Part 5 out of 6
"Mornin', Dan," he said, whetting his knife across the table-cloth, "I
hear you're ridin' this mornin'? Ain't going my way, are you?"
Dan Barry sat frowning steadily down at the table. It was a moment
before he answered.
"I ain't leavin," he said softly, at length, "postponed my trip."
DOCTOR BYRNE SHOWS THE TRUTH
On this day of low-lying mists, this day so dull that not a shadow was
cast by tree or house or man, there was no graver place than the room of
old Joe Cumberland; even lamp light was more merciful in the room, for
it left the corners of the big apartment in obscurity, but this meagre
daylight stripped away all illusion and left the room naked and ugly.
Those colours of wall and carpet, once brighter than spring, showed now
as faded and lifeless as foliage in the dead days of late November when
the leaves have no life except what keeps them clinging to the twig, and
when their fallen fellows are lifted and rustled on the ground by every
faint wind, with a sound like breathing in the forest. And like autumn,
too, was the face of Joe Cumberland, with a colour neither flushed nor
pale, but a dull sallow which foretells death. Beside his bed sat Doctor
Randall Byrne and kept the pressure of two fingers upon the wrist of the
When he removed the thermometer from between the lips of Cumberland the
old man spoke, but without lifting his closed eyelids, as if even this
were an effort which he could only accomplish by a great concentration
of the will.
"No fever to-day, doc?"
"You feel a little better?" asked Byrne.
"They ain't no feelin'. But I ain't hot; jest sort of middlin' cold."
Doctor Byrne glanced down at the thermometer with a frown, and then
shook down the mercury.
"No," he admitted, "there is no fever."
Joe Cumberland opened his eyes a trifle and peered up at Byrne.
"You ain't satisfied, doc?"
Doctor Randall Byrne was of that merciless modern school which believes
in acquainting the patient with the truth.
"I am not," he said.
"H-m-m!" murmured the sick man. "And what might be wrong?"
"Your pulse is uneven and weak," said the doctor.
"I been feelin' sort of weak since I seen Dan last night," admitted the
other. "But that news Kate brought me will bring me up! She's kept him
here, lad, think of that!"
"I am thinking of it," answered the doctor coldly. "Your last interview
with him nearly--killed you. If you see him again I shall wash my hands
of the case. When he first came you felt better at once--in fact, I
admit that you _seemed_ to do better both in body and mind. But the
thing could not last. It was a false stimulus, and when the first
effects had passed away, it left you in this condition. Mr. Cumberland,
you must see him no more!"
But Joe Cumberland laughed long and softly.
"Life," he murmured, "ain't worth that much! Not half!"
"I can do no more than advise," said the doctor, as reserved as before.
"I cannot command."
"A bit peeved, doc?" queried the old man. "Well, sir, I know they ain't
much longer for me. Lord, man, I can feel myself going out like a flame
in a lamp when the oil runs up. I can feel life jest makin' its last few
jumps in me like the flame up the chimney. But listen to me----" he
reached out a long, large knuckled, claw-like hand and drew the doctor
down over him, and his eyes were earnest--"I got to live till I see 'em
standin' here beside me, hand in hand, doc!"
The doctor, even by that dim light, had changed colour. He passed his
hand slowly across his forehead.
"You expect to see that?"
"I expect nothin'. I only hope!"
The bitterness of Byrne's heart came up in his throat.
"It will be an oddly suited match," he said, "if they marry. But they
will not marry."
"Ha!" cried Cumberland, and starting up in bed he braced himself on a
quaking elbow. "What's that?"
"Lie down!" ordered the doctor, and pressed the ranchman back against
"But what d'you mean?"
"It would be a long story--the scientific explanation."
"Doc, where Dan is concerned I got more patience than Job."
"In brief, then, I will prove to you that there is no mystery in this
"If you can do that, doc, you're more of a man than I been guessing you
for. Start now!"
"In primitive times," said Doctor Randall Byrne, "man was nearly related
to what we now call the lower animals. In those days he could not
surround himself with an artificial protective environment. He depended
on the unassisted strength of his body. His muscular and sensuous
development, therefore, was far in advance of that of the modern man.
For modern man has used his mind at the expense of his body. The very
_quality_ of his muscles is altered; and the senses of sight and
hearing, for instance, are much blunted. For in the primitive days the
ear kept guard over man even when he slept in terror of a thousand
deadly enemies, each stronger than he; and the eye had to be keenly
attuned to probe the shadows of the forest for lurking foes.
"Now, sir, there is in biology the thing known, as the sport. You will
have heard that all living organisms undergo gradual processes of
change. Season by season and year by year, environment affects the
individual; yet these gradual changes are extremely slow. Between steps
of noticeable change there elapse periods many times longer than the
life of historic man. All speed in changes such as these comes in what
we call 'sports'. That is, a particular plant, for instance, gradually
tends to have fewer leaves and a thicker bark, but the change is slight
from age to age until suddenly a single instance occurs of plant which
realises suddenly in a single step the 'ideal' towards which the species
has been striving. In a word, it has very, very few leaves, and an
extraordinarily thick bark.
"For a particular instance, one species of orange tended to have few and
fewer seeds. But finally came an orange tree whose fruit had no seeds at
all. That was the origin of the navel orange. And that was a typical
"Now, there is the reverse of the sport. Instead of jumping long
distance ahead, an individual may lapse back towards the primitive. That
individual is called an atavism. For instance, in this mountain-desert
there has, for several generations, been a pressure of environment
calling for a species of man which will be able to live with comparative
comfort in a waste region--a man, in a word, equipped with such powerful
organisms that he will be as much at home in the heart of the desert as
an ordinary man would be in a drawing-room. You gather the drift of my
"I have observed this man Barry carefully. I am thoroughly convinced
that he is such an atavism.
"Among other men he seems strange. He is different and therefore he
seems mysterious. As a matter of fact, he is quite a common freak. I
could name you others like him in differing from common men, though not
differing from them in exactly the same manner.
"You see the result of this? Daniel Barry is a man to whom the desert is
necessary, because he was made for the desert. He is lonely among
crowds--you have said it yourself--but he is at home in a mountain
wilderness with a horse and a dog."
"Doc, you talk well," broke in Joe Cumberland, "but if he ain't human,
why do humans like him so much? Why does he mean so much to me--to
"Simply because he is different. You get from him what you could get
from no other man in the world, perhaps, and you fail to see that the
fellow is really more akin to his wolf-dog than he is to a man."
"Supposin' I said you was right," murmured the old man, frowning, "how
d'you explain why he likes other folks. According to you, the desert and
the mountains and animals is what he wants. Then how is it that he took
so much care of me when he come back this time? How is it that he likes
Kate, enough to give up a trail of blood to stay here with her?"
"It is easy to explain the girl's attraction," said the doctor. "All
animals wish to mate, Mr. Cumberland, and an age old instinct is now
working out in Dan Barry. But while you and Kate may please him, you are
not necessary to him. He left you once before and he was quite happy in
his desert. And I tell you, Mr. Cumberland, that he will leave you
again. You cannot tame the untameable. It is not habit that rules this
man. It is instinct a million years old. The call which he will hear is
the call of the wilderness, and to answer it he will leave father and
wife and children and ride out with his horse and his dog!"
The old man lay quite motionless, staring at the ceiling.
"I don't want to believe you," he said slowly, "but before God I think
you're right. Oh, lad, why was I bound up in a tangle like this one? And
Kate--what will she do?"
The doctor was quivering with excitement.
"Let the man stay with her. In time she will come to see the brute
nature of Daniel Barry. That will be the end of him with her."
"Brute. Doc. They ain't nobody as gentle as Dan!"
"Till he tastes blood, a lion can be raised like a house-dog," answered
"Then she mustn't marry him? Ay, I've felt it--jest what you've put in
words. It's livin' death for Kate if she marries him! She's kept him
here to-day. To-morrow something may cross him, and the minute he feels
the pull of it, he'll be off on the trail--the blow of a man, the
hollering out of the wild geese--God knows what it'll take to start him
wild again and forget us all--jest the way a child forgets its parents!"
A voice broke in upon them, calling far away: "Dan! Dan Barry!"
THE ACID TEST
In the living-room below they heard it, Dan and Kate Cumberland. All day
she had sat by the fire which still blazed on the hearth, replenished
from time to time by the care of Wung Lu. She had taken up some sewing,
and she worked at it steadily. Some of that time Dan Barry was in the
room, sitting through long intervals, watching her with lynx-eyed
attention. Very rarely did he speak--almost never, and she could have
numbered upon her two hands the words he had spoken--ay, and she could
have repeated them one by one. Now and again he rose and went out, and
the wolf-dog went with him each time. But towards the last Black Bart
preferred to stay in the room, crouched in front of her and blinking at
the fire, as if he knew that each time his master would return to the
fire. Then, why leave the pleasant warmth for the chilly greyness of the
There he remained, stirring only now and then to lift a clumsy paw and
brush it across his eyes in an oddly human gesture. Once or twice, also,
he lifted that great, scarred head and laid it on her knees, looking
curiously from her busy hands to her face, and from her face back again
to her work, until, having apparently assured himself that all was well,
he dropped his head again and lay once more motionless. She could see
him open a listless eye when the master entered the room again. And with
each coming of Dan Barry she felt again surrounded as if by invisible
arms. Something was prying at her, striving to win a secret from her.
As the day wore on, a great, singing happiness rose in her throat, and
at about the same time she heard a faint sound, impalpable, from the
farther side of the room where Dan Barry sat. He was whistling.
A simple thing for a man to do, to be sure, but the astonishment of it
nearly stopped the heart of Kate Cumberland. For in all her life she had
never before heard him whistle except when he was in the open, and
preferably when he was astride of the strength and the speed of Satan,
with Black Bart scouting swiftly and smoothly ahead. But now he whistled
here by the warmth of the fire. To be sure the sound was small and thin,
but there was such music in it as she had never heard before. It was so
thin that it was almost ghostly, as if the soul of wild Paganini played
here on a muted violin. No tune that might be repeated, but as always
when she heard it, a picture rose before the eyes of Kate. It wavered at
first against the yellow glow of the firelight. Then it quite shut out
It was deep night, starry night. The black horse and his rider wound up
a deep ravine. To one side a bold mountain tumbled up to an infinite
height, bristling with misshapen trees here and there, and losing its
head against the very stars. On the other side were jagged hills, all
carved in the solid rock. And down the valley, between the mountains and
the stars, blew a soft wind; as if that wind made the music. They were
climbing up, up, up, and now they reach--the music rising also to a soft
but triumphant outburst--a high plateau. They were pressed up against
the heart of the sky. The stars burned low, and low. Around them the
whole earth seemed in prospect at their feet. The moon burst through a
mass of clouds, and she saw, far off, a great river running silver
through the night.
Happy? Ay, and he was happy too, and his happiness was one with hers. He
was not even looking out the window while he whistled, but his eyes were
fixed steadily, unchangingly, upon her face.
It was then that they heard it: "Dan! Dan Barry! Come out!"
A hoarse, ringing cry, as of one who is shouting against a great wind:
"Dan! Dan Barry! Come out!"
Dan Barry was on his feet and gliding to the wall, where he took down
his belt from a nail and buckled it swiftly around him. And Kate ran to
the window with the wolf-dog snarling beside her and saw standing in
front of the house, his hat off, his black hair wildly tumbled, and two
guns in his hands, Buck Daniels! Behind him the tall bay mare shook
with her panting and glistened with the sweat of the long ride.
She heard a scratching next and saw the wolf-dog rear up and paw at the
door. Once through that door and he would be at the throat of the man
outside, she knew. Nor he alone, for Dan Barry was coming swiftly across
the room with that strange, padding step. He had no eye for her. He was
smiling, and she had rather have seen him in a cursing fury than to see
this smile. It curled the upper lip with something like a sneer; and she
caught the white glint of his teeth; the wolf-dog snarled back over his
shoulder to hurry his master. It was the crisis which she had known all
day was coming, sooner or later. She had only prayed that it might be
delayed for a little time. And confronting the danger was like stepping
into the path of runaway horses. Fear ruled her with an iron hand, and
she swayed back against the wall and supported herself with an
What was there to be done? If she stepped in between him and his man, he
would brush her aside from his path and out of his life forever. If he
went on to his vengeance he would no less be started on the path which
led around the world away from her. The law would be the hound which
pursued him and relentlessly nipped at his heels--an eternal terror and
unrest. No thought of Buck Daniels who had done so much for her. She
cast his services out of her mind with the natural cruelty of woman.
Her whole thought was, selfishly, for the man before her, and for
He was there--his hand was upon the knob of the door. And then she
remembered how the teeth of Black Bart had closed over her arm--and how
they had not broken even the skin. In an instant she was pressed against
the door before Dan Barry--her arms outstretched.
He fell back the slightest bit before her, and then he came again and
brushed her slowly, gently, to one side, with an irresistible strength.
She had to meet his eyes now--there was no help for it--and she saw
there that swirl of yellow light--that insatiable hunger. And she knew,
fully and bitterly, that she had failed. With the wolf-dog, indeed, she
had conquered, but the man escaped her. If time had been granted her she
would have won, she knew, but the hand of Buck Daniels, so long her
ally, had destroyed her chances. It was his hand now which shook the
knob of the door, and she turned with a sob of despair to face the new
In her wildest dreams she had never visioned Buck Daniels transformed
like this. She knew that in his past, as one of those long-riders who
roam the mountain-desert, their hand against the hands of every man,
Buck Daniels had been known and feared by the strongest. But all she had
seen of Buck Daniels had been gentleness itself. Yet what faced her as
the door flew wide was a nightmare thing with haggard face and
shadow-buried, glittering eyes--unshaven, unkempt of hair, his shirt
open at the throat, his great hands clenched for the battle. The
wolf-dog, at that familiar sight, whined a low greeting, but with a
glance at his master knew that there was a change--the old alliance was
broken--so he bared his white teeth and changed his whine to a snarl of
Then a strange terror struck Kate Cumberland. She had never dreamed that
she could fear for Dan Barry at the hands of any man, but now the
desperate resolve which breathed from every line of Buck Daniels,
chilled her blood at the heart. She sprang back before Dan Barry. Facing
him, she saw that demoniac glitter of yellow rising momently brighter in
his eyes, and he was smiling. No execration or loud voiced curse could
have contained the distilled malignancy of that smile. All this she
caught in a single glimpse. The next instant she had whirled and stood
before Dan, shielding him with outspread arms and facing Buck Daniels.
The latter thrust back into the holster the gun which he had drawn when
he entered the room.
"Stand away from him, Kate," he commanded, and his eyes went past her to
dwell on the face of Barry. "Stand away from him. It's been comin' for a
long time, and now it's here. Barry I'm takin' no start on you. Stand
away from the girl and pull your gun--and I'll pump you full of lead."
The softest of soft voices murmured behind her: "I been waitin' for you,
Buck, days and days and days. I ain't never been so glad to see
And she felt Barry slip shadowlike to one side. She sprang in front of
him again with a wild cry.
"Buck!" she begged, "don't shoot!"
Laughter, ringing and unhuman, filled the throat of Buck Daniels.
"Is it him you're beggin' for?" he sneered at her. "Is it him you got
your fears for? Ain't you got a word of pity for poor Buck Daniels that
sneaked off like a whipped puppy? Bah! Dan Barry, the time is come. I
been leadin' the life of a houn' dog for your sake. But it's ended. Pull
your gun and get out from behind the skirts of that girl!"
As long as they faced each other with the challenge in their eyes,
nothing on earth could avert the fight, she knew, but if she could delay
them for one moment--she felt that swift moving form behind her slipping
away from behind her--she could follow Barry's movements by the light in
"Buck!" she cried, "for God's sake--for my sake turn away from
him--and--roll another cigarette!"
For she remembered the story--how Daniels had turned under the very nose
of danger and done this insane thing in the saloon at Brownsville and in
her despair she could think of no other appeal.
It was the very strangeness of it that gave it point. Buck Daniels
turned on his heel.
"It's the last kindness I do you, Dan," he said, with his broad back to
them. "But before you die you got to know why I'm killin' you. I'm going
to roll one cigarette and smoke it and while I smoke it I'm goin' to
tell you the concentrated truth about your worthless self and when I'm
done smokin' I'm goin' to turn around and drop you where you stand.
"They's no need of waitin'," answered the soft voice of Barry. "Talkin'
don't mean much."
But Kate Cumberland turned and faced him. He was fairly a-quiver with
eagerness and the hate welled and blazed and flickered in his eyes; his
face was pale--very pale--and it seemed to her that she could make out
in the pallor the print of the fingers of Buck Daniels and that blow
those many days before. And she feared him as she had never feared him
before--yet she blocked his way still with the outspread arms.
They could hear the crinkle of the cigarette paper as Buck rolled his
"No," said Buck, his voice suddenly altered to an almost casual
moderation, "talk don't mean nothin' to you. Talk is human, and nothin'
human means nothin' to you. But I got to tell you why you ought to die,
"I started out this mornin' hatin' the ground you walked on, but now I
see that they ain't no use to hate you. Is they any use hatin' a
mountain-lion that kills calves? No, you don't hate it, but you get a
gun and trail it and shoot it down. And that's the way with you."
They heard the scratch of his match.
"That's the way with you. I got my back to you right now because if I
looked you in the eye I couldn't let you live no more'n I could let a
mountain-lion live. I know you're faster with your gun than I am and
stronger than I am, and made to fight. But I know I'm going to kill you.
You've done your work--you've left hell on all sides of you--it's your
time to die. I know it! You been lyin' like a snake in the rocks with
your poison ready for any man that walks past you. Now your poison is
about used up."
He paused, and then when he spoke again there was a ring of exultation
in his voice: "I tell you, Dan, I don't fear you, and I know that the
bullet in this gun here on my hips is the one that's goin' to tear your
heart out. I _know_ it!"
Something like a sob came from the lips of Dan Barry. His hands moved
out towards Buck Daniels as though he were plucking something from the
"You've said enough," he said. "You said plenty. Now turn around and
And Kate Cumberland stepped back, out of line of the two. She knew that
in what followed she could not play the part of the protector or the
delayer. Here they stood, hungry, for battle, and there was no power in
her weak hands to separate them. She stood far back and fumbled with her
hands at the wall for support. She tried to close her eyes, but the
fascination of the horror forced her to watch against her strongest
will. And the chief part of that dreadful suspense lay in the even, calm
voice of Buck Daniels as he went on: "I'll turn around and fight soon
enough. But Kate asked me to smoke another cigarette. I know what she
means. She wants me to leave you the way I done in the saloon that day.
I ain't goin' to leave, Dan. But I'm glad she asked me to turn away,
because it gives me a chance to tell you some things you got to know
before you go west.
"Dan, you been like a fire that burns every hand that touches you." He
inhaled a long breath of smoke and blew it up towards the ceiling.
"You've busted the heart of the friend that follered you; you've busted
the heart of the girl that loves you."
He paused again, for another long inhalation, and Kate Cumberland,
staring in fearful suspense, waiting for the instant when Buck should at
last turn and when the shots should explode, saw that the yellow glow
was now somewhat misted in the eyes of Barry. He frowned, as one
"Think of her, Dan!" went on Buck Daniels. "Think of her wasting herself
on a no-good houn' dog like you--a no-good wild _wolf_! My God A'mighty,
she might of made some good man happy--some man with a soul and a
heart--but instead of that God sent you like a blast across her--you
with your damned soul of wind and your heart of stone! Think of it! When
you see what you been, Barry, I wonder you don't go out and take your
own gun and blow off your head."
"Buck," called Dan Barry, "so help me God, if you don't turn your face
to me--I'll shoot you through the back!"
"I knew," said the imperturbable Daniels, "that you'd come to that in
the end. You used to fight like a man, but now you're followin' your
instincts, and you fight like a huntin' wolf. Look at the brute that's
slinkin' up to me there! That's what you are. You kill for the sake of
killin'--like the beasts.
"If you was a man, could you treat me like you've done? Your damned cold
heart and your yaller eyes and all would of burned up in the barn the
other night--you and your wolf and your damned hoss. Why didn't I let
you burn? Because I was a fool. Because I still thought they was
something of the man in you. But I seen afterwards what you was, and I
rode off to get out of your way--to keep your hands from gettin' red
with my blood. And then you plan on follerin' me--damn you!--on
"So that, Dan, is why I've come to put you out of the world--as I'm
goin' to do now! Once you hated to give pain, and if you hurt people it
was because you couldn't help it. But now you live on torturin' others.
Barry, pull your gun!"
And as he spoke, he whirled, the heavy revolver leaping into his hand.
Still Kate Cumberland could not close her eyes on the horror. She could
not even cry out; she was frozen.
But there was no report--no spurt of smoke--no form of a man stumbling
blindly towards death. Dan Barry stood with one hand pressed over his
eyes and the other dangled at his side, harmless, while he frowned in
bewilderment at the floor.
He said slowly, at length: "Buck, I kind of think you're right. They
ain't no use in me. I been rememberin', Buck, how you sent Kate to me
when I was sick."
There was a loud clatter; the revolver dropped from the hand of Buck
The musical voice of Dan Barry murmured again: "And I remember how you
stood up to Jim Silent, for my sake. Buck, what's come between us since
them days? You hit me a while back, and since then I been wantin' your
blood--but hearin' you talk now, somehow--I feel sort of lost and
lonesome--like I'd thrown somethin' away that I valued most."
Buck Daniels threw out his great arms and his voice was broken terribly.
"Oh, God A'mighty, Dan," he cried, "jest take one step back to me and
I'll come all the way around the world to meet you!"
He stumbled across the floor and grasped at the hand of Barry, for a
mist had half-blinded his eyes.
"Dan," he pleaded, "ain't things as they once was? D'you forgive me?"
"Why, Buck," murmured Dan Barry, in that same bewildered fashion, "seems
like we was bunkies once."
"Dan," muttered Buck Daniels, choking, "Dan----" but he dared not trust
his voice further, and turning, he fairly fled from the room.
The dazed eyes of Dan Barry followed him. Then they moved until they
encountered the face of Kate Cumberland. A shock, as if of surprise,
widened the lids. For a long moment they stared in silence, and then he
began to walk, very slowly, a step at a time, towards the girl. Now, as
he faced her, she saw that there was no longer a hint of the yellow in
his eyes, but he stepped closer and closer; he was right before her,
watching her with an expression of mute suffering that made her heart
He said, more to himself than to her: "Seems like I been away a long
"A very long time," she whispered.
He drew a great breath.
"Is it true, what Buck said? About you?"
"Oh, my dear, my dear!" she cried. "Don't you see?"
He started a little, and taking both her hands he made her face the dull
light from the windows.
"Seems like you're kind of pale, Kate."
"The colour went while I waited for you, Dan."
"But there comes a touch of red--like morning--in your throat, and
runnin' up your cheeks."
"Don't you see? It's because you've come back!"
He closed his eyes and murmured: "I remember we was close--closer than
this. We were sittin' here--in this room--by a fire. And then something
called me out and I follered it."
"The wild geese--yes."
"Wild geese?" he repeated blankly, and then shook his head. "How could
wild geese call me? But things happened. I was kept away. Sometimes I
wanted to come back to you, but somehow I could never get started. Was
it ten years ago that I left?"
"Months--months longer than years."
"What is it?" he asked. "I been watchin' you, and waitin' to find out
what was different in you. Black Bart seen something in you. I dunno
what. Today I sort of guessed what it is. I can feel it now. It's
something like a pain. It starts sort of in the stomach, Kate. It's like
bein' away from a place where you want to be. Queer, ain't it? I ain't
far from you. I've got your hands in mine, but somehow you don't feel
near. I want to walk--a long ways--closer. And the pain keeps growin'."
His voice fell away to a murmur, and now a deadly silence lay between
them, and it seemed as if lights were varying upon their faces, so swift
and subtle were the changes of expression. And they drew closer by
imperceptible degrees. So his arms, fumbling, found their away about
her, drew her closer, till her head drooped back, and her face was close
"Was it true," he whispered, "what Buck said?"
"There's nothing true except that we're together."
"But your eyes are brimful of tears!"
"The same pain you feel, Dan; the same loneliness and the hurt."
"But it's going now. I feel as if I'd been riding three days without
more'n enough water to moisten my tongue every hour; with the sand white
hot, and my hoss staggerin', and the sun droppin' closer and closer till
the mountains are touched with white fire. Then I come, in the evenin',
to a valley with cool shadows beginning to slip across from the western
side, and I stand in the shadow and feel the red-hot blood go smashin',
smashin', smashin' in my temples--and then--a sound of runnin' water
somewhere up the hill-side. Runnin', cool, fresh, sparkling water
whispering over the rocks. Ah, God, that's what it means to me to stand
here close to you, Kate!
"And it's like standin' up in the mornin' on the top of a high hill and
seein' the light jump up quick in the east, and there lies all the world
at my feet, mile after mile of it--they's a river like silver away off
yonder--and they's range after range walkin' off into a blue nothing.
That's what it's like to stand here and look down into them blue eyes of
yours, Kate--miles and miles into 'em, till I feel as if I seen your
heart beneath. And they's the rose of the mornin' on your cheeks, and
the breath of the mornin' stirrin' between your lips, and the light of
the risin' sun comes flarin' in your eyes. And I own the world--I own
"Two burnin' pieces of wood, that's you and me, and when I was away from
you the fire went down to a smoulder; but now that we're close a wind
hits us, and the flames come together and rise and jump and twine
together. Two pieces of burnin' wood, but only one flame--d'you feel
it?--Oh, Kate, our bodies is ashes and dust, and all that's worth while
is that flame blowin' up from us, settin' the world on fire!"
Even in Elkhead there were fires this day. In the Gilead saloon one
might have thought that the liquid heat which the men imbibed would
serve in place of stoves, but the proprietor, "Pale Annie," had an eye
to form, and when the sky was grey he always lighted the stove.
"Pale Annie" he was called because his real name was Anderson Hawberry
Sandringham. That name had been a great aid to him when he was an
undertaker in Kansas City; but Anderson Hawberry Sandringham had fallen
from the straight and narrow path of good undertakers some years before
and he had sought refuge in the mountain-desert, where most things
prosper except sheriffs and grass. He was fully six inches more than six
feet in height and his face was so long and pale that even Haw-Haw
Langley seemed cheerful beside the ex-undertaker. In Kansas City this
had been much prized, for that single face could lend solemnity to any
funeral. In Elkhead it was hardly less of an asset.
People came out of curiosity to see Pale Annie behind the bar with his
tall silk hat--which he could never bring himself to lay aside--among
the cobwebs of the rafters. They came out of curiosity and they remained
to drink--which is a habit in the mountain-desert. A travelling drummer
or a patent medicine man had offered Pale Annie a handsome stake to
simply go about with him and lend the sanction of his face to the talk
of the drummer, but Pale Annie had discovered a veritable philosopher's
stone in Elkhead and he was literally turning whiskey into gold.
This day was even more prosperous than usual for Pale Annie, for the
grey weather and the chilly air made men glad of the warmth, both
external and internal, which Pale Annie possessed in his barroom. His
dextrous hands were never for a moment still at the bar, either setting
out drinks or making change, except when he walked out and threw a fresh
feed into the fire, and stirred up the ruddy depths of the stove with a
tall poker. It was so long, indeed, that it might have served even Pale
Annie for a cane and it was a plain untapered bar of iron which the
blacksmith had given him as the price of a drink, on a day. He needed a
large poker, however, for there was only the one stove in the entire big
room, and it was a giant of its kind, as capacious as a hogshead. This
day Pale Annie kept it red hot, so that the warmth might penetrate to
the door on the one hand and to the rear of the room where the tables
and chairs were, on the other.
Since Pale Annie's crowd took little exercise except for bending their
elbows now and again, and since the majority of them had been in the
place fully half the day, by ten in the evening sounds of hilarity began
to rise from the saloon. Solemn-faced men who had remained in their
places for hour after hour, industriously putting away the red-eye, now
showed symptoms of life. Some of them discovered hitherto hidden talents
as singers, and they would rise from their places, remove their hats,
open their bearded mouths, and burst into song. An antiquarian who had
washed gold in '49 and done nothing the rest of his life save grow a
prodigious set of pure white whiskers, sprang from his place and did a
hoe-down that ravished the beholders. Thrice he was compelled to return
to the floor; and in the end his performance was only stopped by an
attack of sciatica. Two strong men carried him back to his chair and
wept over him, and there was another drink all around.
In this scene of universal joy there were two places of shadow. For at
the rear end of the room, almost out of reach of the lantern-light, sat
Haw-Haw Langley and Mac Strann. The more Haw-Haw Langley drank the more
cadaverous grew his face, until in the end it was almost as solemn as
that of Pale Annie himself; as for Mac Strann, he seldom drank at all.
A full hour had just elapsed since either of them spoke, yet Haw-Haw
Langley said, as if in answer to a remark: "He's heard too much about
you, Mac. He ain't no such fool as to come to Elkhead."
"He ain't had time," answered the giant.
"Ain't had time? All these days?"
"Wait till the dog gets well. He'll follow the dog to Elkhead."
"Why, Mac, the trail's been washed out long ago. That wind the other day
would of knocked out any trail less'n a big waggon."
"It won't wash out the trail for _that_ dog," said Mac Strann calmly.
"Well," snarled Haw-Haw, "I got to be gettin' back home pretty soon. I
ain't rollin' in coin the way you are, Mac."
The other returned no answer, but let his eyes rove vacantly over the
room, and since his head was turned the other way, Haw-Haw Langley
allowed a sneer to twist at his lips for a moment.
"If I had the price," he said, "we'd have another drink."
"I ain't drinkin'," answered the giant monotonously.
"Then I'll go up and bum one off'n Pale Annie. About time he come
through with a little charity."
So he unfurled his length and stalked through the crowd up to the bar.
Here he leaned and confidentially whispered in the ear of Pale Annie.
"Partner, I been sprinklin' dust for a long time in here, and there
ain't been any reward. I'm dry, Annie."
Pale Annie regarded him with grave disapproval.
"My friend," he said solemnly, "liquor is the real root of all evil. For
my part, I quench my thirst with water. They's a tub over there in the
corner with a dipper handy. Don't mention it."
"I didn't thank you," said Haw-Haw Langley furiously. "Damn a tight-wad,
The long hand of Pale Annie curled affectionately around the neck of an
"I didn't quite gather what you said?" he remarked courteously, and
leaned across the bar--within striking distance.
"I'll tell you later," remarked Haw-Haw sullenly, and turned his
shoulder to the bar.
As he did so two comparatively recent arrivals came up beside him. They
were fresh from a couple of months of range-finding, and they had been
quenching a concentrated thirst by concentrated effort. Haw-Haw Langley
looked them over, sighed with relief, and then instantly produced Durham
and the brown papers. He paused in the midst of rolling his cigarette
and offered them to the nearest fellow.
"Smoke?" he asked.
Now a man of the mountain-desert knows a great many things, but he does
not know how to refuse. The proffer of a gift embarrasses him, but he
knows no way of avoiding it; also he never rests easy until he has made
"Sure," said the man, and gathered in the tobacco and papers. "Thanks!"
He covertly dropped the cigarette which he had just lighted, and stepped
on it, then he rolled another from Haw-Haw's materials. The while, he
kept an uneasy eye on his new companion.
"Drinkin'?" he asked at length.
"Not jest now," said Haw-Haw carelessly.
"Always got room for another," protested the other, still more in
earnest as he saw his chance of a return disappearing.
"All right, then," said Haw-Haw. "Jest one more."
And he poured a glass to the brim, waved it gracefully towards the
others without spilling a drop, and downed it at a gulp.
"Ben in town long?" he asked.
"Not long enough to find any action," answered the other.
The eye of Haw-Haw Langley brightened. He looked over the two carefully.
The one had black hair and the other red, but they were obviously
brothers, both tall, thick-shouldered, square-jawed, and pug-nosed.
There was Irish blood in that twain; the fire in their eyes could have
come from only one place on earth. And Haw-Haw grinned and looked down
the length of the room to where Mac Strann sat, a heavy, inert mass, his
fleshy forehead puckered into a half-frown of animal wistfulness.
"You ain't the only ones," he said to his companion at the bar. "They's
a man in town who says they don't turn out any two men in this range
that could give him action."
"The hell!" grunted he of the red hair. And he looked down to his
"'S matter of fact," continued Haw-Haw easily, "he's right here now!"
He looked again towards Mac Strann and remembered once more the drink
which Mac might so easily have purchased for him.
"It ain't Pale Annie, is it?" asked the black haired man, casting a
dubious glance up and down the vast frame of the undertaker.
"Him? Not half!" grinned Haw-Haw. "It's a fet feller down to the end of
the bar. I guess he's been drinkin' some. Kind of off his nut."
He indicated Mac Strann.
"He looks to me," said the red-haired man, setting his jaw, "like a
feller that ain't any too old to learn one more thing about the range in
"He looks to me," chimed in the black haired brother, "like a feller
that might be taught something right here in Pale Annie's barroom.
Anyway, he's got room at his table for two more."
So saying the two swallowed their drinks and rumbled casually down the
length of the room until they came to the table where Mac Strann sat.
Haw-Haw Langley followed at a discreet distance and came within earshot
to hear the deep voice of Mac Strann rumbling: "Sorry, gents, but that
chair is took."
The black-haired man sank into the indicated chair.
"You're right," he announced calmly. "Anybody could see with half an
eye that you ain't a fool. It's took by me!"
And he grinned impudently in the face of Mac Strann. The latter, who had
been sitting with slightly bent head, now raised it and looked the pair
over carelessly; there was in his eye the same dumb curiosity which
Haw-Haw Langley had seen many a time in the eye of a bull, leader of the
The giant explained carefully: "I mean, they's a friend of mine that's
been sittin' in that chair."
"If I ain't your friend," answered the black-haired brother instantly,
"it ain't any fault of mine. Lay it up to yourself, partner!"
Mac Strann stretched out his hand on the surface of the table.
He said: "I got an idea you better get out of that chair."
The other turned his head slowly on all sides and then looked Mac Strann
full in the face.
"Maybe they's something wrong with my eyes," he said, "but I don't see
The little dialogue had lasted long enough to focus all eyes on the
table at the end of the room, and therefore there were many witnesses to
what followed. The arm of Mac Strann shot out; his hand fastened in the
collar of the black-haired man's shirt, and the latter was raised from
his seat and propelled to one side by a convulsive jerk. He probably
would have been sent crashing into the bar had not his shirt failed
under the strain. It ripped in two at the shoulders, and the seeker
after action, naked to the waist, went reeling back to the middle of the
room, before he gained his balance. After him went Mac Strann with an
agility astonishing in that squat, formless bulk. His long arms were
outstretched and his fingers tensed, and in his face there was an
uncanny joy; his lip had lifted in that peculiarly disheartening sneer.
He was not a pace from him of the black hair when a yell of rage behind
him and the other brother leaped through the air and landed on Mac
Strann's back. He doubled up, slipped his arms behind him, and the next
instant, without visible reason, the red-headed man hurtled through the
air and smashed against the bar with a jolt that set the glassware
shivering and singing. Then he relaxed on the floor, a twisted and
foolish looking mass.
As for the seeker after action, he had at first reached after his
revolver, but he changed his mind at the last instant and instead picked
up the great poker which leaned against the stove. It was a ponderous
weapon and he had to wield it in both hands. As he swung it around his
head there was a yell from men ducking out of the way, and Pale Annie
curled his hand again around his favorite empty bottle. He had no good
opportunity to demonstrate its efficiency, however. Mac Strann,
crouching in the position from which he had catapulted the red-haired
man, cast upwards a single glance at the other brother, and then he
sprang in. The poker hissed through the air with the vigour of a strong
man's arms behind it and it would have cracked the head of Mac Strann
like an empty egg-shell if it had hit its mark. But it was heaved too
high, and Mac Strann went in like a football player rushing the line,
almost doubled up against the floor as he ran. His shoulders struck the
other hardly higher than the knees, and they went down together, but so
doing the head of Mac Strann's victim cracked against the floor, and he
also was still.
The exploit was greeted by a yell of applause and then someone proposed
a cheer, and it was given. It died off short on the lips of the
applauders, however, for it was seen that Mac Strann was not yet done
with his work, and he went about it in a manner which made men sober
suddenly and exchange glances.
First the stranger dragged the two brothers together, laying one of them
face down on the floor. The second he placed over the first, back to
back. Next he picked up the long poker from the floor and slipped it
under the head and down to the neck of the first man. The bystanders
watched in utter silence, with a touch of horror coming now in their
Now Mac Strann caught the ends of the iron and began to twist up on
them. There was no result at first. He refreshed his hold and tried
again. The sleeves of his shirt were seen to swell and then grow hard
and taut with vast play of muscle beneath. His head bowed lower between
his shoulders, and those shoulders trembled, and the muscles over them
quivered like heat-waves rising of a spring morning. There was a
creaking, now, and then the iron was seen to shiver and then bend,
slowly, and once it was wrenched out of the horizontal, the motion was
more and more rapid. Until, when the giant was done with his labor, the
ends of the iron over-lapped around the necks of the two luckless
brothers. Mac Strann stepped back and surveyed his work; the rest of the
room was in silence, saving that the red-headed man was coming back to
consciousness and now writhed and groaned feebly. He could not rise;
that was manifest, for the thick band of iron tied his neck to the neck
of his brother.
Upon this scene Mac Strann gazed with a thoughtful air and then stepped
to the side of the room where stood a bucket of dirty water, recently
used for mopping behind the bar. This he caught up, returned, and dashed
the black, greasy water over the pair.
If it had been electricity it could not have operated more effectively.
The two awoke with one mind, and with a tremendous spluttering and
cursing struggled to regain their feet. It was no easy thing, however,
for when one stood up the other slipped and in his fall involved the
brother. In the meantime it made a jest exactly suited to the mind of
Elkhead, and shrieks of hysterical laughter rewarded their struggles.
Until at length they sat solemnly, back to back, easing the pressure of
the iron as best they might with their hands. Assembled Elkhead reeled
about the room, drunken with laughter. But Mac Strann went quietly back
to his table and paid no attention to the scene.
There is an end to all good things, however, and finally the two
brothers concerted action together, rose, and then side-stepped towards
the door, dripping the mop-water at every step. Obviously they were
bound for the blacksmith's to lose their collar; and everyone in the
saloon knew that the blacksmith was not in town.
The old man who had done the hoe-down hobbled to the end of the barroom
and before the table of Mac Strann made a speech to the effect that
Elkhead had everything it needed except laughter, that Mac Strann had
come to their assistance in that respect, and that if he, the old man,
had the power, he would pension such an efficient jester and keep him
permanently in the town. To all of this Mac Strann paid not the
slightest heed, but with his fleshy brow puckered considered the
infinite distance. Even the drink which Pale Annie, grateful for the
averted riot, placed on the table before him, Mac Strann allowed to
stand untasted. And it was private stock!
It was at this time that Haw-Haw Langley made his way back to the table
and occupied the contested seat.
"That was a bum play," he said solemnly to Mac Strann. "When Barry hears
about what you done here to two men, d'you think that he'll ever hit
The other started.
"I never thought about it," he murmured, his thick lips, as always,
framing speech with difficulty. "D'you s'pose I'd ought to go back to
the Cumberland place for him?"
A yell rose at the farther end of the room.
"A wolf! Hey! Shoot the damn wolf!"
"You fool!" cried another. "He ain't skinny enough to be a wolf.
Besides, whoever heard of a tame wolf comin' into a barroom?"
Nevertheless many a gun was held in readiness, and the men, even the
most drunken, fell back to one side and allowed a free passage for the
animal. It seemed, indeed, to be a wolf, and a giant of its kind, and it
slunk now with soundless step through the silence of the barroom,
glancing neither to right nor to left, until it came before the table of
Mac Strann. There it halted and slunk back a little, the upper lip
lifted away from the long fangs, its eyes glittered upon the face of the
giant, and then it swung about and slipped out of the barroom as it had
come, in utter silence.
In the utter silence Mac Strann leaned across the table to Haw-Haw
"He's come alone this time," he said, "but the next time he'll bring his
master with him. We'll wait!"
The Adam's-apple rose and fell in the throat of Haw-Haw.
"We'll wait," he nodded, and he burst into the harsh, unhuman laughter
which had given him his name.
THE DISCOVERY OF LIFE
This is the letter which Swinnerton Loughburne received over the
signature of Doctor Randall Byrne. It was such a strange letter that
between paragraphs Swinnerton Loughburne paced up and down his Gramercy
Park studio and stared, baffled, at the heights of the Metropolitan
"I'll be with you in good old Manhattan about as soon as you get this
letter. I'm sending this ahead because I want you to do me a favour. If
I have to go back to those bare, blank rooms of mine with the smell of
chemicals drifting in from the laboratory, I'll--get drunk. That's all!"
Here Swinnerton Loughburne lowered the letter to his knees and grasped
his head in both hands. Next he turned to the end of the letter and made
sure that the signature was "Randall Byrne." He stared again at the
handwriting. It was not the usual script of the young doctor. It was
bolder, freer, and twice as large as usual; there was a total lack of
regard for the amount of stationery consumed.
Shaking his head in bewilderment, Swinnerton Loughburne shook his fine
grey head and read on: "What I want you to do, is to stir about and find
me a new apartment. Mind you, I don't want the loft of some infernal
Arcade building in the Sixties. Get me a place somewhere between
Thirtieth and Fifty-eighth. _Two_ bed-rooms. I want a place to put some
of the boys when they drop around my way. And at least one servant's
room. Also at least one large room where I can stir about and wave my
arms without hitting the chandelier. Are you with me?"
Here Swinnerton Loughburne seized his head between both hands again and
groaned: "Dementia! Plain and simple dementia! And at his age, poor
He continued: "Find an interior decorator. Not one of these fuzzy haired
women-in-pants, but a he-man who knows what a he-man needs. Tell him I
want that place furnished regardless of expense. I want some deep chairs
that will hit me under the knees. I want some pictures on the wall--but
_nothing out of the Eighteenth Century_--no impressionistic
landscapes--no girls dolled up in fluffy stuff. I want some pictures I
can enjoy, even if my maiden aunt can't. There you are. Tell him to go
ahead on those lines.
"In a word, Swinnerton, old top, I want to live. For about thirty years
I've _thought_, and now I know that there's nothing in it. All the
thinking in the world won't make one more blade of grass grow; put one
extra pound on the ribs of a long-horn; and in a word, thinking is the
bunk, pure and simple!"
At this point Swinnerton Loughburne staggered to the window, threw it
open, and leaned out into the cold night. After a time he had strength
enough to return to his chair and read through the rest of the epistle
"You wonder how I've reached the new viewpoint? Simply by seeing some
concentrated life here at the Cumberland ranch. My theories are blasted
and knocked in the head--praise God!--and I've brushed a million cobwebs
out of my brain. Chemistry? Rot! There's another sort of chemistry that
works on the inside of a man. That's what I want to study. There are
three great preliminary essentials to the study:
1st: How to box with a man.
2nd: How to talk with a girl.
3rd: How to drink old wine.
Try the three, Swinnerton; they aren't half bad. At first they may give
you a sore jaw, an aching heart, and a spinning head, but in the end
they teach you how to keep your feet and _fight!_
"This is how my eyes were opened.
"When I came out to this ranch it was hard for me to ride a horse. So
I've been studying how it should be done. Among other things, you should
keep your toes turned in, you know. And there are many other things to
"When I had mastered them one by one I went out the other day and asked
to have a horse saddled. It was done, and a lantern-jawed cowpuncher
brought out a piebald gelding with long ears and sleepy eyes. Not a
lovely beast, but a mild one. So I went into the saddle according to
theory--with some slight hesitations here and there, planted my feet in
the stirrups, and told the lantern-jawed fellow to turn loose the head
of the piebald. This was done. I shook the reins. The horse did not
move. I called to the brute by name. One ear wagged back to listen to
"I kicked the beast in the ribs. Unfortunately I had forgotten that long
spurs were on my heels. The horse was instantly aware of that fact,
however. He leaped into a full gallop. A very jolty process. Then he
stopped--but I kept on going. A fence was in the way, so I was halted.
Afterwards the lantern-jawed man picked me up and offered to carry me
back to the house or at least get a wheelbarrow for me. I refused with
some dignity. I remarked that I preferred walking, really, and so I
started out across the hills and away from the house. My head was sore;
so were my shoulders where I hit the fence; I began to think of the joy
of facing that horse again, armed with a club.
"It was evening--after supper, you see--and the light of the moon was
already brighter than the sunlight. And by the time I had crossed the
first range of hills, it was quite dark. As I walked I brooded upon many
things. There were enough to disturb me.
"There was old Joe Cumberland, at death's door and beyond the reach of
my knowledge; and he had been taken away from death by the wild man, Dan
Barry. There was the girl with the bright hair--Kate Cumberland. In
education, nothing; in brain, nothing; in experience, nothing; and yet I
was attracted. But she was not attracted in the least until along came
the wild man again, and then she fell into his arms--actually fought for
him! Why? I could not tell. My name and the things I have done and even
my money, meant nothing to her. But when he came it was only a glance, a
word, a smile, and she was in his arms. I felt like Caligula. I wished
the world had only one neck, and I an axe. But why should I have felt
depressed because of failures in the eyes of these silly yokels? Not one
of them could read the simplest chemical formula!
"All very absurd, you will agree, and you may get some inkling as to my
state of mind while I walked over those same dark hills. I seemed a part
of that darkness. I looked up to the stars. They were merely like the
pages of a book. I named them off hand, one after the other, and thought
of their characteristics, their distances, their composition, and
meditated on the marvels the spectrum has made known to us. But no
sooner did such a train of thoughts start in my brain, than I again
recurred to the girl, Kate Cumberland, and all I was aware of was a pain
at heart--something like homesickness. Very strange.
"She and the man are together constantly. The other day I was in Joseph
Cumberland's room and we heard whistling outside. The face of the old
man lighted, 'They are together again,' he said. 'How do you guess at
that?' I asked. 'By the sound of his whistling,' he answered. 'For he
whistles as if he expected an answer--as if he were talking with
someone.' And by the Lord, the old man was right. It would never have
occurred to me!
"Now as I started down the farther slope of a hill a whistling sound ran
upon me through the wind, and looking back I saw a horseman galloping
with great swiftness along the line of the crest, very plainly outlined
by the sky, and by something of smoothness in the running of the horse I
knew that it was Barry and his black stallion. But the whistling--the
music! Dear God, man, have you read of the pipes of Pan? That night I
heard them and it made a riot in my heart.
"He was gone, suddenly, and the whistling went out like a light, but
something had happened inside me--the first beginning of this process of
internal change. The ground no longer seemed so dark. There were earth
smells--very friendly--I heard some little creature chirruping
contentedly to itself. Something hummed--a grasshopper, perhaps. And
then I looked up to the stars. There was not a name I could think of--I
forgot them all, and for the first time I was contented to look at them
and wonder at their beauty without an attempt at analysis or labelling.
"If I say that I went back to the ranch-house with my feet on the ground
and by heart up there among the stars, will you understand?
"I found the girl sewing in front of the fire in the living room.
Simply looked up to me with a smile, and a certain dimness about the
eyes--well, my breath stopped.
"'Kate,' said I, 'I am going away to-morrow morning!'
"'And leave Dad?' said she.
"'To tell you the truth,' I answered, 'there is nothing I can do for
him. There has never been anything I could do for him.'
"'I am sorry,' said she, and lifted up her eyes to me.
"Now, I had begun by being stiff with her, but the ringing of that
whistling--pipes of Pan, you know--was in my ears. I took a chair beside
her. Something overflowed in my heart. For the first time in whole days
I could look on her beauty without pain.
"'Do you know why I'm going?' I asked.
"'Because,' said I, and smiled right into her face, 'I love you, Kate,
most infernally; and I know perfectly well that I will get never the
devil a bit of good out of it.'
"She peered at me. 'You aren't jesting?' says she. 'No, you're serious.
I'm very sorry, Doctor Byrne.'
"'And I,' I answered, 'am glad. I wouldn't change it for the world. For
once in my life--to-night--I've forgotten myself. No, I won't go away
and nurse a broken heart, but I'll think of you as a man should think of
something bright and above him. You'll keep my heart warm, Kate, till
I'm a very old man. Because of you, I'll be able to love some other
girl--and a fine one, by the Lord!'
"Something in the nature of an outburst, eh? But it was the music which
had done it. All the time it rang and echoed through my ears. My words
were only an echo of it. I was in tune with the universe. I was living
for the first time. The girl dropped her sewing--tossed it aside. She
came over to me and took my hands in a way that would have warmed even
the icicles of your heart, Swinnerton.
"'Doctor,' says she, 'I know that you are going to be very happy.'
"'Happiness,' said I, 'is a trick, like riding a horse. And I think that
I've learned the trick. I've caught it from you and from Barry.'
"At that, she let go my hands and stepped back. The very devil is in
these women, Swinnerton. You never can place them for a minute at a
"'I am trying to learn myself,' she said, and there was a shadow of
wistfulness in her eyes.
"In another moment I should have made a complete fool of myself, but I
remembered in time and got out of the room. To-morrow I start back for
the old world but I warn you beforehand, my dear fellow, that I'm
bringing something of the new world with me.
"What has it all brought to me? I am sad one day and gay the next. But
at least I know that thinking is not life and now I'm ready to fight.
The morning of the doctor's departure witnessed quite a ceremony at the
Cumberland ranch, for old Joe Cumberland insisted that he be brought
down from his room to his old place in the living-room. When he
attempted to rise from his bed, however, he found that he could not
stand; and big Buck Daniels lifted the old man like a child and carried
him down the stairs. Once ensconced on the sofa in the living-room Joe
Cumberland beckoned his daughter close to him, and whispered with a
smile as she leaned over: "Here's what comes of pretendin', Kate. I been
pretending to be too sick to walk, and now I _can't_ walk; and if I'd
pretended to be well, I'd be ridin' Satan right now!"
He looked about him.
"Where's Dan?" he asked.
"Upstairs getting ready for the trip."
"He's riding with Doctor Byrne to town and he'll bring back Doctor
The old man grew instantly anxious.
"They's a lot of things can happen on a long trip like that, Kate."
She nodded gravely.
"But we have to try him," she said. "We can't keep him here at the ranch
all the time. And if he really cares, Dad, he'll come back."
"And you let him go of your own free will?" asked Joe Cumberland,
"I asked him to go," she answered quietly, but some of the colour left
"Of course it's going to come out all right," nodded her father.
"I asked him when he'd be back, and he said he would be here by dark
The old man sighed with relief.
"He don't never slip up on promises," he said. "But oh, lass, I'll be
glad when he's back again! Buck, how'd you and Dan come along together?"
"We don't come," answered Buck gloomily. "I tried to shake hands with
him yesterday and call it quits. But he wouldn't touch me. He jest
leaned back and smiled at me and hated me with his eyes, that way he
has. He don't even look at me except when he has to, and when he does I
feel like someone was sneaking up behind me with a knife ready. And he
ain't said ten words to me since I come back." He paused and considered
Kate with the same dark, lowering glance. "To-morrow I leave."
"You'll think better of that," nodded Joe Cumberland. "Here's the doctor
He came in with Dan Barry behind him. A changed man was the doctor. He
was a good two inches taller because he stood so much more erect, and
there was a little spring in his step which gave aspiration and spirit
to his carriage. He bade them good-bye one by one, and by Joe Cumberland
he sat down for an instant and wished him luck. The old ranchman drew
the other down closer.
"They's no luck for me," he whispered, "but don't tell none of 'em. I'm
about to take a longer trip than you'll ride to-day. But first I'll see
'em settled down here--Dan quiet and both of 'em happy. S'long,
doc--thanks for takin' care of me. But this here is something that can't
be beat no way. Too many years'll break the back of any man, doc. Luck
"If you'll step to the door," said the doctor, smiling upon the rest,
"you'll have some fun to watch. I'm going to ride on the piebald."
"Him that throwed you yesterday?" grinned Buck Daniels.
"The same," said the doctor. "I think I can come to a gentleman's
understanding with him. A gentleman from the piebald's point of view is
one who is never unintentionally rude. He may change his mind this
morning--or he may break my back. One of the two is sure to happen."
In front of the house Dan Barry already sat on Satan with Black Bart
sitting nearby watching the face of his master. And beside them the
lantern-jawed cowpuncher held the bridle of the piebald mustang. Never
in the world was there a lazier appearing beast. His lower lip hung
pendulous, a full inch and a half below the upper. His eyes were rolled
so that hardly more than the whites showed. He seemed to stand asleep,
dreaming of some Nirvana for equine souls. And the only signs of life
were the long ears, which wobbled, occasionally, back and forth.
When the doctor mounted, the piebald limited all signs of interest to
opening one eye.
The doctor clucked. The piebald switched his tail. Satan, at a word from
Dan Barry, moved gracefully into a soft trot away from the house. The
doctor slapped his mount on the neck. An ear flicked back and forth. The
doctor stretched out both legs, and then he dug both spurs deep into the
flanks of the mustang.
It was a perfectly successful maneuvre. The back of the piebald changed
from an ugly humped line to a decidedly sharp parabola and the horse
left the ground with all four feet. He hit it again, almost in the
identical hoof-marks, and with all legs stiff. The doctor sagged
drunkenly in the saddle, and his head first swung far back, and then
snapped over so that the chin banged against his chest. Nevertheless he
clung to the saddle with both hands, and stayed in his seat. The piebald
swung his head around sufficiently to make sure of the surprising fact,
and then he commenced to buck in earnest.
It was a lovely exhibition. He bucked with his head up and his head
between his knees. He bucked in a circle and in a straight line and then
mixed both styles for variety. He made little spurts at full speed,
leaped into the air, and came down stiff-legged at the end of the run,
his head between his braced forefeet, and then he whirled as if on a peg
and darted back the other way. He bucked criss-cross, jumping from side
to side, and he interspersed this with samples of all his other kinds of
bucking thrown in. That the doctor stuck on the saddle was a miracle
beyond belief. Of course he pulled leather shamelessly throughout the
contest, but riding straight up is a good deal of a myth. Fancy riding
is reserved for circus men. The mountain-desert is a place where men
stick close to utility and let style go hang.
And the doctor stuck in the saddle. He had set his teeth, and he was a
sea-sick greenish-white. His hat was a-jog over one ear--his shirt tails
flew out behind. And still he remained to battle. Aye, for he ceased the
passive clinging to the saddle. He gathered up the long quirt which had
hitherto dangled idly from his wrist, and at the very moment when the
piebald had let out another notch in his feats, the doctor, holding on
desperately with one hand, with the other brandished the quirt around
his head and brought it down with a crack along the flanks of the
The effect was a little short of a miracle. The mustang snorted and
leaped once into the air, but he forgot to come down stiff-legged, and
then, instantly, he broke into a little, soft dog trot, and followed
humbly in the trail of the black stallion. The laughter and cheers from
the house were the sweetest of music in the ears of Doctor Randall
Byrne; the most sounding sentences of praise from the lips of the most
learned of professors, after this, would be the most shabby of
anticlimaxes. He waved his arm back to a group standing in front of the
house--Buck Daniels, Kate, the lantern-jawed cowboy, and Wung Lu waving
his kitchen apron. In another moment he was beside the rider of the
stallion, and the man was whistling one of those melodies which defied
repetition. It simply ran on and on, smoothly, sweeping through
transition after transition, soaring and falling in the most effortless
manner. Now it paused, now it began again. It was never loud, but it
carried like the music of a bird on wing, blown by the wind. There was
about it, also, something which escaped from the personal. He began to
forget that it was a man who whistled, and such a man! He began to look
about to the hills and the sky and the rocks--for these, it might be
said, were set to music--they, too, had the sweep of line, and the
broken rhythms, the sense of spaciousness, the far horizons.
That day was a climax of the unusual weather. For a long time the sky
had been periodically blanketed with thick mists, but to-day the wind
had freshened and it tore the mists into a thousand mighty fragments.
There was never blue sky in sight--only, far up, a diminishing and
lighter grey to testify that above it the yellow sun might be shining;
but all the lower heavens were a-sweep with vast cloud masses,
irregular, huge, hurling across the sky. They hung so low that one could
follow the speed of their motion and almost gauge it by miles per hour.
And in the distance they seemed to brush the tops of the hills. Seeing
this, the doctor remembered what he had heard of rain in this region. It
would come, they said, in sheets and masses--literal water-falls. Dry
arroyos suddenly filled and became swift torrent, rolling big boulders
down their courses. There were tales of men fording rivers who were
suddenly overwhelmed by terrific walls of water which rushed down from
the higher mountains in masses four and eight feet high. In coming they
made a thundering among the hills and they plucked up full grown trees
like twigs thrust into wet mud. Indeed, that was the sort of rain one
would expect in such a country, so whipped and naked of life. Even the
reviving rainfall was sent in the form of a scourge; and that which
should make the grass grow might tear it up by the roots.
That was a time of change and of portent, and a day well fitted to the
mood of Randall Byrne. He, also, had altered, and there was about to
break upon him the rain of life, and whether it would destroy him or
make him live, and richly, he could not guess. But he was naked to the
skies of chance--naked as this landscape.
Far past the mid-day they reached the streets of Elkhead and stopped at
the hotel. As the doctor swung down from his saddle, cramped and sore
from the long ride, thunder rattled over the distant hills and a patter
of rain splashed in the dust and sent up a pungent odor to his
nostrils. It was like the voice of the earth proclaiming its thirst. And
a blast of wind leaped down the street and lifted the brim of Barry's
hat and set the bandana at his throat fluttering. He looked away into
the teeth of the wind and smiled.
There was something so curious about him at the instant that Randall
Byrne wanted to ask him into the hotel--wanted to have him knee to knee
for a long talk. But he remembered an old poem--the sea-shell needs the
waves of the sea--the bird will not sing in the cage. And the yellow
light in the eyes of Barry, phosphorescent, almost--a thing that might
be nearly seen by night--that, surely, would not shine under any roof.
It was the wind which made him smile. These things he understood,
So he said good-bye, and the rider waved carelessly and took the reins
of the piebald and turned the stallion back. He noted the catlike grace
of the horse in moving, as if his muscles were steel springs; and he
noted also that the long ride had scarcely stained the glossy hide with
sweat--while the piebald reeked with the labour. Randall Byrne drew
thoughtfully back onto the porch of the hotel and followed the rider
with his eyes. In a moment a great cloud of dust poured down the street,
covered the rider, and when it was gone he had passed around a corner
and out of the life of the doctor.
All this time Black Bart had trotted contentedly ahead of Satan, never
having to glance back but apparently knowing the intended direction;
save that when Dan Barry turned to the road leading out of the little
town, the wolf-dog had turned in an opposite direction. The rider turned
in the saddle and sent a sharp whistle towards the animal, but he was
answered by a short howl of woe that made him check Satan and swing
around. Black Bart stood in the centre of the street facing in the
opposite direction, and he looked back over his shoulder towards his
There was apparently a perfect understanding between them, and the
master first glanced up and made sure of the position of the sun and the
length of time he might allow for the trip home, before he decided to
follow the whim of the wolf-dog. Then he turned Satan and cantered, with
the piebald trailing, back towards Black Bart.
At this the wolf-dog began to trot down the street, turned the next
corner, and drew up at the door of a rambling building above which hung
a dirty, cracked sign: "GILEAD SALOON" and underneath in smaller
letters was painted the legend: "Here's where you get it!"
Black Bart strolled up to the swinging doors of the emporium and then
turned to look back at his master; clearly he wished Dan to enter the
place. But the rider shook his head and would certainly have ridden on
had not, at that moment, the rain which had hitherto fallen only in
rattling bursts, now burst over the roofs of the town with a loud
roaring as of wind through a forest. It was possible that the shower
might soon pass over, so Dan rode under the long shelter which stretched
in front of the saloon, dismounted, and entered behind Black Bart.
It was occupied by a scattering of people, for the busy time of the day
had not yet commenced and Pale Annie was merely idling behind the
bar--working at half-speed, as it were. To this group Black Bart paid
not the slightest heed but glided smoothly down the centre of the long
room until he approached the tables at the end, where, in a corner, sat
a squat, thick-chested man, and opposite him the most cadaverously lean
fellow that Whistling Dan had ever seen. Before these two Black Bart
paused and then cast a glance over his shoulder towards the master;
Whistling Dan frowned in wonder; he knew neither of the pair.
But Black Bart apparently did. He slouched a pace closer, crouched, and
bared his fangs with a tremendous snarl. At this the lean man left his
chair and sprang back to a distance. Terror convulsed his face; but his
eyes glittered with a fascinated interest and he glanced first at his
companion and then at the great wolf-dog, as if he were making a
comparison between them. It was the broad shouldered man who first
"Partner," he said in a thick voice, in which the articulation was
almost lost, "maybe you better take your dog out before he gets hurt. He
don't like me and I don't like him none too much."
"Bart!" called Dan Barry.
But Black Bart gave no heed. There had been a slight flexing of his
muscles as he crouched, and now he leaped--a black bolt of fighting
weight--squarely in the face of the giant. He was met and checked midway
in his spring. For the two long arms darted out, two great hands
fastened in the throat of the beast, and Black Bart fell back upon the
floor, with Mac Strann following, his grip never broken by the fall.
A scurry of many feet running towards the scene; a shouting of twenty
voices around him; but all that Whistling Dan saw were the fangs of Bart
as they gnashed fruitlessly at the wrists of Mac Strann, and then the
great red tongue lolling out and the eyes bulging from their
sockets--all he heard was the snarling of the wolf and the peculiar
whine of rage which came from the throat of the man-beast fighting the
wolf. Then he acted. His hands darted between the thick forearms of Mac
Strann--his elbows jerked out and snapped the grip; next he dragged
Black Bart away from the danger.
The wolf was instantly on his feet and lunging again, but a sharp
"Heel!" from Dan checked him mid-leap. He came to a shuddering halt
behind the legs of his master. Whistling Dan slipped a little closer to
"I should have knowed you before," he said in a voice which carried only
to the ears of Strann. "You're the brother of Jerry Strann. And they's a
reason why Bart hates you, partner!"
The thick upper lip of Strann lifted slightly as he spoke.
"Him or you--you and your wolf together or one by one--it don't make no
difference to me. I've come for you, Barry!"
The other straightened a little, and his eyes travelled slowly up and
down the form of Strann.
"I been hungering to meet a man like you," he said. "Hungerin',
"North of town they's the old McDuffy place, all in ruins and nobody
ever near it. I'll be there in an hour, m'frien'."
"I'll be waiting for you there," nodded Mac Strann, and so saying, he
turned back to his table as if he had been interrupted by nothing more
than a casual greeting. Still Dan Barry remained a moment with his eyes
on the face of Mac Strann. And when he turned and walked with his light,
soundless step down the length of the silent barroom, the wolf-dog slunk
at his heels, ever and anon swinging his head over his shoulder and
glancing back at the giant at the end of the room. As the door closed
on man and dog, the saloon broke once more into murmur, and then into
an excited clamoring. Pale Annie stepped from behind the bar and leaned
upon the table beside Mac Strann. Even while leaning in this manner the
bartender was as tall as the average man; he waved back the others with
a gesture of his tremendous arm. Then he reached out and took the hand
of Mac Strann in his clammy fingers.
"My friend," said the ex-undertaker in his careful manner, "I seen a man
once California a husky two-year-old--which nobody said could be done,
and I've seen some other things, but I've never seen anything to touch
the way you handled Black Bart. D'you know anything about that dog?"
Mac Strann shook his ponderous head and his dull eyes considered Pale
Annie with an expression of almost living curiosity.
"Black Bart has a record behind him that an old time gun-man would have
heard with envy. There are dead men in the record of that dog, sir!"
All this he had spoken in a comparatively loud voice, but now, noting
that the others had heeded his gesture and had made back towards the bar
to drink on the strength of that strange fight between man and beast,
the bartender approached his lips close to the ear of the giant.
He said in a rapid murmur: "I watched you talking with Dan Barry and I
saw Barry's face when he went out. You and he are to meet somewhere
again to-day. My friend, don't throw yourself away."
Here Mac Strann stared down at his mighty hand--a significant answer,
but Pale Annie went on swiftly: "Yes, you're strong, but strength won't
save you from Dan Barry. We know him here in Elkhead. Do you know that
if he had pulled his gun and shot you down right here where you sit,
that he could have walked out of this room without a hand raised to stop
him? Yes, sir! And why? Because we know his record; and I'd rather go
against a wolf with my bare hands--as you did--than stand up against Dan
Barry with guns. I could tell you how he fought Jim Silent's gang, one
to six. I could tell you a lot of other things. My friend, I _will_ tell
you about 'em if you'll listen."
But Mac Strann considered the speaker with his dull eyes.
"I never was much on talkin'," he observed mildly. "I don't understand
talkin' very well."
Pale Annie started to speak again, but he checked himself, stared
earnestly at Mac Strann, and then hurried back behind his bar. His face
was even graver than usual; but business was business with Pale
Annie--and all men have to die in their time! Haw-Haw Langley took the
place which Pale Annie had left vacant opposite Mac Strann.
He cast a frightened glance upward, where the rain roared steadily on
the roof of the building; then his eyes fluttered back until they rested
on the face of his companion. He had to moisten his thin lips before he
could speak and even then it was a convulsive effort, like a man
swallowing too large a morsel.
"Well?" said Haw-Haw. "Is it fixed?"
"It's fixed," said Mac Strann. "Maybe you'd get the hosses, Haw-Haw. If
you're comin with me?"
A dark shadow swept over the face of Haw-Haw Langley.
"You're going to beat it?" he sneered. "After you come all this way
you're going to run away from Barry? And him not half your size?"
"I'm going out to meet him," answered Mac Strann.
Haw-Haw Langley started up as if he feared Mac Strann would change his
mind if there were any delay. His long fingers twisted together, as if
to bring the blood into circulation about the purple knuckles.
"I'll have the hosses right around to the front," he said. "By the time
you got your slicker on, Mac, I'll have 'em around in front!"
And he stalked swiftly from the room.
When they rode out of the town the wet sand squashed under the feet of
their horses and splashed up on their riding boots and their slickers.
It even spotted their faces here and there, and a light brown spray
darted out to right and left of the falling hoofs. For all the streets
of Elkhead were running shallow rivers, with dark, swift currents, and
when they left the little town the landscape was shut out by the falling
torrents. It made a strange and shifting panorama, for the rain varied
in its density now and again, and as it changed hills which had been
quite blotted out leaped close upon them, like living things, and then
sprang back again into the mist.
So heavy was that tropical fall of water that the horses were bothered
by the beating of the big drops, and shook their heads and stamped
fretfully under the ceaseless bombardment. Indeed, when one stretched
out his hand the drops stung him as if with lashes of tiny whips. There
was no wind, no thunder, no flash of lightning, only the tremendous
downpour which blended earth and sky in a drab, swift river.
The air was filled with parallel lines, as in some pencil drawings--not
like ordinary rain, but as if the sky had changed into a vast
watering-spout and was sending down a continuous flood from a myriad
holes. It was hard to look up through the terrific downpour, for it
blinded one and whipped the face and made one breathless, but now and
again a puff of the rare wind would lift the sodden brim of the sombrero
and then one caught a glimpse of the low-hanging clouds, with the
nearest whiffs of black mist dragging across the top of a hill. Without
noticeable currents of wind, that mass of clouds was shifting
slowly--with a sort of rolling motion, across the sky. And the weight of
the rain forced the two to bend their heads and stare down to where the
face of the earth was alive with the gliding, brown waters, whose
surface was threshed into a continual foam. To speak to each other
through the uproar, they had to cup their hands about their lips and
shout. Then again the rainfall around them fell away to a drizzling mist
and the beating of the downpour sounded far away, and they were
surrounded by distant walls of noise. So they came to the McDuffy place.
It was a helpless ruin, long abandoned. Not an iota of the roof
remained. The sheds for the horses had dropped to the earth; but the
walls of the house still remained standing, in part, with the empty
windows looking out with a mocking promise of the shelter which was not
within. Upon this hollow shack the rain beat with redoubled fury, and
even before they could make out the place through the blankets of rain,
they heard the hollow drumming. For there were times, oddly enough, when
any sound would carry a great distance through the crashing of the rain.
A wind now sprung up and at once veered the rain from its perpendicular
fall. It slashed them in the face under the drooping brims of their
sombreros, so they drew into the shelter of the highest part of the
standing wall. Still some of the rain struck them, but the major part of
it was shunted over their heads. Moreover, the wall acted as a sort of
sounding board, catching up every odd noise from the storm-beaten plain
beyond. They could speak to each other now without effort.
"D'you think," asked Haw-Haw Langley, pressing his reeking horse a
little closer to Mac Strann, "that he'll come out after us in a rain
But simple-minded Mac Strann lifted his head and peered through the
thick curtains of rain.
"D'you think," he parried, "that Jerry could maybe look through all this
and see what I'm doin' to-day?"
It made Haw-Haw Langley grin, but peering more closely and observing
that there was no mockery in the face of the giant, he wiped out his
grin with a scrubbing motion of his wet hand and peered closely into the
face of his companion.
"They ain't any doubt of it," he said reassuringly. "He'll know what you
do, Mac. What was it that Pale Annie said to you?"
"Wanted me not to meet Barry. Said that Barry had once cleaned up a
gang of six."
"And here we are only two."
"You ain't to fight!" warned Mac Strann sharply. "It'll be man to man,
"But he might not notice that," cried Haw-Haw, and he caressed his
scrawny neck as though he already felt fingers closing about his
windpipe. "Him bein' used to fight crowds, Mac. Did you think of that?"
"I never asked you to come," responded Mac Strann.
"Mac," cried Haw-Haw in a sudden alarm, "s'pose you wasn't to win.
S'pose you wasn't able to keep him away from me?"
The numb lips of Mac Strann sprawled in an ugly smile, but he made no
"_You_ don't think you'll lose," hurried on Haw-Haw, "but neither did
them six that Pale Annie was tellin' about, most like. But they did!
They lost; but if you lose what'll happen to me?"
"They ain't no call for you to stay here," said Mac Strann with utter
Haw-Haw answered quickly: "I wouldn't go--I wouldn't miss it for
nothin'. Ain't I come all this way to see it--I mean to help? Would I
fall down on you now, Mac? No, I wouldn't!"
And twisting those bony fingers together he burst once more into that
rattling, unhuman laughter which all the Three B's knew so well and
dreaded as the dying dread the sight of the circling buzzard above.
"Stop laughin'!" cried Mac Strann with sudden anger. "Damn you, stop
The other peered upon Mac Strann with incredulous delight, his broad
mouth gaping to that thirsted grin of enjoyment.
"You ain't gettin' nervous, Mac?" he queried, and thrust his face closer
to make sure. "You ain't bothered, Mac? You ain't doubtin' how this'll
turn out?" There was no answer and so he replied to himself: "I know
what done it to you. I seen it myself. It was that yaller light in his
eyes, Mac. My God, it come up there out of nothin' and it wasn't a light
that ought to come in no man's eyes. It was like I'd woke up at night
with a cold weight on my chest and found two snakes' eyes glitterin'
close to my face. Makes me shivery, like, jest to think of it now. D'you
notice that, Mac?"
"I'm tired of talkin'," said Mac Strann hoarsely, "damned tired!"
And so saying he swung his great head slowly around and glared at
Haw-Haw. The latter shrank away with an undulatory motion in his saddle.
And when the head of Mac Strann turned away again the broad mouth began
gibbering: "It's gettin' him like it done me. He's scared, scared,
scared--even Mac Strann!"
He broke off, for Mac Strann had jerked up his head and said in a
strangely muffled voice: "What was that?"
The bullet head of Haw-Haw Langley leaned to one side, and his
glittering eyes rolled up while he listened.
"Nothin'!" he said, "I don't hear nothin'!"
"Listen again!" cried Mac Strann in that same cautious voice, as of one
whispering in the night in the house of the enemy. "It's like a voice in
the wind. It comes down the wind. D'ye hear now--now--now?"
It was, indeed, the faintest of faint sounds when Haw-Haw caught it. It
was, in the roar of the rain, as indistinct as some distant light on the
horizon which may come either from a rising star or from the window of a
house. But it had a peculiar quality of its own, even as the house-light
would be tinged with yellow when the stars are cold and white. A small
and distant sound, and yet it cut through the crashing of the storm more
and more clearly; someone rode through the rain whistling.
"It's him!" gasped Haw-Haw Langley. "My God A'mighty, Mac, he's
whistlin'! It ain't possible!"
He reined his horse closer to the wall, listening with mouth agape.
He shrilled suddenly: "What if he should hit us both, seein' us
together? They ain't no heart in a feller that can whistle in a storm
But Mac Strann had lowered his head, bulldog-like, and now he listened
and thrust out his blunt jaw farther and farther and returned no answer.
"God gimme the grit to stick it out," begged Haw-Haw Langley in an
agony of desire. "God lemme see how it comes out. God lemme watch 'em
fight. One of 'em is goin' to die--may be two of 'em--nothin' like it
has ever been seen!"
The rain shifted, and the heart of the storm rolled far away. For the
moment they could look far out across the shadow-swept hills, and out of
the heart of the desolate landscape the whistling ran thrilling upon
them. It was so loud and close that of one accord the two listeners
jerked their heads about and stared at each other, and then turned their
eyes as hastily away, as though terrified by what they had seen--each in
the face of the other. It was no idle tune which they heard whistled.
This was a rising, soaring pean of delight. It rang down upon the
wind--it cut into their faces like the drops of the rain; it branded
itself like freezing cold into their foreheads.
And then, upon the crest of the nearest hill, Haw-Haw Langley saw a dim
figure through the mist, a man on a horse and something else running in
front; and they came swiftly.
"It's the wolf that's runnin' us down!" screamed Haw-Haw Langley. "Oh,
God A'mighty, even if we was to want to run, the wolf would come and
pull us down. Mac, will you save me? Will you keep the wolf away?"
He clung to the arm of his companion, but the other brushed him back
with a violence which almost unseated Haw-Haw.
"Keep off'n me," growled Mac Strann, "because when you touch me, it
feels like somethin' dead was next to my skin. Keep off'n me!"
Haw-Haw dragged himself back into the saddle with effort, for it was
slippery with rain. His face convulsed with something black as hate.
"It ain't long you'll do the orderin' and be so free with your hands.
He's comin'--soon! Mac, I'd like to stay--I'd like to see the
finish----" he stopped, his buzzard eyes glittering against the face of
The rain blotted out the figure of the coming horseman, and at the same
instant the whistling leaped close upon them. It was as if the whistling
man had disappeared at the place where the rain swallowed his form, and
had taken body again at their very side. Mac Strann shrank back against
the wall, bracing his shoulders, and gripped the butts of his guns. But
Haw-Haw Langley cast a frightened glance on either side; his head making
birdlike, pecking notions, and then he leaned over the pommel of his
saddle with a wail of despair and spurred off into the rain.
He disappeared, instantly, in that shivering curtain of greyness. Mac
Strann sat by the ruined house alone.
Now, in a time of danger a child will give courage to the strong man.
There is a wonderful communion between any two in time of crisis; and
when Haw-Haw Langley disappeared through the rain it was to Mac Strann
as it was to Patroclus when Apollo struck the base of his neck and his
armour of proof fell from him. Not only was there a singular sense of
nakedness, but it seemed to him also that the roaring of the rain became
a hostile voice of threatening at the same instant.
He had never in his life feared any living thing. But now there was a
certain hollowness in the region of his stomach, and his heart fluttered
like a bird in the air, with appalling lightness. And he wished to be
With a clear heaven above him--ay, that would be different, but God had
arranged this day and had set the earth like a stage in readiness for a
death. And that was why the rain lashed the earth so fiercely. He looked
down. After his death the wind would still continue to beat that muddy
water to foam. Ay, in that very place all would be as it was at this
moment. He would be gone, but the sky and the senseless earth would
remain unchanged. A sudden yearning seized him for the cabin among the
mountains, with the singing of the coffee pot over the fire--the good,
warm, yellow fire that smoked between the rocks. And the skins he had
left leaning against the walls of the cabin to dry--he remembered them
all in one glance of memory.
Why was he here, then, when he should have been so far away, making his
roof snug against this torrent of rain. Now, there would be no rain,
surely, in those kindly mountains. Their tall peaks would shut out the
storm clouds. Only this plain, these low hills, were the place of hell!
He swung the head of his horse to one side, drove deep the spurs, and
leaning his head to the volleying of the rain he raced in a direction
opposite to that in which Haw-Haw Langley had disappeared, in a
direction that led as straight as the line of a flying bird towards that
cabin in the mountains.
Now and then the forefeet of his great horse smashed into a pool and
sent a muddy shower of rain flying up. It crackled against his slicker;
it beat like hands against his face. Everything was striving--all the
elements of wind and rain--to hold him back.
Yet flight brought a blessed sense of relief and of safety. He eased the
pace of his horse to a moderate gallop, and no longer driving blindly
through the hills, he made out, by peering into the blast of rain, some
of the pools which lay in his path, and swung aside to avoid them.
The rain lightened again about him; he caught a view of the kindly,
sheltering hills on all sides; but as he urged his horse on towards them
a shrill flight of whistling fell upon his ears from behind. He drew his
horse at once to a halt and listened with his heart knocking at his
It was impossible, manifestly, that the fellow could have followed his
track through the rain. For that matter, if the wolf-fiend could follow
traces over a plain awash with water, why might they not as well follow
the tracks of Haw-Haw Langley? There was no good reason.
The whistling? Well, the whistler was far away in the heart of the
storm, and the sound was merely blown against the wind by a chance echo.
Yet he remained holding his rein taut, and listening with all his might.
It came again, suddenly as before, sharp, and keen as a shaft of light
in the blackest heart of night, and Mac Strann leaned over the pommel of
his saddle with a groan, and drove the spurs home. At the same instant
the rain shut in over the hills again; a fresher wind sprang up and
drove the downpour into his face. Also its roar shut out the possibility
of any sound reaching him from behind.
He was the worse for that. As long as the whistling might reach him he
could tell how near the pursuer rode; but in this common roar of the
rain the man might be at any distance behind him--on his very heels,
indeed. Ay, Dan Barry might rush upon him from behind. He had seen that
black stallion and he would never forget--those graceful, agile lines,
that generous breast, wide for infinite wind and the great heart. If the
stallion were exerted, it could overtake his own mount as if he were
standing still. Not on good footing, perhaps, but in this mucky ground
the weight of his horse was terribly against him. He drove the spurs
home again; he looked back again and again, piercing the driving mist of
rain with starting eyes. He was safe still; the destroyer was not in
sight; yet he might be riding close behind that wall of rain.
His horse came to a sudden halt, sliding on all four feet and driving up
a rush of dirty water before him; even then he had stopped barely in
time, for his forefeet were buried to the knees in water. Before Mac
Strann lay a wide arroyo. In ordinary weather it was dry as all the
desert around, but now it had cupped the water from miles around and ran
bank full, a roaring torrent. On its surface the rain beat with a
continual crashing, like axes falling on brittle glass; and the downpour
was now so fearful that Mac Strann, for all his peering, could not look
to the other side.
He judged the current to see if he might swim his horse across. But even
while he stared the stump of a cottonwood went whirling down the stream,
struck a rock, perhaps, on the bottom, flung its entire bulk out of the
water with the impact, and then floundered back into the stream again
and whirled instantly out of sight in the sheeted rain.
No horse in the world could live through such a current. But the arroyo
might turn. He swung his horse and spurred desperately along the bank,
keeping his eye upon the bank. No, the stream cut back in a sharp curve
and headed him farther and farther in the direction of the pursuer. He
brought the mighty horse to another sliding halt and swung about in the
opposite direction, for surely there must lie the point of escape.
Desperately he rode, for the detour had cost him priceless time, yet it
might be made up. Ay, the stream sloped sharply into the direction in
which he wished to ride. For a distance he could not judge, since
seconds were longer than minutes to Mac Strann now.
And then--the edge of the stream curved back again. He thought it must
be a short twist in the line of the arroyo, but following it a little
further he came to realise the truth. The arroyo described a wide curve,
and a sharp one, and to ride down its banks on either side was merely to
throw himself into the arms of Whistling Dan.
Once he struck his fleshy forehead, and then turned with gritting teeth
and galloped back for the point at which he had first arrived. To his
maddened brain it occurred that the current of the arroyo might by this
have somewhat abated. He might now make his way across it. So he halted
once more on the bank at the point where the stream doubled back on its
course and once more, in an agony, studied the force of the current. It
seemed so placid at the first glance that he was on the verge of
spurring the horse into the wide, brown stream, but even as he loosened
the reins a gap opened in the middle of the water, widened, whirling at
the brim, and drew swiftly into a fierce vortex with a black, deep
bottom. Mac Strann tightened his reins again, and then turned his horse,
Back the veriest coward against the wall and he becomes formidable, and