On the evening of his mildly adventurous first day in the town, Morgan sat in front of the Elkhorn hotel, his chair in the gutter, according to the custom, his feet braced comfortably against the outer edge of the sidewalk, flanked by other guests and citizens who filled the remaining seats. Little was said to him of his encounter with the new city marshal, and that little Morgan made less, and brought to short ending by his refusal to be led into the matter at all. And as he sat there, chatting in desultory way, the fretting wind died to a breath, the line of men in the chairs grew indistinct in the gloom of early night, and Ascalon rose up like a sleeping wolf, shaking off the drowse of the day, and sat on its haunches to howl.
This awakening began with the sound of fiddles and pianos in the big dance hall whose roof covered all the vices which thrive best in the dark. Later a trombone and cornet joined the original musical din, lifting their brassy notes on the vexed night air. Bands of horsemen came galloping in, yelping the short, coyote cries of the cattle lands. Sometimes one of them let off his pistol as he wheeled his horse up to the hitching rack, the relief of a simple mind that had no other expression for its momentary exuberance.
Sidewalks became thronged with people tramping the little round of the town's diversions, but of different stamp from those who had sparsely trickled through its sunlight on legitimate business that afternoon. Cowboys hobbled by in their peggy, high-heeled gait, as clumsy afoot as penguins; men in white shirts without coats, their skin too tender to withstand the sun, walked with superior aloofness among the sheep which had come to their shearing pens, preoccupied in manner, yet alert, watching, watching, on every hand.
Now and then women passed, but they, also, were of the night, gaudily bedecked in tinsel and glittering finery that would have been fustian by day to the least discriminating eye. Respectability was not abroad in Ascalon by night. With the last gleam of day it left the stage to wantonness.
As the activity of the growing night increased, high-pitched voices of cowboys who called figures of the dances quavered above the confusion of sounds, a melancholy note in the long-drawn syllables that seemed a lament for the waste of youth, and a prophecy of desolation. When the music fell to momentary silence the clash of pool balls sounded, and the tramp of feet, and quavering wild feminine laughter rising sharply, trailing away to distance as if the revelers sailed by on the storm of their flaming passions, to land by and by on the shores of morning, draggled, dry-lipped, perhaps with a heartache for the far places left behind forever.
Morgan was not moved by a curiosity great enough to impel him to make the round. All this he had seen before, time over, in the frontier towns of Nebraska, with less noise and open display, certainly, for here in Ascalon viciousness had a nation-wide notoriety to maintain, and must intensify all that it touched. He was wondering how the townspeople who had honest business in life managed to sleep through that rioting, with the added chance of some fool cowboy sending a bullet through their thin walls as he galloped away to his distant camp, when Tom Conboy came through the sidewalk stream to sit beside him in a gutter chair.
The proprietor of the Elkhorn hotel appeared to be under a depression of spirits. He answered those who addressed him in short words, with manner withdrawn. Morgan noted that the diamond stud was gone out of the desert of Conboy's shirt bosom, and that he was belted with a pistol. Presently the man on Conboy's other hand, who had been trying with little result to draw him into a conversation, got up and made his way toward the bright front of the dance hall. Conboy touched Morgan's knee.
"Come into the office, kind of like it happened, a little while after me," he said, speaking in low voice behind his hand. He rose, stretching and yawning as if to give his movements a casual appearance, stood a little while on the edge of the sidewalk, went into the hotel. Morgan followed him in a few minutes, to find him apparently busy with his accounts behind the desk.
A little while the proprietor worked on his bookkeeping, Morgan lounging idly before the cigar case.
"Some fellers up the street lookin' for you," Conboy said, not turning his head.
"What fellows? What do they want?"
"That bunch of cowboys from the Chisholm Trail."
"I don't know them," said Morgan, not yet getting the drift of what Conboy evidently meant as a warning.
"They're friends of the city marshal; he belonged to the same outfit," Conboy explained, ostensibly setting down figures in his book.
"Thank you," said Morgan, starting for the door.
"Where you goin' to?" Conboy demanded, forgetting caution and possible complications in his haste to interpose.
"To find out what they want."
"There's no sense in a man runnin' his arm down a lion's throat to see if he's hungry," Conboy said, making a feint now of moving the cigar boxes around in the case.
"This town isn't so big that they'd miss a man if they went out to hunt him. Where are they?"
"I left them at Peden's, the big dance hall up the street. Ain't you got a gun?"
"No," Morgan returned thoughtfully, as if he had not even considered one before.
"The best thing you can do is to take a walk out into the country and forget your way back, kid. Them fellers are goin' to be jangled up just about right for anything in an hour or so more. I'd advise you to go—I'll send your grip to you wherever you say."
"You're very kind. How many of them are there?"
"Seven besides Craddock, the rest of them went to Kansas City with the cattle you saw leave in them three extras this evening. Craddock's celebratin' his new job, he's leadin' 'em around throwin' everything wide open to 'em without a cent to pay. 'Charge it to me' he said to Peden—I was there when they came in—'charge it to me, I'm payin' this bill.' You know what that means."
"I suppose it means that the collection will be deferred," Morgon said, grinning over the city marshal's easy cut to generosity.
"Indefinitely postponed," said Conboy, gloomily. "I'm goin' to put all my good cigars in the safe, and do it right now."
"Here's something you may put in the safe for me, too," said Morgan, handing over his pocketbook.
"Ain't you goin' to leave town?" Conboy asked, hand stayed hesitantly to take the purse.
"I've got an appointment with Judge Thayer to look at a piece of land in the morning," Morgan returned.
"Well, keep out enough to buy a gun, two of 'em if you're a double-handed man," Conboy counseled.
"I've got what I need," said Morgan, putting the purse in Conboy's hand.
"I'd say for you to take a walk out to Judge Thayer's and stay all night with him, but them fellers will be around here a couple of weeks, I expect—till the rest of the outfit comes back for their horses. Just one night away wouldn't do you any good."
"I couldn't think of it," said Morgan, coldly.
"You know your business, I guess," Conboy yielded, doubtfully, "but don't play your luck too far. You made a good grab when you took that feller's gun away from him, but you can't grab eight guns."
"You're right," Morgan agreed.
"If you're a reasonable man, you'll hit the grit out of this burg," Conboy urged.
"You said they were at Peden's?"
"First dance house you come to, the biggest one in town. You don't need to tip it off that I said anything. No niggers in Ireland, you know."
"Not a nigger," said Morgan.
As he stepped into the street, Morgan had no thought of going in any direction save that which would bring him in conjunction with the men who sought him. If he began to run at that stage of his experiences, he reasoned, he would better make a streak of it that would take him out of the country as fast as his feet would carry him. If those riders of the Chisholm Trail were going to be there a week or two, he could not dodge them, and it might be that by facing them unexpectedly and talking it over man to man before they got too far along in their spree, the grievance they held against him on Seth Craddock's account could be adjusted.
He had come to Ascalon in the belief that he could succeed and prosper in that land which had lured and beckoned, discouraged and broken and driven forth again ten thousand men. Already there was somebody in it who had looked for a moment into his soul and called it courageous, and passed on her way again, he knew not whither. But if Ascalon was so small that a man whom men sought could not hide in it, the country around it was not vast enough to swallow one whom his heart desired to find again.
He would find her; that he had determined hours ago. That should be his first and greatest purpose in this country now. No man, or band of men, that ever rode the Chisholm Trail could set his face away from it. He went on to meet them, his dream before him, the wild sound of Ascalon's obscene revelry in his ears.
RIDERS OF THE CHISHOLM TRAIL
Peden's emporium of viciousness was a notable establishment in its day. By far the largest in Ascalon, it housed nearly every branch of entertainment at which men hazard their fortunes and degrade their morality. It was a vast shell of planks and shingles, with skeleton joists and rafters bare overhead, built hastily and crudely to serve its ephemeral day.
In the farther end there was a stage, upon which mephitic females displayed their physical lures, to come down and sell drinks at a commission in the house, and dance with the patrons, at intervals. Beyond the many small round tables which stood directly in front of the stage was a clear space for dancing, and on the border of this festival arena, in the front of the house, the gambling devices. A bar ran the length of the building on one side from door to orchestra railing. It was the pride of Ascalon that a hundred men could stand and regale themselves before this counter at one time.
Five bartenders stood behind this altar of alcohol when Morgan set foot in the place intent on putting himself in the way of the riders of the Chisholm Trail. These Texas cowboys were easily identified among the early activities of the place by the unusual amount of Mexican silver and leather ornamentation of their apparel. They were a road-worn and dusty crew, growing noisy and hilarious in their celebration of one of their number being elevated to the place of so conspicuous power as city marshal of that famous town. It appeared to have its humorous side from the loud laughter they were spending over it, and the caressing thumps which they laid on Seth Craddock's bony back.
They were lined up against the bar, Craddock in the midst of them, a regiment of bottles before them. Morgan drew near, ordered a drink, stood waiting the moment of his discovery and what might follow it. The Texans were trying everything in the stock, from gin to champagne, gay in the wide choice the marvelous influence of their comrade opened to them without money or the hint of price.
Morgan lounged at the bar, turning meditatively the little glass of amber liquor that was the passport to the estate of a proper man in Ascalon, as in many places neither so notorious nor perilous in those times. Each of the big metal kerosene lamps swung high on the joists threw a circular blotch of shadow on the floor, but the light from them fell brightly on the bar, increased in brilliancy by reflection from the long row of mirrors.
In this sparkle of glass and bar furniture Morgan stood, conspicuous by being apart, like a solitary who had ridden in for a jambouree of his own without companion or friend. He wore his broad-brimmed black hat with the high crown uncreased, and only for the lack of boots and pistol he might have passed for a man of the range. The bartender who served him looked at him with rather puzzled and frequent sidelong turning of the eyes as he stood brooding over the untasted liquor, as if he sought to place him in memory, or to classify him among the drift of men who came in varying moods to his mahogany altar to pay their devotions to its bottled gods.
Morgan's hat cast a shadow over half his face, making it as stern as a Covenanter's portrait. His eyes were on the bar, where his great hand turned and turned the glass, as if his mind were withdrawn a thousand leagues from the noisy scene about him. But for all that apparently wrapt and self-centered contemplation, Morgan knew the moment when Seth Craddock looked his direction and discovered him. At that moment he lifted his glass and drank.
Craddock turned to his companions, upon whom a quiet settled as they drew together in brief conference. Presently the city marshal sauntered out, leaving his comrades of the long trail to carry on their revelry alone. A gangling young man, swart-faced, fired by the contending crosses of alcoholic concoctions which he had swallowed, approached Morgan where he leaned against the bar. This fellow straddled as if he had a horse between his legs, and he was dusty and road-rough, but newly shaved and clipped, and perfumed with all the strong scents of the barber's stock.
"Good evenin', bud. How does your copperosticies seems to segastuate this evenin'?" he hailed, in a bantering, insolent, overriding way.
"I'm able to be up and around and take a little grub," Morgan returned, as good-humoredly as if there had been no insulting sneer in the cowboy's words.
"I hear you're leaving town this evenin'?"
"I guess that's a mistake of the printer," Morgan said with casual ease.
The other men in the party drew around Morgan, some of them challenging him with insolent glances, all of them holding their peace but the one who had spoken, who appeared to have been selected for that office.
"A friend of mine told me you was hittin' the grit out of here tonight," the young man insisted, putting that in his voice which seemed to admit no controversy. "This country ain't no place for a granger, bud; farmin's the unhealthiest business here a man ever took up, they tell me, he don't live no time at it. Sure, you're hittin' the road out of here tonight—my friend appointed us a committee to see you off."
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, boys, but your friend's got the wrong information on me and my movements, whoever he is. I'm goin' to hang around this town some little time, till my farming tools come, anyhow. Just pass that word along to your friend, will you, sport?"
"You ain't got erry gun stuck around in your pants, have you, bud?" the Texan inquired with persuasive gentleness.
"Not the ghost of a gun."
"Grangers burn their eyebrows off and shoot theirselves through the feet when they go totin' guns around," the fellow said, speaking in the wheedling, ingratiating way that one addresses an irresponsible child or a man in alcoholic paresis. The others appeared to find a subtle humor in their comrade's mode of handling a granger. Morgan grinned with them as if he found it funny himself.
One fellow stood a little apart from the rest of the band, studying Morgan with an expression of insolence such as might well warrant the belief that he held feud with all grangers and made their discomfiture, dislodgment, and extermination the chief business of his life. This was a man of unlikely proportions for a trade aback of a horse—short of legs, heavy of body, long in the reach of his arms. His face was round and full, fair for one who rode abroad in all seasons under sun and storm, his teeth small and far apart.
This man said nothing, took no part in the side comment that passed among his comrades, only grinned occasionally, his eyes unwaveringly on Morgan's face. Morgan was drawn to note him particularly among this mainly trifling and innocuous bunch, uneasily impressed by the cold curiosity of his round, tigerish eyes. He thought the fellow appeared to be calculating on how much blood a granger of that bulk contained, and how long it would take him to drink it.
"You ain't got a twenty-two hid around in your pocket nowhere?" the inquisitor pressed, with comically feigned surprise. Morgan denied the ownership of even a twenty-two. "I'll have to feel over you and see—I never saw a granger in my life that didn't tote a twenty-two," the Texan declared, stepping up to Morgan to put his declaration into effect.
Morgan had stood through this mocking inquisition in careless posture, elbows on the bar at his back, with as much good humor as if he were a member of the band taking his turn as the butt of the evening's merrymaking. Now, as the young Texan approached with the evident intention of searching him for a weapon, Morgan came suddenly out of his lounging posture into one of watchfulness and defense. He put up his hand in admonitory gesture to stay the impending degradation.
"Hands off, pardner!" he warned.
The cowboy stopped, turned to his comrades in simulated amazement.
"Did you hear the pore feller make that noise?" he asked, turning his head as if he listened, not quite convinced that his ears had not deceived him.
"He's sick, he orto have a dose of turkentime for the holler horn," said one.
"He's got the botts—drench him for the botts," another prescribed.
That suggestion appealed to their humor. It was endorsed with laughter as they pressed around Morgan to cut off his escape.
"I was told you men were looking for me," Morgan said, estimating them individually and collectively with calculative eyes, "so I stepped in here where you could find me if you had anything worth a man's time to say to me. I guess you've shot your wad, and you've got my answer. You can tell your friend I'm stopping at the Elkhorn hotel, if he don't know it already."
Morgan moved away from the bar as if to leave the place. They bunched in front of him to bar his passage, one laying hold of his arm.
"We're fixin' up a little drink for you," this detainer said, indicating the former spokesman, who was busy at the bar pouring something of the contents of the various bottles into one that bore a champagne label.
"I've had my drink, it isn't time for another," Morgan said, swinging his arm, sending the fellow who clung to it headlong through the ranks of his companions.
At this show of resistance the mask of humor that had covered their sinister intention was flung aside. The man with the wide-set teeth stepped into action there, the others giving place to him as to a recognized champion. He whirled into Morgan, planting a blow just above the bridge of his nose that sent him back against the bar with a jolt that made the bottles dance.
It was such a sudden and mighty blow that Morgan was dazed for a moment, almost blinded. He saw his assailant before him in wavering lines as he guarded instinctively rather than scientifically against the fierce follow-up by which the fellow seemed determined to make an inglorious end of it for the despised granger. Morgan cleared out of the mists of this sudden assault in a moment, for he was a man who had taken and given hard blows in more than one knock-down and drag-out in his day. He caught the swing that was meant for a knock-out on his left guard, and drove his able right fist into the fellow's face.
The pugilistic cowboy, rare fellow among his kind, went to the floor. But there was good stuff in him, worthy the confidence his comrades reposed. For a breath or two he lay on his back as he fell, twisted to his side with a springy movement of incredible swiftness, and sprang to his feet. Blood was running from his battered nose and already puffed lips. The cheers of his comrades warmed him back to battle, and the onlookers who came pressing from all quarters, drew aside to give them room to fight.
They began to mix it at a furious pace, both of them sledging heavily, the advantage of reach and height sparing Morgan much of the heavy punishment his opponent lacked the cleverness to avoid. While the fellow doubtless was a champion among the men of his range, he had little chance against Morgan, imperfect as he was at that game. In a few minutes of incessant hammering, no breathing spell to break the fierce encounter, Morgan had chopped the cowboy's face severely. Five times Morgan knocked him down in less than half as many minutes, the elastic, enduring fellow coming back each time with admirable courage and vigor.
Morgan's hands were cut from this bare-knuckled mauling, but his opponent had not landed a damaging blow on his face since the first unexpected and unguarded one. He could see, from their crowding and attempts to interfere, that the spirit of fairness had gone out of the rest of the bunch. An end must be made speedily, or they would climb him like a pack of wildcats and crush him like a rabbit in a fall. With this menace plainly before him, Morgan put his best into the rush and wallop that he meant to finish the fight.
The cowboy's extraordinary resistance broke with the blow; he lay so long like a dead man where he fell that his comrades brought whisky to revive him. Presently he struggled to hands and knees, where he stood coughing blood, Morgan waiting by to see what would follow.
"Take them knucks away from him! he slugged me!" Morgan was amazed to hear the fellow charge.
"That's not so!" Morgan denied. "Here—search me," he offered, lifting his arms.
In the code governing personal encounter in those days of the frontier, which was not so very long ago, just one tick in the great clock of history, it was permissible to straddle one's enemy when one got him down, and churn his head against the ground; to gouge out his eyes; to bite off his ears; to kick him, carve him, mutilate him in various and unsportsman-like and unspeakable ways. But it was the high crime of the code to slug him with brass or steel knuckles, commonly called knucks. The man who carried this reenforcement for the natural fist in his pocket and used it in a fight was held the lowest of all contemptible and namelessly vile things. So, these Texas cowboys turned on Morgan at their comrade's accusation, deaf to any denial, flaming with vengeful resentment.
They probably would have made an end of Morgan then and there, but for the interference of Peden, proprietor of the place, who appeared on the scene of the turmoil at that moment, calm and unruffled, expensive white sombrero on the back of his head, fresh cigar in his mouth, black frock coat striking him almost to the knees.
Peden pushed in among the cowboys as they made a rush for Morgan, who stood his ground, back to the bar, regretting now the foolish impulse that had led him into this pack of wolves. Peden stepped in front of Morgan, authority in his very calmness, and restrained the inflamed Texans.
He asked them to consider the ladies. The ladies were in a terrible panic, he said, sweeping his hand toward the farther end of the room where a dozen or so of the creatures whom he dignified with the name were huddled under the restraint of the chief fiddler, who stood before them with fiddle in one hand, bow in the other, like sword and buckler.
There was more curiosity than fright in the women, as the most unsophisticated observer could have read in their kalsomined countenances. Peden's only object in keeping them back from a closer enjoyment of the battle was entirely commercial, humanity and delicacy being no part of his business plan. A live lady was worth a great deal more to his establishment than one with a stray bullet in her skin, waiting burial at his expense in the busy undertaker's morgue.
The cowboys yielded immediately to Peden's appeal in behalf of the ladies, although they very likely would have resented a more obscure citizen's interference with their plans. They fronted the bar again on Peden's invitation to pour another drink. Two of them lifted from the floor the man whom Morgan had fought, and supported him in a weak-kneed advance upon the bar. They cheered him in his half-blind and bleeding wretchedness with promise of what that marvelous elixir, whisky, would do for him once he began to feel the quickening of its potent flame.
Peden indicated by a lifting of the eyebrows, a slight movement of the head toward the door, that Morgan was to improve this moment by making a quiet and expeditious get-away. Morgan needed no urging, being quite willing to allow matters to rest where they stood. He started for the door, making a little detour to put a faro table, around which several men were standing, between himself and the men to whom Seth Craddock had delegated the business of his expulsion from the town. One of the men supporting their defeated champion saw Morgan as he rounded the table, and set up the alarm that the granger was breaking for the range.
Even then Morgan could have escaped by a running dash, for those high-heeled horseback men were not much on foot. But he could not pay that much for safety before the public of Ascalon, despicable as those of it gathered there might be. He made a pretense of watching the faro game while the Texans put down their glasses to rush after him and make him prisoner, threatening him with clubbed pistols above his head.
The lookout at the faro game, whose patrons were annoyed by this renewal of the brawl, jumped from his high seat and took a hand in the row. Friends of the marshal or friends of the devil, he said, made no difference to him. They'd have to go outside to finish their fuss. This man, a notorious slayer of his kind, quicker of hand than any man in Ascalon, it was said, urged them all toward the door.
The cowboys protested against this breach of hospitality, but Peden stood in his customary pose of calmness to enforce his bouncer's word, hand pushing back his long black coat where it fell over the holster at his belt.
Morgan was in no mind to go with them, for he began to have a disturbing alarm over what these men might do in their drunken vengeance, relieved as they thought themselves to be of all responsibility to law by the liberty their friend Craddock had given them. Without regard to the bouncer's orders or Peden's threatening pose, he began to lay about him with his fists, making a breach in the ranks of his captors that would have opened the way to the door in a moment, the outbreak was so unexpected and violent, if it had not been for a quieting tap the bouncer gave him with one of the lethal instruments which he carried for such exigencies.
Morgan was conscious of a sensation of expulsion, which seemed swift, soft, and soundless, with a dim sense of falling at the end. When his dispersed senses returned to their seat again, he found himself in the open night, stretched on the ground, hands bound behind his back.
A GENTLE COWBOY JOKE
As Morgan's faculties cleared out of their turgid whirl, and the stars began to leave off their frivolous capers and stand still, he heard voices about him in the dark, and they were discussing the very interesting question of whether he should be hung like a horse thief or loaded upon a train and shipped away like sheep.
Morgan's bruised senses assembled and righted at the first conscious grasp of this argument, as a laboring, buffeted ship rights when its shifted cargo is flung back to place by the shock of a mighty surge. Nature was on guard again in a moment, straining and tense in its sentry over the habitation of a soul so nearly deserted but a minute before. Morgan listened, sweating in the desperation of his plight.
They had taken him away from the main part of town, as he was aware by the sound of its revelry in the near distance. Close at hand a railroad engine was frying and gasping; farther off another was snorting impatiently as it jerked the iron vertebrae of a long freight train. And these men whom he could not see around him in the darkness were discussing the expediency of hanging him while unconscious, against the morality of waiting for him to come to himself so he might have the felon's last appeal of prayer.
One maintained that it was against all precedent to hang an unconscious man and send him off to perdition without a chance to enter a plea for his soul, and he argued soberly, in the manner of a man who had a spirit of fairness in him, and a little gleam of reason and morality left. To Morgan's relief and hope this man went further as he put his view of the case, even so far as to question their right to hang the granger at all. They clamored against him and tried to scoff him down, moving with drunken, scuffing feet near the spot where Morgan lay, as if to put the sentence into immediate execution.
"Wait a minute now, boys," this unknown, unseen champion pleaded, "let's me and you talk this thing over some more. That kid put up a man's fight, even if he is a granger—you'll have to give him credit for that. I didn't find no knucks on him, and you didn't. He couldn't 'a' dropped 'em on the floor, and he couldn't 'a' swallered 'em. He didn't have no knucks, boys—that hard-hoofed granger just naturally tore into the Dutchman with his bare hands. I know he did, his hands is all cut and swelled up—here, wait till I strike a match and show you."
Morgan thought it wise to feign insensibility while this apparently sober man among the crew struck a match and rolled his body over to show the granger's battered hands. The others were not convinced by this evidence, nor softened in the least. He was a granger, anyhow, a fencer of the range, an interloper who had come into their ancient domain like others of his grasshopper tribe to fence up the grazing lands and drive them from the one calling that they knew. If for no other reason, he deserved hanging for that. Ask anybody; they'd say the same.
"That ain't no kind of talk," said the defender, reprovingly, "your daddies and mine was grangers before us, and our kids'll have to be grangers or nothin' after a while—if any of us ever has any. I was in for havin' a little fun with this feller; I was in on it with the rest of you to see the Dutchman hammer him flat, but the Dutchman wasn't a big enough feller for the job. Where's he at?"
"Layin' up there on the depot platform," somebody said.
"This feller flattened him out, done it like he had him on a anvil," the granger's advocate chuckled. "That there freight's goin' to pull out in a little while—let's look along till we find a empty car and chuck him in it. By morning he'll be in La Junta. He's had his lesson out of the cowman's book, he'll never come back to plow up this range."
Morgan thought that, perhaps by adding his own argument to this unknown friend's, he might move the rest of the bunch from their cruel determination to have his life. He moved, making a breathing like a man coming to his senses, and struggled to sit up.
There were exclamations of satisfaction that he had revived in time to relieve them of the responsibility of sending a man out of the world without a chance to pray. The man who had championed Morgan's cause helped him to sit up, asking him with a curious rough kindness if he wanted a drink. Morgan replied that he did. A bottle was put to his lips, bruised and swollen until they stood open by the rough usage his captors had given him while unconscious. He took a swallow of the whisky, shutting the rest out with tongue against teeth when the fellow insisted that he take a man's dose.
They drew close around Morgan where he sat, back against this kind fellow's knee. Morgan could see them plainly now, although it was too dark to trace their features. One of them dropped the noose of a rope over his head as the one who stood behind him took the flask from his lips. Morgan knew by the feel of it against his neck that it was a platted rawhide, such as the Mexicans term reata.
"Granger, if you got anything to say, say it," this one directed. Morgan recognized him as the one who had opened the trouble in Peden's hall.
Morgan had considerable to say, and he said it without whimper or tremor, his only appeal being to their fairness and sense of justice between man and man. He went back a little farther in his simple history than he had gone with Judge Thayer that afternoon, telling them how he once had been a cowboy like themselves on the Nebraska and Wyoming range, leading up briefly, so they might feel they knew him, to his arrival in Ascalon that day, and his manner of incurring Seth Craddock's enmity, for which they were considering such an unreasonable punishment.
Inflamed as they were by liquor, and all but insensible to reasonable argument, this simple story, enforced by the renewed plea of the one who befriended him, turned two or three others in Morgan's favor. They probably would have set him free if it had not been for the Dutchman, who joined them, apparently sober and bitterly vindictive, as they were considering that step.
The Dutchman was for vengeance on his own account, Seth Craddock out of the consideration entirely. The granger had slugged him, he maintained; no man that ever walked on the grass was able to lay him out with bare hands. If they didn't hang the granger he'd shoot him, then and there, even though he would have to throw ashes on his stinking blood to keep it from driving everybody out of town.
Wait a minute, the young man with the straddle suggested, speaking eagerly, as if he had been struck by an inspiration. The freight train was just pulling out; suppose they put the rope around the granger's body instead of his neck, leave his hands tied as they were, and hitch him to a car! In that way he'd hang himself. It would be plain suicide, as anybody with eyes could see.
The innocence and humor of this sportful proposal appealed to them at once. It also satisfied the Dutchman, who seconded it loudly, with excited enthusiasm. The protests of the granger's defender and friend were unavailing. They pushed him back, even threatening him with their guns when he would have interfered to stay the execution of this inspired sentence.
The train was getting under way; three of the gang laid hold of the reata and ran, dragging Morgan against his best efforts to brace his feet and hold them, the others pushing him toward the moving train. The long freight was bound westward. Morgan and his tormenters were beyond the railroad station, not far from Judge Thayer's little white office building, which Morgan could see through the gloom as he vainly turned his eyes about in the hope of some passing stranger to whom he could appeal.
Luckily for Morgan, railroad trains did not get under way as quickly in those days of hand brakes and small engines as now. Added to the weight of the long string of empty cattle cars which the engine was laboring to get going was a grade, with several short curves to make it harder where the road wound in and out among small sand hills. By the time Morgan's captors had attached the rope to the ladder of a car, the headway of the train had increased until they were obliged to trot to keep up with it. Not being fleet of foot in their hobbling footgear when sober, they were at a double disadvantage when drunk and weaving on their legs. They made no attempt to follow Morgan and revel in his sufferings and peril, but fell back, content to enjoy their pleasantry at ease.
Morgan lurched on over the uneven ground, still dizzy and weak from the bludgeoning he had undergone, unable to help his precarious balance by the use of his arms, doubly bound now by the rope about his middle which the Texans had drawn in running noose. It was Morgan's hope in the first few rods of this frightful journey that a brakeman might appear on top of the train, whose attention he might attract before the speed became so great he could no longer maintain it, or a lurch or a stumble in the ditch at the trackside might throw him under the wheels.
A quick glance forward and back dispelled this hope; there was not the gleam of a lantern in sight. But somebody was running after him, almost beside him, and there were yells and shots out of the dark behind. Now the runner was beside Morgan, hand on his shoulder as if to steady himself, and Morgan's heart swelled with thankful gratitude for the unknown friend who had thus risked the displeasure of his comrades to set him free.
The train was picking up speed rapidly, taxing Morgan's strength to hold pace with it trussed up as he was, the strain of the hauling rope feeling as if it would cut his arms to the bone. The man who labored to hold abreast of Morgan was slashing at the rope. Morgan felt the blade strike it, the tension yield for a second as if several strands had been cut. But not severed, not weakened enough to break it. It stiffened again immediately and the man, clinging desperately to Morgan's shoulder to hold his place in the quickening race, struck at it again and missed.
There came more shots and shouts. Morgan's heroic friend stumbled, lost his hold on the shoulder of the man he was trying to save, fell behind out of sight.
Morgan's poor hope for release from present torture and impending death now rested in the breaking of the rawhide rope where it had been weakened by that one desperate slash of the knife. He tried lunging back against the rope, but the speed of the train was too great; he could not brace a foot, he could not pause. There were gravel and small boulders in the ditch here. Morgan feared he would lose his footing and be dragged to his miserable end.
But onward through the dark he struggled and stumbled, at a pace that would have taxed an unhampered man to maintain, the strain of the cutting rope about his body and arms like a band of hot iron. Should a brakeman appear now on top of the car to which he was tied, Morgan knew he had little chance of making himself heard through the noise of the train, spent as he was already, gasping short breaths which he seemed unable to drive into his burning lungs.
How long could human strength and determination to cling to life endure this punishment! how long until he must fall and drag, unable to regain his feet, to be pounded at that cruel rope's end into a mangled, abhorrent thing!
On, the grind of wheels, the jolt of loose-jointed cars over the clanking track drowning even the noise of the engine laboring up that merciful grade; on, staggering and swaying, flung like a pebble on a cord, shoulder now against the car, feet now flying, half lifted from the ground, among the stones of the ditch, over the uneven earth, across gullies, over crossings where there paused no traveler in the black despair of that night to give him the help for which he perished.
On, the breath that he drew in gasping stridulation like liquid fire in his throat; on, the calm stars of the unemotional universe above his head; on, the wind of the wide prairie lands striking his face with their indefinable sweet scents which even clutching death did not deny his turbulent senses; on, pain in every nerve; on, joints straining and starting in their sockets; on, dragged, whipped, lashed from ditch to ties' end, flung from rocking car to crumbling bank, where jagged rocks cut his face and freed his blood to streak coldly upon his cheek.
There was no likelihood that the train would stop in many miles—even now it was gaining speed, the engine over the crest of the grade. Only for a post that he might snub that stubborn strand of leather upon! only for a bridge where his swinging weight might break it!
Faster—the train was going faster! The pain of his torture dulling as overcharged nerves refused to carry the growing load, Morgan still clung to his feet, pounding along in the dark. He was growing numb in body and mind, as one overwhelmed by a narcotic drug, yet he clung to the desperate necessity of keeping on his feet.
How far he had come, how long he might yet endure, he had no thought to measure. He lived only for the insistent, tenacious purpose of keeping on his feet, rather than of keeping on his feet to live. He must run and pant, under the lash of nature that would not let him drop down and die, as long as a spark of consciousness remained or flying limbs could equal the speed of the train, helped on by the drag of that rawhide strand that would not break.
No thought of death appalled him now as at first; its revolting terror at that rope's end had no place in his thought this crowded, surging moment. Only to live, to fight and live, to run, unfeeling feet striking like wood upon the wayside stones, and run, as a maimed, scorched creature before a fire, to fall into some cool place and live. And live! and live! In spite of all, to live!
And presently the ground fell away beneath his feet, a swish of branches was about him, the soft, cool touch of leaves against his face. A moment he was flung and tangled among willows—it was a strange revelation through a chink of consciousness in that turmoil of life and death that swept the identifying scent of willows into his nostrils—and then he dropped, striking softly where water ran, and closed his eyes, thinking it must be the end.
THE AVATISM OF A MAN
Morgan knew that the cogs of the slow machinery by which he had been hoisted from the saddle to the professorial chair had slipped. As he lay there on his back in the shallow ripple of the Arkansas River, the long centipede railroad bridge dark-lined across the broad stream, he turned it in his mind and knew that it was so.
He had gone back in that brief time of terrific torture to the plane from which he had risen by hard and determined effort to make of himself a man in the world of consequence and achievement; back to the savagery of the old days when he rode the range in summer glare and winter storm. For it was his life's one aim and intention now to rise from that cool bed in the river presently and go back to Ascalon, try by sound of voice those who had subjected him to this torture, separating by that test his heroic friend from the guilty. The others he intended to kill, man by man, down to the last unfeeling brute.
The water was not more than two or three inches deep where he lay, but a little way beyond he could hear it passing with greater volume among the spiles of the bridge. Fortune had spared him a fall into the deeper channel, where even a foot of water might have drowned him, strengthless and fettered as he was. Fate had reserved him for this hour of vengeance. He turned, wallowing in the shallow water to soak the rawhide rope, which was already growing soft, the pressure and pain of it considerably eased on his arms.
He drank, and buried his face in the tepid water, grateful for life, exulting in the fierce fire that rose in him, triumphing already in the swift atonement he would call on those wretches to make. Back again to the ethical standard of those old, hard-riding, hard-drinking, hard-swearing days on the range, the refinements of his education submerged, and not one regret for the slip.
Morgan did not realize in that moment of surrender to the primitive desires which clamored within him how badly he was wrenched and mauled. He tried the rawhide, swelling his bound arms in the hope that the slipknot would give a little, but was unable to bring pressure enough on the rope to ease it in the least.
Eager to begin his harvest of revenge before the men from the Nueces struck south again over the long trail, Morgan determined to start at once in search of somebody to free him from his bonds. He could not return to Ascalon in this shameful plight, his ignominy upon him, an object of derision. There must be somebody living along the river close at hand who would cut his bonds and give him a plaster to stick over the wound he could feel drawing and gaping in his cheek.
When it came to getting to his feet, Morgan learned that his desire had outgrown his strength. A sickness swept him as he struggled to his knees; blood burst from his nostrils, the taste of blood was on his tongue. Dizzy, sick to the core of his heart, sore with a thousand bruises, shot with a thousand pains which set up with every movement like the clamor of harassing wolves, he dragged himself on his knees to the edge of the water, where he lay on his face in the warm sand.
He waited there a long time for the gathering of strength enough to carry him on his quest of a friendly hand. Only the savage determination to strike his enemies down, head by head, kept him from perishing as he lay there sore and bruised, chilled to the marrow in his welling agony even that hot summer night.
Dawn was breaking when he at last found strength to mount the low bank through the encumbering brush and vines. His arms were senseless below the elbows, swollen almost to bursting of veins and skin by the gorged blood. There was no choice in directions, only to avoid the town. He faced up the river and trudged on, the cottonwood leaves beginning their everlasting symphony, that is like the murmur of rain, as the wakening wind moved them overhead.
Morgan stumbled over tin cans at the edge of the tall grass when the rising sun was shining across his unprotected eyes. He stood for a little while, wondering at first sight if this were only another mirage of the plagued imagination, such as had risen like ephemera while he lay on the sand bar at the river's edge. He stood with weak legs braced wide apart to fix his reeling senses on the sight—the amazing, comforting sight, of a field of growing corn. Only a little field, more properly a patch, but it was tall and green, in full tassel, the delicate sweet of its blossoms strong on the dew-damp morning.
Beyond the field he could see the roof of a sod house, and a little of the brown wall that rose not much higher than the corn. Grass had grown on the roof, for it was made of strips of sod, also, and turned sere and brown in the sun. A wire fence stood a prickly barrier between roaming cattle and this little field of succulent fodder. Morgan directed his course to skirt the field, and came at last to the cabin door.
In front of the house there was no fence, but a dooryard that seemed to embrace the rest of the earth. Around the door the ground was trampled and bare; in front of the house three horses stood, saddled and waiting, bridle reins on the ground. It looked like a cow camp to Morgan; it seemed as if he had come back home. A dog rose slowly from where it lay across the door, bristles rising, foot lifted as if the creature paused between flight and attack, setting up such an alarm that the horses bolted a little way and stood wondering.
A woman came to the door, lifted her hands in silent astonishment, leaning a little to see.
"Heavens above! look at that man!" she cried, her words sounding as from a great distance in Morgan's dulling ears.
Morgan saw her start toward him, running. He tried to step forward to meet her, but only his body moved in accord with his will. The earth seemed to rise and embrace him, letting him down softly, as the arms of a friend.
It was a new pain that brought Morgan to his senses, the pain of returning life to his half-dead arms. Somebody was standing beside him holding these members raised to let the blood drain out of them, chafing them, and there was a smell of camphor and strong spirits in the place.
"The rope wouldn't 'a' slipped down, if they was tryin' to hang him, anyhow," somebody said with conclusive finality.
"Looks like they lassoed him and drug him," another said, full of the awe that hushes the human voice when one stands beside the dead.
"Whoever done it ought to be skinned alive!" a woman declared, and Morgan thanked her in his heart for her sympathy, although there was a weight of such absolute weakness on his eyes that he could not open them to see her face.
There was a dim sound of something being stirred in a glass, and the nerve-waking scent of more ardent spirits.
"If this don't fetch him to," said the voice of the first speaker, the deep pectoral tone of a seasoned man, "you jump your horse and go for the doctor, Fred."
Morgan shook his head to throw that obstinate weight from his eyes, or thought he shook it, but it was only the shadow of a movement. Slight as it was it brought an exclamation of relief in another voice, a woman's voice, also, tuned in the music of youth.
"Oh! he moved!" she said. And she was the one who stood beside him, holding aloft and chafing his blood-gorged arm.
"Blamed if he didn't! Here—try a little of this, son."
Morgan was gathering headway out of the fog so rapidly now that he began to feel ashamed of this helpless situation in which so many kind hands were ministering to him as if he were a sick horse. He made a more determined effort to open his eyes, succeeding this time, although it seemed to call for as much strength to lift his lids as to shoulder a sack of wheat. He saw a large hand holding a spoon hovering near his mouth, and the outline of big shoulders in a red shirt. Morgan swallowed what was offered him, to feel it go tingling through his nerves with vivifying warmth, like a message of cheer over a telegraph wire. The large man who administered the dose was delighted. He spoke encouragingly, working the spoon faster, as a man blows eagerly when he sees a flame start weakly in a doubtful fire. The woman with the voice of youth, who stood on Morgan's left hand, gently put his arm down, as if modesty would no longer countenance this office of tenderness to a conscious man.
"Any feelin' in your hands?" the man inquired, bending a whiskered face down near Morgan's.
"Plenty of it, thank you," Morgan replied, his voice stubborn as a rusty hinge.
"You'll be all right then, there's no bones broken as far as I can locate 'em. You just stretch out and take it easy, you'll be all right."
"I gave up—I gave up—too easy," Morgan said, slowly, like a very tired man.
"Lands alive! gave up!" said the matron of the household, who still held Morgan's arm up to drain off the congested blood. "Look at your face, look at your feet! Gave up—lands alive!"
"You're busted up purty bad, old feller," said a young man who seemed to appear suddenly at Morgan's feet, where he stood looking down with the most friendly and feeling expression imaginable in his wholesome brown face.
"That cut on your face ain't deep, it could be closed up and stuck with strips of plaster and only leave a shallow scar, but it ought to be done while it's fresh," the boss of the ranch said.
"I'd be greatly obliged to you," Morgan told him, by way of agreement to the dressing of his wound.
By the time the pioneer of the Arkansas had treated his mysteriously injured patient's hurts, Morgan had come to himself completely. He was relieved to know that his collapse at the threshold of that hospitable home was due to the suffering of his bound arms, rather than any internal rupture or concussion as he at first feared.
Already his thoughts were running forward, his blood was pounding in his arteries, in vengeful eagerness to take up the trail of the men who had subjected him to this inhuman ordeal. He could not hope to repay them cruelty for cruelty, for he was not a man who did much crippling when it came to handling a gun, but if he had to follow them to the Nueces, even to the Rio Grande, for his toll, then he would follow.
The business that had brought him into the Kansas plains could wait; there was but one big purpose in his life now. He was eager to be up, with the weight of a certain dependable pistol in his holster, the feel of a certain rifle in its scabbard on the saddle under his knee.
Sore and bruised as he was, sorer that he would be tomorrow, Morgan wanted to get up as soon as the long rough cut on his cheek had been comfortably patched with adhesive tape. He asked the rancher if he would oblige him with a horse to go to Ascalon, where his trunk containing his much-needed wardrobe was still in the baggage-room at the depot.
"You couldn't ride to Ascalon this morning, son," the rancher told him, severely kind.
"You'll do if you can make it in a week," the young man added his opinion cheerfully.
"Yes, and then some, the way it looks to me," the elder declared.
Morgan started as if to spring from the low couch where they had laid him when they carried him in, dusty and bloody, fearful and repulsive sight of maimed flesh and torn clothing that he was.
"I can't stay a week—I can't wait a day! They'll be gone, man!" he said.
"Maybe they will, son," the rancher agreed, gently pushing him back; "maybe. But they'll leave tracks."
"Yes, by God! they'll leave tracks!" Morgan muttered.
"Don't you think I'd better send my boy over to town for the doctor?" the rancher asked.
"Not unless you're uneasy about me."
"No, your head's all right and your bones are whole. You'll heal up, but it'll take some time."
Morgan said he felt that more had been done for him already than any number of doctors could have accomplished, for the service had been one of humanity, with no thought of reward. They would let the doctor stay in Ascalon, and Morgan would go to him if he felt the need coming on. The rancher disclaimed credit for a service such as one man owed another the world over, he said. But it was plain that he was touched by the outspoken gratitude of this wreckage of humanity that had come halting in bonds to his door.
"I'm a stranger to this country," Morgan explained, "I arrived in Ascalon yesterday—" pausing to ponder it, thinking it must have been longer than a day ago—"yesterday"—with conviction, "a little after noon. Morgan is my name. I came here to settle on land."
"You're the man that took the new marshal's gun away from him," the rancher said, nodding slowly. "My daughter knew you the minute she saw you—she was over there yesterday after the mail."
Morgan's heart jumped. He looked about the room for her, but she and her mother had withdrawn.
"I guess I made a mistake when I mixed up with him," Morgan said, as if he excused himself to the absent girl.
"The only mistake you made was when you handed him back his gun. You ought to 'a' handed it back to a corpse," the rancher said.
"We knew that feller he killed," the younger man explained, with a world of significance in his voice.
"He used to live up here in this country before he went to Abilene; he'd come back to blow his money in Ascalon, I guess," the rancher said. "He was one of them harmless bluffin' boys you could take by the ear and lead around like he had a ring in his nose."
"That's what I told them," Morgan commented, in thoughtful, distracted way.
"You sized him up right. He wouldn't 'a' pulled his gun, quick as he was to slap his hand on it and run a sandy. I guess it was just as well it happened to him then as some other time. Somebody was bound to kill him when he got away among strangers."
The rancher, who introduced himself as Stilwell, asked for the details of the killing, which Morgan gave, together with the trivial thing that led up to it. The big rancher sighed, shaking his head sadly.
"You ought to took his gun away from him and bent it around his fool head," he said.
"It would have been better for him, and for me, I guess," Morgan agreed.
"Yes, that marshal was purty sore on you for takin' his gun away from him right out in public, it looks like," the rancher suggested, a bid in his manner for the details of his misfortune which Morgan felt were his by right of hospitality.
"I ran into some of his friends later on. He'd turned the town over to them, a bunch of cowpunchers just up from the Nueces."
The rancher started at the word, exchanging a startled, meaning look with his son.
"That outfit that loaded over at Ascalon yesterday?" he inquired.
"Yes; seven or eight of them stayed behind to look after the horses—eight with the marshal, he's one of the outfit."
"Did them fellers rope you and drag you away out here?" Stilwell inquired, leaning over in the tensity of his feeling, his tanned face growing pale, as if the thought of such atrocity turned his blood cold.
"They hitched me to a freight train. The rope broke at the river."
The rancher turned to his son again, making a motion with open hand outflung as if displaying evidence in some controversy between them that clinched it on his side without another word. The younger man came a step nearer Morgan's couch, where he stood with grave face, hesitant, as if something came forward in his mind to speak. The elder strode to the door and looked out into the sun of early morning, and the cool shadows of the cottonwood trees at the riverside which reached almost to his walls.
"To a train! God A'mighty—to a train!" Morgan heard him say.
"How far is it from Ascalon to the river?" Morgan asked.
"Over two miles! And your hands tied—God A'mighty!"
"You take it easy, they'll not leave Ascalon till Sol Drumm, their boss, comes back from Kansas City," the young man said. "We're layin' for him ourselves, we've got a bill against him."
"And we've got about as much show to collect it as we have to dip a hatful of stars out of the river," Stilwell said, turning gloomily from the door.
"We'll see about that!" the younger one returned, in high and defiant stubbornness.
"We've already lost upwards of five hundred head of stock from that feller's trespass on our range," Stilwell explained. "That gang drove in here three weeks ago to rest and feed up for market, payin' no attention to anybody's range or anybody's warning to keep off. They had the men with them to go where they pleased. Them Texas cattle come up here loaded with fever ticks, and the bite of them little bugs means death to a northern herd. They sowed ticks all over my range. I'm still a losin' cattle, and Lord knows where it will stop."
"You've been working to get a quarantine law passed, I remember," Morgan said, feeling this outrage as if the cattle were his own.
"Yes, but Congress is asleep, and them fellers down in Texas never shut their eyes. I warned Drumm to keep off my range, asked him first like a gentleman, but he drove in one night between my pickets and mixed his poison cattle with mine out of pure cussidness. He claimed they got away, and him with fifteen or twenty men to ride herd! It's cost me ten thousand dollars, at the lowest figure, already, and more goin'. It looks like it would clean me out."
"You ought to have some recourse against him in law," Morgan said.
"Yes, I thought so, too. I went to the county attorney and wanted to bring an attachment on Drumm's herd, but he told me there wasn't any law he could act under, it was anybody's range as much as mine, Texas fever or no Texas fever. I could sue him, he said, but it was a slim chance. Well, I'm goin' to see another lawyer—I'll take it up with Judge Thayer, and see what he can do."
"Drumm'll pay it, down to the last dime!" the young man declared.
"We can't hold him up and take it away from him, Fred," the older man reproved. "That would be as big a crime as his."
"He'll pay it!" Fred repeated, with what Morgan thought to be admirable tenacity, even though his means to the desired end might be hard to justify.
They helped Morgan to another room, where they outfitted him with clothing to replace his own shredded garments. Stilwell insisted that he remain as his guest until his hurts were mended, although, he explained, he could not stay at home to keep him company. His wife and daughter would talk his arm off without help from the rest of the family. He would call them in and introduce them.
"My girl's got a new piano—lucky I sent for it before that Texas outfit struck this range—she can try it out on you," Stilwell said, a laugh still left in him for an amusing situation in spite of the ruin he faced.
Morgan could hear the girl and her mother talking in the kitchen, their voices quite distinct at times as they passed an open door that he could not see. Lame and aching, hands swollen and purple, he sat in a rocking-chair by the open window, not so broken by his experiences nor so depressed by his pains but he yet had the pleasure of anticipation in meeting this girl. He had determined only a few hours ago that the country was not big enough to hide her from him. Now Fate had jerked him with rough hand to the end of his quest before it was fairly begun.
As he thought this, Stilwell came back, convoying his ample red-faced wife, and almost as ample, and quite as red-faced, daughter. So, there must have been more than one young lady after mail in Ascalon yesterday afternoon, thought Morgan, as he got up ruefully, with much pain in his feet and ankles, rather shamed and taken back, and bowed the best way he could to this girl who was not his girl, after all his eager anticipation.
NEWS FROM ASCALON
"Down here in the river bottom, where the water rises close to the top of the ground, you can raise a little corn and stuff, but take it back on the prairie a little way and you can't make your seed back, year in and year out. Plenty of them have come here from the East and tried it—I suppose you must 'a' seen the traces of them scattered around as you come through the country east of Ascalon."
Morgan admitted that he had seen such traces, melancholy records of failure that they were.
"It's all over this country the same way. It broke 'em as fast as they came, starved 'em and took the heart out of 'em and drove 'em away. You can't farm this country, Morgan; no man ever learnt anything out of books that will make him master of these plains with a plow."
So spoke Stilwell, the cattleman, sitting at night before his long, low, L-shaped sod house with his guest who had been dragged into his hospitality at the end of a rope. Eight days Morgan had been sequestered in that primitive home, which had many comforts in spite of the crudity of its exterior. His soreness had passed from the green and superficially painful stage to the deeper ache of bruised bones. He walked with a limp, stiff and stoved in his joints as a foundered horse. But his hands and arms had recovered their suppleness, and, like an overgrown fledgling at the edge of the nest, he was thinking of projecting a flight.
During the time Morgan had been in the Stilwell ranchhouse no news had come to him from Ascalon. Close as they lived to the town, the Stilwells had been too deeply taken up with their own problem of pending ruin due to the loss of their herd from Texas fever infection, to make a trip even to the post-office for their mail. Violet, the daughter, was on the range more than half the time, doing what she could to drive the sick cattle to the river where they might have a better chance to fight the dread malady.
Morgan's injuries had turned out to be deeper seated and more serious than he had at first supposed. For several days he was racked with a fever that threatened to floor him, due to the mental torture of that terrible night. It had passed, and with it much of his pain, and he would have gone to Ascalon for his reckoning with the men from the Nueces two days ago if Stilwell had not argued the folly of attempting an adjustment under the handicap of his injuries.
Wait a few days longer, the rancher sagely advised, eat and rest, and rub that good fiery horse liniment of his on the sore spots and swollen joints. Even if they were gone, which Stilwell knew would not be the case for Drumm would not have made it back from Kansas City yet, Morgan could follow them. And to do that he must be sound and strong.
Stilwell had put off even his own case against the Texas stockman, he had been so urged for time in getting his sick cattle down to the shade and water along the river. Now the job seemed over, for all he could do, and was taking his ease at home this night, intending to go early in the morning and put his case for damages against Drumm into Judge Thayer's hands.
Through Morgan's days of sickness and waiting for strength, he was attended tenderly by Mrs. Stilwell, and sometimes of an afternoon, when Violet came in from the hot, dry range, she would play for him on her new piano. She played a great deal better than he had any reason to expect of her, self-taught in her isolation on the banks of the shallow Arkansas.
Violet was a girl of large frame, large bones in her wrists, large fingers to her useful, kindly ministering hands. Her face was somewhat too long and thin to be called handsome, but it was refined by a wistfulness that told of inner striving for something beyond the horizon of her days there in her prairie-circled home. And now as the two men talked outside the door, the new moonlight white on the dust of the trampled yard, Violet was at her piano, playing a simple melody with a soft, expressive tenderness as sweet to him as any music Morgan ever had heard. For he understood that the instrument was the medium of expression for this prairie girl's soul, reaching out from its shelter of sod laid upon sod to what aspirations, following what longings, mounting to what ambitions, none in her daily contact ever knew.
Stilwell was downcast by the blow he had received in the loss of more than half his herd through the Texas scourge. It had taken years of hardship and striving, fighting drouth and winter storm, preying wolves and preying men, to build the herd up to the point where profits were about ready to be enjoyed.
Nothing but a frost would put an end to the scourge of Texas fever; in those days no other remedy had been discovered. Before nature could send this relief Stilwell feared the rest of his cattle would die, although he had driven them from the contaminated range. If that happened he would be wiped out, for he was too old, he said, to start at the bottom and build up another herd.
It was at this point that Morgan suggested Stilwell turn to the soil instead of range cattle as a future business, a thing that called down the cattleman's scorn and derision, and citation of the wreckage that country had made of men's hopes. He dismissed that subject very soon as one unworthy of even acrimonious debate or further denunciation, to dwell on his losses and the bleakness of the future as it presented itself through the bones of his dead cattle.
As they sat talking, the soft notes of Violet's melody soothing to the ears as a distant song, the young man Fred came riding in from Ascalon, the bearer of news. He began to talk before he struck the ground, breathlessly, like a man who had beheld unbelievable things.
"That gang from Texas has took the town—everybody's hidin' out," he reported.
"Took the town?" said Stilwell, incredulously.
"Stores all shut up, post-office locked and old man Flower settin' in the upstairs winder with his Winchester across his leg waitin' for them to bust in the door and steal the gover'ment money!"
"Listen to that!" said Stilwell, as the young man stood there hat off, mopping the sweat of excitement from his forehead. "Where's that man-eatin' marshal feller at?"
"He's killin' off everybody in town but his friends—he's killed eight men, a man a day, since he's been in office. He's got everybody lookin' for a hole."
"A man a day!" said Morgan, scarcely able to believe the news.
"Who was they?" Stilwell inquired, bringing his chair down from its easy slant against the sod wall, leaning forward to catch the particulars of this unequaled record of slaughter.
"I didn't hear," said Fred, panting faster than his hard-ridden horse.
"I hope none of the boys off of this range around here got into it with him," Stilwell said.
"They say he's closed up all the gamblin' joints and saloons but Peden's, and the bank's been shut four or five days, Judge Thayer and a bunch of fellers inside of it with rifles. Tom Conboy told me the judge had telegraphed to the governor asking him to send soldiers to restore law and order in the town."
"Law and order!" Stilwell scorned. "All the law and order they ever had in that hell-hole a man'd never miss."
"Where's the sheriff—what's he doing to restore order?" Morgan inquired.
"The sheriff ain't doin' nothing. I ain't been over there, but I know that much," Stilwell said.
"They say he's out after some rustlers," Fred replied.
"Yes, and he'll stay out till the trouble's over and come back without a hide or hair of a rustler. What else are they doin'?"
"Rairin' and shootin'," said Fred, winded by the enormity of this outlawry, even though bred in an atmosphere of violence.
"Are they hittin' anybody, or just shootin' for noise?" Stilwell asked.
"Well, I know they took a crack at me when I went out of Conboy's to git my horse."
Mrs. Stilwell and Violet, who had hastened out on Fred's excited arrival, exclaimed in concern at this, the mother going to her boy to feel him over as for wounds, standing by him a little while with arm around him.
"Did you shoot back?" Stilwell wanted to know.
"I hope I did," Fred replied.
Stilwell got up, and stood looking at the moon a little while as if calculating the time of night.
"They need a man or two over there to clean that gang up," he said. "Well, it ain't my business to do it, as long as they didn't hit you."
Mrs. Stilwell chided him sharply, perhaps having history behind her to justify her alarm at these symptoms.
"Let them fight it out among themselves, the wolves!" she said.
Morgan had drawn a little apart from the family group, walking to the corner of the house where he stood looking off toward Ascalon, still and tense as if he listened for the sounds of conflict. He was dressed in Stilwell's clothes, which were somewhat too roomy of body but nothing too large otherwise, for both of them had the stature of proper men. His feet were in slippers, his ankles bandaged and soaked with the penetrating liniment designed alike for the ailments of man and beast.
Violet studied him as he stood there between her and the moon, his face sterner for the ordeal of suffering that had tried his manhood in that two-mile run beside the train, where nothing but a sublime defiance of death had held him to his feet.
He had told her of his seven-years' struggle upward from the cowboy's saddle to a place of honor in the faculty of the institution where he had beaten out the hard, slow path to learning; she knew of his purpose in coming to the western Kansas plains. Until this moment she had believed it to be a misleading and destructive illusion that would break his heart and rive his soul, as it had the hearts and souls of thousands of brave men and women before him.
Now she had a new revelation, the moonlight on his face, bright in his fair hair, picturing him as rugged as a rock uplifted against the dim sky. She knew him then for a man such as she never had met in the narrow circle of her life before, a man strong to live in his purpose and strong to die in it if the need might be. He would conquer where others had failed; the strength of his soul was written in his earnest face.
"I think I'll go over to Ascalon," Morgan said presently, turning to them, speaking slowly. "Will you let me have a horse?"
"Go to Ascalon! Lands save us!" Mrs. Stilwell exclaimed.
"No, no—not tonight!" Violet protested, hurrying forward as if she would stay him by force.
"You wait till morning, son," Stilwell counseled calmly, so calmly, indeed, that his wife turned to him sharply. "Maybe I'll go with you in the morning."
"You've got no business there—let them kill each other off if they want to, but you keep out of it!" said his wife.
"If you'll let me have a horse—" Morgan began again, with the insistence of a man unmoved.
"You forgot about our cattle, Mother," Stilwell chided, ignoring Morgan's request. "I'm goin' to sue Sol Drumm, I'm goin' to have the papers ready to serve on him the minute he steps off of the train. If there's any way to make him pay for the damage he's done me I'm goin' to do it."
"There's more than one way," said Fred. "If the law can't——"
"Then we lose," his father finished for him, in the calm resignation of a just man.
Morgan's intention of going to Ascalon to square accounts with his persecutors as soon as he had the strength to warrant such a move was no secret in the Stilwell family. Fred had offered his services at the beginning, and the one cowboy now left out of the five but recently employed by Stilwell had laid his pistol on the table and told Morgan that he was the man who went with it, both of them at his service when the hour of reckoning should arrive. Now Stilwell himself was beginning to show the pistol itch in his palm.
Morgan was grateful for all this uprising on the part of his new friends in his behalf, to whom his suffering and the cruelty of his ordeal appealed strongly for sympathy, but he could not accept any assistance at their hands. There could be no satisfaction in justice applied by any hand but his own. If otherwise, he might as well go to the county attorney, lodge complaints, obtain warrants and send his enemies to jail.
No, it was a case for personal attention; it was a one-man job. What they were to suffer for their great wrong against him, he must inflict with his own weapon, like the savage Comanche whose camp fires were scarcely cold in that place.
So Morgan spoke again of going that night to Ascalon, only to be set upon by all of them and argued into submission. Eager as Fred was to go along and have a hand in the fray, he was against going that night. Violet came and laid her good wholesome, sympathetic hand on Morgan's arm and looked into his face with a plea in her eyes that was stronger than words. He couldn't bear his feet in the stirrups with his ankles all swollen and sore as they were, she said; wait a day or two—wait a week. What did it matter if they should leave in the meantime, and go back down the wild trail to Texas? So much the better; let them go.
Morgan smiled to hear her say it would be better if they should get away, for she was one of the forgiving of this world, in whose breast the fire of vengeance would find no fuel to nurse its hot spark and burst into raging flame. He yielded to their entreaties and reasoning, agreeing to defer his expedition against his enemies until morning, but not an hour longer.
When the others had gone to bed, Morgan went down to the river through the broad notch in the low bank where the Santa Fe Trail used to cross. This old road was brush-grown now, with only a dusty path winding along it where the cattle passed to drink. The hoof-cut soil was warm and soft to his bruised feet; the bitter scent of the willows was strong on the cooling night as he brushed among them. Out across the broad golden bars he went, seeking the shallow ripple to which the stream shrunk in the summer days between rains, sitting by it when he came to it at last, bathing his feet in the tepid water.
There he sat for the cure of the water on his bruised, fevered joints, raking the fire of his hatred together until it grew and leaped within him like a tempest. As the Indian warrior watches the night out with song of defiance and dance of death to inflame him to his grim purpose of the dawn, so this man fallen from the ways of gentleness into the abyss of savagery spurred himself to a grim and terrible frenzy by visiting his wrath in anticipation upon his enemies.
Unworthy as they were, obscure and trivial; riotous, ignorant, bestial in their lives, he would lower himself to their level for one blood-red hour to carry to them a punishment more terrible than the noose. As from the dead he would rise up to strike them with terror. In the morning, when the sun was striking long shadows of shrub and bunched bluestem over the prairie levels; in the morning, when the wind was as weak as a young fawn.
THE HOUR OF VENGEANCE
The proscribed of the earth were sleeping late in Ascalon that morning, as they slept late every morning, bright or cloudy, head-heavy with the late watch and debaucheries of the night. Few were on the street in pursuit of the small amount of legitimate business the town transacted during the burning hours when the moles of the night lay housed in gloom, when Morgan walked from the baggage-room of the railroad depot.
Few who saw Morgan on the day of his arrival in Ascalon would have recognized him now. He had been obliged to go to the bottom of his trunk for the outfit that he treasured out of sentiment for the old days rather than in any expectation of needing it again—the rig he had worn into the college town, a matter of six hundred miles from his range, to begin a new life. Now he had fallen from the eminence. He was going back to the old.
The gray wool shirt was wrinkled and stained by weather and wear, the roomy corduroy trousers were worn from saddle chafing, the big spurs were rusted of rowel and shank. But the boots were new—he had bought them before leaving the range, to wear in college, laying them aside with regret when he found them not just the thing in vogue—and they were still brave in glossy bronze of quilted tops, little marred by that last long ride out of his far-away past. His cream-colored hat was battered and old, for he had worn it five years in all weather, crushed from the pressure of packing, but he pinched the tall crown to a point as he used to wear it, and turned the broad brim back from his forehead according to the habit of his former days.
This had been his gala costume in other times, kept in the bunkhouse at the ranch for days of fiesta, nights of dancing, and wild dissipation when he rode with his fellows to the three-days' distant town. His old pistol was in his holster, and his empty cartridge belt about his middle, the rifle, in saddle holster, that he used to carry for wolves and rustlers, in his hand.
Morgan stood a moment, leaning the rifle against the depot end, to take the bright silk handkerchief from about his neck, as if he considered it as being too festive for the somber business before him. The station agent stood at the corner of the building, watching him curiously.
The horse that Morgan had borrowed from Stilwell lifted its head with a start as he approached where it stood at the side of the station platform, as if it questioned him on the reason for this transformation and the honesty of his purpose. Morgan did not mount the horse, although he walked with difficulty in the tight boots which had lain like the shed habits of his past so many years unstretched by a foot. He went leading the horse, rein over his arm, to the hitching rack in front of the hotel, under the plank canopy of which Stilwell and his son waited his coming.
Stilwell had made it plain to Morgan at the beginning, to save his feelings and his pride, that they were not attending him on the expedition against his enemies with any intention of helping him. Just to be there in case of outside interference, and to enjoy the spectacle of justice being done by a strong hand. Stilwell's account, personally, was not against these men, he said, although they had driven their herd upon his range and spread infection among his cattle. That would be taken up with Sol Drumm when he came back from Kansas City with the money from his cattle sale.
Morgan went to the hardware store, two doors from the hotel, from which he presently emerged with a coil of new rope, a row of new cartridges in his belt, and pockets heavy with a reserve supply. Tom Conboy was standing in his door, looking up and down the street in the manner of a man who felt his position insecure. Morgan saw that he was haggard and worn as from long vigils and anxieties, although he had about him still an air of assurance and self-sufficiency. Morgan passed him in the door and entered the office unrecognized, although Conboy searched him with a disfavoring and suspicious eye.
In the office there was evidence of conflict and turmoil. The showcase was broken, the large iron safe lay overturned on the floor. The blue door leading into the dining-room had been burst from its hinges, its panels cracked, and now stood in the office leaning against the partition like a champion against the ropes. Conboy turned from his watch at the street door with reluctance, to see what the visitor desired, and at the same moment Dora appeared in the doorless frame within.
"Mr. Morgan!" she cried, incredulity, surprise, pleasure, mingled in her voice.
She paused a moment, eyes round, hands lifted, her pretty mouth agape, but came on again almost at once, eagerness brushing all other emotions out of her face. "Wherever in the world have you been? What in the name of goodness is the matter with your face?" She turned Morgan a little to let the light fall on his wound.
Grim as Morgan's business was that morning, bitter as his savage heart, he had a nook in his soul for sympathetic Dora, and a smile that came so hard and vanished so quickly that it seemed it must have hurt him in the giving more than the breaking of a bone.
"Mister Morgan!" said Dora, hardly a breath between her last word and the next, "whatever have you been doin' to your face?"
"No niggers in Ireland, now—no-o-o niggers in Ireland!" Conboy warned her, coming forward with no less interest than his daughter's to peer into Morgan's bruised and marred face. "Well, well!"—with much surprise altogether genuine, "you're back again, Mr. Morgan?"
"Wherever have you been?" Dora persisted, no more interested in niggers in Ireland than elsewhere.
"I fell among thieves," Morgan told her, gravely. Then to Conboy: "Is that gang from Texas stopping here?"
"No, they lay up at Peden's on the floor where they happen to fall," Conboy replied. "If there ever was a curse turned loose on a town that gang—look at that showcase, look at that door, look at that safe. They took the town last night, a decent woman didn't dare to show her face outside the door and wasn't safe in the house. They tried to blow that safe with powder when I wouldn't open it and give them the money. But they didn't even jar it—your money's in there, Mr. Morgan, safe."
"Oh, it was awful!" said Dora. "Oh, you've got your gun! If some man——"
"Sh-h-h! No nig——"
"Where's the marshal?" Morgan asked.
"Took the train east last night. The operator told me he got a wire from Sol Drumm, boss of the outfit, to meet him in Abilene today. He swore them six ruffians in as deputies before he went and left them in charge of the town."
"Six? Where's the other one?"
Conboy looked at him with quick flashing of his shifty eyes. "Don't you know?" he asked, with significant shrewdness, smiling a little as if to show his friendly appreciation of the joke.
"What in the hell do you mean?" Morgan demanded.
"No niggers in Ireland, now," Conboy said soothingly, his face growing white. "One of them was killed down by the railroad track the night you left. They said you shot him and hopped a freight."
Morgan said no more, but turned toward the door to leave.
"The inquest hasn't been held over him yet, we've been kept so busy with the marshal's cases we didn't get around to him," Conboy explained. "Maybe you can throw some light on that case?"
"I can throw a lot of it," Morgan said, and walked out with that word to where he had left his horse.
There Morgan cut six lengths from his new rope, drawing the pieces through his belt in the manner of a man carrying string for sewing grain sacks. He took the rifle from the saddle, filled its magazine, and started toward Peden's place, which was on the next corner beyond the hotel, on the same side of the square. When he had gone a few rods, halting on his lame feet, alert as a hunter who expects the game to break from cover, Stilwell and Fred got up from their apparently disinterested lounging in front of the hotel and followed leisurely after him.
Many of the little business houses around the square were closed. There was a litter of glass on the plank sidewalk, where proprietors stood gloomily looking at broken windows, or were setting about replacing them with boards after the hurricane of deviltry that swept the town the night past. Those who were abroad in the sunlight of early morning making their purchases for the day, moved with trepidation, putting their feet down quietly, hastening on their way.
An old man who walked ahead of Morgan appeared to be the only unshaken and unconcerned person in this place of sleeping passions. He carried a thick hickory stick with immense crook, which he pegged down in time to his short steps, relying on it for support not at all, his lean old jaw chopping his cud as nimbly as a sheep's. But when Morgan's shadow, stretching far ahead, fell beside him, he started like a dozing horse, whirled about with stick upraised, and stood so in attitude of menace and defense until the stranger had passed on.
Conboy was alert in his door, watching to see what new nest of trouble Morgan was about to stir with that threatening rifle. Others seemed to feel the threat that stalked with this grim man. Life quickened in the somnolent town as to the sound of a fire bell as he passed; people stood watching after him; came to doors and windows to lean and look. A few moments after his passing the street behind him became almost magically alive, although it was a silent, expectant, fearful interest that communicated itself in whispers and low breath.
Who was this stranger with the mark of conflict on his face, this unusual weapon in the brawls and tragedies of Ascalon held ready in his hands? What grievance had he? what authority? Was he the bringer of peace in the name of the law that had been so long degraded and defied, or only another gambler in the lives of men? They waited, whispering, in silence as of a deserted city, to see and hear.
There was only one priest of alcohol attending the long altar where men sacrificed their manhood in Peden's deserted hall that morning. He was quite sufficient for all the demands of the hour, his only customers being the unprofitable gang of cattle herders whom Morgan sought. True to their training in early rising, no matter what the stress of the night past, no matter how broken by alarm and storm, they were all awake, like sailors called to their watch. They were improving while it might last the delegated authority of Seth Craddock, which opened the treasures of a thousand bottles at a word.
The gambling tables in the front of the house were covered with black cloths, which draped them almost to the floor, like palls of the dead. Down at the farther end of the long hall a man was sweeping up the debris of the night, his steps echoing in the silence of the place. For there was no hilarity in the sodden crew lined up at the bar for the first drink of the day. They were red-eyed, crumpled, dirty; frowsled of hair as they had risen from the floor.
Peden's hall was not designed for the traffic of daylight. There was gloom among its bare girders, shadows lay along its walls. Only through the open door came in a broad and healthy band of light, which spread as it reached and faltered as it groped, spending itself a little way beyond the place where the lone bartender served his profitless customers.
Morgan walked into the place down this path of light unnoticed by the men at the bar or the one who served them, for they were wrangling with him over some demand that he seemed reluctant to supply. At the end of the bar, not a rod separating them, Morgan stopped like a casual customer, waiting his moment.
The question between bartender and the gang quartered upon the town was one of champagne. It was no drink, said the bartender, to lay the foundation of a day's business with the bottle upon. Whisky was the article to put inside a man's skin at that hour of the morning, and then in small shots, not too often. They deferred to his experience, accepting whisky. As they lined up with breastbones against the bar to pour down the charge, Morgan threw his rifle down on them.
No chance to drop a hand to a gun standing shoulder to shoulder with gizzards pressed against the bar; no chance to swerve or duck and make a quick sling of it and a quicker shot, with the bore of that big rifle ready to cough sixteen chunks of lead in half as many seconds, any one of them hitting hard enough to drill through them, man by man, down to the last head in the line. So their arms went up and strained high above their heads, as if eager to show their desire to comply without reservation to the unspoken command. Morgan had not said a word.
The bartender, accepting the situation as generally inclusive, put his hands up along with his deadbeat patrons. And there they stood one straining moment, the man with the broom down in the gloom of the farther end of the building, unconscious of what was going on, whistling as he swept among the peanut hulls.
Morgan signaled with his head for the bartender to come over the barrier, which he did, with alacrity, and stood at the farther end of the line, hands up, a raw-fisted, hollow-faced Irishman with bristling short hair. Morgan jerked his head again, repeating the signal when the bartender looked in puzzled fright into his face to read the meaning. Then the fellow got it, and came forward, a vast relief spreading in his combative features.
Morgan indicated the rope ends dangling at his belt. Almost beaming, quite triumphant in his eagerness, the bartender grasped his meaning at a glance. He began tying the ruffians' hands behind their backs, and tying them well, with a zest in his work that increased as he traveled down the line.
"Champagne, is it?" said he, mocking them, a big foot in the small of the victim's back as he pulled so hard it made him squeal. "Nothing short of champoggany wather will suit the taste av ye this fine marin', and you with a thousand dollars' wort' of goods swilled into your paunches the past week! I'll give you a dose of champoggany wather you'll not soon forget, ye strivin' devils! This sheriff is the man that'll hang ye for your murthers and crimes, ye bastes!" And with each expletive a kick, but not administered in any case until he had turned his head with sly caution to see whether it would be permitted by this silent avenger who had come to Ascalon in the hour of its darkest need.
While Morgan's captives cursed him, knowing now who he was, and cursed the bartender whom they had overriden and mocked, insulted and abused in the security of their collective strength and notorious deeds, the shadow of two men fell across the threshold of Peden's door. There the shadows lay through the brief moments of this little drama's enactment, immovable, as though cast by men who watched.
The porter came forward from his sweeping to look on this degradation of the desperados, mocking them, returning them curse for curse, voluble in picturesque combinations of damning sentences as if he had practiced excommunication longer than the oldest pope who ever lived. In the excess of his scorn for their fallen might he smeared his filthy broom across their faces, paying back insult for insult, bold and secure under the protection of this stern eagle of a man who had dropped on Ascalon as from a cloud.
When the last man was bound, the last kick applied by the bartender's great, square-toed foot, Morgan motioned his sullen captives toward the door.
"Wait a minute—have something on the house," the bartender urged.
Morgan lifted his hand in gesture at once silencing and denying, and marched out after the heroes of the Chisholm Trail. Through it all he had not spoken.
They cursed Morgan as he drove them into the street, and surged against their bonds, the only silent one among them the Dutchman, and the only sober one. Now and then Morgan saw his face as the others bunched and shifted in their struggles to break loose, his mocking, sneering, pasty white face, his wide-set teeth small and white as a young pup's. His eyes were hateful as a rattlesnake's; lecherous eyes, debased.
Morgan herded them into the public square beyond the line of hitching racks which stood like a skeleton fence between courthouse and business buildings. People came pouring from every house to see, hurrying, crowding, talking in hushed voices, wondering in a hundred conjectures what this man was going to do. Gamblers and nighthawks, roused by the very feeling of something unusual, hastened out half dressed, to stand in slippers and collarless shirts, looking on in silent speculation.
Citizens, respectable and otherwise, who had suffered loss and humiliation, danger and terror at the hands of these men, exulted now in their downfall. Some said this man was a sheriff from Texas, who had tracked them to Ascalon and was now taking them to jail to await a train; some said he was a special government officer, others that the governor had sent him in place of troops, knowing him to be sufficient in himself. Boys ran along in open-mouthed admiration, pattering their bare feet in the thick dust, as Morgan drove his captives down the inside of the hitching racks; the outpouring of citizens, parasites, outcasts of the earth, swept after in a growing stream.
From all sides they came to witness this great adventure, unusual for Ascalon in that the guilty had been humbled and the arrogant brought low. Across the square they came running, on the courthouse steps they stood. In front of the hotel there was a crowd, which moved forward to meet Morgan as he came marching like an avenger behind his captives, who were now beginning to show alarm, sobered by their unexampled situation, sweating in the agony of their quaking hearts.
At the hitching rack where his horse stood, Morgan halted the six men. He took the remainder of his new rope from the saddle, laced it through the bonds on the Texans' wrists, backed them up to the horizontal pole of the hitching rack, and tied them there in a line, facing inward upon the square. As he moved about his business with deliberate, yet swift and sure hand of vengeance well plotted in advance, Morgan kept his rifle leaning near, watching the crowd for any outbreak of friends who might rise in defense of these men, or any movement that might threaten interference with his plans.
When he had finished binding the six men, backs to the rack, Morgan beckoned a group of boys to him, spoke to them in undertone that even the nearest in the crowd did not hear. Off the youngsters ran, so full of the importance of their part in that great event that they would not stay to be questioned nor halt for the briefest word.
In a little while the lads came hurrying back, with empty goods boxes and barrels, fragments of packing cases, all sorts of dry wood to which they could lay their eager hands. This they piled where Morgan indicated, to stand by panting, eyes big in excitement and wondering admiration for this mighty man.