Free Range Lanning/Chapter 38

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CHAPTER XXXVIII

ANDY PAYS HIMSELF

THERE was a rush of footsteps behind and around him, a jangle of voices, and there were the four huddled over Hal Dozier. Andrew had risen and stepped back, silently thanking God that it was not a death. He heard the voices of the four like voices in a dream.

"A clean one," "A nice bit of work." "Dozier, are you thinkin' of Allister, curse you?" "D'you remember Hugh Wiley now?" "D'you maybe recollect my pal, 'Bud' Swain? Think about 'em, Dozier, while you're dyin'!"

The calm eyes traveled without hurry from face to face. And curiosity came to Andrew, a cool, deadly curiosity. He stepped among the gang.

"He's not fatally hurt," he said. "What d'you intend to do with him?"

"You're all wrong, chief," said Larry la Roche, and he grinned at Andrew. His submission now was perfect and complete. There was even a sort of worship in the bright eyes that looked at the new leader. "I hate to say it, but right as you mos' gener'ly are, you're wrong this time. He's done. He don't need no more lookin' to. Leave him be for an hour and he'll be finished. Also, that'll give him a chance to think. He needs a chance. Old Curley had a chance to think—took him four hours to kick out after Dozier plugged him. I heard what he had to say, and it wasn't pretty. I think maybe it'd be sort of interestin' to hear what Dozier has to say. Long about the time he gets thirsty. Eh, boys?"

There was a snarl from the other three as they looked down at the wounded man, who did not speak a word. And Andrew knew that he was indeed alone with that crew, for the man whom he had just shot down was nearer to him than the members of Allister's gang.

He spoke suddenly: "Jeff, take his head. Clune, take his feet. Carry him up to the cabin."

They only stared at him.

"Look here, captain," said Scottie in a soft voice, just a trifle thickened by whisky, "are you thinking of taking him up there and tying him up so that he'll live through this?"

And again the other three snarled softly.

"You murdering hounds!" said Andrew.

That was all. They looked at each other; they looked at the new leader. And the sight of his white face and his nervous right hand was too much for them. They took up the marshal and carried him to the cabin, his pony following like a dog behind. They brought him, without asking for directions, straight into the little rear room—Andrew's room. It was a sufficiently intelligible way of saying that this was his work and none of theirs. And not a hand lifted to aid him while he went to work with the bandaging. He knew little about such work, but the marshal himself, in a rather faint, but perfectly steady voice, gave directions. And in the painful cleaning of the wound he did not murmur once. Neither did he express the slightest gratitude. He kept following Andrew about the room with coldly curious eyes.

In the next room the voices of the four were a steady, rumbling murmur. Now and then the glance of the marshal wandered to the door. When the bandaging was completed, he asked, "Do you know you've started a job you can't finish?"

"Ah?" murmured Andrew.

"Those four," said the marshal, "won't let you." Andrew smiled.

"Are you easier now?"

"Don't bother about me. I'll tell you what—I wish you'd get me a drink of water."

"I'll send one of the boys."

"No, get it yourself. I want to say something to them while you're gone."

Andrew had risen up from his knees. He now studied the face of the marshal steadily. "You want 'em to come in here and drill you, eh?" he said. "Why?"

The other nodded.

"I've given up hope once; I've gone through the hardest part of dying; let them finish the job now,"

"To-morrow you'll feel differently."

"Will I? Not I!"

Andrew stared at him.

"What have I got to live for?" asked the marshal. All at once his eyes went yellow with hate. "I go back to the desert—I go to Martindale—people I pass on the street whisper as I go by. They'll tell over and over how I went down. And a kid did it—a raw kid!"

He closed his eyes in silent agony. Then he looked up more keenly than before. "How'll they know that it was luck—that my gun stuck in the holster—and that you jumped me on the draw?"

"You lie," said Andrew calmly. "Your gun came out clean as a whistle, and I waited for you, Dozier. You know I did."

The pain in the marshal's face became a ghastly thing to see. At last he could speak.

"A sneak always lies well," he replied, as he sneered at Lanning.

He went on, while Andrew sat shivering with passion. "And any fool can get in a lucky shot now and then. But, when I'm out of this, I'll hunt you down again and I'll plant you full of lead, my son! You can lay to that!" The hard breathing of Andrew gradually subsided.

"It won't work, Dozier," he said quietly. "You can't make me mad enough to shoot a man who's down. You can't make me murder you."

The marshal closed his eyes again, while his breathing was beginning to grow fainter, and there was an unpleasant rattle in the hollow of his throat. Andrew went into the next room.

"Scottie," he said, "will you let me have your flask?" Scottie smiled at him.

"Not for what you'd use it for, Lanning," he said.

Andrew picked up a cup and shoved it across the table.

"Pour a little whisky in that, please," he said.

Scottie looked up and studied him. Then he tipped his flask and poured a thin stream into the cup until it was half full. Andrew went back toward the door, the cup in his left hand. He backed up, keeping his face steadily toward the four, and kicked open the door behind him.

War, he knew, had been declared. Then he raised the marshal's head and gave him a sip of the fiery stuff. It cleared the face of the wounded man.

Then Andrew rolled down his blankets before the door, braced a small stick against it, so that the sound would be sure to waken him if any one tried to enter, and laid down for the night. He was almost asleep when the marshal said: "Are you really going to stick it out, Andy?"

"Yes."

"In spite of what I've said?"

"I suppose you meant it all? You'd hunt me down and kill me like a dog after you get back on your feet?"

"Like a dog."

"If you think it over and see things clearly," replied Andrew, "you'll see that what I've done I've done for my own sake, and not for yours."

"How do you make that out—with four men in the next room ready to stick a knife in your back—if I know anything about 'em?"

"I'll tell you: I owe nothing to you, but a man owes a lot to himself, and I'm going to pay myself in full."