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Seventh Man, The

Chapter XXVII. The Sixth Man

It caused a quick turning of heads.

"I don't want to put you out none," said the applicant gently. His voice was extremely gentle, and there was about him all the shrinking aloofness of the naturally timid. The deputy looked him over with quiet amusement—slender fellow with the gentlest brown eyes—and then with a quick side glance invited the crowd to get in on the joke.

"You ain't puttin' me out," he assured the other. "Not if you pay for your own ammunition."

"Oh, yes," answered the would-be man-hunter, "I reckon I could afford that."

He was so serious about it that the crowd murmured its amusement instead of bursting into loud laughter. If the man was a fool, at least he was not aggressive in his folly. They gave way and he walked slowly towards the counter and stepped into the little open space beside the master of ceremonies. Very obviously he was ill at ease to find himself the center of so much attention.

"I s'pose you been practicin' up on tin-cans?" suggested the deputy, leaning on the counter.

"Sometimes I hit things and sometimes I don't," answered the stranger.

"Well," and this was put more crisply as the deputy brought out a large pad of paper, "jest gimme your name, partner."

"Joe Cumber." He grew still more ill at ease. "I hear that even if you hit the mark you got to talk to the sheriff himself afterwards?"

"Yep."

The applicant sighed.

"Why d'you ask?"

"I ain't much on words."

"But hell with your gun, eh?" The deputy sheriff grinned again, but when the other turned his head toward him, his smile went out, suddenly while the wrinkle of mirth still lay in his cheek. The deputy stroked his chin and looked thoughtful.

"Get your gun ready," he ordered.

The other slipped his hand down to his gun-butt and moved his weapon to make sure that it was perfectly loose in the leather.

"Ain't you goin' to take your gun out?" queried the deputy.

"Can I do that?"

"I reckon not," said the deputy, and looked the stranger straight in the eyes.

His change to deadly earnestness put a hush over the crowd.

Across the target, not tossed easily as it had been for Pop Giersberg, but literally thrown, darted the line of white, while the gun flipped out of its holster as if it possessed life of its own and spoke. The white line ended half way to the farther side of the target, and the revolver slid again into hiding.

A clamor of amazement broke from the crowd, but the deputy looked steadily, without enthusiasm, at the stranger.

"Joe Cumber," he said, when the noise fell away a little, "I guess you'll see the sheriff. Harry, take Joe Cumber up to Pete, will you?"

One of the bystanders jumped at the suggestion and led the other from the room, with a full half of the crowd following. The deputy remained behind, thoughtful.

"What's the matter?" asked one of the spectators. "You look like you'd seen a ghost."

"Gents," answered the deputy, "do any of you recollect seein' this feller before?"

They did not.

"They's something queer about him," muttered the deputy.

"He may be word-shy," proffered a wit, "but he sure ain't gun-shy!"

"When he looked at me," said the deputy, more to himself than to the others, "it seemed to me like they was a swirl of yaller come into his eyes. Made me feel like some one had sneaked up behind me with a knife."

In his thoughtfulness his eyes wandered, and wandering, they fell upon the notice of the reward for the capture, dead or alive, of Daniel Barry, about five feet nine or ten, slender, with black hair and brown eyes.

"My God!" cried the deputy.

But then he relaxed against the counter.

"It ain't possible," he murmured.

"What ain't possible?"

"However, I'm goin' to go and hang around. Gents, I got a crazy idea."

He had no sooner started toward the door than he seemed to gain surety out of the motion.

"It's him!" he cried. He turned toward the others, white of face. "Come on, all of you! It's him! Barry!"

But in the meantime Harry had gone on swiftly to the office of the sheriff with "Joe Cumber." Behind him swirled the curious crowd and for their benefit he asked his questions loudly.

"Partner, that was sure a pretty play you made. I've seen 'em all try out to crack them balls, but I never seen none do it the way you did—with your gun in the leather at the start. What part of the country might you be from?"

The other answered gently: "Why, from over yonder."

"The T O outfit, eh?"

"Beyond that."

"Up in the Gray Mountains? That so! I s'pose you been on trails like this before?"

"Nothin' to talk about."

There might have been a double meaning in this remark, and Harry looked twice to make sure that there was no guile.

"Well, here we are." He threw open a door which revealed a bald-headed clerk seated at a desk in a little bare room. "Billy, here's a gent that cracked it the first whack and started his gun from the leather, by God. He—"

"Jest kindly close the door, Harry," said Billy. "Step in, partner. Gimme your name?"

The door closed on the discomfited Harry, and "Joe Cumber" stood close to it, apparently driven to shrinking into the wall in his embarrassment, but while he stood there his hand fumbled behind him and turned the key in the lock, and then extracted it.

"My name's Joe Cumber."

"Joe Cumber,"—this while inscribing it.

"Age?"

"About thirty-two, maybe."

"Don't you know?"

"I don't exactly."

His eyes were as vague as his words, gentle, and smiling.

"Thirty-two?" said Billy sharply. "You look more like twenty-five to me. S'pose we split the difference, eh?"

And with a grin he wrote: "Age twenty-two or three."

"Business?"

"Trapper."

"Good! The sheriff is pretty keen for 'em. You gents in that game got a sort of nose for the trail, mostly. All right, Cumber, you'll see Glass."

He stood at the door.

"By the way, Cumber, is that straight about startin' your shot with your gun in the holster?"

"I s'pose it is."

"You s'pose?" grunted the clerk. "Well, come on in."

He banged once on the door and then threw it open. "Joe Cumber, Pete. And he drilled the ball startin' his gun out of the leather. Here's his card."

He closed the door, and once more the stranger stood almost cringing against it, and once more his fingers deftly turned the key—softly, silently—and extracted it from the lock.

The sheriff had not looked up from the study of the card, for reading was more difficult to him than man-killing, and Joe Cumber had an opportunity to examine the room. It was hung with a score of pictures. Some large, some small, but most of them enlargements, it was apparent of kodak snapshots, for the eyes had that bleary look which comes in photographs spread over ten times their intended space. The faces had little more than bleary eyes in common, for there were bearded men, and smooth-shaven faces, and lean and fat men; there were round, cherubic countenances, and lean, hungry heads; there were squared, protruding chins, and there were chins which sloped away awkwardly toward the neck; in fact it seemed that the sheriff had collected twenty specimens to represent every phase of weakness and strength in the human physiognomy. But beneath the pictures, almost without exception, there hung weapons: rifles, revolvers, knives, placed criss-cross in a decorative manner, and it came to "Joe Cumber" that he was looking at the galaxy of the dead who had fallen by the hand of Sheriff Pete Glass. Not a face meant anything to him but he knew, instinctively, that they were the chosen bad men of the past twenty years.

"So you're Joe Cumber?"

The sheriff turned in his swivel chair and tossed his cigarette butt through the open window.

"What can I do for you?"

"I got an idea, sheriff, that maybe you'd sort of like to have my picture."

The sheriff looked up from his study of the card, and having looked up his eyes remained riveted. The other no longer cringed with embarrassment, but every line of his body breathed a great happiness. He was like one who has been riding joyously, with a sharp wind in his face.

There was a distant rushing of feet, a pounding on the door of the next room.

"What's that?" muttered the sheriff, his attention called away.

"They want me."

"Wait a minute," called the voice of Billy without.

"I'll open the door. By God, it's locked!"

"They want me—five feet nine or ten, slender, black hair and brown eyes—"

"Barry!"

"Glass, I've come for you."

"And I'm ready. And I'll say this"—he was standing, now, and his nervous hands were at his sides—"I been hungerin' and hopin' for this time to come. Barry, before you die, I want to thank you!"

"You've followed me like a skunk," said Barry, "from the time you killed a hoss that had never done no harm to you. You got on my trail when I was livin' peaceable."

There was a tremendous beating on the outer door of the other room, but Barry went on: "You took a gent that was livin' straight and you made a sneak and a crook out of him and sent him to double-cross me. You ain't worth livin'. You've spent your life huntin' men, and now you're at the end of your trail. Think it over. You're ready to kill ag'in, but are you ready to die?"

The little dusty man grew dustier still. His mouth worked.

"Damn you," he whispered, and went for his gun.

It was out, his finger on the trigger, the barrel whipping into line, when the weapon in Barry's hand exploded. The sheriff spun on his heel and fell on his face. Three times, as he lay there, dead in all except the instinctive movement of his muscles, his right hand clawed at the empty holster at his side. The sixth man had died for Grey Molly.

The outer door of Billy's room crashed to the floor, and heavy feet thundered nearer. Barry ran to the window and whistled once, very high and thin. It brought a black horse racing around a corner nearby; it brought a wolf-dog from an opposite direction, and as they drew up beneath the window, he slid out and dropped lightly, catlike, to the ground. One leap brought him to the saddle, and Satan stretched out along the street.


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