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The Man Who Killed Dan Odams
by [?]

Twice he left the road to let vehicles pass — once a steaming Ford, once a half-load of hay creeping along behind four straining horses.

His way was still through fenced land that offered scant concealment. Houses dotted the country, with few miles between them; and the loss of his horse was ample evidence that the telephone wires had not been idle. He had not eaten since noon of the previous day but — notwithstanding the absence of visible pursuit — he could not forage here.

Night was falling as he left the road for the slope of Tiger Butte. When it was quite dark he stopped. The rain kept up all night. He sat through it— his back against a boulder, the slicker over his head.

The shack, unpainted and ramshackle, grovelled in a fork of the coulee. Smoke hung soddenly, lifelessly above its roof, not tryi
ng to rise, until beaten into nothingness by the rain. The structures around the chimneyed shack were even less lovely. The group seemed asprawl in utter terror of the great cat upon whose flank it found itself.

But to the red eyes of the man who had killed Dan Odams — he lay on his belly on the crest of the hill around which the coulee split — the lack of telephone wires gave this shabby homestead a wealth of beauty beyond reach of architect or painter.

Twice within the morning hour that he lay there a woman came into view. Once she left the shack, went to one of the other sheds, and then returned. The other time she came to the door, to stand a while looking down the coulee. She was a small woman, of age and complexion indeterminable through the rain, in a limp, grayish dress.

Later, a boy of ten or twelve came from the rear of the house, his arms piled high with kindling, and passed out of sight.

Presently the watcher withdrew from his hill, swung off in a circle, and came within sight of the shack again from the rear.

Half an hour passed. He saw the boy carrying water from a spring below, but he did not see the woman again.

The fugitive approached the building stealthily, his legs carrying him stiffly, their elasticity gone. Now and then his feet faltered under him. But under its layers of clay and three-day beard his jaw jutted with nothing of weakness.

Keeping beyond them, he explored the outbuildings — wretched, flimsy structures, offering insincere pretences of protection to an abject sorrel mare and a miscellaneous assortment of farm implements, all of which had come off second-best in their struggle with the earth. Only the generous, though not especially skilful, application of the material which has given to establishments of this sort the local sobriquet ‘hay-wire outfit’ held the tools from frank admission of defeat.

Nowhere did the ground hold the impression of feet larger than a small woman’s or a ten—or twelve—year-old boy’s.

The fugitive crossed the yard to the dwelling, moving with wide-spread legs to offset the unsteadiness of his gait. With the unhurried, unresting spacing of clock-ticks, fat drops of blood fell from the fingers of his limp left hand to be hammered by the rain into the soggy earth.

Through the dirty pane of a window he saw the woman and boy, sitting together on a cot, facing the door.

The boy’s face was white when the man threw the door open and came into the unpartitioned interior, and his mouth trembled; but the woman’s thin, sallow face showed nothing — except, by its lack of surprise, that she had seen him approaching. She sat stiffly on the cot, her hands empty and motionless in her lap, neither fear nor interest in her faded eyes.