Allan had said in his message that he had recognized Dan Nolan; yet, in the stress of his emotion at the time, the strangeness of Nolan’s appearance under the circumstances had not occurred to him. Yet it was strange; yes, more than strange. Here was Nolan in company with the men whom he had basely betrayed by turning State’s evidence, and apparently received by them again on terms of comradeship. How had they come to forgive him never forgive? What was it had turned aside their anger and persuaded them to admit again to their company a man who had been proved a traitor?
The chain of circumstances which led to this result was so peculiar that it is worth pausing a moment to describe.
Nolan had gone south, as Jack Welsh had predicted, after the failure of his attempt to wreck the special and to revenge himself on Allan; but drawn, as Jack had foreseen, by an irresistible attraction, he had gradually worked his way back to the north ? 282 ? again, and, not daring to return to Wadsworth, had finally drifted to Coalville. There, after loitering around the saloons, until they refused admission to so penniless and disreputable a customer, he had secured work as hostler in the company’s stables; where, if the wages were not large, neither was the work exhausting. Here Nolan had remained for some months, believing himself secure from discovery. He slept in a loft at the rear of the stable, and here, one night, he was awakened by a savage grip at his throat. He endeavoured to yell, but as he opened his mouth, something was stuffed into it that muffled the cry, and nearly choked him. Half-dead with fright, he felt himself lifted from the hay, passed down the ladder and borne out into the open air. Then he fainted.
When he opened his eyes, he fancied for a moment that he was dreaming, so weird and uncanny was the picture which confronted him. Black columns towered about him into the darkness overhead, like the pillars of a cathedral, and now and then he caught a glimpse of the ebon ceiling, shining with moisture, which dripped down the pillars to the floor. Just in front of him flickered a little fire, over which a pot was simmering. About the fire were grouped four figures; and as he looked from one to the other of them, Nolan’s senses reeled and his heart quaked, for, by the dancing light of the fire, he recognized the four men whom he had betrayed.