As McMurdo had said, the house in which he lived was a lonely one and ver_ell suited for such a crime as they had planned. It was on the extreme fring_f the town and stood well back from the road. In any other case th_onspirators would have simply called out their man, as they had many a tim_efore, and emptied their pistols into his body; but in this instance it wa_ery necessary to find out how much he knew, how he knew it, and what had bee_assed on to his employers.
It was possible that they were already too late and that the work had bee_one. If that was indeed so, they could at least have their revenge upon th_an who had done it. But they were hopeful that nothing of great importanc_ad yet come to the detective's knowledge, as otherwise, they argued, he woul_ot have troubled to write down and forward such trivial information a_cMurdo claimed to have given him. However, all this they would learn from hi_wn lips. Once in their power, they would find a way to make him speak. It wa_ot the first time that they had handled an unwilling witness.
McMurdo went to Hobson's Patch as agreed. The police seemed to take particula_nterest in him that morning, and Captain Marvin—he who had claimed the ol_cquaintance with him at Chicago—actually addressed him as he waited at th_tation. McMurdo turned away and refused to speak with him. He was back fro_is mission in the afternoon, and saw McGinty at the Union House.
"He is coming," he said.
"Good!" said McGinty. The giant was in his shirt sleeves, with chains an_eals gleaming athwart his ample waistcoat and a diamond twinkling through th_ringe of his bristling beard. Drink and politics had made the Boss a ver_ich as well as powerful man. The more terrible, therefore, seemed tha_limpse of the prison or the gallows which had risen before him the nigh_efore.
"Do you reckon he knows much?" he asked anxiously.
McMurdo shook his head gloomily. "He's been here some time—six weeks at th_east. I guess he didn't come into these parts to look at the prospect. If h_as been working among us all that time with the railroad money at his back, _hould expect that he has got results, and that he has passed them on."
"There's not a weak man in the lodge," cried McGinty. "True as steel, ever_an of them. And yet, by the Lord! there is that skunk Morris. What about him?
If any man gives us away, it would be he. I've a mind to send a couple of th_oys round before evening to give him a beating up and see what they can ge_rom him."
"Well, there would be no harm in that," McMurdo answered. "I won't deny that _ave a liking for Morris and would be sorry to see him come to harm. He ha_poken to me once or twice over lodge matters, and though he may not see the_he same as you or I, he never seemed the sort that squeals. But still it i_ot for me to stand between him and you."
"I'll fix the old devil!" said McGinty with an oath. "I've had my eye on hi_his year past."
"Well, you know best about that," McMurdo answered. "But whatever you do mus_e to-morrow; for we must lie low until the Pinkerton affair is settled up. W_an't afford to set the police buzzing, to-day of all days."
"True for you," said McGinty. "And we'll learn from Birdy Edwards himsel_here he got his news if we have to cut his heart out first. Did he seem t_cent a trap?"
McMurdo laughed. "I guess I took him on his weak point," he said. "If he coul_et on a good trail of the Scowrers, he's ready to follow it into hell. I too_is money," McMurdo grinned as he produced a wad of dollar notes, "and as muc_ore when he has seen all my papers."
"Well, there are no papers. But I filled him up about constitutions and book_f rules and forms of membership. He expects to get right down to the end o_verything before he leaves."
"Faith, he's right there," said McGinty grimly. "Didn't he ask you why yo_idn't bring him the papers?"
"As if I would carry such things, and me a suspected man, and Captain Marvi_fter speaking to me this very day at the depot!"
"Ay, I heard of that," said McGinty. "I guess the heavy end of this busines_s coming on to you. We could put him down an old shaft when we've done wit_im; but however we work it we can't get past the man living at Hobson's Patc_nd you being there to-day."
McMurdo shrugged his shoulders. "If we handle it right, they can never prov_he killing," said he. "No one can see him come to the house after dark, an_'ll lay to it that no one will see him go. Now see here, Councillor, I'l_how you my plan and I'll ask you to fit the others into it. You will all com_n good time. Very well. He comes at ten. He is to tap three times, and me t_pen the door for him. Then I'll get behind him and shut it. He's our ma_hen."
"That's all easy and plain."
"Yes; but the next step wants considering. He's a hard proposition. He'_eavily armed. I've fooled him proper, and yet he is likely to be on hi_uard. Suppose I show him right into a room with seven men in it where h_xpected to find me alone. There is going to be shooting, and somebody i_oing to be hurt."
"And the noise is going to bring every damned copper in the township on top o_t."
"I guess you are right."
"This is how I should work it. You will all be in the big room—same as you sa_hen you had a chat with me. I'll open the door for him, show him into th_arlour beside the door, and leave him there while I get the papers. That wil_ive me the chance of telling you how things are shaping. Then I will go bac_o him with some faked papers. As he is reading them I will jump for him an_et my grip on his pistol arm. You'll hear me call and in you will rush. Th_uicker the better; for he is as strong a man as I, and I may have more than _an manage. But I allow that I can hold him till you come."
"It's a good plan," said McGinty. "The lodge will owe you a debt for this. _uess when I move out of the chair I can put a name to the man that's comin_fter me."
"Sure, Councillor, I am little more than a recruit," said McMurdo; but hi_ace showed what he thought of the great man's compliment.
When he had returned home he made his own preparations for the grim evening i_ront of him. First he cleaned, oiled, and loaded his Smith & Wesson revolver.
Then he surveyed the room in which the detective was to be trapped. It was _arge apartment, with a long deal table in the centre, and the big stove a_ne side. At each of the other sides were windows. There were no shutters o_hese: only light curtains which drew across. McMurdo examined thes_ttentively. No doubt it must have struck him that the apartment was ver_xposed for so secret a meeting. Yet its distance from the road made it o_ess consequence. Finally he discussed the matter with his fellow lodger.
Scanlan, though a Scowrer, was an inoffensive little man who was too weak t_tand against the opinion of his comrades, but was secretly horrified by th_eeds of blood at which he had sometimes been forced to assist. McMurdo tol_im shortly what was intended.
"And if I were you, Mike Scanlan, I would take a night off and keep clear o_t. There will be bloody work here before morning."
"Well, indeed then, Mac," Scanlan answered. "It's not the will but the nerv_hat is wanting in me. When I saw Manager Dunn go down at the colliery yonde_t was just more than I could stand. I'm not made for it, same as you o_cGinty. If the lodge will think none the worse of me, I'll just do as yo_dvise and leave you to yourselves for the evening."
The men came in good time as arranged. They were outwardly respectabl_itizens, well clad and cleanly; but a judge of faces would have read littl_ope for Birdy Edwards in those hard mouths and remorseless eyes. There wa_ot a man in the room whose hands had not been reddened a dozen times before.
They were as hardened to human murder as a butcher to sheep.
Foremost, of course, both in appearance and in guilt, was the formidable Boss.
Harraway, the secretary, was a lean, bitter man with a long, scraggy neck an_ervous, jerky limbs, a man of incorruptible fidelity where the finances o_he order were concerned, and with no notion of justice or honesty to anyon_eyond. The treasurer, Carter, was a middle-aged man, with an impassive, rather sulky expression, and a yellow parchment skin. He was a capabl_rganizer, and the actual details of nearly every outrage had sprung from hi_lotting brain. The two Willabys were men of action, tall, lithe young fellow_ith determined faces, while their companion, Tiger Cormac, a heavy, dar_outh, was feared even by his own comrades for the ferocity of hi_isposition. These were the men who assembled that night under the roof o_cMurdo for the killing of the Pinkerton detective.
Their host had placed whisky upon the table, and they had hastened to prim_hemselves for the work before them. Baldwin and Cormac were already half- drunk, and the liquor had brought out all their ferocity. Cormac placed hi_ands on the stove for an instant—it had been lighted, for the nights wer_till cold.
"That will do," said he, with an oath.
"Ay," said Baldwin, catching his meaning. "If he is strapped to that, we wil_ave the truth out of him."
"We'll have the truth out of him, never fear," said McMurdo. He had nerves o_teel, this man; for though the whole weight of the affair was on him hi_anner was as cool and unconcerned as ever. The others marked it an_pplauded.
"You are the one to handle him," said the Boss approvingly. "Not a warnin_ill he get till your hand is on his throat. It's a pity there are no shutter_o your windows."
McMurdo went from one to the other and drew the curtains tighter. "Sure no on_an spy upon us now. It's close upon the hour."
"Maybe he won't come. Maybe he'll get a sniff of danger," said the secretary.
"He'll come, never fear," McMurdo answered. "He is as eager to come as you ca_e to see him. Hark to that!"
They all sat like wax figures, some with their glasses arrested halfway t_heir lips. Three loud knocks had sounded at the door.
"Hush!" McMurdo raised his hand in caution. An exulting glance went round th_ircle, and hands were laid upon their weapons.
"Not a sound, for your lives!" McMurdo whispered, as he went from the room, closing the door carefully behind him.
With strained ears the murderers waited. They counted the steps of thei_omrade down the passage. Then they heard him open the outer door. There wer_ few words as of greeting. Then they were aware of a strange step inside an_f an unfamiliar voice. An instant later came the slam of the door and th_urning of the key in the lock. Their prey was safe within the trap. Tige_ormac laughed horribly, and Boss McGinty clapped his great hand across hi_outh.
"Be quiet, you fool!" he whispered. "You'll be the undoing of us yet!"
There was a mutter of conversation from the next room. It seemed interminable.
Then the door opened, and McMurdo appeared, his finger upon his lip.
He came to the end of the table and looked round at them. A subtle change ha_ome over him. His manner was as of one who has great work to do. His face ha_et into granite firmness. His eyes shone with a fierce excitement behind hi_pectacles. He had become a visible leader of men. They stared at him wit_ager interest; but he said nothing. Still with the same singular gaze h_ooked from man to man.
"Well!" cried Boss McGinty at last. "Is he here? Is Birdy Edwards here?"
"Yes," McMurdo answered slowly. "Birdy Edwards is here. I am Birdy Edwards!"
There were ten seconds after that brief speech during which the room migh_ave been empty, so profound was the silence. The hissing of a kettle upon th_tove rose sharp and strident to the ear. Seven white faces, all turned upwar_o this man who dominated them, were set motionless with utter terror. Then, with a sudden shivering of glass, a bristle of glistening rifle barrels brok_hrough each window, while the curtains were torn from their hangings.
At the sight Boss McGinty gave the roar of a wounded bear and plunged for th_alf-opened door. A levelled revolver met him there with the stern blue eye_f Captain Marvin of the Mine Police gleaming behind the sights. The Bos_ecoiled and fell back into his chair.
"You're safer there, Councillor," said the man whom they had known as McMurdo.
"And you, Baldwin, if you don't take your hand off your pistol, you'll chea_he hangman yet. Pull it out, or by the Lord that made me—There, that will do.
There are forty armed men round this house, and you can figure it out fo_ourself what chance you have. Take their pistols, Marvin!"
There was no possible resistance under the menace of those rifles. The me_ere disarmed. Sulky, sheepish, and amazed, they still sat round the table.
"I'd like to say a word to you before we separate," said the man who ha_rapped them. "I guess we may not meet again until you see me on the stand i_he courthouse. I'll give you something to think over between now and then.
You know me now for what I am. At last I can put my cards on the table. I a_irdy Edwards of Pinkerton's. I was chosen to break up your gang. I had a har_nd dangerous game to play. Not a soul, not one soul,not my nearest an_earest, knew that I was playing it. Only Captain Marvin here and my employer_new that. But it's over to-night, thank God, and I am the winner!"
The seven pale, rigid faces looked up at him. There was unappeasable hatred i_heir eyes. He read the relentless threat.
"Maybe you think that the game is not over yet. Well, I take my chance o_hat. Anyhow, some of you will take no further hand, and there are sixty mor_esides yourselves that will see a jail this night. I'll tell you this, tha_hen I was put upon this job I never believed there was such a society a_ours. I thought it was paper talk, and that I would prove it so. They told m_t was to do with the Freemen; so I went to Chicago and was made one. Then _as surer than ever that it was just paper talk; for I found no harm in th_ociety, but a deal of good.
"Still, I had to carry out my job, and I came to the coal valleys. When _eached this place I learned that I was wrong and that it wasn't a dime nove_fter all. So I stayed to look after it. I never killed a man in Chicago. _ever minted a dollar in my life. Those I gave you were as good as any others; but I never spent money better. But I knew the way into your good wishes an_o I pretended to you that the law was after me. It all worked just as _hought.
"So I joined your infernal lodge, and I took my share in your councils. Mayb_hey will say that I was as bad as you. They can say what they like, so lon_s I get you. But what is the truth? The night I joined you beat up old ma_tanger. I could not warn him, for there was no time; but I held your hand, Baldwin, when you would have killed him. If ever I have suggested things, s_s to keep my place among you, they were things which I knew I could prevent.
I could not save Dunn and Menzies, for I did not know enough; but I will se_hat their murderers are hanged. I gave Chester Wilcox warning, so that when _lew his house in he and his folk were in hiding. There was many a crime tha_ could not stop; but if you look back and think how often your man came hom_he other road, or was down in town when you went for him, or stayed indoor_hen you thought he would come out, you'll see my work."
"You blasted traitor!" hissed McGinty through his closed teeth.
"Ay, John McGinty, you may call me that if it eases your smart. You and you_ike have been the enemy of God and man in these parts. It took a man to ge_etween you and the poor devils of men and women that you held under you_rip. There was just one way of doing it, and I did it. You call me a traitor; but I guess there's many a thousand will call me a deliverer that went dow_nto hell to save them. I've had three months of it. I wouldn't have thre_uch months again if they let me loose in the treasury at Washington for it. _ad to stay till I had it all, every man and every secret right here in thi_and. I'd have waited a little longer if it hadn't come to my knowledge tha_y secret was coming out. A letter had come into the town that would have se_ou wise to it all. Then I had to act and act quickly.
"I've nothing more to say to you, except that when my time comes I'll die th_asier when I think of the work I have done in this valley. Now, Marvin, I'l_eep you no more. Take them in and get it over."
There is little more to tell. Scanlan had been given a sealed note to be lef_t the address of Miss Ettie Shafter, a mission which he had accepted with _ink and a knowing smile. In the early hours of the morning a beautiful woma_nd a much muffled man boarded a special train which had been sent by th_ailroad company, and made a swift, unbroken journey out of the land o_anger. It was the last time that ever either Ettie or her lover set foot i_he Valley of Fear. Ten days later they were married in Chicago, with ol_acob Shafter as witness of the wedding.
The trial of the Scowrers was held far from the place where their adherent_ight have terrified the guardians of the law. In vain they struggled. In vai_he money of the lodge—money squeezed by blackmail out of the whol_ountryside—was spent like water in the attempt to save them. That cold, clear, unimpassioned statement from one who knew every detail of their lives, their organization, and their crimes was unshaken by all the wiles of thei_efenders. At last after so many years they were broken and scattered. Th_loud was lifted forever from the valley.
McGinty met his fate upon the scaffold, cringing and whining when the las_our came. Eight of his chief followers shared his fate. Fifty-odd had variou_egrees of imprisonment. The work of Birdy Edwards was complete.
And yet, as he had guessed, the game was not over yet. There was another han_o be played, and yet another and another. Ted Baldwin, for one, had escape_he scaffold; so had the Willabys; so had several others of the fierces_pirits of the gang. For ten years they were out of the world, and then came _ay when they were free once more—a day which Edwards, who knew his men, wa_ery sure would be an end of his life of peace. They had sworn an oath on al_hat they thought holy to have his blood as a vengeance for their comrades.
And well they strove to keep their vow!
From Chicago he was chased, after two attempts so near success that it wa_ure that the third would get him. From Chicago he went under a changed nam_o California, and it was there that the light went for a time out of his lif_hen Ettie Edwards died. Once again he was nearly killed, and once again unde_he name of Douglas he worked in a lonely canon, where with an English partne_amed Barker he amassed a fortune. At last there came a warning to him tha_he bloodhounds were on his track once more, and he cleared—only just i_ime—for England. And thence came the John Douglas who for a second tim_arried a worthy mate, and lived for five years as a Sussex county gentleman, a life which ended with the strange happenings of which we have heard.