The night horseman, p.25
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       The Night Horseman, p.25

          

  CHAPTER XXV

  WERE-WOLF

  Doctor Byrne, pacing the front veranda with his thoughtful head bowed,saw Buck Daniels step out with his quirt dangling in his hand, hiscartridge belt buckled about his waist, and a great red silk bandanaknotted at his throat.

  He was older by ten years than he had been a few days before, when thedoctor first saw him. To be sure, his appearance was not improved by athree days' growth of beard. It gave his naturally dark skin a dirtycast, but even that rough stubble could not completely shroud the newhollows in Daniels' cheeks. His long, black, uncombed hair, sagged downraggedly across his forehead, hanging almost into his eyes; the eyesthemselves were sunk in such formidable cavities that Byrne caughthardly more than two points of light in the shadows. All thedevil-may-care insouciance of Buck Daniels was quite, quite gone. In itsplace was a dogged sullenness, a hang-dog air which one would not careto face of a dark night or in a lonely place. His manner was that of aman whose back is against the wall, who, having fled some keen pursuit,has now come to the end of his tether and prepares for desperate evenif hopeless battle. There was that about him which made the doctorhesitate to address the cowpuncher.

  At length he said: "You're going out for an outing, Mr. Daniels?"

  Buck Daniels started violently at the sound of this voice behind him,and whirled upon the doctor with such a set and contorted expression offierceness that Byrne jumped back.

  "Good God, man!" cried the doctor, "What's up with you?"

  "Nothin'," answered Buck, gradually relaxing from his first show ofsuspicion. "I'm beating it. That's all."

  "Leaving us?"

  "Yes."

  "Not really!"

  "D'you think I ought to stay?" asked Buck, with something of a sneer.

  The doctor hesitated, frowning in a puzzled way. At length he threw outhis hands in a gesture of mute abandonment.

  "My dear fellow," he said with a faint smile, "I've about stopped tryingto think."

  At this Buck Daniels grinned mirthlessly.

  "Now you're talkin' sense," he nodded. "They ain't no use in thinking."

  "But why do you leave so suddenly?"

  Buck Daniels shrugged his broad shoulders.

  "I am sure," went on Byrne, "that Miss Cumberland will miss you."

  "She will not," answered the big cowpuncher. "She's got her hands fullwith--_him_."

  "Exactly. But if it is more than she can do, if she makes no headwaywith that singular fellow--she may need help----"

  He was interrupted by a slow, long-drawn, deep-throated curse from BuckDaniels.

  "Why in hell should I help her with--_him?_"

  "There is really no reason," answered the doctor, alarmed, "except, Isuppose, old friendship----"

  "Damn old friendship!" burst out Buck Daniels. "There's an end to allthings and my friendship is worn out--on both sides. It's done!"

  He turned and scowled at the house.

  "Help her to win _him_ over? I'd rather stick the muzzle of my gun downmy throat and pull the trigger. I'd rather see her marry a man about tohang. Well--to hell with this place. I'm through with it. S'long, doc."

  But Doctor Byrne ran after him and halted him at the foot of the stepsdown from the veranda.

  "My dear Mr. Daniels," he urged, touching the arm of Buck. "You reallymustn't leave so suddenly as this. There are a thousand questions on thetip of my tongue."

  Buck Daniels regarded the professional man with a hint of weariness anddisgust.

  "Well," he said, "I'll hear the first couple of hundred. Shoot!"

  "First: the motive that sends you away."

  "Dan Barry."

  "Ah--ah--fear of what he may do?"

  "Damn the fear. At least, it's him that makes me go."

  "It seems an impenetrable mystery," sighed the doctor. "I saw you theother night step into the smoking hell of that barn and keep the wayclear for this man. I knew, before that, how you rode and risked yourlife to bring Dan Barry back here. Surely those are proofs offriendship!"

  Buck Daniels laughed unpleasantly. He laid a large hand on the shoulderof the doctor and answered: "If them was the only proofs, doc, Iwouldn't feel the way I do. Proofs of friendship? Dan Barry has saved mefrom the--rope!--and he's saved me from dyin' by the gun of Jim Silent.He took me out of a rotten life and made me a man that could look honestmen in the face!"

  He paused, swallowing hard, and the doctor's misty, overworked eyeslighted with some comprehension. He had felt from the first a certaindanger in this big fellow, a certain reckless disregard of laws andrules which commonly limit the actions of ordinary men. Now part of thetruth was hinted at. Buck Daniels, on a time, had been outside the law;and Barry had drawn him back to the ways of men. That explained some ofthe singular bond that lay between them.

  "That ain't all," went on Buck. "Blood is thick, and I've loved himbetter nor a brother. I've gone to hell and back for him. For him I tookKate Cumberland out of the hands of Jim Silent, and I left myself inher place. I took her away and all so's she could go to him. Damn him!And now on account of him I got to leave this place."

  His voice rose to a ringing pitch.

  "D'you think it's easy for me to go? D'you think it ain't like tearing afinger-nail off'n the flesh for me to go away from Kate? God knows whatshe means to me! God knows, but if He does, He's forgotten me!"

  Anguish of spirit set Buck Daniels shaking, and the doctor looked on inamazement. He was like one who reaches in his pocket for a copper coinand brings out a handful of gold-pieces.

  "Kind feelin's don't come easy to me," went on Buck Daniels. "I beenraised to fight. I been raised to hard ridin' and dust in the throat. Ibeen raised on whiskey and hate. And then I met Dan Barry, and his voicewas softer'n a girl's voice, and his eyes didn't hold no doubt of me. Methat had sneaked in on him at night and was goin' to kill him in hissleep--because my chief had told me to! That was the Dan Barry what Ifirst knew. He give me his hand and give me the trust of his eyes, andafter he left me I sat down and took my head between my hands and myheart was like to bust inside me. It was like the clouds had blowed awayfrom the sun and let it shine on me for the first time in my life. And Iswore that if the time come I'd repay him. For every cent he give me I'dpay him back in gold. I'd foller to the end of the world to do what hebid me do."

  His voice dropped suddenly, choked with emotion.

  "Oh, doc, they was tears come in my eyes; and I felt sort of cleaninside, and I wasn't ashamed of them tears! That was what Dan Barry donefor me!

  "And I _did_ pay him back, as much as I could. I met Kate Cumberland andshe was to me among girls what Dan Barry was to me among men. I ain'tashamed of sayin' it. I loved her till they was a dryness like ashesinside me, but I wouldn't even lift up my eyes to her, because shebelonged to him. I follered her around like a dog. I done her bidding. Iasked no questions. What she wanted--that was law to me, and all the lawI wanted. All that I done for the sake of Dan Barry. And then I took mylife in my hands for him--not once, but day after day.

  "Then he rode off and left her and I stayed behind. D'you think it'sbeen easy to stay here? Man, man, I've had to hear her talkin' about DanBarry day after day, and never a word for me. And I had to tell herstories about Dan and what he'd used to do, and she' sit with her eyesmiles away from me, listenin' an smilin' and me there hungerin' for justone look out of her eyes--hungerin' like a dyin' dog for water. And thenfor her and Joe I rode down south and when I met Dan Barry d'you thinkthey was any light in his eyes when he seen me?

  "No, he'd forgotten me the way even a hoss won't forget his master.Forgot me after a few months--and after all that'd gone between us! Noteven Kate--even she was nothin' to him. But still I kept at it and Ibrought him back. I had to hurt him to do it, but God knows it wasn'tout of spite that I hit him--God knows!

  "And when I seen Dan go into that burnin' barn I says to myself: 'Buck,if nothin' is done that wall will fall and there's the end of Dan Barry.There's the end of him, that ain't any human use, and when he's finishedafter a while maybe Kate will get to know that they's other men in theworld besides Dan.' I says that to myself, deep and still inside me. Andthen I looked at Kate standin' in that white thing with her yaller hairall blowin' about her face--and I wanted her like a dyin' man wantsheaven! But then I says to myself again: 'No matter what's happened,he's been my friend. He's been my pal. He's been my bunkie.'

  "Doc, you ain't got a way of knowin' what a partner is out here. Maybeyou sit in the desert about a thousand miles from nowhere, and acrossthe little mesquite fire, there's your pal, the only human thing insight. Maybe you go months seein' only him. If you're sick he takes careof you. If you're blue he cheers you up. And that's what Dan Barry wasto me. So I stands sayin' these things to myself, and I says: 'If I keepthat wall from fallin' Dan'll know about it, and they won't be no moreof that yaller light in his eyes when he looks at me. That's what I saysto myself, poor fool!

  "And I went into the fire and I fought to keep that wall from fallin'.You know what happened. When I come out, staggerin' and blind and threeparts dead, Dan Barry looks up to me and touches his face where I'd hithim, and the yaller comes up glimmerin' and blazin' in his eyes. Then Iwent back to my room and I fought it out.

  "And here's where I stand now. If I stay here, if I see that yallerlight once more, they won't be no waitin'. Him and me'll have to have itout right then. Am I a dog, maybe, that I got to stand around and jumpwhen he calls me?"

  "My dear fellow--my dear Mr. Daniels!" cried the horrified Doctor Byrne."Surely you're wrong. He wouldn't go so far as to make a personal attackupon you!"

  "Wouldn't he? Bah! Not if he was a man, no. I tell you, he ain't a man;he's what the canuks up north call a were-wolf! There ain't no mercy orkindness in him. The blood of a man means nothin' to him. The worldwould be better rid of him. Oh, he can be soft and gentle as a girl.Mostly he is. But cross him once and he forgets all you done for him.Give him a taste of blood and he jumps at your throat. I tell you, I'veseen him do it!"

  He broke off with a shudder.

  "Doc," he said, in a lower and solemn voice. "Maybe I've said too much.Don't tell Kate nothin' about why I'm goin'. Let her go on dreamin' herfool dream. But now hear what I'm sayin'; If Dan Barry crosses me oncemore, one of us two dies, and dies damned quick. It may be me, it may behim, but I've come to the end of my rope. I'm leavin' this place tillBarry gets a chance to come to his senses and see what I've done forhim. That's all. I'm leavin' this place because they's a blighton it, and that blight is Dan Barry. I'm leaving this placebecause--doc--because I can smell the comin' of bloodshed in it. They'sa death hangin' over it. If the lightnin' was to hit and burn it up,house and man, the range would be better for it!"

  And he turned on his heel and strode slowly down towards the corral.Doctor Byrne followed his progress with starting eyes.

 
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