“You’ve got me now, an’ I know what’s coming as well as you do.” His voice was low and quiet, with the faintest trace of a broken note in it, deep down in his throat. “We’re alone, old man, and a long way from anyone. I ain’t blaming you for catching me. I haven’t got anything against you. So let’s drop this other thing—what I’m going down to—and talk something pleasant. I know I’m going to hang. That’s the law. It’ll be pleasant enough when it comes, don’t you think? Let’s talk about—about—home. Got any kids?”
Brokaw shook his head, and took his pipe from his mouth.
“Never married,” he said shortly.
“Never married,” mused Billy, regarding him with a curious softening of his blue eyes. “You don’t know what you’ve missed, Brokaw. Of course, it’s none of my business, but you’ve got a home—somewhere—” Brokaw shook his head again.
“Been in the service ten years,” he said. “I’ve got a mother living with my brother somewhere down in York State. I’ve sort of lost track of them. Haven’t seen ’em in five years.”
Billy was looking at him steadily. Slowly he rose to his feet, lifted his manacled hands, and turned down the light.
“Hurts my eyes,” he said, and he laughed frankly as he caught the suspicious glint in Brokaw’s eyes. He seated himself again, and leaned over toward the other. “I haven’t talked to a white man for three months,” he added, a little hesitatingly. “I’ve been hiding—close. I had a dog for a time, and he died, an’ I didn’t dare go hunting for another. I knew you fellows were pretty close after me. But I wanted to get enough fur to take me to South America. Had it all planned, an’ she was going to join me there—with the kid. Understand? If you’d kept away another month—”
There was a husky break in his voice, and he coughed to clear it.
“You don’t mind if I talk, do you—about her, an’ the kid? I’ve got to do it, or bust, or go mad. I’ve got to because—to-day—she was twenty-four—at ten o’clock in the morning—an’ it’s our wedding day—”
The half gloom hid from Brokaw what was in the other’s face. And then Billy laughed almost joyously. “Say, but she’s been a true little pardner,” he whispered proudly, as there came a lull in the storm. “She was just born for me, an’ everything seemed to happen on her birthday, an’ that’s why I can’t be downhearted even now. It’s her birthday? you see, an’ this morning, before you came, I was just that happy that I set a plate for her at the table, an’ put her picture and a curl of her hair beside it—set the picture up so it was looking at me—an’ we had breakfast together. Look here—”
He moved to the table, with Brokaw watching him like a cat, and brought something back with him, wrapped in a soft piece of buckskin. He unfolded the buckskin tenderly, and drew forth a long curl that rippled a dull red and gold in the lamp-glow, and then he handed a photograph to Brokaw.