“Does it matter?”
“No,” he said, smiling.
She reached out her arms; they settled close around his neck, clung for a second’s passionate silence, released him and covered her flushed face, all but the mouth. Under them his lips met hers.
The next instant she was on her knees, pink-cheeked, alert, ears straining in the wind.
“Miller is coming back very fast!” she whispered to her lover. “I believe he has good news!”
Miller was coming fast, holding out in one hand something red and gray—something that dangled and flapped as he strode—something that looked horrible and raw.
“Damn him!” said the old man fiercely, “no wonder he ain’t a-feedin’! Look at this, Miss Seagrave. There’s more of it below—a hull mess of it in the snow.”
“It’s a big strip of deer-hide—all raw and bleeding!” faltered the girl. “What in the world has happened?”
“His work,” said Miller grimly.
“The—the big boar?”
“Yes’m. The deer yard over there. He sneaked in on ’em last night and this doe must have got stuck in a drift. And that devil caught her and pulled her down and tore her into bits. Why, the woods is all scattered with shreds o’ hide like this! I wish to God you or Mr. Mallett could get one crack at him! I do, by thunder! Yes’m!”
But it was already too dusky among the trees to sight a rifle. In silence they strapped up the coats, fastened on snow-shoes, and moved out along the bare spur of the mountain, where there was still daylight in the open, although the thickening snow made everything gray and vague.
Here and there a spectral tree loomed up among the rocks; a white hare’s track, paralleled by the big round imprints of a lynx, ran along the unseen path they followed as Miller guided them toward Westgate.
Later, outlined in the white waste, ancient apple-trees appeared, gnarled relics of some long-abandoned clearing; and, as they passed, Duane chanced to glance across the rocks to the left.
At first he thought he saw something move, but began to make up his mind that he was deceived.
Noticing that he had halted, Geraldine came back, and then Miller returned to where he stood, squinting through the falling flakes in the vague landscape beyond.
“It moved; I seen it,” whispered Miller hoarsely.
“It’s a deer,” motioned Geraldine; “it’s too big for anything else.”
For five minutes in perfect silence they watched the gray, flat forms of scrub and rock; and Duane was beginning to lose faith in everybody’s eyes when, without warning, a huge, colourless shape detached itself from the flat silhouettes and moved leisurely out into the open.
There was no need to speak; trembling slightly, he cleared his rifle sight of snow, steadied his nerves, raised the weapon, and fired.