IT was well for Haney that Bertie did not see him as he sat above his gambling boards, watchful, keen-eyed, grim of visage, for she would have trembled in fear of him. " Haney's" was both saloon and gambling hall. In the front, on the right, ran the long bar with its shining brass and polished mahogany (he prided himself on having the best bar west of Denver), and in the rear, occupying both sides of the room, stood two long rows of faro and roulette outfits, together with card-tables and dice-boards. It was the largest and most prosperous gambling hall in the camps, and always of an evening was crowded with gamesters and those who came as lookers-on.
On the right side, in a raised seat about midway of the hall, Haney usually sat, a handsome figure, in broad white hat, immaculate linen, and well-cut frock-coat, his face as pale as that of a priest in the glare of the big electric light. On the other side, and directly opposite, Williams kept corresponding "lookout" over the dealers and the crowd. He was a bold man who attempted any shenanigan with Mart Haney, and the games of his halls were reported honest.
To think of a young and innocent girl married to this remorseless gambler, scarred with the gun and the knife, was a profanation of maidenhood—and yet, as he fell now and then into a dream, he took on a kind of savage beauty which might allure and destroy a woman. Whatever else he was, he was neither commonplace nor mean. The visitors to whom he was pointed out as "a type of our modern Western desperado" invariably acknowledged that he looked the part. His smile was of singular sweetness—all the more alluring because of its rarity—and the warm clasp of his big, soft hand had made him sheriff in San Juan County, and his bravery and his love of fair play were well known and admired among the miners.
The sombre look in his face, which resembled that of a dreaming leopard, was due to the new and secret plans with which his mind was now engaged. "If she takes me, I quit this business," he had promised himself. "She despises me in it, and so does the mother, and so I reckon 'tis up to me to clean house."
Then he thought of his own mother, who had the same prejudice, and who would not have taken a cent of his earnings. "I see no harm in the business," he said. "Men will drink and they will gamble, and I might as well serve their wish as anny other—better, indeed, for no man can accuse me of dark ways nor complain of the order of me house. I am a business man the same as him that runs a grocery store; but 'tis no matter, she dislikes it, and that ends it. She's a clear-headed wan," he thought, with a glow of admiration for her. "She's the captain."
He no longer thought of her as his victim—as something to be ruthlessly enjoyed — he trembled before her, big and brave and relentless as he was in the world of men. "What has come over me?" he asked himself. "Sure she has me on me knees—the witch. Me mind is filled with her."
All through the week his agents were at work attempting to sell his saloons. "I'm ready to close out at a moment's notice," he declared.
At times, as he sat in his place, he lost consciousness of the crowding, rough-hatted, intent men and the monotonous calls of the dealers. The click of balls, the buzz of low-toned comment died out of his ears— he was back in Troy, looking for his father, whom he had not seen or written to in twenty years. He saw himself, with a dainty little woman on his arm, taking the boat to New York. "I will go to the biggest hotel in the city; the girl shall have the best the old town has. Nothing will be too good for her—"
He roused himself to a touch on his elbow. One of his agents had a new offer for the two saloons. It was still less than he considered the business worth, but in his softened mood he said, "It goes!"
"Make out your papers," replied the other man, with almost equal brevity.
During the rest of the evening the gambler sat above his lay-out with mingled feelings of relief and regret. After all, he was in command here. He knew this business, and he loved the companionship and the admiration of the men who dropped round by his side to discuss the camp or the weather, or to invite him to join a hunting trip. He felt himself to be one of the chief men of the town, and that he could at any time become their Representative if he chose. For some years (he couldn't have told why) he had taken on a thrift unknown to him before, and had been attending strictly to business. He now saw that it must have been from a foreknowledge of Bertha. In him the superstitions of both miner and gambler mingled. The cards had run against him for three years, now they were falling in his favor. "I will take advantage of them," he declared.
Slowly the crowd thinned out, and at one o'clock only a few inveterate poker-players and one or two young fellows who were still "bucking" the roulette wheel remained and, calling one of his men to take charge, Haney nodded to Williams and they went out on the street.
As he reached the cold, crisp, deliciously rarefied air outside, he took off his hat and involuntarily looked up at the stars blazing thick in the deep-blue midnight sky. With solemn voice he said to his partner: "Well, 'Spot,' right here Mart Haney's saloon business ends. We're all in."
Williams felt that his partner was acting rashly. "Oh, I wouldn't say that! You may get into it again."
"No—the little girl and her mother won't stand for it, and, besides, what's the use? I don't need to do it, and if I'm ever going to see the world now is my chance. I'm goin' back East to discover how manny brothers and sisters I have livin'. The old father is dodderin 'round somewheres back there. I'll surprise him, too. Now, have those papers all made out ready to sign by eleven o'clock to-morrow. I'm goin' down the valley on the noon train."
"All right, Mart, but you're makin' a mistake."
"Never you mind, me bucko. 'Tis me own game, and the mines will take all the gray matter you can spare."
As the big man was walking away towards his hotel a woman met him. "Hello, Mart!" "Hello, Mag; what's doing?"
She was humped and bedraggled, and her face looked white in the moonlight. "Nothing. Stake a fellow to a hot soup, won't you?"
"Sure thing, Mag." He handed her a five-dollar gold piece. " Is it as bad as that ? What's t' old man doin' these days?"
"Servm' time," she answered, bitterly.
"Oh, so he is!" replied Haney, hastily. "I'd forgotten. Well, take care o' yourself," he added, genially, walking on in instant forgetfulness of the woman's misery, for his mind was turned upon the talk which his younger brother Charley had given him not long before in Denver.
It was not a cheerful conversation, for Charley flippantly confessed that he didn't hold any family reunions, and that all he knew of his brothers he gained by chance. "They're all great boozers," he said, in summing them up. "Tim is a ward heeler in Buffalo —came to see me at the stage-door loaded to the gunnels. Tom is a greasy, three-fingered brakeman on the Central. Fannie married a carpenter and has about seventeen young ones. Mary died, you know?"
"No, I didn't know."
"Yes, died about four years ago. She was like mother—a nice girl. Dad sent me a paper with a notice of her death. He never writes, but now and then, when Tim has a fight or Tom gets drunk and slips into the criminal column, I hear of them."
Charles did not say so, but Mart knew that he was lumped among the other poverty-stricken, worthless members of the family. He did not at the time undeceive his brother, but now that he was no longer a gambler and saloon-keeper, now that he was rich, he resolved not only to let his father know of his good-fortune and his change of life, but also (and this was due to Bertie's influence) he earnestly desired to help his family out of their mire.
"We had good stuff in us," he said, "but we went wrong after the mother left us."
As he walked on down the street a strange radiance came into the world. The distant peaks of the Sangre de Cristo range rose in dim and shadowy majesty to the south, and, wondering, astonished at the emotion stirring in his heart, the regenerated desperado turned to see the moon lifting above the crown of the great peak to the east. For the first time in many years his heart was filled with a sense of the beauty of the world.