“I dunno,” he said at last, “they look sort of queer to me.”
“For God’s sake cut this short, Dan,” pleaded Tex Calder in an undertone. “Let them have all the rope they want. Don’t trip up our party before we get started.”
“Queer?” echoed Jacqueline, and there was a deep murmur from the men.
“Sure,” said Dan, smiling upon her again, “they all wear their guns so awful high.”
Out of the dead silence broke the roar of the sandy-haired man: “What’n hell d’you mean by that?”
Dan leaned forward on one elbow, his right hand free and resting on the edge of the table, but still his smile was almost a caress.
“Why,” he said, “maybe you c’n explain it to me. Seems to me that all these guns is wore so high they’s more for ornament than use.”
“You damned pup—” began Sandy.
He stopped short and stared with a peculiar fascination at Dan, who started to speak again. His voice had changed—not greatly, for its pitch was the same and the drawl was the same—but there was a purr in it that made every man stiffen in his chair and make sure that his right hand was free. The ghost of his former smile was still on his lips, but it was his eyes that seemed to fascinate Sandy.
“Maybe I’m wrong, partner,” he was saying, “an’ maybe you c’n prove that your gun ain’t jest ornamental hardware?”
What followed was very strange. Sandy was a brave man and everyone at that table knew it. They waited for the inevitable to happen. They waited for Sandy’s lightning move for his gun. They waited for the flash and the crack of the revolver. It did not come. There followed a still more stunning wonder.
“You c’n see,” went on that caressing voice of Dan, “that everyone is waitin’ for you to demonstrate—which the lady is most special interested.”
And still Sandy did not move that significant right hand. It remained fixed in air a few inches above the table, the fingers stiffly spread. He moistened his white lips. Then—most strange of all!—his eyes shifted and wandered away from the face of Whistling Dan. The others exchanged incredulous glances. The impossible had happened—Sandy had taken water! The sheriff was the first to recover, though his forehead was shining with perspiration.
“What’s all this stuff about?” he called. “Hey, Sandy, quit pickin’ trouble with the stranger!”
Sandy seized the loophole through which to escape with his honour. He settled back in his chair.
“All right, gov’nor,” he said, “I won’t go spoilin’ your furniture. I won’t hurt him.”
ONE TRAIL ENDS
But this deceived no one. They had seen him palpably take water. A moment of silence followed, while Sandy stared whitefaced down at the table, avoiding all eyes; but all the elements of good breeding exist under all the roughness of the West. It was Jacqueline who began with a joke which was rather old, but everyone appreciated it—at that moment—and the laughter lasted long enough to restore some of the colour to Sandy’s face. A general rapid fire of talk followed.