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Mollie Takes Charge

From: The Fighting Edge

Bear Cat was a cow-town, still in its frankest, most exuberant youth. Big
cattle outfits had settled on the river and ran stock almost to the Utah
line. Every night the saloons and gambling-houses were filled with
punchers from the Diamond K, the Cross Bar J, the Half Circle Dot, or any
one of a dozen other brands up or down the Rio Blanco. They came from
Williams's Fork, Squaw, Salt, Beaver, or Piney Creeks. And usually they
came the last mile or two on the dead run, eager to slake a thirst as
urgent as their high spirits.

They were young fellows most of them, just out of their boyhood, keen to
spend their money and have a good time when off duty. Always they made
straight for Dolan's or the Bear Cat House. First they downed a drink or
two, then they washed off the dust of travel. This done, each followed
his own inclination. He gambled, drank, or frolicked around, according to
the desire of the moment.

Dud Hollister and Tom Reeves, with Blister Haines rolling between them,
impartially sampled the goods at Dolan's and at Mollie Gillespie's. They
had tried their hand at faro, with unfortunate results, and they had sat
in for a short session at a poker game where Dud had put too much faith
in a queen full.

"I sure let my foot slip that time," Dud admitted. "I'd been playin'
plumb outa luck. Couldn't fill a hand, an' when I did, couldn't get it to
stand up. That last queen looked like money from home. I reckon I
overplayed it," he ruminated aloud, while he waited for Mike Moran to
give him another of the same.

Tom hooked his heel on the rail in front of the bar. "I ain't made up my
mind yet that game was on the level. That tinhorn who claimed he was from
Cheyenne ce'tainly had a mighty funny run o' luck. D' you notice how his
hands jes' topped ours? Kinda queer, I got to thinkin'. He didn't hold
any more'n he had to for to rake the chips in. I'd sorta like a look-see
at the deck we was playin' with."

Blister laughed wheezily. "You w-won't get it. N-never heard of a hold-up
gettin' up a petition for better street lights, did you? No, an' you
n-never will. An' you never n-noticed a guy who was aimin' to bushwhack
another from the brush go to clearin' off the sage first. He ain't
l-lookin' for no open arguments on the m-merits of his shootin'. Not
none. Same with that Cheyenne bird an' his stocky pal acrost the table.
They're f-figurin' that dead decks tell no tales. The one you played with
is sure enough s-scattered every which way all over the floor along with
seve-real others." The fat justice of the peace murmured "How!" and
tilted his glass.

If Blister did not say "I told you so," it was not because he might not
have done it fairly. He had made one comment when Dud had proposed
sitting in to the game of draw.

"H-how much m-mazuma you got?"

"Twenty-five bucks left."

"If you s-stay outa that game you'll earn t-twenty-five bucks the
quickest you ever did in yore life."

Youth likes to buy its experience and not borrow it. Dud knew now that
Blister had been a wise prophet in his generation.

The bar at Gillespie's was at the front of the house. In the rear were
the faro and poker tables, the roulette wheels, and the other
conveniences for separating hurried patrons from their money. The Bear
Cat House did its gambling strictly on the level, but there was the usual
percentage in favor of the proprietor.

Mollie was sitting in an armchair on a small raised platform about
halfway back. She kept a brisk and business-like eye on proceedings. No
puncher who had gone broke, no tenderfoot out of luck, could go hungry in
Bear Cat if she knew it. The restaurant and the bar were at their service
just as though they had come off the range with a pay-check intact. They
could pay when they had the money. No books were kept. Their memories
were the only ledgers. Few of these debts of honor went unpaid in the

But Mollie, though tender-hearted, knew how to run the place. Her
brusque, curt manner suited Bear Cat. She could be hail-fellow or hard as
flint, depending on circumstances. The patrons at Gillespie's remembered
her sex and yet forgot it. They guarded their speech, but they drank with
her at the bar or sat across a poker table from her on equal terms. She
was a good sport and could lose or win large sums imperturbably.

Below her now there floated past a tide of hot-blooded youth eager to
make the most of the few hours left before the dusty trails called. Most
of these punchers would go back penniless to another month or two of hard
and reckless riding. But they would go gayly, without regret, the
sunshine of irrepressible boyhood in their hearts. The rattle of chips,
the sound of laughter, the murmur of conversation, the even voice of the
croupier at the roulette table, filled the hall.

Jim Larson, a cowman from down the river, sat on the edge of the

"The Boot brand's puttin' a thousand head in the upper country this fall,
Mollie. Looks to me like bad business, but there's a chance I'm wrong at
that. My bet is you can't run cows there without winter feed. There won't
many of 'em rough through."

"Some'll drift down to the river," Mollie said, her preoccupied eyes on
the stud table where a slight altercation seemed to be under way. Her
method of dealing with quarrels was simple. The first rule was based on
one of Blister Haines's paradoxes. "The best way to settle trouble is not
to have it." She tried to stop difficulties before they became acute. If
this failed, she walked between the angry youths and read the riot act to

"Some will," admitted Larson. "More of 'em won't."

Mollie rose, to step down from the platform. She did not reach the stud
table. A commotion at the front door drew her attention. Mrs. Gillespie
was a solid, heavy-set woman, but she moved with an energy that carried
her swiftly. She reached the bar before any of the men from the

A girl was leaning weakly against the door-jamb. Hat and shoes were gone.
The hair was a great black mop framing a small face white to the lips.
The stocking soles were worn through. When one foot shifted to get a
better purchase for support, a bloodstained track was left on the floor.
The short dress was frozen stiff.

The dark, haunted eyes moved uncertainly round the circle of faces
staring at her. The lips opened and made the motions of speech, but no
sound came from them. Without any warning the girl collapsed.

Dud Hollister's arm was under the ice-coated head in an instant. He
looked up at Mollie Gillespie, who had been only a fraction of a second
behind him.

"It's the li'l' bride," he said.

She nodded. "Brandy an' water, Mike. Quick! She's only fainted. Head not
so high, Dud. Tha's right. We'll get a few drops of this between her
teeth.... She's comin' to."

June opened her eyes and looked at Mollie. Presently she looked round and
a slow wonder grew in them. "Where am I?" she murmured.

"You're at the hotel--where you'll be looked after right, dearie." Mrs.
Gillespie looked up. "Some one get Doc Tuckerman. An' you, Tom, hustle
Peggie and Chung Lung outa their beds if they're not up. There's a fire
in my room. Tell her to take the blankets from the bed an' warm 'em. Tell
Chung to heat several kettles o' water fast as he can. Dud, you come
along an' carry her to the stove in the lobby. The rest o' you'll stay
right here."

Mollie did not ask any questions or seek explanation. That could wait.
The child had been through a terrible experience and must be looked after

From the lobby Dud presently carried June into the bedroom and departed.
A roaring fire was in the stove. Blankets and a flannel nightgown were
hanging over the backs of chairs to warm. With the help of the
chambermaid Peggie, the landlady stripped from the girl the frozen dress
and the wet underclothes. Over the thin, shivering body she slipped the
nightgown, then tucked her up in the blankets. As soon as Chung brought
the hot-water jugs she put one at June's feet and another close to the
stomach where the cold hands could rest upon it.

June was still shaking as though she never would get warm. A faint mist
of tears obscured her sight. "Y-you're awful good to me," she whispered,
teeth chattering.

The doctor approved of what had been done. He left medicine for the
patient. "Be back in five minutes," he told Mrs. Gillespie outside the
room. "Want some stuff I've got at the office. Think I'll stay for a few
hours and see how the case develops. Afraid she's in for a bad spell of

He did not leave the sick-room after his return until morning. Mollie
stayed there, too. It was nearly one o'clock when Blister Haines knocked
gently at the door.

"How's the li'l' lady?" he asked in his high falsetto, after Mollie had
walked down the passage with him.

"She's a mighty sick girl. Pneumonia, likely."

"Tell doc not to let her die. If he needs another doctor some of us'll
h-hustle over to Glenwood an' g-get one. Say, Mrs. Gillespie, I reckon
there's gonna be trouble in town to-night."

She said nothing, but her blue eyes questioned him.

Blister's next sentence sent her moving toward the saloon.

Next: Bear Cat Asks Questions

Previous: June Prays

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