Gardner Hunting.

A hand in the game online

. (page 1 of 18)
Online LibraryGardner HuntingA hand in the game → online text (page 1 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook






Page 249

A Hand in the Game


Gardner Hunting

With frontispiece by






Published October, igii



























iv Contents







A Hand in the Game


A VICIOUSLY thrown snowball missed the tar-
get at which it was hurled by my reckless hand,
and struck one that was chosen by my fate. A pair
of red lips, sweet and tender and beautiful, and my
cruel little missile, mischievously flung in wanton
carelessness, came into conjunction like the stars in
a plotted horoscope, foretelling a strange new for-
tune for me.

She was slender and small and dark and lovely
as the loveliest red rose that ever opened its flushed
petals to the day. I was a great, blundering young
giant with more strength than sense, more pug-
nacity than judgment, more hair-brained reckless-
ness than sober experience. It was April yes,
April with snow and spring was in the air after
one parting norther had trailed a white wake across
the wide flat countryside. She was at home in the
little suburban village where the train that carried
me cityward had been stopped by the mere accident
of a freight-spill though I call it by a different
name now. And I, who had been playing in very
ordinary luck but to whom fortune had just dealt
certain wonderful cards, was a mere stranger,

2 A Hand in the Game

halted by very chance for an hour at a spot I had
never seen before and might have thought I would
never see again.

I aimed my snowball at nothing greater than the
wooden cigar Indian that stood before the corner
door of the small hotel where I had had a scanty
luncheon. And she came round the corner just in
time for the flying frozen sphere to deal the blow
that literally broke a way for me into her life.

I have never done a thing that humiliated me
more. I ran to her, where she stopped and stood,
half dazed by the sudden shock, both little slim
gloved hands to her face. And then I saw that she
was lovely.

I was twenty-four then. It is not an age of dis-
cretion. I considered myself an experienced man
of the world. I had traveled, worked, loafed,
played. I had faced some luck and some need. I
had tasted some bitter and some sweet. I had
known comfort and seen times when the expectation
of a supper was the sum of my wealth. I thought
that was all experience. But I had not loved.

Chance does not do things by halves. It was
neither merit nor demerit of mine that had shuf-
fled the cards. I had come to this place because a
strange turn of the wheel had brought me. And I
had been stopped by an unforeseen thing. I had
chanced to lunch at the hotel, and to throw the
snowball. When my Uncle John Randall had died,
a rich and lonely old man my only connection

Certain High Cards 3

with whom during his life was the fact that good old
Maggie Valentine, who had nursed me at the be-
ginning of my life, when my mother died, had
nursed him at the end of his when Uncle John had
died and had left to me, his hitherto apparently un-
loved and unwanted nephew, all of his considerable
possessions, I had thought it sufficiently astonish-
ing. Poor old Uncle John! I misjudged him. He
said he gave me his money because I was good to
Maggie Valentine. That showed a soft spot in his
heart, certainly. But the reason was not convinc-
ing. I had written to Maggie for years, since I
had first learned where she was, and had sent her
a little money. If that was the reason for sur-
prising favor from fortune, I recommend the
method as a pleasant one. But fortune only com-
menced with that.

She stood quite still in the sunlight the girl
a beautiful little figure, full of lithe grace, lovely
in every line, from the slender fingers that touched
the smooth shining bands of her dark hair, under
the modish hat, to the slim foot that was making its
narrow print in the untrodden snow. I could not
choose but see that, startled as I was at what I had
done. She stood still and listened while I made
apology. Then she raised her face and looked at me.

" Of course you did not mean to," she said.

" Indeed, I did not. I threw at the wooden figure
and missed, and you came around the corner."

She dried the spattered melting snow from her

4 A Hand in the Game

face, and the trickling blood from her lips. The
small handkerchief she used was criss-crossed with
the red marks, and dampened "with the water. I
clumsily offered mine. I stood awkwardly and
watched, conscious at once of the wish to give better
reparation, and of the wonder I felt at her utter
lack of resentment for the pain and shock I had

" Isn't there anything I can do? " I asked.

" No, thank you," she answered. But she took
my handkerchief, too luckily a reasonably fine one
I chanced to possess.

" I feel very guilty very eager to make some
reparation and I am as glad that I have not in-
jured you as I am, frankly, astonished at your good
nature. Most girls would have been furious.
Won't you let me see how much it is cut ? "

She laughed a little. " It's only bruised. But
see, I am ruining your handkerchief."

She held out my handkerchief. The narrow red
lines showed upon it also. I was distressed, indeed.
I looked at the fine little white teeth as they showed
in the first real smile she had allowed. She was
rather remarkably serious for so kind and gracious
a little lady. I cursed my own clumsiness and my
present lack of ideas to suggest a proper repara-
tion. Also I could not but feel the charm of her
and wish that I could leave a better impression.

" Surely, you can think of something I should do
to make up," I urged.

Certain High Cards

" There's nothing to make up." She smiled
again, sweetly, gently, with frank good will, and
no coquettishness. There was only the slightest
hint of a personal interest in me, in the one glance
she cast over my great, hulking figure. Perhaps the
pique to my vanity had to do with the spur I felt
to compel her consideration.

" Then, if I am quite forgiven " I paused.

' You are quite forgiven. I " She inter-
rupted herself abruptly and looked into my eyes
with sudden quick appeal.

" I know," I answered promptly. " You have
thought of something I can do."

' You could do one thing for me if you will,"
she added, with a frankness that was not incon-
sistent with her reserve.

" I am at your service."

She looked at me again earnestly. Her eyes were
dark and deep and beautiful. Her brows were
straight. Her features were fine and clean-cut.
Her lips, despite the slightly swollen bruise on one,
showed a firm, sweet line. The contour of her
cheek and chin was lovely. Her throat was white
and slender. She was young, just out of girl-
hood, and she was beautiful.

" I haven't any right," she said gravely. " But
I'm going to take you at your word. Curiously
enough, I am in difficulty and I have no one at the
moment to serve me."

' Then let me, please."

6 A Hand in the Game

" I will, and thank you. It's only to take this
letter to the top of the stairs across the street and
deliver it. A friend was to have delivered it for
me, but he did not come and it will not wait."

She held out a business-like looking letter and I
took it. It was addressed in a delicate hand and
bore an unfamiliar name.

" The name is on it. It's for a man named Jud-
son Bain. His office is the first at the head of
those stairs there by the hardware store and his
name is on the door. It will relieve me of consid-
erable embarrassment if you will deliver it to him."

Somewhat surprised at the request I yet did not
find it a thing to cavil at. It seemed still more
gracious in her to give me a small service to per-
form. It would make my parting from her after
our rough introduction more graceful. I took the

" I shall take this as a sign of full pardon," I

She bowed, and smiled a little as she had smiled
before. She yielded me my handkerchief too, seem-
ingly with half unconscious movement. And then
she turned rather sharply away.

I raised my hat and wheeled to cross the street.
I was loath to lose sight of her but I could not
stand and stare. The two or three companions
from the belated train, who had been with me and
had witnessed my exploit, were standing in a door-
way, looking smilingly on. I was conscious of

Certain High Cards 7

them again and of their amused looks. But I did
not turn my head. Indeed, my eyes held the vision
of the sweet face at which I had looked, and my
mind was busy with the odd suddenness with which
she had acceded to my begging to be allowed to
serve her. It was curious, too, that she had ac-
knowledged that she was in difficulty. That had
been her expression rather a strong one.

I crossed the street. At the opposite pavement
I turned to look back. I could not forbear, for curi-
osity alone would have compelled it. The girl was
not in sight but I saw faces at the windows of shops
and knew that my fellow-travelers had not been
the only witnesses of the episode. I quickly re-
gretted my backward glance and was quicker still
to pursue my errand. I crossed the pavement and
entered the stairway that had been indicated.

I began to have a rather poignant sense of having
lost something I would gladly have kept, as the feel-
ing came that the girl had actually gone beyond
my reach. Five minutes before I had not known of
her existence. After that one brief moment of
surprising contact the impression she left, the im-
pression of her beauty and of her boylike frankness
and generosity for boylike they were had been
strong. As wonder at the odd happening began to
mount, as I winced again at thought of the vicious
little blow I had struck, as I saw again the scarlet
thread on the smooth little chin, and then the smile
on the bruised lips, I felt the sudden tug of desire

8 A Hand in the Game

that is so prompt of birth in young blood in April
yes, even in a snow- feathered April, which is an
abnormal thing and so may possess abnormal power
in its ever mysterious influences. And I wished an-
other card from the hand of the dealer just one
more that should make the rest worth while.

I did not know as I mounted the narrow wooden
stairs to the second floor of the two-story village
building, and stood before the door bearing the
name of the man she had mentioned I did not
know that the thing was already done; that already
I held the full hand with which I was to play my
game, that the first trick lay before me, and that
the stakes were to be life itself and the prize of my
dreams; I did not know that I had laid my wager
on the cloth and had no choice now but to play.


T OPENED the door at the head of the stairs and

saw a bald, heavy-set, short-necked man stand-
ing in the midst of a dingy office strewn with a
strange chaos of books and papers. I stepped inside
and spoke the name on the envelope. I saw the
fat face of him puckered with wrath and a look so
sinister in his eyes that I thought of defense in the
first instant they turned on me. Then I gave the let-
ter into his outstretched hand, saw him tear it open,
read three lines and turn, livid with rage, upon me.

" And who in the fiend's name are you? "

I did not answer him. It was too thoroughly
surprising an insult.

' You have the nerve to bring me this ? By the
Lord Harry, I have a notion to brain you ! "

I found my tongue. I was not built to take abuse.
It was amazing enough, but I saw no reason in that
for mild expostulation.

" Begin," I said to him briefly.

For answer he wheeled and caught up a heavy
walking-stick from the side of the big desk and
his voice bellowed out a great hoarse cry.

" Scancey ! " he shouted, a call to some aid or


io A Hand in the Game

friend. " Scancey, come here ! He's sent a great
cub to add insult to injury ! Come here ! "

He whirled again and faced me, belligerent. I
was astounded, but my blood has never been slow
to heat and I do not love humility. It is not the part
of wisdom to strike first and seek explanation after-
wards, but I have had the name of doing so, and
when a man strikes me, or threatens, it is his to
explain. I stood still and waited.

" Who are you? " shouted the fellow, staring at
me now. " Isn't it enough that you've robbed us
without coming here to threaten more? Do you
think I don't understand your game ? "

Still I said nothing. I heard hurrying feet in an
inner office and a little chalk- faced, ferret-eyed man
came to the door I had hardly had time to notice

" Who are you ? " he cried at me, like an echo of
the other. " Why are you here ? What have you

I turned out my hands toward the fat imbecile
before me. I did not answer the second better than
the first. I faced the pair of them with my fingers
already itching to crack their ugly heads together,
for they were ill-favored enough.

"Bain, what is it?" cried the small man in the

The big fellow flung the note he held upon the
table behind him. " Read it yourself," he snarled.
Then to me, " Get out of here."

A Quarrel Espoused n

" When you explain your insulting language."

"Get out of here do you hear?" he roared.
He took a stride forward and half raised his

" If you strike me with that stick, I'll throw you
out of the window," I said. I was growing hugely
excited and spoiling for the fight.

" Wait, Bain ! " cried the other man. " Wait !
Don't be hasty. What does this mean ? " He had
picked up the sheet that had so mysteriously infuri-
ated his friend and read it in a glance.

" Did you bring this? " he asked of me.

I bowed. " I had the honor," I answered, with
impulse to irony now that my own wrath was rising.

" Do you know what is in it ? "

" I do not."

:t You lie ! " cried the man Bain fiercely. " I saw
you in the street with the Philbric girl. I saw you
coming here."

'' You have good eyes," I told him.

" So you're the new ally, are you ? "

" I'm the fellow who brought you that note and
whom you were about to thrash. I'm waiting for
you to begin."

" Hold on, Judson. Wait ! " put in the other man
sharply. " What is your name ? " he asked me with
a twisted effort at a propitiatory grimace.

" It has no bearing on the present case."

" It has."

" Well, my name is not Philbric," I answered.

12 A Hand in the Game

" Did you come here to pick a fight ? " interrupted
the man Bain.

" I am not averse to one. But you are the man
who is inviting trouble."

"What do you call that?" He pointed back to
the letter in the other's grasp.

" It seems to be a red rag to you."

He yelled a curse. On the edge of explosion, he
let himself go and with the outburst he swung his
stick and aimed a smashing blow at me.

I stepped out of the circle of his reach. Then I
stepped in, after his savage swing and grappled with
him. I whirled him and caught his wrist as he
lifted his great club again. Then I seized his elbow
and turned it in and under with a trick I learned at
school and brought him to his knees, with his heavy
cane crashing to the floor. And he squealed like a
hurt puppy.

The other man raised a scream of alarm. He
scrambled to get something from a drawer that I
thought might be a gun. I stepped over my fallen
first opponent, seized the second by his shoulders
and sent him spinning against the glass doors of
a bookcase by the side-wall. He crashed into them
and spilled a thousand fragments jangling in wild
din upon the floor. Then I stooped and picked up
the weapon he would have used against me. It was
a magazine pistol.

The man Bain was still on his knees with his hand
clapped to the shoulder I had twisted. His eyes

A Quarrel Espoused 13

were on me with malevolence burning in them like
something molten. His lips were white with his
passion. His coat was hunched up behind his ears
till it robbed him of even the appearance of a neck
and his fat body so crouched upon the rug that he
looked like a great pig.

I pocketed the gun. As I did so I saw the offend-
ing sheet of note-paper also on the floor at my feet.
I picked it up and glanced in sheer curiosity at its
contents. If ever a man had a right to read an-
other's letter I felt that I had earned mine. This is
what it contained :


" Sir: I have only commenced, as you will soon
discover. I know how to meet your attacks. I have
a new ally who can make it hot for you if you at-
tempt underhand methods. Be warned in time.

I folded the sheet carefully. It was only mys-
tery to me. It gave me no clue as to why I had
been involved except that some colossal misunder-
standing had arisen. But the brief scene of violence
had stirred me too deeply for me to be content to
withdraw now. It was only clear that the girl I
had met in the street through such an odd accident
was enmeshed in strange difficulty with two such
men as these to whose office she herself had sent me.
I could not contemplate them and my memory of
her and doubt as to which side might merit my al-

14 A Hand in the Game

legiance. Anything I could do to embarrass this
pair could hardly fail to be a blow in her cause and
the prompting to it was urgent.

I stooped and handed the note again to Judson
Bain in pure spirit of mischief now.

" Don't forget that I delivered this," I said.
" Philbric may want to be sure."

He took the paper and held it before him. His
partner was picking himself lamely from the wreck
of the bookcases and nursing a cut on his hand.

" You'll pay a dear price for this, young man,"
he volunteered, his face a shade whiter if possible
than before. But the odd gesture he used a sweep
of his hand that seemed to indicate all the havoc
that had previously been wrought in the office as
well as the wreck I had caused arrested my at-

" For this ? " I repeated, mimicking his move-
ment. "How so?"

' You are clearly involved."

" I seem to be involved, but I did not start this

" It's not going to be hard to prove who robbed
this office last night, and why."

" And am I involved in that also ? It may prove
interesting to learn the extent to which I have
stepped into your affairs."

"You'll learn quickly enough."

" Let us hope so. But if you can learn anything
on your own part, you'd better take a lesson from

A Quarrel Espoused 15

this first experience. I won't be so gentle next

It was pure bravado this, of course. But I loved
to bait them then. I was utterly in the dark still
and the fault was not mine. Besides, the idea that
I was harassing an enemy of the girl I had seen,
however strange it might be that she should possess
such enemy, was beginning to be a joy to me. I
bethought me that I could further espouse her cause
if I chose by making much of this quarrel, and the
impulse became paramount. I stood still by the door
and drew out my pocketbook. Taking from it a
card I wrote the name of the small hotel across the
way upon it and laid it on a table by the door.

'' That will be my address for twenty-four hours,"
I promised, at a hazard. " I shall spend my time
making it hot for you for the sort of thing you've
handed to me here this afternoon. Good-day."

I went out and down the stairs. I was so tre-
mendously, delightfully excited now, that I could
scarcely show a calm exterior as I stepped into the
street. Immediately, however, I forgot the effort,
for excitement was everywhere abroad. People
were gathering in a crowd. Everywhere there were
running figures coming toward the corner where I
stood. At the very bottom of the stairway a half
dozen men were gathered with every evidence of
interest in the doorway from which I came and in
the office above. I stepped almost into their midst
and they turned upon me as one.

16 A Hand in the Game

"Where did you come from?" some one

The question seemed ludicrous enough to me. It
is only a step from the tragic to the comic and I
had been keyed almost to the former pitch a moment
before. I laughed outright. They stared at me as
if fairly aghast at my appearance.

" I have just visited Judson Bain and Mr.
Scancey," I answered. -

" Scancey ! " The exclamation was from three
or four at once.

" Certainly," said I. " Have you such a thing as
a policeman or a town officer here ? "

The crowd was pressing in. The people had eyes
for no one but me and they seemed possessed by
some tremendous interest far beyond any curiosity
that could have been roused by possible noise over-
heard from our brief fight above.

" Is Scancey up there? " asked a short, heavy-set
fellow with rather good brown eyes who pushed a
little forward.

" A man whom Bain calls Scancey is up there,"
I replied. " He tried to pot me with this gun a mo-
ment ago."

I drew the magazine pistol from my pocket.

" Shot you? " exclaimed the chorus.

" Well, hardly," said I. " He meant to."

" Wheeler Scancey ? " queried the stocky man
with odd insistence.

" I don't know the man myself," I answered.

A Quarrel Espoused 17

" He is a little chalk-faced chap who is too slow with
a gun to afford to make the play."

The questioner turned to the others. " Then it
isn't true! " he said. " If Scancey is here, he isn't
at The Hazels."

" That sounds reasonable," said I. " But where's
your constable? "

" I'm town marshal," he answered, turning back
to me.

' Then take this gun and my complaint against
this Scancey and this Bain. I went to their office
on a peaceable errand for Miss Philbric, and they
tried pretty well to kill me."


Again they echoed the name I spoke.

"Are you a friend of the Philbrics?" cried a
tall fellow, who was not in the front rank. He was
a handsome well-dressed young chap of a different
class from the rougher men about me.

" I think I may fairly consider myself so," I said.

He pushed forward. " What do you know of
this shooting?" he asked. " Have you come from
the house? Did you see Donna here a few minutes
ago ? Are you the one who took her note ? "

I stared at him. "Shooting?" I repeated.
" There was no shooting. I took the gun away from
the little fool."

He stared at me in turn, as much puzzled by what
I answered as I at his questions.

" Who are you? " he asked.

i8 A Hand in the Game

" My name is Dan Randall. I am the nephew of
the late John Randall, who if I mistake not was
known hereabouts,"

My uncle had been one of the rich men of his
state. It was a safe guess that the people of his city
and suburbs were acquainted with his name and
fame though I knew them not and they knew not me.

"You are Dan Randall?"

I bowed. " And you ? "

But he did not answer the question. He put an-
other instead, while the crowding people and the
self-styled officer of the law hung upon his words
and mine.

" Were you at The Hazels when this shooting
occurred ? " he almost demanded of me.

It seemed time for plain speaking. If shooting
there had been and he appeared to insist upon it
there was another mystery forming here that needed
no half-answers to befog it further.

" I have not been to The Hazels," I said as ex-
plicitly as I could, " and I know of no shooting."

A general exclamation went up. I gazed around
the wide-eyed circle for explanation, but they looked
back at me in what seemed sheer stupid daze. But
the young chap who had usurped the place of ques-
tioner came closer and put his hand on my arm.

" This is a strange mix-up," he said. " I don't
understand and I don't believe you do. Did you
know that Hal Philbric killed a man at The Hazels

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryGardner HuntingA hand in the game → online text (page 1 of 18)