On 16th November, 1870, Mr. Shchapoff, a Russian squire, the narrator, came home from a visit to a country town, Iletski, and found his family in some disarray. There lived with him his mother and his wife's mother, ladies of about sixty-nine,... Read more of The Dancing Devil at Scary Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
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A Man Errs And Pays








From: 'firebrand' Trevison

For a time Trevison stood on the gallery, watching the woman as she faded
into the darkness toward Manti, and then he laughed mirthlessly and went
into the house, emerging with a rifle and saddle. A few minutes later he
rode Nigger out of the corral and headed him southwestward. Shortly after
midnight he was at the door of Levins' cabin. The latter grinned with
feline humor after they held a short conference.

"That's right," he said; "you don't need any of the boys to help you pull
that off--they'd mebbe go to actin' foolish an' give the whole snap
away. Besides, I'm a heap tickled to be let in on that sort of a
jamboree!" There followed an interval, during which his grin faded. "So
she peached on you, eh? She told my woman she wouldn't. That's a woman,
ain't it? How's a man to tell about 'em?"

"That's a secret of my own that I am not ready to let you in on. Don't
tell your wife where you are going tonight."

"I ain't reckonin' to. I'll be with you in a jiffy!" He vanished into the
cabin, reappeared, ran to the stable, and rode out to meet Trevison.
Together they were swallowed up by the plains.

At eight o'clock in the morning Corrigan came out of the dining-room of
his hotel and stopped at the cigar counter. He filled his case, lit one,
and stood for a moment with an elbow on the glass of the show case,
smoking thoughtfully.

"That was quite an accident you had at your mine. Have you any idea who
did it?" asked the clerk, watching him furtively.

Corrigan glanced at the man, his lips curling.

"You might guess," he said through his teeth.

"That fellow Trevison is a bad actor," continued the clerk. "And say," he
went on, confidentially; "not that I want to make you feel bad, but the
majority of the people of this town are standing with him in this deal.
They think you are not giving the land-owners a square deal. Not that I'm
'knocking' you," the clerk denied, flushing at the dark look Corrigan
threw him. "That's merely what I hear. Personally, I'm for you. This town
needs men like you, and it can get along without fellows like Trevison."

"Thank you," smiled Corrigan, disgusted with the man, but feeling that it
might be well to cultivate such ingratiating interest. "Have a cigar."

"I'll go you. Yes, sir," he added, when he had got the weed going; "this
town can get along without any Trevisons. These sagebrush rummies out here
give me a pain. What this country needs is less brute force and more
brains!" He drew his shoulders erect as though convinced that he was not
lacking in the particular virtue to which he had referred.

"You are right," smiled Corrigan, mildly. "Brains are all important. A
hotel clerk must be well supplied. I presume you see and hear a great many
things that other people miss seeing and hearing." Corrigan thought this
thermometer of public opinion might have other information.

"You've said it! We've got to keep our wits about us. There's very little
escapes us." He leered at Corrigan's profile. "That's a swell Moll in
number eleven, ain't it?"

"What do you know about her?" Corrigan's face was inexpressive.

"Oh say now!" The clerk guffawed close to Corrigan's ear without making
the big man wink an eyelash. "You don't mean to tell me that you ain't
on! I saw you steer to her room one night--the night she came here. And
once or twice, since. But of course us hotel clerks don't see anything!
She is down on the register as Mrs. Harvey. But say! You don't see any
married women running around the country dressed like her!"

"She may be a widow."

"Well, yes, maybe she might. But she shows speed, don't she?" He
whispered. "You're a pretty good friend of mine, now, and maybe if I'd
give you a tip you'd throw something in my way later on--eh?"

"What?"

"Oh, you might start a hotel here--or something. And I'm thinking of
blowing this joint. This town's booming, and it can stand a swell hotel in
a few months."

"You're on--if I build a hotel. Shoot!"

The clerk leaned closer, whispering: "She receives other men. You're not
the only one."

"Who?"

The clerk laughed, and made a funnel of one hand. "The banker across the
street--Braman."

Corrigan bit his cigar in two, and slowly spat that which was left in his
mouth into a cuspidor. He contrived to smile, though it cost him an
effort, and his hands were clenched.

"How many times has he been here?"

"Oh, several."

"When was he here last?"

"Last night." The clerk laughed. "Looked half stewed when he left. Kinda
hectic, too. Him and her must have had a tiff, for he left early. And
after he'd gone--right away after--she sent one of the waiters out for a
horse."

"Which way did she go?"

"West--I watched her; she went the back way, from here."

Corrigan smiled and went out. The expression of his face was such as to
cause the clerk to mutter, dazedly: "He didn't seem to be a whole lot
interested. I guess I must have sized him up wrong."

Corrigan stopped at his office in the bank, nodding curtly to Braman.
Shortly afterward he got up and went to the courthouse. He had ordered
Judge Lindman to issue a warrant for Carson the previous morning, and had
intended to see that it was served. But a press of other matters had
occupied his attention until late in the night.

He tried the front door of the courthouse, to find it locked. The rear
door was also locked. He tried the windows--all were fastened securely.
Thinking the Judge still sleeping he went back to his office and spent an
hour going over some correspondence. At the end of that time he visited
the courthouse again. Angered, he went around to the side and burst the
flimsy door in, standing in the opening, glowering, for the Judge's cot
was empty, and the Judge nowhere to be seen.

Corrigan stalked through the building, cursing. He examined the cot, and
discovered that it had been slept in. The Judge must have risen early.
Obviously, there was nothing to do but to wait. Corrigan did that,
impatiently. For a long time he sat in the chair at his desk, watching
Braman, studying him, scowling, rage in his heart. "If he's up to any
dirty work, I'll choke him until his tongue hangs out a yard!" was a
mental threat that he repeated many times. "But he's just mush-headed over
the woman, I guess--he's that kind of a fool!"

At ten o'clock Corrigan jumped on his horse and rode out to the butte
where the laborers were working, clearing away the debris from the
explosion. No one there had seen Judge Lindman. Corrigan rode back to
town, fuming with rage. Finding some of the deputies he sent them out to
search for the Judge. One by one they came in and reported their failure.
At six-thirty, after the arrival of the evening train from Dry Bottom,
Corrigan was sitting at his desk, his face black with wrath, reading for
the third or fourth time a letter that he had spread out on the desk
before him:

"MR. JEFFERSON CORRIGAN:

"I feel it is necessary for me to take a short rest. Recent
excitement in Manti has left me very nervous and unstrung. I shall be
away from Manti for about two weeks, I think. During my absence any
pending litigation must be postponed, of course."

The letter was signed by Judge Lindman, and postmarked "Dry Bottom."

Corrigan got up after a while and stuffed the letter into a pocket. He
went out, and when he returned, Braman had gone out also--to supper,
Corrigan surmised. When the banker came in an hour later, Corrigan was
still seated at his desk. The banker smiled at him, and Corrigan motioned
to him.

Corrigan's voice was silky. "Where were you last night, Braman?"

The banker's face whitened; his thoughts became confused, but instantly
cleared when he observed from the expression of the big man's face that
the question was, apparently, a casual one. But he drew his breath
tremulously. One could never be sure of Corrigan.

"I spent the night here--in the back room."

"Then you didn't see the Judge last night--or hear him?"

"No."

Corrigan drew the Judge's letter from the pocket and passed it over to
Braman, watching his face steadily as he read. He saw a quick stain appear
in the banker's cheeks, and his own lips tightened.

The banker coughed before he spoke. "Wasn't that a rather abrupt
leave-taking?"

"Yes--rather," said Corrigan, dryly. "You didn't hear him walking about
during the night?"

"No."

"You're rather a heavy sleeper, eh? There is only a thin board partition
between this building and the courthouse."

"He must have left after daylight. Of course, any noise he might have made
after that I wouldn't have noticed."

"No, of course not," said Corrigan, passionlessly. "Well--he's gone." He
seemed to have dismissed the matter from his mind and Braman sighed with
relief. But he watched Corrigan narrowly during the remainder of the time
he stayed in the office, and when he went out, Braman shook a vindictive
fist at his back.

"Worry, damn you!" he sneered. "I don't know what was in Judge Lindman's
mind, but I hope he never comes back! That will help to repay you for that
knockdown!"

Corrigan went over to the Castle and ate supper. He was preoccupied and
deliberate, for he was trying to weave a complete fabric out of the
threads of Braman's visits to Hester Harvey; Hester's ride westward, and
Judge Lindman's abrupt departure. He had a feeling that they were in some
way connected.

At a little after seven he finished his meal, went upstairs and knocked at
the door of Hester Harvey's room. He stepped inside when she opened the
door, and stood, both hands in the pockets of his trousers, looking at her
with a smile of repressed malignance.

"Nice night for a ride, wasn't it?" he said, his lips parting a very
little to allow the words to filter through.

The woman flashed a quick, inquiring look at him, saw the passion in his
eyes, the gleam of malevolent antagonism, and she set herself against it.
For her talk with Trevison last night had convinced her of the futility of
hope. She had gone out of his life as a commonplace incident slips into
the oblivion of yesteryear. Worse--he had refused to recall it. It hurt
her, this knowledge--his rebuff. It had aroused cold, wanton passions in
her--she had become a woman who did not care. She met Corrigan's gaze with
a look of defiant mockery.

"Swell. I enjoyed every minute of it. Won't you sit down?"

He held himself back, grinning coldly, for the woman's look had goaded him
to fury.

"No," he said; "I'll stand. I won't be here a minute. You saw Trevison
last night, eh? You warned him that I was going to have Carson arrested."
He had hazarded this guess, for it had seemed to him that it must be the
solution to the mystery, and when he caught the quick, triumphant light in
the woman's eyes at his words he knew he had not erred.

"Yes," she said; "I saw him, and I told him--what Braman told me." She saw
his eyes glitter and she laughed harshly. "That's what you wanted to know,
isn't it, Jeff--what Braman told me? Well, you know it. I knew you
couldn't play square with me. You thought you could dupe me--again,
didn't you? Well, you didn't, for I snared Braman and pumped him dry. He's
kept me posted on your movements; and his little board telephone--Ha, ha!
that makes you squirm, doesn't it? But it was all wasted effort--Trevison
won't have me--he's through. And I'm through. I'm not going to try any
more. I'm going back East, after I get rested. You fight it out with
Trevison. But I warn you, he'll beat you--and I wish he would! As for that
beast, Braman, I wish--Ah, let him go, Jeff," she advised, noting the cold
fury in his eyes.

"That's all right," he said with a dry laugh. "You and Braman have done
well. It hasn't done me any harm, and so we'll forget about it. What do
you say to having a drink--and a talk. As in old times, eh?" He seemed
suddenly to have conquered his passion, but the queer twitching of his
lips warned the woman, and when he essayed to move toward her, smiling
pallidly, she darted to the far side of a stand near the center of the
room, pulled out a drawer, produced a small revolver and leveled it at
him, her eyes wide and glittering with menace.

"Stay where you are, Jeff!" she ordered. "There's murder in your heart,
and I know it. But I don't intend to be the victim. I'll shoot if you come
one step nearer!"

He smirked at her, venomously. "All right," he said. "You're wise. But get
out of town on the next train."

"I'll go when I get ready--you can't scare me. Let me alone or I'll go to
Rosalind Benham and let her in on the whole scheme."

"Yes you will--not," he laughed. "If I know anything about you, you won't
do anything that would give Miss Benham to Trevison."

"That's right; I'd rather see her married to you--that would be the
refinement of cruelty!"

He laughed sneeringly and stepped out of the door. Waiting a short time,
the woman heard his step in the hall. Then she darted to the door, locked
it, and leaned against it, panting.

"I've done it now," she murmured. "Braman--Well, it serves him right!"

* * * * *

Corrigan stopped in the barroom and got a drink. Then he walked to the
front door and stood in it for an instant, finally stepping down into the
street. Across the street in the banking room he saw a thin streak of
light gleaming through a crevice in the doorway that led from the banking
room to the rear. The light told him that Braman was in the rear room.
Selecting a moment when the street in his vicinity was deserted, Corrigan
deliberately crossed, standing for a moment in the shadow of the bank
building, looking around him. Then he slipped around the building and
tapped cautiously on the rear door. An instant later he was standing
inside the room, his back against the door. Braman, arrayed as he had been
the night before, had opened the door. He had been just ready to go when
he heard Corrigan's knock.

"Going out, Croft?" said Corrigan pleasantly, eyeing the other intently.
"All lit up, too! You're getting to be a gay dog, lately."

There was nothing in Corrigan's bantering words to bring on that sudden
qualm of sickening fear that seized the banker. He knew it was his guilt
that had done it--guilt and perhaps a dread of Corrigan's rage if he
should learn of his duplicity. But that word "lately"! If it had been
uttered with any sort of an accent he might have been suspicious. But it
had come with the bantering ring of the others, with no hint of special
significance. And Braman was reassured.

"Yes, I'm going out." He turned to the mirror on the wall. "I'm getting
rather stale, hanging around here so much."

"That's right, Croft. Have a good time. How much money is there in the
safe?"

"Two or three thousand dollars." The banker turned from the glass. "Want
some? Ha, ha!" he laughed at the other's short nod; "there are other gay
dogs, I guess! How much do you want?"

"All you've got?"

"All! Jehoshaphat! You must have a big deal on tonight!"

"Yes, big," said Corrigan evenly. "Get it."

He followed the banker into the banking room, carefully closing the door
behind him, so that the light from the rear room could not penetrate.
"That's all right," he reassured the banker as the latter noticed the
action; "this isn't a public matter."

He stuffed his pockets with the money the banker gave him, and when the
other tried to close the door of the safe he interposed a restraining
hand, laughing:

"Leave it open, Croft. It's empty now, and a cracksman trying to get into
it would ruin a perfectly good safe, for nothing."

"That's right."

They went into the rear room again, Corrigan last, closing the door behind
him. Braman went again to the glass, Corrigan standing silently behind
him.

Standing before the glass, the banker was seized with a repetition of the
sickening fear that had oppressed him at Corrigan's words upon his
entrance. It seemed to him that there was a sinister significance behind
Corrigan's present silence. A tension came between them, portentous of
evil. Braman shivered, but the silence held. The banker tried to think of
something to say--his thoughts were rioting in chaos, a dumb, paralyzing
terror had seized him, his lips stuck together, the facial muscles
refusing their office. He dropped his hands to his sides and stared into
the glass, noting the ghastly pallor that had come over his face--the
dull, whitish yellow of muddy marble. He could not turn, his legs were
quivering. He knew it was conscience--only that. And yet Corrigan's
ominous silence continued. And now he caught his breath with a shuddering
gasp, for he saw Corrigan's face reflected in the glass, looking over his
shoulder--a mirthless smirk on it, the eyes cold, and dancing with a
merciless and cunning purpose. While he watched, he saw Corrigan's lips
open:

"Where's the board telephone, Braman?"

The banker wheeled, then. He tried to scream--the sound died in a gasping
gurgle as Corrigan leaped and throttled him. Later, he fought to loosen
the grip of the iron fingers at his throat, twisting, squirming, threshing
about the room in his agony. The grip held, tightened. When the banker was
quite still Corrigan put out the light, went into the banking room, where
he scattered the papers and books in the safe all around the room. Then he
twisted the lock off the door, using an iron bar that he had noticed in a
corner when he had come in, and stepped out into the shadow of the
building.





Next: First Principles

Previous: Another Woman Rides



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