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The country that I traversed was as wild and forbidding as any I had ever seen in Missouri. I at last came upon Little at work in a roadside field. The humble cottage of his employer was in view about a quarter of a mile away, and for loneliness and isolation it might almost as well have been in the heart of Montana or Idaho.
"Hello!" exclaimed Little, looking up, spade in hand, in answer to my greeting. "What ! is it indeed you, Mr. Lawson? By Jove! I'd never have known you in that shape."
This was in complimentary allusion to the disguise I had assumed. It was that of a country storekeeper in hard luck, on the lookout for a new location and a partner, with a rather sorry-looking steed in keeping with the character.
"Have you anything to say?" I asked.
"Yes, more than you imagine," was the cautious reply. "Yes, indeed. As soon as you return to St. Joe you can telegraph to your friends that the Minnesota expedition will start from H ville to-morrow at daybreak. The gang will make the entire distance on horseback, and as you fellows will doubtless cover the greater part of it by rail, of course you can take your time with your preparations. Jess has been compelled to move earlier than he intended, by reason of the poverty of the majority of the gang. They have done nothing yet to retrieve the Red Cut failure. Some of 'em are entirely destitute."
"Are you to go?"
"Yes; I have my orders. I will try to communicate with you on the way."
"Who are the others?"
"The entire expedition will consist of the two Jameses, the three Youngers, the two Hites, Curly Pitts, Hank Burke, Bill Shadwell, Charley Miller, and Clem Miller, besides myself. It is a bigger gang than I thought would
be used in the affair. Charley Miller is to be the guide. He was a Minnesota horse-thief, you know, before he joined us, and is familiar with that northern country. Ed Miller would also have been picked, but there's bad blood betwixt him and Jess now, though they used to be thick. Only night before last, at the rendezvous down in Cracker's Neck, Ed more than insinuated that Jess and Frank took precious good care of themselves, even with the rest of the gang starving to death. Jess didn't reply then, but we all saw that he didn't like it. Jim Cummings would also have been selected, but he hasn't got over his scorching. Wait, there's one more of the raiding party I haven't named -- Charley White. That's fourteen in all."
Here certainly was a whole budget of news, and important enough in all conscience. If I had had any doubts as to the sincerity of Dick Little's intentions, they were now dissipated by the frankness and fullness with which he gave me these details.
"Clef Miller is a new name to me," I observed. "So is Bill Shadwell."
"They both only recently joined, but have already left records in Texas and the Indian Territory. Clem Miller is a cousin of Charley's."
While speaking together, we had withdrawn into a fence corner overgrown with alders and papaw trees.
After giving me some further details regarding the intended raid, Little gave me a mysterious look, and said, while lowering his voice:
"There's something else, Mr. Lawson."
"What is it?"
"You're the third man that's passed along this lonesome road to-day, sir. Neither of the two others saw me, for I was digging yonder in the ditch. And I was devilish careful to duck my head as soon as I recognized 'em, you bet. They were about ten minutes apart. The first man, perhaps, didn't know that the other was a-doggie' him. Yet. they both hitched up somewhere up yonder, and disappeared, one after the other, into the thick woods up the mountain side, in mighty nigh the same place."
"Why, Dick, what do you mean by all this mystery?" I asked. "Who were the men?"
He lowered his voice to a hushed, scared sort of tone.
"Mr. Lawson," said he, "the first man was Jess James The man a-doggie' him was Ed Miller."
"WelI; what is there to it all?"
"Just this," and Dick's frightened voice sank yet lower. "It looked to me like as Jess was on his way to his treasurehole -- perhaps for the purpose of making a new plant there -- and like as Ed was shadowin' him, to find out where the hole is. Didn't I tell you about the two having had some words about money night afore
This was a better piece of news than I had dreamed of expecting. It almost startled me. But I was none the less pleased. I at once dismounted, tying my horse in among the papaws, and taking a look at my pistols.
"What are you going to do?" exclaimed Dick.
"Follow up Jess, as his fellow-bandit is following him,
of course," I replied, in a businesslike tone. "I also would find the robber's treasure-hole. You shall guide me."
"The thunder I shall !" cried Dick, almost with chatter
ing teeth. "Good Lord! do you think I'm tired of living?"
"I think you're tired of being a blood-thirsty highwayman's blind tool and cat's-paw, if there's any sincerity in your professions," said I. "Nothing venture, nothing have. So, come along."
Much more urging was required to get the better of his fears, but the task was at last accomplished. We then' proceeded up the road, and entered the woods at the point where my guide had seen the robbers go into them a short time before, but without seeing where they had first tethered their horses.
However, we made but a slight search for the latter. Our main quest was a much more important one.
After climbing the slope with much difficulty, by reason of both its steepness and the density of its trees and undergrowth, we came out upon an elevated level not quite so thickly wooded.
We had pushed on for a considerable distance further, when the report of firearms suddenly rang through the woods. It was followed quickly by a second report, after which there was dead silence as we came to a momentary pause. But at this point, with his spade still in his grip, and his knees knocking together, my guide resolutely refused to go another step.
"Aren't you armed ?" I exclaimed, beginning to lose patience.
"Yes," was his sullen answer; and, throwing open his rude farmer's blouse, showing his belt beneath with the pistols in it.
"What ails you, then? The spade in your hands is moreover a deadly weapon. Aren't you ashamed to be paralyzed by a danger, even before it is encountered?"
"No, I'm not; not where Jess James is concerned," he growled, and then laying his hand on my arm with increased trepidation, he whispered: "Hush ! Listen !"
I shook off his grip, laying my hand on my pistol. There was the sound of some one hurrying through the brush not far away, and evidently making down the hill toward the road we had quitted.
"Come on !" I said. "Let us at least see who it is."
We retraced our steps to a point on the brow of the wooded slope whence a view could be obtained of the road below.
A moment later we saw a single horseman galloping off, with a riderless horse in leading. The horseman was Jesse James. He rode so rapidly that in a few seconds he was lost to view.
"Now I'll go on with you," said my guide gloomily, and, turning, he once more led the way back through the woods. "You'll soon see, I'm thinkin', what it costs to meddle with Jess James' private affairs."
I more than half suspected what he meant. We presently came into a narrow glade. A feeble groan attracted our attention, and a brief search revealed a man lying at the edge of the glade. It was Ed Miller, the outlaw, fatally shot through the head, but slowly coming back to momentary consciousness. :`
We both knelt at his side, Dick supporting his head,
while I took one of his hands. The other hand firmly grasped a revolver, from which probably the second shot we had heard had been fired, but unavailingly for either self-defense or vengeance.
"Just as I supposed!" growled Little. "Jess has, like enough, killed him to save the secret of his treasure-hole."
"Yes, yes," gasped the dying robber, in a failing voice. "That was it."
I signed Little to let me do the talking, and he at the same time raised Miller's head a little higher.
"We are friends, my man, who can and will avenge you, if possible," I exclaimed, with sympathetic earnestness. "Only try to answer the questions I shall put to you."
He made a sign in the affirmative, but his eyes were already on the point of glazing, and his breath came in swift, convulsive pants.
"Quick, then!" I went on. "Did you see Jess at the place where he hides away his money?"
"Yes, yes; saw him dig out hole put a fresh bag in -- fill it up again. Cave full of treasure-bags, gold, bags silver, boxes greenbacks, jewels and watches in piles -- two hundred thousand dollars, sure! Then he saw me. My first shot missed -- then done for."
The words came out in painful jerks, a gush of blood from his lips closing his utterance.
"Try and give us directions!" I exclaimed, hurriedly wiping off the blood and putting my flask to his lips. "Only try -- there's a good fellow! We'll use a part of the money in hunting down your murderer. Where is it buried? Quick -- give us the clew!"
The dying bandit, though in his last agonies, made a supreme effort, and struggled into a sitting posture. His face was livid, but with the hope of vengeance flaring out through it, as through an expiring lamp. He pointed out through the glade with a trembling hand.
"There, there !" he faltered. "Two buckeyes, three forties, heap stones to right, then a forty-five shot straight on; where ball strikes, dig!"
It was- his expiring effort. He fell back a corpse.
"Cashed in !" commented Little. "Poor Ed. There was worse 'uns in the world than he, robber that he was. What are you coin', Mr. Lawson. Not jottin' down them last nonsensical words of his'n? Yes. Blamed if he ain't!"
This was just what I was doing. He had risen to his feet, while I, still stooping, pencil in hand and memorandum-book on knee, was carefully transcribing those dying words, disconnected and meaningless as they seemed to my guide. And I had to confess that, as yet, I could make nothing out of them myself.
"Poor fellow !" said I, at last, as I arose from my task. "As you say, there were probably worse men in the world than he. What shall we do with the body?"
"Leave it alone for the present, at least," said Little, moving away. "But you don't really think that head or tail can ever be twisted out of them last words of Ed's?"
"I can't tell till I try," said I, crossing the forest opening. "Let us look around a bit."
I had hoped to analyze the mysterious directions, whose transcription I still held in my hand, and then follow them up observantly. But I got no further than their very beginning, without coming to a pause, hopelessly at fault.
"Two buckeyes." Yes; there were two buckeye, or horsechestnut trees, right across the glade at the point to which the robber had pointed. No other trees of the kind were to be seen. I stood between them, looking
calculatingly off into the woods, but without getting any idea from the remaining directions, which I kept repeating over and over again.
"'Two buckeyes, three forties, heap stones to right, then a forty-five shot straight on; where ball strikes, dig.' "
"Well, here we've got our buckeyes at all events," said I, thinking aloud. "Now for the next item -- 'three forties.' What can that mean?"
"It'll be getting dark purty soon, Mr. Lawson," suggested my companion, irrelevantly.
"It won't get dark before I can see if three hundred and forty paces straight ahead shall chance to lead me to a heap of stones," said I, with the memoranda still in my mind's eye. "Come on."
Dick shrugged his shoulders as he accompanied me, but nothing came of the test. Three hundred and forty paces, straight through the woods from between the two horsechestnuts, brought us into a tangle of underbrush, without so much as a suggestion of a stone-heap anywhere to be seen.
I made several other attempts, equally futile, to follow out what might be the meaning of the enigmatical directions, and finally gave up the task in despair, at least for the time being.
"Come, Mr. Lawson, let's get out of these woods before nightfall," said Dick, at last inducing me to give up my quest. "Ed must have been loony when he said them last words, and there can't be nothin' into 'em. I'll tell my employer about havin' found a man dead, and he'll come up here some time or other and look after the body."
We returned to the road without meeting any further adventure. Then, upon getting into the saddle again, I made some definite arrangements with him as to the part he was to endeavor to play during the forthcoming raid. I also promised to convey to Mattie Collins a verbal message from him, and we separated.
On returning to St. Joseph I at once telegraphed the information I had received, concerning the raid, to my confederates in Kansas City and Independence, making use of a cipher that was intelligble to us alone. Then, knowing that they would at once set on foot the necessary preparations, I sought a tavern for the rest and repose of which I was greatly in need.
It was perhaps natural that I was in a despondent frame of mind.
"So," thought I to myself, just before sin-king to sleep that night, "another great secret has suddenly fluttered from me, like a wounded bird, just at the instant that it was in my closing grasp. Bob Younger's revelation, concerning the stolen boy, was almost in my possession, when a bullet cut it short. In like manner I have just been robbed of this fortunedisclosing secret by another bullet, though in a different way. It is infernally hard luck."
Presently however, something seemed to whisper encouragingly to me.
"Courage," the still small voice seemed to say. "As a bullet has robbed you of these secrets, one after another, so shall they be eventually revealed to you by a bullet in each instance."
Then I sank to sleep, and dreamed all night of deciphering mysterious writings and unearthing enormous treasures.
On a certain bright autumnal morning, not long after this, our small but determined detective force was gathered in the little village of R -- , a suburb of the town of Northfield, Minnesota.
We had ridden over to R -- from the nearest rail road point at an early hour that morning, and were now waiting to receive a final notification of the raiding robbers' advance from the southward, before riding into Northfield, and notifying the bank and municipal officers of the threatened descent. We had resolved to refrain from doing this up to the very last moment for a number of reasons. In the first place we were anxious to allay premature excitement, and thus get the robbers well into the town, in the hope of killing or bagging them all. In the second place, we had such confidence in our arrangements that we felt sure we could give timely warning even at the last moment, without costing the unsuspecting citizens the loss of a man, or the bank the loss of a dollar. And finally, we knew enough of the Minnesotian character to be sure of securing ample backing, at a pinch, either for hard fighting or in an organized pursuit, and on mighty short notice at that.
In one of these respects it turned out that we had made a grave mistake, as events will prove.
We had, thus far, received three secret telegrams from Dick Little, faithfully notifying of the progress of the robber band from time to time. We had now been waiting for the fourth and last communication for several hours, and were growing both impatient and anxious.
Neither Sheriff Timberlake nor Captain Craig was with us on this occasion, on account of the field of operations being shifted so far out of their State limits. Our troop, eight in number, was composed of professional detectives, with the exception of George Sheppard and Charley Ford, and I had been elected to the chief command.
At last we received our notification, but in an unexpected way.
At about noon a horseman, covered with dust, came tearing into the tavern stableyard, where we were all in waiting with our mounts in readiness.
The horseman was Dick Little.
"Quick, or it's too late!" he gasped. "I'm supposed to be laid up seriously wounded by an accidental shot. I couldn't find another telegraphic station, so here I am. I started for this place as soon as the gang quitted Theyre hurrying up from the south. Go on without me, Lawson. Quick, quick! Maybe they're already at the bank.
I waited for nothing more. Away we dashed, leaving Little behind.
Northfield was only a mile to the south, but the road seemed to merely crawl under us, though we were going at a thundering pace. Gorham chanced to be the best mounted, and I ordered him to spur on in advance, and give the general alarm.
This duty he performed. It chanced to be in the midst of the prairie chicken season, when everybody coming to town was armed with a shotgun or rifle. Gorham's preliminary alarm, therefore, was instantly taken up by good men and true, in a condition to act upon it. But, nevertheless, as the rest of us came rushing into the excited town from the north, Jesse James and his outlaws
had already entered it from the south, and were even at the door of the bank.
They had come rushing in their usual style, which had often proved so successful before -- firing off their pistols, making their horses plunge and rear, yelling at the top of their voices, and with similar demos/rations.
They reined up at the bank doors, and, while the rest remained in the saddle, Jesse and Frank James and Cole Younger leaped from their horses, and dashed into the interior.
Cashier Haywood bravely refused to open the vault, even at the mouth of the pistol. He was instantly shot dead by Jesse, while the latter's confederates opened fire upon the remaining clerks, though purposely wounding instead of killing them outright. Then Jesse marched the cashier's assistant up to the safe doors, with his still smoking pistol at his ear, and ordered him to open them.
The poor fellow, with his superior lying dead at his feet, was probably doing the best he could toward obeying the order, when the exchange of shots outside the bank became so violent and frequent as to distract the attention of the outlaws within.
And just then Wood Hite rode his horse half way into the bank with horror and dismay depicted on his face.
"Come out of that, Jess, if you care for your hide !" he yelled. "The game's up ! We're hemmed in with the bull town agin us!"
With a terrible oath of fury and disappointment, the outlaw leader knocked the clerk senseless with a blow from his revolver and fired a parting shot into the cashier's body as he turned to make his escape.
Then, followed by his brother and Cole Younger, he rushed out of the bank.
A wild scene of carnage met his gaze. His men still held the approach to the bank, and were defending themselves desperately, but shots were being poured into them from every direction, while the accompanying shouts, curses, and yells were like a massacre.
"Stand to it !" shouted Jesse's undaunted voice. "We'll be hanged if we're caught alive! Stand to it!"
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