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Chapter 37

The Identification

The following September found Darrell again in Ophir and re-established in his old-time quarters. To his old office he had added the room formerly occupied by Walcott, his increasing business demanding more office room and the presence of an assistant.

Before leaving the East he revisited the members of his old syndicate and informed them that he intended henceforth making his head-quarters in the West, and if they wished to employ him as their expert, he would execute commissions from that point. To this they readily agreed, and also gave him letters of introduction to a number of capitalists interested in western mining properties, who were only too glad to secure the services of a reliable expert who would be on the ground and familiar with existing conditions. As a result, Darrell had scarcely reopened business at his former quarters before he found himself with numerous eastern commissions to be executed, in addition to his old work as assayer.

He was prepared for the changes which had taken place during the year of his absence, his father having kept him thoroughly informed of all that had occurred.

Darrell was delighted at the story of Kate Underwood's coolness and bravery in saving her father's life, and sent her a note of hearty congratulation, which she kept among her cherished treasures. Since that time, occasional letters were exchanged between them; hers, bright, entertaining sketches of their travels here and there, with comments characteristic of herself regarding places and people; his, permeated with the fresh, exhilarating atmosphere of the mountains, and pervaded by a vigor and virility which roused Kate's admiration, yet led her to wonder if this could be the same lover who had won her childish heart in those idyllic days. Each realized the fact that notwithstanding their love, notwithstanding their stanch comradeship, at present they were little more than strangers. Darrell's love for Kate was a reality, but her personality, so far as he could recall it, was little more than a dream; each letter revealed some unexpected phase of her character; he found their correspondence an unfailing source of pleasure, and was content to await the time of their meeting, confident that he would find the real woman all and more than the ideal which he fondly cherished as his Dream-Love. And to Kate, each letter of Darrell's brought more and more forcibly the conviction that the lover whom she remembered was as a dream compared with the reality she was to meet some day.

About six months had elapsed when Darrell received, early one morning, the following telegram from his father, summoning him to Galena:

"Come over on first train. Important."

By the first train he would reach Galena a little before noon; he had not breakfasted, and had but twenty minutes in which to make it. Calling a carriage, he went directly to his office, where he left a brief explanatory note for the clerk, written on the way, then drove with all possible speed to the depot, arriving on time but without a minute to spare. He breakfasted on the train, and while running over the morning paper, his attention was caught by a despatch from Galena to the effect that one of the leading banks in that city had been entered and the safe opened and robbed on the preceding night. The robbers, of whom there were three, had been discovered by the police. A fight had ensued in which one officer and one of the robbers were killed, the second robber wounded, while the third had made his escape with most of the plunder. It was further stated that they were known to belong to the notorious band of outlaws so long the terror of that region, and it was believed the wounded man was none other than the leader himself, the murderer of Harry Whitcomb and the young express clerk, for whom there was a standing reward of twenty-five thousand dollars, dead or alive. The man was to have a preliminary examination that afternoon, and the greatest excitement prevailed in Galena, as it was rumored that others of the band would probably be present, scattered throughout the crowd, for the purpose of rescuing their leader.

In a flash Darrell understood his father's summons. He let the paper fall and, unmindful of his breakfast, gazed abstractedly out of the window. His thoughts had reverted to that scene in the sleeper on his first trip west. He seemed to see it again in all its sickening detail, the face of the assassin standing out before him with such startling distinctness and realism that he involuntarily placed his hand over his eyes to shut out the hateful sight.

At Galena he was met by his father, who took a closed carriage to his hotel, conducting Darrell immediately to his own room, where he ordered lunch served for both.

"Do you know why I have sent for you?" Mr. Britton inquired, as soon as they were left alone together.

"I had no idea when I started," Darrell replied, "but on reading the morning paper, on my way over, I concluded you wanted me at that trial this afternoon."

"You are correct. Are you prepared to identify that face? Is your recollection of it as distinct as ever?"

"Yes; after reading of that bank robbery this morning, the whole affair in the car that night came back to me so vividly I could see the man's face as clearly as any face on the train with me."

"Good!" Mr. Britton ejaculated.

"Do you think there is any likelihood of an attempt to rescue him, as stated by the paper?" Darrell inquired, rather incredulously.

"If the leader of the band finds himself in need of help it will be forthcoming," Mr. Britton answered, with peculiar emphasis. "The citizens are expecting trouble and have sworn in about a dozen extra deputy sheriffs, myself among the number."

When lunch was over Mr. Britton ordered a carriage at once, and they proceeded to the court-room.

"What is your opinion of this man?" Darrell asked his father, while on the way. "Would you have selected him as the murderer, from your study of him?"

"I reserve my opinions until later," Mr. Britton replied. "I want you to act from memory alone, unbiased by any outside influence."

Arriving at the court-room, they found it already well filled. Darrell was about to enter, but his father took him into a small anteroom, while he himself went to look for seats. He had a little difficulty in finding the seats he wanted, which delayed them so that proceedings had begun as he and Darrell entered from a side door and took their places in rather an obscure part of the room.

"You will have a good view here," Mr. Britton said to Darrell, as they seated themselves, "and there is little likelihood of your being recognized from this point."

"There is little probability of the man's recognizing me, even if he is here," Darrell replied, "for he did not give me a second thought that night, and if he had, I am so changed he would not know me."

"We cannot be too cautious," his father answered.

In a few moments the prisoner was brought in, and there was a general craning of necks to see him, a number of men in Darrell's vicinity standing and thus obstructing his view.

"Wait," said his father, as he was about to rise with the others; "don't make yourself conspicuous; when the man is called for examination you will have an excellent view from here."

Curiosity gradually subsided, and the men sank back into their seats as proceedings went on. Then the prisoner was called and stood up for examination. Darrell drew a quick breath and leaned eagerly forward. The man was of medium height and size, but his movements seemed heavy and clumsy, whereas Darrell had been impressed by a litheness and agility in the movements of the other.

He stood facing his interlocutor, affording Darrell a three-quarter view of his face, but soon he turned in Darrell's direction, scanning the crowd slowly, as though in search of some one.

Darrell saw a squarely built, colorless face, surmounted by a shock of coarse, straight black hair, with heavy, repulsive features, and small, bullet-shaped, leaden eyes of rather light blue. The face was so utterly unlike what he had expected to see that he sank back into his seat with a smothered exclamation of disgust. His father, watching closely, smiled, seeming rather pleased than otherwise, but Darrell was half indignant.

"The idea of a lout like that being taken for the leader!" he exclaimed. "He is nothing but a tool, and a pretty clumsy one at that."

Notwithstanding his vexation, Darrell continued to watch the proceedings, and in a few moments began to grow interested, not so much in the examination as in the conduct of the prisoner. The latter evidently had found the face for which he was looking, for his eyes seemed glued to a certain spot. Occasionally he would shift them for a moment, but invariably, with each new interrogatory, they would turn to that particular spot, as the needle to the pole, not through any volition of his own, but drawn by some influence against which he was temporarily powerless.

"That man is under a spell; he is being worked by some one in the crowd," Darrell exclaimed to his father, in a low tone.

"Yes, and by some one not very far from us; I have spotted him, see if you cannot."

Following the direction of the man's glance, Darrell began to scan the faces of the crowd. Suddenly his pulses gave a bound. Seated at a little distance and partially facing them was a man of the same size and height as the prisoner, but whose every move and poise suggested alertness. He was leaning his arms on the back of the seat before him; his head was lowered so that his chin rested lightly on one hand, while the other hand played nervously with the seat on which he leaned. His whole attitude was that of a wild beast crouched, ready to spring upon his prey. He had an oval face, with deep olive skin, wavy black hair, cut close except where it curled low over his forehead, and through the half-closed eyes, fixed upon the prisoner's face, Darrell caught a glint like that of burnished steel. For an instant Darrell gazed like one fascinated; he had not expected such an exact reproduction of the face as he had seen it on that night. His father touched him lightly; he nodded significantly in reply.

"There is your man!" he exclaimed.

"You are sure? You could swear to it?" queried his father.

"Swear to it? Yes. I would have known him anywhere, but sitting there, watching that man, his face is precisely as I saw it that night. Wait a moment, look!"

The man in his agitation at some word of the prisoner's, raised one hand and brushed his forehead with a nervous gesture, which lifted his hair slightly, disclosing one end of a scar.

"Did you see that scar?" Darrell questioned, eagerly. "You will find it almost crescent shaped, rather jagged, and nearly three inches in length."

"That is all I wanted," his father replied. "I have the warrant for his arrest with me, and the examination is so nearly over I shall serve it at once."

"Can I help you?" Darrell asked, as his father moved away.

"No; stay where you are; don't let him see you until after he is under arrest."

The examination of the prisoner had just ended when Mr. Britton, accompanied by two deputies, re-entered the court-room. The man still maintained his crouching attitude, intently watching proceedings. Mr. Britton approached from the rear. Seizing the man suddenly by the arms, he pinioned him so that for an instant he was unable to move, and one of the deputies, leaning over, snapped the handcuffs on him before he fairly realized what had happened. Then, with a swift movement, Mr. Britton raised him to his feet and lifted him quickly out into the aisle, while his voice rang authoritatively through the court-room,—

"José Martinez, alias Walcott, I arrest you in the name of the State!"

The man shouted something in Spanish, evidently a signal, for it was repeated in different parts of the room. Instantly all was confusion. A shot fired from the rear wounded one of the deputies; a man seated near Darrell drew a revolver, but before he could level it Darrell knocked it from his hand and felled him to the floor. The officers rushed to the spot, and as the outbreak subsided Mr. Britton brought forward his prisoner.

A murmur of consternation rose throughout the room, for Walcott had been known years before among the business men of Galena, and there were not a few citizens present who had known him as Mr. Underwood's partner. Walcott, taking advantage of the situation, began to protest his innocence. Mr. Britton, unmoved, at once beckoned Darrell to his side. Upon seeing him Walcott's face took on a ghastly hue and he seemed for a moment on the verge of collapse, but he quickly pulled himself together, regarding Darrell meanwhile with a venomous malignity seldom seen on a human face. Not the least surprised man in the crowd was Darrell himself.

"Do you mean to say," he asked his father, "that this is the Walcott of whose villany you have been writing me, and that he and the murderer of Harry Whitcomb are one and the same?"

"So it seems," Mr. Britton replied; "but that is no more than I have suspected all along."

"Now I understand your fear of my being recognized; it seemed inexplicable to me," said Darrell.

"If he had seen you," his father replied, "he would have suspected your errand here at once."

Incredulity was apparent on many faces as Walcott's examination was begun. He was morose and silent, and nothing could be elicited from him. When Darrell was called upon, however, and gave his evidence, incredulity gave place to conviction. As he completed his testimony with a description of the scar, which, upon examination, was found correct, the crowd became angry and threats of lynching and personal violence were heard on various sides. The judge therefore ordered that the prisoners be removed from the court-room to the jail before any in the audience had left their places.

In charge of the regular sheriff and four or five deputies the prisoners were led from the court-room. They had but just reached the street, however, when those inside heard shots fired in quick succession, followed by angry cries and shouts for help. The crowd surged to the doors, to see the officers surrounded by a band of the outlaws who had been lying in wait for their appearance, having been summoned by the signal given on the arrest of the leader. With the help of the citizens the fight was soon terminated, but when the mêlée was over it was discovered that the sheriff had been killed, a number of citizens and outlaws wounded, and Martinez, alias Walcott, had escaped.