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- Viola Gwyn - 50/63 -

"Purty soon Pap said he'd trade him our cabin an' ever'thing else fer that pouch an' flask. It wuz rainin' so hard by this time I couldn't hear all they said but when it slacked up a little I cotch my own name. They wuz talkin' about me. I heerd Jasper tell Pap he'd give him the things ef he'd promise to go away an' leave him an' me alone in the cabin. That kind o' surprised me. But all Pap sez wuz that he hated to go out in the rain. So Jasper he said fer him to wait till hit stopped rainin'. Pap said all right, he would, an' fer Jasper to hand over the pouch and flask. Jasper cussed an' said he'd give 'em to him three hours after sunrise the nex' morning' an' not a minute sooner, an' he wuz to stay away from the house all that time or he wouldn't give 'em to him at all. Well, they argued fer some time about that an' finally Pap said he'd go out to the hoss shed an' sleep if Jasper would hand over the shot pouch then an' there an' hold back the powder flask till mornin'. Jasper he said all right, he would. I never guess what wuz back of all this. So when Pap went out an' shut the door behind him, I wuz kind o' thankful, ca'se all the arguin' an' jawin' would stop an' I could go to sleep ag'in. Jasper he let down the bolt inside the door."

. . . . . . . . . . . .

It was after eight o'clock when the wagon and its escort entered the outskirts of the town. Grim, imperturbable old dames sitting on their porches smoking their clay or corncob pipes regarded the strange procession with mild curiosity; toilers in gardens and barnyards merely remarked to themselves that "some'pin must'a happened some'eres" and called out to housewife or offspring not to let them forget to "mosey up to the square" later in the day for particulars, if any. The presence of the sheriff was more or less informing; it was obvious even to the least sprightly intelligence that somebody had been arrested. But the appearance of Mrs. Gwyn on horseback, riding slowly beside the wagon, was not so easily accounted for. That circumstance alone made it absolutely worth while to "mosey up to the square" a little later on.

Martin Hawk was lodged in the recently completed brick jail adjoining the courthouse. He complained bitterly of the injustice that permitted his daughter, a confessed murderess, to enjoy the hospitality of the sheriff's home whilst he, accused of nothing more heinous than sheep-stealing, was flung into jail and subjected to the further indignity of being audibly described as a fit subject for the whipping post, an institution that still prevailed despite a general movement to abolish it throughout the state.

It galled him to hear the fuss that was being made over Moll. Everybody seemed to be taking her part. Why, that Gwyn woman not only went so far as to say she would be responsible for Moll's appearance in court, but actually arranged to buy her a lot of new clothes. And the sheriff patted her on the shoulder and loudly declared that the only thing any judge or jury could possibly find her guilty of was criminal negligence in only half-doing the job. This was supplemented by a look that left no doubt in Martin's mind as to just what he considered to be the neglected part of the job. He bethought himself of the one powerful friend he had in town,--Barry Lapelle. So he sent this message by word of mouth to the suspected dandy:

"I'm in jail. I want you to come and see me right off. I mean business."

Needless to say, this message,--conveying a far from subtle threat,--was a long time in reaching Mr. Lapelle, who had gone into temporary retirement at Jack Trentman's shanty, having arrived at that unsavoury retreat by a roundabout, circuitous route which allowed him to spend some time on the bank of a sequestered brook.

Meanwhile Rachel Carter approached her own home, afoot and weary. As she turned the bend she was surprised and not a little disturbed by the sight of Kenneth Gwynne standing at her front gate. He hurried up the road to meet her.

"The worst has come to pass," he announced, stopping in front of her. "Before you go in I must tell you just what happened here this morning. Come in here among the trees where we can't be seen from the house."

She listened impassively to his story. Only the expression in her steady, unswerving eyes betrayed her inward concern and agitation. Not once did she interrupt him. Her shoulders, he observed, drooped a little and her arms hung limply at her side, mute evidence of a sinking heart and the resignation that comes with defeat.

"I am ready and willing," he assured her at the end, "to do anything, to say anything you wish. It is possible for us to convince her that there is no truth in what he said. We can lie--"

She held up her hand, shaking her head almost angrily. "No! Not that, Kenneth. I cannot permit you to lie for ME. That would be unspeakable. I am not wholly without honour. There is nothing you can do for her,--for either of us at present. Thank you for preparing me,--and for your offer, Kenneth. Stay away from us until you have had time to think it all over. Then you will realize that this generous impulse of yours would do more harm than good. Let her think what she will of me, she must not lose her faith in you, my boy."

"But--what of her?" he expostulated. "What are you going to say to her when she asks you--"

"I don't know," she interrupted, lifelessly. "I am not a good liar, Kenneth Gwynne. Whatever else you may say or think of me, I--I have never wilfully lied."

She started away, but after a few steps turned back to him. "Jasper Suggs is dead. Moll Hawk killed him last night. She has been arrested. There is nothing you can do for Viola at present, but you may be able to help that poor, unfortunate girl. Suggs told her about me. She will keep the secret. Go and see the sheriff at once. He will tell you all that has happened."

Then she strode off without another word. He watched the tall, black figure until it turned in at the gate and was lost to view, a sort of stupefaction gripping him. Presently he aroused himself and walked slowly homeward. As he passed through his own gate he looked over at the window of the room in which Viola had sought seclusion. The curtains hung limp and motionless. He wondered what was taking place inside the four walls of that room.

Out of the maze into which his thoughts had been plunged by the swift procession of events groped the new and disturbing turn in the affairs of Rachel Carter. What was back of the untold story of the slaying of Jasper Suggs? What were the circumstances? Why had Moll Hawk killed the man? Had Rachel Carter figured directly or indirectly in the tragedy? He recalled her significant allusion to Isaac Stain the night before and his own rather startling inference,--and now she was asking him to help Moll Hawk in her hour of tribulation. A cold perspiration started out all over him. The question persisted: What was back of the slaying of Jasper Suggs?

He gave explicit and peremptory directions to Zachariah in case Mrs. Gwyn asked for him, and then set out briskly for the courthouse.

By this time the news of the murder had spread over the town. A crowd had gathered in front of Scudder's undertaking establishment. Knots of men and women, disregarding traffic, stood in the streets adjoining the public square, listening to some qualified narrator's account of the night's expedition and the tragedy at Martin Hawk's.

Kenneth hurried past these crowds and made his way straight to the office of the sheriff. Farther down the street a group of people stood in front of the sheriff's house, while in the vicinity of the little jail an ever-increasing mob was collecting.

"Judge" Billings espied him. Disengaging himself from a group of men at the corner of the square, the defendant in the case of Kenwright vs. Billings made a bee-line for his young attorney.

"I've been over to your office twice, young man," he announced as he came up. "Where the devil have you been keepin' yourself? Mrs. Gwyn left word for you to come right up to her house. She wants you to take charge of the Hawk girl's case. Maybe you don't know it, but you've been engaged to defend her. You better make tracks up to Mrs. Gwyn's and--"

"I have seen Mrs. Gwyn," interrupted Kenneth. "She sent me to the sheriff. Where is he?"

"Over yonder talkin' to that crowd in front of the tavern. He's sort o' pickin' out a jury in advance,--makin' sure that the right men get on it. He got me for one. He don't make any bones about it. Just tells you how it all happened an' then asks you whether you'd be such a skunk as to even think of convictin' the girl for what she did. Then you up an' blaspheme considerable about what you'd like to do to her dodgasted father, an' before you git anywhere's near through, he holds up his hand an' says, 'Now, I've only got to git three more (or whatever it is), an' then the jury's complete!' We're figgerin' on havin' the trial to-morrow mornin' between nine an' ten o'clock. The judge says it's all right, far as he's concerned. We'd have it to-day, only Moll's got to have a new dress an' bonnet an' such-like before she can appear in court. All you'll have to do, Kenny, is jest to set back,--look wise an' let her tell her story. 'Cordin' to law, she's got to stand trial fer murder an' she's got to have counsel. Nobody's goin' to object to you makin' a speech to the jury,--bringin' tears to our eyes, as the sayin' is,--only don't make it too long. I've got to meet a man at half-past ten in regards to a hoss trade, an' I happen to know that Tom Rank's clerk is sick an' he don't want to keep his store locked up fer more than an hour. I'm jest tellin' you this so's you won't have to waste time to-morrow askin' the jurymen whether they have formed an opinion or not, or whether they feel they can give the prisoner a fair an' impartial trial or not. The sheriff's already asked us that an' we've all said yes,--so don't delay matters by askin' ridiculous questions."

The "Judge" interrupted himself to look at his watch.

"Well, I've got to be movin' along. I'm on the coroner's jury too, and we're goin' up to Matt's right away to view the remains. The verdict will probable be: 'Come to his death on account of Moll Hawk's self-defense,' or somethin' like that. 'Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day,' as the sayin' goes. Wouldn't surprise me a bit if he was buried before three o'clock to-day. Then we won't have him on our minds to-morrow. Well, see you later--if not sooner."

An hour later Kenneth accompanied the sheriff to the latter's home

Viola Gwyn - 50/63

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