Part 1 out of 5
This Etext has been prepared by Bill Brewer, firstname.lastname@example.org
THE SEVENTH MAN
By Max Brand
Chapter I. Spring
A man under thirty needs neighbors and to stop up the current of his life
with a long silence is like obstructing a river--eventually the water
either sweeps away the dam or rises over it, and the stronger the dam the
more destructive is that final rush to freedom. Vic Gregg was on the danger
side of thirty and he lived alone in the mountains all that winter. He
wanted to marry Betty Neal, but marriage means money, therefore Vic
contracted fifteen hundred dollars' worth of mining for the Duncans, and
instead of taking a partner he went after that stake single handed. He is a
very rare man who can turn out that amount of labor in a single season, but
Gregg furnished that exception which establishes the rule: he did the
assessment work on fourteen claims and almost finished the fifteenth, yet
he paid the price. Week after week his set of drills was wife and child to
him, and for conversation he had only the clangor of the four-pound
single-jack on the drill heads, with the crashing of the "shots" now and
then as periods to the chatter of iron on iron. He kept at it, and in the
end he almost finished the allotted work, but for all of it he paid in
The acid loneliness ate into him. To be sure, from boyhood he knew the
mountain quiet, the still heights and the solemn echoes, but towards the
close of the long isolation the end of each day found him oppressed by a
weightier sense of burden; in a few days he would begin to talk to himself.
From the first the evening pause after supper hurt him most, for a man
needs a talk as well as tobacco, and after a time he dreaded these evenings
so bitterly that he purposely spent himself every day, so as to pass from
supper into sleep at a stride. It needed a long day to burn out his
strength thoroughly, so he set his rusted alarm-clock, and before dawn it
brought him groaning out of the blankets to cook a hasty breakfast and go
slowly up to the tunnel. In short, he wedded himself to his work; he
stepped into a routine which took the place of thought, and the change in
him was so gradual that he did not see the danger.
A mirror might have shown it to him as he stood this morning at the door of
his lean-to, for the wind fluttered the shirt around his labor-dried body,
and his forehead puckered in a frown, grown habitual. It was a narrow face,
with rather close-set eyes and a slanted forehead which gave token of a
single-track mind, a single-purposed nature with one hundred and eighty
pounds of strong sinews and iron-hard muscle to give it significance. Such
was Vic Gregg as he stood at the door waiting for the coffee he had drunk
to brush away the cobwebs of sleep, and then he heard the eagle scream.
A great many people have never heard the scream of an eagle. The only voice
they connect with the kind of the air is a ludicrously feeble squawk, dim
with distance, but in his great moments the eagle has a war-cry like that
of the hawk, but harsher, hoarser, tenfold in volume. This sound cut into
the night in the gulch, and Vic Gregg started and glanced about for echoes
made the sound stand at his side; then he looked up, and saw two eagles
fighting in the light of the morning. He knew what it meant--the beginning
of the mating season, and these two battling for a prize. They darted away.
They flashed together with reaching talons and gaping beaks, and dropped in
a tumult of wings, then soared and clashed once more until one of them
folded his wings and dropped bulletlike out of the morning into the night.
Close over Gregg's head, the wings flirted out--ten feet from tip to
tip--beat down with a great washing sound, and the bird shot across the
valley in a level flight. The conqueror screamed a long insult down the
hollow. For a while he balanced, craning his bald head as if he sought
applause, then, without visible movement of his wings, sailed away over the
peaks. A feather fluttered slowly down past Vic Gregg.
He looked down to it, and rubbed the ache out of the back of his neck. All
about him the fresh morning was falling; yonder shone a green-mottled face
of granite, and there a red iron blow-out streaked with veins of glittering
silicate, and in this corner, still misted with the last delicate shades of
night, glimmered rhyolite, lavender-pink. The single-jack dropped from the
hand of Gregg, and his frown relaxed.
When he stretched his arms, the cramps of labor unkinked and let the warm
blood flow, swiftly, and in the pleasure of it he closed his eyes and drew
a luxurious breath. He stepped from the door with his, head high and his
heart lighter, and when his hobnailed shoe clinked on the fallen hammer he
kicked it spinning from his path. That act brought a smile into his eyes,
and he sauntered to the edge of the little plateau and looked down into the
wide chasm of the Asper Valley.
Blue shadows washed across it, though morning shone around Gregg on the
height, and his glance dropped in a two-thousand-foot plunge to a single
yellow eye that winked through the darkness, a light in the trapper's
cabin. But the dawn was falling swiftly now, and while Gregg lingered the
blue grew thin, purple-tinted, and then dark, slender points pricked up,
which he knew to be the pines. Last of all, he caught the sheen of grass.
Around him pressed a perfect silence, the quiet of night holding over into
the day, yet he cast a glance behind him as he heard a voice. Indeed, he
felt that some one approached him, some one for whom he had been waiting,
yet it was a sad expectancy, and more like homesickness than anything he
"Aw, hell," said Vic Gregg, "it's spring."
A deep-throated echo boomed back at him, and the sound went down the gulch,
three times repeated.
"Spring," repeated Gregg more softly, as if he feared to rouse that echo,
"damned if it ain't!"
He shrugged his shoulders and turned resolutely towards the lean-to,
picking up the discarded hammer on the way. By instinct he caught it at
exactly the right balance for his strength and arm, and the handle, polished
by his grip, played with an oiled, frictionless movement against the
callouses of his palm. From the many hours of drilling, fingers crooked, he
could only straighten them by a painful effort. A bad hand for cards, he
decided gloomily, and still frowning over this he reached the door. There
he paused in instant repugnance, for the place was strange to him.
In thought and wish he was even now galloping Grey Molly over the grass
along the Asper, and he had to wrench himself into the mood of the patient
miner. There lay his blankets, rumpled, brown with dirt, and he shivered at
sight of them; the night had been cold. Before he fell asleep, he had flung
the magazine into the corner and now the wind rustled its torn, yellowed
pages in a whisper that spoke to Gregg of the ten-times repeated stories,
tales of adventure, drifts of tobacco smoke in gaming halls, the chant of
the croupier behind the wheel, deep voices of men, laughter of pretty
girls, tatoo of running horses, shouts which only redeye can inspire. He
sniffed the air; odor of burned bacon and coffee permeated the cabin. He
turned to the right and saw his discarded overalls with ragged holes at the
knees; he turned to the left and looked into the face of the rusted alarm
clock. Its quick, soft ticking sent an ache of weariness through him.
"What's wrong with me," muttered Gregg. Even that voice seemed ghostly loud
in the cabin, and he shivered again. "I must be going nutty."
As if to escape from his own thoughts, he stepped out into the sun again,
and it was so grateful to him after the chill shadow in the lean-to, that
he looked up, smiling, into the sky. A west wind urged a scattered herd of
clouds over the peaks, tumbled masses of white which puffed into
transparent silver at the edges, and behind, long wraiths of vapor marked
the path down which they had traveled. Such an old cowhand as Vic Gregg
could not fail to see the forms of cows and heavy-necked bulls and running
calves in that drift of clouds. About this season the boys would be
watching the range for signs of screw worms in the cattle, and the
bog-riders must have their hands full dragging out cows which had fled into
the mud to escape the heel flies. With a new lonesomeness he drew his eyes
down to the mountains.
Ordinarily, strange fancies never entered the hard head of Gregg, but today
it seemed to him that the mountains found a solemn companionship in each
Out of the horizon, where the snowy forms glimmered in the blue, they
marched in loose order down to the valley of the Asper, where some of them
halted in place, huge cliffs, and others stumbled out into foothills, but
the main range swerved to the east beside the valley, eastward out of his
vision, though he knew that they went on to the town of Alder.
Alder was Vic Gregg's Athens and Rome in one, its schoolhouse his
Acropolis, and Captain Lorrimer's saloon his Forum. Other people talked of
larger cities, but Alder satisfied the imagination of Vic; besides, Grey
Molly was even now in the blacksmith's pasture, and Betty Neal was teaching
in the school. Following the march of the mountains and the drift of the
clouds, he turned towards Alder. The piled water shook the dam, topped it,
burst it into fragments, and rushed into freedom; he must go to Alder, have
a drink, shake hands with a friend, kiss Betty Neal, and come back again.
Two days going, two days coming, three days for the frolic; a week would
cover it all. And two hours later Vic Gregg had cached his heavier equipment,
packed his necessaries on the burro, and was on the way.
By noon he had dropped below the snowline and into the foothills, and with
every step his heart grew lighter. Behind him the mountains slid up into
the heart of the sky with cold, white winter upon them, but here below it
was spring indubitably. There was hardly enough fresh grass to temper the
winter brown into shining bronze, but a busy, awakening insect life
thronged through the roots. Surer sign than this, the flowers were coming.
A slope of buttercups flashed suddenly when the wind struck it and wild
morning glory spotted a stretch of daisies with purple and dainty lavender.
To be sure, the blossoms never grew thickly enough to make strong dashes of
color, but they tinted and stained the hillsides. He began to cross noisy
little watercourses, empty most of the year, but now the melting snow fed
them. From eddies and quiet pools the bright watercress streamed out into
the currents, and now and then in moist ground under a sheltering bank he
found rich patches of violets.
His eyes went happily among these tokens of the glad time of the year, but
while he noted them and the bursting buds of the aspen, reddish-brown, his
mind was open to all that middle register of calls which the human ear may
notice in wild places. Far above his scale were shrilling murmurs of birds
and insects, and beneath it ran those ground noises that the rabbit, for
instance, understands so well; but between these overtones and undertones
he heard the scream of the hawk, spiraling down in huge circles, and the
rapid call of a grouse, far off, and the drone of insects about his feet,
or darting suddenly upon his brain and away again. He heard these things by
the grace of the wind, which sometimes blew them about him in a chorus, and
again shut off all except that lonely calling of the grouse, and often
whisked away every murmur and left Gregg, in the center of a wide hush with
only the creak of the pack-saddle and the click of the burro's accurate
feet among the rocks.
At such times he gave his full attention to the trail, and he read it as
one might turn the pages of a book. He saw how a rabbit had scurried,
running hard, for the prints of the hind feet planted far ahead of those on
the forepaws. There was reason in her haste, for here the pads of a racing
coyote had dug deeply into a bit of soft ground. The sign of both rabbit
and coyote veered suddenly, and again the trail told the reason clearly--
the big print of a lobo's paw, that gray ghost which haunts the ranges with
the wisest brain and the swiftest feet in the West. Vic Gregg grinned with
excitement; fifty dollars' bounty if that scalp were his! But the story of
the trail called him back with the sign of some small animal which must
have traveled very slowly, for in spite of the tiny size of the prints,
each was distinct. The man sniffed with instinctive aversion and distrust
for this was the trail of the skunk, and if the last of the seven sleepers
was out, it was spring indeed. He raised his cudgel and thwacked the burro
"Get on, Marne," he cried. "We're overdue in Alder."
Marne switched her tail impatiently and canted back a long ear to listen,
but she did not increase her pace; for Marne had only one gait, and if Vic
occasionally thumped her, it was rather by way of conversation than in any
hope of hurrying their journey.
Chapter II. Grey Molly
If her soul had been capable of enthusiasm, Marne could have made the trip
on schedule time, but she was a burro good for nothing except to carry a
pack well nigh half her own weight, live on forage that might have starved
a goat, and smell water fifteen miles in time of drought. Speed was not in
her vocabulary, and accordingly it was late afternoon rather than morning
when Gregg, pointing his course between the ears of Marne, steered her
through Murphy's Pass and came out over Alder. There they paused by mutual
consent, and the burro flicked one long ear forward to listen to the
rushing of the Doane River. It filled the valley with continual murmur, and
just below them, where the brown, white-flecked current twisted around an
elbow bend, lay Alder tossed down without plan, here a boulder and there a
house. They seemed marvelously flimsy structures, and one felt surprise
that the weight the winter snow had not crushed them, or that the Doane River
had not sent a strong current licking over bank and tossed the whole village
crashing down the ravine. One building was very much like other, but Gregg's
familiar eye pierced through the roofs and into Widow Sullivan's staggering
shack, into Hezekiah Whittleby's hushed sitting-room, down to the moist, dark
floor of the Captain's saloon into that amazing junkshop, the General
Merchandise store; but first and last he looked to the little flag which
gleamed and snapped above the schoolhouse, and it spelled "my country" to Vic.
Marne consented to break into a neat-footed jog-trot going down the last
slope, and so she went up the single winding street of Alder, grunting at
every step, with Gregg's whistle behind her. In town, he lived with his
friend, Dug Pym, who kept their attic room reserved for his occupancy, so
he headed straight for that place. What human face would he see first?
It was Mrs. Sweeney's little boy, Jack, who raced into the street whooping,
and Vic caught him under the armpits and swung him dizzily into the air.
"By God," muttered Vic, as he strode on, "that's a good kid, that Jack."
And he straightway forgot all about that knife which Jackie had purloined
from him the summer before. "Me and Betty," he thought, "we'll have kids,
like Jack; tougher'n leather."
Old Garrigan saw him next and cackled from his truck garden in the
backyard, but Vic went on with a wave of his arm, and on past Gertie
Vincent's inviting shout (Gertie had been his particular girl before Betty
Neal came to town), and on with the determination of a soldier even past
the veranda of Captain Lorrimier's saloon, though Lorrimer himself bellowed
a greeting and "Chick" Stewart crooked a significant thumb over his
shoulder towards the open door. He only paused at the blacksmith shop and
looked in at Dug, who was struggling to make the print of a hot shoe on a
hind foot of Simpson's sorrel Glencoe.
Pym raised a grimy, sweating forehead.
"You, boy; easy, damn you! Hello, Vic!" and he propped that restless hind
foot on his inner thigh and extended a hand.
"Go an workin', Dug, because I can't stop; I just want a rope to catch Grey
"You red devil--take that rope over there, Vic. You won't have no work
catchin' Molly. Which she's plumb tame. Stand still, damn you. I never seen
a Glencoe with any sense!--Where you goin', Vic? Up to the school?"
And his sweaty grin followed Vic as the latter went out with the coil of
rope over his shoulder. When Gregg reached the house, Nelly Pym hugged him,
which is the privilege of fat and forty, and then she sat at the foot of
the stairs and shouted up gossip while he shaved with frantic haste and
jumped into his best clothes. He answered her with monosyllables and only
half his mind.
"Finish up your work, Vic?"
"You sure worked yourself all thin. I hope somebody appreciates it." She
chuckled. "Ain't been sick, have you?"
"Say, who d'you think's in town? Sheriff Glass!"
This information sank in on him while he tugged at a boot at least a size
and half too small.
"Pete Glass!" he echoed. Then: "Who's he after?"
"I dunno. Vic, he don't look like such a bad one."
"He's plenty bad enough," Gregg assured her. "Ah-h-h!"
His foot ground into place, torturing his toes.
'"Well," considered Mrs. Pym, in a philosophic rumble, "I s'pose them quiet
gents is the dangerous ones, mostly; but looking at Glass you wouldn't
think he'd ever killed all those men. Know about the dance?"
"Down to Singer's place. Betty goin' with you?"
He jerked open the door and barked down at her: "Who else would she be
"Don't start pullin' leather before the horse bucks," said Mrs. Pym. "I
don't know who else she'd be goin' with. You sure look fine in that red
He grinned, half mollified, half shame-faced, and ducked back into the
room, but a moment later he clumped stiffly down the stairs, frowning. He
wondered if he could dance in those boots.
"Feel kind of strange in these clothes. How do I look, Nelly?" And he
turned in review at the foot of the stairs.
"Slick as a whistle, I'll tell a man." She raised her voice to a shout as
he disappeared through the outer door. "Kiss her once for me, Vic."
In the center of the little pasture he stood shaking out the noose, and the
three horses raced in a sweeping gallop around the fence, looking for a
place of escape, with Grey Molly in the lead. Nothing up the Doane River,
or even down the Asper, for that matter, could head Molly when she was full
of running, and the eyes of Gregg gleamed as he watched her. She was not a
picture horse, for her color was rather a dirty white than a dapple, and
besides, there were some who accused her of "tucked up belly." But she had
the legs for speed in spite of the sloping croup, and plenty of chest at
the girth, and a small, bony head that rejoiced the heart of a horseman. He
swung the noose, and while the others darted ahead, stupidly straight into
the range of danger, Grey Molly whirled like a doubling coyote and leaped
"Good girl!" cried Vic, in involuntary approbation. He ran a few steps. The
noose slid up and out, opened in a shaky loop, and swooped down. Too late
the gray saw the flying danger, for even as she swerved the riata fell over
her head, and she came to a snorting halt with all fours planted, skidding
through the grass. The first thing a range horse learns is never to pull
against a rope.
A few minutes later she was getting the "pitch" out of her system, as any
self-respecting cattle horse must do after a session of pasture and no
work. She bucked with enthusiasm and intelligence, as she did all things.
Sun-fishing, sun-fishing is the most deadly form of bucking, for it
consists of a series of leaps apparently aimed at the sun, and the horse
comes down with a sickening jar on stiff front legs. Educated "pitchers"
land on only one foot, so that the shock is accompanied by a terrible
sidewise, downward wrench that breaks the hearts of the best riders in the
world. Grey Molly was educated, and Mrs. Pym stood in the doorway with a
broad grin of appreciation on her red face, she knew riding when she saw
it. Then, out of the full frenzy, the mare lapsed into high-headed,
quivering attention, and Gregg cursed her softly, with deep affection. He
understood her from her fetlocks to her teeth. She bucked like a fiend of
revolt one instant and cantered like an angel of grace the next; in fact
she was more or less of an equine counterpart of her rider.
But now he heard shrill voices passing down the street and he knew that
school was out and that he must hurry if he wanted to ride home with Betty,
so he waved to Mrs. Pym and cantered away. For over two days he had been
rushing towards this meeting; all winter he had hungered for it, but now
that the moment loomed before him he weakened; he usually did when he came
close to the girl. Not that her beauty overwhelmed him, for though she had
a portion of energetic good-health and freckled prettiness, he had chosen
her as an Indian chooses flint for his steel; one could strike fire from
Betty Neal. When he was far away he loved her without doubt or question and
his trust ran towards her like a river setting towards the ocean because he
knew that her heart was as big and as true as the heart of Grey Molly
herself. Only her ways were fickle, and when she came near, she filled him
with uneasiness, suspicion.
Chapter III. Battle
On the road he passed Miss Brewster--for the Alder school boasted two
teachers!--and under her kindly, rather faded smile he felt a great desire
to stop and take her into his confidence; ask her what Betty Neal had been
doing all these months. Instead, he touched Grey Molly with the spurs, and
she answered like a watch-spring uncurling beneath him. The rush of wind
against his face raised his spirits to a singing pitch, and when he flung
from the saddle before the school he shouted: "Oh, Betty!"
Up the sharply angling steps in a bound, and at the door: "Oh, Betty!"
His voice filled the room with a thick, dull echo, and there was Betty
behind her desk looking up at him agape; and beside her stood Blondy
Hansen, big, good looking, and equally startled. Fear made the glance of
Vic Gregg swerve--to where little Tommy Aiken scribbled an arithmetic
problem on the blackboard--afterschool work for whispering in class, or
some equally heinous crime. The tingling voices of the other children on
their way home, floated in to Tommy, and the corners of his mouth drooped.
To regain his poise, Vic tugged at his belt and felt the weight of the holster
slipping into a more convenient place, then he sauntered up the aisle,
sweeping off his sombrero. Every feeling in his body, every nerve, disappeared
in a crystalline hardness, for it seemed to him that the air was surcharged by
a secret something between Betty and young Hansen. Betty was out from behind
her desk and she ran to meet him and took his hand in both of hers. The
rush of her coming took his breath, and at her touch something melted in
"Oh, Vic, are you all through?"
Gregg stiffened for the benefit of Hansen and Tommy Aiken.
"Pretty near through," he said carelessly. "Thought I'd drop down to Alder
for a day or two and get the kinks out. Hello, Blondy. Hey, Tommy!"
Tommy Aiken flashed a grin at him, but Tommy was not quite sure that the
rules permitted speaking, even under such provocation as the return of Vic
Gregg, so he maintained a desperate silence. Blondy had picked up his hat
as he returned the greeting.
"I guess I'll be going," he said, and coughed to show that he was perfectly
at ease, but it seemed to Vic that it was hard for Blondy to meet his eye
when they shook hands. "See you later, Betty."
"All right." She smiled at Vic--a flash--and then gathered dignity of both
voice and manner. "You may go now, Tommy."
She lapsed into complete unconsciousness of manner as Tommy swooped on his
desk, included hat and book in one grab, and darted towards the door
through which Hansen had just disappeared. Here he paused, tilting, and his
smile twinkled at them with understanding. "Good-night, Miss Neal. Hope you
have a good time, Vic." His heel clicked twice on the steps outside, and
then the patter of his racing feet across the field.
"The little mischief!" said Betty, delightfully flushed. "It beats
everything, Vic, how Alder takes things for granted."
He should have taken her in his arms and kissed her, now that she had
cleared the room, he very well knew, but the obvious thing was always last
to come in Gregg's repertoire.
"Why not take it for granted? It ain't going to be many days, now."
He watched her eyes sparkle, but the pleasure of seeing him drowned the
gleam almost at once.
"Are you really almost through? Oh, Vic, you've been away so long, and I--"
She checked herself. There was no overflow of sentiment in Betty.
"Maybe I was a fool for laying off work this way," he admitted, "but I sure
got terrible lonesome up there."
Her glance went over him contentedly, from the hard brown hands to the
wrinkle which labor had sunk in the exact center of his forehead. He was
all man, to Betty.
"Come on along," he said. He would kiss her by surprise as they reached the
door. "Come on along. It's sure enough spring outside. I been eating it up,
and--we can do our talking over things at the dance. Let's ride now."
"Sure, down to Singer's place."
"It's going to be kind of hard to get out of going with Blondy. He asked
"And you said you'd go?"
"What are you flarin' up about?"
"Look here, how long have you been traipsin' around with Blondy Hansen?"
She clenched one hand beside her in a way he knew, but it pleased him more
than it warned him, just as it pleased him to see the ears of Grey Molly go
"What's wrong about Blondy Hansen?"
"What's right about him?" he countered senselessly.
Her voice went a bit shrill. "Blondy is a gentleman, I'll have you know."
"Don't you sneer at me, Victor Gregg. I won't have it!"
"You won't, eh?"
He felt that he was pushing her to the danger point, but she was perfectly,
satisfyingly beautiful in her anger; he taunted her with the pleasure of an
artist painting a picture.
"I won't!" she repeated. Something else came to her lips, but she repressed
it, and he could see the pressure from within telling.
"Don't get in a huff over nothing," he urged, in real alarm. "Only, it made
me kind of mad to see Blondy standing there with that calf-look."
"What calf-look? He's a lot better to look at than you'll ever be."
A smear of red danced before the vision of Gregg.
"I don't set up for no beauty prize. Tie a pink ribbon in Blondy's hair and
take him to a baby show if you want. He's about young enough to enter."
If she could have found a ready retort her anger might have passed away in
words, but no words came, and she turned pale. It was here that Gregg made
his crucial mistake, for he thought the pallor came from fear, fear which
his sham jealousy had roused in her, perhaps. He should have maintained a
discreet silence, but instead, he poured in the gall of complacency upon a
"Blondy's all right," he stated beneficently, "but you just forget about
him tonight. You're going to that dance, and you're going with me. If
there's any explanations to be made, you leave 'em to me. I'll handle
"You handle Blondy!" she whispered. Her voice came back; it rang: "You
couldn't if he had one hand tied behind him." She measured him for another
blow. "I'm going to that dance and I'm going with Mr. Hansen."
She knew that he would have died for her, and he knew that she would have
died for him; accordingly they abandoned themselves to sullen fury.
"You're out of date, Vic," she ran on. "Men can't drag women around
nowadays, and you can't drag me. Not--one--inch." She put a vicious little
interval between each of the last three words.
"I'll be calling for you at seven o'clock."
"I won't be there."
"Then I'll call on Blondy."
"You don't dare to. Don't you try to bluff me. I'm not that kind."
"Betty, d'you mean that? D'you think that I'm yaller?"
"I don't care what you are."
"I ask you calm and impersonal, just think that over before you say it."
"I've already thought it over."
"Then, by God," said Gregg, trembling, "I'll never take one step out of my
way to see you again."
He turned, so blind with fury that he shouldered the door on his way out
and so, into the saddle, with Grey Molly standing like a figure of rock, as
if she sensed his mood. He swung her about on her hind legs with a wrench
on the curb and a lift of his spurs, but when she leaped into a gallop he
brought her back to the walk with a cruel jerk; she began to sidle across
the field with her chin drawn almost back to her breast, prancing. That
movement of the horse brought him half way around towards the door and he
was tempted mightily to look, for he knew that Betty Neal was standing
there, begging him with her eyes. But the great, sullen pain conquered; he
straightened out the mare for the gate.
Betty was indeed at the door, leaning against it in a sudden weakness, and
even in her pain she felt pride in the grace and skill of Vic's
horsemanship. The hearts of both of them were breaking, with this rather
typical difference: that Gregg felt her to be entirely at fault, and that
she as fully accepted every scruple of the blame. He had come down tired
out and nervous from work he had done for her sake, she remembered, and if
he would only glance back once--he must know that she was praying for it--
she would cry out and run down to him; but he went on, on, through the
A flash of her passion returned to her. "I shall go with Blondy--if it
kills me." And she flung herself into the nearest seat and wept.
So when he reached the road and looked back at last, the doorway yawned
black, empty, and he set his teeth with a groan and spurred down the road
for Alder. He drew rein at Captain Lorrimer's and entered with curt nods in
exchange for the greetings.
"Red-eye," he ordered, and seized bottle and glass as Lorrimer spun them
deftly towards him.
Captain Lorrimer picked up the bottle and gazed at it mournfully when Vic
had poured his drink.
"Son," he murmured, "you've sure raised an awful thirst."
Chapter IV. King Hol
There is a very general and very erroneous impression that alcohol builds
the mood of a man; as a matter of fact it merely makes his temper of the
moment fast--the man who takes his first drink with a smile ends in
uproarious laughter, and he who frowns will often end in fighting. Vic
Gregg did not frown as he drank, but the corners of his lips turned up a
trifle in a smile of fixed and acid pleasantry and his glance went from
face to face in the barroom, steadily, with a trifling pause at each pair
of eyes. Beginning with himself, he hated mankind in general; the burn of
the cheap whisky within served to set the color of that hatred in a fixed
dye. He did not lift his chaser, but his hand closed around it hard. If
some one had given him an excuse for a fist-fight or an outburst of cursing
it would have washed his mind as clean as a new slate, and five minutes
later he might have been with Betty Neal, riotously happy. Instead,
everyone overflowed with good nature, gossip, questions about his work, and
the danger in him crystallized. He registered cold reasons for his disgust.
Beginning in the first person, he loathed himself as a thick-headed ass for
talking to Betty as he had done; as well put a burr under one's saddle and
then feel surprise because the horse bucks. He passed on to the others with
equal precision. Captain Lorrimer was as dirty as a greaser; and like a
greaser, loose-lipped, unshaven. Chick Stewart was a born fool, and a fool
by self-culture, as his never changing grin amply proved. Lew Perkins sat
in the corner on a shaky old apple barrel and brushed back his long
mustaches to spit at the cuspidor--and miss it. If this were Vic Gregg's
saloon he would teach the old loafer more accuracy or break his neck.
"How are you, Gregg?" murmured some one behind him.
He turned and found Sheriff Pete Glass with his right hand already spread
on the bar while he ordered a drink for two. That was one of the sheriff's
idiosyncrasies; he never shook hands if he could avoid it, and Gregg hated
him senselessly, bitterly, for it. No doubt every one in the room noticed,
and they would tell afterwards how the sheriff had avoided shaking hands
with Vic Gregg. Cheap play for notoriety, thought Gregg; Glass was pushing
the bottle towards him.
"Help yourself," said Gregg.
"This is on me, Vic."
"I most generally like to buy the first drink."
Pete Glass turned his head slowly, for indeed all his motions were
leisurely and one could not help wondering at the stories of his exploits,
the tales of his hair-trigger alertness. Perhaps these half legendary deeds
sent the thrill of uneasiness through Vic Gregg; perhaps it was owing to
the singular hazel eyes, with little splotches of red in them; very mild
eyes, but one could imagine anything about them. Otherwise there was
nothing exceptional in Glass, for he stood well under middle height, a
starved figure, with a sinewy crooked neck, as if bent on looking up to
taller men. His hair was sandy, his face tawny brown, his shirt a gray
blue, and every one knew his dusty roan horse; by nature, by temperament
and by personal selection he was suited to blend into a landscape of
sage-dotted plains or sand. Tireless as a lobo on the trail, swift as a
bobcat in fight, hunted men had been known to ride in and give themselves
up when they heard that Pete Glass was after them.
"Anyway you want, partner," he was saying, in his soft, rather husky voice.
He poured his drink, barely enough to cover the bottom of his glass, for
that was another of Pete's ways; he could never afford to weaken his hand
or deaden his eye with alcohol, and even now he stood sideways at the bar,
facing Gregg and also facing the others in the room. But the larger man,
with sudden scorn for this caution, brimmed his own glass, and poised it
swiftly. "Here's how!" and down it went.
Ordinarily red-eye heated his blood and made his brain dizzy, it loosened
his tongue and numbed his lips, but today it left him cool, confident, and
sharpened his vision until he felt that he could see through the minds of
every one in the room. Captain Lorrimer, for instance, was telling a
jocular story to Chick Stewart in the hope that Chick would set them up for
every one; and old Lew Perkins was waiting for the treat; and perhaps the
sheriff was wondering how he could handle Vic in case of need, or how long
it would take to run him down. Not long, decided Gregg, breathing hard; no
man in the world could put him on the run. Glass was treating in turn, and
again the brimming drink went down Vic's throat and left his brain clear,
wonderfully clear. He saw through Betty Neal now; she had purposely played
off Blondy against him, to make them both jealous.
"Won't you join us, Dad?" the sheriff was saying to Lew Perkins, and Vic
Gregg smiled. He understood. The sheriff wanted an excuse to order another
round of drinks because he had it in mind to intoxicate Gregg; perhaps
Glass had something on him; perhaps the manhunter thought that Vic had had
a part in that Wilsonville affair two years back. That was it, and he
wanted to make Vic talk when he was drunk.
"Don't mind if I do," Lew said, slapping both hands on the bar as if he
owned it; and while he waited for his drink: "What are they going to do
The doddering idiot! Swain was the last man Glass had taken, and Lew
Perkins should have known that the sheriff never talked about his work; the
old ass was in his green age, his second childhood.
"Swain turned state's evidence," said Pete, curtly. "He'll go free, I
suppose. Fill up your glass, partner. Can see you're thirsty yet."
This was to Gregg, who had purposely poured out a drink of the sheriff's
own chosen dimension to see if the latter would notice; this remark fixed
his suspicions. It was certain that the manhunter was after him, but again,
in scorn, he accepted the challenge and poured a stiff dram.
"That's right," nodded the sheriff. "You got nothing on your shoulders. You
can let yourself go, Vic. Sometimes I wish"--he sighed--"I wish I could do
"The sneaky coyote," thought Gregg, "he's lurin' me on!"
"Turned state's evidence!" maundered Lew Perkins. "Well, they's a lot of
'em that lose their guts when they're caught. I remember way back in the
time when Bannack was runnin' full blast--"
Why did not some one shut off the old idiot before he was thoroughly
started? He might keep on talking like the clank of a windmill in a steady
breeze, endlessly. For Lew was old-seventy-five, eighty, eighty-five--he
himself probably did not know just how old--and he had lived through at
least two generations of pioneers with a myriad stories about them. He
could string out tales of the Long Trail: Abilene, Wichita, Ellsworth,
Great Bend, Newton, where eleven men were murdered in one night; he knew
the vigilante days in San Francisco, and early times in Alder Gulch.
"Nobody would of thought Plummer was yaller, but he turned out that way,"
droned on the narrator. "Grit? He had enough to fit out twenty men. When
Crawford shot him and busted his right arm, he went right on and learned to
shoot with his left and started huntin' Jack again. Packed that lead with
him till he died, and then they found Jack's bullet in his wrist, all
worked smooth by the play of the bones. Afterwards it turned out that
Plummer ran a whole gang; but before we learned that we'd been fools enough
to make him sheriff. We got to Plummer right after he'd finished hangin' a
man, and took him to his own gallows."
"You'd of thought a cool devil like that would of made a good end, but he
didn't. He just got down on his knees and cried, and asked God to help him.
Then he begged us to give him time to pray, but one of the boys up and told
him he could do his prayin' from the cross-beam. And that was Henry
Plummer, that killed a hundred men, him an' his gang."
"H-m-m," murmured the sheriff, and looked uneasily about. Now that his eyes
were turned away, Vic could study him at leisure, and he wondered at the
smallness of the man. Suppose one were able to lay hands on him it would be
"See you later, boys," drawled Glass, and sauntered from the room.
Lew Perkins sighed as the most important part of his audience disappeared,
but having started talking the impetus carried him along, he held Vic Gregg
with his hazy eyes.
"But they didn't all finish like Plummer, not all the bad ones. No sirree!
There was Boone Helm."
"I've heard about him," growled Vic, but the old man had fixed his glance
and his reminiscent smile upon the past and his voice was soft with
distance when he spoke again.
"Helm was a sure enough bad one, son. They don't grow like him no more.
Wild Bill was a baby compared with Helm, and Slade wasn't no man at all,
even leavin' in the lies they tell about him. Why, son, Helm was just a
lobo, in the skin of a man--"
"Like Barry?" put in Lorrimer, drifting closer down the bar.
"Ain't you heard of Whistlin' Dan? The one that killed Jim Silent and
busted up his gang. Why, they say he's got a wolf that he can talk to like
it was a man."
Old Lew chuckled.
"They say a lot of things," he nodded, "but I'll tell a man that a wolf is
a wolf and they ain't nothin' that can tame 'em. Don't you let 'em feed you
up on lies like that, Lorrimer. But Helm was sure bad. He killed for the
sake of killin', but he died game. When the boys run him down he swore on
the bible that he's never killed a man, and they made him swear it over
again just to watch his nerve; but he never batted an eye."
The picture of that wild time grew up for Vic Gregg, and the thought of
free men who laughed at the law, strong men, fierce men. What would one of
these have done if the girl he intended to marry had treated him like a
"Then they got him ready for the rope," went on Lew Perkins.
"'I've seen a tolerable lot of death,' says Helm. 'I ain't afraid of it.'"
"There was about six thousand folks had come in to see the end of Boone
Helm. Somebody asked him if he wanted anything.
"'Whisky,' says Boone. And he got it.
"Then he shook his hand and held it up. He had a sore finger and it
bothered him a lot more than the thought of hangin'.
"'You gents get through with this or else tie up my finger,' he kept
"Helm wasn't the whole show. There was some others bein' hung that day and
when one of them dropped off his box, Boone says: 'There's one gone to
hell.' Pretty soon another went, and hung there wiggling, and six times he
went through all the motions of pullin' his six-shooter and firin' it. I
counted. 'Kick away, old fellow,' says Boone Helm, 'I'll be with you soon.'
Then it came his turn and he hollered: 'Hurrah for Jeff Davis; let her
rip!' That was how Boone Helm--"
The rest of the story was blotted from the mind of Vic Gregg by the thud of
a heavy heel on the veranda, and then the broad shoulders of Blondy Hansen
darkened the doorway, Blondy Hansen dressed for the dance, with the knot
of his black silk handkerchief turned to the front and above that the gleam
of his celluloid collar. It was dim in the saloon, compared with the
brightness of the outdoors, and perhaps Blondy did not see Vic. At any rate
he took his place at the other end of the bar. Three pictures tangled in
the mind of Gregg like three bodies in a whirlpool--Betty, Blondy, Pete
Glass. That strange clearness of perception increased and the whole affair
lay plainly before him. Betty had sent Hansen, dressed manifestly for the
festival, to gloat over Vic in Lorrimer's place. He was at it already.
"All turned out for the dance, Blondy, eh? Takin' a girl?"
"Betty Neal," answered Blondy.
"The hell you are!" inquired Lorrimer, mildly astonished. "I thought--why,
Vic's back in town, don't you know that?"
"He ain't got a mortgage on what she does."
Then, guided by the side-glance of Lorrimer, Hansen saw Gregg, and he
stiffened. As for Vic, he perceived the last link in his chain of evidence.
Hansen was going to a dance, and yet he wore a gun, and there could be only
one meaning in that: Betty had sent him down there to wind up the affair.
"Didn't see you, Vic," Blondy was saying, his flushed face seeming doubly
red against the paleness of his hair. "Have something?"
"I ain't drinkin'," answered Gregg, and slowly, to make sure that no one
could miss his meaning, he poured out a glass of liquor, and drank it with
his face towards Hansen. When he put his glass down his mind was clearer
than ever; and with omniscient precision, with nerveless calm, he knew that
he was going to kill Blondy Hansen; knew exactly where the bullet would
strike. It was something put behind him; his mind had already seen Hansen
fall, and he smiled.
Dead silence had fallen over the room, and in the silence Gregg heard a
muffled, ticking sound, the beating of his heart; heard old Lew Perkins as
the latter softly, slowly, glided back out of the straight line of danger;
heard the quick breathing of Captain Lorrimer who stood pasty pale, gaping
behind the bar; heard the gritted teeth of Blondy Hansen, who would not
"Vic," said Blondy, "it looks like you mean trouble. Anyway, you just now
done something that needs explaining."
He stood straight as a soldier, rigid, but the fingers of his right hand
twitched, twitched, twitched; the hand itself stole higher. Very calmly,
Vic hunted for his words, found them.
"A cattle rustler is bad," he pronounced, "a hoss thief is worse, but
you're the lowest sneak of the lot, Blondy."
Again that silence with the pulse in it, and Vic Gregg could feel the chill
which numbed every one except himself.
The lower jaw of Captain Lorrimer sagged, and his whisper came out in
jerking syllables: "God Almighty!" Then Blondy went for his gun, and Vic
waited with his hand on the butt of his own, waited with a perfect, cold
foreknowledge, heard Blondy moan as his Colt hung in the holster, saw the
flash of the barrel as it whipped out, and then jerked his own weapon and
fired from the hip. Blondy staggered but kept himself from falling by
gripping the edge of the bar with his left hand; the right, still holding
the gun, raised and rubbed across his forehead; he looked like a sleeper
Not a sound from any one else, while Vic watched the tiny wraith of smoke
jerk up from the muzzle of his revolver. Then Blondy's gun flashed down and
clanked on the floor. A red spot grew on the breast of Hansen's shirt; now
he leaned as if to pick up something, but instead, slid forward on his
face. Vic stepped to him and stirred the body with his toe; it wobbled,
Chapter V. The Fight
There were three spots of white in the dim saloon, the faces of Stewart,
Lorrimer, and old Lew Perkins, and at the feet of Vic grew a spot of red.
Knowing with calm surety that no hand would lift against him even if he
turned his back, he walked out the door without a word and swung into the
saddle. There, for an instant, he calculated chances, for the street
stretched empty before and behind with not a sound of warning stirring in
the saloon. He was greatly tempted to ride to Dug Pym's for his blanket
roll and a few other traveling necessities, but he remembered that the men
of Alder rose to action with astonishing speed; within five minutes a group
of hard riders would be clattering up his trail with Pete Glass at their
head. An unlucky Providence had sent Pete to Alder on this day of all days.
There stood his redoubtable dusty roan at the hitching rack, her head low,
one ear back and one flopped forward, her under lip pendulous--in a pasture
full of horses one might pick her last either for stout heart or speed.
Even in spite of her history Vic would have engaged Grey Molly to beat the
roan at equal weights, but since he outbulked the sheriff full forty
pounds, he weighed in nice balance the necessity of shooting the roan
before he left Alder. It was, he decided, unpleasant but vital, and his
fingers had already slid around the butt of his gun when a horse whinnied
far off and the roan twitched up her head to listen. She was no longer a
cloddish lump of horseflesh, but an individual, a soul; Gregg's hand fell
from his gun. Cursing his sentimental weakness, he lifted Molly into a
canter down the street. Still no signs of awakening behind him or about;
only little Jack Sweeney playing tag with a black-and-tan puppy, the
triumphant cackle of a hen somewhere to the left; but as he neared the end
of the street, where the trail swung into the rocks of the slope, a door
banged far off and a voice was screaming: "Pete! Pete Glass!"
Grey Molly switched her tail nervously at the shout, but Vic was too wise
to let her waste strength hurrying up so sharp a declivity; that dusty roan
whose life he had spared would be spending it prodigally to overtake him
before long and Molly's power must be husbanded. So he kept her at a quick
walk by pressing the calf of one leg into her flank and turned in the
saddle to watch the town sink behind him. Sometime in the vague, stupid
past Marne had jog-trotted down this slope, but now he was a new man with
an eye which saw all things and a gun which could not fail. Figures,
singularly tiny and singularly distinct, swarmed into the street from
nowhere, men on horses, men swinging into saddles; here and there the slant
light of the afternoon twinkled on gun barrels, and ludicrous thin voices
came piping up the hill. As he reached the nether lip of Murphy's Pass a
small cavalcade detached itself from the main mass before Captain
Lorrimer's saloon and swept down the street, first a dusty figure on a
dusty horse, hardly visible; then a spot of red which must be Harry Fisher
on his blood-bay, with a long-striding sorrel beside him that could carry
no one except grim old Sliver Waldron. Behind these rode one with the
light glinting on his silver conchos--Mat Henshaw, the town Beau Brummel--
then the black Guss Reeve, and last of all "Ronicky" Joe on his pinto;
"Ronicky" Joe, handy man at all things, and particularly guns. It showed
how fast Pete Glass could work and how well he knew Alder, for Vic himself
could not have selected five cooler fighters among the villagers or five
finer mounts. The posse switched around the end of the street and darted
up the hill like the curling lash of a whip.
"Good," said Vic Gregg. "The damn fools will wind their horses before they
hit the pass."
He put Grey Molly into an easy trot, for the floor of the pass dipped up
and down, littered with sharp-toothed rocks or treacherous, rolling ones,
as bad a place for speed as a stiff upslope. According to his nicest
calculation the posse could not reach the edge of the gulch before he was
at the farther side, out of range of everything except a long chance shot,
so he took note of things as he went and observed a spot of pale silver
skirting through the brush on the eastern ridge of the gorge. There would
be moonlight that night and another chance in favor of Pete Glass. He
remembered then, with quiet content, that jogging in the holster was a
power which with six words might stop those six pursuers.
A long halloo came barking down the pass, now drawling out, now cut away to
silence as the angling cliffs sent on the echo, and Vic loosened the rein.
Grey Molly swung out with a snort of relief to a free-swinging gallop and
they swept down a great, gentle slope where new grass padded the fall of
her hoofs, yet even then he kept the mare checked and held her in touch
with an easily playing wrist. He did not imagine that even the sheriff on
the dusty roan would dream of trying to swallow up Grey Molly in a short
sprint but that assurance nearly cost Vic his life. The roar of hoofs in
the gulch belched out into the comparative silence of the open space beyond
and just as he gave the mare her head a gun coughed and an angry humming
darted past his ear.
Molly lengthened into full speed. He could not tell on account of the
muffling grass whether the pursuit was gaining or losing. He trusted
blindly to the mare and when he looked back they were already pulling their
mounts down to a hand gallop. That would teach them to match Molly in a
sprint, roan or no roan!
He slapped her below the withers, where the long, hard muscles rippled back
and forth. She was full of running, her gallop as light as the toss of a
bough in the wind, and now as he pulled her back to a swinging canter her
head went high, with pricking ears. Suddenly his heart went out to her; she
would run like that till she died, he knew.
"Good girl," he whispered huskily.
The day was paling towards the end when he headed into the foothills of the
White Mountains. He drew up Molly for a breath on a level shoulder. Already
he was close to the snow line with ragged heads of white rearing above him.
Far below, a pale streak of moonlight was the Asper. Then, out of that
blacker night on the slopes beneath, he heard the clinking hoofs of the
posse; the quiet was so perfect, the air so clear, that he even caught the
chorus of straining saddle leather and then voices of men. All this time
the effects of the whisky had been wearing away by imperceptible degrees
and at that sound all his old self rushed back on Vic Gregg. Why, they were
his friends, his partners, these voices in the night, and that clear laughter
floated up from Harry Fisher who had been his bunkie at the Circle V
Bar ranch three years ago. He felt an insane impulse to lean over the edge
of the cliff and shout a greeting.
Chapter VI. The Rifle
Dawn found him over the first crest; at noon he was struggling up the slope
of the second range, whose rise was not half so sharp as the upward plunge
out of the Asper, but in spite of that easier ground Grey Molly could not
gain. She went with shorter steps, now, and her head hung lower and lower,
yet when a down stretch opened before her she went at it with a gallop as
light, almost, as her race out of Murphy's Pass. Not once had she offered
to stop; not once had she winced from the labor of some sharp up-pitch; but
still six horsemen hung behind her, and at their head rode a little dusty
man on a little dusty roan. It was the lack of training as well as the
rough going which held Molly back.
Beyond that second range, however, the down slope stretched smoothly,
evenly, for mile on mile and mile on mile; perfect going for Grey Molly
over easy hills with patches of forest here and there where he might
double, or where he might stop with the hunt sweeping past. All this the
sheriff must have known perfectly well, for he no longer kept back with his
pack of five, but skirted on ahead, hunting alone. Again and again Vic
heard the little shrill whistle with which Pete Glass encouraged the roan.
Vic used the spurs twice, and then he desisted from the useless brutality
for Molly was doing her best and no power on earth could make her do more.
After all, her best would be good enough, for now Vic looked up and his
heart leaped into his throat; there was only one more rise above him, and
beyond lay the easy ground and a running chance for Molly's slender legs.
Even as he raised his head something whined evilly over him, followed by a
sound like two heavy hammers swung together, face to face, and shattered by
the stroke. A rifle!
He looked back, saw the roan standing broadside towards him, watched the
sun waver and then flash in a straight steady line along the barrel of the
sheriff's gun. The line of light jerked up, and before the sound reached
him a blow on his right shoulder sent Vic lurching forward against the
pommel. Afterwards the voice of the rifle rang around him and a sharp pain
twitched up and down his side, then ran tingling to his fingertips.
It was the stunning blow which saved him, for the sheriff had the range and
his third bullet would have clipped Vic between the shoulders, but Glass
had seen his quarry pitch forward in the saddle and he would not waste
ammunition. The thrift of his New England ancestry spoke in Pete now and
then and he could only grit his teeth when he saw Vic, disappearing on the
other side of the crest, straighten in the saddle; the next instant the top
of the hill shielded the fugitive.
Well and nobly, then, Grey Molly repaid all the praise, all the tenderness
and care which Vic had lavished upon her in the past years, for with her
legs shaking from the struggle of that last climb, with a rider who wobbled
crazily in his seat, with reins hanging loose on her neck, with not even a
voice to guide or to encourage her, she swept straight across the falling
ground, gaining strength and courage at every stride. By the time Vic had
regained his self-control and rallied a little from that first terrible
falling of the heart, the dusty roan was over the crest and streaking after
the game. Grey Molly gained steadily, yet even when he gathered the reins
in his left hand Vic knew that the fight was done, in effect. How could he
double or dodge when his own blood spotted the trail he kept, and how long
could he keep the saddle with the agony which tore like saw teeth at his
Grey Molly plunged straight into the shadow of pine trees, and the cool
gloom fell like a blessing upon Vic in his torment; it was heaven to be
sheltered even for a few moments from the eyes of the posse. At the
opposite edge of the wood he drew rein with a groan. Some devil had
prompted Gus Reeve and some devil had poured Reeve's horse full of
strength, for yonder down the valley, not a hundred yards away, galloped a
rider on a black horse; yet Vic could have sworn that when he looked back
from the crest he had seen Gus riding the very last in the posse. An
instant later the illusion vanished, for the black horse of Gus was never
an animal such as this, never had this marvelous, long gait. Its feet
flicked the earth and shot it along with a reaching stride so easy, so
flowing that only the fluttered mane and the tail stretching straight
behind gave token of the speed. For the rest, it carried its head high,
with pricking ears, the sure sign of a horse running well within his
strength, yet Grey Molly, fresh and keen for racing, could hardly have
kept pace with the black as it slid over the hills. God in heaven, if such
a horse were his a thousand sheriffs on a thousand dusty roans could never
take him; five minutes would sweep him out of sight and reach.
Before the horseman ran a tall dog, wolfish in head and wolfish in the gait
which carried it like a cloud shadow over the ground, but it was over-large
for any wolf Vic had ever seen. It turned its head now, and leaped aside at
sight of the stranger, but the rider veered from his course and swept down
on Vic. He came to a halt close up without either a draw at the reins or a
spoken word, probably controlling his mount with pressure of the knees, and
Gregg found himself facing a delicately handsome fellow. He was neither
cowpuncher nor miner, Vic knew at a glance, for that face had never been
haggard with labor. A tenderfoot, probably, in spite of his dress, and Vic
felt that if his right arm were sound he could take that horse at the point
of his gun and leave the rider thanking God that his life had been spared;
but his left hand was useless on the butt of a revolver, and three minutes
away came the posse, racing. There was only time for one desperate appeal.
"Stranger," he burst out, "I'm follered. I got to have your hoss. Take this
one in exchange; it's the best I ever threw a leg over. Here's two hundred
bucks--" he flung his wallet on the ground and swung himself out of the
The wolfish dog, which had growled softly all this time and roughed up the
hair of its neck, now slunk forward on its belly.
"Heel, Bart!" commanded the stranger sharply, and the dog whipped about and
stood away, whining with eagerness.
The moment Gregg's feet struck the ground his legs buckled like saplings in
a wind for the long ride had sapped his strength, and the flow of blood
told rapidly on him now. The hills and trees whirled around him until a
lean, strong hand caught him under either armpit. The stranger stood close.
"You could have my hoss if you could ride him," said he. His voice was
singularly unhurried and gentle. "But you'd drop out of the saddle in ten
minutes. Who's after you?"
A voice shouted far off beyond the wood; another voice answered, nearer,
and the whole soul of Gregg turned to the stallion. Grey Molly was blown,
she stood now with hanging head and her flanks sunk in alarmingly at every
breath, but even fresh from the pasture she was not a rag, not a straw
compared to the black.
"For God's sake," groaned Vic, "loan me your hoss!"
"You couldn't stick the saddle. Come in here out of sight; I'm going to
take 'em off your trail."
While he spoke, he led, half carried Vic, into a thicket of shrubs with a
small open space at the center. The black and the wolf-dog followed and now
the stranger pulled at the bridle rein. The stallion kneeled like a trained
dog, and lying thus the shrubbery was high enough to hide him. Closer,
sweeping through the wood, Vic heard the crash of the pursuit, yet the
other was maddeningly slow of speech.
"You stay here, partner, and sit over there. I'm borrowin' your gun"--a
swift hand appropriated it from Vic's holster and his own fingers were too
paralyzed to resist--"and don't you try to ride my hoss unless you want
them teeth in your throat. Lie quiet and tie up your hurt. Bart, watch
And there sat Gregg where he had slipped down in his daze of weakness with
the great dog crouched at his feet and snarling ominously every time he
raised his hand. The voices came closer; the crashing burst on his very
ears, and now, through the interstices of the shrubbery he saw the stranger
swing into the saddle on Grey Molly and urge her to a gallop. He could
follow them for only an instant with his eyes, but it seemed to Vic that
Molly cantered under her new rider with strange ease and lightness. It was
partly the rest, no doubt, and partly the smaller burden.
A deep beat of racing hoofs, and then the dusty roan shot out of the trees
close by with the sheriff leaning forward, jockeying his horse. It seemed
that no living thing could escape from that relentless rider. Then right
behind Vic a horse snorted and grunted--as it leaped a fallen log,
perhaps--and he watched in alarm to see if the stallion would answer that
sound with start or whinney. The black lay perfectly still, and instead of
lifting up to answer or to look, the head lowered with ears flat back until
the long, outstretched neck gave the animal a snaky appearance. The dog,
too, though it showed murderous fangs whenever Vic moved, did not stir from
his place, but lay flattening into the ground.
"Cut to the right! Cut to the right, Harry!" came the voice of the sheriff,
already piping from the distance as the last of the posse brushed out from
the trees. "Yo hoi! Gus, take the left arroyo!"
Two answering yells, and then the rush of hoofs fell away. They were
cornering the stranger, no doubt, and Vic struggled to lift himself to his
feet and watch until a faint sound from the dog made him look down. Bart
lay with his haunches drawn up under him, his forepaws digging into the
soft loam, his eyes demoniac. Instinctively Vic reached for his absent gun,
and then, despairing, relaxed to his former position. The wolf-dog lowered
his head to his paws and there remained with the eyes following each intake
of Gregg's breath. A rattle of gunshots flung back loosely from the hills,
and among them Vic winced at the sound of the sheriff's rifle, clear and
ringing over the bark of the revolvers.
Had they nailed the stranger? The firing recommenced, more faintly and
prolonged, so that it was plain the posse maintained a running fusilade
after the fugitive. After that fear of his own growing weakness shut out
all else from the mind of Gregg as he felt his senses, his physical
strength, flowing out like an ebb tide to a sea which, he knew, was death.
He began to work desperately to bind up the wound and stop the flow of
blood and it was fear which gave him momentary strength to tear away his
shirt and then with his teeth and left hand rip it into strips. After that,
heedless of the pain, he constructed a rude bandage, very clumsily, for he
had to work over his shoulder. Here his teeth, once more, were almost as
useful as another hand, and as the bandage grew tight the deadly, warm
trickle along his side lessened and his fingers fell away from the last
knot. He fainted.
Chapter VII. Joan Disobeys
What he next knew was a fire of agony that wrapped his whole body and
consciousness flashed back on him. Strong arms lifted him up, up; above him
he sensed the eyes of his torturer, dim in moonlight, and he beat his
clubbed left fist into that face. After that he knew he was being dragged
onto a saddle, but a wave of pain rushed up his side and numbed his brain.
Thereafter his senses returned by fits and starts, vaguely. Once he felt a
steel cable that girdled his waist and breast and held him erect, though
his head flopped back and forth; once his eyes opened and above him
glittered the bright field of stars towards which he drifted through space,
a mind without a body; once a stab of torment wakened him enough to hear:
"Easy Satan; watch them stones. One more jolt like that will send him clear
to--" And the voice glided into an eternity of distance. Yet again he swung
tip from the pit of darkness and became aware of golden hair around a
woman's face, and a marvelous soft, cool hand upon his forehead. Her voice
reached him, too, and made him think of all things musical, all things
distant, like the sounds of birds falling from the sky and though he
understood not a syllable, a sweet assurance of safety flooded through him.
When he woke again, it was from a dream of fleeing through empty air
swifter than the wind with a wolf-dog looming behind him out of space, but
presently he found that he was lying in a bed with a stream of sunlight
washing across a white coverlet. A door at his right swung open and there
in the entrance stood the wolf-dog of his vision with a five-year-old girl
upon its back.
"Don't go in there, Bart!" whispered the child. "Go on back!"
She took one of those pointed wolf-ears in her chubby fist and tugged to
swing him around, but Bart, with a speed which the eye could not follow,
twisted his head and the rows of great teeth closed over her hand. It was
so horrible that the cry froze in the throat of Gregg, yet the child, with
only a little murmur of anger, reached over with her other hand and caught
the wolf by the nose.
"Bad Bart!" she whispered, and raised the hand which he instantly released.
White marks showed on the pudgy tan. "Bad dog!" she repeated, and beat his
neck with an impotent little fist. The wolf-dog cringed, and turned from
"Come in," invited Gregg. He was surprised to find his voice thin, apt to
swing up to a high pitch beyond his control. A shower of golden curls
tossed away from her face as she looked to him. "Oh!" she cried, still with
a guarded voice. She leaned far over, one hand buried in the ruff of Bart's
neck to secure her balance, and with the other she laid hold of his right
ear and drew him around facing the door once more. This time he showed his
teeth but submitted, only twitching the ear back and forth a time or two
when she relaxed her hold.
"Come in," repeated Gregg.
She canted her head to one side and considered him with fearless blue eyes.
"I want to," she sighed.
"Why can't you, honey?"
"Munner says no."
He attempted to turn further towards her, but the pain in his right
shoulder prevented. He found that his arm was bandaged to the elbow and
held close to his side by a complex swathing.
"Who is your mother?" asked Vic.
"Munner?" she repeated, frowning in wonder. "Why, munner is--my munner."
"Oh," smiled he, "and who's your pa?"
"Who's your father? Who's your dad?"
"Daddy Dan. You ask a lot of things," she added, disapprovingly.
"Come on in," pleaded Vic Gregg, "and I won't ask nothin' more about you."
"Munner says no," she repeated.
She employed the moment of indecision by plucking at the hair of Bart's
shoulders; he growled softly, terribly, but she paid not the slightest
"Your mother won't care," asserted Vic.
"I know," she nodded, "but Daddy will."
She looked blankly at him.
"What will he do, then, if you come in to see me?"
"He'll look at me." She grew breathless at the thought, and cast a guilty
glance over her shoulder.
"Honey," chuckled Gregg, weakly, "I'll take all the blame. Just you come
along in and he'll do his lookin' at me."
He thought of the slender fellow who had rescued him and his large, gentle
brown eyes, but to a child even those mild eyes might seem terrible with
"Will you, true?" said the child, wistfully.
"Honest and true."
"All right." She made up her mind instantly, her face shining with
excitement. "Giddap, Bart." And she thumped the wolf-dog vigorously with
He carried her in with a few gliding steps, soundless, except for the light
rattle of claws on the floor, but he stopped well out of reach of the bed
and when Vic held his left hand as far as he could across his chest, Bart
winced and gave harsh warning. Vic had seen vicious dogs in his day, seen
them fighting, seen them playing, but he had never heard one of them growl
like this. The upper lips of the animal twitched dangerously back and the
sound came from the very depths of his body. It made the flesh crawl along
Vic's back; one rip of those great teeth could tear a man's throat open.
The child thudded her heels against the ribs of Bart again.
"Giddap!" she cried.
The wolf-dog shuddered but would not budge an inch.
"Naughty Bart!" She slipped off to the floor. "I'll make him come," she
"If it's the same to you," said Vic, rather hastily, "I'd just as soon he
stayed where he is."
"He's got to do what I want," she answered. She shook a tiny forefinger at
him. "Bart, you just come here!"
The dog turned his blazing eyes on her and replied with a growl that shook
"Stop!" she ordered, and struck him sharply on the nose. He blinked and
lowered his head under the blow, but though the snarling stopped his teeth
flashed. She caught him by both jowls and tugged him forward.
"Let him be!" urged Vic.
"He's got to come!"
And come he did, step by halting step, while she hauled him, and now the
snarling hoarse intakes of breath filled the room. Once she moved a little
to one side and Vic caught the glint of two eyes, red-stained, which were
fixed undeviatingly upon her face. Mixed with Vic's alarm at the great
fighting beast was a peculiar uneasiness, for there was something uncanny
in the determination, the fearlessness of this infant. When she stepped
away the wolf-dog stood trembling visibly but his eyes were still not upon
the man he hated or feared to approach but upon the child's face.
"Can you pat him now?" she asked, not for an instant turning to Gregg.
"No, but it's close enough," he assured her. "I don't want him any closer."
"He's got to come." She stamped. "Bart, you come here!"
He flinched forward, an inch. "Bart!" Her hands were clenched and her
little body quivered with resolution; the snake-like head came to the very
edge of the bed.
"Now pat him!" she commanded.
By very unpleasant degrees, Vic stretched his hand towards that growling
"He'll take my arm off," he complained. Shame kept him from utterly
refusing the risk.
"He won't bite you one bit," declared the child. "But I'll hold his nose if
you're afraid." And instantly she clasped the pointed muzzle between her
Even when Vic's hand hovered above his head Bart had no eye for him, could
not divert his gaze from the face of the child. Once, twice and again,
delicately as one might handle bubbles, Gregg touched that scarred
"I made him come, didn't I?" she cried in triumph, and turned a tense
little face towards Vic, but the instant her eyes moved the wolf-dog leaped
away half the width of the room, and stood shivering, more devilish than
ever. She stamped again.
"Bad, bad, bad Bart," she said angrily. "Shall I make him come again?"
"Leave him be," muttered Vic, closing his eyes. "Leave him be where he is.
I don't want him."
"Oh," she said, "it's hard to make him do things, sometimes. But Daddy Dan
can make him do anything."
"Humph!" grunted Vic. He was remembering how, at the master's order, Bart
had crouched at his feet in the wood, an unchained murderer hungrily
waiting for an excuse to kill. There was something very odd about the
people of this house; and it would be a long time before he rid himself of
the impression of the cold, steady eyes which had flashed up to him a
moment before out of that baby face.
"Joan!" called a voice from beyond, and the soft fiber of it made Vic
certain that it belonged to the rider of the black stallion. The little
girl ran a step towards the door, and then stopped and shrank back against
"If you're afraid your Dad'll find you here," said Vic, "just you run
She was nervously twisting her hands in her dress.
"Daddy Dan'll know," she whispered without turning. "And--and--he won't let
me be afraid---even of him!"
A small hand slipped up, fumbled a bit, found the thumb of Vic Gregg, and
closed softly over it. With this to steady her, she waited, facing the
Chapter VIII. Discipline
A light step crossed the outer room, with something peculiar in its
lightness, as if the heel were not touching the floor, with the effect of
the padded fall of the feet of some great cat; there was both softness and
the sense of weight. First the wolf-dog pricked his ears and turned towards
the door, the pudgy fist closed convulsively over Vic's thumb, and then his
rescuer stood in the entrance.
"Hello, partner," called Vic. "I got company, you see. The door blew open
and I asked your little girl in."
"I told you not to come here," said the other. Vic felt the child tremble,
but there was no burst of excuses.
"She didn't want to come," he urged. "But I kep' on askin' her."
The emotionless eye of "Daddy Dan" held upon Joan. "I told you not to
come," he said. Joan swallowed in mute agony, and the wolf-dog slipped to
the side of the master and licked his hand as though in dumb intercession.
The blood ran coldly in the veins of Gregg, as if he saw a fist raised to
strike the little girl.
"You go out."
She went swiftly, at that, sidled past her father with her eyes lifted,
fascinated, and so out the door where she paused an instant to flash back a
wistful appeal. Nothing but silence, and then her feet pattering off into
the outer room.
"Maybe you better go keep her company, Bart," said the father, and at this
sign of relenting Vic felt his tensed muscles relaxing; the wolf whined
softly and glided through the door.
"You feeling better?"
"Like a hoss off green feed. I been lyin' here drinkin' up the sunshine."
The other stood beside the open window and there he canted his head, his
glance far off and intent.
"D'you hear?" he asked, turning sharply.
There was a fierce eagerness in his face.
"It's spring," he murmured, without answering more directly than this, and
Vic felt that the other had changed again, grown understandable.
Nevertheless, the shock of that sudden alteration at the window kept him
watching his host with breathless interest. Whatever it was that the
strange fellow heard, a light had gleamed in his eyes for a moment. As he
sauntered back towards the bed just a trace of it lingered about him, a
hint of sternness.
"Spring?" answered Gregg. "Yep, I smelled spring a few days back and I
started out to find some action. You can see for yourself that I found it,
partner." He stirred, uneasily, but it was necessary that the story should
be told lest it reach the ears of this man from another source. It was one
thing to shelter a fugitive from justice whose crime was unknown, perhaps
trifling, but it might be quite another story if this gentle, singular man
learned that his guest was a new-made murderer. Better that he should learn
the tale now and form his prejudices in favor of Gregg. "I'll tell you the
whole story," he began.
But the other shrugged his shoulders.
"You leave the story be," he said, and there was something in the quiet
firmness of his manner which made it impossible for Vic to continue.
"You're here and you're hurt and you need a pile of rest. That's about
enough story for me."
Vic put himself swiftly in the place of the other. Suppose that he and
Betty Neal should have a cabin off in the mountains like this, how would
they receive a wounded fugitive from justice? As unquestioningly as this?
In a surge of gratitude he looked mistily towards his host.
"Stranger," he said, "you're white. Damned white. That's all. My name's Vic
Gregg and I come from--"
"Thanks," cut in the other. "I'm glad to know your name but in case anybody
might be askin' me I wouldn't care to know where you come from." He smiled.
"I'm Dan Barry."
It had to be a left-handed shake on the part of Vic, a thing of which he
often thought in the days that followed, but now he sent his memory
"Seems like I've heard your name before," he murmured. "I dunno where. Were
you ever around Alder, Barry?"
"No." His manner suggested that the topic might as well be closed. He
reached over and dropped his hand lightly on the forehead of Vic. A
tingling current flowed from it into the brain of the wounded man. "Your
blood's still a bit hot," he added. "Lie quiet and don't even think. You're
safe here. They ain't a thing goin' to get at you. Not a thing. You'll stay
till you get ready to leave. S'long. I'll see that you get something to
He went out with that unusual, padding step which Vic had noticed before
and closed the door softly behind him. In spite of that barrier Gregg could
hear the noises from the next room quite clearly, as some one brought in
wood and dropped it on a stone hearth, rattling. He fell into a pleasant
doze, just stretching his body now and then to enjoy the coolness of the
sheets, the delicious sense of being cared for and the returning strength in
his muscles. Through that haze he heard voices, presently, which called him
back to wakefulness.
"That ought to be good for him. Take it in, Kate."
"I shall. Dan, what has Joan done?"
"She went in there. I told her to leave him alone."
"But she says he asked her to come in--said he would take the blame."
"I told her not to go."
"Poor baby! She's outside, now, weeping her eyes out on Bart's shoulder and
he's trying to comfort her."
It was purer English than Vic was accustomed to hear even from his
schoolmistress, but more than the words, the voice surprised him, the low,
controlled voice of a woman of gentle blood. He turned his head and looked
out the window, baffled. Far above, shooting out of sight, went the slope
of a mountain, a cliff shining in the slant sun of the afternoon here, a
tumbled slide of rocks and debris there, and over the shoulder of this
mountain he saw white-headed monsters stepping back in range beyond range.
Why should a girl of refinement choose the isolation of such a place as
this for her home? It was not the only strange thing about this household,
however, and he would dismiss conjectures until he was once more on his
She was saying: "Won't you speak to her now?"
A little pause. Then: "No, not until evenin'."
"She's got to learn."
A little exclamation of unhappiness and then the door moved open; Vic found
himself looking up to the face with the golden hair which he remembered out
of his nightmare. She nodded to him cheerily.
"I'm so happy that you're better," she said. "Dan says that the fever is
nearly gone." She rested a large tray she carried on the foot of the bed
and Vic discovered, to his great content, that it was not hard to meet her
eyes. Usually girls embarrassed him, but he recognized so much of Joan in
the features of the mother that he felt well acquainted at once.
Motherhood, surely, sat as lightly on her shoulders as fatherhood did on
Dan Barry, yet he felt a great pity as he looked at her, this flowerlike
beauty lost in the rocks and snow with only one man near her. She was like
music played without an audience except senseless things.
"Yep, I'm a lot better," he answered, "but it sure makes me terrible sorry,
ma'am, that I got your little girl in trouble. Mostly, it was my fault."
She waved away all need of apology.
"Don't think an instant about that, Mr. Gregg. Joan needs a great deal of
disciplining." She laughed a little. "She has so much of her father in her,
you see. Now, are you strong enough to lift yourself higher in the
They managed it between them, for he was weaker than he thought and when he
was padded into position with cushions she laid the tray across his knees.
His head swam at sight of it. Forty-eight hours of fasting had sharpened
his appetite, and the loaded tray whetted a razor edge, for a great bowl of
broth steamed forth an exquisite fragrance on one side and beside it she
lifted a napkin to let him peek at a slice of venison steak. Then there was
butter, yellow as the gold for which he had been digging all winter, and
real cream for his coffee--a whole pitcher of it--and snowy bread. Best of
all, she did not stay to embarrass him with her watching while he ate,
since above all things in the world a hungry man hates observation when the
board is spread.
Afterwards, consuming sleep rippled over him from his feet to his eyes to
his brain. He partially roused when the tray was removed, and the pillows
slipped from under his back, but with a vague understanding that expert
hands were setting the bed in order his senses fled once more.
Hours and hours later he opened his eyes in utter darkness with a thin,
sweet voice still ringing in his ears. He could not place himself until he
turned his head and saw a meager, broken, rectangular line of light which
was the door, and immediately afterwards the voice cried: "Oh, Daddy Dan!
And what did the wolf do then?"
"I'm comin' to that, Joan, but don't you talk about wolves so loud or old
Black Bart'll think you're talkin' about him. See him lookin' at you now?"
"But please go on. I won't say one little word."
The man's voice began again, softly, so that not a word was audible to
Gregg; he heard the crackle of burning logs upon the hearth; saw the
rectangle of light flicker; caught a faint scent of wood smoke, and then he
slept once more.
Chapter IX. The Long Arm Of The Law
From the first the wound healed rapidly, for Vic's blood was perfectly
pure, the mountain air a tonic which strengthened him, and his food and
care of the best. The high-powered rifle bullet whipped cleanly through his
shoulder, breaking no bone and tearing no ligament, and the flesh closed
swiftly. Even Vic's mind carried no burden to oppress him in care for the
future or regret for the past, for if he occasionally remembered the limp
body of Hansen on the floor of Captain Lorrimer's saloon he could shrug the
picture into oblivion. It had been fair fight, man to man, with all the
odds in favor of Blondy, who had been allowed to pull his gun first. If Vic
thought about the future at all, it was with a blind confidence that some
time and in some unrevealed way he would get back to Alder and marry Betty
Neal. In the meantime, as the days of the spring went mildly by, he was up
and about and very soon there was only a little stiffness in his right arm
to remind him of Pete Glass and the dusty roan.
He spent most of his time close to the cabin, for though he had forgotten
the world there was no decisive proof that the world would forget him half
so easily; that was not the way of the sheriff. He had been known to spend
years in the hunt for a single misdoer and Vic had no care to wander out
where he might be seen. Besides, it was very pleasant about the cabin. The
house itself was built solidly, roomily, out of logs hewn on the timbered
slopes above and dragged down to this little plateau. Three mountains, to
the north, south and west, rolled back and up, cutting away the sunlight in
the early afternoon, but at this point the quick slopes put out shoulders
and made, among them, a comfortable bit of rolling ground, deep soiled and
fertile. Here, so Kate Barry assured him, the wild flowers came even
earlier than they did in the valley so far below them, and to be sure when
Vic first walked from the house he found the meadow aflame with color
except for the space covered by the truck-garden and the corral. In that
enclosure he found Grey Molly fenced away from the black with several other
horses of commoner blood, for the stallion, he learned, recognized no
fraternity of horseflesh, but killed what he could reach. Grey Molly was
quite recovered from her long run, and she greeted him in her familiar way,
with ears flattened viciously.
He might have stayed on here quite happily for any space of time, but more
and more Vic felt that he was an intruder; he sensed it, rather than
received a hint of word or eye. In the first place the three were complete
in themselves, a triangle of happiness without need of another member for
variety or interest. It was plain at a glance that the girl was
whole-heartedly happy, and whatever incongruity lay between her and these
rough mountains he began to understand that her love for Barry and the
child made ample amends. As for the other two, he always thought of them in
the same instant, for if the child had her eyes and her hair from her
mother, she had her nature from the man. They were together constantly, on
walks up the mountain, when she rode Black Bart up the steep places: on
dips into the valley, when he carried her before him on the stallion. She
had the same soft voice, the same quick, furtive ways, the same soundless
laughter, at times; and when Barry sat in the evening, as he often did for
hours, staring at empty air, she would climb on his knee, place his
unresisting arm around her, and she looking up into his face, sharing his
silences. Sometimes Vic wondered if the young mother were not troubled,
made a little jealous by this perfect companionship, but he never found a
trace of it. It was she, finally, who made him determine to leave as soon
as his shoulder muscles moved with perfect freedom, for as the days slipped
past he felt that she grew more and more uneasy, and her eyes had a way of
going from him to her husband as though she believed their guest a constant
danger to Barry. Indeed, to some small extent he was a danger, for the law
might deal hardly with a man who took a fugitive out of the very grip of
By a rather ironical chance, on the very morning when he decided that he
must start his journey the next day but one, Vic learned that he must not
linger even so long as that. Pete Glass and the law had not forgotten him,
indeed, nearly so well as he had forgotten the law and Pete Glass, for as
he sat in his room filling a pipe after breakfast the voice of Barry called
him out, and he found his host among the rocks which rimmed the southern
end of the plateau, in front of the house. To the north the ground fell
away smoothly, rolled down to the side of the mountain, and then dipped
easily to the valley--the only direction from which the cabin was
accessible, though here the grade was possible for a buckboard. To the
south the plateau ended in a drop that angled sharply down, almost a cliff
in places, and from this point of vantage the eye carried nameless miles
down the river.
"Are them friends of yours?" asked Dan Barry, as he stood among those
rocks. "Take a long look." And he handed a strong pair of field glasses to
The latter peered over the dizzy edge. Down there, in the very act of
fording the river to get to their side of it, he marked five horsemen--no,
six, for he almost missed the leader of the troop, a dusty figure which
melted into the background. All the terror of the first flight rushed back
on Vic. He stood palsied, not in fear of that posse but at the very thought
"There's only one way," he stammered at length. "I'll--Dan, give me a hand
to get a saddle on Grey Molly and I'll laugh at 'em yet. Damn 'em!"
"What you goin' to do?" It was the same unhurried voice which had spoken to
Vic on the day of the rescue and it irritated him in the same manner now.
Kate had come running from the house with her apron fluttering.
"I'm going down that slope to the north," said Vic, "and I'll get by 'em
hell-bent-for-election. Once I show my heels to that lot they're done!"
He talked as much to restore his courage as from, confidence, for if the
posse sighted him going down that slope on the gray it would take a
super-horseman and a super-horse to escape before they closed the gap.
Barry considered the situation with a new gleam in his eye.
"Wait a minute," he said, as Vic started towards the corral. "That way you
got planned is a good way--to die. You listen to me."
But here Kate broke in on them. "Dan, what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to take the gray and go down the slope. I'm going to lead 'em
off Vic's trail," said Barry quietly, but it seemed to Vic that he avoided
his wife's eye.
The voice of Betty Neal, Vic knew, would have risen shrill at a time like
this. Kate spoke even more low than usual, but there was a thing in her
voice that struck a tremor through Gregg. "If it's death for him, what is
it for you?"
"Nothing at all. If they see me and head for me before the way's clear,
I'll let 'em come up and see they have the wrong man. If I get the chance,
I'll lead 'em away. And Vic, you'll hit between those two mountains--see
'em?--and cut across country. No hoss could carry you there, except Satan,
and you couldn't ride him. You'll have to go on foot but they'll never look
for you on that side. When you get to the easygoin', down in the valley,
buy a hoss and hit for the railroad."
Kate turned on Vic, trembling. "Are you going to let him do it?" she asked.
"Are you going to let him do it, again?"
He had seen a certain promise of escape held before him the moment before,
but pride made him throw that certainty away.
"Not in a million years," he answered."
"You'll do what I say, and you'll start now. I got a better idea than that.
If you head just over the side of that north mountain you'll find a path
that a hoss can follow. It won't take you clear away from them down below,
but there ain't a chance in ten that they'll come that way. Take my old
brown hoss with the white face. He'll carry you safe."
Vic hesitated. The fierce eyes of Kate were on him and with all his soul he
wanted to play the man, but liberty was sweet, sweeter than ever to Vic.
She seemed to give him up as he stood there with his heart, in his throat;
she turned back to Barry.
"Dan!" she pleaded.
She had not touched him, but he made a vague gesture as though brushing
away a restraining hand. She cried: "If you come close to them--if, they
start shooting--you might want to fight back--"
"They shot before," he answered, "and I didn't fire once."
"But the second time?"
To be sure, there would be danger in it, but as Barry himself had said, if
the way was closed to him he could surrender to them, and they could not
harm him. Vic tried in vain to understand this overmastering terror in the
girl, for she seemed more afraid of what Dan might do to the posse than
what the posse might do to Dan.
"This ain't a day for fightin'," said Dan, and he waved towards the
mountains. It was one of those misty spring days when the sun raises a
vapor from the earth and the clouds blow low around the upper peaks; every
ravine was poured full of blue shadow, and even high up the slopes, where
patches of snow had melted, grass glimmered, a tender green among the
white. "This ain't a day for fighting," he repeated.
A shrill, quavering neigh, like the whinney of a galloping horse, rang from
beyond the house, and Vic saw the black stallion racing up and down his
corral. Back and forth he wove, then raced straight for the bars, flashed
above them, and stood free beyond, with the sunshine trembling on him. He
seemed to pause, wondering what to do with his new freedom, then he came at
a loose gallop for the master. Not Satan alone, for now Black Bart slid
across the plateau like a shadow, weaving among the boulders, and came
straight towards Barry. Vic himself felt a change, a sort of uneasy
happiness; he breathed it with the air. The very sunlight was electric. He
saw Kate run close to Barry.
"If you go this time, you'll never come back, Dan!"
The black stallion swung up beside them, and as he halted his hoofs knocked
a rattling spray of pebbles ahead. On the other side of the woman and the
man the wolf-dog ran uneasily here and there, trying to watch the face of
the master which Kate obscured.
"I ain't goin' far. I just want to get a hoss runnin' under me enough to
cut a wind."
"Even Satan and Bart feel what I feel. They came without being called. They
never do that unless there's danger ahead. What can I do to convince you?
Dan, you'll drive me mad!"
He made no answer, and if the girl wished him to stay now seemed the time
for persuasion; but she gave up the argument suddenly. She turned away, and
Vic saw in her face the same desperate, helpless look as that of a boy who
cannot swim, beyond his depth in the river. There was no sign of tears;
they might come afterwards.
What had come over them? This desperation in Kate, this touch of anxiety in
the very horse and the wolf-dog? Vic forgot his own danger while he stared
and it seemed to him that the spark of change had come from Barry. There
was something in his eyes which Vic found hard to meet.
"The moment you came I knew you brought bad luck with you!" cried Kate. "He
brought you in bleeding. He saved you and came in with blood on his hands
and I guessed at the end. Oh, I wish you--"
"Kate!" broke in Barry.
She dropped upon one of the stones and buried her face in her hands and Dan
paid no more attention to her.
"Hurry up," he said. "They're across the river."
And Vic gave up the struggle, for the tears of Kate made him think of Betty
Neal and he followed Dan towards the corral. Around them the stallion ran
like a hunting dog eager to be off.
Chapter X. One Trail Ends
"You can trust Grey Molly to me, Vic," said Dan, standing at the head of
the gray mare. "I'll keep her as safe as if she was Satan."
Gregg watched her almost sadly. He had always taken a rather childish pride
in her fierceness. She knew him as a dog knows its master and he had always
been the only one who could handle her readily in the saddle. But one who
knew nothing of horses and their ways could see the entente which had been
instantly established between Barry and Grey Molly. When he spoke her ears
pricked. When he raised his hand she stretched her nose inquisitively.
There was no pitch in her when Barry swung into the saddle and that was a
thing without precedent in Molly's history. She tried none of her usual
catlike side-steps and throwing of the head. Altogether, Vic was troubled
even as he would have been at the sight of Betty Neal in the arms of
another man. It was desertion.
"Dan," he said, "I know what you've done for me and I know what you're
doin' now." He took the slender hand of the other in his big paw.
"If the time comes when I can pay you back, so help me God--"
"Oaths don't do no good," cut in Barry without a trace of emotion. He
added frankly: "It ain't altogether for your sake. Those gents down there
have played tag once with me and now I'd like to play with them. Molly's
He was already looking over his shoulder while he spoke; as if his mind
were even then at work upon the posse.
"S'long, partner. Good luck."
So they parted and Vic, jogging slowly up the steep path, saw Grey Molly
wheeled and sent at a sweeping gallop over the meadow. His heart leaped
jealously and the next moment went out in a flood of gratitude, admiration,
as Barry swung off the shoulder of the mountain, waved his hat towards
Kate, and dipped at once out of sight.
The shelving ground along which Barry rode sometimes was a broad surface
like a spacious, graded road; again it shelved away and opened a view of
all the valley. When he reached the first of these places the rider looked
back and down and saw the posse skirting rapidly on his side of the river,
behind him and close to the cliff. They rode at an easy lope, and he could
see that their heads were bent to watch the ground. Even at this casual
gait they would reach the point at which he and the gray must swing onto
the floor of the valley before him unless he urged Molly to top speed. He
must get there at a sufficient distance from them to escape close rifle
fire, and certainly beyond point-blank revolver range. Accordingly he threw
his weight more into the stirrups and over the withers of the mare. This
brought greater poundage on her forehand and made her apt to stumble or
actually miss her step, but it increased her running power.
There was no need of a touch of the spurs. The gathering of the reins
seemed to tell Molly everything. One ear flickered back, then she leaped
out at full speed. It was as though the mind of the man had sent an
electric current down the reins and told her his thought. Now she
floundered at her foot, struck a loose stone, now she veered sharply and
wide to escape a boulder, now she cleared a gulley with a long leap, and
riding high as he was, bent forward out of balance to escape observation
from below. It was only a miracle of horsemanship that kept her from
breaking her neck as they lurched down the pitch. Grey Molly seemed to be
carrying no weight, only a clinging intelligence.
At this speed he was sure to reach the valley safely in front unless the
posse caught sight of him on the way and gave chase, and Barry counted on
that instinct in hunting men which makes them keep their eyes low--the same
sense which leads a searcher to look first under the bed and last of all at
the wall and ceiling. Once more, as he neared his goal, he looked back and
down, and there came the six horsemen, their quirts swinging, their
hat-brims blown straight up they raced at full speed. They had seen the
gray and they rode for blood.
The outstretched neck of Grey Molly, her flattened ears, the rapid clangor
of her hoofs on the rocks, seemed to indicate that she already was doing
her uttermost, but after the glimpse of the pursuit, Barry crouched a
little lower, his hand gathering the reins just behind her head, his voice
was near her, speaking softly, quickly. She responded with a snort of
effort, as though she realized the danger and willingly accepted it. One
ear, as she rushed down the slope, was pricked and one flagged back to the
guiding, strengthening voice of the rider.
The path wound in leisurely curves now, but there was a straight cut down a
slide of gravel, a dangerous slope even in firm ground, a terrible angle
with those loose pebbles underfoot. Yet this was a time for chance-taking.
Already the dusty man on the roan rode with his revolver balanced for the
snap shot. The next instant his gun swung down, he actually reined up in
astonishment. The fugitive had flung himself far back against the cantle
and sent Grey Molly at the slide. It was not a matter of running as the
mare shot over the brink. Molly sat back on her haunches, braced her
forelegs, and went down like an avalanche. Over the rush and roar of the
pebbles, over the yell of wonder from the pursuers, she heard the voice of
her rider, a clear and steady voice, and the tautened reins telegraphed to
her bewildered mind the wish of the man. She struck the level with stunning
force, toppled, nearly fell, and then straightened along her course in a
staggering gallop. Started from its nice balance by the rush of stones
they loosened, a ten-ton rock came toppling after, leaped up from the
valley floor like a live thing, and then thundered away towards the river.
Grey Molly, finding her legs once more, tried the level going. She had
beaten the same horses before under the crushing impost of Gregg's weight.
With this lighter rider who clung like a part of her, who gave perfectly to
the rhythm of her gallop, she fairly walked away from the posse. Once,
twice and again the gun spoke from the hand of Pete Glass, but it was the
taking of a long last chance rather than a sign of closing on his chase. In
ten minutes Grey Molly dipped out of sight among the hills.
After the first hour Barry could have cut away across country with little
fear of discovery from the sheriff, but he was in no hurry to escape.
Sometimes he dismounted and looked to his cinches and talked to the horse.
Grey Molly listened with pricking ears and often canted her head to one
side as though she strove to understand the game.
It was a new and singular pleasure to Barry. He was accustomed to the
exhaustless, elastic strength of Satan, with the cunning brain of a beast
of prey and the speed of an antelope. On the black horse he could have
ridden circles around that posse all day. But Grey Molly was a different
problem. She was not a force to be simply directed and controlled. She was
something to be helped. Her very weakness, compared with the stallion,
appealed to him. And it was a thrilling pleasure to feel his power over her
grow until she, also, seemed to have entered the game.
A game it was, as he had said to Vic when they parted, with the rather
essential difference that in this pastime one was tagged with a forty-five
caliber chunk of lead and was quite apt to remain "it" for the remainder of
eternity. Barry dropped further and further back towards the posse. The
danger fascinated him. Once he whistled high and shrill as a hawk's scream
from the top of a bluff while the posse labored through a ravine below. He
saw the guns flash out, and waited. He heard the sing of the bullets around
him, and the splashing lead on a solid-rock face just beneath him; he
listened till the deep echoes spoke from the gulch, then waved his hat and
This was almost defeating the purpose of his play for if he came that close
again they would probably make out that they were following a decoy.
Accordingly, since he had now drawn them well away from Vic's line of
escape, he turned his back reluctantly on the posse and struck across the
He kept on for the better part of an hour before he doubled and swung in a
wide circle towards his cabin. He had laid out a course which the wise
sheriff could follow until dark and be none the wiser; and if Pete Glass
were the finest trailer who ever studied sign and would never be able to
read the tokens of the return ride. Accordingly, with all this well in
mind, he brought Grey Molly to a full halt and gazed around, utterly
stunned by surprise, when, half way up the valley, a rifle spoke small but
sharp from one side, and a bullet clipped the rocks not the length of the
horse away. He understood. When he cut straightaway across the country he
had indeed left a baffling trail, a trail so dim, in fact, that Pete Glass
had wisely given it up and taken the long chance by cutting back to the
point at which the hunt began. So their paths crossed.
Barry spoke sharply to the mare and loosed the reins, but she started into
a full gallop too late. There came a brief hum, a thudding blow, and Grey
Molly pitched forward.
Chapter XI. A New Trail Begins
If he had been an ordinary rider, sitting heavily far back in the saddle,
at the end of a long ride, Barry would either have been flung clear and
smashed horribly against the rocks, or, more likely, he would have been
entangled in the stirrups and crushed to death instantly by the weight of
his horse; but he rode always lightly poised and when the mare pitched
forward his feet were already clear of the stirrups. He landed, catlike,
on hands and feet, unhurt.
It had been a long shot, a lucky hit even for a marksman of the sheriff's
caliber, and now the six horsemen streamed over a distant hilltop and swept
into the valley to take their quarry dead, or half dead, from his fall.