Chapter XL
 

The popular excitement gradually died. It had no leaders. Coleman and men of his stamp, who had taken command of similar crises in former times, counselled moderation. They were influenced, partly by the fact that Richardson had been a public official and a popular one. Conviction seemed certain.

Keith applied himself heart and soul to the case. Its preparation seemed to him, at first an easy matter. It was open and shut. Although at the moment of the murder the street had not been crowded, a half-dozen eye-witnesses of the actual shooting were easily found, willing to testify to the essential facts. No defence seemed possible, but Cora remained undisturbed. He had retained one of the most brilliant lawyers of the time, James McDougall. This fact in itself might have warned Keith, for McDougall had the reputation of avoiding lost causes and empty purses. The lawyer promptly took as counsel the most brilliant of the younger men, Jimmy Ware, Allyn Lane, and Keith's friend, Calhoun Bennett. This meant money, and plenty of it, for all of these were expensive men. The exact source of the money was uncertain; but it was known that Belle was advancing liberally for her lover, and that James Casey, bound by some mysterious obligation, was active in taking up collections. Cora lived in great luxury at the jail. He had long been a personal friend of Sheriff Webb and his first deputy, Billy Mulligan.

Several months passed before the case could be forced to trial. All sorts of legal and technical expedients were used to defer action. McDougall and his legal assistants were skilful players at the game, and the points they advanced had to be fought out according to the rules, each a separate little case with plenty of its own technicalities. Some of Keith's witnesses were difficult to hold; they had business elsewhere, and naturally resented being compelled, through no fault of their own, to remain. Keith had always looked on this play of legal rapiers as a part--an interesting part--of the game; but heretofore he had always been on the obstructing side. He worried a great deal. At length, by superhuman efforts, he broke through the thicket of technicalities and brought the matter to an issue. The day was set. He returned home so relieved in spirit that Nan could not but remark on his buoyancy.

"Yes," he responded, "I've managed to drive that old rascal, McDougall, into the open at last."

Nan caught at the epithet.

"But you don't mean that--quite--do you?" she asked. "The McDougalls are such delightful people."

"No, of course not. Just law talk," said Keith, quite sincerely. "He's handled his case well up to now. I'm just exasperated on that account, that's all."

But setting the day irrevocably was only a beginning. The jury had to be selected. Sheriff Webb had in his hands the calling of the venire. While it was true that the old-time, "professional jurymen"--men who hung around the courthouse for no other purpose--were no longer in existence, it can be readily seen that Webb was able, if it were worth while, to exercise a judicious eye in the selection of "amenables." The early exhaustion of Keith's quota of peremptory challenges was significant, for McDougall rarely found it desirable to challenge at all! Keith displayed tremendous resource in last-moment detective work concerning the records of the panel. In this way he was enabled to challenge several for cause, after all his peremptory challenges had been used. At first he had great difficulty in getting results, for the police detectives proved supine. It was only after he had hired private agents, paying for them from his own pocket, that he obtained information on which he could act. The final result was a jury better than he had dared hope for, but worse than he desired. He had gone through a tremendous labour, and realized fully the difference between being for or against the powers.

The case came to trial, Keith presented six witnesses--respectable, one of them well-known. These testified to the same simple facts, and their testimony remained unshaken under cross-examination. McDougall offered the plea of self-defence. He brought a cloud of witnesses to swear that Cora had drawn his weapon only after Richardson had produced and cocked a pistol. By skilful technical delays Keith gained time for his detectives, and succeeded in showing that two of these witnesses had been elsewhere at the time of the killing, and therefore had perjured themselves. He recalled his own witnesses, and found two willing to swear that Richardson's hands had been empty and hanging at his sides, The defence did not trouble to cross-examine this statement.

At last, with a perfunctory judicial charge, the case went to the jury. Keith, weary to the bone, sat back in grateful relaxation. He had worked hard, against odds, and had done a good job. He was willing now to spare a little professional admiration for McDougall's skilful legal manoeuvring. There could be no earthly doubt of the result. He idly watched the big bland-faced clock, with its long second hand moving forward by spaced jerks. The jury was out a very long time for so simple a verdict, but that was a habit of California juries. It did not worry Keith. He was glad to rest. The judge stared at the ceiling, his hands clasped over his stomach. Cora's lawyers talked together in a low voice. Flies buzzed against dusty window-panes. The spectators watched apathetically. Belle, in a ravishing toilet, was there.

The opening of the door broke the spell almost rudely. Keith sat up, listening to the formal questions and answers. They had disagreed!

For a moment the import of this did not penetrate to Keith's understanding. Then he half rose, shouted "What!" and sank back stunned. His brain was in confusion. Only dimly did he hear the judge dismissing the jury, remanding Cora for retrial, adjourning court. Instantly Cora was surrounded by a congratulatory crowd. Keith sat alone. McDougall, gathering up his papers from the table assigned to counsel, made some facetious remark. Keith did not reply. McDougall looked at him sharply, and as he went out he remarked to Casey:

"Keith takes this hard."

"He does!" cried Casey, genuinely astonished. "They were trying to tell me he was altogether too active in this matter; but I told them he was young and had his way to make, and was playing to the gallery."

He sauntered across the room.

"Well, Milt," he cried in a jovial voice, but watching the young lawyer narrowly, "the Lord's on the side of true virtue, as usual."

Keith came to himself, scowled, started to say something, but refrained with an obvious effort.

Casey wandered back to McDougall.

"You're right, Mac," he said. "I guess he's got the swell head. We'll have to call him off gently, or he'll make a nuisance of himself at the next trial. He makes altogether too much trouble."

But McDougall was tolerant.

"Oh, let him alone, Jim. He's got his way to make. Let him alone. We can handle the situation."