“Which way’d he go?”
The Colonel turned his back to the North Pole, and made a fine large gesture in the general direction of the Equator.
“Where’s my money?”
“Up in your cabin. Better go and count it.”
A good many were willing to help since they’d been cheated out of a hanging, and even defrauded of a shot at a thief on the wing. Nobody seemed to care to remain in the neighbourhood of the crooked cotton-wood. The crowd was dispersing somewhat sheepishly.
Nobody looked at Butts, and yet he was a sight to see. His face and his clothes were badly mauled. He was covered with mud and blood. When the men were interrupted in trying to get the noose over his head, he had stood quite still in the midst of the crowd till it broke and melted away from him. He looked round, passed his hand over his eyes, threw open his torn coat, and felt in his pockets.
“Who’s got my tobacco?” says he.
Several men turned back suddenly, and several pouches were held out, but nobody met Butts’ eyes. He filled his pipe, nor did his hand shake any more than those that held the tobacco-bags. When he had lit up, “Who’s got my Smith and Wesson?” he called out to the backs of the retiring citizens. Windy Jim stood and delivered. Butts walked away to his cabin, swaying a little, as if he’d had more hootch than he could carry.
“What would you have said,” demanded the Boy, “if you’d hung the wrong man?”
“Said?” echoed McGinty. “Why, we’d ‘a’ said that time the corpse had the laugh on us.” A couple of hours later Keith put an excited face into his shack, where the Colonel and the Boy were just crawling under their blankets.
“Thought you might like to know, that Miners’ Meeting that was interrupted is having an extra session.”
They followed him down to the Court through a fine rain. The night was heavy and thick. As they splashed along Keith explained:
“Of course, Charlie knew there wasn’t room enough in Alaska now for Butts and him; and he thought he’d better send Butts home. So he took his gun and went to call.”
“Don’t tell me that poor devil’s killed after all.”
“Not a bit. Butts is a little bunged up, but he’s the handier man, even so. He drew the first bead.”
“No, he isn’t hurt. He’s dead. Three or four fellows had just looked in, on the quiet, to kind of apologise to Butts. They’re down at Corey’s now givin’ evidence against him.”
“So Butts’ll have to swing after all. Is he in Court?”
“Yes—been a busy day for Butts.”
A confused noise came suddenly out of the big cabin they were nearing. They opened the door with difficulty, and forced their way into the reeking, crowded room for the second time that night. Everybody seemed to be talking—nobody listening. Dimly through dense clouds of tobacco-smoke “the prisoner at the Bar” was seen to be—what—no! Yes—shaking hands with the Judge.