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Chapter 4 The Valley of Fear

  • 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'
  • work?"
  • "That's so. But I wouldn't get about too much with Morris."
  • "Why not?"
  • "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?"
  • "No."
  • "Nor against me?"
  • "No."
  • "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!"