And Dan Barry? Twice men had stood before him, armed, and twice he had failed to kill. Wonder rose in him; wonder and a great fear. Was he losing the desert, and was the desert losing him? Were the chains of humanity falling about him to drag him down to a tamed and sordid life? A sudden hatred for all men, Mac Strann, Daniels, Kate, and even poor Joe Cumberland, welled hot in the breast of Whistling Dan. The strength of men could not conquer him; but how could their very weakness disarm him? He leaped again on the back of Satan, and rode furiously back into the storm.
THE FALLING OF NIGHT
It had been hard to gauge the falling of night on this day, and even the careful eyes of the watchers on the Cumberland Ranch could not tell when the greyness of the sky was being darkened by the coming of the evening. All day there had been swift alterations of light and shadow, comparatively speaking, as the clouds grew thin or thick before the wind. But at length, indubitably, the night was there. Little by little the sky was overcast, and even the lines of the falling rain were no longer visible. Before the gloom of the darkness had fully settled over the earth, moreover, there came a change in the wind, and the watchers at the rain-beaten windows of the ranch-house saw the clouds roll apart and split into fragments that were driven from the face of the sky; and from the clean washed face of heaven the stars shone down bright and serene. And still Dan Barry had not come.
After the tumult of that long day the sudden silence of that windless night had more ill omen in it than thunder and lightning. For there is something watching and waiting in silence. In the living room the three did not speak.
Now that the storm was gone they had allowed the fire to fall away until the hearth showed merely fragmentary dances of flame and a wide bed of dull red coals growing dimmer from moment to moment. Wung Lu had brought in a lamp—a large lamp with a circular wick that cast a bright, white light—but Kate had turned down the wick, and now it made only a brief circle of yellow in one corner of the room. The main illumination came from the fireplace and struck on the faces of Kate and Buck Daniels, while Joe Cumberland, on the couch at the end of the room, was only plainly visible when there was an extraordinarily high leap of the dying flames; but usually his face was merely a glimmering hint in the darkness—his face and the long hands which were folded upon his breast. Often when the flames leapt there was a crackling of the embers and the last of the log, and then the two nearer the fire would start and flash a glance, of one accord, towards the prostrate figure on the couch.
That silence had lasted so long that when at length the dull voice of Joe Cumberland broke in, there was a ring of a most prophetic solemnity about it.