An Unwelcome Guest

: 'drag' Harlan

It was late afternoon when Barbara and Harlan--the girl still riding a

little in advance of the man--rode their horses out of a stretch of

broken country featured by low, barren hills and ragged draws, and came

to the edge of a vast level of sage and mesquite that stretched southward

an interminable distance.

The sun was low--a flaming red disk that swam in a sea of ever-changing

color between the towerin
peaks of two mighty mountains miles

westward--and the sky above the big level upon which Barbara and Harlan

rode was a pale amethyst set in the dull gray frame of the dusk that was

rising from the southern and eastern horizons.

Eastward the gray was pierced by the burning, flaming prismatic streaks

that stretched straight from the cleft in the mountains where the sun was

sinking--the sun seemed to be sending floods of new color into the

streaks as he went, deepening those that remained; tinging it all with

harmonious tones--rose and pearl and violet and saffron blending them

with a giant, magic brush--recreating them, making the whole background

of amethyst sky glow like a huge jewel touched by the myriad colors of a

mighty rainbow.

The trail taken by Barbara Morgan ran now, in a southeasterly direction,

and it seemed to Harlan that they were riding straight into the folds of

a curtain of gauze. For a haze was rising into the effulgent expanse of

color, and the sun's rays, striking it, wrought their magic upon it.

Harlan, accustomed to sunsets--with a matter-of-fact attitude toward all

of nature's phenomena--caught himself admiring this one. So intent was he

that he looked around with a start when Purgatory halted, to find that

Barbara had drawn Billy down and was sitting in the saddle close to him,

watching him, her eyes luminous with an emotion that thrilled Harlan


"This is the most beautiful place in the world," she declared in a voice

that seemed to quaver with awe.

"It's sure a beauty," agreed Harlan. "I've been in a heap of places where

they had sunsets, but dump 'em all together an' they wouldn't make an

edge on this display. She's sure a hummer!"

The girl's eyes seemed to leap at his praise.

"I never want to leave this place," she said. "There is nothing like it.

Those two mountains that you see far out into the west--where the sun is

going down--are about forty miles distant. If you will notice, you can

see that there are other mountains--much smaller--connected with them.

They are two small ranges, and they melt into the plains there--and


She pointed to the south and to the north, where the two ranges,

seemingly extending straight westward, merged into the edge of the big

level where Barbara and Harlan sat on their horses.

The two ranges were perhaps a dozen miles apart, separated by a low level

valley through which ran a narrow river, its surface glowing like

burnished gold in the rays of the sinking sun.

Gazing westward--straight into the glow--Harlan noted the virgin wildness

of the immense valley. It lay, serene, slumberous; its salient

features--ridges, low hills, rocky promontories and wooded slopes--touched

by the rose tints that descended upon them; while in the depressions

reigned purple shadows, soft-toned, blending perfectly with the brighter


With the sunset glow upon it; with the bastioned hills--barren at their

peaks, ridged and seamed--looming clear and definite above the vast

expanse of green, the colossal valley stretched, with no movement in it

or above it--in a vacuum-like stillness that might have reigned over the

world on the dawn of creation's first morning.

Harlan looked covertly at Barbara. The girl's face was pale, and her eyes

were glowing with a light that made him draw a long breath of sympathy

and understanding. But it had been many years since he had felt the

thrill of awe that she was experiencing at this minute.

He knew that presently the spell would pass, and that material things

would exact their due. And the resulting contrast between the beauty of

the picture upon which she was gazing, and the solemn realization of loss

that memory would bring, instantly, would almost crush her.

Therefore he spoke seriously when he caught her looking at him.

"There's sunsets an' sunsets," he said. "They tell me that they're a

heap common in some parts of the world. Wyoming, now--Wyoming prides

herself on sunsets. An' I've heard they have 'em in Italy, an'

France--an' some more of them foreign places--where guys go to look at

'em. But it's always seemed to me that there ain't a heap of sense in

gettin' fussed up over a sunset. The sun has got his work to do; an' he

does it without any fussin'. An' they tell me that it's the same sun that

sets in all them places I've been tellin' you about.

"Well, it's always been my idee that the sun ain't got no compliments due

him--he'll set mighty beautiful--sometimes; an' folks will get awed an'

thrilly over him. But the next day--if a man happens to be ridin' in the

desert, where there ain't any water, he'll cuss the sun pretty

thorough--forgettin' the nice things he said about it once."

Barbara scowled at him.

"You haven't a bit of poetry in your soul!" she charged. "I'm sorry we

stopped to look at the valley or the sun--or anything. You don't--you

can't appreciate the beautiful!"

He was silent as she urged Billy onward. And as they fled southwestward,

with Purgatory far behind, Harlan swept his hat from his head and bowed

toward the mighty valley, saying lowly:

"You're sure a hummer--an' no mistake. But if a man had any poetry in his


He rode on, gulping his delight over having accomplished what he had

intended to accomplish.

"She'll be givin' it to me pretty regular; an' she won't have time for no

solemn thoughts. They'll come later, though, when she gets to the Rancho


It was the lowing of cattle that at last brought to Harlan the conviction

that they were near the Rancho Seco--that and the sight of the roofs of

some buildings that presently came into view.

But they had been riding for half an hour before they came upon the

cattle and buildings, and the flaming colors had faded into somber gray

tones. The filmy dusk that precedes darkness was beginning to settle over

the land; and into the atmosphere had come that solemn hush with which

the wide, open places greet the night.

Barbara had no further word to say to Harlan until they reached a group

of buildings that were scattered on a big level near a river. They had

passed a long stretch of wire fence, which Harlan suspected, enclosed a

section of land reserved for a pasture; and the girl brought her pony to

a halt in front of an adobe building near a high rail fence.

"This is the Rancho Seco," she said shortly. "This is the stable. Over

there is the ranchhouse. Evidently the men are all away somewhere."

She got off the pony, removed the saddle and bridle, carried them into

the stable, came out again, and opened a gate in the fence, through which

she sent "Billy." Then she closed the gate and turned to Harlan, who had

dismounted and was standing at Purgatory's head.

"I thank you for what you have done for me," she said, coldly. "And now,

I should like to know just what you purpose to do--and why you have


Harlan's eyes narrowed as he returned her gaze. He remembered Lane

Morgan's words: "John Haydon is dead stuck on Barbara;" and he had

wondered ever since the meeting in Lamo if Barbara returned Haydon's

affection, or if she trusted Haydon enough to confide in him.

Barbara's attitude toward Haydon would affect Harlan's attitude toward

the girl. For if she loved Haydon, or trusted him enough to confide in

him--or even to communicate with him concerning ordinary details, Harlan

could not apprise her of the significance of his presence at the Rancho


For Haydon was unknown to Harlan and Harlan was not inclined to accept

Morgan's praise of him as conclusive evidence of the man's worthiness.

Besides, Morgan had qualified his instructions with: "Take a look at John

Haydon, an' if you think he's on the level--an' you want to drift

on--turn things over to him."

Harlan did not want to "drift on." Into his heart since his meeting in

Lamo with Barbara--and during the ride to the Rancho Seco--had grown a

decided reluctance toward "drifting." And not even the girl's scorn could

have forced him to leave her at the ranch, unprotected.

But he could not tell her why he could not go. Despite her protests he

must remain--at least until he was able to determine the character of

John Haydon.

A gleam of faint mockery came into his eyes as he looked at Barbara.

"I'm keepin' my promise to your dad--I'm stayin' at the Rancho Seco

because he told me to stay. He wanted me to sort of look out that nothin'

happened to you. I reckon we'll get along."

The girl caught her breath sharply. In the growing darkness Harlan's

smile seemed to hold an evil significance; it seemed to express a thought

that took into consideration the loneliness of the surroundings, the fact

that she was alone, and that she was helpless. More--it seemed to be a

presumptuous smile, insinuating, full of dire promise.

For Harlan was an outlaw--she could not forget that! He bore a reputation

for evil that had made him feared wherever men congregated; and as she

watched him it seemed to her that his face betrayed signs of his

ruthlessness, his recklessness, and his readiness for violence of every


He might not have killed her father--Rogers and Lawson had acquitted him

of that. But he might be lying about the promise to her father merely for

the purpose of providing an excuse to come to the Rancho Seco. It seemed

to her that if her father had really exacted a promise from him he would

have written to her, or sent her some token to prove the genuineness of

it. There was no visible evidence of Harlan's truthfulness.

"Do you mean to say you are going to stay here--indefinitely?" she

demanded, her voice a little hoarse from the fright that was stealing

over her.

He smiled at her. "You've hit it about right, ma'am."

"I don't want you to stay here!" she declared, angrily.

"I'm stayin', ma'am." His smile faded, and his eyes became


"Later on--when things shape themselves up--I'll tell you why I'm

stayin'. But just now----"

She shrank from him, incredulous, a growing fear plain in her eyes. And

before he could finish what he intended to say she had wheeled, and was

running toward the ranchhouse.

He watched until she vanished through an open doorway; he heard the door

slam, and caught the sound of bars being hurriedly dropped into place.

And after that he stood for a time watching the house. No light came from

within, and no other sound.

He frowned slightly, drawing a mental picture of the girl inside,

yielding to the terror that had seized her. Then after a while he walked

down along the corral fence until he came to another building--a

bunkhouse. And for a long time he stood in the doorway of the building,

watching the ranchhouse, afflicted with grim sympathy.

"It ain't so damn' cheerful, at that," he mused. "I reckon she thinks

she's landed into trouble with both feet--with her dad cashin' in like he

did, an' Deveny after her. It sure must be pretty hard to consider all

them things. An' on top of that I mosey along, with a reputation as a

no-good son-of-a-gun, an' scare the wits out of her with my homely mug.

An' I can't tell her why she hadn't ought to be scared. I call that

mighty mean."