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Seven For One








From: The Seventh Man

Dangerous men were no novelty for Gregg. He had lived with them, worked
with them, as hard-fisted himself as any, and as ready for trouble, but the
man of the mountain-desert has a peculiar dread for the practiced, known
gun-fighter. In the days of the rapier when the art of fence grew so
complicated that half a life was needed for its mastery, men would as soon
commit suicide as ruffle it with an assured duellist; and the man of the
mountain-desert has a similar respect for those who are born, it might be
said, gun in hand. There was ample reason for the prickling in his scalp,
Vic felt, for here he sat on an errand of consummate danger with three of
these deadly fighters. Two of them he knew by name and repute, however
dimly, and as for Buck Daniels, unless all signs failed the dark,
sharp-eyed fellow was hardly less grim than the others. Vic gauged the
three one by one. Daniels might be dreaded for an outburst of wild temper
and in that moment he could be as terrible as any. Lee Haines would fight
coolly, his blue eyes never clouded by passion, for that was his repute as
the right hand man of Jim Silent, in the days when Jim had been a terrible,
half-legendary figure. One felt that same quiet strength as the tawny
haired man talked to Barry now; his voice was a smooth, deep current. But
as for Barry himself, Gregg could not compute the factors which entered
into the man. By all outward seeming that slender, half-timid figure was
not a tithe of the force which either of the others represented, but out of
the past Gregg's memory gathered more and more details, clear and clearer,
of the wolf-dog, the black stallion, and the whistling man who tracked down
Silent--"Whistling Dan" Barry; that was what they called him, sometimes.
Nothing was definite in the mind of Gregg. The stories consisted of patched
details, heard here and there at third or fourth hand, but he remembered
one epic incident in which Barry had ridden, so rumor told, into the very
heart of Elkhead, taken from the jail this very man, this Lee Haines, and
carried him through the cordon of every armed man in Elkhead. And there was
another picture, dimmer still, which an eye witness had painted: of how, at
an appointed hour, Barry met Jim Silent and killed him.

Out of these thoughts he glanced again at the man in the shadow, half
expecting to find his host swollen to giant size. Instead, he found the
same meager form, the same old suggestion of youth which would not age, the
same pale hands, of almost feminine litheness. Lee Haines talked on--about
a porphyry dyke somewhere to the north--a ledge to be found in the space of
ten thousand square miles--a list of vague clues--an appeal for Barry to
help them find it--and Barry was held listening though ever seeming to
drift, or about to drift, towards the door. Black Bart lay facing his
master, and his snaky head followed every movement. Kate sat where the
firelight barely touched on her, and in her arms she held Joan, whose face
and great bright eyes were turned towards Daddy Dan. All things in the room
centered on the place where the man sat by the wall, and the sense of
something impending swept over Gregg; then a wild fear--did they know the
danger outside? He must make conversation; he turned to Kate, but at the
same moment the voice of Buck Daniels beside him, close.

"I know how you feel, old man. I remember an old bay hoss of mine, a Morgan
hoss, and when he died I grieved for near onto a year, mostly. He wasn't
much of a hoss to look at, too long coupled, you'd say, and his legs was
short, but he got about like a coyote and when he sat down on a rope you
couldn't budge him with a team of Percherons. That's how good he was! When
he was a four year old I was cutting out yearlin's with him, and how--"

The loud, cheerful tone fell away to a confidential murmur, Daniels leaned
closer, with a smile of prospective humor, but the words which came to
Gregg were: "Partner, if I was you I'd get up and git and I wouldn't stop
till I put a hell of a long ways between me and this cabin!"

It spoke well of Vic's nerve that no start betrayed him. He bowed his head
a little, as though to catch the trend of the jolly story better, nodding.

"What's wrong?" he muttered back.

"Barry's watchin' you out of the shadow."

Then: "You fool, don't look!"

But there was method in Vic's raising his head. He threw it back and broke
into laughter, but while he laughed he searched the shadow by the wall
where Dan sat, and he felt glimmering eyes fixed steadily upon him. He
dropped his head again, as if to hear more.

"What's it mean, Daniels?"

"You ought to know. I don't. But he don't mean you no good. He's lookin' at
you too steady. If I was you--"

Through the whisper of Buck, through the loud, steady talk of Lee Haines,
cut the voice of Barry.

"Vic!"

The latter looked up and found that Barry was standing just within the glow
of the hearth-light and something about him made Gregg's heart shrink.

"Vic, how much did they pay you?"

He tried to answer; he would have given ten years of life to have his voice
under control for an instant; but his tongue froze. He knew that every one
had turned toward him and he tried to smile, look unconcerned, but in spite
of himself his eyes were wide, fixed, and he felt that they could stare
into the bottom of his soul and see the guilt.

"How much?"

Then his voice came, but he could have groaned when he heard its crazily
shaken, shrill sound.

"What d'you mean, Dan?"

The other smiled and Gregg added hastily: "If you want me to be movin'
along, Dan, of course you're the doctor."

"How much did they pay?" repeated the quiet, inexorable voice.

He could have stood that, even without much fear, for no matter how
terrible the man might be in action his hands were tied in his own house;
but now Kate spoke: "Vic, what have you done?"

Then it came, in a flood. Hot shame rolled through him and the words burst
out:

"I'm a yaller houn'-dog, a sneakin' no-good cur! Dan, you're right. I've
sold you. They're out there, all of 'em, waitin' in the rocks. For God's
sake take my gun and pump me full of lead!"

He threw his arms out, clear of his holster and turned that Barry might
draw his revolver. Vaguely he knew that Haines and Buck had drawn swiftly
close to him from either side; vaguely he heard the cry of Kate; but all
that he clearly understood was the merciless, unmoved face of Barry. It was
pretense; with all his being he wanted to die, but when Barry made no move
to strike he turned desperately to the others.

"Do the job for him. He saved my life and then I used it to sell him.
Daniels, Haines, I got no use for livin'."

"Vic," he said, "take--this!--and march to your friends outside; and when
you get through them, plant a forty-five slug in your own dirty heart and
then rot." Haines held out his gun with a gesture of contempt.

But Kate slipped in front of him, white and anguish.

"It was the girl you told me about, Vic?" she said. "You did it to get back
to her?"

He dropped his head.

"Dan, let him go!"

"I got no thought of usin' him."

"Why not?" cried Vic suddenly. "I'll do the way Haines said. Or else let me
stay here and fight 'em off with you. Dan, for God's sake give me one
chance to make good."

It was like talking to a face of stone.

"The door's open for you, and waitin'. One thing before you go. That's the
same gang you told me about before? Ronicky Joe, Harry Fisher, Gus Reeve,
Mat Henshaw, Sliver Waldron and Pete Glass?"

"Harry Fisher's dead, Dan, if you'll give me one fightin' chance to play
square now--"

"Tell 'em that I know 'em. Tell 'em one thing more. I thought Grey Molly
was worth only one man. But I was wrong. They've done me dirt and played
crooked. They come huntin' me--with a decoy. Now tell 'em from me that Grey
Molly is worth seven men, and she's goin' to be paid for in full."

He stepped to the wall and took down the bridle which Vic had hung there.

"I guess you'll be needin' this?"

It ended all talk; it even seemed to Gregg that as soon as he received the
bridle from the hand of Barry the truce ended with a sudden period and war
began. He turned slowly away.





Next: Man-hunting

Previous: Suspense



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