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.