Read CHAPTER XXVI - THE COURSE OF THE LAW of Silver and Gold A Story of Luck and Love in a Western Mining Camp , free online book, by Dane Coolidge, on

As he lay in his cell in the county jail at Moroni it was borne in upon Denver that he was caught in some great machine that ground out men as a mill grinds grain. It had laid a cold hand on him in the person of an officer of the law, it had inched him on further when a magistrate had examined him and Chatwourth and his jumpers had testified; and now, as he awaited his day in court, he wondered whither it was taking him. The magistrate had held him, the grand jury had indicted him would the judge and jury find him guilty? And if so, would they send him to the Pen? His heart sank at that, for the name of “ex-convict” is something that cannot be laid. No matter what the crime or the circumstances of the trial, once a man is convicted and sent to prison that name can always be hurled at him and Denver knew that he was not guilty.

He had no recollection of even drawing his gun, to say nothing of striking at Meacham; and yet Chatwourth and his gang would swear him into prison if something was not done to stop them. They had come before the magistrate all agreeing to the same story that Denver had picked a fight with his old enemy, Meacham, and struck him over the head with his six-shooter. And then they showed Denver’s pistol; the one he had borrowed from Bunker, all gory with hair and blood. It was a frame-up and he knew it, for they had all been striking at him and one of them had probably hit Meacham; but how was he to prove to the satisfaction of the court that Murray’s hired gun-men were trying to hang him? His only possible witness was Professor Diffenderfer, and he would not testify to anything.

In his examination before the magistrate Denver had called upon the Professor to explain the cause of his being there; but Diffenderfer had protested that he had been hiding in his cabin and knew nothing whatever about the fight. Yet if the facts could be proved, Denver had not gone up the street to shoot it out with the jumpers; he had gone at the invitation of this same Professor Diffenderfer who now so carefully avoided his eye. He had been called to the Professor’s cabin to look at a specimen of the copper from Murray’s tunnel; but as Denver thought it over a shrewd suspicion came over him that he had been lured into a well-planned trap. They had never been over-friendly so why should this Dutchman, after opposing him at every turn, suddenly beckon him up the street and into his cabin just as Chatwourth and his gang came down? And why, if he was innocent of any share in the plot, did Diffenderfer refuse to testify to the facts? Denver ground his teeth at the thought of his own impotence, shut up there like a dog in the pound. He was helpless, and his lawyer would do nothing.

The first thing he had done when he was brought to Moroni was to hire a second-rate lawyer but, after getting his money, the gentleman had spent his time in preparing some windy brief. What Denver needed was some witnesses, to swear to his good character, and Diffenderfer to swear to the facts; and no points of law were going to make a difference as long as the truth was suppressed. Old Bunk alone stood by him, though he could do little besides testifying to his previous good character. Day after day Denver lay in jail and sweated, trying to find some possible way out; but not until the morning before his trial did he sense the real meaning of it all. Then a visitor was announced and when he came to the bars he found Bible-Back Murray awaiting him.

“Good morning, young man,” began Murray smiling grimly, “I was just passing by and I thought I’d drop in and talk over your case for a moment.”

“Yes?” said Denver looking out at him dubiously, and the great man smiled again. He was a great man, as Denver had discovered to his sorrow, for no one in the country dared oppose him.

“I regret very much,” went on Murray pompously, “to find you in this position, and if there’s anything I can do that is just and right I shall be glad to use my influence. We have, as you know, here in the State of Arizona one of the most enlightened governments in the country; and a word from me, if spoken in time, might possibly save you from conviction. Or, in case of conviction, our prison law is such that you might immediately be released under parole. But before I take any action ” he lowered his voice “you might give me a quit-claim for that mine.”

“Oh” said Denver, and then it was that the great ray of light came over him. He could see it all now, from Murray’s first warning to this last bold demand for his mine; but two months in jail had broken his spirit and he hesitated to defy the county boss. His might be the hand that held Diffenderfer back, and it certainly was the one that paid Chatwourth; he controlled the county and, if what he said was true, had no small influence in the affairs of the state. And now he gave him the choice between going to prison or giving up the Silver Treasure.

“What is this?” inquired Denver, “a hold-up or a frame-up?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” answered Murray curtly, “but if you’re still in a mood for levity ” He turned away but as Denver did not stop him he returned of his own will to the bars.

“Now see here,” he said, “this has gone far enough, if you expect to keep out of prison. I came down here to befriend you and all I ask in return is a clear title to what is already mine. Perhaps you don’t realize the seriousness of your position, but I tell you right now that no power on earth can save you from certain conviction. The District Attorney has informed me that he has an airtight case against you but, rather than see your whole life ruined, I am giving you this one, last chance. You are young and headstrong, and hardly realized what you were doing; and so I say, why not acknowledge your mistake and begin life over again? I have nothing but the kindest feelings towards you, but I can’t allow my interests to be jeopardized. Think it over can’t you see it’s for the best?”

“No, I can’t,” answered Denver, “because I never killed Meacham and I don t believe any jury will convict me. If they do, I’ll know who was behind it all and govern myself accordingly.”

“Just a slight correction,” put in Murray sarcastically, “you will not govern yourself at all. You will become a ward of the State of Arizona for the rest of your natural life.”

“Well, that’s all right then,” burst out Denver, wrathfully, “but I can tell you one thing you won’t get no quit-claim for your mine. I’ll lay in jail and rot before I’ll come through with it, so you can go as far as you like. But if I ever get out ”

“That will do, young man,” said Murray stepping back, “I see you’re becoming abusive. Very well, let the law take its course.”

He straightened up his wry neck, put his glass eye into place and stalked angrily out of the jail; and in the hard week that followed Denver learned what he meant, for the wheels of the law began to grind. First the District Attorney, in making his charge, denounced him like a mad-man; then he brought on his witnesses, a solid phalanx, and put them through their parts; and every point of law that Denver’s attorney brought up he tore it to pieces in an instant. He knew more law in a minute than the lawyer would learn in a life-time, he could think circles around him and not try; and when Denver’s witnesses were placed on the stand he cross-examined them until he nullified their testimony. Even grim-eyed Bunker Hill, after testifying to Denver’s character, was compelled to admit that the first time he saw him he was engaged in a fight with Meacham. And so it went on until the jury filed back with a verdict of “Guilty of manslaughter.”

Thus the law took its course over the body and soul of what had once been a man; and when it was over Denver Russell was a Number with eighteen years before him. Eighteen years more or less, according to his conduct, for the laws of the State of Arizona imposed an indeterminate sentence which might be varied to fit any case. As Murray had intimated, under the new prison law a man could be paroled the day after he was sentenced, though he were in for ninety-nine years. That was the law, and it was just, for no court is infallible and injustice must be rectified somewhere. After the poor man and his poor lawyer had matched their puny wits against those of a fighting District Attorney then mercy must intervene in the name of society and equalize the sentence. For the District Attorney is hired by the county to send every man to prison, but no one is hired to defend the innocent or to balance the scales of justice.

Denver went to prison like any other prisoner, a rebel against society; but after a lonely day in his cell he rose up and looked about him. Here were men like himself nay, old, hardened criminals walking about in civilian clothes, and the gates opened up before them. They passed out of the walled yard and into the prison fields where there were cattle and growing crops; and they came back fresh and earthy, after hours of honest toil with no one to watch or guard them. It was the honor system which he had read about for years, but now he saw it working; and after a week he sent word to the Warden that he would give his word not to escape. That was all they asked of him, his word as a man; and a great hope came over him and soothed the deep wound that the merciless law had torn. He raised his head, that had been bowed on his breast, and the strength came back into his limbs; and when the Warden saw him with a sledge-hammer in his hands he smiled and sent him up to the road-camp.