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Converging Trails








From: 'drag' Harlan

An hour or so later, Harlan, having finished his labors in a clearing at
the edge of the level near the gorge, climbed slowly on Purgatory and
sent him back down the valley trail toward the Star.

From the first his sympathies for Barbara had been deep, beginning on the
evening Lane Morgan had mentioned her in his presence--when the man
seemed to see her in that strange, awesome moment before his death--when
he had seemed to hold out his arms to her. Later, at Lamo, when Harlan
had held the girl in his arms, he felt that at that instant he must have
experienced much the same protective impulse that Morgan would have felt,
had the experience occurred to him. Harlan had been slightly cynical
until that minute; but since then he had known that his rage against the
outlaws was deeply personal.

That rage, though, had centered most heavily upon Deveny. He had hated
Haydon, too--from the first. In the beginning it had been a jealous
hatred, aroused over the conviction that Barbara loved the man. But
later--when he had discovered that Haydon was the mysterious "Chief,"
that he was the real murderer of Lane Morgan, and that behind his
professed love for the girl was meditated trickery--his hatred had become
a passion in which Barbara did not figure.

His hatred for Haydon, though, could not be compared with the passionate
contempt and loathing he felt for Deveny. The man had attempted, in Lamo,
a thing that Harlan had always abhorred, and the memory of that time was
still vivid in Harlan's brain.

Into Harlan's heart as he rode toward the Star flamed that ancient
loathing, paling his face and bringing a gleam to his eyes that had been
in them often of late--a lust for the lives of the men whose evil deeds
and sinister influence had kept Barbara a virtual prisoner at the Rancho
Seco.

He rode the valley trail slowly, his thoughts upon Barbara, his lips
straightening when he thought of how he would have to return to the
Rancho Seco, some day, to tell her of her brother's death. Twice had
tragedy visited her, and again he would be the messenger to bring her the
grim news.

When he reached the Star he rode up to the corral fence and dismounted.
He stood for a long time at the fence, his elbows on one of the rails,
his thoughts dwelling upon Barbara. Pity for her whitened his face, set
his lips in rigid lines.

She had been in danger, but it seemed to him that it would soon be over.
For Haydon would bother the girl no more, and as soon as he could meet
Deveny he would remove another menace to Barbara's life and happiness.

He had no regrets for the men he had killed; they deserved what he had
given them. As he had told Morgan, he had considered himself merely an
instrument of the law of right and justice--which law was based upon the
very principle that governed men in civilized communities.

He was facing south, and he raised his head after a few minutes, for upon
the slight breeze was borne to him the rapid drumming of hoofs. As he
looked up he saw, far out toward the southern edge of the valley, a dust
cloud, moving swiftly toward him.

At first he suspected that the men in the group belonged to Deveny, and
he drew out his pistols, one after the other, and examined them--for he
decided--if Deveny was among the men--to settle for good the question of
power and authority that Haydon had raised.

When the men came closer, though, swooping toward the ranchhouse like
feathers before a hurricane, he saw that Rogers was among them.

Then, as the men came toward him down along the corral fence, Harlan saw
that Rogers' eyes were wide with excitement. And he stood, his face
darkening, as Rogers told him what he had seen, and voiced his
suspicions.

"We're with you, Harlan," declared Rogers, sweeping a hand toward the
men; "an' them other boys which have trailed Deveny, are with you. We're
out to 'get' Deveny if you say the word; and that thief, Haydon, too."

Harlan did not answer. He grinned at the men, though, and at
Rogers--acknowledging his gratitude for their decision to be "with" him;
then he turned, leaped on Purgatory, and sent the big beast thundering
toward the timber that led to the main trail.

Their voices silent, their horses falling quickly into the pace set by
the big black, Rogers and the other men followed.

The other half of Rogers' men, headed by Colver, were several miles
behind Deveny's horsemen when they reached the South Trail. They gained
very little on the other men, though, for Deveny and his men were just
then racing Barbara to the point where the trails converged, having seen
her. But during Deveny's halt at the covert, where he had shot Stroud,
Colver's men gained, and they were not more than two or three miles from
the covert when Deveny's men left it.

From the shelving trail, ever sweeping toward the trail in the valley,
Colver had noted the halt at the covert, though he had not seen Barbara,
nor Stroud. He had seen, of course, that Deveny had not gone to the
Rancho Seco, that for some reason or other he had swerved, taking the
trail up the valley.

Colver was puzzled, but he remembered Rogers' orders, and when he and his
men reached the covert, they halted. They came upon Stroud, lying near
some bushes, and they saw his horse, grazing on the tall grass near by.
They had reached the covert too late to see Barbara's pony; and when they
remounted, after taking a look at Stroud, they caught a glimpse of a lone
horseman racing up the valley in the direction taken by Deveny and his
men.

The lone horseman was Red Linton, though Colver did not know it, for the
South Trail dipped into the basin miles before it emerged to the level at
the point of convergence with the other trail, and Colver had not seen
Linton when he had passed.

Colver and his men fled up the valley, following the trail taken by
Deveny and the lone horseman, and when they had gone two or three miles
they saw a rider coming toward them. They raced toward him, for they saw
he was in trouble; that he had lashed himself to the pommel of the
saddle, and that he was leaning far over it, limp and inert.

Linton was not unconscious, but he was very near it; so near that he
seemed to dream that men were around him and that voices were directed at
him.

Into his mind as he straightened and looked at the men finally came the
conviction that this was not a dream; and after an instant of intense
effort, during which he fixed his gaze on Colver, he recognized the
other.

He laughed, grimly, mockingly:

"Front an' rear--eh?" he said. "You got me, goin' an' comin'. Well, go to
it--I deserve it, for lettin' Barbara out of my sight. If you don't kill
me, Harlan will. But if you guys are men, you won't let Deveny----"

"Deveny's got Barbara Morgan?"

This was Colver. Something in his voice straightened Linton further, and
he steadied himself in the saddle and looked fairly at the man.

"Deveny's got her. An' they got me--chasin' 'em. I was headin' back to
the Rancho Seco, to get the T Down boys--all Harlan's friends--to wipe
Deveny out. If you guys are men----"

Sheer will could no longer support Linton's failing muscles--and he again
collapsed over the pommel.

For an instant only did Colver hesitate. Then he turned to a lean rider
who bestrode a tall, rangy horse. He spoke sharply to the rider:

"Hit the breeze to the Rancho Seco, an' get them T Down boys. Fan it,
damn you!"

The rider was off with the word, leaping his horse down the trail with
dizzying speed. Then Colver loosed the rope that held Linton to the
saddle, and with the help of the other men lifted the man down and
stretched him in a plot of grass beside the trail, where they worked over
him until they saw, far out on the level toward the Rancho Seco, a number
of horsemen coming, seemingly abreast, as though they were racing, each
man trying his best to outstrip the others.





Next: World's End

Previous: A Dual Tragedy



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