Infomotions, Inc.Way of the Lawless / Brand, Max, 1892-1944



Author: Brand, Max, 1892-1944
Title: Way of the Lawless
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): dozier; andrew; hal dozier; andy; lanning; bill dozier; hal; andrew lanning; jeff rankin; buck heath; jasper lanning; uncle jasper; anne withero; gray peter
Contributor(s): Wormeley, Katharine Prescott, 1830-1908 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 72,269 words (short) Grade range: 6-8 (grade school) Readability score: 78 (easy)
Identifier: etext9903
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Title: Way of the Lawless

Author: Max Brand

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WAY OF THE LAWLESS

Max Brand

1921

Previous ed. published under title: Free Range




WAY OF THE LAWLESS




CHAPTER 1


Beside the rear window of the blacksmith shop Jasper Lanning held his
withered arms folded against his chest. With the dispassionate eye and
the aching heart of an artist he said to himself that his life work was
a failure. That life work was the young fellow who swung the sledge at
the forge, and truly it was a strange product for this seventy-year-old
veteran with his slant Oriental eyes and his narrow beard of white.
Andrew Lanning was not even his son, but it came about in this way that
Andrew became the life work of Jasper.

Fifteen years before, the father of Andy died, and Jasper rode out of
the mountain desert like a hawk dropping out of the pale-blue sky. He
buried his brother without a tear, and then sat down and looked at the
slender child who bore his name. Andy was a beautiful boy. He had the
black hair and eyes, the well-made jaw, and the bone of the Lannings,
and if his mouth was rather soft and girlish he laid the failing to the
weakness of childhood. Jasper had no sympathy for tenderness in men. His
own life was as littered with hard deeds as the side of a mountain with
boulders. But the black, bright eyes and the well-made jaw of little
Andy laid hold on him, and he said to himself: "I'm fifty-five. I'm
about through with my saddle days. I'll settle down and turn out one
piece of work that'll last after I'm gone, and last with my signature
on it!"

That was fifteen years ago. And for fifteen years he had labored to make
Andy a man according to a grim pattern which was known in the Lanning
clan, and elsewhere in the mountain desert. His program was as simple as
the curriculum of a Persian youth. On the whole, it was even simpler,
for Jasper concentrated on teaching the boy how to ride and shoot, and
was not at all particular that he should learn to speak the truth. But
on the first two and greatest articles of his creed, how Jasper labored!

For fifteen years he poured his heart without stint into his work! He
taught Andy to know a horse from hock to teeth, and to ride anything
that wore hair. He taught him to know a gun as if it were a sentient
thing. He taught him all the draws of old and new pattern, and labored
to give him both precision and speed. That was the work of fifteen
years, and now at the end of this time the old man knew that his life
work was a failure, for he had made the hand of Andrew Lanning cunning,
had given his muscles strength, but the heart beneath was wrong.

It was hard to see Andy at the first glance. A film of smoke shifted and
eddied through the shop, and Andy, working the bellows, was a black form
against the square of the door, a square filled by the blinding white of
the alkali dust in the road outside and the blinding white of the sun
above. Andy turned from the forge, bearing in his tongs a great bar of
iron black at the ends but white in the middle. The white place was
surrounded by a sparkling radiance. Andy caught up an eight-pound
hammer, and it rose and fell lightly in his hand. The sparks rushed
against the leather apron of the hammer wielder, and as the blows fell
rapid waves of light were thrown against the face of Andrew.

Looking at that face one wondered how the life work of Jasper was such
a failure. For Andy was a handsome fellow with his blue-black hair and
his black, rather slanting eyes, after the Lanning manner. Yet Jasper
saw, and his heart was sick. The face was a little too full; the square
bone of the chin was rounded with flesh; and, above all, the mouth had
never changed. It was the mouth of the child, soft--too womanly soft.
And Jasper blinked.

When he opened his eyes again the white place on the iron had become a
dull red, and the face of the blacksmith was again in shadow. All Jasper
could see was the body of Andy, and that was much better. Red light
glinted on the sinewy arms and the swaying shoulders, and the hammer
swayed and fell tirelessly. For fifteen years Jasper had consoled
himself with the strength of the boy, smooth as silk and as durable; the
light form which would not tire a horse, but swelled above the waist
into those formidable shoulders.

Now the bar was lifted from the anvil and plunged, hissing, into the
bucket beside the forge; above the bucket a cloud of steam rose and
showed clearly against the brilliant square of the door, and the
peculiar scent which came from the iron went sharply to the nostrils of
Jasper. He got up as a horseman entered the shop. He came in a manner
that pleased Jasper. There was a rush of hoofbeats, a form darting
through the door, and in the midst of the shop the rider leaped out of
the saddle and the horse came to a halt with braced legs.

"Hey, you!" called the rider as he tossed the reins over the head of his
horse. "Here's a hoss that needs iron on his feet. Fix him up. And look
here"--he lifted a forefoot and showed the scales on the frog and sole
of the hoof--"last time you shoed this hoss you done a sloppy job, son.
You left all this stuff hangin' on here. I want it trimmed off nice an'
neat. You hear?"

The blacksmith shrugged his shoulders.

"Spoils the hoof to put the knife on the sole, Buck," said the smith.
"That peels off natural."

"H'm," said Buck Heath. "How old are you, son?"

"Oh, old enough," answered Andy cheerily. "Old enough to know that this
exfoliation is entirely natural."

The big word stuck in the craw of Buck Heath, who brought his thick
eyebrows together. "I've rid horses off and on come twenty-five years,"
he declared, "and I've rid 'em long enough to know how I want 'em shod.
This is my hoss, son, and you do it my way. That straight?"

The eye of old Jasper in the rear of the shop grew dim with wistfulness
as he heard this talk. He knew Buck Heath; he knew his kind; in his day
he would have eaten a dozen men of such rough words and such mild deeds
as Buck. But searching the face of Andy, he saw no resentment. Merely a
quiet resignation.

"Another thing," said Buck Heath, who seemed determined to press the
thing to a disagreeable point. "I hear you don't fit your shoes on
hot. Well?"

"I never touch a hoof with hot iron," replied Andy. "It's a rotten
practice."

"Is it?" said Buck Heath coldly. "Well, son, you fit my hoss with hot
shoes or I'll know the reason why."

"I've got to do the work my own way," protested Andy.

A spark of hope burned in the slant eyes of Jasper.

"Otherwise I can go find another gent to do my shoein'?" inquired Buck.

"It looks that way," replied the blacksmith with a nod.

"Well," said Buck, whose mildness of the last question had been merely
the cover for a bursting wrath that now sent his voice booming, "maybe
you know a whole pile, boy--I hear Jasper has give you consid'able
education--but what you know is plumb wasted on me. Understand? As for
lookin' up another blacksmith, you ought to know they ain't another shop
in ten miles. You'll do this job, and you'll do it my way. Maybe you
got another way of thinkin'?"

There was a little pause.

"It's your horse," repeated Andy. "I suppose I can do him your own way."

Old Jasper closed his eyes in silent agony. Looking again, he saw Buck
Heath grinning with contempt, and for a single moment Jasper touched his
gun. Then he remembered that he was seventy years old. "Well, Buck?" he
said, coming forward. For he felt that if this scene continued he would
go mad with shame.

There was a great change in Buck as he heard this voice, a marked
respect was in his manner as he turned to Jasper. "Hello, Jas," he said.
"I didn't know you was here."

"Come over to the saloon, Buck, and have one on me," said Jasper. "I
guess Andy'll have your hoss ready when we come back."

"Speakin' personal," said Buck Heath with much heartiness, "I don't pass
up no chances with no man, and particular if he's Jasper Lanning." He
hooked his arm through Jasper's elbow. "Besides, that boy of yours has
got me all heated up. Where'd he learn them man-sized words, Jas?"

All of which Andy heard, and he knew that Buck Heath intended him to
hear them. It made Andy frown, and for an instant he thought of calling
Buck back. But he did not call. Instead he imagined what would happen.
Buck would turn on his heel and stand, towering, in the door. He would
ask what Andy wanted. Andy chose the careful insult which he would throw
in Buck's face. He saw the blow given. He felt his own fist tingle as he
returned the effort with interest. He saw Buck tumble back over the
bucket of water.

By this time Andy was smiling gently to himself. His wrath had
dissolved, and he was humming pleasantly to himself as he began to pull
off the worn shoes of Buck's horse.




CHAPTER 2


Young Andrew Lanning lived in the small, hushed world of his own
thoughts. He neither loved nor hated the people around him. He simply
did not see them. His mother--it was from her that he inherited the
softer qualities of his mind and his face--had left him a little stock
of books. And though Andy was by no means a reader, he had at least
picked up that dangerous equipment of fiction which enables a man to
dodge reality and live in his dreams. Those dreams had as little as
possible to do with the daily routine of his life, and certainly the
handling of guns, which his uncle enforced upon him, was never a part of
the future as Andy saw it.

It was now the late afternoon; the alkali dust in the road was still in
a white light, but the temperature in the shop had dropped several
degrees. The horse of Buck Heath was shod, and Andy was laying his tools
away for the day when he heard the noise of an automobile with open
muffler coming down the street. He stepped to the door to watch, and at
that moment a big blue car trundled into view around the bend of the
road. The rear wheels struck a slide of sand and dust, and skidded; a
girl cried out; then the big machine gathered out of the cloud of dust,
and came toward Andy with a crackling like musketry, and it was plain
that it would leap through Martindale and away into the country beyond
at a bound. Andy could see now that it was a roadster, low-hung,
ponderous, to keep the road.

Pat Gregg was leaving the saloon; he was on his horse, but he sat the
saddle slanting, and his head was turned to give the farewell word to
several figures who bulged through the door of the saloon. For that
reason, as well as because of the fumes in his brain, he did not hear
the coming of the automobile. His friends from the saloon yelled a
warning, but he evidently thought it some jest, as he waved his hand
with a grin of appreciation. The big car was coming, rocking with its
speed; it was too late now to stop that flying mass of metal.

But the driver made the effort. His brakes shrieked, and still the car
shot on with scarcely abated speed, for the wheels could secure no
purchase in the thin sand of the roadway. Andy's heart stood still in
sympathy as he saw the face of the driver whiten and grow tense. Charles
Merchant, the son of rich John Merchant, was behind the wheel. Drunken
Pat Gregg had taken the warning at last. He turned in the saddle and
drove home his spurs, but even that had been too late had not Charles
Merchant taken the big chance. At the risk of overturning the machine he
veered it sharply to the left. It hung for a moment on two wheels. Andy
could count a dozen heartbeats while the plunging car edged around the
horse and shoved between Pat and the wall of the house--inches on either
side. Yet it must have taken not more than the split part of a second.

There was a shout of applause from the saloon; Pat Gregg sat his horse,
mouth open, his face pale, and then the heavy car rolled past the
blacksmith shop. Andy, breathing freely and cold to his finger tips, saw
young Charlie Merchant relax to a flickering smile as the girl beside
him caught his arm and spoke to him.

And then Andy saw her for the first time.

In the brief instant as the machine moved by, he printed the picture to
be seen again when she was gone. What was the hair? Red bronze, and
fiery where the sun caught at it, and the eyes were gray, or blue, or a
gray-green. But colors did not matter. It was all in her smile and the
turning of her eyes, which were very wide open. She spoke, and it was in
the sound of her voice. "Wait!" shouted Andy Lanning as he made a step
toward them. But the car went on, rocking over the bumps and the exhaust
roaring. Andy became aware that his shout had been only a dry whisper.
Besides, what would he say if they did stop?

And then the girl turned sharply about and looked back, not at the horse
they had so nearly struck, but at Andy standing in the door of his shop.
He felt sure that she would remember his face; her smile had gone out
while she stared, and now she turned her head suddenly to the front.
Once more the sun flashed on her hair; then the machine disappeared. In
a moment even the roar of the engine was lost, but it came back again,
flung in echoes from some hillside.

Not until all was silent, and the boys from the saloon were shaking
hands with Pat and laughing at him, did Andy turn back into the
blacksmith shop. He sat down on the anvil with his heart beating, and
began to recall the picture. Yes, it was all in the smile and the glint
of the eyes. And something else--how should he say it?--of the light
shining through her.

He stood up presently, closed the shop, and went home. Afterward his
uncle came in a fierce humor, slamming the door. He found Andy sitting
in front of the table staring down at his hands.

"Buck Heath has been talkin' about you," said Jasper.

Andy raised his head. "Look at 'em!" he said as he spread out his hands.
"I been scrubbin' 'em with sand soap for half an hour, and the oil and
the iron dust won't come out."

Uncle Jasper, who had a quiet voice and gentle manners, now stood rigid.
"I wisht to God that some iron dust would work its way into your
soul," he said.

"What are you talking about?"

"Nothin' you could understand; you need a mother to explain things to
you."

The other got up, white about the mouth. "I think I do," said Andy.
"I'm sick inside."

"Where's supper?" demanded Jasper.

Andy sat down again, and began to consider his hands once more. "There's
something wrong--something dirty about this life."

"Is there?" Uncle Jasper leaned across the table, and once again the old
ghost of a hope was flickering behind his eyes. "Who's been talkin'
to you?"

He thought of the grinning men of the saloon; the hidden words. Somebody
might have gone out and insulted Andy to his face for the first time.
There had been plenty of insults in the past two years, since Andy could
pretend to manhood, but none that might not be overlooked. "Who's been
talkin' to you?" repeated Uncle Jasper. "Confound that Buck Heath! He's
the cause of all the trouble!"

"Buck Heath! Who's he? Oh, I remember. What's he got to do with the
rotten life we lead here, Uncle Jas?"

"So?" said the old man slowly. "He ain't nothin'?"

"Bah!" remarked Andy. "You want me to go out and fight him? I won't. I
got no love for fighting. Makes me sort of sickish."

"Heaven above!" the older man invoked. "Ain't you got shame? My blood in
you, too!"

"Don't talk like that," said Andy with a certain amount of reserve which
was not natural to him. "You bother me. I want a little silence and a
chance to think things out. There's something wrong in the way I've
been living."

"You're the last to find it out."

"If you keep this up I'm going to take a walk so I can have quiet."

"You'll sit there, son, till I'm through with you. Now, Andrew, these
years I've been savin' up for this moment when I was sure that--"

To his unutterable astonishment Andy rose and stepped between him and
the door. "Uncle Jas," he said, "mostly I got a lot of respect for you
and what you think. Tonight I don't care what you or anybody else has to
say. Just one thing matters. I feel I've been living in the dirt. I'm
going out and see what's wrong. Good night."




CHAPTER 3


Uncle Jas was completely bowled over. Over against the wall as the door
closed he was saying to himself: "What's happened? What's happened?" As
far as he could make out his nephew retained very little fear of the
authority of Jasper Lanning.

One thing became clear to the old man. There had to be a decision
between his nephew and some full-grown man, otherwise Andy was very apt
to grow up into a sneaking coward. And in the matter of a contest Jasper
could not imagine a better trial horse than Buck Heath. For Buck was
known to be violent with his hands, but he was not likely to draw his
gun, and, more than this, he might even be bluffed down without making a
show of a fight. Uncle Jasper left his house supperless, and struck down
the street until he came to the saloon.

He found Buck Heath warming to his work, resting both elbows on the bar.
Bill Dozier was with him, Bill who was the black sheep in the fine old
Dozier family. His brother, Hal Dozier, was by many odds the most
respected and the most feared man in the region, but of all the good
Dozier qualities Bill inherited only their fighting capacity. He fought;
he loved trouble; and for that reason, and not because he needed the
money, he was now acting as a deputy sheriff. He was jesting with Buck
Heath in a rather superior manner, half contemptuous, half amused by
Buck's alcoholic swaggerings. And Buck was just sober enough to
perceive that he was being held lightly. He hated Dozier for that
treatment, but he feared him too much to take open offense. It was at
this opportune moment that old man Lanning, apparently half out of
breath, touched Buck on the elbow.

As Buck turned with a surly "What the darnation?" the other whispered:
"Be on your way, Buck. Get out of town, and get out of trouble. My boy
hears you been talkin' about him, and he allows as how he'll get you.
He's out for you now."

The fumes cleared sufficiently from Buck Heath's mind to allow him to
remember that Jasper Lanning's boy was no other than the milk-blooded
Andy. He told Jasper to lead his boy on. There was a reception committee
waiting for him there in the person of one Buck Heath.

"Don't be a fool, Buck," said Jasper, glancing over his shoulder. "Don't
you know that Andy's a crazy, man-killin' fool when he gets started? And
he's out for blood now. You just slide out of town and come back when
his blood's cooled down."

Buck Heath took another drink from the bottle in his pocket, and then
regarded Jasper moodily. "Partner," he declared gloomily, putting his
hand on the shoulder of Jasper, "maybe Andy's a man-eater, but I'm a
regular Andy-eater, and here's the place where I go and get my feed.
Lemme loose!"

He kicked open the door of the saloon. "Where is he?" demanded the
roaring Andy-eater. Less savagely, he went on: "I'm lookin' for
my meat!"

Jasper Lanning and Bill Dozier exchanged glances of understanding.
"Partly drunk, but mostly yaller," observed Bill Dozier. "Soon as the
air cools him off outside he'll mount his hoss and get on his way. But,
say, is your boy really out for his scalp?" "Looks that way," declared
Jasper with tolerable gravity.

"I didn't know he was that kind," said Bill Dozier. And Jasper flushed,
for the imputation was clear. They went together to the window and
looked out.

It appeared that Bill Dozier was right. After standing in the middle of
the street in the twilight for a moment, Buck Heath turned and went
straight for his horse. A low murmur passed around the saloon, for other
men were at the windows watching. They had heard Buck's talk earlier in
the day, and they growled as they saw him turn tail.

Two moments more and Buck would have been on his horse, but in those two
moments luck took a hand. Around the corner came Andrew Lanning with his
head bowed in thought. At once a roar went up from every throat in the
saloon: "There's your man. Go to him!"

Buck Heath turned from his horse; Andrew lifted his head. They were face
to face, and it was hard to tell to which one of them the other was the
least welcome. But Andrew spoke first. A thick silence had fallen in the
saloon. Most of the onlookers wore careless smiles, for the caliber of
these two was known, and no one expected violence; but Jasper Lanning,
at the door, stood with a sick face. He was praying in the silence.

Every one could hear Andrew say: "I hear you've been making a talk about
me, Buck?"

It was a fair enough opening. The blood ran more freely in the veins of
Jasper. Perhaps the quiet of his boy had not been altogether the quiet
of cowardice.

"Aw," answered Buck Heath, "don't you be takin' everything you hear for
gospel. What kind of talk do you mean?"

"He's layin' down," said Bill Dozier, and his voice was soft but audible
in the saloon. "The skunk!"

"I was about to say," said Andrew, "that I think you had no cause for
talk. I've done you no harm, Buck."

The hush in the saloon became thicker; eyes of pity turned on that
proved man, Jasper Lanning. He had bowed his head. And the words of the
younger man had an instant effect on Buck Heath. They seemed to
infuriate him.

"You've done me no harm?" he echoed. He let his voice out; he even
glanced back and took pleasurable note of the crowded faces behind the
dim windows of the saloon. Just then Geary, the saloon keeper, lighted
one of the big lamps, and at once all the faces at the windows became
black silhouettes. "You done me no harm?" repeated Buck Heath. "Ain't
you been goin' about makin' a talk that you was after me? Well, son,
here I am. Now let's see you eat!"

"I've said nothing about you," declared Andy. There was a groan from the
saloon. Once more all eyes flashed across to Jasper Lanning.

"Bah!" snorted Buck Heath, and raised his hand. To crown the horror, the
other stepped back. A little puff of alkali dust attested the movement.

"I'll tell you," roared Buck, "you ain't fittin' for a man's hand to
touch, you ain't. A hosswhip is more your style."

From the pommel of his saddle he snatched his quirt. It whirled, hummed
in the air, and then cracked on the shoulders of Andrew. In the dimness
of the saloon door a gun flashed in the hand of Jasper Lanning. It was a
swift draw, but he was not in time to shoot, for Andy, with a cry,
ducked in under the whip as it raised for the second blow and grappled
with Buck Heath. They swayed, then separated as though they had been
torn apart. But the instant of contact had told Andy a hundred things.
He was much smaller than the other, but he knew that he was far and away
stronger after that grapple. It cleared his brain, and his nerves
ceased jumping.

"Keep off," he said. "I've no wish to harm you."

"You houn' dog!" yelled Buck, and leaped in with a driving fist.

It bounced off the shoulder of Andrew. At the same time he saw those
banked heads at the windows of the saloon, and knew it was a trap for
him. All the scorn and the grief which had been piling up in him, all
the cold hurt went into the effort as he stepped in and snapped his fist
into the face of Buck Heath. He rose with the blow; all his energy, from
wrist to instep, was in that lifting drive. Then there was a jarring
impact that made his arm numb to the shoulder. Buck Heath looked blankly
at him, wavered, and pitched loosely forward on his face. And his head
bounced back as it struck the ground. It was a horrible thing to see,
but it brought one wild yell of joy from the saloon--the voice of
Jasper Lanning.

Andrew had dropped to his knees and turned the body upon its back. The
stone had been half buried in the dust, but it had cut a deep, ragged
gash on the forehead of Buck. His eyes were open, glazed; his mouth
sagged; and as the first panic seized Andy he fumbled at the heart of
the senseless man and felt no beat.

"Dead!" exclaimed Andy, starting to his feet. Men were running toward
him from the saloon, and their eagerness made him see a picture he had
once seen before. A man standing in the middle of a courtroom; the place
crowded; the judge speaking from behind the desk: "--to be hanged by the
neck until--"

A revolver came into the hand of Andrew. And when he found his voice,
there was a snapping tension in it.

"Stop!" he called. The scattering line stopped like horses thrown back
on their haunches by jerked bridle reins. "And don't make no move,"
continued Andy, gathering the reins of Buck's horse behind him. A
blanket of silence had dropped on the street.

"The first gent that shows metal," said Andy, "I'll drill him. Keep
steady!"

He turned and flashed into the saddle. Once more his gun covered them.
He found his mind working swiftly, calmly. His knees pressed the long
holster of an old-fashioned rifle. He knew that make of gun from toe to
foresight; he could assemble it in the dark.

"You, Perkins! Get your hands away from your hip. Higher, blast you!"

He was obeyed. His voice was thin, but it kept that line of hands high
above their heads. When he moved his gun the whole line winced; it was
as if his will were communicated to them on electric currents. He sent
his horse into a walk; into a trot; then dropped along the saddle, and
was plunging at full speed down the street, leaving a trail of sharp
alkali dust behind him and a long, tingling yell.




CHAPTER 4


Only one man in the crowd was old enough to recognize that yell, and the
one man was Jasper Lanning. A great, singing happiness filled his heart
and his throat. But the shouting of the men as they tumbled into their
saddles cleared his brain. He called to Deputy Bill Dozier, who was
kneeling beside the prostrate form of Buck Heath: "Call 'em off, Bill.
Call 'em off, or, by the Lord, I'll take a hand in this! He done it in
self-defense. He didn't even pull a gun on Buck. Bill, call 'em off!"

And Bill did it most effectually. He straightened, and then got up.
"Some of you fools get some sense, will you?" he called. "Buck ain't
dead; he's just knocked out!"

It brought them back, a shamefaced crew, laughing at each other.
"Where's a doctor?" demanded Bill Dozier.

Someone who had an inkling of how wounds should be cared for was
instantly at work over Buck. "He's not dead," pronounced this authority,
"but he's danged close to it. Fractured skull, that's what he's got.
And a fractured jaw, too, looks to me. Yep, you can hear the
bone grate!"

Jasper Lanning was in the midst of a joyous monologue. "You seen it,
boys? One punch done it. That's what the Lannings are--the one-punch
kind. And you seen him get to his gun? Handy! Lord, but it done me good
to see him mosey that piece of iron off'n his hip. And see him take that
saddle? Where was you with your gal, Joe? Nowhere! Looked to me like--"

The voice of Bill Dozier broke in: "I want a posse. Who'll ride with
Bill Dozier tonight?"

It sobered Jasper Lanning. "What d'you mean by that?" he asked. "Didn't
the boy fight clean?"

"Maybe," admitted Dozier. "But Buck may kick out. And if he dies they's
got to be a judge talk to your boy. Come on. I want volunteers."

"Dozier, what's all this fool talk?"

"Don't bother me, Lanning. I got a duty to perform, ain't I? Think I'm
going to let 'em say later on that anybody done this and then got away
from Bill Dozier? Not me!"

"Bill," said Jasper, "I read in your mind. You're lookin' for action,
and you want to get it out of Andy."

"I want nothin' but to get him back."

"Think he'll let you come close enough to talk? He'll think you want him
for murder, that's what. Keep off of this boy, Bill. Let him hear the
news; then he'll come back well enough."

"You waste my time," said Bill, "and all the while a man that the law
wants is puttin' ground between him and Martindale. Now, boys, you hear
me talk. Who's with Bill Dozier to bring back this milk-fed kid?"

It brought a snarl from Jasper Lanning. "Why don't you go after him by
yourself, Dozier? I had your job once and I didn't ask no helpers
on it."

But Bill Dozier apparently had no liking for a lonely ride. He made his
demand once more, and the volunteers came out. In five minutes he had
selected five sturdy men, and every one of the five was a man whose name
was known.

They went down the street of Martindale without shouting and at a steady
lope which their horses could keep up indefinitely. Old Jasper followed
them to the end of the village and kept on watching through the dusk
until the six horsemen loomed on the hill beyond against the sky line.
They were still cantering, and they rode close together like a tireless
pack of wolves. After this old Jasper went back to his house, and when
the door closed behind him a lonely echo went through the place.

"Bah!" said Jasper. "I'm getting soft!"

In the meantime the posse went on, regardless of direction. There were
only two possible paths for a horseman out of Martindale; east and west
the mountains blocked the way, and young Lanning had started north.
Straight ahead of them the mountains shot up on either side of Grant's
Pass, and toward this natural landmark Bill Dozier led the way. Not that
he expected to have to travel as far as this. He felt fairly certain
that the fugitive would ride out his horse at full speed, and then he
would camp for the night and make a fire.

Andrew Lanning was town bred and soft of skin from the work at the
forge. When the biting night air got through his clothes he would need
warmth from a fire.

Bill Dozier led on his men for three hours at a steady pace until they
came to Sullivan's ranch house in the valley. The place was dark, but
the deputy threw a loose circle of his men around the house, and then
knocked at the front door. Old man Sullivan answered in his bare feet.
Did he know of the passing of young Lanning? Not only that, but he had
sold Andrew a horse. It seemed that Andrew was making a hurried trip;
that Buck Heath had loaned him his horse for the first leg of it, and
that Buck would call later for the animal. It had sounded strange, but
Sullivan was not there to ask questions. He had led Andrew to the corral
and told him to make his choice.

"There was an old pinto in there," said Sullivan, "all leather in that
hoss. You know him, Joe. Well, the boy runs his eye over the bunch, and
then picks the pinto right off. I said he wasn't for sale, but he
wouldn't take anything else. I figured a stiff price, and then added a
hundred to it. Lanning didn't wink. He took the horse, but he didn't pay
cash. Told me I'd have to trust him."

Bill Dozier bade Sullivan farewell, gathered his five before the house,
and made them a speech. Bill had a long, lean face, a misty eye, and a
pair of drooping, sad mustaches. As Jasper Lanning once said: "Bill
Dozier always looked like he was just away from a funeral or just goin'
to one." This night the dull eye of Bill was alight.

"Gents," he said, "maybe you-all is disappointed. I heard some talk
comin' up here that maybe the boy had laid over for the night in
Sullivan's house. Which he may be a fool, but he sure ain't a plumb
fool. But, speakin' personal, this trail looks more and more interestin'
to me. Here he's left Buck's hoss, so he ain't exactly a hoss
thief--yet. And he's promised to pay for the pinto, so that don't make
him a crook. But when the pinto gives out, Andy'll be in country where
he mostly ain't known. He can't take things on trust, and he'll mostly
take 'em, anyway. Boys, looks to me like we was after the real article.
Anybody weakenin'?"

It was suggested that the boy would be overtaken before the pinto gave
out; it was even suggested that this waiting for Andrew Lanning to
commit a crime was perilously like forcing him to become a criminal. To
all of this the deputy listened sadly, combing his mustaches. The hunger
for the manhunt is like the hunger for food, and Bill Dozier had been
starved for many a day.

"Partner," said Bill to the last speaker, "ain't we makin' all the
speed we can? Ain't it what I want to come up to the fool kid and grab
him before he makes a hoss thief or somethin' out of himself? You gents
feed your hosses the spur and leave the thinkin' to me. I got a pile
of hunches."

There was no questioning of such a known man as Bill Dozier. The six
went rattling up the valley at a smart pace. Yet Andy's change of horses
at Sullivan's place changed the entire problem. He had ridden his first
mount to a stagger at full speed, and it was to be expected that, having
built up a comfortable lead, he would settle his second horse to a
steady pace and maintain it.

All night the six went on, with Bill Dozier's long-striding chestnut
setting the pace. He made no effort toward a spurt now. Andrew Lanning
led them by a full hour's riding on a comparatively fresh horse, and,
unless he were foolish enough to indulge in another wild spurt, they
could not wear him down in this first stage of the journey. There was
only the chance that he would build a fire recklessly near to the trail,
but still they came to no sign of light, and then the dawn broke and
Bill Dozier found unmistakable signs of a trotting horse which went
straight up the valley. There were no other fresh tracks pointing in the
same direction, and this must be Andy's horse. And the fact that he was
trotting told many things. He was certainly saving his mount for a long
grind. Bill Dozier looked about at his men in the gray morning. They
were a hard-faced lot; he had not picked them for tenderness. They were
weary now, but the fugitive must be still wearier, for he had fear to
keep him company and burden his shoulders.

And now they came to a surprising break in the trail. It twisted from
the floor of the valley up a steep slope, crossed the low crest of the
hills, and finally came out above a broad and open valley.

"What does he mean," said Bill Dozier aloud, "by breakin' for Jack
Merchant's house?"




CHAPTER 5


The yell with which Andrew Lanning had shot out of Martindale, and which
only Jasper Lanning had recognized, was no more startling to the men of
the village than it was to Andrew himself. Mingled in an ecstasy of
emotion, there was fear, hate, anger, grief, and the joy of freedom in
that cry; but it froze the marrow of Andy's bones to hear it.

Fear, most of all, was driving him out of the village. Just as he rushed
around the bend of the street he looked back to the crowd of men
tumbling upon their horses; every hand there would be against him. He
knew them. He ran over their names and faces. Thirty seconds before he
would rather have walked on the edge of a cliff than rouse the anger of
a single one among these men, and now, by one blow, he had started them
all after him.

Once, as he topped the rise, the folly of attempting to escape from
their long-proved cunning made him draw in on the rein a little; but the
horse only snorted and shook his head and burst into a greater effort of
speed. After all, the horse was right, Andy decided. For the moment he
thought of turning and facing that crowd, but he remembered stories
about men who had killed the enemy in fair fight, but who had been tried
by a mob jury and strung to the nearest tree.

Any sane man might have told Andrew that those days were some distance
in the past, but Andy made no distinction between periods. He knew the
most exciting events which had happened around Martindale in the past
fifty years, and he saw no difference between one generation and the
next. Was not Uncle Jasper himself continually dinning into his ears
the terrible possibilities of trouble? Was not Uncle Jasper, even in his
old age, religiously exacting in his hour or more of gun exercise each
day? Did not Uncle Jasper force Andy to go through the same maneuvers
for twice as long between sunset and sunrise? And why all these endless
preparations if these men of Martindale were not killers?

It might seem strange that Andy could have lived so long among these
people without knowing them better, but he had taken from his mother a
little strain of shyness. He never opened his mind to other people, and
they really never opened themselves to Andy Lanning. The men of
Martindale wore guns, and the conclusion had always been apparent to
Andy that they wore guns because, in a pinch, they were ready to
kill men.

To Andy Lanning, as fear whipped him north out of Martindale, there
seemed no pleasure or safety in the world except in the speed of his
horse and the whir of the air against his face. When that speed faltered
he went to the quirt. He spurred mercilessly. Yet he had ridden his
horse out to a stagger before he reached old Sullivan's place. Only when
the forefeet of the mustang began to pound did he realize his folly in
exhausting his horse when the race was hardly begun. He went into the
ranch house to get a new mount.

When he was calmer, he realized that he had played his part
well--astonishingly well. His voice had not quivered. His eye had met
that of the old rancher every moment. His hand had been as steady
as iron.

Something that Uncle Jasper had said recurred to him, something about
iron dust. He felt now that there was indeed a strong, hard metal in
him; fear had put it there--or was it fear itself? Was it not fear that
had brought the gun into his hand so easily when the crowd rushed him
from the door of the saloon? Was it not fear that had made his nerves
so rocklike as he faced that crowd and made his get-away?

He was on one side now, and the world was on the other. He turned in the
saddle and probed the thick blackness with his eyes; then he sent the
pinto on at an easy, ground-devouring lope. Sometimes, as the ravine
narrowed, the close walls made the creaking of the saddle leather loud
in his ears, and the puffing of the pinto, who hated work; sometimes the
hoofs scuffed noisily through gravel; but usually the soft sand muffled
the noise of hoofs, and there was a silence as dense as the night around
Andy Lanning.

Thinking back, he felt that it was all absurd and dreamlike. He had
never hurt a man before in his life. Martindale knew it. Why could he
not go back, face them, give up his gun, wait for the law to speak?

But when he thought of this he thought a moment later of a crowd rushing
their horses through the night, leaning over their saddles to break the
wind more easily, and all ready to kill on this man trail.

All at once a great hate welled up in him, and he went on with gritting
teeth.

It was out of this anger, oddly enough, that the memory of the girl came
to him. She was like the falling of this starlight, pure, aloof, and
strange and gentle. It seemed to Andrew Lanning that the instant of
seeing her outweighed the rest of his life, but he would never see her
again. How could he see her, and if he saw her, what would he say to
her? It would not be necessary to speak. One glance would be enough.

But, sooner or later, Bill Dozier would reach him. Why not sooner? Why
not take the chance, ride to John Merchant's ranch, break a way to the
room where the girl slept this night, smash open the door, look at her
once, and then fight his way out?

He swung out of the ravine and headed across the hills. From the crest
the valley was broad and dark below him, and on the opposite side the
hills were blacker still. He let the pinto go down the steep slope at a
walk, for there is nothing like a fast pace downhill to tear the heart
out of a horse. Besides, it came to him after he started, were not the
men of Bill Dozier apt to miss this sudden swinging of the trail?

In the floor of the valley he sent the pinto again into the stretching
canter, found the road, and went on with a thin cloud of the alkali dust
about him until the house rose suddenly out of the ground, a black mass
whose gables seemed to look at him like so many heads above the
tree-tops.




CHAPTER 6


The house would have been more in place on the main street of a town
than here in the mountain desert; but when the first John Merchant had
made his stake and could build his home as it pleased him to build, his
imagination harked back to a mid-Victorian model, built of wood, with
high, pointed roofs, many carved balconies and windows, and several
towers. Here the second John Merchant lived with his son Charles, whose
taste had quite outgrown the house.

But to the uneducated eye of Andrew Lanning it was a great and dignified
building. He reined the pinto under the trees to look up at that tall,
black mass. It was doubly dark against the sky, for now the first
streaks of gray light were pale along the eastern horizon, and the house
seemed to tower up into the center of the heavens. Andy sighed at the
thought of stealing through the great halls within. Even if he could
find an open window, or if the door were unlatched, how could he
find the girl?

Another thing troubled him. He kept canting his ear with eternal
expectation of hearing the chorus of many hoofs swinging toward him out
of the darkness. After all, it was not a simple thing to put Bill Dozier
off the trail. When a horse neighed in one of the corrals, Andy started
violently and laid his fingertips on his revolver butt.

That false alarm determined him to make his attempt without further
waste of time. He swung from the stirrups and went lightly up the front
steps. His footfall was a feathery thing that carried him like a shadow
to the door. It yielded at once under his hand, and, stepping through,
he found himself lost in utter blackness.

He closed the door, taking care that the spring did not make the lock
click, and then stood perfectly motionless, listening, probing the dark.

After a time the shadows gave way before his eyes, and he could make out
that he was in a hall with lofty ceiling. Something wound down from
above at a little distance, and he made out that this was the stairway.
Obviously the bedrooms would be in the second story.

Andy began the ascent.

He had occasion to bless the thick carpet before he was at the head of
the stairs; he could have run up if he had wished, and never have made a
sound. At the edge of the second hall he paused again. The sense of
people surrounded him. Then directly behind him a man cleared his
throat. As though a great hand had seized his shoulder and wrenched him
down, Andy whirled and dropped to his knees, the revolver in his hand
pointing uneasily here and there like the head of a snake laboring to
find its enemy.

But there was nothing in the hall. The voice became a murmur, and then
Andy knew that it had been some man speaking in his sleep.

At least that room was not the room of the girl. Or was she, perhaps,
married? Weak and sick, Andy rested his hand against the wall and waited
for his brain to clear. "She won't be married," he whispered to himself
in the darkness.

But of all those doors up and down the hall, which would be hers? There
was no reasoning which could help him in the midst of that puzzle. He
walked to what he judged to be the middle of the hall, turned to his
right, and opened the first door. A hinge creaked, but it was no louder
than the rustle of silk against silk.

There were two windows in that room, and each was gray with the dawn,
but in the room itself the blackness was unrelieved. There was the one
dim stretch of white, which was the covering of the bed; the furniture,
the chairs, and the table were half merged with the shadows around them.
Andy slipped across the floor, evaded a chair by instinct rather than by
sight, and leaned over the bed. It was a man, as he could tell by the
heavy breathing; yet he leaned closer in a vain effort to make surer by
the use of his eyes.

Then something changed in the face of the man in the bed. It was an
indescribable change, but Andrew knew that the man had opened his eyes.
Before he could straighten or stir, hands were thrown up. One struck at
his face, and the fingers were stiff; one arm was cast over his
shoulders, and Andy heard the intake of breath which precedes a shriek.
Not a long interval--no more, say, than the space required for the lash
of a snapping blacksnake to flick back on itself--but in that interim
the hands of Andy were buried in the throat of his victim.

His fingers, accustomed to the sway and quiver of eight-pound hammers
and fourteen-pound sledges, sank through the flesh and found the
windpipe. And the hands of the other grappled at his wrists, smashed
into his face. Andy could have laughed at the effort. He jammed the shin
of his right leg just above the knees of the other, and at once the
writhing body was quiet. With all of his blood turned to ice, Andy
found, what he had discovered when he faced the crowd in Martindale,
that his nerves did not jump and that his heart, instead of trembling,
merely beat with greater pulses. Fear cleared his brain; it sent a
tremendous nervous power thrilling in his wrists and elbows. All the
while he was watching mercilessly for the cessation of the struggles.
And when the wrenching at his forearms ceased he instantly relaxed
his grip.

For a time there was a harsh sound filling the room, the rough intake of
the man's breath; he was for the time being paralyzed and incapable of
any effort except the effort to fill his lungs. By the glint of the
metal work about the bits Andy made out two bridles hanging on the wall
near the bed. Taking them down, he worked swiftly. As soon as the fellow
on the bed would have his breath he would scream. Yet the time sufficed
Andy; he had his knife out, flicked the blade open, and cut off the long
reins of the bridles. Then he went back to the bed and shoved the cold
muzzle of his revolver into the throat of the other.

There was a tremor through the whole body of the man, and Andy knew that
at that moment the senses of his victim had cleared.

He leaned close to the ear of the man and whispered: "Don't make no loud
talk, partner. Keep cool and steady. I don't aim to hurt you unless you
play the fool."

Instantly the man answered in a similar whisper, though it was broken
with panting: "Get that coat of mine out the closet. There--the door is
open. You'll find my wallet in the inside pocket and about all you can
want will be in it."

"That's the way," reassured Andy. "Keep your head and use sense. But it
isn't the coin I want. You've got a red-headed girl in this house.
Where's her room?"

His hand which held the revolver was resting on the breast of the man,
and he felt the heart of the other leap. Then there was a current of
curses, a swift hissing of invective. And suddenly it came over Andy
that since he had killed one man, as he thought, the penalty would be no
greater if he killed ten. All at once the life of this prostrate fellow
on the bed was nothing to him.

When he cut into that profanity he meant what he said. "Partner, I've
got a pull on this trigger. There's a slug in this gun just trembling to
get at you. And I tell you honest, friend, I'd as soon drill you as turn
around. Now tell me where that girl's room is?"

"Anne Withero?" Only his breathing was heard for a moment. Then: "Two
doors down, on this side of the hall. If you lay a hand on her I'll
live to--"

"Partner, so help me heaven, I wouldn't touch a lock of her hair. Now
lie easy while I make sure of you."

And he promptly trussed the other in the bridle reins. Out of a
pillowcase folded hard he made a gag and tied it into the mouth of the
man. Then he ran his hands over the straps; they were drawn taut.

"If you make any noise," he warned the other, "I'll come back to find
out why. S'long."




CHAPTER 7


Every moment was bringing on the dawn more swiftly, and the eyes of Andy
were growing more accustomed to the gloom in the house. He found the
door of the girl's room at once. When he entered he had only to pause a
moment before he had all the details clearly in mind. Other senses than
that of sight informed him in her room. There was in the gray gloom a
touch of fragrance such as blows out of gardens across a road; yet here
the air was perfectly quiet and chill. The dawn advanced. But all that
he could make out was a faint touch of color againt the pillow--and that
would be her hair. Then with astonishing clearness he saw her hand
resting against her breast. Andy stood for a moment with his eyes
closed, a great tenderness falling around him. The hush kept deepening,
and the sense of the girl drew out to him as if a light were brightening
about her.

He stepped back to the table against the wall, took the chimney from the
lamp, and flicked a match along his trousers, for in that way a match
would make the least noise. Yet to the hair-trigger nerves of Andy the
spurt and flare of the match was like the explosion of a gun. He lighted
the lamp, turned down the wick, and replaced the chimney. Then he turned
as though someone had shouted behind him. He whirled as he had whirled
in the hall, crouching, and he found himself looking straight into the
eyes of the girl as she sat up in bed.

Truly he did not see her face at first, but only the fear in it, parting
her lips and widening her eyes. She did not speak; her only movement was
to drag up the coverlet of the bed and hold it against the base of
her throat.

Andy drew off his hat and stepped a little closer. "Do you know me?" he
asked.

He watched her as she strove to speak, but if her lips stirred they made
no sound. It tortured him to see her terror, and yet he would not have
had her change. This crystal pallor or a flushed joy--in one of the two
she was most beautiful.

"You saw me in Martindale," he continued. "I am the blacksmith. Do you
remember?"

She nodded, still watching him with those haunted eyes.

"I saw you for the split part of a second," said Andy, "and you stopped
my heart. I've come to see you for two minutes; I swear I mean you no
harm. Will you let me have those two minutes for talk?" Again she
nodded. But he could see that the terror was being tempered a little in
her face. She was beginning to think, to wonder. It seemed a natural
thing for Andy to go forward a pace closer to the bed, but, lest that
should alarm her, it seemed also natural for him to drop upon one knee.
It brought the muzzle of the revolver jarringly home against the floor.

The girl heard that sound of metal and it shook her; but it requires a
very vivid imagination to fear a man upon his knees. And now that she
could look directly into his face, she saw that he was only a boy, not
more than two or three years older than herself. For the first time she
remembered the sooty figure which had stood in the door of the
blacksmith shop. The white face against the tawny smoke of the shop;
that had attracted her eyes before. It was the same white face now, but
subtly changed. A force exuded from him; indeed, he seemed neither
young nor old.

She heard him speaking in a voice not louder than a whisper, rapid,
distinct.

"When you came through the town you waked me up like a whiplash," he was
saying. "When you left I kept thinking about you. Then along came a
trouble. I killed a man. A posse started after me. It's on my heels, but
I had to see you again. Do you understand?"

A ghost of color was going up her throat, staining her cheeks.

"I had to see you," he repeated. "It's my last chance. Tomorrow they
may get me. Two hours from now they may have me salted away with lead.
But before I kick out I had to have one more look at you. So I swung out
of my road and came straight to this house. I came up the stairs. I went
into a room down the hall and made a man tell me where to find you."

There was a flash in the eyes of the girl like the wink of sun on a bit
of quartz on a far-away hillside, but it cut into the speech of Andrew
Lanning. "He told you where to find me?" she asked in a voice no louder
than the swift, low voice of Andy. But what a world of scorn!

"He had a gun shoved into the hollow of his throat," said Andy. "He had
to tell--two doors down the hall--"

"It was Charlie!" said the girl softly. She seemed to forget her fear.
Her head raised as she looked at Andy. "The other man--the one
you--why--"

"The man I killed doesn't matter," said Andy. "Nothing matters except
that I've got this minute here with you."

"But where will you go? How will you escape?"

"I'll go to death, I guess," said Andy quietly. "But I'll have a grin
for Satan when he lets me in. I've beat 'em, even if they catch me."

The coverlet dropped from her breast; her hand was suspended with stiff
fingers. There had been a sound as of someone stumbling on the stairway,
the unmistakable slip of a heel and the recovery; then no more sound.
Andy was on his feet. She saw his face whiten, and then there was a
glitter in his eyes, and she knew that the danger was nothing to him.
But Anne Withero whipped out of her bed.

"Did you hear?"

"I tied and gagged him," said Andy, "but he's broken loose, and now he's
raising the house on the quiet."

For an instant they stood listening, staring at each other.

"They--they're coming up the hall," whispered the girl. "Listen!"

It was no louder than a whisper from without--the creak of a board.
Andrew Lanning slipped to the door and turned the key in the lock. When
he rejoined her in the middle of the room he gave her the key.

"Let 'em in if you want to," he said.

But the girl caught his arm, whispering: "You can get out that window
onto the top of the roof below, then a drop to the ground. But hurry
before they think to guard that way!" "Anne!" called a voice suddenly
from the hall.

Andy threw up the window, and, turning toward the door, he laughed his
defiance and his joy.

"Hurry!" she was demanding. A great blow fell on the door of her room,
and at once there was shouting in the hall: "Pete, run outside and watch
the window!"

"Will you go?" cried the girl desperately.

He turned toward the window. He turned back like a flash and swept her
close to him.

"Do you fear me?" he whispered.

"No," said the girl.

"Will you remember me?"

"Forever!"

"God bless you," said Andy as he leaped through the window. She saw him
take the slope of the roof with one stride; she heard the thud of his
feet on the ground below. Then a yell from without, shrill and high
and sharp.

When the door fell with a crash, and three men were flung into the room,
Charles Merchant saw her standing in her nightgown by the open window.
Her head was flung back against the wall, her eyes closed, and one hand
was pressed across her lips.

"He's out the window. Down around the other way," cried Charles
Merchant.

The stampede swept out of the room. Charles was beside her.

She knew that vaguely, and that he was speaking, but not until he
touched her shoulder did she hear the words: "Anne, are you
unhurt--has--for heaven's sake speak, Anne. What's happened?"

She reached up and put his hand away.

"Charles," she said, "call them back. Don't let them follow him!"

"Are you mad, dear?" he asked. "That murdering--"

He found a tigress in front of him. "If they hurt a hair of his head,
Charlie, I'm through with you. I'll swear that!"

It stunned Charles Merchant. And then he went stumbling from the room.

His cow-punchers were out from the bunk house already; the guests and
his father were saddling or in the saddle.

"Come back!" shouted Charles Merchant. "Don't follow him. Come back! No
guns. He's done no harm."

Two men came around the corner of the house, dragging a limp figure
between them.

"Is this no harm?" they asked. "Look at Pete, and then talk."

They lowered the tall, limp figure of the man in pajamas to the ground;
his face was a crimson smear.

"Is he dead?" asked Charles Merchant.

"No move out of him," they answered.

Other people, most of them on horseback, were pouring back to learn the
meaning of the strange call from Charles Merchant.

"I can't tell you what I mean," he was saying in explanation. "But you,
dad, I'll be able to tell you. All I can say is that he mustn't be
followed--unless Pete here--"

The eyes of Pete opportunely opened. He looked hazily about him.

"Is he gone?" asked Pete.

"Yes."

"Thank the Lord!"

"Did you see him? What's he like?"

"About seven feet tall. I saw him jump off the roof of the house. I was
right under him. Tried to get my gun on him, but he came up like a wild
cat and went straight at me. Had his fist in my face before I could get
my finger on the trigger. And then the earth came up and slapped me in
the face." "There he goes!" cried some one.

The sky was now of a brightness not far from day, and, turning east, in
the direction pointed out, Charles Merchant saw a horseman ride over a
hilltop, a black form against the coloring horizon. He was moving
leisurely, keeping his horse at the cattle pony's lope. Presently he
dipped away out of sight.

John Merchant dropped his hand on the shoulder of his son. "What is it?"
he asked.

"Heaven knows! Not I!"

"Here are more people! What's this? A night of surprise parties?"

Six riders came through the trees, rushing their horses, and John
Merchant saw Bill Dozier's well-known, lanky form in the lead. He
brought his horse from a dead run to a halt in the space of a single
jump and a slide. The next moment he was demanding fresh mounts.

"Can you give 'em to me, Merchant? But what's all this?"

"You make your little talk," said Merchant, "and then I'll make mine."

"I'm after Andy Lanning. He's left a gent more dead than alive back in
Martindale, and I want him. Can you give me fresh horses for me and my
boys, Merchant?"

"But the man wasn't dead? He wasn't dead?" cried the voice of a girl.
The group opened; Bill Dozier found himself facing a bright-haired girl
wrapped to the throat in a long coat, with slippers on her feet.

"Not dead and not alive," he answered. "Just betwixt and between."

"Thank God!" whispered the girl. "Thank God!"

There was only one man in the group who should not have heard that
whispered phrase, and that man was Charles Merchant. He was standing
at her side.




CHAPTER 8


It took less than five minutes for the deputy sheriff to mount his men;
he himself had the pick of the corral, a dusty roan, and, as he drew the
cinch taut, he turned to find Charles Merchant at his side.

"Bill," said the young fellow, "what sort of a man is this Lanning?"

"He's been a covered card, partner," said Bill Dozier. "He's been a
covered card that seemed pretty good. Now he's in the game, and he looks
like the rest of the Lannings--a good lump of daring and defiance. Why
d'you ask?"

"Are you keen to get him, Bill?" continued Charlie Merchant eagerly.

"I could stand it. Again, why?"

"You'd like a little gun play with that fellow?"

"I wouldn't complain none."

"Ah? One more thing. Could you use a bit of ready cash?"

"I ain't pressed," said Bill Dozier. "On the other hand, I ain't of a
savin' nature."

Then he added: "Get it out, Charlie. I think I follow your drift. And
you can go as far as you like." He put out his jaw in an ugly way as
he said it.

"It would be worth a lot to me to have this cur done for, Bill. You
understand?"

"My time's short. Talk terms, Charlie."

"A thousand."

"The price of a fair hoss."

"Two thousand, old man."

"Hoss and trimmin's."

"Three thousand." "Charlie, you seem to forget that we're talkin' about
a man and a gun."

"Bill, it's worth five thousand to me."

"That's turkey. Let me have your hand."

They shook hands.

"And if you kill the horses," said Charles Merchant, "you won't hurt my
feelings. But get him!"

"I've got nothing much on him," said Bill Dozier, "but some fools resist
arrest."

He smiled in a manner that made the other shudder. And a moment later
the deputy led his men out on the trail.

They were a weary lot by this time, but they had beneath the belt
several shots of the Merchant whisky which Charles had distributed. And
they had that still greater stimulus--fresh horses running smooth and
strong beneath them. Another thing had changed. They saw their leader,
Bill Dozier, working at his revolver and his rifle as he rode, looking
to the charges, trying the pressure of the triggers, getting the balance
of the weapons with a peculiar anxiety, and they knew, without a word
being spoken, that there was small chance of that trail ending at
anything short of a red mark in the dust.

It made some of them shrug their shoulders, but here again it was proved
that Bill Dozier knew the men of Martindale, and had picked his posse
well. They were the common, hard-working variety of cow-puncher, and
presently the word went among them from the man riding nearest to Bill
that if young Lanning were taken it would be worth a hundred dollars to
each of them. Two months' pay for two days' work. That was fair enough.
They also began to look to their guns. It was not that a single one of
them could have been bought for a mankilling at that or any other price,
perhaps, but this was simply a bonus to carry them along toward what
they considered an honest duty.

Nevertheless, it was a different crew that rode over the hills away
from the Merchant place. They had begun for the sake of the excitement.
Now they were working carefully, riding with less abandon, jockeying
their horses, for each man was laboring to be in on the kill.

They had against them a good horse and a stanch horseman. Never had the
pinto dodged his share of honest running, and this day was no exception.
He gave himself whole-heartedly to his task, and he stretched the legs
of the ponies behind him. Yet he had a great handicap. He was tough, but
the ranch horses of John Merchant came out from a night of rest. Their
legs were full of running. And the pinto, for all his courage, could not
meet that handicap and beat it.

That truth slowly sank in upon the mind of the fugitive as he put the
game little cattle pony into his best stride. He tried the pinto in the
level going. He tried him in the rough. And in both conditions the posse
gained slowly and steadily, until it became apparent to Andrew Lanning
that the deputy held him in the hollow of his hand, and in half an hour
of stiff galloping could run his quarry into the ground whenever
he chose.

Andy turned in the saddle and grinned back at the followers. He could
distinguish Bill Dozier most distinctly. The broad brim of Bill's hat
was blown up stiffly. And the sun glinted now and again on those
melancholy mustaches of his. Andy was puzzled. Bill had horses which
could outrun the fugitive, and why did he not use them?

Almost at once Andy received his answer.

The deputy sheriff sent his horse into a hard run, and then brought him
suddenly to a standstill. Looking back, Andy saw a rifle pitch to the
shoulder of the deputy. It was a flashing line of light which focused
suddenly in a single, glinting dot. That instant something hummed evilly
beside the ear of Andy. A moment later the report came barking and
echoing in his ear with the little metallic ring in it which tells of
the shiver of a gun barrel.

That was the beginning of a running fusillade. Technically these were
shots fired to warn the fugitive that he was wanted by the law, and to
tell him that if he did not halt he would be shot at to be killed. But
the deputy did not waste warnings. He began to shoot to kill. And so did
the rest of the posse. They saw the deputy's plan at once, and then
grinned at it. If they rode down in a mob the boy would no doubt
surrender. But if they goaded him in this manner from a distance he
would probably attempt to return the fire. And if he fired one shot in
reply, unwritten law and strong public opinion would be on the side of
Bill Dozier in killing this criminal without quarter. In a word, the
whisky and the little promise of money were each taking effect on
the posse.

They spurted ahead in pairs, halted, and delivered their fire; then the
next pair spurted ahead and fired. Every moment or so two bullets winged
through the air nearer and nearer Andy. It was really a wonder that he
was not cleanly drilled by a bullet long before that fusillade had
continued for ten minutes. But it is no easy thing to hit a man on a
galloping horse when one sits on the back of another horse, and that
horse heaving from a hard run. Moreover, Andy watched, and when the
pairs halted he made the pinto weave.

At the first bullet he felt his heart come into his throat. At the
second he merely raised his head. At the next he smiled, and thereafter
he greeted each volley with a yell and with a wave of his hat. It was
like dancing, but greater fun. The cold, still terror was in his heart
every moment, but yet he felt like laughing, and when the posse heard
him their own hearts went cold.

It disturbed their aim. They began to snarl at each other, and they also
pressed their horses closer and closer before they even attempted to
fire. And the result was that Andy, waving his hat, felt it twitch
sharply in his hand, and then he saw a neat little hole clipped out of
the very edge of the brim. It was a pretty trick to see, until Andy
remembered that the thing which had nicked that hole would also cut its
way through him, body and bone. He leaned over the saddle and spurred
the pinto into his racing gait.

"I nicked him!" yelled the deputy. "Come on, boys! Close in!"

But within five minutes of racing, Andy drew the pinto to a sudden halt
and raised his rifle. The posse laughed. They had been shooting for some
time, and always for a distance even less than Andy's; yet not one of
their bullets had gone home. So they waved their hats recklessly and
continued to ride to be in at the death. And every one knew that the end
of the trail was not far off when the fugitive had once begun to turn
at bay.

Andy knew it as well as the rest, and his hand shook like a nervous
girl's, while the rifle barrel tilted up and up, the blue barrel
shimmering wickedly. In a frenzy of eagerness he tried to line up the
sights. It was in vain. The circle through which he squinted wobbled
crazily. He saw two of the pursuers spurt ahead, take their posts, raise
their rifles for a fire which would at least disturb his. For the first
time they had a stationary target.

And then, by chance, the circle of Andy's sight embraced the body of a
horseman. Instantly the left arm, stretching out to support his rifle,
became a rock; the forefinger of his right hand was as steady as the
trigger it pressed. It was like shooting at a target. He found himself
breathing easily.

It was very strange. Find a man with his sights? He could follow his
target as though a magnetic power attracted his rifle. The weapon seemed
to have a volition of its own. It drifted along with the canter of Bill
Dozier. With incredible precision the little finger of iron inside the
circle dwelt in turn on the hat of Bill Dozier, on his sandy mustaches,
on his fluttering shirt. And Andy knew that he had the life of a man
under the command of his forefinger.

And why not? He had killed one. Why not a hundred?

The punishment would be no greater. And to tempt him there was this new
mystery, this knowledge that he could not miss. It had been vaguely
present in his mind when he faced the crowd at Martindale, he remembered
now. And the same merciless coldness had been in his hand when he
pressed his gun into the throat of Charles Merchant.

He turned his eyes and looked down the guns of the two men who had
halted. Then, hardly looking at his target, he snapped his rifle back to
his shoulder and fired. He saw Bill Dozier throw up his hands, saw his
head rock stupidly back and forth, and then the long figure toppled to
one side. One of the posse rushed alongside to catch his leader, but he
missed, and Bill, slumping to the ground, was trampled underfoot.




CHAPTER 9


At the same time the rifles of the two men of the posse rang, but they
must have seen the fall of their leader, for the shots went wild, and
Andy Lanning took off his hat and waved to them. But he did not flee
again. He sat in his saddle with the long rifle balanced across the
pommel while two thoughts went through his mind. One was to stay there
and watch. The other was to slip the rifle back into the holster and
with drawn revolver charge the five remaining members of the posse.
These were now gathering hastily about Bill Dozier. But Andy knew their
concern was in vain. He knew where that bullet had driven home, and Bill
Dozier would never ride again.

One by one he picked up those five figures with his eyes, fighting
temptation. He knew that he could not miss if he fired again. In five
shots he knew that he could drop as many men, and within him there was a
perfect consciousness that they would not hit him when they returned
the fire.

He was not filled with exulting courage. He was cold with fear. But it
was the sort of fear which makes a man want to fling himself from a
great height. But, sitting there calmly in the saddle, he saw a strange
thing--the five men raising their dead leader and turning back toward
the direction from which they had come. Not once did they look toward
the form of Andy Lanning. They knew what he could not know, that the
gate of the law had been open to this man as a retreat, but the bullet
which struck down Bill Dozier had closed the gate and thrust him out
from mercy. He was an outlaw, a leper now. Any one who shared his
society from this moment on would fall under the heavy hand of the law.

But as for running him into the ground, they had lost their appetite for
such fighting. They had kept up a long running fight and gained nothing;
but a single shot from the fugitive had produced this result. They
turned now in silence and went back, very much as dogs turn and tuck
their tails between their legs when the wolf, which they have chased
away from the precincts of the ranch house, feels himself once more safe
from the hand of man and whirls with a flash of teeth. The sun gleamed
on the barrel of Andy Lanning's rifle, and these men rode back in
silence, feeling that they had witnessed one of those prodigies which
were becoming fewer and fewer around Martindale--the birth of a
desperado.

Andrew watched them skulking off with the body of Bill Dozier held
upright by a man on either side of the horse. He watched them draw off
across the hills, still with that nervous, almost irresistible impulse
to raise one wild, long cry and spur after them, shooting swift and
straight over the head of the pinto. But he did not move, and now they
dropped out of sight. And then, looking about him, Andrew Lanning felt
how vast were those hills, how wide they stretched, and how small he
stood among them. He was utterly alone. There was nothing but the hills
and a sky growing pale with heat and the patches of olive-gray sagebrush
in the distance.

A great melancholy dropped upon Andy. He felt a childish weakness;
dropping his elbows upon the pommel of the saddle, he buried his face in
his hands. In that moment he needed desperately something to which he
could appeal for comfort.

The weakness passed slowly.

He dismounted and looked his horse over carefully. The pinto had many
good points. He had ample girth of chest at the cinches, where lung
capacity is best measured. He had rather short forelegs, which promised
weight-carrying power and some endurance, and he had a fine pair of
sloping shoulders. But his croup sloped down too much, and he had a
short neck. Andy knew perfectly well that no horse with a short neck can
run fast for any distance. He had chosen the pinto for endurance, and
endurance he undoubtedly had; but he would need a horse which could put
him out of short-shooting distance, and do it quickly.

There were no illusions in the mind of Andrew Lanning about what lay
before him. Uncle Jasper had told him too many tales of his own
experiences on the trail in enemy country.

"There's three things," the old man had often said, "that a man needs
when he's in trouble: a gun that's smooth as silk, a hoss full of
running, and a friend."

For the gun Andy had his Colt in the holster, and he knew it like his
own mind. There were newer models and trickier weapons, but none which
worked so smoothly under the touch of Andy. Thinking of this, he
produced it from the holster with a flick of his fingers. The sight had
been filed away. When he was a boy in short trousers he had learned from
Uncle Jasper the two main articles of a gun fighter's creed--that a
revolver must be fired by pointing, not sighting, and that there must be
nothing about it liable to hang in the holster to delay the draw. The
great idea was to get the gun on your man with lightning speed, and then
fire from the hip with merely a sense of direction to guide the bullet.

He had a gun, therefore, and one necessity was his. Sorely he needed a
horse of quality as few men needed one. And he needed still more a
friend, a haven in time of crisis, an adviser in difficulties. And
though Andy knew that it was death to go among men, he knew also that it
was death to do without these two things.

He believed that there was one chance left to him, and that was to
outdistance the news of the two killings by riding straight north. There
he would stop at the first town, in some manner fill his pockets with
money, and in some manner find both horse and friend.

Andrew Lanning was both simple and credulous; but it must be remembered
that he had led a sheltered life, comparatively speaking; he had been
brought up between a blacksmith shop on the one hand and Uncle Jasper on
the other, and the gaps in his knowledge of men were many and huge. The
prime necessity now was speed to the northward. So Andy flung himself
into the saddle and drove his horse north at the jogging, rocking lope
of the cattle pony.

He was in a shallow basin which luckily pointed in the right direction
for him. The hills sloped down to it from either side in long fingers,
with narrow gullies between, but as Andy passed the first of these
pointing fingers a new thought came to him.

It might be--why not?--that the posse had made only a pretense of
withdrawing at once with the body of the dead man. Perhaps they had only
waited until they were out of sight and had then circled swiftly around,
leaving one man with the body. They might be waiting now at the mouth of
any of these gullies.

No sooner had the thought come to Andy than he whitened. The pinto had
been worked hard that morning and all the night before, but now Andy
sent the spurs home without mercy as he shot up the basin at full speed,
with his revolver drawn, ready for a snap shot and a drop behind the far
side of his horse.

For half an hour he rode in this fashion with his heart beating at his
teeth. And each canyon as he passed was empty, and each had some shrub,
like a crouching man, to startle him and upraise the revolver. At
length, with the pinto wheezing from this new effort, he drew back to an
easier gait. But still he had a companion ceaselessly following like the
shadow of the horse he rode. It was fear, and it would never leave him.




CHAPTER 10


After that forced and early rising, the rest of the house had remained
awake, but Anne Withero was gifted with an exceptionally strong set of
nerves. She had gone back to bed and fallen promptly into a pleasant
sleep. And when she wakened all that happened in the night was filmed
over and had become dreamlike. No one disturbed her rest; but when she
went down to a late breakfast she found Charles Merchant lingering in
the room. He had questioned her closely, and after a moment of thought
she told him exactly what had happened, because she was perfectly aware
that he would not believe a word of it. And she was right. He had sat
opposite her, drumming his fingers without noise on the table, with a
smile now and then which was tinged, she thought, with insolence.

Yet he seemed oddly undisturbed. She had expected some jealous outburst,
some keen questioning of the motives which had made her beg them not to
pursue this man. But Charles Merchant was only interested in what the
fellow had said and done when he talked with her. "He was just like a
man out of a book," said the girl in conclusion, "and I'll wager that
he's been raised on romances. He had the face for it, you know--and the
wild look!"

"A blacksmith--in Martindale--raised on romances?" Charles had said as
he fingered his throat, which was patched with black and blue.

"A blacksmith--in Martindale," she had repeated slowly. And it brought a
new view of the affair home to her. Now that they knew from Bill Dozier
that the victim in Martindale had been only injured, and not actually
killed, the whole matter became rather a farce. It would be an amusing
tale. But now, as Charles Merchant repeated the words, "blacksmith"--
"Martindale," the new idea shocked her, the new idea of Andrew Lanning,
for Charles had told her the name.

The new thought stayed with her when she went back to her room after
breakfast, ostensibly to read, but really to think. Remembering Andrew
Lanning, she got past the white face and the brilliant black eyes; she
felt, looking back, that he had shown a restraint which was something
more than boyish. When he took her in his arms just before he fled he
had not kissed her, though, for that matter, she had been perfectly
ready to let him do it.

That moment kept recurring to her--the beating on the door, the voices
in the hall, the shouts, and the arms of Andrew Lanning around her, and
his tense, desperate face close to hers. It became less dreamlike that
moment. She began to understand that if she lived to be a hundred, she
would never find that memory dimmer.

A half-sad, half-happy smile was touching the corners of her mouth, when
Charles Merchant knocked at her door. She gave herself one moment in
which to banish the queer pain of knowing that she would never see this
wild Andrew again, and then she told Charles to come in.

In fact, he was already opening the door. He was calm of face, but she
guessed an excitement beneath the surface.

"I've got something to show you," he said.

A great thought made her sit up in the chair; but she was afraid just
then to stand up. "I know. The posse has reached that silly boy and
brought him back. But I don't want to see him again. Handcuffed, and
all that."

"The posse is here, at least," said Charles noncommittally. She was
finding something new in him. The fact that he could think and hide his
thoughts from her was indeed very new; for, when she first met him, he
had seemed all surface, all clean young manhood without a stain.

"Do you want me to see the six brave men again?" she asked, smiling, but
really she was prying at his mind to get a clew of the truth. "Well,
I'll come down."

And she went down the stairs with Charles Merchant beside her; he kept
looking straight ahead, biting his lips, and this made her wonder. She
began to hum a gay little tune, and the first bar made the man start. So
she kept on. She was bubbling with apparent good nature when Charles,
all gravity, opened the door of the living room.

The shades were drawn. The quiet in that room was a deadly, living
thing. And then she saw, on the sofa at one side of the place, a human
form under a sheet.

"Charles!" whispered the girl. She put out her hand and touched his
shoulder, but she could not take her eyes off that ghastly dead thing.
"They--they--he's dead--Andrew Lanning! Why did you bring me here?"

"Take the cloth from his face," commanded Charles Merchant, and there
was something so hard in his voice that she obeyed.

The sheet came away under her touch, and she was looking into the sallow
face of Bill Dozier. She had remembered him because of the sad
mustaches, that morning, and his big voice.

"That's what your romantic boy out of a book has done," said Charles
Merchant. "Look at his work!"

But she dropped the sheet and whirled on him.

"And they left him--" she said.

"Anne," said he, "are you thinking about the safety of that
murderer--now? He's safe, but they'll get him later on; he's as good as
dead, if that's what you want to know."

"God help him!" said the girl.

And going back a pace, she stood in the thick shadow, leaning against
the wall, with one hand across her lips. It reminded Charles of the
picture he had seen when he broke into her room after Andrew Lanning had
escaped. And she looked now, as, then, more beautiful, more wholly to be
desired than he had ever known her before. Yet he could neither move nor
speak. He saw her go out of the room. Then, without stopping to replace
the sheet, he followed.

He had hoped to wipe the last thought of that vagabond blacksmith out of
her mind with the shock of this horror. Instead, he knew now that he had
done quite another thing. And in addition he had probably made her
despise him for taking her to confront such a sight.

All in all, Charles Merchant was exceedingly thoughtful as he closed
the door and stepped into the hall. He ran up the stairs to her room.
The door was closed. There was no answer to his knock, and by trying the
knob he found that she had locked herself in. And the next moment he
could hear her sobbing. He stood for a moment more, listening, and
wishing Andrew Lanning dead with all his heart.

Then he went down to the garage, climbed into his car, and burned up the
road between his place and that of Hal Dozier. There was very little
similarity between the two brothers. Bill had been tall and lean; Hal
was compact and solid, and he had the fighting agility of a starved
coyote. He had a smooth-shaven face as well, and a clear gray eye, which
was known wherever men gathered in the mountain desert. There was no
news to give him. A telephone message had already told him of the death
of Bill Dozier.

"But," said Charles Merchant, "there's one thing I can do. I can set you
free to run down this Lanning."

"How?"

"You're needed on your ranch, Hal; but I want you to let me stand the
expenses of this trip. Take your time, make sure of him, and run him
into the ground."

"My friend," said Hal Dozier, "you turn a pleasure into a real party."

And Charles Merchant left, knowing that he had signed the death warrant
of young Lanning. In all the history of the mountain desert there was a
tale of only one man who had escaped, once Hal Dozier took his trail,
and that man had blown out his own brains.




CHAPTER 11


Far away in the western sky Andy Lanning saw a black dot that moved in
wide circles and came up across the heavens slowly, and he knew it was a
buzzard that scented carrion and was coming up the wind toward that
scent. He had seen them many a time before on their gruesome trails, and
the picture which he carried was not a pleasant one.

But now the picture that drifted through his mind was still more
horrible. It was a human body lying face downward in the sand with the
wind ruffling in the hair and the hat rolled a few paces off and the gun
close to the outstretched hand. He knew from Uncle Jasper that no matter
how far the trail led, or how many years it was ridden, the end of the
outlaw was always the same--death and the body left to the buzzards. Or
else, in some barroom, a footfall from behind and a bullet through
the back.

The flesh of Andy crawled. It was not possible for him to relax in
vigilance for a moment, lest danger come upon him when he least expected
it. Perhaps, in some open space like this. He went on until the sun was
low in the west and all the sky was rimmed with color.

Dusk had come over the hills in a rush, when he saw a house half lost in
the shadows. It was a narrow-fronted, two-storied, unpainted, lonely
place, without sign of a porch. Here, where there was no vestige of a
town near, and where there was no telephone, the news of the deaths of
Bill Dozier and Buck Heath could not have come. Andy accepted the house
as a blessing and went straight toward it.

But the days of carelessness were over for Andy, and he would never
again approach a house without searching it like a human face. He
studied this shack as he came closer. If there were people in the
building they did not choose to show a light.

Andy went around to the rear of the house, where there was a low shed
beside the corral, half tumbled down; but in the corral were five or six
fine horses--wild fellows with bright eyes and the long necks of speed.
Andy looked upon them wistfully. Not one of them but was worth the price
of three of the pinto; but as for money there was not twenty dollars in
the pocket of Andy.

Stripping the saddle from the pinto, he put it under the shed and left
the mustang to feed and find water in the small pasture. Then he went
with the bridle, that immemorial sign of one who seeks hospitality in
the West, toward the house. He was met halfway by a tall, strong man of
middle age or more. There was no hat on his head, which was covered with
a shock of brown hair much younger than the face beneath it. He beheld
Andy without enthusiasm.

"You figure on layin' over here for the night, stranger?" he asked.

"That's it," said Andy.

"I'll tell you how it is," said the big man in the tone of one who is
willing to argue a point. "We ain't got a very big house--you see
it--and it's pretty well filled right now. If you was to slope over the
hills there, you'd find Gainorville inside of ten miles."

Andy explained that he was at the end of a hard ride. "Ten more miles
would kill the pinto," he said. "But if you don't mind, I'll have a bit
of chow and then turn in out there in the shed. That won't crowd you in
your sleeping quarters, and it'll be fine for me."

The big man opened his mouth to say something more, then turned on his
heel.

"I guess we can fix you up," he said. "Come on along."

At another time Andy would have lost a hand rather than accept such
churlish hospitality, but he was in no position to choose. The pain of
hunger was like a voice speaking in him.

It was a four-room house; the rooms on the ground floor were the
kitchen, where Andy cooked his own supper of bacon and coffee and
flapjacks, and the combination living room, dining room, and, from the
bunk covered with blankets on one side, bedroom. Upstairs there must
have been two more rooms of the same size.

Seated about a little kitchen table in the front room, Andy found three
men playing an interrupted game of blackjack, which was resumed when the
big fellow took his place before his hand. The three gave Andy a look
and a grunt, but otherwise they paid no attention to him. And if they
had consulted him he could have asked for no greater favor. Yet he had
an odd hunger about seeing them. They were the last men in many a month,
perhaps, whom he could permit to see him without a fear. He brought his
supper into the living room and put his cup of coffee on the floor
beside him. While he ate he watched them.

They were, all in all, the least prepossessing group he had ever seen.
The man who had brought him in was far from well favored, but he was
handsome compared with the others. Opposite him sat a tall fellow very
erect and stiff in his chair. A candle had recently been lighted, and it
stood on the table near this man. It showed a wan face of excessive
leanness. His eyes were deep under bony brows, and they alone of the
features showed any expression as the game progressed, turning now and
again to the other faces with glances that burned; he was winning
steadily. A red-headed man was on his left, with his back to Andy; but
now and again he turned, and Andy saw a heavy jowl and a skin blotched
with great, rusty freckles. His shoulders over-flowed the back of his
chair, which creaked whenever he moved. The man who faced the redhead
was as light as his companion was ponderous. His voice was gentle, his
eyes large and soft, and his profile was exceedingly handsome. But in
the full view Andy saw nothing except a grisly, purple scar that twisted
down beneath the right eye of the man. It drew down the lower lid of
that eye, and it pulled the mouth of the man a bit awry, so that he
seemed to be smiling in a smug, half-apologetic manner. In spite of his
youth he was unquestionably the dominant spirit here. Once or twice the
others lifted their voices in argument, and a single word from him cut
them short. And when he raised his head, now and again, to look at Andy,
it gave the latter a feeling that his secret was read and all his
past known.

These strange fellows had not asked his name, and neither had they
introduced themselves, but from their table talk he gathered that the
redhead was named Jeff, the funereal man with the bony face was Larry,
the brown-haired one was Joe, and he of the scar and the smile was
Henry. It occurred to Andy as odd that such rough boon companions had
not shortened that name for convenience.

They played with the most intense concentration. As the night deepened
and the windows became black slabs Joe brought another candle and
reenforced this light by hanging a lantern from a nail on the wall. This
illuminated the entire room, but in a partial and dismal manner. The
game went on. They were playing for high stakes; Andrew Lanning had
never seen so much cash assembled at one time. They had stacks of
unmistakable yellow gold before them--actually stacks. The winner was
Larry. That skull-faced gentleman was fairly barricaded behind heaps of
money. Andy estimated swiftly that there must be well over two thousand
dollars in those stacks.

He finished his supper, and, having taken the tin cup and plate out into
the next room and cleaned them, he had no sooner come back to the door,
on the verge of bidding them good night, then Henry invited him to sit
down and take a hand.




CHAPTER 12


He had never studied any men as he was watching these men at cards.
Andrew Lanning had spent most of his life quite indifferent to the
people around him, but now it was necessary to make quick and sure
judgments. He had to read unreadable faces. He had to guess motives. He
had to sense the coming of danger before it showed its face. And,
watching them with close intentness, he understood that at least three
of them were cheating at every opportunity. Henry, alone, was playing a
square game; as for the heavy winner, Larry, Andrew had reason to
believe that he was adroitly palming an ace now and then--luck ran too
consistently his way. For his own part, he was no card expert, and he
smiled as Henry made his offer.

"I've got eleven dollars and fifty cents in my pocket," Andrew said
frankly. "I won't sit in at that game."

"Then the game is three-handed," said Henry as he got up from his chair.
"I've fed you boys enough," he continued in his soft voice. "I know a
three-handed game is no good, but I'm through. Unless you'll try a round
or two with 'em, stranger? They've made enough money. Maybe they'll play
for silver for the fun of it, eh, boys?"

There was no enthusiastic assent. The three looked gravely at a victim
with eleven dollars and fifty cents, the chair of Big Jeff creaking
noisily as he turned. "Sit in," said Jeff. He made a brief gesture, like
one wiping an obstacle out of the way. "Alright," nodded Andy, for the
thing began to excite him. He turned to Henry. "Suppose you deal
for us?"

The scar on Henry's face changed color, and his habitual smile
broadened. "Well!" exclaimed Larry. "Maybe the gent don't like the way
we been runnin' this game in other ways. Maybe he's got a few more
suggestions to make, sittin' in? I like to be obligin'."

He grinned, and the effect was ghastly.

"Thanks," said Andy. "That lets me out as far as suggestions go." He
paused with his hand on the back of the chair, and something told him
that Larry would as soon run a knife into him as take a drink of water.
The eyes burned up at him out of the shadow of the brows, but Andy,
though his heart leaped, made himself meet the stare. Suddenly it
wavered, and only then would Andy sit down. Henry had drawn up
another chair.

"That idea looks good to me," he said. "I think I shall deal." And
forthwith, as one who may not be resisted, he swept up the cards and
began to shuffle.

The others at once lost interest. Each of them nonchalantly produced
silver, and they began to play negligently, careless of their stakes.

But to Andy, who had only played for money half a dozen times before,
this was desperately earnest. He kept to a conservative game, and slowly
but surely he saw his silver being converted into gold. Only Larry
noticed his gains--the others were indifferent to it, but the
skull-faced man tightened his lips as he saw. Suddenly he began betting
in gold, ten dollars for each card he drew. The others were out of that
hand. Andy, breathless, for he had an ace down, saw a three and a two
fall--took the long chance, and, with the luck behind him, watched a
five-spot flutter down to join his draw. Yet Larry, taking the same
draw, was not busted. He had a pair of deuces and a four. There he
stuck, and it stood to reason that he could not win. Yet he bet
recklessly, raising Andy twice, until the latter had no more money on
the table to call a higher bet. The showdown revealed an ace under cover
for Larry also. Now he leaned across the table, smiling at Andrew.

"I like the hand you show," said Larry, "but I don't like your face
behind it, my friend."

His smile went out; his hand jerked back; and then the lean, small hand
of Henry shot out and fastened on the tall man's wrist. "You skunk!"
said Henry. "D'you want to get the kid for that beggarly mess? Bah!"

Andy, colorless, his blood cold, brushed aside the arm of the
intercessor.

"Partner," he said, leaning a little forward in turn, and thereby making
his holster swing clear of the seat of his chair, "partner, I don't mind
your words, but I don't like the way you say 'em."

When he began to speak his voice was shaken; before he had finished, his
tones rang, and he felt once more that overwhelming desire which was
like the impulse to fling himself from a height. He had felt it before,
when he watched the posse retreat with the body of Bill Dozier. He felt
it now, a vast hunger, an almost blinding eagerness to see Larry make an
incriminating move with his bony, hovering right hand. The bright eyes
burned at him for a moment longer out of the shadow. Then, again, they
wavered, and turned away.

Andy knew that the fellow had no more stomach for a fight. Shame might
have made him go through with the thing he started, however, had not
Henry cut in again and given Larry a chance to withdraw gracefully.

"The kid's called your bluff, Larry," he said. "And the rest of us don't
need to see you pull any target practice. Shake hands with the kid, will
you, and tell him you were joking!"

Larry settled back in his chair with a grunt, and Henry, without a
word, tipped back in his chair and kicked the table. Andy, beside him,
saw the move start, and he had just time to scoop his own winnings,
including that last rich bet, off the table top and into his pocket. As
for the rest of the coin, it slid with a noisy jangle to the floor, and
it turned the other three men into scrambling madmen. They scratched and
clawed at the money, cursing volubly, and Andy, stepping back out of the
fracas, saw the scar-faced man watching with a smile of contempt. There
was a snarl; Jeff had Joe by the throat, and Joe was reaching for his
gun. Henry moved forward to interfere once more, but this time he was
not needed. A clear whistling sounded outside the house, and a moment
later the door was kicked open. A man came in with his saddle on
his hip.

His appearance converted the threatening fight into a scene of jovial
good nature. The money was swept up at random, as though none of them
had the slightest care what became of it.

"Havin' one of your little parties, eh?" said the stranger. "What
started it?"

"He did, Scottie," answered Larry, and, stretching out an arm of
enormous length, he pointed at Andrew.

Again it required the intervention of Henry to explain matters, and
Scottie, with his hands on his hips, turned and surveyed Andrew with
considering eyes. He was much different from the rest. Whereas, they had
one and all a peculiarly unhealthy effect upon Andy, this newcomer was a
cheery fellow, with an eye as clear as crystal, and color in his tanned
cheeks. He had one of those long faces which invariably imply
shrewdness, and he canted his head to one side while he watched Andy.
"You're him that put the pinto in the corral, I guess?" he said.

Andy nodded.

There was no further mention of the troubles of that card game. Jeff and
Joe and Larry were instantly busied about the kitchen and in arranging
the table, while Scottie, after the manner of a guest, bustled about and
accomplished little.

But the eye of Andy, then and thereafter, whenever he was near the five,
kept steadily upon the scar-faced man. Henry had tilted his chair back
against the wall. The night had come on chill, with a rising wind that
hummed through the cracks of the ill-built wall and tossed the flame in
the throat of the chimney; Henry draped a coat like a cloak around his
shoulders and buried his chin in his hands, separated from the others by
a vast gulf. Presently Scottie was sitting at the table. The others were
gathered around him in expectant attitudes.

"What's new?" they exclaimed in one voice.

"Oh, about a million things. Let me get some of this ham into my face,
and then I'll talk. I've got a batch of newspapers yonder. There's a
gold rush on up to Tolliver's Creek."

Andy blinked, for that news was at least four weeks old. But now came a
tide of other news, and almost all of it was stale stuff to him. But the
men drank it in--all except Henry, silent in his corner. He was relaxed,
as if he slept. "But the most news is about the killing of Bill Dozier."




CHAPTER 13


"Ol' Bill!" grunted red-headed Jeff. "Well, I'll be hung! There's one
good deed done. He was overdue, anyways."

Andy, waiting breathlessly, watched lest the eye of the narrator should
swing toward him for the least part of a second. But Scottie seemed
utterly oblivious of the fact that he sat in the same room with the
murderer. "Well, he got it," said Scottie. "And he didn't get it from
behind. Seems there was a young gent in Martindale--all you boys know
old Jasper Lanning?" There was an answering chorus. "Well, he's got a
nephew, Andrew Lanning. This kid was sort of a bashful kind, they say.
But yesterday he up and bashed a fellow in the jaw, and the man went
down. Whacked his head on a rock, and young Lanning thought his man was
dead. So he holds off the crowd with a gun, hops a horse, and beats it."

"Pretty, pretty!" murmured Larry. "But what's that got to do with that
hyena, Bill Dozier?"

"I don't get it all hitched up straight. Most of the news come from
Martindale to town by telephone. Seems this young Lanning was follered
by Bill Dozier. He was always a hound for a job like that, eh?"

There was a growl of assent.

"He hand-picked five rough ones and went after Lanning. Chased him all
night. Landed at John Merchant's place. The kid had dropped in there to
call on a girl. Can you beat that for cold nerve, him figuring that he'd
killed a man, and Bill Dozier and five more on his trail to bring him
back to wait and see whether the buck he dropped lived or died--and then
to slide over and call on a lady? No, you can't raise that!"

But the tidings were gradually breaking in upon the mind of Andrew
Lanning. Buck Heath had not been dead; the pursuit was simply to bring
him back on some charge of assault; and now--Bill Dozier--the head of
Andrew swam.

"Seems he didn't know her, either. Just paid a call round about dawn and
then rode on. Bill comes along a little later on the trail, gets new
horses from Merchant, and runs down Lanning early this morning. Runs him
down, and then Lanning turns in the saddle and drills Bill through the
head at five hundred yards." Henry came to life. "How far?" he said.

"That's what they got over the telephone," said Scottie apologetically.

"Then the news got to Hal Dozier from Merchant's house. Hal hops on the
wire and gets in touch with the governor, and in about ten seconds they
make this Lanning kid an outlaw and stick a price on his head--five
thousand, I think, and they say Merchant is behind it. The telephone was
buzzing with it when I left town, and most of the boys were oiling up
their gats and getting ready to make a play. Pretty easy money, eh, for
putting the rollers under a kid?"

Andrew Lanning muttered aloud: "An outlaw!"

"Not the first time Bill Dozier has done it," said Henry calmly. "That's
an old maneuver of his--to hound a man from a little crime to a
big one."

The throat of Andrew was dry. "Did you get a description of young
Lanning?" he asked.

"Sure," nodded Scottie. "Twenty-three years old, about five feet ten,
black hair and black eyes, good looking, big shoulders, quiet spoken."

Andrew made a gesture and looked carelessly out the back window, but,
from the corner of his eyes, he was noting the five men. Not a line of
their expressions escaped him. He was seeing, literally, with eyes in
the back of his head; and if, by the interchange of one knowing glance,
or by a significant silence, even, these fellows had indicated that they
remotely guessed his identity, he would have been on his feet like a
tiger, gun in hand, and backing for the door. Five thousand dollars!
What would not one of these men do for that sum?

Andy had been keyed to the breaking point before; but his alertness was
now trebled, and, like a sensitive barometer, he felt the danger of
Larry, the brute strength of Jeff, the cunning of Henry, the grave poise
of Joe, to say nothing of Scottie--an unknown force. But Scottie was
running on in his talk; he was telling of how he met the storekeeper in
town; he was naming everything he saw; these fellows seemed to hunger
for the minutest news of men. They broke into admiring laughter when
Scottie told of his victorious tilt of jesting with the storekeeper's
daughter; even Henry came out of his patient gloom long enough to smile
at this, and the rest were like children. Larry was laughing so heartily
that his eyes began to twinkle. He even invited Andrew in on the mirth.

At this point Andy stood up and stretched elaborately--but in stretching
he put his arms behind him, and stretched them down rather than up, so
that his hands were never far from his hips.

"I'll be turning in," said Andy, and stepping back to the door so that
his face would be toward them until the last instant of his exit, he
waved good night.

There was a brief shifting of eyes toward him, and a grunt from Jeff;
that was all. Then the eye of every one reverted to Scottie. But the
latter broke off his narrative.

"Ain't you sleepin' in?" he asked. "We could fix you a bunk upstairs, I
guess."

Once more the glance of Andrew flashed from face to face, and then he
saw the first suspicious thing. Scottie was looking straight at Henry,
in the corner, as though waiting for a direction, and, from the corner
of his eye, Andrew was aware that Henry had nodded ever so slightly.

"Here's something you might be interested to know," said Scottie. "This
young Lanning was riding a pinto hoss." He added, while Andrew stood
rooted to the spot: "You seemed sort of interested in the description. I
allowed maybe you'd try your hand at findin' him."

Andy understood perfectly that he was known, and, with his left hand
frozen against the knob of the door, he flattened his shoulders against
the wall and stood ready for the draw. In the crisis, at the first
hostile move, he decided that he would dive straight for the table,
low. It would tumble the room into darkness as the candles fell--a
semidarkness, for there would be a sputtering lantern still.

Then he would fight for his life. And looking at the others, he saw that
they were changed, indeed. They were all facing him, and their faces
were alive with interest; yet they made no hostile move. No doubt they
awaited the signal of Henry; there was the greatest danger; and now
Henry stood up.

His first word was a throwing down of disguises. "Mr. Lanning," he said,
"I think this is a time for introductions."

That cold exultation, that wild impulse to throw himself into the arms
of danger, was sweeping over Andrew. He made no gesture toward his gun,
though his fingers were curling, but he said: "Friends, I've got you all
in my eye. I'm going to open this door and go out. No harm to any of
you. But if you try to stop me, it means trouble, a lot of
trouble--quick!"

Just a split second of suspense. If a foot stirred, or a hand raised,
Andrew's curling hand would jerk up and bring out a revolver, and every
man in the room knew it. Then the voice of Henry, "You'd plan on
fighting us all?"

"Take my bridle off the wall," said Andrew, looking straight before him
at no face, and thereby enabled to see everything, just as a boxer looks
in the eye of his opponent and thereby sees every move of his gloves.
"Take my bridle off the wall, you, Jeff, and throw it at my feet."

The bridle rattled at his feet.

"This has gone far enough," said Henry. "Lanning, you've got the wrong
idea. I'm going ahead with the introductions. The red-headed fellow we
call Jeff is better known to the public as Jeff Rankin. Does that mean
anything to you?" Jeff Rankin acknowledged the introduction with a broad
grin, the corners of his mouth being lost in the heavy fold of his
jowls. "I see it doesn't," went on Henry. "Very well. Joe's name is Joe
Clune. Yonder sits Scottie Macdougal. There is Larry la Roche. And I am
Henry Allister."

The edge of Andrew's alertness was suddenly dulled. The last name swept
into his brain a wave of meaning, for of all words on the mountain
desert there was none more familiar than Henry Allister. Scar-faced
Allister, they called him. Of those deadly men who figured in the tales
of Uncle Jasper, Henry Allister was the last and the most grim. A
thousand stories clustered about him: of how he killed Watkins; of how
Langley, the famous Federal marshal, trailed him for five years and was
finally killed in the duel which left Allister with that scar; of how he
broke jail at Garrisonville and again at St. Luke City. In the
imagination of Andrew he had loomed like a giant, some seven-foot
prodigy, whiskered, savage of eye, terrible of voice. And, turning
toward him, Andrew saw him in profile with the scar obscured--and his
face was of almost feminine refinement.

Five thousand dollars?

A dozen rich men in the mountain desert would each pay more than that
for the apprehension of Allister, dead or alive. And bitterly it came
over Andrew that this genius of crime, this heartless murderer as story
depicted him, was no danger to him but almost a friend. And the other
four ruffians of Allister's band were smiling cordially at him, enjoying
his astonishment. The day before his hair would have turned white in
such a place among such men; tonight they were his friends.




CHAPTER 14


After that things happened to Andrew in a swirl. They were shaking hands
with him. They were congratulating him on the killing of Bill Dozier.
They were patting him on the back. Larry la Roche, who had been so
hostile, now stood up to the full of his ungainly height and proposed
his health. And the other men drank it standing. Andy received a tin cup
half full of whisky, and he drank the burning stuff in acknowledgment.
The unaccustomed drink went to his head, his muscles began to relax, his
eyes swam. Voices boomed at him out of a haze. "Why, he's only a young
kid. One shot put him under the weather."

"Shut up, Larry. He'll learn fast enough."

"Ah, yes," said Larry to himself, "he'll learn fast enough!"

Presently he was lifted and carried by strong arms up a creaking stairs.
He looked up, and he saw the red hair of the mighty Jeff, who carried
him as if he had been a child, and deposited him among some blankets.

"I didn't know," Larry la Roche was saying. "How could I tell a
man-killer like him couldn't stand no more than a girl?"

"Shut up and get out," said another voice. Heavy footsteps retreated,
then Andrew heard them once more grumbling and booming below him.

After that his head cleared rapidly. Two windows were open in this
higher room, and a sharp current of the night wind blew across him,
clearing his mind as rapidly as wind blows away a fog. Now he made out
that one man had not left him; the dark outline of him was by the
bed, waiting.

"Who's there?" asked Andrew. "Allister. Take it easy."

"I'm all right. I'll go down again to the boys."

"That's what I'm here to talk to you about, kid. Are you sure your
head's clear?"

"Yep. Sure thing."

"Then listen to me, Lanning, while I talk. It's important. Stay here
till the morning, then ride on."

"Where?"

"Oh, away from Martindale, that's all."

"Out of the desert? Out of the mountains?"

"Of course. They'll hunt for you here." Allister paused, then went on.
"And when you get away what'll you do? Go straight?"

"God willing," said Andrew fervently. "It--it was only luck, bad luck,
that put me where I am."

The outlaw scratched a match and lighted a candle; then he dropped a
little of the melted tallow on a box, and by that light he peered
earnestly into Andrew's face. He appeared to need this light to read the
expression on it. It also enabled Andrew to see the face of Allister.
Sometimes the play of shadows made that face unreal as a dream,
sometimes the face was filled with poetic beauty, sometimes the light
gleamed on the scar and the sardonic smile, and then it was a face
out of hell.

"You're going to get away from the mountain desert and go straight,"
said Allister.

"That's it." He saw that the outlaw was staring with a smile, half grim
and half sad, into the shadows and far away.

"Lanning, let me tell you. You'll never get away."

"You don't understand," said Andrew. "I don't like fighting. It--it
makes me sick inside. I'm not a brave man!"

He waited to see the contempt come on the face of the famous leader, but
there was nothing but grave attention.

"Why," Andy went on in a rush of confidence, "everybody in Martindale
knows that I'm not a fighter. Those fellows downstairs think that I'm a
sort of bad hombre. I'm not. Why, Allister, when I turned over Buck
Heath and saw his face, I nearly fainted, and then--"

"Wait," cut in the other. "That was your first man. You didn't kill him,
but you thought you had. You nearly fainted, then. But as I gather it,
after you shot Bill Dozier you simply sat on your horse and waited. Did
you feel like fainting then?"

"No," explained Andrew hastily. "I wanted to go after them and shoot'em
all. They could have rushed me and taken me prisoner easily, but they
wanted to shoot me from a distance--and it made me mad to see them work
it. I--I hated them all, and I had a reason for it. Curse them!"

He added hurriedly: "But I've no grudge against anybody. All I want is a
chance to live quiet and clean."

There was a faint sigh from Allister.

"Lanning," he murmured, "the minute I laid eyes on you, I knew you were
one of my kind. In all my life I've known only one other with that same
chilly effect in his eyes--that was Marshal Langley--only he happened to
be on the side of the law. No matter. He had the iron dust in him. He
was cut out to be a man-killer. You say you want to get away: Lanning,
you can't do it. Because you can't get away from yourself. I'm making a
long talk to you, but you're worth it. I tell you I read your mind. You
plan on riding north and getting out of the mountain desert before the
countryside there is raised against you, the way it's raised to the
south. In the first place, I don't think you'll get away. Hal Dozier is
on your trail, and he'll get to the north and raise the whole district
and stop you before you hit the towns. You'll have to go back to the
mountain desert. You'll have to do it eventually, why not do it now?
Lanning, if I had you at my back I could laugh at the law the rest of
our lives! Stay with me. I can tell a man when I see him. I saw you call
Larry la Roche. And I've never wanted a man the way I want you. Not to
follow me, but as a partner. Shake and say you will!"

The slender hand was stretched out through the shadows, the light from
the candle flashed on it. And a power outside his own will made Andrew
move his hand to meet it. He stopped the gesture with a violent effort.

The swift voice of the outlaw, with a fiber of earnest persuasion in it,
went on: "You see what I risk to get you. Hal Dozier is on your trail.
He's the only man in the world I'd think twice about before I met him
face to face. But if I join to you, I'll have to meet him sooner or
later. Well, Lanning, I'll take that risk. I know he's more devil than
man when it comes to gun play, but we'll meet him together. Give me
your hand!"

There was a riot in the brain of Andrew Lanning. The words of the outlaw
had struck something in him that was like metal chiming on metal. Iron
dust? That was it! The call of one blood to another, and he realized the
truth of what Allister said. If he touched the hand of this man, there
would be a bond between them which only death could break. In one
blinding rush he sensed the strength and the faith of Allister.

But another voice was at his ear, and he saw Anne Withero, as she had
stood for that moment in his arms in her room. It came over him with a
chill like cold moonlight.

"Do you fear me?" he had whispered.

"No."

"Will you remember me?"

"Forever!"

And with that ghost of a voice in his ear Andrew Lanning groaned to the
man beside him: "Partner, I know you're nine-tenths man, and I thank you
out of the bottom of my heart. But there's some one else has a claim to
me--I don't belong to myself."

There was a breathless pause. Anger contracted the face of Henry
Allister; he nodded gravely.

"It's the girl you went back to see," he said.

"Yes."

"Well, then, go ahead and try to win through. I wish you luck. But if
you fail, remember what I've said. Now, or ten years from now, what I've
said goes for you. Now roll over and sleep. Good-by, Lanning, or,
rather, au revoir!"




CHAPTER 15


The excitement kept Andrew awake for a little time, but then the hum of
the wind, the roll of voices below him, and the weariness of the long
ride rushed on him like a wave and washed him out into an ebb of sleep.

When he wakened the aches were gone from his limbs, and his mind was a
happy blank. Only when he started up from his blankets and rapped his
head against the slanting rafters just above him, he was brought to a
painful realization of where he was. He turned, scowling, and the first
thing he saw was a piece of brown wrapping paper held down by a shoe and
covered with a clumsy scrawl.

  These blankets are yours and the slicker along with
  them and heres wishin you luck while youre beatin it
  back to civlizashun. your friend, JEFF RANKIN.

Andy glanced swiftly about the room and saw that the other bunks had
been removed. He swept up the blankets and went down the stairs to the
first floor. The house reeked of emptiness; broken bottles, a twisted
tin plate in which some one had set his heel, were the last signs of the
outlaws of Henry Allister's gang. A bundle stood on the table with
another piece of the wrapping paper near it. The name of Andrew Lanning
was on the outside. He unfolded the sheet and read in a precise, rather
feminine writing:

  Dear Lanning: We are, in a manner, sneaking off.
  I've already said good-by, and I don't want to tempt
  you again. Now you're by yourself and you've got your
  own way to fight. The boys agree with me. We all want
  to see you make good. We'll all be sorry if you come
  back to us. But once you've found out that it's no go
  trying to beat back to good society, we'll be mighty
  happy to have you with us. In the meantime, we want
  to do our bit to help Andrew Lanning make up for his
  bad luck.

  For my part, I've put a chamois sack on top of the
  leather coat with the fur lining. You'll find a little
  money in that purse. Don't be foolish. Take the money
  I leave you, and, when you're back on your feet, I know
  that you'll repay it at your own leisure.

  And here's best luck to you and the girl.

  HENRY ALLISTER.

Andrew lifted the chamois sack carelessly, and out of its mouth tumbled
a stream of gold. One by one he picked up the pieces and replaced them;
he hesitated, and then put the sack in his pocket. How could he refuse a
gift so delicately made?

A broken kitchen knife had been thrust through a bit of the paper on the
box. He read this next:

  Your hoss is known. So I'm leaving you one in place
  of the pinto. He goes good and he dont need no spurring
  but when you come behind him keep watching
  your step. your pal, LARRY LA ROCHE.

Blankets and slicker, money, horse. A flask of whisky stood on another
slip of the paper. And the writing on this was much more legible.

  Here's a friend in need. When you come to a pinch,
  use it. And when you come to a bigger pinch send word
  to your friend, SCOTTIE MACDOUGAL.

Andrew picked it up, set it down again, and smiled. On the fur coat
there was a fifth tag. Not one of the five, then, had forgotten him.

  Its comin on cold, partner. Take this coat and welcome.
  When the snows get on the mountains if you
  aint out of the desert put on this coat and think of your
  partner,                                      JOE CLUNE.

  P.S.--I seen you first, and I have first call on you over
  the rest of these gents and you can figure that you have
  first call on me.                                 J.C.

When he had read all these little letters, when he had gathered his loot
before him, Andrew lifted his head and could have burst into song. This
much thieves and murderers had done for him; what would the good men of
the world do? How would they meet him halfway?

He went into the kitchen. They had forgotten nothing. There was a
quantity of "chuck," flour, bacon, salt, coffee, a frying pan, a cup,
a canteen.

It brought a lump in his throat. He cast open the back door, and,
standing in the little pasture, he saw only one horse remaining. It was
a fine, young chestnut gelding with a Roman nose and long, mulish ears.
His head was not beautiful to see from any angle, but every detail of
the body spelled speed, and speed meant safety.

What wonder, then, that Andrew began to see the world through a bright
mist? What wonder that when he had finished his breakfast he sang while
he roped the chestnut, built the pack behind the saddle, and filled the
saddlebags. When he was in the saddle, the gelding took at once the
cattle path with a long and easy canter.

With his head cleared by sleep, his muscles and nerves relaxed, Andrew
began to plan his escape with more calm deliberation than before.

The first goal was the big blue cloud on the northern horizon--a good
week's journey ahead of him--the Little Canover Mountains. Among the
foothills lay the cordon of small towns which it would be his chief
difficulty to pass. For, if the printed notices describing him were
circulated among them, the countryside would be up in arms, prepared to
intercept his flight. Otherwise, there would be nothing but telephoned
and telegraphed descriptions of him, which, at best, could only come to
the ears of a few, and these few would be necessarily put out by the
slightest difference between him and the description. Such a vital
difference, for instance, as the fact that he now rode a chestnut, while
the instructions called for a man on a pinto.

Moreover, it was by no means certain that Hal Dozier, great trailer
though he was, would know that the fugitive was making for the northern
mountains. With all these things in mind, in spite of the pessimism of
Henry Allister, Andrew felt that he had far more than a fighting chance
to break out of the mountain desert and into the comparative safety of
the crowded country beyond.

He made one mistake in the beginning. He pushed the chestnut too hard
the first and second days, so that on the third day he was forced to
give the gelding his head and go at a jarring trot most of the day. On
the fourth and fifth days, however, he had the reward for his caution.
The chestnut's ribs were beginning to show painfully, but he kept
doggedly at his work with no sign of faltering. The sixth day brought
Andrew Lanning in close view of the lower hills. And on the seventh day
he put his fortune boldly to the touch and jogged into the first little
town before him.




CHAPTER 16


It was just after the hot hour of the afternoon. The shadows from the
hills to the west were beginning to drop across the village; people who
had kept to their houses during the early afternoon now appeared on
their porches. Small boys and girls, returning from school, were
beginning to play. Their mothers were at the open doors exchanging
shouted pieces of news and greetings, and Andrew picked his way with
care along the street. It was a town flung down in the throat of a
ravine without care or pattern. There was not even one street, but
rather a collection of straggling paths which met about a sort of open
square, on the sides of which were the stores and the inevitable saloons
and hotel.

But the narrow path along which Andrew rode was a gantlet to him. For
all he knew, the placards might be already out, one of the least of
those he passed might have recognized him. He noticed that one or two
women, in their front door, stopped in the midst of a word to watch him
curiously. It seemed to Andrew that a buzz of comment and warning
preceded him and closed behind him. He felt sure that the children stood
and gaped at him from behind, but he dared not turn in his saddle to
look back.

And he kept on, reining in the gelding, and probing every face with one
swift, resistless glance that went to the heart. He found himself
literally taking the brains and hearts of men into the palm of his hand
and weighing them. Yonder old man, so quiet, with the bony fingers
clasped around the bowl of his corncob, sitting under the awning by the
watering trough--that would be an ill man to cross in a pinch--that hand
would be steady as a rock on the barrel of a gun. But the big, square
man with the big, square face who talked so loudly on the porch of
yonder store--there was a bag of wind that could be punctured by one
threat and turned into a figure of tallow by the sight of a gun.

Andrew went on with his lightning summary of the things he passed. But
when he came to the main square, the heart of the town, it was quite
empty. He went across to the hotel, tied the gelding at the rack, and
sat down on the veranda. He wanted with all his might to go inside, to
get a room, to be alone and away from this battery of searching eyes.
But he dared not. He must mingle with these people and learn what
they knew.

He went in and sought the bar. It should be there, if anywhere, the
poster with the announcement of Andrew Lanning's outlawry and the
picture of him. What picture would they take? The old snapshot of the
year before, which Jasper had taken? No doubt that would be the one. But
much as he yearned to do so, he dared not search the wall. He stood up
to the bar and faced the bartender. The latter favored him with one
searching glance, and then pushed across the whisky bottle.

"Do you know me?" asked Andrew with surprise. And then he could have
cursed his careless tongue.

"I know you need a drink," said the bartender, looking at Andrew again.
Suddenly he grinned. "When a man's been dry that long he gets a hungry
look around the eyes that I know. Hit her hard, boy."

Andrew brimmed his glass and tossed off the drink. And to his
astonishment there was none of the shocking effect of his first drink
of whisky. It was like a drop of water tossed on a huge blotter. To his
tired nerves the alcohol was a mere nothing. Besides, he dared not let
it affect him. He filled a second glass, pushing across the bar one of
the gold pieces of Henry Allister. Then, turning casually, he glanced
along the wall. There were other notices up--many written ones--but not
a single face looked back at him. All at once he grew weak with relief.
But in the meantime he must talk to this fellow.

"What's the news?"

"What kind of news?"

"Any kind. I've been talkin' more to coyotes than to men for a long
spell."

Should he have said that? Was not that a suspicious speech? Did it not
expose him utterly?

"Nothin' to talk about here much more excitin' than a coyote's yap. Not
a damn thing. Which way you come from?"

"South. The last I heard of excitin' news was this stuff about Lanning,
the outlaw."

It was out, and he was glad of it. He had taken the bull by the horns.

"Lanning? Lanning? Never heard of him. Oh, yes, the gent that bumped off
Bill Dozier. Between you and me, they won't be any sobbin' for that.
Bill had it comin'. But they've outlawed Lanning, have they?"

"That's what I hear."

But sweet beyond words had been this speech from the bartender. They had
barely heard of Andrew Lanning in this town; they did not even know that
he was outlawed. Andrew felt hysterical laughter bubbling in his throat.
Now for one long sleep; then he would make the ride across the mountains
and into safety.

He went out of the barroom, put the gelding away in the stables behind
the hotel, and got a room. In ten minutes, pausing only to tear the
boots from his feet, he was sound asleep under the very gates
of freedom.

And while he slept the gates were closing and barring the way. If he had
wakened even an hour sooner, all would have been well and, though he
might have dusted the skirts of danger, they could never have blocked
his way. But, with seven days of exhausting travel behind him, he slept
like one drugged, the clock around and more. It was morning,
mid-morning, when he wakened.

Even then he was too late, but he wasted priceless minutes eating his
breakfast, for it was delightful beyond words to have food served to him
which he had not cooked with his own hands. And so, sauntering out onto
the veranda of the hotel, he saw a compact crowd on the other side of
the square and the crowd focused on a man who was tacking up a sign.
Andrew, still sauntering, joined the crowd, and looking over their
heads, he found his own face staring back at him; and, under the picture
of that lean, serious face, in huge black type, five thousand dollars
reward for the capture, dead or alive--

The rest of the notice blurred before his eyes.

Some one was speaking. "You made a quick trip, Mr. Dozier, and I expect
if you send word up to Hallowell in the mountains they can--"

So Hal Dozier had brought the notices himself.

Andrew, in that moment, became perfectly calm. He went back to the
hotel, and, resting one elbow on the desk, he looked calmly into the
face of the clerk and the proprietor. Instantly he saw that the men did
not suspect--as yet.

"I hear Mr. Dozier's here?" he asked.

"Room seventeen," said the clerk. "Hold on. He's out in the square now."

"'S all right. I'll wait in his room." He went to room seventeen. The
door was unlocked. And drawing a chair into the farthest corner, Andrew
sat down, rolled a cigarette, drew his revolver, and waited.




CHAPTER 17


He waited an eternity; in actual time it was exactly ten minutes. Then a
cavalcade tramped down the hall. He heard their voices, and Hal Dozier
was among them. About him flowed a babble of questions as the men
struggled for the honor of a word from the great man. Perhaps he was
coming to his room to form the posse and issue general instructions for
the chase.

The door opened. Dozier entered, jerked his head squarely to one side,
and found himself gazing into the muzzle of a revolver. The astonishment
and the swift hardening of his face had begun and ended in a fraction
of a second.

"It's you, eh?" he said, still holding the door.

"Right," said Andrew. "I'm here for a little chat about this Lanning
you're after."

Hal Dozier paused another heartbreaking second, then he saw that caution
was the better way. "I'll have to shut you out for a minute or two,
boys. Go down to the bar and have a few on me." He turned, laughing and
waving to them. Then the door closed, and Dozier turned slowly to face
his hunted man. Into Andrew's mind came back the words of the great
outlaw, Allister: "There's one man I'd think twice about meeting,
and that--"

"Sit down," said Andrew. "And you can take off your belt if you want to.
Easy! That's it. Thank you."

The belt and the guns were tossed onto the bed, and Hal Dozier sat
down. He reminded Andrew of a terrier, not heavy, but all compact nerve
and fighting force.

"I'll not frisk you for another gun," said Andrew.

"Thanks; I have one, but I'll let it lie."

He made a movement. "If you don't mind," said Andrew, "I'd rather that
you don't reach into your pockets. Use my tobacco and papers, if you
wish." He tossed them onto the table, and Hal Dozier rolled his smoke in
silence. Then he tilted back in his chair a little. His hand with the
cigarette was as steady as a vise, and Andrew, shrugging forward his own
ponderous shoulders, dropped his elbows on his knees and trained the gun
full on his companion.

"I've come to make a bargain, Dozier," he said.

The other made no comment, and the two continued that silent struggle of
the eyes that was making Andrew's throat dry and his heart leap.

"Here's the bargain: Drop off this trail. Let the law take its own
course through other hands, but you give me your word to keep off the
trail. If you'll do that I'll leave this country and stay away. Except
for one thing, I'll never come back here. You're a proud man; you've
never quit a trail yet before the end of it. But this time I only ask
you to let it go with running me out of the country."

"What's the one thing for which you'd come back?"

"I'll come back--once--because of a girl."

He saw the eyes of Dozier widen and then contract again. "You're not
exactly what I expected to find," he said. "But go on. If I don't take
the bargain you pull that trigger?"

"Exactly."

"H'm! You may have heard the voices of the men who came up the hall with
me?"

"Yes."

"The moment a report of a gun is heard they'll swarm up to this room and
get you."

"They made too much noise. Barking dogs don't bite. Besides, the moment
I've dropped you I go out that window."

"It's a good bluff, Lanning," said the other. "I'll tell you what, if
you were what I expected you to be, a hysterical kid, who had a bit of
bad luck and good rolled together, I'd take that offer. But you're
different--you're a man. All in all, Lanning, I think you're about as
much of a man as I've ever crossed before. No, you won't pull that
trigger, because there isn't one deliberate murder packed away in your
system. It's a good bluff, as I said before, and I admire the way you
worked it. But it won't do. I call it. I won't leave your trail,
Lanning. Now pull your trigger."

He smiled straight into the eye of the younger man. A flush jumped into
the cheeks of Andrew, and, fading, left him by contrast paler than ever.
"You were one-quarter of an inch from death, Dozier," he replied.

"Lanning, with men like you--and like myself, I hope--there's no
question of distance. It's either a miss or a hit. Here's a better
proposition: Let me put my belt on again. Then put your own gun back in
the holster. We'll turn and face the wall. And when the clock downstairs
strikes ten--that'll be within a few minutes--we'll turn and blaze at
the first sound."

He watched his companion eagerly, and he saw the face of Andrew work. "I
can't do it, Dozier," said Andrew. "I'd like to. But I can't!"

"Why not?" The voice of Hal Dozier was sharp with a new suspicion. "Get
me out of the way, and you're free to get across the mountains, and,
once there, your trail will never be found. I know that; every one knows
that. That's why I hit up here after you."

"I'll tell you why," said Andrew slowly. "I've got the blood of one man
on my hands already, but, so help me God, I'm not going to have another
stain. I had to shoot once, because I was hounded into it. And, if this
thing keeps on, I'm going to shoot again--and again. But as long as I
can I'm fighting to keep clean, you understand?"

His voice became thin and rose as he spoke; his breath was a series of
gasps, and Hal Dozier changed color.

"I think," said Andrew, regaining his self-control, "that I'd kill you.
I think I'm just a split second surer and faster than you are with a
gun. But don't you see, Dozier?"

He cast out his left hand, but his right hand held the revolver like a
rock.

"Don't you see? I've got the taint in me. I've killed my man. If I kill
another I'll go bad. I know it. Life will mean nothing to me. I can feel
it in me."

His voice fell and became deeper.

"Dozier, give me my chance. It's up to you. Stand aside now, and I'll
get across those mountains and become a decent man. Keep me here, and
I'll be a killer. I know it; you know it. Why are you after me? Because
your brother was killed by me. Dozier, think of your brother and then
look at me. Was his life worth my life? You're a cool-headed man. You
knew him, and you knew what he was worth. His killings were as long as
the worst bad man that ever stepped, except that he had the law behind
him. When he got on my trail he knew that I was just a scared kid who
thought he'd killed a man. Why didn't he let me run until I found out
that I hadn't killed Buck Heath? Then he knew, and you know, that I'd
have come back. But he wouldn't give me the chance. He ran me into the
ground, and I shot him down. And that minute he turned me from a scared
kid into an outlaw--a killer. Tell me, man to man, Dozier, if Bill
hasn't already done me more wrong than I've done him!"

As he finished that strange appeal he noted that the famous fighter was
white about the mouth and shaken. He added with a burst of appeal: "Hal,
you know I'm straight. You know I'm worth a chance."

The older man lifted his head at last. "Andy, I can't leave the trail."

At that sentence every muscle of Andrew's body relaxed, and he sat like
one in a state of collapse, except that the right hand and the gun in it
were steady as rocks.

"Here's something between you and me that I'd swear I never said if I
was called in a court," went on Hal Dozier in a solemn murmur. "I'll
tell you that I know Bill was no good. I've known it for years, and I've
told him so. It's Bill that bled me, and bled me until I've had to soak
a mortgage on the ranch. It's Bill that's spent the money on his cussed
booze and gambling. Until now there's a man that can squeeze and ruin me
any day, and that's Merchant. He sent me hot along this trail. He sent
me, but my pride sent me also. No, son, I wasn't bought altogether. And
if I'd known as much about you then as I know now, I'd never have
started to hound you. But now I've started. Everybody in the mountains,
every puncher on the range knows that Hal Dozier has started on a new
trail, and every man of them knows that I've never failed before. Andy,
I can't give it up. You see, I've got no shame before you. I tell you
the straight of it. I tell you that I'm a bought man. But I can't leave
this trail to go back and face the boys. If one of them was to shake his
head and say on the side that I'm no longer the man I used to be, I'd
shoot him dead as sure as there's a reckoning that I'm bound for. It
isn't you, Andy; it's my reputation that makes me go on."

He stopped, and the two men looked sadly at each other.

"Andy, boy," said Hal Dozier, "I've no more bad feeling toward you than
if you was my own boy." Then he added with a little ring to his voice:
"But I'm going to stay on your trail till I kill you. You write that
down in red."

And the outlaw dropped his gun suddenly into the holster. "That ends
it, then," he said slowly. "The next time we meet we won't sit down and
chin friendly like. We'll let our guns do our talking for us. And, first
of all, I'm going to get across these mountains, Hal, in spite of you
and your friends."

"You can't do it, Andy. Try it. I've sent the word up. The whole
mountains will be alive watchin' for you. Every trail will be alive
with guns."

But Andrew stood up, and, using always his left hand while the right arm
hung with apparent carelessness at his side, he arranged his hat so that
it came forward at a jaunty angle, and then hitched his belt around so
that the holster hung a little more to the rear. The position for a gun
when one is sitting is quite different from the proper position when one
is standing. All these things Uncle Jasper had taught Andrew long and
long before. He was remembering them in chunks.

"Give me three minutes to get my saddle on my horse and out of town,"
said Andrew. "Is that fair?"

"Considering that you could have filled me full of lead here," said Hal
Dozier, with a wry smile, "I think that's fair enough."




CHAPTER 18


As Andrew went down the stairs and through the entrance hall he noticed
it was filled with armed men. At the door he paused for the least
fraction of a second, and during that breathing space he had seen every
face in the room. Then he walked carelessly across to the desk and asked
for his bill.

Someone, as he crossed the room, whirled to follow him with a glance.
Andy heard, for his ears were sharpened: "I thought for a minute--But it
does look like him!"

"Aw, Mike, I seen that gent in the barroom the other day. Besides, he's
just a kid."

"So's this Lanning. I'm going out to look at the poster again. You hold
this gent here."

"All right. I'll talk to him while you're gone. But be quick. I'll be
holdin' a laugh for you, Mike."

Andrew paid his bill, but as he reached the door a short man with legs
bowed by a life in the saddle waddled out to him and said: "Just a
minute, partner. Are you one of us?"

"One of who?" asked Andrew.

"One of the posse Hal is getting together? Well, come to think of it, I
guess you're a stranger around here, ain't you?"

"Me?" asked Andrew. "Why, I've just been talking to Hal."

"About young Lanning?"

"Yes."

"By the way, if you're out of Hal's country, maybe you know Lanning,
too?"

"Sure. I've stood as close to him as I am to you."

"You don't say so! What sort of a looking fellow is he?"

"Well, I'll tell you," said Andrew, and he smiled in an embarrassed
manner. "They say he's a ringer for me. Not much of a compliment,
is it?"

The other gasped, and then laughed heartily. "No, it ain't, at that," he
replied. "Say, I got a pal that wants to talk to you. Sort of a job on
him, at that."

"I'll tell you what," said Andy calmly. "Take him in to the bar, and
I'll come in and have a drink with him and you in about two
minutes. S'long."

He was gone through the door while the other half reached a hand toward
him. But that was all.

In the stables he had the saddle on the chestnut in twenty seconds, and
brought him to the watering trough before the barroom.

He found his short, bow-legged friend in the barroom in the midst of
excited talk with a big, blond man. He looked a German, with his parted
beard and his imposing front and he had the stern blue eye of a fighter.
"Is this your friend?" asked Andrew, and walked straight up to them. He
watched the eyes of the big man expand and then narrow; his hand even
fumbled at his hip, but then he shook his head. He was too bewildered
to act.

At that moment there was an uproar from the upper part of the hotel.
With a casual wave of his hand, Andy wandered out of the barroom and
then raced for the street. He heard men shouting in the lobby.

A fighting mass jammed its way into the open, and there, in the middle
of the square, sat Hal Dozier on his gray stallion. He was giving orders
in a voice that rang above the crowd, and made voices hush in whispers
as they heard him. Under his direction the crowd split into groups of
four and five and six and rode at full speed in three directions out of
the town. In the meantime there were two trusted friends of Hal Dozier
busy at telephones in the hotel. They were calling little towns among
the mountains. The red alarm was spreading like wildfire, and faster
than the fastest horse could gallop.

But Andrew, with the chestnut running like a red flash beneath him, had
vanished.

Buried away in the mountains, one stiff day's march, was a trapper whom
Uncle Jasper had once befriended. That was many a day long since, but
Uncle Jasper had saved the man's life, and he had often told Andrew
that, sooner or later, he must come to that trapper's cabin to talk of
the old times.

He was bound there now. For, if he could get shelter for three days, the
hue and cry would subside. When the mountaineers were certain that he
must have gone past them to other places and slipped through their
greedy fingers he could ride on in comparative safety. It was an
excellent plan. It gave Andrew such a sense of safety, as he trotted the
chestnut up a steep grade, that he did not hear another horse, coming in
the opposite direction, until the latter was almost upon him. Then,
coming about a sharp shoulder of the hill, he almost ran upon a
bare-legged boy, who rode without saddle upon the back of a bay mare.
The mare leaped catlike to one side, and her little rider clung like a
piece of her hide. "You might holler, comin' around a turn," shrilled
the boy. And he brought the mare to a halt by jerking the rope around
her neck. He had no other means of guiding her, no sign of a bridle.

But Andrew looked with hungry eyes. He knew something of horses, and
this bay fitted into his dreams of an ideal perfectly. She was
beautiful, quite heavily built in the body, with a great spread of
breast that surely told of an honest heart beneath a glorious head, legs
that fairly shouted to Andrew of good blood, and, above all, she had
that indescribable thing which is to a horse what personality is to a
man. She did not win admiration, she commanded it. And she stood alert
at the side of the road, looking at Andrew like a queen. Horse stealing
is the cardinal sin in the mountain desert, but Andrew felt the moment
he saw her that she must be his. At least he would first try to buy her
honorably.

"Son," he said to the urchin, "how much for that horse?"

"Why," said the boy, "anything you'll give."

"Don't laugh at me," said Andrew sternly. "I like her looks and I'll buy
her. I'll trade this chestnut--and he's a fine traveler--with a good
price to boot. If your father lives up the road and not down, turn back
with me and I'll see if I can't make a trade."

"You don't have to see him," said the boy. "I can tell you that he'll
sell her. You throw in the chestnut and you won't have to give any
boot." And he grinned.

"But there's the house." He pointed across the ravine at a little
green-roofed shack buried in the rocks. "You can come over if you
want to."

"Is there something wrong with her?"

"Nothin' much. Pop says she's the best hoss that ever run in these
parts. And he knows, I'll tell a man!"

"Son, I've got to have that horse!"

"Mister," said the boy suddenly, "I know how you feel. Lots feel the
same way. You want her bad, but she ain't worth her feed. A skunk put a
bur under the saddle when she was bein' broke, and since then anybody
can ride her bareback, but nothin' in the mountains can sit a saddle
on her."

Andrew cast one more long, sad look at the horse. He had never seen a
horse that went so straight to his heart, and then he straightened the
chestnut up the road and went ahead.




CHAPTER 19


He had to be guided by what Uncle Jasper had often described--a mountain
whose crest was split like the crown of a hat divided sharply by a
knife, and the twin peaks were like the ears of a mule, except that they
came together at the base. By the position of those distant summits he
knew that he was in the ravine leading to the cabin of Hank Rainer,
the trapper.

Presently the sun flashed on a white cliff, a definite landmark by which
Uncle Jasper had directed him, so Andrew turned out of his path on the
eastern side of the gully and rode across the ravine. The slope was
steep on either side, covered with rocks, thick with slides of loose
pebbles and sand. His horse, accustomed to a more open country, was
continually at fault. He did not like his work, and kept tossing his
ugly head and champing the bit as they went down to the river bottom.

It was not a real river, but only an angry creek that went fuming and
crashing through the canyon with a voice as loud as some great stream.
Andrew had to watch with care for a ford, for though the bed was not
deep the water ran like a rifle bullet over smooth places and was torn
to a white froth when it struck projecting rocks. He found, at length, a
place where it was backed up into a shallow pool, and here he rode
across, hardly wetting the belly of the gelding. Then up the far slope
he was lost at once in a host of trees. They cut him off from his
landmark, the white cliff, but he kept on with a feel for the right
direction, until he came to a sudden clearing, and in the clearing was a
cabin. It was apparently just a one-room shanty with a shed leaning
against it from the rear. No doubt the shed was for the trapper's horse.

He had no time for further thought. In the open door of the cabin
appeared a man so huge that he had to bend his head to look out, and
Andrew's heart fell. It was not the slender, rawboned youth of whom
Uncle Jasper had told him, but a hulking giant. And then he remembered
that twenty years had passed since Uncle Jasper rode that way, and in
twenty years the gaunt body might have filled out, the shock of
bright-red hair of which Jasper spoke might well have been the original
of the red flood which now covered the face and throat of the big man.

"Hello!" called the trapper. "Are you one of the boys on the trail?
Well, I ain't seen anything. Been about six others here already."

The blood leaped in Andrew, and then ran coldly back to his heart.
Could they have outridden the gelding to such an extent as that?

"From Tomo?" he asked.

"Tomo? No. They come down from Gunter City, up yonder, and Twin Falls."

And Andrew understood. Well indeed had Hal Dozier fulfilled his threat
of rousing the mountains against this quarry. He glanced westward. It
was yet an hour lacking of sundown, but since mid-morning Dozier had
been able to send his messages so far and so wide. Andrew set his teeth.
What did cunning of head and speed of horse count against the law when
the law had electricity for its agent?

"Well," said Andrew, slipping from his saddle, "if he hasn't been by
this way I may as well stay over for the night. If they've hunted the
woods around here all day, no use in me doing it by night. Can you
put me up?"

"Can I put you up? I'll tell a man. Glad to have you, stranger. Gimme
your hoss. I'll take care of him. Looks like he was kind of ganted up,
don't it? Well, I'll give him a feed of oats that'll thicken his ribs."

Still talking, he led the gelding into his shed. Andrew followed, took
off the saddle, and, having led the chestnut out and down to the creek
for a drink, he returned and tied him to a manger which the trapper had
filled with a liberal supply of hay, to say nothing of a feed box
stuffed with oats.

A man who was kind to a horse could not be treacherous to a man, Andrew
decided.

"You're Hank Rainer, aren't you?" he asked.

"That's me. And you?"

"I'm the unwelcome guest, I'm afraid," said Andrew. "I'm the nephew of
Jasper Lanning. I guess you'll be remembering him?"

"I'll forget my right hand sooner," said the big, red man calmly. But he
kept on looking steadily at Andrew.

"Well," said Andrew, encouraged and at the same time repulsed by this
calm silence, "my name is one you've heard. I am--"

The other broke in hastily. "You are Jasper Lanning's nephew. That's all
I know. What's a name to me? I don't want to know names!"

It puzzled Andrew, but the big man ran on smoothly enough: "Lanning
ain't a popular name around here, you see? Suppose somebody was to come
around and say, 'Seen Lanning?' What could I say, if you was here? 'I've
got a Lanning here. I dunno but he's the one you want.' But suppose I
don't know anything except you're Jasper's nephew? Maybe you're related
on the mother's side. Eh?" He winked at Andrew. "You come along and
don't talk too much about names."

He led the way into the house and picked up one of the posters, which
lay on the floor.

"They've sent those through the mountains already?" asked Andrew
gloomily.

"Sure! These come down from Twin Falls. Now, a gent with special fine
eyes might find that you looked like the gent on this poster. But my
eyes are terrible bad mostly. Besides, I need to quicken up that fire."

He crumpled the poster and inserted it beneath the lid of his iron
stove. There was a rush and faint roar of the flame up the chimney as
the cardboard burned. "And now," said Hank Rainer, turning with a broad
smile, "I guess they ain't any reason why I should recognize you. You're
just a plain stranger comin' along and you stop over here for the night.
That all?"

Andrew had followed this involved reasoning with a rather bewildered
mind, but he smiled faintly in return. He was bothered, in a way, by the
extreme mental caution of this fellow. It was as if the keen-eyed
trapper were more interested in his own foolish little subterfuge than
in preserving Andrew. "Now, tell me, how is Jasper?"

"I've got to tell you one thing first. Dozier has raised the mountains,
and I could never cross 'em now."

"Going to turn back into the plains?"

"No. The ranges are wide enough, but they're a prison just the same.
I've got to get out of 'em now or stay a prisoner the rest of my life,
only to be trailed down in the end. No, I want to stay right here in
your cabin until the men are quieted down again and think I've slipped
away from 'em. Then I'll sneak over the summit and get away unnoticed."

"Man, man! Stay here? Why, they'll find you right off. I wonder you got
the nerve to sit there now with maybe ten men trailin' you to this
cabin. But that's up to you."

There was a certain careless calm about this that shook Andrew to his
center again. But he countered: "No, they won't look specially in
houses. Because they won't figure that any man would toss up that
reward. Five thousand is a pile of money."

"It sure is," agreed the other. He parted his red beard and looked up to
the ceiling. "Five thousand is a considerable pile, all in hard cash.
But mostly they hunt for this Andrew Lanning a dozen at a time. Well,
you divide five thousand by ten, and you've got only five hundred left.
That ain't enough to tempt a man to give up Lanning--so bad as
all that."

"Ah," smiled Andrew, "but you don't understand what a stake you could
make out of me. If you were to give information about me being here, and
you brought a posse to get me, you'd come in for at least half of the
reward. Besides, the five thousand isn't all. There's at least one rich
gent that'll contribute maybe that much more. And you'd get a good half
of that. You see, Hal Dozier knows all that, and he knows there's hardly
a man in the mountains who would be able to keep away from selling me.
So that's why he won't search the houses."

"Not you," corrected the trapper sharply. "Andy Lanning is the man
Dozier wants."

"Well, Andrew Lanning, then," smiled the guest. "It was just a slip of
the tongue."

"Sometimes slips like that break a man's neck," observed the trapper,
and he fell into a gloomy meditation.

And after that they talked of other things, until supper was cooked and
eaten and the tin dishes washed and put away. Then they lay in their
bunks and watched the last color in the west through the open door.

If a member of a posse had come to the door, the first thing his eyes
fell upon would have been Andrew Lanning lying on the floor on one side
of the room and the red-bearded man on the other. But, though his host
suggested this, Andrew refused to move his blankets. And he was right.
The hunters were roving the open, and even Hal Dozier was at fault.

"Because," said Andrew, "he doesn't dream that I could have a friend so
far from home. Not five thousand dollars' worth of friend, anyway."

And the trapper grunted heavily.




CHAPTER 20


It was a truth long after wondered at, when the story of Andrew Lanning
was told and retold, that he had lain in perfect security within a
six-hour ride from Tomo, while Hal Dozier himself combed the mountains
and hundreds more were out hunting fame and fortune. To be sure, when a
stranger approached, Andrew always withdrew into the horse shed; but,
beyond keeping up a steady watch during the day, he had little to do and
little to fear.

Indeed, at night he made no pretense toward concealment, but slept quite
openly on the floor on the bed of hay and blankets, just as Hank Rainer
slept on the farther side of the room. And the great size of the reward
was the very thing that kept him safe. For when men passed the cabin, as
they often did, they were riding hard to get away from Tomo and into the
higher mountains, where the outlaw might be, or else they were coming
back to rest up, and their destination in such a case was always Tomo.
The cabin of the trapper was just near enough to the town to escape
being used as a shelter for the night by stray travelers. If they got
that close, they went on to the hotel.

But often they paused long enough to pass a word with Hank, and Andrew,
from his place behind the door of the horse shed, could hear it all. He
could even look through a crack and see the faces of the strangers. They
told how Tomo was wrought to a pitch of frenzied interest by this
manhunt. Well-to-do citizens, feeling that the outlaw had insulted the
town by so boldly venturing into it, had raised a considerable
contribution toward the reward. Other prominent miners and cattlemen of
the district had come forward with similar offers, and every day the
price on the head of Andrew mounted to a more tempting figure.

It was a careless time for Andrew. After that escape from Tomo he was
not apt to be perturbed by his present situation, but the suspense
seemed to weigh more and more heavily upon the trapper. Hank Rainer was
so troubled, indeed, that Andrew sometimes surprised a half-guilty,
half-sly expression in the eyes of his host. He decided that Hank was
anxious for the day to come when Andrew would ride off and take his
perilous company elsewhere. He even broached the subject to Hank, but
the mountaineer flushed and discarded the suggestion with a wave of his
hand. "But if a gang of 'em should ever hunt me down, even in your
cabin, Hank," said Andrew one day--it was the third day of his
stay--"I'll never forget what you've done for me, and one of these days
I'll see that Uncle Jasper finds out about it."

The little, pale-blue eyes of the trapper went swiftly to and fro, as if
he sought escape from this embarrassing gratitude.

"Well," said he, "I've been thinkin' that the man that gets you, Andy,
won't be so sure with his money, after all. He'll have your Uncle Jasper
on his trail pronto, and Jasper used to be a killer with a gun in the
old days."

"No more," smiled Andrew. "He's still steady as a rock, but he hasn't
the speed any more. He's over seventy, you see. His joints sort of creak
when he tries to move with a snap."

"Ah," muttered the trapper, and again, as he started through the open
door, "Ah!"

Then he added: "Well, son, you don't need Jasper. If half what they say
is true, you're a handy lad with the guns. I suppose Jasper showed you
his tricks?"

"Yes, and we worked out some new ones together. Uncle Jasper raised me
with a gun in my hand, you might say."

"H'm!" said Hank Rainer.

When they were sitting at the door in the semidusk, he reverted to the
idea. "You been seein' that squirrel that's been runnin' across the
clearin'?"

"Yes."

"I'd like to see you work your gun, Andy. It was a sight to talk about
to watch Jasper, and I'm thinkin' you could go him one better. S'pose
you stand up there in the door with your back to the clearin'. The next
time that squirrel comes scootin' across I'll say, 'Now!' and you try to
turn and get your gun on him before he's out of sight. Will you
try that?"

"Suppose some one hears it?" "Oh, they're used to me pluggin' away for
fun over here. Besides, they ain't anybody lives in hearin'."

And Andrew, falling into the spirit of the contest, stood up in the
door, and the old tingle of nerves, which never failed to come over him
in the crisis, was thrilling through his body again. Then Hank barked
the word, "Now!" and Andrew whirled on his heel. The word had served to
alarm the squirrel as well. As he heard it, he twisted about like the
snapping lash of a whip and darted back for cover, three yards away. He
covered that distance like a little gray streak in the shadow, but
before he reached it the gun spoke, and the forty-five-caliber slug
struck him in the middle and tore him in two. Andrew, hearing a sharp
crackling, looked down at his host and observed that the trapper had
bitten clean through the stem of his corncob.

"That," said the red man huskily, "is some shootin'."

But he did not look up, and he did not smile. And it troubled Andrew to
hear this rather grudging praise.

In the meantime, three days had put the gelding in very fair condition.
He was enough mustang to recuperate swiftly, and that morning he had
tried with hungry eagerness to kick the head from Andrew's shoulders.
This had decided the outlaw. Besides, in the last day there had been
fewer and fewer riders up and down the ravine, and apparently the hunt
for Andrew Lanning had journeyed to another part of the mountains. It
seemed an excellent time to begin his journey again, and he told the
trapper his decision to start on at dusk the next day.

The announcement brought with it a long and thoughtful pause.

"I wisht I could send you on your way with somethin' worthwhile," said
Hank Rainer at length. "But I ain't rich. I've lived plain and worked
hard, but I ain't rich. So what I can give you, Andy, won't be much."

Andrew protested that the hospitality had been more than a generous
gift, but Hank Rainer, looking straight out the door, continued: "Well,
I'm goin' down the road to get you my little gift, Andy. Be back in an
hour maybe."

"I'd rather have you here to keep me from being lonely," said Andrew.
"I've money enough to buy what I want, but money will never buy me the
talk of an honest man, Hank."

The other started. "Honest enough, maybe," he said bitterly. "But
honesty don't get you bread or bacon, not in this world!"

And presently he stamped into the shed, saddled his pony, and after a
moment was scattering the pebbles on the way down the ravine. The dark
and silence gathered over Andrew Lanning. He had little warmth of
feeling for Hank Rainer, to be sure, but the hush of the cabin he looked
forward to many a long evening and many a long day in a silence like
this, with no man near him. For the man who rides outside the law
rides alone.

He could have embraced the big man, therefore, when Hank finally came
back, and Andrew could hear the pony panting in the shed, a sure sign
that it had been ridden hard.

"It ain't much," said Hank, "but it's yours, and I hope you get a chance
to use it in a pinch." And he dumped down a case of .45 cartridges.

After all, there could have been no gift more to the point, but it gave
Andrew a little chill of distaste, this reminder of the life that lay
ahead of him. And in spite of himself he could not break the silence
that began to settle over the cabin again. Finally Hank announced that
it was bedtime for him, and, preparing himself by the simple expedient
of kicking off his boots and then drawing off his trousers, he slipped
into his blankets, twisted them tightly around his broad shoulders with
a single turn of his body, and was instantly snoring. Andrew followed
that example more slowly. Not since he left Martindale, however, had he
slept soundly. Take a tame dog into the wilderness and he learns to
sleep like a wolf quickly enough; and Andrew, with mind and nerve
constantly set for action like a cocked revolver, had learned to sleep
like a wild thing in turn. And accordingly, when he wakened in the
middle of the night, he was alert on the instant. He had a singular
feeling that someone had been looking at him while he slept.




CHAPTER 21


First of all, naturally, he looked at the door. It was now a bright
rectangle filled with moonlight and quite empty. There must have been a
sound, and he glanced over to the trapper for an explanation. But Hank
Rainer lay twisted closely in his blankets.

Andrew raised upon one elbow and thought. It troubled him--the insistent
feeling of the eyes which had been upon him. They had burned their way
into his dreams with a bright insistence.

He looked again, and, having formed the habit of photographing things
with one glance, he compared what he saw now with what he had last seen
when he fell asleep. It tallied in every detail except one. The trousers
which had lain on the floor beside Hank's bed were no longer there.

It was a little thing, of course, but Andrew closed his eyes to make
sure. Yes, he could even remember the gesture with which the trapper had
tossed down the trousers to the floor. Andrew sat up in bed noiselessly.
He slipped to the door and flashed one glance up and down. Below him the
hillside was bright beneath the moon. The far side of the ravine was
doubly black in shadow. But nothing lived, nothing moved. And then
again he felt the eye upon him. He whirled. "Hank!" he called softly.
And he saw the slightest start as he spoke. "Hank!" he repeated in the
same tone, and the trapper stretched his arms, yawned heavily, and
turned. "Well, lad?" he inquired.

But Andrew knew that he had been heard the first time, and he felt that
this pretended slow awakening was too elaborate to be true. He went back
to his own bed and began to dress rapidly. In the meantime the trapper
was staring stupidly at him and asking what was wrong.

"Something mighty queer," said Andrew. "Must have been a coyote in here
that sneaked off with your trousers, unless you have 'em on."

Just a touch of pause, then the other replied through a yawn: "Sure, I
got 'em on. Had to get up in the night, and I was too plumb sleepy to
take 'em off again when I come back."

"Ah," said Andrew, "I see."

He stepped to the door into the horse shed and paused; there was no
sound. He opened the door and stepped in quickly. Both horses were on
the ground, asleep, but he took the gelding by the nose, to muffle a
grunt as he rose, and brought him to his feet. Then, still softly and
swiftly, he lifted the saddle from its peg and put it on its back. One
long draw made the cinches taut. He fastened the straps, and then went
to the little window behind the horse, through which had come the vague
and glimmering light by which he did the saddling. Now he scanned the
trees on the edge of the clearing with painful anxiety. Once he thought
that he heard a voice, but it was only the moan of one branch against
another as the wind bent some tree. He stepped back from the window and
rubbed his knuckles across his forehead, obviously puzzled. It might be
that, after all, he was wrong. So he turned back once more toward the
main room of the cabin to make sure. Instead of opening the door softly,
as a suspicious man will, he cast it open with a sudden push of his
foot; the hulk of Hank Rainer turned at the opposite door, and the big
man staggered as though he had been struck.

It might have been caused by his swift right-about face, throwing him
off his balance, but it was more probably the shock that came from
facing a revolver in the hand of Andrew. The gun was at his hip. It had
come into his hand with a nervous flip of the fingers as rapid as the
gesture of the card expert.

"Come back," said Andrew. "Talk soft, step soft. Now, Hank, what made
you do it?"

The red hair of the other was burning faintly in the moonlight, and it
went out as he stepped from the door into the middle of the room, his
finger tips brushing the ceiling above him. And Andrew, peering through
that shadow, saw two little, bright eyes, like the eyes of a beast,
twinkling out at him from the mass of hair.

"When you went after the shells for me, Hank," he stated, "you gave the
word that I was here. Then you told the gent that took the message to
spread it around--to get it to Hal Dozier, if possible--to have the men
come back here. You'd go out, when I was sound asleep, and tell them
when they could rush me. Is that straight?"

There was no answer.

"Speak out! I feel like shovin' this gun down your throat, Hank, but I
won't if you speak out and tell me the truth."

Whatever other failings might be his, there was no great cowardice in
Hank Rainer. His arms remained above his head and his little eyes
burned. That was all.

"Well," said Andrew, "I think you've got me, Hank. I suppose I ought to
send you to death before me, but, to tell you the straight of it, I'm
not going to, because I'm sort of sick. Sick, you understand? Tell me
one thing--are the boys here yet? Are they scattered around the edge of
the clearing, or are they on the way? Hank, was it worth five thousand
to double-cross a gent that's your guest--a fellow that's busted bread
with you, bunked in the same room with you? And even when they've
drilled me clean, and you've got the reward, don't you know that you'll
be a skunk among real men from this time on? Did you figure on that when
you sold me?"

The hands of Hank Rainer fell suddenly, but now lower than his beard.
The fingers thrust at his throat--he seemed to be tearing his own flesh.

"Pull the trigger, Andy," he said. "Go on. I ain't fit to live."

"Why did you do it, Hank?"

"I wanted a new set of traps, Andy; that was what I wanted. I'd been
figurin' and schemin' all autumn how to get my traps before the winter
comes on. My own wasn't any good. Then I seen that fur coat of yours. It
set me thinking about what I could do if I had some honest-to-goodness
traps with springs in 'em that would hold--and--I stood it as long as
I could."

While he spoke, Andrew looked past him, through the door. All the world
was silver beyond. The snow had been falling, and on the first great
peak there was a glint of the white, very pure and chill against the
sky. The very air was keen and sweet. Ah, it was a world to live in, and
he was not ready to die!

He looked back to Hank Rainer. "Hank, my time was sure to come sooner or
later, but I'm not ready to die. I'm--I'm too young, Hank.
Well, good-by!"

He found gigantic arms spreading before him.

"Andy," insisted the big man, "it ain't too late for me to double-cross
'em. Let me go out first and you come straight behind me. They won't
fire; they'll think I've got a new plan for givin' you up. When we get
to the circle of 'em, because they're all round the cabin, we'll drive
at 'em together. Come on!"

"Wait a minute. Is Hal Dozier out there?"

"Yes. Oh, go on and curse me, Andy. I'm cursin' myself!"

"If he's there, it's no use. But there's no use two dyin' when I try to
get through. Only one thing, Hank; if you want to keep your self-respect
don't take the reward money."

"I'll see it burn first, and I'm goin' with you, Andy!"

"You stay where you are; this is my party. Before the finish of the
dance I'm going to see if some of those sneaks out yonder, lyin' so
snug, won't like to step right out and do a caper with me!"

And before the trapper could make a protest he had drawn back into the
horse shed.

There he led the chestnut to the door, and, looking through the crack,
he scanned the surface of the ground. It was sadly broken and chopped
with rocks, but the gelding might make headway fast enough. It was a
short distance to the trees--twenty-five to forty yards, perhaps. And if
he burst out of that shed on the back of the horse, spurred to full
speed, he might take the watchers, who perhaps expected a signal from
the trapper before they acted, quite unawares, and he would be among the
sheltering shadows of the forest while the posse was getting up
its guns.

There was an equally good chance that he would ride straight into a nest
of the waiting men, and, even if he reached the forest, he would be
riddled with bullets.

Now, all these thoughts and all this weighing of the chances occupied
perhaps half a second, while Andrew stood looking through the crack.
Then he swung into the saddle, leaning far over to the side so that he
would have clearance under the doorway, kicked open the swinging door,
and sent the chestnut leaping into the night.




CHAPTER 22


If only the night had been dark, if the gelding had had a fair start;
but the moon was bright, and in the thin mountain air it made a radiance
almost as keen as day and just sufficiently treacherous to delude a
horse, which had been sent unexpectedly out among rocks by a cruel pair
of spurs. At the end of the first leap the gelding stumbled to his knees
with a crash and snort among the stones. The shock hurled Andrew
forward, but he clung with spurs and hand, and as he twisted back into
the saddle the gelding rose valiantly and lurched ahead again.

Yet that double sound might have roused an army, and for the keen-eared
watchers around the clearing it was more than an ample warning. There
was a crash of musketry so instant and so close together that it was
like a volley delivered by a line of soldiers at command. Bullets sang
shrill and small around Andrew, but that first discharge had been a
burst of snap-shooting, and by moonlight it takes a rare man indeed to
make an accurate snapshot. The first discharge left both Andrew and the
horse untouched, and for the moment the wild hope of unexpected success
was raised in his heart. And he had noted one all-important fact--the
flashes, widely scattered as they were, did not extend across the exact
course of his flight toward the trees. Therefore, none of the posse
would have a point-blank shot at him. For those in the rear and on the
sides the weaving course of the gelding, running like a deer and
swerving agilely among the rocks, as if to make up for his first
blunder, offered the most difficult of all targets.

All this in only the space of a breath, yet the ground was already
crossed and the trees were before him when Andrew saw a ray of
moonlight flash on the long barrel of rifle to his right, and he knew
that one man at least was taking a deliberate aim. He had his revolver
on the fellow in the instant, and yet he held his fire. God willing, he
would come back to Anne Withero with no more stains on his hands!

And that noble, boyish impulse killed the chestnut, for a moment later a
stream of fire spouted out, long and thin, from the muzzle of the rifle,
and the gelding struck at the end of a stride, like a ship going down in
the sea; his limbs seemed to turn to tallow under him, and he crumpled
on the ground.

The fall flung Andrew clean out of the saddle; he landed on his knees
and leaped for the woods, but now there was a steady roar of guns behind
him. He was struck heavily behind the left shoulder, staggered.
Something gashed his neck like the edge of a red-hot knife, his whole
left side was numb.

And then the merciful dark of the trees closed around him.

For fifty yards he raced through an opening in the trees, while a
yelling like wild Indians rose behind him; then he leaped into cover and
waited. One thing favored him still. They had not brought horses, or at
least they had left their mounts at some distance, for fear of the
chance noises they might make when the cabin was stalked. And now,
looking down the lane among the trees, he saw men surge into it.

All his left side was covered with a hot bath, but, balancing his
revolver in his right hand, he felt a queer touch of joy and pride at
finding his nerve still unshaken. He raised the weapon, covered their
bodies, and then something like an invisible hand forced down the muzzle
of his gun. He could not shoot to kill!

He did what was perhaps better; he fired at that mass of legs, and even
a child could not have failed to strike the target. Once, twice, and
again; then the crowd melted to either side of the path, and there was a
shrieking and forms twisting and writhing on the ground.

Some one was shouting orders from the side; he was ordering them to the
right and left to surround the fugitive; he was calling out that Lanning
was hit. At least, they would go with caution down his trail after that
first check. He left his sheltering tree and ran again down the ravine.

By this time the first shock of the wounds and the numbness were leaving
him, but the pain was terrible. Yet he knew that he was not fatally
injured if he could stop that mortal drain of his wounds.

He heard the pursuit in the distance more and more. Every now and then
there was a spasmodic outburst of shooting, and Andrew grinned in spite
of his pain. They were closing around the place where they thought he
was making his last stand, shooting at shadows which might be the man
they wanted.

Then he stopped, tore off his shirt, and ripped it with his right hand
and his teeth into strips. He tied one around his neck, knotting it
until he could only draw his breath with difficulty. Several more strips
he tied together, and then wound the long bandage around his shoulder
and pulled. The pain brought him close to a swoon, but when his senses
cleared he found that the flow from his wounds had eased.

But not entirely. There was still some of that deadly trickling down his
side, and, with the chill of the night biting into him, he knew that it
was life or death to him if he could reach some friendly house within
the next two miles. There was only one dwelling straight before him, and
that was the house of the owner of the bay mare. They would doubtless
turn him over to the posse instantly. But there was one chance in a
hundred that they would not break the immemorial rule of mountain
hospitality. For Andrew there was no hope except that tenuous one.

The rest of that walk became a nightmare. He was not sure whether he
heard the yell of rage and disappointment behind him as the posse
discovered that the bird had flown or whether the sound existed only in
his own ringing head. But one thing was certain--they would not trail
Andrew Lanning recklessly in the night, not even with the moon to
help them.

So he plodded steadily on. If it had not been for that ceaseless drip he
would have taken the long chance and broken for the mountains above him,
trying through many a long day ahead to cure the wounds and in some
manner sustain his life. But the drain continued. It was hardly more
than drop by drop, but all the time a telltale weakness was growing in
his legs. In spite of the agony he was sleepy, and he would have liked
to drop on the first mat of leaves that he found.

That crazy temptation he brushed away, and went on until surely, like a
star of hope, he saw the light winking feebly through the trees, and
then came out on the cabin.

He remembered afterward that even in his dazed condition he was
disappointed because of the neat, crisp, appearance of the house. There
must be women there, and women meant screams, horror, betrayal.

But there was no other hope for him now. Twice, as he crossed the
clearing before he reached the door of the cabin, his foot struck a rock
and he pitched weakly forward, with only the crumbling strength of his
right arm to keep him from striking on his face. Then there was a
furious clamor and a huge dog rushed at him.

He heeded it only with a glance from the corner of his eye. And then,
his dull brain clearing, he realized that the dog no longer howled at
him or showed his teeth, but was walking beside him, licking his hand
and whining with sympathy. He dropped again, and this time he could
never have regained his feet had not his right arm flopped helplessly
across the back of the big dog, and the beast cowered and growled, but
it did not attempt to slide from under his weight.

He managed to get erect again, but when he reached the low flight of
steps to the front door he was reeling drunkenly from side to side. He
fumbled for the knob, and it turned with a grating sound.

"Hold on! Keep out!" shrilled a voice inside. "We got guns here. Keep
out, you dirty bum!"

The door fell open, and he found himself confronted by what seemed to
him a dazzling torrent of light and a host of human faces. He drew
himself up beside the doorway.

"Gentlemen," said Andrew, "I am not a bum. I am worth five thousand
dollars to the man who turns me over, dead or alive, to the sheriff. My
name is Andrew Lanning."

At that the faces became a terrible rushing and circling flare, and the
lights went out with equal suddenness. He was left in total darkness,
falling through space; but, at his last moment of consciousness, he felt
arms going about him, arms through which his bulk kept slipping down,
and below him was a black abyss.




CHAPTER 23


It was a very old man who held, or tried to hold, Andrew from falling to
the floor. His shoulders shook under the burden of the outlaw, and the
burden, indeed, would have slumped brutally to the floor, had not the
small ten-year-old boy, whom Andrew had seen on the bay mare, come
running in under the arms of the old man. With his meager strength he
assisted, and the two managed to lower the body gently.

The boy was frightened. He was white at the sight of the wounds, and the
freckles stood out in copper patches from his pallor.

Now he clung to the old man.

"Granddad, it's the gent that tried to buy Sally!"

The old man had produced a murderous jackknife with a blade that had
been ground away to the disappearing point by years of steady grinding.

"Get some wood in the stove," he commanded. "Fire her up, quick. Put on
some water. Easy, lad!"

The room became a place of turmoil with the clatter of the stove lids
being raised, the clangor of the kettle being filled and put in place.
By the time the fire was roaring and the boy had turned, he found the
bandages had been taken from the body of the stranger and his
grandfather was studying the smeared naked torso with a sort of
detached, philosophic interest. With the thumb and forefinger of his
left hand he was pressing deeply into the left shoulder of Andrew.

"Now, there's an arm for you, Jud," said the old man. "See them long,
stringy muscles in the forearm? If you grow up and have muscles like
them, you can call yourself a man. And you see the way his stomach caves
in? Aye, that's a sign! And the way his ribs sticks out--and just feel
them muscles on the point of his shoulder--Oh, Jud, he would of made a
prime wrestler, this fine bird of ours!"

"It's like touchin' somethin' dead, granddad," said the boy. "I don't
dast to do it!"

"Jud, they's some times when I just about want to give you up! Dead? He
ain't nowheres near dead. Just bled a bit, that's all. Two as pretty
little wounds as was ever drilled clean by a powerful rifle at short
range. Dead? Why, inside two weeks he'll be fit as a fiddle, and inside
a month he'll be his own self! Dead! Jud, you make me tired! Gimme
that water."

He went to work busily. Out of a sort of first-aid chest he took
homemade bandages and, after cleansing the wounds, he began to dress
them carefully.

He talked with every movement.

"So this here is the lion, is it?" nodded granddad. "This here is the
ravenin', tearin', screechin' man-eater? Why, he looks mostly plain
kid to me."

"He--he's been shot, ain't he, granddad?" asked the child in a whisper.

"Well, boy, I'd say that the lion had been chawed up considerable--by
dogs."

He pointed. "See them holes? The big one in front? That means they
sneaked up behind him and shot him while his back was turned."

"He's wakin' up, granddad," said Jud, more frightened than before.

The eyes of Andrew were indeed opening.

He smiled up at them. "Uncle Jas," he said, "I don't like to fight. It
makes me sick inside, to fight." He closed his eyes again.

"Now, now, now!" murmured Pop. "This boy has a way with him. And he
killed Bill Dozier, did he? Son, gimme the whisky."

He poured a little down the throat of the wounded man, and Andrew
frowned and opened his eyes again: He was conscious at last.

"I think I've seen you before," he said calmly. "Are you one of the
posse?"

The old man stiffened a little. A spot of red glowed on his withered
cheek and went out like a snuffed light.

"Young feller," said the old man, "when I go huntin' I go alone. You
write that down in red, and don't forget it. I ain't ever been a member
of no posse. Look around and see yourself to home."

Andrew raised his head a little and made out the neat room. It showed,
as even his fading senses had perceived when he saw the house first, a
touch of almost feminine care. The floor was scrubbed to whiteness, the
very stove was burnished.

"I remember," said Andrew faintly.

"You did see me before," said the other, "when you rode into Tomo. I
seen you and you seen me. We changed looks, so to speak. And now you've
dropped in to call on me. I'm goin' to put you up in the attic. Gimme a
hand to straighten him up, Jud."

With Jud's help and the last remnant of Andrew's strength they managed
to get him to his feet, and then he partly climbed, partly was pushed by
Jud, and partly was dragged by the old man up a ladder to the loft. It
was quite cool there, very dark, and the air came in through
two windows.

"Ain't very sociable to put a guest in the attic," said Pop, between his
panting breaths. "But a public character like you, Lanning, will have a
consid'able pile of callers askin' after you. Terrible jarrin' to the
nerves when folks come in and call on a sick man. You lie here and
rest easy."

He went down the ladder and came back dragging a mattress. There, by the
light of a lantern, he and Jud made Andrew as comfortable as possible.

"You mean to keep me here?" asked the outlaw.

"Long as you feel like restin'," answered the old man.

"You can make about--"

"Stop that fool talk about what I can make out of you. How come it you
stayed so close to Tomo? Where was you lyin' low? In the hills?"

"Not far away." "And they smelled you out?"

"A man I thought was my friend--" Andrew clicked his teeth shut.

"You was sold, eh?"

"I made a mistake."

"H'm," was the other's comment. "Well, you forget about that and go to
sleep. I got a few little attentions to pay to that posse. It'll be here
r'arin' before tomorrer. Sleep tight, partner."

He climbed down the ladder and looked around the room. Jud, his freckles
still looking like spots of mud or rust, his eyes popping, stood silent.

"I'm glad of that," said the old man, with a sigh.

"What, granddad?"

"You're like a girl, Jud. Takes a sight to make you reasonable quiet.
But look yonder. Them spots look tolerable like red paint, don't they?
Well, we got to get 'em off."

"I'll heat some more water," suggested Jud.

"You do nothing of the kind. You get them two butcher knives out of the
table drawer and we'll scrape off the wood, because you can't wash that
stain out'n a floor." He looked suddenly at Jud with a glint in his
eyes. "I know, because I've tried it."

For several minutes they scraped hard at the floor until the last
vestige of the fresh stains was gone. Then the old man went outside and,
coming back with a handful of sand, rubbed it in carefully over the
scraped places. When this was swept away the floor presented no
suspicious traces.

"But," he exclaimed suddenly, "I forgot. I plumb forgot. He's been
leakin' all the way here, and when the sun comes up they'll foller him
that easy by the sign. Jud, we're beat!"

They dropped, as at a signal, into two opposite chairs, and sat staring
gloomily at each other. The old man looked simply sad and weary, but the
color came and went in the face of Jud. And then, like a light, an idea
dawned in the face of the child. He got up from his chair, lighted a
lantern, and went outside. His grandfather observed this without comment
or suggestion, but, when Jud was gone, he observed to himself: "Jud
takes after me. He's got thoughts. And them was things his ma and pa was
never bothered with."




CHAPTER 24


The thought of Jud now took him up the back trail of Andrew Lanning. He
leaned far over with the lantern, studying with intense interest every
place where the wounds of the injured man might have left telltale
stains on the rocks or the grass. When he had apparently satisfied
himself of this, he turned and ran at full speed back to the house and
went up the ladder to Andrew. There he took the boots--they were
terribly stained, he saw--and drew them on.

The loose boots and the unaccustomed weights tangled his feet sadly, as
he went on down the ladder, but he said not a word to his grandfather,
who was far too dignified to make a comment on the borrowed footgear.

Again outside with his lantern, the boy took out his pocket-knife and
felt the small blade. It was of a razor keenness. Then he went through
the yard behind the house to the big henhouse, where the chickens sat
perched in dense rows. He raised his lantern; at once scores of tiny,
bright eyes flashed back at him.

But Jud, with a twisted face of determination, kept on with his survey
until he saw the red comb and the arched tail plumes of a large Plymouth
Rock rooster.

It was a familiar sight to Jud. Of all the chickens on the place this
was his peculiar property. And now he had determined to sacrifice this
dearest of pets.

The old rooster was so accustomed to his master, indeed, that he allowed
himself to be taken from the perch without a single squawk, and the boy
took his captive beyond the pen. Once, when the big rooster canted his
head and looked into his face, the boy had to wink away the tears; but
he thought of the man so near death in the attic, he felt the clumsy
boots on his feet, and his heart grew strong again.

He went around to the front of the house and by the steps he fastened on
the long neck of his prisoner a grasp strong enough to keep him silent
for a moment. Then he cut the rooster's breast deeply, shuddering as he
felt the knife take hold.

Something trickled warmly over his hands. Dropping his knife in his
pocket, Jud started, walked with steps as long as he could make them. He
went, with the spurs chinking to keep time for each stride, straight
toward a cliff some hundreds of yards from the house. The blood ran
freely. The old rooster, feeling himself sicken, sank weakly against the
breast of the boy, and Jud thought that his heart would break. He
reached the sharp edge of the cliff and heard the rush of the little
river far below him. At the same time his captive gave one final flutter
of the wings, one feeble crow, and was dead.

Jud waited until the tears had cleared from his eyes. Then he took off
the boots, and, in bare feet that would leave no trace on the rocks, he
skirted swiftly back to the house, put the dead body back in the chicken
yard, and returned to his grandfather.

There was one great satisfaction for him that evening, one reward for
the great sacrifice, and it came immediately. While the old man stood
trembling before him, Jud told his story.

It was a rich feast indeed to see the relief, the astonishment, the
pride come in swift turns upon that grim old face.

And yet in the end Pop was able to muster a fairly good imitation of a
frown.

"And here you come back with a shirt and a pair of trousers plumb
spoiled by all your gallivantin'," he said, "not speakin' of a perfectly
good chicken killed. Ain't you never goin' to get grown up, Jud?"

"He was mine, the chicken I killed," said Jud, choking.

It brought a pause upon the talk. The other was forced to wink both eyes
at once and sigh.

"The big speckled feller?" he asked more gently.

"The Plymouth Rock," said Jud fiercely. "He wasn't no speckled feller!
He was the finest rooster and the gamest--"

"Have it your own way," said the old man. "You got your grandma's tongue
when it comes to arguin' fine points. Now go and skin out of them
clothes and come back and see that you've got all that--that stuff of'n
your face and hands."

Jud obeyed, and presently reappeared in a ragged outfit, his face and
hands red from scrubbing.

"I guess maybe it's all right," declared the old man. "Only, they's
risks in it. Know what's apt to happen if they was to find that you'd
helped to get a outlaw off free?"

"What would it be?" asked the boy.

"Oh, nothin' much. Maybe they'd try you and maybe they wouldn't.
Anyways, they'd sure wind up by hangin' you by the neck till you was as
dead as the speckled rooster."

"The Plymouth Rock," insisted Jud hotly.

"All right, I don't argue none. But you just done a dangerous thing,
Jud. And there'll be a consid'able pile of men here in the mornin', most
like, to ask you how and why."

He was astonished to hear Jud break into laughter.

"Hush up," said Pop. "You'll be wakin' him up with all that noise.
Besides, what d'you mean by laughin' at the law?" "Why, granddad," said
Jud, "don't I know you wouldn't never let no posse take me from you?
Don't I know maybe you'd clean 'em all up?"

"Pshaw!" said Pop, and flushed with delight. "You was always a fool kid,
Jud. Now you run along to bed."




CHAPTER 25


In Hal Dozier there was a belief that the end justified the means. When
Hank Rainer sent word to Tomo that the outlaw was in his cabin, and, if
the posse would gather, he, Hank, would come out of his cabin that night
and let the posse rush the sleeping man who remained, Hal Dozier was
willing and eager to take advantage of the opportunity. A man of action
by nature and inclination, Dozier had built a great repute as a hunter
of criminals, and he had been known to take single-handed chances
against the most desperate; but when it was possible Hal Dozier played a
safe game. Though the people of the mountain desert considered him
invincible, because he had run down some dozen notorious fighters, Hal
himself felt that this simply increased the chances that the thirteenth
man, by luck or by cunning, would strike him down.

Therefore he played safe always. On this occasion he made surety doubly
sure. He could have taken two or three known men, and they would have
been ample to do the work. Instead, he picked out half a dozen. For just
as Henry Allister had recognized that indescribable element of danger in
the new outlaw, so the manhunter himself had felt it. Hal Dozier
determined that he would not tempt Providence. He had his commission as
a deputy marshal, and as such he swore in his men and started for the
cabin of Hank Rainer.

When the news had spread, others came to join him, and he could not
refuse. Before the cavalcade entered the mouth of the canyon he had some
thirty men about him. They were all good men, but in a fight,
particularly a fight at night, Hal Dozier knew that numbers to excess
are apt to simply clog the working parts of the machine. All that he
feared came to pass. There was one breathless moment of joy when the
horse of Andrew was shot down and the fugitive himself staggered under
the fire of the posse. At that moment Hal had poised his rifle for a
shot that would end this long trail, but at that moment a yelling member
of his own group had come between him and his target, and the chance was
gone. When he leaped to one side to make the shot, Andrew was already
among the trees.

Afterward he had sent his men in a circle to close in on the spot from
which the outlaw made his stand, but they had closed on empty
shadows--the fugitive had escaped, leaving a trail of blood. However, it
was hardly safe to take that trail in the night, and practically
impossible until the sunlight came to follow the sign. So Hal Dozier had
the three wounded men taken back to the cabin of Hank Rainer.

The stove was piled with wood until the top was white hot, and then the
posse sat about on the floor, crowding the room and waiting for the
dawn. The three wounded men were made as comfortable as possible. One
had been shot through the hip, a terrible wound that would probably
stiffen his leg for life; another had gone down with a wound along the
shin bone which kept him in a constant torture. The third man was hit
cleanly through the thigh, and, though he had bled profusely for some
time, he was now only weak, and in a few weeks he would be perfectly
sound again. The hard breathing of the three was the only sound in that
dim room during the rest of the night. The story of Hank Rainer had been
told in half a dozen words. Lanning had suspected him, stuck him up at
the point of a gun, and then-refused to kill him, in spite of the fact
that he knew he was betrayed. After his explanation Hank withdrew to the
darkest corner of the room and was silent. From time to time looks went
toward that corner, and one thought was in every mind. This fellow, who
had offered to take money for a guest, was damned for life and branded.
Thereafter no one would trust him, no one would change words with him;
he was an outcast, a social leper. And Hank Rainer knew it as well
as any man.

A cloud of tobacco smoke became dense in the room, and a halo surrounded
the lantern on the wall. Then one by one men got up and muttered
something about being done with the party, or having to be at work in
the morning, and stamped out of the room and went down the ravine to the
place where the horses had been tethered. The first thrill of excitement
was gone. Moreover, it was no particular pleasure to close in on a
wounded man who lay somewhere among the rocks, without a horse to carry
him far, and too badly wounded to shift his position. Yet he could lie
in his shelter, whatever clump of boulders he chose, and would make it
hot for the men who tried to rout him out. The heavy breathing of the
three wounded men gave point to these thoughts, and the men of family
and the men of little heart got up and left the posse.

The sheriff made no attempt to keep them. He retained his first
hand-picked group. In the gray of the morning he rallied these men
again. They went first to the dead, stiff body of the chestnut gelding
and stripped it of the saddle and the pack of Lanning. This, by silent
consent, was to be the reward of the trapper. This was his in lieu of
the money which he would have earned if they had killed Lanning on the
spot. Hal Dozier stiffly invited Hank to join them in the manhunt; he
was met by a solemn silence, and the request was not repeated. Dozier
had done a disagreeable duty, and the whole posse was glad to be free of
the traitor. In the meantime the morning was brightening rapidly, and
Dozier led out his men.

They went to their horses, and, coming back to the place where Andrew
had made his halt and fired his three shots, they took up the trail.

It was as easy to read as a book. The sign was never wanting for more
than three steps at a time, and Hal Dozier, reading skillfully, watched
the decreasing distance between heel indentations, a sure sign that the
fugitive was growing weak from the loss of the blood that spotted the
trail. Straight on to the doorstep of Pop's cabin went the trail. Dozier
rapped at the door, and the old man himself appeared. The bony fingers
of one hand were wrapped around the corncob, which was his inseparable
companion, and in the other he held the cloth with which he had been
drying dishes. Jud turned from his pan of dishwater to cast a frightened
glance over his shoulder. Pop did not wait for explanations.

"Come in, Dozier," he invited. "Come in, boys. Glad to see you. Ain't
particular comfortable for an oldster like me when they's a full-grown,
man-eatin' outlaw layin' about the grounds. This Lanning come to my door
last night. Me and Jud was sittin' by the stove. He wanted to get us to
bandage him up, but I yanked my gun off'n the wall and ordered
him away."

"You got your gun on Lanning--off the wall--before he had you covered?"
asked Hal Dozier with a singular smile.

"Oh, I ain't so slow with my hands," declared Pop. "I ain't half so old
as I look, son! Besides, he was bleedin' to death and crazy in the head.
I don't figure he even thought about his gun just then." "Why didn't
you shoot him down, Pop? Or take him? There's money in him."

"Don't I know it? Ain't I seen the posters? But I wasn't for pressin'
things too hard. Not me at my age, with Jud along. I ordered him away
and let him go. He went down yonder. Oh, you won't have far to go. He
was about all in when he left. But I ain't been out lookin' around yet
this morning. I know the feel of a forty-five slug in your inwards."

He placed a hand upon his stomach, and a growl of amusement went through
the posse. After all, Pop was a known man. In the meantime someone had
picked up the trail to the cliff, and Dozier followed it. They went
along the heel marks to a place where blood had spurted liberally over
the ground. "Must have had a hemorrhage here," said Dozier. "No, we
won't have far to go. Poor devil!"

And then they came to the edge of the cliff, where the heel marks ended.
"He walked straight over," said one of the men. "Think o' that!"

"No," exclaimed Dozier, who was on his knees examining the marks, "he
stood here a minute or so. First he shifted to one foot, and then he
shifted his weight to the other. And his boots were turning in. Queer. I
suppose his knees were buckling. He saw he was due to bleed to death and
he took a shorter way! Plain suicide. Look down, boys! See anything?"

There was a jumble of sharp rocks at the base of the cliff, and the
water of the stream very close. Nothing showed on the rocks, nothing
showed on the face of the cliff. They found a place a short distance to
the right and lowered a man down with the aid of a rope. He looked about
among the rocks. Then he ran down the stream for some distance. He came
back with a glum face.

There was no sign of the body of Andrew Lanning among the rocks. Looking
up to the top of the cliff, from the place where he stood, he figured
that a man could have jumped clear of the rocks by a powerful leap and
might have struck in the swift current of the stream. There was no trace
of the body in the waters, no drop of blood on the rocks. But then the
water ran here at a terrific rate; the scout had watched a heavy boulder
moved while he stood there. He went down the bank and came at once to a
deep pool, over which the water was swirling. He sounded that pool with
a long branch and found no bottom.

"And that makes it clear," he said, "that the body went down the water,
came to that pool, was sucked down, and got lodged in the rocks. Anybody
differ? No, gents, Andrew Lanning is food for the trout. And I say it's
the best way out of the job for all of us."

But Hal Dozier was a man full of doubts. "There's only one other thing
possible," he said. "He might have turned aside at the house of Pop. He
may be there now."

"But don't the trail come here? And is there any back trail to the
house?" one of the men protested.

"It doesn't look possible," nodded Hal Dozier, "but queer things are apt
to happen. Let's go back and have a look."




CHAPTER 26


He dismounted and gave his horse to one of the others, telling them that
he would do the scouting himself this time, and he went back on foot to
the house of Pop. He made his steps noiseless as he came closer, not
that he expected to surprise Pop to any purpose, but the natural
instinct of the trailer made him advance with caution, and, when he was
close enough to the door he heard: "Oh, he's a clever gent, well
enough, but they ain't any of 'em so clever that they can't learn
somethin' new." Hal Dozier paused with his hand raised to rap at the
door and he heard Pop say in continuation: "You write this down in red,
sonny, and don't you never forget it: The wisest gent is the gent that
don't take nothin' for granted."

It came to Hal Dozier that, if he delayed his entrance for another
moment, he might hear something distinctly to his advantage; but his
role of eavesdropper did not fit with his broad shoulders, and, after
knocking on the door, he stepped in. Pop was putting away the dishes,
and Jud was scrubbing out the sink.

"The boys are working up the trail," said Hal Dozier, "but they can do
it by themselves. I know that the trail ends at the cliff. I'll tell you
that poor kid walked to the edge of the cliff, stopped there a minute;
made up his mind that he was bleeding to death, and then cut it short.
He jumped, missed the rocks underneath, and was carried off by the
river." Dozier followed up his statement with some curse words.

He watched the face of the other keenly, but the old man was busy
filling his pipe. His eyebrows, to be sure, flicked up as he heard this
tragedy announced, and there was a breath from Jud. "I'll tell you,
Dozier," said the other, lighting his pipe and then tamping the red-hot
coals with his calloused forefinger, "I'm kind of particular about the
way people cusses around Jud. He's kind of young, and they ain't any
kind of use of him litterin' up his mind with useless words. Don't mean
no offense to you, Dozier."

The deputy officer took a chair and tipped it back against the wall. He
felt that he had been thoroughly checkmated in his first move; and yet
he sensed an atmosphere of suspicion in this little house. It lingered
in the air. Also, he noted that Jud was watching him with rather wide
eyes and a face of unhealthy pallor; but that might very well be because
of the awe which the youngster felt in beholding Hal Dozier, the
manhunter, at close range. All these things were decidedly small clews,
but the marshal was accustomed to acting on hints.

In the meantime, Pop, having put away the last of the dishes in a
cupboard, whose shelves were lined with fresh white paper, offered
Dozier a cup of coffee. While he sipped it, the marshal complimented his
host on the precision with which he maintained his house.

"It looks like a woman's hand had been at work," concluded the marshal.

"Something better'n that," declared the other. "A man's hand, Dozier.
People has an idea that because women mostly do housework men are out of
place in a kitchen. It ain't so. Men just got somethin' more important
on their hands most of the time." His eyes glanced sadly toward his gun
rack. "Women is a pile overpraised, Dozier. I ask you, man to man, did
you ever see a cleaner floor than that in a woman's kitchen?"

The marshal admitted that he never had. "But you're a rare man," he
said.

Pop shook his head. "When I was a boy like you," he said, "I wasn't
nothin' to be passed up too quick. But a man's young only once, and
that's a short time--and he's old for years and years and years,
Dozier." He added, for fear that he might have depressed his guest, "But
me and Jud team it, you see. I'm extra old and Jud's extra young--so we
kind of hit an average."

He touched the shoulder of the boy and there was a flash of eyes between
them, the flicker of a smile. Hal Dozier drew a breath. "I got no kids
of my own," he declared. "You're lucky, friend. And you're lucky to have
this neat little house."

"No, I ain't. They's no luck to it, because I made every sliver of it
with my own hands." An idea came to the deputy marshal.

"There's a place up in the hills behind my house, a day's ride," he
said, "where I go hunting now and then, and I've an idea a little house
like this would be just the thing for me. Mind if I look it over?"

Pop tamped his pipe.

"Sure thing," he said. "Look as much as you like."

He stepped to a corner of the room and by a ring he raised a trapdoor.
"I got a cellar 'n' everything. Take a look at it below."

He lighted the lantern, and Hal Dozier went down the steep steps,
humming. "Look at the way that foundation's put in," said the old man in
a loud voice. "I done all that, too, with my own hands."

His voice was so unnecessarily loud, indeed, just as if the deputy were
already under ground, that it occurred to Dozier that if a man were
lying in that cellar he would be amply warned. And going down he walked
with the lantern held to one side, to keep the light off his own body as
much as possible; his hand kept at his hip.

But, when he reached the cellar, he found only some boxes and canned
provisions in a rack at one side, and a various litter all kept in close
order. Big stones had been chiseled roughly into shape to build the
walls, and the flooring was as dry as the floor of the house. It was, on
the whole, a very solid bit of work. A good place to imprison a man, for
instance. At this thought Dozier glanced up sharply and saw the other
holding the trapdoor ajar. Something about that implacable, bony face
made Dozier turn and hurry back up the stairs to the main floor of
the house.

"Nice bit of work down there," he said. "I can use that idea very well.
Well," he added carelessly, "I wonder when my fool posse will get
through hunting for the remains of poor Lanning? Come to think of
it"--for it occurred to him that if the old man were indeed concealing
the outlaw he might not know the price which was on his head--"there's
a pretty little bit of coin connected with Lanning. Too bad you didn't
drop him when he came to your door."

"Drop a helpless man--for money?" asked the old man. "Never, Dozier!"

"He hadn't long to live, anyway," answered the marshal in some
confusion. Those old, straight eyes of Pop troubled him.

He fenced with a new stroke for a confession.

"For my part, I've never had much heart in this work of mine."

"He killed your brother, didn't he?" asked Pop with considerable
dryness.

"Bill made the wrong move," replied Hal instantly. "He never should have
ridden Lanning down in the first place. Should have let the fool kid go
until he found out that Buck Heath wasn't killed. Then he would have
come back of his own accord."

"That's a good idea," remarked the other, "but sort of late, it strikes
me. Did you tell that to the sheriff?"

"Late it is," remarked Dozier, not following the question. "Now the poor
kid is outlawed. Well, between you and me, I wish he'd gotten away
clean-handed. But too late now.

"By the way," he went on, "I'd like to take a squint at your attic, too.
That ladder goes up to it, I guess."

"Go ahead," said Pop. And once more he tamped his pipe.

There was a sharp, shrill cry from the boy, and Dozier whirled on him.
He saw a pale, scared face.

"What's the matter?" he asked sharply. "What's the matter with you,
Jud?" And he fastened his keen glance on the boy.

Vaguely, from the corner of his eye, he felt that Pop had taken the pipe
from his mouth. There was a sort of breathless touch in the air of the
room. "Nothin'," said Jud. "Only--you know the rungs of that ladder
ain't fit to be walked on, grandad!"

"Jud," said the old man with a strained tone, "It ain't my business to
give warnin's to an officer of the law--not mine. He'll find out little
things like that for himself."

For one moment Dozier remained looking from one face to the other. Then
he shrugged his shoulders and went slowly up the ladder. It squeaked
under his weight, he felt the rungs bow and tremble. Halfway up he
turned suddenly, but Pop was sitting as old men will, humming a tune and
keeping time to it by patting the bowl of his pipe with a forefinger.

And Dozier made up his mind.

He turned and came down the ladder. "I guess there's no use looking in
the attic," he said. "Same as any other attic, I suppose, Pop?"

"The same?" asked Pop, taking the pipe from his mouth. "I should tell a
man it ain't. It's my work, that attic is, and it's different. I handled
the joinin' of them joists pretty slick, but you better go and see for
yourself."

And he smiled at the deputy from under his bushy brows. Hal Dozier
grinned broadly back at him.

"I've seen your work in the cellar, Pop," he said. "I don't want to risk
my neck on that ladder. No, I'll have to let it go. Besides, I'll have
to round up the boys."

He waved farewell, stepped through the door, and closed it behind him.

"Grandad," exclaimed Jud in a gasp.

The old man silenced him with a raised finger and a sudden frown. He
slipped to the door in turn with a step so noiseless that even Jud
wondered. Years seemed to have fallen from the shoulders of his
grandfather. He opened the door quickly, and there stood the deputy. His
back, to be sure, was turned to the door, but he hadn't moved.

"Think I see your gang over yonder," said Pop. "They seem to be sort of
waitin' for you, Dozier."

The other turned and twisted one glance up at the old man.

"Thanks," he said shortly and strode away.

Pop closed the door and sank into a chair. He seemed suddenly to have
aged again.

"Oh, grandad," said Jud, "how'd you guess he was there all the time?"

"I dunno," said Pop. "Don't bother me."

"But why'd you beg him to look into the attic? Didn't you know he'd see
him right off?"

"Because he goes by contraries, Jud. He wouldn't of started for the
ladder at all, if you hadn't told him he'd probably break his neck on
it. Only when he seen I didn't care, he made up his mind he didn't want
to see that attic."

"And if he'd gone up?" whispered Jud.

"Don't ask me what would of happened," said Pop.

All his bony frame was shaken by a shiver.

"Is he such a fine fighter?" asked Jud.

"Fighter?" echoed Pop. "Oh, lad, he's the greatest hand with a gun that
ever shoved foot into stirrup. He--he was like a bulldog on a trail--and
all I had for a rope to hold him was just a little spider thread of
thinking. Gimme some coffee, Jud. I've done a day's work."




CHAPTER 27


The bullets of the posse had neither torn a tendon nor broken a bone.
Striking at close range and driven by highpower rifles, the slugs had
whipped cleanly through the flesh of Andrew Lanning, and the flesh
closed again, almost as swiftly as ice freezes firm behind the wire that
cuts it. In a very few days he could sit up, and finally came down the
ladder with Pop beneath him and Jud steadying his shoulders from above.
That was a gala day in the house. Indeed, they had lived well ever since
the coming of Andrew, for he had insisted that he bear the household
expense while he remained there, since they would not allow him
to depart.

"And I'll let you pay for things, Andrew," Pop had said, "if you won't
say nothing about it, ever, to Jud. He's a proud kid, is Jud, and he'd
bust his heart if he thought I was lettin' you spend a cent here."

But this day they had a fine steak, brought out from Tomo by Pop the
evening before, and they had beans with plenty of pork and molasses in
them, cream biscuits, which Pop could make delicious beyond belief, to
say nothing of canned tomatoes with bits of dried bread in them, and
coffee as black as night. Such was the celebration when Andrew came down
to join his hosts, and so high did all spirits rise that even Jud, the
resolute and the alert, forgot his watch. Every day from dawn to dark he
was up to the door or to the rear window, keeping the landscape under a
sweeping observance every few moments, lest some chance traveler--all
search for Andrew Lanning had, of course, ceased with the moment of his
disappearance--should happen by and see the stranger in the household
of Pop. But during these festivities all else was forgotten, and in the
midst of things a decided, rapid knock was heard at the door.

Speech was cut off at the root by that sound. For whoever the stranger
might be, he must certainly have heard three voices raised in that room.
It was Andrew who spoke. And he spoke in only a whisper. "Whoever it may
be, let him in," said Andrew, "and, if there's any danger about him, he
won't leave till I'm able to leave. Open the door, Jud."

And Jud, with a stricken look, crossed the floor with trailing feet. The
knock was repeated; it had a metallic clang, as though the man outside
were rapping with the butt of a gun in his impatience, and Andrew,
setting his teeth, laid his hand on the handle of his revolver. Here Jud
cast open the door, and, standing close to it with her forefeet on the
top step, was the bay mare. She instantly thrust in her head and snorted
in the direction of the stranger.

"Thank heaven!" said Andrew. "I thought it was the guns again!" And Jud,
shouting with delight and relief, threw his arms around the neck of the
horse. "It's Sally!" he said. "Sally, you rascal!"

"That good-for-nothing hoss Sally," complained the old man. "Shoo her
away, Jud."

But Andrew protested at that, and Jud cast him a glance of gratitude.
Andrew himself got up from the table and went across the room with half
of an apple in his hand. He sliced it into bits, and she took them
daintily from between his fingers. And when Jud reluctantly ordered her
away she did not blunder down the steps, but threw her weight back on
her haunches and swerved lightly away. It fascinated Andrew; he had
never seen so much of feline control in the muscles of a horse. When he
turned back to the table he announced: "Pop, I've got to ride that
horse. I've got to have her. How does she sell?"

"She ain't mine," said Pop. "You better ask Jud."

Jud was at once white and red. He looked at his hero, and then he looked
into his mind and saw the picture of Sally. A way out occurred to him.
"You can have her when you can ride her," he said. "She ain't much use
except to look at. But if you can saddle her and ride her before you
leave--well, you can leave on her, Andy."

It was the beginning of busy days for Andrew. The cold weather was
coming on rapidly. Now the higher mountains above them were swiftly
whitening, while the line of the snow was creeping nearer and nearer.
The sight of it alarmed Andrew, and, with the thought of being
snow-bound in these hills, his blood turned cold. What he yearned for
were the open spaces of the mountain desert, where he could see the
enemy approach. But every day in the cabin the terror grew that someone
would pass, some one, unnoticed, would observe the stranger. The whisper
would reach Tomo--the posse would come again, and the second time the
trap was sure to work. He must get away, but no ordinary horse would do
for him. If he had had a fine animal under him Bill Dozier would never
have run him down, and he would still be within the border of the law. A
fine horse--such a horse as Sally, say!

If he had been strong he would have attempted to break her at once, but
he was not strong. He could barely support his own weight during the
first couple of days after he left the bunk, and he had to use his mind.
He began, then, at the point where Jud had left off.

Jud could ride Sally with a scrap of cloth beneath him; Andrew started
to increase the size of that cloth. To keep it in place he made a long
strip of sacking to serve as a cinch, and before the first day was gone
she was thoroughly used to it. With this great step accomplished, Andrew
increased the burden each time he changed the pad. He got a big
tarpaulin and folded it many times; the third day she was accepting it
calmly and had ceased to turn her head and nose it. Then he carried up a
small sack of flour and put that in place upon the tarpaulin. She winced
under the dead-weight burden; there followed a full half hour of frantic
bucking which would have pitched the best rider in the world out of a
saddle, but the sack of flour was tied on, and Sally could not dislodge
it. When she was tired of bucking she stood still, and then discovered
that the sack of flour was not only harmless but that it was good to
eat. Andrew was barely in time to save the contents of the sack from
her teeth.

It was another long step forward in the education of Sally. Next he
fashioned clumsy imitations of stirrups, and there was a long fight
between Sally and stirrups, but the stirrups, being inanimate, won, and
Sally submitted to the bouncing wooden things at her sides. And still,
day after day, Andrew built his imitation saddle closer and closer to
the real thing, until he had taken a real pair of cinches off one of
Pop's saddles and had taught her to stand the pressure without
flinching.

There was another great return from Andrew's long and steady intimacy
with the mare. She came to accept him absolutely. She knew his voice;
she would come to his whistle; and finally, when every vestige of
unsoundness had left his wounds, he climbed into that improvised saddle
and put his feet in the stirrups. Sally winced down in her catlike way
and shuddered, but he began to talk to her, and the familiar voice
decided Sally. She merely turned her head and rubbed his knee with her
nose. The battle was over and won. Ten minutes later Andrew had cinched
a real saddle in place, and she bore the weight of the leather without a
stir. The memory of that first saddle and the biting of the bur beneath
it had been gradually wiped from her mind, and the new saddle was
connected indisolubly with the voice and the hand of the man. At the end
of that day's work Andrew carried the saddle back into the house with a
happy heart.

And the next day he took his first real ride on the back of the mare. He
noted how easily she answered the play of his wrist, how little her head
moved in and out, so that he seldom had to sift the reins through his
fingers to keep in touch with the bit. He could start her from a stand
into a full gallop with a touch of his knees, and he could bring her to
a sliding halt with the least pressure on the reins. He could tell,
indeed, that she was one of those rare possessions, a horse with a
wise mouth.

And yet he had small occasion to keep up on the bit as he rode her. She
was no colt which hardly knew its own paces. She was a stanch
five-year-old, and she had roamed the mountains about Pop's place at
will. She went like a wild thing over the broken going. That catlike
agility with which she wound among the rocks, hardly impaired her speed
as she swerved. Andrew found her a book whose pages he could turn
forever and always find something new.

He forgot where he was going. He only knew that the wind was clipping
his face and that Sally was eating up the ground, and he came to himself
with a start, after a moment, realizing that his dream had carried him
perilously out of the mouth of the ravine. He had even allowed the mare
to reach a bit of winding road, rough indeed, but cut by many wheels and
making a white streak across the country. Andrew drew in his breath
anxiously and turned her back for the canyon.




CHAPTER 28


It was, indeed, a grave moment, yet the chances were large that even if
he met someone on the road he would not be recognized, for it had been
many days since the death of Andrew Lanning was announced through the
countryside. He gritted his teeth when he thought that this single burst
of childish carelessness might have imperiled all that he and Jud and
Pop had worked for so long and so earnestly--the time when he could take
the bay mare and start the ride across the mountains to the comparative
safety on the other side.

That time, he made up his mind, would be the next evening. He was well;
Sally was thoroughly mastered; and, with a horse beneath him which, he
felt, could give even the gray stallion of Hal Dozier hard work, and
therefore show her heels to any other animal on the mountain desert, he
looked forward to the crossing of the mountains as an accomplished fact.
Always supposing that he could pass Twin Falls and the fringe of towns
in the hills, without being recognized and the alarm sent out.

Going back up the road toward the ravine at a brisk canter, he pursued
the illuminating comparison between Sally and Dozier's famous Gray
Peter. Of course, nothing but a downright test of speed and
weight-carrying power, horse to horse, could decide which was the
superior, but Andrew had ridden Gray Peter many times when he and Uncle
Jasper went out to the Dozier place, and he felt that he could sum up
the differences between the two beautiful animals. Sally was the smaller
of the two, for instance. She could not stand more than fifteen hands,
or fifteen-one at the most. Gray Peter was a full sixteen hands of
strong bone and fine muscle, a big animal--almost too big for some
purposes. Among these rocks, now, he would stand no chance with Sally.
Gray Peter was a picture horse. When one looked at him one felt that he
was a standard by which other animals should be measured. He carried his
head loftily, and there was a lordly flaunt to his tail. On the other
hand, Sally was rather long and low. Furthermore, her neck, which was by
no means the heavy neck of the gray stallion, she was apt to carry
stretched rather straight out and not curled proudly up as Gray Peter
carried his. Neither did she bear her tail so proudly. Some of this, of
course, was due to the difference between a mare and a stallion, but
still more came from the differing natures of the two animals. In the
head lay the greatest variation. The head of Gray Peter was close to
perfection, light, compact, heavy of jowl; his eye at all times was
filled with an intolerable brightness, a keen flame of courage and
eagerness. But one could find a fault with Sally's head. In general, it
was very well shaped, with the wide forehead and all the other good
points which invariably go with that feature; but her face was just a
trifle dished. Moreover, her eye was apt to be a bit dull. She had been
a pet all her life, and, like most pets, her eye partook of the human
quality. It had a conversational way of brightening and growing dull. On
the whole, the head of Sally had a whimsical, inquisitive expression,
and by her whole carriage she seemed to be perpetually putting her nose
into other business than her own.

But the gait was the main difference. Riding Gray Peter, one felt an
enormous force urging at the bit and ready and willing to expend itself
to the very last ounce, with tremendous courage and good heart; there
was always a touch of fear that Gray Peter, plunging unabated over rough
and smooth, might be running himself out. But Sally would not maintain
one pace. She was apt to shorten her stride for choppy going, and she
would lengthen it like a witch on the level. She kept changing the
elevation of her head. She ran freely, looking about her and taking note
of what she saw, so that she gave an indescribable effect of enjoying
the gallop just as much as her rider, but in a different way. All in
all, Gray Peter was a glorious machine; Sally was a tricky intelligence.
Gray Peter's heart was never in doubt, but what would Sally's courage be
in a pinch?

Full of these comparisons, studying Sally as one would study a friend,
Andrew forgot again all around him, and so he came suddenly, around a
bend in the road, upon a buckboard with two men in it. He went by the
buckboard with a wave of greeting and a side glance, and it was not
until he was quite around the elbow turn that he remembered that one of
the men in the wagon had looked at him with a strange intentness. It was
a big man with a great blond beard, parted as though with a comb by
the wind.

He rode back around the bend, and there, down the road, he saw the
buckboard bouncing, with the two horses pulling it at a dead gallop and
the driver leaning back in the seat.

But the other man, the big man with the beard, had picked a rifle out of
the bed of the wagon, and now he sat turned in the seat, with his blond
beard blown sidewise as he looked back. Beyond a doubt Andrew had been
recognized, and now the two were speeding to Tomo to give their report
and raise the alarm a second time. Andrew, with a groan, shot his hand
to the long holster of the rifle which Pop had insisted that he take
with him if he rode out. There was still plenty of time for a long shot.
He saw the rifle jerk up to the shoulder of the big man; something
hummed by him, and then the report came barking up the ravine.

But Andrew turned Sally and went around the bend; that old desire to
rush on the men and shoot them down, that same cold tingling of the
nerves, which he had felt when he faced the posse after the fall of Bill
Dozier, was on him again, and he had to fight it down. He mastered it,
and galloped with a heavy heart up the ravine and to the house of Pop.
The old man saw him; he called to Jud, and the two stood in front of the
door to admire the horseman and his horse. But Andrew flung himself out
of the saddle and came to them sadly. He told them what had happened,
the meeting, the recognition. There was only one thing to do--make up
the pack as soon as possible and leave the place. For they would know
where he had been hiding. Sally was famous all through the mountains;
she was known as Pop's outlaw horse, and the searchers would come
straight to his house.

Pop took the news philosophically, but Jud became a pitiful figure of
stone in his grief. He came to life again to help in the packing. They
worked swiftly, and Andrew began to ask the final questions about the
best and least-known trails over the mountains. Pop discouraged
the attempt.

"You seen what happened before," he said. "They'll have learned their
lesson from Hal Dozier. They'll take the telephone and rouse the towns
all along the mountains. In two hours, Andy, two hundred men will be
blocking every trail and closin' in on you."

And Andrew reluctantly admitted the truth of what he said. He resigned
himself gloomily to turning back onto the mountain desert, and now he
remembered the warning of failure which Henry Allister had given him. He
felt, indeed, that the great outlaw had simply allowed him to run on a
long rope, knowing that he must travel in a circle and eventually come
back to the band.

Now the pack was made--he saw Jud covertly tuck some little mementoes
into it--and he drew Pop aside and dropped a weight of gold coins into
his pocket.

"You tarnation scoundrel!" began Pop huskily.

"Hush," said Andrew, "or Jud will hear you and know that I've tried to
leave some money. You don't want to ruin me with Jud, do you?"

Pop was uneasy and uncertain.

"I've had your food these weeks and your care, Pop," said Andrew, "and
now I walk off with a saddle and a horse and an outfit all yours. It's
too much. I can't take charity. But suppose I accept it as a gift; I
leave you an exchange--a present for Jud that you can give him later on.
Is that fair?"

"Andy," said the old man, "you've double-crossed me, and you've got me
where I can't talk out before Jud. But I'll get even yet. Good-by, lad,
and put this one thing under your hat: It's the loneliness that's goin'
to be the hardest thing to fight, Andy. You'll get so tired of bein' by
yourself that you'll risk murder for the sake of a talk. But then hold
hard. Stay by yourself. Don't trust to nobody. And keep clear of towns.
Will you do that?"

"That's plain common sense, Pop."

"Aye, lad, and the plain things are always the hardest things to do."

Next came Jud. He was very white, but he approached Andrew with a
careless swagger and shook hands firmly.

"When you bump into that Dozier, Andy," he said, "get him, will you?
S'long!"

He turned sharply and sauntered toward the open door of the house. But
before he was halfway to it they heard a choking sound; Jud broke into a
run, and, once past the door, slammed it behind him.

"Don't mind him," said Pop, clearing his throat violently. "He'll cry
the sick feelin' out of his insides. God bless you, Andy! And remember
what I say: The loneliness is the hard thing to fight, but keep clear of
men, and after a time they'll forget about you. You can settle down and
nobody'll rake up old scores. I know."

"D'you think it can be done?"

There was a faint, cold twinkle in the eyes of Pop. "I'll tell a man it
can be done," he said slowly. "When you come back here I may be able to
tell you a little story, Andy. Now climb on Sally and don't hit nothin'
but the high spots."




CHAPTER 29


Even in his own lifetime a man in the mountain desert passes swiftly
from the fact of history into the dream of legend. The telephone and the
newspaper cannot bring that lonely region into the domain of cold truth.
In the time that followed people seized on the story of Andrew Lanning
and embroidered it with rare trimmings. It was told over and over again
in saloons and around family firesides and in the bunk houses of many
ranches. For Andrew had done what many men failed to do in spite of a
score of killings--he struck the public fancy. People realized, however
vaguely, that here was a unique story of the making of a desperado, and
they gathered the story of Andrew Lanning to their hearts.

On the whole, it was not an unkindly interest. In reality the sympathy
was with the outlaw. For everyone knew that Hal Dozier was on the trail
again, and everyone felt that in the end he would run down his man, and
there was a general hope that the chase might be a long one. For one
thing, the end of that chase would have removed one of the few vital
current bits of news. Men could no longer open conversations by asking
the last tidings of Andrew. Such questions were always a signal for an
unlocking of tongues around the circle.

Many untruths were told. For instance, the blowing of the safe in
Allertown was falsely attributed to Andrew, while in reality he knew
nothing about "soup" and its uses. And the running of the cows off the
Circle O Bar range toward the border was another exploit which was
wrongly checked to his credit or discredit. Also the brutal butchery in
the night at Buffalo Head was sometimes said to be Andrew's work, but in
general the men of the mountain desert came to know that the outlaw was
not a red-handed murderer, but simply a man who fought for his own life.

The truths in themselves were enough to bear telling and retelling.
Andrew's Thanksgiving dinner at William Foster's house, with a revolver
on the table and a smile on his lips, was a pleasant tale and a
thrilling one as well, for Foster had been able to go to the telephone
and warn the nearest officer of the law. There was the incident of the
jammed rifle at The Crossing; the tale of how a youngster at Tomo
decided that he would rival the career of the great man--how he got a
fine bay mare and started a blossoming career of crime by sticking up
three men on the road and committing several depredations which were all
attributed to Andrew, until Andrew himself ran down the foolish fellow,
shot the gun out of his hand, gave him a talking that recalled his
lost senses.

But all details fell into insignificance compared with the general
theme, which was the mighty duel between Andrew and Hal Dozier--the
unescapable manhunter and the trapwise outlaw. Hal did not lose any
reputation because he failed to take Andrew Lanning at once. The very
fact that he was able to keep close enough to make out the trail at all
increased his fame. He did not even lose his high standing because he
would not hunt Andrew alone. He always kept a group with him, and people
said that he was wise to do it. Not because he was not a match for
Andrew Lanning singlehanded, but because it was folly to risk life when
there were odds which might be used against the desperado. But everyone
felt that eventually Lanning would draw the deputy marshal away from his
posse, and then the outlaw would turn, and there would follow a battle
of the giants. The whole mountain desert waited for that time to come
and bated its breath in hope and fear of it.

But if the men of the mountain desert considered Hal Dozier the greatest
enemy of Andrew, he himself had quite another point of view. It was the
loneliness, as Pop had promised him. There were days when he hardly
touched food such was his distaste for the ugly messes which he had to
cook with his own hands; there were days when he would have risked his
life to eat a meal served by the hands of another and cooked by another
man. That was the secret of that Thanksgiving dinner at the Foster
house, though others put it down to sheer, reckless mischief. And today,
as he made his fire between two stones--a smoldering, evil-smelling
fire of sagebrush--the smoke kept running up his clothes and choking his
lungs with its pungency. And the fat bacon which he cut turned his
stomach. At last he sat down, forgetting the bacon in the pan,
forgetting the long fast and the hard ride which had preceded this meal,
and stared at the fire.

Rather, the fire was the thing which he kept chiefly in the center of
his vision, but his glances went everywhere, to all sides, up, and down.
Hal Dozier had hunted him hotly down the valley of the Little Silver
River, but near the village of Los Toros the fagged posse and Hal
himself had dropped back and once more given up the chase. No doubt they
would rest for a few hours in the town, change horses, and then come
after him again.

It was a new Andrew Lanning that sat there by the fire. He had left
Martindale a clear-faced boy; the months that followed had changed him
to a man; the boyhood had been literally burned out of him. The skin of
his face, indeed, refused to tan, but now, instead of a healthy and
crisp white it was a colorless sallow. The rounded cheeks were now
straight and sank in sharply beneath his cheek bones, with a sharply
incised line beside the mouth. And his expression at all times was one
of quivering alertness--the mouth a little compressed and straight, the
nostrils seeming a trifle distended, and the eyes as restless as the
eyes of a hungry wolf.

Moreover, all of Andrew's actions had come to bear out this same
expression of his face. If he sat down his legs were gathered, and he
seemed about to stand up. If he walked he went with a nervous step,
rising a little on his toes as though he were about to break into a run
or as though he were poising himself to whirl at any alarm. He sat in
this manner even now, under that dead gray sky of sheeted clouds, and in
the middle of that great rolling plain, lifeless and colorless--lifeless
except for the wind that hummed across it, pointed with cold. Andrew,
looking from the dull glimmer of his fire to that dead waste, sighed. He
whistled, and Sally came instantly to the call and dropped her head
beside his own. She, at least, had not changed in the long pursuits and
the hard life. It had made her gaunt. It had hardened and matured her
muscles, but her head was the same, and her changeable, human eyes, the
eyes of a pet, had not altered.

She stood there with her head down, silently; and Andrew, his hands
locked around his knees, neither spoke to her nor stirred. But by
degrees the pain and the hunger went out of his face, and, as though she
knew that she was no longer needed, Sally tipped his sombrero over his
eyes with a toss of her head, and, having given this signal of disgust
at being called without a purpose, she went back to her work of cropping
the gramma grass, which of all grasses a horse loves best. Andrew
straightened his hat and cast one glance after her.

A shade of thought passed over his face as he looked at her. But this
time the posse was probably once more starting on out of Los Toros and
taking his trail. It would mean another test; he did not fear for her,
but he pitied her for the hard work that was coming, and he looked
almost with regret over the long racing lines of her body. And it was
then, coming out of the sight of Sally, the thought of the posse, and
the disgust for the greasy bacon in the pan, that Andrew received a
quite new idea. It was to stop his flight, turn about, and double like a
fox straight back toward Los Toros, making a detour to the left. The
posse would plunge ahead, and he could cut in toward Los Toros. For he
had determined to eat once again, at least, at a table covered with a
white cloth, food prepared by the hand of another. Sally was known; he
would leave her in the grove beside the Little Silver River. For
himself, weeks had passed since any man had seen him, and certainly no
one in Los Toros had met him face to face. He would be unknown except
for a general description. And to disarm suspicion entirely he would
leave his cartridge belt and his revolver with Sally in the woods. For
what human being, no matter how imaginative, would possibly dream of
Andrew Lanning going unarmed into a town and sitting calmly at a table
to order a meal?




CHAPTER 30


Retrospection made Andrew Lanning's coming to Los Toros a mad freak,
whereas it was in reality a very clever stroke. Hal Dozier would have
been on the road five hours before if he had not been held up in the
matter of horses, but this is to tell the story out of turn.

Andrew saddled the mare and sent her back swiftly out of the plain, over
the hills, and then dropped her down into the valley of the Little
Silver River until he reached the grove of trees just outside Los
Toros--some four hundred yards, say, from the little group of houses. He
then took off his belt, hung it over the pommel, fastened the reins to
the belt, and turned away. Sally would stay where he left her--unless
someone else tried to get to her head, and then she would fight like a
wildcat. He knew that, and he therefore started for Los Toros with his
line of communications sufficiently guarded.

He instinctively thought first of drawing his hat low over his eyes and
walking swiftly; a moment of calm figuring told him that the better way
was to push the hat to the back of his head, put his hands in his
pockets, and go whistling through the streets of the town. It was the
middle of the gray afternoon; there were few people about, and the two
or three whom Andrew passed nodded a greeting. Each time they raised
their hands the fingers of Andrew twitched, but he made himself smile
back at them and waved in return.

He went on until he came to the restaurant. It was a long, narrow room
with a row of tables down each side, and a little counter and cash
register beside the door, some gaudy posters on the wall, a screen at
the rear to hide the entrance to the kitchen, and a ragged strip of
linoleum on the narrow passage between the tables.

These things Andrew saw with the first flick of his eyes as he came
through the door; as for people, there was a fat old man sitting behind
the cash register in a dirty white apron and two men in greasy overalls
and black shirts, perhaps from the railroad. There was one other thing
which immediately blotted out all the rest; it was a big poster, about
halfway down the wall, on which appeared in staring letters: "Ten
thousand dollars reward for the apprehension, dead or alive, of Andrew
Lanning." Above this caption was a picture of him, and below the big
print appeared the body of smaller type which named his particular
features. Straight to this sign Andrew walked and sat down at the table
beneath it.

It was no hypnotic attraction that took him there. He knew perfectly
well that if a man noticed that sign he would never dream of connecting
the man for whom, dead or alive, ten thousand dollars was to be paid,
with the man who sat underneath the picture calmly eating his lunch in
the middle of a town. Even if some supercurious person should make a
comparison, he would not proceed far with it, Andrew was sure, for the
picture represented the round, young face of a person who hardly existed
now; the hardened features of Andrew were now only a skinny caricature
of what they had been.

At any rate, Andrew sat down beneath the picture, and, instead of
resting one elbow on the table and partially veiling his face with his
hand, as he might most naturally have done, he tilted back easily in his
chair and looked up at the poster. The fat man from behind the register
had come to take his order. He noted the direction of Andrew's eyes
while he jotted down the items.

"You ain't the first," he said, "that's looked at that. Think of the
gent that'll get ten thousand dollars out of a single slug?"

"I can name the man who'll get it," said Andrew, "and his name is Hal
Dozier."

"I guess you ain't far wrong," replied the other. "For that matter, the
folks around here would mostly make the same guess. But maybe Hal's luck
will take a turn."

"Well," said Andrew, "if he gets the money I'll say that he's earned it.
And rush in some bread first, captain. I'm two-thirds starved."

It was a historic meal in more than one way. The size of it was one
notable feature, and even Andrew had to loosen his belt when he came to
attack the main feature, which was a vast steak with fried eggs
scattered over the top of it.

The steak had been reduced to a meager rim before Andrew had any
attention to pay to the paper which had been placed on his table. It was
an eight-page sheet entitled _The Granville Bugle_, and a subhead
announced that it was "the greatest paper on the ranges and the
cattleman's guide." Andrew found a picture on the first page, a picture
of Hal Dozier, and over the picture the following caption: "Watch this
column for news of the Andrew Lanning hunt."

The article in this week's issue contained few facts. It announced a
number of generalities: "Marshal Hal Dozier, when interviewed, said--"
and a great many innocuous things which he was sure that grim hunter
could not have spoken. He passed over the rest of the column in careless
contempt. On the second page, in a muddle of short notices, one
headline caught his eye and held it: "Charles Merchant to Wed
Society Belle."

The editor had spread his talents for the public eye in doing justice to
it:

On the fifteenth of the month will be consummated a romance which began
last year, when Charles Merchant, son of the well-known cattle king,
John Merchant, went East and met Miss Anne Withero. It is Miss Withero's
second visit in the West, and it is now announced that the marriage--

Andrew crumpled the paper and let it fall. He glanced at a calender on
the wall opposite him. There remained six days before the wedding.

And he was still so stunned by that announcement that, raising his head
slowly, his thoughts spinning, he looked up and encountered the eyes of
Hal Dozier as the latter sank into a chair.

He did not complete the act, but was arrested in midair, one hand
grasping the back of the chair, the other hand at his hip. Andrew, in
the space of an instant, thought of three things--to kick the table from
him and try to get to the side door of the place, to catch up the heavy
sugar bowl and attempt to bowl over his man with a well-directed blow,
or to simply sit and look Hal Dozier in the eye.

He had thought of the three things in the space that it would take a dog
to snap at a fly and look away. He dismissed the first alternatives as
absurd, and, picking up his cup of coffee, he raised his eyes slowly
toward the ceiling, after the time-honored fashion of a man draining a
glass, let his glance move gradually up and catch on the face of Dozier,
and then, without haste, lowered the cup again to its saucer. The flush
of his own heavy meal kept his pallor from showing. As for Dozier, there
was a succession of changes in his features, and then he concluded by
lowering himself heavily the rest of the way into his chair. He gave his
order to the proprietor in a dazed fashion, looking straight at Andrew,
and the latter knew perfectly that the deputy marshal felt that he was
in a dream. He was seeing what was not possible to see; his eyes were
telling his brain in definite terms: "There sits Andrew Lanning and ten
thousand dollars." But the reason of Dozier was speaking no less
decidedly: "There sits a man without a weapon at his hip and actually
beneath the poster which offers a reward for the capture of the person
he resembles. Also, he is in a restaurant in the middle of a town. I
have only to raise my voice in order to surround him."

And reason gained the upper hand, though Dozier continued to look at
Andrew in a fascinated manner.

Suddenly the outlaw knew that it would not do to disregard that glance
so long continued. To disregard it would be to start the suspicions of
Dozier as soon as his brain cleared.

"Hello, stranger," said Andrew, and he merely made his voice a trifle
husky and deep. "D'you know me?"

The eyes of Dozier widened, there was a convulsive motion of his arm,
and then his glance wandered slowly away.

"Excuse me," he said. "I thought I remembered your face."

Should he let it rest at that? No, better risk a finishing touch. "No
harm done," he said in the same loud voice. "Hey, captain, another cup
of coffee, will you? And a cigar."

He tilted back in his chair and began to hum. And all the time his
nerves were jumping, and that old frenzy was taking him by the throat,
that bulldog eagerness for the fight. But fight emptyhanded--and against
Hal Dozier? The restaurant owner brought Dozier's order, and then the
coffee and the cigar to Andrew, and while the deputy continued to look
with dumb fascination at Andrew with swift side glances, Andrew finished
his second cup. He bit off the end of his cigar, asked for his check,
and paid it, and then felt his nerves crumble and go to pieces.

It was not Hal Dozier who sat there, but death itself that looked him in
the face. One false move, one wrong gesture, would betray him. How could
he tell? That very moment his expression might have altered into
something which the marshal could not fail to recognize, and the moment
that final touch came there would be a gun play swifter than the eye
could follow--simply a flash of steel and a simultaneous explosion.

Even now, with the cigar between his teeth, he knew that if he lighted a
match, the match would tremble between his fingers, and that trembling
would betray him to Dozier. Yet he must not sit there, either, with the
cigar between his teeth, unlighted. It was a little thing, but the
weight of a feather would turn the balance and loose on him the
thunderbolt of Hal Dozier in action.

But what could he do?

He found a thing in the very deeps of his despair. He got up from his
chair, pushed his hat calmly upon his head and walked straight to the
deputy. He dropped both hands upon the edge of Hal's table and leaned
across it.

"Got a light, partner?" he asked.

And standing there over the table, he knew that Dozier had at length
finally and definitely recognized him; but that the numbed brain of the
marshal refused to permit him to act. He believed and yet he dared not
believe his belief. Andrew saw the glance of Dozier go to his hip--his
hip which the holster had rubbed until it gleamed. But no matter--the
gun was not there--and stunned again by that impossible fact Dozier
reached back and brought up his hand bearing a match box. He took out a
match. He lighted it, his brows drawing together and slackening all the
time, and then he looked up, his eyes rising with the lighted match, and
stared full into the eyes of Andrew.

It was discovery undoubtedly--and how long would that mental paralysis
last?

Andrew looked straight back into those eyes. His cigar took the fire and
sucked in the flame. A cloud of smoke puffed out and rolled toward Hal
Dozier, and Andrew turned leisurely and walked toward the door.

He was a yard from it.

"Lanning!" came a voice behind him, terrible, like a scream of pain.

As he leaped forward a gun spoke heavily in the room. He heard the
bullet crunch into the frame of the door; the door itself was split by
the second shot as Andrew slammed it shut. Then he raced around the
corner of the restaurant and made for the grove.

There was not a sound behind him for a moment. Then a roar rose from the
village and rushed after him. It gave him wings. And, looking back, he
saw that Hal Dozier was not among the pursuers. No, half a dozen men
were running, and firing as they ran, but there was not a rifle in the
lot, and it takes a good man to land a bullet on the run where he is
firing at a dodging target. The pursuers lost ground; they stopped and
yelled for horses.

But that was what Hal Dozier was doing now. He was jerking a saddle on
the back of Gray Peter, and in sixty seconds he would be tearing out of
Los Toros. In the same space Andrew was in his own saddle with a flying
leap and spurring out of the trees.




CHAPTER 31


By one thing he knew the utter desperation of Hal Dozier. For the man
had fired while Andrew's back was turned. The bullet had followed the
warning cry as swiftly as the strike of a snake follows its rattle. Luck
and his sudden leap forward had unbalanced the nice aim of Dozier, and
perhaps his mental agitation had contributed to it. But, at any rate,
Andrew was troubled as he cleared the edge of the trees and cantered
Sally not too swiftly along the Little Silver River toward Las Casas
mountains, a little east of south.

He did not hurry her, partly because he wished to stay close and make
sure of the number and force of his pursuers, and partly because he
already had a lead sufficient to keep out of any but chance rifle shots.

He had not long to wait. Men boiled out of the village like hornets out
of a shaken nest. He could see them buckling on belts while they were
riding with the reins in their teeth. And they came like the wind,
yelling at the sight of their quarry. Who would not kill a horse for the
sake of saying that he had been within pistol range of the great outlaw?
But, fast as their horses ran, Dozier, on Gray Peter, was able to keep
up with them and also to range easily from group to group. Truly, Gray
Peter was a glorious animal! If he were allowed to stretch out after the
mare, what would the result be?

The pursuers, under the direction of Dozier, spread across the river
bottom and, having formed so that no tricky doubling could leave them in
the lurch on a blind trail, they began to use a new set of tactics.

Dozier kept Gray Peter at a steady pace, never varying his gait. But,
on either side of him groups of his followers urged their horses forward
at breakneck speed. Three or four would send home the spurs and rush up
the river bottom after Andrew. If he did not hurry on they opened fire
with their rifles from a short distance and sent a hail of random
bullets, but Andrew knew that a random bullet carries just as much force
as a well-aimed one, and chance might be on the side of one of those
shots. He dared not allow them to come too close. Yet his heart rejoiced
as he watched the manner in which Sally accepted these challenges. She
never once had to lurch into her racing gait; she took the rushes of the
cow ponies behind her by merely lengthening her stride until the horses
behind her were winded and had to fall back.

If Andrew had let out Sally she would have walked away from them all,
but he dared not do that. For, after he had run the heart out of the
commoner ones, there remained Gray Peter in reserve, never changing his
pace, never hurrying, falling often far back, as the groups one after
another pushed close to Sally and made her spurt, gaining again when the
spurts ended one by one.

There were two hours of daylight; there was one hour of dusk; and all
that time the crowd kept thrusting out its small groups, one after the
other, reaching after Sally like different arms, and each time she
answered the spurt, and always slipped away into a greater lead at the
end of it. And then, while the twilight was turning into dark, Andrew
looked back and saw the whole crowd rein in their horses and turn back.
There remained a single figure following him, and that figure was easily
seen, because it was a man on a gray horse. And then Andrew grasped the
plan fully. The posse had played its part; the thing for which the
mountain desert had waited was come at last, and Hal Dozier was going on
to find his man single-handed and pull him down. Twice, before complete
darkness set in, Andrew had been on the verge of turning and going back
to accept the challenge of Hal Dozier. Always two things stopped him.
There was first the fear of the man which he frankly admitted, and more
than that was the feeling that one thing lay before him to be done
before he could meet Dozier and end the long trail. He must see Anne
Withero. She was about to be married and be drawn out of his world and
into a new one. He felt it was more important than life or death to see
her before that transformation took place. They would go East, no doubt.
Two thousand miles, the law and the mountains would fence him away from
her after that.

During the last months he accepted her as he accepted the
stars--something far away from him. Now, by some pretext, by some wile,
he must live to see her once more. After that let Hal Dozier meet him
when he would.

But with this in mind, as soon as the utter dark shut down, he swerved
Sally to the right and worked slowly up through the mountains, heading
due southwest and out of the valley of the Little Silver. He kept at it,
through a district where the mare could not even trot a great deal of
the time, for two or more hours. Then he found a little plateau thick
with good grazing for Sally and with a spring near it. There he camped
for the night, without food, without fire.

And not once during the hours before morning did he close his eyes. When
the first gray touched the sky he was in the saddle again; before the
sun was up he had crossed the Las Casas and was going down the great
shallow basin of the Roydon River. A fine, drizzling rain was falling,
and Sally, tired from her hard work of the day before and the long duels
with the horses of the posse, went even more down-heartedly moody than
usual, shuffling wearily, but recovering herself with her usual catlike
adroitness whenever her footing failed on the steep downslope.

For all her dullness, it was a signal from Sally that saved Andrew. She
jerked up her head and turned; he looked in the same direction and saw a
form like a gray ghost coming over the hills to his left, a dim shape
through the rain. Gloomily Andrew watched Hal Dozier come. Gray Peter
had been fresher than Sally at the end of the run of the day before. He
was fresher now. Andrew could tell that easily by the stretch of his
gallop and the evenness of his pace as he rushed across the slope. He
gave the word to Sally. She tossed up her head in mute rebellion at this
new call for a race, and then broke into a canter whose first few
strides, by way of showing her anger, were as choppy and lifeless as the
stride of a plow horse.

That was the beginning of the famous ride from the Las Casas mountains
to the Roydon range, and all the distance across the Roydon valley. It
started with a five-mile sprint--literally five miles of hot racing in
which each horse did its best. And in that five miles Gray Peter would
most unquestionably have won had not one bit of luck fallen the mare. A
hedge of young evergreen streaked before Sally, and Andrew put her at
the mark; she cleared it like a bird, jumping easily and landing in her
stride. It was not the first time she had jumped with Andrew.

But Gray Peter was not a steeplechaser. He had not been trained to it,
and he refused. His rider had to whirl and go up the line of shrubs
until he found a place to break through. Then he was after Sally again.
But the moment that Andrew saw the marshal had been stopped he did not
use the interim to push the mare and increase her lead. Very wisely he
drew her back to the long, rocking canter which was her natural gait,
and Sally got the breath which Gray Peter had run out of her. She also
regained priceless lost ground, and when the gray came in view of the
quarry again his work was all to do over again. Hal Dozier tried again
in straightaway running. It had been his boast that nothing under the
saddle in the mountain desert could keep away from him in a stretch of
any distance, and he rode Gray Peter desperately to make his boast good.
He failed. If that first stretch had been unbroken--but there his chance
was gone, and, starting the second spurt, Andrew came to realize one
greatly important truth--Sally could not sprint for any distance, but up
to a certain pace she ran easily and without labor. He made it his point
to see that she was never urged beyond that pace. He found another
thing, that she took a hill in far better style than Peter, and she did
far better in the rough, but on the level going he ate up her
handicap swiftly.

With a strength of his own found and a weakness in his pursuer, Andrew
played remorselessly to that weakness with his strength. He sought the
choppy ground as a preference and led the stallion through it wherever
he could; he swung to the right, where there was a stretch of rolling
hills, and once more Gray Peter had a losing space before him.

So they came to the river itself, with Gray Peter comfortably in the
rear, but running well within his strength. Andrew paused in the
shallows to allow Sally one swallow; then he went on. But Dozier did not
pause for even this. It was a grave mistake.

And so the miles wore on. Sally was still running like a swallow for
lightness, but Andrew knew by her breathing that she was giving vital
strength to the effort. He talked to her constantly. He told her how
Gray Peter ran behind them. He encouraged her with pet words. And Sally
seemed to understand, for she flicked one ear back to listen, and then
she pricked them both and kept at her work.

It was a heart-tearing thing to see her run to the point of lather and
then keep on.

They were in low hills, and Gray Peter was losing steadily. They reached
a broad flat, and the stallion gained with terrible insistence. Looking
back, Andrew could see that the marshal had stripped away every vestige
of his pack. He followed that example with a groan. And still Gray
Peter gained.

It was the last great effort for the stallion. Before them rose the
foothills of the Roydon mountains; behind them the Las Casas range was
lost in mist. It seemed that they had been galloping like this for an
infinity of time, and Andrew was numb from the shoulders down. If he
reached those hills Gray Peter was beaten. He knew it; Hal Dozier knew
it; and the two great horses gave all their strength to the last duel
of the race.

The ears of Sally no longer pricked. They lay flat on her neck. The
amazing lift was gone from her gait, and she pounded heavily with the
forelegs. And still she struggled on. He looked back, and Gray Peter
still gained, an inch at a time, and his stride did not seem to have
abated. The one bitter question now was whether Sally would not collapse
under the effort. With every lurch of her feet, Andrew expected to feel
her crumble beneath him. And yet she went on. She was all heart, all
nerve, and running on it. Behind her came Gray Peter, and he also ran
with his head stretched out.

He was within rifle range now. Why did not Dozier fire? Perhaps he had
set his heart on actually running Sally down, not dropping his prey with
a distant shot.

And still they flew across the flat. The hills were close now, and
sometimes, when the drizzling rain lifted, it seemed that the Roydon
mountains were exactly above them, leaning out over him like a shadow.
He called on Sally again and again. He touched her for the first time in
her life with spurs, and she found something in the depths of her heart
and her courage to answer with. She ran again with a ghost of her former
buoyancy, and Gray Peter was held even. Not an inch could he gain after
that. Andrew saw his pursuer raise his quirt and flog. It was useless.
Each horse was running itself out, and no power could get more speed out
of the pounding limbs.

And with his head still turned, Andrew felt a shock and flounder. Sally
had almost fallen. He jerked sharply up on the reins, and she broke into
a staggering trot. Then Andrew saw that they had struck the slope of the
first hill, a long, smooth rise which she would have taken at full speed
in the beginning of the race, but now though she labored bitterly, she
could not raise a gallop. The trot was her best effort.

There was a shrill yelling behind, and Andrew saw Dozier, a hand
brandished above his head. He had seen Sally break down; Gray Peter
would catch her; his horse would win that famous duel of speed and
courage. Rifle? He had forgotten his rifle. He would go in, he would
overhaul Sally, and then finish the chase with a play of revolvers. And
in expectation of that end, Andrew drew his revolver. It hung the length
of his arm; he found that his muscles were numb from the cold and the
cramped position from the elbow down. Shoot? He was as helpless as
though he had no gun at all. He beat his hands together to bring back
the blood. He thrashed his arms against the pommel of the saddle. There
was only a dull pain; it would take long minutes to bring those hands
back to the point of service, and in the meantime Gray Peter galloped
upon him from behind!

Well, he would let Sally do her best. For the last time he called on
her; for the last time she struggled to respond, and Andrew looked back
and grimly watched the stallion sweeping across the last portion of the
flat ground, closer, closer, and then, at the very base of the slope,
Gray Peter tossed up his head, floundered, and went down, hurling his
rider over his head. Andrew, fascinated, let Sally fall into a walk,
while he watched the singular, convulsive struggles of Gray Peter to
gain his feet. Hal Dozier was up again; he ran to his horse, caught his
head, and at the same moment the stallion grew suddenly limp. The weight
of his head dragged the marshal down, and then Andrew saw that Dozier
made no effort to rise again.

He sat with the head of the horse in his lap, his own head buried in his
hands, and Andrew knew then that Gray Peter was dead.




CHAPTER 32


The mare herself was in a far from safe condition. And if the marshal
had roused himself from his grief and hurried up the slope on foot he
would have found the fugitive out of the saddle and walking by the side
of the played-out Sally, forcing her with slaps on the hip to keep in
motion. She went on, stumbling, her head down, and the sound of her
breathing was a horrible thing to hear. But she must keep in motion,
for, if she stopped in this condition, Sally would never run again.

Andrew forced her relentlessly on. At length her head came up a little
and her breathing was easier and easier. Before dark that night he came
on a deserted shanty, and there he took Sally under the shelter, and,
tearing up the floor, he built a fire which dried them both. The
following day he walked again, with Sally following like a dog at his
heels. One day later he was in the saddle again, and Sally was herself
once more. Give her one feed of grain, and she would have run again that
famous race from beginning to end. But Andrew, stealing out of the
Roydon mountains into the lower ground, had no thought of another race.
He was among a district of many houses, many men, and, for the final
stage of his journey, he waited until after dusk had come and then
saddled Sally and cantered into the valley.

It was late on the fourth night after he left Los Toros that Andrew came
again to the house of John Merchant and left Sally in the very place
among the trees where the pinto had stood before. There was no danger of
discovery on his approach, for it was a wild night of wind and rain. The
drizzling mists of the last three days had turned into a steady
downpour, and rivers of water had been running from his slicker on the
way to the ranch house. Now he put the slicker behind the saddle, and
from the shelter of the trees surveyed the house.

It was bursting with music and light; sometimes the front door was
opened and voices stole out to him; sometimes even through the closed
door he heard the ghostly tinkling of some girl's laughter.

And that was to Andrew the most melancholy sound in the world.

The rain, trickling even through the foliage of the evergreen, decided
him to act at once. It might be that all the noise and light were, after
all, an advantage to him, and, running close to the ground, he skulked
across the dangerous open stretch and came into the safe shadow of the
wall of the house.

Once there, it was easy to go up to the roof by one of the rain pipes,
the same low roof from which he had escaped on the time of his last
visit. On the roof the rush and drumming of the rain quite covered any
sound he made, but he was drenched before he reached the window of
Anne's room. Could he be sure that on her second visit she would have
the same room? He settled that by a single glance. The curtain was not
drawn, and a lamp, turned low, burned on the table beside the bed. The
room was quite empty.

The window was fastened, but he worked back the fastening iron with the
blade of his knife and raised himself into the room. He closed the
window behind him. At once the noise of rain and the shouting of the
wind faded off into a distance, and the voices of the house came more
clearly to him. But he dared not stay to listen, for the water was
dripping around him; he must move before a large dark spot showed on the
carpet, and he saw, moreover, exactly where he could best hide. There
was a heavily curtained alcove at one end of the room, and behind this
shelter he hid himself.

And here he waited. How would she come? Would there be someone with her?
Would she come laughing, with all the triumph of the dance bright in
her face?

Vaguely he heard the shrill droning of the violins die away beneath him,
and the slipping of many dancing feet on a smooth floor fell to a
whisper and then ceased. Voices sounded in the hall, but he gave no heed
to the meaning of all this. Not even the squawking of horns, as
automobiles drove away, conveyed any thought to him; he wished that this
moment could be suspended to an eternity.

Parties of people were going down the hall; he heard soft flights of
laughter and many young voices. People were calling gaily to one another
and then by an inner sense rather than by a sound he knew that the door
was opened into the room. He leaned and looked, and he saw Anne Withero
close the door behind her and lean against it. In the joy of her triumph
that evening?

No, her head was fallen, and he saw the gleam of her hand at her breast.
He could not see her face clearly, but the bent head spoke eloquently of
defeat. She came forward at length. Thinking of her as the reigning
power in that dance and all the merriment below him, Andrew had been
imagining her tall, strong, with compelling eyes commanding admiration.
He found all at once that she was small, very small; and her hair was
not that keen fire which he had pictured. It was simply a coppery glow,
marvelously delicate, molding her face. She went to a great full-length
mirror. She raised her head for one instant to look at her image, and
then she bowed her head again and placed her hand against the edge of
the mirror for support. Little by little, through the half light, he was
making her out and now the curve of this arm, from wrist to shoulder,
went through Andrew like a phrase of music. He stepped out from behind
the curtain, and, at the sound of the cloth swishing back into place,
she whirled on him.

She was speechless; her raised hand did not fall; it was as if she were
frozen where she stood.

"I shall leave you at once," said Andrew quietly, "if you are
frightened. You have only to tell me."

He had come closer. Now he was astonished to see her turn swiftly toward
the door and touch his arm with her hand. "Hush!" she said. "Hush! They
may hear you!"

She glided to the door into the hall and turned the lock softly and came
to him again.

It made Andrew weak to see her so close, and he searched her face with a
hungry and jealous fear, lest she should be different from his dream of
her. "You are the same," he said with a sigh of relief. "And you are not
afraid of me?"

"Hush! Hush!" she repeated. "Afraid of you? Don't you see that I'm
happy, happy, happy to see you again?"

She drew him forward a little, and her hand touched his as she did so.
She turned up the lamp, and a flood of strong yellow light went over the
room. "But you have changed," said Anne Withero with a little cry. "Oh,
you have changed! They've been hounding you--the cowards!"

"Does it make no difference to you--that I have killed a man."

"Ah, it was that brother to the Dozier man. But I've learned about him.
He was a bloodhound like his brother, but treacherous. Besides, it was
in fair fight. Fair fight? It was one against six!"

"Don't," said Andrew, breathing hard, "don't say that! You make me feel
that it's almost right to have done what I've done. But besides him--all
the rest--do they make no difference?"

"All of what?"

"People say things about me. They even print them." He winced as he
spoke.

But she was fierce again; her passion made her tremble.

"When I think of it!" she murmured. "When I think of it, the rotten
injustice makes me want to choke 'em all! Why, today I heard--I can't
repeat it. It makes me sick--sick! Why, they've hounded you and bullied
you until they've made you think you are bad, Andrew. They've even made
you a little bit proud of the hard things people say about you. Isn't
that true?"

Was it any wonder that Andrew could not answer? He felt all at once so
supple that he was hot tallow which those small fingers would mold and
bend to suit themselves.

"Sit down here!" she commanded.

Meekly he obeyed. He sat on the edge of his chair, with his hat held
with both hands, and his eyes widened as he stared at her--like a person
coming out of a great darkness into a great light.

And tears came into the eyes of the girl.

"You're as thin as a starved--wolf," she said, and closed her eyes and
shuddered. "And all the time I've been thinking of you as you were when
I saw you here before--the same clear, steady eyes and the same direct
smile. But they've made you older--they've burned the boy out of you
with pain! And I've been thinking about you just cantering through wild,
gay adventures. Are you ill now?"

He had leaned back in the chair and gathered his hat close to his
breast, crushing it.

"I'm not ill," said Andrew. His voice was hoarse and thick. "I'm just
listening to you. Go on and talk."

"About you?" asked the girl.

"I don't hear your words--hardly; I just hear the sound you make." He
leaned forward again and cast out his arm so that the palm of his hand
was turned up beneath her eyes. She could see the long, lean fingers. It
suddenly came home to her that every strong man in the mountain desert
was in deadly terror of that hand. Anne Withero was shaken for the
first time.

"Listen to me," he was saying in that tense whisper which was oddly like
the tremor of his hand, "I've been hungry for that voice all these
weeks--and months."

"I'll tell you what I'm going to do," said the girl, very grave. "I'm
going to break up this cowardly conspiracy against you. I've written to
my father to get the finest lawyer in the land and send him out here to
make you--legal--again."

He began to smile, and shook his head.

"It's no use," he said. "Perhaps your lawyer could help me on account of
Bill's death, but he couldn't help me from Hal."

"Are you--do you mean you're going to fight the other man, too?"

"He killed his horse chasing me," said Andrew. "I couldn't stop to fight
him because I was comin' down here to see you. But when I go away I've
got to find him and give him a chance back at me. It's only fair."

"Because he killed a horse trying to get you, you're going to give him a
chance to shoot you?"

Her voice had become shrill. She lowered it instinctively toward the end
and cast a glance of apprehension toward the door.

"You are quite mad," said the girl.

"You don't understand," said Andrew. "His horse was Gray Peter--the
stallion. And I would rather have killed a man than have seen Gray Peter
die. Hal had Peter's head in his arms," he added softly. "And he'll
never give up the trail until he's had it out with me. He wouldn't be
half a man if he let things drop now."

"So you have to fight Hal Dozier?"

"Yes."

"But when that's done--"

"When that's done one of us will be dead. If it's me, of course, there's
no use worryin'; if it's Hal, of course, I'm done in the eyes of the
law. Two--murders!"

His eyes glinted and his fingers quivered. It sent a cold thrill through
the girl.

"But they say he's a terrible man, Andrew. You wouldn't let him catch
you?"

"I won't stand and wait for him," said Andrew gravely. "But if we fight
I think I'll kill him."

"What makes you think that?" She was more curious than shocked.

"It's just a sort of feeling that you get when you look at a man; either
you're his master or you aren't. You see it in a flash."

"Have you ever seen your master?" asked the girl slowly.

"I'll want to die when I see that," he said simply.

Suddenly she clenched her hands and sat straight up.

"It's got to be stopped," she said hotly. "It's all nonsense, and I'm
going to see that you're both stopped." "Four days ago," he said, "you
could have taken me in the hollow of your hand. I would have come to you
and gone from you at a nod. That time is about to end."

He paused a little, and looked at her in such a manner that she was
frightened, but it was a pleasant fear. It made her interlace her
fingers with nervous anxiety, but it set a fire in her eyes.

"That time is ending," said Andrew. "You are about to be married."

"And after that you will never look at me again, never think of me
again?"

"I hope not," he answered. "I strongly hope not."

"But why? Is a marriage a blot or a stain?"

"It is a barrier," he answered.

"Even to thoughts? Even to friendship?"

"Yes."

A very strange thing happened in the excited mind of Anne Withero. It
seemed to her that Charles Merchant sat, a filmy ghost, beside this
tattered fugitive. He was speaking the same words that Andrew spoke, but
his voice and his manner were to Andrew Lanning what moonshine is to
sunlight. She had been thinking of Charles Merchant as a social asset;
she began to think of him now as a possessing force. Anne Withero
possessed by Charlie Merchant!

"What you have told me," she said, "means more than you may think to me.
Have you come all this distance to tell me?"

"All this distance to talk?" he said. He seemed to sit back and wonder.
"Have I traveled four days?" he went on. "Has Gray Peter died, and have
I been under Hal Dozier's rifle only to speak to you?" He suddenly
recalled himself.

"No, no! I have come to give you a wedding present."

He watched her color change.

"Are you angry? Is it wrong to give you a present?"

"No," she answered in a singular, stifled voice. "It is this watch." It
was a large gold watch and a chain of very old make that he put into her
hand. "It is for your son," said Andrew.

She stood up; he rose instinctively.

"When I look at it I'm to remember that you are forgetting me?"

A little hush fell upon them.

"Are you laughing at me, Anne?"

He had never called her by her name before, and yet it came naturally
upon his lips.

She stood, indeed, with the same smile upon her lips, but her eyes were
fixed and looked straight past him. And presently he saw a tear pass
slowly down her face. Her hand remained without moving, with the watch
in it exactly as he had placed it there.

She had not stirred when he slipped without a noise through the window
and was instantly swallowed in the rushing of the wind and rain.




CHAPTER 33


There was, as Andrew had understood for a long time, a sort of
underground world of criminals even here on the mountain desert.
Otherwise the criminals could not have existed for even a moment in the
face of the organized strength of lawful society. Several times in the
course of his wanderings Andrew had come in contact with links of the
underground chain, and he learned what every fugitive learns--the safe
stopping points in the great circuit of his flight.

Three elements went into the making of that hidden society. There was
first of all the circulating and active part, and this was composed of
men actually known to be under the ban of the law and openly defying it.
Beneath this active group lay a stratum much larger which served as a
base for the operating criminals. This stratum was built entirely of men
who had at one time been incriminated in shady dealings of one sort and
another. It included lawbreakers from every part of the world, men who
had fled first of all to the shelter of the mountain desert and who had
lived there until their past was even forgotten in the lands from which
they came. But they had never lost the inevitable sympathy for their
more active fellows, and in this class there was included a meaner
element--men who had in the past committed crimes in the mountain desert
itself and who, from time to time, when they saw an absolutely safe
opportunity, were perfectly ready and willing to sin again.

The third and largest of all the elements in the criminal world of the
desert was a shifting and changing class of men who might be called the
paid adherents of the active order. The "long riders," acting in groups
or singly, fled after the commission of a crime and were forced to find
places of rest and concealment along their journey. Under this grave
necessity they quickly learned what people on their way could be hired
as hosts and whose silence and passive aid could be bought. Such men
were secured in the first place by handsome bribes. And very often they
joined the ranks unwillingly. But when some peaceful householder was
confronted by a desperate man, armed, on a weary horse--perhaps stained
from a wound--the householder was by no means ready to challenge the
man's right to hospitality. He never knew when the stranger would take
by force what was refused to him freely, and, if the lawbreaker took by
force, he was apt to cover his trail by a fresh killing.

Of course, such killings took place only when the "long rider" was a
desperate brute rather than a man, but enough of them had occurred to
call up vivid examples to every householder who was accosted. As a rule
he submitted to receive the unwelcome guest. Also, as a rule, he was
weak enough to accept a gift when the stranger parted. Once such a gift
was taken, he was lost. His name was instantly passed on by the fugitive
to his fellows as a "safe" man. Before long he became, against or with
his will, a depository of secrets--banned faces became known to him. And
if he suddenly decided to withdraw from that criminal world his case was
most precarious.

The "long riders" admitted no neutrals. If a man had once been with them
he could only leave them to become an enemy. He became open prey. His
name was published abroad. Then his cattle were apt to disappear. His
stacks of hay might catch fire unexpectedly at night. His house itself
might be plundered, and, in not infrequent cases, the man himself was
brutally murdered. It was part of a code no less binding because it was
unwritten.

All of this Andrew was more or less aware of, and scores of names had
been mentioned to him by chance acquaintances of the road. Such names he
stored away, for he had always felt that time impending of which Henry
Allister had warned him, the time when he must openly forget his
scruples and take to a career of crime. That time, he now knew, was
come upon him.

It would be misrepresenting Andrew to say that he shrank from the
future. Rather he accepted everything that lay before him
wholeheartedly, and, with the laying aside of his scruples, there was an
instant lightening of the heart, a fierce keenness of mind, a contempt
for society, a disregard for life beginning with his own. One could have
noted it in the recklessness with which he sent Sally up the slope away
from the ranch house this night.

He had made up his mind immediately to hunt out a "safe" man, recently
mentioned to him by that unconscionable scapegrace Harry Woods, crooked
gambler, thief of small and large, and whilom murderer. The man's name
was Garry Baldwin, a small rancher, some half day's ride above
Sullivan's place in the valley. He was recommended as a man of silence.
In that direction Andrew took his way, but, coming in the hills to a
dished-out place on a hillside, where there was a natural shelter from
both wind and rain, he stopped there for the rest of the night, cooked a
meal, rolled himself in his blankets, and slept into the gray of
the morning.

No sooner was the first light streaking the horizon to the east than
Andrew wakened. He saddled Sally and, after a leisurely breakfast,
started at a jog trot through the hills, taking the upslope with the
utmost care. For nothing so ruins a horse as hard work uphill at the
very beginning of the day. He gave Sally her head, and by letting her go
as she pleased she topped the divide, breathing as easily as if she had
been walking on the flat. She gave one toss of her head as she saw the
long, smooth slope ahead of her, and then, without a word from Andrew or
a touch of his heels, she gave herself up to the long, rocking canter
which she could maintain so tirelessly for hour on hour.

A clear, cold morning came on. Indeed, it was rarely chill for the
mountain desert, with a feel of coming snow in the wind. Sally pricked
one ear as she looked into the north, and Andrew knew that that was a
sign of trouble coming.

He came in the middle of the morning to the house of Garry Baldwin. It
was a wretched shack, the roof sagged in the middle, and the building
had been held from literally falling apart by bolting an iron rod
through the length of it.

A woman who fitted well into such a background kicked open the door and
looked up to Andrew with the dishwater still dripping from her red
hands. He asked for her husband. He was gone from the house. Where, she
did not know. Somewhere yonder, and her gesture included half the width
of the horizon to the west. There was his trail, if Andrew wished to
follow it. For her part, she was busy and could not spare time to
gossip. At that she stepped back and kicked the door shut with a slam
that set the whole side of the shack shivering.

At that moment Andrew wondered what he would have done when he lived in
Martindale if he had been treated in such a manner. He would have
crimsoned to the eyes, no doubt, and fled from the virago. But now he
felt neither embarrassment nor fear nor anger. He drew his revolver, and
with the heavy butt banged loudly on the door. It left three deep dents
in the wood, and the door was kicked open again. But this time he saw
only the foot of the woman clad in a man's boot. The door remained open,
but the hostess kept out of view.

"You be ridin' on, friend," she called in her harsh voice. "Bud, keep
out'n the kitchen. Stranger, you be ridin' on. I don't know you and I
don't want to know you. A man that beats on doors with his gun!"

Andrew laughed, and the sound brought her into view, a furious face, but
a curious face as well. She carried a long rifle slung easily under her
stout arm.

"What d'you want with Garry?" she asked.

And he replied with a voice equally hard: "I want direction for finding
Scar-faced Allister."

He watched that shot shake her.

"You do? You got a hell of a nerve askin' around here for Allister!
Slope, kid, slope. You're on a cold trail."

"Wait a minute," protested Andrew. "You need another look at me."

"I can see all there is to you the first glance," said the woman calmly.
"Why should I look again?"

"To see the reward," said Andrew bitterly. He laughed again. "I'm Andrew
Lanning. Ever hear of me?"

It was obvious that she had. She blinked and winced as though the name
stunned her. "Lanning!" she said. "Why, you ain't much more'n a kid.
Lanning! And you're him?"

All at once she melted.

"Slide off your hoss and come in, Andy," she said. "Dogged if I knew you
at all!"

"Thanks. I want to find Allister and I'm in a hurry."

"So you and him are goin' to team it? That'll be high times! Come here,
Bud. Look at Andy Lanning. That's him on the horse right before you."

A scared, round face peered out at Andrew from behind his mother. "All
right, partner. I'll tell you where to find him pretty close. He'll be
up the gulch along about now. You know the old shack up there? You can
get to him inside three hours--with that hoss." She stopped and eyed
Sally. "Is that the one that run Gray Peter to death? She don't look the
part, but them long, low hosses is deceivin'. Can't you stay, Andy?
Well, s'long. And give Allister a good word from Bess Baldwin. Luck!"

He waved, and was gone at a brisk gallop.




CHAPTER 34


It was not yet noon when he entered the gulch, he was part way up the
ravine when something moved at the top of the high wall to his right. He
guessed at once that it was a lookout signaling the main party of the
approach of a stranger, so Andrew stopped Sally with a word and held his
hand high above his head, facing the point from which he had seen the
movement. There was a considerable pause; then a man showed on the top
of the cliff, and Andrew recognized Jeff Rankin by his red hair. Yet
they were at too great a distance for conversation, and after waving a
greeting, Rankin merely beckoned Andrew on his way up the valley.
Around the very next bend of the ravine he found the camp. It was of the
most impromptu character, and the warning of Rankin had caused them to
break it up precipitately, as Andrew could see by one length of
tarpaulin tossed, without folding, over a saddle. Each of the four was
ready, beside his horse, for flight or for attack, as their outlook on
the cliff should give signal. But at sight of Andrew and the bay mare a
murmur, then a growl of interest went among them. Even Larry la Roche
grinned a skull-like welcome, and Henry Allister actually ran forward to
receive the newcomer. Andrew dropped out of the saddle and shook
hands with him.

"I've done as you said I would," said Andrew. "I've run in a circle,
Allister, and now I'm back to make one of you, if you still want me."

Allister, laughing joyously, turned to the other three and repeated the
question to them. There was only one voice in answer.

"Want you?" said Allister, and his smile made Andrew almost forget the
scar which twisted the otherwise handsome face. "Want you? Why, man, if
we've been beyond the law up to this time, we can laugh at the law now.
Sit down. Hey, Scottie, shake up the fire and put on some coffee, will
you? We'll take an hour off."

Larry la Roche was observed to make a dour face.

"Who'll tell me it's lucky," he said, "to have a gent that starts out by
makin' us all stop on the trail? Is that a good sign?"

But Scottie, with laughter, hushed him. Yet Larry la Roche remained of
all the rest quite silent during the making of the coffee and the
drinking of it. The others kept up a running fire of comments and
questions, but Larry la Roche, as though he had never forgiven Andrew
for their first quarrel, remained with his long, bony chin dropped upon
his breast and followed the movements of Andrew Lanning with
restless eyes.

The others were glad to see him, as Andrew could tell at a glance, but
also they were a bit troubled, and by degrees he made out the reason.
Strange as it seemed, they regretted that he had not been able to make
his break across the mountains. His presence made them more impregnable
than they had ever been under the indomitable Allister, and yet, more
than the aid of his fighting hand, they would have welcomed the tidings
of a man who had broken away from the shadow of the law and made good.
For each of the fallen wishes to feel that his exile is self-terminable.

And therefore Andrew, telling his story to them in brief, found that
they were not by any means filled with unmixed pleasure. Joe Clune, with
his bright brown hair of youth and his lined, haggard face of worn
middle age, summed up their sentiments at the end of Andrew's story:
"You're what we need with us, Lanning. You and Allister will beat the
world, and it means high times for the rest of us, but God pity
you--that's all!"

The pause that followed this solemn speech was to Andrew like an amen.
He glanced from face to face, and each stern eye met his in
gloomy sympathy.

Then something shot through him which was to his mind what red is to the
eye; it was a searing touch of reckless indifference, defiance.

"Forget this prayer-meeting talk," said Andrew. "I came up here for
action, not mourning. I want something to do with my hands, not
something to think about with my head!"

Something to think about! It was like a terror behind him. If he should
have long quiet it would steal on him and look at him over his shoulder
like a face. A little of this showed in his face; enough to make the
circle flash significant glances at one another.

"You got something behind you, Andy," said Scottie. "Come out with it.
It ain't too bad for us to hear."

"There's something behind me," said Andrew. "It's the one really decent
part of my life. And I don't want to think about it. Allister, they say
you never let the grass grow under you. What's on your hands now?"

"Somebody has been flattering me," said the leader quietly, and all the
time he kept studying the face of Andrew. "We have a little game ahead,
if you want to come in on it. We're shorthanded, but I'd try it with
you. That makes us six all told. Six enough, boys?"

"Count me half of one," said Larry la Roche. "I don't feel lucky about
this little party."

"We'll count you two times two," replied the leader. He added: "You boys
play a game; I'm going to break in Lanning to our job."

Taking his horse, he and Andrew rode at a walk up the ravine. On the way
the leader explained his system briefly and clearly. Told in short, he
worked somewhat as follows: Instead of raiding blindly right and left,
he only moved when he had planned every inch of ground for the advance
and the blow and the retreat. To make sure of success and the size of
his stakes he was willing to invest heavily.

"Big business men sink half a year's income in their advertising. I do
the same."

It was not public advertising; it was money cunningly expended where it
would do most good. Fifty per cent of the money the gang earned was laid
away to make future returns surer. In twenty places Allister had his
paid men who, working from behind the scenes, gained priceless
information and sent word of it to the outlaw. Trusted officials in
great companies were in communication with him. When large shipments of
gold were to be made, for instance, he was often warned beforehand.
Every dollar of the consignment was known to him, the date of its
shipment, its route, and the hands to which it was supposed to fall. Or,
again, in many a bank and prosperous mercantile firm in the mountain
desert he had inserted his paid spies, who let him know when the safe
was crammed with cash and by what means the treasure was guarded.

Not until he had secured such information did the leader move. And he
still delayed until every possible point of friction had been noted,
every danger considered, and a check appointed for it, every method of
advance and retreat gone over.

"A good general," Allister was fond of saying, "plans in two ways: for
an absolute victory and for an absolute defeat. The one enables him to
squeeze the last ounce of success out of a triumph; the other keeps a
failure from turning into a catastrophe."

With everything arranged for the stroke, he usually posted himself with
the band as far as possible from the place where the actual work was to
be done. Then he made a feint in the opposite direction--he showed
himself or a part of his gang recklessly. The moment the alarm was
given--even at the risk of having an entire hostile countryside around
him--he started a whirlwind course in the opposite direction from which
he was generally supposed to be traveling. If possible, at the ranches
of adherents, or at out-of-the-way places where confederates could act,
he secured fresh horses and dashed on at full speed all the way.

Then, at the very verge of the place for attack, he gathered his men,
rehearsed in detail what each man was to do, delivered the blow, secured
the spoils, and each man of the party split away from the others and
fled in scattering directions, to assemble again at a distant point on a
comparatively distant date. There they sat down around a council table,
and there they divided the spoils. No matter how many were employed, no
matter how vast a proportion of the danger and scheming had been borne
by the leader, he took no more than two shares. Then fifty per cent of
the prize was set aside. The rest was divided with an exact care among
the remaining members of the gang. The people who had supplied the
requisite information for the coup were always given their share.

From this general talk Allister descended to particulars. He talked of
the gang itself. They were quite a fixed quantity. In the last half
dozen years there had not been three casualties. For one thing, he chose
his men with infinite care; in the second place, he saw to it that they
remained in harmony, and to that end he was careful never to be tempted
into forming an unwieldy crew, no matter how large the prize. Of the
present organization each was an expert. Larry la Roche had been a
counterfeiter and was a consummate penman. His forgeries were works of
art. "Have you noticed his hands?"

Scottie Macdougal was an eminent advance agent, whose smooth tongue was
the thing for the very dangerous and extremely important work of trying
out new sources of information, noting the dependability of those
sources, and understanding just how far and in what line the tools could
be used. Joe Clune was a past expert in the blowing of safes; not only
did he know everything that was to be known about means of guarding
money and how to circumvent them, but he was an artist with the "soup,"
as Allister called nitroglycerin.

Jeff Rankin, without a mental equipment to compare with his companions,
was often invaluable on account of his prodigious strength. Under the
strain of his muscles, iron bars bent like hot wax. In addition he had
more than his share of an ability which all the members of the gang
possessed--an infinite cunning in the use of weapons and a
star-storming courage and self-confidence.

"And where," said Andrew at the end of this long recital, "do I fit in?"

"You begin," said Allister, "as the least valuable of my men; before six
months you will be worth the whole set of 'em. You'll start as my
lieutenant, Lanning. The boys expect it. You've built up a reputation
that counts. They admit your superiority without question. Larry la
Roche squirms under the weight of it, but he admits it like the rest of'
em. In a pinch they would obey you nearly as well as they obey me. It
means that, having you to take charge, I can do what I've always wanted
to do--I can give the main body the slip and go off for advance-guard
and rear-guard duty. I don't dare to do it now.

"Do you know why? Those fellows yonder, who seem so chummy, would be at
each other's throats in ten seconds if I weren't around to keep them in
order. I know why you're here, Lanning. It isn't the money. It's the
cursed fear of loneliness and the fear of having time to think. You want
action, action to fill your mind and blind you. That's what I offer you.
You're the keeper of the four wildcats you see over there. You start in
with their respect. Let them lose their fear of you for a moment and
they'll go for you. Treat them like men; think of them as wild beasts.
That's what they are. The minute they know you're without your whip they
go for you like tigers at a wounded trainer. One taste of meat is all
they need to madden them. It's different with me. I'm wild, too."

His eyes gleamed at Andrew.

"And, if they raise you, I think they'll find you've more iron hidden
away in you than I have. But the way they'll find it out will be in an
explosion that will wipe them out. You've got to handle them without
that explosion, Lanning. Can you do it?"

The younger man moistened his lips. "I think this job is going to prove
worth while," he returned.

"Very well, then. But there are penalties in your new position. In a
pinch you've got to do what I do--see that they have food enough--go
without sleep if one of them needs your blankets--if any of 'em gets in
trouble, even into a jail, you've got to get him out."

"Better still," smiled Andrew.

"And now," said the leader, "I'll tell you about our next job as we go
back to the boys."




CHAPTER 35


It was ten days later when the band dropped out of the mountains into
the Murchison Pass--a singular place for a train robbery, Andrew could
not help thinking. They were at the southwestern end of the pass, where
the mountains gave back in a broad gap. Below them, not five miles away,
was the city of Gidding Creek; they could see its buildings and parks
tumbled over a big area, for there was a full twenty-five thousand of
inhabitants in Gidding Creek. Indeed, the whole country was dotted with
villages and towns, for it was no longer a cattle region, but a
semifarming district cut up into small tracts. One was almost never out
of sight of at least one house.

It worried Andrew, this closely built country, and he knew that it
worried the other men as well; yet there had not been a single murmur
from among them as they jogged their horses on behind Allister. Each of
them was swathed from head to heels in a vast slicker that spread
behind, when the wind caught it, as far as the tail of the horse. And
the rubber creaked and rustled softly. Whatever they might have been
inclined to think of this daring raid into the heart of a comparatively
thickly populated country, they were too accustomed to let the leader do
their thinking for them to argue the point with him. And Andrew followed
blindly enough. He saw, indeed, one strong point in their favor. The
very fact that the train was coming out of the heart of the mountains,
through ravines which afforded a thousand places for assault, would make
the guards relax their attention as they approached Gidding Creek. And,
though there were many people in the region, they were a fat and
inactive populace, not comparable with the lean fellows of the north.

There was bitter work behind them. Ten days before they had made a feint
to the north of Martindale that was certain to bring out Hal Dozier;
then they doubled about and had plodded steadily south, choosing always
the most desolate ground for their travel. There had been two changes of
horses for the others, but Andrew kept to Sally. To her that journey was
play after the labor she had passed through before; the iron dust of
danger and labor was in her even as it was in Andrew. Three in all that
party were fresh at the end of the long trail. They were Allister,
Sally, and Andrew. The others were poisoned with weariness, and their
tempers were on edge; they kept an ugly silence, and if one of them
happened to jostle the horse of the other, there was a flash of teeth
and eyes--a silent warning. The sixth man was Scottie, who had long
since been detached from the party. His task was one which, if he failed
in it, would make all that long ride go for nothing. He was to take the
train far up, ride down as blind baggage to the Murchison Pass, and then
climb over the tender into the cab, stick up the fireman and the
engineer, and make them bring the engine to a halt at the mouth of the
pass, with Gidding Creek and safety for all that train only five minutes
away. There was a touch of the Satanic in this that pleased Andrew and
made Allister show his teeth in self-appreciation.

So perfectly had their journey been timed that the train was due in a
very few minutes. They disposed their horses in the thicket, and then
went back to take up their position in the ambush. The plan of work was
carefully divided. To Jeff Rankin, that nicely accurate shot and bulldog
fighter, fell what seemed to be a full half of the total risk and labor.
He was to go to the blind side of the job. In other words, he was to
guard the opposite side of the train to that on which the main body
advanced. It was always possible that when a train was held up the
passengers--at least the unarmed portion, and perhaps even some of the
armed men--would break away on the least threatened side. Jeff Rankin on
that blind side was to turn them back with a hurricane of bullets from
his magazine rifle. Firing from ambush and moving from place to place,
he would seem more than one man. Probably three or four shots would turn
back the mob. In the meantime, having made the engineer and fireman stop
the train, Scottie would be making them continue to flood the fire box.
This would delay the start of the engine on its way and gain precious
moments for the fugitives. Two of the band would be thus employed while
Larry la Roche went through the train and turned out the passengers.
There was no one like Larry for facing a crowd and cowing it. His
spectral form, his eyes burning through the holes in his mask, stripped
them of any idea of resistance.

While the crowd turned out, Andrew, standing opposite the middle of the
train, rifle in hand, would line them up, while Allister and Joe Clune
attended to overpowering the guards of the safe, and Larry la Roche came
out and went through the line of passengers for personal valuables, and
Clune and Allister fixed the soup to blow the safe. Last of all, there
was the explosion, the carrying off of the coin in its canvas sacks to
the horses. Each man was to turn his horse in a direction carefully
specified, and, riding in a roundabout manner, which was also named, he
was to keep on until he came, five days later, to a deserted, ruinous
shack far up in the mountains on the side of the Twin Eagles peaks.

These were the instructions which Allister went over carefully with each
member of his crew before they went to their posts. There had been
twenty rehearsals before, and each man was letter perfect. They took
their posts, and Allister came to the side of Andrew among the trees.

"How are you?" he asked.

"Scared to death," said Andrew truthfully. "I'd give a thousand dollars,
if I had it, to be free of this job."

Andrew saw that hard glint come in the eyes of the leader.

"You'll do--later," nodded Allister. "But keep back from the crowd.
Don't let them see you get nervous when they turn out of the coaches. If
you show a sign of wavering they might start something. Once they make a
surge, shooting won't stop 'em."

Andrew nodded. There was more practical advice on the heels of this.
Then they stood quietly and waited.

For days and days a northeaster had been blowing; it had whipped little
drifts of rain and mist that stung the face and sent a chill to the
bone, and, though there had been no actual downpour, the cold and the
wet had never broken since the journey started. Now the wind came like a
wolf down the Murchison Pass, howling and moaning. Andrew, closing his
eyes, felt that the whole thing was dreamlike. Presently he would open
his eyes and find himself back beside the fire in the house of Uncle
Jasper, with the old man prodding his shoulder and telling him that it
was bedtime. When he opened his eyes, in fact, they fell upon a
solitary pine high up on the opposite slope, above the thicket where
Jeff Rankin was hiding. It was a sickly tree, half naked of branches,
and it shivered like a wretched animal in the wind. Then a new sound
came down the pass, wolflike, indeed; it was repeated more clearly--the
whistle of a train.

It was the signal arranged among them for putting on the masks, and
Andrew hastily adjusted his.

"Did you hear that?" asked Allister as the train hooted in the distance
again.

Andrew turned and started at the ghostly thing which had been the face
of the outlaw a moment before; he himself must look like that, he knew.

"What?" he asked.

"That voicelike whistle," said Allister. "There's no luck in this
day--for me."

"You've listened to Larry la Roche too much," said Andrew. "He's been
growling ever since we started on this trail."

"No, no!" returned Allister. "It's another thing, an older thing than
Larry la Roche. My mother--"

He stopped. Whatever it was that he was about to say, Andrew was never
to hear it. The train had turned the long bend above, and now the roar
of its wheels filled the canyon and covered the sound of the wind.

It looked vast as a mountain as it came, rocking perceptibly on the
uneven roadbed. It rounded the curve, the tail of the train flicked
around, and it shot at full speed straight for the mouth of the pass.
How could one man stop it? How could five men attack it after it was
stopped? It was like trying to storm a medieval fortress with a popgun.

The great black front of the engine came rocking toward them, gathering
impetus on the sharp grade. Had Scottie missed his trick? But when the
thunder of the iron on iron was deafening Andrew, and the engine seemed
almost upon them, there was a cloud of white vapor that burst out on
either side of it and the brakes were jumped on; the wheels skidded,
screaming on the tracks. The engine lurched past; Andrew caught a
glimpse of Scottie, a crouched, masked form in the cab of the engine,
with a gun in either hand. For Scottie was one of the few natural
two-gun men that Andrew was ever to know. The engineer and the fireman
he saw only as two shades before they were whisked out of his view. The
train rumbled on; then it went from half speed to a stop with one jerk
that brought a cry from the coaches. During the next second there was
the successive crashing of couplings as the coaches took up their slack.

Andrew, stepping out with his rifle balanced in his hands, saw Larry la
Roche whip into the rear car. Then he himself swept the windows of the
train, blurred by the mist, with the muzzle of his gun, keeping the butt
close to his shoulder, ready for a swift snapshot in any direction. In
fact, his was that very important post, the reserve force, which was to
come instantly to the aid of any overpowered section of the active
workers. He had rebelled against this minor task, but Allister had
assured him that, in former times, it was the place which he took
himself to meet crises in the attack.

The leader had gone with Joe Clune straight for the front car. How would
they storm it? Two guards, armed to the teeth, would be in it, and the
door was closed.

But the guards had no intention to remain like rats in a trap, while the
rest of the train was overpowered and they themselves were blasted into
small bits with a small charge of soup. The door jerked open, the
barrels of two guns protruded. Andrew, thrilling with horror, recognized
one as a sawed-off shotgun. He saw now the meaning of the manner in
which Allister and Clune made their attack. For Allister had run slowly
straight for the door, while Clune skirted in close to the cars, going
more swiftly. As the gun barrels went up Allister plunged headlong to
the ground, and the volley of shot missed him cleanly; but Clune the
next moment leaped out from the side of the car, and, thereby getting
himself to an angle from which he could deliver a cross fire, pumped two
bullets through the door. Andrew saw a figure throw up its arms, a
shadow form in the interior of the car, and then a man pitched out
headlong through the doorway and flopped with horrible limpness on the
roadbed. While this went on Allister had snapped a shot, while he still
lay prone, and his single bullet brought a scream. The guards were
done for.

Two deaths, Andrew supposed. But presently a man was sent out of the car
at the point of Clune's revolver. He climbed down with difficulty,
clutching one hand with the other. He had been shot in the most painful
place in the body--the palm of the hand. Allister turned over the other
form with a brutal carelessness that sickened Andrew. But the man had
been only stunned by a bullet that plowed its way across the top of his
skull. He sat up now with a trickle running down his face. A gesture
from Andrew's rifle made him and his companion realize that they were
covered, and, without attempting any further resistance, they sat side
by side on the ground and tended to each other's wounds--a ludicrous
group for all their suffering.

In the meantime, Clune and Allister were at work in the car; the water
was hissing in the fire box as a vast cloud of steam came rushing out
around the engine; the passengers were pouring out of the cars. They
acted like a group of actors, carefully rehearsed for the piece. Not
once did Andrew have to speak to them, while they ranged in a solid
line, shoulder to shoulder, men, women, children. And then Larry la
Roche went down the line with a saddlebag and took up the collection.
"Passin' the hat so often has give me a religious touch, ladies and
gents," Andrew heard the ruffian say. "Any little contributions I'm sure
grateful for, and, if anything's held back, I'm apt to frisk the gent
that don't fork over. Hey, you, what's that lump inside your coat? Lady,
don't lie. I seen you drop it inside your dress. Why, it's a nice little
set o' sparklers. That ain't nothin' to be ashamed of. Come on, please;
a little more speed. Easy there, partner; don't take both them hands
down at once. You can peel the stuff out of your pockets with one hand,
I figure. Conductor, just lemme see your wallet. Thanks! Hate to bother
you, ma'am, but you sure ain't traveling on this train with only
eighty-five cents in your pocketbook. Just lemme have a look at the
rest. See if you can't find it in your stocking. No, they ain't anything
here to make you blush. You're among friends, lady; a plumb friendly
crowd. Your poor old pa give you this to go to school on, did he? Son,
you're gettin' a pile more education out of this than you would in
college. No, honey, you just keep your locket. It ain't worth five
dollars. Did you? That jeweler ought to have my job, 'cause he sure
robbed you! You call that watch an heirloom? Heirloom is my middle name,
miss. Just get them danglers out'n your ears, lady. Thanks! Don't hurry,
mister; you'll bust the chain."

His monologue was endless; he had a comment for every person in the
line, and he seemed to have a seventh sense for concealed articles. The
saddlebag was bulging before he was through. At the same time Allister
and Clune jumped from the car and ran. Larry la Roche gave the warning.
Every one crouched or lay down. The soup exploded. The top of the car
lifted. It made Andrew think, foolishly enough, of someone tipping a
hat. It fell slowly, with a crash that was like a faint echo of the
explosion. Clune ran back, and they could hear his shrill yell of
delight: "It ain't a safe!" he exclaimed. "It's a baby mint!"

And a baby mint it was! It was a gold shipment. Gold coin runs about
ninety pounds to ten thousand dollars, and there was close to a hundred
pounds apiece for each of the bandits. It was the largest haul
Allister's gang had ever made. Larry la Roche left the pilfering of the
passengers and went to help carry the loot. They brought it out in
little loose canvas bags and went on the run with it to the horses.

Someone was speaking. It was the gray-headed man with the glasses and
the kindly look about the eyes. "Boys, it's the worst little game you've
ever worked. I promise you we'll keep on your trail until we've run you
all into the ground. That's really something to remember. I speak for
Gregg and Sons."

"Partner," said Scottie Macdougal from the cab, where he still kept the
engineer and fireman covered, "a little hunt is like an after-dinner
drink to me."

To the utter amazement of Andrew the whole crowd--the crowd which had
just been carefully and systematically robbed--burst into laughter. But
this was the end. There was Allister's whistle; Jeff Rankin ran around
from the other side of the train; the gang faded instantly into the
thicket. Andrew, as the rear guard--his most ticklish moment--backed
slowly toward the trees. Once there was a waver in the line, such as
precedes a rush. He stopped short, and a single twitch of his rifle
froze the waverers in their tracks.

Once inside the thicket a yell came from the crowd, but Andrew had
whirled and was running at full speed. He could hear the others crashing
away. Sally, as he had taught her, broke into a trot as he approached,
and the moment he struck the saddle she was in full gallop. Guns were
rattling behind him; random shots cut the air sometimes close to him,
but not one of the whole crowd dared venture beyond that unknown
screen of trees.




CHAPTER 36


To Andrew the last danger of the holdup had been assigned as the rear
guard, and he was the last man to pass Allister. The leader had drawn
his horse to one side a couple of miles down the valley, and, as each of
his band passed him, he raised his hand in silent greeting. It was the
last Andrew saw of him, a ghostly figure sitting his horse with his hand
above his head. After that his mind was busied by his ride, for, having
the finest mount in the crowd, to him had been assigned the longest and
the most roundabout route to reach the Twin Eagles.

Yet he covered so much ground with Sally that, instead of needing the
full five days to make the rendezvous, he could afford to loaf the last
stage of the journey. Even at that, he camped in sight of the cabin on
the fourth night, and on the morning of the fifth he was the first man
at the shack.

Jeff Rankin came in next. To Jeff, on account of his unwieldy bulk, had
been assigned the shortest route; yet even so he dismounted, staggering
and limping from his horse, and collapsed on the pile of boughs which
Andrew had spent the morning cutting for a bed. As he dropped he tossed
his bag of coins to the floor. It fell with a melodious jingling that
was immediately drowned by Jeff's groans; the saddle was torture to him,
and now he was aching in every joint of his enormous body. "A nice
haul--nothin' to kick about," was Jeff's opinion. "But Caesar's
ghost--what a ride! The chief makes this thing too hard on a gent that
likes to go easy, Andy."

Andrew said nothing; silence had been his cue ever since he began acting
as lieutenant to the chief. It had seemed to baffle the others; it
baffled the big man now. Later on Joe Clune and Scottie came in
together. That was about noon--they had met each other an hour before.
But Allister had not come in, although he was usually the first at a
rendezvous. Neither did Larry la Roche come. The day wore on; the
silence grew on the group. When Andrew, proportioning the work for
supper, sent Joe to get wood, Jeff for water, and began himself to work
with Scottie on the cooking, he was met with ugly looks and hesitation
before they obeyed. Something, he felt most decidedly, was in the air.
And when Joe and Rankin came back slowly, walking side by side and
talking in soft voices, his suspicions were given an edge.

They wanted to eat together; but he forced Scottie to take post on the
high hill to their right to keep lookout, and for this he received
another scowl. Then, when supper was half over, Larry la Roche came in
to camp. News came with him, an atmosphere of tidings around his gloomy
figure, but he cast himself down by the fire and ate and drank in
silence, until his hunger was gone. Then he tossed his tin dishes away
and they fell clattering on the rocks.

"Pick 'em up," said Andrew quietly. "We'll have no litter around this
camp." Larry la Roche stared at him in hushed malevolence. "Stand up and
get 'em," repeated Andrew. As he saw the big hands of Larry twitching he
smiled across the fire at the tall, bony figure. "I'll give you two
seconds to get 'em," he said.

One deadly second pulsed away, then Larry crumpled. He caught up his tin
cup and the plate. "We'll talk later about you," he said ominously.

"We'll talk about something else first," said Andrew. "You've seen
Allister?"

At first it seemed that La Roche would not speak; then his wide, thin
lips writhed back from his teeth. "Yes."

"Where is he?" "Gone to the happy hunting grounds."

The silence came and the pulse in it. One by one, by a natural instinct,
the men looked about them sharply into the night and made sure of their
weapons. It was the only tribute to the memory of Allister from his men,
but tears and praise could not have been more eloquent. He had made
these men fearless of the whole world. Now were they ready to jump at
the passage of a shadow. They looked at each other with strange eyes.

"Who? How many?" asked Jeff Rankin.

"One man done it."

"Hal Dozier?" said Andrew.

"Him," said Larry la Roche. He went on, looking gloomily down at the
fire. "He got me first. The chief must of seen him get me by surprise,
while I was down off my hoss, lying flat and drinking out of a creek!"
He closed his great, bony fist in unspeakable agony at the thought.
"Dozier come behind and took me. Frisked me. Took my guns, not the coin.
We went down through the hills. Then the chief slid out of a shadow and
come at us like a tiger. I sloped."

"You left Allister to fight alone?" said Scottie Macdougal quietly, for
he had come from his lookout to listen.

"I had no gun," said Larry, without raising his eyes from the fire. "I
sloped. I looked back and seen Allister sitting on his hoss, dead still.
Hal Dozier was sittin' on his hoss, dead still. Five seconds, maybe.
Then they went for their guns together. They was two bangs like one. But
Allister slid out of his saddle and Dozier stayed in his. I come
on here."

The quiet covered them. Joe Clune, with a shudder and another glance
over his shoulder, cast a branch on the fire, and the flames leaped.

"Dozier knows you're with us," added Larry la Roche, and he cast a long
glance of hatred at Andrew. "He knows you're with us, and he knows our
luck left us when you come."

Andrew looked about the circle; not an eye met his.

The talk of Larry la Roche during the days of the ride was showing its
effect now. The gage had been thrown down to Andrew, and he dared not
pick it up.

"Boys," he said, "I'll say this: Are we going to bust up and each man go
his way?"

There was no answer.

"If we do, we can split the profits over again. I'll take no money out
of a thing that cost Allister's death. There's my sack on the floor of
the shack. Divvy it up among you. You fitted me out when I was broke.
That'll pay you back. Do we split up?"

"They's no reason why we should--and be run down like rabbits," said Joe
Clune, with another of those terrible glances over his shoulder into
the night.

The others assented with so many growls.

"All right," said Andrew, "we stick together. And, if we stick together,
I run this camp."

"You?" asked Larry la Roche. "Who picked you? Who 'lected you, son? Why,
you unlucky--"

"Ease up," said Andrew softly.

The eyes of La Roche flicked across the circle and picked up the glances
of the others, but they were not yet ready to tackle Andrew Lanning.

"The last thing Allister did," said Andrew, "was to make me his
lieutenant. It's the last thing he did, and I'm going to push it
through. Not because I like the job." He raised his head, but not his
voice. "They may run down the rest of you. They won't run down me. They
can't. They've tried, and they can't. And I might be able to keep the
rest of you clear. I'm going to try. But I won't follow the lead of any
of you. If there'd been one that could keep the rest of you together,
d'you think Allister wouldn't have seen it? Don't you think he would of
made that one leader? Why, look at you! Jeff, you'd follow Clune. But
would Larry or Scottie follow Clune? Look at 'em and see!"

All eyes went to Clune, and then the glances of Scottie and La Roche
dropped.

"Nobody here would follow La Roche. He's the best man we've got for some
of the hardest work, but you're too flighty with your temper, Larry, and
you know it. We respect you just as much, but not to plan things for the
rest of us. Is that straight?

"And you, Scottie," said Andrew, "you're the only one I'd follow. I say
that freely. But who else would follow you? You're the best of us all at
headwork and planning, but you don't swing your gun as fast, and you
don't shoot as straight as Jeff or Larry or Joe. Is that straight?"

"What's leading the gang got to do with fighting?" asked Scottie
harshly. "And who's got the right to the head of things but me?"

"Ask Allister what fighting had to do with the running of things," said
Andrew calmly.

The moon was sliding up out of the east; it changed the faces of the men
and made them oddly animallike; they stared, fascinated, at Andrew.

"There's two reasons why I'm going to run this job, if we stick
together. Allister named them once. I can take advice from any one of
you; I know what each of you can do; I can plan a job for you; I can
lead you clear of the law--and there's not one of you that can bully me
or make me give an inch--no, nor all of you together--La Roche!
Macdougal! Clune! Rankin!"

It was like a roll call, and at each name a head was jerked up in
answer, and two glittering eyes flashed at Andrew--flashed, sparkled,
and then became dull. The moonlight had made his pale skin a deadly
white, and it was a demoniac face they saw. The silence was his answer.

"Jeff," he commanded, "take the hill. You'll stand the watch tonight.
And look sharp. If Dozier got Allister he's apt to come at us. Step
on it!"

And Jeff Rankin rose without a word and lumbered to the top of the hill.
Larry la Roche suddenly filled his cup with boiling hot coffee,
regardless of the heat, regardless of the dirt in the cup. His hand
shook when he raised it to his lips.




CHAPTER 37


There was no further attempt at challenging his authority. When he
ordered Clune and La Roche to bring in boughs for bedding--since they
were to stop in the shack overnight--they went silently. But it was such
a silence as comes when the wind falls at the end of a day and in a
silent sky the clouds pile heavily, higher and higher. Andrew took the
opportunity to speak to Scottie Macdougal. He told Scottie simply that
he needed him, and with him at his back he could handle the others, and
more, too. He was surprised to see a twinkle in the eye of the
Scotchman.

"Why, Andy," said the canny fellow, "didn't you see me pass you the
wink? I was with you all the time!"

Andrew thanked him and went into the cabin to arrange for lights. He had
no intention of shirking a share in the actual work of the camp; even
though Allister had set that example for his following. He took some
lengths of pitchy pine sticks and arranged them for torches. One of them
alone would send a flare of yellow light through the cabin; two made a
comfortable illumination. But he worked cheerlessly. The excitement of
the robbery and the chase was over, and then the conflict with the men
was passing. He began to see things truly by the drab light of
retrospection. The bullets of Allister and Clune might have gone home--
they were intended to kill, not to wound. And if there had been two
deaths he, Andrew Lanning, would have been equally guilty with the men
who handled the guns, for he had been one of the forces which made that
shooting possible.

It was an ugly way to look at it--very ugly. It kept a frown on Andrew's
face, while he arranged the torches in the main room of the shack and
then put one for future reference in the little shed which leaned
against the rear of the main structure. He arranged his own bed in this
second room, where the saddles and other accouterments were piled. It
was easily explained, since there was hardly room for five men in the
first room. But he had another purpose. He wanted to separate himself
from the others, just as Allister always did. Even in a crowded room
Allister would seem aloof, and Andrew determined to make the famous
leader his guide.

Above all he was troubled by what Scottie had said. He would have felt
easy at heart if the Scotchman had met him with an argument or with a
frown or honest opposition or with a hearty handshake, to say that all
was well between them. But this cunning lie--this cunning protestation
that he had been with the new leader from the first, put Andrew on his
guard. For he knew perfectly well that Scottie had not been on his side
during the crisis with La Roche. Macdougal sat before the door, his
metal flask of whisky beside him. It was a fault of Allister, this
permitting of whisky at all times and in all places, after a job was
finished. And while it made the other men savage beasts, it turned
Scottie Macdougal into a wily, smiling snake. He had bit the heel of
more than one man in his drinking bouts.

Presently La Roche and Clune came in. They had been talking together
again. Andrew could tell by the manner in which they separated, as soon
as they entered the room, and by their voices, which they made loud and
cheerful; and, also, by the fact that they avoided looking at each
other. They were striving patently to prove that there was nothing
between them; and if Andrew had been on guard, now he became
tinglingly so.

They arranged their bunks; Larry la Roche took from his vest a pipe with
a small bowl and a long stem and sat down cross-legged to smoke. Andrew
suggested that Larry produce the contents of his saddlebag and share the
spoils of war.

He brought it out willingly enough and spilled it out on the improvised
table, a glittering mass of gold trinkets, watches, jewels. He picked
out of the mass a chain of diamonds and spread it out on his snaky
fingers so that the light could play on it. Andrew knew nothing about
gems, but he knew that the chain must be worth a great deal of money.

"This," said Larry, "is my share. You gents can have the rest and split
it up."

"A nice set of sparklers," nodded Clune, "but there's plenty left to
satisfy me."

"What you think," declared Scottie, "ain't of any importance, Joe. It's
what the chief thinks that counts. Is it square, Lanning?"

Andrew flushed at the appeal and the ugly looks which La Roche and Clune
cast toward him. He could have stifled Scottie for that appeal, and yet
Scottie was smiling in the greatest apparent good nature and belief in
their leader. His face was flushed, but his lips were bloodless. Alcohol
always affected him in that manner.

"I don't know the value of the stones," said Andrew.

"Don't you?" murmured Scottie. "I forgot. Thought maybe you would. That
was something that Allister did know." The new leader saw a flash of
glances toward Scottie, but the latter continued to eye the captain with
a steady and innocent look.

"Scottie," decided Andrew instantly, "is my chief enemy."

If he could detach one man to his side all would be well. Two against
three would be a simple thing, as long as he was one of the two. But
four against one--and such a four as these--was hopeless odds. There
seemed little chance of getting Joe Clune. There remained only Jeff
Rankin as his possibly ally, and already he had stepped on Jeff's toes
sorely, by making the tired giant stand guard. He thought of all these
things, of course, in a flash. And then in answer to his thoughts Jeff
Rankin appeared. His heavy footfall crashed inside the door. He stopped,
panting, and, in spite of his news, paused to blink at the flash
of jewels.

"It's comin'," said Jeff. "Boys, get your guns and scatter out of the
cabin. Duck that light! Hal Dozier is comin' up the valley."

There was not a single exclamation, but the lights went out as if by
magic; there were a couple of light, hissing sounds, such as iron makes
when it is whipped swiftly across leather.

"How'd you know him by this light?" asked Larry la Roche, as they went
out of the door. Outside they found everything brilliant with the white
moonshine of the mountains.

"Nobody but Hal Dozier rides twistin' that way in the saddle. I'd tell
him in a thousand. It's old wounds that makes him ride like that. We got
ten minutes. He's takin' the long way up the canyon. And they ain't
anybody with him."

"If he's come alone," said Andrew, "he's come for me and not for the
rest of you."

No one spoke. Then Larry la Roche: "He wants to make it man to man.
That's clear. That's why he pulled up his hoss and waited for Allister
to make the first move for his gun. It's a clean challenge to some
one of us."

Andrew saw his chance and used it mercilessly.

"Which one of you is willing to take the challenge?" he asked. "Which
one of you is willing to ride down the canyon and meet him alone? La
Roche, I've heard you curse Dozier."

But Larry la Roche answered: "What's this fool talk about takin' a
challenge? I say, string out behind the hills and pot him with rifles."

"One man, and we're five," said Jeff Rankin. "It ain't sportin', Larry.
I hate to hear you say that. We'd be despised all over the mountains if
we done it. He's makin' his play with a lone hand, and we've got to meet
him the same way. Eh, chief?"

It was sweet to Andrew to hear that appeal. And he saw them turn one by
one toward him in the moonlight and wait. It was his first great
tribute. He looked over those four wolfish figures and felt his
heart swelling.

"Wish me luck, boys," he said, and without another word he turned and
went down the hillside.

The others watched him with amazement. He felt it rather than saw it,
and it kept a tingle in his blood. He felt, also, that they were
spreading out to either side to get a clear view of the fight that was
to follow, and it occurred to him that, even if Hal Dozier killed him,
there would not be one chance in a thousand of Hal's getting away. Four
deadly rifles would be covering him.

It must be that a sort of madness had come on Dozier, advancing in this
manner, unsupported by a posse. Or, perhaps, he had no idea that the
outlaws could be so close. He expected a daylight encounter high up the
mountains.

But Andrew went swiftly down the ravine.

Broken cliffs, granite boulders jumped up on either side of him, and
the rocks were pale and glimmering under the moon. This one valley
seemed to receive the light; the loftier mountains rolling away on each
side were black as jet, with sharp, ragged outlines against the sky. It
was a cold light, and the chill of it went through Andrew. He was
afraid, afraid as he had been when Buck Heath faced him in Martindale,
or when Bill Dozier ran him down, or when the famous Sandy cornered him.
His fingers felt brittle, and his breath came and went in short gasps,
drawn into the upper part of his lungs only.

Behind him, like an electric force pushing him on, the outlaws watched
his steps. They, also, were shuddering with fear, and he knew it.

Dozier was coming, fresh from another kill.

"Only one man I'd think twice about meeting," Allister had said in the
old days, and he had been right. Yet there were thousands who had sworn
that Allister was invincible--that he would never fall before a
single man.

He thought, too, of the lean face and the peculiar, set eye of Dozier.
The man had no fear, he had no nerves; he was a machine, and death was
his business.

And was he, Andrew Lanning, unknown until the past few months, now going
down to face destruction, as full of fear as a girl trembling at the
dark? What was it that drew them together, so unfairly matched?

He could still see only the white haze of the moonshine before him, but
now there was the clicking of hoofs on the rock. Dozier was coming.
Andrew walked squarely out into the middle of the ravine and waited. He
had set his teeth. The nerves on the bottom of his feet were twitching.
Something freezing cold was beginning at the tips of his fingers. How
long would it take Dozier to come?

An interminable time. The hoofbeats actually seemed to fade out and draw
away at one time. Then they began again very near him, and now they
stopped. Had Dozier seen him around the elbow curve? That heartbreaking
instant passed, and the clicking began again. Then the rider came slowly
in view. First there was the nodding head of the cow pony, then the foot
in the stirrup, then Hal Dozier riding a little twisted in the saddle--a
famous characteristic of his.

He came on closer and closer. He began to seem huge on the horse. Was he
blind not to see the figure that waited for him?

A voice that was not his, that he did not recognize, leaped out from
between his teeth and tore his throat: "Dozier!"

The cow pony halted with a start; the rider jerked straight in his
saddle; the echo of the call barked back from some angling cliff face
down the ravine. All that before Dozier made his move. He had dropped
the reins, and Andrew, with a mad intention of proving that he himself
did not make the first move toward his weapon, had folded his arms.

He did not move through the freezing instant that followed. Not until
there was a convulsive jerk of Dozier's elbow did he stir his folded
arms. Then his right arm loosened, and the hand flashed down to
his holster.

Was Dozier moving with clogged slowness, or was it that he had ceased to
be a body, that he was all brain and hair-trigger nerves making every
thousandth part of a second seem a unit of time? It seemed to Andrew
that the marshal's hand dragged through its work; to those who watched
from the sides of the ravine, there was a flash of fire from his gun
before they saw even the flash of the steel out of the holster. The gun
spat in the hand of Dozier, and something jerked at the shirt of Andrew
beside his neck. He himself had fired only once, and he knew that the
shot had been too high and to the right of his central target; yet he
did not fire again. Something strange was happening to Hal Dozier. His
head had nodded forward as though in mockery of the bullet; his
extended right hand fell slowly, slowly; his whole body began to sway
and lean toward the right. Not until that moment did Andrew know that he
had shot the marshal through the body.

He raced to the side of the cattle pony, and, as the horse veered away,
Hal Dozier dropped limply into his arms. He lay with his limbs sprawling
at odd angles beside him. His muscles seemed paralyzed, but his eyes
were bright and wide, and his face perfectly composed.

"There's luck for you," said Hal Dozier calmly. "I pulled it two inches
to the right, or I would have broken your neck with the slug--anyway, I
spoiled your shirt."

The cold was gone from Andrew, and he felt his heart thundering and
shaking his body. He was repeating like a frightened child, "For God's
sake, Hal, don't die--don't die."

The paralyzed body did not move, but the calm voice answered him: "You
fool! Finish me before your gang comes and does it for you!"




CHAPTER 38


There was a rush of footsteps behind and around him, a jangle of voices,
and there were the four huddled over Hal Dozier. Andrew had risen and
stepped back, silently thanking God that it was not a death. He heard
the voices of the four like voices in a dream.

"A clean one." "A nice bit of work." "Dozier, are you thinkin' of
Allister, curse you?" "D'you remember Hugh Wiley now?" "D'you maybe
recollect my pal, Bud Swain? Think about 'em, Dozier, while you're
dyin'!" The calm eyes traveled without hurry from face to face. And
curiosity came to Andrew, a cool, deadly curiosity. He stepped among
the gang.

"He's not fatally hurt," he said. "What d'you intend to do with him?"

"You're all wrong, chief," said Larry la Roche, and he grinned at
Andrew. His submission now was perfect and complete. There was even a
sort of worship in the bright eyes that looked at the new leader. "I
hate to say it, but right as you mos' gener'ly are, you're wrong this
time. He's done. He don't need no more lookin' to. Leave him be for an
hour and he'll be finished. Also, that'll give him a chance to think. He
needs a chance. Old Curley had a chance to think--took him four hours to
kick out after Dozier plugged him. I heard what he had to say, and it
wasn't pretty. I think maybe it'd be sort of interestin' to hear what
Dozier has to say. Long about the time he gets thirsty. Eh, boys?"

There was a snarl from the other three as they looked down at the
wounded man, who did not speak a word. And Andrew knew that he was
indeed alone with that crew, for the man whom he had just shot down was
nearer to him than the members of Allister's gang.

He spoke suddenly: "Jeff, take his head; Clune, take his feet. Carry him
up to the cabin."

They only stared at him.

"Look here, captain," said Scottie in a soft voice, just a trifle
thickened by whiskey, "are you thinking of taking him up there and tying
him up so that he'll live through this?"

And again the other three snarled softly.

"You murdering hounds!" said Andrew.

That was all. They looked at each other; they looked at the new leader.
And the sight of his white face and his nervous right hand was too much
for them. They took up the marshal and carried him to the cabin, his
pony following like a dog behind. They brought him, without asking for
directions, straight into the little rear room--Andrew's room. It was a
sufficiently intelligible way of saying that this was his work and none
of theirs. And not a hand lifted to aid him while he went to work with
the bandaging. He knew little about such work, but the marshal himself,
in a rather faint, but perfectly steady voice, gave directions. And in
the painful cleaning of the wound he did not murmur once. Neither did he
express the slightest gratitude. He kept following Andrew about the room
with coldly curious eyes.

In the next room the voices of the four were a steady, rumbling murmur.
Now and then the glance of the marshal wandered to the door. When the
bandaging was completed, he asked, "Do you know you've started a job you
can't finish?"

"Ah?" murmured Andrew.

"Those four," said the marshal, "won't let you."

Andrew smiled.

"Are you easier now?"

"Don't bother about me. I'll tell you what--I wish you'd get me a drink
of water."

"I'll send one of the boys."

"No, get it yourself. I want to say something to them while you're
gone."

Andrew had risen up from his knees. He now studied the face of the
marshal steadily.

"You want 'em to come in here and drill you, eh?" he said. "Why?"

The other nodded.

"I've given up hope once; I've gone through the hardest part of dying;
let them finish the job now."

"Tomorrow you'll feel differently."

"Will I?" asked the marshal. All at once his eyes went yellow with hate.
"I go back to the desert--I go to Martindale--people I pass on the
street whisper as I go by. They'll tell over and over how I went down.
And a kid did it--a raw kid!"

He closed his eyes in silent agony. Then he looked up more keenly than
before. "How'll they know that it was luck--that my gun stuck in the
holster--and that you jumped me on the draw?"

"You lie," said Andrew calmly. "Your gun came out clean as a whistle,
and I waited for you, Dozier. You know I did."

The pain in the marshal's face became a ghastly thing to see. At last he
could speak.

"A sneak always lies well," he replied, as he sneered at Lanning.

He went on, while Andrew sat shivering with passion. "And any fool can
get in a lucky shot now and then. But, when I'm out of this, I'll hunt
you down again and I'll plant you full of lead, my son! You can lay
to that!"

The hard breathing of Andrew gradually subsided.

"It won't work, Dozier," he said quietly. "You can't make me mad enough
to shoot a man who's down. You can't make me murder you."

The marshal closed his eyes again, while his breathing was beginning to
grow fainter, and there was an unpleasant rattle in the hollow of his
throat. Andrew went into the next room.

"Scottie," he said, "will you let me have your flask?"

Scottie smiled at him.

"Not for what you'd use it for, Lanning," he said.

Andrew picked up a cup and shoved it across the table.

"Pour a little whisky in that, please," he said.

Scottie looked up and studied him. Then he tipped his flask and poured a
thin stream into the cup until it was half full. Andrew went back toward
the door, the cup in his left hand. He backed up, keeping his face
steadily toward the four, and kicked open the door behind him.

War, he knew, had been declared. Then he raised the marshal's head and
gave him a sip of the fiery stuff. It cleared the face of the
wounded man.

Then Andrew rolled down his blankets before the door, braced a small
stick against it, so that the sound would be sure to waken him if anyone
tried to enter, and laid down for the night. He was almost asleep when
the marshal said: "Are you really going to stick it out, Andy?"

"Yes."

"In spite of what I've said?"

"I suppose you meant it all? You'd hunt me down and kill me like a dog
after you get back on your feet?"

"Like a dog."

"If you think it over and see things clearly," replied Andrew, "you'll
see that what I've done I've done for my own sake, and not for yours."

"How do you make that out--with four men in the next room ready to stick
a knife in your back--if I know anything about 'em?"

"I'll tell you: I owe nothing to you, but a man owes a lot to himself,
and I'm going to pay myself in full."




CHAPTER 39


He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but, though he came to the verge
of oblivion, the voices from the other room finally waked him. They had
been changing subtly during the past hours and now they rose, and there
was a ring to them that troubled Andrew.

He could make out their talk part of the time; and then again they
lowered their voices to rumbling growls. At such times he knew that
they were speaking of him, and the hum of the undertone was more ominous
than open threats. When they talked aloud there was a confused clamor;
when they were more hushed there was always the oily murmur of Scottie's
voice, taking the lead and directing the current of the talk.

The liquor was going the rounds fast, now. Before they left for the
Murchison Pass they had laid in a comfortable supply, but apparently
Allister had cached a quantity of the stuff at the Twin Eagles shack. Of
one thing Andrew was certain, that four such practiced whisky drinkers
would never let their party degenerate into a drunken rout; and another
thing was even more sure--that Scottie Macdougal would keep his head
better than the best of the others. But what the alcohol would do would
be to cut the leash of constraint and dig up every strong passion among
them. For instance, Jeff Rankin was by far the most equable of the lot,
but, given a little whisky, Jeff became a conscienceless devil.

He knew his own weakness, and Andrew, crawling to the door and putting
his ear to the crack under it, found that the sounds of the voices
became instantly clearer; the others were plying Jeff with the liquor,
and Jeff, knowing that he had had enough, was persistently refusing, but
with less and less energy.

There must be a very definite reason for this urging of Rankin toward
the whisky, and Andrew was not hard pressed to find out that reason. The
big, rather good-natured giant was leaning toward the side of the new
leader, just as steadily as the others were leaning away from him.
Whisky alone would stop his scruples. Larry la Roche, his voice a
guarded, hissing whisper, was speaking to Jeff as Andrew began listening
from his new position.

"What I ask you," said La Roche, "is this: Have we had any luck since
the kid joined us?" "We've got a pile of the coin," said Jeff
obstinately.

"D'you stack a little coin against the loss of Allister?" asked Larry la
Roche.

"Easy," cautioned Scottie. "Not so loud, Larry."

"He's asleep," said Larry la Roche. "I heard him lie down after he'd put
something agin' the door. No fear of him."

"Don't be so sure. He might make a noise lying down and make not a sound
getting up. And, even when he's asleep, he's got one eye open like
a wolf."

"Well," repeated Larry insistently, and now his voice was so faint that
Andrew had to guess at half the syllables, "answer my question, Jeff:
Have we had good luck or bad luck, takin' it all in all, since he
joined us?"

"How do I know it's his fault?" asked Jeff. "We all knew it would be a
close pinch if Allister ever jumped Hal Dozier. We thought Allister was
a little bit faster than Dozier. Everybody else said that Dozier was the
best man that ever pulled a gun out of leather. It wasn't luck that beat
Allister--it was a better man."

There was a thud as his fist hit the rickety, squeaking table in the
center of the room.

"I say, let's play fair and square. How do I know that the kid won't
make a good leader?"

Scottie broke in smoothly: "Makes me grin when you say that, Jeff. Tell
you what the trouble is with you, old man: you're too modest. A fellow
that's done what you've done, following a kid that ain't twenty-five!"

There was a bearlike grunt from Jeff. He was not altogether displeased
by this gracious tribute. But he answered: "You're too slippery with
your tongue, Scottie. I never know when you mean what you say!"

It must have been a bitter pill for Scottie to swallow, but he was not
particularly formidable with his weapons, compared with straight-eyed
Jeff Rankin, and he answered: "Maybe there's some I jolly along a bit,
but, when I talk to old Jeff Rankin, I talk straight. Look at me now,
Jeff. Do I look as if I was joking with you?"

"I ain't any hand at readin' minds," grumbled Jeff.

He added suddenly: "I say it was the finest thing I ever see, the way
young Lanning stood out there in the valley. Did you watch? Did you see
him let Dozier get the jump on his gun? Pretty, pretty, pretty! And then
his own gat was out like a flash--one wink, and there was Hal Dozier
drilled clean! I tell you, boys, you got this young Lanning wrong. I
sort of cotton to the kid. I always did. I liked him the first time I
ever laid eyes on him. So did you all, except Larry, yonder. And it was
Larry that turned you agin' him after he come and joined us. Who asked
him to join us? We did!"

"Who asked him to be captain?" said Scottie.

It seemed to stagger Jeff Rankin.

"Allister used him for a sort of second man; seemed like he meant him to
lead us in case anything happened to him."

"While Allister was living," said Scottie, "you know I would of followed
him anywhere. Wasn't I his advance agent? Didn't I do his planning with
him? But now Allister's dead--worse luck--but dead he is."

He paused here cunningly, and, no doubt, during that pause each of the
outlaws conjured up a picture of the scar-faced man with the bright,
steady eyes, who had led them so long and quelled them so often and held
them together through thick and thin.

"Allister's dead," repeated Scottie, "and what he did while he was alive
don't hold us now. We chose him for captain out of our own free will.
Now that he's dead we have the right to elect another captain. What's
Lanning done that he has a right to fill Allister's place with us? What
job did he have at the holdup? When we stuck up the train didn't he have
the easiest job? Did he give one good piece of advice while we were
plannin' the job? Did he show any ability to lead us, then?"

The answer came unhesitatingly from Rankin: "It wasn't his place to lead
while Allister was with us. And I'll tell you what he done after
Allister died. When I seen Dozier comin', who was it that stepped out to
meet him? Was it you, Scottie? No, it wasn't. It wasn't you, La Roche,
neither, nor you, Clune, and it wasn't me. Made me sick inside, the
thought of facin' Dozier. Why? Because I knew he'd never been beat.
Because I knew he was a better man than Allister, and that Allister had
been a better man than me. And it ain't no braggin' to say I'm a handier
gent with my guns than any of you. Well, I was sick, and you all were
sick. I seen your faces. But who steps out and takes the lead? It was
the kid you grin at, Scottie; it was Andy Lanning, and I say it was a
fine thing to do!"

It was undoubtedly a facer; but Scottie came back in his usual calm
manner.

"I know it was Lanning, and it was a fine thing. I don't deny, either,
that he's a fine gent in lots of ways--and in his place--but is his
place at the head of the gang? Are we going to be bullied into having
him there?"

"Then let him follow, and somebody else lead."

"You make me laugh, Jeff. He's not the sort that will follow anybody."

Plainly Scottie was working on Jeff from a distance. He would bring him
slowly around to the place where he would agree to the attack on Andrew
for the sake of getting at the wounded marshal.

"Have another drink, Jeff, and then let's get back to the main point,
and that has nothin' to do with Andy. It is: Is Hal Dozier going to
live or die?"

The time had come, Andrew saw, to make his final play. A little more of
this talk and the big, good-hearted, strong-handed Rankin would be
completely on the side of the others. And that meant the impossible odds
of four to one. Andrew knew it. He would attack any two of them without
fear. But three became a desperate, a grim battle; and four to one made
the thing suicide.

He slipped silently to his feet from beside the door and picked up the
canvas bag which represented his share of the robbery. Then he knocked
at the door.

"Boys," he called, "there's been some hard thoughts between the lot of
you and me. It looks like we're on opposite sides of a fence. I want to
come in and talk to you."

Instantly Scottie answered: "Why, come on in, captain; not such hard
words as you think--not on my side, anyways!"

It was a cunning enough lure, no doubt, and Andrew had his hand on the
latch of the door before a second thought reached him. If he exposed
himself, would not the three of them pull their guns? They would be able
to account for it to Jeff Rankin later on.

"I'll come in," said Andrew, "when I hear you give me surety that I'll
be safe. I don't trust you, Scottie."

"Thanks for that. What surety do you want?"

"I want the word of Jeff Rankin that he'll see me through till I've made
my talk to you and my proposition."

It was an excellent counterthrust, but Larry la Roche saw through the
attempt to win Jeff immediately.

"You skunk!" he said. "If you don't trust us we don't trust you. Stay
where you be. We don't want to hear your talk!"

"Jeff, what do you say?" continued Andrew calmly.

There was a clamor of three voices and then the louder voice of Jeff,
like a lion shaking itself clear of wolves: "Andy, come in, and I'll see
you get a square deal--if you'll trust me!" Instantly Andrew threw open
the door and stepped in, his revolver in one hand, the heavy sack over
his other arm, a dragging weight and also a protection.

"I'll trust you, Jeff," he said. "Trust you? Why, man, with you at my
back I'd laugh at twenty fellows like these. They simply don't count."

It was another well-placed shot, and he saw Rankin flush heavily with
pleasure. Scottie tilted his box back against the wall and delivered his
counterstroke: "He said the same thing to me earlier on in the evening,"
he remarked casually. "But I told him where to go. I told him that I was
with the bunch first and last and all the time. That's why he hates me!"




CHAPTER 40


While he searched desperately for an answer, Andrew found none. Then he
saw the stupid, big eyes of Jeff wander from his face to the face of
Scottie, and he knew that his previous advantage had been completely
neutralized.

"Boys," he said, and he surveyed the restless, savage figures of Clune
and La Roche, "I've come for a little plain talk. There's no more
question about me leadin' the gang. None at all. I wouldn't lead you, La
Roche, nor you, Clune, nor you, Scottie. There's only one man here
that's clean--and he's Jeff Rankin."

He waited for that point to sink home; as Scottie opened his lips to
strike back, he went ahead deliberately. By retaining his own calm he
saw that he kept a great advantage. Rankin began fumbling at his cup;
Scottie instantly filled it half full with whisky. "Don't drink that,"
said Andrew sharply. "Don't drink it, Jeff. Scottie's doin' that on
purpose to get you sap headed!"

"Do what he says," said Scottie calmly. "Throw the dirty stuff away,
Jeff. Do what your daddy tells you. You ain't old enough to know your
own mind, are you?"

Big Jeff flushed, cast a glance of defiance that included both Andrew
and Scottie, and tossed off the whisky. It was a blow over the heart for
Andrew; he had to finish his talking now, before Jeff Rankin was turned
mad by the whisky. And if he worked it well, Jeff would be on his side.
The madness would fight for Andrew.

He said: "There's no more question about me being a leader for you.
Personally, I'd like to have Jeff--not to follow me, but to be pals
with me."

Jeff cleared his throat and looked about with foolish importance. Not an
eye wavered to meet his glance; every look was fixed with a hungry hate
upon Andrew.

"There's only one thing up between the lot of us: Do I keep Hal Dozier,
or do you get him--to murder him? Do you fellows ride on your way free
and easy, to do what you please, or do you tackle me in that room, eat
my lead, and then, if you finish me, get a chance to kill a man that's
nearly dead now? How does it look to you, boys? Think it over.
Think sharp!"

He knew while he spoke that there was one exquisitely simple way to end
both his life and the life of Dozier--let them touch a match to the
building and shoot him while he ran from the flames. But he could only
pray that they would not see it.

"And besides, I'll do more. You think you have a claim on Dozier. I'll
buy him from you. Here's half his weight in gold. Will you take the
money and clear out? Or are you going to make the play at me? If you do,
you'll buy whatever you get at a high price!" "You forget--" put in
Scottie, but Andrew interrupted.

"I don't want to hear from you, Scottie. I know you're a snake. I want
to hear from Jeff Rankin. Speak up, Jeff. Everything's in your hands,
and I trust you!"

The giant rose from his chair. His face was white with the effect of the
whisky, and one spot of color burned in each cheek. He looked
gloweringly upon his companions.

"Andy," he said, "I--"

"Wait a minute," said Scottie swiftly, seeing that the scales were
balancing toward a defeat.

"Let him talk. You don't have to tell him what to say," said Andrew.

"I've got a right to put our side up to him--for the sake of the things
we've been through together. Jeff, have I?"

Jeff Rankin cleared his throat importantly. Scottie faced him; the
others kept their unchanging eyes rivetted upon Andrew, ready for the
gun play at the first flicker of an eyelid. The first sign of unwariness
would begin and end the battle.

"Don't forget this," went on Scottie, having Jeff's attention. "Andy is
workin' to keep Dozier alive. Why? Dozier's the law, isn't he? Then Andy
wants to make up with the law. He wants to sneak out. He wants to turn
state's evidence!"

The deadly phrase shocked Jeff Rankin a pace back toward soberness.

"I never thought," he began.

"You're too straight to think of it. Take another look at Lanning. Is he
one of us? Has he ever been one of us? No! Look again! Dozier has hunted
Lanning all over the mountain desert. Now he wants to save Dozier. Wants
to risk his life for him. Wants to buy him from us! Why? Because he's
turned crooked. He's turned soft. He wants to get under the wing of
the law."

But Jeff Rankin swept all argument away with a movement of his big paws.
"Too much talk," he said. "I want to think."

His stupid, animal eyes went laboriously around the room. "I wish
Allister was here," he said. "He always knew."

"For my part," said Scottie, "I can't be bought. Not me!" He suddenly
leaned to the big man, and, before Andrew could speak, he had said:
"Jeff, you know why I want to get Dozier. Because he ran down my
brother. And are you going to let him go clear, Jeff? Are you going to
have Allister haunt you?"

It was the decisive stroke. The big head of Jeff twitched back, he
opened his lips to speak--and in that moment, knowing that the battle
was over and lost to him, Andrew, who had moved back, made one leap and
was through the door and into the little shed again. The gun had gleamed
in the hand of Larry la Roche as he sprang, but Andrew had been too
quick for the outlaw to plant his shot.

He heard Jeff Rankin still speaking: "I dunno, quite. But I see you're
right, Scottie. They ain't any reason for Lanning to be so chummy with
Dozier. And so they must be somethin' crooked about it. Boys, I'm with
you to the limit! Go as far as you like. I'm behind you!"

No room for argument now; and the blind, animal hate which Scottie and
La Roche and Clune felt for Dozier was sure to drive them to
extremities. Andrew sat in the dark, hurriedly going over his rifle and
his revolver. Once he was about to throw open the door and try the
effect of a surprise attack. He might plant two shots before there was a
return; he let the idea slip away from him. There would remain two more,
and one of them was certain to kill him.

Moving across the room he heard a whisper from the floor: "I've heard
them, Lanning. Don't be a fool. Give me up to 'em!"

He made no answer. In the other room the voices were no longer
restrained; Jeff Rankin's in particular boomed and rang and filled the
shed. Once bent on action he was all for the attack; whisky had removed
the last human scruple. And Andrew heard them openly cast their ballots
for a new leader; heard Scottie acclaimed; heard the Scotchman say:
"Boys, I'm going to show you a way to clean up on Dozier and Lanning,
without any man risking a single shot from him in return."

They clamored for the suggestion, but he told them that he was first
going out into the open to think it over. In the meantime they had
nothing to fear. Sit fast and have another drink around. He had to be
alone to figure it out.

It was very plain. The wily rascal would let them go one step farther
toward an insanity of drink, and then, his own brain cold and collected,
he would come back to turn the shack into a shambles. He had said he
could do it without risk to them. There was only one possible meaning;
he intended to use fire.

Andrew sat with the butt of his rifle ground into his forehead. It was
still easy to escape; the insistent whisper from the floor was pointing
out the way: "Beat it out that back window, lad. Slope, Andy; they's no
use. You can't help me. They mean fire; they'll pot you like a pig, from
the dark. Give me up!"

It was the advice to use the window that decided Andrew. It was a wild
chance indeed, this leaving of Dozier helpless on the floor; but he
risked it. He whispered to the marshal that he would return, and slipped
through the window. He was not halfway around the house before he heard
a voice that chilled him with horror. It was the marshal calling to them
that Andrew was gone and inviting them in to finish him. But they
suspected, naturally enough, that the invitation was a trap, and they
contented themselves with abusing him for thinking them such fools.

Andrew went on; fifty feet from the house and just aside from the shaft
of light that fell from the open door, stood Scottie. His head was
bare, his face was turned up to catch the wind, and no doubt he was
dreaming of the future which lay before him as the new captain of
Allister's band. The whisper of Andrew behind him cut his dream short.
He whirled to receive the muzzle of a revolver in his stomach. His hands
went up, and he stood gasping faintly in the moonlight.

"I've got you, Scottie," he said, "and so help me heaven, you're the
first man that I've wanted to kill."

It would have taken a man of supernerve to outface that situation. And
the nerve of Scottie cracked.

He began to whisper with a horrible break and sob in his breath:
"Andy--Andy, gimme a chance. I'm not fit to go--this way. Andy,
remember--"

"I'm going to give you a chance. You're pretty low, Scottie; I check
what you've done to the way you hate Dozier, and I won't hold a grudge.
And I'll tell you the chance you've got. You see these rocks, here? I'm
goin' to lie down behind them. I'm going to keep you covered with my
rifle. Scottie, did you ever see me shoot with a rifle?"

Scottie shuddered--a very sufficient reply.

"I'm going to keep you covered. Then you'll turn around and walk
straight back to the shack. You'll stand there--always in clean sight
of the doorway--and you'll persuade that crowd of drunks to leave the
house and ride away with you. Understand, when you get inside the house,
there'll be a big temptation to jump to one side and get behind the
wall--just one twitch of your muscles, and you'd be safe. But, fast as
you could move, Scottie, powder drives lead a lot faster. And I'll have
you centered every minute. You'll make a pretty little target against
the light, besides. You understand?

"The moment you even start to move fast, I pull the trigger. Remember
it, Scottie. For as sure as there's a hell, I'll send you into it head
first, if you don't." "So help me heaven," said Scottie, "I'll do what
I can. I think I can talk 'em into it. But if I don't?"

"If you don't, you're dead. That's short, and that's sweet. Keep it in
your head. Go back and tell them it would take too great a risk to try
to fix me.

"And there's another thing to remember. If you should be able to get
behind the wall without being shot, you're not safe. Not by a long way,
Scottie. I'd still be alive. And, though you'd have Hal Dozier there to
cut up as you pleased, I'd be here outside the cabin watching it--with
my rifle. And I'd tag some of you when you tried to get out. And if I
didn't get you all I'd start on your trail. Scottie, you fellows, even
when you had Allister to lead you, couldn't get off scot-free from
Dozier. Scottie, I give you my solemn word of honor, you'll find me a
harder man to get free from than Hal Dozier.

"Here's the last thing: If you do what I tell you--if you get that crowd
of drunken brutes out of the cabin and away without harming Dozier, I'll
wipe out the score between us. No matter what you told the rest of them,
you know I've never broken a promise, and that I never shall."

He stopped and, stepping back to the rocks, sank slowly down behind
them. Only the muzzle of his rifle showed, no more than the glint of a
tiny bit of quartz; his left hand was raised, and, at its gesture,
Scottie turned and walked slowly toward the cabin doorway. Once,
stumbling over something, he reeled almost out of the shaft of light,
but stopped on the edge of safety with a terrible trembling. There he
stood for a moment, and Andrew knew that he was gathering his nerve. He
went on; he stood in the doorway, leaning with one arm against it.

What followed Andrew could not hear, except an occasional roar from
Rankin. Once Larry la Roche came and stood before the new leader,
gesturing frantically, and the ring of his voice came clearly to Andrew.
The Scotchman negligently stood to one side; the way between Andrew and
Larry was cleared, and Andrew could not help smiling at the fiendish
malevolence of Scottie. But he was apparently able to convince even
Larry la Roche by means of words. At length there was a bustling in the
cabin, a loud confusion, and finally the whole troop went out. Somebody
brought Scottie his saddle; Jeff Rankin came out reeling.

But Scottie stirred last from the doorway; there he stood in the shaft
of light until some one, cursing, brought him his horse. He mounted it
in full view. Then the cavalcade started down the ravine.

Certainly it was not an auspicious beginning for Scottie Macdougal.




CHAPTER 41


The first ten days of the following time were the hardest; it was during
that period that Scottie and the rest were most apt to return and make a
backstroke at Dozier and Andrew. For Andrew knew well enough that this
was the argument--the promise of a surprise attack--with which Scottie
had lured his men away from the shack.

During that ten days, and later, he adopted a systematic plan of work.
During the nights he paid two visits to the sick man. On one occasion he
dressed the wound; on the next he did the cooking and put food and water
beside the marshal, to last him through the day.

After that he went out and took up his post. As a rule he waited on the
top of the hill in the clump of pines. From this position he commanded
with his rifle the sweep of hillside all around the cabin. The greatest
time of danger for Dozier was when Andrew had to scout through the
adjacent hills for food--their supply of meat ran out on the
fourth day.

But the ten days passed; and after that, in spite of the poor care he
had received--or perhaps aided by the absolute quiet--the marshal's iron
constitution asserted itself more and more strongly. He began to mend
rapidly. Eventually he could sit up, and, when that time came, the great
period of anxiety was over. For Dozier could sit with his rifle across
his knees, or, leaning against the chair which Andrew had improvised,
command a fairly good outlook.

Only once--it was at the close of the fourth week--did Andrew find
suspicious signs in the vicinity of the cabin--the telltale trampling
on a place where four horses had milled in an impatient circle. But no
doubt the gang had thought caution to be the better part of hate. They
remembered the rifle of Andrew and had gone on without making a sign.
Afterward Andrew learned why they had not returned sooner. Three hours
after they left the shack a posse had picked them up in the moonlight,
and there had followed a forty-mile chase.

But all through the time until the marshal could actually stand and
walk, and finally sit his saddle with little danger of injuring the
wound, Andrew, knowing nothing of what took place outside, was
ceaselessly on the watch. Literally, during all that period, he never
closed his eyes for more than a few minutes of solid sleep. And, before
the danger line had been crossed, he was worn to a shadow. When he
turned his head the cords leaped out on his neck. His mouth had that
look, at once savage and nervous, which goes always with the hunted man.

And it was not until he was himself convinced that Dozier could take
care of himself that he wrapped himself in his blankets and fell into a
twenty-four-hour sleep. He awoke finally with a start, out of a dream in
which he had found himself, in imagination, wakened by Scottie stooping
over him. He had reached for his revolver at his side, in the dream,
and had found nothing. Now, waking, his hand was working nervously
across the floor of the shack. That part of the dream was come true,
but, instead of Scottie leaning over him, it was the marshal, who sat in
his chair with his rifle across his knees. Andrew sat up. His weapons
had been indeed removed, and the marshal was looking at him with
beady eyes.

"Have you seen 'em?" asked Andrew. "Have the boys shown themselves?"

He started to get up, but the marshal's crisp voice cut in on him. "Sit
down there."

There had been--was it possible to believe it?--a motion of the gun in
the hands of the marshal to point this last remark.

"Partner," said Andrew, stunned, "what are you drivin' at?"

"I've been thinking," said Hal Dozier. "You sit tight till I tell you
what about."

"It's just driftin' into my head, sort of misty," murmured Andrew, "that
you've been thinkin' about double-crossin' me."

"Suppose," said the marshal, "I was to ride into Martindale with you in
front of me. That'd make a pretty good picture, Andy. Allister dead, and
you taken alive. Not to speak of ten thousand I dollars as a background.
That would sort of round off my work. I could retire and live happy ever
after, eh?"

Andrew peered into the grim face of the older man; there was not a
flicker of a smile in it.

"Go on," he said, "but think twice, Hal. If I was you, I'd think ten
times!"

The marshal met those terrible, blazing eyes without a quiver of his
own.

"I began with thinking about that picture," he said. "Later on I had
some other thoughts--about you. Andy, d'you see that you don't fit
around here? You're neither a man-killer nor a law-abidin' citizen. You
wouldn't fit in Martindale any more, and you certainly won't fit with
any gang of crooks that ever wore guns. Look at the way you split with
Allister's outfit! Same thing would happen again. So, as far as I can
see, it doesn't make much difference whether I trot you into town and
collect the ten thousand, or whether some of the crooks who hate you run
you down--or some posse corners you one of these days and does its job.
How do you see it?"

Andrew said nothing, but his face spoke for him.

"How d'you see the future yourself?" said the marshal. His voice changed
suddenly: "Talk to me, Andy."

Andrew looked carefully at him; then he spoke.

"I'll tell you short and quick, Hal. I want action. That's all. I want
something to keep my mind and my hands busy. Doing nothing is the thing
I'm afraid of."

"I gather you're not very happy, Andy?"

Lanning smiled, and it was not a pleasant smile to see.

"I'm empty, Hal," he answered. "Does that answer you? The crooks are
against me, the law is against me. Well, they'll work together to keep
me busy. I don't want any man's help. I'm a bad man, Hal. I know it. I
don't deny it. I don't ask any quarter."

It was rather a desperate speech--rather a boyish one. At any rate the
marshal smiled, and a curious flush came in Andrew's face.

"Will you let me tell you a story, Andrew? It's a story about yourself."

He went on: "You were a kid in Martindale. Husky, good-natured, a little
sleepy, with touchy nerves, not very confident in yourself. I've known
other kids like you, but none just the same type.

"You weren't waked up. You see? The pinch was bound to come in a town
where every man wore his gun. You were bound to face a show-down. There
were equal chances. Either you'd back down or else you'd give the man a
beating. If the first thing happened, you'd have been a coward the rest
of your life. But the other thing was what happened, and it gave you a
touch of the iron that a man needs in his blood. Iron dust, Andy,
iron dust!

"You had bad luck, you think. You thought you'd killed a man; it made
you think you were a born murderer. You began to look back to the old
stories about the Lannings--a wild crew of men. You thought that blood
was what was a-showing in you.

"Partly you were right, partly you were wrong. There was a new strength
in you. You thought it was the strength of a desperado. Do you know what
the change was? It was the change from boyhood to manhood. That was
all--a sort of chemical change, Andy.

"See what happened: You had your first fight and you saw your first
girl, all about the same time. But here's what puzzles me: according to
the way I figure it, you must have seen the girl first. But it seems
that you didn't. Will you tell me?"

"We won't talk about the girl," said Andrew in a heavy voice.

"Tut, tut! Won't we? Boy, we're going to do more talking about her than
about anything else. Well, anyway, you saw the girl, fell in love with
her, went away. Met up with a posse which my brother happened to lead.
Killed your man. Went on. Rode like the wind. Went through about a
hundred adventures in as many days. And little by little you were fixing
in your ways. You were changing from boyhood into manhood, and you were
changing without any authority over you. Most youngsters have their
fathers over them when that change comes. All of 'em have the law. But
you didn't have either. And the result was that you changed from a boy
into a man, and a free man. You hear me? You found that you could do
what you wanted to do; nothing could hold you back except one
thing--the girl!"

Andrew caught his breath, but the marshal would not let him speak.

"I've seen other free men--most people called them desperadoes. What's a
desperado in the real sense? A man who won't submit to the law. That's
all he is. But, because he won't submit, he usually runs foul of other
men. He kills one. Then he kills another. Finally he gets the blood
lust. Well, Andy, that's what you never got. You killed one man--he
brought it on himself. But look back over the rest of your career. Most
people think you've killed twenty. That's because they've heard a pack
of lies. You're a desperado--a free man--but you're not a man-killer.
And there's the whole point.

"And this was what turned you loose as a criminal--you thought the girl
had cut loose from you. Otherwise to this day you'd have been trying to
get away across the mountains and be a good, quiet member of society.
But you thought the girl had cut loose from you, and it hurt you.
Man-killer? Bah! You're simply lovesick, my boy!"

"Talk slow," whispered Andrew. "My--my head's whirling."

"It'll whirl more, pretty soon. Andy, do you know that the girl never
married Charles Merchant?"

There was a wild yell; Andrew was stopped in mid-air by a rifle thrust
into his stomach.

"She broke off her engagement. She came to me because she knew I was
running the manhunt. She begged me to let you have a chance. She tried
to buy me. She told me everything that had gone between you. Andy, she
put her head on my desk and cried while she was begging for you!"

"Stop!" whispered Andrew.

"But I wouldn't lay off your trail, Andy. Why? Because I'm as proud as
a devil. I'd started to get you and I'd lost Gray Peter trying. And even
after you saved me from Allister's men I was still figuring how I could
get you. And then, little by little, I saw that the girl had seen the
truth. You weren't really a crook. You weren't really a man-killer. You
were simply a kid that turned into a man in a day--and turned into a
free man! You were too strong for the law.

"Now, Andrew, here's my point: As long as you stay here in the mountain
desert you've no chance. You'll be among men who know you. Even if the
governor pardons you--as he might do if a certain deputy marshal were to
start pulling strings--you'd run some day into a man who had an old
grudge against you, and there'd be another explosion. Because there's
nitroglycerin inside you, son!

"Well, the thing for you to do is to get where men don't wear guns. The
thing for you to do is to find a girl you love a lot more than you do
your freedom, even. If that's possible--"

"Where is she?" broke in Andy. "Hal, for pity's sake, tell me where she
is!"

"I've got her address all written out. She forgot nothing. She left it
with me, she said, so she could keep in touch with me."

"It's no good," said Andy suddenly. "I could never get through the
mountains. People know me too well. They know Sally too well."

"Of course they do. So you're not going to go with Sally. You're not
going to ride a horse. You're going in another way. Everybody's seen
your picture. But who'd recognize the dashing young man-killer, the
original wild Andrew Lanning, in the shape of a greasy, dirty tramp,
with a ten-days-old beard on his face, with a dirty felt hat pulled over
one eye, and riding the brake beams on the way East? And before you got
off the beams, Andrew, the governor of this State will have signed a
pardon for you. Well, lad, what do you say?"

But Andrew, walking like one dazed, had crossed the room slowly. The
marshal saw him go across to the place where Sally stood; she met him
halfway, and, in her impudent way, tipped his hat half off his head with
a toss of her nose. He put his arm around her neck and they walked
slowly off together.

"Well," said Hal Dozier faintly, "what can you do with a man who don't
know how to choose between a horse and a girl?"





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