: 'drag' Harlan

Turning from Purgatory, after he had dismounted in front of the sheriff's

office, Harlan faced three men who stood just outside of the building,

watching him.

The slightly humorous smile that curved Harlan's lips might have betrayed

his reason for dismounting in front of the sheriff's office, for he had

seen Laskar standing with the two other men. But no man could have told

that he looked at Laskar direct
y, except Laskar himself, who would have

sworn that Harlan did not remove his gaze from him, once he had slipped

from Purgatory's back.

For Harlan's eyes told nothing. They seemed to be gazing at nothing, and

at everything. For Gage, watching the man, was certain Harlan was looking

directly at him as he grinned, and Deveny, like Laskar, was sure Harlan's

gaze was upon him. And all of them, noting one another's embarrassment,

stood silent, marveling.

And now Deveny discovered that Harlan was watching the three of them

together--a trick which is accomplished by fixing the gaze upon some

object straight in front of one; in this case it was Deveny's collar--and

then including other objects on each side of the center object.

Steady nerves and an inflexible will are required to keep the gaze

unwavering, and a complete absence of self-consciousness. Thus Deveny

knew he was standing in the presence of a man whose poise and

self-control were marvelous; and he knew, too, that Harlan would be aware

of the slightest move made by either of the three; more, he could detect

any sign of concerted action.

And concerted action was what Deveny and Laskar and the sheriff had

planned. And they had purposely dragged Laskar outside, expecting Harlan

would do just as he had done, and as his eyes warned he intended to do.

"I'm after you, Laskar," he said softly.

Laskar stiffened. He made no move, keeping his hands at his sides, where

they had been all the time that had elapsed since Harlan had dismounted.

Laskar's eyes moved quickly, with an inquiring flash in them, toward

Deveny and the sheriff. It was time for Deveny and the sheriff to

precipitate the action they had agreed upon.

But the sheriff did not move. Nor did Deveny change his position. A

queer, cold chill had come over Deveny--a vague dread, a dragging

reluctance--an indecision that startled him and made of his thoughts an

odd jumble of half-formed impulses that seemed to die before they could

become definite.

He had faced gun-fighters before, and had felt no fear of them. But

something kept drumming into his ears at this instant with irritating

insistence that this was not an ordinary man; that standing before him,

within three paces, his eyes swimming in an unfixed vacuity which

indicated preparation for violent action, was Harlan--"Drag" Harlan, the

Pardo two-gun man; Harlan, who had never been beaten in a gunfight.

Could he--Deveny--beat him? Could he, now, with "Drag" Harlan watching

the three of them, could he draw with any hope of success, with the hope

of beating the other's lightning hand on the downward flash to life or


Deveny paled; he was afraid to take the chance. His eyes wavered from

Harlan's; he cast a furtive glance at the sheriff.

Harlan caught the glance, smiled mirthlessly and spoke shortly to Laskar:

"I told you to keep hittin' the breeze till there wasn't any more

breeze," he said. "I ought to have bored you out there by the red rock. I

gave you your chance. Flash your gun!"


This was Gage. His voice sounded as though it had been forced out: it was

hoarse and hollow.

Harlan did not move, nor did his eyes waver. There was feeling in them

now: intense, savage, cold. And his voice snapped.

"You're the sheriff, eh? You want to gas, I reckon. Do it quick before

this coyote goes for his gun."

The sheriff cleared his throat. "You're under arrest, Harlan, for killin'

Lane Morgan out there in the desert yesterday."

Harlan's eyes narrowed, his lips wreathed into a feline smile. But he did

not change his position.

"Who's the witness against me?"


"Has he testified?"

"He's goin' to."

Harlan backed away a little. His grin was tiger-like, a yellow flame

seemed to leap in his eyes. Laskar, realizing at last that he could hope

for no assistance from Gage or Deveny, grew rigid with desperation.

Death was in front of him; he knew it. Death or a deathless fame. The

fates had willed one or the other, and he chose to take the gambler's

chance, the chance he and Dolver and the Chief had refused Lane Morgan.

Deathless fame, the respect and the admiration of every man in the

section was his if he beat "Drag" Harlan to the draw. Forever afterward,

if he beat Harlan, he would be pointed at as the man who had met the

Pardo gunman on even terms and had downed him.

He stepped out a little, away from the front of the building, edging off

from Deveny and Gage so that Harlan would have to watch in two


Lawson and Rogers, having advanced to a position within a dozen paces of

the group in front of the sheriff's office, now backed away, silent,

watchful. Other men who had been standing near were on the move

instantly. Some dove into convenient doorways, others withdrew to a

little distance down the street. But all intently watched as Laskar

showed by his actions that he intended to accept his chance.

Deveny, too, watched intently. He kept his gaze fixed upon Harlan, not

even glancing toward Laskar. For Deveny's fear had gone, now that the

dread presence had centered its attention elsewhere, and he was

determined to discover the secret of Harlan's hesitating "draw," the

curious movement that had given the man his sobriquet, "Drag." The

discovery of that secret might mean much to him in the future; it might

even mean life to him if Harlan decided to remain in the section.

Harlan had made no hostile movement as yet. He still stood where he had

stood all along, except for the slight backward step he had taken before

Laskar began to move. But he watched Laskar as the latter edged away from

the other men, and when he saw Laskar's eyes widen with the thought that

precedes action, with the gleam that reflects the command the brain

transmutes to the muscles, his right hand flashed downward toward the


With a grunt, for Harlan had almost anticipated his thoughts, Laskar's

right hand swept toward the butt of his pistol.

But Harlan's hand had come to a poise, just above the stock of his

weapon--a pause so infinitesimal that it was merely a suggestion of a


It was enough, however, to throw Laskar off his mental balance, and as he

drew his weapon he glanced at Harlan's holster.

A dozen men who watched swore afterward that Laskar drew his gun first;

that it was in his hand when Harlan's bullet struck him. But Deveny knew

better; he knew that Laskar was dead on his feet before the muzzle of his

weapon had cleared the holster, and that the shot he had fired had been

the result of involuntary muscular action; that he had pulled the trigger

after Harlan's bullet struck him, and while his gun had been loosening in

his hand.

For Deveny had seen the bullet from Laskar's gun throw up sand at

Harlan's feet after Harlan's weapon had sent its death to meet Laskar.

And Deveny had discovered the secret of Harlan's "draw." The pause was a

trick, of course, to disconcert an adversary. But the lightning flash of

Harlan's hand to his gun-butt was no trick. It was sheer rapidity, his

hand moving so fast that the eye could not follow.

And Deveny could get no pleasure from his discovery. Harlan had waited

until Laskar's fingers were wrapped around the stock of his pistol before

he had drawn his own, and therefore in the minds of those who had

witnessed the shooting, Harlan had been justified.

Sheriff Gage thought so, too. For, after Laskar's body had been carried

away, Harlan stepped to where the sheriff stood and spoke shortly:

"You wantin' me for this?"

Sheriff Gage shook his head. "I reckon everybody saw Laskar go for his

gun. There was no call for him to go for his gun. If you'd have shot

him without him reachin' for it things would have been different."

Harlan said coldly, "I'm ready for that trial, now."

The sheriff's eyes glowed with some secret significance as they met

Harlan's. He was standing at a little distance from Deveny, and he

deliberately closed an eye at Harlan.

"Trial--hell!" he declared, "you've destroyed the evidence."

Harlan wheeled, to see Deveny standing near. And for an instant as their

eyes met--Harlan's level and cold, Deveny's aflame with a hostility

unmistakable--the crowd which had witnessed the shooting of Laskar again

became motionless, while a silence, portending further violence,

descended over the street.

Then Deveny abruptly wheeled and began to walk across to the First


He had not taken many steps, however, when there were sounds of commotion

farther down the street toward the Eating-House--a man cursing and a girl


Deveny halted and faced the point from which the sounds came, and a scowl

appeared on his face.

Harlan wheeled, also. And he saw, at a little distance down the street, a

girl running, her hair tossing in a mass around her, her eyes wild with

fright and terror. Behind her came a man, cursing as he ran.

Harlan heard Sheriff Gage curse, too--heard him say:

"That's Lane Morgan's daughter--Barbara! What in hell is she doin' here?"

The girl, not more than a dozen feet ahead of her pursuer, ran straight

toward Harlan. And when--as she drew closer and he saw that she was,

indeed, actually coming toward him--her eyes on him as though she had

singled him out as a protector--he advanced toward her, drawing one of

his guns as he went.

And, grinning as she neared him, he opened his arms wide and she ran

straight into them, and laid her head on his shoulder, sobbing, and

talking incoherently. While Harlan, his grin fading as he looked at her

pursuer--who had halted within half a dozen paces of the girl--commanded


"You're runnin' plumb into a heap of trouble, mister man. Throw your rope

around the snubbin' post. Then get on your hind legs an' do some

explainin'. What you chasin' this girl for?"

The man reddened, looked downward, then up at Deveny. The latter, a pout

on his lips, his eyes glowing savagely, walked to where Harlan stood with

one arm around the girl, while Lawson, Rogers, Gage, and several other

men advanced slowly and stood near him.