The white teeth of the young mining engineer set like a trap, his gray eyes gleaming dangerously beneath frowning brows. Instinctively he took a quick step forward.
“Warrants?” he exclaimed, breathlessly. “In God’s name, for what?”
Hayes tightened his grip on the gun butt, drawing it half from the sheath, his eyes narrowing.
“For the murder of Jack Burke,” he said tersely. “Don’t you move, young man!”
There was a long moment of intense, strained silence, in which the five men could hear nothing but their own quick breathing. Before Winston everything grew indistinct, unreal, the faces fronting him a phantasy of imagination. He felt the fierce throb of his own pulses, a sudden dull pain shooting through his temples. Murder! The terrible word struck like a blow, appearing to paralyze all his faculties. In front of him, as if painted, he saw that fierce struggle in the dark, the limp figure lying huddled among the rocks. Murder! Aye, and how could he prove it otherwise? How could he hope to clear himself from the foul charge? Even as he yet swayed unsteadily upon his feet, a hand pressed across his eyes as if shielding them from that horrible vision, a voice, deep and strident, rang out:
“Mike an’ me have got the two cusses covered Mr. Winston. If they move, or you give us the highball, we ’ll plug ’em dead centre!”
THE INTERVENTION OF SWANSON
Hayes never changed his position, nor removed his eyes from Winston, his right hand still resting upon the butt of his “45,” his lips set in rigid line. The engineer, the mist partially clearing from his brain, retained no thought except for Farnham, who remained motionless, staring over his head into the black, threatening muzzle of Stutter Brown’s levelled gun. These were Western men; they recognized instantly the potency of “the drop,” the absolute certainty of death if they stirred a muscle. They could only wait, breathless, uncertain, the next move in this desperate game. To Winston it seemed an hour he hesitated, his mind a chaos, temptation buffeting him remorselessly. He saw the sheriff’s face set hard, and resolute behind its iron-gray beard; he marked the reckless sneer curling Farnham’s lips, the livid mark under his eye where he had struck him. The intense hatred he felt for this man swept across him fiercely, for an instant driving out of his heart all thought of mercy. As suddenly he remembered the helpless woman yonder, within easy view, possibly even then upon her knees in supplication. It was this conception that aroused him. He withdrew his dull gaze from off that hateful, mocking face, his clenched hands opening, his mind responding to a new-born will. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord”—like an echo, perhaps from the very prayer her lips were speaking, the solemn words came into his consciousness. With face white, and lips trembling, he stepped suddenly back, and flung up one hand.