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   Chapter 12 IN THE DARKNESS

The Outdoor Girls in the Saddle; Or, The Girl Miner of Gold Run By Laura Lee Hope Characters: 6659

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

Now the girls had been hungry before the accident occurred and, it being several hours since then, they were, by this time, as any one could readily see, in a rather bad state. Therefore, Amy's complaint was very unfortunate and, had it not been for Betty, it might have ruined the morale of the girls completely.

"Good gracious, Amy, don't talk about starving to death," cried Mollie, dismayed. "That's coming too near the truth for comfort. Oh, this miserable stone. It's cutting clear through my hand!"

"And my back is nearly broken," said Grace, adding, as she turned ferociously upon the still-sobbing Amy: "Stop that crying, Amy Blackford. Don't you know it is catching?" and a suspicious break at the end of her sentence, proved the truth of the assertion.

"Girls, please don't," begged Betty, still digging automatically at the stubborn wall of stones and dirt. "If you all begin to cry, then we might just as well throw up our hands and say we are beaten."

It was not long after that that the girls found what they called their "second wind." They forgot that they were ravenous, that their backs ached and that their hands were scratched and torn. They worked furiously in the darkness, their goal the out-of-doors they loved so well.

For a long time they did not notice that the air was becoming very close and oppressive and that the perspiration that bothered them so was caused not alone by their exertion. And when the realization did come it had the effect of goading them on to more furious effort.

That the horses also felt the change in the atmosphere, was attested to by their increased nervousness. The trampling of their hoofs sounded ominous to the girls-they made queer little puffing noises as if they were getting their breath with greater and greater difficulty.

In one terrible instant the girls realized what might happen when what was discomfort to the animals now, should become torture. Maddened by pain and fright, it would be no longer possible to quiet them. And then-and then--

"Don't you think we'd better stop and try to quiet the horses?" asked Mollie once, as the champing and snorting in the blackness behind them became more marked.

"I don't think it would do any good," Betty answered between clenched teeth as she scooped and dug, scooped and dug. "Better keep on working, girls. It's the one chance we have."

Oh, the horror of it, the nightmare of it! The heavy air, the hideous dark, the nervous trampling of those death-bearing hoofs-- The girls spoke no longer. They were beyond speech. Almost maddened by terror themselves, they scooped and dug, scooped and dug--

Once they thought they heard voices outside, and shrilly they cried to their imaginary rescuers. No answering "hallo" reached them, and the only effect of their cries seemed to be to add to the fright of their horses and so endanger themselves still more.

On, on, on-while their aching muscles seemed to grow numb with the strain and their lungs nearly burst with the pressure upon them.

At last they gave in-it seemed that they had to give in. All except Betty, who kept on desperately, doggedly, her muscles barely able to respond to the last call she was making upon them.

"I can't go on any more. I'm all in," said Mollie, a desperate quiet in her voice. "My arms are lik

e lead and my hands are so numb I can't feel the stone. I guess this is the last adventure of the Outdoor Girls. We have just had one too many, that's all."

"Oh, Mollie!" Betty drew in a labored breath that caught on a sob. "Please don't give up-please! I've counted on you--" she paused, jerked her head up, her attention turned on the spot where her hand still automatically dug at the earth.

She sniffed, experimentally, sniffed again, stilling the wild throb of hope that was almost a pain at her heart.

"What is it, Betty, what is it?" cried Mollie, sensing something strange. Amy and Grace fought off the dizziness that was stealing over them and leaned forward.

But Betty had jumped to her feet, had dropped the stone and was tearing with her bare hands at that thin place-that thin place-- It gave under her mad onslaught, and suddenly her hand slipped through into the air-the air-- A breath of it swept into her tortured lungs, and she leaned there, laughing, crying, the tears of sheer weakness running down her dirt-stained face.

"Girls!" she babbled, "out there is the air-the good old air-enough of it for all of us! We're saved, do you hear? We're saved!"

Exhausted as they were, the girls tore at the tiny hole that Betty had made until there was an opening big enough for them to crawl through.

And oh! the indescribable ecstasy of it, the joy of it, just to lie there, trembling with weakness, and drink in great drafts of that life-giving air, thinking of nothing, caring for nothing but that they were alive there in their great out-of-doors. One never comes really to appreciate life until one has been close to death.

It was a long time before they ventured to go on. They had not realized how near exhaustion they had been until the tension had relaxed. When at last they did start for home, on foot, they were still trembling and they dared not glance down the canyon at their right for fear of becoming dizzy.

They had been long hours in the cave, and when they finally left the trail and cut across the plain toward the ranch it was nearly dark. They did not realize the startling sight they must present to any one who might not know of their plight until they met Andy Rawlinson and some other boys from the ranch starting out to search for them.

At sight of the mud-stained, blood-stained Outdoor Girls, Andy Rawlinson fairly tumbled from his pony and came running toward them while the other boys stood agape.

"What in the world--" began Andy, but Betty stopped him with a weary gesture. As briefly as she could she told him what had happened and asked him to go back and get their horses.

"It's getting pretty dark now, you know," she reminded him, when he seemed inclined to linger and ask questions. "Soon you won't be able to see what you're doing. Won't you please hurry?"

"Surest thing you know," responded the boy quickly, his nice eyes full of sympathy for them. "Some of the boys will see you home-your folks are getting awfully worried about you, you know-and the rest of us will go on and dig out the poor bronchos. So long. We'll be back pronto."

"And now home," sighed Betty, as she looked at the ranch house just visible in the distance. "And a bath-and something to eat. What does that sound like, girls?"

"Heaven!" they answered.

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