of vigilance to increased activity in ferreting out all
It was when he went in to cook his belated breakfast that Lite noticed something which had no logical explanation. There were footprints on the kitchen floor that he had scrubbed so diligently. He stood looking at them, much as he had looked at the stain that would not come out, no matter how hard he scrubbed. He had not gone in the room after he had pulled the door shut and gone off to water Jean's dowers. He was positive upon that point; and even if he had gone in, his tracks would scarcely have led straight across the room to the cupboard where the table dishes were kept.
The tracks led to the cupboard, and were muddled confusedly there, as though the maker had stood there for some minutes. Lite could not see any sense in that. They were very distinct, just as footprints always show plainly on clean boards. The floor had evidently been moist still,--Lite had scrubbed man-fashion, with a broom, and had not been very particular about drying the floor afterwards. Also he had thrown the water straight out from the door, and the fellow must have stepped on the moist sand that clung to his boots. In the dark he could not notice that, or see that he had left tracks on the floor.
Lite went to the cupboard and looked inside it, wondering what the man could have wanted there. It was one of those old-fashioned "safes" such as our grandmothers considered indispensable in the furnishing of a kitchen. It held the table dishes neatly piled: dinner plates at the end of the middle shelf, smaller plates next, then a stack of saucers,--the arrangement stereotyped, unvarying since first Lite Avery had taken dishtowel in hand to dry the dishes for Jean when she was ten and stood upon a footstool so that her elbows would be higher than the rim of the dishpan. The cherry- blossom dinner set that had come from the mail-order house long ago was chipped now and incomplete, but the familiar rows gave Lite an odd sense of the unreality of the tragedy that had so lately taken place in that room.
Clearly there was nothing there to tempt a thief, and there was nothing disturbed. Lite straightened up and looked down thoughtfully upon the top of the cupboard, where Jean had stacked out-of-date newspapers and magazines, and where Aleck had laid a pair of extra gloves. He pulled out the two small drawers just under the cupboard top and looked within them. The first held pipes and sacks of tobacco and books of cigarette papers; Lite knew well enough the contents of that drawer. He appraised the supply of tobacco, remembered how much had been there on the morning of the murder, and decided that none had been taken. He helped himself to a fresh ten-cent sack of tobacco and inspected the other drawer.
Here were merchants' bills, a few letters of no consequence, a couple of writing tablets, two lead pencils, and a steel pen and a squat bottle of ink. This was called the writing-drawer, and had been since Lite first came to the ranch. Here Lite believed the confusion was recent. Jean had been very domestic since her return from school, and all disorder had been frowned upon. Lately the letters had been stacked in a corner, whereas now they were scattered. But they were of no consequence, once they had been read, and there was nothing else to merit attention from any one.
Lite looked down at the tracks and saw that they led into another room, which was Aleck's bedroom. He went in there, but he could not find any reason for a night-prowler's visit. Aleck's desk was always open. There was never anything there which he wanted to hide away. His account books and his business correspondence, such as it was, lay accessible to the curious. There was nothing intricate or secret about the running of the Lazy A ranch; nothing that should interest any one save the owner.
It occurred to Lite that incriminating evidence is sometimes placed surreptitiously in a suspected man's desk. He had heard of such things being done. He could not imagine what evidence might be placed here by any one, but he made a thorough search. He did not find anything that remotely concerned the murder.
He looked through the living-room, and even opened the door which led from the kitchen into Jean's room, which had been built on to the rest of the house a few years before. He could not find any excuse for those footprints.