The Blue Hotel by
The Palace Hotel at Fort Romper was painted a light blue, a
shade that is on the legs of a kind of heron, causing the bird to
declare its position against any background. The Palace Hotel,
then, was always screaming and howling in a way that made the
dazzling winter landscape of Nebraska seem only a gray swampish
hush. It stood alone on the prairie, and when the snow was falling
the town two hundred yards away was not visible. But when the
traveller alighted at the railway station he was obliged to pass
the Palace Hotel before he could come upon the company of low
clapboard houses which composed Fort Romper, and it was not to be
thought that any traveller could pass the Palace Hotel without
looking at it. Pat Scully, the proprietor, had proved himself a
master of strategy when he chose his paints. It is true that on
clear days, when the great trans-continental expresses, long lines
of swaying Pullmans, swept through Fort Romper, passengers were
overcome at the sight, and the cult that knows the brown-reds and
the subdivisions of the dark greens of the East expressed shame,
pity, horror, in a laugh. But to the citizens of this prairie town
and to the people who would naturally stop there, Pat Scully had
performed a feat. With this opulence and splendor, these creeds,
classes, egotisms, that streamed through Romper on the rails day
after day, they had no color in common.
As if the displayed delights of such a blue hotel were not
sufficiently enticing, it was Scully's habit to go every morning
and evening to meet the leisurely trains that stopped at Romper and
work his seductions upon any man that he might see wavering,
gripsack in hand.
One morning, when a snow-crusted engine dragged its long string
of freight cars and its one passenger coach to the station, Scully
performed the marvel of catching three men. One was a shaky and
quick-eyed Swede, with a great shining cheap valise; one was a tall
bronzed cowboy, who was on his way to a ranch near the Dakota line;
one was a little silent man from the East, who didn't look it, and
didn't announce it. Scully practically made them prisoners. He was
so nimble and merry and kindly that each probably felt it would be
the height of brutality to try to escape. They trudged off over the
creaking board sidewalks in the wake of the eager little Irishman.
He wore a heavy fur cap squeezed tightly down on his head. It
caused his two red ears to stick out stiffly, as if they were made
At last, Scully, elaborately, with boisterous hospitality,
conducted them through the portals of the blue hotel. The room
which they entered was small. It seemed to be merely a proper
temple for an enormous stove, which, in the centre, was humming
with godlike violence. At various points on its surface the iron
had become luminous and glowed yellow from the heat. Beside the
stove Scully's son Johnnie was playing High-Five with an old farmer
who had whiskers both gray and sandy. They were quarrelling.
Frequently the old farmer turned his face towards a box of
sawdust—colored brown from tobacco juice—that was
behind the stove, and spat with an air of great impatience and
irritation. With a loud flourish of words Scully destroyed the game
of cards, and bustled his son up-stairs with part of the baggage of
the new guests. He himself conducted them to three basins of the
coldest water in the world. The cowboy and the Easterner burnished
themselves fiery-red with this water, until it seemed to be some
kind of a metal polish. The Swede, however, merely dipped his
fingers gingerly and with trepidation. It was notable that
throughout this series of small ceremonies the three travellers
were made to feel that Scully was very benevolent. He was
conferring great favors upon them. He handed the towel from one to
the other with an air of philanthropic impulse.
Afterwards they went to the first room, and, sitting about the
stove, listened to Scully's officious clamor at his daughters, who
were preparing the mid-day meal. They reflected in the silence of
experienced men who tread carefully amid new people. Nevertheless,
the old farmer, stationary, invincible in his chair near the
warmest part of the stove, turned his face from the sawdust box
frequently and addressed a glowing commonplace to the strangers.
Usually he was answered in short but adequate sentences by either
the cowboy or the Easterner. The Swede said nothing. He seemed to
be occupied in making furtive estimates of each man in the room.
One might have thought that he had the sense of silly suspicion
which comes to guilt. He resembled a badly frightened man.
Later, at dinner, he spoke a little, addressing his conversation
entirely to Scully. He volunteered that he had come from New York,
where for ten years he had worked as a tailor. These facts seemed
to strike Scully as fascinating, and afterwards he volunteered that
he had lived at Romper for fourteen years. The Swede asked about
the crops and the price of labor. He seemed barely to listen to
Scully's extended replies. His eyes continued to rove from man to
Finally, with a laugh and a wink, he said that some of these
Western communities were very dangerous; and after his statement he
straightened his legs under the table, tilted his head, and laughed
again, loudly. It was plain that the demonstration had no meaning
to the others. They looked at him wondering and in silence.
As the men trooped heavily back into the front-room, the two
little windows presented views of a turmoiling sea of snow. The
huge arms of the wind were making attempts—mighty, circular,
futile—to embrace the flakes as they sped. A gate-post like a
still man with a blanched face stood aghast amid this profligate
fury. In a hearty voice Scully announced the presence of a
blizzard. The guests of the blue hotel, lighting their pipes,
assented with grunts of lazy masculine contentment. No island of
the sea could be exempt in the degree of this little room with its
humming stove. Johnnie, son of Scully, in a tone which defined his
opinion of his ability as a card-player, challenged the old farmer
of both gray and sandy whiskers to a game of High-Five. The farmer
agreed with a contemptuous and bitter scoff. They sat close to the
stove, and squared their knees under a wide board. The cowboy and
the Easterner watched the game with interest. The Swede remained
near the window, aloof, but with a countenance that showed signs of
an inexplicable excitement.
The play of Johnnie and the gray-beard was suddenly ended by
another quarrel. The old man arose while casting a look of heated
scorn at his adversary. He slowly buttoned his coat, and then
stalked with fabulous dignity from the room. In the discreet
silence of all other men the Swede laughed. His laughter rang
somehow childish. Men by this time had begun to look at him
askance, as if they wished to inquire what ailed him.
A new game was formed jocosely. The cowboy volunteered to become
the partner of Johnnie, and they all then turned to ask the Swede
to throw in his lot with the little Easterner, He asked some
questions about the game, and, learning that it wore many names,
and that he had played it when it was under an alias, he accepted
the invitation. He strode towards the men nervously, as if he
expected to be assaulted. Finally, seated, he gazed from face to
face and laughed shrilly. This laugh was so strange that the
Easterner looked up quickly, the cowboy sat intent and with his
mouth open, and Johnnie paused, holding the cards with still
Afterwards there was a short silence. Then Johnnie said, "Well,
let's get at it. Come on now!" They pulled their chairs forward
until their knees were bunched under the board. They began to play,
and their interest in the game caused the others to forget the
manner of the Swede.
The cowboy was a board-whacker. Each time that he held superior
cards he whanged them, one by one, with exceeding force, down upon
the improvised table, and took the tricks with a glowing air of
prowess and pride that sent thrills of indignation into the hearts
of his opponents. A game with a board-whacker in it is sure to
become intense. The countenances of the Easterner and the Swede
were miserable whenever the cowboy thundered down his aces and
kings, while Johnnie, his eyes gleaming with joy, chuckled and
Because of the absorbing play none considered the strange ways
of the Swede. They paid strict heed to the game. Finally, during a
lull caused by a new deal, the Swede suddenly addressed Johnnie: "I
suppose there have been a good many men killed in this room." The
jaws of the others dropped and they looked at him.
"What in hell are you talking about?" said Johnnie.
The Swede laughed again his blatant laugh, full of a kind of
false courage and defiance. "Oh, you know what I mean all right,"
"I'm a liar if I do!" Johnnie protested. The card was halted,
and the men stared at the Swede. Johnnie evidently felt that as the
son of the proprietor he should make a direct inquiry. "Now, what
might you be drivin' at, mister?" he asked. The Swede winked at
him. It was a wink full of cunning. His fingers shook on the edge
of the board. "Oh, maybe you think I have been to nowheres. Maybe
you think I'm a tenderfoot?"
"I don't know nothin' about you," answered Johnnie, "and I don't
give a damn where you've been. All I got to say is that I don't
know what you're driving at. There hain't never been nobody killed
in this room."
The cowboy, who had been steadily gazing at the Swede, then
spoke: "What's wrong with you, mister?"
Apparently it seemed to the Swede that he was formidably
menaced. He shivered and turned white near the corners of his
mouth. He sent an appealing glance in the direction of the little
Easterner. During these moments he did not forget to wear his air
of advanced pot-valor. "They say they don't know what I mean," he
remarked mockingly to the Easterner.
The latter answered after prolonged and cautious reflection. "I
don't understand you," he said, impassively.
The Swede made a movement then which announced that he thought
he had encountered treachery from the only quarter where he had
expected sympathy, if not help. "Oh, I see you are all against me.
The cowboy was in a state of deep stupefaction. "Say." he cried,
as he tumbled the deck violently down upon the board "—say,
what are you gittin' at, hey?"
The Swede sprang up with the celerity of a man escaping from a
snake on the floor. "I don't want to fight!" he shouted. "I don't
want to fight!"
The cowboy stretched his long legs indolently and deliberately.
His hands were in his pockets. He spat into the sawdust box. "Well,
who the hell thought you did?" he inquired.
The Swede backed rapidly towards a corner of the room. His hands
were out protectingly in front of his chest, but he was making an
obvious struggle to control his fright. "Gentlemen," he quavered,
"I suppose I am going to be killed before I can leave this house! I
suppose I am going to be killed before I can leave this house!" In
his eyes was the dying-swan look. Through the windows could be seen
the snow turning blue in the shadow of dusk. The wind tore at the
house and some loose thing beat regularly against the clap-boards
like a spirit tapping.
A door opened, and Scully himself entered. He paused in surprise
as he noted the tragic attitude of the Swede. Then he said, "What's
the matter here?"
The Swede answered him swiftly and eagerly: "These men are going
to kill me."
"Kill you!" ejaculated Scully. "Kill you! What are you
The Swede made the gesture of a martyr.
Scully wheeled sternly upon his son. "What is this,
The lad had grown sullen. "Damned if I know," he answered. "I
can't make no sense to it." He began to shuffle the cards,
fluttering them together with an angry snap. "He says a good many
men have been killed in this room, or something like that. And he
says he's goin' to be killed here too. I don't know what ails him.
He's crazy, I shouldn't wonder."
Scully then looked for explanation to the cowboy, but the cowboy
simply shrugged his shoulders.
"Kill you?" said Scully again to the Swede. "Kill you? Man,
you're off your nut."
"Oh, I know." burst out the Swede. "I know what will happen.
Yes, I'm crazy—yes. Yes, of course, I'm crazy—yes. But
I know one thing—" There was a sort of sweat of misery and
terror upon his face. "I know I won't get out of here alive."
The cowboy drew a deep breath, as if his mind was passing into
the last stages of dissolution. "Well, I'm dog-goned," he whispered
Scully wheeled suddenly and faced his son. "You've been
troublin' this man!"
Johnnie's voice was loud with its burden of grievance. "Why,
good Gawd, I ain't done nothin' to 'im."
The Swede broke in. "Gentlemen, do not disturb yourselves. I
will leave this house. I will go away because"—he accused
them dramatically with his glance—"because I do not want to
Scully was furious with his son. "Will you tell me what is the
matter, you young divil? What's the matter, anyhow? Speak out!"
"Blame it!" cried Johnnie in despair, "don't I tell you I don't
know. He—he says we want to kill him, and that's all I know.
I can't tell what ails him."
The Swede continued to repeat: "Never mind, Mr. Scully;
nevermind. I will leave this house. I will go away, because I do
not wish to be killed. Yes, of course, I am crazy—yes. But I
know one thing! I will go away. I will leave this house. Never
mind, Mr. Scully; never mind. I will go away."
"You will not go 'way," said Scully. "You will not go 'way until
I hear the reason of this business. If anybody has troubled you I
will take care of him. This is my house. You are under my roof, and
I will not allow any peaceable man to be troubled here." He cast a
terrible eye upon Johnnie, the cowboy, and the Easterner.
"Never mind, Mr. Scully; never mind. I will go away. I do not
wish to be killed." The Swede moved towards the door, which opened
upon the stairs. It was evidently his intention to go at once for
"No, no," shouted Scully peremptorily; but the white-faced man
slid by him and disappeared. "Now," said Scully severely, "what
does this mane?"
Johnnie and the cowboy cried together: "Why, we didn't do
nothin' to 'im!"
Scully's eyes were cold. "No," he said, "you didn't?"
Johnnie swore a deep oath. "Why this is the wildest loon I ever
see. We didn't do nothin' at all. We were jest sittin' here play
in' cards, and he—"
The father suddenly spoke to the Easterner. "Mr. Blanc," he
asked, "what has these boys been doin'?"
The Easterner reflected again. "I didn't see anything wrong at
all," he said at last, slowly.
Scully began to howl. "But what does it mane?" He stared
ferociously at his son. "I have a mind to lather you for this, me
Johnnie was frantic. "Well, what have I done?" he bawled at his
"I think you are tongue-tied," said Scully finally to his son,
the cowboy, and the Easterner; and at the end of this scornful
sentence he left the room.
Up-stairs the Swede was swiftly fastening the straps of his
great valise. Once his back happened to be half turned towards the
door, and, hearing a noise there, he wheeled and sprang up,
uttering a loud cry. Scully's wrinkled visage showed grimly in the
light of the small lamp he carried. This yellow effulgence,
streaming upward, colored only his prominent features, and left his
eyes, for instance, in mysterious shadow. He resembled a
"Man! man!" he exclaimed, "have you gone daffy?"
"Oh, no! Oh, no!" rejoined the other. "There are people in this
world who know pretty nearly as much as you
For a moment they stood gazing at each other. Upon the Swede's
deathly pale checks were two spots brightly crimson and sharply
edged, as if they had been carefully painted. Scully placed the
light on the table and sat himself on the edge of the bed. He spoke
ruminatively. "By cracky, I never heard of such a thing in my life.
It's a complete muddle. I can't, for the soul of me, think how you
ever got this idea into your head." Presently he lifted his eyes
and asked: "And did you sure think they were going to kill
The Swede scanned the old man as if he wished to see into his
mind. "I did," he said at last. He obviously suspected that this
answer might precipitate an outbreak. As he pulled on a strap his
whole arm shook, the elbow wavering like a bit of paper.
Scully banged his hand impressively on the foot-board of the
bed. "Why, man, we're goin' to have a line of ilictric street-cars
in this town next spring."
"'A line of electric street-cars,'" repeated the Swede,
"And," said Scully, "there's a new railroad goin' to be built
down from Broken Arm to here. Not to mintion the four churches and
the smashin' big brick school-house. Then there's the big factory,
too. Why, in two years Romper 'll be a metropolis."
Having finished the preparation of his baggage, the Swede
straightened himself. "Mr. Scully," he said, with sudden hardihood,
"how much do I owe you?"
"You don't owe me anythin'," said the old man, angrily.
"Yes, I do," retorted the Swede. He took seventy-five cents from
his pocket and tendered it to Scully; but the latter snapped his
fingers in disdainful refusal. However, it happened that they both
stood gazing in a strange fashion at three silver pieces on the
Swede's open palm.
"I'll not take your money," said Scully at last. "Not after
what's been goin' on here." Then a plan seemed to strike him.
"Here," he cried, picking up his lamp and moving towards the door.
"Here! Come with me a minute."
"No," said the Swede, in overwhelming alarm.
"Yes," urged the old man. "Come on! I want you to come and see a
picter—just across the hall—in my room."
The Swede must have concluded that his hour was come. His jaw
dropped and his teeth showed like a dead man's. He ultimately
followed Scully across the corridor, but he had the step of one
hung in chains.
Scully flashed the light high on the wall of his own chamber.
There was revealed a ridiculous photograph of a little girl. She
was leaning against a balustrade of gorgeous decoration, and the
formidable bang to her hair was prominent. The figure was as
graceful as an upright sled-stake, and, withal, it was of the hue
of lead. "There," said Scully, tenderly, "that's the picter of my
little girl that died. Her name was Carrie. She had the purtiest
hair you ever saw! I was that fond of her, she—"
Turning then, he saw that the Swede was not contemplating the
picture at all, but, instead, was keeping keen watch on the gloom
in the rear.
"Look, man!" cried Scully, heartily. "That's the picter of my
little gal that died. Her name was Carrie. And then here's the
picter of my oldest boy, Michael. He's a lawyer in Lincoln, an'
doin' well. I gave that boy a grand eddycation, and I'm glad for it
now. He's a fine boy. Look at 'im now. Ain't he bold as blazes, him
there in Lincoln, an honored an' respicted gintleman. An honored
an' respicted gintleman," concluded Scully with a flourish. And, so
saying, he smote the Swede jovially on the back.
The Swede faintly smiled.
"Now," said the old man, "there's only one more thing." He
dropped suddenly to the floor and thrust his head beneath the bed.
The Swede could hear his muffled voice. "I'd keep it under me
piller if it wasn't for that boy Johnnie. Then there's the old
woman—Where is it now? I never put it twice in the same
place. Ah, now come out with you!"
Presently he backed clumsily from under the bed, dragging with
him an old coat rolled into a bundle. "I've fetched him," he
muttered. Kneeling on the floor, he unrolled the coat and extracted
from its heart a large yellow-brown whiskey bottle.
His first maneuver was to hold the bottle up to the light.
Reassured, apparently, that nobody had been tampering with it, he
thrust it with a generous movement towards the Swede.
The weak-kneed Swede was about to eagerly clutch this element of
strength, but he suddenly jerked his hand away and cast a look of
horror upon Scully.
"Drink," said the old man affectionately. He had risen to his
feet, and now stood facing the Swede.
There was a silence. Then again Scully said: "Drink!"
The Swede laughed wildly. He grabbed the bottle, put it to his
mouth, and as his lips curled absurdly around the opening and his
throat worked, he kept his glance, burning with hatred, upon the
old man's face.
After the departure of Scully the three men, with the card-board
still upon their knees, preserved for a long time an astounded
silence. Then Johnnie said: "That's the dod-dangest Swede I ever
"He ain't no Swede," said the cowboy, scornfully.
"Well, what is he then?" cried Johnnie. "What is he then?"
"It's my opinion," replied the cowboy deliberately, "he's some
kind of a Dutchman." It was a venerable custom of the country to
entitle as Swedes all light-haired men who spoke with a heavy
tongue. In consequence the idea of the cowboy was not without its
daring. "Yes, sir," he repeated. "It's my opinion this feller is
some kind of a Dutchman."
"Well, he says he's a Swede, anyhow," muttered Johnnie, sulkily.
He turned to the Easterner: "What do you think, Mr. Blanc?"
"Oh, I don't know," replied the Easterner.
"Well, what do you think makes him act that way?" asked the
"Why, he's frightened." The Easterner knocked his pipe against a
rim of the stove. "He's clear frightened out of his boots."
"What at?" cried Johnnie and cowboy together.
The Easterner reflected over his answer.
"What at?" cried the others again.
"Oh, I don't know, but it seems to me this man has been reading
dime-novels, and he thinks he's right out in the middle of
it—the shootin' and stabbin' and all."
"But," said the cowboy, deeply scandalized, "this ain't Wyoming,
ner none of them places. This is Nebrasker."
"Yes," added Johnnie, "an' why don't he wait till he gits out
The travelled Easterner laughed. "It isn't different there
even—not in these days. But he thinks he's right in the
middle of hell."
Johnnie and the cowboy mused long.
"It's awful funny," remarked Johnnie at last.
"Yes," said the cowboy. "This is a queer game. I hope we don't
git snowed in, because then we'd have to stand this here man bein'
around with us all the time. That wouldn't be no good."
"I wish pop would throw him out," said Johnnie.
Presently they heard a loud stamping on the stairs, accompanied
by ringing jokes in the voice of old Scully, and laughter,
evidently from the Swede. The men around the stove stared vacantly
at each other. "Gosh!" said the cowboy. The door flew open, and old
Scully, flushed and anecdotal, came into the room. He was jabbering
at the Swede, who followed him, laughing bravely. It was the entry
of two roisterers from a banquet-hall.
"Come now," said Scully sharply to the three seated men, "move
up and give us a chance at the stove." The cowboy and the Easterner
obediently sidled their chairs to make room for the new-comers.
Johnnie, however, simply arranged himself in a more indolent
attitude, and then remained motionless.
"Come! Git over, there," said Scully.
"Plenty of room on the other side of the stove," said
"Do you think we want to sit in the draught?" roared the
But the Swede here interposed with a grandeur of confidence.
"No, no. Let the boy sit where he likes," he cried in a bullying
voice to the father.
"All right! All right!" said Scully, deferentially. The cowboy
and the Easterner exchanged glances of wonder.
The five chairs were formed in a crescent about one side of the
stove. The Swede began to talk; he talked arrogantly, profanely,
angrily. Johnnie, the cowboy, and the Easterner maintained a morose
silence, while old Scully appeared to be receptive and eager,
breaking in constantly with sympathetic ejaculations.
Finally the Swede announced that he was thirsty. He moved in his
chair, and said that he would go for a drink of water.
"I'll git it for you," cried Scully at once.
"No," said the Swede, contemptuously. "I'll get it for myself."
He arose and stalked with the air of an owner off into the
executive parts of the hotel.
As soon as the Swede was out of hearing Scully sprang to his
feet and whispered intensely to the others: "Up-stairs he thought I
was tryin' to poison 'im."
"Say," said Johnnie, "this makes me sick. Why don't you throw
'im out in the snow?"
"Why, he's all right now," declared Scully. "It was only that he
was from the East, and he thought this was a tough place. That's
all. He's all right now."
The cowboy looked with admiration upon the Easterner. "You were
straight," he said. "You were on to that there Dutchman."
"Well," said Johnnie to his father, "he may be all right now,
but I don't see it. Other time he was scared, but now he's too
Scully's speech was always a combination of Irish brogue and
idiom, Western twang and idiom, and scraps of curiously formal
diction taken from the story-books and newspapers, He now hurled a
strange mass of language at the head of his son. "What do I keep?
What do I keep? What do I keep?" he demanded, in a voice of
thunder. He slapped his knee impressively, to indicate that he
himself was going to make reply, and that all should heed. "I keep
a hotel," he shouted. "A hotel, do you mind? A guest under my roof
has sacred privileges. He is to be intimidated by none. Not one
word shall he hear that would prejudice him in favor of goin' away.
I'll not have it. There's no place in this here town where they can
say they iver took in a guest of mine because he was afraid to stay
here." He wheeled suddenly upon the cowboy and the Easterner. "Am I
"Yes, Mr. Scully," said the cowboy, "I think you're right."
"Yes, Mr. Scully," said the Easterner, "I think you're
At six-o'clock supper, the Swede fizzed like a fire-wheel. He
sometimes seemed on the point of bursting into riotous song, and in
all his madness he was encouraged by old Scully. The Easterner was
incased in reserve; the cowboy sat in wide-mouthed amazement,
forgetting to eat, while Johnnie wrathily demolished great plates
of food. The daughters of the house, when they were obliged to
replenish the biscuits, approached as warily as Indians, and,
having succeeded in their purpose, fled with ill-concealed
trepidation. The Swede domineered the whole feast, and he gave it
the appearance of a cruel bacchanal. He seemed to have grown
suddenly taller; he gazed, brutally disdainful, into every face.
His voice rang through the room. Once when he jabbed out
harpoon-fashion with his fork to pinion a biscuit, the weapon
nearly impaled the hand of the Easterner which had been stretched
quietly out for the same biscuit.
After supper, as the men filed towards the other room, the Swede
smote Scully ruthlessly on the shoulder. "Well, old boy, that was a
good, square meal." Johnnie looked hopefully at his father; he knew
that shoulder was tender from an old fall; and, indeed, it appeared
for a moment as if Scully was going to flame out over the matter,
but in the end he smiled a sickly smile and remained silent. The
others understood from his manner that he was admitting his
responsibility for the Swede's new view-point.
Johnnie, however, addressed his parent in an aside. "Why don't
you license somebody to kick you down-stairs?" Scully scowled
darkly by way of reply.
When they were gathered about the stove, the Swede insisted on
another game of High Five. Scully gently deprecated the plan at
first, but the Swede turned a wolfish glare upon him. The old man
subsided, and the Swede canvassed the others. In his tone there was
always a great threat. The cowboy and the Easterner both remarked
indifferently that they would play. Scully said that he would
presently have to go to meet the 6.58 train, and so the Swede
turned menacingly upon Johnnie. For a moment their glances crossed
like blades, and then Johnnie smiled and said, "Yes, I'll
They formed a square, with the little board on their knees. The
Easterner and the Swede were again partners. As the play went on,
it was noticeable that the cowboy was not board-whacking as usual.
Meanwhile, Scully, near the lamp, had put on his spectacles and,
with an appearance curiously like an old priest, was reading a
newspaper. In time he went out to meet the 6.58 train, and, despite
his precautions, a gust of polar wind whirled into the room as he
opened the door. Besides scattering the cards, it dulled the
players to the marrow. The Swede cursed frightfully. When Scully
returned, his entrance disturbed a cosey and friendly scene. The
Swede again cursed. But presently they were once more intent, their
heads bent forward and their hands moving swiftly. The Swede had
adopted the fashion of board-whacking.
Scully took up his paper and for a long time remained immersed
in matters which were extraordinarily remote from him. The lamp
burned badly, and once he stopped to adjust the wick. The
newspaper, as he turned from page to page, rustled with a slow and
comfortable sound. Then suddenly he heard three terrible words:
"You are cheatin'!"
Such scenes often prove that there can be little of dramatic
import in environment. Any room can present a tragic front; any
room can be comic. This little den was now hideous as a
torture-chamber. The new faces of the men themselves had changed it
upon the instant. The Swede held a huge fist in front of Johnnie's
face, while the latter looked steadily over it into the blazing
orbs of his accuser. The Easterner had grown pallid; the cowboy's
jaw had dropped in that expression of bovine amazement which was
one of his important mannerisms. After the three words, the first
sound in the room was made by Scully's paper as it floated
forgotten to his feet. His spectacles had also fallen from his
nose, but by a clutch he had saved them in air. His hand, grasping
the spectacles, now remained poised awkwardly and near his
shoulder. He stared at the card-players.
Probably the silence was while a second elapsed. Then, if the
floor had been suddenly twitched out from under the men they could
not have moved quicker. The five had projected themselves headlong
towards a common point. It happened that Johnnie, in rising to hurl
himself upon the Swede, had stumbled slightly because of his
curiously instinctive care for the cards and the board. The loss of
the moment allowed time for the arrival of Scully, and also allowed
the cowboy time to give the Swede a great push which sent him
staggering back. The men found tongue together, and hoarse shouts
of rage, appeal, or fear burst from every throat. The cowboy pushed
and jostled feverishly at the Swede, and the Easterner and Scully
clung wildly to Johnnie; but, through the smoky air, above the
swaying bodies of the peace-compellers, the eyes of the two
warriors ever sought each other in glances of challenge that were
at once hot and steely.
Of course the board had been overturned, and now the whole
company of cards was scattered over the floor, where the boots of
the men trampled the fat and painted kings and queens as they gazed
with their silly eyes at the war that was waging above them.
Scully's voice was dominating the yells. "Stop now? Stop, I say!
Johnnie, as he struggled to burst through the rank formed by
Scully and the Easterner, was crying, "Well, he says I cheated! He
says I cheated! I won't allow no man to say I cheated! If he says I
cheated, he's a ——— ———!"
The cowboy was telling the Swede, "Quit, now! Quit, d'ye
The screams of the Swede never ceased: "He did cheat! I saw him!
I saw him—"
As for the Easterner, he was importuning in a voice that was not
heeded: "Wait a moment, can't you? Oh, wait a moment. What's the
good of a fight over a game of cards? Wait a moment—"
In this tumult no complete sentences were clear.
"Cheat"—"Quit"—"He says"—these fragments pierced
the uproar and rang out sharply. It was remarkable that, whereas
Scully undoubtedly made the most noise, he was the least heard of
any of the riotous band.
Then suddenly there was a great cessation. It was as if each man
had paused for breath; and although the room was still lighted with
the anger of men, it could be seen that there was no danger of
immediate conflict, and at once Johnnie, shouldering his way
forward, almost succeeded in confronting the Swede. "What did you
say I cheated for? What did you say I cheated for? I don't cheat,
and I won't let no man say I do!"
The Swede said, "I saw you! I saw you!"
"Well," cried Johnnie, "I'll fight any man what says I
"No, you won't," said the cowboy. "Not here."
"Ah, be still, can't you?" said Scully, coming between them.
The quiet was sufficient to allow the Easterner's voice to be
heard. He was repealing, "Oh, wait a moment, can't you? What's the
good of a fight over a game of cards? Wait a moment!"
Johnnie, his red face appearing above his father's shoulder,
hailed the Swede again. "Did you say I cheated?"
The Swede showed his teeth. "Yes."
"Then," said Johnnie, "we must fight."
"Yes, fight," roared the Swede. He was like a demoniac. "Yes,
fight! I'll show you what kind of a man I am! I'll show you who you
want to fight! Maybe you think I can't fight! Maybe you think I
can't! I'll show you, you skin, you card-sharp! Yes, you cheated!
You cheated! You cheated!"
"Well, let's go at it, then, mister," said Johnnie, coolly.
The cowboy's brow was beaded with sweat from his efforts in
intercepting all sorts of raids. He turned in despair to Scully.
"What are you goin' to do now?"
A change had come over the Celtic visage of the old man. He now
seemed all eagerness; his eyes glowed.
"We'll let them fight," he answered, stalwartly. "I can't put up
with it any longer. I've stood this damned Swede till I'm sick.
We'll let them fight."
The men prepared to go out-of-doors. The Easterner was so
nervous that he had great difficulty in getting his arms into the
sleeves of his new leather coat. As the cowboy drew his fur cap
down over his cars his hands trembled. In fact, Johnnie and old
Scully were the only ones who displayed no agitation. These
preliminaries were conducted without words.
Scully threw open the door. "Well, come on," he said. Instantly
a terrific wind caused the flame of the lamp to struggle at its
wick, while a puff of black smoke sprang from the chimney-top. The
stove was in mid-current of the blast, and its voice swelled to
equal the roar of the storm. Some of the scarred and bedabbled
cards were caught up from the floor and dashed helplessly against
the farther wall. The men lowered their heads and plunged into the
tempest as into a sea.
No snow was falling, but great whirls and clouds of flakes,
swept up from the ground by the frantic winds, were streaming
southward with the speed of bullets. The covered land was blue with
the sheen of an unearthly satin, and there was no other hue save
where, at the low, black railway station—which seemed
incredibly distant—one light gleamed like a tiny jewel. As
the men floundered into a thigh deep drift, it was known that the
Swede was bawling out something. Scully went to him, put a hand on
his shoulder and projected an ear. "What's that you say?" he
"I say," bawled the Swede again, "I won't stand much show
against this gang. I know you'll all pitch on me."
Scully smote him reproachfully on the arm. "Tut, man!" he
yelled. The wind tore the words from Scully's lips and scattered
them far alee.
"You are all a gang of—" boomed the Swede, but the storm
also seized the remainder of this sentence.
Immediately turning their backs upon the wind, the men had swung
around a corner to the sheltered side of the hotel. It was the
function of the little house to preserve here, amid this great
devastation of snow, an irregular V-shape of heavily incrusted
grass, which crackled beneath the feet. One could imagine the great
drifts piled against the windward side. When the party reached the
comparative peace of this spot it was found that the Swede was
"Oh, I know what kind of a thing this is! I know you'll all
pitch on me. I can't lick you all!"
Scully turned upon him panther fashion. "You'll not have to whip
all of us. You'll have to whip my son Johnnie. An' the man what
troubles you durin' that time will have me to dale with."
The arrangements were swiftly made. The two men faced each
other, obedient to the harsh commands of Scully, whose face, in the
subtly luminous gloom, could be seen set in the austere impersonal
lines that are pictured on the countenances of the Roman veterans.
The Easterner's teeth were chattering, and he was hopping up and
down like a mechanical toy. The cowboy stood rock-like.
The contestants had not stripped off any clothing. Each was in
his ordinary attire. Their fists were up, and they eyed each other
in a calm that had the elements of leonine cruelty in it.
During this pause, the Easterner's mind, like a film, took
lasting impressions of three men—the iron-nerved master of
the ceremony; the Swede, pale, motionless, terrible; and Johnnie,
serene yet ferocious, brutish yet heroic. The entire prelude had in
it a tragedy greater than the tragedy of action, and this aspect
was accentuated by the long, mellow cry of the blizzard, as it sped
the tumbling and wailing flakes into the black abyss of the
"Now!" said Scully.
The two combatants leaped forward and crashed together like
bullocks. There was heard the cushioned sound of blows, and of a
curse squeezing out from between the tight teeth of one.
As for the spectators, the Easterner's pent-up breath exploded
from him with a pop of relief, absolute relief from the tension of
the preliminaries. The cowboy bounded into the air with a yowl.
Scully was immovable as from supreme amazement and fear at the fury
of the fight which he himself had permitted and arranged.
For a time the encounter in the darkness was such a perplexity
of flying arms that it presented no more detail than would a
swiftly revolving wheel. Occasionally a face, as if illumined by a
flash of light, would shine out, ghastly and marked with pink
spots. A moment later, the men might have been known as shadows, if
it were not for the involuntary utterance of oaths that came from
them in whispers.
Suddenly a holocaust of warlike desire caught the cowboy, and he
bolted forward with the speed of a broncho. "Go it, Johnnie! go it!
Kill him! Kill him!"
Scully confronted him. "Kape back," he said; and by his glance
the cowboy could tell that this man was Johnnie's father.
To the Easterner there was a monotony of unchangeable fighting
that was an abomination. This confused mingling was eternal to his
sense, which was concentrated in a longing for the end, the
priceless end. Once the fighters lurched near him, and as he
scrambled hastily backward he heard them breathe like men on the
"Kill him, Johnnie! Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!" The cowboy's
face was contorted like one of those agony masks in museums.
"Keep still," said Scully, icily.
Then there was a sudden loud grunt, incomplete, cut short, and
Johnnie's body swung away from the Swede and fell with sickening
heaviness to the grass. The cowboy was barely in time to prevent
the mad Swede from flinging himself upon his prone adversary. "No,
you don't," said the cowboy, interposing an arm. "Wait a
Scully was at his son's side. "Johnnie! Johnnie, me boy!" His
voice had a quality of melancholy tenderness. "Johnnie! Can you go
on with it?" He looked anxiously down into the bloody, pulpy face
of his son.
There was a moment of silence, and then Johnnie answered in his
ordinary voice, "Yes, I—it—yes."
Assisted by his father he struggled to his feet. "Wait a bit now
till you git your wind," said the old man.
A few paces away the cowboy was lecturing the Swede. "No, you
don't! Wait a second!"
The Easterner was plucking at Scully's sleeve. "Oh, this is
enough," he pleaded. "This is enough! Let it go as it stands. This
"Bill," said Scully, "git out of the road." The cowboy stepped
aside. "Now." The combatants were actuated by a new caution as they
advanced towards collision. They glared at each other, and then the
Swede aimed a lightning blow that carried with it his entire
weight. Johnnie was evidently half stupid from weakness, but he
miraculously dodged, and his fist sent the over-balanced Swede
The cowboy, Scully, and the Easterner burst into a cheer that
was like a chorus of triumphant soldiery, but before its conclusion
the Swede had scuffled agilely to his feet and come in berserk
abandon at his foe. There was another perplexity of flying arms,
and Johnnie's body again swung away and fell, even as a bundle
might fall from a roof. The Swede instantly staggered to a little
wind-waved tree and leaned upon it, breathing like an engine, while
his savage and flame-lit eyes roamed from face to face as the men
bent over Johnnie. There was a splendor of isolation in his
situation at this time which the Easterner felt once when, lifting
his eyes from the man on the ground, he beheld that mysterious and
lonely figure, waiting.
"Arc you any good yet, Johnnie?" asked Scully in a broken
The son gasped and opened his eyes languidly. After a moment he
answered, "No—I ain't—any good—any—more."
Then, from shame and bodily ill he began to weep, the tears
furrowing down through the blood-stains on his face. "He was
too—too—too heavy for me."
Scully straightened and addressed the waiting figure.
"Stranger," he said, evenly, "it's all up with our side." Then his
voice changed into that vibrant huskiness which is commonly the
tone of the most simple and deadly announcements. "Johnnie is
Without replying, the victor moved off on the route to the front
door of the hotel.
The cowboy was formulating new and un-spellable blasphemies. The
Easterner was startled to find that they were out in a wind that
seemed to come direct from the shadowed arctic floes. He heard
again the wail of the snow as it was flung to its grave in the
south. He knew now that all this time the cold had been sinking
into him deeper and deeper, and he wondered that he had not
perished. He felt indifferent to the condition of the vanquished
"Johnnie, can you walk?" asked Scully.
"Did I hurt—hurt him any?" asked the son.
"Can you walk, boy? Can you walk?"
Johnnie's voice was suddenly strong. There was a robust
impatience in it. "I asked you whether I hurt him any!"
"Yes, yes, Johnnie," answered the cowboy, consolingly; "he's
hurt a good deal."
They raised him from the ground, and as soon as he was on his
feet he went tottering off, rebuffing all attempts at assistance.
When the party rounded the corner they were fairly blinded by the
pelting of the snow. It burned their faces like fire. The cowboy
carried Johnnie through the drift to the door. As they entered some
cards again rose from the floor and beat against the wall.
The Easterner rushed to the stove. He was so profoundly chilled
that he almost dared to embrace the glowing iron. The Swede was not
in the room. Johnnie sank into a chair, and, folding his arms on
his knees, buried his face in them. Scully, warming one foot and
then the other at a rim of the stove, muttered to himself with
Celtic mournfulness. The cowboy had removed his fur cap, and with a
dazed and rueful air he was running one hand through his tousled
locks. From overhead they could hear the creaking of boards, as the
Swede tramped here and there in his room.
The sad quiet was broken by the sudden flinging open of a door
that led towards the kitchen. It was instantly followed by an
inrush of women. They precipitated themselves upon Johnnie amid a
chorus of lamentation. Before they carried their prey off to the
kitchen, there to be bathed and harangued with that mixture of
sympathy and abuse which is a feat of their sex, the mother
straightened herself and fixed old Scully with an eye of stern
reproach. "Shame be upon you, Patrick Scully!" she cried. "Your own
son, too. Shame be upon you!"
"There, now! Be quiet, now!" said the old man, weakly.
"Shame be upon you, Patrick Scully!" The girls, rallying to this
slogan, sniffed disdainfully in the direction of those trembling
accomplices, the cowboy and the Easterner. Presently they bore
Johnnie away, and left the three men to dismal reflection.
"I'd like to fight this here Dutchman myself," said the cowboy,
breaking a long silence.
Scully wagged his head sadly. "No, that wouldn't do. It wouldn't
be right. It wouldn't be right."
"Well, why wouldn't it?" argued the cowboy. "I don't see no harm
"No," answered Scully, with mournful heroism. "It wouldn't be
right. It was Johnnie's fight, and now we mustn't whip the man just
because he whipped Johnnie."
"Yes, that's true enough," said the cowboy; "but—he better
not get fresh with me, because I couldn't stand no more of it."
"You'll not say a word to him," commanded Scully, and even then
they heard the tread of the Swede on the stairs. His entrance was
made theatric. He swept the door back with a bang and swaggered to
the middle of the room. No one looked at him. "Well," he cried,
insolently, at Scully, "I s'pose you'll tell me now how much I owe
The old man remained stolid. "You don't owe me nothin'."
"Huh!" said the Swede, "huh! Don't owe 'im nothin'."
The cowboy addressed the Swede. "Stranger, I don't see how you
come to be so gay around here."
Old Scully was instantly alert. "Stop!" he shouted, holding his
hand forth, fingers upward. "Bill, you shut up!"
The cowboy spat carelessly into the sawdust box. "I didn't say a
word, did I?" he asked.
"Mr. Scully," called the Swede, "how much do I owe you?" It was
seen that he was attired for departure, and that he had his valise
in his hand.
"You don't owe me nothin'," repeated Scully in his same
"Huh!" said the Swede. "I guess you're right. I guess if it was
any way at all, you'd owe me somethin'. That's what I guess." He
turned to the cowboy. "'Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!'" he
mimicked, and then guffawed victoriously. "'Kill him!'" He was
convulsed with ironical humor.
But he might have been jeering the dead. The three men were
immovable and silent, staring with glassy eyes at the stove.
The Swede opened the door and passed into the storm, giving one
derisive glance backward at the still group.
As soon as the door was closed, Scully and the cowboy leaped to
their feet and began to curse. They trampled to and fro, waving
their arms and smashing into the air with their fists. "Oh, but
that was a hard minute!" wailed Scully. "That was a hard minute!
Him there leerin' and scoffin'! One bang at his nose was worth
forty dollars to me that minute! How did you stand it, Bill?"
"How did I stand it?" cried the cowboy in a quivering voice.
"How did I stand it? Oh!"
The old man burst into sudden brogue. "I'd loike to take that
Swade," he wailed, "and hould 'im down on a shtone flure and bate
'im to a jelly wid a shtick!"
The cowboy groaned in sympathy. "I'd like to git him by the neck
and ha-ammer him "—he brought his hand down on a chair with a
noise like a pistol-shot—"hammer that there Dutchman until he
couldn't tell himself from a dead coyote!"
"I'd bate 'im until he—"
"I'd show him some things—"
And then together they raised a yearning, fanatic
cry—"Oh-o-oh! if we only could—"
"And then I'd—"
The Swede, tightly gripping his valise, tacked across the face
of the storm as if he carried sails. He was following a line of
little naked, gasping trees, which he knew must mark the way of the
road. His face, fresh from the pounding of Johnnie's fists, felt
more pleasure than pain in the wind and the driving snow. A number
of square shapes loomed upon him finally, and he knew them as the
houses of the main body of the town. He found a street and made
travel along it, leaning heavily upon the wind whenever, at a
corner, a terrific blast caught him.
He might have been in a deserted village. We picture the world
as thick with conquering and elate humanity, but here, with the
bugles of the tempest pealing, it was hard to imagine a peopled
earth. One viewed the existence of man then as a marvel, and
conceded a glamour of wonder to these lice which were caused to
cling to a whirling, fire-smote, ice-locked, disease-stricken,
space-lost bulb. The conceit of man was explained by this storm to
be the very engine of life. One was a coxcomb not to die in it.
However, the Swede found a saloon.
In front of it an indomitable red light was burning, and the
snow-flakes were made blood color as they flew through the
circumscribed territory of the lamp's shining. The Swede pushed
open the door of the saloon and entered. A sanded expanse was
before him, and at the end of it four men sat about a table
drinking. Down one side of the room extended a radiant bar, and its
guardian was leaning upon his elbows listening to the talk of the
men at the table. The Swede dropped his valise upon the floor, and,
smiling fraternally upon the barkeeper, said, "Gimme some whiskey,
will you?" The man placed a bottle, a whiskey-glass, and a glass of
ice-thick water upon the bar. The Swede poured himself an abnormal
portion of whiskey and drank it in three gulps. "Pretty bad night,"
remarked the bartender, indifferently. He was making the pretension
of blindness which is usually a distinction of his class; but it
could have been seen that he was furtively studying the half-erased
blood-stains on the face of the Swede. "Bad night," he said
"Oh, it's good enough for me," replied the Swede, hardily, as he
poured himself some more whiskey. The barkeeper took his coin and
maneuvered it through its reception by the highly nickelled
cash-machine. A bell rang; a card labelled "20 cts." had
"No," continued the Swede, "this isn't too bad weather. It's
good enough for me."
"So?" murmured the barkeeper, languidly.
The copious drams made the Swede's eyes swim, and he breathed a
trifle heavier. "Yes, I like this weather. I like it. It suits me."
It was apparently his design to impart a deep significance to these
"So?" murmured the bartender again. He turned to gaze dreamily
at the scroll-like birds and bird-like scrolls which had been drawn
with soap upon the mirrors back of the bar.
"Well, I guess I'll take another drink," said the Swede,
presently. "Have something?"
"No, thanks; I'm not drinkin'," answered the bartender.
Afterwards he asked, "How did you hurt your face?"
The Swede immediately began to boast loudly. "Why, in a fight. I
thumped the soul out of a man down here at Scully's hotel."
The interest of the four men at the table was at last
"Who was it?" said one.
"Johnnie Scully," blustered the Swede. "Son of the man what runs
it. He will be pretty near dead for some weeks, I can tell you. I
made a nice thing of him, I did. He couldn't get up. They carried
him in the house. Have a drink?"
Instantly the men in some subtle way incased themselves in
reserve. "No, thanks," said one. The group was of curious
formation. Two were prominent local business men; one was the
district-attorney; and one was a professional gambler of the kind
known as "square." But a scrutiny of the group would not have
enabled an observer to pick the gambler from the men of more
reputable pursuits. He was, in fact, a man so delicate in manner,
when among people of fair class, and so judicious in his choice of
victims, that in the strictly masculine part of the town's life he
had come to be explicitly trusted and admired. People called him a
thoroughbred. The fear and contempt with which his craft was
regarded was undoubtedly the reason that his quiet dignity shone
conspicuous above the quiet dignity of men who might be merely
hatters, billiard markers, or grocery-clerks. Beyond an occasional
unwary traveller, who came by rail, this gambler was supposed to
prey solely upon reckless and senile farmers, who, when flush with
good crops, drove into town in all the pride and confidence of an
absolutely invulnerable stupidity. Hearing at times in circuitous
fashion of the despoilment of such a farmer, the important men of
Romper invariably laughed in contempt of the victim, and, if they
thought of the wolf at all, it was with a kind of pride at the
knowledge that he would never dare think of attacking their wisdom
and courage. Besides, it was popular that this gambler had a real
wife and two real children in a neat cottage in a suburb, where he
led an exemplary home life; and when any one even suggested a
discrepancy in his character, the crowd immediately vociferated
descriptions of this virtuous family circle. Then men who led
exemplary home lives, and men who did not lead exemplary home
lives, all subsided in a bunch, remarking that there was nothing
more to be said.
However, when a restriction was placed upon him—as, for
instance, when a strong clique of members of the new Pollywog Club
refused to permit him, even as a spectator, to appear in the rooms
of the organization—the candor and gentleness with which he
accepted the judgment disarmed many of his foes and made his
friends more desperately partisan. He invariably distinguished
between himself and a respectable Romper man so quickly and frankly
that his manner actually appeared to be a continual broadcast
And one must not forget to declare the fundamental fact of his
entire position in Romper. It is irrefutable that in all affairs
outside of his business, in all matters that occur eternally and
commonly between man and man, this thieving card-player was so
generous, so just, so moral, that, in a contest, he could have put
to flight the consciences of nine-tenths of the citizens of
And so it happened that he was seated in this saloon with the
two prominent local merchants and the district-attorney.
The Swede continued to drink raw whiskey, meanwhile babbling at
the barkeeper and trying to induce him to indulge in potations.
"Come on. Have a drink. Come on. What—no? Well, have a little
one, then. By gawd, I've whipped a man to-night, and I want to
celebrate. I whipped him good, too. Gentlemen," the Swede cried to
the men at the table, "have a drink?"
"Ssh!" said the barkeeper.
The group at the table, although furtively attentive, had been
pretending to be deep in talk, but now a man lifted his eyes
towards the Swede and said, shortly, "Thanks. We don't want any
At this reply the Swede ruffled out his chest like a rooster.
"Well," he exploded, "it seems I can't get anybody to drink with me
in this town. Seems so, don't it? Well!"
"Ssh!" said the barkeeper.
"Say," snarled the Swede, "don't you try to shut me up. I won't
have it. I'm a gentleman, and I want people to drink with me. And I
want 'em to drink with me now. Now—do you understand?"
He rapped the bar with his knuckles.
Years of experience had calloused the bartender. He merely grew
sulky. "I hear you," he answered.
"Well," cried the Swede, "listen hard then. See those men over
there? Well, they're going to drink with me, and don't you forget
it. Now you watch."
"Hi!" yelled the barkeeper, "this won't do!"
"Why won't it?" demanded the Swede. He stalked over to the
table, and by chance laid his hand upon the shoulder of the
gambler. "How about this?" he asked, wrathfully. "I asked you to
drink with me."
The gambler simply twisted his head and spoke over his shoulder.
"My friend, I don't know you."
"Oh, hell!" answered the Swede, "come and have a drink."
"Now, my boy," advised the gambler, kindly, "take your hand off
my shoulder and go 'way and mind your own business." He was a
little, slim man, and it seemed strange to hear him use this tone
of heroic patronage to the burly Swede. The other men at the table
"What! You won't drink with me, you little dude? I'll make you
then! I'll make you!" The Swede had grasped the gambler frenziedly
at the throat, and was dragging him from his chair. The other men
sprang up. The barkeeper dashed around the corner of his bar. There
was a great tumult, and then was seen a long blade in the hand of
the gambler. It shot forward, and a human body, this citadel of
virtue, wisdom, power, was pierced as easily as if it had been a
melon. The Swede fell with a cry of supreme astonishment.
The prominent merchants and the district attorney must have at
once tumbled out of the place backward. The bartender found himself
hanging limply to the arm of a chair and gazing into the eyes of a
"Henry," said the latter, as he wiped his knife on one of the
towels that hung beneath the bar-rail, "you tell 'em where to find
me. I'll be home, waiting for 'em." Then he vanished. A moment
afterwards the barkeeper was in the street dinning through the
storm for help, and, moreover, companionship.
The corpse of the Swede, alone in the saloon, had its eyes fixed
upon a dreadful legend that dwelt atop of the cash-machine: "This
registers the amount of your purchase."
Months later, the cowboy was frying pork over the stove of a
little ranch near the Dakota line, when there was a quick thud of
hoofs outside, and presently the Easterner entered with the letters
and the papers.
"Well," said the Easterner at once, "the chap that killed the
Swede has got three years. Wasn't much, was it?"
"He has? Three years?" The cowboy poised his pan of pork, while
he ruminated upon the news. "Three years. That ain't much."
"No. It was a light sentence," replied the Easterner as he
unbuckled his spurs. "Seems there was a good deal of sympathy for
him in Romper."
"If the bartender had been any good," observed the cowboy,
thoughtfully, "he would have gone in and cracked that there
Dutchman on the head with a bottle in the beginnin' of it and
stopped all this here murderin'."
"Yes, a thousand things might have happened," said the
The cowboy returned his pan of pork to the fire, but his
philosophy continued. "It's funny, ain't it? If he hadn't said
Johnnie was cheatin' he'd be alive this minute. He was an awful
fool. Game played for fun, too. Not for money. I believe he was
"I feel sorry for that gambler," said the Easterner.
"Oh, so do I," said the cowboy. "He don't deserve none of it for
killin' who he did."
"The Swede might not have been killed if everything had been
"Might not have been killed?" exclaimed the cowboy. "Everythin'
square? Why, when he said that Johnnie was cheatin' and acted like
such a jackass? And then in the saloon he fairly walked up to git
hurt?" With these arguments the cowboy browbeat the Easterner and
reduced him to rage.
"You're a fool!" cried the Easterner, viciously. "You're a
bigger jackass than the Swede by a million majority. Now let me
tell you one thing. Let me tell you something. Listen! Johnnie
"'Johnnie,'" said the cowboy, blankly. There was a minute of
silence, and then he said, robustly, "Why, no. The game was only
"Fun or not," said the Easterner, "Johnnie was cheating. I saw
him. I know it. I saw him. And I refused to stand up and be a man.
I let the Swede fight it out alone. And you—you were simply
puffing around the place and wanting to fight. And then old Scully
himself! We are all in it! This poor gambler isn't even a noun. He
is kind of an adverb. Every sin is the result of a collaboration.
We, five of us, have collaborated in the murder of this Swede.
Usually there are from a dozen to forty women really involved in
every murder, but in this case it seems to be only five
men—you, I, Johnnie, old Scully, and that fool of an
unfortunate gambler came merely as a culmination, the apex of a
human movement, and gets all the punishment."
The cowboy, injured and rebellious, cried out blindly into this
fog of mysterious theory: "Well, I didn't do anythin', did I?"