A Man's Reputation
From: 'drag' Harlan
Purgatory moved fast, but warily. The black horse seemed to have caught
something of his rider's caution. For part of the distance toward the
rock the animal traveled straight, loping rapidly, but as he neared the
little stretch of broken country that surrounded the rock he began to
sheer off, advancing with mincing steps, his ears erect, his eyes wide
and alert, snorting suspiciously.
Knowing his horse, the rider made no attempt to guide him; he knew
Purgatory was alert to any hostile movement on the part of the men who
were shooting, and that at the first sign of danger to himself or to his
rider he would do what was required of him.
The man on the summit of the rock was still shooting, though
intermittently. It seemed to the rider that the man's target must be
elusive or concealed, for the shooter's actions showed that he was
irritated. The other man, too, was still shooting. The rider noted that
he, too, seemed to be meeting with failure, for as the rider drew nearer
he heard the man curse.
Neither of the two men who were visible to the rider had seen
him--neither of them had heard the big black horse gliding over the deep
sand of the desert. The rider grinned with grim mirthlessness, edging
Purgatory around so that the two men, their backs toward him, were not
more than twenty or thirty feet away and entirely exposed to his view.
So intent were they upon their work that they did not even hear the
rider's low laugh as he brought the big black horse to a halt and sat
quietly in the saddle, a heavy pistol in each hand, watching them.
The rock, the rider noted, was a huge granite block, rotted from long
exposure to the elements, seamed and scarred and cracked. The action of
the eternally moving sand had worn an irregular-shaped concave into its
southern wall, so that the summit overhung the side. The man on the
summit was lying flat on his stomach, leaning far over, still shooting
downward. The other man, who was standing at the base, was flattened
against it, facing the concave side, shooting occasionally, and cursing
The rider was curious. Glancing sidelong, southward, he saw two horses
not more than a hundred yards away. They were in a depression, behind a
sand ridge, which accounted for the fact that the rider had not seen them
Sight of the horses brought a widening grin to the rider's face. He had
thought, at first, that the two men were shooting at another man,
concealed behind the rock; but the fact that there were only two horses
indicated that he had been in error. No man would be foolhardy enough to
attempt to cross the desert on foot, and unless a man were a friend he
would not be carried upon another man's horse. Therefore, it seemed to be
evident that the target at which the men were shooting was not another
And now, convinced that the men had cornered an animal of some kind, and
that they feared it too greatly to face it openly, the rider laughed
loudly and called to the men, his voice freighted with sarcasm.
"Scared?" he said. "Oh, don't be. If you'll back off a little an' give
him room, he'll just naturally slope, an' give you a chance to get to
Both men wheeled almost at the same instant. The man at the base of the
rock snarled--after the first gasp of astonishment, baring his teeth in
hideous mirth and embarrassment; the other man, startled and caught off
balance at the sound of the rider's voice, slipped, tried to catch
himself, failed, and tumbled awkwardly down, scrambling and cursing, to
the sand within a few feet of the rider.
Sitting in the sand at the base of the rock, the man who had fallen also
snarled as he sat, looking at the rider.
Neither of the two men moved after the involuntary muscular action that
had resulted from their astonishment. The man at the base of the rock
stood in the position in which he had found himself when he had wheeled.
The pistol in his right hand was held close to his side, the muzzle
directed at the rider.
But a change was coming over the man's face. The color was slowly going
out of it, the lips were loosening as his jaws dropped, his body began to
sag, and his eyes began to widen with fear, stark and naked. At length,
the rider now watching him with a gaze in which there began to glow
recognition and contempt, the man dropped his hands to his sides and
leaned against the rock.
"'Drag' Harlan!" he muttered hoarsely.
The rider watched, his eyes glittering coldly, his lips twisting in a
crooked sneer. Amusement was his dominating emotion, but there was hate
in his gaze, mingling with a malignant joy and triumph. The pistols in
his hands became steady as his wrist muscles stiffened; and he watched
the two men warily, apparently looking straight at the standing man, but
seeing the sitting man also.
And now a silence fell--a strained, premonitory silence that had in it a
hint of imminent tragedy. The sitting man stiffened, divining the promise
of violence; the standing man shrank back a little and looked downward at
the pistol in his right hand.
The rider saw the glance and laughed lowly.
"Keep her right where she is, Dolver," he warned. "You lift her one
little wee lift, an' I bore you plumb in the brain-box. Sort of
flabbergasted, eh? Didn't expect to run into me again so soon?"
He laughed as the other cringed, his face dead white, his eyes fixed on
the rider with a sort of dread fascination.
"Dolver, didn't you know when you got my little partner, Davey Langan,
that I'd be comin' for you?" said the rider in a slow, drawling whisper.
"In the back you got him, not givin' him a chance. You're gettin' yours
now. I'm givin' you a chance to take it like a man--standin', with your
face to me. Lift her now--damn you!"
There was no change in his expression as he watched the man he had called
Dolver. There came no change in the cold, steady gleam of his eyes as he
saw the man stiffen and swing the muzzle of his pistol upward with a
quick, jerky motion. But he sneered as with the movement he sent a bullet
into the man's chest; his lips curving with slight irony when Dolver's
gun went off, the bullet throwing up sand at Purgatory's forehoofs.
His eyes grew hard as he saw Dolver stagger, drop his pistol, and clutch
at his chest; and he watched with seeming indifference as the man slowly
sank to his knees and stretched out, face down, in the dust at the base
of the rock.
His lips were stiff with bitter rage, however, as he faced the other man,
who had not moved.
"Get up on your hind legs, you yellow coyote!" he commanded.
For an instant it seemed that the other man was to share the fate of the
first. The man seemed to think so, too, for he got up trembling, his
hands outstretched along the rock, the fingers outspread and twitching
from the paralysis of fear that had seized him.
"Shoot your gab off quick!" commanded the rider. "Who are you?"
"I'm Laskar," the man muttered.
"Where you from?"
The rider's eyes quickened. "Where did you meet up with that scum?" He
The man nodded.
"How long ago?" asked the rider.
"'Bout a week."
The man's voice was hoarse; he seemed reluctant to talk more, and he cast
furtive, dreading glances toward the base of the rock where Dolver had
stood before the rider had surprised the men.
Watching the man narrowly, the rider noted his nervous glance, and his
shrinking, dreading manner. Harlan's eyes gleamed with suspicion, and in
a flash he was off the black and standing before Laskar, forbidding and
"Take off your gun-belt an' chuck it under my horse!" he directed
sharply. "There's somethin' goin' on here that ain't been mentioned. I'm
findin' out what it is."
He watched while the man unbuckled his cartridge belt and threw it--the
pistol still in the holster--into the sand at Purgatory's hoofs. Then he
stepped to the man, sheathed one of his pistols, and ran the free hand
over the other's clothing in search of other weapons. Finding none, he
stooped and took up Dolver's pistol and rifle that had fallen from the
man's hands when he had tumbled off the rock, throwing them near where
the cartridge belt had fallen.
"You freeze there while I take a look around this rock!" he commanded,
with a cold look at the man.
Half a dozen steps took him around the base of the rock. He went boldly,
though his muscles were tensed and his eyes alert for surprises. But he
had not taken a dozen steps in all when he halted and stiffened, his lips
setting into straight, hard lines.
For, stretched out on his left side in the sand close to the base of the
rock--under the flattened summit which had afforded him protection from
the bullets the man with the rifle had been sending at him--was a man.
The man was apparently about fifty, with a seamed, pain-lined face. His
beard was stained with dust, his hair was gray with it; his clothing
looked as though he had been dragged through it. He was hatless, and one
of his boots was off. The foot had been bandaged with a handkerchief, and
through the handkerchief the dark stains of a wound appeared.
The man's shirt was open in front; and the rider saw that another wound
gaped in his chest, near the heart. The man had evidently made some
attempt to care for that wound, too, for a piece of cloth from his shirt
had been cut away, to permit him to get at the wound easily.
The man's left side seemed to be helpless, for the arm was twisted
queerly, the palm of the hand turned limply upward; but when the rider
came upon him the man was trying to tuck a folded paper into one of the
cylinders of a pistol.
He had laid the weapon in the sand, and with his right hand was working
with the cylinder and the paper. When he saw the rider he sneered and
ceased working with the pistol, looking up into the rider's face, his
eyes glowing with defiance.
"No chance for that even, eh?" he said, glancing at the paper and the
pistol. "Things is goin' plumb wrong!"
He sagged back, resting his weight on the right elbow, and looked
steadily at the rider--the look of a wounded animal defying his pursuers.
"Get goin'!" he jeered. "Do your damnedest! I heard that sneak, Dolver,
yappin' to you. You're 'Drag' Harlan--gun-fighter, outlaw, killer! I've
heard of you," he went on as he saw Harlan scowl and stiffen. "Your
reputation has got all over. I reckon you're in the game to salivate me."
Harlan sheathed his gun.
"You're talkin' extravagant, mister man." And now he permitted a cold
smile to wreathe his lips. "If it'll do you any good to know," he added,
"I've just put Dolver out of business."
"I heard that, too," declared the man, laughing bitterly. "I heard you
tellin' Dolver. He killed your partner--or somethin'. That's personal,
an' I ain't interested. Get goin'--the sooner the better. If you'd hand
it to me right now, I'd be much obliged to you; for I'm goin' fast. This
hole in my chest--which I got last night while I was sleepin'--will do
the business without any help from you."
After a pause for breath, the man began to speak again, railing at his
would-be murderers. He was talking ramblingly when there came a sound
from the opposite side of the rock--a grunt, a curse, and, almost
instantly, a shriek.
The wounded man raised himself and threw a glance of startled inquiry at
Harlan: "What's that?"
Harlan watched the man steadily.
"I reckon that'll be that man Laskar," he said slowly. "I lifted his gun
an' his rifle, an' Dolver's gun, an' throwed them under Purgatory--my
horse. Laskar has tried to get them, an' Purgatory's raised some
He stepped back and peered around the rock. Laskar was lying in the sand
near the base of the rock, doubled up and groaning loudly, while
Purgatory, his nostrils distended, his eyes ablaze, was standing over the
weapons that lay in the sand, watching the groaning man malignantly.
Harlan returned to the wounded man, to find that he had collapsed and was
For some minutes Harlan stood, looking down at him; then he knelt in the
sand beside him and lifted his head. The man's eyes were closed, and
Harlan laid his head down again and examined the wound in his chest.
He shook his head as he got up, went to Purgatory, and got some water,
which he used to wipe away the dust and blood which had become matted
over the wound. He shook his head again after bathing the wound. The
wound meant death for the man within a short time. Yet Harlan forced some
water into the half-open mouth and bathed the man's face with it.
For a long time after Harlan ceased to work with him the man lay in a
stupor-like silence, limp and motionless, though his eyes opened
occasionally, and by the light in them Harlan knew the man was aware of
what he had been doing.
The sun was going now; it had become a golden, blazing ball which was
sinking over the peaks of some distant mountains, its fiery rays stabbing
the pale azure of the sky with brilliantly glowing shafts that threw off
ever-changing seas of color that blended together in perfect harmony.
Harlan alternately watched the wounded man and Laskar.
Laskar was still groaning, and finally Harlan walked to him and pushed
him with a contemptuous foot.
"Get up, you sneak!" he ordered. And Laskar, groaning, holding his
chest--where Purgatory's hoofs had struck him--staggered to his feet and
looked with piteously pleading eyes at the big man who stood near him,
unmoved by the spectacle of suffering he presented.
And when he found that Harlan gave him no sympathy, he cursed horribly.
This drew a cold threat from Harlan.
"Shut your rank mouth or I'll turn Purgatory loose on you--again. Lookin'
for sympathy, eh? How much sympathy did you give that hombre who's
cashin' in behind the rocks? None--damn you!"
It was the first flash of feeling Harlan had exhibited, and Laskar shrank
from him in terror.
But Harlan followed him, grasping him by a shoulder and gripping it with
iron fingers, so that Laskar screamed with pain.
"Who is that man?" Harlan motioned toward the rock.
"Lane Morgan. He owns the Rancho Seco--about forty miles south of Lamo,"
returned Laskar after a long look into Harlan's eyes.
"Who set you guys onto him--what you wantin' him for?"
"I don't know," whined Laskar. "Day before yesterday Dolver an' me meets
up in Lamo, an' Dolver asks me to help him give Morgan his pass-out
checks on the ride over to Pardo--which Morgan's intendin' to make. I
ain't got any love for Morgan, an' so I took Dolver up."
"You're a liar!"
Harlan's fingers were sinking into Laskar's shoulder again, and once more
the man screamed with pain and impotent fury.
"I swear--" began Laskar.
Harlan's grin was bitterly contemptuous. He placed the other hand on
Laskar's shoulder and forced the man to look into his eyes.
"You're a liar, but I'm lettin' you off. You're a sneak with Greaser
blood in you. I don't ever want to see you again. I'm goin' to Lamo--soon
as this man Morgan cashes in. I'll be there some time tomorrow. Lamo
wouldn't please me none if I was to find you there when I ride in. You
slope, now--an' keep on hittin' the breeze until there ain't no more of
it. I'd blow you apart if this man Morgan was anything to me. But it
ain't my game unless I see you again."
He watched until Laskar, still holding his chest, walked to where the two
horses were concealed, and mounted one of them. When Laskar, leaning over
the pommel of the saddle, had grown dim in the haze that was settling
over the desert, Harlan scowled and returned to the wounded man.
To his astonishment, Morgan was conscious--and a cold calmness seemed to
have come over him. His eyes were filled with a light that told of
complete knowledge and resignation. He half smiled as Harlan knelt beside
"I'm about due, I reckon," he said. "I heard you talkin' to the man you
just let get away. It don't make any difference--about him. I reckon he
was just a tool, anyway. There's someone behind this bigger than Dolver
an' that man Laskar. He didn't tell you?"
Harlan shook his head negatively, watching the other intently.
"I didn't reckon he would," said Morgan. "But there's somebody." He
gazed long into Harlan's face, and the latter gazed steadily back at him.
He seemed to be searching Harlan's face for signs of character.
Harlan stood the probing glance well--so that at last Morgan smiled,
saying slowly: "It's funny--damned funny. About faces, I mean. Your
reputation--it's bad. I've been hearin' about you for a couple of years
now. An' I've been lookin' at you an' tryin' to make myself say, 'Yes,
he's the kind of a guy which would do the things they say he's done.'
"I can't make myself say it; I can't even make myself think it. Either
you're a mighty good actor, or you're the worst-judged man I ever met.
Which is it?"
"Mostly all of us get reputations we don't deserve," said Harlan lowly.
Morgan's eyes gleamed with satisfaction. "Meanin' that you don't deserve
yours?" he said.
"I reckon there's been a heap of lyin' goin' on about me."
For a long time Morgan watched the other, studying him. The long twilight
of the desert descended and found them--Morgan staring at Harlan; the
latter enduring the gaze--for he knew that the end would not long be
At last Morgan sighed.
"Well," he said, "I've got to take a chance on you. An', somehow, it
seems to me that I ain't takin' much of a chance, either. For a man
that's supposed to be the hell-raisin' outlaw that folks say you are,
you've got the straightest eyes I ever seen. I've seen killers--an'
outlaws, an' gun-fighters, an' I never seen one that could look at a man
like you've looked at me. Harlan," he went on slowly, "I'm goin' to tell
you about some gold I've hid--a hundred thousand dollars!"
Keenly, suspicion lurking deep in his eyes, his mouth half open,
seemingly ready to snap shut the instant he detected greed or cupidity in
Harlan's eyes, he watched the latter.
It seemed that he expected Harlan to betray a lust for the gold he had
mentioned; and he was ready to close his lips and to die with his secret.
And when he saw that apparently Harlan was unmoved, that he betrayed,
seemingly, not the slightest interest, that even his eyelids did not
flicker at his words, nor his face change color--Morgan drew a tremulous
"You've got me guessin'," he confessed weakly. "I don't know whether
you're a devil or a saint."
"I ain't claimin' nothin'," said Harlan. "An' I ain't carin' a damn about
your gold. I'd a heap rather you wouldn't mention it. More than one man
has busted his character chasin' that rainbow."
"You ain't interested?" demanded Morgan.
Morgan's eyes glowed with an eager light. For now that Harlan betrayed
lack of interest, Morgan was convinced--almost--that the man's reputation
for committing evil deeds had been exaggerated.
"You've got to be interested," he declared, lifting himself on his good
arm and leaning toward Harlan. "It ain't the gold that is botherin' me so
much, anyway--it's my daughter.
"It's all my own fault, too," he went on when he saw Harlan's eyes
quicken. "I've felt all along that somethin' was wrong, but I didn't have
sense enough to look into it. An' now, trustin' folks so much, an' not
payin' strict attention to what was goin' on around me, I've got to the
point where I've got to put everything into the hands of a man I never
saw before--an outlaw."
"There ain't nobody crowdin' you to put anything into his hands," sneered
Harlan. "I ain't a heap anxious to go around buttin' into trouble for
you. Keep your yap shut, an' die like a man!"
Morgan laughed, almost triumphantly. "I'll do my dyin' like a man, all
right--don't be afraid of that. You want to hear what I've got to tell
"I've got to listen. Shoot!"
"There's a gang of outlaws operatin' in the Lamo country. Luke Deveny is
the chief. It's generally known that Deveny's the boss, but he keeps his
tracks pretty well covered, an' Sheriff Gage ain't been able to get
anything on him. Likely Gage is scared of him, anyway.
"Anyway, Gage don't do nothin'. Deveny's a bad man with a gun; there
ain't his equal in the Territory. He's got a fellow that runs with
him--Strom Rogers--who's almost as good as he is with a gun. They're holy
terrors; they've got the cattlemen for two hundred miles around eatin'
out of their hands. They're roarin', rippin' devils!
"There ain't no man knows how big their gang is--seems like half the
people in the Lamo country must belong to it. There's spies all around;
there ain't a thing done that the outlaws don't seem to know of it. They
drive stock off right in front of the eyes of the owners; they rob the
banks in the country; they drink an' kill an' riot without anyone
"There ain't anyone knows where their hang-out is--no one seems to know
anything about them, except that they're on hand when there's any
devilment to be done.
"I've got to talk fast, for I ain't got long. I've never had any trouble
with Deveny or Rogers, or any of the rest of them, because I've always
tended to my own business. I've seen the thing gettin' worse an' worse,
though; an' I ought to have got out of there when I had a chance. Lately
there ain't been no chance. They watch me like a hawk. I can't trust my
men. The Rancho Seco is a mighty big place, an' I've got thirty men
workin' for me. But I can't trust a damned one of them.
"About a year ago I found some gold in the Cisco Mountains near the
ranch. It was nugget gold--only a pocket. I packed it home, lettin'
nobody see me doin' it; an' I got it all hid in the house, except the
last batch, before anybody knowed anything about it. Then, comin' home
with the last of it, the damned bottom had to bust out of the bag right
near the corral gate, where Meeder Lawson, my foreman, was standin'
"It turned out that he'd been watchin' me for a long time. I never liked
the cuss, but he's a good cowman, an' I had to hold onto him. When he saw
the gold droppin' out an' hittin' the ground like big hailstones, he
grinned that chessie-cat grin he's got, an' wanted to know if I was
through totin' it home.
"I wanted to know how he knowed there was more of it, an' he said he'd
been keepin' an eye on me, an' knowed there was a heap more of it
"I fired him on the spot. There'd have been gunplay, but I got the drop
on him an' he had to slope. Well, the next mornin' Luke Deveny rode up to
where I was saddlin', an' told me I'd have to take Lawson back.
"I done so, for I knowed there'd be trouble with the outlaws if I didn't.
I ain't never been able to get any of that gold to the assayer. They've
been watchin' me like buzzards on a limb over some carrion. I don't get
out of their sight.
"An' now they've finally got me. I've got a little of the gold in my
pocket now--here it is." He drew out a small buckskin bag and passed it
to Harlan, who took it and held it loosely in his hands, not taking his
gaze from Morgan.
"Keep a-goin'," suggested Harlan.
"Interested, eh?" grinned Morgan; "I knowed you'd be. Well, here I am--I
didn't get to the assay office at Pardo; an' I'll never get there now."
He paused and then went on:
"Now they're after Barbara, my daughter. Deveny--an' Strom Rogers, an'
some more--all of them, I reckon. I ought to have got out long ago. But
it's too late now, I reckon.
"That damned Deveny--he's a wolf with women. Handsome as hell, with ways
that take with most any woman that meets him. An' he's as smooth an' cold
an' heartless as the devil himself. He ain't got no pity for nobody or
nothin'. An' Strom Rogers runs him a close second. An' there's more of
them almost as bad.
"They watch every trail that runs from the Rancho Seco to--to anywhere.
If I ride north there's someone watchin' me. If I ride south there's a
man on my trail. If I go east or west I run into a man or two who's
takin' interest in me. When I go to Lamo, there'll be half a dozen men
strike town about the same time.
"I can't prove they are Deveny's men--but I know it, for they're always
around. An' it's the same way with Barbara--she can't go anywhere without
Deveny, or Rogers--or some of them--ain't trailin' her.
"As I said, the sheriff can't do anything--or he won't. He looks worried
when I meet him, an' gets out of my way, for fear I'll ask him to do
"That's the way it stands. An' now Barbara will have to play it a lone
hand against them. Bill Morgan--that's my son--ain't home. He's
gallivantin' around the country, doin' some secret work for the governor.
Somethin' about rustlers an' outlaws. He ought to be home now, to protect
Barbara. But instead he's wastin' his time somewheres else when he ought
to be here--in Lamo--where's there's plenty of the kind of guys he's
"There's only one man in the country I trust. He's John Haydon, of the
Star ranch--about fifteen miles west of the Rancho Seco. Seems to me that
Haydon's square. He's an upstandin' man of about thirty, an' he's dead
stuck on Barbara. Seems to me that if it wasn't for Haydon, Deveny, or
Lawson, or Rogers, or some of them scum would have run off with Barbara
"You see how she shapes up?" he queried as he watched Harlan's face.
"Looks bad for Barbara," said Harlan slowly.
Morgan writhed and was silent for a time.
"Look here, Harlan," he finally said; "you're considered to be a
hell-raiser yourself, but I can see in your eyes that you ain't takin'
advantage of women. An' Harlan"--Morgan's voice quavered--"there's my
little Barbara all alone to take care of herself with that gang of wolves
around. I'm wantin' you to go to the Rancho Seco an' look around. My wife
died last year. There's mebbe two or three guys around the ranch would
stick to Barbara, but that's all. Take a look at John Haydon, an' if you
think he's on the level--an' you want to drift on--turn things over to
Morgan shuddered, and was silent for a time, his lips tight-shut, his
face whitening in the dusk as he fought the pain that racked him. When he
at last spoke again his voice was so weak that Harlan had to kneel and
lean close to him to hear the low-spoken words that issued from between
his quavering lips:
"Harlan--you're white; you've got to be white--to Barbara! That paper I
was tryin' to stuff into my gun--when you come around the rock. You take
it. It'll tell you where the gold is. You'll find my will--in my desk in
my office--off the patio. Everything goes to Barbara. Everybody knows
that. Haydon knows it--Deveny's found it out. You can't get me back--it's
too far. Plant me here--an' tell Barbara." He laughed hollowly. "I reckon
that's all." He felt for one of Harlan's hands, found it, and gripped it
with all his remaining strength. His voice was hoarse, quavering:
"You won't refuse, Harlan? You can't refuse! Why, my little Barbara will
be all alone, man! What a damned fool I've been not to look out for her!"
Night had come, and Morgan could not see Harlan's face. But he was
conscious of the firm grip of Harlan's hands, and he laughed lowly and
"You'll do it--for Barbara--won't you? Say you will, man! Let me hear you
"I'm givin' you my word," returned Harlan slowly. And now he leaned still
closer to the dying man and whispered long to him.
When he concluded Morgan fought hard to raise himself to a sitting
posture; he strained, dragging himself in the sand in an effort to see
Harlan's face. But the black desert night had settled over them, and all
Morgan could see of Harlan was the dim outlines of his head.
"Say it again, man! Say it again, an' light a match so's I can see you
while you're sayin' it!"
There was a pause. Then a match flared its light revealing Harlan's face,
set in serious lines.
"I wouldn't lie to you--now--Morgan," he said; "I'm goin' to the Lamo
country to bust up Deveny's gang."
Morgan stared hard at the other while the flickering light lasted with a
strained intensity that transfigured his face, suffusing it with a glow
that could not have been more eloquent with happiness had the supreme
Master of the universe drawn back the mysterious veil of life to permit
him to look upon the great secret.
When the match flickered and went out, and the darkness of the desert
reigned again, Morgan sank back with a tremulous, satisfied sigh.
"I'm goin' now," he said; "I'm goin'--knowin' God has been good to me."
He breathed fast, gaspingly. And for a moment he spoke hurriedly, as
though fearful he would not be given time to say what he wanted to say:
"Someone plugged me--last night while I was sleepin'. Shot me in the
chest--here. Didn't give me no chance. There was three of them. My fire
had gone out an' I couldn't see their faces. Likely Laskar an' Dolver was
two. The other one must have sloped. It was him shot me. Tried to knife
me, too; but I fought him, an' he broke away. It happened behind a
rock--off to the left--a red boulder.
"I grabbed at him an' caught somethin'. What it was busted. I couldn't
wait to find out what it was. I'm hopin' it's somethin' that'll help you
to find out who the man was. I ain't goin' to be mean--just when I'm
dyin'; but if you was to look for that thing, find it, an' could tell who
the man is, mebbe some day you'd find it agreeable to pay him for what he
done to me."
He became silent; no sound except his fast, labored breathing broke the
dead calm of the desert night.
"Somethin' more than the gold an' Barbara back of it all," he muttered
thickly, seeming to lapse into a state of semiconsciousness in which the
burden that was upon his mind took the form of involuntary speech:
"Somethin' big back of it--somethin' they ain't sayin' nothin' about. But
Harlan--he'll take care of--" He paused; then his voice leaped. "Why,
there's Barbara now! Why, honey, I thought--I--why----"
His voice broke, trailing off into incoherence.
After a while Harlan rose to his feet. An hour later he found the red
rock Morgan had spoken of--and with a flaming bunch of mesquite in hand
he searched the vicinity.
In a little depression caused by the heel of a boot he came upon a
glittering object, which he examined in the light of the flaming
mesquite, which he had thrown into the sand after picking up the
glittering object. Kneeling beside the dying flame he discovered that the
glittering trifle he had found was a two- or three-inch section of gold
watch chain of peculiar pattern. He tucked it into a pocket of his
Later, he mounted Purgatory and fled into the appalling blackness,
heading westward--the big black horse loping easily.
The first streaks of dawn found Purgatory drinking deeply from the
green-streaked moisture of Kelso's water-hole. And when the sun stuck a
glowing rim over the desert's horizon, to resume his rule over the baked
and blighted land, the big black horse and his rider were traveling
steadily, the only life visible in the wide area of desolation--a moving
blot, an atom behind which was death and the eternal, whispered promise
Next: A Girl Waits
Previous: A Desert Rider