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   Chapter 41 SALLY WEEPS

Trailin'! By Max Brand Characters: 15078

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


All that day, in a silence broken only by murmurs and side glances, Anthony and Sally Fortune moved about the old house from window to window, and from crack to crack, keeping a steady eye on the commanding rocks above. In one of those murmurs they made their resolution. When night came they would rush the rocks, storm them from the front, and take their chance with what might follow. But the night promised to give but little shelter to their stalking.

For in the late afternoon a broad moon was already climbing up from the east; the sky was cloudless; there was a threat of keen, revealing moonshine for the night. Only desperation could make them attempt to storm the rock, but by the next morning, at the latest, reinforcements were sure to come, and then their fight would be utterly hopeless.

So when the light of the sun mellowed, grew yellow and slant, and the shadows sloped from tree to tree, the two became more silent still, drawn and pale of face, waiting. Anthony at a window, Sally at a crack which made an excellent loophole, they remained moveless.

It was she who noted a niche which might serve as a loophole for one of the posse, and she fired at it, aiming low. The clang of the bullet against rock echoes clearly back to her, like the soft chime of a sheep bell from the peaceful distance. Then, as if in answer to her shot, around the edge of the rocks appeared a moving rag of white which grew into William Drew, bearing above his head the white sign of the truce.

In her astonishment she looked to Bard. He was quivering all over like a hound held on a tight leash, with the game in sight, hungry to be slipped upon it. The edge of his tongue passed across his colourless lips. He was like a man who long has ridden the white-hot desert and is now about to drink. There was the same wild gleam in his eyes; his hand shook with nervous eagerness as he shifted and balanced his revolver. Listening, in her awe, she heard the sound of his increasing panting; a sound like the breath of a running man approaching her swiftly.

She slipped to his side.

"Anthony!"

He did not answer; his gun steadied; the barrel began to incline down; his left eye was squinting. She dropped to her knees and seized his wrist.

"Anthony, what are you going to do?"

"It's Drew!" he whispered, and she did not recognize his voice. "It's the grey man I've waited for. It's he!"

In such a tone a dying man might speak of his hope of heaven-seeing it unroll before him in his delirium.

"But he's carrying the flag of truce, Anthony. You see that?"

"I see nothing except his face. It blots out the rest of the world. I'll plant my shot there-there in the middle of those lips."

"Anthony, that's William Drew, the squarest man on the range."

"Sally Fortune, that's William Drew, who murdered my father!"

"Ah!" she said, with sharply indrawn breath. "It isn't possible!"

"I saw the shot fired."

"But not this way, Anthony; not from behind a wall!"

His emotion changed him, made him almost a stranger to her. He was shaking and palsied with eagerness.

"I could do nothing as bad as the crime he has done. For twenty years the dread of his coming haunted my father, broke him, aged him prematurely. Every day he went to a secret room and cared for his revolver-this gun here in my hand, you see? He and I-we were more than father and son-we were pals, Sally. And then this devil called my father out into the night and shot him. Damn him!"

"You've got to listen to me, Anthony-"

"I'll listen to nothing, for there he is and-"

She said with a sharp, rising ring in her voice: "If you shoot at him while he carries that white flag I'll-I'll send a bullet through your head-that's straight! We got only one law in the mountains, and that's the law of honour. If you bust that, I'm done with you, Anthony."

"Take my gun-take it quickly, Sally, I can't trust myself; looking at him, I can see the place where the bullet should strike home."

He forced the butt of his revolver into her hands, rose, and stepped to the door, his hands clasped behind his back.

"Tell me what he does."

"He's comin' straight toward us as if he didn't fear nothin'-grey

William Drew! He's not packin' a gun; he trusts us."

"The better way," answered Bard. "Bare hands-the better way!"

"He has killed men with those bare hands of his. I can see 'em clear-great, blunt-fingered hands, Anthony. He's coming around the side of the house. I'll go into the front room."

She ran past Anthony and paused in the habitable room, spying through a crack in the wall. And Anthony stood with his eyes tightly closed, his head bowed. The image of the leashed hound came more vividly to her when she glanced back at him.

"He's walkin' right up the path. There he stops."

"Where?"

"Right beside the old grave."

"Anthony!" called a deep voice. "Anthony, come out to me!"

He started, and then groaned and stopped himself.

"Is the sign of the truce still over his head, Sally?"

"Yes."

"I daren't go out to him-I'd jump at his throat."

She came beside him.

"It means something besides war. I can see it in his face. Pain-sorrow,

Anthony, but not a wish for fightin'."

From the left side of his cartridge belt a stout-handled, long-bladed hunting-knife was suspended. He disengaged the belt and tossed it to the floor. Still he paused.

"If I go, I'll break the truce, Sally."

"You won't; you're a man, Anthony; and remember that you're on the range, and the law of the range holds you."

"Anthony!" called the deep voice without.

He shuddered violently.

"What is it?"

"It sounds-like the voice of my father calling me! I must go!"

She clung to him.

"Not till you're calmer."

"My father died in my arms," he answered; "let me go."

He thrust her aside and strode out through the door.

On the farther side of the grave stood Drew, his grey head bare, and looking past him Anthony saw the snow-clad tops of the Little Brother, grey also in the light of the evening. And the trees whose branches interwove above the grave-grey also with moss. The trees, the mountain, the old headstone, the man-they blended into a whole.

"Anthony!" said the man, "I have waited half my life for this!"

"And I," said Bard, "have waited a few weeks that seem longer than all my life, for this!"

His own eager panting stopped him, but he stumbled on: "I have you here in reach at last, Drew, and I'm going to tear your heart out, as you tore the heart out of John Bard."

"Ah, Anthony," said the other, "my heart was torn out when you were born; it was torn out and buried here."

And to the wild eyes of Anthony it seemed as if the great body of Drew, so feared through the mountain-desert, was now enveloped with weakness, humbled by some incredible burden.

After that a mist obscured his eyes; he could not see more than an outline of the great shape before him; his throat contracted as if a hand gripped him there, and an odd tingling came at the tips of his fingers. He moved forward.

"It is more than I dreamed," he said hoarsely, as his foot planted firmly on the top of the grave, and he poised himself an instant before flinging himself on the grey giant. "It is more than I dreamed for-to face you-alone!"

And a solemn, even voice answered him, "We are not alone."

"Not alone, but the others are too far off to stop me."

"Not alone, Anthony, for your mother is here between us."

Like a fog under a wind, the mist swept

from the eyes of Anthony; he looked out and saw that the face of the grey man was infinitely sad, and there was a hungry tenderness that reached out, enveloped, weakened him. He glanced down, saw that his heel was on the mount of the grave; saw again the headstone and the time-blurred inscription: "Here sleeps Joan, the wife of William Drew. She chose this place for rest."

A mortal weakness and trembling seized him. The wind puffed against his face, and he went staggering back, his hand caught up to his eyes.

He closed his mind against the words which he had heard.

But the deep organ voice spoke again: "Oh, boy, your mother!"

In the stupor which came over him he saw two faces: the stern eyes of John Bard, and the dark, mocking beauty of the face which had looked down to him in John Bard's secret room. He lowered his hand from his eyes; he stared at William Drew, and it seemed to him that it was John Bard he looked upon. Their names differed, but long pain had touched them with a common greyness. And it seemed to Anthony that it was only a moment ago that the key turned in the lock of John Bard's secret room, the hidden chamber which he kept like Bluebeard for himself, where he went like Bluebeard to see his past; only an instant before he had turned the key in that lock, the door opened, and this was the scene which met his eyes-the grave, the blurred tombstone, and the stern figure beyond.

"Joan," he repeated; "your wife-my mother?"

He heard a sob, not of pain, but of happiness, and knew that the blue eyes of Sally Fortune looked out to him from the doorway of the house.

The low voice, hurried now, broke in on him.

"When I married Joan, John Bard fled from the range; he could not bear to look on our happiness. You see, I had won her by chance, and he hated me for it. If you had ever seen her, Anthony, you would understand. I crossed the mountains and came here and built this house, for your mother was like a wild bird, Anthony, and I did not dare to let men near her; then a son was born, and she died giving him birth. Afterward I lived on here, close to the place which she had chosen herself for rest. And I was happy because the boy grew every day into a more perfect picture of his dead mother.

"One day when he was almost three I rode off through the hills, and when I came back the boy was gone. I rode with a posse everywhere, hunting him; aye, Anthony, the trail which I started then I have kept at ever since, year after year, and here it ends where it began-at the grave of Joan!

"Finally I came on news that a man much like John Bard in appearance had been seen near my house that day. Then I knew it was Bard in fact. He had seen the image of the woman we both loved in the boy. He was all that was left of her on earth. After these years I can read his heart clearly; I know why he took the boy.

"Then I left this place. I could not bear the sight of the grave; for she slept in peace, and I lived in hell waiting for the return of my son.

"At last I went east; I was at Madison Square Garden and saw you ride. It was the face of Joan that looked back at me; and I knew that I was close to the end of the trail.

"The next night I called out John Bard. He had been in hell all those years, like me, for he had waited for my coming. He begged me to let him have you; said you loved him as a father; I only laughed. So we fought, and he fell; and then I saw you running over the lawn toward us.

"I remembered Joan, her pride and her fierceness, and I knew that if I waited a son would kill his father that night. So I turned and fled through the trees. Anthony, do you believe me; do you forgive me?"

The memory of the clumsy, hungered tenderness of John Bard swept about

Anthony.

He cried: "How can I believe? My father has killed my father; what is left?"

The solemn voice replied: "Anthony, my son!"

He saw the great, blunt-fingered hands which had killed men, which were feared through the length and breadth of the mountain-desert, stretched out to him.

"Anthony Drew!" said the voice.

His hand went out, feebly, by slow degrees, and was caught in a mighty double clasp. Warmth flowed through him from that grasp, and a great emotion troubled him, and a voice from deep to deep echoed within him-the call of blood to blood. He knew the truth, for the hate burned out in him and left only an infinite sadness.

He said: "What of the man who loved me? Whom I love?"

"I have done penance for that death," answered William Drew, "and I shall do more penance before I die. For I am only your father in name, but he is the father in your thoughts and in your love. Is it true?"

"It is true," said Anthony.

And the other, bitterly: "In his life he was as strong as I; in his death he is still stronger. It is his victory; his shadow falls between us."

But Anthony answered: "Let us go together and bring his body and bury it at the left side of-my mother."

"Lad, it is the one thing we can do together, and after that?"

A plaintive sound came to the ear of Anthony, and he looked down to see Sally Fortune weeping at the grave of Joan. Better than both the men she understood, perhaps. In the deep tenderness which swelled through him he caught a sense of the drift of life through many generations of the past and projecting into the future, men and women strong and fair and each with a high and passionate love.

The men died and the women changed, but the love persisted with the will to live. It came from a thousand springs, but it rolled in one river to one sea. The past stood there in the form of William Drew; he and Sally made the present, and through his love of her sprang the hope of the future.

It was all very clear to him. The love of Bard and Drew for Joan Piotto had not died, but passed through the flame and the torment of the three ruined lives and returned again with gathering power as the force which swept him and Sally Fortune out into that river and toward that far-off sea. The last mist was brushed from his eyes. He saw with a piercing vision the world, himself, life. He looked to William Drew and saw that he was gazing on an old and broken man.

He said to the old man: "Father, she is wiser than us both."

And he pointed to Sally Fortune, still weeping softly on the grave of

Joan.

But William Drew had no eye for her; he was fallen into a deep muse over the blurred inscription on the headstone. He did not even raise his head when Anthony touched Sally Fortune on the shoulder. She rose, and they stole back together toward the house. There, as they stood close together, Sally murmured: "It is cruel to leave him alone. He needs us now, close to him."

His hand wandered slowly across her hair, and he said: "Sally, how close can we ever be to him?"

"We can only watch and wait and try to understand," murmured Sally

Fortune.

They were so close to the door of the ruined house, now, that a taint of burnt powder crept out to them, a small, keen odour, and with a sudden desire to protect her, he drew her close to him. There was no tensing of her body when his arm went around her and he knew with a rush of tenderness how completely, how perfectly she accepted him. Over the hand which held her he felt soft fingers settle to keep it in its place, and when he looked down he found that her face was raised, and the eyes which brooded on him were misty bright, like the eyes of a child when joy overflows in it, but awe keeps it quiet.

THE END

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