Pierre And His People by Gilbert Parker
In Pipi Valley
"Divils me darlins, it's a memory I have of a time whin luck wasn't foldin' her arms round me, and not so far back aither, and I on the wallaby track hot-foot for the City o' Gold."
Shon McGann said this in the course of a discussion on the prosperity of Pipi Valley. Pretty Pierre remarked nonchalantly in reply,--"The wallaby track--eh--what is that, Shon?"
"It's a bit of a haythen y' are, Pierre. The wallaby track? That's the name in Australia for trampin' west through the plains of the Never-Never Country lookin' for the luck o' the world; as, bedad, it's meself that knows it, and no other, and not by book or tellin' either, but with the grip of thirst at me throat and a reef in me belt every hour to quiet the gnawin'." And Shon proceeded to light his pipe afresh.
"But the City o' Gold-was there much wealth for you there, Shon?"
Shon laughed, and said between the puffs of smoke, "Wealth for me, is it? Oh, mother o' Moses! wealth of work and the pride of livin' in the heart of us, and the grip of an honest hand betunewhiles; and what more do y' want, Pierre?"
The Frenchman's drooping eyelids closed a little more, and he replied, meditatively: "Money? No, that is not Shon McGann. The good fellowship of thirst?--yes, a little. The grip of the honest hand, quite, and the clinch of an honest waist? Well, 'peut-etre.'
"Of the waist which is not honest?--tsh! he is gay--and so!"
The Irishman took his pipe from his mouth, and held it poised before him. He looked inquiringly and a little frowningly at the other for a moment, as if doubtful whether to resent the sneer that accompanied the words just spoken; but at last he good-humouredly said: "Blood o' me bones, but it's much I fear the honest waist hasn't always been me portion--Heaven forgive me!"
"'Nom de pipe,' this Irishman!" replied Pierre. "He is gay; of good heart; he smiles, and the women are at his heels; he laughs, and they are on their knees--Such a fool he is!"
Still Shon McGann laughed.
"A fool I am, Pierre, or I'd be in ould Ireland at this minute, with a roof o' me own over me and the friends o' me youth round me, and brats on me knee, and the fear o' God in me heart."
"'Mais,' Shon," mockingly rejoined the Frenchman, "this is not Ireland, but there is much like that to be done here. There is a roof, and there is that woman at Ward's Mistake, and the brats--eh, by and by?"
Shon's face clouded. He hesitated, then replied sharply: "That woman, do y' say, Pierre, she that nursed me when the Honourable and meself were taken out o' Sandy Drift, more dead than livin'; she that brought me back to life as good as ever, barrin' this scar on me forehead and a stiffness at me elbow, and the Honourable as right as the sun, more luck to him! which he doesn't need at all, with the wind of fortune in his back and shiftin' neither to right nor left. --That woman! faith, y'd better not cut the words so sharp betune yer teeth, Pierre."
"But I will say more--a little--just the same. She nursed you--well, that is good; but it is good also, I think, you pay her for that, and stop the rest. Women are fools, or else they are worse. This one? She is worse. Yes; you will take my advice, Shon McGann." The Irishman came to his feet with a spring, and his words were angry.
"It doesn't come well from Pretty Pierre, the gambler, to be revilin' a woman; and I throw it in y'r face, though I've slept under the same blanket with ye, an' drunk out of the same cup on manny a tramp, that you lie dirty and black when ye spake ill--of my wife."
This conversation had occurred in a quiet corner of the bar-room of the Saints' Repose. The first few sentences had not been heard by the others present; but Shon's last speech, delivered in a ringing tone, drew the miners to their feet, in expectation of seeing shots exchanged at once. The code required satisfaction, immediate and decisive. Shon was not armed, and some one thrust a pistol towards him; but he did not take it. Pierre rose, and coming slowly to him, laid a slender finger on his chest, and said:
"So! I did not know that she was your wife. That is a surprise."
The miners nodded assent. He continued:
"Lucy Rives your wife! Hola, Shon McGann, that is such a joke."
"It's no joke, but God's truth, and the lie is with you, Pierre."
Murmurs of anticipation ran round the room; but the half-breed said: "There will be satisfaction altogether; but it is my whim to prove what I say first; then"--fondling his revolver--"then we shall settle. But, see: you will meet me here at ten o'clock to-night, and I will make it, I swear to you, so clear, that the woman is vile."
The Irishman suddenly clutched the gambler, shook him like a dog, and threw him against the farther wall. Pierre's pistol was levelled from the instant Shon moved; but he did not use it. He rose on one knee after the violent fall, and pointing it at the other's head, said coolly: "I could kill you, my friend, so easy! But it is not my whim. Till ten o'clock is not long to wait, and then, just here, one of us shall die. Is it not so?" The Irishman did not flinch before the pistol. He said with low fierceness, "At ten o'clock, or now, or any time, or at any place, y'll find me ready to break the back of the lies y've spoken, or be broken meself. Lucy Rives is my wife, and she's true and straight as the sun in the sky. I'll be here at ten o'clock, and as ye say, Pierre, one of us makes the long reckoning for this." And he opened the door and went out.
The half-breed moved to the bar, and, throwing down a handful of silver, said: "It is good we drink after so much heat. Come on, come on, comrades."
The miners responded to the invitation. Their sympathy was mostly with Shon McGann; their admiration was about equally divided; for Pretty Pierre had the quality of courage in as active a degree as the Irishman, and they knew that some extraordinary motive, promising greater excitement, was behind the Frenchman's refusal to send a bullet through Shon's head a moment before.
King Kinkley, the best shot in the Valley next to Pierre, had watched the unusual development of the incident with interest; and when his glass had been filled he said, thoughtfully: "This thing isn't according to Hoyle. There's never been any trouble just like it in the Valley before. What's that McGann said about the lady being his wife? If it's the case, where hev we been in the show? Where was we when the license was around? It isn't good citizenship, and I hev my doubts."
Another miner, known as the Presbyterian, added: "There's some skulduggery in it, I guess. The lady has had as much protection as if she was the sister of every citizen of the place, just as much as Lady Jane here (Lady Jane, the daughter of the proprietor of the Saints' Repose, administered drinks), and she's played this stacked hand on us, has gone one better on the sly."
"Pierre," said King Kinkley, "you're on the track of the secret, and appear to hev the advantage of the lady: blaze it--blaze it out."
Pierre rejoined, "I know something; but it is good we wait until ten o'clock. Then I will show you all the cards in the pack. Yes, so, 'bien sur.'"
And though there was some grumbling, Pierre had his way. The spirit of adventure and mutual interest had thrown the French half-breed, the Irishman, and the Hon. Just Trafford together on the cold side of the Canadian Rockies; and they had journeyed to this other side, where the warm breath from the Pacific passed to its congealing in the ranges. They had come to the Pipi field when it was languishing. From the moment of their coming its luck changed; it became prosperous. They conquered the Valley each after his kind. The Honourable--he was always called that--mastered its resources by a series of "great lucks," as Pierre termed it, had achieved a fortune, and made no enemies; and but two months before the day whose incidents are here recorded, had gone to the coast on business. Shon had won the reputation of being a "white man," to say nothing of his victories in the region of gallantry. He made no wealth; he only got that he might spend. Irishman-like he would barter the chances of fortune for the lilt of a voice or the clatter of a pretty foot.
Pierre was different. "Women, ah, no!" he would say, "they make men fools or devils."
His temptation lay not that way. When the three first came to the Pipi, Pierre was a miner, simply; but nearly all his life he had been something else, as many a devastated pocket on the east of the Rockies could bear witness; and his new career was alien to his soul. Temptation grew greatly on him at the Pipi, and in the days before he yielded to it he might have been seen at midnight in his but playing solitaire. Why he abstained at first from practising his real profession is accounted for in two ways: he had tasted some of the sweets of honest companionship with the Honourable and Shon, and then he had a memory of an ugly night at Pardon's Drive a year before, when he stood over his own brother's body, shot to death by accident in a gambling row having its origin with himself. These things had held him back for a time; but he was weaker than his ruling passion.
The Pipi was a young and comparatively virgin field; the quarry was at his hand. He did not love money for its own sake; it was the game that enthralled him. He would have played his life against the treasury of a kingdom, and, winning it with loaded double sixes, have handed back the spoil as an unredeemable national debt.
He fell at last, and in falling conquered the Pipi Valley; at the same time he was considered a fearless and liberal citizen, who could shoot as straight as he played well. He made an excursion to another field, however, at an opportune time, and it was during this interval that the accident to Shon and the Honourable had happened. He returned but a few hours before this quarrel with Shon occurred, and in the Saints' Repose, whither he had at once gone, he was told of the accident. While his informant related the incident and the romantic sequence of Shon's infatuation, the woman passed the tavern and was pointed out to Pierre. The half-breed had not much excitableness in his nature, but when he saw this beautiful woman with a touch of the Indian in her contour, his pale face flushed, and he showed his set teeth under his slight moustache. He watched her until she entered a shop, on the signboard of which was written--written since he had left a few months ago--Lucy Rives, Tobacconist.
Shon had then entered the Saints' Repose; and we know the rest. A couple of hours after this nervous episode, Pierre might have been seen standing in the shadow of the pines not far from the house at Ward's Mistake, where, he had been told, Lucy Rives lived with an old Indian woman. He stood, scarcely moving, and smoking cigarettes, until the door opened. Shon came out and walked down the hillside to the town. Then Pierre went to the door, and without knocking, opened it, and entered. A woman started up from a seat where she was sewing, and turned towards him. As she did so, the work, Shon's coat, dropped from her hands, her face paled, and her eyes grew big with fear. She leaned against a chair for support--this man's presence had weakened her so. She stood silent, save for a slight moan that broke from her lips, as Pierre lighted a cigarette coolly, and then said to an old Indian woman who sat upon the floor braiding a basket: "Get up, Ikni, and go away."
Ikni rose, came over, and peered into the face of the half-breed. Then she muttered: "I know you--I know you. The dead has come back again." She caught his arm with her bony fingers as if to satisfy herself that he was flesh and blood, and shaking her head dolefully, went from the room. When the door closed behind her there was silence, broken only by an exclamation from the man.
The other drew her hand across her eyes, and dropped it with a motion of despair. Then Pierre said, sharply: "Bien?"
"Francois," she replied, "you are alive!"
"Yes, I am alive, Lucy."
She shuddered, then grew still again and whispered: "Why did you let it be thought that you were drowned? Why? Oh, why"? she moaned.
He raised his eyebrows slightly, and between the puffs of smoke, said:
"Ah yes, my Lucy, why? It was so long ago. Let me see: so--so--ten years. Ten years is a long time to remember, eh?"
He came towards her. She drew back; but her hand remained on the chair. He touched the plain gold ring on her finger, and said:
"You still wear it. To think of that--so loyal for a woman! How she remembers, holy Mother! . . . But shall I not kiss you, yes, just once after eight years--my wife?"
She breathed hard and drew back against the wall, dazed and frightened, and said:
"No, no, do not come near me; do not speak to me--ah, please, stand back, for a moment--please!"
He shrugged his shoulders slightly, and continued, with mock tenderness:
"To think that things come round so! And here you have a home. But that is good. I am tired of much travel and life all alone. The prodigal goes not to the home, the home comes to the prodigal." He stretched up his arms as if with a feeling of content.
"Do you--do you not know," she said, "that--that--"
He interrupted her:
"Do I not know, Lucy, that this is your home? Yes. But is it not all the same? I gave you a home ten years ago--to think, ten years ago! We quarrelled one night, and I left you. Next morning my boat was found below the White Cascade--yes, but that was so stale a trick! It was not worthy of Francois Rives. He would do it so much better now; but he was young then; just a boy, and foolish. Well, sit down, Lucy, it is a long story, and you have much to tell, how much--who knows?" She came slowly forward and said with a painful effort:
"You did a great wrong, Francois. You have killed me.
"Killed you, Lucy, my wife! Pardon! Never in those days did you look so charming as now--never. But the great surprise of seeing your husband, it has made you shy, quite shy. There will be much time now for you to change all that. It is quite pleasant to think on, Lucy. . . . You remember the song we used to sing on the Chaudiere at St. Antoine? See, I have not forgotten it--
"'Nos amants sont en guerre, Vole, mon coeur, vole.'"
He hummed the lines over and over, watching through his half-shut eyes the torture he was inflicting.
"Oh, Mother of God," she whispered, "have mercy! Can you not see, do you not know? I am not as you left me."
"Yes, my wife, you are just the same; not an hour older. I am glad that you have come to me. But how they will envy Pretty Pierre!"
"Envy--Pretty-Pierre," she repeated, in distress; "are you Pretty Pierre? Ah, I might have known, I might have known!"
"Yes, and so! Is not Pretty Pierre as good a name as Francois Rives? Is it not as good as Shon McGann?"
"Oh, I see it all, I see it all now!" she said mournfully. "It was with you he quarrelled, and about me. He would not tell me what it was. You know, then, that I am--that I am married--to him?"
"Quite. I know all that; but it is no marriage." He rose to his feet slowly, dropping the cigarette from his lips as he did so. "Yes," he continued, "and I know that you prefer Shon McGann to Pretty Pierre."
She spread out her hands appealingly.
"But you are my wife, not his. Listen: do you know what I shall do? I will tell you in two hours. It is now eight o'clock. At ten o'clock Shon McGann will meet me at the Saints' Repose. Then you shall know.... Ah, it is a pity! Shon was my good friend, but this spoils all that. Wine--it has danger; cards--there is peril in that sport; women--they make trouble most of all."
"O God," she piteously said, "what did I do? There was no sin in me. I was your faithful wife, though you were cruel to me. You left me, cheated me, brought this upon me. It is you that has done this wickedness, not I." She buried her face in her hands, falling on her knees beside the chair.
He bent above her: "You loved the young avocat better, eight years ago."
She sprang to her feet. "Ah, now I understand,' she said. "That was why you quarrelled with me; why you deserted me. You were not man enough to say what made you so much the--so wicked and hard, so--"
"Be thankful, Lucy, that I did not kill you then," he interjected.
"But it is a lie," she cried; "a lie!"
She went to the door and called the Indian woman. "Ikni," she said. "He dares to say evil of Andre and me. Think--of Andre!"
Ikni came to him, put her wrinkled face close to his, and said: "She was yours, only yours; but the spirits gave you a devil. Andre, oh, oh, Andre! The father of Andre was her father--ah, that makes your sulky eyes to open. Ikni knows how to speak. Ikni nursed them both. If you had waited you should have known. But you ran away like a wolf from a coal of fire; you shammed death like a fox; you come back like the snake to crawl into the house and strike with poison tooth, when you should be with the worms in the ground. But Ikni knows--you shall be struck with poison too, the Spirit of the Red Knife waits for you. Andre was her brother."
He pushed her aside savagely: "Be still!" he said. "Get out-quick. 'Sacre'--quick!"
When they were alone again he continued with no anger in his tone: "So, Andre the avocat and you--that, eh? Well, you see how much trouble has come; and now this other--a secret too. When were you married to Shon McGann?"
"Last night," she bitterly replied; "a priest came over from the Indian village."
"Last night," he musingly repeated. "Last night I lost two thousand dollars at the Little Goshen field. I did not play well last night; I was nervous. In ten years I had not lost so much at one game as I did last night. It was a punishment for playing too honest, or something; eh, what do you think, Lucy--or something, 'hein?'"
She said nothing, but rocked her body to and fro.
"Why did you not make known the marriage with Shon?"
"He was to have told it to-night," she said.
There was silence for a moment, then a thought flashed into his eyes, and he rejoined with a jarring laugh, "Well, I will play a game to-night, Lucy Rives; such a game that Pretty Pierre will never be forgotten in the Pipi Valley--a beautiful game, just for two. And the other who will play--the wife of Francois Rives shall see if she will wait; but she must be patient, more patient than her husband was ten years ago."
"What will you do--tell me, what will you do?"
"I will play a game of cards--just one magnificent game; and the cards shall settle it. All shall be quite fair, as when you and I played in the little house by the Chaudiere--at first, Lucy,--before I was a devil."
Was this peculiar softness to his last tones assumed or real? She looked at him inquiringly; but he moved away to the window, and stood gazing down the hillside towards the town below. His eyes smarted.
"I will die," she said to herself in whispers--"I will die." A minute passed, and then Pierre turned and said to her: "Lucy, he is coming up the hill. Listen. If you tell him that I have seen you, I will shoot him on sight, dead. You would save him, for a little, for an hour or two--or more? Well, do as I say; for these things must be according to the rules of the game, and I myself will tell him all at the Saints' Repose. He gave me the lie there, and I will tell him the truth before them all there. Will you do as I say?"
She hesitated an instant, and then replied: "I will not tell him."
"There is only one way, then," he continued. "You must go at once from here into the woods behind there, and not see him at all. Then at ten o'clock you will come to the Saints' Repose, if you choose, to know how the game has ended."
She was trembling, moaning, no longer. A set look had come into her face; her eyes were steady and hard. She quietly replied: "Yes, I shall be there."
He came to her, took her hand, and drew from her finger the wedding-ring which last night Shon McGann had placed there. She submitted passively. Then, with an upward wave of his fingers, he spoke in a mocking lightness, but without any of the malice which had first appeared in his tones, words from an old French song:
"I say no more, my lady Mironton, Mironton, Mirontaine! I say no more, my lady, As nought more can be said."
He opened the door, motioned to the Indian woman, and, in a few moments, the broken-hearted Lucy Rives and her companion were hidden in the pines; and Pretty Pierre also disappeared into the shadow of the woods as Shon McGann appeared on the crest of the hill.
The Irishman walked slowly to the door, and pausing, said to himself: "I couldn't run the big risk, me darlin', without seein' you again, God help me! There's danger ahead which little I'd care for if it wasn't for you."
Then he stepped inside the house--the place was silent; he called, but no one answered; he threw open the doors of the rooms, but they were empty; he went outside and called again, but no reply came, except the flutter of a night-hawk's wings and the cry of a whippoorwill. He went back into the house and sat down with his head between his hands. So, for a moment, and then he raised his head, and said with a sad smile: "Faith, Shon, me boy, this takes the life out of you! the empty house where she ought to be, and the smile of her so swate, and the hand of her that falls on y'r shoulder like a dove on the blessed altar-gone, and lavin' a chill on y'r heart like a touch of the dead. Sure, nivir a wan of me saw any that could stand wid her for goodness, barrin' the angel that kissed me good-bye with one foot in the stirrup an' the troopers behind me, now twelve years gone, in ould Donegal, and that I'll niver see again, she lyin' where the hate of the world will vex the heart of her no more, and the masses gone up for her soul. Twice, twice in y'r life, Shon McGann, has the cup of God's joy been at y'r lips, and is it both times that it's to spill?--Pretty Pierre shoots straight and sudden, and maybe it's aisy to see the end of it; but as the just God is above us, I'll give him the lie in his throat betimes for the word he said agin me darlin'. What's the avil thing that he has to say? What's the divil's proof he would bring? And where is she now? Where are you, Lucy? I know the proof I've got in me heart that the wreck of the world couldn't shake, while that light, born of Heaven, swims up to your eyes whin you look at me!"
He rose to his feet again and walked to and fro; he went once more to the doors; he looked here and there through the growing dusk, but to no purpose. She had said that she would not go to her shop this night; but if not, then where could she have gone and Ikni, too? He felt there was more awry in his life than he cared to put into thought or speech. He picked up the sewing she had dropped and looked at it as one would regard a relic of the dead; he lifted her handkerchief, kissed it, and put it in his breast. He took a revolver from his pocket and examined it closely, looked round the room as though to fasten it in his memory, and then passed out, closing the door behind him. He walked down the hillside and went to her shop in the one street of the town, but she was not there, nor had the lad in charge seen her.
Meanwhile, Pretty Pierre had made his way to the Saints' Repose, and was sitting among the miners indolently smoking. In vain he was asked to play cards. His one reply was, "No, pardon, no! I play one game only to-night, the biggest game ever played in Pipi Valley." In vain, also, was he asked to drink. He refused the hospitality, defying the danger that such lack of good-fellowship might bring forth. He hummed in patches to himself the words of a song that the 'brules' were wont to sing when they hunted the buffalo:
"'Voila!' it is the sport to ride-- Ah, ah the brave hunter! To thrust the arrow in his hide, To send the bullet through his side 'Ici,' the buffalo, 'joli!' Ah, ah the buffalo!"
He nodded here and there as men entered; but he did not stir from his seat. He smoked incessantly, and his eyes faced the door of the bar-room that entered upon the street. There was no doubt in the minds of any present that the promised excitement would occur. Shon McGann was as fearless as he was gay. And Pipi Valley remembered the day in which he had twice risked his life to save two women from a burning building--Lady Jane and another. And Lady Jane this evening was agitated, and once or twice furtively looked at something under the bar-counter; in fact, a close observer would have noticed anger or anxiety in the eyes of the daughter of Dick Waldron, the keeper of the Saints' Repose. Pierre would certainly have seen it had he been looking that way. An unusual influence was working upon the frequenters of the busy tavern. Planned, premeditated excitement was out of their line. Unexpectedness was the salt of their existence. This thing had an air of system not in accord with the suddenness of the Pipi mind. The half-breed was the only one entirely at his ease; he was languid and nonchalant; the long lashes of his half-shut eyelids gave his face a pensive look. At last King Kinkley walked over to him and said: "There's an almighty mysteriousness about this event which isn't joyful, Pretty Pierre. We want to see the muss cleared up, of course; we want Shon McGann to act like a high-toned citizen, and there's a general prejudice in favour of things bein' on the flat of your palm, as it were. Now this thing hangs fire, and there's a lack of animation about it, isn't there?"
To this, Pretty Pierre replied: "What can I do? This is not like other things; one had to wait; great things take time. To shoot is easy; but to shoot is not all, as you shall see if you have a little patience. Ah, my friend, where there is a woman, things are different. I throw a glass in your face, we shoot, someone dies, and there it is quite plain of reason; you play a card which was dealt just now, I call you-- something, and the swiftest finger does the trick; but in such as this, one must wait for the sport."
It was at this point that Shon McGann entered, looked round, nodded to all, and then came forward to the table where Pretty Pierre sat. As the other took out his watch, Shon said firmly but quietly: "Pierre, I gave you the lie to-day concerning me wife, and I'm here, as I said I'd be, to stand by the word I passed then."
Pierre waved his fingers lightly towards the other, and slowly rose. Then he said in sharp tones: "Yes, Shon McGann, you gave me the lie. There is but one thing for that in Pipi Valley. You choked me; I would not take that from a saint of heaven; but there was another thing to do first. Well, I have done it; I said I would bring proofs--I have them." He paused, and now there might have been seen a shining moisture on his forehead, and his words came menacingly from between his teeth, while the room became breathlessly still, save that in the silence a sleeping dog sighed heavily: "Shon McGann," he added, "you are living with my wife."
Twenty men drew in a sharp breath of excitement, and Shon came a step nearer the other, and said in a strange voice: "I--am--living--with-- your--wife?"
"As I say, with my wife, Lucy Rives. Francois Rives was my name ten years ago. We quarrelled. I left her, and I never saw her again until to-night. You went to see her two hours ago. You did not find her. Why? She was gone because her husband, Pierre, told her to go. You want a proof? You shall have it. Here is the wedding-ring you gave her last night."
He handed it over, and Shon saw inside it his own name and hers.
"My God!" he said. "Did she know? Tell me she didn't know, Pierre?"
"No, she did not know. I have truth to speak to night. I was jealous, mad, and foolish, and I left her. My boat was found upset. They believed I was drowned. 'Bien,' she waited until yesterday, and then she took you--but she was my wife; she is my wife--and so you see!"
The Irishman was deadly pale.
"It's an avil heart y' had in y' then, Pretty Pierre, and it's an avil day that brought this thing to pass, and there's only wan way to the end of it."
"So, that is true. There is only one way," was the reply; "but what shall that way be? Someone must go: there must be no mistake. I have to propose. Here on this table we lay a revolver. We will give up these which we have in our pockets. Then we will play a game of euchre, and the winner of the game shall have the revolver. We will play for a life. That is fair, eh--that is fair"? he said to those around.
King Kinkley, speaking for the rest, replied: "That's about fair. It gives both a chance, and leaves only two when it's over. While the woman lives, one of you is naturally in the way. Pierre left her in a way that isn't handsome; but a wife's a wife, and though Shon was all in the glum about the thing, and though the woman isn't to be blamed either, there's one too many of you, and there's got to be a vacation for somebody. Isn't that so?"
The rest nodded assent. They had been so engaged that they did not see a woman enter the bar from behind, and crouch down beside Lady Jane, a woman whom the latter touched affectionately on the shoulder and whispered to once or twice, while she watched the preparations for the game.
The two men sat down, Shon facing the bar and Pierre with his back to it.
The game began, neither man showing a sign of nervousness, though Shon was very pale. The game was to finish for ten points. Men crowded about the tables silent but keenly excited; cigars were chewed instead of smoked, and liquor was left undrunk. At the first deal Pierre made a march, securing two. At the next Shon made a point, and at the next also a march. The half-breed was playing a straight game. He could have stacked the cards, but he did not do so; deft as he was he might have cheated even the vigilant eyes about him, but it was not so; he played as squarely as a novice. At the third, at the fourth, deal he made a march; at the fifth, sixth, and seventh deals, Shon made a march, a point, and a march. Both now had eight points. At the next deal both got a point, and both stood at nine!
Now came the crucial play.
During the progress of the game nothing had been heard save the sound of a knuckle on the table, the flip flip of the pasteboard, or the rasp of a heel on the floor. There was a set smile on Shon's face--a forgotten smile, for the rest of the face was stern and tragic. Pierre smoked cigarettes, pausing, while his opponent was shuffling and dealing, to light them.
Behind the bar as the game proceeded the woman who knelt beside Lady Jane listened to every sound. Her eyes grew more agonised as the numbers, whispered to her by her companion, climbed to the fatal ten.
The last deal was Shon's; there was that much to his advantage. As he slowly dealt, the woman--Lucy Rives--rose to her feet behind Lady Jane. So absorbed were all that none saw her. Her eyes passed from Pierre to Shon, and stayed.
When the cards were dealt, with but one point for either to gain, and so win and save his life, there was a slight pause before the two took them up. They did not look at one another; but each glanced at the revolver, then at the men nearest them, and lastly, for an instant, at the cards themselves, with their pasteboard faces of life and death turned downward. As the players picked them up at last and spread them out fan- like, Lady Jane slipped something into the hand of Lucy Rives.
Those who stood behind Shon McGann stared with anxious astonishment at his hand; it contained only nine and ten spots. It was easy to see the direction of the sympathy of Pipi Valley. The Irishman's face turned a slight shade paler, but he did not tremble or appear disturbed.
Pierre played his biggest card and took the point. He coolly counted one, and said, "Game. I win." The crowd drew back. Both rose to their feet. In the painful silence the half-breed's hand was gently laid on the revolver. He lifted it, and paused slightly, his eyes fixed to the steady look in those of Shon McGann. He raised the revolver again, till it was level with Shon's forehead, till it was even with his hair! Then there was a shot, and someone fell--not Shon, but Pierre, saying, as they caught him, "Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! From behind!"
Instantly there was another shot, and someone crashed against the bottles in the bar. The other factor in the game, the wife, had shot at Pierre, and then sent a bullet through her own lungs.
Shon stood for a moment as if he was turned to stone, and then his head dropped in his arms upon the table. He had seen both shots fired, but could not speak in time.
Pierre was severely but not dangerously wounded in the neck.
But the woman--? They brought her out from behind the counter. She still breathed; but on her eyes was the film of coming death. She turned to where Shon sat. Her lips framed his name, but no voice came forth. Someone touched him on the shoulder. He looked up and caught her last glance. He came and stooped beside her; but she had died with that one glance from him, bringing a faint smile to her lips. And the smile stayed when the life of her had fled--fled through the cloud over her eyes, from the tide-beat of her pulse. It swept out from the smoke and reeking air into the open world, and beyond, into those untried paths where all must walk alone, and in what bitterness, known only to the Master of the World who sees these piteous things, and orders in what fashion distorted lives shall be made straight and wholesome in the Places of Readjustment.
Shon stood silent above the dead body.
One by one the miners went out quietly. Presently Pierre nodded towards the door, and King Kinkley and another lifted him and carried him towards it. Before they passed into the street he made them turn him so that he could see Shon. He waved his hand towards her that had been his wife, and said: "She should have shot but once and straight, Shon McGann, and then!--Eh, 'bien!'"
The door closed, and Shon McGann was left alone with the dead.