“You’ve pluck,” said Franklin. Then, scorning to urge anything further of his suit at this time of her disadvantage, though feeling a strange new sense of nearness to her, now that they had seen this distress in common, he drove home rapidly as he might through the gathering dusk, anxious now only for her comfort. At the house he lifted her from the buggy, and as he did so kissed her cheek. “Dear little woman,” he whispered, “good-bye.” Again he doubted whether he had heard or not the soft whisper of a faint “Good-bye!”
“But you must come in,” she said.
“No, I must go. Make my excuses,” he said. “Good-bye!” The horses sprang sharply forward. He was gone.
The roll of the wheels and the rhythmic hoof-beats rapidly lessened to the ear as Franklin drove on into the blackening night. In her own little room Mary Ellen sat, her face where it might have been seen in profile had there been a light or had the distant driver looked round to see. Mary Ellen listened—listened until she could hear hoof and wheel no more. Then she cast herself upon the bed, face downward, and lay motionless and silent. Upon the little dresser lay a faded photograph, fallen forward also upon its face, lying unnoticed and apparently forgot.
The sheriff of Ellisville sat in his office oiling the machinery of the law; which is to say, cleaning his revolver. There was not yet any courthouse. The sheriff was the law. Twelve new mounds on the hillside back of the Cottage Hotel showed how faithfully he had executed his duties as judge and jury since he had taken up his office at the beginning of the “cow boom” of Ellisville. His right hand had found somewhat to do, and he had done it with his might.
Ellisville was near the zenith of its bad eminence. The entire country had gone broad-horn. Money being free, whisky was not less so. The bar of the Cottage was lined perpetually. Wild men from the range rode their horses up the steps and into the bar-room, demanding to be served as they sat in the saddle, as gentlemen should. Glass was too tempting to the six-shooters of these enthusiasts, and the barkeeper begged the question by stowing away the fragments of his mirror and keeping most of his bottles out of sight. More than once he was asked to hold up a bottle of whisky so that some cow-puncher might prove his skill by shooting the neck off from the flask. The bartender was taciturn and at times glum, but his face was the only one at the bar that showed any irritation or sadness. This railroad town was a bright, new thing for the horsemen of the trail—a very joyous thing. No funeral could check their hilarity; no whisky could daunt their throats, long seared with alkali.
It was notorious that after the civil war human life was held very cheap all over America, it having been seen how small a thing is a man, how little missed may be a million men taken bodily from the population. Nowhere was life cheaper than on the frontier, and at no place on that frontier of less value than at this wicked little city. Theft was unknown, nor was murder recognised by that name, always being referred to as a “killing.” Of these “killings” there were very many.