“What man or men would benefit most if Esther disappeared for a time? We know of two it might help,” the man from Twin Buttes went on.
“Your cousins!” she cried, almost in a whisper.
“Yes, if we’ve guessed rightly that Esther was married to Uncle James. That would make her his heir. With her in their hands and away from us, they would be in a position to drive a better bargain. They know that we’re hot on the trail of the marriage. If they’re kind to her—and no doubt they will be—they can get anything they want from her in the way of an agreement as to the property. Looks to me like the fine Italian hand of Cousin James. We know Jack wasn’t the man. He was busy at Golden right then. Kinda leaves James in the spotlight, doesn’t it?”
Rose drew a long, deep breath. “I’m so glad! I was afraid—thought maybe she would do something desperate. But if she’s being looked after it’s a lot better. We’ll soon have her back. Until then they’ll be good to her, won’t they?”
“They’ll treat her like a queen. Don’t you see? That’s their game. They don’t want a lawsuit. They’re playin’ for a compromise.”
Kirby leaned back and smiled expansively on his audience of two. He began to fancy himself tremendously as a detective.
Kirby’s efforts to find James Cunningham after dinner were not successful. He was not at his rooms, at the Country Club, or at his office. Nor was he at a dinner dance where he was among the invited guests, a bit of information Rose had gathered from the society columns of the previous Sunday’s “News.” His cousin reached him at last next morning by means of his business telephone. An appointment was arranged in five sentences.
If James felt any surprise at the delegation of three which filed in to see him he gave no sign of it. He bowed, sent for more chairs from the outer office, and seated his visitors, all with a dry, close smile hovering on the edge of irony.
Kirby cut short preliminaries. “You know why we’re here and what we want,” he said abruptly.
“I confess I don’t, unless to report on your trip to Golden,” James countered suavely. “Was it successful, may I ask?”
“If it wasn’t, you know why it wasn’t.”
The eyes of the two men met. Neither of them dodged in the least or gave to the rigor of the other’s gaze.
“Referring to Jack’s expedition, I presume.”
“You don’t deny it, then.”
“My dear Kirby, I never waste breath in useless denials. You saw Jack. Therefore he must have been there.”
“He was. He brought away with him a page cut from the marriage-license registry.”
James lifted a hand of protest. “Ah! There we come to the parting of the ways. I can’t concede that.”
“No, but you know it’s true,” said Kirby bluntly.