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"Her head will be--and a mass of it, in a day, I reckon! Why, man,
you put enough plaster on it to clothe and paper the dome of the
Capitol! You drew her scalp together so that she couldn't shut her
eyes without climbing up the bed-post! You mowed her hair off so
that she'll have to wear a wig for the next two years--and handed
it to her in a beau-ti-ful sealed package! They talk of suing me
and killing you out of hand."

"She was bleeding a great deal and looked faint," said the junior
partner; "I thought I ought to stop that."

"And you did--by thunder! Though it might have been better
business for the shop if I'd found her a crumbling ruin here, than
lathed and plastered in this fashion, over there! However," he
added, with a laugh, seeing an angry light in his junior partner's
eye, "SHE don't seem to mind it--the cursing all comes from THEM.
SHE rather likes your style and praises it--that's what gets me!
Did you talk to her much," he added, looking critically at his
partner.

"I only told her to sit still or she'd bleed to death," said Kane
curtly.

"Humph!--she jabbered something about your being 'strong' and
knowing just how to handle her. Well, it can't be helped now. I
think I came in time for the worst of it and have drawn their fire.
Don't do it again. The next time a woman with a cut head and long
hair tackles you, fill up her scalp with lint and tannin, and pack
her off to some of the big shops and make THEM pick it out." And
with a good-humored nod he started off to finish his interrupted
visits.

With a vague sense of remorse, and yet a consciousness of some
injustice done him, Mr. Kane resumed his occupation with filters
and funnels, and mortars and triturations. He was so gloomily
preoccupied that he did not, as usual, glance out of the window, or
he would have observed the mining stranger of the previous night
before it. It was not until the man's bowed shoulders blocked the
light of the doorway that he looked up and recognized him. Kane
was in no mood to welcome his appearance. His presence, too,
actively recalled the last night's adventure of which he was a
witness--albeit a sympathizing one. Kane shrank from the illusions
which he felt he would be sure to make. And with his present ill
luck, he was by no means sure that his ministrations even to HIM
had been any more successful than they had been to the Frenchwoman.
But a glance at his good-humored face and kindling eyes removed
that suspicion. Nevertheless, he felt somewhat embarrassed and
impatient, and perhaps could not entirely conceal it. He forgot
that the rudest natures are sometimes the most delicately sensitive
to slights, and the stranger had noticed his manner and began
apologetically.

"I allowed I'd just drop in anyway to tell ye that these thar pills
you giv' me did me a heap o' good so far--though mebbe it's only
fair to give the others a show too, which I'm reckoning to do." He
paused, and then in a submissive confidence went on: "But first I
wanted to hev you excuse me for havin' asked all them questions
about that high-toned lady last night, when it warn't none of my
business. I am a darned fool."

Mr. Kane instantly saw that it was no use to keep up his attitude
of secrecy, or impose upon the ignorant, simple man, and said
hurriedly: "Oh no. The lady is very well known. She is the
proprietress of a restaurant down the street--a house open to
everybody. Her name is Madame le Blanc; you may have heard of her
before?"

To his surprise the man exhibited no diminution of interest nor
change of sentiment at this intelligence. "Then," he said slowly,
"I reckon I might get to see her again. Ye see, Mr. Kane, I rather
took a fancy to her general style and gait--arter seein' her in
that fix last night. It was rather like them play pictures on the
stage. Ye don't think she'd make any fuss to seein' a rough old
'forty-niner' like me?"

"Hardly," said Kane, "but there might be some objection from her
gentlemen friends," he added, with a smile,--"Jack Lane, a gambler,
who keeps a faro bank in her rooms, and Jimmy O'Ryan, a prize-
fighter, who is one of her 'chuckers out.'"

His further relation of Madame le Blanc's entourage apparently gave
the miner no concern. He looked at Kane, nodded, and repeated
slowly and appreciatively: "Yes, keeps a gamblin' and faro bank and
a prize-fighter--I reckon that might be about her gait and style
too. And you say she lives"--

He stopped, for at this moment a man entered the shop quickly, shut
the door behind him, and turned the key in the lock. It was done
so quickly that Kane instinctively felt that the man had been
loitering in the vicinity and had approached from the side street.
A single glance at the intruder's face and figure showed him that
it was the bully of whom he had just spoken. He had seen that
square, brutal face once before, confronting the police in a riot,
and had not forgotten it. But today, with the flush of liquor on
it, it had an impatient awkwardness and confused embarrassment that
he could not account for. He did not comprehend that the genuine
bully is seldom deliberate of attack, and is obliged--in common
with many of the combative lower animals--to lash himself into a
previous fury of provocation. This probably saved him, as perhaps
some instinctive feeling that he was in no immediate danger kept
him cool. He remained standing quietly behind the counter. Allen
glanced around carelessly, looking at the shelves.

The silence of the two men apparently increased the ruffian's rage
and embarrassment. Suddenly he leaped into the air with a whoop
and clumsily executed a negro double shuffle on the floor, which
jarred the glasses--yet was otherwise so singularly ineffective and
void of purpose that he stopped in the midst of it and had to
content himself with glaring at Kane.

"Well," said Kane quietly, "what does all this mean? What do you
want here?"

"What does it mean?" repeated the bully, finding his voice in a
high falsetto, designed to imitate Kane's. "It means I'm going to
play merry h-ll with this shop! It means I'm goin' to clean it out
and the blank hair-cuttin' blank that keeps it. What do I want
here? Well--what I want I intend to help myself to, and all h-ll
can't stop me! And" (working himself to the striking point) "who
the blank are you to ask me?" He sprang towards the counter, but
at the same moment Allen seemed to slip almost imperceptibly and
noiselessly between them, and Kane found himself confronted only by
the miner's broad back.

"Hol' yer hosses, stranger," said Allen slowly, as the ruffian
suddenly collided with his impassive figure. "I'm a sick man
comin' in yer for medicine. I've got somethin' wrong with my
heart, and goin's on like this yer kinder sets it to thumpin'."

"Blank you and your blank heart!" screamed the bully, turning in a
fury of amazement and contempt at this impotent interruption.
"Who"--but his voice stopped. Allen's powerful right arm had
passed over his head and shoulders like a steel hoop, and pinioned
his elbows against his sides. Held rigidly upright, he attempted
to kick, but Allen's right leg here advanced, and firmly held his
lower limbs against the counter that shook to his struggles and
blasphemous outcries. Allen turned quietly to Kane, and, with a
gesture of his unemployed arm, said confidentially:

"Would ye mind passing me down that ar Romantic Spirits of Ammonyer
ye gave me last night?"

Kane caught the idea, and handed him the bottle.

"Thar," said Allen, taking out the stopper and holding the pungent
spirit against the bully's dilated nostrils and vociferous mouth,
"thar, smell that, and taste it, it will do ye good; it was
powerful kammin' to ME last night."

The ruffian gasped, coughed, choked, but his blaspheming voice died
away in a suffocating hiccough.

"Thar," continued Allen, as his now subdued captive relaxed his
struggling, "ye 'r' better, and so am I. It's quieter here now,
and ye ain't affectin' my heart so bad. A little fresh air will
make us both all right." He turned again to Kane in his former
subdued confidential manner.




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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