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A TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE.
It was speedily noised about in the mining-camp that a party of horse-thieves had had the audacity to visit the settlement, and were even now guests of the Golden Gulch Hotel.
Now, in the eyes of a miner a horse-thief was as bad as a murderer. He was considered rather worse than an ordinary thief, since the character of his theft gave him better facilities for getting away with his plunder. He was looked upon by all as a common and dangerous enemy, on whom any community was justified in visiting the most condign punishment.
Bill Mosely knew very well the feeling he would rouse against the men whom he hated, and, having started the movement, waited complacently for the expected results to follow.
Jim Brown was by no means slow in spreading the alarm. True, these men were his guests, and it might be considered that it was against his interests to denounce them, but he knew his claim for entertainment would be allowed him out of the funds found in possession of the party, with probably a liberal addition as a compensation for revealing their real character.
Horse-thieves! No sooner did the news spread than the miners, most of whom were through work for the day, began to make their way to the neighborhood of the hotel.
There hadn't been any excitement at Golden Gulch for some time, and this promised a first-class sensation.
"Hang 'em up! That's what I say," suggested Brown the landlord.
"Where's the men that call 'em thieves?" asked one of the miners, a middle-aged man, who was sober and slow-spoken, and did not look like a man to be easily carried away by a storm of prejudice or a wave of excitement.
"Here they be," said Brown, pointing to Bill Mosely and Tom Hadley, who were speedily surrounded by an excited crowd.
"What have you say?" asked the first speaker of Mosely.
Bill Mosely repeated his story glibly. It was to this effect: They had met the Chinaman, who induced them to accompany him to the cabin where his master lay sick. From motives of compassion they assented. When they reached the cabin they were set upon by the combined party, their horses were taken from them, they were tied to trees, where they were kept in great pain all night, and in the morning stripped of the greater part of their money and sent adrift.
It will be seen that the story did not entirely deviate from fact, and was very artfully framed to excite sympathy for the narrator and indignation against the perpetrators of the supposed outrage. Tom Hadley, who had not the prolific imagination of his comrade, listened in open-mouthed wonder to the fanciful tale, but did not offer to corroborate it in his usual manner.
The tale was so glibly told that it carried conviction to the minds of most of those present, and a storm of indignation arose.
"Let's have 'em out! let's hang 'em up!" exclaimed one impetuous miner.
Others echoed the cry, and the company of miners in stern phalanx marched to the hotel, where, unconscious of the impending peril, our friends were resting after the day's fatigue.
We have already described the manner in which Jim Brown burst in upon them with the startling charge that they were horse-thieves.
Of course all were startled except Ki Sing, who did not fully comprehend the situation.
Richard Dewey was the first to speak. "What do you mean," he said, sternly, "by this preposterous charge?"
"You'll find out soon enough," said the landlord, nodding significantly. "Jest you file out of that door pretty quick. There's some of us want to see you."
"What does all this mean?" asked Dewey, turning to Jake Bradley.
"I don't know," answered Bradley. "It looks like a conspiracy."
The party filed out, and were confronted by some thirty or forty black-bearded, stern-faced men, who had tried and condemned them in advance of their appearance.
Richard Dewey glanced at the faces before him, and his spirit sank within him. He had been present at a similar scene before--a scene which had terminated in a tragedy--and he knew how swift and relentless those men could be. Who could have made such a charge he did not yet know, but, innocent as he and his companions were, he knew that their word would not be taken, and the mistake might lead to death. But he was not a man to quail or blanch.
"Hoss-thieves! string 'em up!" was shouted from more than one throat.
Richard Dewey calmly surveyed the angry throng. "Gentlemen," he said, "I am no more a horse-thief than any one of you."
There was a buzz of indignation, as if he had confessed his guilt and implicated them in it.
"I demand to see and face my accusers," he said boldly. "What man has dared to charge me and my friends with the mean and contemptible crime of stealing horses?"
Jake Bradley had been looking about him too. Over the heads of the men, who stood before them drawn up in a semicircle, he saw what had escaped the notice of Richard Dewey, the faces and figures of Bill Mosely and Tom Hadley.
"Dick," said he, suddenly, "I see it all. Look yonder! There are them two mean skunks, Bill Mosely and Tom Hadley. It's they who have been bringin' this false slander ag'in us."
Richard Dewey and Ben immediately looked in the direction indicated.
Bill Mosely eyed them with a glance of evil and exulting triumph, as much as to say, "It's my turn now; I am having my revenge."
But Jim Brown, who seemed to be acting as prosecuting attorney, had already summoned the two men to come forward and testify.
"Here's the men!" he said, exultingly. "Here's the men you robbed of their horses and tied to trees.--Isn't it so, stranger?"
Bill Mosely inclined his head in the affirmative, and Tom Hadley, being also asked, answered, but rather faintly, "I should say so."
Lying did not come as natural to him as to Bill.
Richard Dewey laughed scornfully.
"Are those the men," he asked, "who charge us with stealing their horses?"
"In course they do."
"Then," burst forth Jake Bradley, impetuously, "of all the impudent and lyin' scoundrels I ever met, they'll carry off the prize."
"Of course you deny it," said Bill Mosely, brazenly persisting in his falsehood. "A man that'll steal will lie. Perhaps you will charge us with stealin' the horses next."
"That's just what I do," said Bradley, in an excited tone. "You're not only horse-thieves, but you'll take gold-dust an' anything else you can lay your hands on."
"Gentlemen," said Bill Mosely, shrugging his shoulders, "you see how he is tryin' to fasten his own guilt on me and my innocent pard here. It isn't enough that he stole our horses and forced us to foot it over them rough hills, but now he wants to steal away our reputation for honor and honesty. He thinks you're easy to be imposed on, but I know better. You won't see two innocent men lied about and charged with disgraceful crimes?"
"I admire that fellow's cheek," said Bradley in an undertone to Richard Dewey, but he soon found that the consequences were likely to be disastrous to him and his party. The crowd were getting impatient, and readily seconded the words of Jim Brown when he followed up Bill Mosely's speech by a suggestion that they proceed at once to vindicate justice by a summary execution.
They rushed forward and seized upon our four friends, Ki Sing included, and hurried them off to a cluster of tall trees some twenty rods away.
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