"That's right, John," said Fetherstun approvingly; "fire upon them if they come. Don't spare a man."
John smiled and nodded, levelling the muzzle of the gun towards the sound, but the ruffians heard the click of the locks, and departed. John could have shot his keeper and escaped, but he feared the vengeance of his comrades more than the stern justice of the Vigilantes.
The fate of this desperado was yet undecided by the Committee. He was not without strong hope of escape, and his good conduct was doubtless attributable to the belief that both Howie and Fetherstun would interpose to save him. The evening of the day after the death of Pizanthia, the Committee met. The case of Dutch John came up for discussion. If it had been consistent with the laws prescribed for the government of the Committee, John would have been banished; but his guilty, blood-stained record demanded that he should die. He had been a murderer and highwaymen for years, and the vote for his immediate execution was unanimous. The decision was reduced to writing, and a member of the Committee deputed to read it to the prisoner, and inform him that he would be executed in one hour. The wretched man was overcome. He rose from his blankets, and paced several times excitedly across the floor. Like Plummer, he then resorted to supplication.
"Do with me as you please. Disable me in any way, cut off my hands and feet, but let me live. You can certainly destroy my power for harm without taking my life."
"Your request cannot be complied with," said the messenger. "You must prepare to die."
"So be it, then," he replied, and immediately all signs of weakness disappeared. "I wish," he continued, "to write to my mother. Is there a German here who can write my native language?"
Such a person was sent for. Under John's dictation, he wrote a letter to his mother. It was read to him, and he was so dissatisfied with it that he removed the rags from his frozen hands and fingers, and wrote himself.
He told his mother that he had been condemned to death, and would be executed in a few minutes. In explanation of his offense, he wrote that while coming from the Pacific side to deal in horses, he had fallen into the company of bad men. They had beguiled him into the adoption of a career of infamy. He was to die for aiding in the robbery of a wagon, while engaged in which he had been wounded, and his companion was slain. His sentence, though severe, he acknowledged to be just.
Handing the letter to the Vigilantes, he quietly replaced the bandages upon his unhealed fingers. His manner, though grave and solemn, was composed and dignified. Something in his conduct showed that he truly loved his mother. Much sympathy for him was evinced in the manner and attention of those who conducted him to the place of execution, in an unfinished building at no great distance from his place of confinement. The first objects which met his gaze, as he stood beneath the fatal beam, were the bodies of Plummer and Stinson, the one laid out upon the floor for burial, the other upon a work-bench. He gazed upon their ghastly features unshrinkingly, and in clear tones asked leave to pray, which was readily granted. Kneeling down, amid the profound silence of a crowd of spectators, his lips moved rapidly, and his face wore a pleading expression, but his utterance was inaudible. Rising to his feet, while seemingly still engaged in prayer, he cast an expressive glance at the audience, and then surveyed the provisions made for his execution. A rope with the fatal noose dangled from the cross-beam, and beneath it stood a barrel, around which was a cord, whose ends, stretching across the floor, left no doubt as to the office it was extemporized to perform.
"How long," he inquired, "will it take me to die? I have never seen a man hanged."
"It will be very short, John,-very short. You will not suffer much pain," was the reply of a Vigilante.
The poor wretch mounted the barrel, and stood perfectly unmoved while the rope was adjusted to his neck. The men laid hold of the rope which encircled the barrel. Everything being prepared, at the words, "All ready," the barrel was jerked from beneath him, and the stalwart form of the robber, after several powerful struggles, hung calm and still. Dutch John had followed his leader to the other shore.