“And, finally,” he said, “you can’t get around Bella’s last words. We know nothing of our own direct knowledge. We’ve been feeling around in the dark, clutching at little things, and trying to figure it all out. But, gentlemen,” he paused to search the faces of his listeners, “Bella knew the truth. Hers is no circumstantial evidence. With quick, anguished breath, and life-blood ebbing from her, and eyeballs glazing, she spoke the truth. With dark night coming on, and the death-rattle in her throat, she raised herself weakly and pointed a shaking finger at the accused, thus, and she said, ’Him, him, him. St. Vincha, him do it.’”
With Bill Brown’s finger still boring into him, St. Vincent struggled to his feet. His face looked old and gray, and he looked about him speechlessly. “Funk! Funk!” was whispered back and forth, and not so softly but what he heard. He moistened his lips repeatedly, and his tongue fought for articulation. “It is as I have said,” he succeeded, finally. “I did not do it. Before God, I did not do it!” He stared fixedly at John the Swede, waiting the while on his laggard thought. “I . . . I did not do it . . . I did not . . . I . . . I did not.”
He seemed to have become lost in some supreme meditation wherein John the Swede figured largely, and as Frona caught him by the hand and pulled him gently down, some man cried out, “Secret ballot!”
But Bill Brown was on his feet at once. “No! I say no! An open ballot! We are men, and as men are not afraid to put ourselves on record.”
A chorus of approval greeted him, and the open ballot began. Man after man, called upon by name, spoke the one word, “Guilty.”
Baron Courbertin came forward and whispered to Frona. She nodded her head and smiled, and he edged his way back, taking up a position by the door. He voted “Not guilty” when his turn came, as did Frona and Jacob Welse. Pierre La Flitche wavered a moment, looking keenly at Frona and St. Vincent, then spoke up, clear and flute-like, “Guilty.”
As the chairman arose, Jacob Welse casually walked over to the opposite side of the table and stood with his back to the stove. Courbertin, who had missed nothing, pulled a pickle-keg out from the wall and stepped upon it.
The chairman cleared his throat and rapped for order. “Gentlemen,” he announced, “the prisoner—”
“Hands up!” Jacob Welse commanded peremptorily, and a fraction of a second after him came the shrill “Hands up, gentlemen!” of Courbertin.
Front and rear they commanded the crowd with their revolvers. Every hand was in the air, the chairman’s having gone up still grasping the mallet. There was no disturbance. Each stood or sat in the same posture as when the command went forth. Their eyes, playing here and there among the central figures, always returned to Jacob Welse.
St. Vincent sat as one dumfounded. Frona thrust a revolver into his hand, but his limp fingers refused to close on it.