Ruth bent forward to get a glimpse of the prisoner’s face, and as she did so he lifted his head.
It was Sandy Kilday, his clothes disheveled, his brows lowered, and his lips compressed info a straight, determined line.
Ruth’s startled gaze swept over the riders, then came back to him. She did not know what was the matter; she only knew that he was in trouble, and that she was siding with him against the rest. In the one moment their eyes met she sent him her full assurance of compassion and sympathy. It was the same message a little girl had sent years ago over a ship’s railing to a wretched stowaway on the deck below.
The men rode on, and she stood holding to the gate and looking after them.
“Here comes Mr. Sid Gray,” said Rachel. The approaching rider drew rein when he saw Ruth and dismounted.
“Tell me what’s happened!” she cried.
He hitched his horse and opened the gate. He, too, showed signs of a hard night.
“May I come in a moment to the fire?” he asked.
She led the way to the dining-room and ordered coffee.
“Now tell me,” she demanded breathlessly.
“It’s a mixed-up business,” said Gray, holding his numb hands to the blaze. “We left here early in the night and worked on a wrong trail till midnight. Then a train-man out at the Junction gave us a clue, and we got a couple of bloodhounds and traced Wilson as far as Ellersberg.”
“Go on!” said Ruth, shuddering.
“You see, a rumor got out that the judge had died. We didn’t say anything before the sheriff, but it was understood that Ricks wouldn’t be brought back to town alive. We located him in an old barn. We surrounded it, and were just about to fire it when Kilday came tearing up on horseback.”
“Yes?” cried Ruth.
“Well,” he went on, “he hadn’t started with us, and he had been riding like mad all night to overtake the crowd. His horse dropped under him before he could dismount. Kilday jumped out in the crowd and began to talk like a crazy man. He said we mustn’t harm Ricks Wilson; that Ricks hadn’t shot the judge, for he was sure he had seen him out the Junction road about half-past five. We all saw it was a put-up job; he was Ricks Wilson’s old pal, you know.”
“But Sandy Kilday wouldn’t lie!” cried Ruth.
“Well, that’s what he did, and worse. When we tried to close in on Wilson, Kilday fought like a tiger. You never saw anything like the mix-up, and in the general skirmish Wilson escaped.”
“And—and Sandy?” Ruth was leaning forward, with her hands clasped and her lips apart.
“Well, he showed what he was, all right. He took sides with that good-for-nothing scoundrel who had shot a man that was almost his father. Why, I never saw such a case of ingratitude in my life!”
“Where are they taking him?” she almost whispered.
“To jail for resisting an officer.”