When he had first come into the neighborhood he had made his way with caution, almost as if fearing to be seen, but now, after the bits of rocks which he had taken from Madge Brierly’s clearing, had slipped into his pocket, he used double care in keeping from such routes as showed the marks of many recent footsteps, in sly investigations to make sure the paths he chose were clear of other wayfarers. His nerves evidently on keen edge, he seemed to fear surprise of some unpleasant sort. Each crackling twig, as he passed through the thickets, each rustling of a frightened rabbit as it scuttled from his path, each whir of startled grouse, or sudden call of nesting king-bird, made him pause cautiously until he had quite satisfied himself that it meant nothing to be feared. He was ever carefully alert for danger of some sort.
But not even his continual alarms, his constant watchfulness, could keep his mind away from the rough bits of rock which he had chipped from the outcropping in the clearing. More than once, as he found convenient and safe places—leafy nooks in rocky clefts, glades in dense, impenetrable thickets—he took out the little specimens, turned them over in his hands with loving touches, and gazed at them with an expression of picturesquely avaricious joy. Had any witnessed this procedure they would have found it vastly puzzling, for the specimens seemed merely small, black stones and valueless. But once, while looking at them lovingly, he burst into a harsh and hearty laugh as of great triumph, quite involuntarily; but hushed it quickly, looking, then, about him with an apprehensive glance. Each step he made was, in the main, a cautious one, each pause he made was plainly to look at some familiar, if some slightly altered, vista.
It was quite clear that with the finding of the little bits of rock he had achieved the errand which had brought him to the mountains, and that now he roamed to satisfy his memory’s curiosity. Smiles of recognition constantly played upon his grim and grizzled face at sight of some old path, some distant, mist-enshrouded crag, even some mighty pine or oak which had for years withstood the buffeting of tempestuous storms; now and then a little puzzled frown, added its wrinkles to the many which already creased his brow, when, at some spot which he had thought to find as he had left it, long ago, he discovered that time’s changes had been notable.
Once only did the man become confused among the woods-paths (where a stranger might have lost himself quite hopelessly in twenty minutes) and that was at a point not far from where Madge Brierly and Layson had, on their way up from the clearing, paused while she told her youthful escort of the grim but simple tragedy of her feud-darkened childhood. Before the old man reached this spot he had been traveling with puzzled caution, for a time, across a slope rough-scarred by some not ancient landslide which had changed the superficial contour of the mountain-side. When, suddenly, he debouched upon the rocky crag, hung, a rustic, natural platform above a gorgeous panorama of the valley, the view came to him, evidently, as a sharp, a startling, most unpleasant shock.