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Chapter 1 The Man

  • It was the fourth of February in the year 1875. It had been a severe winter, and the snow lay deep in the gorges of the Gilmerton Mountains. The stea_loughs had, however, kept the railroad open, and the evening train whic_onnects the long line of coal-mining and iron-working settlements was slowl_roaning its way up the steep gradients which lead from Stagville on the plai_o Vermissa, the central township which lies at the head of Vermissa Valley.
  • From this point the track sweeps downward to Bartons Crossing, Helmdale, an_he purely agricultural county of Merton. It was a single track railroad; bu_t every siding—and they were numerous—long lines of trucks piled with coa_nd iron ore told of the hidden wealth which had brought a rude population an_ bustling life to this most desolate corner of the United States of America.
  • For desolate it was! Little could the first pioneer who had traversed it hav_ver imagined that the fairest prairies and the most lush water pastures wer_alueless compared to this gloomy land of black crag and tangled forest. Abov_he dark and often scarcely penetrable woods upon their flanks, the high, bar_rowns of the mountains, white snow, and jagged rock towered upon each flank, leaving a long, winding, tortuous valley in the centre. Up this the littl_rain was slowly crawling.
  • The oil lamps had just been lit in the leading passenger car, a long, bar_arriage in which some twenty or thirty people were seated. The greater numbe_f these were workmen returning from their day's toil in the lower part of th_alley. At least a dozen, by their grimed faces and the safety lanterns whic_hey carried, proclaimed themselves miners. These sat smoking in a group an_onversed in low voices, glancing occasionally at two men on the opposite sid_f the car, whose uniforms and badges showed them to be policemen.
  • Several women of the labouring class and one or two travellers who might hav_een small local storekeepers made up the rest of the company, with th_xception of one young man in a corner by himself. It is with this man that w_re concerned. Take a good look at him; for he is worth it.
  • He is a fresh-complexioned, middle-sized young man, not far, one would guess, from his thirtieth year. He has large, shrewd, humorous gray eyes whic_winkle inquiringly from time to time as he looks round through his spectacle_t the people about him. It is easy to see that he is of a sociable an_ossibly simple disposition, anxious to be friendly to all men. Anyone coul_ick him at once as gregarious in his habits and communicative in his nature, with a quick wit and a ready smile. And yet the man who studied him mor_losely might discern a certain firmness of jaw and grim tightness about th_ips which would warn him that there were depths beyond, and that thi_leasant, brown-haired young Irishman might conceivably leave his mark fo_ood or evil upon any society to which he was introduced.
  • Having made one or two tentative remarks to the nearest miner, and receivin_nly short, gruff replies, the traveller resigned himself to uncongenia_ilence, staring moodily out of the window at the fading landscape.
  • It was not a cheering prospect. Through the growing gloom there pulsed the re_low of the furnaces on the sides of the hills. Great heaps of slag and dump_f cinders loomed up on each side, with the high shafts of the collierie_owering above them. Huddled groups of mean, wooden houses, the windows o_hich were beginning to outline themselves in light, were scattered here an_here along the line, and the frequent halting places were crowded with thei_warthy inhabitants.
  • The iron and coal valleys of the Vermissa district were no resorts for th_eisured or the cultured. Everywhere there were stern signs of the crudes_attle of life, the rude work to be done, and the rude, strong workers who di_t.
  • The young traveller gazed out into this dismal country with a face of mingle_epulsion and interest, which showed that the scene was new to him. A_ntervals he drew from his pocket a bulky letter to which he referred, and o_he margins of which he scribbled some notes. Once from the back of his wais_e produced something which one would hardly have expected to find in th_ossession of so mild-mannered a man. It was a navy revolver of the larges_ize. As he turned it slantwise to the light, the glint upon the rims of th_opper shells within the drum showed that it was fully loaded. He quickl_estored it to his secret pocket, but not before it had been observed by _orking man who had seated himself upon the adjoining bench.
  • "Hullo, mate!" said he. "You seem heeled and ready."
  • The young man smiled with an air of embarrassment.
  • "Yes," said he, "we need them sometimes in the place I come from."
  • "And where may that be?"
  • "I'm last from Chicago."
  • "A stranger in these parts?"
  • "Yes."
  • "You may find you need it here," said the workman.
  • "Ah! is that so?" The young man seemed interested.
  • "Have you heard nothing of doings hereabouts?"
  • "Nothing out of the way."
  • "Why, I thought the country was full of it. You'll hear quick enough. Wha_ade you come here?"
  • "I heard there was always work for a willing man."
  • "Are you a member of the union?"
  • "Sure."
  • "Then you'll get your job, I guess. Have you any friends?"
  • "Not yet; but I have the means of making them."
  • "How's that, then?"
  • "I am one of the Eminent Order of Freemen. There's no town without a lodge, and where there is a lodge I'll find my friends."
  • The remark had a singular effect upon his companion. He glanced roun_uspiciously at the others in the car. The miners were still whispering amon_hemselves. The two police officers were dozing. He came across, seate_imself close to the young traveller, and held out his hand.
  • "Put it there," he said.
  • A hand-grip passed between the two.
  • "I see you speak the truth," said the workman. "But it's well to mak_ertain." He raised his right hand to his right eyebrow. The traveller at onc_aised his left hand to his left eyebrow.
  • "Dark nights are unpleasant," said the workman.
  • "Yes, for strangers to travel," the other answered.
  • "That's good enough. I'm Brother Scanlan, Lodge 341, Vermissa Valley. Glad t_ee you in these parts."
  • "Thank you. I'm Brother John McMurdo, Lodge 29, Chicago. Bodymaster J.H.
  • Scott. But I am in luck to meet a brother so early."
  • "Well, there are plenty of us about. You won't find the order more flourishin_nywhere in the States than right here in Vermissa Valley. But we could d_ith some lads like you. I can't understand a spry man of the union finding n_ork to do in Chicago."
  • "I found plenty of work to do," said McMurdo.
  • "Then why did you leave?"
  • McMurdo nodded towards the policemen and smiled. "I guess those chaps would b_lad to know," he said.
  • Scanlan groaned sympathetically. "In trouble?" he asked in a whisper.
  • "Deep."
  • "A penitentiary job?"
  • "And the rest."
  • "Not a killing!"
  • "It's early days to talk of such things," said McMurdo with the air of a ma_ho had been surprised into saying more than he intended. "I've my own goo_easons for leaving Chicago, and let that be enough for you. Who are you tha_ou should take it on yourself to ask such things?" His gray eyes gleamed wit_udden and dangerous anger from behind his glasses.
  • "All right, mate, no offense meant. The boys will think none the worse of you, whatever you may have done. Where are you bound for now?"
  • "Vermissa."
  • "That's the third halt down the line. Where are you staying?"
  • McMurdo took out an envelope and held it close to the murky oil lamp. "Here i_he address—Jacob Shafter, Sheridan Street. It's a boarding house that wa_ecommended by a man I knew in Chicago."
  • "Well, I don't know it; but Vermissa is out of my beat. I live at Hobson'_atch, and that's here where we are drawing up. But, say, there's one bit o_dvice I'll give you before we part: If you're in trouble in Vermissa, g_traight to the Union House and see Boss McGinty. He is the Bodymaster o_ermissa Lodge, and nothing can happen in these parts unless Black Jac_cGinty wants it. So long, mate! Maybe we'll meet in lodge one of thes_venings. But mind my words: If you are in trouble, go to Boss McGinty."
  • Scanlan descended, and McMurdo was left once again to his thoughts. Night ha_ow fallen, and the flames of the frequent furnaces were roaring and leapin_n the darkness. Against their lurid background dark figures were bending an_training, twisting and turning, with the motion of winch or of windlass, t_he rhythm of an eternal clank and roar.
  • "I guess hell must look something like that," said a voice.
  • McMurdo turned and saw that one of the policemen had shifted in his seat an_as staring out into the fiery waste.
  • "For that matter," said the other policeman, "I allow that hell must B_omething like that. If there are worse devils down yonder than some we coul_ame, it's more than I'd expect. I guess you are new to this part, young man?"
  • "Well, what if I am?" McMurdo answered in a surly voice.
  • "Just this, mister, that I should advise you to be careful in choosing you_riends. I don't think I'd begin with Mike Scanlan or his gang if I were you."
  • "What the hell is it to you who are my friends?" roared McMurdo in a voic_hich brought every head in the carriage round to witness the altercation.
  • "Did I ask you for your advice, or did you think me such a sucker that _ouldn't move without it? You speak when you are spoken to, and by the Lor_ou'd have to wait a long time if it was me!" He thrust out his face an_rinned at the patrolmen like a snarling dog.
  • The two policemen, heavy, good-natured men, were taken aback by th_xtraordinary vehemence with which their friendly advances had been rejected.
  • "No offense, stranger," said one. "It was a warning for your own good, seein_hat you are, by your own showing, new to the place."
  • "I'm new to the place; but I'm not new to you and your kind!" cried McMurdo i_old fury. "I guess you're the same in all places, shoving your advice in whe_obody asks for it."
  • "Maybe we'll see more of you before very long," said one of the patrolmen wit_ grin. "You're a real hand-picked one, if I am a judge."
  • "I was thinking the same," remarked the other. "I guess we may meet again."
  • "I'm not afraid of you, and don't you think it!" cried McMurdo. "My name'_ack McMurdo—see? If you want me, you'll find me at Jacob Shafter's o_heridan Street, Vermissa; so I'm not hiding from you, am I? Day or night _are to look the like of you in the face—don't make any mistake about that!"
  • There was a murmur of sympathy and admiration from the miners at the dauntles_emeanour of the newcomer, while the two policemen shrugged their shoulder_nd renewed a conversation between themselves.
  • A few minutes later the train ran into the ill-lit station, and there wa_general clearing; for Vermissa was by far the largest town on the line.
  • McMurdo picked up his leather gripsack and was about to start off into th_arkness, when one of the miners accosted him.
  • "By Gar, mate! you know how to speak to the cops," he said in a voice of awe.
  • "It was grand to hear you. Let me carry your grip and show you the road. I'_assing Shafter's on the way to my own shack."
  • There was a chorus of friendly "Good-nights" from the other miners as the_assed from the platform. Before ever he had set foot in it, McMurdo th_urbulent had become a character in Vermissa.
  • The country had been a place of terror; but the town was in its way even mor_epressing. Down that long valley there was at least a certain gloomy grandeu_n the huge fires and tbe clouds of drifting smoke, while the strength an_ndustry of man found fitting monuments in the hills which he had spilled b_he side of his monstrous excavations. But the town showed a dead level o_ean ugliness and squalor. The broad street was churned up by the traffic int_ horrible rutted paste of muddy snow. The sidewalks were narrow and uneven.
  • The numerous gas-lamps served only to show more clearly a long line of woode_ouses, each with its veranda facing the street, unkempt and dirty.
  • As they approached the centre of the town the scene was brightened by a row o_ell-lit stores, and even more by a cluster of saloons and gaming houses, i_hich the miners spent their hard-earned but generous wages.
  • "That's the Union House," said the guide, pointing to one saloon which ros_lmost to the dignity of being a hotel. "Jack McGinty is the boss there."
  • "What sort of a man is he?" McMurdo asked.
  • "What! have you never heard of the boss?"
  • "How could I have heard of him when you know that I am a stranger in thes_arts?"
  • "Well, I thought his name was known clear across the country. It's been in th_apers often enough."
  • "What for?"
  • "Well," the miner lowered his voice—"over the affairs."
  • "What affairs?"
  • "Good Lord, mister! you are queer, if I must say it without offense. There'_nly one set of affairs that you'll hear of in these parts, and that's th_ffairs of the Scowrers."
  • "Why, I seem to have read of the Scowrers in Chicago. A gang of murderers, ar_hey not?"
  • "Hush, on your life!" cried the miner, standing still in alarm, and gazing i_mazement at his companion. "Man, you won't live long in these parts if yo_peak in the open street like that. Many a man has had the life beaten out o_im for less."
  • "Well, I know nothing about them. It's only what I have read."
  • "And I'm not saying that you have not read the truth." The man looke_ervously round him as he spoke, peering into the shadows as if he feared t_ee some lurking danger. "If killing is murder, then God knows there is murde_nd to spare. But don't you dare to breathe the name of Jack McGinty i_onnection with it, stranger; for every whisper goes back to him, and he i_ot one that is likely to let it pass. Now, that's the house you're after, that one standing back from the street. You'll find old Jacob Shafter tha_uns it as honest a man as lives in this township."
  • "I thank you," said McMurdo, and shaking hands with his new acquaintance h_lodded, gripsack in hand, up the path which led to the dwelling house, at th_oor of which he gave a resounding knock.
  • It was opened at once by someone very different from what he had expected. I_as a woman, young and singularly beautiful. She was of the German type, blonde and fair-haired, with the piquant contrast of a pair of beautiful dar_yes with which she surveyed the stranger with surprise and a pleasin_mbarrassment which brought a wave of colour over her pale face. Framed in th_right light of the open doorway, it seemed to McMurdo that he had never see_ more beautiful picture; the more attractive for its contrast with the sordi_nd gloomy surroundings. A lovely violet growing upon one of those black slag- heaps of the mines would not have seemed more surprising. So entranced was h_hat he stood staring without a word, and it was she who broke the silence.
  • "I thought it was father," said she with a pleasing little touch of a Germa_ccent. "Did you come to see him? He is down town. I expect him back ever_inute."
  • McMurdo continued to gaze at her in open admiration until her eyes dropped i_onfusion before this masterful visitor.
  • "No, miss," he said at last, "I'm in no hurry to see him. But your house wa_ecommended to me for board. I thought it might suit me—and now I know i_ill."
  • "You are quick to make up your mind," said she with a smile.
  • "Anyone but a blind man could do as much," the other answered.
  • She laughed at the compliment. "Come right in, sir," she said. "I'm Miss Etti_hafter, Mr. Shafter's daughter. My mother's dead, and I run the house. Yo_an sit down by the stove in the front room until father comes along—Ah, her_e is! So you can fix things with him right away."
  • A heavy, elderly man came plodding up the path. In a few words McMurd_xplained his business. A man of the name of Murphy had given him the addres_n Chicago. He in turn had had it from someone else. Old Shafter was quit_eady. The stranger made no bones about terms, agreed at once to ever_ondition, and was apparently fairly flush of money. For seven dollars a wee_aid in advance he was to have board and lodging.
  • So it was that McMurdo, the self-confessed fugitive from justice, took up hi_bode under the roof of the Shafters, the first step which was to lead to s_ong and dark a train of events, ending in a far distant land.