Saturday, December 8, 2012

"The Whip of Death" by Ellen Lynn

The Whip of Death
Ellen Lynn

It was a thin, rawhide whip. It rang screamingly through the air as Chris Morrison unfurled its seven-foot length with a sharp, skillful stroke. He sat perched high on the driver's seat of the coach, with its prancing team of six horses, as they waited for the train to pull into the station.

In the early days of the railroad, it was not a strange sight to see horse-drawn vehicles and trains at the same time. When trains made fifty miles an hour at top speed they sometimes lost a race to a skillful driver of a team.

Such a driver was Chris Morrison. He made a handsome sight holding the reins of his six-horse team from his high seat on the coach. His blond hair glistened in the sunlight and his teeth flashed with the grin of the victor. That morning he won the race against the Midwest Special and in his strong hand was gripped his prize—a long, rawhide whip. The sound of its "crack—crack!" rang out shudderingly as he tested its strength with a thrust of his arm. But Chris never used a whip on his team of horses. They trusted their master and understood him. When he was in a race, just the sound of the whip snapping in midair gave impetus to their flying feet and added still more speed to their gait.

"Ain't this the handsomest whip you did ever see, Adam?" Chris asked, turning to the slight, dark-haired young man beside him on the high perch of the coach.

"Sure is," his assistant answered begrudgingly. His small eyes always seemed half-closed, sleepy, but close observation revealed extraordinarily bright, piercing, pupils behind the lids. They were fastened on the towering figure of Chris and behind his tightened lips his teeth ground together. "That whip is rightfully mine," he was thinking. "Just 'cause Chris sits in the driver's seat, holding the reins, he thinks he won the prize! If only I had a chance—why—I could beat his speed record easily. I know more 'bout handlin' horses than he'll ever know, softy that he is! Won't use the whip on the horses! Pah! I'd make 'em show speed that'd make everyone's eyes pop..."

"There's the train now," Chris interrupted Adam's reveries. "What's the name of the lady we're to meet?"

"Abigail Trent," Adam answered tersely.

The two men watched the people getting off the train and suddenly both perked up. A young lady, exceptionally pretty and pert, stood alone, a bag in each hand, looking about as though searching for someone.

"Think that's Miss Trent?" Chris asked.

Adam started getting down from his seat—"I'll go find out," he offered quickly.

But with a leap and a bound Chris was on the ground before Adam and making his way to the pretty girl. Adam's teeth ground harder than ever—and his eyes looked like mere slits as he saw the two smile at each other and Chris lean forward to take the bags from Miss Trent's hands.

Yes, it was Abigail Trent, and they were to take her back to Silver Landing from where they both came.

"Adam, drive the team, will ya," Chris tossed at Adam over his shoulder as he helped the girl into the coach and followed inside. "You've always wanted to—so here's y'r chance."

Adam climbed up to the high driver's seat with bitter thoughts—"Yea—this is a fine time to let me take over the reins—so you c'n take over the girl!" As he sat there driving, Adam could hear the two of them talking and laughing behind him. Chris was asking her lots of questions. She said she was coming to live with her grandfather, old Jake Trent.

"I am an artist—professionally," she informed Chris. "Would you be willing to sit for me? I'd like you as a subject."

"If you'd just like me, I'd do most anything, Miss Trent," Chris answered and they both laughed. Adam cracked his whip sharply in the air. Chris had left the old whip in the holder; he was holding the prize whip as he sat in the rear with Miss Trent. "He wouldn't even trust me to handle his new whip," Adam's seething thoughts churned in his head. There was a loud whinny and the coach gave a sudden jerk, as Adam snapped the whip angrily against the sensitive flank of the nearest horse.

"Stop that!" Chris yelled, pulling at Adam's shirt from the interior of the coach. He climbed up through the opening and climbing over Adam took the reins away from him. Adam slid over to his usual seat beside Chris. "What got into you?" Chris asked in astonishment as he calmed the nervous horses and restored them to a steady gait. "Y'know I never allow a whip to be used on horses!"

Adam mumbled, "It wuz a slip."

That was the last time Chris let Adam sit in the driver's seat. Adam's heart burned with hatred and his mind was filled with dreams of the lovely Abigail Trent. Chris always had everything his way. Even Abigail seemed to be captivated by him and they were always going off somewhere together, laughing and clinging, arm in arm. They had fallen in love. She would carry an easel which he'd set up for her in some grassy spot and he'd sit against a tree while she painted his picture. He'd always carry his prize whip, which she said would be in the picture when it was finished.

One day Adam was sitting in his seat on the coach waiting for Chris to go on their regular run. Abigail was saying goodbye—"When you get back, Chris, you must sit for me for the last time. And bring the whip—I am going to put it in at the very end." Adam's eyes narrowed. "Such a fuss over that prize whip! I, too, could be a hero with a whip like that," he thought darkly. "And Abigail seems to like heroes. Maybe someday I'll get my turn!"

The hero, Chris, swept the pretty Abigail into his arms, gave her a hearty kiss, and jumped into his seat. The whip cracked in the air and the team set off for the run. The trail went through some thickly wooded stretches over high hills. It had been a long time since there had been trouble with Indians but a suspicious sound made Chris pull in the reins. The horses came to a halt.

They listened. "What d'ya think, Adam? Indians?" Chris whispered.

Adam nodded. "Let's get to the top of this hill—then we can see," he suggested.

Both men jumped off the seat and climbed to the hilltop. Crouching on the ground they saw a band of Indians prowling. A daring idea struck Adam at that moment. As quick as a panther he fell on Chris plunging his knife deep into his back. With a groan the victim fell over dead.

Adam ran stealthily back to the coach. There was Chris's whip lying on the seat. With a laugh of triumph he cracked it in the air and landed a blow on the flanks of the horses. They darted wildly forward. An arrow pierced the coach—but the team soon outdistanced the surprised Indians.

He was close to town when he realized that he must have a good story. Well, he thought, we met up with a band of Indians; they killed Chris, but I escaped. This time I'll be the hero. He looked at the prize whip in his hand—and with a surge of hatred hurled this reminder of the man he had killed as far as he could, into a deep thicket. Then Adam continued back to town.

The whole town was shocked by Chris's death at the hands of the Indians. Abigail fell ill and refused to see Adam, though he tried to visit her time and again. After many weeks, he came to call one day and she allowed him to come in. She asked question after question about Chris's death. "You're so patient with me, Adam," she said, "This has been a dreadful blow." He replied, "You must know I love you, Abigail. Let me help you forget. Marry me."

Abigail refused. She could not be consoled. The unfinished painting of Chris hung on her living-room wall and when friends urged her to complete it—to paint in the missing whip—her answer was that she would never finish it.

It was a year later that Adam's constant attention and tender concern thawed Abigail's heart. She agreed to marry him. The night she gave her promise, just as she turned off the light to go to bed, she heard a voice. It startled her, but she listened. "Finish the painting—put in the whip!" Several nights in a row this was repeated. Finally, Abigail set herself to the task and painted in the whip in Chris's hands. She felt happier after this and set the date of the wedding.

The evening before they were to be married, Adam was waiting in the living-room to say goodnight to Abigail—the last time before they would be man and wife. She entered the room and the first thing her eyes fell upon was the painting of Chris. As though it had been cut out with a knife, the whip was missing from the canvas. Then she looked on the floor. Adam lay there, his eyes wide open for the first time, in the stare of death. Tightly wound around his neck, cutting all his life, was the—Prize Whip!

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