Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Valley of Fear (1914)
Part II - The Scowrers
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 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
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
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 through.
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."
"Why 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
"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 other."
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
"And to take it back to Boss McGinty!" said Morris bitterly.
"Indeed, then, you do me injustice there," cried McMurdo.
"For myself I am loyal to the lodge, and so l 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 nor
"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 Freeman's
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
"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
crime -- or 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
"Well, did you think of such a thing when you joined the
Freeman's society at Chicago?"
"No, I'm 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 one's fellows. Then I heard
of this place -- curse 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. I've 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 can't 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
awful -- awful!" He put his hands to his face, and his body shook
with convulsive sobs.
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 I'm a coward.
Maybe it's the thought of my poor little woman and the children
that makes me one. Anyhow I went. I guess it will haunt me
"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
"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.
That's how it stands with me. And T 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
"What would you do?" asked McMurdo abruptly. "You
would not inform?"
"God forbid!" cried Morris. "Sure, the very thought would
cost me my life."
"That's well," said McMurdo. "I'm 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, I'll 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
out -- if you only get a dime a dollar for what the business is
worth -- the 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. I'll bear what you have said in mind,
and maybe some day I'll come back to it. I expect you meant
kindly by speaking to me like this. Now I'll 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
"Ah! that's well thought of."
"I offer you a clerkship in my store."
"And I refuse it. That's our business. Well, so long, Brother
Morris, and may you find things go better with you in the
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 steadily returned.
"I'm 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 I'd stretch a point and drop down to see you in your own
"I'm proud to see you here, Councillor," McMurdo answered
heartily, bringing his whisky bottle out of the cupboard. "It's an
honour that I had not expected."
"How's the arm?" asked the Boss.
McMurdo made a wry face. "Well, I'm not forgetting it," he
said; "but it's worth it."
"Yes, it's 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
The question came so suddenly that it was well that he had his
answer prepared. He burst into a hearty laugh. "Morris didn't
know I could earn a living here at home. He shan't know either;
for he has got too much conscience for the likes of me. But he's
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 store."
"Oh, that was it?"
"Yes, that was it."
"And you refused it?"
"Sure. Couldn't I earn ten times as much in my own bedroom
with four hours' work?"
"That's so. But I wouldn't get about too much with Morris."
"Well, I guess because I tell you not. That's enough for most
folk in these parts."
"It may be enough for most folk; but it ain't enough for me,
Councillor," said McMurdo boldly. "If you are a judge of men,
you'll 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,
"You're a queer card, for sure," said he. "Well, if you want
reasons, I'll give them. Did Morris say nothing to you against
"Nor against me?"
"Well, that's because he daren't 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. I'm thinking that the time
is drawing near. There's 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?"
"There's 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, that's enough," said McGinty, draining off his glass.
"I came down to give you a word in season, and you've had it."
"I'd like to know," said McMurdo, "how you ever came to
learn that I had spoken with Morris at all?"
McGinty laughed. "It's my business to know what goes on in
this township," said he. "I guess you'd best reckon on my
hearing all that passes. Well, time's up, and I'll 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 you'd be getting into trouble, Mr. Crooked
McMurdo of Chicago," said he. "Can't keep out of it, can you?
Take your hat and come along with us."
"I guess you'll pay for this, Captain Marvin," said McGinty.
"Who are you, I'd like to know, to break into a house in this
fashion and molest honest, law-abiding men?"
"You're 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 I'll answer for his conduct," said
"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
he's a crook still. Cover him, Patrolman, while I disarm him."
"There's 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."
"Where's your warrant?" asked McGinty. "By Gar! a man
might as well live in Russia as in Vemmissa while folk like you
are running the police. It's a capitalist outrage, and you'll hear
more of it, I reckon."
"You do what you think is your duty the best way you can,
Councillor. We'll 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 wasn't your fault that it isn't a murder
"Well, if that's 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
"That's your affair, and I guess you can settle it in court
to-morrow. Meanwhile, come on, McMurdo, and come quietly
if you don't 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!"
So 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
"All right," whispered McMurdo, who had devised a safe
hiding place under the floor.
"I'll bid you good-bye," said the Boss, shaking hands. "I'll
see Reilly the lawyer and take the defense upon myself. Take my
word for it that they won't be able to hold you."
"I wouldn't bet on that. Guard the prisoner, you two, and
shoot him if he tries any games. I'll search the house before I
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 the prisoner.
"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 morning.
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
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 zeal.
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
"You damned murderers!" he said. "We'll fix you yet!"