“Why should it be dragged through the mud—if you’re all innocent?”
“Because gossips cackle—and people never forget. If there was some evidence against her and against James—no matter how little—twenty years from now people would still whisper that they had killed his uncle for the fortune, though it couldn’t be proved. You know that.”
“Just as they’re goin’ to whisper about Rose McLean if I don’t clear things up. No, Jack. You’ve got the wrong idea. What we want to do is for us all to jump in an’ find the man who did it. Then all gossip against us stops.”
“That’s easy to say. How’re you going to find the guilty man?” asked Jack sulkily.
“If you’d tell what you know we’d find him fast enough. How can I get to the bottom of the thing when you an’ James won’t give me the facts?”
Jack looked across at him doggedly. “I’ve told all I’m going to tell.”
The long, lithe body of the man from the Wyoming hills leaned forward ever so slightly. “Don’t you think it! Don’t you think it for a minute! You’ll come clean whether you want to or not—or I’ll put that rope you mentioned round your brother’s throat.”
Jack looked at this man with the nerves of chilled steel and shivered. What could he do against a single-track mind with such driving force back of it? Had Kirby got anything of importance on James? Or was he bluffing?
“Talk ’s cheap,” he sneered uneasily.
“You’ll find how cheap it is. James had been speculatin’. He was down an’ out. Another week, an’ he’d have been a bankrupt. Uncle discovers how he’s been tricked by him an’ Miss Harriman. He serves notice that he’s cuttin’ James out of his will an’ he sends for a lawyer to draw up a new one. James an’ his wife go to the old man’s rooms to beg off. There’s a quarrel, maybe. Anyhow, this point sticks up like a sore thumb: if uncle hadn’t died that night your brother would ‘a’ been a beggar. Now he’s a millionaire. And James was in his room the very hour in which he was killed.”
“You can’t prove that!” Jack cried, his voice low and hoarse. “How do you know he was there? What evidence have you?”
Kirby smiled, easily and confidently. “The evidence will be produced at the right time.” He rose and turned to go.
Jack also got up, white to the lips. “Hold on! Don’t—don’t do anything in a hurry! I’ll—talk with you to-morrow—here—in the forenoon. Or say in a day or two. I’ll let you know then.”
His cousin nodded grimly.
The hard look passed from his eyes as he reached the corridor. “Had to throw a scare into him to make him come through,” he murmured in apology to himself.
KIRBY MAKES A CALL
Kirby had been bluffing when he said he had evidence to prove that James was in his uncle’s rooms the very hour of the murder. But he was now convinced that he had told the truth. James had been there, and his brother Jack knew it. The confession had been written in his shocked face when Kirby flung out the charge.