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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Study In Scarlet - PART II - Chapter IV - A FLIGHT FOR LIFE
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A Study In Scarlet - PART II - Chapter IV - A FLIGHT FOR LIFE Post by :seaside Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur Conan Doyle Date :December 2010 Read :2339

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A Study In Scarlet - PART II - Chapter IV - A FLIGHT FOR LIFE

ON the morning which followed his interview with the Mormon
Prophet, John Ferrier went in to Salt Lake City, and having
found his acquaintance, who was bound for the Nevada
Mountains, he entrusted him with his message to Jefferson
Hope. In it he told the young man of the imminent danger
which threatened them, and how necessary it was that he
should return. Having done thus he felt easier in his mind,
and returned home with a lighter heart.

As he approached his farm, he was surprised to see a horse
hitched to each of the posts of the gate. Still more
surprised was he on entering to find two young men in
possession of his sitting-room. One, with a long pale face,
was leaning back in the rocking-chair, with his feet cocked
up upon the stove. The other, a bull-necked youth with
coarse bloated features, was standing in front of the window
with his hands in his pocket, whistling a popular hymn.
Both of them nodded to Ferrier as he entered, and the one
in the rocking-chair commenced the conversation.

"Maybe you don't know us," he said. "This here is the son of
Elder Drebber, and I'm Joseph Stangerson, who travelled with
you in the desert when the Lord stretched out His hand and
gathered you into the true fold."

"As He will all the nations in His own good time," said the
other in a nasal voice; "He grindeth slowly but exceeding small."

John Ferrier bowed coldly. He had guessed who his visitors were.

"We have come," continued Stangerson, "at the advice of our
fathers to solicit the hand of your daughter for whichever of
us may seem good to you and to her. As I have but four wives
and Brother Drebber here has seven, it appears to me that my
claim is the stronger one."

"Nay, nay, Brother Stangerson," cried the other; "the question
is not how many wives we have, but how many we can keep.
My father has now given over his mills to me, and I am the
richer man."

"But my prospects are better," said the other, warmly.
"When the Lord removes my father, I shall have his tanning yard
and his leather factory. Then I am your elder, and am higher
in the Church."

"It will be for the maiden to decide," rejoined young Drebber,
smirking at his own reflection in the glass. "We will leave
it all to her decision."

During this dialogue, John Ferrier had stood fuming in the
doorway, hardly able to keep his riding-whip from the backs
of his two visitors.

"Look here," he said at last, striding up to them, "when my
daughter summons you, you can come, but until then I don't
want to see your faces again."

The two young Mormons stared at him in amazement.
In their eyes this competition between them for the maiden's
hand was the highest of honours both to her and her father.

"There are two ways out of the room," cried Ferrier; "there is
the door, and there is the window. Which do you care to use?"

His brown face looked so savage, and his gaunt hands so
threatening, that his visitors sprang to their feet and beat
a hurried retreat. The old farmer followed them to the door.

"Let me know when you have settled which it is to be,"
he said, sardonically.

"You shall smart for this!" Stangerson cried, white with rage.
"You have defied the Prophet and the Council of Four.
You shall rue it to the end of your days."

"The hand of the Lord shall be heavy upon you," cried young
Drebber; "He will arise and smite you!"

"Then I'll start the smiting," exclaimed Ferrier furiously,
and would have rushed upstairs for his gun had not Lucy
seized him by the arm and restrained him. Before he could
escape from her, the clatter of horses' hoofs told him that
they were beyond his reach.

"The young canting rascals!" he exclaimed, wiping the
perspiration from his forehead; "I would sooner see you in
your grave, my girl, than the wife of either of them."

"And so should I, father," she answered, with spirit;
"but Jefferson will soon be here."

"Yes. It will not be long before he comes. The sooner the
better, for we do not know what their next move may be."

It was, indeed, high time that someone capable of giving
advice and help should come to the aid of the sturdy old
farmer and his adopted daughter. In the whole history of the
settlement there had never been such a case of rank
disobedience to the authority of the Elders. If minor errors
were punished so sternly, what would be the fate of this arch
rebel. Ferrier knew that his wealth and position would be of
no avail to him. Others as well known and as rich as himself
had been spirited away before now, and their goods given over
to the Church. He was a brave man, but he trembled at the
vague, shadowy terrors which hung over him. Any known danger
he could face with a firm lip, but this suspense was
unnerving. He concealed his fears from his daughter,
however, and affected to make light of the whole matter,
though she, with the keen eye of love, saw plainly that he
was ill at ease.

He expected that he would receive some message or
remonstrance from Young as to his conduct, and he was not
mistaken, though it came in an unlooked-for manner. Upon
rising next morning he found, to his surprise, a small square
of paper pinned on to the coverlet of his bed just over his
chest. On it was printed, in bold straggling letters:--

"Twenty-nine days are given you for amendment, and then ----"

The dash was more fear-inspiring than any threat could have
been. How this warning came into his room puzzled John
Ferrier sorely, for his servants slept in an outhouse, and
the doors and windows had all been secured. He crumpled the
paper up and said nothing to his daughter, but the incident
struck a chill into his heart. The twenty-nine days were
evidently the balance of the month which Young had promised.
What strength or courage could avail against an enemy armed
with such mysterious powers? The hand which fastened that
pin might have struck him to the heart, and he could never
have known who had slain him.

Still more shaken was he next morning. They had sat down to
their breakfast when Lucy with a cry of surprise pointed
upwards. In the centre of the ceiling was scrawled, with a
burned stick apparently, the number 28. To his daughter it
was unintelligible, and he did not enlighten her. That night
he sat up with his gun and kept watch and ward. He saw and
he heard nothing, and yet in the morning a great 27 had been
painted upon the outside of his door.

Thus day followed day; and as sure as morning came he found
that his unseen enemies had kept their register, and had
marked up in some conspicuous position how many days were
still left to him out of the month of grace. Sometimes the
fatal numbers appeared upon the walls, sometimes upon the
floors, occasionally they were on small placards stuck upon
the garden gate or the railings. With all his vigilance John
Ferrier could not discover whence these daily warnings
proceeded. A horror which was almost superstitious came upon
him at the sight of them. He became haggard and restless,
and his eyes had the troubled look of some hunted creature.
He had but one hope in life now, and that was for the arrival
of the young hunter from Nevada.

Twenty had changed to fifteen and fifteen to ten, but there
was no news of the absentee. One by one the numbers dwindled
down, and still there came no sign of him. Whenever a
horseman clattered down the road, or a driver shouted at his
team, the old farmer hurried to the gate thinking that help
had arrived at last. At last, when he saw five give way to
four and that again to three, he lost heart, and abandoned
all hope of escape. Single-handed, and with his limited
knowledge of the mountains which surrounded the settlement,
he knew that he was powerless. The more-frequented roads
were strictly watched and guarded, and none could pass along
them without an order from the Council. Turn which way he
would, there appeared to be no avoiding the blow which hung
over him. Yet the old man never wavered in his resolution to
part with life itself before he consented to what he regarded
as his daughter's dishonour.

He was sitting alone one evening pondering deeply over his
troubles, and searching vainly for some way out of them.
That morning had shown the figure 2 upon the wall of his
house, and the next day would be the last of the allotted
time. What was to happen then? All manner of vague and
terrible fancies filled his imagination. And his daughter --
what was to become of her after he was gone? Was there no
escape from the invisible network which was drawn all round
them. He sank his head upon the table and sobbed at the
thought of his own impotence.

What was that? In the silence he heard a gentle scratching
sound -- low, but very distinct in the quiet of the night.
It came from the door of the house. Ferrier crept into the
hall and listened intently. There was a pause for a few
moments, and then the low insidious sound was repeated.
Someone was evidently tapping very gently upon one of the
panels of the door. Was it some midnight assassin who had
come to carry out the murderous orders of the secret
tribunal? Or was it some agent who was marking up that the
last day of grace had arrived. John Ferrier felt that
instant death would be better than the suspense which shook
his nerves and chilled his heart. Springing forward he drew
the bolt and threw the door open.

Outside all was calm and quiet. The night was fine, and the
stars were twinkling brightly overhead. The little front
garden lay before the farmer's eyes bounded by the fence and
gate, but neither there nor on the road was any human being
to be seen. With a sigh of relief, Ferrier looked to right
and to left, until happening to glance straight down at his
own feet he saw to his astonishment a man lying flat upon his
face upon the ground, with arms and legs all asprawl.

So unnerved was he at the sight that he leaned up against the
wall with his hand to his throat to stifle his inclination to
call out. His first thought was that the prostrate figure
was that of some wounded or dying man, but as he watched it
he saw it writhe along the ground and into the hall with the
rapidity and noiselessness of a serpent. Once within the
house the man sprang to his feet, closed the door, and
revealed to the astonished farmer the fierce face and
resolute expression of Jefferson Hope.

"Good God!" gasped John Ferrier. "How you scared me!
Whatever made you come in like that."

"Give me food," the other said, hoarsely. "I have had no
time for bite or sup for eight-and-forty hours." He flung
himself upon the {21} cold meat and bread which were still lying
upon the table from his host's supper, and devoured it
voraciously. "Does Lucy bear up well?" he asked, when he had
satisfied his hunger.

"Yes. She does not know the danger," her father answered.

"That is well. The house is watched on every side.
That is why I crawled my way up to it. They may be darned sharp,
but they're not quite sharp enough to catch a Washoe hunter."

John Ferrier felt a different man now that he realized that
he had a devoted ally. He seized the young man's leathery
hand and wrung it cordially. "You're a man to be proud of,"
he said. "There are not many who would come to share our
danger and our troubles."

"You've hit it there, pard," the young hunter answered.
"I have a respect for you, but if you were alone in this
business I'd think twice before I put my head into such a
hornet's nest. It's Lucy that brings me here, and before
harm comes on her I guess there will be one less o' the Hope
family in Utah."

"What are we to do?"

"To-morrow is your last day, and unless you act to-night you
are lost. I have a mule and two horses waiting in the Eagle
Ravine. How much money have you?"

"Two thousand dollars in gold, and five in notes."

"That will do. I have as much more to add to it. We must
push for Carson City through the mountains. You had best
wake Lucy. It is as well that the servants do not sleep in
the house."

While Ferrier was absent, preparing his daughter for the
approaching journey, Jefferson Hope packed all the eatables
that he could find into a small parcel, and filled a
stoneware jar with water, for he knew by experience that the
mountain wells were few and far between. He had hardly
completed his arrangements before the farmer returned with
his daughter all dressed and ready for a start. The greeting
between the lovers was warm, but brief, for minutes were
precious, and there was much to be done.

"We must make our start at once," said Jefferson Hope,
speaking in a low but resolute voice, like one who realizes
the greatness of the peril, but has steeled his heart to meet
it. "The front and back entrances are watched, but with
caution we may get away through the side window and across
the fields. Once on the road we are only two miles from the
Ravine where the horses are waiting. By daybreak we should
be half-way through the mountains."

"What if we are stopped," asked Ferrier.

Hope slapped the revolver butt which protruded from the front
of his tunic. "If they are too many for us we shall take two
or three of them with us," he said with a sinister smile.

The lights inside the house had all been extinguished, and
from the darkened window Ferrier peered over the fields which
had been his own, and which he was now about to abandon for
ever. He had long nerved himself to the sacrifice, however,
and the thought of the honour and happiness of his daughter
outweighed any regret at his ruined fortunes. All looked so
peaceful and happy, the rustling trees and the broad silent
stretch of grain-land, that it was difficult to realize that
the spirit of murder lurked through it all. Yet the white
face and set expression of the young hunter showed that in
his approach to the house he had seen enough to satisfy him
upon that head.

Ferrier carried the bag of gold and notes, Jefferson Hope had
the scanty provisions and water, while Lucy had a small
bundle containing a few of her more valued possessions.
Opening the window very slowly and carefully, they waited
until a dark cloud had somewhat obscured the night, and then
one by one passed through into the little garden. With bated
breath and crouching figures they stumbled across it, and
gained the shelter of the hedge, which they skirted until
they came to the gap which opened into the cornfields. They
had just reached this point when the young man seized his two
companions and dragged them down into the shadow, where they
lay silent and trembling.

It was as well that his prairie training had given Jefferson
Hope the ears of a lynx. He and his friends had hardly
crouched down before the melancholy hooting of a mountain owl
was heard within a few yards of them, which was immediately
answered by another hoot at a small distance. At the same
moment a vague shadowy figure emerged from the gap for which
they had been making, and uttered the plaintive signal cry
again, on which a second man appeared out of the obscurity.

"To-morrow at midnight," said the first who appeared to be in
authority. "When the Whip-poor-Will calls three times."

"It is well," returned the other. "Shall I tell Brother Drebber?"

"Pass it on to him, and from him to the others. Nine to seven!"

"Seven to five!" repeated the other, and the two figures
flitted away in different directions. Their concluding words
had evidently been some form of sign and countersign. The
instant that their footsteps had died away in the distance,
Jefferson Hope sprang to his feet, and helping his companions
through the gap, led the way across the fields at the top of
his speed, supporting and half-carrying the girl when her
strength appeared to fail her.

"Hurry on! hurry on!" he gasped from time to time. "We are
through the line of sentinels. Everything depends on speed.
Hurry on!"

Once on the high road they made rapid progress. Only once
did they meet anyone, and then they managed to slip into a
field, and so avoid recognition. Before reaching the town
the hunter branched away into a rugged and narrow footpath
which led to the mountains. Two dark jagged peaks loomed
above them through the darkness, and the defile which led
between them was the Eagle Canon in which the horses were
awaiting them. With unerring instinct Jefferson Hope picked
his way among the great boulders and along the bed of a
dried-up watercourse, until he came to the retired corner,
screened with rocks, where the faithful animals had been
picketed. The girl was placed upon the mule, and old Ferrier
upon one of the horses, with his money-bag, while Jefferson
Hope led the other along the precipitous and dangerous path.

It was a bewildering route for anyone who was not accustomed
to face Nature in her wildest moods. On the one side a great
crag towered up a thousand feet or more, black, stern, and
menacing, with long basaltic columns upon its rugged surface
like the ribs of some petrified monster. On the other hand a
wild chaos of boulders and debris made all advance
impossible. Between the two ran the irregular track, so
narrow in places that they had to travel in Indian file, and
so rough that only practised riders could have traversed it
at all. Yet in spite of all dangers and difficulties, the
hearts of the fugitives were light within them, for every
step increased the distance between them and the terrible
despotism from which they were flying.

They soon had a proof, however, that they were still within
the jurisdiction of the Saints. They had reached the very
wildest and most desolate portion of the pass when the girl
gave a startled cry, and pointed upwards. On a rock which
overlooked the track, showing out dark and plain against the
sky, there stood a solitary sentinel. He saw them as soon as
they perceived him, and his military challenge of "Who goes
there?" rang through the silent ravine.

"Travellers for Nevada," said Jefferson Hope, with his hand
upon the rifle which hung by his saddle.

They could see the lonely watcher fingering his gun, and
peering down at them as if dissatisfied at their reply.

"By whose permission?" he asked.

"The Holy Four," answered Ferrier. His Mormon experiences
had taught him that that was the highest authority to which
he could refer.

"Nine from seven," cried the sentinel.

"Seven from five," returned Jefferson Hope promptly,
remembering the countersign which he had heard in the garden.

"Pass, and the Lord go with you," said the voice from above.
Beyond his post the path broadened out, and the horses were
able to break into a trot. Looking back, they could see the
solitary watcher leaning upon his gun, and knew that they had
passed the outlying post of the chosen people, and that
freedom lay before them.

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THREE weeks had passed since Jefferson Hope and his comradeshad departed from Salt Lake City. John Ferrier's heart wassore within him when he thought of the young man's return,and of the impending loss of his adopted child. Yet herbright and happy face reconciled him to the arrangement morethan any argument could have done. He had always determined,deep down in his resolute heart, that nothing would everinduce him to allow his daughter to wed a Mormon. Such amarriage he regarded as no marriage at all, but as a shameand a disgrace. Whatever he might think of the
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