He reassured her, and hastened to his room. Lighting his lamp, he hurriedly changed his coat for a heavier, and was starting in hot haste for the door when his eyes fell upon the pistol, which he had laid on the table.
It was a fine, pearl-handled revolver, thirty-eight caliber. He looked at it closer, then stared blankly at the floor. He had seen it before that afternoon.
“Why, Carter must have given Ricks the pistol,” he thought. “But Carter was out at the Junction. What time did it happen?”
He sat on the side of the bed and, pressing his hands to his temples, tried to force the events to take their proper sequence.
“I don’t know when I left town,” he thought, with a shudder; “it must have been nearly four when I met Carter and Annette. He took the train back. Yes, he would have had time to help Ricks. But I saw Ricks out the turnpike. It was half-past five, I remember now. The doctor said the judge was shot at a quarter of six.”
A startled look of comprehension flashed over his face. He sprang to his feet and tramped up and down the small room.
“I know I saw Ricks,” he thought, his brain seething with excitement. “Annette saw him, too; she described him. He couldn’t have even driven back in that time.”
He stopped again and stood staring intently before him. Then he took the lamp and slipped down the back stairs and out the side door.
The snow was trampled about the window and for some space beyond it. The tracks had been followed to the river, the eager searchers keeping well away from the tell-tale footsteps in order not to obliterate them. Sandy knelt in the snow and held his lamp close to the single trail. The print was narrow and long and ended in a tapering toe. Ricks’s broad foot would have covered half the space again. He jumped to his feet and started for the house, then turned back irresolute.
When he entered his little room again the slender footprints had been effaced. He put the lamp on the bureau, and looked vacantly about him. On the cushion was pinned a note. He recognized Ruth’s writing, and opened it mechanically.
There were only three lines:
I must see you again before I leave. Be sure to come to-night.
The words scarcely carried a meaning to him. It was her brother that had shot the judge—the brother whom she had defended and protected all her life. It would kill her when she knew. And he, Sandy Kilday, was the only one who suspected the truth. A momentary temptation seized him to hold his peace; if Ricks were caught, it would be time enough to tell what he knew; if he escaped, one more stain on his name might not matter.
But Carter, the coward, where was he? It was his place to speak. Would he let Ricks bear his guilt and suffer the blame? Such burning rage against him rose in Sandy that he paced the room in fury.
Then he re-read Ruth’s note and again he hesitated. What a heaven of promise it opened to him! Ruth was probably waiting for him now. Everything might be different when he saw her again.