The frank surprise of that look disarmed the other. He swept up the dice-box, and shook it furiously, while his lips stirred. It was as if he murmured an incantation for success. The dice rolled out, winking in the light, spun over, and the owner of the gun stood with both hands braced against the edge of the table, and stared hopelessly down.

A moment before his pockets had sagged with a precious weight, and there had been a significant drag of the belt over his right hip. Now both burdens were gone.

He looked up with a short laugh.

“I'm dry. Who'll stake me to a drink?”

Pierre scooped up a dozen pieces of the gold.


The other drew back. “You're very welcome to it. Here's more, if you'll have it.”

“The coin I've lost to you? Take back a gamblin' debt?”

“Easy there,” said one of the men. “Don't you see the kid's green? Here's a five-spot.”

The loser accepted the coin as carelessly as if he were conferring a favor by taking it, cast another scowl in the direction of Pierre, and went out toward the bar. Pierre, very hot in the face, pocketed his winnings and belted on the gun. It hung low on his thigh, just in easy gripping distance of his hand, and he fingered the butt with a smile.

“The kid's feelin' most a man,” remarked a sarcastic voice. “Say, kid, why don't you try your luck with Mac Hurley? He's almost through with poor old Cochrane.”

Following the direction of the pointing finger, Pierre saw one of those mute tragedies of the gambling hall. Cochrane, an old cattleman whose carefully trimmed, pointed white beard and slender, tapering fingers set him apart from the others in the room, was rather far gone with liquor. He was still stiffly erect in his chair, and would be till the very moment consciousness left him, but his eyes were misty, and when he spoke his lips moved slowly, as though numbed by cold.

Beside him stood a tall, black bottle with a little whisky glass to flank it. He made his bets with apparent carelessness, but with a real and deepening gloom. Once or twice he glanced up sharply as though reckoning his losses, though it seemed to Pierre le Rouge almost like an appeal.

And what appeal could affect Mac Hurley? There was no color in the man, either body or soul. No emotion could show in those pale, small eyes or change the color of the flabby cheeks. If his hands had been cut off, he might have seemed some sodden victim of a drug habit, but the hands saved him.

They seemed to belong to another body—beautiful, swift, and strong, and grafted by some foul mischance onto this rotten hulk. Very white they were, and long, with a nervous uneasiness in every motion, continually hovering around the cards with little touches which were almost caresses.

“It ain't a game,” said the man who had first pointed out the group to Pierre, “it's just a slaughter. Cochrane's too far gone to see straight. Look at that deal now! A kid could see that he's crooking the cards!”

It was blackjack, and Hurley, as usual, was dealing. He dealt with one hand, flipping the cards out with a snap of the wrist, the fingers working rapidly over the pack. Now and then he glanced over to the crowd, as if to enjoy their admiration of his skill. He was showing it now, not so much by the deftness of his cheating as by the openness with which he exposed his tricks.

As the stranger remarked to Pierre, a child could have discovered that the cards were being dealt at will from the top and the bottom of the pack, but the gambler was enjoying himself by keeping his game just open enough to be apparent to every other man in the room—just covert enough to deceive the drink-misted brain of Cochrane. And the pale, swinish eyes twinkled as they stared across the dull sorrow of the old man. There was an ominous sound from Pierre: “Do you let a thing like that happen in this country?” he asked fiercely.

The other turned to him with a sneer.

Letit happen? Who'll stop him? Say, partner, you ain't meanin' to say that you don't know who Hurley is?”

“I don't need telling. I can see.”

“What you can't see means a lot more than what you can. I've been in the same room when Hurley worked his gun once. It wasn't any killin', but it was the prettiest bit of cheatin' I ever seen. But even if Hurley wasn't enough, what about Carl Diaz?”

He glared his triumph at Pierre, but the latter was too puzzled to quail, and too stirred by the pale, gloomy face of Cochrane to turn toward the other.

“What of Diaz?”

“Look here, boy. You're a kid, all right, but you ain't that young. D'you mean to say that you ain't heard of Carlos Diaz?”

It came back to Pierre then, for even into the snowbound seclusion of the north country the shadow of the name of Diaz had gone. He could not remember just what they were, but he seemed to recollect grim tales through which that name figured.

The other went on: “But if you ain't ever seen him before, look him over now. They's some says he's faster on the draw than Bob McGurk, but, of course, that's stretchin' him out a size too much. What's the matter, kid; you've met McGurk?”

“No, but I'm going to.”

“Might even be carried to him, eh—feet first?”

Pierre turned and laid a hand on the shoulder of the other.

“Don't talk like that,” he said gently. “I don't like it.”

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