The Five Hundred to One Shot
How the Prodigal Son Regained Favor by Cracking a Safe
CLEMENT BANCROFT and MADGE MacBETH
WHEN James Woodside Langdon struck the Monte Cristo saloon in Dawson on that memorable December night in ’98, everything was ‘wide open.’ The kaleidoscopic scene brought a pleasurable thrill to the jaded globe-trotter of twenty-six, and he stood just inside the doorway a long time, merely an onlooker, without making any attempt to join in the hilarity. The hour was slightly past midnight and the bar was hidden by a motley, surging crowd; the large dance hall, adjoining, w-as filled too full to make dancing comfortable; roulette wheels were running briskly, and against the monotonous voice of the faro dealer, the shrill cries of the ‘spieler’ struck a sharp note of contrast.
Woodie Langdon thought he had seen life in all its phases; he had run the gamut of Monte Carlo and Ostend, he was familiar with the ‘life’ of Paris, London and New York, he had seen the Mardi Gras and the old Absinthe House in New Orleans, and had traversed the Barbary Coast in San Francisco. An only son of a wealthy father, he had had all the advantages of foreign travel. But this Yukon dance-ball was a new one on Woodside! A gold camp at its zenith— can its like be found in history?
Although the somewhat familiar condition of being dead broke was responsible for Langdon’s being in Dawson, he did not regret it as he watched the fascinating scene before him. The spirit of adventure is strong even in jaded globe-trotters of twenty-six, and the Monte Cristo seemed to offer a good setting for one.
Langdon senior was the principal owner of the largest manufactory of safes in Canada and having risen bolt by bolt and plate by plate so to speak, in strength and riches, he saw no reason why his son’s ambitions should not be compassed by vaults and combinations, wall plates and time locks. Woodie was sent to the University to take a mechanical course, and between terms, when he could spare the time from traveling, he went into the foundry and work shop to learn the practical end of the business— the only end which held a spark of interest for him. The boy really did show the greatest aptitude for details. But there was a strain of the farmer in his make-up, as well ; the sort of farmer who has a fondness for wild oats, growing in lawless places. And Father sitting at his desk, one hand on the business and the other on his cheque book, grewT everlastingly tired of paying for crops which
brought in no returns. He said to himself that it was high time his son was brought to terms.
Bringing to terms meant sitting in the office all day and draggingout a miserable drab existence.
Woods i d e would have let unprofitable farmi n g alone had his parent allowed him to wear ov e r a 11 s and ‘tinker with the works,’ as he expressed it. He would have
found unending interest in setting up safes and vaults, in opening time locks before their time and doing other spectacular things. But the business end did not, and never could, hold him, and after a stormy and uncomfortable scene in which the cheque book played but a sadly negative part, father and son separated. All across the Continent Woodie could hear his father’s ironical words ringing in his ears:
“If ever you turn an honest dollar by safe cracking, let me know, and I’ll give you five hundred to one!”
With the supreme egotism of youth and health, he did not doubt his ability to call the Governor’s bluff and make good, but in the meantime a living had to be negotiated, for thirty dollars would not go far in Dawson, in those days!
Langdon passed further into the room and watched, curiously, Bill Brice, the proprietor’s assistant handing out tickets to a line of women who filed by.
“What is he giving them?” he asked a man who stood close at hand.
“Percentage coupons,” was the answer. “Each girl is entitled to fifty cents for each dance that finds her on the floor. You see, we guys have to pay a dollar fer the privilege. So when you get ready to trip the light fantastic, Stranger, pick a winner, ‘cause it’ll cost you one plunk and she gets fifty of it.” “The dances seem to be pretty short,” Woodie remarked.
“Sure! That’s where Gus Nelson gets the drop on us boobs! When business is
good and the ‘dust’ is thick, they don’t
give you more n chanct to put your arm around a lady ! Gus, or Bill Brice, there, he gives the leader a signal, and wop goes the music!”
“And see the boxes, up there?” the old stager continued. “They’re another way of separatin’ yourself from the dust. Take a lady in there with you. and your drinks’ll cost double what they do at the bar.”
“She still gets half?”
“Course! Lord, don’t I remember the first night I blew in here, after doublin’ myself up over a pick and shovel for two months—don’t I remember how good it all looked, how crazy I was to get hold of somethin’ that wore a skirt and how tarnation thirsty! Why, Stranger, I turned over just two hundred and thirty dollars worth of dust to Gus that night, and I didn’t look in nt cards or roulette, either! That was just fer the pleasure of dancing with a little yellow-haired girl and feedin’ her the fizzy. It was to the toon of fifteen per bot. Some evenin ' fer a hard workin’ miner, eh?”
A young and good-looking stranger could not remain long in Gus Nelson’s establishment without attracting some of the ‘rustlers’ ’ attention. Three girls spied Langdon at the same time and made a big bid for him. “I’m the best dancer of the bunch,” boasted the Pingpong Kid. False modesty was not one of her drawbacks.
“I stand in with Bill Brice,” con-
fessed Dutch Lena,-’ and he won’t ring the changes on us till I give him the eye. So, you’ll get your money’s worth, if you dance with me. Come on!” she urged tugging at his sleeve.
A dark, sensuous-looking girl of the Spanisli type, lifted provocative eyebrows, as she broke into the arena.
“Try de waltz of Castile,” she invited. “I will show you, how we do de dance in Spain. Come wiz me!”
A fat gambler stood near watching the scene with cynical amusement. This, however, was too much.
“Back to the woods, Jane," he called. “Fade completely away! Market street, ’Frisco, is about as near as you’ll ever get to Castile. Don’t try to put it all over the tenderfoot ! ’ ’
Langdon pushed them from him, laughing. He was not quite as tender as he looked.
“Yes, run away and play—all of you,” he advised. “When I want to dance, I’ll come back and take you each in turn, my dears!”
And he pushed his way to the bar.
Bill Brice looked around for the proprietor to relieve him. He had no intention of handing out coupons all night. A coarse bully, afraid of neither man nor beast, he was useful to Nelson, but a fearsome appurtenance to the Monte Cristo. His fists were too ready'—his temper too short. He had been promised arrest if more control was not evidenced during his little differences, and there was no one but would say that the Mounted Police had been exceptionally lenient, at that!
As soon as Nelson took his place, the assistant went in search of liquid refreshment after which he stalked Belle Allen, the most popular dancer in Dawson. That she was not the common type of girl to be seen in the halls, does not concern us, greatly; that she was desperately afraid of Bill Brice has to be understood ; otherwise the impression will be strong that he had tigher hold upon her than was held. No !
There never was a breath of scandal against Belle Allen She was siekeningly afraid of the great bully, realizing too, with a rather pitiful combination of shrewdness and innocence that Bill Brice had it in his power to help or hinder her from making money. In the halcyon days between ’98 and ’01 when gold was p 1 e n t if u 1, a good ‘rustler’ in a dance hall could make three hundred dollars a week without compromising herself in the least.
Belle Allen sent most of hers to the Outside, but that does not concern the story either.
When Bill found lier, she was just about to dance with a tall young Swede. In taking her away from him Brice was not simply exercising his right as assistant; he gave the girl her share, just as though he had been an outsider. But she resented his manner of appropriating her for it carried in it, that which created a false impression. At the same time, she was afraid to refuse.
“Get out!” commanded Bill shortly. “This is mv dance.”
“Belle has joos promise it to me," protested Ole.
“Get out, before I make you!" Bill's drinks were beginning to tell.
“Wait till the next one, Bill,” said the girl, pleadingly. “I did promise Ole, honest.”
Brice stepped forward and seized her roughly by the wrist. And at this moment Woodie took a hand in the affair.
“Have it out with the gentleman, Bill,” he advised, suavely. “I’ll see that the lady does not lack a partner ! ' '
He pushed Belle very gently behind him; from simple astonishment Brice had dropped his hold upon her. He turned fiercely on the newer element and told him in positive language what he thought of his forbears. Langdon backed slowly away still pushing the girl.
“Hold your tongue;” he snapped,
suddenly. “If you really want to dance, learn how to ask a lady to honor you. Will you allow me?” and he swung Belle out
into the whirling couples on the floor.
She was trembling.
“You ought not to have done that,” she whispered, raising grateful but territied eyes to Langdon. “Bill’s bad, toliiglit, and there’s no telling what he'll do. ’ "
“Is he anything to you?” asked Woodie bluntly, but with a surprising amount of interest.
For an instant red glowed under the girl's clear skin. But her eyes were brave and fearless as she looked up and shook her head.
“Well, don’t you worry, then! I will look after myself and you, too—if you say so,” he added, softly.
“The music is stopping,” she murmured, ignoring the last remark. “Now, keep your eyes open.”
The warning was well timed. Brice stood blocking their passage with glowering eyes and tight set jaw. Just as Langdon came within reach, he drew back his enormous fist and swung it where the point of the young man’s jaw should have been. But it was not there. If there was one thing Woodie could do better than tinkering with the works of a safe, it was box. He ducked nimbly; and delivered a clean blow on his own account—or on Brice’s nose, to be more exact. Without a sound, Brice went down.
The crowd cheered.
“I never seen but two blows struck,” said Woodie’s informant of the early part of the evening. “One on the nose and the other when he hit the floor! That was some tap, Stranger!”
“It’s the coop fer Bill,” muttered some one else, as a Mounted Policeman drew near. “They said they’d land him, if he started anything more.”
“Well, what he’ll do to the cheechao when he gets out will be good and plenty,” remarked Pingpong Kid to her pal, Dutch Lena.
“Better get Mamma’s white-haired boy out of the way before then,” said the other, with rather an envious look at Belle Allen.
Woodie found himself in the somewhat embarrassing position of hero; he had done what a good many men even in that rough existence had hesitated to do—he had stood up to Bill Brice ! But even the hero is a poor sort of jest when he has no funds, and Langdon sat far into the morning, wondering how to secure a
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The Five Hundred to One Shot
Continued from page 28
paying job. A way came most unexpectedly.
On the day when Brice was released-— Nelson having paid his fine—the proprietor was called axvay on an hour’s notice. He had no alternative but to leave the Monte Cristo in his assistant’s gladiatorial hands. This was a serious matter, oxving to the necessity for making certain monetary arrangements with the bank at a given hour on the following day.
“They gave me till noon,” Nelson spoke in italics and Bill glowered sullenly at him,” so mind you are not a second late. Hodgins will likely come for the notes. Give ’em to him. Here’s the combination, Bill, and for God’s sake, don’t get drunk and give it away!”
Although itching to get his hands on Langdon’s throat, Brice stuck to his post all day and night. He had no time to dance and not much to drink. He knew he was under the watchful surveillance of the Police and dared not risk another fight in the open. He resolved to lie low and watch his chance.
Langdon, knoxving this perfectly well, danced happily xvith Belle Allen; he was the kind of chap xvho didn’t trouble trouble. Thirty dollars began to have the look of a friend sinking fast, by the close of the second evening, however, and from necessity—not from fear, Woodie knexv he would have to call a halt in the dance. He xvandered into the Monte Cristo late on the following morning, about decided to ask the first likelylooking person for a job, at anything or for anything so long as he could live on it. He found a state of great confusion.
The main actor in the scene was Bill Brice. Tearing about the place, he was roaring his curses at each of the onlookers, who watched with varying degrees of stolidity or interest the one man drama.
“I had it this morning!” bellowed Bill, embroidering his language strongly. “Some one has stole it off me! Quarter
to twelve! By G-. I got to get that
“Got to get the safe open?” repeated Langdon, to the man nearest him.
“Yep! Seems as though Gus left him the combination and he’s lost it. Hodgins gave ’em till noon—and no longer.”
The man aimed with neat precision at an ornate cuspidor and chuckled.
“Gus’ll give him h—11 when he gets back, all right ! Terrible particklar about banking regulations, is Gus!”
At this moment, Brice came tearing along. The crowd broke and scattered as he came. Kicking over furniture, sweeping papers about and behaving vastly more like a violent lunatic than many who are placed in asylums. He muttered over and over again, “I had it this morning! Somebody's stole it off me ! Damnation—ten minutes to
Hodgins, carrying a neat black bag, appeared at that instant in the doorway. Brice shouted in a frenzy,
“A hundred dollars to anybody who can open the safe in five minutes. Who can do it?”
“I can!” called Langdon, stepping forward.
Hesitation showed a second on thç bully’s face when he saw who had made the offer, but his need was too great to stop personal differences.
“Then get to work,” he said, shortly.
Langdon noted with exultation that the safe was one of their own. He threw off his coat and knelt before the baffling metal ball, amid a tense silence. Slowly, he turned it to the right; back to the left. He listened. Once again to the right— Ah! And then to the left—Stop! His fingers seemed barely to rest upon the metal, yet through the sensitive tips, he ‘heard’ the delicate spring click.
Someone breathed loudly. It was Brice. Both he and Hodgins were watching the clock ; all other eyes were trained on the kneeling figure of the man, whose long slender fingers just barely touched a metal ball.
“My God!” groaned Brice, “Can’t you hurry?”
In the silence, which followed, something clicked. A bolt was shot, and rising, Langdon pulled the heavy door slowly open. The crowd cheered.
He turned and faced Brice, who sprang forward.
“Get out of the way!” he cried. “I got to have those notes.”
“Give me that hundred, first!”
“Hundred nothing! Move, I tell you! I’ll give you a ten in a minute.”
Langdon smiled. It was an innocent, rather a tired smile, and some say he yawned, as he stretched out his arms and leaned back against the door. Just as slowly as it had opened, it closed, and again a click broke the stillness of the
Three minutes to twelve!
“It will cost you five hundred dollars, now,” smiled Woodie. “And I think I’d like the money first!”
It took Brice a full minute to curse; another to pay out the money, and a little less than one minute for Langdon to re-open the safe. Hodgins stuffed his little black bag and departed ; the crowd lined up at the bar, and they looked around for the hero of the second spectacular event Dawson had witnessed since his coming.
But Woodie knew a trick worth two of that! He was sprinting for the telegraph office as hard as ever.he covered the track in his soph, year, and arrived there, he sent a lengthy telegram to Langdon pere.
And by and by an answer came. It was brief but to the point.
“Most expensive telegram ever got. Come home. Tinker away. Suppose somebody ’s got to do it.