The Heart of the Desert (Chapter 7, page 1 of 7)

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Chapter 7

After crawling on her hands and knees for several yards, Rhoda rose and started on a run down the long slope to the open desert. But after a few steps she found running impossible, for the slope was a wilderness of rock, thickly grown with cholla and yucca with here and there a thicker growth of cat's-claw.

Almost at once her hands were torn and bleeding and she thought gratefully for the first time of her buckskin trousers which valiantly resisted all detaining thorns. The way dropped rapidly and after her first wild spurt Rhoda leaned exhausted and panting against a boulder. She had not the vaguest idea of where she was going or of what she was going to do, except that she was going to lose herself so thoroughly that not even Kut-le could find her. After that she was quite willing to trust to fate.

After a short rest she started on, every sense keen for the sound of pursuit, but none came. As the silent minutes passed Rhoda became elated. How easy it was! What a pity that she had not tried before! At the foot of the slope, she turned up the arroyo. Here her course grew heavier. The arroyo was cut by deep ruts and gullies down which the girl slid and tumbled in mad haste only to find rock masses over which she crawled with utmost difficulty. Now and again the stout vamps of her hunting boots were pierced by chollas and, half frantic in her haste, she was forced to stop and struggle to pull out the thorns.

It was not long before the girl's scant strength was gone, and when after a mad scramble she fell from a boulder to the ground, she was too done up to rise. She lay face to the stars, half sobbing with excitement and disappointment. After a time, however, the sobs ceased and she lay thinking. She knew now that until she was inured to the desert and had a working knowledge of its ways, escape was impossible. She must bide her time and wait for her friends to rescue her. She had no idea how far she had come from the Indian camp. Whether or not Kut-le could find her again she could not guess. If he did not, then unless a white stumbled on her she must die in the desert. Well then, let it be so! The old lethargy closed in on her and she lay motionless and hopeless.

From all sides she heard the night howls of the coyote packs circling nearer and nearer. Nothing could more perfectly interpret the horrible desolation of the desert, Rhoda thought, than the demoniacal, long-drawn laughter of the coyote. How long she lay she neither knew nor cared. But just as she fancied that the coyotes had drawn so near that she could hear their footsteps, a hand was laid on her arm.

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