“You’re charged with the murder of George Doble last night in Denver.”
The boy stared at him with horror-stricken eyes. “Doble? My God, did I kill him?” He clutched at a porch post to steady himself. The hills were sliding queerly up into the sky.
All the way back to Denver, while the train ran down through the narrow, crooked canon, Dave’s mind dwelt in a penumbra of horror. It was impossible he could have killed Doble, he kept telling himself. He had fired back into the night without aim. He had not even tried to hit the men who were shooting at him. It must be some ghastly joke.
None the less he knew by the dull ache in his heart that this awful thing had fastened on him and that he would have to pay the penalty. He had killed a man, snuffed out his life wantonly as a result of taking the law into his own hands. The knowledge of what he had done shook him to the soul.
It remained with him, in the background of his mind, up to and through his trial. What shook his nerve was the fact that he had taken a life, not the certainty of the punishment that must follow.
West called to see him at the jail, and to the cattleman Dave told the story exactly as it had happened. The owner of the Fifty-Four Quarter Circle walked up and down the cell rumpling his hair.
“Boy, why didn’t you let on to me what you was figurin’ on pullin’ off? I knew you was some bull-haided, but I thought you had a lick o’ sense left.”
“Wisht I had,” said Dave miserably.
“Well, what’s done’s done. No use cryin’ over the bust-up. We’d better fix up whatever’s left from the smash. First off, we’ll get a lawyer, I reckon.”
“I gotta li’l’ money left—twenty-six dollars,” spoke up Dave timidly. “Maybe that’s all he’ll want.”
West smiled at this babe in the woods. “It’ll last as long as a snowball in you-know-where if he’s like some lawyers I’ve met up with.”
It did not take the lawyer whom West engaged long to decide on the line the defense must take. “We’ll show that Miller and Doble were crooks and that they had wronged Sanders. That will count a lot with a jury,” he told West. “We’ll admit the killing and claim self-defense.”
The day before the trial Dave was sitting in his cell cheerlessly reading a newspaper when visitors were announced. At sight of Emerson Crawford and Bob Hart he choked in his throat. Tears brimmed in his eyes. Nobody could have been kinder to him than West had been, but these were home folks. He had known them many years. Their kindness in coming melted his heart.
He gripped their hands, but found himself unable to say anything in answer to their greetings. He was afraid to trust his voice, and he was ashamed of his emotion.
“The boys are for you strong, Dave. We all figure you done right. Steve he says he wouldn’t worry none if you’d got Miller too,” Bob breezed on.