IT WAS the end of the rainy season, and a wet night. Brace and Parks were looking from the window over the swollen river, with faces quite as troubled as the stream below. Nor was the prospect any longer the same. In the past two years Buckeye had grown into a city. They could now count a half dozen church spires from the window of the three-storied brick building which had taken the place of the old wooden Emporium, but they could also count the brilliantly lit windows of an equal number of saloons and gambling-houses which glittered through the rain, or, to use the words of a local critic, “Shone seven nights in the week to the Gospel shops’ one!” A difficulty had arisen which the two men had never dreamed of, and a struggle had taken place between the two rival powers, which was developing a degree of virulence and intolerance on both sides that boded no good to Buckeye. The disease which its infancy had escaped had attacked its adult growth with greater violence. The new American saloons which competed with Jovita Mendez’ Spanish venture had substituted a brutal masculine sincerity for her veiled feminine methods. There was higher play, deeper drinking, darker passion. Yet the opposition, after the fashion of most reformers, were casting back to the origin of the trouble in Jovita, and were confounding principles and growth. “If it had not been for her the rule would never have been broken.” “If there was to be a cleaning out of the gambling houses, she must go first!”
The sounds of a harp and a violin played in the nearest saloon struggled up to them with the opening and shutting of its swinging baize inner doors. There was boisterous chanting from certain belated revelers in the next street which had no such remission. The brawling of the stream below seemed to be echoed in the uneasy streets; the quiet of the old days had departed with the sedate, encompassing woods that no longer fringed the river bank; the restful calm of Nature had receded before the dusty outskirts of the town.
“It’s mighty unfortunate, too,” said Brace moodily, “that Shuttleworth and Saunders, who haven’t been in the place since their row, have come over from Fiddletown to-day, and are banging around town. They haven’t said anything that I know of, but their presence is quite enough to revive the old feeling against her shop. The Committee,” he added bitterly, “will be sure to say that not only the first gambling, but the first shooting in Buckeye took place there. If they get up that story again—no matter how quiet she has become since—no matter what you may say as mayor—it will go hard with her. What’s that now?”
They listened breathlessly. Above the brawling of the river, the twanging of the harp-player, and the receding shouts of the revelers, they could hear the hollow wooden sidewalks resounding with the dull, monotonous trampling of closely following feet. Parks rose with a white face.
“Will you stand by me—and her?”
“Stand by you and her? Eh? What? Good God! Parks!—you don’t mean to say you—it’s gone as far as that?”
“Will you or won’t you?”
The sound of the trampling had changed to a shuffling on the pavement below, and then footsteps began to ascend the stairs.
Brace held out his hand quickly and grasped that of Parks as the door opened to half a dozen men. They were evidently the ringleaders of the crowd below. There was no hesitation or doubt in their manner; the unswerving directness which always characterized those illegal demonstrations lent it something of dignity. Nevertheless, Carpenter, the spokesman, flushed slightly before Parks’ white, determined face.
“Come, Parks, you know what we’re after,” he said bluntly. “We didn’t come here to parley. We knew your sentiments and what you think is your duty. We know what we consider ours—and so do you. But we’re here to give you a chance, either as mayor, or, if you prefer it, as the oldest citizen here, to take a hand in our business to-night. We’re not ashamed of what we’re going to do, and we’re willing to abide by it; so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t speak aboveboard of it to you. We even invite you to take part in our last ‘call’ tonight at the Hall.”
“Go!” whispered Brace quickly, “you’ll gain time!”
Parks’ face changed, and he turned to Carpenter. “Enough,” he said gravely. “I reserve what I have to say of these proceedings till I join you there.” He stopped, whispered a few words to Brace, and then disappeared as the men descended the stairs, and, joining the crowd on the pavement, proceeded silently towards the Town Hall. There was nothing in the appearance of that decorous procession to indicate its unlawful character or the recklessness with which it was charged.
There were thirty or forty men already seated in the Hall. The meeting was brief and to the point. The gambling saloons were to be “cleaned out” that night, the tables and appliances thrown into the street and burnt, the doors closed, and the gamblers were to be conducted to the outskirts of the town and forbidden to enter it again on pain of death.
“Does this yer refer to Jovita Mendez’ saloon?” asked a voice.
To their surprise the voice was not Parks’ but Shuttleworth’s. It was also a matter to be noted that he stood a little forward of the crowd, and that there was a corresponding movement of a dozen or more men from Fiddletown who apparently were part of the meeting.
The chairman (No. 10) said there was to be no exception, and certainly not for the originator of disorder in Buckeye! He was surprised that the question should be asked by No. 72, who was an old resident of Buckeye, and who, with No. 73, had suffered from the character of that woman’s saloon.
“That’s jest it,” said Shuttleworth, “and ez I reckon that Saunders and me did all the disorder there was, and had to turn ourselves out o’ town on account of it, I don’t see jest where she could come into this affair. Only,” he turned and looked around him, “in one way! And that way, gentlemen, would be for her to come here and boot one half o’ this kempany out o’ town, and shoot the other half! You hear me!—that’s so!” He stopped, tugged a moment at his cravat and loosened his shirt-collar as if it impeded his utterance, and went on. “I’ve got to say suthin’ to you gentlemen about me and Saunders and this woman; I’ve got to say suthin’ that’s hard for a white man to say, and him a married man, too—I’ve got to say that me and Saunders never had no qu’oll, never had no fight at her shop: I’ve got to say that me and Saunders got shot by Jovita Mendez for insultin’ her—for tryin’ to treat her as if she was the common dirt of the turnpike—and served us right! I’ve got to say that Saunders and me made a bet that for all her airs she wasn’t no better than she might be, and we went there drunk to try her—and that we got left, with two shots into us like hounds as we were! That’s so!—wasn’t it, Saunders?”
“With two shots inter us like hounds ez we were,” repeated Saunders with deliberate precision.
“And I’ve got to say suthin’ more, gen’lemen,” continued Shuttleworth, now entirely removing his coat and vest, and apparently shaking himself free from any extraneous trammels. “I’ve got to say this—I’ve got to say that thar ain’t a man in Buckeye, from Dirty Dick over yon to the mayor of this town, ez hasn’t tried the same thing on and got left—got left, without shootin’ maybe, more’s the pity, but got left all the same! And I’ve got to say,” lifting his voice, “that ef that’s what you call disorderliness in her—if that’s what yo’r turnin’ this woman out o’ town for—why”—
He stopped, absolutely breathless and gasping. For there was a momentary shock of surprise and shame, and then he was overborne by peal after peal of inextinguishable laughter. But it was the laughter that precipitated doubt, enlightened justice, cleared confusion, and—saved them!
In vain a few struggled to remind them that the question of the other saloons was still unaffected. It was lost in the motion enthusiastically put and carried that the Committee should instantly accompany Saunders and Shuttleworth to Jovita’s saloon to make an apology in their presence. Five minutes later they halted hilariously before its door. But it was closed, dark, and silent!
Their sudden onset and alarm brought Sanchicha to the half-opened door. “Ah, yes! the Senorita? Bueno! She had just left for Fiddletown with the Senor Parks, the honorable mayor. They had been married only a few moments before by the Reverend Mr. McCorkle!”