“After all,” he said. “I knowed you wasn’t really hard of heart. It only needed a little time and persuasion to make you dig for coin when I pass the box.”
Morgan, red of face and scowling, handed over his late winnings and his own stakes.
“It took you two shots to do it,” he said, “an’ if I wanted to argue the pint maybe you wouldn’t walk off with the coin.”
“Partner,” said Jim Silent gently, “I got a wanderin’ hunch that you’re showin’ a pile of brains by not arguin’ this here pint!”
There followed that little hush of expectancy which precedes trouble, but Morgan, after a glance at the set lips of his opponent, swallowed his wrath.
“I s’pose you’ll tell how you did this to your kids when you’re eighty,” he said scornfully, “but around here, stranger, they don’t think much of it. Whistlin’ Dan”—he paused, as if to calculate how far he could safely exaggerate—“Whistlin’ Dan can stand with his back to the coins an’ when they’re thrown he drills four dollars easier than you did one—an’ he wouldn’t waste three shots on one dollar. He ain’t so extravagant!”
The crowd laughed again at the excitement of Morgan, and Silent’s mirth particularly was loud and long.
“An’ if you’re still bent on charity,” he said at last, “maybe we could find somethin’ else to lay a bet on!”
“Anything you name!” said Morgan hotly.
“I suppose,” said Silent, “that you’re some rider, eh?”
“I c’n get by with most of ’em.”
“Yeh—I suppose you never pulled leather in your life?”
“Not any hoss that another man could ride straight up.”
“Is that so? Well, partner, you see that roan over there?”
“That tall horse?”
“You got him. You c’n win back that hundred if you stick on his back two minutes. D’you take it?”
Morgan hesitated a moment. The big roan was footing it nervously here and there, sometimes throwing up his head suddenly after the manner of a horse of bad temper. However, the loss of that hundred dollars and the humiliation which accompanied it, weighed heavily on the saloon owner’s mind.
“I’ll take you,” he said.
A high, thrilling whistle came faintly from the distance.
“That fellow on the black horse down the road,” said Lee Haines, “I guess he’s the one that can hit the four dollars? Ha! ha! ha!”
“Sure,” grinned Silent, “listen to his whistle! We’ll see if we can drag another bet out of the bar-keep if the roan doesn’t hurt him too bad. Look at him now!”
Morgan was having a bad time getting his foot in the stirrup, for the roan reared and plunged. Finally two men held his head and the saloon-keeper swung into the saddle. There was a little silence. The roan, as if doubtful that he could really have this new burden on his back, and still fearful of the rope which had been lately tethering him, went a few short, prancing steps, and then, feeling something akin to freedom, reared straight up, snorting. The crowd yelled with delight, and the sound sent the roan back to all fours and racing down the road. He stopped with braced feet, and Morgan lurched forwards on the neck, yet he struck to his seat gamely. Whistling Dan was not a hundred yards away.