Grogan’s guests had been overcome with excitement after the small piece of board had started moving on the paper. A whisper of it had spread to the poker tables and thinned out the group gathered around the game of chance; and even those who were still playing or lounging at the serving table kept an eye on the ouija board and listened to its utterances.
Nancy felt the board with her hand; it swayed curiously awkwardly at his touch, but he found that he could direct it, command its direction, and that, apparently without feeling it, he could make the pen write at his will—a very trifling observation, but one that excited Nancy Scovil. These men around him had been gathered from hundreds of different regions of the earth, they were strong, active men, and in his hands was a device with which he could control them all. Smiling, he glanced at them, sometimes at one, sometimes at the other, and then they would always look up at him for a moment, but usually there was an uneasy, superstitious suspicion in the air. They blinked at each other and stared at Nancy’s white hand resting on the board.
»What do you want to know?» he asked.
»Nothing about anyone in particular,« prompted another to answer.
»Let’s inquire about something general — something that concerns the whole crowd —»
He suddenly interrupted his speech, because even though Nancy was still looking him in the eyes, the ouija board started to move. It drew a long Viiru on the paper and wrote on the edge of the paper even after reaching it. Such fluent writing raised a buzz of enthusiasm, and words began to be found.
»There is a cattle thief in this room, and—»
“And what?” scored twenty votes. There weren’t very many among the men of Number Ten who hadn’t occasionally snatched cattle that had strayed from the herd, but one of these innocents—he had been prospecting for veins of gold since his boyhood—spread his legs on his rake and ventured: “Let’s ask the name of that accursed ruffian! Go on, miss, and see if the board announces the name.»
There was movement in the group around the requester.
»Are we the police officers?»
»Let the orderly man catch the cattle thief! It’s none of our business.”
»You ask too much, neighbor.»
»And what else? Put it back on paper, miss!”
Obediently, Nancy lifted the board into place and began again. Now, tottering, tottering, and tottering, as if driven by some restless spirit, the little heart-shaped piece of board began to move on the paper, and Nancy’s hand rested upon it so languidly that it seemed to draw its hold on her reluctant arm.
This time the pen completed the sentence:
»And a silent man with long spurs is after him.»
Movement again, but this time not so covertly. Everyone glanced furtively at their neighbors and noticed many men of few words, and at least two of the five had long spurs.
In the blink of an eye, a change took place in Grogan’s hall. Moments earlier, everyone had behaved as good friends, but now the noise subsided. The men started blinking at the door. They moved a comfortable distance away from the others; the small huddled crowd thinned out until the flock could have gone in any direction.
The teeth were clenched tightly together, a cold flash came into the eyes and their gaze wandered restlessly here and there, the hands became very nervous, and everyone was a little irritated because there were others behind them. If you scratch the dog’s surface, you will most likely find a wolf underneath. Nancy had scratched the surface of Number Ten, and now the teeth were beginning to show.
»It’s pointless to talk about men,» remarked someone from the crowd. »For my part, I would like to know why this roulette has never once lost, so to speak.»
»This is no mind reader,« said his partner mockingly. »What do you expect from that?»
But Nancy remembered Teeku-Lewi groping for his leg as if reaching for something and then pulling back. He suddenly started to get very angry. Admittedly, he had survived without major losses, but if there really were villainous plots in the boat, it was the most heinous crime to fraudulently skin these rotting, strong, careless spendthrifts. Even otherwise, the money dwindled like smoke in their jumps, and if they were tricked, if the money was slyly hidden from them, which could almost have been obtained by asking, it was so cheaply thuggish that Nancy was thrown off. And towards the men of Number Ten, she felt sisterly affection, strangely mixed with a nasty desire to bully.
Under the skillful pressure of his fingers, the ouija board now began to write the answer to the last question.
»Look at the floor platform behind the roulette wheel!»
This sentence was seen drawn on paper behind the board by the onlookers crowding around Nancy.
»Brake, let the light ring!» sounded like a low rumble of thunder in Nancy’s ear. »And I have put five hundred dollars on that villain’s trick, as true as I have put five. Boys, let’s rip open the floor and see!”
They left around the ouija table; Nancy was also forgotten as they stormed over to the roulette. The first wave of their arrival dispersed the few who were there to play. The advanced ones surrounded Roulette and Teeku, while the more practical ones went looking for hammers and axes to break up the floor. Then they raced back to work. There was no screeching or cursing, but only a quiet buzzing that was very much like the buzzing of stinging bees—a sound that would make even the world’s most powerful predator go wild.
They swarmed around Teeku and pushed him to retreat with their numbers. The first blow of the ax split the plank.
“Hey!” Teeku-Lew beamed. »Throw that wood in there!»
His voice was sharp and raspy like a little boy’s. Almost sobbing with rage, he threw his trust in the men who were stalking him. His words came out in whispers.
»Disperse, you fat bastards—that fat and flour baiters too!»
Grogan himself rushed to the scene from the opposite direction and roared: »What the hell is going on here? Where did you get that axe, Pete? Damn it, you won’t do that!”
As Pete raised the ax to strike the floor again, Grogan easily wrestled the weapon from his hands.
»What has happened to you, gentlemen!» he milled. »Have you chewed madder?»
The men backed away a little, partly afraid of Grogan’s ax in his firm grip, partly of Teeku-Lewi’s shrill outbursts of rage.
“We’re going to rip out some of this floor to see what’s underneath,” explained Pete, who had become the others’ mouthpiece. “We don’t want to harm you, Grogan—unless we find something crooked.” But there has always been something wrong with that wheel.»
“Tear open my floor?” growled Grogan, his eyes narrowing into dangerously glaring points. »Before that I will send you to hell! Throw away that lever, Pätkä, or I’ll split your bulging skull!”
Pätkä had just arrived from the mines and lost most of his savings in this same roulette. He humbly dropped the wedge on the floor, and the hammer too; but when he straightened it, his right hand was in a significant position on his hip.
“Now listen straight, Grogan,” he said calmly. »We will clarify this. Don’t be a jerk! If we spoil part of your floor, I’ll be responsible for it.»
He grabbed some gold coins from his pocket and jingled them in his left hand.
»I guess these are enough to compensate for the damage. We’re not saying you’re crooked, Grogan, but there’s always been something strange about Teeku. He is not the man of these regions.»
It offered Grogan a chance to save himself, and in his desperation he took it.
»Do as you like, boys,« he agreed, »if you suspect there is something crooked in the wheelhouse. It is possible that Teeku has tampered with it.»
» Tampered with it? I? Are you pushing everything on my neck?” screamed Teeku-Lew. »You cheap pen, Haven’t you been involved in it? Let me go! I’m rid of all the garbage!”
»But our differences are not clear», snapped Pätkä. »They’re not damn near. Hey Pete, stop that skinny rat!”
»Back to the corner!» roared Pete. “Back! Or I’ll pinch you to death, Teeku.»
Teeku had tried to sneak through the crowd, but now returned to the corner with a single jump. With his shoulders slumped against the wall, he grabbed the revolver. It was a short-barrelled, five-fifths-caliber, chubby, ridiculous-looking weapon, but it had evidently been used often, and an empty circle formed in front of Teeku-Lew, expanding every moment like the colors raised by a stone dropped into a pond. For Teeku’s face was colorless from nothing but fear, and murderous lust shone in his pearly eyes. He was shaking from head to toe, not from fear, but from a frenzied desire to kill.
“Now I’m here,” he said, his voice wheezing through his nose.
»What do you want from me?»
»We’ll express it to you in monosyllabic words,« promised Pete. He had a long revolver in his hand, and a dozen other men had flashing guns in their hands.
»Throw your revolver on the floor, Teeku», advised Pätkä. »Your position is hopeless.»
»You idiot!» squealed Teeku. »I will gladly go to hell if I can send a few of you swordsmen on the same journey.»
No one answered that — there was only one way to answer it. There was a silence in Grogan’s cabin that crept from man to man like a living creature. It was impossible to survive by hiding and being afraid, and it was also impossible to escape. Teeku-Lewin was going to die, but before his eyes closed, his bullets would hit the crowd of men who were huddled around him.