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|Snow-Bound at Eagle's||Bret Harte|
|Page 3 of 7||
The man shrugged his shoulders. The passenger who had given up the greenbacks drawled, with a slow, irritating tolerance, "I reckon you're a stranger here?"
"I am--to this sort of thing, certainly, though I live a dozen miles from here, at Eagle's Court," returned Hale scornfully.
"Then you're the chap that's doin' that fancy ranchin' over at Eagle's," continued the man lazily.
"Whatever I'm doing at Eagle's Court, I'm not ashamed of it," said Hale tartly; "and that's more than I can say of what I've done--or HAVEN'T done--to-night. I've been one of six men over-awed and robbed by THREE."
"As to the over-awin', ez you call it--mebbee you know more about it than us. As to the robbin'--ez far as I kin remember, YOU haven't onloaded much. Ef you're talkin' about what OUGHTER have been done, I'll tell you what COULD have happened. P'r'aps ye noticed that when he pulled up I made a kind of grab for my wepping behind me?"
"I did; and you wern't quick enough," said Hale shortly.
"I wasn't quick enough, and that saved YOU. For ef I got that pistol out and in sight o' that man that held the gun--"
"Well," said Hale impatiently, "he'd have hesitated."
"He'd hev blown YOU with both barrels outer the window, and that before I'd got a half-cock on my revolver."
"But that would have been only one man gone, and there would have been five of you left," said Hale haughtily.
"That might have been, ef you'd contracted to take the hull charge of two handfuls of buck-shot and slugs; but ez one eighth o' that amount would have done your business, and yet left enough to have gone round, promiskiss, and satisfied the other passengers, it wouldn't do to kalkilate upon."
"But the express messenger and the driver were armed," continued Hale.
"They were armed, but not FIXED; that makes all the difference."
"I don't understand."
"I reckon you know what a duel is?"
"Well, the chances agin US was about the same as you'd have ef you was put up agin another chap who was allowed to draw a bead on you, and the signal to fire was YOUR DRAWIN' YOUR WEAPON. You may be a stranger to this sort o' thing, and p'r'aps you never fought a duel, but even then you wouldn't go foolin' your life away on any such chances."
Something in the man's manner, as in a certain sly amusement the other passengers appeared to extract from the conversation, impressed Hale, already beginning to be conscious of the ludicrous insufficiency of his own grievance beside that of his interlocutor.
"Then you mean to say this thing is inevitable," said he bitterly, but less aggressively.
"Ez long ez they hunt YOU; when you hunt THEM you've got the advantage, allus provided you know how to get at them ez well as they know how to get at you. This yer coach is bound to go regular, and on certain days. THEY ain't. By the time the sheriff gets out his posse they've skedaddled, and the leader, like as not, is takin' his quiet cocktail at the Bank Exchange, or mebbe losin' his earnings to the sheriff over draw poker, in Sacramento. You see you can't prove anything agin them unless you take them 'on the fly.' It may be a part of Joaquim Murietta's band, though I wouldn't swear to it."
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