“And so—you played a part? Poor girl! how well—you played it! And you—suffered—oh! my God—and I never did you the justice of understanding. And you left your girl—to me—I have tried not to fail you there, Katherine!”
Then Truedale reached for the bottle. He took a swallow of the contents and waited! Presently he took another and a thrill of exhilaration stirred his sluggish blood. Weakly, gropingly, he stretched his benumbed hand out again; he was well on his way now. The long journey was begun in the moonlight and, strange to say, it did not grow dark, nor did he seem to be alone. This surprised him vaguely, he had always expected it would be so different!
And by and by one face alone confronted him—it was brighter than the moonlit way. It smiled understandingly—it, too, had faced the broad highway—it could afford to smile.
Once more the heavy, dead-cold hand moved toward the stand beside the bed, but it fell nerveless ere it reached what it sought.
The escape had been achieved!
The days passed and, unfettered, Jim White remained in the deep woods. After Nella-Rose’s disturbing but thrilling advent, Truedale rebounded sharply and, alone in his cabin, brought himself to terms. By a rigid arraignment he relegated, or thought he had relegated, the whole matter to the realm of things he should not have permitted, but which had done no real harm. He brought out the heavy book on philosophy and endeavoured to study. After a few hours he even resorted to the wet towel, thinking that suggestion might assist him, but Nella-Rose persistently and impishly got between his eyes and the pages and flouted philosophy by the magic of her superstition and bewitching charm.
Then Truedale attacked his play, viciously, commandingly. This was more successful. He reconstructed his plot somewhat—he let Nella-Rose in! Curbed and somewhat re-modelled, she materialized and, while he dealt strictly with her, writing was possible.
So the first day and night passed. On the second day Truedale’s new strength demanded exercise and recreation. He couldn’t be expected to lock himself in until White returned to chaperone him. After all, there was no need of being a fool. So he packed a gunny sack with food and a book or two, and sallied forth, after providing generously for the live stock and calling the dogs after him.
But Truedale was unaware of what was going on about him. Pine Cone Settlement had, since the trap episode, been tense and waiting. Not many things occurred in the mountains and when they did they were made the most of. With significant silence the friends and foes of Burke Lawson were holding themselves in check until he returned to his old haunts; then there would be considerable shooting—not necessarily fatal, a midnight raid or two, a general rumpus, and eventually, a truce.