Calming the horse down to a quick trot, they hurried on in the wake ofthe stampede. They had lost all sound of the herd, and the trail whichthe ploughing hoofs had made at the beginning of the storm had beennearly obliterated by the beating [Pg 89]rain. Once they thought they caught the sound again and must be offthe track. They followed it and found it was the roaring of a highwave coming down an arroyo from a cloudburst farther up in themountain. Hurrying back, they kept to the general direction the cattlehad taken until the trail began to show more plainly in the soakedearth, like a strip of ploughed land across the hills. When theyreached the next arroyo, they found it a torrent of roaring water. Thegreater part of the cloudburst had flowed down this channel, and whereMead and the cattle had to cross merely wet sand and soaked earth,they would have to swim.
Shaking hands again, they turned to their work. They stood on thesteep, sloping side of the mountain, which was cracked and seamed witha network of chasms and gulches. A ridge ran slantingly down themountain and the intricate, irregular network of narrow, steep-sidedcracks and gulches which filled the slope finally gave, on the righthand, into the deep, gaping canyon which had been their thoroughfare,and on their left into another, apparently similar, some distance tothe south. Farther up, toward the backbone of the ridge, there seemedto be a narrow stretch, unbroken by the gulches, which extended to thenext canyon. They made their way thither and walked slowly along,stopping now and then to scan the mountain side or to sweep with theireyes the visible portions of the canyons below and behind them. Theyhad covered more than half the distance between the two canyons whenTom, who had been studying one particular spot far down the mountain,exclaimed:
Then suddenly a tongue of red flame darted at himacross the street, where lay a space of unlighted gloom.His hat was whipped off his head. The sharp reportof a shot cracked between the adobe walls. With anunbelievably rapid movement Steele Weir drew the revolver61in his pocket, and which he had carried eversince his encounter with young Sorenson in the restaurant,fired twice where he had seen the flame and leapedaside into the darkness beside the doorway. There hewaited, half crouching, for a further attack.
The thing was a paper. One corner of a sheet stuckup from the crack in which it lay and was waved gentlyby the rising dawn breeze. She drew it out and perceivedit was fastened to other sheets that were folded, all dampfrom the rain though not soaked because the cranny hadadmitted little moisture. It was the last sheet whichhad come partly unfolded, apparently as it fell, so wasleft in sight or she would never have noticed the whiteflutter. This last sheet was blank, but the others, neatlyfolded though wrinkled, were covered with writing shesaw on spreading them open. However, she could notread the pages; the matter was typewritten, but it wasnot English. Some foreign language, maybe.
If Mary could not read the document, she could atleast logically deduce how it had happened to be in itspresent resting-place. The paper was here because thewrecked automobile was here, so when Ed Sorenson waspitched out the folded sheets of paper must have been192propelled from his pocket by the same force and at thesame instant. It hit a rock after flying through the airand slid down into the crack.
The rascals were so intent on their murderous business that theyneither heard nor saw me, and, taking them in the rear, I fetchedthe guitar-player a crack on his skull that stretched him senselesson the ground, whereupon the other villain, without more ado, tookto his heels.
We have left behind us the montaño, with itsverdant uplands and waving forests, its blooming valleys,flower-strewed savannas, and sunny waters, and are crawlingpainfully along a ledge, hardly a yard wide, stern gray rocks allround us, a foaming torrent only faintly visible in the prevailinggloom a thousand feet below. Our mules, obtained at the lastvillage in the fertile region, move at the speed of snails, for thepath is slippery and insecure, and one false step would mean deathfor both the rider and the ridden,
Presently the gorge widens into a glen, where forlorn flowersstruggle toward the scanty light and stunted trees find aprecarious foothold among the rocks and stones. Soon the ravinenarrows again, narrows until it becomes a mere cleft; the mule-pathgoes up and down like some mighty snake, now mounting to a dizzyheight, anon descending to the bed of the thundering torrent. Theair is dull and sepulchral, an icy wind blows in our faces, andthough I am warmly clad, and wrapped besides in a thickponcho, I shiver to the bone. 153554b96e