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- Bob Son of Battle - 30/48 -
which might result at any moment in a shock and a flash. This was the outcome not of a moment, but of years.
Of late the contest had raged markedly fierce; for M Adam noticed his son's more frequent presence at home, and commented on the fact in his usual spirit of playful raillery.
"What's come to ye, David?" he asked one day. "Yer auld dad's head is nigh turned wi' yer condescension. Is James Moore feared ye'll steal the Cup fra him, as ye stole it from me, that he'll not ha' ye at Kenmuir? or what is it?"
"I thought I could maybe keep an eye on the Killer gin I stayed here," David answered, leering at Red Wull.
"Ye'd do better at Kenmuir--eh, Wuflie!" the little man replied.
"Nay," the other answered, "he'll not go to Kenmuir. There's Th' Owd TJn to see to hini there o' nights."
The little man whipped round.
"Are ye so sure he is there o' nights, ma lad?" he asked with slow significance.
"He was there when some one--I dinna say who, though I have ma thoughts--tried to poison him," sneered the boy, mimicking his father's manner.
M'Adam shook his head.
"II he was poisoned, and noo I think aiblins he was, he didna pick it up at Kenmuir, I tell ye that," he said, and marched out of the room.
In the mean time the Black Killer pursued his bloody trade unchecked. The public, always greedy of a new sensation, took up the matter. In several of the great dailies, articles on the "Agrarian Outrages" appeared, followed by lengthy correspondence. Controversy raged high; each correspondent had his own theory and his own solution of the prob1cm; and each waxed indignant as his were discarded for another's.
The Terror had reigned already two months when, with the advent of the lambing-time, matters took a yet more serious aspect.
It was bad enough to lose one sheep, often the finest in the pack; but the hunting of a flock at a critical moment, which was incidental to the slaughter of the one, the scaring of these woolly mothers-about-to-be almost out of their fleeces, spelt for the small farmers something akin to ruin, for the bigger ones a loss hardly bearable.
Such a woful season had never been known; loud were the curses, deep the vows of revenge. Many a shepherd at that time patrolled all night through with his dogs, only to find in the morning that the Killer had slipped him and havocked in some secluded portion of his beat.
It was heartrending work; and all the more so in that, though his incrimination seemed as far off as ever, there was still the same positiveness as to the culprit's identity.
Long Kirby, indeed, greatly daring, went so far on one occasion as to say to the little man: "And d'yo' reck'n the Killer is a sheepdog, M'Adam?"
"I do," the little man replied with conviction.
"And that he'll spare his own sheep?"
"Niver a doubt of it."
"Then," said the smith with a nervous cackle, "it must lie between you and Tupper and Saunderson."
The little man leant forward and tapped the other on the arm.
"Or Kenmuir, ma friend," he said. "Ye've forgot Kenmuir."
"So I have," laughed the smith, "so I have."
"Then I'd not anither time," the other continued, still tapping. "I'd mind Kenmuir, d'ye see, Kirby?"
It was about the middle of the lambingtime, when the Killer was working his worst, that the Dalesmen had a lurid glimpse of Adam M'Adam as he might be were he wounded through his Wullie.
Thus it came about: It was market-day in Grammoch-town, and in the Border Ram old Rob Saunderson was the centre of interest. For on the previous night Rob, who till then had escaped unscathed, had lost a sheep to the Killer: and--far worse--his flock of Herdwicks, heavy in lamb, had been galloped with disastrous consequences.
The old man, with tears in his eyes, was telling how on four nights that week he had been up with Shep to guard against mishap; and on the fifth, worn out with his double labor, had fallen asleep at his post. But a very little while he slumbered; yet when, in the dawn, he woke and hurried on his rounds, he quickly came upon a mangled sheep and the pitiful relic of his flock. A relic, indeed! For all about were cold wee lambkins and their mothers, dead and dying of exhaustion and their unripe travail--a slaughter of the innocents.
The Dalesmen were clustered round the old shepherd, listening with lowering countenances, when a dark gray head peered in at the door and two wistful eyes dwelt for a moment on the speaker.
"Talk o' the devil!" muttered M'Adam, but no man heard him. For Red Wull, too, had seen that sad face, and, rising from his master's feet, had leapt with a roar at his enemy, toppling Jim Mason like a ninepin in the fury of his charge.
In a second every dog in the room, from the battered Venus to Tupper's big Rasper, was on his feet, bristling to have at the tyrant and wipe out past injuries, if the gray dog would but lead the dance.
It was not to be, however. For Long Kirby was standing at the door with a cup of hot coffee in his hand. Barely had he greeted the gray dog with--
"'Hello, Owd Un!" when hoarse yells of "'Ware, lad! The Terror!" mingled with Red Wull's roar.
Half turning, he saw the great dog bounding to the attack. Straightway he flung the boiling contents of his cup full in that rage-wracked countenance. The burning liquid swished against the huge hull-head. Blinding, bubbling, scalding, it did its fell work well; nothing escaped that merciless torrent. With a cry of agony, half bellow, half howl, Red Wull checked in his charge. From without the door was banged to; and again the duel was postponed. While within the tap-room a huddle of men and dogs were left alone with a mad man and a madder brute.
Rlind, demented, agonized, the Tailless Tyke thundered about the little room gnashing, snapping, oversetting; men, tables, chairs swirled off their legs as though they had been dolls. He spun round like a monstrous teetotum; he banged his tortured head against the wall; he burrowed into the unyielding floor. And all the while M'Adam pattered after him, laying hands upon him only to be flung aside as a terrier flings a rat. Now up, now down again, now tossed into a corner, now dragged upon the floor, yet always following on and crying in supplicating tones, "Wullie, Wullie, let me to ye! let yer man ease ye!" and then, with a scream and a murderous glance, "By--, Kirby, I'll deal wi' you later!"
The uproar was like hell let loose. You could hear the noise of oaths and blows, as the men fought for the door, a half-mile away. And above it the horrid bellowing and the screaming of that shrill voice.
Long Kirby was the first man out of that murder-hole; and after him the others toppled one by one--men and dogs jostling one another in the frenzy of their fear. Big Bell, Londesley, Tupper, Hoppin, Teddy Bolstock, white-faced and trembling; and old Saunderson they pulled out by his heels. Then the door was shut with a clang, and the little man and mad dog were left alone.
In the street was already a big-eyed crowd, attracted by the uproar; while at the door was James Moore, seeking entrance. "Happen I could lend the little mon a hand," said he; but they withheld him forcibly.
Inside was pandemonium: bangings like the doors of hell; the bellowing of that great voice; the patter of little feet; the slithering of a body on the floor; and always that shrill, beseeching prayer, "Wullie, Wullie, let me to ye!" and, in a scream, "By--, Kirby, I'll be wi' ye soon!"
Jim Mason it was who turned, at length, to the smith and whispered, "Kirby, lad, yo'd best skip.
The big man obeyed and ran. The stamp, stamp of his feet on the hard road rang above the turmoil. As the long legs vanished round the corner and the sound of the fugitive died away, a panic seized the listening crowd.
A woman shrieked; a girl fainted; and in two minutes the street was as naked of men as the steppes of Russia in winter: here a white face at a window; there a door ajar; and peering round a far corner a frightened boy. One man only scorned to run. Alone, James Moore stalked down the centre of the road, slow and calm, Owd Bob trotting at his heels.
It was a long half-hour before the door of the inn burst open, and M'Adam came out with a run, flinging the door behind him.
He rushed into the middle of the road; his sleeves were rolled at the wrist like a surgeon's; and in his right hand was a black-handled jack-knife.
"Noo, by--!" he cried in a terrible voice, "where is he?"
He looked up and down the road, darting his fiery glances everywhere; and his face was whiter than his hair.
Then he turned and hunted madly down the whole length of the
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