"Robert!" she cried warningly.
"He hates me, I think," she replied sadly.
"Then why in the world do you—" He was floundering. "What do you know about him, anyhow? Who is he? Where did he come from?"
That sounded so much like Seth Huntington that she smiled, thinking of the picture that he must have drawn for Hillyer.
"I know very little about him," she replied quietly. "But I know that Cousin Seth is mistaken."
"But how do you know he hates you?"
"He made that clear in the beginning—not me alone, but all women. He shunned me. He told me twice that I must not speak to him again. And this afternoon, while you waited for me—" Her voice broke, with a laugh that was half a sob. "He—finished it."
"He was rude to you!" he cried. "I'll make him—"
She put her hand quickly on his arm.
"No. He was very gentle—and kind."
"What did he say?" Hillyer demanded, almost imperatively.
"He said that—he couldn't leave the ranch just now, so I'd better go back to New York—at once."
"He did, did he?" cried Hillyer angrily, his chivalry for the moment dominant. But then he saw suddenly another meaning, for him, in the brutal ultimatum; and his face brightened. "That settles it, doesn't it?" he exclaimed eagerly.
"Why, you'll go with me!"
"What do you mean?"
"I told you I'm not ready yet."
There was a silence while Hillyer, buoyed up with new hope, made some hurried calculations.
"Then listen, Marion!" he said. "I'll go to Denver, and come back in a week or ten days. I'll arrange things so that I can stay here until—"
"Oh, Robert! You won't understand."
He stared at her blankly.
"You're making it so hard for me!" she cried pathetically. "I've told you already that I cannot marry you."
"But why! Why!" he persisted.
"Because I haven't myself—I've nothing to give."
"But how can you love him after he has—"
"Told me he does not love me?" she said, taking the words from him. "Then how can you love me when I have said the same thing to you?"
He struggled desperately, in deep water.
"It's different, Marion. You don't hate me—I think. You say you like me. That's enough now—to start with. It's all I ask. I'll try to make you happy, and I'll wait for love. You shall have all the things in the world you want. I'm making scads of money. Everything I touch just rolls up into bank notes. I want you to come and spend all that money for me. Remember, Marion, your father wished it. If he were here now—"
"Yes!" she put in with sudden fire. "If he were here now do you know what he would say to me?"
He felt that he had blundered, and made no reply.
"He would say to me—Oh, I can hear him now! He would say: 'Follow your heart, daughter. Love's the only thing in the world that really counts.'"
She smiled triumphantly, but wistfully. And Hillyer was still silent.
"Daddy wasn't very good at quoting Scripture," she went on musingly, "but he used to say: 'Better a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.'"
"But there isn't any hatred therewith!" cried Hillyer desperately. "I love you, Marion, and if you don't love me—you don't hate me. So there's more than half of it, and—can't we trust the future a little bit?"
"But what are you going to do?" he asked, shifting his line of attack.
"I don't know," she replied, with a helpless gesture.
"You can't go back to New York without money enough to take your proper place in the world. Of course, if you'll let me, I'll—"
"Robert!" she interrupted sharply.
"Well, I mean it just the same!" he replied stoutly. "I've got to take care of you, and if you won't—See here, Marion! I simply refuse to be turned down this way. I'll not take your stubborn, whimsy little 'no' for my answer. You're on my hands, thank God! whether you like it or not. Maybe you won't love me. Maybe you won't marry me. We'll see about that! But I'm going to look after you—I'm going to take care of you, just the same—and you can just stop tightening those lips—they're not as red as they ought to be—and you can make up your mind that you can boss me so far and no farther."
Marion smiled at him indulgently, but gratefully, and even a little proudly; for she had been very proud of him in the days when only friendship was spoken of. She did not in the least resent his speech; but neither did she answer him.
"It's getting late, Robert," she said, shivering a little.
"So it is," he replied. "And you've no warm wrap for the night air."
He drew the lap-robe around her, and started the automobile. Through the gathering night they drove, almost without speaking, to Huntington's, where the best supper that Claire could contrive from the limited stores at her disposal awaited the prodigal. There was naturally some constraint at table. Huntington had made his peace with Hillyer, having apologized humbly, and expatiated on the cause of his wrath. But he did not know how he stood with Marion, who had been a long time in the camp of the enemy, and who doubtless knew too of his speech about her trunks. He had not dared to ask Hillyer whether he had related that incident to her, and he felt the need of extreme discretion until he should discover what kind of a rod she had in pickle for him, or, at any rate, until the time should be propitious to tell her that he was sorry for his conduct. Marion was tired, and disinclined to talk, while Hillyer, on his side, had his mind fully occupied, between his deal in mines and his deal in love, in both of which he had encountered unexpected difficulties. Only Claire was gay and untroubled, and she accepted eagerly the task of saving the party from awkward silences. For once in many moons she was allowed to talk unchecked, and she made the most of her opportunity.
After supper, Marion announced her purpose to go to bed at once. She was sure, she declared, that she could sleep "around the clock."
"I'll be off before you're up, then," said Hillyer.
"You must go to-morrow?" asked Claire.
"Absolutely. It means thousands."
"Then we'll sit on the veranda a few minutes," said Marion. "Not long, though. I'm dreadfully sleepy."
It was not long. They found they had little to say to each other, since the one subject of which both were thinking, each from a different point of view, was tacitly barred. And Hillyer soon saw that Marion was sorely in need of rest.
"Go to bed now, dear girl!" he said presently. "And please take good care of yourself. I want to see the color back in your cheeks when I return."
"I will, Robert," she answered. "I'll be quite all right in a day or two."
"And you—don't really think of staying here all winter?" he ventured to ask diffidently.
"No," she replied. "That's hardly possible."
"Then good-by—until you hear my horn in the road down yonder."
"Good-by, Robert, and good luck!"
She gave him both her hands, for a moment, with a tenderness that lingered with him far on his way.
August ripened into September, and the Park underwent a subtle and fascinating change. In the meadows the hay lay in long windrows, golden green; on the slopes vermilion flowers succeeded blue; in the sunsets tender pinks yielded to burnt orange and vivid red. The nights had grown perceptibly colder, but the days were still warm and dry and radiant, though with a tang in the air that stirred the blood. And a thousand perfumes, known and unknown, distilled from meadow and field and forest, scented every vagrant breeze.
Marion was soon herself again, in body if not in mind. A few long nights of sleep, a few days in the saddle, and sufficient nourishment (for she had neglected herself at Haig's, despite Jim's solicitude) restored her physically to what she had been on the day of Haig's accident. But she, too, had changed, and as subtly as the season.
"What's come over Marion?" asked Huntington of Claire one day, after he had caught himself regarding her with the rapt interest of a discoverer.
Claire looked at him pityingly. She knew, but she was not going to tell him.
"Why?" she asked innocently.
"Well, I don't exactly know," he replied doubtfully. "She's prettier than ever—but so are you. That isn't it. She's kind of—It's no use. I don't know."
Claire laughed, and then became severe.
"That's because she's forgiven you," she said.
"No, it isn't!" he asseverated, not without embarrassment. "You can see for yourself that she's different."
"Very well!" she retorted maliciously. "Perhaps if you'd done such a noble thing as nursing Haig back to life you'd be different too."
"I'd see him in—"
"Shame!" she cried. "You wouldn't do anything of the kind. Your bark's worse than your bite, sir. And besides, while I think of it, you really must stop saying 'hell' and 'damn' so much. The habit's growing on you."
Having no ready answer to that speech, he merely looked at her, perhaps a little guiltily, then bent down and kissed her, and hurried out of the house. He was, in truth, though he never would have had the courage to acknowledge it, even to Claire, ashamed of himself, and anxious too. His inflammable temper had rather out-flamed itself in its last-recorded performance, and he had begun to suspect that it had been responsible for some, though by no means all, of his troubles. The killing of Haig's bull, he now realized, was a foolish and indefensible act, which could be traced easily to him because of the bull that was gored; and he must prepare to account to Haig for it. And so, knowing that he would again be in the wrong, as in the affair at the post-office, he was torn between accentuated bitterness toward Haig and growing discontent with himself. He would never be afraid of Haig, but he was becoming steadily more afraid of Marion. Whether it was that he had really developed intuition, which told him of Marion's spiritual growth, or that he was in constant dread lest she make some new demand upon him in regard to Haig, he lived in much awe of her. She had once spoken, on a memorable occasion, of making peace between Haig and himself. It would be just like her, wouldn't it, to try to bring them together? Well, let her try it! He would be the last man in Paradise Park. And so on, until he was once more almost satisfied with himself.
The faithful Smythe, meanwhile, brought Marion almost daily news of Philip. That he was rapidly recovering she heard with a ringing joy, which had its alloy of fear; for she knew that the day he felt himself to be in full possession of his powers he would attempt again to conquer Sunnysides. So from day to day her apprehension mounted until it became well-nigh insupportable. And her own helplessness maddened her. What could she do? Nothing! Nothing but wait, and pray God to protect him. Every night she prayed for him, and every morning, on her knees; and every hour the prayer was in her heart. She rode sometimes as far as the farther edge of the woods that crowned the ridge, and looked long at the little valley, and at the smoke rising in a thin spiral from the ranch house that she could not see. At the right of it would be the cottage, and at the left the barn, and the corral where Sunnysides bided his time. And then, having looked until she could endure no more, she would ride slowly home, to await the next coming of Smythe with news.
Once she went to the glade of the columbines. She did not feel any longer the antipathy she once felt to the spot that had, in one devastating moment, revealed to her the fatuity of her dreams. Now she was in search of the old hopes that she had once revelled in, while she gathered armloads of columbines, and imagined they were for Philip.
Dismounting eagerly at the foot of the little hill, she plunged through the brush, and halted at the margin of the glade, stricken with the keenest disappointment. The columbines were gone; only a brave, pale blossom here and there lingered pathetically in a waste of dried and drooping stems. She stood staring at them a moment; then, with a cry, she threw herself down among them, and gave herself up to grief, letting the tears come in what flood they would, while her hand clutched one poor survivor of the summer glory.
Gone, then, like the summer, were all those dreams. And very soon must come the end of all. Barely two weeks remained to her in the Park,—barely two weeks in which the miracle that she awaited could be wrought. What miracle could move him when her love had failed? And yet—Once, in her desperation, she suggested to Claire and Seth that she should remain all winter in the Park; but they rose up together against any such scheme. It was absurd, they agreed. They would be delighted to have her with them as many summers as she might wish; and they were already counting on her return to them next June. But the Park in winter was no place for a woman, unless she had been long inured to such hardships as were involved in that hibernation. Claire had remained two winters there, it was true, but Seth had vowed that she should never miss the last stage again. Marion's proposal only clinched the matter the more firmly; and it was eventually agreed that Claire should go with Marion to New York, where they would live very quietly, taking what pleasures their means would permit, until spring should bring them back to the mountains. And so, barring a miracle, she was at the end of her hopes.
Meanwhile, she had heard from Robert. He was nearly wild, he wrote. The big deal was going slowly—not badly, but with maddening delays. He was tempted to "chuck the whole business," though it meant thousands, perhaps half a million. Yet how could he do that? He was working for her; and if he left Denver the deal would certainly fall through. But there was yet time; any day the stubborn partner might yield; and so on. Poor Robert! thought Marion. She imagined what Philip would have done if he had wanted her as Robert did. Would any deal, any prospect of millions, have kept him away from her? So she reasoned, forgetting entirely the other side of the case. Haig, if she could have asked him, would have told her: yes, that's all very well, but the man would have to get those thousands or other thousands afterwards, just the same; a woman wants to have her cake and eat it too; and so much the worse for the man if he cannot dance attendance on her and make money for her at the same time!
She wrote to Robert that be must not think of leaving his business. Moreover, she would soon be in Denver, on her way back home.
In the late afternoon Haig leaned against Sunnysides' corral, smoking his pipe and gazing fixedly at the golden outlaw. The air was very still, almost too still, as if nature had paused before a sudden and violent alteration of her mood. In the bright sky, a little hard even for September, there was no cloud, except on the western horizon, where dark vapors hovered over the bald head of Thunder Mountain. The scent of the harvest in the meadows blended with the odor of burning pine that came from the ranch house, where Flick built the fire for supper. On the hill the pines were still, but the brook babbled on, and there was an incessant low twittering of birds in the cottonwoods.
Haig had now fully recovered. He had taken to his horse again some days before, to ride a little the first day, and more the next, each day adding something to his exercise, until he felt the blood running warmly in his veins, and his muscles tightening at his will. Then he had hardened himself with every kind of labor around the ranch. For he was impatient to remove the stigma of doubt that Sunnysides had burned into his soul. He had told Marion that she was incapable of understanding why he must conquer Sunnysides. He was not sure that he understood it himself. But he knew that he must. Ever since that day when he had fled into the world he had fought to be master of himself; and his way of being master of himself was to be master of every man and every animal and every obstacle that appeared across his path,—that irresponsible, uncharted path that had neither beginning nor end, that led he knew not where nor cared. Every moment was a moment to itself, and every day was its own if he had done what he had set out to do. His one purpose in life was not to be beaten, never to fail, though he should throw away to-morrow what he had won to-day. So it was that to conquer Sunnysides was for the moment the one thing that counted, and he would have no rest until it was done.
Twilight settled down upon the valley. Haig's pipe went out, and still he stood gazing at Sunnysides. In the dusk the horse glowed like a living jewel that holds the light when the sun has gone. Night fell, and the golden hide became a shimmer in the dark, as the outlaw moved restlessly to and fro in his prison. Then, of a sudden, with the unexpectedness and unreason of a dog's wolf-howl at the rising moon, there rose from the gloom of the corral a shrill, wild neigh that shattered the peaceful silence of the night.
Haig left the fence, and walked swiftly to the barn.
"Farrish!" he said shortly. "We'll break Sunnysides to-morrow. Tell Pete and Curly not to ride away in the morning. The cattle can wait."
THE CHALLENGE OF THE BRUTE
There had been yellow, mellow weather for weeks on weeks, but this day dawned hard and cold. Some projected rancor of the winter was in the air. Westward the peaks were blanketed with thick gray clouds, while eastward a sullen redness showed where the sun strove to rise on an angry world. The wind was the kind that scrapes raw the nerves, buffeting man and beast with cross-currents and unexpected blasts, howling and shrieking around chimneys and gables, covering everything with dust and sand.
Haig awoke to hear the wind tearing at the shutters and the roof, the pines on the hillside thundering like surf, the hills reverberating with the maddest trumpetings. He lay a moment listening; his pulse quickened, at the sound of all that tumult; and he leaped from his bed calling loudly for Slim Jim. It was a day for battle. The very elements were up and at it, as if all nature had enlisted in the struggle between man and brute.
For all his eagerness, he ate his breakfast leisurely, resolved to make no such error as he had made before. There should be no mad haste and no anger; no working on an empty stomach, on nerves drawn taut. Bacon and eggs and buckwheat cakes, with coffee and a single pipe, occupied an hour or more; and then, feeling fit for anything, he set out for the corrals.
He did not scruple this time to take every precaution known to the experts of the corrals. Bill was mounted on the wisest horse in the stables, with a lariat ready against the event of Sunnysides trying the fence again. Then Haig directed Farrish, Curly, and Pete to rope and saddle the outlaw, saving himself for the supreme struggle. But to their astonishment there was none of the difficulties in the preliminaries that they encountered on the previous occasion; only two or three vicious movements, no more.
"Foxy, ain't you?" said Farrish to the outlaw, when the saddle was on. "Savin' yourself, are you, you yellow devil?"
The horse was led as before into the larger corral. He stepped nimbly, obediently, as if resistance were the farthest thing from his thoughts, even when Haig, his arch-enemy, walked up to him, grasped the bridle, and looked steadily into his eyes. For a moment all stood still, as the challenge passed between man and brute. Then Haig tested the cinches of the saddle, looked carefully around him, and disposed the men with a final word to each.
"Now then! Off with it!"
Farrish removed the last rope, and then only the bridle rein in Haig's hand, and the fence yonder, stoutly repaired since the last battle, remained between Sunnysides and the sandhills of the San Luis. True, only a fence and a guard had held him all these weeks of his captivity, but that fence had been built up, on his arrival, two planks higher than the one in which he now found himself again, and from which he had all but escaped at the first opportunity.
Haig put his feet cautiously into the stirrup, and sprang into the saddle. He was prepared for a repetition of the trick that had almost cost him his life, and ready to swing himself out of the saddle if Sunnysides should go over backward again. But the horse was indeed "foxy"; one would have said that he knew his man, and would waste no time or energy on manoeuvers that his enemy had discounted. For some seconds he stood quite motionless, while Haig settled firmly in his seat, and gripped the bridle rein expectantly. At length the horse lifted and turned his head, and looked, as it appeared, toward the western mountains, half hidden in the gray swirl of clouds.
"Yes, over there's the San Luis," muttered Haig. "But it's a long way, and you're not going."
Farrish grinned. But Pete stood like a wooden Indian, so still and intent was he, with his black eyes fixed on the outlaw. Curly loosened the coils of the lariat in his hands. In a corner of the corral Bill, mounted and watchful, held his rope ready for a throw.
Still Sunnysides did not move. But his tail swished with the slow and menacing movement of a tiger's, and there was just a quiver of muscles under his golden hide.
"Watch out!" called Pete.
And then it came. The horse bounded into the air, and came down stiff-legged, with a jolt that Haig felt in every bone. Then he leaped sideways half a dozen feet, and Haig was flung far over, hanging perilously in the saddle. With almost one motion the horse was in the air again, to come down with the same frightful, jarring shock. Instantly thereupon he lunged forward, stopped short, ducked his head, and narrowly missed hurling Haig like a stone from a catapult.
All these tactics were repeated with variations; and then, of a sudden, as if he thought Haig had forgotten his experience by this time, he reared, and with the same lightning swiftness as before, went over backward on the ground. But Haig was too quick for him. He swung himself to one side, released his right foot from the stirrup, and rolled away from beneath the horse as they came down with a crash. At the same instant Pete and Curly rushed in, and the horse leaped to his feet only to be brought down again with two ropes on his legs.
Haig, dusty but uninjured, was on his feet in a jiffy, and leaning over the thwarted outlaw.
"You didn't really think you could do it again, did you?" he said.
"But he's a hellyun, though, ain't he!" ejaculated Curly, bracing himself on his rope.
The horse was allowed to rise; Haig climbed cautiously into the saddle once more; and the same tense silence as the first ensued, while Sunnysides waited, as if for inspiration.
Then it was on as before, but with accentuated fury. The horse, for his opening demonstration, bucked with his back curved like a steel bow. Haig was almost propelled into the air, but hung on desperately; and as the outlaw came down on stiffened legs Haig jabbed the spurs viciously into his flanks. For Sunnysides had been too calculating in his measures; it was desirable to stir him up, to anger him, to torment him until he should wear himself out with his furious struggles.
The spurs did it. In an instant Sunnysides was a demon. All that he had done was like the antics of a colt compared with what followed. No eye in the corral could follow and record all his movements. He was in every part of the enclosure at once, it seemed. There were instants, too, when he appeared to have disassociated himself from the earth, and to have taken to the air as his element. And then the earth rang again with the clatter of his hoofs; his four legs became a hundred, and then were four again, pounding like piledrivers, like steel drills. He flung himself against the fence until it swayed and creaked, and Haig's legs were bruised by the violent contact. Clouds of dust rose and hung above the enclosure, and settled on the outlaw's wet shoulders, on Haig's sweating face, in his eyes and nostrils, and in his throat until he was fairly choking. But though half-blinded, dizzy, and aching in all his body, Haig hung on, and dug the spurs ceaselessly into the horse's flanks.
"God! He's got him!" cried Farrish.
"Your game's up!" yelled Curly tauntingly, dancing with joy in his corner of the corral.
But the game was not up. Curly's words were barely out of his mouth when something went wrong with Haig. Just what happened none could be quite sure of, then or afterward; but in the midst of Sunnysides' plungings, there came a windmill kind of movement, rather like the whirling of a dervish, out of which the horse lunged swiftly forward, and halted violently, with his head down, and his forelegs stiff before him. It was apparently an elaboration of one of the commonest tricks of all; and if Haig could have stuck to the saddle then he probably would have won. But he was thrown. He went sprawling over the horse's lowered head, and struck the ground on his head and shoulders, and lay still.
What followed was more marvelous even than the unseating of Haig with the shout of victory already rising to his lips. There came a snort that ended in a scream; and then a flash of yellow through the dust. Bill Craven, on his horse at one side of the corral, saw it coming straight toward him, and tried to whirl his noose. Too late. The outlaw was upon him; his own pony, rearing, was caught unbalanced; and Bill himself instinctively leaned backward in the saddle. There was a terrific impact; the pony was struck squarely on the left fore-quarter; and horse and rider went down together in a heap against the fence. Then over them went the outlaw, trampling them as he leaped and clambered, taking the top plank with him as he landed outside the corral on his head and knees. In an instant he was up; in another, or the same instant, he was off, with his head down, and belly to earth, with the speed of a race-horse and the frenzy of a wild thing set free.
Haig was only slightly stunned by the fall. He heard, though he did not see, the escape of Sunnysides; and for one black moment all in the present was blotted out. But that was only the dizziness, and the reeling pain in his head; and there was the sky filled with gray-black, contending clouds; and Pete was leaning over him.
"Hurt?" asked the Indian.
He reached up one hand, and Pete helped him to his feet. Swaying a little, he looked around the corral. Farrish was on the outside, gazing down the road where Sunnysides was now almost out of sight, a mere yellow spot in a cloud of dust. Curly was jerking Craven's horse to its feet.
"What's the matter there?" called Haig.
"Bill's hurt!" answered Curly.
With Pete at his side, not yet assured that all was well with him, Haig walked unsteadily to where Bill lay against the fence.
"What is it, Craven?" he asked.
"Leg broke. My horse fell on me," Bill answered weakly. He had, besides, a gash in the left side of his head, from which the blood flowed down his face.
"Into the barn with him!" Haig ordered quietly.
They placed him on a cot, and Pete gave him a long pull at his ever-ready flask.
"I'm sorry, Bill!" said Haig, looking down at him.
"It's my own fault," replied Craven. "An' it serves me damned right for lettin' him get by me."
Haig smiled grimly, then turned to the other men with orders. He was ominously quiet; even the dullest of them, the slow-witted Curly, saw and wondered at the unusual calm that showed on his face and in his accents.
"Now then, business!" he said, with swift decision. "You'll take the sorrels, Curly, and drive to Tellurium for the doctor. Don't be afraid to drive them; I'll not be on your back for that. Pete, go to the cottage, and bring my gun. Jim knows where it is. Farrish—where's Farrish?"
He came leading two ponies from their stalls.
"What are you doing, Farrish?"
"I supposed we'd better find out where he's gone, and see if—"
"There's no doubt where he's headed for, is there?" Haig interrupted. "And who's going to stop him? No, saddle Trixy!"
"But you're not going alone?" said Farrish.
"Bill's knocked out. Curly's off as soon as he can start for Tellurium. That leaves you and Pete to look after the ranch. I may be gone some time."
"But you can't rope him alone!" protested Farrish.
"I don't expect to. There isn't a horse in the Park that could overtake him. He'll make for the San Luis, of course. I'll get help there. Now then, Farrish, you're in charge of the ranch. If anything should happen to me, Jim knows where all my papers are. That's all."
Farrish hastened to saddle Trixy, coiling a rope at the saddle horn, and strapping a slicker behind the saddle. At this moment came Pete from the cottage, bringing the revolver and cartridge belt, which Haig buckled on while Farrish led Trixy out in front of the stable.
There was a word or two more to Farrish, about the cattle and the hay, and Haig swung himself into the saddle.
"Wait!" cried Pete, running out of the stable.
He handed a flask of whisky to Haig, who took it, smiling, and thrust it into a pocket of his coat.
"Sure cure for everything, eh, Pete?"
But he reached down, and clasped Pete's hand.
"You will be cold, maybe," said the Indian simply.
"All right, men!" said Haig. "You'll take good care of Craven, of course. And you'll use your best judgment about everything, Farrish. I'm not coming back without Sunnysides."
He put spurs to the little bay mare, and dashed away. Pete and Farrish stood watching him until he had turned the point of the ridge.
"Hell!" said Farrish.
In the cottage door stood a figure in blue silks, intently gazing after the disappearing horseman.
"He catchum, allee light!" murmured Slim Jim.
SMYTHE'S LAST BUDGET
Seth had heard at the post-office that the deer were coming down unusually early from their summer haunts high in the mountains. A fine herd had been seen just above Bratner's, and Seth proposed to Marion that she should have a try at them. They would start early in the morning, stop the night at Bratner's, and be back home late the second evening. Marion reluctantly consented, and before going to bed that night she laid out woolen underwear, her stoutest riding costume, with divided skirts and knickerbockers and tan boots lacing almost to her knees. She did not want to go, but, as more than once before, she yielded to Seth's insistence rather than attempt an explanation.
That night, however, summer departed from the Park. A dry storm descended on the valley, and Marion lay awake while the wind howled around the corners of the ranch house, of which every timber seemed to be crying out in agony. She knew that high among the rocks the storm was smashing about in fury, and even in its sheltered hollow the house was hammered as if the elements were bent upon its annihilation. When each prodigious outcry had spent itself and died away there was still the moaning and fretting and troubled whimpering that reminded her of the plaints of an invalid pleading for help between paroxysms of pain. She was strangely depressed by it, unaccountably distressed, and was glad when the first faint whitening of the window curtains told her of the dawn. She arose and dressed—after a moment's hesitation—in the costume she had prepared the night before. Seth surely would not insist on the shooting trip in such weather, she thought, but it would please him to see her dressed for it. Besides, the temperature of her room reminded her that she would need warm clothes if she went out anywhere on such a day.
"Good, Marion!" cried Seth sure enough, when he saw her at the breakfast table. "Glad you're not discouraged by a little wind."
"But—you don't mean to go on a day like this?"
"The wind, and—we'll get soaking wet."
"No, it's only a wind storm, and this is the tail end of it. The sun'll be out in a couple of hours. We needn't start in a hurry. We'll leave the horses as they are—they're all ready, bundles and the rest—until we see."
Seth's optimism annoyed her, but she felt encouraged when, after breakfast, she stepped out on the veranda and met the cold and quarrelsome day. A rough blast struck her in the face; she saw a ragged drift of clouds torn by the wind; and the whole landscape seemed to have undergone a melancholy change. Dispirited beyond measure, despite the one satisfaction that the weather gave, she re-entered the house, and sank uneasily into an armchair by the fire.
But Seth's prediction was justified. Toward ten o'clock the wind ceased, and patches of blue began to show in the blanket of gray. Claire shared Marion's disinclination to go shooting on such a day (or any other kind of a day, for her part!), and they stood at the window actually deploring the blue rents in the clouds, when Marion uttered a sharp exclamation of surprise.
"Smythe!" she gasped.
"On a day like this!" cried Claire.
He had dismounted quickly, and was walking toward the house; and as he neared the steps Marion saw in his face what caused her to press her hand on her bosom to still her heart. Something had happened! And she had known it all the time—had known it even in her sleep!
Claire ran to the door and opened it.
"Well, Mr. Smythe!" she cried. "You're just in time to cheer us up. We're deep in the mulligrubs."
He entered smiling, removing his sombrero with his customary flourish. But as he advanced he shot a swift, keen look at Marion.
"Something's happened!" she repeated to herself.
But she came forward with a smile, and shook hands with Smythe, searching his face. And he was warning her again. She could have shrieked with impatience and anxiety, but she held herself, and waited.
"A terrible night, wasn't it?" said Claire, giving Smythe a chair.
"Terrific!" replied he. "You know the big pine that hung over the road just this side of Toumine's? Well, it's down, right across the road. I had to ride around it, up among the underbrush."
"I didn't sleep at all, and I'm used to winds, too," said Claire.
"It got me up at daylight," Smythe went on. "It didn't look like much of a day for riding, but I got nervous sitting around listening to my good landlady—one of the young Martins is threatened with something or other—and started out to see how the landscape had been changed. There are trees down everywhere, and—" He paused. "What are you doing this morning, Miss Gaylord?" he asked, very casually.
She had been silent, watching him.
"We were going shooting, but we've been waiting to see if the weather would change."
"Then you haven't been out?"
"Only on the veranda for a minute."
"Let's take a brisk walk, then. It'll do you good—warm you up a little."
"Yes," she said weakly.
She went to her room for her hat, and pinning it on before the mirror, started at sight of her face, which had grown very white. She was almost incapable of thought. The hatpin slipped from her cold fingers, and fell to the floor. She stared at it strangely before stooping to pick it up. How could she bear to hear what Smythe had come to tell her! But it was good of him to wait until he could tell her alone.
"Will you go too, Mrs. Huntington?" Smythe said, as Marion emerged from her room.
Claire looked at Marion, and wondered at the whiteness of her face, and the haunted look in her eyes. Nothing had been said, but she saw there was something.
"No, thank you!" she said promptly. "The house suits me this morning."
Smythe and Marion walked up the hill toward the tree where Marion had practised shooting. Until they reached it neither spoke.
"Well?" said Marion, turning suddenly on him.
"Sunnysides has got away."
"And he?" she cried.
"Thrown, but not hurt."
She stared at him a moment, dazed. Then she threw back her head, and clasped her hands on her breast.
"Oh!" she murmured. "But how you frightened me!"
Smythe looked at her silently; and presently, when she lowered her eyes, she saw that his face was very grave. But Haig was unhurt, and Sunnysides had escaped. She had prayed for just that.
"What is it?" she cried, leaning forward to clutch his arm.
He pointed to the west.
"To the San Luis?"
"The way they brought him here?"
"No. Sunnysides has taken the trail over Thunder Mountain."
Her hand fell from his arm. She swayed, as if she would collapse. Smythe grabbed her, with an arm around her waist, and led her, unresisting and dumb, to a near rock, where he seated her gently, and stood watching her. He had been too abrupt, he thought; but how else could he have told her?
She struggled bravely.
"Tell me!" she said at length.
He knew little about the event at the ranch. There had been a terrific struggle; Haig had almost conquered; then the outlaw had flung him over his head, trampled one of his men, breaking his leg, and leaped the fence to liberty.
"But—Thunder Mountain?" cried Marion.
"That's the strangest part of it," Smythe replied. "Even Haig refused at first to believe it. Nobody knows whether it was deliberate or accidental. It seems that 'Red' Davis, who works for Toumine, was taking a load of hay to Lake Cobalt. He'd stopped just beyond the junction of the main road and Haig's to fix the harness or something, when he heard a furious galloping in Haig's road. He looked—and Sunnysides must have been something worth seeing, as he came storming down on the boy, with red eyes and foaming lips, the bridle reins dangling at his knees, and the stirrups flying. 'Red' had never seen him, but he'd heard a lot, and he jumped behind the wagon as if the devil was after him. But the clatter of hoofs ceased suddenly, and the boy peered around the hay to see what had happened. There was Sunnysides, just at the junction, with his head high, snorting and sniffing, first in the direction of the wagon, and then the other way up the road. With a characteristic boyish burst of daring or deviltry, 'Red' leaped out from his shelter, and yelled. The horse leaped into the air, let out a wild neigh, and bolted up the road toward the post-office.
"'Red' watched him until he had disappeared, and then drove on. It must have been half an hour later that he heard more mad galloping behind him. He turned to look, and there came Haig, riding like all fury.
"'Have you seen a horse?' he yelled as he reined up alongside the wagon.
"'Well I just guess!' said the boy. 'Sunnysides. How did he—?'
"'How was the saddle—loose or not?' asked Haig.
"'No, it hadn't turned—if that's what—'
"'Thank you!' replied Haig, starting on.
"'Wait!' the boy shouted. 'He ain't gone that way!'
"'I say, he ain't gone that way.'
"Haig stared at him suspiciously. Was the boy trying to trick him, in emulation of his elders? He was about to ride on, disdaining to heed him, when something in the boy's honest face struck his attention.
"'Are you dreaming?' he cried.
"'No, I ain't!' retorted Davis, deeply offended.
"'Where did he go then?' demanded Haig.
"'Yander,' answered 'Red.'
"Haig was incredulous.
"'It's the truth!' protested the boy. And then he told Haig what he had seen.
"'But how in hell—' Haig began.
"Then suddenly it came to him.
"'Thunder Mountain!' he cried. Then, half to himself: 'The trail drops down from Thunder Mountain—somewhere—into the Black Lake country, and then—over the Sangre de Cristo is the San Luis. But how does he know that?'
"'He knows a lot, he does!' said 'Red.'
"Then Haig was off, flinging back 'Thank you!' at the boy. But he took the precaution to confirm 'Red's' story at the post-office. Thompson himself had seen Sunnysides, still going like the wind. Tom Banks came in a little later with news of the outlaw well up the road toward Norton's, and Haig after him. So there's no doubt the way they've gone. But it's a losing game if Sunnysides can keep up the speed he was hitting when he was last seen."
"A losing game!" She, better than anybody else in the Park, knew what that meant. She rose slowly, and looked across the Park at Thunder Mountain, now lost among the clouds. No, not quite; for through a rift she was just able to make out the timber line on the mountain's jutting shoulder. Above that she knew the bleak rocks rose sheer to the bald head that was battered by tempests, seared by lightning, swept smooth by the winds that never ceased.
So this was the message! This was what Thunder Mountain had said to her! This was the answer to her questions! Day after day she had studied it, when storms gathered on that frowning head, when vapors made a smudge there in the midst of the glittering assemblage of the peaks, and when, for a meager hour, once in a while, the summit stood clear in the sunshine, as if the tortured mountain, condemned to everlasting punishment, had been given a brief reprieve.
Now, at last, she understood. Somewhere on that evil trail was Philip. He could never cross Thunder Mountain! Sunnysides might, perhaps; but he—he had tried, and failed. Others had tried, and—died for it. But he would try again; she knew how desperately he would throw himself upon that fatal head. And then? It was the end!
But she must know. She could not stay there.
She started down the hill, running; and Smythe followed her in amazement and alarm. He did not like that last look on her face.
"Wait!" he called, in a voice that for once rang with authority.
She stopped, and let him overtake her.
"What are you doing?" he demanded.
"I'm going to Murray's—for news," she answered.
"No!" he cried. "That's madness."
"It's necessary," she rejoined. "And there's no danger."
"How do you know?"
"I met Mrs. Murray once at the post-office. She talked to me about Murray's ranch—it's in a gulch just below timber line. She asked me to come and visit her—and I'm going."
"Then I'll go with you!" retorted Smythe.
She looked at him intently, and smiled in a way that puzzled and disturbed him. But before he could make any considerable effort to analyze it, the smile had fled, and he was following Marion helplessly down the hill.
At the steps of the veranda she paused, and waited for him.
"I'll be out in a minute," she said; and left him seating himself uneasily, his perplexity plainly showing in his face.
Marion opened the door, and faltered on the threshold. Seth was there with Claire; and she must face them both.
"Mr. Smythe wants me to go for a ride with him," she said, advancing smilingly. "We can start to-morrow on the shooting trip, can't we, Cousin Seth?"
She had not often called him "Cousin Seth" of late; and he was delighted.
"Well," he said reflectively, "I'd rather planned starting to-day, but if to-morrow suits you better it's all right, Marion. Go along with your young man!"
Claire was studying her anxiously, and Marion hastened to disarm her.
"Thank you, Seth!" she said. "You see, I'm not feeling quite myself this morning—such a night I had! A short ride will be about all I'm good for. I'll feel better to-morrow."
"Well, then, dear," said Claire, "you'll not be gone long, will you?"
"Don't worry!" was the evasive reply. "Mr. Smythe will take good care of me."
On that she kissed Claire, nodded brightly to Huntington, and hurried away. Almost running in her eagerness, she led the way to the stable, where two horses stood saddled, with rifles in leather cases hanging from the saddlebows, and bundles strapped behind. Smythe started to remove the gun from Tuesday's saddle.
"No, leave it there!" commanded Marion.
"Certainly. But why?" asked Smythe.
"I don't know," she replied. "It just occurred to me."
"But the bundle? You won't need that."
"No. But yes—leave it! It's not very big."
Smythe looked at her keenly, and with a vague suspicion; but there was no confusion in her face or manner. She was, in fact, not thinking of the bundle or the gun; or if she thought of them—Such rigid instruments as words, worn blunt with usage and misuse, are quite inadequate to describe the faint and fugitive character of that thought,—the idea still in its inception, inchoate, embryo. She was going to Murray's for news of Philip Haig; and all beyond that purpose was—beyond.
Smythe was not satisfied, but he could say no more; for Marion was already mounting Tuesday, and he could only follow.
At the edge of the little wood below the ranch house Marion turned in the saddle, and saw Claire standing in the doorway. She waved her hand, and Claire waved hers in response; and then the trees came between them, as they had done a hundred times that summer. But now a lump rose in Marion's throat. Dear Claire! She had been so good to her!
They emerged from the woods, and Marion spurred Tuesday to the gallop, and Smythe came galloping behind. For some distance down the valley she made a point of keeping well ahead of him, by this means avoiding conversation, for which she was not prepared. Her eyes continually sought the dark, gaunt mass of rock that was then, little by little, breaking through the reek on Thunder Mountain. Philip would be up there soon. He had—how many hours the start of her? She checked Tuesday's gait, and let Smythe come up beside her.
"What time was it when he passed the post-office?" she asked.
"About eight o'clock."
And now it was almost noon! She spurred her pony on.
They turned the corner at Thompson's, galloping, and caught a glimpse of Mrs. Thompson in the doorway, with a look of wonder on her face. Two miles beyond they swerved without lessening their speed into a less-traveled road that presently was winding in and out among the timber, which opened at the end of another mile, and showed them Norton's ranch in its sheltered valley among the foothills. It was from Norton's, or near it, that the last word had come of Haig and Sunnysides; so there was no need to stop for confirmation of their direction. The valley narrowed to a gulch, and the forest came down on either side, and the road ahead of them was swallowed up in shade.
Here, as if at the entrance to some unknown (for she had never been past Norton's, in all her rides about the Park), her purpose required that Marion should rid herself of Smythe. Moreover, there was Claire to be thought of; and she did not want Huntington to be riding up the trail after her that night.
"Now, Mr. Smythe," she said, reining up in the first shadow of the woods, "I've something for you to do for me."
"What is it?" he asked in surprise.
"I want you to leave me now, and take a message to Mrs. Huntington."
"But I can't—leave you."
"Yes, you must."
"But you're not going on alone!"
"I'm not afraid. I've got my rifle. Besides, I'll be at Murray's before dark, and there, as you know, I shall be in good hands. But Claire will worry unless she knows where I am."
"She'll worry just the same."
"No. She knows Mrs. Murray very well."
"Good-by, Mr. Smythe!"
She reached her hand to him, and he took it reluctantly.
"It's all wrong, Miss Gaylord!" he protested. "I'm convinced that I'm acting like a fool. If anything happens to you, I'll——"
"Nothing will happen to me. Good-by!"
Smythe watched her until she was swallowed up by the woods; he looked at the pines piling up to the distant crests of the mountains, mass on mass, and solitude enfolding deeper solitude; he listened to the long, low, rolling murmur of the forest, sweet but menacing. Then, with the inward comment that he was several kinds of a blithering idiot, he turned and rode back toward the Park, evolving various interesting but futile theories to explain the fact that he, a man of undoubted intelligence, had always acted the part of the giddy fool in moments of emergency. And there was Huntington—another fool! He could foresee a pretty dialogue between them.
"THE TRAIL HELD TRUE"
The forest enveloped her, but she sheltered herself in its heart, and was glad of its soothing silence. The wind had died down to a rustling murmur in the highest foliage; through rifts in the dark-green canopy she caught glimpses of a cool blue sky; and there was a rooty sweetness in the air.
Mile by mile the road, a mere track traveled by Murray's team at long intervals, grew rougher and more difficult. Soon it had abandoned the easy grades for the gulch, and climbed steep mountain sides, in a devious course through heavy timber, dropping to tumbling rivulets, climbing again to hang on the edges of high cliffs, dodging here and there among massive, outjutting rocks. Four hours she rode thus, mounting, ever mounting, with glimpses now and then of the forests massed green-black below, and glimpses even of the Park itself, around the shoulder of a hill,—a patch of green and violet bright with sunshine. And then, when weariness had begun to weigh upon her, and as the shadows of the forest turned to glooms, she saw with a thrill of expectation that the road dipped ahead of her into a little gulch that lay hidden away in a cleft of the mountains. She must surely be near her destination now; and sure enough, she was riding presently along the bank of a roaring stream; beyond her was a small meadow of a brilliant green, and at the far edge of it a log cabin, with friendly smoke curling from the chimney.
But she was surprised and disappointed. She had expected, on reaching Murray's, to see the stark head of Thunder Mountain towering above it, near and sheer. It was nowhere visible; not even the silvery peaks, its neighbors, were to be seen; there were only forests heaped on forests to the sky line. The trail, then, must be longer than she thought; and she seemed to be no closer to him than when she had studied the bald head of the mountain through the clouds.
She was welcomed by Mrs. Murray with cordiality, but in some surprise. A stout and jovial person, whose spirits appeared not to have been lowered in the least degree by the loneliness of her surroundings, Mrs. Murray was a helpful hostess to Marion, who was now in a state of deep dejection. A little boy and his smaller sister, both very dirty but rugged and red-cheeked, played in the open space before the cabin. The week's washing was on the line, and from behind it, at the sound of a horse's hoof beats, came Mrs. Murray, staring in amazement. Wonders on wonders in that solitude, where nothing ever happened! First a runaway horse of unheard-of color, saddled and bridled, dashing past the cabin, and almost trampling the children at their play; then Philip Haig, with his set face and burning eyes, making inquiries, and asking for a bite to eat; and then——
"Well! If it ain't Miss Gaylord!" cried Mrs. Murray, as she rushed to greet her. "What in the world——"
She paused on that, recalling suddenly what she had heard at Thompson's of Marion's nursing Haig back to life, and intuitively associating her appearance there with his. Marion saw the thought reflected in the woman's honest face, and knew that after all the happenings of the summer, and the gossip that had followed, her better course was to be frank with Mrs. Murray from the start. Besides she could not wait to ask her questions by any indirection.
"Have you seen him?" she demanded eagerly.
"Yes, he was here—about noontime. The look on his face!"
She threw up her hands in a gesture that indicated the abandonment of all hope for such a man.
"Long before him. The critter almost run over my two babies, playin' there before the door. Poor dears, scared almost out o' their skins!"
"What did he say?"
"Nothin'. That is, not much. About the horse first. My man told him it ain't no use tryin' to ketch him, an' it's foolish to try to cross Thunder Mountain. Murray's been here ten years, an' ain't gone much further'n the edge of it. Storms allus drove him back. An' what's the use, when he's got wife an' childer to look after? Of course Haig——"
"What did he say then?"
"He says he c'n cross if Sunnysides can, an' if they can't they'll fight it out up there. My man asks why he didn't go 'round a safe way an' wait for Sunnysides in the San Luis, if he thinks the horse's goin' back home. Haig says he'd made up his mind to cross Thunder Mountain some time, an' now's as good a time as any. But it's——" She was checked at last by the look of anguish on Marion's face. "But you just come in. It's supper time, almost, an' you must be right hungry. Murray'll be here soon, an' he'll put up your horse."
In the cabin there was to be seen at first just one big room, with two beds at one end, a table surrounded by chairs in the middle, and a stove in the midst of kettles and pans and tubs at the other. But presently Marion noticed a kind of balcony above the beds, and she learned later that this was the "spare bedroom" in which she would be stowed away for the night.
"He was hungry too," Mrs. Murray went on, being careful, however, to confine herself to the material side of the subject. "He ate some dinner, an' then, after we give up tryin' to stop him, Murray said he'd got to take somethin' with him to eat, an' some blankets. He hadn't a thing, mind you, an' didn't want to take nothin', but he did take a good-sized strip o' bacon and some bread—I'd just did the bakin'—an' a fryin'-pan an' matches an' a knife. Murray done 'em up in a pair o' blankets, an' stuck in a leather coat with sheepskin inside, an' hung a hatchet on his saddle. He'll need 'em—if he gits across into the Black Lake country, which's worse some ways than Thunder Mountain—forest't ain't never been touched, an' bad lands, an'——"
Murray's entrance interrupted this speech, which was becoming painful to her guest, in spite of the good woman's resolution to say nothing discouraging. Murray, a bearded, rough fellow in whose face shone good nature and contentment with the living he made out of his cows and chickens and few head of stock feeding in the mountain meadows, received a whispered hint, and obediently talked of other things than Haig and the runaway. They supped on bacon and eggs, with bread and butter and milk; and an hour afterwards Marion was tucked away in a comfortable bed in that queer "spare bedroom" up against the eaves of the log cabin.
Exhaustion soon brought her sleep. But in the middle of the night she was awakened by a storm that swept high over the ranch house, scarcely touching it in its sheltered hollow, but shrieking and wailing among the rocks and pines. She sat up in her bed to listen! Thunder Mountain! Before her eyes there rose, out of the dark of the cabin, a vision of Philip prone among the rocks of that terrible summit, struck down by the wind, or felled by a thunderbolt, drenched with rain, and perishing of cold. There came, above the howling of the wind, a deafening crash of thunder that rolled away in sullen bellowing. She buried her face among the pillows to shut out the frightful sound; and at length, when the tumult had died away to recur no more, she lay weeping softly until sleep came again to her relief. She did not wake again till morning.
"How much farther up can I go?" asked Marion at breakfast.
"You don't mean——" began Mrs. Murray in alarm.
"No," replied Marion quickly. "I don't mean the top. But can't I ride near enough to see it?"
"You c'n go to timber line safe enough," said Murray.
"Yes, I've been that far, but you mustn't think o' goin' further," added the woman, still suspicious. "I'll tell you what! Murray'll go with you."
"By no means!" Marion protested. "It isn't necessary at all. I can follow trails well enough."
"I wish you'd let Murray go with you. He'll be glad to show you——"
"No. Thank you just the same, Mrs. Murray, but——"
"And you'll not try to go past timber line?"
"Don't worry about that, please! I know I could never go where men have failed. I've heard all about Thunder Mountain, and I just want to see it, near. Besides——"
She did not finish, but turned quickly away. This sign of emotion was not hidden from Mrs. Murray, and it heightened her anxiety. Lord only knew what the girl'd try to do once she got out of their sight! But where the intellectual and argumentative Smythe had failed, what could be expected of these simple mountain folk, who for all their sturdy independence were not a little awed by the superior poise and distinction of their visitor? Moreover, Marion was at this moment entirely honest in her assurance that she intended to go no farther than timber line. If the idea that lay deep in the back of her mind had grown since its inception some hours before, it was yet formless and unrecognized; if her purpose now had her firmly gripped, she was as yet unconscious of it, obeying it subconsciously, while she told herself, as she told Mrs. Murray, that she wanted only to satisfy her aching heart by doing merely all that a girl could do. To make sure that Philip had not already failed—that he had not been thrown back from the very edge of the fatal crest—that he did not now lie somewhere on the last steep slope above timber line, where she might see and save him: this was the utmost of her design in setting out that morning against the protests of her hosts.
Yielding at last, where she could avail no more, the ranchwife fixed up a simple luncheon of bread and butter and jam, which she tied in a little package at Marion's saddlebow. And then, with a final word of warning that she must stop at timber line, an' be back at the house 'fore dark, or she, Mrs. Murray, would be wild, and he, Murray, would have to go searching for her, the good woman let her go, and waved a fat farewell to her until Marion was out of sight among the trees.
Once more the forest enfolded her. Though the wagon road ended at Murray's, the trail was still for some distance plainly marked, and offered few difficulties. Even when it began to be less distinct she was not alarmed. Smythe had told her, and Murray had confirmed his description, that Thunder Mountain was not formidable as far as the foot of the final scarp. Seth had taught her something of the lore of trails, and she was confident that she would be able to find her way even if the underfoot marks should fail. There would be blazes on trees, and broken limbs and twigs, and many subtle signs that she now sought to marshal in her mind against a possible perplexity. With eyes alert, she rode slowly and resolutely on, ever higher and higher, hour after hour, most of the time through dense woods, but now and then across a rocky slope, or down into a shallow gulch, and out again. By imperceptible degrees the trail grew fainter; and once it failed her utterly, in a small open space in the woods.
For a moment she was on the very point of panic; the forest seemed to be closing in on her with sudden malignity; and the terror of Thunder Mountain held her in its cold grip. But desperation called up her courage. She walked Tuesday in an ever-widening circle around the spot where she had lost the trail, with her heart almost still, and her eyes straining at every tree as it came within her vision. Where? Where? Would there be no more blazes, no more broken limbs, no more prints of hoofs on the mossy earth? Had she left the trail farther back than she had thought? And would she wander over all the vast bosom of the mountain until she fell from the saddle, and knew no more?
It was a real peril, and one that might have had a tragic termination as easily as a happy one,—more easily, indeed, if she had lost her head. But something strong within her kept her senses keen; and suddenly she broke out in a cry of joy and triumph that went echoing down the forest aisles. There, on a patriarchal pine, though almost obliterated by time and weather, was the blaze in the bark that told her the trail ran at the base of that solid trunk. She halted Tuesday there—and faced a new difficulty: in her many circlings she had lost the general direction in which she had been riding. The trail was under her horse's hoofs; but which way should she go? There appeared to be no ascent the one way or the other, and no slope on either side.
She solved the problem by following the trail regardless of direction until she was able to discover in the black mold the fresh print of a horse's hoof—an unshod hoof this was, and the print certainly no older than yesterday. Without serious misgivings now, she rode on, and in a few minutes the trail mounted again with a sharpness sufficient to remove the last of her doubts.
Well, she was a woodsman now, and would fear no more. But she took the precaution to banish all thoughts excepting those necessary to the task in hand. The woods themselves offered countless temptations to distraction. They were alive. Grouse moved among the branches of the trees; small birds of a very silent habit fluttered across the trail; and once a deer slipped away through a dim and leafy avenue. In moist places flowers of tender hues still bloomed as if to shame the autumn browns of the underbrush. And then she emerged from the soft shades of the green woods into one of the most melancholy of mountain places, a great patch of burnt timber. For surely half an hour she rode through a veritable cemetery of pines, among multitudes of tall straight shafts from which the flames had licked the foliage and stripped the limbs, and from which the rains and snows and winds of winter had washed the charred bark until the boles stood white and ghastly, infinitely sad and still. No life was here, no flutter or call or hum of living creatures; and the silence was like a menace. She began to cast apprehensive glances around her, and was glad to the very core of her when the forest gradually greened again, and she was in the cool and friendly shade.
Yet another terrifying experience awaited her,—not terrifying in the sense of any peril to herself so much as in its vivid suggestion of peril to Philip Haig. Without warning there came a prodigious crash of thunder; very near, it seemed. The whole earth rocked and shook, she fancied, under that smashing blow, and thereupon a savage bellowing filled the vault of heaven, and the forest quivered with the reverberations. Hard on the first blow fell another; and then the strokes descended in a swift and terrible succession, until there was one continuous and deafening roar like nothing she had ever heard or imagined. By this she knew that she was now close up under the frowning battlement of Thunder Mountain; and that a storm had burst upon that shelterless and unpitied head, with a malevolent timeliness befitting its ill repute. And somewhere in the midst of that destroying fury was Philip Haig!
The blue tracery of sky was blotted out; the forest became dark as night; the tree tops heaved and thrashed about in the wind that rushed down the mountain side. On the heels of the wind came a drenching rain, and Marion took what refuge was offered close to the trunk of a huge pine, which shook and shivered as if it too had nerves that were unstrung by all this tumult.
It passed, and the sky cleared with what to her seemed extraordinary swiftness. And when she rode out again to pick up the trail, the air was indescribably fresh and exhilarating, and the sun was soon filtering through the foliage upon her pathway.
The trail grew more precipitous, its surroundings more rugged and wild. Rocks took the place of the soft, mossy soil, and the forest thinned and shrank. Where there had been monarchs in their majesty she rode now among stunted pines and dwarf oaks no higher than her head. And soon she was at timber line, where the beaten and disheartened trees grew downward, or curled along the earth like serpents, or spread out in fantastic, unnatural, and monstrous shapes.
And there at last towered the bald head of Thunder Mountain. She could not see, of course, the flat top itself. Before her rose a precipitous slope, covered with loose stones and debris, and ending in a jagged line of rock against the sky, dull gray against the blue. Thin grass grew yet some distance up the slope; and then it was bare of vegetation, bare of soil, with a wavering faint line marking where life ended and death began.
She halted near the last gnome-tree, and stared at the desolate slope and the forbidding sky line. This was the end of her journey; and she knew no more than she could have known back there in the Park. The mountain was still the sphinx, telling her nothing, though she had come to it at last after months of questioning, with one question on her lips. Where was Philip? Perhaps just yonder, just beyond that sharp-raised barrier. From that crest, no doubt, the whole expanse of the summit would be visible. And how could she go back alone, without being able to assure herself forever that she had done her best?
She studied the slope. From where she stood to the gray sky line the distance was perhaps seven hundred feet. But the trail, which she could discern faintly marked among the loose and sliding stones, traveled five or six times that distance in its zigzag course. Fascinated, her eyes followed it in and out until its dim line vanished high up in the gray-brown uniformity of the steep ascent. From this she looked up eagerly at the sky. It was a clear steel-blue; the sun shone bright on the expanse of stone; a vigorous but not violent breeze came from around the distant curve of the slope. It seemed incredible, considering all that she had heard, and all that she had imagined. The mountain, she knew, had its brief and infrequent hours of quiet, but she had pictured it as terrifying even in its calm. Now it was formidable and mysterious, and she could not forget its menace; but it was not terrible. On top, perhaps——
She urged Tuesday forward. The trail went far out to the right at an easy gradient, turned sharply, and came back to reach out as far to the left. It was more difficult than Marion had imagined, for the reason that the loose stones afforded an ill footing for the pony, which slipped and slid and stumbled, often going to his knees, and more than once barely avoiding a fall that would have sent horse and rider rolling down to be caught by the network of stunted trees. But Tuesday was sure of foot; and so, with muscles quivering under the strain, and his eyes bulging with anxiety and fear, he climbed up and up without disaster, while Marion leaned far forward in the saddle, her nerves on edge, her eyes alert, and her heart pounding wildly, as much from excitement as from its struggle with that high altitude.
How long that climb endured she never knew; the actual minutes seemed to her as hours, their total an eternity. But at last, trembling and sweating, Tuesday stood on a narrow shelf of granite, with the long slope behind, and a wall of rock ahead. While the pony rested, Marion looked to left and right for the continuation of the trail. She could not see it, but knew there should be an opening somewhere in the wall that rose sheer some twenty-five or thirty feet above her head. Slowly riding along the platform, searching for a sign, the wall at her left, and the declivity at her right, she came to a place where the barrier curved inward, and was also hollowed out at its base, so that a shallow cave (speaking loosely) was formed, where some sort of shelter might have been found from a storm. This possibility flashed into Marion's mind, for she could not forget the mountain and its ways. She dismounted to look into the cave, and at two steps started forward with a cry.
On the rocky floor was a small heap of ashes and charred ends of sticks. Kneeling quickly, she tore off a glove, and thrust her fingers into the ashes. They were warm! And near the ashes she discovered the rind of a thin slice of bacon, and a few crumbs of bread. Philip had passed Murray's soon after midday; he would have reached the cave, then, before night; and so he had slept there, and risen at dawn, and eaten his meagre breakfast, and ridden on.
She leaped to her feet, ran out and mounted her pony, and rode forward along the platform, searching for the trail.
IN THE HOLLOW OF THE STORM
Haig arrived at timber line about an hour before nightfall. On the long trail he had considered thoroughly all the chances of his case, and was prepared to undergo delays and disappointments. He knew Thunder Mountain. Even without reckoning on storms (and the vapors were at that moment settling down on the frowning battlement), it were foolhardiness, or worse, to attempt the passage of the mountain in the night. Then he remembered the shallow cave that he had noticed on his previous visit to the summit; and his plans were made.
He gathered an armful of dry sticks and shreds of bark, climbed the treacherous slope as Marion did some hours later, and settled himself in the half-shelter of the cave to await the morning. A rasher of bacon, a slice of bread, and a pipe of tobacco refreshed him; and he rolled himself in his blankets, and went to sleep. Like Marion in the "spare bedroom" far below, he was awakened in the night by the savage hammerings of the storm. The very rocks beneath him seemed to be jarred by that cannonade; the wind, howling around the cliff, threatened to drag him out of his cave; and the rain fell in torrents on the platform, almost flooding his stone bed. But he turned over in his blankets, and hoped the mountain would "keep it up" all night. Even Sunnysides would be halted by a storm like that.
He arose at the first sign of dawn, hurried through his scant and salty breakfast, quenched his thirst with rain water scooped out of depressions in the rock, and started on. Knowing the trail at this point, he rode straight out along the platform, and came in half a minute to the spot where the wall of rock was broken down into a clutter of debris, in width some forty feet. Up through this litter of disintegrated granite the trail lurched with many twists and turns, and emerged at last upon one of the lower levels of the summit.
Trixy was winded, and for a moment Haig rested her, while he surveyed the scene. And in the thrill of that moment, facing the undertaking in which he had once failed, he all but forgot Sunnysides. The wind was low, and scarcely more difficult to meet than a stiff blow in the Park; but aside from that he saw little encouraging in the prospect. Behind him, it was true, the forests and all the hills and valleys lay clear in the morning light, with just a thin mist clinging in the gulches; and around him on all sides but one the sharp peaks stood up shining white in the first rays of the sun. But in front of him gray vapors, not yet dense enough to be described as clouds, came swirling and tumbling toward him across the stone-littered surface of the flat. Unless the sun should dissipate those vapors—He shrugged his shoulders, and rode on.
Almost fourteen thousand feet above the level of the sea, the bald head of Thunder Mountain, stripped as it has been of its ennobling peak, needs only three or four hundred feet to be as high as the snow-clad summits on each side. Seen from afar, that bare head appears to be as flat and smooth as a table, but in reality its entire area, roughly circular in outline, and something more than three miles in its largest diameter, is broken up into terraces, into slopes and hillocks, into hollows and mounds, all strewn with, bowlders and loose stones, with here and there uprearing rocks of fantastic and suggestive shapes. There is no life there,—no birds, no conies or chipmunks that inhabit most high places of these mountains; no flowers, no grass, no sign of vegetation; nothing but granite. The trail runs sometimes plainly across level reaches of loose stones, sometimes over long smooth surfaces of rock, sometimes in and out among wildernesses of shattered and tumbled fragments of the mountain's blasted head. At varying intervals, particularly in its more difficult stages, it is marked by small pyramids of stones, and by crosses cut crudely in the rock. Care must be taken not to miss one of these marks; for the trail, in avoiding inaccessible heaps of granite, goes in places perilously near the edge of the summit, which falls away in more than one known precipice a thousand feet to the unknown gulch below.
The wind was cold, and Haig felt that its strength was steadily increasing, though it yet blew fitfully. He made the second level without mishap, but was brought to a momentary standstill there by the fiercer rush of wind on the higher terrace. It seemed strange, at first thought, that the wind had not blown away the vapors that now enveloped him; but he saw presently that it was not blowing across the mountain, but rather in a circular, whirlwind motion that gradually became more violent. The terrace he now crossed was as smooth as a floor, and he found his way only by means of the crosses carved in the rocks beneath his feet. Then the trail dropped suddenly into a shallow trough; mounted to another field of crumbled stones; and rose unevenly to a barrier that he remembered with a pang of chagrin. This was what at the first glance would have appeared to be a solid and insurmountable wall of rock, perhaps fifteen feet in height, and stretching away to the very edge of the plateau at his right, and to a wilderness of granite on the left. But directly ahead of him the wall was cleft, and there was a narrow pathway climbing up between two huge rocks that had been carved by the elements into shapes bearing a fanciful resemblance to human figures. These were the Twin Sisters.
Here Haig had been caught by a storm that hurled him back defeated; and he had, moreover, narrowly escaped a worse thing than mere defeat; for the wind had carried him off the trail, and almost to the brink of the chasm that yawned some hundred yards away. Now, remembering that experience, he spurred Trixy forward to take the aperture in the wall before the wind should suddenly become insupportable; and this time he was more fortunate. The pony leaped and clambered up the slippery path, and at the exit was caught by a blast that hurled and pinned her, as if she had been no heavier than a butterfly, against the base of the righthand towering figure. For some seconds neither horse nor man was able to move from that fixed position, where the wind flattened them against the rock. Then it swerved sharply, flung them against the other Sister with such force that Haig's leg was stunned and bruised, and finally released them with a shriek that sounded like a cry of disappointed rage. Trixy plunged forward with a snort, and Haig saw that the trail was again plain across another field of scattered stones.
Now, thrilled by this victory, he urged the pony onward at all possible speed toward the worst of all the perils of the mountain. The stone field was succeeded by a series of mounds and hollows, and this by a second slippery floor; and then he mounted the ridge that terminated in the Devil's Chair. Here was the highest point attained by the trail: a flat rock measuring perhaps twenty yards one way, and a little less the other, lifted high above the surrounding slopes, and having (hence its name) a huge back formed by the abrupt termination of the ridge. From the chair the rock dipped in a kind of hollow like a chute, worn smooth by the winds and rains; and everything that ever fell into that chute was swallowed by the chasm of unplumbed and unestimated depth. Sometimes the wind blew up through the chute across the Devil's Chair; sometimes it blew down through it into the chasm. It was blowing out when Parker reached the chair, and he was hurled back down, the slope three times before he acknowledged his defeat; it was blowing in when the three members of the English party were sucked down into the chasm.
Haig could have cried aloud the joy that ran through him, when, having spurred Trixy up the steep ascent to a footing on the Devil's Chair, he found that almost a perfect calm reigned there, due to some sudden shift in the currents of the air.
"Quick, Trixy! On!" he cried.
The horse bounded across the platform, slid and stumbled down the other side, and was up again, leaping forward, and a little to the left, where there was firmer going over another field of stones. And now at length, to Haig's relief, the trail bent sharply in toward the middle of the plateau, and thus away from the peril of the chasms.
But his elation was short-lived. If Thunder Mountain had admitted him between the Twin Sisters, and spared him at the Devil's Chair, it was only to hurl upon him its accumulated fury farther on. Engrossed in the endless difficulties of the trail, he had not observed the stealthy and insidious change that was taking place in the atmosphere until it had advanced far toward its climax. The un-looked for calm, so opportune, was but a pause before an outburst of elemental rage. The vapors lifted, and hung in still masses a few feet above the earth. Haig picked his way along in a strange, weird, yellowish light, in a stillness that was all the more impressive by contrast with the recent howling and hammering of the wind. There was not a faintest puff of air on his cheek, and not a sound except the click of Trixy's feet among the stones, and his own hurried breathing. All else seemed to have paused, expectant, waiting.
It did not come as storms come in the valley, or on the plain, or among the hills; not even as they come in the mountains. It did not come from north, or east, or west, or south, or from any known horizon; it had no sensible direction; it was there. Out of the portentous hush (not into it) there came first a whisper, something low and malevolent; then a singular moaning sound, incomparably dismal and hollow and pervasive. Haig moved his head from side to side, endeavoring to trace it—before, behind, above—he knew not where. The moaning murmur grew, and still there was no perceptible movement in the air; it rose whining up, up, up the scale until at last it was a shrill, demoniacal shriek. And then, out of the darkening mists, it leaped upon him.
In this whirling, wicked, wondrous thing there was no orderly and recognizable succession of phenomena, such as wind and lightning and rain. These came all in one swoop, all in one frightful blend. It was black, and it was bright. The lightning came not from the sky, discharging its bolts to earth; it was on the very surface of the plateau. It flamed and crackled on uplifted rocks; it ran hissing like fiery serpents among the scattered stones; it buzzed and exploded in the very face of Haig, and under the pony's belly. If he had been caught in a burning storehouse of fireworks—rockets, Roman candles, pinwheels, and all the ingenious products of the pyrotechnician—the experience might have been like this, only a thousand times less terrifying. He dodged and ducked, and threw up his hands to shield his face, expecting instantly that one of those exploding things would make an end of him.
Then there were other horrors to be endured. The din became incessant. Simultaneous with the hiss and crackle and crack of the lightning there was a continuous deafening detonation in the air above him, crash on crash and roar on roar. The terrors of the first few seconds had been chiefly those felt and heard. But the wind had steadily increased in violence. It did not blow against him, bowling him over, but whirled around him with a speed that was every instant accelerated. He felt that he had no weight. He seemed about to be lifted into the vortex of the storm, to be flung far out into space.
"Down, girl! Down!" he tried to shout.
But there was no sound from his lips. He felt the pony stiffening under him, bracing herself stiff-legged on the stones; and he knew that she shared his fear. And all this time the rain beat down upon him, in lead-like sheets, with intermittent bombardments of hailstones. It occurred to him to wonder dully which would win—the wind that sought to whirl him up into the sky, or the rain that was for beating him to earth, or the lightning that would burn him to cinders. Then thought left him, and his last impression was of being torn limb from limb, and atom from atom, in excruciating pain.
He was roused at length to the consciousness of having been lifted and hurled; and found himself prostrate on the ground, face downward, with the rain flooding him. Trixy lay at his side, flat like himself, her head stretched out among the stones. They seemed to lie in a vacuum, in the very hollow of the storm. Around them the clatter, the clang and the uproar were even more terrifying than before because they were now separated from these noises, no longer a part of them. All was blackness, shot through with fire. Haig was no more tortured in his body, except for the sense of being suffocated. He seemed to inhale raw ozone; the air fairly stank with the odors of decomposition; the saliva in his mouth had a peculiar pungent and disagreeable taste. He gasped and fought for breath.
Such reason as was left to him told him that this was the end of all. At any instant something would flash out of that wall of blackness, and destroy him with a blow. His spirit rose exultantly to meet and welcome it; he rejoiced in such a death, slain by the elements, on the roof of the world, alone, unseen; it was a glorious exit, the finish he had sought for years on years, his heart's desire. Triumphant and defiant, he tried to roar back at the thunder, to outscream the wind, to face the lightning with undimmed eyes.
There came a blinding flash, exceeding in brightness anything he had yet experienced. But with it, to his amazement, there emerged from the blackness a vision that brought life back to him with a shocking thrill. For there, not ten paces distant, was Sunnysides. Only for an instant; and then all was again obscure. He must have been mistaken. It was only a figment of fancy, a creation of his tortured brain, a phenomenon associated with his passing from life to death. And yet he waited, staring into the smothering void.
Another flash of fire across the black—and Sunnysides! But now the lightning, as if directed by some intelligence, became again continuous, its flashes joined in one spouting flame. And in the very midst of it stood the outlaw in his familiar attitude, with one forefoot slightly raised, his head high, his nostrils distended, his dark eyes filled with fire. There had never been anything so bright and beautiful. His golden hide gleamed with planetary splendor, like the mythical horses of the sun. This was The Horse, the golden epiphany of the brute, the answer to all of Haig's fears and resolutions. And in the very hour of his exit—
Rage rose again within him. Instinctively, for he was scarce capable of thought, he tried to reach his revolver. But his arms were leaden. His fingers touched the butt of the weapon, and stopped as if paralyzed. The horse wavered and danced before his eyes; there was a culminating detonation; he felt a terrific blow on his head. And he knew no more.
THE NARROW PASSAGE
Light came with unutterable mystery. Yet Haig lay for a moment waiting, mistrustful of the peace that encompassed him. Then he cautiously raised his head, and looked. Trixy stood near him, panting and wild-eyed. The whole surface of the plateau was glistening wet; a cold breeze poured over him, without violence; and the sky above him was as innocent and bright as a baby's smile.
Where, then, was the storm? He moved his head painfully, and searched the horizon; and yonder, around the icy parapets of Silver Tip, with roll on roll of reverberations in its wake, the black storm was in full flight. His eyes followed it with a curious and exaggerated interest; for he had seen its birth, and tested its power, and it had given him a new experience.
Presently he tried to rise, and found that his limbs were numb. His right arm ached to the tips of his fingers. His head swam, and he had difficulty in arranging his impressions in any sort of orderly succession, especially those in which Sunnysides participated.
"I wonder how much of it really happened!" he mused.
Unexpectedly his eyes lighted on his revolver, where it lay among the stones at his side. Ah! It had burned his fingers. He picked it up, and examined it curiously. But none of the cartridges had been exploded. The gun, then, had been knocked out of his hand before he could lift and aim it; and the storm had taunted him with Sunnysides, and cheated him. No matter! The game was not yet up.
He struggled to his feet, and stretched himself, and pounded his chest, which ached from his heavy breathing. Then his eyes sought the trail ahead, scanning the level spaces and the heaped-up masses of granite; and an instant later a cry escaped his lips. For there, perhaps half a mile away, and mounting rapidly a gray ridge of rock, his body outlined against the blue sky, was Sunnysides. It had been no vision, then, no figment of his tortured brain. But where had the horse been all this time, to have been caught in the same storm with his pursuer, despite his half-hour start, his greater speed, and the night that came between them? True, there had been a storm in the night; that might have delayed, but it should not have kept him. True, too, he might have lost the trail, and wandered over the plateau; but Haig could not have missed him, if he had been anywhere in sight before the storm revealed him. No, nothing could explain it; and there remained only one hypothesis, which was untenable, preposterous and mad. And yet it fascinated and held him. He had once said jocularly that Sunnysides was not a real horse at all; that he was a demon—a spirit. Well, it was a real horse, right enough, that had crushed him, and thrown him again, and broken Bill Craven's leg, and fled; and that was a real horse yonder, outlined against the sky. If some devilish instinct in the brute, or some agent of Destiny, or mere fling of chance had held him on the plateau to tantalize and lead on his pursuer—
"Dreaming again!" Haig muttered, with a wry smile, and yet with a vague uneasiness that he could not put down.
But in another instant he had leaped to his horse, tested the cinches with trembling fingers, climbed stiffly into the saddle, and dug the spurs into Trixy's flanks. When he looked again toward the ridge, the outlaw had disappeared; but there was no ignis-fatuus trick in that; and the horse would be seen again when Haig too had topped the rise. For the trail was now leading him in a relatively straight line toward the exact spot where Sunnysides had vanished; and more assuring than all else, a very material and comforting proof that this was a real horse he followed, was the discovery he made halfway up the slope. There, among the stones, lay the outlaw's saddle. Clearly the runaway had only just now been able to shake it off, and its condition, bruised and cut and dirty, showed that Sunnysides had been put to some trouble to be rid of it, having doubtless rolled over and over on it in his efforts to be free. And there, too, was a plausible explanation of the fact that Sunnysides was not now far on the trail.
From the top of the ridge, Haig saw the outlaw picking his way through a wilderness of rocks that had the grewsome aspect of a cemetery—the graveyard of the gods. Following through this depressing scene, he lost sight of Sunnysides, and on emerging upon another floor-like expanse of solid stone he received a surprise that caused him to rein up Trixy with a jerk. The quarry was nowhere in sight, though Haig's position gave him a sweeping view of the flat ahead of him, even to the edge of the summit, now scarcely three quarters of a mile away. There was no possibility that the horse could have traversed that distance in the time Haig was passing through the "cemetery;" neither was there any place on that part of the plateau where it could be concealed.
The trail itself solved the mystery. It did not lead straight on, as Haig had imagined; and he experienced some difficulty in finding it on the smooth floor, from which the elements had all but obliterated the crosses made by the pioneers. Then his astonishment was great to find that it turned at a sharp angle to the left, dropped sheer over the edge of the flat rock, coiled down a slope littered with debris to another field of loose stones, and in a quarter of a mile brought up at the brink of a cliff. Sunnysides, then, had crossed the summit, and was descending to whatever lay below.
In ten minutes Haig himself was at the margin of the chasm; for little wider than a chasm was that deep and narrow gulch, far up the side of Thunder Mountain, into which he now looked in wonderment and perplexity. A thousand feet or more below him lay a tiny patch of meadow of a brilliant green, with a thread of water sparkling through it, and on all sides, excepting that nearest him, black forests encompassed it, and mounted dense to the timber line save where, at his right, the stream ran down through its gorge. There, evidently, would go the trail also, dropping into the Black Lake country, of evil reputation.
But where now was the trail? He dismounted, and leaned over the edge of the precipice; and there he discovered that he had missed the exact point of departure by some fifteen yards, and that at this distance to his left there was a break in the sharp brink, where the trail fell off precipitately to a heap of broken stone and sand. The cliff had been shattered in some convulsion of nature, or loosened and disintegrated by the elements, and enormous masses of it had fallen into the gulch. These masses appeared to be in a state of instability, and it was not clear to Haig, from where he lay, how a trail could ever have been picked out among those jutting rocks and slides of debris, or how, once found, it could have remained intact on that shifting foundation. Was it possible that any living thing had ever made its way down (much less up) that steep and treacherous rubble heap?
He was studying it incredulously, when Sunnysides suddenly resolved all doubts. From behind a projecting rock the horse came out on one of the many rough ledges that had been formed by lateral cleavage of the cliff in its fall. Hesitating a moment there, he plunged down a short declivity, and landed sprawling on another shelf perhaps twenty feet lower down, and somewhat to the right of the first, where he once more vanished from Haig's sight.
"All right!" cried Haig. "If you can do that we can. Eh, Trixy?"
He mounted quickly, urged the reluctant mare to the break in the edge of the cliff, and forced her over. For some thirty feet the trail went down the face of the precipice, much like a fire escape on the wall of a tenement house, barely wide enough to accommodate horse and rider,—so narrow, indeed, that Haig's left leg was scraped and bruised by hard contact with the stone. At the bottom of this incline, his amazement was great at finding a solid platform of rock, on which, he was able easily to turn and go down another incline underneath the first. Plainly all this was not the result of accident; the hands of men had been busy here; and picks and shovels had supplemented the work of nature. But below the next platform there certainly had been a secondary slide of rock, for the trail was nowhere discernible, though it should evidently have slipped down, at a greater angle from the cliff than before, to a third turning point on a shelf some forty feet away to the left. Here the debris was loose and fine, and with a little urging Trixy was induced to take the descent, carrying quantities of sand and stones with her as she slid and sprawled safely to the next goal.
Thus they went, sometimes finding the trail plain over solid rock and hard-packed debris, sometimes slipping and scrambling among stones and sand, but always drawing nearer and nearer in a zigzag course, now easy and then difficult, to the green vale below. There were moments when Trixy was on her knees, moments when she was on her haunches, moments when she stood swaying above the pit, and moments when all traces of the trail had vanished. But somewhere below was Sunnysides.
Far down the declivity, so near the valley that Haig was able to look across into the tops of the tallest pines, they came to what appeared to be the last of the rocky ledges. Having for some minutes seen nothing of the outlaw, Haig supposed that the runaway had already reached the meadow, and was by now on the trail through the forest. But just as Trixy's shod hoofs struck the platform with a clatter, Haig caught sight of Sunnysides far out on the narrow shelf. He was trotting briskly along, for the shelf was smooth and level. But, on a sudden he stopped, stood a moment with his head thrust forward and down, and then turned cautiously around, his four feet bunched together on the narrow footing.