The Whispering Outlaw - George Owen Baxter - ebook

The Whispering Outlaw ebook

George Owen Baxter

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Renowned Western writer Max Brand does it again in the eminently enjoyable Western "The Whispering Outlaw". The Whisperer, a mysterious frontier bandit who never shows his face or speaks in his own voice, recruits a ragtag band of outlaws to assist him in a series of daring robberies designed to make them all rich. Who was this whispering outlaw who could so easily slip through the hand of the lawmen Kenworthy and even baffle the seasoned and brutal gunman Lew Borgen, whom he drew to his ranks? What dark vengeance choreographed the far-flung criminal schemes of such a mysterious and evil genius? Find out in Max Brand’s masterful classic Western "The Whispering Outlaw".

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Contents

I. PURSUIT

II. SCALING THE CLIFF

III. A MYSTERIOUS SCHEMER

IV. FACING THE WHISPERER

V. TIRRIT TALKS

VI. IN THE CLEARING

VIII. LISTENING

VIII. NO MYSTERY

IX. “THE FERRET” TALKS

X. BORGEN ACCUSED

XI. CHAMPION’S FATE

XII. KENWORTHY’S MOVE

XIII. MR. GLENHOLLEN

XIV. IN THE GARDEN

XV. PAYING THE PENALTY

XVI. THE WHISPERER’S TRAIL

XVII. THE UNWANTED ESCORT

XVIII. THE ENCHANTED SPOT

XIX. A KILLING

XX. JEREMY SAYLOR

XXI. LAUGHED AT

XXII. INSTRUCTIONS

XXIII. AT THE COTTAGE

XXIV. THE TRAP

XXV. THE LAST KILLING

XXVI. RANKIN’S DISCOVERY

XXVII. DOUBLY PROUD

XXVIII. A HERO

XXIX. ROSE VISITS JAIL

XXX. KENWORTHY’S MISTAKE

XXXI. SURMOUNTING OBSTACLES

XXXII. THE HIDDEN MARKSMAN

XXXIII. SURRENDER

EPILOGUE. HAPPINESS

I. PURSUIT

The crimes of Lew Borgen were usually prepared with the greatest care; and having been plotted with the last degree of caution, they were always executed by his unassisted hand, so that there was no need either to share the plunder or to take another into his confidence, which is in the end the undoing of even the greatest geniuses who live outside the law.

But in the case of the robbery of the bank at the town of Nancy Hatch, Borgen had broken the first of his rules. That is to say, inspired rather with “red eye,” than with a knowledge of the ground or of the cash on hand in the little bank, he had entered the back door of the building in the dusk of the evening, attracted by a light which he had seen in front of the big plate-glass window, with all of its bars of steel behind it.

The back door, however, had not even been bolted, and when he entered the bank, he simply dropped a mask over his face, shoved a gun under the nose of the cashier, and commanded him to turn over the money which was in the safe. He was obeyed, and found himself suddenly in the possession of no less than fifteen thousand dollars in crisp currency. He then gagged and bound his man, departed the way he had come, and, mounting his horse, cantered off up the valley of the Crispin River without attracting the slightest attention.

For two days, then, he pushed steadily up the river, following one of his maxims, which was to the effect that after the commission of a crime one should select a direction and a course for flight and never stop driving straight ahead until at least five hundred miles lay between him and the scene of his last success.

But there seemed not the slightest danger that he would be pursued, and on the third day he broke his rule by halting for some hours to idle in a pleasant little valley just off the ravine of the Crispin.

He was hardly in the saddle again, however, before he saw that he was possibly to pay the penalty of breaking his rules a second time. For he sighted a small cavalcade pushing up the canyon, and they called to him to halt. Lew Borgen did not dare to wait; they were doubtless out to search every unknown man they met in the mountains, so he gave his mustang the spurs and went on up the valley. They followed him hard.

They were so well mounted that if his horse had not been comparatively refreshed by a recent rest, they would have run him down within the first mile. As it was, he drew away to a comparatively comfortable distance, but he soon found that he could not increase his margin. Of the dozen horsemen who had first sighted him, some half dozen had fallen back into the ruck, but the six who remained clung steadily and doggedly behind him, and he could not shake them off.

Borgen began to curse to himself and at himself. This, he told himself, came from breaking his rules, and now he was in danger of paying the penalty. He was so used to making a clean get-away, moreover, that a panic began to rise in his breast. He had his greatest haul lodged safely in the saddlebag which, whenever his left knee pressed it, gave forth a rustling sound infinitely soothing to his soul; but twice as he pushed up the trail that afternoon, the pursuers came close enough to open fire at him with their rifles. Suppose one small pellet of that lead should touch him? What would become of the fifteen thousand, so far as he was concerned?

He saw that it was necessary to do something either desperate or extremely clever. The better blood and bone in those horses which were working up the trail behind him was sure to tell before long, and it was still a bitterly long gap between that moment and the time when the dark of the night would drop over the mountains.

With the very next winding of the trail he saw his opportunity before him. They had been climbing during all of the two days and a half; but during this afternoon the angle of the rise was so great that the horses could push on no faster than a walk. They had left the thick junipers and the level of the yellow and the mountain pines; they were entering the district of the two- leaved pine, and here and there that dwarfed pine which climbs boldly to the timber line.

But though the air was grown thinner and more thrillingly clear, there were still butterflies gleaming over the tops of the grasses, and now and again the drone of a bee came to the ear of Borgen. For it was the end of June, and the sun was gathering strength every day. But, late though the spring was grown, what now caught the eye of the fugitive, as he rounded the bend, was a snow bridge, arched across the river!

Time had been, in the thick of the winter, when a sheeting of ice and of snow had covered the Crispin from bank to bank and stuffed the gorge full as though the glacier age had rolled back upon the mountains, but now the warmer air and the occasional rains and, above all, the hot eye of the sun had thawed the snow covering thin, and then made it break until only a few stiff arches remained. Up and down the ravine, so far as he could look, not one of these bridges now remained except the solitary one in front of him; its brothers had fallen, one by one, into the maw of the Crispin, which went rejoicing among its rocks far below him–so far below that the noise of its shouting was mingled with drowsy and rolling echoes by the time it lifted to the ear of Lew Borgen. But if he could cross that bridge and then break it down behind him, he would have a small but an invincible handicap which his pursuers, he felt, could not overcome.

He paused and dismounted to make a hasty examination. It would not be hard to break down that bridge. The warm winds beneath and the warm sun above had thawed it thin indeed, so that the light filtered blue and cold to the under side of the arch, and from the long icicles which depended beneath the structure the water of its decay was dripping steadily. It was thin enough to break down by dislodging against it any one of a dozen great boulders which leaned down toward it out of the farther side of the mountain. But was it not too thin to bear the weight of his body, to say nothing of the burden of his horse?

Borgen looked gloomily back down the valley, around the elbow bend in time to see the pursuit curving around a rock edge of the trail, and he saw that every man in the group was jogging his horse hastily ahead as if realizing that there was a crisis near at hand. There was assuredly no time to doubt and to hesitate, but having risked his life a dozen times before, he must now risk it again without hesitation. He took the reins by their extreme end and led the mustang forward. That wise-headed animal snorted and pulled back, shaking his ears at the precipice beneath him, but Borgen cursed him roundly and tugged him on.

They came out on the bridge, and Borgen set his teeth; for he could not tell whether the grinding and groaning sounds beneath his feet came from the crunching of the hard snow crystals beneath his heels, or from a settling and breaking up of the mass of compacted snow itself. He went on. He reached the thinnest and central portion of the arch safely; he passed ahead, jerking at the reins, and the poor mustang followed, trembling. But when safety seemed only two paces ahead, the bridge quivered violently and then sagged beneath his feet.

The mustang plunged back and drew the reins from the grip of the master; Borgen himself leaped forward with his footing crumbling into the thinnest air. He pitched onto his face, clutched a rough projection, and drew himself up and forward while the snow shelved away beneath his knees. He staggered to his feet and leaped for the firm rock beyond, and as he did so the entire mass dislodged from the edge of the cliff and dropped toward the river. But Borgen was safe. He stood upon the ledge, secure, though so weakened by the shock that now he sank to his knees, and, with the perspiration rolling down his face, listened to the crashing beneath him as the snow bridge struck the river. Then he looked for the mustang.

That lucky brute had managed to get back to the other side, and now leaned, shaking, against the rock, cowering like a human being from the danger from which it had barely escaped. Between them extended twenty-five feet, at least, of nothingness! Borgen was robbed of his mount, that was certain; and worse of all, he was robbed of his plunder also! Fifteen thousand dollars was lodged in the saddlebag yonder. An agony of rage and grief brought the very tears to the eyes of the robber. Only a little longer, and the posse would have completed one half of its work!

It was an unendurable thought to Borgen. He drew his revolver and leveled it. His hand shook like a leaf, so that he gripped his wrist with his left hand, drew a most careful bead, and fired. Oh, lucky shot! The leather which held up the saddlebag was slashed across and tumbled at the feet of the mustang, then rolled over the brink of the precipice and dropped. It struck a narrow projecting shelf of rock, stuck there through an agonizing moment for the outlaw, then staggered off and continued on its flight for the white river beneath.

Before Borgen saw the bag strike, his head was jerked up by the whistle of a bullet and the clanging report of a rifle. The posse was rounding the turn of the trail, and every man of the party was unlimbering his rifle with a yell of disappointment. Borgen shook his big, sun-blackened fist at them, and then whirled to race away among the rocks. Bullets sang about him, but he dodged away like a mountain goat until the boulders were a wall behind him; then he settled down to a steady walk, trying to forget all the calamities which had that day befallen him.

One disaster, at least, had been spared him; among his possessions in the pack on the mustang there was nothing which would serve to identify him; and so far as he knew, there was no one in the world who had ever seen his bare face exposed to the light during the commission of a crime. They could only say of him that he was a rather large man. As a matter of fact, he was half an inch under six feet. The black mask which he wore, and the excited imaginations of observers who saw him in it, freely endowed him with at least an extra inch or two in height and fifteen to twenty pounds in weight. Among his law-abiding compatriots, unmasked and free going, he had never been so much as questioned during his entire career of crime.

He reviewed this comforting thought until his attention was called behind him by the rumble and the crushing of a small landslide. He looked back and saw that the avalanche had been started down the side of the mountain by the foot of a running man who was in plain sight, heading along his trail; and behind there were others, four of them!

It was the posse again. For one dexterous fellow had noosed a rock on the farther side of the gulch, and then the lightest of the party had handed himself across the chasm along the lariat. Once across, he had only to make sure that the rope held fast on the rock to which the noose end was fastened. Then the rest of the party followed, with the exception of the eldest and heaviest, who remained behind as a guard for the horses. The others then broke along the trail of the fugitive, found his sign easily, and so came in view of him.

To big Lew Borgen it was the end. He was nearing forty, and though he was strong as a gorilla in his arms, his legs were useful only to grip the sides of a horse. Those agile fellows who were coming on his trail would run him down as easily as a pack of greyhounds at the heels of a panting bulldog. Yet he could not even turn and make a worthy fight for his life, hand to hand. He was armed with one miserable revolver only, and the others, as they ran, slung rifles in their right hands. The minute he paused to make a last stand, they would simply drop to their knees, well beyond all random range of the revolver, and riddle him with bullets.

That was not their purpose now, apparently. They knew that the game was now entirely in their hands, and they were determined to take their prize alive and so hand him on to the powers of the law.

So there remained to poor Borgen only the use of those legs, so bowed and crooked by a life in the saddle, that when he ran it was like the swaying efforts of a fat old woman. He struck away valiantly, however, going straight up the mouth of a gorge which now narrowed rapidly. He was being driven into a trap, he was assured, but his lungs were burning now with his efforts, and he was so miserable that he hardly cared when the chase ended.

Presently he rounded a turn in the ravine and saw that his way was blocked indeed! Before him arose the wall of a terminal moraine of a glacier which, in the old days, had flowed in a river of ice down the gorge, hewing it as it went, and then had joined that large mass of snow which had ground out the cañon of the Crispin.

It was a sheer wall which it presented to Borgen. For some reason that moraine was not the rounded mound which he had so often seen; it rose above him almost perpendicular.

Certainly it would be perilous, but it was not absolutely impossible to scale it, perhaps; for the moraine was composed, on this front, at least, of a rubble of stones of all sizes. He threw himself at his work and began to clamber up, a chill in the small of his back as he thought of the bullet which was sure to plow through his flesh and stop his upward progress.

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