From: 'drag' Harlan
Harlan's statement to Haydon, to the effect that he had visited the camps
of Kelso, Rance, Larkin, and other outlaws had been strictly accurate. At
one time or another each of those outlaw leaders had sent for Harlan, to
endeavor to prevail upon him to cast his lot with them--so common was the
report that Harlan was of their type.
And he had been able--as he had told Haydon--to go among them with
impunity--unmolested, respected. And even after he had refused to join
they had extended him the courtesy of faith--not even swearing him to
secrecy. And he had vindicated their faith by keeping silent regarding
Knowing, however, that the ethics of men of the type of Kelso, Rance,
Larkin, and others provided a safe conduct for any man of their kind that
came among them, Harlan had felt contempt for Haydon for his threat. And
yet Harlan's rage on that occasion had been largely surface; it had been
displayed for effect--to force an instant decision from Haydon.
Harlan was aware that his only hope of protecting Barbara Morgan from
Haydon and Deveny was in an offensive war. He could not expect to wage
such a war by remaining idly at the Rancho Seco, to await the inevitable
aggressions of the outlaws, for he did not know when they would strike,
nor how. It was certain they would strike, and it was as certain they
would strike when he least expected them to.
Therefore he had determined to join them, depending upon his reputation
to allay any suspicion they might have regarding his motives. Haydon had
taken him into the band, but Harlan had been convinced that Haydon
distrusted him. He had seen distrust in Haydon's eyes; and he had known,
when Haydon dropped his gaze at the instant they had shaken hands, that
the man meditated duplicity.
Yet Harlan was determined to appear ignorant that Haydon meditated
trickery. He intended to go among the men and deliberately to ignore the
threatened dangers--more, to conduct himself in such a manner that Haydon
would not suspect that he knew of any danger.
It had been a slight incident that had suggested the plan to him--merely
a glance at Strom Rogers, while the latter, in Lamo, had been watching
Harlan had seen hatred in Rogers' face, and contempt and jealousy; and he
knew that where such passion existed it could be made to grow and
flourish by suggestion and by example.
And he was determined to furnish the example.
He knew something of the passions of men of the type which constituted the
band headed by Deveny and Haydon; he knew how their passions might be
played upon; he was aware of their respect and admiration for men of
notorious reputation, with records for evil deeds and rapid "gunslinging."
He had seen how Strom Rogers had watched him--with awed respect; he had
seen approval in Rogers' eyes when they had exchanged glances in Lamo;
and he had heard men in the group in front of the sheriff's office
speaking of him in awed whispers.
He had never been affected by that sort of adulation--in Lamo or in the
days that preceded his visit to the town. But he was not unmindful of the
advantage such adulation would give him in his campaign for control of
the outlaw camp. And that was what he had determined to achieve.
Three times in as many days he rode up the valley to the Star, each time
talking with Haydon--then leaving the latter to go out and lounge around
among the men, listening to their talk, but taking little part in it. He
did not speak until he was spoken to, and thus he challenged their
interest, and they began to make advances to him.
Their social structure was flimsy and thin, their fellowship as
spontaneous as it was insincere; and within a few days the edge had worn
off the strangeness that had surrounded Harlan, and he had been accepted
with hardly a ripple of excitement.
And yet no man among them had achieved intimacy with Harlan. There was a
cold constraint in his manner that held them off, figuratively, barring
them from becoming familiar with him. Several of them tried familiarity,
and were astonished to discover that they had somehow failed--though they
had been repelled so cleverly that they could not resent it.
Harlan had established a barrier without them being aware of how he had
done it--the barrier of authority and respect, behind which he stood, an
engaging, saturnine, interesting, awe-compelling figure.
At the end of a week the men of the Star outfit were addressing him as
"boss;" listening to him with respect when he spoke, striving for his
attention, and trying to win from him one of those rare smiles with which
he honored those among them whose personalities interested him.
At the end of two weeks half of the Star outfit was eager to obey any order
he issued, while the remainder betrayed some slight hesitation--which,
however, vanished when Harlan turned his steady gaze upon them.
Behind their acceptance of him, though--back of their seeming willingness
to admit him to their peculiar fellowship--was a reservation. Harlan felt
it, saw it in their eyes, and noted it in their manner toward him. They
had heard about him; they knew something of his record; reports of his
cleverness with a weapon had come to them. And they were curious.
There was speculation in the glances they threw at him; there was some
suspicion, cynicism, skepticism, and not a little doubt. It seemed to
Harlan that though they had accepted him they were impatiently awaiting a
practical demonstration of those qualities that had made him famous in
the country. They wanted to be "shown."
Their wild, unruly passions and lurid imaginations were the urges that
drove them--that shaped their conduct toward their fellows. Some of them
were rapid gunslingers--in the picturesque idioms of their speech--and
there was not a man among them who did not take pride in his ability to
"work" his gun. They had accepted Harlan, but it was obvious that among
them were some that doubted the veracity of rumor--some who felt that
Harlan had been overrated.
It did not take Harlan long to discover who those doubting spirits were.
He saw them watching him--always with curling lip and truculent eye; he
heard references to his ability from them--scraps of conversation in
which such terms and phrases as "a false alarm, mebbe," "he don't look
it," "wears 'em for show, I reckon," were used. He had learned the names
of the men; there were three of them, known merely as "Lanky," "Poggs,"
Their raids upon the cattle in the basin took place at night; and their
other depredations occurred at that time also. Harlan did not fail to
hear of them, for their successes figured prominently in their daytime
conversations; and he had watched the herd of cattle in the Star corrals
grow in size until the enclosure grew too small to hold them comfortably.
He had noted, too, the cleverness with which the men obliterated the
brands on the stolen cattle--or refashioned them until proof of their
identity was obscure.
He had taken no part in any of the raids, though he had passed a few
nights at the Star, directing, with the help of Strom Rogers, the
altering of the brands and the other work attending the disguising of the
Haydon he had seen but a few times, and Deveny not at all. He learned
from Rogers that Haydon spent most of his time upon mysterious missions
which took him to Lamo, to Lazette, and to Las Vegas; and that Deveny
operated from a place that Rogers referred to as the "Cache," several
miles up the valley.
Latimer, a tawny giant of a man with a long, hooked nose, and thin, cruel
lips, interested Harlan. He watched the man when the other was not
conscious of his glances, noting the bigness of him, his slow,
panther-like movements; the glowing, savage truculence of his eyes; the
hard, bitter droop of his lips under the yellow mustache he wore. He felt
the threat of the man when the latter looked at him--it was personal,
intense--seeming to have motive behind it. It aroused in Harlan a
One day, seated on a bench in front of the long bunkhouse near the Star
ranchhouse, Harlan was watching some of the men who were playing cards
near him. They were lounging in the grass, laughingly pitting their skill
against one another, while another group, in front of the stable, was
diligently repairing saddles.
Apart from the two groups were Lanky, Poggs, and Latimer. They were
standing near the corral fence, about a hundred feet from where Harlan
sat. The subject of their talk was unpleasant, for their faces reflected
the venomous passions that inspired it.
Latimer had been watching Harlan--his gaze boldly hostile and full of a
hate that was unmistakable.
And Harlan had not been unaware of Latimer's gaze; he had noted the
wolfish gleam in the other's eyes--and because he was interested in
Latimer, he watched him covertly.
But Harlan had betrayed no sign that he knew Latimer was watching him;
and when he saw Strom Rogers coming toward him from the stable, he
grinned at him and made room for him when the latter headed for the bench
upon which Harlan was sitting.
"Lazy day," offered Rogers as he dropped on the bench beside Harlan; "not
a heap doin'." He did not look at Harlan, but leaned forward, took up a
cinch buckle that had been lying in the sand at his feet, and turned it
idly over and over in his hands, apparently intent on its construction.
With his head down, so that even the card-players could not see his lips
move, he whispered to Harlan:
"Don't let 'em see you know I'm talkin'! They're framin' up on you!"
Harlan grinned, shielding his lips with a hand that he passed casually
"Meanin' Latimer--an' his friends?" he said.
"Yep. Latimer's jealous of you. Been jealous. Thinks he can match your
gunplay--itchin' for trouble--bound to have it out with you. We was at
the Cache last night, an' I heard him an' Deveny yappin' about it.
Deveny's back of him--he's sore about the way you handed it to him in
Lamo. Keep your eyes peeled; they're pullin' it off pretty soon.
Latimer's doin' the shootin'--he's tryin' to work himself up to it. Be
"I'm thankin' you." Harlan leaned back, crossed his legs, and stared off
into space, the light in his eyes becoming vacuous. He seemed not to be
interested in Latimer and the other two, but in reality he saw them
distinctly. But they had their backs to him now, and were slowly
sauntering toward the stable door.
"So Deveny ain't admirin' me none?" he said to Rogers.
"Not scarcely. No more than a gopher is admirin' a side-winder."
"Latimer," said Harlan, "don't like my style of beauty either. I've been
noticin' it. He's a mighty interestin' man. If I wasn't dead sure he
ain't the kind of a guy which goes around shootin' folks in the back, I'd
say he pretty near fits the description I got of the man who helped
Dolver salivate my side-kicker, Davey Langan, over in Pardo--a couple of
Rogers' side glance was pregnant with a grim, unsmiling humor.
"So you've picked him out? I've been wonderin' how long it would take
The emotion that passed over Harlan was not visible. It might have been
detected, however, by the slight leap in his voice.
"You an' Latimer is bosom friends, I reckon?"
Rogers' glance met Harlan's for a fleeting instant.
"This gang needs cleanin' up," said Rogers. He got up, and stood in front
of Harlan, holding out the cinch buckle, as though offering it to the
other. For both men had seen that Latimer had left his friends at the
stable door and was coming slowly toward the bunkhouse.
"You'll have to be slick," warned Rogers. "He's comin'. I'll be moseyin'
out of the way."
He moved slowly from the bench, passed the group of card-players, and
walked to the ranchhouse, where he hung the cinch buckle on a nail driven
into the wall of the building. Then he slowly turned, facing the bench
upon which Harlan still sat, and toward which Latimer was walking.
It was evident that all of the men in the vicinity were aware of the
threatened clash, for their manner, upon the approach of Latimer,
indicated as much.
For weeks they had been eager to test the traditional quickness of Harlan
with the weapons that swung at his hips--those weapons had been a
constant irritation to some of them, and an object of speculation to all.
And when the night before some of them had heard the whispered word that
Latimer--with Deveny's sanction--indeed with Deveny's encouragement--was
determined to clash with Harlan, they had realized that the moment for
which they had yearned was at hand.
For they had seen in Harlan's eyes--and had felt in the atmosphere that
surrounded the man--the certainty that he would not refuse the clash with
Latimer. The only question in their minds concerning Harlan was that of
his speed and accuracy. And so when they saw Latimer coming they ceased
playing cards and sat, interestedly watching--alert to note how Latimer
would bring about the clash, and how Harlan would meet it.
Latimer had nerved himself for the ordeal by talking with his friends.
The will to kill Harlan had been in his heart for a long time, but he
needed to reinforce it with an artificial rage. And, dwelling, with his
friends, upon the irritating fact that Harlan had come among them to
usurp authority to which he had no visible claim, he had succeeded in
working his rage to a frenzy that took little account of consequences.
Yet Latimer would not have been able to reach that frenzy had he not been
convinced that he was Harlan's master with the six-shooter. He really
believed that Harlan had been overrated. He believed that because he
wanted to believe it, and because his contempt for the man had bred that
conviction in his heart.
Also, he thought he knew why Harlan had come to the Star--why he had
joined the outlaw camp. And the night before, he had communicated that
suspicion to Deveny. It was because Harlan knew he had been with Dolver
when Davey Langan had been killed. Latimer thought he had seen a slight
relief in Deveny's eyes when he had told the latter that, but he could
not be sure, and it was not important.
The important thing was that he must kill Harlan--and he meant to do it.
He would kill him fairly, if possible, thereby enhancing his
reputation--but he was certain to kill him, no matter what the method.
That conviction blazed in his eyes as he came to a halt within a dozen
paces of where Harlan was sitting. He had worked himself to such a pitch
of rage that it gripped him like some strong fever--bloating his face,
tensing his muscles, bulging his eyes.
Harlan had watched him; and his gaze was on the other now with a steady,
unwavering alertness that advertised his knowledge of what was impending.
But he sat, motionless, rigid, waiting Latimer's first hostile movement.
Harlan had turned a very little when Latimer had begun his walk toward
the bench; his right side was slightly toward the man, the leg partially
extended; while the left leg was doubled under the bench--seemingly to
give him leverage should he decide to rise.
But he gave no indication of meditating such a move. It was plain to the
watchers that if he attempted it Latimer would draw his gun and begin to
Latimer was convinced also that Harlan would not attempt to rise. He had
Harlan at a disadvantage, and he laughed loudly, sardonically,
contemptuously as he stood, his right hand hovering close to his pistol
holster, his eyes aflame with hate and passion.
"Keep a-settin', you buzzard's whelp!" he sneered; "keep a-settin'!
Latimer's out to git you. You know it--eh? You've knowed it right
along--pretendin' not to. 'Drag' Harlan--bah! Gunslinger with a
record--an' caught a-settin'. Caught with the goods on, sneakin' in here,
tryin' to ketch a man unawares.
"Bah! Don't I know what you're here for? It's me! You blowed Dolver apart
for killin' that damned, slick-eyed pardner of yourn--Davey Langan. Do
you want to know who sent Langan out? I'm tellin' you--it was me!
He fairly yelled the last words, and stiffened, holding the fingers of
his right hand clawlike, above the butt of the holstered pistol.
And when he saw that Harlan did not move; that he sat there rigid, his
eyes unblinking and expressionless; his right hand hanging limply at his
side, near the partially extended leg; his left hand resting upon the
thigh of the doubled leg--he stepped closer, watching Harlan's right
For a space--while one might have counted ten--neither man moved a
muscle. Something in Harlan's manner sent into Latimer's frenzied brain
the message that all was not what it seemed--that Harlan was meditating
some astonishing action. Ten seconds is not long, as times goes, but
during that slight interval the taut nerves of Latimer's were twanged
with a torturing doubt that began to creep over him.
Would Harlan never make that move? That question was dinned insistently
into Latimer's ears. He began to believe that Harlan did not intend to
It was Latimer's lungs that breathed the ejaculation.
For Harlan's right hand had moved slightly upward, toward the pistol at
his right hip. It went only a few inches; it was still far below the
holster when Latimer's clawlike fingers descended to the butt of his own
weapon. The thought that he would beat Harlan in a fair draw was in his
mind--that he would beat him despite the confusion of the hesitating
motion with which Harlan got his gun out.
Something was happening, though--something odd and unexplainable. For
though Latimer had seemed to have plenty of time, he was conscious that
Harlan's gun was belching fire and death at him. He saw the smoke
streaks, felt the bullets striking him, searing their way through him,
choking him, weakening his knees.
He went down, his eyes wide with incredulity, filling with hideous
self-derision when he saw that the pistol which had sent his death to him
was not in Harlan's right hand at all, but in his left.
Harlan got up slowly as Latimer stretched out in the dust at his
feet--casting one swift glance at the fallen man to satisfy himself that
for him the incident was ended. Then, with the gaze of every man in the
outfit upon him, he strode toward the stable, where Lanky and Poggs were
standing, having witnessed the death of their confederate.
They stiffened to immobility as they watched Harlan's approach, knowing
that for them the incident was not closed--their guilt plain in their
And when Harlan halted in front of them they stood, not moving a muscle,
their eyes searching Harlan's face for signs that they too, were to
receive a demonstration of the man's uncanny cleverness.
"You was backin' Latimer's play," said Harlan, shortly. "I'm aimin' to
play the string out. Pull--or I'll blow you apart!"
Poggs and Lanky did not "pull." They stood there, ghastly color stealing
into their faces, their eyes wide with the knowledge that death would be
the penalty of a hostile movement.
Harlan's pistol was again in its holster, and yet they had no desire to
provoke the man to draw it. The furtive gleam in the eyes of both
revealed the hope that gripped them--that some of the watchers would
But not a man moved. Most of them had been stunned by the rapidity of
Harlan's action--by the deftness with which he had brought his left hand
into use. They had received the practical demonstration for which they
all had longed, and each man's manner plainly revealed his decision to
take no part in what was transpiring.
They remained in their places while Harlan--understanding that Poggs and
Lanky would not accept his invitation--spoke gruffly to them:
"This camp ain't got any room for skunks that go to framin' up on any of
the boys. Today you done it to me--tomorrow you'd try to pull it off on
some other guy.
"You're travelin'--pronto. You're gettin' your cayuses. Then you're
hittin' the breeze away from here--an' not comin' back. That lets you
He stood watchful, alert, while the men roped their horses, got their
"war-bags," from the bunkhouse, mounted, and rode away without looking
back. Then he walked over to the bench where he had been sitting when
Rogers had warned him of the plan to kill him; ordered several of the men
to take Latimer's body away, and then resumed his place on the bench,
where he rolled a cigarette.
Later, when the men who had gone with Latimer's body returned to the
vicinity of the ranchhouse, Harlan was still sitting on the bench.
No man said a word to him, but he saw a new respect in the eyes of all of
them--even in Rogers' gaze--which had not strayed from him for an instant
during the trouble.
And a little later, when Rogers walked to the bench and sat beside him,
the other men had resumed their various pastimes as though nothing had
Again Rogers whispered to him, lowly, admiringly:
"This camp is yours, man, whenever you say the word!"
Next: The Black-bearded Man
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