Part 3 out of 4
"And who the devil is he?"
"He is a boss of Scowrers."
"Scowrers! I've heard of them before. It's Scowrers here and
Scowrers there, and always in a whisper! What are you all afraid
of? Who are the Scowrers?"
The boarding-house keeper instinctively sank his voice, as
everyone did who talked about that terrible society. "The
Scowrers," said he, "are the Eminent Order of Freemen!"
The young man stared. "Why, I am a member of that order myself."
"You! I vould never have had you in my house if I had known
it--not if you vere to pay me a hundred dollar a veek."
"What's wrong with the order? It's for charity and good
fellowship. The rules say so."
"Maybe in some places. Not here!"
"What is it here?"
"It's a murder society, that's vat it is."
McMurdo laughed incredulously. "How can you prove that?" he
"Prove it! Are there not fifty murders to prove it? Vat about
Milman and Van Shorst, and the Nicholson family, and old Mr.
Hyam, and little Billy James, and the others? Prove it! Is
there a man or a voman in this valley vat does not know it?"
"See here!" said McMurdo earnestly. "I want you to take back
what you've said, or else make it good. One or the other you
must do before I quit this room. Put yourself in my place. Here
am I, a stranger in the town. I belong to a society that I know
only as an innocent one. You'll find it through the length and
breadth of the States, but always as an innocent one. Now, when
I am counting upon joining it here, you tell me that it is the
same as a murder society called the Scowrers. I guess you owe me
either an apology or else an explanation, Mr. Shafter."
"I can but tell you vat the whole vorld knows, mister. The
bosses of the one are the bosses of the other. If you offend the
one, it is the other vat vill strike you. We have proved it too
"That's just gossip--I want proof!" said McMurdo.
"If you live here long you vill get your proof. But I forget
that you are yourself one of them. You vill soon be as bad as
the rest. But you vill find other lodgings, mister. I cannot
have you here. Is it not bad enough that one of these people
come courting my Ettie, and that I dare not turn him down, but
that I should have another for my boarder? Yes, indeed, you
shall not sleep here after to-night!"
McMurdo found himself under sentence of banishment both from his
comfortable quarters and from the girl whom he loved. He found
her alone in the sitting-room that same evening, and he poured
his troubles into her ear.
"Sure, your father is after giving me notice," he said. "It's
little I would care if it was just my room, but indeed, Ettie,
though it's only a week that I've known you, you are the very
breath of life to me, and I can't live without you!"
"Oh, hush, Mr. McMurdo, don't speak so!" said the girl. "I have
told you, have I not, that you are too late? There is another,
and if I have not promised to marry him at once, at least I can
promise no one else."
"Suppose I had been first, Ettie, would I have had a chance?"
The girl sank her face into her hands. "I wish to heaven that
you had been first!" she sobbed.
McMurdo was down on his knees before her in an instant. "For
God's sake, Ettie, let it stand at that!" he cried. "Will you
ruin your life and my own for the sake of this promise? Follow
your heart, acushla! 'Tis a safer guide than any promise before
you knew what it was that you were saying."
He had seized Ettie's white hand between his own strong brown
"Say that you will be mine, and we will face it out together!"
"No, no, Jack!" His arms were round her now. "It could not be
here. Could you take me away?"
A struggle passed for a moment over McMurdo's face; but it ended
by setting like granite. "No, here," he said. "I'll hold you
against the world, Ettie, right here where we are!"
"Why should we not leave together?"
"No, Ettie, I can't leave here."
"I'd never hold my head up again if I felt that I had been driven
out. Besides, what is there to be afraid of? Are we not free
folks in a free country? If you love me, and I you, who will
dare to come between?"
"You don't know, Jack. You've been here too short a time. You
don't know this Baldwin. You don't know McGinty and his
"No, I don't know them, and I don't fear them, and I don't
believe in them!" said McMurdo. "I've lived among rough men, my
darling, and instead of fearing them it has always ended that
they have feared me--always, Ettie. It's mad on the face of it!
If these men, as your father says, have done crime after crime in
the valley, and if everyone knows them by name, how comes it that
none are brought to justice? You answer me that, Ettie!"
"Because no witness dares to appear against them. He would not
live a month if he did. Also because they have always their own
men to swear that the accused one was far from the scene of the
crime. But surely, Jack, you must have read all this. I had
understood that every paper in the United States was writing
"Well, I have read something, it is true; but I had thought it
was a story. Maybe these men have some reason in what they do.
Maybe they are wronged and have no other way to help themselves."
"Oh, Jack, don't let me hear you speak so! That is how he
speaks--the other one!"
"Baldwin--he speaks like that, does he?"
"And that is why I loathe him so. Oh, Jack, now I can tell you
the truth. I loathe him with all my heart; but I fear him also.
I fear him for myself; but above all I fear him for father. I
know that some great sorrow would come upon us if I dared to say
what I really felt. That is why I have put him off with
half-promises. It was in real truth our only hope. But if you
would fly with me, Jack, we could take father with us and live
forever far from the power of these wicked men."
Again there was the struggle upon McMurdo's face, and again it
set like granite. "No harm shall come to you, Ettie--nor to your
father either. As to wicked men, I expect you may find that I am
as bad as the worst of them before we're through."
"No, no, Jack! I would trust you anywhere."
McMurdo laughed bitterly. "Good Lord! how little you know of me!
Your innocent soul, my darling, could not even guess what is
passing in mine. But, hullo, who's the visitor?"
The door had opened suddenly, and a young fellow came swaggering
in with the air of one who is the master. He was a handsome,
dashing young man of about the same age and build as McMurdo
himself. Under his broad-brimmed black felt hat, which he had
not troubled to remove, a handsome face with fierce, domineering
eyes and a curved hawk-bill of a nose looked savagely at the pair
who sat by the stove.
Ettie had jumped to her feet full of confusion and alarm. "I'm
glad to see you, Mr. Baldwin," said she. "You're earlier than I
had thought. Come and sit down."
Baldwin stood with his hands on his hips looking at McMurdo.
"Who is this?" he asked curtly.
"It's a friend of mine, Mr. Baldwin, a new boarder here. Mr.
McMurdo, may I introduce you to Mr. Baldwin?"
The young men nodded in surly fashion to each other.
"Maybe Miss Ettie has told you how it is with us?" said Baldwin.
"I didn't understand that there was any relation between you."
"Didn't you? Well, you can understand it now. You can take it
from me that this young lady is mine, and you'll find it a very
fine evening for a walk."
"Thank you, I am in no humour for a walk."
"Aren't you?" The man's savage eyes were blazing with anger.
"Maybe you are in a humour for a fight, Mr. Boarder!"
"That I am!" cried McMurdo, springing to his feet. "You never
said a more welcome word."
"For God's sake, Jack! Oh, for God's sake!" cried poor,
distracted Ettie. "Oh, Jack, Jack, he will hurt you!"
"Oh, it's Jack, is it?" said Baldwin with an oath. "You've come
to that already, have you?"
"Oh, Ted, be reasonable--be kind! For my sake, Ted, if ever you
loved me, be big-hearted and forgiving!"
"I think, Ettie, that if you were to leave us alone we could get
this thing settled," said McMurdo quietly. "Or maybe, Mr.
Baldwin, you will take a turn down the street with me. It's a
fine evening, and there's some open ground beyond the next
"I'll get even with you without needing to dirty my hands," said
his enemy. "You'll wish you had never set foot in this house
before I am through with you!"
"No time like the present," cried McMurdo.
"I'll choose my own time, mister. You can leave the time to me.
See here!" He suddenly rolled up his sleeve and showed upon his
forearm a peculiar sign which appeared to have been branded
there. It was a circle with a triangle within it. "D'you know
what that means?"
"I neither know nor care!"
"Well, you will know, I'll promise you that. You won't be much
older, either. Perhaps Miss Ettie can tell you something about
it. As to you, Ettie, you'll come back to me on your knees--d'ye
hear, girl?--on your knees--and then I'll tell you what your
punishment may be. You've sowed--and by the Lord, I'll see that
you reap!" He glanced at them both in fury. Then he turned upon
his heel, and an instant later the outer door had banged behind
For a few moments McMurdo and the girl stood in silence. Then
she threw her arms around him.
"Oh, Jack, how brave you were! But it is no use, you must fly!
To-night--Jack--to-night! It's your only hope. He will have your
life. I read it in his horrible eyes. What chance have you
against a dozen of them, with Boss McGinty and all the power of
the lodge behind them?"
McMurdo disengaged her hands, kissed her, and gently pushed her
back into a chair. "There, acushla, there! Don't be disturbed
or fear for me. I'm a Freeman myself. I'm after telling your
father about it. Maybe I am no better than the others; so don't
make a saint of me. Perhaps you hate me too, now that I've told
you as much?"
"Hate you, Jack? While life lasts I could never do that! I've
heard that there is no harm in being a Freeman anywhere but here;
so why should I think the worse of you for that? But if you are
a Freeman, Jack, why should you not go down and make a friend of
Boss McGinty? Oh, hurry, Jack, hurry! Get your word in first,
or the hounds will be on your trail."
"I was thinking the same thing," said McMurdo. "I'll go right
now and fix it. You can tell your father that I'll sleep here
to-night and find some other quarters in the morning."
The bar of McGinty's saloon was crowded as usual; for it was the
favourite loafing place of all the rougher elements of the town.
The man was popular; for he had a rough, jovial disposition which
formed a mask, covering a great deal which lay behind it. But
apart from this popularity, the fear in which he was held
throughout the township, and indeed down the whole thirty miles
of the valley and past the mountains on each side of it, was
enough in itself to fill his bar; for none could afford to
neglect his good will.
Besides those secret powers which it was universally believed
that he exercised in so pitiless a fashion, he was a high public
official, a municipal councillor, and a commissioner of roads,
elected to the office through the votes of the ruffians who in
turn expected to receive favours at his hands. Assessments and
taxes were enormous; the public works were notoriously neglected,
the accounts were slurred over by bribed auditors, and the decent
citizen was terrorized into paying public blackmail, and holding
his tongue lest some worse thing befall him.
Thus it was that, year by year, Boss McGinty's diamond pins
became more obtrusive, his gold chains more weighty across a more
gorgeous vest, and his saloon stretched farther and farther,
until it threatened to absorb one whole side of the Market
McMurdo pushed open the swinging door of the saloon and made his
way amid the crowd of men within, through an atmosphere blurred
with tobacco smoke and heavy with the smell of spirits. The
place was brilliantly lighted, and the huge, heavily gilt mirrors
upon every wall reflected and multiplied the garish illumination.
There were several bartenders in their shirt sleeves, hard at
work mixing drinks for the loungers who fringed the broad,
At the far end, with his body resting upon the bar and a cigar
stuck at an acute angle from the corner of his mouth, stood a
tall, strong, heavily built man who could be none other than the
famous McGinty himself. He was a black-maned giant, bearded to
the cheek-bones, and with a shock of raven hair which fell to his
collar. His complexion was as swarthy as that of an Italian, and
his eyes were of a strange dead black, which, combined with a
slight squint, gave them a particularly sinister appearance.
All else in the man--his noble proportions, his fine features,
and his frank bearing--fitted in with that jovial, man-to-man
manner which he affected. Here, one would say, is a bluff,
honest fellow, whose heart would be sound however rude his
outspoken words might seem. It was only when those dead, dark
eyes, deep and remorseless, were turned upon a man that he shrank
within himself, feeling that he was face to face with an infinite
possibility of latent evil, with a strength and courage and
cunning behind it which made it a thousand times more deadly.
Having had a good look at his man, McMurdo elbowed his way
forward with his usual careless audacity, and pushed himself
through the little group of courtiers who were fawning upon the
powerful boss, laughing uproariously at the smallest of his
jokes. The young stranger's bold gray eyes looked back
fearlessly through their glasses at the deadly black ones which
turned sharply upon him.
"Well, young man, I can't call your face to mind."
"I'm new here, Mr. McGinty."
"You are not so new that you can't give a gentleman his proper
"He's Councillor McGinty, young man," said a voice from the
"I'm sorry, Councillor. I'm strange to the ways of the place.
But I was advised to see you."
"Well, you see me. This is all there is. What d'you think of
"Well, it's early days. If your heart is as big as your body,
and your soul as fine as your face, then I'd ask for nothing
better," said McMurdo.
"By Gar! you've got an Irish tongue in your head anyhow," cried
the saloon-keeper, not quite certain whether to humour this
audacious visitor or to stand upon his dignity.
"So you are good enough to pass my appearance?"
"Sure," said McMurdo.
"And you were told to see me?"
"And who told you?"
"Brother Scanlan of Lodge 341, Vermissa. I drink your health
Councillor, and to our better acquaintance." He raised a glass
with which he had been served to his lips and elevated his little
finger as he drank it.
McGinty, who had been watching him narrowly, raised his thick
black eyebrows. "Oh, it's like that, is it?" said he. "I'll
have to look a bit closer into this, Mister--"
"A bit closer, Mr. McMurdo; for we don't take folk on trust in
these parts, nor believe all we're told neither. Come in here for
a moment, behind the bar."
There was a small room there, lined with barrels. McGinty
carefully closed the door, and then seated himself on one of
them, biting thoughtfully on his cigar and surveying his
companion with those disquieting eyes. For a couple of minutes
he sat in complete silence. McMurdo bore the inspection
cheerfully, one hand in his coat pocket, the other twisting his
brown moustache. Suddenly McGinty stooped and produced a
"See here, my joker," said he, "if I thought you were playing any
game on us, it would be short work for you."
"This is a strange welcome," McMurdo answered with some dignity,
"for the Bodymaster of a lodge of Freemen to give to a stranger
"Ay, but it's just that same that you have to prove," said
McGinty, "and God help you if you fail! Where were you made?"
"Lodge 29, Chicago."
"June 24, 1872."
"James H. Scott."
"Who is your district ruler?"
"Hum! You seem glib enough in your tests. What are you doing
"Working, the same as you--but a poorer job."
"You have your back answer quick enough."
"Yes, I was always quick of speech."
"Are you quick of action?"
"I have had that name among those that knew me best."
"Well, we may try you sooner than you think. Have you heard
anything of the lodge in these parts?"
"I've heard that it takes a man to be a brother."
"True for you, Mr. McMurdo. Why did you leave Chicago?"
"I'm damned if I tell you that!"
McGinty opened his eyes. He was not used to being answered in
such fashion, and it amused him. "Why won't you tell me?"
"Because no brother may tell another a lie."
"Then the truth is too bad to tell?"
"You can put it that way if you like."
"See here, mister, you can't expect me, as Bodymaster, to pass
into the lodge a man for whose past he can't answer."
McMurdo looked puzzled. Then he took a worn newspaper cutting
from an inner pocket.
"You wouldn't squeal on a fellow?" said he.
"I'll wipe my hand across your face if you say such words to me!"
cried McGinty hotly.
"You are right, Councillor," said McMurdo meekly. "I should
apologize. I spoke without thought. Well, I know that I am safe
in your hands. Look at that clipping."
McGinty glanced his eyes over the account of the shooting of one
Jonas Pinto, in the Lake Saloon, Market Street, Chicago, in the
New Year week of 1874.
"Your work?" he asked, as he handed back the paper.
"Why did you shoot him?"
"I was helping Uncle Sam to make dollars. Maybe mine were not as
good gold as his, but they looked as well and were cheaper to
make. This man Pinto helped me to shove the queer--"
"To do what?"
"Well, it means to pass the dollars out into circulation. Then
he said he would split. Maybe he did split. I didn't wait to
see. I just killed him and lighted out for the coal country."
"Why the coal country?"
"'Cause I'd read in the papers that they weren't too particular
in those parts."
McGinty laughed. "You were first a coiner and then a murderer,
and you came to these parts because you thought you'd be
"That's about the size of it," McMurdo answered.
"Well, I guess you'll go far. Say, can you make those dollars
McMurdo took half a dozen from his pocket. "Those never passed
the Philadelphia mint," said he.
"You don't say!" McGinty held them to the light in his enormous
hand, which was hairy as a gorilla's. "I can see no difference.
Gar! you'll be a mighty useful brother, I'm thinking! We can do
with a bad man or two among us, Friend McMurdo: for there are
times when we have to take our own part. We'd soon be against
the wall if we didn't shove back at those that were pushing us."
"Well, I guess I'll do my share of shoving with the rest of the
"You seem to have a good nerve. You didn't squirm when I shoved
this gun at you."
"It was not me that was in danger."
"It was you, Councillor." McMurdo drew a cocked pistol from the
side pocket of his peajacket. "I was covering you all the time.
I guess my shot would have been as quick as yours."
"By Gar!" McGinty flushed an angry red and then burst into a
roar of laughter. "Say, we've had no such holy terror come to
hand this many a year. I reckon the lodge will learn to be proud
of you.... Well, what the hell do you want? And can't I speak
alone with a gentleman for five minutes but you must butt in on
The bartender stood abashed. "I'm sorry, Councillor, but it's
Ted Baldwin. He says he must see you this very minute."
The message was unnecessary; for the set, cruel face of the man
himself was looking over the servant's shoulder. He pushed the
bartender out and closed the door on him.
"So," said he with a furious glance at McMurdo, "you got here
first, did you? I've a word to say to you, Councillor, about
"Then say it here and now before my face," cried McMurdo.
"I'll say it at my own time, in my own way."
"Tut! Tut!" said McGinty, getting off his barrel. "This will
never do. We have a new brother here, Baldwin, and it's not for
us to greet him in such fashion. Hold out your hand, man, and
make it up!"
"Never!" cried Baldwin in a fury.
"I've offered to fight him if he thinks I have wronged him," said
McMurdo. "I'll fight him with fists, or, if that won't satisfy
him, I'll fight him any other way he chooses. Now, I'll leave it
to you, Councillor, to judge between us as a Bodymaster should."
"What is it, then?"
"A young lady. She's free to choose for herself."
"Is she?" cried Baldwin.
"As between two brothers of the lodge I should say that she was,"
said the Boss.
"Oh, that's your ruling, is it?"
"Yes, it is, Ted Baldwin," said McGinty, with a wicked stare.
"Is it you that would dispute it?"
"You would throw over one that has stood by you this five years
in favour of a man that you never saw before in your life?
You're not Bodymaster for life, Jack McGinty, and by God! when
next it comes to a vote--"
The Councillor sprang at him like a tiger. His hand closed round
the other's neck, and he hurled him back across one of the
barrels. In his mad fury he would have squeezed the life out of
him if McMurdo had not interfered.
"Easy, Councillor! For heaven's sake, go easy!" he cried, as he
dragged him back.
McGinty released his hold, and Baldwin, cowed and shaken gasping
for breath, and shivering in every limb, as one who has looked
over the very edge of death, sat up on the barrel over which he
had been hurled.
"You've been asking for it this many a day, Ted Baldwin--now
you've got it!" cried McGinty, his huge chest rising and falling.
"Maybe you think if I was voted down from Bodymaster you would
find yourself in my shoes. It's for the lodge to say that. But
so long as I am the chief I'll have no man lift his voice against
me or my rulings."
"I have nothing against you," mumbled Baldwin, feeling his
"Well, then," cried the other, relapsing in a moment into a bluff
joviality, "we are all good friends again and there's an end of
He took a bottle of champagne down from the shelf and twisted out
"See now," he continued, as he filled three high glasses. "Let
us drink the quarrelling toast of the lodge. After that, as you
know, there can be no bad blood between us. Now, then the left
hand on the apple of my throat. I say to you, Ted Baldwin, what
is the offense, sir?"
"The clouds are heavy," answered Baldwin
"But they will forever brighten."
"And this I swear!"
The men drank their glasses, and the same ceremony was performed
between Baldwin and McMurdo
"There!" cried McGinty, rubbing his hands. "That's the end of
the black blood. You come under lodge discipline if it goes
further, and that's a heavy hand in these parts, as Brother
Baldwin knows--and as you will damn soon find out, Brother
McMurdo, if you ask for trouble!"
"Faith, I'd be slow to do that," said McMurdo. He held out his
hand to Baldwin. "I'm quick to quarrel and quick to forgive.
It's my hot Irish blood, they tell me. But it's over for me, and
I bear no grudge."
Baldwin had to take the proffered hand; for the baleful eye of
the terrible Boss was upon him. But his sullen face showed how
little the words of the other had moved him.
McGinty clapped them both on the shoulders. "Tut! These girls!
These girls!" he cried. "To think that the same petticoats
should come between two of my boys! It's the devil's own luck!
Well, it's the colleen inside of them that must settle the
question; for it's outside the jurisdiction of a Bodymaster--and
the Lord be praised for that! We have enough on us, without the
women as well. You'll have to be affiliated to Lodge 341,
Brother McMurdo. We have our own ways and methods, different
from Chicago. Saturday night is our meeting, and if you come
then, we'll make you free forever of the Vermissa Valley."
Chapter 3 - Lodge 341, Vermissa
On the day following the evening which had contained so many
exciting events, McMurdo moved his lodgings from old Jacob
Shafter's and took up his quarters at the Widow MacNamara's on
the extreme outskirts of the town. Scanlan, his original
acquaintance aboard the train, had occasion shortly afterwards to
move into Vermissa, and the two lodged together. There was no
other boarder, and the hostess was an easy-going old Irishwoman
who left them to themselves; so that they had a freedom for
speech and action welcome to men who had secrets in common.
Shafter had relented to the extent of letting McMurdo come to his
meals there when he liked; so that his intercourse with Ettie was
by no means broken. On the contrary, it drew closer and more
intimate as the weeks went by.
In his bedroom at his new abode McMurdo felt it safe to take out
the coining moulds, and under many a pledge of secrecy a number
of brothers from the lodge were allowed to come in and see them,
each carrying away in his pocket some examples of the false
money, so cunningly struck that there was never the slightest
difficulty or danger in passing it. Why, with such a wonderful
art at his command, McMurdo should condescend to work at all was
a perpetual mystery to his companions; though he made it clear to
anyone who asked him that if he lived without any visible means
it would very quickly bring the police upon his track.
One policeman was indeed after him already; but the incident, as
luck would have it, did the adventurer a great deal more good
than harm. After the first introduction there were few evenings
when he did not find his way to McGinty's saloon, there to make
closer acquaintance with "the boys," which was the jovial title
by which the dangerous gang who infested the place were known to
one another. His dashing manner and fearlessness of speech made
him a favourite with them all; while the rapid and scientific way
in which he polished off his antagonist in an "all in" bar-room
scrap earned the respect of that rough community. Another
incident, however, raised him even higher in their estimation.
Just at the crowded hour one night, the door opened and a man
entered with the quiet blue uniform and peaked cap of the mine
police. This was a special body raised by the railways and
colliery owners to supplement the efforts of the ordinary civil
police, who were perfectly helpless in the face of the organized
ruffianism which terrorized the district. There was a hush as he
entered, and many a curious glance was cast at him; but the
relations between policemen and criminals are peculiar in some
parts of the States, and McGinty himself, standing behind his
counter, showed no surprise when the policeman enrolled himself
among his customers.
"A straight whisky; for the night is bitter," said the police
officer. "I don't think we have met before, Councillor?"
"You'll be the new captain?" said McGinty.
"That's so. We're looking to you, Councillor, and to the other
leading citizens, to help us in upholding law and order in this
township. Captain Marvin is my name."
"We'd do better without you, Captain Marvin," said McGinty
coldly; "for we have our own police of the township, and no need
for any imported goods. What are you but the paid tool of the
capitalists, hired by them to club or shoot your poorer fellow
"Well, well, we won't argue about that," said the police officer
good-humouredly. "I expect we all do our duty same as we see it;
but we can't all see it the same." He had drunk off his glass
and had turned to go, when his eyes fell upon the face of Jack
McMurdo, who was scowling at his elbow. "Hullo! Hullo!" he
cried, looking him up and down. "Here's an old acquaintance!"
McMurdo shrank away from him. "I was never a friend to you nor
any other cursed copper in my life," said he.
"An acquaintance isn't always a friend," said the police captain,
grinning. "You're Jack McMurdo of Chicago, right enough, and
don't you deny it!"
McMurdo shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not denying it," said he.
"D'ye think I'm ashamed of my own name?"
"You've got good cause to be, anyhow."
"What the devil d'you mean by that?" he roared with his fists
"No, no, Jack, bluster won't do with me. I was an officer in
Chicago before ever I came to this darned coal bunker, and I know
a Chicago crook when I see one."
McMurdo's face fell. "Don't tell me that you're Marvin of the
Chicago Central!" he cried.
"Just the same old Teddy Marvin, at your service. We haven't
forgotten the shooting of Jonas Pinto up there."
"I never shot him."
"Did you not? That's good impartial evidence, ain't it? Well,
his death came in uncommon handy for you, or they would have had
you for shoving the queer. Well, we can let that be bygones;
for, between you and me--and perhaps I'm going further than my
duty in saying it--they could get no clear case against you, and
Chicago's open to you to-morrow."
"I'm very well where I am."
"Well, I've given you the pointer, and you're a sulky dog not to
thank me for it."
"Well, I suppose you mean well, and I do thank you," said McMurdo
in no very gracious manner.
"It's mum with me so long as I see you living on the straight,"
said the captain. "But, by the Lord! if you get off after this,
it's another story! So good-night to you--and good-night,
He left the bar-room; but not before he had created a local hero.
McMurdo's deeds in far Chicago had been whispered before. He had
put off all questions with a smile, as one who did not wish to
have greatness thrust upon him. But now the thing was officially
confirmed. The bar loafers crowded round him and shook him
heartily by the hand. He was free of the community from that
time on. He could drink hard and show little trace of it; but
that evening, had his mate Scanlan not been at hand to lead him
home, the feted hero would surely have spent his night under the
On a Saturday night McMurdo was introduced to the lodge. He had
thought to pass in without ceremony as being an initiate of
Chicago; but there were particular rites in Vermissa of which
they were proud, and these had to be undergone by every
postulant. The assembly met in a large room reserved for such
purposes at the Union House. Some sixty members assembled at
Vermissa; but that by no means represented the full strength of
the organization, for there were several other lodges in the
valley, and others across the mountains on each side, who
exchanged members when any serious business was afoot, so that a
crime might be done by men who were strangers to the locality.
Altogether there were not less than five hundred scattered over
the coal district.
In the bare assembly room the men were gathered round a long
table. At the side was a second one laden with bottles and
glasses, on which some members of the company were already
turning their eyes. McGinty sat at the head with a flat black
velvet cap upon his shock of tangled black hair, and a coloured
purple stole round his neck, so that he seemed to be a priest
presiding over some diabolical ritual. To right and left of him
were the higher lodge officials, the cruel, handsome face of Ted
Baldwin among them. Each of these wore some scarf or medallion
as emblem of his office.
They were, for the most part, men of mature age; but the rest of
the company consisted of young fellows from eighteen to
twenty-five, the ready and capable agents who carried out the
commands of their seniors. Among the older men were many whose
features showed the tigerish, lawless souls within; but looking
at the rank and file it was difficult to believe that these eager
and open-faced young fellows were in very truth a dangerous gang
of murderers, whose minds had suffered such complete moral
perversion that they took a horrible pride in their proficiency
at the business, and looked with deepest respect at the man who
had the reputation of making what they called "a clean job."
To their contorted natures it had become a spirited and
chivalrous thing to volunteer for service against some man who
had never injured them, and whom in many cases they had never
seen in their lives. The crime committed, they quarrelled as to
who had actually struck the fatal blow, and amused one another
and the company by describing the cries and contortions of the
At first they had shown some secrecy in their arrangements; but
at the time which this narrative describes their proceedings were
extraordinarily open, for the repeated failure of the law had
proved to them that, on the one hand, no one would dare to
witness against them, and on the other they had an unlimited
number of stanch witnesses upon whom they could call, and a
well-filled treasure chest from which they could draw the funds
to engage the best legal talent in the state. In ten long years
of outrage there had been no single conviction, and the only
danger that ever threatened the Scowrers lay in the victim
himself--who, however outnumbered and taken by surprise, might
and occasionally did leave his mark upon his assailants.
McMurdo had been warned that some ordeal lay before him; but no
one would tell him in what it consisted. He was led now into an
outer room by two solemn brothers. Through the plank partition
he could hear the murmur of many voices from the assembly within.
Once or twice he caught the sound of his own name, and he knew
that they were discussing his candidacy. Then there entered an
inner guard with a green and gold sash across his chest.
"The Bodymaster orders that he shall be trussed, blinded, and
entered," said he.
The three of them removed his coat, turned up the sleeve of his
right arm, and finally passed a rope round above the elbows and
made it fast. They next placed a thick black cap right over his
head and the upper part of his face, so that he could see
nothing. He was then led into the assembly hall.
It was pitch dark and very oppressive under his hood. He heard
the rustle and murmur of the people round him, and then the voice
of McGinty sounded dull and distant through the covering of his
"John McMurdo," said the voice, "are you already a member of the
Ancient Order of Freemen?"
He bowed in assent.
"Is your lodge No. 29, Chicago?"
He bowed again.
"Dark nights are unpleasant," said the voice.
"Yes, for strangers to travel," he answered.
"The clouds are heavy."
"Yes, a storm is approaching."
"Are the brethren satisfied?" asked the Bodymaster.
There was a general murmur of assent.
"We know, Brother, by your sign and by your countersign that you
are indeed one of us," said McGinty. "We would have you know,
however, that in this county and in other counties of these parts
we have certain rites, and also certain duties of our own which
call for good men. Are you ready to be tested?"
"Are you of stout heart?"
"Take a stride forward to prove it."
As the words were said he felt two hard points in front of his
eyes, pressing upon them so that it appeared as if he could not
move forward without a danger of losing them. None the less, he
nerved himself to step resolutely out, and as he did so the
pressure melted away. There was a low murmur of applause.
"He is of stout heart," said the voice. "Can you bear pain?"
"As well as another," he answered.
It was all he could do to keep himself from screaming out, for an
agonizing pain shot through his forearm. He nearly fainted at
the sudden shock of it; but he bit his lip and clenched his hands
to hide his agony.
"I can take more than that," said he.
This time there was loud applause. A finer first appearance had
never been made in the lodge. Hands clapped him on the back, and
the hood was plucked from his head. He stood blinking and
smiling amid the congratulations of the brothers.
"One last word, Brother McMurdo," said McGinty. "You have
already sworn the oath of secrecy and fidelity, and you are aware
that the punishment for any breach of it is instant and
"I am," said McMurdo.
"And you accept the rule of the Bodymaster for the time being
under all circumstances?"
"Then in the name of Lodge 341, Vermissa, I welcome you to its
privileges and debates. You will put the liquor on the table,
Brother Scanlan, and we will drink to our worthy brother."
McMurdo's coat had been brought to him; but before putting it on
he examined his right arm, which still smarted heavily. There on
the flesh of the forearm was a circle with a triangle within it,
deep and red, as the branding iron had left it. One or two of
his neighbours pulled up their sleeves and showed their own lodge
"We've all had it," said one; "but not all as brave as you over
"Tut! It was nothing," said he; but it burned and ached all the
When the drinks which followed the ceremony of initiation had all
been disposed of, the business of the lodge proceeded. McMurdo,
accustomed only to the prosaic performances of Chicago, listened
with open ears and more surprise than he ventured to show to what
"The first business on the agenda paper," said McGinty, "is to
read the following letter from Division Master Windle of Merton
County Lodge 249. He says:
"There is a job to be done on Andrew Rae of Rae & Sturmash, coal
owners near this place. You will remember that your lodge owes
us a return, having had the service of two brethren in the matter
of the patrolman last fall. You will send two good men, they
will be taken charge of by Treasurer Higgins of this lodge, whose
address you know. He will show them when to act and where.
Yours in freedom, "J.W. WINDLE D.M.A.O.F.
"Windle has never refused us when we have had occasion to ask for
the loan of a man or two, and it is not for us to refuse him."
McGinty paused and looked round the room with his dull,
malevolent eyes. "Who will volunteer for the job?"
Several young fellows held up their hands. The Bodymaster looked
at them with an approving smile.
"You'll do, Tiger Cormac. If you handle it as well as you did
the last, you won't be wrong. And you, Wilson."
"I've no pistol," said the volunteer, a mere boy in his teens.
"It's your first, is it not? Well, you have to be blooded some
time. It will be a great start for you. As to the pistol,
you'll find it waiting for you, or I'm mistaken. If you report
yourselves on Monday, it will be time enough. You'll get a great
welcome when you return."
"Any reward this time?" asked Cormac, a thick-set, dark-faced,
brutal-looking young man, whose ferocity had earned him the
nickname of "Tiger."
"Never mind the reward. You just do it for the honour of the
thing. Maybe when it is done there will be a few odd dollars at
the bottom of the box."
"What has the man done?" asked young Wilson.
"Sure, it's not for the likes of you to ask what the man has
done. He has been judged over there. That's no business of
ours. All we have to do is to carry it out for them, same as
they would for us. Speaking of that, two brothers from the
Merton lodge are coming over to us next week to do some business
in this quarter."
"Who are they?" asked someone.
"Faith, it is wiser not to ask. If you know nothing, you can
testify nothing, and no trouble can come of it. But they are men
who will make a clean job when they are about it."
"And time, too!" cried Ted Baldwin. "Folk are gettin' out of
hand in these parts. It was only last week that three of our men
were turned off by Foreman Blaker. It's been owing him a long
time, and he'll get it full and proper."
"Get what?" McMurdo whispered to his neighbour.
"The business end of a buckshot cartridge!" cried the man with a
loud laugh. "What think you of our ways, Brother?"
McMurdo's criminal soul seemed to have already absorbed the
spirit of the vile association of which he was now a member. "I
like it well," said he. "'Tis a proper place for a lad of
Several of those who sat around heard his words and applauded
"What's that?" cried the black-maned Bodymaster from the end of
"'Tis our new brother, sir, who finds our ways to his taste."
McMurdo rose to his feet for an instant. "I would say, Eminent
Bodymaster, that if a man should be wanted I should take it as an
honour to be chosen to help the lodge."
There was great applause at this. It was felt that a new sun was
pushing its rim above the horizon. To some of the elders it
seemed that the progress was a little too rapid.
"I would move," said the secretary, Harraway, a vulture-faced old
graybeard who sat near the chairman, "that Brother McMurdo should
wait until it is the good pleasure of the lodge to employ him."
"Sure, that was what I meant; I'm in your hands," said McMurdo.
"Your time will come, Brother," said the chairman. "We have
marked you down as a willing man, and we believe that you will do
good work in these parts. There is a small matter to-night in
which you may take a hand if it so please you."
"I will wait for something that is worth while."
"You can come to-night, anyhow, and it will help you to know what
we stand for in this community. I will make the announcement
later. Meanwhile," he glanced at his agenda paper, "I have one
or two more points to bring before the meeting. First of all, I
will ask the treasurer as to our bank balance. There is the
pension to Jim Carnaway's widow. He was struck down doing the
work of the lodge, and it is for us to see that she is not the
"Jim was shot last month when they tried to kill Chester Wilcox
of Marley Creek," McMurdo's neighbour informed him.
"The funds are good at the moment," said the treasurer, with the
bankbook in front of him. "The firms have been generous of late.
Max Linder & Co. paid five hundred to be left alone. Walker
Brothers sent in a hundred; but I took it on myself to return it
and ask for five. If I do not hear by Wednesday, their winding
gear may get out of order. We had to burn their breaker last
year before they became reasonable. Then the West Section
Coaling Company has paid its annual contribution. We have enough
on hand to meet any obligations."
"What about Archie Swindon?" asked a brother.
"He has sold out and left the district. The old devil left a
note for us to say that he had rather be a free crossing sweeper
in New York than a large mine owner under the power of a ring of
blackmailers. By Gar! it was as well that he made a break for it
before the note reached us! I guess he won't show his face in
this valley again."
An elderly, clean-shaved man with a kindly face and a good brow
rose from the end of the table which faced the chairman. "Mr.
Treasurer," he asked, "may I ask who has bought the property of
this man that we have driven out of the district?"
"Yes, Brother Morris. It has been bought by the State & Merton
County Railroad Company."
"And who bought the mines of Todman and of Lee that came into the
market in the same way last year?"
"The same company, Brother Morris."
"And who bought the ironworks of Manson and of Shuman and of Van
Deher and of Atwood, which have all been given up of late?"
"They were all bought by the West Gilmerton General Mining
"I don't see, Brother Morris," said the chairman, "that it
matters to us who buys them, since they can't carry them out of
"With all respect to you, Eminent Bodymaster, I think it may
matter very much to us. This process has been going on now for
ten long years. We are gradually driving all the small men out
of trade. What is the result? We find in their places great
companies like the Railroad or the General Iron, who have their
directors in New York or Philadelphia, and care nothing for our
threats. We can take it out of their local bosses; but it only
means that others will be sent in their stead. And we are making
it dangerous for ourselves. The small men could not harm us.
They had not the money nor the power. So long as we did not
squeeze them too dry, they would stay on under our power. But if
these big companies find that we stand between them and their
profits, they will spare no pains and no expense to hunt us down
and bring us to court."
There was a hush at these ominous words, and every face darkened
as gloomy looks were exchanged. So omnipotent and unchallenged
had they been that the very thought that there was possible
retribution in the background had been banished from their minds.
And yet the idea struck a chill to the most reckless of them.
"It is my advice," the speaker continued, "that we go easier upon
the small men. On the day that they have all been driven out the
power of this society will have been broken."
Unwelcome truths are not popular. There were angry cries as the
speaker resumed his seat. McGinty rose with gloom upon his brow.
"Brother Morris," said he, "you were always a croaker. So long
as the members of this lodge stand together there is no power in
the United States that can touch them. Sure, have we not tried
it often enough in the lawcourts? I expect the big companies
will find it easier to pay than to fight, same as the little
companies do. And now, Brethren," McGinty took off his black
velvet cap and his stole as he spoke, "this lodge has finished
its business for the evening, save for one small matter which may
be mentioned when we are parting. The time has now come for
fraternal refreshment and for harmony."
Strange indeed is human nature. Here were these men, to whom
murder was familiar, who again and again had struck down the
father of the family, some man against whom they had no personal
feeling, without one thought of compunction or of compassion for
his weeping wife or helpless children, and yet the tender or
pathetic in music could move them to tears. McMurdo had a fine
tenor voice, and if he had failed to gain the good will of the
lodge before, it could no longer have been withheld after he had
thrilled them with "I'm Sitting on the Stile, Mary," and "On the
Banks of Allan Water."
In his very first night the new recruit had made himself one of
the most popular of the brethren, marked already for advancement
and high office. There were other qualities needed, however,
besides those of good fellowship, to make a worthy Freeman, and
of these he was given an example before the evening was over.
The whisky bottle had passed round many times, and the men were
flushed and ripe for mischief when their Bodymaster rose once
more to address them.
"Boys," said he, "there's one man in this town that wants
trimming up, and it's for you to see that he gets it. I'm
speaking of James Stanger of the Herald. You've seen how he's
been opening his mouth against us again?"
There was a murmur of assent, with many a muttered oath. McGinty
took a slip of paper from his waistcoat pocket.
"LAW AND ORDER!
That's how he heads it.
"REIGN OF TERROR IN THE COAL AND IRON DISTRICT
"Twelve years have now elapsed since the first assassinations
which proved the existence of a criminal organization in our
midst. From that day these outrages have never ceased, until now
they have reached a pitch which makes us the opprobrium of the
civilized world. Is it for such results as this that our great
country welcomes to its bosom the alien who flies from the
despotisms of Europe? Is it that they shall themselves become
tyrants over the very men who have given them shelter, and that a
state of terrorism and lawlessness should be established under
the very shadow of the sacred folds of the starry Flag of Freedom
which would raise horror in our minds if we read of it as
existing under the most effete monarchy of the East? The men are
known. The organization is patent and public. How long are we
to endure it? Can we forever live--
Sure, I've read enough of the slush!" cried the chairman, tossing
the paper down upon the table. "That's what he says of us. The
question I'm asking you is what shall we say to him?"
"Kill him!" cried a dozen fierce voices.
"I protest against that," said Brother Morris, the man of the
good brow and shaved face. "I tell you, Brethren, that our hand
is too heavy in this valley, and that there will come a point
where in self-defense every man will unite to crush us out.
James Stanger is an old man. He is respected in the township and
the district. His paper stands for all that is solid in the
valley. If that man is struck down, there will be a stir through
this state that will only end with our destruction."
"And how would they bring about our destruction, Mr. Standback?"
cried McGinty. "Is it by the police? Sure, half of them are in
our pay and half of them afraid of us. Or is it by the law
courts and the judge? Haven't we tried that before now, and what
ever came of it?"
"There is a Judge Lynch that might try the case," said Brother
A general shout of anger greeted the suggestion.
"I have but to raise my finger," cried McGinty, "and I could put
two hundred men into this town that would clear it out from end
to end." Then suddenly raising his voice and bending his huge
black brows into a terrible frown, "See here, Brother Morris, I
have my eye on you, and have had for some time! You've no heart
yourself, and you try to take the heart out of others. It will
be an ill day for you, Brother Morris, when your own name comes
on our agenda paper, and I'm thinking that it's just there that I
ought to place it."
Morris had turned deadly pale, and his knees seemed to give way
under him as he fell back into his chair. He raised his glass in
his trembling hand and drank before he could answer. "I
apologize, Eminent Bodymaster, to you and to every brother in
this lodge if I have said more than I should. I am a faithful
member--you all know that--and it is my fear lest evil come to
the lodge which makes me speak in anxious words. But I have
greater trust in your judgment than in my own, Eminent
Bodymaster, and I promise you that I will not offend again."
The Bodymaster's scowl relaxed as he listened to the humble
words. "Very good, Brother Morris. It's myself that would be
sorry if it were needful to give you a lesson. But so long as I
am in this chair we shall be a united lodge in word and in deed.
And now, boys," he continued, looking round at the company, "I'll
say this much, that if Stanger got his full deserts there would
be more trouble than we need ask for. These editors hang
together, and every journal in the state would be crying out for
police and troops. But I guess you can give him a pretty severe
warning. Will you fix it, Brother Baldwin?"
"Sure!" said the young man eagerly.
"How many will you take?"
"Half a dozen, and two to guard the door. You'll come, Gower,
and you, Mansel, and you, Scanlan, and the two Willabys."
"I promised the new brother he should go," said the chairman.
Ted Baldwin looked at McMurdo with eyes which showed that he had
not forgotten nor forgiven. "Well, he can come if he wants," he
said in a surly voice. "That's enough. The sooner we get to
work the better."
The company broke up with shouts and yells and snatches of
drunken song. The bar was still crowded with revellers, and many
of the brethren remained there. The little band who had been
told off for duty passed out into the street, proceeding in twos
and threes along the sidewalk so as not to provoke attention. It
was a bitterly cold night, with a half-moon shining brilliantly
in a frosty, star-spangled sky. The men stopped and gathered in
a yard which faced a high building. The words, "Vermissa Herald"
were printed in gold lettering between the brightly lit windows.
From within came the clanking of the printing press.
"Here, you," said Baldwin to McMurdo, "you can stand below at the
door and see that the road is kept open for us. Arthur Willaby
can stay with you. You others come with me. Have no fears, boys;
for we have a dozen witnesses that we are in the Union Bar at
this very moment."
It was nearly midnight, and the street was deserted save for one
or two revellers upon their way home. The party crossed the
road, and, pushing open the door of the newspaper office, Baldwin
and his men rushed in and up the stair which faced them. McMurdo
and another remained below. From the room above came a shout, a
cry for help, and then the sound of trampling feet and of falling
chairs. An instant later a gray-haired man rushed out on the
He was seized before he could get farther, and his spectacles
came tinkling down to McMurdo's feet. There was a thud and a
groan. He was on his face, and half a dozen sticks were
clattering together as they fell upon him. He writhed, and his
long, thin limbs quivered under the blows. The others ceased at
last; but Baldwin, his cruel face set in an infernal smile, was
hacking at the man's head, which he vainly endeavoured to defend
with his arms. His white hair was dabbled with patches of blood.
Baldwin was still stooping over his victim, putting in a short,
vicious blow whenever he could see a part exposed, when McMurdo
dashed up the stair and pushed him back.
"You'll kill the man," said he. "Drop it!"
Baldwin looked at him in amazement. "Curse you!" he cried. "Who
are you to interfere--you that are new to the lodge? Stand
back!" He raised his stick; but McMurdo had whipped his pistol
out of his pocket.
"Stand back yourself!" he cried. "I'll blow your face in if you
lay a hand on me. As to the lodge, wasn't it the order of the
Bodymaster that the man was not to be killed--and what are you
doing but killing him?"
"It's truth he says," remarked one of the men.
"By Gar! you'd best hurry yourselves!" cried the man below. "The
windows are all lighting up, and you'll have the whole town here
inside of five minutes."
There was indeed the sound of shouting in the street, and a
little group of compositors and pressmen was forming in the hall
below and nerving itself to action. Leaving the limp and
motionless body of the editor at the head of the stair, the
criminals rushed down and made their way swiftly along the
street. Having reached the Union House, some of them mixed with
the crowd in McGinty's saloon, whispering across the bar to the
Boss that the job had been well carried through. Others, and
among them McMurdo, broke away into side streets, and so by
devious paths to their own homes.
Chapter 4 - The Valley of Fear
When McMurdo awoke next morning he had good reason to remember
his initiation into 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 source of income, he was
irregular in his attendance at his work; so he had a late
breakfast, and remained at home for the morning writing a long
letter to a friend. Afterwards he read the Daily Herald. In a
special column put in at the last 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 familiar than the writer could have been. It ended with the
The matter is now in the hands of the police; but it can hardly
be hoped that their exertions will be attended by any better
results than in the past. Some of the men were recognized, and
there is hope that a conviction may be obtained. The source of
the outrage was, it need hardly be said, that infamous society
which has held this community in bondage for so long a period,
and against which the Herald has taken so uncompromising a stand.
Mr. Stanger's many friends will rejoice to hear that, though he
has been cruelly and brutally beaten, and though he has sustained
severe injuries about the head, there is no immediate danger to
Below it stated that a guard of police, armed with Winchester
rifles, had been requisitioned for the defense of the office.
McMurdo had laid down the paper, and was lighting his pipe with a
hand which was shaky from the excesses of the previous evening,
when there was a knock outside, and his landlady brought to him a
note which had just been handed in by a lad. It was unsigned,
and ran thus:
I should wish to speak to you, but would rather not do so in your
house. You will find me beside the flagstaff upon Miller Hill.
If you will come there now, 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 imagine what it meant or who was the author of it. Had
it been in a feminine hand, he might have imagined that it was
the beginning of one of those adventures which had 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
determined to see the matter through.
Miller Hill is an ill-kept public park in the very centre of the
town. In summer it is a favourite resort of the people, but in
winter it is desolate enough. 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 and factories 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 he reached the deserted restaurant which forms the centre
of summer gaiety. Beside it was a bare flagstaff, and underneath
it a man, his hat drawn down and the collar of his overcoat
turned up. When he turned his face McMurdo saw that it was
Brother Morris, he who had incurred the anger of the Bodymaster
the night before. The lodge sign was given and exchanged as they
"I wanted to have a word with you, Mr. McMurdo," said the older
man, speaking with a hesitation which showed that he was on
delicate ground. "It was kind of you 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 a thing may come back to one. One never knows either
who to trust or who not to trust."
"Surely one may trust brothers of the lodge."
"No, no, not always," cried Morris with vehemence. "Whatever we
say, even what we 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 my oath?"
"If that is the view you take," said Morris sadly, "I can only
say that I am sorry I gave you the trouble to come and meet me.
Things have come to a bad pass when two free citizens cannot
speak their thoughts to each other."
McMurdo, who had been watching his companion very narrowly,
relaxed somewhat in his bearing. "Sure I spoke for myself only,"
said he. "I am a newcomer, as you 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 am loyal to the lodge, and so I tell you straight; but I
would be a poor creature if I were to repeat to any other what
you might say to me in confidence. It will go no further than
me; though I warn you that you may get neither help nor
"I have given up looking for either the one or the other," said
Morris. "I may be putting my very life in your hands by what I
say; but, bad as you are--and it seemed to me last night that you
were shaping to be as bad as the worst--still you are new to it,
and your conscience cannot yet be as hardened as 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 and swore vows of charity and fidelity, did ever it cross
your mind that you might find it would lead you to crime?"
"If you call it crime," McMurdo answered.
"Call it crime!" cried Morris, his voice vibrating with passion.
"You have seen little of it if you can call it anything else.
Was it crime last night when a man old enough to be your father
was beaten till the blood dripped from his 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 classes with 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 at Chicago?"
"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 a meeting place for one's fellows. Then I heard
of this place--curse the hour that the name first fell upon my
ears!--and I came to better myself! My God! to better myself!
My wife and three children came with me. I started a drygoods
store on Market Square, and I prospered well. The word had gone
round that I was a Freeman, and I was forced to join the local
lodge, same as you did last night. I've the badge of shame on my
forearm and something worse branded on my heart. I found that I
was under the orders of a black villain and caught in a meshwork
of crime. What could I do? Every word I said to make things
better was taken as treason, same as it was last night. I can't
get away; for all I have in the world is in my store. If I leave
the society, I know well that it means murder to me, and God
knows what to my wife and children. Oh, man, it is
awful--awful!" He put his hands to his face, and his body shook
with convulsive sobs.
McMurdo shrugged his shoulders. "You were too soft for the job,"
said he. "You are the wrong sort for such work."
"I had a conscience and a religion; but they made me a criminal
among them. I was 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 the children 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 was told off for the door, same as you were last
night. They could not trust me with the job. The others went
in. When they came out their hands were crimson to the wrists.
As we turned away a child was screaming out of the house behind
us. It was a boy of five who had seen his father murdered. I
nearly fainted with the horror of it, and yet I had to keep a
bold and smiling face; for well I knew that if I did not it would
be out of my house that they would come next with their bloody
hands and it would be my little Fred that would be screaming for
"But I was a criminal then, part sharer in a murder, lost forever
in this world, and lost also in the next. I am a good Catholic;
but the priest would have no word with me when he heard I was a
Scowrer, and I am excommunicated from my faith. That's how it
stands with me. And I see you going down the same road, and I
ask you what the end is to be. Are you ready to be a
cold-blooded murderer also, or can we do anything to stop it?"
"What would you do?" asked McMurdo abruptly. "You would not
"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 that you make too much of the matter."
"Too much! Wait till you have lived here longer. Look down the
valley! See the cloud of a hundred chimneys that overshadows it!
I tell you that the cloud of murder hangs thicker and lower than
that over the heads of the people. It is the Valley of Fear, the
Valley of Death. The terror is in the hearts of the people from
the dusk to the dawn. Wait, young man, and you will learn for
"Well, I'll let you know what I think when I have seen more,"
said McMurdo carelessly. "What is very clear is that you are not
the man for the place, and that the sooner you sell out--if you
only get a dime a dollar for what the business is worth--the
better it will be for you. What you have said is safe with 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 maybe some day I'll come back to it. I expect you
meant kindly by speaking to me like this. Now I'll be getting
"One word before you go," said Morris. "We may have been seen
together. They may 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 may you find things go better with you in the
That same afternoon, as McMurdo sat smoking, lost in thought
beside the stove of his sitting-room, the door swung open and its
framework was filled with the huge figure of Boss McGinty. He
passed the sign, and then seating himself opposite to the young
man he looked at him steadily for some time, a look which was as
"I'm not much of a visitor, Brother McMurdo," he said at last.
"I guess I am too busy over the folk that visit me. But I
thought I'd stretch a point and drop down to see you in your own
"I'm proud to see you here, Councillor," McMurdo answered
heartily, bringing his whisky bottle out of the cupboard. "It's
an honour that I had not expected."
"How's the arm?" asked the Boss.
McMurdo made a wry face. "Well, I'm not forgetting it," he said;
"but it's worth it."
"Yes, it's worth it," the other answered, "to those that are
loyal and go through with it and are a help to the lodge. What
were you speaking to Brother Morris about on Miller Hill this
The question came so suddenly that it was well that he had his
answer prepared. He burst into a hearty laugh. "Morris didn't
know I could earn a living here at home. He shan't know either;
for he has got too much conscience for the likes of me. But he's
a good-hearted old chap. It was his idea that I was at a loose
end, and that he would do me a good turn by offering me a
clerkship 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."
"Well, I guess because I tell you not. That's enough for most
folk in these parts."
"It may be enough for most folk; but it ain't enough for me,
Councillor," said McMurdo 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 round the glass as though he would hurl it at the head of
his companion. Then he laughed in his loud, boisterous,
"You're a queer card, for sure," said he. "Well, if you want
reasons, I'll give them. Did Morris say nothing to you against
"Nor against me?"
"Well, that's because he daren't trust you. But in his heart he
is not a loyal brother. We know that well. So we watch him and
we wait for the time to admonish him. I'm thinking that the time
is drawing near. There's no room for scabby sheep in our pen.
But if you keep company with a disloyal man, we might think 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 would not use the word to me twice."
"Well, that's enough," said McGinty, draining off his glass. "I
came down to give 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 had spoken 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's up, and I'll just say--"
But his leavetaking was cut short in a very unexpected fashion.
With a sudden crash the door flew open, and three frowning,
intent faces glared in at them from under the peaks of police
caps. McMurdo sprang to his feet and half drew his revolver; but
his arm stopped midway as he became conscious that two Winchester
rifles were levelled at his head. A man in uniform advanced into
the 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 at McMurdo.
"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 with us."
"I guess you'll pay for this, Captain Marvin," said McGinty.
"Who are you, I'd like 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
police captain. "We are not out after you, but after this man
McMurdo. It is for you to help, not to hinder us in our duty,"
"He is a friend of mine, and I'll answer for his conduct," said
"By all accounts, Mr. McGinty, you may have to answer for your
own conduct some of these days," the captain answered. "This man
McMurdo was a crook before ever he came here, and he's a crook
still. Cover him, Patrolman, while I disarm him."
"There's my pistol," said McMurdo coolly. "Maybe, Captain
Marvin, if you and I were 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 in Russia as in Vermissa while folk like you are
running the police. It's a capitalist 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'll look 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
"Well, if that's all you have against him," cried McGinty with a
laugh, "you can save yourself a deal of trouble by dropping it
right now. This man was with me in my saloon playing poker up to
midnight, and I can bring a dozen to prove 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 across your head. You stand wide, Mr. McGinty;
for I warn you I will stand no resistance when I am on duty!"
So determined was the appearance of the captain that both McMurdo
and his boss were forced to accept the situation. The latter
managed to have a few whispered words with the prisoner before
"What about--" he jerked his thumb upward to signify the coining
"All right," whispered McMurdo, who had devised a safe hiding
place under the floor.
"I'll bid you good-bye," said the Boss, shaking hands. "I'll see
Reilly the lawyer and take the defense upon myself. Take my word
for it that they won't be able to hold you."
"I wouldn't bet on that. Guard the prisoner, you two, and shoot
him if he tries any games. I'll search the house before I
He did so; but apparently found no trace of the concealed plant.
When he had descended he and his men escorted McMurdo to
headquarters. Darkness had fallen, and a keen blizzard was
blowing so that the streets were nearly deserted; but a few
loiterers followed the group, and emboldened by invisibility
shouted imprecations at the prisoner.
"Lynch the cursed Scowrer!" they cried. "Lynch him!" They
laughed and jeered as he was pushed into the police station.
After a short, formal examination from the inspector in charge he
was put into the common cell. Here he found Baldwin and three
other criminals of the night before, all arrested that afternoon
and waiting their trial next morning.
But even within this inner fortress of the law the long arm of
the Freemen was able to extend. Late at night there came a
jailer with a straw bundle for their 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 thought
as to the ordeal of the morning.
Nor had they cause, as the result was to show. The magistrate
could not possibly, on the evidence, have held them for a higher
court. On the one hand the compositors and pressmen were forced
to admit that the light was uncertain, that they were themselves
much perturbed, and that it was difficult for them to swear to
the identity of the assailants; although they believed that the
accused were among them. Cross examined by the clever attorney
who had been engaged by McGinty, they were even more nebulous in
The injured man had already deposed that he was so taken by
surprise by the suddenness of the attack that he could state
nothing beyond the fact that the first man who struck him wore a
moustache. He added that he knew them to be Scowrers, since no
one else in the community could possibly have any enmity to him,
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 evidence of 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 very much
later than the commission of the outrage.
Needless to say that they were discharged with something very
near to an apology from the bench for the inconvenience to which
they had been put, together with an implied censure of Captain
Marvin and the police for their officious zeal.
The verdict was greeted with loud applause by a court in which
McMurdo saw many familiar faces. Brothers of the lodge smiled
and waved. But there were others who sat with compressed lips
and brooding eyes as the men filed out of the dock. One of them,
a little, dark-bearded, resolute fellow, put the thoughts of
himself and comrades into words as the ex-prisoners passed him.
"You damned murderers!" he said. "We'll fix you yet!"
Chapter 5 - The Darkest Hour
If anything had been needed to give an impetus to Jack McMurdo's
popularity among his fellows it would have been his arrest and
acquittal. That a man on the very night of joining the lodge
should have done something which brought him before the
magistrate was a new record in the annals of the society.
Already he had earned the reputation of a good boon companion, a
cheery reveller, and withal a man of high temper, who would not
take an insult even from the all-powerful Boss himself. But in
addition to this he impressed his comrades with the idea that
among them all there was not one whose brain was so ready to
devise a bloodthirsty scheme, or whose hand would be more capable
of carrying it out. "He'll be the boy for the clean job," said
the oldsters to one another, and waited their time until they
could set him to his work.
McGinty had instruments enough already; but he recognized that
this was a supremely able one. He felt like a man holding a
fierce bloodhound in leash. There were curs to do the smaller
work; but some day he would slip this creature upon its prey. A
few members of the lodge, Ted Baldwin among them, resented the
rapid rise of the stranger and hated him for it; but they kept
clear of him, for he was as ready to fight as to laugh.
But if he gained favour with his fellows, there was another
quarter, one which had become even more vital to him, in which he
lost it. Ettie Shafter's father would have nothing more to do
with him, nor would he allow him to enter the house. Ettie
herself was too deeply in love to give him up altogether, and yet
her own good sense warned her of what would come from a marriage
with a man who was regarded as a criminal.
One morning after a sleepless night she determined to see him,
possibly for the last time, and make one strong endeavour to draw
him from those evil influences which were sucking him down. She
went to his house, as he had often begged her to do, and made her
way into the room which he used as his sitting-room. He was
seated at a table, with his back turned and a letter in front of
him. A sudden spirit of girlish mischief came over her--she was
still only nineteen. He had not heard her when she pushed open
the door. Now she tiptoed forward and laid her hand lightly upon
his bended shoulders.
If she had expected to startle him, she certainly succeeded; but
only in turn to be startled herself. With a tiger spring he
turned on her, and his right hand was feeling for her throat. At
the same instant with the other hand he crumpled up the paper
that lay before him. For an instant he stood glaring. Then
astonishment and joy took the place of the ferocity which had
convulsed his features--a ferocity which had sent her shrinking
back in horror as from something which had never before intruded
into her gentle life.
"It's you!" said he, mopping his brow. "And to think that you
should come to me, heart of my heart, and I should find nothing
better to do than to want to strangle you! Come then, darling,"
and he held out his arms, "let me make it up to you."
But she had not recovered from that sudden glimpse of guilty fear
which she had read in the man's face. All her woman's instinct
told her that it was not the mere fright of a man who is
startled. Guilt--that was it--guilt and fear!
"What's come over you, Jack?" she cried. "Why were you so scared
of me? Oh, Jack, if your conscience was at ease, you would not
have looked at me like that!"
"Sure, I was thinking of other things, and when you came tripping
so lightly on those fairy feet of yours--"
"No, no, it was more than that, Jack." Then a sudden suspicion
seized her. "Let me see that letter you were writing."
"Ah, Ettie, I couldn't do that."
Her suspicions became certainties. "It's to another woman," she
cried. "I know it! Why else should you hold it from me? Was it
to your wife that you were writing? How am I to know that you
are not a married man--you, a stranger, that nobody knows?"
"I am not married, Ettie. See now, I swear it! You're the only
one woman on earth to me. By the cross of Christ I swear it!"
He was so white with passionate earnestness that she could not
but believe him.
"Well, then," she cried, "why will you not show me the letter?"
"I'll tell you, acushla," said he. "I'm under oath not to show
it, and just as I wouldn't break my word to you so I would keep
it to those who hold my promise. It's the business of the lodge,
and even to you it's secret. And if I was scared when a hand
fell on me, can't you understand it when it might have been the
hand of a detective?"
She felt that he was telling the truth. He gathered her into his
arms and kissed away her fears and doubts.
"Sit here by me, then. It's a queer throne for such a queen; but
it's the best your poor lover can find. He'll do better for you
some of these days, I'm thinking. Now your mind is easy once
again, is it not?"
"How can it ever be at ease, Jack, when I know that you are a
criminal among criminals, when I never know the day that I may
hear you are in court for murder? 'McMurdo the Scowrer,' that's
what one of our boarders called you yesterday. It went through
my heart like a knife."
"Sure, hard words break no bones."
"But they were true."
"Well, dear, it's not so bad as you think. We are but poor men
that are trying in our own way to get our rights."
Ettie threw her arms round her lover's neck. "Give it up, Jack!
For my sake, for God's sake, give it up! It was to ask you that
I came here to-day. Oh, Jack, see--I beg it of you on my bended
knees! Kneeling here before you I implore you to give it up!"
He raised her and soothed her with her head against his breast.
"Sure, my darlin', you don't know what it is you are asking. How
could I give it up when it would be to break my oath and to
desert my comrades? If you could see how things stand with me
you could never ask it of me. Besides, if I wanted to, how could
I do it? You don't suppose that the lodge would let a man go
free with all its secrets?"
"I've thought of that, Jack. I've planned it all. Father has
saved some money. He is weary of this place where the fear of
these people darkens our lives. He is ready to go. We would fly
together to Philadelphia or New York, where we would be safe from
McMurdo laughed. "The lodge has a long arm. Do you think it
could not stretch from here to Philadelphia or New York?"
"Well, then, to the West, or to England, or to Germany, where
father came from--anywhere to get away from this Valley of Fear!"
McMurdo thought of old Brother Morris. "Sure, it is the second
time I have heard the valley so named," said he. "The shadow
does indeed seem to lie heavy on some of you."
"It darkens every moment of our lives. Do you suppose that Ted
Baldwin has ever forgiven us? If it were not that he fears you,
what do you suppose our chances would be? If you saw the look in
those dark, hungry eyes of his when they fall on me!"
"By Gar! I'd teach him better manners if I caught him at it!
But see here, little girl. I can't leave here. I can't--take
that from me once and for all. But if you will leave me to find
my own way, I will try to prepare a way of getting honourably out
"There is no honour in such a matter."
"Well, well, it's just how you look at it. But if you'll give me
six months, I'll work it so that I can leave without being
ashamed to look others in the face."
The girl laughed with joy. "Six months!" she cried. "Is it a
"Well, it may be seven or eight. But within a year at the
furthest we will leave the valley behind us."
It was the most that Ettie could obtain, and yet it was
something. There was this distant light to illuminate the gloom
of the immediate future. She returned to her father's house more
light-hearted than she had ever been since Jack McMurdo had come
into her life.
It might be thought that as a member, all the doings of the
society would be told to him; but he was soon to discover that
the organization was wider and more complex than the simple
lodge. Even Boss McGinty was ignorant as to many things; for
there was an official named the County Delegate, living at
Hobson's Patch farther down the line, who had power over several
different lodges which he wielded in a sudden and arbitrary way.
Only once did McMurdo see him, a sly, little gray-haired rat of a
man, with a slinking gait and a sidelong glance which was charged
with malice. Evans Pott was his name, and even the great Boss of
Vermissa felt towards him something of the repulsion and fear
which the huge Danton may have felt for the puny but dangerous
One day Scanlan, who was McMurdo's fellow boarder, received a
note from McGinty inclosing one from Evans Pott, which informed
him that he was sending over two good men, Lawler and Andrews,
who had instructions to act in the neighbourhood; though it was
best for the cause that no particulars as to their objects should
be given. Would the Bodymaster see to it that suitable
arrangements be made for their lodgings and comfort until the
time for action should arrive? McGinty added that it was
impossible for anyone to remain secret at the Union House, and
that, therefore, he would be obliged if McMurdo and Scanlan would
put the strangers up for a few days in their boarding house.
The same evening the two men arrived, each carrying his gripsack.
Lawler was an elderly man, shrewd, silent, and self-contained,
clad in an old black frock coat, which with his soft felt hat and
ragged, grizzled beard gave him a general resemblance to an
itinerant preacher. His companion Andrews was little more than a
boy, frank-faced and cheerful, with the breezy manner of one who
is out for a holiday and means to enjoy every minute of it. Both
men were total abstainers, and behaved in all ways as exemplary
members of the society, with the one simple exception that they