Then he said: “Seems like if Jerry Strann dies I owe somebody something. Who? Mac Strann, I reckon. I sort of got to stay and give him his chance.”
“I hope to God,” burst out Daniels, smashing his hands together, “that Mac Strann beats you to a pulp! That’s what I hope!”
The eyes of Dan Barry widened.
“Why d’you hope that?” he asked gently.
It brought Daniels again to speechlessness.
“Is it possible?” he growled to himself. “Are you a human bein’ and yet you think more of your hoss and your damned wolf-dog than you do of the life of a man? Dan, I’m askin’ you straight, is that a square thing to do?”
The fragile hands went out to him, palm up.
“Don’t you see, Buck? I don’t want to be this way. I jest can’t help it!”
“Then the Lord help poor old Joe Cumberland—him that took you in out of the desert—him that raised you from the time you was a kid—him that nursed you like you was his own baby—him that loved you more’n he loved Kate—him that’s lyin’ back there now with fire in his eyes, waitin’, waitin’, waitin’, for you to come back. Dan, if you was to see him you’d go down on your knees and ask him to forgive you!”
“I s’pose I would,” murmured Barry thoughtfully.
“Dan, you’re goin’ to go with me!”
“I don’t somehow think its my time for movin’, Buck.”
“Is that all you got to say to me?”
“I guess maybe it is, Buck.”
“If I was to beg you to come for old-time’s sake, and all we been through together, you and me, wouldn’t it make no difference to you?”
The large, gentle eyes focused far beyond Buck Daniels, somewhere on a point in the pale, hazy blue of the spring sky.
“I’m kind of tired of talkin’, Buck,” he said at length.
And Buck Daniels rose and walked slowly away, with his head fallen. Behind him the stallion neighed suddenly and loud, and it was so much like a blast of defiant triumph that Buck whirled and shook his clenched fist at Satan.
MUSIC FOR OLD NICK
A thought is like a spur. It lifts the head of a man as the spur makes the horse toss his; and it quickens the pace with a subtle addition of strength. Such a thought came to Buck Daniels as he stepped again on the veranda of the hotel. It could not have been an altogether pleasant inspiration, for it drained the colour from his face and made him clench his broad hands; and next he loosened his revolver in its holster. A thought of fighting—of some desperate chance he had once taken, perhaps.
But also it was a thought which needed considerable thought. He slumped into a wicker chair at one end of the porch and sat with his chin resting on his chest while he smoked cigarette after cigarette and tossed the butts idly over the rail. More than once he pressed his hand against his lips as though there were sudden pains there. The colour did not come back to his face; it continued as bloodless as ever, but there was a ponderable light in his eyes, and his jaws became more and more firmly set. It was not a pleasant face to watch at that moment, for he seemed to sit with a growing resolve.