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A hundred miles from the haunts most familiar with Duane's deeds, far up
where the Nueces ran a trickling clear stream between yellow cliffs, stood
a small deserted shack of covered mesquite poles. It had been made long
ago, but was well preserved. A door faced the overgrown trail, and another
faced down into a gorge of dense thickets. On the border fugitives from
law and men who hid in fear of some one they had wronged never lived in
houses with only one door.
It was a wild spot, lonely, not fit for human habitation except for the
outcast. He, perhaps, might have found it hard to leave for most of the
other wild nooks in that barren country. Down in the gorge there was
never-failing sweet water, grass all the year round, cool, shady retreats,
deer, rabbits, turkeys, fruit, and miles and miles of narrow-twisting,
deep canon full of broken rocks and impenetrable thickets. The scream of
the panther was heard there, the squall of the wildcat, the cough of the
jaguar. Innumerable bees buzzed in the spring blossoms, and, it seemed,
scattered honey to the winds. All day there was continuous song of birds,
that of the mocking-bird loud and sweet and mocking above the rest.
On clear days—and rare indeed were cloudy days—with the
subsiding of the wind at sunset a hush seemed to fall around the little
hut. Far-distant dim-blue mountains stood gold-rimmed gradually to fade
with the shading of light.
At this quiet hour a man climbed up out of the gorge and sat in the
westward door of the hut. This lonely watcher of the west and listener to
the silence was Duane. And this hut was the one where, three years before,
Jennie had nursed him back to life.
The killing of a man named Sellers, and the combination of circumstances
that had made the tragedy a memorable regret, had marked, if not a change,
at least a cessation in Duane's activities. He had trailed Sellers to kill
him for the supposed abducting of Jennie. He had trailed him long after he
had learned Sellers traveled alone. Duane wanted absolute assurance of
Jennie's death. Vague rumors, a few words here and there, unauthenticated
stories, were all Duane had gathered in years to substantiate his belief—that
Jennie died shortly after the beginning of her second captivity. But Duane
did not know surely. Sellers might have told him. Duane expected, if not
to force it from him at the end, to read it in his eyes. But the bullet
went too unerringly; it locked his lips and fixed his eyes.
After that meeting Duane lay long at the ranchhouse of a friend, and when
he recovered from the wound Sellers had given him he started with two
horses and a pack for the lonely gorge on the Nueces. There he had been
hidden for months, a prey to remorse, a dreamer, a victim of phantoms.
It took work for him to find subsistence in that rocky fastness. And work,
action, helped to pass the hours. But he could not work all the time, even
if he had found it to do. Then in his idle moments and at night his task
was to live with the hell in his mind.
The sunset and the twilight hour made all the rest bearable. The little
hut on the rim of the gorge seemed to hold Jennie's presence. It was not
as if he felt her spirit. If it had been he would have been sure of her
death. He hoped Jennie had not survived her second misfortune; and that
intense hope had burned into belief, if not surety. Upon his return to
that locality, on the occasion of his first visit to the hut, he had found
things just as they had left them, and a poor, faded piece of ribbon
Jennie had used to tie around her bright hair. No wandering outlaw or
traveler had happened upon the lonely spot, which further endeared it to
A strange feature of this memory of Jennie was the freshness of it—the
failure of years, toil, strife, death-dealing to dim it—to deaden
the thought of what might have been. He had a marvelous gift of
visualization. He could shut his eyes and see Jennie before him just as
clearly as if she had stood there in the flesh. For hours he did that,
dreaming, dreaming of life he had never tasted and now never would taste.
He saw Jennie's slender, graceful figure, the old brown ragged dress in
which he had seen her first at Bland's, her little feet in Mexican
sandals, her fine hands coarsened by work, her round arms and swelling
throat, and her pale, sad, beautiful face with its staring dark eyes. He
remembered every look she had given him, every word she had spoken to him,
every time she had touched him. He thought of her beauty and sweetness, of
the few things which had come to mean to him that she must have loved him;
and he trained himself to think of these in preference to her life at
Bland's, the escape with him, and then her recapture, because such
memories led to bitter, fruitless pain. He had to fight suffering because
it was eating out his heart.
Sitting there, eyes wide open, he dreamed of the old homestead and his
white-haired mother. He saw the old home life, sweetened and filled by
dear new faces and added joys, go on before his eyes with him a part of
Then in the inevitable reaction, in the reflux of bitter reality, he would
send out a voiceless cry no less poignant because it was silent: "Poor
fool! No, I shall never see mother again—never go home—never
have a home. I am Duane, the Lone Wolf! Oh, God! I wish it were over!
These dreams torture me! What have I to do with a mother, a home, a wife?
No bright-haired boy, no dark-eyed girl will ever love me. I am an outlaw,
an outcast, dead to the good and decent world. I am alone—alone.
Better be a callous brute or better dead! I shall go mad thinking! Man,
what is left to you? A hiding-place like a wolf's—lonely silent
days, lonely nights with phantoms! Or the trail and the road with their
bloody tracks, and then the hard ride, the sleepless, hungry ride to some
hole in rocks or brakes. What hellish thing drives me? Why can't I end it
all? What is left? Only that damned unquenchable spirit of the gun-fighter
to live—to hang on to miserable life—to have no fear of death,
yet to cling like a leach—to die as gun-fighters seldom die, with
boots off! Bain, you were first, and you're long avenged. I'd change with
you. And Sellers, you were last, and you're avenged. And you others—you're
avenged. Lie quiet in your graves and give me peace!"
But they did not lie quiet in their graves and give him peace.
A group of specters trooped out of the shadows of dusk and, gathering
round him, escorted him to his bed.
When Duane had been riding the trails passion-bent to escape pursuers, or
passion-bent in his search, the constant action and toil and exhaustion
made him sleep. But when in hiding, as time passed, gradually he required
less rest and sleep, and his mind became more active. Little by little his
phantoms gained hold on him, and at length, but for the saving power of
his dreams, they would have claimed him utterly.
How many times he had said to himself: "I am an intelligent man. I'm not
crazy. I'm in full possession of my faculties. All this is fancy—imagination—conscience.
I've no work, no duty, no ideal, no hope—and my mind is obsessed,
thronged with images. And these images naturally are of the men with whom
I have dealt. I can't forget them. They come back to me, hour after hour;
and when my tortured mind grows weak, then maybe I'm not just right till
the mood wears out and lets me sleep."
So he reasoned as he lay down in his comfortable camp. The night was
star-bright above the canon-walls, darkly shadowing down between them. The
insects hummed and chirped and thrummed a continuous thick song, low and
monotonous. Slow-running water splashed softly over stones in the
stream-bed. From far down the canon came the mournful hoot of an owl. The
moment he lay down, thereby giving up action for the day, all these things
weighed upon him like a great heavy mantle of loneliness. In truth, they
did not constitute loneliness.
And he could no more have dispelled thought than he could have reached out
to touch a cold, bright star.
He wondered how many outcasts like him lay under this star-studded,
velvety sky across the fifteen hundred miles of wild country between El
Paso and the mouth of the river. A vast wild territory—a refuge for
outlaws! Somewhere he had heard or read that the Texas Rangers kept a book
with names and records of outlaws—three thousand known outlaws. Yet
these could scarcely be half of that unfortunate horde which had been
recruited from all over the states. Duane had traveled from camp to camp,
den to den, hiding-place to hiding-place, and he knew these men. Most of
them were hopeless criminals; some were avengers; a few were wronged
wanderers; and among them occasionally was a man, human in his way, honest
as he could be, not yet lost to good.
But all of them were akin in one sense—their outlawry; and that
starry night they lay with their dark faces up, some in packs like wolves,
others alone like the gray wolf who knew no mate. It did not make much
difference in Duane's thought of them that the majority were steeped in
crime and brutality, more often than not stupid from rum, incapable of a
fine feeling, just lost wild dogs.
Duane doubted that there was a man among them who did not realize his
moral wreck and ruin. He had met poor, half witted wretches who knew it.
He believed he could enter into their minds and feel the truth of all
their lives—the hardened outlaw, coarse, ignorant, bestial, who
murdered as Bill Black had murdered, who stole for the sake of stealing,
who craved money to gamble and drink, defiantly ready for death, and, like
that terrible outlaw, Helm, who cried out on the scaffold, "Let her rip!"
The wild youngsters seeking notoriety and reckless adventure; the cowboys
with a notch on their guns, with boastful pride in the knowledge that they
were marked by rangers; the crooked men from the North, defaulters,
forgers, murderers, all pale-faced, flat-chested men not fit for that
wilderness and not surviving; the dishonest cattlemen, hand and glove with
outlaws, driven from their homes; the old grizzled, bow-legged genuine
rustlers—all these Duane had come in contact with, had watched and
known, and as he felt with them he seemed to see that as their lives were
bad, sooner or later to end dismally or tragically, so they must pay some
kind of earthly penalty—if not of conscience, then of fear; if not
of fear, then of that most terrible of all things to restless, active men—pain,
the pang of flesh and bone.
Duane knew, for he had seen them pay. Best of all, moreover, he knew the
internal life of the gun-fighter of that select but by no means small
class of which he was representative. The world that judged him and his
kind judged him as a machine, a killing-machine, with only mind enough to
hunt, to meet, to slay another man. It had taken three endless years for
Duane to understand his own father. Duane knew beyond all doubt that the
gun-fighters like Bland, like Alloway, like Sellers, men who were evil and
had no remorse, no spiritual accusing Nemesis, had something far more
torturing to mind, more haunting, more murderous of rest and sleep and
peace; and that something was abnormal fear of death. Duane knew this, for
he had shot these men; he had seen the quick, dark shadow in eyes, the
presentiment that the will could not control, and then the horrible
certainty. These men must have been in agony at every meeting with a
possible or certain foe—more agony than the hot rend of a bullet.
They were haunted, too, haunted by this fear, by every victim calling from
the grave that nothing was so inevitable as death, which lurked behind
every corner, hid in every shadow, lay deep in the dark tube of every gun.
These men could not have a friend; they could not love or trust a woman.
They knew their one chance of holding on to life lay in their own
distrust, watchfulness, dexterity, and that hope, by the very nature of
their lives, could not be lasting. They had doomed themselves. What, then,
could possibly have dwelt in the depths of their minds as they went to
their beds on a starry night like this, with mystery in silence and
shadow, with time passing surely, and the dark future and its secret
approaching every hour—what, then, but hell?
The hell in Duane's mind was not fear of man or fear of death. He would
have been glad to lay down the burden of life, providing death came
naturally. Many times he had prayed for it. But that overdeveloped,
superhuman spirit of defense in him precluded suicide or the inviting of
an enemy's bullet. Sometimes he had a vague, scarcely analyzed idea that
this spirit was what had made the Southwest habitable for the white man.
Every one of his victims, singly and collectively, returned to him for
ever, it seemed, in cold, passionless, accusing domination of these
haunted hours. They did not accuse him of dishonor or cowardice or
brutality or murder; they only accused him of Death. It was as if they
knew more than when they were alive, had learned that life was a divine
mysterious gift not to be taken. They thronged about him with their
voiceless clamoring, drifted around him with their fading eyes.