Their guide had prophesied truly. Heralded by that long cry of the loon, the dawn began to reveal itself in clearness of perspective and a certain indefinable stir in the still, shrouded spaces of the woods. Details began to appear where heretofore all had been mass. Pearl tints proclaimed the east, and presently these were replaced by a flush of delicate colour deepening into rose, and the every-day world of the mighty forest was upon them with its night mystery gone.
But not the romance of their errand, or the anxiety which both felt as to its ultimate fulfilment. This it had been easier to face when they themselves as well as all about them, were but moving shadows in each other’s eyes. Full sight brought full realisation. However they might seek to cloak the fact, they could no longer disguise from themselves that the object of their journey might not be acceptable to the man in hiding at Tempest Lodge. Reuther’s faith in him was strong, but even her courage faltered as she thought of the disgrace awaiting him whatever the circumstances or however he might look upon his father’s imperative command to return.
But she did not draw rein, and the three continued to ride up and on. Suddenly, however, one of them showed disturbance. Mr. Sloan was seen to turn his head sharply, and in another moment his two companions heard him say:
“We are followed. Ride on and leave me to take a look.”
Instinctively they also glanced back before obeying. They were just rounding the top of an abrupt hill, and expected to have an uninterrupted view of the road behind. But the masses of foliage were as yet too thick for them to see much but the autumnal red and yellow spread out below them.
“I hear them; I do not see them,” remarked their guide. “Two horses are approaching.”
“How far are we now from the Lodge?”
“A half-hour’s ride. We are just at the opening of the gully.”
“You will join us soon?”
“As quickly as I make out who are on the horses behind us.”
Reuther and the lawyer rode on. Her cheeks had gained a slight flush, but otherwise she looked unmoved. He was less at ease than she; for he had less to sustain him.
The gully, when they came to it, proved to be a formidable one. It was not only deep but precipitous, descending with the sheerness of a wall directly down from the road into a basin of enormous size, where trees stood here and there in solitary majesty, amid an area of rock forbidding to the eye and suggestive of sudden and impassable chasms. It was like circumambulating the sinuous verge of a canyon; and for the two miles they rode along its edge they saw no let-up in the steepness on one side or of the almost equally abrupt rise of towering rock on the other. It was Reuther’s first experience of so precipitous a climb, and under other circumstances she might have been timid; but in her present heroic mood, it was all a part of her great adventure, and as such accepted.