He whirled on Morgan.
“How about it, bar-keep, is this the dead shot you was spillin’ so many words about?”
Dan, as if he could not understand the broad insult, merely smiled at him with marvellous good nature.
“Keep away from him, stranger,” warned Morgan. “Jest because he rode your hoss you ain’t got a cause to hunt trouble with him. He’s been taught not to fight.”
Silent, still looking Dan over with insolent eyes, replied: “He sure sticks to his daddy’s lessons. Nice an’ quiet an’ house broke, ain’t he? In my part of the country they dress this kind of a man in gal’s clothes so’s nobody’ll ever get sore at him an’ spoil his pretty face. Better go home to your ma. This ain’t any place for you. They’s men aroun’ here.”
There was another one of those grimly expectant hushes and then a general guffaw; Dan showed no inclination to take offence. He merely stared at brawny Jim Silent with a sort of childlike wonder.
“All right,” he said meekly, “if I ain’t wanted around here I figger there ain’t any cause why I should stay. You don’t figger to be peeved at me, do you?”
The laughter changed to a veritable yell of delight. Even Silent smiled with careless contempt.
“No, kid,” he answered, “if I was peeved at you, you’d learn it without askin’ questions.”
He turned slowly away.
“Maybe I got jaundice, boys,” he said to the crowd, “but it seems to me I see something kind of yellow around here!”
The delightful subtlety of this remark roused another side-shaking burst of merriment. Dan shook his head as if the mystery were beyond his comprehension, and looked to Morgan for an explanation. The saloon-keeper approached him, struggling with a grin.
“It’s all right, Dan,” he said. “Don’t let ’em rile you.”
“You ain’t got any cause to fear that,” said Silent, “because it can’t be done.”
FOUR IN THE AIR
Dan looked from Morgan to Silent and back again for understanding. He felt that something was wrong, but what it was he had not the slightest idea. For many years old Joe Cumberland had patiently taught him that the last offence against God and man was to fight. The old cattleman had instilled in him the belief that if he did not cross the path of another, no one would cross his way. The code was perfect and satisfying. He would let the world alone and the world would not trouble him. The placid current of his life had never come to “white waters” of wrath.
Wherefore he gazed bewildered about him. They were laughing—they were laughing unpleasantly at him as he had seen men laugh at a fiery young colt which struggled against the rope. It was very strange. They could not mean harm. Therefore he smiled back at them rather uncertainly. Morgan slapped at his shoulder by way of good-fellowship and to hearten him, but Dan slipped away under the extended hand with a motion as subtle and swift as the twist of a snake when it flees for its hole. He had a deep aversion for contact with another man’s body. He hated it as the wild horse hates the shadow of the flying rope.