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The Man With Nerve

From: Arizona Nights

At about ten o'clock of the Fourth of July a rider topped the summit of
the last swell of land, and loped his animal down into the single
street of Pereza. The buildings on either side were flat-roofed and
coated with plaster. Over the sidewalks extended wooden awnings,
beneath which opened very wide doors into the coolness of saloons.
Each of these places ran a bar, and also games of roulette, faro,
craps, and stud poker. Even this early in the morning every game was

The day was already hot with the dry, breathless, but exhilarating,
heat of the desert. A throng of men idling at the edge of the
sidewalks, jostling up and down their centre, or eddying into the
places of amusement, acknowledged the power of summer by loosening
their collars, carrying their coats on their arms. They were as yet
busily engaged in recognising acquaintances. Later they would drink
freely and gamble, and perhaps fight. Toward all but those whom they
recognised they preserved an attitude of potential suspicion, for here
were gathered the "bad men" of the border countries. A certain
jealousy or touchy egotism lest the other man be considered quicker on
the trigger, bolder, more aggressive than himself, kept each strung to
tension. An occasional shot attracted little notice. Men in the
cow-countries shoot as casually as we strike matches, and some subtle
instinct told them that the reports were harmless.

As the rider entered the one street, however, a more definite cause of
excitement drew the loose population toward the centre of the road.
Immediately their mass blotted out what had interested them. Curiosity
attracted the saunterers; then in turn the frequenters of the bars and
gambling games. In a very few moments the barkeepers, gamblers, and
look-out men, held aloof only by the necessities of their calling,
alone of all the population of Pereza were not included in the
newly-formed ring.

The stranger pushed his horse resolutely to the outer edge of the crowd
where, from his point of vantage, he could easily overlook their heads.
He was a quiet-appearing young fellow, rather neatly dressed in the
border costume, rode a "centre fire," or single-cinch, saddle, and wore
no chaps. He was what is known as a "two-gun man": that is to say, he
wore a heavy Colt's revolver on either hip. The fact that the lower
ends of his holsters were tied down, in order to facilitate the easy
withdrawal of the revolvers, seemed to indicate that he expected to use
them. He had furthermore a quiet grey eye, with the glint of steel
that bore out the inference of the tied holsters.

The newcomer dropped his reins on his pony's neck, eased himself to an
attitude of attention, and looked down gravely on what was taking
place. He saw over the heads of the bystanders a tall, muscular,
wild-eyed man, hatless, his hair rumpled into staring confusion, his
right sleeve rolled to his shoulder, a wicked-looking nine-inch knife
in his hand, and a red bandana handkerchief hanging by one corner from
his teeth.

"What's biting the locoed stranger?" the young man inquired of his

The other frowned at him darkly.

"Dare's anyone to take the other end of that handkerchief in his teeth,
and fight it out without letting go."

"Nice joyful proposition," commented the young man.

He settled himself to closer attention. The wild-eyed man was talking
rapidly. What he said cannot be printed here. Mainly was it
derogatory of the southern countries. Shortly it became boastful of
the northern, and then of the man who uttered it.

He swaggered up and down, becoming always the more insolent as his
challenge remained untaken.

"Why don't you take him up?" inquired the young man, after a moment.

"Not me!" negatived the other vigorously. "I'll go yore little old
gunfight to a finish, but I don't want any cold steel in mine. Ugh! it
gives me the shivers. It's a reg'lar Mexican trick! With a gun it's
down and out, but this knife work is too slow and searchin'."

The newcomer said nothing, but fixed his eye again on the raging man
with the knife.

"Don't you reckon he's bluffing?" he inquired.

"Not any!" denied the other with emphasis. "He's jest drunk enough to
be crazy mad."

The newcomer shrugged his shoulders and cast his glance searchingly
over the fringe of the crowd. It rested on a Mexican.

"Hi, Tony! come here," he called.

The Mexican approached, flashing his white teeth.

"Here," said the stranger, "lend me your knife a minute."

The Mexican, anticipating sport of his own peculiar kind, obeyed with

"You fellows make me tired," observed the stranger, dismounting. "He's
got the whole townful of you bluffed to a standstill. Damn if I don't
try his little game."

He hung his coat on his saddle, shouldered his way through the press,
which parted for him readily, and picked up the other corner of the

"Now, you mangy son of a gun," said he.

Next: The Agreement

Previous: The Cattle Rustlers

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