Jerry favoured the speaker with another of his enigmatic smiles: “Oh,” he chuckled, “he’ll sell, all right! Maybe he’s inside. You gents stick out here and watch for him; I’ll step inside.”
And he strode through the swinging doors of the saloon.
It was a dull time of day for O’Brien, so he sat with his feet on the edge of the bar and sipped a tall glass of beer; he looked up at the welcome click of the doors, however, and then was instantly on his feet. The good red went out of his face and the freckles over his nose stood out like ink marks.
“There’s a black hoss outside,” said Jerry, “that I’m going to buy. Where’s the owner?”
“Have a drink,” said the bartender, and he forced an amiable smile.
“I got business on my hands, not drinking,” said Jerry Strann.
“Lost your chestnut?” queried O’Brien in concern.
“The chestnut was all right until I seen the black. And now he ain’t a hoss at all. Where’s the gent I want?”
The bartender had fenced for time as long as possible.
“Over there,” he said, and pointed.
It was a slender fellow sitting at a table in a corner of the long room, his sombrero pushed back on his head. He was playing solitaire and his back was towards Jerry Strann, who now made a brief survey, hitched his cartridge belt, and approached the stranger with a grin. The man did not turn; he continued to lay down his cards with monotonous regularity, and while he was doing it he said in the gentlest voice that had ever reached the ear of Jerry Strann: “Better stay where you are, stranger. My dog don’t like you.”
And Jerry Strann perceived, under the shadow of the table, a blacker shadow, huge and formless in the gloom, and two spots of incandescent green twinkling towards him. He stopped; he even made a step back; and then he heard a stifled chuckle from the bartender.
If it had not been for that untimely mirth of O’Brien’s probably nothing of what followed would have passed into the history of the Three B’s.
“Your dog is your own dog,” remarked Jerry Strann, still to the back of the card-laying stranger, “but this ain’t your back-yard. Keep your eye on him, or I’ll fix him so he won’t need watching!”
So saying he made another step forward, and it brought a snarl from the dog; not one of those high-whining noises, but a deep guttural that sounded like indrawn breath. The gun of Jerry Strann leaped into his hand.
“Bart,” said the gentle-voiced stranger, “lie down and don’t talk.” And he turned in his chair, pulled his hat straight, and looked mildly upon the gunman. An artist would have made much of that picture, for there was in this man, as in Strann, a singular portion of beauty. It was not, however, free from objection, for he had not the open manliness of the larger of the two.