Old Reliable in Africa/Chapter 4
SIX SHOOTERS FOR FOUR
COLONEL SPOTTISWOODE, without another glance at the astounded gambler, wheeled and left the deck, vanishing down the grand stair-case. He strode back to the poker game, which was still running, five-handed. Stepping abruptly into the room, he left open the door behind him.
Mr. J. Blair Eaton, after winning the big pot of six hundred dollars, had left the game.
Except for Joe Sloan, the other men were all losers, playing for even; and Joe was playing to win. Which made a tight game, and no sociability. The players scarcely noticed Colonel Spottiswoode's entrance. Shields flung down a worthless hand. "Well, Mr. Spottiswoode, have you come back to get the balance of our chips?" he remarked pleasantly. "Sit in, and try it again."
"No, thank you, I won't play." The Colonel dropped into a vacant chair, and pushed back his hat. With one hand he drew out his wad of money, and with the other, stopped Reifenstein from dealing. "I beg your pardon, gentlemen, for interrupting you, but this game is crooked——"
"Crooked!" exclaimed Shields. "What do you mean?"
"Just what I say. The game is crooked. Keep your seats; don't get excited."
Both Italians nervously stuck their money into their pockets and hung over the table as the Colonel announced, "I have seven hundred and eighty-five dollars which doesn't belong to me——"
"What!" they ejaculated in one breath—then looked at each other suspiciously.
"It has been one swindle, you say?" Reifenstein spoke quite deliberately. Laying aside his cards, he rose and stood with his left hand resting upon the table. "May I inquire who is the swindler? Who has the money?"
"I have some of the money—here it is."
"But I do not understand." The German spoke with wrinkled brow, and gaze concentrated upon the American.
Joe Sloan kept his mouth shut, but his pocket opened, and his money disappeared. He fidgeted away from the table, and glanced towards the door. Why didn't Cap Wright come back? It took Cap to handle an awkward holler.
"Mr. Shields," asked the Colonel, "would you mind telling me how much you are loser?"
"Certainly not." Shields rapidly ran over his bank notes, and little stack of sovereigns. "I have been doing better these last few hands; I am now one hundred and twenty dollars loser."
The Colonel set down these figures. "And you, Count Castle—Cass——"
"Castelleone." The Italian supplied his name with emphasis. "And you, Count Castelleone, how much are you the loser?"
There was no need for the Italian to recount his money. After each pot he knew exactly how he stood. "I have lost fifty-three sovereigns, sir."
"Say two hundred and sixty-five dollars—I understand better. And you, Signor Torreale?"
"Five hundred and forty-five dollars," that gentleman promptly responded.
The Baron von Reifenstein had been fingering his cash; now he suggested quietly, "I lose two hundred and ninety dollars."
The Colonel footed up these items, "That makes it twelve hundred and fifteen dollars. I am winner seven hundred and eighty-five dollars, which leaves four hundred and thirty dollars to be accounted for. Mr. Shields, may I ask you to go at once and find Mr. Eaton. Say to him that I should be greatly obliged by his return to this room with you."
When Shields had gone the Colonel turned to Joe Sloan and asked peremptorily, "How do you stand?" Joe answered straight, "Sixty dollars winner." The Colonel put that down.
"That leaves three hundred and seventy dollars between Mr. Eaton and the man you call Captain Wright." Joe Sloan squirmed at the way the Colonel said "the man you call Captain Wright."
Shields returned in a few moments, "Mr. Eaton complains that he's tired, and will not come back to-night."
The Colonel rose and said, "I think he will come," then went out of the door. Within five minutes he reëntered, pushing Eaton ahead of him. "Now, Mr. Eaton, I should be pleased to know how you stood in this game?"
"Well," Eaton replied languidly, "I think I won something in the neighborhood of two hundred and eighty dollars."
"Exactly how much?"
"Exactly that; beastly nuisance." Eaton turned to go.
"Wait one minute, Mr. Eaton. Don't hurry off. We desire to settle up this game."
"The game is already settled so far as I'm concerned," Eaton responded.
"But not so far as I am concerned." Spottiswoode added up the figures and showed the results:
"Now, gentlemen, the only way is to call off the game——" Colonel Spottiswoode began shoving the money that he had won into the center of the table. Eaton turned towards the door, which the Colonel quickly closed with his foot, "I beg you, Mr. Eaton, not to hurry. We should like to settle this game properly.
"The game is settled for my part," Eaton repeated doggedly, Torreale and Castelleone had been whispering together, their eyes fixed covetously on the gold. They were sitting directly across the table. Torreale reached out his hand and succeeded in getting hold of the money. "It's a swindle," he ejaculated. "You have my money. I want my five hundred and forty-five dollars."
"I want my two hundred and sixty dollars——" added Castelleone.
"Wait a moment," Shields urged. Reifenstein said nothing.
Spottiswoode glanced into each of their faces as if asking for suggestions. The Italians seized upon what they supposed a moment of weakness and indecision. With all of that cash in sight, they lost control of themselves, rose together and demanded, "You must give us our money; if you don't we will——"
Colonel Spottiswoode swept the money from the table, folded up the bills and poured the jingling sovereigns into his pockets.
"Don't say 'must' to me. I have tried to straighten this game. Now I shall do as I like. You will not let me tell you what was wrong. Now you may protect yourselves the best way you can."
Both Italians drew close to the big German, while Reifenstein suggested, "It seems to me, sir, that the men to whom this money belongs should be consulted."
Colonel Spottiswoode was thoroughly angered and his face began to flush. "I tried to consult them," he said abruptly, "but you are too infernally crazy to get your clutches on a dime."
Castelleone suddenly pointed his finger and said, like a dog barking through a fence, "You're a cheat! You're a cheat!" The Colonel dashed a deck of cards into his face. "You are a swindler," Reifenstein spoke in a lower tone.
"You are a liar," retorted the Colonel.
For the first time Shields rose from his chair, standing calm and self-possessed.
"You shall fight me." Castelleone fumbled in his pocket for a card case and tossed his card on the table in front of the Colonel.
"Of course you shall fight me," added Reifenstein.
"And you shall fight me, also," said Torreale, with the bulwark of two men between himself and danger.
Reifenstein's case held but a single card which was spoiled by a spot of ink. He apologized for its condition as he gave it to the Colonel. "That's all right," remarked the Colonel, "the name is plain enough for me to read."
In the confusion Joe Sloan sneaked through the door and escaped.
"Mr. Shields," Colonel Spottiswoode turned to that gentleman, "please give me your card and make the deck complete."
"No, sir. I have no quarrel with you." Shields shook his head and smiled. Being a hard-headed American, the affair struck him as a bit of opéra bouffe.
"I insist upon it," the Colonel said; "I want your name and address."
"Very well," Shields gave him the card, whereupon Colonel Spottiswoode remarked, "Like yourself, Mr. Shields, I see no sense in fighting over a card game."
"You must fight. You must fight," chorused the Italians.
"Or be forced to disgorge," Reifenstein added with a sneer.
The blood mounted slowly into Colonel Spottiswoode's face, then faded out again, leaving him quite pale. If these men had understood weather signs, they would haveupon a most auspicious moment to leave Beverly Spottiswoode alone.
"Very well," he said coolly, "if there's no way to get out of it, we shall fight. Zack! Oh, Zack!" Zack came tumbling down, glad to leave his job on deck. "Zack, go get those two pistols that Dr. Paulding gave me when I left home."
During Zack's absence no one spoke a word; there was scarcely a change in their positions. Spottiswoode sat drumming on the table with his fingers. Shields leaned against the sideboard; the German and the Italians stuck close together until Zack returned. "Here dey is, Cunnel." Zack put down a heavy box, from which Colonel Spottiswoode laid out a pair of blue barreled six-shooters, with buck-horn handles. They were not lady-like; but they were honest, would never kick-up, and shot truly as a rifle.
"Gentlemen, I have the choice of weapons—here we are. Fifty paces, fire, advance, and fire at will. That is quite simple." He shoved one of the pistols across the table. Nobody touched it.
Colonel Spottiswoode rose, put the weapons back in their box and handed it to Shield. "Mr. Shields, will you kindly take charge of these until we reach Gibralter? That is the nearest port. A gentleman will meet me there to act as my second. Count Castelleone, I believe you are the first; Baron von Reifenstein comes next. Then I shall have the honor of meeting Signore Torreale."
The Italians stared at each other. These terms meant that somebody might get hurt. Castelleone, being the first, began to realize that he stood a chance of having something unpleasant happen to him.
Young Shields walked out of the cabin, some distance behind the Colonel. "Well," he thought; "I can't make out how much of this is bluff. But I'd hate to be in those fellows' shoes, shivering all the way to Gibraltar, and hoping it's a mistake."