There was an angry shout, the swift rush of feet, the red flare of a rifle cleaving the night with burst of flame. In the sudden, unearthly glare Brown caught dim sight of faces, of numerous dark figures leaping toward him, but he merely crouched low. The girl! he must protect the girl! That was all he knew, all he considered, excepting a passionate hatred engendered by one of those faces he had just seen. They were upon him in mass, striking, tearing like so many wild beasts in the first fierceness of attack. His revolver jammed in its holster, but he struck out with clenched fists, battering at the black figures, his teeth ground together, his every instinct bidding him fight hard till he died. Once they pounded him to his knees, but he struggled up, shaking loose their gripping hands, and hurling them back like so many children. He was crazed by then with raging battle-fury, his hot blood lusting, every great muscle strained to the uttermost. He realized nothing, saw nothing, but those dim figures facing him; insensible to the blood trickling down the front of his shirt, unconscious of wound, he flung himself forward a perfect madman, jerking a rifle from the helpless fingers of an opponent, and smiting to right and left, the deadly-iron bar whirling through the air. He struck once, twice; he saw bodies whirl sidewise and fall to the ground. Then suddenly he seemed alone, panting fiercely, the smashed rifle-stock uplifted for a blow.
“It’s the big fellow,” roared a voice at his left. “Why don’t you fools shoot?”
He sprang backward, crouching lower, his one endeavor to draw their fire, so as to protect her lying hidden among the rock shadows. He felt nothing except contempt for those fellows, but he could not let them hurt her. He stood up full in the starlight, shading his eyes in an attempt to see. Somebody cried, “There he is, damn him!” A slender figure swept flying across the open space like some dim night vision. A red flame leaped forth from the blackness. The two stood silhouetted against the glare, reeled backward as it faded, and went down together in the dark.
BENEATH THE DARKNESS
Running blindly through the darkness toward the sound of struggle came Hicks and Winston. They caught no more than faint glimpses of scattering, fleeing figures, but promptly opened fire, scarcely comprehending as yet what it all meant. Hicks, dashing recklessly forward, tripped over a recumbent figure in the darkness, and the two paused irresolutely, perceiving no more of the enemy. Then it was that Stutter Brown struggled slowly up upon his knees, still closely clasping the slender figure of the stricken girl within his arms. She neither moved nor moaned, but beneath the revealing starlight her eyes were widely opened, gazing up into his face, appearing marvellously brilliant against the unusual pallor of her cheeks. Her breath came short and sharp as if in pain, yet the lips smiled up at him.