And he raised his gun to draw the bead.
“Wait!” called the same voice which had checked the spring of the dog. Surely it could not have come from the lips of Barry. It held a resonance of chiming metal; it was not loud, but it carried like a brazen bell. “Don’t do it, Strann!”
And it came to every man in the barroom that it was unhealthy to stand between the two men at that instant; a sudden path opened from Barry to Strann.
“Bart!” came the command again. “Heel!”
The dog obeyed with a slinking swiftness; Jerry Strann put up his gun and smiled.
“I don’t take a start on no man,” he announced quite pleasantly. “I don’t need to. But—you yaller hearted houn’—get out from between. When I make my draw I’m goin’ to kill that damn wolf.”
Now, the fighting face of Jerry Strann was well known in the Three B’s, and it was something for men to remember until they died in a peaceful bed. Yet there was not a glance, from the bystanders, for Strann. They stood back against the wall, flattening themselves, and they stared, fascinated, at the slender stranger. Not that his face had grown ugly by a sudden metamorphosis. It was more beautiful than ever, for the man was smiling. It was his eyes which held them. Behind the brown a light was growing, a yellow and unearthly glimmer which one felt might be seen on the darkest night.
There was none of the coward in Jerry Strann. He looked full into that yellow, glimmering, changing light—he looked steadily—and a strange feeling swept over him. No, it was not fear. Long experience had taught him that there was not another man in the Three B’s, with the exception of his own terrible brother, who could get a gun out of the leather faster than he, but now it seemed to Jerry Strann that he was facing something more than mortal speed and human strength and surety. He could not tell in what the feeling was based. But it was a giant, dim foreboding holding dominion over other men’s lives, and it sent a train of chilly-weakness through his blood.
“It’s a habit of mine,” said Jerry Strann, “to kill mad dogs when I see ’em.” And he smiled again.
They stood for another long instant, facing each other. It was plain that every muscle in Strann’s body was growing tense; the very smile was frozen on his lips. When he moved, at last, it was a convulsive jerk of his arm, and it was said, afterward, that his gun was all clear of the leather before the calm stranger stirred. No eye followed what happened. Can the eye follow such speed as the cracking lash of a whip?
There was only one report. The forefinger of Strann did not touch his trigger, but the gun slipped down and dangled loosely from his hand. He made a pace forward with his smile grown to an idiotic thing and a patch of red sprang out in the centre of his breast. Then he lurched headlong to the floor.