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Authors: Rex Beach

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BOOK: The Spoilers
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The Kid finished his shuffling awkwardly and slid the cards into the box. Then the woman spoke:

“Let me have your place, Bronco.”

The men gasped, the Jew snickered, the lookout straightened in his chair.

“Better not. It's a hard game,” said the Kid, but her voice was imperious as she commanded him:

“Hurry up. Give me your place.”

Bronco arose, whereupon she settled in his chair, tucked in her skirts, removed her gloves, and twisted into place the diamonds on her hands.

“What the devil's this?” said the lookout, roughly. “Are you drunk, Bronco? Get out of that chair, miss.”

She turned to him slowly. The innocence had fled from her features and the big eyes flashed warningly. A change had coarsened her like a puff of air on a still pool. Then, while she stared at him, her lids drooped dangerously and her lip curled.

“Throw him out, Bronco,” she said, and her tones held the hardness of a mistress to her slave.

“That's all right,

the Kid reassured the lookout. “She's a better dealer than I am. This is Cherry Malotte.”

Without noticing the stares this evoked, the girl commenced. Her hands, beautifully soft and white, flashed over the board. She dealt rapidly, unfalteringly, with the finish of one bred to the cards, handling chips and coppers with the peculiar mannerisms that spring from long practice. It was seen that she never looked at her check-rack, but, when a bet required paying, picked up a stack without turning her head; and they saw further that she never reached twice, nor took a large pile and sized it up against its mate, removing the extra disks, as is the custom. When she stretched forth her hand she grasped the right number unerringly. This is considered the acme of professional finish, and the Bronco Kid smiled delightedly as he saw the wonder spread from the lookout to the spectators and heard the speech of the men who stood on chairs and tables for sight of the woman dealer.

For twenty minutes she continued, until the place became congested, and never once did the lookout detect an error.

While she was busy, Glenister entered the front-door and pushed his way back towards the theatre. He was worried and distrait, his manner perturbed and unnatural. Silently and without apparent notice he passed friends who greeted him.

“What ails Glenister to-night?” asked a by-stander. “He acts funny.”

“Ain't you heard? Why, the Midas has been jumped. He's in a bad way—all broke up.”

The girl suddenly ceased without finishing the deck, and arose.

“Don't stop,” said the Kid, while a murmur of dismay came from the spectators. She only shook her head and drew on her gloves with a show of ennui.

Gliding through the crowd, she threaded about aimlessly, the recipient of many stares though but few greetings, speaking with no one, a certain dignity serving her as a barrier even here. She stopped a waiter and questioned him.

“He's up-stairs in a gallery box.”

“Alone?”

“Yes'm. Anyhow, he was a minute ago, unless some of the rustlers has broke in on him.”

A moment later Glenister, watching the scene below, was aroused from his gloomy absorption by the click of the box door and the rustle of silken skirts.

“Go out, please,” he said, without turning. “I don't want company.” Hearing no answer, he began again, I came here to be alone”—but there he ceased, for the girl had come forward and laid her two hot hands upon his cheeks.

“Boy,” she breathed—and he arose swiftly

“Cherry! When did you come?”

“Oh,
days
ago,” she said, impatiently, “from Dawson. They told me you had struck it, I stood it as long as I could—then I came to you. Now, tell me about yourself. Let me see you first, quick!”

She pulled him towards the light and gazed upward, devouring him hungrily with her great, languorous eyes. She held to his coat lapels, standing close beside him, her warm breath beating up into his face.

“WELL,” SHE SAID, “KISS ME!”

“Well,” she said, “kiss me!”

He took her wrists in his and loosed her hold, then looked down on her gravely and said:

“No—that's all over. I told you so when I left Dawson.”

“Allover! Oh no, it isn't, boy. You think so, but it isn't—it can't be. I love you too much to let you go”

“Hush!” said he. “There are people in the next box.”

“I don't care! Let them hear,” she cried, with feminine recklessness. “I'm proud of my love for you. I'll tell it to them—to the whole world.”

“Now, see here, little girl,” he said, quietly, we had a long talk in Dawson and agreed that it was best to divide our ways. I was mad over [you once, as a good many other men have been, but I came to my senses. Nothing could ever result from it, and I told you so.”

“Yes, yes—I know. I thought I could give you up, but I didn't realize till you had gone how I wanted you. Oh, it's been a
torture
to me every day for the past two years.” There was no semblance now to the cold creature she had appeared upon entering the gambling-hall. She spoke rapidly, her whole body tense with emotion, her voice shaken with passion. “I've seen men and men and men, and they've loved me, but I never cared for anybody in the world till I saw you. They ran after me, but you were cold. You made me come to you. Perhaps that was it. Anyhow, I can't stand it. I'll give up everything—I'll do any-thing just to be where you are. What do you think of a woman who will beg? Oh, I've lost my pride—I'm a fool—a fool—but I can't help it.”

“I'm sorry you feel this way,” said Glenister. “It isn't my fault, and it isn't of any use.”

For an instant she stood quivering, while the light died out of her face; then, with a characteristic change, she smiled till the dimples laughed in her cheeks. She sank upon a seat beside him and pulled together the curtains, shutting out the sight below.

“Very well”—then she put his hand to her cheek and cuddled it. “I'm glad to see you just the same, and you can't keep me from loving you.”

With his other hand he smoothed her hair, while, unknown to him and beneath her lightness, she shrank and quivered at his touch like a Barbary steed under the whip.

“Things are very bad with me,” he said. “We've had our mine jumped.”

“Bah! You know what to do. You aren't a cripple—you've got five fingers on your gun hand.”

“That's it! They all tell me that—all the old-timers; but I don't know what to do. I thought I did—but I don't. The law has come into this country and I've tried to meet it half-way. They jumped us and put in a receiver—a big man—by the name of McNamara. Dex wasn't there and I let them do it. When the old man learned of it he nearly went crazy. We had our first quarrel. He thought I was afraid—”

“Not he,” said the girl. “I know him and he knows you.”

“That was a week ago. We've hired the best lawyer in Nome—Bill Wheaton—and we've tried to have the injunction removed. We've offered bond in any sum, but the Judge refuses to accept it. We've argued for leave to appeal, but he won't give us the right. The more I look into it the worse it seems, for the court wasn't convened in accordance with law, we weren't notified to appear in our own behalf, we weren't allowed a chance to argue our own case—nothing. They simply slapped on a receiver, and now they refuse to allow us redress. From a legal stand-point, it's appalling, I'm told; but what's to be done? What's the game? That's the thing. What are they up to? I'm nearly out of my mind, for it's all my fault. I didn't think it meant anything like this or I'd have made a fight for possession and stood them off at least. As it is, my partner's sore and he's gone to drinking—first time in twelve years. He says I gave the claim away, and now it's up to me and the Almighty to get it back. If he gets full he'll drive a four-horse wagon into some church, or go up and pick the Judge to pieces with his fingers to see what makes him go round.”

“What've they got against you and Dextry—some grudge?” she questioned.

“No, no We' re not the only ones in trouble; they've jumped the rest of the good mines and put this McNamara in as receiver on all of them, but that's small comfort. The Swedes are crazy; they've hired all the lawyers in town, and are murdering more good American language than would fill Bering Strait. Dex is in favor of getting our friends together and throwing the receiver off. He wants to kill somebody, but. We can't do that. They've got the soldiers to fall back on. We've been warned that the troops are instructed to enforce the court's action. I don't know what the plot is, for I can't believe the old Judge is crooked—the girl wouldn't let him.”

“Girl?”

Cherry Malotte leaned forward where the light shone on the young man's worried face.

“The girl? What girl? Who is she?”

Her voice had lost its lazy caress, her lips had thinned. Never was a woman's face more eloquent, mused Glenister as he noted her. Every thought fled to this window to peer forth, fearful, lustful, hateful, as the case might be. He had loved to play with her in the former days, to work upon her passions and watch the changes, to note her features mirror every varying emotion from tenderness to flippancy, from anger to delight, and, at his bidding, to see the pale cheeks glow with love's fire, the eyes grow heavy, the dainty lips invite kisses. Cherry was a perfect little spoiled animal, he reflected, and a very dangerous one.

“What girl?” she questioned again, and he knew beforehand the look that went with it.

“The girl I intend to marry,” he said, slowly, looking her between the eyes.

He knew he was cruel—he wanted to be—it satisfied the clamor and turmoil within him, while he also felt that the sooner she knew and the colder it left her the better. He could not note the effect of the remark on her, however, for, as he spoke, the door of the box opened and the head of the Bronco Kid appeared, then retired instantly with apologies.

“Wrong stall,” he said, in his slow voice. “Looking for another party” Nevertheless, his eyes had covered every inch of them—noted the drawn curtains and the breathless poise of the woman—while his ears had caught part of Glenister's speech.

“You won't marry her,” said Cherry, quietly. “I don't know who she is, but I won't let you marry her.”

She rose and smoothed her skirts.

“It's time nice people were going now.” She said it with a sneer at herself. “Take me out through this crowd. I'm living quietly and I don't want these beasts to follow me.”

As they emerged from the theatre the morning air was cool and quiet, while the sun was just rising. The Bronco Kid lighted a cigar as they passed, nodding silently at their greeting. His eyes followed them, while his hands were so still that the match burned through to his fingers—then when they had gone his teeth met and ground savagely through the tobacco so that the cigar fell, while he muttered:

“So that's the girl you intend to marry? We'll see, by God!”

CHAPTER VIII
DEXTRY MAKES A CALL

T
HE water front had a strong attraction for Helen Chester, and rarely did a fair day pass without finding her in some quiet spot from which she could watch the shifting life along its edge, the ships at anchor, and the varied incidents of the surf.

This morning she sat in a dory pulled high up on the beach, bathed in the bright sunshine, and staring at the rollers, while lines of concentration wrinkled her brow. The wind had blown for some days till the ocean beat heavily across the shallow bar, and now, as it became quieter, longshoremen were launching their craft, preparing to resume their traffic.

Not until the previous day had the news of her friends' misfortune come to her, and although she had heard no hint of fraud, she began to realize that they were involved in a serious tangle. To the questions which she anxiously put to her uncle he had replied that their difficulty arose from a technicality in the mining laws which another man had been shrewd enough to profit by. It was a complicated question, he said, and one requiring time to thrash out to an equitable settlement. She had undertaken to remind him of the service these men had done her, but, with a smile, he interrupted; he could not allow such things to influence his judicial attitude, and she must not endeavor to prejudice him in the discharge of his duty. Recognizing the justice of this, she had desisted.

For many days the girl had caught scattered talk between the Judge and McNamara, and between Struve and his associates, but it all seemed foreign and dry, and beyond the fact that it bore on the litigation over the Anvil Creek mines, she understood nothing and cared less, particularly as a new interest had but recently come into her life, an interest in the form of a man—McNamara.

He had begun with quiet, half-concealed admiration of her, which had rapidly increased until his attentions had become of a singularly positive and resistless character.

BOOK: The Spoilers
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