Heavily he resolved within his soul, against his own best judgment, to keep up both fights and win.
The dynamite which he had stolen and which nestled in his game-sack comforted him, although he did not know how he would use it. Many times, as he worked through the narrow trails, jumped from stepping-stone to stepping-stone in crossing mountain-streams, pulled himself up steep and rocky slopes by clutching swaying branches, or rough-angled boulders, he let his left hand slip down to the side of the old game-sack, where, through the soft leather, he could plainly feel the smooth, terrific cylinder.
He swore a mighty mountain oath that none of the advancing forces ever should win victory of him. If the revenuers ever tried to get him, let God help them, for they would need help; if Frank Layson stole his girl from him, then let God help him, also, for even more than would the revenuers the young bluegrass gentleman would need assistance from some mighty power.
But a fate was closing on Joe Lorey which all his uncouth strength could not avert. As he had left the railway those two men whom simple-minded Miss Alathea had supposed were engineers, but who had not mingled with the throng of railway builders had looked at Horace Holton for confirmation of their guess. In a quick glance, so keen that they could not mistake its meaning so instantaneous that none else could suspect that the three men were even casual acquaintances, he had told them they had guessed aright.
They sauntered off and disappeared in the direction whence the mountaineer had gone, and, though his feet were well accustomed to the trails and were as expert in their climbing as any mountaineer’s for miles, these men proved more expert; though his ear was as acute as a wild animal’s, so silently they moved that never once a hint that they were following, ever following behind him, reached it; their endurance was as great as his, their woods-craft was as sly as his.
A fate was closing on Joe Lorey. The march of civilization was, indeed, advancing toward his mountain fastnesses at last. And nothing stays the march of civilization.
The afternoon was waning as Joe climbed a sudden rise and saw before him Layson’s camp.
Through a cleft in the guardian range the sun’s rays penetrated red and fiery. Already the quick chill of the coming evening had begun to permeate the air. A hawk, sailing from a day of foraging among the hen-yards of the distant valley, flew heavily across the sky, burdened with plunder for its little ones, nested at the top of a black stub on the mountain-side. Squirrels were home-going after a busy day among the trees. The mournful barking of young foxes, anxious for their dinners, thrilled the air with sounds of woe. Among the smaller birds the early nesters were already twittering in minor among the trees and thickets; a mountain-eagle cleft the air in the hawk’s trail, so high that only a keen eye could have caught sight of him. Daylight insects were beginning to abate their clamor, while their fellows of the night were tuning for the evening concert. Mournfully, and very faintly, came a locomotive’s wail from the far valley.