On midsummer days that were not festival days, generally Rose Square presented itself as the very model of bucolic peace. But as we look into the town's center on this particular warm and sunny day, instead of viewing such familiar and mundane things as gossiping middle-aged women and young sweethearts hand in hand, we behold a most jarring sight indeed. What we see is – a grim faced young farmer purposefully and determinedly striding through the square with a group of his alarmed friends struggling to keep up with his rapid pace as they pleaded with him.
Mary waved a book in the air with one hand as she held the folds of her skirt with the other so as not to trip on the hem. "Jack! It says here that this thing is not done in these times! It's most unseemly and undignified!"
Jack didn't look back at her as he snapped, "Undignified? It's my dignity that's at stake here! And my honor!"
Duke, redfaced and wheezing as he struggled to keep up, gasped out, "Honor's all fine and well, but accepting a challenge such as this – it's too extreme. Can't you just laugh it off this once?"
Jack's anger rose even higher. "Laugh?Laugh? They were laughing at me. Me! And they called me a wuss and a chicken. To my face! Nobody gets away with that!"
Doctor Tim tried the reasoned approach as they exited Rose Square together. "Jack, as your physician I must strongly advise against this course of action. Should things go as I fear they easily could, I cannot guarantee that I could repair the damage to your health..."
Jack sneered, "Damn and blast health! What good's health if a man can't face looking at himself in the mirror each morning?"
Tim turned back to Elli as they all rushed through the gates of Barley's Ranch. "Where's Karen? Maybe she could talk him out of it."
"When I left she was still throwing up at the thought of what he's going to do." She shrugged. "Or was it just the Kahlua?" She grimaced. "Nasty stuff first thing in the morning."
As Jack finally stopped before the door of Barley's house, Ann grabbed his arm and turned him around until they were face to face. "Jack you know my feelings for you, and I fear that if you go through with this, I shall never again be able to taste your sweet lips on mine."
Jack softened for a moment. "That would truly be a tragedy. You know how I feel for you also." Then the steely grimness returned to his face. "But I have no choice. A man's got to do what a man's got to do." He turned again and hammered on the door with his fist. "Open up in there! I'm back! Open up I say!"
And the door did swing open to reveal May and Stu standing at the threshold, hands full and sneers on both their faces. Stu greeted him. "I didn't think you'd come back Mr. Jack."
"Ha! You don't know me then you little brat." He pointed at the tin can in Stu's hands. "Is that it?"
"It is." Stu opened the lid, reached in and withdrew a handful of huge wriggling earthworms. "And it's like we said, it's either these..." and May interrupted as she held up a bunch of white chicken feathers "...or these!"
Jack held out his hand. "I'll show you whose chicken. Gimme!"
Jack marveled at the strength of the worms as they thrashed about in their determination to escape his grip. But Jack was more determined. He held the damp glistening worms high, tilted his head back, opened his mouth, and as his friends all covered their eyes and exclaimed "I can't look!"...