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"Would ye mind openin' that door?"

Kane flew to the door, unlocked it, and held it wide open. The
bully again began to struggle, but a second inhalation of the
hartshorn quelled him, and enabled his captor to drag him to the
door. As they emerged upon the sidewalk, the bully, with a final
desperate struggle, freed his arm and grasped his pistol at his
hip-pocket, but at the same moment Allen deliberately caught his
hand, and with a powerful side throw cast him on the pavement,
retaining the weapon in his own hand. "I've one of my own," he
said to the prostrate man, "but I reckon I'll keep this yer too,
until you're better."

The crowd that had collected quickly, recognizing the notorious and
discomfited bully, were not of a class to offer him any sympathy,
and he slunk away followed by their jeers. Allen returned quietly
to the shop. Kane was profuse in his thanks, and yet oppressed
with his simple friend's fatuous admiration for a woman who could
keep such ruffians in her employ. "You know who that man was, I
suppose?" he said.

"I reckon it was that 'er prize-fighter belongin' to that high-
toned lady," returned Allen simply. "But he don't know anything
about RASTLIN', b'gosh; only that I was afraid o' bringin' on that
heart trouble, I mout hev hurt him bad."

"They think"--hesitated Kane, "that--I--was rough in my treatment
of that woman and maliciously cut off her hair. This attack was
revenge--or"--he hesitated still more, as he remembered Dr.
Sparlow's indication of the woman's feeling--"or that bully's idea
of revenge."

"I see," nodded Allen, opening his small sympathetic eyes on Kane
with an exasperating air of secrecy--"just jealousy."

Kane reddened in sheer hopelessness of explanation. "No; it was
earning his wages, as he thought."

"Never ye mind, pard," said Allen confidentially. "I'll set 'em
both right. Ye see, this sorter gives me a show to call at that
thar restaurant and give HIM back his six-shooter, and set her on
the right trail for you. Why, Lordy! I was here when you was
fixin' her--I'm testimony o' the way you did it--and she'll
remember me. I'll sorter waltz round thar this afternoon. But I
reckon I won't be keepin' YOU from your work any longer. And look
yar!--I say, pard!--this is seein' life in 'Frisco--ain't it?
Gosh! I've had more high times in this very shop in two days, than
I've had in two years of St. Jo. So long, Mr. Kane!" He waved his
hand, lounged slowly out of the shop, gave a parting glance up the
street, passed the window, and was gone.

The next day being a half-holiday for Kane, he did not reach the
shop until afternoon. "Your mining friend Allen has been here,"
said Doctor Sparlow. "I took the liberty of introducing myself,
and induced him to let me carefully examine him. He was a little
shy, and I am sorry for it, as I fear he has some serious organic
trouble with his heart and ought to have a more thorough
examination." Seeing Kane's unaffected concern, he added, "You
might influence him to do so. He's a good fellow and ought to take
some care of himself. By the way, he told me to tell you that he'd
seen Madame le Blanc and made it all right about you. He seems to
be quite infatuated with the woman."

"I'm sorry he ever saw her," said Kane bitterly.

"Well, his seeing her seems to have saved the shop from being
smashed up, and you from getting a punched head," returned the
Doctor with a laugh. "He's no fool--yet it's a freak of human
nature that a simple hayseed like that--a man who's lived in the
backwoods all his life, is likely to be the first to tumble before
a pot of French rouge like her."

Indeed, in a couple of weeks, there was no further doubt of Mr.
Reuben Allen's infatuation. He dropped into the shop frequently on
his way to and from the restaurant, where he now regularly took his
meals; he spent his evenings in gambling in its private room. Yet
Kane was by no means sure that he was losing his money there
unfairly, or that he was used as a pigeon by the proprietress and
her friends. The bully O'Ryan was turned away; Sparlow grimly
suggested that Allen had simply taken his place, but Kane
ingeniously retorted that the Doctor was only piqued because Allen
had evaded his professional treatment. Certainly the patient had
never consented to another examination, although he repeatedly and
gravely bought medicines, and was a generous customer. Once or
twice Kane thought it his duty to caution Allen against his new
friends and enlighten him as to Madame le Blanc's reputation, but
his suggestions were received with a good-humored submission that
was either the effect of unbelief or of perfect resignation to the
fact, and he desisted. One morning Dr. Sparlow said cheerfully:--

"Would you like to hear the last thing about your friend and the
Frenchwoman? The boys can't account for her singling out a fellow
like that for her friend, so they say that the night that she cut
herself at the fete and dropped in here for assistance, she found
nobody here but Allen--a chance customer! That it was HE who cut
off her hair and bound up her wounds in that sincere fashion, and
she believed he had saved her life." The Doctor grinned maliciously
as he added: "And as that's the way history is written you see your
reputation is safe."

It may have been a month later that San Francisco was thrown into a
paroxysm of horror and indignation over the assassination of a
prominent citizen and official in the gambling-rooms of Madame le
Blanc, at the hands of a notorious gambler. The gambler had
escaped, but in one of those rare spasms of vengeful morality which
sometimes overtakes communities who have too long winked at and
suffered the existence of evil, the fair proprietress and her whole
entourage were arrested and haled before the coroner's jury at the
inquest. The greatest excitement prevailed; it was said that if
the jury failed in their duty, the Vigilance Committee had arranged
for the destruction of the establishment and the deportation of its
inmates. The crowd that had collected around the building was
reinforced by Kane and Dr. Sparlow, who had closed their shop in
the next block to attend. When Kane had fought his way into the
building and the temporary court, held in the splendidly furnished
gambling saloon, whose gilded mirrors reflected the eager faces of
the crowd, the Chief of Police was giving his testimony in a formal
official manner, impressive only for its relentless and impassive
revelation of the character and antecedents of the proprietress.
The house had been long under the espionage of the police; Madame
le Blanc had a dozen aliases; she was "wanted" in New Orleans, in
New York, in Havana! It was in HER house that Dyer, the bank
clerk, committed suicide; it was there that Colonel Hooley was set
upon by her bully, O'Ryan; it was she--Kane heard with reddening
cheeks--who defied the police with riotous conduct at a fete two
months ago. As he coolly recited the counts of this shameful
indictment, Kane looked eagerly around for Allen, whom he knew had
been arrested as a witness. How would HE take this terrible
disclosure? He was sitting with the others, his arm thrown over
the back of his chair, and his good-humored face turned towards the
woman, in his old confidential attitude. SHE, gorgeously dressed,
painted, but unblushing, was cool, collected, and cynical.

The Coroner next called the only witness of the actual tragedy,
"Reuben Allen." The man did not move nor change his position. The
summons was repeated; a policeman touched him on the shoulder.
There was a pause, and the officer announced: "He has fainted, your
Honor!"

"Is there a physician present?" asked the Coroner.

Sparlow edged his way quickly to the front. "I'm a medical man,"
he said to the Coroner, as he passed quickly to the still, upright,
immovable figure and knelt beside it with his head upon his heart.
There was an awed silence as, after a pause, he rose slowly to his
feet.

"The witness is a patient, your Honor, whom I examined some weeks
ago and found suffering from valvular disease of the heart. He is
dead."





Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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