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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Flaming Jewel - Episode 2. The Ruling Passion
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The Flaming Jewel - Episode 2. The Ruling Passion Post by :JoePace Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :814

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The Flaming Jewel - Episode 2. The Ruling Passion

EPISODE TWO. THE RULING PASSION


I

Nobody understood how Jose Quintana had slipped through the Secret Service net spread for him at every port.

The United States authorities did not know why Quintana had come to America. They realised merely that he arrived for no good purpose; and they had meant to arrest and hold him for extradition if requested; for deportation as an undesirable alien anyway.

Only two men in America knew that Quintana had come to the United States for the purpose of recovering the famous "Flaming Jewel," stolen by him from the Grand Duchess Theodorica of Esthonia; and stolen from Quintana, in turn, by a private soldier in an American Forestry Regiment, on leave in Paris. This soldier's name, probably, was Michael Clinch.

One of the men who knew why Quintana might come to America was James Darragh, recently of the Military Intelligence, but now passing as a hold-up man under the name of Hal Smith, and actually in the employment of Clinch at his disreputable "hotel" at Star Pond in the North Woods.

The other man who knew why Quintana had come to America was Emanuel Sard, a Levantine diamond broker of New York, Quintana's agent in America.

* * * * *

Now, as the October days passed without any report of Quintana's detention, Darragh, known as Hal Smith at Clinch's dump, began to suspect that Quintana had already slid into America through the meshes of the police.

If so, this desperate international criminal could be expected at Clinch's under some guise or other, piloted thither by Emanuel Sard.

So Hal Smith, whose duty was to wash dishes, do chores, and also to supply Clinch's with "mountain beef"--or deer taken illegally--made it convenient to prowl every day in the vicinity of the Ghost Lake road.

He was perfectly familiar with Emanuel Sard's squat features and parrot nose, having robbed Mr. Sard of Quintana's cipher and of $4,000 at pistol point. And one morning, while roving around the guide's quarters at Ghost Lake Inn, Smith beheld Sard himself on the hotel veranda, in company with five strangers of foreign aspect.

During the midday dinner Smith, on pretense of enquiring for a guide's license, got a look at the Inn ledger. Sard's signature was on it, followed by the names of Henri Picquet, Nicolas Salzar, Victor Georgiades, Harry Beck, and Jose Sanchez. And Smith went back through the wilderness to Star Pond, convinced that one of these gentlemen was Quintana, and the remainder, Quintana's gang; and that they were here to do murder if necessary in their remorseless quest of "The Flaming Jewel." Two million dollars once had been offered for the Flaming Jewel; and had been refused.

Clinch probably possessed it. Smith was now convinced of that. But he was there to rob Clinch of it himself. For he had promised the little Grand Duchess to help recover her Erosite jewel; and now that he had finally traced its probable possession to Clinch, he was wondering how this recovery was to be accomplished.

To arrest Clinch meant ruin to Eve Strayer. Besides he knew now that Clinch would die in prison before revealing the hiding place of the Flaming Jewel.

Also, how could it be proven that Clinch had the Erosite gem? The cipher from Quintana was not sufficient evidence.

No; the only way was to watch Clinch, prevent any robbery by Quintana's gang, somehow discover where the Flaming Jewel had been concealed, take it, and restore it to the beggared young girl whose only financial resource now lay in the possible recovery of this almost priceless gem.

* * * * *

Toward evening Hal Smith shot two deer near Owl Marsh. To poach on his own property appealed to his sense of humour. And Clinch, never dreaming that Hal Smith was the James Darragh who had inherited Harrod's vast preserve, damned all millionaires for every buck brought in, and became friendlier to Smith.


II

Clinch's dump was the disposal plant in which collected the human sewage of the wilderness.

It being Saturday, the scum of the North Woods was gathering at the Star Pond resort. A venison and chicken supper was promised--and a dance if any women appeared.

Jake Kloon had run in some Canadian hooch; Darragh, alias Hal Smith, contributed two fat deer and Clinch cooked them. By ten o'clock that morning many of the men were growing noisy; some were already drunk by noon. Shortly after midday dinner the first fight started--extinguished only after Clinch had beaten several of the backwoods aristocracy insensible.

Towering amid the wreck of battle, his light grey eyes a-glitter, Clinch dominated, swinging his iron fists.

When the combat ended and the fallen lay starkly where they fell, Clinch said in his pleasant, level voice:

"Take them out and stick their heads in the pond. And don't go for to get me mad, boys, or I'm liable to act up rough."

They bore forth the sleepers for immersion in Star Pond. Clinch relighted his cigar and repeated the rulings which had caused the fracas:

"You gotta play square cards here or you don't play none in my house. No living thumb-nail can nick no cards in my place and get away with it. Three kings and two trays is better than three chickens and two eggs. If you don't like it, g'wan home."

He went out in his shirt sleeves to see how the knock-outs were reviving, and met Hal Smith returning from the pond, who reported progress toward consciousness. They walked back to the "hotel" together.

"Say, young fella," said Clinch in his soft, agreeable way, "you want to keep your eye peeled to-night."

"Why?" inquired Smith.

"Well, there'll be a lot o' folks here. There'll be strangers, too.... Don't forget the State Troopers are looking for you."

"Do the State Troopers ever play detective?" asked Smith, smiling.

"Sure. They've been in here rigged out like peddlers and lumber-jacks and timber lookers."

"Did they ever get anything on you?"

"Not a thing."

"Can you always spot them, Mike?"

"No. But when a stranger shows up here who don't know nobody, he never sees nothing and he don't never learn nothing. He gets no hootch outa me. No, nor no craps and no cards. He gets his supper; that's what he gets ... and a dance, if there's ladies--and if any girl favours him. That's all the change any stranger gets out of Mike Clinch."

They had paused on the rough veranda in the hot October sunshine.

"Mike," suggested Smith carelessly, "wouldn't it pay you better to go straight?"

Clinch's small grey eyes, which had been roaming over the prospect of lake and forest, focussed on Smith's smiling features.

"What's that to you?" he asked.

"I'll be out of a job," remarked Smith, laughing, "if they ever land you."

Clinch's level gaze measured him; his mind was busy measuring him, too.

"Who the hell are you, anyway?" he asked. "_I don't know. You stick up a man on the Ghost Lake Road and hide out here when the State Troopers come after you. And now you ask me if it pays better to go straight. Why didn't _you go straight if you think it pays?"

"I haven't got a daughter to worry about," explained Smith. "If they get me it won't hurt anybody else."

A dull red tinge came out under Clinch's tan:

"Who asked _you to worry about Eve?"

"She's a fine girl: that's all."

Clinch's steely glare measured the young man:

"You trying to make up to her?" he enquired gently.

"No. She has no use for me."

Clinch reflected, his cold tiger-gaze still fastened on Smith.

"You're right," he said after a moment. "Eve is a good girl. Some day I'll make a lady of her."

"She _is one, Clinch."

At that Clinch reddened heavily--the first finer emotion ever betrayed before Smith. He did not say anything for a few moments, but his grim mouth worked. Finally:

"I guess you was a gentleman once before you went crooked, Hal," he said. "You act up like you once was.... Say; there's only one thing on God's earth I care about. You've guessed it, too." He was off again upon his ruling passion.

"Eve," nodded Smith.

"Sure. She isn't my flesh and blood. But it seems like she's more, even. I want she should be a lady. It's _all I want. That damned millionaire Harrod bust me. But he couldn't stop me giving Eve her schooling. And now all I'm livin' for is to be fixed so's to give her money to go to the city like a lady. I don't care how I make money; all I want is to make it. And I'm a-going to."

Smith nodded again.

Clinch, now obsessed by his monomania, went on with an oath:

"I can't make no money on the level after what Harrod done to me. And I gotta fix up Eve. What the hell do you mean by asking me would it pay me to travel straight I dunno."

"I was only thinking of Eve. A lady isn't supposed to have a crook for a father."

Clinch's grey eyes blazed for a moment, then their menacing glare dulled, died out into wintry fixity.

"I wan't born a crook," he said. "I ain't got no choice. And don't worry, young fella; they ain't a-going to get me."

"You can't go on beating the game forever, Clinch."

"I'm beating it----" he hesitated--"and it won't be so long, neither, before I turn over enough to let Eve live in the city like any lady, with her autymobile and her own butler and all her swell friends, in a big house like she is educated for----"

He broke off abruptly as a procession approached from the lake, escorting the battered gentry who now were able to wabble about a little.

One of them, a fox-faced trap thief named Earl Leverett, slunk hastily by as though expecting another kick from Clinch.

"G'wan inside, Earl, and act up right," said Clinch pleasantly. "You oughter have more sense than to start a fight in my place--you and Sid Hone and Harvey Chase. G'wan in and behave."

He and Smith followed the procession of damaged ones into the house.

The big unpainted room where a bar had once been was blue with cheap cigar smoke; the air reeked with the stench of beer and spirits. A score or more shambling forest louts in their dingy Saturday finery were gathered there playing cards, shooting craps, lolling around tables and tilting slopping glasses at one another.

Heavy pleasantries were exchanged with the victims of Clinch's ponderous fists as they re-entered the room from which they had been borne so recently, feet first.

"Now, boys," said Clinch kindly, "act up like swell gents and behave friendly. And if any ladies come in for the chicken supper, why, gol dang it, we'll have a dance!"


III

Toward sundown the first woodland nymph appeared--a half-shy, half-bold, willowy thing in the rosy light of the clearing.

Hal Smith, washing glasses and dishes on the back porch for Eve Strayer to dry, asked who the rustic beauty might be.

"Harvey Chase's sister," said Eve. "She shouldn't come here, but I can't keep her away and her brother doesn't care. She's only a child, too."

"Is there any harm in a chicken supper and a dance?"

Eve looked gravely at young Smith without replying.

Other girlish shapes loomed in the evening light. Some were met by gallants, some arrived at the veranda unescorted.

"Where do they all come from? Do they live in trees like dryads?" asked Smith.

"There are always squatters in the woods," she replied indifferently.

"Some of these girls come from Ghost Lake, I suppose."

"Yes; waitresses at the Inn."

"What music is there?"

"Jim Hastings plays a fiddle. I play the melodeon if they need me."

"What do you do when there's a fight?" he asked, with a side glance at her pure profile.

"What do you suppose I do? Fight, too?"

He laughed--mirthlessly--conscious always of his secret pity for this girl.

"Well," he said, "when your father makes enough to quit, he'll take you out of this. It's a vile hole for a young girl----"

"See here," she said, flushing; "you're rather particular for a young man who stuck up a tourist and robbed him of four thousand dollars."

"I'm not complaining on my own account," returned Smith, laughing; "Clinch's suits me."

"Well, don't concern yourself on my account, Hal Smith. And you'd better keep out of the dance, too, if there are any strangers there."

"You think a State Trooper may happen in?"

"It's likely. A lot of people come and go. We don't always know them." She opened a sliding wooden shutter and looked into the bar room. After a moment she beckoned him to her side.

"There are strangers there now," she said, "--that thin, dark man who looks like a Kanuk. And those two men shaking dice. I don't know who they are. I never before saw them."

But Smith had seen them at Ghost Lake Inn. One of them was Sard. Quintana's gang had arrived at Clinch's dump.

A moment later Clinch came through the pantry and kitchen and out onto the rear porch where Smith was washing glasses in a tub filled from an ever-flowing spring.

"I'm a-going to get supper," he said to Eve. "There'll be twenty-three plates." And to Smith: "Hal--you help Eve wait on the table. And if anybody acts up rough you slam him on the jaw--don't argue, don't wait--just slam him good, and I'll come on the hop."

"Who are the strangers, dad?" asked Eve.

"Don't nobody know 'em none, girlie. But they ain't State Troopers. They talk like they was foreign. One of 'em's English--the big, bony one with yellow hair and mustache."

"Did they give any names?" asked Smith.

"You bet. The stout, dark man calls himself Hongri Picket. French, I guess. The fat beak is a fella named Sard. Sanchez is the guy with a face like a Canada priest--Jose Sanchez--or something on that style. And then the yellow skinned young man is Nicole Salzar; the Britisher, Harry Beck; and that good lookin' dark gent with a little black Charlie Chaplin, he's Victor Georgiades."

"What are those foreigners doing in the North Woods, Clinch?" enquired Smith.

"Oh, they all give the same spiel--hire out in a lumber camp. But _they ain't no lumberjacks," added Clinch contemptuously. "I don't know what they be--hootch runners maybe--or booze bandits--or they done something crooked som'ers r'other. It's safe to serve 'em drinks."

Clinch himself had been drinking. He always drank when preparing to cook.

He turned and went into the kitchen now, rolling up his shirt sleeves and relighting his clay pipe.


IV

By nine o'clock the noisy chicken supper had ended; the table had been cleared; Jim Hastings was tuning his fiddle in the big room; Eve had seated herself before the battered melodeon.

"Ladies and gents," said Clinch in his clear, pleasant voice, which carried through the hubbub, "we're a-going to have a dance--thanks and beholden to Jim Hastings and my daughter Eve. Eve, she don't drink and she don't dance, so no use askin' and no hard feelin' toward nobody.

"So act up pleasant to one and all and have a good time and no rough stuff in no form, shape or manner, but behave like gents all and swell dames, like you was to a swarry on Fifth Avenue. Let's go!"

He went back to the pantry, taking no notice of the cheering. The fiddler scraped a fox trot, and Eve's melodeon joined in. A vast scuffling of heavily shod feet filled the momentary silence, accented by the shrill giggle of young girls.

"They're off," remarked Clinch to Smith, who stood at the pantry shelf prepared to serve whiskey or beer upon previous receipt of payment.

In the event of a sudden raid, the arrangements at Clinch's were quite simple. Two large drain pipes emerged from the kitchen floor beside Smith, and ended in Star Pond. In case of alarm the tub of beer was poured down one pipe; the whiskey down the other.

Only the trout in Star Pond would ever sample that hootch again.

Clinch, now slightly intoxicated, leaned heavily on the pantry shelf beside Smith, adjusting his pistol under his suspenders.

"Young fella," he said in his agreeable voice, "you're dead right. You sure said a face-full when you says to me, 'Eve's a lady, by God!' _You oughta know. You was a gentleman yourself once. Even if you take to stickin' up tourists you know a lady when you see one. And you called the turn. She _is a lady. All I'm livin' for is to get her down to the city and give her money to live like a lady. I'll do it yet.... Soon!... I'd do it to-morrow--to-night--if I dared.... If I thought it sure fire.... If I was dead certain I could get away with it.... I've _got the money. _Now! ... Only it ain't in _money_.... Smith?"

"Yes, Mike."

"You know me?"

"Sure."

"You size me up?"

"I do."

"All right. If you ever tell anyone I got money that ain't money I'll shoot you through the head."

"Don't worry, Clinch."

"I ain't. You're a crook; you won't talk. You're a gentleman, too. _They don't sell out a pal. Say, Hal, there's only one fella I don't want to meet."

"Who's that, Mike?"

"Lemme tell you," continued Clinch, resting more heavily on the shelf while Smith, looking out through the pantry shutter at the dancing, listened intently.

"When I was in France in a Forestry Rig'ment," went on Clinch, lowering his always pleasant voice, "I was to Paris on leave a few days before they sent us home.

"I was in the washroom of a caffy--a-cleanin' up for supper, when dod-bang! into the place comes a-tumblin' a man with two cops pushing and kickin' him.

"They didn't see me in there for they locked the door on the man. He was a swell gent, too, in full dress and silk hat and all like that, and a opry cloak and white kid gloves, and mustache and French beard.

"When they locked him up he stood stock still and lit a cigarette, as cool as ice. Then he begun walkin' around looking for a way to get out; but there wasn't no way.

"Then he seen me and over he comes and talks English right away: 'Want to make a thousand francs, soldier?' sez he in a quick whisper. 'You're on,' sez I; 'show your dough.' 'Them Flics has went to get the Commissaire for to frisk me,' sez he. 'If they find this parcel on me I do twenty years in Noumea. Five years kills anybody out there.' 'What do you want I should do?' sez I, havin' no love for no cops, French or other. 'Take this packet and stick it in your overcoat,' sez he. 'Go to 13 roo Quinze Octobre and give it to the concierge for Jose Quintana.' And he shoves the packet on me and a thousand-franc note.

"Then he grabs me sudden and pulls open my collar. God, he was strong.

"'What's the matter with you?' says I. 'Lemme go or I'll mash your mug flat.' 'Lemme see your identification disc,' he barks.

"Bein' in Paris for a bat, I had exchanged with my bunkie, Bill Hanson. 'Let him look,' thinks I; and he reads Bill's check.

"'If you fool me,' says he, 'I'll folly ye and I'll do you in if it takes the rest of my life. You understand?' 'Sure,' says I, me tongue in me cheek. 'Bong! Allez vous en!' says he.

"'How the hell,' sez I, 'do I get out of here?' 'You're a Yankee soldier. The Flics don't know you were in here. You go and kick on that door and make a holler.'

"So I done it good; and a cop opens and swears at me, but when he sees a Yankee soldier was locked in the wash-room by mistake, he lets me out, you bet."

Clinch smiled a thin smile, poured out three fingers of hooch.

"What else?" asked Smith quietly.

"Nothing much. I didn't go to no roo Quinze Octobre. But I don't never want to see that fella Quintana. I've been waiting till it's safe to sell--what was in that packet."

"Sell what?"

"What was in that packet," replied Clinch thickly.

"What was in it?"

"Sparklers--since you're so nosey."

"Diamonds?"

"And then some. I dunno what they're called. All I know is I'll croak Quintana if he even turns up askin' for 'em. He frisked somebody. I frisked him. I'll kill anybody who tries to frisk me."

"Where do you keep them?" enquired Smith naively.

Clinch looked at him, very drunk: "None o' your dinged business," he said very softly.

The dancing had become boisterous but not unseemly, although all the men had been drinking too freely.

Smith closed the pantry bar at midnight, by direction of Eve. Now he came out into the ballroom and mixed affably with the company, even dancing with Harvey Chase's sister once--a slender hoyden, all flushed and dishevelled, with a tireless mania for dancing which seemed to intoxicate her.

She danced, danced, danced, accepting any partner offered. But Smith's skill enraptured her and she refused to let him go when her beau, a late arrival, one Charlie Berry, slouched up to claim her.

Smith, always trying to keep Clinch and Quintana's men in view, took no part in the discussion; but Berry thought he was detaining Lily Chase and pushed him aside.

"Hold on, young man!" exclaimed Smith sharply. "Keep your hands to yourself. If your girl don't want to dance with you she doesn't have to."

Some of Quintana's gang came up to listen. Berry glared at Smith.

"Say," he said, "I seen you before somewhere. Wasn't you in Russia?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Yes, you was. You was an officer! What you doing at Clinch's?"

"What's that?" growled Clinch, shoving his way forward and shouldering the crowd aside.

"Who's this man, Mike?" demanded Berry.

"Well, who do you think he is?" asked Clinch thickly.

"I think he's gettin' the goods on you, that's what I think," yelled Berry.

"G'wan home, Charlie," returned Clinch. "G'wan, all o' you. The dance is over. Go peaceable, every one. Stop that fiddle!"

The music ceased. The dance was ended; they all understood that; but there was grumbling and demands for drinks.

Clinch, drunk but impassive, herded them through the door out into the starlight. There was scuffling, horse-play, but no fighting.

The big Englishman, Harry Beck, asked for accommodations for his party over night.

"Naw," said Clinch, "g'wan back to the Inn. I can't bother with you folks to-night." And as the others, Salzar, Georgiades, Picquet and Sanchez gathered about to insist, Clinch pushed them all out of doors in a mass.

"Get the hell out o' here!" he growled; and slammed the door.

He stood for a moment with head lowered, drunk, but apparently capable of reflection. Eve came from the melodeon and laid one slim hand on his arm.

"Go to bed, girlie," he said, not looking at her.

"You also, dad."

"No.... I got business with Hal Smith."

Passing Smith, the girl whispered: "You look out for him and undress him."

Smith nodded, gravely preoccupied with coming events, and nerving himself to meet them.

He had no gun. Clinch's big automatic bulged under his armpit.

When the girl had ascended the creaking stairs and her door, above, closed, Clinch walked unsteadily to the door, opened it, fished out his pistol.

"Come on out," he said without turning.

"Where?" enquired Smith.

Clinched turned, lifted his square head; and the deadly glare in his eyes left Smith silent.

"You comin'?"

"Sure," said Smith quietly.

But Clinch gave him no chance to close in: it was death even to swerve. Smith walked slowly out into the starlight, ahead of Clinch--slowly forward in the luminous darkness.

"Keep going," came Clinch's quiet voice behind him. And, after they had entered the woods,--"Bear to the right."

Smith knew now. The low woods were full of sink-holes. They were headed for the nearest one.

* * * * *

On the edge of the thing they halted. Smith turned and faced Clinch.

"What's the idea?" he asked without a quaver.

"Was you in Roosia?"

"Yes."

"Was you an officer?"

"I was."

"Then you're spyin'. You're a cop."

"You're mistaken."

"Ah, don't hand me none like that! You're a State Trooper or a Secret Service guy, or a plain, dirty cop. And I'm a-going to croak you."

"I'm not in any service, now."

"Wasn't you an army officer?"

"Yes. Can't an officer go wrong?"

"Soft stuff. Don't feed it to me. I told you too much anyway. I was babblin' drunk. I'm drunk now, but I got sense. D'you think I'll run chances of sittin' in State's Prison for the next ten years and leave Eve out here alone? No. I gotta shoot you, Smith. And I'm a-going to do it. G'wan and say what you want ... if you think there's some kind o' god you can square before you croak."

"If you go to the chair for murder, what good will it do Eve?" asked Smith. His lips were crackling dry; he moistened them.

"Sink holes don't talk," said Clinch. "G'wan and square yourself, if you're the church kind."

"Clinch," said Smith unsteadily, "if you kill me now you're as good as dead yourself. Quintana is here."

"Say, don't hand me that," retorted Clinch. "Do you square yourself or no?"

"I tell you Quintana's gang were at the dance to-night--Picquet, Salzar, Georgiades, Sard, Beck, Jose Sanchez--the one who looks like a French priest. Maybe he had a beard when you saw him in that cafe wash-room----"

"What!" shouted Clinch in sudden fury. "What yeh talkin' about, you poor dumb dingo! Yeh fixin' to scare me? What do _you know about Quintana? Are you one of Quintana's gang, too? Is that what you're up to, hidin' out at Star Pond. Come on, now, out with it! I'll have it all out of you now, Hal Smith, before I plug you----"

He came lurching forward, swinging his heavy pistol as though he meant to brain his victim, but he halted after the first step or two and stood there, a shadowy bulk, growling, enraged, undecided.

And, as Smith looked at him, two shadows detached themselves from the trees behind Clinch--silently--silently glided behind--struck in utter silence.

Down crashed Clinch, black-jacked, his face in the ooze. His pistol flew from his hand, struck Smith's leg; and Smith had it at the same instant and turned it like lightning on the murderous shadows.

"Hands up! Quick!" he cried, at bay now, and his back to the sink-hole.

Pistol levelled, he bent one knee, pushed Clinch over on his back, lest the ooze suffocate him.

"Now," he said coolly, "what do you bums want of Mike Clinch?"

"Who are you?" came a sullen voice. "This is none o' your bloody business. We want Clinch, not you."

"What do you want of Clinch?"

"Take your gun off us!"

"Answer, or I'll let go at you. What do you want of Clinch?"

"Money. What do you think?"

"You're here to stick up Clinch?" enquired Smith.

"Yes. What's that to you?"

"What has Clinch done to you?"

"He stuck _us up, that's what! Now, are you going to keep out of this?"

"No."

"We ain't going to hurt Clinch."

"You bet you're not. Where's the rest of your gang?"

"What gang?"

"Quintana's," said Smith, laughing. A wild exhilaration possessed him. His flanks and rear were protected by the sink-hole. He had Quintana's gang--two of them--over his pistol.

"Turn your backs and sit down," he said. As the shadowy forms hesitated, he picked up a stick and hurled it at them. They sat down hastily, hands up, backs toward him.

"You'll both die where you sit," remarked Smith, "if you yell for help."

Clinch sighed heavily, stirred, groped on the damp leaves with his hands.

"I say," began the voice which Smith identified as Harry Beck's, "if you'll come in with us on this it will pay you, young man."

"No," drawled Smith, "I'll go it alone."

"It can't be done, old dear. You'll see if you try it on."

"Who'll stop me? Quintana?"

"Come," urged Beck, "and be a good pal. You can't manage it alone. We've got all night to make Clinch talk. We know how, too. You'll get your share----"

"Oh, stow it," said Smith, watching Clinch, who was reviving. He sat up presently, and put both hands over his head. Smith touched him silently on the shoulder and he turned his heavy, square head in a dazed way. Blood striped his visage. He gazed dully at Smith for a little while, then, seeming to recollect, the old glare began to light his pale eyes.

The next instant, however, Beck spoke again, and Clinch turned in astonishment and saw the two figures sitting there with backs toward Smith and hands up.

Clinch stared at the squatting forms, then slowly moved his head and looked at Smith and his levelled pistol.

"We know how to make a man squeal," said Harry Beck suddenly. "He'll talk. We can make Clinch talk, no fear! Leave it to us, old pal. Are you with us?" He started to look around over his shoulder and Smith hurled another stick and hit him in the face.

"Quiet there, Harry," he said. "What's my share if I go in with you?"

"One sixth, same's we all get."

"What's it worth?" asked Smith, with a motion of caution toward Clinch.

"If I say a million you'll tell me I lie. But it's nearer three--or you can have my share. Is it a go?"

"You'll not hurt Clinch when he comes to?"

"We'll make him talk, that's all. It may hurt him some."

"You won't kill him?"

"I swear by God----"

"Wait! Isn't it better to shoot him after he squeals? Here's a lovely sink-hole handy."

"Right-o! We'll make him talk first and then shove him in. Are you with us?"

"If you turn your head I'll blow the face off you, Harry," said Smith, cautioning Clinch to silence with a gesture.

"All right. Only you better make up your mind. That cove is likely to wake up now at any time," grumbled Beck.

Clinch looked at Smith. The latter smiled, leaned over, and whispered:

"Can you walk all right?"

Clinch nodded.

"Well, we'd better beat it. Quintana's whole gang is in these woods, somewhere, hunting for you, and they might stumble on us here, at any moment." And, to the two men in front: "Lie down flat on your faces. Don't stir; don't speak; or it's you for the sink-hole.... Lie down, I tell you! That's it. Don't move till I tell you to."

Clinch got up from where he was sitting, cast one murderous glance at the prostrate forms, then followed Smith, noiselessly, over the stretch of sphagnum moss.

* * * * *

When they reached the house they saw Eve standing on the steps in her night-dress and bare feet, holding a lantern.

"Daddy," she whimpered, "I was frightened. I didn't know where you had gone----"

Clinch put his arm around her, turned his bloody face and looked at Smith.

"It's _this_," he said, "that I ain't forgetting, young fella. What you done for me you done for _her_.

"I gotta live to make a lady of her. That's why," he added thickly, "I'm much obliged to you, Hal Smith.... Go to bed, girlie----"

"You're bleeding, dad?"

"Aw, a twig scratched me. I been in the woods with Hal. G'wan to bed."

He went to the sink and washed his face, dried it, kissed the girl, and gave her a gentle shove toward the stairs.

"Hal and I is sittin' up talkin' business," he remarked, bolting the door and all the shutters.

* * * * *

When the girl had gone, Clinch went to a closet and brought back two Winchester rifles, two shot guns, and a box of ammunition.

"Goin' to see it out with me, Hal?"

"Sure," smiled Smith.

"Aw' right. Have a drink?"

"No."

"Aw' right. Where'll you set?"

"Anywhere."

"Aw' right. Set over there. They may try the back porch. I'll jest set here a spell, n'then I'll kind er mosey 'round.... Plug the first fella that tries a shutter, Hal."

"You bet."

Clinch came over and held out his hand.

"You said a face-full that time when you says to me, 'Clinch,' you says, 'Eve _is a lady.' ... I gotta fix her up. I gotta be alive to do it.... That's why I'm greatly obliged to yeh, Hal."

He took his rifle and walked slowly toward the pantry.

"You bet," he muttered, "she _is a lady, so help me God."

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