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From: 'drag' Harlan

"So you came at last?"

Barbara had some difficulty in keeping resentment prominent in her voice
as she faced John Haydon, for other emotions were clamoring within
her--joy because Haydon had come, even though tardily; self-reproach
because she saw in Haydon's eyes a glowing anxiety and sympathy that
looked as though they were of recent birth.

There was repressed excitement in Haydon's manner; it was as though he
had only just heard of the girl's affliction and had ridden hard to come
to her.

She was sure of the sincerity in his voice when he grasped her hands
tightly and said:

"At last, Barbara! I heard it only this morning, and I have nearly killed
my horse getting over here! Look at him!"

The gray horse certainly did have the appearance of having been ridden
hard. He stood, his legs braced, his head drooping, his muzzle and chest
flecked with foam. Barbara murmured pityingly as she stroked the beast's
neck; and there was quick forgiveness in her eyes when she again looked
at Haydon.

Haydon was big--fully as tall as Harlan, and broader. His shoulders
bulged the blue flannel shirt he wore; and it was drawn into folds at his
slim waist, where a cartridge-studded belt encircled him, sagging at the
right hip with the weight of a heavy pistol.

He wore a plain gray silk handkerchief at his throat; it sagged at the
front, revealing a muscular development that had excited the envious
admiration of men. His hair was coal-black, wavy and abundant--though he
wore it short--with design, it seemed, for he must have known that it
gave him an alert, virile appearance.

His face, despite the tan upon it, and the little wrinkles brought by the
sun and wind, had a clear, healthy color, and his eyes black as his hair,
had a keen glint behind which lurked humor of a quality not to be
determined at a glance--it was changeable, fleeting, mysterious.

Barbara was silent. The steady courage that had sustained her until this
instant threatened to fail her in the presence of this big, sympathetic
man who seemed, to her, to embody that romance for which she had always
longed. She looked at him, her lips trembling with emotion.

Until now she had had no confidant--no one she could be sure of. And so,
with Haydon standing close to her, though not too close--for he had never
been able to achieve that intimacy for which he had yearned--she told him
what had happened, including details of her father's death, as related to
her by Harlan; finishing by describing the incident with Deveny in Lamo
(at which Haydon muttered a threat) and the subsequent coming of Harlan
to the Rancho Seco, together with the story of his assumption of
authority.

When she concluded Haydon laid a sympathetic hand on her shoulder.

"It's too bad, Barbara. And on top of it all, Lawson had to play the
beast, too, eh? Why didn't you send someone to me?"

"There was no one to send." Her voice threatened to break, despite the
brave gleam that flashed through the moisture in her eyes. "Lawson had
sent the men away; and when they came in Harlan took charge of them.
And--besides," she admitted, dropping her gaze, "I--I thought you ought
to--I thought you would----"

He shook her, reprovingly, laughing deeply as he led her through the
gateway into the patio, where they sat on a bench for a long time,
talking, while the aspect of the patio began to change, becoming again
a place of cheerfulness flooded with the soft, radiant light of returning
happiness--reflected in her eyes; while the sunlight streaming down into
the enclosure took on a brightness that made the girl's eyes glisten;
while the drab and empty days since her father's death began to slip back
into the limbo of memory--the sting and the sorrow of them removed. So
does the heart of youth respond to the nearness of romance.

They had been talking for half an hour when Barbara remembered that
Haydon had not expressed a desire to meet Harlan.

Haydon's face lost a little of its color as he replied to her suggestion
that they find the man.

But he laughed, rather mirthlessly, she thought.

"I intend to see him, Barbara--but alone. There are several things of
importance that I want to say to him--chiefly concerning his conduct
toward you."

He got up. Barbara rose also, and walked with him, outside the gate,
where he got on his horse, smiling down at her.

"Harlan was right about your riding out alone. I'd stay as close to the
ranchhouse as possible. There's no telling what Deveny might try to do.
But don't worry. If it wasn't so soon after--after what has happened--I
would--" He smiled, and Barbara knew he meant what he had said to her
many times--about there being a parson in Lazette, a hundred miles or so
northeastward--and of his eagerness to be present with her while the
parson "tied the knot." His manner had always been jocose, and yet she
knew of the earnestness behind it.

Still, she had not yielded to his importunities, because she had not been
quite sure that she wanted him. Nor was she certain now, though she liked
him better at this moment than she had ever liked him before.

She shook her head negatively, answering his smile; and watched him as he
rode around a corner of the ranchhouse toward the corral where, no doubt,
he would find Harlan.

* * * * *

Harlan had ridden directly to the bunkhouse door and dismounted. Red
Linton said nothing until Harlan seated himself on a bench just outside
the bunkhouse door. Then Linton grinned at him.

"There's a geezer come a-wooin'," he said.

Harlan glared at the red-haired man--a truculent, savage glare that made
Linton stretch his lips until the corners threatened to retreat to his
ears. Then Linton assumed a deprecatory manner.

"They ain't no chance for him, I reckon. He's been burnin' up the
breeze between here an' the Star for more'n a year--an' she ain't as much
as kissed him, I'd swear!"

Harlan did not answer.

"You saw him?" questioned Linton.

"Shut your rank mouth."

Linton chuckled. "I didn't know you'd been hit that bad. Howsomever, if
you have been, why, there's no sense of me wastin' time gassin' to you.
They ain't nothin' will cure that complaint but petticoats an'
smiles--the which is mighty dangerous an' uncertain. I knowed a man
once----"

Harlan got up and walked to the bunkhouse. And Linton, grinning, called
loudly after him, pretending astonishment.

"Why, he's gone. Disappeared complete. An' me tryin' to jam some sense
into his head."

Grinning, Linton sauntered away, vanishing within the blacksmith-shop.

He had hardly disappeared when Haydon appeared from around a corner of
the ranchhouse, at about the instant Harlan, sensing the departure of
Linton, came to the door, frowning.

The frown still narrowed Harlan's eyes when they rested upon the
horseman; and his brows were drawn together with unmistakable truculence
when Haydon dismounted near the corral fence.

Haydon's manner had undergone a change. When in the presence of Barbara
he had been confident, nonchalant. When he dismounted from his horse and
walked toward Harlan there was about him an atmosphere that suggested
carefulness. Before Haydon had taken half a dozen steps Harlan was aware
that the man knew him--knew of his reputation--and feared him.

Respect was in Haydon's eyes, in the droop of his shoulders, in his
hesitating step. And into Harlan's eyes came a gleam of that contempt
which had always seized him when in the presence of men who feared him.

And yet, had not Harlan possessed the faculty of reading character at a
glance; had he not had that uncanny instinct of divining the thoughts of
men who meditated violence, he could not have known that Haydon feared
him.

For Haydon's fear was not abject. It was that emotion which counsels
caution, which warns of a worthy antagonist, which respects force that is
elemental and destroying.

Haydon smiled as he halted within a few paces of Harlan and turned the
palms of his hands outward.

"You're 'Drag' Harlan, of Pardo," he said.

Harlan nodded.

"My name's Haydon. I own the Star--about fifteen miles west--on Sunset
Trail. I happen to be a friend of Miss Morgan's, and I'd like to talk
with you about the Rancho Seco."

"Get goin'."

Haydon's smile grew less expansive.

"It's a rather difficult subject to discuss. It rather seems to be none
of my affair. But you will understand, being interested in Barbara's
future, and in the welfare of the ranch, why I am presuming to question
you. What do you intend to do with the ranch?"

"Run it."

"Of course," smiled Haydon. "I mean, of course, to refer to the financial
end of it. Miss Morgan will handle the money, I suppose."

"You got orders from Miss Barbara to gas to me about the ranch?"

"Well, no, I can't say that I have. But I have a natural desire to know."

"I'll be tellin' her what I'm goin' to do."

Haydon smiled faintly. Twice, during the silence that followed Harlan's
reply, Haydon shifted his gaze from Harlan's face to the ground between
himself and the other, and then back again. It was plain to Haydon that
he could proceed no farther in that direction without incurring the wrath
that slumbered in Harlan's heart, revealed by his narrowing eyes.

In Harlan's heart was a bitter, savage passion. Hatred for this man,
which had been aroused by Barbara's reference to him, and intensified by
his visit to the girl, had been made malignant by his appearance now in
the role of inquisitor.

Jealousy, Harlan would not have admitted; yet the conviction that Haydon
was handsome, and that women would like him--that no doubt Barbara
already liked him--brought a cold rage to Harlan. He stood, during the
momentary silence, his lips curving with contempt, his eyes glinting with
a passion that was unmistakable to Haydon.

He stepped down from the doorway and walked slowly to Haydon, coming to a
halt within a yard of him. His hands were hanging at his sides, his chin
had gone a little forward; and in his manner was the threat that had
brought a paralysis of fear to more than one man.

Yet, except for a slow stiffening of his muscles, Haydon betrayed no
fear. There was a slight smile on his lips; his eyes met Harlan's
steadily and unblinkingly. In them was a glint of that mysterious humor
which other men had seen in them.

"I know you're lightning on the draw, Harlan," he said, his faint smile
fading a trifle. "I wouldn't have a chance with you; I'm not a
gun-fighter. For that reason I don't want any disagreement with you. And
I've heard enough about you to know that you don't shoot unless the other
fellow is out to 'get' you.

"We won't have any trouble. Be fair. As the man who will ultimately take
charge of the Rancho Seco--since Miss Barbara has been good enough to
encourage me--I would like to know some things. I've heard that Lane
Morgan was killed at Sentinel Rock, and that you were with him when he
died--and just before. Did he give you authority to take charge of the
Rancho Seco?"

"He told me to take hold."

"A written order?"

"His word."

"He said nothing else; there were no papers on him--nothing of value?"

Neither man had permitted his eyes to waver from the other's since Harlan
had advanced; and they now stood, with only the few feet of space between
them, looking steadily at each other.

Harlan saw in Haydon's eyes a furtive, stealthy gleam as of cupidity
glossed over with a pretense of frank curiosity. He sensed greed in
Haydon's gaze, and knowledge of a mysterious quality.

Haydon knew something about Lane Morgan's errand to Pardo; he knew why
the man had started for Pardo, and what had been on his person at the
time of his death.

Harlan was convinced of that; and the light in his eyes as he looked into
Haydon's reflected the distrust and the contempt he had for the man.

"What do you think Morgan had in his clothes?" he questioned suddenly.

A slow flush of color stole into Haydon's cheeks, then receded, leaving
him a trifle pale. He laughed, with a pretense of mockery.

"You ought to know," he said, a snarl in his voice. "You must have
searched him."

Harlan grinned with feline mirthlessness. And he stepped back a little,
knowledge and satisfaction in his eyes.

For he had "looked Haydon over," following Morgan's instructions. He had
purposely permitted Haydon to question him, expecting that during the
exchange of talk the man would say something that would corroborate the
opinion that Harlan had instantly formed, that Haydon was not to be
trusted.

And Haydon's snarl; the cupidity in his eyes, and his ill-veiled
eagerness had convinced Harlan.

Harlan did not resent Haydon's manner; he was too pleased over his
discovery that Haydon possessed traits of character that unfitted him for
an alliance with Barbara. And it would be his business to bring those
traits out, so that Barbara could see them unmistakably.

He laughed lowly, dropping his gaze to Haydon's belt; to his right hand,
which hung limply near his pistol holster; and to the woolen shirt, with
the silk handkerchief at the throat sagging picturesquely.

His gaze roved over Haydon--insolently, contemptuously; his lips
twitching with the grim humor that had seized him. And Haydon stood, not
moving a muscle, undergoing the scrutiny with rigid body, with eyes that
had become wide with a queer sensation of dread wonder that was stealing
over him; and with a pallor that was slowly becoming ghastly.

For he had no doubt that at last he had unwittingly aroused the demon in
Harlan, and that violence, which he had wished to avoid, was imminent.

But Harlan's roving gaze, as he backed slightly away from Haydon, came to
the breast-pocket of the man's shirt. His gaze centered there definitely,
his eyes narrowing, his muscles leaping a little.

For out of the pocket stretched a gold chain, broken, its upper
end--where it entered the buttonhole of the shirt--fastened to the
buttonhole with a rawhide thong, as though the gold section were not long
enough to reach.

And the gold section of the chain was of the peculiar pattern of the
section that Harlan had picked up on the desert near Sentinel Rock.





Next: Deep Water

Previous: Shadows



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