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It was, indeed, Jesse, the outlaw himself, who had secretly watched the whole scene about his alleged remains, and who would, doubtless, have quickly appropriated the reward, had they been paid over to his youthful satellites.
The crack of a dozen revolvers saluted his exit from the big room, and as many bullets went whistling after him. But he was not the fated billet to stop any of them just then. We dashed after him in a body. But he had already shouldered his way through the crowded outer room, and by the time we reached the open air, the outlaw had already bounded across the broad thoroughfare to where his matchless sorrel was standing, and vaulted into the saddle.
"Good-by, Lawson !" he shouted to me, as he galloped away amid an ineffectual shower of bullets. "I know you now, and the doctor's dodge you played on me. We shall be once more together alone -- and for the last time."
We did not attempt an instant pursuit, but made the best of our disappointment and bad humor.
Both Cutts and Larry the Lamb, whose real name was understood to be Finken, subsequently made a confession as to their share in the attempted deception. According to this confession, Jesse James had only been slightly wounded in the back of the neck by Sheppard's bullet. Instantly upon receiving the wound, however, there had occurred to the outlaw the plot of feigning death, in furtherance of the elaborate subsequent scheme, which, perhaps, but for me, would have been carried to a successful issue.
He, therefore, on receiving the trifling wound, threw up his hands and reeled in his saddle, for George Sheppard's especial benefit. The latter, however, was no sooner out of sight than the outlaw leader, while his neck was being bound up with some handkerchiefs by Miller, proceeded to plan out the attack on the bank in the neighboring town of S . Still intent on his scheme of pretended death, he had, however, taken no active part in this robbery. It was carried out, in the unique manner I have described, by the rest of the gang under the leadership of Frank James and Jim Cummings.
The successful scoundrels had subsequently joined Jesse in the Blue Hills, whither he had gone, accompanied by Miller. Here a division of the booty was made. The gang had then been temporarily dispersed, Jesse remaining alone in a remote and deserted cabin unlit accompanied there by the youths, Cutts and Larry the Lamb, for whom he had sent, and who were both blindly devoted to him.
Here they lived in secret, supported by the game with which the wild region abounded, and biding the development of the plot. One thing was indispensable -- a corpse that could be palmed off as Jesse's with any reasonable chance of success. Even this was not a great while forthcoming.
At the end of five or six weeks of seclusion Jim Cummings sent up to the hermitage in the Blue Hills one Pat Moriarty, who had once belonged to the gang, but had severed his connection therewith, after a quarrel with the outlaw leader over the division of some booty, and, strangely enough, he resembled Jesse not a little. That resemblance doubtless determined Cummings' action, and was chiefly instrumental in sealing poor Moriarty's fate.
The latter sought the hermitage under the impression that Jesse wanted to renew friendly relations. Indeed, he was received with every appearance of cordiality. None the less, however, did a convenient game of cards engross the reunited worthies without loss of time. A quarrel, with high words, ensued. Then an accusation on the part of the Irishman who was being outrageously cheated with intentional clumsiness. Then Jesse's ready revolver put in its conclusive remark, and -- the desired dead man was furnished, ready for delivery.
Such was the brief history of one of the most originally daring plots in the annals of crime, and, which, perhaps, only miscarried by the merest chance; for the outlaw's female relatives, if conversant with the scheme would doubtless have identified falsely, if called upon.
Cutts and Larry the Lamb, on being brought to trial, were promptly convicted of participation in many crimes, partly on my evidence and partly on their own confessions, and were sentenced to prodigiously long terms in the State prison.
We had by this time pretty thoroughly weeded out the farmer-boy associations of the outlaws, as their hairbrained youthful admirers and emulators might be denominated. Hereafter, for a certain time at least, the veterans of the band had to be more cautious and
circumspect in their movements. It was not long, however, before we discovered that the gang was still in the vicinity.
It was Gorham who gave the warning.
Meeting Ford and myself one day in Kansas City, he stopped us. He was greatly excited.
"Hurry up !" he exclaimed. "Both Timberlake and Craig, with the rest, are waiting for you at headquarters. There's a big job on foot."
"What is it?" I asked, much interested.
"The hull James gang have arranged to stop and rob the west-bound express this side of Topeka, in the Red Cut this evening. We're to load up one of the cars with our men, and be ready to make it hot for 'm."
This was the sort of talk that suited me. I cheerfully accompanied him and Ford to headquarters, after getting rid of my peddler's disguise on the way.
Timberlake and the rest of the officers and detectives
were already there, hastily preparing for the expedition, for it was now late in the afternoon.
"There's lively work ahead, gentlemen, even if this Red Cut trap should miss fire," said the sheriff, genially. "The Jameses and their crew are awake and wicked, like rattlesnakes after their winter's nap. Dick Little and another of their number have made overtures to me in the hope of a pardon and let out a whole bagful of secrets. If they get through with this affair, they next take in the Minnesota bank project, which they've long had in view. Come, hurry up, the train will be along in twenty minutes.'
A car had already been provided for us by the railroad management. We entered it with seeming carelessness, one by one, without exciting undue outside attention. There were fifteen of us, all told. They included those to whom the reader has already been introduced, together with six special constables, stanch and experienced men, who could be relied on.
When the train came along our car was quietly incorporated with it, being placed in the front, next behind the express messenger's car. No intimation was given to any others on the train as to what was expected; and away we went.
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