The trip made by the captain of the convict mines and his troop of horsemen to Welshtown proved to be an event pregnant with thrilling experiences. The air of conscious superiority, which the company had worn, when riding away from the camp was changed to the crest-fallen look of the vanquished, before it returned. The arm of the law was not only challenged, but an appeal was made to the higher, if unwritten statute, which makes right more potent than might. The captain and his guard rode through the little mining town with all the haughty hilarity of a victorious army entering a conquered city. When they approached the house, where the two convicts were supposed to be in hiding, their progress was somewhat impeded. The entire male population of the usually quiet little place, had sallied forth from their homes and assembled about the point of disturbance.
The captain, nothing daunted, drew rein before the house and demanded the surrender of the convicts.
"They are not here," said one of the convicts, "and if they were, we'd see you in hell before we'd send them back to the charnel-house you keep down there in which to beat and starve men to death."
"They are our prisoners, put into our hands by the authority of the state, and Welshtown has widened its corporate limits considerably, if it is bigger than the whole state," said the captain cooly.
"We do not give a continental who put them into your care. A wolf couldn't be more gentle with a lamb than you are with your change," the miner replied.
"If they are in that house we expect to have them. The law sanctions our right and I call upon all good citizens to assist me in the prosecution of my duty," said the captain, dismounting.
"There is a higher law—a law that existed previous to the legislature that legalized this damnable tool of cheap labor. We refuse by the law of common humanity, by the statutes of self preservation, to allow these men, to the detriment of our wives and children, to longer compete with us in the struggle of existence. If we had no hearts, if our sympathies did not go out to the poor, ill-treated, half-starved wretches, an enlightened self interest would no longer permit oppressive capitalists to use these victims of a misdirected and ruinous state economy, to glut the markets with their cheap products to the injury of free labor. This convict system is a piece of short-sighted retrenchment; it may be a saving to the state, but it means poor work at starvation wages for the miners," ("Hear, Hear,") cried the men, crowding about their leader.
"You have those men in there and we intend to bring them out," said the captain. "I know nothing about the policy of the state and less about the condition of the miners. My duty is plain. Those men have been sent to me by the proper authorities; your quarrel is with them. Until some other arrangement is made to support the men under my charge, I shall continue to work them in the mines. Give them up peaceably and settle your dispute about prices with someone that has use for your labor."
"You had better come and take them," cried a miner.
"That is just what I intend to do—peaceably if I can, forcibly if I must," replied the captain firmly.
As he said this he gave the reins of his horse to one of the guards and approached the fence. The guards quickly brought their horses into line and detaching their Winchesters, prepared to attack the crowd. As the captain advanced he was ordered to halt, but fearlessly disregarded the command.
"Halt, I say!" rang out on the still mountain air. "If you advance another step, I'll shoot you dead."
The guard, hearing this, awaited no further orders, but commenced firing into the crowd. The miners were at first disconcerted, but rallying, returned the fire from the shelter of the house, well-frame and windows. Two of the guards were shot.
The captain, discerning that they were outnumbered ten to one, hastened to his horse, mounted and ordered a retreat. The miners fired a volley after them and then a company of the bravest sallied forth in pursuit. The horses being obliged to keep to the roads, the miners, by short cuts over the hills, were able now and then to come in range of the flying guards and pour into them a deadly fire. Thus they follow them into camp.
Flushed with the success of their easy victory, the pursuers did not halt until they had crossed the creek and attacked the convict camp. For awhile the guards were able to check the impetus of their antagonists, but the miners, dividing their forces, began to pour in upon the beleagured camp a destructive cross-fire, which sent the defenders in hasty retreat, leaving the camp and the convicts in the hands of the triumphant mountaineers.
The proceeded to despoil the camp. They broke open the palisade gate, made a prisoner of the now thoroughly scared custodian of the door of the cell-house and walked into the presence of the convicts. They unfastened the building chain and freeing the captives, ordered them to take to their heels if they valued their liberty. The prisoners needed no second invitation. The convicts having vacated the cell house, the enraged miners set fire to it. They broke into the commissary, destroyed the stores and threw the clothing and other supplies about the building. Not thoroughly satisfied with their work they went over to the mines and completed the destruction. The tipple was fired, the mine flooded, the air chamber closed and hundred of empty coal cars piled up and made a bonfire of. They did not disturb the hospital. When they had fully satisfied the pent-up hatred which years had engendered toward this foul blot on the fair name of the state, they marched to the top of the hill, and turning looked back upon the scene of their late victory, their leader lifted his cap and said, "Give three cheers for the capture of Camp Hell Fire."
The men obeyed orders with three rousing cheers and a tiger. Long before the victors got back to their homes, the gray dawn had gathered about her the skirts of night and the east had changed her robe of blue, dotted with stars, for the rosy hue of coming morn.
The captain and his vanquished guard had ridden on to the telegraph station beyond the convict camp and dispatched to the governor for troops to uphold the arm of the law.
On the very morning that the bulletin boards were telling the story of the assault upon the convict mines, Clement St. John was walking up from the station of Grandville, having just arrived from Minton. He saw the crowds gathered about the corner upon which the Western Union telegraph office was located, and curiosity impelled him to cross over and ascertain the cause of excitement.
He eagerly read the news—"Perhaps Lotus has escaped," he said half audibly. "If he has, he will probably need some assistance to stay escaped," he mused laughingly.
He set down his traveling bag, took a card from his vest pocket, tore it into as many tiny pieces as possible, then as if satisfied that with the tools at had the card could not be further divided, he flung the pieces into the street, and picking up his carpet bag, retraced his steps to the station.
"It's risky business," he said to himself, "but Lotus would chance it for me."
The first train was leaving for the convict camp when he rushed out and mounted the last coach. He had just time enough to leave his satchel in the baggage room, get a ticket and catch the train. Clement St. John, more to please Regenia than to demonstrate any faith he had in its ultimate success, came to Grandville to try and secure a pardon for Lotus. The injustice exhibited at the trial, the severe sentence for such an offense, both argued eloquently against the hope of seeing his friend the recipient of executive clemency. Nevertheless, at the continued beseeching of Regenia, and urgent wish of his wife, who ceased not day nor night since first hearing of Dr. Stone's sentence, to insist that something should be done. What that something was she never explained, but the burden of he song was "Can't something be done?"
Clement, knowing how powerless he was to change the course of law, was made to feel that he had lost interest in his old friend by the constant contentions of Lucile that "something should be done." He had at last concluded that if he valued his peace of mind he would better do something or pretend to do something. Either case, he hoped, would serve to satisfy his wife of the futility of his attempt.
He arrived at what a few hours before had been the camp, about noon. He walked in and out through the smoldering embers and felt that he had come on a fool's errand. He came by accident up to the door of the hospital. He thought he heard some one groan. He took a step forward and looked again. He discovered the outline of a human being, wrapped in a dirty blanket, but motionless.
"What have we here, pray?" he said, approaching the bundle and pushing away to straw from the half-buried form.
"A dead man?" he exclaimed, starting back. The seeing another form covered entirely with straw, "Great Caesar! This must be a dead house," he said so loud that one of the figures heard the noise and stirred.
Now Clement St. John was anything but a superstitious man, but the straw shaking over what to all appearances was a corpse, filled him with an uncanny feeling akin to fear. The straw shook again, this time more pronounced than the first. Clement, throwing his fears to the wind, went over to the figure and clearing away the straw, saw it was a man.
The supposed dead man sat up, rubbed his eyes and looked at Clement for a long time. Observing the eyes of the sick man to fill with tears, Clement asked, "What's the matter, are you wounded?"
"Yes," said the man.
"Where?" asked Clement, kneeling by his side.
"Here," he replied, placing his thin hand over his heart.
As he spoke the last time, Clement raised his eyes. "My God! Lotus, is it you?"
"Don't you know me? Have I changed so much?"
Clement could say no more. He grasped the almost transparent hand of his friend and, shocked almost beyond the power of utterance, sat down beside him on the heap of straw.
"Have I changed so much?" said Lotus, breaking the silence.
"Have you changed?" thought Clement. "Even your voice is not the same."
"Not so much," he said, "but I was so dumbfounded at seeing what I supposed to be a dead man come to life, that it dazed me"
Worn to a shadow through sickness and constant labor, covered with filth and grime until his color and features were undiscernable, his hair uncombed, a shaggy beard covering his face, who that knew the elegant Dr. Stone a few months ago, could have recognized in the dim light of that log pen, the man who masqueraded as his shadow.
"What brings you here?" said Lotus.
"I came to help you to escape," said Clement. "Get up and come away."
As Clement essayed to rise, he put his hand out to assist himself. It fell upon the cold face of a dead man, and he recoiled with a shiver.
"Don't they bury their dead here?" asked Clement.
"He died last night," said Lotus, "and there has been nobody here since. The Welshtown miners assaulted the camp last night and everybody but me has taken French leave.
"You must go immediately. What on earth are you hanging on to?" said Clement, as Lotus shook his head.
"I am hanging on to life. I am just recovering from the fever and could not walk a step if I were to be pardoned for it," he replied.
"Well, I'll have to carry you, for I do not intend to leave this place without you. So you might as well dress and mount my back."
"I have nothing to dress in but stripes and you would not get very far with your load before some officer would capture us. Then the mines would have two convicts instead of one. I cannot allow you to do that, my friend. You have wife. I have no one—" he said dropping his voice—"it don't matter so much about me."
"I'll soon get clothes enough," said Clement, leaving Lotus staring after him as he hurriedly quit the room.
He returned shortly with the very suit of clothes, Lotus had worn, when he came to the mines.
"Here we are," he said cheerfully. "I'll put you back in your old suit."
He had hardly commenced to dress Lotus when looking up he saw a guard standing in the door, his musket leveled at him.
"What are you doing there?" asked the guard.
"Don't you see?" said Clement, with cool assurance. "I am trying to make this sick man a little more comfortable."
"What are you taking those stripes off for?" asked the guard.
"I think these will look better and besides, the old ones are filthy."
"Who are you?" said the guard.
"Only the governor's private secretary," said Clement, continuing to dress Lotus.
The gun dropped and the guard came forward, offering his assistance.
"The soldiers and perhaps thousands of citizens will be down on that next train and it will be as well for all of us, that this single sick man looks as if we were not as black as we are painted."
"You go and get some water and wash this man up a bit. If the governor's secretary is not afraid of him, I guess he won't bite you. When you have done that, get some clean straw or a cot, if you have one, and put this man on it. Have this dead man buried," he continued as the guard started for the water. Clement cried after him, "Where is the captain?" The guard answered and went on a trot for the water.
Clement had taken care to keep his head down and profit by the darkness of the place. As soon as the guard left, Clement said to Lotus, "I must leave you, but I'll be back and take you North with me, or die in the attempt."
"Tell the guard I have gone out to see the captain and will be in again shortly. I expect the governor himself will be down with the soldiers."
As he walked rapidly through the woods to the station, true to the newsgatherer's instinct, it occurred to him that being first on the ground, he might make a "scoop" and add a turn of business to his little adventure. He stopped in the dense forest, donned a black wig to cover his red stiff hair, drew a pair of nose glasses from his pocket and adjusted them, then hurried on toward the station. On his way he met a guard coming in with a convict. He hailed him, represented himself to be a correspondent for a well known administration paper, and stated his mission to be to get a correct report of the affair before it was misconstrued by the opposition papers. Producing his note-book, he rapidly noted the guard's explanation of the affair. He thanked him and walked on to the station.
Arriving there he learned that it would be two hours before train time. He concluded to walk over to Welshtown and board the train for Grandville at that place. Fortune favored him. He chanced to meet up with a countryman jogging along in a wagon, from whom he got a lift to Welshtown. At Welshtown he succeeded in getting an account of the affair from the other side.
He went to a hotel and wrote up the matter. In his excellent report he deftly worked a description of the solitary convict. Pictured him as stating that having been unjustly imprisoned he refused to go away with the rest and thus be hunted up and down the earth, never to be free from the ghost of the convict mines. He incidentally hinted that the case ought to be looked into. Evidentially, he added, the case appeared to be one for executive clemency. He reviewed the case of Dr. Stone, spoke of him as being a victim to insatiate hate of Abe Johnsing, whose character alone ought to belie his sworn allegation.
Boarding the afternoon train, he took advantage of a thirty-minute stop at the only place where his article could be put on the wires and sent the message to the evening papers at Grandville. He met six companies of militia about 40 miles from Grandville enroute to the supposed scene of the disturbance.
One every corner, as he walked toward the parsonage in Irondale, he heard the newsboys crying: "Latest news from the convict mines."
Chapter 27 -- Chapter 29