A man who had drunk not wisely but too well lurched up to him.
“Have a drink, stranger!” he commanded. It was not an invitation.
“Ain’t drinkin’,” replied Bull, quietly.
“Oh, yes, you be,” announced the hospitable one. “When I says drink, you drinks, see? I’m a bad-man, I am. Whoopee!” and drawing a six-shooter he commenced firing into the floor at Bull’s feet.
Suddenly a large man enveloped him from the rear, held his gun hand aloft and dragged him away into an opposite corner, where, to the accompaniment of a deluge of lurid profanity, he counselled him to a greater discretion.
“Why you blankety, blank, blank, blank!’” he cried. “You tryin’ to commit sewerside? Don’t you know who that is, you blitherin’ idjit?” then he whispered something in the other’s ear. The effect was electrical. The man seemed sobered instantly. With staring eyes he looked across the room at Bull.
“I’m goin’ to git out o’ here,” he said, “he might change his mind.”
“I cain’t see yit why he didn’t bore ye,” agreed his friend. “You better go an’ apologize.”
Slowly the pseudo bad-man crossed the room toward Bull, who had not moved sufficiently to have changed his position since the man had first accosted him. The man halted in front of Bull, a sickly grin on his bloated countenance.
“No offense, pardner. Jest had a drop too much. No offense intended. Jest jokin’—thet was all jest jokin’.”
Bull eyed him intently for a moment. “Oh, yes,” he said presently, “I remember you now—you’re the flannel mouth that got gay with of Wildcat a coupla months ago. Did you ever return that window sash you took with you? I hearn Gum was powerful cut up about that window sash.” Not the shadow of a smile crossed Bull’s face. “I warn’t there, but I hearn all about it.”
The other flushed, attempted some witty repartee that fell fiat, and finally managed to make his escape amid a roar of laughter from the nearer card players and spectators who had overheard the brief dialogue.
Bull rose. “Goin’?” asked an acquaintance.
“I reckon so. Good night.”
“Good night, Bull.”
The man stepped out into the clear, star-lit night. Involuntarily he turned and looked toward the northeast in the direction of the Bar Y ranch. Diana was there. For a long time he stood motionless gazing out across the arid, moon-bathed level that stretched away to her loved feet. What emotions played behind the inscrutable mask of his face? Who may say?
As he stood there silently he heard voices coming from between The Chicago Saloon and Gums Place—Liquors and Cigars.
“He’s in there now,” said one. “I kin see him. If there weren’t so tarnation many fellers at the bar I c’d git him from here.”
“You’d better come along afore you git in more trouble than you got the capacity to handle,” urged a second voice.
“Thas all right. I know what I’m doin’. There cain’t no dried up of buffalo chip like thet run me out o’ no man’s saloon an’ get away with it, an’ thas all they is to thet.”
“Well, I’m goin’ home,” stated the second voice. “I know when I’m well off.”
“You go home. After I shoot the ears offen this Wildcat Bob party I’m comin’ home, too.”
“You go to shootin’ any ears offen Wildcat Bob an’ you won’t need no blankets where you’re goin’.”
“Thas-so? Well, here goes—you better stay an’ see the fun.”
“I’m goin’ now while I got the chanct,” said the other, and Bull heard him coming from the side of the building. The former stepped quickly back into the doorway of the Chicago Saloon and an instant later he saw the large man who had dragged his friend from him a few minutes before pass up the street at a rapid walk. Then Bull looked from his place of concealment, just in time to see another figure emerge from between the buildings and enter Gum’s Place.
Bull was close behind him. The door was open a crack. He saw that the other had advanced into the room a few feet and was standing behind one of the rough columns that supported the second story. Across the room, at the far end, Wildcat Bob had just set down his whiskey glass upon the bar, wiped his beard on his sleeve, and turned away toward the tables where the gambling was in progress. For a moment he would be alone, with only the rough rear wall behind him.
Bull saw the stranger raise his six-gun to take deliberate aim. He was too far away to reach him before he pulled the trigger and it would do no good to warn the Wildcat. There was but a single alternative to standing supinely by and watching old Wildcat being shot down in cold blood by a cowardly murderer.
It was this alternative that Bull adopted. As the smoke rose from the muzzle of his gun the stranger threw his hands above his head, his weapon clattered to the floor, and he wheeled about. His eyes alighted upon Bull standing there, grim-faced and silent, the smoking six-gun in his hand.
Suddenly the wounded man gave voice to a shrill scream. “He done it!” he cried, pointing at Bull. “He done it! The Black Coyote done it! He’s killed me!” and with these last words the body slumped to the floor.
Bull stood facing them all in silence for just a moment. The whole roomful of men and women was staring at him. Then he slipped his gun into its holster and advanced into the room, a faint smile on his lips. He walked toward Wildcat Bob.
“That hombre was after you, Bob,” he said. “He was drunk, but I couldn’t stop him no other way. He’s the feller you chased through the window that time.”
Gum Smith hurried to the rear of the bar. Then he leaned over it and pointed a finger at Bull. “Yo-all’s undah arrest!” he cried. “Yo-all’s undah arrest fo murder.”
“Go kick yourself through a knot-hole!” advised Bull. “Ef I hadn’t got that hombre he’d a-got Bob. They wasn’t nothin’ else to do.”
“Yo-all hearn what he called him, didn’t yo?” yelled Gum. He pointed at first one and then another. “Ah depatize yo! Ah depatize yo!” he cried. “Arrest him, men!”
No one moved, except Wildcat Bob. He came and stood beside Bull, and he drew both his long, heavy guns with their heavily notched grips.
“Anyone what’s aimin’ to take this boy, why, let him step up,” said Wildcat Bob, and his watery blue eye was fixed terribly upon the sheriff.
“Ah want yo-all to know thet when Ah depatizes yo, yo-all’s depatized,” shrilled Gum. “Yo hearn what the corpse called him. Ain’t that enough? Do yo duty, men!”
One or two of the men, friends of Gum’s, moved restlessly. Bull, sensing trouble, had drawn both his weapons, and now he stood beside the Wildcat, his steady gray eyes alert for the first hostile move.
“Don’t none o’ you gents go fer to start nothin’,” he advised. “You all seen what happened. You know I couldn’t a-done nothin’ else, an’ as fer what thet drunken bum called me ef Gum thinks I’m The Coyote why don’t he step up an’ take me? I ain’t a honin’ fer trouble, but I don’t aim to be the subject o’ no postmortem neither.”
“Do yo-all surrendah, then?” demanded Gum.
“Don’t try to be no more of a damn fool than the Lord made yuh, Gum,” advised Wildcat Bob. “You know thet if this here boy ain’t The Black Coyote you don’t want him, an’ ef he is The Black Coyote you wouldn’t never git outen behind thet bar ef you was to try to take him. Fer my part I don’t believe he is, an’ I got two of pea-shooters here what thinks the same as I does. What do you think, Gum?”
“Well,” said the sheriff after a moment’s deliberation, “Ah reckon as mebby the corpse was mistook. Hev a drink on the house, gents!”
As Bull and Wildcat Bob entered the office of The Donovan House Mary Donovan espied them through the open doorway of her sitting room and called to them.
“Come in an’ have a drop o’ tay wid me before yese go to bed,” she invited, and as they entered she scrutinized Wildcat Bob with a stern eye. Evidently satisfied, her face softened. “I know they ain’t run out o’ whiskey in Hendersville,” she said, “so I reckon ye must o’ run out o’ money, Wildcat.”
The little old gentleman reached into his pocket and drew forth a handful of silver, which he displayed with virtuous satisfaction.
“The saints be praised!” exclaimed Mary Donovan. “Ye’ve money in yer pocket an’ yer home airly an’ sober! Be ye sick, Wildcat Bob?”
“I’ve re-formed, Mary—I ain’t never goin’ to tech another drop,” he assured her, solemnly.
“Ye’ve not had a drink the avenin’?” she demanded.
“Well—” he hesitated, “you see”
“Yis, I see,” she snapped, scornfully.
“But, Mary, I only had one little one—you wouldn’t begrudge an old man one little nightcap?”
“Well,” she consented, relenting, “wan little one wouldn’t do no harrm. I wouldn’t moind one mesilf.”
Wildcat Bob reached for his hip pocket. “I was thinking that same thing, Mary, and that’s why I brung one home fer yuh,” and he drew forth a pint flask.
“The divil fly away wid ye, Wildcat Bob!” she cried, but she was smiling as she reached for the flask.
Bull rose, laughing. “Good night!” he said, “I’m going to turn in.”
“Have a drop wid us before ye go,” invited Mary.
“No thanks, I’ve quit,” replied Bull. A moment later they heard him mounting the stairs to his room.
“He’s a good b’y,” said Mary, wiping her lips and replacing the cork in the bottle.
“He is that, Mary,” agreed Wildcat, reaching for it.
There was a period of contented silence.
“It’s a lonesome life fer a widdy-lady, that it is,” remarked Mary, with a deep sigh.
Wildcat Bob moved his chair closer, flushed at his own boldness, and fell to examining the toe of his boot. Mary rocked diligently, her red hands folded in her ample lap, keeping an eye cocked on the Wildcat. There was another long silence that was broken at last by Mrs. Donovan.
“Sure,” she said, “’an’ it’s funny ye never married, Bob.”
Bob essayed reply, but a mouthful of tobacco juice prevented. Rising, he walked into the office, crossed that room, opened the front door and spat copiously without. Returning to the room he hitched his chair closer to Mary’s, apparently by accident, as he resumed his seat.
“I—” he started, but it was evidently a false start, since he commenced all over again. “I—” again he paused.
“You what?” inquired Mary Donovan with soft encouragement.
“You—” said Wildcat Bob and stuck again. Inward excitement evidently stimulated his salivary glands, with the result that he was again forced to cross to the outer door. When he returned he hunched his chair a bit closer to Mary’s.
“As ye was about to remark,” prodded Mary.
“Yes,” said Mary, “Go on, Bob!”
“I was just a-goin’ to say that I don’t think it’ll rain tonight,” he ended, lamely.
Mary Donovan placed her hands upon her hips, pressed her lips together and turned a withering glance of scorn upon Wildcat Bob—all of which were lost upon him, he having again returned to whole-souled consideration of the toe of his boot, his face suffused with purple.
“Rain!” muttered Mary Donovan. “Rain in Arizony this time o’ year? Sure, an’ ye mane ye thought it wouldn’t shnow, didn’t ye?” she demanded.
Wildcat Bob emitted only a gurgle, and again silence reigned, unbroken for long minutes, except by the creaking of Mary’s rocker. Suddenly she turned upon him.
“Gimme that flask,” she said.
He handed it over and she took a long drink. Wiping the mouth of the bottle with the palm of her hand she returned it to him. Then Wildcat Bob took a drink, and the silence continued.
The evening wore on, the flask emptied and midnight came. With it came Gum Smith, reeling bedward. They watched him stagger across the office floor and heard him stumbling up the stairs. Mary Donovan arose.
“Be off to bed wid ye,” she said. “I can’t be sittin’ here all night gossipin’ wid ye.”
He too, arose. “Good night, Mary,” he said, “it’s been a pleasant evenin’.”
“Yis,” said Mary Donovan.
As Wildcat Bob climbed the stairs toward his room he was mumbling in his beard. “Doggone my hide!” he said. “Ef I’d jest had a coupla drinks I mout a-done it.”
“Sure,” soliloquized Mary Donovan, as she closed the door of her bedroom, “it’s not so dum funny after all that the ould fool nivir was married.”