When McMurdo awoke next morning he had good reason to remember his initiatio_nto the lodge. His head ached with the effect of the drink, and his arm, where he had been branded, was hot and swollen. Having his own peculiar sourc_f income, he was irregular in his attendance at his work; so he had a lat_reakfast, and remained at home for the morning writing a long letter to _riend. Afterwards he read the Daily Herald. In a special column put in at th_ast moment he read:
OUTRAGE AT THE HERALD OFFICE—EDITOR SERIOUSLY INJURED.
It was a short account of the facts with which he was himself more familia_han the writer could have been. It ended with the statement:
The matter is now in the hands of the police; but it can hardly be hoped tha_heir exertions will be attended by any better results than in the past. Som_f the men were recognized, and there is hope that a conviction may b_btained. The source of the outrage was, it need hardly be said, that infamou_ociety which has held this community in bondage for so long a period, an_gainst which the Herald has taken so uncompromising a stand. Mr. Stanger'_any friends will rejoice to hear that, though he has been cruelly an_rutally beaten, and though he has sustained severe injuries about the head, there is no immediate danger to his life.
Below it stated that a guard of police, armed with Winchester rifles, had bee_equisitioned for the defense of the office.
McMurdo had laid down the paper, and was lighting his pipe with a hand whic_as shaky from the excesses of the previous evening, when there was a knoc_utside, and his landlady brought to him a note which had just been handed i_y a lad. It was unsigned, and ran thus:
I should wish to speak to you, but would rather not do so in your house. Yo_ill find me beside the flagstaff upon Miller Hill. If you will come ther_ow, I have something which it is important for you to hear and for me to say.
McMurdo read the note twice with the utmost surprise; for he could not imagin_hat it meant or who was the author of it. Had it been in a feminine hand, h_ight have imagined that it was the beginning of one of those adventures whic_ad been familiar enough in his past life. But it was the writing of a man, and of a well educated one, too. Finally, after some hesitation, he determine_o see the matter through.
Miller Hill is an ill-kept public park in the very centre of the town. I_ummer it is a favourite resort of the people, but in winter it is desolat_nough. From the top of it one has a view not only of the whole straggling, grimy town, but of the winding valley beneath, with its scattered mines an_actories blackening the snow on each side of it, and of the wooded and white- capped ranges flanking it.
McMurdo strolled up the winding path hedged in with evergreens until h_eached the deserted restaurant which forms the centre of summer gaiety.
Beside it was a bare flagstaff, and underneath it a man, his hat drawn dow_nd the collar of his overcoat turned up. When he turned his face McMurdo sa_hat it was Brother Morris, he who had incurred the anger of the Bodymaste_he night before. The lodge sign was given and exchanged as they met.
"I wanted to have a word with you, Mr. McMurdo," said the older man,speakin_ith a hesitation which showed that he was on delicate ground. "It was kind o_ou to come."
"Why did you not put your name to the note?"
"One has to be cautious, mister. One never knows in times like these how _hing may come back to one. One never knows either who to trust or who not t_rust."
"Surely one may trust brothers of the lodge."
"No, no, not always," cried Morris with vehemence. "Whatever we say, even wha_e think, seems to go back to that man McGinty."
"Look here!" said McMurdo sternly. "It was only last night, as you know well, that I swore good faith to our Bodymaster. Would you be asking me to break m_ath?"
"If that is the view you take," said Morris sadly, "I can only say that I a_orry I gave you the trouble to come and meet me. Things have come to a ba_ass when two free citizens cannot speak their thoughts to each other."
McMurdo, who had been watching his companion very narrowly, relaxed somewha_n his bearing. "Sure I spoke for myself only," said he. "I am a newcomer, a_ou know, and I am strange to it all. It is not for me to open my mouth, Mr.
Morris, and if you think well to say anything to me I am here to hear it."
"And to take it back to Boss McGinty!" said Morris bitterly.
"Indeed, then, you do me injustice there," cried McMurdo. "For myself I a_oyal to the lodge, and so I tell you straight; but I would be a poor creatur_f I were to repeat to any other what you might say to me in confidence. I_ill go no further than me; though I warn you that you may get neither hel_or sympathy."
"I have given up looking for either the one or the other," said Morris. "I ma_e putting my very life in your hands by what I say; but, bad as you are—an_t seemed to me last night that you were shaping to be as bad as th_orst—still you are new to it, and your conscience cannot yet be as hardene_s theirs. That was why I thought to speak with you."
"Well, what have you to say?"
"If you give me away, may a curse be on you!"
"Sure, I said I would not."
"I would ask you, then, when you joined the Freeman's society in Chicago an_wore vows of charity and fidelity, did ever it cross your mind that you migh_ind it would lead you to crime?"
"If you call it crime," McMurdo answered.
"Call it crime!" cried Morris, his voice vibrating with passion. "You hav_een little of it if you can call it anything else. Was it crime last nigh_hen a man old enough to be your father was beaten till the blood dripped fro_is white hairs? Was that crime—or what else would you call it?"
"There are some would say it was war," said McMurdo, "a war of two classe_ith all in, so that each struck as best it could."
"Well, did you think of such a thing when you joined the Freeman's society a_hicago?"
"No, I'm bound to say I did not."
"Nor did I when I joined it at Philadelphia. It was just a benefit club and _eeting place for one's fellows. Then I heard of this place—curse the hou_hat the name first fell upon my ears!—and I came to better myself! My God! t_etter myself! My wife and three children came with me. I started a drygood_tore on Market Square, and I prospered well. The word had gone round that _as a Freeman, and I was forced to join the local lodge, same as you did las_ight. I've the badge of shame on my forearm and something worse branded on m_eart. I found that I was under the orders of a black villain and caught in _eshwork of crime. What could I do? Every word I said to make things bette_as taken as treason, same as it was last night. I can't get away; for all _ave in the world is in my store. If I leave the society, I know well that i_eans murder to me, and God knows what to my wife and children. Oh, man, it i_wful—awful!" He put his hands to his face, and his body shook with convulsiv_obs.
McMurdo shrugged his shoulders. "You were too soft for the job," said he. "Yo_re the wrong sort for such work."
"I had a conscience and a religion; but they made me a criminal among them. _as chosen for a job. If I backed down I knew well what would come to me.
Maybe I'm a coward. Maybe it's the thought of my poor little woman and th_hildren that makes me one. Anyhow I went. I guess it will haunt me forever.
"It was a lonely house, twenty miles from here, over the range yonder. I wa_old off for the door, same as you were last night. They could not trust m_ith the job. The others went in. When they came out their hands were crimso_o the wrists. As we turned away a child was screaming out of the house behin_s. It was a boy of five who had seen his father murdered. I nearly fainte_ith the horror of it, and yet I had to keep a bold and smiling face; for wel_ knew that if I did not it would be out of my house that they would come nex_ith their bloody hands and it would be my little Fred that would be screamin_or his father.
"But I was a criminal then, part sharer in a murder, lost forever in thi_orld, and lost also in the next. I am a good Catholic; but the priest woul_ave no word with me when he heard I was a Scowrer, and I am excommunicate_rom my faith. That's how it stands with me. And I see you going down the sam_oad, and I ask you what the end is to be. Are you ready to be a cold-bloode_urderer also, or can we do anything to stop it?"
"What would you do?" asked McMurdo abruptly. "You would not inform?"
"God forbid!" cried Morris. "Sure, the very thought would cost me my life."
"That's well," said McMurdo. "I'm thinking that you are a weak man and tha_ou make too much of the matter."
"Too much! Wait till you have lived here longer. Look down the valley! See th_loud of a hundred chimneys that overshadows it! I tell you that the cloud o_urder hangs thicker and lower than that over the heads of the people. It i_he Valley of Fear, the Valley of Death. The terror is in the hearts of th_eople from the dusk to the dawn. Wait, young man, and you will learn fo_ourself."
"Well, I'll let you know what I think when I have seen more," said McMurd_arelessly. "What is very clear is that you are not the man for the place, an_hat the sooner you sell out—if you only get a dime a dollar for what th_usiness is worth—the better it will be for you. What you have said is saf_ith me; but, by Gar! if I thought you were an informer—"
"No, no!" cried Morris piteously.
"Well, let it rest at that. I'll bear what you have said in mind, and mayb_ome day I'll come back to it. I expect you meant kindly by speaking to m_ike this. Now I'll be getting home."
"One word before you go," said Morris. "We may have been seen together. The_ay want to know what we have spoken about."
"Ah! that's well thought of."
"I offer you a clerkship in my store."
"And I refuse it. That's our business. Well, so long, Brother Morris, and ma_ou find things go better with you in the future."
That same afternoon, as McMurdo sat smoking, lost in thought beside the stov_f his sitting-room, the door swung open and its framework was filled with th_uge figure of Boss McGinty. He passed the sign, and then seating himsel_pposite to the young man he looked at him steadily for some time, a loo_hich was as steadily returned.
"I'm not much of a visitor, Brother McMurdo," he said at last. "I guess I a_oo busy over the folk that visit me. But I thought I'd stretch a point an_rop down to see you in your own house."
"I'm proud to see you here, Councillor," McMurdo answered heartily, bringin_is whisky bottle out of the cupboard. "It's an honour that I had no_xpected."
"How's the arm?" asked the Boss.
McMurdo made a wry face. "Well, I'm not forgetting it," he said; "but it'_orth it."
"Yes, it's worth it," the other answered, "to those that are loyal and g_hrough with it and are a help to the lodge. What were you speaking to Brothe_orris about on Miller Hill this morning?"
The question came so suddenly that it was well that he had his answe_repared. He burst into a hearty laugh. "Morris didn't know I could earn _iving here at home. He shan't know either; for he has got too much conscienc_or the likes of me. But he's a good-hearted old chap. It was his idea that _as at a loose end, and that he would do me a good turn by offering me _lerkship in a drygoods store."
"Oh, that was it?"
"Yes, that was it."
"And you refused it?"
"Sure. Couldn't I earn ten times as much in my own bedroom with four hours'
"That's so. But I wouldn't get about too much with Morris."
"Well, I guess because I tell you not. That's enough for most folk in thes_arts."
"It may be enough for most folk; but it ain't enough for me, Councillor," sai_cMurdo boldly. "If you are a judge of men, you'll know that."
The swarthy giant glared at him, and his hairy paw closed for an instant roun_he glass as though he would hurl it at the head of his companion. Then h_aughed in his loud, boisterous, insincere fashion.
"You're a queer card, for sure," said he. "Well, if you want reasons, I'l_ive them. Did Morris say nothing to you against the lodge?"
"Nor against me?"
"Well, that's because he daren't trust you. But in his heart he is not a loya_rother. We know that well. So we watch him and we wait for the time t_dmonish him. I'm thinking that the time is drawing near. There's no room fo_cabby sheep in our pen. But if you keep company with a disloyal man, we migh_hink that you were disloyal, too. See?"
"There's no chance of my keeping company with him; for I dislike the man,"
McMurdo answered. "As to being disloyal, if it was any man but you he woul_ot use the word to me twice."
"Well, that's enough," said McGinty, draining off his glass. "I came down t_ive you a word in season, and you've had it."
"I'd like to know," said McMurdo, "how you ever came to learn that I ha_poken with Morris at all?"
McGinty laughed. "It's my business to know what goes on in this township,"
said he. "I guess you'd best reckon on my hearing all that passes. Well,time'_p, and I'll just say—"
But his leavetaking was cut short in a very unexpected fashion. With a sudde_rash the door flew open, and three frowning, intent faces glared in at the_rom under the peaks of police caps. McMurdo sprang to his feet and half dre_is revolver; but his arm stopped midway as he became conscious that tw_inchester rifles were levelled at his head. A man in uniform advanced int_he room, a six-shooter in his hand. It was Captain Marvin, once of Chicago, and now of the Mine Constabulary. He shook his head with a half-smile a_cMurdo.
"I thought you'd be getting into trouble, Mr. Crooked McMurdo of Chicago,"
said he. "Can't keep out of it, can you? Take your hat and come along wit_s."
"I guess you'll pay for this, Captain Marvin," said McGinty. "Who are you, I'_ike to know, to break into a house in this fashion and molest honest, law- abiding men?"
"You're standing out in this deal, Councillor McGinty," said the polic_aptain. "We are not out after you, but after this man McMurdo. It is for yo_o help, not to hinder us in our duty,"
"He is a friend of mine, and I'll answer for his conduct," said the Boss.
"By all accounts, Mr. McGinty, you may have to answer for your own conduc_ome of these days," the captain answered. "This man McMurdo was a croo_efore ever he came here, and he's a crook still. Cover him, Patrolman, whil_ disarm him."
"There's my pistol," said McMurdo coolly. "Maybe, Captain Marvin, if you and _ere alone and face to face you would not take me so easily."
"Where's your warrant?" asked McGinty. "By Gar! a man might as well live i_ussia as in Vemmissa while folk like you are running the police. It's _apitalist outrage, and you'll hear more of it, I reckon."
"You do what you think is your duty the best way you can, Councillor. We'l_ook after ours."
"What am I accused of?" asked McMurdo.
"Of being concerned in the beating of old Editor Stanger at the Herald office.
It wasn't your fault that it isn't a murder charge."
"Well, if that's all you have against him," cried McGinty with a laugh, "yo_an save yourself a deal of trouble by dropping it right now. This man wa_ith me in my saloon playing poker up to midnight, and I can bring a dozen t_rove it."
"That's your affair, and I guess you can settle it in court to-morrow.
Meanwhile, come on, McMurdo, and come quietly if you don't want a gun acros_our head. You stand wide, Mr. McGinty; for I warn you I will stand n_esistance when I am on duty!"
So determined was the appearance of the captain that both McMurdo and his bos_ere forced to accept the situation. The latter managed to have a fe_hispered words with the prisoner before they parted.
"What about—" he jerked his thumb upward to signify the coining plant.
"All right," whispered McMurdo, who had devised a safe hiding place under th_loor.
"I'll bid you good-bye," said the Boss, shaking hands. "I'll see Reilly th_awyer and take the defense upon myself. Take my word for it that they won'_e able to hold you."
"I wouldn't bet on that. Guard the prisoner, you two, and shoot him if h_ries any games. I'll search the house before I leave."
He did so; but apparently found no trace of the concealed plant. When he ha_escended he and his men escorted McMurdo to headquarters. Darkness ha_allen, and a keen blizzard was blowing so that the streets were nearl_eserted; but a few loiterers followed the group, and emboldened b_nvisibility shouted imprecations at the prisoner.
"Lynch the cursed Scowrer!" they cried. "Lynch him!" They laughed and jeere_s he was pushed into the police station. After a short, formal examinatio_rom the inspector in charge he was put into the common cell. Here he foun_aldwin and three other criminals of the night before, all arrested tha_fternoon and waiting their trial next morning.
But even within this inner fortress of the law the long arm of the Freemen wa_ble to extend. Late at night there came a jailer with a straw bundle fo_heir bedding, out of which he extracted two bottles of whisky, some glasses, and a pack of cards. They spent a hilarious night, without an anxious though_s to the ordeal of the morning.
Nor had they cause, as the result was to show. The magistrate could no_ossibly, on the evidence, have held them for a higher court. On the one han_he compositors and pressmen were forced to admit that the light wa_ncertain, that they were themselves much perturbed, and that it was difficul_or them to swear to the identity of the assailants; although they believe_hat the accused were among them. Cross examined by the clever attorney wh_ad been engaged by McGinty, they were even more nebulous in their evidence.
The injured man had already deposed that he was so taken by surprise by th_uddenness of the attack that he could state nothing beyond the fact that th_irst man who struck him wore a moustache. He added that he knew them to b_cowrers, since no one else in the community could possibly have any enmity t_im, and he had long been threatened on account of his outspoken editorials.
On the other hand, it was clearly shown by the united and unfaltering evidenc_f six citizens, including that high municipal official, Councillor McGinty, that the men had been at a card party at the Union House until an hour ver_uch later than the commission of the outrage.
Needless to say that they were discharged with something very near to a_pology from the bench for the inconvenience to which they had been put, together with an implied censure of Captain Marvin and the police for thei_fficious zeal.
The verdict was greeted with loud applause by a court in which McMurdo sa_any familiar faces. Brothers of the lodge smiled and waved. But there wer_thers who sat with compressed lips and brooding eyes as the men filed out o_he dock. One of them, a little, dark-bearded, resolute fellow, put th_houghts of himself and comrades into words as the ex-prisoners passed him.
"You damned murderers!" he said. "We'll fix you yet!"