The junior partner of the firm of Sparlow & Kane, "Druggists and Apothecaries," of San Francisco, was gazing meditatively out of the corner of the window of their little shop in Dupont Street. He could see the dimly lit perspective of the narrow thoroughfare fade off into the level sand wastes of Market Street on the one side, and plunge into the half-excavated bulk of Telegraph Hill on the other. He could see the glow and hear the rumble of Montgomery Street--the great central avenue farther down the hill. Above the housetops was spread the warm blanket of sea-fog under which the city was regularly laid to sleep every summer night to the cool lullaby of the Northwest Trades. It was already half-past eleven; footsteps on the wooden pavement were getting rarer and more remote; the last cart had rumbled by; the shutters were up along the street; the glare of his own red and blue jars was the only beacon left to guide the wayfarers. Ordinarily he would have been going home at this hour, when his partner, who occupied the surgery and a small bedroom at the rear of the shop, always returned to relieve him. That night, however, a professional visit would detain the "Doctor" until half-past twelve. There was still an hour to wait. He felt drowsy; the mysterious incense of the shop, that combined essence of drugs, spice, scented soap, and orris root--which always reminded him of the Arabian Nights--was affecting him. He yawned, and then, turning away, passed behind the counter, took down a jar labeled "Glycyrr. Glabra," selected a piece of Spanish licorice, and meditatively sucked it. Not receiving from it that diversion and sustenance he apparently was seeking, he also visited, in an equally familiar manner, a jar marked "Jujubes," and returned ruminatingly to his previous position.
If I have not in this incident sufficiently established the youthfulness of the junior partner, I may add briefly that he was just nineteen, that he had early joined the emigration to California, and after one or two previous light-hearted essays at other occupations, for which he was singularly unfitted, he had saved enough to embark on his present venture, still less suited to his temperament. In those adventurous days trades and vocations were not always filled by trained workmen; it was extremely probable that the experienced chemist was already making his success as a gold-miner, with a lawyer and a physician for his partners, and Mr. Kane's inexperienced position was by no means a novel one. A slight knowledge of Latin as a written language, an American schoolboy's acquaintance with chemistry and natural philosophy, were deemed sufficient by his partner, a regular physician, for practical cooperation in the vending of drugs and putting up of prescriptions. He knew the difference between acids and alkalies and the peculiar results which attended their incautious combination. But he was excessively deliberate, painstaking, and cautious. The legend which adorned the desk at the counter, "Physicians' prescriptions carefully prepared," was more than usually true as regarded the adverb. There was no danger of his poisoning anybody through haste or carelessness, but it was possible that an urgent "case" might have succumbed to the disease while he was putting up the remedy. Nor was his caution entirely passive. In those days the "heroic" practice of medicine was in keeping with the abnormal development of the country; there were "record" doses of calomel and quinine, and he had once or twice incurred the fury of local practitioners by sending back their prescriptions with a modest query.
The far-off clatter of carriage wheels presently arrested his attention; looking down the street, he could see the lights of a hackney carriage advancing towards him. They had already flashed upon the open crossing a block beyond before his vague curiosity changed into an active instinctive presentiment that they were coming to the shop. He withdrew to a more becoming and dignified position behind the counter as the carriage drew up with a jerk before the door.
The driver rolled from his box and opened the carriage door to a woman whom he assisted, between some hysterical exclamations on her part and some equally incoherent explanations of his own, into the shop. Kane saw at a glance that both were under the influence of liquor, and one, the woman, was disheveled and bleeding about the head. Yet she was elegantly dressed and evidently en fete, with one or two "tricolor" knots and ribbons mingled with her finery. Her golden hair, matted and darkened with blood, had partly escaped from her French bonnet and hung heavily over her shoulders. The driver, who was supporting her roughly, and with a familiarity that was part of the incongruous spectacle, was the first to speak.
"Madame le Blank! ye know! Got cut about the head down at the fete at South Park! Tried to dance upon the table, and rolled over on some champagne bottles. See? Wants plastering up!"
"Ah brute! Hog! Nozzing of ze kine! Why will you lie? I dance! Ze cowards, fools, traitors zere upset ze table and I fall. I am cut! Ah, my God, how I am cut!"
She stopped suddenly and lapsed heavily against the counter. At which Kane hurried around to support her into the surgery with the one fixed idea in his bewildered mind of getting her out of the shop, and, suggestively, into the domain and under the responsibility of his partner. The hackman, apparently relieved and washing his hands of any further complicity in the matter, nodded and smiled, and saying, "I reckon I'll wait outside, pardner," retreated incontinently to his vehicle. To add to Kane's half-ludicrous embarrassment the fair patient herself slightly resisted his support, accused the hackman of "abandoning her," and demanded if Kane knew "zee reason of zees affair," yet she presently lapsed again into the large reclining-chair which he had wheeled forward, with open mouth, half-shut eyes, and a strange Pierrette mask of face, combined of the pallor of faintness and chalk, and the rouge of paint and blood. At which Kane's cautiousness again embarrassed him. A little brandy from the bottle labeled "Vini Galli" seemed to be indicated, but his inexperience could not determine if her relaxation was from bloodlessness or the reacting depression of alcohol. In this dilemma he chose a medium course, with aromatic spirits of ammonia, and mixing a diluted quantity in a measuring-glass, poured it between her white lips. A start, a struggle, a cough--a volley of imprecatory French, and the knocking of the glass from his hand followed--but she came to! He quickly sponged her head of the half-coagulated blood, and removed a few fragments of glass from a long laceration of the scalp. The shock of the cold water and the appearance of the ensanguined basin frightened her into a momentary passivity. But when Kane found it necessary to cut her hair in the region of the wound in order to apply the adhesive plaster, she again endeavored to rise and grasp the scissors.
"You'll bleed to death if you're not quiet," said the young man with dogged gravity.
Something in his manner impressed her into silence again. He cut whole locks away ruthlessly; he was determined to draw the edges of the wound together with the strip of plaster and stop the bleeding-- if he cropped the whole head. His excessive caution for her physical condition did not extend to her superficial adornment. Her yellow tresses lay on the floor, her neck and shoulders were saturated with water from the sponge which he continually applied, until the heated strips of plaster had closed the wound almost hermetically. She whimpered, tears ran down her cheeks; but so long as it was not blood the young man was satisfied.
In the midst of it he heard the shop door open, and presently the sound of rapping on the counter. Another customer!
Mr. Kane called out, "Wait a moment," and continued his ministrations. After a pause the rapping recommenced. Kane was just securing the last strip of plaster and preserved a preoccupied silence. Then the door flew open abruptly and a figure appeared impatiently on the threshold. It was that of a miner recently returned from the gold diggings--so recently that he evidently had not had time to change his clothes at his adjacent hotel, and stood there in his high boots, duck trousers, and flannel shirt, over which his coat was slung like a hussar's jacket from his shoulder. Kane would have uttered an indignant protest at the intrusion, had not the intruder himself as quickly recoiled with an astonishment and contrition that was beyond the effect of any reproval. He literally gasped at the spectacle before him. A handsomely dressed woman reclining in a chair; lace and jewelry and ribbons depending from her saturated shoulders; tresses of golden hair filling her lap and lying on the floor; a pail of ruddy water and a sponge at her feet, and a pale young man bending over her head with a spirit lamp and strips of yellow plaster!
"'Scuse me, pard! I was just dropping in; don't you hurry! I kin wait," he stammered, falling back, and then the door closed abruptly behind him.
Kane gathered up the shorn locks, wiped the face and neck of his patient with a clean towel and his own handkerchief, threw her gorgeous opera cloak over her shoulders, and assisted her to rise. She did so, weakly but obediently; she was evidently stunned and cowed in some mysterious way by his material attitude, perhaps, or her sudden realization of her position; at least the contrast between her aggressive entrance into the shop and her subdued preparation for her departure was so remarkable that it affected even Kane's preoccupation.
"There," he said, slightly relaxing his severe demeanor with an encouraging smile, "I think this will do; we've stopped the bleeding. It will probably smart a little as the plaster sets closer. I can send my partner, Dr. Sparlow, to you in the morning."
She looked at him curiously and with a strange smile. "And zees Doctor Sparrlow--eez he like you, M'sieu?"
"He is older, and very well known," said the young man seriously. "I can safely recommend him."
"Ah," she repeated, with a pensive smile which made Kane think her quite pretty. "Ah--he ez older--your Doctor Sparrlow--but you are strong, M'sieu."
"And," said Kane vaguely, "he will tell you what to do."
"Ah," she repeated again softly, with the same smile, "he will tell me what to do if I shall not know myself. Dat ez good."
Kane had already wrapped her shorn locks in a piece of spotless white paper and tied it up with narrow white ribbon in the dainty fashion dear to druggists' clerks. As he handed it to her she felt in her pocket and produced a handful of gold.
"What shall I pay for zees, M'sieu?"
Kane reddened a little--solely because of his slow arithmetical faculties. Adhesive plaster was cheap--he would like to have charged proportionately for the exact amount he had used; but the division was beyond him! And he lacked the trader's instinct.
"Twenty-five cents, I think," he hazarded briefly.
She started, but smiled again. "Twenty-five cents for all zees--ze medicine, ze strips for ze head, ze hair cut"--she glanced at the paper parcel he had given her--"it is only twenty-five cents?"
He selected from her outstretched palm, with some difficulty, the exact amount, the smallest coin it held. She again looked at him curiously--half confusedly--and moved slowly into the shop. The miner, who was still there, retreated as before with a gaspingly apologetic gesture--even flattening himself against the window to give her sweeping silk flounces freer passage. As she passed into the street with a "Merci, M'sieu, good a'night," and the hackman started from the vehicle to receive her, the miner drew a long breath, and bringing his fist down upon the counter, ejaculated,--
"B'gosh! She's a stunner!"
Kane, a good deal relieved at her departure and the success of his ministration, smiled benignly.
The stranger again stared after the retreating carriage, looked around the shop, and even into the deserted surgery, and approached the counter confidentially. "Look yer, pardner. I kem straight from St. Jo, Mizzorri, to Gold Hill--whar I've got a claim--and I reckon this is the first time I ever struck San Francisker. I ain't up to towny ways nohow, and I allow that mebbe I'm rather green. So we'll let that pass! Now look yer!" he added, leaning over the counter with still deeper and even mysterious confidence, "I suppose this yer kind o' thing is the regular go here, eh? nothin' new to you! in course no! But to me, pard, it's just fetchin' me! Lifts me clear outer my boots every time! Why, when I popped into that thar room, and saw that lady--all gold, furbelows, and spangles--at twelve o'clock at night, sittin' in that cheer and you a-cuttin' her h'r and swabbin' her head o' blood, and kinder prospectin' for 'indications,' so to speak, and doin' it so kam and indifferent like, I sez to myself, 'Rube, Rube,' sez I, 'this yer's life! city life! San Francisker life! and b'gosh, you've dropped into it! Now, pard, look yar! don't you answer, ye know, ef it ain't square and above board for me to know; I ain't askin' you to give the show away, ye know, in the matter of high-toned ladies like that, but" (very mysteriously, and sinking his voice to the lowest confidential pitch, as he put his hand to his ear as if to catch the hushed reply), "what mout hev bin happening, pard?"
Considerably amused at the man's simplicity, Kane replied good- humoredly: "Danced among some champagne bottles on a table at a party, fell and got cut by glass."
The stranger nodded his head slowly and approvingly as he repeated with infinite deliberateness: "Danced on champagne bottles, champagne! you said, pard? at a pahty! Yes!" (musingly and approvingly). "I reckon that's about the gait they take. She'd do it."
"Is there anything I can do for you? sorry to have kept you waiting," said Kane, glancing at the clock.
"O me! Lord! ye needn't mind me. Why, I should wait for anythin' o' the like o' that, and be just proud to do it! And ye see, I sorter helped myself while you war busy."
"Helped yourself?" said Kane in astonishment.
"Yes, outer that bottle." He pointed to the ammonia bottle, which still stood on the counter. "It seemed to be handy and popular."
"Man! you might have poisoned yourself."
The stranger paused a moment at the idea. "So I mout, I reckon," he said musingly, "that's so! pizined myself jest ez you was lookin' arter that high-toned case, and kinder bothered you! It's like me!"
"I mean it required diluting; you ought to have taken it in water," said Kane.
"I reckon! It did sorter h'ist me over to the door for a little fresh air at first! seemed rayther scaldy to the lips. But wot of it that got thar," he put his hand gravely to his stomach, "did me pow'ful good."
"What was the matter with you?" asked Kane.
"Well, ye see, pard" (confidentially again), "I reckon it's suthin' along o' my heart. Times it gets to poundin' away like a quartz stamp, and then it stops suddent like, and kinder leaves me out too."
Kane looked at him more attentively. He was a strong, powerfully built man with a complexion that betrayed nothing more serious than the effects of mining cookery. It was evidently a common case of indigestion.
"I don't say it would not have done you some good if properly administered," he replied. "If you like I'll put up a diluted quantity and directions?"
"That's me, every time, pardner!" said the stranger with an accent of relief. "And look yer, don't you stop at that! Ye just put me up some samples like of anythin' you think mout be likely to hit. I'll go in for a fair show, and then meander in every now and then, betwixt times, to let you know. Ye don't mind my drifting in here, do ye? It's about ez likely a place ez I struck since I've left the Sacramento boat, and my hotel, just round the corner. Ye just sample me a bit o' everythin'; don't mind the expense. I'll take your word for it. The way you--a young fellow--jest stuck to your work in thar, cool and kam as a woodpecker--not minding how high- toned she was--nor the jewelery and spangles she had on--jest got me! I sez to myself, 'Rube,' sez I, 'whatever's wrong o' your insides, you jest stick to that feller to set ye right.'"
The junior partner's face reddened as he turned to his shelves ostensibly for consultation. Conscious of his inexperience, the homely praise of even this ignorant man was not ungrateful. He felt, too, that his treatment of the Frenchwoman, though successful, might not be considered remunerative from a business point of view by his partner. He accordingly acted upon the suggestion of the stranger and put up two or three specifics for dyspepsia. They were received with grateful alacrity and the casual display of considerable gold in the stranger's pocket in the process of payment. He was evidently a successful miner.
After bestowing the bottles carefully about his person, he again leaned confidentially towards Kane. "I reckon of course you know this high-toned lady, being in the way of seein' that kind o' folks. I suppose you won't mind telling me, ez a stranger. But" (he added hastily, with a deprecatory wave of his hand), "perhaps ye would."
Mr. Kane, in fact, had hesitated. He knew vaguely and by report that Madame le Blanc was the proprietress of a famous restaurant, over which she had rooms where private gambling was carried on to a great extent. It was also alleged that she was protected by a famous gambler and a somewhat notorious bully. Mr. Kane's caution suggested that he had no right to expose the reputation of his chance customer. He was silent.
The stranger's face became intensely sympathetic and apologetic. "I see!--not another word, pard! It ain't the square thing to be givin' her away, and I oughtn't to hev asked. Well--so long! I reckon I'll jest drift back to the hotel. I ain't been in San Francisker mor' 'n three hours, and I calkilate, pard, that I've jest seen about ez square a sample of high-toned life as fellers ez haz bin here a year. Well, hastermanyanner--ez the Greasers say. I'll be droppin' in to-morrow. My name's Reuben Allen o' Mariposa. I know yours; it's on the sign, and it ain't Sparlow."
He cast another lingering glance around the shop, as if loath to leave it, and then slowly sauntered out of the door, pausing in the street a moment, in the glare of the red light, before he faded into darkness. Without knowing exactly why, Kane had an instinct that the stranger knew no one in San Francisco, and after leaving the shop was going into utter silence and obscurity.
A few moments later Dr. Sparlow returned to relieve his wearied partner. A pushing, active man, he listened impatiently to Kane's account of his youthful practice with Madame le Blanc, without, however, dwelling much on his methods. "You ought to have charged her more," the elder said decisively. "She'd have paid it. She only came here because she was ashamed to go to a big shop in Montgomery Street--and she won't come again."
"But she wants you to see her to-morrow," urged Kane, "and I told her you would!"
"You say it was only a superficial cut?" queried the doctor, "and you closed it? Umph! what can she want to see me for?" He paid more attention, however, to the case of the stranger, Allen. "When he comes here again, manage to let me see him." Mr. Kane promised, yet for some indefinable reason he went home that night not quite as well satisfied with himself.
He was much more concerned the next morning when, after relieving the doctor for his regular morning visits, he was startled an hour later by the abrupt return of that gentleman. His face was marked by some excitement and anxiety, which nevertheless struggled with that sense of the ludicrous which Californians in those days imported into most situations of perplexity or catastrophe. Putting his hands deeply into his trousers pockets, he confronted his youthful partner behind the counter.
"How much did you charge that French-woman?" he said gravely.
"Twenty-five cents," said Kane timidly.
"Well, I'd give it back and add two hundred and fifty dollars if she had never entered the shop."
"What's the matter?"
"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.
"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."
Return to the Bret Harte library , or . . . Read the next short story; How Santa Claus Came to Simpson's Bar