Finally the cool heads got the upper hand, and obtained general consent to a proposition of their own; their leader then called the house to order and stated it--to this effect: that Fetlock Jones be jailed and put upon trial.
The motion was carried. Apparently there was nothing further to do now, and the people were glad, for, privately, they were impatient to get out and rush to the scene of the tragedy, and see whether that barrel and the other things were really there or not.
But no--the break-up got a check. The surprises were not over yet. For a while Fetlock Jones had been silently sobbing, unnoticed in the absorbing excitements which had been following one another so persistently for some time; but when his arrest and trial were decreed, he broke out despairingly, and said:
"No! it's no use. I don't want any jail, I don't want any trial; I've had all the hard luck I want, and all the miseries. Hang me now, and let me out! It would all come out, anyway--there couldn't anything save me. He has told it all, just as if he'd been with me and seen it--I don't know how he found out; and you'll find the barrel and things, and then I wouldn't have any chance any more. I killed him; and you'd have done it too, if he'd treated you like a dog, and you only a boy, and weak and poor, and not a friend to help you."
"And served him damned well right!" broke in Ham Sandwich. "Looky here, boys--"
From the constable: "Order! Order, gentlemen!"
A voice: "Did your uncle know what you was up to?"
"No, he didn't."
"Did he give you the matches, sure enough?"
"Yes, he did; but he didn't know what I wanted them for."
"When you was out on such a business as that, how did you venture to risk having him along--and him a detective? How's that?"
The boy hesitated, fumbled with his buttons in an embarrassed way, then said, shyly:
"I know about detectives, on account of having them in the family; and if you don't want them to find out about a thing, it's best to have them around when you do it."
The cyclone of laughter which greeted this native discharge of wisdom did not modify the poor little waif's embarrassment in any large degree.
From a letter to Mrs. Stillman, dated merely "Tuesday."
Fetlock Jones was put under lock and key in an unoccupied log cabin, and left there to await his trial. Constable Harris provided him with a couple of days' rations, instructed him to keep a good guard over himself, and promised to look in on him as soon as further supplies should be due.
Next morning a score of us went with Hillyer, out of friendship, and helped him bury his late relative, the unlamented Buckner, and I acted as first assistant pall-bearer, Hillyer acting as chief. Just as we had finished our labors a ragged and melancholy stranger, carrying an old hand-bag, limped by with his head down, and I caught the scent I had chased around the globe! It was the odor of Paradise to my perishing hope!
In a moment I was at his side and had laid a gentle hand upon his shoulder. He slumped to the ground as if a stroke of lightning had withered him in his tracks; and as the boys came running he struggled to his knees and put up his pleading hands to me, and out of his chattering jaws he begged me to persecute him no more, and said:
"You have hunted me around the world, Sherlock Holmes, yet God is my witness I have never done any man harm!"
A glance at his wild eyes showed us that he was insane. That was my work, mother! The tidings of your death can some day repeat the misery I felt in that moment, but nothing else can ever do it. The boys lifted him up, and gathered about him, and were full of pity of him, and said the gentlest and touchingest things to him, and said cheer up and don't be troubled, he was among friends now, and they would take care of him, and protect him, and hang any man that laid a hand on him. They are just like so many mothers, the rough mining-camp boys are, when you wake up the south side of their hearts; yes, and just like so many reckless and unreasoning children when you wake up the opposite of that muscle.