The man might have seen them had he glanced their way, although the branches broke the outline of their figures, but he was looking back, as if he expected somebody to come up behind, and after a few moments went on again. He crossed the clearing towards a fence that seemed to indicate a road following the edge of the forest, and vanished into the gloom of the trees. Then, as Foster lighted his pipe, another man came quickly across the bridge and took the same direction as the first.
“I wunner if yon was what ye might ca’ a coincidence,” Pete said softly.
“So do I, but don’t see how it concerns us,” Foster replied. “I think we’ll take the road straight in front.”
They followed a track that led through the bush at a right angle to the other. The snow was beaten firm as if by the passage of logs or sledges, and there were broad gaps among the trees, which rose in ragged spires, sprinkled with clinging snow. In places, the track glittered in the moonlight, but, for the most part, one side was marked by a belt of gray shadow. After a time, they heard a branch spring back; then there was a crackle of undergrowth, and a man came out of an opening ahead. It was the man who had first passed them; Foster knew him by his rather short fur coat. For no obvious reason and half-instinctively, he drew back into the gloom. The man did not see them and went on up the track.
“Yon’s a weel-kent trick in my trade,” Pete remarked. “When it’s no’ convenient to be followed, ye send an inquisitive pairson off on anither road. But I would like to see if he has got rid o’ the ither fellow.”
They waited some minutes, but nobody else appeared, and Foster surmised that the first man knew the ground and the other did not. The fellow had vanished among the trees, but after a time they saw him again, crossing a belt of moonlight some distance in front, and Foster felt he must find out where he was going.
By and by the indistinct figure vanished again, and pushing on cautiously through the shadow, they came to a clearing at the foot of the range. Steep rocks rose above the narrow open space, but although the trail went no farther there was nobody about. Standing behind a fir trunk, Foster searched the edge of the bush, but saw nothing except a ruined shack and some ironwork sticking out of the snow. He could not examine the shack, because if the other man was near he would see him when he left the trees. After waiting a few minutes, he touched Pete and they turned back silently.
THE REAL-ESTATE AGENT
Next morning Foster got up in the dark and walked briskly down the main street to the bridge. Lights were beginning to blink in the houses he passed and there was a pungent smell of burning wood. In front, the forest rolled upwards in a blurred, dark mass, but he could not see the mountains. The air was still and felt damp upon his skin, and he knew a sudden rise of temperature accounted for the obscurity. The main thing, however, was that there was nobody to watch him, and he set off along the road he had taken on the previous night.