The Second Chance by Nellie L. McClung
Chapter XIX. The End of the Game
Oh, Thou who hast lighted the sun, Oh, Thou who hast darkened the tare, Judge Thou The sin of the Stone that was hurled By the Goat from the light of the sun As she sinks in 'the mire of the tarn.
When Pearl got her four lively young charges settled down she had time to look about her. Up and down the line of spectators her eye searched for Libby Anne and Mrs. Cavers, but they were nowhere to be seen, and Pearl became more and more troubled.
"I'd like fine to see that faded old raincoat of hers," she said to herself, "and Lib's little muslin hat"; but every raincoat that Pearl saw was new and fresh, and every muslin hat had a bright and happy little face under it, instead of Libby Anne's pale cheeks and sad, big eyes.
Dr. Clay came over with a bag of popcorn for them, and Pearl told him the cause of her worry.
"They had their dinner all right," she said in a low voice to the doctor, as he leaned over the wheel. "Bill was fine, and do you know, he is real nice when he's sober? I waited on them, and Mrs. Cavers seemed so happy; it pretty near made my heart stop beatin' every time I thought of it, and how nice it would be if he'd keep straight. Libby Anne had two licorice kittens and a package of gum saved up in a bag; she said she wouldn't eat them to-day, for she was havin' a good enough time when she could see her mother enjoyin' herself so well. Lib is only ten years old, but she knows as much as some grown-up people. The last I saw of them they were going up to Mrs. Burrell's to fix up a little before they had the photo taken. I think I'll go and see about them, Doctor; I can't enjoy myself for wonderin' if they're all right.
"I'll go with you," the doctor said, calling Jimmy Watson to come and hold the horse and look after the boys.
Down the almost deserted street the doctor and Pearl went, looking for any member of the Cavers family. Flags hung motionless in the bright sunshine. The trees that formed the arch over the road were beginning to droop in the heat of the afternoon.
The photographer's tent was the first place they went to. A young lady and gentleman were posing for a photo, the young lady all gone to blushes and the young man very gorgeous in tan boots and a red tie.
Pearl did the talking.
"Did you take a photo of Mr. and Mrs. Cavers and Libby Anne?"
"What are they like?" the photographer asked.
"She is a little woman, pale and tried-looking; looks as if she sat up a lot at night," Pearl answered.
"I know who you mean, then," he said. "She has been up here with her little girl looking for some one, but I do not know where she went from here."
Pearl's heart sank. "He's broke his word!" she said angrily, when they were on the street. "He promised me he would not give Bill any liquor until he got his picture taken, anyway." Pearl's eyes were throwing off rings of fire.
"Who promised?" the doctor asked.
"Sandy Braden. I told him all about the photos when we went there this morning with the onions and other stuff, and he seemed real nice about it; but it doesn't look as if he meant it."
"I don't know, Pearl. Sandy Braden is not a bad fellow. He wouldn't go back on his word. I'm sure of that. You go up to Mrs. Burrell's and I'll go down to the hotel and see if, they know anything about Bill."
The bar-room was full. Even the lacrosse game was not a strong enough attraction to draw away all the crowd; the products of Walker and Seagram still held their own.
Bob Steele, the bartender, was telling about Bill Cavers going to have his photo taken.
"They got around Sandy easy," he was saying; "but that's one thing I won't let any one interfere with. As long as I've been selling liquor I've never refused to sell to any man. I refuse no one. Every man has a perfect right to whatever he wants to eat or drink--I claim that for myself, and I hold that no one has a right to interfere with another man's liberty."
The crowd in the bar-room gave maudlin approval.
"And so you just bet Bill Cavers got all he wanted. He came in here soon after dinner, and the first man that asked him to drink got turned down. Think of Bill Cavers refusin' good liquor! But when he heard it bubblin' in the glass his knee just wobbled--that's the beauty of sellin' our goods, it advertises itself, and works nights and Sundays. I says: 'What'll you have, Bill?' and he said--Bill's an honest fellow--he said: 'I've no money, Bob.' But I says: 'That makes no difference, your credit is good here--you've always paid--and so name yer drink, Bill,' and I poured out a glass of Three Swallows; and you bet by the time Bill was ready to quit he would sure look well in a picture. I was takin' a risk of losin' money, too. Bill's honest enough, but there's a strong chance that there'll be judgment against his stuff this fall. But I've always said a man has a right to all the liquor he wants, and I'm prepared to stand by it even if I drop money on it. It may be foolish"--looking around for applause, but his audience were not in the mental condition to discuss fine ethical points--"but I'm prepared to do it."
Dr. Clay, standing on the outer edge of the crowd, heard all this. He made his way to the bar. "Where is Bill Cavers, now?" he asked.
The gleam in the doctor's eyes should have warned the bartender to be discreet in his answers. "Well, I can't just say," he answered with mock politeness, resenting the tone of the doctor's question. "He didn't leave word with me, but I guess he's getting his photo taken."
"Did you set him drunk and then turn him out in this blazing sun?" the doctor asked, in a voice so tense with anger that the audience, befuddled as they were, drew closer to see what it was all about.
"We never keep people longer than is necessary," the bartender said, with an evil smile, "and besides, Bill was due at the photographer's."
Before the doctor knew what he was doing his right arm flew out and landed a smashing blow on the bartender's smirking face, a blow that sent him crashing into the bottles behind him. He recovered in an instant, and the doctor's quick eye caught the flash of a knife in his hand as he came over the bar at him. With a swift blow the doctor knocked the knife from his hand, and, grasping him by the coat collar, he dragged him to the back door, and then, raising him on the toe of his boot, landed him in the middle of the mud-puddle that had been left by the morning's rain.
The bartender was just gathering himself up when Sandy Braden drove up to the stable door with his pacer.
Meanwhile Pearl had continued the search for Mrs. Cavers and Libby Anne. She was on her way to Mrs. Burrell's when she caught sight of something like a parasol down in the trees where the horses were tied. She ran down to the picnic grounds hastily, and there, in a grassy hollow, shaded by a big elm, she found the objects of her search.
Bill Cavers, with purple face and wide open mouth, lay breathing heavily. Libby Anne was fanning him with her muslin hat, and Mrs. Cavers was tenderly bathing his swollen face with water Libby Anne had brought from the river. Her own eyes were red with crying and hopeless with defeat.
"We've just found him, Pearl," she said. "He's been here in the hot sun I don't know how long. I never saw him breathing so queer before."
"I'll get the doctor," said Pearl.
She ran back up the road and found the doctor talking to Sandy Braden, at the stable behind the hotel.
"Come on, Doctor!" Pearl cried breathlessly. "I found them. You come, too"--to, Mr. Braden--"it will take you both to carry him."
Sandy Braden hesitated, but there was something in Pearl's compelling eyes that made him follow her.
They reached the grassy slope. Mrs. Cavers had made a pillow of her coat for his head, and was still bathing his face. The doctor hastily loosened the drunken man's clothing and listened to the beating of his heart. Its irregular pounding was unmistakable, it was making its last great fight.
Dr. Clay took out his hypodermic syringe and made an injection in Bill's arm. Bill stirred uneasily. "I don't--want--it--Bob," he said thickly. "I promised--the--missus. She's--with me--to-day."
Sandy Braden endeavoured to quiet Mrs. Cavers's fears.
"It's the heat, Mrs. Cavers," he said; "but it'll soon wear off--he'll be all right soon, won't he, Doc?"
The doctor made no reply, but listened again to the sick man's heart. It was failing.
Mrs. Cavers, looking up, read the doctor's face.
She fell on the ground beside her husband, calling him every tender name as she rained kisses on his livid cheeks, uttering queer little cries like a wounded animal, but begging him always to live for her sake, and crying out bitterly that she could not give him up.
Sandy Braden, who had often seen men paralyzed with liquor, gently tried to take her away, assuring, her again that he would be all right soon. She noticed then for the first time who it was who had come with the doctor, and shaking off his hand, she sprang up and faced him, with blazing eyes that scorched into his very soul.
Sandy Braden put up his hand as if to ward off her fury.
Bill moved his lips, and she knelt beside him once more, her thin gray hair falling over her shoulders. The sick man gazed into her face, and a look of understanding came into his bloodshot eyes.
"Ellie," he said with great effort, "I--did--not--want--it--at first," and with his eyes still looking into hers, as if mutely pleading with her to understand, the light faded from them ... and the last long, staggering breath went out. Then fell silence ... that never-ending silence ... and quite perceptibly the colour went in patches from his face. Dr. Clay gently touched Mrs. Cavers's arm. "Yes, Doctor, I know ... he's dead." She talked like people do in their sleep.
"I did my best, Will," she said, as she smoothed his thick black hair. "I tried my hardest to save you, and I always thought I would win ... but they've beat me, Will. They were too strong for me ... and I'm sorry!" She bent down and tenderly kissed his forehead, damp now with the dews of death.
There was not a leaf stirring on the trees. Every bird in the valley was still. Only the gentle lapping of the Souris over the fallen tree in the current below them came to their ears.
Sandy Braden's face was as white as his shirt-bosom as he stood looking at Bill's quiet face.
A cheer from the lacrosse grounds came like a voice from another world; the world of life and pleasure and action.
Mrs. Cavers, roused at the sound, stood up and addressed the hotel-keeper.
"Excuse me, Mr. Braden," she said, "I was almost forgetting. Mr. Cavers, I know had not enough with him to pay for ... all this." She motioned toward Bill's dead face. "This ... must have cost a lot." She handed him some silver. "It is all I have with me to-day ... I hope it is enough. I know Mr. Cavers would not like to leave a debt ... like this."
Mechanically Sandy Braden took the money, then dropping it as if it burned him, he turned away and went slowly up the road that he had come, reeling unsteadily. A three-seated democrat, filled with drunken men, was just driving away from his stable. They were a crowd from Howard, who had been drinking heavily at his bar all the afternoon. They drove away,--madly lashing their horses into a gallop.
Sandy Braden hid in a clump of poplars until they got past him. Looking back toward the river he could see Mrs. Cavers kneeling beside her husband, and even at that distance he fancied he could see Bill's dead face looking into hers, and begging her to understand. Just as the democrat passed pants burst into maudlin song:
"Who's the best man in this town? Sandy Braden, Sandy Braden. Who's the best man in this town? Sandy Braden, Sandy Braden."
And then it was that Sandy Braden fell prone upon the ground and buried his face in the cool, green grass, crying: "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"
* * *
When the victorious lacrosse team came down the street, they were followed by a madly cheering throng. They went straight to the hotel, where, by the courtesy of the proprietor, they had always been given rooms in which to dress.
Bob Steele met them at the office door, all smiles and congratulations, in spite of a badly blackened eye.
"Come on in, boys!" he called. "It's my treat. Walk right in."
Most of the boys needed no second invitation. Bud Perkins hesitated. His father was just behind him. "Take a little Schlitz, Buddie. That won't hurt you," he said.
Bud went in with the others. Every one was in the gayest humour. The bartender called in the porter to help him to serve the crowd. The glasses were being filled when a sudden hush fell on the bar-room, for Sandy Braden, with a face as ghastly as the one he had just left on the river-bank, came in the back door.
He raised his hand with a gesture of authority. "Don't drink it, boys!" he said. "It has killed one man to-day. Don't touch it."
Even the bartender turned pale, and there was a moment of intense silence. Just then some one rushed in and shouted the news of Bill Cavers's death. The crowd fell away until Sandy Braden and the bartender were left face to face.
"How much have you in the business here, Bob?" he asked in a perfectly controlled voice.
The bartender told him.
He took a cheque-book from his pocket and hastily made out a cheque.
"Now, go," he said, as he gave it to him. "I will not be needing a man in here any more."
He took the keys from his pocket and locked the back door. Then coming out into the office, where there were a few stragglers lounging in the chairs, he carefully locked the door leading into the bar.
"I'm done, boys," he said shortly. "I've quit the business."