A roar of anger and excitement rose as the prisoner was seen standing there before them, though outlined only by the dim light of the sky. Every man in the assailing party sprang toward the building. The cries became savage, beastlike. It was no longer human beings who contended over this poor, half-witted being, but brutes, less reasonable than he.
Juan left the door. He swept Franklin and Curly and Battersleigh aside as though they were but babes. It was his purpose to rush out, to strike, to kill. It was the moment of opportunity for the leader of the assailants. The whistle of a rope cut the air, and the noose tightened about the giant’s neck with instant grip. There was a surge back upon the rope, a movement which would have been fatal for any other man, which would have been fatal to him, had the men got the rope to a horse as they wished, so that they might drag the victim by violence through the crowd.
But with Juan this act was not final. The noose enraged him, but did not frighten or disable him. As the great bear of the foothills, when roped by the horseman, scorns to attempt escape, but pulls man and horse toward him by main force, so the giant savage who was now thus assailed put forth his strength, and by sheer power of arm drew his would-be captors to him, hand over hand. The noose about his own neck he loosened with one hand. Then he raised his hand and let it fall. The caster of the rope, his collar bone broken and his shoulder blade cracked across, fell in a heap at his feet as the swaying crowd made way. Once again there was silence, one moment of confusion, hesitation. Then came the end.
There came, boring into the silence with horrible distinctness, the sound of one merciful, mysterious shot. The giant straightened up once, a vast black body towering above the black mass about him, and then sank gently, slowly down, as though to curl himself in sleep.
There was a groan, a roar, a swift surging of men, thick, black, like swarming bees. Some bent above the two prone figures. Others caught at the rope, grovelling, snarling.
They were saved the last stage of their disgrace. Into the crowd there pressed the figure of a new-comer, a hatless man, whose face was pale, whose feet were unshod, and who bore one arm helpless in a dirty sling which hung about his neck. Haggard and unkempt, barefooted, half-clad as he had stumbled out of bed at his ranch six miles away, Bill Watson, the sheriff, appeared a figure unheroic enough. With his broken arm hanging useless and jostled by the crowd, he raised his right hand above his head and called out, in a voice weak and halting, but determined:
“Men, go—go home! I command you—in the name—of the law!”
THE DAY OF THE PLOUGH