Part 2 out of 5
However, that approaching danger was nothing in the eye of Barry. He ran to
the fallen mare and caught her head in his arms. She ceased her struggles
to rise as soon as he touched her and whinneyed softly. The left foreleg
lay twisted horribly beneath her, broken. Grey Molly had run her last race,
and as Barry kneeled, holding the brave head close to him, he groaned, and
looked away from her eyes. It was only an instant of weakness, and when he
turned to her again he was drawing his gun from its holster.
The beating hoofs of the posse as they raced towards him made a growing
murmur through the clear air. Barry glanced towards them with a consummate
loathing. They had killed a horse to stop a man, and to him it was more
than murder. What harm had she done them except to carry her rider bravely
and well? The tears of rage and sorrow which a child sheds welled into the
eyes of Dan Barry. Every one of them had a hand in this horrible killing; was,
to that half animal and half-childish nature, a murderer.
His chin was on his shoulder; the quiver of pain in her nostrils ended as
he spoke; and while the fingers of his left hand trailed caressingly across
her forehead, his right carried the muzzle to her temple.
"Brave Molly, good girl," he whispered, "they'll pay for you a death for a
death and a man for a hoss." The yellow which had glinted in his eyes
during the run was afire now. "It ain't far; only a step to go; and then
you'll be where they ain't any saddles, nor any spurs to gall you, Molly,
but just pastures that's green all year, and nothin' to do but loaf in the
sun and smell the wind. Here's good luck to you, girl."
His gun spoke sharp and short and he laid the limp head reverently on the
It had all happened in very few seconds, and the posse was riding through
the river, still a long shot off, when Barry drew his rifle from its case
on the saddle. Moreover, the failing light which had made the sheriff's hit
so much a matter of luck was now still dimmer, yet Barry snapped his gun to
the shoulder and fired the instant the butt lay in the grove. For another
moment nothing changed in the appearance of the riders, then a man leaned
out of his saddle and fell full length in the water.
Around him his companions floundered, lifted and placed him on the bank,
and then threw themselves from their horses to take shelter behind the
first rocks they could find; they had no wish to take chances with a man
who could snap-shoot like this in such a light, at such a distance. By the
time they were in position their quarry had slipped out of sight and they
had only the blackening boulders for targets.
"God amighty," cried Ronicky Joe, "are you goin' to let that murderin'
hound-dog get clear off, Pete? Boys, who's with me for a run at him?"
For it was Harry Fisher who had fallen and lay now on the wet bank with his
arms flung wide and a red spot rimmed with purple in the center of his
forehead; and Fisher was Ronicky Joe's partner.
"You lay where you are," commanded the sheriff, and indeed there had been
no rousing response to Ronicky Joe's appeal.
"You yaller quitters," groaned Joe. "Give me a square chance and I'll
tackle Vic Gregg alone day or night, on hoss or on foot. Are we five goin'
to lay down to him?"
"If that was Vic Gregg," answered the sheriff, slipping over the insult
with perfect calm, "I wouldn't of told you to scatter for cover; but that
"Pete, what in hell are you drivin' at?"
"I say it ain't Vic," said the sheriff. "Vic is a good man with a hoss and
a good man with a gun, but he couldn't never ride like the gent over there
in the rocks, and he couldn't shoot like him."
He pointed, in confirmation, at the body of Harry Fisher.
"You can rush that hill if you want, but speakin' personal, I ain't ready
A thoughtful silence held the others until Sliver Waldron broke it with his
deep bass. "You ain't far off, Pete. I done some thinkin' along them lines
when I seen him standin' up there over the arroyo wavin' his hat at the
bullets. Vic didn't never have the guts for that."
All the lower valley was gray, dark in comparison with the bright peaks
above it, before the sheriff rose from his place and led the posse towards
the body of Grey Molly. There they found as much confirmation of Pete's
theory as they needed, for Vic's silver-mounted saddle was known to all of
them, and this was a plain affair which they found on the dead horse.
Waldron pushed back his hat to scratch his head.
"Look at them eyes, boys," he suggested. "Molly has been beatin' us all day
and she looks like she's fightin' us still."
The sheriff was not a man of very many words, and surely of little
sentiment; perhaps it was the heat of the long chase which now made him
take off his hat so that the air could reach his sweaty forehead. "Gents,"
he said, "she lived game and she died game. But they ain't no use of
wastin' that saddle. Take it off."
And that was Grey Molly's epitaph.
They decided to head straight back for the nearest town with the body of
Harry Fisher, and, fagged by the desperate riding of that day, they let
their horses go with loose rein, at a walk. Darkness gathered; the last
light faded from even the highest peaks; the last tinge of color dropped
out of the sky as they climbed from the valley. Now and then one of the
horses cleared its nostrils with a snort, but on the whole they went in
perfect silence with the short grass silencing the hoofbeats, and never a
word passed from man to man.
Beyond doubt, if it had not been for that same silence, if it had not been
for the slowness with which they drifted through the dark, what follows
could never have happened. They had crossed a hill, and descended into a
very narrow ravine which came to so sharp a point that the horses had to be
strung out in single file. The ravine twisted to the right and then the
last man of the procession heard the sheriff call: "Halt, there! Up with
your hands, or I'll drill you!" When they swung from side to side, craning
their heads to look, they made out a shadowy horseman facing Pete head on.
Then the sheriff's voice again: "Gregg, I'm considerable glad to meet up
If that meeting had taken place in any other spot probably Gregg would have
taken his chance on escaping through the night, but in this narrow pass he
could swing to neither side and before he could turn the brown horse
entirely around the sheriff might pump him full of lead. They gathered in a
solemn quiet around him; the irons were already upon his wrists.
"All right, boys," he said, "you've got me, but you'll have to give in that
you had all the luck."
A moment after that sharp command in the familiar, dreaded voice of Pete
Glass, Vic had been glad that the lone flight was over. Eventually this was
bound to come. He would go back and face the law, and three men lived to
swear that Blondy had gone after his gun first.
"Maybe luck," said the sheriff. "How d' you come back this way?"
"Made a plumb circle," chuckled Gregg. "Rode like a fool not carin' where I
hit out for, and the end of it was that it was dark before I'd had sense to
watch where the sun went down."
"Kind of cheerful, ain't you?" cut in Ronicky Joe, and his voice was as dry
as the crisping leaves in an autumn wind.
"They ain't any call for me to wear crepe yet," answered Gregg. "Worst
fool thing I ever done was to cut and run for it. The old Captain will tell
you gents that Blondy went for his gun first--had it clean out of the
leather before I touched mine."
He paused, and the silence of those dark figures sank in upon him.
"I got to warn you," said Pete Glass, "that what you say now can be used
again you later on before the jury."
"My God, boys," burst out Vic, "d'you think I'm a plain, low-down,
murderin' snake? Harry, ain't you got a word for me? Are you like the rest
No voice answered.
"Harry," said Ronicky, "why don't you speak to him?"
It was a brutal thing to do, but Ronicky was never a gentle sort in his
best moments; he scratched a match and held it so that under the
spluttering light Gregg found himself staring into the face of Harry
Fisher. And he could not turn his eyes away until the match burned down to
Ronicky's finger tip and then dropped in a streak of red to the ground.
Then the sheriff spoke cold and hard.
"Partner," he said, "in the old days, maybe your line of talk would do some
good, but not now. You picked that fight with Blondy. You knew you was
faster on the draw and Hansen didn't have a chance. He was the worst shot
in Alder and everybody in Alder knew it. You picked that fight and you
killed your man, and you're goin' to hang for it."
Another hush; no murmur of assent or dissent.
"But they's one way out for you, Gregg, and I'm layin' it clear. We wanted
you bad, and we got you; but they's another man we want a lot worse. A
pile! Gregg, take me where I can find the gent what done for Harry Fisher
and you'll never stand up in front of a jury. You got my word on that."
Chapter XII. The Crisis
Those mountains above the Barry cabin were, as he told Vic Gregg,
inaccessible to men on horseback except by one path, yet there was a single
class of travelers who roamed at will through far more difficult ground
than this. Speaking in general, where a man can go a burro can go, and
where a burro can go he usually manages to carry his pack. He crawls up a
raged down-pitch of rocks that comes dangerously close to the
perpendicular; he walks securely along a crumbling ledge with half his body
over a thousand yards of emptiness. Therefore the prospectors with their
burros have combed the worst mountains of the West and it was hardly a
surprise to Kate Barry when she saw two men come down the steepest slope
above the cabin with two little pack animals scrambling and sliding before
them. It was still some time before nightfall, but the sun had dropped out
of sight fully an hour ago and now the western mountains were blackening
against a sky whose thin, clear blue grew yellow towards evening.
Against that dark mass of the mountainside, she could not make out the two
travelers clearly, so she shaded her eyes and peered up, high up. The slope
was so sheer that if one of the four figures lost footing it would come
crashing to her very feet. When they saw her and shouted down the sound
fell as clearly as if they had called from the cabin, yet they had a good
half hour's labor between that greeting and the moment they came out on the
level before Kate. From the instant they called she remained in motionless,
deep thought, and when they came now into full view, she cried out
joyously: "Buck, oh Buck!" and ran towards them. Even the burros stopped
and the men stood statue-like; it is rarely enough that one finds a human
being in those mountains, almost an act of Providence that lead to a house,
and a miracle when the trail crosses the path of a friend. The prospectors
came out of their daze with a shout and rushed to meet her. Each of them
had her by a hand, wringing it; they talked all together in a storm of
"Kate, I'm dreamin'!--Dear old Buck!--Have you forgotten me?--Lee Haines! I
should say not.--Don't pay any attention to him. Five years. And I've been
hungerin' to see you all that--.--Where have you been?--Everywhere! but
this is the best thing I've seen.--Come in.--Wait till we get these packs
off the poor little devils.--Oh, I'm so glad to see you; so glad!--Hurry
up, Lee. Your fingers asleep?--How long have you been out?--Five months.--
Then you're hungry.--We've just ate.--But a piece of pie?--pie? I've been
dreamin' of pie!"
A fire already burned in the big living-room of the cabin, for at this
season, at such an altitude, the shadows were always cold, and around the
fire they gathered, each of the men with half a huge pie before him. They
were such as one might expect that mountain region to produce, big, gaunt,
hard-muscled. They had gone unshaven for so long that their faces were
clothed not with an unsightly stubble but with strong, short beard that
gave them a certain grim dignity and made their eyes seem sunken. They were
opposite types, which is usually the case when two men strike out together.
Buck Daniels was black-haired, with an ugly, shrewd face and a suggestion
of rather dangerous possibilities of swift action; but Lee Haines was a
great bulk of a man, with tawny beard, handsome, in a leonine fashion, more
poised than Daniels, fitted to crush. The sharp glance of Buck flitted here
and there, in ten seconds he knew everything in the room; the steady blue
eye of Lee Haines went leisurely from place to place and lingered; but both
of them stared at Kate as if they could not have enough of her. They talked
without pause while they ate. A stranger in the room would have sealed
their lips in utter taciturnity, but here they sat with a friend, five
months of loneliness and labor behind them, and they gossiped like girls.
Into the jangle of talk cut a thin, small voice from outside, a burst of
laughter. Then: "Bart, you silly dog!" and Joan stood at the open door with
her hand buried in the mane of the wolf-dog. The fork of Buck Daniels
stopped halfway to his lips and Lee Haines straightened until the chair
They spoke together, hushed voices: "Kate!"
"Come here, Joan!" Her face glistened with pride, and Joan came forward
with wide eyes, tugging Black Bart along in a reluctant progress.
"It ain't possible!" whispered Buck Daniels. "Honey, come here and shake
hands with your Uncle Buck." The gesture called forth deep throated warning
from Bart, and he caught back his hand with a start.
"It's always that way," said Kate, half amused, half vexed; "Bart won't let
a soul touch her when Dan isn't home. Good old Bart, go away, you foolish
dog! Don't you see these are friends?"
He cringed a little under the shadow of the hand which waved him off but
his only answer was a silent baring of the teeth.
"You see how it is. I'm almost afraid to touch her myself when Dan's away;
she and Bart bully me all day long."
In the meantime the glance of Joan had cloyed itself with sufficient
examination of the strangers, and now she turned back towards the door and
the meadow beyond.
"Bart!" she called softly. The sharp ears of the dog quivered; he came to
attention with a start. "Look! Get it for me!"
One loud scraping of his claws on the floor as he started, and Black Bart
went like a bolt through the door with Joan scrambling after him, screaming
with excitement; from the outside, they heard the cry of a frightened
squirrel, and then its angry chattering from a place of safety up a tree.
"Shall I call her back again?" asked Kate.
"Not if Bart comes with her," answered Lee Haines. "I've seen enough of him
to last me a while."
"Well, we'll have her to ourselves when Dan comes; of course Bart leaves
her to tag around after Dan."
"When is he comin' back?" asked Buck, with polite interest.
"Anytime. I don't know. But he's always here before it's completely dark."
The glance of Buck Daniels kicked over to Lee Haines, exchanged meanings
with him, and came back to Kate.
"Terrible sorry," he said, "but I s'pose we'll have to be on our way before
it's plumb dark."
"Go so soon as that? Why, I won't let you."
"I--" began Haines, fumbling for words.
"We got to get down in the valley before it's dark," filled in Buck.
Suddenly she laughed, frankly, happily.
"I know what you mean, but Dan is changed; he isn't the same man he used to
"Yes?" queried Buck, without conviction.
"You'll have to see him to believe; Buck, he doesn't even whistle any
"Only goes about singing, now."
The two men exchanged glances of such astonishment that Kate could not help
but notice and flush a little.
"Well," murmured Buck, "Bart doesn't seem to have changed much from the old
She laughed slowly, letting her mind run back through such happiness as
they could not understand and when she looked up she seemed to debate
whether or not it would be worth while to let them in on the delightful
secret. The moment she dwelt on the burning logs they gazed at her and then
to each other with utter amazement as if they sat in the same room with the
dead come to life. No care of motherhood had marked her face, but on the
white, even forehead was a sign of peace; and drifting over her hands and
on the white apron across her lap the firelight pooled dim gold, the wealth
"If you'd been here today you would have seen how changed he is. We had a
man with us whom Dan had taken while he was running from a posse, wounded,
and kept him here until he was well, and--"
"That's Dan," murmured Lee Haines. "He's gold all through when a man's in
"Shut up, Lee," cut in Buck. He sat forward in his chair, drinking up her
"This morning we saw the same posse skirting through the valley and knew
that they were on the old trail. Dan sent Gregg over the hills and rode
Vic's horse down so that the posse would mistake him, and he could lead
them out of the way. I was afraid, terribly, I was afraid that if the posse
got close and began shooting Dan would--"
She stopped; her eyes begged them to understand.
"Go on," said Lee Haines, shuddering slightly. "I know what you mean."
"But I watched him ride down the slope," she cried joyously, "and I saw the
posse close on him--almost on top of him when he reached the valley. I saw
the flash of their guns. I saw them shoot. I wasn't afraid that Dan would
be hurt, for he seems to wear a charm against bullets--I wasn't much afraid
of that, but I dreaded to see him turn and go back through that posse like
a storm. But--" she caught both hands to her breast and her bright face
tilted up--"even when the bullets must have been whistling around him he
didn't look back. He rode straight on and on, out of view, and I knew"--her
voice broke with emotion--"oh, Buck, I knew that he had won, and I had won;
that he was safe forever; that there was no danger of him ever slipping
back into that terrible other self; I knew that I'd never again have to
dream of that whistling in the wind; I knew that he was ours--Joan's and
"By God," broke out Buck, "I'm happier than if you'd found a gold mine,
Kate. It don't seem no ways--but if you seen that with your own eyes, it's
possible true. He's changed."
"I've been almost afraid to be happy all these years," she said, "but now I
want to sing and cry at the same time. My heart is so full that it's
She brushed the tears away and smiled at them.
"Tell me all about yourselves. Everything. You first, Lee. You've been
He did not answer for a moment, but sat with his head fallen, watching her
thoughtfully. Women had been the special curse in Lee Haines' life; they
had driven him to the crime that sent him West into outlawry long years
before; through women, as he himself foreboded, he would come at last to
some sordid, petty end; but here sat the only one he had loved without
question, without regret, purely and deeply, and as he watched her, more
beautiful than she had been in her girlhood, it seemed, as he heard the
fitful laughter of Joan outside, the old sorrow came storming up in him,
and the sense of loss.
"What have I been doing?" he murmured at length. He shrugged away his last
thoughts. "I drifted about for a while after the pardon came down from the
governor. People knew me, you see, and what they knew about me didn't
please them. Even today Jim Silent and Jim Silent's crew isn't forgotten.
Then don't look at me like that, Kate; no, I played straight all the
time---then I ran into Buck and he and I had tried each other out, we had
at least one thing in common"--here he looked at Buck and they both
flushed--"and we made a partnership of it. We've been together five years
"I knew you could break away, Lee. I used to tell you that."
"You helped me more than you knew," he said quietly.
She smiled and then turned to escape him. "And now you, Buck?"
"Since then we've made a bit of coin punching cows and we've blown it in
again prospecting. Blown it in? Kate, we've shot enough powder to lift that
mountain yonder but all we've got is color. You could gild the sky with
what we've seen but we haven't washed enough dust to wear a hole in a
tissue-paper pocket. I'll tell you the whole story. Lee packs a jinx with
him. But--Haines, did you ever see a lion as big as that?"
The dimness of evening had grown rapidly through the room while they talked
and now the light from the door was far less than the glow of the fire. The
yellow flicker picked out a dozen pelts stretching as rugs on the floor or
hanging along the wall; that to which Buck pointed was an enormous skin of
a mountain lion stretched sidewise, for if it had been hung straight up a
considerable portion of the tail must have dragged on the floor. Buck went
to examine it. Presently he exclaimed in surprise and he passed his fingers
over it as though searching for something.
"Where was it shot, Kate? I don't find nothin' but this cut that looks like
his knife slipped when he was skinnin'."
"It was a knife that killed it."
"Don't ask me about it; I see the picture of it in my dreams still. The
lion had dragged the trap into a cave and Bart followed it. Dan went in
pushing his rifle before him, but--when he tried to fire it jammed."
"Yes?" they cried together.
"Don't ask me the rest!"
They would hardly have let her off so easily if it had not been for the
entrance of Joan who had come back on account of the darkness. Black Bart
went promptly to a corner of the hearth and lay down with his head on his
paws and the little girl sat beside him watching the fire, her head leaning
wearily on his shoulder. Kate went to the door.
"It's almost night," she said. "Why isn't he here?"
"Buck, they couldn't have overtaken--"
She started. "Dan?"
Buck Daniels grinned reassuringly.
"Not unless his hoss is a pile of bones; if it has any heart in it, Dan'll
run away from anything on four legs. No call for worryin', Kate. He's
simply led 'em a long ways off and waited for evenin' before he doubled
back. He'll come back right enough. If they didn't catch him that first run
they'll never get the wind of him."
It quieted her for a time, but as the minutes slipped away, as the darkness
grew more and more heavy until a curtain of black fell across the open
door, they could see that she was struggling to control her trouble, they
could see her straining to catch some distant sound. Lee Haines began to
talk valiantly, to beguile the waiting time, and Buck Daniels did his share
with stories of their prospecting, but eventually more and more often
silences came on the group. They began to watch the fire and they winced
when a log crackled, or when the sap in a green place hissed. By degrees
they pushed farther and farther back so that the light would not strike so
fully upon them, for in some way it became difficult to meet each other's
Only Joan was perfectly at ease. She played for a time with the ears of
Black Bart, or pried open his mouth and made him show the great white
fangs, or scratched odd designs on the hearth with pieces of charcoal; but
finally she lost interest in all these things and let her head lie on the
rough pelt of the wolf-dog, sound asleep. The firelight made her hair a
patch of gold.
Black Bart slept soundly, too, that is, as soundly as one of his nature
could sleep, for every now and then one of his ears twitched, or he stirred
a paw, or an eyelid quivered up. Yet they all started when he jumped from
his sleep into full wakefulness; the motion made Joan sit up, rubbing
her eyes, and Black Bart reached the center of the room noiselessly. He
stood facing the door, motionless.
"It's Dan," cried Kate. "Bart hears him! Good old Bart!"
The dog pointed up his nose, the hair about his neck bristled into a ruff,
and out of his quaking body came a sound that seemed to moan and whimper
from the distance at first, but drew nearer, louder, packed the room with
terror, the long drawn howl of a wolf.
Chapter XIII. Equal Payment
They knew what it meant; even Joan had heard the cry of the lone wolf
hunting in the lean time of winter, and of all things sad, all things
lonely, all things demoniacal, the howl of a wolf stands alone. Lee Haines
reached for his gun, little Joan stood up silent on the hearth, but Kate
and Buck Daniels sat listening with a sort of hungry terror, as the cry
sobbed away to quiet. Then out of the mountains and the night came an
answer so thin, so eerie, one might have said it was the voice of the
mountains and white stars grown audible; it stole on the ear as the pulse
of a heart comes to the consciousness.
Truly it was an answer to the cry of the wolf-dog, for in the slender
compass it carried the same wail, the same unearthly quality with this
great difference, that a thrilling happiness went through it, as if some
one walked through the mountains and rejoiced in the unknown terrors. A sob
formed in the throat of Kate and the wolf turned its head and looked at
her, and the yellow of things that see in the night swam in its eyes. Lee
Haines struck the arm of Buck Daniels.
"Buck, let's get clear of this. Let's start. He's coming."
At the whisper Buck turned a livid face; one could see him gather his
"I stick," he said with difficulty, as though his lips were numb. "She'll
need me now."
Lee Haines stood in a moment's indecision but then settled back in his
chair and gripped his hands together. They both sat watching the door as if
the darkness were a magnet of inescapable horror. Only Joan, of all in that
room, showed no fear after the first moment. Her face was blanched indeed,
but she tilted it up now, smiling; she stole towards the door, but Kate
caught the child and gathered her close with strangling force. Joan made no
attempt to escape. "S-sh!" she cautioned, and raised a plump little
forefinger. "Munner, don't you hear? Don't you like it?"
As if the sound had turned a corner, it broke all at once clearly over them
in a rain of music; a man's whistling. It went out; it flooded about them
again like beautiful, cold light. Once again it stopped, and now they
sensed, rather than heard, a light, rapid, padding step that approached
the cabin. Dan Barry stood in the door and in that shadowy place his eyes
seemed luminous. He no longer whistled, but a spirit went from him which
carried the same sense of the untamed, the wild happiness which died out
with his smile as he looked around the room. The brim of his hat curved up,
his neckerchief seemed to flutter a little. The wolf-dog reached the
threshold in the same instant and stood looking steadily up into the face of
"Daddy Dan!" cried Joan.
She had slipped from the nerveless arms of Kate and now ran towards her
father, but here she faltered, there she stopped with her arms slowly
falling back to her sides. He did not seem to see her, but looked past her,
far beyond every one in the room as he walked to the wall and took down a
bridle that hung on a peg. Kate laid her hands on the arms of the chair,
but after the first effort to rise, her strength failed.
"Dan!" she said. It was only a whisper, a heart-stopping sound. "Dan!" Her
voice rang, then her arms gathered to her, blindly, Joan, who had shrunk
back. "What's happened?"
"They broke her leg."
"With a long shot."
"What are you going to do!"
"Get Satan. Go for a ride."
He looked about him, troubled, and then frowned. "I dunno. Out yonder."
He waved his arm. Black Bart followed the turn of the master's body, and
switching around in front continued to stare up into Dan's face.
"You're going back after the posse?"
"No, I'm done with them."
"What do you mean?"
"They paid for Grey Molly."
"You shot one of their--horses?"
"God help us!" Then life came to her; she sprang up and ran between him and
the door. "You shan't go. If you love me!" She was only inches from Black
Bart, and the big animal showed his teeth in silent hate.
"Kate, I'm goin'. Don't stand in the door."
Joan, slipping around Bart, stood clinging to the skirts of her mother and
watched the face of Dan, fascinated, silent.
"Tell me where you're going. Tell me when you're coming back. Dan, for
Loud as a trumpet, a horse neighed from the corral. Dan had stood with an
uncertain face, but now he smiled.
"D'you hear? I got to go!"
"I heard Satan whinney. But what does that mean? How does that make you
"Somewhere," he murmured, "something's happening. I felt it on the wind
when I was comin' up the pass."
"If you--oh, Dan, you're breaking my heart!"
"Stand out of the door."
"Wait till the morning."
"Don't you see I can't wait?"
"One hour, ten minutes. Buck--Lee Haines--"
She could not finish, but Buck Daniels stepped closer, trying to make a
smile grow on his ashen face.
"Another minute, Dan, and I'll tell a man you've forgotten me."
Barry pivoted suddenly as though uneasy at finding something behind him,
and Daniels winced.
"Hello, Buck. Didn't see you was here. Lee Haines? Lee, this is fine."
He passed from one to the other and his handshake was only the elusive
passage of his fingers through their palms. Haines shrugged his shoulders
to get rid of a weight that clung to him; a touch of color came back to his
"Look here, Dan. If you're afraid that gang may trail you here and start
raising the devil--how many are there?"
"I'm as good with a gun as I ever was in the old days. So is Buck. Partner,
let's make the show down together. Stick here with Kate and Joan and Buck
and I will help you hold the fort. Don't look at me like that. I mean it.
Do you think I've forgotten what you did for me that night in Elkhead? Not
in a thousand years. Dan, I'd rather make my last play here than any other
place in the world. Let 'em come! We'll salt them down and plant them where
they won't grow."
As he talked the pallor quite left him, and the fighting fire blazed in his
eyes, he stood lion-like, his feet spread apart as if to meet a shock, his
tawny head thrown back, and there was about him a hair-trigger
sensitiveness, in spite of his bulk, a nervousness of hand and coldness of
glance which characterizes the gun-fighter. Buck Daniels stepped closer,
without a word, but one felt that he also had walked into the alliance. As
Barry watched them the yellow which swirled in his eyes flickered away for
"Why, gents," he murmured, "they ain't any call for trouble. The posse?
What's that got to do with me? Our accounts are all squared up."
The two stared dumbly.
"They killed Grey Molly; I killed one of them."
"A horse--for a man?" repeated Lee Haines, breathing hard.
"A life for a life," said Dan simply. "They got no call for complainin'."
Glances of wonder, glances of meaning, flashed back and forth from Haines
"Well, then," said the latter, and he took in Kate with a caution from the
corner of his eye, "if that's the case, let's sit down and chin for a
Dan stood with his head bowed a little, frowning; two forces pulled him,
and Kate leaned against the wall off in the shadow with her eyes closed,
waiting, waiting, waiting through the crisis.
"I'd like to stay and chin with you, Buck--but, I got to be off. Out
there--in the night--something may happen before mornin'." Black Bart licked
the hand of the master and whined. "Easy, boy. We're startin'."
"But the night's just beginnin'," said Buck Daniels genially. "You got a
world of time before you, and with Satan to fall back on you don't have to
count your minutes. Pull up a chair beside me, Dan, and--"
The latter shook his head, decided. "Buck, I can't do it. Just to sit
here"--he looked about him--"makes me feel sort of choked. Them walls are
as close--as a coffin."
He was already turning; Kate straightened in the shadow, desperate.
"As a matter of fact, Dan," said Lee Haines, suddenly, "we need your help
The heart of Kate stood in her eyes as she looked at Lee Haines.
"Sit down a minute, Dan, and I'll tell you about it."
Barry slipped into a chair which he had pulled to one side--so that the
back of it was towards the wall, and every one in the room was before him.
Chapter XIV. Suspense
The help which Lee Haines wanted, it turned out, was guidance across a
difficult stretch of country which he and Buck Daniels wanted to prospect,
and while he talked Barry listened uneasily. It was constitutionally
impossible for him to say no when a favor was asked of him, and Haines
counted heavily on that characteristic; in the meantime Black Bart lay on
the hearth with his wistful eyes turned steadily up to the master; and Buck
Daniels went to Kate on the farther side of the room. She sat quivering,
alternately crushing and soothing Joan with the strength of her caresses.
Buck drew a chair close, with his back half towards the fire.
"Turn around a little, Kate," he cautioned. "Don't let Dan see your face."
She obeyed him automatically.
"Is there a hope, Buck? What have I done to deserve this? I don't want to
live; I want to die! I want to die!"
"Steady, steady!" he cut in, and his face was working. "If you keep on like
this you'll bust down in a minute or two. And you know what tears do to
Dan; he'll be out of this house like a scairt coyote. Brace up!"
She struggled and won a partial control.
"I'm fighting hard, Buck."
"Fight harder still. You ought to know him better than I do. When he's like
this it drives him wild to have other folks thinkin' about him."
He looked over to Dan. In spite of the bowed head of the latter as he
listened to Haines yarning he gave an impression of electric awareness to
all that was around him.
"Talk soft," whispered Buck. "Maybe he knows we're talkin' about him."
He raised his voice out of the whisper, breaking in on a sentence about
Joan, as if this were the tenor of their talk. Then he lowered his tone
"Think quick. Talk soft. Do you want Dan kept here?"
"For God's sake, yes."
"Suppose the posse gets him here?"
"We musn't dodge the law."
They were gauging their voices with the closest precision. Talking like
this so close to Barry was like dancing among flasks of nitroglycerine.
Once, and once only, Lee Haines cast a desperate eye across to them,
begging them to come to his rescue, then he went back to his talk with
Dan, raising his voice to shelter the conference of the other two.
"If they come, he'll fight."
"No, he isn't at the fighting pitch yet, I know!"
"If you're wrong they'll be dead men here."
"He sees no difference between the death of a horse and the death of a man.
He feels that the law has no score against him. He'll go quietly."
"And we'll find ways of fightin' the law?"
"Yes, but it needs money."
"I've got a stake."
"God bless you, Buck."
"Take my advice."
"Let him go now."
She glanced at him wildly.
"Kate, he's gone already."
"No, no, no!"
"I say he's gone. Look at his eyes."
"I don't dare."
"The yaller is comin' up in 'em. He's wild again." She shook her head in
mute agony. Buck Daniels groaned, softly.
"Then they's goin' to be a small-sized hell started around this cabin
He got up and went slowly back towards the fire. Lee Haines was talking
steadily, leisurely, going round and round his subject again and again, and
Barry listened with bowed head, but his eyes were fixed upon those of the
wolf-dog at his feet. When he grew restless, Haines chained him to the
chair with some direct question, yet it was a hard game to play. All this
time the posse might be gathering around the cabin; and the forehead of
Haines whitened and glistened with sweat. His voice was the only living
thing in the cabin, after a time, sketching his imaginary plans for the
benefit of Barry--his voice and the wistful eyes of Joan which kept
steadily on Daddy Dan. Something has come between them and lifted a barrier
which she could not understand, and with all her aching child's heart she
wondered at it.
For the second time that evening the wolf stood up on the hearth, but he
was not yet on his feet before Dan was out of his chair and standing close
to the wall, where the shadows swallowed him. Lee Haines sat with his lips
frozen on the next unspoken word. Two shadows, whose feet made no sound,
Black Bart and Dan glided to the door and peered into the night--then
Barry went back, step by step, until his back was once more to the wall.
Not until that instant did the others hear. It was a step which approached
behind the house; a loud rap at the back door.
It was the very loudness of the knock which made Kate draw a breath of
relief; if it had been a stealthy tap she would have screamed. He who
rapped did not wait for an answer; they heard the door creak open, the
sound of a heavy man's step.
"It's Vic," said Dan quietly, and then the door opened which led into the
kitchen and the tall form of Gregg entered. He paused there.
"Here I am again, ma'am."
"Good evening," she answered faintly.
He cleared his throat, embarrassed.
"Darned if I didn't play a fool game today--hello, Dan."
The other nodded.
"Rode in a plumb circle and come back where I started." He laughed, and the
laughter broke off a little shortly. He stepped to the wall and hung up his
bridle on its peg, which is the immemorial manner of asking hospitality in
the mountain-desert. "Hope I ain't puttin' you out, Kate. I see you got
She started, recalled from her thoughts.
"Excuse me, Vic. Vic Gregg, Buck Daniels, Lee Haines."
They shook hands, and Vic detained Haines a moment.
"Seems to me I've heard of you, Haines."
Gregg looked at the big man narrowly, and then swung back towards Dan. He
knew many things, now. Lee Haines--yes, that was the name. One of the crew
who followed Jim Silent; and Dan Barry? What a fool he had been not to
remember! It was Dan Barry who had gone on the trail of Silent's gang and
hounded it to death; Lee Haines alone had been spared. Yes, half a dozen
years before the mountain-folk had heard that story, a wild and improbable
one. It fitted in with what Pete Glass had told him of the shooting of
Harry Fisher; it explained a great deal which had mystified him since he
first met Barry; it made the thing he had come to do at once easier and
"I s'pose Molly showed a clean pair of heels to the whole lot of 'em?" he
said to Dan.
"Dead?" His astonishment was well enough affected. "God amighty, Dan, not
Grey Molly--my hoss?"
"Dead. I shot her."
Vic gasped. "You?"
"They'd busted her leg. I put her out of pain."
Gregg dropped into a chair. It was not altogether an affectation, not
altogether a piece of skilful acting now, for though the sheriff had told
him all that happened he had not had a chance to feel the truth; but now it
swept over him, all her tricks, all her deviltry, all that long
companionship. His head bowed.
No smile touched the faces of the others in the room, but a reverent
silence fell on the room. Then that figure among the shadows moved out,
stepped to the side of Vic, and a light hand rested on his shoulder. The
other looked up, haggard.
"She's gone, partner," Dan said gently, "but she's paid for."
"Paid for? Dan, they ain't any money could pay me back for Grey Molly."
"I know; I know! Not that way, but there was a life given for a life."
"One man died for Molly."
As the meaning came home to Gregg he blinked, and then, looking up, he
found a change in the eyes of Barry, for they seemed to be lighted from
within coldly, and his glance went down to the very bottom of Vic's soul,
probing. It was only an instant, a thing of which Gregg could not make
sure, and then Dan slipped back into his place among the shadows by the
wall. But a chill sense of guilt, a premonition of danger, stayed in Gregg.
The palms of his hands grew moist.
Chapter XV. Seven For One
Dangerous men were no novelty for Gregg. He had lived with them, worked
with them, as hard-fisted himself as any, and as ready for trouble, but the
man of the mountain-desert has a peculiar dread for the practiced, known
gun-fighter. In the days of the rapier when the art of fence grew so
complicated that half a life was needed for its mastery, men would as soon
commit suicide as ruffle it with an assured duellist; and the man of the
mountain-desert has a similar respect for those who are born, it might be
said, gun in hand. There was ample reason for the prickling in his scalp,
Vic felt, for here he sat on an errand of consummate danger with three of
these deadly fighters. Two of them he knew by name and repute, however
dimly, and as for Buck Daniels, unless all signs failed the dark,
sharp-eyed fellow was hardly less grim than the others. Vic gauged the
three one by one. Daniels might be dreaded for an outburst of wild temper
and in that moment he could be as terrible as any. Lee Haines would fight
coolly, his blue eyes never clouded by passion, for that was his repute as
the right hand man of Jim Silent, in the days when Jim had been a terrible,
half-legendary figure. One felt that same quiet strength as the tawny
haired man talked to Barry now; his voice was a smooth, deep current. But
as for Barry himself, Gregg could not compute the factors which entered
into the man. By all outward seeming that slender, half-timid figure was
not a tithe of the force which either of the others represented, but out of
the past Gregg's memory gathered more and more details, clear and clearer,
of the wolf-dog, the black stallion, and the whistling man who tracked down
Silent--"Whistling Dan" Barry; that was what they called him, sometimes.
Nothing was definite in the mind of Gregg. The stories consisted of patched
details, heard here and there at third or fourth hand, but he remembered
one epic incident in which Barry had ridden, so rumor told, into the very
heart of Elkhead, taken from the jail this very man, this Lee Haines, and
carried him through the cordon of every armed man in Elkhead. And there was
another picture, dimmer still, which an eye witness had painted: of how, at
an appointed hour, Barry met Jim Silent and killed him.
Out of these thoughts he glanced again at the man in the shadow, half
expecting to find his host swollen to giant size. Instead, he found the
same meager form, the same old suggestion of youth which would not age, the
same pale hands, of almost feminine litheness. Lee Haines talked on--about
a porphyry dyke somewhere to the north--a ledge to be found in the space of
ten thousand square miles--a list of vague clues--an appeal for Barry to
help them find it--and Barry was held listening though ever seeming to
drift, or about to drift, towards the door. Black Bart lay facing his
master, and his snaky head followed every movement. Kate sat where the
firelight barely touched on her, and in her arms she held Joan, whose face
and great bright eyes were turned towards Daddy Dan. All things in the room
centered on the place where the man sat by the wall, and the sense of
something impending swept over Gregg; then a wild fear--did they know the
danger outside? He must make conversation; he turned to Kate, but at the
same moment the voice of Buck Daniels beside him, close.
"I know how you feel, old man. I remember an old bay hoss of mine, a Morgan
hoss, and when he died I grieved for near onto a year, mostly. He wasn't
much of a hoss to look at, too long coupled, you'd say, and his legs was
short, but he got about like a coyote and when he sat down on a rope you
couldn't budge him with a team of Percherons. That's how good he was! When
he was a four year old I was cutting out yearlin's with him, and how--"
The loud, cheerful tone fell away to a confidential murmur, Daniels leaned
closer, with a smile of prospective humor, but the words which came to
Gregg were: "Partner, if I was you I'd get up and git and I wouldn't stop
till I put a hell of a long ways between me and this cabin!"
It spoke well of Vic's nerve that no start betrayed him. He bowed his head
a little, as though to catch the trend of the jolly story better, nodding.
"What's wrong?" he muttered back.
"Barry's watchin' you out of the shadow."
Then: "You fool, don't look!"
But there was method in Vic's raising his head. He threw it back and broke
into laughter, but while he laughed he searched the shadow by the wall
where Dan sat, and he felt glimmering eyes fixed steadily upon him. He
dropped his head again, as if to hear more.
"What's it mean, Daniels?"
"You ought to know. I don't. But he don't mean you no good. He's lookin' at
you too steady. If I was you--"
Through the whisper of Buck, through the loud, steady talk of Lee Haines,
cut the voice of Barry.
The latter looked up and found that Barry was standing just within the glow
of the hearth-light and something about him made Gregg's heart shrink.
"Vic, how much did they pay you?"
He tried to answer; he would have given ten years of life to have his voice
under control for an instant; but his tongue froze. He knew that every one
had turned toward him and he tried to smile, look unconcerned, but in spite
of himself his eyes were wide, fixed, and he felt that they could stare
into the bottom of his soul and see the guilt.
Then his voice came, but he could have groaned when he heard its crazily
shaken, shrill sound.
"What d'you mean, Dan?"
The other smiled and Gregg added hastily: "If you want me to be movin'
along, Dan, of course you're the doctor."
"How much did they pay?" repeated the quiet, inexorable voice.
He could have stood that, even without much fear, for no matter how
terrible the man might be in action his hands were tied in his own house;
but now Kate spoke: "Vic, what have you done?"
Then it came, in a flood. Hot shame rolled through him and the words burst
"I'm a yaller houn'-dog, a sneakin' no-good cur! Dan, you're right. I've
sold you. They're out there, all of 'em, waitin' in the rocks. For God's
sake take my gun and pump me full of lead!"
He threw his arms out, clear of his holster and turned that Barry might
draw his revolver. Vaguely he knew that Haines and Buck had drawn swiftly
close to him from either side; vaguely he heard the cry of Kate; but all
that he clearly understood was the merciless, unmoved face of Barry. It was
pretense; with all his being he wanted to die, but when Barry made no move
to strike he turned desperately to the others.
"Do the job for him. He saved my life and then I used it to sell him.
Daniels, Haines, I got no use for livin'."
"Vic," he said, "take--this!--and march to your friends outside; and when
you get through them, plant a forty-five slug in your own dirty heart and
then rot." Haines held out his gun with a gesture of contempt.
But Kate slipped in front of him, white and anguish.
"It was the girl you told me about, Vic?" she said. "You did it to get back
He dropped his head.
"Dan, let him go!"
"I got no thought of usin' him."
"Why not?" cried Vic suddenly. "I'll do the way Haines said. Or else let me
stay here and fight 'em off with you. Dan, for God's sake give me one
chance to make good."
It was like talking to a face of stone.
"The door's open for you, and waitin'. One thing before you go. That's the
same gang you told me about before? Ronicky Joe, Harry Fisher, Gus Reeve,
Mat Henshaw, Sliver Waldron and Pete Glass?"
"Harry Fisher's dead, Dan, if you'll give me one fightin' chance to play
"Tell 'em that I know 'em. Tell 'em one thing more. I thought Grey Molly
was worth only one man. But I was wrong. They've done me dirt and played
crooked. They come huntin' me--with a decoy. Now tell 'em from me that Grey
Molly is worth seven men, and she's goin' to be paid for in full."
He stepped to the wall and took down the bridle which Vic had hung there.
"I guess you'll be needin' this?"
It ended all talk; it even seemed to Gregg that as soon as he received the
bridle from the hand of Barry the truce ended with a sudden period and war
began. He turned slowly away.
Chapter XVI. Man-Hunting
As Vic Gregg left the house, the new moon peered at him over a black
mountain-top, a sickle of white with a half imaginary line rounding the
rest of the circle, and to the shaken mind of Vic it seemed as if a ghostly
spectator had come out to watch the tragedy among the peaks. At the line of
the rocks the sheriff spoke.
"Gregg, you've busted your contract. You didn't bring him out."
Vic threw his revolver on the ground.
"I bust the rest of it here and now. I'm through. Put on your irons and
take me back. Hang me and be damned to you, but I'll do no more to
Sliver Waldron drew from his pocket something which jangled faintly, but
the sheriff stopped him with a word. He sat up behind his rock.
"I got an idea, Gregg, that you've finished up your job and double-crossed
us! Does he know that I'm out here? Sit down there out of sight."
"I'll do that," said Gregg, obeying, "because you got the right to make me,
but you ain't got the right to make me talk, and nothin' this side of hell
can pry a word out of me!"
The sheriff drew down his brows until his eyes were merely cavities of
blackness. Very tenderly he fondled the rifle-butt which lay across his
knees, and never in the mountain-desert had there been a more humbly
unpretentious figure of a man.
He said: "Vic, I been thinkin' that you had the man-sized makin's of a
skunk, but I'm considerable glad to see I've judged you wrong. Sit quiet
here. I ain't goin' to put no irons on you if you give me your parole."
"I'll see you in hell before I give you nothin'. I was a man, or a partways
man, till I met up with you tonight, and now I'm a houn'-dog that's done my
partner dirt! God amighty, what made me do it?"
He beat his knuckles against his forehead.
"What you've done you can't undo," answered the sheriff. "Vic, I've seen
gents do considerable worse than you've done and come clean afterwards.
You're goin' to get off for what you've done to Blondy, and you're goin' to
live straight afterwards. You're goin' to get married and you're goin' to
play white. Why, man, I had to use you as far as I could. But you think I
wanted you to bring me out Barry? You couldn't look Betty square in the
face if you'd done what you set out to do. Now, I ain't pressin' you, but I
done some scouting while you was away, and I heard four men's voices in
the house. Can you tell me who's there?"
"You've played square, Pete," answered Vic hoarsely, "and I'll do my part.
Go down and get on your hosses and ride like hell; because in ten minutes
you're goin' to have three bad ones around your necks."
A mutter came from the rest of the posse, for this was rather more than
they had planned ahead. The sheriff, however, only sighed, and as the
moonlight increased Vic could see that he was deeply, childishly contented,
for in the heart of the little dusty man there was that inextinguishable
spark, the love of battle. Chance had thrown him on the side of the law,
but sooner or later dull times were sure to come and then Pete Glass would
cut out work of his own making go bad. The love of the man-trail is a
passion that works in two ways, and they who begin by hunting will in the
end be the hunted; the mountain-desert is filled with such histories.
"Three to five," said the sheriff, "sounds more interestin', Vic."
A sudden passion to destroy that assured calm rose in Gregg.
"Three common men might make you a game," he said, glowering, "but them
ain't common ones. One of 'em I don't know, but he has a damned nervous
hand. Another is Lee Haines!"
He had succeeded in part, at least. The sheriff sat bolt erect; he seemed
to be hearing distant music.
"Lee Haines!" he murmured. "That was Jim Silent's man. They say he was as
fast with a gun as Jim himself." He sighed again. "They's nothing like a
big man, Vic, to fill your sights."
"Daniels and Haines, suppose you count them off agin' the rest of your
gang, Pete. That leaves Barry for you." He grinned maliciously. "D'you know
what Barry it is?"
"It's a kind of common name, Vic."
"Pete, have you heard of Whistlin' Dan?"
No doubt about it, he had burst the confidence of the sheriff into
fragments. The little man began to pant and even in the dim light Vic could
see that his face was working.
"Him!" he said at length. And then: "I might of knowed! Him!" He leaned
closer. "Keep it to yourself, Vic, or you'll have the rest of the boys
runnin' for cover before the fun begins."
He snuggled a little closer to his rock and turned his head towards the
"Him!" he said again.
Columbus, when he saw the land of his dream wavering blue in the distance,
might have hailed it with such a heart-filling whisper, and Vic knew that
when these two met, these two slender, small men--with the uneasy hands,
there would be a battle whose fame would ring from range to range.
"If they was only a bit more light," muttered the sheriff. "My God, Vic,
why ain't the moon jest a mite nearer the full!"
After that, not a word for a long time until the lights in the house were
"So they won't show up agin no background when they make their run,"
murmured the sheriff. He pushed up his hat brim so that it covered his eyes
more perfectly. "Boys, get ready. They're comin' now!"
Mat Henshaw took up the word, and repeated it, and the whisper ran down
the line of men who lay irregularly among the rocks, until at last Sliver
Waldron brought it to a stop with a deep murmur. Not even a whisper could
altogether disguise his booming bass. It seemed to Vic Gregg that the air
about him grew more tense; his arm muscles commenced to ache from the
gripping of his hands. Then a door creaked--they could tell the indubitable
sound as if there were a light to see it swing cautiously wide.
"They're goin' out the back way," interpreted the sheriff, "but they'll
come around in front. They ain't any other way they can get out of here.
Pass that down the line, Mat."
Before the whisper had trailed out half its course, a woman screamed in the
house. It sent a jag of lightning through the brain of Vic Gregg; he
"Get down," commanded the sheriff 'curtly. "Or they'll plant you."
"For God's sake, Pete, he's killin' his wife--an'--he's gone mad--I seen it
comin' in his eyes!"
"Shut up," muttered Glass, "an' listen."
A pulse of sound floated out to them, and stopped the breath of Gregg; it
was a deep, stifled sobbing.
"She's begged him to stay with her; he's gone," said the sheriff. "Now
it'll come quick."
But the sheriff was wrong. There was not a sound, not a sign of a rush.
Presently: "What sort of a lass is she, Gregg?"
"All yaller hair, Pete, and the softes' blue eyes you ever see."
The sheriff made no answer, but Vic saw the little bony hand tense about
the barrel of the rifle. Still that utter quiet, with the pulse of the
sobbing lying like a weight upon the air, and the horror of the waiting
mounted and grew, like peak upon peak before the eyes of the climber.
"Watch for 'em sneakin' up on us through the rocks. Watch for 'em close,
lads. It ain't goin' to be a rush."
Once more the sibilant murmur ran down the line, and the voice of Sliver
Waldron brought it faintly to a period.
"Three of 'em," continued the sheriff, "and most likely they'll come at us
Through the shadow Vic watched the lips of Glass work and caught the end of
his soft murmur to himself : ". . . . all three!"
He understood; the sheriff had offered up a deep prayer that all three
might fall by his gun.
Up from the farther end of the line the whisper ran lightly, swiftly, with
a stammer of haste in it: "To the right!"
Ay, there to the right, gliding from the corner of the house, went a dark
form, and then another, and disappeared among the rocks. They had offered
not enough target for even chance shooting.
"Hold for close range" ordered the sheriff, and the order was repeated.
However much he might wish to win all the glory of the fray, the sheriff
took no chances--threw none of his odds away. He was a methodical man.
A slight patter caught the ear of Vic, like the running of many small
children over a heavy carpet, and then two shades blew around the side of
the house, one small and scudding close to the ground, the other vastly
larger--a man on horseback. It seemed a naked horse at first, so close to the
back did the rider lean, and before Vic could see clearly the vision
burst on them all. Several things kept shots from being fired earlier.
The first alarm had called attention to the opposite side of the house from
that on which the rider appeared; then, the moon gave only a vague,
treacherous light, and the black horse blended into it--the grass lightened
the fall of his racing feet.
Like a ship driving through a fog they rushed into view, the black
stallion, and Bart fleeting in front, and the surprise was complete. Vic
could see it work even in the sheriff, for the latter, having his rifle
trained towards his right jerked it about with a short curse and blazed at
the new target, again, again, and the line of the posse joined the fire.
Before the crack of their guns went from the ears of Vic, long before the
echoes bellowed back from the hills, Satan leaped high up. Perhaps that
change of position saved both it and its rider. Straight across the pale
moon drove the body with head stretched forth, ears back, feet gathered
close--a winged horse with a buoyant figure upon it. It cleared a five foot
rock, and rushed instantly out of view among the boulders. The fugitive had
fired only one shot, and that when the stallion was at the crest of its
Chapter XVII. The Second Man
The sheriff was on his feet, whining with eagerness and with the rest of
his men he sent a shower of lead splashing vainly into the deeper night
beside the mountain, where the path wound down.
"It's done! Hold up, lads!" called Pete Glass. "He's beat us!"
The firing ceased, and they heard the rush of the hoofs along the graveled
slope and the clanging on rocks.
"It's done," repeated the sheriff. "How?"
And he stood staring blankly, with a touch or horror in his face.
"By God, Mat's plugged."
"Mat Henshaw? Wha--?"
"Clean through the head."
He lay in an oddly twisted heap, as though every bone in his body were
broken, and when they drew him about they found the red mark in his
forehead and even made out the dull surprise in his set face. There had
been no pain in that death, the second for the sake of Grey Molly.
"The other two!" said the sheriff, more to himself than to Vic, who stood
"Easy, Pete," he cautioned. "You got nothin' agin Haines and Daniels."
The sheriff flashed at him that hungry, baffled glance.
"Maybe I can find something. You Gregg, keep your mouth shut and stand
He sent a long call quavering between the lonely mountains.
"You yonder--Lee Haines! D'you give up to the law?"
A burst of savage laughter flung back at him, and then: "Why the hell
"Haines, I give you fair warnin'! For resistin' the law and interferin', I
ask you, do you surrender?"
"Who are you?"
The big voice fairly swallowed the rather shrill tone of the sheriff.
"I'm sheriff Pete Glass."
"You lie. Whoever heard of a sheriff come sneakin' round like a coyote
lookin' for dead meat?"
Pete Glass grinned with rage.
"Haines, you ain't much better'n spoiled meat if you keep back. I gave you
till I count ten--"
"Why, you bob-tailed skunk," shouted a new voice. "You bone-spavined,
pink-eyed rat-catcher," continued this very particular describer, "what
have you got on us? Come out and dicker and we'll do the same!"
The sheriff sighed, softly, deeply.
"I thought maybe they wouldn't get down to talk," he murmured. But since
the last chance for a battle was gone, he stepped fearlessly from behind
his rock and advanced into the open. Two tall figures came to meet him.
"Now," said Lee Haines, stalking forward. "One bad move, just the glint of
a single gun from the rest of you sheep thieves, and I'll tame your pet
sheriff and send him to hell for a model."
They halted, close to each other, the two big men, Haines in the front, and
"You're Lee Haines?"
"You've named me."
"And you're Buck Daniels?"
"Gents, you've resisted an officer of the law in the act of makin' an
arrest. I s'pose you know what that means?"
Big Lee Haines laughed.
"Don't start a bluff, sheriff. I know a bit about the law."
"Maybe by experience?"
It was an odd thing to watch the three, every one of them a practiced
fighter, every one of them primed for trouble, but each ostentatiously
keeping his hands away from the holsters.
"What we might have done if we had come to a pinch," said Haines, "is one
thing, and what we did do is another. Barry was started and off before we
had a chance to show teeth, my friend, and you never even caught the flash
of our guns. If he'd waited but he didn't. There's nothing left for us to
do except say good-by."
The little dusty man stroked his moustaches thoughtfully. He had gone out
there hoping against hope that his chance might come--to trick the two into
violence, even to start an arrest for reasons which he knew his posse would
swear to; but it must be borne in mind that Pete Glass was a careful man by
instinct. Taking in probable speed of hand and a thousand other details at
a glance, Pete sensed the danger of these two and felt in his heart of
hearts that he was more than master of either of them, considered alone;
better than Buck Daniels by an almost safe margin of steadiness; better than
Lee Haines by a flickering instant of speed. Had either of them alone faced
him, he would have taken his chance, perhaps, to kill or be killed, for the
long trail and the escape had fanned that spark within him to a cold,
hungry fire; but to attempt a play with both at the same time was death,
and he knew it. Seeing that the game was up, he laid his cards on the table
with characteristic frankness.
"Gents," he said, "I reckon you've come clean with me. You ain't my meat
and I ain't goin' to clutter up your way. Besides"--even in the dull
moonshine they caught the humorous glint of his eyes--"a friend is a
friend, and I'll say I'm glad that you didn't step into the shady side of
the law while Barry was gettin' away."
No one could know what it cost Pete Glass to be genial at that instant, for
this night he felt that he had just missed the great moment which he had
yearned for since the day when he learned to love the kick of a six-shooter
against the heel of his hand. It was the desire to meet face to face one
whose metal of will and mind was equal to his own, whose nerves were
electric energies perfectly under command, whose muscles were fine spun
steel. He had gone half a lifetime on the trail of fighters and always he
had known that when the crisis came his hand would be the swifter, his eyes
the more steady; the trailing was a delight always, but the actual kill was
a matter of slaughter rather than a game of hazard. Only the rider of the
black stallion had given him the sense of equal power, and his whole soul
had risen for the great chance of All. That chance was gone; he pushed the
thought of it away--for the time--and turned back to the business at hand.
"They's only one thing," he went on. "Sliver! Ronicky! Step along, gents,
and we'll have a look at the insides of that house."
"Steady!" broke in Haines. He barred the path to the front door. "Sheriff,
you don't know me, but I'm going to ask you to take my word for what's in
Glass swept him with a look of a new nature.
"I got an idea your word might do. Well, what's in the house?"
"A little five-year-old girl and her mother; nothing else worth seeing."
"Nothing else," considered the sheriff, "but that's quite a lot. Maybe his
wife could tell me where he's going? Give me an idea where I might call on
"Partner, you can't see her."
"No, by God!"
"H-m-m!" murmured the sheriff. He watched the big man plant himself,
swaying a little on his feet as though poising for action, and beside him a
slightly smaller figure not less determined.
"That girl in there is old man Cumberlan's daughter," said Daniels, "and no
matter what her--what Dan Barry may be, Kate Cumberland is white folks."
The sheriff remembered what Vic had said of yellow hair and soft blue eyes.
"Leastways," he said, "she seems to have a sort of way with the men."
"Sheriff you're on a cold trail," said Haines. "Inside that house is just a
heart-broken girl and her baby. If you want to see them--go ahead!"
"She might know something," mused the sheriff, "and I s'pose I'd ought to
pry it out of her right now: but I don't care for that sort of pickin's."
He repeated softly: "A girl and a baby!" and turned on his heel. "All
right, boys, climb your hosses. Two of you take Mat. We'll bury him where
we put Harry. I guess we can pack him that far."
"How's that?" This from Haines. "One of your gang dropped?"
They followed him and stood presently beside the body. Aside from the red
mark in the forehead he seemed asleep, and smiling at some pleasant dream;
a handsome fellow in the strength of first manhood, this man who was the
second to die for Grey Molly.
"It's the end of Dan Barry," said Buck. "Lee, we'll never have Whistlin'
Dan for a friend again. He's wild for good."
The sheriff turned and eyed him closely.
"He's got to come back," said Haines. "He's got to come back for the sake
"He'd better be dead for the sake of Kate," answered Buck.
"Why, partner, this isn't the first time he's gone wild."
"Don't you see, Lee?"
"He's fighting to kill. He's shooting to kill, and he ain't ever done that
before. He crippled his men; he put 'em out of the way with a busted leg or
a plugged shoulder; but now he's out to finish 'em. Lee, he'll never come
He looked to the white face of Vic Gregg, standing by, and he said without
anger; "Maybe it ain't your fault, but you've started a pile of harm. Look
at these gents around you, the sheriff and all--they're no better'n dead,
Gregg, and that's all along of you. Barry has started on the trail of all
of you. Look at that house back there. It's packed full of hell, and all
along of you. Lee, let's get back. I'm feelin' sick inside."
Chapter XVIII. Concerning The Strength Of Women
There were three things discussed by Lee Haines and Buck Daniels in the
dreary days which followed. The first was to keep on their way across the
mountains and cut themselves away from the sorrow of that cabin. The second
was to strike the trail of Barry and hunt until they found his refuge and
attempt to lead him back to his family. The third was simply to stay on and
where they found the opportunity, help Kate. They discarded the first idea
without much talk; it would be yellow, they decided, and the debt they owed
to the Dan Barry of the old days was too great to be shouldered off so
easily: they cast away the second thought still more quickly, for the trail
which baffled the shrewd sheriff, as they knew, would be too much for them.
It remained to stay with Kate, making excursions through the mountains from
day to day to maintain the pretence of carrying on their own business, and
always at hand in time of need.
It was no easy part to play, for in the house they found Kate more and more
silent, more and more thoughtful, never speaking of her trouble, but behind
her eyes a ghost of waiting that haunted them. If the wind shrilled down
the pass, if a horse neighed from the corral, there was always the start in
her, the thrill of hope, and afterwards the pitiful deadening of her smile.
She was not less beautiful they thought, as she grew paler, but the
terrible silence of the place drove them away time and again. Even Joan no
longer pattered about the house, and when they came down out of the
mountains they never heard her shrill laughter. She sat cross-legged by the
hearth in her old place during the evenings with her chin resting on one
hand and her eyes fixed wistfully upon the fire; and sometimes they found
her on the little hillock behind the house, from the top of which she could
view every approach to the cabin. Of Dan and even of Black Bart, her
playmate she soon learned not to speak, for the mention of them made her
mother shrink and whiten. Indeed, the saddest thing in that house was the
quiet in which the child waited, waited, waited, and never spoke.
"She ain't more'n a baby," said Buck Daniels, "and you can leave it to time
to make her forget."
"But," growled Lee Haines, "Kate isn't a baby. Buck, it drives me damn near
crazy to see her fade this way."
"Now you lay to this," answered Buck. "She'll pull through. She'll never
forget, maybe, but she'll go on livin' for the sake of the kid."
"You know a hell of a lot about women, don't you?" said Haines.
"I know enough, son," nodded Buck.
He had, in fact, reduced women to a few distinct categories, and he only
waited to place a girl in her particular class before he felt quite
intimate acquaintance with her entire mind and soul.
"It'll kill her," pronounced Lee Haines. "Why, she's like a flower, Buck,
and sorrow will cut her off at the root. Think of a girl like that thrown
away in these damned deserts! It makes me sick--sick! She ought to have
nothing but velvet to touch--nothing but a millionaire for a husband, and
never a worry in her life." He grew excited. "But here's the flower thrown
away and the heel crushing it without mercy."
Buck Daniels regarded him with pity.
"I feel kind of sorry for you, Lee, when I hear you talk about girls. No
wonder they make a fool of you. A flower crushed under the foot, eh? You
just listen to me, my boy. You and me figure to be pretty hard, don't we?
Well, soft pine stacked up agin' quartzite, is what we are compared to
Lee Haines gaped at him, too astonished to be angry. He suggested softening
of the brain to Buck, but the latter waved aside the implications.
"Now, supposin' Kate was one of these dark girls with eyes like black
diamonds and a lot of snap and zip to her. If she was like that I s'pose
you'd figure her to forget all about Dan inside of a month--and maybe marry
"You be damned!"
"Maybe I am. Them hard, snappy lookin' girls are the ones that smash.
They're brittle, that's why; but you take a soft lookin' girl like Kate,
maybe she ain't a diamond point to cut glass, but she's tempered steel
that'll bend, and bend, and bend, and then when you wait for it to break it
flips up and knocks you down. That's Kate."
Lee Haines rolled a cigarette in silence. He was too disgusted to answer,
until his first puff of smoke dissolved Buck in a cloud of thin blue.
"You ought to sing to a congregation instead of to cows, Buck. You have the
tune, and you might get by in a church; but cows have sense."
"Kate will buckle and bend and fade for a while," went on Buck, wholly
unperturbed, "but just when you go out to pick daisies for her you'll come
back and find her singing to the stove. Her strength is down deep, like
some of these outlaw hosses that got a filmy, sleepy lookin' eye. They save
their hell till you sink the spurs in 'em. You think she loves Dan, don't
"I have a faint suspicion of it," sneered Haines. "I suppose I'm wrong?"
"Buck, I may have slipped a nickel into you, but you're playing the wrong
tune. Knock off and talk sense, will you?"
"When you grow up, son, you'll understand some of the things I'm tryin' to
explain in words of one syllable.
"She don't love Dan. She thinks she does, but down deep they ain't a damned
thing in the world she gives a rap about exceptin' Joan. Men? What are they
to her? Marriage? That's simply an accident that's needed so she can have a
baby. Delicate, shrinkin' flower, is she? I tell you, my boy, if it was
necessary for Joan she'd tear out your heart and mine and send Dan plumb to
hell. You fasten on to them words, because they're gospel."
It was late afternoon while they talked, and they were swinging slowly down
a gulch towards the home cabin. At that very time Kate, from the door of
the house where she sat, saw a dark form slink from rock to rock at the rim
of the little plateau, a motion so swift that it flicked through the corner
of her eye, a thing to be sensed rather than seen. She set up very stiff,
her lips white as chalk, but nothing more stirred. A few minutes later,
when her heart was beating almost at normal she heard Joan scream from
behind the house, not in terror, or pain, as her keen mother-ear knew
perfectly well, but with a wild delight. She whipped about the corner of
the house and there she saw Joan with her pudgy arms around the neck of
"Bart! Dear old Bart! Has he come? Has he come?"
And she strained her eyes against the familiar mountains around her as if
she would force her vision through rock. There was no trace of Dan, no sign
or sound when she would even have welcomed the eerie whistle. The wolf-dog
was already at play with Joan. She was on his back and he darted off in an
effortless gallop, winding to and fro among the rocks. Most children would
have toppled among the stones at the first of his swerves, but Joan clung
like a burr, both hands dug into his hair, shrieking with excitement.
Sometimes she reeled and almost slid at one of those lightning turns, for
the game was to almost unseat her, but just as she was sliding off Bart
would slacken his pace and let her find a firm seat once more. They wound
farther and farther away, and suddenly Kate cried, terror-stricken: "Joan!
A tug at the ear of the wolf-dog swung them around; then as they
approached, the fear left the mind of the mother and a new thought came in
its place. She coaxed Joan from Bart--they could play later on, she
promised, to their heart's desire--and led her into the house. Black Bart
followed to the door, but not all their entreaty or scolding could make him
cross the threshold. He merely snarled at Kate, and even Joan's tugging at
his ears could not budge him. He stood canting his head and watching them
wistfully while Kate changed Joan's clothes.
She dressed her as if for a festival, with a blue bonnet that let the
yellow hair curl out from the edges, and a little blue cloak, and shiny
boots incredibly small, and around the bonnet she laid a wreath of yellow
wild flowers. Then she wrote her letter, closed it in an envelope, and
fastened it securely in the pocket of the cloak.
She drew Joan in front of her and held her by both hands.
"Joan, darling," she said, "munner wants you to go with Bart up through the
mountains. Will you be afraid?"
A very decided shake of the head answered her, for Joan's eyes were already
over her shoulder looking towards the big dog. And she was a little sullen
at these unnecessary words.
"It might grow dark," she said. "You wouldn't care?"
Here Joan became a little dubious, but a whine from Bart seemed to reassure
"Bart will keep Joan," she said.
"He will. And he'll take you up through the rocks to Daddy Dan."
The face of the child grew brilliant.
"Daddy Dan?" she whispered.
"And when you get to him, take this little paper out of your pocket and give
it to him. You won't forget?"
"Give the paper to Daddy Dan," repeated Joan solemnly.
Kate dropped to her knees and gathered the little close, close, until Joan
cried out, but when she was eased the child reached up an astonished hand,
touched the face of Kate with awe, and then stared at her finger tips.
A moment later, Joan stood in front of Black Bart, with the head of the
wolf-dog seized firmly between her hands while she frowned intently into
"Take Joan to Daddy Dan," she ordered.
At the name, the sharp ears pricked; a speaking intelligence grew up in his
"Giddap," commanded Joan, when she was in position on the back of Bart. And
she thumped her heels against the furry ribs.
Towards Kate, who stood trembling in the door, Bart cast the departing
favor of a throat-tearing growl, and then shambled across the meadow with
that smooth trot which wears down all other four-footed creatures. He was
already on the far side of the meadow, and beginning the ascent of the
first slope when the glint of the sun on the yellow wild flowers flashed on
the eye of Kate. It had all seemed natural until that moment, the only
possible thing to do, but now she felt suddenly that Joan was thrown away
thought of the darkness which would soon come--remembered the yellow terror
which sometimes gleamed in the eyes of Black Bart after nightfall.
She cried out, but the wolf-dog kept swiftly on his way. She began to run,
still calling, but rapidly as she went, Black Bart slid steadily away from
her, and when she reached the shoulder of the mountain, she saw the dark
form of Bart with the blue patch above it drifting up the wall of the
She knew where they were going now; it was the old cave upon which she and
Dan had come one day in their rides, and Dan had prowled for a long time
through the shadowy recesses.
Chapter XIX. The Venture
From the moment Joan gave the name of Daddy Dan, the wolf-dog kept to the
trail with arrowy straightness. Whatever the limitations of Bart's rather
uncanny intelligence, upon one point he was usually letter-perfect, and
even when a stranger mentioned Dan in the hearing of the dog it usually
brought a whine or at least an anxious look. He hewed to his line now with
that animal sense of direction which men can never wholly understand.
Boulders and trees slipped away on either side of Joan; now on a descent of
the mountain-side he broke into a lope that set the flowers fluttering on
her bonnet; now he prowled up the ravine beyond, utterly tireless.
He was strictly business. When she slipped a little from her place as he
veered around a rock he did not slow up, as usual, that she might regain
her seat, but switched his head back with a growl that warned her into
position. That surprise was hardly out of her mind when she saw a gay patch
of wild-flowers a little from the line of his direction, and she tugged at
his ear to swing him towards it. A sharp jerk of his head tossed her hand
aside, and again she caught the glint of wild eyes as he looked back at
her. Then she grew grave, puzzled. She trusted Black Bart with all her
heart, as only a child can trust dumb animals, but now she sensed a change
in him. She had guessed at a difference on that night when Dan came home
for the last time; and the same thing seemed to be in the dog today.
Before she could make up her mind as to what it might be, Black Bart swung
aside up a steep slope, and whisked her into the gloom of a cave. Into the
very heart of the darkness he glided and stopped.
"Daddy Dan!" she called.
A faint echo, after a moment, came back to her from the depths of the cave,
making her voice strangely deep. Otherwise, there was no answer.
"Bart!" she whispered, suddenly frightened by the last murmur of that echo,
"Daddy Dan's not here. Go back!"
She tugged at his ear to turn him, but again that jerk of the head freed
his ear. He caught her by the cloak, crouched close to the floor, and she
found herself all at once sitting on the gravelly floor of the cave with
Bart facing her.
"Bad Bart!" she said, scrambling to her feet.
She was still afraid to raise her voice in that awful silence, and in the
dark. When she glanced around her, she made out vague forms through the
dimness that might be the uneven walls of the cave, or might be strange and
awful forms of night.
"Take me home!"
A growl that went shuddering down the cave stopped her, and now she saw
that the eyes of Bart glowed green and yellow. Even then she could not
believe that he would harm her, and stretched out a tentative hand. This
time she made out the flash of his teeth as he snarled. He was no longer
the Bart she had played with around the cabin, but a strange wild thing,
and with a scream she darted past him toward the door. Never had those
chubby legs flown so fast, but even as the light from the mouth of the cave
glimmered around her, she heard a crunching on the gravel from behind, and
then a hand, it seemed, caught her cloak and jerked her to a stop.
She fell sprawling, head over heels, and when she looked up, there sat Bart
upon his haunches above her, growling terribly, and gripping the end of the
cloak. No doubt about it now. Black Bart would have his teeth in her throat
if she made another movement toward the entrance. A city child would have
either gone mad with terror or else made that fatal struggle to reach the
forbidden place, but Joan had learned many things among the mountains, and
among others, she knew the difference between the tame and the free. The
old dappled cow was tame, for instance; and the Maltese cat, which came too
close to Bart the year before and received a broken back for its
carelessness, had been tame; and the brown horse with the white face and
the dreary eyes was tame. They could be handled, and teased, and petted and
bossed about at will. Other creatures were different. For instance, the
scream of the hawk always made her shrink a little closer to the ground, or
else run helter-skelter for the house, and sometimes, up the gulches, she
had heard the wailing of a mountain lion on the trail, hunting swiftly, and
very hungry. There was even something about the dead eyes of certain lynxes
and coyotes and bobcats which Daddy Dan trapped that made Joan feel these
animals belonged to a world where the authority of man was only the
strength of his hand or his cunning. Not that she phrased these thoughts in
definite words, but Joan was very close to nature, and therefore her
instincts gave her a weird little touch of wisdom in such matters.
And when she lay there tangled in her cloak and looked up into the glowing
eyes of Bart and heard his snarling roll around her, and pass in creepy
chills up her back, she nearly died of fear, to be sure, but she lay as
still as still, frozen into a part of the rock. Black Bart was gone, and in
his place was a terrible creature which belonged there among the shadows,
for it could see in the night.
Presently the bright eyes disappeared, and now she saw that Bart lay
stretched across the entrance to the cave, where the long shadow was now
creeping down the slope. Inches by inches she ventured to sit up, and all
it brought from Bart was a quick turn of the head and a warning growl. It
meant as plainly as though he had spoken in so many words: "Stay where you
are and I don't care in the least what you do, but don't try to cross this
entrance if you fear the length of my teeth and the keenness thereof." And
she did fear them, very much, for she remembered the gashes across the back
and the terrible rips up the side, of the dead Maltese cat.
She even took a little heart, after a time. A grownup cannot feel terror or
grief as keenly as a child, but neither does terror or grief pass away a
tithe as fast. She seemed at liberty to roam about in the cave as long as
she did not go near the entrance, and now the shadows and the dimness no
longer frightened her. Nothing was terrible except that long, dark body
which lay across the entrance to the cave, and she finally got to her feet
and began to explore. She came first on a quantity of dead grass heaped in
a corner that was where Satan was stalled, no doubt, and it made all the
cave seem almost homelike. She found, too, a number of stones grouped
together with ashes in the hollow circle-that was where the fires were
built, and there to the side lay the pile of dead wood. A little down the
cave and directly in the center of the top, she next saw the natural
aperture where the smoke must escape and last of all she came on the bed.
Boughs heaped a foot thick with the blankets on top, neatly stretched out,
and the tarpaulin over all, made a couch as soft as down and fragrant with
the pure scent of evergreens.
Joan tried the surface with a foot that sank to her ankle, then with her
hands, and finally sat down to think. The first fear was almost gone; she
understood that Bart was keeping her here until Dan came home, and fear
does not go hand in hand with understanding. She only wondered, now, at the
reason that kept Daddy Dan living in this cave so far from the warm comfort
of the cabin, and so far away from her mother; but thinking makes small
heads drowsy, and in five minutes Joan lay with her head pillowed on her
arm, sound asleep.
When she awoke, the evening-gray of the cave had given place to utter
blackness, alarming and thick. Joan sat up with a start; she would have
cried out, bewildered, but now she heard a noise on the gravel, and turned
to see Daddy Dan entering the cave with Satan behind him, quite distinctly
outlined by the sunset outside. Black Bart walked first, looking back over
his shoulder as though he led the way.
It was partly because the black, silhouetted figures awed her, somewhat,
and partly because she wished to give Daddy Dan a gay surprise, that Joan
did not run to him. And then, in the darkness, she heard Satan munching the
dried grass, and the squeak and rattle as the saddle was drawn off and hung
up, scraping against the rock.
"What you been doin', Bart?" queried the voice of Daddy Dan, and the last
of Joan's fears fell from her as she listened. "You act kind of worried.
If you been runnin' rabbits all day and got your pads full of thorns I'll
everlastin'ly treat you rough."
The wolf-dog whined.
"Well, speak up. What you want? Want me over there?"
It would have been a trifle unearthly to most people, but Joan knew the
ways of Daddy Dan with Satan and Black Bart. She lay quite still, shivering
with pleasure as the footsteps approached her. Then a match scratched--she
saw by the blue spurt of flame that he was lighting a pine torch, then
whirling it until the flame ate down to the pitchy knot. He held it above
his head, and now she saw him plainly: the light cascaded over his
shoulders, glowed on his eyes, and then puffed out sidewise in a draught.
Joan was upon her feet, and running toward him with a cry of joy, until she
remembered that he was not to be approached like her mother. There were
never any bear-hugs from him, no caresses, not much laughter. She stopped
barely in time, and stood with her fingers interlaced, staring up at him,
half delighted, half afraid. She read his mind by microscopic changes in
his eyes and lips.
"Munner sent me."
That was wrong, she saw at once.
"And Bart brought me." Much better, now. "And oh, Daddy Dan, I've been
lonesome for you!"
He continued to stare at her for another moment, and even Joan could not
tell whether be were angry or indifferent or pleased.
"Well," he murmured at length, "I guess you're hungry, Joan?"
She knew it was complete acceptance, and she could hardly keep from a shout
of happiness. Daddy Dan had a great aversion to sudden outcries.
"I guess I am," said Joan.
Chapter XX. Discipline
He made the preparation for supper with such easy speed that everything
seemed to be done by magic hands. When Joan's mother cooked supper there
was always much rattling of the stove, then the building of the fire, a
long preparation of food, and another interval when things steamed and
sizzled on the fire. There followed the setting of the table, and then a
long, aching time of hunger when the food was in sight, but one could not
eat until Daddy Dan had done this, and Munner had done that. Also, when one
did eat, half the taste was taken from things by the necessity of various
complicated evolutions of knife and fork. Instance the absurdity of taking
the fork under the thumb with the forefinger pressing along the back of the
wobbly instrument, when any one could see that the proper, natural way of
using a fork was to grasp it daggerwise and drive it firmly through that
skidding piece of meat. Not only this, but a cup must be held in one hand,
and bread must be broken into little pieces before putting butter on it.
Above all, no matter how terribly hard one tried, there was sure to be a
mistake, and then a: "Now, Joan, don't do that. This is the way--"
But how different everything was in this delightful house of Daddy Dan!
In an incredibly short time three torches flared about them and filled the
air with scents of freshness and the outdoors-scents that went tingling up
the nose and filled one with immense possibilities of eating. At the very
same time, a few motions caused a heap of wood to catch fire and blaze
among the stones while a steady stream of blue-white smoke wavered up
toward the top of the cave and disappeared in the shadows. After this her
father showed her a little stream of water which must come from a spring
far back in the cave, and the current slipped noiselessly along one wall,
and dipped of sight again before it reached the entrance to the place. Here
she discovered a little bowl, made out of small stones nicely fitted
together, and allowing the water to pour over one edge and out at another
with a delicious purling--such crystal clear water that one actually wanted
to wash in it even if it was cold, and even if one had the many sore places
on fingers and nose and behind the ears.
Behold! no sooner did one turn from the washing of hands and face than the
table was miraculously spread upon the surface of a flat rock, with other
stones nearby to serve as chairs; and on the table steamed "pone," warmed
over; coffee with milk in it--coffee, which was so strictly banned at
home!--potatoes sliced to transparent thinness and fried to crisp brown at
the edges, and a great slab of meat that fairly shouted to the appetite.
So far so good, but the realization was a thousand fold better than
anticipation. No cutting of one's own meat at this enchanted board! The
shining knife of Daddy Dan divided it into delectable bits with the speed
of light, and it needed only the slightest amount of experimenting and
cautious glances to discover that one could use a fork daggerwise, and when
in doubt even seize upon a morsel with one's fingers and wipe the fingers
afterwards on a bit of the dry grass. One could grasp the cup by both
sides, scorning the silly handle, and if occasionally one sipped the coffee
with a little noise--which added astonishingly to the taste--there was no
sharp warning, no frowning eye to overlook. Besides, at Munner's table,
there was never time to pay attention to Joan, for there was talk about
vague, abstract things--the price of skins, the melting of the snows, the
condition of the passes, the long and troubling argument about the wicker
chairs, with some remarkably foolish asides, now and then, concerning
happiness and love--when all the time any one with half an eye could see
that the thing to do was to eat and eat and eat until that hollow place
ceased to be. Talking came afterwards.
In the house of Daddy Dan all these things were ordered as they should be.
Not a word was said; not a glance of criticism rested upon her; when her
tin plate was cleared she heard no reproofs for eating too greedily, but
she was furnished anew from the store of good things on the rock.
In place of conversation, there were other matters to occupy the mind
during the meal. For presently she observed the beautiful head of Satan
just behind his master--Satan, who could pass over noisy gravel with the
softness of a cat, and now loomed out of the deeper night down the cavern.
Inch by inch, with infinite caution and keenly pricked ears, the head
lowered beside Dan, and the quivering, delicate muzzle stole towards a
fragment of the "pone." Joan watched breathlessly and then she saw that in
spite of the caution of that movement her father knew all about it--just a
glint of amusement in the corner of his eyes, just a slight twitch at the
corners of his mouth to tell Joan that he was as delighted as a boy playing
a trick. Barely in time to save the morsel of pone, he spoke and the head
was dashed up. Yet Satan was not entirely discouraged. If he could not
steal the bread he would beg for it. It made Joan pause in her destruction
of the edibles, not to watch openly, for an instinct told her that the