It was a lovely morning now. The sky was high and clear blue and no clouds had come yet. Nick was happy with his sister and he thought, no matter how this thing comes out we might as well have a good happy time. He had already learned there was only one day at a time and that it was always the day you were in. It would be today until it was tonight and tomorrow would be today again. This was the main thing he had learned so far.
Today was a good day and coming down to the camp with his rifle he was happy although their trouble was like a fishhook caught in his pocket that pricked him occasionally as he walked. They left the pack inside the lean-to. There were great odds against a bear bothering it in the daytime because any bear would be down below feeding on berries around the swamp. But Nick buried the bottle of whiskey up behind the spring. Littless was not back yet and Nick sat down on the log of the fallen tree they were using for firewood and checked his rifle. They were going after partridges so he pulled out the tube of the magazine and poured the long-rifle cartridges into his hand and then put them into a chamois pouch and filled the magazine with .22 shorts. They made less noise and would not tear the meat up if he could not get head shots.
He was all ready now and wanted to start. Where’s that girl anyway, he thought. Then he thought, don’t get excited. You told her to take her time. Don’t get nervous. But he was nervous and it made him angry at himself.
“Here I am,” his sister said. “I’m sorry that I took so long. I went too far away, I guess.”
“You’re fine,” Nick said. “Let’s go. You have the pails?”
“Uh huh, and covers, too.”
They started down across the hill to the creek. Nick looked carefully up the stream and along the hillside. His sister watched him. She had the pails in one of the sacks and carried it slung over her shoulder by the other sack.
“Aren’t you taking a pole, Nickie?” she asked him.
“No. I’ll cut one if we fish.”
He moved ahead of his sister, holding the rifle in one hand, keeping a little way away from the stream. He was hunting now.
“It’s a strange creek,” his sister said.
“It’s the biggest small stream I’ve ever known,” Nick told her.
“It’s deep and scary for a little stream.”
“It keeps having new springs,” Nick said. “And it digs under the bank and it digs down. It’s awful cold water, Littless. Feel it.”
“Gee,” she said. It was numbing cold.
“The sun warms it a little,” Nick said. “But not much. We’ll hunt along easy. There’s a berry patch down below.”
They went along down the creek. Nick was studying the banks. He had seen a mink’s track and shown it to his sister and they had seen tiny ruby-crowned kinglets that were hunting insects and let the boy and girl come close as they moved sharply and delicately in the cedars. They had seen cedar waxwings so calm and gentle and distinguished moving in their lovely elegance with the magic wax touches on their wing coverts and their tails, and Littless had said, “They’re the most beautiful, Nickie. There couldn’t be more simply beautiful birds.”
“They’re built like your face,” he said.
“No, Nickie. Don’t make fun. Cedar waxwings make me so proud and happy that I cry.”
“When they wheel and light and then move so proud and friendly and gently,” Nick said.
They had gone on and suddenly Nick had raised the rifle and shot before his sister could see what he was looking at. Then she heard the sound of a big bird tossing and beating its wings on the ground. She saw Nick pumping the gun and shoot twice more and each time she heard another pounding of wings in the willow brush. Then there was the whirring noise of wings as large brown birds burst out of the willows and one bird flew only a little way and lit in the willows and with its crested head on one side looked down, bending the collar of feathers on his neck where the other birds were still thumping. The bird looking down from the red willow brush was beautiful, plump, heavy and looked so stupid with his head turned down and as Nick raised his rifle slowly, his sister whispered, “No, Nickie. Please no. We’ve got plenty.”