But it was the modern up-to-date Winchester which he had held, all poised to fly up to the ready shoulder should he find the splashing animal which had attracted his attention by its noise, which, next to his handsome, clean-cut face, had most aroused her admiration.
“Lordy! Joe’d give his eyes to hev a gun like that,” she said.
And then she made a pun, unconscious of what the outer world calls such things, but quite conscious of its humor. “Thought I was a b’ar,” she chuckled. “Well, I certainly was b’ar!”
Feeling no further fear of any one, defiant, now that she was fully clothed, of “furriners,” rather hoping, as a matter of fact that she might sometime meet this one again, she let her laugh ring out unrestrained. A cat-bird answered it with a harsh cry; a blue-jay answered him with a still harsher note. But then a brown thrush burst into unaccustomed post-meridian song. Even his throbbing trills and thrilling, liquid quaverings, had not more melody in them, however, than had her ringing laughter.
Her laugh, too, roused more than vagrant birds into attention. She had emerged from the abrupt little valley and was entering upon a plateau which had been left comparatively open by the removal of great trees, sacrificed to furnish ties for the new railroad building in the lowlands. The place was littered with the discarded tops of pines and other woodland rubbish and seemed forlorn and wrecked. She swept her eyes about with the glance of a proprietor, for Madge Brierly owned all of this as well as most of the land through which the brook which deepened into the pool of her adventure flowed. Indeed the girl was counted rich among her fellows and owned, also, land down in the valley on which she would not live, but which she rented for an annual sum to her significant, although it would not have kept a lowland belle in caramels.
In the center of the disordered clearing just before her, was the person who, like the birds, had been roused to keen attention by the maiden’s ringing laugh. She saw him first while he was peering here and there, astonished, to learn whence the sound had come, and, with the instinctive caution of the mountain-bred, she quickly stepped behind a clump of laurel, through which she peered at him.
He was a man of sixty years, or thereabouts, wiry, tough and well preserved. His hair, of grizzled grey, was longer than most men wore theirs, even among the mountains, where there are few conventionalities in male attire. He was dressed in the ordinary garb of the Kentucky planter of the better class—broad soft hat, flowing necktie, long frock-coat, which formed a striking contrast to the coarse high-boots into the tops of which his trousers had been tucked—and yet he hardly seemed to her to belong to the class of gentlemen to which his dress apparently assigned him. His face was coarse and hard, his eyes, as he peered about in search of her, were “shifty,” she assured herself. His hands were large and crudely fashioned.