I rode down south and when I met Dan Barry d'you think
they was any light in his eyes when he seen me?
"No, he'd forgotten me the way even a hoss won't forget his master.
Forgot me after a few months--and after all that'd gone between us! Not
even Kate--even she was nothin' to him. But still I kept at it and I
brought him back. I had to hurt him to do it, but God knows it wasn't
out of spite that I hit him--God knows!
"And when I seen Dan go into that burnin' barn I says to myself: 'Buck,
if nothin' is done that wall will fall and there's the end of Dan Barry.
There's the end of him, that ain't any human use, and when he's finished
after a while maybe Kate will get to know that they's other men in the
world besides Dan.' I says that to myself, deep and still inside me. And
then I looked at Kate standin' in that white thing with her yaller hair
all blowin' about her face--and I wanted her like a dyin' man wants
heaven! But then I says to myself again: 'No matter what's happened,
he's been my friend. He's been my pal. He's been my bunkie.'
"Doc, you ain't got a way of knowin' what a partner is out here. Maybe
you sit in the desert about a thousand miles from nowhere, and across
the little mesquite fire, there's your pal, the only human thing in
sight. Maybe you go months seein' only him. If you're sick he takes care
of you. If you're blue he cheers you up. And that's what Dan Barry was
to me. So I stands sayin' these things to myself, and I says: 'If I keep
that wall from fallin' Dan'll know about it, and they won't be no more
of that yaller light in his eyes when he looks at me. That's what I says
to myself, poor fool!
"And I went into the fire and I fought to keep that wall from fallin'.
You know what happened. When I come out, staggerin' and blind and three
parts dead, Dan Barry looks up to me and touches his face where I'd hit
him, and the yaller comes up glimmerin' and blazin' in his eyes. Then I
went back to my room and I fought it out.
"And here's where I stand now. If I stay here, if I see that yaller
light once more, they won't be no waitin'. Him and me'll have to have it
out right then. Am I a dog, maybe, that I got to stand around and jump
when he calls me?"
"My dear fellow--my dear Mr. Daniels!" cried the horrified Doctor Byrne.
"Surely you're wrong. He wouldn't go so far as to make a personal attack
"Wouldn't he? Bah! Not if he was a man, no. I tell you, he ain't a man;
he's what the canuks up north call a were-wolf! There ain't no mercy or
kindness in him. The blood of a man means nothin' to him. The world
would be better rid of him. Oh, he can be soft and gentle as a girl.
Mostly he is. But cross him once and he forgets all you done for him.
Give him a taste of blood and he jumps at your throat. I tell you, I've
seen him do it!"
He broke off with a shudder.
"Doc," he said, in a lower and solemn voice. "Maybe I've said too much.
Don't tell Kate nothin' about why I'm goin'. Let her go on dreamin' her
fool dream. But now hear what I'm sayin'; If Dan Barry crosses me once
more, one of us two dies, and dies damned quick. It may be me, it may be
him, but I've come to the end of my rope. I'm leavin' this place till
Barry gets a chance to come to his senses and see what I've done for
him. That's all. I'm leavin' this place because they's a blight
on it, and that blight is Dan Barry. I'm leaving this place
because--doc--because I can smell the comin' of bloodshed in it. They's
a death hangin' over it. If the lightnin' was to hit and burn it up,
house and man, the range would be better for it!"
And he turned on his heel and strode slowly down towards the corral.
Doctor Byrne followed his progress with starting eyes.
The chain which fastened Black Bart had been passed around the trunk of
a tree that stood behind the ranch house, and there the great dog lay
tethered. Doctor Byrne had told Whistling Dan, with some degree of
horror, that the open air was in the highest degree dangerous to wounds,
but Whistling Dan had returned no answer. So Black Bart lay all day in
the soft sand, easing himself from time to time into a new position, and
his thoughtful eyes seemed to be concentrated on the desire to grow
well. Beside him was the chair in which Dan Barry sat for many an hour
of the day and even the night.
Kate Cumberland watched the animal from the shadow of the house; his
eyes were closed, and the long, powerful head lay inert on the sand, yet
she knew that the wolf-dog was perfectly aware of her presence. Day
after day since he lay there, she had attempted to approach Black Bart,
and day after day he had allowed her to come within reaching distance of
him, only to drive her back at the last moment by a sudden display of
the murderous, long fangs; or by one of those snarls which came out of
the black depths of his heart. Now, a dog snarls from not far down in
its throat, but the noise of an angered wild beast rolls up out of its
very entrails--a passion of hate and defiance. And when she heard that
sound, or when she saw the still more terrible silent rage of the beast,
Kate Cumberland's spirit failed, and she would shrink back again to a
She was not easily discouraged. She had that grim resolution which comes
to the gambler after he has played at the same table night after night,
night after night, and lost, lost, lost, until, playing with the last of
his money, he begins to mutter through his set teeth: "The luck _must_
change!" So it was with Kate Cumberland. For in Black Bart she saw the
only possible clue to Whistling Dan. There was the stallion, to be sure,
but she knew Satan too well. Nothing in the wide world could induce that
wild heart to accept more than one master--more than one friend. For
Satan there was in the animal world Black Bart, and in the world of men,
Dan Barry. These were enough. For all the rest he kept the disdainful
speed of his slender legs or the terror of his teeth and trampling
hoofs. Even if she could have induced the stallion to eat from her hand
she could never have made him willing to trust himself to her guidance.
Some such thing she felt that she must accomplish with Black Bart. To
the wild beast with the scarred and shaggy head she must become a
necessary, an accepted thing.
One repulse did not dishearten her. Again and again she made the trial.
She remembered having read that no animal can resist the thoughtful
patience of thinking man, and hour after hour she was there, until a new
light in the eye of the wolf-dog warned her that the true master was
Then she fled, and from a post of vantage in the house she would watch
the two. An intimacy surpassing the friendships and devotions of human
beings existed between them. She had seen the wolf lie with his great
head on the foot of his master and the unchanging eyes fixed on Barry's
face--and so for an hour at a stretch in mute worship. Or she had
watched the master go to the great beast to change the dressing--a thing
which could not be done too often during the day. She had seen the swift
hands remove the bandages and she had seen the cleansing solution
applied. She knew what it was; it stung even the unscratched skin, and
to a wound it must be torture, but the wolf lay and endured--not even
shuddering at the pain.
It had seemed to her that this was the great test. If she could make the
wolf lie like this for her, then, truly, she might feel herself in some
measure admitted to that mystic fellowship of the three--the man, the
stallion, and the wolf. If she could, with her own unaided hands, remove
the bandages and apply that solution, then she could know many things,
and she could feel that she was nearer to Whistling Dan than ever
So she had come, time and again, with the basin and the roll of cloth
in her arm, and she had approached with infinite patience, step by step,
and then inch by inch. Once it had taken a whole hour for her to come
within a yard of the beast. And all that time Black Bart had lain with
closed eyes. But at the critical instant always there was the silent
writhing up of the lips and the gleam of hate--or the terrible snarl
while the eyes fastened on her throat. Her heart had stopped in
mid-beat; and that day she ran back into the house and threw herself on
her bed, and would not come from her room till the following morning.
Now, as she watched from the shadow of the house, with the basin of
antiseptic under her arm, the gambler's desperation rose stronger and
stronger. She came out, at length, and walked steadily towards Black
Bart. She had grown almost heedless of fear at this moment, but when she
was within a pace, once more the head reared back; the teeth flashed.
And the heart of Kate Cumberland, as always, stopped. Yet she did not
retreat this time. All the colour left her face, so that her eyes seemed
amazingly blue and wide. One foot drew back, tremblingly ready to spring
to safety; yet she held her place. She moved--and it was towards Black
At that came a snarl that would have made the heart of a lone grizzly
quake and leave his new-found nuts. One further pace she made--and the
beast plunged up, and braced itself with its one strong fore leg. A
devil of yellow-green gleamed in either eye, and past the grinning
fangs she saw the hot, red throat, and she saw the flattened ears, the
scars on the bony forehead, the muscles that bulged on the base of the
jaw. Ay, strength to drive those knife-like teeth through flesh and bone
at a single snap. More--she had seen their effect, and the throat of a
bull cut at a single slash. And yet--she sank on her knees beside the
His head was well nigh as high as hers, then; if he attacked there could
be no dream of escape for her. Or she might drag herself away from the
tearing teeth--a disfigured horror forever. Think not that an iota of
all these terrors missed her mind. No, she felt the fangs buried in her
throat and heard the snarl of the beast stifled with blood. Yet--she
laid her hand on the bandage across the shoulder of Black Bart.
His head whirled. With those ears flattened, with that long, lean neck,
it was like the head of a striking snake. Her sleeve was rolled up to
the elbow, and over the bare skin the teeth of the wolf-dog were set.
The snarl had grown so deep and hideous that the tremor of it fairly
shook her, and she saw that the jaws of the beast slavered with hunger.
She knew--a thousand things about Black Bart, and among the rest that he
had tasted human blood. And there is a legend which says that once a
wild beast has tasted the blood of man he will taste it a second time
before he dies. She thought of that--she dared not turn her head lest
she should encounter the hellfire of Bart's eyes. Yet she had passed
all ordinary fear. She had reached that exquisite frenzy of terror when
it becomes one with courage. The very arm over which the wolf's teeth
were set moved--raised--and with both hands she untied the knot of the
The snarling rose to a pitch of maniacal rage; the teeth compressed--if
they broke the skin it was the end; the first taste of blood would be
enough!--and drew away her arm. If she had started then, all the devil
in the creature would be loosed, for her terror taught her that. And by
some mysterious power that entered her at that moment she was able to
turn her head, slowly, and look deep into those terrible eyes.
Her arm was released.
But Black Bart crouched and the snakelike head lowered; he was quivering
throughout that steel-muscled body to throw himself at her throat. The
finger was on the hair-trigger; it needed a pressure not greater than a
bodiless thought. And still she looked into the eyes of the wolf-dog;
and her terror had made her strangely light of body and dizzy of mind.
Then the change came, suddenly. The yellow-green changed, swirled in the
eyes of Black Bart; the eyes themselves wavered, and at last looked
away; the snarl dropped to a sullen growl. And Black Bart lay down as he
had been before.
His head was still turned towards her, to be sure. And the teeth were
still bared, as with rapid, deft fingers she undid the bandage; and from
instant to instant, as the bandage in spite of her care pressed against
the wound, the beast shivered and wicked glances flashed up at her face.
The safe-blower who finds his "soup" cooling and dares not set it down
felt as Kate Cumberland felt then.
She never knew what kept her hands steady, but steady they were. The
cloth was removed, and now she could see the red, angry wound, with the
hair shaven away to a little distance on every side. She dipped her
cloth into the antiseptic; it stung her fingers! She touched the cloth
lightly against the wound; and to her astonishment the wolf-dog relaxed
every muscle and let his head fall to the ground; also the growl died
into a soft whine, and this in turn ended.
She had conquered! Ay, when the wound was thoroughly cleansed and when
she started to wind the bandage again, she had even the courage to touch
Black Bart's body and make him rise up so that she could pass the cloth
freely. At her touch he shuddered, to be sure, as a man might shudder at
the touch of an unclean thing, but there was no snarl, and the teeth
were not bared.
As she tied the knot which secured the bandage in its place she was
aware that the eyes of Bart, no longer yellow-green, watched her; and
she felt some vague movement of the wonder that was passing through the
brute mind. Then the head of the wolf-dog jerked up; he was staring at
something in the distance, and there was nothing under heaven that Bart
would raise his head to look at in this manner except one thing. The
fingers of Kate grew stiff, and trembled. Slowly, in a panic, she
finished the knot, and then she was aware of someone who had approached
without sound and now stood behind her.
She looked up, at length, before she rose to her feet.
Thankfulness welled up warm in her heart to find her voice steady and
commonplace when she said: "The wound is much better. Bart will be well
in a very few days now."
Whistling Dan did not answer, and his wondering eyes glanced past her
own. She saw that he was staring at a double row of white indentations
on her forearm, where the teeth of Black Bart had set. He knew those
marks, and she knew he knew. Strength was leaving her, and weakness went
through her--water where blood should have been. She dared not stay. In
another moment she would be hopelessly in the grip of hysteria.
So she rose, and passed Dan without a word, and went slowly towards the
house. She tried to hurry, indeed, but her legs would not quicken their
pace. Yet at length she had reached shelter and no sooner was she past
the door of the house than her knees buckled; she had to steady herself
with both hands as she dragged herself up the stairs to her room. There,
from the window, she looked down and saw Whistling Dan standing as she
had left him, staring blankly at the wolf-dog.
There was no star-storming confidence in Kate Cumberland after that
first victory. Rather she felt as the general who deploys his
skirmishers and drives in the outposts of an enemy. The advantage is
his, but it has really only served to give him some intimation of the
strength of the enemy. At the supper table this night she found
Whistling Dan watching her--not openly, for she could never catch his
eye--but subtly, secretly, she knew that he was measuring her, studying
her; whether in hostility, amity, or mere wonder, she could not tell.
Finally a vast uneasiness overtook her and she turned to the doctor for
relief. Doctor Randall Byrne held a singular position in the attention
of Kate. Since the night of the fire and her open talk with him, the
doctor knew "everything," and women are troubled in the presence of a
man who knows the details of the past.
The shield behind which they hide in social intercourse is a touch of
mystery--or at least a hope of mystery. The doctor, however, was not
like other men; he was more similar to a precocious child and she
comforted herself in his obvious talent for silence. If he had been
alert, strong, self-confident, she might have hated him because he knew
so much about her; but when she noted the pale, thoughtful face, the
vast forehead outbalancing the other features, and the wistful,
uncertain eyes, she felt nothing towards him stronger than pity.
It is good for a woman to have something which she may pity, a child, an
aged parent, or a house-dog. It provides, in a way, the background
against which she acts; so Kate, when in doubt, turned to the doctor, as
on this night. There was a certain cruelty in it, for when she smiled at
him the poor doctor became crimson, and when she talked to him his
answers stumbled on his tongue; and when she was silent and merely
looked at him that was worst of all, for he became unable to manage
knife and fork and would sit crumbling bread and looking frightened.
Then he was apt to draw out his glasses and make a move to place them on
his nose, but he always caught and checked himself in time--which added
to his embarrassment.
These small maneuvres had not lasted long before the girl became aware
that the silent attention of Whistling Dan had passed from her to the
doctor--and held steadily upon him. She did not go so far as to call it
jealousy, but certainly it was a grave and serious consideration that
measured the doctor up and down and back again; and it left her free to
examine the two men in contrast. For the first time it struck her that
they were much alike in many ways. Physically, for instance, there was
the same slenderness, the same delicacy with which the details were
finished; the same fragile hands, for instance. The distinction lay in a
suggestion of strength and inexhaustible reserve of energy which Dan
Barry possessed. The distinction lay still more in their faces. That of
Byrne was worn and pallied from the long quest and struggle for truth;
the body was feeble; the eyes were uncertain; but within there was a
powerful machine which could work infallibly from the small to the large
and the large to the small. With Whistling Dan there was no suggestion
at all of mental care. She could not imagine him worrying over a
problem. His knowledge was not even communicable by words; it was more
impalpable than the instinct of a woman; and there was about him the
wisdom and the coldness of Black Bart himself.
The supper ended too soon for Kate. She had been rallying Randall Byrne,
and as soon as he could graciously leave, the poor fellow rose with a
crimson face and left the room; and behind him, sauntering apparently in
the most casual manner, went Whistling Dan. As for Kate Cumberland, she
could not put all the inferences together--she dared not; but when she
lay in her bed that night it was a long time before she could sleep, for
there was a voice inside her, singing.
She chose her time the next day. Dan alternated between Black Bart and
old Joe Cumberland during most of the day, and no sooner had he left
the wolf-dog in the morning than she went out to Bart.
As always, Black Bart lay with his head flattened against the sand,
dreaming in the sun, and not an eyelid quivered when she approached, yet
she understood perfectly that the animal knew every move she made. She
would have attempted to dress the wound again, but the memory of the
ordeal of yesterday was too terrible. She might break down in the midst
of her effort, and the first sign of weakness, she knew, was the only
spur which Black Bart needed. So she went, instead, to the chair where
Dan often sat for hours near the dog, and there she took her place,
folded her hands on her lap, and waited. She had no particular plan in
mind, more than that she hoped to familiarize the great brute with the
sight of her. Once he had known her well enough, but now he had
forgotten all that passed before as completely, no doubt, as Whistling
Dan himself had forgotten.
While she sat there, musing, she remembered a scene that had occurred
not many a month before. She had been out walking one fall day, and had
gone from the house down past the corrals where a number of cattle newly
driven in from the range were penned. They were to be driven off for
shipment the next day. A bellowing caught her ear from one of the
enclosures and she saw two bulls standing horn to horn, their heads
lowered, and their puffing and snorting breaths knocking up the dust
while they pawed the sand back in clouds against their flanks. While
she watched, they rushed together, bellowing, and for a moment they
swayed back and forth. It was an unequal battle, however, for one of the
animals was a hardened veteran, scarred from many a battle on the range,
while the other was a young three-year old with a body not half so
strong as his heart. For a short time he sustained the weight of the
larger bull, but eventually his knees buckled, and then dropped heavily
against the earth. At that the older bull drew back a little and charged
again. This time he avoided the long horns of his rival and made the
unprotected flank of the animal his target. If he had charged squarely
the horns would have been buried to the head; but striking at an angle
only one of them touched the target and delivered a long, ripping blow.
With the blood streaming down his side, the wounded bull made off into a
group of cows, and when the victor pursued him closely, he at length
turned tail and leaped the low fence--for the corral was a new one,
hastily built for the occasion. The conqueror raised his head inside the
fence and bellowed his triumph, and outside the fence the other
commenced pawing up the sand again, switching his tail across his
bleeding side, and turning his little red eyes here and there. They
fixed, at length, upon Kate Cumberland, and she remembered with a start
of horror that she was wearing a bright red blouse. The next instant the
bull was charging. She turned in a hopeless flight. Safety was hundreds
of yards away in the house; the skirts tangled about her legs; and
behind her the dull impacts of the bull's hoofs swept close and closer.
Then she heard a snarl in front, a deep-throated, murderous snarl, and
she saw Black Bart racing towards her. He whizzed by her like a black
thunderbolt; there was a roar and bellow behind her, and at the same
time she stumbled over a fence-board and fell upon her knees. But when
she cast a glance of terror behind her she saw the bull lying on its
side with lolling tongue and glazing eyes and the fangs of Black Dart
were buried in its throat.
When she reached this point in her musings her glance naturally turned
towards the wolf-dog, and she started violently when she saw that Bart
was slinking towards her, trailing the helpless leg. The moment he felt
her eyes upon him, Bart dropped down, motionless, with a wicked baring
of his teeth; his eyes closed, and he seemed, as usual, dreaming in the
Was the brute stalking her? It was worse, in a way, than the ordeal of
the day before, this stealthy, noiseless approach. And in her panic she
first thought of springing from her chair and reaching a distance which
the chain would keep him from following. Yet it was very strange. Black
Bart in his wildest days after Dan brought him to the ranch had never
been prone to wantonly attack human beings. Infringe upon his right,
come suddenly upon him, and then, indeed, there was a danger to all
saving his master. But this daylight stalking was stranger than words
She forced her eyes to look straight ahead and sat with a beating
heart, waiting. Then, by slow degrees, she let her glance travel
cautiously back towards Bart without turning her head. There was no
doubt about it! The great wolf-dog was slinking towards her on his
belly, still trailing the wounded foreleg. There was something snakelike
in that slow approach, so silent and so gradual.
And yet she waited, moving neither hand nor foot.
A sort of nightmare paralysis held her, as when we flee from some horror
in our dreams and find that our limbs have grown numb. Behind us races
the deadly thing, closer and closer; before us is the door of
safety--only a step to reach it--and yet we cannot move a foot!
It was not all pure terror. There was an incredible excitement as
well--her will against the will of the dumb brute--which would conquer?
She heard a faint rustling of the sand beside her and could hardly keep
from turning her head again. But she succeeded. Waves of coldness broke
on her mind; her whole body would have shuddered had not fear chilled
her into motionlessness. All reason told her that it was madness to sit
there with the stealthy horror sliding closer; even now it might be too
late. If she rose the shaggy form might spring from the ground at her.
Perhaps the wolf had treasured up the pain from the day before and now--
A black form did, indeed, rise from the ground, but slowly. And standing
on three legs, Bart stood a moment and stared in the face of the girl.
The fear rushed out of her heart; and her face flushed hotly with
relief. There was no enmity in the steady stare of the wolf-dog. She
could feel that even though she did not look. Something that Whistling
Dan had said long before came to her: "Even a hoss and a dog, Kate, can
get terrible lonesome."
Black Bart moved until he faced her directly. His ears were pricking in
eagerness; she heard a snarl, but so low and muffled that there was
hardly a threat in it; could it be a plea for attention? She would not
look down to the sharp eyes, until a weight fell on her knees--it was
the long, scarred head of the wolf! The joy that swelled in her was so
great that it pained her like a grief.
She stretched out her hand, slowly, slowly towards that head. And Black
Bart shrank and quivered, and his lips writhed back from the long,
deadly teeth, and his snarl grew to a harsher, hoarser threat; still he
did not remove his head, and he allowed the hand to touch him between
the eyes and stroke the fur back to between the ears. Only one other
hand had ever touched that formidable head in such a manner! The teeth
no longer showed; the keen, suspicious eyes grew dim with pleasure; the
snarl sank to murmur and then died out.
"Bart!" commanded the girl, sharply.
The head jerked up, but the questing eyes did not look at her. He
glanced over his shoulder to find the danger that had made her voice so
hard. And she yearned to take the fierce head in her arms; there were
tears she could have wept over it. He was snarling again, prepared
already to battle, and for her sake.
"Bart!" she repeated, more gently. "Lie down!"
He turned his head slowly back to her and looked with the unspeakable
wistfulness of the dumb brutes into her eyes. But there was only one
voice in which Bart could speak, and that was the harsh, rattling snarl
which would have made a mountain-lion check itself mid-leap and slink
back to its lair. In such a voice he answered Kate, and then sank down,
gradually. And he lay still.
So simply, and yet so mysteriously, she was admitted to the partnership.
But though one member of that swift, grim trio had accepted her, did it
mean that the other two would take her in?
A weight sank on her feet and when she looked down she saw that Black
Bart had lowered his head upon them, and so he lay there with his eyes
closed, dreaming in the sun.
Bandages and antiseptics and constant care, by themselves could not have
healed Black Bart so swiftly, but nature took a strong hand. The wound
closed with miraculous speed. Three days after he had laid his head on
the feet of Kate Cumberland, the wolf-dog was hobbling about on three
legs and tugging now and again at the restraining chain; and the day
after that the bandages were taken off and Whistling Dan decided that
Bart might run loose. It was a brief ceremony, but a vital one. Doctor
Byrne went out with Barry to watch the loosing of the dog; from the
window of Joe Cumberland's room he and Kate observed what passed. There
was little hesitancy in Black Bart. He merely paused to sniff the foot
of Randall Byrne, snarl, and then trotted with a limp towards the
Here, in a small enclosure with rails much higher than the other
corrals, stood Satan, and Black Bart made straight for the stallion. He
was seen from afar, and the black horse stood waiting, his head thrown
high in the air, his ears pricking forward, the tail flaunting, a
picture of expectancy. So under the lower rail Bart slunk and stood
under the head of Satan, growling terribly. Of this display of anger
the stallion took not the slightest notice, but lowered his beautiful
head until his velvet nose touched the cold muzzle of Bart. There was
something ludicrous about the greeting--it was such an odd shade close
to the human. It was as brief as it was strange, for Black Bart at once
whirled and trotted away towards the barns.
By the time Doctor Byrne and Whistling Dan caught up with him, the
wolf-dog was before the heaps and ashes which marked the site of the
burned barn. Among these white and grey and black heaps he picked his
way, sniffing hastily here and there. In the very centre of the place he
sat down suddenly on his haunches, pointed his nose aloft, and wailed
with tremendous dreariness.
"Now," murmured the doctor to Dan, "that strikes me as a singular
manifestation of intelligence in an animal--he has found the site of the
very barn where he was hurt--upon my word! Even fire doesn't affect his
Here he observed that the face of Whistling Dan had grown grim. He ran
to Bart and crouched beside him, muttering; and Byrne heard.
"That's about where you was lyin'," said Dan, "and you smell your own
blood on the ground. Keep tryin', Bart. They's something else to find
The wolf-dog looked his master full in the face with pricking ears,
whined and then started off sniffling busily at the heaps of ashes.
"The shooting of the dog is quite a mystery," said Byrne, by way of
conversation. "Do you suppose that one of the men from the bunk-house
could have shot him?"
But Dan seemed no longer aware of the doctor's presence. He slipped here
and there with the wolf-dog among the ash-heaps, pausing when Bart
paused, talking to the brute continually. Sometimes he pointed out to
Bart things which the doctor did not perceive and Bart whined with a
terrible, slavering, blood-eagerness.
The wolf-dog suddenly left the ash-heaps and now darted in swiftly
entangled lines here and there among the barns. Dan Barry stood
thoughtfully still, but now and then he called a word of encouragement.
And Black Bart stayed with his work. Now he struck out a wide circle,
running always with his nose close to the ground. Again he doubled back
sharply to the barn-site, and began again in a new direction. He ran
swiftly, sometimes putting his injured leg to the ground with hardly a
limp, and again drawing it up and running on three feet. In a moment he
passed out of sight behind a slight rise of ground to the left of the
ash-heaps, and at some little distance. He did not reappear. Instead, a
long, shrill wail came wavering towards the doctor and Dan Barry. It
raised the hair on the head of the doctor and sent a chill through his
veins; but it sent Whistling Dan racing towards the place behind which
Black Bart had disappeared. The doctor hurried after as fast as he
might and came upon the wolf-dog making small, swift circles, his nose
to the ground, and then crossing to and fro out of the circles. And the
face of the master was black while he watched. He ran again to Bart and
began talking swiftly.
"D'you see?" he asked, pointing. "From behind this here hill you could
get a pretty good sight of the barn--and you wouldn't be seen, hardly,
from the barn. Someone must have waited here. Look about, Bart, you'll
be findin' a pile of signs, around here. It means that them that done
the shootin' and the firin' of the barn stood right here behind this
hill-top and watched the barn burn--and was hopin' that Satan and you
wouldn't ever come out alive. That's the story."
He dropped to his knees and caught Bart as the big dog ran by.
"Find'em, Bart!" he whispered. "Find'em!"
And he struck sharply on the scar where the bullet had ploughed its way
into Bart's flesh.
The answer of Bart was a yelp too sharp and too highly pitched to have
come from the throat of any mere dog. Once more he darted out and ran
here and there, and Doctor Byrne heard the beast moaning as it ran. Then
Bart ceased circling and cut down the slope away from the hill at a
A cry of inarticulate joy burst from Dan, and then: "You've found it!
You have it!" and the master ran swiftly after the dog. He followed the
latter only for a short distance down the slope and then stood still
and whistled. He had to repeat the call before the dog turned and ran
back to his master, where he whined eagerly about the man's feet. There
was something uncanny and horrible about it; it was as if the dumb beast
was asking for a life, and the life of a man. The doctor turned back and
walked thoughtfully to the house.
At the door he was met by Kate and a burst of eager questions, and he
told, simply, all that he had seen.
"You'll get the details from Mr. Barry," he concluded.
"I know the details," answered the girl. "He's found the trail and he
knows where it points, now. And he'll want to be following it before
many hours have passed. Doctor Byrne, I need you now--terribly. You must
convince Dan that if he leaves us it will be a positive danger to Dad.
Can you do that?"
"At least," said the doctor, "there will be little deception in that. I
will do what I can to persuade him to stay."
"Then," she said hurriedly, "sit here, and I shall sit here. We'll meet
Dan together when he comes in."
They had hardly taken their places when Barry entered, the wolf at his
heels; at the door he paused to flash a glance at them and then crossed
the room. On the farther side he stopped again.
"I might be tellin' you," he said in his soft voice, "that now's Bart's
well I got to be travellin' again. I start in the morning."
The pleading eyes of Kate raised Byrne to his feet.
"My dear Mr. Barry!" he called. The other turned again and waited. "Do
you mean that you will leave us while Mr. Cumberland is in this critical
A shadow crossed the face of Barry.
"I'd stay if I could," he answered. "But it ain't possible!"
"What takes you away is your affair, sir," said the doctor. "My concern
is Mr. Cumberland. He is in a very precarious condition. The slightest
nerve shock may have--fatal--results."
Dan Barry sighed.
"Seemed to me," he answered, "that he was buckin' up considerable. Don't
look so thin, doc."
"His body may be well enough," said the doctor calmly, "but his nerves
are wrecked. I am afraid to prophesy the consequences if you leave him."
It was apparent that a great struggle was going on in Barry. He answered
at length: "How long would I have to stay? One rain could wipe out all
the sign and make me like a blind man in the desert. Doc, how long would
I have to stay?"
"A few days," answered Byrne, "may work wonders with him."
The other hesitated.
"I'll go up and talk with him," he said, "and what he wants I'll do."
He was long in getting his answer. The hours dragged on slowly for Kate
and the doctor, for if Joe Cumberland could hold Dan it was everything
to the girl, and if Barry left at once there might be some root for the
hope which was growing stronger and stronger every day in the heart of
Randall Byrne. Before evening a not unwelcome diversion broke the
It was the arrival of no less a person than Marshal Jeff Calkins. His
shoulders were humped and his short legs bowed from continual riding,
and his head was slung far forward on a gaunt neck; so that when he
turned his head from one to another in speaking it was with a peculiar
pendulum motion. The marshal had a reputation which was strong over
three hundred miles and more of a mountain-desert. This was strange, for
the marshal was a very talkative man, and talkative men are not popular
on the desert; but it has been discovered that on occasion his six-gun
could speak as rapidly and much more accurately than his tongue. So
Marshal Calkins waxed in favour.
He set the household at ease upon his arrival by announcing that "they
hadn't nothin' for him there." All he wanted was a place to bunk in,
some chow, and a feed for the horse. His trail led past the Cumberland
Ranch many and many a dreary mile.
The marshal was a politic man, and he had early in life discovered that
the best way to get along with any man was to meet him on his own
ground. His opening blast of words at Doctor Byrne was a sample of his
"So you're a doc, hey? Well, sir, when I was a kid I had a colt that
stuck its foreleg in a hole and busted it short and when that colt had
to be shot they wasn't no holdin' me. No, sir, I could of cleaned up on
the whole family. And ever since then I've had a hankerin' to be a doc.
Something about the idea of cuttin' into a man that always sort of
tickled me. They's only one main thing that holds me back--I don't like
the idea of knifin' a feller when he ain't got a chance to fight back!
To this Doctor Randall Byrne bowed, rather dazed, but returned no
"And how's your patient, doc?" pursued the irresistible marshal. "How's
old Joe Cumberland? I remember when me and Joe used to trot about the
range together. I was sort of a kid then; but think of old Joe bein'
down in bed--sick! Why, I ain't never been sick a day in my life. Sick?
I'd laugh myse'f plumb to death if anybody ever wanted me to go to bed.
What's the matter with him, anyway?"
"His nerves are a bit shaken about," responded the doctor. "To which I
might add that there is superimposed an arterial condition----"
"Cut it short, Doc," cried the marshal goodnaturedly. "I ain't got a
dictionary handy. Nerves bad, eh? Well, I don't wonder about that. The
old man's had enough trouble lately to make anybody nervous. I wouldn't
like to go through it myself. No, sir! What with that Dan Barry--I ain't
steppin' on any corns, Kate, am I?"
She smiled vaguely, but the marshal accepted the smile as a strong
"They was a time not so long ago when folks said that you was kind of
sweet on Dan. Glad to hear they ain't nothin' in it. 'S a matter of
But here Kate interrupted with a raised hand. She said: "I think that
was the supper gong. Yes, there it is. We'll go in now, if you wish."
"They's only one sound in the world that's better to me than a dinner
gong," said the profuse marshal, as they seated themselves around the
big dining table, "and that was the sound of my wife's voice when she
said 'I will.' Queer thing, too. Maria ain't got a very soft voice, most
generally speakin', but when she busted up in front of that preacher and
says 'I will,' why, God A'mighty--askin' your pardon, Kate--they was a
change come in her voice that was like a bell chimin' down in her
throat--a bell ringin' away off far, you know, so's you only kind of
guess at it! But comin' back to you and Dan, Kate----"
It was in vain she plied the marshal with edibles. His tongue wagged
upon roller-bearings and knew no stopping. Moreover, the marshal had
spent some portion of his life in a boarding house and had mastered the
boarding-house art of talking while he ate.
"Comin' back to you and Dan, we was all of us sayin' that you and Dan
kind of had an eye for each other. I s'pose we was all wrong. You see,
that was back in the days before Dan busted loose. When he was about the
range most usually he was the quietest man I ever sat opposite to
barrin' one--and that was a feller that went west with a bum heart at
the chuck table! Ha, ha, ha!" The marshal's laughter boomed through the
big room as he recalled this delightful anecdote. He went on: "But after
that Jim Silent play we all changed our minds, some. D'you know, doc, I
was in Elkhead the night that Dan got our Lee Haines?"
"I've never heard of the episode," murmured the doctor.
"You ain't? Well, I be damned!--askin' your pardon, Kate----But you
sure ain't lived in these parts long! Which you wouldn't think one man
could ride into a whole town, go to the jail, knock out two guards that
was proved men, take the keys, unlock the irons off'n the man he wanted,
saddle a hoss, and ride through a whole town--full of folks that was
shootin' at him. Now, would you think that was possible?"
"And it _ain't_ possible, I'm here to state. But they was something
different about Dan Barry. D'you ever notice it, Kate?"
She was far past speech.
"No, I guess you never would have noticed it. You was livin' too close
to him all the time to see how different he was from other fellers.
Anyway, he done it. They say he got plugged while he was ridin' through
the lines and he bled all the way home, and he got there unconscious. Is
that right, Kate?"
He waited an instant and then accepted the silence as an affirmative.
"Funny thing about that, too. The place where he come to was Buck
Daniels' house. Well, Buck was one of Jim Silent's men, and they say
Buck had tried to plug Dan before that. But Dan let him go that time,
and when Buck seen Dan ride in all covered with blood he remembered that
favour and he kept Dan safe from Jim Silent and safe from the law until
Dan was well. I seen Buck this morning over to Rafferty's place,
Here the marshal noted a singular look in the eyes of Kate Cumberland, a
look so singular that he turned in his chair to follow it. He saw Dan
Barry in the act of closing the door behind him, and Marshal Calkins
turned a deep and violent red, varied instantly by a blotchy yellow
which in turn faded to something as near white as his tan permitted.
"Dan Barry!" gasped the marshal, rising, and he reached automatically
towards his hip before he remembered that he had laid his belt and guns
aside before he entered the dining-room, as etiquette is in the
mountain-desert. For it is held that shooting at the table disturbs the
"Good evenin'," said Dan quietly. "Was it Buck Daniels that you seen at
Rafferty's place, Marshal Calkins?"
"Him," nodded the marshal, hoarsely. "Yep, Buck Daniels."
And then he sank into his chair, silent for the first time. His eyes
followed Barry as though hypnotized.
"I'm kind of glad to know where I can find him," said Barry, and took
his place at the table.
The silence continued for a while, with all eyes focused on the
new-comer. It was the doctor who had to speak first.
"You've talked things over with Mr. Cumberland?" he asked.
"We had a long talk," nodded Dan. "You was wrong about him, doc. He
thinks he can do without me."
"What?" cried Kate.
"He thinks he can do without me," said Dan Barry. "We talked it all
The silence fell again. Kate Cumberland was staring blankly down at her
plate, seeing nothing; and Doctor Byrne looked straight before him and
felt the pulse drumming in his throat. His chance, then, was to come. By
this time the marshal had recovered his breath.
He said to Dan: "Seems like you been away some time, Dan. Where you been
"I been ridin' about," answered Dan vaguely.
"Well," chuckled the marshal, "I'm glad they ain't no more Jim Silents
about these parts--not while you're here and while I'm here. You kept
things kind of busy for Glasgow, Dan."
He turned to Kate, who had pushed back her chair.
"What's the matter, Kate?" he boomed. "You ain't lookin' any too
"I may be back in a moment," said the girl, "but don't delay supper for
She went out of the room with a step poised well enough, but the moment
the door closed behind her she fairly staggered to the nearest chair and
sank into it, her head fallen back, her eyes dim, and all the strength
gone from her body and her will. Several minutes passed before she
roused herself, and then it was to drag herself slowly up the stairs to
the door of her father's room. She opened it without knocking, and then
closed it and stood with her back against it, in the shadow.
THE VOICE OF BLACK BART
Her father lay propped high with pillows among which his head lolled
back. The only light in the room was near the bed and it cast a glow
upon the face of Joe Cumberland and on the white linen, the white hair,
the white, pointed beard. All the rest of the room swam in darkness. The
chairs were blotches, indistinct, uncertain; even the foot of the bed
trailed off to nothingness. It was like one of those impressionistic,
very modern paintings, where the artist centres upon one point and
throws the rest of his canvas into dull oblivion. The focus here was the
face of the old cattleman. The bedclothes, never stirred, lay in folds
sharply cut out with black shadows, and they had a solid seeming, as the
mort-cloth rendered in marble over the effigy. That suggested weight
exaggerated the frailty of the body beneath the clothes. Exhausted by
that burden, the old man lay in the arms of a deadly languor, so that
there was a kinship of more than blood between him and Kate at this
moment. She stepped to the side of the bed and stood staring down at
him, and there was little gentleness in her expression. So cold was
that settled gaze that her father stirred, at length, shivered, and
without opening his eyes, fumbled at the bed-spread and drew it a little
more closely about his shoulders. Even that did not give him rest; and
presently the wrinkled eyelids opened and he looked up at his daughter.
A film of weariness heavier than sleep at first obscured his sight, but
this in turn cleared away; he frowned a little to clear his vision, and
then wagged his head slowly from side to side.
"Kate," he said feebly, "I done my best. It simply wasn't good enough."
She answered in a voice as low as his, but steadier: "What could have
happened? Dad, what happened to make you give up every hold on Dan? What
was it? You were the last power that could keep him here. You knew it.
Why did you tell him he could go?"
The monotone was more deadly than any emphasis of a raised word.
"If you'd been here," pleaded Joe Cumberland, "you'd have done what I
done. I couldn't help it. There he sat on the foot of the bed--see where
them covers still kind of sag down--after he told me that he had
something to do away from the ranch and that he wanted to go now that
Black Bart was well enough to travel in short spells. He asked me if I
still needed him."
"And you told him no?" she cried. "Oh Dad, you know it means everything
to me--but you told him no?" He raised a shaking hand to ward off the
outburst and stop it.
"Not at first, honey. Gimme a chance to talk, Kate. At first I told him
that I needed him--and God knows that I _do_ need him. I dunno why--not
even Doc Byrne knows what there is about Dan that helps me. I told Dan
all them things. And he didn't say nothin', but jest sat still on the
foot of the bed and looked at me.
"It ain't easy to bear his eyes, Kate. I lay here and tried at first to
smile at him and talk about other things--but it ain't easy to bear his
eyes. You take a dog, Kate. It ain't supposed to be able to look you in
the eye for long; but s'pose you met up with a dog that could. It'd make
you feel sort of queer inside. Which I felt that way while Dan was
lookin' at me. Not that he was threatenin' me. No, it wasn't that. He
was only thoughtful, but I kept gettin' more nervous and more fidgety. I
felt after a while like I couldn't stand it. I had to crawl out of bed
and begin walkin' up and down till I got quieter. But I seen that
"Then I begun to think. I thought of near everything in a little while.
I thought of what would happen s'pose Dan should stay here. Maybe you
and him would get to like each other again. Maybe you'd get married.
Then what would happen?
"I thought of the wild geese flyin' north in the spring o' the year and
the wild geese flyin' south in the fall o' the year. And I thought of
Dan with his heart followin' the wild geese--God knows why!--and I seen
a picture of him standin' and watchin' them, with you nearby and not
able to get one look out of him. I seen that, and it made my blood
chilly, like the air on a frosty night.
"Kate, they's something like the power of prophecy that comes to a dyin'
"Dad!" she cried. "What are you saying?"
She slipped to her knees beside the bed and drew his cold hands towards
her, but Joe Cumberland shook his head and mildly drew one hand away. He
raised it, with extended forefinger--a sign of infinite warning; and
with the glow of the lamp full upon his face, the eyes were pits of
shadow with stirring orbs of fire in the depths.
"No, I ain't dead now," he said, "but I ain't far away from it. Maybe
days, maybe weeks, maybe whole months. But I've passed the top of the
hill, and I know I'm ridin' down the slope. Pretty soon I'll finish the
trail. But what little time I've got left is worth more'n everything
that went before. I can see my life behind me and the things before like
a cold mornin' light was over it all--you know before the sun begins to
beat up the waves of heat and the mist gets tanglin' in front of your
eyes? You know when you can look right across a thirty mile valley and
name the trees, a'most the other side? That's the way I can see now.
They ain't no feelin' about it. My body is all plumb paralyzed. I jest
see and know--that's all.
"And what I see of you and Dan--if you ever marry--is plain--hell! Love
ain't the only thing they is between a man and a woman. They's something
else. I dunno what it is. But it's a sort of a common purpose; it's
havin' both pairs of feet steppin' out on the same path. That's what it
is. But your trail would go one way and Dan's would go another, and
pretty soon your love wouldn't be nothin' but a big wind blowin' between
two mountains--and all it would do would be to freeze up the blood in
"I seen all that, while Dan was sittin' at the foot of the bed. Not that
I don't want him here. When I see him I see the world the way it was
when I was under thirty. When there wasn't nothin' I wouldn't try once,
when all I wanted was a gun and a hoss and a song to keep me from
tradin' with kings. No, it ain't goin' to be easy for me when Dan goes
away. But what's my tag-end of life compared with yours? You got to be
given a chance; you got to be kept away from Dan. That's why I told him,
finally, that I thought I could get along without him."
"Whether or not you save me," she answered, "you signed a death warrant
for at least two men when you told him that."
"Two men? They's only one he's after--and Buck Daniel has had a long
start. He can't be caught!"
"That Marshal Calkins is here to-night. He saw Buck at Rafferty's, and
he talked about it in the hearing of Dan at the table. I watched Dan's
face. You may read the past and see the future, Dad, but I know Dan's
face. I can read it as the sailor reads the sea. Before to-morrow night
Buck Daniels will be dead; and Dan's hands will be red."
She dropped her head against the bedclothes and clasped her fingers over
the bright hair.
When she could speak again she raised her head and went on in the same
swift, low monotone: "And besides, Black Bart has found the trail of the
man who fired the barn and shot him. And the body of Buck won't be cold
before Dan will be on the heels of the other man. Oh, Dad, two lives lay
in the hollow of your hand. You could have saved them by merely asking
Dan to stay with you; but you've thrown them away."
"Buck Daniels!" repeated the old man, the horror of the thing dawning on
him only slowly. "Why didn't he get farther away? Why didn't he ride
night and day after he left us? He's got to be warned that Dan is
"I've thought of that. I'm going into my room now to write a note and
send it to Buck by one of our men. But at the most he'll have less than
a day's start--and what is a day to Satan and Dan Barry?"
"I thought it was for the best," muttered old Joe. "I couldn't see how
it was wrong. But I can send for Dan and tell him that I've changed my
mind." He broke off in a groan. "No, that wouldn't be no good. He's set
his mind on going by this time, and nothing can keep him back. But
--Kate, maybe I can delay him. Has he gone up to his room yet?"
"He's in there now. Talk softly or he'll hear us. He's walking up and
"Ay, ay, ay!" nodded old Joe, his eyes widening with horror, "and his
footfall is like the padding of a big cat. I could tell it out of a
thousand steps. And I know what's going on inside his mind!"
"Yes, yes; he's thinking of the blow Buck Daniels struck him; he's
thinking of the man who shot down Bart. God save them both!"
"Listen!" whispered the cattleman. "He's raised the window. I heard the
rattle of the weights. He's standing there in front of the window,
letting the wind of the night blow in his face!"
The wind from the window, indeed, struck against the door communicating
with Joe Cumberland's room, and shook it as if a hand were rattling at
The girl began to speak again, as swiftly as before, her voice the
barely audible rushing of a whisper: "The law will trail him, but I
won't give him up. Dad, I'm going to fight once more to keep him
here--and if I fail, I'll follow him around the world." Such words
should have come loudly, ringing. Spoken so softly, they gave a terrible
effect; like the ravings of delirium, or the monotone of insanity. And
with the white light against her face she was more awe-inspiring than
beautiful. "He loved me once; and the fire must still be in him; such
fire _can't_ go out, and I'll fan it back to life, and then if it burns
me--if it burns us both--the fire itself cannot be more torture than to
live on like this!"
"Hush, lass!" murmured her father. "Listen to what's coming!"
It was a moan, very low pitched, and then rising slowly, and gaining in
volume, rising up the scale with a dizzy speed, till it burst and rang
through the house--the long-drawn wail of a wolf when it hunts on a
Buck Daniels opened his eyes and sat bolt-upright in bed. He had dreamed
the dream again, and this time, as always, he awakened before the end.
He needed no rubbing of eyes to rouse his senses. If a shower of cold
water had been dashed upon him he could not have rallied from sound
slumber so suddenly. His first movement was to snatch his gun from under
his mattress, not that he dreamed of needing it, but for some reason the
pressure of the butt against his palm was reassuring. It was better than
the grip of his friend--a strong man.
It was the first grey of dawn, a light so feeble that it served merely
to illuminate the darkness, so to speak. It fell with any power upon one
thing alone, the bit of an old, dusty bridle that hung against the wall,
and it made the steel glitter like a watchful eye. There was a great
dryness in the throat of Buck Daniels; and his whole big body shook with
the pounding of his heart.
He was not the only thing that was awake in the grey hour. For now he
caught a faint and regular creaking of the stairs. Someone was mounting
with an excessively cautious and patient step, for usually the crazy
stairs that led up to this garret room of the Rafferty house creaked and
groaned a protest at every footfall. Now the footfall paused at the head
of the stairs, as when one stops to listen.
Buck Daniels raised his revolver and levelled it on the door; but his
hand was shaking so terribly that he could not keep his aim--the muzzle
kept veering back and forth across the door. He seized his right hand
with his left, and crushed it with a desperate pressure. Then it was
better. The quivering of the two hands counteracted each other and he
managed to keep some sort of a bead.
Now the step continued again, down the short hall. A hand fell on the
knob of the door and pressed it slowly open. Against the deeper
blackness of the hall beyond, Buck saw a tall figure, hatless. His
finger curved about the trigger, and still he did not fire. Even to his
hysterical brain it occurred that Dan Barry would be wearing a hat--and
moreover the form was tall.
"Buck!" called a guarded voice.
The muzzle of Daniels' revolver dropped; he threw the gun on his bed and
"Jim Rafferty!" he cried, with something like a groan in his voice.
"What in the name of God are you doin' here at this hour?"
"Someone come here and banged on the door a while ago. Had a letter for
you. Must have rid a long ways and come fast; while he was givin' me
the letter at the door I heard his hoss pantin' outside. He wouldn't
stay, but went right back. Here's the letter, Buck. Hope it ain't no bad
news. Got a light here, ain't you?"
"All right, Jim," answered Buck Daniels, taking the letter. "I got a
lantern. You get back to bed."
The other replied with a noisy yawn and left the room while Buck kindled
the lantern. By that light he read his name upon the envelope and tore
it open. It was very brief.
Last night at supper Dan found out where
you are. In the morning he's leaving the ranch and
we know that he intends to ride for Rafferty's place;
he'll probably be there before noon. The moment
you get this, saddle your horse and ride. Oh, Buck,
why did you stay so close to us?
Relay your horses. Don't stop until you're over
the mountains. Black Bart is well enough to take
the trail and Dan will use him to follow you. You
know what that means.
Ride, ride, ride!
He crumpled up the paper and sank back upon the bed.
"Why did you stay so close?"
He had wondered at that, himself, many times in the past few days. Like
the hunted rabbit, he expected to find safety under the very nose of
danger. Now that he was discovered it seemed incredible that he could
have followed so patently foolish a course. In a sort of daze he
uncrumpled the note again and read the wrinkled writing word by word. He
had leaned close to read by the uncertain light, and now he caught the
faintest breath of perfume from the paper. It was a small thing, smaller
among scents than a whisper is among voices, but it made Buck Daniels
drop his head and crush the paper against his face. It was a moment
before he could uncrumple the paper sufficiently to study the contents
of the note thoroughly. At first his dazed brain caught only part of the
significance. Then it dawned on him that the girl thought he had fled
from the Cumberland Ranch through fear of Dan Barry.
Ay, there had been fear in it. Every day at the ranch he had shuddered
at the thought that the destroyer might ride up on that devil of black
silken grace, Satan. But every day he had convinced himself that even
then Dan Barry remembered the past and was cursing himself for the
ingratitude he had shown his old friend. Now the truth swept coldly home
to Buck Daniels. Barry was as fierce as ever upon the trail; and Kate
Cumberland thought that he--Buck Daniels,--had fled like a cur from
He seized his head between his hands and beat his knuckles against the
corrugated flesh of his forehead. She had thought that!
Desire for action, action, action, beset him like thirst. To close with
this devil, this wolf-man, to set his big fingers in the smooth, almost
girlish throat, to choke the yellow light out of those eyes--or else to
die, but like a man proving his manhood before the girl.
He read the letter again and then in an agony he crumpled it to a ball
and hurled it across the room. Catching up his hat and his belt he
rushed wildly from the room, thundered down the crazy stairs, and out to
Long Bess, the tall, bay mare which had carried him through three years
of adventure and danger and never failed him yet, raised her
aristocratic head above the side of the stall and whinnied. For answer
he shook his fist at her and cursed insanely.
The saddle he jerked by one stirrup leather from the wall and flung it
on her back, and when she cringed to the far side of the stall, he
cursed her again, bitterly, and drew up the cinch with a lunge that made
her groan. He did not wait to lead her to the door before mounting, but
sprang into the saddle.
Here he whirled her about and drove home the spurs. Cruel usage, for
Long Bess had never denied him the utmost of her speed and strength at
the mere sound of his voice. Now, half-mad with fear and surprise, she
sprang forward at full gallop, slipped and almost sprawled on the floor,
and then thundered out of the door.
At once the soft sandy-soil received and deadened the impact of her
hoofs. Off she flew through the grey of the morning, soundless as a
Long Bess--there was good blood in her. She was as delicately limbed as
an antelope, and her heart was as strong as the smooth muscles of her
shoulders and hips. Yet to Buck Daniels her fastest gait seemed slower
than a walk. Already his thoughts were flying far before. Already he
stood before the ranch house calling to Dan Barry. Ay, at the very door
of the place they should meet and one of them must die. And better by
far that the blood of him who died should stain the hands of Kate
The grey light which Buck Daniels saw that morning, hardly brightened as
the day grew, for the sky was overcast with sheeted mist and through it
a dull evening radiance filtered to the earth. Wung Lu, his celestial,
slant eyes now yellow with cold, built a fire on the big hearth in the
living-room. It was a roaring blaze, for the wood was so dry that it
flamed as though soaked in oil, and tumbled a mass of yellow fire up the
chimney. So bright was the fire, indeed, that its light quite
over-shadowed the meagre day which looked in at the window, and every
chair cast its shadow away from the hearth. Later on Kate Cumberland
came down the backstairs and slipped into the kitchen.
"Have you seen Dan?" she asked of the cook.
"Wung Lu make nice fire," grinned the Chinaman. "Misser Dan in there."
She thought for an instant.
"Is breakfast ready, Wung?"
"Pretty soon quick," nodded Wung Lu.
"Then throw out the coffee or the eggs," she said quickly. "I don't want
breakfast served yet; wait till I send you word."
As the door closed behind her, the eye-brows of Wung rose into perfect
"Ho!" grunted Wung Lu, "O ho!"
In the hall Kate met Randall Byrne coming down the stairs. He was
dressed in white and he had found a little yellow wildflower and stuck
it in his button-hole. He seemed ten years younger than the day he rode
with her to the ranch, and now he came to her with a quick step,
"Doctor Byrne," she said quietly, "breakfast will be late this morning.
Also, I want no one to go into the living-room for a while. Will you
keep them out?"
The doctor was instantly gone.
"He hasn't gone, yet?" he queried.
The doctor sighed and then, apparently following a sudden impulse, he
reached his hand to her.
"I hope something comes of it," he said.
Even then she could not help a wan smile.
"What do you mean by that, doctor?"
The doctor sighed again.
"If the inference is not clear," he said, "I'm afraid that I cannot
explain. But I'll try to keep everyone from the room."
She nodded her thanks, and went on; but passing the mirror in the hall
the sight of her face made her stop abruptly. There was no vestige of
colour in it; and the shadow beneath her eyes made them seem inhumanly
large and deep. The bright hair, to be sure, waved over her head and
coiled on her neck, but it was like a futile shaft of sunlight falling
on a dreary moor in winter. She went on thoughtfully to the door of the
living-room but there she paused again with her hand upon the knob; and
while she stood there she remembered herself as she had been only a few
months before, with the colour flushing in her face and a continual
light in her eyes. There had been little need for thinking then. One had
only to let the wind and the sun strike on one, and live. Then, in a
quiet despair, she said to herself: "As I am--I must win or lose--as I
am!" and she opened the door and stepped in.
She had been cold with fear and excitement when she entered the room to
make her last stand for happiness, but once she was in, it was not so
hard. Dan Barry lay on the couch at the far end of the room with his
hands thrown under his head, and he was smiling in a way which she well
knew; it had been a danger signal in the old days, and when he turned
his face and said good-morning to her, she caught that singular glimmer
of yellow which sometimes came up behind his eyes. In reply to his
greeting she merely nodded, and then walked slowly to the window and
turned her back to him.
It was a one-tone landscape. Sky, hills, barns, earth, all was a single
mass of lifeless grey; in such an atmosphere old Homer had seen the
wraiths of his dead heroes play again at the things they had done on
earth. She noted these things with a blank eye, for a thousand thoughts
were leaping through her mind. Something must be done. There he lay in
the same room with her. He had turned his head back, no doubt, and was
staring at the ceiling as before, and the yellow glimmer was in his eyes
again. Perhaps, after this day, she should never see him again; every
moment was precious beyond the price of gold, and yet there she stood at
the window, doing nothing. But what _could_ she do?
Should she go to him and fall on her knees beside him and pour out her
heart, telling him again of the old days. No, it would be like striking
on a wooden bell; no echo would rise; and she knew beforehand the deadly
blackness of his eyes. So Black Bart lay often in the sun, staring at
infinite distance and seeing nothing but his dreams of battle. What were
appeals and what were words to Black Bart? What were they to Dan Barry?
Yet once, by sitting still--the thought made her blood leap with a
great, joyous pulse that set her cheeks tingling.
She waited till the first impulse of excitement had subsided, and then
turned back and sat down in a chair near the fire. From a corner of her
eye she was aware that Whistling Dan had turned his head again to await
her first speech. Then she fixed her gaze on the wall of yellow flame.
The impulse to speak to him was like a hand tugging to turn her around,
and the words came up and swelled in her throat, but still she would not
In a moment of rationality she felt in an overwhelming wave of mental
coldness the folly of her course, but she shut out the thought with a
slight shudder. Silence, to Dan Barry, had a louder voice and more
meaning than any words.
Then she knew that he was sitting up on the couch. Was he about to stand
up and walk out of the room? For moment after moment he did not stir;
and at length she knew, with a breathless certainty, that he was staring
fixedly at her! The hand which was farthest from him, and hidden, she
gripped hard upon the arm of the chair. That was some comfort, some
She had now the same emotion she had had when Black Bart slunk towards
her under the tree--if a single perceptible tremor shook her, if she
showed the slightest awareness of the subtle approach, she was undone.
It was only her apparent unconsciousness which could draw either the
wolf-dog or the master.
She remembered what her father had told her of hunting young deer--how
he had lain in the grass and thrust up a leg above the grass in sight of
the deer and how they would first run away but finally come back step by
step, drawn by an invincible curiosity, until at length they were within
range for a point blank shot.
Now she must concentrate on the flames of the fireplace, see nothing but
them, think of nothing but the swiftly changing domes and walls and
pinnacles they made. She leaned a little forward and rested her cheek
upon her right hand--and thereby she shut out the sight of Dan Barry
effectually. Also it made a brace to keep her from turning her head
towards him, and she needed every support, physical and mental.
Still he did not move. Was he in truth looking at her, or was he staring
beyond her at the grey sky which lowered past the window? The faintest
creaking sound told her that he had risen, slowly, from the crouch. Then
not a sound, except that she knew, in some mysterious manner, that he
moved, but whether towards her or towards the door she could not dream.
But he stepped suddenly and noiselessly into the range of her vision and
sat down on a low bench at one side of the hearth. If the strain had
been tense before, it now became terrible; for there he sat almost
facing her, and looking intently at her, yet she must keep all awareness
of him out of her eyes. In the excitement a strong pulse began to beat
in the hollow of her throat, as if her heart were rising. She had won,
she had kept him in the room, she had brought him to a keen thought of
her. A Pyrrhic victory, for she was poised on the very edge of a cliff
of hysteria. She began to feel a tremor of the hand which supported her
cheek. If that should become visible to him he would instantly know that
all her apparent unconsciousness was a sham, and then she would have
lost him truly!
Something sounded at one of the doors--and then the door opened softly.
She was almost glad of the interruption, for another instant might have
swept away the last reserve of her strength. So this, then, was the end.
But the footfall which sounded in the apartment was a soft, padding
step, with a little scratching sound, light as a finger running on a
frosty window pane. And then a long, shaggy head slipped close to
Whistling Dan. It was Black Bart!
A wave of terror swept through her. She remembered another scene, not
many months before, when Black Bart had drawn his master away from her
and led him south, south, after the wild geese. The wolf-dog had come
again like a demoniac spirit to undo her plans!
Only an instant--the crisis of a battle--then the great beast turned
slowly, faced her, slunk with his long stride closer, and then a cold
nose touched the hand which gripped the arm of her chair. It gave her a
welcome excuse for action of some sort; she reached out her hand,
slowly, and touched the forehead of Black Bart. He winced back, and the
long fangs flashed; her hand remained tremulously poised in air, and
then the long head approached again, cautiously, and once more she
touched it, and since it did not stir, she trailed the tips of her
fingers backwards towards the ears. Black Bart snarled again, but it was
a sound so subdued as to be almost like the purring of a great cat. He
sank down, and the weight of his head came upon her feet. Victory!
In the full tide of conscious power she was able to drop her hand from
her face, raise her head, turn her glance carelessly upon Dan Barry; she
was met by ominously glowing eyes. Anger--at least it was not
He rose and stepped in his noiseless way behind her, but he reappeared
instantly on the other side, and reached out his hand to where her
fingers trailed limp from the arm of the chair. There he let them lie,
white and cool, against the darkness of his palm. It was as if he sought
in the hand for the secret of her power over the wolf-dog. She let her
head rest against the back of the chair and watched the nervous and
sinewy hand upon which her own rested. She had seen those hands fixed in
the throat of Black Bart himself, once upon a time. A grim simile came
to her; the tips of her fingers touched the paw of the panther. The
steel-sharp claws were sheathed, but suppose once they were bared, and
clutched. Or she stood touching a switch which might loose, by the
slightest motion, a terrific voltage. What would happen?
Nothing! Presently the hand released her fingers, and Dan Barry stepped
back and stood with folded arms, frowning at the fire. In the weakness
which overcame her, in the grip of the wild excitement, she dared not
stay near him longer. She rose and walked into the dining-room.
"Serve breakfast now, Wung," she commanded, and at once the gong was
struck by the cook.
Before the long vibrations had died away the guests were gathered around
the table, and the noisy marshal was the first to come. He slammed back
a chair and sat down with a grunt of expectancy.