Her hands fell nerveless and her questioning eyes sought my face. They were tearless, unabashed.
“You are right, Lieutenant Knox,” she said frankly. “I owe my loyalty now to you. I shall not yield again to despair; you may trust me—my friend.”
The day was not yet ended when we finally retraced our way across the narrow dyke to the mainland, prepared to resume our journey. The passage was slow and dangerous, and we made it on foot, leading the horses. The woods were already beginning to darken as we forded the north branch of the creek, and came forth through a fringe of forest trees into a country of rolling hills and narrow valleys. The two girls were already mounted, and Tim and I were busily tightening the straps for a night’s ride, when, from behind us, back in the direction of the peninsula we had just quitted, there sounded the sharp report of a rifle. We straightened up, startled, and our eyes met. There could be but one conclusion—our pursuers had found the trail.
A FIELD OF MASSACRE
To my mind, seated on that island in the morass, a map spread before me, a hundred miles of travel had not appeared a very serious matter, but I was destined to learn my mistake. The close proximity of the men seeking to overtake us—as evidenced by that rifle shot—awoke within us a sense of imminent danger and drove us forward through the fast gathering darkness at a perilous pace, especially as our mounts were not of the best. The fringe of trees along the bank of the stream was sufficiently thick to securely screen our movements until we had safely merged into the darkness beyond, nor could our trail be followed before daylight. Yet the desire was in all of our hearts to cover as much ground as possible. The available course lay across rough country, along steep sidehills, and into stagnant sloughs. Twice we mired through carelessness, and several times were obliged to skirt the edge of marshes for considerable distances, before discovering a safe passage beyond. The night shut about us black, and discouraging, with scarcely a star visible in the sky, by which we could determine our direction. I was quickly lost in this blind groping, unable to even guess the points of the compass, but Tim apparently possessed the mysterious instinct of the pathfinder, although what dim signs guided him I could not decipher. To me it was all chance; while he kept steadily moving, occasionally relieving his feelings by an oath, but never hesitating for longer than a moment.