Chapter XLIV. The Old Trail
 

"... Those whose hearts and souls are big enough to follow the trail that is nobody knows how old."

Leaving the ridge just beyond the low gap, Dan made his way down the mountain side into the deep ravine, below Sammy's Lookout, that opens into the hollow.

For an hour he roamed about, his mind upon his plans for the development of the wealth that lay in the heart of the mountain. After a time, still intent upon his work, he scrambled up the end of the little canyon, regained the ridge near the mouth of the cave, then climbed up on the steep slope of Dewey to the top. From here he could follow with his eye a possible route for the spur that should leave the railroad on Garber to the east, round the base of the mountain and reach the mine through the little ravine on the west.

From the top he made his way slowly toward the Lookout, thinking from there to gain still another view of the scene of his proposed operations and to watch the trail for the coming of his mother.

Drawing near the great ledge of rock that hangs so like a cornice on the mountain side, he caught a glimpse--through the screen of trees and bushes--of a figure seated on the old familiar spot. His mother must have come sooner than she intended, he thought, or else he had been longer than he realized. He looked at his watch; it was early yet. Then going on a little, he suddenly stopped--that was not his mother! He drew nearer and pushed aside a bush for a better view.

His heart leaped at sight of the familiar blue dress and its white trimming! The figure turned slightly as if to look up the trail. The big fellow on the mountain side trembled.

"How like," he whispered half aloud, "God, how like--"

Softly as one fearing to dispel a welcome illusion he drew nearer--nearer--nearer. Suddenly a dry bush on the ground snapped under his foot. She turned her face quickly toward him.

Then, springing to her feet Hope Farwell stood waiting with joy--lighted face, as Dan went stumbling in wondering haste down the hill.

"I thought you were never coming," she said. "I have been waiting so long." And then for a little while there was nothing more said that we have any right whatever to hear.

When he insisted upon an explanation of the miracle, she laughed merrily.

"Why it's like most miracles, I fancy, if only one knew about them--the most natural thing that could happen after all. Dr. Miles came to me some two months ago, and said that he had a patient whom he was sending into the mountains with a nurse, and asked me if I would take the case. He said he thought that I would like to see the Mutton Hollow country, and--and that he thought that I needed the trip. You can imagine how quickly I said that I would go. I am living down at the Jones place."

"Where my mother went this morning?" Dan broke in eagerly.

She nodded, "Your mother and I are--are very good friends," she said demurely.

"Does she--"

Hope blushed. "I couldn't help telling her. You see she had your letters and she already knew a great deal. She--"

"I suppose she told you all about it--my finish at Corinth--I mean, and my plans?" interrupted Dan.

"Yes," Hope replied.

"Then there's nothing more to do but--How is your patient?" he finished abruptly. "How long must you stay with the case?"

She turned her head away. "My patient went home three days ago."

When the sun was touching the fringe of trees on the distant ridge, and the varying tints of brown and gold, under the softening tone of the gray-blue haze that lies always over hollow and hill, were most clearly revealed in the evening light--Dan and Hope followed the same path that Young Matt and Sammy walked years before.

In the edge of the timber beyond the deerlick, the two young lovers found those other older lovers, and were welcomed by them with the welcome that can only be given or received by those whose hearts and souls are big enough to follow the trail that is nobody knows how old.