In the ranch house old Joseph Cumberland frowned on the floor as heheard his daughter say: "It isn't right, Dad. I never noticed itbefore I went away to school, but since I've come back I begin to feelthat it's shameful to treat Dan in this way."
Her eyes brightened and she shook her golden head for emphasis. Herfather watched her with a faintly quizzical smile and made no reply.The dignity of ownership of many thousand cattle kept the oldrancher's shoulders square, and there was an antique gentility abouthis thin face with its white goatee. He was more like a quaintfigure of the seventeenth century than a successful cattleman of thetwentieth.
"It _is_ shameful, Dad," she went on, encouraged by his silence, "oryou could tell me some reason."
"Some reason for not letting him have a gun?" asked the rancher, stillwith the quizzical smile.
"Yes, yes!" she said eagerly, "and some reason for treating him in athousand ways as if he were an irresponsible boy."
"Why, Kate, gal, you have tears in your eyes!"
He drew her onto a stool beside him, holding both her hands, andsearched her face with eyes as blue and almost as bright as her own."How does it come that you're so interested in Dan?"
"Why, Dad, dear," and she avoided his gaze, "I've always beeninterested in him. Haven't we grown up together?"
"Part ways you have."
"And haven't we been always just like brother and sister?"
"You're talkin' a little more'n sisterly, Kate."
"What do you mean?"
"Ay, ay! What do I mean! And now you're all red. Kate, I got an ideait's nigh onto time to let Dan start on his way."
He could not have found a surer way to drive the crimson from her faceand turn it white to the lips.
"You wouldn't send Dan away!"
Before he could answer she dropped her head against his shoulderand broke into great sobs. He stroked her head with his calloused,sunburned hand and his eyes filmed with a distant gaze.
"I might have knowed it!" he said over and over again; "I might haveknowed it! Hush, my silly gal."
Her sobbing ceased with magic suddenness.
"Then you won't send him away?"
"Listen to me while I talk to you straight," said Joe Cumberland,"and accordin' to the way you take it will depend whether Dan goes orstays. Will you listen?"
"Dear Dad, with all my heart!"
"Humph!" he grunted, "that's just what I don't want. This what I'mgoin' to tell you is a queer thing--a mighty lot like a fairy tale,maybe. I've kept it back from you years an' years thinkin' you'd findout the truth about Dan for yourself. But bein' so close to him hasmade you sort of blind, maybe! No man will criticize his own hoss."
"Go on, tell me what you mean. I won't interrupt."
He was silent for a moment, frowning to gather his thoughts.
"Have you ever seen a mule, Kate?"
"Maybe you've noticed that a mule is just as strong as a horse--"
"--but their muscles ain't a third as big?"
"Yes, but what on earth--"
"Well, Kate, Dan is built light an' yet he's stronger than the biggestmen around here."
"Are you going to send him away simply because he's strong?"
"It doesn't show nothin'," said the old man gently, "savin' that he'sdifferent from the regular run of men--an' I've seen a considerablepile of men, honey. There's other funny things about Dan maybe youain't noticed. Take the way he has with hosses an' other animals. Thewildest man-killin', spur-hatin' bronchos don't put up no fight whenthem long legs of Dan settle round 'em."
"Because they know fighting won't help them!"
"Maybe so, maybe so," he said quietly, "but it's kind of queer, Kate,that after most a hundred men on the best hosses in these parts hadridden in relays after Satan an' couldn't lay a rope on him, Dan couldjest go out on foot with a halter an' come back in ten days leadin'the wildest devil of a mustang that ever hated men."
"It was a glorious thing to do!" she said.
Old Cumberland sighed and then shook his head.
"It shows more'n that, honey. There ain't any man but Dan that can sitthe saddle on Satan. If Dan should die, Satan wouldn't be no more useto other men than a piece of haltered lightnin'. An' then tell me howDan got hold of that wolf, Black Bart, as he calls him."
"It isn't a wolf, Dad," said Kate, "it's a dog. Dan says so himself."
"Sure he says so," answered her father, "but there was a lone wolfprowlin' round these parts for a considerable time an' raisin' Cainwith the calves an' the colts. An' Black Bart comes pretty close to adescription of the lone wolf. Maybe you remember Dan found his 'dog'lyin' in a gully with a bullet through his shoulder. If he was a doghow'd he come to be shot--"
"Some brute of a sheep herder may have done it. What could it prove?"
"It only proves that Dan is queer--powerful queer! Satan an' BlackBart are still as wild as they ever was, except that they got onemaster. An' they ain't got a thing to do with other people. BlackBart'd tear the heart out of a man that so much as patted his head."
"Why," she cried, "he'll let me do anything with him!"
"Humph!" said Cumberland, a little baffled; "maybe that's because Danis kind of fond of you, gal, an' he has sort of introduced you tohis pets, damn 'em! That's just the pint! How is he able to make hisman-killers act sweet with you an' play the devil with everybodyelse."
"It wasn't Dan at all!" she said stoutly, "and he _isn't_ queer. Satanand Black Bart let me do what I want with them because they know Ilove them for their beauty and their strength."
"Let it go at that," growled her father. "Kate, you're jest like yourmother when it comes to arguin'. If you wasn't my little gal I'd sayyou was plain pig-headed. But look here, ain't you ever felt that Danis what I call him--different? Ain't you ever seen him get mad--jestfor a minute--an' watched them big brown eyes of his get all packedfull of yellow light that chases a chill up and down your back like awrigglin' snake?"
She considered this statement in a little silence.
"I saw him kill a rattler once," she said in a low voice. "Dan caughthim behind the head after he had struck. He did it with his bare hand!I almost fainted. When I looked again he had cut off the head of thesnake. It was--it was terrible!"
She turned to her father and caught him firmly by the shoulders.
"Look me straight in the eye, Dad, and tell me just what you mean."
"Why, Kate," said the wise old man, "you're beginnin' to see foryourself what I'm drivin' at! Haven't you got somethin' else right onthe tip of your tongue?"
She covered her face.
"Take your time, Kate," said Cumberland softly.
"'Bart,' called Dan," she went on, "and there was such anger in hisface that I think I was more afraid of him than of the big dog.
"Bart turned to him with a snarl and bared his teeth. When Dan sawthat his face turned--I don't know how to say it!"
She stopped a moment and her hands tightened.
"Back in his throat there came a sound that was almost like the snarlof Black Bart. The wolf-dog watched him with a terror that was uncannyto see, the hair around his neck fairly on end, his teeth still bared,and his growl horrible.
"'Dan!' I called, 'don't go near
"I might as well have called out to a whirlwind. He leaped. Black Bartsprang to meet him with eyes green with fear. I heard the loud clickof his teeth as he snapped--and missed. Dan swerved to one side andcaught Black Bart by the throat and drove him into the dust, fallingwith him.
"I couldn't move. I was weak with horror. It wasn't a struggle betweena man and a beast. It was like a fight between a panther and a wolf.Black Bart was fighting hard but fighting hopelessly. Those hands weresettling tighter on his throat. His big red tongue lolled out; hisstruggles almost ceased. Then Dan happened to glance at me. What hesaw in my face sobered him. He got up, lifting the dog with him, andflung away the lifeless weight of Bart. He began to brush the dustfrom his clothes, looking down as if he were ashamed. He asked me ifthe dog had hurt me when he snapped. I could not speak for a moment.Then came the most horrible part. Black Bart, who must have beennearly killed, dragged himself to Dan on his belly, choking andwhining, and licked the boots of his master!"
"Then you _do_ know what I mean when I say Dan is--different?"
She hesitated and blinked, as if she were shutting her eyes on a fact."I _don't_ know. I know that he's gentle and kind and loves you morethan you love him." Her voice broke a little. "Oh, Dad, you forget thetime he sat up with you for five days and nights when you got sick outin the hills, and how he barely managed to get you back to the housealive!"
The old man frowned to conceal how greatly he was moved.
"I haven't forgot nothin', Kate," he said, "an' everything is for hisown good. Do you know what I've been tryin' to do all these years?"
"I've been tryin' to hide him from himself! Kate, do you remember howI found him?"
"I was too little to know. I've heard you tell a little about it. Hewas lost on the range. You found him twenty miles south of the house."
"Lost on the range?" repeated her father softly. "I don't think hecould ever have been lost. To a hoss the corral is a home. To us ourranch is a home. To Dan Barry the whole mountain-desert is a home!This is how I found him. It was in the spring of the year when thewild geese was honkin' as they flew north. I was ridin' down a gulleyabout sunset and wishin' that I was closer to the ranch when I heard afunny, wild sort of whistlin' that didn't have any tune to it thatI recognized. It gave me a queer feelin'. It made me think of fairystories--an' things like that! Pretty soon I seen a figure on thecrest of the hill. There was a triangle of geese away up overhead an'the boy was walkin' along lookin' up as if he was followin' the trailof the wild geese.
"He was up there walkin' between the sunset an' the stars with hishead bent back, and his hands stuffed into his pockets, whistlin' asif he was goin' home from school. An' such whistlin'."
"Nobody could ever whistle like Dan," she said, and smiled.
"I rode up to him, wonderin'," went on Cumberland.
"'What're you doin' round here?' I says.
"Says he, lookin' at me casual like over his shoulder: 'I'm jesttakin' a stroll an' whistlin'. Does it bother you, mister?'
"'It doesn't bother me none,' says I. 'Where do you belong, sonny?'
"'Me?' says he, lookin' sort of surprised, 'why, I belong around overthere!' An' he waved his hand careless over to the settin' sun.
"There was somethin' about him that made my heart swell up inside ofme. I looked down into them big brown eyes and wondered--well, I don'tknow what I wondered; but I remembered all at once that I didn't haveno son.
"'Who's your folks?' says I, gettin' more an' more curious.
"'Where does your folks live at?' says I.
"'Oh, they live around here,' says he, an' he waved his hand again,an' this time over towards the east.
"Says I: 'When do you figure on reachin' home?'
"'Oh, most any day,' says he.
"An' I looked around at them brown, naked hills with the night comin'down over them. Then I stared back at the boy an' there was somethingthat come up in me like hunger. You see, he was lost; he was alone;the queer ring of his whistlin' was still in my ears; an' I couldn'thelp rememberin' that I didn't have no son.
"'Then supposin' you come along with me,' says I, 'an' I'll send youhome in a buckboard tomorrow?'
"So the end of it was me ridin' home with the little kid sittin' upbefore me, whistlin' his heart out! When I got him home I tried totalk to him again. He couldn't tell me, or he wouldn't tell me wherehis folks lived, but jest kept wavin' his hand liberal to half thepoints of the compass. An' that's all I know of where he come from. Idone all I could to find his parents. I inquired and sent letters toevery rancher within a hundred miles. I advertised it through therailroads, but they said nobody'd yet been reported lost. He was stillmine, at least for a while, an' I was terrible glad.
"I give the kid a spare room. I sat up late that first night listenin'to the wild geese honkin' away up in the sky an' wonderin' why I wasso happy. Kate, that night there was tears in my eyes when I thoughtof how that kid had been out there on the hills walkin' along so happyan' independent.
"But the next mornin' he was gone. I sent my cowpunchers out to lookfor him.
"'Which way shall we ride?' they asked.
"I don't know why, but I thought of the wild geese that Dan had seemedto be followin'.
"'Ride north,' I said.
"An' sure enough, they rode north an' found him. After that I didn'thave no trouble with him about runnin' away--at least not durin' thesummer. An' all those months I kept plannin' how I would take care ofthis boy who had come wanderin' to me. It seemed like he was sort of agift of God to make up for me havin' no son. And everythin' went welluntil the next fall, when the geese began to fly south.
"Sure enough, that was when Dan ran away again, and when I sent mycowpunchers south after him, they found him and brought him back. Itseemed as if they'd brought back half the world to me, when I seenhim. But I saw that I'd have to put a stop to this runnin' away. Itried to talk to him, but all he'd say was that he'd better be movin'on. I took the law in my hands an' told him he had to be disciplined.So I started thrashin' him with a quirt, very light. He took it as ifhe didn't feel the whip on his shoulders, an' he smiled. But therecame up a yellow light in his eyes that made me feel as if a man wasstandin' right behind me with a bare knife in his hand an' smilin'jest like the kid was doin'. Finally I simply backed out of the room,an' since that day there ain't been man or beast ever has put a handon Whistlin' Dan. To this day I reckon he ain't quite forgiven me."
"Why!" she cried, "I have never heard him mention it!"
"That's why I know he's not forgotten it. Anyway, Kate, I locked himin his room, but he wouldn't promise not to run away. Then I got aninspiration. You was jest a little toddlin' thing then. That day youwas cryin' an awful lot an' I suddenly thought of puttin' you in Dan'sroom. I did it. I jest unlocked the door quick and then shoved you inan' locked it again. First of all you screamed terrible hard. I wasafraid maybe you'd hurt yourself yellin' that way. I was about to takeyou out again when all at once I heard Dan start whistlin' and prettyquick your cryin' stopped. I listened an' wondered. After that I neverhad to lock Dan in his room. I was sure he'd stay on account of you.But now, honey, I'm gettin' to the end of the story, an' I'm goin' togive you the straight idea the way I see it.
"I've watched Dan like--like a father, almost. I think he loves me,sort of--but I've never got over being afraid of him. You see I can'tforget how he smiled when I licked him! But listen to me, Kate, thatfear has been with me all the time--an' it's the only time I've everbeen afraid of any man. It isn't like being scared of a man, but of apanther.
"Now we'll jest nacherally add up all the points we've made aboutDan--the queer way I found him without a home an' without wantin'one--that strength he has that's like the power of a mule comparedwith a horse--that funny control he has over wild animals so that theyalmost seem to know what he means when he simply looks at them (haveyou noticed him with Black Bart and Satan?)--then there's
the yellowlight that comes in his eyes when he begins to get real mad--you an' Ihave both seen it only once, but we don't want to see it again! Morethan this there's the way he handles either a knife or a gun. Hehasn't practiced much with shootin' irons, but I never seen him miss areasonable mark--or an unreasonable one either, for that matter. I'vespoke to him about it. He said: 'I dunno how it is. I don't see howa feller can shoot crooked. It jest seems that when I get out a gunthere's a line drawn from the barrel to the thing I'm shootin' at. AllI have to do is to pull the trigger--almost with my eyes closed!' Now,Kate, do you begin to see what these here things point to?"
"Tell me what you see," she said, "and then I'll tell you what I thinkof it all."
"All right," he said. "I see in Dan a man who's different from thecommon run of us. I read in a book once that in the ages when menlived like animals an' had no weapons except sticks and stones, theirmuscles must have been two or three times as strong as they arenow--more like the muscles of brutes. An' their hearin' an' theirsight an' their quickness an' their endurance was about three timesmore than that of ordinary men. Kate, I think that Dan is one of thosemen the book described! He knows animals because he has all the powersthat they have. An' I know from the way his eyes go yellow that he hasthe fightin' instinct of the ancestors of man. So far I've kept himaway from other men. Which I may say is the main reason I bought DanMorgan's place so's to keep fightin' men away from our Whistlin' Dan.So I've been hidin' him from himself. You see, he's my boy if hebelongs to anybody. Maybe when time goes on he'll get tame. But Ireckon not. It's like takin' a panther cub--or a wolf pup--an tryin'to raise it for a pet. Some day it gets the taste of blood, maybe itsown blood, an' then it goes mad and becomes a killer. An' that's whatI fear, Kate. So far I've kept Dan from ever havin' a single fight,but I reckon the day'll come when someone'll cross him, and thenthere'll be a tornado turned loose that'll jest about wreck theseparts."
Her anger had grown during this speech. Now she rose.
"I won't believe you, Dad," she said. "I'd sooner trust our Dan thanany man alive. I don't think you're right in a single word!"
"I was sure loco," sighed Cumberland, "to ever dream of convincin' awoman. Let it drop, Kate. We're about to get rid of Morgan's place,an' now I reckon there won't be any temptation near Dan. We'll seewhat time'll do for him. Let the thing drop there. Now I'm goin' overto the Bar XO outfit an' I won't be back till late tonight. There'sonly one thing more. I told Morgan there wasn't to be any gun-play inhis place today. If you hear any shootin' go down there an' remindMorgan to take the guns off'n the men."
Kate nodded, but her stare travelled far away, and the thing she sawwas the yellow light burning in the eyes of Whistling Dan.