Jesse James, the Outlaw

CHAPTER XII
A Long Quest Drawing to a Close

Mattie came to see me three days later.

She brought me the unexpected and welcome information that Mrs. Younger, her daughters, the twins, and her servants were all quartered for the time being upon the Widow Samuels' farm, in Clay County, not very far away.

I thanked Mattie and, as she quitted me she told me to be on the lookout for Jesse James' intentions, at which I only laughed.

On the following day I resumed my peddler's disguise and directed my steps toward the Widow Samuels' homestead.

I had an interview with Mattie Collins and Dick Little just before starting.

The interview was taking place in Cynthy's cabin, whither my visitors had come early that morning in disguise. At a sign from her husband, Mattie retired from the room, after pressing my hand in token of godspeed and farewell.

"Before you go, Mr. Lawson," said Little, feelingly, "I want to say how much obliged to you I am -- in addition, you know."

"For what?"

"For promising to let up on me altogether on that buried treasure racket, of course. Oh, it's taken a load off my future, I can tell you! It's like plowing over an old ghost-haunted churchyard, and relievin' the farmers' boys near it of a specter of vengeance and fear that's been a-threatenin' of 'em for years. No more of that infernal fear hangin' an' darkenin' over me, sleepin' an' awake! But there's one last thing that I want to say about the treasure."

"Go on."

"It's just this, that you're the only man that knows of its being in existence, so far as I am concerned. And then, again, no other detective'll ever be any wiser through me. Then, again, not one of the gang themselves outside of Jess James and perhaps, Frank James, knows as much about that treasure secret as you do at this day, through those dying words of Ed Miller, whose curiosity lost him his life. As for me, I wash my hands of the whole thing, the Lord be thanked, with your permission. You're the sole outsider possessin' henceforth a clew to Jess James' buried heap -- the sole, single, only possessor of poor Ed Miller's directions -- for what they're worth -- and if any one ever unearths it in the future, with Jess James alive or dead, you ought to be the man. There's an awful pile of lucre hidden away somewhere in the old crust. May you live to get it."

"Thank you, Dick; and I only hope I may," said I.

"However, as you say, with Jesse James alive or dead, it's a romantic sum worth toiling for in the future, and such shall be my care."

I then went on my way.

I hadn't thought it worth while to acquaint Dick and Mattie with all my arrangements for the expedition that was under way. In the first place, Jack Gorham and George Sheppard had engaged to lie in wait for me all day, with a spare horse, in the dense woods that began skirting the road about half a mile west of Mrs. Samuels' house. A system of signals had been agreed on between us. There were certain other arrangements I had made, which I had been careful to keep to myself. The way in which Mattie Collins, especially, paid me back for the suspicious distrust on my part will presently appear.

Mrs. Samuels' house was thirty odd miles east of Kansas City, in the wildest part of Clay County. As I had started early, and managed to get good "lifts" on the way, I reached the lonely homestead, with my peddler's pack, at about noon.

It looked more desolate and forbidding than ever. Except for the dogs, whose barking greeted my approach, the place seemed wholly deserted. But Mrs. Samuels -- looking as brave, as stern, and as secret as ever, notwithstanding the mere pitiful stump that was left of one of her hands -- presently appeared on the porch and ordered me away.

I told her, in the servile peddler's dialect, that I assumed for the occasion, that I had ventured to call for the purpose of exhibiting my wares to some ladies who had honored me with their custom in the past, and who I had been told were stopping at her house.

"I suppose he means Mrs. Younger and the rest," said Mrs. Samuels, turning doubtfully to her daughter, who also came upon the porch at that moment

Before the latter could reply, still another young lady bounced energetically into view and frowningly confronted me.

"I wouldn't care for that, if I were you, Mrs. Samuels!" she snapped out spitefully. "You can't be too careful about strangers at the present time. Send the sneaking Jew about his business."

Imagine my surprise -- which the reader will readily share at recognizing in this energetic and seemingly skillful young lady -- Mattie Collins!

Then, as if the house had been- full of spellbound feminines, only requiring my approach as a signal for bursting into life, activity, eavesdropping, and the like, "Mrs. Younger and the rest" came popping out of the house one after the other.

"Aha, it's the Jew peddler!" exclaimed Mrs. Younger, fixing a suspicious look upon me.

"Yesh, m'am, at your shervice," I responded, bowing and scraping, after relieving myself of my pack.

"How did you learn that we were over here? Come, I want to know!"

The sense of suspicion in the air deepened. Even Mattie, intent upon the part she was acting, did not venture to throw me a reassuring look.

"It ish no difference how I finds you out, Mishus Younger, shince I haff finds you out," I replied. "I hash shust gome vrom Minneshota on pizness, und I hash somedings for you."

"From Minnesota?"

I saw her change color, while her eldest daughter hurried away to hide her emotion. The news had only been made public, the day before, of the conviction of the three Younger brothers, and their sentence to the Minnesota State Prison for life.

I took a small package from my breast and respectfully handed it to the unfortunate mother of the criminals.

"Pob Younker recognized me among de spegdadors ad de trial, matam," said I. "He cold me to garry dese dings do hish olt mudder, ant I she vot I vould do shot."

The package had really been given by Bob Younger to Captain Craig, who had attended the trial, and the captain, at my earnest request, had afterward intrusted me with its delivery.

Mrs. Younger and her daughters opened the package with streaming eyes. It contained three silk pocket handkerchiefs, the farewell tokens of the three robber sons and brothers, before disappearing forever from the world's freedom and sunshine, and a son's Christian name had been lovingly worked in a corner of each by the mother, whose Christmas gifts they had been.

But scant time was afforded me to complete this touching scene.

There came once again the sound of childish laughter and oaths, mingled with the scampering of light hoofs, and then the precocious Younger twins, booted, spurred, and weaponed, came clattering around from the side of the house.

It was almost an exact repetition of the scene I saw on a previous visit, the presence of their elders not having the slightest mitigating effect upon their misbehavior.

"Hi, hi! here's Sheeny again," squeaked one. "Betcher ten cents, Bud, I can hit the bull's-eye first!"

"Betcher ten cents you can't, glossy!" clacked the other.

Then pop, pop! from their little pistols, with the pealike bullets embedding themselves in my pack.

But I had another part to play now, and was not disposed to be so complacent as I had been

"Here, poys, dot's a blenty off dot sort off dom voolery!' I cried, darting suddenly up to them, and snatching the barkers out of their hands. "Mebbe you don't somedimes know goot manners mit oder yolk's broperty."

"Gimme my pistol, you blasted pork-shirker! I'll wring your neck," piped Bud, like a tempest in a teapot

"Run for our shotgun, Bud!" shrilled his companion; in a wild fury, despite his tender years. "Blast the old crucifier! we'll fill him full of holes."

I merely shrugged my shoulders, and, turning with a bow to Mrs. Younger, who had by this time mastered her emotion, handed the pistols to her, while pointing deprecatingly to my perforated pack. I had already won the old lady's transient good-will, while even old Mrs. Samuels seemed to regard me less sternly than at the outset.

"Take yourself off this instant, both of you!" called out Mrs. Younger, with a certain ring to her voice that momentarily awed the little imps. "And if I hear the snap of another cartridge from either of you, it will be to your cost -- mark that!"

If she had only included the utterance of profanity in her injunction, how much better it would have sounded, was my mental comment.

"Go along with you!" she continued, adding, as they reluctantly turned tail, and spurred out of sight, while discontentedly shaking their heads; "you, Bud, especially, ought to know better. Do you forget that you're to take a long journey this afternoon, perhaps never to come back again?"

I gave an involuntary start at this piece of information, which concerned me and my plans profoundly. But all will presently be made clear.

The twins being gone, I began opening my pack on the lower step of the piazza, and the women engaged in a lowvoiced discussion back near the door. I correctly surmised them to be merely discussing whether it would be safe to invite me to dinner, in view of the kindness I had done Mrs. Younger. While it was going on, Mattie Collins, under pretense of stooping to examine my wares, found opportunity to whisper something in my ear.

"Jess is here in the house now -- asleep, after many exposures," she whispered. "Be wary. I will try and communicate with you again."

So here was another item which linked well with its forerunner. If the precocious Bud was to attempt a long journey, perhaps never to return, Jesse was evidently to carry him off. The secret of the child's identity and whereabouts had been revealed to me by Bob Younger in the shadow of the bridge under which he lay wounded almost to death, in less than ten words, as I observed before. Those words were: "Tip is one of the twins -- the lighter one."

In plain language, the pseudo twins were not twins at all. Bloss, the darker, being, in reality, the uncle of Bud (Tip), the lighter; the similarity of their ages and a vague family resemblance having aided the deception, carried out successfully from the children's babyhood at Jesse James' suggestion, as the most presentable plan for baffling the search that it was more than suspected Judge Rideau would set on foot.

The discussion at the back of the piazza resulted at last in my being invited to dinner.

It was a solemn and uneasy repast. Even while eating I was constantly an object of distrust, especially on the part of Mrs. Samuels, who would, now and then, bewail the absence of her sons, or express her wonder at their whereabouts. She was careful not to overdo it; likewise, many years of practice having rendered her an adept in deceptions of this sort. Mrs. Younger, in the meantime, kept the "twins" in order, a task which she could perform with an iron hand when necessary. The others at the table ate in silence, with the exception of Mattie, who outwardly manifested a dislike for me amounting to positive repugnance.

She made several allusions to her not being accustomed to sit at table with "Jews," "peddlers," "Sheenies," and the like, all of which were received by me with becoming meekness. For my own information, I discovered, to my surprise, that she was not only well acquainted with both families, but was also a trusted favorite with them all She had galloped over from Independence by another road than the one I had more laboriously pursued, ostensibly to bear a message from Dick Little concerning some affair of the gang, but really, of course, for the purpose of seconding my plans.

After dinner I shuffled my way out to take a smoke on a little shaded porch back of the great kitchen in which we had been eating.

While thus engaged, and while the women and girls had dispersed, or were busying themselves with various duties, Mattie, with many frowning airs, found an opportunity to slip to my side.

"Jess will carry off the boy as soon as he wakes up- in an hour or two," she whispered. "He is alone, not one of the gang being within supporting distance. He will take the road down through the forest. Don't hesitate to waylay him and demand the boy, pistol in hand -- that is, if you are thoroughly prepared."

I gave her an assuring glance, and then one of inquiry.

"Don't hesitate, I tell you," she continued, hurriedly. "For once the panther shall be fronted, claw-clipped, and fangless."

Leaving me to make the most of this rather enigmatical remark, she at once began to abuse me, on general anti-Hebraic principles, in unmeasured terms, until at last I fled for refuge to the front of the house, followed by the titterings of those who overheard her.

"I von't sthay in de brace anoder zingle momend!" I exclaimed, beginning to pack my wares with indignant haste. "dot for you cakes me all de vile, ony way? Py Shimmenies! I no zells nodings avter such dreatments. Owel ride!"

But they had all followed me out on the piazza, and Mrs. Younger, who was still feeling grateful to me, insisted that I should reopen my pack for her inspection.

I only permitted myself to be persuaded after a good deal of coaxing, disposed of a few trifling articles, and then took my departure, apparently still chafing moodily over the abuse which Mattie had heaped upon me so unstintedly.

"Good-by, Sheeny!" she called out, mockingly; adding derisively, as she turned to her companions: "I'd bet my bonnet that the old hypocrite will take his after-dinner snooze down in the hollow, opposite the Red Rocks! He's far lazier than he pretends to be."

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