The Failure





When Black Bart returned without Joan, without even a note of answer about

his neck, the master made ready to take by force. First he went over his

new outfit of saddle and guns, looking to every strap of the former, and

the latter, revolvers and rifle, he weighed and balanced with a meditative

look, as if he were memorizing their qualities against a time of need. With

Satan saddled and Bart on guard at the mouth of the cave, he gathered up

all the accumulation of odds and ends, provisions, skins, and made a

stirring bonfire in the middle of the gravel floor. It was like burning his

bridges before starting out to the battle; he turned his back to the cave

and started on his journey.



He had to travel in a loose semicircle, for there were two points which he

must reach on the ride, the town of Alder, where lived the seventh man who

must die for Grey Molly, and the Cumberland ranch, last of all, where he

would take Joan. Very early after his start he reached the plateau where he

had lived all those years with Kate, and he found it already sinking back

to ruin, with nothing in the corrals, and the front door swinging to and

fro idly in the wind, just as Joan had often played with it. Inside, he

knew, the rooms were empty; a current of air down the chimney had scattered

the ashes from the hearth all about the living room. Here must be a chair

overturned, and there the sand had drifted through the open door. All this

he saw clearly enough with his mind's eye, and urged Satan forward. For a

chill like the falling of sudden night had swept over him, and he shrugged

his shoulders with relief when he swept past the house. Yet when he came to

the long down-slope which pitched into the valley so far below him, he

called Satan to a halt again, and swung to look at the house. He could hear

the clatter of the front door as it swung; it seemed to be waving a

farewell to him.



It was all the work of a moment, to ride back, gather a quantity of paper

and readily inflammable materials, soak them in oil, and scratch a match.

The flames swept up the sides of the logs and caught on the ceiling first

of all, and Dan Barry stood in the center of the room until the terrified

whining of Black Bart and the teeth of the wolf-dog at his trousers made

him turn and leave the house. Outside, he found Satan trembling between two

temptations, the first to run as far and as fast as he could from that most

terrible thing--fire; and the second to gallop straight into the blaze. The

voice of the master, a touch quieted him, and Black Bart lay down at the

feet of the master and looked up into his face.



By this time the fire had licked away a passage through the roof and

through this it sent up a yellow hand that flicked up and down like a

signal, or a beckoning, and then shot up a tall, steady, growing, roaring

column of red. No man could say what went through the mind of Dan Barry as

he stood there watching the house of his building burn, but now he turned

and threw his arms over the neck and back of Satan, and dropped his

forehead against the withers of the black. It troubled the stallion. He

turned his head, and nosed the shoulder of the master gently, and Black

Bart, in an agony of anxiety, reared up beside Dan and brought his head

almost up to the head of the man; there he whined pleadingly for never

before had he seen the master hide his face.



A deep, short report made the master stand away from Satan. The fire had

reached a small stock of powder, and the shock of the explosion was

followed by a great crashing and rending as an inner wall went down. That

fall washed a solid mass of yellow flame across the front door, but the

fire fell back, and then Dan saw the doll which he himself had made for

Joan; it had been thrown by the smashing of the wall squarely in front of

the door, and now the fire reached after it--long arms across the floor. It

was an odd contrivance, singularly made of carved wood and with arms and

legs fastened on by means of bits of strong sinew, and Joan prized it above

all the rosy faced dolls which Kate had bought for her. For an instant Dan

stood watching the progress of the fire, then he leaped through the door,

swerved back as an arm of fire shot out at him, ran forward again, caught

up the doll and was outside rubbing away the singed portions of brows and

lashes.



He did not wait until the house was consumed, but when the flames stood

towering above the roof, shaking out to one side with a roar when the wind

struck them, he mounted Satan once more, and made for the valley.



He wanted to reach Alder at dark, and he gauged the time of his ride so

accurately that when he pulled out of the mouth of Murphy's Pass, the last

light of the day was still on the mountains and in the pass, but it was

already dark in the village, and a score of lights twinkled up at him like

eyes.



He left Satan and Bart well outside the town, for even in the dark they

might easily be recognized, and then walked straight down the street of

Alder. It was a bold thing to do, but he knew that the first thing which is

seen and suspected is the skulker who approaches from covert to covert.

They knew he had ridden into Alder before in the middle of the night and

they might suspect the danger of such another attack, but they surely would

not have fear of a solitary pedestrian unless a telltale light were thrown

upon his face.



He passed Captain Lorrimer's saloon. Even in this short interval it had

fallen into ill-repute after the killing at Alder. And a shanty farther

down the street now did the liquor business of the town; Captain Lorrimer's

was closed, and the window nailed across with slats. He went on. Partly by

instinct, and partly because it was aflame with lights, he moved straight

to the house at which he had learned tidings of three men he sought on his

last visit to Alder. Now there were more lights showing from the windows of

that place than there were in all the rest of Alder; at the hitching racks

in front, horses stood tethered in long double rows, and a noise of voices

rolled out and up and down the street. Undoubtedly, there was a festival

there, and all Alder would turn out to such an affair. All Alder, including

Vic Gregg, the seventh man. A group came down the street for the widow's

house; they were laughing and shouting, and they carried lanterns; away

from them Barry slipped like a ghost and stood in the shadow of the house.



There might be other such crowds, and they were dangerous to Barry, so now

he hunted for a means of breaking into the house of the widow unseen. The

windows, as he went down the side of the building, he noted to be high, but

not too high to be reached by a skillful, noiseless climber. In the back of

the house he saw the kitchen door, illumined indeed, but the room, as far

as he could see, empty.



Then very suddenly a wave of silence began somewhere in a side of the house

and swept across it, dying to a murmur at the edges. Barry waited for no

more maneuvers, but walked boldly up the back stairs and entered the house,

hat in hand.



The moment he passed the door he was alert, balanced. He could have swung

to either side, or whirled and shot behind him with the precision of a

leisurely marksman, and as he walked he smiled, happily with his head held

high. He seemed so young, then, that one would have said he had just come

in gaily from some game with the other youths of Alder.



Out of the kitchen he passed into the hall, and there he understood the

meaning of the silence, for both the doors to the front room were open, and

through the doors he heard a single voice, deep and solemn, and through the

doors he saw the crowd standing motionless. Their heads did not stir,--

heads on which the hair was plastered smoothly down--and when some one

raised a hand to touch an itching ear, or nose, he moved his arm with such

caution that it seemed he feared to set a magazine of powder on fire. All

their backs were towards Barry, where he stood in the hall, and as he

glided toward them, he heard the deep voice stop, and then the trembling

voice of a girl speak in reply.



At the first entrance he paused, for the whole scene unrolled before him.

It was a wedding. Just in front of him, on chairs and even on benches, sat

the majority of adult Alder,--facing these stood the wedding pair with the

minister just in front of them. He could see the girl to one side of the

minister's back, and she was very pretty, very femininely appealing, now,

in a dress which was a cloudy effect of white; but Barry gave her only one

sharp glance. His attention was for the men of the crowd. And although

there were only backs of heads, and side glimpses of faces he hunted

swiftly for Vic Gregg.



But Gregg was not there. He surveyed the assembly twice, incredulous, for

surely the tall man should be here, but when he was on the very point of

turning on his heel and slinking down the hall to pursue his hunt in other

quarters, the voice of the minister stopped, and the deep tone of Vic

himself rolled through the room.



It startled Barry like a voice out of the sky; he stared about, bewildered,

and then as the minister shifted his position a little he saw that it was

Gregg who stood there beside the girl in white,--it was Gregg being

married. And at the same moment, the eyes of Vic lifted, wandered, fell

upon the face which stood there framed in the dark of the doorway. Dan saw

the flush die out, saw the narrow, single-purposed face of Gregg turn

white, saw his eyes widen, and his own hand closed on his gun. Another

instant; the minister turned his head, seemed to be waiting, and then Gregg

spoke in answer: "I will!"



A thousand pictures rushed through the mind of Barry, and he remembered

first and last the wounded man on the gray horse who he had saved, and the

long, hard ride carrying that limp body to the cabin in the mountains. The

man would fight. By the motion of Gregg's hand, Dan knew that he had gone

even to his wedding armed. He had only to show his own gun to bring on the

crisis, and in the meantime the eyes of Vic held steadily upon him past the

shoulder of the minister, without fear, desperately. In spite of himself

Dan's hand could not move his gun. In spite of himself he looked to the

confused happy face of the girl. And he felt as he had felt when he set

fire to his house up there in the hills. The wavering lasted only a moment

longer; then he turned and slipped noiselessly down the hall, and the

seventh man who should have died for Grey Molly was still alive.





The Face Of Failure The Fall Of Balancing Rock facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback