Again Miss Nellie recognized the perfume with which the gallant expressman was wont to make redolent her little parlor, but again she avowed no knowledge of its possessor. “Well,” returned Low with some disappointment, “such a man has been here. Be on your guard. Let us go at once.”
She required no urging to hasten her steps, but hurried breathlessly at his side. He had taken a new trail by which they left the wood at right angles with the highway, two miles away. Following an almost effaced mule track along a slight depression of the plain, deep enough, however, to hide them from view, he accompanied her, until, rising to the level again, she saw they were beginning to approach the highway and the distant roofs of Indian Spring. “Nobody meeting you now,” he whispered, “would suspect where you had been. Good night! until next week—remember.”
They pressed each other’s hands, and standing on the slight ridge outlined against the paling sky, in full view of the highway, parting carelessly, as if they had been chance met travelers. But Nellie could not restrain a parting backward glance as she left the ridge. Low had descended to the deserted trail, and was running swiftly in the direction of the Carquinez Woods.
Teresa awoke with a start. It was day already, but how far advanced the even, unchanging, soft twilight of the woods gave no indication. Her companion had vanished, and to her bewildered senses so had the camp-fire, even to its embers and ashes. Was she awake, or had she wandered away unconsciously in the night? One glance at the tree above her dissipated the fancy. There was the opening of her quaint retreat and the hanging strips of bark, and at the foot of the opposite tree lay the carcass of the bear. It had been skinned, and, as Teresa thought with an inward shiver, already looked half its former size.
Not yet accustomed to the fact that a few steps in either direction around the circumference of those great trunks produced the sudden appearance or disappearance of any figure, Teresa uttered a slight scream as her young companion unexpectedly stepped to her side. “You see a change here,” he said; “the stamped-out ashes of the camp-fire lie under the brush,” and he pointed to some cleverly scattered boughs and strips of bark which completely effaced the traces of last night’s bivouac. “We can’t afford to call the attention of any packer or hunter who might straggle this way to this particular spot and this particular tree; the more naturally,” he added, “as they always prefer to camp over an old fire.” Accepting this explanation meekly, as partly a reproach for her caprice of the previous night, Teresa hung her head.
“I’m very sorry,” she said, “but wouldn’t that,” pointing to the carcass of the bear, “have made them curious?”
But Low’s logic was relentless.
“By this time there would have been little left to excite curiosity, if you had been willing to leave those beasts to their work.”