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A Dead Man Walks

From: 'drag' Harlan

Harlan had paid strict attention to Lane Morgan's words at Sentinel Rock,
and he remembered that Morgan had told him that his son, whom he had
called "Bill," had left the Rancho Seco on some mission for the governor.
Evidently it had not occurred to Morgan that his son's mission had taken
him only to the valley in which reigned those outlaws Morgan had reviled.

But it was plain to Harlan that "Billy" was here--he had said so himself,
and he had given proof that he had been watchful and alert to Barbara's
interests. And now was explained young Morgan's interest in himself. The
thought that during all the days he had spent at the Rancho Seco, his
movements had been watched by the man who had just killed Haydon, brought
a glow of ironic humor to Harlan's eyes.

During a long interval, through which Billy Morgan stood over Haydon,
watching him with a cold savagery, Harlan kept at a respectable distance,
also watching.

He saw that for Haydon the incident had been fatal. The man's body did
not move after it slipped to the ground beside the ranchhouse wall. Yet
Morgan watched until he was certain; then he slowly wheeled and looked at

"That settles him--damn him!" he said, with a breathlessness that told of
the intense strain he had been laboring under.

Still Harlan did not speak; and his guns were in their holsters when
Morgan walked close to him, grinning wanly.

"I had to do it. There's no use tryin' to depend on the law in this
country. You've seen that, yourself."

"I've noticed it," grinned Harlan. "You're feelin' bad over it. I
wouldn't. If it had been my dad he killed I couldn't have done any
different. I reckon any man with blood in him would feel that way about a
coyote like that killin' his father. If men don't feel that way, why do
they drag murderers to courts--where they have courts--an' ask the law to
kill them. That's just shovin' the responsibility onto some other guy.

"I've handed several guys their pass-out checks, an' I ain't regrettin'
one of them. There wasn't one of them that didn't have it comin' to him.
They was lookin' for it, mostly, an' had to have it. I've heard of guys
that had killed a man feelin' squeamish over it--with ghosts visitin'
them at night; an' sufferin' a lot of mental torture. I reckon any man
would feel that way if he'd killed an inoffensive man--or a good man, or
one that hadn't been tryin' to murder him." He grinned again. "Why, I'm

And now into his gaze as he looked at Morgan, came cold reproach.

"You wasn't figurin' to let Barbara play it a lone hand?" he said.

"Hell's fire--no!" denied Morgan, his eyes blazing. "I've been watchin'
the Rancho Seco--as I told Haydon. I saw Barbara set out for Lamo. There
was no one followin' her, an' so I thought she'd be all right. That mixup
at Lamo slipped me. But I seen you an' Barbara come back, an' I heard the
boys talkin' about what happened at Lamo. I'd heard of you, too; an' when
I seen you come back with Barbara I watched you. An' I seen you was
square, so I trusted you a heap.

"An' I had a talk with Sheriff Gage about you, an' he told me my dad had
sent to Pardo for you, through Dave Hallowell, the marshal of Pardo. Gage
said you was out to clean up Deveny an' Haydon, an' so I knowed I could
depend on you."

"Barbara don't know you're hangin' around here--she ain't known it?"

"Shucks, I reckon not," grinned Morgan. "I didn't come here for six
months after I left the Rancho Seco--until I growed a beard. Barbara's
been within a dozen feet of me, an' never knowed me. I've been thinkin'
of telling her, but I seen Haydon was sweet on her, an' I didn't dare
tell her. Women ain't reliable. She'd have showed it some way, an' then
there'd have been hell to pay."

"An' I've been pridin' myself on takin' care of Barbara," said Harlan. "I
feel a heap embarrassed an' useless--just like I'd been fooled."

"You've done a thing I couldn't do," confessed Morgan; "you've busted
Haydon's gang wide open. If you hadn't showed up there'd have been
nothin' done. There's some of the boys that ain't outlaws--boys that are
with me, havin' sneaked into the gang to help me out. But we wan't makin'
no headway to speak of."

Harlan looked at Haydon. "That guy was educated," he said. "What was his
game? I've felt all along that there was somethin' big back of him--that
he wasn't here just to steal cattle an' rob folks, an' such."

"You ain't heard," smiled Morgan. "Of course you wouldn't--unless Gage
had gassed to you.

"There's a gang of big men in Frisco, an' in the East, figurin' to run a
railroad through the basin. A year or so ago there was secret talk of it
in the capital. It leaked out that the railroad guys was intendin' to run
their road through the basin. They was goin' to build a town right where
the Rancho Seco lays; an' they was plannin' to irrigate a lot of the land
around there. The governor says it was to be big--an' likely it'll be
big, when they get around to it.

"But them things go slow, an' a gang of cheap crooks got wise to it. They
sent Haydon down here, to scare the folks in the basin into sellin' out
for a song. They've scared one man out--a Pole from the west end. But the
others have stuck. Looks like they was figurin' on grabbin' the Rancho
Seco without payin' anything for it--Haydon intendin', I reckon, to put
dad an' me out of the way an' marry Barbara. Then he could have cut the
ranch up into town lots an' made a mint of coin."

"An' Deveny?"

"Deveny's a wolf. Haydon brought him here from Arizona--where he'd
terrorized a whole county, runnin' it regardless. He figured to cash in,
I reckon, but he's been grabbin' up everything he could lay his hands on,
on the way."

"You'll be tellin' Barbara, now?" suggested Harlan.

"You're shoutin'!" said Morgan, his eyes glowing. "I'm hittin' the breeze
to the Rancho Seco for fair." He looked at Haydon, and his eyes took on a
new expression. "I was almost forgettin' what the governor sent me here
for," he added. "The governor was wantin' to know who is behind Haydon
an' Deveny, an' I'm rummagin' around in Haydon's office to find out.
Goin'?" he invited.

Both looked down at Haydon as they passed him, and an instant later they
were entering a door of the ranchhouse.

They had hardly disappeared when Haydon's head moved slightly.

His eyes were open; he glanced at the door of the ranchhouse through
which Harlan and Morgan had entered. Then he raised his head, dragged
himself to an elbow--upon which he rested momentarily, his face betraying
the bitter malignance and triumph that had seized him.

He had realized that Morgan had meant to kill him, even before Morgan had
revealed his identity, and his backward movement, which had brought him
against the wall of the ranchhouse had been made with design. He had felt
that even if he should succeed in beating Morgan, Harlan would have taken
up the quarrel, for he knew that Harlan also had designs on his life. And
with a cupidity aroused over the desperate predicament in which he found
himself, he had decided to take a forlorn chance.

Morgan's bullet had struck him, but by a convulsive side movement at the
instant Morgan's gun roared Haydon had escaped a fatal wound, and the
bullet had entered his left side above the heart, paralyzing one of the
big muscles of the shoulder.

His left arm was limp and useless, and dragged in the dust as he squirmed
around and gained his feet. There was no window in the wall of the
ranchhouse on that side; and he backed away, staggering a little, for he
had lost much blood. He kept the blank wall before him as he backed away
from the house; and when he reached his horse he was a long time getting
into the saddle. But he accomplished it at last; and sent the horse
slowly up the slope and into the timber out of which Harlan had ridden
with the black-bearded man on the day of his first visit to the Star.

Back where the trail converged with the main trail that ran directly up
the valley, Haydon, reeling in the saddle, sent his horse at a faster
pace, heading it toward the Cache where he was certain he would find
Deveny. And as he rode the triumph in his eyes grew. For he had heard
every word of the conversation between Harlan and Morgan, and he hoped to
get to the Cache before the two men discovered the trick he had played
upon them--before they could escape.

Next: Deveny Secedes

Previous: The Black-bearded Man

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