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The Shyness Of Shorty
by [?]

Bailey smoked morosely as he scanned the dusty trail leading down across the “bottom” and away over the dry grey prairie toward the hazy mountains in the west.

From his back-tilted chair on the veranda, the road was visible for miles, as well as the river trail from the south, sneaking up through the cottonwoods and leprous sycamores.

He called gruffly into the silence of the house, and his speech held the surliness of his attitude.

“Hot Joy! Bar X outfit comin’. Git supper.”

A Chinaman appeared in the door and gazed at the six-mule team descending the distant gully to the ford.

“Jesse one man, hey? All light,” and slid quietly back to the kitchen.

Whatever might be said, or, rather, whatever might be suspected, of Bailey’s road-house–for people did not run to wordy conjecture in this country–it was known that it boasted a good cook, and this atoned for a catalogue of shortcomings. So it waxed popular among the hands of the big cattle ranges near-bye. Those given to idle talk held that Bailey acted strangely at times, and rumour painted occasional black doings at the hacienda, squatting vulture-like above the ford, but it was nobody’s business, and he kept a good cook.

Bailey did not recall the face that greeted him from above the three span as they swung in front of his corral, but the brand on their flanks was the Bar X, so he nodded with as near an approach to hospitality as he permitted.

It was a large face, strong-featured and rugged, balanced on wide, square shoulders, yet some oddness of posture held the gaze of the other till the stranger clambered over the wheel to the ground. Then Bailey removed his brier and heaved tempestuously in the throes of great and silent mirth.

It was a dwarf. The head of a Titan, the body of a whisky barrel, rolling ludicrously on the tiny limbs of a bug, presented so startling a sight that even Hot Joy, appearing around the corner, cackled shrilly. His laughter rose to a shriek of dismay, however, as the little man made at him with the rush and roar of a cannon ball. In Bailey’s amazed eyes he seemed to bounce galvanically, landing on Joy’s back with such vicious suddenness that the breath fled from him in a squawk of terror; then, seizing his cue, he kicked and belaboured the prostrate Celestial in feverish silence. He desisted and rolled across the porch to Bailey. Staring truculently up et the landlord, he spoke for the first time.

“Was I right in supposin’ that something amused you?”

Bailey gasped incredulously, for the voice rumbled heavily an octave below his own bass. Either the look of the stocky catapult, as he launched himself on the fleeing servant, or the invidious servility of the innkeeper, sobered the landlord, and he answered gravely:

“No, sir; I reckon you’re mistaken. I ain’t observed anything frivolous yet.”

“Glad of it,” said the little man. “I don’t like a feller to hog a joke all by himself. Some of the Bar X boys took to absorbin’ humour out of my shape when I first went to work, but they’re sort of educated out of it now. I got an eye from one and a finger off of another; the last one donated a ear.”

Bailey readily conceived this man as a bad antagonist, for the heavy corded neck had split buttons from the blue shirt, and he glimpsed a chest hairy, and round as a drum, while the brown arms showed knotty and hardened.

“Let’s liquor,” he said, and led the way into the big, low room, serving as bar, dining- and living-room. From the rear came vicious clatterings and slammings of pots, mingled with Oriental lamentations, indicating an aching body rather than a chastened spirit.