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The Intruder

From: 'drag' Harlan

After closing the door through which she had entered, Barbara Morgan
slipped the fastenings into place and stood, an ear pressed against the
door, listening for sounds that would tell her Harlan had followed her.
But beyond the door all was silence.

Breathing fast, yielding to the panic of fear that had seized her, over
the odd light she had seen in Harlan's eyes--a gleam, that to her, seemed
to have been a reflection of some evil passion in the man's heart--she
ran through the dark room she had entered, opened a door that led to the
patio, and peered fearfully outward, as though she half expected to see
Harlan there.

But the court was deserted, apparently, though there were somber shadows
ranging the enclosing walls that would afford concealment for Harlan, had
he succeeded in gaining entrance. As she stepped out of the doorway she
peered intently around.

Then, further frightened by the brooding silence that seemed to envelop
the place, and tortured by tragic thoughts in which her father occupied a
prominent position--almost crazed by the memory of what had happened
during the preceding twenty-four hours--she fled across the patio
swiftly, her terror growing with each step.

She knew the house thoroughly; she could have found her way in complete
darkness; and when she reached the opposite side of the court she almost
threw herself at a door which, she knew, opened into the big room in
which she and her father had usually passed their leisure.

Entering, she closed the door, and barred it. Then, feeling more secure,
she stood for an instant in the center of the room, gazing about,
afflicted with an appalling sense of loss, of loneliness, and of

For this was the first time she had entered the house since the news of
her father's death had reached her; and she missed him, feeling more
keenly than ever the grief she had endured thus far with a certain stoic
calm; yielding to the tears that had been very close for hours.

She did not light the kerosene lamp that stood on a big center table in
the room. For there was light enough for her to see objects around her;
and she went at last to an arm-chair which had been her father's
favorite, knelt beside it, and sobbed convulsively.

Later, yielding to a dull apathy which had stolen over her, she made her
way upstairs, to her room--which was directly over the front entrance to
the patio--and sank into a chair beside one of the windows.

She had locked her door after entering; and for the first time since
arriving at the Rancho Seco she felt comparatively safe.

Her thoughts were incoherent--a queer jumble of mental impulses which
seemed to lead her always back to the harrowing realization that she had
lost her father. That was the gigantic axis around which her whole mental
structure revolved. It was staggering, stupefying, and her brain reeled
under it.

Other thoughts came, flickered like feeble lights, and went out--thoughts
of what had happened to her at Lamo; a dull wonder over Meeder Lawson's
presence in town when he should have been with the men on the range;
speculation as to the whereabouts of the men--why none of them had
remained at the ranchhouse; and a sort of dumb, vague wonder over what
her future would be.

She thought, too, of John Haydon of the Star ranch--the big, smiling,
serene-eyed man who seemed to bring a breath of romance with him each
time he visited the Rancho Seco. Haydon would help her, she knew, and she
would go to him in the morning.

Her father had trusted Haydon, and she would trust him. Haydon was the
one man in the section who seemed to have no fear of Deveny and his
men--many times he had told her that most of the stories told of Deveny's
crimes were untrue--that he had not committed all those that were
attributed to him.

Not that Haydon condoned those offenses upon which Deveny stood convicted
by circumstantial evidence. Nor had Haydon ever sought to defend Deveny.
On the other hand, Haydon's condemnation of the outlaw and his men had
been vigorous--almost too vigorous for Haydon's safety, she had heard her
father say.

It was when her thoughts dwelt upon Harlan that she was most puzzled--and
impressed. For though she was acquainted with the man's reputation--knowing
him to be an outlaw of the reckless, dare-devil type--she felt the force of
him, the compelling originality of him--as he differed from the outlaw of
popular conception--his odd personality, which seemed to be a mingling of
the elements of character embracing both good and evil.

For though an outlaw himself, he had protected her from outlaws. And she
had seen in his eyes certain expressions that told her that he felt
impulses of sympathy and of tenderness. And his words to Deveny and
others had seemed to hint of a fairly high honorableness.

And though she had seen in his eyes a cold gleam that was convincing
evidence of the presence of those ruthless passions which had made him an
enemy of the law, she had also detected expressions in his eyes that told
plainly of genial humor, of gentleness, and of consideration for other

But whatever she had seen in him, she felt his force--the terrible power
of him when aroused. It was in the atmosphere that surrounded him; it was
in the steady gleam of his eyes, in the poise of his head, and in the
thrust of his jaw, all around him. She feared him, yet he fascinated
her--compelled her--seemed to insist that she consider him in her scheme
of life.

In fact, he had made it plain to her that he intended to be considered.
"I'm stayin' here," he had told her in his slow, deliberate way.

And that seemed to end it--she knew he would stay; that he was
determined, and that nothing short of force would dissuade him. And what
force could she bring against him? A man whose name, mentioned in the
presence of other men, made their faces blanch.

Deep in her heart, though, lurked a conviction that Harlan had not told
her everything that had happened at Sentinel Rock. She was afflicted with
a suspicion that he was holding something back. She had seen that in his
eyes, too, she thought. It seemed to her that her father might have
told him to come to the Rancho Seco, and to stay there. And for that
reason--because she suspected that Harlan had not told all he knew--she
felt that she ought not order him away. If only he had not looked at her
with that queer, insinuating smile!

She had sat at the window for, it seemed to her, many hours before she
became aware that the moon had risen and was directly overhead, flooding
the ground in the vicinity of the ranchhouse with a soft, silver

She got up with a start, remembering that she had left Harlan standing
outside the door in the rear. She had almost forgotten that!

She went to a window that opened into the patio, and looked downward.
Every nook and corner of the patio was visible now; the dark, somber
shadows had been driven away, and in the silvery flood that poured down
from above the enclosure was brilliant, clearly defined--and deserted.

And yet as the girl looked, a presentiment of evil assailed her,
whitening her cheeks and widening her eyes. The quiet peace and
tranquillity of the patio seemed to mock her; she felt that it held a
sinister promise, a threat of dire things to come.

The feeling was so strong that it drove her back from the window to the
center of the room, where she stood, holding her breath, her hands
clasped in front of her, the fingers twining stiffly. It seemed to her
that she was waiting--waiting for something to happen--something that

And when she heard a slight sound, seeming to arise from the room below
her, she caught her breath with a gasp of horror.

But she did not move. She stood there, with no breath issuing from
between her lips, for many minutes, it seemed--waiting, dreading, a cold
paralysis stealing over her.

And then again it came--an odd sound--slow, creaking, seeming to come
always nearer. It was not until she heard the sound directly outside her
door that she realized that what she heard was a step on the stairs. And
then, convinced that Harlan had gained entrance, she slipped noiselessly
across the room to the front wall, where she took down a heavy pistol
that hung from a wooden peg.

With the huge weapon in hand she returned to a point near the center of
the room, and with bated breath and glowing, determined eyes, faced the

And when, after a time, she heard the door creak with a weight that
seemed to be against it--after she saw it give; heard the lock break, and
saw a man's form darken the opening as the door was flung wide--she
pressed the trigger of the weapon once--twice--three times--in rapid

She heard the man curse, saw him catch at his chest, and tumble headlong
toward her. And she fired again, thinking he was trying to grasp her.

She laughed hysterically when she saw him sink to the floor and stretch
out with a queer inertness. Then, swaying, her brain reeling with the
horror of the thing, she managed to get to the bed at the other side of
the room. When she reached it she collapsed gently, a long, convulsive
shudder running over her.

Next: Barbara Sees A Light

Previous: On Guard

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