Even in that moment, when he had the desire to strike the man before him, it was impossible for him not to admire the stone-like invulnerability of Kedsty. He had never heard of another man calling Kedsty a scoundrel or dishonest. And yet, except that his faced burned more dully red, the Inspector was as impassively calm as ever. Even Kent’s intimation that he was playing a game, and his direct accusation that he was keeping Marette Radisson in hiding at his bungalow, seemed to have no disturbing effect on him. For a space he looked at Kent, as if measuring the poise of the other’s mind. When he spoke, it was in a voice so quiet and calm that Kent stared at him in amazement.
“I don’t blame you, Kent,” he said. “I don’t blame you for calling me a scoundrel, or anything else you want to. I think I should do the same if I were in your place. You think it is incredible, because of our previous association, that I should not make every effort to save you. I would, if I thought you were innocent. But I don’t. I believe you are guilty. I cannot see where there is a loophole in the evidence against you, as given in your own confession. Why, man, even if I could help to prove you innocent of killing John Barkley—”
He paused and twisted one of his gray mustaches, half facing the window for a moment. “Even if I did that,” he went on, “you would still have twenty years of prison ahead of you for the worst kind of perjury on the face of the earth, perjury committed at a time when you thought you were dying! You are guilty, Kent. If not of one thing, then of the other. I am not playing a game. And as for the girl—there is no girl at my bungalow.”
He turned to the door; and Kent made no effort to stop him. Words came to his lips and died there, and for a space after Kedsty had gone he stared out into the green forest world beyond his window, seeing nothing. Inspector Kedsty, quietly and calmly, had spoken words that sent his hopes crashing in ruin about him. For even if he escaped the hangman, he was still a criminal—a criminal of the worst sort, perhaps, next to the man who kills another. If he proved that he had not killed John Barkley, he would convict himself, at the same time, of having made solemn oath to a lie on what he supposed was his death-bed. And for that, a possible twenty years in the Edmonton penitentiary! At best he could not expect less than ten. Ten years—twenty years—in prison! That, or hang.
The sweat broke out on his face. He did not curse Kedsty now. His anger was gone. Kedsty had seen all the time what he, like a fool, had not thought of. No matter how the Inspector might feel in that deeply buried heart of his, he could not do otherwise than he was doing. He, James Kent, who hated a lie above all the things on the earth, was kin-as-kisew—the blackest liar of all, a man who lied when he was dying.
And for that lie there was a great punishment. The Law saw with its own eyes. It was a single-track affair, narrow-visioned, caring nothing for what was to the right or the left. It would tolerate no excuse which he might find for himself. He had lied to save a human life, but that life the Law itself had wanted. So he had both robbed and outraged the Law, even though a miracle saved him the greatest penalty of all.