“That’s another matter,” interrupted a familiar voice with the greatest cheerfulness; “that’s what you were going to say, wasn’t it? Ha! ha! Well, Mrs. Patterson,” continued Poindexter, stepping from his buggy, “you never spoke a truer word in your life. One moment, Mrs. Tucker. Let me send you back in the buggy. Don’t mind me. I can get a fresh horse of the sheriff. I’m quite at home here. I say, Patterson, step a few paces this way, will you? A little further from your wife, please. That’ll do. You’ve got a claim of five thousand dollars against the property, haven’t you?”
“Well, that woman just driving away is your one solitary chance of getting a cent of it. If your wife insults her again, that chance is gone. And if you do—”
“As sure as there is a God in Israel and a Supreme Court of the State of California, I’ll kill you in your tracks! . . . Stay!”
Patterson turned. The irrepressible look of humorous tolerance of all human frailty had suffused Poindexter’s black eyes with mischievous moisture. “If you think it quite safe to confide to your wife this prospect of her improvement by widowhood, you may!”
Mr. Patterson did not inform his wife of the lawyer’s personal threat to himself. But he managed, after Poindexter had left, to make her conscious that Mrs. Tucker might be a power to be placated and feared. “You’ve shot off your mouth at her,” he said argumentatively, “and whether you’ve hit the mark or not you’ve had your say. Ef you think it’s worth a possible five thousand dollars and interest to keep on, heave ahead. Ef you rather have the chance of getting the rest in cash, you’ll let up on her.” “You don’t suppose,” returned Mrs. Patterson contemptuously, “that she’s got anything but what that man of hers—Poindexter—lets her have?” “The sheriff says,” retorted Patterson surlily, “that she’s notified him that she claims the rancho as a gift from her husband three years ago, and she’s in possession now, and was so when the execution was out. It don’t make no matter,” he added, with gloomy philosophy, “who’s got a full hand as long as we ain’t got the cards to chip in. I wouldn’t ‘a’ minded it,” he continued meditatively, “ef Spence Tucker had dropped a hint to me afore he put out.” “And I suppose,” said Mrs. Patterson angrily, “you’d have put out too?” “I reckon,” said Patterson simply.
Twice or thrice during the evening he referred, more or less directly, to this lack of confidence shown by his late debtor and employer, and seemed to feel it more keenly than the loss of property. He confided his sentiments quite openly to the sheriff in possession, over the whiskey and euchre with which these gentlemen avoided the difficulties of their delicate relations. He brooded over it as he handed the keys of the shop to the sheriff when they parted for the night, and was still thinking of it when the house was closed, everybody gone to bed, and he was fetching a fresh jug of water from the well. The moon was at times obscured by flying clouds, the avant-couriers of the regular evening shower. He was stooping over the well, when he sprang suddenly to his feet again. “Who’s there?” he demanded sharply.