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Eatin' Crow; and The Best Man In Garotte   By: (1855-1931)

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By Frank Harris


The evening on which Charley Muirhead made his first appearance at Doolan's was a memorable one; the camp was in wonderful spirits. Whitman was said to have struck it rich. Garotte, therefore, might yet become popular in the larger world, and its evil reputation be removed. Besides, what Whitman had done any one might do, for by common consent he was a "derned fool." Good humour accordingly reigned at Doolan's, and the saloon was filled with an excited, hopeful crowd. Bill Bent, however, was anything but pleased; he generally was in a bad temper, and this evening, as Crocker remarked carelessly, he was "more ornery than ever." The rest seemed to pay no attention to the lanky, dark man with the narrow head, round, black eyes, and rasping voice. But Bent would croak: "Whitman's struck nothin'; thar ain't no gold in Garotte; it's all work and no dust." In this strain he went on, offending local sentiment and making every one uncomfortable.

Muirhead's first appearance created a certain sensation. He was a fine upstanding fellow of six feet or over, well made, and good looking. But Garotte had too much experience of life to be won by a stranger's handsome looks. Muirhead's fair moustache and large blue eyes counted for little there. Crocker and others, masters in the art of judging men, noticed that his eyes were unsteady, and his manner, though genial, seemed hasty. Reggitt summed up their opinion in the phrase, "looks as if he'd bite off more'n he could chaw." Unconscious of the criticism, Muirhead talked, offered drinks, and made himself agreeable.

At length in answer to Bent's continued grumbling, Muirhead said pleasantly: "'Tain't so bad as that in Garotte, is it? This bar don't look like poverty, and if I set up drinks for the crowd, it's because I'm glad to be in this camp."

"P'r'aps you found the last place you was in jes' a leetle too warm, eh?" was Bent's retort.

Muirhead's face flushed, and for a second he stood as if he had been struck. Then, while the crowd moved aside, he sprang towards Bent, exclaiming, "Take that back right off! Take it back!"

"What?" asked Bent coolly, as if surprised; at the same time, however, retreating a pace or two, he slipped his right hand behind him.

Instantly Muirhead threw himself upon him, rushed him with what seemed demoniac strength to the open door and flung him away out on his back into the muddy ditch that served as a street. For a moment there was a hush of expectation, then Bent was seen to gather himself up painfully and move out of the square of light into the darkness. But Muirhead did not wait for this; hastily, with hot face and hands still working with excitement, he returned to the bar with:

"That's how I act. No one can jump me. No one, by God!" and he glared round the room defiantly. Reggitt, Harrison, and some of the others looked at him as if on the point of retorting, but the cheerfulness was general, and Bent's grumbling before a stranger had irritated them almost as much as his unexpected cowardice. Muirhead's challenge was not taken up, therefore, though Harrison did remark, half sarcastically:

"That may be so. You jump them, I guess."

"Well, boys, let's have the drink," Charley Muirhead went on, his manner suddenly changing to that of friendly greeting, just as if he had not heard Harrison's words.

The men moved up to the bar and drank, and before the liquor was consumed, Charley's geniality, acting on the universal good humour, seemed to have done away with the discontent which his violence and Bent's cowardice had created. This was the greater tribute to his personal charm, as the refugees of Garotte usually hung together, and were inclined to resent promptly any insult offered to one of their number by a stranger. But in the present case harmony seemed to be completely reestablished, and it would have taken a keener observer than Muirhead to have understood his own position and the general opinion... Continue reading book >>

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