E-text prepared by Al Haines
A Western Detective Story
WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE
Author of The Big-Town Round-Up, Gunsight Pass, Etc.
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers New York Made in the United States of America Copyright, 1921, by William Macleod Raine All Rights Reserved Third Impression, March, 1922
I. NO ALTRUIST II. WILD ROSE TAKES THE DUST III. FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP OF THE WORLD IV. NOT ALWAYS TWO TO MAKE A QUARREL V. COUSINS MEET VI. LIGHTS OUT VII. FOUL PLAY VIII. BY MEANS OF THE FIRE ESCAPE IX. THE STORY IN THE "NEWS" X. KIRBY ASKS A DIRECT QUESTION XI. THE CORONER'S INQUEST XII. "THAT'S THE MAN" XIII. "ALWAYS, PHYLLIS" XIV. A FRIEND IN NEED XV. A GLOVE AND THE HAND IN IT XVI. THE LADY WITH THE VIOLET PERFUME XVII. IN DRY VALLEY XVIII. "BURNIN' A HOLE IN MY POCKET" XIX. A DISCOVERY XX. THE BRASS BED XXI. JAMES LOSES HIS TEMPER XXII. "ARE YOU WITH ME OR AGAINST ME?" XXIII. COUSINS DISAGREE XXIV. REVEREND NICODEMUS RANKIN FORGETS AND REMEMBERS XXV. A CONFERENCE OF THREE XXVI. CUTTING TRAIL XXVII. THE DETECTIVE GETS TWO SURPRISES XXVIII. THE FINGER OF SUSPICION POINTS XXIX. "COME CLEAN, JACK" XXX. KIRBY MAKES A CALL XXXI. THE MASK OF THE RED BANDANNA XXXII. JACK TAKES OFF HIS COAT XXXIII. OLSON TELLS A STORY XXXIV. FROM THE FIRE ESCAPE XXXV. LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT XXXVI. A RIDE IN A TAXI XXXVII. ON THE GRILL XXXVIII. A FULL MORNING XXXIX. KIRBY INVITES HIMSELF TO A RIDE XL. THE MILLS OF THE GODS XLI. ENTER X XLII. THE NEW WORLD
Esther McLean brought the afternoon mail in to Cunningham. She put it on the desk before him and stood waiting, timidly, afraid to voice her demand for justice, yet too desperately anxious to leave with it unspoken.
He leaned back in his swivel chair, his cold eyes challenging her. "Well," he barked harshly.
She was a young, soft creature, very pretty in a kittenish fashion, both sensuous and helpless. It was an easy guess that unless fortune stood her friend she was a predestined victim to the world's selfish love of pleasure, and fortune, with a cynical smile, had stood aside and let her go her way.
"I . . . I . . ." A wave of color flooded her face. She twisted a rag of a handkerchief into a hard wadded knot.
"Spit it out," he ordered curtly.
"I've got to do something . . . soon. Won't you—won't you—?" There was a wail of despair in the unfinished sentence.
James Cunningham was a grim, gray pirate, as malleable as cast iron and as soft. He was a large, big-boned man, aggressive, dominant, the kind that takes the world by the throat and shakes success from it. The contour of his hook-nosed face had something rapacious written on it.
"No. Not till I get good and ready. I've told you I'd look out for you if you'd keep still. Don't come whining at me. I won't have it."
Already he was ripping letters open and glancing over them. Tears brimmed the brown eyes of the girl. She bit her lower lip, choked back a sob, and turned hopelessly away. Her misfortune lay at her own door. She knew that. But— The woe in her heart was that the man she had loved was leaving her to face alone a night as bleak as death.
Cunningham had always led a life of intelligent selfishness. He had usually got what he wanted because he was strong enough to take it. No scrupulous nicety of means had ever deterred him. Nor ever would. He played his own hand with a cynical disregard of the rights of others. It was this that had made him what he was, a man who bulked large in the sight of the city and state. Long ago he had made up his mind that altruism was weakness.
He went through his mail with a swift, trained eye. One of the letters he laid aside and glanced at a second time. It brought a grim, hard smile to his lips. A paragraph read:
There's no water in your ditch and our crops are burning up. Your whole irrigation system in Dry Valley is a fake. You knew it, but we didn't. You've skinned us out of all we had, you damned bloodsucker. If you ever come up here we'll dry-gulch you, sure.
The letter was signed, "One You Have Robbed." Attached to it was a clipping from a small-town paper telling of a meeting of farmers to ask the United States District Attorney for an investigation of the Dry Valley irrigation project promoted by James Cunningham.
The promoter smiled. He was not afraid of the Government. He had kept strictly within the law. It was not his fault there was not enough rainfall in the watershed to irrigate the valley. But the threat to dry-gulch him was another matter. He had no fancy for being shot in the back. Some crazy fool of a settler might do just that. He decided to let an agent attend to his Dry Valley affairs hereafter. He dictated some letters, closed his desk, and went down the street toward the City Club. At a florist's he stopped and ordered a box of American Beauties to be sent to Miss Phyllis Harriman. With these he enclosed his card, a line of greeting scrawled on it.
A poker game was on at the club and Cunningham sat in. He interrupted it to dine, holding his seat by leaving a pile of chips at the place. When he cashed in his winnings and went downstairs it was still early. As a card-player he was not popular. He was too keen on the main chance and he nearly always won. In spite of his loud and frequent laugh, of the effect of bluff geniality, there was no genuine humor in the man, none of the milk of human kindness.
A lawyer in the reading-room rose at sight of Cunningham. "Want to see you a minute," he said.
"Let's go into the Red Room."
He led the way to a small room furnished with a desk, writing supplies, and a telephone. It was for the use of members who wanted to be private. The lawyer shut the door.
"Afraid I've bad news for you, Cunningham," he said.
The other man's steady eyes did not waver. He waited silently.
"I was at Golden to-day on business connected with a divorce case. By chance I ran across a record that astonished me. It may be only a coincidence of names, but—"
"Now you've wrapped up the blackjack so that it won't hurt, suppose you go ahead and hit me over the head with it," suggested Cunningham dryly.
The lawyer told what he knew. The promoter took it with no evidence of feeling other than that which showed in narrowed eyes hard as diamonds and a clenched jaw in which the muscles stood out like ropes.
"Much obliged, Foster," he said, and the lawyer knew he was dismissed.
Cunningham paced the room for a few moments, then rang for a messenger. He wrote a note and gave it to the boy to be delivered. Then he left the club.
From Seventeenth Street he walked across to the Paradox Apartments where he lived. He found a note propped up against a book on the table of his living-room. It had been written by the Japanese servant he shared with two other bachelors who lived in the same building.
Mr. Hull he come see you. He sorry you not here. He say maybe perhaps make honorable call some other time.
It was signed, "S. Horikawa."
Cunningham tossed the note aside. He had no wish to see Hull. The fellow was becoming a nuisance. If he had any complaint he could go to the courts with it. That was what they were for.
The doorbell rang. The promoter opened to a big, barrel-bodied man who pushed past him into the room.
"What you want, Hull?" demanded Cunningham curtly.
The man thrust his bull neck forward. A heavy roll of fat swelled over the collar. "You know damn well what I want. I want what's comin' to me. My share of the Dry Valley clean-up. An' I'm gonna have it. See?"
"You've had every cent you'll get. I told you that before."
Tiny red capillaries seamed the beefy face of the fat man. "An' I told you I was gonna have a divvy. An' I am. You can't throw down Cass Hull an' get away with it. Not none." The shallow protuberant eyes glittered threateningly.
"Thought you knew me better," Cunningham retorted contemptuously. "When I say I won't, I won't. Go to a lawyer if you think you've got a case. Don't come belly-aching to me."
The face of the fat man was apoplectic. "Like sin I'll go to a lawyer. You'd like that fine, you double-crossin' sidewinder. I'll come with a six-gun. That's how I'll come. An' soon. I'll give you two days to come through. Two days. If you don't—hell sure enough will cough."
Whatever else could be said about Cunningham he was no coward. He met the raving man eye to eye.
"I don't scare worth a cent, Hull. Get out. Pronto. And don't come back unless you want me to turn you over to the police for a blackmailing crook."
Cunningham was past fifty-five and his hair was streaked with gray. But he stood straight as an Indian, six feet in his socks. The sap of strength still rang strong in him. In the days when he had ridden the range he had been famous for his stamina and he was even yet a formidable two-fisted fighter.
But Hull was beyond prudence. "I'll go when I get ready, an' I'll come back when I get ready," he boasted.
There came a soft thud of a hard fist on fat flesh, the crash of a heavy bulk against the door. After that things moved fast. Hull's body reacted to the pain of smashing blows falling swift and sure. Before he knew what had taken place he was on the landing outside on his way to the stairs. He hit the treads hard and rolled on down.
A man coming upstairs helped him to his feet.
"What's up?" the man asked.
Hull glared at him, for the moment speechless. His eyes were venomous, his mouth a thin, cruel slit. He pushed the newcomer aside, opened the door of the apartment opposite, went in, and slammed it after him.
The man who had assisted him to rise was dark and immaculately dressed.
"I judge Uncle James has been exercising," he murmured before he took the next flight of stairs.
On the door of apartment 12 was a legend in Old English engraved on a calling card. It said:
The visitor pushed the electric bell. Cunningham opened to him.
"Good-evening, Uncle," the younger man said. "Your elevator is not running, so I walked up. On the way I met a man going down. He seemed rather in a hurry."
"A cheap blackmailer trying to bold me up. I threw him out."
"Thought he looked put out," answered the younger man, smiling politely. "I see you still believe in applying direct energy to difficulties."
"I do. That's why I sent for you." The promoter's cold eyes were inscrutable. "Come in and shut the door."
The young man sauntered in. He glanced at his uncle curiously from his sparkling black eyes. What the devil did James, Senior, mean by what he had said? Was there any particular significance in it?
He stroked his small black mustache. "Glad to oblige you any way I can, sir."
The young Beau Brummel hung up his hat and cane, sank into the easiest chair in the room, and selected a cigarette from a gold-initialed case.
"At your service, sir," he said languidly.
WILD ROSE TAKES THE DUST
"Wild Rose on Wild Fire," shouted the announcer through a megaphone trained on the grand stand.
Kirby Lane, who was leaning against the fence chatting with a friend, turned round and took notice. Most people did when Wild Rose held the center of the stage.
Through the gateway of the enclosure came a girl hardly out of her teens. She was bareheaded, a cowboy hat in her hand. The sun, already slanting from the west, kissed her crisp, ruddy gold hair and set it sparkling. Her skin was shell pink, amber clear. She walked as might a young Greek goddess in the dawn of the world, with the free movement of one who loves the open sky and the wind-swept plain.
A storm of hand-clapping swept the grand stand. Wild Rose acknowledged it with a happy little laugh. These dear people loved her. She knew it. And not only because she was a champion. They made over her because of her slimness, her beauty, the aura of daintiness that surrounded her, the little touches of shy youth that still clung to her manner. Other riders of her sex might be rough, hoydenish, or masculine. Wild Rose had the charm of her name. Yet the muscles that rippled beneath her velvet skin were hard as nails. No bronco alive could unseat her without the fight of its life.
Meanwhile the outlaw horse Wild Fire was claiming its share of attention. The bronco was a noted bucker. Every year it made the circuit of the rodeos and only twice had a rider stuck to the saddle without pulling leather. Now it had been roped and cornered. Half a dozen wranglers in chaps were trying to get it ready for the saddle. From the red-hot eyes of the brute a devil of fury glared at the men trying to thrust a gunny sack over its head. The four legs were wide apart, the ears cocked, teeth bared. The animal flung itself skyward and came down on the boot of a puncher savagely. The man gave an involuntary howl of pain, but he clung to the rope snubbed round the wicked head.
The gunny sack was pushed and pulled over the eyes. Wild Fire subsided, trembling, while bridle was adjusted and saddle slipped on. The girl attended to the cinching herself. If the saddle turned it might cost her life, and she preferred to take no unnecessary chances.
She was dressed in green satin riding clothes. A beaded bolero jacket fitted over a white silk blouse. Her boots were of buckskin, silver-spurred. With her hat on, at a distance, one might have taken her for a slim, beautiful boy.
Wild Rose swung to the saddle and adjusted her feet in the stirrups. The gunny sack was whipped from the horse's head. There was a wild scuffle of escaping wranglers.
For a moment Wild Fire stood quivering. The girl's hat swept through the air in front of its eyes. The horse woke to galvanized action. The back humped. It shot into the air with a writhing twist of the body. All four feet struck the ground together, straight and stiff as fence posts.
The girl's head jerked forward as though it were on a hinge. The outlaw went sunfishing, its forefeet almost straight up. She was still in the saddle when it came to all fours again. A series of jarring bucks, each ending with the force of a pile-driver as Wild Fire's hoofs struck earth, varied the programme. The rider came down limp, half in the saddle, half out, righting herself as the horse settled for the next leap. But not once did her hands reach for the pommel of the saddle to steady her.
Pitching and bucking, the animal humped forward to the fence.
"Look out!" a judge yelled.
It was too late. The rider could not deflect her mount. Into the fence went Wild Fire blindly and furiously. The girl threw up her leg to keep it from being jammed. Up went the bronco again before Wild Rose could find the stirrup. She knew she was gone, felt herself shooting forward. She struck the ground close to the horse's hoofs. Wild Fire lunged at her. A bolt of pain like a red-hot iron seared through her.
Through the air a rope whined. It settled over the head of the outlaw and instantly was jerked tight. Wild Fire, coming down hard for a second lunge at the green crumpled heap underfoot, was dragged sharply sideways. Another lariat snaked forward and fell true.
"Here, Cole!" The first roper thrust the taut line into the hands of a puncher who had run forward. He himself dived for the still girl beneath the hoofs of the rearing horse. Catching her by the arms, he dragged her out of danger. She was unconscious.
The cowboy picked her up and carried her to the waiting ambulance. The closed eyes flickered open. A puzzled little frown rested in them.
"What's up, Kirby?" asked Wild Rose.
"You had a spill."
"Took the dust, did I?" He sensed the disappointment in her voice.
"You rode fine. He jammed you into the fence," explained the young man.
The doctor examined her. The right arm hung limp.
"Broken, I'm afraid," he said.
"Ever see such luck?" the girl complained to Lane.
"Probably they won't let me ride in the wild-horse race now."
"No chance, young lady," the doctor said promptly. "I'm going to take you right to the hospital."
"I might get back in time," she said hopefully.
"You might, but you won't."
"Oh, well," she sighed. "If you're going to act like that."
The cowboy helped her into the ambulance and found himself a seat.
"Where do you think you're going?" she asked with a smile a bit twisted by pain.
"I reckon I'll go far as the hospital with you."
"I reckon you won't. What do you think I am—a nice little parlor girl who has to be petted when she gets hurt? You're on to ride inside of fifteen minutes—and you know it."
"Oh, well! I'm lookin' for an alibi so as not to be beaten. That Cole Sanborn is sure a straight-up rider."
"So's that Kirby Lane. You needn't think I'm going to let you beat yourself out of the championship. Not so any one could notice it. Hop out, sir."
He rose, smiling ruefully. "You certainly are one bossy kid."
"I'd say you need bossing when you start to act so foolish," she retorted, flushing.
"See you later," he called to her by way of good-bye.
As the ambulance drove away she waved cheerfully at him a gauntleted hand.
The cowpuncher turned back to the arena. The megaphone man was announcing that the contest for the world's rough-riding championship would now be resumed.
FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP OF THE WORLD
The less expert riders had been weeded out in the past two days. Only the champions of their respective sections were still in the running. One after another these lean, brown men, chap-clad and bow-legged, came forward dragging their saddles and clamped themselves to the backs of hurricane outlaws which pitched, bucked, crashed into fences, and toppled over backward in their frenzied efforts to dislodge the human clothes-pins fastened to them.
The bronco busters endured the usual luck of the day. Two were thrown and picked themselves out of the dust, chagrined and damaged, but still grinning. One drew a tame horse not to be driven into resistance either by fanning or scratching. Most of the riders emerged from the ordeal victorious. Meanwhile the spectators in the big grand stand, packed close as small apples in a box, watched every rider and snatched at its thrills just as such crowds have done from the time of Caligula.
Kirby Lane, from his seat on the fence among a group of cowpunchers, watched each rider no less closely. It chanced that he came last on the programme for the day. When Cole Sanborn was in the saddle he made an audible comment.
"I'm lookin' at the next champion of the world," he announced.
"Not onless you've got a lookin'-glass with you, old alkali," a small berry-brown youth in yellow-wool chaps retorted.
Sanborn was astride a noted outlaw known as Jazz. The horse was a sorrel, and it knew all the tricks of its kind. It went sunfishing, tried weaving and fence-rowing, at last toppled over backward after a frantic leap upward. The rider, long-bodied and lithe, rode like a centaur. Except for the moment when he stepped out of the saddle as the outlaw fell on its back, he stuck to his seat as though he were glued to it.
"He's a right limber young fellow, an' he sure can ride. I'll say that," admitted one old cattleman.
"They don't grow no better busters," another man spoke up. He was a neighbor of Sanborn and had his local pride. "From where I come from we'll put our last nickel on Cole, you betcha. He's top hand with a rope too."
"Hmp! Kirby here can make him look like thirty cents, top of a bronc or with a lariat either one," the yellow-chapped vaquero flung out bluntly.
Lane looked at his champion, a trifle annoyed. "What's the use o' talkin' foolishness, Kent? I never saw the day I had anything on Cole."
"Beat him at Pendleton, didn't you?"
"Luck. I drew the best horses." To Sanborn, who had finished his job and was straddling wide-legged toward the group, Kirby threw up a hand of greeting. "Good work, old-timer. You're sure hellamile on a bronc."
"Kirby Lane on Wild Fire," shouted the announcer.
Lane slid from the fence and reached for his saddle. As he lounged forward, moving with indolent grace, one might have guessed him a Southerner. He was lean-loined and broad-shouldered. The long, flowing muscles rippled under his skin when he moved like those of a panther. From beneath the band of his pinched-in hat crisp, reddish hair escaped.
Wild Fire was off the instant his feet found the stirrups. Again the outlaw went through its bag of tricks and its straight bucking. The man in the saddle gave to its every motion lightly and easily. He rode with such grace that he seemed almost a part of the horse. His reactions appeared to anticipate the impulses of the screaming fiend which he was astride. When Wild Fire jolted him with humpbacked jarring bucks his spine took the shock limply to neutralize the effect. When it leaped heavenward he waved his hat joyously and rode the stirrups. From first to last he was master of the situation, and the outlaw, though still fighting savagely, knew the battle was lost.
The bronco had one trump card left, a trick that had unseated many a stubborn rider. It plunged sideways at the fence of the enclosure and crashed through it. Kirby's nerves shrieked with pain, and for a moment everything went black before him. His leg had been jammed hard against the upper plank. But when the haze cleared he was still in the saddle.
The outlaw gave up. It trotted tamely back to the grand stand through the shredded fragments of pine in the splintered fence, and the grand stand rose to its feet with a shout of applause for the rider.
Kirby slipped from the saddle and limped back to his fellows on the fence. Already the crowd was pouring out from every exit of the stand. A thousand cars of fifty different makes were snorting impatiently to get out of the jam as soon as possible. For Cheyenne was full, full to overflowing. The town roared with a high tide of jocund life. From all over Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and New Mexico hard-bitten, sunburned youths in high-heeled boots and gaudy attire had gathered for the Frontier Day celebration. Hundreds of cars had poured up from Denver. Trains had disgorged thousands of tourists come to see the festival. Many people would sleep out in automobiles and on the prairie. The late comers at restaurants and hotels would wait long and take second best.
A big cattleman beckoned to Lane. "Place in my car, son. Run you back to town."
One of the judges sat in the tonneau beside the rough rider.
"How's the leg? Hurt much?"
"Not much. I'm noticin' it some," Kirby answered with a smile.
"You'll have to ride to-morrow. It's you and Sanborn for the finals. We haven't quite made up our minds."
The cattleman was an expert driver. He wound in and out among the other cars speeding over the prairie, struck the road before the great majority of the automobiles had reached there, and was in town with the vanguard.
After dinner the rough rider asked the clerk at her hotel if there was any mail for Miss Rose McLean. Three letters were handed him. He put them in his pocket and set out for the hospital.
He found Miss Rose reclining in a hospital chair, in a frame of mind highly indignant. "That doctor talks as though he's going to keep me here a week. Well, he's got another guess coming. I'll not stay," she exploded to her visitor.
"Now, looky here, you better do as the doc says. He knows best. What's a week in your young life?" Kirby suggested.
"A week's a week, and I don't intend to stay. Why did you limp when you came in? Get hurt?"
"Not really hurt. Jammed my leg against a fence. I drew Wild Fire."
"Did you win the championship?" the girl asked eagerly.
"No. Finals to-morrow. Sanborn an' me. How's the arm? Bone broken?"
"Yes. Oh, it aches some. Be all right soon."
He drew her letters from his pocket. "Stopped to get your mail at the hotel. Thought you'd like to see it."
Wild Rose looked the envelopes over and tore one open.
"From my little sister Esther," she explained. "Mind if I read it? I'm some worried about her. She's been writing kinda funny lately."
As she read, the color ebbed from her face. When she had finished reading the letter Kirby spoke gently.
"Bad news, pardner?"
She nodded, choking. Her eyes, frank and direct, met those of her friend without evasion. It was a heritage of her life in the open that in her relations with men she showed a boylike unconcern of sex.
"Esther's in trouble. She—she—" Rose caught her breath in a stress of emotion.
"If there's anything I can do—"
The girl flung aside the rug that covered her and rose from the chair. She began to pace up and down the room. Presently her thoughts overflowed in words.
"She doesn't say what it is, but—I know her. She's crazy with fear—or heartache—or something." Wild Rose was always quick-tempered, a passionate defender of children and all weak creatures. Now Lane knew that the hot blood was rushing stormily to her heart. Her little sister was in danger, the only near relative she had. She would fight for her as a cougar would for its young. "By God, if it's a man—if he's done her wrong—I'll shoot him down like a gray wolf. I'll show him how safe it is to—to—"
She broke down again, clamping tight her small strong teeth to bite back a sob.
He spoke very gently. "Does she say—?"
His sentence hung suspended in air, but the young woman understood its significance.
"No. The letter's just a—a wail of despair. She—talks of suicide. Kirby, I've got to get to Denver on the next train. Find out when it leaves. And I'll send a telegram to her to-night telling her I'll fix it. I will too."
"Sure. That's the way to talk. Be reasonable an' everything'll work out fine. Write your wire an' I'll take it right to the office. Soon as I've got the train schedule I'll come back."
"You're a good pal, Kirby. I always knew you were."
For a moment her left hand fell in his. He looked down at the small, firm, sunbrowned fist. That hand was, as Browning has written, a woman in itself, but it was a woman competent, unafraid, trained hard as nails. She would go through with whatever she set out to do.
As his eyes rested on the fingers there came to him a swift, unreasoning prescience of impending tragedy. To what dark destiny was she moving?
NOT ALWAYS TWO TO MAKE A QUARREL
Kirby put Wild Rose on the morning train for Denver. She had escaped from the doctor by sheer force of will. The night had been a wretched one, almost sleepless, and she knew that her fever would rise in the afternoon. But that could not be helped. She had more important business than her health to attend to just now.
Ordinarily Rose bloomed with vitality, but this morning she looked tired and worn. In her eyes there was a hard brilliancy Kirby did not like to see. He knew from of old the fire that could blaze in her heart, the insurgent impulses that could sweep her into recklessness. What would she do if the worst she feared turned out to be true?
"Good luck," she called through the open window as the train pulled out. "Beat Cole, Kirby."
"Good luck to you," he answered. "Write me soon as you find out how things are."
But as he walked from the station his heart misgave him. Why had he let her go alone, knowing as he did how swift she blazed to passion when wrong was done those she loved? It was easy enough to say that she had refused to let him go with her, though he had several times offered. The fact remained that she might need a friend at hand, might need him the worst way.
All through breakfast he was ridden by the fear of trouble on her horizon. Comrades stopped to slap him on the back and wish him good luck in the finals, and though he made the proper answers it was with the surface of a mind almost wholly preoccupied with another matter.
While he was rising from the table he made a decision in the flash of an eye. He would join Rose in Denver at once. Already dozens of cars were taking the road. There would be a vacant place in some one of them.
He found a party just setting out for Denver and easily made arrangements to take the unfilled seat in the tonneau.
By the middle of the afternoon he was at a boarding-house on Cherokee Street inquiring for Miss Rose McLean. She was out, and the landlady did not know when she would be back. Probably after her sister got home from work.
Lane wandered down to Curtis Street, sat through a part of a movie, then restlessly took his way up Seventeenth. He had an uncle and two cousins living in Denver. With the uncle he was on bad terms, and with his cousins on no terms at all. It had been ten years since he had seen either James Cunningham, Jr., or his brother Jack. Why not call on them and renew acquaintance?
He went into a drug-store and looked the name up in a telephone book. His cousin James had an office in the Equitable Building. He hung the book up on the hook and turned to go. As he did so he came face to face with Rose McLean.
"You—here!" she cried.
"Yes, I—I had business in Denver," he explained.
"Like fun you had! You came because—" She stopped abruptly, struck by another phase of the situation. "Did you leave Cheyenne without riding to-day?"
"I didn't want to ride. I'm fed up on ridin'."
"You threw away the championship and a thousand-dollar prize to—to—"
"You're forgettin' Cole Sanborn," he laughed. "No, honest, I came on business. But since I'm here—say, Rose, where can we have a talk? Let's go up to the mezzanine gallery at the Albany. It's right next door."
He took her into the Albany Hotel. They stepped out of the elevator at the second floor and he found a settee in a corner where they might be alone. It struck him that the shadows in her eyes had deepened. She was, he could see plainly, laboring under a tension of repressed excitement. The misery of her soul leaped out at him when she looked his way.
"Have you anything to tell me?" he asked, and his low, gentle voice was a comfort to her raw nerves.
"It's a man, just as I thought—the man she works for."
"Is he married?"
"No. Going to be soon, the papers say. He's a wealthy promoter. His name's Cunningham."
"What Cunningham?" In his astonishment the words seemed to leap from him of their own volition.
"James Cunningham, a big land and mining man. You must have heard of him."
"Yes, I've heard of him. Are you sure?"
She nodded. "Esther won't tell me a thing. She's shielding him. But I went through her letters and found a note from him. It's signed 'J. C.' I accused him point-blank to her and she just put her head down on her arms and sobbed. I know he's the man."
"What do you mean to do?"
"I mean to have a talk with him first off. I'll make him do what's right."
"I don't know how, but I will," she cried wildly. "If he don't I'll settle with him. Nothing's too bad for a man like that."
He shook his head. "Not the best way, Rose. Let's be sure of every move we make. Let's check up on this man before we lay down the law to him."
Some arresting quality in him held her eye. He had sloughed the gay devil-may-care boyishness of the range and taken on a look of strong patience new in her experience of him. But she was worn out and nervous. The pain in her arm throbbed feverishly. Her emotions had held her on a rack for many hours. There was in her no reserve power of endurance.
"No, I'm going to see him and have it out," she flung back.
"Then let me go with you when you see him. You're sick. You ought to be in bed right now. You're in no condition to face it alone."
"Oh, don't baby me, Kirby!" she burst out. "I'm all right. What's it matter if I am fagged. Don't you see? I'm crazy about Esther. I've got to get it settled. I can rest afterward."
"Will it do any harm to take a friend along when you go to see this man?"
"Yes. I don't want him to think I'm afraid of him. You're not in this, Kirby. Esther is my little sister, not yours."
"True enough." A sardonic, mirthless smile touched his face. "But James Cunningham is my uncle, not yours."
"Your uncle?" She rose, staring at him with big, dilated eyes. "He's your uncle, the man who—who—"
"Yes, an' I know him better than you do. We've got to use finesse—"
"I see." Her eyes attacked him scornfully. "You think we'd better not face him with what he's done. You think we'd better go easy on him. Uncle's rich, and he might not like plain words. Oh, I understand now."
Wild Rose flung out a gesture that brushed him from her friendship. She moved past him blazing with anger.
He was at the elevator cage almost as soon as she.
"Listen, Rose. You know better than that. I told you he was my uncle because you'd find it out if I'm goin' to help you. He's no friend of mine, but I know him. He's strong. You can't drive him by threats."
The elevator slid down and stopped. The door of it opened.
"Will you stand aside, sir?" Rose demanded. "I won't have anything to do with any of that villain's family. Don't ever speak to me again."
She stepped into the car. The door clanged shut. Kirby was left standing alone.
With the aid of a tiny looking-glass a young woman was powdering her nose. Lane interrupted her to ask if he might see Mr. Cunningham.
"Name, please?" she parroted pertly, and pressed a button in the switchboard before her.
Presently she reached for the powder-puff again. "Says to come right in. Door 't end o' the hall."
Kirby entered. A man sat at a desk telephoning. He was smooth-shaven and rather heavy-set, a year or two beyond thirty, with thinning hair on the top of his head. His eyes in repose were hard and chill. From the conversation his visitor gathered that he was a captain in the Red Cross drive that was on.
As he hung up the receiver the man rose, brisk and smiling, hand outstretched. "Glad to meet you, Cousin Kirby. When did you reach town? And how long are you going to stay?"
"Got in hour an' a half ago. How are you, James?"
"Busy, but not too busy to meet old friends. Let me see. I haven't seen you since you were ten years old, have I?"
"I was about twelve. It was when my father moved to Wyoming."
"Well, I'm glad to see you. Where you staying? Eat lunch with me to-morrow, can't you? I'll try to get Jack too."
"Suits me fine," agreed Kirby.
"Anything I can do for you in the meantime?"
"Yes. I want to see Uncle James."
There was a film of wariness in the eyes of the oil broker as he looked at the straight, clean-built young cattleman. He knew that the strong face, brown as Wyoming, expressed a pungent personality back of which was dynamic force. What did Lane want with his uncle? They had quarreled. His cousin knew that. Did young Lane expect him to back his side of the quarrel? Or did he want to win back favor with James Cunningham, Senior, millionaire?
Kirby smiled. He guessed what the other was thinking. "I don't want to interfere in your friendship with him. All I need is his address and a little information. I've come to have another row with him, I reckon."
The interest in Cunningham's eyes quickened. He laughed. "Aren't you in bad enough already with Uncle? Why another quarrel?"
"This isn't on my own account. There's a girl in his office—"
A rap on the door interrupted Kirby. A young man walked into the room. He was a good-looking young exquisite, dark-eyed and black-haired. His clothes had been made by one of the best tailors in New York. Moreover, he knew how to wear them.
James Cunningham, Junior, introduced him to Kirby as his cousin Jack. After a few moments of talk the broker reverted to the subject of their previous talk.
"Kirby was just telling me that he has come to Denver to meet Uncle James," he explained to his brother. "Some difficulty with him, I understand."
Jack Cunningham's black eyes fastened on his cousin. He waited for further information. It was plain he was interested.
"I'm not quite sure of my facts," Lane said. "But there's evidence to show that he has ruined a young girl in his office. She practically admits that he's the man. I happen to be a friend of her family, an' I'm goin' to call him to account. He can't get away with it."
Kirby chanced to be looking at his cousin Jack. What he saw in that young man's eyes surprised him. There were astonishment, incredulity, and finally a cunning narrowing of the black pupils.
It was James who spoke. His face was grave. "That's a serious charge, Kirby," he said. "What is the name of the young woman?"
"I'd rather not give it—except to Uncle James himself."
"Better write it," suggested Jack with a reminiscent laugh. "He's a bit impetuous. I saw him throw a man down the stairs yesterday. Picked the fellow up at the foot of the flight. He certainly looked as though he'd like to murder our dear uncle."
"What I'd like to know is this," said Lane. "What sort of a reputation has Uncle James in this way? Have you ever heard of his bein' in anything of this sort before?"
"No, I haven't," James said promptly.
Jack shrugged. "I wouldn't pick nunky for exactly a moral man," he said flippantly. "His idea of living is to grab all the easy things he can."
"Where can I see him most easily? At his office?" asked Kirby.
"He drove down to Colorado Springs to-day on business. At least he told me he was going. Don't know whether he expects to get back to-night or not. He lives at the Paradox Apartments," Jack said.
"Prob'ly I'd better see him there rather than at his office."
"Hope you have a pleasant time with the old boy," Jack murmured. "Don't think I'd care to be a champion of dames where he's concerned. He's a damned cantankerous old brute. I'll say that for him."
James arranged a place of meeting for luncheon next day. The young cattleman left. He knew from the fidgety manner of Jack that he had some important business he was anxious to talk over with his brother.
It was five minutes to ten by his watch when Kirby entered the Paradox Apartments. The bulletin board told him that his uncle's apartment was 12. He did not take the self-serve elevator, but the stairs. The hall on the second floor was dark. Since he did not know whether the rooms he wanted were on this floor or the next he knocked at a door.
Kirby thought he heard the whisper of voices and he knocked again. He had to rap a third time before the door was opened.
"What is it? What do you want?"
If ever Lane had seen stark, naked fear in a human face, it stared at him out of that of the woman in front of him. She was a tall, angular woman of a harsh, forbidding countenance, flat-breasted and middle-aged. Behind her, farther back in the room, the roughrider caught a glimpse of a fat, gross, ashen-faced man fleeing toward the inner door of a bedroom to escape being seen. He was thrusting into his coat pocket what looked to the man in the hall like a revolver.
"Can you tell me where James Cunningham's apartment is?" asked Kirby.
The woman gasped. The hand on the doorknob was trembling violently. Something clicked in her throat when the dry lips tried to frame an answer.
"Head o' the stairs—right hand," she managed to get out, then shut the door swiftly in the face of the man whose simple question had so shocked her.
Kirby heard the latch released from its catch. The key in the lock below also turned.
"She's takin' no chances," he murmured. "Now I wonder why both her an' my fat friend are so darned worried. Who were they lookin' for when they opened the door an' saw me? An' why did it get her goat when I asked where Uncle James lived?"
As he took the treads that brought him to the next landing the cattleman had an impression of a light being flashed off somewhere. He turned to the right as the woman below had directed.
The first door had on the panel a card with his uncle's name. He knocked, and at the same instant noticed that the door was ajar. No answer came. His finger found the electric push button. He could hear it buzzing inside. Twice he pushed it.
"Nobody at home, looks like," he said to himself. "Well, I reckon I'll step in an' leave a note. Or maybe I'll wait. If the door's open he's liable to be right back."
He stepped into the room. It was dark. His fingers groped along the wall for the button to throw on the light. Before he found it a sound startled him.
It was the soft faint panting of some one breathing.
He was a man whose nerves were under the best of control, but the cold feet of mice pattered up and down his spine. Something was wrong. The sixth sense of danger that comes to some men who live constantly in peril was warning him.
"Who's there?" he asked sharply.
No voice replied, but there was a faint rustle of some one or some thing stirring.
He waited, crouched in the darkness.
There came another vague rustle of movement. And presently another, this time closer. Every sense in him was alert, keyed up to closest attention. He knew that some one, for some sinister purpose, had come into this apartment and been trapped here by him.
The moments flew. He thought he could hear his hammering heart. A stifled gasp, a dozen feet from him, was just audible.
He leaped for the sound. His outflung hand struck an arm and slid down it, caught at a small wrist, and fastened there. In the fraction of a second left him he realized, beyond question, that it was a woman he had assaulted.
The hand was wrenched from him. There came a zigzag flash of lightning searing his brain, a crash that filled the world for him—and he floated into unconsciousness.
Lane came back painfully to a world of darkness. His head throbbed distressingly. Querulously he wondered where he was and what had taken place.
He drew the fingers of his outstretched hand along the nap of a rug and he knew he was on the floor. Then his mind cleared and he remembered that a woman's hand had been imprisoned in his just before his brain stopped functioning.
Who was she? What was she doing here? And what under heaven had hit him hard enough to put the lights out so instantly?
He sat up and held his throbbing head. He had been struck on the point of the chin and gone down like an axed bullock. The woman must have lashed out at him with some weapon.
In his pocket he found a match. It flared up and lit a small space in the pit of blackness. Unsteadily he got to his feet and moved toward the door. His mind was quite clear now and his senses abnormally sensitive. For instance, he was aware of a faint perfume of violet in the room, so faint that he had not noticed it before.
There grew on him a horror, an eagerness to be gone from the rooms. It was based on no reasoning, but on some obscure feeling that there had taken place something evil, something that chilled his blood.
Yet he did not go. He had come for a purpose, and it was characteristic of him that he stayed in spite of the dread that grew on him till it filled his breast. Again he groped along the wall for the light switch. A second match flared in his fingers and showed it to him. Light flooded the room.
His first sensation was of relief. This handsome apartment with its Persian rugs, its padded easy-chairs, its harmonious wall tints, had a note of repose quite alien to tragedy. It was the home of a man who had given a good deal of attention to making himself comfortable. Indefinably, it was a man's room. The presiding genius of it was masculine and not feminine. It lacked the touches of adornment that only a woman can give to make a place homelike.
Yet one adornment caught Kirby's eye at once. It was a large photograph in a handsome frame on the table. The picture showed the head and bust of a beautiful woman in evening dress. She was a brunette, young and very attractive. The line of head, throat, and shoulder was perfect. The delicate, disdainful poise and the gay provocation in the dark, slanting eyes were enough to tell that she was no novice in the game of sex. He judged her an expensive orchid produced in the civilization of our twentieth-century hothouse. Across the bottom of the picture was scrawled an inscription in a fashionably angular hand. Lane moved closer to read it. The words were, "Always, Phyllis." Probably this was the young woman to whom, if rumor were true, James Cunningham, Senior, was engaged.
On the floor, near where Kirby had been lying, lay a heavy piece of agate evidently used for a paperweight. He picked up the smooth stone and guessed instantly that this was the weapon which had established contact with his chin. Very likely the woman's hand had closed on it when she heard him coming. She had switched off the light and waited for him. That the blow had found a vulnerable mark and knocked him out had been sheer luck.
Kirby passed into a luxurious bedroom beyond which was a tiled bathroom. He glanced these over and returned to the outer apartment. There was still another door. It was closed. As the man from Wyoming moved toward it he felt once more a strange sensation of dread. It was strong enough to stop him in his stride. What was he going to find behind that door? When he laid his hand on the knob pinpricks played over his scalp and galloped down his spine.
He opened the door. A sweet sickish odor, pungent but not heavy, greeted his nostrils. It was a familiar smell, one he had met only recently. Where? His memory jumped to a corridor of the Cheyenne hospital. He had been passing the operating-room on his way to see Wild Rose. The door had opened and there had been wafted to him faintly the penetrating whiff of chloroform. It was the same drug he sniffed now.
He stood on the threshold, groped for the switch, and flashed on the lights. Sound though Kirby Lane's nerves were, he could not repress a gasp at what he saw.
Leaning back in an armchair, looking up at him with a horrible sardonic grin, was his uncle James Cunningham. His wrists were tied with ropes to the arms of the chair. A towel, passed round his throat, fastened the body to the back of the chair and propped up the head. A bloody clot of hair hung tangled just above the temple. The man was dead beyond any possibility of doubt. There was a small hole in the center of the forehead through which a bullet had crashed. Beneath this was a thin trickle of blood that had run into the heavy eyebrows.
The dead man was wearing a plaid smoking-jacket and oxblood slippers. On the tabouret close to his hand lay a half-smoked cigar. There was a grewsome suggestion in the tilt of the head and the gargoyle grin that this was a hideous and shocking jest he was playing on the world.
Kirby snatched his eyes from the grim spectacle and looked round the room. It was evidently a private den to which the owner of the apartment retired. There were facilities for smoking and for drinking, a lounge which showed marks of wear, and a writing-desk in one corner.
This desk held the young man's gaze. It was open. Papers lay scattered everywhere and its contents had been rifled and flung on the floor. Some one, in a desperate hurry, had searched every pigeon-hole.
The window of the room was open. Perhaps it had been thrown up to let out the fumes of the chloroform. Kirby stepped to it and looked down. The fire escape ran past it to the stories above and below.
The young cattleman had seen more than once the tragedies of the range. He had heard the bark of guns and had looked down on quiet dead men but a minute before full of lusty life. But these had been victims of warfare in the open, usually of sudden passions that had flared and struck. This was different. It was murder, deliberate, cold-blooded, atrocious. The man had been tied up, made helpless, and done to death without mercy. There was a note of the abnormal, of the unhuman, about the affair. Whoever had killed James Cunningham deserved the extreme penalty of the law.
He was a man who no doubt had made many enemies. Always he had demanded his pound of flesh and got it. Some one had waited patiently for his hour and exacted a fearful vengeance for whatever wrong he had suffered.
Kirby decided that he must call the police at once. No time ought to be lost in starting to run down the murderer. He stepped into the living-room to the telephone, lifted the receiver from the hook, and—stood staring down at a glove lying on the table.
As he looked at it the blood washed out of his face. He had a sensation as though his heart had been plunged into cracked ice. For he recognized the glove on the table, knew who its owner was.
It was a small riding-gauntlet with a device of a rose embroidered on the wrist. He would have known that glove among a thousand.
He had seen it, a few hours since, on the hand of Wild Rose.
BY MEANS OF THE FIRE ESCAPE
Kirby Lane stood with fascinated eyes looking down at the glove, muscles and brain alike paralyzed. The receiver was in his hand, close to his ear.
A voice from the other end of the wire drifted to him. "Number, please."
Automatically he hung the receiver on the hook. Dazed though he was, the rough rider knew that the police were the last people in the world he wanted to see just now.
All his life he had lived the adventure of the outdoors. For twelve months he had served at the front, part of the time with the forces in the Argonne. He had ridden stampedes and fought through blizzards. He had tamed the worst outlaw horses the West could produce. But he had never been so shock-shaken as he was now. A fact impossibly but dreadfully true confronted him. Wild Rose had been alone with his uncle in these rooms, had listened with breathless horror while Kirby climbed the stairs, had been trapped by his arrival, and had fought like a wolf to make her escape. He remembered the wild cry of her outraged heart, "Nothing's too bad for a man like that."
Lane was sick with fear. It ran through him and sapped his supple strength like an illness. It was not possible that Rose could have done this in her right mind. But he had heard a doctor say once that under stress of great emotion people sometimes went momentarily insane. His friend had been greatly wrought up from anxiety, pain, fever, and lack of sleep.
In replacing the telephone he had accidentally pushed aside a book. Beneath it was a slip of paper on which had been penciled a note. He read it, without any interest.
Mr. Hull he come see you. He sorry you not here. He say maybe perhaps make honorable call some other time.
An electric bell buzzed through the apartment. The sound of it startled Kirby as though it had been the warning of a rattlesnake close to his head. Some one was at the outer door ringing for admission. It would never do for him to be caught here.
He had been trained to swift thought reactions. Quickly but noiselessly he stepped to the door and released the catch of the Yale lock so that it would not open from the outside without a key. He switched off the light and passed through the living-room into the bedchamber. His whole desire now was to be gone from the building as soon as possible. The bedroom also he darkened before he stepped to the window and crept through it to the platform of the fire escape.
The glove was still in his hand. He thrust it into his pocket as he began the descent. The iron ladder ran down the building to the alley. It ended ten feet above the ground. Kirby lowered himself and dropped. He turned to the right down the alley toward Glenarm Street.
A man was standing at the comer of the alley trying to light a cigar. He was a reporter on the "Times," just returning from the Press Club where he had been playing in a pool tournament.
He stopped Lane. "Can you lend me a match, friend?"
The cattleman handed him three or four and started to go.
"Just a mo'," the newspaper-man said, striking a light. "Do you always"—puff, puff—"leave your rooms"—puff, puff, puff—"by the fire escape?"
Kirby looked at him in silence, thinking furiously. He had been caught, after all. There were witnesses to prove he had gone up to his uncle's rooms. Here was another to testify he had left by the fire escape. The best he could say was that he was very unlucky.
"Never mind, friend," the newspaper-man went On. "You don't look like a second-story worker to yours truly." He broke into a little amused chuckle. "I reckon friend husband, who never comes home till Saturday night, happened around unexpectedly and the fire escape looked good to you. Am I right?"
The Wyoming man managed a grin. It was not a mirthful one, but it served.
"You're a wizard," he said admiringly.
The reporter had met a bootlegger earlier in the evening and had two or three drinks. He was mellow. "Oh, I'm wise," he said with a wink. "Chuck Ellis isn't anybody's fool. Beat it, Lothario, while the beating's good." The last sentence and the gesture that accompanied the words were humorous exaggerations of old-time melodrama.
Lane took his advice without delay.
THE STORY IN THE "NEWS"
From a booth in a drug-store on Sixteenth Street Kirby telephoned the police that James Cunningham had been murdered at his home in the Paradox Apartments. He stayed to answer no questions, but hung up at once. From a side door of the store he stepped out to Welton Street and walked to his hotel.
He passed a wretched night. The distress that flooded his mind was due less to his own danger than to his anxiety for Rose. His course of action was not at all clear to him in case he should be identified as the man who had been seen going to and coming from the apartment of the murdered man. He could not explain why he was there without implicating Rose and her sister. He would not betray them. That of course. But he had told his cousins why he was going. Would their story not start a hunt for the woman in the case?
Man is an illogical biped. Before Kirby had seen the glove on the table and associated it with the crime, his feeling had been that the gallows was the proper end of so cruel a murderer. Now he not only intended to protect Rose, but his heart was filled with pity for her. He understood her better than he did any other woman, her loyalty and love and swift, upblazing anger. Even if her hand had fired the shot, he told himself, it was not Wild Rose who had done it—not the little friend he had come to know and like so well, but a tortured woman beside herself with grief for the sister to whom she had always been a mother too.
He slept little, and that brokenly. With the dawn he was out on the street to buy a copy of the "News." The story of the murder had the two columns on the right-hand side of the front page and broke over to the third. He hurried back to his room to read it behind a locked door.
The story was of a kind in which newspapers revel. Cunningham was a well-known character, several times a millionaire. His death even by illness would have been worth a column. But the horrible and grewsome way of his taking off, the mystery surrounding it, the absence of any apparent motive unless it were revenge, all whetted the appetite of the editors. It was a big "story," one that would run for many days, and the "News" played it strong.
As Kirby had expected, he was selected as the probable assassin. A reporter had interviewed Mr. and Mrs. Cass Hull, who occupied the apartment just below that of the murdered man. They had told him that a young man, a stranger to them, powerfully built and dressed like a prosperous ranchman, had knocked on their door about 9.20 to ask the way to the apartment of Cunningham. Hull explained that he remembered the time particularly because he happened to be winding the clock at the moment.
A description of Lane was given in a two-column "box." He read it with no amusement. It was too deadly accurate for comfort.
The supposed assassin of James Cunningham is described by Mrs. Cass Hull as dressed in a pepper-and-salt suit and a white, pinched-in cattleman's hat. He is about six feet tall, between 25 and 30 years old, weighing about 200 or perhaps 210 pounds. His hair is a light brown and his face tanned from the sun.
His age and his weight were overstated, and his clothes were almost a khaki brown. Otherwise Mrs. Hull had given a very close description of him, considering her state of mind at the moment when she had seen him.
There was one sentence of the story he read over two or three times. Hull and his wife agreed that it was about 9.20 when he had knocked on their door, unless it was a printer's error or the reporter had made a mistake. Kirby knew this was wrong. He had looked at his watch just before he had entered the Paradox Apartment. He had stopped directly under a street globe, and the time was 9.55.
Had the Hulls deliberately shifted the time back thirty-five minutes? If so, why? He remembered how stark terror had stared out of both their faces. Did they know more about the murder than they pretended? When he had mentioned his uncle's name the woman had been close to collapse, though, of course, he could not be sure that had been the reason. To his mind there flashed the memory of the note he had seen on the table. The man had called on Cunningham and left word he might call again. Was it possible the Hulls had just come down from the apartment above when he had knocked on their door? If so, how did the presence of Rose fit into the schedule?
Lane pounced on the fear and the evasion of the Hulls as an out for Wild Rose. It was only a morsel of hope, but he made the most of it.
The newspaper was inclined to bring up stage the mysterious man who had called up the police at 10.25 to tell them that Cunningham had been murdered in his rooms. Who was this man? Could he be the murderer? If so, why should he telephone the police and start immediately the hunt after him? If not the killer, how did he know that a crime had been committed less than an hour before?
As soon as he had eaten breakfast, Kirby walked round to the boarding-house on Cherokee Street where Wild Rose was staying with her sister. Rose was out, he learned from the landlady. He asked if he might see her sister. His anxiety was so great he could not leave without a word of her.
Presently Esther came down to the parlor where the young man waited for her. Lane introduced himself as a friend of Rose. He was worried about her, he said. She seemed to him in a highly wrought-up, nervous state. He wondered if it would not be well to get her out of Denver.
Esther swallowed a lump in her throat. She had never seen Rose so jumpy, she agreed. Last night she had gone out for an hour alone. The look in her eyes when she had come back had frightened Esther. She had gone at once to her bedroom and locked the door, but her sister had heard her moving about for hours.
Then, suddenly, Esther's throat swelled and she began to sob. She knew well enough that she was at the bottom of Wild Rose's worries.
"Where is she now?" asked Kirby gently.
"I don't know. She didn't tell me where she was going. There's—there's something queer about her. I—I'm afraid."
"What are you afraid of?"
"She's so—so kinda fierce," Esther wailed.
It was impossible to explain, even to this big brown friend of Rose who looked as though his quiet strength could move mountains. He was a man. Besides, every instinct in her drove to keep hidden the secret that some day would tell itself.
Her eyes fell. They rested on the "News" some boarder had tossed on the table beside which she stood. Her thoughts were of herself and the plight in which she had become involved. She looked at the big headlines of the paper and for the moment did not see them. What she did see was disgrace, the shipwreck of the young life she loved so much.
Her pupils dilated. The words of the headline penetrated to the brain. A hand clutched at her heart. She read again hazily—
JAMES CUNNINGHAM MURDERED
—then collapsed fainting into a chair.
KIRBY ASKS A DIRECT QUESTION
The story of the Cunningham mystery, as it was already being called, filled the early editions of the afternoon papers. The "Times" had the scoop of the day. It was a story signed by Chuck Ellis, who had seen the alleged murderer climb down by a fire escape from the window of Cunningham's bedroom and had actually talked with the man as he emerged from the alley. His description of the suspect tallied fairly closely with that of Mrs. Hull, but it corrected errors in regard to weight, age, and color of clothes.
As Kirby walked to the Equitable Building to keep his appointment with his cousins, it would not have surprised him if at any moment an officer had touched him on the shoulder and told him he was under arrest.
Entering the office of the oil broker, where the two brothers were waiting for him, Kirby had a sense of an interrupted conversation. They had been talking about him, he guessed. The atmosphere was electric.
James spoke quickly, to bridge any embarrassment. "This is a dreadful thing about Uncle James. I've never been so shocked before in my life. The crime was absolutely fiendish."
Kirby nodded. "Or else the deed of some insane person. Men in their right senses don't do such things."
"No," agreed James. "Murder's one thing. Such coldblooded deviltry is quite another. There may be insanity connected with it. But one thing is sure. I'll not rest till the villain's run to earth and punished."
His eyes met those of his cousin. They were cold and bleak.
"Do you think I did it?" asked Kirby quietly.
The directness of the question took James aback. After the fraction of a second's hesitation he spoke. "If I did I wouldn't be going to lunch with you."
Jack cut in. Excitement had banished his usual almost insolent indolence. His dark eyes burned with a consuming fire. "Let's put our cards on the table. We think you're the man the police are looking for—the one described in the papers."
"What makes you think that?"
"You told us you were going to see him as soon as he got back from the Springs. The description fits you to a T. You can't get away with an alibi so far as I'm concerned."
"All right," said the rough rider, his low, even voice unruffled by excitement. "If I can't, I can't. We'll say I'm the man who came down the fire escape. What then?"
James was watching his cousin steadily. The pupils of his eyes narrowed. He took the answer out of his brother's mouth. "Then we think you probably know something about this mystery that you'll want to tell us. You must have been on the spot very soon after the murderer escaped. Perhaps you saw him."
Kirby told the story of his night's adventure, omitting any reference whatever to Wild Rose or to anybody else in the apartment when he entered.
After he had finished, James made his comment. "You've been very frank, Kirby. I accept your story. A guilty man would have denied being in the apartment, or he would have left town and disappeared."
The range rider smiled sardonically. "I'm not so sure of that. You've got the goods on me. I can't deny I'm the man the police are lookin' for. Mrs. Hull would identify me. So would this reporter Ellis. All you would have to do would be to hand my name to the nearest officer. An' I can't run away without confessin' guilt. Even if I had killed Uncle James, I couldn't do much else except tell some story like the one I've told you."
"It wouldn't go far in a court-room," Jack said.
"Not far," admitted Kirby. "By the way, you haven't expressed an opinion, Jack. Do you think I shot Uncle James?"
Jack looked at him, almost sullenly, and looked away. He poked at the corner of the desk with the ferrule of his cane. "I don't know who shot him. You had quarreled with him, and you went to have another row with him. A cop told me that some one who knew how to tie ropes fastened the knots around his arms and throat. You beat it from the room by the fire escape. A jury would hang you high as Haman on that evidence. Damn it, there's a bad bruise on your chin wasn't there when we saw you yesterday. For all I know he may have done it before you put him out."
"I struck against a corner in the darkness," Kirby said.
"That's what you say. You've got to explain it somehow. I think your story's fishy, if you ask me."
"Then you'd better call up the police," suggested Lane.
"I didn't say I was going to call the cops," retorted Jack sulkily.
James looked at his cousin. Kirby Lane was strong. You could not deny his strength, audacious yet patient. He was a forty-horsepower man with the smile of a boy. Moreover, his face was a certificate of manhood. It was a recommendation more effective than words.
"I think you're wrong, Jack," the older brother said. "Kirby had no more to do with this than I had."
"Thanks," Kirby nodded.
"Let's investigate this man Hull. What Kirby says fits in with what you saw a couple of evenings ago, Jack. I'm assuming he's the same man Uncle flung downstairs. Uncle told you he was a black-mailer. There's one lead. Let's follow it."
Reluctantly Kirby broached one angle of the subject that must be faced. "What about this girl in Uncle's office—the one in trouble? Are we goin' to bring her into this?"
There was a moment's silence. Jack's black eyes slid from Lane to his brother. It struck Kirby that he was waiting tensely for the decision of James, though the reason for his anxiety was not apparent.
James gave the matter consideration, then spoke judicially. "Better leave her out of it. No need to smirch Uncle's reputation unless it's absolutely necessary. We don't want the newspapers gloating over any more scandals than they need."
The cattleman breathed freer. He had an odd feeling that Jack, too, was relieved. Had the young man, after all, a warmer feeling for his dead uncle's reputation than he had given him credit for?
As the three cousins stepped out of the Equitable Building to Stout Street a newsboy was calling an extra.
"A-l-l 'bout Cunn'n'ham myst'ry. Huxtry! Huxtry!"
Kirby bought a paper. A streamer headline in red flashed at him.
HORIKAWA; VALET OF CUNNINGHAM, DISAPPEARS
The lead of the story below was to the effect that Cunningham had drawn two thousand dollars in large bills from the bank the day of his death. Horikawa could not be found, and the police had a theory that he had killed and robbed his master for this money.
THE CORONER'S INQUEST
If Kirby had been playing his own hand only he would have gone to the police and told them he was the man who had been seen leaving the Paradox Apartments by the fire escape. But he could not do this without running the risk of implicating Wild Rose. Awkward questions would be fired at him that he could not answer. He decided not to run away from arrest, but not to surrender himself. If the police rounded him up, he could not help it; if they did not, so much the better.
He made two more attempts to see Wild Rose during the day, but he could not find her at home. When he at last did see her it was at the inquest, where he had gone to learn all that he could of the circumstances surrounding the murder.
There was a risk in attending. He recognized that. But he was moved by an imperative urge to find out all that was possible of the affair. The force that drove him was the need in his heart to exonerate his friend. Though he recognized the weight of evidence against her, he could not believe her guilty. Under tremendous provocation it might be in character for her to have shot his uncle in self-defense or while in extreme anger. But all his knowledge of her cried out that she could never have chloroformed him, tied him up, then taken his life while he was helpless. She was too fine and loyal to her code, too good a sportsman, far too tender-hearted, for such a thing.
Yet the evidence assaulted this conviction of his soul. If the Wild Rose in the dingy court-room had been his friend of the outdoor spaces, he would have rejected as absurd the possibility that she had killed his uncle. But his heart sank when he looked at this wan-faced woman who came late and slipped inconspicuously into a back seat, whose eyes avoided his, who was so plainly keyed up to a tremendously high pitch. She was dressed in a dark-blue tailored serge and a black sailor hat, beneath the rim of which the shadows on her face were dark.
The room was jammed with people. Every aisle was packed and hundreds were turned away. In the audience was a scattering of fashionably dressed women, for it was possible the inquest might develop a sensation.
The coroner was a short, fat, little man with a highly developed sense of his importance. It was his hour, and he made the most of it. His methods were his own. The young assistant district attorney lounging by the table played second fiddle.
The first witnesses developed the movements of Cunningham during the evening of the twenty-third. He had dined at the City Club, and had left there after dinner to go to his apartment. To a club member dining with him he had mentioned an appointment at his rooms with a lady.
A rustling wave of excitement swept the benches. Those who had come to seek sensations had found their first thrill. Kirby drew in his breath sharply. He leaned forward, not to miss a word.
"Did he mention the name of the lady, Mr. Blanton?" asked the coroner, washing the backs of his hands with the palms.
"Or his business with her?"
"No. But he seemed to be annoyed." Mr. Blanton also seemed to be annoyed. He had considered not mentioning this appointment, but his conscience would not let him hide it. None the less he resented the need of giving the public more scandal about a fellow club member who was dead. He added an explanation. "My feeling was that it was some business matter being forced on him. He had been at Colorado Springs during the day and probably had been unable to see the lady earlier."
"Did he say so?"
"No-o, not exactly."
"What did he say to give you that impression?"
"I don't recall his words."
"Or the substance of them?"
"No. I had the impression, very strongly."
The coroner reproved him tartly. "Please confine your testimony to facts and not to impressions, Mr. Blanton. Do you know at what time Mr. Cunningham left the City Club?"
"That will do."
Exit Mr. Blanton from the chair and from the room, very promptly and very eagerly.
He was followed by a teller at the Rocky Mountain National Bank. He testified to only two facts—that he knew Cunningham and that the promoter had drawn two thousand dollars in bills on the day of his death.
A tenant at the Paradox Apartments was next called to the stand. The assistant district attorney examined him. He brought out only one fact of importance—that he had seen Cunningham enter the building at a few minutes before nine o'clock.
The medical witnesses were introduced next. The police surgeon had reached the apartment at 10.30. The deceased had come to his death, in his judgment, from the effect of a bullet out of a .38 caliber revolver fired into his brain. He had been struck a blow on the head by some heavy instrument, but this in itself would probably not have proved fatal.
"How long do you think he had been dead when you first saw him?"
"Less than an hour." Answering questions, the police surgeon gave the technical medical reasons upon which he based this opinion. He described the wound.
The coroner washed the backs of his hands with his palms. Observing reporters noticed that he did this whenever he intended taking the examination into his own hands.
"Did anything peculiar about the wound impress you?" he asked.
"Yes. The forehead of the deceased was powder-marked."
"Showing that the weapon had been fired close to him?"
"One thing. The bullet slanted into the head toward the right."
"Where was the chair in which the deceased was seated? I mean in what part of the room."
"Pushed close to the left-hand wall and parallel to it."
"Under the circumstances could the revolver have been fired so that the bullet could have taken the course it did if held in the right hand?"
"Hardly. Not unless it was held with extreme awkwardness."
"In your judgment, then, the revolver was fired by a left-handed person?"
"That is my opinion."
The coroner swelled like a turkey cock as he waved the attorney to take charge again.
Lane's heart drummed fast. He did not look across the room toward the girl in the blue tailored suit. But he saw her, just as clearly as though his eyes had been fastened on her. The detail that stood out in his imagination was the right arm set in splints and resting in a linen sling suspended from the neck.
Temporarily Rose McLean was left-handed.
"Was it possible that the deceased could have shot himself?"
"Do you mean, is it possible that somebody could have tied him to the chair after he was dead?"
The surgeon, taken by surprise, hesitated. "That's possible, certainly."
James Cunningham took the witness chair after the police officers who had arrived at the scene of the tragedy with the surgeon had finished their testimony. One point brought out by the officers was that in the search of the rooms the two thousand dollars was not found. The oil broker gave information as to his uncle's affairs.
"You knew your uncle well?" the lawyer asked presently.
"And were on good terms with him?"
"Had he ever suggested to you that he might commit suicide?"
"Never," answered the oil broker with emphasis. "He was the last man in the world one would have associated with such a thought."
"Did he own a revolver?"
"No, not to my knowledge. He had an automatic."
"What caliber was it?"
"I'm not quite sure—about a .38, I think."
"When did you see it last?"
"I don't recollect."
The prosecuting attorney glanced at his notes.
"You are his next of kin?"
"My brother and I are his nephews. He had no nearer relatives."
"You are his only nephews—his only near relatives?"
Cunningham hesitated, for just the blinking of an eye. He did not want to bring Kirby into his testimony if he could help it. That might ultimately lead to his arrest.
"He had one other nephew."
"Living in Denver?"
"Somewhere in Wyoming, I think. We do not correspond."
"Do you know if he is there now?"
The witness dodged. "He lives there, I think."
"Do you happen to know where he is at the present moment?"
"Yes." The monosyllable fell reluctantly.
"Not in this court-room?"
"What is the gentleman's name, Mr. Cunningham?"
"Will you point him out?"
James did so.
The lawyer faced the crowded benches. "I'll ask Mr. Lane to step forward and take a seat near the front. I may want to ask him a few questions later."
Kirby rose and came forward.
"To your knowledge, Mr. Cunningham, had your uncle any enemies?" asked the attorney, continuing his examination.
"He was a man of positive opinions. Necessarily there were people who did not like him."
"In a business sense, yes."
"But not in a personal sense?"
"I do not know of any. He may have had them. In going through his desk at the office I found a letter. Here it is."
The fat little coroner bustled forward, took the letter, and read it. He handed it to one of the jury. It was read and passed around. The letter was the one the promoter had received from the Dry Valley rancher threatening his life if he ever appeared again in that part of the country.
"I notice that the letter is postmarked Denver," Cunningham suggested. "Whoever mailed it must have been in the city at the time."
"That's very important," the prosecuting attorney said. "Have you communicated the information to the police?"
"You do not know who wrote the letter?"
"I do not."
The coroner put the tips of his fingers and thumbs together and balanced on the balls of his feet. "Do you happen to know the name of the lady with whom your uncle had an appointment on the night of his death at his rooms?"
"No," answered the witness curtly.
"When was the last time you saw the deceased alive?"
"About three o'clock on the day before that of his death."
"Anything occur at that time throwing any light on what subsequently occurred?"
"Very good, Mr. Cunningham. You may be excused, if Mr. Johns is through with you, unless some member of the jury has a question he would like to ask."
One of the jury had. He was a dried-out wisp of a man wrinkled like a winter pippin. "Was your uncle engaged to be married at the time of his death?" he piped.
There was a mild sensation in the room. Curious eyes swept toward the graceful, slender form of a veiled woman sitting at the extreme left of the room.
Cunningham flushed. The question seemed to him a gratuitous probe into the private affairs of the family. "I do not care to discuss that," he answered quietly.
"The witness may refuse to answer questions if he wishes," the coroner ruled.
Jack Cunningham was called to the stand. James had made an excellent witness. He was quiet, dignified, and yet forceful. Jack, on the other hand, was nervous and irritable. The first new point he developed was that on his last visit to the rooms of his uncle he had seen him throw downstairs a fat man with whom he had been scuffling. Shown Hull, he identified him as the man.
"Had you ever had any trouble with your uncle?" Johns asked him.
"You may decline to answer if you wish," the coroner told the witness.
Young Cunningham hesitated. "No-o. What do you mean by trouble?"
"Had he ever threatened to cut you out of his will?"
"Yes," came the answer, a bit sulkily.
"Why—if you care to tell?"
"He thought I was extravagant and wild—wanted me to buckle down to business more."
"What is your business?"
"I'm with a bond house—McCabe, Foster & Clinton."
"During the past few months have you had any difference of opinion with your uncle?"
"That's my business," flared the witness. Then, just as swiftly as his irritation had come it vanished. He remembered that his uncle's passionate voice had risen high. No doubt people in the next apartments had heard him. It would be better to make a frank admission. "But I don't mind answering. I have."
"The last time I went to his rooms—two days before his death."
Significant looks passed from one to another of the spectators.
"What was the subject of the quarrel?"
"I didn't say we had quarreled," was the sullen answer.
"Differed, then. My question was, what about?"
"I decline to say."
"I think that is all, Mr. Cunningham."
The wrinkled little juryman leaned forward and piped his question again. "Was your uncle engaged to be married at the time of his death?"
The startled eyes of Jack Cunningham leaped to the little man. There was in them dismay, almost panic. Then, swiftly, he recovered and drawled insolently, "I try to mind my own business. Do you?"
The coroner asserted himself. "Here, here, none of that! Order in this court, if you please, gentlemen." He bustled in his manner, turning to the attorney. "Through with Mr. Cunningham, Johns? If so, we'll push on."
"Quite." The prosecuting attorney consulted a list in front of him. "Cass Hull next."
Hull came puffing to the stand. He was a porpoise of a man. His eyes dodged about the room in dread. It was as though he were looking for a way of escape.
"THAT'S THE MAN"
"Real estate, mostly farm lands."
"Did you know James Cunningham, the deceased?" asked Johns.
"Yes. Worked with him on the Dry Valley proposition, an irrigation project."
"Ever have any trouble with him?"
"No, sir—not to say trouble." Hull was already perspiring profusely. He dragged a red bandanna from his pocket and mopped the roll of fat that swelled over his collar. "I—we had a—an argument about a settlement—nothin' serious."
"Did he throw you out of his room and down the stairs?"
"No, sir, nothin' like that a-tall. We might 'a' scuffled some, kinda in fun like. Prob'ly it looked like we was fightin', but we wasn't. My heel caught on a tread o' the stairs an' I fell down." Hull made his explanation eagerly and anxiously, dabbing at his beefy face with the handkerchief.
"When did you last see Mr. Cunningham alive?"
"Well, sir, that was the last time, though I reckon we heard him pass our door."
In answer to questions the witness explained that Cunningham had owed him, in his opinion, four thousand dollars more than he had paid. It was about this sum they had differed.
"Were you at home on the evening of the twenty-third—that is, last night?"
The witness flung out more signals of distress. "Yes, sir," he said at last in a voice dry as a whisper.
"Will you tell what, if anything, occurred?"
"Well, sir, a man knocked at our door. The woman she opened it, an' he asked which flat was Cunningham's. She told him, an' the man he started up the stairs."
"Have you seen the man since?"
"Didn't hear him come downstairs later?"
"At what time did this man knock?" asked the lawyer from the district attorney's office.
Kirby Lane did not move a muscle of his body, but excitement grew in him, as he waited, eyes narrowed, for the answer.
"How do you know the time so exactly?"
"Well, sir, I was windin' the clock for the night."
"Sure your clock was right?"
"Yes, sir. I happened to check up on it when the court-house clock struck nine. Mebbe it was half a minute off, as you might say."
"Describe the man."
Hull did, with more or less accuracy.
"Would you know him if you saw him again?"
"Yes, sir, I sure would."
The coroner flung a question at the witness as though it were a weapon, "Ever carry a gun, Mr. Hull?"
The big man on the stand dabbed at his veined face with the bandanna. He answered, with an ingratiating whine. "I ain't no gunman, sir. Never was."
"Ever ride the range?"
"Well, yes, as you might say," the witness answered uneasily.
"Carried a six-shooter for rattlesnakes, didn't you?"
"I reckon, but I never went hellin' around with it."
"Wore it to town with you when you went, I expect, as the other boys did."
"What caliber was it?"
"A .38, sawed-off."
"Own it now?"
The witness mopped his fat face. "No, sir."
"Don't carry a gun in town?"
"Ever own an automatic?"
"No, sir. Wouldn't know how to fire one."
"How long since you sold your .38?"
"Five years or so."
"Where did you carry it?"
"In my hip pocket."
"Which hip pocket?"
Hull was puzzled at the question. "Why, this one—the right one, o' course. There wouldn't be any sense in carryin' it where I couldn't reach it."
"That's so. Mr. Johns, you may take the witness again."
The young lawyer asked questions about the Dry Valley irrigation project. He wanted to know why there was dissatisfaction among the farmers, and from a reluctant witness drew the information that the water supply was entirely inadequate for the needs of the land under cultivation.
Mrs. Hull, called to the stand, testified that on the evening of the twenty-third a man had knocked at their door to ask in which apartment Mr. Cunningham lived. She had gone to the door, answered his question, and watched him pass upstairs.
"What time was this?"
Again Kirby felt a tide of excitement running in his arteries. Why were this woman and her husband setting back the clock thirty-five minutes? Was it to divert suspicion from themselves? Was it to show that this stranger must have been in Cunningham's rooms for almost an hour, during which time the millionaire promoter had been murdered?
"Describe the man."
This tall, angular woman, whose sex the years had seemed to have dried out of her personality, made a much better witness than her husband. She was acid and incisive, but her very forbidding aspect hinted of the "good woman" who never made mistakes. She described the stranger who had knocked at her door with a good deal of circumstantial detail.
"He was an outdoor man, a rancher, perhaps, or more likely a cattleman," she concluded.
"You have not seen him since that time?"
She opened her lips to say "No," but she did not say it. Her eyes had traveled past the lawyer and fixed themselves on Kirby Lane. He saw the recognition grow in them, the leap of triumph in her as the long, thin arm shot straight toward him.
"That's the man!"
A tremendous excitement buzzed in the courtroom. It was as though some one had exploded a mental bomb. Men and women craned forward to see the man who had been identified, the man who no doubt had murdered James Cunningham. The murmur of voices, the rustle of skirts, the shuffling of moving bodies filled the air.
The coroner rapped for order. "Silence in the court-room," he said sharply.
"Which man do you mean, Mrs. Hull?" asked the lawyer.
"The big brown man sittin' at the end of the front bench, the one right behind you."
Kirby rose. "Think prob'ly she means me," he suggested.
An officer in uniform passed down the aisle and laid a hand on the cattleman's shoulder. "You're under arrest," he said.
"For what, officer?" asked James Cunningham.
"For the murder of your uncle, sir."
In the tense silence that followed rose a little throat sound that was not quite a sob and not quite a wail. Kirby turned his head toward the back of the room.
Wild Rose was standing in her place looking at him with dilated eyes filled with incredulity and horror.
"Chuck" Ellis, reporter, testified that on his way home from the Press Club on the night of the twenty-third, he stopped at an alley on Glenarm Street to strike a light for his cigar. Just as he lit the match he saw a man come out from the window of a room in the Paradox Apartments and run down the fire escape. It struck him that the man might be a burglar, so he waited in the shadow of the building. The runner came down the alley toward him. He stopped the man and had some talk with him. At the request of the district attorney's assistant he detailed the conversation and located on a chart shown him the room from which he had seen the fellow emerge.
"Would you know him again?"'
"Do you see him in this room?"
Ellis, just off his run, had reached the court-room only a second before he stepped to the stand. Now he looked around, surprised at the lawyer's question. His wandering eye halted at Lane.
"There he is."
"Which man do you mean?"
"The one on the end of the bench."
"At what time did this take place?"
"Lemme see. About quarter-past ten, maybe."
"Which way did he go when he left you?"
"Toward Fifteenth Street."
"That is all." The lawyer turned briskly toward Kirby. "Mr. Lane, will you take the stand?"
Every eye focused on the range rider. As he moved forward and took the oath the scribbling reporters found in his movements a pantherish lightness, in his compact figure rippling muscles perfectly under control. There was an appearance of sunburnt competency about him, a crisp confidence born of the rough-and-tumble life of the outdoor West. He did not look like a cold-blooded murderer. Women found themselves hoping that he was not. The jaded weariness of the sensation-seekers vanished at sight of him. A man had walked upon the stage, one full of vital energy.
The assistant district attorney led him through the usual preliminaries. Lane said that he was by vocation a cattleman, by avocation a rough rider. He lived at Twin Buttes, Wyoming.
One of the reporters leaned toward another and whispered, "By Moses, he's the same Lane that won the rough-riding championship at Pendleton and was second at Cheyenne last year."
"Are you related to James Cunningham, the deceased?" asked the lawyer.
"How long since you had seen him prior to your visit to Denver this time?"
"What were your relations with him?"
The coroner interposed. "You need answer no questions tending to incriminate you, Mr. Lane."
A sardonic smile rested on the rough rider's lean, brown face. "Our relations were not friendly," he said quietly.
A ripple of excitement swept the benches.
"What was the cause of the bad feeling between you?"
"A few years ago my father fell into financial difficulties. He was faced with bankruptcy. Cunningham not only refused to help him, but was the hardest of his creditors. He hounded him to the time of my father's death a few months later. His death was due to a breakdown caused by intense worry."
"You felt that Mr. Cunningham ought to have helped him?"
"My father helped him when he was young. What my uncle did was the grossest ingratitude."
"You resented it."
"And quarreled with him?"
"I wrote him a letter an' told him what I thought of him. Later, when we met by chance, I told him again face to face."
"You had a bitter quarrel?"
"That was how long ago?"
"Three years since."
"In that time did your feelings toward him modify at all?"
"My opinion of him did not change, but I had no longer any feelin' in the matter."
"Did you write to him or hear from him in that time?"
"Had you any expectation of being remembered in your uncle's will?"
"None whatever," answered Kirby, smiling. "Even if he had left me anything I should have declined to accept it. But there was no chance at all that he would."
"Yet when you came to town you called on him at the first opportunity?"
"On what business?"
"I reckon we'll not go into that."
Johns glanced at his notes and passed to another line of questioning. "You have heard the testimony of Mr. and Mrs. Hull and of Mr. Ellis. Is that testimony true?"
"Except in one point. It lacked only three or four minutes to ten when I knocked at the door an' Mrs. Hull opened it."
"You're sure of that?"
"Sure. I looked at my watch just before I went into the Paradox Apartments."
"Will you tell the jury what took place between you and Mrs. Hull?"
"'Soon as I saw her I knew she was scared stiff about somethin'. So was Hull. He was headin' for a bedroom, so I wouldn't see him."
The slender, well-dressed woman in the black veil, sitting far over to the left, leaned forward and seemed to listen intently. All over the room there was a stir of quickened interest.
"How did she show her fear?"
"No color in her face, eyes dilated an' full of terror, hands tremblin'."
"And Mr. Hull?"
"He was yellow. Color all gone from his face. Looked as though he'd had a shock."
"What was said, if anything?"
"I asked Mrs. Hull where my uncle's apartment was. That gave her another fright. At least she almost fainted."
"Did she say anything?"
"She told me where his rooms were. Then she shut the door, right in my face. I went upstairs to Apartment 12."
"Where your uncle lived?"
"Where my uncle lived. I rang the bell twice an' didn't get an answer. Then I noticed the door was ajar. I opened it, called, an' walked in, shuttin' it behind me. I guessed he must be around an' would be back in a few minutes."