: '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,
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
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
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.