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Afraid of a Gun
by [?]

Owen Sack turned from the stove as the door of his cabin opened to admit ‘Rip’ Yust, and with the hand that did not hold the coffeepot Owen Sack motioned hospitably toward the table, where food steamed before a ready chair.

“Hullo, Rip! Set down and go to it while it’s hot.’Twon’t take me but a minute to throw some more together for myself.”

That was Owen Sack, a short man of compact wiriness, with round china-blue eyes and round ruddy cheeks, and only the thinness of his straw-coloured hair to tell of his fifty-odd years, a quiet little man whose too-eager friendliness at times suggested timidity.

Rip Yust crossed to the table, but he paid no attention to its burden of food. Instead, he placed two big fists on the tabletop, leaned his weight on them, and scowled at Owen Sack. He was big, this Rip Yust, barrel-bodied, slope-shouldered, thick-limbed, and his usual manner was a phlegmatic sort of sullenness. But now his heavy features were twisted into a scowl.

“They got ‘Lucky’ this morning,” he said after a moment, and his voice wasn’t the voice of one who brings news. It was accusing.

“Who got him?”

But Owen Sack’s eyes swerved from the other’s as he put the question, and he moistened his lips nervously. He knew who had got Rip’s brother.

“Who do you guess?” with heavy derision. “The Prohis! You know it!”

The little man winced.

“Aw, Rip! How would I know it? I ain’t been to town for a week, and nobody never comes past here any more.”

“Yeah, I wonder how you would know it.”

Yust walked around the table, to where Owen Sack — with little globules of moisture glistening on his round face — stood, caught him by the slack of his blue shirt bosom and lifted him clear of the floor. Twice Yust shook the little man — shook him with a lack of vehemence that was more forcible than any violence could have been—and set him down on his feet again.

“You knowed where our cache was at,” he accused, still holding the looseness of the shirt bosom in one muscular hand, “and nobody else that ain’t in with us did. The Prohis showed up there this morning and grabbed Lucky. Who told ’em where it was? You did, you rat!”

“I didn’t, Rip! I didn’t! I swear to —”

Yust cut off the little man’s whimpering by placing a broad palm across his mouth.

“Maybe you didn’t. To tell the truth, I ain’t exactly positive yet that you done it — or I wouldn’t be talking to you.” He flicked his coat aside, baring for a suggestive half-second the brown butt of a revolver that peeped out of a shoulder holster. “But it looks like it couldn’t of been nobody else. But I ain’t aiming to hurt nobody that don’t hurt me, so I’m looking around a while to make sure. But if I find out that you done it for sure —”

He snapped his big jaws together. His right hand made as if to dart under his coat near the left armpit. He nodded with slow emphasis, and left the cabin.

For a while Owen Sack did not move. He stood stiffly still, staring with barren blue eyes at the door through which his caller had vanished; and Owen Sack looked old now. His face held lines that had not been there before; and his body, for all its rigidity, seemed frailer.

Presently he shook his shoulders briskly, and turned back to the stove with an appearance of having put the episode out of his mind; but immediately afterward his body drooped spiritlessly. He crossed to the chair, dropped down on it, and pushed the cooling meal back a way, to pillow his head upon his forearms.

He shuddered now and his knees trembled, just as he had shuddered and his knees had trembled when he had helped carry Cardwell home. Cardwell, so gossip said, had talked too much about certain traffic on the Kootenai River. Cardwell had been found one morning in a thicket below Dime, with a hole in the back of his neck where a bullet had gone in and another and larger hole in front where the bullet had come out. No one could say who had fired the bullet, but gossip in Dime had made guesses, and had taken pains to keep those guesses from the ears of the Yust brothers.