The Honorable Herbert sat at the corner of the stage, the white spats still gleaming defiance, his whole appearance, despite recent modifications, showing that he was a strange bird in a strange land. Hobart constituted himself chairman for the moment, and, pointing to Mr. Heathcote, said:
"Gentlemen, one of the ablest and most famous of our national committeemen is upon the stage, and he will be glad to address you."
The audience cheered, half in expectation and half in derision, but the Honorable Herbert, who had never made a speech in his life, rose to the cry. His figure straightened up, there was a new light in his eye, and Harley, startled, did not know Mr. Heathcote. As he advanced to the edge of the stage the shouts of derision overcame those of expectation. Harley heard the words "Dude!" "Tenderfoot!" mingled with the cries, but the Honorable Herbert gave no sign that he heard. He reached the edge of the stage, waved his hand, and then there was silence.
"Friends," he said—"I call you such, though you have not received me in a friendly manner—"
The crowd breathed hard, and some one uttered a threat, but another man commanded silence. "Give him a chance!" he said.
"You have not received me in a friendly manner," resumed the Honorable Herbert, "but I am your friend, and I am resolved that you shall be mine. I cannot make a speech to you, but I will tell you a story which perhaps will serve as well."
"Go on with the story," said the men, doubtfully. On the stage there was a general waking-up. Correspondents and politicians alike recognized the Honorable Herbert's new manner, and they bent forward with interest.
"My story," said Mr. Heathcote, "is of a man who had a fond and perhaps too generous father. This father had suffered great hardships, and he wished to save his son from them. What more natural? But perhaps, in his tenderness, he did the son a wrong. So this son grew up, not seeing the rough side of life, and finding all things easy. He lived in a part of the country that is old and rich, where what is called necessity you call luxury. He knew nothing of the world except that portion of it to which he was used. What more natural? Is not that human nature everywhere? He saw himself petted and admired, and in the course of time he felt himself a person of importance. Is not that natural, too?"
He paused and looked over the audience, which was silent and attentive, held by the interest of something unusual and the deep, almost painful, earnestness of Mr. Heathcote's manner.
"What's he coming to?" whispered Hobart.
"I don't know; wait and see," replied Harley.
"Thus the man grew up to know only a little world," the Honorable Herbert went on, "and he did not know how little it was. He was like a prisoner in a gorgeous room, who sees, without, snow and storm that cannot touch him, but who is a prisoner nevertheless. Those whom he met and with whom he lived his daily life were like him, and they thought they were the heart of this world. Everything about them was golden; they saw that people wished to hear of them, to read of them, to know all that they did, and their view of their importance grew every day. What more natural? Was not that human nature?"
"I think I see which way he is going," whispered Hobart.
Harley nodded. The audience was still and intent, hanging on the words of the speaker.
"This youth," continued Mr. Heathcote, "was sent by-and-by to Europe to have his education finished, and there all the ideas formed by his life in this country were confirmed in him. He saw a society, organized centuries ago, in which every man found a definite place for life assigned to him, in accordance with what fortune had done for him at birth. There he received deference and homage, even more than before, and the great, changing world, with its mighty tides and storms that flowed about his little group, leaving it untouched, was yet unknown to him.
"He came back to his own country, and the strong father who had sheltered him died. He was filled with an ambition to be a political power, as his father had been, and the dead hand brought him the place. Then he came into the West to join in a great political campaign, but it was his first real excursion into the real world, and his ignorance was heavy upon him."
A deep "Ah!" ran through the crowd, and Harley noticed a sudden look of respect upon the brown faces. They were beginning to see where the thread of the story would lead. Then Harley glanced at old Senator Curtis, whose lips moved tremulously for a moment. "King" Plummer was regarding the committeeman with astonished interest.
"This man, I repeat," continued Mr. Heathcote, "came West with his ignorance, I might almost say with his sins heavy upon him, but it was not his fault; it was the fault, rather, of circumstances. He seemed a strange, a grotesque figure to these people of the West, but they should not have forgotten that they also seemed strange to him. It has been said that it takes many kinds of people to make a world, and they cannot all be alike. One point of view may differ from another point of view, and both may be right. If this man did anything wrong—and he admits that he did—he did it in ignorance. There were some with him who knew both points of view who might have helped him, but who did not; instead, they made life hard; they put countless difficulties in his way; they made him feel very wretched, very mean, and very little. He saw the other point of view at last, but he was not permitted to show that he saw it; he was put in such a position that his pride would not let him."
The crowd suddenly burst into cheers. The keen Western men understood, and the mountain-slope gave back the echo, "Hurrah for Heathcote!" The Honorable Herbert's figure swelled and his eyes flashed. Grateful water was falling at last on the parched desert sands.
"But, friends," he continued, "this man, though his lesson has been rough, comes to you with no resentment. He has broken the bars of his prison; he is in the real world at last, and he comes to you asking to be one of you, to give and take with the crowd. Will you have him?"
"Yes!" a chorus of a thousand voices roared against the side of the mountain and came back in a thunderous echo.
Old Senator Curtis sprang to his feet, seized Mr. Heathcote by the hand, and shouted:
"Gentlemen, I, too, need to apologize, and also I want to introduce to you a real man, Mr. Herbert Henry Heathcote."
"Put me down for an apology, too," said "King" Plummer, in his big, booming tones.
Jimmy Grayson, on the outskirts of the crowd, returning to learn what the noise was about, saw and heard all, and murmured to a friend:
"There is now a new member of our group, and all is well again."
The conversion and adoption of Mr. Heathcote, as Hobart called it, was a pleasant incident in several senses, bringing much quiet gratification to them all, and particularly and obviously to the candidate. A hostile element, one intended by others to be hostile and interfering, had become friendly, which, of itself, was a great gain. Moreover, the smoothness of social intercourse was increased, and there, too, was a new type, adding to the variety and interest of the group.
The only one not pleased was Churchill, who had expected much from Mr. Heathcote, and who now, as he considered it, saw the committeeman turn traitor. It was not a matter that he could handle fully in his despatches to the Monitor, being too intangible to allow of bald assertion, and he was reduced to indirect statement. This not satisfying him at all, he wrote a long letter to Mr. Goodnight, both for the sake of the cause and for the sake of his own feelings, which had been much lacerated. Its production cost him a great deal of thought and labor; but he had his reward, as its perusal after completion proved to him that it was a masterpiece.
Churchill showed quite clearly to Mr. Goodnight the steady decay of the candidate's character and the lower levels to which his campaign was falling. In the security of a private letter it was not necessary for him to spare words, and Churchill spoke his mind forcibly about the manner in which Jimmy Grayson was pandering to the "common people," the "ignorant mob," the "million-footed." Churchill himself, although not old, had taken long ago the measure of these foolish common people, and he despised them, his contempt giving him a very pleasant conviction of his own superiority.
He also poured a few vials of wrath upon the head of Mr. Heathcote, whom he characterized as a coward, not able to stand up against petty persecution, and from the committeeman he passed on to others of Mr. Grayson's immediate following, taking "King" Plummer next. Mr. Plummer, in his opinion, was an excellent type of democracy run to riot. He was one of the "boys" in every sense. He was wofully wanting in personal dignity, speaking to everybody in the most familiar manner, and encouraging the same form of address towards himself; he failed utterly to recognize the superiority of some other men, and he was grossly ignorant, knowing nothing whatever of Europe and the vast work that had been done there for civilization and order. Moreover, he could not be induced, even by the well-informed, to take any interest in the Old World, and once had had the rudeness to say to Churchill himself, "What in the devil is Europe to us?"
Churchill thus subjected the views of "King" Plummer to the process of elaboration because they had made a vivid impression upon him. He and the "King" had never been able to get on together, the mountaineer treating him with rough indifference, and Churchill returning it with a hauteur which he considered very effective. To Churchill men of "King" Plummer's type seemed the greatest danger the country could have. Their lack of respect for diplomacy, their want of form and ceremony, their brutal habit of calling things by their names, were in his opinion revolutionary. He did not see how dealings with foreign nations, which always loomed very large to him, could be conducted by such men. Always in his mind was the question, What would they say in London and Vienna and Berlin? and the Monitor, which he served faithfully, confirmed him through its tone in this mental state. Still drawing his inspiration from the Monitor, he regarded a sneer as invariably the best weapon; if you were opposed to anything, the proper way to attack it was by sneering at it; then, not having used argument, you never put yourself in a position to have your arguments refuted.
From "King" Plummer, Churchill passed to some of his associates—like the Monitor, he never hesitated to befoul his own nest—and he told Mr. Goodnight how the candidate was using them, how they had wholly fallen under the spell of his undeniable charm of manner, and how they wrote to please him rather than to tell the truth.
As he sealed his long letter, Churchill felt the conscious glow of right-doing and stern self-sacrifice. He had written thus for the good of the party and the good of the country, and he was strengthened, too, by the feeling that he could not possibly be wrong. The Monitor cultivated the sense of omniscience, which it communicated in turn to all the members of its staff.
He passed Sylvia Morgan on his way from the hotel reading-room to the lobby to mail his letter, and when he met her he quickly turned down the address on the envelope, in order that she might not see it. It was done by impulse, and Churchill, for the first time, had a feeling of guilt that made him angry.
"That must be a love letter, Mr. Churchill," said Sylvia, teasing him with the easy freedom of the West. "Do you write her twenty-four pages, or only twenty?"
"I have no love except my work, Miss Morgan," replied Churchill, assuming his most grandiose air.
"Is that a permanent affection, or a passing fancy?"
Her face expressed the most eager interest, as if she could not possibly be happy until she had Churchill's answer. The words were frivolous, but her manner was most deferential, and Churchill concluded that she was expressing respect in as far as what he considered her shallow nature could do so.
"It is, I hope, a permanent passion, Miss Morgan," he replied, gravely. "There is a pleasure in doing one's duty, particularly under disagreeable circumstances, which I am happy to say I have felt more than once, and custom usually strengthens one who walks in the right path."
Still in this mood of contemplation, he regarded her, and he thought he saw a slight look of awe appear in her eyes. His opinion of her rose at once. While not able to show merit of the highest degree, she could perceive it in others, and this differentiated her from the rest of the group. Churchill allowed himself to see that she had a fine face and a slender, beautiful figure, and he felt it a pity that she should be thrown away on a crude, rough old mountaineer like Plummer.
"I often think, Miss Morgan," he said, "that if you had lived in the East awhile you could have been quite a match for any woman whom I have ever known."
"Thank you," she replied, humbly. "Oh, if I could only have lived in the East just a little while!"
"But I assure you, Miss Morgan, I have met some very remarkable women."
"I do not doubt it, and they have had an equal good-fortune."
Churchill looked suspiciously at her, but there was the same touch of deference in her manner, and he still honored her with his conversation. He permitted himself to discourse a little upon the affairs which he had embodied—"embodied" he felt was the word—in his letter, and she, with all a woman's intuition, and much of masculine reasoning power, guessed what the letter contained, although she did not know to whom it was going. Nor did she feel it wrong to be very attentive, as Churchill talked, because he was doing it of his own free will, and she had the fate of her uncle deeply at heart.
Churchill spoke of the campaign, venturing upon polite criticisms of certain features that seemed objectionable to him, and, listening to him, she confirmed her opinion that he was the personal representative with Mr. Grayson of the chief elements within the party that could cause trouble. And she felt sure, too, that the letter he held in his hand would add fuel to the fire already burning. She happened also to be present several days later when a messenger-boy handed him a telegram, and, when he opened it, he made an involuntary motion to hide it, just as he had done with the letter. She pretended not to see, and walked away, but she knew as well as if he had told her that the telegram was the reply to the letter.
Mr. Goodnight himself sent the despatch, and he thanked Churchill warmly for the very important information told so luminously in his letter. The solid and respectable portion of the party had hoped much from the presence of Mr. Heathcote, but as he had yielded to the influence of another, instead of exerting his own, it would be necessary to take additional action later. Meanwhile he requested Mr. Churchill to keep him accurately and promptly informed of everything, and Churchill at once telegraphed: "Despatch received. Will be glad to comply with your request."
Then he congratulated himself, and felt good, his complacent demeanor forming a contrast to that of several others in the party. The latter were "King" Plummer, Sylvia Morgan, and John Harley, all of whom were unhappy.
Harley was troubled by his conscience, and he could not do anything to keep it from sticking those little pins into him. Sylvia Morgan, despite herself, drew him on, not the less because his first feeling towards her had been one of hostility. She had a piquant touch, a manner full of unconscious allurement—the radiation of a pure soul, though it was—that he had never seen in any other woman, and the harder he fought against it, the more surely it conquered him. He took from his valise a copy of that old Chicago newspaper, with her picture on the front page, and wondered how he could have intimated that she was the cause of its being there. As he knew her better, he knew that she could not have done it, and he knew, too, that she would have scornfully resented any insinuation of having done so by refusing to deny it.
The "King" was unhappy, too, in his way, and that was very bad indeed for him. He had tried an effusive gallantry, and it did not seem to succeed any better than obedience to his own impulses—on the whole, rather worse; and now, not knowing what else to do, he sulked. It was not any sly sulking, but genuine, open sulking in his large, Western way, thus leaving it apparent to all that the great "King" Plummer was sad. And that meant much to the party, because in a sense it was now personally conducted by him. In his joyous mood, which was his usual mood until the present, he had a large and pervasive personality that was a wonderful help to travel and social intercourse. They missed his timely, if now and then a trifle rough, jests, his vast knowledge of the mountains, which had some good story of every town to which they came, and his infinite zest and humor, which also communicated more zest and humor to every one with him. It was a grievous day for them all when "King" Plummer began to mourn. More than one guessed the cause, but wisely they refrained from any attempt to remove it. They could do nothing but endure the gloom in silence, until the clouds passed, as they hoped they would pass.
The candidate, too, was troubled, and sought the privacy of the special car's drawing-room more than usual. Sylvia Morgan had given him a hint that attacks upon him from a certain source were likely to be renewed, and, moreover, would increase in virulence. He soon found that she was right, as the copies of the Monitor that they now obtained were frankly cynical and unbelieving. All of its despatches from the West, Churchill's as well as others, were depreciatory. The candidate was invariably made to appear in a bad light—which is an easy matter to do, in any case, without sacrifice of the truth—that is, verbally, only the spirit being changed—and the editor reinforced them with strong criticisms, in which quotations from English writers and a French phrase now and then were freely employed. The whole burden of it was, "We support this candidate; but, oh, how hard it is for us to do it, how badly we feel about it, and how much easier it would be for us to support any other man!" It also printed many contributions from readers, in all of which the contributors spoke of themselves as belonging by nature and cultivation to the select few, "the saving remnant," who really knew what was good for the country. Here much latitude of expression was allowed, as the paper was not directly responsible for what these gentlemen said. They wrote of the way in which the dignity of a great party had been destroyed by the uncouth and talkative Westerner who had been lucky enough to secure the nomination. They felt that they had been shamed in the face of the world, and more than once asked the burning and painful question, "What will Europe say?" They asked, also, if it were yet too late to amend the error, and they threw forth the suggestion that the intelligent and cultured minority within the party might refrain from voting, when election day came, or, in a pinch, might vote for the other man.
These communications were signed, sometimes, with Latin names, and sometimes with names in modern English, but always they indicated a certain sense of superiority and of detachment from the crowd on the part of the signers.
The annoyance of the candidate increased as he read copies of the Monitor, which were sent to him in numbers. He knew that the paper was the chief spokesman of an influential minority within the party, and the divergence between the majority and the minority was already manifest. It was evident, too, that it was bound to become greater, and that was why the candidate was troubled. He wished to become President; it was his great desire, and he did not seek to conceal it; he considered it a legitimate, a noble ambition, one that any American had a right to have, and he was in the first flush of his great powers, when such a position would appeal most to a strong man. Now, even when the fight, with a united party, was desperate at best, he foresaw a defection, and hot wrath rose up in his veins against Goodnight, the Monitor, and all their following.
But the worst of the whole position to a man of Grayson's open and direct temperament was the necessity to keep silent, even to dissemble, or, at least, to do that which seemed to him very near to dissembling. Although he was under so fierce a fire, he would not allow any one to find fault with Churchill for his despatches; and this was not always easy to do, because many of the local politicians, who were on the train from time to time, would grow hot at sight of the criticisms, and want to attack the writer. But Jimmy Grayson always interfered, and reminded them that it was the right of the press to speak so if it wished. Churchill still wondered, why he was not a martyr, and wasted his regrets. Mrs. Grayson and Sylvia maintained an eloquent silence.
Meanwhile, an event destined to give Churchill and the Monitor a yet greater shock was approaching.
THE THIRD DEGREE
The candidate and his company were due one night at Grayville, a brisk Colorado town, dwelling snugly in the shadow of high mountains and hopeful of a brilliant future, based upon the mines within its limits and the great pastoral country beyond, as any of its inhabitants, asked or unasked, would readily have told you. Hence there was joy in the train, from Jimmy Grayson down, because the next day was to be Sunday, a period of rest, no speeches to be made, nothing to write, but just rest, sleeping, eating, idling, bathing, talking—whatever one chose to do. Only those who have been on arduous campaigns can appreciate the luxury of such a day now and then, cutting like a sweep of green grass across the long and dusty road.
There was also quite a little group of women on the train, the wives of several Colorado political leaders having joined Sylvia and Mrs. Grayson for a while, and they, too, looked forward to a day of rest and the restoration of their toilets.
"They tell me that Grayville has one of the best hotels in the mountains," said Barton to Harley, his brother correspondent. "That you can get a dinner in a dozen courses, if you want it, and every course good; that it has real porcelain-lined bath-tubs, and beds sure to cure the worst case of insomnia on earth. Do you think this improbable, this extravagant but most fascinating tale can be true, Harley?"
"I live in hope," replied Harley.
"Jimmy Grayson has been here before," interrupted Hobart, "and he says it's true, every word of it; if Jimmy Grayson vouches for a thing, that settles it; and here is a copy of the Grayville Argus; it has to be a pretty good town that can publish as smart a daily as this."
He handed a neat sheet to Barton, who laughed.
"There speaks the great detective," he said. "You know, Harley, how Hobart is always arguing from the effect back to the cause."
Hobart, in fact, was not a political writer, but a "murder mystery" man, and the best of his kind in New York, but the regular staff correspondent of his paper, the Leader, being ill, he had been sent in his place. He was a Harvard graduate and a gentleman with a taste for poetry, but he had a peculiar mind, upon which a murder mystery acted as an irritant—he could not rest until he had solved it—and his paper always put him on the great cases, such as those in which a vast metropolis like New York abounds. Now he was restless and discontented; the tour seemed to him the mere reporting of speeches and obvious incidents that everybody saw; there was nothing to unravel, nothing that called for the keen edge of a fine intellect.
"Grayville, with all its advantages as a place of rest, is sure to be like the other mountain towns," he said, somewhat sourly—"the same houses, the same streets, the same people, I might almost say the same mountains. There will be nothing unusual, nothing out of the way."
Harley had taken the paper from Barton's hands and was reading it.
"At any rate, if Grayville is not unusual, it is to have an unusual time," he interrupted.
"It is to hear Jimmy Grayson speak Monday, and it is going to hang a man Tuesday. See, the two events get equal advance space, two columns each, on the front page."
He handed the paper to Hobart, who looked at it a little while and then dropped it with an air of increasing discontent.
"That may mean something to the natives," he said; "it may be an indication to them that their place is becoming important—a metropolis in which things happen—but it is nothing to me. This hanging case is stale and commonplace; it is perfectly clear; a young fellow named Boyd is to be hanged for killing his partner, another miner; no doubt about his guilt, plenty of witnesses against him, his own denial weak and halting—in fact, half a confession; jury out only five minutes; whole thing as bald and flat as this plain through which we are running."
He tapped with his finger on the dusty car-window, and his expression was so gloomy that the others could not restrain a laugh.
"Cheer up, old man," said Barton. "Four more hours and we are in Grayville; just think of that wonderful hotel, with its more wonderful beds and its yet more wonderful kitchen."
The hotel was all that they either expected or hoped, and the dawn brought a beautiful Sunday, disclosing a pretty little frontier city with its green, irrigated valley on one side and the brown mountains, like a protecting wall, on the other. Harley slept late, and after breakfast came out upon the veranda to enjoy the luxury of a rocking-chair, with the soft October air around him and the majesty of the mountains before him. He hoped to find Sylvia there, but neither she nor any of the ladies was present. Instead, there was a persistent, inquiring spirit abroad which would not let him rest, and this spirit belonged to Hobart, the "mystery" man.
Harley had not been enjoying the swinging ease of the rocking-chair five minutes before Hobart, the light of interest in his eyes, pounced upon him.
"Harley, old fellow," he exclaimed, "this is the first place we've struck in which Jimmy Grayson is not the overwhelming attraction."
"The hanging, I suppose," said Harley, carelessly.
"Of course. What else could there be? It occurred to me last night, when I was reading the paper, that I might scare up a feature or two in the case, and I was out of my bed early this morning to try. It was a forlorn hope, I'll admit, but anything was better than nothing, and I've had my reward. I've had my reward, old fellow!"
He chuckled outright in his glee. Harley smiled. Hobart always interested and amused him. The instinctive way in which he unfailingly rose to a "case" showed his natural genius for that sort of thing.
"I haven't seen Boyd yet," continued Hobart, excitedly, "but I've found out this much already—there are people in Grayville who believe Boyd innocent. It is true that he and Wofford—the murdered man—had been quarrelling in Grayville, and Boyd was taken at the shanty with the blood-stained knife in his hand; but that doesn't settle it."
Harley could not restrain an incredulous laugh. "It seems to me those two circumstances, omitting the other proof, are pretty convincing," he said.
Hobart flushed. "You just wait until I finish," he said, somewhat defiantly. "Now Boyd, as I have learned, was a good-hearted, generous young fellow. The quarrel amounted to very little, and probably had been patched up before they reached their shack."
"That is a view which the jury evidently could not take."
"Juries are often wooden-headed."
"Of course—in the eyes of superior people."
"Now don't you try to be satirical—it's not your specialty. I mean to finish the tale. If you read the paper, you will recall that the shanty where the murder occurred was only a short distance from the mountain-road, and there were three witnesses—Bill Metzger, a dissolute cowboy who was passing, and who, attracted by Wofford's death-cry, ran to the cabin and found Boyd, blood-stained knife in hand, bending over the murdered man; Ed Thorpe, a tramp miner, who heard the same cry and who came up two or three minutes later; and, finally, Tim Williams, a town idler, who was on the mountain-side, hunting. The other two heard him fire his gun a few hundred yards away, and called to him. When he arrived, Boyd was still dazed and muttering to himself, as if overpowered by the horror of his crime."
"If that isn't conclusive, then nothing is," said Harley, decisively.
"It is not conclusive; there was no real motive for Boyd to do such a thing."
"To whom did the knife belong?"
"It was a long bread-knife that the two used at the cabin."
"There you are! Proof on proof!"
"Now, you keep silent, Harley, and come with me, like a good fellow, and see Boyd in the jail. If you don't, I swear I'll pester the life out of you for a week."
Harley rose reluctantly, as he knew that Hobart would keep his word. He believed it the idlest of errands, but the jail was only a short distance from them, and the business would not take long. On the way Hobart talked to him about the three witnesses. Metzger, the cowboy, on the day of the murder, had been riding in from a ranch farther down the valley; the other two had been about the town until a short time before the departure of Boyd and Wofford for their cabin.
They reached the jail, a conspicuous stone building in the centre of the town, and were shown into the condemned man's cell. The jailer announced them with the statement:
"Tim, here's two newspaper fellers from the East wants to see you."
The prisoner was lying on a pallet in the corner of his cell, and he raised himself on his elbow when Harley and Hobart entered.
"You are writers for the papers?" he said.
"Yes, clean from New York; they are with Jimmy Grayson," the jailer answered for them.
"I don't know as I've got anythin' to say to you," continued the prisoner. "I 'ain't got no picture to give you, an' if I had one I wouldn't give it. I don't want my hangin' to be all wrote up in the papers, with pictures an' things, too, jest to please the people in the East. If I've got to die, I'd rather do it quiet and peaceful, among the boys I know. I ain't no free circus."
"We did not come to write you up; it was for another purpose," Harley hastened to say.
He was surprised at the youth of the prisoner, who obviously was not over twenty-one, a mere boy, with good features and a look half defiant, half appealing.
"Well, what did you come for, then?" asked the boy.
Harley was unable to answer this question, and he looked at Hobart as if to indicate the one who would reply. The "mystery" man did not seek to evade his responsibility in the least, and promptly said:
"Mr. Boyd, I think you will acquit us of any intention to intrude upon you. It was the best of motives that brought us to you. I have always had an interest in cases of this sort, and when I heard of yours in the train, coming here, I received an impression then which has been strengthened on my arrival in Grayville. I believe you are innocent."
The boy looked up. A sudden flash of gratitude, almost of hope, appeared in his eyes.
"I am!" he cried. "God knows I didn't kill Bill Wofford. He wuz my partner and we wuz like brothers. We did quarrel that mornin'—I don't deny it—and we both had been liquorin'; but I'd never hev struck him a blow of any kind, least of all a foul one."
"Was it not true that you were found with the bloody knife in your hand, standing over his yet warm body?" asked Hobart.
"It's so, but it was somebody else that used the knife. Bill went on ahead, and when I come into the place I saw him on the floor an' the knife in 'im. I was struck all a-heap, but I did what anybody else would 'a' done—I pulled the knife out. And then the fellers come in on me. I was rushed into a trial right away. Of course, I couldn't tell a straight tale; the horror of it was still in my brain, and the effect o' the liquor, too. I got all mixed up—but before God, gen'lemen, I didn't do it."
His tone was strong with sincerity, and his expression was rather that of grief than remorse. Harley, who had had a long experience with all kinds of men in all kinds of situations, did not believe that he was either bad or guilty. Hobart spoke his thoughts aloud.
"I don't think you did it," he said.
"Everybody believes I did," said Boyd, with pathetic resignation, "and I am to be hanged for it. So what does it matter now?"
"I am going to look for the guilty man," said Hobart, decidedly.
Boyd shook his head and lay back on his pallet. The others, with a few words of hope, withdrew, and, when they were outside, Harley said:
"Hobart, were you not wrong to sow the seed of hope in that man's mind when there is no hope?"
"There is hope," replied Hobart; "I have a plan. Don't ask me anything about it—it's vague yet—but I may work it."
Harley glanced at him, and, seeing that he was intense and eager, with his mind concentrated upon this single problem, resolved to leave him to his own course; so he spent part of the day, a wonderful autumn Sunday, in a rocking-chair on the piazza of the hotel, and another part walking with Sylvia. He told her of the murder case and Hobart's action, and her prompt sympathy was aroused.
"Suppose he should really be innocent?" she said. "It would be an awful thing to hang an innocent man."
"So it would. He certainly does not look like a bad fellow, but you know that those who are not bad are sometimes guilty. In any event I fail to see what Hobart can do."
After the walk, which was all too brief, he returned to his rocking-chair on the piazza, but Grayville, being a small place, he knew everything that was going on within it, by means of a sort of mental telepathy that the born correspondent acquires. He knew, for instance, that Hobart was all the time with one or the other of the three witnesses—Metzger, Thorpe, or Williams—for the moment the most important persons in Grayville by reason of their conspicuous connection with the great case.
When Hobart returned, the edge of the sun was behind the highest mountains; but he took no notice of Harley, walking past him without a word and burying himself somewhere in the interior of the hotel. Harley learned subsequently that he went directly to Jimmy Grayson's room, and remained there at least half an hour, in close conference with the candidate himself.
The next day was a break in the great campaign. Owing to train connections, which are not trifles in the Far West, it was necessary, in order to complete the schedule, to spend an idle day at some place, and Grayville had been selected as the most comfortable and therefore the most suitable. And so the luxurious rest of the group was continued for twenty-four hours for all—save Hobart.
Harley had never before seen the "mystery" man so eager and so full of suppressed excitement. He frequently passed his comrades, but he rarely spoke to them, or even noticed them; his mind was concentrated now upon a great affair in which they would be of no avail. Harley learned, however, that he was still much in the company of the three witnesses, although he asked him no questions. Late in the afternoon he saw him alone and walking rapidly towards the hotel. It seemed to Harley that Hobart's head was borne somewhat high and in a manner exultantly, as if he were overcoming obstacles, and he was about to ask him again in regard to his progress, but Hobart once more sped by without a word and went into the hotel. Harley learned later that he held a secret conference with Jimmy Grayson.
In the evening everybody went to the opera-house to hear the candidate, but on the way Hobart said, casually, to Harley: "Old man, I don't think I'll sit in front to-night. I wish you would let me have your notes afterwards." "Of course," replied Harley, as he passed down the aisle and found his chair at the correspondents' table on the stage.
There Harley watched the fine Western audience come into the theatre and find seats, with some noise but no disorder, a noise merely of men calling each other by name, and commenting in advance on what Jimmy Grayson would say. The other correspondents entered one by one—all except Hobart, and took their seats on the stage. Sylvia and Mrs. Grayson were with some ladies in a box. Harley looked for Hobart, and two or three times he saw him near the main entrance of the building. Once he was talking with a brown and longish-haired youth, and Harley, by casual inquiry, learned that it was Metzger, the cowboy. A man not greatly different in appearance, to whom Hobart spoke occasionally, was Thorpe, the tramp miner, and yet another, a tall fellow with a bulging underlip, Harley learned, was Williams, the third witness.
Evidently the witnesses would attend Jimmy Grayson's meeting, which was natural, however, as every body in Grayville was sure to come, and Harley also surmised that Hobart had taken upon himself the task of instructing them as to the methods, the manner, and the greatness of the candidate. He had done such a thing himself, upon occasion, the Western interest in Jimmy Grayson being so great that often appeals were made to the correspondents for information about him more detailed than the newspapers gave.
Harley studied the faces of the three witnesses as attentively as the distance and the light would admit, but they remained near the door, evidently intending to stand there, back to the wall, a plan sometimes adopted by those who may wish to slip out quietly before a speech is finished. Harley, the trained observer, saw that Hobart, without their knowledge, was shepherding them as the shepherd gently makes his sheep converge upon a common spot.
The correspondent could draw no inference from the faces of the three men, which were all of usual Western types, without anything special to distinguish them, and his attention turned to the audience. He had received an intimation that Jimmy Grayson intended to deliver that evening a speech of unusual edge and weight. He would indict the other party in the most direct and forcible manner, pointing out that its sins were moral as well as political, but that a day of reckoning would come, when those who profited by such evil courses must pay the forfeit; it was a part of the law of nature, which was also the law of retribution.
The candidate was a little late, and the opera-house was filled to the last seat, with many people standing in the aisles and about the doors. Harley, glancing again at the rows and rows of faces, saw the three witnesses almost together, and just to the right of the main entrance, where they leaned against the wall, facing the stage. Hobart fluttered about them, holding them in occasional talk, and Harley was just about to look again, and with increasing attention, but at that instant the great audience, with a common impulse and a kind of rushing sound, like the slide of an avalanche, rose to its feet. The candidate, coming from the wings, had just appeared upon the stage, and the welcome was spontaneous and overwhelming. Jimmy Grayson was always a serious man, but Harley noticed that evening, when he first appeared before the footlights, that his face looked tense and eager, as if he felt that a great task which he must assume lay just before him.
He wasted no time, but went at once to the heart of his subject, the crime of a great party, the wicked ways by which it had attained its wicked ends, and from the opening sentence he had his big audience with him, heart and soul.
The indictment was terrible: in a masterly way he summed up the charges and the proof, as a general marshals his forces for battle, and the crowd, so clear were his words and so strong his statements, could see them all marching in unison, like the battalions and brigades, towards the common point, the exposed centre of the enemy. The faces of Sylvia and Mrs. Grayson, in the box, glowed with pride.
Again and again, at the pauses between sentences, the cheers of the audience rose and echoed, and then Harley would glance once more towards the door; there, always, he saw Hobart with the three witnesses, gathered under his wing, as it were, all looking raptly and intently at Jimmy Grayson.
The candidate, by-and-by, seemed to concentrate his attention upon the four men at the door, and spoke directly to them. Harley saw one of the group move as if about to leave, but the hand of Hobart fell upon his arm and he stayed. Harley, too, was conscious presently of an unusual effect having the quality of weirdness. The lights seemed to go down in the whole opera-house, except near the door. Jimmy Grayson and the correspondents were in a semi-darkness, but Hobart and his three new friends beside the door stood in a light that was almost dazzling through contrast. The three witnesses now seemed to be fixed in that spot, and their eyes never wandered from Jimmy Grayson's face.
Familiar as he was with the candidate's oratorical powers, Harley was surprised at his strength of invective that evening. He had proved the guilt, the overwhelming guilt, of the opposition party, and he was describing the punishment, a punishment sure to come, although many might deem it impossible:
"But there would be a day of judgment; justice might sleep for a while, but she must awake at last, and, the longer vengeance was delayed, the more terrible it became. Then woe to the guilty."
The audience was deeply impressed by the eloquence of Jimmy Grayson, coinciding so well with their own views. Harley saw a look of awe appear upon the faces of many—Sylvia's face was pale—and the house, save for the voice of Jimmy Grayson, was as still as death. Harley felt the effect himself, and the weird, unreal quality that he observed before increased. Once, when he went over to make some notes, he noticed that the words written a half-hour before were scarcely visible, but, when he glanced at the opposite end of the theatre, there stood Hobart and the three witnesses, gathered about him, in the very heart of a dazzling light that showed every changing look on the faces of the four. Harley's gaze lingered upon them, and again he tried to find something peculiar, something distinctive in at least one of the three witnesses, but, as before, he failed; they were to him just ordinary Westerners following with rapt attention every word and gesture of Jimmy Grayson.
The candidate went on with his story of the consequences; the crime had been committed; the profits had been reaped and enjoyed, but slumbering justice, awake at last, was at hand; it was time for the wicked to tremble, the price must be repaid, doubly, trebly, fivefold. Now he personified the guilty party, the opposition, which he treated as an individual; he compared it to a man who had committed a deed of horror, but who long had hidden his crime from the world; others might be suspected of it, others might be punished for it, but he could never forget that he himself was guilty; though he walked before the world innocent, the sense of it would always be there, it would not leave him night or day; every moment, even, before the full exposure it would be inflicting its punishment upon him; it would be useless to seek escape or to think of it, because the longer the guilty victim struggled the more crushing his punishment would be. The correspondents forgot to write, and, like the audience, hung upon every word and gesture of Jimmy Grayson, as he made his great denunciatory speech; they felt that he was stirred by something unusual, that some great and extraordinary motive was impelling him, and they followed eagerly where he led them.
Harley saw the look of awe on the faces of the audience grow and deepen. With their overwhelming admiration of Jimmy Grayson, they seemed to have conceived, too, a sudden fear of him. His long, accusing finger was shaken in their faces, he was not alone denouncing a guilty man, but he was seeking out their own hidden sins, and presently he would point at them his revealing finger.
Hobart stood with the three witnesses beside the door, still in the dazzling light. Harley was sure that not one of the four had moved in the last half-hour, and Jimmy Grayson still held them all with his gaze. Harley suddenly saw something like a flash of light, a signal glance, as it were, pass between him and Hobart, and the next instant the voice of the candidate swelled into greater and more accusing volume.
"Now you behold the guilty man!" said Jimmy Grayson. "I have shown him to you. He seems to the world full of pride and power, but he knows that justice is pursuing him, and that it will overtake him; he trembles, he cowers, he flees, but the avenging footsteps are behind him, and the sound of them rings in his frightened ears like a death-knell to his soul. A wall rises across his way. He can flee no farther; he turns back from the wall, raises his terror-stricken eyes, and there before him the hand of fate is raised; its finger points at him, and a terrible voice proclaims, 'Thou art the guilty man!"
The form of Jimmy Grayson swelled and towered, his hand was raised, the long forefinger pointed directly at the four who stood in the dazzling light, and the hall resounded with the tremendous echoes of his cry, "Thou art the guilty man!"
As if lifted by a common impulse, the great audience rose with an indescribable sound and faced about, following Jimmy Grayson's long, accusing finger.
The man Williams threw his arm before his face, as if to protect himself, and, with a terrible cry, "Yes, I did it!" fell in a faint on the floor.
They were all on the train the next day, and Harley was reading from a copy of the Grayville Argus an account of Boyd's release and the ovation that the people had given him.
"How did you trace the crime to Williams, Hobart?" asked Harley.
"I didn't trace it; it was Jimmy Grayson who brought it out by giving him 'the third degree,'" replied Hobart, though there was a quiet tone of satisfied pride in his voice. "You know that in New York, when they expose a man at Police Headquarters to some such supreme test, they call it giving him 'the third degree,' and that's what we did here. It seems that Williams was in the saloon when Boyd and his partner quarrelled, and he knew they had a lot of gold from the claim in their cabin. His object was robbery. When he saw Wofford go on ahead, he followed him quickly to the cabin, and killed him with the knife which lay on a table. He expected to have time to get the gold before Boyd came, but Boyd arrived so soon that he was barely able to slip out. Then Williams, cunning and bold enough, came back as if he were a chance passer-by, and had been called by Metzger and Thorpe. The other two were as innocent as you or I.
"I could not make up my mind which of the three was guilty, and I induced Jimmy Grayson to help me. It was right in line with his speech—no harm done even if the test had failed—and then the man who managed the lights at the opera-house, a friend of Boyd's, helped me with the stage effects. Jimmy Grayson, of course, knew nothing about that. I borrowed the idea. I have read somewhere that Aaron Burr by just such a device once convicted a guilty man who was present in court as a witness when another was being tried for the crime."
"Well, you have saved his life to an innocent man," said Harley.
"And I have cost a guilty one his." And then, after a moment's pause, Hobart added, with a little shiver:
"But I wouldn't go through such an ordeal again at any price. When Jimmy Grayson thundered out, 'Thou art the guilty man,' it was all I could do to keep from crying, 'Yes, I am, I am!'"
THE DEAD CITY
As they left the hall, Churchill overtook Harley and tapped him on the shoulder. Harley turned and saw an expression of supreme disgust on the face of the Monitor's correspondent, but Harley himself only felt amusement. He knew that Churchill meant attack.
"I never saw anything more theatrical and ill-timed," said Churchill. "Of course, it was all prearranged in some manner. But the idea of a Presidential nominee taking such a risk!"
"He has saved an innocent man's life, and I call that no small achievement."
"Because the trick was successful; but it was a trick, all the same, and it was beneath the dignity of a Presidential nominee."
"There was but little risk of any kind," said Harley, shortly, "and even had it been larger, it would have been right to take it, when the stake was a man's life. Churchill, you are hunting for faults, you know you are, or you would not be so quick to see them."
Churchill made no audible reply, but Harley could see that he was unconvinced, and, in fact, he sent his newspaper a lurid despatch about it, taking events out of their proper proportion, and hence giving to them a wholly unjustifiable conclusion. But Sylvia Morgan was devotedly loyal to her uncle. There were few deeds of his of which she approved more warmly than this of saving Boyd's life, and Hobart, the master spirit in it, she thanked in a way that made him turn red with pleasure. But the discussion of the whole affair was brief, because fast upon its heels trod another event which stirred them yet more deeply.
When the special train was at Blue Earth, in Montana, among the high mountains, there came to Jimmy Grayson an appeal, compounded of pathos and despair, that he could not resist. It was from the citizens of Crow's Wing, forty miles deeper into the yet higher and steeper mountains, and they recounted, in mournful words, how no candidate ever came to see them; all passed them by as either too few or too difficult, and they had never yet listened to the spell of oratory; of course, they did not expect the nominee of a great party for the Presidency of the United States to make the hard trip and speak to them, when even the little fellows ignored their existence; nevertheless, they wished to inform him in writing that they were alive, and on the map, at least, they made as big a dot as either Helena or Butte.
The candidate smiled when he read the letter. The tone of it moved him. Moreover, he was not deficient in policy—no man who rises is—and while Crow's Wing had but few votes, Montana was close, and a single state might decide the Union.
"Those people at Crow's Wing do not expect me, but I shall go to them," he said to his train.
"Why, it's a full day's journey and more, over the roughest and rockiest road in America," said Mr. Curtis, the state senator from Wyoming, who was still with them.
"I shall go," said Jimmy Grayson, decisively. "There is a break here in our schedule, and this trip will fit in very nicely."
The others were against it, but they said nothing more in opposition, knowing that it would be of no avail. Obliging, generous, and soft-hearted, the candidate, nevertheless, had a temper of steel when his mind was made up, and the others had learned not to oppose it. But all shunned the journey with him to Crow's Wing except Harley, Mr. Plummer, Mr. Herbert Heathcote—because there is no zeal like that of the converted—and one other.
That "other" was Sylvia, and she insisted upon going, refusing to listen to all the good arguments that were brought against it. "I know that I am only a woman—a girl," she said, "but I know, too, that I've lived all my life in the mountains, and I understand them. Why, I've been on harder journeys than this with daddy before I was twelve years old. Haven't I, daddy?" As she had predicted, she forgot his request not to call him "daddy."
Thus appealed to, Mr. Plummer was fain to confess the truth, though with reluctance. However, he said, rather weakly:
"But you don't know what kind of weather we'll have, Sylvia."
Then she turned upon him in a manner that terrified him.
"Now, daddy, if I couldn't get up a better argument than that I'd quit," she said. "Weather! weather! weather! to an Idaho girl! Suppose it should rain, I'm made of neither sugar nor salt, and I won't melt. I've been rained on a thousand times. Aunt Anna says I may go if Uncle James is willing, and he's willing—he has to be; besides, he's my chaperon. If you don't say 'yes,' Uncle James, I shall take the train and go straight home."
They were forced to consent, and Harley was glad that she insisted, because he liked to know that she was near, and he thought that she looked wonderfully well on horseback.
The going of Harley with the candidate was taken as a matter of course by everybody. Silent, tactful, and strong, he had grown almost imperceptibly into a confidential relationship with the nominee, and Mr. Grayson did not realize how much he relied upon the quiet man who could not make a speech but who was so ready of resource. As for Mr. Heathcote, being an Easterner, he wished to see the West in all its aspects.
They started at daybreak, guided by a taciturn mountaineer, Jim Jones, called simply Jim for the sake of brevity, and, the hour being so early, few were present to see them ride up the hanging slope and into the mighty wilderness.
But it was a glorious dawn. The young sun was gilding the sea of crags and crests with burnished gold and the air had the sparkle of youth. Mr. Heathcote threw back his slightly narrow chest, and, drawing three deep breaths of just the same length, he said, "I would not miss this trip for a thousand dollars!"
"And I wouldn't for two thousand!" exclaimed Sylvia, joyously.
Harley said nothing, but he, too, looked out upon the morning world with a kindling eye. Far below them was a narrow valley, a faint green line down the centre showing where the little river ran, with the irrigated farms on either side, like beads on a string. Above them towered the peaks, white with everlasting snow.
"A fine day for our ride," said the candidate to Jim.
"Looks like it now, though I never gamble on mountain weather," replied the taciturn man.
But the promise held good for a long time, the sun still shining and the winds coming fresh and brisk along the crests and ridges. The trail wound about the slopes and steadily ascended. Vegetation ceased, and before them stretched the bare rocks. Harley knew very well now that only the sunshine saved them from grimness and desolation. The loneliness became oppressive. Even Sylvia was silent. It was the wilderness in reality as well as seeming; nowhere did they see a miner's hut or a hunter's cabin, only nature in her most savage form.
The little group of horsemen forgot to talk. The candidate's head was bowed and his brow bent. Clearly he was immersed in thought. Mr. Heathcote, unused to such arduous journeys, leaned forward in his saddle in a state of semi-exhaustion. But Sylvia, although a girl, was accustomed to the mountains, and she showed few signs of fatigue. Harley said at last to the guide, "A wild country, one of the wildest, I think, that I ever saw."
"Yes, a wild country, and a bad 'un, too," responded Jim. "See off there to the left?"
He pointed to a maze of bare and rocky ridges, and when he saw that Harley's gaze was following his long forefinger, he continued:
"I say it's a bad 'un, because over there Red Perkins and his gang of horse-thieves, outlaws, and cut-throats used to have their hiding-place. It's a tangled-up stretch o' mountain, so wild, so rocky, so full of caves that they could have hid there till jedgment-day from all Montana. Yes, that's where they used to hang out."
"Yes, 'cause I 'ain't heard much uv them fur some time. They came down in the valley and tried to stampede them new blooded horses from Kentucky on Sifton's ranch, but Sifton and his men was waitin', and when the smoke cleared off most uv the gang was wiped out. Red and two or three uv his fellers got away, but I 'ain't heard uv 'em since. Guess they've scattered."
"Wisest thing they could do," said Harley.
The guide made no answer, and they plodded on in silence until about two o'clock in the afternoon, when they stopped in a little cove to eat luncheon and refresh their horses.
It was the first grateful spot they had seen in hours. A brook fed by the snows above formed a pool in the hollow, and then, overflowing it, dropped down the mountain-wall. But in this sheltered nook and around the life-giving water green grass was growing, and there was a rim of goodly trees. The horses, when their riders dismounted, grazed eagerly, and the riders themselves lay upon the grass and ate with deep content.
Sylvia talked little. She seemed thoughtful, and, when neither of them was looking, she glanced now and then at Harley and "King" Plummer. Had they noticed they would have seen a shade of sadness on her face. Mr. Plummer did not speak, and it was because there was a growing anxiety in his mind. He was sorry now that they had let Sylvia come, and he silently called himself a weak fool.
"Shall we reach Crow's Wing by dark?" asked the candidate of the guide.
Jim had risen, and, standing at the edge of the cove, was gazing out over the rolling sea of mountains. Harley noticed a troubled look on his face.
"If things go right we kin," he replied, "but I ain't shore that things will go right."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you see that brown spot down there in the southwest, just a-top the hills? Waal, it's a cloud, an' it's comin' this way. Clouds, you know, always hev somethin' in 'em."
"That is to say we shall have rain," said the candidate. "Let it come. We have been rained on too often to mind such a little thing—eh, Sylvia? You see, I take you at your word."
The girl nodded.
"I don't think it'll be rain," said the guide. "We are so high up here that more 'n likely it'll be snow. An' when there's a snow-storm in the mountains you can't go climbin' along the side o' cliffs."
The others, too, looked grave now. Perhaps, with the exception of "King" Plummer, they had not foreseen such a difficulty, but the guide came to their relief with more cheering words—after all, the cloud might not continue to grow, "an' it ain't worth while to holler afore we're hit."
This seemed sound philosophy to the others, and, dismissing their cares, they started again, much refreshed by their stop in the little cove. The road now grew rougher, the guide leading and the rest following in single-file, Sylvia just ahead of Harley. By-and-by their cares returned. Harley glanced towards the southwest and saw there the same cloud, but now much bigger, blacker, and more threatening. The sunshine was gone, and the wrinkled surface of the mountains was gray and sombre. The air had grown cold, and down among the clefts there was a weird, moaning wind. Harley glanced at the guide, and noticed that his face was now decidedly anxious. But the correspondent said nothing. Part of his strength lay in his ability to wait, and he knew that the guide would speak in good time.
"Don't any of you be discouraged because of me," said Sylvia; "I'm not afraid of storms—even snowstorms. Am I not a good mountaineer, daddy?"
The "King" nodded his head. He knew that she was a better mountaineer than any in the party except the guide and himself, and he felt less alarm for her than was in the mind of Grayson or Harley.
But Harley was thrilled by her courage. Here, amid these wild mountains, with the threat of darkness and the storm, she was unafraid and still feminine. "This is a woman to be won," was his unuttered thought.
Another hour passed, and the air grew darker and colder. Then Jim stopped.
"Gentlemen," he said, "there's a snow-storm comin' soon. I didn't expect one so early, even on the mountains, but it's comin', anyhow, an' if we keep on for Crow's Wing they'll have to dig our bones out o' the meltin' drifts next summer. We've got to make for Queen City."
"Queen City!" exclaimed Mr. Heathcote. "I didn't know there was another town anywhere near here."
"She's a-standin' all the same," replied the guide, brusquely, "an' I wouldn't never hev started on the trip to Crow's Wing if there hadn't been such a stoppin'-place betwixt an' between, in case o' trouble with the weather. An' let me whisper to you, Queen City's quite a sizable place. We'll pass the night there. It's got a fine hotel, the finest an' biggest in the mountains."
He looked grimly at Mr. Heathcote, as much as to say, "Ask me as much more as you please, but I'll answer you nothing." Then he added, glancing at Sylvia:
"It's a wild night for a gal."
"But you said that the biggest and finest hotel in the mountains was waiting for me," replied Sylvia, with spirit.
The guide bowed his head admiringly, and said no more.
Something cold and damp touched Harley's cheek. He looked up, and another flake of snow, descending softly, settled upon his face. The clouds rolled over them, heavy and dark, and shut out all the mountains save a little island where they stood. The snow, following the first few flakes, fell softly but rapidly.
"It's Queen City or moulderin' in the drifts till next summer!" cried Jim, and he turned his horse into a side-path. The others followed without a word, willing to accept his guidance through the greatest peril they had yet faced in an arduous campaign. Despite the danger, which he knew to be heavy and pressing, and his anxiety for Sylvia, Harley's curiosity was aroused, and he wished to ask more of Queen City, but the saturnine face of the guide was not inviting. Nevertheless, he risked one question.
"How far is this place, Queen City?" he asked.
"Bout two miles," replied Jim, with what seemed to Harley a derisive grin, "an' it's tarnal lucky for us that it's so near."
Harley said no more, but he was satisfied with nothing in the guide's reply save the fact that the town was only two miles away; any shelter would be welcome, because he saw now that a snow-storm on the wild mountains was a terrible thing.
The guide led on; Jimmy Grayson, with bent head, followed; Mr. Heathcote, shrunk in his saddle, came next; then "King" Plummer; and after him Sylvia and Harley, who were as nearly side by side as the narrow path would permit.
"It won't be far, Miss Morgan," said Harley; the others could not hear.
She felt rather than heard the note of apprehension in his voice, and she knew it was for her. A thrill of singular sweetness passed over her. It was pleasant for some one, the one, to be afraid for her sake. She looked out at the driving snow and the dim peaks, but she had no fear for herself. She was glad, too, that she had come.
"I know the way of the mountains," she replied. "The guide will take us in safety to this city of his, of which he speaks so highly."
Harley saw her smile through the snow. The others rode on before, heads bowed, and did not look back. He and she felt a powerful sense of comradeship, and once, when he leaned over to detach her bridle rein from the horse's mane, he touched her hand, which was so soft and warm. Again the electric thrill passed through them both, and they looked into each other's eyes.
Now and then the vast veil of snow parted before the wind, as if cleft down the centre by a sword-blade, and Harley and Sylvia beheld a grand and awful sight. Before them were all the peaks and ridges, rising in white cones and pillars against the cloudy sky, and the effect was of distance and sublimity. From the clefts and ravines came a desolate moaning. Harley felt that he was much nearer to the eternal here than he could ever be in the plains. Then the rent veil would close again, and he saw only his comrades and the rocks twenty feet away.
They turned around the base of a cliff rising hundreds of feet above them, and Harley caught the dull-red glare of brick walls, showing through the falling snow. He was ready to raise a shout of joy. This he knew was Queen City, lying snugly in its wide valley. There was the typical, single mountain street, with its row of buildings on either side; the big one near-by was certainly the hotel, and the other big one farther on was as certainly the opera-house. But nobody was in the streets, and the whole place was dark; not a light appeared at a single window, although the night had come.
"We're here," Harley said to Sylvia, "but I confess that this does not look promising. Certainly there is nobody running to meet us."
She was gazing with curiosity.
"It's like no other town that I ever saw," she said.
Harley rode up by the side of the guide.
"The place looks lonesome," he said.
"Maybe they've all gone to bed; there ain't anythin' here to keep 'em awake," replied the guide, with the old puzzling and derisive smile.
Harley turned coldly away. He did not like to have any one make fun of him, and that he saw clearly was the guide's intention. Jimmy Grayson was still thinking of things far off, and Mr. Heathcote, chilled and shrunk, seemed to have lost the power of speech. "King" Plummer, for reasons of his own, was silent too.
The guide rode slowly towards the large brick building that Harley took to be the hotel, and, at that moment, the snow slackened for a little while; the last rays of the setting sun struck upon the dun walls and gilded them with red tracery; some panes of glass gave back the ruddy glare, but mostly the windows were bare and empty, like eyeless sockets. Harley looked farther, and all the other buildings—the opera-house, the stores, and the residences—were the same, desolate and decaying. About the place were snow-covered heaps, evidently the refuse of mining operations, but they saw no human being.
The effect upon all save the guide was startling. Harley saw the look of chilled wonder grow on Jimmy Grayson's face. Mr. Heathcote raised himself in his saddle and stared, uncomprehending. Harley had been deep in the desert, but never before had he seen such desolation and ruin, because here was the body, but all life had gone from it. He felt as one alone with ghosts. Sylvia was silent, her confidence gone for the moment. The guide laughed dryly.
"You guessed it," he said, looking at Harley. "It's a dead city. Queen City has been as dead as Adam these half-dozen years. When the mines played out, it died; there was no earthly use for Queen City any longer, and by-and-by everybody went away. But I've seen the old town when it was alive. Five thousand people here. Money a-flowin', drinks passin' over the counter one way and the coin the other, the gamblin'-houses an' the theatre chock-full, an' women, any kind you please. But there ain't a soul left now."
The snow thinned still more, and the buildings rose before them gaunt and grim.
"We'll stop to-night at the Grand Hotel—that is, if they ain't too much crowded; it'll be nice for the lady," said the guide, who had had his little joke and who now wished to serve his employers as best he could; "but first we'll take the horses into the dinin'-room; nobody will object; I've done it afore."
He rode towards a side-door, but over the main entrance Harley saw in tessellated letters the words "Grand Hotel," and he tried to shake off the feeling of weirdness that it gave him.
The door to the dining-room, which was almost level with the ground, was gone, and with some driving the horses were persuaded to enter. They were tethered there, sheltered from the storm, and, when they moved, their feet rumbled hollowly on the wooden floor. Sylvia, the candidate, and his friends, driven by the same impulse, turned back into the snow and re-entered the house by the front door.
They passed into a wide hall, and at the far end they saw the clerk's desk. Lying upon it were some fragments of paper fastened to a chain, and Harley knew that it was what was left of the hotel register. It spoke so vividly of both life and death that the five stopped.
"Would you like to register, Mr. Grayson?" asked Harley, wishing to relieve the tension.
The candidate laughed mirthlessly.
"Not to-night, Harley," he said; "but, gloomy as the place is, we ought to be thankful that we have found it. See how the storm is rising."
He glanced at Sylvia, and deep gratitude swelled up in his breast. Grewsome as it might look, Queen City was now, indeed, a place of refuge. But he had no word of reproach for her, because she had insisted upon coming. He knew that a snow-storm had not entered into her calculations, as it had not entered into his, and, moreover, no one in the party had shown more courage or better spirits.
The snow drove in at the unsheltered windows, and a long whine arose as the wind whirled around the old house. The guide came in with cheerful bustle and stamp of feet.
"Don't linger here, gentlemen and ladies," he said. "The house is yours. Come into the parlor. We've had a piece of luck. Now and then a lone tramp or a miner seeks shelter in this town, just as we have done; they come mostly to the hotel, and some feller who gathered up wood failed to burn it all. I'll have a fire in the parlor in five minutes, and then we can ring for hot drinks for the men, a lemonade for the lady, and a warm dinner for all. I'll take straight whiskey, an' after that I ain't partic'ler whether I get patty-de-foy-graw or hummin'-bird tongues."
His good-humor was infectious, and they were thankful, too, for the shelter, desolate though the place was. All the wood had been stripped away except the floors, and the brick walls were bare. In the great parlor they had nothing to sit on save their saddles, but it was a noble apartment, many feet square, built for a time when there was life in Queen City.
"I've heard the Governor of Montana speak to more than two hundred people in this very room," said Jim, reminiscently. "He was to have spoke in the public square, but snow come up, an' Bill Fosdick, who run the hotel, and run her wide open, invited 'em all right in here, an' they come."
Harley could well believe it, knowing, as he did, the miners and the mountains, and, by report, early Montana.
At one end of the room was an immense grate, and in this Jim heaped the wood so generously left by the unknown tramp or miner, igniting it with a ready match. The ruddy blaze leaped upward and threw generous shadows on the floor. The travellers, sitting close to it, felt the grateful warmth and were content.
All the saddle blankets also had been brought in and piled on one of the saddles. On these Sylvia sat and spread out her hands to the ruddy blaze. To Harley, with the flame of the firelight on her face and the glow of the coals throwing patches of red and gold on her hair, she seemed some brilliant spirit come to light up the gloomy place. Here all was warmth and brightness; outside, the storm moaned through the mountains and the darkness.
"Do you know, I enjoy this," she said, as she looked into the crackling fire.
"So Queen City ain't so bad, ma'am?" said the guide, with dry satisfaction.
"Not bad at all, but very good," she replied, gayly. "Don't you think so, Mr. Harley?"
"I certainly agree with you," replied Harley, devoutly, "but I'm glad that Queen City is just where it is."
"Daddy has been many a time in the mountains without his Queen City—haven't you, daddy?"
"Often," said "King" Plummer, looking at her with a pleased smile. But he wished that she would not call him "daddy," at least before Harley; it seemed that she could never remember his request; but she had warned him.
"An old hand travellin' in the mountains always purvides for a snowy day," said the guide, and he took from his saddle-bags much food and a large bottle.
They drank a little, all except Sylvia, and ate heartily. The last touch of cold departed, and the fire still sparkled with good cheer, casting its comforting shadows across the stained floor.
"I've brought in the horse-blankets," said the guide, "an' with them under us, our overcoats over us, an' the fire afore us, we ought to sleep here as snug an' warm as a beaver in its house."
Sylvia was accustomed to camping in the mountains, and made no fuss, but quietly leaned back against the saddle and the wall, and drew her heavy cloak around her. She was soon half asleep, and the flames, moving off into the distance, seemed to be dancing about in a queer, light-minded fashion.
Harley walked to the window and looked out. The night was black, save for the driving snow, and when he glanced back at the room it seemed a very haven of delight. But the strangeness of their situation, the weird effect of the dead city, with the ghost-like shapes of its houses showing through the snow, was upon his nerves, and he did not feel sleepy.
Muttering some excuse to the others, he went into the hall. It was dark, and a gust of cold air from the open window at the end struck him in the face. At the same moment Harley saw what he took to be a light farther down the hall, but when he looked again it was gone.
It might be a delusion, but the matter troubled him; if a lone tramp or miner were in the building, he wished to know. Any stranger would have a right in the hotel, but there was comradeship and welcome in Jimmy Grayson's party.
Harley's instinct said that all was not right, and, taking off his boots, he crept down the hall and among the cross-halls with noiseless feet. He did not see the light again, but he heard in another room the hum of voices, softened so that they might not reach any one save those for whom they were intended. But they reached Harley, crouching just behind the edge of the door, and, hearing, he shuddered. A great danger threatened the nominee for the Presidency of the United States. Such a thing as the present had never before happened in the history of the country.
And that same danger, but in a worse form, perhaps, threatened Sylvia. It was not Harley's fault that a girl had then a greater place than a Presidential nominee in his mind. He shuddered, and then closed his lips firmly in resolve.
The door was still on its hinges, and it was still slightly ajar. Harley, peeping through the crack, saw the eight occupants of the room by the faint light from the window, and because the man who did the talking, and who showed himself so evidently the leader, had red hair, he knew him instinctively. It was Red Perkins and the remnant of his gang, not scattered to the winds of the West, as Jim and everybody else thought, but here in Montana, in their old haunts. And Harley, listening to their talk, measured the extent of their knowledge, which was far too much; they knew who Jimmy Grayson was, they had known of his departure from Blue Earth, and they had followed him here; presently they would take him away, and the whole world would be thrilled. No such prize had ever fallen into the hands of robbers in America, and it would be worth a million to them.
Harley was in a chill as he listened, because he heard them speak next of Sylvia, and one of them laughed in a way that made the correspondent want to spring at his throat. Sylvia and the candidate must be saved.
But Harley, thinking his hardest, could not think how. There were eight men well armed in the room before him; the guide and Mr. Plummer, probably, had pistols, but he had none, and he was sure that Jimmy Grayson and Mr. Heathcote were without them. He paused there a long time, undecided, and at last he crept down the hall again and towards the great parlor. Then he put on his boots, re-entered the room, and spoke in a low voice to his comrades.
The guide's fighting blood was on fire at once. "I've a revolver," he said; "we kin barricade the room and hold 'em off. There are two windows here, opening out on the snow, but they are so high they can hardly reach 'em with their hands. We kin make a good fight of it."
"I've a pistol, too," said Mr. Plummer, "and we must make it a fight to the death."
He spoke quietly, but with determination and a full knowledge of all the danger that threatened. He glanced at Sylvia, who, coming back from her half-dream, had risen to her feet. Then he walked to the door, because the "King" was ever alert in the face of danger.
"What is it?" Sylvia asked of Harley. She knew by their manner that something strange and terrifying had happened, and in such a situation it was now an involuntary act with her to turn to Harley.
"Sylvia," he said—the others had followed "King" Plummer to the door "you ought to know."
He noticed that, though pale, she was quiet and firm.
"If it is danger, I have faced it before," she said, proudly.
"As you will face it now, like the bravest woman in the West. 'Red' Perkins's gang of outlaws are out there, and they mean to take Mr. Grayson to hold for ransom, and you—"
Her eyes looked straight into his, and suddenly they shone with all the fulness of love and confidence.
"They will not take me while you are here," she said.
"Not if we have to die together. Sylvia, I believed that your heart was mine, and in this moment of danger I know it."
He spoke truly. In the crisis their souls were bare to each other. He seized her hands, and the brilliant color flamed into her cheeks.
"Sylvia!" he exclaimed, in a thrilling whisper.
"Hush!" she said. "The others are about to come back."
She gently withdrew her hands from his, and when "King" Plummer turned away from the door he saw nothing.
"There's not a shot to be fired," said Jimmy Grayson, "because I've a better plan. How long do you think it will be before they come for me, Harley?"
"About fifteen minutes, I should say; at least that is what I gathered from their talk."
"And they have not examined the building or the town?"
"No; they merely came down the trail behind us and slipped into that room, waiting their chance."
"Very good. Jim, you told me a while ago that the Governor of Montana once spoke to two hundred people in this room; it was a fortunate remark of yours, because I shall speak to as many people to-night in this same room. Shut the door there, put the saddles before it, and then build the fire as high as possible."
The candidate's voice was sharp, decisive, and full of command. The born leader of men was asserting himself, and the guide, without pausing to reason, hastened to obey. He shut the door, put the saddles before it, and heaped upon the fire all the remaining wood except a stump reserved by Jimmy Grayson's express command. The fire leaped higher, and the room was brilliantly lighted.
Jimmy Grayson stood by, erect, calm, and grave.
"Now, gentlemen," he said, "you are a crowd come from Crow's Wing to meet me here, and to hear what I have to say. I trust that you will like it, and indicate your liking by your applause."
The stump was placed in the middle of the floor, and Jimmy Grayson stepped upon it. His face at that height was visible through the window to any one outside, although the others would be hidden. Just as he took his place Harley thought he heard the soft crunch of a footstep on the snow beneath the window. He felt a burning curiosity to rise and look out, but he restrained it and did not move. The guide was staring at the candidate in open-mouthed amazement, but he, too, did not speak. A few big white flakes drove in at the open window, but they did not reach the men before the fire that blazed so brightly. Harley again thought he heard the soft shuffle of footsteps on the snow outside, but then the burning wood crackled merrily, and Jimmy Grayson was about to speak.
Sylvia stood erect against the wall, her glowing eyes full of admiration. Her quick mind had grasped the whole plan.
"Gentlemen of Crow's Wing," said the candidate, in his full, penetrating voice, which the empty old building gave back in many an echo, "it is, indeed, a pleasure to me to meet you here. The circumstances, the situation, are such as to inspire any one who has been so honored. I should like to have seen your little town, the home of brave and honest men, nestling as it does among these mighty mountains, and far from the rest of the world, but strong and self-reliant. I appreciate, too, your kindness and your thought for me. Seeing the advance of the storm, and knowing its dangers, you have come to meet me in this place, once so full of life. I find something singularly appealing and pathetic in this. Once again, if only for a brief space, Queen City shall ring with human voices and the human tread."
The candidate paused a moment, as if the end of a rounded period had come and he were gathering strength for another. Then suddenly arose a mighty chorus of applause. It was Harley, "King" Plummer, Heathcote, and Jim, and their act was spontaneous, the inspiration of the moment, drawn from Jimmy Grayson's own inspiration. The guide beat upon the floor with both hands and both feet, and the other three were not less active. Moreover, the guide opened his mouth and let forth a yell, rapid, cumulative, and so full of volume that it sounded like the whoop of at least a half-dozen men. The room resounded with the applause, and it thundered down the halls of the great empty building. When it died, Harley, listening again intently, heard once more the crunch of feet on the snow outside, but now it was a rapid movement as if of surprise. But the sound came to him only a moment, because the candidate was speaking once more, and he was worth hearing. He only looked away to see Sylvia, who still stood against the wall with her glowing eyes fixed in admiration on her uncle. Once or twice she, too, glanced aside, and her gaze was for Harley. But it was a different look that she gave him. There was admiration in it, too, and also a love that no woman ever gives to a mere uncle. In those moments the color in her cheeks deepened.
As an orator Jimmy Grayson was always good, but sometimes he was better than at other times, and this evening was one of his best times. The audience from Crow's Wing, the consideration they had shown in meeting him here in the dead city, and the wildness of the night outside seemed to inspire him. He showed the greatest familiarity with the life of the mountains and the needs of the miners; he was one of them, he sympathized with them, he entered their homes, and if he could he would make their lives brighter.
Never had the candidate spoken to a more appreciative audience. With foot and hand and voice it thundered its applause; the building echoed with it, and all the time the fire burned higher and higher, and the merry crackling of the wood was a minor note in the chorus of applause. But Jimmy Grayson's own voice was like an organ, every key of which he played; it expressed every human emotion; full and swelling, it rose above the applause, and Harley, watching his expressive face, saw that he felt these emotions. Once he believed that the candidate, carried away by his own feelings, had become oblivious of time and place, and thought now only of the troubles and needs of the mountain men.
Harley's attention turned once more to the windows. He thought what a lucky chance it was that no one standing on the ground outside was high enough to look through them into the room. He blessed the unknown builder, and then he tried to hear that familiar shuffle on the snow, but he did not hear it again.
Jimmy Grayson spoke on and on, and the applause kept pace, until at last the guide slipped quietly from the room. When he returned, a quarter of an hour later, the candidate was still speaking, but Jim gave him a signal look and he stopped abruptly.
"They are gone," said Jim. "They must have been gone a full hour. The snow has stopped, and I guess they are at least ten miles from here, runnin' for their lives. They knew that if the men of Crow's Wing put hands on 'em they'd be hangin' from a limb ten minutes after."
Jimmy Grayson sank down on the stump, exhausted, and wiped his hot face.
"Say, Mr. Harley," whispered the guide to the correspondent, "I've heard some great speeches in my time, but to-night's was the greatest."