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A Study in Scarlet

Chapter XII
 The Avenging Angels


  All night their course lay through intricate defiles and over
irregular and rockstrewn paths. More than once they lost their
way, but Hope's intimate knowledge of the mountains enabled
them to regain the track once more. When morning broke, a
scene of marvellous though savage beauty lay before them. In
every direction the great snow-capped peaks hemmed them in,
peeping over each other's shoulders to the far horizon. So steep
were the rocky banks on either side of them that the larch and the
pine seemed to be suspended over their heads, and to need only a
gust of wind to come hurtling down upon them. Nor was the fear
entirely an illusion, for the barren valley was thickly strewn with
trees and boulders which had fallen in a similar manner. Even as
they passed, a great rock came thundering down with a hoarse
rattle which woke the echoes in the silent gorges, and startled the
weary horses into a gallop.
  As the sun rose slowly above the eastern horizon, the caps of
the great mountains lit up one after the other, like lamps at a
festival, until they were all ruddy and glowing. The magnificent
spectacle cheered the hearts of the three fugitives and gave them
fresh energy. At a wild torrent which swept out of a ravine they
called a halt and watered their horses, while they partook of a
hasty breakfast. Lucy and her father would fain have rested
longer, but Jefferson Hope was inexorable. "They will be upon
our track by this time," he said. "Everything depends upon our
speed. Once safe in Carson, we may rest for the remainder of
our lives."
  During the whole of that day they struggled on through the
defiles, and by evening they calculated that they were more than
thirty miles from their enemies. At night-time they chose the
base of a beetling crag, where the rocks offered some protection
from the chill wind, and there, huddled together for warmth,
they enjoyed a few hours' sleep. Before daybreak, however, they
were up and on their way once more. They had seen no signs of
any pursuers, and Jefferson Hope began to think that they were
fairly out of the reach of the terrible organization whose enmity
they had incurred. He little knew how far that iron grasp could
reach, or how soon it was to close upon them and crush them.
  About the middle of the second day of their flight their scanty
store of provisions began to run out. This gave the hunter little
uneasiness, however, for there was game to be had among the
mountains, and he had frequently before had to depend upon his
rifle for the needs of life. Choosing a sheltered nook, he piled
together a few dried branches and made a blazing fire, at which
his companions might warm themselves, for they were now
nearly five thousand feet above the sea level, and the air was
bitter and keen. Having tethered the horses, and bid Lucy adieu,
he threw his gun over his shoulder, and set out in search of
whatever chance might throw in his way. Looking back, he saw
the old man and the young girl crouching over the blazing fire,
while the three animals stood motionless in the background.
Then the intervening rocks hid them from his view.
  He walked for a couple of miles through one ravine after
another without success, though, from the marks upon the bark
of the trees, and other indications, he judged that there were
numerous bears in the vicinity. At last, after two or three hours'
fruitless search, he was thinking of turning back in despair, when
casting his eyes upwards he saw a sight which sent a thrill of
pleasure through his heart. On the edge of a jutting pinnacle,
three or four hundred feet above him, there stood a creature
somewhat resembling a sheep in appearance, but armed with a
pair of gigantic horns. The big-horn -- for so it is called -- was
acting, probably, as a guardian over a flock which were invisible
to the hunter; but fortunately it was heading in the opposite
direction, and had not perceived him. Lying on his face, he
rested his rifle upon a rock, and took a long and steady aim
before drawing the trigger. The animal sprang into the air,
tottered for a moment upon the edge of the precipice, and then
came crashing down into the valley beneath.
  The creature was too unwieldy to lift, so the hunter contented
himself with cutting away one haunch and part of the flank. With
this trophy over his shoulder, he hastened to retrace his steps, for
the evening was already drawing in. He had hardly started,
however, before he realized the difficulty which faced him. In
his eagerness he had wandered far past the ravines which were
known to him, and it was no easy matter to pick out the path
which he had taken. The valley in which he found himself
divided and sub-divided into many gorges, which were so like
each other that it was impossible to distinguish one from the
other. He followed one for a mile or more until he came to a
mountain torrent which he was sure that he had never seen
before. Convinced that he had taken the wrong turn, he tried
another, but with the same result. Night was coming on rapidly,
and it was almost dark before he at last found himself in a defile
which was familiar to him. Even then it was no easy matter to
keep to the right track, for the moon had not yet risen, and the
high cliffs on either side made the obscurity more profound.
Weighed down with his burden, and weary from his exertions,
he stumbled along, keeping up his heart by the reflection that
every step brought him nearer to Lucy, and that he carried with
him enough to ensure them food for the remainder of their
journey.
  He had now come to the mouth of the very defile in which he
had left them. Even in the darkness he could recognize the
outline of the cliffs which bounded it. They must, he reflected,
be awaiting him anxiously, for he had been absent nearly five
hours. In the gladness of his heart he put his hands to his mouth
and made the glen reecho to a loud halloo as a signal that he was
coming. He paused and listened for an answer. None came save
his own cry, which clattered up the dreary, silent ravines, and
was borne back to his ears in countless repetitions. Again he
shouted, even louder than before, and again no whisper came
back from the friends whom he had left such a short time ago. A
vague, nameless dread came over him, and he hurried onward
frantically, dropping the precious food in his agitation.
  When he turned the corner, he came full in sight of the spot
where the fire had been lit. There was still a glowing pile of
wood ashes there, but it had evidently not been tended since his
departure. The same dead silence still reigned all round. With his
fears all changed to convictions, he hurried on. There was no
living creature near the remains of the fire: animals, man, maiden
all were gone. It was only too clear that some sudden and terrible
disaster had occurred during his absence -- a disaster which had
embraced them all, and yet had left no traces behind it.
  Bewildered and stunned by this blow, Jefferson Hope felt his
head spin round, and had to lean upon his rifle to save himself
from falling. He was essentially a man of action, however, and
speedily recovered from his temporary impotence. Seizing a
half-consumed piece of wood from the smouldering fire, he blew
it into a flame, and proceeded with its help to examine the little
camp. The ground was all stamped down by the feet of horses,
showing that a large party of mounted men had overtaken the
fugitives, and the direction of their tracks proved that they had
afterwards turned back to Salt Lake City. Had they carried back
both of his companions with them? Jefferson Hope had almost
persuaded himself that they must have done so, when his eye fell
upon an object which made every nerve of his body tingle within
him. A little way on one side of the camp was a low-lying heap
of reddish soil, which had assuredly not been there before. There
was no mistaking it for anything but a newly dug grave. As the
young hunter approaehed it, he perceived that a stick had been
planted on it, with a sheet of paper stuck in the cleft fork of it.
The inscription upon the paper was brief, but to the point:

                  JOHN FERRIER,
          FORMERLY OF SALT LAKE CITY.
            Died August 4th, 1860.

The sturdy old man, whom he had left so short a time before,
was gone, then, and this was all his epitaph. Jefferson Hope
looked wildly round to see if there was a second grave, but there
was no sign of one. Lucy had been carried back by their terrible
pursuers to fulfil her original destiny, by becoming one of the
harem of an Elder's son. As the young fellow realized the
certainty of her fate, and his own powerlessness to prevent it, he
wished that he, too, was lying with the old farmer in his last
silent resting-place.
  Again, however, his active spirit shook off the lethargy which
springs from despair. If there was nothing else left to him, he
could at least devote his life to revenge. With indomitable pa-
tience and perseverance, Jefferson Hope possessed also a power
of sustained vindictiveness, which he may have learned from the
Indians amongst whom he had lived. As he stood by the desolate
fire, he felt that the only one thing which could assuage his grief
would be thorough and complete retribution, brought by his own
hand upon his enemies. His strong will and untiring energy
should, he determined, be devoted to that one end. With a grim,
white face, he retraced his steps to where he had dropped the
food, and having stirred up the smouldering fire, he cooked
enough to last him for a few days. This he made up into a
bundle, and, tired as he was, he set himself to walk back through
the mountains upon the track of the Avenging Angels.
  For five days he toiled footsore and weary through the defiles
which he had already traversed on horseback. At night he flung
himself down among the rocks, and snatched a few hours of
sleep; but before daybreak he was always well on his way. On
the sixth day, he reached the Eagle Canon, from which they had
commenced their ill-fated flight. Thence he could look down
upon the home of the Saints. Worn and exhausted, he leaned
upon his rifle and shook his gaunt hand fiercely at the silent
widespread city beneath him. As he looked at it, he observed
that there were flags in some of the principal streets, and other
signs of festivity. He was still speculating as to what this might
mean when he heard the clatter of horse's hoofs, and saw a
mounted man riding towards him. As he approached, he recog-
nized him as a Mormon named Cowper, to whom he had ren-
dered services at different times. He therefore accosted him
when he got up to him, with the object of finding out what Lucy
Ferrier's fate had been.
  "I am Jefferson Hope," he said. "You remember me."
  The Mormon looked at him with undisguised astonishment --
indeed, it was difficult to recognize in this tattered, unkempt
wanderer, with ghastly white face and fierce, wild eyes, the
spruce young hunter of former days. Having, however, at last
satisfied himself as to his identity, the man's surprise changed to
consternation.
  "You are mad to come here," he cried. "It is as much as my
own life is worth to be seen talking with you. There is a warrant
against you from the Holy Four for assisting the Ferriers away."
  "I don't fear them, or their warrant," Hope said, earnestly.
"You must know something of this matter, Cowper. I conjure
you by everything you hold dear to answer a few questions. We
have always been friends. For God's sake, don't refuse to an-
swer me."
  "What is it?" the Mormon asked, uneasily. "Be quick. The
very rocks have ears and the trees eyes."
  "What has become of Lucy Ferrier?"
  "She was married yesterday to young Drebber. Hold up, man,
hold up; you have no life left in you."
  "Don't mind me," said Hope faintly. He was white to the
very lips, and had sunk down on the stone against which he had
been leaning. "Married, you say?"
  "Married yesterday -- that's what those flags are for on the
Endowment House. There was some words between young Drebber
and young Stangerson as to which was to have her. They'd both
been in the party that followed them, and Stangerson had shot
her father, which seemed to give him the best claim; but when
they argued it out in council, Drebber's party was the stronger,
so the Prophet gave her over to him. No one won't have her very
long though, for I saw death in her face yesterday. She is more
like a ghost than a woman. Are you off, then?"
  "Yes, I am off," said Jefferson Hope, who had risen from his
seat. His face might have been chiselled out of marble, so hard
and set was its expression, while its eyes glowed with a baleful
light.
  "Where are you going?"
  "Never mind," he answered; and, slinging his weapon over
his shoulder, strode off down the gorge and so away into the
heart of the mountains to the haunts of the wild beasts. Amongst
them all there was none so fierce and so dangerous as himself.
  The prediction of the Mormon was only too well fulfilled.
Whether it was the terrible death of her father or the effects of
the hateful marriage into which she had been forced, poor Lucy
never held up heF head again, but pined away and died within a
month. Her sottish husband, who had married her principally for
the sake of John Ferrier's property, did not affect any great grief
at his bereavement; but his other wives mourned over her, and
sat up with her the night before the burial, as is the Mormon
custom. They were grouped round the bier in the early hours of
the morning, when, to their inexpressible fear and astonishment,
the door was flung open, and a savage-looking, weather-beaten
man in tattered garments strode into the room. Without a glance
or a word to the cowering women, he walked up to the white
silent figure which had once contained the pure soul of Lucy
Ferrier. Stooping over her, he pressed his lips reverently to her
cold forehead, and then, snatching up her hand, he took the
wedding ring from her finger. "She shall not be buried in that,"
he cried with a fierce snarl, and before an alarm could be raised
sprang down the stairs and was gone. So strange and so brief
was the episode that the watchers might have found it hard to
believe it themselves or persuade other people of it, had it not
been for the undeniable fact that the circlet of gold which marked
her as having been a bride had disappeared.
  For some months Jefferson Hope lingered among the moun-
tains, leading a strange, wild life, and nursing in his heart the
fierce desire for vengeance which possessed him. Tales were told
in the city of the weird figure which was seen prowling about the
suburbs, and which haunted the lonely mountain gorges. Once a
bullet whistled through Stangerson's window and flattened itself
upon the wall within a foot of him. On another occasion, as
Drebber passed under a cliff a great boulder crashed down on
him, and he only escaped a terrible death by throwing himself
upon his face. The two young Mormons were not long in discov-
ering the reason of these attempts upon their lives, and led
repeated expeditions into the mountains in the hope of capturing
or killing their enemy, but always without success. Then they
adopted the precaution of never going out alone or after night-
fall, and of having their houses guarded. After a time they were
able to relax these measures, for nothing was either heard or seen
of their opponent, and they hoped that time had cooled his
vindictiveness.
  Far from doing so, it had, if anything, augmented it. The
hunter's mind was of a hard, unyielding nature, and the predomi-
nant idea of revenge had taken such complete possession of it
that there was no room for any other emotion. He was, however
above all things, practical. He soon realized that even his iron
constitution could not stand the incessant strain which he was
putting upon it. Exposure and want of wholesome food were
wearing him out. If he died like a dog among the mountains
what was to become of his revenge then? And yet such a death
was sure to overtake him if he persisted. He felt that that was to
play his enemy's game, so he reluctantly returned to the old
Nevada mines, there to recruit his health and to amass money
enough to allow him to pursue his object without privation.
  His intention had been to be absent a year at the most, but a
combination of unforeseen circumstances prevented his leaving
the mines for nearly five. At the end of that time, however, his
memory of his wrongs and his craving for revenge were quite as
keen as on that memorable night when he had stood by John
Ferrier's grave. Disguised, and under an assumed name, he
returned to Salt Lake City, careless what became of his own life,
as long as he obtained what he knew to be justice. There he
found evil tidings awaiting him. There had been a schism among
the Chosen People a few months before, some of the younger
members of the Church having rebelled against the authority of
the Elders, and the result had been the secession of a certain
number of the malcontents, who had left Utah and become
Gentiles. Among these had been Drebber and Stangerson; and no
one knew whither they had gone. Rumour reported that Drebber
had managed to convert a large part of his property into money,
and that he had departed a wealthy man, while his companion,
Stangerson, was comparatively poor. There was no clue at all,
however, as to their whereabouts.
  Many a man, however vindictive, would have abandoned all
thought of revenge in the face of such a difficulty, but Jefferson
Hope never faltered for a moment. With the small competence
he possessed, eked out by such employment as he could pick up,
he travelled from town to town through the United States in
quest of his enemies. Year passed into year, his black hair turned
grizzled, but still he wandered on, a human bloodhound, with his
mind wholly set upon the one object to which he had devoted his
life. At last his perseverance was rewarded. It was but a glance
of a face in a window, but that one glance told him that Cleve-
land in Ohio possessed the men whom he was in pursuit of. He
returned to his miserable lodgings with his plan of vengeance all
arranged. It chanced, however, that Drebber, looking from his
window, had recognized the vagrant in the street, and had read
murder in his eyes. He hurried before a justice of the peace
accompanied by Stangerson, who had become his private secre-
tary, and represented to him that they were in danger of their
lives from the jealousy and hatred of an old rival. That evening
Jefferson Hope was taken into custody, and not being able to
find sureties, was detained for some weeks. When at last he was
liberated it was only to find that Drebber's house was deserted,
and that he and his secretary had departed for Europe.
  Again the avenger had been foiled, and again his concentrated
hatred urged him to continue the pursuit. Funds were wanting,
however, and for some time he had to return to work, saving
every dollar for his approaching journey. At last, having col-
lected enough to keep life in him, he departed for Europe, and
tracked his enemies from city to city, working his way in any
menial capacity, but never overtaking the fugitives. When he
reached St. Petersburg, they had departed for Paris; and when he
followed them there, he learned that they had just set off for
Copenhagen. At the Danish capital he was again a few days late,
for they had journeyed on to London, where he at last succeeded
in running them to earth. As to what occurred there, we cannot
do better than quote the old hunter's own account, as duly
recorded in Dr. Watson's Journal, to which we are already under
such obligations.

 
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