The Gray Dawn by Stewart Edward White
Thursday noon was set for the funeral of the man who had given his life that a city might live. In the room where he had made his brave fight against death he now lay in state. On Wednesday ten thousand people visited him there. Early Thursday morning his remains were transferred to the Unitarian Church where, early as it was, a great multitude had gathered to do him honour. Now through the long morning hours it sat with him silently. The church was soon filled to over-flowing; the streets in all directions became crowded with sober-faced men and women. They knew they would be unable to get into the church, to attend nearer his last communion with his fellowmen, but they stayed, feeling vaguely that their mere presence helped--as, indeed, perhaps it did. Marching bodies from every guild or society in the city stood in rank after rank, extending down the street as far as the eye could reach. Hundreds of horsemen, carriages, foot marchers, quietly, orderly, were already getting into line. They, too, were excluded from the funeral ceremonies by lack of room; they, too, waited to do honour to the cortege. This procession was over two miles in length. Each man wore a band of crepe around his left arm. The time set for the funeral ceremony was yet hours distant.
It seemed that all the city must be there. But those who, hurrying to the scene, had occasion to pass near the Vigilante headquarters found the vacant square guarded on all sides by a triple line of armed men. The side streets, also, were filled with them. They stood in exact alignment, rigid, bayonets fixed, their eyes straight ahead. Three thousand of them were there. Hour after hour they stood, untiring, staring at the building, which gave no sign; just as the other multitude, only a few squares away, stood hour after hour, patiently waiting in the bright sun.
At quarter before one the upper windows of the headquarters building were thrown open, and small platforms, extending about three feet, were thrust from two of them. An instant later two heavy beams were shoved out from the flat roof directly over the platforms. From the ends of the beams dangled nooses of rope. A dead wait ensued. Across the silence could be heard faintly from the open windows of the distant church the chords of an organ, the rise and fall of a hymn, then the measured cadence of oration. The funeral services had begun.
As though this were a signal, the blinds that had partly closed the window openings were swung back, and Charles Cora was conducted to the end of one of the little platforms. His face was covered with a white handkerchief, and his arms and legs were bound with cords. The attendant adjusted the noose, then left him. An instant later Casey appeared. He had petitioned not to be blindfolded, so his face was bare. Cora stood bolt upright, motionless as a stone. Casey's nerve had left him; his face was pale and his eyes bloodshot. As the attendant placed the noose, the murderer's eyes darted here and there over the square. Did he still expect that the boastful promises of his friends would be fulfilled, did he still hope for rescue? If so, that hope must have died as he looked down on those set, grim faces staring straight ahead, on that sinister ring of steel. He began to babble.
"Gentlemen!" he cried at them, "I am not a murderer! I do not feel afraid to meet my God on a charge of murder! I have done nothing but what I thought was right! To-morrow let no editor dare call me a murderer! Whenever I was injured I have resented it. It has been part of my education during twenty-nine years! Gentlemen, I forgive you this persecution! O God! My poor mother! O God!"
Not one word of contrition; not one word for the man who lay yonder in the church; not one syllable for the heartbroken wife kneeling at the coffin! He ceased. And his words went out into the void and found no echo against that wall of steel.
They waited. For what? Across the intervening housetops the sound of speaking ceased to carry. The last orator had given place. At the door of the sanctuary was visible a slight, commotion: the coffin was being carried out. It was placed in the hearse. Every head was bared. There ensued a slight pause; then from overhead the great bell boomed once. Another bell in the next block answered. A third, more distant, chimed in. From all parts of the city tolled the solemn requiem.
At the first stroke the long cortege moved forward toward Lone Mountain; at the first stroke the Vigilantes, as one man, presented arms; at the first stroke the platforms dropped and Casey and Cora fell into the abyss of eternity.