THE letter to Jimmy Jones was succinct, though strange. It came from his uncle, Oliver T. Jones. It said:
You have often wondered why I have been so damned stingy. That answer is—because you have been so damned mean. I have always been rich, but the richest thing in my life was not having a son and heir like you. You still are not my son, thank heaven, but the lawyers tell me that you are likely to be my heir unless I give away all my money before I die.
That's the chief reason I want to give you something now. It isn't anything very good or else I wouldn't want to give it to you now, or any time. But I think it might make trouble for you, and since you have made so much trouble for everybody else, it seems only right that some of the gift should be returned.
You are twenty-four years old, and your life has been divided into two exact halves. In the first twelve years you were a small child and a schoolboy. In the last twelve years you have tried to raise hell continually.
You have raised it.
You could raise deep-rooted hell on a sand-lot or a Sunday picnic. You could make it bloom in a church. You could turn a picnic into a dogfight.
If you think I'm wrong, ask any of your friends who you have not shot and see if they don't agree with me.
For twelve years you have done what you pleased at home.
For the next twelve years you have wiped your feet on the face of the world.
But there is one thing that you cannot do.
What is it? Why, Jimmy, it is an attractive proposition. Think of owning a whole newspaper for yourself. In the newspaper you, as editor, can say what you think of the people you don't like. You can tell any sort of a lie that pleases you. You can be called an editor, instead of a gunfighter. You never can call the world all the things that the world has called you, but you can make some pretty hot returns.
A newspaper, Jimmy. In the town of Jasper. The Jasper Journal. The lot it stands on is paid for. The building it is in is paid for. It has a fine little modern press of the latest design. It doesn't owe a cent in the world. It has a stock of blank paper waiting for ink. It has the ink to do the printing. As a reporter it already has one of the most natural free-hand liars that ever beat a typewriter.
Therefore I think that it has everything a newspaper could wish. Except circulation.
All the circulation, all the advertising in this damned town belongs to the Jasper Bugle.
I have tried my hands at running the Jasper "Journal" until my hands ache to the shoulders. At last I have thought of giving the paper to you.
Why? Because I thought of the euphony, having for editor of the Jasper "Journal" a man named Jimmy Jones. Jimmy Jones of the Jasper "Journal." That sounds good to me.
Also, the worst thing I can wish on the town of Jasper is Jimmy Jones. If I thought yellow fever was worse, I would send it, but I know that yellow fever is nothing compared to catching Jimmy. Catching smallpox is practically a pleasure compared to catching Jimmy.
So come on, my lad. Every dollar you make out of editing this sheet during the first year I will cheerfully double. If you can sell this paper, I'll double every dollar you get for it above $5,000.
It is a gift. It is more than a gift. It is a dare and a challenge. And when did Jimmy Jones ever take a dare?
I am going away to take a long rest.
P.S. There is no news in Jasper except bad news. Therefore you ought to be quite at home.
WHEN Jimmy received this letter, he paused in the midst of a stud poker game to read it. He had lost everything in that game except his golden spurs. But he returned to the game, staked his spurs, and an hour later had the price of a horse that carried him to the town of Jasper.
Jimmy Jones was a very bland young man with the gentlest voice that was ever heard. He was neither very tall nor very broad; he spoke perfect English most of the time, and his smile was a thing that caused mothers to trust him perfectly. Above all, he had the most beautiful blue eyes that ever were seen, though occasionally that blue became just a trifle too pale and bright.
He arrived with a horse and pair of .45-caliber single-action Colts, in the middle of an afternoon so hot that it caused the shingles to curl on the roofs. His guns were loaded and he had $5 in his pockets; therefore, he felt quite complete. When he looked at the hot hollow of the hills in which the town of Jasper was located, his heart did not sink, because a town of five thousand was quite a place compared with some of the cities in which he had been spending his time.
It was not hard to find the Journal building on the main street. When he entered the editorial rooms, he saw a tall, thin, sad-looking man of middle age chewing a bad cigar and beating a typewriter with his forefingers only.
"Hello," said Jimmy. "Are you the editor?"
"Yes," said the other over his shoulder. "And the office boy, janitor, reporter, and lucky piece of the Jasper Journal."
"Well," said Jimmy, "you're only the lucky piece, reporter, janitor, and office boy now."
"You must be Jimmy Jones," said the tall man. "My name is Joe Parson. I'm glad you came, because I'm about to..."
"Wait a minute," said Jimmy. "Tell me that at a bar."
There were plenty of bars to go to. On the main street of the town of Jasper there were saloons on every corner. But just then the nearest one seemed the best one to Joe Parson, so he led the way across the street. As they reached the sidewalk, a tall man with white shoes and a white suit went by them, avoiding them with careful eyes, steering the girl who walked with him as cautiously as though she had been blind.
"Who's your friend?" asked Jimmy Jones, pausing to stare after the couple.
Joe Parson made a forward motion and a wry face, so they went on into the saloon and had a drink.
After the drink, Parson was able to say: "That was the owner and editor of the Bugle. That's the rival newspaper."
"The one that has all the circulation and the advertising?"
"Was that Missus Bugle walking with Mister Bugle?" asked Jimmy.
The sad face of Joe Parson loosened almost to the point of smiling.
"His name is Cadwallader, and the gal is Ruth Denham."
"It's a nice name, but it doesn't suit her," said Jimmy Jones.
"What would be a quicker fit for her?" asked Parson.
"Jones," said Jimmy. "She looks like pay day to me."
"You talk kind of passionate and quick," said Parson. "I guess you haven't been in love for a couple of weeks. She's engaged to an hombre by name of Burwell."
"What's he got?" asked Jimmy.
"Aw, nothing but a gold mine and a cattle ranch. We're printing an article about his gold mine on Saturday."
"We sure are," said Jimmy. "And about him, too."
"All right," said Parson. "I don't care what you print, because I've resigned."
"How much have you been getting?"
"Fifty dollars a week."
"Stay on with Jimmy and a hundred bucks a week," suggested Jimmy Jones.
"Where will you get the hundred?" asked Joe Parson.
"Out of the paper, of course," said Jimmy.
"The hell you will," answered Parson. "The only place the Journal runs is in the red."
"What would I get out of the Journal if I offered it
"Ten percent of the value of the printing press, five hundred dollars for the lot, and another five hundred for the building. Real estate isn't booming in this town."
"How about circulation and good will?"
"Your uncle Oliver left damn' little circulation and no good will."
"Brother," said Jimmy Jones with a sigh, "I see that I've got to stay here and go to work on that newspaper."
"What makes you think so?"
"The crease in the white pants of Mister Cadwallader. And the smile on the face of Miss Ruth Denham. Did you see her look at me?"
"I didn't," said the reporter.
"Neither did I," said Jimmy, "but she's going to. What about this Burwell gent? Outside of his gold mine and his cattle ranch, I mean?"
"He's only about six feet two," reported Parson, "with a clan of other Burwells about the same size all rallied around him. The timekeeper, the manager, the engineer, the foreman, are all Burwells, and the rest of the Burwells work on Harry's ranch."
"What sort of people are they?" asked Jimmy.
"Big and mean," said Parson. "They eat tacks for breakfast and drink lye. No Burwell wears long pants until he's killed his man... no Burwell speaks up in public until he's killed two."
"Not counting Indians and Mexicans?" queried Jimmy with a yawn. The reporter grinned. "Have another drink," said Jimmy. "I feel a lot nearer to Ruth Denham since I've heard you talk."
They had the drink.
"How do people work up circulation on a newspaper?" asked Jimmy Jones.
"By printing bad news," said Parson, "and scooping the other paper."
"Did my Uncle Oliver try that?" asked Jimmy.
"There's no news to print in this damn' town," said Parson.
"We'll have to make some, then," said Jimmy.
"How d'you mean? Make it?"
"Ideas grow easy in a brain like mine," said Jimmy Jones. "How much does the Bugle make in a year, net?"
"About twenty thousand dollars, I'm sorry to say."
"It's as good as in my pocket," said Jimmy. "Is most of it advertising?"
"Yeah. They get out special editions, and all that."
"Weekly newspaper, like the Journal?"
"We're getting out a special edition on Saturday," said Jimmy.
"Hold on! About what?"
"About the Burwells. You said that you were running an article about the gold mine?"
"Yeah, but what's news in that? The story is just one of a series that your uncle wrote up... he just writes down what everybody knows."
"That mine pays, doesn't it?"
"Then there's news in it... bad news, blood. I never heard of a good mine that didn't have a few murders behind it."
"But how will you get the news about them?"
"If I can't find the news, maybe I can make the news find me."
"Jones, are you drunk?"
"No," said Jimmy, "I'm only thinking."
"About the Burwells, and Ruth Denham, and what a lucky thing it is for Jasper that I hit this town. Have another drink."
"I've had enough. Jones, are you going to start raising hell in this town?"
"It'll only take a word," said Jimmy. "Hell is already here, but it's just asleep. I'll find the right word to wake it up."
JIMMY JONES went out to wake up hell that night shortly after dark. He saddled a horse, rode out behind the town, and then came charging down through the main street with a loud whooping, firing off his guns. When he got to the office of the Jasper Journal, he raised some Indian yells, put some bullets through the door, and then nailed a paper against it.
He went on, shooting into the night, ducked his horse down a lane, and turned back around the side of the town. No one noticed the sweating horse that was brought into the corral behind the Journal building; the townspeople were busily flocking to read the rather rudely written notice that had been nailed against the front door of the building:
NOTICE TO ALL CONCERNED:
IF THE JASPER JOURNAL RUNS THE
STORY ABOUT THE BURWELL MINE NEXT
SATURDAY, HELL IS GOING TO POP.
The notice was not signed. The letters apparently had been printed with a small brush and ink.
When Jimmy Jones returned to the office, he found a steady file of people passing, ordering copies of the paper of next Saturday. That was not all. Half a dozen storekeepers and other businessmen of the town determined to have advertisements in that issue of the Journal, since it was attracting such attention, and Jimmy Jones, multiplying the usual rates by five, took in enough advertising to fill the newspaper.
"How come such high prices, Mister Jones?" asked the owner of the biggest grocery store.
"Well," said Jimmy Jones, "if you get money on Saturday and have to die on Sunday, you want a lot of hard cash to make up for your hurt feelings."
This speech was passed around the town, rapidly. There was more than one inquiry as to the nature of the article about the Burwell mine, but Jimmy merely said: "We're not going to print anything but the truth. The truth is always a lot worse than any sort of lying."
This remark, also, went the rounds.
It was quite late that night before the line of special subscribers faded away, and Jimmy had a cup of coffee and a sandwich at a lunch counter with Parson.
"Now you've gone and raised the devil," said Joe Parson. "You've set up a lot of talk, and, when the folks don't find nothing but what your uncle's written in that article, they're going to tar and feather you."
"I've made a good start," said Jimmy. "I've got money in my pocket, and luck can give me a good finish. What did my uncle write about that mine? Anything exciting?"
"Money's always exciting. But there's nothing to his article. Except he mentions how Charlie Denham was killed."
"Denham? Was he any relation of Ruth?"
"Father. He was out hunting with the two Burwells, and there was an accident with a gun during the trip. Denham shot himself by accident."
"Accident? Little kids back East have accidents with guns. Men in this
neck of the woods don't have accidents.
"Don't be a fool." Parson grinned. "Besides, the Burwells carried Charlie Denham three miles to town to get him to a doctor, and Denham's a big, heavy man, too."
"They got to the doctor too late, didn't they?" asked Jimmy Jones.
"Just too late. Denham died just before they reached town."
"Too bad," said the new editor-owner of the Jasper Journal. "I guessed that Denham would never get in alive."
"You're crazy, Jimmy. The reason Ruth Denham is so thick with Harry Burwell is because of the way Harry carried her father in on that three-mile trek. They say that old Sigmund Burwell was not much use, but Harry got that heavy man up on his shoulders and half ran with him all the way home."
"Who tells that wonderful story?" asked Jimmy Jones.
"Why, the people all know it."
"Who told them?"
"The Burwells, I suppose. And Denham made some sort of a dying speech thanking Harry Burwell and begging him to look after Ruth."
"Who heard that dying speech?" insisted Jimmy Jones.
"Don't be cantankerous, Jimmy. I suppose that nobody but the Burwells heard it. There was nobody else there, of course."
"The Burwells speak well of themselves, and all you people believe in them, eh?" said Jimmy Jones. "And now the poor girl is going to marry the murderer because she thinks he was good to the man he murdered?"
"Hold on, Jimmy! You're running wild. Don't let anybody hear you talking like this."
"Sure I won't," agreed Jimmy Jones. "I'd a lot rather have them read me in print."
"Print! Great Scott, you're not going to print libel like that?"
"You know one way of starting a real fire? It's by raising a lot of smoke. Leave all of this to me, brother."
"By thunder," said Parson, "there's Harry Burwell now, and Ruth Denham with him. They've heard that something's up, and that's why they've come over here. They're heading straight for you, and Burwell looks pretty mean."
"Looks? He's got a crooked eye, Joe."
Burwell was a big fellow, quite handsome, with a capable pair of shoulders, well-cut features, and, as Jimmy Jones had noticed, an eye that was not altogether steady. He advanced upon the pair, stepping a little away from the girl, who followed him and plainly was trying to soothe him.
His attitude was so threatening that the cook straightened from his stove behind the lunch counter and began to stare at Burwell, who came straight up and glared at Jimmy Jones. As for the shifting of his eyes, it was like the roving glance of a prize fighter, looking for a good target.
"You're the new Journal man, I hear?" said Burwell.
Jimmy Jones stood up and bowed to Ruth Denham with a pleasant smile. "I'm at your service," he said to Burwell.
Joe Parson hastened anxiously through introductions.
"What sort of a yarn are you going to publish about my mine?" asked Burwell. "What's all the ruction about?"
"You ought to know that better than I do," said Jones.
"I ought to know?" exclaimed Burwell angrily.
"Well, wasn't it one of your men who shot up the front of my building, and then nailed the notice on the door?" asked Jimmy.
"Certainly wasn't one of my men!" exclaimed Burwell.
"Maybe it was only a joke, then." Jimmy smiled.
"Are you trying to make a fool out of me?" demanded Burwell.
"Sorry if I am. I didn't mean to," said Jimmy, smiling a little.
"You're one of these bright fellows, are you?" demanded Burwell. "I'm going to show you..."
"Steady, Harry," said the girl. She had on a yellow dress and a wide hat with cornflowers girdling the crown of it.
"I'll be steady enough," declared Burwell. "I'm simply demanding to know what he's going to print in that paper of his."
Jimmy sighed very gravely and shook his head. "You know how it is in the publishing business. A man who takes his work seriously has a sacred obligation to perform."
"And what's that?" snapped Burwell.
"We have to give the public the truth," said Jimmy slowly. He fixed his eyes on Burwell. "The whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
"Damned nonsense," answered Burwell. "Your paper has always been filled with a pack of lies."
"Harry," broke in the girl, "you can't talk like this."
"It's all right, Miss Denham," said Jimmy. "Publishers have to learn to take abuse. I won't lose my temper."
"Your temper?" roared Burwell, starting violently. And he glowered down on the inferior inches of Jimmy Jones. "Besides," said Burwell, "there's nothing that you can print that will do me any harm."
Jimmy, grown very sober to all appearances, looked straight into the face of Burwell. "Are you sure of that... if I bring out the whole truth?" he asked.
"What the devil do you mean?" asked Burwell. "Let me see what you've written for publication!"
"Sorry," said Jimmy. "That's against our rules. Besides, I didn't write the article. It was done by a man who has lived here for a long time. He's a man who ought to know. He's a man who claims to know a great deal."
"About the mine?"
"And you," said Jimmy Jones.
"It's Vin—...," began Burwell. He stopped himself short.
"I can't give you the name," said Jimmy. He added grandly: "The public must have a chance to read what my paper prints and judge for itself."
"The public?" said Burwell.
"Unless," said Jimmy Jones, "the officers of the law decide to take a hand in investigating for themselves."
Burwell, instead of answering, gripped the back of a chair as though he were about to hurl himself or the chair at Jones. But here the girl stepped suddenly in front of him and caught his hands.
"Harry, you've promised me," she said. "You mustn't lose your temper. You mustn't give way to it."
"He's trying to rat me, Ruth," said Burwell. "Jones, I'm going to look into you. You can't come to this town and try to work any of your dirty dodges on me."
Jimmy Jones kept on smiling. "When you come again," he interrupted, "come alone, Mister Burwell, will you?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that I'll be waiting and ready for you... night or day."
"Ruth, step down the street a moment," said Burwell loudly. "I want to be alone with this..."
"You've got to come away, Harry!" cried the girl.
And he, giving way, reluctantly backed out of the room and turned away onto the street.
"Now, Joe," said Jimmy Jones softly, staring toward the door, "what do you think? Guilty or not guilty?"
"He's guilty of something... I don't know what... but it's a sure thing that you're in trouble unless you leave town."
"Joe," said Jimmy Jones, "this old town just begins to look interesting to me."
THE next morning, when Jimmy Jones was finishing his third cup of black coffee and absently crumbling the last wedge of cornbread that had helped him dispose of some fried eggs on top of thick venison steak, word came to him that Harry Burwell was waiting to see him in the lobby of the hotel.
He finished his coffee, made a cigarette, and then went out into the lobby. There Harry Burwell strode up to him with a tremendous frown.
"About last night," said Burwell, "I want you to know that Jasper isn't the town where scandal makes a newspaper and where..."
Here Jimmy Jones cut in: "Who killed Charles Denham?" He looked Burwell straight in the eye.
There was no answer. Harry Burwell looked as though he were trying to swallow something too big for his throat, and Jimmy walked straight past him and went out and to the office of the Journal. He found Joe Parson sweating with early business and looking distressed. People were filing steadily through the outer office, paying for copies of the Saturday edition of the paper. In the first pause, Parson came back into the little office where Jimmy sat with his spurred heels on the top of the editor's desk.
"Listen, Jimmy," said Parson, "I resign on Friday. I'm not going to be around here on Saturday when the people of Jasper get their papers and discover that this is all baloney. All this inside story about the Burwell mine, I mean."
"Have the press print a hundred handbills like this and stick them around town where they'll be read," said Jimmy Jones, handing up a piece of paper on which certain words were written in large type.
Parson read that paper and groaned loudly. "You realize that this is a cow town where every man packs a gun and knows how to use it?" asked Parson.
"Yeah. Sure, I realize," said the editor-in-chief and owner of the Jasper Journal.
Parson read aloud, slowly:
THE INSIDE STORY OF THE BURWELL MINE.
WHO KILLED CHARLES DENHAM?
IN THE SATURDAY ISSUE OF THE JASPER JOURNAL.
THE COMPLETE STORY WITH NOTHING HELD BACK.
JUSTICE NOW CAN RUB HER EYES AND WAKE UP.
NOTE: THERE WILL BE A FOUR-PAGE SUPPLEMENT.
OWING TO THE UNPRECEDENTED DEMAND FOR COPIES
OF THIS GREAT EDITION, ADVERTISING RATES
IN THE SATURDAY JOURNAL WILL BE $500 A PAGE.
JAMES J. JONES
THE JASPER JOURNAL
Parson shook his head feebly. "What does the J stand for in the middle of your name?" he asked.
"Nothing," said Jimmy. "It just fills out. Three Js are better than two."
"Did you ever hear of rails and tar and feathers?" asked Parson. "This is a sell, Jimmy. These people will raise hell, and the Burwells will stretch your neck with a rope. Look. There isn't anything inside about that story that your uncle wrote. There isn't a thing that everybody doesn't know. Neither do you know anything to hook up the death of Charles Denham with the Burwell mine."
"Joe," said Jimmy Jones, "I'm going to write a new story."
"You are? When?"
Jimmy looked out the window that gave him a view of the rear yard of the building and the little barn that stood in it. Beyond the barn stretched the sunburned hills that circled the town of Jasper, and on the sides of the hills he could see the small dots of color that, he knew, were grazing cattle.
"By Friday night, at the latest, I'll write the inside story of the Burwell mine," he said. "I looked Harry Burwell in the eye this morning, and he's as guilty as hell."
"Yeah. Maybe. He didn't look any too gay last night, when you gave him the old eye. But what proof have you got?"
"Proof is going to come," said Jimmy Jones. "Get those handbills out, and we'll clean up a couple of thousand dollars on the supplement."
"What's going to be in the supplement?" asked Parson.
"Nothing but advertising," answered Jimmy.
Parson groaned. "You're too bright to be an editor. You ought to be on Wall Street."
"We're making the news that we need to live on," said Jimmy. "Get the press busy on those handbills."
THAT evening at dusk Jimmy Jones sat in his office with Parson. There was no reason why they should keep the office open, but Jimmy felt that the town of Jasper would be intrigued by the streaks of light that appeared around the drawn shades of the offices. In fact, word of the inside story had traveled far. Every one of the four pages of the supplement, that day, had been sold at the full rates that had been announced, and the advertising had been paid for. Small boys gathered outside the building and attempted to peek through into the heart of the mystery. There was a tenseness of expectation gathering throughout the town of Jasper. But inside the offices, Jimmy Jones and Joe Parson were playing seven-up industriously.
Joe Parson shot the moon for the third time in a row, and then came a tap on the front door.
"Put on that eye shade and try to look like an assistant editor when you answer that door," directed Jimmy Jones.
"Open it yourself," replied Parson. "It's the Burwell gang, come to shoot you up."
Jimmy went to the door and threw it wide open. Before him stood the large, white-clad figure of Mr. Cadwallader of the Jasper Bugle.
He introduced himself with a heavy importance, and Jimmy asked him in.
Joe Parson had slipped the cards out of sight; he was already rattling at his typewriter, and he continued to turn out pages of copy while Cadwallader remained in the office.
"Mister Jones," said Cadwallader, "it appears that you're going to run a story on Saturday which has excited a lot of interest in this town. You seem to have stumbled on... I mean, you seem to have picked up a good lead. I hope it is straight news. And that led me to the conclusion that in a town of this size the two newspapers should be on the best of friendly terms. Your uncle and I, Mister Jones..."
"Took a sock at each other whenever you could, eh?" asked Jimmy politely.
The pink cheeks of big Mr. Cadwallader turned much pinker.
"My dear Mister Jones," he said, "there is always a legitimate rivalry... a certain tenseness of honest competition. But as for a scoop which leaves the other fellow flat... I mean, a scoop of this importance... there is such a thing as sharing our good fortune. Turn and turn about is a very good mode for a..."
"Cadwallader," said Jimmy Jones, "there's only one thing that I'll talk to you about, and that's the price of the Jasper Journal. I'll make a special figure to you. Fifty thousand dollars cash. Does that interest you?"
"Fifty... thousand... dollars?" gasped Cadwallader. "For a paper that... that's dead! Fifty thousand... I wouldn't give fifty thousand cents for your damned rag, Jones!"
"Good," said Jimmy Jones. "Now get out of my office before I kick you out. You look like a stuffed shirt to me. You're as crooked as you're fat, I hear. And we hate crooks in the Jasper Journal."
Cadwallader made half a step forward until he saw the blue of Jimmy's eyes turn as pale, let us say, as the sun-bleached blue of an August day. Then Cadwallader took a long step to the rear and left the office.
"If it's war that you want," he said, "I'm going to smash you. I'm going to wreck your rotten plant. A cowboy editor, eh? Hell!" He slammed the door and went.
"Well?" asked Parson, looking up and pushing himself back from his typewriter, where he had been writing steadily the sentence: THE QUICK RED FOX JUMPS OVER THE LAZY BROWN DOG.
"Take it easy, Joe," said Jimmy Jones. "The Jasper Bugle has just realized that there's another paper in town, and the owner is taking it a little hard. Can you blame him?"
"By Saturday night he'll stop worrying. There won't be anything but ashes left on this ground, Jimmy."
There was another knock at the front door. Parson again beat his typewriter with a rapid rhythm. Jimmy opened the door upon the slender figure of Ruth Denham. She gave him a wan smile and looked fixedly at him with big, frightened eyes as though she were afraid that he was going to strike her.
As she shook hands, she said: "I've come to beg you to tell me what you know about the death of my father, Mister Jones."
"Miss Denham," he said, "I'd certainly be glad to oblige you if this weren't a special edition. But you know how it is with special editions. We can't let the news leak out. Special editions are a sort of sacred ground, as you might say. Come right in and sit down."
She paused, shaking her head and still watching him in that frightened way. "In those handbills that you printed today," she said, "you intimated that my father was murdered. Will you tell me whether or not you have any proof of that?"
"Your father," said Jimmy Jones gravely, "certainly was not killed by accident."
The girl turned white, and that made her eyes bluer and bigger.
Joe Parson had ceased rattling his typewriter.
"Can't you sit down?" asked Jimmy Jones.
"I can't," she protested.
"Did Harry Burwell tell you to stay standing?" he asked.
"Harry?" she murmured, surprised.
"He sent you in here, didn't he?"
"Harry? No... I mean..." She broke down, staring with wider eyes than ever.
"He asked you to come in and find out what you could?" insisted Jimmy Jones.
"Haven't I almost a right to know what I can?" she asked.
"Except that it's a special edition," answered Jimmy glibly. "But why won't Harry tell you how your father was killed?"
"Do you think...?" she began.
"What I think doesn't matter... and what I know will be carried in Saturday's paper," said Jimmy.
"I can't tell," said the girl, "whether you are simply bluffing or whether you really know something."
"Saturday's paper will tell," he answered firmly. "But the fact is that you've had your own suspicions about the death of your father."
"No, no!" cried the girl. "I only thought..."
"Were the Burwells with him at the time?"
"Don't you know that they were both away from the campfire?" she asked. "But I've always thought that if Father had lived a little longer, he might have told..."
"What?" asked Jimmy Jones.
She shook her head. Then she added rapidly: "Mister Jones, there is one thing I can tell you. There may be danger for you in Jasper. I know that there are men who feel very strongly against you."
"Thanks," said Jimmy Jones, "but a yellow editor is worse than a yellow dog. All the truth and nothing but the truth is what we have sworn to print."
"Do you know that your life...?" she began.
"That's easy," he said. "We all have to die sometime."
She was silent, watching him for a moment.
"But if there is anything you know that may help me to the full truth...," he said.
At this she took a quick breath. "I know that it was murder!" cried the girl.
"You do, eh?" asked Jimmy Jones, a queer prickling running up his spinal marrow. "What makes you know that?"
"By nothing that I can prove, but simply through knowing my father. It's supposed that the revolver discharged when he was cleaning it. But I know that he was so precise and careful that he never would have made such a mistake. He taught me how to take care of guns and how to keep them pointed away. In his entire life he never made a careless motion."
"If he was shot by another man, why haven't the Burwells told us about it?" asked Jimmy Jones.
"Because, when they ran in to him after they heard the sound of the shot, he was already almost breathless. As Harry carried him all those three miles... what a glorious thing that was to do!... my father used his last breath to talk not about himself but about me. He begged Harry Burwell to take care of me, and then, before he could say how he had been wounded, he died." Her eyes filled with tears. Then she added: "Does what you know fit in with what I've told you?"
"It fits in perfectly," said Editor Jones. "Another thing is going to fit a lot better, though. That will be the rope that is snugged up around the neck of the murderer when he's caught."
"Is that all you can tell me?" begged the girl.
"That's all," said Jimmy Jones.
"If you bring him to justice... it's a great thing to do... it's a noble thing," said the girl. "But I'm afraid for you."
"I'll stand sidewise, and the danger will miss me," said Jimmy Jones.
WHEN Jimmy Jones shut the door after the girl, he found Joe Parson in the act of putting a hat on his head.
"What's the matter with some more seven-up?" asked Jimmy.
"I'm pulling out," said Parson. "I'm the rat that can tell when the ship is going to sink. Listen, Jimmy. You act as though you were back in the state of Maine, or some place else where law is law. Out here, law is guns."
"Are you telling me?" Jimmy grinned. Another tap at the door made him turn. "This is our day for receiving," he said, and pulled the door wide open.
Before him stood two men in black hoods; the skin showed behind the eye holes like white, dead eyes. And the nearer reached for the head of Jimmy Jones with a revolver.
He might as well have struck at a will-o'-the-wisp. Jimmy, dodging swiftly to the left, had two guns in his hands in a twinkling. Both weapons would have started chattering in another moment, except that his foot struck a dark patch on the floor where Parson, the moment before, had spilled a bit of water in filling a glass, carelessly. The foot of Jimmy Jones slipped beneath him. He fell on both hands and received a crushing blow on his head from that same impending gun.
That stroke dropped him forward into a deeper darkness. He wakened to hear a vague series of sounds. As his eyes cleared, he saw that he had been dragged to his feet, his hands bound hard and close together, in front of his body. The sounds came from Joe Parson, who was fighting like a hero against a pressure of great odds.
Four men were crowding Joe into a corner. Two of them he sent reeling with heavy blows. The third tackled him, pinning his arms to his sides and jamming him against the wall. The fourth deliberately struck again and again, crashing the head of Parson against the wall until he buckled into loose insensibility.
As he dropped, the four came in again. Two of them kicked the fallen body. One of those kicks landed flush in the face of the unconscious man. And Jimmy Jones groaned at his own helplessness. He had not expected to find that bulldog courage in the lank form of his sub-editor.
"Bring Jones along," said a voice that Jimmy recognized easily as that of Harry Burwell. "Bring him fast."
It was Burwell who had smashed Parson so heavily in the face while his arms were held.
They jerked Jimmy Jones out of the building, slammed the door behind him, and tossed him into a saddle. Something warm trickled down his face; he tasted his own blood, running from a wound in his scalp, and his brain whirled with a dizzy weakness. He thought that his skull might have been fractured. And every jouncing step of the horse that carried him sent exquisite spasms of pain through his entire spinal column.
Quickly the cavalcade left the main street of Jasper and passed unnoticed down a side alley. The whole invasion and capture had taken place in a few minutes.
The bridle reins of Jimmy's horse were fastened to the pommel of the saddle of the rider on his left. The lead rope led to the saddle of the fellow on his right. Before him cantered two more riders; another pair closed up the procession to the rear. Six men had proved enough to storm the offices of the Jasper Journal.
The man on his left said: "Well, Jones, you been shooting off your face for quite a while, haven't you?"
"I watched you in there fighting, Harry," answered Jimmy Jones. "You did pretty well when another fellow was holding the arms of poor Joe Parson."
"You think you know my name?" asked Burwell.
"I was able to tell you by your bray," said Jimmy Jones.
"Tell that big and loud and long," said Harry Burwell. "This is the last night you'll ever have a chance to run your gab. We're going to string you up where the buzzards can eat off you, comfortable and undisturbed, Jones."
"I don't think you will," said Jimmy.
"You don't think so?" echoed Burwell. "What'll keep us from it, I'd like to know?"
"It's a sort of a vision that I've got in the back of my mind," answered Jimmy. "And there's prophecy in what you see with your mind's eye."
"What's the picture you think you see?" asked Burwell.
"You, Harry... throwing up your hands and howling for help while you fall on your face, with my bullets still plowing through you."
Burwell turned in his saddle and slashed Jimmy Jones across the face with his riding quirt. He laid a second stinging, cutting blow over his back and shoulders. "Take that, will you?" said Burwell.
"Aw, leave him be, Harry! Leave him be while his hands is tied," called one of the two riders in the rear.
"A good thing for us that his hands are tied," said Harry Burwell. "Did you see how he got a pair of guns into those hands in the wink of an eye? If his foot hadn't slipped, nobody knows what would have happened. I told you that we ought to go in shooting."
"You're always for blood," said the man behind, gloomily.
The horses were winding up a hillside along a narrow dim trail that passed among boulders and overhanging trees.
"Where blood is needed, it's the only thing that washes the trouble away," declared Harry. "And this rat has gnawed at our reputations until the Burwell name will never be quite clean again."
"Never after this night," said Jimmy Jones. "People are going to remember that the editor of the Jasper Journal disappeared after he'd promised to print a little of the truth about the Burwell mob. They'll have as good as murder hung on all of you, Harry. And Ruth Denham will be the first person to know that you're a murderer."
Harry Burwell, with a groan of rage, turned again in the saddle and slashed his prisoner with the riding quirt. The sharp lash cut through like a knife. Long, burning, aching weals were rising on the body of Jimmy Jones, but he laughed as he answered: "She'll use something worse than a whip on you. She'll use words on you, Harry, and they'll burn you up. You're damned in the town... you're damned in the whole countryside. After tonight, people will know that the Burwells are a flock of murderers."
"I've got a mind to burn you alive," said Harry Burwell.
The horses reached a higher level, where the trail wound narrowly along the shoulder of a hill that sloped away at a sharp angle to the right, with a staggering outline of trees and boulders scattered along it. Here they broke into a trot.
But Jimmy Jones continued: "However, you're right, Harry. It's better to have people talk black and look black than it is to hang by the neck, as you would hang if I published my article on Saturday.
"What's the matter with this place right ahead?" sang out a voice behind them. "We could roll some of those big rocks over him, and nobody would ever know."
"I know a better spot," answered Harry Burwell. He went on to Jimmy: "Nobody'll know what we've done, or who took you away, tonight. They may guess that it was the Burwells, but they'll never know."
"They never knew that you people murdered Charlie Denham," answered Jimmy, "but after tonight they'll begin to guess. A gang that will do one murder surely could have done another murder before. People will begin to talk."
"Smoke doesn't make a fire," answered Burwell. "Anyway, you'll be dead before you hear any of the talking. You've got too much tongue, Jones. You can't wag a couple of yards of tongue around a town like Jasper without getting hurt. Understand that? You can work your gags with a girl like Ruth Denham, but the men won't stand for it."
"Thanks," said Jimmy. "I didn't know she was interested, but I'll certainly call on her tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? Jones, you really think that you're going to get out of this?"
"Think so? I know it, Burwell. I've got something up my sleeve."
Harry Burwell shouted out derisive laughter. "You hear that, boys? He says that he's got something up his sleeve!"
The horses, in the meantime, were keeping up a steady dog-trot, after the
habit of Western mustangs, and, as they passed, now, under the head of a
tree, Jimmy Jones marked a big, low-hanging branch that extended above the
trail. He had been looking for just such a thing ever since the trail started
down the side of the hill. Now, rising suddenly in his stirrups, he flung his
tied hands above his head and gripped the
The jerk of his weight almost wrenched his arms out of their shoulder sockets, but his grip held, and he was snatched from the saddle. One of the riders behind him dodged the sudden looming of that swinging body, but Jimmy crashed full into the other and knocked him headlong to the ground.
By luck, his own fall was cushioned by the body of the other that was stretched prone on the ground. He heard the crunch of bones as he fell and rolled to his feet.
Ahead of him, Harry Burwell was yelling commands in an agony of rage and excitement. But two frightened, riderless horses were jamming in among the Burwells as Jimmy Jones headed down the steep slant of the slope.
It was more sliding than running, and every moment he expected to pitch forward on his face. He had never realized that our arms are almost as necessary to keeping our balance at bad angles as are wings to a bird. And then, striking the head of a long gravel slope, he skidded on his back to the bottom of it.
He rose with his clothes torn to tatters, his flesh scored as though by thorns. Above him, through the night, he heard the Burwells running in pursuit, shouting to one another.
Jimmy Jones struck off at a steady trot over the rolling ground. They would never catch him, no matter if his hands were tied. Even if they were wild Indians, they would never catch him, now that he had this head start.
WHEN he got back to the narrow town of Jasper, he found the main street in front of the office of the Journal thronged from sidewalk to sidewalk by a milling crowd of curious people, most of them men.
Jimmy, slipping through the mob toward the open front door of the lighted building, heard varying comments from the obscure figures around him. There seemed to be a general agreement that an outrage had been committed. But, also, there was a distinct feeling that when men talk too much, they must expect to pay the consequences.
As one drawling voice said—and Jimmy Jones heard it: "If a gent wants to spin yarns, he'd better pick out a campfire where there ain't many folks to listen. This Jimmy Jones, he had to have the whole town of Jasper putting an eye on him. And that's damn' dangerous in this neck of the woods."
Jimmy reached the lighted semicircle around the open door before he was recognized.
"There's Jones!" someone shouted. "There's Jimmy Jones! They didn't kill him... they just took and beat him up."
"They took him, and he got away!" shouted others.
Jimmy Jones, walking through the open door into his front office, found there Joe Parson, whose head was fairly covered with bandages, but one eye looked forth, grimly shining. There were several other men present, one of them with a badge pinned to his flannel shirt. They all turned with wonder to the bloodstained face and the ragged figure of Jimmy.
Joe Parson rushed on him with a cry. "Jimmy, have they hurt you bad? Have they done you in, partner?"
That last word was what the mind of Jimmy Jones seized on. He gripped the hand of Parson with a strong pressure. "You're not resigning now, Joe!" he exclaimed.
"Not till hell freezes over the Burwells," said Parson. "Are you hurt bad?"
"Only scratched," said Jimmy Jones. "Water will wash away most of my trouble. But it won't wash the Burwells clean."
"There's a lot of free talk going on in here," said the man with the badge.
"Are you the sheriff?" asked Jimmy.
"That's what I am," said the other, staring grimly at the owner of the Journal.
"Sheriff," said Jimmy Jones, "there's a good charge of attack with intent to kill, assault, or whatever you want, along with kidnapping. And Harry Burwell is the man who led the gang."
"He is, eh?" demanded the sheriff. "You see him?"
"He showed his face?" persisted the sheriff.
"I recognized his voice."
"You recognized the cat's whiskers." The sheriff sneered. "Try to pull that baloney with me. You recognized his voice, did you? How many times have you seen Harry?"
"Enough times to know that he looks like you, and sounds a bit like you," said Jimmy. "Are you a Burwell?"
"My name is Clive Burwell, and what of it? Button up your tongue in this town, young man."
Jimmy Jones regarded gravely the broad jowls and the keen eyes of the sheriff. "Are you going to make that arrest or not?" he asked.
"Why should I?" asked the sheriff. "Am I to go around arresting the best citizens in this town every time a damned stranger comes in and claims one of them's been doing something wrong? I'm not such a fool. I want evidence before I put people in jail."
"All right," said Jimmy. He turned on his heel and stepped to the door of his office, looking out over the street where the crowd had grown far denser than before. A quick, deep-throated shout greeted him, and a pale flash as many faces looked up toward his battered form.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said Jimmy Jones, "I was stolen from my office tonight by a gang that intended to murder me. I recognized the leader by voice and size, in spite of his hood. It was Harry Burwell."
A deep, humming murmur ran through the people.
"Harry knew that, after I published my article on Saturday, this part of the world would be too hot to hold him. So he tried to make sure by lynching me. Burwell carried me out of the town and up that hill, yonder. You can see it against the stars. They had tied my hands together, but, as the horses passed under a tree, I saw that I could reach a branch, so I grabbed it, was jerked out of the saddle, and got away down the slope. If you want to know how I traveled down that slope, I'll tell you that most of the way I went on my back. If you doubt that, look at my clothes, and they'll show you that I've been down the devil's slide."
He made another pause, not to gain breath but to hear the dull murmur of excitement from the crowd.
Then he added: "I've asked the sheriff of this county to arrest Harry Burwell. But he says I can be damned." He paused.
A brief, high-pitched shout of astonishment came from the throng.
"That's a lie!" cried the sheriff. But his voice was lost in the general commotion.
"He says that he's too much of a Burwell to put Harry in jail," said Jimmy Jones.
Another growling shout answered this remark.
"It's all lies!" yelled the sheriff, shouldering Jimmy a little to the side and lifting his hand to get attention. "I said that where the only evidence..."
"The only evidence is what my eyes saw and what my ears heard... together with the evidence that's written on my body and my head," said Jimmy Jones. He pointed to his blood-caked face as he spoke.
"It's an outrage. There's got to be something done!" called a voice. "A disgrace to the law..."
"Damn the disgrace to the law," said Jimmy Jones. "It's a disgrace to the town of Jasper."
"It is!" came the shouting answer.
"I came to this town," said Jimmy Jones, "because I heard that some of the best people in the West were living here. I wanted to get to know them. But the Burwells run this place, I find. Still I'm going to start a fight against them. Gentlemen, they've beaten me up and won the first round, but the second round will be fought on Saturday in the Jasper Journal. After you've finished reading that, you won't be able to find any Burwells. Not outside of jail."
A whoop was the response to this.
"You'll be able to ride five hundred miles without finding a Burwell, unless a few may be hanging on trees. There's going to be a second supplement to the Saturday edition. It'll be only half news... the other half will be a description of exactly what happened tonight."
"You're breaking the peace!" shouted the sheriff in a rage. "Another word out of you and I'll put you in jail."
"Gentlemen," shouted Jimmy Jones, without making a move to shake off the hand of the sheriff, "Sheriff Clive Burwell says that if I say another word against the Burwells, he'll throw me in jail! So I have to stop talking."
At this, there was not only a shout from the men in the street, but there was also a surging movement forward. And the sheriff, hearing several shouts of—"Lynch the Burwells! Down with 'em! Rope necklaces for the Burwells!"—suddenly left the side of Jimmy Jones and fled through the rear of the newspaper office.
Jimmy Jones, left alone, lifted his arm and checked the advance of the crowd.
"Boys," he called, "we're in this thing together! They've had me down, but they haven't licked me. They've had the town of Jasper down, but they haven't licked it. They've knocked me around, and they've knocked the town of Jasper around. But now the gang has started running, and the brave sheriff is the fellow who leads the way and shows the first pair of heels."
"We'll catch him!" called several men. "We'll catch him in his house! Come on, boys!"
Swayed by one of those strong emotions that will suddenly overmaster and control a mob, the entire crowd started sweeping down the street.
As it flowed past, Jimmy Jones turned slowly back into the office.
"Jimmy," said Joe Parson, "you've got them behind you."
"For tonight," said Jimmy Jones. "They may change their minds before the morning, but there's one Burwell in this town that's going to wish he were somewhere else before long."
"Tell me the straight of it," pleaded Joe Parson. "Are you serious?"
"About cleaning up the town. Is that really why you came here?"
"No," said Jimmy Jones. "I came here to make some money on a hard proposition. But I'm finding a whole lot of interesting stuff here. And I'm going to stay until Jasper has a cleaner face."
"Look out," said Parson. "The fighting isn't finished yet."
"If it were," said Jimmy, "Jasper could go hang for all of me. How d'you feel?"
"Groggy," said Parson. "But not out."
"It was Harry Burwell that slammed you in the face while that other hombre held your arms."
"Was that Harry?" said Joe Parson almost dreamily. "Well, he has a nice right hook. I learned that punch by heart. I had it printed right on my face." He added: "Let's go get a drink."
"As soon as I wash my face," said Jimmy Jones. "We can't go to bed yet. Not till we've heard what happened to Clive Burwell."
They went into the saloon across the street. Far away, as they sat at their table sipping their drinks, they could hear a dim noise of outcries, and finally there was a crackling noise of guns.
Jimmy held up a finger for attention. "You hear, Joe?" he asked.
"I hear it, all right. I'm not deaf. Is the sheriff trying to fight them all off?"
"Not Clive Burwell. He's tracking for tall timber. Those are the first real guns of the war, Joe. And from now on the town is going to be without a sheriff for a while."
"It doesn't need one," answered Joe Parson with his damaged grin. "It's got a Jimmy Jones."
THE hot forenoon of the next day the editor and the reporter of the Jasper Journal sat opposite one another at a table.
"What are you going to run in that Saturday edition... outside of the supplements?" asked Parson. "And is it true that you're charging a whole thousand dollars a page for the three pages of advertising in the second supplement?"
"Brother," said Jimmy Jones, "I'm doing a kindness to let people in at those rates. They want to see their names mentioned in that edition. Do you know why?"
"You tell me," said Parson.
"Because they know that the Saturday edition is going to be history. And everybody wants to have his name written in history. To be a part of the immortal chronicles of fame, Joe... to stand blazoned on the heights..."
"Quit it," said Joe.
"I was just telling you," said Jimmy Jones.
"Now, brother," said Joe Parson, "what facts are you going to write? What do you know about the killing of poor old Charlie Denham?"
"I don't know anything."
"Total of all facts... zero. Is that it?"
"That's exactly it."
"What do you guess?"
"I guess," said Jimmy Jones, "that Denham didn't go out on a hunting trip but on a prospecting trip with the Burwells... Sigmund and young, murdering Harry. I guess that while the three of them were together, they found the outcropping that became the Burwell mine. I guess that poor Denham was done in by the two Burwells, who then put on a good show and carried him toward Jasper and a doctor, making sure that they had him dead before he was brought in."
Parson nodded his bandaged head. "I've got just a hunch," he said, "that you're right. The proof is that the Burwells are trying to take your scalp. But that's the only proof you'll ever have. That and a bullet through the brain one of these days. When you're an angel, you'll know all about it, but that won't do the town of Jasper any good. You can look down out of the blue and see Harry Burwell walk up the church aisle with Ruth Denham... and will that be a help to you?"
At this, the owner of the Jasper Journal sighed heavily. Another sound seemed to be a prolongation of his sigh, but it was a whisper that came from near the door. Joe Parson showed the state of his nerves by jerking around and snatching up a sawed-off shotgun. Then they both saw that it was merely an envelope that had been thrust under the edge of the door.
Jimmy Jones picked it up and found written on the face of it:
Main Street, Jasper
Then he opened the envelope and found written inside, in ink that had splattered on the spongy paper of the writing pad:
I can tell you just how Charlie Denham died because I seen it. Meet me tonight at the entrance to Taylor Gulch, and I'll talk for $500. I'll be riding an old gray horse that'll look white by the moonlight.
Jimmy Jones read the letter again, aloud, slowly. Then he looked up thoughtfully toward the ceiling.
"You're not a half-wit," said Parson, suddenly alarmed. "You wouldn't go out and walk into a trap like that, would you?"
"Why is it a trap?" asked Jimmy.
"The gulch is right out in the middle of the Burwell country. They're asking you to put your head in the middle of the bull's-eye. Wait a minute, Jimmy... I can see the crazy look in your eye!"
"Five hundred dollars isn't much to pay for the truth about this case. I'll pay that much," said Jimmy Jones.
"Money be damned! It's a question of your life, Jimmy."
"You know something," said Jimmy Jones. "My life has been bordered by a couple of question marks for a long time. Never mind about it. Joe, this letter writer means business."
"What makes you think that?"
"Because his letter is so short. Liars use up more words than honest men."
"Listen, Jimmy, if you go up there to the gulch, they'll murder you sure."
"Come along and save me, then," said Jimmy Jones.
Joe Parson groaned heavily. "I wish that I'd never seen your funny mug," he declared.
BUT, nevertheless, Joe Parson, his head completely swathed in lighter bandages, accompanied Jimmy Jones through the dusk of that twilight toward Taylor Gulch. Parson had been long enough in the West to learn how to ride, but when he looked at Jimmy Jones, he shook his head.
"How long'd you take to learn to fit into the saddle like that?" he asked.
"It wasn't time that taught me," replied Jimmy. "I wasn't made right, so it was a question of getting fitted bit by bit."
"What you mean by that?" asked Parson.
"Just being broken up a few times. Left leg twice... right leg three times. Half a dozen lumps along the collar bone. Ribs crashed here and there."
"You look to me," said Parson, "as though you were a part of a horse. I don't see how a mustang could throw you."
"You know what they say down in Texas?"
"'Every horse can be rode... every man can be throwed.'"
Parson chuckled. "How much of your life have you spent in hospital?" he asked.
"Not so long as I'll be in the grave," answered Jimmy Jones. "Is that Taylor Gulch?"
It opened among the western hills like a deep, narrow mouth with a red tongue in it; the red was the last of the sunset light. Well up in the east, growing brighter than the clouds through which it drifted, sailed the moon.
"There's Taylor Gulch, all right," said Parson, "and it looks as though there's blood in it already. Every one of the rocks and all those trees look to me like trouble waiting to jump at us, Jimmy."
They drew up their horses in a scattering grove of trees, not far from the entrance to the gulch.
"There he is," said Jimmy Jones, pointing toward the glimmering figure of a white horse that was issuing from the mouth of the ravine. "Stay here, Joe. I'm going out to talk to him... if there's crooked work, you can see what happens."
"I'll go with you, Jimmy," answered Parson. "I may not be a champ with a gun, but, if there's fighting, you can't keep me out of it."
Jimmy Jones answered, chuckling: "Stay here, Joe. I've seen you fight, and it's good enough to suit me. But if there is a trap set here, it's big enough to swallow two men as easily as one. You stay here and be the float to mark the spot... if I sink." He patted Parson's shoulder, and then rode out from the trees.
The red had died out of the gorge; there was only the increasing light of the moon, which now shone with such power that the night was like a clear but rather ghostly imitation of the day. And in the windless air the rocks, the trees, the tall hills seemed to be frozen to an endless quiet by the moon.
Jimmy Jones, loosening his guns in their holsters a little, jogged his horse straight toward the silver figure of the other mustang and, as he drew nearer, made out the lines of a tall rider with a widely flowing sombrero, narrow shoulders, and a pronounced stoop of the back. He was an old-timer. That much was perfectly clear, long before his face could be seen.
"Hello!" called Jimmy. "What you looking for, stranger?"
"Five hundred bucks," said a dry, harsh voice in answer. "Can I find it on you?"
Jimmy halted his horse close to the other rider and saw one of those faces that seemed typical of the West of an older day—a long, thin face, with a long, thin mustache drooping from it.
"Do I pay first or listen first?" asked Jimmy Jones.
"Make it half and half," said the stranger. "Gimme a coupla hundred, and then I'll tell you the yarn."
"Suppose that it's something I know already?" asked Jimmy Jones.
"It ain't nothing you know already. The Burwells may get blame' nervous, but I reckon that all you been doing with your talk about the real story of the Burwell mine... I guess all that chatter has just been bluff."
"How do you know that I haven't picked up some real information?" asked Jones.
"I'll tell you why, brother," said the tall man. "It's because them that murder don't talk about what they've done. And outside of the killers, there wasn't nobody there but the dead man and me."
Jimmy Jones took from his pocket a prepared sheaf of bills and handed all of them over.
"I don't know your name, but I like the first part of your yarn, and I'd like to hear the rest," he said.
The other, without counting the money, pushed it into the side pocket of his canvas coat.
"By name of Vinnie Wharton," he said, "though some calls me Vince."
"Wharton, did you put the bullet through Charlie Denham?" asked the editor.
"I could have, but I never done it. I was just taken kind of by surprise when I heard the gun bang, and the plop of the slug when it hit into Charlie Denham. I could hear the smack of that bullet like the thump of a fist, sort of. And Charlie rolled over on his side and kicked over the pot of coffee that he was heating up."
The picture grew suddenly clear in the mind of Jimmy Jones.
"Did you see the fellow who put lead into Denham?" asked Jones.
"Then you don't know who it was?"
Before Vinnie Wharton could answer, three or four rifles started clanging from the rocks and shrubbery all around the place. And Vinnie Wharton, reeling in the saddle, spilled suddenly out of it toward the ground.
IT was not a farce on the part of Vinnie Wharton. Jimmy Jones had heard at least one bullet strike into the flesh of the man. Therefore, Jimmy made no effort to gallop away to safety through the whirring of the bullets. He merely dived out of the saddle and stretched himself on the ground beside the wounded man, while the bullet-stung horse galloped furiously away. Rifles still spat fire here and there. He answered the flashes with shots from his revolver.
Then a voice shouted, and the echoes of the uproar died down the gulch and along the faces of the hills. There was only the groaning of poor Vinnie Wharton, sick with the hurt of his wound.
The big voice called out: "Jones, we got you, all right! We got you and we're gonna finish you. But we'll give you a chance to talk your way out of trouble if you surrender now and don't make no more of a fight."
Jimmy recognized the voice of Harry Burwell, and looked hungrily, anxiously around him. Yet there was no hope for escape. He might have trusted the speed of a horse. But his horse was gone. The moonlight was almost as clear as the sun, for good shooting, and about him the rocks offered a hundred little forts behind which murder could shelter itself at ease. More than that, there was the groaning of poor Vinnie Wharton, dissolving the battle hunger of Jimmy Jones.
"All right," he said. "I'll knuckle under, Harry."
"Go in and get him... you, Ralph, and you, Tom," commanded the unseen leader.
"Why not go in and get him yourself?" asked someone.
"Because if he gets a fair chance at me, he might go crazy and turn loose with his guns," said Harry Burwell. "He's a nut, anyway, or we wouldn't have had all this trouble with him."
Someone called to Jimmy Jones: "Look here, Jones! Stand up and drop your guns and hold your hands over your head."
Jimmy Jones obeyed. There was nothing for him except this obedience, he knew. And it seemed to him, as he stood there, that the moonlight was like a river of cold, striking fear through him.
Two men appeared at once, climbing among the rocks, striding down toward him. The voice of Harry Burwell directed them to tie Jones's hands and his ankles.
This was done quickly, and Jimmy was allowed to sit on the edge of a rock. He called out: "Harry, there's a sick man here! A dying man, I think. Will you do something for him?"
They all came in, now. There was a round dozen of them, and the numbers were, in a direct way, a compliment to Jimmy Jones. With half of this number, Harry Burwell had delivered his first attack.
Jimmy, turning his head, looked wistfully toward the grove of trees where he had left Joe Parson. What could Joe do, against such numbers as these? If Joe rode to Jasper to get help, the mischief would be finished long before he returned. And if Joe remained nearby to watch, he would be helpless, one man against twelve. Hope, in that direction, seemed entirely cut off. All hope, in fact, was nearly dead in Jimmy.
He saw Harry Burwell, at last. The big fellow came striding up to him and laughed in his face.
"Here's where you finish, eh?" said Burwell. "When I first saw you, I knew that I was going to have a chance to clean you up, Jones. I sort of had the taste of you on the back of my tongue. And here you are."
"Do something for this poor devil, this Wharton, will you?" asked Jimmy Jones.
Harry Burwell stepped to the place where Wharton lay and, gripping him by his long hair, quickly jerked him to a sitting posture. Wharton, released, slumped loosely, his shoulders against a rock. His head leaned over on one shoulder, and with both arms he embraced his body. Every breath he drew had a deep, bubbling groan in it.
"So you tried to do me in, Vinnie, eh?" said Harry Burwell. "Why, you low hound. How long have I been spending good money on you to keep your dirty mouth shut?" He leaned and struck Wharton heavily with the flat of his hand across the face.
Wharton's head rolled across to his other shoulder and hung there. His eyes were closed. "I'm dying, Harry," said Wharton. "Just put another bullet into me and leave me die, will you?"
"Why should I make it any easier for you?" asked Harry Burwell. "You're getting what's coming to you, I guess."
"Where'd the bullet hit him?" asked one man, leaning over Wharton.
"Right through the middle," muttered Wharton. "Gosh, I'm awful sick. Harry, use your gun on me, will you? I can't... I can't even take a breath."
"Search his pockets," said Harry Burwell.
This was done, and the package of money was produced at once. Harry Burwell counted the dollars. "Five hundred, eh?" said Harry Burwell. "You sold me out as cheap as that, did you?"
"I thought they knew, anyway," said Wharton. "I didn't guess..."
"Blast you!" snarled Burwell. "When I saw you sneak away from the place, this evening, I don't know why I guessed that you were on a dirty trail. But you were, all right. I've always hated your rotten heart, Vinnie. Now I'm going to watch you cash in. We can finish with Jones later on. Vinnie, did he come up here alone?"
"Far as I know," said Wharton.
"Jones, did you come up here alone?" demanded Harry Burwell.
"Of course," said Jimmy Jones.
"Of course? Why of course? Tuck and Wallace, back trail this hombre and see if the trail doubles up any place."
Two men moved away at once, bending low to search through the moonlight for the sign left by the mustang of Jimmy Jones.
Burwell leaned over Wharton. "He's not bleeding much," he declared. "Maybe the old swine is playing 'possum on us."
"Look at his face... look at his eyes. He ain't playing 'possum," said another.
"Sit down and have a smoke, boys," suggested Burwell. "This is pretty good. We've had thorns pulled out of us, all right, tonight."
"We can talk business, now," suggested Jimmy Jones. "But look here, Harry. You don't gain a great deal by letting Wharton lie there and groan his life away. Give him some water, will you?"
"You like this hound, do you?" asked Harry. "Well, Jimmy, watch him and listen to him, because what's happening to him isn't a patch on what's going to happen to you."
"It's not likely that you'll be fool enough to do anything to me," answered Jimmy.
"No?" asked Harry, and then laughed loudly. "You hear that, boys?" he echoed.
The big men grouped closely around Jimmy, staring down at him with curious eyes.
"He's a tough mug, all right," agreed one. "What makes you think that we ain't gonna finish you off, Jimmy? After all the hell you been tryin' to raise for us, what makes you think that we won't give you some hell of our own?"
"Because Saturday morning is coming," answered Jimmy, "and the paper will print the news about the murder of Charlie Denham. There's only one way to stop it, and that's to make a deal with me."
"You hear him talk?" demanded Harry. "Boys, it sort of riles me when I look at him. Jones, your jabbering won't save you. You're a dead man, old son."
"Am I?" said Jimmy Jones. "I don't think so. Besides, you're not the only judge. There are twelve of you, and every one of them has as good a right as you, Harry, to cast a vote, because every one of them has as much right to the Burwell mine as you have."
"As much of a right... as I have? Are you crazy?" asked Harry.
A stir passed through the group. "What sort of a claim have we got on the mine, Jones?" asked one.
"Yeah, let's hear him explain that," said Harry.
"Why, Harry," said Jimmy Jones, "you know that I'm telling them the truth. You and your father did a murder to get the mine, and now these fellows are doing another murder and holding me up. That gives them an equal claim on the mine. You shouldn't be a hog, Harry."
Harry Burwell, grunting with rage, made a lunge at his prisoner, but several of his clan intervened.
"Leave him be for a minute, Harry, will you?" asked one. "Let's see if there ain't something in what he says."
"Of course there's something in what I say. It's only justice, and that's what makes Harry so hot."
"I'm going to bash your face in, Jones!" shouted Harry.
Jimmy looked away through the moonlight and saw the two trailers approaching the woods where Joe Parson might still be waiting.
"The fact is," said Jimmy Jones, "that the only honest way for you to treat these men of yours is to make a regular company and give them all a share in the mine. That's why they have a right to cast equal votes about what's to be done with me."
"I'll equal them... I'll show them...," began Harry Burwell.
"The kid talks good sense," said one of the clan. "But, outside of that, suppose you do polish him off tonight, won't the paper publish everything on Saturday?"
"If the paper knew everything, why would Jones come up here and pay five hundred dollars to Wharton?" demanded Harry.
There was obvious point to this remark.
"The fact is," said Jimmy Jones, "that I just wanted to get double testimony, Harry. But the Saturday paper will drive every Burwell out of this country... as fast as your fine sheriff had to run yesterday."
"That paper'll never be published!" exclaimed Harry. "Now that Jones is out of the way, boys, a couple of sticks of dynamite will shut the mouth of his printing press."
Here there was a sudden outbreak of shooting from the direction of the woods, and then came the ringing, dying hoof beats of a horse that raced away at full speed.
JOE PARSON, when he heard the uproar of guns all around his friend, and when he saw the fall of the two men and the spitting fire from the guns of Jimmy Jones, was on the verge of rushing his horse down the slope to get into the battle. But he remembered in time that he was a lucky man to hit as much as the side of a barn with a gun. He could not help Jimmy by dying beside him, but he might be able to do him some other service.
He thought of rushing his horse at once for the town, but surely they would have Jimmy Jones dead and done for if he waited that long. There might be some unknown chance of aiding Jimmy if he remained nearby. It was a little after this that Parson saw the two men back-trailing toward the wood that sheltered him. It was plainly time, now, to move. So he pulled his horse about and shifted away toward the farther side of the little grove. He had not yet reached the open; the moon was thrusting bright fingers toward him from the outer edge of the trees, and then a voice called behind him, followed immediately by a rifle shot.
Joe Parson's horse burst into a gallop. More shots followed, and the mustang raced out of the trees and swiftly away on the trail toward the town of Jasper. Parson himself did not grasp the reins. Instead, he swayed in the saddle, helpless as a sack loosely filled with grain and poorly tied in place. For a bullet had ripped in through the shoulder blade of Joe and, angling upward, had torn its way out through the tough muscles of the shoulder, sliding down the bone. The impact had been so heavy above the spinal column that Parson was stunned. There remained some blind wit in his hands, only, and they clung to the pommel of the saddle as the horse rushed away. Every moment he seemed about to fall, and yet he kept his place.
The bullet had struck no vital spot, but blood was gushing from the wound. That was why, when the brain of Parson rallied a little, another wave of darkness began to descend upon him. He was losing blood and strength with a frightful speed. He needed a doctor, but his thought was not of his own need. It was of his partner, left alone in the hands of killers.
What could he do? If he roused the town and brought out a flood of rescuers, the noise they made in coming—even if they arrived before Jimmy Jones had been done to death—would warn the killers, and they would dispose of Jimmy quickly before they made off to save their own skins. Who could he find, then, with power to stop the course of the Burwells?
He thought, then, of the blue eyes of Ruth Denham. She would have power over Harry Burwell if any human being had it. And that was why, when Parson got to the town, he drove his horse straight for the Denham home. He knew where the house was, well enough, and yet on this night neither starlight nor moonlight seemed to be reaching his eyes. He was traveling through a mist that made the lighted windows he passed seem blurred over by massed pencilings of rain.
When he reached the Denham house, at last, there were a number of young people sitting on the front porch. He could hear the foolish bubble and flow of their voices, and he wondered how there could be so much excess vitality in the world.
When he got off his horse, he slid to his knees and heard a voice call out: "Let him alone! Somebody just boiled, that's all."
But then, as he struggled vainly to regain his feet, he heard rapid footfalls coming toward him, and the voice of a girl exclaiming: "I don't think it's that...!" Then the girl was bending over him, exclaiming in startled words.
"Are you Ruth Denham?" he asked with his last strength.
"Yes. Billy... Pat... get Doctor Lewis... bring me..."
"Jimmy Jones!" he gasped. Then he fell on his face.
She had him turned over with her strong young hands in a moment.
"What about Jimmy Jones?" she was shrieking. "What about Jimmy?"
He never knew that he said the words out of the darkness of his mind, but they came out somehow. "Jimmy... partner... Burwell... murder..." Then he went out like a doused light.
She had nothing else to go on. Jimmy... partner... Burwell...
murder... Jimmy Jones was the partner of this wounded man who might die; she understood that. And if Jimmy were in the hands of the Burwells, murder might, indeed, take place. Unless Harry were there to save him. Harry had explained all about that other night. It had simply been to throw a salutary scare into the vigorous new editor of the Jasper Journal. They had never intended to lynch him. Of course not! And they had simply allowed him to get away, laughing at his frantic haste down the hillside.
So if Harry were along, all would be well. But the rest of those Burwells were a clan so brutally violent that they might be capable of anything. Sometimes her blood chilled a little when she thought of her engagement to Harry himself. Suppose, after all, that the blood proved too strong for his excellent self-control one day? But then she remembered that her father, dying, had commended her to the care of the young giant. Her father, as Harry heroically bore the dying man toward help.
She never could get that picture out of her mind—the darkness, the big man striding swiftly through it, crushed and staggered by his burden but still enduring. She never had been able to see Harry Burwell clearly. It was always, simply, the image of his heroism.
Jimmy Jones was in the hands of the Burwells—and no one could tell what might happen, then. What to do? Give the alarm? No, for a score of noisy horsemen would go roaring out and give warning long before they were near enough to intervene between Jimmy Jones and danger.
Well, if Jimmy Jones were facing death, he would do it with a laugh, she was sure. She never had seen another man like him. She never could tell when he was serious and when he was about to smile. Only once or twice he had looked at her with such a sudden gravity that it seemed to her she was seeing his soul. Perhaps as no human being ever had seen it before. He had come laughing into the town of Jasper; he had raised a laughing devil all through the place, also. And now were they murdering him?
She ran back past her house, without a word to her guests, and in the little barn behind the bit of pasture she got her favorite bay mare and saddled in haste. She should have remained for farewells, but if she said good bye and dashed away on a horse, there would be no end of comment. They would try to detain her. Besides, she could not even say where she was apt to find Jimmy Jones. First of all, she would try the Burwell house where Harry lived, near the mine.
It was three miles, and she flew the good bay mare every step of the way until she was beating at the kitchen door and old Mrs. Cracken, the cook, came with her hands greasy-bright from the dish water and peered up through the screen door.
"Well, Ruth Denham!" cried Mrs. Cracken. "And what are you doing here to...?"
"Where's Harry?" exclaimed the girl. "I've got to find Harry!"
"You have to find Harry? What's the matter? Come in and have a cup of good hot coffee and a snack and..."
"Missus Cracken, you'll drive me crazy. Tell me where to find Harry."
"I don't know, child. I'm sorry, but I don't know. Where the rest of 'em are I don't know, neither."
Ruth Denham turned away from the house with a sudden pull at the bridle reins. The hills rolled up before her as vast as the clouds of heaven and as lonely. Armies might be hidden within the range of her sweeping eye, and she never able to find them, let alone discover a single group of people.
Mrs. Cracken stepped out behind her. "What is it, Ruth?" she begged. "What's wrong that only Harry can set right?"
Now, like an answer, Ruth Denham heard a faint pop-pop out of the far distance. It might have been almost anything—a cowpuncher riding up the old trail through Taylor Gulch and taking a crack at something with a revolver; a prospector with hunger under his ribs and a chance shot at a rabbit; a pair of boys romantically out hunting by night. It might have been anything, almost, but the sound of the gun meant to Ruth Denham an answer, and she dashed straight for the source of the sound.
Sound traveled far up the valley. She had gone a considerable distance before she saw the mouth of Taylor Gulch expanding, its throat bristling with great rocks and trees, silvered by the moon.
If there were a crowd, it was best to go on with some caution. With care, therefore, she went, slowing her horse to a dog-trot until she saw, shadowy and small far before her, the figures of a number of men. At that, she dropped from the saddle and went on, leading the bay mare, which came somewhat reluctantly, throwing up its head as though the good horse suspected danger in the offing.
She could come closer undiscovered, stealing from tree to tree and from boulder to boulder; so she came so near that the murmur of the voices dissolved into occasional words, and then into speech that she could follow. It was the loud, ringing voice of Harry Burwell that she heard. His accent she had always thought of as one of command; now she found it almost unrecognizable with unrestrained brutality.
"Tie him up first, and we'll let him talk afterward. He's talked too damned much already."
That was Harry Burwell, and the answer came in the pleasant, cheerful voice of Jimmy Jones, saying: "Good old Harry, he hasn't had his drink of blood today, and his stomach is empty. He's got to sing his song like a mosquito and have his blood."
She peered around a big boulder and found herself on the very edge of such a scene as she had never dreamed of witnessing.
THE moon made everything perfectly clear, perfectly unreal. Harry Burwell and a dozen of his clan were tying Jimmy Jones to the straight, narrow trunk of a pine tree. They tied him in the simplest and most secure of all ways, merely drawing his arms straight back and tying the wrists together behind the trunk of the tree. His feet were free. One twist of rope was holding him. On the ground, stretched out flat, lay a gaunt figure of a man groaning with every breath he drew.
"Shut up, Vinnie," said one of the Burwells. "You know that you ain't hurt so bad as all of that. The bullet ain't gone through you at all. It's only scraped along your dog-gone' ribs and maybe knocked a few splinters loose."
"It ain't me that I'm sorrowing over," said Vinnie. "It's that poor young gent, there. Boys, you oughta give him a better chance."
"Stop sorrowin' about him and do some thinkin' about yourself, you'd better," said Burwell. "We ain't through with you yet."
Another man said: "You ain't figured it out all the way through, Harry. Even if we got him planted underground, his paper will be published on Saturday just the same."
That was Sigmund Burwell, the father of Harry, who had just spoken. She knew him by the rounded shoulders and the ragged, long beard that he wore. It always had been terrible to her to realize that at some time she would have to call him "father" in her home.
Harry Burwell answered: "You talk crazy, all of you. You're forgetting that the only thing that makes it hard to get at the office of the Jasper Journal is this same fellow we're getting rid of now. With Jimmy Jones out of the way, we can plant as much dynamite as we want in the building and blow it and its whole damned story into the sky. There won't be any printing of that story, because there won't be any Jasper Journal to print it in."
"That sounds to me," said one of the Burwells, and then laughed.
"Do any of you fellows know the whole story?" asked Jimmy Jones. "I mean, any of you except Harry and Sigmund, here? No, none of you do. But why don't you learn it? There's Vinnie Wharton there... he can tell you what happened to Charlie Denham. And when you know that, you'll all be equal partners of Sigmund and Harry, instead of being their hired men."
There was instantly a loud exclamation of approval of this idea. Sigmund began to shout angrily. Big Harry Burwell actually pulled a gun and tried to shoot Vinnie Wharton as he lay helplessly on the ground, holding up his vain hands to ward off the bullets. But the others, seizing Harry's gun, forced him, cursing wildly, to give up his intention.
"Harry'll murder me if I talk!" wailed Vinnie Wharton.
"We'll murder you if you don't," said one of the Burwells.
The girl, slipping to one knee, laid her face against the cold of the rock. Already she was guessing the truth, and it stunned her brain.
"It was like this," said Vinnie Wharton. "Charlie Denham hired me to go along as cook. He let it be known that he was gonna go off on a hunting trip, but really it was because he wanted to do some prospecting. He had a bit of ore, and he knew where that ore came from, he thought. But he wanted to make sure. There'd be some hard work to do, so he hired Sigmund Burwell and Harry to go along."
"You lie!" roared Harry. "We went along as regular partners. You flannel-mouthed old fool, I'm going to burn you alive!"
"Harry," said Vinnie Wharton with a touch of dignity, "the fact is that, now that I've started to tell the thing, I'm gonna tell the whole truth, straight out."
"It's a plot! It's an outrage!" yelled Sigmund Burwell.
But the others of the clan listened hungrily, and Vinnie Wharton went on.
"I'll prove that Sig and Harry weren't partners. It was let out that they were just going along to enjoy the hunting. But why would hunters carry so much powder and fuse? Why would they have so many drills and double jacks? I'm asking you that. No, sir, that was a regular trip to prospect, and Denham paid for every damned thing that was taken along, except the mules. He only hired those mules."
"You lie!" called Harry. "I contributed those mules."
"Don't you tell me that I lie," said Vinnie Wharton. "Dog-gone me, I'm breathing easier already just from starting to tell the truth. I say that I seen Denham count out the money and put it in your hands. Your own hands, Harry Burwell. And I know that he paid for everything else, and he was to pay three dollars a day to each of the three of us so long as the work lasted. And dog-gone' glad you were to get that much money. You thought that Denham was kind of a fool to pay that much cash. Anyway, it was Denham that had the idea where the lode could be found, and on the second day of working around through the hills, you know that he found it. The two of you... and me was lolling under the shade after lunch time, and Denham was out ahead of us, when all at once we heard a shouting and we picked up and hurried to him. There he was standing, waving both his arms over his head and singing out. And he laughed with happiness, and told us that every man jack of us would get five thousand dollars as a bonus, if the mine turned out as good as he thought it would. Because there wasn't any need, much, to use the tools we'd brought along and open up the vein. It was a regular mother lode. Well, and there stood Charlie Denham, laughing, and not knowing that what he'd found wasn't a gold mine at all, but just his death. Because when that night came..."
"Vinnie, you fool! You fool!" screamed old Sigmund Burwell. "If you tell that, I'm gonna have the chokin' of you with my own hands."
He made a rush at Vinnie, but another of the clan rammed a gun into his bearded face.
"You back up, Sig," said the fellow. "We all been the hired hands of you and Harry, all of these years. Now we're all gonna be the equal partners, if Vinnie can tell us the truth. If we know enough to hang you, we know enough to make us all partners. The kid, yonder, was the one that seen that. Jimmy Jones has a brain in his head."
Harry and his father drew close together. Plainly they were desperate. But what could they do?
Then Harry, turning on Jimmy Jones, cursed him brutally, and with the flat of his hand struck him repeatedly across the face. It was as though he had delivered the same blows to the girl. Her soul shrank from the man; her whole body trembled, and her face grew fevered with heat. She wanted to rush out, but she realized that none of the old Western chivalry would make her safe in the hands of men of this sort.
Vinnie Wharton was continuing. "Along come that night, and Mister Denham was pretty happy. I was cooking, and, after we'd finished supper, Sig and Harry Burwell, they walked off into the brush. After a while they got out of sound. Mister Denham sat there in the firelight, sipping coffee and talking about his plans and what he wanted to do for his girl.
"We didn't hear Harry and Sig come back. The only thing that I heard was the crack of a pair of rifles. Mister Denham dropped over on his side, and I felt a whir of something go singing past my face. So I knew that was a sign for me that I should be dead, and I dropped on my face.
"Then Harry and Sig came up on the run, and I remember that Harry said... 'Pretty good shooting, Pop. You picked off Vinnie, all right. Where'd your shot hit him?' Then Sigmund Burwell started to prod at me to see where his shot had hit, and I knew that I couldn't play 'possum no more. So I sat up and begged for my life. I told them that if they would let me live, I wouldn't talk about what I knew, and that I'd sure be a regular slave for them all my life. Well, when I begged like that, Harry was for killing me, anyway, but Sigmund said to leave me live, because I'd be so scared all my life that I'd never dare to talk. So they let me live.
"And then Sigmund asked how they would arrange to make it look like a hunting accident. And Harry said it was dead easy, and, instead of looking like a murderer, he'd make it appear that he was a hero. So he got Mister Denham's body on his back and he walked or ran with it all the three miles into Jasper. And when he got there, he was covered with blood and pretty well tuckered out, all right. So he looked like a hero, right enough, and ever since then all the people in the town never get tired of talking about what a hero Harry Burwell is, and they say that the Denham girl is gonna marry the man that killed her father."
Here Harry Burwell, with a yell, since his own gun had been taken away from him, snatched a gun out of the hip holster of a companion and fired straight into the body of Vinnie Wharton. The old man screamed with pain and fear; two more shots silenced the screeching.
And as the girl clung to the corner of the boulder, half fainting, she heard someone say: "Well, now we know what he's got in his head, the best way is to have him dead and done for. There won't be any fear of blackmailing, then. Now what about Jimmy Jones? He's heard all of this, and he's got to pay for what he knows."
"I'll finish him," said Harry Burwell. "No matter what I lose tonight, I'm going to have the taking of his scalp."
JIMMY JONES faced the Burwell clan with his head high.
Harry Burwell, as self-appointed executioner, stood with a Colt poised in his hand. "Now tell me who wins, Jimmy?" he asked.
"I win, Harry," said Jimmy Jones.
"I'll give you a chance to explain what fool idea you've got in your head when you say that," said Burwell.
"Why," said Jimmy Jones, "the game is spoiled for you, Harry. I hear that you've been cleaning up more than fifty thousand a year, clear profit, out of Denham's mine. Now that money will have to be split into many parts. Besides, no secret can be kept by this many people. The world is going to know what all of you know, and, inside of a month or so, every ratty one of the Burwells will be running for his life. Mind you, you're all murderers. You that hold the gun and all the rest of these brutes that stand around and consent to the crime. D'you see that, Harry? Before a month is over, the Burwells will begin to die. Some of 'em from the bullets of a sheriff... some of 'em at the end of a rope. No, Harry, I'm going to die, I know, but I die the winner."
"D'you hear him talk?" said Harry over his shoulder to the others.
And that was the instant that a knife cut the rope that held the hands of Jimmy Jones behind the tree. It took him a fraction of a second to realize the miracle. Then he whirled from the tree and instantly had its trunk between him and the gun of Harry Burwell, whose incredulous yell came ringing. He had fired at the vanishing Jimmy Jones, and the bullet thudded heavily into the trunk of the tree.
The whole Burwell clan, with a wild shout, sprinted in pursuit.
Jimmy Jones, as he dodged around the tree, saw the slender form of a girl running for a huge boulder, almost the size of a house. He was at her heels as she dodged around the corner of the great rock. He had a glimpse of the white, strained face of Ruth Denham as she sprang into the saddle on her bay mare, and, with a flying leap, he put himself behind her. The mare was off like a streak.
Not half a dozen shots followed them, for the big intervening boulders quickly made an effective screen. But Jimmy Jones could hear the frantic voice of Harry Burwell crying: "The horses! The horses! If we don't catch that pair, we're all dead men inside the hangman's noose."
That was true enough.
But the race was by no means over. The bay mare was headed up Taylor Gulch with her speed not yet lessened by the weight of two riders, but already the Burwells were in the saddle, and the hoofs of their horses were beating up a rapid thunder through the ravine. A mile of running would bring their guns to bear on the fugitives, and by bright moonlight like this they would not miss their mark.
To turn to either side was impossible because of the steep walls of the ravine that no horse could climb. To ride straight on was certain destruction. That was why Jimmy Jones exclaimed: "Ruth, your horse may take you away to safety! But it can't carry two. Pull up and let me down!"
"I'll never let you go... I'll never leave you, Jimmy," said the girl. "And if it's dying, we'll die together."
Joy like a flame leaped through the brain of Jimmy Jones, but he reached around the girl and pulled the mustang to a trot. Instantly he was on the ground, begging her to go on as fast as spurs would drive the mare.
But she dropped to the ground at once and turned back to him. In a frenzy, she struck at the mare, which fled at full speed down the cañon. There could be no argument now. They were hopelessly closed into the same destiny this night.
The roar of hoofs came swiftly on them; it seemed to rise and grow greater, like a towering wave about a small boat. And Jimmy Jones drew the girl back with him into the shadow of a huge fallen rock.
At once, a dozen horsemen plunged into view, riding hard, leaning far forward over their saddles, their sombreros blown out of shape by the stiff wind of the gallop. Harry Burwell led those riders who stormed by like gigantic shadows, with the moon behind them.
Then they were gone around the next bend of the ravine.
"We run for it, Ruth," commanded Jimmy Jones. "They'll be back down the valley in a wave, before long, when they have a sight of the mare with no one in the saddle. They'll search the ravine bit by bit, and we've got to be out of it."
Run? She could run like a deer. The divided skirt fluttered and snapped with the speed of her going. The brim of her hat curled. And Jimmy Jones strode half a pace behind her to view her beauty until a passion of joy and admiration overwhelmed him.
The mouth of the ravine was before them when they heard the hoof beats and the yelling behind them. The horses came like the wind.
"The brush there at the right of the entrance. Get to that and dive into it," ordered Jimmy. He gripped her by the collar of her shirt at the back of her neck and helped her forward. And with that helping hand to lighten her weight, her step grew longer and swifter.
It seemed to Jimmy that the uproar of the riders was immediately behind him, the cold grip of panic would not let him look behind. Then they reached the brush at the mouth of the ravine and flung themselves into it. Flat on the ground, side-by-side, they looked back through the branches of the brush and saw the flying cavalcade.
They seemed aimed at the place of hiding; but, instead of driving at the fugitives, the charge burst right out into the open, leaving the wild echoes still pealing inside the valley.
Here the Burwells drew rein.
Harry began to shout orders. "They're still in the valley!" he cried. "They're tucked away in some crevice of the rocks. Find 'em, boys. Two of you get a mile up the cañon. I'll wait here with Dad and plug this end of the valley. The rest of you make two parties, and each take one side of the ravine. We've got 'em bottled up. They're done for. They're in the pocket. Even a bird would have a hard time getting out of Taylor Gulch. But look alive, boys! You use your eyes!"
This excellent advice was acted on. Most of the riders disappeared at once while Sigmund Burwell and his son remained in the saddle at the mouth of the gulch, patiently on guard. Since their attention was turned up the valley, it was no wonder that they saw no disturbance among the bushes at their left. There, very gradually, soundlessly, the girl and Jimmy Jones slid snake-like away, while Harry Burwell was saying: "It was the girl, Dad. She's in on this. She turned Jimmy Jones loose. And I'd as soon put lead into her as into Jones himself. I was a fool to ever think of marrying her. She's not my kind. Every time I've looked at her, I've seen Denham and his dead face."
"Well, you're a considerable spell away from having her now, Harry," said the father. "And if you ask me, I'd say that the Burwell luck sure has changed. It was the devil himself that sent Jimmy Jones to Jasper."
Jimmy and the girl reached a scattering of rocks behind which they could stand up free from observation; in a few moments more, they were far from the mouth of Taylor Gulch and heading toward Jasper. The girl ran at a dog-trot, like a young Indian, and the slow lines of the hills moved gradually past them until they saw the lights of the town glimmering well ahead. Those lights meant safety.
And now they were on the main street of the little town, where a riderless horse walked slowly before them. It was the bay mare, and a call from her mistress stopped the animal.
"Look, Jimmy," said the girl. "Even Jess has come back to me. It's a sign that everything is going to go right from now on. It's a sign that the sad days are over and never will catch us again." But at this, she began to cry.
Jimmy Jones held her close and patted her shoulder gently. All he could find to say was: "It's going to be all right. I love you, Ruth. It's going to be all right."
The girl knew that she was hearing the most wonderful eloquence in the world.
People came out and stared at them, but they were unaware of the existence of others. Their own existence, they felt, was barely commencing.
JOE PARSON had been put to bed in the Denham house as a man who it would be dangerous to move as far as the hotel. He was weak, but he was gaining in strength already when on Friday afternoon Jimmy Jones walked into the sick room and sat down by the bed.
"Two messages," he said. "One from my uncle, asking what new kinds of devils I've raised in Jasper. One from Harry Burwell. Listen to me. If we hold our hands and don't publish what we know, Harry Burwell will pay a hundred thousand dollars spot cash, and guarantee twenty thousand a year to us."
"To us?" said Joe Parson feebly.
"They make the offer to me, but we're partners in this deal, Joe. We split every profit fifty-fifty."
Parson grinned. "Then take my share and throw it and the offer to the dogs," he said. "I want Burwells. I don't want their rotten money."
"Hold on, Joe," said Jimmy Jones. "Fifty thousand down, and ten thousand a year as long as you live."
"Damn the money," said Joe Parson. "Let me see a Burwell hanging from a tree. That's all I want."
"Well," said Jimmy Jones, "the offer was made, so I had to tell you about it, but I'm glad that you and I feel the same way. Tomorrow morning is Saturday, partner... and that's when the crash comes." He added: "I'm writing copy for a third supplement. So I've got to get back to the office."
He was gone, and, as he walked whistling down the street, people turned and smiled on him approvingly; perhaps it was partly because his hat sat at a jaunty angle above the bandage that swathed his head.
THERE was more excitement about the publishing of that Saturday's Jasper Journal than there ever had been about any event in the history of the town. Cowpunchers that had come to town to celebrate on Friday night remained to guard the building of the Journal from any possible foul play on the part of the Burwells. But still the story was unknown; only a savage whisper was beginning to circulate. And it was said that the Burwells were showing great activity. Three separate families of them suddenly had offered their farms for sale. All of them were packing, buying horses, buckboards, making ready for a swift departure, said rumor. And that was why orders for copies of the Saturday edition kept pouring in to the Jasper Journal until the very moment when the paper came wet off the press.
It cost 25¢ a copy, and there were three thousand and then four and five thousand copies printed; advertising brought in a beautiful flat figure of $7,500. So the good word went to Joe Parson that he would be getting several thousand dollars for his share.
But money was the least consideration. Other things mattered far more, and among them was the reception of the paper by the people of the town.
The news was not all on the first page. All that appeared there, in great, black type, was the confession of the dead man, poor Vinnie Wharton. Through the rest of the paper and through those parts of the supplements that were not given up to advertising, ran all the tale of exactly how Jimmy Jones had come to the town of Jasper and made an old saying into a new fact. There is one murder behind every successful gold mine. In the case of the Burwell mine he seemed to have proved it.
The town of Jasper roused to an uproar. Before the midmorning, a mass of nearly two hundred armed men mounted and rode suddenly out of the town toward the Burwell mine and the Burwell farms that lay about the mine.
They found everything deserted. In the mine there were only idling workers because the bosses were all away. On the farms there were no men. But in the house of Sigmund Burwell they found news enough. There, in the dining room, Sigmund Burwell lay on his back, dead from bullets that had streamed out of the gun of his son, and Harry Burwell leaned forward from a chair, spilling his dead weight across the table. Sigmund, in falling, had fired at the murderer and killed him.
As for the rest of the Burwells, they had fled. Some of them were overtaken before they got through the mountains, some were ridden down in the desert beyond, but a few never were heard of again.
JIMMY JONES was married to Ruth Denham before the last of the Burwells were brought to trial as aids and abettors at the killing of Vinnie Wharton. The party went back to the Denham house, afterward, and it was there that Mr. Cadwallader arrived with a rather pale face and insisted on seeing Jimmy Jones alone.
Mr. Cadwallader had reason to look pale, because his paper had been so terribly scooped that not a single copy of the recent issues had been sold, except those that went to the few subscribers. Advertisers were leaving him en masse.
"Mister Jones," he said, "the fact is that this town is not large enough to support two newspapers... I've come to buy you out."
"Fifty thousand is the price," said Jimmy Jones.
Mr. Cadwallader turned crimson. He threw both hands high into the air, but finally he sat down at the table and wrote out a check for that amount. "Mister Jones," he said with a sigh, "you've had the luck of the devil. But it's a happy moment for me to get you out of the Jasper Journal."
AND this was the basis for a certain letter that Mr. Oliver T. Jones received from his nephew. As he read it, Oliver T. Jones rubbed his bald head until it shone and then pulled his beard until his chin burned like a fire. The letter said:
Dear Uncle Oliver:
I got your letter and the gift of the Jasper Journal two weeks ago. What interested me was your willingness to double any profits I made out of running the paper.
So I started to make profits.
News is what makes circulation. Murder makes the biggest news. Since there was no murder at hand, I found an old one. And the old murder led up to some nice, juicy new ones. The great Mr. Cadwallader was scooped until he screamed out: "Fifty thousand dollars!"
So he is now the owner of the Jasper Journal, and I am the owner of the $50,000.
I mean to say, $95,000, because you are going to give as much as I make, above $5,000.
So far as I know, it will be the only cash you ever gave away in your life. I hope it starts a good habit in your declining years.
P.S. Ruth sends her love.
P.P.S. Ruth is my wife; her name used to be Denham, and she now owns the Burwell mine.
P.P.P.S. I am thinking of opening a school of journalism and will offer a scholarship free to Oliver T. Jones if he wishes to take the course.