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In The Dark








From: 'firebrand' Trevison

Trevison faced the darkness between him and the pueblo with a wild hope
pulsing through his veins. Rosalind Benham had had an opportunity to
deliver him into the hands of his enemy and she had not taken advantage of
it. There was but one interpretation that he might place upon her failure
to aid her accomplice. She declined to take an active part in the scheme.

She had been passive, content to watch while Corrigan did the real work.
Possibly she had no conception of the enormity of the crime. She had been
eager to have Corrigan win, and influenced by her affection and his
arguments she had done what she could without actually committing herself
to the robbery. It was a charitable explanation, and had many flaws, but
he clung to it persistently, nurturing it with his hopes and his hunger
for her, building it up until it became a structure of logic firmly fixed
and impregnable. Women were easily influenced--that had been his
experience with them--he was forced to accept it as a trait of the sex. So
he absolved her, his hunger for her in no way sated at the end.

His thoughts ran to Corrigan in a riot of rage that pained him like a
knife thrust; his lust for vengeance was a savage, bitter-visaged demon
that held him in its clutch and made his temples pound with a yearning to
slay. And that, of course, would have to be the end. For the enmity that
lay between them was not a thing to be settled by the law--it was a man to
man struggle that could be settled in only one way--by the passions,
naked, elemental, eternal. He saw it coming; he leaped to meet it,
eagerly.

Every stride the black horse made shortened by that much the journey he
had resolved upon, and Nigger never ran as he was running now. The black
seemed to feel that he was on the last lap of a race that had lasted for
more than forty-eight hours, with short intervals of rest between, and he
did his best without faltering.

Order had come out of the chaos of plot and counterplot; Trevison's course
was to be as direct as his hatred. He would go to the pueblo, take Judge
Lindman and the record to Santa Fe, and then return to Manti for a last
meeting with Corrigan.

A late moon, rising from a cleft in some distant mountains, bathed the
plains with a silvery flood when horse and rider reached a point within a
mile of the pueblo, and Nigger covered the remainder of the distance at a
pace that made the night air drum in Trevison's ears. The big black slowed
as he came to a section of broken country surrounding the ancient city,
but he got through it quickly and skirted the sand slopes, taking the
steep acclivity leading to the ledge of the pueblo in a dozen catlike
leaps and coming to a halt in the shadow of an adobe house, heaving
deeply, his rider flung himself out of the saddle and ran along the ledge
to the door of the chamber where he had imprisoned Judge Lindman.

Trevison could see no sign of the Judge or Levins. The ledge was bare,
aglow, the openings of the communal houses facing it loomed dark, like the
doors of tombs. A ghastly, unearthly silence greeted Trevison's call after
the echoes died away; the upper tier of adobe boxes seemed to nod in
ghostly derision as his gaze swept them. There was no sound, no movement,
except the regular cough of his own laboring lungs, and the rustle of his
clothing as his chest swelled and deflated with the effort. He exclaimed
impatiently and retraced his steps, peering into recesses between the
communal houses, certain that the Judge and Levins had fallen asleep in
his absence. He turned at a corner and in a dark angle almost stumbled
over Levins. He was lying on his stomach, his right arm under his head,
his face turned sideways. Trevison thought at first that he was asleep and
prodded him gently with the toe of his boot. A groan smote his ears and he
kneeled quickly, turning Levins over. Something damp and warm met his
fingers as he seized the man by the shoulder, and he drew the hand away
quickly, exclaiming sharply as he noted the stain on it.

His exclamation brought Levins' eyes open, and he stared upward, stupidly
at first, then with a bright gaze of comprehension. He struggled and sat
up, swaying from side to side.

"They got the Judge, 'Brand'--they run him off, with my cayuse!"

"Who got him?"

"I ain't reckonin' to know. Some of Corrigan's scum, most likely--I didn't
see 'em close."

"How long ago?"

"Not a hell of a while. Mebbe fifteen or twenty minutes. I been missin' a
lot of time, I reckon. Can't have been long, though."

"Which way did they go?"

"Off towards Manti. Two of 'em took him. The rest is layin' low somewhere,
most likely. Watch out they don't get you! I ain't seen 'em run off,
yet!"

"How did it happen?"

"I ain't got it clear in my head, yet. Just happened, I reckon. The Judge
was settin' on the ledge just in front of the dobie house you had him in.
I was moseyin' along the edge, tryin' to figger out what a light in the
sky off towards Manti meant. I couldn't figger it out--what in hell was
it, anyway?"

"The courthouse burned--maybe the bank."

Levins chuckled. "You got the record, then."

"Yes."

"An' I've lost the Judge! Ain't I a box-head, though!"

"That's all right. Go ahead. What happened?"

"I was moseyin along the ledge. Just when I got to the slope where we come
up--passin' it--I seen a bunch of guys, on horses, coming out of the
shadow of an angle, down there. I hadn't seen 'em before. I knowed
somethin' was up an' I turned, to light out for shelter. An' just then one
of 'em burns me in the back--with a rifle bullet. It couldn't have been no
six, from that distance. It took the starch out of me, an' I caved, I
reckon, for a little while. When I woke up the Judge was gone. The moon
had just come up an' I seen him ridin' away on my cayuse, between two
other guys. I reckon I must have gone off again, when you shook me." He
laughed, weakly. "What gets me, is where them other guys went, after the
two sloped with the Judge. If they'd have been hangin' around they'd sure
have got you, comin' up here, wouldn't they?"

Trevison's answer was a hoarse exclamation. He swung Levins up and bore
him into one of the communal houses, whose opening faced away from the
plains and the activity. Then he ran to where he had left Nigger, leading
the animal back into the zig-zag passages, pulling his rifle out of the
saddle holster and stationing himself in the shadow of the house in which
he had taken Levins.

"They've come back, eh?" the wounded man's voice floated out to him.

"Yes--five or six of them. No--eight! They've got sharp eyes, too!" he
added stepping back as a rifle bullet droned over his head, chipping a
chunk of adobe from the roof of the box in whose shelter he stood.

* * * * *

Sullenly, Corrigan had returned to Manti with the deputies that had
accompanied him to the Bar B. He had half expected to find Trevison at the
ranchhouse, for he had watched him when he had ridden away and he seemed
to have been headed in that direction. Jealousy dwelt darkly in the big
man's heart, and he had found his reason for the suspicion there. He
thought he knew truth when he saw it, and he would have sworn that truth
shone from Rosalind Benham's eyes when she had told him that she had not
seen Trevison pass that way. He had not known that what he took for the
truth was the cleverest bit of acting the girl had ever been called upon
to do. He had decided that Trevison had swung off the Bar B trail
somewhere between Manti and the ranchhouse, and he led his deputies back
to town, content to permit his men to continue the search for Trevison,
for he was convinced that the latter's visit to the courthouse had
resulted in disappointment, for he had faith in Judge Lindman's
declaration that he had destroyed the record. He had accused himself many
times for his lack of caution in not being present when the record had
been destroyed, but regrets had become impotent and futile.

Reaching Manti, he dispersed his deputies and sought his bed in the
Castle. He had not been in bed more than an hour when an attendant of
the hotel called to him through the door that a man named Gieger wanted to
talk with him, below. He dressed and went down to the street, to find
Gieger and another deputy sitting on their horses in front of the hotel
with Judge Lindman, drooping from his long vigil, between them.

Corrigan grinned scornfully at the Judge.

"Clever, eh?" he sneered. He spoke softly, for the dawn was not far away,
and he knew that a voice carries resonantly at that hour.

"I don't understand you!" Judicial dignity sat sadly on the Judge; he was
tired and haggard, and his voice was a weak treble. "If you mean--"

"I'll show you what I mean." Corrigan motioned to the deputies. "Bring him
along!" Leading the way he took them through Manti's back door across a
railroad spur to a shanty beside the track which the engineer in charge of
the dam occasionally occupied when his duty compelled him to check up
arriving material and supplies. Because plans and other valuable papers
were sometimes left in the shed it was stoutly built, covered with
corrugated iron, and the windows barred with iron, prison-like. Reaching
the shed, Corrigan unlocked the door, shoved the Judge inside, closed the
door on the Judge's indignant protests, questioned the deputies briefly,
gave them orders and then re-entered the shed, closing the door behind
him.

He towered over the Judge, who had sunk weakly to a bench. It was pitch
dark in the shed, but Corrigan had seen the Judge drop on the bench and
knew exactly where he was.

"I want the whole story--without any reservations," said Corrigan,
hoarsely; "and I want it quick--as fast as you can talk!"

The Judge got up, resenting the other's tone. He had also a half-formed
resolution to assert his independence, for he had received certain
assurances from Trevison with regard to his past which had impressed
him--and still impressed him.

"I refuse to be questioned by you, sir--especially in this manner! I do
not purpose to take further--"

The Judge felt Corrigan's fingers at his throat, and gasped with horror,
throwing up his hands to ward them off, failed, and heard Corrigan's laugh
as the fingers gripped his throat and held.

When the Judge came to, it was with an excruciatingly painful struggle
that left him shrinking and nerveless, lying in a corner, blinking at the
light of a kerosene lamp. Corrigan sat on the edge of a flat-topped desk
watching him with an ugly, appraising, speculative grin. It was as though
the man were mentally gambling on his chances to recover from the
throttling.

"Well," he said when the Judge at last struggled and sat up; "how do you
like it? You'll get more if you don't talk fast and straight! Who wrote
that letter, from Dry Bottom?"

Neither judicial dignity or resolutions of independence could resist the
threatened danger of further violence that shone from Corrigan's eyes, and
the Judge whispered gaspingly:

"Trevison."

"I thought so! Now, be careful how you answer this. What did Trevison want
in the courthouse?"

"The original record of the land transfers."

"Did he get it?" Corrigan's voice was dangerously even, and the Judge
squirmed and coughed before he spoke the hesitating word that was an
admission of his deception:

"I told him--where--it was."

Paralyzed with fear, the Judge watched Corrigan slip off the desk and
approach him. He got to his feet and raised his hands to shield his throat
as the big man stopped in front of him.

"Don't, Corrigan--don't, for God's sake!"

"Bah!" said the big man. He struck, venomously. An instant later he put
out the light and stepped down into the gray dawn, locking the door of the
shanty behind him and not looking back.





Next: The Ashes

Previous: Another Woman Lies



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