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The Mule Driver And The Garrulous Mute
by [?]

Bill had finished panning the concentrates from our last clean-up, and now the silver ball of amalgam sizzled and fried on the shovel over the little chip-fire, while we smoked in the sun before the cabin. Removed from the salivating fumes of the quicksilver, we watched the yellow tint grow and brighten in the heat.

“There’s two diseases which the doctors ain’t got any license to monkey with,” began Bill, chewing out blue smoke from his lungs with each word, “and they’re both fevers. After they butt into your system they stick crossways, like a swallered toothpick; there ain’t any patent medicine that can bust their holt.”

I settled against the door-jamb and nodded.

“I’ve had them both, acute and continuous, since I was old enough to know my own mind and the taste of tobacco; I hold them mainly responsible for my present condition.” He mournfully viewed his fever-ridden frame which sprawled a pitiful six-feet-two from the heels of his gum-boots to the grizzled hair beneath his white Stetson.

“The first and most rabid,” he continued, “is horse-racing–and t’other is the mining fever, which last is a heap insidiouser in its action and more lingering in its effect.

“It wasn’t long after that deal in the Territory that I felt the symptoms coming on agin, and this time they pinted most emphatic toward prospecting, so me and ‘Kink’ Martin loaded our kit onto the burros and hit West.

“Kink was a terrible good prospector, though all-fired unlucky and peculiar. Most people called him crazy, ’cause he had fits of goin’ for days without a peep.

“Hosstyle and ornery to the whole world; sort of bulging out and exploding with silence, as it were.

“We’d been out in the hills for a week on our first trip before he got one of them death-watch faces on him, and boycotted the English langwidge. I stood for it three days, trying to jolly a grin on to him or rattle a word loose, but he just wouldn’t jolt.

“One night we packed into camp tired, hungry, and dying for a good feed.

“I hustled around and produced a supper fit for old Mr. Eppycure. Knowing that Kink had a weakness for strong coffee that was simply a hinge in him, I pounded up about a quart of coffee beans in the corner of a blanket and boiled out a South American liquid that was nothing but the real Arbuckle mud.

“This wasn’t no chafing-dish party either, because the wood was wet and the smoke chased me round the fire. Then it blazed up in spurts and fired the bacon-grease, so that when I grabbed the skillet the handle sizzled the life all out of my callouses. I kicked the fire down to a nice bed of coals and then the coffee-pot upset and put it out. Ashes got into the bacon, and–Oh! you know how joyful it is to cook on a green fire when you’re dead tired and your hoodoo’s on vicious.

“When the ‘scoffings’ were finally ready, I wasn’t in what you might exactly call a mollyfying and tactful mood nor exuding genialness and enthusiasms anyways noticeable.”

“I herded the best in camp towards him, watching for a benevolent symptom, but he just dogged it in silence and never changed a hair. That was the limit, so I inquired sort of ominous and gentle, ‘Is that coffee strong enough for ye, Mr. Martin?’

“He give a little impecunious grunt, implying, ‘Oh! it’ll do,’ and with that I seen little green specks begin to buck and wing in front of my eyes; reaching back of me, I grabbed the Winchester and throwed it down on him.

“‘Now, you laugh, darn you,’ I says, ‘in a hurry. Just turn it out gleeful and infractious.’

“He stared into the nozzle of that Krupp for a minute, then swallered twice to tune up his reeds, and says, friendly and perlite, but serious and wheezy: