THE VALLEY OF FEAR
WHEN MCMURDO awoke next morning he had
good reason to remember his initiation into the lodge. His head ached with the effect of
the drink, and his arm, where he had been branded, was hot and swollen. Having his own
peculiar source of income, he was irregular in his attendance at his work; so he had a
late breakfast,  and
remained at home for the morning writing a long letter to a friend. Afterwards he read the
Daily Herald. In a special column put in at the last moment he read:
OUTRAGE AT THE HERALD OFFICEEDITOR SERIOUSLY INJURED.
It was a short account of the facts with which he was himself more familiar than the
writer could have been. It ended with the statement:
- The matter is now in the hands of the police; but it can
hardly be hoped that their exertions will be attended by any better results
than in the past. Some of the men were recognized, and there is hope that a conviction may
be obtained. The source of the outrage was, it need hardly be said, that infamous society
which has held this community in bondage for so long a period, and against which the Herald
has taken so uncompromising a stand. Mr. Stangers many friends will rejoice to hear
that, though he has been cruelly and brutally beaten, and though he has sustained severe
injuries about the head, there is no immediate danger to his life.
Below it stated that a guard of police, armed with
Winchester rifles, had been requisitioned for the defense of the office.
McMurdo had laid down the paper, and was lighting his pipe
with a hand which was shaky from the excesses of the previous evening, when there was a
knock outside, and his landlady brought to him a note which had just been handed in by a
lad. It was unsigned, and ran thus:
- I should wish to speak to you; but would rather not do so in
your house. You will find me beside the flagstaff upon Miller Hill. If you will come there
now, I have something which it is important for you to hear and for me to say.
McMurdo read the note twice with the utmost surprise; for
he could not imagine what it meant or who was the author of it. Had it been in a feminine
hand, he might have imagined that it was the beginning of one of those adventures which
had been familiar enough in his past life. But it was the writing of a man, and of a well
educated one, too. Finally, after some hesitation, he determined to see the matter
Miller Hill is an ill-kept public park in the very centre of
the town. In summer it is a favourite resort of the people; but in winter it is desolate
enough. From the top of it one has a view not only of the whole straggling, grimy town,
but of the winding valley beneath, with its scattered mines and factories blackening the
snow on each side of it, and of the wooded and white-capped ranges flanking it.
McMurdo strolled up the winding path hedged in with evergreens
until he reached the deserted restaurant which forms the centre of summer gaiety. Beside
it was a bare flagstaff, and underneath it a man, his hat drawn down and the collar of his
overcoat turned up. When he turned his face McMurdo saw that it was Brother Morris, he who
had incurred the anger of the Bodymaster the night before. The lodge sign was given and
exchanged as they met.
I wanted to have a word with you, Mr. McMurdo,
said the older man, speaking with a hesitation which showed that he was on delicate
ground. It was kind of you to come.
did you not put your name to the note?
One has to be cautious, mister. One never knows in times
like these how a thing may come back to one. One never knows either who to trust or who
not to trust.
Surely one may trust brothers of the lodge.
No, no, not always, cried Morris with vehemence.
Whatever we say, even what we think, seems to go back to that man McGinty.
Look here! said McMurdo sternly. It was only
last night, as you know well, that I swore good faith to our Bodymaster. Would you be
asking me to break my oath?
If that is the view you take, said Morris sadly,
I can only say that I am sorry I gave you the trouble to come and meet me. Things
have come to a bad pass when two free citizens cannot speak their thoughts to each
McMurdo, who had been watching his companion very narrowly,
relaxed somewhat in his bearing. Sure I spoke for myself only, said he.
I am a newcomer, as you know, and I am strange to it all. It is not for me to open
my mouth, Mr. Morris, and if you think well to say anything to me I am here to hear
And to take it back to Boss McGinty! said Morris
Indeed, then, you do me injustice there, cried
McMurdo. For myself I am loyal to the lodge, and so I tell you straight; but I would
be a poor creature if I were to repeat to any other what you might say to me in
confidence. It will go no further than me; though I warn you that you may get neither help
I have given up looking for either the one or the
other, said Morris. I may be putting my very life in your hands by what I say;
but, bad as you are and it seemed to me last night that you were shaping to be as
bad as the worst still you are new to it, and your conscience cannot yet be as
hardened as theirs. That was why I thought to speak with you.
Well, what have you to say?
If you give me away, may a curse be on you!
Sure, I said I would not.
I would ask you, then, when you joined the
Freemans society in Chicago and swore vows of charity and fidelity, did ever it
cross your mind that you might find it would lead you to crime?
If you call it crime, McMurdo answered.
Call it crime! cried Morris, his voice vibrating
with passion. You have seen little of it if you can call it anything else. Was it
crime last night when a man old enough to be your father was beaten till the blood dripped
from his white hairs? Was that crimeor what else would you call it?
There are some would say it was war, said McMurdo,
a war of two classes with all in, so that each struck as best it could.
Well, did you think of such a thing when you joined the
Freemans society at Chicago?
No, Im bound to say I did not.
Nor did I when I joined it at Philadelphia. It was just
a benefit club and a meeting place for ones fellows. Then I heard of this
placecurse the hour that the name first fell upon my ears!and I came to better
myself! My God! to better myself! My wife and three children came with me. I started a
drygoods store on Market Square, and I prospered well. The word had gone round that I was
a Freeman, and I was forced to join the local lodge, same as you did last night. Ive
 the badge of shame on
my forearm and something worse branded on my heart. I found that I was under the orders of
a black villain and caught in a meshwork of crime. What could I do? Every word I said to
make things better was taken as treason, same as it was last night. I cant get away;
for all I have in the world is in my store. If I leave the society, I know well that it
means murder to me, and God knows what to my wife and children. Oh, man, it is
awfulawful! He put his hands to his face, and his body shook with convulsive
McMurdo shrugged his shoulders. You were too soft for
the job, said he. You are the wrong sort for such work.
I had a conscience and a religion; but they made me a
criminal among them. I was chosen for a job. If I backed down, I knew well what would come
to me. Maybe Im a coward. Maybe its the thought of my poor little woman and
the children that makes me one. Anyhow I went. I guess it will haunt me forever.
It was a lonely house, twenty miles from here, over the
range yonder. I was told off for the door, same as you were last night. They could not
trust me with the job. The others went in. When they came out their hands were crimson to
the wrists. As we turned away a child was screaming out of the house behind us. It was a
boy of five who had seen his father murdered. I nearly fainted with the horror of it, and
yet I had to keep a bold and smiling face; for well I knew that if I did not it would be
out of my house that they would come next with their bloody hands, and it would be my
little Fred that would be screaming for his father.
But I was a criminal then, part sharer in a murder, lost
forever in this world, and lost also in the next. I am a good Catholic; but the priest
would have no word with me when he heard I was a Scowrer, and I am excommunicated from my
faith. Thats how it stands with me. And I see you going down the same road, and I
ask you what the end is to be. Are you ready to be a cold-blooded murderer also, or can we
do anything to stop it?
What would you do? asked McMurdo abruptly.
You would not inform?
God forbid! cried Morris. Sure, the very
thought would cost me my life.
Thats well, said McMurdo. Im
thinking that you are a weak man and that you make too much of the matter.
Too much! Wait till you have lived here longer. Look
down the valley! See the cloud of a hundred chimneys that overshadows it! I tell you that
the cloud of murder hangs thicker and lower than that over the heads of the people. It is
the Valley of Fear, the Valley of Death. The terror is in the hearts of the people from
the dusk to the dawn. Wait, young man, and you will learn for yourself.
Well, Ill let you know what I think when I have
seen more, said McMurdo carelessly. What is very clear is that you are not the
man for the place, and that the sooner you sell outif you only get a dime a dollar
for what the business is worththe better it will be for you. What you have said is
safe with me; but, by Gar! if I thought you were an informer
No, no! cried Morris piteously.
Well, let it rest at that. Ill bear what you have
said in mind, and maybe some day Ill come back to it. I expect you meant kindly by
speaking to me like this. Now Ill be getting home.
One word before you go, said Morris. We may
have been seen together. They may want to know what we have spoken about.
Ah! thats well thought of.
I offer you a clerkship in my store.
I refuse it. Thats our business. Well, so long, Brother Morris, and may you find
things go better with you in the future.
That same afternoon, as McMurdo sat smoking, lost in thought,
beside the stove of his sitting-room, the door swung open and its framework was filled
with the huge figure of Boss McGinty. He passed the sign, and then seating himself
opposite to the young man he looked at him steadily for some time, a look which was as
Im not much of a visitor, Brother McMurdo,
he said at last. I guess I am too busy over the folk that visit me. But I thought
Id stretch a point and drop down to see you in your own house.
Im proud to see you here, Councillor,
McMurdo answered heartily, bringing his whisky bottle out of the cupboard. Its
an honour that I had not expected.
Hows the arm? asked the Boss.
McMurdo made a wry face. Well, Im not forgetting
it, he said; but its worth it.
Yes, its worth it, the other answered,
to those that are loyal and go through with it and are a help to the lodge. What
were you speaking to Brother Morris about on Miller Hill this morning?
The question came so suddenly that it was well that he had his
answer prepared. He burst into a hearty laugh. Morris didnt know I could earn
a living here at home. He shant know either; for he has got too much conscience for
the likes of me. But hes a good-hearted old chap. It was his idea that I was at a
loose end, and that he would do me a good turn by offering me a clerkship in a drygoods
Oh, that was it?
Yes, that was it.
And you refused it?
Sure. Couldnt I earn ten times as much in my own
bedroom with four hours work?
Thats so. But I wouldnt get about too much
Well, I guess because I tell you not. Thats enough
for most folk in these parts.
It may be enough for most folk; but it aint enough
for me, Councillor, said McMurdo boldly. If you are a judge of men,
youll know that.
The swarthy giant glared at him, and his hairy paw closed for
an instant round the glass as though he would hurl it at the head of his companion. Then
he laughed in his loud, boisterous, insincere fashion.
Youre a queer card, for sure, said he.
Well, if you want reasons, Ill give them. Did Morris say nothing to you
against the lodge?
Nor against me?
Well, thats because he darent trust you. But
in his heart he is not a loyal brother. We know that well. So we watch him and we wait for
the time to admonish him. Im thinking that the time is drawing near. Theres no
room for scabby sheep in our pen. But if you keep company with a disloyal man, we might
think that you were disloyal, too. See?
Theres no chance of my keeping company with him; for I dislike the man,
McMurdo answered. As to being disloyal, if it was any man but you he would not use
the word to me twice.
Well, thats enough, said McGinty, draining
off his glass. I came down to give you a word in season, and youve had
Id like to know, said McMurdo, how you
ever came to learn that I had spoken with Morris at all?
McGinty laughed. Its my business to know what goes
on in this township, said he. I guess youd best reckon on my hearing all
that passes. Well, times up, and Ill just say
But his leavetaking was cut short in a very unexpected
fashion. With a sudden crash the door flew open, and three frowning, intent faces glared
in at them from under the peaks of police caps. McMurdo sprang to his feet and half drew
his revolver; but his arm stopped midway as he became conscious that two Winchester rifles
were levelled at his head. A man in uniform advanced into the room, a six-shooter in his
hand. It was Captain Marvin, once of Chicago, and now of the Mine Constabulary. He shook
his head with a half-smile at McMurdo.
I thought youd be getting into trouble, Mr.
Crooked McMurdo of Chicago, said he. Cant keep out of it, can you? Take
your hat and come along with us.
I guess youll pay for this, Captain Marvin,
said McGinty. Who are you, Id like to know, to break into a house in this
fashion and molest honest, law-abiding men?
Youre standing out in this deal, Councillor
McGinty, said the police captain. We are not out after you, but after this man
McMurdo. It is for you to help, not to hinder us in our duty.
He is a friend of mine, and Ill answer for his
conduct, said the Boss.
By all accounts, Mr. McGinty, you may have to answer for
your own conduct some of these days, the captain answered. This man McMurdo
was a crook before ever he came here, and hes a crook still. Cover him, Patrolman,
while I disarm him.
Theres my pistol, said McMurdo coolly.
Maybe, Captain Marvin, if you and I were alone and face to face you would not take
me so easily.
Wheres your warrant? asked McGinty. By
Gar! a man might as well live in Russia as in Vermissa while folk like you are running the
police. Its a capitalist outrage, and youll hear more of it, I reckon.
You do what you think is your duty the best way you can,
Councillor. Well look after ours.
What am I accused of? asked McMurdo.
Of being concerned in the beating of old Editor Stanger
at the Herald office. It wasnt your fault that it isnt a murder charge.
Well, if thats all you have against him,
cried McGinty with a laugh, you can save yourself a deal of trouble by dropping it
right now. This man was with me in my saloon playing poker up to midnight, and I can bring
a dozen to prove it.
Thats your affair, and I guess you can settle it
in court to-morrow. Meanwhile, come on, McMurdo, and come quietly if you dont want a
gun across your head. You stand wide, Mr. McGinty; for I warn you I will stand no
resistance when I am on duty!
determined was the appearance of the captain that both McMurdo and his boss were forced to
accept the situation. The latter managed to have a few whispered words with the prisoner
before they parted.
What about he jerked his thumb upward
to signify the coining plant.
All right, whispered McMurdo, who had devised a
safe hiding place under the floor.
Ill bid you good-bye, said the Boss, shaking
hands. Ill see Reilly the lawyer and take the defense upon myself. Take my
word for it that they wont be able to hold you.
I wouldnt bet on that. Guard the prisoner, you
two, and shoot him if he tries any games. Ill search the house before I leave.
He did so; but apparently found no trace of the concealed
plant. When he had descended he and his men escorted McMurdo to headquarters. Darkness had
fallen, and a keen blizzard was blowing so that the streets were nearly deserted; but a
few loiterers followed the group, and emboldened by invisibility shouted imprecations at
Lynch the cursed Scowrer! they cried. Lynch
him! They laughed and jeered as he was pushed into the police station. After a
short, formal examination from the inspector in charge he was put into the common cell.
Here he found Baldwin and three other criminals of the night before, all arrested that
afternoon and waiting their trial next morning.
But even within this inner fortress of the law the long arm of
the Freemen was able to extend. Late at night there came a jailer with a straw bundle for
their bedding, out of which he extracted two bottles of whisky, some glasses, and a pack
of cards. They spent a hilarious night, without an anxious thought as to the ordeal of the
Nor had they cause, as the result was to show. The magistrate
could not possibly, on the evidence, have held them for a higher court. On the one hand
the compositors and pressmen were forced to admit that the light was uncertain, that they
were themselves much perturbed, and that it was difficult for them to swear to the
identity of the assailants; although they believed that the accused were among them. Cross
examined by the clever attorney who had been engaged by McGinty, they were even more
nebulous in their evidence.
The injured man had already deposed that he was so taken by
surprise by the suddenness of the attack that he could state nothing beyond the fact that
the first man who struck him wore a moustache. He added that he knew them to be Scowrers,
since no one else in the community could possibly have any enmity to him, and he had long
been threatened on account of his outspoken editorials. On the other hand, it was clearly
shown by the united and unfaltering evidence of six citizens, including that high
municipal official, Councillor McGinty, that the men had been at a card party at the Union
House until an hour very much later than the commission of the outrage.
Needless to say that they were discharged with something very
near to an apology from the bench for the inconvenience to which they had been put,
together with an implied censure of Captain Marvin and the police for their officious
The verdict was greeted with loud applause by a court in which
McMurdo saw many familiar faces. Brothers of the lodge smiled and waved. But there were
others who sat with compressed lips and brooding eyes as the men filed out of the  dock. One of them, a little,
dark-bearded, resolute fellow, put the thoughts of himself and comrades into words as the
ex-prisoners passed him.
You damned murderers! he said. Well
fix you yet!