Against one of the wheels a rifle rested. The girl flying in a panic had forgotten it till too late.
The vandalism of the attack amazed the men. They could have understood readily enough some shots out of the shadows or a swoop down upon the camp to stampede and run off the saddle horses. Even a serious attempt to wipe out the party by a stray band of Blackfeet or Crees was an undertaking that would need no explaining. But why should any one do such a foolish, wasteful thing as this, one to so little purpose in its destructiveness?
They lost no time in speculation, but plunged into the darkness in pursuit.
The dog darted into the bunch grass and turned sharply to the right. One of the men followed it, the others took different directions.
Up a gully the hound ran, nosed the ground in a circle of sniffs, and dipped down into a dry watercourse. Tom Morse was at heel scarcely a dozen strides behind.
The yelping of the dog told Morse they were close on their quarry. Once or twice he thought he made out the vague outline of a flying figure, but in the night shadows it was lost again almost at once.
They breasted the long slope of a low hill and took the decline beyond. The young plainsman had the legs and the wind of a Marathon runner. His was the perfect physical fitness of one who lives a clean, hard life in the dry air of the high lands. The swiftness and the endurance of the fugitive told him that he was in the wake of youth trained to a fine edge.
Unexpectedly, in the deeper darkness of a small ravine below the hill spur, the hunted turned upon the hunter. Morse caught the gleam of a knife thrust as he plunged. It was too late to check his dive. A flame of fire scorched through his forearm. The two went down together, rolling over and over as they struggled.
Startled, Morse loosened his grip. He had discovered by the feel of the flesh he was handling so roughly that it was a woman with whom he was fighting.
She took advantage of his hesitation to shake free and roll away.
They faced each other on their feet. The man was amazed at the young Amazon’s fury. Her eyes were like live coals, flashing at him hatred and defiance. Beneath the skin smock she wore, her breath came raggedly and deeply. Neither of them spoke, but her gaze did not yield a thousandth part of an inch to his.
The girl darted for the knife she had dropped. Morse was upon her instantly. She tried to trip him, but when they struck the ground she was underneath.
He struggled to pin down her arms, but she fought with a barbaric fury. Her hard little fist beat upon his face a dozen times before he pegged it down.
Lithe as a panther, her body twisted beneath his. Too late the flash of white teeth warned him. She bit into his arm with the abandon of a savage.