PardnersRex Beach / Western
E-text prepared by Al Haines
REX E. BEACH
Author of The Barrier, The Spoilers
PARDNERSTHE MULE DRIVER, AND THE GARRULOUS MUTETHE COLONEL AND THE HORSE-THIEFTHE THAW AT SLISCO'SBITTER ROOT BILLINGS, ARBITERTHE SHYNESS OF SHORTYTHE TESTNORTH OF FIFTY-THREEWHERE NORTHERN LIGHTS COME DOWN O' NIGHTSTHE SCOURGE
Most all the old quotations need fixing, said Joyce in tonesforbidding dispute. For instance, the guy that alluded to marriagesgerminating in heaven certainly got off on the wrong foot. He meantpardnerships. The same works ain't got capacity for both, no more'nyou can build a split-second stop-watch in a stone quarry. No, sir!A true pardnership is the sanctifiedest relation that grows, is, andhas its beans, while any two folks of opposite sect can marry and pegthe game out some way. Of course, all pardnerships ain't divine. Toevery one that's heaven borned there's a thousand made in ----.There goes them cussed dogs again!
He dove abruptly at the tent flap, disappearing like a palmed coin,while our canvas structure reeled drunkenly at his impact. Thesounds of strife without rose shrilly into blended agony, and theyelps of Keno melted away down the gulch in a rapid and rabiddiminuendo.
Inasmuch as I had just packed out from camp in a loose pair of rubberboots, and was nursing two gall blisters, I did not feel called uponto emulate this energy of arbitration, particularly in bare feet.
That black malamoot is a walking delegate for strife, he remarked,returning. Sometime I'll lose my temper--and that's the kind ofpardners me and Justus Morrow was.
Never more do I interrupt the allegory of my mate, no matter howstartling its structure. He adventures orally when and in the mannerthe spirit calls, without rote, form, or tone production. ThereforeI kicked my blistered heels in the air and grunted aimlessencouragement.
I was prospectin' a claim on Caribou Creek, and had her punched asfull of holes as a sponge cake, when the necessity of a changeappealed to me. I was out of everything more nourishing than hopeand one slab of pay-streaked bacon, when two tenderfeet 'mushed' upthe gulch, and invited themselves into my cabin to watch me pan.It's the simplest thing known to science to salt a tenderfoot, so Ididn't have no trouble in selling out for three thousand dollars.
You see, they couldn't kick, 'cause some of us 'old timers' wasbound to get their money anyhow--just a question of time; and theirinexperience was cheap at the price. Also, they was real nice boys,and I hated to see 'em fall amongst them crooks at Dawson. It was ashort-horned triumph, though. Like the Dead Sea biscuits ofScripture, it turned to ashes in my mouth. It wasn't three dayslater that they struck it; right in my last shaft, within a foot ofwhere I quit diggin'. They rocked out fifty ounces first day. Whenthe news filtered to me, of course, I never made no holler. Icouldn't--that is, honestly--but I bought a six hundred dollar grubstake, loaded it aboard a dory, and--having instructed the traderregarding the disposition of my mortal, drunken remains, I fannedthrough that camp like a prairie fire shot in the sirloin with a hotwind.
Of course, it wasn't such a big spree; nothing gaudy or Swedelike;but them that should know, claimed it was a model of refinement.Yes, I have got many encomiums on its general proportions andartistic finish. One hundred dollars an hour for twenty-four hours,all in red licker, confined to and in me and my choicestsympathizers. I reckon all our booze combined would have made a fairsluice-head. Anyhow, I woke up considerable farther down the dimvistas of time and about the same distance down the Yukon, in thebottom of my dory, seekin' new fields at six miles an hour. Thetrader had follered my last will and testament scrupulous, even tocoverin' up my legs.
That's how I drifted into Rampart City, and Justus Morrow.
This here town was the same as any new camp; a mile long andeighteen inches wide, consisting of saloons, dance-halls, saloons,trading-posts, saloons, places to get licker, and saloons. Might nothave been so many dancehalls and trading-posts as I've mentioned, anda few more saloons.
I dropped into a joint called The Reception, and who'd I see playing'bank' but 'Single Out' Wilmer, the worst gambler on the river.Mounted police had him on the woodpile in Dawson, then tied a can onhim. At the same table was a nice, tender Philadelphia squab, 'boutfryin' size, and while I was watching, Wilmer pulls down a betbelonging to it. That's an old game.
'Pardon me,' says the broiler; 'you have my checks.'
'What?' growls 'Single Out;' 'I knowed this game before you quitnursin', Bright Eyes. I can protect my own bets.'
'That's right,' chimes the dealer, who I seen was 'Curly' Budd,Wilmer's pardner.
'Lord!' thinks I, 'there's a pair to draw to.'
'Do you really think you had ought to play this? It's a man'sgame,' says Wilmer nasty.
I expected to see the youngster dog it. Nothin' of the kind.
'That's my bet!' he says again, and I noticed something dry in hisvoice, like the rustle of silk.
Single Out just looks black and snarls at the dealer.
'Turn the cards!'
'Oh, very well,' says the chechako, talking like a little girl.
Somebody snickered and, thinks I 'there's sprightly doin'shereabouts. I'll tarry a while and see 'em singe the fowl. I likethe smell of burning pin feathers; it clears my head.'
Over in the far corner was another animal in knee panties, riggin'up one of these flash-light, snappy-shot, photograft layouts. Ifound afterwards that he done it for a living; didn't work none, juststrayed around as co-respondent for an English newspaper syndicate,taking pictures and writing story things. I didn't pay muchattention to him hiding under his black cloth, 'cause the faro-tablewas full of bets, and it's hard to follow the play. Well,bye-and-bye Wilmer shifted another stack belonging to the Easterner.
The lad never begged his pardon nor nothin'. His fist just shot outand landed on the nigh corner of Wilmer's jaw, clean and fair, and'Single Out' done as pretty a headspin as I ever see--consideringthat it was executed in a cuspidore. 'Twas my first insight into theamenities of football. I'd like to see a whole game of it. They sayit lasts an hour and a half. Of all the cordial, why-how-do-you-domule kicks handed down in rhyme and story, that wallop was theadopted daddy.
When he struck, I took the end of the bar like a steeplechaser, forI seen 'Curly' grab at the drawer, and I have aversions to witnessinggun plays from the front end. The tenderfoot riz up in his chair,and snatchin' a stack of reds in his off mit, dashed 'em into'Curly's' face just as he pulled trigger. It spoiled his aim, andthe boy was on to him like a mountain lion, follerin' over the table,along the line of least resistance.
It was like takin' a candy sucker from a baby. 'Curly' let go ofthat 'six' like he was plumb tired of it, and the kid welted him overthe ear just oncet. Then he turned on the room; and right there myheart went out to him. He took in the line up at a sweep of hislamps:
'Any of you gentlemen got ideas on the subject?' he says, and hiseyes danced like waves in the sunshine.
It was all that finished and genteel that I speaks up withoutthinkin', 'You for me pardner!'
Just as I said it, there come a swish and flash as if a kag of blackpowder had changed its state of bein'. I s'pose everybody yelled anddodged except the picture man. He says, 'Thank you, gents; verypretty tableau.'
It was the first flash-light I ever see, and all I recall now is apanorama of starin' eyeballs and gaping mouths. When it seen itwasn't torpedoed, the population begin crawlin' out from under chairsand tables. Men hopped out like toads in a rain.
I crossed the boy's trail later that evening; found him watchin' adance at the Gold Belt. The photografter was there, too, and whenhe'd got his dog-house fixed, he says:
'Everybody take pardners, and whoop her up. I want this picture forthe _Weekly_. Get busy, you, there! We all joined in to helpthings; the orchestra hit the rough spots, and we went highfalutin'down the centre, to show the English race how our joy pained us, andthat life in the Klondyke had the Newport whirl, looking like societyin a Siwash village. He got another good picture.
Inside of a week, Morrow and I had joined up. We leased a claim andhad our cabin done, waiting for snow to fall so's to sled our grubout to the creek. He took to me like I did to him, and he was aneducated lad, too. Somehow, though, it hadn't gone to his head,leaving his hands useless, like knowledge usually does.
One day, just before the last boat pulled down river, Mr. Struthers,the picture man, come to us--R. Alonzo Struthers, of London and'Frisco, he was--and showin' us a picture, he says:
'Ain't that great? Sunday supplements! Full page! Big display!eh?'
It sure was. 'Bout 9x9, and showing every detail of the Receptionsaloon. There was 'Single Out' analyzing the cuspidore and 'Curly'dozin', as contorted and well-done as a pretzel. There was the crowdhiding in the corners, and behind the faro-table stood the kid, onehand among the scattered chips and cards, the other dominating thelayout with 'Curley's' 'six.' It couldn't have looked more naturalif we'd posed for it. It was a bully likeness, I thought, too, tillI seen myself glaring over the bar. All that showed of William P.Joyce, bachelor of some arts and plenty of science, late of Dawson,was the white of his eyes. And talkin' of white--say, I looked likeI had washing hung out. Seemed like the draught had riz my hair up,too.
'Nothing like it ever seen,' continues Struthers. 'I'll call it'The Winning Card,' or 'At Bay,' or something like that. Feature itas a typical Klondyke card game. I'll give you a two-page write-up.Why, it's the greatest thing I ever did!'
'I'm sorry,' says Morrow, thoughtful, 'but you musn't run it.'
'What! says he, and I thinks, 'Oh, Lord! There goes my only show toget perpetufied in ink.'
'I can't let you use it. My wife might see it.'
'Your wife!' says I. 'Are you married, pardner?'
'Yes, I'm married,' and his voice sounded queer. 'I've got aboy--too, see.'
He took a locket from his flannel shirt and opened it. Acurly-headed, dimpled little youngster laughed out at me.
'Well, I'm d----!' and then I took off my hat, for in the other sidewas a woman--and, gentlemen, she _was_ a woman! When I seen her itmade me feel blushy and ashamed. Gee! She was a stunner. I juststared at her till Struthers looked over my shoulder, and says,excited:
'Why, it's Olive Troop, the singer!'
'Not any more,' says Morrow, smiling.
'Oh! So you're the fellow she gave up her art for? I knew her onthe stage.'
Something way deep down in the man grated on me, but the kid waslookin' at the picture and never noticed, while hunger peered fromhis face.
'You can't blame me,' he says finally. 'She'd worry to death if shesaw that picture. The likeness is too good. You might substituteanother face on my shoulders; that can be done, can't it?'
'Why, sure; dead easy, but I'll not run it at all if you feel thatway,' says the artist.
Then, Morrow resumes, 'You'll be in Denver this fall, Struthers, eh?Well, I want you to take a letter to her. She'll be glad to see anold friend like you, and to hear from me. Tell her I'm well andhappy, and that I'll make a fortune, sure. Tell her, too, that therewon't be any mail out of here till spring.'
Now, I don't claim no second sight in the matter of female features:I ain't had no coachin'; not even as much as the ordinary, beingraised on a bottle, but I've studied the ornery imprints of men'sthoughts, over green tables and gun bar'ls, till I can about guesswhether they've drawed four aces or an invite to a funeral. I gotanother flash from that man I didn't like, though his words werehearty. He left, soon after, on the last boat.
Soon as ever the ground froze we began to sink. In those days steamthawers wasn't dreamed of, so we slid wood down from the hills, andburned the ground with fires. It's slow work, and we didn't catchbed-rock till December, but when we did we struck it right. Fourfeet of ten-cent dirt was what she averaged. Big? Well, I wonder!It near drove Morrow crazy.
'Billy, old boy, this means I'll see her next summer!'
Whenever he mentioned her name, he spoke like a man in church or outof breath. Somehow it made me feel like takin' off my cap--fortybelow at that, and my ears freeze terrible willing since that winteron the Porcupine.
That evening, when I wasn't looking, he sneaked the locket out ofhis shirt and stared at it, famished. Then he kissed it, if youmight rehabilitate such a scandalous, hold-fast-for-the-cornerperformance by that name.
'I must let her know right away,' says he. 'How can I do it?'
'We can hire a messenger, and send him to Dawson,' says I.'Everybody in camp will pay five dollars a letter, and he can bringback the outside mail. They have monthly service from there to thecoast. He'll make the trip in ninety days, so you'll get news fromhome by the first of March. Windy Jim will go. He'd leave a goodjob and a warm camp any time to hit the trail. Just hitch up thedogs, crack a whip, and yell 'Mush on!' and he'll get the snow-shoeitch, and water at the mouth for hardship.'
Not being house-broke and tame myself, I ain't authority on the joysof getting mail from home, but, next to it, I judge, comes writing toyour family. Anyhow, the boy shined up like new money, and there wasfrom one to four million pages in his hurried note. I don't mean tosay that he was grouchy at any time. No, sir! He was thenickel-plated sunbeam of the whole creek. Why, I've knowed him to dothe cooking for two weeks at a stretch, and never kick--and _wash thedishes, too_,--which last, as anybody knows, is crucifyin'er thanthat smelter test of the three Jews in the Scripture. Underneath allof his sunshine, though, I saw hints of an awful, aching, devilish,starvation. It made me near hate the woman that caused it.
He was a wise one, too. I've seen him stirring dog-feed with onehand and spouting 'Gray's Elegy' with the other. I picked up a heapof knowledge from him, for he had American history pat. One story Iliked particular was concerning the origin of placer mining in thiscountry, about a Greaser, Jason Somebody, who got the gold fever andgrub-staked a mob he called the Augerknots--carpenters, I judge, fromthe mess they made of it. They chartered a schooner and prospectedalong Asy Miner, wherever that is. I never seen any boys from there,but the formation was wrong, like Texas, probably, 'cause they sortof drifted into the sheep business. Of course, that was a long waysback, before the '49 rush, but the way he told it was great.
Well, two weeks after Windy left we worked out of that rich spot anddrifted into barren ground. Instead of a fortune, we'd sunk onto theonly yellow spot in the whole claim. We cross-cut in three places,and never raised a colour, but we kept gophering around till March,in hopes.
'Why did I write that letter?' he asked one day. 'I'd give anythingto stop it before it gets out. Think of her disappointment when shehears I'm broke!'
'Nobody can't look into the ground,' says I. 'I don't mind losin'out myself, for I've done it for twenty years and I sort of like itnow, but I'm sorry for the girl.'
'It means another whole season,' he says. 'I wanted to see themthis summer, or bring them in next fall.'
'Sufferin' sluice-boxes! Are you plumb daffy? Bring a woman intothe Yukon--and a little baby.'
'She'd follow me anywhere. She's awful proud; proud as a Kentuckygirl can be, and those people would make your uncle Lucifer look likea cringing cripple, but she'd live in an Indian hut with me.'
'Sure! And follerin' out the simile, nobody but a Siwash would lether. If she don't like some other feller better while you're gone,what're you scared about?'
He never answered; just looked at me pityfyin', as much as to say,'Well, you poor, drivelin, old polyp!'
One day Denny, the squaw-man, drove up the creek:
'Windy Jim is back with the mail,' says he, and we hit for camp onthe run. Only fifteen mile, she is, but I was all in when we gotthere, keepin' up with Justus. His eyes outshone the snow-glitterand he sang--all the time he wasn't roasting me for being soslow--claimed I was active as a toad-stool. A man ain't got nolicense to excite hisself unless he's struck pay dirt--or got adivorce.
'Gi'me my mail, quick!' he says to Windy, who had tinkered up aone-night stand post-office and dealt out letters, at five dollarsper let.'
'Nothing doing,' says Windy.
'Oh, yes there is,' he replies, still smiling; 'she writes me everyweek.'
'I got all there was at Dawson,' Windy give back, 'and there ain't athing for you!'
I consider the tragedy of this north country lies in its mailservice. Uncle Sam institutes rural deliveries, so the bolomen canregister poisoned arrowheads to the Igorrotes in exchange for recipesto make roulade of naval officer, but his American miners in Alaskago shy on home news for eight months every year.
That was the last mail we had till June.
When the river broke we cleaned up one hundred and eighty-sevendollars' worth of lovely, yellow dust, and seven hundred andthirty-five dollars in beautiful yellow bills from the post.
The first boat down from Dawson brought mail, and I stood beside himwhen he got his. He shook so he held on to the purser's window.Instead of a stack of squares overrun with female chiropody, therewas only one for him--a long, hungry sport, with indications of a lawfirm in the northwest corner. It charmed him like a rattler. Heseemed scared to open it. Two or three times he tried and stopped.
'They're dead,' thinks I; and, sure enough, when he'd looked, I knewit was so, and felt for his hand. Sympathy don't travel by word ofmouth between pardners. It's the grip of the hand or the look of theeye.
'What cause?' says I.
He turned, and s'help me, I never want to see the like again. Hisface was plumb grey and dead, like wet ashes, while his eyes scorchedthrough, all dry and hot. Lines was sinkin' into it as I looked.
'It's worse,' says he, 'unless it's a joke.' He handed me the dope:'In re Olive Troop Morrow _vs_. Justus Morrow,' and a letter statingthat out of regard for her feelings, and bein' a gentleman, he wasn'texpected to cause a scandal, but to let her get the divorce bydefault. No explanation; no word from her; nothing.
God knows what that boy suffered the next few weeks, but he foughtit out alone. She was proud, but he was prouder. Her silence hurthim the worst, of course; but what could he do? Go to her? Fine!Both of us broke and in debt. Also, there's such a thing as diggin'deep enough to scrape the varnish off of a man's self-respect,leavin' it raw and shrinking. No! He done like you or me--let herhave her way. He took off the locket and hid it, and I never heardher name mentioned for a year.
I'd been up creek for a whip-saw one day, and as I came back I heardvoices in the cabin. 'Some musher out from town,' thinks I, tillsomething in their tones made me stop in my tracks.
I could hear the boy's voice, hoarse and throbbing, as though hedragged words out bleeding, then I heard the other one laugh--anasty, sneering laugh that ended in a choking rattle, like a noosehad tightened on his throat.
I jumped for the door, and rounding the corner, something near tookme off my feet; something that shot through the air, all pretty andknickerbockery, with a two-faced cap, and nice brown leggin's. Also,a little camera was harnessed to it by tugs. It arose, displayingthe face of R. Alonzo Struthers, black and swollen, with chipsstickin' in it where he'd hit the woodpile. He glared at Morrow, andhis lips foamed like a crab out of water.
'I hope I'm not intrudin', I ventures.
When the kid seen me, he says, soft and weak, like something ailedhis palate:
'Don't let me kill him, Billy.'
Don't let me kill him, Billy.]
Struthers spit, and picked splinters forth from his complexion.
'I told you for your own good. It's common gossip,' says he.'Everybody is laughing at you, an--'
Then I done a leap for life for the kid, 'cause the murder lightblazed up white in his face, and he moved at the man like he hadsomething serious in view.
'Run, you idiot!' I yells to Struthers as I jammed the youngsterback into the cabin. All of a sudden the gas went out of him and hebroke, hanging to me like a baby.
'It can't be,' he whispers. 'It can't be.' He throwed hisself onto a goods' box, and buried his face in his hands. It gripes me tohear a man cry, so I went to the creek for a pail of water.
I never heard what Struthers said, but it don't take no Nick Carterto guess.
That was the fall of the Fryin' Pan strike--do you mind it?Shakespeare George put us on, so me and the kid got in ahead of thestampede. We located one and two above discovery, and by Christmaswe had a streak uncovered that was all gold. She was coarse, and weaveraged six ounces a day in pick-ups. Man, that _was_ ground! I'veflashed my candle along the drift face, where it looked like gold hadbeen shot in with a scatter-gun.
We was cleaned up and had our 'pokes' at the post when the firstboat from Dawson smoked 'round the bend.
Now, in them days, a man's averdupoise was his abstract of title.There was nothing said about records and patentees as long as youworked your ground; but, likewise, when you didn't work it, somebodyelse usually did. We had a thousand feet of as good dirt as everlaid out in the rain; but there was men around drulin' to snipe it,and I knowed it was risky to leave. However, I saw what was gnawin'at the boy, and if ever a man needed a friend and criminal lawyer,that was the time. According to the zodiac, certain persons, to thecomplainant unknown, had a mess of trouble comin' up and I wanted tohave the bail money handy.
We jumped camp together. I made oration to the general gnat-bittenpopulace, from the gang-plank, to the effect that one William P.Joyce, trap, crap, and snap shooter was due to happen back casualmost any time, and any lady or gent desirous of witnessing at firsthand, a shutzenfest with live targets, could be gratified byinfestin' in person or by proxy, the lands, tenements, andhereditaments of me and the kid.
'Well, we hit the Seattle docks at a canter, him headed for thepostal telegraph, me for a fruit-stand. I bought a dollar's worth ofeverything, from cracker-jack to cantaloupe, reserving the localoption of eatin' it there in whole or in part, and returning formore. First fresh fruit in three years. I reckon my proudest hourcome when I found, beyond peradventure, that I hadn't forgot the'Georgy Grind.' What? 'Georgy Grind' consists of feedingrough-hewed slabs of watermelon into your sou' sou'east corner, andsquirting a stream of seeds out from the other cardinal points,without stopping or strangling.
I et and et, and then wallered up to the hotel, sweatin' a differentkind of fruit juice from every pore. Not wishing to play anyfavourites, I'd picked up a basket of tomatoes, a gunny-sack ofpineapples, and a peck of green plums on the way. Them plums donethe business. I'd orter let bad enough alone. They was non-union,and I begin having trouble with my inside help. Morrow turned in ahurry-up call for the Red Cross, two medical colleges, and theSociety of Psycolic Research. Between 'em they diagnosed me ascontaining everything from 'housemaid's knee' to homesickness of thevital organs, but I _know_. I swallered a plum pit, and it sprouted.
Next day, when I come out of it, Justus had heard from Denver. Hiswife had been gone a year, destination unknown. Somebody thought shewent to California, so, two days later, we registered at the Palace,and the 'Frisco police begin dreaming of five thousand dollar rewards.
It was no use, though. One day I met Struthers on Market Street,and he was scared stiff to hear that Morrow was in town. It seems hewas night editor of one of the big dailies.
'Do you know where the girl is?' says I.
'Yes, she's in New York,' he answers, looking queer, so I hurriedback to the hotel.
As I was explaining to Morrow, a woman passed us in the hall with alittle boy. In the dimness, the lad mistook Justus.
'Oh, papa, papa! he yells, and grabs him by the knees, laughing andkicking.
'Ah-h!' my pardner sighs, hoarse as a raven, and quicker'n light hesnatched the little shaver to him, then seeing his mistake, droppedhim rough. His face went grey again, and he got wabbly at thehinges, so I helped him into the parlour. He had that hungry, Yukonlook, and breathed like he was wounded.
'You come with me,' says I, 'and get your mind off of things. Theeastern limited don't leave till midnight. Us to the theatre!'
It was a swell tepee, all right. Variety house, with movingpictures, and actorbats, and two-ton soubrettes, with Barriosdiamonds and hand-painted socks.
First good show I'd seen in three years, and naturally humour brokeout all over me. When joy spreads its wings in my vitals, I soundlike a boy with a stick running past a picket-fence. Not so Morrow.He slopped over the sides of his seat, like he'd been spilled intothe house.
Right after the sea-lions, the orchestra spieled some teetery music,and out floats a woman, slim and graceful as an antelope. She had abig pay-dump of brown hair, piled up on her hurricane deck, with eyesthat snapped and crinkled at the corners. She single-footed in likea derby colt, and the somnambulists in the front row begin to showcause. Something about her startled me, so I nudged the kid, but hewas chin-deep in the plush, with his eyes closed. I marked howdrawed and haggard he looked; and then, of a sudden he raised half onto his feet. The girl had begun to sing. Her voice was rich andlow, and full of deep, still places, like a mountain stream. ButMorrow! He sunk his fingers into me, and leaned for'rad, starin' asthough Paradise had opened for him, while the sweat on his face shonelike diamond chips.
It was the girl of the locket, all right, on the stage again--invaudeville.
Her song bubbled along, rippling over sandy, sunlit gravel bars, andslidin' out through shadowy trout pools beneath the cool, alderthickets, and all the time my pardner sat burning his soul in hiseyes, his breath achin' out through his throat. Incidental, hisdigits was knuckle-deep into the muscular tissue of William P., thegent to the right.
When she quit, I had to jam him back.
For an encore she sang a reg'lar American song, with music to it.When she reached the chorus she stopped. Then away up in the balconysounded the tiny treble of a boy's soprano, sweet as the ring ofsilver. The audience turned, to a man, and we seen, perched amongthe newsboys, the littlest, golden-haired youngster, 'bout the sizeof your thumb, his eyes glued to the face of his mother on the stagebelow, pourin' out his lark song, serious and frightened. Twice hedone it, while by main stren'th I held his father to the enjoymentsof a two-dollar orchestra chair.
'Let us in,' we says, three minutes later, to the stranger at thestage door, but he looked upon us with unwelcome, like theseven-headed hydrant of Holy Writ.
'It's agin' the rules,' says he. 'You kin wait in the alley withthe other Johnnies.'
I ain't acclimated to the cold disfavour of a stage door, neverhaving soubretted along the bird and bottle route. I was for thelayin' on of hands. Moreover, I didn't like the company we was in,'Johnnies,' by designations of the Irish terrier at the wicket. Theysmoked ready-made cigarettes, and some of 'em must have measured fulleight inches acrost the chest.
'Let us stroll gently but firmly into, over, and past the remains ofthis party, to the missus,' says I, but Morrow got seized with theshakes, of a sudden.
'No, no. We'll wait here.'
At last she come out, steppin' high. When she moved she rustled andrattled like she wore sandpaper at the ankles.
Say, she was royal! She carried the youngster in her arms, soundasleep, and it wasn't till she stepped under the gaslight that sheseen us.
'Oh!' she cried, and went white as the lace of her cloak. Then shehugged the kiddie clost to her, standing straight and queenly, hereyes ablaze, her lips moist, and red, and scornful.
God, she was grand--but him? He looked like a barnacle.
'Olive!' says he, bull-froggy, and that's all. Just quit like a dogand ate her up by long-distance eyesight. Lord! Nobody would haveknowed him for the same man that called the crookedest gamblers onthe Yukon, and bolted newspaper men raw. He had ingrowing language.It oozed out through his pores till he dreened like a harvest hand.I'd have had her in my arms in two winks, so that all hell and apoliceman couldn't have busted my holt till she'd said she loved me.
She shrivelled him with a look, the likes of which ain't strayedover the Mason-Dixon line since Lee surrendered, and swept by us,invitin' an' horspitable as an iceberg in a cross sea. Her cab doorslammed, and I yanked Morrow out of there, more dead than alive.
'Let me go home,' says he wearily.
'You bet!' I snorts. 'It's time you was tucked in. The dew isfallin' and some rude person might accost you. You big slob!There's a man's work to do to-night, and as I don't seem to have nocompetition in holding the title, I s'pose it's my lead.' I throwedhim into a carriage. 'You'd best put on your nighty, and have themaid turn down your light. Sweet dreams, Gussie!' I was plumb soreon him. History don't record no divorce suits in the Stone Age, whena domestic inclined man allus toted a white-oak billy, studded withwire nails, according to the pictures, and didn't scruple to use it,both at home and abroad. Women was hairy, them days, and harder tomake love, honour and obey; but principles is undyin'.
I boarded another cab:
'Drive me to number ----,' giving him the address I'd heard her use.
'Who is it,' came her voice when I rang the bell.
'Messenger boy,' I replies, perjuring my vocal cords.
When she opened the door, I pushed through and closed it behind me.
'What does this mean?' she cried. 'Help!'
'Shut up! It means you're killing the best boy in the world, and Iwant to know why.'
'Who are you?'
'I'm Bill Joyce, your husband's pardner. Old Tarantula Bill, thatdon't fear no man, woman, or child that roams the forest. I'm hereto find what ails you--'
'Leave this house, sir!'
'Well, not to any extent. You're a good girl; I knowed it when Ifirst seen your picture. Now, I want you to tell me--'
'Insolent! Shall I call the police?' Her voice was icy, and shestood as solid as stone.
'Madam, I'm as gentle as a jellyfish, and peaceful to a fault, butif you raise a row before I finish my talk I'll claim noresponsibility over what occurs to the first eight or ten people thatintrudes,' and I drawed my skinnin' knife, layin' it on the planner.'Philanthropy is raging through my innards, and two loving heartsneed joining!'
'I don't love him,' she quotes, like a phonograft, ignoring mycutlery.
'I'll take exception to that ruling,' and I picks up a picture ofJustus she'd dropped as I broke in. She never batted an eye.
'I nursed that lad through brain fever, when all he could utter wasyour name.'
'Has he been sick?' The first sign of spring lit up her peaks.
'Most dead. Notice of the divorce done it. He's in bad shape yet.'Morrow never had a sick day in his life, but I stomped both feet onthe soft pedal, and pulled out the tremulo stop.
'Oh! Oh!' Her voice was soft, though she still stood like a birch.
'Little girl,' I laid a hand on her shoulder. 'We both love thatboy. Come, now, what is the matter?'
She flashed up like powder.
'Matter? I thought he was a gentleman, even though he didn't loveme; that he had a shred of honour, at least. But no! He went toAlaska and made a fortune. Then he squandered it, drinking,fighting, gambling, and frittering it away on women. Bah! Lewdcreatures of the dance-halls, too.'
'Hold up! Your dope sheet is way to the bad. There's somethingwrong with your libretto. Who told you all that?'
'Never mind. I have proof. Look at these, and you dare to ask mewhy I left him?'
She dragged out some pictures and throwed 'em at me.
'Ah! Why didn't I let the kid kill him?' says I, through my teeth.
The first was the gambling-room of the Reception. There stoodMorrow with the men under foot; there was the bottles and glasses;the chips and cards, and also the distressful spectacle of TarantulaBill Joyce, a number twelve man, all gleaming teeth, and rollingeyeballs, inserting hisself into a number nine opening, and doingsurprising well at it.
'Look at them. Look at them well,' she gibed.
The second was the Gold-Belt dance-hall, with the kid cavortingthrough a drunken orgy of painted ladies, like a bull in a pansypatch. But the other--it took my breath away till I felt I was onsmooth ice, with cracks showing. It was the inside of a cabin, aftera big 'pot-latch,' displaying a table littered up with fizz bottlesand dishes galore. Diamond Tooth Lou stood on a chair, waving kissesand spilling booze from a mug. In the centre stood Morrow withanother girl, nestling agin his boosum most horrible lovin'. Gee!It was a home splitter and it left me sparring for wind. The wholething exhaled an air of debauchery that would make a wooden Indianblush. No one thing in particular; just the general local colour ofa thousand-dollar bender.
'Charming, isn't it?' she sneered.
'I don't savvy the burro. There's something phony about it. I canexplain the other two, but this one--.' Then it come to me in aflash. The man's face was perfect, but he wore knickerbockers! Now,to my personal knowledge, the only being that ever invaded RampartCity in them things was R. Alonzo Struthers.
'There's secrets of the dark-room that I ain't wise to,' says I,'but I feel that this is going to be a bad night for the newspaperenterprise of 'Frisco if it don't explain. I'll fetch the man thatbusted your Larrys and Peanuts.'
'Our what?' says she.
'Larrys and Peanuts--that's Roman. The kid told me all about 'em.They're sort of little cheap gods!'
'Will you ever go?' she snapped. 'I don't need your help. Tell himI hate him!' She stamped her foot, and the iron come into her againtill the pride of all Kentucky blazed in her eyes.
She couldn't understand my explanations no more than I could, so Iducked. As I backed out the door, though, I seen her crumple up andsettle all of a heap on the floor. She certainly did hate that manscandalous.
I'm glad some editors work nights. Struthers wasn't overjoyed at mycall, particular, as I strayed in with two janitors dangling from me.They said he was busy and couldn't be interrupted, and they seemed toinsist on it.'
'It's a bully night,' says I, by way of epigram, unhooking the pairof bouncers. 'You wouldn't like me to take you ridin' perhaps?'
'Are you drunk, or crazy?' says he. 'What do you mean by breakinginto my office? I can't talk to you; we're just going to press.'
'I'd like to stay and watch it,' says I, 'but I've got a news itemfor you.' At the same time I draws my skinner and lays it on theback of his neck, tempting. Steel, in the lamp-light, isdiscouraging to some temperaments. One of the body-guards was tookwith urgent business, and left a streamer of funny noises behind him,while the other gave autumn-leaf imitations in the corner. Strutherslooked like a dose of seasickness on a sour stomach.
Get your hat. Quick!' I jobbed him, gentle and encouraging.
Age allus commands respect. Therefore the sight of a six-foot,grizzled Klondiker in a wide hat, benevolently prodding the nighteditor in the short ribs and apple sauce, with eight bright andchilly inches, engendered a certain respect in the reportorial staff.
'You're going to tell Mrs. Morrow all about the pretty pictures,' Isays, like a father.
'Let me go, damn you!' he frothed, but I wedged him into a corner ofthe cab and took off his collar--in strips. It interfered with hisbreathing, as I couldn't get a holt low enough to regulate hisrespiration. He kicked out two cab windows, but I bumped his headagin the woodwork, by way of repartee. It was a real pleasure, notto say recreation, experimenting with the noises he made. Seldom Iget a neck I give a cuss to squeeze. His was number fifteen atfirst, by the feel; but I reduced it a quarter size at a time.
When we got there I helped him out, one hand under his chin, theother back of his ears. I done it as much from regard of theneighbours as animosities to him, for it was the still, medium smallhours. I tiptoed in with my treatise on the infamies of photographygurgling under my hand, but at the door I stopped. It was ajar; andthere, under the light, I spied Morrow. In his arms I got glimpsesof black lace and wavy, brown hair, and a white cheek that he wasaccomplishing wonders with. They wouldn't have heard a man-holeexplosion.
'He's still fitting to be my pardner,' I thinks, and then I heardStruthers's teeth chatter and grind. I looked at him, and the secretof the whole play came to me.
Never having known the divine passion, it ain't for me to judge, butI tightened on his voice-box and whispered:
'You've outlived your period of usefulness, Struthers, and it's timeto go. Let us part friends, however.' So I bade him Godspeed fromthe top step.
Looking back on the evening now, that adieu was my only mistake. Ilimped for a week--he had a bottle in his hip pocket.