THE TATTERED MAN stood musing.
“Well, he was reg'lar jim-dandy fer nerve, wa'n't he,” said he finally in a little awestruck voice. “A reg'lar jim-dandy.” He thoughtfully poked one of the docile hands with his foot. “I wonner where he got 'is stren'th from? I never seen a man do like that before. It was a funny thing. Well, he was a reg'lar jim-dandy.”
The youth desired to screech out his grief. He was stabbed, but his tongue lay dead in the tomb of his mouth. He threw himself again upon the ground and began to brood.
The tattered man stood musing.
“Look-a-here, pardner,” he said, after a time. He regarded the corpse as he spoke. “He's up an' gone, ain't 'e, an' we might as well begin t' look out fer ol' number one. This here thing is all over. He's up an' gone, ain't 'e? An' he's all right here. Nobody won't bother 'im. An' I must say I ain't enjoying any great health m'self these days.”
The youth, awakened by the tattered soldier's tone, looked quickly up. He saw that he was swinging uncertainly on his legs and that his face had turned to a shade of blue.
“Good Lord!” he cried, “you ain't goin' t'—not you, too.”
The tattered man waved his hand. “Nary die,” he said. “All I want is some pea soup an' a good bed. Some pea soup,” he repeated dreamfully.
The youth arose from the ground. “I wonder where he came from. I left him over there.” He pointed. “And now I find 'im here. And he was coming from over there, too.” He indicated a new direction. They both turned toward the body as if to ask it a question.
“Well,” at length spoke the tattered man, “there ain't no use in our stayin' here an' tryin' t' ask him anything.”
The youth nodded an assent wearily. They both turned to gaze for a moment at the corpse.
The youth murmured something.
“Well, he was a jim-dandy, wa'n't 'e?” said the tattered man as if in response.
They turned their backs upon it and started away. For a time they stole softly, treading with their toes. It remained laughing there in the grass.
“I'm commencin' t' feel pretty bad,” said the tattered man, suddenly breaking one of his little silences. “I'm commencin' t' feel pretty damn' bad.”
The youth groaned. “Oh Lord!” He wondered if he was to be the tortured witness of another grim encounter.
But his companion waved his hand reassuringly. “Oh, I'm not goin' t' die yit! There's too much dependin' on me fer me t' die yit. No, sir! Nary die; I can't! Ye'd oughta see th' swad a' chil'ren I've got, an' all like that.”
The youth glancing at his companion could see by the shadow of a smile that he was making some kind of fun.
As they plodded on the tattered soldier continued to talk. “Besides, if I died, I wouldn't die th' way that feller did. That was th' funniest thing. I'd jest flop down, I would. I never seen a feller die th' way that feller did.
“Yeh know Tom Jamison, he lives next door t' me up home. He's a nice feller, he is, an' we was allus good friends. Smart, too. Smart as a steel trap. Well, when we was a-fightin' this atternoon, all-of-a-sudden he begin t' rip up an' cuss an' beller at me. 'Yer shot, yeh blamed infernal!' He swear horrible—he ses t' me. I put up m' hand t' m' head an' when I looked at m' fingers, I seen, sure 'nough, I was shot. I give a holler an' begin t' run, but b'fore I could git away another one hit me in th' arm an' whirl' me clean 'round. I got skeared when they was all ashootin' b'hind me an' I run t' beat all, but I cotch it pretty bad. I've an idee I'd a' been fightin' yit, if t'wasn't fer Tom Jamison.”
Then he made a calm announcement: “There's two of 'em—little ones—but they're beginnin' t' have fun with me now. I don't b'lieve I kin walk much furder.”
They went slowly on in silence. “Yeh look pretty peek–ed yerself,” said the tattered man at last. “I bet yeh 've got a worser one than yeh think. Ye'd better take keer of yer hurt. It don't do t' let sech things go. It might be inside mostly, an' them plays...
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