The Stetson meant to taunt him, to make death more bitter; for
Jasper expected death, and he sullenly waited for it against the
"You've been banterin me a long time now, 'lowin' as how ye air
the better man o' the two; n' I've got a notion o' givin' ye a chance
to prove yer tall talk. Hit's not our way to kill a man in cold blood,
'n' I don't want to kill ye anyways ef I kin he'p it. Seem s'prised
ag'in. Reckon ye don't believe me? I don't wonder when I think o'
my own dad, 'n' all the meanness yo folks have done mine; but I've
got a good reason fer not killin' ye-ef I kin he'p it. Y'u don't know
what it is, 'n' y'u'll never know; but I'll give yer a chance now fer
yer life ef y'u'll sw'ar on a stack o' Bibles as high as that tree thar
that y'u'll leave these mount'ins ef I whoops ye, 'n' nuver come back
ag'in as long as you live. I'll leave, ef ye whoops me. Now whut do
ye say? Will ye sw'ar?
"I reckon I will, seem' as I've got to," was the surly answer. But
Jasper's face was dark with suspicion, and Rome studied it keenly.
The Lewallens once had been men whose word was good, but he
did not like Jasper's look.
"I reckon I'll trust ye," he said, at last, more through confidence in
his own strength than faith in his enemy; foi Jasper whipped would
be as much at his mercy as he was now. So Rome threw off his
coat, and began winding his homespun suspenders about his waist.
Watching him closely, Jasper did the same.
The firing below had ceased. A flock of mountain vultures were
sailing in great circles over the thick woods. Two eagles swept
straight from the rim of the sun above Wolf's Head, beating over a
turbulent sea of mist for the cliffs, scarcely fifty yards above the
ledge, where a pine-tree grew between two rocks. At the instant of
lighting, they wheeled away, each with a warning scream to the
other. A figure lying flat behind the pine had frightened them, and
now a face peeped to one side, flushed with eagerness over the
coming fight. Both were ready now, and the Lewallen grew
suddenly white as Rome turned again and reached down for the
"I reckon I'll put 'em a leetle furder out o' the way," he said,
kicking the knife over the cliff; and, standing on a stone, he thrust
them into a crevice high above his head.
"Now, Jas, we'll fight this gredge out, as our grandads have done
Lewallen and Stetson were man to man at last. Suspicion was gone
now, and a short, brutal laugh came from the cliff.
"I'll fight ye! Oh, by God, I'll fight ye!"
The ring of the voice struck an answering gleam from Rome's gray
eyes, and the two sprang for each other. It was like the struggle of
primeval men who had not yet learned even the use of clubs. For
an instant both stood close, like two wild beasts crouched for a
spring, and circling about to get at each other's throats, with
mouths set, eyes watching eyes, and hands twitching nervously.Download<<BackPagesMainNext>>