Chapter XXVIII
 

And so while Bad Rufe Tolliver was waiting for death, the trial of the Red Fox went on, and when he was not swinging in a hammock, reading his Bible, telling his visions to his guards and singing hymns, he was in the Court House giving shrewd answers to questions, or none at all, with the benevolent half of his mask turned to the jury and the wolfish snarl of the other half showing only now and then to some hostile witness for whom his hate was stronger than his fear for his own life. And in jail Bad Rufe worried his enemy with the malicious humour of Satan. Now he would say:

"Oh, there ain't nothin' betwixt old Red and me, nothin' at all-- 'cept this iron wall," and he would drum a vicious tattoo on the thin wall with the heel of his boot. Or when he heard the creak of the Red Fox's hammock as he droned his Bible aloud, he would say to his guard outside:

"Course I don't read the Bible an' preach the word, nor talk with sperits, but thar's worse men than me in the world--old Red in thar' for instance"; and then he would cackle like a fiend and the Red Fox would writhe in torment and beg to be sent to another cell. And always he would daily ask the Red Fox about his trial and ask him questions in the night, and his devilish instinct told him the day that the Red Fox, too, was sentenced to death-he saw it in the gray pallour of the old man's face, and he cackled his glee like a demon. For the evidence against the Red Fox was too strong. Where June sat as chief witness against Rufe Tolliver-- John Hale sat as chief witness against the Red Fox. He could not swear it was a cartridge shell that he saw the old man pick up, but it was something that glistened in the sun, and a moment later he had found the shell in the old man's pocket--and if it had been fired innocently, why was it there and why was the old man searching for it? He was looking, he said, for evidence of the murderer himself. That claim made, the Red Fox's lawyer picked up the big rifle and the shell.

"You say, Mr. Hale, the prisoner told you the night you spent at his home that this rifle was rim-fire?"

"He did." The lawyer held up the shell.

"You see this was exploded in such a rifle." That was plain, and the lawyer shoved the shell into the rifle, pulled the trigger, took it out, and held it up again. The plunger had struck below the rim and near the centre, but not quite on the centre, and Hale asked for the rifle and examined it closely.

"It's been tampered with," he said quietly, arid he handed it to the prosecuting attorney. The fact was plain; it was a bungling job and better proved the Red Fox's guilt. Moreover, there were only two such big rifles in all the hills, and it was proven that the man who owned the other was at the time of the murder far away. The days of brain-storms had not come then. There were no eminent Alienists to prove insanity for the prisoner. Apparently, he had no friends--none save the little old woman in black who sat by his side, hour by hour and day by day.

And the Red Fox was doomed.

In the hush of the Court Room the Judge solemnly put to the gray face before him the usual question:

"Have you anything to say whereby sentence of death should not be pronounced on you?"

The Red Fox rose:

"No," he said in a shaking voice; "but I have a friend here who I would like to speak for me." The Judge bent his head a moment over his bench and lifted it:

"It is unusual," he said; "but under the circumstances I will grant your request. Who is your friend?" And the Red Fox made the souls of his listeners leap.

"Jesus Christ," he said.

The Judge reverently bowed his head and the hush of the Court Room grew deeper when the old man fished his Bible from his pocket and calmly read such passages as might be interpreted as sure damnation for his enemies and sure glory for himself--read them until the Judge lifted his hand for a halt.

And so another sensation spread through the hills and a superstitious awe of this strange new power that had come into the hills went with it hand in hand. Only while the doubting ones knew that nothing could save the Red Fox they would wait to see if that power could really avail against the Tolliver clan. The day set for Rufe's execution was the following Monday, and for the Red Fox the Friday following--for it was well to have the whole wretched business over while the guard was there. Old Judd Tolliver, so Hale learned, had come himself to offer the little old woman in black the refuge of his roof as long as she lived, and had tried to get her to go back with him to Lonesome Cove; but it pleased the Red Fox that he should stand on the scaffold in a suit of white--cap and all--as emblems of the purple and fine linen he was to put on above, and the little old woman stayed where she was, silently and without question, cutting the garments, as Hale pityingly learned, from a white table-cloth and measuring them piece by piece with the clothes the old man wore in jail. It pleased him, too, that his body should be kept unburied three days--saying that he would then arise and go about preaching, and that duty, too, she would as silently and with as little question perform. Moreover, he would preach his own funeral sermon on the Sunday before Rufe's day, and a curious crowd gathered to hear him. The Red Fox was led from jail. He stood on the porch of the jailer's house with a little table in front of him. On it lay a Bible, on the other side of the table sat a little pale-faced old woman in black with a black sun-bonnet drawn close to her face. By the side of the Bible lay a few pieces of bread. It was the Red Fox's last communion--a communion which he administered to himself and in which there was no other soul on earth to join save that little old woman in black. And when the old fellow lifted the bread and asked the crowd to come forward to partake with him in the last sacrament, not a soul moved. Only the old woman who had been ill-treated by the Red Fox for so many years--only she, of all the crowd, gave any answer, and she for one instant turned her face toward him. With a churlish gesture the old man pushed the bread over toward her and with hesitating, trembling fingers she reached for it.

Bob Berkley was on the death-watch that night, and as he passed Rufe's cell a wiry hand shot through the grating of his door, and as the boy sprang away the condemned man's fingers tipped the butt of the big pistol that dangled on the lad's hip.

"Not this time," said Bob with a cool little laugh, and Rufe laughed, too.

"I was only foolin'," he said, "I ain't goin' to hang. You hear that, Red? I ain't goin' to hang--but you are, Red--sure. Nobody'd risk his little finger for your old carcass, 'cept maybe that little old woman o' yours who you've treated like a hound--but my folks ain't goin' to see me hang."

Rufe spoke with some reason. That night the Tollivers climbed the mountain, and before daybreak were waiting in the woods a mile on the north side of the town. And the Falins climbed, too, farther along the mountains, and at the same hour were waiting in the woods a mile to the south.

Back in Lonesome Cove June Tolliver sat alone--her soul shaken and terror-stricken to the depths--and the misery that matched hers was in the heart of Hale as he paced to and fro at the county seat, on guard and forging out his plans for that day under the morning stars.