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McMurdo was a man who made his mark quickly. Wherever he was the folk around soon knew it. Within a week he had become infinitely the most important person at Shafter's. There were ten or a dozen boarders there; but they were honest foremen or commonplace clerks from the stores, of a very different calibre from the young Irishman. Of an evening when they gathered together his joke was always the readiest, his conversation the brightest, and his song the best. He was a born boon companion, with a magnetism which drew good humour from all around him.

And yet he showed again and again, as he had shown in the railway carriage, a capacity for sudden, fierce anger, which compelled the respect and even the fear of those who met him. For the law, too, and all who were connected with it, he exhibited a bitter contempt which delighted some and alarmed others of his fellow boarders.

From the first he made it evident, by his open admiration, that the daughter of the house had won his heart from the instant that he had set eyes upon her beauty and her grace. He was no backward suitor. On the second day he told her that he loved her, and from then onward he repeated the same story with an absolute disregard of what she might say to discourage him.

"Someone else?" he would cry. "Well, the worse luck for someone else! Let him look out for himself! Am I to lose my life's chance and all my heart's desire for someone else? You can keep on saying no, Ettie: the day will come when you will say yes, and I'm young enough to wait."

He was a dangerous suitor, with his glib Irish tongue, and his pretty, coaxing ways. There was about him also that glamour of experience and of mystery which attracts a woman's interest, and finally her love. He could talk of the sweet valleys of County Monaghan from which he came, of the lovely, distant island, the low hills and green meadows of which seemed the more beautiful when imagination viewed them from this place of grime and snow.

Then he was versed in the life of the cities of the North, of Detroit, and the lumber camps of Michigan, and finally of Chicago, where he had worked in a planing mill. And afterwards came the hint of romance, the feeling that strange things had happened to him in that great city, so strange and so intimate that they might not be spoken of. He spoke wistfully of a sudden leaving, a breaking of old ties, a flight into a strange world, ending in this dreary valley, and Ettie listened, her dark eyes gleaming with pity and with sympathy--those two qualities which may turn so rapidly and so naturally to love.

McMurdo had obtained a temporary job as bookkeeper for he was a well-educated man. This kept him out most of the day, and he had not found occasion yet to report himself to the head of the lodge of the Eminent Order of Freemen. He was reminded of his omission, however, by a visit one evening from Mike Scanlan, the fellow member whom he had met in the train. Scanlan, the small, sharp-faced, nervous, black-eyed man, seemed glad to see him once more. After a glass or two of whisky he broached the object of his visit.

"Say, McMurdo," said he, "I remembered your address, so l made bold to call. I'm surprised that you've not reported to the Bodymaster. Why haven't you seen Boss McGinty yet?"

"Well, I had to find a job. I have been busy."

"You must find time for him if you have none for anything else. Good Lord, man! you're a fool not to have been down to the Union House and registered your name the first morning after you came here! If you run against him--well, you mustn't, that's all!"

McMurdo showed mild surprise. "I've been a member of the lodge for over two years, Scanlan, but I never heard that duties were so pressing as all that."

"Maybe not in Chicago."

"Well, it's the same society here."

"Is it?"

Scanlan looked at him long and fixedly. There was something sinister in his eyes.

"Isn't it?"

"You'll tell me that in a month's time. I hear you had a talk with the patrolmen after I left the train."

"How did you know that?"

"Oh, it got about--things do get about for good and for bad in this district."

"Well, yes. I told the hounds what I thought of them."

"By the Lord, you'll be a man after McGinty's heart!"

"What, does he hate the police too?"

Scanlan burst out laughing. "You go and see him, my lad," said he as he took his leave. "It's not the police but you that he'll hate if you don't! Now, take a friend's advice and go at once!"

It chanced that on the same evening McMurdo had another more pressing interview which urged him in the same direction. It may have been that his attentions to Ettie had been more evident than before, or that they had gradually obtruded themselves into the slow mind of his good German host; but, whatever the cause, the boarding-house keeper beckoned the young man into his private room and started on the subject without any circumlocution.

"It seems to me, mister," said he, "that you are gettin' set on my Ettie. Ain't that so, or am I wrong?"

"Yes, that is so," the young man answered.

"Vell, I vant to tell you right now that it ain't no manner of use. There's someone slipped in afore you."

"She told me so."

"Vell, you can lay that she told you truth. But did she tell you who it vas?"

"No, I asked her; but she wouldn't tell."

"I dare say not, the leetle baggage! Perhaps she did not vish to frighten you avay."

"Frighten!" McMurdo was on fire in a moment.

"Ah, yes, my friend! You need not be ashamed to be frightened of him. It is Teddy Baldwin."

"And who the devil is he?"

"He is a boss of Scowrers."

"Scowrers! I've heard of them before. It's Scowrers here and Scowrers there, and always in a whisper! What are you all afraid of? Who are the Scowrers?"

The boarding-house keeper instinctively sank his voice, as everyone did who talked about that terrible society. "The Scowrers," said he, "are the Eminent Order of Freemen!"

The young man stared. "Why, I am a member of that order myself."

"You! I vould never have had you in my house if I had known it--not if you vere to pay me a hundred dollar a veek."

"What's wrong with the order? It's for charity and good fellowship. The rules say so."

"Maybe in some places. Not here!"

"What is it here?"

"It's a murder society, that's vat it is."

McMurdo laughed incredulously. "How can you prove that?" he asked.

"Prove it! Are there not fifty murders to prove it? Vat about Milman and Van Shorst, and the Nicholson family, and old Mr. Hyam, and little Billy James, and the others? Prove it! Is there a man or a voman in this valley vat does not know it?"

"See here!" said McMurdo earnestly. "I want you to take back what you've said, or else make it good. One or the other you must do before I quit this room. Put yourself in my place. Here am I, a stranger in the town. I belong to a society that I know only as an innocent one. You'll find it through the length and breadth of the States, but always as an innocent one. Now, when I am counting upon joining it here, you tell me that it is the same as a murder society called the Scowrers. I guess you owe me either an apology or else an explanation, Mr. Shafter."

"I can but tell you vat the whole vorld knows, mister. The bosses of the one are the bosses of the other. If you offend the one, it is the other vat vill strike you. We have proved it too often."

"That's just gossip--I want proof!" said McMurdo.

"If you live here long you vill get your proof. But I forget that you are yourself one of them. You vill soon be as bad as the rest. But you vill find other lodgings, mister. I cannot have you here. Is it not bad enough that one of these people come courting my Ettie, and that I dare not turn him down, but that I should have another for my boarder? Yes, indeed, you shall not sleep here after to-night!"

McMurdo found himself under sentence of banishment both from his comfortable quarters and from the girl whom he loved. He found her alone in the sitting-room that same evening, and he poured his troubles into her ear.

"Sure, your father is after giving me notice," he said. "It's little I would care if it was just my room, but indeed, Ettie, though it's only a week that I've known you, you are the very breath of life to me, and I can't live without you!"

"Oh, hush, Mr. McMurdo, don't speak so!" said the girl. "I have told you, have I not, that you are too late? There is another, and if I have not promised to marry him at once, at least I can promise no one else."

"Suppose I had been first, Ettie, would I have had a chance?"

The girl sank her face into her hands. "I wish to heaven that you had been first!" she sobbed.

McMurdo was down on his knees before her in an instant. "For God's sake, Ettie, let it stand at that!" he cried. "Will you ruin your life and my own for the sake of this promise? Follow your heart, acushla! 'Tis a safer guide than any promise before you knew what it was that you were saying."

He had seized Ettie's white hand between his own strong brown ones.

"Say that you will be mine, and we will face it out together!"

"Not here?"

"Yes, here."

"No, no, Jack!" His arms were round her now. "It could not be here. Could you take me away?"

A struggle passed for a moment over McMurdo's face; but it ended by setting like granite. "No, here," he said. "I'll hold you against the world, Ettie, right here where we are!"

"Why should we not leave together?"

"No, Ettie, I can't leave here."

"But why?"

"I'd never hold my head up again if I felt that I had been driven out. Besides, what is there to be afraid of? Are we not free folks in a free country? If you love me, and I you, who will dare to come between?"

"You don't know, Jack. You've been here too short a time. You don't know this Baldwin. You don't know McGinty and his Scowrers."

"No, I don't know them, and I don't fear them, and I don't believe in them!" said McMurdo. "I've lived among rough men, my darling, and instead of fearing them it has always ended that they have feared me--always, Ettie. It's mad on the face of it! If these men, as your father says, have done crime after crime in the valley, and if everyone knows them by name, how comes it that none are brought to justice? You answer me that, Ettie!"

"Because no witness dares to appear against them. He would not live a month if he did. Also because they have always their own men to swear that the accused one was far from the scene of the crime. But surely, Jack, you must have read all this. I had understood that every paper in the United States was writing about it."

"Well, I have read something, it is true; but I had thought it was a story. Maybe these men have some reason in what they do. Maybe they are wronged and have no other way to help themselves."

"Oh, Jack, don't let me hear you speak so! That is how he speaks--the other one!"

"Baldwin--he speaks like that, does he?"

"And that is why I loathe him so. Oh, Jack, now I can tell you the truth. I loathe him with all my heart; but I fear him also. I fear him for myself; but above all I fear him for father. I know that some great sorrow would come upon us if I dared to say what I really felt. That is why I have put him off with half-promises. It was in real truth our only hope. But if you would fly with me, Jack, we could take father with us and live forever far from the power of these wicked men."

Again there was the struggle upon McMurdo's face, and again it set like granite. "No harm shall come to you, Ettie--nor to your father either. As to wicked men, I expect you may find that I am as bad as the worst of them before we're through."

"No, no, Jack! I would trust you anywhere."

McMurdo laughed bitterly. "Good Lord! how little you know of me! Your innocent soul, my darling, could not even guess what is passing in mine. But, hullo, who's the visitor?"

The door had opened suddenly, and a young fellow came swaggering in with the air of one who is the master. He was a handsome, dashing young man of about the same age and build as McMurdo himself. Under his broad-brimmed black felt hat, which he had not troubled to remove, a handsome face with fierce, domineering eyes and a curved hawk-bill of a nose looked savagely at the pair who sat by the stove.

Ettie had jumped to her feet full of confusion and alarm. "I'm glad to see you, Mr. Baldwin," said she. "You're earlier than I had thought. Come and sit down."

Baldwin stood with his hands on his hips looking at McMurdo. "Who is this?" he asked curtly.

"It's a friend of mine, Mr. Baldwin, a new boarder here. Mr. McMurdo, may I introduce you to Mr. Baldwin?"

The young men nodded in surly fashion to each other.

"Maybe Miss Ettie has told you how it is with us?" said Baldwin.

"I didn't understand that there was any relation between you."

"Didn't you? Well, you can understand it now. You can take it from me that this young lady is mine, and you'll find it a very fine evening for a walk."

"Thank you, I am in no humour for a walk."

"Aren't you?" The man's savage eyes were blazing with anger. "Maybe you are in a humour for a fight, Mr. Boarder!"

"That I am!" cried McMurdo, springing to his feet. "You never said a more welcome word."

"For God's sake, Jack! Oh, for God's sake!" cried poor, distracted Ettie. "Oh, Jack, Jack, he will hurt you!"

"Oh, it's Jack, is it?" said Baldwin with an oath. "You've come to that already, have you?"

"Oh, Ted, be reasonable--be kind! For my sake, Ted, if ever you loved me, be big-hearted and forgiving!"

"I think, Ettie, that if you were to leave us alone we could get this thing settled," said McMurdo quietly. "Or maybe, Mr. Baldwin, you will take a turn down the street with me. It's a fine evening, and there's some open ground beyond the next block."

"I'll get even with you without needing to dirty my hands," said his enemy. "You'll wish you had never set foot in this house before I am through with you!"

"No time like the present," cried McMurdo.

"I'll choose my own time, mister. You can leave the time to me. See here!" He suddenly rolled up his sleeve and showed upon his forearm a peculiar sign which appeared to have been branded there. It was a circle with a triangle within it. "D'you know what that means?"

"I neither know nor care!"

"Well, you will know, I'll promise you that. You won't be much older, either. Perhaps Miss Ettie can tell you something about it. As to you, Ettie, you'll come back to me on your knees--d'ye hear, girl?--on your knees--and then I'll tell you what your punishment may be. You've sowed--and by the Lord, I'll see that you reap!" He glanced at them both in fury. Then he turned upon his heel, and an instant later the outer door had banged behind him.

For a few moments McMurdo and the girl stood in silence. Then she threw her arms around him.

"Oh, Jack, how brave you were! But it is no use, you must fly! To-night--Jack--to-night! It's your only hope. He will have your life. I read it in his horrible eyes. What chance have you against a dozen of them, with Boss McGinty and all the power of the lodge behind them?"

McMurdo disengaged her hands, kissed her, and gently pushed her back into a chair. "There, acushla, there! Don't be disturbed or fear for me. I'm a Freeman myself. I'm after telling your father about it. Maybe I am no better than the others; so don't make a saint of me. Perhaps you hate me too, now that I've told you as much?"

"Hate you, Jack? While life lasts I could never do that! I've heard that there is no harm in being a Freeman anywhere but here; so why should I think the worse of you for that? But if you are a Freeman, Jack, why should you not go down and make a friend of Boss McGinty? Oh, hurry, Jack, hurry! Get your word in first, or the hounds will be on your trail."

"I was thinking the same thing," said McMurdo. "I'll go right now and fix it. You can tell your father that I'll sleep here to-night and find some other quarters in the morning."

The bar of McGinty's saloon was crowded as usual; for it was the favourite loafing place of all the rougher elements of the town. The man was popular; for he had a rough, jovial disposition which formed a mask, covering a great deal which lay behind it. But apart from this popularity, the fear in which he was held throughout the township, and indeed down the whole thirty miles of the valley and past the mountains on each side of it, was enough in itself to fill his bar; for none could afford to neglect his good will.

Besides those secret powers which it was universally believed that he exercised in so pitiless a fashion, he was a high public official, a municipal councillor, and a commissioner of roads, elected to the office through the votes of the ruffians who in turn expected to receive favours at his hands. Assessments and taxes were enormous; the public works were notoriously neglected, the accounts were slurred over by bribed auditors, and the decent citizen was terrorized into paying public blackmail, and holding his tongue lest some worse thing befall him.

Thus it was that, year by year, Boss McGinty's diamond pins became more obtrusive, his gold chains more weighty across a more gorgeous vest, and his saloon stretched farther and farther, until it threatened to absorb one whole side of the Market Square.

McMurdo pushed open the swinging door of the saloon and made his way amid the crowd of men within, through an atmosphere blurred with tobacco smoke and heavy with the smell of spirits. The place was brilliantly lighted, and the huge, heavily gilt mirrors upon every wall reflected and multiplied the garish illumination. There were several bartenders in their shirt sleeves, hard at work mixing drinks for the loungers who fringed the broad, brass-trimmed counter.

At the far end, with his body resting upon the bar and a cigar stuck at an acute angle from the corner of his mouth, stood a tall, strong, heavily built man who could be none other than the famous McGinty himself. He was a black-maned giant, bearded to the cheek-bones, and with a shock of raven hair which fell to his collar. His complexion was as swarthy as that of an Italian, and his eyes were of a strange dead black, which, combined with a slight squint, gave them a particularly sinister appearance.

All else in the man--his noble proportions, his fine features, and his frank bearing--fitted in with that jovial, man-to-man manner which he affected. Here, one would say, is a bluff, honest fellow, whose heart would be sound however rude his outspoken words might seem. It was only when those dead, dark eyes, deep and remorseless, were turned upon a man that he shrank within himself, feeling that he was face to face with an infinite possibility of latent evil, with a strength and courage and cunning behind it which made it a thousand times more deadly.

Having had a good look at his man, McMurdo elbowed his way forward with his usual careless audacity, and pushed himself through the little group of courtiers who were fawning upon the powerful boss, laughing uproariously at the smallest of his jokes. The young stranger's bold gray eyes looked back fearlessly through their glasses at the deadly black ones which turned sharply upon him.

"Well, young man, I can't call your face to mind.""I'm new here, Mr. McGinty."

"You are not so new that you can't give a gentleman his proper title."

"He's Councillor McGinty, young man," said a voice from the group.

"I'm sorry, Councillor. I'm strange to the ways of the place. But I was advised to see you."

"Well, you see me. This is all there is. What d'you think of me?"

"Well, it's early days. If your heart is as big as your body, and your soul as fine as your face, then I'd ask for nothing better," said McMurdo.

"By Gar! you've got an Irish tongue in your head anyhow," cried the saloon-keeper, not quite certain whether to humour this audacious visitor or to stand upon his dignity.

"So you are good enough to pass my appearance?"

"Sure," said McMurdo.

"And you were told to see me?"

"I was."

"And who told you?"

"Brother Scanlan of Lodge 341, Vermissa. I drink your health Councillor, and to our better acquaintance." He raised a glass with which he had been served to his lips and elevated his little finger as he drank it.

McGinty, who had been watching him narrowly, raised his thick black eyebrows. "Oh, it's like that, is it?" said he. "I'll have to look a bit closer into this, Mister--"

"McMurdo."

"A bit closer, Mr. McMurdo; for we don't take folk on trust in these parts, nor believe all we're told neither. Come in here for a moment, behind the bar."

There was a small room there, lined with barrels. McGinty carefully closed the door, and then seated himself on one of them, biting thoughtfully on his cigar and surveying his companion with those disquieting eyes. For a couple of minutes he sat in complete silence. McMurdo bore the inspection cheerfully, one hand in his coat pocket, the other twisting his brown moustache. Suddenly McGinty stooped and produced a wicked-looking revolver.

"See here, my joker," said he, "if I thought you were playing any game on us, it would be short work for you."

"This is a strange welcome," McMurdo answered with some dignity, "for the Bodymaster of a lodge of Freemen to give to a stranger brother."

"Ay, but it's just that same that you have to prove," said McGinty, "and God help you if you fail! Where were you made?"

"Lodge 29, Chicago."

"When?"

"June 24, 1872."

"What Bodymaster?"

"James H. Scott."

"Who is your district ruler?"

"Bartholomew Wilson."

"Hum! You seem glib enough in your tests. What are you doing here?"

"Working, the same as you--but a poorer job."

"You have your back answer quick enough."

"Yes, I was always quick of speech."

"Are you quick of action?"

"I have had that name among those that knew me best."

"Well, we may try you sooner than you think. Have you heard anything of the lodge in these parts?"

"I've heard that it takes a man to be a brother."

"True for you, Mr. McMurdo. Why did you leave Chicago?"

"I'm damned if I tell you that!"

McGinty opened his eyes. He was not used to being answered in such fashion, and it amused him. "Why won't you tell me?"

"Because no brother may tell another a lie."

"Then the truth is too bad to tell?"

"You can put it that way if you like."

"See here, mister, you can't expect me, as Bodymaster, to pass into the lodge a man for whose past he can't answer."

McMurdo looked puzzled. Then he took a worn newspaper cutting from an inner pocket.

"You wouldn't squeal on a fellow?" said he.

"I'll wipe my hand across your face if you say such words to me!" cried McGinty hotly.

"You are right, Councillor," said McMurdo meekly. "I should apologize. I spoke without thought. Well, I know that I am safe in your hands. Look at that clipping."

McGinty glanced his eyes over the account of the shooting of one Jonas Pinto, in the Lake Saloon, Market Street, Chicago, in the New Year week of 1874.

"Your work?" he asked, as he handed back the paper.

McMurdo nodded.

"Why did you shoot him?"

"I was helping Uncle Sam to make dollars. Maybe mine were not as good gold as his, but they looked as well and were cheaper to make. This man Pinto helped me to shove the queer--"

"To do what?"

"Well, it means to pass the dollars out into circulation. Then he said he would split. Maybe he did split. I didn't wait to see. I just killed him and lighted out for the coal country."

"Why the coal country?"

"'Cause I'd read in the papers that they weren't too particular in those parts."

McGinty laughed. "You were first a coiner and then a murderer, and you came to these parts because you thought you'd be welcome."

"That's about the size of it," McMurdo answered.

"Well, I guess you'll go far. Say, can you make those dollars yet?"

McMurdo took half a dozen from his pocket. "Those never passed the Philadelphia mint," said he.

"You don't say!" McGinty held them to the light in his enormous hand, which was hairy as a gorilla's. "I can see no difference. Gar! you'll be a mighty useful brother, I'm thinking! We can do with a bad man or two among us, Friend McMurdo: for there are times when we have to take our own part. We'd soon be against the wall if we didn't shove back at those that were pushing us."

"Well, I guess I'll do my share of shoving with the rest of the boys."

"You seem to have a good nerve. You didn't squirm when I shoved this gun at you."

"It was not me that was in danger."

"Who then?"

"It was you, Councillor." McMurdo drew a cocked pistol from the side pocket of his peajacket. "I was covering you all the time. I guess my shot would have been as quick as yours."

"By Gar!" McGinty flushed an angry red and then burst into a roar of laughter. "Say, we've had no such holy terror come to hand this many a year. I reckon the lodge will learn to be proud of you.... Well, what the hell do you want? And can't I speak alone with a gentleman for five minutes but you must butt in on us?"

The bartender stood abashed. "I'm sorry, Councillor, but it's Ted Baldwin. He says he must see you this very minute."

The message was unnecessary; for the set, cruel face of the man himself was looking over the servant's shoulder. He pushed the bartender out and closed the door on him.

"So," said he with a furious glance at McMurdo, "you got here first, did you? I've a word to say to you, Councillor, about this man."

"Then say it here and now before my face," cried McMurdo.

"I'll say it at my own time, in my own way."

"Tut! Tut!" said McGinty, getting off his barrel. "This will never do. We have a new brother here, Baldwin, and it's not for us to greet him in such fashion. Hold out your hand, man, and make it up!"

"Never!" cried Baldwin in a fury.

"I've offered to fight him if he thinks I have wronged him," said McMurdo. "I'll fight him with fists, or, if that won't satisfy him, I'll fight him any other way he chooses. Now, I'll leave it to you, Councillor, to judge between us as a Bodymaster should."

"What is it, then?"

"A young lady. She's free to choose for herself."

"Is she?" cried Baldwin.

"As between two brothers of the lodge I should say that she was," said the Boss.

"Oh, that's your ruling, is it?"

"Yes, it is, Ted Baldwin," said McGinty, with a wicked stare. "Is it you that would dispute it?"

"You would throw over one that has stood by you this five years in favour of a man that you never saw before in your life? You're not Bodymaster for life, Jack McGinty, and by God! when next it comes to a vote--"

The Councillor sprang at him like a tiger. His hand closed round the other's neck, and he hurled him back across one of the barrels. In his mad fury he would have squeezed the life out of him if McMurdo had not interfered.

"Easy, Councillor! For heaven's sake, go easy!" he cried, as he dragged him back.

McGinty released his hold, and Baldwin, cowed and shaken gasping for breath, and shivering in every limb, as one who has looked over the very edge of death, sat up on the barrel over which he had been hurled.

"You've been asking for it this many a day, Ted Baldwin--now you've got it!" cried McGinty, his huge chest rising and falling. "Maybe you think if I was voted down from Bodymaster you would find yourself in my shoes. It's for the lodge to say that. But so long as I am the chief I'll have no man lift his voice against me or my rulings."

"I have nothing against you," mumbled Baldwin, feeling his throat.

"Well, then," cried the other, relapsing in a moment into a bluff joviality, "we are all good friends again and there's an end of the matter."

He took a bottle of champagne down from the shelf and twisted out the cork.

"See now," he continued, as he filled three high glasses. "Let us drink the quarrelling toast of the lodge. After that, as you know, there can be no bad blood between us. Now, then the left hand on the apple of my throat. I say to you, Ted Baldwin, what is the offense, sir?"

"The clouds are heavy," answered Baldwin

"But they will forever brighten."

"And this I swear!"

The men drank their glasses, and the same ceremony was performed between Baldwin and McMurdo

"There!" cried McGinty, rubbing his hands. "That's the end of the black blood. You come under lodge discipline if it goes further, and that's a heavy hand in these parts, as Brother Baldwin knows--and as you will damn soon find out, Brother McMurdo, if you ask for trouble!"

"Faith, I'd be slow to do that," said McMurdo. He held out his hand to Baldwin. "I'm quick to quarrel and quick to forgive. It's my hot Irish blood, they tell me. But it's over for me, and I bear no grudge."

Baldwin had to take the proffered hand; for the baleful eye of the terrible Boss was upon him. But his sullen face showed how little the words of the other had moved him.

McGinty clapped them both on the shoulders. "Tut! These girls! These girls!" he cried. "To think that the same petticoats should come between two of my boys! It's the devil's own luck! Well, it's the colleen inside of them that must settle the question; for it's outside the jurisdiction of a Bodymaster--and the Lord be praised for that! We have enough on us, without the women as well. You'll have to be affiliated to Lodge 341, Brother McMurdo. We have our own ways and methods, different from Chicago. Saturday night is our meeting, and if you come then, we'll make you free forever of the Vermissa Valley."

二 身主

麦克默多很快就使自己出了名。无论他到哪里,周围的人立刻就知道了。不到一个星期,麦克默多已经变成谢夫特寓所的一个极为重要的人物。这里有十到十二个寄宿者,不过他们是诚实的工头或者是商店的普通店员,与这个年轻的爱尔兰人的脾性完全不同。晚上,他们聚在一起,麦克默多总是谈笑风生,出语不凡,而他的歌声则异常出色。他是一个天生的挚友,具有使他周围的人心情舒畅的魅力。

但是他一次又一次象他在火车上那样,显出超人的智力和突如其来的暴怒,使人敬畏。他从来不把法律和一切执法的人放在眼里,这使他的一些同宿人感到高兴,使另一些人惊恐不安。

一开始,他就做得很明显,公然赞美说,从他看到她的美貌容颜和娴雅丰姿起,这房主人的女儿就俘获了他的心。他不是一个畏缩不前的求婚者,第二天他就向姑娘表诉衷情,从此以后,他总是翻来覆去地说爱她,完全不顾她会说些什么使他灰心丧气的话。

“还有什么人呢!"他大声说道,“好,让他倒霉吧!让他小心点吧!我能把我一生的机缘和我全部身心所向往的人让给别人吗?你可以坚持说'不',伊蒂!但总有一天你会说'行',我还年轻 ,完全可以等待。”

麦克默多是一个危险的求婚者,他有一张爱尔兰人能说会道的嘴巴和一套随机应变、连哄带骗的手段。他还有丰富的经验和神秘莫测的魅力,颇能博得妇女的欢心,最终得到她的爱情。他谈其他出身地莫纳根郡那些可爱的山谷,谈到引人入胜的遥远的岛屿、低矮的小山和绿油油的湖边草地,从这种到处是尘埃和积雪的地方去想象那里的景色,更仿佛使人觉得它愈发美妙无穷。

他然后把话题转到北方城市的生活,他熟悉底特律和密执安州一些伐木区新兴的市镇,最后还到过芝加哥,他在那里一家锯木厂里作工。然后就暗示地说到风流韵事,说到在那个大都会遇到的奇事,而那些奇事是那么离奇,又是那么隐秘,简直非言语所能讲述。他有时忽然若有所思地远离话题,有时话题突然中断,有时飞往一个神奇的世界,有时结局就在这沉闷而荒凉的山谷里。而伊蒂静静地听他讲述,她那一双乌黑的大眼里闪现出怜悯和同情的光彩,而这两种心情一定会那么急速、那么自然地转变成爱情。

因为麦克默多是一个受过良好教育的人,所以他找到了一个记帐员的临时工作。这就占去了他大部分的白昼时间,也就无暇去向自由人分会的头目报到。一天晚上,他在火车上认识的旅伴迈克·斯坎伦来拜访他,才提醒了麦克默多。斯坎伦个子矮小 ,面容瘦削,眼睛黑黑的,是一个胆小怕事的人。他很高兴又看到了麦克默多。喝了一两杯威士忌酒以后,斯坎伦说明了来意。

“喂,麦克默多,"斯坎伦说道,“我记得你的地址,所以我冒昧地来找你,我真奇怪,你怎么没有去向身主报到,为什么还不去拜谒首领麦金蒂呢?”

“啊,我正在找事,太忙了。”

“如果你没有别的事,你一定要找时间去看看他。天啊,伙计,你到这里以后,第一天早晨竟没有到工会去登记姓名 ,简直是疯了!要是你得罪了他,唉,你决不要……就说到这吧!”

麦克默多有点惊奇,说道:“斯坎伦,我入会已经两年多了,可是我从来没听到过象这样紧急的义务呢。”

“在芝加哥或许不是这样!”

“嗯,那里也是同样的社团啊。”

“是吗?"斯坎伦久久地凝视着他,眼里闪出凶光。

“不是吗?”

“这些事你以后可以在一个月的时间内给我讲清楚。我听说我下车后你和警察争吵过。”

“你怎么知道这些事的呢?”

“啊,在这地方,好事坏事都传得很快。”

“嗯,不错。我把我对这帮家伙的看法告诉了他们。”

“天哪,你一定会变成为麦金蒂的心腹人的!”

“什么?他也恨这些警察吗?”

斯坎伦迸发出一阵笑声。

“你去看他吧,我的伙计,"斯坎伦在告辞起身时对麦克默多说道,“如果你不去看他,那他就不是恨警察,而要恨你了。现在,请你接受一个朋友的规劝,马上去看他吧!”

碰巧就在这天晚上,麦克默多遇到一个更紧急的情况,使他不得不这样去做。也许因为他对伊蒂的关心比以前更明显,也许这种关心被好心的德国房东逐渐觉察出来。但不管什么原因,反正房东把这个年轻人招呼到自己房中,毫不掩饰地谈到正题上来。

“先生,据我看来,"他说道,“你渐渐地爱上我的伊蒂了,是这样吗?还是我误会了?”

“是的,正是这样,"年轻人答道。

“好,现在我对你直说吧,这是毫无用处的。在你以前,已经有人缠上她了。”

“她也对我这么说过。”

“好,你应当相信她说的是真情。不过,她告诉你这个人是谁了吗?”

“没有,我问过她,可是她不肯告诉我。”

“我想她不会告诉你的,这个小丫头。也许她不愿意把你吓跑吧。”

“吓跑!"麦克默多一下子火冒三丈。

“啊,不错,我的朋友!你怕他,这也不算什么羞耻啊。这个人是特德·鲍德温。”

“这恶魔是什么人?”

“他是死酷党的一个首领。”

“死酷党!以前我听说过。这里也有死酷党,那里也有死酷党,而且总是窃窃私语!你们大家都怕什么呢?死酷党到底是些什么人呢?”

房东象每一个人谈起那个恐怖组织时一样,本能地放低了声音。

“死酷党,"他说道,“就是自由人会。”

年轻人大吃一惊,说道:“为什么?我自己就是一个自由人会会员。”

“你!要是我早知道,我决不会让你住在我这里——即使你每星期给我一百美元,我也不干。”

“这个自由人会有什么不好呢?会章的宗旨是博爱和增进友谊啊。”

“有些地方可能是这样的。这里却不然!”

“它在这里是什么样的呢?”

“是一个暗杀组织,正是这样。”

麦克默多不相信地笑了笑,问道:

“你有什么证据呢?”

“证据!这里怕没有五十桩暗杀事件做证据!象米尔曼和范肖尔斯特,还有尼科尔森一家,老海厄姆先生,小比利·詹姆斯以及其他一些人不都是证据吗?还要证据!这个山谷里难道还有一个男女不了解死酷党么?”

“喂!"麦克默多诚恳地说道,“我希望你收回你说的话,或是向我道歉。你必须先做到其中一点,然后我就搬走。你替我设身处地想一想,我在这个镇子里是一个外乡人,我是一个社团成员,但我只知道这是一个纯洁的社团。你在全国范围内到处可以找到它,不过总是一个纯洁的组织。现在,正当我打算加入这里的组织时,你说它全然是一个杀人的社团,叫做'死酷党'。我认为你该向我道歉,不然的话,就请你解释明白,谢夫特先生。”

“我只能告诉你,这是全世界都知道的,先生。自由人会的首领,就是死酷党的首领。假如你得罪了这一个,那一个就要报复你。我们的证据太多了。”

“这不过是一些流言蜚语!我要的是证据!"麦克默多说道。

“假如你在这儿住长些,你自己就会找到证据的。不过我忘了你也是其中的一员了。你很快就会变得和他们一样坏。不过你可以住到别处去,先生。我不能再留你住在这里了。一个死酷党人来勾引我的伊蒂,而我不敢拒绝,这已经够糟糕了,我还能再收另一个做我的房客吗?对,真的,过了今晚,你不能再住在这里了。”

因此,麦克默多知道,他不仅要被赶出舒适的住处,而且被迫离开他所爱的姑娘。就在这天晚上,他发现伊蒂独自一人坐在屋里,便向她倾诉了遇到的麻烦事。

“诚然,尽管你父亲已经下了逐客令,"麦克默多说道,“如果这仅仅是我的住处问题,那我就不在乎了。不过,说老实话,伊蒂,虽然我认识你仅仅一个星期,你已经是我生命中不可缺少的了,离开你我无法生活啊!”

“啊,别说了,麦克默多先生!别这么说!"姑娘说道,“我已经告诉过你,我没告诉过你吗?你来得太晚了。有另外一个人,即使我没有答应马上嫁给他,至少我决不能再许配其他人了。”

“伊蒂,我要是先向你求婚,那就行了吗?”

姑娘双手掩着脸,呜咽地说:“天哪,我多么愿意你是先来求婚的啊!”

麦克默多当即跪在她的面前,大声说道:

“看在上帝面上,伊蒂,那就按你刚说的那样办吧!你难道愿意为了轻轻一诺而毁灭你我一生的幸福吗?我心爱的,就照你的心意办吧!你知道你刚才说的是什么,这比你任何允诺都要可靠。”

麦克默多把伊蒂雪白的小手放在自己两只健壮有力的褐色大手中间,说道:

“说一声你是我的吧,让我们同心合力应付不测。”

“我们不留在这儿吧?”

“不,就留在这儿。”

“不,不,杰克!"麦克默多这时双手搂住她,她说道,“决不能在这儿。你能带我远走高飞吗?”

麦克默多脸上一时现出踌躇不决的样子,可是最后还是显露出坚决果敢的神色来。

“不,还是留在这儿,"他说道,“伊蒂,我们寸步不移,我会保护你的。”

“为什么我们不一起离开呢?”

“不行,伊蒂,我不能离开这儿。”

“到底为什么呢?”

“假如我觉得我是被人赶走的,那就再也抬不起头来了。再说,这儿又有什么可怕的呢?我们难道不是一个自由国家里的自由人吗?如果你爱我,我也爱你,谁敢来在我们中间插手呢?”

“你不了解,杰克,你来这儿的时间太短了。你还不了解这个鲍德温。你也不了解麦金蒂和他的死酷党。”

“是的,我不了解他们,可是我不怕他们,我也不相信他们!"麦克默多说道,“我在粗野的人群里混过,亲爱的,我不光是不怕他们,相反,到头来他们总是怕我——总是这样,伊蒂。乍看起来这简直是发疯!要是这些人,象你父亲说的那样,在这山谷中屡次为非作歹,大家又都知道他们的名字,那怎么没有一个人受法律制裁呢?请你回答我这个问题,伊蒂!”

“因为没有人敢出面对证。如果谁去作证,他连一个月也活不了。还因为他们的同党很多,总是出来作假证说被告和某案某案不沾边。杰克,肯定说这一切你会自己看出来的!我早知道美国的每家报纸对这方面都有报道。”

“不错,我确实也看到过一些,可我总以为这都是编造出来的。也许这些人做这种事总有些原因。也许他们受了冤屈,不得已而为之吧。”

“唉,杰克,我不爱听这种话!他也是这样说的——那个人!”

“鲍德温——他也这么说吗?是吗?”

“就因为这个,我才讨厌他。啊,杰克,我现在可以告诉你实话了,我打心眼儿里讨厌他,可是又怕他。我为我自己而怕他,不过,主要是为我父亲,我才怕他。我知道,要是我敢向他说出真心话,那我们爷儿俩就要遭大难了。所以我才半真半假地敷衍他。其实我们爷儿俩也只剩这点儿希望了。只要你能带我远走高飞,杰克,我们可以把父亲也带上,永远摆脱这些恶人的势力。”

麦克默多脸上又显出踌躇不决的神色,后来又斩钉截铁地说:

“你不会大祸临头的,伊蒂,你父亲也一样。要说恶人,只要我俩还活着,你会发现,我比他们最凶恶的人还要凶恶呢。”

“不,不,杰克!我完全相信你。”

麦克默多苦笑道:“天啊,你对我太不了解了!亲爱的,你那纯洁的灵魂,甚至想象不出我所经历过的事。可是,喂,谁来了?”

这时门突然打开了,一个年轻的家伙以主子的架式大摇大摆地走进来。这是一个面目清秀、衣着华丽的年轻人,年龄和体形同麦克默多差不多,戴着一顶大沿黑毡帽,进门连帽子也不劳神摘掉,那张漂亮的面孔,长着一双凶狠而又盛起凌人的眼睛和弯曲的鹰钩鼻子,粗暴无礼地瞪着坐在火炉旁的这对青年男女。

伊蒂马上跳起来,不知所措,惊恐不安。

“我很高兴看到你,鲍德温先生,"她说道,“你来得比我想的要早一些。过来坐吧。”

鲍德温双手叉腰站在那里看着麦克默多。

“这是谁?"他粗率无礼地问道。

“鲍德温先生,这是我的朋友,新房客麦克默多先生,我可以把你介绍给鲍德温先生吗?”

两个年轻人相互敌视似地点点头。

“也许伊蒂小姐已经把我俩的事告诉你了?"鲍德温说道。

“我不知道你俩有什么关系。”

“你不知道吗?好,现在你该明白了。我可以告诉你,这个姑娘是我的,你看今晚天气很好,散步去。”

“谢谢你,我没有心思去散步。”

“你不走吗?"那人一双暴眼皮得冒出火来,“也许你有决斗的心思吧,房客先生?”

“这个我有,"麦克默多一跃而起,大声喊道,“你这话最受欢迎不过了!”

“看在上帝面上,杰克!唉,看在上帝面上!"可怜的伊蒂心慌意乱地喊道,“唉,杰克,杰克,他会杀害你的!”

“啊,叫他'杰克',是吗?"鲍德温咒骂道,“你们已经这样亲热了吗?是不?”

“噢,特德,理智点吧,仁慈点吧!看在我的面上,特德,假如你爱我,发发善心饶恕他吧!”

“我想,伊蒂,如果你让我们两个人单独留下来,我们可以解决这件事的,"麦克默多平静地说道,“要不然,鲍德温先生,你可以和我一起到街上去,今天夜色很好,附近街区有许多空旷的场地。”

“我甚至用不着脏了我的两只手,就可以干掉你,"他的敌手说道,“在我结果你以前,你会懊悔不该到这宅子里来的。”

“没有比现在更适合的时候了,"麦克默多喊道。

“我要选择我自己的时间,先生。你等着瞧吧。请你看看这里!"鲍德温突然挽起袖子,指了指前臂上烙出的一个怪标记:一个圆圈里面套个三角形,“你知道这是什么意思吗?”

“我不知道,也不屑于知道!”

“好,你会知道的,我敢担保。你也不会活得太久了。也许伊蒂小姐能够告诉你这些事。说到你,伊蒂,你要跪着来见我,听见了吗?丫头!双膝跪下!那时我会告诉你应受怎样的惩罚。你既然种了瓜,我要看你自食其果!"他狂怒地瞪了他们两个一眼,转身就走,转眼间大门砰地一声在他身后关上了。

麦克默多和姑娘一声不响地站了一会儿。然后她伸开双臂紧紧地拥抱了他。

“噢,杰克,你是多么勇敢啊!可是这没有用——你一定要逃走!今天晚上走,杰克,今天晚上走!这是你唯一的希望了。他一定要害你。我从他那凶恶的眼睛里看出来了,你怎么能对付他们那么多人呢?再说,他们身后还有首领麦金蒂和分会的一切势力。”

麦克默多挣开她的双手,吻了吻她,温柔地把她扶到椅子上坐下来。

“我亲爱的,请你不要为我担惊受怕,在那里,我也是自由人会的一会员。我已经告诉你父亲了。也许我并不比他们那些人好多少,所以你也不要把我当圣人。或许你也会照样恨我的。现在我已经都告诉你了。”

“恨你?杰克!只要我活着,我永远不会恨你的。我听说除了此地,在哪儿当个自由人会会员都不妨,我怎么会因此拿你当坏人呢?可是你既然是一个自由人会会员,杰克,为什么你不去和麦金蒂交朋友呢?噢,赶快,杰克,赶快!你要先去告状,要不然,这条疯狗不会放过你的。”

“我也这样想,"麦克默多说道,“我现在就去打点一下。你可以告诉你父亲我今晚住在这里,明早我就另找别的住处。”

麦金蒂酒馆的酒吧间象往常一样挤满了人。因为这里是镇上一切无赖酒徒最喜爱的乐园。麦金蒂很受爱戴,因为他性情快活粗犷,形成了一副假面具,完全掩盖了他的真面目。不过,且不要说他的名望,不仅全镇都怕他,而且整个山谷三十英里方圆之内,以及山谷两侧山上的人没有不怕他的。就凭这个,他的酒吧间里也有人满之患了,因为谁也不敢怠慢他。

人们都知道他的手腕毒辣,除了那些秘密势力以外,麦金蒂还是一个高级政府官员,市议会议员,路政长官,这都是那些流氓地痞为了在他手下得到庇护,才把他选进政府去的。苛捐杂税愈来愈重;社会公益事业无人管理,乃至声名狼藉;到处对查帐人大加贿赂,使帐目蒙混过去;正派的市民都害怕他们公开的敲诈勒索,并且都噤若寒蝉,生怕横祸临头。

就这样,一年又一年,首领麦金蒂的钻石别针变得愈来愈眩人眼目,他那非常豪华的背心下露出的金表链也愈来愈重,他在镇上开的酒馆也愈来愈扩大,几乎有占据市场一侧之势。

麦克默多推开了酒馆时髦的店门,走到里面的人群中。酒馆里烟雾弥漫,酒气熏天,灯火辉煌,四面墙上巨大而光耀眩目的镜子反映出并增添了鲜艳夺目的色彩。一些穿短袖衬衫的侍者十分忙碌,为那些站在宽阔的金属柜台旁的游民懒汉调配饮料。

在酒店的另一端,一个身躯高大,体格健壮的人,侧身倚在柜台旁,一支雪茄从他嘴角斜伸出来形成一个锐角,这不是别人,正是大名鼎鼎的麦金蒂本人。他是一个黝黑的巨人,满脸络腮胡子,一头墨黑蓬乱的头发直披到他的衣领上。他的肤色象意大利人一样黝黑,他的双眼黑得惊人,轻蔑地斜视着,使外表显得格外阴险。

这个人品他的一切——他体形匀称,相貌不凡,性格坦率——都符合他所假装出来的那种快活、诚实的样子。人们会说,这是一个坦率诚实的人,他的心地忠实善良,不管他说起话来多么粗鲁。只有当他那双阴沉而残忍的乌黑眼睛对准一个人时,才使对方畏缩成一团,感到他面对着的是潜在的无限灾祸,灾祸后面还隐藏着实力、胆量和狡诈,使这种灾祸显得万分致命。

麦克默多仔细地打量了他要找的人,象平常一样,满不在乎,胆气逼人地挤上前去,推开那一小堆阿谀奉承的人,他们正在极力谄媚那个权势极大的首领,附和他说的最平淡的笑话,捧腹大笑。年轻的来客一双威武的灰色眼睛,透过眼镜无所畏惧地和那对严厉地望着他的乌黑的眼睛对视着。

“喂,年轻人。我想不起你是谁了。”

“我是新到这里的,麦金蒂先生。”

“你难道没有对一个绅士称呼他高贵头衔的习惯吗?”

“他是参议员麦金蒂先生,年轻人,"人群中一个声音说道。

“很抱歉,参议员。我不懂这地方的习惯。可是有人要我来见你。”

“噢,你是来见我的。我可是连头带脚全在这儿。你想我是怎样的一个人呢?”

“哦,现在下结论还早着哩,但愿你的心胸能象你的身体一样宏伟,你的灵魂能象你的面容一样善良,那么我就别无所求了,"麦克默多说道。

“哎呀,你竟有这样一个爱尔兰人的妙舌,"这个酒馆的主人大声说道,不能完全肯定究竟是在迁就这位大胆放肆的来客呢,还是在维护自己的尊严,“那你认为我的外表完全合格了。”

“当然了,"麦克默多说道。

“有人让你来见我?”

“是的。”

“谁告诉你的?”

“是维尔米萨三百四十一分会的斯坎伦兄弟。我祝你健康,参议员先生,并为我们友好的相识而干杯。"麦克默多拿起一杯酒,翘起小拇指,把它举到嘴边,一饮而尽。

麦金蒂仔细观察着麦克默多,扬其他那浓黑的双眉。

“噢,倒很象那么回事,是吗?"麦金蒂说道,“我还要再仔细考查一下,你叫……”

“麦克默多。”

“再仔细考查一下,麦克默多先生,因为我们这儿决不靠轻信收人,也决不完全相信人家对我们说的话。请随我到酒吧间后面去一下。”

两人走进一间小屋子,周围排满了酒桶。麦金蒂小心地关上门,坐在一个酒桶上,若有所思地咬着雪茄,一双眼睛骨碌碌地打量着对方,一言不发地坐了两分钟。

麦克默多笑眯眯地承受着麦金蒂的审视,一只手插在大衣口袋里,另一只手捻着他的褐色小胡子。麦金蒂突然弯下腰来,抽出一支样式吓人的手枪。

“喂,我的伙计,"麦金蒂说道,“假如我觉出你跟我们耍什么花招,这就是你的末日了。”

麦克默多庄重地回答道:“一位自由人分会的身主这样对待一个外来弟兄,这种欢迎可真少见。”

“喂,我正是要你拿出身份证明来呢,"麦金蒂说道,“要是你办不到,那就别见怪了。你在哪里入会的。”

“芝加哥第二十九分会。”

“什么时间?”

“一八七二年六月二十四日。”

“身主是谁?”

“詹姆斯·H·斯特科。”

“你们地区的议长是谁?”

“巴塞洛谬·威尔逊。”

“嗬!在这场考查中,你倒很能说善辩呀。你在那儿干什么?”

“象你一样,做工,不过是件穷差事罢了。”

“你回答得倒挺快啊。”

“是的,我总是对答如流的。”

“你办事也快吗?”

“认识我的人都晓得我有这个名片。”

“好,我们不久就要试试你,对于此地分会的情况,你听到了什么吗?”

“我听说它收好汉做弟兄。”

“你说的不错,麦克默多先生。你为什么离开芝加哥呢?”

“这事我不能告诉你。”

麦金蒂睁大眼睛,他从未听到过这样无礼的回答,不由感到有趣,问道:

“为什么你不愿告诉我呢?”

“因为弟兄们对自己人不说谎。”

“那么这事一定是不可告人的了。”

“如果你愿意,也可以这么说。”

“喂,先生,你不能指望我,作为一个身主,接受一个不能说出自己的履历的人入会啊。”

麦克默多现出为难的样子,然后从内衣口袋里掏出一片剪下来的旧报纸,说道:

“你不会向人泄漏吗?”

“你要是再对我说这种话,我就给你几记耳光。"麦金蒂发火地说。

“你是对的,参议员先生,"麦克默多温顺地说着,“我应当向你道歉。我是无意说出来的。好,我知道在你手下很安全。请看这剪报吧。”

麦金蒂粗略地看了一下这份报道:一八七四年一月上旬,在芝加哥市场街雷克酒店,一个叫乔纳斯·平托的被人杀害了。

“是你干的?"麦金蒂把剪报还回去,问道。

麦克默多点点头。

“你为什么杀死他?”

“我帮助山姆大叔私铸金币。也许我的金币成色没有他①的好,可是看起来也不错,而且铸起来便宜。这个叫平托的人帮我推销伪币……”

“做什么?”

“啊,就是说让伪币流通使用。后来他说他要告密。也许他真告过密,我毫不迟疑地杀死了他,就逃到这煤矿区来了。”

“为什么要逃到煤矿区来呢?”

“因为我在报上看到杀人犯在此地是不太引人注目的。”

麦金蒂笑道:①Uncle Sam美国政府的绰号。——译者注

“你先是一个铸造伪币犯,后是一个杀人犯,你到这里来,因为你想在这儿会受欢迎吧。”

“大体就是这么回事,"麦克默多答道。

“好,我看你前途无量。喂,你还能铸伪币吗?”

麦克默多从衣袋里掏出六个金币来,说道:“这就不是费城铸币厂制造的。”

“不见得吧!"麦金蒂伸出猩猩爪子一样毛茸茸的大手,把金币举到灯前细看,“我真看不出什么不同来!哎呀,我看你是一个大有作为的弟兄。麦克默多朋友,我们这伙子里没有一两个坏汉子不成,因为我们得保护自己呀。要是我们不把推我们的人猛推回去,那我们可要马上碰壁了。”

“好,我想我要和大家一起尽一份力量。”

“我看你很有胆量。在我把手枪对准你时,你却毫不畏缩。”

“那时危险的并不是我。”

“那么,是谁呢?”

“是你,参议员先生。"麦克默多从他粗呢上装口袋里掏出一支张开机头的手枪,说道,“我一直在瞄准你。我想我开起枪来是不会比你慢的。”

麦金蒂气得满脸通红,后来爆发出一阵大笑。

“哎呀!"他说道,“喂,多年没见象你这样可怕的家伙了。我想分会一定将以你为荣的……喂,你究竟要干什么?我不能单独和一位先生谈五分钟吗?为什么你非打扰我们不行呢?”

酒吧间的侍者惶惑地站在那里,报告说:“很抱歉,参议员先生。不过特德·鲍德温先生说他一定要在此刻见你。”

其实已用不着侍者通报了,因为这个人本人已经把他凶恶的面孔从仆役的肩上探进来。他一把推出侍者,把门关上。

“那么说,"他怒视了麦克默多一眼,说道,“你倒抢先到这儿来了?是不是?参议员先生,关于这个人,我有话对你说。”

“那就在这儿当着我的面说吧,"麦克默多大声说道。

“我什么时候说,怎么说,全由我。”

“啧,啧!"麦金蒂从酒桶上跳下来说道,“这样绝对不行。鲍德温,这儿来的是个新弟兄,我们不能这样欢迎他。伸出你的手来,朋友,和他讲和吧!”

“决不!"鲍德温暴怒地说道。

“假如他认为我冲撞了他,我建议和他决斗,"麦克默多说道,“可以徒手搏斗,他要不同意徒手干,随他选择什么办法都行。嗯,参议员先生,你是身主,就请你公断吧。”

“到底是怎么回事呢?”

“为一个年轻姑娘。她有选择情人的自由。”

“她可以这样做吗?"鲍德温叫道。

“既然要选的是我们分会里的两个弟兄,我说她可以这样做,"首领说道。

“啊,这就是你的公断,是不是?”

“对,是这样,特德·鲍德温,"麦金蒂恶狠狠地盯着他说道,“你还要争论么?”

“你为了袒护一个素昧平生的人,难道要抛弃一个五年来恩难与共的朋友吗?你不会一辈子都做身主的,杰克·麦金蒂,老天有眼,下一次再选举时……”

麦金蒂饿虎扑食一般扑到鲍德温身上,一只手掐住鲍德温的脖子,把他推到一只酒桶上去,要不是麦克默多阻拦,麦金蒂盛怒之下准会把鲍德温扼死的。

“慢着,参议员先生!看在上帝份上,别着急!"麦克默多把他拉回来。

麦金蒂松开手,鲍德温吓得奄奄一息,浑身颤抖,活象一个死里逃生的人,坐在他刚才撞着的酒桶上。

“特德·鲍德温,好多天来你就在自找这个。现在你总算满意了吧,"麦金蒂呼呼地喘着,大声叫道,“也许你以为我选不上身主,你就能取代我的地位。可是只要我是这里的首领,我决不让一个人提高嗓门反对我,违抗我的公断。”

“我并没有反对你啊,"鲍德温用手抚摸着咽喉,嘟嘟哝哝地说道。

“好,那么,"麦金蒂立刻装成很高兴的样子,高声说道,“大家又都是好朋友了,这事就算完了。”

麦金蒂从架子上取下一瓶香槟酒来,打开瓶塞。

“现在,"麦金蒂把酒倒满三只高脚杯,继续说道:“让我们大家为和好而干杯。从今以后,你们明白,我们不能互相记仇。现在,我的好朋友,特德·鲍德温,我是跟你说话呢,你还生气吗?先生。”

“阴云依然笼罩着。”

“不过即将永远光辉灿烂。”

“我发誓,但愿如此。”

他们饮了酒,鲍德温和麦克默多也照样客套了一番。

麦金蒂得意地搓着双手高声喊道:“现在一切怨隙都消释了。你们以后都要遵守分会纪律。鲍德温兄弟,会中章法很严,你是知道的。麦克默多兄弟,你要是自找麻烦,那你很快就会倒霉的。”

“我担保,我不轻易去找麻烦的,"麦克默多把手向鲍德温伸过去,说道,“我很容易和人争吵,吵过就忘掉:他们说这是我们爱尔兰人容易感情冲动。事情已经过去了,我不会记在心里的。”

因为麦金蒂正目光凶狠地瞪着他,鲍德温只好和麦克默多敷衍地握握手。可是,他那闷闷不乐的面容显然说明:麦克默多刚才说的话,丝毫也未能感动他。

麦金蒂拍了拍他们两人的肩膀。

“唉!这些姑娘啊,这些姑娘啊!"麦金蒂大声说道,“要是我们的两个弟兄之间夹着一个这样的女人,那就该倒邪霉了。好,因为这不是一个身主所能裁断的,这个问题就由这个当事的佳人去解决吧。这样做连上帝也会赞同的。咳,没有这些女人我们已经够受了。好吧,麦克默多兄弟,你可以加入第三百四十一分会。我们和芝加哥不同,有我们自己的规矩和方法。星期六晚上我们要开会,如果你来参加,那么我们就可以使你永远分享维尔米萨山谷的一切权利了。”

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