Steve Treats

It was for several minutes, I suppose, that I stood drawing these silent morals. No man occupied himself with me. Quiet voices, and games of chance, and glasses lifted to drink, continued to be the peaceful order of the night. And into my thoughts broke the voice of that card-dealer who had already spoken so sagely. He also took his turn at moralizing.

“What did I tell you?” he remarked to the man for whom he continued to deal, and who continued to lose money to him,

“Tell me when?” “Didn’t I tell you he’d not shoot?” the dealer pursued with complacence. “You got ready to dodge. You had no call to be concerned. He’s not the kind a man need feel anxious about.” The player looked over at the Virginian, doubtfully. “Well,” he said, “I don’t know what you folks call a dangerous man.” “Not him!” exclaimed the dealer with admiration. “He’s a brave man. That’s different.” The player seemed to follow this reasoning no better than I did.

“It’s not a brave man that’s dangerous,” continued the dealer. “It’s the cowards that scare me.” He paused that this might sink home.

“Fello’ came in here las’ Toosday,” he went on. “He got into some misunderstanding about the drinks. Well, sir, before we could put him out of business, he’d hurt two perfectly innocent onlookers. They’d no more to do with it than you have,” the dealer explained to me.

“Were they badly hurt?” I asked.

“One of ’em was. He’s died since.” “What became of the man?” “Why, we put him out of business, I told you. He died that night. But there was no occasion for any of it; and that’s why I never like to be around where there’s a coward. You can’t tell. He’ll always go to shooting before it’s necessary, and there’s no security who he’ll hit. But a man like that black-headed guy is (the dealer indicated the Virginian) need never worry you. And there’s another point why there’s no need to worry about him: it’d be too late.” These good words ended the moralizing of the dealer. He had given us a piece of his mind. He now gave the whole of it to dealing cards. I loitered here and there, neither welcome nor unwelcome at present, watching the cow-boys at their play. Saving Trampas, there was scarce a face among them that had not in it something very likable. Here were lusty horsemen ridden from the heat of the sun, and the wet of the storm, to divert themselves awhile. Youth untamed sat here for an idle moment, spending easily its hard-earned wages. City saloons rose into my vision, and I instantly preferred this Rocky Mountain place. More of death it undoubtedly saw, but less of vice, than did its New York equivalents.

And death is a thing much cleaner than vice. Moreover, it was by no means vice that was written upon these wild and manly faces. Even where baseness was visible, baseness was not uppermost. Daring, laughter, endurance--these were what I saw upon the countenances of the cow-boys. And this very first day of my knowledge of them marks a date with me. For something about them, and the idea of them, smote my American heart, and I have never forgotten it, nor ever shall, as long as I live. In their flesh our natural passions ran tumultuous; but often in their spirit sat hidden a true nobility, and often beneath its unexpected shining their figures took on heroic stature.

The dealer had styled the Virginian “a black-headed guy.” This did well enough as an unflattered portrait. Judge Henry’s trustworthy man, with whom I was to drive two hundred and sixty-three miles, certainly had a very black head of hair. It was the first thing to notice now, if one glanced generally at the table where he sat at cards. But the eye came back to him--drawn by that inexpressible something which had led the dealer to speak so much at length about him.

Still, “black-headed guy” justly fits him and his next performance. He had made his plan for this like a true and (I must say) inspired devil. And now the highly appreciative town of Medicine Bow was to be treated to a manifestation of genius.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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