He writhed, and his long, thin limbs quivered under the blows. The others ceased at last; but Baldwin, his cruel face set in an infernal smile, was hacking at the man's head, which he vainly endeavoured to defend with his arms. His white hair was dabbled with patches of blood. Baldwin was still stooping over his victim, putting in a short, vicious blow whenever he could see a part exposed, when McMurdo dashed up the stair and pushed him back.
"You'll kill the man," said he. "Drop it!"
Baldwin looked at him in amazement. "Curse you!" he cried. "Who are you to interfere -- you that are new to the lodge? Stand back!" He raised his stick; but McMurdo had whipped his pistol out of his hip pocket.
"Stand back yourself!" he cried. "I'll blow your face in if you lay a hand on me. As to the lodge, wasn't it the order of the Bodymaster that the man was not to be killed -- and what are you doing but killing him?"
"It's truth he says," remarked one of the men.
"By Gar! you'd best hurry yourselves!" cried the man below. "The windows are all lighting up, and you'll have the whole town here inside of five minutes."
There was indeed the sound of shouting in the street, and a little group of compositors and pressmen was forming in the hall below and nerving itself to action. Leaving the limp and motionless body of the editor at the head of the stair, the criminals rushed down and made their way swiftly along the street. Having reached the Union House, some of them mixed with the crowd in McGinty's saloon, whispering across the bar to the Boss that the job had been well carried through. Others, and among them McMurdo, broke away into side streets, and so by devious paths to their own homes.
Chapter 4 The Valley of Fear
When McMurdo awoke next morning he had good reason to remember his initiation into the lodge. His head ached with the effect of the drink, and his arm, where he had been branded, was hot and swollen. Having his own peculiar source of income, he was irregular in his attendance at his work; so he had a late breakfast, and remained at home for the morning writing a long letter to a friend. Afterwards he read the Daily Herald. In a special column put in at the last moment he read:
OUTRAGE AT THE HERALD OFFICE -- EDITOR
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. Stanger's
many friends will rejoice to hear that, though he has been
cruelly and brutally beaten, and though he has sustained
severe injuries about the head, there is no immediate danger
to 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.