“It’s all well enough to be a gentleman if you’ve got money to fall back on,” remarked Joshua sensibly.
“Is that personal?” demanded the Pike County man, frowning and half rising.
“It’s personal to me,” said Joshua quietly.
“I accept the apology,” said the newcomer, sinking back upon the turf.
“I hain’t apologized, as I’m aware,” said Joshua, who was no craven.
“You’d better not rile me, stranger,” said the Pike man fiercely. “You don’t know me, you don’t. I’m a rip-tail roarer, I am. I always kill a man who insults me.”
“So do we,” said Joe quietly.
The Pike County man looked at Joe in some surprise. He had expected to frighten the boy with his bluster, but it didn’t seem to produce the effect intended.
Mr. Bickford also seemed a little surprised at Joe’s coolness. Though not a coward in the face of danger, he had been somewhat impressed by the fierce aspect of the man from Pike County, and really looked upon him as a reckless daredevil who was afraid of nothing. Joe judged him more truly. He decided that a man who boasted so loudly was a sham. If he had talked less, he would have feared him more.
After his last bloodthirsty declaration the man from Pike County temporarily subsided.
He drew out from his pocket a greasy pack of cards, and after skilfully shuffling them inquired:
“What do you say, strangers, to a little game to pass away the time?”
“I never played keards in my life,” said Joshua Bickford.
“Where was you raised?” demanded the Pike man contemptuously.
“Pumpkin Hollow, State o’ Maine,” said Joshua. “Dad’s an orthodox deacon. He never let any of us play keards. I don’t know one from t’other.”
“I’ll learn you,” said the Pike man condescendingly. “Suppose we have a game of poker?”
“Ain’t that a gambling’ game?” inquired Joshua.
“We always play for something,” said the Pike man. “It’s dern foolishness playin’ for nothing. Shall we have a game?”
He looked at Joe as he spoke.
“I don’t care to play,” said our hero. “I don’t know much about cards, and I don’t want to play for money.”
“That’s dern foolishness,” said the stranger, whose object it was to clean out his new friends, being an expert gambler.
“Perhaps it is,” said Joe, “but I only speak for myself. Mr. Bickford may feel differently.”
“Will you take a hand, Bickford?” asked the Pike man, thinking it possible that Joshua might have some money of which he could relieve him.
“You kin show me how to play if you want to,” said Joshua, “but I won’t gamble any.”
The Pike man put up his pack of cards in disgust.
“Derned if I ever met sich fellers!” he said. “You’re Methodists, ain’t you?”