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What Happened at The Fonda
by [?]


“Well!” said the editor of the “Mountain Clarion,” looking up impatiently from his copy. “What’s the matter now?”

The intruder in his sanctum was his foreman. He was also acting as pressman, as might be seen from his shirt-sleeves spattered with ink, rolled up over the arm that had just been working “the Archimedian lever that moves the world,” which was the editor’s favorite allusion to the hand-press that strict economy obliged the “Clarion” to use. His braces, slipped from his shoulders during his work, were looped negligently on either side, their functions being replaced by one hand, which occasionally hitched up his trousers to a securer position. A pair of down-at-heel slippers–dear to the country printer–completed his negligee.

But the editor knew that the ink-spattered arm was sinewy and ready, that a stout and loyal heart beat under the soiled shirt, and that the slipshod slippers did not prevent its owner’s foot from being “put down” very firmly on occasion. He accordingly met the shrewd, good-humored blue eyes of his faithful henchman with an interrogating smile.

“I won’t keep you long,” said the foreman, glancing at the editor’s copy with his habitual half humorous toleration of that work, it being his general conviction that news and advertisements were the only valuable features of a newspaper; “I only wanted to talk to you a minute about makin’ suthin more o’ this yer accident to Colonel Starbottle.”

“Well, we’ve a full report of it in, haven’t we?” said the editor wonderingly. “I have even made an editorial para. about the frequency of these accidents, and called attention to the danger of riding those half broken Spanish mustangs.”

“Yes, ye did that,” said the foreman tolerantly; “but ye see, thar’s some folks around here that allow it warn’t no accident. There’s a heap of them believe that no runaway hoss ever mauled the colonel ez HE got mauled.”

“But I heard it from the colonel’s own lips,” said the editor, “and HE surely ought to know.”

“He mout know and he moutn’t, and if he DID know, he wouldn’t tell,” said the foreman musingly, rubbing his chin with the cleaner side of his arm. “Ye didn’t see him when he was picked up, did ye?”

“No,” said the editor. “Only after the doctor had attended him. Why?”

“Jake Parmlee, ez picked him up outer the ditch, says that he was half choked, and his black silk neck-handkercher was pulled tight around his throat. There was a mark on his nose ez ef some one had tried to gouge out his eye, and his left ear was chawed ez ef he’d bin down in a reg’lar rough-and-tumble clinch.”

“He told me his horse bolted, buck-jumped, threw him, and he lost consciousness,” said the editor positively. “He had no reason for lying, and a man like Starbottle, who carries a Derringer and is a dead shot, would have left his mark on somebody if he’d been attacked.”

“That’s what the boys say is just the reason why he lied. He was TOOK SUDDENT, don’t ye see,–he’d no show–and don’t like to confess it. See? A man like HIM ain’t goin’ to advertise that he kin be tackled and left senseless and no one else got hurt by it! His political influence would be ruined here!”

The editor was momentarily staggered at this large truth.

“Nonsense!” he said, with a laugh. “Who would attack Colonel Starbottle in that fashion? He might have been shot on sight by some political enemy with whom he had quarreled–but not BEATEN.”

“S’pose it warn’t no political enemy?” said the foreman doggedly.

“Then who else could it be?” demanded the editor impatiently.

“That’s jest for the press to find out and expose,” returned the foreman, with a significant glance at the editor’s desk. “I reckon that’s whar the ‘Clarion’ ought to come in.”

“In a matter of this kind,” said the editor promptly, “the paper has no business to interfere with a man’s statement. The colonel has a perfect right to his own secret–if there is one, which I very much doubt. But,” he added, in laughing recognition of the half reproachful, half humorous discontent on the foreman’s face, “what dreadful theory have YOU and the boys got about it–and what do YOU expect to expose?”