“’Tain’t safe here for me; I dasn’t stay longer.”
“Bob,” said Holcomb, “you’re safe here until daylight; there’s my bed.”
“No! No! I dassent, Billy.”
“But you’re wet to the skin,” insisted Holcomb.
“So be everything when it rains. I’m wet most of the time. Now I’m a-goin’, and a-goin’ quick. That’s what I come to give ye,” and he nodded to the crumpled bit of paper and its contents lying under the lamp’s glow.
“Is there anything I can do for you, Bob, down below? I saw Katie last time I drove in.”
A hungry eager look stole into the man’s face; tears started in his eyes and lost themselves in his matted, unkempt beard.
“Ye see Katie, Billy?” he moaned. “God—how I’d like to! Growing, ain’t she? Most ’leven now. Some weeks back since I dared go down. Last time I see her she cried and went on so holdin’ on to me I come near givin’ myself up I felt so bad; then I knowed that wouldn’t git nowhars.”
“No, Bob, better keep moving. I’m going to speak to Mr. Thayor when the time comes—but it isn’t yet. Hold on—here’s matches and what’s left in the cupboard.” Taking two of his own shirts and a pair of his woollen trousers, he wrapped up the food and a little cheer; then blowing out the lamp he again raised the sash cautiously, and with a hurried handshake bade him good-night.
“If ye want me again Hite Holt kin find me—he knows whar I be,” he whispered softly. Then he slipped out into the darkness and was gone.
Holcomb regained his chair, folded the paper containing every grain of the powder into an envelope and slipped it into his desk.
One thing he was resolved upon—not to tell Mr. Thayor of his suspicions until there was no question of his proof.
It is a long drive in from the railroad to Morrison’s. Hite called it eighteen good miles; the Clown put it at nineteen; what the old dog estimated it at none knew. He had always trotted the distance cheerfully.
From Thayor’s private flag station, the main road into Big Shanty snakes along over a flat, sparsely settled valley before it enters the deep woods. Once in the heavy timber it crossed chattering brooks skirting the ragged edges of wild ravines. On it goes through the forest mile after mile, up hill and down, until it emerges abruptly into the open country at the head of the “Deadwater,” passes Morrison’s, is met half a mile farther on by the new road leading down from Big Shanty camp, and continues straight ahead through a rough notch out to a valley twelve miles beyond.
It was over this road that Alice Thayor went to her exile.
Thayor and Holcomb, this rare August afternoon, were at the flag station to meet the “Wanderer”—the banker’s private car, with a spick-and-span three-seated buckboard and a fast team of bays. Aboard the car were Alice and Margaret, Blakeman and Annette.