a sort of inquisition, to find out, if possible, who were
There is no means of knowing just how far-reaching was the effect of that impulsive lie which Lite had told at the inquest. He did not repeat the blunder at the trial. When the district attorney reminded Lite of the statement he had made, Lite had calmly explained that he had made a mistake; he should have said that he had seen Aleck ride away from the ranch instead of to it. Beyond that he would not go, question him as they might.
The judge sentenced Aleck to eight years, and publicly regretted the fact that Aleck had persisted in asserting his innocence; had he pleaded guilty instead, the judge more than hinted, the sentence would have been made as light as the law would permit. It was the stubborn denial of the deed in the face of all reason, he said, that went far toward weaning from the prisoner what sympathy he would otherwise have commanded from the public and the court of justice.
You know how those things go. There was nothing particularly out of the ordinary in the case; we read of such things in the paper, and a paragraph or two is considered sufficient space to give so commonplace a happening.
But there was Lite, loyal to his last breath in the face of his secret belief that Aleck was probably guilty; loyal and blaming himself bitterly for hurting Aleck's cause when he had meant only to help. There was Jean, dazed by the magnitude of the catastrophe that had overtaken them all; clinging to Lite as to the only part of her home that was left to her, steadfastly refusing to believe that they would actually take her dad away to prison, until the very last minute when she stood on the crowded depot platform and watched in dry-eyed misery while the train slid away and bore him out of her life. These things are not put in the papers.
"Come on, Jean." Lite took her by the arm and swung her away from the curious crowd which she did not see. "You're my girl now, and I'm going to start right in using my authority. I've got Pard here in the stable. You go climb into your riding-clothes, and we'll hit it outa this darned burg where every man and his dog has all gone to eyes and tongues. They make me sick. Come on."
"Where?" Jean held back a little with vague stubbornness against the thought of taking up life again without her dad. "This--this is the jumping-off place, Lite. There's nothing beyond."
Lite gripped her arm a little tighter if anything, and led her across the street and down the high sidewalk that bridged a swampy tract at the edge of town beyond the depot.
"We're taking the long way round," he observed "because I'm going to talk to you like a Dutch uncle for saying things like that. I--had a talk with your dad last night, Jean. He's turned you over to me to look after till he gets back. I wish he coulda turned the ranch over, along with you, but he couldn't. That's been signed over to Carl, somehow; I didn't go into that with your dad; we didn't have much time. Seems Carl put up the money to pay Rossman,--and other things,--and took over the ranch to square it. Anyway, I haven't got anything to say about the business end of the deal. I've got permission to boss you, though, and I'm sure going to do it to a fare-you-well." He cast a sidelong glance down at her. He could not see anything of her face except the droop of her mouth, a bit of her cheek, and her chin that promised firmness. Her mouth did not change expression in the slightest degree until she moved her lips in speech.