Madison Clay no longer hesitated. Salomy Jane might return at any moment,—it would be part of her “fool womanishness,”—and he was in no mood to see her before a third party. He laid the note on the table, gave a hurried glance around the house, which he grimly believed he was leaving forever, and, striding to the door, leaped on the stolen horse, and swept away with his kinsman.
But that note lay for a week undisturbed on the table in full view of the open door. The house was invaded by leaves, pine cones, birds, and squirrels during the hot, silent, empty days, and at night by shy, stealthy creatures, but never again, day or night, by any of the Clay family. It was known in the district that Clay had flown across the state line, his daughter was believed to have joined him the next day, and the house was supposed to be locked up. It lay off the main road, and few passed that way. The starving cattle in the corral at last broke bounds and spread over the woods. And one night a stronger blast than usual swept through the house, carried the note from the table to the floor, where, whirled into a crack in the flooring, it slowly rotted.
But though the sting of her father’s reproach was spared her, Salomy Jane had no need of the letter to know what had happened. For as she entered the woods in the dim light of that morning she saw the figure of Dart gliding from the shadow of a pine towards her. The unaffected cry of joy that rose from her lips died there as she caught sight of his face in the open light.
“You are hurt,” she said, clutching his arm passionately.
“No,” he said. “But I wouldn’t mind that if”—
“You’re thinkin’ I was afeard to come back last night when I heard the shootin’, but I did come,” she went on feverishly. “I ran back here when I heard the two shots, but you were gone. I went to the corral, but your hoss wasn’t there, and I thought you’d got away.”
“I did get away,” said Dart gloomily. “I killed the man, thinkin’ he was huntin’ me, and forgettin’ I was disguised. He thought I was your father.”
“Yes,” said the girl joyfully, “he was after dad, and you—you killed him.” She again caught his hand admiringly.
But he did not respond. Possibly there were points of honor which this horse-thief felt vaguely with her father. “Listen,” he said grimly. “Others think it was your father killed him. When I did it—for he fired at me first—I ran to the corral again and took my hoss, thinkin’ I might be follered. I made a clear circuit of the house, and when I found he was the only one, and no one was follerin’, I come back here and took off my disguise. Then I heard his friends find him in the wood, and I know they suspected your father. And then another man come through the woods while I was hidin’ and found the clothes and took them away.” He stopped and stared at her gloomily.