“Say, he shot Swift in the arm, too,” said Jim. “Pity he didn’t kill him. They’re getting a jury together already. Say! Ain’t it hell?”
THE THING THEY CALLED JUSTICE
Jack stared meditatively across at the young fellow sitting hunched upon another of the boxes that were the seats in this tent-jail, which was also the courtroom of the Vigilance Committee, and mechanically counted the slow tears that trickled down between the third and fourth fingers of each hand. A half-hour spent so would have rasped the nerves of the most phlegmatic man in the town, and Jack was not phlegmatic; fifteen minutes of watching that silent weeping sufficed to bring a muffled explosion.
“Ah, for God’s sake, brace up!” he gritted. “There’s some hope for you—if you don’t spoil what chance you have got, by crying around like a baby. Brace up and be a man, anyway. It won’t hurt any worse if you grin about it.”
The young fellow felt gropingly for a red-figured bandanna, found it and wiped his face and his eyes dejectedly. “I beg your pardon for seeming a coward,” he apologized huskily. “I got to thinking about my—m-mother and sisters, and—”
Jack winced. Mother and sisters he had longed for all his life. “Well, you better be thinking how you’ll get out of the scrape you’re in,” he advised, with a little of Bill Wilson’s grimness. “I’m afraid I’m to blame, in a way; and yet, if I hadn’t mixed into the fight, you’d be dead by now. Maybe that would have been just as well, seeing how things have turned out,” he grinned. “Still—have a smoke?”
“I never used tobacco in my life,” declined the youth somewhat primly.
“No, I don’t reckon you ever did!” Jack eyed him with a certain amount of pitying amusement. “A fellow that will come gold-hunting without a gun to his name, would not use tobacco, or swear, or do anything that a perfect lady couldn’t do! However, you put up a good fight with your fists, old man, and that’s something.”
“I’d have been killed, though, if you hadn’t shot when you did. They were too much for me. I haven’t tried to thank you—”
“No, I shouldn’t think you would,” grinned Jack. “I don’t see yet where I’ve done you any particular favor: from robbers to Vigilance Committee might be called an up-to-date version of ’Out of the frying-pan into the fire.’”
The boy glanced fearfully toward the closed tent-flaps. “Ssh!” he whispered. “The guard can hear—”
“Oh, that’s all right,” returned Jack, urged perhaps to a conscious bravado by the very weakness of the other. “It’s all day with me, anyway. I may as well say what I think.
“And so—” He paused to blow one of his favorite little smoke rings and watch it float to the dingy ridge-pole, where it flickered and faded into a blue haze “—and so, I’m going to say right out in meeting what I think of this town and the Committee they let measure out justice. Justice!” He laughed sardonically. “Poor old lady, she couldn’t stop within forty miles of Perkins’ Committee if she had forty bandages over her eyes, and both ears plugged with cotton! You wait till their farce of a trial is over. You may get off, by a scratch—I hope so. But unless Bill Wilson—”