Here and there a brilliant blue-jay floated down, seized an acorn, and winged hastily to some near tree where presently he filled the woods with the noise he made in hammering the acorn into some cleft in the bark.
Gradually the sunlight on the leaves reddened; long, luminous shadows lengthened eastward. Kathleen, lying at full length, her pretty face between her hands, suddenly sneezed.
The next moment the feeding-ground was deserted; only a distant crashing betrayed the line of flight where the great fierce sow and her young were rushing upward toward the rocks of the Gilded Dome.
“I’m so sorry,” faltered Kathleen, very pink and embarrassed.
Geraldine sat up and laughed, laying the uncocked rifle across her knees.
“Some of these days I’m going to win my wager,” she said to her brother. “And it won’t be with a striped yearling, either; it will be with the biggest, shaggiest, fiercest, tuskiest boar that ranges the Gilded Dome. And that,” she added, looking at Kathleen, “will give me something to think of and keep me rather busy, I believe.”
“Rather,” observed her brother, getting up and helping Kathleen to her feet. He added, to torment her: “Probably you’ll get Duane to win your bet for you, Sis.”
“No,” said the girl gravely; “whatever is to die I must slay all by myself, Scott—all alone, with no man’s help.”
He nodded: “Sure thing; it’s the only sporting way. There’s no stunt to it; only keep cool and keep shooting, and drop him before he comes to close quarters.”
“Yes,” she said, looking up at Kathleen.
Her brother drew her to her feet. She gave him a little hug.
“Believe in me, dear,” she said. “I’ll do it easier if you do.”
“Of course I do. You’re a better sport than I. You always were. And that’s no idle jest; witness my nose and Duane’s in days gone by.”
The girl smiled. As they turned homeward she slung her rifle, passed her right arm through Kathleen’s, and dropped her left on her brother’s shoulder. She was very tired, and hopeful that she might sleep.
And tired, hopeful, thinking of her lover, she passed through the woods, leaning on those who were nearest and most dear.
Somehow—and just why was not clear to her—it seemed at that moment as though she had passed the danger mark—as though the very worst lay behind her—close, scarcely clear of her skirts yet, but all the same it lay behind her, not ahead.
She knew, and dreaded, and shrank from what still lay before her; she understood into what ruin treachery to self might precipitate her still at any moment. And yet, somehow, she felt vaguely that something had been gained that day which never before had been gained. And she thought of her lover as she passed through the forest, leaning on Scott and Kathleen, her little feet keeping step with theirs, her eyes steady in the red western glare that flooded the forest to an infernal beauty.