Gambler Dan

by George Albert Leddy


The Sea Dog Inn was gay that night;
The lights were all aglow;
From o’er the bar the whiskey glass
Was quick to come and go.
The organ in the corner
Filled the air with ragtime tune;
While sailor boys with lassies fair
Glide lightly ‘round the room.
They do not heed the storm without,
For all is warmth within.
The lassies’ hearts are light and gay;
The boys are home again.

The old box-stove that had for years
Bid welcome from the cold;
Far dearer to the sailors’ hearts
Than were the shining gold;
Now crackled as the fire burned
The pitch from out the pine;
And shed a glow across a face
So wrinkled, yet so kind.
It was the face of Rising Moon;
The last one of a band
Of Redskins whom the Whites had driven
From this very land.

A sailor called the Redskin’s name:
“Come, Rising Moon!” called he;
“We’ll drink your health as one who’s lived
As white as Whites can be.”
The old man did not heed the words,
But gazed with steadfast eye,
Into that mass of burning coals;
Where embers glow and die.
Again they call; he heeds; he comes;
Holds high the sparkling glass;
Cries, “Drink, for e’er another sun
Some man will drink his last!”

“What mean ye?” cried the jolly tars,
As laughter filled the room.
“Be this a warning, or a threat?
Pray, tell us, Rising Moon.”
“Jest not!” he cried in trembling voice,
“But pray, for death is near.
The vultures soar above the camp;
The very air feels queer.
The story that I read tonight
Among the living coals,
Will come as sure as ocean waves
Before the high wind rolls.”

A sneering laugh resounded
From a corner over where
Slick Gambler Dan was lolling
In his big and easy chair.
“Come play the game; tonight, I’ll stake
A hundred in the pool.
Don’t waste your time a-list’ning to
That poor old Indian fool.”
“Play not the cards!” the Redskin cried,
“But pray, ye, everyone;
For God will judge some crime-stained soul
Before another sun.”

A gust of wind has swept the cards;
They scatter on the floor;
And there among them lies a form
That tumbled in the door.
Of man or beast, it’s hard to tell;
They raise the shaggy head.
Within the bloodshot eyes they see
A soul by vengeance led.
In snarling, curring voice he cried;
His form convulsed with pain;
“Give me a drink of your cursed rum
To cool my burning brain!”

The brandy flask is quick to come;
He drains it to the last;
Then wildly springs upon his feet;
His breath is coming fast.
“Look, look!” he cried to Gambler Dan.
“Look, look!” he cried, “Tis I!
The man who saved your worthless life,
Who’d aught to let you die.
The man who sprang into that wild,
And roaring, watery hell;
And dragged from there a serpent
To bring home to Little Nell.

“Yes, Little Nell’s my daughter, men;
And motherless from birth.
To me she was the fairest creature
Ever on this earth.
Her mother’s hair, her mother’s eyes,
Her mother’s happy smile;
Her mother’s very heart and soul
Were with her all the while.
I loved her for herself, alone,
And for her mother, too.
The love I felt for Little Nell
Was ever staunch and true.

“Well on that day the mountain stream,
Swelled by the springtime rains,
Rushed madly down the rocky hill
To reach the spreading plain.
I stood upon the mossy bank,
Above that awful roar.
I heard a cry, ‘For God sake, help!’
I thought of nothing more;
Till later on the river’s bank,
I waked as in a prayer,
A stranger lying at my feet;
My fingers clutched his hair.

“I tried to speak; my mind seemed dead;
My heart seemed filled with fear.
The cry for help, ‘For God sake, help!’
Kept ringing in my ear.
And when I got the stranger home
And told the tale to Nell,
She said, ‘‘Twas God that sent you, Dad,
And brought you back as well.
He helped you fight, to win, to save.
Oh, praise His name,’ she said.
That’s just the way her mother’d talk,
Had she been there instead.

“Well, Nell, she brought the stranger in;
She worked and brought him to.
She held his hand; she smoothed his brow;
Just as a mother’d do.
And later when he told us that
He must be on his way,
She threw her arms around his neck
And begged of him to stay.
I could not see why Little Nell
Would grieve so much for him.
My God, I never thought the child
Could know a secret sin.

“He went; and as the summer passed,
My Nell had sadder grown.
My God, the truth; the bitter truth;
At last to me was known.
And as the leaves of autumn fell,
They covered o’er a mound
Where sleeps my darling, and her babe;
In death, sweet rest, she found.
And o’er her grave, I prayed to God
To send my soul to Hell,
Should I e’er cease before I had
Avenged my Little Nell.

“He tried me hard to see if I were
Firm unto my prayer.
For twenty years, he sent me on,
And on, I knew not where.
Today, I fell; I thought ‘twas o’er;
But my spirit seemed to feel
A drawing to this lonely spot;
As the magnet draws the steel.
I rose and staggered on again,
My whole form filled with pain;
But I win, thank God;
For he and I are face-to-face again.

“The vows I made above her grave,
Tonight, I’m going to fill.
The cur who wreaked her sweet young life,
Tonight, I’m going to kill.
The cur who brought me twenty years
Of sorrow and disgrace;
Who thought me dead, now wakes to find
That we are face-to-face.
Prepare you cur; pray God above
To save your soul from Hell!
Tonight, your life will right the wrong
You did my Little Nell!”

A crash of glass; a window smashed;
Slick Gambler Dan is gone.
A beastly cry; a tiger spring;
The race for life is on.
The old man pauses where a cliff
O’er hangs the rocky shore.
Again, that cry, “For God sake, help!”
He knows that all is o’er.
With bowed-down head, he wanders back;
His step is weak and slow.
“He helped me win! ‘Oh, praise His name!’
Nell said, so long ago.”

He pushed the brandy flask aside,
He said, “No, nevermore.”
He staggered and we laid him there
Upon the barroom floor.
His timeworn face, bright with a smile,
His eyes are open wide;
With outstretched arms, he cried, “My Nell,
I’ve found you!” then he died.

The wild waves lash the rocky shore
Like beasts on fury bent.
With lightning flash and thunder roar,
The blackened skies were rent.
Within, they do not heed the storm;
Strong men with bowed-down heads.
They murmur prayers they’d long forgot,
In honor of the dead.
The Redskin raised the sparkling glass,
Cried, “Drink, for all is well!
A noble soul’s in Heaven, men,
And a crime-stained soul’s in Hell!”