Part 3 out of 5
"Good God!" I cried, aghast, "what is this?"
"It is the pistol," said Kombs quietly.
* * * * *
Journalistic London will not soon forget the sensation that was caused
by the record of the investigations of Sherlaw Kombs, as printed at
length in the next day's _Evening Blade._ Would that my story
ended here. Alas! Kombs contemptuously turned over the pistol to
Scotland Yard. The meddlesome officials, actuated, as I always hold, by
jealousy, found the name of the seller upon it. They investigated. The
seller testified that it had never been in the possession of Mr.
Kipson, as far as he knew. It was sold to a man whose description
tallied with that of a criminal long watched by the police. He was
arrested, and turned Queen's evidence in the hope of hanging his pal.
It seemed that Mr. Kipson, who was a gloomy, taciturn man, and usually
came home in a compartment by himself, thus escaping observation, had
been murdered in the lane leading to his house. After robbing him, the
miscreants turned their thoughts towards the disposal of the body--a
subject that always occupies a first-class criminal mind before the
deed is done. They agreed to place it on the line, and have it mangled
by the Scotch Express, then nearly due. Before they got the body half-
way up the embankment the express came along and stopped. The guard got
out and walked along the other side to speak with the engineer. The
thought of putting the body into an empty first-class carriage
instantly occurred to the murderers. They opened the door with the
deceased's key. It is supposed that the pistol dropped when they were
hoisting the body in the carriage.
The Queen's evidence dodge didn't work, and Scotland Yard ignobly
insulted my friend Sherlaw Kombs by sending him a pass to see the
DEATH COMETH SOON OR LATE.
It was Alick Robbins who named the invalid the Living Skeleton, and
probably remorse for having thus given him a title so descriptively
accurate, caused him to make friends with the Living Skeleton, a man
who seemed to have no friends.
Robbins never forgot their first conversation. It happened in this way.
It was the habit of the Living Skeleton to leave his hotel every
morning promptly at ten o'clock, if the sun was shining, and to shuffle
rather than walk down the gravel street to the avenue of palms. There,
picking out a seat on which the sun shone, the Living Skeleton would
sit down and seem to wait patiently for someone who never came. He wore
a shawl around his neck and a soft cloth cap on his skull. Every bone
in his face stood out against the skin, for there seemed to be no
flesh, and his clothes hung as loosely upon him as they would have upon
a skeleton. It required no second glance at the Living Skeleton to know
that the remainder of his life was numbered by days or hours, and not
by weeks or months. He didn't seem to have energy enough even to read,
and so it was that Robbins sat down one day on the bench beside him,
and said sympathetically:--
"I hope you are feeling better to-day."
The Skeleton turned towards him, laughed a low, noiseless, mirthless
laugh for a moment, and then said, in a hollow, far-away voice that had
no lungs behind it: "I am done with feeling either better or worse."
"Oh, I trust it is not so bad as that," said Robbins; "the climate is
doing you good down here is it not?"
Again the Skeleton laughed silently, and Robbins began to feel uneasy.
The Skeleton's eyes were large and bright, and they fastened themselves
upon Robbins in a way that increased that gentleman's uneasiness, and
made him think that perhaps the Skeleton knew he had so named him.
"I have no more interest in climate," said the Skeleton. "I merely seem
to live because I have been in the habit of living for some years; I
presume that is it, because my lungs are entirely gone. Why I can talk
or why I can breathe is a mystery to me. You are perfectly certain you
can hear me?"
"Oh, I hear you quite distinctly," said Robbins.
"Well, if it wasn't that people tell me that they can hear me, I
wouldn't believe I was really speaking, because, you see, I have
nothing to speak with. Isn't it Shakespeare who says something about
when the brains are out the man is dead? Well, I have seen some men who
make me think Shakespeare was wrong in his diagnosis, but it is
generally supposed that when the lungs are gone a man is dead. To tell
the truth, I _am_ dead, practically. You know the old American
story about the man who walked around to save funeral expenses; well,
it isn't quite that way with me, but I can appreciate how the man felt.
Still I take a keen interest in life, although you might not think so.
You see, I haven't much time left; I am going to die at eight o'clock
on the 30th of April. Eight o'clock at night, not in the morning, just
after _table d'hote_."
"You are going to _what_!" cried Robbins in astonishment.
"I'm going to die that day. You see I have got things to such a fine
point, that I can die any time I want to. I could die right here, now,
if I wished. If you have any mortal interest in the matter I'll do it,
and show you what I say is true. I don't mind much, you know, although
I had fixed April the 30th as the limit. It wouldn't matter a bit for
me to go off now, if it would be of any interest to you."
"I beg you," said Robbins, very much alarmed, "not to try any
experiments on my account. I am quite willing to believe anything you
say about the matter--of course you ought to know."
"Yes, I do know." answered the Living Skeleton sadly. "Of course I have
had my struggle with hope and fear, but that is all past now, as you
may well understand. The reason that I have fixed the date for April
30th is this: you see I have only a certain amount of money--I do not
know why I should make any secret of it. I have exactly 240 francs
today, over and above another 100 francs which I have set aside for
another purpose. I am paying 8 francs a day at the Golden Dragon; that
will keep me just thirty days, and then I intend to die."
The Skeleton laughed again, without sound, and Robbins moved uneasily
on the seat.
"I don't see," he said finally, "what there is to laugh about in that
condition of affairs."
"I don't suppose there is very much; but there is something else that I
consider very laughable, and that I will tell you if you will keep it a
secret. You see, the Golden Dragon himself--I always call our innkeeper
the Golden Dragon, just as you call me, the Living Skeleton."
"Oh, I--I--beg your pardon," stammered Robbins, "I--."
"It really doesn't matter at all. You are perfectly right, and I think
it a very apt term. Well, the old Golden Dragon makes a great deal of
his money by robbing the dead. You didn't know that, did you? You
thought it was the living who supported him, and goodness knows he robs
_them_ when he has a chance. Well, you are very much mistaken.
When a man dies in the Golden Dragon, he, or his friends rather, have
to pay very sweetly for it. The Dragon charges them for re-furnishing
the room. Every stick of furniture is charged for, all the wall-paper,
and so on. I suppose it is perfectly right to charge something, but the
Dragon is not content with what is right. He knows he has finally lost
a customer, and so he makes all he can out of him. The furniture so
paid for, is not re-placed, and the walls are not papered again, but
the Dragon doesn't abate a penny of his bill on that account. Now, I
have inquired of the furnishing man, on the street back of the hotel,
and he has written on his card just the cost of mattress, sheets,
pillows, and all that sort of thing, and the amount comes to about 50
francs. I have put in an envelope a 50-franc note, and with it the card
of the furniture man. I have written a letter to the hotel-keeper,
telling him just what the things will cost that he needs, and have
referred the Dragon to the card of the furniture man who has given me
the figures. This envelope I have addressed to the Dragon, and he will
find it when I am dead. This is the joke that old man Death and myself
have put up on our host, and my only regret is that I shall not be able
to enjoy a look at the Dragon's countenance as he reads my last letter
to him. Another sum of money I have put away, in good hands where he
won't have a chance to get it, for my funeral expenses, and then you
see I am through with the world. I have nobody to leave that I need
worry about, or who would either take care of me or feel sorry for me
if I needed care or sympathy, which I do not. So that is why I laugh,
and that is why I come down and sit upon this bench, in the sunshine,
and enjoy the posthumous joke."
Robbins did not appear to see the humor of the situation quite as
strongly as the Living Skeleton did. At different times after, when
they met he had offered the Skeleton more money if he wanted it, so
that he might prolong his life a little, but the Skeleton always
A sort of friendship sprang up between Robbins and the Living Skeleton,
at least, as much of a friendship as can exist between the living and
the dead, for Robbins was a muscular young fellow who did not need to
live at the Riviera on account of his health, but merely because he
detested an English winter. Besides this, it may be added, although it
really is nobody's business, that a Nice Girl and her parents lived in
this particular part of the South of France.
One day Robbins took a little excursion in a carriage to Toulon. He had
invited the Nice Girl to go with him, but on that particular day she
could not go. There was some big charity function on hand, and one
necessary part of the affair was the wheedling of money out of people's
pockets, so the Nice Girl had undertaken to do part of the wheedling.
She was very good at it, and she rather prided herself upon it, but
then she was a very nice girl, pretty as well, and so people found it
difficult to refuse her. On the evening of the day there was to be a
ball at the principal hotel of the place, also in connection with this
very desirable charity. Robbins had reluctantly gone to Toulon alone,
but you may depend upon it he was back in time for the ball.
"Well," he said to the Nice Girl when he met her, "what luck
"Oh, the greatest luck," she replied enthusiastically, "and whom do you
think I got the most money from?"
"I am sure I haven't the slightest idea--that old English Duke, he
certainly has money enough."
"No, not from him at all; the very last person you would expect it
from--your friend, the Living Skeleton."
"What!" cried Robbins, in alarm.
"Oh, I found him on the bench where he usually sits, in the avenue of
the palms. I told him all about the charity and how useful it was, and
how necessary, and how we all ought to give as much as we could towards
it, and he smiled and smiled at me in that curious way of his. 'Yes,'
he said in a whisper, 'I believe the charity should be supported by
everyone; I will give you eighty francs.' Now, wasn't that very
generous of him? Eighty francs, that was ten times what the Duke gave,
and as he handed me the money he looked up at me and said in that awful
whisper of his: 'Count this over carefully when you get home and see if
you can find out what else I have given you. There is more than eighty
francs there.' Then, after I got home, I--"
But here the Nice Girl paused, when she looked at the face of Robbins,
to whom she was talking. That face was ghastly pale and his eyes were
staring at her but not seeing her.
"Eighty francs, he was whispering to himself, and he seemed to be
making a mental calculation. Then noticing the Nice Girl's amazed look
at him, he said:
"Did you take the money?"
"Of course I took it," she said, "why shouldn't I?"
"Great Heavens!" gasped Robbins, and without a word he turned and fled,
leaving the Nice Girl transfixed with astonishment and staring after
him with a frown on her pretty brow.
"What does he mean by such conduct?" she asked herself. But Robbins
disappeared from the gathering throng in the large room of the hotel,
dashed down the steps, and hurried along the narrow pavements toward
the "Golden Dragon." The proprietor was standing in the hallway with
his hands behind him, a usual attitude with the Dragon.
"Where," gasped Robbins, "is Mr.--Mr.--" and then he remembered he
didn't know the name. "Where is the Living Skeleton?"
"He has gone to his room," answered the Dragon, "he went early to-
night, he wasn't feeling well, I think."
"What is the number of his room?"
"No. 40," and the proprietor rang a loud, jangling bell, whereupon one
of the chambermaids appeared. "Show this gentleman to No. 40."
The girl preceded Robbins up the stairs. Once she looked over her
shoulder, and said in a whisper, "Is he worse?"
"I don't know," answered Robbins, "that's what I have come to see."
At No. 40 the girl paused, and rapped lightly on the door panel. There
was no response. She rapped again, this time louder. There was still no
"Try the door," said Robbins.
"I am afraid to," said the girl.
"Because he said if he were asleep the door would be locked, and if he
were dead the door would be open."
"When did he say that?"
"He said it several times, sir; about a week ago the last time."
Robbins turned the handle of the door; it was not locked. A dim light
was in the room, but a screen before the door hid it from sight. When
he passed round the screen he saw, upon the square marble-topped
arrangement at the head of the bed, a candle burning, and its light
shone on the dead face of the Skeleton, which had a grim smile on its
thin lips, while in its clenched hand was a letter addressed to the
proprietor of the hotel.
The Living Skeleton had given more than the eighty francs to that
The snow was gently sifting down through the white glare of the
electric light when Pony Rowell buttoned his overcoat around him and
left the Metropolitan Hotel, which was his home. He was a young man,
not more than thirty, and his face was a striking one. It was clean cut
and clean shaven. It might have been the face of an actor or the face
of a statesman. An actor's face has a certain mobility of expression
resulting from the habit of assuming characters differing widely.
Rowell's face, when you came to look at it closely, showed that it had
been accustomed to repress expression rather than to show emotion of
any kind. A casual look at Pony Rowell made you think his face would
tell you something; a closer scrutiny showed you that it would tell you
nothing. His eyes were of a piercing steely gray that seemed to read
the thoughts of others, while they effectually concealed his own. Pony
Rowell was known as a man who never went back on his word. He was a
On this particular evening he strolled up the avenue with the easy
carriage of a man of infinite leisure. He hesitated for a moment at an
illy-lighted passage-way in the middle of a large building on a side
street, then went in and mounted a stair. He rapped lightly at a door.
A slide was shoved back and a man inside peered out at him for a
moment. Instantly the door was opened, for Pony's face was good for
admittance at any of the gambling rooms in the city. There was still
another guarded door to pass, for an honest gambling-house keeper can
never tell what streak of sudden morality may strike the police, and it
is well to have a few moments' time in which to conceal the
paraphernalia of the business. Of course, Mellish's gambling rooms were
as well known to the police as to Pony Rowell, but unless some fuss was
made by the public, Mellish knew he would be free from molestation.
Mellish was a careful man, and a visitor had to be well vouched for,
before he gained admission. There never was any trouble in Mellish's
rooms. He was often known to advise a player to quit when he knew the
young gambler could not afford to lose, and instances were cited where
he had been the banker of some man in despair. Everybody liked Mellish,
for his generosity was unbounded, and he told a good story well.
Inside the room that Pony Rowell had penetrated, a roulette table was
at its whirling work and faro was going on in another spot. At small
tables various visitors were enjoying the game of poker.
"Hello, Pony," cried Bert Ragstock, "are you going to give me my
"I'm always willing to give anyone his revenge." answered Pony
imperturbably, lighting a fresh cigarette.
"All right then; come and sit down here."
"I'm not going to play just yet. I want to look on for a while."
"Nonsense. I've been waiting for you ever so long already. Sit down."
"You ought to know by this time, Bert, that when I say a thing I mean
it. I won't touch a card till the clock begins to strike 12. Then I'm
"Pshaw, Pony, you ought to be above that sort of thing. That's
superstition, Rowell. You're too cool a man to mind when you touch a
card. Come on."
"That's all right. At midnight, I said to myself, and at midnight it
shall be or not at all."
The old gamblers in the place nodded approval of this resolution. It
was all right enough for Bert Ragstock to sneer at superstition,
because he was not a real gambler. He merely came to Mellish's rooms in
the evening because the Stock Exchange did not keep open all night.
Strange to say Ragstock was a good business man as well as a cool
gambler. He bemoaned the fate that made him so rich that gambling had
not the exhilarating effect on him which it would have had if he had
been playing in desperation.
When the clock began to chime midnight Pony Rowell took up the pack and
began to shuffle.
"Now, old man," he said, "I'm going in to win. I'm after big game to-
"Right you are." cried Bert, with enthusiasm. "I'll stand by you as
long as the spots stay on the cards."
In the gray morning, when most of the others had left and even Mellish
himself was yawning, they were still at it. The professional gambler
had won a large sum of money; the largest sum he ever possessed. Yet
there was no gleam of triumph in his keen eyes. Bert might have been
winning for all the emotion his face showed. They were a well matched
pair, and they enjoyed playing with each other.
"There," cried Pony at last, "haven't you had enough? Luck's against
you. I wouldn't run my head any longer against a brick wall, if I were
"My dear Pony, how often have I told you there is no such thing as
luck. But to tell the truth I'm tired and I'm going home. The revenge
is postponed. When do I meet the enemy again?"
Pony Rowell shuffled the cards idly for a few moments without replying
or raising his eyes. At last he said:
"The next time I play you, Bert, it will be for high stakes."
"Good heavens, aren't you satisfied with the stakes we played for to-
"No. I want to play you for a stake that will make even your hair stand
on end. Will you do it?"
"That I can't tell just yet. I have a big scheme on hand. I am to see a
man to-day about it. All I want to know is that you promise to play."
"Pony, this is mysterious. I guess you're not afraid I will flunk out.
I'm ready to meet you on any terms and for any stake."
"Enough said. I'll let you know some of the particulars as soon as I
find out all I want myself. Good-night."
"Good-night to you, rather," said Bert, as Mellish helped him on with
his overcoat. "You've won the pile: robbing a poor man of his hard-
"Oh, the poor man does not need the money as badly as I do. Besides,
I'm going to give you a chance to win it all back again and more."
When Ragstock had left, Pony still sat by the table absent-mindedly
shuffling the cards.
"If I were you," said Mellish, laying his hand on his shoulder, "I
would put that pile in the bank and quit."
"The faro bank?" asked Pony, looking up with a smile.
"No, I'd quit the business altogether if I were you. I'm going to
"Oh, we all know that. You've been going to quit for the last twenty
years. Well, I'm going to quit, too, but not just yet. That's what they
all say, of course, but I mean it."
In the early and crisp winter air Pony Rowell walked to the
Metropolitan Hotel and to bed. At 3 that afternoon the man he had an
appointment with, called to see him.
"You wanted to see me about an Insurance policy," the visitor began. An
agent is always ready to talk of business. "Now, were you thinking of
an endowment scheme or have you looked into our new bond system of
insurance? The twenty-pay-life style of thing seems to be very
"I want to ask you a few questions," said Pony. "If I were to insure my
life in your company and were to commit suicide would that invalidate
"Not after two years. After two years, in our company, the policy is
"Two years? That won't do for me. Can't you make it one year?"
"I'll tell you what I will do," said the agent, lowering his voice, "I
can ante-date the policy, so that the two years will end just when you
like, say a year from now."
"Very well. If you can legally fix it so that the two years come to an
end about this date next year I will insure in your company for
The agent opened his eyes when the amount was mentioned.
"I don't want endowments or bonds, but the cheapest form of life
insurance you have, and--"
"Straight life is what you want."
"Straight life it is, then, and I will pay you for the two years or
say, to make it sure, for two years and a half down, when you bring me
Thus it was that with part of the money he had won, Pony Rowell insured
his life for $100,000, and with another part he paid his board and
lodging for a year ahead at the Metropolitan Hotel.
The remainder he kept to speculate on.
During the year that followed he steadily refused to play with Bert
Ragstock, and once or twice they nearly had a quarrel about it--that is
as near as Pony could come to having a row with anybody, for
quarrelling was not in his line. If he had lived in a less civilized
part of the community Pony might have shot, but as it was quarrels
never came to anything, therefore he did not indulge in any.
"A year from the date of our last game? What nonsense it is waiting all
that time. You play with others, why not with me? Think of the chances
we are losing," complained Bert.
"We will have a game then that will make up for all the waiting,"
At last the anniversary came and when the hour struck that ushered it
in Pony Rowell and Bert Ragstock sat facing each other, prepared to
resume business on the old stand.
"Ah," said Bert, rubbing his hands, "it feels good to get opposite you
once more. Pony, you're a crank. We might have had a hundred games like
this during the past year, if there wasn't so much superstition about
"Not quite like this. This is to be the last game I play, win or lose.
I tell you that now, so that there won't be any talk of revenge if I
"You don't mean it! I've heard talk like that before."
"All right. I've warned you. Now I propose that this be a game of pure
luck. We get a new pack of cards, shuffle them, cut, then you pull one
card and I another. Ace high. The highest takes the pot. Best two out
of three. Do you agree?"
"Of course. How much is the pile to be?"
"One hundred thousand dollars."
"Oh, you're dreaming."
"Isn't it enough?"
"Thunder! You never _saw_ $100,000."
"You will get the money if I lose."
"Say, Pony, that's coming it a little strong. One hundred thousand
dollars! Heavens and earth! How many business men in this whole city
would expect their bare word to be taken for $100,000?"
"I'm not a business man. I'm a gambler."
"True, true. Is the money in sight?"
"No; but you'll be paid. Your money is not in sight. I trust you. Can't
you trust me?
"It isn't quite the same thing, Pony. I'll trust you for three times
the money you have in sight, but when you talk about $100,000 you are
talking of a lot of cash."
"If I can convince Mellish here that you will get your money, will you
"You can convince me just as easily as you can Mellish. What's the use
of dragging him in?"
"I could convince you in a minute, but you might still refuse to play.
Now I'm bound to play this game and I can't take any risks. If my word
and Mellish's isn't good enough for you, why, say so."
"All right," cried Bert. "If you can convince Mellish that you will pay
if you lose I'll play you."
Rowell and Mellish retired into an inner room and after a few minutes
Mellish's face was red when he went in. He was now a trifle pale.
"I don't like this, Bert," Mellish said, "and I think this game had
better stop right here."
"Then you are not convinced that I am sure of my money?"
"Yes, I am, but--"
"That's enough for me. Get out your new pack."
"You've given your word, Mellish," said Pony, seeing the keeper of the
house was about to speak. "Don't say any more."
"For such a sum two out of three is too sudden. Make it five out of
nine," put in Bert.
The new pack of cards was brought and the wrappings torn off.
"You shuffle first; I'll cut," said Rowell. His lips seemed parched and
he moistened them now and then, which was unusual for so cool a
gambler. Mellish fidgeted around with lowered brow. Bert shuffled the
cards as nonchalantly as if he had merely a $5 bill on the result. When
each had taken a card, Bert held an ace and Pony a king. Pony shuffled
and the turn up was a spot in Pony's hand and queen in that of his
opponent. Bert smiled and drops began to show on Pony's forehead in
spite of his efforts at self-control. No word was spoken by either
players or onlookers. After the next deal Pony again lost. His
imperturbability seemed to be leaving him. He swept the cards from the
table with an oath. "Bring another pack," he said hoarsely.
Bert smiled at him across the table. He thought, of course, that they
were playing for even stakes.
Mellish couldn't stand it any longer. He retired to one of the inner
rooms. The first deal with the new pack turned in Pony's favor and he
seemed to feel that his luck had changed, but the next deal went
against him and also the one following.
"It's your shuffle," said Rowell, pushing the cards towards his
opponent. Bert did not touch the cards, but smiled across at the
"What's the matter with you? Why don't you shuffle?"
"I don't have to," said Bert, quietly, "I've won five."
Rowell drew his hand across his perspiring brow and stared at the man
across the table. Then he seemed to pull himself together.
"So you have," he said, "I hadn't noticed it. Excuse me. I guess I'll
"Sit where you are and let us have a game for something more modest. I
don't care about these splurges myself and I don't suppose you do--
"Thanks, no. I told you this was my last game. As to the splurge, if I
had the money I would willingly try it again. So long."
When Mellish came in and saw that the game was over he asked where Pony
"He knew when he had enough, I guess," answered Bert. "He's gone home."
"Come in here, Bert. I want to speak with you," said Mellish.
When they were alone Mellish turned to him.
"I suppose Pony didn't tell you where the money is to come from?"
"No, he told you. That was enough for me."
"Well, there's no reason why you should not know now. I promised
silence till the game was finished. He's insured his life for $100,000
and is going to commit suicide so that you may be paid."
"My God!" cried Bert, aghast. "Why did you let the game go on?"
"I tried to stop it, but I had given my word and you--"
"Well, don't let us stand chattering here. He's at the Metropolitan,
isn't he? Then come along. Hurry into your coat."
Mellish knew the number of Rowell's room and so no time was lost in the
hotel office with inquiries. He tried the door, but, as he expected, it
"Who's that?" cried a voice within.
"It's me? Mellish. I want to speak with you a moment."
"I don't want to see you."
"Bert wants to say something. It's important. Let us in."
"I won't let you in. Go away and don't make a fuss. It will do no good.
You can get in ten minutes from now."
"Look here, Pony, you open that door at once, or I'll kick it in. You
hear me? I want to see you a minute, and then you can do what you
like," said Bert, in a voice that meant business.
After a moment's hesitation Rowell opened the door and the two stepped
in. Half of the carpet had been taken up and the bare floor was covered
with old newspapers. A revolver lay on the table, also writing
materials and a half-finished letter. Pony was in his shirt sleeves and
he did not seem pleased at the interruption.
"What do you want?" he asked shortly.
"Look here, Pony," said Bert, "I have confessed to Mellish and I've
come to confess to you. I want you to be easy with me and hush the
thing up. I cheated. I stocked the cards."
"You're a liar," said Rowell, looking him straight in the eye.
"Don't say that again," cried Ragstock, with his fingers twitching.
"There's mighty few men I would take that from."
"You stocked the cards on me? I'd like to see the man that could do
"You were excited and didn't notice it."
"You're not only a liar, but you're an awkward liar. I have lost the
money and I'll pay it. It would have been ready for you now, only I had
a letter to write. Mellish has told you about the insurance policy and
my will attached to it. Here they are. They're yours. I'm no kicker. I
know when a game's played fair."
Bert took the policy and evidently intended to tear it in pieces, while
Mellish, with a wink at him, edged around to get at the revolver.
Ragstock's eye caught the name in big letters at the head of the
policy, beautifully engraved. His eyes opened wide, then he sank into a
chair and roared with laughter. Both the other men looked at him in
"What's the matter?" asked Mellish.
"Matter? Why, this would have been a joke on Pony. It would do both of
you some good to know a little about business as well as of gambling.
The Hardfast Life Insurance Company went smash six months ago. It's the
truth this time, Pony, even if I didn't stock the cards. Better make
some inquiries in business circles before you try to collect any money
from this institution. Now, Pony, order up the drinks, if anything can
be had at this untimely hour. We are your guests so you are expected to
be hospitable. I've had all the excitement I want for one night. We'll
call it square and begin over again."
"WHERE IGNORANCE IS BLISS."
The splendid steamship Adamant, of the celebrated Cross Bow line, left
New York on her February trip under favorable auspices. There had just
been a storm on the ocean, so there was every chance that she would
reach Liverpool before the next one was due.
Capt. Rice had a little social problem to solve at the outset, but he
smoothed that out with the tact which is characteristic of him. Two
Washington ladies--official ladies--were on board, and the captain, old
British sea-dog that he was, always had trouble in the matter of
precedence with Washington ladies. Capt. Rice never had any bother with
the British aristocracy, because precedence is all set down in the
bulky volume of "Burke's Peerage," which the captain kept in his cabin,
and so there was no difficulty. But a republican country is supposed
not to meddle with precedence. It wouldn't, either, if it weren't for
So it happened that Mrs. Assistant-Attorney-to-the-Senate Brownrig came
to the steward and said that, ranking all others on board, she must sit
at the right hand of the captain. Afterwards Mrs. Second-Adjutant-to-
the-War-Department Digby came to the same perplexed official and said
she must sit at the captain's right hand because in Washington she took
precedence over everyone else on board. The bewildered steward confided
his woes to the captain, and the captain said he would attend to the
matter. So he put Mrs. War-Department on his right hand and then walked
down the deck with Mrs. Assistant-Attorney and said to her:
"I want to ask a favor, Mrs. Brownrig. Unfortunately I am a little deaf
in the right ear, caused, I presume, by listening so much with that ear
to the fog horn year in and year out. Now, I always place the lady
whose conversation I wish most to enjoy on my left hand at table. Would
you oblige me by taking that seat this voyage? I have heard of you, you
see, Mrs. Brownrig, although you have never crossed with me before."
"Why, certainly, captain," replied Mrs. Brownrig; "I feel especially
"And I assure you, madam," said the polite captain, "that I would not
for the world miss a single word that," etc.
And thus it was amicably arranged between the two ladies. All this has
nothing whatever to do with the story. It is merely an incident given
to show what a born diplomat Capt. Rice was and is to this day. I don't
know any captain more popular with the ladies than he, and besides he
is as good a sailor as crosses the ocean.
Day by day the good ship ploughed her way toward the east, and the
passengers were unanimous in saying that they never had a pleasanter
voyage for that time of the year. It was so warm on deck that many
steamer chairs were out, and below it was so mild that a person might
think he was journeying in the tropics. Yet they had left New York in a
snow storm with the thermometer away below zero.
"Such," said young Spinner, who knew everything, "such is the influence
of the Gulf Stream."
Nevertheless when Capt. Rice came down to lunch the fourth day out his
face was haggard and his look furtive and anxious.
"Why, captain," cried Mrs. Assistant-Attorney, you look as if you
hadn't slept a wink last night."
"I slept very well, thank you, madam." replied the captain. "I always
"Well, I hope your room was more comfortable than mine. It seemed to me
too hot for anything. Didn't you find it so, Mrs. Digby?"
"I thought it very nice," replied the lady at the captain's right, who
generally found it necessary to take an opposite view from the lady at
"You see," said the captain, "we have many delicate women and children
on board and it is necessary to keep up the temperature. Still, perhaps
the man who attends to the steam rather overdoes it. I will speak him."
Then the captain pushed from him his untasted food and went up on the
bridge, casting his eye aloft at the signal waving from the masthead,
silently calling for help to all the empty horizon.
"Nothing in sight, Johnson?" said the captain.
"Not a speck, sir."
The captain swept the circular line of sea and sky with his glasses,
then laid them down with a sigh.
"We ought to raise something this afternoon, sir," said Johnson; "we
are right in their track, sir. The Fulda ought to be somewhere about."
"We are too far north for the Fulda, I am afraid," answered the
"Well, sir, we should see the Vulcan before night, sir. She's had good
weather from Queenstown."
"Yes. Keep a sharp lookout, Johnson."
The captain moodily paced the bridge with his head down.
"I ought to have turned back to New York," he said to himself.
Then he went down to his own room, avoiding the passengers as much as
he could, and had the steward bring him some beef-tea. Even a captain
cannot live on anxiety.
"Steamer off the port bow, sir," rang out the voice of the lookout at
the prow. The man had sharp eyes, for a landsman could have seen
"Run and tell the captain," cried Johnson to the sailor at his elbow,
but as the sailor turned the captain's head appeared up the stairway.
He seized the glass and looked long at a single point in the horizon.
"It must be the Vulcan," he said at last.
"I think so, sir."
"Turn your wheel a few points to port and bear down on her."
Johnson gave the necessary order and the great ship veered around.
"Hello!" cried Spinner, on deck. "Here's a steamer. I found her. She's
Then there was a rush to the side of the ship. "A steamer in sight!"
was the cry, and all books and magazines at once lost interest. Even
the placid, dignified Englishman who was so uncommunicative, rose from
his chair and sent his servant for his binocular. Children were held up
and told to be careful, while they tried to see the dim line of smoke
so far ahead.
"Talk about lane routes at sea," cried young Spinner, the knowing.
"Bosh, I say. See! we're going directly for her. Think what it might be
in a fog! Lane routes! Pure luck, I call it."
"Will we signal to her, Mr. Spinner?" gently asked the young lady from
"Oh, certainly," answered young Spinner. "See there's our signal flying
from the masthead now. That shows them what line we belong to."
"Dear me, how interesting," said the young lady. "You have crossed many
times, I suppose, Mr. Spinner."
"Oh, I know my way about," answered the modest Spinner.
The captain kept the glasses glued to his eyes. Suddenly he almost let
"My God! Johnson," he cried.
"What is it, sir?"
"_She's_ flying a signal of distress, _too_!"
The two steamers slowly approached each other and, when nearly
alongside and about a mile apart, the bell of the Adamant rang to stop.
"There, you see," said young Spinner to the Boston girl, "she is flying
the same flag at her masthead that we are."
"Then she belongs to the same line as this boat?"
"Oh, certainly," answered Mr. Cock-Sure Spinner.
"Oh, look! look! look!" cried the enthusiastic Indianapolis girl who
was going to take music in Germany.
Everyone looked aloft and saw running up to the masthead a long line of
fluttering, many-colored flags. They remained in place for a few
moments and then fluttered down again, only to give place to a
different string. The same thing was going on on the other steamer.
"Oh, this is too interesting for anything," said Mrs. Assistant. "I am
just dying to know what it all means. I have read of it so often but
never saw it before. I wonder when the captain will come down. What
does it all mean?" she asked the deck steward.
"They are signalling to each other, madam."
"Oh, I know _that_. But what _are_ they signalling?"
"I don't know, madam."
"Oh, see! see!" cried the Indianapolis girl, clapping her hands with
delight. "The other steamer is turning round."
It was indeed so. The great ship was thrashing the water with her
screw, and gradually the masts came in line and then her prow faced the
east again. When this had been slowly accomplished the bell on the
Adamant rang full speed ahead, and then the captain came slowly down
the ladder that led from the bridge.
"Oh, captain, what does it all mean?"
"Is she going back, captain? Nothing wrong, I hope."
"What ship is it, captain?"
"She belongs to our line, doesn't she?"
"Why is she going back?"
"The ship," said the captain slowly, is the Vulcan, of the Black
Bowling Line, that left Queenstown shortly after we left New York. She
has met with an accident. Ran into some wreckage, it is thought, from
the recent storm. Anyhow there is a hole in her, and whether she sees
Queenstown or not will depend a great deal on what weather we have and
whether her bulkheads hold out. We will stand by her till we reach
"Are there many on board, do you think, captain?"
"There are thirty-seven in the cabin and over 800 steerage passengers,"
answered the captain.
"Why don't you take them on board, out of danger, captain?"
"Ah, madam, there is no need to do that. It would delay us, and time is
everything in a case like this. Besides, they will have ample warning
if she is going down and they will have time to get everybody in the
boats. We will stand by them, you know."
"Oh, the poor creatures," cried the sympathetic Mrs. Second-Adjutant.
"Think of their awful position. May be engulfed at any moment. I
suppose they are all on their knees in the cabin. How thankful they
must have been to see the Adamant."
On all sides there was the profoundest sympathy for the unfortunate
passengers of the Vulcan. Cheeks paled at the very thought of the
catastrophe that might take place at any moment within sight of the
sister ship. It was a realistic object lesson on the ever-present
dangers of the sea. While those on deck looked with new interest at the
steamship plunging along within a mile of them, the captain slipped
away to his room. As he sat there there was a tap at his door.
"Come in," shouted the captain.
The silent Englishman slowly entered.
"What's wrong, captain," he asked.
"Oh, the Vulcan has had a hole stove in her and I signalled--"
"Yes, I know all that, of course, but what's wrong _with us?_"
"With us?" echoed the captain blankly.
"Yes, with the Adamant? What has been amiss for the last two or three
days? I'm not a talker, nor am I afraid any more than you are, but I
want to know."
"Certainly," said the captain. "Please shut the door, Sir John."
* * * * *
Meanwhile there was a lively row on board the Vulcan. In the saloon
Capt. Flint was standing at bay with his knuckles on the table.
"Now what the devil's the meaning of all this?" cried Adam K. Vincent,
member of Congress.
A crowd of frightened women were standing around, many on the verge of
hysterics. Children clung, with pale faces, to their mother's skirts,
fearing they knew not what. Men were grouped with anxious faces, and
the bluff old captain fronted them all.
"The meaning of all _what_, sir?"
"You know very well. What is the meaning of our turning-round?"
"It means, sir, that the Adamant has eighty-five saloon passengers and
nearly 500 intermediate and steerage passengers who are in the most
deadly danger. The cotton in the hold is on fire, and they have been
fighting it night and day. A conflagation may break out at any moment.
It means, then, sir, that the Vulcan is going to stand by the Adamant."
A wail of anguish burst from the frightened women at the awful fate
that might be in store for so many human beings so near to them, and
they clung closer to their children and thanked God that no such danger
threatened them and those dear to them.
"And dammit, sir," cried the Congressman, "do you mean to tell us that
we have to go against our will--without even being consulted--back to
"I mean to tell you so, sir."
"Well, by the gods, that's an outrage, and I won't stand it, sir. I
must be in New York by the 27th. I won't stand it, sir."
"I am very sorry, sir, that anybody should be delayed."
"Delayed? Hang it all, why don't you take the people on board and take
'em to New York? I protest against this. I'll bring a lawsuit against
the company, sir."
"Mr. Vincent," said the captain sternly, "permit me to remind you that
_I_ am captain of this ship. Good afternoon, sir."
The Congressman departed from the saloon exceeding wroth, breathing
dire threats of legal proceedings against the line and the captain
personally, but most of the passengers agreed that it would be an
inhuman thing to leave the Adamant alone in mid-ocean in such terrible
"Why didn't they turn back, Captain Flint?" asked Mrs. General Weller.
"Because, madam, every moment is of value in such a case, and we are
nearer Queenstown than New York."
And so the two steamships, side by side, worried their way toward the
east, always within sight of each other by day, and with the rows of
lights in each visible at night to the sympathetic souls on the other.
The sweltering men poured water into the hold of the one and the
pounding pumps poured water out of the hold of the other, and thus they
* * * * *
On board the tender that took the passengers ashore at Queenstown from
both steamers two astonished women met each other.
"Why! _Mrs.--General_--WELLER!!! You don't mean to say you were on
board that unfortunate Vulcan!"
"For the land's sake, Mrs. Assistant Brownrig! Is that really
_you?_ Will wonders never cease? Unfortunate, did you say?
Mightily fortunate for you, I think. Why! weren't you just frightened
"I was, but I had no idea anyone I knew was on board."
"Well, you were on board yourself. That would have been enough to have
"On board myself? Why, what _do_ you mean? I wasn't on board the
Vulcan. Did you get any sleep at all after you knew you might go down
at any moment?"
"My sakes, Jane, what _are_ you talking about? _Down_ at any
moment? It was you that might have gone down at any moment or, worse
still, have been burnt to death if the fire had got ahead. You don't
mean to say you didn't know the Adamant was on fire most of the way
"_Mrs.--General--Weller!!_ There's some _horrible_ mistake.
It was the Vulcan. Everything depended on her bulkheads, the captain
said. There was a hole as big as a barn door in the Vulcan. The pumps
were going night and day."
Mrs. General looked at Mrs. Assistant as the light began to dawn on
both of them.
"Then it wasn't the engines, but the pumps," she said.
"And it wasn't the steam, but the fire," screamed Mrs. Assistant. "Oh,
dear, how that captain lied, and I thought him such a nice man, too.
Oh, I shall go into hysterics, I know I shall."
"I wouldn't if I were you," said the sensible Mrs. General, who was a
strong-minded woman; "besides, it is too late. We're all safe now. I
think both captains were pretty sensible men. Evidently married, both
Which was quite true.
THE DEPARTURE OF CUB MCLEAN.
Of course no one will believe me when I say that Mellish was in every
respect, except one, an exemplary citizen and a good-hearted man. He
was generous to a fault and he gave many a young fellow a start in life
where a little money or a few encouraging words were needed. He drank,
of course, but he was a connoisseur in liquors, and a connoisseur never
goes in for excess. Few could tell a humorous story as well as Mellish,
and he seldom dealt in chestnuts. No man can be wholly bad who never
inflicts an old story on his friends, locating it on some acquaintance
of his, and alleging that it occurred the day before.
If I wished to write a heart-rending article on the evils of gambling,
Mellish would be the man I would go to for my facts and for the moral
of the tale. He spent his life persuading people not to gamble. He
never gambled himself, he said. But if no attention was paid to his
advice, why then he furnished gamblers with the most secluded and
luxurious gambling rooms in the city. It was supposed that Mellish
stood in with the police, which was, of course, a libel. The idea of
the guardians of the city standing in with a gambler or a gambling
house! The statement was absurd on the face of it. If you asked any
policeman in the city where Mellish's gambling rooms were, you would
speedily learn that not one of them had ever even heard of the place.
All this goes to show how scandalously people will talk, and if
Mellish's rooms were free from raids, it was merely Mellish's good
luck, that was all. Anyhow, in Mellish's rooms you could have a quiet,
gentlemanly game for stakes about as high as you cared to go, and you
were reasonably sure there would be no fuss and that your name would
not appear in the papers next morning.
One night as Mellish cast his eye around his well-filled main room he
noticed a stranger sitting at the roulette table. Mellish had a keen
eye for strangers and in an unobtrusive way generally managed to find
out something about them. A stranger in a gambling room brings in with
him a certain sense of danger to the habitues.
"Who is that boy?" whispered Mellish to his bartender, generally known
as Sotty, an ex-prize fighter and a dangerous man to handle if it came
to trouble. It rarely came to trouble there, but Sotty was, in a
measure, the silent symbol of physical force, backing the well-known
mild morality of Mellish.
"I don't know him," answered Sotty.
"Whom did he come in with?"
"I didn't see him come in. Hadn't noticed him till now."
Mellish looked at the boy for a few minutes. He had the fresh, healthy,
smooth face of a lad from the country, and he seemed strangely out of
place in the heated atmosphere of that room, under the glare of the
gas. Mellish sighed as he looked at him, then he turned to Sotty and
"Just get him away quietly and bring him to the small poker room. I
want to have a few words with him."
Sotty, who had the utmost contempt for the humanitarian feelings of his
boss, said nothing, but a look of disdain swept over his florid
features as he went on his mission. If he had his way, he would not
throw even a sprat out of the net. Many a time he had known Mellish to
persuade a youngster with more money than brains to go home, giving
orders at the double doors that he was not to be admitted again.
The young man rose with a look of something like consternation on his
face and followed Sotty. The thing was done quietly, and all those
around the tables were too much absorbed in the game to pay much
"Look here, my boy," said Mellish, when they were alone, "who brought
you to this place?"
"I guess," said the lad, with an expression of resentment, "I'm old
enough to go where I like without being brought."
"Oh, certainly, certainly," said Mellish, diplomatically, knowing how
much very young men dislike being accused of youth, "but I like to know
all visitors here. You couldn't get in unless you came with someone
known at the door. Who vouched for you?"
"See here, Mr. Mellish," said the youth angrily, "what are you driving
at? If your doorkeepers don't know their own business why don't you
speak to them about it? Are you going to have me turned out?"
"Nothing of the sort," said Mellish, soothingly, putting his hand in a
fatherly manner on the young fellow's shoulder. "Don't mistake my
meaning. The fact that you are here shows that you have a right to be
here. We'll say no more about that. But you take my advice and quit the
business here and now. I was a gambler before you were born, although I
don't gamble any more. Take the advice of a man who knows. It doesn't
"It seems to have paid you reasonably well."
"Oh, I don't complain. It has its ups and downs like all businesses.
Still, it doesn't pay me nearly as well as perhaps you think, and you
can take my word that in the long run it won't pay you at all. How much
money have you got?"
"Enough to pay if I lose," said the boy impudently; then seeing the
look of pain that passed over Mellish's face, he added more civilly:
"I have three or four hundred dollars."
"Well, take my advice and go home. You'll be just that much better off
in the morning."
"What! Don't you play a square game here?"
"Of course we play a square game here," answered Mellish with
indignation. "Do you think I am a card-sharper?"
"You seem so cock-sure I'll lose my money that I was just wondering.
Now, I can afford to lose all the money I've got and not feel it. Are
you going to allow me to play, or are you going to chuck me out?"
"Oh, you can play if you want to. But don't come whining to me when you
lose. I've warned you."
"I'm not a whiner," said the young fellow; "I take my medicine like a
"Right you are," said Mellish with a sigh. He realized that this
fellow, young as he looked, was probably deeper in vice than his
appearance indicated and he knew the uselessness of counsel in such a
case. They went into the main room together and the boy, abandoning
roulette, began to play at one of the card tables forever-increasing
stakes. Mellish kept an eye on him for a time. The boy was having the
luck of most beginners. He played a reckless game and won hand over
fist. As one man had enough and rose from the table another eagerly
took his place, but there was no break in the boy's winnings.
Pony Rowell was always late in arriving at the gambling rooms. On this
occasion he entered, irreproachably dressed, and with the quiet,
gentlemanly demeanor habitual with him. The professional gambler was
never known to lose his temper. When displeased he became quieter, if
possible, than before. The only sign of inward anger was a mark like an
old scar which extended from his right temple, beginning over the eye
and disappearing in his closely-cropped hair behind the ear. This line
became an angry red that stood out against the general pallor of his
face when things were going in a way that did not please him. He spoke
in a low tone to Mellish.
"What's the excitement down at the other end of the room? Every one
seems congregated there."
"Oh," answered Mellish, "it's a boy--a stranger--who is having the
devil's own luck at the start. It will be the ruin of him."
"Is he playing high?"
"High? I should say so. He's perfectly reckless. He'll be brought up
with a sharp turn and will borrow money from me to get out of town.
I've seen a flutter like that before."
"In that case," said Pony tranquilly, "I must have a go at him. I like
to tackle a youngster in the first flush of success, especially if he
"You will soon have a chance," answered Mellish, "for even Ragstock
knows when he has enough. He will get up in a moment. I know the
With the air of a gentleman of leisure, somewhat tired of the
frivolities of this world, Rowell made his way slowly to the group. As
he looked over their shoulders at the boy a curious glitter came into
his piercing eyes, and his lips, usually so well under control,
tightened. The red mark began to come out as his face paled. It was
evident that he did not intend to speak and that he was about to move
away again, but the magnetism of his keen glance seemed to disturb the
player, who suddenly looked up over the head of his opponent and met
the stern gaze of Rowell.
The boy did three things. He placed his cards face downward on the
table, put his right hand over the pile of money, and moved his chair
"What do you mean by that?" cried Ragstock.
The youth ignored the question, still keeping his eyes on Rowell.
"Do you squeal?" he asked.
"I squeal," said Pony, whatever the question and answer might mean.
Then Rowell cried, slightly raising his voice so that all might hear:
"This man is Cub McLean, the most notorious card-sharper, thief, and
murderer in the west. He couldn't play straight if he tried."
McLean laughed. "Yes," he said; "and if you want to see my trademark
look at the side of Greggs' face."
Every man looked at Pony, learning for the first time that he had gone
under a different name at some period of his life.
During the momentary distraction McLean swept the money off the table
and put it in his pockets.
"Hold on," cried Ragstock, seemingly not quite understanding the
situation. "You haven't won that yet."
Again McLean laughed.
"It would have been the same in ten minutes."
He jumped up, scattering the crowd behind him.
"Look to the doors," cried Pony. "Don't let this man out."
McLean had his back to the wall. From under his coat he whipped two
revolvers which he held out, one in each hand.
"You ought to know me better than that, Greggs," he said, "do you want
me to have another shot at you? I won't miss this time. Drop that."
The last command was given in a ringing voice that attracted every
one's attention to Sotty. He had picked up a revolver from somewhere
behind the bar and had come out with it in his hand. McLean's eye
seemed to take in every motion in the room and he instantly covered the
bartender with one of the pistols as he gave the command.
"Drop it," said Mellish. "There must be no shooting. You may go
quietly. No one will interfere with you."
"You bet your sweet life they won't," said McLean with a laugh.
"Gentlemen," continued Mellish, "the house will stand the loss. If I
allow a swindler in my rooms it is but right that I alone should
suffer. Now you put up your guns and walk out."
"Good old Mellish," sneered McLean, "you ought to be running a Sunday-
Notwithstanding the permission to depart McLean did not relax his
precautions for a moment. His shoulders scraped their way along the
wall as he gradually worked towards the door. He kept Pony covered with
his left hand while the polished barrel of the revolver in his right
seemed to have a roving commission all over the room, to the nervous
dread of many respectable persons who cowered within range. When he
reached the door he said to Pony:
"I hope you'll excuse me, Greggs, but this is too good an opportunity
to miss. I'm going to kill you in your tracks."
"That's about your size," said Pony putting his hands behind him and
standing in his place, while those near him edged away. "I'm unarmed,
so it is perfectly safe. You will insure your arrest so blaze away."
"Dodge under the table, then, and I will spare you."
Pony invited him to take up his abode in tropical futurity.
Cub laughed once more good naturedly, and lowered the muzzle of his
revolver. As he shoved back his soft felt hat, Mellish, who stood
nearest him, saw that the hair on his temples was grey. Lines of
anxiety had come into his apparently youthful face as he had scraped
his way along the wall.
"Good-night, all," he shouted back from the stairway.
OLD NUMBER EIGHTY-SIX.
John Saggart stood in a dark corner of the terminus, out of the rays of
the glittering arc lamps, and watched engine Number Eighty-six. The
engineer was oiling her, and the fireman, as he opened the furnace-door
and shovelled in the coal, stood out like a red Rembrandt picture in
the cab against the darkness beyond. As the engineer with his oil can
went carefully around Number Eighty-six, John Saggart drew his sleeve
across his eyes, and a gulp came up his throat. He knew every joint and
bolt in that contrary old engine--the most cantankerous iron brute on
the road--and yet, if rightly managed, one of the swiftest and most
powerful machines the company had, notwithstanding the many
improvements that had been put upon locomotives since old Eighty-six
had left the foundry.
Saggart, as he stood there, thought of the seven years he had spent on
the foot-board of old Eighty-six, and of the many tricks she had played
him during that period. If, as the poet says, the very chains and the
prisoner become friends through long association, it may be imagined
how much of a man's affection goes out to a machine that he thoroughly
understands and likes--a machine that is his daily companion for years,
in danger and out of it. Number Eighty-six and John had been in many a
close pinch together, and at this moment the man seemed to have
forgotten that often the pinch was caused by the pure cussedness of
Eighty-six herself, and he remembered only that she had bravely done
her part several times when the situation was exceedingly serious.
The cry "All aboard" rang out and was echoed down, from the high-arched
roof of the great terminus, and John with a sigh turned from his
contemplation of the engine, and went to take his seat in the car. It
was a long train with many sleeping-cars at the end of it. The engineer
had put away his oil-can, and had taken his place on the engine,
standing ready to begin the long journey at the moment the signal was
John Saggart climbed into the smoking-carriage at the front part of the
train. He found a place in one of the forward seats, and sank down into
it with a vague feeling of uneasiness at being inside the coach instead
of on the engine. He gazed out of the window and saw the glittering
electric lights slide slowly behind, then, more quickly, the red,
green, and white lights of the signal lamps, and finally there
flickered swiftly past the brilliant constellation of city windows,
showing that the town had not yet gone to bed. At last the flying train
plunged into the country, and Saggart pressed his face against the cold
glass of the window, unable to shake off his feeling of responsibility,
although he knew there was another man at the throttle.
He was aroused from his reverie by a touch on the shoulder, and a curt
request, "Tickets, please."
He pulled out of his pocket a pass, and turned to hand it to the
conductor who stood there with a glittering, plated, and crystal
lantern on his arm.
"Hello, John, is this you?" cried the conductor, as soon as he saw the
face. "Hang it, man, you didn't need a pass in travelling with me."
"They gave it to me to take me home," said Saggart, a touch of sadness
in his voice, "and I may as well use it as not. I don't want to get you
"Oh, I'd risk the trouble," said the conductor, placing the lantern on
the floor and taking his seat beside the engineer. "I heard about your
worry to-day. It's too bad. If a man had got drunk at his post, as you
and I have known 'em to do, it wouldn't have seemed so hard; but at its
worst your case was only an error of judgment, and then nothing really
happened. Old Eighty-six seems to have the habit of pulling herself
through. I suppose you, and she have been in worse fixes than that,
with not a word said about it."
"Oh, yes," said John, "we've been in many a tight place together, but
we won't be any more. It's rough, as you say. I've been fifteen years
with the company, and seven on old Eighty-six, and at first it comes
mighty hard. But I suppose I'll get used to it."
"Look here, John," said the conductor, lowering his voice to a
confidential tone, "the president of the road is with us to-night; his
private car is the last but one on the train. How would it do to speak
to him? If you are afraid to tackle him, I'll put in a word for you in
a minute, and tell him your side of the story."
John Saggart shook his head.
"It wouldn't do," he said; "he wouldn't overrule what one of his
subordinates had done, unless there was serious injustice in the case.
It's the new manager, you know. There's always trouble with a new
manager. He sweeps clean. And I suppose that he thinks by 'bouncing'
one of the oldest engineers on the road, he will scare the rest."
"Well, I don't think much of him between ourselves," said the
conductor. "What do you think he has done to-night? He's put a new man
on Eighty-six. A man from one of the branch lines who doesn't know the
road. I doubt if he's ever been over the main line before. Now, it's an
anxious enough time for me anyhow with a heavy train to take through,
with the thermometer at zero, and the rails like glass, and I like to
have a man in front that I can depend on."
"It's bad enough not to know the road," said John gloomily, "but it's
worse not to know old Eighty-six. She's a brute if she takes a notion."
"I don't suppose there is another engine that could draw this train and
keep her time," said the conductor.
"No! She'll do her work all right if you'll only humor her," admitted
Saggart, who could not conceal his love for the engine even while he
"Well," said the conductor, rising and picking up his lantern, "the man
in front may be all right, but I would feel safer if you were further
ahead than the smoker. I'm sorry I can't offer you a berth to-night,
John, but we're full clear through to the rear lights. There isn't even
a vacant upper on the train."
"Oh, it doesn't matter," said Saggart. "I couldn't sleep, anyhow. I'd
rather sit here and look out of the window."
"Well, so long," said the conductor. "I'll drop in and see you as the
night passes on."
Saggart lit his pipe and gazed out into darkness. He knew every inch of
the road--all the up grades and the down grades and the levels. He knew
it even better in the murkiest night than in the clearest day. Now and
then the black bulk of a barn or a clump of trees showed for one moment
against the sky, and Saggart would say to himself, "Now he should shut
off an inch of steam," or, "Now he should throw her wide open." The
train made few stops, but he saw that they were losing time. Eighty-six
was sulking, very likely. Thinking of the engine turned his mind to his
own fate. No man was of very much use in the world, after all, for the
moment he steps down another is ready to stand in his place. The wise
men in the city who had listened to his defence knew so well that an
engine was merely a combination of iron and steel and brass, and that a
given number of pounds of steam would get it over a given number of
miles in a given number of hours, and they had smiled incredulously
when he told them that an engine had her tantrums, and informed them
that sometimes she had to be coddled up like any other female. Even
when a man did his best there were occasions when nothing he could do
would mollify her, and then there was sure to be trouble, although, he
added, in his desire to be fair, she was always sorry for it afterward.
Which remark, to his confusion, had turned the smile into a laugh.
He wondered what Eighty-six thought of the new man. Not much,
evidently, for she was losing time, which she had no business to do on
that section of the road. Still it might be the fault of the new man
not knowing when to push her for all she was worth and when to ease up.
All these things go to the making of time. But it was more than
probable that old Eighty-six, like Gilpin's horse, was wondering more
and more what thing upon her back had got. "He'll have trouble,"
muttered John to himself, "when she finds out."
The conductor came in again and sat down beside the engineer. He said
nothing, but sat there sorting his tickets, while Saggart gazed out of
the window. Suddenly the engineer sprang to his feet with his eyes wide
open. The train was swaying from side to side and going at great speed.
The conductor looked up with a smile.
"Old Eighty-six," he said, "is evidently going to make up for lost
"She should be slowing down for crossing the G. & M. line," replied the
engineer. "Good heavens!" he cried a moment after, "we've gone across
the G. & M. track on the keen jump."
The conductor sprang to his feet. He knew the seriousness of such a
thing. Even the fastest expresses must stop dead before crossing on the
level the line of another railway. It is the law.
"Doesn't that fool in front know enough to stop at a crossing?"
"It isn't that." said Saggart. "He knows all right. Even the train boys
know that. Old Eighty-six has taken the bit between her teeth. He can't
stop her. Where do you pass No. 6 to-night?"
"That's only six miles ahead," said the engineer; "and in five minutes
at this rate we will be running on her time and on her rails. She's
always late, and won't be on the side track. I must get to Eighty-six."
Saggart quickly made his way through the baggage-coach, climbed on the
express car, and jumped on the coal of the tender. He cast his eye up
the track and saw glimmering in the distance, like a faint wavering
star, the headlight of No. 6. Looking down into the cab he realized the
situation in a glance. The engineer, with fear in his face and beads of
perspiration on his brow, was throwing his whole weight on the lever,
the fireman helping him. Saggart leaped down to the floor of the cab.
"Stand aside," he shouted; and there was such a ring of confident
command in his voice that both men instantly obeyed.
Saggart grasped the lever, and instead of trying to shut off steam
flung it wide open. Number Eighty-six gave a quiver and a jump forward.
"You old fiend!" muttered John between his teeth. Then he pushed the
lever home, and it slid into place as if there had never been any
impediment. The steam was shut off, but the lights of Pointsville
flashed past them with the empty side-track on the left, and they were
now flying along the single line of rails with the headlight of No. 6
growing brighter and brighter in front of them.
"Reverse her, reverse her!" cried the other engineer, with fear in his
"Reverse nothing," said Saggart. "She'll slide ten miles if you do.
Jump, if you're afraid."
The man from the branch line promptly jumped.
"Save yourself," said Saggart to the stoker; "there's bound to be a
"I'll stick by you, Mr. Saggart," said the firemen, who knew him. But
his hand trembled.
The air-brake was grinding the long train and sending a shiver of fear
through every timber, but the rails were slippery with frost, and the
speed of the train seemed as great as ever. At the right moment Saggart
reversed the engine, and the sparks flew up from her great drivers like
"Brace yourself," cried Saggart. "No. 6 is backing up, thank God!"
Next instant the crash came. Two headlights and two cow-catchers went
to flinders, and the two trains stood there with horns locked, but no
great damage done, except a shaking up for a lot of panic-stricken
The burly engineer of No. 6 jumped down and came forward, his mouth
full of oaths.
"What the h--l do you mean by running in on our time like this? Hello,
is that you, Saggart? I thought there was a new man on to-night. I
didn't expect this from _you_."
"It's all right, Billy. It wasn't the new man's fault. He's back in the
ditch with a broken leg, I should say, from the way he jumped. Old
Eighty-six is to blame. She got on the rampage. Took advantage of the
The conductor came running up.
"How is it?" he cried.
"It's all right. Number Eighty-six got her nose broke, and served her
right, that's all. Tell the passengers there's no danger, and get 'em
on board. We're going to back up to Pointsville. Better send the
brakesmen to pick up the other engineer. The ground's hard tonight, and
he may be hurt."
"I'm going back to talk to the president," said the conductor
emphatically. "He's in a condition of mind to listen to reason, judging
from the glimpse I got of his face at the door of his car a moment ago.
Either he re-instates you or I go gathering tickets on a street-car.
This kind of thing is too exciting for my nerves."
The conductor's interview with the president of the road was apparently
satisfactory, for old Number Eighty-six is trying to lead a better life
under the guidance of John Saggart.
PLAYING WITH MARKED CARDS.
"I'm bothered about that young fellow," said Mellish early one morning,
to the professional gambler, Pony Rowell.
"He comes here night after night, and he loses more than he can afford,
I imagine. He has no income, so far as I can find out, except what he
gets as salary, and it takes a mighty sight bigger salary than his to
stand the strain he's putting on it."
"What is his business?"
"He is cashier in the Ninth National Bank. I don't know how much he
gets, but it can't be enough to permit this sort of thing to go on."
Pony Rowell shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't think I would let it trouble me, if I were you, Mellish."
"Nevertheless it does. I have advised him to quit, but it is no use. If
I tell the doorkeeper not to let him in here, he will merely go
somewhere else where they are not so particular."
"I must confess I don't quite understand you, Mellish, long as I have
known you. In your place, now, I would either give up keeping a
gambling saloon or I would give up the moral reformation line of
business. I wouldn't try to ride two horses of such different tempers
at the same time."
"I've never tried to reform you, Pony," said Hellish, with reproach in
"No; I will give you credit for that much sense."
"It's all right with old stagers like you and me, Pony, but with a boy
just beginning life, it is different. Now it struck me that you might
be able to help me in this."
"Yes, I thought that was what you were leading up to," said Rowell,
thrusting his hands deep in his trousers' pockets. "I'm no missionary,
remember. What did you want me to do?"
"I wanted you to give him a sharp lesson. Couldn't you mark a pack of
cards and get him to play high? Then, when you have taken all his ready
money and landed him in debt to you so that he can't move, give him
back his cash if he promises not to gamble again."
Rowell looked across at the subject of their conversation. "I don't
think I would flatter him so much as to even stock the cards on him.
I'll clean him out if you like. But it won't do any good, Mellish. Look
at his eyes. The insanity of gambling is in them. I used to think if I
had $100,000, I would quit. I'm old enough now to know that I wouldn't.
I'd gamble if I had a million."
"I stopped after I was your age."
"Oh, yes, Mellish, you are the virtuous exception that proves the rule.
You quit gambling the way the old woman kept tavern," and Rowell cast a
glance over the busy room.
Mellish smiled somewhat grimly, then he sighed. "I wish I was out of
it," he said. "But, anyhow, you think over what I've been talking
about, and if you can see your way to giving him a sharp lesson I wish
"All right I will, but merely to ease your tender conscience, Mellish.
It's no use, I tell you. When the snake has bitten, the victim is
doomed. Gambling isn't a simple thing like the opium habit."
Reggie Forme, the bank cashier, rose at last from the roulette table.
He was flushed with success, for there was a considerable addition to
the sum he had in his pockets when he sat down. He flattered himself
that the result was due to the system he had elaborately studied out.
Nothing lures a man to destruction quicker than a system that can be
mathematically demonstrated. It gives an air of business to gambling
which is soothing to the conscience of a person brought up on
statistics. The system generally works beautifully at first; then a cog
slips and you are mangled in the machinery before you know where you
are. As young Forme left the table he felt a hand on his shoulder, and
looking around, met the impassive gaze of Pony Rowell.
"You're young at the business, I see," remarked the professional
"Why do you think that?" asked the youngster, coloring, for one likes
to be taken for a veteran, especially when one is an amateur.
"Because you fool away your time at roulette. That is a game for boys
and women. Have you nerve enough to play a real game?"
"What do you call a real game?"
"A game with cards in a private room for something bigger than half-
"Depends on what capital you have. How much capital can you command?"
The cashier hesitated for a moment and his eyes fell from the steady
light of Rowell's, which seemed to have an uncomfortable habit of
looking into one's inmost soul. "I can bring $1,000 here on Saturday
"All right. That will do as a starter. Is it an appointment then?"
"Yes, if you like. What time?"
"I generally get here pretty late, but I can make an exception in your
case. What do you say to 10 o'clock?"
"That will suit me."
"Very well, then. Don't fool away any of your money or nerve until I
come. You will need all you have of both."
The professional gambler and the amateur began their series of games a
few minutes after ten in a little private room. The young man became
more and more excited as the play went on. As for Pony, he was cool
under any circumstances. Before an hour had passed the $1,000 was
transferred from the possession of Forme into the pockets of the
professional, and by midnight the younger man was another $1,000 in
"It isn't my practice," said Rowell slowly, "to play with a man unless
he has the money in sight. I've made an exception in your case, as luck
was against you, but I think this has gone far enough. You may bring me
the $1,000 you owe any day next week. No particular hurry, you know."
The young fellow appeared to be dazed. He drew his hand across his brow
and then said mechanically, as if he had just heard his opponent's
"No hurry? All right. Next week. Certainly. I guess I'll go home now."
Forme went out, leaving Rowell idly shuffling the cards at the small
table. The moment the young man had disappeared all Rowell's indolence
vanished. He sprang up and put on his overcoat, then slipped out by the
rear exit into the alley. He had made up his mind what Forme would do.
Mentally he tracked him from the gambling rooms to the river and he
even went so far as to believe he would take certain streets on his way
thither. A gambler is nothing if not superstitious and so Rowell was
not in the least surprised when he saw the young man emerge from the
dark stairway, hesitate for a moment between the two directions open to
him, and finally choose the one that the gambler expected him to take.
The cold streets were deserted and so Rowell had more difficulty in
following his late victim unperceived than he would have had earlier in
the evening. Several times the older man thought the pursued had become
aware of the pursuit, for Forme stopped and looked around him; once
coming back and taking another street as if trying to double on the man
who was following him.
Rowell began to realize the difficulty of the task he had set for
himself, and as he had never had any faith in it anyhow, he began to
feel uncomfortable and to curse the tender heart of Mellish. If the
youngster got the idea into his head that he was followed he might
succeed in giving his pursuer the slip, and then Rowell would find
himself with the fool's death on his conscience, and what was to him
infinitely worse, with a thousand dollars in his pocket that had been
unfairly won. This thought made him curse Mellish afresh. It had been
entirely against his own will that he had played with marked cards, but
Mellish had insisted that they should take no chances, and the veteran
knew too well the uncertainties of playing a fair game where a great
object lesson was to be taught. It would make them look like two fools,
Mellish had said, if Forme won the money. In answer to this Rowell had
remarked that they were two fools anyhow, but he had finally succumbed
to Mellish as the whole scheme was Mellish's. As Rowell thought
bitterly of these things his attention was diverted from the very
matter he had in hand. Few men can pursue a course of thought and a
fellow-creature at the same time. He suddenly realized that young Forme
had escaped him. Rowell stood alone in the dimly-lighted silent street
and poured unuttered maledictions on his own stupidity. Suddenly a
voice rang out from a dark doorway.
"What the devil are you following me for?"
"Oh, you're there, are you?" said Pony calmly.
"I'm here. Now what do you want of me? Aren't you satisfied with what
you have done to-night?"
"Naturally not, or I wouldn't be fool-chasing at such an hour as this."
"Then you admit you have been following me?"
"I never denied it."
"What do you want of me? Do I belong to myself or do you think I belong
to you, because I owe you some money?"
"I do not know, I am sure, to whom you belong," said Rowell with his
slow drawl. "I suspect, however, that the city police, who seem to be
scarce at this hour, have the first claim upon you. What do I want of
you? I want to ask you a question. Where did you get the money you
played with to-night?"
"It's none of your business."
"I presume not. But as there are no witnesses to this interesting
conversation I will venture an opinion that you robbed the bank."
The young man took a step forward, but Pony stood his ground, using the
interval to light another cigarette.
"I will also venture an opinion, Mr. Rowell, and say that the money
came as honestly into my pocket as it did into yours."
"That wouldn't be saying much for it. I have the advantage of you,
however, because the nine points are in my favor. I have possession."
"What are you following me for? To give me up?"
"You admit the robbery, then."
"I admit nothing."
"It won't be used against you. As I told you, there are no witnesses.
It will pay you to be frank. Where did you get the money?"
"Where many another man gets it. Out of the bank."
"I thought so. Now, Forme, you are not such a fool as you look--or act.
You know where all that sort of thing leads to. You haven't any chance.
All the rules of the game are against you. You have no more show than
you had against me to-night. Why not chuck it, before it is too late?"
"It is easy for you to talk like that when you have my money in your
"But that simply is another rule of the game. The money of a thief is
bound to go into someone else's pocket. Whoever enjoys the cash
ultimately, he never does. Now if you had the money in your pocket what
would you do?"
"I would go back to Mellish's and have another try."
"I believe you," said Rowell with, for the first time, some cordiality
in his voice. He recognized a kindred spirit in this young man.
"Nevertheless it would be a foolish thing to do. You have two chances
before you. You can become a sport as I am and spend your life in
gambling rooms. Or you can become what is called a respectable business
man. But you can't be both. In a very short time you will not have the
choice. You will be found out and then you can only e what I am-
probably not as successful as I have been. If you add bank robbery to
your other accomplishments then you will go to prison or, what is
perhaps worse, to Canada. Which career are you going to choose?"
"Come down to plain facts. What do you mean by all this talk? If I say
I'll quit gambling do you mean that you will return to me the thousand
dollars and call the other thousand square?"
"If you give me your word of honor that you will quit."
"And if I don't, what then?"
"Then on Monday I will hand over this money to the bank and advise them
to look into your accounts."
"And suppose my accounts prove to be all right, what then?"
Rowell shrugged his shoulders. "In that remote possibility I will give
the thousand dollars to you and play you another game for it."
"I see. Which means that you cheated to-night."
"If you like to put it that way."
"And what if I denounced you as a self-confessed cheat?"
"It wouldn't matter to me. I wouldn't take the trouble to deny it.
Nobody would believe you."
"You're a cool hand, Pony, I admire your cheek. Still, you've got some
silly elements in you."
"Oh, you mean my trying to reform you? Don't make any mistake about
that. It is Mellish's idea, not mine. I don't believe in you for a
The young man laughed. He reflected for a few seconds, then said: "I'll
take your offer. You give me back the money and I will promise never to
gamble again in any shape or form."
"You will return the cash to the bank, if you took it from there?"
"Certainly. I will put it back the first thing on Monday morning."
"Then here is your pile," said Rowell, handing him the roll of bills.
Forme took it eagerly and, standing where the light struck down upon
him, counted the bills, while Rowell looked on silently with a cynical
smile on his lips.
"Thank you," said the young man, "you're a good fellow, Rowell."
"I'm obliged for your good opinion. I hope you found the money
"Quite right," said Forme, flushing a little. "I hope you did not mind
my counting it. Merely a business habit, you know."
"Well, stick to business habits, Mr. Forme. Good night."
Rowell walked briskly back to Mellish's. Forme walked toward the
railway station and found that there was a train for Chicago at 4 in
the morning. He had one clear day and part of another before he was
missed, and as it turned out all trace of him was lost in the big city.
The bank found about $6,000 missing. Two years after, news came that
Forme had been shot dead in a gambling hall in Southern Texas.
"We are two first-class fools," said Rowell to Mellish, "and I for one
don't feel proud of the episode, so we'll say nothing more about it.
The gambling mania was in his blood. Gambling is not a vice; it is a
disease, latent in all of us."
THE BRUISER'S COURTSHIP.
While the Northern Bruiser sat in the chair in his corner and was being
fanned he resolved to finish the fight at the next round. The superior
skill of his opponent was telling upon him, and although the Bruiser
was a young man of immense strength, yet, up to that time, the
alertness and dexterity of the Yorkshire Chicken had baffled him, and
prevented him from landing one of his tremendous shoulder thrusts. But
even though skill had checkmated strength up to this point, the Chicken
had not entirely succeeded in defending himself, and was in a condition
described by the yelling crowd as "groggy."
When time was called the Bruiser was speedily on his feet. His face did
not present the repulsive appearance so visible on the countenance of
his opponent, but the Bruiser had experience enough to know that the
body blows received in this fight had had their effect on his wind and
staying powers; and that although the Chicken presented an appalling
appearance with his swollen lips and cheeks, and his eyes nearly
closed, yet he was in better trim for continuing the battle than the
The Chicken came up to the mark less promptly than his big antagonist,
but whether it was from weakness or lack of sight, he seemed uncertain
in his movements, and the hearts of his backers sank as they saw him
stagger rather than walk to his place.
Before the Chicken, as it were, fully waked up to the situation, the
Bruiser lunged forward and planted a blow on his temple that would have
broken the guard of a man who was in better condition than the Chicken.
The Yorkshireman fell like a log, and lay where he fell. Then the
Bruiser got a lesson which terrified him. A sickly ashen hue came over
the purple face of the man on the ground. The Bruiser had expected some
defence, and the terrible blow had been even more powerful than he
intended. A shivering whisper went round the crowd, "He is killed," and
instantly the silenced mob quietly scattered. It was every man for
himself before the authorities took a hand in the game.
The Bruiser stood there swaying from side to side, his gaze fixed upon
the prostrate man. He saw himself indicted and hanged for murder, and
he swore that if the Chicken recovered he would never again enter the
ring. This was a phase of prize-fighting that he had never before had
experience of. On different occasions he had, it is true, knocked out
his various opponents, and once or twice he had been knocked out
himself; but the Chicken had fought so pluckily up to the last round
that the Bruiser had put forth more of his tremendous strength than he
had bargained for, and now the man's life hung on a thread.
The unconscious pugilist was carried to an adjoining room. Two
physicians were in attendance upon him, and at first the reports were
most gloomy, but towards daylight the Bruiser learned with relief that
the chances were in favor of his opponent.
The Bruiser had been urged to fly, but he was a man of strong common
sense, and he thoroughly understood the futility of flight. His face
and his form were too well known all around the country. It would have
been impossible for him to escape, even if he had tried to do so.
When the Yorkshire Chicken recovered, the Bruiser's friends laughed at
his resolve to quit the ring, but they could not shake it. The money he
had won in his last fight, together with what he had accumulated
before--for he was a frugal man--was enough to keep him for the rest of
his days, and he resolved to return to the Border town where he was
born, and where doubtless his fame had preceded him.
He buckled his guineas in a belt around him, and with a stout stick in
his hand he left London for the North. He was a strong and healthy
young man, and had not given way to dissipation, as so many
prizefighters had done before, and will again. He had a horror of a