“I know my business, sir.”
Weaver turned from the window and came front to front with old Jim Sanderson. The burning black eyes of the Southerner, set in sockets of extraordinary depths, blazed from a grim, hostile face. Always when he felt ugliest Sanderson’s drawl became more pronounced. His daughter, hearing now the slow, gentle voice, ran quickly round the counter and slipped an arm into that of her father.
“This hyer is an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Weaver,” he was saying. “It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen you all in my house before, makin’ you’self at home so pleasantly. It’s ce’tainly an honor, seh.”
“Don’t get buck ague, Sanderson. I’m here because I’m here. That’s reason a-plenty for me,” Weaver told him contemptuously.
“But not for me, seh. When you come into my house——”
“I didn’t come into your house.”
“Father!” implored the girl. “It’s a government post-office. He has a right here as long as he behaves.”
“H’m!” the old fire-eater snorted. “I’d be obliged just the same, Mr. Weaver, if you’d transact your business and then light a shuck.”
“Dad!” the girl begged.
He patted her head awkwardly as it lay on his arm. “Now don’t you worry, honey. There ain’t going to be any trouble—leastways none of my making. I ain’t a-forgettin’ my promise to you-all. But I ain’t sittin’ down whilst anybody tromples on me neither.”
“He wouldn’t try to do that here,” Phyllis reminded him.
Weaver laughed in grim irony. “I’m surely much obliged to you for protecting me.” And to the father he added carelessly: “Keep your shirt on, Sanderson. I’m not trying to break into society. And when I do I reckon it won’t be with a sheep outfit I’ll trail.”
With which parting shot he turned on his heel, arrogant and imperious to the last virile inch of him.
With the jingle of trailing spur Buck Weaver passed from the post-office to the porch, where public opinion was wont to formulate itself while waiting for the mail to be distributed. Here twice a week it had sat for many years, had heard evidence, passed judgment, condemned or acquitted. For at this store the Malpais country bought its ammunition, its tobacco, and its canned goods; and on this porch its opinions had sifted down to convictions. From this common meeting ground the gossip of Cattleland was scattered far and wide.
Weaver filled the doorway while he drew on his gauntlets. He was the owner of the Twin Star outfit, the biggest cattle company in that country. Nearly twenty years ago, while still a boy of eighteen, he had begun in a small way. The Malpais had been a wild and lawless place then, but in all the turbid days that followed Buck Weaver had held his own ruthlessly by adroit manipulation, shrewd sense, and implacable daring. Some outfits he had bought out; others he had driven away. Those that survived were at a respectable distance from him. Only the settlers in the hills remained to trouble him. He had come to be the big man of the district, dominating its social, business, and political activities.