Mrs. Haggard was fond of saying that Joyce Woodburn was like a wild animal. And in a way the vicar’s wife was right. Self-preservation was the first law of life for the girl as for every healthy young creature. And long and intimate contact with horses and dogs had made her swift and direct in action as were they.
Now when she felt herself in the clutches of the Beast, and the Greater Death closing in upon her, she knew as little of doubts and scruples as any creature of the wilderness.
That hateful breath was in her nostrils; those covetous eyes were close to hers; that inflamed and evil nose protruded over her in flaming invitation.
She seized it in her gloved hand and wrenched it. The effect was immediate.
Joses squealed and clapped both hands to his damaged organ.
“My——, you——!” he squeaked in the voice of a Punch.
The girl broke away and ran. She was swift and hard as a greyhound. For a moment the other stood, leaning over a bed of nettles, snorting and sniffing as the blood dripped from his nose. Then he pursued. She heard him thundering behind her. It was like the pursuit of a fawn by a grizzly. She had only a hundred yards to go to the open; and as she fled with her head on her shoulder, and her plait flapping, feeling the strength in her limbs and the courage in her heart, she mocked her pursuer silently.
That drink-sodden grampus catch her!
Her pride came toppling down about her. She tripped, wrenched her ankle, and knew that she was done.
Before her was a familiar tree she had often climbed, with a branch some six feet from the ground.
She swung herself up.
The Great Beast came snorting up. He was a dreadful sight. His nose was bleeding profusely, and the blood had mingled with his beard and moustache. He had lost his cap, and his head shimmered bald at her feet beneath wisps of hair.
He seemed like a great vat full of spirit into which she had tossed a lighted match.
“I got you, my beauty!” he panted in smothered and unnatural voice.
He put his hands on the branch.
She stamped on them with her heels: and she stamped hard. He swore, and drew from a leather sheath a wooden-handled knife such as Danish fisher-folk use.
She grasped the branch above her and swung in the air; but she could not swing forever thus.
“I can wait,” said the Great Beast beneath, laughing dreadfully.
Then there came the sound of a man singing some kind of boating-song.
The voice was deep and drawing nearer.
we’ll all swing together,
Steady from stroke to bow.”
It was Silver strolling home through the wood.
Boy heard him; so did Joses, and withdrew into the dusk.
The girl slipped down from the tree.
The young man dawdled up, and looked at her with some surprise.