But this safe and sane attitude of the watching Gus suffered a sudden change when, as the ascending ruffian fairly stumbled upon the other figure crouching on the hillside, a scream, unmistakably that of a female in dire distress, came to the ears of the witness. He could dimly see the two struggling together, the dark figure with the white. The next instant, forgetting all danger to himself, Gus lessened the distance by leaps and scrambles along the declivity and flung himself upon the assailant.
There was a short, sharp tussle; a second shot, but this time the weapon discharged its leaden pellet harmlessly. Then the ghost, taking advantage of the hillside, flung Gus aside and before the boy had time to leap upon his foeman again, the white figure, his habiliments torn off, had backed away and threatened Gus with the pistol. There was no mistaking the voice that uttered the threat:
“Keep off, or you’ll get punctured! You needn’t think anybody’s going to get me. I’m going to vanish. If you try to follow me now, I’ll kill you!”
This sounded desperate enough and Gus had reason to believe the fellow meant it. But in spite of that and driven by righteous anger, he would again have tackled the enemy had not the voice of Grace Hooper checked him:
“Oh, let him go; let him go!” she begged. “He’ll shoot, and you—you must not be killed! No; you shall not!”
And then, as the rascal turned and fled over the brow of the hill, Gus turned to the girl, sitting on the ground.
“How did you come here—what—?”
“I knew something was going to happen, and I thought I might prevent it some way. Then he fired, and I saw how desperate he was,—and he shot—”
“Yes—we must do all we can for poor George, if anything can be done. But are you hurt?”
“Not very much; he meant to hurt me. I dodged when he struck and only my shoulder may be—bruised.”
“Then you should bathe it in hot water. Can I help you up? No, you must not go home alone—but I must see about poor George. I heard him groan.”
“I’d better go down with you.”
“It might be—too horrible—for a girl, you see. Better stay here.”
Gus had extended his hand to give her a lift; she took it and came slowly to her feet; then suddenly crumpled up and lay unconscious before him, her face white against the dark sod, her arms outflung. Gus stared at her a few long seconds, as foolishly helpless as any boy could be. He told Bill afterward that he never felt so flabbergasted in his life. What to do he knew not, but he must try something, and do it quickly. Perhaps Grace had only fainted; should he go to George first? He might be dying—or dead! Then the thought came to him: “Women and children first.”
Gus dashed down the hill, dipped his cap, cup fashion, into the water of the dam and fled up with it again, brimming full and spilling over. He was able to dash a considerable quantity of reviving water into the girl’s face. With a gasp and a struggle she turned over, opened her eyes, sat up,—her physical powers returning in advance of her mental grasp.