“That’s what gets me,” he said, scratching his grizzled head. “I’ve been kind o’ thinkin’ o’ him all day, and one of them Chinamen said he saw him at Sawyer’s Crossing. He was a kind of friend o’ Pete’s wife. That’s why I thought yer might find out ef he’d been there.” Salomy Jane grew more self-reproachful at her father’s self-interest in her “neighborliness.” “But that ain’t all,” continued Mr. Clay. “Thar was tracks over the far pasture that warn’t mine. I followed them, and they went round and round the house two or three times, ez ef they mout hev bin prowlin’, and then I lost ’em in the woods again. It’s just like that sneakin’ hound Larrabee to hev bin lyin’ in wait for me and afraid to meet a man fair and square in the open.”
“You just lie low, dad, for a day or two more, and let me do a little prowlin’,” said the girl, with sympathetic indignation in her dark eyes. “Ef it’s that skunk, I’ll spot him soon enough and let you know whar he’s hiding.”
“You’ll just stay where ye are, Salomy,” said her father decisively. “This ain’t no woman’s work—though I ain’t sayin’ you haven’t got more head for it than some men I know.” Nevertheless, that night, after her father had gone to bed, Salomy Jane sat by the open window of the sitting-room in an apparent attitude of languid contemplation, but alert and intent of eye and ear. It was a fine moonlit night. Two pines near the door, solitary pickets of the serried ranks of distant forest, cast long shadows like paths to the cottage, and sighed their spiced breath in the windows. For there was no frivolity of vine or flower round Salomy Jane’s bower. The clearing was too recent, the life too practical for vanities like these. But the moon added a vague elusiveness to everything, softened the rigid outlines of the sheds, gave shadows to the lidless windows, and touched with merciful indirectness the hideous debris of refuse gravel and the gaunt scars of burnt vegetation before the door. Even Salomy Jane was affected by it, and exhaled something between a sigh and a yawn with the breath of the pines. Then she suddenly sat upright.
Her quick ear had caught a faint “click, click,” in the direction of the wood; her quicker instinct and rustic training enabled her to determine that it was the ring of a horse’s shoe on flinty ground; her knowledge of the locality told her it came from the spot where the trail passed over an outcrop of flint scarcely a quarter of a mile from where she sat, and within the clearing. It was no errant “stock,” for the foot was shod with iron; it was a mounted trespasser by night, and boded no good to a man like Clay.
She rose, threw her shawl over her head, more for disguise than shelter, and passed out of the door. A sudden impulse made her seize her father’s shotgun from the corner where it stood,—not that she feared any danger to herself, but that it was an excuse. She made directly for the wood, keeping in the shadow of the pines as long as she could. At the fringe she halted; whoever was there must pass her before reaching the house.