It was. Following a forest path, Philip presently caught the flicker of a camp fire ahead. There was a huge tarpaulin over the wagon and a canopy above the horses. Storm-proof tents loomed dimly among the trees. A brisk little man whose apple cheeks and grizzled whiskers Philip instantly approved, trotted importantly about among the horses, humming a jerky melody. Johnny was fifty and looked a hundred, but those unwary ones who had felt the steely grip of his sinewy fingers were apt evermore to respect him.
Diane was piling wood upon the fire with the careless grace of a splendid young savage. The light of the camp fire danced ruddily upon her slim, brown arms and throat bared to the rising wind. A beautiful, restless gypsy of fire and wind, she looked, at one with the storm-haunted wood about her.
There came a patter of rain upon the forest leaves. The tents were flapping and the fire began to flare. There were curious wind crackles all about him, and Nero had begun to sniff and whine. Somewhere—off there among the trees—Philip fancied he caught the stealthy pad of a footfall and the crackle of underbrush. Every instinct of his body focusing wildly upon the thought of harm to Diane, he whirled swiftly about, colliding as he did so with something—vague, formless, heavy—that leaped, crouching, from the shadows and bore him to the ground. The lightning flared savagely upon steel. Philip felt a blinding thud upon his head, a sharp, stinging agony along his shoulder.
Somewhere in the forest—a great way off he thought—a dog was barking furiously.
IN A STORM-HAUNTED WOOD
“The storm is coming!” exclaimed Diane with shining eyes. “Button the flaps by the horses, Johnny. We’re in for it to-night. Hear the wind!”
Overhead the gale tore ragged gaps among the fire-shadowed trees, unshrouding a storm-black sky. Fearlessly—the old wild love of storm and wind singing powerfully in her heart—the girl rose from the fire and faced the tempest.
Rex pressed fearfully beside her, whining. Off there somewhere in the wind and darkness a dog had barked. It came now again, high above the noise of the wind, a furious, frightened barking.
“Johnny!” exclaimed Diane suddenly. “There must be something wrong over there. Better go see. No, not that way. More to the east.” And Johnny, whose soul for thirty years had thirsted for adventure, briskly seized an ancient pistol and charged off through the forest.
But Aunt Agatha had talked long and tearfully to Johnny. Wherefore, reluctant to leave his charge alone in the rain and dark, he turned back.
“Go!” said Diane with a flash of impatience.
Johnny went. Looking back over his shoulder he saw the girl outlined vividly against the fire, skirts and hair flying stormily about her in the wind. So might the primal woman stand ere the march of civilization had over-sexed her.