that the vigilance committee of Grayson were in hot pursuit
"Riding over in the bend, looking for black-leg signs," said Lite promptly. "Packed a lunch, same as I did."
The answer seemed to satisfy Jim and to eliminate from his mind any slight suspicion he may have held, but Lite had a sudden impulse to improve upon his statement.
"I saw Aleck ride into the ranch as I was coming home," he said. As he spoke, his face lightened as with a weight lifted from his mind.
Later, when the coroner questioned him about his movements and the movements of Aleck, Lite repeated the lie as casually as possible. It might have carried more weight with the jury if Aleck Douglas himself had not testified, just before then, that he had returned about three o'clock to the ranch and pottered around the corral with the mare and colt, and unsaddled his horse before going into the house at all. It was only when he had discovered Johnny Croft's horse at the haystack, he said, that he began to wonder where the rider could be. He had gone to the house--and found him on the kitchen floor.
Lite had not heard this statement, for the simple reason that, being a closely interested person, he had been invited to remain outside while Aleck Douglas testified. He wondered why the jury,--men whom he knew and had known for years, most of them,-- looked at one another so queerly when he declared that he had seen Aleck ride home. The coroner also had given him a queer look, but he had not made any comment. Aleck, too, had turned his head and stared at Lite in a way which Lite preferred to think he had not understood.
Beyond that one statement which had produced such a curious effect, Lite did not have anything to say that shed the faintest light upon the matter. He told where he had been, and that he had discovered the body just before Jean arrived, and that he had immediately started with her to town. The coroner did not cross- question him. Counting from four o'clock, which Jim had already named as the time of their separation, Lite would have had just about time to do the things he testified to doing. The only thing he claimed to have done and could not possibly have done, was to see Aleck Douglas riding into the coulee. Aleck himself had branded that a lie before Lite had ever uttered it.
The result was just what was to be expected. Aleck Douglas was placed under arrest, and as a prisoner he rode back to town alongside the sheriff,--an old friend of his, by the way,--to where Jean waited impatiently for news.
It was Lite who told her. "It'll come out all right," he said, in his calm way that might hide a good deal of emotion beneath it. "It's just to have something to work from,--don't mean anything in particular. It's a funny way the law has got," he explained, "of arresting the last man that saw a fellow alive, or the first one that sees him dead."