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Publisher:
Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
Language:
english
ISBN 13:
9781428506459
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EPUB, 392 KB
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Destructively Alluring

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2012
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english
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DESTRY

RIDES

AGAIN


Max Brand®





LEISURE BOOKS NEW YORK CITY





Contents

Cover Page

Title Page

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-one

Chapter Forty-two

Chapter Forty-three

Other Leisure books by Max Brand ®

Copyright





Chapter One




“Lil’ ol’ town, you don’t amount to much,” said Harry Destry. “You never done nothin’ an’ you ain’t gunna come to no good. Doggone me if you ain’t pretty much like me!”

So said Destry as he came from the swinging doors of the First Chance and now leaned against one of the slim, horse-eaten pillars that supported the shelter roof in front of the saloon. The main street of the town of Wham stretched before him, until it wound itself, snakelike, out of view. It had gained its title in yet earlier days when it was little more than a crossroads store and saloon where the cowpunchers foregathered from east and west and south and north; and meeting from all those directions, often their encounters were so explosive that “wham!” was a really descriptive word. It had grown to some prosperity, and it was yet growing, for the cattlemen still came in, and, in addition, long sixteen-mule teams pulled high wheeled freight wagons out of Wham and lugged them up the dusty slopes to the gold mines of the Crystal Mountains.

But still Wham had not grown too fast for the knowledge of Destry ; to follow it. It was held in the cup of his memory; it was mapped in his mind; he knew every street sign, and the men behind the signs, from the blacksmiths to the lawyers, for Destry had grown up with the place. He had squirmed his bare toes in the hot dust of the main street; he had fought in the vacant lots; and many a house or store was built over some scene of his grandeur. For the one star in the crown of Harry Destry, the one jewel in his purse, the one song in his story, was that he fought; and when he battled, he was never conquered.

His wars were not for money, and neither were they for fame; but for the pure sake of combat in itself, he used his fists, and never wearied or shifted with ambidexterity to knives or guns, and still was at home with his talents. To him, Wham was a good and proper name for a city; it expressed his own character, and he loved the town as much as he esteemed it little.

Having surveyed it now, he took note of a new roof, white with fresh shingles, as yet unpainted, and went strolling down the street to examine the newcomer. He had turned the first bend of the way when he met Chester Bent.

“Why, doggone my eyes,” said Destry gently, “if here ain’t lil’ ol’ Chet Bent, all dressed up pretty and goin’ to Sunday school agin. How are you, Chet, and how you gettin’ on? Where you get them soft hands of yours all manicured?”

Chester Bent was by no means “little”; he had a spare pair of inches from which he could look down at Destry and twenty-five pounds to give weight to his objections, but in the younger days he had fallen before the rhythmic fury of Destry’s two-fisted attack. It had been no easy victory, for under the seal-like sleekness of Chester Bent there was ample strength, and behind his habitual smile was the will of a fighter. Three times they met, and twice they were parted with blood on their hands; but the third time they had battled on the shore of the swimming pool until Chester fell on his back and gasped that he had enough. Therefore, having conquered him, the hard hands of Destry were averted from him, and he became one to whom Destry spoke with a sort of affectionate contempt.

It made no difference that Chester Bent was a rising man in the town, owning a store and two houses, or that he had stretched his interests to include a share in a mine of dubious value; to Harry Destry he remained “lil’ old Chet” because of the glory of that day by the swimming pool. And in this, Destry was at fault, since he failed to understand that, while many things are forgotten by many men, there is one thing that never is forgiven, and that is the black moment when man or boy is forced to say: “Enough!”

Chester Bent merely smiled at the greeting of the cowpuncher.

“What you-all doin’ here in front of the shoe shop?” went on Destry. “Waitin’ for a pair of shoes, Chet?”

“I’m driving out the west road,” said Bent, “and I promised Dangerfield to take Charlie out and deliver her; she’s in collecting a pair of shoes.”

“Is Charlie in there? I’m gunna go in and see her,” announced Destry. “You come along and hold my coat, will you?”

He marched into the shoe store, and found a perspiring clerk laboring over a pair of patent leather dancing slippers which he was trying to work onto the foot of a pretty sixteen-year-old girl whose hair was down her back, and the end of the pigtail sun-faded to straw color.

“Why, hullo, Charlie,” said Destry. “How you been, and whacha done with your freckles?”

“I bleached ’em out,” said Charlie Dangerfield. “Whacha done with your spurs?”

“I left ’em in the First Chance,” said Destry, “which they’re gunna hang ’em on the wall by token that a man has been there and likkered.”

“You lost ’em at poker,” said she.

“Who told you that so quick?” asked Destry.

“It don’t have to be told, or wrote either,” said the girl, “and it don’t take any mind reader to tell where you’ve been. Did you spend your whole six dollars, too?”

“It was five and a half,” said Destry. “Who told you that?”

“I know you been out at the Circle Y about six days, that’s all.”

“I tell you how it was, Charlie. It was a pretty hand as you ever see; it was four sevens pat; and I stand, and Sim Harper draws three, and doggone me if he didn’t raise me out of a right good slicker, and my old gun, and a set of silver conchos, and a brand new bandana, nearly, and my spurs, and then he lays down four ladies to smile at me. D’you hear of such luck?”

“You can get all kinds of luck off the bottom of the pack,” said Charlie Dangerfield. “That’s where Sim mostly keeps his.”

“I wasn’t watchin’ too close,” said Destry. “I gotta admit that when I seen the four of a kind it looked to me like a hoss and a saddle, and a pack and a fishin’ rod, and a month of fishin’ up the Crystal Mountains. I was feelin’ the trout sock the fly, and how come I could watch Sim’s hands at the same time?”

“Did you lose your hoss and saddle, too?”

“Would I of got to my spurs without that?” asked Destry. “You’ve kind of slowed up in the head, Charlie, since you lost your freckles. Freckles was always a sign of brains, ain’t they, Chet?”

Chester Bent was idly running his glance over the names on the rows of shoe boxes, and he shrugged his shoulders for an answer.

“Lil’ ol’ Chet is day dreamin’ and raisin’ his interest rates to nine per cent,” suggested Destry. “Look here, George”—this to the shoe clerk—“tell me what’s the size of that shoe?”

“Five, Harry,” said the clerk.

“D’you aim to get that slipper onto that there foot?” asked Destry, “or are you just wrestlin’ for the sake of the exercise?”

“Fives ain’t a bit too small,” said the girl. “The last time I——”

“You musta been to the Camp Meeting and got saved,” declared Destry, “and swallered the miracles down and everything, because you sure are askin’ for a tidy little miracle right along about now!”

“You ain’t amusin’, Harry,” she told him. “You’re jes’ plain rude, and ignorant!”

“About most things, I certainly am, but feet is a thing that I can understand, and shoein’. Fetch down a pair of number sevens, George, because I ain’t gunna send this here child home with blistered heels.”

He reached down and took the stockinged foot in his hand. The foot jerked violently.

“Whoa, girl,” said Destry. “Steady, you sun-fishin’, eye-rollin’, wo’thless bronc, you! Don’t you kick me in the face!”

“You’re ticklin’ my foot,” said the girl. “Leave me be, Harry Destry, and you go and run along about your business. I don’t want to waste no time on you, and Mr. Bent is plumb hurried, too.”

“I’m aimin’ to save the time of Mister Bent,” said Destry. “George, you go and fetch down them number sevens. But look here what she’s been doin’ to herself, and crampin’ up her toes, and raisin’ corns on the tops of the second joints. Doggone me if this old hoss ain’t gunna be spoiled for me.”

“For you?” asked Bent, now standing by to listen.

“Sure,” said Destry. “When she gets filled out to these here feet, I’m gunna marry her. Ain’t I, ol’ hoss?”

“Bah!” said the girl, and wriggled with mental discomfort, because she felt her face growing hot. “You jus’ talk and talk, Harry Destry, and you never say nothin’!”

“Hello, Chet!” called the store owner, letting the door slam as he walked in. “You seen the sheriff?”

“Have I seen what?” asked Chester Bent, without raising his eyes.

“He’s been lookin’ for you mighty busy. He’s just down the street.”

“Ah,” said Chester absently, “he’ll maybe find me, by and by! Are you gunna marry him, Charlie?”

“Why for should I marry such a lazy, shiftless thing?” she asked, looking at Destry with indignation.

“Because I plumb love you, honey,” said Destry. “And don’t forget that you’re all promised to me.”

“I ain’t any such thing,” she declared.

“Are you forgettin’ that day that I carried you across the Thunder Creek——”

“Chet!” she exclaimed in furious protest. “Listen at how he carries on, teasin’ a poor girl. He wouldn’t take me all the way over till I said I’d marry him.”

“And you kissed me, honey, and sure said you’d always love old wo’thless Harry!”

“Harry Destry,” said the girl, “I wasn’t no more’n hardly a baby. I wasn’t more’n twelve or thirteen years old. I’d like to beat you, Harry, you wretched thing!”

“You were never a baby,” said he. “You were born old, and knowin’ more than any man would ever know. Now there, you see how neat that fits?”

The number seven, in fact, fitted like a glove on the long, slender foot.

Tears came up in the eyes of Charlie.

“Oh, Harry,” she said, “ain’t it monstrous big? I’m gunna grow up six feet high, I guess!”

“I mighty sure hope you do,” said Destry. “Because it looks like I’m gunna be a tolerable ailin’ man the most of my days, and never take kindly to work.”

“How come you lost that Circle Y job?” she asked him, forgetting his illimitable personalities. “I’ll tell you how. You been fightin’ again!”

“Why, how you talk!” said Destry innocently. “Who would I be fightin’ with over to the Circle Y, where they ain’t had nothin’ but scared greasers and broke-down nigger help for years?”

“They gotta rawboned Swede over there lately,” she said, “that looks like he could lift a thousand pound. I bet it was him.”

“Oh, Charlie,” said Destry, “you was born old and wise! What a hell of a life I’m gunna lead with you, honey!”

“How’s the Swede?” she snapped.

“Tolerable sick,” said Destry. “Tolerable sick and run down. Which his stomach is kind of out of order, and that’s got his eyes all involved up, so’s he’s hardly able to see. He ain’t got no appetite, neither, and if he had, he ain’t got the teeth left to bite with. But the doctor is gunna get him a new set of celluloid, and pretty soon he’ll be better than new!”

“If I had you,” said the girl, “I’d keep you muzzled and on a leash. I’d never loose you excepting at loafer wolves and such. That’s what I’d do, if I had you!”

“Oh, you’re gunna have me, honey!” said he. “Lemme help you out the door, will you?”

“You run along and help yourself,” she advised him, “but don’t you help yourself to no more redeye!”

“Why, Charlie, I ain’t hardly had no taste of it!”

“You do your tastin’ by the quart,” she observed, “but even if you can fool the bottle, you cant fool me! Come on, Chet! Mighty sorry that I’ve kept you so long!”

They went out to the hitching rack, where Bent’s span of matched bays were hitched in silver bound harness to a rubber tired buggy whose blue spokes were set off with dainty stripes of red.

“I’m gunna drive,” said the girl, and leaped into the driver’s place.

“You ain’t gunna kiss me good-by, Charlie?”

“I’d slap you, you impident thing!” she said, grinning at him. “Listen at him talk, Chet!”

“Say, Chet,” said Destry, “now you’re gunna take my honey away from me, mightn’t you leave me something in her place?”

Chet Bent looked up the street with a nod.

“There’s Pike’s bull terrier loose again,” he said. “He’ll leave another dead dog along his trail before the day’s out!”

“Will he? He will!” said Destry, turning to watch, and as the wind blew open the flap of his coat, and as the girl sat up to watch the white streak across the street, neither Destry nor she saw the swift hand of Bent slip a thin package into the inside pocket of the cowpuncher’s coat.

“About leavin’ something—even trade rats do that!” said Destry.

“They leave rocks and stones,” said Bent, smiling.

“And gold, I heard tell once!”

“Did you hear tell? Well, here’s something. Make it last, Harry, will you?”

Destry was counting it, entranced.

“Forty—fifty—I’m gettin’ plain dizzy, Chet!— sixty—seventy—this ain’t real, but all sort of dreamlike!—seventy-five—eighty—who’s put the new heart in, Bent? Is it your fault, honey?— ninety—a hundred—a hundred dollars——”

“You better start a bank account,” suggested the girl.

“Wait a minute, Chet!” cried Destry. “What’ve you done that you wanta repent it as hard as all of this? Have you got religion, Chet? Have you sold a salted mine?”

He followed them a few steps along the sidewalk as Bent, laughing, started up his team.

Then Destry turned back to survey the town, which had taken on a new aspect.

“I’m gunna buy me a bronc and a saddle and git,” said Destry. “Cowboy, buy yourself some spurs, and hump! Because money don’t rain down every day, nor ham and eggs don’t grow on the cactus, nor Chester Bent unlimber his wallet wide open like this! I’m gunna get reformed and start to work!”

So he said, frowning with resolution, but at this point he saw the swinging doors of the Second Chance saloon, and he felt that no atmosphere was so conducive to serious thought and planning as the damp coolness of that barroon.

So he passed inside.





Chapter Two




If alcohol is a mental poison, at least it did not show in Harry Destry by thickness of speech, or uncertainty of hand and foot. His eye grew brighter, wilder, his head was higher; his hand was more swift and restless before he ended the first fifty that Bent had given to him.

A hundred dollars, in those days, could be spread thick over many slices of good time, and Destry was both spreading and eating, and taking friends with him. No one knew how trouble started; they rarely did, when Harry Destry went on the warpath, but already there was a commotion in Donovan’s Saloon when the sheriff rode up beside the whirling, flashing wheels of Chester Bent’s buggy and raised his hand. Bent drew the horses back to a walk, and they went on, switching their tails, stretching their necks out against the uneasy restraint of the bits, and eager to be off again at full trot.

The sheriff brushed some of the dust from his black moustache, of whose sheen and length and thickness he was inordinately proud; then he said: “Chet, I wanta ask you a coupla questions. Where was you Wednesday night?”

“Wednesday night?” said Chester Bent, calmly thoughtful. “Let me see! I was doing accounts, most of the evening. Why d’you ask?”

“Because the express was held up that night, and the mail was robbed,” said the sheriff.

He looked earnestly into the face of the younger man to see if there was not some change of expression. In fact, Chester Bent grew pale, with purple spots faintly outlined on his sleek cheeks.

“And seventy-two thousand dollars was taken,” said the sheriff, “as maybe you know!”

“Great Lord!” murmured young Bent, aghast, and added in a rapid muttering: “And poor Harry Destry spending money like wildfire all over town——”

He checked himself, and glanced guiltily at the sheriff.

“Whacha say?” asked the sheriff, his voice high and sharp.

“Nothing, nothing!” said Chester Bent. “I didn’t say anything at all. I wonder if you’re suspecting me of anything, sheriff?”

“I’m not suspectin’ nobody. I’m askin’ questions, as the law and my job tells me to do. That’s all!”

It was perfectly apparent, however, that he had heard the remark of Bent, as indeed that gentleman expected him to do, and now, with a mere wave of his hand in farewell, he spurred his horse into a gallop up the road, and every clot of sand and dust which the mustang’s hoofs flicked upwards, like little hanging birds in the air, spelled mischief for Destry.

Of course all things went wrong at once, for as the sheriff came swiftly down the main street of Wham, he heard loud shouts, frightened yells, gunshots before him; and then he saw a hurried crowd pouring out from the mouth of the Donovan Saloon.

He stopped one frenzied fugitive, who ran at full speed, and made a spy-hop every few strides as though he expected that some danger might fly harmlessly past him under his heels.

The sheriff reached from his horse and caught the shoulder of the other, spinning him around and staggering him.

“What’s wrong in there?”

“Destry’s wild again!” said the other, and shot ahead at full speed.

The sheriff did not rush at once into the saloon. He was as brave a man as one would find in a hundred mile ride, but still he knew the place for valor and the place for discretion. He halted, therefore, at the swinging door, and called out “Destry!”

“Wow!” yelled Destry. “Come on in!”

And a forty-five calibre bullet split a panel of the door.

The sheriff stepped a little farther to the side.

“Who’s there?” asked the sheriff. “Who’s raisin’ hell and busting the laws in this here community?”

“I’m the Big Muddy,” answered the whooping voice within. “I got snow on my head, and stones on my feet, and the snows are meltin’, and I’m gunna overflow my banks. Come on in and take a ride!”

“Is that you, Destry?”

“I’m the Big Muddy,” Destry assured him. “Can’t you hear me roar? I’m beginnin’ to flow, and I ain’t gunna stop! I’m rarin’ to bust my banks, and I wanta know what kinda levees you got to hold me back. Wow!”

Another shot exploded, and there was a crash of breaking glass.

At this, the man of the law gripped both hands hard.

“Harry Destry,” said he, “come out in the name of the law!”

“The only law I know,” said Destry, “is to run down hill. Look out, because I’m fast on the corners. I’m the Big Muddy River, and I’m runnin’ all the way to the sea!”

The sheriff deliberately turned on his heel and departed. He merely explained in a casual way to bystanders that there was nothing to be done with fools of this calibre except to let them run down and go to sleep. And Wham, though it was a reasonably tough town, agreed. It had experienced the flow of the “Big Muddy” many a time before this and knew what to expect from Destry.

So, when Destry wakened in the raw of the chilly morning, with an alkaline thirst eating at his soul, he found that he was resting peacefully in jail, with the sheriff drowsing comfortably in the chair beside him. A guard was near by, with a grim look and a riot gun. Said the sheriff, while the eyes of Destry were still hardly half open:

“Destry, you robbed the Express!”

“Sure,” said Destry, “but gimme a drink, will you?”

“You robbed the Express?”

“I did if I get that drink. If I don’t get that drink, I never seen the damn Express.”

“Give him a drink,” said the sheriff.

The drink was given and disappeared.

At this, Destry sat up and shrugged his shoulders.

“You know you’re under arrest,” warned the sheriff, who was an honest man, “and whatever you say may be used against you. But you’ve confessed to robbing the Express!”

“Did I?” said Destry. “I’ll rob another for another drink. Who’s got the makings?”

He was furnished with Bull Durham and brown wheat-straw papers.

“Now then,” said the sheriff, “you better tell me just what you did! How’d you go about it?”

“How do I know?” replied Destry, inhaling smoke deep into his lungs. “If I robbed the Express, all right, I done it. But I don’t remember nothin’ about it!”

“Look here,” said the sheriff. “You recognize this?”

He presented that small packet which he had taken from the inside pocket of Destry’s coat.

“How can I recognize it when I ain’t seen what’s inside of it?”

“You know mighty well,” declared the sheriff, “what’s in this here! Confess up, young man. It’s gunna make everything easier for you in front of the judge and the jury. And even if you don’t confess, they’ll snag you, anyway!”

“Let ’em snag,” said Destry. “I been workin’ too hard, and I need a good rest, anyways! Was the Express robbed last night?”

“You know mighty well that the night was Wednesday!”

“Do I? All right. I just wanted to be sure what night it was that I done that robbin’. So long, sheriff. I’m gunna sleep agin.”

He dropped the cigarette butt to the floor and allowed it to fume there, while he impolitely turned his back upon the sheriff and instantly was snoring again.





Chapter Three




“…that Harrison Destry, residing in, near, or in the region about Wham, in the state of Texas, did on the night of Wednesday, May the eleventh, at or about fifteen minutes past ten o’clock, wilfully, feloniously, and injuriously delay, deter, and cause to stop the train entitled…”

Harrison Destry raised his head again and became lost in the labors of the big spider which was at work in the corner above the desk of the judge. The sun struck a mirror so placed against the wall that a bright beam was deflected into this very corner, and there the spider, unseasonable as the time was, busily pursued the work of constructing his net for flying insects. So distinct did the work appear in the bright light, and so keen was the eye of Destry, that he saw every glistening cable as it was laid, all threaded with globules of glue. He lost the voice that was reading.

Presently he was recalled to himself by the voice of the judge asking if he had selected a lawyer to represent him. When he answered no, he was briefly informed that it was well to have the advice of counsel from the first; that already he had been informed of this several times, and that it was specially valuable before the selection of a jury.

“I’m broke,” said Destry. “What’s your honor got on hand in the way of a good second-rate, up-and comin’ lawyer for me?”

His Honor was none other than Judge Alexander Pearson, whom perhaps six people in the world were permitted to address as Alec. The rest were kept at arm’s length, and through all that range he was respected and dreaded for his justice, which he doled out with an equal hand, and for his knowledge of every individual, and of every individual’s eccentricities and history almost from birth. It was possible to make promises about future conduct to some judges, but Alexander Pearson was too well able to tell of the future by the past.

“Counsellor Steven Eastwick,” said the judge, “is here at hand, and I am sure is capable of giving your case a scholarly and careful handling. Counsellor Eastwick is newly a member of the bar, but I am sure——”

“Hello, Steve,” said the prisoner. “Poker, sure, but not courtroom cards, if you play my hand! Thanks, your honor. I’ll handle this deal better than Steve, to suit myself.”

The judge went on in his even voiced way: “Counsellor Rodman Wayne is also newly one of us. Mr. Wayne, I am sure, would also be adequate and if——”

“Roddie never learned how to swim, till he was chucked into the water off of the dam by Clacky Fisher and me,” said the prisoner. “And this here water is a pile too deep and fast for Roddie to look good in it, your honor. Got anybody else?”

“I think that in the hall there is——”

“Gimme the gent in the hall,” said the prisoner. “He looks good to me!”

The judge overlooked this sanguine carelessness and gravely asked that Counsellor Christian McDermott be asked to step into the court if he was in the adjoining hall.

“Good old Chris!” said young Mr. Destry. “He’ll help me a lot!”

He turned toward Chester Bent, who sat on the first bench among the spectators, and said aloud: “Chris is so nearsighted that he never seen a joke till he got double lenses, and then the first thing he laughed at was himself in a mirror!”

“Mr. Destry,” said the judge quietly, “there are certain rules of decorum which must be observed in a courtroom. Here is Mr. McDermott. Counsellor, are you willing to undertake this case?”

Mr. McDermott was. He had really almost given up the practice of law, and spent his time pottering around forty acres of apple trees up the valley toward the mountains. His one real labor of the week was to scrub the food spots from his large expanse of vest on Sunday mornings so that he could go spotless to church at noon. But for the sake of dignity, he occasionally appeared at the court and picked up a small case here and there.

He now came in, looked over his glasses at the judge, under them at the prisoner, and through them at the faces in the crowd, to several individuals among which he nodded greetings. So the selection of the jury began.

It proceeded with amazing swiftness. The only objections were those made by the assistant district attorney, Terence Anson, who was usually called Doc, for no good reason at all. His peremptory challenges did not need to be used often. He objected to Clarence Olsen, because the latter was known to have been pulled out of the creek by Destry years ago, and therefore he might be presumed to have some prejudice in favor of the prisoner, and three other men, one of whom had taken shooting lessons from Destry, and two others had been partners in the cattle business and were helped by Destry in trailing down a band of rustlers who had run off a number of cows. Aside from these four, he also used several peremptory challenges, but none were made by McDermott. He turned in each instance, anxiously, toward his client, but every time Destry merely shrugged his shoulders.

“It ain’t much use to try for anybody better,” said Destry.

And in a brief half hour, twelve men were sitting in the jury box. There was this remarkable feature which they possessed in common—they were all old inhabitants of Wham, and had known the prisoner for years, and all of them looked toward him with a singular directness.

Mr. McDermott regarded them with anxiety.

“D’you know,” he said to his client, “that just from a glance at their expressions, I’d say that not a one of them is particularly a friend of yours?”

“There ain’t one of ’em,” said Destry, “that wouldn’t skin half his hide off if he could put me in jail for life. But that don’t matter. In this here town, Chris, I got nothin’ but enemies and friends. Less friends than enemies, though. And I wouldn’t have it no other way. What good is a hoss to ride that don’t have kinks to be took out of its back of a morning? I got the chance, Chris, of a grit stone in a mill race. But what’s the difference? I been needin’ a rest for a long time, and a chance to think! But let’s see what they got agin me?”

He soon learned. The trial proceeded headlong, for the ways of the judge did not admit of great delays. First Terence Anson in a dry, barking voice—he was a man who was continually talking himself out of breath—and having coughing fits while he recovered it—touched not too lightly on the past of Destry, and announced that he was going to prove that Mr. Destry was a man likely to have committed this offense, capable of having committed it, and in need of the money which it would bring in to him. After probabilities, he was going to prove that Harrison Destry did in person stop the Express, hold up the messengers, take their weapons from them, and, passing on through the train, remove the valuables from the entire list of the passengers, escaping with their personal property and the contents of the mail!

Mr. McDermott, when he made his own opening address, was somewhat handicapped for lack of material. He could not very well disprove the known fact that Harrison Destry was a trouble maker and a fighter by taste, cultivation, and habit. But he launched into certain vague generalities which had obscure references to the rights of the individual and the uncertainty of circumstantial evidence, and sat down with his case as well ruined as it could have been by any given number of spoken words. So, puffing and snorting, he waited in his chair and observed the opening examinations of the witnesses.

They were very few.

The engineer of the train was called, and stated that the person who had held up the train had been about the size of the prisoner—or perhaps a little larger. And the voice of the robber had been very much like that of the prisoner, except that it was perhaps a little higher. The two guards who had protected the mail delivered similar testimony.

Then there was the evidence of the owner and bartender of the First Chance saloon to the effect that Mr. Destry had come into his place equipped with very little cash, had lost that, lost even his gun and spurs, and had gone on down the street stripped of available cash. Yet when he had been loaned more money by Mr. Bent, instead of spending it with some caution, he had thrown away the fresh supply with more recklessness than ever! What did this prove, if not that he was confident of a reserve supply of negotiable securities which he could realize upon so soon as he left the town? In fact, a package of those securities had been found in his pocket, and what else could be desired as proof that he was the man?

There was no testimony which the defense could offer against this damning array, except when young Charlotte testified that as a matter of fact, she had seen Bent give the prisoner a hundred dollars. And the inference to be drawn by a very imaginative jury might be that the package of securities had been placed in the pocket of the accused man by someone with malicious intent to shift the burden of the blame upon the shoulders of Destry and so draw a herring across his own trail.

The jury, however, did not appear to be particularly imaginative. It looked upon the prisoner with a cold eye, and retired with an ominous lack of gravity, talking to one another before they were out of the courtroom.

As for Destry himself, he had no doubt at all of what would happen.

“What’ll he do, McDermott?” said he. “Will he run me up for ninety days, or will he string me a whole year, d’you think?”

McDermott shrugged his shoulders.

“First offenders usually receive mercy, in some form or another,” he declared.

“A year would be the limit, wouldn’t you say?”

McDermott grew red and scratched his head.

“Otherwise,” said Destry, “I would have bashed my way out of their fool jail and never have stood for the trial at all!”

He gripped the arm of his impromptu lawyer.

“They wouldn’t soak me for any more than that?” he asked.

Said McDermott: “The verdict’s in charge of the jury, and the penalty must be assessed by the judge. I can’t alter the law in your behalf, young man. But,” he went on, “if you’ll tell me where you’ve put away the rest of the stolen money and other properties, and make a clean breast of the whole affair, no doubt the judge would reduce the sentence that he now has in contemplation.”

“You fat-faced, long-eared jackass,” said Destry mildly. “D’you think that I’ve done this job? Or, if I’d done it, d’you dream that I’d come back here to Wham to spend what I’d made? Wouldn’t I barge away for Manhattan, where I could get rid of such stuff for a commission? Of course I would! McDermott, go out and ask for a new set of brains. You make me tired.”

He turned his back on McDermott as the jury entered. It had been out for two and a half minutes. He rose at the order of the judge. He stood guarded on both sides, and he heard Philip Barker, the foreman of the twelve good men and true say the fatal word: “Guilty!”





Chapter Four




At this point, there was a sudden leaning forward of all within the courtroom. The spectators leaned forward. The twelve good men and true themselves leaned forward in their chairs and watched the face of the judge with a hungry interest. Granted that the prisoner was guilty, what now would be done to him?

It was impossible to guess how hard the judge would strike, for sometimes he was unaccountably severe, and sometimes he was bewilderingly merciful. His very first sentence, however, put all doubts at rest.

He said: “Harrison Destry, you have been found guilty by a jury of twelve of your peers, and it is now my duty to pronounce sentence upon you, not for a first offense, in my estimation, but for the culminating act of a life of violence, indolence, and worthlessness!”

Here a clear, strong young voice cried out: “It’s not true! He ain’t any of those things!”

The judge should have ordered the disturbing element ejected from the courtroom, but he merely lifted a placid hand toward Charlotte Dangerfield, who had so far exceeded the proprieties of the courtroom, and continued as follows:

“I believe that I am not alone in having followed the events of your career with a fascinated interest since the days of your boyhood, Harrison Destry. You were not very old before I noticed that it was a rare thing to see you on the street without blood on your hands or on your face! If I passed youngsters of your age with discolored eyes, puffed and bleeding mouths, and battered faces, I could take it for granted that Harrison Destry was not far away. And usually I saw you, lingering in the rear of the defeated enemy.

“Such things are not taken seriously in a boy of ten. The ability to fight, after all, is perhaps the most prized of all the talents of man. And if I were to pick out the one cardinal virtue to be desired in a son of mine, I should name courage first, but that is not all!

“What is still a virtue at ten becomes a nuisance at fifteen. And when your hands were stronger, and you struck harder, there were more serious tales about your petty wars in the town, and on the range, as you began to work out as a cowpuncher and find men there as hard as yourself. In the iron school of the range you were molded. There you found men older and stronger than yourself, and almost as fierce. Now and again we had word that Harrison Destry had been beaten horribly. But before the next year rolled around we were sure to learn that he had gone far out on the trail of his conqueror and found him—in Canada—in Mexico—and defeated the former victor.

“At the end of each serious encounter, you usually returned to Wham, in order, one might say, to bask in the admiration of your fellow citizens, and it did not occur to you that it was not unmixed admiration with which they looked upon you. To be sure, they respected your bravery and envied your power of hand and quickness of eye, but when a man begins to use mortal weapons, as you did so young, it becomes less a matter for admiration than for fear, less of envy than of horror.

“And, from that moment, there were voices which announced that Harrison Destry would before the end have taken a human life! Some would not believe it, but eventually belief was forced in upon us.

“They were not entirely reprehensible affairs. The criminal, the brutal, the wasted and vicious lives were those who crossed you, and were those who fell. All seemed fair fight. And yet the time came when men shrank before you, Harrison Destry. In one word, the message went out that you were a ‘killer’ and all that that ominous term implies. That is to say, one who takes life for the pleasure he gains by the taking! Many a man has begun in that way, keeping within the bounds of the law; few have continued so to the end! They overstep, and an innocent life is taken.

“However, there was another change in you. You began as an industrious boy; you ended as a man who scorned any tool other than a Bowie knife or a Colt’s six-shooter. You gambled for a living and fought for amusement. Your visits to the town became an often repeated plague. You roistered in the saloons. You cast a shadow over a community which has never been too peaceful!

“Consider the picture of yourself as at last it was presented to us! The proud, active, hard working boy is changed into the lazy, careless, shiftless, indifferent and tigerish sluggard! Now at last you have discovered a means of making a short cut to a fortune on which you could live for some time. You have taken that short cut. You have violently laid your hands upon the moneys of other people. You have interfered with a mail train. You have robbed the mail itself. For these acts the jury, composed of twelve of your peers, has found you guilty, and I heartily agree with the verdict. Under the circumstances, nothing but intolerable prejudice in your favor could have induced a single man among them to return any other verdict than this one.

“It is now my duty to lay on you a sentence in accordance with the nature of your crime and of your character. And after duly considering all of these things, I have decided that you must be sentenced to ten years of penal confinement at hard labor, in the honest trust that during that time you may have an opportunity to reflect upon your past and prepare yourself for a different future.

“If you have any remarks to make to qualify this judgment, I am ready to hear them, particularly since your legal adviser was summoned at the last moment and has had no fitting opportunity to work on your case.”

It seemed that Destry hesitated, and considered for a moment what he should say, if anything. At length he drawled:

“What might be the meaning of ‘peer,’ your honor?”

“The meaning of peer,” said the judge, “is equal. It is a portion of the law, Destry, that an accused man shall not be tried by those who are socially not his equal. That may be held to hark back to other times, when some men were free, and others serfs.”

“And serfs, what might they be?”

“A serf was a man attached to the soil, or, more properly speaking, a man subordinated and tied to some social regulation which limited his freedom. But, on the whole, you may say that a serf is a man who is not free.”

“These gents,” said the prisoner, “you’ve said a coupla times are my peers. Is that right?”

“I take it there is no man among them who is not your social equal, Destry. At least, they are all free men!”

“Are they?” said Destry.

He turned toward the jury and made a few paces forward, and the guard followed him on either side, anxiously.

“You dunno these here gents,” said Destry. “I’ll tell you. That one on the far left in the front row, that’s Jimmy Clifton—that little narrer shouldered feller with the flower in his buttonhole, as though he was walkin’ out on Sunday with his best girl. Free? He’s tied up worse than a slave and the thing that he’s tied to is the women, I tell you! He can’t walk out without feelin’ their eyes after him, and the reason that he hates me—look at it in his eyes!—is because a girl that he wanted once turned him down to dance with me. If I lie, Jimmy, you tell the judge!

“Next to him, there’s Hank Cleeves. By the look of his face, you’d never think that he’d ever been a boy, but he was. To be on top of the heap is his game and his main idea, and he’s a slave to that. He’s a serf. He’s no free man, I tell you! This here Cleeves, I once socked him on the nose, and sat him down flat and quick. He said ‘enough’ that day, and that’s why he says guilty this day.

“There’s Bud Williams, too, him with the thick neck and the little head, that come down here aimin’ to become the champion wrestler of the whole world. But you can’t fight and you can’t wrestle with the strength of your hands, because it’s the strength of your heart that tells in the long run! And after him and me had it out on the gravel at the edge of the road, and his face was rubbed raw in the stones, he started hatin’ me, and he never stopped from that day to this. Serf? There never was a worse serf than him! He envies the mules on the road, because of their muscle. He’d turn himself into a steam engine, for the sake of havin’ so many hoss power!

“Next to him, I want you to look at Sam Warren, with his long neck, and his long fingers that are square at their tips. Look at him, will you? He could take any gun apart in the dark, and jump the pieces together again without no light. He loved to figger that he had every man’s life inside the curl of his forefinger. He felt free and grand so long as he thought that was true. But when him and me had a little tangle, and he was sliced through the leg with the first shot, he sure was fed up quick and lay down to think things over. Your honor, he’s a serf to the gun that he packs, and that’s draggin’ down under his left armpit, right this minute!”

Sam Warren raised his narrow length from his chair, in such an attitude that it looked for a moment as though he would hurl himself out of the jury box and at the throat of the other. And the prisoner said calmly: “If it ain’t so, call me a liar. You set that gun up and worship it. You never get it well out of your mind. You dream about it all night, and when you look at your best friend, you pick out the button on his coat that you’ll shoot at!”

“Mr. Destry,” said the judge, in his quiet way, “you’ve insulted enough of this jury, I think. Have you finished?”

“I’ll finish quick,” said Destry. “Only, I wanta finish up first with these twelve peers of mine, as you call ’em. I want you to look at Jerry Wendell, whose God is his tailor, and Clyde Orrin, the handshaker, and Lefty Turnbull that’s always hated my heart since I broke his record from Wham to the Crystal Mountains, and there’s Phil Barker, too! How many times did Phil raise hell with his practical jokes, until along comes a letter askin’ him to call on a girl after dark, and he found the dogs waitin’ for him instead of her? He ain’t forgot that I wrote that letter to him, and he’d hang me up by the neck today, if his vote would do it! There’s the Ogdens, too, that took money for my scalp and cornered me to get it; they lost their blood and their money, that day, and they want to see me holler now. Then there’s Bud Truckman and Bull Hewitt. I dunno why they want to stick me, but maybe I’ve give them a dirty look, some time.”

He turned back to the judge.

“Twelve peers?” said Destry. “Twelve half-bred pups. If peers is equals, I’d rather be tried by twelve bullfrogs in a marsh than by them twelve in that jury box! But let ’em set down and think this here over! When my ten years has come up, I’m gunna call on all of these here, and if they ain’t in, I’m gunna leave my card, anyway!”

“Destry,” said the judge drily, “you’d better finish, here.”

The jury sat back, trying to look scornful, but obviously worried, in spite of themselves.

“Here’s the last thing,” said Destry. “What you’ve said is plumb true. I been a waster, a lazy loafer, a fighter, a no-good citizen, but what I’m gettin’ the whip for now is a lie! I never robbed the Express!”





Chapter Five




Short speeches linger a long time in some memories; and the final speech of the prisoner remained in the mind of the townsfolk long after he was sent away to stripes and bars for ten years. There was one other detail of that day in the courtroom about which men and women and children talked, and that was how young Charlie Dangerfield slipped through the crowd and got to Destry as he was being led away toward the cell from which he would depart to the prison. There before the crowd she threw her arms around his neck.

“I believe in you, Harry!” she cried. “And I’ll wait for you, too!”

Wham smiled when it heard this story, for Charlie Dangerfield was only sixteen, but as the years went by and it was noted that, though she would laugh and talk with any man, and dance with the first comer on Saturday nights, yet she discouraged all tokens of a serious interest; and when she grew up from pretty child to beautiful woman, and still preserved the integrity of the fence around her, then Wham scratched its chin and shook its head.

It respected her the more; the more worthless the man to whom a woman is devoted, the more she is admired and beloved by all other men. Their own self-esteem and their right to expect the affection of a wife is thereby, as it were, given a groundwork and an assurance.

More than this: The very girls of Wham, the unmarried ones, the green and hopeful virgins, found it possible to have an actual affection for beautiful Charlie Dangerfield, since, no matter how attractive she might be, or how she dimmed their stars in passing, she was no more than a passing moon, and never interfered with their affairs. The established youth of Wham quickly learned to waste no hopes on Charlie; only the strangers who arrived, attracted by her face and her father’s rapidly increasing fortune, flocked for a moment around the flame, singed their wings, and flew lamely away.

Therefore, when the news came to the town that Destry had been allowed to leave the prison, and that his ten years had been shortened to six by good behavior, the first thought of everyone was for Charlie Dangerfield. How would she take this second coming of her hero, now aged from the penitentiary?

Now, on computation, they figured that, if he was twenty-five when he was committed, he could only be thirty-one now. Old in shame, then, if not in actual years—a jail-bird, a refugee still from society. He who has been through the fire must bear the mark on his face!

On the evening of that same day, however, on which the news came to the town of Wham, there was a secret meeting to which came Jerry Wendell, and Clyde Orrin, and the Ogden brothers, and Cleeves, Sam Warren, Bull Hewitt and Bud Williams.

Sam Warren, being the most celebrated shot in the town, presided at the meeting, sitting at the head of the table and regulating the discussion. They talked frankly, as only those talk who are faced by a common danger.

The first suggestion was made by Jerry Wendell, who urged that they should hire a gunman for the work of clearing Mr. Destry permanently from the slate.

It was not waved aside, this murderous thought, but seriously taken in hand, and only after some moments of talk was it decided that it was probably foolish to kill a man who would soon have himself in jail again. Clyde Orrin summed up the verdict on this point.

“Prison never makes a gent better; it always makes him worse! He’ll raise the devil before he’s been in Wham a day, and the sheriff will be waiting for him with both hands full of irons!”

This being taken for granted, it was decided at once that all eight of them should leave the town of Wham for a little hunting excursion into the mountains. Before they returned, doubtless Destry would be again in the hands of the law!

This proposal hardly had been concluded before there was a rap at the door of the hotel room in which they were sitting, and Chester Bent walked in.

They looked on him without pleasure, but Chester Bent, leaning on the end of the table, a little out of breath, and hat still in hand, smiled on them all.

“My friends,” said he, “I know you’re surprised to see me here. I wasn’t a member of the jury that called Destry guilty and sent him to prison. You know that I was his friend then, and am his friend now, and I suppose that he’ll come to stay at my house when he returns. Now, I want to assure you all that I shall do my best to keep Destry from taking any steps that are too rash and bold. But I also want to say that I doubt my ability to keep him in order. I hope that you won’t misconstrue what I have to say. I give you my word, I’m your friend, as well as his. I’m here to ask how I can serve you, because I take it for granted that you all realize that you will be in danger from the instant that Destry arrives this evening!”

This was putting the cards on the table with a vengeance, and the eight sitters at that table looked on Mr. Bent with a real enthusiasm, at once. He was a man worth attention in Wham, by this time. For one thing, he had increased his wealth at least six-fold in the time during which unlucky Destry had been in jail. Indeed, it was at about the same time that Destry was taken away that Wham received proof of the business talent of Bent by the amount of cash which he had on hand ready for investment; and, by placing it well in mines, in the buying of shares in a lumber company that operated in the Crystal range, and by picking up random bits of real estate here and there, Chester Bent had now established himself in a position which was hardly second to that occupied by any man in the town or the range around it. He had not piled up such a huge fortune as Benjamin Dangerfield, to be sure, nor as a few of the great cattle barons and the mining millionaires, but Chester Bent was rich, and he was among the few influential men who had to be called in for consultation whenever any important move was made by the controlling spirits of the community.

For all of these reasons, the eight men at the table listened greedily to all that he had to say. Destry, singlehanded, was bad enough, if he were even a ghost of his old self. Destry, backed by such a man as this, would be the equivalent of ruin to them all.

They told him with equal frankness that they had determined to withdraw from the town, and he received the suggestion with pleasure. He would send them word, he assured them, of the time when it was safe for them to return to Wham!

That afternoon they left; that evening, Chester Bent was walking up and down the platform of the station waiting for the westbound train. It drew up, stopped, and half a dozen passengers dismounted; baggage and mails were thrown off, train lanterns swung, and the long line of cars started away, the observation platform swaying out of sight at high speed around the next curve in another moment.

But no Harry Destry!

Then a hand fell lightly on the arm of Bent, a tentative and timid touch, and the young man turned and looked down into a face as sickly white as the belly of a frog.

It was Harry Destry at last, but Bent had to look at him twice before he could recognize the former gunman of Wham, the cynical, reckless warrior whose exploits had broken heads and glassware in every saloon up and down the main street of the town. He seemed both thinner and smaller, like one who has diminished from a great reputation of the past and grown down to a lesser size, a lesser fact.

Such was the Harry Destry who returned to Wham!

A strange gleam of joy appeared in the eye of Chester Bent, and it was not all the pleasure of welcoming home an old friend. Yet he wrung the hand of Destry with a feverish eagerness.

“You’re coming home to live with me,” said Bent. “I’ve fixed up a room for you——”

“I’ve got no claim on you, Chet,” said the other. “I reckon I jus’ better slide on out of the town and—”

“What are you talking about?” said Bent. “Look yonder—that phaeton under the pepper trees, yonder. There’s Charlie Dangerfield waiting for you, man. She would have come up and met you; she wasn’t afraid of doing that in front of everyone, y’understand?—but I thought it would be better if she met you quietly. You know how the papers pick up such things? Richest rancher’s daughter greets return of ex-convict—you know what I mean, old fellow!”

He was half leading and half pressing his companion forward as he spoke. He had taken in his left hand the little satchel that contained the total possessions of Destry; his right was in the small of the convict’s back, forcing him on. But here Destry paused.

“Rich?” said he. “Has Ben Dangerfield gone and got himself rich? Charlie never told me nothing about that in her letters!”

“I guess Charlie didn’t want you to know what was waiting for you when you come home,” said Bent, losing some of the polish of his higher school education in the excitement of the moment. “Because that’s just what Ben Dangerfield has done nothin’ else but do! He’s gone and got himself to be the richest man on this range! The Dangerfield mine is so doggone rich that you could break a year’s income for most men right off the lode and drop it into your pockets an’ not weigh uncomfortable much when you walked home with it. Rich? They’re made of money, now, and that means that you’ll be made of money! Go ahead, there, and see Charlie, and kiss her. She’s been waitin’ six years for this minute, Harry!”

He paused when he was a few paces from the carriage, so as to let Destry have some privacy, but the instant that the support of his hand was withdrawn, it seemed as though the latter hardly could move forward. Slowly he drifted towards the phaeton; he stole his way along beneath the shadow of the thin branched pepper trees, through which the stars were gleaming. And, at the last, he stood fixed to the ground.

Charlotte Dangerfield was out of the carriage in a flash and had her arms around him.

“Harry, Harry, Harry!” she cried, her voice rising from a whisper to a moan. “What have they-all been doin’ to you? What have they done to you, Harry?”

She kissed his white face, luminous in the shadows, and cold to the touch of her warm lips.

He did not stir in her arms, nor raise a hand to her.

“It’s been six years of pretty much trouble, Charlotte,” he told her.

And she thought that even his voice was changed, lowered to keep any other ear from hearing what he had to say.

At this, she fell into a bustle of activity, making plans, managing a good deal of excited laughter, as she turned him over to the hands of Chester Bent. He was to come out in the morning to the Dangerfield ranch; her father was wild to see him; in the meantime, he heeded a good night’s sleep.

But before she left, Chester Bent had one opportunity to look into her eyes and see the horror there. It was no effort for Chester to be cheerful on the drive home to his house!





Chapter Six




He was anxious to have Destry under the steady light of a lamp when he got to the house, but it was not easy to get Destry into the light. In the dining room, he managed to turn his chair a little, apparently to give more attention to his host, but really so that he threw a shadow over his features, and with repeated and humble bowings of his head, he listened to all that Chester Bent had to say.

For his own part, Destry spoke little, and generally preluded every remark with an apology: “If you don’t mind me sayin’ ”—or “Excuse me, Chet, but”—or “Of course what I say don’t count—” And Chester Bent saw more and more literally how the heavy hand of the law had broken and hammered what had seemed such unmalleable metal.

They were in the library after dinner, that library which was the latest crown upon the life of Chester Bent, where dark ranges of volumes mounted in tier on tier toward the shadowy ceiling, where two or three large tomes generally could be seen opened face downward, as though the student had just been called from their perusal, and where the face of the desk was littered with papers, the token of the busy man. Enthroned against such a background, Chester Bent drew out his guest a little more, but it was difficult to go far. It was ten o’clock before the truth came out.

Destry wished to leave Wham!

There had once been a happy hunting ground for him in this village, but now he dreaded the familiar field. He sat with his head slightly canted to the side, listening to the booming chorus of the bullfrogs that saddened the marsh like the drone of bass viols. The longer he listened, the more uneasy Destry appeared.

“I’ve gotta go,” he said to Bent. “I dunno why you should be so extra kind to me, Chet. But I couldn’t stay here. I got piles of enemies in this here town!”

“You have friends, too, old timer!”

“I got friends. But friends, they don’t catch bullets out of the air! They can’t do that, Chet! I’m gunna go on. I wanta be a peaceful man; I don’t want no trouble in the world, no more!”

He shivered as he said it, and Chester Bent had to glance slyly down to the floor to keep the flame of exultation in his eyes from being seen. Immediately afterward he allowed Destry to go to bed, but the big chamber which had been prepared for his accommodation was totally unsatisfactory to the new guest. In place of that, he preferred a little attic room, with one small window hardly a foot square.

He called the attention of Bent to it cautiously.

“What would you say, Chet? That a man could squirm through that in the middle of the night?”

“A man? Hardly a frog could get through there, a frog-sized frog, I mean to say!”

Destry sighed with relief, and went straightaway to bed; Bent returned to the library and there wrote the following letter to Jerry Wendell:


Dear Jerry,

Harry Destry is back, but so changed that you wouldn’t know him! He has just gone to bed in an attic room, because it has a window so small that a man couldn’t climb through it in the middle of the night.

His eyes are sunk in his head, and he has the look of a dog that’s been over-disciplined. He’s white and thin, and seems to have lost a few inches in height, which I suppose is simply another way of saying that he’s not the man he used to be!

I don’t think that you need be afraid of coming back to town, you and the rest; though perhaps you’d better send back a couple of the roughest of you to break the ground and make sure that he’s really as harmless as he seems.

You can observe from this that I am trying to be your friend and a friend to all the rest, while I’m also trying to make poor Destry happy.

He hasn’t said much about his prison life, but I gathered up a few references to dark cells, etc. I presume that he was pretty roughly handled at first, and it’s broken his spirit.

I pity him from my heart, and so will you, when you see him.


Yours cordially,

CHET BENT.

He left the house to mail this letter at once, and, walking slowly home beneath the stars, he looked up to them and thought they burned more bright and beautiful on this night than ever before. When he opened the door of his house again, he stood for a moment staring into the dark, and conjuring up in it the picture of Charlie Dangerfield’s lovely smile, and Ben Dangerfield’s still more lovely millions! Then he went back to his library.

He curled up on the couch and went to sleep, but he kept the light burning, for it did well for the inhabitants of Wham, returning late at night, to see the lighted study windows of that rising young man. They then could tell one another that Chester Bent was a genius, but that genius was nine-tenths work! It increased their respect for him, but it diminished their envy!

It was after one before he put out the light, stumbled sleepily up the stairs to his room, and there fell at once into a profounder slumber, and into the arms of yet happier dreams.

In the morning, he took Destry out to see Benjamin Dangerfield. He walked with Charlie under the trees while Destry talked to his prospective father-in-law; all they heard of the interview was the loud voice of Ben Dangerfield exclaiming: “Whacha lookin’ behind the doors for, Harry? Dust?”

Charlotte wanted to talk about Destry continually, but Bent dexterously shied at that subject and finally managed to keep it out of sight. In half an hour they heard Dangerfield shouting for them, and went back to find Destry standing with lowered head, tracing invisible patterns on the floor with the toe of his shoe. Bent heard the caught breath of Charlie, but even he dared not look at her.

Dangerfield himself was gritting his teeth, and he said in the presence of his daughter and Bent: “My daughter’s old enough to run her own business. If she wants you, she’ll take you, I reckon, and let her have you; it ain’t no more affair of mine!”

Chester Bent did not need to look far back to a time when not even Dangerfield, no matter what his years or his millions, would have dared to speak in such a manner to Destry.

But that time was gone. He took Harry Destry back to the town, and the latter bit his lip continually, looking down into the heat haze that obscured the distant vistas of the roadway. Not one word passed between them until they came to the edge of the town, and there Destry asked to be let out, because he wished to saunter through Wham. His wish was obeyed, and Bent drove on back to his office.

All was well with him. He plunged into his affairs for that day, but as he worked, he dreamed, and his dreams were all of Charlotte Dangerfield.

A slice of gingerbread and a glass or two of milk made his lunch, so that he had not left his office since morning, when Charlotte herself came to see him late that afternoon, bursting impetuously into his office.

She had ridden at high speed all the way from the ranch. The flush of the gallop was high in her brown cheeks and the dust was in her hair as she stood before him, kneading the handle of her quirt in her gloved hands. But her eyes were desperate and sick, as they had been the night before at the station.

“I can’t go on, Chet!” she told him. “I’m mighty miserable; I’m fair done up about it; but I can’t go on after this day!”

He asked her what had happened.

“You don’t know?” she cried. “The whole of Wham knows! Everybody’s shrugging shoulders! Don’t try to make me tell over again what’s happened!”

He could guess; a prophetic foresight had told him everything when he let his companion out of the buggy that morning and drove softly on through the velvet dust of the main street; but he told her now that he had not left the office.

She had to take a turn up and down the room before she could speak again; and then she faced half away from him, looking out the window.

“He went into the Second Chance,” she said, speaking rapidly to get through the thing. “He asked for a lemon sour——”

“I’m glad he’s stopped drinking, if that’s what it means,” said Bent.

She risked one glance at him over her shoulder.

“Oh, Chet,” said she, “it means something else; you must know that it does, in spite of all this mighty fine loyalty of yours! Dud Cross came in. You know that wo’thless boy of Dikkon Cross? And Dud was full of redeye. He bumped against Harry, and when he saw who he’d nudged, he jumped half way across the barroom, they say. Then he saw that Harry didn’t resent it; just stood there smilin’, lookin’ a little white and sick——”

She stopped here, but getting a fresher grip on her quirt she went on with a savage determination.

“That Dud Cross seemed to guess everything at one glance. He came back and—and damned Harry for running into him! Damned him! And—Harry— took it!”

She gasped in a breath.

“Dud Cross said he wasn’t fit to drink with white men, real men, and told him to get out. And Harry went and—”

It was much even for Bent to hear, and he wiped his face with his handkerchief.

“Cross kicked him into the street. Kicked him! And Harry picked himself up and went home to your house. I suppose that he’s there now! Chet, I want to do the right thing; but what is the right thing?”

It had come so swiftly that Bent could hardly believe in his good fortune, but he had sense enough not to appear to jump at the opening.

“I suppose I understand everything,” he said slowly. “It won’t do, of course. You’ll have to see him and tell him that it can’t go on!”

“How can I see him and strike him in the face— a—a thing like that?”

“You don’t have to see him. I think he knows, too. He expects it, surely, if he has any speck of manhood left in him. No, Charlie, you just sit down there at my desk and write him a letter. It will do perfectly. I’ll tell you what. I’ll take the letter along to him, and do any necessary explaining.”

“Will you do that?” she asked.

She swung about and dropped her quirt and caught at his hands. “When I see what a noble way you have about you, Chet, standing by him, true to him—out of the whole town the only one that’s standing by him, I feel pretty small and low. It’s beautiful, the way you’re acting! But oh, Chet, tell him very gentle and careful about how things stand. I wouldn’t of let him down—only—only—he’s not a man!”





Chapter Seven




Chester Bent took home this letter in the evening and gave it to Destry to puzzle out in the dusk of the library.


Dear old Harry,

It just can’t go on. I would have crossed the ocean for you, for the old Harry Destry, but I guess you can see that you’ve changed a good bit. I don’t blame you. Six terrible years have gone by for you. You’ll be your old self one day, after you’ve ridden on the range again for a while; and when you are, come back to see me. If you don’t hate me too much, try to think of me as a friend. That’s what I want to be, always.

CHARLIE DANGERFIELD.

Bent waited on the opposite side of the table. “She didn’t know what to do. She was afraid to see you, Harry. So she gave me this letter to take to you. I’m mighty sorry, because I can guess what it’s all about!”

Destry, carefully thumbing the creases of the letter after refolding it, fell into a brown study, out of which he spoke, surprisingly, not of Charlotte Dangerfield at all. He merely said in a worried, depressed voice:

“The Ogden boys are in town, now, Chet. And I hear that Sam Warren and Clyde Orrin are back from the hills, too. You remember? They was all on the jury! They might think that I would do them some harm, and—and try to get at me first! Chet, I guess I better leave town!”

It was of course the wish which of all others lay closest to the heart of Bent; for now that the girl had broken with Destry, it was by all means best to get him away from the range of her impulsive pity, which might undo all that already had been accomplished.

“Perhaps you’re right,” said Bent. “Perhaps Wham is a bit dangerous for you. You know in the old days your gun was fitted into a mighty loose holster, Harry, and people don’t forget that. You’d better go; I’ll handle all the financing. I tell you what, old fellow, I’m not going to let you down, no matter what the rest of the world may do and say!”

He was not even thanked! Destry, as one stunned, fumbled still with his thoughts.

“Somebody said that more of them were coming back. I mean, Bud Williams, and Jerry Wendell. Eight of them, all together. Eight that used to be on the jury that sent me away to prison!”

“It might be a bad climate for you here,” admitted Bent again. “Look here, old son. Leave right now, if you want. I have a bang-up good horse in my stable this moment. I’ll fix you up with a pack, and you can be out and away—with a full wallet, mind you—and fifty miles over the hills before the day breaks!”

At this, Destry groaned aloud.

“Oh, Chet,” he said, “what’d I be doin’ outside in the open, where so many of ’em could be followin’ me? What would I be doin’ away in the hills, I’d ask you? They can read trail. They’d run me down. I’d be alone! Oh, God! Think of ridin’ the hills and seein’ the same buzzards circlin’ in the sky that’ll eat the eyes out of your head, before long!”

Even Chester Bent was a little aroused with pity.

He said sharply: “What in hell did they do to you in the penitentiary, man?”

“I’d rather not to talk!” said he, and Bent wisely did not press him to speak, for he felt that a hysterical outburst was close at hand.

In his own room, he scratched another note to dapper Jerry Wendell.


Destry is badly broken up, and shaken. You fellows will handle him with gloves, I’m sure. He’s helpless and harmless, and you’d pity him if you saw him. Charlie Dangerfield has broken her engagement with him—that’s a secret that you’re sure to find out by tomorrow—and he hasn’t the spirit even to regret the loss of her! He can only think about his personal danger from you and the rest of the boys who served on the jury. I think it may be months before he becomes his old self again!

CHET.

He added that last line after much deliberation, for it woud not fit in with his plans to allow Destry to be considered permanently harmless. Harmless he never could be, in the eye of Bent. Not that the latter feared that Destry ever could become his old self, but because he once had read that women truly love once, and once only, and the line had sunk into his heart. At this moment, Bent felt that he was closer than ever to Charlie Dangerfield, simply because she admired the manner in which he stood by the fallen man. If his dream was realized, and she became his wife, what would happen in her heart of hearts if she again met a partially recovered Destry on some future day? The mind of Bent was logical and sure. There must be no future for his guest!

He sent a house mozo to carry the message; then he went down to find Destry and take him to the dinner table.

Destry was not there. He had gone out, Bent was told, to take a little air; but he was not in the back garden, nor in the front.

He had gone into the town, perhaps, tormented by fear, tormented even more by the fascination of lights under which other men were drinking and enjoying themselves. No doubt he wanted to see careless faces, and therein strive to forget his mental burden!

Whatever the reason, Harry Destry had gone down the main street, avoiding the lighted places, slipping from one dark side of the way to the other, until he came to the region of the saloons, and into the Last Chance he started to make his way when fate, which works with a cruel insistence in our lives, placed Dud Cross once more in his path, for Dud came reeling out as Destry approached the swinging door.

“The yaller dog’s out and around agin!” shouted Cross. “Get back home and ask your boss to tie you up! Or you’re likely to get et up here in Wham!”

He acted as he spoke. The wide-swinging palm of his hand cracked against the cheek of Destry and sent him staggering back against a hitching post. There he leaned, one side of his white face turning crimson, his eyes staring vacantly at his persecutor, and drunken Dud Cross lurched forward to rout his victim.

It was only luck that brought the sheriff there. Ding Slater stepped before Cross and pointed a forefinger like a gun in the face of the bully.

“You get yourse’f home!” said he, and Dud Cross disappeared like a bubble into the night.

The sheriff turned back to Destry with compassion and disgust equally troubling him.

“Harry,” he said, “don’t you go bein’ a fool and showin’ your face around the streets. You take my advice. You better go home. You hear me?”

“Yeah,” said Destry faintly. “Yeah, I hear you.”

And he looked into the face of the sheriff with eyes so blank, so wide, so helpless, that Ding Slater could not endure the weight of them. He turned without pressing his point and hurried down the street damning impartially the stars in the sky and the penal system of that sovereign state.

Destry, as one drawn by powers beyond him, slowly went forward, pushed open the doors of the saloon, and entered.

It was a busy evening. A dozen men were lined up at the bar, and there was a gleam of eyes, a flash of faces as they looked toward the door and the newcomer. Then all backs became rigid and were turned squarely upon him!

He did not seem to understand but, taking his place at the farthest end of the long bar, he half cowered against the wall, ordered a drink, and then forgot to taste it, but looked aimlessly into nothing, while the subdued talk along the bar was picked up again, and carried on in its former tone.

Half of those men had drunk and roistered with him in the old days; their pity and their self-respect kept them from noticing the fallen hero now. Religiously their eyes dodged when they chanced to fall upon the face of Destry in the midst of laughter or in the midst of narrative.

The gay minutes went on; but shortly a pair of them departed. And then another pair, and another. There were other places to drink in Wham, where the depressing influence of Destry would not be felt, and the horror to which a brave man could descend be witnessed!

The bartender was not a callous man, but he was naturally irritated when he saw an evening fairly blasted before it had begun to blossom. He took the first occasion to say behind his hand to Destry: “You better finish your drink and move on!”

“Sure,” said Destry, and looked at him with the same humble, but uncomprehending stare.

A man at the far end of the bar growled to the saloon keeper: “Leave him be, will you? He ain’t right in the head!”

“He makes me sick,” said the bartender, with more ferocity than he felt, and took three fingers for himself, and paid for it with a vicious punch at the cash register. However, the big man at the farther end resolutely moved down beside Destry and found himself at once embarked in conversation.

“I hear that Wendell’s in town?” said Destry. “Where might he be livin’, now?”

“Down two blocks, in the big house with the fir hedge in front.”

“Yeah? Orrin’s place is just opposite, ain’t it?”

“No. Orrin’s moved. He’s down by the river, just left of the bridge. Cleeves has the opposite house.”

“Yeah? Cleeves was a great pal of Williams.”

“They used to be thick.”

“Is Williams in town, too? Still here?”

“Still here. He’s got a room in the Darlington Hotel where——”

He paused with his glass at his lips.

Destry turned to follow the direction of his companion’s glance, and he saw just passing through the swinging door as dark a picture as he could have wished to see. For the Ogden brothers were at that moment kicking the door wide and stalking into the place, and the object on which their eyes fell and stayed was the face of Destry himself.

Some things are obvious as day. When the moose is bogged down in snow, and the wolves sit in a circle with red, lolling tongues, it does not need a prophet to tell that they will soon eat red meat. And it was perfectly apparent from the solemn entrance of the Ogden brothers that they had come for Destry and meant to have his life!





Chapter Eight




After that first glance, they paid no heed to Destry, but strode to the bar and ordered whiskey, and Destry remained in the corner, silent, looking at his dreams with open, empty eyes. The bartender, who had been through many phases of this mortal coil, observed him with the eye of a physician who sees symptoms of a fatal disease, against the progress of which there is no remedy. There were still five men in the room, and these drew back from the bar, not hastily, but by slow degrees, conversing with one another, as though their business required greater privacy than could be found under the bright light of the two kerosene lamps which flooded the bar and its vicinity.

Out of the chatter of conversation which had preceded the entry of the Ogden brothers, an approximate silence fell upon the room, as when, before a prizefight, the voices of the spectators are gradually hushed, and there remains a dead moment in which even the most casual murmur is audible, surprisingly, over several rows and the speakers grow embarrassed and glance about in the hope that no one has overheard their profanity.

So it was now in the barroom after the Ogden brothers had come in. They were two of a kind. That kind originates somewhere in the middle West, instantly understood by all who have been in that region, and understood by no others.

They were tall, but they were not awkwardly built. Their shoulders were broad, but their chests were not shallow. They stood straight, and their heads were high, and yet there was a trail of the eternal slime upon them. It appeared in their greasy complexions, their overbright eyes, wrinkled too much at the corners, as though by continual laughter, though the practiced observer knew that laughter had nothing to do with those lines. They had a way of smiling secretly, one to the other, conscious of a jest which was not apparent to the rest of the world, and they fortified themselves with this laughter; for laughter is a two-edged sword, and all of those who do not understand it are bound in the course of nature to be ill at ease.

At this very moment, they were smiling sourly at each other as they raised their glasses. They did not pledge the bartender with the accustomed nod and tilt of the glass; they did not turn the usual good-natured grin towards the others at the bar, but, instead, they raised their liquor swiftly, and swiftly they disposed of it. Then they put down the glasses with a clink upon the varnished wood of the bar and considered the thing that was before them.

They had come to kill Harrison Destry. That much was plain to themselves and to all observers; but they needed a bridge by which to pass from the commonplace to the greatly desired event. It would hardly do to turn on their heels and lay the new born coward dead!

With secrecy, with some shame, with great embarrassment, indeed, they looked slyly at each other and considered the means by which they would approach this fatal climax of the evening’s work.

And still Destry gave them no excuse, no finger’s hold, no faintest sham of a pretense to attack him. He stood with the same considerate gaze steadily upon vacancy, and spoke not a word, invited no comment, asked for no opinion. At last he said, timidly: “I’ll take another.”

The bartender noted with a real amaze that the glass of Destry was empty. He spun out the bottle, and when Destry had poured a moderate measure, the saloon keeper filled a glass for himself to the brim, for once more he needed a stimulant.

There was no conversation at all. One man had slipped noiselessly through the swinging door; the remainder stayed for the obvious purpose of seeing the killing of Harry Destry. Not that he was important now, but that he once had been a man of note.

Suddenly Jud Ogden said: “Destry?”

The latter raised his head with a faint smile.

“Yes?” he said.

No one could see his face, at that moment, except the bartender, and he underwent a strange convulsion that caused the liquor to tilt in his raised glass and to spill upon the floor half of the contents. Still under the influence of the same shock, whatever it could have been, he replaced his glass upon the bar, then changed his mind and tossed off the contents with a single gesture.

He coughed hard, but he did not take a chaser. With both hands gripping the edge of the bar, he remained frozen in place, looking not at the Ogden brothers, but at Destry, as though from him the important act was now to come.

“Destry,” said Clarence Ogden, taking up the speech where his brother had left off, “they was a time when you done us wrong, you—Destry!”

“I done you wrong?” said Destry, as contemplative as ever. “I done you wrong?”

“You done us wrong,” broke in Jud Ogden brutally.

Silence once more fell over the barroom, and the spectators, secure within their shadow, looked at one another, knowing that the time had almost come.

“Well,” said Destry, “I’d be powerful sorry to think that I’d made anybody in this town unhappy! I’d sure hate to think of that!”

He turned from the bar as he spoke, a shrill laughter forced and unconvinced, breaking from his lips.

The bystanders winced, and their lips curled. As for the Ogdens, they looked secretly at each other, as much as to say that they had expected this. Then Clarence Ogden turned bodily upon Destry.

“You lousy rat!” he said.

But Destry did nothing, neither did he stir a hand!

“That’s a hard name,” he said.

But, as he spoke, it became suddenly apparent to all who listened that he was not afraid! He, the coward, the nameless thing, turned a little from the bar so that he faced the Ogdens, and as he spoke, his voice was like a caress.

“That’s a hard name,” said Destry.

And his voice was unafraid!

It was as though a masked battery had broken out from a screen of shrubbery. The greasy faces of the Ogdens lost color; the spectators by instinct drew closer together, shoulder to shoulder, and stood wedged in a row.

And Destry went on: “What for d’you call me that, boys?”

The Ogdens in their turn were silenced.

They had come expecting to find a wild cat whose teeth and claws were drawn. It appeared that beyond all belief they might be wrong!

“I hear a mighty bad word from the pair of you,” said Destry. “It sure hurts my feelings. Here I come in, askin’ for a little quiet drink, and along comes the Ogdens. Brave men. Big men. Pretty well known. They call me a yaller skunk, as you might say, for why?”

He smiled at the pair, and the pair did not smile back.

“It ain’t possible,” said Destry, continuing in the same subdued manner, “that you come here lookin’ for a whipped pup and found a real dog in his place?”

His smile grew broader, and as he smiled, it appeared that the stature of Destry grew taller, that his chest expanded, his eye grew brighter.

“It ain’t possible,” said he, “that the Ogdens are gunna prove themselves to be a pair of mangy rats that wouldn’t live up to what they said?”

He made a single light step toward them, and they drew back instinctively before him.

“It ain’t possible that they’re a pair of lousy fakers,” said Destry. “It ain’t possible,” he added, in a louder tone, “that they’re walkin’ up and down the town in the attitude of great men and great killers without the heart to back up what they wanta seem to be?”

Fear? In this man?

The white face was lighted; the nostrils flared; the eyes of Destry gleamed with fire, and the audience shrank closer against the wall. If there was sympathy now, it was not for the one man but for the pair.

So action hung suspended until Clarence Ogden yelled, with a voice like that of a screeching old woman: “I’ll take you, you——”

He yanked at his gun as he cried; he was dead in the middle of a curse; for out of the flap of his coat Destry had drawn a revolver, long barreled, gleaming blue; a fire spat from its mouth.

Clarence Ogden made a blundering step forward.

“I’d—” he began in a subdued tone, as though about to make an explanation, then sank slowly to the floor, a lifeless heap.

No one noticed his word at the end. His brother had reached for a weapon at the same instant, and fired. Only by a breath was he too late. By less time than it takes for an eye to wink, the second shot of Destry beat the bullet from his own weapon, and Jud Ogden spun in a circle and fell with a crash against the wall. Still he struggled to regain the weapon which he had let drop, sprawling forward like a frog on dry land.

Destry struck him across the head with the barrel of his Colt and leaned above him. Jud lay still. His great hand was fixed on the floor, seeming to grip at it as though anxious to rip up a board and reveal a secret. But all his powerful body lay helpless and unnerved upon the floor.

Destry stood up above his victim.

He said to the gaping row of witnesses along the wall: “I guess you boys all seen that I couldn’t do anything to stop this here. I was tolerable helpless. They jus’ nacherally insisted on havin’ my scalp, as you might say! Terrible sorry!”

He stepped to the end man of the row, nearest to the door.

“Wendell, Jerry Wendell, you know him?”

“Yes,” gasped the man.

“Where does he live? Tell me that! I’ve heard before, and forgot!”

He was told in a stammer, and started for the door.

When he reached it, he turned again toward the others and surveyed the two motionless forms upon the floor; and he laughed! Never to their death day would they forget the sound of that laughter. Then Destry was gone into the night.

It was the bartender who roused himself before any of the others, and running to the telephone, which stood at the end of the bar, he jerked off the receiver.

“One—nine—eight, quick, for God’s sake!”

No man stirred among the frozen audience.

Then, finally the saloon keeper was crying:

“Is that you, Wendell? This is the Last Chance Saloon. You hear? The Ogden boys both jumped Destry in my place. They’re both dead, I think, or dying! He’s started for your house! Get out of town! Get out of town! He’s been shammin’. It ain’t the old Destry that’s back here with us, but a devil that’s ten times worse! Wendell, get yourself out of town!”





Chapter Nine




There was one habit of industry which Benjamin Dangerfield had clung to all his life, and that was rising at an early hour. To him the entire day was sick unless he saw the night turn gray and the pink of the dawn begin to blossom in the east. It was still not sun-up when he sat at his breakfast table with his daughter.

“I ain’t showed you my new coat,” said he, and rose and turned before her, a piece of ham poised at his lips on the end of a fork. “How does it look?”

“Mighty grand,” said Charlotte. “Down to the knees you look pretty near as fine as a gambler.”

For he had on common blue jeans beneath the coat, and the overall legs were stuffed into heavy riding boots, which never had seen a touch of polish or of other care than a liberal greasing in the winter of the year.

Mr. Dangerfield sat down again.

“How I look below the table don’t matter; what I look above it is the thing that counts.”

He patted his necktie as he spoke and brushed his moustache with his finger tips, sensitively.

“Sure,” said the girl. “Anything that’s comfortable is right, I guess. The dogs under the table wouldn’t be comfortable if they had to go sashayin’ around among broadcloth trousers. Neither would the cats.”

“Suppose,” said the father, “that you wanted to go and set on the corral fence and look at a hoss— would fancy trousers be any good for that?”

“They wouldn’t,” she answered. “They’s just get all full of splinters.”

“Or suppose that you got tired of walkin’ and wanted to rest, would you go and set down on the ground in fancy pants?”

“No, sir, you most certainly wouldn’t.”

“Which you’re laughin’ at me the same,” said he. “Speakin’ of dogs, where’s that brindle hound? I ain’t seen him yet this mornin’.”

“He’s on the foot of your bed, most like,” she answered. “You must of throwed the covers over him when you got up.”

“I reckon I did,” said he. “Mose, go upstairs and see if you can find me that wo’thless Major dog, will you?”

Mose disappeared.

“You look fair to middlin’ miserable,” observed Mr. Dangerfield. “Help yourself to some of that corn bread and pass it to me. It’s cold! I’m gunna kill me a nigger out yonder in the kitchen, one of these days, if you don’t bring ’em to time pretty quick!”

“How can I bring ’em to time?” asked the girl. “I’ve fired that good-for-nothin’ Elijah six times, and you always take him back again!”

“In this family,” said Dangerfield, “niggers ain’t fired, I thank God!”

“Then don’t you raise a ruction because you got indigestion. You can thank God for that, too!”

“It ain’t the men in the kitchen, it’s the women there that makes the trouble. I’ve fired that useless Maria, too,” declared Charlotte, “but bless my soul if she don’t start howlin’ like a dog at the moon. Last time, she set outside my door three hours and give me nightmares with her carryin’s on.”

“You oughta cut down their pay,” said Dangerfield. “I never seen anything like the way you throw money away on them niggers, the wo’thless good-for-nothin’s!”

“Why, how you carry on!” said his daughter. “What diff’ence does it make to them, the money? Didn’t they all keep on workin’ all them years when they didn’t get nothin’ at all for pay?”

“Money is no good for niggers,” said Dangerfield. “Money and votes ain’t no good for them. Pass me some of that fish. They ain’t hardly a thing on this table fit to pass a man’s lips!”

“You’ve got a sight particular,” said she, “since you’ve blundered into a few pennies; I seen the day many a time when we was glad to have just the corn bread on the breakfast table, without no eggs, nor ham, nor fish, nor milk, nor coffee neither.”

“It ain’t true!” said the father. “They never was a time, even when my fortune ebbed its lowest, when I didn’t have coffee on my table.”

“Yeah,” drawled Charlotte. “But it was second and third boilin’ most of the time, and I had to flavor it up with molasses to make it taste like something at all!”

“You gotta disposition,” said her father, “like a handful of tacks. You got the nacheral sweetness of a tangle of barbed wire, Charlie. I ain’t gunna talk to you no more this mornin’.”

“Which I never asked you to,” said she.

“Why don’t you run along and leave me to finish my breakfast, then?”

“Because then I wouldn’t have nothin’ but niggers to bother,” she replied, her chin in her hand.

“Charlie, if you’re gunna be so downhearted about it, why don’t you go and take him back, then?”

“There ain’t anything to take back,” said she. “He’s only a handful of bubbles.”

“Then why for are you sorrowin’ so much?” he asked.

“Because I’ve lost my man,” she said, “and only his ghost come back.”

“You’ll get yourself fixed up with another right now,” said he. “You ain’t never had no trouble collectin’ young nuisances around you. That tribe of young boys has et up a drove of hogs for me, and a herd of cattle, and a trainload of apples and such; they’ve drunk enough of my whiskey to irrigate a thousand acres of corn; and all because you’re close onto half as good lookin’ as your mother used to be, Charlie.”

“Thanks,” said she. “You wanta see me tied up in one of these love-me-little-love-me-long marriages. But the fact is that I ain’t gunna marry, never.”

“If you ain’t gunna get yourself a husband,” said he, “you might get yourself some grammar; which a man would think that you never been to school, to listen at you talk!”

“I only dress up my talk once a week,” said she, “and the rest of the time I’d rather go around comfortable and let the pronunciation take care of itself. What difference does it make to an adjective if it’s used for an adverb? It don’t give the word no pain; it’s easier for me; the niggers understand me better, and everybody’s happy all around.”

“I’ve seen young Chester Bent look kind of odd at some of your language, though,” observed Dangerfield.

“Young Chester Bent,” she mocked, “wouldn’t mind the language of a red Comanche if she had the Dangerfield money.”

“There you go,” said he, “puttin’ low motives into high minds! That boy is all right!”

“Yeah?” she queried. “Who’s that comin’ across the field?”

“I don’t care who it is,” said her father. “What I want to say is that Chester Bent is about the best——”

“It’s somebody tryin’ to catch something or tryin’ to keep from bein’ caught,’ said Charlotte.

Her father leaned to look through a gap in the trees that surrounded the ranchhouse, and he saw across the hill a rider flogging forward a horse so tired that its head bobbed like a cork in rough water.

“He’s lookin’ back,” remarked the girl, “and the fact is that he’s scared pretty bad. He’s comin’ here like a gopher scootin’ for a hole in the ground.”

“Who is it?” asked Dangerfield.

“Some boy from town,” she replied, “because no puncher that’s worth his salt ever rode so slantin’ as that.”

“Which Harrison Destry sure could fork a boss,” remarked her father.

The rider disappeared behind the trees, but almost immediately afterward an excited negress appeared at the kitchen door saying: “They’s a young gent here that wants powerful to see you, Colonel Dangerfield!”

It was the family title for him; it was a title that was spreading abroad, now that he was able to lend money instead of “borrowing” it.

He had no chance to invite the stranger to enter and share the hospitality of his house, for the man that instant appeared, shouldering past the fat cook. He was very dusty. Dust was thick in the wrinkles of his sleeve and on his shoulders. His hat was off, and his hair blown into a rat’s nest; he walked with a stagger of exhaustion; his face was drawn, and his eyes sunken. Yet it was a handsome face; some said he was the finest looking fellow on the entire range, for it was Jerry Wendell.

He fell into a chair, gasping: “Lock the doors, Colonel! He’s not three jumps behind me! He means murder! He’s killed two men already, this night. He’s hounded me across the hills. I’ve gone a complete circle around Wham, and he’s been after me every minute!”

“Lock the doors and the windows, Charlie,” said the Colonel with composure. “Hand me that riot gun, too. I loaded it fresh with buckshot yesterday. How many of them is there, Jerry, and who are they, and what the devil do they mean by chasing you right onto my ranch? There ain’t anything to be afraid of. My niggers will fight for me. How many are there, though? Charlie, give the alarm—”

“There’s only one,” said Jerry Wendell. “Only one, but he’s the devil. I’m not ashamed of running! You know who it is! You must have heard!”

“Nothing!”

“It’s Harry Destry running amok!”

The riot gun crashed to the floor from the hands of the girl.

Jerry Wendell, his eyes rolling wildly at the windows, was crowding himself back into the most obscure corner of the room, as he continued, his voice shaking as violently as his body:

“It was all a sham! You see? Pretending to be afraid! Oh, what fools we were to think that Destry ever could be afraid of anything! He wanted to trap us all—every man that sat on that jury—oh God, how I wish I never had seen that courtroom or listened to that judge! He’ll kill the judge. I hope he kills the judge.”

“Straighten up,” said Dangerfield slowly. “I’ve seen Destry actin’ like a yellow hound dog with his sneakin’ tail between its legs, and you tell me that he’s runnin’ wild?”

“That’s it! He waited till all of us were back in town. Then he trapped the Ogdens in the Last Chance. He—he—killed them both. He killed them both!”

Dangerfield stepped closer to him.

“Murder?” he asked.

“Murder? What else? What else?” screamed Jerry Wendell. “What else is it when a killer like him starts after an ordinary man, like me? Murder, murder, I tell you! And he’ll never stop till he’s got me here and slaughtered me under your eyes in your own house!”





Chapter Ten




Shame, after all, is a human invention; the animals know no touch of it. The elephant feels no shame when it flees from the mouse, and the lion runs from the rhinoceros without a twinge of conscience, for shame was unknown until man created it out of the whole cloth of his desire to be godlike, though the gods themselves were divorced from such small scruples on sunny Olympus. Poor Jerry Wendell in his paroxysm quite forgot the thing that he should be; fifty thousand years of inherited dignity were shaken out of him and he acted as a caveman might have done if a bear were tearing down the barricade at the mouth of the dwelling, and the points of all the spears inside were broken.

Every moment he was starting, his pupils distending as he looked at the doors or the windows. He was oblivious of the scorn of the Dangerfields, which they were covering as well as they could under an air of kind concern.

“Have you got a man at that door?” asked Jerry. “And that?”

“Yes.”

“And that?”

“That leads down into the cellar. He won’t try to come that way.”

“No matter what you do, he’ll be here!” said Wendell, wringing his hands. “I thought I could stop him, too. I had the message from the saloon in time; I had three good men posted; I was telephoning across the way for more help, and then I heard a step on the stairs—a step on the stairs——”

The memory strangled him.

“I ran for the back steps and jumped down ’em. I locked the kitchen door as I went out. I tore across the garden and vaulted the street fence, and as I jumped, I looked back and saw a shadow slide through the kitchen window.

“Then I found a horse on the street. I didn’t stop to ask whose it was. I jumped into the saddle, thanking God, and started for the lights in the middle of the town.

“But he gained on me. I had to cut down a side alley. He was hard after me on a runt of a mustang.

“I got out of the town. Luckily my horse would jump. I put it over fences and got into fields. There was no sight of him behind me then, and at last I decided to circle back into Wham.

“Then I saw him again, coming over a hill—just a glance of the outline of him against the stars—and he’s been on my heels ever since—ever since! He’ll——”

“Sit down to breakfast,” urged Dangerfield. “The corn bread’s still warm. You look—hungry!”

“Breakfast?” said the other. And he laughed hysterically. “Breakfast!” he repeated. “At a time like this! Well, why not?”

He allowed himself to be put into a chair, but his hands shook horribly when he tried to eat. His soul and nerves were in as great disarray as his clothes; his hair stood wildly on end; his necktie was jerked about beneath one ear; in a word, no one would have taken him for that Handsome Jerry who had broken hearts in Wham for many a day.

He spilled half his coffee on his coat and on the tablecloth, but the rest he managed to get down his throat, and his eye became a little less wild. Instantly the buried conscience came to life again. He clutched at his tie and straightened it; he made a pass at his hair, and then noticed for the first time the downward glance of the girl.

He could read in that many a thing which had been scourged out of his frightened brain all during his flight. Ostracism, ridicule would follow him to the ends of his days, unless he actually met Harrison Destry, gun in hand. And that he knew that he dared not do. The cruel cowpunchers and the wags of the town would never be at the end of this tale; they would tell of the mad ride of Jerry Wendell to the end of time!

He said, faltering as he spoke: “I would have stopped and faced him, but what chance would I have against that jailbird? And why should a law-abiding man dirty his hands with such a fellow? It’s the sheriff’s duty to take charge of such people. Ought to keep an eye on them. I said at the time, I always said that Destry was only shamming. He drew us all back, and then he clicked the trap! He clicked the trap! And——”

Here he was interrupted by another voice inside the room, saying: “Hullo, Colonel! Morning, Charlie. I was afraid that I’d be too late for breakfast, but I’m glad to see that they’s still some steam comin’ out of that corn bread. Can I sit down with you-all?”

It was Destry, coming towards them with a smile from the cellar door, which he had opened and shut behind him silently before saying a word.

The three reacted very differently to this entrance. The Colonel caught up the sawed-off shotgun that had been brought to him; his daughter started up from her chair, and then instantly steadied herself; while Jerry Wendell was frozen in his place. He could not even face about toward the danger behind him, but remained fixed shivering violently.

Charlotte Dangerfield was the first to find her voice, saying with a good deal of calmness:

“Sit down over here. I’ll get in some eggs and some hot ham. I guess the coffee’s still warm enough.”

“Thanks,” said Destry. “Don’t you go puttin’ yourself out. I been trying to get up with Jerry, here, and give him a watch that he dropped along the road. But he’s been schoolin’ his hoss across country so mighty fast that I couldn’t catch him. How are you, Jerry?”

He laid the watch on the table in front of the other, and Jerry accepted it with a stir of lips which brought forth no sound. Destry sat down opposite him. The host and hostess were likewise in place in a cold silence, which Destry presently filled by saying: “You remember how the water used to flood in the cellar when a rainy winter come along? I had an idea about fixin’ of that, Colonel, so I stopped in and looked at the cellar on the way in, but they wasn’t quite enough light this early in the day to see anything. You didn’t mind me comin’ up from the cellar door that way?”

Dangerfield swore softly, beneath his breath.

“You’re gunna come to a bad end, boy,” he said. “You leave your talkin’ be, and eat your breakfast. Why you been gallivantin’ around the hills all night?”

“Why,” said Destry, “you take a mighty fine gold watch like that, and I guess a man wouldn’t like to think that he’d lost it, but the harder I tried to catch up with Jerry, there, the harder he rode away from me. He must of thought that he was havin’ a race with big stakes up, but I’m mighty sure that I didn’t have money on my mind!”

His smile faded a little as he spoke, and there was a glint in his eyes which turned Jerry Wendell from the crimson of sudden shame, to blanched white.

“What you-all been doin’ this while I been away?” Destry asked politely of Wendell.

“Me?” said Wendell. “Why, nothing much. The same things.”

“Ah?” said Destry. “You alluz found Wham a pretty interestin’ sort of a town. I was kind of surprised when I heard that you was gunna leave it.”

“Leave it?” asked Wendell, blank with surprise. “Leave Wham? What would I do, leaving Wham?”

“That’s what I said to myself, when I heard it,” said Destry gently. “Here you are, with a house, and a business, and money in the mines and in lumber. Jiminy! How could Jerry leave Wham where everybody knows him, and he knows everybody? But him that told me said he reckoned you got tired of a lot of things in Wham, like all the dances that you gotta go to, and the dust from the street in summer blowin’ plumb into your office, and all such!”

Wendell, confident that something was hidden behind this casual conversation, said not a word, but moistened his purplish lips and never budged his eyes from the terrible right hand of the gunman.

“Him that told me,” went on Destry, “said that you’d got so you preferred a quiet life. Here where everybody knows you, you’re always bein’ called upon for something or other. They work you even on juries, he says, and that’s enough to make any man hot.”

Wendell shrank lower in his chair, but Destry, buttering a large slice of corn bread, did not appear to see. He put away at least half the slice and talked with some difficulty