Chapter XXVI
 

Back to the passing of Boone and the landing of Columbus no man, in that region, had ever been hanged. And as old Judd said, no Tolliver had ever been sentenced and no jury of mountain men, he well knew, could be found who would convict a Tolliver, for there were no twelve men in the mountains who would dare. And so the Tollivers decided to await the outcome of the trial and rest easy. But they did not count on the mettle and intelligence of the grim young "furriners" who were a flying wedge of civilization at the Gap. Straightway, they gave up the practice of law and banking and trading and store-keeping and cut port-holes in the brick walls of the Court House and guarded town and jail night and day. They brought their own fearless judge, their own fearless jury and their own fearless guard. Such an abstract regard for law and order the mountaineer finds a hard thing to understand. It looked as though the motive of the Guard was vindictive and personal, and old Judd was almost stifled by the volcanic rage that daily grew within him as the toils daily tightened about Rufe Tolliver.

Every happening the old man learned through the Red Fox, who, with his huge pistols, was one of the men who escorted Rufe to and from Court House and jail--a volunteer, Hale supposed, because he hated Rufe; and, as the Tollivers supposed, so that he could keep them advised of everything that went on, which he did with secrecy and his own peculiar faith. And steadily and to the growing uneasiness of the Tollivers, the law went its way. Rufe had proven that he was at the Gap all day and had taken no part in the trouble. He produced a witness--the mountain lout whom Hale remembered--who admitted that he had blown the whistle, given the yell, and fired the pistol shot. When asked his reason, the witness, who was stupid, had none ready, looked helplessly at Rufe and finally mumbled--"fer fun." But it was plain from the questions that Rufe had put to Hale only a few minutes before the shooting, and from the hesitation of the witness, that Rufe had used him for a tool. So the testimony of the latter that Mockaby without even summoning Rufe to surrender had fired first, carried no conviction. And yet Rufe had no trouble making it almost sure that he had never seen the dead man before--so what was his motive? It was then that word reached the ear of the prosecuting attorney of the only testimony that could establish a motive and make the crime a hanging offence, and Court was adjourned for a day, while he sent for the witness who could give it. That afternoon one of the Falins, who had grown bolder, and in twos and threes were always at the trial, shot at a Tolliver on the edge of town and there was an immediate turmoil between the factions that the Red Fox had been waiting for and that suited his dark purposes well.

That very night, with his big rifle, he slipped through the woods to a turn of the road, over which old Dave Tolliver was to pass next morning, and built a "blind" behind some rocks and lay there smoking peacefully and dreaming his Swedenborgian dreams. And when a wagon came round the turn, driven by a boy, and with the gaunt frame of old Dave Tolliver lying on straw in the bed of it, his big rifle thundered and the frightened horses dashed on with the Red Fox's last enemy, lifeless. Coolly he slipped back to the woods, threw the shell from his gun, tirelessly he went by short cuts through the hills, and at noon, benevolent and smiling, he was on guard again.

The little Court Room was crowded for the afternoon session. Inside the railing sat Rufe Tolliver, white and defiant--manacled. Leaning on the railing, to one side, was the Red Fox with his big pistols, his good profile calm, dreamy, kind--to the other, similarly armed, was Hale. At each of the gaping port-holes, and on each side of the door, stood a guard with a Winchester, and around the railing outside were several more. In spite of window and port-hole the air was close and heavy with the smell of tobacco and the sweat of men. Here and there in the crowd was a red Falin, but not a Tolliver was in sight, and Rufe Tolliver sat alone. The clerk called the Court to order after the fashion since the days before Edward the Confessor--except that he asked God to save a commonwealth instead of a king--and the prosecuting attorney rose:

"Next witness, may it please your Honour": and as the clerk got to his feet with a slip of paper in his hand and bawled out a name, Hale wheeled with a thumping heart. The crowd vibrated, turned heads, gave way, and through the human aisle walked June Tolliver with the sheriff following meekly behind. At the railing-gate she stopped, head uplifted, face pale and indignant; and her eyes swept past Hale as if he were no more than a wooden image, and were fixed with proud inquiry on the Judge's face. She was bare- headed, her bronze hair was drawn low over her white brow, her gown was of purple home-spun, and her right hand was clenched tight about the chased silver handle of a riding whip, and in eyes, mouth, and in every line of her tense figure was the mute question: "Why have you brought me here?"

"Here, please," said the Judge gently, as though he were about to answer that question, and as she passed Hale she seemed to swerve her skirts aside that they might not touch him.

"Swear her."

June lifted her right hand, put her lips to the soiled, old, black Bible and faced the jury and Hale and Bad Rufe Tolliver whose black eyes never left her face.

"What is your name?" asked a deep voice that struck her ears as familiar, and before she answered she swiftly recalled that she had heard that voice speaking when she entered the door.

"June Tolliver."

"Your age?"

"Eighteen."

"You live--"

"In Lonesome Cove."

"You are the daughter of--"

"Judd Tolliver."

"Do you know the prisoner?"

"He is my foster-uncle."

"Were you at home on the night of August the tenth?"

"I was."

"Have you ever heard the prisoner express any enmity against this volunteer Police Guard?" He waved his hand toward the men at the portholes and about the railing--unconsciously leaving his hand directly pointed at Hale. June hesitated and Rufe leaned one elbow on the table, and the light in his eyes beat with fierce intensity into the girl's eyes into which came a curious frightened look that Hale remembered--the same look she had shown long ago when Rufe's name was mentioned in the old miller's cabin, and when going up the river road she had put her childish trust in him to see that her bad uncle bothered her no more. Hale had never forgot that, and if it had not been absurd he would have stopped the prisoner from staring at her now. An anxious look had come into Rufe's eyes--would she lie for him?

"Never," said June. Ah, she would--she was a Tolliver and Rufe took a breath of deep content.

"You never heard him express any enmity toward the Police Guard-- before that night?"

"I have answered that question," said June with dignity and Rufe's lawyer was on his feet.

"Your Honour, I object," he said indignantly.

"I apologize," said the deep voice--"sincerely," and he bowed to June. Then very quietly:

"What was the last thing you heard the prisoner say that afternoon when he left your father's house?"

It had come--how well she remembered just what he had said and how, that night, even when she was asleep, Rufe's words had clanged like a bell in her brain--what her awakening terror was when she knew that the deed was done and the stifling fear that the victim might be Hale. Swiftly her mind worked--somebody had blabbed, her step-mother, perhaps, and what Rufe had said had reached a Falin ear and come to the relentless man in front of her. She remembered, too, now, what the deep voice was saying as she came into the door:

"There must be deliberation, a malicious purpose proven to make the prisoner's crime a capital offence--I admit that, of course, your Honour. Very well, we propose to prove that now," and then she had heard her name called. The proof that was to send Rufe Tolliver to the scaffold was to come from her--that was why she was there. Her lips opened and Rufe's eyes, like a snake's, caught her own again and held them.

"He said he was going over to the Gap--"

There was a commotion at the door, again the crowd parted, and in towered giant Judd Tolliver, pushing people aside as though they were straws, his bushy hair wild and his great frame shaking from head to foot with rage.

"You went to my house," he rumbled hoarsely--glaring at Hale--"an' took my gal thar when I wasn't at home--you--"

"Order in the Court," said the Judge sternly, but already at a signal from Hale several guards were pushing through the crowd and old Judd saw them coming and saw the Falins about him and the Winchesters at the port-holes, and he stopped with a hard gulp and stood looking at June.

"Repeat his exact words," said the deep voice again as calmly as though nothing had happened.

"He said, 'I'm goin' over to the Gap--'" and still Rufe's black eyes held her with mesmeric power--would she lie for him--would she lie for him?

It was a terrible struggle for June. Her father was there, her uncle Dave was dead, her foster-uncle's life hung on her next words and she was a Tolliver. Yet she had given her oath, she had kissed the sacred Book in which she believed from cover to cover with her whole heart, and she could feel upon her the blue eyes of a man for whom a lie was impossible and to whom she had never stained her white soul with a word of untruth.

"Yes," encouraged the deep voice kindly.

Not a soul in the room knew where the struggle lay--not even the girl--for it lay between the black eyes of Rufe Tolliver and the blue eyes of John Hale.

"Yes," repeated the deep voice again. Again, with her eyes on Rufe, she repeated:

"'I'm goin' over to the Gap--'" her face turned deadly white, she shivered, her dark eyes swerved suddenly full on Hale and she said slowly and distinctly, yet hardly above a whisper:

"'To kill me a policeman.'"

"That will do," said the deep voice gently, and Hale started toward her--she looked so deadly sick and she trembled so when she tried to rise; but she saw him, her mouth steadied, she rose, and without looking at him, passed by his outstretched hand and walked slowly out of the Court Room.