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BORN TO BE HANGED, BUT—

by Gordon Young

Author of "Dangerous Men," "Gaboreau the Terrible," etc.

I

I HAD been arrested on the eve of a State election, revolver in hand, a chamber empty, by the body of James H. Thrope, millionaire lumberman and candidate for governor.

I, Don Everhard, was tried, convicted and sentenced to death; which, in California, meant to be hanged.

From the day of my arrest until this, I spoke no word of defense, I offered no explanation and I made no statements.

The time has come when I may tell my story. Here it is:

II

JAMES THROPE was one of the men—and there are many of his kind—that I instinctively hated. And by hate I mean Hate. There are, I believe, certain tenets in theosophy which account for instinctive hatreds as old enmities carried down from a former incarnation. But I know nothing of theosophy beyond that, and I have always found, ultimately, sufficient reasons for hating such men without putting the responsibility on some vague life that I may never have lived in ages past.

Thrope was the sort of man that, had he been a Democrat, I would at once have declared myself a Republican. Had he been a Republican, I would have been a Democrat. I mention this because he was a powerful politician and a candidate, at the time this story ends, for governor. He was a man of powerful body, dominant personality, robust and more vigorous at sixty-five than most men in the earlier years of manhood. I believe that he was generally considered handsome. His face was covered with a short, neatly trimmed black beard.

He had married rather late in years and had continued to be a debauchee. But it was not merely wild roisterings that blackened his name; he was a ruthless, unscrupulous, bold fellow with no regard for laws, morals or solemn oaths. His friends said that he never broke a promise; but his friends, like himself, lied.

I may speak this way of the dead man, for I am saying less than I have said with his face turned toward me.

As a politician, I have no doubt that he faithfully gave the promised jobs and graft to those who served his party when it was in office. As a big business man, I suppose that he did discriminate in cheating his associates. Beyond that he may not be praised in my presence without evoking a flat contradiction, and I am likely to speak shortly and use short words when his name is mentioned.

Yet he was known as a "good fellow." His friends were legion. He spent money like water and he gathered it like a pirate.

I was rather young in those days. Because I had less discretion than has since been protectively acquired out of many troubles, I did some things that none but a young, high-tempered fellow would do. I -was rather proud of having a reputation as "a dangerous man"; and yet, in all seriousness, if I now encountered such a fellow as I was then, I would very much want to spank him.

I admit it would be risky, for I was then almost as good a shot as I am now; I was then, as now, almost physiologically incapable of being nervous or feeling fear.

The really brave man is like Marshal Ney, whom Napoleon called "the bravest of the brave." A battle was breaking, and Ney, it is said, stood waiting the order to charge. He happened to glance down and saw that his knees were trembling. "Shake, —— you, shake," he muttered, "and if you knew where I am going to take you before this day is over, you would shake worse than that!"

That is courage. My knees never tremble. They never did, no matter what the circumstances. I seem to have been born with something essentially human left out of me; and I mention this at some length to explain how it happened that a very young man, like myself at that time, had a certain prestige among gamblers and crooks who acknowledged no equals but men whom they had cause to admire or to fear.

Too, I may say that I was a born gambler, and what immobility my face may have lacked I painstakingly acquired. The inscrutable face is as essential to a successful gambler as sensitive fingers; there are not, and there never were, honest gamblers who lived by luck alone.

What the nimblest magician may do with cards on the stage, I could do with the deck at the poker-table—and perhaps some other things too. That was not a natural gift any more than the musician's fingers are bestowed by nature; and no pianist ran his scales more faithfully than I practised with cards in my room. I was, even in my teens, determined to be as fine a gambler as lived and I went at it thoroughly under the very excellent tutorage of an old fellow who, in his prime, had been one of the best.

He drank. His fingers were a bit slow one night in passing the bottom card to a confederate, and out of gratitude and friendship I paid for the funeral and monument. There it stands to this day, a shaft of marble among a field of solemn stones, and on it is the sardonic inscription—

As honest a man as ever palmed a card.

But I was young in those days. My family for some years did not speak my name even in the house where I was born. I was dead to all of them. It might have been different had I not been motherless at ten. Sisters, brothers, uncles, cousins, aunts—ours was and is yet a large and proud tribe—said I was born to be hanged; and the time came when they were considerate enough to remind me that—

"We told you so!"

A few words more to fill in some features of my background, for though this story is verifiable in the files of old San Francisco papers—not so very old at that—yet I wish to take the pains of making it credible without sending skeptics to dusty volumes of the Chronicle.

It has been my fortune, despite the attitude of eminently respectable relatives, even then as now, to have and to hold the friendship of a few fine and honest people who had what they called "faith" in me. This is, I suppose, largely because I never drank; never used an oath more than three or four times in my life; was invariably polite—as emotionless people are usually; never made a threat—that is a direct one; and never made a promise that I did not keep.

It happened that a pickpocket whom I knew quite well—he was a miserable rascal, reduced by hop and whisky to purse-snatching—nipped a woman's bag in a crowd and gloated over the contents in my presence.

A handful of bills was in it, and such other stuff as a woman usually pokes into her bag. But there was also a letter, and on the envelope, of course, an address—Mrs. Mary Curwen. The dope-fiend tried to tell me what was in the letter. He offered it to me to read. His words were rather jumbled for he was half-drunk, but what he said was somewhat borne out by the return address on the envelope.

This miserable rat saw a chance for blackmail and was drunk enough to suggest that I engage with him. The envelope was from the office of a congressman of the San Francisco district. The pickpocket said it was written by Congressman Bryan— who was just making an announcement of his willingness to run for governor—to Mrs. Mary Curwen and that it spoke of a "dreadful secret."

I did not read the letter. As nearly as I could gather the "dreadful secret" was not revealed, but was suggested in some way that seemed to the pickpocket sufficient to establish a basis for "a piece o' graft."

What that basis was he didn't exactly know. He urged me to read it. He was very drunk, and I never quarrel with a drunken man. I took the letter and put it aside for a day or two. I was tantalizingly interested and tempted to read it.

There is no shame in being tempted—it is giving way to temptation that knocks the inner props down. I would no more have read a letter found in a ripped envelope than I would have read one in which I had no personal interest and which was sealed. Let me make myself clear on this point.

Had it served some purpose of importance to me, I would not only have opened another man's letter, but I would have cut into a mail bag to get at the letter. But I have a quirk of what may possibly be called honor which would let me as readily peep into a woman's bedroom as read a letter that does not concern me.

And I was intensely interested. Congressman Bryan was no political puppet. He was a comparatively young man and a dynamic, hard-fighting, out-spoken fellow, brilliant and courageous; a man who seemed to have arisen by sheer work and brilliancy. Naturally I admired him. For one thing, Thrope and his party were against Bryan.

I SHALL not give any particulars of the political fight, for those details do not concern the story. It so chanced that Bryan's reelection to Congress had recently taken place, but he was willing to resign and run for governor. The State needed an honest governor. If Thrope should be elected, the skull-and-crossbones might as well have floated from the flagpole at Sacramento.

It was to be a hard and bitter campaign. It always was when Bryan and Thrope fought. One of the features of the Bryan workers' argument had always been the emphasis laid on the fact that he was a San Francisco boy orphaned in babyhood, whose whole life had been lived under the eyes of San Franciscans who might examine every feature of it and know that his record was stainless.

So I told the purse-snatcher that he was too drunk to have read straight.

I thought of returning the letter to Mrs. Curwen by mail; but, in case the letter did contain any matter that would trouble her if she knew it had passed under the eyes of strangers, she could not be reassured by anything I might write to accompany the letter itself.

So I returned the letter in person.

The house was a modest, solid little home; the yard was well kept, the lawn fresh, the shrubs trimmed, the paint new.

A young woman, neat and attractive— that is, intelligent of face as well as pretty, but with a wilful set to her bps—opened the door. She was slender and dark and, I judged, though nothing of an expert in matters of the kind, around twenty.

I asked for Mrs. Curwen and was shown into a little sun-lighted room.

Mrs. Curwen came in. My impression of strangers is always definite; I like them or I do not.

The moment I saw her I felt as deep sympathy for her as I ever felt for any one. Tragedy was written on her face, and worries were in her eyes. She had suffered at sometime or other, and deeply. Het eyes had the steady, wide-lidded stare of people who have been forbidden things and kept silent.

She was nervous and troubled, and I knew something of what the heavy lines that fell from her nostrils to the comers Of her mouth meant. The mouth itself was drawn tightly; the full lips Were thinned by having been set hard. Yet hers was a pleasant face lighted from an inner glow of contentment. I will call it a beautiful face. All beautiful faces have the mark of tragedy upon them.

She was tall, well-poised and, I would have guessed, somewhere above fifty—obviously the mother of the girl who had met me at the door.

"You wish to see me?" she asked.

I referred at once to a letter addressed to her that had come to my attention.

There was no mistaking the importance of that letter to her. At the first mention she stiffened as one does to receive a blow. I may have imagined it, but it seemed to me that she also assumed, for a second, a grim reconciliation to the blow that was expected. It was as if she rather knew blow after blow of some kind would reach her, and she had reached the age of passive resistance.

I then told her precisely what had happened and extended the letter.

"I do not know what the letter contains. I do not wish to know. It has been read only by a drunken fellow who may believe he merely dreamed what he read. And I have brought it in person so that you may be assured that nobody, except the fellow mentioned, has meddled with the contents."

She said nothing for a moment, but reached out a hand that trembled slightly and laid it on my arm, and the fingers closed for an instant in a way deeply expressive of gratitude.

Mrs. Curwen looked at me with a kind of suspended admiration in her eyes and asked—

"What did you say your name was?"

I told her. I had not at that time taken the name of Everhard. My family name is Richmond. I told her—"Don Richmond."

Almost incredulously she exclaimed:

"Don Richmond—you! A mere boy— and you are the man who struck Jim Thrope in the face? I—I—have often wondered about you. A mere boy!"

My shoulders stiffened a little as I remarked that I was twenty-four, and no doubt my manner implied that twenty-four was a full-grown, manly age.

"I understand," she said quietly, almost proudly as if in some way I was closely related to her, "why this letter has been returned—unread! And do you know, I would doubt almost any other man that brought it!"

I looked at her in puzzlement and asked— "Do you know me?"

"Yes—I know that you hit Jim Thrope in a crowded dance-hall; hit him in the face before all of his friends. Yes indeed, I do know you!" And she impulsively caught my hand into both of hers and pressed it. I did not understand.

With quick, maternal-like half-phrases she regretted that I was a gambler and lived such a life.

"A professional gambler for six years!" she exclaimed. "I knew you were young—but so young!"

She said that she had heard all about the affair—more even than was in the papers, some of which called me a young ruffian who was boasting he had insulted so distinguished and honorable a citizen as James H. Thrope. And one or two of the papers which told something like the truth colored it rather highly in my favor because they happened to be politically opposed to Thrope.

The basic fact, which nobody knew, was that I hated Thrope instinctively. His eyes—it is into the eyes that one looks for an understanding of people—were the insolent, lewd, vicious eyes of the bully.

I never saw him without wanting to, strike him in the face. Something of what that meant may be conveyed when I explain that, in all the troubles I have been into and got out of, I have never struck a half-dozen men with my fists.

A NIGHT came when Thrope was, on one of his periodical debauches and came into the Empress Dancehall, where I chanced to be awaiting an appointment. He was sober enough, but this time it would probably not have made any difference to me if he had been drunk. A little fool of a dance-hall girl, ambitious to get attention from so distinguished a rounder, clutched at his coat.

He turned, at one glance saw that she was not pretty, then drove his fist into her face; and many people laughed. Thrope was always followed on such occasions by friends of the kind—by men who would laugh if a woman's face ran blood.

I had gone up to him. There was nothing of haste or hurry in my manner. I said distinctly that perhaps he did not know how it felt to be struck in the face; then deliberately hit him a back-handed blow squarely across the mouth. Blood dripped from his lips.

I said nothing more. Without turning my face from him, I pushed a chair out from behind me and took one backward step so that my shoulders were against the wall. I did not care to be shot or slugged from the rear.

I heard my name tossed back and forth. I was pretty well known. There was a scrambling and stamping as some people made for places where they thought bullets would be least likely to hit; and others, full of gaping curiosity, crowded close behind Thrope's back.

But nothing happened. I mean nothing of importance. I was cursed and threatened. Friends of Thrope's, who but a few seconds before had laughed, scowled and cursed. Bullies usually try to save their faces by scowls when they are not ready to venture further.

Thrope half swung his hand toward his hip. So far as he could see I was unarmed. But he did not draw, or try to draw. Perhaps he had heard—and believed—the rumor that the reason I had never been tried for any one of a few little gun-plays, was because I never made a move until it became evident that I had to shoot in self-defense.

There was perhaps a little truth in that report, though much exaggeration. In those days I used a single action .44—two of them—and I wore a double-breasted coat. I don't know whether automatics had been invented or not; anyway they were not worth considering.

The Colt is meant for quick work. They were worn, diagonally across my stomach and carried cocked. That helped to cultivate in me a slow, deliberate manner and a certain unbending attitude—much as would be cultivated in a man who carried dynamite in his pocket. All I needed to do to shoot quick was to thrust my hand inside the coat on a level with the stomach— an entirely unsuspicious movement—and, half-turning my body to point the gun, press the trigger.

Of course I shot through the coat. The gun was very awkward to carry there, but the awkwardness had compensations in dangerous moments. Thrope probably suspected that I would not be unagitated if I did not feel secure.

It is fair, perhaps, to say that he may have believed there were as many friends of mine as of his in the room; that the insult had been planned, and that he was in a trap prepared beforehand. I offer that as an explanation, for, though Thrope was intrinsically a coward, he was proud and high-tempered, and it hardly seems likely that I—though even then men of stronger nerves than his hesitated to take up my challenge—could have, by mere poise, so humiliatingly have bluffed him.

He cursed in the way of a man who does not mean to fight, promised me sudden death at some future time, intimating that it would not be far distant, either; then withdrew with his friends, who glowered over their shoulders.

The incident attracted much more attention than the mere facts warranted; all, of course, because James Thrope was a figure of importance.

So it was not surprizing that Mrs. Curwen knew of it.

The surprizing thing was the interest that this quiet and lovely woman, grayed and wrinkled, showed in an incident of the tenderloin.

I SUGGESTED that it was strange she should have paid so much attention to a mere affair of the underworld.

"I know of Jim Thrope," she said.

But I must pause to tell as nearly as I can how she said it. Bitterly came the words, "I know—" then a perceptible pause. The "of" seemed forced into the sentence, and "Jim Thorpe" was spoken almost in a whisper as if, only by overcoming a strong repugnance, could she speak his name. What that manner of saying "I know of Jim Thrope" conveyed to me is obvious.

"I know of Jim Thrope. I have often wondered why no man dared to treat him as he deserves!"

I assured her that there were many who dared; that Thrope was by no means regarded as the terror she seemed to think. She seemed to doubt me.

When I started to go, her hand again touched my arm as if to check me.

"You will come to see me? To dinner? Helen and I are alone. We have few friends."

I suggested that she would probably have still fewer when it became known that she was friendly with me.

"You mean Thrope would do something?"

"I wasn't thinking of him but of your respectable neighbors. I am what is sometimes called a 'habitue of the tenderloin'."

She ignored that with a little gesture as if she knew too much about respectable people to care what they thought, and asked me anxiously if Thrope had made trouble for me since that affair.

He had not.

I did not go into details and explain to her that it was not an easy matter for anybody to make trouble for me unless they came to my face. I have known men and attended the funerals of some of them, who scorned the cowardly precaution of watching against shots and blows from the rear. I am not such a one.

I am very cautious. The more so because, though I always have had many friends, I have never used any of them as a body-guard. They have helped me many times. I have called on them often. What I mean is that I have always gone through darkened streets alone, if there was nothing but the suspicion that somebody might be lying in wait for me. My ears are keen, my hands are quick and I seldom miss. And I am never off guard, never to be taken unawares—if tense watchfulness is a preventive.

I have said that Thrope did not make trouble for me over the episode, then six months past; but, of course, I had no way of knowing whether the rooming-house in which I stayed had been fired because the incendiary wanted to burn me sleeping, or some one else in the house; or merely had a grudge against the proprietor.

I sleep lightly, too lightly for my own comfort. A creak, a voice at a distance, a draft puffing from an opened window, almost any sort of a noise, makes me at once alert. I had no way of knowing whether it was some one who had taken Thrope's money or who had mistaken me for another party, that sprang from a doorway one night, leaping for my back with an uplifted knife. Nothing was revealed of the man's identity at the inquest, for though I attended I was not called as a witness.

The instant I had shot I slipped into the doorway for a minute, then came out, pretending to be one of the scrambling crowd attracted by the report; and I did not remain long enough to have the police get mine among the names of those who had been first arrivals on the scene.

A few other little incidents of a much less menacing character than those just mentioned had happened within the six months, but I had no way of connecting them with Thrope.

So I assured Mrs. Curwen that Thrope had not, so far as I knew, made trouble.

She agitatedly assured me that he would. She begged me to leave the city, for a time anyway:

"If he is waiting like that—it means you won't have a chance. Please, please, listen to me. I do know James Thrope! I know every villainous drop of blood in his body. He is the vilest man that ever lived! If that letter had got to his hands——" She flung her hands up to her face, and did not finish.

There were tears in her eyes when her hands dropped away, but she was more composed in manner. She said that she could never, never thank me enough! And wouldn't I please come again to see her—soon?

She said one thing that stayed with me, and things of sentiment do not usually remain long in my ears—

"I know Jim Thrope so well that I want to treat you as my son!"

"Helen," she said, calling to the young girl that came past the door.

"This is the young man that struck James Thrope in the mouth!"

Tire girl's dark eyes flashed, and I saw her body stiffen slightly. She was far different from the pleasant, smiling girl who had welcomed me at the door.

"Oh!" she said, and nothing more. But she watched me steadily, her face expressionless but hard set; and her eyes burned strangely.

It was days before I could get those people and that visit out of my mind, or rather into the background of my thoughts.

There was not only mystery, but mystery compounded. At the name of Thrope, Mrs. Curwen had become a woman of almost tragic intensity. I can not, and never could, let puzzling circumstances be forgotten until I have thought them over from every conceivable angle; and the most plausible conclusion I could arrive at— taking the Bryan letter into consideration, as could not be avoided—was that Mrs. Curwen had suffered from some unusual villainy at Thrope's hands and had confided with Congressman Bryan for what use he cared to make of it politically.

Since the pickpocket had mentioned "dreadful secret" and spoken of blackmail— though he had been drunk when he read the letter—I concluded that he had seen possibilities of extortion from her.

All that was, in a way, easy enough to settle. It really troubled my th...

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