Kings of the Missouri/Chapter 2
AT TILTON'S PLACE
TURNING in from Main to Pine Street Lander loitered along until he reached a position under some garden bushes which rose high above a fence and afforded a deep splotch of shadow. Two houses below was the home of Jean Baptiste Tradeau who tutored the youth of St. Louis. The lover's gaze was directed through the dusk over the way he had come, for the Parker home was beyond the intersection of Main Street, and it lacked fully fifteen minutes of the hour.
When he halted by the bushes he had the street to himself but now he heard steps and the low murmur of voices from the direction of the Tradeau house. He gave these sounds no attention, as he was now glimpsing a slim, erect figure gowned in white, passing through the shaft of light of a window up the street. His heart began beating rapidly for he knew Susette would be at his side in another minute, and he tried to arrange his words for a coherent explanation. She would be deeply grieved and very indignant once she learned what had happened.
Then the steps behind grew louder. Two men were passing him and one of them laughed. Lander all but attracted their attention, for there was no one who laughed like Malcom Phinny.
"It wa'n't any of my business, mebbe, and yet I reckoned it was a bit, seeing as how you're the boss," Phinny was saying, thus establishing the identity of the second figure as that of Hurry-Up Parker. "I'd known for a long time he was shining up to Miss Susette."
"You had? Then why the devil didn't you tell me?" snarled Parker.
Phinny's apologetic answer was lost on Lander as the two were now drawing away from him. He was mightily concerned over what would happen in the next few rods, when the two men must meet the girl. Luck was badly against him. Had he named any other meeting-place there would not have been this interruption.
Slipping along the fence he took after the two men for a bit, then shifted across the walk and stood behind a tree. Susette was now discernible in the gloaming, a little white patch against the gathering darkness. She took the outside of the walk and would have passed her father unrecognized had not Phinny, falling behind his employer a few steps, thrust out his head to peer imprudently into her face.
"Why, Miss Susette! Ain't you lost?" he laughingly greeted.
Parker halted and swung on his heel, demanding, "You out walking alone?"
"Good evening, papa," she pertly responded. "It's perfectly proper to walk alone."
"It's also proper for you to walk with your father. Take my arm."
"But I wanted to go down the street a bit. I've been in the house for hours."
"Can't you get air enough on your own porch?" grumbled Parker.
"That's not exercise."
"Exercise, eh? Very well. Be back by nine. Phinny, you keep my daughter company. There are too many rough characters loose in this town for a young girl to be out alone."
"Yes, sir. Glad to look after Miss Susette," eagerly replied Phinny.
"You needn't put yourself out, Mr. Phinny," shortly spoke up the girl. "If I can't stroll to the end of the street without a guard I'll go back home."
Although accustomed to having her own way with her surly father there were times when he enforced the law and when she knew it would be useless to rebel. Such was the occasion now; and when he commanded "Back home it is then," she dutifully took his arm and skipped along beside him. When they passed through the next shaft of light the disgruntled lover saw she was twisting her head to look in his direction. On the other side of Parker was Phinny, and he too was glancing back.
For a moment he blamed her for not making more of an effort to keep the appointment, then remembered she knew nothing of his encounter with her father. She'd console herself with thinking that the morrow would see him at the house.
"And I can't go to her," he groaned, moving slowly away toward Third Street. "After all, I reckon I'll have to send Papa Clair with a note. That's it. He shall take a note and she can meet me somewhere. But, that Phinny! One would think he was a member of the family."
An hour later Lander was at the Washington Avenue store of Sublette and Company, or the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, which was to give the American Fur Company the strongest opposition it had ever contended against. Ordinarily the store would have been closed, but Lander hoped the work of getting up the new equipment for the expedition about to start for the mountains would necessitate its being kept open. Nor was he disappointed, for although the store was dark there was a glimmer of light at one end. Making his way to the office entrance he looked through the window and saw Jim Bridger busily checking up some lists.
"Come in if you have to," rumbled Bridger's voice after Lander had rapped for the second time.
Lander entered. Bridger peered up from his work and greeted:
"What does a A. F. C. man want here at this hour?"
"Work," was the laconic reply.
"He's a good trader, a ripping good river and mountain man. One of the kings of the Missouri. What's his complaint against you?"
"He has a daughter. I—I like her. He doesn't like to have me like her."
Bridger grinned broadly in sympathetic amusement.
"Old man acted rough, eh? They sometimes do unless you marry a' Injun squaw. No chance for trouble with them as a feller is never spoken to by, an' mustn't speak to, his father-in-law. Everything goes as smooth as a fiddle. But work?"
"Parker said the A. F. C. would see to it I got none in St. Louis."
"It's like the A. F. C. Won't give a man his bread an' butter an' don't 'low to let any one else. They'll have more important things to think about afore the season's over. Now let's see. We're all finished up here. A few weeks ago I could have used you fine. This fussing round with papers makes me nervous, an' I reckon you'd done it quicker'n a wolf can steal meat."
"I've done quite a bit of it. Parker wants to fix it to drive me from town. And you can't use me here?"
"Not now. Mebbe later." And Bridger's voice was very kind. "You see the outfit gits under way to-morrow. Some of the men are at St. Charles with the keelboat. Some are waiting at Lexington for the steamer to fetch up goods an' supplies. Etienne Prevost will take the keel-boat as far as Fort Pierre. I shall take the land party through to the yearly rendezvous somewhere on Green River. An' some of the men are helling round St. Louis to-night an' will be lucky if they ain't left behind. I leave in an hour on my best mule to ride across country to Lexington. So, my young friend, the work down here is all done an' I'm sorry."
"It was only a chance," sighed Lander. "I didn't want to miss the shadow of a chance."
Bridger tugged at his brown hair and eyed Lander thoughtfully. Then he abruptly asked: "Why don't you take on with a mountain trip? Give you two hundred 'n' ninety dollars for the next year 'n' half—eighteen months—an' such grub as can be found in the Injun country. You're young. Once you git started no knowing how far you'll go."
Lander's eyes glistened and for a moment Bridger believed he was to sign up. Then his gaze fell. The mountain trip was all he would ask for it if were not for leaving Susette behind. At least he could not leave her until he had seen her and had explained things.
"If that offer could hold good for a few days," he began.
"No, sir! Take it or leave it as it stands," cut in Bridger. "We want men who can decide things right off the handle. The outfit starts to-morrow. Those who don't git across country to St. Charles to-night will git left."
"Well, I'm sorry I can't sign on, and I can't start to-morrow. I've several things to attend to. Much obliged for the offer, though."
"That's all right," grunted Bridger, nodding his head and returning to his lists.
Outside the store Lander recalled his appointment with Papa Clair at Tilton's place on the water-front near the foot of Cherry Street. He hurried to the rendezvous inflamed by his desire to find Phinny. In his despair and discouragement he needed something to feed upon; and so long as a successful love seemed dubious he would turn to the positive of hate. He now knew he had hated Phinny for a long time and had subconsciously resented the man's many petty treacheries. With desire for little Susette burgeoning his path he had put hate to one side. Had the path held smooth his ignorement of Phinny would have been permanent. Outraged by Hurry-Up Parker's contemptuous treatment he fished out his grievance against Phinny from its mental pigeonhole and knew it was a matter demanding imperative attention.
He minutely reviewed his career as storeman for the A. F. C. and easily traced the thread of treachery running through Phinny's daily actions. He recalled the innumerable little disagreeable incidents at the beginning of his employment, when he was made to appear awkward and slow-witted when Parker's attention was unnecessarily attracted to his minor faults. Phinny's perseverance in undermining his chances for favorable attention was like the malicious gnawing of the Missouri at its banks. What at the time had impressed him as being purposeless acts of mischief now bobbed to the surface of his recollections as deliberate traps. Phinny had plotted systematically from the beginning against the blind lover.
Lander's new perspective also permitted him to discern quite accurately the time Hurry-Up Parker shifted from his usual gruff attitude to evidences of surly dislike. Phinny was slated for promotion to Cabanne's Post, or Fort Union, on the upper river. Lander was being groomed to take his place in the store. Shortly after this arrangement was tacitly understood by Parker and his two employees, Parker had displayed a new face and the promotion was not spoken of again.
Lander was compelled to admit to himself that his failure to advance might be due in part to his own indifference. He had entered the A. F. C. with a fine mettle to see service above the Yellowstone. He had longed to take his chances with the keelboats fighting their way by the treacherous Aricara villages in the land of the Sioux near the mouth of Grand River. He had dreamed of visiting the Cheyennes at the eastern base of the Black Hills. There were the Mandans and Minnetarees along the Upper Missouri and the Knife to be explored, and the stories of Lewis and Clark to be verified. Between their villages and the Milk and extending far north were the numerous and powerful Assiniboins to be conquered in trade. From the Milk to the source of the Missouri were the Blackfeet, ferocious in their hatred toward the whites. What better adventuring than the sharp dash into the beaver country! In the valleys of the Yellowstone and the Big Horn were the Crows with their strange liking to have white men live among them. He eagerly had sought his information from returning traders and trappers. He had absorbed much about the various nations. He had drawn deductions his informants were too lazy mentally to indulge in, such as the probable halting of the fur trade for many years if the nations along the Missouri had not been poor boatmen, seeking the river largely for water and fuel. Had they been like the Eastern Indians, skilful in water-craft, what chance would boats have had prior to the coming of steam? And had the wooden canoe and the flatboat and keelboat been discouraged from penetrating the unknown country would steam have become sufficiently interested to take over the river?
There was no doubt but that he had started in on his work with a fine zeal, and that Parker had seized him as an unusual youngster and had been impressed by his enthusiasm. Then came the curly-headed rattle-pate, and the swish of her dainty skirts had sent all his fine ambitions a-flying.
As he made for Tilton's he confessed there was much room for self-criticism. He had feebly endeavored to criticize himself before, but his reproaches were always put to flight by the soothing realization he would see Susette on the morrow. So he had kept at his dead tasks, exchanging his chance to become a mountain man for the sake of her sweet smiles.
There was Bridger. He might have been like Bridger, a born topographer, more familiar with the mountain passes and streams than even Kit Carson. Bridger and Carson had trapped together on the Powder River two years back.
One year before, when but twenty-six years old, Bridger with Milton Sublette, Henry Frack and John B. Gervaise, had bought out the old partners of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Under Bridger's lead two hundred men had passed through the Big Horn basin, had crossed the Yellowstone, had followed the Missouri to its three forks, then up the Jefferson to the Divide and on to the Great Salt Lake. Twelve hundred miles before they returned to winter on the Powder.
"And all I've done is to wear out a path between goods and supplies in the store," groaned Lander. "Bridger, not much older'n I am, can travel all over the continent; and I can't make a trail to Pine Street."
Lander was honest enough not to blame Phinny for those shortcomings which love was responsible for.
"But—— He might 'a' let me alone. He could 'a' seen I was slipping back in the old man's good-will without giving me the sly kicks he did to make me slip faster."
What would Jim Bridger have done had Phinny plotted against him? He would have made him "chaw dirt." No doubt about that. But Hurry-Up Parker would never discourage Jim Bridger if he came wooing Susette. Old Parker would have welcomed him with both hands, brought out a bottle and insisted on making a night of it, and would have concluded the bout with urging his son-in-law to take a large part in the affairs of the A. F. C.
All St. Louis knew—and this meant all the fur-trading world—that Bridger was a thorn to the A. F. C. and would give the powerful organization a mighty hard fight this season. Already he had aroused the A. F. C. to a point where it admitted his mettle by sending men to dog him over the country and to compete with him once he had led the way to choice beaver regions. Bridger had been recognized as a menace. He was asked into the city office for drinks and cigars. Lander, the clerk, was ignominiously driven from the premises.
"I'll even up with Phinny, then get work," concluded Lander as he neared Tilton's. "I'd gone with Bridger in a minute if he wasn't in such a hurry to get started."
A squeaking fiddle and a rough chorus focused his mind on the job ahead of him. Throwing open the door he stepped through and to one side and leaned against the wall while he got his bearings, for the place was foggy with tobacco smoke. The usual rough-scuff of river loungers was draped over the long bar. In the corners and along the sides of the big room were a dozen mountain men, sleeping off their last spree before returning to fight the Blackfeet.
Keelboat men who would stick to the river, who preferred cordelling their long crafts the thousand odd miles to seeking fortune in the mountains, were uproariously drunk and dancing in the middle of the floor. Some were French Canadians, others—and these were more favored by traders—were St. Louis Creoles. Both types were light-hearted and irresponsible. They were capable of carrying a thousand-foot tow-line the full length of the Missouri, forcing their way through all natural obstacles, but of not much account when the Indians rode along the shores and enfiladed them with arrows and balls and invited them to come up and make a real fight. When it came to battle it was the long-haired and bewhiskered trapper, who would rather walk from St. Louis to the Rockies than to carry a tow-line a day's journey, who would quit his yarning and smoking and gambling to swarm up the bank and debate the matter.
In addition to these well-known specimens of the frontier town there were strangers, easily classified but not to be included in the lists of useful occupations. These were less boisterous than the drunken boatmen, less sleepy and indifferent than the mountain men. They drank with their backs to the wall and out of range of windows. Even when swallowing their fiery potations they did not close the eye or roll it to the ceiling in mute testimony to the liquor's potency. They tipped the glass rather than the head and maintained a level gaze on the door, and ceased swallowing until they had settled the status of each newcomer. These were the derelicts from beyond the Mississippi, fleeing the noose, creatures with blood on their souls and who needed only the opportunity to augment their sins by further killings. It was the influx of these desperadoes that gave St. Louis a name for lawlessness.
Lander swept the murky room and met the challenging stare of a dozen suspicious eyes, then started down the bar, the white head of Papa Clair having caught his eye. The old man flung up a hand and beckoned to him briskly. The law-breakers noted the gesture of welcome and returned to their drink.
Papa was on a bench in the corner near a table. At the table, but not of his company, were four men who were neither traders, trappers, nor river men. Their secrecy in conversing, the failure of the strong liquor to loosen their tongues, the garnishment of pistols and long knife in the belt of each, and—this as indicative as all else—the timidity and deference of the mulatto serving their table, tagged them as superlative fugitives from eastern justice, most excellent fellows to keep away from.
In his haste to join his friend fenced off in the corner Lander's foot struck against the chair at the end of the table, causing the occupant's hand to spill his liquor. His friends laughed jeeringly. With a vile outcry, without bothering to draw a weapon from his bristling belt, the man sprang to his feet and swung the bottle of liquor above his head. Lander stood as stupefied, his wits paralyzed, and he would have been brained if it had not been for the glittering streak over the table.
With a roar of pain the man dropped the bottle and stared aghast at the riven forearm. Lightly as a cat old Papa Clair came swarming over the table, a second blade clutched by the haft, and with a yank that sent the desperado reeling into his chair with sickness he recovered his knife, softly crying:
"It is mine. Please!"
"Lawful heart, but he's done gone an' throwed a knife through Buck's arm!" howled one of the four; and he came to his feet, his hand fumbling at his belt.
The others pushed back their chairs, but before they could rise Papa Clair's left hand poised a knife by the tip, the other held for a thrust in his right hand. Lander came to his senses and whipped out his blade from his boot. Papa Clair jolted him to the rear with an elbow and, mincing aside a few steps to confront the man on his feet, he purred:
"Ah, m'sieu knows the knife. See and behold! I drop my hand. I take the knife by the handle. I will not move till m'sieu lifts his blade and is ready to throw."
A river-rat squirmed up to the table and whispered hoarsely in the desperado's ear. With a sickly grimace the man placed both hands on the table. His friends glared at him in wonderment. He explained:
"Devil Clair. Go 'down to the Gulf an' ask 'bout him in th' old days. If any on ye wants to pick up this trouble an' carry a fight to him, ye're welcome to my chance. I quits. I've seen a 'gator chaw up a puppy. There ain't a bit o' fight left in my whole natur'." Then to Papa Clair and with a side nod toward the wounded man, "Ye got through with Hepsy?"
Papa Clair was grieved and replacing one knife tugged at his long white mustache regretfully.
"No spirit," he sighed to Lander. "When I was young— Such a long, well-lighted room, with plenty of room for the people to line up and enjoy it.… He speaks of the Gulf. Ah, those were days! Descendant of pig-devils, stick out your arm."
This to the groaning wounded man. The man timidly obeyed. Papa Clair examined the wound and proudly proclaimed to the staring, silent patrons of the place:
"Through the flesh! The bone is barely touched. As pretty a cast as I ever made. Wash it with whisky and if there isn't too much poison in the blood it will heal rapidly.… Take m'sieu away. He needs quiet and rest. And I need this table."
The last was accompanied by a bristling glance at the wounded man's friends, a baleful glance that hoped to find opposition. The three men rose and led their groaning friend down the room to the door, followed by jeers and laughter from the onlookers. Papa Clair replaced the knife in his boot and said:
"My friend, I have waited long for you. Your man has not been in. Where have you been? What have you done?"
"Failed in everything I tried. Parker came along before I could see my little friend. But I'll see her to-morrow. I found Jim Bridger in the Washington Avenue store and tried to get work with his company. But his outfit starts to-morrow; and of course I couldn't go without seeing the lady. Two failures. If they go in threes it means I shall not see Phinny and settle my score with him to-night."
"It is to be regretted your not seeing your little friend to-night. If you could have explained to her to-night— But there; you didn't know when you went to meet her that you might ask work off Bridger. He is a great man. Not so good with the knife as Jim Baker, yet a great man. I was with him in Cache Valley on Bear River in the winter of twenty-four. Etienne Prevost had charge of us during our trapping on the Wind and Green that season. We did not agree about the course of the Bear and wagers were made. It was night and Bridger rose and said he would settle the dispute. He left the fire and disappeared. When we saw him again it was when he came back from the Great Salt Lake. He had followed the Bear to the lake. He had found the water salt. He was the first white man to see that body of water. The Spaniards say one of their missionaries, Friar Escalante of Santa Fé, visited the lake in seventeen seventy-five. I believe M'sieu Bridger was the first. And do you know, my friend, we all believed the lake was an arm of the Pacific until the next season when four of our men visited it and explored the shore line in skin-boats and found it had no outlet."
"Bridger's a good mountain man, all right," shortly agreed Lander, his own failures making the other's praise offensive. "But he has his weak spots. All about cooking fish and meat in boiling springs, hot water shooting into the air nearly a hundred feet! If that wasn't enough he insists the hot water spouts at certain times, just so long a time apart. Wonder who keeps watch of it and turns it off and on every so often. Then there's his cave of Indian war-paint. Wonder why any Indians bother to trade robes for our vermilion when they can have it for nothing at any time!"
"That is up in the Crow country. He had a chance to look about up there. He may forget and fill up the chinks with fancies, yet he must have seen something," wistfully defended Papa Clair, his white brows drawn down in bushy bewilderment. "So fine a man can not be a liar. When he told me about pickling enough buffalo in the Great Salt Lake to last a big band of trappers a whole season I could see there was sense to the scheme. But, my friend, I'm sorry he told about the cooking springs. Warm water perhaps; but to catch fish from a stream and throw them over and boil them—name of a pipe! Yet I try to believe him. The pickling of buffalo rang true but—there, there! He is a fine man. Let us not say more about it."
"Why hasn't some one else seen that wonderful lake, sixty miles long, hemmed in by mountains?" persisted Lander.
Papa shrugged his thin shoulders and with a malicious little grin said:
"I know one way to prove it is, or isn't. If I were younger I should do it by myself. That is to go there and look about. If I were younger— Well, well, Jim Bridger has seen so much that is wonderful he has no need to tell fairy stories. I swallowed his pickled buffalo. Why not? But behold! I feel depressed when he tells of the cooking-spring. The cave of war-paint. Some one must have left some paint there. But to say it grows—holy blue! Yet he saw something. Perhaps the lake wasn't sixty miles long. Perhaps the water was not scalding hot, just warm. Who knows? And yet when I was very young, even before the Missouris were exterminated, when the Otoes and Kansas tribes were something besides names, I heard strange stories from the up-river country—like fairy stories. But yet so wonderful a country must have wonderful secrets. Even in the few years left to me and my knives I believe I could uncover some strange things up there. Only the good God knows it all. And if I did they would call me, 'Papa Clair, the old liar.'"
"Not to your face, Papa," warmly declared Lander. "And I haven't thanked you yet for stopping that fellow from braining me. My head was asleep. I saw him lift the bottle over me and it seemed I was dreaming and couldn't move a peg. If some one had touched me, just to start me—but no one did. So, old friend, I owe you a life."
"Take good care of it. Keep it clean for the little friend. Wait!"
He beckoned to a boy and gave an order. The boy brought a bottle of French wine which Papa Clair lovingly decanted, and then proposed:
"To Her! We shall see different pictures as we drink; yet it is the same little woman to be found in every land where love is."
They drank standing, the ceremony attracting the attention of those near by. As they were resuming their seats the door opened with a crash, and Malcom Phinny, followed by several men, entered. He flapped his arms and crowed a challenge. River men stirred uneasily, anxious to cut his comb. Old mountain men lazily opened their eyes, sniffed in contempt, and went back to their sleep.
Phinny undoubtedly would have been quickly accommodated with more trouble than he could carry had not Tilton rushed from behind the bar and greeted him effusively, thus branding him as a friend and one who was protected by the warning, "Hands off."
"Coming man in the A. F. C," a trader at the table next to Clair's informed his companion, a long-haired free trapper.
"To —— with the A. F. C," growled the trapper. "He'll be a goin' man if he does any more ki-yi-yiing round here."
Papa Clair reached forward and tapped him lightly on the shoulder and sweetly asked:
"Is it not much better, m'sieu, for the old men of the village to correct their young men than for outsiders to take over the task?"
The trapper gave him a belligerent glance, recognized the wrinkled face, and fretfully snarled:
"I don't want none o' yer fight, Etienne Clair. If yer knife is lookin' for meat it can look farther."
Papa sighed despondently and settled back and toyed with his wine. Lander, who was watching Phinny, was scarcely conscious of this little by-play; and as he gazed his eyes glared wickedly. The loss of his position, the warning to keep away from the Pine Street home and Susette, were all attributed to the dark face up the line.
Phinny had been drinking enough to make him reckless. If not for Tilton's public avowal of favor a dozen hands would have pawed at him before he was ten feet inside the door. Again he flapped his arms and crowed. Beyond side glances no attention was paid him this time. Cocking his head insolently he strutted the length of the bar. Papa Clair heard Lander's boots scrape on the rough floor as he drew his feet under him.
Phinny now saw him and his dark eyes glittered vindictively. Taking a position at the end of the bar where he could keep his gaze on Lander, he rolled some coins on the slab and in a loud voice invited:
"Every one drink to my luck in gitting rid of a snake, a two-legged snake, that crawled out of my path and knows better than to return."
"Curse him!" hissed Lander, his hand dropping down to his boot and playing with the haft of his knife.
"Softly, softly. It all works out very sweetly," purred Papa Clair, his blue eyes beaming cheerily. "Patience. A well-lighted room, a company worshipful of good entertainment, and fair play in the person of Etienne Clair. But let it come naturally."
The liquor was speedily consumed, and Phinny, noting the strained expression on Lander's face, made more coins dance on the bar and bawled:
"It's my night. It's been my day. To-morrow will be my day. Once more with me, and drink hearty. This time to 'S'— the only woman west of the Mississippi."
"Base-born dog!" growled Papa Clair, his white beard bristling.
Lander rose to his feet and picked up his glass. Before he could hurl it Phinny threw his glass, striking Lander on the arm but doing no harm.
"You'll fight, you sneak!" roared Lander.
"Oh, my friend, my friend," groaned Papa Clair, seizing Lander's arm and preventing him from leaping at his enemy. "Such roughness! Such lack of wit! I am embarrassed!"
"You heard him!" choked Lander, trying to throw off the detaining hand.
"You've played into his hands. You've challenged him," sighed the old man, his long, slim fingers contracting like circlets of steel. "It could have been so pretty. Now it becomes a brawl.… But wait! He had no right to throw the glass and make you challenge him. You gave the first affront when you rose to hurl your glass. Hell's devils! Does he think to conduct this like a keelboat fight? I will straighten it out. I will make his friends see it in the true light. He must challenge you, and you shall have choice of weapons."
He rose with a knife held back of his arm and took a step toward Phinny, when Lander swept him behind him, hoarsely objecting:
"No, no. Let it finish as it began." Then to Phlnny: "I said you must fight. You have lost your tongue?"
"Yes, I'll fight," gritted Phinny. "Tilton will look after me. I only demand that we fight at once. Here."
"Not here," protested Tilton. "Gentlemen, please be still. I'll look after my friend. I suppose this young cock-a-lorum can scare up a friend."
"Diable m'emporte!" ejaculated Papa Clair, gliding forward. "Come! What do you mean? You try to pick a quarrel with an old man. Yes. I appear for M'sieu Lander. Behold, you speak slurringly of me to him. This is very bad. Come!"
Tilton's liquor-flushed face became pallid. Fragments of strange tales concerning Papa Clair's wild youth flocked through the man's mind—wicked old stories of the Gulf, when men made their own laws, whispers of lonely lagoons that were visited only by piratical craft.
"I meant I reckined it might be difficult for him to reach his friends in time to fight at once. No harm was meant. As you represent him s'pose we talk it over. Mebbe we can fix it up without any fighting."
"Then you don't stand for me," cried Phinny, whisky-courageous, and he walked to the upper end of the bar.
"Oh, you shall have your satisfy, young rooster," sneered Papa Clair, in nowise contented with Tilton's evasion of a quarrel.
Tilton waved the crowd back and talked earnestly to Papa who heard him sullenly.
"I agree," shortly said Papa as the saloon-keeper finished. "It is poor sport when so much better could be had for the asking."
With that he returned to Lander, twisting his long mustaches and trembling with anger.
"We are to go over to Bloody Island," he rapped out.
"As the challenged person he chooses pistols. Sacrilege!" snapped Papa.
"I do not care. Let it be pistols. Only let's go to business."
"My friend, be patient. You shall soon face him. It is not because I fear for you with pistols that I grieve. It is because you blundered and played into their hands. When all was so prettily staged for clean knife-play! Bah! Honor is more easily satisfied these days. But there were times when one did not have to wait a year to see the knife-fight. Well, well. Let us get along with it. Perhaps some time we shall deserve better. We go at once. The moon is up. It will be light enough to exchange shots."