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.