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

afore us."

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.

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