“No—no!” said he. “Why, I’d be the coward that he called me!”
He hurried to the fuse and, with trembling eagerness, stamped out the spark which, now, was creeping close indeed to that point where it would have blossomed into the terrifying flower of death.
“I’ll fight him ag’in,” he said; and then, addressing the now extinguished fuse, the harmless cartridge of explosive: “You lie thar and prove ter him I ain’t no coward!”
He hurried down the trail.
Holton, vastly disappointed, crept out from his hiding place. “The fool!” he muttered. “Oh, the fool! That thar little spark would a’ put me even an’ made me safe fer life! An’ it war lighted—it war lighted!”
His regret was keen. He raged there like a madman robbed of his intended prey. Then, suddenly:
“But—who’ll believe him when he says he put it out? I’ll—do it!”
He hastily took out a match, struck it, relighted the dead fuse.
“It’ll be his work, not mine!” he thought, exultantly, as he paused to see that the fuse would surely burn.
As he turned to hasten from the spot he caught a glimpse of something white across the gully at the thresh-hold of the girl’s cabin. For a second this was terrifying, but he quickly regained poise. The bridge was gone. She could not reach the side of the endangered man to save him, she could not reach the mainland to pursue him and discover his identity. He fled.
The girl was worried by the long delay in Layson’s coming. For fully half an hour she had been listening for his cheery hail—that hail which had, of late, come to mean so much to her—as she worked about her household tasks. The last words he had said to her had hinted at such unimagined possibilities of riches, of education, of delirious delights to come, that her impatience was but natural; and, besides this, Joe’s words had worried her. She did not think the mountaineer would ever really let his jealousy lead him to a foul attack upon his rival, but his words had worried her. She stood upon her doorstep, hand above her eyes, and peered across the gorge toward where the trail debouched into the little clearing.
Nothing was in sight there, and her gaze wandered along the little rocky field, in aimless scrutiny. Finally it chanced upon the prostrate form of the young man.
“What’s that lyin’ thar?” she thought, intensely startled. And then, after another moment’s peering: “Why, it’s Mr. Frank!”
She was amazed and frightened. Then her eye caught the little sputtering of sparks along the fuse. It further startled her.
“It’s Mr. Frank and somethin’s burnin’ close beside him!”
Suspicion flashed into her mind like lightning, followed, almost instantly, by firm conviction.
“It’s a fuse,” she cried, “an’ thar by him is th’ bomb! It’s Joe Lorey’s work! Oh, oh—”
She sprang down the rough path toward the place where, ever since she could remember, the little bridge had swung. Now, though, it was gone.