What matter if the easy traveller could shoot? He was caught like a man coming out of an alley. He had no chance to draw in turn. In the click of a second-hand the thing would be over. Mary’s eyes involuntarily closed, to avoid seeing the flash from the revolver. She listened for the report; for the fall of a body which should express the horror she had visualized for the hundredth time. A century seemed to pass and there was no sound except the beat of her heart, which ran in a cataract throb to her temples; no sound except that and what seemed to be soft, regular steps on the bare floor of the store.
“Coward!” she told herself, with the agony of her suspense breaking. “He saved you from inexpressible humiliation and you are afraid even to look!”
She opened her eyes, prepared for the worst. Had she gone out of her head? Could she no longer trust her own eyesight? What she saw was inconceivable. The startled faces of the loungers were rising from behind the boxes and barrels. Pete Leddy’s gun had dropped to his side and his would-be victim had a hand on Pete’s shoulder. Jack was talking apparently in a kindly and reasoning tone, but she could not make out his words.
One man alone evidently had not taken cover. It was Jim Galway, a rancher, who had been standing at the mail counter. To judge by his expression, what Jack was saying had his approval.
With a nod to Leddy and then a nod to the others, as if in amicable conclusion of the affair, Jack wheeled around to the counter, disclosing Leddy’s face wry with insupportable chagrin. His revolver was still in his hand. In the swift impulse of one at bay who finds himself released, he brought it up. There was murder, murder from behind, in the catlike quickness of his movement; but Jim Galway was equally quick. He threw his whole weight toward Leddy in a catapult leap, as he grasped Leddy’s wrist and bore it down. Jack faced about in alert readiness. Seeing that Galway had the situation pat, he put up his hand in a kind of questioning, puzzled remonstrance; but Mary noticed that he was very erect. He spoke and Galway spoke in answer. Evidently he was asking that Leddy be released. To this Galway consented at length, but without drawing back until he had seen Leddy’s gun safe in the holster.
Then Leddy raised himself challengingly on tiptoes to Jack, who turned to Galway in the manner of one extending an invitation. On his part, Leddy turned to Ropey Smith, another of Little Rivers’ ruffians. After this, Leddy went through the door at the rear; the loungers resumed their seats on the cracker barrels and gazed at one another with dropped jaws, while Bill Lang proceeded with his business as postmaster.
HE CARRIES THE MAIL
When the suspense was over for Mary, the glare of the store lamp went dancing in grotesque waves, and abruptly, uncannily, fell away into the distant, swimming glow of a lantern suffused with fog. She swayed. Only the leg-rest kept her from slipping off the pony. Her first returning sense of her surroundings came with the sound of a voice, the same careless, pleasant voice which she had heard at Galeria asking Pete Leddy if he were not overplaying his part.