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Buckmaster’s Boy
by [?]

“I bin waitin’ for him, an’ I’ll git him ef it takes all winter. I’ll get him–plumb.”

The speaker smoothed the barrel of his rifle with mittened hand, which had, however, a trigger-finger free. With black eyebrows twitching over sunken gray eyes, he looked doggedly down the frosty valley from the ledge of high rock where he sat. The face was rough and weather-beaten, with the deep tan got in the open life of a land of much sun and little cloud, and he had a beard which, untrimmed and growing wild, made him look ten years older than he was.

“I bin waitin’ a durn while,” the mountain-man added, and got to his feet slowly, drawing himself out to six and a half feet of burly manhood. The shoulders were, however, a little stooped, and the head was thrust forward with an eager, watchful look–a habit become a physical characteristic.

Presently he caught sight of a hawk sailing southward along the peaks of the white icebound mountains above, on which the sun shone with such sharp insistence, making sky and mountain of a piece in deep purity and serene stillness.

“That hawk’s seen him, mebbe,” he said, after a moment. “I bet it went up higher when it got him in its eye. Ef it’d only speak and tell me where he is–ef he’s a day, or two days, or ten days north.”

Suddenly his eyes blazed and his mouth opened in superstitious amazement, for the hawk stopped almost directly overhead at a great height, and swept round in a circle many times, waveringly, uncertainly. At last it resumed its flight southward, sliding down the mountains like a winged star.

The mountaineer watched it with a dazed expression for a moment longer, then both hands clutched the rifle and half swung it to position involuntarily.

“It’s seen him, and it stopped to say so. It’s seen him, I tell you, an’ I’ll git him. Ef it’s an hour, or a day, or a week, it’s all the same. I’m here watchin’, waitin’ dead on to him, the poison skunk!”

The person to whom he had been speaking now rose from the pile of cedar boughs where he had been sitting, stretched his arms up, then shook himself into place, as does a dog after sleep. He stood for a minute looking at the mountaineer with a reflective yet a furtively sardonic look. He was not above five feet nine inches in height, and he was slim and neat; and though his buckskin coat and breeches were worn and even frayed in spots, he had an air of some distinction and of concentrated force. It was a face that men turned to look at twice and shook their heads in doubt afterward–a handsome, worn, secretive face, in as perfect control as the strings of an instrument under the bow of a great artist. It was the face of a man without purpose in life beyond the moment–watchful, careful, remorselessly determined, an adventurer’s asset, the dial-plate of a hidden machinery.

Now he took the handsome meerschaum pipe from his mouth, from which he had been puffing smoke slowly, and said in a cold, yet quiet voice, “How long you been waitin’, Buck?”

“A month. He’s overdue near that. He always comes down to winter at Fort o’ Comfort, with his string of half-breeds, an’ Injuns, an’ the dogs.”

“No chance to get him at the Fort?”

“It ain’t so certain. They’d guess what I was doin’ there. It’s surer here. He’s got to come down the trail, an’ when I spot him by the Juniper clump”–he jerked an arm toward a spot almost a mile farther up the valley–“I kin scoot up the underbrush a bit and git him–plumb. I could do it from here, sure, but I don’t want no mistake. Once only, jest one shot, that’s all I want, Sinnet.”

He bit off a small piece of tobacco from a black plug Sinnet offered him, and chewed it with nervous fierceness, his eyebrows working, as he looked at the other eagerly. Deadly as his purpose was, and grim and unvarying as his vigil had been, the loneliness had told on him, and he had grown hungry for a human face and human companionship. Why Sinnet had come he had not thought to inquire. Why Sinnet should be going north instead of south had not occurred to him. He only realized that Sinnet was not the man he was waiting for with murder in his heart; and all that mattered to him in life was the coming of his victim down the trail. He had welcomed Sinnet with a sullen eagerness, and had told him in short, detached sentences the dark story of a wrong and a waiting revenge, which brought a slight flush to Sinnet’s pale face and awakened a curious light in his eyes.