“Better take those ballads down, if you value them,” the stranger remarked.
She turned round inquiringly.
“I’m going to shoot.”
“Sakes alive—an’ my panel, an’ my best brass candlesticks!”
“Take them down.”
She gave in, and unpinned the ballads.
“Now stand aside.”
He stepped back to the other side of the room, and set his back to the door.
“Don’t move,” he said to Calvin Oke, whose chair stood immediately under the line of fire, “your head is not the least in the way. And don’t turn it either, but keep your eye on the candle to the right.”
This was spoken in the friendliest manner, but it hardly reassured Oke, who would have preferred to keep his eye on the deadly weapon now being lifted behind his back. Nevertheless he did not disobey, but sat still, with his eyes fixed on the mantelshelf, and only his shoulders twitching to betray his discomposure.
The room was suddenly full of sound, then of smoke and the reek of gunpowder. As the noise broke on their ears one of the candles went out quietly. The candlestick did not stir, but a bullet was embedded in the panel behind. Calvin Oke felt his scalp nervously.
“One,” counted the stranger. He walked quietly to the table, set down his smoking pistol, and took up the other, looking round at the same time on the white faces that stared on him behind the thick curls of smoke. Stepping back to his former position, he waited while they could count twenty, lifted the second pistol high, brought it smartly down to the aim and fired again.
The second candle went out, and a second bullet buried itself in Prudy’s panel.
So he served the six, one after another, without a miss. Twice he reloaded both pistols slowly, and while he did so not a word was spoken. Indeed, the only sound to be heard came from Uncle Issy, who, being a trifle asthmatical with age, felt some inconvenience from the smoke in his throat. By the time the last shot was fired the company could hardly see one another. Prudy, two of whose dishes had been shaken off the dresser, had tumbled upon a settle, and sat there, rocking herself to and fro, with her apron over her head.
The sound of firing had reached the neighbouring houses, and by this time the passage was full of men and women, agog for a tragedy. The door burst open. Through the dense atmosphere the stranger descried a crowd of faces in the passage. He was the first to speak.
“Good folk, you alarm yourselves without cause. I have merely been pointing an argument that I and my friends happen to be holding here.”
Then he turned to Calvin Oke, who lay in his chair like a limp sack, slowly recovering from his emotions at hearing the bullets whiz over his head.
“When I assure you that I carry these weapons always about me, you will hardly need to be warned against interfering with me again. The first man that meddles, I’ll shoot like a rabbit—by the Lord Harry, I will! You hear?”