Holton, full of scheming, was returning up the trail after having said good-bye to Barbara, Miss Alathea and the Colonel at the railway in the valley, climbing steadily and skillfully, without much thought of his surroundings. The locality, familiar to him years before (although he had at great pains indicated to everyone but Barbara that it was wholly strange to him) showed but superficial change to his searching, reminiscent eyes. His feet had quickly fallen into the almost automatic climbing-stride of the born mountaineer, and his thoughts had gradually absorbed themselves in memories of the past. Joe Lorey’s sudden command to halt was somewhat startling, therefore, even to his iron nerves. Instinctively and instantly he heeded the gruff order.
Dusk was falling and he could not very clearly see the moonshiner, at first, as he stepped from behind the shelter of his rock. He moved slowly on, a step or two, hands half raised to show that they did not hold weapons, recovering quickly from the little shock of the surprise, planning an explanation to whatever mountaineer had thought his coming up the trail at that hour a suspicious circumstance. That he was one of Layson’s friends from the low-country would, he thought, be proof enough that he was not an enemy of mountain-folk. Layson, he knew, was generally regarded with good will by the shy dwellers in this wilderness.
But when he clearly saw Joe Lorey’s face a thrill shot through him far more lasting than the little tremor born, at first, of the command to halt.
He had not seen the youth before. Joe, half jealous, half contemptuous, of Layson’s fine friends from the bluegrass, had kept out of their sight, although he had watched them furtively from covert almost constantly; and, it chanced, had not been so much as mentioned by either Frank or Madge while the party from the bluegrass lingered at the camp, save when Madge told the tragic story of her childhood while Holton stood aloof, for reasons of his own, hearing but imperfectly.
Now the unexpected sight of the young man, for some reasons, made the old one gasp in horror. There was that about the face, the attitude, the very way the lithe moonshiner held his gun, which made him seem, to the astonished man whom he had halted, like a grim vision from the past. “My God!” he thought. “Can the dead have come to life?”
For an instant he went weak. His blood chilled and the quick beating of his heart changed the deep breathing of his recent swinging stride into short, sharp gasps.
It was only for an instant, though. His life had not been one to teach him to falter long in the face of an emergency. Quickly he regained poise and reasoned calmly.
“No,” he thought, “it’s Joe, Ben Lorey’s son. Th’ father’s layin’ where he has been, all these years. I’m skeery as a girl.”
Joe advanced upon him truculently. “Say,” he demanded, “what’s yer name an’ what ye want here?” His ever ready rifle nested in the crook of his left arm, his brow was threatening, his mouth was firmly set an instant after he had spoken.