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.