Joe Lorey paused grimly in his progress to stare at the rough shack which housed the man he hated. He was no coward, and he would not take advantage of the loneliness and isolation of the spot to do him harm surreptitiously, but vividly the thought thrilled through him that someday he would assail him. Smoke was curling from the mud-and-stick chimney of the little structure, and he smiled contemptuously as he thought of how the bluegrass youth was doubtless pottering, within, getting ready to go down into the valley to greet his fine friends and be greeted. He had no doubt that long ere this the aged negro had reached him with the news of their arrival. He wondered, with a fierce leap of hope, if, possibly, their coming might not be the signal for the man’s departure from the country where he was not wanted.
This hope keenly thrilled him, for a moment, but, an instant later, when, through the small window, he saw the youth seat himself, alone, before a blazing fire of logs, stretch out his legs and lounge in the comfort of the blaze, it left him. He wondered if Layson did not intend to go down at all to meet his friends.
Just then his quick ear caught the sound of stumbling, hurried footsteps, plainly not a mountaineer’s, down in the rough woodland, below. Instantly his muscles tautened, instantly he brought his rifle to position; but he soon let it fall again and smiled, perhaps, for the first time that day.
“Lawsy! Lawsy!” he could hear a scared voice muttering. “Lawsy, I is los’, fo’ suah!”
His smile broadened to a wide, malicious grin of satisfaction. The black messenger who had been started with the news, evidently had not fared well upon the way, and was, but now, arriving. “It’s that nigger wanderin’ around up hyar,” he mused. And then: “I’m goin’ to have some fun with him.”
Silently he slipped down the path by which he had so recently ascended, and, at a good distance from the cabin, but still well in advance of the unhappy negro, hid behind a rock, awaiting his approach.
Old Neb, advancing, scared tremendously, was talking to himself in a loud, excited voice.
“Oh, golly!” he exclaimed. “Dis am a pretty fix for a bluegrass cullud gemman! Dis am a pretty fix—los’, los’ up heah, in de midst of wolves an’ painters!”
Joe, from behind his rock, wailed mournfully in startling imitation of a panther’s call.
The darkey almost fell prone in his fright. “Name o’ goodness!” he exclaimed. “Wha’ dat? Oh—oh—dere’s a painter, now!”
Joe called again, more mournfully, more ominously than before.
Neb’s fright became a trembling panic. “Hit’s a-comin’ closer!” he exclaimed. “I feel as if de debbil’s gwine ter git me!” He stooped and started on a crouching run directly toward the rock behind which Joe was hiding.
As the old man would have passed, Joe jumped out from his ambush, and, bringing his right hand down heavily upon the darky’s shoulder, emitted a wild scream, absolutely terrifying in its savage ferocity. With a howl Neb dropped upon his knees, praying in an ecstasy of fear.