A man was running toward the foot of the trail. He, too, stopped abruptly. The girl seemed a marvel of beauty to him. With the curly hair beneath the drooping sombrero, the tanned, flushed face, the parted scarlet lips, the throat and tiny triangle of chest disclosed by the rough blue shirt with one button missing from the top, and the beautiful lithe legs in the clinging buckskins, Rhoda was a wonderful thing to come upon unexpectedly. As John DeWitt took off his hat, his haggard face went white, his stalwart shoulders heaved.
“O John! Dear John DeWitt!” cried Rhoda. “Turn back with me quick! I am running away while Mr. Porter holds Kut-le!”
DeWitt held out his shaking hands to her, unbelieving rapture growing in his eyes.
ADRIFT IN THE DESERT
Rhoda put her hands into the outstretched, shaking palms.
“Rhoda! Sweetheart! Sweetheart!” DeWitt gasped. Then his voice failed him.
For an instant Rhoda leaned against his heaving chest. She felt as if after long wandering in a dream she suddenly had stepped back into life. But it was only for the instant that she paused. Her face was blazing with excitement.
“Come!” she cried. “Come!”
“Take my arm! Or had I better carry you?” exclaimed DeWitt.
“Huh!” sniffed Rhoda. “Just try to keep up with me, that’s all!”
DeWitt, despite the need for haste, stopped and stared at the girl, open-mouthed. Then as he realized what superb health she showed in every line of face and body, he cried:
“You are well! You are well! O Rhoda, I never thought to see you this way!”
Rhoda squeezed his fingers joyfully.
“I am so strong! Hurry, John! Hurry!”
“Where are the Indians?” panted DeWitt, running along beside her. “What were those shots?”
“Billy Porter found our camp. He shot Alchise and Injun Tom and he and Kut-le were wrestling as I ran.” Then Rhoda hesitated. “Perhaps you ought to go back and help Billy!”
But John pulled her ahead.
“Leave you until I get you to safety? Why, Billy himself would half murder me if I thought of it! Our camp is over there, a three hours’ trip.” DeWitt pointed to a distant peak. “If we swing around to the left, the Indians won’t see us!”
Hand in hand the two settled to a swinging trot. The dreadful fear of pursuit was on them both. It submerged their first joy of meeting, and left them panic-stricken. For many minutes they ran without speaking. At last, when well out into the burning heat of the desert, they could keep up the pace no longer and dropped to a rapid walk. Still there came no sound of pursuit.
“Was Porter hurt?” panted John.
“Not when I left,” answered Rhoda.
“I wonder what his plan is?” said John. “He left the camp yesterday to trail Injun Tom. We’ll go back for him as quick as I can get you to camp.”