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- Her Weight in Gold - 10/40 -
"I am glad to have afforded you amusement, Mistress Fortune. You may tear my heart to shreds."
Her manner changed instantly. Tears flew to the blue eyes and her hand crept toward him.
"Forgive me, pray, Captain Studdiford, I--I did not mean to hurt you. I--I--am very foolish, very unkind. You must hate me," she faltered.
"Hate you! How could I? You do not love me--why should I have hoped? I can but blame myself." Her hand had fallen to her side because he had not touched it. "And it is our last afternoon together."
"Last?" she repeated, faintly.
"Yes; for I shall not see you again."
"Oh--you--you--do not mean that!"
"I have asked to be transferred to Willamsburg. I--I have not one friend in Jamestown; why should I stay here?" he cried bitterly.
"But you have," she exclaimed, eagerly; "you have. I am your friend."
"Friend! That is not what I ask of you," he said, almost gruffly.
Silence, broken only by the clatter of the hoofs upon the road followed his words. In her confusion she had forgotten the terrible sword, but it recurred to her, and, with it, the thought which had given birth to her untimely mirth, the thought that was to lead her from the chief predicament into which she had been cast. She would ask the Captain to turn back to Jamestown at once, avoiding the possibility of conflict.
"Captain Studdiford, I believe we had better turn back." Her face grew crimson beneath his calm gaze. "As you like. You will grant me time to adjust my saddle girth; it is slipping," he said coolly, dismounting without another word.
They were fully three miles from the village, and in a dense piece of forest. On either side of the narrow road grew the thickest of underbrush with the great, gaunt trees stretching above like silent sentinels. The girl's mind was chaos; her thoughts were changing and interchanging like leaves before the whirling wind. She knew that she admired this man, and that something even sweeter was beginning to throb its way into her heart. A half smile came to her troubled face as she thought of the war-painted plotters two miles away, waiting to make a coward of her hero. A touch of remorse came to her as she remembered her part in the play, and that the plot would have been carried out had she not seen the great swing of that fearful sword. What havoc it would have wrought! And he was to leave Jamestown! Without a friend, he had said. How could he say that?
In the midst of these varying thoughts she allowed her softening eyes to wander from him toward the trees above and the straggling brush beneath their knotty limbs. A suppressed scream called the Captain's attention to her staring eyes. They were blinking with consternation.
Deep in the underbrush she had seen the form of an Indian warrior! Horrors! The sword!
"What do you see?" cried he, staring toward the now deserted brush.
"Nothing--nothing!" she gasped. "Yes--I mean, that red bird! See? Do shoot it for me--I must have it! Isn't it beautiful?" She was excitedly pointing toward a red bird in the top branches of a big oak.
He drew his pistols and deliberately aimed with one of them. The shot missed and the bird darted away.
"Oh, goodness!" she cried. "Try the other one!"
"But the bird is gone."
"Is it? So it is--but, quick! See if you can cut off that twig up there--the one with three red leaves. I wager you cannot! Quick, and then we will ride for home."
"Why are you so excited?"
"I am not the least bit excited--I never am! Why do you not shoot at that twig?"
"You try it," he surprised her by saying, pushing a pistol into her hand. Without a word or aim she blazed away at the sky and his firearms were useless. She handed the smoking pistol to him with a laugh.
"Would it not be awful if Indians came upon us!" she cried, with strange exultation. "But mount, and race with me to the spring!"
As the Captain placed his foot in the stirrup a yell burst from the thicket, an arrow whizzed above their heads, and a half-a-dozen, fierce warriors were dashing toward them.
"Do not use your sword!" she screamed.
Before the bewildered soldier could catch his breath an ugly brave was in the road, not ten feet away, knife in hand. Out whizzed the sword!
Kate screamed in agony, clasping her hand over her eyes.
"They are friends! Do not strike!"
But it was too late. The streak of steel cut the air. A sickening thud, a gurgling howl, and the assailant fell, his head half severed from his body. An instant later the big Englishman was in his saddle. A second slash and an Indian at his side went down beneath the ancestral blade!
The two horses plunged forward as a brawny redskin grasped her arm and she felt herself being dragged to the ground. Then a hand clasped her other arm, a big form leaned over behind her, far across the back of her horse. She heard the hiss of something cutting the air, the crash as of splitting wood, a scream, of agony and the Indian's ruthless grasp was loosened. Her horse stumbled and seemed to totter beneath her, but again that arm from aloft exerted itself and it seemed as if she were being lifted to the tree tops. Almost before she could realise it she was upon another horse, clasped in the arm of its rider, and they were off like the wind.
Suddenly she felt the form of the man who held her so closely drop forward with a groan and then straighten again slowly. Exultant yells came from behind them, several arrows whizzed past, and then naught was heard but the thunder of the horse's hoofs upon the frozen road. As her eyes opened involuntarily, terror possessing them, they fell upon the scene far behind. Two hundred yards away her own horse lay struggling in the road, two human forms stretched near it, another dragging itself to the roadside. Three feathered Indians were some fifty yards nearer, gesticulating wildly. Her brain whirred and buzzed, and--consciousness was lost!
When she regained her senses she was lying upon the ground. With feeble eyes she glanced wonderingly about. To a tree near by a horse was hitched, beneath her body were the blankets from the horse and certain garments from the back of man. All was as a dream; she could account for nothing. Studdiford was leaning against the big oak, coatless and as pale as a ghost. Deep lines stretched across his brow and down his mouth; his eyes were closed, as if in pain.
An involuntary moan escaped her lips, and the Captain was at her side almost before it had died away. She was crying.
"Oh, what have I done! What have I done!"
"Calm, yourself, dearest! You are safe--entirely so. See, we are alone, far from those devils. It is but a mile to Jamestown. Be brave and we will soon be at home," he murmured hoarsely, kneeling at her side and lifting her to a sitting posture.
"Home! I can never go home! Oh, God, you do not know--you do not know!"
"There--there! Now, be quiet."
"How could you know? I am a murderess--I am the wretch! Kill me; I cannot live!" she wailed.
"Hush!" he cautioned, lovingly.
"You could not know--you did not know them, Captain Studdiford!" she cried, sitting bolt upright, glaring wildly about her, then shudderingly plunging her white face against his shoulder. "They were not Indians," she almost whispered.
"Not Indians!" he gasped.
"God forgive me--no! It was all a trick--to test your courage--forgive me--to test--to test--oh! and I allowed you to kill them!"
"Speak! Go on! What do you mean?" "They were our friends--not Indians! My dearest friends! Oh, how is it that I am not struck dead for this? Please heaven, let me die!" she wailed.
"My God!" he exclaimed, after the first bewildering shock. "A trick-- and I have killed--oh, it cannot be true!" He leaped to his feet, allowing her to fall from his side to the ground, where she lay, a wretched, shivering heap. With a ferocious oath he snatched the big sword from the ground and turned upon her, with eyes blazing, muscles quivering.
She was looking up at him, those wide blue eyes gleaming piteously.
"Kill me!" she murmured, and closed the eyes to await the stroke.
His big arm relaxed, the sword fell from his nerveless grasp, clanging to the ground.
When she reopened her eyes after an age of suspense she saw him leaning against the tree, his body shaking with sobs. A second glance and she started to her feet alarmed.
His broad back was covered with blood. Near his left shoulder the clothing was torn and an ugly, gaping wound leered at her.
"Oh," she gasped; "you--you are hurt!"
"Hurt!" he groaned. "They have killed me! You have killed me--you and your friends. I hope you--are--satisfied--with--your--see?" As he sank
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