As Deep As the Sea
AS DEEP AS THE SEA.
By GILBERT PARKER.
“WHAT can I do, Dan? I’m broke, too. My last dollar went to pay my last debt to-day. I’ve nothing but what I stand in. I’ve got prospects, but I can’t discount prospects at the banks.” The speaker laughed bitterly. “I’ve reaped and I’m sowing, the same as you, Dan.”
The other made a nervous motion of protest. “No; not the same as me, Flood—not the same. It’s sink or swim with me, and if you can’t help me—oh, I’d take my gruel without whining, if it wasn’t for Di! It’s that knocks me over. It’s the shame to her—and to you, Flood! Oh, what a cursed ass and fool—and thief, I’ve been!”
Flood Rawley dropped the flaming match with which he was about to light a cheroot, and stood staring, his dark-blue eyes growing wider, his worn, handsome face becoming drawn, as swift conviction mastered him. He felt that the black words which had fallen from his friend’s lips—from the lips of Diana Welldon’s brother—were the truth. He looked at the plump face, the full amiable eyes, now misty with fright, at the characterless hand nervously feeling the golden moustache, at the well-fed, inert body; and he knew that whatever the trouble or the peril, Dan Welldon could not surmount it alone.
“What is it?” Rawley asked rather sharply, his fingers running through his slightly grizzled, black hair, but not excitedly—he wanted no scenes; and if this thing could hurt Di Welldon, and action was necessary, he must remain cool; for what she was to him, Heaven and he only knew; what she had done for him, perhaps neither understood fully as yet. “What is it—quick?” he added, and his words were like a sharp grip upon Dan Welldon’s shoulder. “Racing—cards?”
Dan nodded. “Yes, over at Askatoon; five hundred on Jibway, the favourite—he fell at the last fence; five hundred at poker with Nick Fison; and a thousand in land speculation at Edmonton, on margin. Everything went wrong.”
“And so you put your hand in the railway company’s money-chest?”
“It seemed such a dead certainty—Jibway; and the Edmonton corner-blocks, too. I’d had luck with Nick before; but—well, there it is, Flood.”
“They know—the railway people—Shaughnessy knows?”
“Yes, the president knows. He’s at Calgary now. They telegraphed him, and he wired to give me till midnight to pay up, or go to jail. They’re watching me now. I can’t stir. There’s no escape, and there’s no one I can ask for help but you. That’s why I’ve come, Flood.”
“Lord, what a fool! Couldn’t you see what the end would be, if your plunging didn’t come off? You—you oughtn’t to bet, or speculate, or play cards, you’re not clever enough. You’ve got blind rashness, and so you think you’re bold. And Di—oh, you idiot! And on a salary of a thousand dollars a year!”
“I suppose Di would help me—but I couldn’t explain.” The weak face puckered, a lifeless kind of tear gathered in the ox-like eyes.
“Yes, she probably would help you—she’d probably give you all she’s saved to go to Europe with and study, saved from her pictures sold at twenty per cent. of their value; and she’d mortgage the little income she’s got to keep her brother out of jail. Of course she would, and of course you ought to be ashamed of yourself for thinking of it.” Rawley lighted his cigar and smoked fiercely.
“It would be better for her than my going to jail,” stubbornly replied the other. “But I don’t want to tell her, or to ask her for money. That’s why I’ve come to you. You needn’t be so hard, Flood; you’ve not been a saint—and Di knows it.”
Rawley took the cheroot from his mouth, threw back his head, and laughed mirthlessly, ironically. Then suddenly he stopped and looked round the room till his eyes rested on a portrait-drawing which hung on the wall opposite the window, through which the sun poured. It was the face of a girl with beautiful bronzed hair, and full, fine, beautifully modelled face, with brown eyes deep and brooding, which seemed to have time and space behind them—not before them. The lips were delicate and full, and had the look suggesting a smile which the inward thought has stayed. It was like one of the Titian women—like a Titian that hangs on the wall of the Gallery at Munich. The head and neck, the whole personality, had an air of distinction and destiny. The drawing had been done by a wandering duchess who had seen the girl sketching in the foothills, when on a visit to that “Wild West” which has such power to refine and inspire minds not superior to Nature. Its replica was carried to a castle in Scotland. It had been the gift of Diana Welldon on a certain day not long ago, when Flood Rawley had made a pledge to her, which, so far, he had kept—which was as vital to him and to his future as two thousand dollars were vital to Dan Welldon now.
“You’ve not been a saint, and Di knows it,” repeated the weak brother of a girl whose fame belonged to the West; whose name was a signal for cheerful looks; whose buoyant humour and impartial friendliness gained her innumerable friends; and whose talent, understood by few, gave her a certain protection, lifting her a little away from the outwardly crude and provincial life around her.
When Rawley spoke, it was with quiet deliberation, and even gentleness. “I haven’t been a saint, and she knows it, as you say, Dan; but the law is on my side as yet, and it isn’t on yours. There’s the difference.”
“You used to gamble yourself; you were pretty tough, and you oughtn’t to walk up my back with hobnailed boots.”
“Yes, I gambled, Dan, and I drank, and I raised a dust out here. My record was writ pretty big. But I didn’t lay my hands on the ark of the social covenant, whose inscription is, Thou shalt not steal; and that’s why I’m poor but proud, and no one’s watching for me round the corner, same as you.”
Welldon’s half-defiant petulance disappeared. “What’s done can’t be undone.” Then, with a sudden burst of anguish: “Oh, get me out of this somehow!”
“How? I’ve got no money. By speaking to your sister?”
The other was silent.
“Shall I do it?” Rawley peered anxiously into the other’s face, and he knew that there was no real security against the shameful trouble being laid bare to her.
“I want a chance to start straight again.”
The voice was fluttered, almost whining; it carried no conviction; but the words had in them a reminder of words that Rawley himself had said to Diana Welldon but a few months ago, and a new spirit stirred in him. He stepped forwards and, gripping Dan’s shoulder with a hand of steel, said fiercely—
“No, Dan. I’d rather take you to her in your coffin. She’s never known you, never seen what most of us have seen, that all you have—or nearly all—is your lovely looks, and what they call a kind heart. There’s only you two in your family, and she’s got to live with you—awhile, anyhow. She couldn’t stand this business. She mustn’t stand it. She’s had enough to put up with in me; but at the worst she could pass me by on the other side, and there would be an end. It would have been said that Flood Rawley had got his deserts. It’s different with you.” His voice changed, softened. “Dan, I made a pledge to her that I’d never play cards again for money while I lived, and it wasn’t a thing to take on without some cogitation. But I cogitated, and took it on, and started life over again—me! Began practising law again—barrister, solicitor, notary public—at forty. And at last I’ve got my chance in a big case against the Canadian Pacific—It’ll make me or break me, Dan.... There, I wanted you to see where I stand with Di; and now I want you to promise me that you’ll not leave these rooms till I see you again. I’ll get you clear; I’ll save you, Dan.”
“Flood! Oh, my God, Flood!” The voice was broken.
“You’ve got to stay here, and you’re to remember not to get the funk, even if I don’t come before midnight. I’ll be here then, if I’m alive. If you don’t keep your word—but, there, you will.” Both hands gripped the graceful shoulders of the miscreant like a vice.
“So help me, Flood,” was the frightened, whispered reply, “I’ll make it up to you somehow, some day. I’ll pay you back.”
Rawley caught up his cap from the table. “Steady—steady. Don’t go at a fence till you’re sure of your seat, Dan,” he said. Then with a long look at the portrait on the wall, and an exclamation which the other did not hear, he left the room with a set, determined face.
“Who told you? What brought you, Flood?” the girl asked, her chin in her long, white hands, her head turned from the easel to him, a book in her lap, the sun breaking through the leaves upon her hat, touching the Titian hair with splendour.
“Fate brought me, and didn’t tell me,” he answered, with a whimsical quirk of the mouth, and his trouble lurking behind the sea-deep eyes.
“Wouldn’t you have come if you knew I was here?” she urged archly.
“Not for two thousand dollars,” he answered, the look of trouble deepening in his eyes, but his lips were smiling—he had a quaint sense of humour, and at his last gasp would have noted the ridiculous thing. And surely it was a droll malignity of Fate to bring him here to her whom, in this moment of all moments in his life, he wished far away. Fate meant to try him to the uttermost. This hurdle of trial was high indeed.
“Two thousand dollars—nothing less?” she inquired gaily. “You are too specific for a real lover.”
“Fate fixed the amount,” he added drily.
“Fate—you talk so much of Fate!” she replied gravely, and her eyes looked into the distance. “You make me think of it too, and I don’t want to do so. I don’t want to feel helpless, to be the child of Accident and Destiny.”
“Oh, you get the same thing in the ‘fore-ordination’ that old Minister M’Gregor preaches every Sunday. ‘Be elect or be damned,’ he says to us all. Names aren’t important—but, anyhow, it was Fate that led me here.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t me?” she asked softly. “Are you sure I wasn’t calling you, and you had to come?”
“Well, it was en route, anyhow; and you are always calling, if I must tell you,” he laughed. Suddenly he became grave. “I hear you call me in the night sometimes, and I start up and say ‘Yes, Di!’ out of my sleep. It’s a queer hallucination. I’ve got you on the brain, certainly.”
“It seems to vex you—certainly,” she said, opening the book that lay in her lap, “and your eyes trouble me to-day. They’ve got a look that used to be in them, Flood, before—before you promised; and another look I don’t understand and don’t like. I suppose it’s always so. The real business of life is trying to understand each other.”
“You have wonderful thoughts for one that’s had so little chance,” he said. “That’s because you’re a genius, I suppose. Teaching can’t give that sort of thing—the insight.”
“What is the matter, Flood?” she asked suddenly again, her breast heaving, her delicate, rounded fingers interlacing. “I heard a man say once that you were ‘as deep as the sea.’ He did not mean it kindly, but I do. You are in trouble, and I want to share it if I can. Where were you going when you came across me here?”
“To see old Busby, the quack doctor up there,” he answered, nodding towards a shrubbed and wooded hillock behind them.
“Old Busby!” she rejoined in amazement. “What do you want with him—not medicine of that old quack, that dreadful man?”
“He cures people sometimes—a good many out here owe him more than they’ll ever pay him.”
“Is he as rich an old miser as they say?”
“He doesn’t look rich, does he?” was the enigmatical answer.
“Does any one know his real history? He didn’t come from nowhere. He must have had friends once. Someone must once have cared for him—he seems such a monster now.”
“Yet he cures people sometimes,” he rejoined abstractedly. “Probably there’s some good underneath. I’m going to try and see.”
“What is it—what is your business with him? Won’t you tell me—is it so secret?”
“I want him to help me in a case I’ve got in hand. A client of mine is in trouble—you mustn’t ask about it—and he can help, I think—I think so.” He got to his feet. “I must be going, Di,” he added. Suddenly a flush swept over his face, and he reached out and took both her hands. “Oh, you are a million times too good for me!” he said. “But if all goes well, I’ll do my best to make you forget it.”
“Wait—wait one moment,” she answered. “Before you go, I want you to hear what I’ve been reading over and over to myself just now. It is from a book I got from Quebec, called ‘When Time Shall Pass’. It is a story of two like you and me. The man is writing to the woman, and it has things that you have said to me—in a different way.”
“No, I don’t talk like a book, but I know a star in a dark night when I see it,” he answered, with a catch in his throat.
“Hush, beloved!” she said, catching his hand in hers, as she read, while all around them the sounds of summer—the distant clack of a reaper, the crack of a whip, the locusts droning, the whir of a young partridge, the squeak of a chipmunk—toned to the harmony of the moment and her voice:
Night and the sombre silence, oh, my love, and one star shining! First, warm, velvety sleep, and then this quick, quiet waking to your voice which seems to call me. Is it—is it you that calls? Do you sometimes, even in your dreams, speak to me? Far beneath unconsciousness is there the summons of your spirit to me?... I like to think so. I like to think that this thing which has come to us is deeper, greater than we are. Sometimes day and night there flash before my eyes—my mind’s eyes—pictures of you and me in places unfamiliar, landscapes never before seen, activities uncomprehended and unknown, bright, alluring glimpses of some second being, some possible, maybe never-to-be-realised future, alas! Yet these swift-moving shutters of the soul, or imagination, or reality—who shall say which?—give me a joy never before felt in life. If I am not a better man for this love of mine for you, I am more than I was, and shall be more than I am. Much of my life in the past was mean and small, so much that I have said and done has been unworthy—my love for you is too sharp a light for my gross imperfections of the past! Come what will, be what must, I stake my life, my heart, my soul on you—that beautiful, beloved face; those deep eyes in which my being is drowned; those lucid, perfect hands that have bound me to the mast of your destiny. I cannot go back, I must go forwards: now I must keep on loving you or be shipwrecked. I did not know that this was in me, this tide of love, this current of devotion. Destiny plays me beyond my ken, beyond my dreams. O Cithaeron! Turn from me now—or never, O my love! Loose me from the mast, and let the storm and wave wash me out into the sea of your forgetfulness now—or never!... But keep me, keep me, if your love is great enough, if I bring you any light or joy; for I am yours to my uttermost note of life.
“He knew—he knew!” Rawley said, catching her wrists in his hands and drawing her to him. “If I could write, that’s what I should have said to you, beautiful and beloved. How mean and small and ugly my life was till you made me over. I was a bad lot.”
“So much hung on one little promise,” she said, and drew closer to him. “You were never bad,” she added; then, with an arm sweeping the universe, “Oh, isn’t it all good, and isn’t it all worth living?”
His face lost its glow. Over in the town her brother faced a ruined life, and the girl beside him, a dark humiliation and a shame which would poison her life hereafter, unless—his look turned to the little house where the quack doctor lived. He loosed her hands.
“Now for Caliban,” he said.
“I shall be Ariel and follow you—in my heart,” she said. “Be sure and make him tell you the story of his life,” she added with a laugh, as his lips swept the hair behind her ears.
As he moved swiftly away, watching his long strides, she said proudly: “As deep as the sea.”
After a moment she added: “And he was once a gambler, until, until——” she glanced at the open book, then with sweet mockery looked at her hands—“until ‘those lucid, perfect hands bound me to the mast of your destiny.’ O vain Diana! But they are rather beautiful,” she added softly, “and I am rather happy.” There was something like a gay little chuckle in her throat. “O vain Diana!” she repeated.
Rawley entered the door of the but on the hill without ceremony. There was no need for courtesy, and the work he had come to do could be easier done without it.
Old Busby was crouched over a table, his mouth lapping milk from a full bowl on the table. He scarcely raised his head when Rawley entered—through the open door he had seen his visitor coming. He sipped on, his straggling beard dripping. There was silence for a time.
“What do you want?” the quack doctor growled at last.
“Finish your swill, and then we can talk,” said Rawley carelessly. He took a chair near the door, lighted a cheroot and smoked, watching the old man, as he tipped the great bowl towards his face, as though it were some wild animal feeding. The clothes were patched and worn, the coat-front was spattered with stains of all kinds, the hair and beard were unkempt and long, giving him what would have been the look of a mangy lion, but that the face had the expression of some beast less honourable. The eyes, however, were malignantly intelligent, the hands, ill-cared for, were long, well-shaped and capable, but of a hateful yellow colour like the face. And through all was a sense of power, dark and almost mediæval. Secret, evilly wise and inhuman, he looked a being apart, whom men might seek for help in dark purposes.
“What do you want—medicine?” he muttered at last, wiping his beard and mouth with the palm of his hand, and the palm on his knees.
Rawley looked at the ominous-looking bottles on the shelves above the old man’s head; at the forceps, knives, and other surgical instruments on the walls—they at least were bright and clean, almost uncannily so—and, taking the cheroot slowly from his mouth, he said:
“Shin-plasters are what I want; a friend of mine has caught his leg in a trap.”
The old man gave an evil chuckle at the joke, for a “shin-plaster” was a “bill” worth a quarter of a dollar.
“I’ve got some,” he growled in reply, “but they cost twenty-five cents each. You can have them for your friend at the price.”
“I want eight thousand of them from you—he’s hurt pretty bad,” was the dogged, dry answer.
The shaggy eyebrows of the quack drew together, and the eyes peered out sharply through half-closed lids. “There’s plenty of wanting and not much getting in this world,” he rejoined, with a leer of contempt, and spat on the floor, while yet the furtive watchfulness of the eyes indicated a mind ill at ease.
Smoke came in placid puffs from the cheroot—Rawley was smoking very hard, but with a judicial meditation, as it seemed.
“Yes, but if you want a thing so bad that, to get it, you’ll face the devil or the Beast of Revelation—the Beast of Revelation, you understand—it’s likely to come to you.”
“You call me a beast?” The reddish-brown face grew black like that of a Bedouin in his rage.
“I said the Beast of Revelations—don’t you know the Scriptures?”
“I know that a fool is to be answered according to his folly,” was the hoarse reply, and the great head wagged to and fro in its smarting rage.
“Well, I’m doing my best; and perhaps when the folly is all out, we’ll come to the revelations of the Beast.”
There was a silence in which the gross impostor shifted heavily in his seat, while a hand twitched across the mouth, and then caught at the breast of the threadbare black coat abstractedly.
Rawley leaned forward, one elbow on a knee, the cheroot in his fingers. He spoke almost confidentially, as to some ignorant and misguided savage—as he had talked to Indian chiefs in his time, when searching for the truth regarding some crime:
“I’ve had a lot of revelations in my time. A lawyer and a doctor always do. And though there are folks who say I’m no lawyer, as there are those who say with greater truth that you’re no doctor, speaking technically, we’ve both had ‘revelations.’ You’ve seen a lot that’s seamy, and so have I. You’re pretty seamy yourself. In fact, you’re as bad a man as ever saved lives—and lost them—thrown them away, as it were. You’ve had a long tether, and you’ve swung on it—swung wide. But you’ve had a lot of luck that you haven’t swung high, too!”
He paused and flicked away the ash from his cheroot, while the figure before him swayed animal-like from side to side, muttering to himself.
“You’ve got brains, a great lot of brains of a kind—however you came by them,” Rawley continued; “and you’ve kept a lot of people in the West from passing in their cheques before their time. You’ve rooked ’em, chiselled ’em out of a lot of cash, too. There was old Lamson—fifteen hundred for the goitre on his neck; and Mrs. Gilligan for the cancer—two thousand, wasn’t it? Tincture of Lebanon leaves you called the medicine, didn’t you? You must have made fifty thousand or so in the last ten years.”
“What I’ve made I’ll keep,” was the guttural answer, and the talon-like fingers clawed the table.
“You’ve made people pay high for curing them, saving them sometimes; but you haven’t paid me high for saving you in the courts; and there’s one case that you haven’t paid me for at all. That was when the patient died—and you didn’t.”
The face of the old man became mottled with a sudden fear, but he jerked it forwards once or twice with an effort at self-control. Presently he steadied to the ordeal of suspense, while he kept saying to himself, “What does he know—what—which?”
“Malpractice resulting in death—that was poor Jimmy Tearle; and something else resulting in death—that was the switchman’s wife. And the law is hard in the West where a woman’s in the case—the law’s quick and hard. Yes, you’ve swung wide on your tether; look out that you don’t swing high, old man.”
“You can prove nothing; it’s bluff!” came the reply in a tone of malice and of fear.
“You forget. I was your lawyer in Jimmy Tearle’s case, and a letter’s been found written by the switchman’s wife to her husband. It reached me the night he was killed by the avalanche. It was handed over to me by the post-office, as the lawyer acting for the relatives. I’ve read it. I’ve got it. It gives you away.”
“I wasn’t alone!” Fear had now disappeared, and the old man was fighting.
“No, you weren’t alone; and if the switchman and the switchman’s wife weren’t dead and out of it all; and if the other man that didn’t matter any more than you wasn’t alive and hadn’t a family that does matter, I wouldn’t be asking you peaceably for two thousand dollars as my fee for getting you off two cases that might have sent you to prison for twenty years, or, maybe, hung you to the nearest tree.”
The heavy body pulled itself together, the hands clinched. “Blackmail-you think I’ll stand it?”
“Yes, I think you will. I want two thousand dollars to help a friend in a hole, and I mean to have it—if you think your neck’s worth it.”
Teeth, wonderfully white, showed through the shaggy beard. “If I had to go to prison—or swing, as you say, do you think I’d go with my mouth shut? I’d not pay up alone. The West would crack—holy Heaven, I know enough to make it sick. Go on and see! I’ve got the West in my hand.” He opened and shut his fingers with a grimace of cruelty which shook Rawley in spite of himself.
Rawley had trusted to the inspiration of the moment; he had had no clearly defined plan; he had believed that he could frighten the old man, and by force of will bend him to his purposes. It had all been more difficult than he had expected. He kept cool, imperturbable, and determined, however. He knew that what the old quack said was true—the West might shake with scandal concerning a few who, no doubt, in remorse and secret fear, had more than paid the penalty of their offences. But he thought of Di Welldon and of her criminal brother, and every nerve, every faculty was screwed to its utmost limit of endurance and capacity.
Suddenly the old man gave a new turn to the event. He got up and, rummaging in an old box, drew out a dice-box. Rattling the dice, he threw them out on the table before him, a strange, excited look crossing his face.
“Play for it,” he said in a harsh, croaking voice. “Play for the two thousand. Win it if you can. You want it bad. I want to keep it bad. It’s nice to have; it makes a man feel warm—money does. I’d sleep in ten-dollar bills, I’d have my clothes made of them, if I could; I’d have my house papered with them; I’d eat ’em. Oh, I know—I know about you—and her—Diana Welldon! You’ve sworn off gambling, and you’ve kept your pledge for near a year. Well, it’s twenty years since I gambled—twenty years. I gambled with these then.” He shook the dice in the box. “I gambled everything I had away—more than two thousand dollars, more than two thousand dollars.” He laughed a raw, mirthless laugh. “Well, you’re the greatest gambler in the West. So was I-in the East. It pulverised me at last, when I’d nothing left—and drink, drink, drink. I gave up both one night and came out West. I started doctoring here. I’ve got money—money, plenty of money—medicine, mines, land got it for me; I’ve been lucky. Now you—you come to bluff me—me! You don’t know old Busby.” He spat on the floor. “I’m not to be bluffed—I know too much. Before they could lynch me I’d talk. But to play you, the greatest gambler in the West, for two thousand dollars—yes, I’d like the sting of it again—twos, fours, double-sixes—the gentleman’s game!” He rattled the dice and threw them with a flourish out on the table, his evil face lighting up. “Come! You can’t have something for nothing,” he growled.
As he spoke, a change came over Rawley’s face. It lost its cool imperturbability, it grew paler, the veins on the fine forehead stood out, a new, flaring light came into the eyes. The old gambler’s spirit was alive. But even as it rose, sweeping him into that area of fiery abstraction where every nerve is strung to a fine tension, and the surrounding world disappears, he saw the face of Diana Welldon, he remembered her words to him not an hour before, and the issue of the conflict, other considerations apart, was without doubt. But there was her brother and his certain fate, if the two thousand dollars were not paid in by midnight. He was desperate. It was in reality for Diana’s sake. He approached the table, and his old calm returned.
“I have no money to play with,” he said quietly.
With a gasp of satisfaction, the old man fumbled in the inside of his coat and drew out layers of ten, fifty, and hundred-dollar bills—it was lined with them. He passed a pile over to Rawley—two thousand dollars. He placed a similar pile before himself.
As Rawley laid his hand on the bills, the thought rushed through his mind, “You have it—keep it!” but he put it away from him. With a gentleman he might have done it, with this man before him, it was impossible. He must take his chances; and it was the only chance in which he had hope now, unless he appealed for humanity’s sake, for the girl’s sake, and told the real truth. It might avail. Well, that would be the last resort.
“For small stakes?” said the grimy quack in a gloating voice.
Rawley nodded and then added, “We stop at eleven o’clock, unless I’ve lost—or won all before that.”
“And stake what’s left on the last throw?”
There was silence for a moment, in which Rawley seemed to grow older, and a set look came to his mouth—a broken pledge, no matter what the cause, brings heavy penalties to the honest mind. He shut his eyes for an instant, and, when he opened them, he saw that his fellow-gambler was watching him with an enigmatical and furtive smile. Did this Caliban have some understanding of what was at stake in his heart and soul?
“Play!” Rawley said sharply, and was himself again.
For hour after hour there was scarce a sound, save the rattle of the dice and an occasional exclamation from the old man as he threw a double-six. As dusk fell, the door had been shut, and a lighted lantern was hung over their heads.
Fortune had fluctuated. Once the old man’s pile had diminished to two notes, then the luck had changed and his pile grew larger; then fell again; but, as the hands of the clock on the wall above the blue medicine bottles reached a quarter to eleven, it increased steadily throw after throw.
Now the player’s fever was in Rawley’s eyes. His face was deadly pale, but his hand threw steadily, calmly, almost negligently, as it might seem. All at once, at eight minutes to eleven, the luck turned in his favour, and his pile mounted again. Time after time he dropped double-sixes. It was almost uncanny. He seemed to see the dice in the box, and his hand threw them out with the precision of a machine. Long afterwards he had this vivid illusion that he could see the dice in the box. As the clock was about to strike eleven he had before him three thousand eight hundred dollars. It was his throw.
“Two hundred,” he said in a whisper, and threw. He won.
With a gasp of relief, he got to his feet, the money in his hand. He stepped backward from the table, then staggered, and a faintness passed over him. He had sat so long without moving that his legs bent under him. There was a pail of water with a dipper in it on a bench. He caught up a dipper full of water, drank it empty, and let it fall in the pail again with a clatter.
“Dan!” he said abstractedly, “Dan! you’re all safe now.”
Then he seemed to wake, as from a dream, and looked at the man at the table. Busby was leaning on it with both hands, and staring at Rawley like some animal jaded and beaten from pursuit. Rawley walked back to the table and laid down two thousand dollars.
“I only wanted two thousand,” he said, and put the other two thousand in his pocket.
The evil eyes gloated, the long fingers clutched the pile, and swept it into a great inside pocket. Then the shaggy head bent forwards.
“You said it was for Dan,” he said—“Dan Welldon?”
Rawley hesitated. “What is that to you?” he replied at last.
With a sudden impulse the old impostor lurched round, opened a box, drew out a roll, and threw it on the table.
“It’s got to be known sometime,” he said, “and you’ll be my lawyer when I’m put into the ground—you’re clever. They call me a quack. Malpractice—bah! There’s my diploma—James Clifton Welldon. Right enough, isn’t it?”
Rawley was petrified. He knew the forgotten story of James Clifton Welldon, the specialist, turned gambler, who had almost ruined his own brother—the father of Dan and Diana—at cards and dice, and had then ruined himself and disappeared. Here, where his brother had died, he had come years ago, and practised medicine as a quack.
“Oh, there’s plenty of proof, if it’s wanted!” he said. “I’ve got it here.” He tapped the box behind him. “Why did I do it? Because it’s my way. And you’re going to marry my niece, and’ll have it all some day. But not till I’ve finished with it—not unless you win it from me at dice or cards.... But no”—something human came into the old, degenerate face—“no more gambling for the man that’s to marry Diana. There’s a wonder and a beauty!” He chuckled to himself. “She’ll be rich when I’ve done with it. You’re a lucky man—aye, you’re lucky.”
Rawley was about to tell the old man what the two thousand dollars was for, but a fresh wave of repugnance passed over him, and, hastily drinking another dipperful of water, he opened the door. He looked back. The old man was crouching forward, lapping milk from the great bowl, his beard dripping. In disgust he swung round again. The fresh, clear air caught his face.
“Thank Heaven!” he said, with a gasp of relief, and stepped out into the night, closing the door behind him.
One morning, a year later, the West came to know the true story of old Busby, the quack doctor, who was found dead in his bed with his great-coat on, and a blanket over him, both of which were lined with bank-bills of all denominations.
But Diana Welldon remains ignorant still of the one deceit her husband practised against her. On the whole they were quits, as Dan said, and Dan had reason to know. Dan mattered, but Diana mattered more; and so the world thinks. For a girl from the West her vogue is remarkable.