Barbara Sees A Light
From: 'drag' Harlan
When Barbara regained consciousness it was with a gasp of horror over the
realization of what had happened. She stiffened immediately, however, and
lay, straining at the dread paralysis that had gripped her; for she saw
Harlan standing at her side, looking down into her face, his own set in a
She must have fainted again, for it seemed to her that a long period of
time elapsed until she again became conscious of her surroundings. Harlan
had moved off a little, though he was still watching her with the grimly
She sat up, staring wildly at him; then shrank back, getting as far away
from him as she could.
"You!" she gasped, "You! Didn't I----"
He interrupted her, drawling his words a little:
"The guy you shot was Lawson. You bored him a heap. I've toted him
downstairs. He's plenty dead. It was plumb good shootin'--for a woman."
His words shocked her to action, and she got up and walked around the
foot of the bed, from where she could see the spot where the intruder
must have fallen after she had shot him. A dark stain showed on the floor
where the man had lain, and the sight of it sent her a step backward, so
that she struck the foot of the bed. She caught at the bed and grasped
one of the posts, holding tightly to it while she looked Harlan over with
dreading, incredulous eyes.
"It--it wasn't you!" she demanded. "Are you sure?"
He smiled and said, slowly and consolingly: "I reckon if you'd shot me
I'd be knowin' it. Don't take it so hard, ma'am. Why, if a man goes to
breakin' into a woman's room that way he sure ain't fit to go on livin'
in a world where there is a woman."
"It was Lawson--you say? Meeder Lawson--the Rancho Seco foreman? I
thought--why, I thought it was you!"
"I'm thankin' you, ma'am," he said, ironically. "But if you'll just stick
your head out of that window, you'll see it was Lawson, right enough.
He's layin' right below the window."
She did as bidden, and she saw Lawson lying on the ground beneath the
window, flat on his back, his face turned upward with the radiant
moonlight shining full upon his wide-open, staring eyes.
Barbara glanced swiftly, and then drew back into the room, shuddering.
Harlan stood, silently regarding her, while she walked again to the bed
and sat upon it, staring out into the flood of moonlight, her face
ghastly, her hands hanging limply at her sides.
She had killed a man. And though there was justification for the deed,
she could not fight down the shivering horror that had seized her, the
overpowering and terrible knowledge that she had taken human life.
She sat on the edge of the bed for a long time, and Harlan said no word
to her, standing motionless, his arms folded, one hand slowly caressing
his chin, as he watched her.
After a time, drawing a long, shuddering breath, she looked up at him.
"How did you know--what made you come--here?" she asked.
"I wasn't reckonin' to sleep tonight--havin' thoughts--about things," he
said. "I was puttin' in a heap of my time settin' in the doorway of the
bunkhouse, wonderin' what had made you so scared of me. While I was
tryin' to figure it out I saw Lawson comin'. There was somethin' in his
actions which didn't jibe with my ideas of square dealin', an' so I kept
lookin' at him. An' when I saw him prowlin' around, tryin' to open doors
an' windows, why, I just naturally trailed him. An' I found the window he
opened. I reckon that's all."
She got up, swaying a little, a wan smile on her face that reflected her
astonishment and wonder over the way she had jumbled things. For this
man--the man she had feared when she had left him standing outside the
door some hours before--had been eager to protect her from the other, who
had attacked her. He had been waiting, watching.
Moreover, there was in Harlan's eyes as he stood in the room a
considerate, deferential gleam that told her more than words could have
conveyed to her--a something that convinced her that he was not the type
of man she had thought him.
The knowledge filled her with a strange delight. There was relief in her
eyes, and her voice was almost steady when she again spoke to him:
"Harlan," she said, "did father really send you here? Did he make you
promise to come?"
"I reckon he did, ma'am," he said.
For an instant she looked fairly at him, intently searching his eyes for
indications of untruthfulness. Then she drew a long breath of conviction.
"I believe you," she said.
Harlan swept his hat from his head. He bowed, and there was an odd leap
in his voice:
"That tickles me a heap, ma'am. I don't know when I've heard anything
that pleased me more."
He backed away from her until he reached the doorway. And she saw his
eyes--wide and eloquent--even in the subdued light of the doorway.
"I'd go to sleep now, ma'am, if I was you. You need it a heap. It's been
a long day for you--an' things ain't gone just right. I don't reckon
there'll be anybody botherin' you any more tonight."
"And you?" she asked, "won't you try to get some sleep, too?"
He laughed, telling her that he would "ketch a wink or two." Then he
turned and went down the stairs--she could hear him as he opened a lower
door and went out.
Looking out of the window an instant later, she saw him taking Lawson's
body away. And still later, hearing a sound outside, she stole to the
Below, seated on the threshold of the door that led into the room she had
entered when she had crossed the patio, she saw Harlan. He was smoking
a cigarette, leaning against the door jamb in an attitude of complete
There was something in his manner that comforted her--a calm confidence,
a slow ease of movement as he fingered his cigarette that indicated
perfect tranquility--an atmosphere of peace that could not have
surrounded him had he meditated any evil whatever.
She knew, now, that she had misjudged him. For he had made no attempt to
take advantage of her loneliness and helplessness. And whatever his
reputation--whatever the crimes he had committed against the laws--he had
been a gentleman in his attitude toward her. That feature of his conduct
dominated her thoughts as she stretched out on the bed; it was her last
coherent thought as she went to sleep.
Next: Harlan Takes Charge
Previous: The Intruder