Almost the next moment there was a shout:
And straightway he came tearing into the midst, stood his horse almost on his hind feet, and said:
"Fall back, you gutter-snipes!"
He was obeyed. By all but their leader. He stood his ground, and his hand went to his revolver. The sheriff covered him promptly, and said:
"Drop your hand, you parlor desperado. Kick the fire away. Now unchain the stranger."
The parlor desperado obeyed. Then the sheriff made a speech; sitting his horse at martial ease, and not warming his words with any touch of fire, but delivering them in a measured and deliberate way, and in a tone which harmonized with their character and made them impressively disrespectful.
"You're a nice lot--now ain't you? Just about eligible to travel with this bilk here--Shadbelly Higgins--this loud-mouthed sneak that shoots people in the back and calls himself a desperado. If there's anything I do particularly despise, it's a lynching mob; I've never seen one that had a man in it. It has to tally up a hundred against one before it can pump up pluck enough to tackle a sick tailor. It's made up of cowards, and so is the community that breeds it; and ninety-nine times out of a hundred the sheriff's another one." He paused--apparently to turn that last idea over in his mind and taste the juice of it--then he went on: "The sheriff that lets a mob take a prisoner away from him is the lowest- down coward there is. By the statistics there was a hundred and eighty- two of them drawing sneak pay in America last year. By the way it's going, pretty soon there 'll be a new disease in the doctor-books-- sheriff complaint." That idea pleased him--any one could see it. "People will say, 'Sheriff sick again?' 'Yes; got the same old thing.' And next there 'll be a new title. People won't say, 'He's running for sheriff of Rapaho County,' for instance; they'll say, 'He's running for Coward of Rapaho.' Lord, the idea of a grown-up person being afraid of a lynch mob!"
He turned an eye on the captive, and said, "Stranger, who are you, and what have you been doing?"
"My name is Sherlock Holmes, and I have not been doing anything."
It was wonderful, the impression which the sound of that name made on the sheriff, notwithstanding he must have come posted. He spoke up with feeling, and said it was a blot on the county that a man whose marvelous exploits had filled the world with their fame and their ingenuity, and whose histories of them had won every reader's heart by the brilliancy and charm of their literary setting, should be visited under the Stars and Stripes by an outrage like this. He apologized in the name of the whole nation, and made Holmes a most handsome bow, and told Constable Harris to see him to his quarters, and hold himself personally responsible if he was molested again. Then he turned to the mob and said:
"Hunt your holes, you scum!" which they did; then he said: "Follow me, Shadbelly; I'll take care of your case myself. No--keep your popgun; whenever I see the day that I'll be afraid to have you behind me with that thing, it 'll be time for me to join last year's hundred and eighty- two"; and he rode off in a walk, Shadbelly following.
When we were on our way back to our cabin, toward breakfast-time, we ran upon the news that Fetlock Jones had escaped from his lock-up in the night and is gone! Nobody is sorry. Let his uncle track him out if he likes; it is in his line; the camp is not interested.
Ten days later.
"James Walker" is all right in body now, and his mind shows improvement too. I start with him for Denver to-morrow morning.
Next night. Brief note, mailed at a way-station.
As we were starting, this morning, Hillyer whispered to me: "Keep this news from Walker until you think it safe and not likely to disturb his mind and check his improvement: the ancient crime he spoke of was really committed--and by his cousin, as he said. We buried the real criminal the other day--the unhappiest man that has lived in a century--Flint Buckner. His real name was Jacob Fuller!" There, mother, by help of me, an unwitting mourner, your husband and my father is in his grave. Let him rest.