He hesitated, and then, as if making up his mind by a great effort:
"There ain't no use blamin' him; better let it drop, Glendin."
"Nothin' else to do, Steve; but it's funny Sally let him do it."
"It is," said Nash with emphasis, "but then women is pretty funny in
lots of ways. Ready to start, Bard?"
"Good-night, Miss Fortune."
"Evenin', boys. We'll be lookin' for you back in Eldara to-morrow night,
And her eyes fixed with meaning on Nash.
"Certainly," answered the other, "my business ought not to take longer
"I'll take him by the shortest cut," said Nash, and the two went out to
They had difficulty in riding the trail side by side, for though the
roan was somewhat rested by the delay at Eldara it was impossible to
keep him up with Bard's prancing piebald, which sidestepped at every
shadow. Yet the tenderfoot never allowed his mount to pass entirely
ahead of the roan, but kept checking him back hard, turning toward Nash
with an apology each time he surged ahead. It might have been merely
that he did not wish to precede the cowpuncher on a trail which he did
not know. It might have been something quite other than this which made
him consistently keep to the rear; Nash felt certain that the second
possibility was the truth.
In that case his work would be doubly hard. From all that he had seen
the man was dangerous - the image of the tame puma returned to him again
and again. He could not see him plainly through the dark of the night,
but he caught the sway of the body and recognized a perfect
horsemanship, not a Western style of riding, but a good one no matter
where it was learned. He rode as if he were sewed to the back of the
horse, and, as old William Drew had suggested, he probably did other
things up to the same standard. It would have been hard to fulfil his
promise to Drew under any circumstances with such a man as this; but
with Bard apparently forewarned and suspicious the thing became almost
Almost, but not entirely so. He set himself calmly to the problem; on
the horn of his saddle the lariat hung loose; if the Easterner should
turn his back for a single instant during all the time they were
together old Drew should not be disappointed, and one thousand cash
would be deposited for the mutual interest of Sally Fortune and himself.
That is to say, if Sally would consent to become interested. To the
silent persuasion of money, however, Nash trusted many things.
The roan jogged sullenly ahead, giving all the strength of his gallant,
ugly body to the work; the piebald mustang pranced like a dancing master
beside and behind with a continual jingling of the tossed bridle.
The masters were to a degree like the horses they rode, for Nash kept
steadily leaning to the front, his bulldog jaw thrusting out; and Bard
was forever shifting in the saddle, settling his hat, humming a tune,
whistling, talking to the piebald, or asking idle questions of the
things they passed, like a boy starting out for a vacation. So they
reached the old house of which Nash had spoken - a mere, shapeless, black
heap huddling through the night.
In the shed to the rear they tied the horses and unsaddled. In the
single room of the shanty, afterward, Nash lighted a candle, which he
produced from his pack, placed it in the centre of the floor, and they
unrolled their blankets on the two bunks which were built against the
wall on either side of the narrow apartment.
Truly it was a crazy shack - such a building as two men, having the
materials at hand, might put together in a single day. It was hardly
based on a foundation, but rather set on the slope side of the hill, and
accordingly had settled down on the lower side toward the door. Not an
old place, but the wind had pried and the rain warped generous cracks
between the boards through which the rising storm whistled and sang and
through which the chill mist of the coming rain cut at them.
Now and then a feeling came to Anthony that the gale might lift the
tottering old shack and roll it on down the hillside to the floor of the
valley, for it rocked and swayed under the breath of the storm. In a way
it was as if the night was giving a loud voice to the silent struggle of
the two men, who continued pleasant, careless with each other.
But when Nash stepped across the room behind Bard, the latter turned and
was busy with the folding of his blankets at the foot of his bunk, his
face toward the cowpuncher and when Bard, slipping off his belt, fumbled
at his holster, Nash was instantly busy with the cleaning of his own
The cattleman, having removed his boots, his hat, and his belt, was
ready for bed, and slipped his legs under the blankets. He stooped and
picked up his lariat, which lay coiled on the floor beside him.
"People gets into foolish habits on the range," he said, thumbing the
strong rope curiously, and so doing, spreading out the noose.
"Yes?" smiled Bard, and he also sat up in his bunk.
"It's like a kid. Give him a new toy and he wants to take it to bed with
him. Ever notice?"
"That's the way with me. When I go to bed nothin' matters with me except
that I have my lariat around. I generally like to have it hangin' on a
nail at the head of my bunk. The fellers always laugh at me, but I can't
help it; makes me feel more at home."
And with that, still smiling at his own folly in a rather shamefaced
way, he turned in the blankets and dropped the big coil of the lariat
over a nail which projected from the boards just over the head of his
bunk. The noose was outermost and could be disengaged from the nail by a
single twist of the cowpuncher's hand as he lay passive in the bunk.
On this noose Bard cast a curious eye. To cityfolk a piece of rope is a
harmless thing with which one may make a trunk secure or on occasion
construct a clothes line on the roof of the apartment building, or in
the kitchen on rainy Mondays.
To a sailor the rope is nothing and everything at once. Give a seaman
even a piece of string and he will amuse himself all evening making
lashings and knots. A piece of rope calls up in his mind the stout lines
which hold the masts steady and the yards true in the gale, the
comfortable cable which moors the ship at the end of the dreary voyage,
and a thousand things between.
To the Westerner a rope is a different thing. It is not so much a useful
material as a weapon. An Italian, fighting man to man, would choose a
knife; a Westerner would take in preference that same harmless piece of
rope. In his hands it takes on life, it gains a strange and sinister
quality. One instant it lies passive, or slowly whirled in a careless
circle - the next its noose darts out like the head of a striking cobra,
the coil falls and fastens, and then it draws tighter and tighter,
remorselessly as a boa constrictor, paralyzing life.
Something of all this went through the mind of Bard as he lay watching
the limp noose of the cowboy's lariat, and then he nodded smiling.
"I suppose that seems an odd habit to some men, but I sympathize with
it. I have it myself, in fact. And whenever I'm out in the wilds and
carry a gun I like to have it under my head when I sleep. That's even
queerer than your fancy, isn't it?"
And he slipped his revolver under the blankets at the head of his bunk.
"Yes," said Nash, "that's a queer stunt, because when you're lyin' like
that with your head right over the gun and the blankets in between, it'd
take you a couple of seconds to get it out."
"Not when you're used to it. You'd be surprised to see how quickly a man
can get the gun out from under."
"Yes, and shooting while you're lying on your back is pretty easy, too,
when you've had practice."
"Sure, with a rifle, but not with a revolver."
"Well, do you see that bit of paper in the corner there up on the
The hand of Bard whipped under his head, there was a gleam and whirl of
steel, an explosion, and the bit of paper came fluttering slowly down
from the rafter, like a wounded bird struggling to keep upon the air. A
draft caught the paper just before it landed and whirled it through the
doorless entrance and out into the night.
He was yawning as he restored the gun beneath the blanket, but from the
corner of his eye he saw the hardening of Nash's face, a brief change
which came and went like the passing of a shadow.
"That's something I'll remember," drawled the cowpuncher.
"You ought to," answered the other quickly, "it comes in handy now and
The candle guttered and flickered on the floor midway between the two
bunks, and Bard, glancing to it, was about to move from his bed and
snuff it; but at the thought of so doing it seemed to him as if he could
almost sense with prophetic mind the upward dart of the noose about his
shoulders. He edged a little lower in the blankets.
"Not a bit. How about you?"
"Me? I most generally lie awake a while and gab after I hit the hay.
Makes me sleep better afterward."
"I do the same thing when I've any one who listens to me - or talks to
"Queer how many habits we got the same, eh?"
"It is. But after all, most of us are more alike than we care to
"Yes, there ain't much difference; sometimes the difference ain't as
much as a split-second watch would catch, but it may mean that one
feller passes out and the other goes on."
They lay half facing each other, each with his head pillowed on an arm.
"By Jove! lucky we reached this shelter before the rain came."
"Yep. A couple of hours of this and the rivers will be up - may take up
all day to get back to the ranch if we have to ride up to the ford on
"Then we'll swim 'em."
The other smiled drily.
"Swim the Saverack when she's up? No, lad, we won't do that."
"Then I'll have to work it alone, I suppose. You see, I have that date
in Eldara for tomorrow night."
Nash set his teeth, to choke back the cough. He produced papers and
tobacco, rolled a cigarette with lightning speed, lighted it, and
inhaled a long puff.
"Sure, you ought to keep that date, but maybe Sally would wait till the
"She impressed me, on the whole, as not being of the waiting kind."
"H-m! A little delay does 'em good; gives 'em a chance to think."
"Why, every man has his own way with women, I suppose, but my idea is,
keep them busy - never give them a chance to think. If you do, they
generally waste the chance and forget you altogether."
Another coughing spell overtook Nash and left him frowning down at the
glowing end of his butt.
"She ain't like the rest."
"I wonder?" mused the Easterner.
He had an infinite advantage in this duel of words, for he could watch
from under the shadow of his long, dark lashes the effect of his
speeches on the cowboy, yet never seem to be looking. For he was
wondering whether the enmity of Nash, which he felt as one feels an
unknown eye upon him in the dark, came from their rivalry about the
girl, or from some deeper cause. He was inclined to think that the girl
was the bottom of everything, but he left his mind open on the subject.
And Nash, pondering darkly and silently, measured the strength of the
slender stranger and felt that if he were the club the other was the
knife which made less sound but might prove more deadly. Above all he
was conscious of the Easterner's superiority of language, which might
turn the balance against him in the ear of Sally Fortune. He dropped
the subject of the girl.
"You was huntin' over on the old place on the other side of the range?"
"Pretty fair run of game?"
"I think you said something about Logan?"
"Did I? I've been thinking a good deal about him. He gave me the wrong
tip about the way to Eldara. When I get back to the old place - "
The other smiled unpleasantly and made a gesture as if he were snapping
a twig between his hands.
"I'll break him in two."
The eyes of Nash grew wide with astonishment; he was remembering that
same phrase on the lips of the big, grey man, Drew.
He murmured: "That may give you a little trouble. Logan's a peaceable
chap, but he has his record before he got down as low as sheepherdin'."
"I like trouble - now and then."
"Odd old shack over there."
"Drew's old house?"
"Yes. There's a grave in front of it."
"And there's quite a yarn inside the grave."
The cowpuncher was aware that the other stirred - not much, but as if he
winced from a drop of cold water; he felt that he was close on the trail
of the real reason why the Easterner wished to see Drew.
"A story about Drew's wife?"
"You read the writing on the headstone, eh?"
"'Joan, she chose this place for rest,'" quoted Bard.
"That was all before my time; it was before the time of any others in
these parts, but a few of the grey-beards know a bit about the story and
I've gathered a little of it from Drew, though he ain't much of a
"I'd like to hear it."
Sensitively aware of Bard, as a photographic plate is aware of light on
exposures, the cowpuncher went on with the tale.
And Bard, his glance probing among the shadowy rafters of the room,
seemed to be searching there for the secret on whose trail he rode.
Through the interims the rain crashed and volleyed on the roof above
them; the cold spray whipped down on them through the cracks; the wind
shook and rattled the crazy house; and the drawling voice of Nash went
on and on.
"Them were the days when this was a man's country, which a man could
climb on his hoss with a gun and a rope and touch heaven and hell in one
day's ridin'. Them good old days ain't no more. I've heard the old man
tell about 'em. Now they've got everybody stamped and branded with law
an' order, herded together like cattle, ticketed, done for. That's the
way the range is now. The marshals have us by the throat. In the old
days a sheriff that outlived his term was probably crooked and runnin'
hand in hand with the long-riders."
"Long-riders?" queried Bard.
"Fellers that got tired of workin' and took to ridin' for their livin'.
Mostly they worked in little gangs of five and six. They was called
long-riders, I guess, partly because they was in the saddle all the
time, and partly because they done their jobs so far apart. They'd ride
into Eldara and blow up the safe in the bank one day, for instance, and
five days later they'd be two hundred and fifty miles away stoppin' a
train at Lewis Station.
"They never hung around no one part of the country and that made it hard
as hell to run 'em down - that and because they had the best hosses that
money could buy. They had friends, too, strung out all over - squatters
and the like of that. They'd drop in on these little fellers and pass
'em a couple of twenties and make themselves solid for life. Afterward
they used 'em for stoppin' places.
"They'd pull off a couple of hold-ups, then they'd ride off to one of
these squatter places and lay up for ten days, maybe, drinkin' and
feedin' up themselves and their hosses. That was the only way they was
ever caught. They was killed off by each other, fighting about the
split-up, or something like that.
"But now and then a gang held together long enough to raise so much hell
that they got known from one end of the range to the other. Mostly they
held together because they had a leader who knew how to handle 'em and
who kept 'em under his thumb. That was the way with old Piotto.
"He had five men under him. They was all hell-benders who had ridden the
range alone and had their share of fights and killings, which there
wasn't one of 'em that wouldn't have been good enough to go leader in
any other crew, but they had to knuckle under to old Piotto. He was a
great gunman and he was pretty good in scheming up ways of dodging the
law and picking the best booty. He had these five men, and then he had
his daughter, Joan. She was better'n two ordinary men herself.
"Three years that gang held together and got rich - fair rich. They made
it so fast they couldn't even gamble the stuff away. About a thousand
times, I guess posses went out after Piotto, but they never came back
with a trace of 'em; they never got within shootin' distance. Finally
Piotto got so confident that he started raidin' ranches and carryin' off
members of well-off ranchers to hold for ransom. That was the easiest
way of makin' money; it was also pretty damned dangerous.
"One time they held up a stage and picked off of it two kids who was
comin' out from the East to try their hands in the cattle business. They
was young, they looked like gentlemen, they was dressed nifty, and they
packed big rolls. So wise old Piotto took 'em off into the hills and
held 'em till their folks back East could wire out the money to save
'em. That was easy money for Piotto, but that was the beginnin' of the
end for him; because while they was waitin', them two kids seen Joan and
seen her good.
"I been telling you she was better'n two common men. She was. Which
means she was equal to about ten ordinary girls. There's still a legend
about how beautiful Joan Piotto was - tall and straight and big black
eyes and terrible handy with her gun. She could ride anything that
walked and she didn't know what fear meant.
"These two kids seen her. One of 'em was William Drew; one of 'em was
He turned to Anthony and saw that the latter was stern of face. He had
surely scored his point.
"Same name as yours, eh?" he asked, to explain his turning.
"It's a common enough name," murmured Bard.
"Well, them two had come out to be partners, and there they was, fallin'
in love with the same girl. So when they got free they put their heads
together - bein' uncommon wise kids - and figured it out this way. Neither
of 'em had a chance workin' alone to get Joan way from her father's
gang, but workin' together they might have a ghost of a show. So they
decided to stay on the trail of Piotto till they got Joan. Then they'd
give her a choice between the two of 'em and the one that lost would
simply back off the boards.
"They done what they agreed. For six months they stuck on the trail of
old Piotto and never got in hailin' distance of him. Then they come on
the gang while they were restin' up in the house of a squatter.
"That was a pretty night. Drew and Bard went through that gang. It
sounds like a nice fairy-story, all right, but I know old fellers who'll
swear it's true. They killed three of the men with their guns; they
knifed another one, an' they killed Riley with their bare hands. It
wasn't no pretty sight to see - the inside of that house. And last of all
they got Piotto, fightin' like an old wildcat, into a corner with his
daughter; and William Drew, he took Piotto into his arms and busted his
back. That don't sound possible, but when you see Drew you'll know how
it was done.
"The girl, she'd been knocked cold before this happened. So while Bard
and Drew sat together bindin' up each other's wounds - because they was
shot pretty near to pieces - they talked it over and they seen pretty
clear that the girl would never marry the man that had killed her
father. Of course, old Bill Drew, he'd done the killing, but that wasn't
any reason why he had to take the blame.
"They made up their minds that right there and then with the dead men
lyin' all around 'em, they'd match coins to see which one would take the
blame of havin' killed Piotto - meanin' that the other one would get the
girl - if he could.
"And Bard lost. So he had to take the credit of havin' killed old
Piotto. I'd of give something to have seen the two of 'em sittin'
there - oozin' blood - after that marchin' was decided. Because they tell
me that Bard was as big as Drew and looked pretty much the same.
"Then Bard, he asked Drew to let him have one chance at the girl,
lettin' her know first what he'd done, but jest trustin' to his power of
talk. Which, of course, didn't give him no show. While he was makin'
love to the girl she outs with a knife and tries to stick him - nice,
pleasant sort she must have been - and Drew, he had to pry the two of 'em
"That made the girl look sort of kind on Drew and she swore that sooner
or later she'd have the blood of Bard for what he'd done - either have it
herself or else send someone after him to the end of the world. She was
a wild one, all right.
"She was so wild that Drew, after they got married, took her over on the
far side of the range and built that old house that's rottin' there
now. Bard, he left the range and wasn't never seen again, far as I
It was clear to Anthony, bitterly clear. His father had had a grim scene
in parting with Drew and had placed the continent between them. And in
the Eastern states he had met that black-eyed girl, his mother, and
loved her because she was so much like the wild daughter of Piotto. The
girl Joan in dying had probably extracted from Drew a promise that he
would kill Bard, and that promise he had lived to fulfil.
"So Joan died?" he queried.
"Yep, and was buried under them two trees in front of the house. I don't
think she lived long after they was married, but about that nobody
knows. They was clear off by themselves and there isn't any one can tell
about their life after they was married. All we know is that Drew didn't
get over her dyin'. He ain't over it yet, and goes out to the old place
every month or so to potter around the grave and keep the grass and the
weeds off of it and clean the head-stone."
The candle guttered wildly on the floor. It had burnt almost to the wood
and now the remnant of the wick stood in a little sprawling pool of
grease white at the outer edges.
Bard yawned, and patted idly the blanket where it touched on the shape
of the revolver beneath. In another moment that candle would gutter out
and they would be left in darkness.
He said: "That's the best yarn I've heard in a good many days; it's
enough to make any one sleepy - so here goes."
And he turned deliberately on his side.
Nash, his eyes staring with incredulity, sat up slowly among his
blankets and his hand stole up toward the noose of the lariat. A light
snore reached him, hardly a snore so much as the heavy intake of breath
of a very weary, sleeping man; yet the hand of Nash froze on the lariat.
"By God," he whispered faintly to himself, "he ain't asleep!"
And the candle flared wildly, leaped, and shook out.
THE SWIMMING OF THE SAVERACK
Over the face of Nash the darkness passed like a cold hand and a colder
sense of failure touched his heart; but men who have ridden the range
have one great power surpassing all others - the power of patience. As
soundlessly as he had pushed himself up the moment before, he now
slipped down in the blankets and resigned himself to sleep.
He knew that he would wake at the first hint of grey light and trusted
that after the long ride of the day before his companion would still be
fast asleep. That half light would be enough for his work; but when he
roused while the room was still scarcely more visible than if it were
filled with a grey fog, he found Bard already up and pulling on his
"How'd you sleep?" he growled, following the example of the tenderfoot.
"Not very well," said the other cheerily. "You see, that story of yours
was so vivid in my mind that I stayed awake about all night, I guess,
thinking it over."
"I knew it," murmured Nash to himself. "He was awake all the time. And
still - - -"
If that thrown noose of the lariat had settled over the head and
shoulders of the sham sleeper it would have made no difference whether
he waked or slept - in the end he would have sat before William Drew tied
hand and foot. If that noose had not settled? The picture of the little
piece of paper fluttering to the floor came back with a strange
vividness to the mind of Nash, and he had to shrug his shoulders to
shake the thought away.
They were in the saddle a very few moments after they awoke and started
out, breakfastless. The rain long ago had ceased, and there was only the
solemn silence of the brown hills around them - silence, and a faint,
crinkling sound as if the thirsty soil still drank. It had been a heavy
fall of rain, they could see, for whenever they passed a bare spot where
no grass grew, it was crossed by a thick tracery of the rivulets which
had washed down the slopes during the night.
Soon they reached a little creek whose current, barely knee deep, foamed