xt7qnk361q33 https://nyx.uky.edu/dips/xt7qnk361q33/data/mets.xml Buck, Charles Neville, b. 1879. 1920  books b92-177-30418503 English W.J. Watt & Company, : New York : Contact the Special Collections Research Center for information regarding rights and use of this collection. Duer, Douglas. Law of Hemlock Mountain  / by Hugh Lundsford ; frontispiece by Douglas Duer. text Law of Hemlock Mountain  / by Hugh Lundsford ; frontispiece by Douglas Duer. 1920 2002 true xt7qnk361q33 section xt7qnk361q33 
















































"I am sorry," declared Spurrier, humbly. "I didn't know they were
        pets. They behaved very much like wild birds."

 













  THE LAW OF
HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN

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     THE LAW OF

HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN



             BY
       HUGH LUNDSFORD



Frontispiece by
DOUGLAS DUER



    N EW YORK
W. J. WATT  COMPANY
    PUBLISHERS

 







    COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY

W. J. WATT  COMPANY









































































         PRESS OF
      "RAU.WOATh A Co.
      BOOK MANUFAOThRERS
      BROOKLYN, H. Y.

 












  THE LAW OF
HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN

 This page in the original text is blank.


 

THE LAW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN



                  CHAPTER I

     HE officer whose collar ornaments were the
     winged staff and serpents of the medical
     branch, held what was left of the deck in his
right hand and moistened the tip of his thumb against
the tip of his tongue.
  "ReEnforcements, major " he inquired with a
glance to the man at his left, and the poker face of
the gentleman so addressed remained impervious to
expression as the answer was given back:
  "No, I'll stand by what I've got here."
  If the utterance hung on a quarter second of in-
decision it was a circumstance that went unnoted, save
possibly by a young man with the single bars of a
lieutenant on his shoulder straps-and Spurrier gave
no flicker of recognition of what had escaped the
others.
  Between the whitewashed walls of the room where
the little group of officers sat at cards the Philippine
night breeze stirred faintly with a fevered breath that
scarcely disturbed the jalousies.
  The pile of poker chips had grown to a bulkiness
and value out of just proportion to the means of army
officers below field rank-and except for the battalion.

 

2 THE LAW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN
commander and the surgeon none there held higher
grade than a captaincy.  This jungle-hot weather
made men irresponsible.
  One or two of the faces were excitedly flushed; sev-
eral others were morosely dark. The lights guttered
with a jaundiced yellow and sweat beaded the temples
of the players. Sweat, too, made slippery the enameled
surfaces of the pasteboards. Sweat seemed to ooze
and simmer in their brains like the oil from overheated
asphalt.
  These men had been forced into a companionship
of monotony in a climate of unhealth until their
studied politeness, even their forced jocularity was
rather the effort of toleration than the easy play of
comradeship. Their arduously wooed excitement of
draw-poker, which had run improvidently out of
bounds, was not a pleasure so much as an expedient
against the boredom that had rubbed their tempers
threadbare and put an edgy sharpness on their nerves.
  Captain Comyn, upon whose call for cards the
dealer now waited, was thinking of Private Grant out
there under guard in the improvised hospital. The
islands had "gotten to" Private Grant and "locoed"
him, and he had breathed sulphurous maledictions
against Captain Comyn's life but it was not those
threats that now disturbed the company commander.
  Of late Captain Comyn had been lying awake at
night and wondering if he, too, were not going the
same way as the unfortunate file. Horribly quiet fears
had been stealing poisonously into his mind-a mind
not given to timidities-and the word "melancholia"
had assumed for him a morbid and irresistible com-
pulsion. No one save the captain's self knew of these

 

THlE LAW OF IHEMLOCK MOUNTAIN



secret hauntings, born of climate and smoldering fever,
and he would not have revealed them on the torture
rack. For them he entertained the same shame as that
of a boy grown too large for such weakness, who
shudders with an unconfessed fear of the dark. But
he could no more shake them loose and be free of them
than could the Ancient Mariner rid himself of the bird
of ill-omen tied about his neck. Now he pulled him-
self together and tossed away a single card.
  "I'll take one in the place of that," he commented
with studied carelessness, and Lieutenant John
Spurrier, with that infectious smile which came readily
to his lips, pointed a contrast with the captain's ab-
straction by the snappy quickness of his announce-
ment:
  "If I'm going to trail along, I'll need three. Yes,
three, please, major."
  "When Spurrier sits in the game," commented a
player who, with a dolorous glance at the booty before
him, threw down his hands, "we at least get action.
Myself, I'm out of it."
  The battalion commander studied the ceiling with a
troubled furrow between his brows which was not
brought there by the hazards of luck. He was reflect-
ing that whenever a game was organized it was Spur-
rier who quickened its tempo from innocuous amuse-
ment to reckless extravagance.  Spurrier, fitted for
his life with so many soldierly qualities, was still,
above all else, a plunger. That spirit seemed a passion
that filled and overflowed him. Temperate in other
habits, he played like a nabob. The major remem-
bered hearing that even at West Point Jack Spurrier
had narrowly, escaped dismissal for gambling in



3

 

4 THE LAW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN
quarters, though his class standing had been distin-
guished and his gridiron record had become a tradition.
  This sort of game with "the roof off and deuces
wild," was not good for the morale of his junior
officers, mused the major. It was like spiking whisky
with absinthe. Yes, to-morrow he would have Spur-
rier at his quarters and talk to him like a Dutch uncle.
  There were three left battling for the often
sweetened pot now, with three more who had dropned
out, looking on, and a tensity envelopec the long-
drawn climax of the evening's session.
  Captain Comyn's cheek bones had reddened and his
irascible frown lines deepened. For the moment his
fears of melancholia had been swallowed up in a fitful
fury against Spurrier and his smiling face.
  At last came the decisive moment of the final call
and the show-down, and through the dead silence of
the moment sounded the distant sing-song of a sentry:
  "Corporal of the guard, number one, relief !"
  Over the window sill a tiny green lizard slithered
quietly and hesitated, pressing itself flat against the
whitewash.
  Then the major's cards came down face upward-
and showed a queen-high straight.
  "Not quite good enough, major," announced Comyn
brusquely as his breath broke from him with a sort of
gasp and he spread out a heart flush.
  But Spurrier, who had drawn three cards, echoed
the captain's words: "Not quite good enough." He
laid down two aces and two deuces, which under the
cutthroat rule of "deuces wild" he was privileged to
call four aces.
  Comyn came to his feet and pushed back his chair,

 

THE LAW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN



but he stood unsteadily. The fever in his bones was
playing queer pranks with his brain. He, whose
courtesy had always been marked in its punctilio,
blazed volcano-fashion into the eruption that had been
gathering through these abnormal days and nights.
  Yet even now the long habit of decorum held waver-
ingly for a little before its breaking, and he began
with a queer strain in his voice:
  "You'll have to take my I 0 U. I've lost more than
I can pay on the peg."
  "That's all right, Comyn," began the victor. "Pay
when -" but before he could finish the other inter-
rupted with a frenzy of anger:
  "No, by God, it's not all right! It's all wrong, and
this is the last game I sit in where they deal a hand
to you."
  Spurrier's smiling lips tightened instantly out of
their infectious amiability into a forbidding straight-
ness. He pushed aside the chips he had been stacking
and rose stiffly.
  "That's a statement, Captain Comyn," he said with
a warning note in his level voice, "which requires some
explaining."
  The abrupt bursting of the tempest had left the
others in a tableau of amazement, but now the authori-
tative voice of Major Withers broke in upon the
dialogue.
  "Gentlemen, this is an army post, and I am in
command here. I will tolerate no quarrels."
  Without shifting the gaze of eyes that held those
of the captain, Spurrier answered insistently:
  "I have every respect, major, for the requirements



5

 

6   THE LAW     OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN
of discipline-but Captain Comyn must finish telling
why he will no longer play cards with me."
  "And I'll tell you pronto," came the truculent re-
sponse. "I won't play with you because you are too
damned lucky."
  "Oh !" Spurrier's tensity of expression relaxed into
something like amusement for the anticlimax. "That
accusation can be stomached, I suppose."
  "Too damned lucky," went on the other with a
gathering momentum of rancor, "and too continuously
lucky for a game that's not professional. When a
man is so proficient-or lucky if you prefer-that the
card table pays him more than the government thinks
he's worth, it's time  "
  Spurrier, stepped forward.
  "It's time for you to stop," he cautioned sharply.
"I give you the fairest warning!"
  But Comyn, riding the flood tide of his passion-
a passion of distempered nerves-was beyond the
reach of warnings and his words came in a bitter
outpouring:
  "I dare say it was only luck that let you bankrupt
young Tillsdale, but it was as fatal to him as if it
bore an uglier name."
  The sound in Spurrier's throat was incoherent and
his bodily impulse swift beyond interference. His flat
palm smote Captain Comyn's cheek, to come away
leaving a red welt behind it, and as the others swept
forward to intervene the two men grappled.
  They were torn apart, still struggling, as Major
Withers, unaccustomed to the brooking of such mu-
tinies, interposed between them the bulk of his body
and the moral force of his indignantly blazing eyes.

 

TILE AW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN



  "I will have no more of this," he thundered. "I
am not a prize-fight referee, that I must break my
officers out of clinches! Go to your quarters, Comyn!
You, too, Spurrier. You are under arrest. I shall
prefer charges against you both. I mean to make an
example of this matter."
  But with a strange abruptness the fury died out of
Comyn's face. It left his passion-distorted features
so instantly that the effect of transformation was un-
canny. In a breathing space he seemed older and his
eyes held the dark dejection of utter misery. His
anger had flared and died before that grimmer emotion
which secretly haunted him-the fear that he was
going the way of climate-crazed Private Grant.
  When they released him he turned dispiritedly and
left the room in docile silence. He was not thinking
of the charges to be preferred. They belonged to to-
morrow. To-night was nearer, and to-night he must
face those hours of sleeplessness that he dreaded more
than all the penalties enunciated by the Articles of
War.
  Spurrier, too, bowed stiffly and left the room.
  Though it was late when Captain Comyn entered
his own quarters, he did not at once throw himself
on the army cot that stood against the whitewashed
wall.
  For him the cot held no invitation-only the threat
of insomnia and tossing. His taut nerves had lost
the gracious art of relaxation, and before his thoughts
paraded hideously grotesque memories of the few
faces he had ever seen marred by the dethronement of
reason.
  Already he had forgotten the violent and dis-



7

 

8 THE LAW OF HIEMLOCK MOUNTAIN
creditable scene with Spurrier, and presently he
dropped himself inertly into the camp chair beside the
table at the room's center and opened its drawer.
  Slowly his hand came out clutching a service re-
volver, and his eyes smoldered unnaturally as they
dwelt on it. But after a little he resolutely shook his
head and thrust the thing aside.
  He sat in a cold sweat, surrounded by the silence of
the Eastern night, a comprehensive silence which
weighed upon him and oppressed him.
  In the thatching of the single-storied adobe build-
ing he heard the rustling of a house snake, and from
without, where moonlight seemed to gush and spill
against the cobalt shadows, shrilled the small voice
from a lizard's inflated, crimson throat.
  It was all crazing him, and his nails bit into his
palms as he sat there, silent and heavy-breathed.
Then he heard footsteps nearer and louder than those
of the pacing sentries, followed by a low rapping of
knuckles on his own door. Perhaps it was Doctor
James. He had the kindly habit of besetting men who
looked fagged with the offer of some innocuous
bromide. As if bromides could soothe a brain in
which something had gone malo!
  "Come in," he growled, and into the room stepped
not Major James, but Lieutenant Spurrier.
  Slowly and with an infinite weight of weariness,
Comyn rose to his feet. He might be afraid of lunacy,
but not of lieutenants, and his lips smiled sneeringly.
  "If you've come to ask a retraction," he declared
ungraciously, "I've none to offer. I meant all I said."
  The visitor stood inside the door calmly eyeing the
man who was his own company commander.

 

THE LAW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN



  "I didn't come to insist on apologies," he replied
after a moment's silence with an off-hand easiness of
tone. "That can wait till you've gotten over your
tantrum. It was another thing that brought me."
  "I want to be left alone."
  "Aside from the uncomplimentary features of your
tirade," went on Spurrier placidly and he strolled around
the table And seated himself on the window sill, "there
was a germ of truth in what you said. We've been
playing too steep a game." He paused and the other
man who remained standing by his table, as though he
did not wish to encourage his visitor by seating him-
self, responded only with a short, ironic laugh.
  "See here, Comyn," Spurrier's voice labored now
with evident embarrassment. "What I'm getting at
is this: I don't want your I 0 U for that game. I
simply want you to forget it."
  But the captain took an angry step forward.
  "Do you think I'm a charity patient" he demanded,
as his temper again mounted to storm pressure.
"Why, damn your impertinence, I don't want to talk
to you. I don't want you in my quarters !"
  Spurrier slipped from his seat and an angry flush
spread to his cheek bones.
  "You're the hell of a-gentleman!" he exclaimed.
  The two stood for a few moments without words,
facing each other, while the lieutenant could hear the
captain's breath rising and falling in a panting
thickness.
  Surgeon James returning from a visit to a colic
sufferer was trudging sleepily along the empty calle
when he noted the light still burning in the captain's
window, and with an exclamation of remembrance for



0

 
10 THE LAW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN
the officer's dark-ringed and sleepless eyes, he wheeled
toward the door. Just as he neared it, a staccato and
heated interchange of voices was borne out to him,
and he hurried his step, but at the same instant a pistol
shot bellowed blatantly in the quiet air and into his
nostrils stole the acrid savor of burned powder.
  The door, thrown open, gave him the startling pic-
ture of Comyn sagged across his own table and lying
grotesque in the yellow light; and of Spurrier stand-
ing, wide-eyed by the window, with the green and
cobalt background of the tropic night beyond his
shoulders. While he gazed the lieutenant wheeled
and thrust his head through the raised sash, under
the jalousy.
  "Halt!" cried James excitedly, leaping forward to
possess himself of the pistol which Comyn had taken
from his drawer and thrust aside. "Halt, Spurrier,
or I'll have to fire!"
  The other turned back and faced his captor with
an expression which it was hard to read. Then he
shook his shoulders as though to disentangle himself
from an evil dream and in a cool voice demanded:
  "Do you mean to intimate, James, that you suspect
me of killing Comyn "
  "Do you mean to deny it " countered the other
incredulously.
  "Great God! I oughtn't to have to. That shot was
fired through the window. The bullet whined past
my ear while my back was turned. That was why I
looked out just now. Moreover, I am, as you see,
unarmed."
  "God grant that you can prove these things, Spur-
rier, but they will need proof." The doctor turned to

 
     THE LAW OF HEMlOCK MOUNTAIN 11
bend over the prostrate figure, and as he did so voices
rose from the calle where already had sounded the
alarm and response of running feet. "Or, perhaps,"
added the doctor with stubborn suggestiveness, "you
acted in self-defense."
  Presently the door opened and the corporal of the
guard entered and saluted. His eyes traveled rapidlI
about the room and he addressed Spurrier, since James
was not a line officer.
  "I picked this revolver up, sir, just outside the
window," he said, holding out a service pistol. "It
was lying in the moonlight and one chamber is empty."
  Spurrier took the weapon, but when the man had
gone James suggested in an even voice: "Don't you
think you had better hand that gun to me"
  "To you Why"
  "Because this looks like a case for G. C. M. It
will have a better aspect if I can testify that, after the
gun was brought in, it wasn't handled by you except
while I saw you"
  "It seems to me"-a belligerent flash darted in the
lieutenant's eyes-"that you are singularly set on hang-
ing this affair around my neck."
  "You were with him and no one else was. If I
were you, I'd go direct to the major and make a state-
ment of facts. He'll be getting reports from other
sources by now."
  "Perhaps you are right. Is he dead"
  The surgeon nodded, and Spurrier turned and closed
the door softly behind him.


 

CHAPTER II



T    HE situation of John Spurrier, who was Jack
       Spurrier to every man in that command, stand-
       ing under the monstrous presumption of having
murdered a brother officer, called for a reaccommoda-
tion of the battalion's whole habit of thought. It de-
manded a new and unwelcome word in their vocabu-
lary of ideas, and against it argued, with the hot ad-
vocacy of tested acquaintance, every characteristic of
the man himself, and every law of probability. For
its acceptance spoke only one forceful plea-evidence
which unpleasantly skirted the actuality of demonstra-
tion. Short of seeing Spurrier shoot his captain down
and toss his pistol through the open window, Major
James could hardly have witnessed a more damaging
picture than the hurriedly opened door had framed to
his vision.
  Within the close-drawn cordon of a post, held to
military accountability, facts were as traceable as entries
on a card index-and these facts began building to
the lieutenant's undoing. They seemed to bring out
like acid on sympathetic ink the miracle of a Mr.
Hyde where his comrades had known only a Doctor
Jekyll.
  The one man out of the two skeleton companies of
infantry stationed in the interior town who remained
seemingly impervious to the strangulating force of the
tightening net was Spurrier himself.
                         12

 

     THE LAW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN 13
  In another man that insulated and steady-eyed con-
fidence might have served as a manifest of innocence
and a proclamation of clean conscience. But Spur-
rier wore a nick-name, until now lightly considered, to
which new conditions had added importance.
  They had called him "The Plunger," and now they
could not forget the nickeled and chrome-hardened
gambling nerve which had won for him the sobriquet.
There had been the coup at Oakland, for example,
when a stretch finish had stood to ruin him or sud-
denly enrich him-an incident that had gone down in
racing history and made cafe talk.
  Through a smother of concealing dust and a thunder
of hoofs, the field had struggled into the stretch that
afternoon, tight-bunched, with its snapping silks too
closely tangled for easy distinguishing-but the cerise
cap that proclaimed Spurrier's choice was nowhere in
sight. The bookmakers pedestalled on their high
stools with field glasses glued to their eyes had been
more excited than the young officer on the club-house
lawn, who put away his binoculars while the horses
were still in the back stretch and turned to chat with
a girl.
  Three lengths from the finish a pair of distended
nostrils had thrust themselves ahead of the other
muzzles to catch the judges' eyes, and bending over
steaming withers had nodded a cerise cap.
  But the lieutenant who had escaped financial dis-
aster and won a miniature fortune had gone on talk-
ing to the girl.
  Might it not be suspected in these circumstances
that "Plunger" Spurrier's refusal to treat his accusa-
tion seriously was only an attitude He was sitting

 

14   THE LAW    OF HEMLOCK MOUNTALN
in a game now with his neck at stake and the cards
running against him. Perhaps he was only bluffing
as he had never bluffed before. Possibly he was braz-
ening it out.
  It was not until the battalion had hiked back through
bosque and over mountains to Manila that the lieuten-
ant faced his tribunal: a court whose simplified
methods cut away the maze of technicalities at which
a man may grasp before a civilian jury of his peers.
  If, when he actually sat in the room where the evi-
dence was heard, his assurance that he was to emerge
clean-shriven began to reel under blows more power-
ful than he had expected, at least his face continued to
testify for him with an outward serenity of confidence.
  Doctor James told his story with an admirable re-
straint and an absolute absence of coloring. He had
meant to go to Comyn, because he read in his eyes the
signs of nerve waste and insomnia; the same things
that had caused too many suicides among the men
whose nervous constitutions failed to adapt them-
selves to the climate.
  Before he had carried his purpose to fulfillment-
perhaps a half hour before-he had gone to look in
on the case of Private Grant, who was suffering from
just such a malady, though in a more serious degree.
That private, a mountaineer from the Cumberland
hills of Kentucky, had been to all appearances merely
a lunatic, although it was a case which would yield to
treatment or perhaps come to recovery even if left
to itself. On this night he had gone to see if Grant
needed an opiate, but had found the patient apparently
sleeping without restlessness, and had not roused him.
At the door of the place where Grant was under

 

     THE LAW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN 15
guard, he had paused for a word with Private Sever-
ance who stood there on sentry duty.
  It had been a sticky night following a hot day, and
in the calle upon which lay the command in billets
of nipa-thatched houses, no one but himself and the
sentries were astir during the twenty minutes he had
spent strolling in the moonlight. On rounding a cor-
ner he had seen a light in Comyn's window, and he
had gone around the angle of the adobe house, since
the door was on the farther side, to offer the captain
a sleeping potion, too. That was how he chanced on
the scene of the tragedy, just a moment too late for
service.
  "You say," began Spurrier's counsel, on cross-
examination, "that you visited Private Grant about
half an hour before Captain Comyn was killed and
found him apparently resting naturally, although on
previous nights you had thought morphia necessary
to quiet his delirium"
  The major nodded, then qualified slowly:
  "Grant had not, of course, been continuously out
of his head nor had he always slept brokenly. There
had been lucid periods alternating with exhausting
storm."
  "You are not prepared to swear, though, that this
seeming sleep might not have been feigned"
  "I am prepared to testify that it is most unlikely."
  "Yet that same night he did make his escape and
deserted. That is true, is it not"
  The major bowed. "He had sought to escape
before. That was symptomatic of his condition."
  "And since then he has not been recaptured, though

 

16 THE LAW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN
he was in your opinion too ill and deranged to have
deceived you by feigning sleep"
  "Quite true."
  "Have you ever heard Grant threaten Captain
Comyn's life"
  "Never."
  "Whether he had made such threats to your knowl-
edge or not, he did come from that hill county of the
Kentucky mountains commonly called Bloody Brack-
ton, did he not"
  "I believe so. His enlistment record will answer
that."
  "You do know, though, that the man on guard duty
-the man with whom you spoke outside-was Private
Severance, also from the so-called Kentucky feud belt
and a friend of the sick man"
  "I can testify of my own knowledge only that he
was Private Severance and that he and Grant were of
the same platoon-Lieutenant Spurrier's."
  The defense advocate paused and carefully framed
a hypothetical question to be answered by the wit-
ness as a medical expert.
  "I will now ask you to speak from your knowledge
of blood tendencies as affected or distorted by mental
abnormalities. Suppose a man to have been born and
raised under a code which still adheres to feudal vio-
lence and the private avenging of personal grievances
both real and fancied. Suppose such a man to have
conceived a bitter hatred against his commanding
officer and to have brooded over that hatred until it
had become a fixed idea-a monomania-a determina-
tion to kill; suppose such a man to have known only
the fierce influences of his retarded hills until he came

 

     'THE LAW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN 17
into the army and to have encountered there a dis-
cipline which seemed to him a tyranny. I will ask
you whether such a man might not be apt to react
to a homicidal mania under nervous derangement, and
whether such a homicidal mania might not develop
its own craftiness of method"
  "Such," testified the medical officer, "is a conceiv-
able but a highly imaginative possibility."
  Then Private Severance was called and came into
the room, where he stood smartly at attention until in-
structed to take the witness chair. This dark-haired
private from the Cumberlands looked the soldier from
crown to sole leather, yet his features seemed to hold
under their present repose an ancient stamp of sullen-
ness. It was an intangible quality rather than an ex-
pression, as though it bore less relation to his present
than to some unconquerable survival from generations
that had passed on; generations that had been always
peering into shadows and searching them for lurking
perils.
  In his speech lingered quaintly remnants of dialect
from the laureled hills that army life had failed to
eradicate, and in his manner one could note a wariness
of extreme caution. That was easy to understand,
because Private Severance, too, stood under the charge
of having permitted a prisoner to escape, and his evi-
dence would confront him later when he in turn occu-
pied the dock.
  "I didn't have no speech with Bud Grant that
night," he testified, "but I'd looked in some several
times through the window. It was a barred window,
an' every time I peeked through it I could see Bud

 

18 THE LAW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN
layin' there asleep. The moon fell acrost his cot so I
could see him plain."
  "When did you see him last"
  "After Major James had been in and come out-
a full fifteen minutes later. I'm able to swear to
that, because I noticed the moon just as the major
went out, and, when I looked in through the window
the last time, the moon was a full quarter hour lower
down to'rds settin'."
  After a moment's pause the witness volunteered in
amplification: "Where I come from we don't have
many clocks or watches. We goes by the sun and
moon."
  "Then you can swear that if Private Grant fired
the shot that killed Captain Comyn, he must have
escaped and eluded your sight; armed himself, crossed
the plaza; turned the corner; accomplished the act and
gotten clean away, all within the brief period of five
minutes "
  "I can swear to more than that. He didn't get past
me till after the pistol went off. There wasn't no
way out but by the one door, and I was right at that
door all the time until I left it."
  "When did you leave"
  The witness gave response without hesitation, yet
with the same serious weighing of his words.
  "I was standing there, sorter peerin' up at the stars
an' beginning to feel right smart tired when I heard
the shot. I heard the shout of the corporal of the
guard, too, an' then it was that I made my mistake."
He paused and went on evenly. "I hadn't ought to
have stirred away from my post, but it seemed like a
sort of a general alarm, an' I went runnin' to'rds it.

 

     T1   LAW   OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN            19
That was the first chanst Bud had to get away. When
I got back he was gone."
  "You are sure he was still there when the shot
sounded "
  "As God looks down, I can swear he was I"
  Then the defense took the witness.
  "When does your enlistment expire"
  "Two months, come Sunday."
  "You know to the day, don't you You are keenly
anxious for that day to come, aren't you"
  "Why wouldn't I be I've got folks at home."
  "Haven't you and Grant both been malcontents
throughout your entire period of service "
  "It's news to me, if it's true."
  "Haven't you often heard Private Grant swear
vengeance against Captain Comyn"
  "Not no more than to belly-ache some little."
  "Is it not a fact that since you and Grant ran amuck
on the transport coming over, and Comyn put you
both in irons, the two of you had sworn vengeance
against him; that you had both taken the blood oath
to get him"
  Severance looked blankly at his questioner and
blankly shook his head.
  "That's all new tidings ter me," he asserted with
entire calmness.
  "Don't you know that you deliberately let Grant out
immediately after the visit of Major James and slipped
him the pistol with which he fired the shot Didn't
you do that, knowing that when the Feport sounded
you could make it your excuse for leaving your post,
and then perjure yourself as to the time"
  "I know full well," asserted the witness with an un-

 

20 THE LAW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN



shaken composure, "that nothing like that didn't
happen."
  Fact built on fact until even the defendant's counsel
found himself arguing against a growing and ugly
conviction. The pistol had been identified as Spur-
rier's, and his explanation that he had left it hang-
ing in his holster at his quarters, whence some un-
known person might have abstracted it, lacked per-
suasiveness. The defense built a structure of hypoth-
esis based upon the fact that the open door of Spur-
rier's room was visible from the house where Grant
had been tossing on his cot. The claim was urgently
advanced that a skulking lunatic might easily have
seen the glint of blued steel, and have been spurred in
his madness by the temptation of such an implement
ready to his hand. But that, too, was held to be a
fantastic claim. So the verdict was guilty and the sen-
tence life imprisonment. It must have been death,
had the case, for all its warp of presumption and woof
of logic, been other than circumstantial.
  The defendant felt that this mitigation of the ex-
treme penalty was a misplaced mercy. The disgrace
could be no blacker and death would at least have
brought to its period the hideousness of the nightmare
which must now stretch endlessly into the future.
  It was to a prisoner, sentenced and branded, that
Major Withers came one afternoon when the court-
martial of Lieutenant Spurrier had run its course as
topic-in-chief for the Officers' Club at Manila. Other
matters were already crowding it out of the minds it
had profoundly shocked.
  "I want to talk to you, Jack," began the major
bluntly. "I want to talk to you with a candor that

 

     THE LAW OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN 21
grows out of the affection we all felt for-you-before
this damnable thing upset our little world. My God,
boy, you had life in your sling. You had every quality
that makes the soldier; you had every social requisite
except wealth. This besetting passion for gambling
has brought the whole train of disaster-as logically
as if you had killed him at the card table itself."
  "You are overlooking the fact, major," interrupted
the prisoner dryly, "that I didn't kill him. Moreover,
it's too late now for the warning to benefit me. I dare
say in Leavenworth I shall have no trouble curbing
my passion for gaming." He paused and added with
an irony of despairing bitterness: "Bu