Jacob Welse was given due respect when he arose at the convening of the miners’ meeting and denounced the proceedings. While such meetings had performed a legitimate function in the past, he contended, when there was no law in the land, that time was now beyond recall; for law was now established, and it was just law. The Queen’s government had shown itself fit to cope with the situation, and for them to usurp its powers was to step backward into the night out of which they had come. Further, no lighter word than “criminal” could characterize such conduct. And yet further, he promised them, in set, sober terms, if anything serious were the outcome, to take an active part in the prosecution of every one of them. At the conclusion of his speech he made a motion to hold the prisoner for the territorial court and to adjourn, but was voted down without discussion.
“Don’t you see,” St. Vincent said to Frona, “there is no hope?”
“But there is. Listen!” And she swiftly outlined the plot of the night before.
He followed her in a half-hearted way, too crushed to partake of her enthusiasm. “It’s madness to attempt it,” he objected, when she had done.
“And it looks very much like hanging not to attempt it,” she answered a little spiritedly. “Surely you will make a fight?”
“Surely,” he replied, hollowly.
The first witnesses were two Swedes, who told of the wash-tub incident, when Borg had given way to one of his fits of anger. Trivial as the incident was, in the light of subsequent events it at once became serious. It opened the way for the imagination into a vast familiar field. It was not so much what was said as what was left unsaid. Men born of women, the rudest of them, knew life well enough to be aware of its significance,—a vulgar common happening, capable of but one interpretation. Heads were wagged knowingly in the course of the testimony, and whispered comments went the rounds.
Half a dozen witnesses followed in rapid succession, all of whom had closely examined the scene of the crime and gone over the island carefully, and all of whom were agreed that there was not the slightest trace to be found of the two men mentioned by the prisoner in his preliminary statement.
To Frona’s surprise, Del Bishop went upon the stand. She knew he disliked St. Vincent, but could not imagine any evidence he could possess which would bear upon the case.
Being sworn, and age and nationality ascertained, Bill Brown asked him his business.
“Pocket-miner,” he challenged back, sweeping the assemblage with an aggressive glance.
Now, it happens that a very small class of men follow pocketing, and that a very large class of men, miners, too, disbelieve utterly in any such method or obtaining gold.
“Pocket-miner!” sneered a red-shirted, patriarchal-looking man, a man who had washed his first pan in the Californian diggings in the early fifties.