There was once a little girl who was very, very poor. Her father and mother had died, and at last she had no little room to stay in, and no little bed to sleep in, and nothing more to eat except one piece of bread. So she said a prayer, put on ... Read more of THE STAR DOLLARS at Children Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
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Harlan Joins The Gang

From: 'drag' Harlan

At the edge of the big level, where it merged into the floor of the
basin, Harlan drew Purgatory to a halt. For an instant he sat in the
saddle scrutinizing a section of buffalo grass that fringed a clump of
willows near the almost dry bed of the river that doubled slightly as it
came from the basin. Something in the appearance of the grass had
attracted his attention--it was matted, as though something had lain or
rolled in it.

He rode closer, cautiously, for the little trees formed a covert behind
which any one of several dangers might lie concealed--and looked down at
the grass. As he examined the place his lips twisted into a grim smile,
and his eyes grew bright with comprehension.

He rode around the clump of trees, making sure it was not occupied; then
he dismounted.

Someone had been concealed in the covert for many days--a man. For he saw
the imprints of heels, and indentations where spurs had gashed the earth.
The marks were all fresh--recently made. While he watched he saw some
blades of the long grass slowly rise--as though, relieved from some
pressure that had been upon them, they were eager to regain an upright
position. He also saw scraps of food--jerked beef and biscuit--scattered
here and there.

He frowned, convinced that for days a man had occupied the covert,
watching the Rancho Seco; convinced also, that the mystery he had sensed
some days ago had been man-made, as he had felt. The man who had been
there had been a sentinel, a spy, sent by Deveny or Haydon to observe his
movements, and to report them, of course, to one or the other of the two

Harlan remounted Purgatory. His caution had not been wasted, and his
vigilance in guarding the ranchhouse must have been irritating to the man
who had been watching.

He urged Purgatory on again--heading him westward, as before. And when he
reached the crest of a slight rise in the valley--from where he could see
the trail as it twisted and undulated around hills and into depressions--he
saw, far up the valley--and yet not so far, either--not more than two
miles--a horseman, riding slowly--away from him.

The horseman was the spy, of course. Harlan had no doubt that if he
lingered in the vicinity of the covert long enough he would discover the
place where the horse had been concealed. But that was not important, now
that he had discovered enough to satisfy himself that there had been a
spy--and so he rode on, smiling faintly, knowing that the rider was
headed into the valley--possibly to the outlaw rendezvous to appraise
Deveny and the others of his coming.

The trail was clearly defined, and there were places where it ran over
broad levels of grass where he presented a good target to men who might
be eager to send a shot at him. There were other spots where the trail
led into timber clumps and through tangles of brush where an ambuscade
might be planned in perfect safety by an enemy; and there were the
bastioned cliffs that towered above the trail at intervals, offering
admirable hinding-places for any man with hostile intentions.

Harlan, however, rode steadily, outwardly unconcerned; inwardly convinced
that no attempt would be made to ambush him. For Haydon has passed that
way on his return to the Star, and Harlan had no doubt that since the
incident of the smile and the wink, Haydon had passed word that he was
not to be molested.

Haydon would be curious--as he had been curious at the Rancho Seco--to
learn the significance of the smile and the wink. Haydon would want to
discover just how much Harlan knew about the murder of Lane Morgan; and
he would want to know what Harlan knew of the gold that Morgan had
secreted. And so Harlan rode on, watching the country through which he
passed, but feeling assured there would be no shot to greet him from one
of the many natural vantage-points he encountered.

He rode for an hour, not making very good time, for it was a new trail,
and he was examining the country intently as he passed, fixing it in his
memory for future convenience, perhaps--no one ever knew just when it
might be necessary to use one's knowledge--when he reached a low ridge
which crossed the valley.

Here he halted Purgatory and gazed about him.

Before him stretched a green grass level, about two miles long, running
the entire width of the valley. It was dotted with mesquite, sage, and
here and there the thorny blade of a cactus rose. Some cattle were
grazing on the level; they were several miles south, and he could see
some horsemen near them.

He decided he must be close to the Star; and he urged Purgatory on again,
down upon the level, toward some timber that grew at the farther edge of
the level. Just as he slipped down the slope of the ridge, he saw, far
ahead of him, the horseman he had seen when he had entered the valley.
The horseman was on the crest of a bald hill--low, and small--but Harlan
caught a glimpse of him as he crossed it, riding fast.

Harlan smiled again, and rode on his way, resuming his scrutiny of the

The valley was mighty, magnificent; it deserved all the praise Barbara
Morgan had heaped upon it. From the low mountain range on the north to
the taller mountains southward, it was a virgin paradise in which reigned
a peace so profound that it brought a reverent awe into the soul of the

It thrilled Harlan despite the certain blase, matter-of-fact attitude he
had for all of nature's phenomena; he found himself admiring the majestic
buttes that fringed it; there was a glint of appreciation in his eyes for
the colossal bigness of it--for the gigantic, sweeping curves which
seemed to make of it an oblong bowl, a cosmic hollow, boundless, hinting
of the infinite power of its builder.

The trail that ran through it, drawled to threadlike proportions by the
mightiness of the space through which it ran, was, for the greater part
of the distance traveled by Harlan, a mere scratch upon a low rock ridge.
And as he rode he could look down upon the floor of the valley, green and

When he entered the timber at the edge of the grass level, he was
conscious of a stealthy sound behind him. He turned quickly in the
saddle, to see a man standing at the edge of some brush that fringed the

The man was big, a heavy black beard covered his chin and portions of his
cheeks; his hat was drawn well down over his forehead, partially
shielding his eyes.

A rifle in his hands was held loosely, and though it appeared that the
man did not intend to use the weapon immediately, Harlan could see that
his right forefinger was touching the trigger, and that the muzzle of the
weapon was suggestively toward him.

For the past few miles of his ride Harlan had been expecting an
apparition of this sort to appear, and so he now gave no sign of
surprise. Instead, he slowly raised both hands until they were on a level
with his shoulders--and, still twisted about in the saddle, he grinned
faintly at the man.

"From now on I'm to have company, eh?" he said.

The man smirked grimly at him.

"You've hit it," he answered. "You're Harlan, ain't you? 'Drag' Harlan,
the Pardo two-gun man?"

The man's eyes were glowing with interest--critical, almost cynical, and
they roved over Harlan with a probing intensity that left no doubt in
Harlan's mind that the man had heard of him and was examining him with
intent to discover what sort of a character he was.

Apparently satisfied--and also plainly impressed with what he saw, the
man grinned--this time almost genially--and answered Harlan's affirmative
nod with:

"Well, Haydon is expectin' you. You c'n let your paws down--takin' a heap
of care not to go to foolin' with your guns. I ain't takin' them; Haydon
didn't say anything about it. You're ridin' that trail that forks off to
the left."

Harlan lowered his hands, resting them on the pommel of his saddle, and
rode on, taking, as advised, a narrow trail that diverged from the other
a short distance from where he had met the man. As he struck the other
trail he heard the man coming behind him--on a horse.

There were no further words. Harlan kept to the trail, riding slowly; the
man behind him following at a short distance.

In this manner they rode for perhaps a mile. Then the timber grew sparse,
and Purgatory and his rider at last emerged upon a level that extended
about a hundred feet and then sloped down abruptly to another level,
through which flowed a narrow stream of water, shallow and clear.

Close to the bank of the stream was an adobe ranchhouse, and surrounding
it were several other buildings. At a slight distance from the house was
a corral in which were several horses. In front of a bunkhouse were
several men who, when they saw Harlan and the other man coming, faced
toward them and stood, motionless, watching.

The men maintained silence as Harlan rode to the ranchhouse and sat in
the saddle, awaiting the pleasure of his escort. He saw the latter grin
at the other men as he passed them; and he grinned at Harlan as he
brought his horse to a halt near Purgatory and dismounted.

"I reckon you're to git off an' visit," he said; "Haydon is inside." As
he dismounted and trailed the reins over the head of his beast he cast a
sharp, critical eye over Purgatory.

"There's a heap of hoss in that black, eh?"

"Plenty." Harlan got down and ran a hand over Purgatory's neck, while
trailing the reins over his head. "Man-killer," he warned. "Don't touch
him. He ain't been rode by nobody but me, an' he won't stand for nobody
foolin' around him."

Harlan had raised his voice until he was sure the men in front of the
bunkhouse heard him; then he grinned genially at them all and followed
the black-bearded man into the ranchhouse.

An instant later, in a big room which had the appearance of an office,
Harlan was confronting Haydon.

The latter was sitting in a chair at a desk, and when Harlan entered
Haydon got up and grinned at him, shallowly, without mirth.

"So you got here," he said; "I've been expecting you."

"I've been notin' that. That guy you left at the edge of the level to
keep an eye on the Rancho Seco didn't cover his tracks. I run onto
them--an' I saw him hittin' the breeze--comin' here. I reckon nobody is
surprised." Harlan grinned widely.

"So you noticed that," said Haydon, answering Harlan's grin. "Well, I
don't mind admitting that we've kept an eye on you. You've had me

Haydon's manner was that of the man who is careful not to say too much,
his constraint was of the quality that hints of a desire to become
confidential--a smooth, bland courtesy; a flattering voice--encouraging,
suggesting frankness.

Harlan's manner was that of a certain reckless carelessness. He seemed to
be perfectly at ease, confident, deliberate, and unwatchful. He knew
Haydon was an outlaw; that the men who had been grouped in front of the
bunkhouse were members of Haydon's band; he knew the man who had escorted
him to the Star had been deliberately stationed in the timber to watch
for him. And he had no doubt that other outlaws had lain concealed along
the trail to observe his movements.

He knew, too, that he had placed himself in a precarious predicament--that
his life was in danger, and that he must be exceedingly careful.

Yet outwardly he was cool, composed. With Haydon's eyes upon him he drew
a chair to a point near the desk, seated himself in it, drew out paper
and tobacco, and rolled a cigarette. Lighting it, he puffed slowly,
watching while Haydon dropped into the chair he had vacated at Harlan's

When Haydon dropped into his chair he grinned admiringly at Harlan.

"You're a cool one, Harlan," he said; "I've got to say that for you. But
there's no use in four-flushing. You've come here to tell me something
about the chain. Where did you find it?"

"At Sentinel Rock--not far from where you plugged Lane Morgan."

"You're assuming that I shot Morgan?" charged Haydon.

"Morgan was assumin', too, I reckon," grinned Harlan. "He told me it was
you who shot him--he saw your face by the flash of your gun. An' he told
me where to look for the chain--him not knowin' it was a chain--but

Haydon's eyes gleamed with a cold rage--which he concealed by passing a
hand over his forehead, veiling his eyes from Harlan. His lips were
wreathed in a smile.

"Why didn't you tell me that the other day--the first time I met you?"

Harlan laughed. "I was havin' notions then--notions that I'd be playin'
her a lone hand."

"And now?" Haydon's eyes were steady with cold inquiry.

"I've got other notions. I'm acceptin' Deveny's invitation to throw in
with you."

Haydon was silent for an instant, and during the silence his gaze met
Harlan's fairly. By the humorous gleam in Harlan's eyes Haydon divined
that the man could not be misled--that he knew something of the situation
in the valley, and that he had come here with the deliberate intention of
joining the outlaw band.

There was, as Haydon had intimated, little use for an attempt at
equivocation or pretense. It was a situation that must be faced squarely
by both himself and Harlan. Harlan's reputation, and his action in
keeping secret from Barbara Morgan the identity of her father's murderer,
indicated sincerity on the man's part. And since Harlan knew him to be
the murderer of Morgan it would be absurd for Haydon to pretend that he
had no connection with Deveny's band. He could not fool this man.

Yet a jealous hatred of Harlan was thinly concealed by the steady smile
with which he regarded his visitor. He had felt the antagonism of Harlan
that day when he had talked with him at the bunkhouse door; Harlan's
manner that day had convinced him that Harlan was jealous of his
attentions to Barbara Morgan. Also, there was in his heart a professional
jealousy--jealousy of Harlan's reputation.

For this man who sat in his chair so calmly, with danger encompassing
him, was greater than he. Haydon knew it. Had there been any doubt in his
mind on that score it must have been removed by a memory of the manner in
which his men had received the news that Harlan had left the Rancho Seco
and was on his way up the valley.

The rider Harlan had seen had come in with that news--and Haydon had been
standing with the group at the bunkhouse when the man arrived. And he had
not failed to note the nervous glances of some of the men, and the
restless eagerness, not unmixed with anxiety, with which they watched the

And now, facing Harlan, he felt the man's greatness--his especial fitness
for the career he had adopted. Harlan was the ideal outlaw. He was cool,
deep, subtle. He was indomitable; he felt no fear; his will was
inflexible, adamant. Haydon felt it. The fear he had experienced at his
first meeting with Harlan had endured until this minute--it was strong as

Yet he admired the man; and knew that since he had come to the valley he
must be considered an important factor. Haydon could not flatly tell him
to get out of the valley; he could not order him away from the Rancho
Seco. Harlan was in control there--for the rider who had come in with the
news that Harlan had set out for the valley had also apprised Haydon of
the coming, to the Rancho Seco, of the men of the T Down outfit.

The rider had not been able to tell Haydon who the men were, of course;
but it made little difference. They were friends of Harlan's, for they
had come from the direction of the desert--from Pardo.

It was plain to Haydon that Harlan had come to the valley to stay. It was
equally plain that he must be either propitiated or antagonized. He felt
that Harlan was giving him his choice.

"What do you want--if you throw in with us?" Haydon asked, following the
trend of his own thoughts.

"That's straight talk," said Harlan. "I'm givin' you a straight answer.
If I join your bunch I join on the same footing with you an'
Deveny--nothin' less. We split everything three ways--the other boys
takin' their regular share after we take ours. I bring my boys in under
the rules you've got that govern the others. I run the Rancho Seco--no
one interferin'. When I rustle up that gold old Morgan hid, we split it
three ways. Barbara Morgan goes with the ranch--no one interferin'."

Color surged into Haydon's face.

"You don't want much, do you?" he sneered.

"I want what's comin' to me--what I'm goin' to take, if I come in. That's
my proposition. You can take it or leave it."

Haydon was silent for an instant, studying Harlan's face. What he saw
there brought a frown to his own.

"Harlan," he said softly, "some of the boys feel a little resentful over
the way you sent Dolver and Laskar out. There are several friends of
those two men outside now. Suppose I should call them in and tell them
that the bars are down on you--eh?"

If Haydon expected his threat to intimidate Harlan, he was mistaken.
Harlan sat, motionless, watching the outlaw chief steadily. And into his
eyes came a glitter of that cold contempt which Haydon had seen in them
on the day he had faced Harlan near the bunkhouse at the Rancho Seco.

"You're doin' the honors, Haydon," he said. "If you're that kind of a
coyote I don't want to deal with you. If you think you want to pass up a
share of that hundred thousand, start yappin' to them boys. It's likely
there's some of them hangin' around, close. Mebbe you've got some of them
peekin' around corners at me now. I ain't runnin' from no trouble that
comes my way. Get goin' if you're yearnin' to requisition the mourners."

Rage over the threat was now plain in his eyes, for they were aflame with
a cold fire as he got up from his chair and stood, crouching a little,
his hands lingering near the butts of his guns.

Haydon did not move, but his face grew pallid and he smiled nervously,
with shallow mirth.

"You are not in a joking mood today, Harlan?" he said.

"There's jokes, an' jokes, Haydon. I've come here in good faith. I've
been in camps like this before--in Kelso's, Dave Rance's, Blondy
Larkin's, an' some others. Them men are outlaws--like you an' me; an'
they've done things that make them greater than you an' me--in our line.
But I've visited them, free an' easy--goin' an' comin' whenever I
pleased. An' no man threatenin' me.

"Your manners is irritatin' to me--I'm tellin' you so. I'm through!
You're takin' me out, now--back to the Rancho Seco. You're ridin' behind
me--minus your guns, your mouth shut tighter than you ever shut it
before. An' if there's any shootin' you'll know it--plenty!"

Harlan had brought matters to a crisis--suddenly, in a flash. The time
for pretense had gone. Haydon could accept Harlan upon the terms he had
mentioned, or he could take up the man's challenge with all it
implied--bitter warfare between the two factions, which would be
unprofitable to both, and especially to Haydon.

It was for Haydon to decide; and he sat for some seconds motionless in
the chair, before he spoke.

Then he got up--taking care to keep his right hand at a respectable
distance from the butt of his pistol, and smilingly held out his hand.

"It goes your way, Harlan--we take you in on your terms. I beg your
pardon for saying what I did. That was just to try you out. I've heard a
lot about you, and I wanted to see if you were in earnest--if you really
wanted to come in. I'm satisfied."

They shook hands; their gaze meeting as they stood close together. The
gaze endured for an instant; and then Haydon's fell. The handshake lasted
for several seconds, and it was curious to see how Haydon's eyes, after
they had become veiled from Harlan's by the drooping lids, glowed with a
malignant triumph and cunning.

It was also curious to note that something of the same passion was
revealed in Harlan's eyes as they rested on the partially closed lids of
the other--for there was triumph there, too--and comprehension, and craft
of a kind that might have disturbed Haydon, had he seen it.

Then their hands parted, mutually, and Haydon grinned smoothly and with
apparent cordiality at Harlan. He grasped Harlan by an elbow and urged
him toward the door through which the latter had entered.

"I'll give you a knockdown to the boys, now--those that are here," he

An hour later--after Haydon and the dozen men to whom he had introduced
Harlan had watched Harlan ride eastward through the valley toward the
Rancho Seco--Haydon rode westward, accompanied by several of the men.

They rode for many miles into the heart of the big basin, coming at last
to a gorge that wound a serpentine way southward, through some concealing
hills, into a smaller basin. A heavy timber clump grew at the mouth of
the gorge, hiding it from view from the trail that ran through the
valley. Some rank underbrush that fringed the timber gave the mouth of
the gorge the appearance of a shallow cave, and a wall of rock, forming a
ragged arch over the entrance, heightened the impression. At first glance
the place seemed to be impenetrable.

But the horsemen filed through easily enough, and the underbrush closed
behind them, so that, had they been seen, the watcher might have been
startled by their sudden disappearance.

Near the center of the little basin stood a huge cabin, built of adobe,
with a flat roof. In a small corral were a number of cattle. Grazing upon
the grass, with which the place was carpeted, were many horses; and
lounging in the grass near the cabin, and upon some benches that ranged
its walls, were perhaps a dozen men, heavily armed.

Several of the men grinned as the newcomers rode in and dismounted, and
one or two spoke a short greeting to Haydon, calling him "Chief."

Haydon did not linger to talk with the men, though; he dismounted and
entered the cabin, where, an instant later, he was talking with Deveny.

Haydon's eyes were still triumphant--glowing with a malignant

"He's wise--and dead tickled to join," he told Deveny, referring to
Harlan. "And I took him in on his own terms. We'll play him along, making
him believe he's regular and right, until we get what we want. Then we'll
down him!"

* * * * *

At about the time Haydon was talking with Deveny, Harlan was dismounting
at the Rancho Seco corral.

The T Down men were variously engaged--some of them in the corral; others
in the stable, and still others in the blacksmith-shop--all attending to
their new duties--and only Red Linton was at the corral gate to greet

Triumph was in Harlan's eyes as he grinned at Linton.

"I'm a Simon-pure outlaw now, Red," he stated. "Haydon didn't hesitate
none. He's a sneakin', schemin' devil, an' he hates me like poison. But
he took me in, reckonin' to play me for a sucker. Looks like things might
be interestin'." He grinned. "I'm yearnin' for grub, Red."

Later, while Harlan was seated at a table in the cook shanty, he became
aware of a shadow at the door; and he wheeled, to see Barbara Morgan
looking in at him, her face flushed, a glow in her eyes that was entirely
comprehensible to Harlan.

She was glad he had returned--any man with half Harlan's wisdom could
have told that! And color of a kind not caused by the wind and sun
suffused Harlan's face.

She had seen him from one of the kitchen windows, and curiosity--and an
impatience that would not permit of delay--had brought her to search for

"Why," she said, "I--I thought--didn't you say that you were going away?"

"Didn't I go?" he grinned.

"For a day," she taunted, her voice leaping.

"A day," he said gravely; "why, it was longer than that, wasn't it? Seems
that I ain't seen you for years an' years!"

He got up, his hunger forgotten. But when he reached the door he saw her
running toward the ranchhouse, not even looking back. He stood watching
her until she opened a door and vanished. Then he grinned and returned to
his neglected food, saying aloud, after the manner of men who spend much
time in open places: "I'll sure take care of her, Morgan."

Next: Left-handed

Previous: Harlan Rides Alone

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