Thus ordered, Gale slipped a long blade in between the imbedded thorns, and with a powerful jerk literally tore the choya out of Ladd's quivering flesh. Then, where the ranger's face was not red and raw, it certainly was white.
A volley of shots from a different angle was followed by the quick ring of steel bullets striking the lava all around Gale. His first idea, as he heard the projectiles sing and hum and whine away into the air, was that they were coming from above him. He looked up to see a number of low, white and dark knobs upon the high point of lava. They had not been there before. Then he saw little, pale, leaping tongues of fire. As he dodged down he distinctly heard a bullet strike Ladd. At the same instant he seemed to hear Thorne cry out and fall, and Lash's boots scrape rapidly away. Ladd fell backward still holding the .405. Gale dragged him into the shelter of his own positoin, and dreading to look at him, took up the heavy weapon. It was with a kind of savage strength that he gripped the rifle; and it was with a cold and deadly intent that he aimed and fired. The first Greaser huddled low, let his carbine go clattering down, and then crawled behind the rim. The second and third jerked back. The fourth seemed to flop up over the crest of lava. A dark arm reached for him, clutched his leg, tried to drag him up. It was in vain. Wildly grasping at the air the bandit fell, slid down a steep shelf, rolled over the rim, to go hurtling down out of sight.
Fingering the hot rifle with close-pressed hands, Gale watched the sky line along the high point of lava. It remained unbroken. As his passion left him he feared to look back at his companions, and the cold chill returned to his breast.
"Shore--I'm damn glad--them Greasers ain't usin' soft-nose bullets," drawled a calm voice.
Swift as lightning Gale whirled.
"Laddy! I thought you were done for," cried Gale, with a break in his voice.
"I ain't a-mindin' the bullet much. But that choya joint took my nerve, an' you can gamble on it. Dick, this hole's pretty high up, ain't it?"
The ranger's blouse was open at the neck, and on his right shoulder under the collar bone was a small hole just beginning to bleed.