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|Snow-Bound at Eagle's||Bret Harte|
|Page 7 of 9||
"Utter a cry that might frighten these women, and by the living God they'll rush in here only to find you lying dead on the floor of the house you'd have polluted."
He grasped the whip and laid the lash of it heavily twice over the ruffian's shoulders. Writhing in suppressed agony, the man fell imploringly on his knees.
"Now, listen!" said Lee, softly twirling the whip in the air. "I want to refresh your memory. Did you ever learn, when you were with me--before I was obliged to kick you out of gentlemen's company--to break into a private house? Answer!"
"No," stammered the wretch.
"Did you ever learn to rob a woman, a child, or any but a man, and that face to face?"
"No," repeated Manuel.
"Did you ever learn from me to lay a finger upon a woman, old or young, in anger or kindness?"
"Then, my poor Manuel, it's as I feared; civilization has ruined you. Farming and a simple, bucolic life have perverted your morals. So you were running off with the stock and that mustang, when you got stuck in the snow; and the luminous idea of this little game struck you? Eh? That was another mistake, Manuel; I never allowed you to think when you were with me."
"Who's your friend?"
"A d--d cowardly nigger from the Summit."
"I agree with you for once; but he hasn't had a very brilliant example. Where's he gone now?"
"To h-ll, for all I care!"
"Then I want you to go with him. Listen. If there's a way out of the place, you know it or can find it. I give you two days to do it--you and he. At the end of that time the order will be to shoot you on sight. Now take off your boots."
The man's dark face visibly whitened, his teeth chattered in superstitious terror.
"I'm not going to shoot you now," said Lee, smiling, "so you will have a chance to die with your boots on,* if you are superstitious. I only want you to exchange them for that pair of Hale's in the corner. The fact is I have taken a fancy to yours. That fashion of wearing the stockings outside strikes me as one of the neatest things out."
* "To die with one's boots on." A synonym for death by violence, popular among Southwestern desperadoes, and the subject of superstitious dread.
Manuel suddenly drew off his boots with their muffled covering, and put on the ones designated.
"Now open the door."
He did so. Falkner was already waiting at the threshold, "Turn Manuel loose with the other, Ned, but disarm him first. They might quarrel. The habit of carrying arms, Manuel," added Lee, as Falkner took a pistol and bowie-knife from the half-breed, "is of itself provocative of violence, and inconsistent with a bucolic and pastoral life."
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