Champion of Lost Causes - Max Brand - ebook

Champion of Lost Causes ebook

Max Brand

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Frederick Schiller Faust (May 29, 1892 – May 12, 1944) was an American author known primarily for his thoughtful and literary Westerns under the pen name Max Brand. This is one of his novels. Our adventuring hero has just partaken of a poker game where he has seen a man lose heavily. Intrigued, and possessing an adventurous nature, our hero, Loring, is compelled to follow the man. This leads him to a rich family and, of course, a beautiful daughter. Loring barely has time to get his bearings when the man he followed is murdered in the house! And all evidence points to the father of Loring’s new object of affection as the killer. Midnight searches, police arrests, the looming trial and Loring is in possession of the key piece of evidence.

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Liczba stron: 448

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Contents

I. THE MAN WITH THE OPAL

II. CONCERNING MERCY

III. THE FUGITIVE

IV. THE HOLLOW WALL

V. FENCING

VI. BEATRICE

VII. THE SHOT

VIII. NARRATIVE OF MR. CHARLES

IX. NARRATIVE OF MR. CHARLES (CONTINUED)

X. THE ARREST

XI. LORING WALKS BY NIGHT

XII. ENTER KING ALCOHOL

XIII. THE INTRUDER

XIV. LORING TRIES LAUGHTER

XV. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY

XVI. LORING SEES A FORTUNE

XVII. THE DANGER LINE

XVIII. THE TRIAL

XIX. LORING TAKES THE STAND

XX. RECESS

XXI. THE COUP D'ÉTAT

XXII. THE LOST CAUSE

XXIII. GEOFFREY CHARLES: GENTLEMAN

XXIV. THE MAN WITH THE OPAL PHILOSOPHIZES

XXV. "MURDER"

XXVI. THE GREATER POWER

XXVII. THE LIVING CLUE

XXVIII. THE FIRST ATTEMPT

XXIX. THE SECOND TRIAL

XXX. Geoffrey Talks Turkey

XXXI. LORING LOOKS FOR HELP

XXXII. PRIDE

XXXIII. THE TRAIl

XXXIV. THE TRAIL'S END

XXXV. THE COMPANY STRETCHES ITS ARM

XXXVI. THE WHISTLE

XXXVII. A NEW SIDE TO PETER CHARLES

XXXVIII. LORING CONFESSES

XXXIX. GEOFFREY CHARLES: FRIEND

XL. "YOU ARE THE MAN"

XLI. THE ATTACK

XLII. THE TURNING POINT

XLIII. THE NARRATIVE OF GEOFFREY CHARLES

XLIV. THE NARRATIVE OF GEOFFREY CHARLES (CONTINUED)

XLV. THE NARRATIVE OF GEOFFREY CHARLES (CONCLUDED)

EPILOGUE

I. THE MAN WITH THE OPAL

THE nervous man muttered something about a breath of fresh air and left the table. When he was gone the other three exchanged glances, but only the man with the opal smiled. His long white fingers began to mix the cards for the new deal and the great stone in his ring flashed red and blue and green and yellow, or as he packed the cards together the jewel quivered with all colors at once.

It was characteristic of this fellow that he smiled down at his hands; instead of sharing his amusement with his companions, he seemed to be mocking them as well as the nervous man who had just left them. One might have called him a type of the gambler, but even in the gambling house he was unusual; a man to be looked at, perhaps, because he was such a perfect type. As for the other two, they spent a moment relaxing, recovering from the strain which the nervous player had imposed on them.

Then the fat little man spoke. He was a matter-of-fact person who took his winnings and his losses with the same puckered brow of thought; his baldness gave him a tonsured effect. He thrust out his clenched fist; between the thumb and forefinger the flesh bulged.

“What I want to know is this: Is our fidgety friend coming back?”

The ugly remark made Loring’s lip curl a little, but he readily forced an expression of nonchalance. The man with the opal had been addressed; indeed, it seemed natural to appeal to him for judgment in all matters at a gaming table. He did not answer until he had smoothed the edges of the deck so that it was a solid flash of gilt. Then he dismissed it with a farewell touch and raised to the fat man, eyes as cold and gray as water under moonlight.

“Why do you ask?”

“He’s taken the big money out of this game, and I’m not going to stand by and see him welch. He’s taken out twelve thousand if he’s taken a cent. I’ve watched, even if you haven’t!”

Loring smiled. It was ridiculous to conceive the man with the opal not watching. Now he was smoothing his short mustache with the white, calm fingers. He answered: “I haven’t seen him take your money.”

The fat man for the first time felt that his grumbling might be out of place. He flushed a little, but he continued to growl: “I don’t like it. A fellow I’ve never seen before. Don’t know his name, even. Do you?”

“Nobody asks about names at Buttrick’s,” said the man with the opal, deftly turning the point of the question. “But you can be sure he’ll come back; everyone comes back to Buttrick’s–comes back sooner or later.”

“Sooner or later! That may mean a year from now.”

“Patience! What is a year?” He spoke with a voice as low as if he were explaining to a child, yet there was not a shade of gentleness. Loring had been covertly examining him all evening and his interest had grown.

The fellow was perfect in type and yet he was full of contrasts; imagine a gambler wearing an opal, the jewel of ill luck! Loring was a fighter; he fought the cards just as he boxed with a man, cool, keen-eyed, attacking eagerly always, and yet ever poised to take advantage of the first opening and shoot home the finishing punch. Because he was a fighter he recognized power of all kinds at once and admired it; all evening he had been admiring the man with the opal.

“Patience!” the latter was repeating. “A minute is eternity; a year is a minute. It depends on the point of view.”

“I’m not a star gazer,” snarled the little man, passing a hand over his tonsured head.

The man with the opal smiled at this implication and then with a shocking suddenness looked at Loring. His delicate finger tips continued to pass over his mustache, but his eyes held, for a second, as many lights as his great opal. “You’ve lost quite a bit,” he remarked almost gently.

“Rot!” burst out Loring. He was glad of a chance to turn the talk from the nervous man and the possibility that he might have definitely withdrawn from the game taking his winnings with him. To even sit patiently and listen to such suspicions made him feel tainted. “I’ve lost a little,” he went on, smiling, “but I still have a little left to throw after the rest. Not much, to be sure!”

As he spoke he took a wisp of bills out of his pocket and flicked the corners of them; there was a little over a thousand dollars there.

“Not much,” nodded the man with the opal. “The price of a man’s life, I’d say.”

Loring looked down at the money with a new interest and then his hand brushed the bills with a shudder of distaste. “The price of a life, did you say?”

“A cheap one. Men are like greenbacks–they have different denominations, eh? A million would hardly buy the death of one man; a hundred dollars would get another. All tagged with different prices.”

“Not in the eyes of the law!” cried the little fat man.

The glance of the man with the opal departed from Loring for the split part of a second and flicked across the bald head.

“Ah, no,” he said. “Not in the eyes of the law.”

Loring found himself staring at the pale man with the black mustache as he had stared at a cobra behind plate glass when he was a child. What he had said about the purchase of human life had been shocking enough, but it did not seem out of keeping. He had to wrest his mind away from that handsome, implacable face.

“Here we are again!”

He nodded across the room. The nervous man had just brushed through the curtains and stood with one hand gripping the stiff folds. He scowled at them from beneath his brows and now that he was in view seemed to have regretted his return. He was terribly in earnest; he had been terribly in earnest ever since the game began.

At length he made up his mind, crossed the room hurriedly, and took his place. Beneath the table Loring saw him lock his hands together while he looked fixedly into the faces of his companions, one by one, as if he suspected that they had “framed” the game during his absence.

“Begin,” he said dictatorially. “I’m ready!”

The little fat man rubbed his chin with his knuckles and glanced at the nervous man across his shoulder in apprehension; plainly he was as nervous as the winner. Loring felt that the old air of constraint was settling back upon the table and he loathed it. He hated this businesslike atmosphere. He could not to save his soul “work” with the cards. No matter what the stakes, it remained a game to him.

All life had been a game to Loring. He had played it with all the strength of his powerful body; he had rioted through every emotion. He had gone through scenes that would have damned other men and he had come out clean. He was one of those men who are always making new starts. His hair, as a result, was decidedly gray over the temples, and in repose his face aged by ten years; but his smile was all boy. He smiled now, shook his wide, thick-muscled shoulders, and raised his head.

“I warn you, my friends,” he said joyously, “that I’m tired of this dull game. I want action, action, action! Out with the cards, sir. By the Lord, I have a tingle in my finger tips that tells me I’m going to win!”

“Damnation!” exploded the nervous man; he avoided the volley of glances by adding hurriedly: “Why the devil do we have nothing to drink? I need a nip. Nothing to eat since–where is that waiter? Is the fool deaf and dumb!”

Buttrick, in furnishing his gaming house, had retained many mid-Victorian features, and among others he had left the bell cords instead of installing electric buttons. Now the nervous man whirled in his chair and wrenched at the silken rope until it came taut with a hum and they heard the silver tinkle far off and faint.

The outburst brought a sneer from the fat man; the man with the opal presented his usual blank face; but Loring overflowed with pity. He felt that this game was beginning to make him unclean. He determined on the spot to be rid of it even at the price of the rest of his money, though where he would go for more was a mystery. Such mysteries, however, were too old to greatly disturb him. When the round of drinks had been brought and passed, he began wagering heavily on the first hand that was dealt him.

Starting with a miserable pair of deuces before the draw, he held up three cards, and then bumped up the bidding in lumps of two hundred. The man with the opal stayed to the second raise; at the last raise of which Loring’s thousand dollars was capable, the nervous man bit his lip and laid down his hand. Pure bluff; but Loring raked in the chips without joy. He wanted this thing to end.

He kept on playing like a madman; and he kept on winning. He could not lose, it seemed. When he bluffed, the others stayed with the betting only long enough to fatten the stakes. When he held a full house someone was sure to call him when the bet had reached a dizzy height. Usually it was the nervous man. Finally the fat man slapped down his cards with the violence of an oath and withdrew from the game, his pudgy back daring them to ask questions.

Loring had won again. He cashed in piles of chips to clear the table and flung himself into the game again, joylessly. For the face of the nervous man was becoming a horror. Obviously he was meeting each loss with his life blood, but how could Loring stop while he was winning?

The crash came. Loring had opened a jackpot with queens and filled miraculously with three nines. The betting swept up; the nervous man “called” with a straight, and as Loring drew in the chips the beaten player rose slowly. He propped himself on stiff arms above the table, his shoulders thrust back into ridiculous points.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “I’m done. Good-night!”

And turning, he crossed the room with a slow step, as though he feared that if he hurried his legs might crumble beneath him.

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