Desert Gold (Chapter 3, page 1 of 9)

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Chapter 3

Uneasy and startled, Gale listened and, hearing nothing, wondered if
Mercedes's fears had not worked upon her imagination. He felt a
trembling seize her, and he held her hands tightly.

"You were mistaken, I guess," he whispered.

"No, no, senor."

Dick turned his ear to the soft wind. Presently he heard, or imagined
he heard, low beats. Like the first faint, far-off beats of a drumming
grouse, they recalled to him the Illinois forests of his boyhood. In a
moment he was certain the sounds were the padlike steps of hoofs in
yielding sand. The regular tramp was not that of grazing horses.

On the instant, made cautious and stealthy by alarm, Gale drew Mercedes
deeper into the gloom of the shrubbery. Sharp pricks from thorns
warned him that he was pressing into a cactus growth, and he protected
Mercedes as best he could. She was shaking as one with a sever chill.
She breathed with little hurried pants and leaned upon him almost in
collapse. Gale ground his teeth in helpless rage at the girl's fate.
If she had not been beautiful she might still have been free and happy
in her home. What a strange world to live in--how unfair was fate!

The sounds of hoofbeats grew louder. Gale made out a dark moving mass
against a background of dull gray. There was a line of horses. He
could not discern whether or not all the horses carried riders. The
murmur of a voice struck his ear--then a low laugh. It made him
tingle, for it sounded American. Eagerly he listened. There was an
interval when only the hoofbeats could be heard.

"It shore was, Laddy, it shore was," came a voice out of the darkness.
"Rough house! Laddy, since wire fences drove us out of Texas we ain't
seen the like of that. An' we never had such a call."

"Call? It was a burnin' roast," replied another voice. "I felt low
down. He vamoosed some sudden, an' I hope he an' his friends shook the
dust of Casita. That's a rotten town Jim."

Gale jumped up in joy. What luck! The speakers were none other than
the two cowboys whom he had accosted in the Mexican hotel.

"Hold on, fellows," he called out, and strode into the road.

The horses snorted and stamped. Then followed swift rustling sounds--a
clinking of spurs, then silence. The figures loomed clearer in the
gloom.. Gale saw five or six horses, two with riders, and one other, at
least, carrying a pack. When Gale got within fifteen feet of the group
the foremost horseman said: "I reckon that's close enough, stranger."

Something in the cowboy's hand glinted darkly bright in the starlight.

"You'd recognize me, if it wasn't so dark," replied Gale, halting. "I
spoke to you a little while ago--in the saloon back there."

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