The great Pullman was whirling onward with
such dignity of motion that a glance from the window seemed simply
to prove that the plains of Texas were pouring eastward. Vast
flats of green grass, dull-hued spaces of mesquite and cactus,
little groups of frame houses, woods of light and tender trees,
all were sweeping into the east, sweeping over the horizon, a
A newly married pair had boarded this coach
at San Antonio. The man's face was
reddened from many days in the wind and sun, and a direct result
of his new black clothes was that his brick-colored hands were
constantly performing in a most conscious fashion. From time to
time he looked down respectfully at his attire. He sat with a
hand on each knee, like a man waiting in a barber's shop. The
glances he devoted to other passengers were furtive and shy.
The bride was not pretty, nor was she very
young. She wore a dress of blue cashmere,
with small reservations of velvet here and there and with
steel buttons abounding. She continually
twisted her head to regard her puff sleeves, very stiff, straight,
and high. They embarrassed her. It was quite apparent that she
had cooked, and that she expected to cook, dutifully. The blushes
caused by the careless scrutiny of some passengers as she had
entered the car were strange to see upon this plain, under-class
countenance, which was drawn in placid, almost emotionless lines.
They were evidently very happy. "Ever
been in a parlor-car before?" he asked,
smiling with delight.
"No," she answered, "I never
was. It's fine, ain't it?"
"Great! And then after a while we'll
go forward to the diner and get abig layout. Finest meal in the
world. Charge a dollar."
"Oh, do they?" cried the bride.
"Charge a dollar? Why, that's too much -- for us -- ain't
"Not this trip, anyhow," he answered
bravely. "We're going to go thewhole thing."
Later, he explained to her about the trains.
"You see, it's a thousand miles
from one end of Texas to the other, and this train runs right
across it and never stops but four
times." He had the pride of an owner. He pointed out to her
the dazzling fittings of the coach, and in truth her eyes opened
wider as she contemplated the sea-green figured velvet, the shining
brass, silver, and glass, the wood that gleamed as darkly brilliant
as the surface of a pool of oil. At one end a bronze figure sturdily
held a support for a separated chamber, and at convenient places
on the ceiling were frescoes in olive and silver.
To the minds of the pair, their surroundings
reflected the glory of their marriage
that morning in San Antonio. This was the environment of their
new estate, and the man's face in particular beamed with an elation
that made him appear ridiculous to the negro porter. This individual
at times surveyed them from afar with an amused and superior grin.
On other occasions he bullied them with skill in ways that did
not make it exactly plain to them that they were being bullied.
He subtly used all the manners of the most unconquerable kind
of snobbery. He oppressed them, but of this oppression they had
small knowledge, and they speedily forgot that infrequently a
number of travelers covered them with stares of derisive enjoyment.
Historically there was supposed to be something infinitely humorous
in their situation.
"We are due in Yellow Sky at 3:42,"
he said, looking tenderly into her eyes.
"Oh, are we?" she said, as if she
had not been aware of it. To evincesurprise at her husband's statement
was part of her wifely amiability. She took from a pocket a little
silver watch, and as she held it before her and stared at it with
a frown of attention, the new husband's face shone.
"I bought it in San Anton' from a friend
of mine," he told her gleefully.
"It's seventeen minutes past twelve,"
she said, looking up at him with a kind
of shy and clumsy coquetry. A passenger, noting this play, grew
excessively sardonic, and winked at himself in one of the numerous
At last they went to the dining-car. Two
rows of negro waiters, in glowing
white suits, surveyed their entrance with the interest and also
the equanimity of men who had been forewarned. The pair fell to
the lot of a waiter who happened to feel pleasure in steering
them through their meal. He viewed them with the manner of a fatherly
pilot, his countenance radiant with benevolence. The patronage,
entwined with the ordinary deference, was not plain to them. And
yet, as they returned to their coach, they showed in their faces
a sense of escape.
To the left, miles down a long purple slope,
was a little ribbon of mist where
moved the keening Rio Grande. The train was approaching it at
an angle, and the apex was Yellow
Sky. Presently it was apparent that, as the distance from Yellow
Sky grew shorter, the husband became commensurately restless.
His brick-red hands were more insistent in their prominence. Occasionally
he was even rather absent-minded and far-away when the bride leaned
forward and addressed him.
As a matter of truth, Jack Potter was beginning
to find the shadow of a deed weigh
upon him like a leaden slab. He, the town marshal of Yellow Sky,
a man known, liked, and feared in his corner, a prominent person,
had gone to San Antonio to meet a girl he believed he loved, and
there, after the usual prayers, had actually induced her to marry
him, without consulting Yellow Sky for any part of the transaction.
He was now bringing his bride before an innocent and unsuspecting
Of course, people in Yellow Sky married as
it pleased them, in accordance with a general custom; but such
was Potter's thought of his duty to his friends, or of their idea
of his duty, or of an unspoken form which does not control men
in these matters, that he felt he was heinous. He had committed
an extraordinary crime. Face to face with this girl in San Antonio,
and spurred by his sharp impulse, he had gone headlong over all
the social hedges. At San Antonio he was like a man hidden in
the dark. A knife to sever any friendly duty, any form, was easy
to his hand in that remote city. But the hour of Yellow Sky, the
hour of daylight, was approaching.
He knew full well that his marriage was an
important thing to his town. It could only be exceeded by the
burning of the new hotel. His friends could not forgive him. Frequently
he had reflected on the advisability of telling them by telegraph,
but a new cowardice had been upon him. He feared to do it. And
now the train was hurrying him toward a scene of amazement, glee,
and reproach. He glanced out of the window at the line of haze
swinging slowly in towards the train.
Yellow Sky had a kind of brass band, which
played painfully, to thedelight of the populace. He laughed without
heart as he thought of it. Ifthe citizens could dream of his prospective
arrival with his bride, theywould parade the band at the station
and escort them, amid cheers andlaughing congratulations, to his
He resolved that he would use all the devices
of speed and plains-craftin making the journey from the station
to his house. Once within that safe citadel he could issue some
sort of a vocal bulletin, and then not go among the citizens until
they had time to wear off a little of their enthusiasm.
The bride looked anxiously at him. "What's
worrying you, Jack?"
He laughed again. "I'm not worrying, girl. I'm only thinking of Yellow
She flushed in comprehension.
A sense of mutual guilt invaded their minds
and developed a finertenderness. They looked at each other with
eyes softly aglow. But Potter often
laughed the same nervous laugh. The flush upon the bride's face
seemed quite permanent.
The traitor to the feelings of Yellow Sky
narrowly watched the speeding landscape. "We're nearly there,"
Presently the porter came and announced the
proximity of Potter's home. He held a brush in his hand and, with
all his airy superiority gone, he brushed Potter's new clothes
as the latter slowly turned this way and that way. Potter fumbled
out a coin and gave it to the porter, as he had seen others do.
It was a heavy and muscle-bound business, as that of a man shoeing
his first horse.
The porter took their bag, and as the train
began to slow they moved forward to
the hooded platform of the car. Presently the two engines andtheir
long string of coaches rushed into the station of Yellow Sky.
"They have to take water here,"
said Potter, from a constricted throat and
in mournful cadence, as one announcing death. Before the train
stopped, his eye had swept the length of the platform, and he
was glad and astonished to see there was none upon it but the
station-agent, who, with a slightly hurried and anxious air, was
walking toward the water-tanks. When the train had halted, the
porter alighted first and placed in position a little temporary
"Come on, girl," said Potter hoarsely. As he helped her down they each laughed on a false note. He took the bag from the negro, and bade his wife cling to his arm. As they slunk rapidly away, his hang-dog glance perceived that they were unloading the two trunks, and also that the station-agent far ahead near the baggage-car had turned and was running toward him, making gestures. He laughed, and groaned as he laughed, when he noted the first effect of his marital bliss upon Yellow Sky. He gripped his wife's arm firmly to his side, and they fled. Behind them the porter stood chuckling
The California Express on the Southern Railway
was due at Yellow Sky in twenty-one minutes. There were six men
at the bar of the "Weary Gentleman" saloon. One was
a drummer who talked a great deal and rapidly; three were Texans
who did not care to talk at that time; and two were Mexican sheep-herders
who did not talk as a general practice in the "Weary Gentleman"
saloon. The barkeeper's dog lay on the board walk that crossed
in front of the door. His head was on his paws, and he glanced
drowsily here and there with the constant vigilance of a dog that
is kicked on occasion. Across the sandy street were some vivid
green grass plots, so wonderful in appearance amid the sands that
burned near them in a blazing sun that they caused a doubt in
the mind. They exactly resembled the grass mats used to
represent lawns on the stage. At the cooler
end of the railway station a man without a coat sat in a tilted
chair and smoked his pipe. The fresh-cut bank of the Rio Grande
circled near the town, and there could be seen beyond it a great,
plum-colored plain of mesquite.
Save for the busy drummer and his companions
in the saloon, Yellow Sky was dozing. The new-comer leaned gracefully
upon the bar, and recited many tales with the confidence of a
bard who has come upon a new field.
" -- and at the moment that the old
man fell down stairs with the bureau in his arms, the old woman
was coming up with two scuttles of coal, and, of course -- "
The drummer's tale was interrupted by a young
man who suddenly appeared in the open door. He cried: "Scratchy
Wilson's drunk, and has turned loose with both hands." The
two Mexicans at once set down their glasses and faded out of the
rear entrance of the saloon.
The drummer, innocent and jocular, answered:
"All right, old man. S'pose he has. Come in and have a drink,
But the information had made such an obvious
cleft in every skull in the room that the drummer was obliged
to see its importance. All had become instantly solemn. "Say,"
said he, mystified, "what is this?" His three companions
made the introductory gesture of eloquent speech, but the young
man at the door forestalled them.
"It means, my friend," he answered,
as he came into the saloon, "that for the next two hours
this town won't be a health resort."
The barkeeper went to the door and locked
and barred it. Reaching out of the window, he pulled in heavy
wooden shutters and barred them. Immediately a solemn, chapel-like
gloom was upon the place. The drummer was looking from one to
"But, say," he cried, "what
is this, anyhow? You don't mean there isgoing to be a gun-fight?"
"Don't know whether there'll be a fight
or not," answered one man grimly. "But there'll be some
shootin' -- some good shootin'."
The young man who had warned them waved his hand. "Oh, there'll be a fight fast enough if anyone wants it. Anybody
can get a fight out there in the street.
There's a fight just waiting."
The drummer seemed to be swayed between the
interest of a foreigner and a perception of personal danger.
"What did you say his name was?"
"Scratchy Wilson," they answered
"And will he kill anybody? What are
you going to do? Does this happen often?
Does he rampage around like this once a week or so? Can he break
in that door?"
"No, he can't break down that door,"
replied the barkeeper. "He's tried it
three times. But when he comes you'd better lay down on the floor,
stranger. He's dead sure to shoot at it,
and a bullet may come through."
Thereafter the drummer kept a strict eye
upon the door. The time had not yet been called for him to hug
the floor, but, as a minor precaution, he sidled near to the wall.
"Will he kill anybody?" he said again.
The men laughed low and scornfully at the
"He's out to shoot, and he's out for
trouble. Don't see any good in experimentin'
"But what do you do in a case like this?
What do you do?"
A man responded: "Why, he and Jack Potter
"But," in chorus, the other men
interrupted, "Jack Potter's in SanAnton'."
"Well, who is he? What's he got to do
"Oh, he's the town marshal. He goes
out and fights Scratchy when he gets on
one of these tears."
"Wow," said the drummer, mopping
his brow. "Nice job he's got."
The voices had toned away to mere whisperings.
The drummer wished to ask further questions which were born of
an increasing anxiety and bewilderment; but
when he attempted them, the men merely looked at him in irritation
and motioned him to remain silent. A tense waiting hush was upon
them. In the deep shadows of the room their eyes shone as they
listened for sounds from the street. One man made three gestures
at the barkeeper, and the latter, moving like a ghost, handed
him a glass and a bottle. The man poured a full glass of whisky,
and set down the bottle noiselessly. He gulped the whisky in a
swallow, and turned again toward the door in immovable silence.
The drummer saw that the barkeeper, without a sound, had taken
a Winchester from beneath the bar. Later he saw this individual
beckoning to him, so he tiptoed across the room.
"You better come with me back of the
"No, thanks," said the drummer,
perspiring. "I'd rather be where I can make
a break for the back door."
Whereupon the man of bottles made a kindly
but peremptory gesture. The drummer obeyed it, and finding himself
seated on a box with his head below the level of the bar, balm
was laid upon his soul at sight of various zinc and copper fittings
that bore a resemblance to armor-plate. The barkeeper took a seat
comfortably upon an adjacent box.
"You see," he whispered, "this here Scratchy Wilson is a wonder with a gun -- a perfect wonder -- and when he goes on the war trail, we hunt our holes -- naturally. He's about the last one of the old gang that used to hang out along the river here. He's a terror when he's drunk. When he's sober he's all right -- kind of simple -- wouldn't hurt a fly -- nicest
fellow in town. But when he's drunk -- whoo!"
There were periods of stillness. "I
wish Jack Potter was back from San Anton',"
said the barkeeper. "He shot Wilson up once -- in the leg
-- and he would sail in and pull out the kinks in this thing."
Presently they heard from a distance the
sound of a shot, followed by three
wild yowls. It instantly removed a bond from the men in the darkened
saloon. There was a shuffling of feet. They looked at each other.
"Here he comes," they said.
A man in a maroon-colored flannel shirt,
which had been purchased for purposes of decoration and made,
principally, by some Jewish women on the east side of New York,
rounded a corner and walked into the middle of the main street
of Yellow Sky. In either hand the man held a long, heavy, blue-black
revolver. Often he yelled, and these cries rang through a semblance
of a deserted village, shrilly flying over the roofs in a volume
that seemed to have no relation to the ordinary vocal strength
of a man. It was as if the surrounding stillness formed the arch
of a tomb over him. These cries of ferocious challenge rang against
walls of silence. And his boots had red tops with gilded imprints,
of the kind beloved in winter by little sledding boys on the hillsides
of New England.
The man's face flamed in a rage begot of
whisky. His eyes, rolling and yet
keen for ambush, hunted the still doorways and windows. He walked
with the creeping movement of the midnight cat. As it occurred
to him, he roared menacing information. The long revolvers in
his hands were as easy as straws; they were moved with an electric
swiftness. The little fingers of each hand played sometimes in
a musician's way. Plain from the low collar of the shirt, the
cords of his neck straightened and sank, straightened and sank,
as passion moved him. The only sounds were his terrible invitations.
The calm adobes preserved their demeanor at the passing of this
small thing in the middle of the street.
There was no offer of fight; no offer of fight. The man called to the sky. There were no attractions. He bellowed and fumed and swayed his
revolvers here and everywhere.
The dog of the barkeeper of the "Weary
Gentleman" saloon had not appreciated
the advance of events. He yet lay dozing in front of his
master's door. At sight of the dog, the man
paused and raised his revolver humorously. At sight of the man,
the dog sprang up and walked diagonally away, with a sullen head,
and growling. The man yelled, and the dog broke into a gallop.
As it was about to enter an alley, there was a loud noise, a whistling,
and something spat the ground directly before it. The dog screamed,
and, wheeling in terror, galloped headlong in a new direction.
Again there was a noise, a whistling, and sand was kicked viciously
before it. Fear-stricken, the dog turned and flurried like an
animal in a pen. The man stood laughing, his weapons at his hips.
Ultimately the man was attracted by the closed
door of the "Weary Gentleman"
saloon. He went to it, and hammering with a revolver, demanded
The door remaining imperturbable, he picked
a bit of paper from the walk and nailed it to the framework with
a knife. He then turned his back contemptuously upon this popular
resort, and walking to the opposite side of the street, and spinning
there on his heel quickly and lithely, fired at the bit of paper.
He missed it by a half inch. He swore at himself, and went away.
Later, he comfortably fusilladed the windows of his most intimate
friend. The man was playing with this town. It was a toy for him.
But still there was no offer of fight. The
name of Jack Potter, his ancient antagonist,
entered his mind, and he concluded that it would be a glad thing
if he should go to Potter's house and by bombardment induce him
to come out and fight. He moved in the direction of his desire,
chanting Apache scalp-music.
When he arrived at it, Potter's house presented
the same still front as had the other
adobes. Taking up a strategic position, the man howled a
challenge. But this house regarded him as
might a great stone god. It gave no sign. After a decent wait,
the man howled further challenges, mingling with them wonderful
Presently there came the spectacle of a man
churning himself into deepest rage over the immobility of a house.
He fumed at it as the winter wind attacks a prairie cabin in the
North. To the distance there should have gone the sound of a tumult
like the fighting of 200 Mexicans. As necessity bade him, he paused
for breath or to reload his revolvers.
POTTER and his bride walked sheepishly and
with speed. Sometimes they laughed together shamefacedly and low.
"Next corner, dear," he said finally.
They put forth the efforts of a pair walking
bowed against a strong wind. Potter was about to raise a finger
to point the first appearance of the new home when, as they circled
the corner, they came face to face with a man in a maroon-colored
shirt who was feverishly pushing cartridges into a large revolver.
Upon the instant the man dropped his revolver to the ground, and,
like lightning, whipped another from its holster. The second weapon
was aimed at the bridegroom's chest.
There was silence. Potter's mouth seemed
to be merely a grave for his tongue.
He exhibited an instinct to at once loosen his arm from the woman's
grip, and he dropped the bag to the sand. As for the bride, her
face had gone as yellow as old cloth. She was a slave to hideous
rites gazing at the apparitional snake.
The two men faced each other at a distance
of three paces. He of the revolver
smiled with a new and quiet ferocity.
"Tried to sneak up on me," he said.
"Tried to sneak up on me!" His eyes grew
more baleful. As Potter made a slight movement, the man thrust
his revolver venomously forward. "No,
don't you do it, Jack Potter. Don't you move
a finger toward a gun just yet. Don't you move an eyelash. The
time has come for me to settle with you, and I'm goin' to do it
my own way and loaf along with no interferin'. So if you don't
want a gun bent on you, just mind what I tell you."
Potter looked at his enemy. "I ain't
got a gun on me, Scratchy," he said. "Honest, I ain't."
He was stiffening and steadying, but yet somewhere at the back
of his mind a vision of the Pullman floated, the sea-green figured
velvet, the shining brass, silver, and glass, the wood that gleamed
as darkly brilliant as the surface of a pool of oil -- all the
glory of the marriage, the environment of the new estate. "You
know I fight when it comes to fighting, Scratchy Wilson, but I
ain't got a gun on me. You'll have to do all the shootin' yourself."
His enemy's face went livid. He stepped forward
and lashed his weapon to and fro before Potter's chest. "Don't
you tell me you ain't got no gun on you, you whelp. Don't tell
me no lie like that. There ain't a man in Texas ever seen you
without no gun. Don't take me for no kid." His eyes blazed
with light, and his throat worked like a pump.
"I ain't takin' you for no kid,"
answered Potter. His heels had not moved an inch backward. "I'm
takin' you for a -- -- -- fool. I tell you I ain't got a gun,
and I ain't. If you're goin' to shoot me up, you better begin
now. You'll never get a chance like this again."
So much enforced reasoning had told on Wilson's
rage. He was calmer. "If you ain't got a gun, why ain't you
got a gun?" he sneered. "Been to Sunday-school?"
"I ain't got a gun because I've just
come from San Anton' with my wife. I'm
married," said Potter. "And if I'd thought there was
going to be any galoots like you prowling
around when I brought my wife home, I'd had a gun, and don't you
"Married!" said Scratchy, not at
"Yes, married. I'm married," said
"Married?" said Scratchy. Seemingly
for the first time he saw the drooping,
drowning woman at the other man's side. "No!" he said.
He was like a creature allowed a glimpse of another world. He
moved a pace backward, and his arm with the revolver dropped to
his side. "Is this the lady?" he asked.
"Yes, this is the lady," answered
There was another period of silence.
"Well," said Wilson at last, slowly,
"I s'pose it's all off now."
"It's all off if you say so, Scratchy.
You know I didn't make the trouble."
Potter lifted his valise.
"Well, I 'low it's off, Jack," said Wilson. He was looking at the ground. "Married!" He was not a student of chivalry; it was merely that in the presence of this foreign condition he was a simple child of the earlier plains. He picked up his starboard revolver, and placing both weapons in their holsters, he went away. His feet made funnel-shaped tracks in the heavy sand.