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The Music








From: The Seventh Man

To the last ravine Kate's horse carried her easily enough, but that
mountain pass was impenetrable through all its length to anything except
the uncanny agility of Satan, and so she left the cow-pony in the bottom of
the gorge and climbed the last rise on foot.

On the mountainside above her, it was not easy to locate the cave, for the
slope was clawed into ravines and confused with meaningless criss-cross
gulches. Whatever scrub evergreens grew there stood under the shade of
boulders which threatened each instant to topple over and go thundering to
the base. She had come upon the cave by chance in her ride with Dan, and
now she hunted vainly through the great stones for the entrance. A fresh
wind, chill with the snows of the upper peaks, pulled and tugged at her and
cut her face and hands with flying bits of sand. It kept up a whistling so
insistent that it was some time before she recognized in the hum of the
gale a different note, not of pleasant music, but a thin, shrill sound that
blended with the voice of the wind.

The instant she heard it she stopped short on the lee side of a tall rock
and looked about her in terror. The mountains walked away on every side,
and those resolute masses gave her courage. She listened, for the big rock
cut away the breath of the wind about her ears and she could make out the
whistling more clearly. It was a strain as delicate as a pin point ray of
light in a dark room, but it made Kate tremble.

Until the sound ended she stayed there by the rock, hearkening, but the
moment it ceased she gathered her resolution with a great effort and went
straight toward the source of the whistling. It was only a moment away,
although the wind had made it seem much farther, and she came on the tall,
narrow opening with Joan sitting on a rock just within. Instead of the blue
cloak, she was wrapped in a tawny hide, and the yellow hair blew this way
and that, unsheltered from the wind. The loneliness of the little figure
made Kate's heart ache, made her pause on her way, and while she hesitated,
Joan's head rested back against the rock, her eyes half closed, her lips
pursed, she began to whistle that same keen, eerie music.

It brought Kate to her in a rush.

"Oh Joan!" she cried. "My baby!"

And she would have swept the child into her arms, but Joan slipped out from
under her very fingers and stood a little distance off with her hands
pressed against the wall on either side of her, ready to dart one way or
the other. It was not sudden terror, but rather a resolute determination to
struggle against capture to the end, and her blue eyes were blazing with
excitement. Kate was on her knees with her arms held out.

"Joan, dear, have you forgotten munner?"

The wildness flickered away from the eyes of the child little by little.

"Munner?" she repeated dubiously.

No shout of welcome, no sudden rush, no arms to fling about her mother. But
if her throat was dry and closed Kate allowed no sign of it to creep into
her voice.

"Where's Daddy Dan?"

"He's gone away."

"Where?"

"Oh--over there!"

The mother rose slowly to her feet, and looked out across the mountains as
if in search of aid. For her mind had harked back to that story her father
used to tell of the coming of Dan Barry; how he had ridden across the hills
one evening and saw, walking against the sunset, a tattered boy who
whistled strangely as he went, and when old Joe Cumberland asked where he
was going he had only waved a vague hand toward the north and answered,
"Oh--over there. It was sufficient destination for him, it was sufficient
explanation now for the child. She remembered how she, herself a child
then, had sat at her father's table and watched the brown face of the
strange boy with fascination, and the wild, quick eyes which went
everywhere and rested in no one place. They were the eyes which looked up
to her now from Joan's face, and she felt suddenly divorced from her baby,
as if all the blood in Joan were the blood of her father.

"He left you here alone?" she murmured.

The child looked at her with a sort of curious amazement.

"Joan isn't alone."

She whistled softly, and around the corner of the rock peered two tiny,
beady-bright eyes, and the sharp nose of a coyote puppy. It disappeared at
once at the sight of the stranger, and now all the strength went from Kate.
She slipped helplessly down, and sat on a boulder trying to think, trying
to master the panic which chilled her; for she thought of the day when
Whistling Dan brought home to the Cumberland Ranch the wounded wolf-dog,
Black Bart. But the call of Joan had traveled far, and now a squirrel came
in at a gallop with his vast tail bobbing behind him, and ran right up the
rock until he was on the shoulder of the child. From this point of vantage,
however, he saw Kate, and was instantly on the floor of the cave and
scurrying for the entrance, chattering with rage.

The wild things came to Joan as they came to her father, and the eyes of
the child were the eyes of Dan Barry. It came home to Kate and she saw the
truth for the first time in her life. She had struggled to win him away
from his former life, but now she knew that it was not habit which
controlled him, for he was wild by instinct, by nature. Just as the tang of
his untamed blood had turned the child to this; and a few days more of life
with him would leave her wild forever.

"He left you alone here!" she repeated fiercely. "Where a thousand things
might happen. Thank God I've found you."

Even if her words conveyed little meaning to Joan, the intonation carried a
message which was perfectly clear.

"Don't you like Daddy Dan?"

"Joan, Joan, I love him! Of course."

But Joan sat with a dubious eye which quickly darkened into fear.

"Oh, Munner, don't take us back!"

Such horror and terror and sadness mixed! The tears rushed into the eyes of
Kate.

"Do you want to stay here, sweetheart?"

"Yes, munner."

"Without me?"

At first Joan shook her head decidedly, but thereafter she quickly became
thoughtful.

"No, except when we eat."

"You don't want me here at dinner-time? Poor munner will get so hungry."

A great concession was about to burst from the remorseful lips of Joan, but
again second thought sobered her. She remained in a quandary, unable to
speak.

"Don't you want me even when you wake up at night?"

"Why?"

"Because you're so afraid of the dark."

"Joan's not afraid. Oh, no! Joan loves the dark."

If Kate maintained a smile, it was a frozen grimace. It had only been a few
days--hardly yesterday--that Joan left, and already she was a little
stranger. Suppose Dan should refuse to come back himself; refuse even to
give up Joan! She started up, clutching the hand of the child.

"Quick, Joan, we must go!"

"Joan doesn't want to go!"

"We'll go--for a little walk. We--we'll surprise Daddy Dan."

"But Daddy Dan won't come back for long, long time. Not till the sun is
away down behind that hill."

That should mean two hours, at least, thought Kate. She could wait a
little.

"Joan, what taught you not to be afraid of the dark?"

This problem made Joan look about for an answer, but at length she called
softly: "Jackie!"

She waited, and then whistled; at once the bright eyes of the little coyote
appeared around the edge of the rock.

"Come here!" she commanded.

He slunk out with his head turned towards Kate and cowered at the feet of
the child. And the mother cringed inwardly at the sight; all wild things
which hated man instinctively with tooth and claw were the friends, the
allies of Whistling Dan, and now Joan was stepping in her father's path. A
little while longer and the last vestige of gentleness would pass from her.
She would be like Dan Barry, following calls which no other human could
even hear. It meant one thing: at whatever cost, Joan must be taken from
Dan and kept Away.

"Jackie sleeps near me," Joan was saying. "We can see in the dark, can't
we, Jackie?"

She lifted her head, and the moment her compelling eyes left him, Jackie
scooted for shelter. The first strangeness had worn away from Joan and she
began to chatter away about life in the cave, and how Satan played there by
the firelight with Black Bart, and how, sometimes--wonderful sight!--Daddy
Dan played with them. The recital was quite endless, as they pushed farther
and farther into the shadows, and it was the uneasiness which the dim light
raised in her that made Kate determine that the time had come to go home.

"Now," she said, "we're going for that walk."

"Not away down there!" cried Joan.

Kate winced.

"It's lots nicer here, munner. You'd ought to just see what we have to eat!
And my, Daddy Dan knows how to fix things."

"Of course he does. Now put on your hat and your cloak, Joan."

"This is lots warmer, munner."

"Don't you like it?" she added in alarm, stroking the delicate fur.

"Take it off!"

Kate ripped away the fastenings and tossed the skin far away.

"Oh!" breathed Joan.

"It isn't clean! It isn't clean," cried Kate. "Oh, my poor, darling baby!
Get your bonnet and your cloak, Joan, quickly."

"We're coming back?"

"Of course."

Joan trudged obediently to the side of the cave and produced both articles,
sadly rumpled, and Kate buttoned her into them with trembling fingers.
Something akin to cold made her shake now. It was very much like a child's
fear of the dark.

But as she turned towards the entrance to the cave and caught the hand of
Joan, the child wrenched herself free.

"We'll never come back," she wailed. "Munner, I won't go!"

"Joan, come to me this instant."

Grief and fear and defiance had set the child trembling, but what the
mother saw was the glint of the eyes, uneasy, hunting escape with animal
cunning. It turned her heart cold, and she knew, with a sad, full knowledge
that Dan was lost forever and that only one power could save Joan. That
power was herself.

"I won't go!"

"Joan!"

A resolute silence answered her, and when she went threateningly forward,
Joan shrank into the shadows near the rock. It was the play of light
striking slantwise from the entrance, no doubt, but it seemed to Kate that
a flicker of yellow light danced across the eyes of the child. And it
stopped Kate took her breath with a new terror. Dan Barry, in the old days,
had lived a life as quiet as a summer's day until the time Jim Silent
struck him down in the saloon; and she remembered how Black Bart had come
for her and led her to the saloon, and how she found Dan lying on the
floor, streaked with blood, very pale; and how she had kneeled by him in a
panic, and how his eyes had opened and stared at her without answer and the
yellow, inhuman light swirled in them until she rose and backed out the
door and fled in a hysteria of fear up the road. That had been the
beginning of the end for Dan Barry, that instant when his eyes changed; and
now Joan--she ran at her swiftly and gathered her into her arms. One
instant of wild struggling, and then the child lay still, her head
straightened a little, a shrill whistle pealed through the cave.

Kate stopped that piercing call with her hand, but when she turned, she saw
in the entrance the dark body of Bart and his narrow, snake-like head.





Next: The Battle

Previous: Bad News



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