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The houses that we passed after entering the gloomy tryroad were few and far between, and of an exceptionally lonely and forlorn appearance.
I remarked that with the rough occupants of all of them, so far as there were any signs of life at all, my terrible companions were in signal good-standing.
At last we struck off from even the apology for a road we had been following. A difficult jaunt of ten minutes longer through the scarcely broken forest brought us to a large clearing, in which there was one of the largest and most comfortable-looking cabins I had ever seen.
Among others who came out to meet us were two beautiful, even refined-looking, young women, whom I discovered, to my astonishment, to be the wives of my companions. I was introduced to them and the rest, after a fashion, simply as "doe" Jesse not having thus far seen fit to ask me for any other name.
It was now sunset. I was greatly exhausted in body, mind, and nerve, especially the latter. It was, therefore, not long after the ample supper with which we were regaled that I was glad enough to accept the bed that was offered me in a little room in the back of the house.
I slept soundly, but nevertheless awoke several times during the night. Whenever I did so I became intuitively conscious that I was watched. Of course, I could not conjecture by whom, and the sense itself was an indefinable one at best. But it was, nevertheless, strong, and I knew instinctively just as well as if I had been told so in as many words that any attempt just then to escape from my terrible environment would inevitably result in my violent death.
"Don't worry, sis. Just wait till I make one more big tenstrike, either on a passenger train or with a rich bank, that's all. Then hey for the Panhandle of Texas, and for peace and quiet with my darling. Run into the house now, and I will soon join you."
Such were the words I overheard spoken in the garden just outside of my window when I awoke for the last time, and in broad daylight. The voice was that of Jesse James, and the words were finished by a sound very like a kiss, which I doubted not was bestowed on the lips of a wifely listener. I heard a happy little laugh a moment afterward, followed by a sharp rustle, as of a woman's skirts being whisked into the house, and then the receding footsteps of a man.
Wonderingly thinking of many things, I arose, dressed, and went in search of Jesse, whose protege I was generally thought to be.
As I passed through the rooms on my way to the open air, hardly any one paid the slightest attention to me, expect Frank James, who looked up and nodded surlily as I passed him in the kitchen.
It appeared to be a cleanly, well-ordered household, but an air of suspicious sadness -- a sense of isolation -- an unmistakable consciousness of criminality -- overhung it like a pall. It was as though the house was a man, with the indelible brand of Cain upon its brow
"Good-morning, Mr. James," said I, as I came upon the outlaw leader, somewhat unawares, in a little nook at the farther side of the clearing.
He stared up confusedly, and hastily hid in his bosom
something that he had been earnestly contemplating -- perhaps the packet of tokens I had given him on the preceding day. He was himself again in a moment, however. After exchanging a few remarks, he said:
"Doe, I believe I can trust you."
"I know you can," said I.
"How would you like to go into Independence to-day, to find out for me the drift of public thought concerning Frank and me?"
"Just as you say," said I. "You know the solemn obligation that I feel in being here with you."
"Yes, yes; but will you promise to come back here -- alone -- say at this time to-morrow morning, and report?"
"All right, I believe you. Go ahead, then, as soon as you've got your breakfast. By the way, to-day is the last of the big county fair. I may meet you either on or near the grounds this afternoon, if you happen to be on hand."
"I never went disguised in my life," said Jesse, coolly.
"But, good Heavens! you wouldn't take such a risk?"
"Yes, I would, by -- ! and a thundering sight bigger one, for a sufficient stake, and with this at hand !" he exclaimed, clapping his hand on one of his revolvers. "Pshaw, man! my reputation alone carries me through more than half my adventures. Come; there's the breakfast-bell."
Directly after breakfast I mounted and rode away. But little attention was paid to me as I quitted the house. A boy piloted me to the road, and then an hour's gallop brought me in sight of Independence.
But during that hour's ride enough bewildering thoughts occurred to me to make my head whirl. For months I had been praying for just this sort of intimacy with the dreaded James brothers, and now that I had achieved it, I was half appalled at the risk upon which I had entered.
But half of my Booneville story was true, although the lovetokens from the dying Blanche Rideau were genuine. I had never practiced as a physician, but had received the letters and other little things from Judge Rideau himself, soon after his daughter's death. He was a friend of mine, and gave the things to me in the furtherance of my plans, and in the honest hope that they would aid me in bringing these desperate criminals to justice. -
Here I was in their confidence at last. But, should they discover my duplicity in this respect, or obtain the first inkling of a suspicion that I was in correspondence with the authorities -- well, from the cruelly murderous scenes that I had already witnessed where detectives were concerned, the reader can judge whether or not I could have any hopes of retaining my own life for a single instant. I was literally carrying my life in my hands. However, I had placed my life upon a die, and there was nothing for it but to stand the hazard of the cast.
I found the town of Independence in a great state of excitement over the previous day's doings of the James brothers.
The first person I met to recognize me was Jewell, the sole remaining Chicago detective. It was on a sidestreet, soon after I put up my horse at the hotel.
He was still shaky from his escape of the preceding day. As soon as he saw me he shrank up against a fence,
his eyes starting out of his head, as though he were beholding a ghost.
"Great guns, stranger! you here and alive?" he ejaculated.
"It looks like it," I replied.
"But how did those James devils come to let you off ?"
"Am I a detective?"
"But think of Hawes and Whittaker ! And it was only last evening that Langman's riddled body was found fastened to the tree."
"What of that?"
"Why, I should think they would have murdered you, too.
"Not at all. They had nothing against an inoffensive, old, country doctor like me. They merely kept me a prisoner all day and night, and then dismissed me -- with a caution. It's a caution I'm not likely to forget."
"Good Lord, I should think not."
"What is to be your next move?" I asked.
"Holy smoke, can you ask? Why, to quit Independence and Missouri as soon as I can muster up the nerve to do so!"
- "Nerve? Muster up nerve merely to take passage out
"That's it, stranger. Blast me, if I ain't even afraid to get aboard a railroad train, lest the James boys should -gobble me up on the way, locomotive, cowcatcher, and all. I've a wife and three young ones in Chicago only let me get back there again, without a hide full of bullets, that's all."
And with that the decidedly demoralized detective meandered off,- looking this way and that, as if he dreaded to see a James brother sprout out of every gate post.
I spent the morning in picking up such items of information as I thought would be likely to interest Jesse James when I should meet him again on the following day, in accordance with my promise. I determined to consider myself as being on parole for the time being.
In the course of my sauntering I observed both Cutts and Larry the Lamb in the crowds thronging the streets incidental to the great fair. I pretended to have no knowledge of their whereabouts, though morally sure that one of their chief objects was to spy upon my movements. Doubtless there were other confederates of the outlaws scattered through the crowds for a similar purpose. However, their presence did not make me lose confidence in myself.
Toward noon, hot and thirsty, I strolled into one of the temporary saloons on the fair grounds, and ordered a lemonade. Two sorry negro minstrels were apparently trying to be comical, in the hope of-a few gratuitous quarters, at the rear of the saloon, with a battered banjo and a pair of bones as the accessories. While I was sipping my lemonade at a small table near them, the fellow with the bones began a series of antics around me, and wound up by significantly extending his open palm.
"Not much," I exclaimed, with a countryman's indignation. "I wouldn't pay a cent for your ridiculous monkey shines -- not one cent, sir. Better wash the black off your face and enter upon some honest occupation."
"Gimme a drink, at all events, old hoss," pleaded the mountebank, kicking up another antic or two, while bawling out the fag-end of a cheap ballad at the top of his voice.
Finally, after a good deal of chaffing, I reluctantly allowed him to persuade me to order him a glass of beer. A crowd of loafers and sightseers had in the meantime gathered in the saloon. They stood near the bar, and were doubtless greatly amused at the altercation for the paltry price of a drink between Bones and the stingy old countryman, as they considered me.
Nevertheless, as Bones blew the froth from his beer, and bowed his thanks to me, with a squirming contortion of the body that set the crowd in a roar, he eyed me with a flashing look of intelligence. I recognized him for my man just the same.
"What about the Youngers ?" I whispered, over my lemonade.
"They are to have a conference with the Jameses at the end of next week, to plan a colossal train or bank robbery," was the swift reply over the beer. "And you, colonel ?
"I am now fairly living with the James boys, and rapidly learning all their plans," was my rejoinder. "Will try and talk with- you again to-night. Quick! do something. I'm being watched."
At this juncture Bones "downed" the beer at a gulp, spun the glass in the air and caught it again, shouted out the first lines of a song, and, dashing into the contortions of an original breakdown, wound up by waving one foot in the air and bringing it down on the top of my new hat with crushing and disastrous effect.
Red and excited, I arose- with a roar of simulated rage, and was about to precipitate myself upon him, when the barkeeper interfered. He said I mustn't hurt the musicians, and smilingly advised me to take- myself and my custom in the neighborhood of cheaper refreshments.
With that I indignantly quitted the saloon, amid the jeering laughter of the bystanders, among whom I recognized both Cutts and the Lamb, apparently as jovial at my expense as any of the rest. But, nevertheless, my temper was in reality unruffled, and I had exchanged the necessary information with my confederate just the same.
After dinner at the hotel, I went, with pretty much all the rest of the world, residents and strangers, into the fair grounds. The exhibition of stock and agricultural implements, and flowers and fruits, and the like, was good enough in its way, but I soon wearied of it. Moreover, the crowd in the inclosed ground was wellnigh suffocating.
While wandering curiously about. wondering what
Jesse James could have meant by saying that I might see him at the fair, I again ran across Jewell. He had drank so much whisky -- he would probably have called it "mustering up nerve" -- as to have somewhat overcome his apprehensions, and informed me that he would leave Independence on the seven o'clock train of that evening. He was also full of talk about the success of the fair.
"They've taken in twenty-four thousand dollars in three days, sir," he maundered. "There goes Sheriff Masters and he told me so. They've just counted out the amount in the gate-office, there it all stands in a tin box at the elbow of the treasurer of the fair association. Let's take a drink, stranger. By Jove! if I had that much money in Chicago far, far from the murdering James
Just here I managed to make my escape. I nodded to Masters, with whom I was personally and professionally acquainted, as he passed me a few moments later.
At about four o'clock, when the crowded entertainment was at its height, I grew so tired of the whole thing that I passed out of the inclosure. The surrounding open space, which was just on the outskirts of the town, was almost wholly deserted, in view of the attractions afforded by the inclosed grounds.
As I passed the rough-board ticket-office, I looked through the small, square window at which tickets had been dispensed so profitably for several days. I saw the treasurer -- a large, fine-looking gentleman, with a magnificent beard -- sitting on a high stool, and facing the window. He was smoking a cigar, with the tin moneybox at his elbow, and was apparently in a very contented state of mind.
I made these observations without any particular object, and then began leisurely crossing the deserted grounds, going toward the town.
The sound of hoof-beats in the roadway behind caused me to turn.
To my utter astonishment, I saw Jesse and Frank James riding in from the direction of the open country at a careless, easy gait. -They were both superbly mounted, as was their custom, Jesse being on his sorrel favorite, Dancer.
Before I could recover from my astonishment they had halted before the ticket-office. There Frank took Dancer by the bridle, while Jesse leisurely dismounted, and approached the office window.
I actually thought the treasurer must be an old personal acquaintance, with whom he was about to pass the time of day in a pure spirit of braggadocia.
Here is what really happened.
"I say, Mr. Treasurer," said Jesse, urbanely, thrusting his face into the opening, "what'd you think if I should say that I am Jesse James, the outlaw and order you to pass me out that tin money-box yonder?"
"What would I think, eh?" exclaimed the treasurer, bursting into a laugh, and doubtless deeming he was dealing with a lunatic, or a practical joker. "Why, I should think you a -- fool, and would tell you to go to the devil t"
"Well, that's just what I do say, and order you to do," cried Jesse, thrusting his revolver through the opening, and inconveniently getting "the drop" on the astounded official. "Hand out that box quick, or you're a dead man!"*
"But look here -- hold on -- this money, d'ye see "
"Out with it 1" roared the robber, with a frightful oath. "Delay but another instant, and my bullet's in your heart !"
The panic-stricken treasurer handed out the box. But an instant was required to transfer its precious contents into the inside of Dancer's capacious saddlebags.
A moment more and the empty tin box was on the ground, while the successful bandit brothers were galloping away with their booty at a tremendous pace.
It all happened almost directly under my eyes, and was an accomplished fact almost before I realized what had occurred.
The alarm was instantly given. In less than five minutes after the perpetration of the deed, upward of fifty horsemen were galloping in pursuit of the robbers.
*An actual fact, without any exaggeration whatsoever.
Anxious to witness the result, I hastily procured a horse, and joined a small group of excellently equipped pursuers, headed by Sheriff Dick Masters, a brave and capable official.
In gaining the thickly wooded, hilly country, we chose the worst road to be found. It led tortuously in and out of the defiles caused by the blending of the foothills and bold, rocky spurs.
While our party were threading one of these defiles at a breakneck gait, a shout from far above our heads caused us to draw rein and look up.
There, up and away, where the wild road bordered the edge of a frightful chasm, we beheld the daring fugitives skimming away on their fleet steeds, like a pair of-eagles, along the face of the cliff.
"Good-by, Dick Masters," called out the younger but abler villain, waving his hat triumphantly. "Score down one more red mark for Jesse James, the outlaw!"
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