“It may, if you’ll do me a favor. You’ll be where you can see and hear. I want to know who visits her—besides Miss Ardea.”
Brother Japheth’s smile was more severe than the sharpest reproach.
“Still a-harpin’ on that old string, are ye? Say, Tom-Jeff, I been erbout the best friend you’ve had, barrin’ your daddy, for a right smart spell o’ years. Don’t you keep on tryin’ to th’ow dust in my eyes.”
“Call it what you please; I don’t care what you think or say. But when you find a man hanging around Nan—”
“They’s one right now,” said the horse-trader casually.
Tom reined up as if he would ride back to Pine Knob forthwith.
“Who is it?” he demanded.
“Young fellow named Kincaid—jest back f’om out West, somewheres. Brother Bill Layne let on to me like maybe he’d overlook what cayn’t be he’ped, and marry Nan anyhow. And that’s another reason you got to keep away.”
“Let up on that,” said Tom, stiffening again. “If you had been where you could have used your ears as you did your eyes back yonder at Pine Knob, you’d know more than you seem to know now.”
There was silence between them from this on until the horses were footing it cautiously down the bridle-path connecting the cart track with the Paradise pike. Then Pettigrass said:
“Allowin’ ther’ might be another man, Tom-Jeff, jest for the sake of argyment, what-all was you aimin’ to do if you found him?”
It was drawing on to dusk, and the electric lights of Mountain View Avenue and the colonial houses were twinkling starlike in the blue-gray haze of the valley. They had reach the junction of the steep bridle-path with the wood road which edged the Dabney horse pasture and led directly to the Deer Trace paddocks, and when Japheth pulled his horse aside into the short cut, Tom drew rein to answer.
“It’s nobody’s business but mine, Japhe; but I’d just as soon tell you: it runs in my head that he needs killing mighty badly, and I’ve thought about it till I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m the appointed instrument. You turn off here? Well, so long.”
Brother Japheth made the gesture of leave-taking with his riding-switch, and sent his mount at an easy amble down the wood road, apostrophizing great nature, as his habit was. “Lawzee! how we pore sinners do tempt the good Lord at every crook and elbow in the big road, toe be shore! Now ther’s Tom-Jeff, braggin’ how he’ll be the one to kill the pappy o’ Nan’s chillern: he’s a-ridin’ a mighty shore-footed hawss, but hit do look like he’d be skeered the Lord might take him at his word and make that hawss stumble. Hit do, for a fact!”
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY
On the night of the fire, Ardea had remained on the cliff’s edge until the blaze died down and disappeared, which was some little time, she decided, before Tom could possibly have reached the foot of the mountain.