The terrible noise continued, appalling in its violence. It swept like a wave towards the building, drowning the roar of the stream below. The girl at the table rose and went to the closed door. She gripped a revolver in her right hand. With her left she reached for the latch.
“Don’t open it!” gasped Adela.
But Dot paid no heed. She lifted the latch and flung wide the door. Her slim figure stood outlined against the lamp-light behind her. Before her in a white glare of moonlight lay the vault-like entrance of the mine at the head of Barren Valley, and surging along the black, scarred side of the hill there came a yelling crowd of miners. They were making straight for the open door, but at the sight of the girl standing there they checked momentarily and the shouting died down.
She faced the foremost of them without a tremor. “What is it?” she demanded, in a clear, ringing voice. “What are you wanting?”
A man with the shaggy face of a baboon answered her. “You’ve got that blasted policeman in there. You stick up that gun of yours and let us pass! We’ve got guns of our own, so that won’t help.”
She confronted him with scorn. “Do you imagine I’m afraid of you and your guns? There’s no one here except another woman. Are you out to fight women to-night?”
“That’s a lie!” he made prompt response. “You’ve got Fletcher Hill in there, or I’m a nigger. You let us pass!”
But still she blocked the way, her revolver pointing straight at him. “Fletcher Hill is not here. And you won’t come in unless Mr. Warden says so. He is not here either at present. But he is coming. And I will shoot any man who tries to force his way in first.”
“Damnation!” growled the shaggy-faced one and wheeled upon his comrades. “What do you say to that, boys? Going to let a woman run this show?”
A chorus of curses answered him, but still no one raised a revolver against the slender figure that opposed them. Only, after a moment, a cur in the background picked up a stone and flung it. It struck the doorpost, narrowly missing her shoulder. Dot did not flinch, but immediately, with tightened lips, she raised the revolver and fired over their heads.
A furious outburst followed the explosion, and in an instant a dozen revolvers were levelled at her. But in that same instant there came a sound like the roar of a lion from behind the building, and with it Warden’s great figure leapt out into the moonlight.
“You damned ruffians!” he yelled. “You devils! What are you doing?”
His anger was in a fashion superb. It dwarfed the anger of the crowd. They gave way before him like a herd of beasts. He sprang in front of the girl, raging like a man possessed.
“You gang of murderers! You hounds! You dirty swine! Get back, do you hear? I’m the boss of this show, and what I say goes, or, if it doesn’t, I’ll know the reason why. Benson—you dog! What’s the meaning of this? Do you think I’ll have under me any coward that will badger a woman?”