“You see, Panhandle Sears is that kind—he’s got to work himself up to kill a man. And over there at Antelope, that night, he just about knowed that if he lifted a finger, I’d git him. He figured to start a ruckus, and then git me in the mix-up. Wishful was on, and he stopped that chance. Folks think that because I come ridin’ and singin’ and joshin’ that I ain’t no account. Mebby I ain’t.”
Cheyenne poured another drink for himself. Bartley declined to drink again. He was thinking of this squalid tragedy and of its possible outcome. The erstwhile sprightly Cheyenne held a new significance for the Easterner. That a man could ride up and down the trails singing, and yet carry beneath it all the grim intent some day to kill a man—
Bartley felt that Cheyenne had suddenly become a stranger, an unknown quantity, a sinister jester, in fact, a dangerous man. He leaned forward and touched Cheyenne’s arm.
“Why not give up the idea of—er—getting Sears; and settle down, and make a home for Little Jim?”
“When Aunt Jane took him, the understandin’ was that Jimmy was to be raised respectable, which is the same as tellin’ me that I don’t have nothin’ to do with raisin’ him. Me, I got to keep movin’.”
Bartley turned toward the doorway as a tall figure loomed through the haze of tobacco smoke: a gaunt, heavy-boned man, bearded and limping slightly. With him were several companions, booted and spurred; evidently just in from a hard ride.
Cheyenne turned to Bartley. “That’s Bill Sneed—and his crowd. I ain’t popular with ’em—right now.”
“The man who had your horses?” queried Bartley.
Cheyenne nodded. “The one at the end of the bar. The hombre next to him is Lawson, who claims he bought my hosses from a Mexican, down here. Lawson is the one that is huntin’ trouble. Sneed don’t care nothin’ about a couple of cayuses. He won’t start anything. He’s here just to back up Lawson if things git interestin’.”
“But what can they do? We’re here, in town, minding our own business. They know well enough that Panhandle stole your horses. And you said the people in San Andreas don’t like Sneed a whole lot.”
“Because they’re scared of him and his crowd. And we’re strangers here. It’s just me and Lawson, this deal. Sneed is sizin’ you up, back of his whiskers, right now. He’s tryin’ to figure out who you are. Sneed ain’t one to run into the law when they’s anybody lookin’ on. He works different.
“Now, while he is figurin’, you just git up easy and step out and slip over to the barn and saddle up Joshua. I’m goin’ to need him. Take the tie-rope off Filaree and leave him loose in his stall. Just say ‘Adios’ to me when you git up, like you was goin’ back to the hotel. And if you’ll settle what we owe—”
“That’s all right. But my feet aren’t cold, yet.”