Shorty it was who jerked him away from Bill. The Captain, on his feet, was dominating the uneasy crowd with his cold stare more than with the gun he held in his hand.
“This Committee,” he stated in his calm, judicial tone, which chilled the growing fire of excitement and held the men silent that they might listen, “this Committee regrets that in the course of its unpleasant duties it must now and then rouse the antagonism of a bad man’s friends. But this Committee must perform the duties for which it was elected. This Committee is sorry to see Mr. Wilson take the stand he takes, but it realizes that friendship for the condemned man leads him to make statements and threats for which he should not be held responsible. Gentlemen, this court of inquiry is dismissed, and it may not be amiss to point out the necessity for order being maintained among you. The Committee would deeply regret any trouble arising at this time.”
“Oh, damn you and your Committee!” gritted Bill Wilson, out of the bitterness that filled him. He gave Jack one glance; one, and with his jaws set hard together, turned his back.
The crowd pushed and parted to make way for him. Jim, his face the color of a pork rind, followed dog-like at the heels of his boss. And when they had passed, the tent began to belch forth men who walked with heads and shoulders a little bent, talking together under their breaths of this man who dared defy the Committee to its face, and whose daring was as impotent as the breeze that still pulled at the flapping corner of the cloth sign over the door of his place.
Bill glanced dully up at the sign before he opened his door. “Better get the hammer and nail that corner down, Jim,” he said morosely, and went in. He poured a whisky glass two-thirds full of liquor and emptied it with one long swallow—and Bill was not a drinking man.
“God! This thing they call justice!” he groaned, as he set down the glass; and went out to make an attempt at organizing a rescue party, though he had little hope of succeeding. Jack was a stranger to the better class of business men, and those who did know him were either friends of the Committee or in deadly fear of it. Still, Bill was a gambler. He was probably putting the mark of the next victim on himself; but he did not stop for that.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE OAK
Jack sat looking after the crowd that shuffled through the doorway into the sunlight. He thought he had believed that he would receive the sentence which the juryman had spoken so baldly; yet, after the words had been actually spoken, he stared blankly after Bill and the others, and incredulously at the Captain, who seated himself upon a bunk opposite to watch his prisoner, his pistol resting suggestively upon his knee. The boy lingered to shake Jack’s unresponsive hand and mutter a broken sentence or two of gratitude