A Matter of Principle
A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE
SAMUEL HOPKINS ADAMS
ILLUSTRATED BY EVERETT SHINN
VERY early in life, Heiny, child of the Bowery and waif of the world, devised a code of conduct. It was simple, practical, and based on pure empiricism. Briefly stated, its cardinal principle was this: you did a thing; if nobody kicked you it was all right; if the kick was forthcoming you must not do it again, or you must contrive a different method. There were few spots on Heiny's small body undecorated by a lesson of this nature, well conned and wisely constructed. So, by the time he was ten years old, he was an able practitioner of life, capable of meeting any emergency which might confront him on or about New York's great East Side.
Profession or trade, Heiny had none. Odd jobs of a light and airy nature, such as running errands, he would do at inclination rather than upon the compulsion of necessity. Gambling at craps netted him a wavering income when he chanced to have the capital for an original "fade, "without which the crap-shooter finds no game open to him on the sidewalks of New York. He had been known to sell "extrys," and once, at least, had applied for and held a job, until, at the end of four days the pettiness of unchanging to-morrows had so wrought upon his soul, that he forsook the grocery-store régime and was seen in that environment no more. Mostly, he lived an innocently parasitic life. He was not beautiful to look upon, being short, squat, and unduly flattened of visage. But Mother Nature (the only mother he had ever known) had blessed him with a smile of winning expansiveness which glowed in old-gold glory from every one of his thousand-odd freckles, and commended him to the friendly offices of the world at large by its irresistible earnest of good-nature and good-fellowship. To such as knew him, he was further certified by an inborn and anchored loyalty toward whomsoever he accepted in his general scheme of comradeship.
"You're my friend," said Heiny's eyes and Heiny's smile to you, and thereafter he would fight, lie, beg, lend, or even risk capture at the hands of the dreaded "kid-grabbers" (i. e., the Gerry Society) for your need.
Such was Heiny as one autumn evening he drifted down the Bowery current into the dark pool of dubious traffic which officially styles itself Chatham Square, and became part thereof through the agency of Dutch Gus. The introduction took place under circumstances of possible embarrassment to a less finished worldliness than Heiny's. Dutch Gus was in a hurry at the time. He was, in fact, a fugitive, if not from justice, at least from the arm and implement thereof, for a policeman with a club at the ready was in hot and somewhat unsteady pursuit. Arrest was no part of Officer Donovan's program. He wanted Dutch Gus for purely personal reasons. He aspired (in the words of his own threat) to "knock the block off" Gus because of a slight matter of rivalry in the affections of one of Chinatown's adopted daughters. Having had a number of drinks, he had neglected the wise policeman's precaution of discarding his uniform before going out to settle a personal grudge. The fugitive passed close to Heiny, at that moment engaged in redeeming a "snipe" which some extravagant smoker had cast in fiery flight from an L train.
For the better knowledge of such readers as have never lived on the Bowery or its tributaries, I may state that, in that section, to obstruct the police is to acquire merit. Heiny was not slow of seizing his opportunity.
"Me dime! Oh, me dime!" he wailed.
Hands and knees a-scramble, he shot across the sidewalk like a chunky insect. There ensued a spectacle of subverted law and the sound of language as Donovan plunged and skidded toward the gutter. Heiny rolled over, gave a moan, quivered, and lay still. Speechless with rage the policeman got to his feet, rushed upon Heiny and booted him savagely. The boy did not move. Hauling him up, the half-drunken officer cuffed him once and was drawing back for a harder blow, when a snarl from behind arrested his hand.
"Ahr-r-r-r, ye murderer! D'ye want to kill the kid?"
Two women were moving up on him. For the protest of the male citizen the New York policeman cares nothing; "interfering with an officer in the discharge of his duty" disposes of such. But the revolt of the Chatham Square harpy is all too likely to be borne out by furrowing nail and deep-sunk tooth. Donovan saw, beneath the paint on the women's faces, a murderous hate working; might have seen, had his eye possessed the vision, a glimmer of submerged womanhood's noble pity for the unfortunate. Hesitant, he loosed his hold on the boy. The little body slumped to the sidewalk like an empty bag.
"You 've done him," cried the younger of the two women. "An' him no more than a baby."
"What is it to you?" growled the policeman.
"You drunken brute," said the weazened girl, glaring at him. "If the Cap gets onto you being full again and murdering a kid——"
"Take care of the mutt, then," interrupted the officer, glancing around uneasily, for the drink was dying out of him and he began to be afraid (Heiny lay flaccid as a corpse). "I never touched him."
He slunk away, and the women bent over the still form.
"Are you much hurted, dearie?" asked the older.
Heiny opened one eye. "Where's the cop?" he counter-questioned.
"Nah; he did n't hurt me—much," said Heiny rubbing himself. Then, brushing up his manners: "How's things, Lib?" he politely inquired of the older woman, and of the younger, "Business good, Peaches?"
"You 've got us down pretty pat, " said the one last addressed.
"Sure. Seen you around the concert halls. I been on this beat longer 'n you."
"You've cut your eye-teeth, all right," said the girl he had called Peaches, with a mirthless laugh. "You chuck a dummy (i. e., feign epilepsy or unconsciousness) like a hospital grafter. Did you get your dime?"
Now that dime was a figment of fancy, a theatrical property conjured for the needs of the moment with the gamin's ready inventiveness. The same inventiveness suggested to Heiny the possibility of making that imaginary dime a reality, from the charity of the little crowd which had gathered.
"Nah," he replied in answer to the question. "It was fer me rope (night's lodging). It must have rolled away. I 'll have to bunk on the town."
He set about minutely inspecting the sidewalk, aided by several of the onlookers, some of whom displayed suspicious eagerness. Presently Heiny straightened up with a doleful shake of his head. Inwardly he was hoping that some one in the crowd would "come up." But the gathering melted away. It was the woman called Lib who finally produced two nickels, with obvious pangs of parting.
"Here," she said. "G'wan to your rope. Tell Dutch Gus I give it to ye when you see him. Maybe he'll square it."
"Who's he?" asked Heiny.
"Why, the man Drunken Donovan was after. Don't you know him?"
"That guy? Never seen him before."
"Then you just butted in on general principles?" said Peaches. "You are a game kid."
Heiny glanced at her, then at Lib, and finally at the two nickels in his hand. They looked large and they felt warm—but, some way, it would n't do. Not for Heiny.
"Say," he blurted out. "I do' want these. I never lost no dime."
"No?" queried Lib incredulously. "Was it all a bluff?"
"Sure. I thought some of the bunch o' rubbernecks might give up. I ain't takin' your dough."
Shamefacedly, but with the magic of his smile sunning over his homely little features, he dropped the coins into the hand of the giver.
"Well, whadda yeh think of that!" said Lib, less in query than as an expression of otherwise inexpressible amazement.
"Run him up against Gus," advised the other. "Maybe he could use a kid as fly as this one."
Between them they led Heiny beneath a glare of lights outlining the legend "Lone Pine Pool-Room; Pool 2½ Cts. a Cue," through the smoke-blue atmosphere of a large room crowded with dilapidated tables and no less dilapidated players, whose accuracy of game was equaled only by the intensity of earnestness they evinced at it, and upon a raised platform where men and women sat drinking at small tables to the desperate music of a battered piano, manipulated by a still more battered pianist. Hither came Dutch Gus presently, and after a moment's talk with Lib, who intercepted him, glanced sharply at Heiny and took a table for all of them. At nearer sight he revealed himself as a powerfully built young German with a handsome face and an uneasy eye.
"So, t'at's t'e kid." he said in a soft, mannerly voice, which nevertheless gave Heiny an unpleasant shivery feeling. "Haf a beer? No; you're too yong." The boy bridled. "Better not," advised Gus. "Try t'is instead."
He flipped over a quarter of a dollar. Heiny clutched it. Rich in the unexpected windfall, he would have slipped away, but the German detained him.
"Where you come from?" he asked.
"I belong on the Bowery," said the boy, giving the best reply he could.
"Where's your fader?"
"Ain't got no father."
"You win," said Heiny cheerfully. "Try me on a easier one."
"Who takes care of you?"
"What's the matter wit' meself?" demanded the boy promptly.
The German looked him over meditatively. "Yess," he ruminated; "I might give t'e kid a try-out. Sinz yong Karl got to be a light-weight scrapper in t'e ring, t'ere ain't none fly enough. Vell," he added to Heiny, "you stay here and vatch."
"I 'll go you," said the boy. He had n't the faintest idea what might be the prospect opening before him, but if it was work, he could always exchange it for something easier. So he turned his best smile on his new patron.
"T'at's all right," said Gus with quick satisfaction. The smile had impressed him. Not that it had in the least won on him; sentiment had no place in the cold-hearted German; but he estimated its quality of fellowship as a future asset to the Lone Pine's main industry. Of the nature of that industry the boy was soon to have an inkling.
Heiny stayed and watched. He saw a number of men who were drinking heavily; sailors, some of them, others evidently from the country districts (jays he labeled them mentally), and he noticed also other men who seemed to be drinking heavily, but never showed the slightest effects of it. These were Germans, much of Dutch Gus's type. Later he came to know them all; Dolph Kleiner, who had served two terms in state's prison for swindling poor girls out of their savings; Fritz Bertels, a reputed graduate of Heidelberg who, as a bogus count, had lived for two months gloriously on credit at a swell club uptown; Bull Schild, the wrestler; and poor "Solo," the piano player, who had once sung minor rôles in grand opera. Then there were the women, haggard, wan, and dissipated, whose high-pitched merriment lent an air of determined gaiety to the place. Just now Heiny's interest centered in Crazy Meg, so called because if one whispered in her ear, "There's the man that stole your little sister" she would go murderous-mad and, with whatever weapon came nearest to hand, seek revenge blindly for the black tragedy that had made her what she was.
There was "something doing" at Meg's table. The keen-witted boy gathered so much from the whispers of Lib and Peaches and the covert attention of Gus. The man with Meg was drinking heavily and paying from a sizeable roll of bills. Presently Gus strolled over; there was a formula of introduction, and, sitting down, he ordered a round of beers. For a moment after it came the German's bulk hid the stranger's glass from Heiny; but it seemed to the boy that if anyone leaned over his glass that way with shifting hand—well, he would be wary in tasting the drink. Not so the stranger. He swallowed the last drop.
"He 's took it," whispered Peaches to Lib.
"Sure. There he goes," assented the older woman.
The man's head rolled. He half rose, then fell forward. His forehead struck the table with a startling thump. Instantly, as if on signal, Dolph Kleiner, Bertels, Bull the wrestler, and two or three others gathered around him.
"Out in t'e side hall," ordered Dutch Gus. "He's full, already."
If it was drunkenness it was a type unfamiliar to the experienced Heiny. But he asked no questions, neither then nor later that night when he went home with Gus on the German's invitation, nor on many other nights when, from his nook behind the benches, he saw the same sordid drama oft repeated, and came in for a quarter or half a dollar as his share of the booty. Indeed, he needed to ask no questions, for one night the police, who were always considerate (for a consideration), had summoned an ambulance for one of the "drunks," and Heiny had heard the boyish surgeon snort and say, "Another case of knock-out drops." After that he knew what he had strongly suspected from the first. But what business of his was it that men were lured to the Lone Pine to be drugged and robbed? The work was easy; "dead easy," said Heiny to himself with increasing satisfaction, and he had money enough to shoot craps with the best of the Grand Street experts now. All that he was expected to do for his pay was to bear an occasional, unimportant-sounding message to some obscure person or other, generally to be found in the back room of a saloon, such as:
"The fireworks are off for to-night," or, "Look for a cold spell the rest of the week."
By and by came his admission to the full fellowship of the gang. Dutch Gus was his sponsor.
"Heiny," said he. "You know what is a peter-player?"
"Nah," said the boy innocently. "Do they have it in the orchestra?"
"I am a peter-player," said Gus. "It is my business."
Heiny waited in silence.
"You understand t'at? T'e Lone Pine business?"
"Nah; I ain't on," lied Heiny smoothly.
"All t'ose fellers an' t'e girls; t'ey are part of it. T'ey are t'e gang. You know what t'ey do?"
"They're bakers," said Heiny. He had heard Dolph tell a stranger that once. Dutch Gus smiled.
"When a man comes in with money, too much money, he gets a little someding in his drink. Like t'is." He showed the boy a small vial concealed in the palm of his muscular hand, and made a swift motion as of emptying it. "T'en he goes asleep an' we carry him out."
"Oh, that 's her, is it?" said Heiny calmly.
Gus nodded. "T'at is peter. I tell you t'is because you are in t'e game now. We need you. See?"
Heiny permitted himself his first and last question as to the ethics of the profession. "What you got ag'in' the guys you give the stuff to?"
Gus stared at him. "We need t'e money." he said softly. Then with a swift, savage change of tone: "Don't you get any fool t'oughts in t'e head. You stick by t'e gang. T'at 's all you haf to do. You be on t'e square with t'e gang, and t'e gang is on t'e square with you. Not—and you get killed. See?"
Heiny saw. He became a ready pupil in the mysteries of "peter." He learned the patter of the trade, and how to deal at certain obscure drug and herb stores deep in the heart of the East Side, and what formulæ to use in so dealing, and how to tell a "fly-cop" by his feet, and many another lesson in this school of crime. By virtue of which he became duly accredited messenger to the peter-gang of the Lone Pine Pool Room.
He acquired also a new article in his code of ethics; to be "on the square" with the gang. Hitherto he had been loyal to individuals; now he began dimly to see that there was a principle involved. That which in all of us reaches out toward some higher course of conduct than mere personal convenience and expediency, twined itself from Heiny's growing spirit around this new standard. That the pursuit he abetted was unlawful, weighed nothing. To him it was a natural livelihood. He preyed as prey the scavenger insects that follow the feast of the slayer. And yet he had his occasional misgivings, such as he expressed in the one question to Dutch Gus. Some of the victims of the peter-players were pleasant-faced, kindly-seeming fellows. Why should they suffer the loss of their "rolls," he vaguely wondered, and be thrust forth, despoiled and senseless, upon the mercies of the authorities? Not infrequently he felt uneasily sorry for them. But in evil case and good he was staunch with a waxing loyalty to the Lone Pine fellowship.
Evil case and good varied with the peter-players. For a time came many fish to their net. Then, some three months after Heiny joined the gang, the Powers that mete out destiny to the police department and through that medium to all the criminal industry of the mighty city, sent a "straight man" to rule over that precinct which gathers rich tribute from Chatham Square. And the straight man's orders were to knock out the knock-out industry. Captain Cortright was not in the business of collecting tribute. Within a week after his advent, business was woefully slack in the Lone Pine. Within two weeks, half of the "bakers" were under arrest. Within a month, hard times were pressing sorely upon the remainder, the girls came but seldom, the peter itself was hard to come at, and Dutch Gus, driven by a desperate need, was avid for a "killing." Early one evening he called Heiny out of his cozy corner.
"T'e girls have put me onto a fellow for t'is evening," he said. "We must have t'e stuff here in a hour."
"Schilpen's is out. The cops are watching Rosenstein's, and the new guy at Schenck's won't touch the business," said the wise Heiny.
"Teufels!" cried Gus savagely. "Don't I know? Take t'is dollar. Go to the address on t'e paper. Come back in a hour or I skin your hide."
It was a silver dollar. Heiny had no reliable pocket. So he looked at the address, wrapped the coin in the paper, clenched it in his right hand, and plunged out of the warm, brilliant room into the whirl of a savage, snow-bearing southeaster. Up Division Street he went at a trot and at the corner of Allen ran into two boys, one of his own size, the other a little larger. The smaller boy he knew not; the other he knew as Skinny—and nothing further. But they were not of his gang and they were two to one.
"Who yer buntin'?" demanded Skinny advancing in an unmistakable manner.
"Lemme be. I 'm goin' fer a doctor," whined Heiny, using the plea which avails where all else fails on the East Side. Here it fell on stony ground.
"Soak him, Skinny," exhorted Skinny's companion.
Flight was out of the question; they had him cornered. There was nothing for it but battle. Now, when you fight with one opponent you may drop back the right foot, prance, feint, and cradle your fists in true prize-ring style. But when two enemies confront you the conventions of fistic warfare are as naught, and the Marquis of Queensbury might as well never have been born. Heiny rushed upon the elongated Skinny with flailing arms, then suddenly ducked and butted him in the stomach. Skinny sighed sadly, toppled over on the foe and embraced him. At the same moment his confederate pulled Heiny's legs out from under him and all three went down together. Followed then a wild thresh of juvenility all over the sidewalk. Comparative quiet ensued only when Skinny sat triumphantly astride the victim's chest while the ally gagged Heiny and punched at his face.
Suddenly Skinny cried:
"Look out. He 's got a knife."
The ally investigated cautiously. "Naw," he shrilled in high excitement. "It's a plunker."
Straightway he began to hammer at the clenched hand. Heiny gripped with the clasp of desperation. It was the gang's money. Without it he could not get the peter and the game must fall through. They 'd have to kill him before he 'd give up. Futilely he twisted his head. If he could but set his teeth in that hand that was beating at his! Something warm trickled along his fingers. The sooty snow splotched pink. With a convulsive effort Heiny writhed his body half over, and suddenly found it easy to turn. The weight lifted from his chest, his lacerated hand was freed, and he got dizzily to his feet.
A bearded man in sailor garb with the word "Texas" on his cap was holding his assailants, one in each hand. The man's simple face was beaming with good-nature; he seemed to find it all vastly amusing.
"Two to one 's no fair game, my hearties," he said. "What 's the row?"
"They picked on me," whined Heiny.
"Take your turn then. Hold hard. What 's that in your hand? The steel? Oh, that 's no good. Give it here."
"Lemme go," wailed Heiny. "I 'm goin' fer——"
"Give it here," repeated the man sternly. "You won't?"
A quick twist wrenched the boy's hand open. "Oh, a dollar. It's all right. You 'll get it back—after the scrap. Now, which first?"
Something in the sailor's hearty bearing inspired trust. Heiny smiled up in his face, and the man patted his back. "Go in. I 'll bet on you," he said.
With a long breath of mingled preparation and satisfaction Heiny said, "It's up to Skinny," and pitched in.
Heart was lacking in Skinny; perhaps wind, too, from that first well-planted butt. In two minutes he was whining for mercy. To the lesser antagonist the battle-warmed Heiny turned, but that astute youngling, after squaring off as if on business bent, flipped around the corner with such speed that pursuit was useless.
"Haw-haw-haw!" bellowed the sailor in deep-chested mirth. "Purty cute, that feller. Here 's your dollar, son."
"Thanks," said Heiny and then wondered where he had learned the word.
The sailor chuckled. "You ought to join the navy," he said. "You 'll make a scrapper. It 's up to Skinny,' says you. An' in you boned. Haw-haw-haw!"
A sharp curiosity beset the urchin. "What did you do it fer?" he asked with unaccustomed timidity.
"Do what? Oh. Well, you was one an'-an' they was two an'-an' one of 'em was bigger"—the sailor stumbled about for expression. "You'd help a feller that was gettin' the worst of it, wouldn't you?" he asked triumphantly.
"I dunno," said Heiny, considering the proposition dubiously. Many a man he had seen get "the worst of it" with no particular thought of help.
"Course you would," said the rescuer earnestly. "If I come along here an' a couple o' coves pulled a gun on me you 'd jump in." He spoke simply, as one man to another.
And as one man to another: "You 're all right, Texas," said Heiny with one of his friend-making smiles, and was off.
The sailor's deep laughter followed him as he sped on his errand:
"Texas! Haw-haw-haw! An' me from Ohyer."
Revolving strange things in his troubled mind, the boy dodged through the thickening tenement region until he turned up into Ludlow Street and finally slipped into a little drug store. Had he felt less weight of problem on his mind he would have carefully looked about him before entering. As it was, he failed to see two heavy-booted men in a dark doorway opposite. A learned-looking young clerk with eye-glasses peered at him from behind the counter of the little herb-scented store.
"Don't look as if he knew the patter," thought Heiny, and produced the bit of paper. It was torn and bloody. The clerk looked at it and then suspiciously at the bearer.
"What do you want, my young friend?" he asked.
"The stuff," answered Heiny boldly. He showed the dollar. "Eighth of an ounce."
"Was ist das vas du mir eben sagen willst?" cried the clerk angrily, casting little nervous glances at a woman who had just entered.
"Ah-h-h, nix comeraus," retorted the gamin scornfully. "Sprecker nit Dutch. I want the stuff for my grandfather."
The clerk's face cleared a little. "Who is your grandfather?"
"Peter Schmidt." It might have been Peter Stein or Peter Gans or Peter Kelly; the test word was the "Peter."
"Yes"—with nodding head—"And he wants it for——"
"To make him sleep," said Heiny, following the formula perfectly.
"You have brought the money?"
"The same as the last," said the clerk, handing him a very small vial, such as one might hide in the palm of a hand. "Good-night. Behüte!"
The exclamation brought Heiny up, all standing. But it was too late. He had fairly run into the two burly men who had crossed over from the dark doorway opposite. One of them snatched at his hand. But Heiny's education had prepared him for any emergency. The vial dropped, and smashed in a thousand pieces on the stone coping, while a wail of anguish went up from Heiny's wide-spread face.
"Me cough-dope fer me kid brother! He 'll croak, he will. I got no more money. An' the old woman 'll kill me fer losin' it."
So well was it done that it fairly baffled the detectives. But not beyond a working suspicion. They let the sorrowing boy go in again—and waited. Now, had there been time to spare, Heiny would have tried every other place known to him rather than have run further risk there. But no other place was open; and the hour pressed. So he suggested another vial on credit. The clerk refused. Heiny pressed him. More vehemently the clerk refused; but now the boy noticed that with each refusal there was a twitching movement of the thumb toward the rear. Out went the messenger, torn with sobs, to meditate upon the twitching thumb. His intimate knowledge of the East Side came to his aid in this manner of reasoning:
"This block is full of back tenements. There must be one behind this store. I can get to it by going through the hallway of the house on the next street. That 's what the guy means with his finger-wiggling."
Shrewdly estimating the distance, Heiny successfully negotiated the dark passage of the hallway from the next street over, crawled through a black and foul rear-tenement, scaled a ruinous fence, and in five minutes was receiving from the rear exit of the store a second vial, sweetened to his uses by the praises of the eye-glassed clerk. Delicately carrying the treasure he made his swift return to the pool room.
Dutch Gus stood scowling in the doorway. It was a quarter past the hour set by him, and he only growled when Heiny came up, breathless, and, without looking at his sponsor, dropped the peter lightly in his pocket, whispering as he passed:
On he hurried to his accustomed corner, behind the benches. To what went on about him, for once, he paid little heed. He heard the cracked voice of Crazy Meg exhorting her comrade and catch of the evening to "keep the drinks moving lively. Bill," and the wearier tones of Lib and Peaches who had just seated themselves at a table near him; but beyond subconsciously noting that they were there, he gave them not a thought. A new problem was in his mind, set to running amuck there by the simple creed of his friend in necessity, the sailor. He must help a fellow who was getting the worst of it. Yet he must be on the square with the gang. And if the gang was n't on the square with other people, could he be on the square with the world at large? The matter seemed woefully confused. How would it be if—his troubled little brain trailed off into a maze of speculations. His head buzzed. He was striving to adjust an interloping element in his scheme of the universe which had hitherto been so delightfully straightforward; he was struggling with his private phase of the everlasting riddle, to which the wisest have found so many and various answers. Then abruptly the muddled enigma reduced itself to a specific and sharply personal basis.
Up the steps to the drinking platform came Dutch Gus, followed by a man whose figure and face the bulky German screened from the boy, but whose sailor cap bore the legend "Texas." As he came there rang out in appreciation of some joke of Gus's a full-toned, bellowing "Haw-haw-haw!" that drove the last hopeful doubt shivering from Heiny's mind.
The German's smooth voice, inspired of hospitality, suggested a drink, and the two seated themselves at the table with Lib and Peaches. Heiny, helpless in his corner, thought of the mirthful figures he had seen come in there only to go out sodden, limp, and despoiled. Some of them he knew went to the police station; some went direct to the hospital; some—he remembered the silent departure of the clan one night when Dolph came in with a scared face, bearing a newspaper clipping—and he shuddered.
Meantime, "Here's your health," said Dutch Gus to the sailor.
"Your health," repeated the two women. "Your-very-good-health," said the sailor with an obvious effort at deliberation.
By that Heiny knew that he must act quickly if he were going to act at all, for the man was already half drunk, and the next round of drinks might well be the one selected for the drugging. But why should he act? "You 'd help a feller that was gettin' the worst of it, wouldn't you?" said the sailor's confident voice to his memory.
"I 've got to," answered something within Heiny that was new to himself; and the decision was made. With it came inspiration.
Cautiously getting to his hands and knees Heiny crept along under the benches until he was behind Crazy Meg. From there he could see the whole action at Gus's table. The fresh beer came. Lib diverted the sailor's attention for a moment. In that moment Gus's hand, the thumb stoppering the little vial, rose over the table's edge, and passed above the stranger's glass.
There was a spirt of colorless liquid, and the terrible chloral hydrate lost itself invisibly, imperceptibly, in the beer.
"To t'e best ship in t'e navy, t'e Texas," proposed Gus.
At the same moment Heiny, half-rising behind Crazy Meg, whispered in her ear:
"There's the man that stole your little sister."
"Where?" shrieked the unhappy woman struggling to her feet.
"Drinking with you now," said the boy, and scurried back along the benches to Gus's table.
The crash came before he got there. Crazy Meg, possessed of her insane fury, had beaten down her unsuspecting drinking companion with the heavy glass. Instantly there was confusion.
Gus, the sailor, and the two women at their table rose and hurried forward. Heiny rose, too. Unnoticed in the confusion, he leaned over the table that Gus and his party had just deserted. There was a swift passage of his hands, and he was back in his corner before Meg, raving and howling for vengeance, was dragged out.
When quiet was finally restored: "To t'e best ship in any navy, t'e Texas," pledged Gus, improving on his original toast.
"Right you are," cried the sailor. "I 'll drink all there is to that."
Both set their glasses down empty. The sailor started in upon a song. Dutch Gus glared at him with starting eyes.
"Was ist?" he cried. "T'e drink! T'ey have changed—I feel—" He stopped short, having caught sight of Heiny's terrified face raised above the benches.
"Get out, Texas! Skin fer your life!" cried the boy.
"T'at boy. T'at devil. He have changed t'e glasses. To-to-t'e Texas, t'e-Texas-t'e best-b-b-bo——"
Dutch Gus lurched forward and sprawled over the table. With a rush, Dolph Kleiner, Schild the wrestler, and two others made for the spot.
"Run, Heiny; they 'll kill you!" shrieked Lib. And as the boy scurried through the side hall into the safety of the night, the voice of Peaches calling after him, "Oh, Heiny, what made you turn on the gang?" struck a tang to his heart.
Meantime the rush was upon the sailor He had come suddenly sober, as men will when their peril is upon them. With a clean blow he knocked Dolph headlong, slashed the outstretched arm of the wrestler with a ready knife from his belt, and made his way through the fleeing crowd of pool-players to the street. At the corner he met Heiny.
"Are you all right?" cried the boy eagerly. "Are you all right, Texas?"
"Ah, it was you, was it, matey?" said the man. "You done your part. Just as I knowed you would. We 're square now. I 'm for the ship. Here 's to remember me by. So long, matey."
He thrust a dollar into the boy's hand. Stupidly Heiny fumbled the bill. It was wealth to him. but what is wealth to one beneath whose feet the accustomed world has crumbled? Heiny had turned his back on the ideal of his life; he had forsaken the only standard that he knew. The voice of Peaches rang with dismal reproach in his ears. No longer was he "on the square."
Without one glance of farewell, he turned his back on the glittering lights of the Lone Pine and fared forth, an outcast, disgraced, confounded, remorseful, friendless, and inspired of a high, incredulous elation, to battle with a new existence.