“Now I’ll go less than ever,” she said quietly.
Three Modern Musketeers
The fierce crackling of the flames rolled toward them. The wind served at least the one purpose of lifting the smoke so that it did not stifle those on the river-bank. Clanton crept up from the cave and joined them.
“Looks like we’re goin’ out with fireworks, Billie,” he grinned.
“That’s nonsense,” said Lee sharply. “There’s a way of escape, if only we can find it.”
“Blamed if I see it,” the young fellow answered. As he looked at her the eyes in his pale face glowed. “But I see one thing. You’re the best little pilgrim that ever I met up with.”
The heat of the flames came to them in waves.
“You walk out, climb on yore horse, an’ ride down the river, Miss Lee. Then we’ll make a break for cover. You can’t do anything more for us,” insisted Prince.
“That’s right,” agreed the younger man. “We’ll play this out alone. You cut yore stick an’ drift. If we git through I’ll sure come back an’ thank you proper some day.”
Recently Lee had read “The Three Musketeers.” From it there flashed to her a memory of the picture on the cover.
“I know what we’ll do,” she said, coughing from a swallow of smoke. She stepped between them and tucked an arm under the elbow of each. “All for one, and one for all. Forward march!”
They moved down the embankment side by side to the sand-bed close to the stream, each of the three carrying a rifle tucked close to the side. From the chaparral keen eyes watched them, covering every step they took with ready weapons. Miss Lee’s party turned to the right and followed the river-bed in the direction of Los Portales. For the wind was driving the fire down instead of up. Those in the mesquite held a parallel course to cut off any chance of escape.
Some change of wind currents swept the smoke toward them in great billows. It enveloped the fugitives in a dense cloud.
“Get yore head down to the water,” Billie called into the ear of the girl.
They lay on the rocks in the shallow water and let the black smoke waves pour over them. Lee felt herself strangling and tried to rise, but a heavy hand on her shoulder held her face down. She sputtered and coughed, fighting desperately for breath. A silk handkerchief was slipped over her face and knotted behind. She felt sick and dizzy. The knowledge flashed across her mind that she could not stand this long. In its wake came another dreadful thought. Was she going to die?
The hand on her shoulder relaxed. Lee felt herself lifted to her feet. She caught at Billie’s arm to steady herself, for she was still queer in the head. For a few moments she stood there coughing the smoke out of her lungs. His arm slipped around her shoulder.
“Take yore time,” he advised.