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|The Man On The Other Bank||Jack London|
|Page 3 of 4||
"I tell you I didn't--" Smoke began.
"Aw, what's the good of talkin'. We got you red-handed. Right up there's where you left the trail when you heard him comin'. You laid among the trees an' bushwhacked him. A short shot. You couldn't a-missed. Pierre, go an' get that gun he dropped."
"You might let me tell what happened," Smoke objected.
"You shut up," the man snarled at him. "I reckon your gun'll tell the story."
All the men examined Smoke's rifle, ejecting and counting the cartridges, and examining the barrel at muzzle and breech.
"One shot," Blackbeard concluded.
Pierre, with nostrils that quivered and distended like a deer's, sniffed at the breech.
"Him one fresh shot," he said.
"The bullet entered his back," Smoke said. "He was facing me when he was shot. You see, it came from the other bank."
Blackbeard considered this proposition for a scant second, and shook his head.
"Nope. It won't do. Turn him around to face the other bank--that's how you whopped him in the back. Some of you boys run up an' down the trail and see if you can see any tracks making for the other bank."
Their report was, that on that side the snow was unbroken. Not even a snow-shoe rabbit had crossed it. Blackbeard, bending over the dead man, straightened up, with a woolly, furry wad in his hand. Shredding this, he found imbedded in the centre the bullet which had perforated the body. Its nose was spread to the size of a half-dollar, its butt-end, steel-jacketed, was undamaged. He compared it with a cartridge from Smoke's belt.
"That's plain enough evidence, Stranger, to satisfy a blind man. It's soft-nosed an' steel-jacketed; yourn is soft-nosed and steel-jacketed. It's thirty-thirty; yourn is thirty-thirty. It's manufactured by the J. and T. Arms Company; yourn is manufactured by the J. and T. Arms Company. Now you come along an' we'll go over to the bank an' see jest how you done it."
"I was bushwhacked myself," Smoke said. "Look at the hole in my parka."
While Blackbeard examined it, one of the voyageurs threw open the breech of the dead man's gun. It was patent to all that it had been fired once. The empty cartridge was still in the chamber.
"A damn shame poor Joe didn't get you," Blackbeard said bitterly. "But he did pretty well with a hole like that in him. Come on, you."
"Search the other bank first," Smoke urged.
"You shut up an' come on, an' let the facts do the talkin'."
They left the trail at the same spot he had, and followed it on up the bank and in among the trees.
"Him dance that place keep him feet warm," Louis pointed out. "That place him crawl on belly. That place him put one elbow w'en him shoot--"
"And by God there's the empty cartridge he had done it with!" was Blackbeard's discovery. "Boys, there's only one thing to do--"
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