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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Courage Of Marge O'doone - Chapter 26
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The Courage Of Marge O'doone - Chapter 26 Post by :Ndoki Category :Long Stories Author :James Oliver Curwood Date :May 2012 Read :3084

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The Courage Of Marge O'doone - Chapter 26

CHAPTER XXVI

Scarcely had David sensed the Girl's words of warning than he was on his feet. And now, when he saw her, he thanked God that his head was clear, and that he could fight. Even yesterday, when she had stood before the fighting bears, and he had fought Brokaw, she had not been whiter than she was now. Her face told him of their danger before he had seen it with his own eyes. It told him that their peril was appallingly near and there was no chance of escaping it. He saw for the first time that his bed on the ground had been close to the wall of an old cabin which was in a little dip in the sloping face of the mountain. Before he could take in more, or discover a visible sign of their enemies, Marge had caught his hand and was drawing him to the end of the shack. She did not speak as she pointed downward. In the edge of the valley, just beginning the ascent, were eight or ten men. He could not determine their exact number for as he looked they were already disappearing under the face of the lower dip in the mountain. They were not more than four or five hundred yards away. It would take them a matter of twenty minutes to make the ascent to the cabin.

He looked at Marge. Despairingly she pointed to the mountain behind them. For a quarter of a mile it was a sheer wall of red sandstone. Their one way of flight lay downward, practically into the faces of their enemies.

"I was going to rouse you before it was light, _Sakewawin_," she explained in a voice that was dead with hopelessness. "I kept awake for hours, and then I fell asleep. Baree awakened me, and now--it is too late."

"Yes, too late to _run_!" said David.

A flash of fire leaped into her eyes.

"You mean...."

"We can fight!" he cried. "Good God, Marge--if only I had my own rifle now!" He thrust a hand into his pocket and drew forth the cartridges she had given him. "Thirty-twos! And only eleven of them! It's got to be a short range for us. We can't put up a running fight for they'd keep out of range of this little pea-shooter and fill me as full of holes as a sieve!"

She was tugging at his arm.

"The cabin, _Sakewawin_!" she exclaimed with sudden inspiration. "It has a strong bar at the door, and the clay has fallen in places from between the logs leaving openings through which you can shoot!"

He was examining Nisikoos' rifle.

"At 150 yards it should be good for a man," he said. "You get Tara and the pack inside, Marge. I'm going to try to get two or three of our friends as they come up over the knoll down there. They won't be looking for bullets this early in the game and I'll have them at a disadvantage. If I'm lucky enough to get Hauck and Brokaw...."

His eyes had selected a big rock twenty yards from the cabin from which he could overlook the slope to the first dip below them, and as Marge darted from him to get Tara into the cabin he crouched behind the boulder and waited. He figured that it was not more than 150 yards to the point where their pursuers would first appear, and he made up his mind that he would wait until they were nearer than that before he opened fire. Not one of those eleven precious cartridges must be wasted, for he could count on Hauck's revolver only at close quarters. It was no longer a time for doubt or indecision. Brokaw and Hauck were deliberately pushing the fight to a finish, and not to beat them meant death for himself and a fate for the Girl which made him grip his rifle more tightly as he waited. He looked behind him and saw Marge leading Tara into the cabin. Baree had crept up beside him and lay flat on the ground close to the rock. A moment or two later the Girl reappeared and ran across the narrow open space to David, and crouched down close to him.

"You must go into the cabin, Marge," he remonstrated. "They will probably begin shooting...."

"I'm going to stay with you, _Sakewawin_."

Her face was no longer white. A flush had risen into her cheeks, her eyes shone as she looked at him--and she smiled. A child! His heart rose chokingly in his throat. Her face was close to his, and she whispered:

"Last night I kissed you, _Sakewawin_. I thought you were dying. Before you, I have kissed Nisikoos. Never any one else."

Why did she say that, with that wonderful glow in her eyes? Couldn't be that she saw death climbing up the mountain? Was it because she wanted him to know--before that? A child!

She whispered again:

"And you--have never kissed me, _Sakewawin_. Why?"

Slowly he drew her to him, until her head lay against his breast, her shining eyes and parted lips turned up to him, and he kissed her on the mouth. A wild flood of colour rushed into her face and her arms crept up about his shoulders. The glory of her radiant hair covered his breast. He buried his face in it, and for a moment crushed her so close that she did not breathe. And then again he kissed her mouth, not once but a dozen times, and then held her back from him and looked into her face that was no longer the face of a child, but of a woman.

"Because...." he began, and stopped.

Baree was growling. David peered down the slope.

"They are coming!" he said. "Marge, you must creep back to the cabin!"

"I am going to stay with you, _Sakewawin_. See, I will flatten myself out like this--with Baree."

She snuggled herself down against the rock and again David peered from his ambush. Their pursuers were well over the crest of the dip, and he counted nine. They were advancing in a group and he saw that both Hauck and Brokaw were in the rear and that they were using staffs in their toil upward, and did not carry rifles. The remaining seven were armed, and were headed by Langdon, who was fifteen or twenty yards in advance of his companions. David made up his mind quickly to take Langdon first, and to follow up with others who carried rifles. Hauck and Brokaw, unarmed with guns, were least dangerous just at present. He would get Brokaw with his fifth shot--the sixth if he made a miss with the fifth.

A thin strip of shale marked his 100-yard dead-line, and the instant Langdon set his foot on this David fired. He was scarcely conscious of the yell of defiance that rang from his lips as Langdon whirled in his tracks and pitched down among the men behind him. He rose up boldly from behind the rock and fired again. In that huddled and astonished mass he could not miss. A shriek came up to him. He fired a third time, and he heard a joyous cry of triumph beside him as their enemies rushed for safety toward the dip from which they had just climbed. A fourth shot, and he picked out Brokaw. Twice he missed! His gun was empty when Brokaw lunged out of view. Langdon remained an inanimate blotch on the strip of shale. A few steps below him was a second body. A third man was dragging himself on hands and knees over the crest of the _coulee_. Three--with six shots! And he had missed Brokaw! Inwardly David groaned as he caught the Girl by the arm and hurried with her into the cabin, followed by Baree.

They were not a moment too soon. From over the edge of the _coulee came a fusillade of shots from the heavy-calibre weapons of the mountain men that sent out sparks of fire from the rock.

As he thrust the remaining five cartridges into the chamber of Nisikoos' rifle, David looked about the cabin. In one of the farther corners the huge grizzly sat on his quarters as motionless as if stuffed. In the centre of the single room was an old box stove partly fallen to pieces. That was all. Marge had dropped the sapling bar across the door, and stood with her back against it. There was no window, and the closing of the door had shut out most of the light. He could see that she was breathing quickly, and the wonderful light that had come into her eyes behind the rock was still glowing at him in the half gloom. It gave him fresh confidence to see her standing like that, looking at him in that way, telling him without words that a thing had come into her life which had lifted her above fear. He went to her and took her in his arms again, and again he kissed her sweet mouth, and felt her heart beating against him, and the warm thrill of her arms clinging to him.

A splintering crash sent him reeling back into the centre of the cabin with Marge in his arms. The crash had come simultaneously with the report of a rifle, and both saw where the bullet had passed through the door six inches above David's head, carrying a splinter as large as his arm with it. He had not thought of the door. It was the cabin's vulnerable point, and he sprang out of line with it as a second bullet crashed through and buried itself in the log wall at their backs. Baree growled. A low rumble rose in Tara's throat, but he did not move.

In each of the four log walls were the open chinks which Marge had told him about, and he sprang to one of these apertures that was wide enough to let the barrel of his rifle through and looked in the direction from which the two shots had come. He was in time to catch a movement among the rocks on the side of the mountain about two hundred yards away, and a third shot tore its way through the door, glanced from the steel top of the stove, and struck like a club two feet over Tara's back. There were two men up there among the rocks, and their first shots were followed by a steady bombardment that fairly riddled the door. David could see their heads and shoulders and the gleam and faint puffs of their rifles, but he held his fire. Where were the other four, he wondered? Without doubt Hauck and Brokaw were now armed with the rifles of the men who had fallen, so he had six to deal with. Cautiously he thrust the muzzle of his rifle through the crack, and watched his chance, aiming a foot and a half above the spot where a pair of shoulders and a head would appear in a moment. His chance came, and he fired. The head and shoulders disappeared, and exultantly he swung his rifle a little to the right and sent another shot as the second man exposed himself. He, too, disappeared, and David's heart was thumping wildly in the thought that his bullets had reached their marks when both heads appeared again and a hail of lead spattered against the cabin. The men among the rocks were no longer aiming at the door, but at the spot from which he had fired, and a bullet ripped through so close that a splinter stung his face, and he felt the quick warm flow of blood down his cheek. When the Girl saw it her face went as white as death.

"I can't get them with this rifle, Marge," he groaned. "It's wild--wild as a hawk! Good God!..."

A crash of fire had come from behind the cabin, and another bullet, finding one of the gaping cracks, passed between them with a sound like the buzz of a monster bee. With a sudden cry he caught her in his arms and held her tight, as if in his embrace he would shield her.

"Is it possible--they would kill _you to get me?"

He loosed his hold of her, sprang to the broken stove, and began dragging it out of the line of fire that came through the door. The Girl saw his peril and sprang to help him. He had no time to urge her back. In ten seconds he had the stove close to the wall, and almost forcibly he made her crouch down behind it.

"If you expose yourself for one second I swear to Heaven I'll stand up there against the door until I'm shot!" he threatened. "I will, so help me God!"

His brain was afire. He was no longer cool or self-possessed. He was blind with a wild rage, with a mad desire to reach in some way, with his vengeance, the human beasts who were bent on his death even if it was to be gained at the sacrifice of the Girl. He rushed to the side of the cabin from which the fresh attack had come, and glared through one of the embrasures between the logs. He was close to Tara, and he heard the low, steady thunder that came out of the grizzly's chest. His enemies were near on this side. Their fire came from the rocks not more than a hundred yards away, and all at once, in the heat of the great passion that possessed him now, he became suddenly aware that they knew the only weapon he possessed was Nisikoos' little rifle--and Hauck's revolver. Probably they knew also how limited his ammunition was. And they were exposing themselves. Why should he save his last three shots? When they were gone and he no longer answered their fire they would rush the cabin, beat in the door, and then--the revolver! With that he would tear out their hearts as they entered. He saw Hauck, fired and missed. A man stood up within seventy yards of the cabin a moment later, firing as fast as he could pump the lever of his gun, and David drove one of Nisikoos' partridge-killers straight into his chest. He fired a second time at Hauck--another miss! Then he flung the useless rifle to the floor as he sprang back to Marge.

"Got one. Five left. Now--damn 'em--let then come!"

He drew Hauck's revolver. A bullet flew through one of the cracks, and they heard the soft thud of it as it struck Tara. The growl in the grizzly's throat burst forth in a roar of thunder. The terrible sound shook the cabin, but Tara still made no movement, except now to swing his head with open, drooling jaws. In response to that cry of animal rage and pain a snarl had come from Baree. He had slunk close to Tara.

"Didn't hurt him much," said David, with the fingers of his free hand crumpling the Girl's hair. "They'll stop shooting in a minute or two, and then...."

Straight into his eyes from that farther wall a splinter hurled itself at him with a hissing sound like the plunge of hot iron into water. He had a lightning impression of seeing the bullet as it tore through the clay between two of the logs; he knew that he was struck, and yet he felt no pain. His mind was acutely alive, yet he could not speak. His words had been cut off, his tongue was powerless--it was like a shock that had paralyzed him. Even the Girl did not know for a moment or two that he was hit. The thud of his revolver on the floor filled her eyes with the first horror of understanding, and she sprang to his side as he swayed like a drunken man toward Tara. He sank down on the floor a few feet from the grizzly, and he heard the Girl moaning over him and calling him by name. The numbness left him, slowly he raised a hand to his chin, filled with a terrible fear. It was there--his jaw, hard, unsmashed, but wet with blood. He thought the bullet had struck him there.

"A knockout," were the first words, spoken slowly and thickly, but with a great gasp of relief. "A splinter hit me on the jaw.... I'm all right...."

He sat up dizzily, with the Girl's arm about him. In the three or four minutes of forgetfulness neither had noticed that the firing had ceased. Now there came a tremendous blow at the door. It shook the cabin. A second blow, a third--and the decaying saplings were crashing inward! David struggled to rise, fell back, and pointed to the revolver.

"Quick--the revolver!"

Marge sprang to it. The door crashed inward as she picked it up, and scarcely had she faced about when their enemies were rushing in, with Henry and Hauck in their lead, and Brokaw just behind them. With a last effort David fought to gain his feet. He heard a single shot from the revolver, and then, as he rose staggeringly, he saw Marge fighting in Brokaw's arms. Hauck came for him, the demon of murder in his face, and as they went down he heard scream after scream come from the Girl's lips, and in that scream the agonizing call of "_Tara! Tara! Tara!_" Over him he heard a sudden roar, the rush of a great body--and with that thunder of Tara's rage and vengeance there mingled a hideous, wolfish snarl from Baree. He could see nothing. Hauck's hands were at his throat.

But the screams continued, and above them came now the cries of men--cries of horror, of agony, of death; and as Hauck's fingers loosened at his neck he heard with the snarling and roaring and tumult the crushing of great jaws and the thud of bodies. Hauck was rising, his face blanched with a strange terror. He was half up when a gaunt, lithe body shot at him like a stone flung from a catapult and Baree's inch-long fangs sank into his thick throat and tore his head half from his body in one savage, snarling snap of the jaws. David raised himself and through the horror of what he saw the Girl ran to him--unharmed--and clasped her arms about him, her lips sobbing all the time--"_Tara--Tara--Tara_...." He turned her face to his breast, and held it there. It was ghastly. Henry was dead. Hauck was dead. And Brokaw was dead--a thousand times dead--with the grizzly tearing his huge body into pieces.

Through that pit of death David stumbled with the Girl. The fresh air struck their faces. The sun of day fell upon them. The green grass and the flowers of the mountain were under their feet. They looked down the slope, and saw, disappearing over the crest of the _coulee_, two men who were running for their lives.

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CHAPTER XXVIIIt may have been five minutes that David held the Girl in his arms, staring down into the sunlit valley into which the last two of Hauck's men had fled, and during that time he did not speak, and he heard only her steady sobbing. He drew into his lungs deep breaths of the invigorating air, and he felt himself growing stronger as the Girl's body became heavier in his embrace, and her arms relaxed and slipped down from his shoulders. He raised her face. There were no tears in her eyes, but she was still moaning a little, and
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CHAPTER XXVIn that chaotic night in which he was drifting, David experienced neither pain nor very much of the sense of life. And yet, without seeing or feeling, he seemed to be living. All was dead within him but that last consciousness, which is almost the spirit; he might have been dreaming, and minutes, hours, or even years might have passed in that dream. For a long time he seemed to be sinking through the blackness; and then something stopped him, without jar or shock, and he was rising. He could hear nothing at first. There was a vast silence about
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