“’Pears like ‘most ev’ry one is roamin’ ’round my land to-day,” she thought. “I wonder what this one is up to, thar?”
For fully fifteen minutes her curiosity remained unsatisfied, for, startled by the ringing laugh, the stranger spent at least a quarter of an hour in furtive peering, here and there, about the clearing, plainly searching for the laughter. At no time, however, did he approach her hiding place near enough to see her, and, finally, apparently satisfied that his ears had fooled him, or that whoever it had been who had disturbed him with the merry peal had gone away, he went back to his work.
Just what this work could be was what she waited curiously to see. She felt not the least resentment of the trespass it involved, for the land was wild, and on it, as elsewhere in the mountains, any one was free to come and go who did not commit the foolishness of neglecting camp fires, likely to start forests into blaze, or the supreme treachery of giving information to the revenue officials about hidden stills. Her eager curiosity was aroused, more by the mysterious nature of the stranger’s operations than by the fact that they were conducted on her land.
Having satisfied himself that no one, now, was near, and, therefore, that he was not watched, the unpleasantly mysterious old man went back to the work which evidently had brought him hither. With utmost care he moved about the place, scrutinizing outcropping rocks, and this, as they were everywhere, meant a minute examination of the land. In his hand he carried a small hammer, and, with this, now and then, after a careful visual examination of a rock, he knicked it, here and there, investigating carefully and even eagerly the scars he made, the bits of rock which were clipped off, now and then even looking at the latter through a magnifying glass, which he took for the purpose from a pocket of his vest.
She had watched these operations, fascinated, for, possibly, a full half hour, despite the discomfort of damp clothing, which had begun to chill her, when she saw signs of violent excitement on the old man’s face and in his actions, after he had chipped a rock, from which he first had had to scrape a thin superstratum of light soil.
Like a miner who has found the gold for which, for years, he has been searching, he arose, with the tiny fragments in his hand, to look at them with greedy eyes, in a more comfortable, upright posture. His face had very plainly paled and in his eyes was an expression of such avaricious eagerness and satisfaction as she had never seen before upon a human countenance.
Before he made a sound she knew that he had found that thing for which he had been seeking. His grizzled countenance, intent as any alchemist’s of old upon his search, and, as its absorption grew, continually less a pleasant face to contemplate, now twisted, suddenly, into an expression of incredulous joy. He took the fragment he had been examining in both his hands and held it close before his eyes. Then he made a minute search of it with his little magnifying glass. Then he fell upon his knees, and, with his clawlike fingers, scraped more earth from the rock whence he had chipped it.