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Title: Eatin' Crow; and The Best Man In Garotte
Author: Harris, Frank
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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EATIN’ CROW, AND THE BEST MAN IN GAROTTE.

By Frank Harris



EATIN’ CROW.

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.
It was felt that the stranger had bluffed for all he was worth, and that
Garotte had come out “at the little end of the horn.”

A day or two later Charley Muirhead, walking about the camp, came
upon Dave Crocker’s claim, and offered to buy half of it and work as a
partner, but the other would not sell; “the claim was worth nothin’; not
good enough for two, anyhow;” and there the matter would have ended, had
not the young man proposed to work for a spell just to keep his hand
in. By noon Crocker was won; nobody could resist Charley’s hard work
and laughing high spirits. Shortly afterwards the older man proposed
to knock off; a day’s work, he reckoned, had been done, and evidently
considering it impossible to accept a stranger’s labour without
acknowledgment, he pressed Charley to come up to his shanty and eat
The simple meal was soon despatched, and Crocker, feeling the obvious
deficiencies of his larder, produced a bottle of Bourbon, and the two
began to drink. Glass succeeded glass, and at length Crocker’s reserve
seemed to thaw; his manner became almost easy, and he spoke half
frankly.

“I guess you’re strong,” he remarked. “You threw Bent out of the saloon
the other night like as if he was nothin’; strength’s good, but ‘tain’t
everythin’. I mean,” he added, in answer to the other’s questioning
look, “Samson wouldn’t have a show with a man quick on the draw who
meant bizness. Bent didn’t pan out worth a cent, and the boys didn’t
like him, but--them things don’t happen often.” So in his own way he
tried to warn the man to whom he had taken a liking.

Charley felt that a warning was intended, for he replied decisively: “It
don’t matter. I guess he wanted to jump me, and I won’t be jumped, not
if Samson wanted to, and all the revolvers in Garotte were on me.”

“Wall,” Crocker went on quietly, but with a certain curiosity in his
eyes, “that’s all right, but I reckon you were mistaken. Bent didn’t
want to rush ye; ‘twas only his cussed way, and he’d had mighty bad
luck. You might hev waited to see if he meant anythin’, mightn’t ye?”
 And he looked his listener in the face as he spoke.

“That’s it,” Charley replied, after a long pause, “that’s just it. I
couldn’t wait, d’ye see!” and then continued hurriedly, as if driven
to relieve himself by a full confession: “Maybe you don’t _sabe_. It’s
plain enough, though I’d have to begin far back to make you understand.
But I don’t mind if you want to hear. I was raised in the East, in Rhode
Island, and I guess I was liked by everybody. I never had trouble with
any one, and I was a sort of favourite.... I fell in love with a girl,
and as I hadn’t much money, I came West to make some, as quick as I knew
how. The first place I struck was Laramie--you don’t know it? ‘Twas a
hard place; cowboys, liquor saloons, cursin’ and swearin’, poker and
shootin’ nearly every night At the beginning I seemed to get along all
right, and I liked the boys, and thought they liked me. One night a
little Irishman was rough on me; first of all I didn’t notice, thought
he meant nothin’, and then, all at once, I saw he meant it--and more.

“Well, I got a kind of scare--I don’t know why--and I took what he said
and did nothin’. Next day the boys sort of held off from me, didn’t
talk; thought me no account, I guess, and that little Irishman just rode
me round the place with spurs on. I never kicked once. I thought I’d get
the money--I had done well with the stock I had bought--and go back
East and marry, and no one would be any the wiser. But the Irishman kept
right on, and first one and then another of the boys went for me, and
I took it all. I just,” and here his voice rose, and his manner became
feverishly excited, “I just ate crow right along for months--and tried
to look as if ‘twas quail.

“One day I got a letter from home. She wanted me to hurry up and come
back. She thought a lot of me, I could see; more than ever, because I
had got along--I had written and told her my best news. And then, what
had been hard grew impossible right off. I made up my mind to sell the
stock and strike for new diggings. I couldn’t stand it any longer--not
after her letter. I sold out and cleared.... I ought to hev stayed in
Laramie, p’r’aps, and gone for the Irishman, but I just couldn’t. Every
one there was against me.”

“I guess you oughter hev stayed.... Besides, if you had wiped up the
floor with that Irishman the boys would hev let up on you.”

“P’r’aps so,” Charley resumed, “but I was sick of the whole crowd. I
sold off, and lit out. When I got on the new stage-coach, fifty miles
from Laramie, and didn’t know the driver or any one, I made up my mind
to start fresh. Then and there I resolved that I had eaten all the crow
I was going to eat; the others should eat crow now, and if there was any
jumpin’ to be done, I’d do it, whatever it cost. And so I went for Bent
right off. I didn’t want to wait. ‘Here’s more crow,’ I thought, ‘but
I won’t eat it; he shall, if I die for it,’ and I just threw him out
quick.”

“I see,” said Crocker, with a certain sympathy in his voice, “but you
oughter hev waited. You oughter make up to wait from this on, Charley.
‘Tain’t hard. You don’t need to take anythin’ and set under it. I’m not
advisin’ that, but it’s stronger to wait before you go fer any one. The
boys,” he added significantly, “don’t like a man to bounce, and what
they don’t like is pretty hard to do.”

“Damn the boys,” exclaimed Charley vehemently, “they’re all alike out
here. I can’t act different. If I waited, I might wait too long--too
long, d’you _sabe?_ I just can’t trust myself,” he added in a subdued
tone.

“No,” replied Crocker meditatively. “No, p’r’aps not. But see here,
Charley, I kinder like you, and so I tell you, no one can bounce the
crowd here in Garotte. They’re the worst crowd you ever struck in your
life. Garotte’s known for hard cases. Why,” he went on earnestly, as if
he had suddenly become conscious of the fact, “the other night Reggitt
and a lot came mighty near goin’ fer you--and Harrison, Harrison took
up what you said. You didn’t notice, I guess; and p’r’aps ‘twas well you
didn’t; but you hadn’t much to spare. You won by the odd card.

“No one can bounce this camp. They’ve come from everywhere, and can only
jes’ get a livin’ here--no more. And when luck’s bad they’re”--and he
paused as if no adjective were strong enough. “If a man was steel, and
the best and quickest on the draw ever seen, I guess they’d bury him if
he played your way.”

“Then they may bury me,” retorted Charley bitterly, “but I’ve eaten my
share of crow. I ain’t goin’ to eat any more. Can’t go East now with the
taste of it in my mouth. I’d rather they buried me.”

And they did bury him--about a fortnight after. July, 1892.



THE BEST MAN IN GAROTTE.

Lawyer Rablay had come from nobody knew where. He was a small man,
almost as round as a billiard ball. His body was round, his head was
round; his blue eyes and even his mouth and chin were round; his nose
was a perky snub; he was florid and prematurely bald--a picture of
good-humour. And yet he was a power in Garotte. When he came to the
camp, a row was the only form of recreation known to the miners. A
“fuss” took men out of themselves, and was accordingly hailed as an
amusement; besides, it afforded a subject of conversation. But after
Lawyer Rablay’s arrival fights became comparatively infrequent. Would-be
students of human nature declared at first that his flow of spirits was
merely animal, and that his wit was thin; but even these envious ones
had to admit later that his wit told, and that his good-humour was
catching.

Crocker and Harrison had nearly got to loggerheads one night for no
reason apparently, save that each had a high reputation for courage,
and neither could find a worthier antagonist. In the nick of time Rablay
appeared; he seemed to understand the situation at a glance, and broke
in:

“See here, boys. I’ll settle this. They’re disputin’--I know they are.
Want to decide with bullets whether ‘Frisco or Denver’s the finest city.
‘Frisco’s bigger and older, says Crocker; Harrison maintains Denver’s
better laid out. Crocker replies in his quiet way that ‘Frisco ain’t
dead yet” Good temper being now re-established, Rablay went on: “I’ll
decide this matter right off. Crocker and Harrison shall set up drinks
for the crowd till we’re all laid out. And I’ll tell a story,” and he
began a tale which cannot be retold here, but which delighted the boys
as much by its salaciousness as by its vivacity.

Lawyer Rablay was to Garotte what novels, theatres, churches, concerts
are to more favoured cities; in fact, for some six months, he and
his stories constituted the chief humanizing influence in the camp.
Deputations were often despatched from Doolan’s to bring Rablay to the
bar. The miners got up “cases” in order to give him work. More than once
both parties in a dispute, real or imaginary, engaged him, despite his
protestations, as attorney, and afterwards the boys insisted that,
being advocate for both sides, he was well fitted to decide the issue
as judge. He had not been a month in Garotte before he was christened
Judge, and every question, whether of claim-boundaries, the suitability
of a nickname, or the value of “dust,” was submitted for his decision.
It cannot be asserted that his enviable position was due either to
perfect impartiality or to infallible wisdom. But every one knew that
his judgments would be informed by shrewd sense and good-humour,
and would be followed by a story, and woe betide the disputant
whose perversity deferred that pleasure. So Garotte became a sort of
theocracy, with Judge Rablay as ruler. And yet he was, perhaps, the
only man in the community whose courage had never been tested or even
considered.

One afternoon a man came to Garotte, who had a widespread reputation.
His name was Bill Hitchcock. A marvellous shot, a first-rate
poker-player, a good rider--these virtues were outweighed by his
desperate temper. Though not more than five-and-twenty years of age
his courage and ferocity had made him a marked man. He was said to have
killed half-a-dozen men; and it was known that he had generally provoked
his victims. No one could imagine why he had come to Garotte, but he
had not been half an hour in the place before he was recognized. It was
difficult to forget him, once seen. He was tall and broad-shouldered;
his face long, with well-cut features; a brown moustache drooped
negligently over his mouth; his heavy eyelids were usually half-closed,
but when in moments of excitement they were suddenly updrawn, one was
startled by a naked hardness of grey-green eyes.

Hitchcock spent the whole afternoon in Doolan’s, scarcely speaking a
word. As night drew down, the throng of miners increased. Luck had been
bad for weeks; the camp was in a state of savage ill-humour. Not a
few came to the saloon that night intending to show, if an opportunity
offered, that neither Hitchcock nor any one else on earth could scare
them. As minute after minute passed the tension increased. Yet Hitchcock
stood in the midst of them, drinking and smoking in silence, seemingly
unconcerned.

Presently the Judge came in with a smile on his round face and shot off
a merry remark. But the quip didn’t take as it should have done. He
was received with quiet nods and not with smiles and loud greetings as
usual. Nothing daunted, he made his way to the bar, and, standing next
to Hitchcock, called for a drink.

“Come, Doolan, a Bourbon; our only monarch!”

Beyond a smile from Doolan the remark elicited no applause. Astonished,
the Judge looked about him; never in his experience had the camp been
in that temper. But still he had conquered too often to doubt his powers
now. Again and again he tried to break the spell--in vain. As a last
resort he resolved to use his infallible receipt against ill-temper.

“Boys! I’ve just come in to tell you one little story; then I’ll have to
go.”

From force of habit the crowd drew towards him, and faces relaxed.
Cheered by this he picked up his glass from the bar and turned towards
his audience. Unluckily, as he moved, his right arm brushed against
Hitchcock, who was looking at him with half-opened eyes. The next moment
Hitchcock had picked up his glass and dashed it in the Judge’s face.
Startled, confounded by the unexpected suddenness of the attack, Rablay
backed two or three paces, and, blinded by the rush of blood from his
forehead, drew out his handkerchief. No one stirred. It was part of the
unwritten law in Garotte to let every man in such circumstances play his
game as he pleased. For a moment or two the Judge mopped his face, and
then he started towards his assailant with his round face puckered up
and out-thrust hands. He had scarcely moved, however, when Hitchcock
levelled a long Navy Colt against his breast:

“Git back, you -------- ------”

The Judge stopped. He was unarmed but not cowed. All of a sudden those
wary, long eyes of Hitchcock took in the fact that a score of revolvers
covered him.

With lazy deliberation Dave Crocker moved out of the throng towards the
combatants, and standing between them, with his revolver pointing to the
ground, said sympathetically:

“Jedge, we’re sorry you’ve been jumped, here in Garotte. Now, what would
you like?”

“A fair fight,” replied Rablay, beginning again to use his handkerchief.

“Wall,” Crocker went on, after a pause for thought. “A square fight’s
good but hard to get. This man,” and his head made a motion towards
Hitchcock as he spoke, “is one of the best shots there is, and I reckon
you’re not as good at shootin’ as at--other things.” Again he paused
to think, and then continued with the same deliberate air of careful
reflection, “We all cotton to you, Jedge; you know that. Suppose you
pick a man who kin shoot, and leave it to him. That’d be fair, an’ you
kin jes’ choose any of us, or one after the other. We’re all willin’.”

“No,” replied the Judge, taking away the handkerchief, and showing a
jagged, red line on his forehead. “No! he struck _me_. I don’t want any
one to help me, or take my place.”

“That’s right,” said Crocker, approvingly; “that’s right, Jedge, we all
like that, but ‘tain’t square, and this camp means to hev it square.
You bet!” And, in the difficult circumstances, he looked round for the
approval which was manifest on every one of the serious faces. Again he
began: “I guess, Jedge, you’d better take my plan, ‘twould be surer. No!
Wall, suppose I take two six-shooters, one loaded, the other empty, and
put them under a _capote_ on the table in the next room. You could both
go in and draw for weapons; that’d be square, I reckon?” and he waited
for the Judge’s reply.

“Yes,” replied Rablay, “that’d be fair. I agree to that.”

“Hell!” exclaimed Hitchcock, “I don’t. If he wants to fight, I’m here;
but I ain’t goin’ to take a hand in no sich derned game--with the cards
stocked agen me.”

“Ain’t you?” retorted Crocker, facing him, and beginning slowly. “I
reckon _you’ll_ play any game we say. _See!_ any damned game _we_ like.
D’ye understand?”

As no response was forthcoming to this defiance, he went into the other
room to arrange the preliminaries of the duel. A few moments passed
in silence, and then he came back through the lane of men to the two
combatants.

“Jedge,” he began, “the six-shooters are there, all ready. Would you
like to hev first draw, or throw for it with him?” contemptuously
indicating Hitchcock with a movement of his head as he concluded.

“Let us throw,” replied Rablay, quietly.

In silence the three dice and the box were placed by Doolan on the bar.
In response to Crocker’s gesture the Judge took up the box and rolled
out two fives and a three--thirteen. Every one felt that he had lost the
draw, but his face did not change any more than that of his adversary.
In silence Hitchcock replaced the dice in the box and threw a three, a
four, and a two--nine; he put down the box emphatically.

“Wall,” Crocker decided impassively, “I guess that gives you the draw,
Jedge; we throw fer high in Garotte--sometimes,” he went on, turning
as if to explain to Hitchcock, but with insult in his voice, and then,
“After you, Jedge!”

Rablay passed through the crowd into the next room. There, on a table,
was a small heap covered with a cloak. Silently the men pressed round,
leaving Crocker between the two adversaries in the full light of the
swinging lamp.

“Now, Jedge,” said Crocker, with a motion towards the table.

“No!” returned the Judge, with white, fixed face, “he won; let him draw
first. I only want a square deal.”

A low hum of surprise went round the room. Garotte was more than
satisfied with its champion. Crocker looked at Hitchcock, and said:

“It’s your draw, then.” The words were careless, but the tone and face
spoke clearly enough.

A quick glance round the room and Hitchcock saw that he was trapped.
These men would show him no mercy. At once the wild beast in him
appeared. He stepped to the table, put his hand under the cloak, drew
out a revolver, dropped it, pointing towards Rablay’s face, and pulled
the trigger. A sharp click. That revolver, at any rate, was unloaded.
Quick as thought Crocker stepped between Hitchcock and the table. Then
he said:

“It’s your turn now, Jedge!”

As he spoke a sound, half of relief and half of content came from the
throats of the onlookers. The Judge did not move. He had not quivered
when the revolver was levelled within a foot of his head; he did not
appear to have seen it. With set eyes and pale face, and the jagged
wound on his forehead whence the blood still trickled, he had waited,
and now he did not seem to hear. Again Crocker spoke:

“Come, Jedge, it’s your turn.”

The sharp, loud words seemed to break the spell which had paralyzed the
man. He moved to the table, and slowly drew the revolver from under the
cloak. His hesitation was too much for the crowd.

“Throw it through him, Jedge! Now’s your chance. Wade in, Jedge!”

The desperate ferocity of the curt phrases seemed to move him. He raised
the revolver. Then came in tones of triumph:

“I’ll bet high on the Jedge!”

He dropped the revolver on the floor, and fled from the room.

The first feeling of the crowd of men was utter astonishment, but in
a moment or two this gave place to half-contemptuous sympathy. What
expression this sentiment would have found it is impossible to say, for
just then Bill Hitchcock observed with a sneer:

“As he’s run, I may as well walk;” and he stepped towards the bar-room.

Instantly Crocker threw himself in front of him with his face on fire.

“Walk--will ye?” he burst out, the long-repressed rage flaming
up--“walk! when you’ve jumped the best man in Garotte--walk! No, by God,
you’ll crawl, d’ye hear? crawl--right out of this camp, right now!” and
he dropped his revolver on Hitchcock’s breast.

Then came a wild chorus of shouts.

“That’s right! That’s the talk! Crawl, will ye! Down on yer hands and
knees. Crawl, damn ye! Crawl!” and a score of revolvers covered the
stranger.

For a moment he stood defiant, looking his assailants in the eyes. His
face seemed to have grown thinner, and his moustache twitched with the
snarling movement of a brute at bay. Then he was tripped up and thrown
forwards amid a storm of, “Crawl, damn ye--naw.” And so Hitchcock
crawled, on hands and knees out of Doonan’s.

Lawyer Rabley, too, was never afterwards seen in Garrotte. Men said his
nerves had “give out.”





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