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His Shadow Before








From: 'drag' Harlan

At ten o'clock the following morning, in a rear room of "Balleau's First
Chance" saloon--which was directly across the street from the Lamo
Eating-House--Luke Deveny and two other men were sitting at a card-table
with bottle and glasses between them. A window in the eastern side of the
room gave the men an unobstructed view of the desert, and for half an
hour, as they talked and drank, they looked out through the window.

A tall, muscular man with a slightly hooked nose, keen blue eyes with a
cold glint in them, black hair, and an equally black mustache which
revealed a firm-lipped mouth with curves at the corners that hinted of
cynicism, and, perhaps cruelty, was sitting at the table so that he faced
the window. His smile, as he again glanced out of the window, roved to
Deveny--who sat at his right.

"One man--an' a led horse," he said shortly. "Looks like Laskar."

Deveny--big, smooth-shaven--with black, glowing, attractive eyes that
held a glint quite as hard as that which shone in the eyes of the
speaker, looked long out of the window at a moving dot on the desert,
which seemed to be traveling toward them. Deveny had looked before; but
now he saw two dots where at other times he had seen only one. His lips
held a slight pout as he glanced at the speaker.

"You're right, Rogers," he said; "there's only one. The old fool must
have put up a fight."

Deveny filled a glass from the bottle and drank slowly. His features were
large. His nose was well shaped, with wide nostrils that hinted of a
fiery, passionate nature; his thrusting chin and the heavy neck muscles
told of strength, both mental and physical--of mental strength that was
of a tenacious character, of physical strength that would respond to any
demand of the will.

He was handsome, and yet the suggestion of ruthlessness in the atmosphere
of him--lurking behind the genial, easy-going exterior that he wore for
appearances--or because it was his nature to conceal his passions until
he desired to unleash them--was felt by those who knew him intimately. It
had been felt by Barbara Morgan.

Deveny was king of the lawless element in the Lamo section. The magnetism
of him; the arrogance, glossed over with the calm and cold politeness of
his manner; his unvarying immaculateness; the air of large and complete
confidence which marked his every action; the swiftness with which he
struck when he was aroused, or when his authority was questioned, placed
him without dissent at the head of the element that ruled the Lamo
country.

Deveny ruled, but Deveny's rule was irksome to Strom Rogers--the man to
whom Deveny had just spoken. For while Deveny drank, Rogers watched him
with covert vigilance, with a jeering gleam far back in his eyes, with a
secret envy and jealousy, with hatred and contempt and mockery.

Yet there was fear in Rogers' eyes, too--a mere glimmer of it. Yet it was
there; and when Deveny set his glass down and looked straight at Rogers,
it was that fear which brought the fawning, insincere smirk to Rogers'
lips.

"See the girl?" questioned Rogers.

Deveny laughed lowly. Apparently he did not notice the glow in Rogers'
eyes; but had Rogers looked closely he might have seen Deveny's lips
straighten as he shot a glance at the other.

"Had the room next to her last night. Heard her drag the bed in front of
the door of her room. She knew I was there, all right!" Deveny laughed
deeply. "She's wised up by this time. Lolly Kaye hates her--because
Barbara's a good-looking girl, I suppose. That's like some women. Lolly
would see Barbara roasting in hell and not give her a hand!"

"Lolly's been disappointed in love--I reckon." Rogers' laugh was hollow,
mirthless. And again Deveny shot a glance at him.

"But you didn't bother her--Barbara?" questioned Rogers in a dry, light
voice.

"No," grinned Deveny; "that time hasn't come--yet. It's coming soon. I
told Lolly to keep an eye on her; I've got Engle and Barthman and Kelmer
watching at the doors so Barbara can't light out for the Rancho Seco. She
don't get away until tomorrow. Then she goes with me to the end of Sunset
Trail. I've sent Shorty Mallo to Willow's Wells for the parson."

"Barbara know what's up?" Rogers' voice was low and throaty.

Again Deveny glanced at him--sharply.

"Hell, no!" he snapped. "It's none of her damned business--nor
anybody's!" He grinned maliciously when he saw Rogers' face whiten.

"Barbara will need a husband now," Deveny went on. "With old Morgan gone
and her brother sloped from the home ranch, she'll be kind of lonesome. I
aim to cure her of that."

He laughed, and Rogers writhed inwardly. For Rogers had long nursed a
secret hope that one day the fates might take a notion to give him the
chance that Deveny intended to seize.

But Rogers was forced to conceal his jealousy and disappointment. He
laughed mirthlessly.

"So she can't get away, eh?--she's corralled!"

"Bah!" declared Deveny; "she won't want to get away--once she knows what
I mean--that it's going to be a regular wedding. She'll raise a fuss,
most likely, to make folks believe she's unwilling, but in the end she'll
get over it."

Deveny glanced out of the window at the blot that was now closer.

"It's Laskar, all regular," he said. "He's leading a sorrel horse--Dolver's
horse. Old Morgan got Dolver--looks like, the damned old gopher! Men as
willing as Dolver are not found every day." He looked at the third man, who
had not spoken.

"Lawson," he said, "you mosey down the trail a little piece and meet
Laskar. Bring him here!"

Lawson, a thin-faced, medium-sized man with narrow shoulders, whose
distinguishing mark was a set of projecting upper teeth that kept his
mouth in a continual smirking smile, got up quickly and went out. Deveny
and Rogers, their thoughts centered upon the same person--Barbara
Morgan--sat silent, watching Lawson as he rode down the street toward the
point where the trail, crossing the broken stretch of country that
intervened, merged into the desert.

Half an hour later Laskar, holding his chest, where Purgatory had kicked
him, was sitting at the table in the rear room of the First Chance,
cursing with a fluency that he had not yielded to in many years.

"Dolver's wiped out!" he gasped hoarsely; "plugged so quick he didn't
know he was hit. A center shot--plumb in the heart; his own gun goin' off
while he was fallin'. I looked him over--after. He was croaked complete.
Then that sober-faced hyena lifts my gun--an' the rifle--an' says things
to me, which I don't try to cross him. Then he goes behind the
rock--where we was havin' it out--an' while he's gone I tries to git my
guns from under that devil-eyed cayuse of his'n.

"An' I don't succeed--noways. That black devil turns on a half-dollar an'
plants his hoofs plumb in my breast-bone. If I'd been an inch nearer, or
if he'd have kicked me a foot lower, or a foot higher, I'd be layin' out
there where Dolver is now, the coyotes an' the buzzards gnawin' at me."

Unmoved by Laskar's incoherence, Deveny calmly watched him. And now, when
Laskar paused for breath, Deveny spoke slowly:

"A black horse, you said. How did a black horse get there? Old Morgan
rode a bay when he left Lamo--Balleau says."

"Did I say Morgan rode a black horse?" queried Laskar, knowledge in his
eyes that he had a thing to tell that would blanch their faces. He
grinned, still holding his chest, his glance malicious.

"Did I say a black horse?" he repeated. "Did I say Morgan rode a black
horse? Morgan didn't. Morgan rode a bay--an' the Chief run it off after
he shot Morgan. But Morgan didn't die right away, an' the Chief he had to
slope, he said--an' he did--leavin' me an' Dolver to finish old Morgan.

"We was tryin' our damnedest when this guy on the black horse pops up out
of nowhere an' salivates Dolver."

"Who was it?"

This was Deveny. He was now leaning forward, a pout on his lips, watching
Laskar with an intent, glowering gaze.

"'Drag' Harlan!" shouted Laskar. His face lighted with a hideous joy as
he watched the effect of his news.

"'Drag' Harlan! Do you hear?" he went on. "'Drag' Harlan, the Pardo
'two-gun' man! He's headed toward Lamo. He bored Dolver, an' he said that
soon as Morgan cashed in he was hittin' the breeze for here!"

Lawson, the man who had gone to meet Laskar, ejaculated hoarsely, and
stood rigid, his mouth open, his eyes bulging. It was the involuntary
expression of the astonishment and fear that had seized him. Laskar
forgot the pain in his chest long enough to straighten and grin at
Lawson.

Rogers' face had changed color. He, too, had become rigid. He had been in
the act of reaching for the bottle on the table, and the hand that had
been extended had been suddenly drawn back, so that the hand was now
midway between his body and the bottle--and the fingers were clenched.
The other hand, under the table, was likewise clenched, and the muscles
of his jaws were corded. Into his eyes had come a furtive, restless
gleam, and his face had paled.

Deveny gave no visible sign of perturbation. He coolly reached out,
grasped the bottle that Rogers had been reaching for, and poured some of
the amber fluid into one of the glasses. The other men watched him
silently--all of them intent to note the tremor they expected to see.

Deveny's hand did not tremble. He noted the glances of the men--the
admiration that came into their eyes as with steady muscles he raised the
glass and drank--and he smiled with slight contempt.

"Coming here, eh?" he said evenly. "So he said that. Did he mention what
he was coming for?"

"He didn't mention," replied Laskar.

"So he downed Dolver. Did he say what for?"

"Said Dolver had shot up his partner, Davey Langan--back in Pardo. Harlan
was evenin' up."

"What do you know about Harlan?"

The question was addressed to all of them.

Rogers answered.

"He's a bad guy--all bad. He's an iceberg, an' he's got the snakiest
gun-hand of any man in the country. Draws hesitatin'-like. A man don't
know when he's goin' to uncork his smoke-wagons. I seen him put Lefty
Blandin' out. He starts for his guns, an' then kind of stops, trickin'
the other guy into goin' for his. Then, before the other guy can get his
gun to workin', Harlan's stickin' his away, an' the guy's ready for the
mourners.

"Harlan got his handle that way. He goes for his guns so slow an'
hesitatin' that he seems to drag 'em out. But some way he's always
shootin' first. An' they always let him off because it's mighty plain
that the other guy tried to draw first."

"I've heard that," said Deveny slowly. "What's his record?"

"Plays her a lone hand," returned Rogers. He watched the other steadily.

Deveny toyed with a glass as he gazed out of the window. There was a
cold, sullen gleam in his eyes when he finally looked at Laskar.

"You said Harlan told you he was coming here as soon as Morgan cashed in.
According to that, Morgan must have been hit bad."

"The Chief said he bored him plenty. An' me an' Dolver must have got him
some."

"You didn't get a chance to search Morgan?"

"No chance--he fit like a hyena; an' when he got behind that damned rock
there was no way of gettin' at him."

"Then," said Deveny, "according to what you say, Harlan will come here as
soon as Morgan dies. And when you left there Morgan was in a bad way.
Harlan is due most any time, then."

"That's the way I figger," agreed Laskar.

And now Laskar fidgeted. "I aim to be hittin' the breeze now--before
Harlan hits town. This climate is gettin' unhealthy for me. Harlan give
me notice."

"To leave town?"

It was Deveny who spoke. There was a snarl in his voice; he leaned
forward and scowled at Laskar.

Laskar nodded.

Rogers cleared his throat, and Lawson moved his feet uneasily.

Deveny's scowl faded; he grinned coldly.

"Giving orders--is he?" he snapped. "Well, we'll see." He laughed. "When
Harlan hits town it will be a sign that old Morgan's crossed the Divide.
Well, there was no witnesses to Morgan's cashing in, and one man's word
is as good as another's in this country."

"Meanin'?" questioned Rogers, noting the light in Deveny's eyes.

"Meaning that Laskar is going--right now--to whisper into Sheriff Gage's
ear that he saw our friend, 'Drag' Harlan, killing old Morgan."

Rogers got to his feet, grinning. The gleam in his eyes indicated that he
felt some relief over the prospect presented by Deveny's suggestion.

"Of course we ain't sure Harlan means to make trouble here," he told
Deveny; "but it's just as well to shove him off onto the sheriff."

The four men walked to the front door of the First Chance, after pausing
for a few minutes at the bar.

Outside, halting for an instant on the board platform in front of the
saloon, Rogers, who had been the first to emerge, started as he glanced
toward the desert, and then stood rigid, shading his hands with his eyes
against the sun that poured into his face.

"He's comin' now!" he said.

Deveny and the others also looked into the blinding glare of the
sun--likewise shading their eyes. And they saw, far out upon the vast sea
of sand--yet not so far that they could not distinguish objects--a black
horse coming steadily toward them.

Deveny was strangely silent, glowering toward the desert; Rogers folded
his arms and faced the oncoming rider and the somber-coated animal he
bestrode; Lawson scowled; and Laskar nervously estimated the distance
that stretched between himself and the steady-eyed man who had told him
certain things in a voice that had been entirely convincing.





Next: A Prison

Previous: A Girl Waits



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