“When I wish to, I will; but not yet,” muttered Everett. He had been taken aback at her words, and at that moment could think of no way to compromise with her. She was so near that he threw out his hands and caught her. Forcibly he drew her face close to his, his lips whitening under the spell of her nearness.
“Never, never will I let you go away from me again!” he was saying passionately, when Cronk opened the door and stepped in.
The squatter gave no evidence that he had seen Everett’s action. He left the door open, through which the breeze flung the dust and the dead leaves.
“Lem’ll see ye in the scow,” he said. “I ain’t got nothin’ to say ’bout this—only as how Flea goes to one or the other of ye.”
Not more than half an hour after Everett had reached Sherwoods Lane, Governor Vandecar’s train came to a halt at the same place, and the party, consisting of the governor, Ann Shellington, and Katherine Vandecar, made ready to step out into the night.
“Please draw up to the switch,” the governor instructed the conductor, “and I’ll hail you as soon as we return. Keep an ear out for my call.”
“Yes, Sir,” replied the conductor; “but you’d better take this lantern—it’s sure dark down by that lake, Sir. And you can signal me with the light.”
Ann and Katherine clasped hands, and, aided by the light which Vandecar held high, slowly followed him. So stern did the tall man seem in the deep gloom that neither girl spoke to him as they stumbled down the hill. They halted with thumping hearts in sight of the dark lake. All three noticed a small light twinkling through the Cronk window, and, without knocking, Governor Vandecar flung wide the door of Lon’s hut and stepped in.
The squatter sat on the floor, whittling a stick; Fledra crouched by the window. As the door opened, she raised her eyes wonderingly; but when she saw a tall stranger she dropped them again—someone had lost his way and needed Pappy Lon. Cronk looked up and, recognizing Vandecar, suddenly slid like a serpent around the hut wall until he was in touching distance of the girl.
“Ye’d better not come any closer, Mister,” he said darkly. “I has this, ye see—and Flea’s meat’s as soft as a chicken’s!” He raised his knife menacingly; but dropped it slowly at sight of Ann and Katherine.
“Sister Ann!” breathed Fledra.
Ann’s fingers grasped Vandecar’s arm spasmodically; but, without glancing back at her, he shook them off. His brow had gathered deep lines at Lon’s words, and now his unswerving gray eyes bent low to the squatter. Under the steady gaze Cronk looked down and began to whittle.