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Chapter 4 A Flight for Life

  • On the morning which followed his interview with the Mormon Prophet, Joh_errier went in to Salt Lake City, and having found his acquaintance, who wa_ound for the Nevada Mountains, he entrusted him with his message to Jefferso_ope. In it he told the young man of the imminent danger which threatene_hem, and how necessary it was that he should return. Having done thus he fel_asier in his mind, and returned home with a lighter heart.
  • As he approached his farm, he was surprised to see a horse hitched to each o_he posts of the gate. Still more surprised was he on entering to find tw_oung men in possession of his sitting-room. One, with a long pale face, wa_eaning back in the rocking-chair, with his feet cocked up upon the stove. Th_ther, a bull-necked youth with coarse bloated features, was standing in fron_f the window with his hands in his pocket, whistling a popular hymn. Both o_hem nodded to Ferrier as he entered, and the one in the rocking-chai_ommenced the conversation.
  • "Maybe you don't know us," he said. "This here is the son of Elder Drebber, and I'm Joseph Stangerson, who travelled with you in the desert when the Lor_tretched out His hand and gathered you into the true fold."
  • "As He will all the nations in His own good time," said the other in a nasa_oice; "He grindeth slowly but exceeding small."
  • John Ferrier bowed coldly. He had guessed who his visitors were.
  • "We have come," continued Stangerson, "at the advice of our fathers to solici_he hand of your daughter for whichever of us may seem good to you and to her.
  • As I have but four wives and Brother Drebber here has seven, it appears to m_hat my claim is the stronger one."
  • "Nay, nay, Brother Stangerson," cried the other; "the question is not how man_ives we have, but how many we can keep. My father has now given over hi_ills to me, and I am the richer man."
  • "But my prospects are better," said the other, warmly. "When the Lord remove_y father, I shall have his tanning yard and his leather factory. Then I a_our elder, and am higher in the Church."
  • "It will be for the maiden to decide," rejoined young Drebber, smirking at hi_wn reflection in the glass. "We will leave it all to her decision."
  • During this dialogue, John Ferrier had stood fuming in the doorway, hardl_ble to keep his riding-whip from the backs of his two visitors.
  • "Look here," he said at last, striding up to them, "when my daughter summon_ou, you can come, but until then I don't want to see your faces again."
  • The two young Mormons stared at him in amazement. In their eyes thi_ompetition between them for the maiden's hand was the highest of honours bot_o her and her father.
  • "There are two ways out of the room," cried Ferrier; "there is the door, an_here is the window. Which do you care to use?"
  • His brown face looked so savage, and his gaunt hands so threatening, that hi_isitors sprang to their feet and beat a hurried retreat. The old farme_ollowed them to the door.
  • "Let me know when you have settled which it is to be," he said, sardonically.
  • "You shall smart for this!" Stangerson cried, white with rage. "You hav_efied the Prophet and the Council of Four. You shall rue it to the end o_our days."
  • "The hand of the Lord shall be heavy upon you," cried young Drebber; "He wil_rise and smite you!"
  • "Then I'll start the smiting," exclaimed Ferrier furiously, and would hav_ushed upstairs for his gun had not Lucy seized him by the arm and restraine_im. Before he could escape from her, the clatter of horses' hoofs told hi_hat they were beyond his reach.
  • "The young canting rascals!" he exclaimed, wiping the perspiration from hi_orehead; "I would sooner see you in your grave, my girl, than the wife o_ither of them."
  • "And so should I, father," she answered, with spirit; "but Jefferson will soo_e here."
  • "Yes. It will not be long before he comes. The sooner the better, for we d_ot know what their next move may be."
  • It was, indeed, high time that someone capable of giving advice and hel_hould come to the aid of the sturdy old farmer and his adopted daughter. I_he whole history of the settlement there had never been such a case of ran_isobedience to the authority of the Elders. If minor errors were punished s_ternly, what would be the fate of this arch rebel. Ferrier knew that hi_ealth and position would be of no avail to him. Others as well known and a_ich as himself had been spirited away before now, and their goods given ove_o the Church. He was a brave man, but he trembled at the vague, shadow_errors which hung over him. Any known danger he could face with a firm lip, but this suspense was unnerving. He concealed his fears from his daughter, however, and affected to make light of the whole matter, though she, with th_een eye of love, saw plainly that he was ill at ease.
  • He expected that he would receive some message or remonstrance from Young a_o his conduct, and he was not mistaken, though it came in an unlooked-fo_anner. Upon rising next morning he found, to his surprise, a small square o_aper pinned on to the coverlet of his bed just over his chest. On it wa_rinted, in bold straggling letters:—
  • "Twenty-nine days are given you for amendment, and then —"
  • The dash was more fear-inspiring than any threat could have been. How thi_arning came into his room puzzled John Ferrier sorely, for his servants slep_n an outhouse, and the doors and windows had all been secured. He crumple_he paper up and said nothing to his daughter, but the incident struck a chil_nto his heart. The twenty-nine days were evidently the balance of the mont_hich Young had promised. What strength or courage could avail against a_nemy armed with such mysterious powers? The hand which fastened that pi_ight have struck him to the heart, and he could never have known who ha_lain him.
  • Still more shaken was he next morning. They had sat down to their breakfas_hen Lucy with a cry of surprise pointed upwards. In the centre of the ceilin_as scrawled, with a burned stick apparently, the number 28. To his daughte_t was unintelligible, and he did not enlighten her. That night he sat up wit_is gun and kept watch and ward. He saw and he heard nothing, and yet in th_orning a great 27 had been painted upon the outside of his door.
  • Thus day followed day; and as sure as morning came he found that his unsee_nemies had kept their register, and had marked up in some conspicuou_osition how many days were still left to him out of the month of grace.
  • Sometimes the fatal numbers appeared upon the walls, sometimes upon th_loors, occasionally they were on small placards stuck upon the garden gate o_he railings. With all his vigilance John Ferrier could not discover whenc_hese daily warnings proceeded. A horror which was almost superstitious cam_pon him at the sight of them. He became haggard and restless, and his eye_ad the troubled look of some hunted creature. He had but one hope in lif_ow, and that was for the arrival of the young hunter from Nevada.
  • Twenty had changed to fifteen and fifteen to ten, but there was no news of th_bsentee. One by one the numbers dwindled down, and still there came no sig_f him. Whenever a horseman clattered down the road, or a driver shouted a_is team, the old farmer hurried to the gate thinking that help had arrived a_ast. At last, when he saw five give way to four and that again to three, h_ost heart, and abandoned all hope of escape. Single-handed, and with hi_imited knowledge of the mountains which surrounded the settlement, he kne_hat he was powerless. The more-frequented roads were strictly watched an_uarded, and none could pass along them without an order from the Council.
  • Turn which way he would, there appeared to be no avoiding the blow which hun_ver him. Yet the old man never wavered in his resolution to part with lif_tself before he consented to what he regarded as his daughter's dishonour.
  • He was sitting alone one evening pondering deeply over his troubles, an_earching vainly for some way out of them. That morning had shown the figure _pon the wall of his house, and the next day would be the last of the allotte_ime. What was to happen then? All manner of vague and terrible fancies fille_is imagination. And his daughter — what was to become of her after he wa_one? Was there no escape from the invisible network which was drawn all roun_hem. He sank his head upon the table and sobbed at the thought of his ow_mpotence.
  • What was that? In the silence he heard a gentle scratching sound — low, bu_ery distinct in the quiet of the night. It came from the door of the house.
  • Ferrier crept into the hall and listened intently. There was a pause for a fe_oments, and then the low insidious sound was repeated. Someone was evidentl_apping very gently upon one of the panels of the door. Was it some midnigh_ssassin who had come to carry out the murderous orders of the secre_ribunal? Or was it some agent who was marking up that the last day of grac_ad arrived. John Ferrier felt that instant death would be better than th_uspense which shook his nerves and chilled his heart. Springing forward, h_rew the bolt and threw the door open.
  • Outside all was calm and quiet. The night was fine, and the stars wer_winkling brightly overhead. The little front garden lay before the farmer'_yes bounded by the fence and gate, but neither there nor on the road was an_uman being to be seen. With a sigh of relief, Ferrier looked to right and t_eft, until happening to glance straight down at his own feet he saw to hi_stonishment a man lying flat upon his face upon the ground, with arms an_egs all asprawl.
  • So unnerved was he at the sight that he leaned up against the wall with hi_and to his throat to stifle his inclination to call out. His first though_as that the prostrate figure was that of some wounded or dying man, but as h_atched it he saw it writhe along the ground and into the hall with th_apidity and noiselessness of a serpent. Once within the house the man spran_o his feet, closed the door, and revealed to the astonished farmer the fierc_ace and resolute expression of Jefferson Hope.
  • "Good God!" gasped John Ferrier. "How you scared me! Whatever made you come i_ike that."
  • "Give me food," the other said, hoarsely. "I have had no time for bite or su_or eight-and-forty hours." He flung himself upon the cold meat and brea_hich were still lying upon the table from his host's supper, and devoured i_oraciously. "Does Lucy bear up well?" he asked, when he had satisfied hi_unger.
  • "Yes. She does not know the danger," her father answered.
  • "That is well. The house is watched on every side. That is why I crawled m_ay up to it. They may be darned sharp, but they're not quite sharp enough t_atch a Washoe hunter."
  • John Ferrier felt a different man now that he realized that he had a devote_lly. He seized the young man's leathery hand and wrung it cordially. "You'r_ man to be proud of," he said. "There are not many who would come to shar_ur danger and our troubles."
  • "You've hit it there, pard," the young hunter answered. "I have a respect fo_ou, but if you were alone in this business I'd think twice before I put m_ead into such a hornet's nest. It's Lucy that brings me here, and before har_omes on her I guess there will be one less o' the Hope family in Utah."
  • "What are we to do?"
  • "To-morrow is your last day, and unless you act to-night you are lost. I hav_ mule and two horses waiting in the Eagle Ravine. How much money have you?"
  • "Two thousand dollars in gold, and five in notes."
  • "That will do. I have as much more to add to it. We must push for Carson Cit_hrough the mountains. You had best wake Lucy. It is as well that the servant_o not sleep in the house."
  • While Ferrier was absent, preparing his daughter for the approaching journey, Jefferson Hope packed all the eatables that he could find into a small parcel, and filled a stoneware jar with water, for he knew by experience that th_ountain wells were few and far between. He had hardly completed hi_rrangements before the farmer returned with his daughter all dressed an_eady for a start. The greeting between the lovers was warm, but brief, fo_inutes were precious, and there was much to be done.
  • "We must make our start at once," said Jefferson Hope, speaking in a low bu_esolute voice, like one who realizes the greatness of the peril, but ha_teeled his heart to meet it. "The front and back entrances are watched, bu_ith caution we may get away through the side window and across the fields.
  • Once on the road we are only two miles from the Ravine where the horses ar_aiting. By daybreak we should be half-way through the mountains."
  • "What if we are stopped," asked Ferrier.
  • Hope slapped the revolver butt which protruded from the front of his tunic.
  • "If they are too many for us we shall take two or three of them with us," h_aid with a sinister smile.
  • The lights inside the house had all been extinguished, and from the darkene_indow Ferrier peered over the fields which had been his own, and which he wa_ow about to abandon for ever. He had long nerved himself to the sacrifice, however, and the thought of the honour and happiness of his daughte_utweighed any regret at his ruined fortunes. All looked so peaceful an_appy, the rustling trees and the broad silent stretch of grain-land, that i_as difficult to realize that the spirit of murder lurked through it all. Ye_he white face and set expression of the young hunter showed that in hi_pproach to the house he had seen enough to satisfy him upon that head.
  • Ferrier carried the bag of gold and notes, Jefferson Hope had the scant_rovisions and water, while Lucy had a small bundle containing a few of he_ore valued possessions. Opening the window very slowly and carefully, the_aited until a dark cloud had somewhat obscured the night, and then one by on_assed through into the little garden. With bated breath and crouching figure_hey stumbled across it, and gained the shelter of the hedge, which the_kirted until they came to the gap which opened into the cornfields. They ha_ust reached this point when the young man seized his two companions an_ragged them down into the shadow, where they lay silent and trembling.
  • It was as well that his prairie training had given Jefferson Hope the ears o_ lynx. He and his friends had hardly crouched down before the melanchol_ooting of a mountain owl was heard within a few yards of them, which wa_mmediately answered by another hoot at a small distance. At the same moment _ague shadowy figure emerged from the gap for which they had been making, an_ttered the plaintive signal cry again, on which a second man appeared out o_he obscurity.
  • "To-morrow at midnight," said the first who appeared to be in authority. "Whe_he Whip-poor-Will calls three times."
  • "It is well," returned the other. "Shall I tell Brother Drebber?"
  • "Pass it on to him, and from him to the others. Nine to seven!"
  • "Seven to five!" repeated the other, and the two figures flitted away i_ifferent directions. Their concluding words had evidently been some form o_ign and countersign. The instant that their footsteps had died away in th_istance, Jefferson Hope sprang to his feet, and helping his companion_hrough the gap, led the way across the fields at the top of his speed, supporting and half-carrying the girl when her strength appeared to fail her.
  • "Hurry on! hurry on!" he gasped from time to time. "We are through the line o_entinels. Everything depends on speed. Hurry on!"
  • Once on the high road they made rapid progress. Only once did they mee_nyone, and then they managed to slip into a field, and so avoid recognition.
  • Before reaching the town the hunter branched away into a rugged and narro_ootpath which led to the mountains. Two dark jagged peaks loomed above the_hrough the darkness, and the defile which led between them was the Eagl_anon in which the horses were awaiting them. With unerring instinct Jefferso_ope picked his way among the great boulders and along the bed of a dried-u_atercourse, until he came to the retired corner, screened with rocks, wher_he faithful animals had been picketed. The girl was placed upon the mule, an_ld Ferrier upon one of the horses, with his money-bag, while Jefferson Hop_ed the other along the precipitous and dangerous path.
  • It was a bewildering route for anyone who was not accustomed to face Nature i_er wildest moods. On the one side a great crag towered up a thousand feet o_ore, black, stern, and menacing, with long basaltic columns upon its rugge_urface like the ribs of some petrified monster. On the other hand a wil_haos of boulders and debris made all advance impossible. Between the two ra_he irregular track, so narrow in places that they had to travel in India_ile, and so rough that only practised riders could have traversed it at all.
  • Yet in spite of all dangers and difficulties, the hearts of the fugitives wer_ight within them, for every step increased the distance between them and th_errible despotism from which they were flying.
  • They soon had a proof, however, that they were still within the jurisdictio_f the Saints. They had reached the very wildest and most desolate portion o_he pass when the girl gave a startled cry, and pointed upwards. On a roc_hich overlooked the track, showing out dark and plain against the sky, ther_tood a solitary sentinel. He saw them as soon as they perceived him, and hi_ilitary challenge of "Who goes there?" rang through the silent ravine.
  • "Travelers for Nevada," said Jefferson Hope, with his hand upon the rifl_hich hung by his saddle.
  • They could see the lonely watcher fingering his gun, and peering down at the_s if dissatisfied at their reply.
  • "By whose permission?" he asked.
  • "The Holy Four," answered Ferrier. His Mormon experiences had taught him tha_hat was the highest authority to which he could refer.
  • "Nine from seven," cried the sentinel.
  • "Seven from five," returned Jefferson Hope promptly, remembering th_ountersign which he had heard in the garden.
  • "Pass, and the Lord go with you," said the voice from above. Beyond his pos_he path broadened out, and the horses were able to break into a trot. Lookin_ack, they could see the solitary watcher leaning upon his gun, and knew tha_hey had passed the outlying post of the chosen people, and that freedom la_efore them.