The pistol-shot echoed and re-echoed from the hills, the roar of the mob, the shouts and yells of rage were heard at Lakeside, creating wonder and consternation there.
Miriam had scarcely risen from her knees, and her heart was still going up in earnest pleadings for help from on high, when the report of the pistol struck her ear.
“What was that?” she asked herself. “Some one shooting at a mark, perhaps; it is not the time of year for hunting game.”
She remained a few moments longer in her room, then, at the call to tea, descended the stairs to the lower hall. Just as she reached it the more startling and alarming sounds made by the mob began to be heard.
“Oh, what is it? what is happening in Prairieville?” she exclaimed, rushing into the dining-room, where the other members of the family were already gathered.
Her grandmother stood listening with pale, excited face, little Olive clinging to her skirts with affrighted looks, while Ronald and McAllister exchanged glances of surprise and inquiry, and Bertie tried to conceal his alarm by assuming an air of manly unconcern, though his young heart beat fast and the color had left his cheek.
McAllister was the first to reply to Miriam’s question.
“Dinna be fashed, Miss Mirry,” he said; “I ken the soun’ weel, for I hae heard it afore; it’s the roaring and raging o’ a mob o’ infuriated men. Belike thae hae caught ane or more o’ the burglars, and are takin’ justice into their ain hands. The soun’s we hear bode ill to some ane; but it canna be you or yours.”
“That shot, then, you think was intended for a man?” said Ronald.
“Na doot, sir! It may be that Phelim O’Rourke has broken jail. I ken he’d be vary likely to be shot doon by some o’ them he’s robbed and tried to murder, sooner than he’d ’scape to do mair o’ the same kin’ o’ mischief.”
Phelim O’Rourke was at that moment in his cell, listening as intently as they to the ominous sounds—listening with paling cheek and dilated eyes, while standing at the grated window, vainly striving to get a view of what was going on far down the street.
He, too, recognized the hoarse cries of men with passions roused to a frenzy of rage and hate. Were they coming to lynch him? No; that shot fired a moment ago must have been intended for another than himself; some one of his confederates, in all probability.
But when they had finished dealing with the lesser member of the band, what more natural than that they should turn their rage upon its leader?
The thought brought out the cold beads of perspiration upon his brow, and he caught at the iron bars with a desperate effort to wrench them from their place and escape.
In vain; the task was beyond his strength; and with a groan of despair he relinquished the attempt.
“Well, it’s mesilf, Phalim O’Rourke, that’ll die game, annyhow, if it has to come till that same,” he muttered, grinding his teeth together, and pacing his narrow cell to and fro, like a wild beast in his cage.
Then he called aloud to the jailor, asking what all the noise was about; but no one came to answer his inquiry.
“I wish,” said Ronald Heath,“that I were able to run down there and see what it is all about.”
“I’m glad to have you kept out of it,” said his grandmother; “it seems to be always the innocent lookers-on that get hurt in time of a riot.”
“The impulse to seek the scene o’ excitement is vary natural to most folk, I think,” remarked McAllister—“to those o’ the male sex at least; but unless ane is likely to be o’ use in aiding the right, it’s far wiser to stay away.”
As by common consent they had all left the dining-room for the porch, and there they remained—too much excited to think of eating—listening intently to the yells and cries till the last of them had died away. Then they went through the form of taking their meal, but with scant appetite for the food, though it was well prepared and savory.
McAllister was just saying, as they rose from the table, “I’ll gang doun to the toun now an’ find out what’s been goin’ on there,” when a horseman dashed up to the gate and dismounted.
“Warren!” exclaimed Ronald, catching sight of his friend through the open window; “he’s brought us the news.”
He hurried out as he spoke, all the others following, in the general anxiety to learn the cause of the unusual commotion in the town.
Charlton fastened his horse, opened the gate, and hastened up the path, meeting Ronald about half-way to the house.
The latter spoke first. “What news, Warren?”
“Dreadful! most dreadful!” he cried, passing his hand over his brow, like one half-stunned by some sudden calamity.
“So we feared from the strange and ominous sounds that have reached us. Come into the porch and take a seat, while you tell us all about it,” said Ronald, leading the way.
Charlton followed, shook hands in silence with Mrs. Heath and Miriam, then sat down, the family grouping themselves about him.
He was very pale and seemed much agitated. “Yes,” he sighed, “an awful thing has happened in Prairieville, our own town; two souls have been hurried into eternity without a moment of time for preparation.”
“Murder?” asked Ronald, in a low, awe-struck tone.
“Murder and lynching. Bangs shot Barney Nolan down dead in the street without the slightest excuse for it, except that he was in a towering passion about something—nobody knows what—and—”
“Was lynched for it?” queried McAllister, as the captain paused in his story.
“Yes; he did not live many minutes after the mob got hold of him.”
Hardly conscious why he did so, Charlton glanced at Miriam with the last words; their eyes met, and he saw a look of keenest anguish come into hers, a deathly pallor suddenly overspread her features.
The pang that sight caused him was sharp as a dagger’s thrust. “Could it be possible that she cared for Bangs? a man so utterly devoid of principle or honor, so hot-tempered, wicked, and cruel? that she could have cherished a feeling of love for one so base, so utterly unworthy of her?” The idea seemed preposterous; yet what else could explain her strong emotion on hearing of his death?
The others, occupied with what he was saying, did not notice Miriam’s emotion.
“Lynched! what does that mean?” asked Bertie, in wide-eyed wonder.
“Never mind, dear,” said his grandmother, rising in some haste and leading him and Olive away; “children can’t understand these things. It’s all over now, and we’ll think and talk of something else.”
“Yes; Mrs. Heath is right,” Charlton observed, in a low voice; “and the details are sickening; hardly fit for any but men’s ears.”
At that Miriam also rose and went quietly away to seek again the privacy of her own room. Closing the door, she threw herself face down upon the bed, pressing both hands upon her temples. Her brain was in a whirl of contending emotions, in which, for the moment, a feeling as if she were partly responsible for Bangs’s awful end was uppermost.
“Oh, did I call down vengeance upon his head?” she moaned, half aloud; “would he have been slain if I had not cried to God for deliverance from him? O God, Thou knowest I did not desire his death; and Thou hast said, ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee.’ I thank Thee for the deliverance, but oh, in what a fearful manner it has been wrought!”
Charlton was going on with his story to Ronald and McAllister. His office was in a room in the second story of a building directly opposite the brewery in which Bangs had sought a hiding-place. He was writing there, he said, when Bangs fired the shot that killed Barney, and starting up at the sound, went to the window, from which he saw all that followed without becoming a participator in the doings of the mob.
“It was horrible!” exclaimed Ronald, upon the conclusion of the narrative, “yet one can’t help feeling that he deserved his fate for his unprovoked murder of a man like Barney—a decent, respectable man, and with a family to support; a good-natured, harmless fellow, so far as I can judge from what I have seen of him.”
“Yes, sir; Barney Nolan was a’ that,” said McAllister; “he’s been employed aboot the farm here lang enough for me to mak’ sure o’ that.”
Charlton lingered some time longer, hoping for another glimpse of Miriam, but she did not rejoin them, and finally he said good-evening and went away.
“Where is Miriam?” asked Mrs. Heath, joining Ronald on the porch.
“I don’t know, grandma,” he answered, in some surprise; “I thought she was with you.”
“No; I left her here. Perhaps she has gone to see Nora. Oh, what an awful thing for that poor woman to have her husband shot down in that sudden, cruel way!”
“Yes; one cannot wonder at the exasperation of the public; and considering the impossibility of meting out to the murderer his deserved punishment, through the agency of the law, I can hardly blame them for lynching him; but dragging him through the streets, bumping his head on the cobble-stones, was, to say the least, unnecessary cruelty.”
“Did they do that, Ronald? Oh, how horrible!”
At that moment Miriam joined them, taking a chair between her grandmother and brother. Her face was very pale, and she had evidently been weeping a good deal.
Ronald noted it with surprise and concern. “My dear sister,” he said, kindly, “don’t distress yourself about this dreadful occurrence. Why should you? Bangs was no friend to you.”
“No; but—it is almost more dreadful to me because he was—an enemy, and—Oh, you do not know that it was I who angered him so that he shot poor Barney down! Oh, poor, poor Nora! What will she ever do?” she added, with a bitter sob; “and I—I feel as if I had killed them both.”
“Oh, Miriam, you are too sensible a girl to think anything of the kind!” exclaimed Ronald. “You did not give Bangs his dreadful temper, or put Barney in his way; nor were you the cause of the enmity between them.”
“Oh, you don’t know all!” cried Miriam; “I have been keeping some things from you and grandmother, because—because I didn’t want to distress you; but now I’ll tell you all!”
Then she went on to give a full account of Bangs’s efforts to induce her to consent to become his wife, including his threats, founded on the fact that he had got the mortgage on Lakeside into his possession, and all that had passed between them at that day’s interview; also the fury of passion he was in when he left her.
She told also of her cry to God for deliverance out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man, and how, because of that, she felt almost that she had helped to bring him to his fearful end.
“Mirry, my child,” her grandmother said, with emotion, and laying a hand affectionately upon the young girl’s arm, “do not be distressed with any such feeling; you have no reason to blame yourself; you but obeyed the command, ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble;’ which was right, wise, and your duty, and God took His own way to answer your prayer.
“If Mr. Bangs had been a diligent Bible student he might have known he had great reason to fear some such fate, if he persisted in so oppressing the widow and orphans; because in the Book of Exodus we read, ‘Ye shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword.’”
There was a moment of silence, then Ronald said, “What a fearful threat! And it seems to have been very speedily fulfilled in Bangs’s case; though it may be that other helpless ones have been crying to God for relief from his oppressions for years. I have heard it asserted that much of his wealth was obtained by fraud and oppression of the weak and helpless; but in any event, Mirry, I am sure you need not feel that any blame attaches to you; it is a morbid feeling that I trust will soon pass away.”
“And you are delivered out of his hands. You should thank God for that, Miriam; we all should,” remarked the old lady, taking her granddaughter’s hand and pressing it tenderly in hers.
Dr. Jasper’s arrival just at that time prevented a reply from Miriam. He, too, was full of the fearful events of the last few hours; had come directly from the scene of anguish in Barney Nolan’s home, where Nora and the children were weeping over the dead body of the husband and father. The good doctor’s eyes filled, and his voice trembled with emotion as he went on to describe the grief and despair of the new-made widow and orphans, and his listeners wept in sympathy.
“My heart bleeds for them,” said Mrs. Heath; “yet if Bangs had left a wife, her case would, I think, be more pitiable still, knowing that her husband so richly deserved his fate.”
“I quite agree with you in that,” the doctor said; “but I believe he has left no nearer relative or connection than that sister of his, Mrs. Wiley.”
“I should think it enough to make her insane,” said Ronald. “How she must be feeling now!”
“She is out of town,” said the doctor, “and I presume has not yet heard of the fearful events of to-day.”
“She inherits her brother’s property, I suppose,” remarked Ronald, musingly, “and will, therefore, become the holder of the mortgage on our home.”
“Are you in trouble about that?” Dr. Jasper asked, in a tone of friendly sympathy and concern.
“Yes, sir; we fear there is danger of foreclosure, should the holder be so inclined; for we lack the means to pay off even the interest that is due.”
“Don’t be uneasy; I trust that danger may be readily averted,” returned the doctor, cheerily; “doubtless the money to pay off the whole indebtedness can be borrowed, the lender being secured by a new mortgage; and I dare say Captain Charlton will be able to arrange the business for you in a satisfactory manner, finding a mortgagee who will not care to hurry you unduly for payment.”
The faces about him grew brighter at his words.
“I wonder I had not thought of that before,” exclaimed Ronald.
“You are kind, very kind, doctor,” said Mrs. Heath. “‘A friend in need is a friend indeed.’”
“Ah, my dear madam, advice is cheap,” he said; “when not professional,” he added, laughingly. “I shall speak to Charlton, and we will see what can be done.” Then, as he rose to go, “Ah, I had nearly forgotten! Miss Miriam, Serena bade me give you this,” drawing from his pocket a note written on tinted paper, and directed in a delicate female hand. “You will not find it a doleful missive,” he went on, a joyous look coming into his eyes; “the dark and threatening cloud that overshadowed us has passed away, and we are again rejoicing in the sunlight; for which I trust we are sincerely grateful to the Giver of all good.”
“Ah, I am very, very glad for you both!” Miriam exclaimed, and the others united their congratulations with hers.
“We have all felt for you and your sweet wife, doctor,” said the dear old lady, “and are rejoiced that she is not to be torn from you. Golding has relinquished his claim and consented to leave you undisturbed?”
“Yes; after standing out against the measure for a time that seemed very long to us, he finally agreed to unite with Serena in asking for a divorce; and under the circumstances the judge was able to grant it without bringing the matter into court. Then Serena and I were quietly remarried, and Golding has gone, leaving his son with us; for which I am most thankful, for I think it would have killed Serena to be deprived of either of her children.”
“How happened it that you were so strangely deceived in regard to Mr. Golding’s death?” asked Mrs. Heath.
“I believe it was a cousin of the same name whose death was reported to Serena as that of her husband. I presume there was no intentional deceit; but it cannot be denied that Golding was greatly to blame in absenting himself so long from home, and never during all that time attempting any communication with his wife. Besides, even before that he had given her Bible grounds for divorce. So that my conscience is entirely clear in asserting my claim to be superior to his,” he concluded, his countenance beaming with satisfaction.
“I think it well may be, and that Golding’s conduct has been very cruel from first to last,” remarked Mrs. Heath.
“Yes,” assented the doctor, with a sigh. “Ah, well, I must try to make it up to her during the rest of our two lives!”
With that he took his departure, and Miriam opened her note. It was written in a most cheerful strain, asking her sympathy in the writer’s joy over her deliverance from the great trial of the last few weeks.
“My dear,” she wrote, “if ever you are in sore distress, cry to the Lord for deliverance, as I did, and He will surely hear. ‘In His favor is life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’”
The thought comforted Miriam. “Shall it not be so with me also, and even with poor Nora?” she asked herself, with a feeling of partial relief and hopefulness, as she refolded the note and put it in her pocket.
“Grandmother,” she said, aloud, “will you go with me to see poor Nora? You will, I am sure, know how to speak a word of comfort to her.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Heath said, rising; “I can at least repeat to her some of the precious Bible promises to the widow and the fatherless; and we will carry them something to eat. The children will be hungry, even if grief deprives the mother of her appetite.”
The night that followed that day was to Miriam the longest and saddest she had ever known in all her young, healthful life. Her heart was sore for Nora in her overwhelming grief and despair, and full of horror at the remembrance of Bangs’s crime and the fearful retribution that had so speedily overtaken him.
She slept little till toward morning, and in consequence rose somewhat later than her usual hour. Hastening down-stairs to begin the duties of the day, she met McAllister in the lower hall.
“Gude-mornin’, Miss Mirry. The captain left this as he was ridin’ by a few moments since, biddin’ me give it to you,” he said, handing her a note.
In spite of a determined effort to seem unconcerned, Miriam felt her cheeks flush hotly as she took the missive and glanced at the address, unmistakably in Charlton’s handwriting.
“You should have asked the captain to come in and take breakfast with us, Sandy,” she said.
“I urged the hospitalities o’ the hoose upon him, Miss Mirry,” was the reply, “but he was no to be persuaded. However, he said something aboot givin’ you a call in the course o’ the mornin’.”
Ronald joined them at that moment with a bright “Good-morning, Mirry. Who’s that intends to call on us to-day?”
“The captain wants to see your sister, sir,” said McAllister; but Miriam had slipped away, hiding the note in the bosom of her dress as she went.
“He does!” exclaimed Ronald, with laughing eyes. “Well, I for one shall make him welcome to see her—in my presence or alone.”
Sandy did not mention the note, shrewdly guessing that silence upon that matter would be more pleasing to Miriam.
She seemed slightly abstracted during breakfast, and took an early opportunity after leaving the table to steal away by herself to learn in solitude what Warren had to say to her.
Her heart fluttered and the rose on her cheek deepened as she broke the seal and glanced at the contents of his note; then with an exclamation of astonishment she hurried to the dining-room, where she had left her grandmother and Ronald consulting together about some work to be done in the garden.
“Why, Mirry, what now? What has happened that you look so excited?” asked her brother, as she came in with the note open in her hand.
“Something so wonderful that I can hardly believe it,” she answered, dropping into a chair, her eyes shining, her breath coming half pantingly. “I—I’ve had a small fortune left me!”
“Can it be possible!” exclaimed Ronald. “Where in the world does it come from?”
“Listen,” she said, and went on to read the letter aloud; merely a business one it was, informing her that the late Mr. Himes had made a will shortly before his death, bequeathing to her—Miriam Heath—all his earthly possessions, consisting principally of the money he had received for his farm and some United States bonds, amounting in all to $10,000.
He had told Captain Charlton that he had no near relative or friend—no one to whom he cared to leave anything; and having a high estimate of Miriam’s worth, and a great admiration for what he called her pluck and enterprise, he had selected her for his heir in preference to any one else.
“There,” cried the excited girl, waving the letter above her head, “it will be more than enough to save the place and stock the farm, too, with all the cattle we want!”
“But, Mirry, it is left to you personally; not to us as a family,” said Ronald.
“Well, what of that? What do I want with money, except to save the dear home for us all?” she cried, half indignantly, half in exultation.
“Dear, unselfish child!” her grandmother exclaimed, gazing at her through tear-dimmed eyes; “but we must not let you rob yourself.”
“You needn’t be one bit afraid I shall do that, granny dear,” Miriam cried, springing to her feet and throwing her arms about the old lady’s neck; “I’ll be sure to look out for number one.”
“When are you going to begin so doing, sister mine?” asked Ronald, with a good-humored laugh.
Bertie and Olive came running in from the garden with the announcement that the captain was coming.
“To see you, Mirry,” added Ronald, roguishly. “I presume he wishes a private interview. Let me beg of you to treat him well for my sake. Just think what a friend he has been to me!”
“He comes on this business of the will, I presume,” returned Miriam, blushing, “and I shall want you and grandmother to be present.”
“Then I’ll ask him into the sitting-room,” Ronald said, giving her a smiling, mischievous look as he hastened away to receive his friend.
Charlton did not ask for a private interview, or seem to have come upon any other errand than the matter of the will. What he had to say was said in the presence of Mrs. Heath and Ronald.
He told them there was apparently nothing in the way of Miriam’s taking immediate possession of the property. It was possible the widow might come forward to put in a claim to her thirds, but not probable, as she was doubtless keeping herself in concealment for fear of being put upon her trial on a charge of complicity in the first attempt upon the old man’s life, he having many times strongly asserted that she was guilty.
“And,” added Charlton, “there is no doubt that she was an old flame of the would-be murderer, Phelim O’Rourke, or that they were often together when the old husband was absent from home.”
“What news do you bring us from town this morning?” asked Ronald. “What has been done with Bangs’s body?”
“Wiley, his brother-in-law, had it taken down last night and buried as privately as possible, lest there should be some interference on the part of the lynchers; though I do not, myself, think he need have had any such apprehension, they being fully satisfied, I have no doubt, with having inflicted the death penalty for his crimes.”
“Do you approve of capital punishment, captain?” asked Mrs. Heath.
“Yes, madam, I do,” he said, emphatically; “first, because God commands it—‘Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed’—and, secondly, because its abolition gives encouragement to those inclined to commit murder—from enmity or for gain—and leads to lynching in cases where the indignation of the community is so aroused by the enormity of a crime, or a series of crimes, that they feel that the criminal must be sent where he can no longer harm his fellows, and that nothing short of the death penalty is an adequate reward for his misdeeds.”
“I agree with you,” returned Mrs. Heath; “it is not worth while for man to try to be wiser or more merciful than his Maker.”
“Where is the command to which you have referred?” asked Ronald. “Do not those who are opposed to capital punishment assert that it was a part of the Levitical law, and that therefore the obligation to obey it has passed away?”
“Some do,” said Charlton, “but it must be from ignorance of the time when the command was given, and to whom. It is found in the ninth chapter of Genesis, fifth and sixth verses.
“The fact that it was given to Noah just after the flood shows that it is binding upon all mankind; for Noah was the progenitor of all races of men now living upon the face of the earth. Some opposers of capital punishment say, to be sure, that the words are to be understood in the sense of a prediction, not a command; but to my mind it is very clear that they are the latter. Let me read you the passage,” he continued, taking up a Bible that lay on a table near which he was seated, and turning over its pages.
“Do; we shall be glad to hear it,” answered Mrs. Heath; and he complied.
“‘And surely your blood of your lives will I require: at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man.’”
Closing the book, “Is it not a plain command?” he asked; “and being, as I have already remarked, given to him by whose descendants the whole earth was to be peopled—given hundreds of years before Abraham, the progenitor of the Jews, was born—it is evidently not merely a part of the Levitical law, but is to this day as binding as ever upon all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike.
“It is a dangerous thing,” he went on, “for men to disregard any law of God; probably yesterday’s lynching would not have occurred had not the outraged community felt that there was no hope of justice upon the criminal through the operation of the law of the State; and I fear we may be going to have more of the same kind of work; the popular feeling against O’Rourke is very strong all up and down the valley.”
“Do you think there will be an attempt to lynch him?” asked Ronald, while the faces of the two ladies turned pale with apprehension.
“I hope not, but I certainly fear it,” replied the captain; “there are angry mutterings in the air that seem to presage a coming storm.”
There was a pause in the conversation, broken by Ronald. “I quite agree with you, Warren, in what you have been saying about the mischievous tendency of abolishing capital punishment; mercy to the few (that is, mercy to those whom the law of God adjudges to death for having destroyed the lives of their fellow-creatures) is cruelty to the many, because it, as you have said, takes away the wholesome fear that often deters wicked and unscrupulous men from murders they are moved to commit from covetousness or a desire for revenge.
“But do you not think that beside the evil, of which we have just been speaking, there are others at work in the same direction?”
“Yes; I have in mind two others which are, I presume, the very ones to which you refer. One is the practice by criminal lawyers of delaying or entirely frustrating the execution of the law when they know their client to be guilty; and not only guilty, but unrepentant; taking advantage, for that purpose, of some trivial technicality that has no bearing whatever upon the question of the prisoner’s guilt.
“The higher courts, too, that for like insufficient reasons reverse the righteous decisions of the lower, give encouragement to crime.
“The other evil, working in the same direction, is the mawkish sentimentality of certain weak-minded people, that leads them to make heroes and martyrs of the most depraved and guilty of men, the most heartless and desperate of criminals. Red-handed murderers seem to be their especial favorites, to be visited, feasted upon dainties, loaded with choice flowers, pitied and pleaded for, that they may be spared the due reward of their deeds; perhaps set free to repeat them.”
“I blush for my sex when I hear how some of them pet and pamper the vilest criminals, the most heartless, ruffianly murderers, simply because justice has overtaken them and they are in prison,” remarked Miriam. “They, the silly sentimentalists, seem to lose all remembrance of the pain and misery endured by the wretched victims of the criminals, in weak, not to say wicked, commiseration for the richly deserved pains and penalties the assassins have brought upon themselves.”