Chapter LXIV

During all this time the Executive Committee sat in continuous session, for it had been agreed that no recess of more than thirty minutes should be taken until a decision had been reached. The room in which they sat was a large one, lighted by windows on one side only. Coleman sat behind a raised desk at one end. Below it stood a small table accommodating two. On either side six small tables completed three sides of a hollow square. No ornament, no especial comforts--the desk, the thirteen pine tables, the twenty-eight pine chairs, the wooden walls, the oil lamps, the four long windows--that was all.

The prisoners, who, when they had seen the thousands before the jail, had expected nothing less than instant execution by lynch law, began to take heart. After a man has faced what he thinks is the prospect of immediate and unavoidable death, such treatment as this arouses real hope. The prisoners were strictly guarded and closely confined, it is true, but they understood they were to have a fair trial "according to law." That last phrase cheered them immensely. They knew the law. Nor were they entirely cut off from the outside. Casey was allowed to see several men in regard to certain pressing business matters, and was permitted to talk to them freely, although always in the presence of a member of the committee. Cora received visits from Belle. She had spent thousands in his legal defence; now she came to see him faithfully, and tried to cheer him, but was plainly cowed. Her self-control had vanished. She clung to him passionately, weeping. He was forced to what should have been her role; and in cheering her he managed to gain a modicum of self-confidence for himself. She left him at midnight, much reassured.

But on Monday morning Cora's cell door was thrown open, and he was motioned forth by a grave man, who conducted him through echoing gloomy corridors to the committee room, where he was left facing the tables and the men who sat behind them. Cora's natural buoyancy vanished. The men before him met his gaze with rigid, unbending solemnity. The rain beat mournfully against the windows, blurring the glass, casting the high apartment in a half gloom. Nobody moved or spoke. All looked at him. The echo of his footsteps died, and the room was cast in stillness except for the soft dashing of the storm.

"Charles Cora," at last pronounced Coleman in measured tones, "you are here on trial for your life, accused with the murder of United States Marshal Richardson."

Cora, who was a plucky man, had recovered his wits. He must have realized that he was in a tight place, but he kept his head admirably. His demeanour took on alertness, his manner throughout was respectful, and his voice low.

"Do I get no counsel?" he inquired.

"Counsel will be given you."

He put in an earnest plea for counsel outside the tribunal--impartial counsel.

"Our members are impartial," Coleman told him.

Cora hesitated; locking about him.

"If Mr. Truett will act for me," he suggested; "and I beg you earnestly, gentlemen, that the excitement of the time may not be prejudicial to my interests, that I may have a chance for my life!"

"Your trial will be fair," he was assured.

"I shall undertake the defence," Truett agreed briefly; "and petition that Mr. Smiley be appointed as my assistant."

This being granted, the three men drew one side for a consultation. In a short time Truett handed to the sergeant-at-arms--the same man who had conducted Cora to the tribunal--a list of the witnesses Cora wished to summon. These were at once sought by a subcommittee outside. In the meantime, witnesses for the prosecution were one by one admitted, sworn, and examined. All ordinary forms of law were closely followed. All essential facts were separately brought out. It was the historic Cora trial over again, with one difference--gone were the technical delays. By dusk Keith, who had been called at three, had all but completed the long tale of his testimony, had finished recounting, not only what he had seen of the quarrel and the subsequent shooting, but also a detailed account of the trial, the adverse influences brought to bear on the prosecution, and his investigations into the question of "undue influence." No attempt was made to confine the investigation to the technical trial.

Keith was the last witness for the prosecution. And the witnesses for the defence, where were they? Of the list submitted by Cora not one could be found! In hiding, afraid, the perjurers would not appear!

The dusk was falling in earnest now. The corners of the room were in darkness. Beneath Coleman's desk Bluxome, the secretary, had lighted an oil lamp the better to see his notes. In the interest of Keith's testimony the general illumination had not been ordered. Outside the tiny patch of yellow light the men of Vigilance sat motionless, listening, their shadows dim and huge against the wall.

The door opened, and Charles Doane, the Grand Marshal of the Vigilantes, advanced three steps into the room.

"Mr. President," he said clearly, his voice cutting the stillness, "I am instructed to announce that James King of William is dead."