Jesse James, the Outlaw

CHAPTER III
Jess James' Mystery

In accordance with my promise to Jesse, the outlaw, I sought the wild, hill-folded, forest-muffled retreat of the James brothers at an early hour of the following morning.

The retreat was a secure one. Admirably mounted as I was, and with a good memory for landmarks, I could never, unaided, have penetrated to the log farmhouse. The same lad who had guided me to the road on the previous day was in waiting to help me to retrace my steps.

Up to that point I had found the rocky road and bridlepaths thoroughly but imperceptibly sentineled. No wonder that the outlaws felt secure, in spite of the boldness of their depredations. Every scattered farmhouse, every herder's hut, every woodcutter's cabin, contained a friend or a spy in their nefarious cause. A hostile party, or even a single suspicious-looking stranger, could not have come within half a mile of the loghouse without its occupants receiving timely warning of the approach.

Two voices, a man's and a woman's, were heard in angry altercation as I neared the porch. No one was as yet visible. But as I dismounted and threw my bridlerein to my guide, the door opened. Jesse James and his wife came out of it.

He nodded to me in a careless way, while the woman honored me with a swift, venomous look. It was almost the first she had ever deigned to cast on me at all.

They were watchful and composed instantly, but I knew that they had been quarreling. Just as instinctively did I ascribe the cause to the dead girl's mementos which I had placed in the outlaw's keeping on the previous day.

"Morning, doc! You're true to your word," said Jesse, advancing. "It's an hour to breakfast. Come up on the mountain with me."

We moved away, paying no attention to his wife. But I momentarily observed that her fine eyes contracted, like those of a cat, as they briefly followed our movements.

"By the way, doe," said Jesse, when we came to a pause in a lonely spot, "what's the last name you go by? I haven't thought it worth while to ask you before now."

"I go by my own name, and none other, of course," said I, gravely. "It's Phillips."

"Phillips, eh? Dr. Phillips? Dr. Phillips, of Booneville? Good!"

"I'm glad you like it," said I, feeling secretly ill at ease.

"Like it? To be sure I do. Why not? Well, doe, I want to talk with you, perhaps for the last time, about -- Blanche Rideau." And he eyed me like a hawk. "How much of her past history did she impart to her father and you on her deathbed?"

"Everything."

"I mean of her history be -- before she met me?"

"Everything."

"About her schoolgirl's marriage with Tom Younger?"

"Yes."

"About her child -- the boy that Tom stole away from her?"

"Yes."

He drew a long breath, and remained moodily silent for several minutes.

"You're deeper into that chapter of my past than I thought for, it seems," said he, at last.

"I trust that it will prove only for your good, Jess," said I.

"It had better not prove for anything else, old boy," he went on, with an ugly look, while his hand fell upon the butt of one of his revolvers. "So you know how Tom Younger married Blanche when she was at boarding-school at St. Joe?"

"Yes."

"How it was all kept dark from her relatives -- even the birth of her child at the cabin of the old regress who had been her nurse?"

"Yes."

"How she got to hate Tom on discovering him to be a robber belonging to my band?"

"Yes."

"How she then deserted him and returned home to Booneville, carrying child and nurse with her, without her folks suspecting it?"

"Yes."

"How Tom stole away the boy, and then deputed me to negotiate with her for the boy's restoration, on condition of her acknowledging her relationship and living openly?"

"Yes."

"How Tom Younger was killed by the Kansas City officers while the negotiations were pending, and I thereupon made love to Blanche on my own account, and successfully?"

"Yes."

"How we were about to be married, and I was about to restore the boy to her, when her uncle found me out hounded me forth, and she was forced to give me up?"

"Yes."

"And how after that I kept the boy hidden, in revenge?"

"She told us all."

"The --- she did!" exclaimed the outlaw, and, drawing another long breath, he began to pace the ground angrily.

Presently he came to an abrupt pause before me, with his eye suspiciously seeking mine.

"Confess," said he, "that you're here as Judge Rideau's agent, to try to recover Blanche's child from me."

"I acknowledge freely that that is one of the minor objects of my mission, Jess," I replied, having prepared for the query before it was put. "My chief object is in fulfillment of Blanche's dying injunction with regard to yourself, as I told you before -- as the tokens must have proved to you, I should think."

"True."

"As for the rest, I have simply promised to plead with you for the boy's surrender to him, for the boy's own good, in case I should ever find you in a repentant and remorseful mood."

"Ha, ha, ha! Repentant and remorseful, as applied to me, is good! You saw something of that sort of application yesterday and the day before. You'll have a chance of assuring yourself yet more fully in that regard, for you shan't quit my sight again while I'm in this corner of the country."

"I don't care if I shall not," said I. "Personally, I don't dislike you. I admire your boldness and decision of character, in spite of your crimes."

"Good enough! But I'd rather be feared than liked. However, you'll never find out anything about the boy. I'll keep him to spite the Rideaus, with one of whom, the Minnesota bank president, I've got a sterner account to settle. Come on. There's the breakfast-bell. After that you shall accompany me to the Red Hollow."

When we were half way back to the house he paused again.

"Hark ye, doe," said he. "If my wife should manage to question you on the sly, not a word!"

"Not a syllable."

"She knows you brought me those tokens, and she's got an inkling or two about the boy. She'll be glad to know more than she does."

"Which she never will from me. Trust me for that."

Before we entered the house it occurred to me to refer admiringly to the daring robbery of the afternoon before, and to express some wonder that he had not even alluded to it.

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the outlaw. "It was cleverly done, wasn't it? And there was a trifle over twenty thousand dollars in that tin box that Frank and I so quickly emptied. Two or three more hauls like that and we're off for the Texas Panhandle for a long rest. But wait and see, wait and see. Big things are ahead."

I had a tremendous appetite for the hearty breakfast to which we were called. While I was yet topping it off, Jesse and Frank James went out to the stable to prepare for our ride. The rest of the household had also bustled out of the room, with the exception of Jesse's wife. She remained sipping her coffee directly across the table from me, and negligently aware of what a trim, pretty little creature she was.

Directly that we were alone together, however, she flashed a swift, intelligent glance upon me.

"You are looking for Tip Younger, the little boy that Jess keeps somewhere concealed," said she, in a low, eager voice. "If I can help you to find and run off the child I'll do it."

I was too wary to trust a woman calling Jesse James husband to the extent of a row of pins.

"Madam," said I, quite stiffly, "whatever may be my business, it shall be transacted strictly and solely with your husband."

"Ah, I see. You don't dare to trust me. But I'd give anything if he had that other woman's child off his mind. I hated her, and I'm glad she's dead."

I contented myself with bowing and looking shocked

"Jess will be back in another minute -- listen!" she continued, hurriedly. "You may fall under his suspicion at any instant -- to do so is death. But even then, if you should give me a sign that you have found the little Tip and can take him away from Jess, I will help you to escape. Look -- I mean a sign something like this."

She pouted her lips and elevated her eyebrows in a peculiar manner as she finished speaking.

I only stared and burst into a short laugh.

A few minutes later I was in the saddle at her husband's side. While Frank James was riding slightly ahead I told Jesse what his wife had said, with the single reservation of her offer to assist me in case of trouble. I carefully kept that to myself, in view of possibly benefiting thereby at some time or other.

The outlaw burst into a laugh.

"Molly has never forgiven my having loved poor Blanche first," said he. "She's awfully jealous of my secreting the little Tip, whom she has never even laid eyes on. She'd give her best finger to have the boy lost to me. But that shall never be."

Then, after a brief silence, he suddenly gave me a meaning look.

"I say, doe," said he, "if the old judge is so anxious to secure Blanche's boy, money might talk. You understand. But anything short of a cool ten thousand wouldn't be listened to."

"I never heard him mention money in connection with the boy," I replied, briefly, and we quickened our pace.

The truth was this: The recovery of the mysteriously secreted boy, at that time about five years old, was one of the objects of my perilous mission among these desperadoes, only second to the arrest of the James brothers themselves.

Judge Rideau was too shrewd to have directly offered Jesse the heavy reward which was waiting in his hands for me, in case I should succeed in spiriting away the child. The unscrupulousness of the outlaw had been too often made patent, and there would have been too much likelihood of his hanging on to his secret in the hope of a second, or even third, reward, after one had been agreed upon, and paid over.

The James boys' success in robbery had made them avaricious, as well as bold. So the matter stood.

Red Hollow was a wild, wooded nook in the hills, obtaining its name from the redness of the wind-worn, raingullied earth-banks interspersing its screen of rugged trees. It was considerably off the main road, and perhaps midway between Independence and Kansas City.

Observable at a distance through the trees was a large, dilapidated, old farmhouse, situated in the midst of partly cultivated grounds, with the unbroken forest at its back.

This place I had seen and taken note of before. It was the home of the Younger brothers, Cole, John and Bob, the most daring and efficient coadjutors of the James brothers, and scarcely less desperate and venturesome than they.

Halting by a brook that ran through the hollow, Jesse sounded his whistle as the gathering signal.

It was speedily responded to. Men, armed to the teeth, came riding into the place of rendezvous from different directions, singly, in pairs, and in larger groups.

Hither came Cole, John and Bob Younger, splendidly mounted, bold and reckless-looking men, who hailed and saluted the Jameses with a free-and-easy familiarity that argued but little recognition of the latter as leaders. From another quarter appeared Jim Cummings, Jesse's terrible lieutenant, and generally thought to be even more deadly and bloodthirsty than he. He was accompanied by Dick Little and George Sheppard, the latter with but one eye, and having only recently rejoined the gang, after having once severed his connection with it.

Sheppard and I exchanged a swift glance of intelligence. He recognized me underneath my disguise, and I knew him to be at that moment in the service of Sheriff Masters. He had lost his left eye in the raid on the Kentucky bank, but was still a dead shot with the remaining optic.

He had served a term of imprisonment for his share in that robbery, and had ever since believed that Jesse James had purposely thrown him into the clutches of the law, for the purpose of throwing off the scent from his own tracks. Sheppard was also of the opinion that Jesse James had subsequently murdered his, Sheppard's nephew, Harry Sheppard, to obtain Harry's five-thousanddollar share of the Kentucky spoils. At all events I was so sure of George Sheppard's real motives in rejoining the robbers as to experience no uneasiness as to his having penetrated my identity.

Among the others who poured into the hollow in obedience to the leader's signal I recognized a number from the personal descriptions that I had taken care to photograph upon my mind. Among these were Wood, and Jeff Hite and Ed Miller. The latter was no relation to the Charly Miller already alluded to, whom was likewise present again, together with his comrades of the day before, Hank Burke and Curly Pitts, the latter with his neck still bandaged from the effects of the Chicago detective's bullet.

These veterans in crime were accompanied by several beardless youths, farmers' misguided sons, emulous of iniquitous notoriety, who were posted as sentinels around the skirts of the hollow.

Altogether, there were mustered into the hollow a score or more of wild and lawless men, such as perhaps, had never before been associated together in the United States outside of California in its worst days.

"Boys," called out Jesse James, after a number of criminal plans for the future had been discussed, without arriving at any definite conclusion, "you've all heard by this time of Frank's exploit and mine at the fair grounds yesterday afternoon."

A united cry of approval was the response.

"Well, boys, we raked in a trifle over twenty thousand by that dash," continued the outlaw leader. "And I'll tell you what we're going to do. The whole swag ,of course, belongs to Frank and me individually, but we're going to divide half of it among the crowd in the usual apportionment."

I could not but smile at the increased enthusiasm that greeted this apparently spontaneous and generous offer, so really calculating and eelfish at foundation, inasmuch as it merely redoubled the devotion of the crew in the furtherance of other and more dangerous undertakings.

Then Jesse and Frank James made a division of the ten thousand dollars they had brought with them, as being, at a rough estimate, one-half the amount of which they had plundered the treasurer of the fair association. This operation consumed considerable time, but naturally caused the most intense satisfaction while it was in progress.

"Boys," said Jesse James, at last, "I've been running over in my mind those two projects proposed by Wood Hite and Charley Miller, and have concluded that we can take 'em up at our leisure, and in regular order."

He then went on to discuss the projects in question. They were briefly these: Wood Hite's plan was to stop and rob the express and passenger train from the East, in the Blue Cut, a deep and dangerous railroad cutting two and a half miles out of Independence. It was proposed to do this toward the end of the month we were then in, when assurance should be received of an unusually heavy shipment of treasure by express, which it was known would be along the road somewhere about that time.

Charley Miller was a fugitive of justice from Minnesota, having been a horse thief in that State before joining the band of Jesse, the outlaw. His scheme was to make a daytime raid in large force into the populous town of Northfield, his native place, and empty the safes of the national bank there at the point of the revolver. This would be a repetition of the manner in which the James brothers and their confederates had robbed a wealthy national bank in the interior of Kentucky several years before. Miller argued that a similar job could be effected with equal success in Minnesota, and the plunder got away with before the inhabitants could recover from the panic and demoralization incidental to the unexpectedness of the attack.

It was now decided to put this undertaking on foot directly after the proposed robbery of the express train in the Blue Cut should have been effected.

One circumstance tended especially to Jesse's greedily taking to the Minnesota scheme. The president of the bank at Northfield was none other than Blanche Rideau's uncle, Henry Rideau, who had been mainly instrumental in separating him from his first love, and against whom he had sworn implacable revenge.

Night was falling while these schemes were being discussed in much greater detail than I have seen fit to accord to them.

Suddenly a young fellow, whom I then saw for the first time, spurred unceremoniously into the hollow. His eyes were ablaze with excitement, while his horse was hardblown.

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