Two minutes, perhaps, of silence, while from sheer force of habit he rolled a cigarette he did not want.
Then Jack moved his head on the pillow so that he could look at Dade.
“I wish you wouldn’t take my affairs so to heart,” he said, apathy fighting his understanding and his appreciation of a friend like this. “I’d he a whole lot easier in my mind if I didn’t know you were worried half to death. And it’s no good worrying, Dade. Some’ things just come at a fellow, head down; and they have to be met, if we expect to look anybody in the face again.” He shifted his head impatiently and stared again at the ceiling. “I’d rather be dead than a coward,” he said, speaking low.
“Oh, I know. But—men are just beasts with clothes on their backs. Did you hear them yelling, awhile ago? That was when beasts just as human as they are under the skin, fought and killed each other, so those yelling maniacs could get a thrill or two.” He searched his pockets for a match, found one and drew it glumly along the sole of his high-heeled, calfskin boot with its embroidered top of yellow silk on red morocco.
“That’s what makes me sick to the stomach,” he went on. “They’ll sit and watch you two, and they’ll gloat over the spectacle—”
A brisk tattoo of knuckles on the oaken door stopped him. Bill came in, grinning with satisfaction over something.
“Say, I’ve been getting bets laid down five and six to one, on the greaser,” he exulted. “You go in and clean him up, Jack, and we’ll skin this outfit down to their shirts! All the boys have been taking every bet that was offered; and the old don, I guess, is about the only greaser on the place that ain’t bet all he’s got. Three-to-one that Jose gets you the third pass, m’ son! Now, I don’t know a damned thing about this here lasso business, but I took ’em on that, and so did a lot of the boys; and from that up to six-to-one that he’ll get you! Want to lay a few bets yourself, you and Dade? That’s what I come to find out.”
Dade threw out both hands in disgust with the idea; revolted unexpectedly at the thought of being accused of failing to back his friendship with money as well as with every fiber of his loyal being, and turned sourly to Bill. “I’ve got something like six or eight hundred, in dust,” he said. “Lend me enough to make it a thousand, and put ’er up. Take any odds they offer, damn ’em. It’ll be blood money, win or lose, but—put ’er up. They can’t yowl around that I’m afraid to back him down to my boots.”
“That’s the kinda talk!” approved Bill. “Make ’em take water all around, the swine! And the boys’ll see they cough up afterwards, too. I guess—” He checked himself and went out, still grinning.
THE DUEL OF RIATAS