in the county [consisting of land and negroes], and leave
"Lucky you was with me all day, up to four o'clock, Lite," Jim said. "That lets you out slick and clean, seeing the doctor claims he'd been dead six hours when he seen him last night. Crofty--why, Crofty was laying in there dead when I was talking about him to you! Kinda gives a man the creeps to think of it. Who do you reckon done it, Lite?"
"How'n hell do _I_ know?" Lite retorted irritably. "I didn't see it done."
Jim studied awhile, an ear cocked for the signal that the coroner was ready to begin the inquest. "Say," he leaned over and whispered in Lite's ear, "where was Aleck at, all day yesterday?"
"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.