The Man of the Forest
Part 8 out of 9
was. But she shore is doubled-up, an' sickish."
"Wuss an' wuss all the time," said Anson, between his teeth.
"An' where's Burt? Hyar it's noon an' he left early. He
never was no woodsman. He's got lost."
"Either thet or he's run into somethin'," replied Wilson,
Anson doubled a huge fist and cursed deep under his breath
-- the reaction of a man whose accomplices and partners and
tools, whose luck, whose faith in himself had failed him. He
flung himself down under a tree, and after a while, when his
rigidity relaxed, he probably fell asleep. Moze and Shady
kept at their game. Wilson paced to and fro, sat down, and
then got up to bunch the horses again, walked around the
dell and back to camp. The afternoon hours were long. And
they were waiting hours. The act of waiting appeared on the
surface of all these outlaws did.
At sunset the golden gloom of the glen changed to a vague,
thick twilight. Anson rolled over, yawned, and sat up. As he
glanced around, evidently seeking Burt, his face clouded.
"No sign of Burt?" he asked.
Wilson expressed a mild surprise. "Wal, Snake, you ain't
expectin' Burt now?"
"I am, course I am. Why not?" demanded Anson. "Any other
time we'd look fer him, wouldn't we?"
"Any other time ain't now. . . . Burt won't ever come back!"
Wilson spoke it with a positive finality."
"A-huh! Some more of them queer feelin's of yourn --
operatin' again, hey? Them onnatural kind thet you can't
Anson's queries were bitter and rancorous.
"Yes. An', Snake, I tax you with this heah. Ain't any of
them queer feelin's operatin' in you? "
"No!" rolled out the leader, savagely. But his passionate
denial was a proof that he lied. From the moment of this
outburst, which was a fierce clinging to the old, brave
instincts of his character, unless a sudden change marked
the nature of his fortunes, he would rapidly deteriorate to
the breaking-point. And in such brutal, unrestrained natures
as his this breaking-point meant a desperate stand, a
desperate forcing of events, a desperate accumulation of
passions that stalked out to deal and to meet disaster and
blood and death.
Wilson put a little wood on the fire and he munched a
biscuit. No one asked him to cook. No one made any effort to
do so. One by one each man went to the pack to get some
bread and meat.
Then they waited as men who knew not what they waited for,
yet hated and dreaded it.
Twilight in that glen was naturally a strange, veiled
condition of the atmosphere. It was a merging of shade and
light, which two seemed to make gray, creeping shadows.
Suddenly a snorting and stamping of the horses startled the
"Somethin' scared the hosses," said Anson, rising. "Come
Moze accompanied him, and they disappeared in the gloom.
More trampling of hoofs was heard, then a cracking of brush,
and the deep voices of men. At length the two outlaws
returned, leading three of the horses, which they haltered
in the open glen.
The camp-fire light showed Anson's face dark and serious.
"Jim, them hosses are wilder 'n deer," he said. "I ketched
mine, an' Moze got two. But the rest worked away whenever we
come close. Some varmint has scared them bad. We all gotta
rustle out thar quick."
Wilson rose, shaking his head doubtfully. And at that moment
the quiet air split to a piercing, horrid neigh of a
terrified horse. Prolonged to a screech, it broke and ended.
Then followed snorts of fright, pound and crack and thud of
hoofs, and crash of brush; then a gathering thumping,
crashing roar, split by piercing sounds.
"Stampede!" yelled Anson, and he ran to hold his own horse,
which he had haltered right in camp. It was big and
wild-looking, and now reared and plunged to break away.
Anson just got there in time, and then it took all his
weight to pull the horse down. Not until the crashing,
snorting, pounding melee had subsided and died away over the
rim of the glen did Anson dare leave his frightened
"Gone! Our horses are gone! Did you hear 'em?" he exclaimed,
"Shore. They're a cut-up an' crippled bunch by now," replied
"Boss, we'll never git 'ern back, not 'n a hundred years,"
"Thet settles us, Snake Anson," stridently added Shady
Jones. "Them hosses are gone! You can kiss your hand to
them. . . . They wasn't hobbled. They hed an orful scare.
They split on thet stampede an' they'll never git together.
. . . See what you've fetched us to!"
Under the force of this triple arraignment the outlaw leader
dropped to his seat, staggered and silenced. In fact,
silence fell upon all the men and likewise enfolded the
Night set in jet-black, dismal, lonely, without a star.
Faintly the wind moaned. Weirdly the brook babbled through
its strange chords to end in the sound that was hollow. It
was never the same -- a rumble, as if faint, distant thunder
-- a deep gurgle, as of water drawn into a vortex -- a
rolling, as of a stone in swift current. The black cliff was
invisible, yet seemed to have many weird faces; the giant
pines loomed spectral; the shadows were thick, moving,
changing. Flickering lights from the camp-fire circled the
huge trunks and played fantastically over the brooding men.
This camp-fire did not burn or blaze cheerily; it had no
glow, no sputter, no white heart, no red, living embers. One
by one the outlaws, as if with common consent, tried their
hands at making the fire burn aright. What little wood had
been collected was old; it would burn up with false flare,
only to die quickly.
After a while not one of the outlaws spoke or stirred. Not
one smoked. Their gloomy eyes were fixed on the fire. Each
one was concerned with his own thoughts, his own lonely soul
unconsciously full of a doubt of the future. That brooding
hour severed him from comrade.
At night nothing seemed the same as it was by day. With
success and plenty, with full-blooded action past and more
in store, these outlaws were as different from their present
state as this black night was different from the bright day
they waited for. Wilson, though he played a deep game of
deceit for the sake of the helpless girl -- and thus did not
have haunting and superstitious fears on her account -- was
probably more conscious of impending catastrophe than any of
The evil they had done spoke in the voice of nature, out of
the darkness, and was interpreted by each according to his
hopes and fears. Fear was their predominating sense. For
years they had lived with some species of fear -- of honest
men or vengeance, of pursuit, of starvation, of lack of
drink or gold, of blood and death, of stronger men, of luck,
of chance, of fate, of mysterious nameless force. Wilson was
the type of fearless spirit, but he endured the most gnawing
and implacable fear of all -- that of himself -- that he
must inevitably fall to deeds beneath his manhood.
So they hunched around the camp-fire, brooding because hope
was at lowest ebb; listening because the weird, black
silence, with its moan of wind and hollow laugh of brook,
compelled them to hear; waiting for sleep, for the hours to
pass, for whatever was to come.
And it was Anson who caught the first intimation of an
Anson whispered tensely. His poise was motionless, his eyes
roved everywhere. He held up a shaking, bludgy finger, to
A third and stranger sound accompanied the low, weird moan
of the wind, and the hollow mockery of the brook -- and it
seemed a barely perceptible, exquisitely delicate wail or
whine. It filled in the lulls between the other sounds.
"If thet's some varmint he's close," whispered Anson.
"But shore, it's far off," said Wilson.
Shady Jones and Moze divided their opinions in the same way.
All breathed freer when the wail ceased, relaxing to their
former lounging positions around the fire. An impenetrable
wall of blackness circled the pale space lighted by the
camp-fire; and this circle contained the dark, somber group
of men in the center, the dying camp-fire, and a few
spectral trunks of pines and the tethered horses on the
outer edge. The horses scarcely moved from their tracks, and
their erect, alert heads attested to their sensitiveness to
the peculiarities of the night.
Then, at an unusually quiet lull the strange sound gradually
arose to a wailing whine.
"It's thet crazy wench cryin'," declared the outlaw leader.
Apparently his allies accepted that statement with as much
relief as they had expressed for the termination of the
"Shore, thet must be it," agreed Jim Wilson, gravely.
"We'll git a lot of sleep with thet gurl whinin' all night,"
growled Shady Jones.
"She gives me the creeps," said Moze.
Wilson got up to resume his pondering walk, head bent, hands
behind his back, a grim, realistic figure of perturbation.
"Jim -- set down. You make me nervous," said Anson,
Wilson actually laughed, but low, as if to keep his strange
mirth well confined.
"Snake, I'll bet you my hoss an' my gun ag'in' a biscuit
thet in aboot six seconds more or less I'll be stampedin
like them hosses."
Anson's lean jaw dropped. The other two outlaws stared with
round eyes. Wilson was not drunk, they evidently knew; but
what he really was appeared a mystery.
"Jim Wilson, are you showin' yellow?" queried Anson,
"Mebbe. The Lord only knows. But listen heah. . . . Snake,
you've seen an' heard people croak?"
"You mean cash in -- die?"
"Wal, yes -- a couple or so," replied Anson, grimly.
"But you never seen no one die of shock -- of an orful
"No, I reckon I never did."
"I have. An' thet's what's ailin' Jim Wilson," and he
resumed his dogged steps.
Anson and his two comrades exchanged bewildered glances with
"A-huh! Say, what's thet got to do with us hyar? asked
"Thet gurl is dyin'!" retorted Wilson, in a voice cracking
like a whip.
The three outlaws stiffened in their seats, incredulous, yet
irresistibly swayed by emotions that stirred to this dark,
lonely, ill-omened hour.
Wilson trudged to the edge of the lighted circle, muttering
to himself, and came back again; then he trudged farther,
this time almost out of sight, but only to return; the third
time he vanished in the impenetrable wall of light. The
three men scarcely moved a muscle as they watched the place
where he had disappeared. In a few moments he came stumbling
"Shore she's almost gone," he said, dismally. "It took my
nerve, but I felt of her face. . . . Thet orful wail is her
breath chokin' in her throat. . . . Like a death-rattle,
only long instead of short."
"Wal, if she's gotta croak it's good she gits it over
quick," replied Anson. "I 'ain't hed sleep fer three nights.
. . . An' what I need is whisky."
"Snake, thet's gospel you're spoutin'," remarked Shady
The direction of sound in the glen was difficult to be
assured of, but any man not stirred to a high pitch of
excitement could have told that the difference in volume of
this strange wail must have been caused by different
distances and positions. Also, when it was loudest, it was
most like a whine. But these outlaws heard with their
At last it ceased abruptly.
Wilson again left the group to be swallowed up by the night.
His absence was longer than usual, but he returned
"She's daid!" he exclaimed, solemnly. "Thet innocent kid --
who never harmed no one -- an' who'd make any man better fer
seein' her -- she's daid! . . . Anson, you've shore a heap
to answer fer when your time comes."
"What's eatin' you?" demanded the leader, angrily. "Her
blood ain't on my hands."
"It shore is," shouted Wilson, shaking his hand at Anson.
"An' you'll hev to take your medicine. I felt thet comin'
all along. An' I feel some more."
"Aw! She's jest gone to sleep," declared Anson, shaking his
long frame as he rose. "Gimme a light."
"Boss, you're plumb off to go near a dead gurl thet's jest
died crazy," protested Shady Jones.
"Off! Haw! Haw! Who ain't off in this outfit, I'd like to
know?" Anson possessed himself of a stick blazing at one
and, and with this he stalked off toward the lean-to where
the girl was supposed to be dead. His gaunt figure, lighted
by the torch, certainly fitted the weird, black
surroundings. And it was seen that once near the girl's
shelter he proceeded more slowly, until he halted. He bent
to peer inside.
"SHE'S GONE!" he yelled, in harsh, shaken accents.
Than the torch burned out, leaving only a red glow. He
whirled it about, but the blaze did not rekindle. His
comrades, peering intently, lost sight of his tall form and
the end of the red-ended stick. Darkness like pitch
swallowed him. For a moment no sound intervened. Again the
moan of wind, the strange little mocking hollow roar,
dominated the place. Then there came a rush of something,
perhaps of air, like the soft swishing of spruce branches
swinging aside. Dull, thudding footsteps followed it. Anson
came running back to the fire. His aspect was wild, his face
pale, his eyes were fierce and starting from their sockets.
He had drawn his gun.
"Did -- ye -- see er hear -- anythin'?" he panted, peering
back, then all around, and at last at his man.
"No. An' I shore was lookin' an' listenin'," replied Wilson.
"Boss, there wasn't nothin'," declared Moze.
"I ain't so sartin," said Shady Jones, with doubtful,
staring eyes. "I believe I heerd a rustlin'."
"She wasn't there!" ejaculated Anson, in wondering awe.
"She's gone! . . . My torch went out. I couldn't see. An'
jest then I felt somethin' was passin'. Fast! I jerked
'round. All was black, an' yet if I didn't see a big gray
streak I'm crazier 'n thet gurl. But I couldn't swear to
anythin' but a rushin' of wind. I felt thet."
"Gone!" exclaimed Wilson, in great alarm. "Fellars, if
thet's so, then mebbe she wasn't daid an' she wandered off.
. . . But she was daid! Her heart hed quit beatin'. I'll
swear to thet."
"I move to break camp," said Shady Jones, gruffly, and he
stood up. Moze seconded that move by an expressive flash of
his black visage.
"Jim, if she's dead -- an' gone -- what 'n hell's come off?"
huskily asked Anson. "It, only seems thet way. We're all
worked up. . . . Let's talk sense."
"Anson, shore there's a heap you an' me don't know," replied
Wilson. "The world come to an end once. Wal, it can come to
another end. . . . I tell you I ain't surprised --"
"THAR!" cried Anson, whirling, with his gun leaping out.
Something huge, shadowy, gray against the black rushed
behind the men and trees; and following it came a
perceptible acceleration of the air.
"Shore, Snake, there wasn't nothin'," said Wilson,
"I heerd," whispered Shady Jones.
"It was only a breeze blowin' thet smoke," rejoined Moze.
"I'd bet my soul somethin' went back of me," declared Anson,
glaring into the void.
"Listen an' let's make shore," suggested Wilson.
The guilty, agitated faces of the outlaws showed plain
enough in the flickering light for each to see a convicting
dread in his fellow. Like statues they stood, watching and
Few sounds stirred in the strange silence. Now and then the
horses heaved heavily, but stood still; a dismal, dreary
note of the wind in the pines vied with a hollow laugh of
the brook. And these low sounds only fastened attention upon
the quality of the silence. A breathing, lonely spirit of
solitude permeated the black dell. Like a pit of unplumbed
depths the dark night yawned. An evil conscience, listening
there, could have heard the most peaceful, beautiful, and
mournful sounds of nature only as strains of a calling hell.
Suddenly the silent, oppressive, surcharged air split to a
short, piercing scream.
Anson's big horse stood up straight, pawing the air, and
came down with a crash. The other horses shook with terror.
"Wasn't -- thet -- a cougar?" whispered Anson, thickly.
"Thet was a woman's scream," replied Wilson, and he appeared
to be shaking like a leaf in the wind.
"Then -- I figgered right -- the kid's alive -- wonderin'
around -- an' she let out thet orful scream," said Anson.
"Wonderin' 'round, yes -- but she's daid!"
"My Gawd! it ain't possible!"
"Wal, if she ain't wonderin' round daid she's almost daid,"
replied Wilson. And he began to whisper to himself.
"If I'd only knowed what thet deal meant I'd hev plugged
Beasley instead of listenin'. . . . An' I ought to hev
knocked thet kid on the head an' made sartin she'd croaked.
If she goes screamin' 'round thet way --"
His voice failed as there rose a thin, splitting,
high-pointed shriek, somewhat resembling the first scream,
only less wild. It came apparently from the cliff.
From another point in the pitch-black glen rose the wailing,
terrible cry of a woman in agony. Wild, haunting, mournful
Anson's horse, loosing the halter, plunged back, almost
falling over a slight depression in the rocky ground. The
outlaw caught him and dragged him nearer the fire. The other
horses stood shaking and straining. Moze ran between them
and held them. Shady Jones threw green brush on the fire.
With sputter and crackle a blaze started, showing Wilson
standing tragically, his arms out, facing the black shadows.
The strange, live shriek was not repeated. But the cry, like
that of a woman in her death-throes, pierced the silence
again. It left a quivering ring that softly died away. Then
the stillness clamped down once more and the darkness seemed
to thicken. The men waited, and when they had begun to relax
the cry burst out appallingly close, right behind the trees.
It was human -- the personification of pain and terror --
the tremendous struggle of precious life against horrible
death. So pure, so exquisite, so wonderful was the cry that
the listeners writhed as if they saw an innocent, tender,
beautiful girl torn frightfully before their eyes. It was
full of suspense; it thrilled for death; its marvelous
potency was the wild note -- that beautiful and ghastly note
In sheer desperation the outlaw leader fired his gun at the
black wall whence the cry came. Then he had to fight his
horse to keep him from plunging away. Following the shot was
an interval of silence; the horses became tractable; the men
gathered closer to the fire, with the halters still held
"If it was a cougar -- thet 'd scare him off," said Anson.
"Shore, but it ain't a cougar," replied Wilson. "Wait an'
They all waited, listening with ears turned to different
points, eyes roving everywhere, afraid of their very
shadows. Once more the moan of wind, the mockery of brook,
deep gurgle, laugh and babble, dominated the silence of the
"Boss, let's shake this spooky hole," whispered Moze.
The suggestion attracted Anson, and he pondered it while
slowly shaking his head.
"We've only three hosses. An' mine 'll take ridin' -- after
them squalls," replied the leader. "We've got packs, too.
An' hell 'ain't nothin' on this place fer bein' dark."
"No matter. Let's go. I'll walk an' lead the way," said
Moze, eagerly. "I got sharp eyes. You fellars can ride an'
carry a pack. We'll git out of here an' come back in
daylight fer the rest of the outfit."
"Anson, I'm keen fer thet myself," declared Shady Jones.
"Jim, what d'ye say to thet?" queried Anson. "Rustlin' out
of this black hole?"
"Shore it's a grand idee," agreed Wilson.
"Thet was a cougar," avowed Anson, gathering courage as the
silence remained unbroken. "But jest the same it was as
tough on me as if it hed been a woman screamin' over a blade
twistin' in her gizzards."
"Snake, shore you seen a woman heah lately?" deliberately
"Reckon I did. Thet kid," replied Anson, dubiously.
"Wal, you seen her go crazy, didn't you?"
"'An' she wasn't heah when you went huntin' fer her?"
"Wal, if thet's so, what do you want to blab about cougars
Wilson's argument seemed incontestable. Shady and Moze
nodded gloomily and shifted restlessly from foot to foot.
Anson dropped his head.
"No matter -- if we only don't hear --" he began, suddenly
to grow mute.
Right upon them, from some place, just out the circle of
light, rose a scream, by reason of its proximity the most
piercing and agonizing yet heard, simply petrifying the
group until the peal passed. Anson's huge horse reared, and
with a snort of terror lunged in tremendous leap, straight
out. He struck Anson with thudding impact, knocking him over
the rocks into the depression back of the camp-fire, and
plunging after him. Wilson had made a flying leap just in
time to avoid being struck, and he turned to see Anson go
down. There came a crash, a groan, and then the strike and
pound of hoofs as the horse struggled up. Apparently he had
rolled over his master.
"Help, fellars!" yelled Wilson, quick to leap down over the
little bank, and in the dim light to grasp the halter. The
three men dragged the horse out and securely tied him close
to a tree. That done, they peered down into the depression.
Anson's form could just barely be distinguished in the
gloom. He lay stretched out. Another groan escaped him.
"Shore I'm scared he's hurt," said Wilson.
"Hoss rolled right on top of him. An' thet hoss's heavy,"
They got down and knelt beside their leader. In the darkness
his face looked dull gray. His breathing was not right.
"Snake, old man, you ain't -- hurt?" asked Wilson, with a
tremor in his voice. Receiving no reply, he said to his
comrades, "Lay hold an' we'll heft him up where we can see."
The three men carefully lifted Anson up on the bank and laid
him near the fire in the light. Anson was conscious. His
face was ghastly. Blood showed on his lips.
Wilson knelt beside him. The other outlaws stood up, and
with one dark gaze at one another damned Anson's chance of
life. And on the instant rose that terrible distressing
scream of acute agony -- like that of a woman being
dismembered. Shady Jones whispered something to Moze. Then
they stood up, gazing down at their fallen leader.
"Tell me where you're hurt?" asked Wilson.
"He -- smashed -- my chest," said Anson, in a broken,
Wilson's deft hands opened the outlaw's shirt and felt of
"No. Shore your breast-bone ain't smashed," replied Wilson,
hopefully. And he began to run his hand around one side of
Anson's body and then the other. Abruptly he stopped,
averted his gaze, then slowly ran the hand all along that
side. Anson's ribs had been broken and crushed in by the
weight of the horse. He was bleeding at the mouth, and his
slow, painful expulsions of breath brought a bloody froth,
which showed that the broken bones had penetrated the lungs.
An injury sooner or later fatal!
"Pard, you busted a rib or two," said Wilson.
"Aw, Jim -- it must be -- wuss 'n thet!" he whispered. "I'm
-- in orful -- pain. An' I can't -- git any -- breath."
"Mebbe you'll be better," said Wilson, with a cheerfulness
his face belied.
Moze bent close over Anson, took a short scrutiny of that
ghastly face, at the blood-stained lips, and the lean hands
plucking at nothing. Then he jerked erect.
"Shady, he's goin' to cash. Let's clear out of this."
"I'm yours pertickler previous," replied Jones.
Both turned away. They untied the two horses and led them up
to where the saddles lay. Swiftly the blankets went on,
swiftly the saddles swung up, swiftly the cinches snapped.
Anson lay gazing up at Wilson, comprehending this move. And
Wilson stood strangely grim and silent, somehow detached
coldly from that self of the past few hours.
"Shady, you grab some bread an' I'll pack a bunk of meat,"
said Moze. Both men came near the fire, into the light,
within ten feet of where the leader lay.
"Fellars -- you ain't -- slopin'?" he whispered, in husky
"Boss, we air thet same. We can't do you no good an' this
hole ain't healthy," replied Moze.
Shady Jones swung himself astride his horse, all about him
sharp, eager, strung.
"Moze, I'll tote the grub an' you lead out of hyar, till we
git past the wust timber," he said.
"Aw, Moze --you wouldn't leave -- Jim hyar -- alone,"
"Jim can stay till he rots," retorted Moze. "I've hed enough
of this hole."
"But, Moze -- it ain't square --" panted Anson. "Jim
wouldn't -- leave me. I'd stick -- by you. . . . I'll make
it -- all up to you."
"Snake, you're goin' to cash," sardonically returned Moze.
A current leaped all through Anson's stretched frame. His
ghastly face blazed. That was the great and the terrible
moment which for long had been in abeyance. Wilson had known
grimly that it would come, by one means or another. Anson
had doggedly and faithfully struggled against the tide of
fatal issues. Moze and Shady Jones, deep locked in their
self-centered motives, had not realized the inevitable trend
of their dark lives.
Anson, prostrate as he was, swiftly drew his gun and shot
Moze. Without sound or movement of hand Moze fell. Then the
plunge of Shady's horse caused Anson's second shot to miss.
A quick third shot brought no apparent result but Shady's
cursing resort to his own weapon. He tried to aim from his
plunging horse. His bullets spattered dust and gravel over
Anson. Then Wilson's long arm stretched and his heavy gun
banged. Shady collapsed in the saddle, and the frightened
horse, throwing him, plunged out of the circle of light.
Thudding hoofs, crashings of brush, quickly ceased.
"Jim -- did you -- git him?" whispered Anson.
"Shore did, Snake," was the slow, halting response. Jim
Wilson must have sustained a sick shudder as he replied.
Sheathing his gun, he folded a blanket and put it under
"Jim -- my feet -- air orful cold," whispered Anson.
"Wal, it's gittin' chilly," replied Wilson, and, taking a
second blanket, he laid that over Anson's limbs. "Snake, I'm
feared Shady hit you once."
"A-huh! But not so I'd care -- much -- if I hed -- no wuss
"You lay still now. Reckon Shady's hoss stopped out heah a
ways. An' I'll see."
"Jim -- I 'ain't heerd -- thet scream fer -- a little."
"Shore it's gone. . . . Reckon now thet was a cougar."
"I knowed it!"
Wilson stalked away into the darkness. That inky wall did
not seem so impenetrable and black after he had gotten out
of the circle of light. He proceeded carefully and did not
make any missteps. He groped from tree to tree toward the
cliff and presently brought up against a huge flat rock as
high as his head. Here the darkness was blackest, yet he was
able to see a light form on the rock.
"Miss, are you there -- all right?" he called, softly.
"Yes, but I'm scared to death," she whispered in reply.
"Shore it wound up sudden. Come now. I reckon your trouble's
He helped her off the rock, and, finding her unsteady on her
feet, he supported her with one arm and held the other out
in front of him to feel for objects. Foot by foot they
worked out from under the dense shadow of the cliff,
following the course of the little brook. It babbled and
gurgled, and almost drowned the low whistle Wilson sent out.
The girl dragged heavily upon him now, evidently weakening.
At length he reached the little open patch at the head of
the ravine. Halting here, he whistled. An answer came from
somewhere behind him and to the right. Wilson waited, with
the girl hanging on his arm.
"Dale's heah," he said. "An' don't you keel over now --
after all the nerve you hed."
A swishing of brush, a step, a soft, padded footfall; a
looming, dark figure, and a long, low gray shape, stealthily
moving -- it was the last of these that made Wilson jump.
"Wilson!" came Dale's subdued voice.
"Heah. I've got her, Dale. Safe an sound," replied Wilson,
stepping toward the tall form. And he put the drooping girl
into Dale's arms.
"Bo! Bo! You're all right?" Dale's deep voice was tremulous.
She roused up to seize him and to utter little cries of joy
"Oh, Dale! . . . Oh, thank Heaven! I'm ready to drop now. .
. . Hasn't it been a night -- an adventure? . . . I'm well
-- safe -- sound. . . . Dale, we owe it to this Jim Wilson."
"Bo, I -- we'll all thank him -- all our lives," replied
Dale. "Wilson, you're a man! . . . If you'll shake that gang
"Dale, shore there ain't much of a gang left, onless you let
Burt git away," replied Wilson.
"I didn't kill him -- or hurt him. But I scared him so I'll
bet he's runnin' yet. . . . Wilson, did all the shootin'
mean a fight?"
"Oh, Dale, it was terrible! I saw it all. I --"
"Wal, Miss, you can tell him after I go. . . . I'm wishin'
you good luck."
His voice was a cool, easy drawl, slightly tremulous.
The girl's face flashed white in the gloom. She pressed
against the outlaw -- wrung his hands.
"Heaven help you, Jim Wilson! You ARE from Texas! . . . I'll
remember you -- pray for you all my life!"
Wilson moved away, out toward the pale glow of light under
the black pines.
As Helen Rayner watched Dale ride away on a quest perilous
to him, and which meant almost life or death for her, it was
surpassing strange that she could think of nothing except
the thrilling, tumultuous moment when she had put her arms
round his neck.
It did not matter that Dale -- splendid fellow that he was
-- had made the ensuing moment free of shame by taking her
action as he had taken it -- the fact that she had actually
done it was enough. How utterly impossible for her to
anticipate her impulses or to understand them, once they
were acted upon! Confounding realization then was that when
Dale returned with her sister, Helen knew she would do the
same thing over again!"
"If I do -- I won't be two-faced about it," she
soliloquized, and a hot blush flamed her cheeks.
She watched Dale until he rode out of sight.
When he had gone, worry and dread replaced this other
confusing emotion. She turned to the business of meeting
events. Before supper she packed her valuables and books,
papers, and clothes, together with Bo's, and had them in
readiness so if she was forced to vacate the premises she
would have her personal possessions.
The Mormon boys and several other of her trusted men slept
in their tarpaulin beds on the porch of the ranch-house that
night, so that Helen at least would not be surprised. But
the day came, with its manifold duties undisturbed by any
event. And it passed slowly with the leaden feet of
listening, watching vigilance.
Carmichael did not come back, nor was there news of him to
be had. The last known of him had been late the afternoon of
the preceding day, when a sheep-herder had seen him far out
on the north range, headed for the hills. The Beemans
reported that Roy's condition had improved, and also that
there was a subdued excitement of suspense down in the
This second lonely night was almost unendurable for Helen.
When she slept it was to dream horrible dreams; when she lay
awake it was to have her heart leap to her throat at a
rustle of leaves near the window, and to be in torture of
imagination as to poor Bo's plight. A thousand times Helen
said to herself that Beasley could have had the ranch and
welcome, if only Bo had been spared. Helen absolutely
connected her enemy with her sister's disappearance. Riggs
might have been a means to it.
Daylight was not attended by so many fears; there were
things to do that demanded attention. And thus it was that
the next morning, shortly before noon, she was recalled to
her perplexities by a shouting out at the corrals and a
galloping of horses somewhere near. From the window she saw
a big smoke.
"Fire! That must be one of the barns -- the old one,
farthest out," she said, gazing out of the window. "Some
careless Mexican with his everlasting cigarette!"
Helen resisted an impulse to go out and see what had
happened. She had decided to stay in the house. But when
footsteps sounded on the porch and a rap on the door, she
unhesitatingly opened it. Four Mexicans stood close. One of
them, quick as thought, flashed a hand in to grasp her, and
in a single motion pulled her across the threshold.
"No hurt, Senuora," he said, and pointed -- making motions
she must go.
Helen did not need to be told what this visit meant. Many as
her conjectures had been, however, she had not thought of
Beasley subjecting her to this outrage. And her blood
"How dare you!" she said, trembling in her effort to control
her temper. But class, authority, voice availed nothing with
these swarthy Mexicans. They grinned. Another laid hold of
Helen with dirty, brown hand. She shrank from the contact.
"Let go!" she burst out, furiously. And instinctively she
began to struggle to free herself. Then they all took hold
of her. Helen's dignity might never have been! A burning,
choking rush of blood was her first acquaintance with the
terrible passion of anger that was her inheritance from the
Auchinclosses. She who had resolved never to lay herself
open to indignity now fought like a tigress. The Mexicans,
jabbering in their excitement, had all they could do, until
they lifted her bodily from the porch. They handled her as
if she had been a half-empty sack of corn. One holding each
hand and foot they packed her, with dress disarranged and
half torn off, down the path to the lane and down the lane
to the road. There they stood upright and pushed her off her
Through half-blind eyes Helen saw them guarding the gateway,
ready to prevent her entrance. She staggered down the road
to the village. It seemed she made her way through a red
dimness -- that there was a congestion in her brain -- that
the distance to Mrs. Cass's cottage was insurmountable. But
she got there, to stagger up the path, to hear the old
woman's cry. Dizzy, faint, sick, with a blackness enveloping
all she looked at, Helen felt herself led into the
sitting-room and placed in the big chair.
Presently sight and clearness of mind returned to her. She
saw Roy, white as a sheet, questioning her with terrible
eyes. The old woman hung murmuring over her, trying to
comfort her as well as fasten the disordered dress.
"Four greasers -- packed me down -- the hill -- threw me off
my ranch -- into the road!" panted Helen.
She seemed to tell this also to her own consciousness and to
realize the mighty wave of danger that shook her whole body.
"If I'd known -- I would have killed them!"
She exclaimed that, full-voiced and hard, with dry, hot eyes
on her friends. Roy reached out to take her hand, speaking
huskily. Helen did not distinguish what he said. The
frightened old woman knelt, with unsteady fingers fumbling
over the rents in Helen's dress. The moment came when
Helen's quivering began to subside, when her blood quieted
to let her reason sway, when she began to do battle with her
rage, and slowly to take fearful stock of this consuming
peril that had been a sleeping tigress in her veins.
"Oh, Miss Helen, you looked so turrible, I made sure you was
hurted," the old woman was saying.
Helen gazed strangely at her bruised wrists, at the one
stocking that hung down over her shoe-top, at the rent I
which had bared her shoulder to the profane gaze of those
grinning, beady-eyed Mexicans.
"My body's -- not hurt," she whispered.
Roy had lost some of his whiteness, and where his eyes had
been fierce they were now kind.
"Wal, Miss Nell, it's lucky no harm's done. . . . Now if
you'll only see this whole deal clear! . . . Not let it
spoil your sweet way of lookin' an' hopin'! If you can only
see what's raw in this West -- an' love it jest the same!"
Helen only half divined his meaning, but that was enough for
a future reflection. The West was beautiful, but hard. In
the faces of these friends she began to see the meaning of
the keen, sloping lines, and shadows of pain, of a lean,
naked truth, cut as from marble.
"For the land's sakes, tell us all about it," importuned
Whereupon Helen shut her eyes and told the brief narrative
of her expulsion from her home.
"Shore we-all expected thet," said Roy. "An' it's jest as
well you're here with a whole skin. Beasley's in possession
now an' I reckon we'd all sooner hev you away from thet
"But, Roy, I won't let Beasley stay there," cried Helen.
"Miss Nell, shore by the time this here Pine has growed big
enough fer law you'll hev gray in thet pretty hair. You
can't put Beasley off with your honest an' rightful claim.
Al Auchincloss was a hard driver. He made enemies an' he
made some he didn't kill. The evil men do lives after them.
An' you've got to suffer fer Al's sins, though Al was as
good as any man who ever prospered in these parts."
"Oh, what can I do? I won't give up. I've been robbed. Can't
the people help me? Must I meekly sit with my hands crossed
while that half-breed thief -- Oh, it's unbelievable!"
"I reckon you'll jest hev to be patient fer a few days,"
said Roy, calmly. "It'll all come right in the end."
"Roy! You've had this deal, as you call it, all worked out
in mind for a long time!" exclaimed Helen.
"Shore, an' I 'ain't missed a reckonin' yet."
"Then what will happen -- in a few days?"
"Nell Rayner, are you goin' to hev some spunk an' not lose
your nerve again or go wild out of your head?"
"I'll try to be brave, but -- but I must be prepared," she
"Wal, there's Dale an' Las Vegas an' me fer Beasley to
reckon with. An', Miss Nell, his chances fer long life are
as pore as his chances fer heaven!"
"But, Roy, I don't believe in deliberate taking of life,"
replied Helen, shuddering. "That's against my religion. I
won't allow it. . . . And -- then -- think, Dale, all of you
-- in danger!"
"Girl, how 're you ever goin' to help yourself ? Shore you
might hold Dale back, if you love him, an' swear you won't
give yourself to him. . . . An' I reckon I'd respect your
religion, if you was goin' to suffer through me. . . . But
not Dale nor you -- nor Bo -- nor love or heaven or hell can
ever stop thet cowboy Las Vegas!"
"Oh, if Dale brings Bo back to me -- what will I care for my
ranch?" murmured Helen.
"Reckon you'll only begin to care when thet happens. Your
big hunter has got to be put to work," replied Roy, with his
Before noon that day the baggage Helen had packed at home
was left on the porch of Widow Cass's cottage, and Helen's
anxious need of the hour was satisfied. She was made
comfortable in the old woman's one spare room, and she set
herself the task of fortitude and endurance.
To her surprise, many of Mrs. Cass's neighbors came
unobtrusively to the back door of the little cottage and
made sympathetic inquiries. They appeared a subdued and
apprehensive group, and whispered to one another as they
left. Helen gathered from their visits a conviction that the
wives of the men dominated by Beasley believed no good could
come of this high-handed taking over of the ranch. Indeed,
Helen found at the end of the day that a strength had been
borne of her misfortune.
The next day Roy informed her that his brother John had come
down the preceding night with the news of Beasley's descent
upon the ranch. Not a shot had been fired, and the only
damage done was that of the burning of a hay-filled barn.
This had been set on fire to attract Helen's men to one
spot, where Beasley had ridden down upon them with three
times their number. He had boldly ordered them off the land,
unless they wanted to acknowledge him boss and remain there
in his service. The three Beemans had stayed, having planned
that just in this event they might be valuable to Helen's
interests. Beasley had ridden down into Pine the same as
upon any other day. Roy reported also news which had come in
that morning, how Beasley's crowd had celebrated late the
The second and third and fourth days endlessly wore away,
and Helen believed they had made her old. At night she lay
awake most of the time, thinking and praying, but during the
afternoon she got some sleep. She could think of nothing and
talk of nothing except her sister, and Dale's chances of
"Well, shore you pay Dale a pore compliment," finally
protested the patient Roy. "I tell you -- Milt Dale can do
anythin' he wants to do in the woods. You can believe thet.
. . . But I reckon he'll run chances after he comes back."
This significant speech thrilled Helen with its assurance of
hope, and made her blood curdle at the implied peril
awaiting the hunter.
On the afternoon of the fifth day Helen was abruptly
awakened from her nap. The sun had almost set. She heard
voices -- the shrill, cackling notes of old Mrs. Cass, high
in excitement, a deep voice that made Helen tingle all over,
a girl's laugh, broken but happy. There were footsteps and
stamping of hoofs. Dale had brought Bo back! Helen knew it.
She grew very weak, and had to force herself to stand erect.
Her heart began to pound in her very ears. A sweet and
perfect joy suddenly flooded her soul. She thanked God her
prayers had been answered. Then suddenly alive with sheer
mad physical gladness, she rushed out.
She was just in time to see Roy Beeman stalk out as if he
had never been shot, and with a yell greet a big, gray-clad,
gray-faced man -- Dale.
"Howdy, Roy! Glad to see you up," said Dale. How the quiet
voice steadied Helen! She beheld Bo. Bo, looking the same,
except a little pale and disheveled! Then Bo saw her and
leaped at her, into her arms.
"Nell! I'm here! Safe -- all right! Never was so happy in my
life. . . . Oh-h! talk about your adventures! Nell, you dear
old mother to me -- I've had e-enough forever!"
Bo was wild with joy, and by turns she laughed and cried.
But Helen could not voice her feelings. Her eyes were so dim
that she could scarcely see Dale when he loomed over her as
she held Bo. But he found the hand she put shakily out.
"Nell! . . . Reckon it's been harder -- on you." His voice
was earnest and halting. She felt his searching gaze upon
her face. "Mrs. Cass said you were here. An' I know why."
Roy led them all indoors.
"Milt, one of the neighbor boys will take care of thet
hoss," he said, as Dale turned toward the dusty and weary
Ranger. "Where'd you leave the cougar?"
"I sent him home," replied Date.
"Laws now, Milt, if this ain't grand!" cackled Mrs. Cass.
"We've worried some here. An' Miss Helen near starved
a-hopin' fer you."
"Mother, I reckon the girl an' I are nearer starved than
anybody you know," replied Dale, with a grim laugh.
"Fer the land's sake! I'll be fixin' supper this minit."
"Nell, why are you here?" asked Bo, suspiciously.
For answer Helen led her sister into the spare room and
closed the door. Bo saw the baggage. Her expression changed.
The old blaze leaped to the telltale eyes.
"He's done it!" she cried, hotly.
"Dearest -- thank God. I've got you -- back again!" murmured
Helen, finding her voice. "Nothing else matters! . . . I've
prayed only for that!"
"Good old Nell!" whispered Bo, and she kissed and embraced
Helen. "You really mean that, I know. But nix for yours
truly! I'm back alive and kicking, you bet. . . . Where's my
-- where's Tom?"
"Bo, not a word has been heard of him for five days. He's
searching for you, of course."
"And you've been -- been put off the ranch?"
"Well, rather," replied Helen, and in a few trembling words
she told the story of her eviction.
Bo uttered a wild word that had more force than elegance,
but it became her passionate resentment of this outrage done
"Oh! . . . Does Tom Carmichael know this?" she added,
"How could he?"
"When he finds out, then -- Oh, won't there be hell? I'm
glad I got here first. . . . Nell, my boots haven't been off
the whole blessed time. Help me. And oh, for some soap and
hot water and some clean clothes! Nell, old girl, I wasn't
raised right for these Western deals. Too luxurious!"
And then Helen had her ears filled with a rapid-fire account
of running horses and Riggs and outlaws and Beasley called
boldly to his teeth, and a long ride and an outlaw who was a
hero -- a fight with Riggs -- blood and death -- another
long ride -- a wild camp in black woods -- night -- lonely,
ghostly sounds -- and day again -- plot -- a great actress
lost to the world -- Ophelia -- Snakes and Ansons --
hoodooed outlaws -- mournful moans and terrible cries --
cougar -- stampede -- fight and shots, more blood and death
-- Wilson hero -- another Tom Carmichael -- fallen in love
with outlaw gun-fighter if -- black night and Dale and horse
and rides and starved and, "Oh, Nell, he WAS from Texas!"
Helen gathered that wonderful and dreadful events had hung
over the bright head of this beloved little sister, but the
bewilderment occasioned by Bo's fluent and remarkable
utterance left only that last sentence clear.
Presently Helen got a word in to inform Bo that Mrs. Cass
had knocked twice for supper, and that welcome news checked
Bo's flow of speech when nothing else seemed adequate.
It was obvious to Helen that Roy and Dale had exchanged
stories. Roy celebrated this reunion by sitting at table the
first time since he had been shot; and despite Helen's
misfortune and the suspended waiting balance in the air the
occasion was joyous. Old Mrs. Cass was in the height of her
glory. She sensed a romance here, and, true to her sex, she
radiated to it.
Daylight was still lingering when Roy got up and went out on
the porch. His keen ears had heard something. Helen fancied
she herself had heard rapid hoof-beats.
"Dale, come out!" called Roy, sharply.
The hunter moved with his swift, noiseless agility. Helen
and Bo followed, halting in the door.
"Thet's Las Vegas," whispered Dale.
To Helen it seemed that the cowboy's name changed the very
Voices were heard at the gate; one that, harsh and quick,
sounded like Carmichael's. And a spirited horse was pounding
and scattering gravel. Then a lithe figure appeared,
striding up the path. It was Carmichael -- yet not the
Carmichael Helen knew. She heard Bo's strange little cry, a
corroboration of her own impression.
Roy might never have been shot, judging from the way he
stepped out, and Dale was almost as quick. Carmichael
reached them -- grasped them with swift, hard hands.
"Boys -- I jest rode in. An' they said you'd found her!"
"Shore, Las Vegas. Dale fetched her home safe an' sound. . .
. There she is."
The cowboy thrust aside the two men, and with a long stride
he faced the porch, his piercing eyes on the door. All that
Helen could think of his look was that it seemed terrible.
Bo stepped outside in front of Helen. Probably she would
have run straight into Carmichael's arms if some strange
instinct had not withheld her. Helen judged it to be fear;
she found her heart lifting painfully.
"Bo!" he yelled, like a savage, yet he did not in the least
"Oh -- Tom!" cried Bo, falteringly. She half held out her
"You, girl?" That seemed to be his piercing query, like the
quivering blade in his eyes. Two more long strides carried
him close up to her, and his look chased the red out of Bo's
cheek. Then it was beautiful to see his face marvelously
change until it was that of the well remembered Las Vegas
magnified in all his old spirit.
"Aw!" The exclamation was a tremendous sigh. "I shore am
That beautiful flash left his face as he wheeled to the men.
He wrung Dale's hand long and hard, and his gaze confused
the older man.
"RIGGS!" he said, and in the jerk of his frame as he whipped
out the word disappeared the strange, fleeting signs of his
"Wilson killed him," replied Dale.
"Jim Wilson -- that old Texas Ranger! . . . Reckon he lent
you a hand?"
"My friend, he saved Bo," replied Dale, with emotion. "My
old cougar an' me -- we just hung 'round."
"You made Wilson help you?" cut in the hard voice.
"Yes. But he killed Riggs before I come up an' I reckon he'd
done well by Bo if I'd never got there."
"How about the gang?"
"All snuffed out, I reckon, except Wilson."
"Somebody told me Beasley hed ran Miss Helen off the ranch.
"Yes. Four of his greasers packed her down the hill -- most
tore her clothes off, so Roy tells me."
"Four greasers! . . . Shore it was Beasley's deal clean
"Yes. Riggs was led. He had an itch for a bad name, you
know. But Beasley made the plan. It was Nell they wanted
instead of Bo."
Abruptly Carmichael stalked off down the darkening path, his
silver heel-plates ringing, his spurs jingling.
"Hold on, Carmichael," called Dale, taking a step.
"Oh, Tom!" cried Bo.
"Shore folks callin' won't be no use, if anythin would be,"
said Roy. "Las Vegas has hed a look at red liquor."
"He's been drinking! Oh, that accounts! . . . he never --
never even touched me!"
For once Helen was not ready to comfort Bo. A mighty tug at
her heart had sent her with flying, uneven steps toward
Dale. He took another stride down the path, and another.
"Dale -- oh -- please stop!" she called, very low.
He halted as if he had run sharply into a bar across the
path. When he turned Helen had come close. Twilight was deep
there in the shade of the peach-trees, but she could see his
face, the hungry, flaring eyes.
"I -- I haven't thanked you -- yet -- for bringing Bo home,"
"Nell, never mind that," he said, in surprise. "If you must
-- why, wait. I've got to catch up with that cowboy."
"No. Let me thank you now," she whispered, and, stepping
closer, she put her arms up, meaning to put them round his
neck. That action must be her self-punishment for the other
time she had done it. Yet it might also serve to thank him.
But, strangely, her hands got no farther than his breast,
and fluttered there to catch hold of the fringe of his
buckskin jacket. She felt a heave of his deep chest.
"I -- I do thank you -- with all my heart," she said,
softly. "I owe you now -- for myself and her -- more than I
can ever repay."
"Nell, I'm your friend," he replied, hurriedly. "Don't talk
of repayin' me. Let me go now -- after Las Vegas."
"What for?" she queried, suddenly.
"I mean to line up beside him -- at the bar -- or wherever
he goes," returned Dale.
"Don't tell me that. _I_ know. You're going straight to meet
"Nell, if you hold me up any longer I reckon I'll have to
run -- or never get to Beasley before that cowboy."
Helen locked her fingers in the fringe of his jacket --
leaned closer to him, all her being responsive to a bursting
gust of blood over her.
"I'll not let you go," she said.
He laughed, and put his great hands over hers. "What 're you
sayin', girl? You can't stop me."
"Yes, I can. Dale, I don't want you to risk your life."
He stared at her, and made as if to tear her hands from
"Listen -- please -- oh -- please!" she implored. "If you go
deliberately to kill Beasley -- and do it -- that will be
murder. . . . It's against my religion. . . . I would be
unhappy all my life."
"But, child, you'll be ruined all your life if Beasley is
not dealt with -- as men of his breed are always dealt with
in the West," he remonstrated, and in one quick move he had
freed himself from her clutching fingers.
Helen, with a move as swift, put her arms round his neck and
clasped her hands tight.
"Milt, I'm finding myself," she said. "The other day, when I
did -- this -- you made an excuse for me. . . . I'm not
She meant to keep him from killing Beasley if she sacrificed
every last shred of her pride. And she stamped the look of
his face on her heart of hearts to treasure always. The
thrill, the beat of her pulses, almost obstructed her
thought of purpose.
"Nell, just now -- when you're overcome -- rash with
feelin's -- don't say to me -- a word -- a --"
He broke down huskily.
"My first friend -- my -- Oh Dale, I KNOW you love me! she
whispered. And she hid her face on his breast, there to feel
a tremendous tumult.
"Oh, don't you?" she cried, in low, smothered voice, as his
silence drove her farther on this mad, yet glorious purpose.
"If you need to be told -- yes -- I reckon I do love you,
Nell Rayner," he replied.
It seemed to Helen that he spoke from far off. She lifted
her face, her heart on her lips.
"If you kill Beasley I'll never marry you," she said.
"Who's expectin' you to?" he asked, with low, hoarse laugh.
"Do you think you have to marry me to square accounts?
This's the only time you ever hurt me, Nell Rayner. . . .
I'm 'shamed you could think I'd expect you -- out of
"Oh -- you -- you are as dense as the forest where you
live," she cried. And then she shut her eyes again, the
better to remember that transfiguration of his face, the
better to betray herself.
"Man -- I love you!" Full and deep, yet tremulous, the words
burst from her heart that had been burdened with them for
many a day.
Then it seemed, in the throbbing riot of her senses, that
she was lifted and swung into his arms, and handled with a
great and terrible tenderness, and hugged and kissed with
the hunger and awkwardness of a bear, and held with her feet
off the ground, and rendered blind, dizzy, rapturous, and
frightened, and utterly torn asunder from her old calm,
He put her down -- released her.
"Nothin' could have made me so happy as what you said." He
finished with a strong sigh of unutterable, wondering joy.
"Then you will not go to -- to meet --"
Helen's happy query froze on her lips.
"I've got to go!" he rejoined, with his old, quiet voice.
"Hurry in to Bo. . . . An' don't worry. Try to think of
things as I taught you up in the woods."
Helen heard his soft, padded footfalls swiftly pass away.
She was left there, alone in the darkening twilight,
suddenly cold and stricken, as if turned to stone.
Thus she stood an age-long moment until the upflashing truth
galvanized her into action. Then she flew in pursuit of
Dale. The truth was that, in spite of Dale's' early training
in the East and the long years of solitude which had made
him wonderful in thought and feeling, he had also become a
part of this raw, bold, and violent West.
It was quite dark now and she had run quite some distance
before she saw Dale's tall, dark form against the yellow
light of Turner's saloon.
Somehow, in that poignant moment, when her flying feet kept
pace with her heart, Helen felt in herself a force opposing
itself against this raw, primitive justice of the West. She
was one of the first influences emanating from civilized
life, from law and order. In that flash of truth she saw the
West as it would be some future time, when through women and
children these wild frontier days would be gone forever.
Also, just as clearly she saw the present need of men like
Roy Beeman and Dale and the fire-blooded Carmichael. Beasley
and his kind must be killed. But Helen did not want her
lover, her future husband, and the probable father of her
children to commit what she held to be murder.
At the door of the saloon she caught up with Dale.
"Milt -- oh -- wait!' -- wait!" she panted.
She heard him curse under his breath as he turned. They were
alone in the yellow flare of light. Horses were champing
bits and drooping before the rails.
"You go back!" ordered Dale, sternly. His face was pale, his
eyes were gleaming.
"No! Not till -- you take me -- or carry me!" she replied,
resolutely, with all a woman's positive and inevitable
Then he laid hold of her with ungentle hands. His violence,
especially the look on his face, terrified Helen, rendered
her weak. But nothing could have shaken her resolve. She
felt victory. Her sex, her love, and her presence would be
too much for Dale.
As he swung Helen around, the low hum of voices inside the
saloon suddenly rose to sharp, hoarse roars, accompanied by
a scuffling of feet and crashing of violently sliding chairs
or tables. Dale let go of Helen and leaped toward the door.
But a silence inside, quicker and stranger than the roar,
halted him. Helen's heart contracted, then seemed to cease
beating. There was absolutely not a perceptible sound. Even
the horses appeared, like Dale, to have turned to statues.
Two thundering shots annihilated this silence. Then quickly
came a lighter shot -- the smash of glass. Dale ran into the
saloon. The horses began to snort, to rear, to pound. A low,
muffled murmur terrified Helen even as it drew her. Dashing
at the door, she swung it in and entered.
The place was dim, blue-hazed, smelling of smoke. Dale stood
just inside the door. On the floor lay two men. Chairs and
tables were overturned. A motley, dark, shirt-sleeved,
booted, and belted crowd of men appeared hunched against the
opposite wall, with pale, set faces, turned to the bar.
Turner, the proprietor, stood at one end, his face livid,
his hands aloft and shaking. Carmichael leaned against the
middle of the bar. He held a gun low down. It was smoking.
With a gasp Helen flashed her eyes back to Dale. He had seen
her -- was reaching an arm toward her. Then she saw the man
lying almost at her feet. Jeff Mulvey -- her uncle's old
foreman! His face was awful to behold. A smoking gun lay
near his inert hand. The other man had fallen on his face.
His garb proclaimed him a Mexican. He was not yet dead. Then
Helen, as she felt Dale's arm encircle her, looked farther,
because she could not prevent it -- looked on at that
strange figure against the bar -- this boy who had been such
a friend in her hour of need -- this nai;ve and frank
sweetheart of her sister's.
She saw a man now -- wild, white, intense as fire, with some
terrible cool kind of deadliness in his mien. His left elbow
rested upon the bar, and his hand held a glass of red
liquor. The big gun, low down in his other hand, seemed as
steady as if it were a fixture.
"Heah's to thet -- half-breed Beasley an' his outfit!"
Carmichael drank, while his flaming eyes held the crowd;
then with savage action of terrible passion he flung the
glass at the quivering form of the still living Mexican on
Helen felt herself slipping. All seemed to darken around
her. She could not see Dale, though she knew he held her.
Then she fainted.
Las Vegas Carmichael was a product of his day.
The Pan Handle of Texas, the old Chisholm Trail along which
were driven the great cattle herds northward, Fort Dodge,
where the cowboys conflicted with the card-sharps -- these
hard places had left their marks on Carmichael. To come from
Texas was to come from fighting stock. And a cowboy's life
was strenuous, wild, violent, and generally brief. The
exceptions were the fortunate and the swiftest men with
guns; and they drifted from south to north and west, taking
with them the reckless, chivalrous, vitriolic spirit
peculiar to their breed.
The pioneers and ranchers of the frontier would never have
made the West habitable had it not been for these wild
cowboys, these hard-drinking, hard-riding, hard-living
rangers of the barrens, these easy, cool, laconic, simple
young men whose blood was tinged with fire and who possessed
a magnificent and terrible effrontery toward danger and
Las Vegas ran his horse from Widow Cass's cottage to
Turner's saloon, and the hoofs of the goaded steed crashed
in the door. Las Vegas's entrance was a leap. Then he stood
still with the door ajar and the horse pounding and snorting
back. All the men in that saloon who saw the entrance of Las
Vegas knew what it portended. No thunderbolt could have more
quickly checked the drinking, gambling, talking crowd. They
recognized with kindred senses the nature of the man and his
arrival. For a second the blue-hazed room was perfectly
quiet, then men breathed, moved, rose, and suddenly caused a
quick, sliding crash of chairs and tables.
The cowboy's glittering eyes flashed to and fro, and then
fixed on Mulvey and his Mexican companion. That glance
singled out these two, and the sudden rush of nervous men
proved it. Mulvey and the sheep-herder were left alone in
the center of the floor.
"Howdy, Jeff ! Where's your boss?" asked Las Vegas. His
voice was cool, friendly; his manner was easy, natural; but
the look of him was what made Mulvey pale and the Mexican
"Reckon he's home," replied Mulvey.
"Home? What's he call home now?"
"He's hangin' out hyar at Auchincloss's," replied Mulvey.
His voice was not strong, but his eyes were steady,
Las Vegas quivered all over as if stung. A flame that seemed
white and red gave his face a singular hue.
"Jeff, you worked for old Al a long time, an' I've heard of
your differences," said Las Vegas. "Thet ain't no mix of
mine. . . . But you double-crossed Miss Helen!"
Mulvey made no attempt to deny this. He gulped slowly. His
hands appeared less steady, and he grew paler. Again Las
Vegas's words signified less than his look. And that look
now included the Mexican.
"Pedro, you're one of Beasley's old hands," said Las Vegas,
accusingly. "An' -- you was one of them four greasers thet
Here the cowboy choked and bit over his words as if they
were a material poison. The Mexican showed his guilt and
cowardice. He began to jabber.
"Shet up!" hissed Las Vegas, with a savage and significant
jerk of his arm, as if about to strike. But that action was
read for its true meaning. Pell-mell the crowd split to rush
each way and leave an open space behind the three.
Las Vegas waited. But Mulvey seemed obstructed. The Mexican
looked dangerous through his fear. His fingers twitched as
if the tendons running up into his arms were being pulled.
An instant of suspense -- more than long enough for Mulvey
to be tried and found wanting -- and Las Vegas, with laugh
and sneer, turned his back upon the pair and stepped to the
bar. His call for a bottle made Turner jump and hold it out
with shaking hands. Las Vegas poured out a drink, while his
gaze was intent on the scarred old mirror hanging behind the
This turning his back upon men he had just dared to draw
showed what kind of a school Las Vegas had been trained in.
If those men had been worthy antagonists of his class he
would never have scorned them. As it was, when Mulvey and
the Mexican jerked at their guns, Las Vegas swiftly wheeled
and shot twice. Mulvey's gun went off as he fell, and the
Mexican doubled up in a heap on the floor. Then Las Vegas
reached around with his left hand for the drink he had
At this juncture Dale burst into the saloon, suddenly to
check his impetus, to swerve aside toward the bar and halt.
The door had not ceased swinging when again it was propelled
inward, this time to admit Helen Rayner, white and
In another moment then Las Vegas had spoken his deadly toast
to Beasley's gang and had fiercely flung the glass at the
writhing Mexican on the floor. Also Dale had gravitated
toward the reeling Helen to catch her when she fainted.
Las Vegas began to curse, and, striding to Dale, he pushed
him out of the saloon.
"--! What 're you doin' heah?" he yelled, stridently.
"Hevn't you got thet girl to think of? Then do it, you big
Indian! Lettin' her run after you heah -- riskin' herself
thet way! You take care of her an' Bo an' leave this deal to
The cowboy, furious as he was at Dale, yet had keen, swift
eyes for the horses near at hand, and the men out in the dim
light. Dale lifted the girl into his arms, and, turning
without a word, stalked away to disappear in the darkness.
Las Vegas, holding his gun low, returned to the bar-room. If
there had been any change in the crowd it was slight. The
tension had relaxed. Turner no longer stood with hands up.
"You-all go on with your fun," called the cowboy, with a
sweep of his gun. "But it'd be risky fer any one to start
With that he backed against the bar, near where the black
bottle stood. Turner walked out to begin righting tables and
chairs, and presently the crowd, with some caution and
suspense, resumed their games and drinking. It was
significant that a wide berth lay between them and the door.
From time to time Turner served liquor to men who called for
Las Vegas leaned with back against the bar. After a while he
sheathed his gun and reached around for the bottle. He drank
with his piercing eyes upon the door. No one entered and no
one went out. The games of chance there and the drinking
were not enjoyed. It was a hard scene -- that smoky, long,
ill-smelling room, with its dim, yellow lights, and dark,
evil faces, with the stealthy-stepping Turner passing to and
fro, and the dead Mulvey staring in horrible fixidity at the
ceiling, and the Mexican quivering more and more until he
shook violently, then lay still, and with the drinking,
somber, waiting cowboy, more fiery and more flaming with
every drink, listening for a step that did not come.
Time passed, and what little change it wrought was in the
cowboy. Drink affected him, but he did not become drunk. It
seemed that the liquor he drank was consumed by a mounting
fire. It was fuel to a driving passion. He grew more sullen,
somber, brooding, redder of eye and face, more crouching and
restless. At last, when the hour was so late that there was
no probability of Beasley appearing, Las Vegas flung himself
out of the saloon.
All lights of the village had now been extinguished. The
tired horses drooped in the darkness. Las Vegas found his
horse and led him away down the road and out a lane to a
field where a barn stood dim and dark in the starlight.
Morning was not far off. He unsaddled the horse and, turning
him loose, went into the barn. Here he seemed familiar with
his surroundings, for he found a ladder and climbed to a
loft, where be threw himself on the hay.
He rested, but did not sleep. At daylight he went down and
brought his horse into the barn. Sunrise found Las Vegas
pacing to and fro the short length of the interior, and
peering out through wide cracks between the boards. Then
during the succeeding couple of hours he watched the
occasional horseman and wagon and herder that passed on into
About the breakfast hour Las Vegas saddled his horse and
rode back the way he had come the night before. At Turner's
he called for something to eat as well as for whisky. After
that he became a listening, watching machine. He drank
freely for an hour; then he stopped. He seemed to be drunk,
but with a different kind of drunkenness from that usual in
drinking men. Savage, fierce, sullen, he was one to avoid.
Turner waited on him in evident fear.
At length Las Vegas's condition became such that action was
involuntary. He could not stand still nor sit down. Stalking
out, he passed the store, where men slouched back to avoid
him, and he went down the road, wary and alert, as if he
expected a rifle-shot from some hidden enemy. Upon his
return down that main thoroughfare of the village not a
person was to be seen. He went in to Turner's. The
proprietor was there at his post, nervous and pale. Las
Vegas did not order any more liquor.
"Turner, I reckon I'll bore you next time I run in heah," he
said, and stalked out.
He had the stores, the road, the village, to himself; and he
patrolled a beat like a sentry watching for an Indian
Toward noon a single man ventured out into the road to
accost the cowboy.
"Las Vegas, I'm tellin' you -- all the greasers air leavin'
the range," he said.
"Howdy, Abe!" replied Las Vegas. "What 'n hell you talkin'
The man repeated his information. And Las Vegas spat out
"Abe -- you heah what Beasley's doin'?"
"Yes. He's with his men -- up at the ranch. Reckon he can't
put off ridin' down much longer."
That was where the West spoke. Beasley would be forced to
meet the enemy who had come out single-handed against him.
Long before this hour a braver man would have come to face
Las Vegas. Beasley could not hire any gang to bear the brunt
of this situation. This was the test by which even his own
men must judge him. All of which was to say that as the
wildness of the West had made possible his crimes, so it now
held him responsible for them.
"Abe, if thet -- greaser don't rustle down heah I'm goin'
"Sure. But don't be in no hurry," replied Abe.
"I'm waltzin' to slow music. . . . Gimme a smoke."
With fingers that slightly trembled Abe rolled a cigarette,
lit it from his own, and handed it to the cowboy.
"Las Vegas, I reckon I hear hosses," he said, suddenly.
"Me, too," replied Las Vegas, with his head high like that
of a listening deer. Apparently he forgot the cigarette and
also his friend. Abe hurried back to the store, where he
Las Vegas began his stalking up and down, and his action now
was an exaggeration of all his former movements. A rational,
ordinary mortal from some Eastern community, happening to
meet this red-faced cowboy, would have considered him drunk
or crazy. Probably Las Vegas looked both. But all the same
he was a marvelously keen and strung and efficient
instrument to meet the portending issue. How many thousands
of times, on the trails, and in the wide-streeted little
towns all over the West, had this stalk of the cowboy's been
perpetrated! Violent, bloody, tragic as it was, it had an
importance in that pioneer day equal to the use of a horse
or the need of a plow.
At length Pine was apparently a deserted village, except for
Las Vegas, who patrolled his long beat in many ways -- he
lounged while he watched; he stalked like a mountaineer; he
stole along Indian fashion, stealthily, from tree to tree,
from corner to corner; he disappeared in the saloon to
reappear at the back; he slipped round behind the barns to
come out again in the main road; and time after time he
approached his horse as if deciding to mount.
The last visit he made into Turner's saloon he found no one
there. Savagely he pounded on the bar with his gun. He got
no response. Then the long-pent-up rage burst. With wild
whoops he pulled another gun and shot at the mirror, the
lamps. He shot the neck off a bottle and drank till be
choked, his neck corded, bulging, and purple. His only slow
and deliberate action was the reloading of his gun. Then he
crashed through the doors, and with a wild yell leaped sheer
into the saddle, hauling his horse up high and goading him
to plunge away.
Men running to the door and windows of the store saw a
streak of dust flying down the road. And then they trooped
out to see it disappear. The hour of suspense ended for
them. Las Vegas had lived up to the code of the West, had
dared his man out, had waited far longer than needful to
prove that man a coward. Whatever the issue now, Beasley was
branded forever. That moment saw the decline of whatever
power he had wielded. He and his men might kill the cowboy
who had ridden out alone to face him, but that would not
change the brand.
The preceding night Beasley bad been finishing a late supper
at his newly acquired ranch, when Buck Weaver, one of his
men, burst in upon him with news of the death of Mulvey and
"Who's in the outfit? How many?" he had questioned, quickly.
"It's a one-man outfit, boss," replied Weaver.
Beasley appeared astounded. He and his men had prepared to
meet the friends of the girl whose property he had taken
over, and because of the superiority of his own force he had
anticipated no bloody or extended feud. This amazing
circumstance put the case in very much more difficult form.
"One man!" he ejaculated.
"Yep. Thet cowboy Las Vegas. An,' boss, he turns out to be a
gun-slinger from Texas. I was in Turner's. Hed jest happened
to step in the other room when Las Vegas come bustin' in on
his boss an' jumped off. . . . Fust thing he called Jeff an'
Pedro. They both showed yaller. An' then, damn if thet
cowboy didn't turn his back on them an' went to the bar fer
a drink. But he was lookin' in the mirror an' when Jeff an'
Pedro went fer their guns why he whirled quick as lightnin'
an' bored them both. . . . I sneaked out an --"
"Why didn't you bore him?" roared Beasley.
Buck Weaver steadily eyed his boss before he replied. "I
ain't takin' shots at any fellar from behind doors. An' as
fer meetin' Las Vegas -- excoose me, boss! I've still a
hankerin' fer sunshine an' red liquor. Besides, I 'ain't got
nothin' ag'in' Las Vegas. If he's rustled over here at the
head of a crowd to put us off I'd fight, jest as we'd all
fight. But you see we figgered wrong. It's between you an'
Las Vegas! . . . You oughter seen him throw thet hunter Dale
out of Turner's."
"Dale! Did he come?" queried Beasley.
"He got there just after the cowboy plugged Jeff. An' thet
big-eyed girl, she came runnin' in, too. An' she keeled over
in Dale's arms. Las Vegas shoved him out -- cussed him so
hard we all heerd. . . . So, Beasley, there ain't no fight
comin, off as we figgered on."
Beasley thus heard the West speak out of the mouth of his
own man. And grim, sardonic, almost scornful, indeed, were
the words of Buck Weaver. This rider had once worked for Al
Auchincloss and had deserted to Beasley under Mulvey's
leadership. Mulvey was dead and the situation was vastly
Beasley gave Weaver a dark, lowering glance, and waved him
away. From the door Weaver sent back a doubtful,
scrutinizing gaze, then slouched out. That gaze Beasley had
not encountered before.
It meant, as Weaver's cronies meant, as Beasley's
long-faithful riders, and the people of the range, and as
the spirit of the West meant, that Beasley was expected to
march down into the village to face his single foe.
But Beasley did not go. Instead he paced to and fro the
length of Helen Rayner's long sitting-room with the nervous
energy of a man who could not rest. Many times he hesitated,
and at others he made sudden movements toward the door, only
to halt. Long after midnight he went to bed, but not to
sleep. He tossed and rolled all night, and at dawn arose,
gloomy and irritable.
He cursed the Mexican serving-women who showed their
displeasure at his authority. And to his amaze and rage not
one of his men came to the house. He waited and waited. Then
he stalked off to the corrals and stables carrying a rifle
with him. The men were there, in a group that dispersed
somewhat at his advent. Not a Mexican was in sight.
Beasley ordered the horses to be saddled and all hands to go
down into the village with him. That order was disobeyed.
Beasley stormed and raged. His riders sat or lounged, with
lowered faces. An unspoken hostility seemed present. Those
who had been longest with him were least distant and
strange, but still they did not obey. At length Beasley
roared for his Mexicans.
"Boss, we gotta tell you thet every greaser on the ranch hes
sloped -- gone these two hours -- on the way to Magdalena,"
said Buck Weaver.
Of all these sudden-uprising perplexities this latest was
the most astounding. Beasley cursed with his questioning
"Boss, they was sure scared of thet gun-slingin' cowboy from
Texas," replied Weaver, imperturbably.
Beasley's dark, swarthy face changed its hue. What of the
subtle reflection in Weaver's slow speech! One of the men
came out of a corral leading Beasley's saddled and bridled
horse. This fellow dropped the bridle and sat down among his
comrades without a word. No one spoke. The presence of the
horse was significant. With a snarling, muttered curse,
Beasley took up his rifle and strode back to the
In his rage and passion he did not realize what his men had
known for hours -- that if he had stood any chance at all
for their respect as well as for his life the hour was long
Beasley avoided the open paths to the house, and when he got
there he nervously poured out a drink. Evidently something
in the fiery liquor frightened him, for he threw the bottle
aside. It was as if that bottle contained a courage which
Again he paced the long sitting-room, growing more and more
wrought-up as evidently he grew familiar with the singular
state of affairs. Twice the pale serving-woman called him to
The dining-room was light and pleasant, and the meal,
fragrant and steaming, was ready for him. But the women had
disappeared. Beasley seated himself -- spread out his big
hands on the table.
Then a slight rustle -- a clink of spur -- startled him. He
twisted his head.
"Howdy, Beasley!" said Las Vegas, who had appeared as if by
Beasley's frame seemed to swell as if a flood had been
loosed in his veins. Sweat-drops stood out on his pallid
"What -- you -- want?" he asked, huskily.
"Wal now, my boss, Miss Helen, says, seein' I am foreman
heah, thet it'd be nice an' proper fer me to drop in an' eat
with you -- THE LAST TIME!" replied the cowboy. His drawl
was slow and cool, his tone was friendly and pleasant. But
his look was that of a falcon ready to drive deep its beak.
Beasley's reply was loud, incoherent, hoarse.
Las Vegas seated himself across from Beasley.
"Eat or not, it's shore all the same to me," said Las Vegas,
and he began to load his plate with his left hand. His right
hand rested very lightly, with just the tips of his
vibrating fingers on the edge of the table; and he never for
the slightest fraction of a second took his piercing eyes
"Wal, my half-breed greaser guest, it shore roils up my
blood to see you sittin' there -- thinkin' you've put my
boss, Miss Helen, off this ranch," began Las Vegas, softly.
And then he helped himself leisurely to food and drink. "In
my day I've shore stacked up against a lot of outlaws,
thieves, rustlers, an' sich like, but fer an out an' out
dirty low-down skunk, you shore take the dough! . . . I'm
goin, to kill you in a minit or so, jest as soon as you move
one of them dirty paws of yourn. But I hope you'll be polite
an' let me say a few words. I'll never be happy again if you
don't. . . . Of all the -- yaller greaser dogs I ever seen,
you're the worst! . . . I was thinkin' last night mebbe
you'd come down an' meet me like a man, so 's I could wash
my hands ever afterward without gettin' sick to my stummick.
But you didn't come. . . . Beasley, I'm so ashamed of myself
thet I gotta call you -- when I ought to bore you, thet -- I
ain't even second cousin to my old self when I rode fer
Chisholm. It don't mean nuthin' to you to call you liar!
robber! blackleg! a sneakin' coyote! an' a cheat thet hires
others to do his dirty work! . . . By Gawd! --"
"Carmichael, gimme a word in," hoarsely broke out Beasley.
"You're right, it won't do no good to call me. . . . But
let's talk. . . . I'll buy you off. Ten thousand dollars --"
"Haw! Haw! Haw!" roared Las Vegas. He was as tense as a
strung cord and his face possessed a singular pale radiance.
His right hand began to quiver more and more.
"I'll -- double -- it!" panted Beasley. "I'll -- make over
-- half the ranch -- all the stock --"
"Swaller thet!" yelled Las Vegas, with terrible strident
"Listen -- man! . . . I take -- it back! . . . I'll give up
-- Auchincloss's ranch!" Beasley was now a shaking,
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