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Chapter 6 Danger

  • It was the height of the reign of terror. McMurdo, who had already bee_ppointed Inner Deacon, with every prospect of some day succeeding McGinty a_odymaster, was now so necessary to the councils of his comrades that nothin_as done without his help and advice. The more popular he became, however, with the Freemen, the blacker were the scowls which greeted him as he passe_long the streets of Vermissa. In spite of their terror the citizens wer_aking heart to band themselves together against their oppressors. Rumours ha_eached the lodge of secret gatherings in the Herald office and o_istribution of firearms among the law-abiding people. But McGinty and his me_ere undisturbed by such reports. They were numerous, resolute, and wel_rmed. Their opponents were scattered and powerless. It would all end, as i_ad done in the past, in aimless talk and possibly in impotent arrests. S_aid McGinty, McMurdo, and all the bolder spirits.
  • It was a Saturday evening in May. Saturday was always the lodge night, an_cMurdo was leaving his house to attend it when Morris, the weaker brother o_he order, came to see him. His brow was creased with care, and his kindl_ace was drawn and haggard.
  • "Can I speak with you freely, Mr. McMurdo?"
  • "Sure."
  • "I can't forget that I spoke my heart to you once, and that you kept it t_ourself, even though the Boss himself came to ask you about it."
  • "What else could I do if you trusted me? It wasn't that I agreed with what yo_aid."
  • "I know that well. But you are the one that I can speak to and be safe. I've _ecret here," he put his hand to his breast, "and it is just burning the lif_ut of me. I wish it had come to any one of you but me. If I tell it, it wil_ean murder, for sure. If I don't, it may bring the end of us all. God hel_e, but I am near out of my wits over it!"
  • McMurdo looked at the man earnestly. He was trembling in every limb. He poure_ome whisky into a glass and handed it to him. "That's the physic for th_ikes of you," said he. "Now let me hear of it."
  • Morris drank, and his white face took a tinge of colour. "I can tell it to yo_ll in one sentence," said he. "There's a detective on our trail."
  • McMurdo stared at him in astonishment. "Why, man, you're crazy," he said.
  • "Isn't the place full of police and detectives and what harm did they ever d_s?"
  • "No, no, it's no man of the district. As you say, we know them, and it i_ittle that they can do. But you've heard of Pinkerton's?"
  • "I've read of some folk of that name."
  • "Well, you can take it from me you've no show when they are on your trail.
  • It's not a take-it-or-miss-it government concern. It's a dead earnest busines_roposition that's out for results and keeps out till by hook or crook it get_hem. If a Pinkerton man is deep in this business, we are all destroyed."
  • "We must kill him."
  • "Ah, it's the first thought that came to you! So it will be up at the lodge.
  • Didn't I say to you that it would end in murder?"
  • "Sure, what is murder? Isn't it common enough in these parts?"
  • "It is, indeed; but it's not for me to point out the man that is to b_urdered. I'd never rest easy again. And yet it's our own necks that may be a_take. In God's name what shall I do?" He rocked to and fro in his agony o_ndecision.
  • But his words had moved McMurdo deeply. It was easy to see that he shared th_ther's opinion as to the danger, and the need for meeting it. He grippe_orris's shoulder and shook him in his earnestness.
  • "See here, man," he cried, and he almost screeched the words in hi_xcitement, "you won't gain anything by sitting keening like an old wife at _ake. Let's have the facts. Who is the fellow? Where is he? How did you hea_f him? Why did you come to me?"
  • "I came to you; for you are the one man that would advise me. I told you tha_ had a store in the East before I came here. I left good friends behind me, and one of them is in the telegraph service. Here's a letter that I had fro_im yesterday. It's this part from the top of the page. You can read i_ourself."
  • This was what McMurdo read:
  • How are the Scowrers getting on in your parts? We read plenty of them in th_apers. Between you and me I expect to hear news from you before long. Fiv_ig corporations and the two railroads have taken the thing up in dea_arnest. They mean it, and you can bet they'll get there! They are right dee_own into it. Pinkerton has taken hold under their orders, and his best man, Birdy Edwards, is operating. The thing has got to be stopped right now.
  • "Now read the postscript."
  • Of course, what I give you is what I learned in business; so it goes n_urther. It's a queer cipher that you handle by the yard every day and can ge_o meaning from.
  • McMurdo sat in silence for some time, with the letter in his listless hands.
  • The mist had lifted for a moment, and there was the abyss before him.
  • "Does anyone else know of this?" he asked.
  • "I have told no one else."
  • "But this man—your friend—has he any other person that he would be likely t_rite to?"
  • "Well, I dare say he knows one or two more."
  • "Of the lodge?"
  • "It's likely enough."
  • "I was asking because it is likely that he may have given some description o_his fellow Birdy Edwards—then we could get on his trail."
  • "Well, it's possible. But I should not think he knew him. He is just tellin_e the news that came to him by way of business. How would he know thi_inkerton man?"
  • McMurdo gave a violent start.
  • "By Gar!" he cried, "I've got him. What a fool I was not to know it. Lord! bu_e're in luck! We will fix him before he can do any harm. See here, Morris, will you leave this thing in my hands?"
  • "Sure, if you will only take it off mine."
  • "I'll do that. You can stand right back and let me run it. Even your name nee_ot be mentioned. I'll take it all on myself, as if it were to me that thi_etter has come. Will that content you?"
  • "It's just what I would ask."
  • "Then leave it at that and keep your head shut. Now I'll get down to th_odge, and we'll soon make old man Pinkerton sorry for himself."
  • "You wouldn't kill this man?"
  • "The less you know, Friend Morris, the easier your conscience will be, and th_etter you will sleep. Ask no questions, and let these things settl_hemselves. I have hold of it now."
  • Morris shook his head sadly as he left. "I feel that his blood is on m_ands," he groaned.
  • "Self-protection is no murder, anyhow," said McMurdo, smiling grimly. "It'_im or us. I guess this man would destroy us all if we left him long in th_alley. Why, Brother Morris, we'll have to elect you Bodymaster yet; fo_ou've surely saved the lodge."
  • And yet it was clear from his actions that he thought more seriously of thi_ew intrusion than his words would show. It may have been his guilt_onscience, it may have been the reputation of the Pinkerton organization, i_ay have been the knowledge that great, rich corporations had set themselve_he task of clearing out the Scowrers; but, whatever his reason, his action_ere those of a man who is preparing for the worst. Every paper which woul_ncriminate him was destroyed before he left the house. After that he gave _ong sigh of satisfaction; for it seemed to him that he was safe. And yet th_anger must still have pressed somewhat upon him; for on his way to the lodg_e stopped at old man Shafter's. The house was forbidden him; but when h_apped at the window Ettie came out to him. The dancing Irish deviltry ha_one from her lover's eyes. She read his danger in his earnest face.
  • "Something has happened!" she cried. "Oh, Jack, you are in danger!"
  • "Sure, it is not very bad, my sweetheart. And yet it may be wise that we mak_ move before it is worse."
  • "Make a move?"
  • "I promised you once that I would go some day. I think the time is coming. _ad news to-night, bad news, and I see trouble coming."
  • "The police?"
  • "Well, a Pinkerton. But, sure, you wouldn't know what that is, acushla, no_hat it may mean to the likes of me. I'm too deep in this thing, and I ma_ave to get out of it quick. You said you would come with me if I went."
  • "Oh, Jack, it would be the saving of you!"
  • "I'm an honest man in some things, Ettie. I wouldn't hurt a hair of your bonn_ead for all that the world can give, nor ever pull you down one inch from th_olden throne above the clouds where I always see you. Would you trust me?"
  • She put her hand in his without a word. "Well, then, listen to what I say, an_o as I order you, for indeed it's the only way for us. Things are going t_appen in this valley. I feel it in my bones. There may be many of us tha_ill have to look out for ourselves. I'm one, anyhow. If I go, by day o_ight, it's you that must come with me!"
  • "I'd come after you, Jack."
  • "No, no, you shall come WITH me. If this valley is closed to me and I ca_ever come back, how can I leave you behind, and me perhaps in hiding from th_olice with never a chance of a message? It's with me you must come. I know _ood woman in the place I come from, and it's there I'd leave you till we ca_et married. Will you come?"
  • "Yes, Jack, I will come."
  • "God bless you for your trust in me! It's a fiend out of hell that I should b_f I abused it. Now, mark you, Ettie, it will be just a word to you, and whe_t reaches you, you will drop everything and come right down to the waitin_oom at the depot and stay there till I come for you."
  • "Day or night, I'll come at the word, Jack."
  • Somewhat eased in mind, now that his own preparations for escape had bee_egun, McMurdo went on to the lodge. It had already assembled, and only b_omplicated signs and countersigns could he pass through the outer guard an_nner guard who close-tiled it. A buzz of pleasure and welcome greeted him a_e entered. The long room was crowded, and through the haze of tobacco smok_e saw the tangled black mane of the Bodymaster, the cruel, unfriendl_eatures of Baldwin, the vulture face of Harraway, the secretary, and a doze_ore who were among the leaders of the lodge. He rejoiced that they should al_e there to take counsel over his news.
  • "Indeed, it's glad we are to see you, Brother!" cried the chairman. "There'_usiness here that wants a Solomon in judgment to set it right."
  • "It's Lander and Egan," explained his neighbour as he took his seat. "The_oth claim the head money given by the lodge for the shooting of old ma_rabbe over at Stylestown, and who's to say which fired the bullet?"
  • McMurdo rose in his place and raised his hand. The expression of his fac_roze the attention of the audience. There was a dead hush of expectation.
  • "Eminent Bodymaster," he said, in a solemn voice, "I claim urgency!"
  • "Brother McMurdo claims urgency," said McGinty. "It's a claim that by th_ules of this lodge takes precedence. Now Brother, we attend you."
  • McMurdo took the letter from his pocket.
  • "Eminent Bodymaster and Brethren," he said, "I am the bearer of ill news thi_ay; but it is better that it should be known and discussed, than that a blo_hould fall upon us without warning which would destroy us all. I hav_nformation that the most powerful and richest organizations in this stat_ave bound themselves together for our destruction, and that at this ver_oment there is a Pinkerton detective, one Birdy Edwards, at work in th_alley collecting the evidence which may put a rope round the necks of many o_s, and send every man in this room into a felon's cell. That is the situatio_or the discussion of which I have made a claim of urgency."
  • There was a dead silence in the room. It was broken by the chairman.
  • "What is your evidence for this, Brother McMurdo?" he asked.
  • "It is in this letter which has come into my hands," said McMurdo. Me read th_assage aloud. "It is a matter of honour with me that I can give no furthe_articulars about the letter, nor put it into your hands; but I assure yo_hat there is nothing else in it which can affect the interests of the lodge.
  • I put the case before you as it has reached me."
  • "Let me say, Mr. Chairman," said one of the older brethren, "that I have hear_f Birdy Edwards, and that he has the name of being the best man in th_inkerton service."
  • "Does anyone know him by sight?" asked McGinty.
  • "Yes," said McMurdo, "I do."
  • There was a murmur of astonishment through the hall.
  • "I believe we hold him in the hollow of our hands," he continued with a_xulting smile upon his face. "If we act quickly and wisely, we can cut thi_hing short. If I have your confidence and your help, it is little that w_ave to fear."
  • "What have we to fear, anyhow? What can he know of our affairs?"
  • "You might say so if all were as stanch as you, Councillor. But this man ha_ll the millions of the capitalists at his back. Do you think there is n_eaker brother among all our lodges that could not be bought? He will get a_ur secrets—maybe has got them already. There's only one sure cure."
  • "That he never leaves the valley," said Baldwin.
  • McMurdo nodded. "Good for you, Brother Baldwin," he said. "You and I have ha_ur differences, but you have said the true word to-night."
  • "Where is he, then? Where shall we know him?"
  • "Eminent Bodymaster," said McMurdo, earnestly, "I would put it to you tha_his is too vital a thing for us to discuss in open lodge. God forbid that _hould throw a doubt on anyone here; but if so much as a word of gossip got t_he ears of this man, there would be an end of any chance of our getting him.
  • I would ask the lodge to choose a trusty committee, Mr. Chairman—yourself, i_ might suggest it, and Brother Baldwin here, and five more. Then I can tal_reely of what I know and of what I advise should be done."
  • The proposition was at once adopted, and the committee chosen. Beside_hechairman and Baldwin there were the vulture-faced secretary, Harraway, Tiger Cormac, the brutal young assassin, Carter, the treasurer, and th_rothers Willaby, fearless and desperate men who would stick at nothing.
  • The usual revelry of the lodge was short and subdued: for there was a clou_pon the men's spirits, and many there for the first time began to see th_loud of avenging Law drifting up in that serene sky under which they ha_welt so long. The horrors they had dealt out to others had been so much _art of their settled lives that the thought of retribution had become _emote one, and so seemed the more startling now that it came so closely upo_hem. They broke up early and left their leaders to their council.
  • "Now, McMurdo!" said McGinty when they were alone. The seven men sat frozen i_heir seats.
  • "I said just now that I knew Birdy Edwards," McMurdo explained. "I need no_ell you that he is not here under that name. He's a brave man, but not _razy one. He passes under the name of Steve Wilson, and he is lodging a_obson's Patch."
  • "How do you know this?"
  • "Because I fell into talk with him. I thought little of it at the time, no_ould have given it a second thought but for this letter; but now I'm sur_t's the man. I met him on the cars when I went down the line on Wednesday—_ard case if ever there was one. He said he was a reporter. I believed it fo_he moment. Wanted to know all he could about the Scowrers and what he called
  • 'the outrages' for a New York paper. Asked me every kind of question so as t_et something. You bet I was giving nothing away. 'I'd pay for it and pa_ell,' said he, 'if I could get some stuff that would suit my editor.' I sai_hat I thought would please him best, and he handed me a twenty-dollar bil_or my information. 'There's ten times that for you,' said he, 'if you ca_ind me all that I want.'"
  • "What did you tell him, then?"
  • "Any stuff I could make up."
  • "How do you know he wasn't a newspaper man?"
  • "I'll tell you. He got out at Hobson's Patch, and so did I. I chanced into th_elegraph bureau, and he was leaving it.
  • "'See here,' said the operator after he'd gone out, 'I guess we shouldcharg_ouble rates for this.'—'I guess you should,' said I. He had filled the for_ith stuff that might have been Chinese, for all we could make of it. 'H_ires a sheet of this off every day,' said the clerk. 'Yes,' said I; 'it'_pecial news for his paper, and he's scared that the others should tap it.'
  • That was what the operator thought and what I thought at the time; but I thin_ifferently now."
  • "By Gar! I believe you are right," said McGinty. "But what do you allow tha_e should do about it?"
  • "Why not go right down now and fix him?" someone suggested.
  • "Ay, the sooner the better."
  • "I'd start this next minute if I knew where we could find him," said McMurdo.
  • "He's in Hobson's Patch; but I don't know the house. I've got a plan, though, if you'll only take my advice."
  • "Well, what is it?"
  • "I'll go to the Patch to-morrow morning. I'll find him through the operator.
  • He can locate him, I guess. Well, then I'll tell him that I'm a Freema_yself. I'll offer him all the secrets of the lodge for a price. You bet he'l_umble to it. I'll tell him the papers are at my house, and that it's as muc_s my life would be worth to let him come while folk were about. He'll se_hat that's horse sense. Let him come at ten o'clock at night, and he shal_ee everything. That will fetch him sure."
  • "Well?"
  • "You can plan the rest for yourselves. Widow MacNamara's is a lonely house.
  • She's as true as steel and as deaf as a post. There's only Scanlan and me i_he house. If I get his promise—and I'll let you know if I do—I'd have th_hole seven of you come to me by nine o'clock. We'll get him in. If ever h_ets out alive—well, he can talk of Birdy Edwards's luck for the rest of hi_ays!"
  • "There's going to be a vacancy at Pinkerton's or I'm mistaken. Leave it a_hat, McMurdo. At nine to-morrow we'll be with you. You once get the door shu_ehind him, and you can leave the rest with us."