The U.P. Trail by Zane Grey
The afternoon and night of pay-day in Benton, during which Allie Lee was barred in her room, were hideous, sleepless, dreadful hours. Her ears were filled with Benton's roar--whispers and wails and laughs; thick shouts of drunken men; the cold voices of gamblers; clink of gold and clink of glasses; a ceaseless tramp and shuffle of boots; pistol-shots muffled and far away, pistol-shots ringing and near at hand; the angry hum of brawling men; and strangest of all this dreadful roar were the high-pitched, piercing voices of women, in songs without soul, in laughter without mirth, in cries wild and terrible and mournful.
Allie lay in the dark, praying for the dawn, shuddering at this strife of sound, fearful that any moment the violence of Benton would burst through the flimsy walls of her room to destroy her. But the roar swelled and subsided and died away; the darkness gave place to gray light and then dawn; the sun arose, the wind began to blow. Now Benton slept, the sleep of sheer exhaustion.
Her mirror told Allie the horror of that night. Her face was white; her eyes were haunted by terrors, with great dark shadows beneath. She could not hold her hands steady.
Late that afternoon there were stirrings and sounds in Durade's hall. The place had awakened. Presently Durade himself brought her food and drink. He looked haggard, worn, yet radiant. He did not seem to note Allie's condition or appearance.
"That deaf and dumb fool who waited on you is gone," said Durade. "Yesterday was pay-day in Benton ... Many are gone ... Allie, I won fifty thousand dollars in gold!" "Isn't that enough?" she asked.
He did not hear her, but went on talking of his winnings, of gold, of games, and of big stakes coming. His lips trembled, his eyes glittered, his fingers clawed at the air.
For Allie it was a relief when Durade left her. He had almost reached the apex of his fortunes and the inevitable end. Allie realized that if she were ever to lift a hand to save herself she must do so at once.
This was a fixed and desperate thought in her mind when Durade called her to her work.
Allie always entered that private den of Durade's with eyes cast down. She had been scorched too often by the glances of men. As she went in this time she felt the presence of gamblers, but they were quieter than those to whom she had become accustomed. Durade ordered her to fetch drinks, then he went on talking, rapidly, in excitement, elated, boastful, almost gay.
Allie did not look up. As she carried the tray to the large table she heard a man whisper low: "By jove! ... Hough, that's the girl!"
Then she heard a slight, quick intake of breath, and the exclamation, "Good God!"
Both voices thrilled Allie. The former seemed the low, well- modulated, refined, and drawling speech of an Englishman; the latter was keen, quick, soft, and full of genuine emotion. Allie returned to her chair by the sideboard before she ventured to look up. Durade was playing cards with four men, three of whom were black-garbed, after the manner of professional gamblers. The other player wore gray, and a hat of unusual shape, with wide, loose, cloth band. He removed his hat as he caught Allie's glance, and she associated the act with the fact of her presence. She thought that this must be the man whose voice had proclaimed him English. He had a fair face, lined and shadowed and dissipated, with tired blue eyes and a blond mustache that failed to altogether hide a well-shaped mouth. It was the kindest and saddest face Allie had ever seen there. She read its story. In her extremity she had acquired a melancholy wisdom in the judgment of the faces of the men drifting through Durade's hall. What Allie had heard in this Englishman's voice she saw in his features. He did not look at her again. He played cards wearily, carelessly, indifferently, with his mind plainly on something else.
"Ancliffe, how many cards?" called one of the black-garbed men.
The Englishman threw down his cards. "None," he said.
The game was interrupted by a commotion in the adjoining room, which was the public gambling-hall of Durade's establishment.
"Another fight!" exclaimed Durade, impatiently. "And only Mull and Fresno showed up to-day."
Harsh voices and heavy stamps were followed by a pistol-shot. Durade hurriedly arose.
"Gentlemen, excuse me," he said, and went out. One of the gamblers also left the room, and another crossed it to peep through the door.
This left the Englishman sitting at the table with the last gambler, whose back was turned toward Allie. She saw the Englishman lean forward to speak. Then the gambler arose and, turning, came directly toward her.
"My name is Place Hough," he said, speaking rapidly and low. "I am a gambler--but gentleman. I've heard strange rumors about you, and now I see for myself. Are you Allie Lee?"
Allie's heart seemed to come to her throat. She shook all over, and she gazed with piercing intensity at the man. When he had arisen from the table he had appeared the same black-garbed, hard-faced gambler as any of the others. But looked at closely, he was different. Underneath the cold, expressionless face worked something mobile and soft. His eyes were of crystal clearness and remarkable for a penetrating power. They shone with wonder, curiosity, sympathy.
Allie instinctively trusted the voice and then consciously trusted the man. "Oh, sir, I am--distressed--ill from fright!" she faltered. "If I only dared--"
"You dare tell me," he interrupted, swiftly. "Be quick. Are you here willingly with this man?"
"Oh, sir--you do not think--I--"
"I knew you were good, innocent--the moment I laid eyes on you, ... Who are you?"
"Allie Lee. My father is Allison Lee."
"Whew!" The gambler whistled softly and, turning, glanced at the door, then beckoned Ancliffe. The Englishman arose. In the adjoining rooms sounds of strife were abating.
"Ancliffe, this girl is Allie Lee--daughter of Allison Lee--a big man of the U.P.R. ... Something terribly wrong here." And he whispered to Ancliffe.
Allie became aware of the Englishman's scrutiny, doubtful, sad, yet kind and curious. Indeed these men had heard of her.
"Hough, you must be mistaken," he said.
Allie felt a sudden rush of emotion. Her opportunity had come. "I am Allie Lee. My mother ran off with Durade--to California. He used her as a lure to draw men to his gambling-hells--as he uses me now ... Two years ago we escaped--started east with a caravan. The Indians attacked us. I crawled under a rock--escaped the massacre. I--"
"Never mind all your story," interrupted Hough. "We haven't time for that. I believe you ... You are held a close prisoner?"
"Oh yes-locked and barred. I never get out. I have been threatened so--that until now I feared to tell anyone. But Durade--he is going mad. I--I can bear it no longer."
"Miss Lee, you shall not bear it," declared Ancliffe. "We'll take you out of here."
"How?" queried Hough, shortly.
Ancliffe was for walking right out with her, but Hough shook his head.
"Listen," began Allie, hurriedly. "He would kill me the instant I tried to escape. He loved my mother. He does not believe she is dead. He lives only to be revenged upon her ... He has a desperate gang here. Fresno, Mull, Stitt, Black, Grist, Dayss, a greaser called Mex, and others--all the worst of bad men. You cannot get me out of here alive except by some trick."
"How about bringing the troops?"
"Durade would kill me the first thing."
"Could we steal you out at night?"
"I don't see how. They are awake all night. I am barred in, watched ... Better work on Durade's weakness. Gold! He's mad for gold. When the fever's on him he might gamble me away--or sell me for gold."
Hough's cold eyes shone like fire in ice. He opened his lips to speak--then quickly motioned Ancliffe back to the table. They had just seated themselves when the two gamblers returned, followed by Durade. He was rubbing his hands in satisfaction.
"What was the fuss about?" queried Hough, tipping the ashes off his cigar.
"Some drunks after money they had lost."
"And got thrown out for their pains?" inquired Ancliffe.
"Yes. Mull and Fresno are out there now."
The game was taken up again. Allie sensed a different note in it. The gambler Hough now faced her in his position at the table; and behind every card he played there seemed to be intense purpose and tremendous force. Ancliffe soon left the game. But he appeared fascinated where formerly he had been indifferent. Soon it developed that Hough, by his spirit and skill, was driving his opponents, inciting their passion for play, working upon their feelings. Durade seemed the weakest gambler, though he had the best luck. Good luck balanced his excited play. The two other gamblers pitted themselves against Hough.
The shadows of evening had begun to darken the room when Durade called for lights. A slim, sloe-eyed, pantherish-moving Mexican came in to execute the order. He wore a belt with a knife in it and looked like a brigand. When he had lighted the lamps he approached Durade and spoke in Spanish. Durade replied in the same tongue. Then the Mexican went out. One of the gamblers lost and arose from the table.
"Gentlemen, may I go out for more money and return to the game?" he asked.
"Certainly," replied Hough.
Durade assented with bad grace.
The game went on and grew in interest. Probably the Mexican had reported the fact of its possibilities, or perhaps Durade had sent out word of some nature. For one by one his villainous lieutenants came in, stepping softly, gleaming-eyed.
"Durade, have you stopped play outside?" queried Hough.
"Supper-time. Not much going on," replied Mull.
Hough watched this speaker with keen coolness.
"I did not address you," he said.
Durade, catching the drift, came out of his absorption of play long enough to say that with a big game at hand he did not want to risk any interruption. He spoke frankly, but he did not look sincere.
Presently the second gambler announced that he would consider it a favor to be allowed to go out and borrow money. Then he left hurriedly. Durade and Hough played alone; and the luck seesawed from one to the other until both the other players returned. They did not come alone. Two more black-frocked, black-sombreroed, cold-faced individuals accompanied them.
"May we sit in?" they asked.
"With pleasure," replied Hough.
Durade frowned and the glow left his face. Though the luck was still with him, it was evident that he did not favor added numbers. Yet the man's sensitiveness to any change immediately manifested itself when he won the first large stake. His radiance returned and also his vanity.
Hough interrupted the game by striking the table with his hand. The sound seemed hard, metallic, yet his hand was empty. Any attentive observer would have become aware that Hough had a gun up his sleeve. But Durade did not catch the significance.
"I object to that man leaning over the table," said Hough, and he pointed to the lounging Fresno.
"Thet so?" leered the ugly giant. He looked bold and vicious.
"Do not address me," ordered Hough.
Fresno backed away silently from the cold-faced gambler.
"Don't mind him, Hough," protested Durade. "They're all excited. Big stakes always work them up."
"Send them out so we can play without annoyance."
"No," replied Durade, sharply. "They can watch the game."
"Ancliffe," called Hough, just as sharply, "fetch some of my friends to watch this game. Don't forget Neale and Larry King."
Allie, who was watching and listening with strained faculties, nearly fainted at the sudden mention of her lover Neale and her friend Larry. She went blind for a second; the room turned round and round; she thought her heart would burst with joy.
The Englishman hurried out.
Durade looked up with a passionate and wolfish swiftness.
"What do you mean?"
"I want some of my friends to watch the game," replied Hough.
"But I don't allow that red-headed cowboy gun-fighter to come into my place."
"That is regrettable, for you will make an exception this time ... Durade, you don't stand well in Benton. I do."
The Spaniard's eyes glittered. "You insinuate--Senor--"
"Yes," interposed Hough, and his cold, deliberate voice dominated the explosive Durade. "Do you remember a gambler named Jones? ... He was shot in this room ... If I should happen to be shot here--in the same way--you and your gang would not last long in Benton!"
Durade's face grew livid with rage and fear. And in that moment the mask was off. The nature of the Spaniard stood forth. Another manifest fact was that Durade had not before matched himself against a gambler of Hough's caliber.
"Well, are you only a bluff or do we go on with the game?" inquired Hough.
Durade choked back his rage and signified with a motion of his hand that play should be resumed.
Allie fastened her eyes upon the door. She was in a tumult of emotion. Despite that, her mind revolved wild and intermittent ideas as to the risk of letting Neale see and recognize her there. Yet her joy was so overpowering that she believed if he entered the door she would rush to him and trust in God to save her. In God and Reddy King! She remembered the cowboy, and a thrill linked all her emotions. Durade and his gang would face a terrible reckoning if Reddy King ever entered to see her there.
Moments passed. The gambling went on. The players spoke low; the spectators were silent. Discordant sounds from outside disturbed the quiet.
Allie stared fixedly at the door. Presently it opened. Ancliffe entered with several men, all quick in movement, alert of eye. But Neale and Larry King were not among them. Allie's heart sank like lead. The revulsion of feeling, the disappointment, was sickening. She saw Ancliffe shake his head, and divined in the action that he had not been able to find the friends Hough wanted particularly. Then Allie felt the incredible strangeness of being glad that Neale was not to find her there--that Larry was not to throw his guns on Durade's crowd. There might be a chance of her being liberated without violence.
This reaction left her weak and dazed for a while. Still she heard the low voices of the gamesters, the slap of cards and clink of gold. Her wits had gone from her ever since the mention of Neale. She floundered in a whirl of thoughts and fears until gradually she recovered self-possession. Whatever instinct or love or spirit had guided her had done so rightly. She had felt Neale's presence in Benton. It was stingingly sweet to realize that. Her heart swelled with pangs of fullest measure. Surely he again believed her dead. Soon he would come upon her--face to face--somewhere. He would learn she was alive--unharmed--true to him with all her soul. Indians, renegade Spaniards, Benton with its terrors, a host of evil men, not these nor anything else could keep her from Neale forever. She had believed that always, but never as now, in the clearness of this beautiful spiritual insight. Behind her belief was something unfathomable and great. Not the movement of progress as typified by those men who had dreamed of the railroad, nor the spirit of the unconquerable engineers as typified by Neale, nor the wildness of wild youth like Larry King, nor the heroic labor and simplicity and sacrifice of common men, nor the inconceivable passion of these gamblers for gold, nor the mystery hidden in the mad laughter of these fallen women, strange and sad on the night wind--not any of these things nor all of them, wonderful and incalculable as they were, loomed so great as the spirit that upheld Allie Lee.
When she raised her head again the gambling scene had changed. Only three men played--Hough, Durade, and another. And even as Allie looked this third player threw his cards into the deck and with silent gesture rose from the table to take a position with the other black-garbed gamblers standing behind Hough. The blackness of their attire contrasted strongly with the whiteness of their faces. They had lost gold, which fact meant little to them. But there was something big and significant in their presence behind Hough. Gamblers leagued against a crooked gambling-hell! Durade had lost a fortune, yet not all his fortune. He seemed a haggard, flaming-eyed wreck of the once debonair Durade. His hair was wet and dishevelled, his collar was open, his hand wavered. Blood trickled down from his lower lip. He saw nothing except the gold, the cards, and that steel-nerved, gray-faced, implacable Hough. Behind him lined up his gang, nervous, strained, frenzied, with eyes on the gold--hate- filled, murderous eyes.
Allie slipped into her room, leaving the door ajar so she could peep out, and there she paced the floor, waiting, listening for what she dared not watch. The gambler Hough would win all that Durade had, and then stake it against her. That was what Allie believed. She had no doubts of Hough's winning her, too, but she doubted if he could take her away. There would be a fight. And if there was a fight, then that must be the end of Durade. For this gambler, Hough, with his unshakable nerve, his piercing eyes, his wonderful white hands, swift as light--he would at the slightest provocation kill Durade.
Suddenly Allie was arrested by a loud, long suspiration--a heave of heavy breaths in the room of the gamblers. A chair scraped, noisily breaking the silence, which instantly clamped down again.
"Durade, you're done!" It was the cold, ringing voice of Hough.
Allie ran to the door, peeped through the crack. Durade sat there like a wild beast bound. Hough stood erect over a huge golden pile on the table. The others seemed stiff in their tracks.
"There's a fortune here," went on Hough, indicating the gold. "All I had--all our gentlemen opponents had--all you had ... I have won it all!"
Durade's eyes seemed glued to that dully glistening heap. He could not even look up at the coldly passionate Hough.
"All! All!" echoed Durade.
Then Hough, like a striking hawk, bent toward the Spaniard. "Durade, have you anything more to bet?"
Durade was the only man who moved. Slowly he arose, shaking in every limb, and not till he became erect did he unrivet his eyes from that yellow heap on the table.
"Senor--do you--mock me?" he gasped, hoarsely.
"I offer you my winnings--all--for the girl you have here!"
"You are crazy!" ejaculated the Spaniard.
"Certainly ... But hurry! Do you accept?"
"Senor, I would not sell that girl for all the gold of the Indies," replied Durade, instantly. No vacillation--no indecision in him here. Hough's offer held no lure for this Spaniard who had committed many crimes for gold.
"But you'll gamble her!" asserted Hough, and now indeed his words were mockery. In one splendid gesture he swept his winnings into the middle of the table, and the gold gave out a ringing clash. As a gambler he read the soul of his opponent.
Durade's jaw worked convulsively, as if he had difficulty in holding it firm enough for utterance. What he would not sell for any price he would risk on a gambler's strange faith in chance.
"All my winnings against this girl," went on Hough, relentlessly. Scorn and a taunting dare and an insidious persuasion mingled with the passion of his offer. He knew how to inflame. Durade, as a gambler, was a weakling in the grasp of a giant. "Come! ... Do you accept?"
Durade's body leaped, as if an irresistible current had been shot into it.
"Si, Senor!" he cried, with power and joy in his voice. In that moment, no doubt the greatest in his life of gambling, he unconsciously went back to the use of his mother tongue.
Actuated by one impulse, Hough and Durade sat down at the table. The others crowded around. Fresno lurched close, with a wicked gleam in his eyes.
"I was onto Hough," he said to his nearest ally. "It's the girl he's after!"
The gamblers cut the cards for who should deal. Hough won. For him victory seemed to exist in the suspense of the very silence, in the charged atmosphere of the room. He began to shuffle the cards. His hands were white, shapely, perfect, like a woman's, and yet not beautiful. The spirit, the power, the ruthless nature in them had no relation to beauty. How marvelously swift they moved--too swift for the gaze to follow. And the incomparable dexterity with which he manipulated the cards gave forth the suggestion as to what he could do with them. In those gleaming hands, in the flying cards, in the whole intenseness of the gambler there showed the power and the intent to win. The crooked Durade had met his match, a match who toyed with him. If there were an element of chance in this short game it was that of the uncertainty of life, not of Durade's chance to win. He had no chance. No eye, no hand could have justly detected Hough in the slightest deviation from honesty. Yet all about the man in that tense moment proved what a gambler really was.
Durade called in a whisper for two cards, and he received them with trembling fingers. Terrible hope and exultation transformed his face.
"I'll take three," said Hough, calmly. With deliberate care and slowness, in strange contrast to his former motions, he took, one by one, three cards from the deck. Then he looked at them, and just as calmly dropped all his cards, face up, on the table, disclosing what he knew to be an unbeatable hand.
Durade stared. A thick cry escaped him.
Swiftly Hough rose. "Durade, I have won." Then he turned to his friends. "Gentlemen, please pocket this gold."
With that he stepped to Allie's door. He saw her peering out. "Come, Miss Lee," he said.
Allie stepped out, trembling and unsteady on her feet.
The Spaniard now seemed compelled to look up from the gold Hough's comrades were pocketing. When he saw Allie another slow and remarkable transformation came over him. At first he started slightly at Hough's hand on Allie's arm. The radiance of his strange passion for gold, that had put a leaping glory into his haggard face, faded into a dark and mounting surprise. A blaze burned away the shadows. His eyes betrayed an unsupportable sense of loss and the spirit that repudiated it. For a single instant he was magnificent--and perhaps in that instant race and blood spoke; then, with bewildering suddenness, surely with the suddenness of a memory, he became a black, dripping-faced victim of unutterable and unquenchable hate.
Allie recoiled in the divination that Durade saw her mother in her. No memory, no love, no gold, no wager, could ever thwart the Spaniard.
"Senor, you tricked me!" he whispered.
"I beat you at your own game," said Hough. "My friends and your men heard the stake--saw the game."
"Senor, I would not--bet--that girl--for any stake!"
"You have lost her ... Let me warn you, Durade. Be careful, once in your life! ... You're welcome to what gold is left there."
Durade shoved back the gold so fiercely that he upset the table, and its contents jangled on the floor. The spill and the crash of a scattered fortune released Durade's men from their motionless suspense. They began to pick up the coins.
The Spaniard was halted by the gleam of a derringer in Hough's hand. Hissing like a snake, Durade stood still, momentarily held back by a fear that quickly gave place to insane rage.
"Shoot him!" said Ancliffe, with a coolness which proved his foresight.
One of Hough's friends swung a cane, smashing a lamp; then with like swift action he broke the other lamp, instantly plunging the room into darkness. This appeared to be the signal for Durade's men to break loose into a mad scramble for the gold. Durade began to scream and rush forward.
Allie felt herself drawn backward, along the wall, through her door. It was not so dark in there. She distinguished Hough and Ancliffe. The latter closed the door. Hough whispered to Allie, though the din in the other room made such caution needless.
"Can we get out this way?" he asked.
"There's a window," replied Allie.
"Ancliffe, open it and get her out. I'll stop Durade if he comes in. Hurry!"
While the Englishman opened the window Hough stood in front of the door with both arms extended. Allie could just see his tall form in the pale gloom. Pandemonium had begun in the other room, with Durade screaming for lights, and his men yelling and fighting for the gold, and Hough's friends struggling to get out. But they did not follow Hough into this room and evidently must have thought he had escaped through the other door.
"Come," said Ancliffe, touching Allie.
He helped her get out, and followed laboriously. Then he softly called to Hough. The gambler let himself down swiftly and noiselessly.
"Now what?" he muttered.
They appeared to be in a narrow alley between a house of boards and a house of canvas. Excited voices sounded inside this canvas structure and evidently alarmed Hough, for with a motion he enjoined silence and led Allie through the dark passage out into a gloomy square surrounded by low, dark structures. Ancliffe followed close behind.
The night was dark, with no stars showing. A cool wind blew in Allie's face, refreshing her after her long confinement. Hough began groping forward. This square had a rough board floor and a skeleton framework. It had been a house of canvas. Some of the partitions were still standing.
"Look for a door--any place to get out," whispered Hough to Ancliffe, as they came to the opposite side of this square space. Hough, with Allie close at his heels, went to the right while Ancliffe went to the left. Hough went so far, then muttering, drew Allie. back again to the point whence they had started. Ancliffe was there.
"No place! All boarded up tight," he whispered.
"Same on this side. We'll have to--"
"Listen!" exclaimed Ancliffe, holding up his hand.
There appeared to be noise all around, but mostly on the other side of the looming canvas house, behind which was the alleyway that led to Durade's hall. Gleams of light flashed through the gloom. Durade's high, quick voice mingled with hoarser and deeper tones. Some one in the canvas house was talking to Durade, who apparently must have been in Allie's room and at her window.
"See hyar, Greaser, we ain't harborin' any of your outfit, an' we'll plug the fust gent we see," called a surly voice.
Durade's staccato tones succeeded it. "Did you see them?"
"We heerd them gettin' out the winder."
Durade's voice rose high in Spanish curses. Then he called:
"Fresno--Mull--take men--go around the street. They can't get away ... You, Mex, get down in there with the gang."
Lower voices answered, questioning, eager, but indistinct.
"Kill him--bring her back--and you can have the gold," shouted Durade.
Following that came the heavy tramp of boots and the low roar of angry men.
Hough leaned toward Ancliffe. "They've got us penned in."
"Yes. But it's pretty dark here. And they'll be slow. You watch while I tear a hole through somewhere," replied Ancliffe.
He was perfectly cool and might have been speaking of some casual incident. He extinguished his cigarette, dropped it, then put on his gloves.
Hough loomed tall and dark. His face showed pale in the shadow. He stood with his elbows stiff against his sides, a derringer in each hand.
"I wish I had heavier guns," he said.
Allie's thrill of emotion spent itself in a shudder of realization. Calmly and chivalrously these two strangers had taken a stand against her enemies and with a few cool words and actions had accepted whatever might betide.
"I must tell you--oh, I must!" she whispered, with her hand on Hough's arm. "I heard you send for Neale and Larry King ... It made my heart stop! ... Neale--Warren Neale is my sweetheart. See, I wear his ring! ... Reddy King is my dearest friend--my brother! ..."
Hough bent low to peer into Allie's face--to see her ring. Then he turned to Ancliffe.
"How things work out! ... I always suspected what was wrong with Neale. Now I know--after seeing his girl."
"By Jove!" exclaimed Ancliffe.
"Well, I'll block Durade's gang. Will you save the girl?"
"Assuredly," answered the imperturbable Englishman. "Where shall I take her?"
"Where can she be safe? The troop camp? No, too far, ... Aha! take her to Stanton. Tell Stanton the truth. Stanton will hide her. Then find Neale and King."
Hough turned to Allie. "I'm glad you spoke--about Neale," he said, and there was a curious softness in his voice. "I owe him a great deal. I like him ... Ancliffe will get you out of here--and safely back to Neale."
Allie knew somehow--from something in his tone, his presence--that he would never leave this gloomy inclosure. She heard Ancliffe ripping a board off the wall or fence, and that sound seemed alarmingly loud. The voices no longer were heard behind the canvas house. The wind whipped through the bare framework. Somewhere at a distance were music and revelry. Benton's night roar had begun. Over all seemed to hang a menacing and ponderous darkness.
Suddenly a light appeared moving slowly from the most obscure corner of the space, perhaps fifty paces distant.
Hough drew Allie closer to Ancliffe. "Get behind me," he whispered.
A sharp ripping and splitting of wood told of Ancliffe's progress; also it located the fugitives for Durade's gang. The light vanished; quick voices rasped out; then stealthy feet padded over the boards.
Allie saw or imagined she saw gliding forms black against the pale gloom. She was so close to Ancliffe that he touched her as he worked. Turning, she beheld a ray of light through an aperture he had made.
Suddenly the gloom split to a reddish flare. It revealed dark forms. A gun cracked. Allie heard the heavy thud of a bullet against the wall. Then Hough shot. His derringer made a small, spiteful report. It was followed by a cry--a groan. Other guns cracked. Bullets pattered on the wood. Allie heard the spat of lead striking Hough. It had a sickening sound. He moved as if from a blow. A volley followed and Allie saw the bright flashes. All about her bullets were whistling and thudding. She knew with a keen horror every time Hough was struck. Hoarse yells and strangling cries mixed with the diminishing shots.
Then Ancliffe grasped her and pushed her through a vent he had made. Allie crawled backward and she could see Hough still standing in front. It seemed that he swayed. Then as she rose further her view was cut off. Although she had not looked around, she was aware of a dimly lighted storeroom. Outside the shots had ceased. She heard something heavy fall suddenly; then a patter of quick, light footsteps.
Ancliffe essayed to get through the opening feet first. It was a tight squeeze, or else some one held him back. There came a crashing of wood; Ancliffe's body whirled in the aperture and he struggled violently. Allie heard hissing, sibilant Spanish utterances. She stood petrified, certain that Durade had attacked Ancliffe. Suddenly the Englishman crashed through, drawing a supple, twisting, slender man with him. He held this man by the throat with one hand and by the wrist with the other. Allie recognized Durade's Mexican ally. He gripped a knife and the blade was bloody.
Once inside, where Ancliffe could move, he handled the Mexican with deliberate and remorseless ease. Allie saw him twist and break the arm which held the knife. Not that sight, but the eyes of the Mexican made Allie close her own. When she opened them, at a touch, Ancliffe stood beside her and the Mexican lay quivering. Ancliffe held the bloody knife; he hid it under his coat.
"Come," he said. His voice seemed thin.
"But Hough! We must--"
Ancliffe's strange gesture froze Allie's lips. She followed him-- clung close to him. There were voices near--and persons. All seemed to fall back before the Englishman. He strode on. Indeed, his movements appeared unnatural. They went down a low stairway, out into the dark. Lights were there to the right, and hurrying forms. Ancliffe ran with her in the other direction. Only dim, pale lamps shone through tents. Down this side street it was quiet and dark. Allie stumbled, too. He turned a corner and proceeded rapidly toward bright lights. The houses loomed big. Down that way many people passed to and fro. Allie's senses recognized a new sound--a confusion of music, dancing, hilarity, all distinct, near at hand. She could scarcely keep up with Ancliffe. He did not speak nor look to right or left.
At the corner of a large house--a long structure which sent out gleams of light--Ancliffe opened a door and pulled Allie into a hallway, dark near at hand, but brilliant at the other end. He drew her along this passage, striding slower now and unsteadily. He turned into another hall lighted by lamps. Music and gaiety seemed to sweep stunningly into Allie's face. But Allie saw only one person there--a Negress. As Ancliffe halted, the Negress rose from her seat. She was frightened.
"Call Stanton--quick!" he panted. He thrust gold at her. "Tell no one else!"
Then he opened a door, pushed Allie into a handsomely furnished parlor, and, closing the door, staggered to a couch, upon which he fell. His face wore a singular look, remarkable for its whiteness. All its weary, careless indifference had vanished.
As he lay back his hands loosed their hold of his coat and fell away all bloody. The knife slid to the floor. A crimson froth flecked his lips.
"Oh--Heaven! You were--stabbed!" gasped Allie, sinking to her knees.
"If Stanton doesn't come in time--tell her what happened--ask her to fetch Neale to you," he said. He spoke with extreme difficulty and a fluttering told of blood in his throat. Allie could not speak. She could not pray. But her sight and her perception were abnormally keen. Ancliffe's strange, dear gaze rested upon her, and it seemed to Allie that he smiled, not with lips or face, but in spirit. How strange and bautiful.
Then Allie heard a rush of silk at the door. It opened--closed. A woman of fair face, bare of arm and neck, glittering with diamonds, swept into the parlor. She had great, dark-blue eyes full of shadows and they flashed from Ancliffe to Allie and back again.
"What's happened? You're pale as death! ... Ancliffe! Your hands-- your breast! ... My God!"
She bent over him. "Stanton, I've been--cut up--and Hough is--dead."
"Oh, this horrible Benton!" cried the woman.
"Don't faint ... Hear me. You remember we were curious about a girl- -Durade had in his place. This is she--Allie Lee. She is innocent. Durade held her for revenge. He had loved--then hated her mother ... Hough won all Durade's gold--and then the girl ... But we had to fight ... Stanton, this Allie Lee is Neale's sweetheart ... He believes her dead ... You hide her--bring Neale to her."
Quickly she replied, "I promise you, Ancliffe, I promise ... How strange--what you tell! ... But not strange for Benton! ... Ancliffe! Speak to me!--Oh, he is going!"
With her first words a subtle change passed over Ancliffe. It was the release of his will. His whole body sank. Under the intense whiteness of his face a cold gray shade began to creep. His last conscious instant spent itself in the strange gaze Allie had felt before, and now she had a vague perception that in some way it expressed a blessing and a deliverance. The instant the beautiful light turned inward, as if to illumine the darkness of his soul, she divined what he had once been, his ruin, his secret and eternal remorse--and the chance to die that had made him great.
So, forgetful of the other beside her, Allie Lee watched Ancliffe, sustained by a nameless spirit, feeling with tragic pity her duty as a woman--to pray for him, to stay beside him, that he might not be alone when he died.
And while she watched, with the fading of that singular radiance, there returned to his face a slow, careless weariness.
"He's gone!" murmured Stanton, rising. A dignity had come to her. "Dead! And we knew nothing of him--not his real name--nor his place ... But even Benton could not keep him from dying like an English gentleman."
She took Allie by the hand, led her out of the parlor and across the hall into a bedroom. Then she faced Allie, wonderingly, with all a woman's sympathy, and something else that Allie sensed as a sweet and poignant wistfulness.
"Are you--Neale's sweetheart?" she asked, very low.
"Oh--please--find him--for me!" sobbed Allie.
The tenderness in this woman's voice and look and touch was what Allie needed more than anything, and it made her a trembling child. How strangely, hesitatingly, with closing eyes, this woman reached to fold her in gentle arms. What a tumult Allie felt throbbing in the full breast where she laid her head.
"Allie Lee! ... and he thinks you dead," she murmured, brokenly. "I will bring him--to you."
When she released Allie years and shadows no longer showed in her face. Her eyes were tear-wet and darkening; her lips were tremulous. At that moment there was something beautiful and terrible about her.
But Allie could not understand.
"You stay here," she said. "Be very quiet ... I will bring Neale."
Opening the door, she paused on the threshold, to glance down the hall first, and then back to Allie. Her smile was beautiful. She closed the door and locked it. Allie heard the soft swish of silk dying away.