The fat in the fire
For two days Fraser remained in the cabin of the stockman Howard, France making it his business to see that the place was never left unguarded for a moment. At the end of that time the fever had greatly abated, and he was doing so well that Doctor Lee decided it would be better to move him to the Dillon ranch for the convenience of all parties.
This was done, and the patient continued steadily to improve. His vigorous constitution, helped by the healthy, clean, outdoor life he had led, stood him in good stead. Day by day he renewed the blood he had lost. Soon he was eating prodigious dinners, and between meals was drinking milk with an egg beaten in it.
On a sunny forenoon, when he lay in the big window of the living room, reading a magazine, Arlie entered, a newspaper in her hand. Her eyes were strangely bright, even for her, and she had a manner of repressed excitement, Her face was almost colorless.
“Here’s some more in the Avalanche about our adventure near Gimlet Butte,” she told him, waving the paper.
“Nothing like keeping in the public eye,” said Steve, grinning. “I don’t reckon our little picnic at Bald Knob is likely to get in the Avalanche, though. It probably hasn’t any correspondent at Lost Valley. Anyhow, I’m hoping not.”
“Mr. Fraser, there is something in this paper I want you to explain. But tell me first when it was you shot this man Faulkner. I mean at just what time in the fight.”
“Why, I reckon it must have been just before I ducked.”
“That’s funny, too.” She fixed her direct, fearless gaze on him. “The evidence at the coroner’s jury shows that it was in the early part of the fight he was shot, before father and I left you.”
“No, that couldn’t have been, Miss Arlie, because——”
“Because——” she prompted, smiling at him in a peculiar manner.
He flushed, and could only say that the newspapers were always getting things wrong.
“But this is the evidence at the coroner’s inquest,” she said, falling grave again on the instant. “I understand one thing now, very clearly, and that is that Faulkner was killed early in the fight, and the other man was wounded in the ankle near the finish.”
He shook his head obstinately. “No, I reckon not.”
“Yet it is true. What’s more, you knew it all the time.”
“You ce’tainly jump to conclusions, Miss Arlie.”
“And you let them arrest you, without telling them the truth! And they came near lynching you! And there’s a warrant out now for your arrest for the murder of Faulkner, while all the time I killed him, and you knew it!”
He gathered together his lame defense. “You run ahaid too fast for me, ma’am. Supposing he was hit while we were all there together, how was I to know who did it?”