The Seventh Man
Part 3 out of 5
thing to do was to note these by-plays from the corner of one's eye, as
Daddy Dan did, and swallow the ripples of mirth that came tickling in the
throat. She knew perfectly well that Satan would have it in the end, for of
all living things not even Munner had such power over Dan as the black
stallion. He maneuvered adroitly. First he circled the table and stood
opposite the master, begging with his eyes, but Dan looked fixedly down at
the rock until an impatient whinny called up his eyes. Then he pretended
the most absolute surprise.
"Why, Satan, you old scoundrel, what are you doin' over there? Get back
where you belong?"
He gestured with a thumb over his shoulder and Satan glided around the rock
and stood once more behind Dan.
"Manners?" continued Dan. "You ain't got 'em. You'll be tryin' to sit down
at the table with me, pretty soon." He concluded: "But I'll teach you one
of these days, and you'll smart for a week."
Even at the mock menace Joan trembled a little, but to her astonishment
Satan paid not the slightest heed. Dan sat with his hat on his head--which
was a new and delightful event at the table--and now the stallion took the
hat by the crown, dexterously, and raised it just an inch and put it back
in place. Black Bart, having crept out of the shadows sat down near Joan
with his long red tongue lolling out. This procedure called a growl from
him, but the master continued eating without the slightest interest,
apparently, in Satan's insolence.
A velvety muzzle appeared, with the chin resting on the shoulder of Dan and
the great, luminous eyes above. He whinnied so softly that it was not more
than a human whisper, and meant almost as much.
"Oh," said Dan, in all seeming just roused to attention, "hungry, old boy?"
He raised the morsel of "pone" between thumb and forefinger, holding it
tightly. Then it was a joy to watch Satan. He tried to tug it all away at
once, but only a fragment broke off. He stamped in impatience, and then
went to work to nibble the bread away on all sides of Dan's fingers, very
fine work for such broad, keen chisels as Satan's teeth, but he went about
it with the skill of long practice, turning his head this way and that and
always watching the face of the master with sidewise eyes, one ear forward
and one ear back. Finally the tight fingers opened out, and Satan gathered
the last crumbs from the smooth palm.
Two or three times during this performance Black Bart had half risen from
his haunches and a growl swelled almost inaudibly in his throat, but now he
stalked around the table and pushed his narrow head between Dan's shoulder
and the stallion. A snarl of incredible ferocity made Satan turn, but
without the slightest dread, apparently. For an instant the two stood nose
to nose, Black Bart a picture of snarling danger and Satan with curiously
pricking ears and bright eyes. The growling rose towards a crescendo, a
terrible sound; then a lean hand shot out with that speed which Joan could
never comprehend--and which always made her think, rather breathlessly, of
the strike of a snake. The fingers settled around the muzzle of Bart.
"Of all the no-good houn'-dogs," declared Dan, "you're the worst, and the
most jealousest. Lie down!"
Bart obeyed, slowly, but his evil eyes were fixed upwards upon the head of
"If you got any manners," remarked Dan, "you'll be sayin' that you're
The ears flattened along the snaky head; otherwise no answer.
"Sorry!" repeated the master.
Out of the deep throat of Black Bart, infinitely, ludicrously small, came a
whine which was more doglike than anything Joan had ever heard, before,
from the wolf.
"Now," continued the implacable master, "you go over in that corner, and
Black Bart arose with a finally ugly look for Satan and sneaked with
hanging head and tail to the outer edge of the circle of light.
"Farther! Clear over there in the dark," came the order, and Bart had to
uncoil himself again in the very act of lying down and retreat with another
ominous growl clear into the darkness. Satan held his head high and watched
But Joan felt that this was a little hard on Bart; she wanted to run over
and comfort him, but she knew from of old that it was dangerous to
interfere where Daddy Dan was disciplining either horse or wolf; besides,
she was not quite free from her new awe for Bart.
"All right," said the master presently, and without raising his voice.
It brought a dark thunder bolt rushing into the circle of the light and
stopping at Dan's side with such suddenness that his paws slid in the
gravel. There he stood, actually wagging his bushy tail--an unprecedented
outburst of joy for Bart!--and staring hungrily into the face of Dan. She
saw a wonderful softening in the eyes of her father as he looked at the
great, dangerous beast.
"You ain't a bad sort," he said, "but you need puttin' in place continual."
Black Bart whined agreement.
After that, when the dishes were being cleared away and cleaned with a
speed fully as marvelous as the preparation of the supper, Joan remembered
with a guilty start the message which she should have given to Daddy Dan,
and she brought out the paper, much rumpled.
He stood by the fire to read the letter.
"Dan come back to us. The house is empty and there's no sign of you except
your clothes and the skins you left drying in the vacant room. Joan sits
all day, mourning for you, and my heart is breaking. Oh, Dan, I don't
grieve so much for what has been done, but I tremble for what you may do in
With the letter still in his hand Dan walked thoughtfully to Satan and took
the fine head between his fingers.
"S'pose some gent was to drop you, Satan," he murmured. "S'pose he was to
plug you while you was doin' your best to take me where I want to go.
S'pose he shot you not for anything you'd done but because of something
agin me. And s'pose after killin' you he was to sneak up on me with a lot
of other gents and try to murder me before I had a chance to fight back.
Satan, wouldn't I be right to trail 'em all--and kill 'em one by one?
Joan heard very little of the words--only a soft murmur of anxiety, and she
saw that Daddy Dan was very thoughtful indeed. The stallion reached for the
brim of Dan's hat--it was withdrawn from his reach--his head bowed, like a
nod of assent.
"Why, even Satan can see I'm right," murmured Dan, and moving back to the
fire, he tore the letter into many pieces which fluttered down in a white
stream and made the blaze leap up.
Chapter XXI. The Acid Test
Mrs. Johnny Sommers managed to preserve her dignity while she escorted the
visitor into the front room, and even while she asked him to sit down and
wait, but once she had closed the door behind her she cast dignity far away
and did two steps at a time going upstairs. The result was that she,
reached the room of Betty Neal entirely out of breath; two hundred pounds
of fat, good-natured widowhood do not go with speed. She tossed open the
door without any preliminary knock and stood there very red with a clearly
defined circle of white in the center of each check. For a moment there was
no sound except her panting and Betty Neal stared wildly at her from above
"He's come!" gasped Mrs. Sommers.
As if this odd explanation made everything clear, Betty Neal sprang from
her chair and she grew so pale that every freckle stood out.
"Him!" she echoed ungrammatically.
Then: "Where is he? Let me downstairs."
But the widow closed the door swiftly behind her and leaned her comfortable
bulk against it.
"You ain't goin'," she asserted. "You ain't goin', leastways not till you
got time to think it over."
"I haven't time to think. I--he--"
"That was the way with me," nodded Mrs. Sommers, and her eyes were tragic.
"I went ahead and married Johnny in spite of everything, and look at me
now--a widder! No, I ain't sorry for myself because I was a fool."
"Mrs. Sommers," said Betty, "will you please step out of my way?"
"Honey, for heaven's sake think a minute before you go down and face that
man. He's dangerous. When I opened the door and seen him, I tell you the
shivers went up my back."
"Is he thin? Is he pale?" cried Betty Neal. "How did he get away? Did he
escape? Did they parole him? Did they pardon him? Did he--"
"Let me get down!" she cried.
Mrs. Sommers flung away from the door.
"Then go and marry your man-killer!"
But Betty Neal was already clattering down the stairs. Half way to the
bottom her strength and courage ebbed suddenly from her; she went on with
short steps, and when at last she closed the parlor door behind her, she
was staring as if she looked at a ghost.
Yet Vic Gregg was not greatly changed--a little thinner perhaps, and just
now he certainly did not have his usual color. The moment she appeared he
jumped to his feet as if he had heard a shot, and now he stood with his
feet braced a little to meet a shock, one hand twitching and playing
nervously with the embroidered cloth on the table. She did not speak;
merely stood with her fingers still gripping the handle of the door as if
she were ready to dart away at the first alarm. A wave of pain went over
the face of Vic Gregg and remained looking at her out of his eyes, for all
that his single-track, concentrated mind could perceive in her was the
thing he took for fear.
"Miss Neal," he said. His voice shook, straightened out again. He made her
think of one of her big school boys who had forgotten his lesson and now
stood cudgeling his memory and dreading that terrible nightmare of "staying
after school." She had a wild desire to laugh.
"Miss Neal, I ain't here to try to take up things that can't be took up
ag'in." Apparently he had prepared the speech carefully, and now he went on
with more ease: "I'm leavin' these here parts for some place unknown.
Before I go I jest want to say I know I was wrong from the beginnin'. All I
want to say is that I was jest all sort of tied up in a knot inside and
when I seen you with him--" He stopped. "I hope you marry some gent that's
worth you, only they ain't any such. An'--I want to wish you good-luck, an'
He swept the perspiration from his forehead, and caught up his hat; he had
been through the seventh circle of torture.
"Oh, Vic, dear!" cried a voice he had never heard before. Then a flurry of
skirts, then arms about him, then tears and laughter, and eyes which went
hungrily over his face.
"I been a houn'-dog. My God, Betty, you don't mean--"
"That I love you, Vic. I never knew what it was to love you before."
"After I been a man-killin', lyin', sneakin'--"
"Don't you say another word. Vic, it was all my fault."
"It wasn't. It was mine. But if you'd only kind of held off a little and
gone easy with me"
"You didn't give me a chance."
"When I looked back from the road you wasn't standin' in the door."
"I was. And you didn't look back."
"Vic Gregg, are you trying to--"
But the anger fled from her as suddenly as it had come.
"I don't care. I'll take all the blame."
"I don't want you to. I won't let you."
She laughed hysterically.
"Vic, tell me that you're free?"
"Thank God! Oh, I've prayed and prayed--Vic, don't talk. Sit down there--
so! I just want to look and look at you. There's a hollow, hungry place in
me that's filling up again."
"It was Pete Glass," said Gregg brokenly. "He--he trusted me clean through
when the rest was lookin' at me like I was a snake. Pete got word to the
There followed a long interval of talk that meant nothing, and then, as the
afternoon waned towards evening, and the evening toward dark, he told her
the whole story of the long adventure. He left out nothing, not a detail
that might tell against him. When he came to the moment when Glass
persuaded him to go back and betray Barry he winced, but set his jaw and
plunged ahead. She, too, paled when she heard that, and for a moment she
had to cover her eyes, but she was older by half a life-time than she had
been when he was last with her, and now she read below the surface.
Besides, Vic had offered to undo what he had done, had offered to stay and
fight for Barry, and surely that evened the score!
There was a light rap on the door, and then Mrs. Sommers came in with a
"Maybe you young folks forgot about supper," she said. "I just thought I'd
bring in a bite for you."
She placed it on the table, and then lingered, delighted, while her eyes
went over them together and one by one. Perhaps Betty Neal was a fool for
throwing herself away on a gun-fighter, but at least Mrs. Sommers was
furnished with a story which half Alder would know by tomorrow. The walls
of her house were not sound proof. Besides, Mrs. Sommers had remarkably
"They's been a gentleman here ask for you, Vic," she said, "but I thought
maybe you wouldn't like it much to be disturbed. So I told him you wasn't
Her smile fairly glowed with triumph.
"Thanks," said Gregg, "but who was he?"
"I never seen him before. Anyway, it didn't much matter. He wanted to see
some of the rest of the boys quite bad: Pete Glass and Ronicky Joe, and
Sliver Waldron, and Gus Reeve. He seemed to want to see 'em all particular
"Pete Glass and Ronicky and--the posse!" murmured Vic. He grew thoughtful.
"He wanted to see me, too?"
"Very particular, and he seemed kind of down-hearted when he found that
Pete was out of town. Wanted to know when he might be back."
"What sort of a lookin' gent was he?" asked Vic, and his voice was sharp.
"Him? Oh, he looked like a tenderfoot to me. Terrible polite, though, and
he had a voice that wasn't hardly rougher'n a girl's. Seemed like he was
sort of embarrassed jest talkin' to me." She smiled at the thought, but
Gregg was on his feet now, his hands on the shoulders of Mrs. Sommers as
though he would try to shake information from her loose bulk.
"Look quick, now," he said. "Where did you send him?"
"How you talk! Why, where should I send him? I told him like as not
Ronicky and Sliver and Gus would be down to Lorrimer's--"
The groan of Vic made her stop with a gasp.
"What did be look like?"
Mrs. Sommers was very sober. Her smile congealed.
"Black hair, and young, and good-lookin', and b-b-brown eyes, and--"
"Vic," cried Betty Neal, "what is it!" She looked around her in terror.
He turned towards the door, and then stopped, in an agony of indecision.
Betty Neal was before him, blocking the way with her arms outstretched.
"Vic, you shan't go. You shan't go. You've told me yourself that he's sure
"God knows he is."
"You won't go, Vic?"
"But the others! Ronicky--Gus--"
She stammered in her fear.
"That's their lookout! They're three to one. Let them kill--"
"But they don't know him. They've never been close enough to see his face.
Besides, no three men I--he--for God's sake tell me what to do!"
"Stay here--if you love me. I won't let you go. I won't!"
"I got to warn them."
"You'll be killed!"
He tore away her hands.
"I got to warn them--but who'll I help? Them three against Dan? He saved
me--twice! But--I got. I got to go."
"If you fight for him first he'll only turn on you afterwards. Vic, stay
"What good's my life? What good's it if I'm a yaller dog ag'in? I'm goin'
out--and be a man!"
Chapter XXII. The Fifth Man
The moment Vic Gregg stood in the open air, with the last appeal of Betty
ringing still at his ear, he felt a profound conviction that he was about
to die and he stood a moment breathing deeply, taking the faint alkali
scent of the dust and looking up to the stars. It was that moment when
night blends with day and there is no sign of light in the sky except that
the stars burn more and more bright as the darkness thickens, and Vic Gregg
watched the stars draw down more closely and believed that he was seeing
this for the last time. Alder seemed inexpressibly dear to him as he stood
there through a little space, and the vaguely discernible outlines of the
shacks along the street were like the faces of friends. In that house
behind him was Betty Neal, waiting, praying for him, and indeed, had it not
been for shame, he would have weakened now and turned back. For he hardly
knew which way to turn. He wanted to save Ronicky and the other two from
the attack of Barry, yet he would not lay a trap for Dan. To Barry he owed
a vast debt; his debt to the three was that which any human being owes to
another. He had to save them from the wolf which ran through the night in
the body of a man.
That thought sent him at a run for Captain Lorrimer's saloon. It was
lighted brilliantly by the gasoline lamp within, but a short distance away
from it he heard no sound and his imagination drew a terrible picture of
the big, empty room, with three dead men lying in the center of it where
the destroyer had reached them one by one. That was what took the blood
from his face and made him a white mask of tragedy when he stepped into the
door of the saloon. It was quiet, but half a dozen men sat at the tables in
the corner, and among them were Ronicky and the other two. Sliver Waldron
was in the very act of pulling back his chair, and perhaps all three had
just come in. Perhaps Barry had come here to look for his quarry and found
them not yet arrived; perhaps he was now hunting in other places through
the town; perhaps he was even now crouched in the shadow near at hand and
ready to attack.
It made the hand of Vic Gregg contract with a cruel pressure when it fell
on the shoulder of Sliver Waldron.
"Now, what in hell!" grunted that hardened warrior.
He had no love for Vic Gregg since that day when the posse rode through the
hills after him; neither had Ronicky or Gus Reeve, who rose from their
chairs as if at a signal. "Come with me, gents," said Vic. "An' come
They asked no questions and did not stay to argue the point for he had that
in his face which meant action. He led them outside, and behind the horse
shed of the saloon.
"We're alone?" he asked.
"Nothin' in sight."
They peered about them through the night, and a wan moon only helped to
make the darkness visible.
"Gents, we may be alone now, but we ain't goin' to be alone long. Get your
bosses and ride like hell. Barry is in town!"
"Vic, you're drunk."
"I tell you, he's been seen--"
"Then by God," growled Sliver Waldron, "lead me to him. I need to have a
little talk with that gent."
"Lead you to him?" echoed Vic Gregg. "Sliver, are you hungerin' to push
"Look here, Bud," answered the older man, and he laid a hand on the
shoulder of Vic. "You been with this Barry, gent, and you've lived in his
house. D'you mean to say you're one of the lot that talks about him like he
was a ghost bullets couldn't harm? I tell you, son, they's been so much
chatter about him that folks forget he's human. I'm goin' to remind 'em of
that little fact."
Vic Gregg groaned. Even while he talked he was glancing over his shoulder
as if he feared the shadows under the moon. His voice was half gasp, half
"Sliver--Ronicky--don't ask me how I know--jest believe me when I say Dan
Barry'll never die by the hand of any man. I tell you--he can see in the
A soft oath from Gus Reeve; a twitching of Ronicky's head told that this
last had taken effect. Sliver Waldron suddenly altered his manner.
"All right, Vic. Trot back into town, or come with us. We're going to move
"The wisest thing you ever done, Sliver."
"I'm feelin' the same way," breathed Gus Reeve.
"S'long," whispered Vic Gregg, and faded into the night, running.
The others, without a word among themselves, gathered their horses and
struck down the valley out of Alder. The padding and swish of the sand
about the feet of their mounts; the very creaking of the saddle leather
seemed to alarm them, and they were continually turning and looking back.
That is, Gus Reeve and Ronicky Joe manifested these signs of trouble, but
Sliver Waldron, riding in the center of the trio, never moved his head.
They were hardly well out of the town when a swift rush of hoof beats swept
up from behind, and a horseman darted into the pale mist of the valley
bending low over his pommel to cut the wind of his riding.
"Who is it?"
"Vic Gregg!" muttered Gus Reeve. "Stir, along, Sliver. Vic ain't lingerin'
But Sliver Waldron drew rein, and let his horse go on at a walk.
"Hearin' you talk, Ronicky," he said, "you'd think you was really scared of
Ronicky Joe stiffened in his saddle and peered through the uncertain light
to make out if Sliver were jesting. But the latter seemed perfectly grave.
"A gent would almost think," went on Sliver, "that we three was runnin'
away from Barry, instead of goin' out to set a trap for him,"
There was something nearly akin to a grunt from Gus Reeve, but Ronicky
merely continued to stare at the leader.
"'S a matter of fact," said Sliver, "when Vic was talkin' I sort of felt
the chills go up my back. How about you, Ronicky?"
"I'll tell a man," sighed Ronicky. "While Vic was talkin' I seen that devil
comin' on his hoss like he done when he broke out of the cabin that night.
I'll tell you straight, Sliver. I had my gun drilled on him. I couldn't of
missed; but after I fired he kept straight on. It was like puncturin' a
"Sure," nodded Sliver. "Shootin' by night ain't ever a sure thing."
Ronicky wiped his heated brow.
"So I sent Vic away before he had a chance to get real nervous. But when he
comes back--well, boys, it'll be kind of amusin' to watch Vic's face when
he saunters into town tomorrow and sees Dan Barry--maybe dead, maybe in the
Only a deep silence answered him, but in the interest which his words
excited the terror seemed to have left Ronicky and Gus. They rode close,
their heads toward Sliver alone.
"There goes Vic," mused Sliver. "There he goes--go on. Mac, you old fool!--
scared to death, ridin' for his life. And why? Because he believes some
ghost stories he's heard about Dan Barry!"
"Ghost stories?" echoed Reeve. "Some of 'em ain't fairy tales, Sliver."
"Jest name one that ain't!"
"Well, the way he trailed Jim Silent. We've all heard of Silent, and Barry--
was too good for him."
"Bah," sneered Sliver. "Too good for Silent? Ye lied readily enough: booze
done for Silent long before Barry come along."
"I'll tell a man it is. Mind you, I don't say Barry ain't handy with his
gun; but he's done a little and the gents have furnished the trimmin's.
Look here, if Barry is the man-eater they say, why did he pick a time for
comin' down when the sheriff was out of town?"
"By God!" exclaimed Ronicky. "I never thought of that!"
"Sure you didn't," chuckled Sliver. "But this sucker figures that you and
Gus and me will be easy pickin's. He figures we'll do what Vic did--hit for
the tall pines. Then he'll blow around how he ran the four of us out of
Alder. Be pleasant comin' back to talk like that, eh?"
There was a volley of rapid curses from the other two.
"We'll get this cheap skate, Sliver," suggested Ronicky. "We'll get this
ghost and tie him up and take him back to Alder and make a show of him."
"We will," nodded Sliver. "Have you figured how?"
"Lie out here in the bush. He'll hunt around Alder all night and when the
mornin' comes he'll leave and he'll come out this way. We'll be ready for
him where the valley's narrow down there. They say his hoss and his dog is
as bad as any two ordinary men. Well, that's three of them and here's three
of us. It's an even break, eh?"
"Ronicky," murmured Sliver, "I always knowed you had the brains. We'll take
this gent and tame him, and run him back to Alder on the end of a rope."
Gus Reeve whooped and waved his hat at the thought.
So the three reached the point where the shadowy walls of the valley
narrowed, drew almost together. There they placed the horses in a hollow
near the southern cliff, and they returned to take post. There was only one
bridle path which wound through the gulch here, and the three concealed
themselves behind a thicket of sagebrush to wait.
They laid their plan carefully. Each man was to have his peculiar duty: Gus
Reeve, an adept with the rope, would wait until the black stallion was
cantering past and then toss his noose and throw the horse. At the same
instant, Ronicky Joe would shoot the wolf-dog, and Sliver Waldron would
perforate Dan Barry while the latter rolled in the dust, unless, indeed, he
was pinioned by the fall of his horse, in which case they would have the
added glory of taking him alive.
By the time all these details were settled the pale moonlight was shot
through with the rose of dawn. Then, rapidly, the mountains lifted into
view, range beyond range, all their gullies deep blue and purple, and here
and there sharp triangles of snow. There was not a cloud, not a trace of
mist, and through the crisp, thin air the vision carried as if through a
telescope. They could count the trees on the upper ridges; and that while
the floor of the valley was still in shadow. This in turn grew brilliant,
and everywhere the sage brush glittered like foliage carved in gray-green
It was then that they saw Dan Barry, while the dawn was still around them,
and before the sun pushed up in the east above the mountains. He came
winding down the bridle path with the dawn glittering on the side of Satan,
and a dark, swift form spiriting on ahead.
"Look at him!" muttered Sliver Waldron. "The damned wolf is a scout. See
him nose around that hummock? Watch him smell behind that bush. The black
Bart, in fact, wove a loose course before his master, running here and
there to all points of vantage, as if he knew that danger lurked ahead, but
where he came close, with only the narrow passage between the cliffs, he
seemed to make up his animal brain that there could be no trouble in so
constricted a place, and darted straight ahead.
"They're ours," whispered Waldron. "Steady, boys. Gus, get your rope, get
Gus tossed the noose a little wider, and gathered himself for the throw,
but it seemed as if the wolf saw or heard the movement. He stopped suddenly
and stood with his head high; behind him the rider checked the black horse;
all three waited.
"He's tryin' to get the wind," chuckled Waldron, "but the wind is ag'in'
It was only a slight breeze, but it came directly against the lurking
three; and moreover the scent of the sage was particularly keen at this
time of the day, and quite sufficient to blur the scent of man even in the
keen nostrils of Black Bart. Only for a second or so he stood there
sniffing the wind, a huge animal, larger than any wolf the three had ever
seen; his face wise in a certain bear-like fashion from the three gray
marks in the center of his forehead. Now he trotted ahead, and the stallion
broke into a gallop behind.
"My God," whispered Sliver to Gus, "don't spoil that hoss when you daub the
rope on him! Look at that action; like runnin' water!"
They came more rapidly. As if the rider knew that a point of danger was
there to be passed, he spoke to his mount, and Satan lengthened into a
racing gait that blew the brim of the rider's hat straight up. On they
came. The wolf-dog darted past. Then as the horse swept by, Gus Reeve rose
from behind his bush and the rope darted snakelike from his hand. The
forefeet of Satan landed in the noose, and the next instant the back-flung
weight of Gus tightened the rope, and Satan shot over upon his side,
flinging the master clear of the saddle.
It sent him rolling over and over in the dust, and Sliver Waldron was on
his feet with both guns in action, sending bullet after bullet towards the
tumbling body. Gus Reeve was running towards the stallion, his rope in
action to entangle one of the hindfeet and make sure of his prey; Ronicky
Joe had leaped up with a yell and blazed away at Black Bart.
It was no easy mark to strike, for the moment the rope shot out from the
hand of Gus, the wolf-dog whirled in his tracks and darted straight for the
scene of action. It was that, perhaps, which troubled the aim of Ronicky
more than anything else, for wild animals do not whirl in this fashion and
run for an assailant. He had expected to find himself plugging away at a
flying target in the distance; instead, the black monster was rushing
straight for him, silently. Indeed, all that followed was in silence after
that first wild Indian yell from Ronicky Joe. His gun barked, but Black
Bart was running like a football player down a broken field, swerving here
and there with uncanny speed. Again, again, Joe missed, and then flung up
his arm toward the flying danger. But Black Bart shot from the ground to
make his kill. He could bring down the strongest bull in the herd. What was
the arm of a man to him? His snake-like head shot through that futile
guard; his teeth cut off the screams of Ronicky Joe. Down they went. The
gun flew from the hand of Ronicky; for an instant he struggled with hands
and writhing legs, and then the murderous teeth of Bart sank deeper, found
the life. The dead body was limp, but Bart, shaking his hold deeper to make
sure, glared across to the fallen master.
The third man had died for Grey Molly.
All this had happened in a second, and the body of Barry was still rolling
when a gun flashed in his hand, drawn while he tumbled. It spat fire, and
Sliver Waldron staggered forward drunkenly, waved both his armed hands as
if he were trying to talk by signal, and pitched on his face into the dust.
The fourth man had died for Grey Molly.
No gun was destined for Gus Reeve, however. Black Bart had left the
lifeless body of his victim and was darting towards the third man; the
master was on his knee, raising his gun for the last shot; but Gus Reeve
was blind to all that had happened. He saw only the black stallion, the
matchless prize of horseflesh. He tossed a loop in the taut rope to
entangle a bind foot, but that slackening of the line gave Satan his
instant's purchase, and a moment later he was on his feet, whirled, and two
iron-hard hoofs crushed the whole framework of the man's chest like an
egg-shell. The impact lifted him from his feet, but before that body struck
the ground the life was fled from it. The fifth man had died for Grey
Chapter XXIII. Bad News
News of the Killing at Alder, as they call that night's slaughter to this
day in the mountain-desert, traveled swiftly, and lost nothing of bulk and
burden on the way; so that two days later, when Lee Haines went down for
mail to the wretched little village in the valley, he heard the
store-keeper retailing the story to an awe-stricken group. How the tale had
crossed all the wild mountains which lay between in so brief a space no man
could say, but first there ran a whisper and then a stir, and then half a
dozen men came in at once, each with an elaboration of the theme more
horrible than the last. The store-keeper culled the choicest fragments from
every version, strung them together with a narrative of his own fertile
invention, polished off the tale by a few rehearsals in his home, and then
placed his product on the open market. The very first day he kept the
store-room well filled from dawn until dark.
And this was the creation to which Lee Haines had to listen, impatient,
sifting the chaff from the grains of truth. Down upon Alder, exactly at
midnight, had ridden a cavalcade headed by that notorious, half-legendary
man-slayer, Dan Barry--Whistling Dan. While his crew of two-score hardened
ruffians held the doors and the windows with leveled rifles, Barry had
entered with a gun and a wolf--a wild wolf, and had butchered ten men,
wantonly. To add to the mystery, there was no motive of robbery for the
crime. One sweeping visitation of death, and then the night-riders had
rushed away. Nor was this all, for Sheriff Pete Glass, hearing of the
tragedy, had ridden to Rickett, the county seat, and from this strategic
point of vantage he was sending out a call for the most practised fighters
on the mountain-desert. He wanted twenty men proved beyond the shadow of
question for courage, endurance, speed, and surety in action.
"And," concluded the store-keeper, fixing his eye upon Lee Haines, "if you
want a long ride free of charge, and ten bucks a day with chow thrown in--
some of you gents ought to go to Rickett and chin with Pete."
Haines waited to hear no more. He even forgot to ask for the Barry mail,
swung into his saddle, and rode with red spurs back to the cabin in the
mountains. There he drew Buck Daniels aside, and they walked among the
rocks while Haines told his story. When it was ended they sat on adjoining
boulders and chucked pebbles aimlessly into the emptiness beyond the cliff.
"Maybe," said Buck suddenly, "it wasn't Dan at all. He sure wouldn't be
ridin' with no crowd of gents like that."
"A fool like that store-keeper could make a crowd of Indians out of one
papoose," answered Haines. "It was Dan. Who else would be traipsing around
with a dog that looks like a wolf--and hunts men?"
"I remember when Dan cornered Jim Silent in that cabin, and all Jim's gang
was with him. Black Bart--"
"Buck," cut in Haines, "you've remembered plenty."
After a moment: "When are you going in to break the news to Kate?"
Buck Daniels regarded him with angry astonishment.
"Me?" he cried. "I'd sooner cut my tongue out!" He drew a great breath. "I
feel like--like Dan was dead!"
"The best thing for Kate if he were."
"That's a queer thing to say, Lee. The meat would be rotted off your bones
six years ago in Elkhead if it hadn't been for Whistlin' Dan."
"I know it, Buck. But I'll tell you straight that I could never feel
towards Dan as if he were a human being, but a wolf in the hide of a man.
He turned my blood cold; he always has."
Buck Daniels groaned aloud as thoughts poured back on him.
"Of all the pals that ever a man had," he said sadly, "there never was a
partner like Whistlin' Dan. There was never another gent that would go
through hell for you jest because you'd eaten meat with him. The first time
I met him I tried to double-cross him, because I had my orders from Silent.
And Dan played clean with me--by God, he shook hands with me when he left."
He straightened a little.
"So help me God, Lee, I've never done a crooked thing more since I shook
hands with Dan that day." He sat silent, but breathing hard. "Well, this is
the end of Whistlin' Dan. The law will never let up on him now; but I tell
you, Haines, I'm sick inside and I'd give my right hand plumb to the wrist
to set him straight and bring him back to Kate. Go in and tell her, Lee.
I--I'll wait for you here."
"You'll be damned," cried Haines. "I've done my share by bringing the word
this far. You can relay it."
Buck Daniels produced a silver dollar.
"Heads or tails?"
"Heads!" said Haines.
The dollar spun upwards, winking, and clanked on the rocks, tails up.
Haines stared at it with a grisly face.
"Good God," he muttered, "what'll I do, Buck, if she faints?"
"Faints?" echoed Daniels, "there's no fear of that! The first thing you'll
have to do is to saddle her horse."
"Now, what in hell are you driving at?"
"She'll be thinkin' of Joan. God knows she worried enough because Dan
hasn't brought the kid back before this, but when she hears what he's done
now, she'll know that he's wild for keeps and she'll be on the trail to
bring the young'un home."
He turned his back cleanly on the house and set his shoulders tense.
"Go on, Lee. Be a man."
He heard the steps of Haines start briskly enough for the house, but they
trailed away, slowly and more slowly, and finally there was a long pause.
"He's standing at the door," muttered Buck. "Thank God I ain't in his
He jerked out his papers and tobacco, but in the very act of twisting the
cigarette tight the door slammed and he ripped the flimsy thing in two. He
started to take another paper, but his fingers were so unsteady that he
could not pull away the single sheet of tissue which he wanted. Then his
hands froze in place.
A faint tapping came out to him.
"He--he's rapping on her door," whispered Buck, and remained fixed in
place, his eyes staring straight before him.
The seconds slipped away.
"He's turned yaller," murmured Buck. "He couldn't do it. It'll be up to
But he had hardly spoken the words when a low cry came out to him from the
house. Then the silence again, but Buck Daniels began to mop his forehead.
After that, once, twice, and again he made the effort to turn towards the
house, but when he finally succeeded it was whole minutes later, and Lee
Haines was leading a saddled horse from the coral. Kate stood beside the
When he reached her, she was already mounted. He halted beside her,
panting, his hand on her bridle.
"Don't do it, Kate!" he pleaded. "Lemme go with you. Lemme go and try to
The brisk wind up the gulch set her clothes fluttering, stirred the hair
about the rim of her hat, and she seemed to Buck more gracefully, more
beautifully young than he had ever seen her; but her face was like stone.
"You'd be no help," she answered. "When I get to the place I may have to
meet him! Would you face him, Buck?"
His hand fell away from the bridle. It was not so much what she said as the
cold, steady voice with which she spoke that unnerved him. Then, without a
farewell, she turned the brown horse around and struck across the meadow at
a swift gallop. Buck turned to meet the sick face of Haines.
"Well?" he said.
"Let me have that flask."
Buck produced a metal "life-saver," and Haines with nervous hands unscrewed
the top and lifted it to his lips. He lowered it after a long moment and
stood bracing himself against the wall.
"It was hell, Buck. God help me if I ever have to go through a thing like
"I see what you done," said Buck angrily. "You walked right in and took
your story in both hands and knocked her down with it. Haines, of all the
ornery, thick-headed cayuses I ever see, you're the most out-beatin'est!"
"I couldn't help it."
"When I went in she took one look at me and then jumped up and stood as
straight as a pine tree.
"'Lee,' she said, 'what have you heard?'"
"'About what?' I asked her, and I looked sort of indifferent."
"Dan!" snorted Buck. "She could see death an' hell written all over your
face, most like."
"I suppose," muttered Haines, "I--I was sick!
"'Tell me!' she said, coming close up.
"'He's gone wild again,' was all I could put my tongue to.
"Then I blurted it out. I had to get rid of the damned story some way, and
the quickest way seemed the best--how Dan rode into Alder and did the
"When I got to that she gave one cry."
"I know," said Buck, shuddering. "Like something dying."
"Then she asked me to saddle her horse. I begged her to let me go with her,
and she said to me what she just now said to you. And so I stayed. What
good could we do against that devil?"
Chapter XXIV. The Music
To the last ravine Kate's horse carried her easily enough, but that
mountain pass was impenetrable through all its length to anything except
the uncanny agility of Satan, and so she left the cow-pony in the bottom of
the gorge and climbed the last rise on foot.
On the mountainside above her, it was not easy to locate the cave, for the
slope was clawed into ravines and confused with meaningless criss-cross
gulches. Whatever scrub evergreens grew there stood under the shade of
boulders which threatened each instant to topple over and go thundering to
the base. She had come upon the cave by chance in her ride with Dan, and
now she hunted vainly through the great stones for the entrance. A fresh
wind, chill with the snows of the upper peaks, pulled and tugged at her and
cut her face and hands with flying bits of sand. It kept up a whistling so
insistent that it was some time before she recognized in the hum of the
gale a different note, not of pleasant music, but a thin, shrill sound that
blended with the voice of the wind.
The instant she heard it she stopped short on the lee side of a tall rock
and looked about her in terror. The mountains walked away on every side,
and those resolute masses gave her courage. She listened, for the big rock
cut away the breath of the wind about her ears and she could make out the
whistling more clearly. It was a strain as delicate as a pin point ray of
light in a dark room, but it made Kate tremble.
Until the sound ended she stayed there by the rock, hearkening, but the
moment it ceased she gathered her resolution with a great effort and went
straight toward the source of the whistling. It was only a moment away,
although the wind had made it seem much farther, and she came on the tall,
narrow opening with Joan sitting on a rock just within. Instead of the blue
cloak, she was wrapped in a tawny hide, and the yellow hair blew this way
and that, unsheltered from the wind. The loneliness of the little figure
made Kate's heart ache, made her pause on her way, and while she hesitated,
Joan's head rested back against the rock, her eyes half closed, her lips
pursed, she began to whistle that same keen, eerie music.
It brought Kate to her in a rush.
"Oh Joan!" she cried. "My baby!"
And she would have swept the child into her arms, but Joan slipped out from
under her very fingers and stood a little distance off with her hands
pressed against the wall on either side of her, ready to dart one way or
the other. It was not sudden terror, but rather a resolute determination to
struggle against capture to the end, and her blue eyes were blazing with
excitement. Kate was on her knees with her arms held out.
"Joan, dear, have you forgotten munner?"
The wildness flickered away from the eyes of the child little by little.
"Munner?" she repeated dubiously.
No shout of welcome, no sudden rush, no arms to fling about her mother. But
if her throat was dry and closed Kate allowed no sign of it to creep into
"Where's Daddy Dan?"
"He's gone away."
The mother rose slowly to her feet, and looked out across the mountains as
if in search of aid. For her mind had harked back to that story her father
used to tell of the coming of Dan Barry; how he had ridden across the hills
one evening and saw, walking against the sunset, a tattered boy who
whistled strangely as he went, and when old Joe Cumberland asked where he
was going he had only waved a vague hand toward the north and answered,
"Oh--over there. It was sufficient destination for him, it was sufficient
explanation now for the child. She remembered how she, herself a child
then, had sat at her father's table and watched the brown face of the
strange boy with fascination, and the wild, quick eyes which went
everywhere and rested in no one place. They were the eyes which looked up
to her now from Joan's face, and she felt suddenly divorced from her baby,
as if all the blood in Joan were the blood of her father.
"He left you here alone?" she murmured.
The child looked at her with a sort of curious amazement.
"Joan isn't alone."
She whistled softly, and around the corner of the rock peered two tiny,
beady-bright eyes, and the sharp nose of a coyote puppy. It disappeared at
once at the sight of the stranger, and now all the strength went from Kate.
She slipped helplessly down, and sat on a boulder trying to think, trying
to master the panic which chilled her; for she thought of the day when
Whistling Dan brought home to the Cumberland Ranch the wounded wolf-dog,
Black Bart. But the call of Joan had traveled far, and now a squirrel came
in at a gallop with his vast tail bobbing behind him, and ran right up the
rock until he was on the shoulder of the child. From this point of vantage,
however, he saw Kate, and was instantly on the floor of the cave and
scurrying for the entrance, chattering with rage.
The wild things came to Joan as they came to her father, and the eyes of
the child were the eyes of Dan Barry. It came home to Kate and she saw the
truth for the first time in her life. She had struggled to win him away
from his former life, but now she knew that it was not habit which
controlled him, for he was wild by instinct, by nature. Just as the tang of
his untamed blood had turned the child to this; and a few days more of life
with him would leave her wild forever.
"He left you alone here!" she repeated fiercely. "Where a thousand things
might happen. Thank God I've found you."
Even if her words conveyed little meaning to Joan, the intonation carried a
message which was perfectly clear.
"Don't you like Daddy Dan?"
"Joan, Joan, I love him! Of course."
But Joan sat with a dubious eye which quickly darkened into fear.
"Oh, Munner, don't take us back!"
Such horror and terror and sadness mixed! The tears rushed into the eyes of
"Do you want to stay here, sweetheart?"
At first Joan shook her head decidedly, but thereafter she quickly became
"No, except when we eat."
"You don't want me here at dinner-time? Poor munner will get so hungry."
A great concession was about to burst from the remorseful lips of Joan, but
again second thought sobered her. She remained in a quandary, unable to
"Don't you want me even when you wake up at night?"
"Because you're so afraid of the dark."
"Joan's not afraid. Oh, no! Joan loves the dark."
If Kate maintained a smile, it was a frozen grimace. It had only been a few
days--hardly yesterday--that Joan left, and already she was a little
stranger. Suppose Dan should refuse to come back himself; refuse even to
give up Joan! She started up, clutching the hand of the child.
"Quick, Joan, we must go!"
"Joan doesn't want to go!"
"We'll go--for a little walk. We--we'll surprise Daddy Dan."
"But Daddy Dan won't come back for long, long time. Not till the sun is
away down behind that hill."
That should mean two hours, at least, thought Kate. She could wait a
"Joan, what taught you not to be afraid of the dark?"
This problem made Joan look about for an answer, but at length she called
She waited, and then whistled; at once the bright eyes of the little coyote
appeared around the edge of the rock.
"Come here!" she commanded.
He slunk out with his head turned towards Kate and cowered at the feet of
the child. And the mother cringed inwardly at the sight; all wild things
which hated man instinctively with tooth and claw were the friends, the
allies of Whistling Dan, and now Joan was stepping in her father's path. A
little while longer and the last vestige of gentleness would pass from her.
She would be like Dan Barry, following calls which no other human could
even hear. It meant one thing: at whatever cost, Joan must be taken from
Dan and kept Away.
"Jackie sleeps near me," Joan was saying. "We can see in the dark, can't
She lifted her head, and the moment her compelling eyes left him, Jackie
scooted for shelter. The first strangeness had worn away from Joan and she
began to chatter away about life in the cave, and how Satan played there by
the firelight with Black Bart, and how, sometimes--wonderful sight!--Daddy
Dan played with them. The recital was quite endless, as they pushed farther
and farther into the shadows, and it was the uneasiness which the dim light
raised in her that made Kate determine that the time had come to go home.
"Now," she said, "we're going for that walk."
"Not away down there!" cried Joan.
"It's lots nicer here, munner. You'd ought to just see what we have to eat!
And my, Daddy Dan knows how to fix things."
"Of course he does. Now put on your hat and your cloak, Joan."
"This is lots warmer, munner."
"Don't you like it?" she added in alarm, stroking the delicate fur.
"Take it off!"
Kate ripped away the fastenings and tossed the skin far away.
"Oh!" breathed Joan.
"It isn't clean! It isn't clean," cried Kate. "Oh, my poor, darling baby!
Get your bonnet and your cloak, Joan, quickly."
"We're coming back?"
Joan trudged obediently to the side of the cave and produced both articles,
sadly rumpled, and Kate buttoned her into them with trembling fingers.
Something akin to cold made her shake now. It was very much like a child's
fear of the dark.
But as she turned towards the entrance to the cave and caught the hand of
Joan, the child wrenched herself free.
"We'll never come back," she wailed. "Munner, I won't go!"
"Joan, come to me this instant."
Grief and fear and defiance had set the child trembling, but what the
mother saw was the glint of the eyes, uneasy, hunting escape with animal
cunning. It turned her heart cold, and she knew, with a sad, full knowledge
that Dan was lost forever and that only one power could save Joan. That
power was herself.
"I won't go!"
A resolute silence answered her, and when she went threateningly forward,
Joan shrank into the shadows near the rock. It was the play of light
striking slantwise from the entrance, no doubt, but it seemed to Kate that
a flicker of yellow light danced across the eyes of the child. And it
stopped Kate took her breath with a new terror. Dan Barry, in the old days,
had lived a life as quiet as a summer's day until the time Jim Silent
struck him down in the saloon; and she remembered how Black Bart had come
for her and led her to the saloon, and how she found Dan lying on the
floor, streaked with blood, very pale; and how she had kneeled by him in a
panic, and how his eyes had opened and stared at her without answer and the
yellow, inhuman light swirled in them until she rose and backed out the
door and fled in a hysteria of fear up the road. That had been the
beginning of the end for Dan Barry, that instant when his eyes changed; and
now Joan--she ran at her swiftly and gathered her into her arms. One
instant of wild struggling, and then the child lay still, her head
straightened a little, a shrill whistle pealed through the cave.
Kate stopped that piercing call with her hand, but when she turned, she saw
in the entrance the dark body of Bart and his narrow, snake-like head.
Chapter XXV. The Battle
"It's Dan," whispered Kate. "He's come."
"Maybe Daddy Dan sent Bart back alone, munner."
"Does he do that often? Come quickly, Joan. Run!"
She ran towards the entrance, stumbling over the uneven ground and dragging
Joan behind her, but when they came close the wolf-dog bristled and sent
down the cavern a low growl that stopped them like an invisible barrier.
The softest sounds in his register were ominous warnings to those who did
not know Black Bart, but Kate and Joan understood that this muttering,
harsh thunder was an ultimatum. If she had worn her revolver, a light,
beautifully mounted thirty-two which Dan had given her, Kate would have
shot the wolf and gone on across his body; for she had learned from
Whistling Dan to shoot quickly as one points a finger and straight by
instinct. Even as she stood there barehanded she looked about her
desperately for a weapon, seeing the daylight and the promise of escape
beyond and only this dumb beast between her and freedom.
Once before, many a year before, she had gone like this, with empty hands,
and subdued Black Bart simply through the power of quiet courage and the
human eye. She determined to try again.
"Stand there quietly, Joan. Don't move until I tell you."
She made a firm step towards Bart.
"Manner, he'll bite!"
"Hush, Joan. Don't speak!"
At her forward movement the wolf-dog flattened his belly to the rock, and
she saw his forepaws, large, almost, as the hands of a man, dig and work
for a purchase from which he could throw himself at her throat.
His silence was more terrible than a snarl; yet she stretched out her hand
and made another step. It brought a sharp tensing of the body of Bart--the
fur stood up about his throat like the mane of a lion, and his eyes were a
devilish green. Another instant she kept her place, and then she remembered
the story of Haines--how Bart had gone with his master to that killing at
Alder. If he had killed once, he would kill again; wild as he had been on
that other time when she quelled him, he had never before been like this.
The courage melted out of her; she forgot the pleasant day outside; she saw
only those blazing eyes and shrank back towards the center of the cave. The
muscles of the wolf relaxed visibly, and not till that moment did she
realize how close she had been to the crisis.
"Bad Bart!" cried Joan, running in between. "Bad, bad dog!"
"Stop, Joan! Don't go near him!"
But Joan was already almost to Bart. When Kate would have run to snatch the
child away that deep, rattling growl stopped her again, and now she saw
that Joan ran not the slightest danger. She stood beside the huge beast
with her tiny fist raised.
"I'll tell Daddy Dan on you," she shrilled.
Black Bart made a furtive, cringing movement towards the child, but
instantly stiffened again and sent his warning down the cave to Kate. Then
a shadow fell across the entrance and Dan stood there with Satan walking
behind. His glance ran from the bristling body of Bart to Kate, shrinking
among the shadows, and lingered without a spark of recognition.
"Satan," he ordered, "go on in to your place."
The black stallion glided past the master and came on until he saw Kate. He
stopped, snorting, and then circled her with his head suspiciously high,
and ears back until he reached the place where his saddle was usually hung.
There he waited, and Kate felt the eyes of the horse, the wolf, the man,
and even Joan, curiously upon her. "Evenin'," nodded Dan, "might you have
come up for supper?" That was all. Not a step towards her, not a smile, not a
greeting, and between them stood Joan, her hands clasped idly before her
while she looked from face to face, trying to understand. All the pangs of
heart which come to woman between girlhood and old age went burningly
through Kate in that breathing space, and afterwards she was cold, and saw
herself and all the others clearly.
"I haven't come for supper. I've come to bring you back, Dan."
Not that she had the slightest hope that he would come, but she watched him
curiously, almost as if he were a stranger, to see how he would answer.
"Come back?" he echoed. "To the cabin?"
"It ain't happy there." He started. "You come up here with us, Kate."
"And raise Joan like a young animal in a cave?"
He looked at her with wonder, and then at the child.
"Ain't you happy, Joan, up here?"
"Oh, Daddy Dan, Joan's so happy!"
"You see," he said to Kate, "she's terribly happy."
It was his utter simplicity which convinced her that arguments and pleas
would be perfectly useless. Just behind the cool command which she kept
over herself now was hysteria. She knew that if she relaxed her
purposefulness for an instant the love for him would rush over her, weaken
her. She kept her mind clear and steady with a great effort which was like
divorcing herself from herself. When she spoke, there was another being
which stood aside listening in wonder to the words.
"You've chosen this life, Dan, I won't blame you for leaving me this time
any more than I blamed you the other times. I suppose it isn't you. It's
the same impulse, after all, that took you south after--after the wild
geese." She stopped, almost broken down by the memory, and then recalled
herself sternly. "It's the same thing that led you away after MacStrann
through the storm. But whether it's a weakness in you, or the force of
something outside your control, I see this thing clearly; we can't go on.
This is the end."
He seemed troubled, vaguely, as a dog is anxious when it sees a child weep
and cannot make out the reason.
"Oh, Dan," she burst out, "I love you more than ever! If it were I alone,
I'd follow you to the end of the world, and live as you live, and do as you
do. But it's Joan. She has to be raised as a child should be raised. She
isn't going to live with--with wild horses and wolves all her life. And if
she stays on here, don't you see that the same thing which is a curse in
you will grow strong and be a curse in her? Don't you see it growing? It's
in her eyes! Her step is too light. She's lost her fear of the dark. She's
drifting back into wildness. Dan, she has to go with me back to the cabin!"
At that she saw him start again, and his hand went out with a swift, subtle
gesture towards Joan.
"Let me have her! I have to have her! She's mine!" Then more gently: "You
can come to see her whenever you will. And, finally pray God you will come
and stay with us always."
He had stepped to Joan while she spoke, and his hands made a quick movement
of cherishing about her golden head, without touching it. For the first and
the last time in her life, she saw something akin to fear in his eyes.
"Kate, I can't come back. I got things to do--out here!"
"Then let me take her."
She watched the wavering in him.
"Things would be kind of empty if she was gone, Kate."
"Why?" she asked bitterly. "You say you have your work to do--out here?"
He considered this gravely.
"I dunno. Except that I sort of need her."
She knew from of old that such questions only puzzled him, and soon he
would cast away the attempt to decide, and act. Action was his sphere.
There was only one matter in which he was unfailingly, relentlessly the
same, and that was justice. To that sense in him she would make her last
"Dan, I can't take her. I only ask you to see that I'm right. She belongs
to me, I bought her with pain."
It was a staggering blow to Whistling Dan. He took off his sombrero and
passed his hand slowly across his forehead, then looked at her with a dumb
"I only want you to do the thing you think is square, Dan."
Once more he winced.
Then, slowly: "I'm tryin' to be square. Tryin' hard. I know you got a claim
in her. But it seems like I have, too. She's like a part of me, mostly.
When she's happy, I feel like smilin' sort of. When she cries it hurts me
so's I can't hardly stand it."
He paused, looking wistfully from the staring child to Kate.
He said with sudden illumination: "Let her do the judgin'! You ask her to
go to you, and I'll ask her to come to me. Ain't that square?"
For a moment Kate hesitated, but as she looked at Joan it seemed to her
that when she stretched out her arms to her baby nothing in the world could
keep them apart.
"It's fair," she answered. Dan dropped to one knee.
"Joan, you got to make up your mind. If you want to stay with, with Satan--
speak up, Satan!"
The stallion whinnied softly, and Joan smiled.
"With Satan and Black Bart"--the wolf-dog had glided near, and now stood
watching--"and with Daddy Dan, you just come to me. But if you want to go
to--to Munner, you just go." On his face the struggle showed--the struggle to
be perfectly just. "If you stay here, maybe it'll be cold, sometimes when
the wind blows, and maybe it'll be hard other ways. And if you go to
munner, she always be takin' care of you, and no harm'll ever come to you
and you'll sleep soft between sheets, and if you wake up in the night
she'll be there to talk to you. And you'll have pretty little dresses
with all kinds of colors on 'em, most like. Joan, do you want to go to
munner, or stay here with me?"
Perhaps the speech was rather long for Joan to follow, but the conclusion
was plain enough; and there was Kate, she also upon one knee and her arms
"Joan, my baby, my darling!"
"Munner!" whispered the child and ran towards her.
A growl came up in the throat of Black Bart and then sank away into a
whine; Joan stopped short, and turned her head.
"Joan!" cried Kate.
Anguish made her voice loud, and from the loudness Joan shrank, for there
was never a harsh sound in the cave except the growl of Bart warning away
danger. She turned quite around and there stood Daddy Dan, perfectly erect,
quite indifferent, to all seeming, as to her choice. She went to him with a
rush and caught at his hands.
"Oh, Daddy Dan, I don't want to go. Don't you want Joan?"
He laid a hand upon her head, and she felt the tremor of his fingers; the
wolf-dog lay down at her feet and looked up in her face; Satan, from the
shadows beyond, whinnied again.
After that there was not a word spoken, for Kate looked at the picture of
the three, saw the pity in the eyes of Whistling Dan, saw the wonder in the
eyes of Joan, saw the truth of all she had lost. She turned towards the
entrance and went out, her head bowed, stumbling over the pebbles.
Chapter XXVI. The Test
The most that could be said of Rickett was that it had a courthouse and
plenty of quiet so perfect that the minds of the office holders could turn
and turn and hear no sound saving their own turning. There were, of course,
more buildings than the courthouse, but not so many that they could not be
grouped conveniently along one street. The hush which rested over Rickett
was never broken except in the periods immediately after the spring and
fall round-ups when the saloons and gaming tables were suddenly flooded
with business. Otherwise it was a rare event indeed which injected
excitement into the village.
Such an event was the gathering of Sheriff Pete Glass' posse.
There had been other occasions when Pete and officers before his time had
combed the county to get the cream of the fighting men, but the gathering
of the new posse became different in many ways. In the first place the call
for members was not confined to the county, for though it stretched as
large as many a minor European kingdom, it had not the population of a
respectable manufacturing town, and Pete Glass went far beyond its bounds
to get his trailers. Everywhere he had the posters set up and on the
posters appeared the bait. The state began the game with a reward of three
thousand dollars; the county plastered two thousand dollars on top of that
to make it an even five: then the town of Alder dug into its deep pockets
and produced twenty-five hundred, while disinterested parties added
contributions which swelled the total to a round ten thousand. Ten thousand
dollars reward for the man described below, dead or alive. Ten thousand
dollars which might be earned by the investment of a single bullet and the
pressure on trigger; and above this the fame which such a deed would
bring--no wonder that the mountain-desert hummed through all its peaks and
plains, and stirred to life. Moreover, the news had gone abroad, the tale
of the Killing of Alder and everything that went before. It went West; it
appeared in newspapers; it cropped up at firesides; it gave a spark of
terror to a myriad conversations; and every one in Rickett felt that the
eye of the nation was upon it; every one in Rickett dreamed nightly of the
man described: "Daniel Barry, called Whistling Dan, about five feet nine or
ten, slender, black hair, brown eyes, age about thirty years."
Secretly, Rickett felt perfectly convinced that Sheriff Pete Glass alone
could handle this fellow and trim his claws for they knew how many a "bad
man" had built a reputation high as Babel and baffled posses and murdered
right and left, until the little dusty man on the little dusty roan went
out alone and came back alone, and another fierce name went from history
into legend. However, there were doubters, since this affair had new
earmarks. It had been buzzed abroad that Whistling Dan was not only the
hunted, but also the hunter, and that he had pledged himself to strike down
all the seven who first took his trail. Five of these were already gone;
two remained, and of these two one was Vic Gregg, no despicable fighter
himself, and the other was no less than the invincible little sheriff
himself. To imagine the sheriff beaten in the speed of his draw or the
accuracy of his shot was to imagine the First Cause, Infinity, or whatever
else is inconceivable; nevertheless, there were such possibilities as
bullets fired at night through the window, and attacks from the rear. So
Rickett waited, and held its breath and kept his eyes rather more behind
than in front.
In the meantime, there was no lack of amusement, for from the four corners,
blown by the four winds, men rode out of the mountain-desert and drifted
into Rickett to seek for a place on that posse. Twenty men, that was the
goal the sheriff had set. Twenty men trained to a hair. Beside the
courthouse was a shooting gallery not overmuch used except during the two
annual seasons of prosperity and reckless spending, and Pete Glass secured
this place to test out applicants. After, they passed this trial they were
mustered into his presence, and he gave them an examination for himself.
Just what he asked them or what he could never be known, but some men came
from his presence very red, and others extremely pale, and some men
blustered, and some men swore, and some men rode hastily out of town and
spoke not a word, but few, very few, were those who came out wearing a
little badge on their vest with the pride of a Knight of the Garter. At
first the hordes rode in, young and old, youths keen for a taste of
adventure, rusty fellows who had once been noted warriors; but these early
levies soon discovered that courage and willingness was not so much valued
as accuracy, and the old-timers learned, also, that accuracy must be
accompanied by speed; and even when a man possessed both these qualities of
hand and eye the gentle, inscrutable little man in his office might still
reject them for reasons they could not guess.
This one thing was certain: the next time Pete Glass ran for office he
would be beaten even by a greaser. He made enemies at the rate of a hundred
a day during that period of selection.
Still the twenty was not recruited to the full. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen
were gathered into the fold, but still five men were lacking to complete
the toll. Most men would have started their man-hunt with that formidable
force, but Pete Glass was methodical. In his own heart of hearts he would
have given his hope of heaven to meet Barry face to face and hand to hand,
and see which was the better man, but Pete Glass owed a duty to his state
before he owed a duty to himself. He stuck by his first plan. And every day
the inhabitants of Rickett gathered at the shooting gallery to watch the
tests and wonder at the successes and smile at the failures.
It was a very hard test which the sheriff had imposed. A man stood to one
side of the iron-plate back wall which served as the target. He stood
entirely out of sight and through an aperture in the side wall, at a
signal, he tossed a round ball of clay, painted white. The marksman stood a
good ten paces off, and he must strike that clay ball as it passed across
the target. The balls were so small that even to strike them when they were
stationary was a difficult task, and to hit them in motion was enough to
task the quickest eye and the cunningest hand.
It was old Pop Giersberg who stood with his ancient forty-five behind the
counter, with his feet braced, on this bright morning, and behind him half
of Rickett was gathered.
"D'you give me warnin', son?" he inquired of the man at the counter.
"Nary a warnin'," grinned the other, who was one of the chosen fifteen.
He wished Pop well. So did they all, but they had seen every man fail for
two days at that target and one and all they had their doubts. Pop had been
a formidable man in his day, but now his hand was stiff and his hair gray.
He was at least twenty years older than he felt.
He had hardly finished asking his question when a white ball was tossed
across the target. Up came the gun of Pop Giersberg, exploded, and the
bullet clanged on the iron; the white ball floated idly on across the wall
and disappeared on the other side.
"Gimme another chance!" pleaded Pop, with a quaver in his voice. "That was
just a try to get my eye in shape."
"Sure," chuckled the deputy. "Everybody gets three tries. It ain't hardly
nacheral to hit that ball the first crack. Leastways, nobody ain't done it
yet. You jest keep your eye peeled, Pop, and that ball will come out
And Pop literally kept his eye peeled.
He had double reason to pray for success, for his "old woman" had smiled
and shook her head when he allowed that he would try out for a place on
that posse. All his nerves grew taut and keen. He waited.
Once more the white streak appeared and surely he who threw the ball had
every wish to see Pop succeed, for he tossed it high and easily. Again the
gun barked from Giersberg's hand, and again the ball dropped almost slowly
out of sight.
"It's a trick!" gasped Pop. "It's something damned queer."
"They's a considerable pile of gents, that think the same way you do,"
admitted the deputy sheriff, dryly.
Pop glared at him and gritted his teeth.
"Lead the damn thing on ag'in," he said, and muttered the rest of his
sentence to himself. He jerked his hat lower over his eyes, spread his feet
a little more, and got ready for the last desperate chance.
But fate was against Pop. Twenty years before he might have struck that
mark if he had been in top condition, but today, though he put his very
soul into the effort, and though the ball for the third time was lobbed
with the utmost gentleness through the air, his bullet banged vainly
against the sheet of iron and the white, inoffensive ball continued on its
Words came in the throat of Pop, reached his opened mouth, and died there.
He thrust the gun back into its holster, and turned slowly toward the
crowd. There was no smile to meet his challenging eye, for Pop was a known
man, and though he might have failed to strike this elusive mark that was
no sign that he would fail to hit something six feet in height by a couple
in breadth. When he found that no mockery awaited him, a sheepish smile
began at his eyes and wandered dimly to his lips.
"Well, gents," he muttered, "I guess I ain't as young as I was once.
He shouldered his way to the door and was gone.
"That's about all, friends," said the deputy crisply. "I guess there ain't
any more clamorin's for a place today?"
He swept the crowd with a complacent eye.
"If you got no objection," murmured a newcomer, who had just slipped into
the room, "I'd sort of like to take a shot at that."
Chapter XXVII. The Sixth Man
It caused a quick turning of heads.
"I don't want to put you out none," said the applicant gently. His voice
was extremely gentle, and there was about him all the shrinking aloofness
of the naturally timid. The deputy looked him over with quiet amusement--
slender fellow with the gentlest brown eyes--and then with a quick side
glance invited the crowd to get in on the joke.
"You ain't puttin' me out," he assured the other. "Not if you pay for your
"Oh, yes," answered the would-be man-hunter, "I reckon I could afford
He was so serious about it that the crowd murmured its amusement instead of
bursting into loud laughter. If the man was a fool, at least he was not
aggressive in his folly. They gave way and he walked slowly towards the
counter and stepped into the little open space beside the master of
ceremonies. Very obviously he was ill at ease to find himself the center of
so much attention.
"I s'pose you been practicin' up on tin-cans?" suggested the deputy,
leaning on the counter.
"Sometimes I hit things and sometimes I don't," answered the stranger.
"Well," and this was put more crisply as the deputy brought out a large pad
of paper, "jest gimme your name, partner."
"Joe Cumber." He grew still more ill at ease. "I hear that even if you hit
the mark you got to talk to the sheriff himself afterwards?"
The applicant sighed.
"Why d'you ask?"
"I ain't much on words."
"But hell with your gun, eh?" The deputy sheriff grinned again, but when
the other turned his head toward him, his smile went out, suddenly while
the wrinkle of mirth still lay in his cheek. The deputy stroked his chin
and looked thoughtful.
"Get your gun ready," he ordered.
The other slipped his hand down to his gun-butt and moved his weapon to
make sure that it was perfectly loose in the leather.
"Ain't you goin' to take your gun out?" queried the deputy.
"Can I do that?"
"I reckon not," said the deputy, and looked the stranger straight in the
His change to deadly earnestness put a hush over the crowd.
Across the target, not tossed easily as it had been for Pop Giersberg, but
literally thrown, darted the line of white, while the gun flipped out of
its holster as if it possessed life of its own and spoke. The white line
ended half way to the farther side of the target, and the revolver slid
again into hiding.
A clamor of amazement broke from the crowd, but the deputy looked steadily,
without enthusiasm, at the stranger.
"Joe Cumber," he said, when the noise fell away a little, "I guess you'll
see the sheriff. Harry, take Joe Cumber up to Pete, will you?"
One of the bystanders jumped at the suggestion and led the other from the
room, with a full half of the crowd following. The deputy remained behind,
"What's the matter?" asked one of the spectators. "You look like you'd seen
"Gents," answered the deputy, "do any of you recollect seein' this feller
They did not.
"They's something queer about him," muttered the deputy.
"He may be word-shy," proffered a wit, "but he sure ain't gun-shy!"
"When he looked at me," said the deputy, more to himself than to the
others, "it seemed to me like they was a swirl of yaller come into his
eyes. Made me feel like some one had sneaked up behind me with a knife."
In his thoughtfulness his eyes wandered, and wandering, they fell upon the
notice of the reward for the capture, dead or alive, of Daniel Barry, about
five feet nine or ten, slender, with black hair and brown eyes.
"My God!" cried the deputy.
But then he relaxed against the counter.
"It ain't possible," he murmured.
"What ain't possible?"
"However, I'm goin' to go and hang around. Gents, I got a crazy idea."
He had no sooner started toward the door than he seemed to gain surety out
of the motion.
"It's him!" he cried. He turned toward the others, white of face. "Come on,
all of you! It's him! Barry!"
But in the meantime Harry had gone on swiftly to the office of the
sheriff with "Joe Cumber." Behind him swirled the curious crowd and for
their benefit he asked his questions loudly.
"Partner, that was sure a pretty play you made. I've seen 'em all try out
to crack them balls, but I never seen none do it the way you did--with your
gun in the leather at the start. What part of the country might you be
The other answered gently: "Why, from over yonder."
"The T O outfit, eh?"
"Up in the Gray Mountains? That so! I s'pose you been on trails like this
"Nothin' to talk about."
There might have been a double meaning in this remark, and Harry looked
twice to make sure that there was no guile.
"Well, here we are." He threw open a door which revealed a bald-headed
clerk seated at a desk in a little bare room. "Billy, here's a gent that
cracked it the first whack and started his gun from the leather, by God.
"Jest kindly close the door, Harry," said Billy. "Step in, partner. Gimme
The door closed on the discomfited Harry, and "Joe Cumber" stood close to
it, apparently driven to shrinking into the wall in his embarrassment, but
while he stood there his hand fumbled behind him and turned the key in the
lock, and then extracted it.
"My name's Joe Cumber."
"Joe Cumber,"--this while inscribing it.
"About thirty-two, maybe."
"Don't you know?"
"I don't exactly."
His eyes were as vague as his words, gentle, and smiling.
"Thirty-two?" said Billy sharply. "You look more like twenty-five to me.
S'pose we split the difference, eh?"
And with a grin he wrote: "Age twenty-two or three."
"Good! The sheriff is pretty keen for 'em. You gents in that game got a
sort of nose for the trail, mostly. All right, Cumber, you'll see Glass."
He stood at the door.
"By the way, Cumber, is that straight about startin' your shot with your
gun in the holster?"
"I s'pose it is."
"You s'pose?" grunted the clerk. "Well, come on in."
He banged once on the door and then threw it open. "Joe Cumber, Pete. And
he drilled the ball startin' his gun out of the leather. Here's his card."
He closed the door, and once more the stranger stood almost cringing
against it, and once more his fingers deftly turned the key--softly,
silently--and extracted it from the lock.
The sheriff had not looked up from the study of the card, for reading was
more difficult to him than man-killing, and Joe Cumber had an opportunity
to examine the room. It was hung with a score of pictures. Some large, some
small, but most of them enlargements, it was apparent of kodak snapshots,
for the eyes had that bleary look which comes in photographs spread over
ten times their intended space. The faces had little more than bleary eyes
in common, for there were bearded men, and smooth-shaven faces, and lean
and fat men; there were round, cherubic countenances, and lean, hungry
heads; there were squared, protruding chins, and there were chins which
sloped away awkwardly toward the neck; in fact it seemed that the sheriff
had collected twenty specimens to represent every phase of weakness and
strength in the human physiognomy. But beneath the pictures, almost without
exception, there hung weapons: rifles, revolvers, knives, placed
criss-cross in a decorative manner, and it came to "Joe Cumber" that he was
looking at the galaxy of the dead who had fallen by the hand of Sheriff
Pete Glass. Not a face meant anything to him but be knew, instinctively,
that they were the chosen bad men of the past twenty years.
"So you're Joe Cumber?"
The sheriff turned in his swivel chair and tossed his cigarette butt
through the open window.
"What can I do for you?"
"I got an idea, sheriff, that maybe you'd sort of like to have my picture."
The sheriff looked up from his study of the card, and having looked up his
eyes remained riveted. The other no longer cringed with embarrassment, but
every line of his body breathed a great happiness. He was like one who has
been riding joyously, with a sharp wind in his face.
There was a distant rushing of feet, a pounding on the door of the next
"What's that?" muttered the sheriff, his attention called away.
"They want me."
"Wait a minute," called the voice of Billy without.
"I'll open the door. By God, it's locked!"
"They want me--five feet nine or ten, slender, black hair and brown
"Glass, I've come for you."
"And I'm ready. And I'll say this"--he was standing, now, and his nervous
hands were at his sides--"I been hungerin' and hopin' for this time to
come. Barry, before you die, I want to thank you!"
"You've followed me like a skunk," said Barry, "from the time you killed a
hoss that had never done no harm to you. You got on my trail when I was
There was a tremendous beating on the outer door of the other room, but
Barry went on: "You took a gent that was livin' straight and you made a
sneak and a crook out of him and sent him to double-cross me. You ain't
worth livin'. You've spent your life huntin' men, and now you're at the end
of your trail. Think it over. You're ready to kill ag'in, but are you ready
The little dusty man grew dustier still. His mouth worked.
"Damn you," he whispered, and went for his gun.
It was out, his finger on the trigger, the barrel whipping into line, when
the weapon in Barry's hand exploded. The sheriff spun on his heel and fell
on his face. Three times, as he lay there, dead in all except the
instinctive movement of his muscles, his right hand clawed at the empty
holster at his side. The sixth man had died for Grey Molly.
The outer door of Billy's room crashed to the floor, and heavy feet
thundered nearer. Barry ran to the window and whistled once, very high and
thin. It brought a black horse racing around a corner nearby; it brought a
wolf-dog from an opposite direction, and as they drew up beneath the
window, he slid out and dropped lightly, catlike, to the ground. One leap
brought him to the saddle, and Satan stretched out along the street.
Chapter XXVIII. The Blood Of The Father
On the night of her failure at the cave, Kate came back to the cabin and
went to her room without any word to Buck or Lee Haines, but when they sat
before the fire, silent, or only murmuring, they could hear her moving
about. Whatever sleep they got before morning was not free from dreams, for
they knew that something was impending, and after breakfast they learned
what it was. She struck straight out from the shoulder. She was going up to
the cave and if Dan was away she would take Joan by force; she needed help;
would they give it? They sat for a long time, looking at each other and
then avoiding Kate with their eyes. It was not the fear of death but of
something more which both of them connected with the figure of Whistling
Dan. It was not until she took her light cartridge belt from the wall and
buckled on her gun that they rose to follow. Before the first freshness of
the morning passed they were winding up the side of the mountain, Kate a
little in the lead, for she alone knew the way.
Where they rounded the shoulder, the men reined the horses with which Kate
had provided them and sat looking solemnly at each other.
"Maybe we'll have no chance to talk alone again," said Lee Haines. "This is
the last trail either for Barry or for us. And I don't think that Barry is
that close to the end of his rope. Buck, give me your hand and say
good-bye. All that a man can do against Whistling Dan, and that isn't much,
I'll do. Having you along won't make us a whit stronger."
"Thanks," growled Buck Daniels. "Jes save that kind farewell till I show
yaller. Hurry up, she's gettin' too far ahead."
At the bottom of the ravine, where they dismounted for the precipitous
slope above, Kate showed her first hesitation.
"You both know what it means?" she asked them.
"We sure do," replied Buck.
"Dan will find out that you've helped me, and then he'll never forgive you.
Will you risk even that?"
"Kate," broke in Lee Haines, "don't stop for questions. Keep on and we'll
follow. I don't want to think of what may happen."
She turned without a word and went up the steep incline.
"What d'you think of your soft girl now?" panted Buck at the ear of Haines.
The latter flashed a significant look at him but said nothing. They reached
the top of the canyon wall and passed on among the boulders.
Kate had drawn back to them now, and they walked as cautiously as if there
were dried leaves under foot.
She had only lifted a finger of warning, and they knew that they were near
to the crisis. She came to the great rock around which she had first seen
the entrance to the cave on the day before. Inch by inch, with Buck and Lee
following her example, they worked toward the edge of the boulder and
peered carefully around it.
There opened the cave, and in front of it was Joan playing with what seemed
to be a ball of gray fur. Her hair tumbled loose and bright about her
shoulders; she wore the tawny hide which Kate had seen before, and on her
feet, since the sharp rocks had long before worn out her boots, she had
daintily fashioned moccasins. Bare knees, profusely scratched, bare arms
rapidly browning to the color of the fur she wore, Haines and Buck had to
rub their eyes and look again before they could recognize her.
They must have made a noise--perhaps merely an intaking of breath inaudible
even to themselves but clear to the ears of Joan. She was on her feet, with
bright, wild eyes glancing here and there. There was no suggestion of
childishness in her, but a certain willingness to flee from a great danger
or attack a weaker force. She stood alert, rather than frightened, with her
head back as if she scented the wind to learn what approached. The ball of
gray fur straightened into the sharp ears and the flashing teeth of a
coyote puppy. Buck Daniels' foot slipped on a pebble and at the sound the
coyote darted to the shadow of a little shrub and crouched there, hardly
distinguishable from the shade which covered it, and the child, with
infinitely cunning instinct, raced to a patch of yellow sand and tawny
rocks among which she cowered and remained there moveless.
One thing at least was certain. Whistling Dan was not in the cave, for if
he had been the child would have run to him for protection, or at least
cried out in her alarm. This information Haines whispered to Kate and she
nodded, turning a white face toward him. Then she stepped out from the rock
and went straight toward Joan.
There was no stir in the little figure. Even the wind seemed to take part
in the secret and did not lift the golden hair. Once the eyes of the child
glittered as they turned toward Kate, but otherwise she made no motion,
like a rabbit which will not budge until the very shadow of the reaching
hand falls over it.
So it was with Joan, and as Kate leaned silently over her she sprang to her
feet and darted between the hands of her mother and away among the rocks.
Past the reaching hands of Lee Haines she swerved, but it was only to run
straight into the grip of Buck Daniels. Up to that moment she had not
uttered a sound, but now she screamed out, twisted in his arms, and beat
furiously against his face.
"Joan!" cried Kate. "Joan!"
She reached Buck and unwound his arms from the struggling body of the
"Honey, why are you afraid? Oh, my baby!"
For an instant Joan stood free, wavering, and her eyes held steadily upon
her mother bright with nothing but fear and strangeness. Then something
melted in her little round face, she sighed.
"Munner!" and stole a pace closer. A moment later Kate sat with Joan in her
arms, rocking to and fro and weeping.
"What's happened?" gasped Haines to Daniels. "What's happened to the kid?"
"Don't talk," answered Buck, his face gray as that of Kate. "It's Dan's
He drew a great breath.
"Did you see her try to--to bite me while I was holdin' her?"
Kate had started to her feet, holding Joan in one arm and dashing away her
tears with the free hand. All weakness was gone from her.
"Hurry!" she commanded. "We haven't any time to lose. Buck, come here! No,
Lee, you're stronger. Honey, this is your Uncle Lee. He'll take care of
you; he won't hurt you. Will you go to him?"
Joan shrank away while she examined him, but the instincts of a child move
with thrice the speed of a mature person's judgment; she read the kindly
honesty which breathed from every line of Haines' face, and held out her
arms to him.
Then they started down the slope for the horses, running wildly, for the
moment they turned their backs on the cave the same thought was in the mind
of each, the same haunting fear of that small, shrill whistle pursuing.
Half running, half sliding, they went down to the bottom of the gorge.
While the pebble they started rushed after them in small avalanches, and
they even had to dodge rocks of considerable size which came bounding
after, Joan, alert upon the shoulder of Lee Haines, enjoyed every moment of
it; her hair tossed in the sun, her arms were outstretched for balance. So
they reached the horses, and climbed into the saddles. Then, without a word
from one to the other, but with many a backward look, they started on the
Back to Full Books