Molly McDonald (Chapter 6, page 1 of 4)


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Chapter 6

Mechanically--scarcely conscious of the action--the Sergeant slipped fresh cartridges into the hot rifle chamber, swept the tumbled hair out of his eyes with his shirt sleeve, and stared into the night. He could hardly comprehend yet that the affair was ended, the second attack repulsed. It was like a delirium of fever; he almost expected to see those motionless bodies outstretched on the grass spring up, yelling defiance. Then he gripped himself firmly, realizing the truth--it was over with for the present; away off there in the haze obscuring the river bank those indistinct black smudges were fleeing savages, their voices wailing through the night. Just in front, formless, huddled where they had fallen, were the bodies of dead and dying, smitten ponies and half-naked men. He drew a deep breath through clinched teeth, endeavoring to distinguish his comrades.

The interior of the coach was black, and soundless, except for some one's swift, excited breathing. As he extended his cramped leg to the floor he touched a motionless body. Not until then had he realized the possibility of death also within. He felt downward with one hand, his nerves suddenly throbbing, and his finger touched a cold face--the Mexican. It must have been that last volley, for he could distinctly recall the sharp bark of Gonzales' revolver between his own shots.

"The little devil," he muttered soberly. "It was a squarer death than he deserved. He was a game little cock."

Then he thought of Moylan, wondering why the man did not move, or speak. That was not like Moylan. He bent forward, half afraid in the stillness, endeavoring to discover space on the floor for both his feet. He could perceive now a distant star showing clear through the ragged opening jabbed in the back of the coach, but no outline of the sutler's burly shoulders.

"Moylan!" he called, hardly above a whisper. "What is the trouble? Have you been hit, man?"

There was no answer, no responding sound, and he stood up, reaching kindly over across the seat. Then he knew, and felt a shudder run through him from head to foot. Bent double over the iron back of the middle seat, with hands still gripping his hot rifle, the man hung, limp and lifeless. Almost without realizing the act, Hamlin lifted the heavy body, laid it down upon the cushion, and unclasped the dead fingers gripping the Winchester stock.

"Every shot gone," he whispered to himself dazedly, "every shot gone! Ain't that hell!"

Then it came to him in a sudden flash of intelligence--he was alone; alone except for the girl. They were out there yet, skulking in the night, planning revenge, those savage foemen--Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Ogallas. They had been beaten back, defeated, smitten with death, but they were Indians still. They would come back for the bodies of their slain, and then--what? They could not know who were living, who dead, in the coach; yet must have discovered long since that it had only contained three defenders. They would guess that ammunition would be limited. His knowledge of the fighting tactics of the Plains tribes gave clear vision of what would probably occur. They would wait, scattered out in a wide circle from bluff to bluff, lying snake-like in the grass. Some of the bolder might creep in to drag away the bodies of dead warriors, risking a chance shot, but there would be no open attack in the dark. That would be averse to all Indian strategy, all precedent. Even now the mournful wailing had ceased; Roman Nose had rallied his warriors, instilled into them his own unconquerable savagery, and set them on watch. With the first gray dawn they would come again, leaping to the coach's wheels, yelling, triumphant, mad with new ferocity--and he was alone, except for the girl.

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