The swing of their banter slowed suddenly; it was as if the cold of a new-turned grave had struck across the June sunshine checking their roughshod fun. None of them had the hardihood to joke with a man that stood in the shadow of death; and hate and murder looked from the eyes of the man in the doorway and looked towards Simpson. One by one they perceived the man of the shadow, all but Simpson, eating steak drowned in Worcestershire.
The man in the doorway was tall and lean, and the prison blench upon his face was in unpleasant contrast to the ruddy tan of the faces about the table. His sombrero was tipped back and the hair hung dank about the pale, sweating forehead, suggestive of sickness. But weak health did not imply weak purpose; every feature in that hawk-like face was sharp with hatred, and in the narrowing eye was vengeance that is sweet.
He stood still; there was in his hatred a something hypnotic that grew imperceptibly and imperceptibly communicated itself to the men at table. He gloated over the eating fat man as if he had dwelt much in imagination on the sight and was in no hurry to curtail his joy at the reality.
The men began to get restless, shuffle their feet, moisten their lips; only the college boy spoke, and then from a wealth of ignorance, knowing nothing of the rugged, give-and-take justice of the plains—an eye for an [pg ] eye, a tooth for a tooth, and the law and the courts go hang while a man's got a right arm to pull a trigger.
Not one in all that company, even the cattle-men whose interests were opposed to Rodney's, but felt the justice of his errand. The fat man cleaned his plate with a crust of bread stuck on the point of a knife. There was nothing more to eat in the way of substantials, and he debated pouring a little more of the sauce on his plate and mopping it with a bit of bread still uneaten.
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Considering the pro and con of this extra tid-bit, he glanced up and saw the gaunt man standing in the doorway. Simpson dropped the knife from his shaking hand and started up with a cry that died away in a gurgle, an inhuman, nightmare croak. He looked about wildly, like a rat in a trap, then backed towards the wall. The men about the table got up, then cleared away in a circle, leaving the fat man. It was all like a dream to the college boy, who had never seen a thing of the kind before and could not realize now that it was happening.
Rodney advanced, never once relaxing the look in which he seemed to hold his enemy as in a vise. Simpson was like a man bewitched. Once, twice, he made a grab for his revolver, but his right hand seemed to have lost power to heed the bidding of his will. Rodney, [pg ] now well towards the centre of the room, waited, with a suggestion of ceremony, for Simpson to get his six-shooter.
It was one of those moments in which time seems to have become petrified. The limp-clad proprietress of the eating-house, made curious by the sudden silence, looked in from the kitchen. Simpson, his eyes wandering like a trapped rat, saw, and called, through teeth that chattered in an ague of fear, "Ree—memm—her thth—there's la—dies p—present!
For Gawd's sake, remember t—there's ladies p—present! The pale man looked towards the kitchen, and, seeing the woman, he gave Simpson a look in which there was only contempt. The open don't seem to have no charm for you. But—" He didn't finish, there was no need to. Every one knew and understood. He put up his revolver and walked into the street. The men broke into shouts of laughter, loud and ringing, then doubled up and had it out all over again. And their noisy merriment was as clear an indication of the suddenly lifted strain, at the averted shooting, as it was of their enjoyment of the farce.
Simpson, relieved of the fear of sudden death, now sought to put a better face on his cowardice. Now that his enemy was well out of sight, Simpson handled his revolver with easy assurance. Simpson still attempted to harangue the crowd, but his voice was lost in the general thigh-slapping and the shouts and roars that showed no signs of abating.
But when he caught a man by the coat lapel in his efforts to secure a hearing, that was another matter, and the man shook him off as if his touch were contagion. Simpson, craving mercy on account of petticoats, evading a meeting that was "up to him," they were willing to stand as a laughing-stock, but Simpson as an equal, grasping the lapels of their coats, they would have none of.
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He slunk away from them to a corner of the eating-house, feeling the stigma of their contempt, yet afraid to go out into the street where his enemy might be waiting for him. Much of death and blood and recklessness "Town" had seen and condoned, but cowardice was the unforgivable sin. It balked the rude justice of these frontiersmen and tampered with their code, and Simpson knew that the game had gone against him.
Were they in earnest, or was it only their way of amusing themselves?
Sadie Hawkins Day - Hypno Erotica
Clark's kitchen after the men at the table had taken things in hand. That man Simpson was paid by a cattle outfit—now, mind, I ain't sayin' which—to get Jim Rodney's sheep off the range. They had threatened him and cut the throats of two hundred of his herd [pg ] as a warning, but Jim went right on grazin' 'em, same as he had always been in the habit of doing.
Well, I'm told they up and makes Simpson an offer to get rid of the sheep. Jim has over five thousand, an' it's just before lambing, and them pore ewes, all heavy, is being druv' down to Watson's shearing-pens, that Jim always shears at. Jim an' two herders and a couple of dawgs—least, this is the way I heard it—is drivin' 'em easy, 'cause, as I said before, it's just before lambing.
It does now seem awful cruel to me to shear just before lambing, but that's their way out here. The leaders begin to follow that wether, and they go right over the cliff like the pore fools they are. The herder fired and tried to drive 'em back, they tell me, an' he an' the dawg were shot at from the clump of willows by some one else who was there.
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Three hundred sheep had gone over the cliff before Jim knew what was happening. He rode like mad right through the herd to try and head 'em off; but you know what sheep is like—they're like lost souls headin' for damnation. Nothing can stop 'em when they're once started. And Jim lost every head—started for the shearing-pens a rich man—rich for Jim—an' seen everything he had swept away before his eyes, his wife an' children made paupers.
My [pg ] son he come by and found him.
He said that Jim was sittin' huddled up in a heap, his knees drawed up under his chin, starin' straight up into the noonday sky, same as if he was askin' God how He could be so cruel. His dead dawg, that they had shot, was by the side of him. The herder that was with Jim had taken the one that was shot into Watson's, so when my son found Jim he was alone, sittin' on the edge of the cliff with his dead dawg, an' the sky about was black with buzzards; an' Jim he just sat an' stared up at 'em, and when my son spoke to him he never answered any more than a dead man.
He shuck him by the arm, but Jim just sat there, watchin' the sun, the buzzards, and the dead sheep.
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Jim has been in hard luck ever since. He's been rustlin' cattle right along; but Lord, who can blame him? He got into some trouble down to Rawlins—shot a man he thought was with Simpson, but who wasn't—and he's been in jail ever since. Course now that he's out Simpson's bound to get peppered.
Glad it didn't happen here, though. The eating-house patrons had gone their several ways, and the quiet of the dining-room was oppressive by contrast with its late boisterousness. Clark, her hands imprisoned in bread-dough, begged Mary to look over the screen door and see if anything [pg ] was happening. I know they're in deviltry of some sort. Mary tiptoed to the door and peeped over, but the room was deserted, save for Simpson, huddled in a corner, biting his finger-nails.
Clark, when she had received the bulletin. Clark's kitchen, but it had seemed so much more of a refuge than the sordid streets of the hideous little town, with its droves of men and never a glimpse of a woman that she had been only too glad to avail herself of the invitation of the proprietress to "make herself at home till the stage left. Clark, wiping her hand only partially free from dough and presenting it to Miss Carmichael.
She had not inquired where the girl was going, nor even hinted to discover where she came from, but she gave her the godspeed that the West knows how to give, and the girl felt better for it. At the station, where Mary shortly presented herself, in the interest of that old man of the sea of all travellers, luggage, she learned that the stage did not leave town for some three-quarters of an hour yet.
A young man, manipulating many sheets of flimsy, yellow paper covered with large, flourishing [pg ] handwriting, looked up in answer to her inquiries about Lost Trail. This young man, whose accent, clothes, and manner proclaimed him "from the East," whither, in all probability, he would shortly return if he did not mend his ways, disclaimed all knowledge of the place as if it were an undesirable acquaintance. But before he could deny it thrice, a man who had heard the cabalistic name was making his way towards the desk, the pride of the traveller radiating from every feature.
The cosmopolite who knew Lost Trail was the type of man who is born to be a Kentucky colonel, and perhaps may have achieved his destiny before coming to this "No Man's Land," for reasons into which no one inquired, and which were obviously no one's business. They knew him here by the name of "Lone Tooth Hank," and he wore what had been, in the days of his colonelcy—or its equivalent—a frock-coat, restrained by the lower button, and thus establishing a waist-line long after nature had had the last word to say on the subject.
With this he wore the sombrero of the country, and the combination carried a rakish effect that was positively sinister.