KIRBY SHOWS HIS HAND
That scene, with all its surroundings, remains indelibly impressed upon my memory. It will never fade while I live. The long, narrow, dingy cabin of the little Warrior, its forward end unlighted and in shadow, the single swinging lamp, suspended to a blackened beam above where the table had stood, barely revealing through its smoky chimney the after portion showing a row of stateroom doors on either side, some standing ajar, and that crowd of excited men surging about the fallen body of Judge Beaucaire, unable as yet to fully realize the exact nature of what had occurred, but conscious of impending tragedy. The air was thick and stifling with tobacco smoke, redolent of the sickening fumes of alcohol, and noisy with questioning voices, while above every other sound might be distinguished the sharp pulsations of the laboring engine just beneath our feet, the deck planks trembling to the continuous throbbing. The overturned table and chairs, the motionless body of the fallen man, with Kirby standing erect just beyond, his face as clear-cut under the glare of light as a cameo, the revolver yet glistening in his extended hand, all composed a picture not easily forgotten.
Still, this impression was only that of a brief instant. With the next I was upon my knees, lifting the fallen head, and seeking eagerly to discern some lingering evidence of life in the inert, body. There was none, not so much as the faint flutter of a pulse, or suggestion of a heart throb. The man was already dead before he fell, dead before he struck the overturned table. Nothing any human effort might do would help him now. My eyes lifting from the white, ghastly face encountered those of McAfee, and, without the utterance of a word, I read the miner’s verdict, and arose again to my feet.
“Judge Beaucaire is dead,” I announced gravely. “Nothing more can be done for him now.”
The pressing circle of men hemming us in fell back silently, reverently, the sound of their voices sinking into a subdued murmur. It had all occurred so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that even these witnesses could scarcely grasp the truth. They were dazed, leaderless, struggling to restrain themselves. As I stood there, almost unconscious of their presence, still staring down at that upturned face, now appearing manly and patrician in the strange dignity of its death mask, a mad burst of anger swept me, a fierce yearning for revenge—a feeling that this was no less a murder because Nature had struck the blow. With hot words of reproach upon my lips I gazed across toward where Kirby had been standing a moment before. The gambler was no longer there—his place was vacant.
“Where is Kirby?” I asked, incredulous of his sudden disappearance.
For a moment no one answered; then a voice in the crowd croaked hoarsely: