A thought kept repeating itself to Duane, and it was that he might have
spared himself concern through his imagining how awful it would be to kill
a man. He had no such feeling now. He had rid the community of a drunken,
bragging, quarrelsome cowboy.
When he came to the gate of his home and saw his uncle there with a
mettlesome horse, saddled, with canteen, rope, and bags all in place, a
subtle shock pervaded his spirit. It had slipped his mind—the
consequence of his act. But sight of the horse and the look of his uncle
recalled the fact that he must now become a fugitive. An unreasonable
anger took hold of him.
"The d—d fool!" he exclaimed, hotly. "Meeting Bain wasn't much,
Uncle Jim. He dusted my boots, that's all. And for that I've got to go on
"Son, you killed him—then?" asked the uncle, huskily.
"Yes. I stood over him—watched him die. I did as I would have been
"I knew it. Long ago I saw it comin'. But now we can't stop to cry over
spilt blood. You've got to leave town an' this part of the country."
"Mother!" exclaimed Duane.
"She's away from home. You can't wait. I'll break it to her—what she
Suddenly Duane sat down and covered his face with his hands.
"My God! Uncle, what have I done?" His broad shoulders shook.
"Listen, son, an' remember what I say," replied the elder man, earnestly.
"Don't ever forget. You're not to blame. I'm glad to see you take it this
way, because maybe you'll never grow hard an' callous. You're not to
blame. This is Texas. You're your father's son. These are wild times. The
law as the rangers are laying it down now can't change life all in a
minute. Even your mother, who's a good, true woman, has had her share in
making you what you are this moment. For she was one of the pioneers—the
fightin' pioneers of this state. Those years of wild times, before you was
born, developed in her instinct to fight, to save her life, her children,
an' that instinct has cropped out in you. It will be many years before it
dies out of the boys born in Texas."
"I'm a murderer," said Duane, shuddering.
"No, son, you're not. An' you never will be. But you've got to be an
outlaw till time makes it safe for you to come home."
"I said it. If we had money an' influence we'd risk a trial. But we've
neither. An' I reckon the scaffold or jail is no place for Buckley Duane.
Strike for the wild country, an' wherever you go an' whatever you do-be a
man. Live honestly, if that's possible. If it isn't, be as honest as you
can. If you have to herd with outlaws try not to become bad. There are
outlaws who 're not all bad—many who have been driven to the river
by such a deal as this you had. When you get among these men avoid brawls.
Don't drink; don't gamble. I needn't tell you what to do if it comes to
gun-play, as likely it will. You can't come home. When this thing is lived
down, if that time ever comes, I'll get word into the unsettled country.
It'll reach you some day. That's all. Remember, be a man. Goodby."
Duane, with blurred sight and contracting throat, gripped his uncle's hand
and bade him a wordless farewell. Then he leaped astride the black and
rode out of town.
As swiftly as was consistent with a care for his steed, Duane put a
distance of fifteen or eighteen miles behind him. With that he slowed up,
and the matter of riding did not require all his faculties. He passed
several ranches and was seen by men. This did not suit him, and he took an
old trail across country. It was a flat region with a poor growth of
mesquite and prickly-pear cactus. Occasionally he caught a glimpse of low
hills in the distance. He had hunted often in that section, and knew where
to find grass and water. When he reached this higher ground he did not,
however, halt at the first favorable camping-spot, but went on and on.
Once he came out upon the brow of a hill and saw a considerable stretch of
country beneath him. It had the gray sameness characterizing all that he
had traversed. He seemed to want to see wide spaces—to get a glimpse
of the great wilderness lying somewhere beyond to the southwest. It was
sunset when he decided to camp at a likely spot he came across. He led the
horse to water, and then began searching through the shallow valley for a
suitable place to camp. He passed by old camp-sites that he well
remembered. These, however, did not strike his fancy this time, and the
significance of the change in him did not occur at the moment. At last he
found a secluded spot, under cover of thick mesquites and oaks, at a
goodly distance from the old trail. He took saddle and pack off the horse.
He looked among his effects for a hobble, and, finding that his uncle had
failed to put one in, he suddenly remembered that he seldom used a hobble,
and never on this horse. He cut a few feet off the end of his lasso and
used that. The horse, unused to such hampering of his free movements, had
to be driven out upon the grass.
Duane made a small fire, prepared and ate his supper. This done, ending
the work of that day, he sat down and filled his pipe. Twilight had waned
into dusk. A few wan stars had just begun to show and brighten. Above the
low continuous hum of insects sounded the evening carol of robins.
Presently the birds ceased their singing, and then the quiet was more
noticeable. When night set in and the place seemed all the more isolated
and lonely for that Duane had a sense of relief.
It dawned upon him all at once that he was nervous, watchful, sleepless.
The fact caused him surprise, and he began to think back, to take note of
his late actions and their motives. The change one day had wrought amazed
him. He who had always been free, easy, happy, especially when out alone
in the open, had become in a few short hours bound, serious, preoccupied.
The silence that had once been sweet now meant nothing to him except a
medium whereby he might the better hear the sounds of pursuit. The
loneliness, the night, the wild, that had always been beautiful to him,
now only conveyed a sense of safety for the present. He watched, he
listened, he thought. He felt tired, yet had no inclination to rest. He
intended to be off by dawn, heading toward the southwest. Had he a
destination? It was vague as his knowledge of that great waste of mesquite
and rock bordering the Rio Grande. Somewhere out there was a refuge. For
he was a fugitive from justice, an outlaw.
This being an outlaw then meant eternal vigilance. No home, no rest, no
sleep, no content, no life worth the living! He must be a lone wolf or he
must herd among men obnoxious to him. If he worked for an honest living he
still must hide his identity and take risks of detection. If he did not
work on some distant outlying ranch, how was he to live? The idea of
stealing was repugnant to him. The future seemed gray and somber enough.
And he was twenty-three years old.
Why had this hard life been imposed upon him?
The bitter question seemed to start a strange iciness that stole along his
veins. What was wrong with him? He stirred the few sticks of mesquite into
a last flickering blaze. He was cold, and for some reason he wanted some
light. The black circle of darkness weighed down upon him, closed in
around him. Suddenly he sat bolt upright and then froze in that position.
He had heard a step. It was behind him—no—on the side. Some
one was there. He forced his hand down to his gun, and the touch of cold
steel was another icy shock. Then he waited. But all was silent—silent
as only a wilderness arroyo can be, with its low murmuring of wind in the
mesquite. Had he heard a step? He began to breathe again.
But what was the matter with the light of his camp-fire? It had taken on a
strange green luster and seemed to be waving off into the outer shadows.
Duane heard no step, saw no movement; nevertheless, there was another
present at that camp-fire vigil. Duane saw him. He lay there in the middle
of the green brightness, prostrate, motionless, dying. Cal Bain! His
features were wonderfully distinct, clearer than any cameo, more sharply
outlined than those of any picture. It was a hard face softening at the
threshold of eternity. The red tan of sun, the coarse signs of
drunkenness, the ferocity and hate so characteristic of Bain were no
longer there. This face represented a different Bain, showed all that was
human in him fading, fading as swiftly as it blanched white. The lips
wanted to speak, but had not the power. The eyes held an agony of thought.
They revealed what might have been possible for this man if he lived—that
he saw his mistake too late. Then they rolled, set blankly, and closed in
That haunting visitation left Duane sitting there in a cold sweat, a
remorse gnawing at his vitals, realizing the curse that was on him. He
divined that never would he be able to keep off that phantom. He
remembered how his father had been eternally pursued by the furies of
accusing guilt, how he had never been able to forget in work or in sleep
those men he had killed.
The hour was late when Duane's mind let him sleep, and then dreams
troubled him. In the morning he bestirred himself so early that in the
gray gloom he had difficulty in finding his horse. Day had just broken
when he struck the old trail again.
He rode hard all morning and halted in a shady spot to rest and graze his
horse. In the afternoon he took to the trail at an easy trot. The country
grew wilder. Bald, rugged mountains broke the level of the monotonous
horizon. About three in the afternoon he came to a little river which
marked the boundary line of his hunting territory.
The decision he made to travel up-stream for a while was owing to two
facts: the river was high with quicksand bars on each side, and he felt
reluctant to cross into that region where his presence alone meant that he
was a marked man. The bottom-lands through which the river wound to the
southwest were more inviting than the barrens he had traversed. The rest
or that day he rode leisurely up-stream. At sunset he penetrated the
brakes of willow and cottonwood to spend the night. It seemed to him that
in this lonely cover he would feel easy and content. But he did not. Every
feeling, every imagining he had experienced the previous night returned
somewhat more vividly and accentuated by newer ones of the same intensity
In this kind of travel and camping he spent three more days, during which
he crossed a number of trails, and one road where cattle—stolen
cattle, probably—had recently passed. Thus time exhausted his supply
of food, except salt, pepper, coffee, and sugar, of which he had a
quantity. There were deer in the brakes; but, as he could not get close
enough to kill them with a revolver, he had to satisfy himself with a
rabbit. He knew he might as well content himself with the hard fare that
assuredly would be his lot.
Somewhere up this river there was a village called Huntsville. It was
distant about a hundred miles from Wellston, and had a reputation
throughout southwestern Texas. He had never been there. The fact was this
reputation was such that honest travelers gave the town a wide berth.
Duane had considerable money for him in his possession, and he concluded
to visit Huntsville, if he could find it, and buy a stock of provisions.
The following day, toward evening, he happened upon a road which he
believed might lead to the village. There were a good many fresh
horse-tracks in the sand, and these made him thoughtful. Nevertheless, he
followed the road, proceeding cautiously. He had not gone very far when
the sound of rapid hoof-beats caught his ears. They came from his rear. In
the darkening twilight he could not see any great distance back along the
road. Voices, however, warned him that these riders, whoever they were,
had approached closer than he liked. To go farther down the road was not
to be thought of, so he turned a little way in among the mesquites and
halted, hoping to escape being seen or heard. As he was now a fugitive, it
seemed every man was his enemy and pursuer.
The horsemen were fast approaching. Presently they were abreast of Duane's
position, so near that he could hear the creak of saddles, the clink of
"Shore he crossed the river below," said one man.
"I reckon you're right, Bill. He's slipped us," replied another.
Rangers or a posse of ranchers in pursuit of a fugitive! The knowledge
gave Duane a strange thrill. Certainly they could not have been hunting
him. But the feeling their proximity gave him was identical to what it
would have been had he been this particular hunted man. He held his
breath; he clenched his teeth; he pressed a quieting hand upon his horse.
Suddenly he became aware that these horsemen had halted. They were
whispering. He could just make out a dark group closely massed. What had
made them halt so suspiciously?
"You're wrong, Bill," said a man, in a low but distinct voice.
"The idee of hearin' a hoss heave. You're wuss'n a ranger. And you're
hell-bent on killin' that rustler. Now I say let's go home and eat."
"Wal, I'll just take a look at the sand," replied the man called Bill.
Duane heard the clink of spurs on steel stirrup and the thud of boots on
the ground. There followed a short silence which was broken by a sharply
Duane waited for no more. They had found his trail. He spurred his horse
straight into the brush. At the second crashing bound there came yells
from the road, and then shots. Duane heard the hiss of a bullet close by
his ear, and as it struck a branch it made a peculiar singing sound. These
shots and the proximity of that lead missile roused in Duane a quick, hot
resentment which mounted into a passion almost ungovernable. He must
escape, yet it seemed that he did not care whether he did or not.
Something grim kept urging him to halt and return the fire of these men.
After running a couple of hundred yards he raised himself from over the
pommel, where he had bent to avoid the stinging branches, and tried to
guide his horse. In the dark shadows under mesquites and cottonwoods he
was hard put to it to find open passage; however, he succeeded so well and
made such little noise that gradually he drew away from his pursuers. The
sound of their horses crashing through the thickets died away. Duane
reined in and listened. He had distanced them. Probably they would go into
camp till daylight, then follow his tracks. He started on again, walking
his horse, and peered sharply at the ground, so that he might take
advantage of the first trail he crossed. It seemed a long while until he
came upon one. He followed it until a late hour, when, striking the willow
brakes again and hence the neighborhood of the river, he picketed his
horse and lay down to rest. But he did not sleep. His mind bitterly
revolved the fate that had come upon him. He made efforts to think of
other things, but in vain.
Every moment he expected the chill, the sense of loneliness that yet was
ominous of a strange visitation, the peculiarly imagined lights and shades
of the night—these things that presaged the coming of Cal Bain.
Doggedly Duane fought against the insidious phantom. He kept telling
himself that it was just imagination, that it would wear off in time.
Still in his heart he did not believe what he hoped. But he would not give
up; he would not accept the ghost of his victim as a reality.
Gray dawn found him in the saddle again headed for the river. Half an hour
of riding brought him to the dense chaparral and willow thickets. These he
threaded to come at length to the ford. It was a gravel bottom, and
therefore an easy crossing. Once upon the opposite shore he reined in his
horse and looked darkly back. This action marked his acknowledgment of his
situation: he had voluntarily sought the refuge of the outlaws; he was
beyond the pale. A bitter and passionate curse passed his lips as he
spurred his horse into the brakes on that alien shore.
He rode perhaps twenty miles, not sparing his horse nor caring whether or
not he left a plain trail.
"Let them hunt me!" he muttered.
When the heat of the day began to be oppressive, and hunger and thirst
made themselves manifest, Duane began to look about him for a place to
halt for the noon-hours. The trail led into a road which was hard packed
and smooth from the tracks of cattle. He doubted not that he had come
across one of the roads used by border raiders. He headed into it, and had
scarcely traveled a mile when, turning a curve, he came point-blank upon a
single horseman riding toward him. Both riders wheeled their mounts
sharply and were ready to run and shoot back. Not more than a hundred
paces separated them. They stood then for a moment watching each other.
"Mawnin', stranger," called the man, dropping his hand from his hip.
"Howdy," replied Duane, shortly.
They rode toward each other, closing half the gap, then they halted again.
"I seen you ain't no ranger," called the rider, "an' shore I ain't none."
He laughed loudly, as if he had made a joke.
"How'd you know I wasn't a ranger?" asked Duane, curiously. Somehow he had
instantly divined that his horseman was no officer, or even a rancher
trailing stolen stock.
"Wal," said the fellow, starting his horse forward at a walk, "a ranger'd
never git ready to run the other way from one man."
He laughed again. He was small and wiry, slouchy of attire, and armed to
the teeth, and he bestrode a fine bay horse. He had quick, dancing brown
eyes, at once frank and bold, and a coarse, bronzed face. Evidently he was
a good-natured ruffian.
Duane acknowledged the truth of the assertion, and turned over in his mind
how shrewdly the fellow had guessed him to be a hunted man.
"My name's Luke Stevens, an' I hail from the river. Who're you?" said this
Duane was silent.
"I reckon you're Buck Duane," went on Stevens. "I heerd you was a damn bad
man with a gun."
This time Duane laughed, not at the doubtful compliment, but at the idea
that the first outlaw he met should know him. Here was proof of how
swiftly facts about gun-play traveled on the Texas border.
"Wal, Buck," said Stevens, in a friendly manner, "I ain't presumin' on
your time or company. I see you're headin' fer the river. But will you
stop long enough to stake a feller to a bite of grub?"
"I'm out of grub, and pretty hungry myself," admitted Duane.
"Been pushin' your hoss, I see. Wal, I reckon you'd better stock up before
you hit thet stretch of country."
He made a wide sweep of his right arm, indicating the southwest, and there
was that in his action which seemed significant of a vast and barren
"Stock up?" queried Duane, thoughtfully.
"Shore. A feller has jest got to eat. I can rustle along without whisky,
but not without grub. Thet's what makes it so embarrassin' travelin' these
parts dodgin' your shadow. Now, I'm on my way to Mercer. It's a little
two-bit town up the river a ways. I'm goin' to pack out some grub."
Stevens's tone was inviting. Evidently he would welcome Duane's
companionship, but he did not openly say so. Duane kept silence, however,
and then Stevens went on.
"Stranger, in this here country two's a crowd. It's safer. I never was
much on this lone-wolf dodgin', though I've done it of necessity. It takes
a damn good man to travel alone any length of time. Why, I've been thet
sick I was jest achin' fer some ranger to come along an' plug me. Give me
a pardner any day. Now, mebbe you're not thet kind of a feller, an' I'm
shore not presumin' to ask. But I just declares myself sufficient."
"You mean you'd like me to go with you?" asked Duane.
Stevens grinned. "Wal, I should smile. I'd be particular proud to be
braced with a man of your reputation."
"See here, my good fellow, that's all nonsense," declared Duane, in some
"Shore I think modesty becomin' to a youngster," replied Stevens. "I hate
a brag. An' I've no use fer these four-flush cowboys thet 're always
lookin' fer trouble an' talkin' gun-play. Buck, I don't know much about
you. But every man who's lived along the Texas border remembers a lot
about your Dad. It was expected of you, I reckon, an' much of your rep was
established before you thronged your gun. I jest heerd thet you was
lightnin' on the draw, an' when you cut loose with a gun, why the figger
on the ace of spades would cover your cluster of bullet-holes. Thet's the
word thet's gone down the border. It's the kind of reputation most sure to
fly far an' swift ahead of a man in this country. An' the safest, too;
I'll gamble on thet. It's the land of the draw. I see now you're only a
boy, though you're shore a strappin' husky one. Now, Buck, I'm not a
spring chicken, an' I've been long on the dodge. Mebbe a little of my
society won't hurt you none. You'll need to learn the country."
There was something sincere and likable about this outlaw.
"I dare say you're right," replied Duane, quietly. "And I'll go to Mercer
Next moment he was riding down the road with Stevens. Duane had never been
much of a talker, and now he found speech difficult. But his companion did
not seem to mind that. He was a jocose, voluble fellow, probably glad now
to hear the sound of his own voice. Duane listened, and sometimes he
thought with a pang of the distinction of name and heritage of blood his
father had left to him.