The Swede held a huge fist in front of Johnnie's face.
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 'way because -- " He accused them dramatically
with his glance. "Because I do not want to be killed."
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,
never mind. 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 'way. I
do not wish to be killed." The Swede moved toward the door, which opened
upon the stairs. It was evidently his intention to go at once for his baggage.
"No, no," shouted Scully peremptorily; but the white-faced
man slid by him and disappeared. "Now," said Scully severely, "what does
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 playin'
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 boy."
Johnnie was frantic. "Well, what have I done?" he bawled
at his father.
"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.
Upstairs the Swede was swiftly fastening the straps of
his great valise. Once his back happened to be half-turned toward 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
"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 do -- understand?"
For a moment they stood gazing at each other. Upon the
Swede's deathly pale cheeks 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 you?"
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 met-tro-
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 toward 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
"Look, man!" shouted 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
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 whisky 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 toward 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
"Drink," said the old man affectionately. He had arisen
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
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 see."
"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
"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
The traveled 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 roysterers 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 newcomers. Johnnie,
however, simply arranged himself in a more indolent attitude, and then
"Come! Git over, there," said Scully.
"Plenty of room on the other side of the stove," said Johnnie.
"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. "Upstairs 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, and now he's too fresh."
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 prijudice 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 right?"
"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 purposes, 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 toward 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 viewpoint.
Johnnie, however, addressed his parent in an aside. "Why
don't you license somebody to kick you downstairs?" 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 play."
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 chilled the players to the marrow. The Swede cursed frightfully.
When Scully returned, his entrance disturbed a cozy 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.
To be concluded next week
THE BLUE HOTEL
BY STEPHEN CRANE Page 14
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 toward
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.
(Continued from Last Week -- Chapter V.)
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! Stop, now -- "
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
hear -- "
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
The quiet was sufficient to allow the Easterner's voice
to be heard. He was repeating: "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!
"Well, let's git 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 ears
his hands trembled. In fact, Johnnie and old Scully were the only ones
who displayed no agitation. These preliminaries were conducted without
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 further 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
"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 still bellowing.
"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 south.
"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 rack.
"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 second."
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
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 is
"Bill," said Scully, "git out of the road." The cowboy
stepped aside. "Now." The combatants were actuated by a new caution as
they advanced toward 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 sprawling.
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.
"Are 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
bloodstains 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 whipped."
Without replying, the victor moved off on the route to
the front door of the hotel.
The cowboy was formulating new and unspellable 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 man.
"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
now 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
The sad quiet was broken by the sudden flinging open of
a door that led toward 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 in it."
"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 you?"
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
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 -- "
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 whisky,
will you?" The man placed a bottle, a whisky-glass, and glass of ice-thick
water upon the bar. The Swede poured himself an abnormal portion of whisky
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 again.
"Oh, it's good enough for me," replied the Swede, hardily,
as he poured himself some more whisky. The barkeeper took his coin and
maneuvered it through its reception by the highly-nickeled cash-machine.
A bell rang; a card labeled "20 cts." had appeared.
"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 words.
"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.
Afterward 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 aroused.
"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 traveler, 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
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 Romper.
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 whisky, 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
"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 toward
the Swede and said shortly: "Thanks. We don't want any more."
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 said nothing.
"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
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 murderer.
"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 afterward
the barkeeper was in the street dinning through the storm for help, and,
The corpse of the Swede, alone in the saloon, had its eyes
fixed upon a dreadful legend that dwelt a-top 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
"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
"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
"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 crazy."
"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
"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 for
"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 cowboy, injured and rebellious, cried out blindly into
this fog of mysterious theory. "Well, I didn't do anythin', did I?"