And that started a new line of discussion that left me even more thoughtful than before. I knew these men intimately. There was not a coward among them. They had been tried and hardened and tempered in the fierceness of the desert. Any one of them would have twisted the tail of the devil himself; but they were off Old Man Hooper. They did not make that admission in so many words; far from it. And I valued my hide enough to refrain from pointing the fact. But that fact remained: they were off Old Man Hooper. Furthermore, by the time they had finished recounting in intimate detail some scores of anecdotes dealing with what happened when Old Man Hooper winked his wildcat eye, I began in spite of myself to share some of their sentiments. For no matter how flagrant the killing, nor how certain morally the origin, never had the most brilliant nor the most painstaking effort been able to connect with the slayers nor their instigator. He worked in the dark by hidden hands; but the death from the hands was as certain as the rattlesnake’s. Certain of his victims, by luck or cleverness, seemed to have escaped sometimes as many as three or four attempts but in the end the old man’s Killers got them.
A Jew drummer who had grossly insulted Hooper in the Lone Star Emporium had, on learning the enormity of his crime, fled to San Francisco. Three months later Soda Springs awoke to find pasted by an unknown hand on the window of the Emporium a newspaper account of that Jew drummer’s taking off. The newspaper could offer no theory and merely recited the fact that the man suffered from a heavy-calibred bullet. But always the talk turned back at last to that crowning atrocity, the Boomerang, with its windrows of little calves, starved for water, lying against the fence.
“Yes,” someone unexpectedly answered my first question at last, “someone could just naturally pot him easy enough. But I got a hunch that he couldn’t get fur enough away to feel safe afterward. The fellow with a hankering for a good useful kind of suicide could get it right there. Any candidates? You-all been looking kinda mournful lately, Windy; s’pose you be the human benefactor and rid the world of this yere reptile.”
“Me?” said Windy with vast surprise, “me mournful? Why, I sing at my work like a little dicky bird. I’m so plumb cheerful bull frogs ain’t in it. You ain’t talking to me!”
But I wanted one more point of information before the conversation veered.
“Does his daughter ever ride out?” I asked.
“Daughter?” they echoed in surprise.
“Or niece, or whoever she is,” I supplemented impatiently.
“There’s no woman there; not even a Mex,” said one, and “Did you see any sign of any woman?” keenly from Windy Bill.
But I was not minded to be drawn.
“Somebody told me about a daughter, or niece, or something,” I said, vaguely.