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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Fighting Edge - Chapter 12. Mollie Takes Charge
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The Fighting Edge - Chapter 12. Mollie Takes Charge Post by :johneze Category :Long Stories Author :William Macleod Raine Date :May 2012 Read :2742

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The Fighting Edge - Chapter 12. Mollie Takes Charge

CHAPTER XII. MOLLIE TAKES CHARGE

Bear Cat was a cow-town, still in its frankest, most exuberant youth. Big cattle outfits had settled on the river and ran stock almost to the Utah line. Every night the saloons and gambling-houses were filled with punchers from the Diamond K, the Cross Bar J, the Half Circle Dot, or any one of a dozen other brands up or down the Rio Blanco. They came from Williams's Fork, Squaw, Salt, Beaver, or Piney Creeks. And usually they came the last mile or two on the dead run, eager to slake a thirst as urgent as their high spirits.

They were young fellows most of them, just out of their boyhood, keen to spend their money and have a good time when off duty. Always they made straight for Dolan's or the Bear Cat House. First they downed a drink or two, then they washed off the dust of travel. This done, each followed his own inclination. He gambled, drank, or frolicked around, according to the desire of the moment.

Dud Hollister and Tom Reeves, with Blister Haines rolling between them, impartially sampled the goods at Dolan's and at Mollie Gillespie's. They had tried their hand at faro, with unfortunate results, and they had sat in for a short session at a poker game where Dud had put too much faith in a queen full.

"I sure let my foot slip that time," Dud admitted. "I'd been playin' plumb outa luck. Couldn't fill a hand, an' when I did, couldn't get it to stand up. That last queen looked like money from home. I reckon I overplayed it," he ruminated aloud, while he waited for Mike Moran to give him another of the same.

Tom hooked his heel on the rail in front of the bar. "I ain't made up my mind yet that game was on the level. That tinhorn who claimed he was from Cheyenne ce'tainly had a mighty funny run o' luck. D' you notice how his hands jes' topped ours? Kinda queer, I got to thinkin'. He didn't hold any more'n he had to for to rake the chips in. I'd sorta like a look-see at the deck we was playin' with."

Blister laughed wheezily. "You w-won't get it. N-never heard of a hold-up gettin' up a petition for better street lights, did you? No, an' you n-never will. An' you never n-noticed a guy who was aimin' to bushwhack another from the brush go to clearin' off the sage first. He ain't l-lookin' for no open arguments on the m-merits of his shootin'. Not none. Same with that Cheyenne bird an' his stocky pal acrost the table. They're f-figurin' that dead decks tell no tales. The one you played with is sure enough s-scattered every which way all over the floor along with seve-real others." The fat justice of the peace murmured "How!" and tilted his glass.

If Blister did not say "I told you so," it was not because he might not have done it fairly. He had made one comment when Dud had proposed sitting in to the game of draw.

"H-how much m-mazuma you got?"

"Twenty-five bucks left."

"If you s-stay outa that game you'll earn t-twenty-five bucks the quickest you ever did in yore life."

Youth likes to buy its experience and not borrow it. Dud knew now that Blister had been a wise prophet in his generation.

The bar at Gillespie's was at the front of the house. In the rear were the faro and poker tables, the roulette wheels, and the other conveniences for separating hurried patrons from their money. The Bear Cat House did its gambling strictly on the level, but there was the usual percentage in favor of the proprietor.

Mollie was sitting in an armchair on a small raised platform about halfway back. She kept a brisk and business-like eye on proceedings. No puncher who had gone broke, no tenderfoot out of luck, could go hungry in Bear Cat if she knew it. The restaurant and the bar were at their service just as though they had come off the range with a pay-check intact. They could pay when they had the money. No books were kept. Their memories were the only ledgers. Few of these debts of honor went unpaid in the end.

But Mollie, though tender-hearted, knew how to run the place. Her brusque, curt manner suited Bear Cat. She could be hail-fellow or hard as flint, depending on circumstances. The patrons at Gillespie's remembered her sex and yet forgot it. They guarded their speech, but they drank with her at the bar or sat across a poker table from her on equal terms. She was a good sport and could lose or win large sums imperturbably.

Below her now there floated past a tide of hot-blooded youth eager to make the most of the few hours left before the dusty trails called. Most of these punchers would go back penniless to another month or two of hard and reckless riding. But they would go gayly, without regret, the sunshine of irrepressible boyhood in their hearts. The rattle of chips, the sound of laughter, the murmur of conversation, the even voice of the croupier at the roulette table, filled the hall.

Jim Larson, a cowman from down the river, sat on the edge of the platform.

"The Boot brand's puttin' a thousand head in the upper country this fall, Mollie. Looks to me like bad business, but there's a chance I'm wrong at that. My bet is you can't run cows there without winter feed. There won't many of 'em rough through."

"Some'll drift down to the river," Mollie said, her preoccupied eyes on the stud table where a slight altercation seemed to be under way. Her method of dealing with quarrels was simple. The first rule was based on one of Blister Haines's paradoxes. "The best way to settle trouble is not to have it." She tried to stop difficulties before they became acute. If this failed, she walked between the angry youths and read the riot act to them.

"Some will," admitted Larson. "More of 'em won't."

Mollie rose, to step down from the platform. She did not reach the stud table. A commotion at the front door drew her attention. Mrs. Gillespie was a solid, heavy-set woman, but she moved with an energy that carried her swiftly. She reached the bar before any of the men from the gambling-tables.

A girl was leaning weakly against the door-jamb. Hat and shoes were gone. The hair was a great black mop framing a small face white to the lips. The stocking soles were worn through. When one foot shifted to get a better purchase for support, a bloodstained track was left on the floor. The short dress was frozen stiff.

The dark, haunted eyes moved uncertainly round the circle of faces staring at her. The lips opened and made the motions of speech, but no sound came from them. Without any warning the girl collapsed.

Dud Hollister's arm was under the ice-coated head in an instant. He looked up at Mollie Gillespie, who had been only a fraction of a second behind him.

"It's the li'l' bride," he said.

She nodded. "Brandy an' water, Mike. Quick! She's only fainted. Head not so high, Dud. Tha's right. We'll get a few drops of this between her teeth.... She's comin' to."

June opened her eyes and looked at Mollie. Presently she looked round and a slow wonder grew in them. "Where am I?" she murmured.

"You're at the hotel--where you'll be looked after right, dearie." Mrs. Gillespie looked up. "Some one get Doc Tuckerman. An' you, Tom, hustle Peggie and Chung Lung outa their beds if they're not up. There's a fire in my room. Tell her to take the blankets from the bed an' warm 'em. Tell Chung to heat several kettles o' water fast as he can. Dud, you come along an' carry her to the stove in the lobby. The rest o' you'll stay right here."

Mollie did not ask any questions or seek explanation. That could wait. The child had been through a terrible experience and must be looked after first.

From the lobby Dud presently carried June into the bedroom and departed. A roaring fire was in the stove. Blankets and a flannel nightgown were hanging over the backs of chairs to warm. With the help of the chambermaid Peggie, the landlady stripped from the girl the frozen dress and the wet underclothes. Over the thin, shivering body she slipped the nightgown, then tucked her up in the blankets. As soon as Chung brought the hot-water jugs she put one at June's feet and another close to the stomach where the cold hands could rest upon it.

June was still shaking as though she never would get warm. A faint mist of tears obscured her sight. "Y-you're awful good to me," she whispered, teeth chattering.

The doctor approved of what had been done. He left medicine for the patient. "Be back in five minutes," he told Mrs. Gillespie outside the room. "Want some stuff I've got at the office. Think I'll stay for a few hours and see how the case develops. Afraid she's in for a bad spell of pneumonia."

He did not leave the sick-room after his return until morning. Mollie stayed there, too. It was nearly one o'clock when Blister Haines knocked gently at the door.

"How's the li'l' lady?" he asked in his high falsetto, after Mollie had walked down the passage with him.

"She's a mighty sick girl. Pneumonia, likely."

"Tell doc not to let her die. If he needs another doctor some of us'll h-hustle over to Glenwood an' g-get one. Say, Mrs. Gillespie, I reckon there's gonna be trouble in town to-night."

She said nothing, but her blue eyes questioned him.

Blister's next sentence sent her moving toward the saloon.

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