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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Scott Burton and the Timber Thieves » CHAPTER XXIII
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In the county jail there was a madman, or one not very far from it. As long as Mr. Graham was with him, Qualley had maintained his cool and indifferent air and had never for an instant given up the possibility of obtaining his release by some cunning scheme or inducement. He offered no resistance whatsoever and walked into the jail with the dignified mien of an injured and misjudged man. In fact he told Mr. Graham that he was sorry to see him following this false scent because he knew that he was really a just man and would some day sorely regret his hasty action.

It was so that Mr. Graham left him with no regrets and an earnest request that the jailer watch his prisoner with the greatest caution because he was a bad one. He told him that on no account should the prisoner be allowed to communicate with any one on the outside because he was only one of a large gang and would probably make a desperate attempt to warn his friends.

Left alone, a complete change came over Qualley. His studied dignity fell from him and the look of calm indifference gave way to a burning glare of hatred which contorted his whole face. He sprang to the window and watched Mr. Graham’s shadowy form disappear into the darkness with the look of a wild beast glaring through the bars of its cage.

When the last trace of the supervisor had died away Qualley seemed to lose all control of himself and became a maniac. He shook the bars of his cell furiously, pounded the walls with his bare fists and cursed till he frothed at the mouth. The jailer came to quiet him but fled at the mere sight of him. It seemed that, unarmed as he was, he must break through those concrete walls and iron bars by the sheer fury of his efforts.

The mood passed almost as suddenly as it had come upon him and he threw himself upon the bed panting from his exertions. “Fool,” he growled to himself, “where will that get you? They enjoy seeing you that way.”

Calmly now he began to think over the situation. He was caught and there was not much chance of his escape. There might possibly be some way out of that cell but it would not be by butting down the concrete wall with his head or biting off the iron bars with his teeth. If he was to get out he must use his head but not in the way he had been using it a few minutes before. He was thoroughly ashamed of that.

The first thing to do was to see if he could find a weapon or tool of any kind. There were seldom prisoners in that jail who were under a grave enough charge to make it worth their while really to try very hard to get out and the jailer might have become careless. He began a careful search of the room. The door was locked and seemed to be in good repair as near as he could tell in the dark. The bars in the window were not very heavy but they were too strong to break and they seemed to be firmly set in the concrete. One of them rattled a little and the concrete around the base of it seemed a little rough but it was solid enough. The floor was concrete like the walls.

He dropped to his knees and crawled slowly over the floor. There were only two articles of furniture in the room, a small bed and a chair, both of wood. If he only had a piece of iron and they would give him enough time he felt sure that he could work out of one of those window bars. Even wood might do it in time, but he doubted if they would keep him there long enough. Nevertheless, it would be something to do and something to live for so he set to work to wrench one of the rounds out of the chair.

The round came out easier than he had expected and he tried a few tentative scratches on the concrete at the base of the bar. It raised a little dust, but he realized that it would mean long hours of labor before he could accomplish anything in that way, and there was something else which must be done at once. He did not give a rap for Roberts and, as Murphy had predicted, would have seen him hung without so much as raising a finger to help him. Moreover, he knew that Roberts in a like situation would never have done anything to help him. Just the same he was extremely anxious to get word to Roberts at all costs, not to save Roberts but to warn him that the Service men would be looking for him in the morning so that he would be well prepared. If Roberts could ambush them and murder them he, Qualley, would feel that his debt of hatred had been paid and, too, he might stand some show of getting free, for there was not any one else around there who knew anything about his crime or would be likely to prefer charges against him. Moreover, with Roberts captured, he would not stand any show at all. He very well knew that Roberts would tell everything he knew about him and would rather die than see Qualley get away if he could not make it himself.

So the first thing to do was to get word to Roberts; there would be time enough for the digging when that was done. Perhaps he could catch somebody going by before the jailer was up. He took up his position by the window and watched patiently, but the jail was in an out-of-the-way place and he heard some one moving about in the jail before he had seen any one outside.

Well, possibly the jailer was not above a bribe. He had made plenty of money in the last two years out of the logs he had stolen, he was rich, and he could offer the jailer more money than he had ever dreamed of. He waited anxiously for some one to bring his breakfast. It was about eight o’clock when he heard a door open somewhere and the jailer himself appeared with a tray.

“Calmed down a little, have you?” the jailer asked, eyeing him somewhat doubtfully.

“Yes,” Qualley admitted with a sheepish laugh, “I lost my head for a few minutes last night. It is enough to drive any man crazy to be popped into jail on a false charge with no chance to explain. It’s tough.”

“Yes,” the jailer agreed, “it’s tough all right if it’s true. The judge will straighten it out pretty quick if there is anything crooked about it, but that fellow is not much on making false charges, he isn’t.”

“Well, he has slipped up this time. Didn’t even give me time to go over to the camp and tell them that I would not be back for a few days. If I could have given them a few directions it would have been all right; as it is everything there will go to pot. A lumber camp won’t run itself.”

“Maybe you will get bailed out in a couple of days.”

“Sure I’ll get bailed out in a couple of days, but it is the next couple of days I am worrying about. Say, if I should put up five thousand dollars bail with you, couldn’t you let me slip over there for a day to straighten things out?”

“I’ll telephone the judge and ask him about it,” the man grinned. He seemed to think it was a very good joke, but a glance at his prisoner sent him hastily out the door, for there seemed to be strong indications that Qualley was going to throw another fit. But he managed to control himself quickly.

“Well,” he said, as though he had resigned himself to the inevitable, “if you will not let me go myself, send me a messenger and I’ll have to do the best I can that way.”

“Can’t do it, Mr. Qualley. They gave me strict orders that you were not to communicate with any one.”

Qualley shrugged his shoulders and turned away as though satisfied that he had done his best and was no longer interested in what he could not avoid. There was only one more chance. Possibly he could attract the attention of some passer-by and get him to carry his message. As soon as the jailer had gone he took up his post at the window and watched.

All day long, with the exception of the few minutes when the jailer was in there at mealtime, he watched with infinite patience and still no one came. The shadows were growing very long and another half-hour would bring on the sudden darkness of the southern evening. Gradually Qualley became aware of a faint tune whistled plaintively in the distance. It was the first sign of life he had caught outside the jail all day. He listened intently. The whistling was growing slightly louder. He knew from the plaintive twang to the music that it was a negro and he judged from the sound that the musician was on the road which passed beside the jail.

Twice the whistling died out and he thought the man must have turned into another road, but it started up again, and after what seemed an age a shambling negro hove in sight. It was at least two hundred feet to the road and he was making such a noise with his whistling that there was no chance to attract his attention by any small sound.

At first Qualley tried to catch his eye. He waved a large white handkerchief back and forth across the window, first slowly, then frantically. The darky was evidently not interested in white handkerchiefs. Moreover, he had already passed the line of the window and would soon be wholly out of reach. Qualley stuck two fingers in his mouth and blew one loud, shrill blast. The jailer would probably hear it, but he might not, and there was nothing to lose if he did.

The darky heard it and stopped both his feet and his music. He looked curiously in the direction of the jail. Qualley stuck the handkerchief through the bars and waved it. Then he beckoned violently. The darky caught the signal and hesitated. On general principles he did not like to get too close to the jail, but he evidently thought this might be some comrade in distress and decided to investigate. He ambled rather aimlessly across the field, looking suspiciously to right and left, and finally brought up close to the window. Qualley recognized him as a man who had at one time worked at the camp and the man’s eyes grew big with astonishment when he recognized his old boss behind the bars.

“Listen, George,” Qualley whispered, “they have me jugged here on a false charge and I may not be able to get out for a couple of days. I’ll give you five dollars if you will take a note to Mr. Roberts to-night. He is out there in the cabin in the swamp. You have been there, haven’t you?”

“No, suh,” George answered with suspicious promptness, “I ain’t nevah been to that place.”

Qualley considered a moment. “Well, you know Sam Clark, don’t you?”

“Yes, suh, I knows him all right.”

“Then you can find out from him how to find it. Will you take it?”

“Can’t take it to-night, boss, but I kin git ovah deah with it powerful early in the morning.”

“All right. Wait there a minute.”

Qualley scribbled quickly on a scrap of paper, “They have pinched me. Coming after you in the morning. Be sure to get them.” He folded the paper and slipped it through the bars to George. “That must be there by daylight, George. I’ll pay you when I get out. The jailer has all my money now.”

George hesitated. He usually did business on a cash basis. Moreover, he had known it to be a long time before some people had gotten out of that jail.

Qualley knew what was the matter. “Here, keep this watch till I can pay you,” and he thrust his gold watch through the bars.

George took the watch and Qualley settled down on the bed with a feeling of comfortable satisfaction when he heard the whistling start up again in the distance a few minutes later. It might not do him any good but he would have the satisfaction of knowing that somebody probably would be shot.


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