“Glad of it,” said the little man. “I don’t like a feller to hog a joke all by himself. Some of the Bar X boys took to absorbin’ humour out of my shape when I first went to work, but they’re sort of educated out of it now. I got an eye from one and a finger off of another; the last one donated a ear.”
Bailey readily conceived this man as a bad antagonist, for the heavy corded neck had split buttons from the blue shirt, and he glimpsed a chest hairy, and round as a drum, while the brown arms showed knotty and hardened.
“Let’s liquor,” he said, and led the way into the big, low room, serving as bar, dining- and living-room. From the rear came vicious clatterings and slammings of pots, mingled with Oriental lamentations, indicating an aching body rather than a chastened spirit.
“Don’t see you often,” he continued, with a touch of implied curiosity, which grew as his guest, with lingering fondness, up-ended a glass brimful of the raw, fiery spirits.
“No, the old man don’t lemme get away much. He knows that dwellin’ close to the ground, as I do, I pine for spiritual elevation,” with a melting glance at the bottles behind the bar, doing much to explain the size of his first drink.
“Like it, do ye?” questioned Bailey indicating the shelf.
“Well, not exactly! Booze is like air—I need it. It makes a new man out of me—and usually ends by gettin’ both me and the new one laid off.”
“Didn’t hear nothing of the weddin’ over at Los Huecos, did ye?”
“No! Whose weddin’?”
“Ross Turney, the new sheriff.”
“Ye don’t say! Him that’s been elected on purpose to round up the Tremper gang, hey? Who’s his antagonist?”
“Old man Miller’s gal. He’s celebratin’ his election by gettin’ spliced. I been expectin’ of ’em across this way to-night, but I guess they took the Black Butte trail. You heard what he said, didn’t ye? Claims that inside of ninety days he’ll rid the county of the Trempers and give the reward to his wife for a bridal present. Five thousand dollars on ’em, you know.” Bailey grinned evilly and continued: “Say! Marsh Tremper’ll ride up to his house some night and make him eat his own gun in front of his bride, see if he don’t. Then there’ll be cause for an inquest and an election.” He spoke with what struck the teamster as unnecessary heat.
“Dunno,” said the other; “Turney’s a brash young feller, I hear, but he’s game. ’Tain’t any of my business, though, and I don’t want none of his contrac’. I’m violently addicted to peace and quiet, I am. Guess I’ll unhitch,” and he toddled out into the gathering dusk to his mules, while the landlord peered uneasily down the darkening trail.
As the saddened Joy lit candles in the front room there came the rattle of wheels without, and a buckboard stopped in the bar of light from the door. Bailey’s anxiety was replaced by a mask of listless surprise as the voice of Ross Turney called to him.