Chapter 5

The next day came and went.

It is now almost midnight, and in five minutes the new morning will begin. The scene is in the tavern billiard-room. Rough men in rough clothing, slouch hats, breeches stuffed into boot-tops, some with vests, none with coats, are grouped about the boiler-iron stove, which has ruddy cheeks and is distributing a grateful warmth; the billiard balls are clacking; there is no other sound—that is, within; the wind is fitfully moaning without. The men look bored; also expectant. A hulking broad-shouldered miner, of middle age, with grizzled whiskers, and an unfriendly eye set in an unsociable face, rises, slips a coil of fuse upon his arm, gathers up some other personal properties, and departs without word or greeting to anybody. It is Flint Buckner. As the door closes behind him a buzz of talk breaks out.

“The regularest man that ever was,” said Jake Parker, the blacksmith: “you can tell when it’s twelve just by him leaving, without looking at your Waterbury.”

“And it’s the only virtue he’s got, as fur as I know,” said Peter Hawes, miner.

“He’s just a blight on this society,” said Wells-Fargo’s man, Ferguson. “If I was running this shop I’d make him say something, some time or other, or vamos the ranch.” This with a suggestive glance at the barkeeper, who did not choose to see it, since the man under discussion was a good customer, and went home pretty well set up, every night, with refreshments furnished from the bar.

“Say,” said Ham Sandwich, miner, “does any of you boys ever recollect of him asking you to take a drink?”

Him? Flint Buckner? Oh, Laura!”

This sarcastic rejoinder came in a spontaneous general outburst in one form of words or another from the crowd. After a brief silence, Pat Riley, miner, said:

“He’s the 15-puzzle, that cuss. And his boy’s another one. I can’t make them out.”

“Nor anybody else,” said Ham Sandwich; “and if they are 15-puzzles, how are you going to rank up that other one? When it comes to A 1 rightdown solid mysteriousness, he lays over both of them. Easy—don’t he?”

“You bet!”

Everybody said it. Every man but one. He was the new-comer—Peterson. He ordered the drinks all round, and asked who No. 3 might be. All answered at once, “Archy Stillman!”

“Is he a mystery?” asked Peterson.

“Is he a mystery? Is Archy Stillman a mystery?” said Wells-Fargo’s man, Ferguson. “Why, the fourth dimension’s foolishness to him.”

For Ferguson was learned.

Peterson wanted to hear all about him; everybody wanted to tell him; everybody began. But Billy Stevens, the barkeeper, called the house to order, and said one at a time was best. He distributed the drinks, and appointed Ferguson to lead. Ferguson said:

“Well, he’s a boy. And that is just about all we know about him. You can pump him till you are tired; it ain’t any use; you won’t get anything. At least about his intentions, or line of business, or where he’s from, and such things as that. And as for getting at the nature and get-up of his main big chief mystery, why, he’ll just change the subject, that’s all. You can guess till you’re black in the face—it’s your privilege—but suppose you do, where do you arrive at? Nowhere, as near as I can make out.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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