“Don’t speak!” he panted. “Don’t let them know!”
The outlaws were running after them, laughing and waving their hats.
“Faint, you fool!”
Her eyes widened with instant comprehension. Every muscle of her body relaxed; her head fell back; she was a lifeless burden in his arms. Buck dismounted from the saddle before the shanty. He was white, shaking, but triumphant. Rhinehart and Purvis and Jordan ran up to him. Silent and Kilduff were still struggling with Haines in the distance.
Rhinehart dropped his head to listen at her breast for the heartbeat.
“She’s dead!” cried Jordan.
“You’re a fool,” said Buck calmly. “She’s jest fainted, an’ when she comes to, she’ll begin tellin’ me what a wonderful man I am.”
“She ain’t dead,” said Rhinehart, raising his head from her heart, “but Haines’ll kill you for this, Buck!”
“Kate!” cried an agonized voice from the shanty, and old white-haired Joe Cumberland ran towards them.
“Jest a little accident happened to your daughter,” explained Buck. “Never mind. I c’n carry her in all right. You fellers stay back. A crowd ain’t no help. Ain’t no cause to worry, Mr. Cumberland. She ain’t hurt!”
He hastened on into the shanty and laid her on the bunk within. Her father hurried about to bathe her face and throat. Buck pushed the other three men out of the room.
“She ain’t hurt,” he said calmly, “she’s jest a little fussed up. Remember I said in fifteen minutes I’d have her eatin’ out of my hand. I’ve still got ten minutes of that time. When the ten minutes is up you all come an’ take a look through that window. If you don’t see the girl eatin’ at that table, I’ll chaw up my hat.”
He crowded them through the door and shut it behind them. A cry of joy came from old Joe Cumberland and Buck turned to see Kate sitting up on the bunk.
“LAUGH, DAMN IT!”
She brushed her father’s anxious arms aside and ran to Buck.
“Shut up!” said Buck. “Talk soft. Better still, don’t say nothin’!”
“Kate,” stammered her father, “what has happened?”
“Listen an’ you’ll learn,” said Buck. “But get busy first. I got to get you out of here tonight. You’ll need strength for the work ahead of you. You got to eat. Get me some eggs. Eggs and ham. Got ’em? Good. You, there!” (This to Joe.) “Rake down them ashes. On the jump, Kate. Some wood here. I got only ten minutes!”
In three minutes the fire was going, and the eggs in the pan, while Joe set out some tin dishes on the rickety table, under orders from Buck, making as much noise as possible. While they worked Buck talked. By the time Kate’s plate was ready his tale was done. He expected hysterics. She was merely white and steady-eyed.
“You’re ready?” he concluded.