“You see the result of this? Daniel Barry is a man to whom the desert is necessary, because he was made for the desert. He is lonely among crowds—you have said it yourself—but he is at home in a mountain wilderness with a horse and a dog.”
“Doc, you talk well,” broke in Joe Cumberland, “but if he ain’t human, why do humans like him so much? Why does he mean so much to me—to Kate?”
“Simply because he is different. You get from him what you could get from no other man in the world, perhaps, and you fail to see that the fellow is really more akin to his wolf-dog than he is to a man.”
“Supposin’ I said you was right,” murmured the old man, frowning, “how d’you explain why he likes other folks. According to you, the desert and the mountains and animals is what he wants. Then how is it that he took so much care of me when he come back this time? How is it that he likes Kate, enough to give up a trail of blood to stay here with her?”
“It is easy to explain the girl’s attraction,” said the doctor. “All animals wish to mate, Mr. Cumberland, and an age old instinct is now working out in Dan Barry. But while you and Kate may please him, you are not necessary to him. He left you once before and he was quite happy in his desert. And I tell you, Mr. Cumberland, that he will leave you again. You cannot tame the untameable. It is not habit that rules this man. It is instinct a million years old. The call which he will hear is the call of the wilderness, and to answer it he will leave father and wife and children and ride out with his horse and his dog!”
The old man lay quite motionless, staring at the ceiling.
“I don’t want to believe you,” he said slowly, “but before God I think you’re right. Oh, lad, why was I bound up in a tangle like this one? And Kate—what will she do?”
The doctor was quivering with excitement.
“Let the man stay with her. In time she will come to see the brute nature of Daniel Barry. That will be the end of him with her.”
“Brute. Doc. They ain’t nobody as gentle as Dan!”
“Till he tastes blood, a lion can be raised like a house-dog,” answered the doctor.
“Then she mustn’t marry him? Ay, I’ve felt it—jest what you’ve put in words. It’s livin’ death for Kate if she marries him! She’s kept him here to-day. To-morrow something may cross him, and the minute he feels the pull of it, he’ll be off on the trail—the blow of a man, the hollering out of the wild geese—God knows what it’ll take to start him wild again and forget us all—jest the way a child forgets its parents!”
A voice broke in upon them, calling far away: “Dan! Dan Barry!”
THE ACID TEST