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'Drag' Harlan
by Charles Alden Seltzer
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As it was, she felt a pulse of rage over her readiness in yielding to his orders. Yet the rage was softened by a lurking, stealthy joy she got out of his masterfulness.

"I presume I may ride in another direction—east, for instance—or north, or south?"

He apparently took no notice of the mockery in her voice.

"You'll not be ridin' alone, anywhere," he declared.

"Oh!" she returned, raising her chin and looking at him with a cold scorn that, she thought, would embarrass him; "I am to have a guardian."

He looked straight back to her, steadily, seemingly unaffected by the hostility of her gaze.

"It amounts to that. But mebbe I wouldn't put it just that way. Somebody's got to look out for you—to see that you don't go to rushin' into trouble. There was trouble over in Lamo—if you'll remember."

And now he smiled gravely at her, and her face reddened over the memory of the incident. She had been eager enough, then, to seek his protection; she had trusted him.

"That wasn't your fault," he went on gently. "You didn't know then, mebbe, just what kind of a guy Deveny is. But you know now, an' it would be your fault if you run into him again."

He saw how she took it—how her color came and went, and how her eyes drooped from his. He smiled soberly.

"Looks to me that you've got to pin your faith to a mighty small chance, ma'am."

"What chance?" She looked at him in startled wonderment, for it had not occurred to her that she faced any real danger, despite the threatening attitude of Deveny, and her isolation. For the great, peaceful world, and the swimming sunlight were full of the promise of the triumph of right and virtue; and the sturdy self-reliance of youth was in her heart.

"What chance?" she repeated, watching him keenly.

"The chance that me an' Red Linton will be able to get things into shape to look out for you." He was gravely serious.

"It must seem a mighty slim chance to you—me comin' here with a reputation that ain't any too good, an' Linton, with his red head an' his freckles. Seems like a woman would go all wrong, pinnin' her faith to red hair an' freckles an' a hell-raisin' outlaw. But there's been worse combinations, ma'am—if I do say it myself. An' me an' Red is figurin' to come through, no matter what you think of us."

"Red Linton?" she said. "That is the little, short, red-haired man you put in Lawson's place, isn't it? I have never noticed him—particularly. It seems that I have always thought him rather unimportant."

Harlan grinned. "That's a trick Red's got—seemin' unimportant. Red spends a heap of his time not sayin' anything, an' hangin' around lookin' like he's been misplaced. But when there's any trouble, you'll find Red like the banty rooster that's figurin' to rule the roost.

"I knowed him over in Pardo, ma'am—he rode for the T Down for two or three seasons."

"You are anticipating trouble—with Deveny?" she asked, a tremor in her voice.

"There ain't any use of tryin' to hide it, ma'am. Mebbe your dad thought you'd be better off by him not mentionin' it to you. But I've got a different idea. Anyone—man or woman—knows a heap more about how to go about things if they're sort of able to anticipate trouble. Your dad told me things was in a mixup over here with Deveny an' some more of his kind; an' I ain't aimin' to let you go ramblin' around in the dark.

"About half the Rancho Seco men belong to Deveny's gang, Linton says. That's why I put Linton in Lawson's place; an' that's why I'm askin' you to stick pretty close to the Rancho Seco, an' requestin' you not to go rummagin' around the country."

She rode on silently, her face pale, digesting this disquieting news. She remembered now that her father had seemed rather worried at times, and that upon several occasions he had hinted that he was distrustful of some of the Rancho Seco men. But as Harlan had said, he had never taken her completely into his confidence—no doubt because he had not wanted her to worry. That was very like her father—always making life easy for her.

However, covertly watching Harlan, she was conscious of an emotion that the latter did not suspect. The emotion was confidence—not in Harlan, for, though she had seen that he, apparently, was eager to become her champion, she could not forget that he, too, was an outlaw, with no proof that he had been sent to the Rancho Seco by her father; with nothing but his actions to convince her that his motives were founded upon consideration for her welfare.

She thought of John Haydon as she rode beside Harlan; and it was confidence in him that was expressed in her glances at Harlan; she was convinced that she did not have to depend entirely upon Harlan. And when, as they neared the ranchhouse, and she saw a big gray horse standing near the entrance to the patio, her face reddened and her eyes grew brilliant with a light that drew a cold smile to Harlan's face.

"That will be John Haydon's horse, I reckon," he said slowly.

"Why," she returned, startled; "how did you know?"

He rode on, not replying. When they reached the ranchhouse, Harlan loped Purgatory toward one of the bunkhouses, in front of which he saw Red Linton standing. Barbara directed Billy to the patio entrance, and dismounted, her face flushed, to meet a man who came out of the open gateway to greet her, his face wreathed in a delighted smile.



CHAPTER XV

LINKED

"So you came at last?"

Barbara had some difficulty in keeping resentment prominent in her voice as she faced John Haydon, for other emotions were clamoring within her—joy because Haydon had come, even though tardily; self-reproach because she saw in Haydon's eyes a glowing anxiety and sympathy that looked as though they were of recent birth.

There was repressed excitement in Haydon's manner; it was as though he had only just heard of the girl's affliction and had ridden hard to come to her.

She was sure of the sincerity in his voice when he grasped her hands tightly and said:

"At last, Barbara! I heard it only this morning, and I have nearly killed my horse getting over here! Look at him!"

The gray horse certainly did have the appearance of having been ridden hard. He stood, his legs braced, his head drooping, his muzzle and chest flecked with foam. Barbara murmured pityingly as she stroked the beast's neck; and there was quick forgiveness in her eyes when she again looked at Haydon.

Haydon was big—fully as tall as Harlan, and broader. His shoulders bulged the blue flannel shirt he wore; and it was drawn into folds at his slim waist, where a cartridge-studded belt encircled him, sagging at the right hip with the weight of a heavy pistol.

He wore a plain gray silk handkerchief at his throat; it sagged at the front, revealing a muscular development that had excited the envious admiration of men. His hair was coal-black, wavy and abundant—though he wore it short—with design, it seemed, for he must have known that it gave him an alert, virile appearance.

His face, despite the tan upon it, and the little wrinkles brought by the sun and wind, had a clear, healthy color, and his eyes black as his hair, had a keen glint behind which lurked humor of a quality not to be determined at a glance—it was changeable, fleeting, mysterious.

Barbara was silent. The steady courage that had sustained her until this instant threatened to fail her in the presence of this big, sympathetic man who seemed, to her, to embody that romance for which she had always longed. She looked at him, her lips trembling with emotion.

Until now she had had no confidant—no one she could be sure of. And so, with Haydon standing close to her, though not too close—for he had never been able to achieve that intimacy for which he had yearned—she told him what had happened, including details of her father's death, as related to her by Harlan; finishing by describing the incident with Deveny in Lamo (at which Haydon muttered a threat) and the subsequent coming of Harlan to the Rancho Seco, together with the story of his assumption of authority.

When she concluded Haydon laid a sympathetic hand on her shoulder.

"It's too bad, Barbara. And on top of it all, Lawson had to play the beast, too, eh? Why didn't you send someone to me?"

"There was no one to send." Her voice threatened to break, despite the brave gleam that flashed through the moisture in her eyes. "Lawson had sent the men away; and when they came in Harlan took charge of them. And—besides," she admitted, dropping her gaze, "I—I thought you ought to—I thought you would——"

He shook her, reprovingly, laughing deeply as he led her through the gateway into the patio, where they sat on a bench for a long time, talking, while the aspect of the patio began to change, becoming again a place of cheerfulness flooded with the soft, radiant light of returning happiness—reflected in her eyes; while the sunlight streaming down into the enclosure took on a brightness that made the girl's eyes glisten; while the drab and empty days since her father's death began to slip back into the limbo of memory—the sting and the sorrow of them removed. So does the heart of youth respond to the nearness of romance.

They had been talking for half an hour when Barbara remembered that Haydon had not expressed a desire to meet Harlan.

Haydon's face lost a little of its color as he replied to her suggestion that they find the man.

But he laughed, rather mirthlessly, she thought.

"I intend to see him, Barbara—but alone. There are several things of importance that I want to say to him—chiefly concerning his conduct toward you."

He got up. Barbara rose also, and walked with him, outside the gate, where he got on his horse, smiling down at her.

"Harlan was right about your riding out alone. I'd stay as close to the ranchhouse as possible. There's no telling what Deveny might try to do. But don't worry. If it wasn't so soon after—after what has happened—I would—" He smiled, and Barbara knew he meant what he had said to her many times—about there being a parson in Lazette, a hundred miles or so northeastward—and of his eagerness to be present with her while the parson "tied the knot." His manner had always been jocose, and yet she knew of the earnestness behind it.

Still, she had not yielded to his importunities, because she had not been quite sure that she wanted him. Nor was she certain now, though she liked him better at this moment than she had ever liked him before.

She shook her head negatively, answering his smile; and watched him as he rode around a corner of the ranchhouse toward the corral where, no doubt, he would find Harlan.

* * * * *

Harlan had ridden directly to the bunkhouse door and dismounted. Red Linton said nothing until Harlan seated himself on a bench just outside the bunkhouse door. Then Linton grinned at him.

"There's a geezer come a-wooin'," he said.

Harlan glared at the red-haired man—a truculent, savage glare that made Linton stretch his lips until the corners threatened to retreat to his ears. Then Linton assumed a deprecatory manner.

"They ain't no chance for him, I reckon. He's been burnin' up the breeze between here an' the Star for more'n a year—an' she ain't as much as kissed him, I'd swear!"

Harlan did not answer.

"You saw him?" questioned Linton.

"Shut your rank mouth."

Linton chuckled. "I didn't know you'd been hit that bad. Howsomever, if you have been, why, there's no sense of me wastin' time gassin' to you. They ain't nothin' will cure that complaint but petticoats an' smiles—the which is mighty dangerous an' uncertain. I knowed a man once——"

Harlan got up and walked to the bunkhouse. And Linton, grinning, called loudly after him, pretending astonishment.

"Why, he's gone. Disappeared complete. An' me tryin' to jam some sense into his head."

Grinning, Linton sauntered away, vanishing within the blacksmith-shop.

He had hardly disappeared when Haydon appeared from around a corner of the ranchhouse, at about the instant Harlan, sensing the departure of Linton, came to the door, frowning.

The frown still narrowed Harlan's eyes when they rested upon the horseman; and his brows were drawn together with unmistakable truculence when Haydon dismounted near the corral fence.

Haydon's manner had undergone a change. When in the presence of Barbara he had been confident, nonchalant. When he dismounted from his horse and walked toward Harlan there was about him an atmosphere that suggested carefulness. Before Haydon had taken half a dozen steps Harlan was aware that the man knew him—knew of his reputation—and feared him.

Respect was in Haydon's eyes, in the droop of his shoulders, in his hesitating step. And into Harlan's eyes came a gleam of that contempt which had always seized him when in the presence of men who feared him.

And yet, had not Harlan possessed the faculty of reading character at a glance; had he not had that uncanny instinct of divining the thoughts of men who meditated violence, he could not have known that Haydon feared him.

For Haydon's fear was not abject. It was that emotion which counsels caution, which warns of a worthy antagonist, which respects force that is elemental and destroying.

Haydon smiled as he halted within a few paces of Harlan and turned the palms of his hands outward.

"You're 'Drag' Harlan, of Pardo," he said.

Harlan nodded.

"My name's Haydon. I own the Star—about fifteen miles west—on Sunset Trail. I happen to be a friend of Miss Morgan's, and I'd like to talk with you about the Rancho Seco."

"Get goin'."

Haydon's smile grew less expansive.

"It's a rather difficult subject to discuss. It rather seems to be none of my affair. But you will understand, being interested in Barbara's future, and in the welfare of the ranch, why I am presuming to question you. What do you intend to do with the ranch?"

"Run it."

"Of course," smiled Haydon. "I mean, of course, to refer to the financial end of it. Miss Morgan will handle the money, I suppose."

"You got orders from Miss Barbara to gas to me about the ranch?"

"Well, no, I can't say that I have. But I have a natural desire to know."

"I'll be tellin' her what I'm goin' to do."

Haydon smiled faintly. Twice, during the silence that followed Harlan's reply, Haydon shifted his gaze from Harlan's face to the ground between himself and the other, and then back again. It was plain to Haydon that he could proceed no farther in that direction without incurring the wrath that slumbered in Harlan's heart, revealed by his narrowing eyes.

In Harlan's heart was a bitter, savage passion. Hatred for this man, which had been aroused by Barbara's reference to him, and intensified by his visit to the girl, had been made malignant by his appearance now in the role of inquisitor.

Jealousy, Harlan would not have admitted; yet the conviction that Haydon was handsome, and that women would like him—that no doubt Barbara already liked him—brought a cold rage to Harlan. He stood, during the momentary silence, his lips curving with contempt, his eyes glinting with a passion that was unmistakable to Haydon.

He stepped down from the doorway and walked slowly to Haydon, coming to a halt within a yard of him. His hands were hanging at his sides, his chin had gone a little forward; and in his manner was the threat that had brought a paralysis of fear to more than one man.

Yet, except for a slow stiffening of his muscles, Haydon betrayed no fear. There was a slight smile on his lips; his eyes met Harlan's steadily and unblinkingly. In them was a glint of that mysterious humor which other men had seen in them.

"I know you're lightning on the draw, Harlan," he said, his faint smile fading a trifle. "I wouldn't have a chance with you; I'm not a gun-fighter. For that reason I don't want any disagreement with you. And I've heard enough about you to know that you don't shoot unless the other fellow is out to 'get' you.

"We won't have any trouble. Be fair. As the man who will ultimately take charge of the Rancho Seco—since Miss Barbara has been good enough to encourage me—I would like to know some things. I've heard that Lane Morgan was killed at Sentinel Rock, and that you were with him when he died—and just before. Did he give you authority to take charge of the Rancho Seco?"

"He told me to take hold."

"A written order?"

"His word."

"He said nothing else; there were no papers on him—nothing of value?"

Neither man had permitted his eyes to waver from the other's since Harlan had advanced; and they now stood, with only the few feet of space between them, looking steadily at each other.

Harlan saw in Haydon's eyes a furtive, stealthy gleam as of cupidity glossed over with a pretense of frank curiosity. He sensed greed in Haydon's gaze, and knowledge of a mysterious quality.

Haydon knew something about Lane Morgan's errand to Pardo; he knew why the man had started for Pardo, and what had been on his person at the time of his death.

Harlan was convinced of that; and the light in his eyes as he looked into Haydon's reflected the distrust and the contempt he had for the man.

"What do you think Morgan had in his clothes?" he questioned suddenly.

A slow flush of color stole into Haydon's cheeks, then receded, leaving him a trifle pale. He laughed, with a pretense of mockery.

"You ought to know," he said, a snarl in his voice. "You must have searched him."

Harlan grinned with feline mirthlessness. And he stepped back a little, knowledge and satisfaction in his eyes.

For he had "looked Haydon over," following Morgan's instructions. He had purposely permitted Haydon to question him, expecting that during the exchange of talk the man would say something that would corroborate the opinion that Harlan had instantly formed, that Haydon was not to be trusted.

And Haydon's snarl; the cupidity in his eyes, and his ill-veiled eagerness had convinced Harlan.

Harlan did not resent Haydon's manner; he was too pleased over his discovery that Haydon possessed traits of character that unfitted him for an alliance with Barbara. And it would be his business to bring those traits out, so that Barbara could see them unmistakably.

He laughed lowly, dropping his gaze to Haydon's belt; to his right hand, which hung limply near his pistol holster; and to the woolen shirt, with the silk handkerchief at the throat sagging picturesquely.

His gaze roved over Haydon—insolently, contemptuously; his lips twitching with the grim humor that had seized him. And Haydon stood, not moving a muscle, undergoing the scrutiny with rigid body, with eyes that had become wide with a queer sensation of dread wonder that was stealing over him; and with a pallor that was slowly becoming ghastly.

For he had no doubt that at last he had unwittingly aroused the demon in Harlan, and that violence, which he had wished to avoid, was imminent.

But Harlan's roving gaze, as he backed slightly away from Haydon, came to the breast-pocket of the man's shirt. His gaze centered there definitely, his eyes narrowing, his muscles leaping a little.

For out of the pocket stretched a gold chain, broken, its upper end—where it entered the buttonhole of the shirt—fastened to the buttonhole with a rawhide thong, as though the gold section were not long enough to reach.

And the gold section of the chain was of the peculiar pattern of the section that Harlan had picked up on the desert near Sentinel Rock.



CHAPTER XVI

DEEP WATER

Despite his conviction that he stood in the presence of the mysterious "Chief" of whom he had heard much, Harlan's expression did not change. There was a new interest added to it, and a deeper glow in his eyes. But he gave no outward evidence of surprise.

"I reckon I searched him," he said, answering Haydon's charge. "If I found anything on him I'm turnin' it over to Barbara Morgan—or hangin' onto it. That's my business."

Haydon laughed, for Harlan's voice had broken the tension that had come with the interval of threatening silence.

Since he could not induce Harlan to divulge anything of interest there was nothing to do but to withdraw as gracefully as possible. And he backed away, smiling, saying placatively:

"No offense intended, Harlan. I was merely curious on Barbara's account." He mounted his horse, urged it along the corral fence, and sent back a smiling:

"So-long."

Motionless, still standing where he had stood when Haydon climbed on his horse, Harlan watched while the man rode the short distance to the house. At the corner around which he had appeared some minutes before, Haydon brought his horse to a halt, waved a hand—at Barbara, Harlan supposed—and then rode on, heading westward toward Sunset Trail.

Harlan watched him until he had penetrated far into the big valley; then he turned, slowly, and sought Red Linton—finding him in the blacksmith-shop.

Later in the day—after Harlan and Linton had talked long, standing in the door of the blacksmith-shop—Linton mounted his horse and rode to where Harlan stood.

Linton was prepared for a long ride. Folded in the slicker that was strapped to the cantle of his saddle was food; he carried his rifle in the saddle sheath, and a water-bag bulged above the horse's withers.

"You won't find all the T Down boys yearnin' to bust into this ruckus," Harlan said as he stood near Linton's horse as Linton grinned down at him; "but there'll be some. Put it right up to them that it ain't goin' to be no pussy-kitten job, an' that it's likely some of them won't ever see the T Down again. But to offset that, you can tell 'em that if we make good, the Rancho Seco will owe them a heap—an' they'll get what's comin' to them."

He watched while Linton rode eastward over the big level; then he grinned and walked to the ranchhouse, going around the front and standing in the wide gateway where he saw Barbara sitting on a bench in the patio, staring straight ahead, meditatively, unaware that he was standing in the gateway, watching her.

Harlan watched the girl for a long time—until she turned and saw him. Then she blushed and stood up, looking at him in slight wonderment as he came toward her and stood within a few feet of her.

On Harlan's face was a slow, genial grin.

"Sunnin' yourself, eh?" he said. "Well, it's a mighty nice day—not too hot. Have you knowed him long?"

The startling irrelevance of the question caused Barbara to gaze sharply at Harlan, and when their eyes met she noted that his were twinkling with a light that she could not fathom. She hated him when she could not understand him.

"Mr. Haydon, do you mean?" she questioned, a sudden coldness in her voice.

Harlan nodded.

"A little more than a year, I think. It was just after I returned from school, at Denver."

He watched her, saying lowly:

"So it was Denver. I'd been wonderin'. I knowed it must have been some place. Schoolin' is a thing that I never had time to monkey with—I reckon my folks didn't believe a heap in 'em."

"You've lived in the West all your life—you were born in the West, I suppose?"

He looked keenly at her. "I expect you knowed that without askin'. I've been wonderin' if it would have made any difference."

"How?"

"In me. Do you think an education makes a man act different—gives him different ideas about his actions—in his dealin's with women, for instance?"

"I expect it does. Education should make a man more considerate of women—it is refining."

"Then you reckon a man that ain't had any education is coarse, an' don't know how to treat a woman?"

"I didn't say that; I said education should make a man treat women that way."

"But it don't always?"

"I think not. I have known men—well educated men—who failed to treat women as they should be treated."

"Then that ain't what you might call a hard-an'-fast rule—it don't always work. An' there's hope for any man who ain't had schoolin'—if he's wantin' to be a man."

"Certainly."

"But an educated man can't claim ignorance when he aims to mistreat a woman. That's how it figures up, ain't it?"

She laughed. "It would seem to point to that conclusion."

"So you've knowed Haydon about a year? I reckon he's educated?"

"Yes." She watched him closely, wondering at his meaning—why he had brought Haydon's name into the discussion. She was marveling at the subtle light in his eyes.

"Your father liked Haydon—he told me Haydon was the only square man in the country—besides himself an' Sheriff Gage."

"Father liked Haydon. I'm beginning to believe you really did have a talk with father before he died!"

He smiled. "Goin' back to Haydon. I had a talk with him a little while ago. I sort of took a shine to him." He drew from a pocket the section of gold chain he had found on the desert, holding it out to her.

"Here's a piece of Haydon's watch chain," he said slowly, watching her face. "The next time Haydon comes to see you, give it to him, tellin' him I found it. It's likely he'll ask you where I found it. But you can say I wasn't mentionin'."

He turned, looking back over his shoulder at her as he walked toward the gate.

She stood, holding the glittering links in the palm of one hand, doubt and suspicion in her eyes.

"Why," she called after him; "he was just here, and you say you talked with him! Why didn't you give it to him?"

"Forgot it, ma'am. An' I reckon you'll be seein' him before I do."

Then he strode out through the gate, leaving her to speculate upon the mystery of his words and his odd action in leaving the chain with her when he could have personally returned it to Haydon.

Harlan, however, was grinning as he returned to the bunkhouse. For he wanted Barbara to see Haydon's face when the section of chain was returned to him, to gain whatever illumination she could from the incident. He did not care to tell her—yet—that Haydon had killed her father; but he did desire to create in her mind a doubt of Haydon, so that she would hesitate to confide to him everything that happened at the Rancho Seco.

For himself, he wanted to intimate delicately to Haydon his knowledge of what had really occurred at Sentinel Rock; it was a message to the man conveying a significance that Haydon could not mistake. It meant that for some reason, known only to himself, Harlan did not intend to tell what he knew.



CHAPTER XVII

FORGING A LETTER

The impulse which had moved Harlan to send Red Linton to the T Down ranch to enlist the services of some of his old friends had resulted from a conviction that he could not depend upon those men of the Rancho Seco outfit who had seemed to him, to be unfriendly to Stroud, the straw-boss. He knew nothing about them, and their loyalty to Barbara Morgan might be of a quality that would not endure through the sort of trouble that seemed to be imminent.

The T Down men—those who would come—would stand with him no matter what happened—they would do his will without question.

There was no doubt in Harlan's mind that John Haydon was the mysterious "Chief"—the man who had sent into Lane Morgan's breast the bullet that had ultimately killed him; and there was no doubt that some powerful, secret force was at work in the country, and that the force was directing its attention to the Rancho Seco and the defenseless girl who was at the nominal head of it. For some reason the secret force had killed her father, had isolated the ranch, had encompassed it with enemies, and was working slowly and surely to enmesh the girl herself.

Harlan was convinced that one of the motives behind the subtle aggressions of the men was a yearning for the gold that Morgan had left—in fact the presence of Dolver and Laskar at Sentinel Rock—and Morgan's word to him about the gold—provided sufficient evidence on that score.

They had watched Morgan; they suspected he was taking gold to Pardo to have it assayed, and they had killed him in the hope of finding something on his person which would reveal to them where he had hidden the rest of it.

One other motive was that of the eternal, ages-old passion of a man for woman. Evidence of that passion had been revealed to Harlan at Lamo, by the attack on Barbara by Deveny's hireling—Higgins; by the subtle advances of John Haydon. It seemed to Harlan that all of these men had been—and were—equally determined to possess the girl.

And yet back of it all—behind that which had been rendered visible by the actions of the man and by Harlan's own deductions—was something else—something stealthy and hidden; a secret threat of dire things to come—a lingering promise of trickery.

Standing at one of the gates of the corral upon the third morning following Linton's departure, Harlan considered this phase of the situation. He felt the hidden threat of something sinister that lurked in the atmosphere.

It was all around him. It seemed to lie secreted in the yawning space that engulfed the Rancho Seco—south, north, and east. From the haze that stretched into the unending distance westward it seemed to come, bearing its whispered promise. The solemn hills that flanked the wide stretches of Sunset Valley seemed to hint of it—somberly.

Mystery was in the serene calm that seemed to encompass the big basin; from the far reaches westward, in the misty veil that seemed to hang from the far-flung shafts of sunlight that penetrated the fleecy clouds, came the sinister threat—the whole section seemed to pulse with it.

And yet Harlan knew there could be no mystery except the mysteries of men. Nature was the same here as in any other section of the world, and her secrets were not more profound than usual.

He grinned mirthlessly at the wonderful basin, noting that the Rancho Seco buildings seemed to lie on a direct line with its center; that the faint trail that ran through the basin—the trail men traveled—came on in its undulating way straight toward the Rancho Seco ranchhouse, seemed to bring the mystery of the big basin with it; seemed to be a link that connected the Rancho Seco with the promise of trouble.

That impression might have engaged the serious thoughts of some men. It widened the smile on Harlan's face. For he knew there was no threat in the beauty of the valley; that it did not hide its secrets from the prying eyes of men. Whatever secret the valley held was in the minds of men—the minds of Deveny and the mysterious "Chief," and their followers.

Harlan had not absented himself from the ranchhouse since the departure of Linton. He had lounged in the vicinity of the buildings during the day—and Barbara had seen him many times from the windows; and he had spent his nights watching the ranchhouse, half expecting another attack on Barbara.

The girl had seen him at night, too; and she had smiled at the picture he made with the moonlight shining upon him—or standing in some shadow—somber, motionless, undoubtedly guarding her.

She saw him this morning, too, as he stood beside the corral gate, and there was a glow in her eyes that, had he seen it, might have thrilled him with its gratitude.

She came out of a rear door after a while, and Harlan was still standing at the gate.

He watched her as she came toward him—it was the first time she had ventured in that direction since the return from Lamo with him—noting that she seemed to be in better spirits—that she was smiling.

"You looked lonesome," she said, as she halted near him. "Did Linton join the outfit?"

"It's likely; he went three days ago."

"I knew he had gone; I saw you several times, and you were always alone. And," she added, looking keenly at him; "I saw you several times, at night. Don't you ever sleep?"

"I reckon I'm a sort of restless cuss."

Her face took on serious lines.

"Look here, Harlan," she said, reprovingly, "you are keeping something back. You have been watching the ranchhouse at night—and during the day. You are guarding me. Why is it? Do you think I am going to run away?"

"From me?" he queried; "I was hopin' you wouldn't."

She stiffened with exasperation, for she felt the insincerity in his manner—caught the humorous note in his voice.

"You are treating me as you would treat a child," she declared; "and I won't have it. Are you watching me because you fear there might be another—Lawson?"

"There might be."

"Nonsense! There isn't another man in the section would dare what Lawson dared!"

"Gentlemen—eh?" he said, tauntingly. "Well, I've nosed around quite considerable, an' I don't remember to have ever run into a place where there was fewer men than in this neck of the woods."

"There are plenty of gentlemen. Do you think John Haydon——"

Harlan grinned faintly. "He's been fannin' it right along for half an hour," he said, with seeming irrelevance.

"Who?" she asked, with a swift, uncomprehending glance at him.

"Your gentleman," he said slowly.

She followed the direction of his gaze, and saw, on the trail that led downward from a little table-land to the level that stretched toward the ranchhouse, a horseman, coming rapidly toward them.

"It's Mr. Haydon!" she ejaculated, her voice leaping.

"So it is," said Harlan, dryly. He looked keenly at her, noting the flush on her face, the brightness of her eyes. "You ain't forgettin' to give him that piece of chain."

"Why," she said, drawing the glittering links from a pocket of her skirt; "I have it here. You may return it to him."

"Me an' Haydon ain't on speakin' terms," he smiled. "He wouldn't appreciate it none, if I give it to him."

"Why—" she began, only to pause and look at him with a sudden comprehension in her eyes. For into Harlan's face had come an expression that, she thought, she could analyze. It was jealousy. That was why he was reluctant to return the chain to Haydon.

The situation was so positively puerile, she thought, that she almost felt like laughing. She would have laughed had it not been that she knew of Harlan's unfailing vigilance—and that she felt differently toward him now than she had felt during the first days of their acquaintance. His steadfast vigilance, she decided, must have been responsible for the change, together with the steady consideration he revealed for her.

At any rate, something about him had affected her. She felt more gentle toward him; more inclined to believe in him; and there had been times during the past few days when she had been astonished at the subtle, warm sensation that had stolen over her whenever she saw him or whenever she thought of him.

Something of that warmth toward him was in her eyes now as she watched him and she decided that she should humor his whim; that she should perform the action that he was reluctant to perform.

She smiled, with the wisdom of a woman to whom a secret had been unwittingly revealed.

"You don't like Haydon?"

"Him an' me ain't goin' to be bosom friends."

"Why don't you like him?" she asked banteringly.

She thought his grin was brazen. "Why don't you like me?"

"I don't know," she said coldly. But her face reddened a little.

"Well," he laughed; "that's why I don't like Haydon."

Haydon had crossed the big level, and was close to the ranchhouse.

The girl had determined to remain where she was, to return the piece of chain to Haydon in the presence of Harlan—in order to learn what she could of the depth of Harlan's dislike for Haydon when in the presence of the latter. And so a silence came between them as they watched Haydon ride toward them.

When Haydon rode close to them he halted his horse and sat in the saddle, an expression of cold inquiry on his face. His smile at Miss Barbara was a trifle forced; his glance at Harlan had a fair measure of frank dislike and suspicion in it.

Harlan deliberately turned his back toward Barbara and Haydon when the latter dismounted; walked a little distance, and pretended to be interested in a snubbing post in the corral.

Yet he cast furtive glances toward the two, and when he saw the girl reaching into a pocket for the section of chain he had given her, he slowly sauntered forward, and was within hearing distance when Barbara spoke to Haydon.

"I was to give you this," she said—and she extended a hand toward Haydon, the chain dangling from her fingers.

Harlan saw Haydon's muscles leap and become tense. He saw the man's color go, saw his cheeks whiten; observed that his eyes widened and gleamed with mingled astonishment and alarm.

He regained control of himself instantly, however, but Harlan had seen enough to strengthen his convictions, and he grinned as Haydon flashed a sharp glance at him.

Barbara, too, had noted the strange light in Haydon's eyes; she had seen that Haydon had seemed about to shrink from the chain when she held it out to him. She looked from Haydon to Harlan inquiringly and when her glance again returned to Haydon he was smiling.

However, he had not taken the chain from her hand.

"Is it yours?" she asked.

"Yes—mine," he answered, hesitatingly. "Where did you find it?"

"Mr. Harlan found it." Barbara noted Haydon's quick start, the searching glance he gave Harlan—who was now leaning on a rail of the corral fence, seemingly uninterested.

Haydon laughed, a little hoarsely, it seemed to Barbara, and more loudly than the occasion seemed to demand. She thought, though, that the laugh might have been a jeer for Harlan's action in turning the chain over to her instead of returning it directly to the owner.

She did not catch the searching inquiry of Haydon's glance at Harlan, nor did she see Harlan's odd smile at Haydon, and the slow wink that accompanied it.

But the wink and the smile conveyed to Haydon the intelligence that Harlan knew the story connected with the loss of the chain, and that he had not communicated it to the girl. They also expressed to Haydon the message that Harlan and Haydon were kindred souls—the smile and the wink told Haydon that this man who knew his secret was secretly applauding him, even while inwardly laughing at him for his fear that the secret would be betrayed.

Harlan's voice broke a short silence.

"Found it right about here—the other day. It must have laid there a long time, for it took a heap of polishin' to brighten it up." Again he closed an eye at Haydon, and the latter grinned broadly.

Barbara silently endured a pang of disappointment. She had caught Harlan's wink. The man had betrayed jealousy only a few minutes ago, and he had refused personally to return the chain to Haydon. And yet he stood there now, smiling and winking at the other, evidently with the desire to ingratiate himself. Sycophant, weakling, or fool—which was he? She shuddered with disgust, deliberately turned her back to Harlan, and began to walk toward the ranchhouse, Haydon following.

And Harlan, standing at the fence, leaned an elbow on one of the rails and watched the two, an enigmatic smile on his face.

For he had succeeded in opening a gate which disclosed a trail that would lead him straight to the mystery, a breath of which had been borne to him that morning upon the slight breeze that had swept down to him from the mighty valley out of which Haydon had ridden.

Between him and Haydon a bond had been established, fashioned from the links of the section of chain.



CHAPTER XVIII

HARLAN RIDES ALONE

Upon the morning of the fourth day following Haydon's visit to the Rancho Seco, a dust cloud developed on the northwestern horizon. Harlan observed the cloud; he had been watching for it since dawn, when he had emerged from the stable door, where he had been looking after Purgatory.

From the ranchhouse Barbara also saw the cloud, and she ran upstairs to one of the north windows. There, with her face pressed against the glass, she watched the cloud grow in size, observed that it was dotted with the forms of horsemen; saw at last that the horsemen were headed straight for the Rancho Seco. Then, wondering, anxious, eager, she descended the stairs and ran out to where Harlan was standing, speaking breathlessly:

"What does it mean? Who are they?"

"It'll be Red Linton an' some T Down boys."

"'T Down'?"

"Pardo men. From where I used to work. I sent Linton for them. If I'm going to run a ranch I aim to run it with men I can depend on."

She had hardly spoken to him in the four days that had elapsed since Haydon's last visit, for the disgust she had felt that day had endured. But there was something new in his manner now—a briskness, a business-like air that made her look sharply at him.

He smiled at her, and in the smile was a snapping humor that puzzled her.

She stood, watching for a while—until the group of horsemen became clearly defined—and then, with a sudden fear that the men might be outlaws of the same type as Harlan—possibly he had sent for them because they were—she returned to the ranchhouse and watched from one of the windows.

When the T Down men rode up to the corral gate they dismounted and surrounded Harlan. There were ten of them—rugged-looking fellows of various ages, bepistoled, begrimed with dust, and articulate with profane expressions of delight.

"Hell's a-poppin', Red says!" yelled one. "He says there's geezers here which is pinin' for yore gore. Turn me loose on 'em—oh, turn me loose!"

The men, tired, dusty, and hungry, swarmed into one of the bunkhouses immediately after they had turned their horses into the corral and cared for their saddles.

The men were in good spirits, despite their long ride; and for half an hour after they descended upon the bunkhouse the air pulsed with their talk and their laughter, as they washed their dust-stained faces from the tin washbasin on the bench outside the door, and combed their hair with a comb attached to a rawhide thong that swung from the wall above the basin.

They had been informed by Red Linton regarding the situation that had developed at the Rancho Seco—fully informed before they had begun their trip westward—Linton scrupulously and faithfully presenting to them the dangers that confronted them. And though some of them were still curious, and sought a word with Harlan in confirmation, they seemed to be satisfied to trust to Harlan's judgment. Their faith was of the kind that needs but little verbal reassurance.

That they admired the man who had sent for them there was little doubt; for they watched him with glowing eyes as he talked with them, revealing their pride that they had been selected. Hardy, clear-eyed, serenely unafraid, they instantly adapted themselves to the new "job," and before their first meal was finished they were thoroughly at home.

Shortly afterward—while the men were lounging about inside—Harlan drew Linton outside.

"That's the bunch I would have picked if I had gone myself," complimented Harlan. "I'm thankin' you a heap."

He whispered to Linton the story of Haydon's last visit and for the first time Linton heard about the section of chain which convicted Haydon of the murder of Lane Morgan. Linton's eyes gleamed.

"I've always sort of suspected the son-of-a-gun!" he declared. "An' him makin' love to Barbara! The sneakin' coyote! An' so you're goin' to see him? I'd be a whole lot careful."

Harlan's smile was grave. "I'm reckonin' to be. I'd have gone before this, but I was waitin' for you boys. Nobody is sayin' anything to anybody. You're stickin' close to the Rancho Seco, not lettin' Barbara out of your sight. That's what I wanted you an' the other guys for. I'm playin' the rest of it a lone hand."

Leaving Linton standing near the bunkhouse, he went to the stable, where he threw saddle and bridle on Purgatory. Then he mounted, waved a hand at Linton, who was watching him, and rode to the ranchhouse. At the northwest corner—around which Haydon had ridden on the occasion of his last visit—he brought Purgatory to a halt, for he saw Barbara just emerging from the patio gate.

She halted in the opening when she observed him; making a picture that was vivid in his memory for many days afterward—for her eyes were alight with wonder, her cheeks were flushed, and she was breathing fast.

For she had watched from a window the coming of the T Down men; she had noted the conference between Harlan and Linton; and she had seen Harlan waving a hand at the red-haired man, seemingly in farewell. She stood now, afflicted with a strange regret, suddenly aware that she would feel the absence of the man who sat on his horse before her—for she divined that he was going.

"I'm sayin' so-long to you, ma'am," smiled Harlan.

"Oh!" she said, aware of the flatness of her tone. "Are you going away?"

"I'm figurin' to go. I ain't used to hangin' around one place very long. But I'm comin' back some day. Red Linton an' the boys will be seein' that things go smooth with you. You can depend on Red, and all the boys. They're Simon-pure, dyed-in-the-wool, eighteen-carat men." And now he grinned, gravely. "Remember this, Barbara: A man will do things when he's handlin' a gold chain—things that he wouldn't do if there didn't happen to be any chain."

He doffed his hat and slapped Purgatory sharply, heading the animal westward, toward the yawning mouth of the big basin that stretched its mighty length into the mystery of distance.

But his words left her with a conviction that she had again misjudged him, and that when he had appeared to fawn on Haydon he had been merely acting, merely pretending. She watched him, regretfully, longingly, assailed by emotions that she could not understand—until he and Purgatory grew small in the gulf of distance; until horse and rider were swallowed in the glowing haze.



CHAPTER XIX

HARLAN JOINS THE GANG

At the edge of the big level, where it merged into the floor of the basin, Harlan drew Purgatory to a halt. For an instant he sat in the saddle scrutinizing a section of buffalo grass that fringed a clump of willows near the almost dry bed of the river that doubled slightly as it came from the basin. Something in the appearance of the grass had attracted his attention—it was matted, as though something had lain or rolled in it.

He rode closer, cautiously, for the little trees formed a covert behind which any one of several dangers might lie concealed—and looked down at the grass. As he examined the place his lips twisted into a grim smile, and his eyes grew bright with comprehension.

He rode around the clump of trees, making sure it was not occupied; then he dismounted.

Someone had been concealed in the covert for many days—a man. For he saw the imprints of heels, and indentations where spurs had gashed the earth. The marks were all fresh—recently made. While he watched he saw some blades of the long grass slowly rise—as though, relieved from some pressure that had been upon them, they were eager to regain an upright position. He also saw scraps of food—jerked beef and biscuit—scattered here and there.

He frowned, convinced that for days a man had occupied the covert, watching the Rancho Seco; convinced also, that the mystery he had sensed some days ago had been man-made, as he had felt. The man who had been there had been a sentinel, a spy, sent by Deveny or Haydon to observe his movements, and to report them, of course, to one or the other of the two outlaws.

Harlan remounted Purgatory. His caution had not been wasted, and his vigilance in guarding the ranchhouse must have been irritating to the man who had been watching.

He urged Purgatory on again—heading him westward, as before. And when he reached the crest of a slight rise in the valley—from where he could see the trail as it twisted and undulated around hills and into depressions—he saw, far up the valley—and yet not so far, either—not more than two miles—a horseman, riding slowly—away from him.

The horseman was the spy, of course. Harlan had no doubt that if he lingered in the vicinity of the covert long enough he would discover the place where the horse had been concealed. But that was not important, now that he had discovered enough to satisfy himself that there had been a spy—and so he rode on, smiling faintly, knowing that the rider was headed into the valley—possibly to the outlaw rendezvous to appraise Deveny and the others of his coming.

The trail was clearly defined, and there were places where it ran over broad levels of grass where he presented a good target to men who might be eager to send a shot at him. There were other spots where the trail led into timber clumps and through tangles of brush where an ambuscade might be planned in perfect safety by an enemy; and there were the bastioned cliffs that towered above the trail at intervals, offering admirable hinding-places for any man with hostile intentions.

Harlan, however, rode steadily, outwardly unconcerned; inwardly convinced that no attempt would be made to ambush him. For Haydon has passed that way on his return to the Star, and Harlan had no doubt that since the incident of the smile and the wink, Haydon had passed word that he was not to be molested.

Haydon would be curious—as he had been curious at the Rancho Seco—to learn the significance of the smile and the wink. Haydon would want to discover just how much Harlan knew about the murder of Lane Morgan; and he would want to know what Harlan knew of the gold that Morgan had secreted. And so Harlan rode on, watching the country through which he passed, but feeling assured there would be no shot to greet him from one of the many natural vantage-points he encountered.

He rode for an hour, not making very good time, for it was a new trail, and he was examining the country intently as he passed, fixing it in his memory for future convenience, perhaps—no one ever knew just when it might be necessary to use one's knowledge—when he reached a low ridge which crossed the valley.

Here he halted Purgatory and gazed about him.

Before him stretched a green grass level, about two miles long, running the entire width of the valley. It was dotted with mesquite, sage, and here and there the thorny blade of a cactus rose. Some cattle were grazing on the level; they were several miles south, and he could see some horsemen near them.

He decided he must be close to the Star; and he urged Purgatory on again, down upon the level, toward some timber that grew at the farther edge of the level. Just as he slipped down the slope of the ridge, he saw, far ahead of him, the horseman he had seen when he had entered the valley. The horseman was on the crest of a bald hill—low, and small—but Harlan caught a glimpse of him as he crossed it, riding fast.

Harlan smiled again, and rode on his way, resuming his scrutiny of the country.

The valley was mighty, magnificent; it deserved all the praise Barbara Morgan had heaped upon it. From the low mountain range on the north to the taller mountains southward, it was a virgin paradise in which reigned a peace so profound that it brought a reverent awe into the soul of the beholder.

It thrilled Harlan despite the certain blase, matter-of-fact attitude he had for all of nature's phenomena; he found himself admiring the majestic buttes that fringed it; there was a glint of appreciation in his eyes for the colossal bigness of it—for the gigantic, sweeping curves which seemed to make of it an oblong bowl, a cosmic hollow, boundless, hinting of the infinite power of its builder.

The trail that ran through it, drawled to threadlike proportions by the mightiness of the space through which it ran, was, for the greater part of the distance traveled by Harlan, a mere scratch upon a low rock ridge. And as he rode he could look down upon the floor of the valley, green and inviting.

When he entered the timber at the edge of the grass level, he was conscious of a stealthy sound behind him. He turned quickly in the saddle, to see a man standing at the edge of some brush that fringed the trail.

The man was big, a heavy black beard covered his chin and portions of his cheeks; his hat was drawn well down over his forehead, partially shielding his eyes.

A rifle in his hands was held loosely, and though it appeared that the man did not intend to use the weapon immediately, Harlan could see that his right forefinger was touching the trigger, and that the muzzle of the weapon was suggestively toward him.

For the past few miles of his ride Harlan had been expecting an apparition of this sort to appear, and so he now gave no sign of surprise. Instead, he slowly raised both hands until they were on a level with his shoulders—and, still twisted about in the saddle, he grinned faintly at the man.

"From now on I'm to have company, eh?" he said.

The man smirked grimly at him.

"You've hit it," he answered. "You're Harlan, ain't you? 'Drag' Harlan, the Pardo two-gun man?"

The man's eyes were glowing with interest—critical, almost cynical, and they roved over Harlan with a probing intensity that left no doubt in Harlan's mind that the man had heard of him and was examining him with intent to discover what sort of a character he was.

Apparently satisfied—and also plainly impressed with what he saw, the man grinned—this time almost genially—and answered Harlan's affirmative nod with:

"Well, Haydon is expectin' you. You c'n let your paws down—takin' a heap of care not to go to foolin' with your guns. I ain't takin' them; Haydon didn't say anything about it. You're ridin' that trail that forks off to the left."

Harlan lowered his hands, resting them on the pommel of his saddle, and rode on, taking, as advised, a narrow trail that diverged from the other a short distance from where he had met the man. As he struck the other trail he heard the man coming behind him—on a horse.

There were no further words. Harlan kept to the trail, riding slowly; the man behind him following at a short distance.

In this manner they rode for perhaps a mile. Then the timber grew sparse, and Purgatory and his rider at last emerged upon a level that extended about a hundred feet and then sloped down abruptly to another level, through which flowed a narrow stream of water, shallow and clear.

Close to the bank of the stream was an adobe ranchhouse, and surrounding it were several other buildings. At a slight distance from the house was a corral in which were several horses. In front of a bunkhouse were several men who, when they saw Harlan and the other man coming, faced toward them and stood, motionless, watching.

The men maintained silence as Harlan rode to the ranchhouse and sat in the saddle, awaiting the pleasure of his escort. He saw the latter grin at the other men as he passed them; and he grinned at Harlan as he brought his horse to a halt near Purgatory and dismounted.

"I reckon you're to git off an' visit," he said; "Haydon is inside." As he dismounted and trailed the reins over the head of his beast he cast a sharp, critical eye over Purgatory.

"There's a heap of hoss in that black, eh?"

"Plenty." Harlan got down and ran a hand over Purgatory's neck, while trailing the reins over his head. "Man-killer," he warned. "Don't touch him. He ain't been rode by nobody but me, an' he won't stand for nobody foolin' around him."

Harlan had raised his voice until he was sure the men in front of the bunkhouse heard him; then he grinned genially at them all and followed the black-bearded man into the ranchhouse.

An instant later, in a big room which had the appearance of an office, Harlan was confronting Haydon.

The latter was sitting in a chair at a desk, and when Harlan entered Haydon got up and grinned at him, shallowly, without mirth.

"So you got here," he said; "I've been expecting you."

"I've been notin' that. That guy you left at the edge of the level to keep an eye on the Rancho Seco didn't cover his tracks. I run onto them—an' I saw him hittin' the breeze—comin' here. I reckon nobody is surprised." Harlan grinned widely.

"So you noticed that," said Haydon, answering Harlan's grin. "Well, I don't mind admitting that we've kept an eye on you. You've had me guessing."

Haydon's manner was that of the man who is careful not to say too much, his constraint was of the quality that hints of a desire to become confidential—a smooth, bland courtesy; a flattering voice—encouraging, suggesting frankness.

Harlan's manner was that of a certain reckless carelessness. He seemed to be perfectly at ease, confident, deliberate, and unwatchful. He knew Haydon was an outlaw; that the men who had been grouped in front of the bunkhouse were members of Haydon's band; he knew the man who had escorted him to the Star had been deliberately stationed in the timber to watch for him. And he had no doubt that other outlaws had lain concealed along the trail to observe his movements.

He knew, too, that he had placed himself in a precarious predicament—that his life was in danger, and that he must be exceedingly careful.

Yet outwardly he was cool, composed. With Haydon's eyes upon him he drew a chair to a point near the desk, seated himself in it, drew out paper and tobacco, and rolled a cigarette. Lighting it, he puffed slowly, watching while Haydon dropped into the chair he had vacated at Harlan's appearance.

When Haydon dropped into his chair he grinned admiringly at Harlan.

"You're a cool one, Harlan," he said; "I've got to say that for you. But there's no use in four-flushing. You've come here to tell me something about the chain. Where did you find it?"

"At Sentinel Rock—not far from where you plugged Lane Morgan."

"You're assuming that I shot Morgan?" charged Haydon.

"Morgan was assumin', too, I reckon," grinned Harlan. "He told me it was you who shot him—he saw your face by the flash of your gun. An' he told me where to look for the chain—him not knowin' it was a chain—but somethin'."

Haydon's eyes gleamed with a cold rage—which he concealed by passing a hand over his forehead, veiling his eyes from Harlan. His lips were wreathed in a smile.

"Why didn't you tell me that the other day—the first time I met you?"

Harlan laughed. "I was havin' notions then—notions that I'd be playin' her a lone hand."

"And now?" Haydon's eyes were steady with cold inquiry.

"I've got other notions. I'm acceptin' Deveny's invitation to throw in with you."

Haydon was silent for an instant, and during the silence his gaze met Harlan's fairly. By the humorous gleam in Harlan's eyes Haydon divined that the man could not be misled—that he knew something of the situation in the valley, and that he had come here with the deliberate intention of joining the outlaw band.

There was, as Haydon had intimated, little use for an attempt at equivocation or pretense. It was a situation that must be faced squarely by both himself and Harlan. Harlan's reputation, and his action in keeping secret from Barbara Morgan the identity of her father's murderer, indicated sincerity on the man's part. And since Harlan knew him to be the murderer of Morgan it would be absurd for Haydon to pretend that he had no connection with Deveny's band. He could not fool this man.

Yet a jealous hatred of Harlan was thinly concealed by the steady smile with which he regarded his visitor. He had felt the antagonism of Harlan that day when he had talked with him at the bunkhouse door; Harlan's manner that day had convinced him that Harlan was jealous of his attentions to Barbara Morgan. Also, there was in his heart a professional jealousy—jealousy of Harlan's reputation.

For this man who sat in his chair so calmly, with danger encompassing him, was greater than he. Haydon knew it. Had there been any doubt in his mind on that score it must have been removed by a memory of the manner in which his men had received the news that Harlan had left the Rancho Seco and was on his way up the valley.

The rider Harlan had seen had come in with that news—and Haydon had been standing with the group at the bunkhouse when the man arrived. And he had not failed to note the nervous glances of some of the men, and the restless eagerness, not unmixed with anxiety, with which they watched the trail.

And now, facing Harlan, he felt the man's greatness—his especial fitness for the career he had adopted. Harlan was the ideal outlaw. He was cool, deep, subtle. He was indomitable; he felt no fear; his will was inflexible, adamant. Haydon felt it. The fear he had experienced at his first meeting with Harlan had endured until this minute—it was strong as ever.

Yet he admired the man; and knew that since he had come to the valley he must be considered an important factor. Haydon could not flatly tell him to get out of the valley; he could not order him away from the Rancho Seco. Harlan was in control there—for the rider who had come in with the news that Harlan had set out for the valley had also apprised Haydon of the coming, to the Rancho Seco, of the men of the T Down outfit.

The rider had not been able to tell Haydon who the men were, of course; but it made little difference. They were friends of Harlan's, for they had come from the direction of the desert—from Pardo.

It was plain to Haydon that Harlan had come to the valley to stay. It was equally plain that he must be either propitiated or antagonized. He felt that Harlan was giving him his choice.

"What do you want—if you throw in with us?" Haydon asked, following the trend of his own thoughts.

"That's straight talk," said Harlan. "I'm givin' you a straight answer. If I join your bunch I join on the same footing with you an' Deveny—nothin' less. We split everything three ways—the other boys takin' their regular share after we take ours. I bring my boys in under the rules you've got that govern the others. I run the Rancho Seco—no one interferin'. When I rustle up that gold old Morgan hid, we split it three ways. Barbara Morgan goes with the ranch—no one interferin'."

Color surged into Haydon's face.

"You don't want much, do you?" he sneered.

"I want what's comin' to me—what I'm goin' to take, if I come in. That's my proposition. You can take it or leave it."

Haydon was silent for an instant, studying Harlan's face. What he saw there brought a frown to his own.

"Harlan," he said softly, "some of the boys feel a little resentful over the way you sent Dolver and Laskar out. There are several friends of those two men outside now. Suppose I should call them in and tell them that the bars are down on you—eh?"

If Haydon expected his threat to intimidate Harlan, he was mistaken. Harlan sat, motionless, watching the outlaw chief steadily. And into his eyes came a glitter of that cold contempt which Haydon had seen in them on the day he had faced Harlan near the bunkhouse at the Rancho Seco.

"You're doin' the honors, Haydon," he said. "If you're that kind of a coyote I don't want to deal with you. If you think you want to pass up a share of that hundred thousand, start yappin' to them boys. It's likely there's some of them hangin' around, close. Mebbe you've got some of them peekin' around corners at me now. I ain't runnin' from no trouble that comes my way. Get goin' if you're yearnin' to requisition the mourners."

Rage over the threat was now plain in his eyes, for they were aflame with a cold fire as he got up from his chair and stood, crouching a little, his hands lingering near the butts of his guns.

Haydon did not move, but his face grew pallid and he smiled nervously, with shallow mirth.

"You are not in a joking mood today, Harlan?" he said.

"There's jokes, an' jokes, Haydon. I've come here in good faith. I've been in camps like this before—in Kelso's, Dave Rance's, Blondy Larkin's, an' some others. Them men are outlaws—like you an' me; an' they've done things that make them greater than you an' me—in our line. But I've visited them, free an' easy—goin' an' comin' whenever I pleased. An' no man threatenin' me.

"Your manners is irritatin' to me—I'm tellin' you so. I'm through! You're takin' me out, now—back to the Rancho Seco. You're ridin' behind me—minus your guns, your mouth shut tighter than you ever shut it before. An' if there's any shootin' you'll know it—plenty!"

Harlan had brought matters to a crisis—suddenly, in a flash. The time for pretense had gone. Haydon could accept Harlan upon the terms he had mentioned, or he could take up the man's challenge with all it implied—bitter warfare between the two factions, which would be unprofitable to both, and especially to Haydon.

It was for Haydon to decide; and he sat for some seconds motionless in the chair, before he spoke.

Then he got up—taking care to keep his right hand at a respectable distance from the butt of his pistol, and smilingly held out his hand.

"It goes your way, Harlan—we take you in on your terms. I beg your pardon for saying what I did. That was just to try you out. I've heard a lot about you, and I wanted to see if you were in earnest—if you really wanted to come in. I'm satisfied."

They shook hands; their gaze meeting as they stood close together. The gaze endured for an instant; and then Haydon's fell. The handshake lasted for several seconds, and it was curious to see how Haydon's eyes, after they had become veiled from Harlan's by the drooping lids, glowed with a malignant triumph and cunning.

It was also curious to note that something of the same passion was revealed in Harlan's eyes as they rested on the partially closed lids of the other—for there was triumph there, too—and comprehension, and craft of a kind that might have disturbed Haydon, had he seen it.

Then their hands parted, mutually, and Haydon grinned smoothly and with apparent cordiality at Harlan. He grasped Harlan by an elbow and urged him toward the door through which the latter had entered.

"I'll give you a knockdown to the boys, now—those that are here," he said.

An hour later—after Haydon and the dozen men to whom he had introduced Harlan had watched Harlan ride eastward through the valley toward the Rancho Seco—Haydon rode westward, accompanied by several of the men.

They rode for many miles into the heart of the big basin, coming at last to a gorge that wound a serpentine way southward, through some concealing hills, into a smaller basin. A heavy timber clump grew at the mouth of the gorge, hiding it from view from the trail that ran through the valley. Some rank underbrush that fringed the timber gave the mouth of the gorge the appearance of a shallow cave, and a wall of rock, forming a ragged arch over the entrance, heightened the impression. At first glance the place seemed to be impenetrable.

But the horsemen filed through easily enough, and the underbrush closed behind them, so that, had they been seen, the watcher might have been startled by their sudden disappearance.

Near the center of the little basin stood a huge cabin, built of adobe, with a flat roof. In a small corral were a number of cattle. Grazing upon the grass, with which the place was carpeted, were many horses; and lounging in the grass near the cabin, and upon some benches that ranged its walls, were perhaps a dozen men, heavily armed.

Several of the men grinned as the newcomers rode in and dismounted, and one or two spoke a short greeting to Haydon, calling him "Chief."

Haydon did not linger to talk with the men, though; he dismounted and entered the cabin, where, an instant later, he was talking with Deveny.

Haydon's eyes were still triumphant—glowing with a malignant satisfaction.

"He's wise—and dead tickled to join," he told Deveny, referring to Harlan. "And I took him in on his own terms. We'll play him along, making him believe he's regular and right, until we get what we want. Then we'll down him!"

* * * * *

At about the time Haydon was talking with Deveny, Harlan was dismounting at the Rancho Seco corral.

The T Down men were variously engaged—some of them in the corral; others in the stable, and still others in the blacksmith-shop—all attending to their new duties—and only Red Linton was at the corral gate to greet Harlan.

Triumph was in Harlan's eyes as he grinned at Linton.

"I'm a Simon-pure outlaw now, Red," he stated. "Haydon didn't hesitate none. He's a sneakin', schemin' devil, an' he hates me like poison. But he took me in, reckonin' to play me for a sucker. Looks like things might be interestin'." He grinned. "I'm yearnin' for grub, Red."

Later, while Harlan was seated at a table in the cook shanty, he became aware of a shadow at the door; and he wheeled, to see Barbara Morgan looking in at him, her face flushed, a glow in her eyes that was entirely comprehensible to Harlan.

She was glad he had returned—any man with half Harlan's wisdom could have told that! And color of a kind not caused by the wind and sun suffused Harlan's face.

She had seen him from one of the kitchen windows, and curiosity—and an impatience that would not permit of delay—had brought her to search for him.

"Why," she said, "I—I thought—didn't you say that you were going away?"

"Didn't I go?" he grinned.

"For a day," she taunted, her voice leaping.

"A day," he said gravely; "why, it was longer than that, wasn't it? Seems that I ain't seen you for years an' years!"

He got up, his hunger forgotten. But when he reached the door he saw her running toward the ranchhouse, not even looking back. He stood watching her until she opened a door and vanished. Then he grinned and returned to his neglected food, saying aloud, after the manner of men who spend much time in open places: "I'll sure take care of her, Morgan."



CHAPTER XX

LEFT-HANDED

Harlan's statement to Haydon, to the effect that he had visited the camps of Kelso, Rance, Larkin, and other outlaws had been strictly accurate. At one time or another each of those outlaw leaders had sent for Harlan, to endeavor to prevail upon him to cast his lot with them—so common was the report that Harlan was of their type.

And he had been able—as he had told Haydon—to go among them with impunity—unmolested, respected. And even after he had refused to join they had extended him the courtesy of faith—not even swearing him to secrecy. And he had vindicated their faith by keeping silent regarding them.

Knowing, however, that the ethics of men of the type of Kelso, Rance, Larkin, and others provided a safe conduct for any man of their kind that came among them, Harlan had felt contempt for Haydon for his threat. And yet Harlan's rage on that occasion had been largely surface; it had been displayed for effect—to force an instant decision from Haydon.

Harlan was aware that his only hope of protecting Barbara Morgan from Haydon and Deveny was in an offensive war. He could not expect to wage such a war by remaining idly at the Rancho Seco, to await the inevitable aggressions of the outlaws, for he did not know when they would strike, nor how. It was certain they would strike, and it was as certain they would strike when he least expected them to.

Therefore he had determined to join them, depending upon his reputation to allay any suspicion they might have regarding his motives. Haydon had taken him into the band, but Harlan had been convinced that Haydon distrusted him. He had seen distrust in Haydon's eyes; and he had known, when Haydon dropped his gaze at the instant they had shaken hands, that the man meditated duplicity.

Yet Harlan was determined to appear ignorant that Haydon meditated trickery. He intended to go among the men and deliberately to ignore the threatened dangers—more, to conduct himself in such a manner that Haydon would not suspect that he knew of any danger.

It had been a slight incident that had suggested the plan to him—merely a glance at Strom Rogers, while the latter, in Lamo, had been watching Deveny.

Harlan had seen hatred in Rogers' face, and contempt and jealousy; and he knew that where such passion existed it could be made to grow and flourish by suggestion and by example.

And he was determined to furnish the example.

He knew something of the passions of men of the type which constituted the band headed by Deveny and Haydon; he knew how their passions might be played upon; he was aware of their respect and admiration for men of notorious reputation, with records for evil deeds and rapid "gunslinging."

He had seen how Strom Rogers had watched him—with awed respect; he had seen approval in Rogers' eyes when they had exchanged glances in Lamo; and he had heard men in the group in front of the sheriff's office speaking of him in awed whispers.

He had never been affected by that sort of adulation—in Lamo or in the days that preceded his visit to the town. But he was not unmindful of the advantage such adulation would give him in his campaign for control of the outlaw camp. And that was what he had determined to achieve.

Three times in as many days he rode up the valley to the Star, each time talking with Haydon—then leaving the latter to go out and lounge around among the men, listening to their talk, but taking little part in it. He did not speak until he was spoken to, and thus he challenged their interest, and they began to make advances to him.

Their social structure was flimsy and thin, their fellowship as spontaneous as it was insincere; and within a few days the edge had worn off the strangeness that had surrounded Harlan, and he had been accepted with hardly a ripple of excitement.

And yet no man among them had achieved intimacy with Harlan. There was a cold constraint in his manner that held them off, figuratively, barring them from becoming familiar with him. Several of them tried familiarity, and were astonished to discover that they had somehow failed—though they had been repelled so cleverly that they could not resent it.

Harlan had established a barrier without them being aware of how he had done it—the barrier of authority and respect, behind which he stood, an engaging, saturnine, interesting, awe-compelling figure.

At the end of a week the men of the Star outfit were addressing him as "boss;" listening to him with respect when he spoke, striving for his attention, and trying to win from him one of those rare smiles with which he honored those among them whose personalities interested him.

At the end of two weeks half of the Star outfit was eager to obey any order he issued, while the remainder betrayed some slight hesitation—which, however, vanished when Harlan turned his steady gaze upon them.

Behind their acceptance of him, though—back of their seeming willingness to admit him to their peculiar fellowship—was a reservation. Harlan felt it, saw it in their eyes, and noted it in their manner toward him. They had heard about him; they knew something of his record; reports of his cleverness with a weapon had come to them. And they were curious.

There was speculation in the glances they threw at him; there was some suspicion, cynicism, skepticism, and not a little doubt. It seemed to Harlan that though they had accepted him they were impatiently awaiting a practical demonstration of those qualities that had made him famous in the country. They wanted to be "shown."

Their wild, unruly passions and lurid imaginations were the urges that drove them—that shaped their conduct toward their fellows. Some of them were rapid gunslingers—in the picturesque idioms of their speech—and there was not a man among them who did not take pride in his ability to "work" his gun. They had accepted Harlan, but it was obvious that among them were some that doubted the veracity of rumor—some who felt that Harlan had been overrated.

It did not take Harlan long to discover who those doubting spirits were. He saw them watching him—always with curling lip and truculent eye; he heard references to his ability from them—scraps of conversation in which such terms and phrases as "a false alarm, mebbe," "he don't look it," "wears 'em for show, I reckon," were used. He had learned the names of the men; there were three of them, known merely as "Lanky," "Poggs," and "Latimer."

Their raids upon the cattle in the basin took place at night; and their other depredations occurred at that time also. Harlan did not fail to hear of them, for their successes figured prominently in their daytime conversations; and he had watched the herd of cattle in the Star corrals grow in size until the enclosure grew too small to hold them comfortably. He had noted, too, the cleverness with which the men obliterated the brands on the stolen cattle—or refashioned them until proof of their identity was obscure.

He had taken no part in any of the raids, though he had passed a few nights at the Star, directing, with the help of Strom Rogers, the altering of the brands and the other work attending the disguising of the cattle.

Haydon he had seen but a few times, and Deveny not at all. He learned from Rogers that Haydon spent most of his time upon mysterious missions which took him to Lamo, to Lazette, and to Las Vegas; and that Deveny operated from a place that Rogers referred to as the "Cache," several miles up the valley.

Latimer, a tawny giant of a man with a long, hooked nose, and thin, cruel lips, interested Harlan. He watched the man when the other was not conscious of his glances, noting the bigness of him, his slow, panther-like movements; the glowing, savage truculence of his eyes; the hard, bitter droop of his lips under the yellow mustache he wore. He felt the threat of the man when the latter looked at him—it was personal, intense—seeming to have motive behind it. It aroused in Harlan a responsive passion.

One day, seated on a bench in front of the long bunkhouse near the Star ranchhouse, Harlan was watching some of the men who were playing cards near him. They were lounging in the grass, laughingly pitting their skill against one another, while another group, in front of the stable, was diligently repairing saddles.

Apart from the two groups were Lanky, Poggs, and Latimer. They were standing near the corral fence, about a hundred feet from where Harlan sat. The subject of their talk was unpleasant, for their faces reflected the venomous passions that inspired it.

Latimer had been watching Harlan—his gaze boldly hostile and full of a hate that was unmistakable.

And Harlan had not been unaware of Latimer's gaze; he had noted the wolfish gleam in the other's eyes—and because he was interested in Latimer, he watched him covertly.

But Harlan had betrayed no sign that he knew Latimer was watching him; and when he saw Strom Rogers coming toward him from the stable, he grinned at him and made room for him when the latter headed for the bench upon which Harlan was sitting.

"Lazy day," offered Rogers as he dropped on the bench beside Harlan; "not a heap doin'." He did not look at Harlan, but leaned forward, took up a cinch buckle that had been lying in the sand at his feet, and turned it idly over and over in his hands, apparently intent on its construction.

With his head down, so that even the card-players could not see his lips move, he whispered to Harlan:

"Don't let 'em see you know I'm talkin'! They're framin' up on you!"

Harlan grinned, shielding his lips with a hand that he passed casually over them.

"Meanin' Latimer—an' his friends?" he said.

"Yep. Latimer's jealous of you. Been jealous. Thinks he can match your gunplay—itchin' for trouble—bound to have it out with you. We was at the Cache last night, an' I heard him an' Deveny yappin' about it. Deveny's back of him—he's sore about the way you handed it to him in Lamo. Keep your eyes peeled; they're pullin' it off pretty soon. Latimer's doin' the shootin'—he's tryin' to work himself up to it. Be careful."

"I'm thankin' you." Harlan leaned back, crossed his legs, and stared off into space, the light in his eyes becoming vacuous. He seemed not to be interested in Latimer and the other two, but in reality he saw them distinctly. But they had their backs to him now, and were slowly sauntering toward the stable door.

"So Deveny ain't admirin' me none?" he said to Rogers.

"Not scarcely. No more than a gopher is admirin' a side-winder."

"Latimer," said Harlan, "don't like my style of beauty either. I've been noticin' it. He's a mighty interestin' man. If I wasn't dead sure he ain't the kind of a guy which goes around shootin' folks in the back, I'd say he pretty near fits the description I got of the man who helped Dolver salivate my side-kicker, Davey Langan, over in Pardo—a couple of months ago."

Rogers' side glance was pregnant with a grim, unsmiling humor.

"So you've picked him out? I've been wonderin' how long it would take you."

The emotion that passed over Harlan was not visible. It might have been detected, however, by the slight leap in his voice.

"You an' Latimer is bosom friends, I reckon?"

"Shucks!"

Rogers' glance met Harlan's for a fleeting instant.

"This gang needs cleanin' up," said Rogers. He got up, and stood in front of Harlan, holding out the cinch buckle, as though offering it to the other. For both men had seen that Latimer had left his friends at the stable door and was coming slowly toward the bunkhouse.

"You'll have to be slick," warned Rogers. "He's comin'. I'll be moseyin' out of the way."

He moved slowly from the bench, passed the group of card-players, and walked to the ranchhouse, where he hung the cinch buckle on a nail driven into the wall of the building. Then he slowly turned, facing the bench upon which Harlan still sat, and toward which Latimer was walking.

It was evident that all of the men in the vicinity were aware of the threatened clash, for their manner, upon the approach of Latimer, indicated as much.

For weeks they had been eager to test the traditional quickness of Harlan with the weapons that swung at his hips—those weapons had been a constant irritation to some of them, and an object of speculation to all. And when the night before some of them had heard the whispered word that Latimer—with Deveny's sanction—indeed with Deveny's encouragement—was determined to clash with Harlan, they had realized that the moment for which they had yearned was at hand.

For they had seen in Harlan's eyes—and had felt in the atmosphere that surrounded the man—the certainty that he would not refuse the clash with Latimer. The only question in their minds concerning Harlan was that of his speed and accuracy. And so when they saw Latimer coming they ceased playing cards and sat, interestedly watching—alert to note how Latimer would bring about the clash, and how Harlan would meet it.

Latimer had nerved himself for the ordeal by talking with his friends. The will to kill Harlan had been in his heart for a long time, but he needed to reinforce it with an artificial rage. And, dwelling, with his friends, upon the irritating fact that Harlan had come among them to usurp authority to which he had no visible claim, he had succeeded in working his rage to a frenzy that took little account of consequences.

Yet Latimer would not have been able to reach that frenzy had he not been convinced that he was Harlan's master with the six-shooter. He really believed that Harlan had been overrated. He believed that because he wanted to believe it, and because his contempt for the man had bred that conviction in his heart.

Also, he thought he knew why Harlan had come to the Star—why he had joined the outlaw camp. And the night before, he had communicated that suspicion to Deveny. It was because Harlan knew he had been with Dolver when Davey Langan had been killed. Latimer thought he had seen a slight relief in Deveny's eyes when he had told the latter that, but he could not be sure, and it was not important.

The important thing was that he must kill Harlan—and he meant to do it. He would kill him fairly, if possible, thereby enhancing his reputation—but he was certain to kill him, no matter what the method.

That conviction blazed in his eyes as he came to a halt within a dozen paces of where Harlan was sitting. He had worked himself to such a pitch of rage that it gripped him like some strong fever—bloating his face, tensing his muscles, bulging his eyes.

Harlan had watched him; and his gaze was on the other now with a steady, unwavering alertness that advertised his knowledge of what was impending. But he sat, motionless, rigid, waiting Latimer's first hostile movement.

Harlan had turned a very little when Latimer had begun his walk toward the bench; his right side was slightly toward the man, the leg partially extended; while the left leg was doubled under the bench—seemingly to give him leverage should he decide to rise.

But he gave no indication of meditating such a move. It was plain to the watchers that if he attempted it Latimer would draw his gun and begin to shoot.

Latimer was convinced also that Harlan would not attempt to rise. He had Harlan at a disadvantage, and he laughed loudly, sardonically, contemptuously as he stood, his right hand hovering close to his pistol holster, his eyes aflame with hate and passion.

"Keep a-settin', you buzzard's whelp!" he sneered; "keep a-settin'! Latimer's out to git you. You know it—eh? You've knowed it right along—pretendin' not to. 'Drag' Harlan—bah! Gunslinger with a record—an' caught a-settin'. Caught with the goods on, sneakin' in here, tryin' to ketch a man unawares.

"Bah! Don't I know what you're here for? It's me! You blowed Dolver apart for killin' that damned, slick-eyed pardner of yourn—Davey Langan. Do you want to know who sent Langan out? I'm tellin' you—it was me! Me—me!"

He fairly yelled the last words, and stiffened, holding the fingers of his right hand clawlike, above the butt of the holstered pistol.

And when he saw that Harlan did not move; that he sat there rigid, his eyes unblinking and expressionless; his right hand hanging limply at his side, near the partially extended leg; his left hand resting upon the thigh of the doubled leg—he stepped closer, watching Harlan's right hand.

For a space—while one might have counted ten—neither man moved a muscle. Something in Harlan's manner sent into Latimer's frenzied brain the message that all was not what it seemed—that Harlan was meditating some astonishing action. Ten seconds is not long, as times goes, but during that slight interval the taut nerves of Latimer's were twanged with a torturing doubt that began to creep over him.

Would Harlan never make that move? That question was dinned insistently into Latimer's ears. He began to believe that Harlan did not intend to draw.

And then——

"Ah!"

It was Latimer's lungs that breathed the ejaculation.

For Harlan's right hand had moved slightly upward, toward the pistol at his right hip. It went only a few inches; it was still far below the holster when Latimer's clawlike fingers descended to the butt of his own weapon. The thought that he would beat Harlan in a fair draw was in his mind—that he would beat him despite the confusion of the hesitating motion with which Harlan got his gun out.

Something was happening, though—something odd and unexplainable. For though Latimer had seemed to have plenty of time, he was conscious that Harlan's gun was belching fire and death at him. He saw the smoke streaks, felt the bullets striking him, searing their way through him, choking him, weakening his knees.

He went down, his eyes wide with incredulity, filling with hideous self-derision when he saw that the pistol which had sent his death to him was not in Harlan's right hand at all, but in his left.

Harlan got up slowly as Latimer stretched out in the dust at his feet—casting one swift glance at the fallen man to satisfy himself that for him the incident was ended. Then, with the gaze of every man in the outfit upon him, he strode toward the stable, where Lanky and Poggs were standing, having witnessed the death of their confederate.

They stiffened to immobility as they watched Harlan's approach, knowing that for them the incident was not closed—their guilt plain in their faces.

And when Harlan halted in front of them they stood, not moving a muscle, their eyes searching Harlan's face for signs that they too, were to receive a demonstration of the man's uncanny cleverness.

"You was backin' Latimer's play," said Harlan, shortly. "I'm aimin' to play the string out. Pull—or I'll blow you apart!"

Poggs and Lanky did not "pull." They stood there, ghastly color stealing into their faces, their eyes wide with the knowledge that death would be the penalty of a hostile movement.

Harlan's pistol was again in its holster, and yet they had no desire to provoke the man to draw it. The furtive gleam in the eyes of both revealed the hope that gripped them—that some of the watchers would interfere.

But not a man moved. Most of them had been stunned by the rapidity of Harlan's action—by the deftness with which he had brought his left hand into use. They had received the practical demonstration for which they all had longed, and each man's manner plainly revealed his decision to take no part in what was transpiring.

They remained in their places while Harlan—understanding that Poggs and Lanky would not accept his invitation—spoke gruffly to them:

"This camp ain't got any room for skunks that go to framin' up on any of the boys. Today you done it to me—tomorrow you'd try to pull it off on some other guy.

"You're travelin'—pronto. You're gettin' your cayuses. Then you're hittin' the breeze away from here—an' not comin' back. That lets you out. Mosey!"

He stood watchful, alert, while the men roped their horses, got their "war-bags," from the bunkhouse, mounted, and rode away without looking back. Then he walked over to the bench where he had been sitting when Rogers had warned him of the plan to kill him; ordered several of the men to take Latimer's body away, and then resumed his place on the bench, where he rolled a cigarette.

Later, when the men who had gone with Latimer's body returned to the vicinity of the ranchhouse, Harlan was still sitting on the bench.

No man said a word to him, but he saw a new respect in the eyes of all of them—even in Rogers' gaze—which had not strayed from him for an instant during the trouble.

And a little later, when Rogers walked to the bench and sat beside him, the other men had resumed their various pastimes as though nothing had happened.

Again Rogers whispered to him, lowly, admiringly:

"This camp is yours, man, whenever you say the word!"



CHAPTER XXI

THE BLACK-BEARDED MAN

It was Strom Rogers who indicated to the outlaws at the Star that henceforth Harlan was to exercise authority of a kind that had formerly been vested in Haydon and Deveny.

The corral was packed to suffocation with cattle, threatening the health of the animals; Deveny had sent no word from the Cache regarding the disposal of the stock, and Haydon's whereabouts were unknown.

Rogers had moved stock on his own initiative in former days—for he had been an able assistant to both leaders. And Rogers could have moved the stock out of the corral and to the point far south where the outlaws had always sold them.

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