Her father lay propped high with pillows
among which his head lolled back. The only light
in the room was near the bed and it cast a glow upon
the face of Joe Cumberland and on the white linen,
the white hair, the white, pointed beard. All
the rest of the room swam in darkness. The chairs
were blotches, indistinct, uncertain; even the foot
of the bed trailed off to nothingness. It was
like one of those impressionistic, very modern paintings,
where the artist centres upon one point and throws
the rest of his canvas into dull oblivion. The
focus here was the face of the old cattleman.
The bedclothes, never stirred, lay in folds sharply
cut out with black shadows, and they had a solid seeming,
as the mort-cloth rendered in marble over the effigy.
That suggested weight exaggerated the frailty of the
body beneath the clothes. Exhausted by that burden,
the old man lay in the arms of a deadly languor, so
that there was a kinship of more than blood between
him and Kate at this moment. She stepped to the
side of the bed and stood staring down at him, and
there was little gentleness in her expression.
So cold was that settled gaze that her father stirred,
at length, shivered, and without opening his eyes,
fumbled at the bed-spread and drew it a little more
closely about his shoulders. Even that did not
give him rest; and presently the wrinkled eyelids
opened and he looked up at his daughter. A film
of weariness heavier than sleep at first obscured his
sight, but this in turn cleared away; he frowned a
little to clear his vision, and then wagged his head
slowly from side to side.
“Kate,” he said feebly,
“I done my best. It simply wasn’t
She answered in a voice as low as
his, but steadier: “What could have happened?
Dad, what happened to make you give up every hold on
Dan? What was it? You were the last power
that could keep him here. You knew it. Why
did you tell him he could go?”
The monotone was more deadly than
any emphasis of a raised word.
“If you’d been here,”
pleaded Joe Cumberland, “you’d have done
what I done. I couldn’t help it. There
he sat on the foot of the bed — see where
them covers still kind of sag down — after
he told me that he had something to do away from the
ranch and that he wanted to go now that Black Bart
was well enough to travel in short spells. He
asked me if I still needed him.”
“And you told him no?”
she cried. “Oh Dad, you know it means everything
to me — but you told him no?” He raised
a shaking hand to ward off the outburst and stop it.
“Not at first, honey. Gimme
a chance to talk, Kate. At first I told him that
I needed him — and God knows that I do
need him. I dunno why — not even Doc
Byrne knows what there is about Dan that helps me.
I told Dan all them things. And he didn’t
say nothin’, but jest sat still on the foot
of the bed and looked at me.
“It ain’t easy to bear
his eyes, Kate. I lay here and tried at first
to smile at him and talk about other things — but
it ain’t easy to bear his eyes. You take
a dog, Kate. It ain’t supposed to be able
to look you in the eye for long; but s’pose
you met up with a dog that could. It’d make
you feel sort of queer inside. Which I felt that
way while Dan was lookin’ at me. Not that
he was threatenin’ me. No, it wasn’t
that. He was only thoughtful, but I kept gettin’
more nervous and more fidgety. I felt after a
while like I couldn’t stand it. I had to
crawl out of bed and begin walkin’ up and down
till I got quieter. But I seen that wouldn’t
“Then I begun to think.
I thought of near everything in a little while.
I thought of what would happen s’pose Dan should
stay here. Maybe you and him would get to like
each other again. Maybe you’d get married.
Then what would happen?
“I thought of the wild geese
flyin’ north in the spring o’ the year
and the wild geese flyin’ south in the fall
o’ the year. And I thought of Dan with
his heart followin’ the wild geese — God
knows why! — and I seen a picture of him
standin’ and watchin’ them, with you nearby
and not able to get one look out of him. I seen
that, and it made my blood chilly, like the air on
a frosty night.
“Kate, they’s something
like the power of prophecy that comes to a dyin’
“Dad!” she cried. “What are
She slipped to her knees beside the
bed and drew his cold hands towards her, but Joe Cumberland
shook his head and mildly drew one hand away.
He raised it, with extended forefinger — a
sign of infinite warning; and with the glow of the
lamp full upon his face, the eyes were pits of shadow
with stirring orbs of fire in the depths.
“No, I ain’t dead now,”
he said, “but I ain’t far away from it.
Maybe days, maybe weeks, maybe whole months.
But I’ve passed the top of the hill, and I know
I’m ridin’ down the slope. Pretty
soon I’ll finish the trail. But what little
time I’ve got left is worth more’n everything
that went before. I can see my life behind me
and the things before like a cold mornin’ light
was over it all — you know before the sun
begins to beat up the waves of heat and the mist gets
tanglin’ in front of your eyes? You know
when you can look right across a thirty mile valley
and name the trees, a’most the other side?
That’s the way I can see now. They ain’t
no feelin’ about it. My body is all plumb
paralyzed. I jest see and know — that’s
“And what I see of you and Dan — if
you ever marry — is plain — hell!
Love ain’t the only thing they is between a
man and a woman. They’s something else.
I dunno what it is. But it’s a sort of a
common purpose; it’s havin’ both pairs
of feet steppin’ out on the same path. That’s
what it is. But your trail would go one way and
Dan’s would go another, and pretty soon your
love wouldn’t be nothin’ but a big wind
blowin’ between two mountains — and
all it would do would be to freeze up the blood in
“I seen all that, while Dan
was sittin’ at the foot of the bed. Not
that I don’t want him here. When I see
him I see the world the way it was when I was under
thirty. When there wasn’t nothin’
I wouldn’t try once, when all I wanted was a
gun and a hoss and a song to keep me from tradin’
with kings. No, it ain’t goin’ to
be easy for me when Dan goes away. But what’s
my tag-end of life compared with yours? You got
to be given a chance; you got to be kept away from
Dan. That’s why I told him, finally, that
I thought I could get along without him.”
“Whether or not you save me,”
she answered, “you signed a death warrant for
at least two men when you told him that.”
“Two men? They’s
only one he’s after — and Buck Daniel
has had a long start. He can’t be caught!”
“That Marshal Calkins is here
to-night. He saw Buck at Rafferty’s, and
he talked about it in the hearing of Dan at the table.
I watched Dan’s face. You may read the
past and see the future, Dad, but I know Dan’s
face. I can read it as the sailor reads the sea.
Before to-morrow night Buck Daniels will be dead;
and Dan’s hands will be red.”
She dropped her head against the bedclothes
and clasped her fingers over the bright hair.
When she could speak again she raised
her head and went on in the same swift, low monotone:
“And besides, Black Bart has found the trail
of the man who fired the barn and shot him. And
the body of Buck won’t be cold before Dan will
be on the heels of the other man. Oh, Dad, two
lives lay in the hollow of your hand. You could
have saved them by merely asking Dan to stay with
you; but you’ve thrown them away.”
“Buck Daniels!” repeated
the old man, the horror of the thing dawning on him
only slowly. “Why didn’t he get farther
away? Why didn’t he ride night and day
after he left us? He’s got to be warned
that Dan is coming!”
“I’ve thought of that.
I’m going into my room now to write a note and
send it to Buck by one of our men. But at the
most he’ll have less than a day’s start — and
what is a day to Satan and Dan Barry?”
“I thought it was for the best,”
muttered old Joe. “I couldn’t see
how it was wrong. But I can send for Dan and
tell him that I’ve changed my mind.”
He broke off in a groan. “No, that wouldn’t
be no good. He’s set his mind on going
by this time, and nothing can keep him back. But
— Kate, maybe I can delay him. Has he
gone up to his room yet?”
“He’s in there now.
Talk softly or he’ll hear us. He’s
walking up and down, now.”
“Ay, ay, ay!” nodded old
Joe, his eyes widening with horror, “and his
footfall is like the padding of a big cat. I could
tell it out of a thousand steps. And I know what’s
going on inside his mind!”
“Yes, yes; he’s thinking
of the blow Buck Daniels struck him; he’s thinking
of the man who shot down Bart. God save them both!”
“Listen!” whispered the
cattleman. “He’s raised the window.
I heard the rattle of the weights. He’s
standing there in front of the window, letting the
wind of the night blow in his face!”
The wind from the window, indeed,
struck against the door communicating with Joe Cumberland’s
room, and shook it as if a hand were rattling at the
The girl began to speak again, as
swiftly as before, her voice the barely audible rushing
of a whisper: “The law will trail him, but
I won’t give him up. Dad, I’m going
to fight once more to keep him here — and
if I fail, I’ll follow him around the world.”
Such words should have come loudly, ringing.
Spoken so softly, they gave a terrible effect; like
the ravings of delirium, or the monotone of insanity.
And with the white light against her face she was
more awe-inspiring than beautiful. “He
loved me once; and the fire must still be in him; such
fire can’t go out, and I’ll fan
it back to life, and then if it burns me — if
it burns us both — the fire itself cannot
be more torture than to live on like this!”
“Hush, lass!” murmured
her father. “Listen to what’s coming!”
It was a moan, very low pitched, and
then rising slowly, and gaining in volume, rising
up the scale with a dizzy speed, till it burst and
rang through the house — the long-drawn wail
of a wolf when it hunts on a fresh trail.