Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Valley of Fear (1914)
Part II - The Scowrers
Lodge 341, Vermissa
On the day following the evening which had contained so many
exciting events, McMurdo moved his lodgings from old Jacob
Shafter's and took up his quarters at the Widow MacNamara's
on the extreme outskirts of the town. Scanlan, his original
acquaintance aboard the train, had occasion shortly afterwards to
move into Vermissa, and the two lodged together. There was no
other boarder, and the hostess was an easy-going old Irishwoman
who left them to themselves; so that they had a freedom for
speech and action welcome to men who had secrets in common.
Shafter had relented to the extent of letting McMurdo come to
his meals there when he liked; so that his intercourse with Ettie
was by no means broken. On the contrary, it drew closer and
more intimate as the weeks went by.
In his bedroom at his new abode McMurdo felt it safe to take
out the coining moulds, and under many a pledge of secrecy a
number of brothers from the lodge were allowed to come in and
see them, each carrying away in his pocket some examples of the
false money, so cunningly struck that there was never the
slightest difficulty or danger in passing it. Why, with such a
wonderful art at his command, McMurdo should condescend to work at
all was a perpetual mystery to his companions; though he made it
clear to anyone who asked him that if he lived without any
visible means it would very quickly bring the police upon his
One policeman was indeed after him already; but the incident,
as luck would have it, did the adventurer a great deal more good
than harm. After the first introduction there were few evenings
when he did not find his way to McGinty's saloon, there to make
closer acquaintance with "the boys," which was the jovial title
by which the dangerous gang who infested the place were known
to one another. His dashing manner and fearlessness of speech
made him a favourite with them all; while the rapid and scientific
way in which he polished off his antagonist in an "all in"
bar-room scrap earned the respect of that rough community.
Another incident, however, raised him even higher in their
Just at the crowded hour one night, the door opened and a man
entered with the quiet blue uniforrn and peaked cap of the mine
police. This was a special body raised by the railways and
colliery owners to supplement the efforts of the ordinary civil
police, who were perfectly helpless in the face of the organized
ruffianism which terrorized the district. There was a hush as he
entered, and many a curious glance was cast at him; but the
relations between policemen and criminals are peculiar in some
parts of the States, and McGinty himself standing behind his
counter, showed no surprise when the policeman enrolled
himself among his customers.
"A straight whisky, for the night is bitter," said the police
officer. "I don't think we have met before, Councillor?"
"You'll be the new captain?" said McGinty.
"That's so. We're looking to you, Councillor, and to the other
leading citizens, to help us in upholding law and order in this
township. Captain Marvin is my name."
"We'd do better without you, Captain Marvin," said McGinty
coldly; "for we have our own police of the township, and no
need for any imported goods. What are you but the paid tool of
the capitalists, hired by them to club or shoot your poorer fellow
"Well, well, we won't argue about that," said the police
officer good-humouredly. "I expect we all do our duty same as
we see it; but we can't all see it the same." He had drunk off his
glass and had turned to go, when his eyes fell upon the face of
Jack McMurdo, who was scowling at his elbow. "Hullo! Hullo!"
he cried, looking him up and down. "Here's an old acquaintance!"
McMurdo shrank away from him. "I was never a friend to
you nor any other cursed copper in my life," said he.
"An acquaintance isn't always a friend," said the police
captain, grinning. "You're Jack McMurdo of Chicago, right
enough, and don't you deny it!"
McMurdo shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not denying it," said
he. "D'ye think I'm ashamed of my own name?"
"You've got good cause to be, anyhow."
"What the devil d'you mean by that?" he roared with his fists
"No, no, Jack, bluster won't do with me. I was an officer in
Chicago before ever I came to this darned coal bunker, and I
know a Chicago crook when I see one."
McMurdo's face fell. "Don't tell me that you're Marvin of the
Chicago Central!" he cried.
"Just the same old Teddy Marvin, at your service. We haven't
forgotten the shooting of Jonas Pinto up there."
"I never shot him."
"Did you not? That's good impartial evidence, ain't it? Well,
his death came in uncommon handy for you, or they would have
had you for shoving the queer. Well, we can let that be bygones;
for, between you and me -- and perhaps I'm going further than
my duty in saying it -- they could get no clear case against you,
and Chicago's open to you to-morrow."
"I'm very well where I am."
"Well, I've given you the pointer, and you're a sulky dog not
to thank me for it."
"Well, I suppose you mean well, and I do thank you," said
McMurdo in no very gracious manner.
"It's mum with me so long as I see you living on the
straight," said the captain. "But, by the Lord! if you get off
after this, it's another story! So good-night to you -- and
He left the bar-room; but not before he had created a local
hero. McMurdo's deeds in far Chicago had been whispered
before. He had put off all questions with a smile, as one who did
not wish to have greatness thrust upon him. But now the thing
was officially confirmed. The bar loafers crowded round him and
shook him heartily by the hand. He was free of the community
from that time on. He could drink hard and show little trace of it;
but that evening, had his mate Scanlan not been at hand to lead
him home, the feted hero would surely have spent his night
under the bar.
On a Saturday night McMurdo was introduced to the lodge.
He had thought to pass in without ceremony as being an initiate
of Chicago; but there were particular rites in Vermissa of which
they were proud, and these had to be undergone by every
postulant. The assembly met in a large room reserved for such
purposes at the Union House. Some sixty members assembled at
Vermissa; but that by no means represented the full strength of
the organization, for there were several other lodges in the
valley, and others across the mountains on each side, who
exchanged members when any serious business was afoot, so that
a crime might be done by men who were strangers to the
locality. Altogether there were not less than five hundred
scattered over the coal district.
In the bare assembly room the men were gathered round a
long table. At the side was a second one laden with bottles and
glasses, on which some members of the company were already
turning their eyes. McGinty sat at the head with a flat black
velvet cap upon his shock of tangled black hair, and a coloured
purple stole round his neck, so that he seemed to be a priest
presiding over some diabolical ritual. To right and left of him
were the higher lodge officials, the cruel, handsome face of Ted
Baldwin among them. Each of these wore some scarf or
medallion as emblem of his office.
They were, for the most part, men of mature age; but the rest of
the company consisted of young fellows from eighteen to
twentyfive, the ready and capable agents who carried out the commands
of their seniors. Among the older men were many whose features
showed the tigerish, lawless souls within; but looking at the rank
and file it was difficult to believe that these eager and open-faced
young fellows were in very truth a dangerous gang of murderers,
whose minds had suffered such complete moral perversion that
they took a horrible pride in their proficiency at the business, and
looked with deepest respect at the man who had the reputation of
making what they called "a clean job."
To their contorted natures it had become a spirited and
chivalrous thing to volunteer for service against some man who had
never injured them, and whom in many cases they had never
seen in their lives. The crime committed, they quarrelled as to
who had actually struck the fatal blow, and amused one another
and the company by describing the cries and contortions of the
At first they had shown some secrecy in their arrangements;
but at the time which this narrative describes their proceedings
were extraordinarily open, for the repeated failures of the law
had proved to them that, on the one hand, no one would dare to
witness against them, and on the other they had an unlimited
number of stanch witnesses upon whom they could call, and a
well-filled treasure chest from which they could draw the funds
to engage the best legal talent in the state. In ten long years of
outrage there had been no single conviction, and thc only danger
that ever threatened the Scowrers lay in the victim himself --
who, however outnumbered and taken by surprise, might and
occasionally did leave his mark upon his assailants.
McMurdo had been warned that some ordeal lay before him;
but no one would tell him in what it consisted. He was led now
into an outer room by two solemn brothers. Through the plank
partition he could hear the murmur of many voices from the
assembly within. Once or twice he caught the sound of his own
name, and he knew that they were discussing his candidacy.
Then there entered an inner guard with a green and gold sash
across his chest.
"The Bodymaster orders that he shall be trussed, blinded, and
entered," said he.
The three of them removed his coat, turned up the sleeve of
his right arm, and finally passed a rope round above the elbows
and made it fast. They next placed a thick black cap right over
his head and the upper part of his face, so that he could see
nothing. He was then led into the assembly hall.
It was pitch dark and very oppressive under his hood. He
heard the rustle and murmur of the people round him, and then
the voice of McGinty sounded dull and distant through the
covering of his ears.
"John McMurdo," said the voice, "are you already a member
of the Ancient Order of Freemen?"
He bowed in assent.
"Is your lodge No. 29, Chicago?"
He bowed again.
"Dark nights are unpleasant," said the voice.
"Yes, for strangers to travel," he answered.
"The clouds are heavy."
"Yes, a storm is approaching."
"Are the brethren satisfied?" asked the Bodymaster.
There was a general murmur of assent.
"We know, Brother, by your sign and by your countersign
that you are indeed one of us," said McGinty. "We would have
you know, however, that in this county and in other counties of
these parts we have certain rites, and also certain duties of our
own which call for good men. Are you ready to be tested?"
"Are you of stout heart?"
"Take a stride forward to prove it."
As the words were said he felt two hard points in front of his
eyes, pressing upon them so that it appeared as if he could not
move forward without a danger of losing them. None the less. he
nerved himself to step resolutely out, and as he did so the
pressure melted away. There was a low murmur of applause.
"He is of stout heart," said the voice. "Can you bear pain?"
"As well as another," he answered.
It was all he could do to keep himself from screaming out, for
an agonizing pain shot through his forearm. He nearly fainted at
the sudden shock of it; but he bit his lip and clenched his hands
to hide his agony.
"I can take more than that," said he.
This time there was loud applause. A finer first appearance
had never been made in the lodge. Hands clapped him on the
back, and the hood was plucked from his head. He stood
blinking and smiling amid the congratulations of the brothers.
"One last word, Brother McMurdo," said McGinty. "You
have already sworn the oath of secrecy and fidelity, and you are
aware that the punishment for any breach of it is instant and
"I am," said McMurdo.
"And you accept the rule of the Bodymaster for the time
being under all circumstances?"
"Then in the name of Lodge 341, Vemmissa, I welcome you to
its privileges and debates. You will put the liquor on the table,
Brother Scanlan, and we will drink to our worthy brother."
McMurdo's coat had been brought to him; but before putting it
on he examined his right arm, which still smarted heavily. There
on the flesh of the forearm was a circle with a triangle within it,
deep and red, as the branding iron had left it. One or two of his
neighbours pulled up their sleeves and showed their own lodge
"We've all had it," said one; "but not all as brave as you
"Tut! It was nothing," said he; but it burned and ached all the
When the drinks which followed the ceremony of initiation
had all been disposed of, the business of the lodge proceeded.
McMurdo, accustomed only to the prosaic performances of
Chicago, listened with open ears and more surprise than he ventured
to show to what followed.
"The first business on the agenda paper," said McGinty, "is
to read the following letter from Division Master Windle of
Merton County Lodge 249. He says:
"There is a job to be done on Andrew Rae of Rae &
Sturmash, coal owners near this place. You will remember
that your lodge owes us a return, having had the service of
two brethren in the matter of the patrolman last fall. You
will send two good men, they will be taken charge of by
Treasurer Higgins of this lodge, whose address you know.
He will show them when to act and where. Yours in freedom,
"J. W. WINDLE D. M. A. 0. F.
"Windle has never refused us when we have had occasion to
ask for the loan of a man or two, and it is not for us to refuse
him." McGinty paused and looked round the room with his dull,
malevolent eyes. "Who will volunteer for the job?"
Several young fellows held up their hands. The Bodymaster
looked at them with an approving smile.
"You'll do, Tiger Cormac. If you handle it as well as you did
the last, you won't be wrong. And you, Wilson."
"I've no pistol," said the volunteer, a mere boy in his teens.
"It's your first, is it not? Well, you have to be blooded some
time. It will be a great start for you. As to the pistol, you'll find
it waiting for you, or I'm mistaken. If you report yourselves on
Monday, it will be time enough. You'll get a great welcome
when you return."
"Any reward this time?" asked Cormac, a thick-set,
darkfaced, brutal-looking young man, whose ferocity had eamed him
the nickname of "Tiger."
"Never mind the reward. You just do it for the honour of the
thing. Maybe when it is done there will be a few odd dollars at
the bottom of the box."
"What has the man done?" asked young Wilson.
"Sure, it's not for the likes of you to ask what the man has
done. He has been judged over there. That's no business of ours.
All we have to do is to carry it out for them, same as they would
for us. Speaking of that, two brothers from the Merton lodge are
coming over to us next week to do some business in this quarter."
"Who are they?" asked someone.
"Faith, it is wiser not to ask. If you know nothing, you can
testify nothing, and no trouble can come of it. But they are men
who will make a clean job when they are about it."
"And time, too!" cried Ted Baldwin. " Folk are gettin' out of
hand in these parts. It was only last week that three of our men
were turned off by Foreman Blaker. It's been owing him a long
time, and he'll get it full and proper."
"Get what?" McMurdo whispered to his neighbour.
"The business end of a buckshot cartridge!" cried the man
with a loud laugh. "What think you of our ways, Brother?"
McMurdo's criminal soul seemed to have already absorbed the
spirit of the vile association of which he was now a member. "I
like it well," said he. " 'Tis a proper place for a lad of mettle."
Several of those who sat around heard his words and applauded
"What's that?" cried the black-maned Bodymaster from the
end of the table.
" 'Tis our new brother, sir, who finds our ways to his taste."
McMurdo rose to his feet for an instant. "I would say,
Eminent Bodymaster, that if a man should be wanted I should
take it as an honour to be chosen to help the lodge."
There was great applause at this. It was felt that a new sun
was pushing its rim above the horizon. To some of the elders it
seemed that the progress was a little too rapid.
"I would move," said the secretary, Harraway, a
vulturefaced old graybeard who sat near the chairman, "that Brother
McMurdo should wait until it is the good pleasure of the lodge to
"Sure, that was what I meant; I'm in your hands," said
"Your time will come, Brother," said the chairman. "We
have marked you down as a willing man, and we believe that
you will do good work in these parts. There is a small matter
to-night in which you may take a hand if it so please you."
"I will wait for something that is worth while."
"You can come to-night, anyhow, and it will help you to
know what we stand for in this community. I will make the
announcement later. Meanwhile," he glanced at his agenda
paper, "I have one or two more points to bring before the meeting.
First of all, I will ask the treasurer as to our bank balance. There
is the pension to Jim Carnaway's widow. He was struck down
doing the work of the lodge, and it is for us to see that she is not
"Jim was shot last month when they tried to kill Chester
Wilcox of Marley Creek," McMurdo's neighbour informed him.
"The funds are good at the moment," said the treasurer, with
the bankbook in front of him. "The firms have been generous of
late. Max Linder & Co. paid five hundred to be left alone.
Walker Brothers sent in a hundred; but I took it on myself to
return it and ask for five. If I do not hear by Wednesday, their
winding gear may get out of order. We had to burn their breaker
last year before they became reasonable. Then the West Section
Coaling Company has paid its annual contribution. We have
enough on hand to meet any obligations."
"What about Archie Swindon?" asked a brother.
"He has sold out and left the district. The old devil left a note
for us to say that he had rather be a free crossing sweeper in New
York than a large mine owner under the power of a ring of
blackmailers. By Gar! it was as well that he made a break for it
before the note reached us! I guess he won't show his face in this
An elderly, clean-shaved man with a kindly face and a good
brow rose from the end of the table which faced the chairman.
"Mr. Treasurer," he asked, "may I ask who has bought the
property of this man that we have driven out of the district?"
"Yes, Brother Morris. It has been bought by the State &
Merton County Railroad Company."
"And who bought the mines of Todman and of Lee that came
into the market in the same way last year?"
"The same company, Brother Morris."
"And who bought the ironworks of Manson and of Shuman
and of Van Deher and of Atwood, which have all been given up
"They were all bought by the West Gilmerton General Mining
"I don't see, Brother Morris," said the chairman, "that it
matters to us who buys them, since they can't carry them out of
"With all respect to you, Eminent Bodymaster, I think it may
matter very much to us. This process has been going on now for
ten long years. We are gradually driving all the small men out of
trade. What is the result? We find in their places great companies
like the Railroad or the General Iron, who have their directors in
New York or Philadelphia, and care nothing for our threats. We
can take it out of their local bosses, but it only means that others
will be sent in their stead. And we are making it dangerous for
ourselves. The small men could not harm us. They had not the
money nor the power. So long as we did not squeeze them too
dry, they would stay on under our power. But if these big
companies find that we stand between them and their profits,
they will spare no pains and no expense to hunt us down and
bring us to court."
There was a hush at these ominous words, and every face
darkened as gloomy looks were exchanged. So omnipotent and
unchallenged had they been that the very thought that there was
possible retribution in the background had been banished from
their minds. And yet the idea struck a chill to the most reckless
"It is my advice," the speaker continued, "that we go easier
upon the small men. On the day that they have all been driven
out the power of this society will have been broken."
Unwelcome truths are not popular. There were angry cries as
the speaker resumed his seat. McGinty rose with gloom upon his
"Brother Morris," said he, "you were always a croaker. So
long as the members of this lodge stand together there is no
power in the United States that can touch them. Sure, have we
not tried it often enough in the law courts? I expect the big
companies will find it easier to pay than to fight, same as the
little companies do. And now, Brethren," McGinty took off his
black velvet cap and his stole as he spoke, "this lodge has
finished its business for the evening, save for one small matter
which may be mentioned when we are parting. The time has now
come for fraternal refreshment and for harmony."
Strange indeed is human nature. Here were these men, to
whom murder was familiar, who again and again had struck
down the father of the family, some man against whom they had
no personal feeling, without one thought of compunction or of
compassion for his weeping wife or helpless children, and yet
the tender or pathetic in music could move them to tears. McMurdo
had a fine tenor voice, and if he had failed to gain the good
will of the lodge before, it could no longer have been withheld
after he had thrilled them with "I'm Sitting on the Stile, Mary,"
and "On the Banks of Allan Water."
In his very first night the new recruit had made himself one of
the most popular of the brethren, marked already for
advancement and high office. There were other qualities needed,
however. besides those of good fellowship. to make a worthy Freeman,
and of these he was given an example before the evening was
over. The whisky bottle had passed round many times, and the
men were flushed and ripe for mischief when their Bodymaster
rose once more to address them.
"Boys," said he, "there's one man in this town that wants
trimming up, and it's for you to see that he gets it. I'm speaking
of James Stanger of the Herald. You've seen how he's been
opening his mouth against us again?"
There was a murmur of assent, with many a muttered oath.
McGinty took a slip of paper from his waistcoat pocket.
"LAW AND ORDER!
That's how he heads it.
"REIGN OF TERROR IN THE COAL AND IRON DISTRICT
"Twelve years have now elapsed since the first
assassinations which proved the existence of a criminal organization
in our midst. From that day these outrages have never
ceased, until now they have reached a pitch which makes us
the opprobrium of the civilized world. Is it for such results
as this that our great country welcomes to its bosom the
alien who flies from the despotisms of Europe? Is it that
they shall themselves become tyrants over the very men
who have given them shelter, and that a state of terrorism
and lawlessness should be established under the very shadow
of the sacred folds of the starry Flag of Freedom which
would raise horror in our minds if we read of it as existing
under the most effete monarchy of the East? The men are
known. The organization is patent and public. How long are
we to endure it? Can we forever live --
Sure, I've read enough of the slush!" cried the chairman, tossing
the paper down upon the table. "That's what he says of us. The
question I'm asking you is what shall we say to him?"
"Kill him!" cried a dozen fierce voices.
"I protest against that," said Brother Morris, the man of the
good brow and shaved face. "I tell you, Brethren, that our hand
is too heavy in this valley, and that there will come a point
where in self-defense every man will unite to crush us out. James
Stanger is an old man. He is respected in the township and the
district. His paper stands for all that is solid in the valley. If that
man is struck down, there will be a stir through this state that
will only end with our destruction."
"And how would they bring about our destruction, Mr.
Standback?" cried McGinty. "Is it by the police? Sure, half of
them are in our pay and half of them afraid of us. Or is it by the
law courts and the judge? Haven't we tried that before now, and
what ever came of it?"
"There is a Judge Lynch that might try the case," said
A general shout of anger greeted the suggestion.
"I have but to raise my finger," cried McGinty, "and I could
put two hundred men into this town that would clear it out from
end to end." Then suddenly raising his voice and bending his
huge black brows into a terrible frown, "See here, Brother
Morris, I have my eye on you, and have had for some time!
You've no heart yourself, and you try to take the heart out of
others. It will be an ill day for you, Brother Morris, when your
own name comes on our agenda paper, and I'm thinking that it's
just there that I ought to place it."
Morris had turned deadly pale, and his knees seemed to give
way under him as he fell back into his chair. He raised his glass
in his trembling hand and drank before he could answer. "I
apologize, Eminent Bodymaster, to you and to every brother in
this lodge if I have said more than I should. I am a faithful
member -- you all know that -- and it is my fear lest evil come to
the lodge which makes me speak in anxious words. But I have
greater trust in your judgment than in my own, Eminent
Bodymaster, and I promise you that I will not offend again."
The Bodymaster's scowl relaxed as he listened to the humble
words. "Very good, Brother Morris. It's myself that would be
sorry if it were needful to give you a lesson. But so long as I am
in this chair we shall be a united lodge in word and in deed. And
now, boys," he continued, looking round at the company, "I'll
say this much, that if Stanger got his full deserts there would be
more trouble than we need ask for. These editors hang together,
and every journal in the state would be crying out for police and
troops. But I guess you can give him a pretty severe warning.
Will you fix it, Brother Baldwin?"
"Sure!" said the young man eagerly.
"How many will you take?"
"Half a dozen, and two to guard the door. You'll come,
Gower, and you, Mansel. and you, Scanlan, and the two
"I promised the new brother he should go," said the chairman.
Ted Baldwin looked at McMurdo with eyes which showed that
he had not forgotten nor forgiven. "Well, he can come if he
wants," he said in a surly voice. "That's enough. The sooner
we get to work the better."
The company broke up with shouts and yells and snatches of
drunken song. The bar was still crowded with revellers, and
many of the brethren remained there. The little band who had
been told off for duty passed out into the street, proceeding in
twos and threes along the sidewalk so as not to provoke
attention. It was a bitterly cold night, with a half-moon shining
brilliantly in a frosty, star-spangled sky. The men stopped and
gathered in a yard which faced a high building. The words
"Vemmissa Herald" were printed in gold lettering between the
brightly lit windows. From within came the clanking of the
"Here, you," said Baldwin to McMurdo, "you can stand
below at the door and see that the road is kept open for us.
Arthur Willaby can stay with you. You others come with me.
Have no fears, boys; for we have a dozen witnesses that we are
in the Union Bar at this very moment."
It was nearly midnight, and the street was deserted save for
one or two revellers upon their way home. The party crossed the
road, and, pushing open the door of the newspaper office,
Baldwin and his men rushed in and up the stair which faced
them. McMurdo and another remained below. From the room
above came a shout, a cry for help, and then the sound of
trampling feet and of falling chairs. An instant later a gray-haired
man rushed out on the landing.
He was seized before he could get farther, and his spectacles
came tinkling down to McMurdo's feet. There was a thud and a
groan. He was on his face, and half a dozen sticks were
clattering together as they fell upon him. 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.