“Oh, hell,” cried the two men in chorus.
The glare of a panther came into Pete’s eyes. “Dat’s what I said! Unnerstan’?”
He came through a passage at the end of the bar and swelled down upon the two men. They stepped promptly forward and crowded close to him.
They bristled like three roosters. They moved their heads pugnaciously and kept their shoulders braced. The nervous muscles about each mouth twitched with a forced smile of mockery.
“Well, what deh hell yer goin’ teh do?” gritted Jimmie.
Pete stepped warily back, waving his hands before him to keep the men from coming too near.
“Well, what deh hell yer goin’ teh do?” repeated Jimmie’s ally. They kept close to him, taunting and leering. They strove to make him attempt the initial blow.
“Keep back, now! Don’ crowd me,” ominously said Pete.
Again they chorused in contempt. “Oh, hell!”
In a small, tossing group, the three men edged for positions like frigates contemplating battle.
“Well, why deh hell don’ yeh try teh t’row us out?” cried Jimmie and his ally with copious sneers.
The bravery of bull-dogs sat upon the faces of the
Their clenched fists moved like eager weapons.
The allied two jostled the bartender’s elbows, glaring at him with feverish eyes and forcing him toward the wall.
Suddenly Pete swore redly. The flash of action gleamed from his eyes. He threw back his arm and aimed a tremendous, lightning-like blow at Jimmie’s face. His foot swung a step forward and the weight of his body was behind his fist. Jimmie ducked his head, Bowery-like, with the quickness of a cat. The fierce, answering blows of him and his ally crushed on Pete’s bowed head.
The quiet stranger vanished.
The arms of the combatants whirled in the air like flails. The faces of the men, at first flushed to flame-colored anger, now began to fade to the pallor of warriors in the blood and heat of a battle. Their lips curled back and stretched tightly over the gums in ghoul-like grins. Through their white, gripped teeth struggled hoarse whisperings of oaths. Their eyes glittered with murderous fire.
Each head was huddled between its owner’s shoulders, and arms were swinging with marvelous rapidity. Feet scraped to and fro with a loud scratching sound upon the sanded floor. Blows left crimson blotches upon pale skin. The curses of the first quarter minute of the fight died away. The breaths of the fighters came wheezingly from their lips and the three chests were straining and heaving. Pete at intervals gave vent to low, labored hisses, that sounded like a desire to kill. Jimmie’s ally gibbered at times like a wounded maniac. Jimmie was silent, fighting with the face of a sacrificial priest. The rage of fear shone in all their eyes and their blood-colored fists swirled.