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Title: The Red Bandanna Author: Max Brand * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1302751h.html Language: English Date first posted: May 2013 Most recent update: May 2013 This eBook was produced by Roy Glashan from a text donated by Paul Moulder. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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The cook threw a half dozen tomato cans out of the cook wagon, and the men began to knock them about with their Colts. Clancy Morgan, being a new hand on that ranch, took his turn with the rest, but he found that a quart can diminishes to too small a point when it has been hurled by a strong arm. He missed three times running. The other 'punchers looked at him and grinned and nodded. Most of them were missing, too. Only the foreman and the freckle-faced kid from Arizona kept knocking holes in those cans.
That swarthy chunk of a cowpuncher, Bill, had taken no part in the proceedings, so Clancy Morgan went over and sat on his heels beside the taciturn man.
"You don't waste your time and lead on tin cans, eh?" asked Morgan.
"Yeah, and what's the use?" answered Bill. "New cartridges cost money. Maybe I could hit those tin cans as good as the next man. I dunno. I hate waste."
"Speaking of real shooting," said Clancy, "Danny Travis is the boy to shoot the spots out of everything."
Bill started. Or, at least, there seemed to be a movement of his entire body, but, when Clancy Morgan looked down at him again, Bill was simply scratching one shin.
"Those new chaps of mine," explained Bill, "they got me all chafed up."
"You take new sheepskin, it acts that way," said Clancy.
He made his cigarette and looked across the range, now blooming for a few moments in the sunset color. It had been a light day spent entirely in the saddle, with very little pulling and hauling. The cowpunchers were not sprawling on the ground—as usual in rest period—they were up and about, ready to play pranks. Their spirit was more like noon than night.
"Speaking of this gent—this Danny Travis," said Bill in a careful voice. "Just how good might he be?"
"An ace," Clancy Morgan said. "A regular ace." He broke off to remark: "Look at old Dick knock that can right out of the air! I'd like to be able to shoot like that." He shook his handsome young head. He was not over two and twenty, and his face was as happy as his heart, which had a way of singing all day long. The shadows of life meant nothing to Clancy Morgan. They never had crossed him, and it seemed probable that they never would cross him. When he smiled, the flash of his eyes and the white glimmer of his teeth, and a bursting good humor and gentleness and kindly content with the world dissolved criticism. Men liked to have him around. So did women. If trouble ever came Clancy's way, one would expect it to be because women liked him too well.
"But I'm no good with a gun," continued Clancy Morgan. "I've spent my time learning to ride and rope and work cows—I've never had the spare hours to play around with a gun. But a gun can be useful, too."
"Yeah, a gun can be useful," Bill agreed, with a certainty that made his voice very quiet. "About this here Danny Travis"he returned to the subject smoothly"might he be a friend of yours?"
"Why?" asked Clancy Morgan cheerfully. "Friend of mine? Why, I guess old Danny's about the best friend I have in the world. He taught me how to daub a rope on a cow. Good old Danny! He is a friend."
"A friend is something worth having these days," said Bill profoundly. "Yeah, or any days at all."
"Danny tried to teach me to shoot," said Clancy.
Bill lifted his eyes slowly and sharpened them to look into the face of Morgan. "He's a good hand, you say," muttered Bill.
"He's a top hand," declared Clancy. "He's a top hand at everything. He can rope, and he can ride, and he can do about everything. He could be governor, or something like that, if he wanted to, I guess. The way he can talk, it's a caution. He's a man, is Danny Travis. You wouldn't think of him settling down, though, would you?"
"I'd as soon think of a hawk squatting down in a barnyard!" exclaimed Bill.
"You know Danny, do you?"
"No, no," muttered Bill, "I don't know him. I mean, the kind of a fellow you talk about that can ride and rope and shoot and talk, and play a top hand at poker—that kind of a fellow, you'd expect him to keep on ranging and not to go and settle down on any patch of ground."
"Did I speak about him being a good card player?" asked Clancy thoughtfully.
"Sure you did," said Bill in haste. "You spoke about him being a good shot and roper and rider and card player."
Suspicion could not live in the mind of Clancy any longer than clouds can rule the sky in May.
"Cards are the way poor Danny has always lost his money," said Clancy Morgan.
"Where would he have settled? Where would he have taken up land?" asked Bill. And he looked suddenly down to the ground and gripped a hand behind his back.
"Right down beside my home town," said Clancy Morgan. "Danny Travis sort of takes to me a little. I don't know why." He flushed with pride. "He says I'm a fool kid, but he sort of takes to me—and he settled on a piece of ground right outside of Tartartown. He's got a section that looks better for rabbits than for cows, but Danny'll be able to work it, all right. He always is able to do what he wants."
"Tartartown—that's south," murmured Bill. He became silent. After a moment he rose and stretched. Then he walked off toward the place where the boss was pacing up and down. The back view of Bill was something like the back view of an ape, for the width of his shoulders, the length of his arms, and the shortness of his extremely bowed legs were accentuated.
Clancy watched him walk up and down with the boss. They came to a halt and appeared to argue a point. Clancy was not interested in arguments. He rolled down his blankets. It was not quite dark, and the moon would be up before very long, and it was better to get to sleep before the moon' slanted its pale light across the range.
So Clancy rolled into the blankets, put his hands under his head, and fixed his mind on a pleasant thought. The first thought that jumped into his mind was Olivia Gregor. Of late she was always his first thought. He never had asked her to marry him because it seemed an impertinence to speak of marriage before he was further on his way toward an established home, but he always thought of her with a sense of possession. Certain moments of silence had passed between them, and he was sure. Now he closed his eyes. He thought of her as he had last seen her, when she pulled up her horse and her hand and her laughter went out to him. He had wanted to pick her off that little mustang and hold her high in his arms. She had known what he wanted, too. Girls always know. They're clever that way. So Clancy Morgan smiled, and pleasant sleep was clouding his brain when he heard the voice of the boss, talking to the foreman.
"I told Bill I counted on him to finish the job. He wouldn't stay. There was something working in him. He saddled up and took the south trail."
Some of the sleep rolled back from the mind of Clancy Morgan. The south trail led toward Tartartown, and in Tartartown lived Olivia Gregor.
"It's too bad," said the foreman. Their voices lowered as they made down their blankets for the night. "It's too dog-gone bad, because Bill's a good cowhand. And he handled that string of outlaws that I gave him like they was house pets. There's something to that Bill."
"I'll give you an idea what," said the boss.
"All right. What's so mysterious?"
"I give him a good look in the eye while I was talking to him," said the boss. "You know how a resemblance misses you for a long time and then comes back sudden?"
"Yeah. I know."
"I'd been lookin' at Bill for days. All at once, tonight, it hit me between the eyes—it's nobody but Jasper Orping."
The name awakened Clancy Morgan and brought him up to one elbow, blinking. There was only one Jasper Orping. The ghosts of his dead men would agree to that. Moreover, on a day, had there not been bad blood between Danny Travis and Jasper Orping? It was a thing that increased the air of dignity that surrounded Danny Travis—that he could have fallen out with Jasper Orping and have remained intact in life and limb.
"That ain't Jasper Orping," declared the foreman. "Jasper's three inches taller, and his legs are straight, pretty nearly. I seen him once. I only had a rear view, but I seen him once."
"Sure, it ain't Jasper. I ain't said that it was Jasper. I said that it reminded me of Jasper, is all. It ain't Jasper. It's Jasper's brother, Bill Orping."
Clancy Morgan sat up straight. Suspicion was something he detested and shut out of his mind as a rule, but this was more than suspicion. It was a straight trail to trouble. Clancy Morgan disbelieved in tales of murderers, traitors, gunmen, and crooks and scoundrels in general. He never had seen a killing. He never expected to see one. When he heard of acts of villainy, he always made a mental reservation. What we have not seen remains a fairy tale.
But this was different. Bill had been singularly interested in the name of Danny Travis. He had brought up the name again and again. The moment he knew where Danny was to be found he had gone to the boss, drawn his pay, and hit the south trail—toward the place where Travis lived. Did Bill Orping mean well? Only a child or a fool could think that he did. He must warn Danny.
Clancy Morgan turned out of his blankets, dressed with a few swift motions, and stood up as a great rim of red-gold pushed above the eastern horizon. At least, he would have moonlight to show his way through the hills.
The boss was just pulling off his boots, when Morgan stood before him, saying: "I've got to ride to Tartartown. I've remembered something. I've got to go!"
The boss slammed onto the ground the boot he had just drawn off.
"You aim to go and come back?"
"Yes," said Clancy.
"If you go, you stay."
"All right," said Clancy. "I'm sorry."
"Running out on the middle of the job—like a lot of pikers—like a lot of tinhorn sports!" exclaimed the boss. "What's the matter with you, kid? What's on your brain? What's biting you? That's what I'd like to know."
"It's something terribly important. I can't tell you."
"Well, get out, then, and hurry back as soon as you can!"
Clancy Morgan turned.
"This got anything to do with Bill leaving?" asked the boss curiously.
It was not the custom of Clancy Morgan to leave questions unanswered. This time he felt that he should turn and tell a lie, but lies did not come smoothly off his tongue, so he simply walked straight on as though he had not heard.
He found his horse and got the hobbles off it and the saddle on its back. It was a four-year-old, not quite hardened, but with promise of making a cutting horse one day. Clancy Morgan regarded it sometimes with impatience, but usually with awe. What did children of four know, compared with the knowledge possessed by this mustang?
He bade no farewells, but took the road south on the long trail. Ordinarily he would have made that ride in two stages, but this time he dared not pause. If one of the Orping crew wanted the scalp of Danny Travis, he must rush the warning through.
He saw the moon climb up to the lonely center of the sky. He saw it slope westward, whitening the hills. The dawn came, and a great weariness ached behind his eyes. The mustang began to stumble. He eased the horse of its burden and walked several miles. With sunup he was in the saddle again, and rode through the gap of the north trail into view of Tartartown. All the houses blinked their windows at him, like signal lights, and a sudden warmth of assurance and relief came over him, for this was home.
Tartartown was hardly more than a sprinkling of houses gathered around the crossing of two rather dim trails. From the little cluster of buildings at the crossing, the outskirts grew more and more sparse until the ranches began, mere spots that the unpracticed eye could hardly find without much searching. For it was not a land of trees, neither was there a big growth of shrubbery. It was a land of cactus and bitter mesquite.
But scenery makes no more than a backdrop, and it is people who must fill the stage. Clancy Morgan no longer had a house, but still Tartartown was home, when he thought of all the faces and all the voices that he could call into his eye and into his ear. His heart swelled as he thought of the good fellowship of the men and the gentleness of the women. Suddenly he was assured that no real danger could have been moving toward Danny Travis. He felt that he had been a fool to make this long ride for nothing. But being here, of course, he would go to see Danny.
He headed down through the town. It was quite early, but not too early to find a Western town awake. He saw Dick Richards entering his blacksmith shop.
"I'm in a hurry, Dick. Seeing you later!" he called.
"Hey, Molly—hey, Dickie—Clancy's come back to town!" thundered the blacksmith. And he stepped out into the street to follow Morgan with his eyes.
A sweet pang of joy slid up the spine of Morgan and rose like a summer sun in his mind. This was home!
Doctor Walters came out on his verandah. "My dear boy! My dear Clancy!" he cried.
"I'm coming back, Doctor," said Clancy. "I'm in a hurry, but I'm coming back."
"Martha," called the doctor, "here's Clancy Morgan, looking as brown as a berry."
"Berries are not brown, silly," said the sharp voice of Mrs. Walters from inside the house.
And Clancy Morgan laughed. What a good world!
Little Harry Stephens rushed at him barefooted, barelegged, out of the vacant lot beside his father's house.
"Hey there, Clancy—Clancy!" he yelled, incredulous, squeaking with joy.
"I'm coming back," said Clancy Morgan.
"I'll tell Nell," said the boy. "She'll just yell! Hey, Clancy, I'm glad!"
Clancy Morgan went on. He wished that he might be passing the house of the Gregor family, but that, unfortunately, was not his luck. And it was right to save the best for the last. When he saw Olivia—
The houses cleared away. Before him appeared the twisting, dim little trail that led in the direction of Danny Travis's new house. It was just over the hill—and there was Danny himself coming out of the mesquite. He saw the rider. Something flashed out of the hand of Travis as he hurried forward, waving.
They met in front of the little adobe house. Danny Travis looked flushed, perhaps from walking through the soft, deep sand among the mesquite. But Clancy Morgan paid little heed to this as he hurled himself off his horse and gripped the hand of his friend.
"It's like years and years, Danny!" shouted Clancy Morgan.
The older man looked him up and down, almost coldly. Then he nodded.
"More shoulders and less stomach on you than there used to be, Clancy," he said.
"Oh, they work you up there," said Morgan. "Is there some barley in that shed? This pony has come a ways."
"Yes, he's gaunted up a bit," said Travis. He turned his solemn face toward the little shed that leaned against one end of the cabin. "There's no grain in there. I'll tell you the best idea—I'll go back into town with you. We'll have a feed ourselves, and we'll feed the horse, too. Come along, Clancy."
"Before I've seen how you've fixed up the place?" exclaimed Morgan, stepping to the door.
"Get out of there!" commanded Dan Travis.
His voice had a metal clang in it that flicked through the blood of Morgan like cold air. But the hand of Clancy already had struck the door, knocking it open with a stagger, and inside, a pale thing among the shadows on the floor, he saw the face of Bill Orping. He saw the body of Bill Orping stretched out. And he knew that the man was dead!
The door swung back with a slam. It was a louder noise, at that moment, than the explosion of a bomb. Clancy turned. Travis, his knees flexed a little, seemed ready to leap at him, and the hand of Travis was moving as though it had just put away a gun in the holster that was lashed to his right thigh.
Half of the quality in Travis that intrigued Clancy Morgan was this savagery which was always as close to his skin as the claws of a cat are to the velvet of its paw. It showed more often in some flash of the eyes, some hardening of the voice. But now it had come to a matter of actual threat. That gun, beyond a doubt, had been in his hand. It was almost a greater shock to Clancy Morgan than the sight of the dead man inside the cabin. But there are such things as involuntary reactions. Morgan knew that. He moistened his white lips.
"Well?" said Travis, without parting his teeth.
"Danny—I—He's dead—," whispered Morgan.
"You had to be a fool and butt in," said Travis. "You had to play the young fool. The next time you come to a man's house—" He stopped.
"You don't mean that, Danny," said Morgan.
Travis stared at him.
"I'm going inside," said Morgan.
"Yeah. You'd wanta do that, too," said Travis.
Morgan put his hand on the door. There was no further objection. Travis pushed past him and stood in the center of the room, looking down at the dead man. Morgan followed.
He had wanted to see the improvements in the house, and now he looked at these first. There was an open hearth with a crane from which pots hung—Travis always had liked Mexican ways of doing things. There was a good table, homemade and stronger than any store product—Travis was an excellent carpenter. There was a bunk covered with a goatskin, and another goatskin lay on the earthen floor of the hut beside the bunk. In one corner was a shelf of books. The tinware on the pantry shelves shone as though a woman kept house here. That was like Travis, too. He was complete in all ways. He was a law and a sufficiency unto himself. He had even carved some decorative designs on the underfaces of the cross beams, and he had colored those designs with bright red and blue and yellow, Mexican style.
After he had seen these things, Clancy Morgan was able to look down at the dead man without feeling faint.
Bill Orping had been shot straight through the heart. The red patch was right over it, and there was an aperture in the middle of the stain. It was a big, round hole. It hardly looked as though a revolver bullet had made that hole. It was rather as though a charge of buckshot had been fired at close range.
Clancy Morgan lost his breath and sat down in one of the comfortable homemade chairs—Travis was always working away with wood. His hands could never be idle. He was like a sailor.
Bill Orping had been a good cowhand. He could handle a rope in a high wind as though the hemp were heavy, liquid-flowing rawhide. Bill was a good man with a branding iron, too. He never burned the calves too deep. He was good on a fence line, too. He was good all around, except when it came to spinning yarns of an evening. And now he lay there, finished. His eyes, open a mere crack, seemed to mock Clancy, seemed to be spying on him.
"He's dead," said Clancy.
He heard a faint rustling sound. Travis was making a cigarette, licking it to glue the paper fast, turning down one end of it, lighting it. The match snapped far away out of the fingertips of Travis.
"Yeah. He looks kind of dead," said Travis calmly.
"I recollect—," began Clancy.
"Nothing," said Clancy. He had been about to tell how he saw Bill get covered with mud one day, tailing a steer out of a water hole, where it had bogged down. He was ashamed that he had wanted to tell this thing in a casual manner. He was ashamed because his first sight of death had not driven through his brain like a bullet. It seemed perfectly natural. It was hardly more than looking at a dead deer.
"The Culversons come down this way everyday about this time," said Travis. "They mostly stop in here."
"What'll we do?" said Clancy, coming to his feet.
"I don't know."
"What did you—how did it happen—I mean, did you shoot him with a shotgun?"
"No," said Travis, and touched the holster at his side.
"But that's not a half-inch wound!" exclaimed Clancy.
Travis merely stared at him. Then Clancy remembered. A .45-caliber does not make a great wound where it enters, but it is apt to mushroom somewhat and make a frightful place where it comes out through the body.
"Danny, you didn't happen—you didn't shoot him in the back?" he gasped.
"Well," said Travis. He looked straight at Clancy and set his jaw. He said nothing.
That was like Travis. He was not one to explain. If you doubted him, you doubted him. That was all. A man is a friend, or he's not a friend. There's nothing else to it.
"Danny," said Clancy, "it's not that I think anything's wrong. I know you only did what you had to do. I know that everything was all right, only—"
"He was a fool," said Travis. He made a gesture with his foot toward the dead body.
"If his brother finds it out! If Jasper Orping finds out—then what?" breathed Clancy.
"Oh, I'll take care of Jasper Orping, and I'll take care of any other man," said Travis calmly. "Only—it's rotten, that's all. This fool—he came down and crowded me. What are his brother's arguments to him? He came and crowded me. I didn't want to hurt the fool. He was nothing to me. I tried to let him off easy. But he crowded me. He made me pull a gun. That's all. He won't crowd anybody else!"
It seemed vaguely strange to Clancy that a man can be shot through the back while he is crowding an enemy. But it never occurred to Clancy to doubt Travis. It would have been easier to doubt himself, and much easier, at that.
"What'll we do?" asked Clancy. "If people saw him like that. Shot from behind, I mean." He picked up a gun that lay on the floor and broke it open. One cartridge had been fired from it.
"He took a crack at you, all right, Danny?" he asked.
"Well, there's a bullet been fired from that gun, hasn't there? And that's Bill Orping's gun, isn't it?" demanded Travis.
"When they see that the wound is in the back," said Clancy.
"That's the rotten part," declared Travis. "People don't realize that even a fellow like Bill Orping can lose his nerve the last minute and try to run for it."
"And you couldn't hold up?"
"Don't talk like a fool! I was shooting when he swung around. But ask people to believe what I say. That's all. Just ask them. A lot of fools, is what I say. And a lot of 'em would like to get my scalp." His face went dark and savage, and he made another gesture with his foot toward the dead man. "I thought I was through with all this kind of stuff," said Travis.
"If the Culversons are coming down this trail," said Clancy, "we've gotta do something. We've gotta do something quick. What?"
"I don't know," said Travis.
"We've got to get him out of here. That's the first thing."
"That's right. Maybe you're right. Take his legs. I'll take him by the shoulders."
Clancy stooped and picked up the legs of the dead man close to the knees. They were as heavy as lead, and they slid out of his grasp like quicksilver. "Wait a minute," he said. He took off his bandanna and knotted it closely around the knees of Bill Orping. That gave him a good handhold. He walked first through the door.
"Over there to the right, in that patch of mesquite," directed Travis.
So Clancy walked on. The feet of Bill Orping kept bobbing rapidly up and down. The sun flashed on the toes of his boots. They entered the mesquite tangle. Clancy looked around before he lowered his burden, and saw how Travis held the dead man by the shoulders, and how the head of Orping was hanging down. It made him sick. Dead fish hang like that, loose and limp, from the line of the fisherman. He put down the body, unknotted the bandanna from the knees of Orping, and arose.
"What were you doing over there in the other mesquite tangle when I first saw you?" asked Clancy, with no thought in his mind except how the sun was beating fiercely down into that dead face.
"I was digging some mesquite roots. I was out of wood," said Travis.
"Great Scott," muttered Clancy, amazed and awed. "You left him dead in your cabin, and you went out and dug mesquite?"
"I was bothered. I wanted to do something and clear out my brain. I wanted to give my head a chance to work."
That was just like Travis. He always had to have his hands employed.
"What about the horse that Orping rode?"
"It's back of the house."
"We ought to do something about that."
"We'll peel the saddle off of it. We'll turn it loose," said Travis.
It seemed an impossible solution to Clancy. "We ought to bury Orping now," he suggested.
"We haven't got time," said Travis. "The Culversons are coming along pretty quick. We haven't got time." He dropped Orping's gun on the ground close beside the body. Then he hurried to the back of the house, appearing again, riding Orping's mustang, and took it up the trail. When he came opposite the mesquite tangle, he dismounted, cut the horse across the flank with his quirt, and sent it flying. It disappeared quickly among the low hills and the brush.
Then the two men went back to the house together.
"Tell me," said Clancy. "Something has to be done."
"There's blood on the floor. We'll get that up first," said Travis.
He was perfectly calm. He was so calm that the heart of Clancy stopped racing so fast.
When they got into the cabin again, they examined the spot where the body had lain. The earth was dark, and the blood showed hardly at all. Travis simply kicked away some of the surface soil and let it scatter. Then he brought in fresh earth from outside and stamped it down on the spot. He stood back and examined the place. He looked around him deliberately, as though to spot anything that might bear witness against him.
"After the old Culversons go by," Travis said, "we can catch up Orping's horse and load Orping on it, and take it down to the river. That's only five miles. The river will cover him, and cover his horse, too, Orping will just be something that rode off the face of the earth. That's all."
"We'll have to wait till dark to carry him down there," said Clancy. "Somebody would see us. There are always kids fishing in the river."
"Well, we'll wait till dark, then," said Travis.
Clancy closed his eyes and groaned. "Suppose that somebody should find the body during the day?" he asked.
"That's easy," said Travis. "If the pinch comes, I simply say that a couple of men went by not long after sunup. I heard a couple of shots. That's all I know. I thought somebody was shooting at rabbits. It didn't bother me. I was cooking breakfast, and I didn't even go outside. I thought it was rabbits." He smiled a little. "You see how it is, Clancy. There's always a way out."
"I see," said Morgan vaguely. He started to make a cigarette.
"You need a good swig of coffee," said Travis, moving toward the fireplace. Blue wood smoke from the dying fire moved about his shoulders.
"Wait a minute!" exclaimed Clancy, springing up. He stood with his hand at his throat.
"Well?" asked the quiet voice of Travis.
"Where's my bandanna? I had a bandanna on! Did I leave it out there somewhere in the mesquite tangle?"
"Must be around the cabin somewhere. I saw you untie it from around Orping's knees."
"Where is it, then? Help me look. No, Danny, it must have brushed out of my hand. I'll go back and get it."
"Go ahead. I'll have the coffee ready when you come back."
Clancy stepped to the door, opened it, and passed out. But down the trail he saw a buckboard coming, drawn by two little down-headed mustangs, and with the dumpy figures of a man and woman in the driver's seat. A small, mongrel dog ran under the heads of the ponies, jumping up at them now and then. Its sharp voice came across the air to the ears of Clancy.
He moved hastily back into the cabin. "Somebody's coming. I can't go out there now," he said.
"Man and woman in a buckboard. And a dog. Two horses."
"That's nothing but the Culversons. They're blind in one eye and can't see out of the other. You know the Culversons."
"No. They're new people. I don't know 'em. Danny, I've got to have that bandanna!"
Travis poured out coffee into a tin cup. "Why?" he asked. "Cold in the neck—or cold in the feet?" He even laughed. "Take one of mine, brother, and then you'll be all dressed up again."
He went to a small box like a sailor's chest, opened the lid of it, and took out a blue silk bandanna, polka-dotted with small rounds of white.
"Put that on, Clan."
Morgan hesitated. "Mine was red and yellow," he objected.
"Come on! Come on!" urged Travis. "Don't get the panics. What's the matter with you?"
"I'm sorry," muttered Clancy Morgan, and knotted the bandanna around his throat.
The barking of the dog, the pounding of hoofs, the rattling of wheels, the grinding of iron tires in the sand drew close and paused in front of the cabin.
"There they are," said Travis. "They're a pair of old dummies. They won't see anything. They'll sing out and ask if I want anything in town— anything heavy they can bring in the buckboard. They're a good-hearted pair of old plugs!"
A footfall came to the door that was pushed open by a bent, smiling old man with a tuft of white beard on his chin. His lips pursed a little over a toothless mouth. He made a smacking sound when he talked.
"Hullo, Danny," said old Culverson. "Look-at here what I found. Never seen such a coin in my days!"
Travis went to the door and took it. He bent over it.
"That's just an old Spanish coin, Pop," he said. "That's all it is."
"That all? There ain't no value attached to it?"
"No, not much."
The little black-and-tan mongrel pushed through the door and went sniffing about the cabin.
"Well," said Pop Culverson, "I kind of like it. I might polish it up and use it for a watch charm, eh?"
Clancy did not hear the answer. He was watching the dog fall to work with furious energy, scratching at the place where the blood of Orping had soaked into the floor.
"Howdy, Danny!" called the shrill voice of the woman, who still sat in the buckboard. "Anything hefty that you want us to fetch out from town?"
"Nope. Not a thing, thanks," said Travis.
"Here, Jingo! Here, Jingo, you little fool! He's tearin' the nation out of your floor, Danny," said Pop Culverson.
"Oh, that's all right, Pop," said Travis. "He thinks he smells a rat, maybe."
"Maybe. He's a fool, worthless thing, but he's kind of got used to us, and we've got used to him. Here, Jingo, drat you!" He broke off, to add: "Hello, you got a friend here with you, Danny?"
"Come here, Clancy," said Travis. "It's Clancy Morgan. This is Pop Culverson."
The half-cold hand of the old man gripped that of Morgan.
"So you're Clancy Morgan, are you?" Culverson said.
"And I've heard aplenty about you, son, around this town. And all good, too. All mighty good, boy. I'm glad to see you. I'm right glad to see you. If you step by our way, remember that the latch hangs on the outside. I wanta set and yam with you about your dad sometime. I used to know your dad. I knew him up in Nevada, and a right fine man Joe Morgan was. And a right fine son he's left behind him, I can see with half an eye. Hi, Jingo! You little fool, you tryin' to trip me up?"
For the dog had darted through the doorway, and now went scuttering through the sand toward the mesquite patch in which lay the body of Bill Orping.
The two men now stood in front of the house as Pop Culverson went back toward the buckboard, saying: "Here's young Clancy Morgan, whose pa I used to know right well."
Morgan went to the rig and shook hands with the little, fat, smiling woman. She kept bobbing her head at him.
"I knew Joe Morgan, too," she said. "He was a man that a girl could never forget."
"Now, now," said her husband.
"Look," Mrs. Culverson said. "He takes after Danny Travis and wears blue- and-white bandannas—and that's a thing one don't see much on this part of the range."
"It is," agreed Culverson, "but I—"
A mournful wailing came from the mesquite.
"Here, Jingo!" called Culverson. "What's that fool dog gone and found? Here, Jingo, Jingo! I never seen a dog to waste more time. Here, Jingo!"
"Go get him," commanded Mrs. Culverson. "You know how he is. You know that he won't scarcely ever come when he gets all excited. My heart, sounds like he's found a dead horse, or something."
Old Culverson was already on his way. Clancy Morgan, stirring uneasily, looked at Travis, but Travis appeared to have noticed nothing. He was resting a foot on the hub of the nearest axle and talking cheerfully as Culverson disappeared into the brush.
"Hey, hey!" Pop shouted, "there's somebody—there's something— there's—" His voice choked.
"There's something wrong," Travis said to Mrs. Culverson. "Come on, Clancy!" As they started, he added under his breath: "Run right where we walked, when we carried the body out. Run right behind me, Clancy."
So Clancy Morgan ran at the heels of Travis from the adobe hut into the mesquite, where they found Pop Culverson—good old man—on his knees beside Bill's body, as though he would not be convinced by a mere glance that he had found one of his fellow mortals dead. He looked up at the pair of them with a gray face and a shaking head.
"Great Scott! Right outside my house!" Travis exclaimed.
Clancy Morgan said nothing. He was seeing the dead man with new eyes, to which the fear of the law lent a stronger vision.
"How come this, Danny?" Culverson puzzled, laboring to his feet. He waved his hand, and Jingo no longer sniffed at the dead body, but sprang away to a distance.
Into the mind of Clancy Morgan sprang something about: And the beasts of the field and the birds of the air shall consume them.
"I wish I knew how come," Travis stated. "Yes, sir, that's what I wish. Right outside my house! Is he long dead?" he went on, leaning over the body. "No, sir, not long enough dead to be cold. By the jumping thunder, Pop, I know who it was!"
"Who, Danny, who?" asked Culverson eagerly.
"A pair of men rode by the house while I was cooking my breakfast. I heard a couple of shots that sounded like rifle shots. I thought they were shooting at rabbits or something. I didn't even step outside the house to look. You know how you feel sort of dead and lazy before breakfast?"
"I know," agreed Culverson. "But no rifle ever tore that hole. And there's a revolver lyin'—"
"So it is," concurred Danny Travis. "But it sounded like rifles." He reached toward the gun.
"Don't touch that gun! Don't touch it!" warned Culverson. "Somebody that knows more law than either of us three had oughta see just how he' s laid out before he's touched. A lot hangs by that, I've heard and read."
"You're right," agreed Travis. "A lot might hang by that. We'd better stand away. The footprints might mean something."
"They might," said Culverson. "And you heard the shots? Well, a revolver will sound like a rifle sometimes. It depends upon the air, sort of. And then, you were inside of the house. Maybe this that I picked up will mean something."
And he held up the yellow-dotted, red bandanna of Clancy Morgan. It seemed to Morgan that it was the lifting of a hostile flag, as if there were treason in that small bit of silk. He could feel fear freezing his face and making his eyes bulge out.
"Yeah, that may have some meaning, so let's see it," said Danny Travis.
"Don't be askin' to see it till I've showed it to them that might know," muttered Culverson. "This county is a sight too big. This here happens—and the sheriff is clean over in Tuscamora! How long will it be before there's even somebody that knows who he is?"
The heel of Travis descended on the foot of Clancy Morgan. Then he realized. Of course, he would have to speak up—he had ridden on the same ranch with this man.
"Why," said Morgan, "the fact is I know him, all right. I've been riding with him on the Gresham place for quite a while. I'm still riding there."
"Not exactly," said Culverson, rather dryly. "Looks to me like you're riding down here in Tartartown. But what might his name be?"
"Bill was all I ever heard him called," Clancy Morgan offered. Then he added reluctantly: "But I've heard the boss say that he looked a whole lot like one of the Orping men."
"Orping? And by thunder, he does look like Jas Orping himself. Only smaller. This is a bad business. If this here is Bill Orping, Jas will make trouble, and he's the one that knows how to make trouble." He shook his head. The voice of his wife called with shrill inquiry from far away.
"We'd better pick up the body and put it in the back of your rig, Pop," suggested Travis. "There's nobody that represents the law in our town. You're as good a head as any to look around. It's no business leaving the body out here to the sun and the flies."
"You're right, Danny," answered Culverson. "I guess I've seen all that I'm likely to see. Here's where his horse come in from the road. Here's where he fell out of the saddle. There's where the horse ran off. Will you fellows try to catch that scary hoss? Because, maybe, there'll be some sort of evidence in it. Shot in the back! It kind of makes me sick. I've seen dead men, Danny. But heaven pity the poor soul that gets shot through the back. He didn't have no chance."
"He must have been riding up the trail with somebody," argued Travis. "He turned off the trail into the mesquite right here. His friend that was with him pulls a gun and shoots him in the back. As he falls, being a fighting man, he manages to get out his gun and fire—once. I suppose he just dented the sky, and that was all. We'd better get the body over to your rig. We'll carry him. You go and tell your wife to sit there and face forward. You quiet her down."
Culverson went off with a step that waddled slowly through the deep sand. Travis said quietly: "This is the best chance we could have. This gets the body away from the place before somebody with a hawk-eye spots the thing. Pick up his legs, Clan."
"I hate to touch him. I can hardly make myself touch him," breathed Clancy Morgan.
"Sure you hate it. So do I. But we've got to. Grit your teeth and dig in."
They carried the body slowly to the wagon and slid it into the back of the buckboard. Travis brought some old sacking and covered it from head to toe. Culverson and his wife were talking rapidly in horrified voices.
"You catch up that horse. I'll go in with them," said Travis to Clancy Morgan. "I heard the shots. I'll have to be giving testimony or something, I suppose."
So Morgan watched that buckboard pull away while he mounted his weary horse and rode down the trail of Orping's mustang. A good two miles he had to travel before he found the mustang, and then there was a further half hour or so before he could catch the brute. Finally he toiled back to the trail, and so along it toward the town, with the weary mustang of the dead man, pulling firmly back on the lead rope.
He had passed the house of Travis when, over the hill from town, came Travis with his horse at a lope. He waved a hand to arrest the course of Clancy Morgan, and then pulled up beside him.
"Hell's popping," said Travis. "Drop that rope. Let the mustang go. And hike out of here. Bury yourself in the hills, Clan. Fade out till things quiet down. I'll let you know when everything has blown over."
Clancy Morgan stared at him, squinting his eyes. The sun was very strong. He felt the burn of it on his chin as he put back his head a little. "What's the matter?" asked Morgan.
"That bandanna. Everybody and his brother saw you come through town with a red bandanna on like the one that was picked up by the body of poor Orping. And Culverson saw you in a blue-and-white one, like mine. People are talking to beat the band. Everybody's having a say. Skin out, brother. Skin out."
The world expanded to a bleak immensity, through which Clancy saw a small form pursued by throngs. That small figure was himself.
"Wait a minute, Danny. You mean that they're hanging this job on me?"
"Don't argue—ride!" commanded Dan Travis. His harsh face darkened still more, and he waved a peremptory arm. "I know what's for your own good, boy. Get out of here, and get fast. Ride over toward Allerton. I'll come and pick you up and give you the news in a day or two."
"Dan, you mean that they're after me? They accuse me of murder, when—"
"When I did it?" answered Travis. "That's what I mean. I'm warning you now. Skin out. I did the job, and you're blamed for it. I could explain the thing till the cows come home, and they'd simply say that it was friendship that makes me talk. They know that I'm not the sort to let a bunkie down. Clancy, get out, and get fast!"
The heart of Clancy Morgan shrank smaller than the head of a pin. Once a man began to run, the fear grew vaster behind him. He knew that. You don't fear the nightmare in the dark until you turn your back on it. He freshened his grip on the lead rope of Orping's horse.
"No," he said slowly. "I'll ride on into town."
"You fool!" shouted Travis, losing his patience. "If you go into town, I'll have to break my neck to get you out of trouble. Show some sense, Clan!" He lowered his voice suddenly to an appeal. "You see how it is," he added. "A man shot in the back. That's murder in this man's part of the world, no matter what the evidence may be otherwise. The bullet hole talks for itself. If you go into that town, they're apt to lynch you."
Clancy Morgan drew in his breath. He wanted to run. Every nerve in his body trembled. But if he ran, he gave up all his past life. All that he had been became a dead thing. And among the dead things would be Olivia Gregor.
"I'm going on in," he said, and spurred his mustang into a trot.
"Well, you poor—," began Travis. But he stopped his words. He did not follow. Clancy Morgan went into Tartartown alone.
The little town seemed deserted. There was not a face or a voice as he rode in, until he came close to the hotel and saw the whole of Tartartown gathered there like iron filings on paper above a magnet. People stood about in groups with serious faces, making their expressions very solemn, and he knew that in their hearts they were enjoying something that was worth talking about. Inside that hotel, in one of the lower rooms, would be the body of poor Orping.
Travis had called him that. Even Travis, who did the shooting, had just now spoken of "poor Orping."
Clancy was bewildered by the actions of Travis. It was not that he had the slightest fear that Travis would let him stay in serious trouble on account of a thing that Travis himself had done, but all the actions of Dan Travis were odd. His greeting of Clancy had been strange. Put that down to the fact that a dead man was lying on the floor of his house at the moment. The matter of the bandanna had been strange, too. It was so strange that Clancy Morgan wondered if Travis did not have a red bandanna, and if so, why it had not been given? The whole danger seemed to be focusing, suddenly, around the matter of the bandanna. A little wisp of silk—but a man might die because of it. He, Clancy Morgan, might die.
He came on, dragging the horse of Orping behind him. On the verandah of the hotel stood big, old Culverson, with his shoulders stooped by weight and by years. He was talking in the midst of a group, but, when he saw Clancy, he paused in his talk and stared. Then, like a flashing of metal toward the sun, all the other faces twisted around toward Morgan. There was a sudden loud talking of all the voices. That noise died out. In a silence in which he could hear the creaking of his stirrup straps, he approached the hotel, dismounted, and tethered Orping's horse to the rack. He tethered his own horse beside Orping's. The silence made him feel sick at the stomach. He walked around the watering troughs that bordered the verandah. Other men came in behind them. They followed him closely, and he dared not turn toward them, because he knew that they were acting as part of a trap. He knew every one of these people. He knew them intimately, and he had been away for a long time, but nobody spoke to him. He stood before old Culverson.
"Well," he said, "I've brought in the horse."
Culverson looked back at him and pursed his lips over his toothless mouth, then he turned away. His old, bent back went slowly through the double doorway into the lobby of the hotel.
Clancy Morgan looked around him. Everybody met his eye coldly. Still nobody spoke.
"What's the matter?" asked Clancy Morgan. "What in the world is the matter?"
He wished that Travis were at his side at this moment. He wished it very much. But Travis was somewhere in the background, making everything safe, preparing against every emergency. A sudden warmth of joy came upon the heart of Clancy, knowing that he had such a friend as Travis in the background.
"Steve," said Clancy to Steve Pearson, "what's the matter?"
Steve Pearson was one of the best-liked and respected men around the town. He was only thirty, but he was gray from the scheming and work that had brought him up from utter poverty to the ownership of a very tidy herd. He was a little mana big head and shoulders, set on an almost dwarfish body. Now he looked into the face of Clancy Morgan with a steady disgust, a steady enmity.
"You must take us for a flock of fools, boy," said Pearson. "D'you think that you can get away with this bluff?"
"What bluff?" asked Clancy Morgan.
"You murdered Bill Orping," said Pearson.
"I—" gasped Clancy.
Pearson raised a hand slowly and leveled a forefinger that was like a gun. He came a step closer and said: "You shot Bill Orping in the back!"
"I didn't! I—I—didn't!" said Clancy. "I just brought in his horse, and—I—"
"You brought in his horse. You thought that doing that would prove that you weren't afraid. You thought that doing that would prove you were innocent, but we're not the sort of fools you take us for. You think we're a flock of half- wits, but we've lived a day or two."
"I know you have. I don't think you're fools," said Clancy Morgan. "Only, I tell you, that I didn't kill Bill Orping. I had nothing against him. We rode the same range together. We were on the same job. Everybody up here knows that Bill and I never had any trouble."
Pearson sneered in his face. Those gray, relentless eyes of Pearson kept boring into him.
"I have half a mind to go ahead," said Pearson. "I think we oughtto go ahead, boys. I don't see why we should wait for the sheriff to come two hundred miles. Tartartown has had clean hands for twenty years, and, if her hands are dirty again, it's up to us to clean them!"
"It is," said another voice suddenly.
That was Jeff Rogers, with the face of a pig and the voice of a bear. Jeff was always in the center of any crowd. He seemed to rise out of the ground and appear as the nearest witness of any quarrel. Of course, he would be here.
Jeff flushed as the eye of Clancy found him.
"We oughta do the job ourselves," said Jeff loudly.
"This here ladies' man and killer, we oughta handle him ourselves. He thinks that we're a lot of fools, but we'll show him another side of the face to laugh on." He shook his fat fist at Clancy.
Suddenly there was a stepping forward, as though a company of soldiers had heard a command, but all of those steps were toward Clancy. He was the magnet that drew the filings. He looked around him wildly, between heads and over heads, but Travis was not in sight.
That did not matter. Travis would appear at the right time. He could depend on Travis. Friendship was more than life to Travis. He was a man who was willing to stand up for his principles. He would fight for them, too. He would die for them. That was what Clancy Morgan told himself.
"Pearson, you tell us what to do," said a man gravely.
"It's a dirty business," declared Pearson, "but I guess it's our duty. If we pass this up, we'll have a flock of thugs and yeggs and crooks coming down here and making themselves at home. For my part, if my own brother did a murder, I'd sit on the jury and vote for him to hang." He snapped his teeth on the finish of this. "Take him out under that tree!" commanded Pearson.
Hands fell on Clancy.
Then overmastering hysteria swept over him. He struggled to cast the hands off. They merely became ten times stronger, and the fingertips sank into his flesh. "Wait a minute!" Clancy Morgan screamed. "I didn't kill him. Don't murder me, boys!"
"Take it like a man," said a voice at his ear. "Take it like a man, if there's any man in you."
And he was swept forward until he stood under the single tree that graced Tartartown and the plains around it, a single big cottonwood that rose like a green tower.
All around him the crowd moved. It was like one huge, shapeless beast, moving on many pairs of feet, but with only a single heart, a single brain—and that heart and brain devising evil. Tentacles stronger than those of an octopus embraced Clancy Morgan. His life and soul were about to be devoured by this monster. He heard the voice of the crowd, too. It came from many throats, but it made a single, deep, murmuring note. There was music in it—the sort of music that freezes the heart.
Something whispered in the air above the head of Clancy. He looked up and saw a lariat dangling close to him. Jeff Rogers had thrown it. Jeff was importantly holding the end of the rope now, with a severe frown on his face, like one who is an executor of justice.
"Clear away a circle," said Pearson. "Stand back, boys. If this job has to be done, we'll try to do it decently. Stand away from him so we can ask a few questions and see his face."
They stood back, and Clancy Morgan looked up and down the street. There was no sign of Dan Travis, but, at the same time, it was certain that Travis was somewhere near. Friendship was sacred to Travis.
Friendship was more than life or death to him. Clancy knew that. The words became a chant audible to his mind's ear: Friendship is sacred. He, Clancy Morgan, would prove it, even if the rope was fastened around his neck. Old Danny Travis would see that there was one man in the world who agreed with him—friendship is sacred!
Might it not be, after all, that man of cold nerve, that fellow of steel, Dan Travis, was somewhere nearby, waiting until the last moment, testing the courage of Clancy, ready to rescue him at the last instant of danger? The moment the thought occurred to Clancy, he was certain that it was the correct solution. And he was steadied.
"We'll need Culverson here," said Pearson. "Get Culverson, will you?"
"Culverson won't come," said another. That was Tom Briggs. Tom had been in school with Clancy. They had punched each other on the nose in many a fight. They had raced together for the swimming pool after days of school in summer. But there was Tom Briggs, looking at the prisoner as though he never had seen him before, narrowing his eyes, curling his lip a little.
"Culverson won't come," repeated Tom Briggs. "He says that the business makes him sick. And he looks as though he means it. He just tells how the dog found the body, and he went into the brush after it. There's one thing more. He says that when he showed the bandanna that he found there, he saw a very odd look on Clancy Morgan's face. That's all. He won't come here and talk."
"He's a decent old codger," declared Pearson. "But I hope the rest of us are decent men, too. If there's one of you all that has any malice against Clancy Morgan, I wish that he'd step out of this. It's a dirty business, but we owe it to the honor and the safety of the town to put it through. It's not so much what is happening now as what may happen in the future. Morgan!" He snapped out the name.
Clancy Morgan stiffened a little. He looked straight back into the stern face of Pearson. He said to himself that friendship was sacred. It was worth dying for. And a sort of glory came upon Clancy Morgan and cast the trembling out of his body, and enabled him to raise his head and look steadily back at Pearson.
On the edge of the crowd was the sober, middle-aged face of Olivia's father. Harry Gregor looked merely thoughtful—hardly concerned.
"Well, Morgan," said Pearson, "we want the straight of this. It seems that you rode on the same range for the same outfit that Bill Orping worked for. What bad blood came up between you? We'll start there."
"No bad blood," said Clancy, and rejoiced in the wonderful steadiness of his voice.
"All right," continued Pearson. "We can't make you talk. But we can hang you, if you don't. We can hang you for a dirty murderer from a branch of this tree, and we've got the rope ready. Remember that!"
Clancy Morgan lifted his head and looked at the dangling rope. "I understand."
"Very well," said Pearson. "When did Orping leave that place? Will you tell us that?"
"He left just after sunset last night."
"When did you leave it?"
"Just at moonrise last night."
"And you rode straight down here—it's a long way."
"I rode all night."
"Where did you go then?"
"I went out to the house of Dan Travis."
"And what did you find there—or what did you do?"
"I won't tell you."
The shock went through every man in the crowd. Clancy could see them stir under the impact of it.
"You won't talk after that point?"
"No," said Clancy.
"He won't talk," said Pearson. "So I'll have to talk on the case we have against him. These are the facts the way we know them, partly from what he says himself and partly from what other people have said. Orping left that ranch last night. He rode down to Tartartown. He was seen passing through the edges of the town early this morning. And he was found dead in the mesquite tangle outside of the house of Dan Travis. Dan Travis says that he heard two shots fired this morning, and didn't leave his house to find out who fired them. Well, we'll let that go. We know Dan Travis, and we know that he'd die for a friend. What Dan Travis says about this case isn't worth a tinker's damn, but, as a matter of fact, even what Dan says is no good. Most of you heard him talk. He simply says that he heard the shots. He thought nothing of them. After a while his friend, Clancy Morgan, arrived."
"That's right," said Jeff, nodding his head so that his pig jowls wobbled.
"Culverson testifies—and you know that Culverson is not a man to lie—that he got to the house early, and that his dog found the body, and that, when he went out to it, Culverson found a bandanna, a red silk bandanna, hanging on the edge of a mesquite thorn. He saw Clancy Morgan, and Clancy was wearing a blue-and-white bandanna. Mrs. Culverson remarked on it. And now comes the final thing. Half a dozen people saw Clancy Morgan ride through town this morning. He wasn't wearing a blue bandanna then. He was wearing a red one.
"Now, gentlemen, I'm going to put it up to you straight and fair. What happened? Did the murderer leave his bandanna at the place where the body was found? Had it been stained, perhaps, so that he left it there? Or did he forget it, and afterward borrow one of Travis's blue-and-white affairs? I say, there's our argument, and here's a prisoner who won't talk past the time and the place where the murder was committed. Clancy, why don't you make a clean breast of it? If you'll do that, we'll promise to leave you to the law."
"No!" bawled Jeff. "We've got him, and we're goin' to hang the dirty dog."
"Shut up, Jeff," commanded Pearson. "Clancy, will you talk?"
"No," said Clancy Morgan.
"Very well, then," said Pearson. "You'll take the consequences, then. Gentlemen, if there's a single one of you who thinks that Clancy is not guilty, I want him to speak up."
And a dead silence followed.
Not one of them—not even Clancy's schoolmates—raised a voice. He knew why. Even a killing can be forgiven, and readily in a country where weapons are commonly worn, but not a cowardly assassination. And Bill Orping had been shot through the back. That was the crux of things.
"Very well," Pearson said. "I say that he's guilty as anything. Nobody speaks to the contrary, but first I'll have a show of hands to—"
"You can't hang him," said the voice of Harry Gregor.
Everyone shifted. He came through the crowd, and he looked to Clancy like a divine angel—a middle-aged angel, and, therefore, a wiser one.
"You can't hang him," repeated Harry Gregor.
"You can't stop us!" said Jeff loudly.
"I know every man jack of you," said Harry Gregor. "You fellows can't do this, and I'm here to tell you. I know you, and, unless you hang me with Clancy Morgan, I'll have you hanged afterward. Every man jack of you. You hear me?"
"It's a bluff!" shouted Jeff. "Throw him out, Pearson! Out with him, boys."
"Throw me out, then," said Harry Gregor, "and hang your man. And the law will hang you for it later on. You hear me, all of you? I'm not afraid of you, my lads. I'm not afraid of you, Pearson. You hear me? Take your hands from Clancy Morgan till the law wants him. And he'll be in Tartartown waiting for the law when it says the word."
"It's no will of mine to have a hand in this," said Pearson. "But a man was shot in the back, and that's dirty work."
"Look after your own life, young man," said Gregor. "Put an eye on your own affairs, and you'll have enough to do. There's none of us so good that he can afford to waste his time beating others. Not one of us. Take your hands from Clancy Morgan, the rest of you. Clancy, come along with me."
In all of this Gregor had not raised his voice. If he had ventured to do so, perhaps the charm would have been broken. For it was his calm and matter-of- fact way of speaking that held the rest of them in check and seemed to mock them with folly and rashness. All the life went out of the mob. Its voice died down to a muttering.
Pearson merely said: "The law will have its say."
"The law will have its say, young man," said Gregor. "And you'll be no part of the law, either. There may be a day when you'll groan for this, Pearson."
Pearson stood mute. Clancy and Gregor had passed from the limits of mob, when Jeff began to bawl out something with his roaring voice. But the strength of the many-footed beast was gone. To Clancy it was like passing from death to life again. The very bum of the sun on his shoulders was a blessing. The hot, dusty wind was sweet in his nostrils.
"How did you know that I didn't kill poor Orping?" asked Clancy.
"I didn't know it. I don't know it now," said Gregor gruffly. "But a friend's a friend."
It was a strange thing to Clancy—almost a miracle. Friendship is sacred had been the chant in his ears. And one friend had saved him from so many hands.
"They may miss you today and catch you tomorrow," said Gregor. "Get out of Tartartown and stay out."
"I'll see Olivia first," said Clancy.
"If she thinks that you've shot a man in the back, she'd rather see the devil, horns and all, than you."
Clancy stopped short. Looking behind him, he could see the dust rise over the still milling crowd of lynchers. It was true that there might be malice in them now. What they could not manage with naked faces today, they might very well accomplish with masked faces by night. And there was a deep anger in them, or else they would have scattered, or begun to scatter, the instant they lost their victim. Glancing about him, Clancy Morgan wondered where Travis had been all this while.
"I shot no man in the back," said Clancy Morgan.
"You say that," said Gregor, "but the evidence is all against you. If you're innocent, why didn't you talk out and tell them every move you'd made?"
"Because something kept me from it," said Clancy.
"Something more than the safety of your neck?" snapped Gregor.
Clancy considered. "Yes," he said at last. "Something more important than my neck."
"Well," answered Gregor, "go find Olivia, if you want. But she may have her mind made up, and she's a stubborn girl, and her mother was a stubborn woman before her."
Clancy Morgan said: "I wish you'd tell me how you feel about this."
"I feel like the very devil about it, if you really want to know."
"You really think that I'm the guilty man?" asked Clancy bitterly.
There was infinite kindness in the face of Harry Gregor, but there was a stern manliness, also, and now he said: "Don't ask me again how I feel or what I think. The fact is, you're probably guilty, or all of those boys back there would not be so keen to hang you. And mind you, Clancy, a thing they're afraid to do in the daytime, they won't be afraid to do at night. That's all. I advise you to get out of this part of the country while the getting's good. But you're your own boss."
Clancy Morgan went back to his tired horse. He did not climb into the saddle, but untied his horse and led it down the street and toward the eastern edge of the little town, where Gregor's house stood. Gregor himself went by him at a gallop, and did not speak as he flashed by. The dust clouds from the hoofs of that running horse laid a powdering of gray over Clancy.
He came up to the ranch house with its long-extending front, and went around it to the kitchen door. "Hey, Nancy!" he called.
The Negress came to the door and poked out her head. "Oh, Mister Clancy, Mister Clancy!" she cried, and wagged her head at him.
Nancy had heard everything, too, and even Nancy could not believe in him.
"Where's Olivia?" he asked.
"I wouldn't know," said Nancy solemnly. "I wouldn't know where she is."
"Is she in the house?"
"No, Mister Clancy, she ain't in the house."
He turned impatiently and strode off toward the barn, pulling the mustang after him. She might be near the barn with one of her horses, or in the corrals behind it, for half her time seemed to be spent healing sick animals, or teaching clever ones new tricks.
As he rounded the comer of the barn, he saw Olivia riding off at a full gallop.
"Olivia!" he shouted. He saw her head twitch part way around to look at him, but she rode on.
"Olivia!" he called out again, furiously, and sick with grief.
She checked the horse, seemed to hesitate, and then rode straight back to him. She had an eye as straight as her father's, and now he saw that it could also be as stern. She did not smile as she approached. She gave him the most matter-of-fact kind of greeting. Grief and shame and weakness mastered him. He could not say a word. The greatness of his own swelling heart choked him.
"Your father's talked to you and told you about things?" he asked her.
"Yes," said the girl.
"You were running away so you wouldn't have to see me?"
She hesitated, but answered honestly: "Yes."
"I wish you'd get down out of the saddle. I could talk to you better," said Clancy. "Or if you want, go on and ride away. Maybe it'll make you feel better."
"No, I'll stay. I shouldn't have tried to cut and run," she admitted.
She swung down out of the saddle and stood at the shoulder of her pony. She was making herself look him in the eye, but the effort told. She was prettier than he had thought—a great deal. Now that an invisible wall was raised between them, he could see more clearly how charming she was. She had also the simplicity and directness of a man about her. She was waiting for him to say something. It was hard to begin. Now that she was standing on the ground, he wished her back in the saddle.
"Why did you want to go?" he asked her.
"I was afraid to see you," she answered. "I knew that I'd be all cut up."
"Because you believe that I'm a cowardly dog that would shoot a man in the back. That's it?"
She looked straight back at him and said nothing. He could feel the effort that she was making.
"All right," said Clancy Morgan. "All I know is that I won't try to argue you out of that. I came here—I came out here," he went on, fighting to keep his voice level, "because I wanted to say something to you, Olivia. You knew what I wanted to say, and you cut and run."
She still waited.
He had to force her to talk by asking: "Didn't you guess what I would say?"
"You wanted to say that you're fond of me," said the girl. She was rather pale around the mouth and dark about the eyes, he thought.
"That's what I wanted to say," answered Clancy Morgan. "I wanted to say that you've been in my head all the time I've been away from Tartartown. I wanted to say that I love you, Olivia. Does that make any difference to you?"
"I've been guessing at it," she answered. "But it makes a difference, having you say it." She added earnestly, with another effort: "A lot of difference."
"Enough to make you care for me?" he asked her, beginning to come closer by inches.
"Everybody cares for you, Clancy," she said. "I suppose you know that. Everybody has been loving you. All the girls—everybody."
"I don't think so. And I don't care about anyone except you, Olivia."
"You knew the others liked you," said Olivia. "We've all been out of our heads about you. We've talked together and said what we thought of you. We weren't ashamed. You were like a flag or a mountain, or something like that—fine and clean and right all the way through. We've laughed at one another because we were all so fond of you."
He put aside all of those words with his hand. "And now you don't care any more, Olivia?" he said. 43
"I didn't say that," she answered.
"You do care?"
"Yes," she said, and began to breathe hard and look frightened. He came right up to her with a long step.
"Olivia," he said, "you care a lot. Somehow I'm sure of it."
"Yes, I care a lot."
He put his arms around her. She leaned her head back against his horse. Her eyes were closed.
"Don't kiss me, Clancy," she said.
"You want me to."
"Yes, but don't do it."
"I won't," said Clancy. "I'm sorry I touched you."
He stepped back from her. He had loved her more than anything in the world before this, and now he respected her more than anything else.
She opened her eyes again and began to cry. There was no sobbing or trembling of the lips, but her eyes altered, and the tears went rapidly down her face.
"That's because of me. That's because you think I'm a hound."
She said nothing. He took out a handkerchief and tried to dry her face, but the tears kept on coming.
"I'll tell you something," said Clancy Morgan. "I'll swear—"
"Don't!" she begged him. "Do anything else, but don't do that!"
"I was going to swear to you that I didn't—"
"Don't swear. That's what I couldn't stand."
"Olivia, you think that I did it?"
"I don't know. I'm praying that you didn't. I'm praying and hoping. Some day—I don't know—I might be able to feel that you were just young, that he frightened you out of yourself, maybe—that such a thing wasn't really in your heart, that it just sort of happened. Maybe I can feel that way about it sometime, but, if you lie on top of everything else, I'll feel as though I've been loving a bad dog, and not a man at all."
He stood up to those last words with speech working and shuddering in his throat—the whole, true story of exactly what had happened. But she stirred him so with pity and with love, she seemed to him so noble, so gentle, and so true, that Clancy Morgan was forced into remembering another thing that was just as great and glorious—Dan Travis's conception of friendship.
Suddenly it seemed to Clancy that the future opened to him and showed him a golden time in which he would secure, in spite of all present dangers and darkness, the two priceless possessions of the world, a friend as tried and proved as steel, and the woman he loved. An infinite quiet came over the mind of Clancy Morgan, a sad surety.
The girl said: "Father wanted me to say one thing to you. He wanted me to beg you to get out of Tartartown. He said that the crowd didn't dare to go ahead after he'd challenged them because the daylight had showed him all their faces. But he says that when night comes, with masks—"
"I'm not going away," said Clancy Morgan. "If I run away, I'd be a disgrace to everybody that ever cared a rap about me. I'm going back to see the thing through. For my own sake, and for your sake, too. Good bye, Olivia."
Her lips stirred, she nodded, but no speech came.
Clancy left the place and went back, still leading the tired mustang, into Tartartown. It was all changed, now. It looked to him as a battlefield looks to a soldier when the fight has commenced, but has not ended. The more familiar it was, the more grim.
The doctor came up the street, driving his light buggy, and nodded curtly at Clancy, without giving him a full glance. Jay Williams's two boys dashed, whooping, around a corner and stood transfixed when they saw him, as though they had come upon a ghost. In fact, he knew that he was a ghost to them, a man whose honor was gone, and, therefore, who was worse than dead, although he still was alive to walk and talk and breathe the air with other men.
He came to the hotel and passed into it. There were still a dozen people about the lobby, and all of them stood up with a savage murmur when they saw him. He went to the desk. As he turned from the others, cold worms of fear crawled up and down his spine. The clerk looked at him for a long, deadly moment.
"Well," he said, "I suppose we've got to give you a room." He got up, snatched a key from a hook, and contemptuously led the way up the stairs.
And Clancy Morgan followed with his head high. This insult was nothing. It could be endured, and more insults, far worse, because every sacrifice he made was laid on the altar of friendship. But it was strange, he felt, it was very, very strange that Danny Travis did not appear.
Clancy locked the door when the clerk had gone out of the bedroom. It was a flimsy affair, that door. It looked as though even a boy could give it the weight of a lunging shoulder and knock it flat.
That made him get out his revolver. It was obviously dirty. It needed cleaning and oiling. So he robbed off the dust and spun the cylinder to free it. Then he put the Colt back in the holster, looking at the door. Perhaps the five bullets in that gun would have to serve in lieu of stronger locks and bolts to shield him from his enemies.
He went to the window. There was a one-story drop to the ground. The eaves of another window projected just above him. A cat or a man like Travis might be able to climb up to his room by this route, but he would have to take chances. Clancy was tired, and he must be more rested when the crisis came. It would come that night, of course.
He pulled off his boots, stretched himself out on the bed, and folded his hands under his head. In all the world there was no one like Olivia. She grew in his mind as the sun grows in a winter sky. She doubted and half despised him, she was tortured with pain on account of him, but she loved him. He considered the ache in his own heart impersonally. It was as though bullets had tom through him there, but still he lived on.
In another moment he had closed his eyes and was asleep.
Clancy wakened to hear a heavy thumping on the door. It seemed to have been going on for a long time.
"They've come to get me," breathed Clancy Morgan, and jumped to his feet.
Then he saw that the afternoon sun was still slanting past the window, filling the air with an unusually bright haze.
"Who's there?" he called.
"Dan. Open up, boy," said the voice of Travis.
Clancy Morgan inhaled a breath of life and opened the door. There was no one but Travis. He came into the room alone and closed and locked the door behind him. Then he took Clancy by the arm, led him to the window light, and examined him. You would have said that he was a doctor, looking over a convalescent patient.
He nodded. "You're standing it," he said.
"Sure, I'm standing it," said Clancy Morgan. "Sit down. Want the makings?"
"Thanks," said Travis.
He sat in the rocking-chair, keeping it motionless, with his long, powerful legs stretched out before him. With a wheat-straw paper and tobacco, he made his cigarette, seeming to spill not a grain of the tobacco.
That was like Travis, thought Clancy, as he also rolled a cigarette. Everything that he did, he did perfectly. Think how he had carved the under faces of the beams in his house. He could do anything, and do it perfectly. He was that sort of man. His face was both stern and serene. One might have called it savage, and there was, indeed, savagery in him. But not for Clancy. He, Clancy, was his friend.
The cigarettes were made. Clancy scratched a match and held it. They smoked in silence.
"What did you feel like in the crowd?" asked Travis, more like a doctor than ever.
It was a temptation to boast, but, of course, Travis was a man who could see through any pretense as though it were of sheerest gossamer.
"I was scared," confessed Clancy. "I was scared to death. I think I yelled out, at first, a couple of times. I begged them not to kill me, I suppose." He flushed.
"And then toward the end, before Gregor stepped in?" asked Travis.
"Well, I thought about something that made me feel a lot better. It gave me surety and steadied up my nerves. I wouldn't have stopped hoping even after they fitted the rope around my neck."
"What did you think of?" asked Travis gently.
"Of you, Danny," said Clancy, and flushed in another way.
Travis looked suddenly down at his cigarette and knocked off the ash. "That fellow Gregor," said Travis, "is a man."
"He saved my life," Clancy agreed, self-pity and gratitude making his voice tremble.
"There aren't many people in the world that I want to remember," said Travis slowly, softly. "Most of 'em I want to forget, and I do forget. But I want to remember Gregor. And I shall always remember him."
There flashed before the mind of Clancy a picture of Gregor in frightful dangers, crowds of enemies rushing upon him in a stormy night, and then the terrible form of Travis, riding to the rescue, sweeping Gregor off to warm life and safety. That was what Travis was. He was a friend. It was a strange thing when Travis said things like this—his face grew sterner than ever. He seemed to be speaking to himself rather than to another man.
"Now, about the rest of this," said Travis. "It looks as though you're going to stay on in town?"
"Yes," said Clancy Morgan. "I've got to."
"Why do you have to? That's what I can't see."
"Because—well, because there's a gird around here who thinks that I really shot poor Orping."
"Orping was a thug and yegg, as bad as his brother Jasper, but not so famous," corrected Travis without emotion.
"She thinks that I shot him—through the back. I have to stay," said Clancy Morgan.
"Who's the girl?" asked Travis, his voice gentler than ever.
"You know the people in Tartartown by this time," said Clancy. "Who's the finest girl in town, bar none?"
"The prettiest?" asked Travis dreamily.
"Well, maybe not that. I don't know. I mean the finest girl, the one with the best of the right stuff in her, that would see you through thick and thin. The sort of a girl that's easiest to imagine being a mother to your children, and a wife to you, and a friend to your friends."
"You'll never find a wife who'll like your friends," said Travis dryly.
"Well, maybe not. But you know what I mean. The best sort of a girl to make a woman—the very best in this place. Who would that be?"
"The Gregor girl," said Travis instantly.
"By Jove," said Clancy, "you hit it right the first guess. You would hit it right."
Travis leaned forward so far that his face was hidden, and knocked the ash from his cigarette outside the window sill. His head was still lowered, while he asked in almost a yawning voice: "And what about her, Clan? How does she feel about it?"
"She thinks that I'm the sort of a rotten coward that will shoot a man in the back."
Travis straightened and pulled at his cigarette. "Does she?" he said. Then he added: "Did I break up that romance for you, Clan?"
"No," said Clancy Morgan. "She thinks I'm a rotten coward, but she loves me, anyway."
"Ah?" said Travis, and looked suddenly down at his cigarette again.
Joy suddenly sprang up out of the heart of Clancy Morgan.
"She told me so! It would have twisted your heart to see her and hear her, Danny. Ah, she stood there and cried, and said that she loved me. I put my arms around her. She told me not to touch her. She said she loved me, and told me not to touch her. She cried, Dan."
Clancy Morgan walked the floor. Travis looked down at his cigarette for a long time silently.
"She didn't sob," said Clancy, his voice shaking, lowered so that the tremor of it would be less perceptible. "Her lips didn't quiver, either. She just cried. The tears just rolled down her face."
"And then you told her?" said Travis.
"Told her what, Dan?"
"Told her the truth about everything?"
"What sort of a cur do you think I am, Dan? No, I didn't tell her. I love her, and I was tempted to tell her, I'll admit, but all at once I saw that unless I were man enough to be true to you, I was not man enough to be true to her. That was all. I didn't tell her anything. I just said that I was coming back to Tartartown to face the music. That will keep her hopingthat I'm the right sort, no matter what she really thinks. She's the reason why I can't leave Tartartown." He added: "And then, the whole thing will be cleared up, of course. It's worth going through, Dan. Just for the sake of being able to go to her, when all the clouds have blown away, and to see her face. I keep wondering. She'll nearly cry again. Lord, Dan, what a happy day that will be!"
"Yes," said Travis slowly. "What a happy day. But I wonder how it will be cleared up?"
"I don't know. Your brains are ten times better than mine. I know you're doing all that a man can do to straighten it out."
"Now tell me just one thing, Clan."
"Do you ever doubt me?"
"Doubt you?" said Morgan.
"I mean, do you ever suspect that I'm trying to get out from under and leave the whole weight of this on your shoulders? Things are fixed, now, so that I could, you know."
"Doubt you?" said Clancy Morgan. He tried to laugh, and almost managed to. "Why, Danny, what sort of a rat do you think I am? I know what you think of your friends, old fellow. I tell you what, Dan, next to Olivia, you're the top of the world for me. No, hardly next to her. Right up there beside her. I'd rather doubt myself than doubt you."
Travis stood up. "You haven't even asked me what I'm doing, or planning to do."
"Good old Dan," said Clancy Morgan. "What good would the asking do? I know that the old brain is working day and night. I know that your hand is on my shoulder all the time. You're right beside me."
Travis went up behind him as Clancy stood, staring out the window at the brightness of the sun and the glory of his thoughts. He put both hands on the shoulders of Morgan and let them rest there for a moment. Then he went out of the room without saying a word.
When Clancy had locked the door, he lay down again, but he could not sleep. He hardly needed sleep. There was such a tumult of happiness and resolution in his mind that he forgot his weariness.
Then he stood up as the chill in the air told him of sundown. He went to the dining room of the hotel and sat at a comer of the table. The whole length of the table was full. Most of the men there came from out of town. They had the dark red-brown of the open range, and Clancy knew why they had ridden in on this day. A good many of them he knew and nodded to, but he was not surprised when they looked back at him without a sign of recognition. Their eyes simply ate him up angrily. The wind, or something else, seemed to have stained all of those eyes a dull yellow-red in the whites.
The sweet, sharp breath of whiskey was in the air. They had all been drinking. But they had not been drinking enough to make their voices loud. Even when they asked that a platter be passed, they spoke softly. A funereal atmosphere was in the air. And it was not because the body of Bill Orping was stretched out in a room of the hotel. It was because they had come for the hanging of Clancy Morgan. He knew it, as he sat there. Half a dozen times he reached for his gun.
Yet, it was clear that they would not attempt anything for the moment. No, they had learned a lesson from Gregor—heard of what he'd done—on this day, and the next time they moved, their faces would all be masked, and the murk of the night would help to cover them.
Where was the sheriff in the meantime? No doubt the telephone had carried a message far away, and the sheriff, by this time, had turned the head of his horse toward Tartartown. But the county was as big as a kingdom, and he might be days in coming. The thing would be tragedy or comedy before that moment arrived.
Clancy Morgan finished his supper, pushed back his chair, and went out of the room. He knew that all eyes were watching him, and, as he passed into the outer hall, he could hear a sudden clamorous outbreak as many voices were lifted, the restraint having been removed. Men cannot very well talk loudly and cheerfully in front of their chosen victim. That instant he swore that so long as he lived, he would never judge other men harshly and suddenly. For no matter how this matter turned out, there were men in this town with whom it would never be possible for him to keep on friendly relations.
He went up to his room, locked the door once more, and got ready for bed. Probably they would try to break into his room that night, but it was hardly likely that they would do so until they had gathered in greater force and had taken a little more whiskey on board. For whiskey sharpens the teeth of men and dulls their brains until they are like beasts. He could understand that now. There were a great many things that he could understand now, that had once been obscure to him.
He undressed, took some cold water in the washbasin, and scrubbed his body clean. Then he shaved. The lean, brown face that looked back at him seemed, to the eyes of Clancy Morgan, to show resolution and much determination. Well, he would need it all tonight.
Fear was not mastering him—either his body or his brain. To be sure, if he had had to depend upon himself, he would have gone mad with terror, he was certain. But in the background, supporting him, more formidable than an army, was the hand and the brain of Dan Travis. When the pinch came, Travis would be there. He was so certain of this that nine-tenths of the burden was taken from his shoulders. All that he had to do was hold up his end of the thing, as a true partner would be expected to do. If they tried to break into his room, he would have to make as good a defense as possible.
While he was dressing again, he heard the horses come down the street to the hotel and halt. One after one, and then in little groups, they were coming in to the hanging of Clancy Morgan. And Clancy Morgan, having dressed, all except his boots, having shaken his door to prove that it was locked, pulled down the shade of his window. But he changed his mind and opened it again. They might be tempted to put a ladder up against a blinded window. They would not be apt to attempt an attack so long as it was open and a man with a gun somewhere inside.
Now he went to the lamp, took it off the table, and examined the height of the oil in it. It was nearly full, and should be able to bum all through the night. He turned down the wick a little and placed it at one side of the door, rather near the wall. Around it he arranged two newspapers, folded so that they stood up securely on edge.
When he had done that, he lay down upon the bed again and looked about him. The room was thick with darkness, except for one irregular spot of white on the ceiling, just above the lamp. When he was sure of this, he put the revolver beside him and fell asleep.
He was himself amazed, when he was wakened, to discover that he had actually slept. But now he heard a steady, strong trampling of feet that came up the stairs and poured down the hallway. It was not a rapid flood, but it was strong enough to sweep away his life, perhaps.
Where was Dan Travis now? He looked toward the window, half expecting to see the head and the strong shoulders of his friend appear there, but there was a jet-black square of night, and nothing more.
He strode to the window. Outside, just beside the brush, he could make out three dim silhouettes. No, they were taking no chances. They had blocked him in on every side. If he strove to climb down from the window, he would be shot to pieces on the way. Or perhaps those fellows down there would prefer to catch him alive, for the lynching was what they wanted, to see the death and the fear in his face as the rope settled around his neck. How could they know, poor fools, that Dan Travis understood all about this, and in the wisdom of his mind was preparing some perfect counterstroke? Clancy Morgan actually smiled.
Perhaps Travis himself would appear in the hallway when the crowd drew near the door. Yes, as the trampling footfalls approached the door, Clancy more than half expected to hear the stern voice of Danny Travis ring out with a challenge, threatening them, perhaps, with a riot gun.
But no voice rang out. There was only a sudden and terrible beating of many hands against his door.
He stepped to the lamp and drew away that newspaper that kept the light from shining on the door. Now it threw a big, strong wedge of illumination across that side of the room.
"Who's there?" called Clancy Morgan.
"A reception committee," bawled out a voice. Laughter followed that.
"Stop that laughing," said the voice of Pearson. "Any man who takes this for a joke is a fool and a cur. This is justice, not a game!"
Clancy lay down in the darkest comer of the room, stretched out on his stomach, and, steadying his revolver with both hands, he drew a careful bead on the door, breast-high.
"Open this door, Morgan," said Pearson. "We've come for you, and we're going to get you!"
A sudden frenzy rushed up into the brain of Clancy Morgan. He did not recognize the shrill voice that came tearing against his ears, but it was his own.
"You dirty, murdering cowards!" he said. "Get back from that door, or I'll pile you up dead on the sill!"
"Break in the door, boys," said the calm voice of Pearson.
Instantly there was a heavy crash. The door flew wide and slammed loudly against the wall. The whole room trembled, but not the hands of Clancy Morgan.
Perhaps Travis was at this moment looking in at the window, ready to mow down some of that crowd. In the meantime, he, Clancy Morgan, would do his honest share. Then he fired straight into the dimly entangled forms which his eyes discovered.
He won a yelping of pain from two distinct voices. The three or four men who had started to rush through the open door recoiled in haste, flinging themselves back, having to fight to get away because of the pressure behind them.
Now, it would be a poorly aimed bullet that did not take at least one life out of that heap of humanity.
"Get back! Let me get out! He's shooting us! Kill him!"
They put up a roar of shouts like that, but they fell back from before the doorway.
Clancy Morgan, filled with a wild, a dizzy exultation, shouted to them: "Come on! There's a crowd of you! There's a whole crowd! I'm only one man. I'm the coward, you say, that shot a fellow through the back. Now let me see how brave you are. You, Pearson, who loves the law so much, let me see you do something about it, you rotten coward!"
A man was groaning in the hallway: "My leg's broken. I'm ruined for life. My leg's smashed all to the devil!"
Another was cursing wildly. A whole volley tore into the room, but not a bullet came within yards of Morgan. They could not spot him. They had a flood of light turned into their faces, and the newspaper behind the lamp placed the other half of the room in utter blackness. They could not even shoot out the lamp without exposing themselves.
"Try again, boys," said Clancy Morgan, "and take this for good measure!"
He fired, not through the doorway, which he knew wasn't filled, but at the flimsy wooden wall to one side of the door. It would hamper the crowd in the hall, but it would not hamper a Colt's .45-caliber bullet.
The slug snicked through the wall as though it were paper. He had purposely aimed only hip high. A wild yelling greeted the shot, and he knew that it had clipped the flesh of more than one man. A savage joy swept over Clancy and made him hot from head to foot.
"Scatter, scatter—don't stand so close together!" commanded Pearson in the hall.
"It's a hell hole! It's a death trap!" roared another voice that sounded very like that of Jeff. "Get out of here and save yourselves, boys!"
"Stand tight!" yelled Pearson. "Don't run, you fools, you cowards! Stand fast and be men!"
"Be men and be dead!" cried Clancy Morgan. "Let's see the quality of you heroes that love the law so much! Let's see the sort of men that do the lynching in the name of the law in this town! You rats, why don't you fight?"
But there was only a long, receding roar of voices and footfalls as the herd swept down the hallway.
The passion that was in young Clancy Morgan, and the incredulous joy of his sudden delivery, made him leap into the doorway. He saw the crowd huddling together as it stampeded, one man crying out that his leg was being twisted off his body, and another that he was being crushed to death, and another asking help in carrying one of the wounded. But not a soul had turned to fight the battle out, not even Pearson, who retreated at the heels of the others, cursing them, reviling them.
Clancy Morgan let out a wordless roar like that of a beast of prey. He put two bullets over the heads of that crowd and two bullets under their feet, and they pitched headlong down the stairs with such a thundering that the very vibration of the sound seemed sufficient to burst the hotel apart.
There was not another bullet in his gun, but he had a distinct feeling that he would not need another. He let the door stand open with its broken lock, blew out the lamp, and stretched himself once more in the bed, not on top of it, with his clothes off, and the delicious coolness of sheets against his skin.
Outside he could hear voices, raging up and down the scale, but he had a perfect certainty that there would be no other attack on this night. He went to sleep with only one wonder in his mind.
It had all been ridiculous, Clancy felt, when he got up in the morning. It all had been absurd. The attack from the hall, the simple little trick of the lamp. And yet, had he been one of the crowd, in such a predicament, with bullets tearing through the flesh of comrades here and there, would he have run? He knew quite well that he would.
He washed, dressed, and stood a moment at the window, looking out. The sun seemed to make the whole world anew, and his life with it. Last night had been a dream; this morning was reality. They could not hold malice against him because he had fought for his life. On the contrary, they might put two and two together, perhaps, and come to the conclusion that he was not exactly the type of fellow to shoot another through the back. What should he do now?
Well, he was hungry, and the smell of cookery was in the air. Without further thought, he broke open his empty gun, grinned at its emptiness, and then went straight down to the dining room, with the Colt moving in its holster against his hip.
In the dining room he found a dozen others. They looked as though they had not slept. The whiskey flush or the whiskey pallor was in their faces. When they saw him, they simply looked down at their plates or into their cups of coffee.
Clancy Morgan sat at the end of the table, with his back to the wall, and ate with the others. Not a one of them, he could be sure, had been absent from the crowd of the night before. And not a one of them dared to look him in the face.
After breakfast he went out into the lobby. Other men were there. Studiously they avoided him.
"Has anyone seen my friend Pearson?" asked Clancy Morgan.
The answer was silence and gloomy staring at the floor.
He stepped to the desk, where the clerk was immensely busy with a pile of papers, shuffling them, arranging them, and then rearranging them.
"Give me a room with a lock on the door that isn't broken," said Clancy, "and have my stuff moved into it—my blanket roll."
"Yes. Certainly," said the clerk, and did not look up from his papers.
Clancy Morgan stepped out into the sunshine of the street. It had a feel that was quite different from any sunshine he ever had known before. He could almost taste it. And the air was of an incredible sweetness.
He went to the general store. Old Sam Hilton was behind the counter, and he looked startled, half frightened, when he saw Morgan.
"I want a box of Forty-Fives and some oil," said Clancy.
Hilton turned to the shelf holding ammunition. His withered old hand hesitated for a long time. Then he took down a cardboard box and pushed it across the counter.
"How are things, Mister Hilton?" asked Clancy Morgan.
The old man shook his head slowly. "Things are mighty bad for some people in this town," he said. "Mighty bad, mighty bad!"
Clancy went back into the street, walked to the end of it, and then slowly returned. What should he do? Where was Travis? Back at the hotel, waiting for him, perhaps.
He hurried a little, and, turning the corner toward the hotel, he saw a cortège of hatless men, stepping slowly along, followed by a silent crowd. Eight men were carrying a coffin draped in black with only a few flowers thrown upon it. Bill Orping's body was going to its grave.
Clancy Morgan stood back and took off his hat.
No one looked at Clancy. Their eyes seemed to be riveted straight before them, upon the unhappy mysteries of this life of ours. They stepped carefully. Their feet did not seem to raise the dust. They were all men. There was not a woman among them. Not a single woman. No, the women were standing on their porches, or they were at their windows, watching.
So Clancy, with bared head, watched the procession move gradually past him. Then he walked on toward the hotel.
He was in Number Seventeen now, the clerk told him. Number Seventeen was the best room in the house, on the corner, overlooking the two streets. Two windows, thought Clancy, through which bullets could be fired. But perhaps the brave men of Tartartown would not be firing bullets for a little while. Perhaps they had enough of shooting to last them for a time.
He sat down before one of the windows. The day was growing hot. Noises came to him of labor, the clanking hammers in the blacksmith shop, the squeaking of a saw from the direction of the repair job on the old Quincy house, and some woman with a high voice bargaining or scolding at Jeff Wilson, the grocer, just across the street. Everybody in this world was busy, but for his own part he sat still and waited for the current to bear him along, and the thing was drawing at every nerve.
A footfall hurried to his door. There was someone downstairs to see him.
He looked to his gun, pulled his sombrero firmly down over his eyes, and walked downstairs. In the lobby, Olivia Gregor stood up to meet him. She was quite expressionless. They were alone. Only the clerk was now and then in the room, seemingly quite busy with odds and ends.
"Are you going to stay, Clancy?" she asked him. "I heard that you hadn't left. Are you really going to stay?"
"I'm going to stay," sad Clancy Morgan a little proudly. "Why not? I don't think that they'll try to mob me again."
She shook her head. "No, not that," she said. "I've heard all about it." She watched him. "Clan, if you could do a thing like that—"
She stopped, and he narrowed his eyes to watch her. She must have driven in, because she was wearing a dress of rough, blue silk. He knew that it was the most beautiful dress in the world. She had on a blue hat, with a tuft of yellow flowers against the crown of it.
"Well," she went on, "I won't talk about it."
"Have you given up hoping that maybe I didn't do that thing?" asked Clancy Morgan.
"If I stopped hoping," she said, "I think that I'd die. No, I'm still hoping. They tell me you're looking for Pearson?"
"Pearson was the ring-leader twice," said Clancy Morgan.
"Will you promise me something?" she asked.
"Yes, anything, except that I run out of town,"
"It's only this—stop looking for Pearson."
"All right," said Clancy Morgan. "I'll stop, if it makes you happier. Why should it, though?"
"He was jealous, Clancy. That's all I can tell you."
"He wanted you? That's what was behind all his talk about the law?"
"He was jealous, I'm afraid," she answered. "But don't look for him. You've promised me that you won't."
"Pearson, too," said Clancy Morgan. "Aren't there any more honest men in the world? Olivia, there's nobody under the sun that I can bank on, except Dan Travis. And the next thing I know he'll be falling in love with you. That's what he'll be doing."
She started. "Does Dan Travis mean more to you than any other friend, Clan?" she asked.
"Dan? Of course, he does! A great deal more."
"Well—," she said, and then paused, looking rather miserably up at him.
"Go on," he said, frowning. "Only don't go far enough to say anything against Dan. I know that he's been a rough fellow and done some rough things, and, perhaps, there was a time in his life when he shot a little too straight and a little too often. But he's a man, Olivia—and he's a friend. What a friend."
"Well," she said slowly, studying him all the time, "isn't it a little strange that he wasn't on hand last night? Poor Dad heard the racket, and he came rushing to the hotel. But everything was over then. He just saw—the wounded. Joe Breck has a broken leg, and Will Porter—Well, Dad was surprised to find that Dan Travis hadn't been there to help you. Were you surprised?"
He flushed very hot. "There'll be plenty of explanation for that," said Clancy Morgan. "You'll see. There'll be plenty of explanation. Why, Dan is the Rock of Gibraltar. I love him, Olivia. So would you, if you knew him."
"I know him pretty well," she said with the same cautious slowness of speech, as though she were afraid that her words would give away too much of her thought. "I know him pretty well. And I could never love him, Clancy."
"That's the woman of it!" exclaimed Clancy Morgan bitterly. "Because he looks hard, because he is hard, in a way, you won't see that he's the finest fellow in the world. I'll tell you what, even if I were better than anything you ever thought about me, or wished about me, I'd be no more than dirt compared to a man like Dan Travis, bless him."
She looked long and earnestly at him. "I love you," she said suddenly, "and, somehow, I feel that I may lose you."
"You won't," he told her. "Will you come outside with me?"
"No," she said. "I'm going to say good bye. You've made up your mind that you'll wait here? You won't go away, Clan?"
"No. I'm staying here till my name is cleared as bright as a mirror. And it will be cleared, too. Dan Travis will help me to clear it."
"Do you want to know something?" she asked him.
"Dan Travis would like to see you dead at his feet."
The shock of it staggered him. Then he drew himself up. "I tell you what, Olivia," he said. "I'm sorry you said that. I want you to know that friendship is a sacred thing to me. And Dan—he's away up with me. He's next to you. After you've said that, he's above you! He—he'd rather die than slander a friend. I'll tell you one thing that'll burn you up with shame—he thinks you're the finest woman he knows. He said it. He said it in my own room yesterday. Olivia, he—" Clancy stopped.
"And he will see you dead at his feet, when Jasper Orping gets here today. Oh, Clancy, my heart's breaking!"
When his eyes cleared, when he was able to look up, then he saw that she had left him.
Clancy went into the bar-room. No one was there but the bartender, who was washing glasses, drying them on a soiled cloth. He put his wet hands on top of the bar and waited for the order.
"Whiskey, Pete," said Clancy Morgan.
"Yeah. That's what I thought," said Pete.
He was a sawed-off little man, famous for his savagery in a fight. He rolled out a bottle and a glass and stood with his head bent down, looking up from under his fleshy brow at Clancy Morgan, who was filling the glass.
"Whiskey would have been pretty good last night, too, eh?" said Pete.
Morgan threw the liquor down his throat. The sour, sick taste of it rose again. Then the smoke and the fire went up into his nostrils. He felt all his frozen blood start with a leap.
"Some of them dumbbells, they got some new thinks in the think tank today" said Pete. "Some of 'em is goin' to lie in bed and think for quite a spell. Four of 'em is goin' to do that." He added savagely: "I wouldn't join a mob. A mob is a lot of howlin' dogs. If I got a grudge, I take it out with my own hands. I don't want no help. They don't come too big for me. Even youain't too big for me!"
Clancy Morgan gripped the edge of the bar. Jasper Orping, with all the ghosts of his dead men riding behind him, was bound for Tartartown, reaching it on this day. There was Dan Travis, of course, but even old Dan, with his lightning hand and his sure aim, what was Dan Travis compared with that conjuring devil of a Jasper Orping?
"You hear me, kid?" repeated Pete. "You ain't too big for me, if I had a grudge. I cut 'em down to my own size. I whittle 'em down."
"I know," said Clancy Morgan vaguely. He looked around the small bar-room, stifling in it as in a closet, threw down his money, and went back into the lobby. There he got pen and paper and wrote:
Have you heard? Hell is loose! Jasper Orping is expected back this very day. Come and tell me what we're to do. I'm worried.
He sealed it and went to the clerk.
"Give some kid a quarter," he said, sliding over the money, "and let him take this out to Dan Travis, will you?"
"Certainly, Mister Morgan," said the clerk, looking down.
Of course, they looked down, for they knew what the girl knew—that Jasper Orping was coming to town. And he, Clancy Morgan, had to stay and face him.
He was choking. He touched his throat and felt the silk of the bandanna. He would have to die, along with Travis, because he was wearing one of the blue- and-white bandannas.
And then he grew whiter. Olivia, to be sure, had said good bye to him as though already he were a dead man, but that was because she had no faith in Dan Travis. She actually did not like him. He considered that grimly. It meant that she was not of the really high breed, or she would have seen the greatness of Travis. Well, Travis had said that no woman could like a man's friends. He was right. He was always right. He was truly and surely right when he swore that friendship is sacred.
Clancy Morgan went up to his room and waited. His whole body was trembling. Then he heard footfalls and the voice of Travis in the hall.
He snatched the door open and caught at Travis with both hands. Travis halted and looked down at the hands that held him. Clancy released him. He must never forget the grim reserve that hedged Dan Travis. He was ashamed of the excitement that had overmastered him.
As they stood in the room, he said: "You got my note, Dan?"
"Well, I'm here," said Travis.
"Good old Dan," said Clancy Morgan. "And you know what I've heard?"
"Nothing," said Morgan, thinking of the girl's words. If she could see them now, together, perhaps even she would understand what man can be to man.
"Jasper Orping is coming," said Travis, sitting down, "and he'll be looking for you, because you have on one of my bandannas. How do you feel, Clan?"
"Rotten. Ready to break all up—to go to pieces."
"I'll bet you do," said Travis, eyeing him curiously. He put out his long, narrow jaw a little. It was like the jaw of a bull terrier, and like the lips of a bull terrier were the thin, sardonic lips of Travis. He was not a pretty man. "I'll bet you feel rotten, boy. And no wonder. Jas has a pretty big reputation in this old world, eh?"
"He's a dead shot," said Clancy Morgan.
"Rot," said Travis, and snapped his fingers. "Dead shot? There's no man in the world that's a dead shot." He considered, and snapped his fingers again without speaking.
"All I want is the plan," said Clancy Morgan. "I'll try to do my part."
"A big reputation is what he has," said Travis. "But I'll tell you what, Clan, the best of us lose our reputations sometimes. One dead Jasper Orping will be enough to wipe out his fine record."
Morgan nodded. "I'll do whatever you tell me to do, Dan. But, I guess, it wouldn't be right and fair for both of us to stand up to him?"
"Hold on," said Travis. "Two against one? Is that what you mean?"
"Well," said Clancy Morgan, "I was just saying that it wouldn't be fair."
"Fair?" said Travis. "It would be murder! I've killed men in my time, but murder, that's a different thing."
"I know, Dan," agreed Morgan. "I know you're as straight as a ruled line."
"I'm not as straight as a ruled line. Only—murder—that's different." He contemplated the idea of it, and his upper lip curled a little, as though in disgust.
"I'm not for crooked work, either," said Clancy Morgan. "I'm for anything you say is the right way. That's all."
"You're not for crooked work, but you're only a kid," said Travis.
"I know," said Clancy.
"They pulled one almost over on me last night," said Travis thoughtfully. "I hadn't figured it for such an early break. More about midnight, was what I was sure of. But they didn't get you. The point was, however, that I should have been there."
"I knew that would worry you. Forget it," said Clancy. "I worked a dodge on them, and they ran." He laughed a little.
"I know. You beat them out. You have nerve, Clan. You have a cold nerve. You're only a kid, but you have cold nerve. You ran the devil right out of them." He said this soberly, as one who speaks only after mature judgment.
"I had luck," said Clancy Morgan, growing bright red with pleasure.
"There's no luck but bad luck, when it comes to one man against a crowd," said Travis. "A couple of years on you, Clancy, and you'll be able to look any man in the eye. Don't answer me. I'm just telling you. You'll be able to stand up to anyone. But that's not what I want for you. A married life and children. I don't want you to step out into the hellfire. I've been there. I know what it's like."
Clancy Morgan sat like a stone. He never before had heard his friend talk like this, talk as to an equal.
"I should have been there last night," muttered Travis.
"Don't think about it, Dan."
"Don't tell me not to think of it. I'll think of it the rest of my life. It was a mistake. I played the fool. I should have been here. Lord, Clan, they might have killed you!" He reached out suddenly and put his hand over the hand of Morgan, and looked painfully, deeply, into his eyes.
"They didn't kill me. I'm all right," said Clancy, flushing again. For he saw that Travis seemed deeply moved. He felt unworthy of this demonstration. It frightened him a little.
Travis said: "Go down and get your horse and ride out to my shack."
"You mean that you're going to stay in town and face him all by yourself when he comes through, Danny?"
"Don't ask me what I mean to do. Just do as I say."
Clancy Morgan rose slowly to his feet. "I ought not to," he said. "I'll feel like a coward the rest of my life."
"Why? You're not hiding. If anybody asks where you're going, you can tell 'em. There's nothing hidden about this. You're not sneaking away. If anybody asks you, just tell 'em you're going out to my cabin."
"You really want me to go?"
"Clan, don't stay and argue with me. Let me use the little brain that the Almighty gave me without making an argument all the time."
Clancy Morgan went to the door. "I'll tell you what you are, Danny," he said, "you're a fellow with no nerves. I only wish that I could be near enough to see you face Orping. I—I'm going to pray for you, Dan."
He went down the hall and down the stairs with a pinched heart. He could understand the whole thing perfectly. He was being sent out of harm's way, and then, when the great Jas Orping came through the town, Dan Travis would face him. It would be a battle of giants! And he, Clancy Morgan, would be cowering in the shack of his friend.
Well, he certainly would be a fool, if he tried to resist the will of Travis. He went to the stable, saddled his horse, and rode around to the front of the hotel. The clerk was on the verandah, with his hands in his hip pockets, chewing tobacco and rocking from heel to toe in time with the champing of the quid.
"Riding?" asked the clerk with a vague eye.
"I'm going out to the Travis place," said Clancy Morgan. He had been permitted to say that much. Then he added: "If anybody asks for me, say where I am."
The clerk said nothing. But he stopped his rocking from heel to toe. He went to the edge of the verandah and stared down the street after the disappearing rider. So Clancy Morgan put the sandy hill between him and Tartartown, and came to the shack of Dan Travis, where one half of his destiny was to be fulfilled.
The shack was as neat as a pin. Travis had the remains of a small fire smoking on the hearth. Although the heat was trifling, all of the smoke went up the yawning chimney. That was like Travis. He would always be the fellow to build a fireplace that would draw.
Clancy Morgan examined the pots. There was a quantity of beans in one of them, steaming slowly over the fire. The sight of them, the porky smell of them, made him hungry. It was almost noon. He found some bread and put coffee and water in the coffee pot. Then he went into the shed at the end of the cabin to get more wood.
He was surprised at what he found there. A good bit of the hard, twisted roots of the mesquite lay in a corner. The other end of the shed was corded up with sawed lengths of fence posts. Some fence line must have been shifted recently, and Travis had taken in the discarded old posts. It seemed odd to Morgan. For he remembered that when he had come to the cabin the other day, Travis had said that he had been out in the shrubbery, digging mesquite roots. But here was wood of both kinds, the iron-strong, long-burning mesquite, ideal for keeping a pot simmering, and the quick-burning fence posts. Why had Travis been digging more roots? Well, that was the way of Travis. He certainly had not been short of wood, as he had said, but perhaps he had been short of a definite type of the roots. He was the sort of a fellow who knew all the fine points about everything.
With some of the dry, light wood of the posts, Morgan built up the fire until the coffee boiled. Then he made a meal of beans and bread and the black coffee. He was ashamed that he could eat with such a good appetite. It was, he told himself, like consuming the body of his friend, who was waiting back there in the town to confront a mortal peril. Nevertheless, he ate a good meal, and then smoked a cigarette.
Olivia said that Dan Travis wanted to see Clancy dead on the ground. Olivia had said that. Great-hearted Dan Travis, who was now facing death, with his perfect calm of demeanor.
Clancy could see him stepping forth into the street and waving a hand at Orping. "Jasper," he would say, "I believe that you're hunting for a friend of mine. I'm standing in that friend's shoes. Fill your hand!"
It would be something like that. The men of the range would never finish talking about it.
A horse loped over the hill from Tartartown and swung down the nearer slope, a horse taller than a mustang, reaching out with a good, ground-covering gallop. The man in the saddle sat canted forward a little, to accommodate himself to the speed of the running. He had wide shoulders. His sombrero brim fanned straight up above his forehead.
There was something familiar about him. With every stride of the horse that sense of familiarity grew in the mind of Clancy Morgan. He stood up, puffing at his cigarette with a worried look. But he did not know what worried him. It was simply that the contour of that rider, and something about his head, was connected, in the back of the mind of Morgan with an unpleasant thing that he could not specify.
He could see the foam on the neck of the horse, where the reins had chafed the sweat. He could see the fling of the forehoofs. The horse had the look of a Thoroughbred. It had the sweep and winging ease of a Thoroughbred's gallop.
Then a stroke of blind fear dimmed the eyes of Clancy Morgan. For he could make out the face of the rider, and he placed the resemblance now. It was a resemblance to Bill Orping—it was such a striking resemblance that it could be no other than Jasper Orping, who had ridden through the town without being checked by Dan Travis.
What had gone wrong? Had Orping failed to take the straight way through the town? If so, how had he guessed that his victim was at the Travis place? Who could have known, except the hotel clerk and a very few others?
A sort of madness came over Clancy Morgan. He wanted to shout out that there was a mistake. But it was too late for such shouting. It was too late to do anything, unless he chose to run back inside the door of the house—and then be shot through a window or a crack in the door like a rat in its hole. No, to go back into the hut seemed like going back into a coffin.
He saw the rider pull up suddenly and swing to the ground. He was taller than Bill Orping. His legs were not so bowed. But it was certainly a brotherly resemblance. Ah, if Dan Travis had only been there.
Jasper Orping walked straight on. He was hardly ten paces away, when he halted.
"Fellow," he said, "are you the two-legged rat that goes by the name of Clancy Morgan?"
"Orping," shouted Casey, "I didn't kill him!"
"You lie!" said Orping, and were for his gun.
It seemed to Clancy Morgan that bullets were already striking him, while he tugged out his own Colt.
The lightning flash in the hand of Orping exploded. The hat left the head of Clancy Morgan. The sun blinded his eyes. Into the blaze of light he aimed. Another bullet stung his ear like a wasp. Then he fired.
Jasper Orping spun around and toppled, with his back to the leveled gun.
Orping tried to roll over on his other side, to continue shooting, but something hindered him. Clancy Morgan walked up softly, so that his gun held steadily on the target.
"If you try to shoot again, I'll kill you, Orping," he said. "I've got you covered."
"High and to the right," groaned Orping. "I' told the jackass that it was shooting high and to the right. Oh, I'm a fool."
He sat up. The gun that had fallen from his hand lay almost buried in dust. Then Morgan kneeled behind him and laid the muzzle of the gun against the back of Orping's thick neck.
"Why don't you shoot?" said Orping. "You're the boy that loves to get 'em from behind, you dirty killer, you."
"Take it easy," said Clancy, "I didn't shoot you from behind. And I'll tell you this—I never aimed a gun at Bill. Sit still, while I get your hardware."
There were three guns in all, and a formidable knife. Clancy took them and stood up.
"Where is it?" he asked.
"Aw, you got me through the left leg," said Jasper Orping. "Why don't you finish the job now? I'm damned, if I want to live after a half-baked kid puts me down like this."
The dazzle was not of sun in the eyes of Clancy Morgan now, but of a marvel that had been accomplished. He could not say how he felt, except numb. He had no sense of triumph. High and to the right that Colt of Orping's had certainly carried, or else Clancy would have been twice dead before he pulled the trigger of his own weapon.
He put his hands under the pits of Orping's shoulders and lifted him to his feet.
"A filthy brat—to roll me," groaned Orping.
"Put your left arm across my shoulders," said Clancy Morgan. He gripped the iron-hard body of Orping with his own right arm, and so helped him into the cabin and onto the bunk of Dan Travis.
What could Travis think when he found the great enemy subdued, and in his own house?
"A brat," moaned Jas Orping. "A murdering brat. How old are you?"
"Twenty-three," said Clancy Morgan, cutting away the trouser leg from the wound of Orping.
"Twenty-three," sighed Orping.
He lay back with his hands folded under his head. His broad, savage face worked spasmodically, not with pain, but with his mental torment of shame.
"I know it was only luck," said Clancy Morgan. "I'm not proud of myself."
The lip of Orping lifted away from his yellow teeth. He said nothing. And Clancy bathed the wound, stopped the blood with dust, and wound a bandage around the hurt.
"Does it feel better?" he asked.
Orping said nothing. After his first outburst, he seemed to hate speech as much as he hated Clancy Morgan. But with his vicious eyes he followed Morgan around the hut.
He accepted a tin cup of coffee and drank it half down before he said: "And now what? One murder's enough, eh? You won't put me out of my misery, I guess. You'll wait for the sheriff to get me, eh?"
"I don't want to harm you, Orping," said Clancy Morgan. "You came at me like a tiger. I had to shoot, and I was lucky. That's all."
"He's only a kid, and he's put both the Orpings down. He's only a kid," groaned Orping.
Hoof beats came down the trail. Clancy yearned to go to the door to see who might be coming, but he dared not leave that formidable prisoner. The man lay like a savage beast, his powerful body stirring now and then, and his mouth working with his rage. If he had two seconds, he would get to the guns, even though he had to drag one useless leg, and, once armed, he could be trusted not to miss a second chance.
The rider coming up the trail halted at the cabin. The door was kicked open, and there appeared first a hand and then a leveled gun, and then the grim face of Dan Travis.
"He got through, Dan," said Clancy Morgan modestly, "but luck stopped him. He could have planted me twice, but his gun was out of kilter. Here's Orping."
Travis said nothing by way of answer. He made no excuse for not stopping this man in the town. Instead, he stalked over to the bunk and stared down at Jas Orping.
"How are you, Jas?" he said quietly.
"Travis," said Orping, "do you hold with this murdering rat of a kid? Is that where you stand?"
Still, Travis said nothing. He stepped back, looked around the room, and finally included Clancy Morgan with his glance. Perhaps it was the fury of shame and of disappointment that silenced him—shame and rage because he had not managed to block this gunman on the way through the town.
"What did you use on him?" asked Travis suddenly.
"The old gun you gave me a year or so ago, Danny," said Morgan.
"Let me see it," said Travis.
"Here you are."
He passed it over. Travis broke it open and took out the shells.
"You got him with one slug," he muttered.
"My gun was carrying high and to the right," said Orping. "I guessed it with the first shot, but still I didn't correct it enough. Blast me for a fool. And he nailed me through the leg. That sneak— he stood there and nailed me through the leg. I ain't a man no more. I'm a dirty Siwash. I'm a tramp. I'll take water from a Chinaman—and every fool of a kid knocks me over the first try." He beat his great brown hands against his face.
"Take it easy," said Travis, slipping the cartridges back into Morgan's gun. "Maybe you'll have another chance."
"Me? Another chance at what?" demanded Orping.
"At him," said Travis.
"Yeah? And how does that come about?"
"Could you stand on that leg?" said Travis.
"I could hop on it," said Orping. "What's that to you?"
"You won't have to hop a mile," answered Travis. "You'll only have to hop to the outside of my cabin. That's all. Can you do that?"
"Of course, I can. What for?"
"For your second chance at Morgan," said Travis. "Clancy, help him off that bunk."
"Why, Danny," said Morgan, wondering, "what's the matter?"
"You rat," snarled Dan Travis. "You've shot his brother through the back, and now Orping is going to have a chance to make you stand up like a man and shoot straight, if you can!"
The horror of the betrayal came like a slow dawn over the brain of Clancy Morgan. "Danny!" he said. "You don't mean that you're turning me down?"
"You dog!" said Travis. "I've always hated your heart! Your pretty face that the girls like so well— maybe Orping can change the look of it—and, if he doesn't, I will!"
"You want to see me," said Morgan brokenly, "dead at your feet!"
"I do!" shouted Travis, his voice suddenly filling the room. "And that's where I'll see you! You fool! I've used you, and now I'm through with you! Help him off that bunk!"
"She told me," said Clancy Morgan, his brain working slowly forward. "She said that's what you wanted—to see me dead at your feet."
"Who told you?" asked Travis.
"Does she guess that?" snarled Travis. "Aye, but I'll lay your ghost, and I'll change her mind. I'll change it by the way that I mourn over you. Handsome Clancy Morgan, eh? I stood and watched 'em, ready to hang you, and I laughed, Morgan. I wore a mask and joined the crowd that was going to lynch you last night, but the devil taught you the way out of that tangle, curse you. Now let the devil teach you out of the way of this! Help him off the bunk and outside the house. I'll see you fight him first. And if he doesn't finish you, I'll turn loose on the job. I'll make a pattern of handsome Clancy's face for him."
Morgan, with fumbling hands, helped Orping to his feet.
"I'll never forget this, Danny," said Orping. "You won't need to finish nothing. I'll handle him for you. And I'll be a friend to you for the rest of your days, Travis. There's something in you, after all. Bill seemed to hate you all the time. But there's something in you that I like. There's no soft pulp about you. You know how to hate an enemy, and that means you know how to love a friend."
"Orping," said Dan Travis, "I'll only tell you this—that friendship is a sacred thing to me—the most sacred thing in the world!"
"I believe you," said Orping. "Let's get out in the sun. I'll blow his face off his skull, man. I'll pulverize him! But first we'd better make him tell us what he did with the money."
Clancy Morgan was supporting the brutal body of Orping before him, and Orping hopped toward the door of the shack.
"What money?" said Travis.
"Why, Bill had quite a roll on him. He must 'a' had, because I know he made a big clean-up in a poker game not long ago. What became of the money?"
"We'll ask him," said Travis.
A thought had driven home like a spur into Morgan. He swayed Orping so that the ruffian staggered.
"Steady!" said Clancy Morgan, lurching against the wall. And as he lurched, he struck back-handed at the gun in Travis's hand.
The bullet hurled under the arm of Clancy and into the adobe wall as Travis fired.
Then Clancy Morgan, striking with all his desperate might, lodged the ridge of his hard knuckles on the long, projecting chin of Travis. The big fellow dropped to his knees, and Clancy Morgan tore the gun out of his nerveless hand.
Clancy tied Travis's left arm to the right arm of Orping. Together, he drove them out of the house, into the blinding brightness of the sun, and still Travis cursed him with a delight that knew no fear of death.
"The whole soul of me's been turning sour, because I've had to smile at you this long time," said Travis. "But it was only because you were the world to the girl that I held myself in. Handsome Clancy! I tell you, I regret nothing, except that they didn't hang up handsome Clancy by the throat. Where are you taking us?"
"When I saw you yesterday morning," said Clancy Morgan, his face as rigid as white iron, "you had a shovel in your hand. Go get that shovel."
"What the devil for?" demanded Travis.
"To dig more of the same mesquite roots you were digging then," said Clancy.
So he forced the wavering, unsteady couple forward through the sand until the shovel was found. He drove them still farther, until in the middle of a dense mass of mesquite they reached a place where the surface crust of the sand had been newly disturbed.
"Dig there!" he cried.
"Damn you," said Travis. "I won't lift a hand."
"I'll burn some new ideas into you, if you don't," answered Clancy Morgan. "I want to keep my hands off you, Travis, but if I have a good excuse, I'll flay the hide off the worst murdering hypocrite in the world. Dig there, and dig hard."
He set him free from the wounded man, and in three brief minutes Travis had turned up a bit of tarpaulin, and in that tarpaulin was a roll of greenbacks.
"There's the money," said Clancy Morgan. "And there's the man who shot your brother in the back, Orping, and then let me take the blame of it. There's the man who says that friendship is sacred. He murdered Bill Orping after he'd talked him into turning his back. He took Orping's money and buried it out here, and, if there's a law in the land, he'll hang for it—he and his perfect friendship."
Orping, with a wild cry, snatched the shovel and tried to brain big Dan Travis with it, but Morgan stopped his hand.
Travis himself, before the insane fury of Jasper Orping, had whitened, and began to shake. He seemed barely to have the strength to obey the gun in the hand of Morgan and help the wounded man back to the house.
"If you stay here," said Morgan, "you'll go to jail, you say, Orping. And maybe you deserve to be in jail. But the way I see you, you're a fellow who tried to do the right thing by your brother. Aye, friendship might be a sacred thing to you. Anyway, there's the money that your brother had. Take it. Take your horse, too. It will hurt to ride with that leg, but that can't be helped. You'll do one thing for me when you're safe with your friends. Write me a letter and put in it everything that you saw and heard today between me and Travis. The law may want to know."
"The law may take him," said Orping grimly. "And the law had better make an end of him, I can tell you that. But you, Morgan, I'll remember you. The whole world is goin' to remember you, too, because this traitor here is black enough to make you shine whiter than snow."
Clancy Morgan never saw Orping again. He took Dan Travis—a snarling, beast-like Travis—into the town, and saw the jail close over him.
The trial commenced a week later, and the first day's testimony reduced the men of Tartartown to a frenzy. They tried to storm the jail that night to lynch Dan Travis, but they found only a dead body to work on. Someone had climbed up the side of the building and put a bullet through Travis—through his heart, by way of his back!
In the meantime, a few of Tartartown's citizens had left the country, because the ground they walked on had become very hot. But happiness had settled down with a smile in the house of Harry Gregor.
There was still a month before the marriage. It was nearly at the end of that time before Clancy Morgan could gather his courage to ask Olivia what had given her insight into the hatred that Travis felt for him to such a consummate degree.
"Because he came to me and talked about you," said the girl. "He knew that I loved to hear about you. I think he used to make up all sorts of stories to show how intimate you were. And then, one day, when I was laughing and happy, I saw his face, and it was frozen into a horrible mask of hate—hate of you, Clancy. I knew it then. But you loved him so much that I never dared to speak until that last day."
"I never loved him," said Clancy Morgan bitterly. "I only loved the lie that he was making himself appear when I was around. I was a fool, Olivia. I'll never trust my judgment about people again."
"No," said the girl. "You can trust your judgment of people well enough. Think how well you see through me, Clancy, and how well you weigh and measure me. But, seriously, I don't think the devil walks the earth in more than one man at a time, and the devil was in poor Dan Travis."
"Poor Dan Travis?" echoed Clancy Morgan. "Aye," he added, "I know what you mean. If he had been honest, if he had been what he seemed, he would have been better than a king. But the devil was walking in him all the time."
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