Part 4 out of 4
were assassins who had often proved themselves to be most capable
instruments for this association of murder. Lawler had already
carried out fourteen commissions of the kind, and Andrews three.
They were, as McMurdo found, quite ready to converse about their
deeds in the past, which they recounted with the half-bashful
pride of men who had done good and unselfish service for the
community. They were reticent, however, as to the immediate job
"They chose us because neither I nor the boy here drink," Lawler
explained. "They can count on us saying no more than we should.
You must not take it amiss, but it is the orders of the County
Delegate that we obey."
"Sure, we are all in it together," said Scanlan, McMurdo's mate,
as the four sat together at supper.
"That's true enough, and we'll talk till the cows come home of
the killing of Charlie Williams or of Simon Bird, or any other
job in the past. But till the work is done we say nothing."
"There are half a dozen about here that I have a word to say to,"
said McMurdo, with an oath. "I suppose it isn't Jack Knox of
Ironhill that you are after. I'd go some way to see him get his
"No, it's not him yet."
"Or Herman Strauss?"
"No, nor him either."
"Well, if you won't tell us we can't make you; but I'd be glad to
Lawler smiled and shook his head. He was not to be drawn.
In spite of the reticence of their guests, Scanlan and McMurdo
were quite determined to be present at what they called "the
fun." When, therefore, at an early hour one morning McMurdo
heard them creeping down the stairs he awakened Scanlan, and the
two hurried on their clothes. When they were dressed they found
that the others had stolen out, leaving the door open behind
them. It was not yet dawn, and by the light of the lamps they
could see the two men some distance down the street. They
followed them warily, treading noiselessly in the deep snow.
The boarding house was near the edge of the town, and soon they
were at the crossroads which is beyond its boundary. Here three
men were waiting, with whom Lawler and Andrews held a short,
eager conversation. Then they all moved on together. It was
clearly some notable job which needed numbers. At this point
there are several trails which lead to various mines. The
strangers took that which led to the Crow Hill, a huge business
which was in strong hands which had been able, thanks to their
energetic and fearless New England manager, Josiah H. Dunn, to
keep some order and discipline during the long reign of terror.
Day was breaking now, and a line of workmen were slowly making
their way, singly and in groups, along the blackened path.
McMurdo and Scanlan strolled on with the others, keeping in sight
of the men whom they followed. A thick mist lay over them, and
from the heart of it there came the sudden scream of a steam
whistle. It was the ten-minute signal before the cages descended
and the day's labour began.
When they reached the open space round the mine shaft there were
a hundred miners waiting, stamping their feet and blowing on
their fingers; for it was bitterly cold. The strangers stood in
a little group under the shadow of the engine house. Scanlan and
McMurdo climbed a heap of slag from which the whole scene lay
before them. They saw the mine engineer, a great bearded
Scotchman named Menzies, come out of the engine house and blow
his whistle for the cages to be lowered.
At the same instant a tall, loose-framed young man with a
clean-shaved, earnest face advanced eagerly towards the pit head.
As he came forward his eyes fell upon the group, silent and
motionless, under the engine house. The men had drawn down their
hats and turned up their collars to screen their faces. For a
moment the presentiment of Death laid its cold hand upon the
manager's heart. At the next he had shaken it off and saw only
his duty towards intrusive strangers.
"Who are you?" he asked as he advanced. "What are you loitering
There was no answer; but the lad Andrews stepped forward and shot
him in the stomach. The hundred waiting miners stood as
motionless and helpless as if they were paralyzed. The manager
clapped his two hands to the wound and doubled himself up. Then
he staggered away; but another of the assassins fired, and he
went down sidewise, kicking and clawing among a heap of clinkers.
Menzies, the Scotchman, gave a roar of rage at the sight and
rushed with an iron spanner at the murderers; but was met by two
balls in the face which dropped him dead at their very feet.
There was a surge forward of some of the miners, and an
inarticulate cry of pity and of anger; but a couple of the
strangers emptied their six-shooters over the heads of the crowd,
and they broke and scattered, some of them rushing wildly back to
their homes in Vermissa.
When a few of the bravest had rallied, and there was a return to
the mine, the murderous gang had vanished in the mists of
morning, without a single witness being able to swear to the
identity of these men who in front of a hundred spectators had
wrought this double crime.
Scanlan and McMurdo made their way back; Scanlan somewhat
subdued, for it was the first murder job that he had seen with
his own eyes, and it appeared less funny than he had been led to
believe. The horrible screams of the dead manager's wife pursued
them as they hurried to the town. McMurdo was absorbed and
silent; but he showed no sympathy for the weakening of his
"Sure, it is like a war," he repeated. "What is it but a war
between us and them, and we hit back where we best can."
There was high revel in the lodge room at the Union House that
night, not only over the killing of the manager and engineer of
the Crow Hill mine, which would bring this organization into line
with the other blackmailed and terror-stricken companies of the
district, but also over a distant triumph which had been wrought
by the hands of the lodge itself.
It would appear that when the County Delegate had sent over five
good men to strike a blow in Vermissa, he had demanded that in
return three Vermissa men should be secretly selected and sent
across to kill William Hales of Stake Royal, one of the best
known and most popular mine owners in the Gilmerton district, a
man who was believed not to have an enemy in the world; for he
was in all ways a model employer. He had insisted, however, upon
efficiency in the work, and had, therefore, paid off certain
drunken and idle employees who were members of the all-powerful
society. Coffin notices hung outside his door had not weakened
his resolution, and so in a free, civilized country he found
himself condemned to death.
The execution had now been duly carried out. Ted Baldwin, who
sprawled now in the seat of honour beside the Bodymaster, had
been chief of the party. His flushed face and glazed, bloodshot
eyes told of sleeplessness and drink. He and his two comrades
had spent the night before among the mountains. They were
unkempt and weather-stained. But no heroes, returning from a
forlorn hope, could have had a warmer welcome from their
The story was told and retold amid cries of delight and shouts of
laughter. They had waited for their man as he drove home at
nightfall, taking their station at the top of a steep hill, where
his horse must be at a walk. He was so furred to keep out the
cold that he could not lay his hand on his pistol. They had
pulled him out and shot him again and again. He had screamed for
mercy. The screams were repeated for the amusement of the lodge.
"Let's hear again how he squealed," they cried.
None of them knew the man; but there is eternal drama in a
killing, and they had shown the Scowrers of Gilmerton that the
Vermissa men were to be relied upon.
There had been one contretemps; for a man and his wife had driven
up while they were still emptying their revolvers into the silent
body. It had been suggested that they should shoot them both;
but they were harmless folk who were not connected with the
mines, so they were sternly bidden to drive on and keep silent,
lest a worse thing befall them. And so the blood-mottled figure
had been left as a warning to all such hard-hearted employers,
and the three noble avengers had hurried off into the mountains
where unbroken nature comes down to the very edge of the furnaces
and the slag heaps. Here they were, safe and sound, their work
well done, and the plaudits of their companions in their ears.
It had been a great day for the Scowrers. The shadow had fallen
even darker over the valley. But as the wise general chooses the
moment of victory in which to redouble his efforts, so that his
foes may have no time to steady themselves after disaster, so
Boss McGinty, looking out upon the scene of his operations with
his brooding and malicious eyes, had devised a new attack upon
those who opposed him. That very night, as the half-drunken
company broke up, he touched McMurdo on the arm and led him aside
into that inner room where they had their first interview.
"See here, my lad," said he, "I've got a job that's worthy of you
at last. You'll have the doing of it in your own hands."
"Proud I am to hear it," McMurdo answered.
"You can take two men with you--Manders and Reilly. They have
been warned for service. We'll never be right in this district
until Chester Wilcox has been settled, and you'll have the thanks
of every lodge in the coal fields if you can down him."
"I'll do my best, anyhow. Who is he, and where shall I find
McGinty took his eternal half-chewed, half-smoked cigar from the
corner of his mouth, and proceeded to draw a rough diagram on a
page torn from his notebook.
"He's the chief foreman of the Iron Dike Company. He's a hard
citizen, an old colour sergeant of the war, all scars and
grizzle. We've had two tries at him; but had no luck, and Jim
Carnaway lost his life over it. Now it's for you to take it
over. That's the house--all alone at the Iron Dike crossroad,
same as you see here on the map--without another within earshot.
It's no good by day. He's armed and shoots quick and straight,
with no questions asked. But at night--well, there he is with
his wife, three children, and a hired help. You can't pick or
choose. It's all or none. If you could get a bag of blasting
powder at the front door with a slow match to it--"
"What's the man done?"
"Didn't I tell you he shot Jim Carnaway?"
"Why did he shoot him?"
"What in thunder has that to do with you? Carnaway was about his
house at night, and he shot him. That's enough for me and you.
You've got to settle the thing right."
"There's these two women and the children. Do they go up too?"
"They have to--else how can we get him?"
"It seems hard on them; for they've done nothing."
"What sort of fool's talk is this? Do you back out?"
"Easy, Councillor, easy! What have I ever said or done that you
should think I would be after standing back from an order of the
Bodymaster of my own lodge? If it's right or if it's wrong, it's
for you to decide."
"You'll do it, then?"
"Of course I will do it."
"Well, you had best give me a night or two that I may see the
house and make my plans. Then--"
"Very good," said McGinty, shaking him by the hand. "I leave it
with you. It will be a great day when you bring us the news.
It's just the last stroke that will bring them all to their
McMurdo thought long and deeply over the commission which had
been so suddenly placed in his hands. The isolated house in
which Chester Wilcox lived was about five miles off in an
adjacent valley. That very night he started off all alone to
prepare for the attempt. It was daylight before he returned from
his reconnaissance. Next day he interviewed his two
subordinates, Manders and Reilly, reckless youngsters who were as
elated as if it were a deer-hunt.
Two nights later they met outside the town, all three armed, and
one of them carrying a sack stuffed with the powder which was
used in the quarries. It was two in the morning before they came
to the lonely house. The night was a windy one, with broken
clouds drifting swiftly across the face of a three-quarter moon.
They had been warned to be on their guard against bloodhounds; so
they moved forward cautiously, with their pistols cocked in their
hands. But there was no sound save the howling of the wind, and
no movement but the swaying branches above them.
McMurdo listened at the door of the lonely house; but all was
still within. Then he leaned the powder bag against it, ripped a
hole in it with his knife, and attached the fuse. When it was
well alight he and his two companions took to their heels, and
were some distance off, safe and snug in a sheltering ditch,
before the shattering roar of the explosion, with the low, deep
rumble of the collapsing building, told them that their work was
done. No cleaner job had ever been carried out in the
bloodstained annals of the society.
But alas that work so well organized and boldly carried out
should all have gone for nothing! Warned by the fate of the
various victims, and knowing that he was marked down for
destruction, Chester Wilcox had moved himself and his family only
the day before to some safer and less known quarters, where a
guard of police should watch over them. It was an empty house
which had been torn down by the gunpowder, and the grim old
colour sergeant of the war was still teaching discipline to the
miners of Iron Dike.
"Leave him to me," said McMurdo. "He's my man, and I'll get him
sure if I have to wait a year for him."
A vote of thanks and confidence was passed in full lodge, and so
for the time the matter ended. When a few weeks later it was
reported in the papers that Wilcox had been shot at from an
ambuscade, it was an open secret that McMurdo was still at work
upon his unfinished job.
Such were the methods of the Society of Freemen, and such were
the deeds of the Scowrers by which they spread their rule of fear
over the great and rich district which was for so long a period
haunted by their terrible presence. Why should these pages be
stained by further crimes? Have I not said enough to show the
men and their methods?
These deeds are written in history, and there are records wherein
one may read the details of them. There one may learn of the
shooting of Policemen Hunt and Evans because they had ventured to
arrest two members of the society--a double outrage planned at
the Vermissa lodge and carried out in cold blood upon two
helpless and disarmed men. There also one may read of the
shooting of Mrs. Larbey when she was nursing her husband, who had
been beaten almost to death by orders of Boss McGinty. The
killing of the elder Jenkins, shortly followed by that of his
brother, the mutilation of James Murdoch, the blowing up of the
Staphouse family, and the murder of the Stendals all followed
hard upon one another in the same terrible winter.
Darkly the shadow lay upon the Valley of Fear. The spring had
come with running brooks and blossoming trees. There was hope
for all Nature bound so long in an iron grip; but nowhere was
there any hope for the men and women who lived under the yoke of
the terror. Never had the cloud above them been so dark and
hopeless as in the early summer of the year 1875.
Chapter 6 - Danger
It was the height of the reign of terror. McMurdo, who had
already been appointed Inner Deacon, with every prospect of some
day succeeding McGinty as Bodymaster, was now so necessary to the
councils of his comrades that nothing was done without his help
and advice. The more popular he became, however, with the
Freemen, the blacker were the scowls which greeted him as he
passed along the streets of Vermissa. In spite of their terror
the citizens were taking heart to band themselves together
against their oppressors. Rumours had reached the lodge of
secret gatherings in the Herald office and of distribution of
firearms among the law-abiding people. But McGinty and his men
were undisturbed by such reports. They were numerous, resolute,
and well armed. Their opponents were scattered and powerless.
It would all end, as it had done in the past, in aimless talk and
possibly in impotent arrests. So said McGinty, McMurdo, and all
the bolder spirits.
It was a Saturday evening in May. Saturday was always the lodge
night, and McMurdo was leaving his house to attend it when
Morris, the weaker brother of the order, came to see him. His
brow was creased with care, and his kindly face was drawn and
"Can I speak with you freely, Mr. McMurdo?"
"I can't forget that I spoke my heart to you once, and that you
kept it to yourself, even though the Boss himself came to ask you
"What else could I do if you trusted me? It wasn't that I agreed
with what you said."
"I know that well. But you are the one that I can speak to and
be safe. I've a secret here," he put his hand to his breast,
"and it is just burning the life out of me. I wish it had come
to any one of you but me. If I tell it, it will mean murder, for
sure. If I don't, it may bring the end of us all. God help me,
but I am near out of my wits over it!"
McMurdo looked at the man earnestly. He was trembling in every
limb. He poured some whisky into a glass and handed it to him.
"That's the physic for the likes of you," said he. "Now let me
hear of it."
Morris drank, and his white face took a tinge of colour. "I can
tell it to you all in one sentence," said he. "There's a
detective on our trail."
McMurdo stared at him in astonishment. "Why, man, you're crazy,"
he said. "Isn't the place full of police and detectives and what
harm did they ever do us?"
"No, no, it's no man of the district. As you say, we know them,
and it is little that they can do. But you've heard of
"I've read of some folk of that name."
"Well, you can take it from me you've no show when they are on
your trail. It's not a take-it-or-miss-it government concern.
It's a dead earnest business proposition that's out for results
and keeps out till by hook or crook it gets them. If a Pinkerton
man is deep in this business, we are all destroyed."
"We must kill him."
"Ah, it's the first thought that came to you! So it will be up at
the lodge. Didn't I say to you that it would end in murder?"
"Sure, what is murder? Isn't it common enough in these parts?"
"It is, indeed; but it's not for me to point out the man that is
to be murdered. I'd never rest easy again. And yet it's our own
necks that may be at stake. In God's name what shall I do?" He
rocked to and fro in his agony of indecision.
But his words had moved McMurdo deeply. It was easy to see that
he shared the other's opinion as to the danger, and the need for
meeting it. He gripped Morris's shoulder and shook him in his
"See here, man," he cried, and he almost screeched the words in
his excitement, "you won't gain anything by sitting keening like
an old wife at a wake. Let's have the facts. Who is the fellow?
Where is he? How did you hear of him? Why did you come to me?"
"I came to you; for you are the one man that would advise me. I
told you that I had a store in the East before I came here. I
left good friends behind me, and one of them is in the telegraph
service. Here's a letter that I had from him yesterday. It's
this part from the top of the page. You can read it yourself."
This was what McMurdo read:
How are the Scowrers getting on in your parts? We read plenty of
them in the papers. Between you and me I expect to hear news
from you before long. Five big corporations and the two
railroads have taken the thing up in dead earnest. They mean it,
and you can bet they'll get there! They are right deep down into
it. Pinkerton has taken hold under their orders, and his best
man, Birdy Edwards, is operating. The thing has got to be
stopped right now.
"Now read the postscript."
Of course, what I give you is what I learned in business; so it
goes no further. It's a queer cipher that you handle by the yard
every day and can get no meaning from.
McMurdo sat in silence for some time, with the letter in his
listless hands. The mist had lifted for a moment, and there was
the abyss before him.
"Does anyone else know of this?" he asked.
"I have told no one else."
"But this man--your friend--has he any other person that he would
be likely to write to?"
"Well, I dare say he knows one or two more."
"Of the lodge?"
"It's likely enough."
"I was asking because it is likely that he may have given some
description of this fellow Birdy Edwards--then we could get on
"Well, it's possible. But I should not think he knew him. He is
just telling me the news that came to him by way of business.
How would he know this Pinkerton man?"
McMurdo gave a violent start.
"By Gar!" he cried, "I've got him. What a fool I was not to know
it. Lord! but we're in luck! We will fix him before he can do
any harm. See here, Morris, will you leave this thing in my
"Sure, if you will only take it off mine."
"I'll do that. You can stand right back and let me run it. Even
your name need not be mentioned. I'll take it all on myself, as
if it were to me that this letter has come. Will that content
"It's just what I would ask."
"Then leave it at that and keep your head shut. Now I'll get
down to the lodge, and we'll soon make old man Pinkerton sorry
"You wouldn't kill this man?"
"The less you know, Friend Morris, the easier your conscience
will be, and the better you will sleep. Ask no questions, and
let these things settle themselves. I have hold of it now."
Morris shook his head sadly as he left. "I feel that his blood
is on my hands," he groaned.
"Self-protection is no murder, anyhow," said McMurdo, smiling
grimly. "It's him or us. I guess this man would destroy us all
if we left him long in the valley. Why, Brother Morris, we'll
have to elect you Bodymaster yet; for you've surely saved the
And yet it was clear from his actions that he thought more
seriously of this new intrusion than his words would show. It
may have been his guilty conscience, it may have been the
reputation of the Pinkerton organization, it may have been the
knowledge that great, rich corporations had set themselves the
task of clearing out the Scowrers; but, whatever his reason, his
actions were those of a man who is preparing for the worst.
Every paper which would incriminate him was destroyed before he
left the house. After that he gave a long sigh of satisfaction;
for it seemed to him that he was safe. And yet the danger must
still have pressed somewhat upon him; for on his way to the lodge
he stopped at old man Shafter's. The house was forbidden him;
but when he tapped at the window Ettie came out to him. The
dancing Irish deviltry had gone from her lover's eyes. She read
his danger in his earnest face.
"Something has happened!" she cried. "Oh, Jack, you are in
"Sure, it is not very bad, my sweetheart. And yet it may be wise
that we make a move before it is worse."
"Make a move?"
"I promised you once that I would go some day. I think the time
is coming. I had news to-night, bad news, and I see trouble
"Well, a Pinkerton. But, sure, you wouldn't know what that is,
acushla, nor what it may mean to the likes of me. I'm too deep
in this thing, and I may have to get out of it quick. You said
you would come with me if I went."
"Oh, Jack, it would be the saving of you!"
"I'm an honest man in some things, Ettie. I wouldn't hurt a hair
of your bonny head for all that the world can give, nor ever pull
you down one inch from the golden throne above the clouds where I
always see you. Would you trust me?"
She put her hand in his without a word. "Well, then, listen to
what I say, and do as I order you, for indeed it's the only way
for us. Things are going to happen in this valley. I feel it in
my bones. There may be many of us that will have to look out for
ourselves. I'm one, anyhow. If I go, by day or night, it's you
that must come with me!"
"I'd come after you, Jack."
"No, no, you shall come WITH me. If this valley is closed to me
and I can never come back, how can I leave you behind, and me
perhaps in hiding from the police with never a chance of a
message? It's with me you must come. I know a good woman in the
place I come from, and it's there I'd leave you till we can get
married. Will you come?"
"Yes, Jack, I will come."
"God bless you for your trust in me! It's a fiend out of hell
that I should be if I abused it. Now, mark you, Ettie, it will
be just a word to you, and when it reaches you, you will drop
everything and come right down to the waiting room at the depot
and stay there till I come for you."
"Day or night, I'll come at the word, Jack."
Somewhat eased in mind, now that his own preparations for escape
had been begun, McMurdo went on to the lodge. It had already
assembled, and only by complicated signs and countersigns could
he pass through the outer guard and inner guard who close-tiled
it. A buzz of pleasure and welcome greeted him as he entered.
The long room was crowded, and through the haze of tobacco smoke
he saw the tangled black mane of the Bodymaster, the cruel,
unfriendly features of Baldwin, the vulture face of Harraway, the
secretary, and a dozen more who were among the leaders of the
lodge. He rejoiced that they should all be there to take counsel
over his news.
"Indeed, it's glad we are to see you, Brother!" cried the
chairman. "There's business here that wants a Solomon in
judgment to set it right."
"It's Lander and Egan," explained his neighbour as he took his
seat. "They both claim the head money given by the lodge for the
shooting of old man Crabbe over at Stylestown, and who's to say
which fired the bullet?"
McMurdo rose in his place and raised his hand. The expression of
his face froze the attention of the audience. There was a dead
hush of expectation.
"Eminent Bodymaster," he said, in a solemn voice, "I claim
"Brother McMurdo claims urgency," said McGinty. "It's a claim
that by the rules of this lodge takes precedence. Now Brother,
we attend you."
McMurdo took the letter from his pocket.
"Eminent Bodymaster and Brethren," he said, "I am the bearer of
ill news this day; but it is better that it should be known and
discussed, than that a blow should fall upon us without warning
which would destroy us all. I have information that the most
powerful and richest organizations in this state have bound
themselves together for our destruction, and that at this very
moment there is a Pinkerton detective, one Birdy Edwards, at work
in the valley collecting the evidence which may put a rope round
the necks of many of us, and send every man in this room into a
felon's cell. That is the situation for the discussion of which
I have made a claim of urgency."
There was a dead silence in the room. It was broken by the
"What is your evidence for this, Brother McMurdo?" he asked.
"It is in this letter which has come into my hands," said
McMurdo. Me read the passage aloud. "It is a matter of honour
with me that I can give no further particulars about the letter,
nor put it into your hands; but I assure you that there is
nothing else in it which can affect the interests of the lodge.
I put the case before you as it has reached me."
"Let me say, Mr. Chairman," said one of the older brethren, "that
I have heard of Birdy Edwards, and that he has the name of being
the best man in the Pinkerton service."
"Does anyone know him by sight?" asked McGinty.
"Yes," said McMurdo, "I do."
There was a murmur of astonishment through the hall.
"I believe we hold him in the hollow of our hands," he continued
with an exulting smile upon his face. "If we act quickly and
wisely, we can cut this thing short. If I have your confidence
and your help, it is little that we have to fear."
"What have we to fear, anyhow? What can he know of our affairs?"
"You might say so if all were as stanch as you, Councillor. But
this man has all the millions of the capitalists at his back. Do
you think there is no weaker brother among all our lodges that
could not be bought? He will get at our secrets--maybe has got
them already. There's only one sure cure."
"That he never leaves the valley," said Baldwin.
McMurdo nodded. "Good for you, Brother Baldwin," he said. "You
and I have had our differences, but you have said the true word
"Where is he, then? Where shall we know him?"
"Eminent Bodymaster," said McMurdo, earnestly, "I would put it to
you that this is too vital a thing for us to discuss in open
lodge. God forbid that I should throw a doubt on anyone here;
but if so much as a word of gossip got to the ears of this man,
there would be an end of any chance of our getting him. I would
ask the lodge to choose a trusty committee, Mr. Chairman--
yourself, if I might suggest it, and Brother Baldwin here, and
five more. Then I can talk freely of what I know and of what I
advise should be done."
The proposition was at once adopted, and the committee chosen.
Besides the chairman and Baldwin there were the vulture-faced
secretary, Harraway, Tiger Cormac, the brutal young assassin,
Carter, the treasurer, and the brothers Willaby, fearless and
desperate men who would stick at nothing.
The usual revelry of the lodge was short and subdued: for there
was a cloud upon the men's spirits, and many there for the first
time began to see the cloud of avenging Law drifting up in that
serene sky under which they had dwelt so long. The horrors they
had dealt out to others had been so much a part of their settled
lives that the thought of retribution had become a remote one,
and so seemed the more startling now that it came so closely upon
them. They broke up early and left their leaders to their
"Now, McMurdo!" said McGinty when they were alone. The seven men
sat frozen in their seats.
"I said just now that I knew Birdy Edwards," McMurdo explained.
"I need not tell you that he is not here under that name. He's a
brave man, but not a crazy one. He passes under the name of
Steve Wilson, and he is lodging at Hobson's Patch."
"How do you know this?"
"Because I fell into talk with him. I thought little of it at
the time, nor would have given it a second thought but for this
letter; but now I'm sure it's the man. I met him on the cars
when I went down the line on Wednesday--a hard case if ever there
was one. He said he was a reporter. I believed it for the
moment. Wanted to know all he could about the Scowrers and what
he called 'the outrages' for a New York paper. Asked me every
kind of question so as to get something. You bet I was giving
nothing away. 'I'd pay for it and pay well,' said he, 'if I
could get some stuff that would suit my editor.' I said what I
thought would please him best, and he handed me a twenty-dollar
bill for my information. 'There's ten times that for you,' said
he, 'if you can find me all that I want.'"
"What did you tell him, then?"
"Any stuff I could make up."
"How do you know he wasn't a newspaper man?"
"I'll tell you. He got out at Hobson's Patch, and so did I. I
chanced into the telegraph bureau, and he was leaving it.
"'See here,' said the operator after he'd gone out, 'I guess we
should charge double rates for this.'--'I guess you should,' said
I. He had filled the form with stuff that might have been
Chinese, for all we could make of it. 'He fires a sheet of this
off every day,' said the clerk. 'Yes,' said I; 'it's special
news for his paper, and he's scared that the others should tap
it.' That was what the operator thought and what I thought at
the time; but I think differently now."
"By Gar! I believe you are right," said McGinty. "But what do
you allow that we should do about it?"
"Why not go right down now and fix him?" someone suggested.
"Ay, the sooner the better."
"I'd start this next minute if I knew where we could find him,"
said McMurdo. "He's in Hobson's Patch; but I don't know the
house. I've got a plan, though, if you'll only take my advice."
"Well, what is it?"
"I'll go to the Patch to-morrow morning. I'll find him through
the operator. He can locate him, I guess. Well, then I'll tell
him that I'm a Freeman myself. I'll offer him all the secrets of
the lodge for a price. You bet he'll tumble to it. I'll tell
him the papers are at my house, and that it's as much as my life
would be worth to let him come while folk were about. He'll see
that that's horse sense. Let him come at ten o'clock at night,
and he shall see everything. That will fetch him sure."
"You can plan the rest for yourselves. Widow MacNamara's is a
lonely house. She's as true as steel and as deaf as a post.
There's only Scanlan and me in the house. If I get his
promise--and I'll let you know if I do--I'd have the whole seven
of you come to me by nine o'clock. We'll get him in. If ever he
gets out alive--well, he can talk of Birdy Edwards's luck for the
rest of his days!"
"There's going to be a vacancy at Pinkerton's or I'm mistaken.
Leave it at that, McMurdo. At nine to-morrow we'll be with you.
You once get the door shut behind him, and you can leave the rest
Chapter 7 - The Trapping of Birdy Edwards
As McMurdo had said, the house in which he lived was a lonely one
and very well suited for such a crime as they had planned. It
was on the extreme fringe of the town and stood well back from
the road. In any other case the conspirators would have simply
called out their man, as they had many a time before, and emptied
their pistols into his body; but in this instance it was very
necessary to find out how much he knew, how he knew it, and what
had been passed on to his employers.
It was possible that they were already too late and that the work
had been done. If that was indeed so, they could at least have
their revenge upon the man who had done it. But they were
hopeful that nothing of great importance had yet come to the
detective's knowledge, as otherwise, they argued, he would not
have troubled to write down and forward such trivial information
as McMurdo claimed to have given him. However, all this they
would learn from his own lips. Once in their power, they would
find a way to make him speak. It was not the first time that
they had handled an unwilling witness.
McMurdo went to Hobson's Patch as agreed. The police seemed to
take particular interest in him that morning, and Captain
Marvin--he who had claimed the old acquaintance with him at
Chicago--actually addressed him as he waited at the station.
McMurdo turned away and refused to speak with him. He was back
from his mission in the afternoon, and saw McGinty at the Union
"He is coming," he said.
"Good!" said McGinty. The giant was in his shirt sleeves, with
chains and seals gleaming athwart his ample waistcoat and a
diamond twinkling through the fringe of his bristling beard.
Drink and politics had made the Boss a very rich as well as
powerful man. The more terrible, therefore, seemed that glimpse
of the prison or the gallows which had risen before him the night
"Do you reckon he knows much?" he asked anxiously.
McMurdo shook his head gloomily. "He's been here some time--six
weeks at the least. I guess he didn't come into these parts to
look at the prospect. If he has been working among us all that
time with the railroad money at his back, I should 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, every man 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 the boys round
before evening to give him a beating up and see what they can get
"Well, there would be no harm in that," McMurdo answered. "I
won't deny that I have a liking for Morris and would be sorry to
see him come to harm. He has spoken to me once or twice over
lodge matters, and though he may not see them the same as you or
I, he never seemed the sort that squeals. But still it is not
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 him this year past."
"Well, you know best about that," McMurdo answered. "But
whatever you do must be to-morrow; for we must lie low until the
Pinkerton affair is settled up. We can't afford to set the
police buzzing, to-day of all days."
"True for you," said McGinty. "And we'll learn from Birdy
Edwards himself where he got his news if we have to cut his heart
out first. Did he seem to scent a trap?"
McMurdo laughed. "I guess I took him on his weak point," he
said. "If he could get on a good trail of the Scowrers, he's
ready to follow it into hell. I took his money," McMurdo grinned
as he produced a wad of dollar notes, "and as much more when he
has seen all my papers."
"Well, there are no papers. But I filled him up about
constitutions and books of rules and forms of membership. He
expects to get right down to the end of everything before he
"Faith, he's right there," said McGinty grimly. "Didn't he ask
you why you didn't bring him the papers?"
"As if I would carry such things, and me a suspected man, and
Captain Marvin after speaking to me this very day at the depot!"
"Ay, I heard of that," said McGinty. "I guess the heavy end of
this business is coming on to you. We could put him down an old
shaft when we've done with him; but however we work it we can't
get past the man living at Hobson's Patch and you being there
McMurdo shrugged his shoulders. "If we handle it right, they can
never prove the killing," said he. "No one can see him come to
the house after dark, and I'll lay to it that no one will see him
go. Now see here, Councillor, I'll show you my plan and I'll ask
you to fit the others into it. You will all come in good time.
Very well. He comes at ten. He is to tap three times, and me to
open the door for him. Then I'll get behind him and shut it.
He's our man then."
"That's all easy and plain."
"Yes; but the next step wants considering. He's a hard
proposition. He's heavily armed. I've fooled him proper, and
yet he is likely to be on his guard. Suppose I show him right
into a room with seven men in it where he expected to find me
alone. There is going to be shooting, and somebody is going to
"And the noise is going to bring every damned copper in the
township on top of it."
"I guess you are right."
"This is how I should work it. You will all be in the big
room--same as you saw when you had a chat with me. I'll open the
door for him, show him into the parlour beside the door, and
leave him there while I get the papers. That will give me the
chance of telling you how things are shaping. Then I will go
back to him with some faked papers. As he is reading them I will
jump for him and get my grip on his pistol arm. You'll hear me
call and in you will rush. The quicker the better; for he is as
strong a man as I, and I may have more than I can 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. I guess when I move out of the chair I can put a name
to the man that's coming after me."
"Sure, Councillor, I am little more than a recruit," said
McMurdo; but his face showed what he thought of the great man's
When he had returned home he made his own preparations for the
grim evening in front 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 a large apartment,
with a long deal table in the centre, and the big stove at one
side. At each of the other sides were windows. There were no
shutters on these: only light curtains which drew across.
McMurdo examined these attentively. No doubt it must have struck
him that the apartment was very exposed for so secret a meeting.
Yet its distance from the road made it of less consequence.
Finally he discussed the matter with his fellow lodger. Scanlan,
though a Scowrer, was an inoffensive little man who was too weak
to stand against the opinion of his comrades, but was secretly
horrified by the deeds of blood at which he had sometimes been
forced to assist. McMurdo told him shortly what was intended.
"And if I were you, Mike Scanlan, I would take a night off and
keep clear of it. There will be bloody work here before
"Well, indeed then, Mac," Scanlan answered. "It's not the will
but the nerve that is wanting in me. When I saw Manager Dunn go
down at the colliery yonder it was just more than I could stand.
I'm not made for it, same as you or McGinty. If the lodge will
think none the worse of me, I'll just do as you advise and leave
you to yourselves for the evening."
The men came in good time as arranged. They were outwardly
respectable citizens, well clad and cleanly; but a judge of faces
would have read little hope for Birdy Edwards in those hard
mouths and remorseless eyes. There was not 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 and nervous, jerky limbs, a man of
incorruptible fidelity where the finances of the order were
concerned, and with no notion of justice or honesty to anyone
beyond. The treasurer, Carter, was a middle-aged man, with an
impassive, rather sulky expression, and a yellow parchment skin.
He was a capable organizer, and the actual details of nearly
every outrage had sprung from his plotting brain. The two
Willabys were men of action, tall, lithe young fellows with
determined faces, while their companion, Tiger Cormac, a heavy,
dark youth, was feared even by his own comrades for the ferocity
of his disposition. These were the men who assembled that night
under the roof of McMurdo for the killing of the Pinkerton
Their host had placed whisky upon the table, and they had
hastened to prime themselves for the work before them. Baldwin
and Cormac were already half-drunk, and the liquor had brought
out all their ferocity. Cormac placed his hands on the stove for
an instant--it had been lighted, for the nights were still cold.
"That will do," said he, with an oath.
"Ay," said Baldwin, catching his meaning. "If he is strapped to
that, we will have the truth out of him."
"We'll have the truth out of him, never fear," said McMurdo. He
had nerves of steel, this man; for though the whole weight of the
affair was on him his manner was as cool and unconcerned as ever.
The others marked it and applauded.
"You are the one to handle him," said the Boss approvingly. "Not
a warning will he get till your hand is on his throat. It's a
pity there are no shutters to your windows."
McMurdo went from one to the other and drew the curtains tighter.
"Sure no one can spy upon us now. It's close upon the hour."
"Maybe he won't come. Maybe he'll get a sniff of danger," said
"He'll come, never fear," McMurdo answered. "He is as eager to
come as you can be to see him. Hark to that!"
They all sat like wax figures, some with their glasses arrested
halfway to their lips. Three loud knocks had sounded at the
"Hush!" McMurdo raised his hand in caution. An exulting glance
went round the circle, 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 their comrade down the passage. Then they heard him open the
outer door. There were a few words as of greeting. Then they
were aware of a strange step inside and of an unfamiliar voice.
An instant later came the slam of the door and the turning of the
key in the lock. Their prey was safe within the trap. Tiger
Cormac laughed horribly, and Boss McGinty clapped his great hand
across his mouth.
"Be quiet, you fool!" he whispered. "You'll be the undoing of us
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 had come over him. His manner was as of one who
has great work to do. His face had set into granite firmness.
His eyes shone with a fierce excitement behind his spectacles.
He had become a visible leader of men. They stared at him with
eager interest; but he said nothing. Still with the same
singular gaze he looked from man to man.
"Well!" cried Boss McGinty at last. "Is he here? Is Birdy
"Yes," McMurdo answered slowly. "Birdy Edwards is here. I am
There were ten seconds after that brief speech during which the
room might have been empty, so profound was the silence. The
hissing of a kettle upon the stove rose sharp and strident to the
ear. Seven white faces, all turned upward to this man who
dominated them, were set motionless with utter terror. Then,
with a sudden shivering of glass, a bristle of glistening rifle
barrels broke through 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 the half-opened door. A levelled revolver met him
there with the stern blue eyes of Captain Marvin of the Mine
Police gleaming behind the sights. The Boss recoiled 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 cheat the 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 for
yourself what chance you have. Take their pistols, Marvin!"
There was no possible resistance under the menace of those
rifles. The men were 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 had trapped them. "I guess we may not meet again until you
see me on the stand in the 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 am Birdy Edwards
of Pinkerton's. I was chosen to break up your gang. I had a
hard and dangerous game to play. Not a soul, not one soul, not my
nearest and dearest, knew that I was playing it. Only Captain
Marvin here and my employers knew 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 in their eyes. He read the relentless
"Maybe you think that the game is not over yet. Well, I take my
chance of that. Anyhow, some of you will take no further hand,
and there are sixty more besides yourselves that will see a jail
this night. I'll tell you this, that when I was put upon this
job I never believed there was such a society as yours. I
thought it was paper talk, and that I would prove it so. They
told me it was to do with the Freemen; so I went to Chicago and
was made one. Then I was surer than ever that it was just paper
talk; for I found no harm in the society, but a deal of good.
"Still, I had to carry out my job, and I came to the coal
valleys. When I reached this place I learned that I was wrong
and that it wasn't a dime novel after all. So I stayed to look
after it. I never killed a man in Chicago. I never 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 and so I pretended to you that the law was after me.
It all worked just as I thought.
"So I joined your infernal lodge, and I took my share in your
councils. Maybe they will say that I was as bad as you. They
can say what they like, so long as I get you. But what is the
truth? The night I joined you beat up old man Stanger. 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, so as 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 see that their
murderers are hanged. I gave Chester Wilcox warning, so that
when I blew his house in he and his folk were in hiding. There
was many a crime that I could not stop; but if you look back and
think how often your man came home the other road, or was down in
town when you went for him, or stayed indoors when 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 your like have been the enemy of God and man in these
parts. It took a man to get between you and the poor devils of
men and women that you held under your grip. 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
down into hell to save them. I've had three months of it. I
wouldn't have three such months again if they let me loose in the
treasury at Washington for it. I had to stay till I had it all,
every man and every secret right here in this hand. I'd have
waited a little longer if it hadn't come to my knowledge that my
secret was coming out. A letter had come into the town that
would have set you wise to it all. Then I had to act and act
"I've nothing more to say to you, except that when my time comes
I'll die the easier when I think of the work I have done in this
valley. Now, Marvin, I'll keep 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 left at the address of Miss Ettie Shafter, a mission
which he had accepted with a wink and a knowing smile. In the
early hours of the morning a beautiful woman and a much muffled
man boarded a special train which had been sent by the railroad
company, and made a swift, unbroken journey out of the land of
danger. It was the last time that ever either Ettie or her lover
set foot in the Valley of Fear. Ten days later they were married
in Chicago, with old Jacob Shafter as witness of the wedding.
The trial of the Scowrers was held far from the place where their
adherents might have terrified the guardians of the law. In vain
they struggled. In vain the money of the lodge--money squeezed
by blackmail out of the whole countryside--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
their defenders. At last after so many years they were broken
and scattered. The cloud was lifted forever from the valley.
McGinty met his fate upon the scaffold, cringing and whining when
the last hour came. Eight of his chief followers shared his
fate. Fifty-odd had various degrees of imprisonment. The work
of Birdy Edwards was complete.
And yet, as he had guessed, the game was not over yet. There was
another hand to be played, and yet another and another. Ted
Baldwin, for one, had escaped the scaffold; so had the Willabys;
so had several others of the fiercest spirits of the gang. For
ten years they were out of the world, and then came a day when
they were free once more--a day which Edwards, who knew his men,
was very sure would be an end of his life of peace. They had
sworn an oath on all that they thought holy to have his blood as
a vengeance for their comrades. And well they strove to keep
From Chicago he was chased, after two attempts so near success
that it was sure that the third would get him. From Chicago he
went under a changed name to California, and it was there that
the light went for a time out of his life when Ettie Edwards
died. Once again he was nearly killed, and once again under the
name of Douglas he worked in a lonely canon, where with an
English partner named Barker he amassed a fortune. At last there
came a warning to him that the bloodhounds were on his track once
more, and he cleared--only just in time--for England. And thence
came the John Douglas who for a second time married 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
The police trial had passed, in which the case of John Douglas
was referred to a higher court. So had the Quarter Sessions, at
which he was acquitted as having acted in self-defense.
"Get him out of England at any cost," wrote Holmes to the wife.
"There are forces here which may be more dangerous than those he
has escaped. There is no safety for your husband in England."
Two months had gone by, and the case had to some extent passed
from our minds. Then one morning there came an enigmatic note
slipped into our letter box. "Dear me, Mr. Holmes. Dear me!"
said this singular epistle. There was neither superscription nor
signature. I laughed at the quaint message; but Holmes showed
"Deviltry, Watson!" he remarked, and sat long with a clouded
Late last night Mrs. Hudson, our landlady, brought up a message
that a gentleman wished to see Mr. Holmes, and that the matter
was of the utmost importance. Close at the heels of his
messenger came Cecil Barker, our friend of the moated Manor
House. His face was drawn and haggard.
"I've had bad news--terrible news, Mr. Holmes," said he.
"I feared as much," said Holmes.
"You have not had a cable, have you?"
"I have had a note from someone who has."
"It's poor Douglas. They tell me his name is Edwards; but he
will always be Jack Douglas of Benito Canon to me. I told you
that they started together for South Africa in the Palmyra three
"The ship reached Cape Town last night. I received this cable
from Mrs. Douglas this morning:
Jack has been lost overboard in gale off St. Helena. No one
knows how accident occurred.
"Ha! It came like that, did it?" said Holmes thoughtfully.
"Well, I've no doubt it was well stage-managed."
"You mean that you think there was no accident?"
"None in the world."
"He was murdered?"
"So I think also. These infernal Scowrers, this cursed
vindictive nest of criminals--"
"No, no, my good sir," said Holmes. "There is a master hand
here. It is no case of sawed-off shotguns and clumsy
six-shooters. You can tell an old master by the sweep of his
brush. I can tell a Moriarty when I see one. This crime is from
London, not from America."
"But for what motive?"
"Because it is done by a man who cannot afford to fail, one whose
whole unique position depends upon the fact that all he does must
succeed. A great brain and a huge organization have been turned
to the extinction of one man. It is crushing the nut with the
triphammer--an absurd extravagance of energy--but the nut is very
effectually crushed all the same."
"How came this man to have anything to do with it?"
"I can only say that the first word that ever came to us of the
business was from one of his lieutenants. These Americans were
well advised. Having an English job to do, they took into
partnership, as any foreign criminal could do, this great
consultant in crime. From that moment their man was doomed. At
first he would content himself by using his machinery in order to
find their victim. Then he would indicate how the matter might
be treated. Finally, when he read in the reports of the failure
of this agent, he would step in himself with a master touch. You
heard me warn this man at Birlstone Manor House that the coming
danger was greater than the past. Was I right?"
Barker beat his head with his clenched fist in his impotent
anger. "Do not tell me that we have to sit down under this? Do
you say that no one can ever get level with this king devil?"
"No, I don't say that," said Holmes, and his eyes seemed to be
looking far into the future. "I don't say that he can't be beat.
But you must give me time--you must give me time!"
We all sat in silence for some minutes while those fateful eyes
still strained to pierce the veil.