The dance stopped abruptly with the killing; people were already going home. Billy, with the excuse that he would be wanted at the inquest, hunted up Jim Bleeker, gave him charge of the round-up for a few days, and told him what route to take. For himself, he meant to ride home with Flora or know the reason why.
“Come along, Dilly, and let’s get out uh town,” he urged, when he had found him. “It’s a kinda small burg, and at the rate the Pilgrim is swelling up over what he done, there won’t be room for nobody but him in another hour. He’s making me plumb nervous and afraid to be around him, he’s so fatal.”
“We’ll go at once, William. Walland is drinking a great deal more than he should, but I don’t think he means to be boastful over so unfortunate an affair. Do you think you are taking an altogether unprejudiced view of the matter? Our judgment,” he added deprecatingly, “is so apt to be warped by our likes and dislikes.”
“Well, if that was the case here,” Billy told him shortly, “I’ve got dislike enough for him to wind my judgment up like a clock spring. I’ll go see if Flora and her mother are ready.” In that way he avoided discussing the Pilgrim, for Dill was not so dull that he failed to take the hint.
The Shadow Darkens.
The inquest resulted to the satisfaction of those who wished well to the Pilgrim, for it cleared him of all responsibility for the killing. Gus Svenstrom had been drunk; he had been heard to make threats; he had been the aggressor in the trouble at the dance; and the Pilgrim, in the search men had made immediately after the shooting, had been found unarmed. The case was very plainly one of self-defense.
Billy, when questioned, repeated the Pilgrim’s first words to him—that the Swede had pulled a knife; and told the jury, on further questioning, that he had not seen any gun on the ground until after he had gone for help.
Walland explained satisfactorily to the jury. He may have said knife instead of gun. He had heard some one say that the Swede carried a knife, and he had been expecting him to draw one. He was rattled at first and hardly knew what he did say. He did not remember saying it was a knife, but it was possible that he had done so. As to Billy’s not seeing any gun at first—they did not question the Pilgrim about that, because Billy in his haste and excitement could so easily overlook an object on the ground. They gave a verdict of self-defense without any discussion, and the Pilgrim continued to be something of a hero among his fellows.