Maudie was in towering spirits. She drank several cocktails, and in her knee-length “stampedin’ skirt” and her scarlet sweater she danced the most audacious jig even Maudie had ever presented to the Gold Nugget patrons. The miners yelled with delight. One of them caught her up and put her on the counter of the bar, where, no whit at a loss, she curveted and spun among the bottles and the glasses as lightly as a dragonfly dips and whirls along a summer brook. The enthusiasm grew delirious. The men began to throw nuggets at her, and Maudie, never pausing in the dance, caught them on the fly.
Suddenly she saw the Big Chap turn away, and, with his back to her, pretend to read the notice on the wall, written in charcoal on a great sheet of brown wrapping-paper:
“MINOOK, April 30.
“To who it may concern:
“Know all men by these presents that I, James McGinty, now of Minook (or Rampart City), Alaska, do hereby give notice of my intention to hold and claim a lien by virtue of the statue in such case——”
He had read so far when Maudie, having jumped down off the bar with her fists full of nuggets, and dodging her admirers, wormed her way to the Colonel. She thrust her small person in between the notice and the reader, and scrutinised the tanned face, on which the Rochester burners shed a flood of light. “You lookin’ mighty serious,” she said.
“M-hm! Thinkin’ ’bout home sweet home?”
“N-no—not just then.”
“Say, I told you ’bout—a—’bout me. You ain’t never told me nothin’.”
He seemed not to know the answer to that, and pulled at his ragged beard. She leaned back against McGinty’s notice, and blurred still more the smudged intention “by virtue of the statue.”
“Married, o’ course,” she said.
“Never hitched up yet?”
He shook his head.
“Never goin’ to, I s’pose.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he laughed, and turned his head over his shoulder to the curious scene between them and the bar. It was suddenly as if he had never seen it before; then, while Maudie waited, a little scornful, a little kind, his eyes went through the window to the pink and orange sunrise. As some change came over the Colonel’s face, “She died!” said Maudie.
“No—no—she didn’t die;” then half to himself, half to forestall Maudie’s crude probing, “but I lost her,” he finished.
“Oh, you lost her!”
He stood, looking past the ugliness within to the morning majesty without. But it was not either that he saw. Maudie studied him.
“Guess you ain’t give up expectin’ to find her some day?”
“No—no, not quite.”
“Humph! Did you guess you’d find her here?”
“No,” and his absent smile seemed to remove him leagues away. “No, not here.”
“I could a’ told you——” she began savagely. “I don’t know for certain whether any—what you call good women come up here, but I’m dead sure none stay.”