Molly McDonald (Chapter 8, page 1 of 6)

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Chapter 8

She waited in agony as he sighted carefully, striving to gauge the distance. It seemed an interminable time before his finger pressed the trigger. Then came the report, a flash of flame, and the powder smoke blown back in her face. Half-blinded by the discharge, she yet saw that black smudge leap upright; again the Henry blazed, and the dim figure went down. There was a cry--a mad yell of rage--in which scattered voices joined; spits of fire cleaving the darkness, the barking of guns of different calibre. A bit of flying lead tore through the leather back of the coach with an odd rip; another struck the casing of the door, sending the wooden splinters flying like arrows. Hawk-eyed, Hamlin fired twice more, aiming at the sparks, grimly certain that a responding howl from the left evidenced a hit. Then, as quickly, all was still, intensely black once more. The Sergeant drew back from the window, leaning his gun against the casing.

"That will hold them for a while," he said cheerfully. "Two less out there, I reckon, and the others won't get careless again right away. Now is our time; are you ready?"

There was no response, the stillness so profound he could hear the faint ticking of the girl's watch. He reached out, almost alarmed, and touched her dress.

"What is the trouble?" he questioned anxiously. "Didn't you hear me speak?"

He waited breathless, but there was no movement, no sound, and his hand, trembling, in spite of his iron nerve, groped its way upward. She was lying back against the opposite window, her head bent sideways.

"My God," he thought, "did those devils get her?"

He lifted her slight figure up on one arm, all else blotted out, all other memory vanished through this instant dread. His cheek stung where flying splinters had struck him, but that was nothing. She was warm, her flesh was warm; then his searching fingers felt the moist blood trickling down from the edge of her hair. He let out his breath slowly, the sudden relief almost choking him. It was bad enough surely, but not what he had first feared, not death. She had been struck hard--a flying splinter of wood, perhaps, or a deflected bullet--her hair matted with blood, yet it was no more than a flesh wound, although leaving her unconscious. If he hesitated it was but for an instant. The entire situation recurred to him in a flash; he must change his plans, but dare waste no time. If they were to escape it must be accomplished now, shadowed by darkness, while those savage watchers were safely beyond sound. His lean jaws set with fierce determination, and he grimly hitched his belt forward, one sinewy hand fingering the revolver. He would have to trust to that weapon entirely for defense; he could not carry both the rifle and the girl.

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