From: The Seventh Man
A light step crossed the outer room, with something peculiar in its
lightness, as if the heel were not touching the floor, with the effect of
the padded fall of the feet of some great cat; there was both softness and
the sense of weight. First the wolf-dog pricked his ears and turned towards
the door, the pudgy fist closed convulsively over Vic's thumb, and then his
rescuer stood in the entrance.
"Hello, partner," called Vic. "I got company, you see. The door blew open
and I asked your little girl in."
"I told you not to come here," said the other. Vic felt the child tremble,
but there was no burst of excuses.
"She didn't want to come," he urged. "But I kep' on askin' her."
The emotionless eye of "Daddy Dan" held upon Joan. "I told you not to
come," he said. Joan swallowed in mute agony, and the wolf-dog slipped to
the side of the master and licked his hand as though in dumb intercession.
The blood ran coldly in the veins of Gregg, as if he saw a fist raised to
strike the little girl.
"You go out."
She went swiftly, at that, sidled past her father with her eyes lifted,
fascinated, and so out the door where she paused an instant to flash back a
wistful appeal. Nothing but silence, and then her feet pattering off into
the outer room.
"Maybe you better go keep her company, Bart," said the father, and at this
sign of relenting Vic felt his tensed muscles relaxing; the wolf whined
softly and glided through the door.
"You feeling better?"
"Like a hoss off green feed. I been lyin' here drinkin' up the sunshine."
The other stood beside the open window and there he canted his head, his
glance far off and intent.
"D'you hear?" he asked, turning sharply.
There was a fierce eagerness in his face.
"It's spring," he murmured, without answering more directly than this, and
Vic felt that the other had changed again, grown understandable.
Nevertheless, the shock of that sudden alteration at the window kept him
watching his host with breathless interest. Whatever it was that the
strange fellow heard, a light had gleamed in his eyes for a moment. As he
sauntered back towards the bed just a trace of it lingered about him, a
hint of sternness.
"Spring?" answered Gregg. "Yep, I smelled spring a few days back and I
started out to find some action. You can see for yourself that I found it,
partner." He stirred, uneasily, but it was necessary that the story should
be told lest it reach the ears of this man from another source. It was one
thing to shelter a fugitive from justice whose crime was unknown, perhaps
trifling, but it might be quite another story if this gentle, singular man
learned that his guest was a new-made murderer. Better that he should learn
the tale now and form his prejudices in favor of Gregg. "I'll tell you the
whole story," he began.
But the other shrugged his shoulders.
"You leave the story be," he said, and there was something in the quiet
firmness of his manner which made it impossible for Vic to continue.
"You're here and you're hurt and you need a pile of rest. That's about
enough story for me."
Vic put himself swiftly in the place of the other. Suppose that he and
Betty Neal should have a cabin off in the mountains like this, how would
they receive a wounded fugitive from justice? As unquestioningly as this?
In a surge of gratitude he looked mistily towards his host.
"Stranger," he said, "you're white. Damned white. That's all. My name's Vic
Gregg and I come from--"
"Thanks," cut in the other. "I'm glad to know your name but in case anybody
might be askin' me I wouldn't care to know where you come from." He smiled.
"I'm Dan Barry."
It had to be a left-handed shake on the part of Vic, a thing of which he
often thought in the days that followed, but now he sent his memory
"Seems like I've heard your name before," he murmured. "I dunno where. Were
you ever around Alder, Barry?"
"No." His manner suggested that the topic might as well be closed. He
reached over and dropped his hand lightly on the forehead of Vic. A
tingling current flowed from it into the brain of the wounded man. "Your
blood's still a bit hot," he added. "Lie quiet and don't even think. You're
safe here. They ain't a thing goin' to get at you. Not a thing. You'll stay
till you get ready to leave. S'long. I'll see that you get something to
He went out with that unusual, padding step which Vic had noticed before
and closed the door softly behind him. In spite of that barrier Gregg could
hear the noises from the next room quite clearly, as some one brought in
wood and dropped it on a stone hearth, rattling. He fell into a pleasant
doze, just stretching his body now and then to enjoy the coolness of the
sheets, the delicious sense of being cared for and the returning strength in
his muscles. Through that haze he heard voices, presently, which called him
back to wakefulness.
"That ought to be good for him. Take it in, Kate."
"I shall. Dan, what has Joan done?"
"She went in there. I told her to leave him alone."
"But she says he asked her to come in--said he would take the blame."
"I told her not to go."
"Poor baby! She's outside, now, weeping her eyes out on Bart's shoulder and
he's trying to comfort her."
It was purer English than Vic was accustomed to hear even from his
schoolmistress, but more than the words, the voice surprised him, the low,
controlled voice of a woman of gentle blood. He turned his head and looked
out the window, baffled. Far above, shooting out of sight, went the slope
of a mountain, a cliff shining in the slant sun of the afternoon here, a
tumbled slide of rocks and debris there, and over the shoulder of this
mountain he saw white-headed monsters stepping back in range beyond range.
Why should a girl of refinement choose the isolation of such a place as
this for her home? It was not the only strange thing about this household,
however, and he would dismiss conjectures until he was once more on his
She was saying: "Won't you speak to her now?"
A little pause. Then: "No, not until evenin'."
"She's got to learn."
A little exclamation of unhappiness and then the door moved open; Vic found
himself looking up to the face with the golden hair which he remembered out
of his nightmare. She nodded to him cheerily.
"I'm so happy that you're better," she said. "Dan says that the fever is
nearly gone." She rested a large tray she carried on the foot of the bed
and Vic discovered, to his great content, that it was not hard to meet her
eyes. Usually girls embarrassed him, but he recognized so much of Joan in
the features of the mother that he felt well acquainted at once.
Motherhood, surely, sat as lightly on her shoulders as fatherhood did on
Dan Barry, yet he felt a great pity as he looked at her, this flowerlike
beauty lost in the rocks and snow with only one man near her. She was like
music played without an audience except senseless things.
"Yep, I'm a lot better," he answered, "but it sure makes me terrible sorry,
ma'am, that I got your little girl in trouble. Mostly, it was my fault."
She waved away all need of apology.
"Don't think an instant about that, Mr. Gregg. Joan needs a great deal of
disciplining." She laughed a little. "She has so much of her father in her,
you see. Now, are you strong enough to lift yourself higher in the
They managed it between them, for he was weaker than he thought and when he
was padded into position with cushions she laid the tray across his knees.
His head swam at sight of it. Forty-eight hours of fasting had sharpened
his appetite, and the loaded tray whetted a razor edge, for a great bowl of
broth steamed forth an exquisite fragrance on one side and beside it she
lifted a napkin to let him peek at a slice of venison steak. Then there was
butter, yellow as the gold for which he had been digging all winter, and
real cream for his coffee--a whole pitcher of it--and snowy bread. Best of
all, she did not stay to embarrass him with her watching while he ate,
since above all things in the world a hungry man hates observation when the
board is spread.
Afterwards, consuming sleep rippled over him from his feet to his eyes to
his brain. He partially roused when the tray was removed, and the pillows
slipped from under his back, but with a vague understanding that expert
hands were setting the bed in order his senses fled once more.
Hours and hours later he opened his eyes in utter darkness with a thin,
sweet voice still ringing in his ears. He could not place himself until he
turned his head and saw a meager, broken, rectangular line of light which
was the door, and immediately afterwards the voice cried: "Oh, Daddy Dan!
And what did the wolf do then?"
"I'm comin' to that, Joan, but don't you talk about wolves so loud or old
Black Bart'll think you're talkin' about him. See him lookin' at you now?"
"But please go on. I won't say one little word."
The man's voice began again, softly, so that not a word was audible to
Gregg; he heard the crackle of burning logs upon the hearth; saw the
rectangle of light flicker; caught a faint scent of wood smoke, and then he
slept once more.
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