Infomotions, Inc.The Valiant Runaways / Atherton, Gertrude Franklin Horn, 1857-1948



Author: Atherton, Gertrude Franklin Horn, 1857-1948
Title: The Valiant Runaways
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): roldan; adan; padre flores; priest; don tiburcio; asked roldan
Contributor(s): Streatfeild, R. A. (Richard Alexander), 1866-1919 [Contributor]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 48,156 words (really short) Grade range: 7-9 (grade school) Readability score: 71 (easy)
Identifier: etext3706
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Title: THE VALIANT RUNAWAYS

Author: GERTRUDE ATHERTON

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The Valiant
Runaways

By

GERTRUDE
ATHERTON



TO

GEORGE AND GILBERT JONES

Of New York


WITHOUT WHOSE ENCOURAGEMENT THIS YARN WOULD
NEVER HAVE BEEN FINISHED



The Valiant Runaways



I

Roldan Castanada walked excitedly up and down the verandah of his
father's house, his thumbs thrust into the red silk sash that was
knotted about his waist, his cambric shirt open at the throat as if
pulled impatiently apart; the soft grey sombrero on the back of his
curly head making a wide frame for his dark, flushed, scowling face.

There was nothing in the surroundings to indicate the cause of his
disturbance. The great adobe house, its white sides and red tiles
glaring in the bright December sun, would have been as silent as a tomb
but for the rapid tramping of Roldan and the clank of his silver spurs
on the pavement. On all sides the vast Rancho Los Palos Verdes cleft the
horizon: Don Mateo Castanada was one of the wealthiest grandees in the
Californias, and his sons could gallop all day without crossing the
boundary line of their future possessions. The rancho was as level as
mid-ocean in a calm; here and there a wood or river broke the sweep;
thousands of cattle grazed. Now and again a mounted vaquero, clad in
small-clothes vivified with silver trimmings, dashed amongst tossing
horns, shouting and warning.

But Roldan saw none of these things. There was reason for his disquiet.
News had arrived an hour before which had thrown his young mind into
confusion: the soldiers were out for conscripts, and would in all
probability arrive at the Rancho Los Palos Verdes that evening or the
following morning. Roldan, like all the Californian youth, looked
forward to the conscription with apprehension and disgust. Not that he
was a coward. He could throw a bull as fearlessly as his elder brothers;
he had ridden alone at night the length of the rancho in search of a pet
colt that had strayed; and he had once defended the women of the family
single handed against a half dozen savages until reinforcements had
arrived. Moreover, the stories of American warfare which he had managed
to read, despite the prohibition of the priests, had stirred his soul
and fired his blood. But army life in California! It meant languishing
in barracks, hoping for a flash in the pan between two rival houses, or
a possible revolt against a governor. If the Americans should come with
intent to conquer! Roldan ground his teeth and stamped his foot. Then,
indeed, he could not get to the battlefield fast enough. But the United
States would never defy Mexico. They were clever enough for that. His
anger left him, and he gave a little regretful sigh. Not only would he
like that kind of a battle, but it would be great fun to know some
American boys. Then he shook his head impatiently and dismissed these
tourist thoughts. The present alone was to be considered.

There were two ways to avoid conscription. One was to marry--Roldan
sniffed audibly; the other lay in flight and eluding the men until their
round was over for the year.

Roldan did not like the idea of running away from anything; he and
several of his father's vaqueros had once made an assault upon a band of
cattle thieves and hunted them into the mountains: that was much more to
his taste. Nevertheless there was one thing he liked less than showing
his heels, and that was giving up his liberty. Not to gallop at will
over the rancho, or sleep in a hammock, to coliar the bulls and shout
with the vaqueros at rodeo, to be the first at the games and the races,
to wear his silken clothes and lace ruffles, and eat the delightful
dishes his mother's cooks prepared! And then he was a very high-spirited
young gentleman. Although the same obedience, almost reverence, was
exacted of him by his parents that was a part of the household religion
in California, yet as the youngest child, who had been delicate during
his first five years, he had managed to get very badly spoiled. He did
not relish the idea of leading a life of monotony and discipline, of
performing hourly duties which did not suit his taste, above all of
being ordered to leave his father's house as if he were a mere Indian.
No, he decided, he would not go into the army--not this year nor any
other year. He would defy the governor and all his men.

When Roldan made up his mind he acted promptly. No time was to be lost
in this case. Now was the hour of siesta; he could have no better time
to get away. A note would relieve his parents of a certain amount of
anxiety; and if they did not know where he was they could not be held
accountable. His blood tingled at the presentiment of the adventures he
should have in that perilous journey through a country of which he knew
nothing beyond his father's and the adjoining rancho. And as adventures
would be but half spiced if experienced alone, he determined--and not
from selfish motives only--to save his best beloved friend, Adan Pardo,
from the grasp of the law likewise.

He went within and slung about himself two pistols and a dagger. After
he had made a small bundle of linen and raided the pantry, he went out
to the corral, saddled his horse and packed the saddle bags, wound his
lariat securely about the pommel, then galloped away on a series of
adventures memorable in the annals of California.

II

Roldan's way lay over his father's leagues until two hours after
nightfall. As he passed, every now and again, a herd of cattle, lounging
vaqueros called to him: "Ay, Don Roldan, where do you go?" or, "The
little senor chooses a hot day for his ride." But he excited no
curiosity. Like all Californians he half lived in the saddle; and he was
often seen riding in the direction of Don Esteban Pardo's rancho, to
spend a few days with his chosen friend.

As he approached the house he saw the family sitting on the long
verandah: the pretty black-eyed girls in full white gowns, their dark
hair flowing to the floor, or braided loosely; Don Esteban, a silk
handkerchief knotted about his head, reclining in a long chair beside
his wife, a stout woman, coffee-coloured with age, attired in a dark
silk gown flowered with roses. Indian servants came and went with
cooling drinks. Although it was December, Winter had loitered and fallen
into deeper sleep than usual on her journey South this year.

Adan was leaning against a pillar, moody and bored. He was the youngest
of the boys. His brothers, elegant caballeros, who spent most of their
time in the capital or on other ranches, were kind to their younger
brother, but not companionable. Therefore, when Roldan galloped into
sight, he gave a shout of joy and ran down the road. Roldan drew rein
some distance from the house, that the conference, which must take place
immediately, might be unheard by older ears.

"Listen, my friend," he said rapidly, interrupting Adan's voluble
hospitality. "The soldiers are out for conscripts--"

"Ay, yi!--"

"Now listen, and don't talk until I am done. I WILL NOT be drafted as if
I had no will of my own, and rot in a barrack while others enjoy life.
Neither will you if you have the spirit of a Pardo and are worthy to be
the friend of Roldan Castanada. So--I fly. Do you understand?--and you
go with me. We will dodge these servants of a tyrant government the
length and breadth of the Californias. When the danger is over for this
year we will return--not before. Now, you will ask me to go to my room
as soon as possible after you have given me some supper, for I am tired
and want sleep. You also will take a nap. When all is quiet I shall call
you and we will start."

Adan had listened to this harangue with bulging eyes and tongue rolling
over his teeth. But Roldan never failed to carry the day. He was a born
leader. Adan's was the will that bent; but his talent for good
comradeship and his quiet self-respect saved him from servility.

In appearance he was in sharp contrast to the slender Roldan, of the
classic features and fiery eyes. Short, roly-poly, with a broad, good-
natured face, his attire was also unmarked by the extreme elegance which
always characterised Roldan. In summer he wore calico small-clothes, in
winter unmatched articles of velvet or cloth, and an old sombrero
without silver.

"Ay! yi!" he gasped. "Ay, Roldan! Holy Mary! But you are right. You
always are. And so clever! I will go. Sure, sure. Come now, or they will
think we conspire."

Roldan dismounted, and was warmly greeted by the family. The girls rose
and courtesied, blushing with the coquetry of their race. Roldan cared
little for girls at any time, and to-night was doubly abstracted, his
ear straining at every distant hoof-beat. He retired as early as he
politely could, but not to sleep. Indeed, he became so nervous that he
could not wait until the family slept.

"Better to brave them, Adan," he said to his more phlegmatic friend,
"than that sergeant, should he get here before we leave. Come, come, let
us go."

They dropped out of the window and stole to the corral where the riding
horses were kept. It was surrounded by a high wall, and the gate was
barred with iron; but they managed to remove the bars without noise,
saddled fresh horses and led them forth and onward for a half mile, then
mounted and were off like the wind.

They knew the country down the coast on the beaten road, but they dared
not follow this, and struck inland. The air was now of an agreeable
warmth; the full moon was so low and brilliant that Roldan called out he
could count the bristling hairs on a coyote's back.

In less than two hours they were climbing a mountain trail leading
through a dense redwood forest. In these depths the moon's rays were
scattered into mere flecks dropping here and there through the thick
interlacing boughs of the giant trees. Those boughs were a hundred feet
and more above their heads. About them was a dense underforest of young
redwoods, pines, and great ferns; and swarming over all luxuriant and
poisonous creepers.

They were silent for a time. The redwood forests are very quiet and
awesome. At night one hears but the rush of the mountain torrent, the
cry of a panther or a coyote, the low sigh of wind in the treetops.

"Ay, Roldan," exclaimed Adan, suddenly. "Think did we meet a bear?"

"We probably shall," said Roldan, coolly. "These forests have many
'grizzlies,' as the Americans call them."

"But what should we do, Roldan?"

"Why, kill him, surely."

"Have you ever seen one?"

"Never."

"But it is said that they are very large, my friend, larger than you or
I."

"Perhaps. Keep quiet. I like to hear the forest talk."

"What strange fancies you have, Roldan. A forest cannot talk."

"Oh--hush."

"Ay, yi, Roldan! Roldan!"

The horses were standing upright, neighing pitifully. Adan gave a hoarse
gurgle and crossed himself.

"The adventures have begun," said Roldan.

In a great swath of moonlight on a ledge some yards above them, standing
on his hind legs and swinging his forepaws goodnaturedly, was an immense
grey bear. Suddenly he extended his arms sociably, almost
affectionately.

"We cannot retreat down that steep trail," said Roldan, rapidly. "He
could follow faster and the horses would fall. To the left! in the
brush, quick!--a bear cannot run sideways on a mountain."

The boys dug their spurs into the trembling mustangs, who responded with
a snort of pain and plunged into the thicket. Only the bold skill of the
riders saved them from pitching sidewise down the steep slope, despite
the brush, for they were unshod and their knees had weakened.

But the grizzly, alas! was still master of the situation. In less than a
moment the boys saw him lumbering along above them. He evidently had
possession of a trail, more or less level.

"Dios de mi alma!" cried Adan. "If he gets ahead of us he will come down
and meet us somewhere. We shall be lost--eaten even as a cat eats a
mouse, a coyote a chicken."

"You will look well lining the dark corridors of the bear, my friend.
Your yellow jacket with those large red roses, which would make a bull
sweat, would hang like tapestry in the houses of Spain. Those hide
boots, spotted with mud, and the blood of the calf, would keep him from
wanting another meal for many a long day--"

"Ay, thou fearless one! Why, it is said that if the grizzly even raises
his paw and slaps the face every feature is crushed out of shape."

"I should not be surprised."

They plunged on, tearing their clothes on the spiked brush and the
thorns of the sweetbrier, fragrant lilac petals falling in a shower
about them, great ferns trodden and rebounding. The air was heavy with
perfume and the pungent odour of redwood and pine.

Roldan had passed Adan. Suddenly his horse stumbled and would have gone
headlong had not his expert rider pulled him back on his haunches.

"What is it? What is it?" cried Adan, who also had been obliged to pull
in abruptly, and who liked horses less when they stood on their hind
legs. "Is it the bear upon us? But, no, I hear him--above and beyond.
What are you doing, my friend?"

Roldan had dismounted and was on his hands and knees. In a half moment
he stood erect.

"We are saved," he said.

"Ay? What?"

"It is a hole, my friend--large and deep and round. Did you put any meat
in your saddle-bags?"

"Ay, a good piece."

"Raw?"

"Yes."

"Give it to me--quick. Do not unwrap it."

Adan handed over the meat, then dismounted also.

"A bear-trap?" he asked.

"Yes, a natural one. Come this way, before I unwrap the meat."

The boys forced their way to the south of the large hole, dragging the
still terrified horses, who were not disposed to respond to anything
less persuasive than the spur. Roldan approached the edge of the
excavation and shook the meat loose, flinging the paper after it. As the
smell of fresh beef pervaded the air it was greeted by a growl like
rising thunder, and almost simultaneously the huge unwieldy form of the
bear hurled itself down through the brush. The boys held their breath.
Even Roldan felt a singing in his ears. But the grizzly, without pausing
to ascertain his bearings, went down into the hole at a leap. He made
one mouthful of the meat, then appeared to realise that he was in a
trap. With a roar that made the horses rear and neigh like stricken
things, he flung himself against the sides of his prison, drew back and
leaped clumsily, tore up the earth, and galloped frantically to and fro.
But he was caught like a rat in a trap.

The boys laughed gleefully and remounted their horses, which also seemed
to appreciate the situation, for they had quieted suddenly.

"Adios! Adios!" cried Roldan, as they forced their way up to the trail
the bear had discovered. "You will make a fine skeleton; we will come
back and look at you some day."

But it was not the last they were to see of Bruin in the flesh.

III

An hour later they began to descend the mountain on the other side, and
by dawn espied a ranch house in a valley. The white walls were pink
under the first streamers of the morning. The redwoods rose like a solid
black wall on the towering mountains on every side.

"Ay!" exclaimed Roldan, drawing a deep sigh. "Sleep and a hot breakfast.
They will be good once more."

"They will," answered Adan, who had been collapsing and digging his
knuckles into his eyes for an hour and more.

They feared that no one might be stirring, but, as they approached the
verandah, the door opened and a stout smiling Californian, dressed in
brown small-clothes, appeared.

"Who have we here?" he cried. "But you are early visitors, my young
friends."

"We are dodging the conscript," said Roldan. "You will not betray us?"

"I should think not. I'd hide my own boys, if the mountains did not do
that for me. Come in, come in. The house is yours, my sons. Burn it if
you will. Tired? Here. Go in and get into bed. The servants are not up,
but I myself will make you chocolate and a tortilla."

The boys did not awaken for eight hours. When they emerged, somewhat
shamefacedly, they found the family assembled on the verandah, drinking
their afternoon chocolate, and impatient with curiosity. There were no
girls to criticise the dilapidated garments--which the kind hostess had
mended while the boys slept; but there were two youths of fourteen and
fifteen and two young men who were lying in hammocks and smoking
cigarritos.

Roldan and Adan were made welcome at once.

"My name is Jose Maria Perez," said the host, coming forward. "This is
my wife, Dona Theresa, and these are my sons, Emilio, Jorge, Benito, and
Carlos. What shall we call you, my sons?"

"My name is Roldan Castanada of the Rancho Los Palos Verdes, and this is
my friend Adan Pardo of the Rancho Buena Vista."

"Ay! we have distinguished visitors. But you were just as welcome
before. Sit down while I go and see if the big stew I ordered is done.
Caramba! but you must be hungry."

The four lads quickly fraternised, and Roldan began at once to relate
their adventures, continuing them over the steaming dish of stew. When
he reached the point which dealt with the outwitting of the bear, Don
Emilio sprang from his hammock.

"A bear trapped?" he cried. "A grizzly? We will have a fight with a
bull. You are rested, no? As soon as you have eaten, come and show us
the way."

The boys, always ready for sport, and believing that they were beyond
the grasp of the law for the present, eagerly consented. An hour later
Don Emilio, Don Jorge, the four lads, and three vaqueros all sallied
forth to capture one poor bear. The vaqueros dragged a sled, and much
stout rope.

When they reached the trap darkness had come, but the four boys held
lighted torches over the hole--this was their part. The bear,
disheartened with his long and futile effort to escape, lay on the
uneven surface below, alternately growling and roaring. As the torches
flared above him he sprang to his feet with a vast roar, his eyes as
green and glittering as marsh lights. In a moment a lasso had flown over
his head and he was on his back. But his formidable legs were not to be
encountered rashly. Each was lassoed in turn, also his back; then his
huge lunging body was dragged up the side of the excavation and onto the
sled. There he was bound securely; then the rope about his neck was
loosened and he was fed on a hind quarter of sheep. But it placated him
little. His anger was terrific. He roared until the echoes awoke, and
strained at the rope until it seemed as if his great muscles must
conquer.

But he was powerless, and the procession started: first Roldan and
Benito with their torches; then two vaqueros dragging the sled, the
third holding the rope which encircled the bear's neck, ready to tighten
it on a second's notice. Following were Don Jorge and Don Emilio, then
the two other young torch bearers. Thus was poor Bruin carried
ignominiously out of the forest where he had been lord, to perform for
the benefit of the kind he despised. That night he rested alone in a
high walled corral, liberated by the quick knife of one of the vaqueros,
who sprang through the door just in time to save himself.

There was an angry guest on the ranch that night. The bear's lungs,
which were of the best, had little repose, and he flung himself against
the earth walls of the corral until they quivered with the impact. The
horses in the neighbouring corrals whinnied; the cows in the fields
bellowed. It was a vocal night, and few slept.

Nevertheless everybody was excited and good-natured next morning.
Immediately after breakfast they went out to the corral, and by means of
a ladder mounted the wall and stood on the broad summit. At a signal
from Don Emilio a vaquero opened the gate cautiously and drove in a
large bull, who had been carefully irritated since sunrise.

The two unamiable beasts, glad of an object to vent their spleen upon,
flew at each other. The bear, giant as he was, was ignominiously rolled
in the dust by the furious onslaught of bulk and horns. He recovered
himself with surprising alacrity, however, and rushed at the bull. The
latter, off guard for the moment, and struggling for his lost breath,
was hurled on his back. He rolled over quickly, but before he could
gather his legs under him, the bear sat himself squarely upon the heavy
flanks. The bull jerked up his head, his eyes injected, his tongue
rolling out. The bear raised one of his mighty paws and dealt him a box
on the ear. The head fell with an ugly thud on the hard floor of the
corral. The bear adjusted himself comfortably and licked his paws.

On the wall the onlookers were far more excited than the gladiators in
the arena. The Perezes sympathised with their personal property, but
Roldan and Adan felt that the bear was their menagerie, and that their
honour was at stake. Party feeling ran very high. Roldan and Benito were
twice separated by their anxious elders.

"Ay! yi!" cried Carlos. "The bull wakes."

The poor bull, in truth, despite the crushing weight on his vitals,
raised his head again, shook himself feebly, and was once more boxed
into unconsciousness. The side of his face was crushed; his body was
slowly flattening. The family encouraged him with tears and spirit.

"Ay, Ignacio, Ignacio, my poor one!" cried Don Jose. "Arouse thyself and
kill the brute. Ay! thou wert so beautiful, so elegant, thy sleek sides
like the satin of Dona Theresa--and he like a wild man that has never
washed. Where is thy pride, Ignacio? Arouse thyself!"

Thus encouraged, the bull raised his head once more. The bear gave him a
whack that snapped his spinal cord, then rose and swung himself round
the enclosure with the arrogant mien of a bloated sultan who has swept
off a troublesome head. This attitude aroused Benito to fury.

"Ay, the cheat! the assassin!" he cried. "It was not a fair fight. Our
Ignacio had no chance--"

"That is not true!" exclaimed Roldan. "He had the same chance at the
first. If you are not satisfied, Senorito Benito, then fight me."

No sooner said than done. The boys, who stood some distance from the
others, doubled their fists and rushed at each other like two fighting
cocks. They pommelled for several minutes, then locked their arms about
each other and went reeling about the wall, to the horror of the others,
who dared not approach lest they should inflame them further.

"Jump down! Jump down, you imbeciles!" cried Don Jose." Do you wish to
be food for the bear? A misstep--" The words ended in a hoarse gurgle.
Dona Theresa shrieked. Adan and Carlos sobbed. The young men turned cold
and weak. The two boys had fallen headlong into the corral.

They were sobered and fraternal in a moment. The bear stood upon his
hind legs and opened his arms invitingly. He stood in front of the gate.

"Ay! ay!" gasped Benito. "He will eat us!"

"No; he will eat the bull first; but he will hug us to death--that is,
if he gets us--which he won't. Adan!" he cried, "lower the ladder."

Benito began to cry, his terror enhanced by the babel of voices on the
wall, each of which was suggesting a different measure. On the opposite
wall and in the branches of a neighbouring tree were the Indian servants
and the vaqueros. They stared stupidly, with shaking lips.

Adan had recovered his presence of mind. With a firm hand, he lowered
the ladder. But his wit was not quick. He should have carried it along
the wall and placed it behind the boys. Instead, it descended several
yards away. The bear, who appeared to be no fool, lowered his forepaws
and trotted slowly toward the boys.

"Juan!" shouted Roldan to a vaquero. "Lasso the bull and drag him to the
west side--far from the gate."

The vaquero, alert enough under orders, swung the lasso with supple
wrist--and missed. The boys dodged the bear, who seemed in no haste, but
stalked them methodically, nevertheless. The vaquero swung again. This
time the rope caught the horns, was tightened by a quick turn, and the
carcass went thudding across the yard. The bear gave a furious howl and
plunged after. The boys scampered up the ladder. Don Jose took each by
the collar and shook them soundly. When they were released they embraced
each other.

"Ay! but I was inhospitable to fight my guest," sobbed Benito.

"Ay, my friend," said Roldan, with dignity, winking back the tears
started by various emotions. "It is I who should have had my ears boxed
by the bear for insulting my host, and bringing anguish to the house of
Perez." Then he embraced Adan, but this time mutely.

Dona Theresa had been carried to her room, where she lay prostrated with
a nervous headache; but her family and guests did ample justice to the
chickens stewed in tomatoes, the red peppers and onions, the fried rice,
tamales, and dulces which her cook had prepared in honour of the event.
Excitement and good will reigned; even Don Jose had forgiven the young
offenders, and they all talked at once, at the top of their voices, as
fast as they could rattle and with no falling inflection. Roldan and
Adan were pressed to remain at the Hacienda Perez until the search was
over, and although the former had a secret yearning for adventure he was
more than half inclined to consent.

After a brief siesta the entire male population of the hacienda retired
to the wall of the corral to pot the bear. It was agreed that each
should fire at once, and that he who missed should have no dulces for a
week.

The bear was sitting near the middle of the corral, surly but replete,
for he had eaten of the bull. Don Jose gave the signal. Twenty-two shots
were fired. The bear gave a roar which awoke the echoes of the forest,
lunged frantically on shattered legs, then fell, an ugly heap of dusty
grey hair.

As the smoke cleared and Don Jose was announcing that only two Indian
servants had missed, Benito clutched Roldan's arm suddenly.

"Look up," he said. "Do you see anything? Are not those men; soldiers?"

Roldan looked up to a ledge of the high mountain before the house. A
bend of the trail traversed a clearing. In this open were three men on
horseback, motionless for the moment.

"Adan!" shouted Roldan. He ran down the ladder.

"I cannot be sure that those are the soldiers," he called up to Don
Jose. "But I take no risks. We must go."

The others descended hastily. "My sons will have to hide too," said Don
Jose. "There is plenty of time. In a moment those men will be in the
forest again and can see nothing more for half an hour. We must do
nothing while they watch--there! they have gone."

He shouted to the vaqueros to saddle six fresh horses, and ordered the
house servants to pack the bags with food.

"There is a cave in the mountain on the other side which I defy anyone
to find," said Don Jose. "If there were a war my sons should fight, but
I need them now."

While the horses were saddling, Roldan and Adan consulted together. At
the end of a few moments the former went up to Don Jose.

"I think it would be wiser to separate," he said. "Adan and I will go
one way, your sons another. That will put them off the track; and the
cave, Carlos says, is not very large."

"As you like," said Don Jose, who was perturbed and busy. "A vaquero
will go with you for a distance and advise you."

The truth was, Roldan fancied lying inert in a cave for several days as
little as he fancied the somnolent life of a barrack, and Adan, who had
a secret preference for the cave, was too loyal to oppose him.

In ten minutes the horses were ready, affectionate good-byes said, and
Roldan and Adan, followed by many good wishes, and prayers to return,
started southeastward through a dense canon.

IV

The vaquero guided the boys rapidly through the canon. The almost
perpendicular walls, black with a dense growth of brush and scrub trees,
towered so high above them that the atmosphere was damp and the long
strip of sky was like a pale-blue banner. The trail was well worn, and
there was nothing to impede their progress. The mustangs responded to
the lifted bridle and ran at breakneck speed. They emerged at the end of
half an hour. It was an abrupt sally, and the great level plain before
them seemed a blaze of sunlight.

"Bueno," said the vaquero, halting. "Ride straight ahead. Keep to the
trail. At night you will come to a river. Before you reach it all trace
of you will be lost, because between now and there are many side trails,
and as the ground is so hard they cannot tell which you take. Cross the
river and take the trail to the left. That will bring you to the
Mission--about twenty miles farther--where the good padres will let you
rest and give you fresh horses. The senor, meanwhile, will throw the
officers off the scent. But if you are wise, you will make for the
Sierras and hide there. Adios, senor, adios, senor;" and he wheeled
about and disappeared into the darkness of the canon.

"We are like the babes in the wood," said Adan. "I feel as if we never
should find our way home again."

"We shall," said Roldan, stoutly; although he, too, felt the chill of
the immense solitude. "And we have begun well! What an adventure to
start with! I am sure we shall have more."

Adan crossed himself.

The boys rode at a long even gallop, the high chaparral closing behind
them. Every half hour they paused, and Roldan, dismounting, held his ear
to the ground. But as yet they were unpursued.

A soft wind blew over the plain, fragrant with the honeydew of the
chaparral. The sun set in a great bank of yellow cloud. Then the night
came suddenly.

A few moments later Roldan called: "Halt!" and held up his hand. "I hear
the rush of the water," he said. "We must be near the river."

"It sounds as if it was high," said Adan. "It has rained hard this
month. Suppose these horses don't swim?"

"We'll make them. Come on."

"Ay! yi!" exclaimed Adan, not many moments after.

They pulled up suddenly on the banks of the river, a body of water about
three hundred yards wide. It was swollen almost level with the high
banks. The tumultuous waters were racing as if Neptune astride them was
fleeing from angry gods. There is something unhuman in the roar of an
angry river: it has a knell in it.

Roldan and Adan looked at each other. The latter's face had paled.
Roldan contracted his lids suddenly, and when his friend met the glance
that grew between them he compressed his lips and involuntarily
straightened himself: he knew its significance.

"We must cross," said Roldan. "It would never do to spend the night on
this side. If they followed, they would never suspect us of crossing. If
we remained here, we could not hear them until they were upon us."

"Very well," said Adan.

Roldan raised his bridle. The mustang did not move forward, but cowered.
"I don't like to hurt horses," said the young don, "but he's got to go."
He clapped his spurs savagely against the animal's sides, and the next
moment the waves were lashing about him.

Adan was beside him at once, and together they breasted the rushing
waters. The mustangs were strong and made fair headway, incited by
terror and the spur. The water was very cold, but the boys scarcely felt
it. Their eyes were strained toward the opposite shore, measuring the
distance, which seemed to grow less very slowly. The stars were thick
and the moon was floating just above the chaparral, but the darkness
about them was grim, and only a narrow line of white indicated the
shore.

The horses were not able to keep a straight course. The current lashed
them about more than once, but they righted, shook the water from their
quivering nostrils, and plunged on.

The boys' glance so persistently sought their haven that they saw
nothing of what was passing about them. They were within twenty yards of
the shore. Adan, having the stronger beast, was some little distance
ahead. He did not observe it. He was registering a vow that if he
reached land in safety he would be drafted every year of his life before
he would ford another river after heavy rain.

Suddenly Roldan became conscious that the wiry little body between his
gripping knees had relaxed somewhat the tension of its muscles. Was the
poor brute collapsing? Roldan leaned over and patted his neck. It
responded for a moment, then fell back again. Roldan set his lips. As he
did so he cast about him the instinctive glance of those in peril. A
huge log was bearing down upon him like a projectile.

In a second his feet were out of his stirrups and he was crouching on
the mustang's back. The log struck the beast full in the side, tossing
Roldan as if he had been a feather. The mustang gave a hoarse neigh,
unheard above the roar of the water.

Roldan, keeping his face from the pounding waves as best he could,
struck out for the bank. But the current was too much for his slender
body, plucky as it was. He made a mighty effort and shouted,--

"Adan!"

The high clear note pierced to his companion's ear. Adan turned his
head, uttered a cry, and pulled his unwilling mustang about. But the
current was carrying the white face on the waves rapidly past.

"Lariat!" Roldan managed to scream.

Adan's faculties had been paralysed for the moment, but they responded
almost automatically to that imperious will. He unwound the lariat
rapidly from the pommel, hastily gathered the loops, then flung it with
sure hand straight at his friend. It fell about Roldan's neck. The boy
jerked it over his shoulders, then signed to Adan to proceed.

Adan once more urged his horse forward, not daring to look behind.
Roldan made no attempt to swim; he merely used his arms to keep his head
above water. There were but a few yards farther. The mustang, despite
his double load, made them, and scrambled up the bank. Adan, realising
for the first time that he was stiff with cold, scrambled off and pulled
in the rope with hands that were aching and almost numb. He heard Roldan
strike the bank, a moment later the snapping of brush. Roldan's head
rose into view, Adan gave a last despairing tug, and a moment later the
two boys lay on their backs, panting for breath.

V

"Do you want any more adventures?" asked Adan feebly, after a time.

"Not at present," said Roldan.

He raised himself stiffly. "Come," he said, "this will never do. We
shall both have rheumatism. We must have a fire at once."

Adan groaned pathetically, but got on his feet. They had found refuge in
the open; but a grove of trees was near, and in a quarter of an hour
they had piled a heap of branches and chaparral as high as an Indian
pyre, hunted up two pieces of flint, and sent sparks flying through the
dry mass.

The boys divested themselves of their dripping clothes and hung them
close to the fire, then raced up and down with what energy was left in
them to scotch the chill night air. Finally they paused breathless
before the pile, which was now roaring merrily.

"I should like to know what we are to have for supper," said Roldan.
"That Mission is twenty miles away, and I for one can't walk to it.
Climb up a tree and see if there is a light anywhere."

"Thanks, senor," said Adan, "when my clothes are dry."

"True, we must keep our skin. I have it!" He sprang on the back of the
mustang, who also had fallen upon reaching the shore but had risen to
nibble for supper, and stood on the tips of his feet. "I can see well,"
he announced. "But all the same I can see nothing. We must stay here."

He dismounted, and relieving the mustang of the heavy saddle, emptied
the bags. "The bread and sweets are soaked," he said, "not fit for a pig
to eat; but we can do something with the meat. Fetch some coals."

Adan with infinite difficulty managed to scrape a few coals apart from
the bonfire, and over this they scorched the meat. As they crouched on
the ground they looked like two little white savages, and they were
neither comfortable nor happy.

"We must keep this fire going all night," said Roldan, "or we shall be
eaten by bears, to say nothing of rattlesnakes--"

"Hist!" whispered Adan. "I hear one." Both boys sprang to their feet.

"Where?"

"Near the horse."

Roldan seized his pistol and ran in the direction indicated, keeping his
eyes on the ground. Suddenly he paused. Something just beyond the light
was growing into a series of graceful loops. A long neck slowly lifted
itself and two baleful eyes fixed upon Roldan. He raised his pistol, and
the rattler was beheaded as neatly as if it were stuffed and dismembered
with a pen knife. It shot out to full length, and the clever marksman
took it by its horny tail and dragged it to the fire.

"He didn't know that we'd have him for supper," said Adan, gleefully.
"Here, let us eat our steak and then I'll skin him."

The steak proved tough, and when it had been disposed of with many
grumblings, the rattlesnake was skinned and roasted, and proved very
delicate and edible.

"Now," said Roldan, "we must sleep." Their clothes being dry they
dressed; and after inspecting with a torch a circle of about two hundred
yards to see that there were no snake holes, they built a hasty ring of
chaparral, set fire to it that beasts and reptiles should keep their
distance, then lay down and slept. Roldan was always a light sleeper,
and with the fire on his mind awoke every few hours and gathered fresh
chaparral or roused the heavier Adan. Coyotes wailed in the distance,
and once as Roldan gathered brush he heard again the deadly rattle. But
they were not disturbed, and even the skies were kind, for although
clouds gathered, they passed.

They awoke in the morning, fresh and vigorous--but also hungry; and
there was little to eat.

"I don't think I should fancy rattlesnake for breakfast," said Roldan,
and Adan shuddered at the mere thought. They cooked a small piece of
meat, all that was left of their store, and it but whetted their
appetite.

"There's only one thing to do," said Roldan, "and that is to get to the
Mission as quickly as possible. Chocolate! Beans! possibly chicken!
Think of it. Come! Come!"

Adan scrambled to his feet and saddled the mustang. It was agreed that
they should ride him by turns, the other running at a brisk trot.

The sun was barely up when they started. A light mist lay on the
turbulent waters and puffed among the sweet-scented chaparral. Roldan
rode during the first hour, Adan running ahead, his glance darting from
right to left, but encountering eyes neither malignant nor savage.
Shortly after he mounted the horse the mist lifted and rolled back to
the ocean. They had left the chaparral some time before and now
discovered that they were in an open plain. In the distance were high
hills over which wound a white trail. Between these hills and the
travellers was a moving mass of something. Adan reined in suddenly.

"Roldan," he said, "are those horses? You have the longer sight."

Roldan made a funnel of his hand. "Surely, surely!" he cried. "What
luck! I hate walking. They are probably wild, but I never saw the
mustang I could not lasso."

"Yes, you can do the lassoing," said Adan, grimly. "My thumb nearly went
off last night, and is twice its size."

"Adan," said his friend, laying his hand on his comrade's knee. "I
haven't thanked you. I haven't mentioned it; but it is because--well--I
lay awake an hour last night trying to think of something to say--and--
and--thinking that I loved you better than my own brothers--"

"That will do, then," said Adan, gruffly. "We'll be kissing each other
in a minute as we did at the Hacienda Perez; and I think that we are
getting too big for that. I hear that American boys never kiss each
other."

"Don't they?" asked Roldan, pricking up his ears. "How I should like to
know some American boys. They must know so many things that we do not.
Who told you?"

"Antonio Scarpia has been in America, you know--in Boston. He came back
last month and rode over a few days ago for the night. I asked him many
questions. He says they never show any feeling except when they get mad,
and that they walk and row and play ball--with the feet, caramba!--and
run about in the snow. He says they would think we were like girls with
our fine clothes and our hammocks--"

"Girls!" cried Roldan, indignantly. "I'd like to see American or any
other boys do better with that bear than we did, or lasso a friend in
the midst of a boiling river as you did. And if they come here to laugh
at us they'll find one pair of fists that are not soft if they do have
lace ruffles over them. And I'd like to see them live all day on a horse
as we do."

"True, true, you are always right," said Adan, soothingly. "Ay, I think
those horses are coming this way. Better get up."

He moved back onto the anquera and Roldan sprang to his place and
unwound the lariat. Like all of its kind, it was a slender woven cord
about eighteen feet in length and made of tough strips of untanned hide.
It was an admirable weapon in skilled hands, but not to be trifled with
by the amateur. Many a careless Californian had lost a finger or thumb,
and more than one had owed it lockjaw.

The wild horses advanced rapidly for a time, but when they saw that the
brother to which curiosity had attracted them was apparently of an
eccentric build they suddenly paused and scattered. Roldan raised the
bridle and dashed in pursuit; but the others were unincumbered, fleet of
foot and terrified. They fled like the wind.

"Drop off!" commanded Roldan, reining in. "Quick! I WILL have one."

Adan slid to the ground and the mustang sprang lightly forward. Roldan
had singled out a well-built black, a little heavier than his mates and
consequently somewhat in their rear. The mustang, who had slept off his
fatigue, had no need of spur; he seemed to enter into the spirit of the
chase--possibly realised that if the chase failed he might have a double
load to carry. He dashed over the rough adobe plain, Roldan holding the
bridle high in his left hand, the coiled lasso in his right. Adan
waddled after, far in the rear. The other horses had fled to the four
winds, but the pursued, occasionally ducking his head and kicking up his
hind legs as if in contempt of the pretensions of mere man, made
straight for the hills. Being undisciplined, however, he got over the
ground clumsily, stumbled once or twice in the wide cracks of the adobe
soil, and finally stopped short for want of wind. He swung about and
glared defiantly at his pursuers out of injected eyes. He had never seen
a lasso before, possibly not a man; but his instinct told him that the
horse and rider behind him were not roving the plain in his own aimless
fashion. He stood pawing the ground and shaking his great red nostrils.
Suddenly to his surprise the part of the horse new to him lifted itself,
and a black coiling something, graceful and swift as a rattlesnake,
sprang through the air with a sharp audible rush. A quarter of a moment
later he neighed with rage and terror: his neck was in a vice.

He gave a leap that nearly dragged Roldan from his saddle; but that
expert young gentleman had secured the lariat to the high pommel of his
saddle in a trice, and Don Jose Perez's mustang had thereafter to bear
the brunt of the strain.

The wild animal pulled and tugged and tore up the ground; but finding
that he but increased his own discomfort, he gradually subsided, and
when Roldan finally turned about and rode slowly toward Adan he followed
meekly enough.

When Adan saw the procession start in his direction he sat down on a
stone to rest, and when it reached him he obeyed orders and sprang on
the mustang's back as Roldan slipped off.

"That was well done, my friend," he said approvingly. "I could see it
all; but I thought my eyes would fly out of my head."

Roldan walked cautiously up to his prize and attempted to pat it gently
on the head. But it was some moments before he was able to touch the
beast, who was sulky, cross, and frightened. When he did he swiftly
loosened the lariat, and this procured him a meed of favour. The horse
then allowed himself to be patted all down the side and back, nor once
raised his hoof.

Suddenly Roldan sprang to his back, gripping the mane with his hands,
the flanks with his knees. But this was one liberty too much. The horse
stood on his hind legs, made as if to go over backward, then suddenly
stiffened all four legs and sprang up and down as automatically as if
worked by a spring. Roldan was now in his element. He had broken in more
than one bucking horse. He remained as immovable as a fly on the top of
a coach, only giving an occasional prick with his spur to madden the
animal and wear him out the sooner.

Roldan had cast the lariat from the animal's neck as soon as he mounted,
and it was well that he had, for his quarry made a sudden dash and did
not stop for half a mile,--when he paused on his forefeet, waving his
hind in the air.

But still Roldan kept his seat, Adan shouting: "Bravo! Bravo!" by way of
encouragement.

The battle lasted nearly an hour; then the mustang confessed himself
conquered, and the boys sought out the trail, from which they had
wandered far, and continued their journey.

"Caramba!" exclaimed Roldan, "but I am famished, not to say tired. If it
had been ten miles instead of twenty, it would not have been worth
while."

VI

They rode on rapidly, too hungry to talk. The ground began to rise, and
they advanced through hills sprouting with the early green of winter.
Once they paused, and tethering the horses where they could feed, shot
several quail and roasted them. But the pangs of hunger were by no means
allayed, and when, in the early afternoon, they saw the white walls of
the Mission below them, they gave a shout of joy.

The Mission stood in the middle of a valley, well away from woods and
hills, and surrounded by a large vineyard and orchard. On the long
corridor traversing the building adjoining the church, several figures
in habit and cowl walked slowly behind the arches. Indians were in the
vineyards and orchards and moving about the rancheria adjacent to the
main buildings. Cattle were browsing on the hills. A stream tangled in
willows cut a zig-zag course across the valley.

The boys rode quickly down the hillside. As the padres heard the
approaching hoof-beats they paused in their walk, and shading their eyes
with their hands gazed earnestly at the travellers.

"Friends! Friends!" cried Roldan gaily, as the tired steeds trotted up
to the corridor. The boys dismounted and made a deep reverence. One of
the priests, a man with a grave stern face came forward.

"Who are you, my children?" he asked. "You are the sons of aristocrats,
and yet you are torn and unkempt, and one of you has ridden many leagues
without a saddle. Are you runaways? The shelter of the Mission is for
all, but we do not countenance insubordination."

Roldan introduced himself and his friend. "We are runaways, my father,"
he added, "but from the government; and we have arranged that our
parents shall not be anxious. We do not wish to be drafted."

The priest's brow relaxed. The padres had little respect for a system
that owed its existence mainly to the vanity of governors and generals,
and the present governor, Micheltorena, had by no means won the approval
of the Church.

"You are welcome, my sons," he said. "If the officers come we cannot
deny your presence; but I do not think they will find their way here,
and we certainly shall not send for them. You are hungry and tired, no?"

"Father, we could eat our horses."

The padre laughed, and calling a young brother who was piously telling
his beads bade him go and see that a hasty luncheon was prepared. An
Indian came and took the mustangs, and the boys were led by the
hospitable priest into a large room, comfortably furnished, the walls
hung with some very good religious pictures.

The padres, in truth, were glad of visitors at any time. They were
clever educated men who had given their lives to christianising
brainless savages in a sparsely settled country; and any news of the
outer world was very welcome. They pushed back their hoods and sat about
the boys, their faces beaming with interest and amusement as they
listened to the adventures of those wayward youths. And as all men, even
priests, love courage and audacity, they clapped their hands together
more than once or embraced the lads heartily.

When luncheon was announced and the doors of the long refectory thrown
open, the boys were shown in as if they had been princes and told to
satisfy themselves. This they did, nor ever uttered a word. The priests
had tactfully withdrawn. Roldan and Adan ate enough beans, rice, cold
chicken, tongue, and dulces to make up for their prolonged fast, and
finished with a cup of chocolate and a bunch of grapes. After that they
went to sleep in two clean little cells, to which they were conducted,
nor awakened until all the air was ringing with the sweet-voiced clangor
of mission bells.

Roldan turned on his elbow and looked out of the window. The square was
rapidly filling with Indians, some running in willingly enough, others
driven in at the end of the leash by the lay brethren. All knelt on the
ground for a few moments. Roldan, whose eyes were very keen, and, during
these days, preternaturally sharpened, noted that several of the Indians
were whispering under cover of the loud mutterings about them. The face
of the Californian Indian is not pleasant to contemplate at any time: it
is either stupid or sinister. Roldan fancied he detected something
particularly evil in the glance of the whispering savages, and resolved
to warn the priests.

The scene was peaceful enough. The cattle browsing on the hills gave the
landscape an air of great repose, and the mountains beyond were lost
under a purple mist. The large stone fountain in the court splashed
lazily. As the worshippers rose and withdrew, the silver bells rang out
a merry peal, announcing that the morrow would be Sunday.

Roldan fell asleep again. When he awoke it was dark outside, but on the
table by his cot was a lighted taper and a dish of fruit. He ate of the
fine grapes and pears, then rose and opened his door. In the small room
beyond a young priest was seated at a table, bending over a large leaf
of parchment, to which he was applying a pen with quick delicate
strokes. He looked up with a smile.

"What are you doing?" asked Roldan, curiously, approaching the table.

"Illuminating the manuscripts of a mass. Look." And he displayed the
exquisite border to the music, the latter written with equal precision
and neatness. "This will be alive when I am not even dust. No one will
know that I did it; but I like the thought that it may live for
centuries."

"If I did it, I should sign my name to it," said Roldan, with his first
prompting of ambition. "But I never could do that; I have not the
patience. I mean to be governor of the Californias."

"I hope you may be," said the young priest, gravely.

"Are all your Indians docile?" asked Roldan, abruptly.

The priest raised his head. "Why do you ask?"

Roldan related his suspicions.

The priest shot a furtive glance through the open window at the dark
square.

"I don't know," he said slowly. "Sometimes I have thought--you see, many
are stubborn and intractable, and have to be flogged and chained.
Privately I think we are wasting our energies. We will leave California
several beautiful monuments for posterity to wonder at, but as for the
Indians we will end where we began. They are always escaping and running
back to the mountains. Their every instinct is for barbarism; they have
not one for civilization, nor can any be planted whose roots will not
trail over the surface. The good Lord intended them to be savages,
nothing more; and it is mistaken sentimentalism--However, it is not for
me to criticise, and I beg, Don Roldan, that you will not repeat what I
have said."

"Of course I shall not; but tell me, do you think there is danger?"

"We have one rather bright young Indian--there are about a dozen
exceptions in all California, and they are treacherous. His name is
Anastacio, and he has great influence with the other Indians. A good
many of them are angry at present because they have been punished for
stealing grapes and stores, and just now they are rather excited because
it has been proposed to banish Anastacio to a Mission where there are
more soldiers,--he is regarded as the inciter of the outrages."

"Have you soldiers here?"

"Eleven. The guard house is in the left hand corner of the square. But
what could they do in an uprising? We must get rid of Anastacio. I will
go now and speak to Padre Flores."

Roldan went out into the square and strolled over to the soldiers'
quarters. The door was closed, but light streamed from an uncovered
window, and he had a good view of the guard room. A half dozen soldiers
were lying about on benches, half-dressed, smoking the eternal
cigarrito. Two were at a table writing. None looked alert, but as Roldan
passed out of the plaza to the open beyond, he encountered a sentinel
who was ready to gossip with the young don and told him that three more
were on duty on the several sides of the square.

Roldan strolled on to the rancheria, a collection of six or eight
hundred huts of mud and straw among a thicket of willows by the creek.
Here all was dark and quiet. He glanced through several of the
uncurtained windows and saw whole families peacefully asleep. Suddenly
he paused and held his breath, at the same time retreating into the
heavy shade of a willow. A number of doors had opened almost
simultaneously; there was the sharp crunch of dry brush, and dark
figures glided, with the snake-like motion peculiar to the Indian,
toward the upper end of the rancheria.

Roldan waited a moment, then followed softly. He had set himself the
duty of saving the Mission which had shown him hospitality, and was not
to be deterred. Moreover, the spirit of adventure was by no means
quenched.

In a few moments he paused opposite a large hut, from which issued a
subdued murmur. The window had been covered, but a thin ray of light
pierced through a crack in the door, and to this Roldan applied his eye.

The room was crowded with Indians standing respectfully about a man in
the middle of the room, whom Roldan knew instinctively to be Anastacio.
He was big and clean-limbed and sinewy, with small cunning eyes, a
resolute mouth and chin, and an air of perfect fearlessness. Roldan
warmed to him, and looked with admiration and envy at the muscles on his
splendid limbs.

He was speaking rapidly in the native patois, and Roldan could gather
little of his meaning beyond what his gestures conveyed. He shook his
fist in the direction of the Mission, snapped his fingers in scorn,
pointed toward the mountains, then made the motion of speeding an arrow
from the bow, at the same time contracting his face hideously.

Roldan stayed as long as he dared, then returned hastily to the Mission.
A friar was locking up for the night, and began to chide the young guest
for being out so late, but Roldan interrupted him impatiently.

"Can I see Padre Flores to-night?" he asked. "I must see him. It is
important."

"He has retired to his cell, but I will take your message; and he never
denies himself to those that need him."

He went to the end of the corridor and tapped at a door. In a few
moments he returned.

"Padre Flores will see you," he said.

The priest was standing by the little altar in the corner of his cell
when Roldan entered.

"What is it, my son?" he asked. "Have you learned anything new? Padre
Estenega has told me of your suspicions."

Roldan rapidly related what he had seen. The priest's face became grave
and anxious.

"There is trouble brewing, I fear," he said. Then he smiled suddenly.
"You ran away to avoid fighting. It would be odd if you found yourself
in the midst of it."

"I did not run away to avoid fighting," said Roldan, flushing hotly.
"Pardon, father; I meant that you have misunderstood. I do not choose to
be shut up in a barrack against my will, but I am ready to fight; and,
although I am not yet sixteen, you shall see that I can help you protect
your Mission. And Adan too."

"I am sure of it. I did but tease you. And your part shall begin to-
night. You are rested, no?"

"I feel as if I wanted no more sleep for a week."

"Very well. Tell brother Antonio--whom you met on the corridor just now
--to let you in the church by the side door and give you the key, with
which you will lock yourself in. Then go up into the belfry and watch.
It is the full of the moon and clear. If you merely see a dozen or more
figures gliding about the rancheria, that will mean that they are
plotting, and intend no action to-night. If you see several hundred, run
down and bring me word. But if you see a mass of men rise at once and
descend upon the west gate, ring the bells. I shall go and warn the
soldiers, and every priest and brother will sleep on his pistol to-
night. But I don't think they are organised as yet. Before dawn I shall
send a messenger to the nearest town for reinforcements. Go, my son. You
are a brave and clever lad."

Roldan ran down the corridor and secured admission to the church. When
he had locked the door behind him, the vast dark building, beneath whose
tiles priests lay buried, shook his spirit as night and the plains had
not done, and he wished that he had brought Adan. Then he jerked his
shoulders, reflected that cowards did not carry off the prizes of the
world, and determined that his first should be the admiration and
approval of the priests and soldiers of this great Mission. He walked
rapidly down the nave, trying not to hear the hollow echo of his
footsteps, then opened several doors before he found the one behind
which was the spiral stair leading to the belfry. His supple legs
carried him swiftly up the steep ascent, and in a moment he was
straining his eyes in the direction of the rancheria.

The belfry was about ten feet square. The massive walls contained three
large apertures, through which the clear sonorous notes of the great
bells carried far. Just beneath the arch Roldan had selected as
observatory, and on the side opposite the plaza was the private garden
of the padres, surrounded by cloisters. An aged figure, cowled, his arms
folded, was pacing slowly.

Roldan, glancing over his shoulder, saw Padre Flores return from the
soldiers' quarters; but in the rancheria there was no motion but the
swaying tops of the willows, and no sound anywhere but the hoot of the
owl and the yap of the coyote.

It was a long and lonely watch. Roldan felt as if he were suspended in
air, cut off from Earth and all its details. Although his military
instinct had been aroused and he burned for fight, his spirit grew
graver in that isolation, and he resolved to do all he could to save the
Mission from attack. It was there for peace and good deeds, and its
preservation was of far more importance than a small pair of spurs for
Master Roldan.

Nevertheless, Roldan was to win his spurs.

Toward morning he saw an Indian, attended by a priest, let himself out
of a gate and steal toward the corral. A few moments later he
reappeared, leading a mustang up the valley in the shadow of the trees.
The priest re-entered the gate, and Roldan knew that the messenger had
gone forth for help.

At sunrise a brother came running up the stair. "Better go down," he
said, smiling. "I am going to ring for mass, and it will deafen you. You
saw nothing, of course?"

"Nothing."

"We did not expect it, and slept. It takes time to organise."

"Have they any weapons?"

"Their bows and arrows. We have always thought it best to leave them
those in case of assault by savage tribes."

Roldan descended the stair as the bells rang out their peremptory
summons. Although he was tired and sleepy, he determined to remain in
the church during mass, and knelt near the altar by a pillar where he
could command a view of the nave. Almost the first to enter was
Anastacio. He carried himself proudly--like a warrior, thought Roldan--
and advancing to the altar bowed low, then knelt stiffly, his eyes
closed.

The others drifted in slowly: the women kneeling on the right, the men
on the left. Finally all the priests and brothers, except Padre Flores,
who conducted the service, entered and knelt in the aisle. Padre Flores'
garments were as rich as any worn in old Spain, and the candelabra about
him were as massive. The images of the saints were clad in white satin
embroidered with gold and silver thread. On the walls were many high-
coloured paintings of saints, softened by the flood of light from the
wax candles.

Roldan watched keenly all the faces within the line of his vision. They
were mostly sleepy. Suddenly, as his glance shifted, it encountered the
eyes of Anastacio. Those powerful crafty orbs were fixed upon him under
drawn brows.

"He suspects me," thought Roldan, and then once more demonstrated that
several of his talents were diplomatic. He glanced past the Indian
indifferently to the women, then to the priests, and from there to the
paintings and altar, his regard but that of the curious traveller.

When Roldan left the church he encountered Adan, who evidently had
entered last and knelt near the door.

"Where did you go last night?" Adan demanded loudly.

"I sat up talking to the priests and roaming about the square," replied
Roldan. Anastacio was almost at his elbow.

"Well, I had had sleep enough by twelve o'clock and I went into your
cell, and then spent the rest of the night waiting for you to come
back."

"I hope breakfast is ready. Come."

They went to the refectory, where Padre Flores embraced Roldan heartily,
but made no allusion to his watch; there were Indian servants present.
After breakfast the two boys walked up and down the middle of the
square, and Roldan related his experience of the night. Adan listened
with open mouth and shortened breath.

"Caramba!" he ejaculated. "Is there to be a fight?"

"I am sure of it. Are you frightened?"

"Not I. I'd rather fight Indians than ford a river. But do you think we
can hold out?"

"We can try. And if they don't make the attack to-night, we shall have
the better chance, because the reinforcement will arrive to-morrow. But
that Anastacio suspects me, and doubtless he has discovered in some way
that the messenger has gone. I am sure there will be trouble to-night,
and I am going now to get a good sleep. Do you sleep, too; and see that
you eat no dulces for supper, lest they make you heavy."

He awoke about four in the afternoon. There was a babel of voices in the
plaza, and he sprang out of bed, excited with the thought that war had
begun. But he saw only a typical Mission Sabbath afternoon. Several
hundred Indians were seated on the ground in groups of two or three,
gambling furiously. Through the open gates opposite, Roldan could see a
spirited horse-race, a crowd of Indians betting at the top of their
voices.

Roldan went to the kitchen and asked for a cold luncheon, then sought
Padre Flores. The priest was in his cell, and as he saw Roldan he
motioned to him to close the door.

"I can learn nothing, my son," he said; but something in the air tells
me that there will be trouble to-night. Will you watch again?"

"I will, my father."

"We will all sleep on our pistols. Now listen. All we can do is to
protect the gates. If you ring once that means that the Indians are
advancing on the south gate, the one nearest the rancheria. But they are
crafty, and will doubtless seek to enter by one less guarded. Two peals
will mean the west gate, three the east, and a wild irregular clamour
the north. Can you remember?"

"I can, my father," said Roldan, proudly.

"I believe you. Go up into the tower at sundown, which is the hour when
the gates are closed. As soon as you have finished ringing you can come
down and join in the fight. The arms will be kept in the room where we
sat yesterday until your meal was made ready. Now go, my son, and God
bless you. Ah!" he called after him. "Wait a moment. Get a cassock and
put it on. It will make you shapeless among the bells. Otherwise you
might be seen."

Roldan was at his post as soon as the Indians had been driven through
the gates for the night. They straggled about the valley, still talking
excitedly; but there was nothing unusual in this, the watcher had been
told. Gradually they moved toward the rancheria, disappeared into it,
and the valley was as quiet as it had been the night before.

In the great court there were rifts of light at irregular intervals; the
heavy wooden shutters of every window were ajar. Roldan felt the nervous
tension of those minds below, and with it a sense of companionship, very
different from the oppressive loneliness of his previous watch.

The clock of the Mission had just struck eleven when Roldan stood
suddenly erect and hooped his hands about his eyes. Something was moving
in the willows beside the river. The moon shone full on the rancheria,
and when the outer edge of the latter appeared to broaden and project
itself the effect was noticeable at once.

Roldan watched breathlessly. In a moment there could no longer be any
doubt: a broad compact something was moving down the valley toward the
Mission. And an army of cats could not have made less sound.

He laid his hand on the bell rope. The Indians came swiftly, but their
course was not yet defined. When within a hundred yards of the Mission
they deflected suddenly to the right. Their destination was not the
south gate.

Roldan closed his eyes for a half moment to relieve them of the strain,
then opened them and held his breath. Only the outer fringe of the
little army could now be seen; it was crawling close to the western
wall. In a few moments they were beneath Roldan; he could hear the
slight impact with the air. Then once more he strained his eyes until he
thought they would fly from his head, and his lungs seemed bursting.
They were approaching the west gate.

They passed it. There could be no doubt now that they purposed to attack
the north gate; but Roldan dared not ring until they were well away from
the west side, lest they change their plans and his signal mislead.

As they reached the corner of the wall they suddenly accelerated their
pace as if impatience mastered them. When the tail of the procession had
whisked about and Roldan saw a compact mass move like a black cloud
before the wind toward the north gate, he caught the rope in both hands
and jangled with all his might.

The great clapper hurled itself against the mighty sides of the bell
with a violence which split the nerves and made the ear-drums creak. The
blood surged to Roldan's head, carrying chaos with it. He had a confused
sense of a flood of light in the plaza below, but could hear no other
sound except the deafening uproar in his ears. Suddenly something gave
way beneath his feet. He had an awful feeling of disintegration, of
solid parting from solid in empty space. He kicked out wildly. His feet
touched nothing. Then his head suddenly cleared, although the deep tones
of the bell still seemed echoing there, and he became aware that his
descent had stopped, and that his hands, torn and aching, were still
clutching the rope. He knew what had happened. He had stepped too far
and gone through one of the arches.

There was no time for fright. He began to pull himself up by the rope,
hand over hand. At the same time he was acutely conscious of many
things. The Indians were yelling like demoniacs and battering at the
gate. In the garden on the other side, the old priest was shouting Ave
Marias in a high quavering voice. A breeze had sprung up and Roldan felt
the chill in it. And he felt the weight of the cassock. The heavy
woollen garment fatigued his arms and impeded his progress. Were it not
for that he could scramble up like a monkey.

He was within two feet of the top. Suddenly he felt a slackening of the
rope, accompanied by a faint sickening sound. The rope was old, it was
giving way.

Roldan made a wild lurch for the projecting floor of the belfry. The
rope broke. He went down.

He had heard that a drop, however swift, might seem to occupy hours to
the doomed. To his whirling horror-struck brain this descent certainly
seemed very long. It was almost as if he were sauntering. Nor was he
tumbling over and over. He had shut his eyes tight when the rope
snapped. He opened them, gave a shuddering glance downward, then laughed
almost hysterically: his cassock, ample even for a man, had caught the
breeze and spread out on all sides like a parachute.

And although the descent occupied but a moment longer, he comprehended
the situation, with his abnormally sharpened senses, as clearly as
though he stood on high with a spy glass.

All the inhabitants of the Mission proper--the priests, brothers,
soldiers, and house servants--were standing before the north gate,
firearms in hand. Beyond were some twenty-five Indians battering and
yelling, making noise enough to induce the belief that they numbered ten
times as many more. The rest were not to be seen, but it was not
difficult for Roldan to suspect their purpose.

He lighted on the stone steps of the church, tore off his heavy garment,
and ran toward the north gate. As he did so the east gate fell with a
crash, and five hundred Indians rushed into the plaza.

They uttered no sound. The guard at the upper end of the square was not
aware of their advent until Roldan reached them. He was out of breath,
but he caught the arm of the man nearest him and pointed. In a second
the word had passed, and the handful of defendants stared helplessly at
the advancing hordes. But only for a moment. Padre Flores shouted to
fall into line, then ordered them not to fire in the same breath.
Anastacio, somewhat ahead of his followers, was approaching with a white
rag in his hand.

When within a yard of the missionaries he paused and saluted
respectfully.

"A word, my fathers," he commanded, and in excellent Spanish.

"Go on," said Padre Flores, sternly.

"We have not come to kill," said Anastacio, slowly and with great
distinctness: the noise beyond the north gate had ceased. "You know that
we never kill the priests, nor do we care for blood. We have come for
the stores of the Mission--all your great winter supply, except a small
quantity which we will leave you that you may not suffer until you can
get more. We are tired of this life. We belong to the mountains. We
cannot see that we are any better for your teachings, and we certainly
are not as strong. Now let us do our work in peace, and all will be
well. But if you fire, we let our arrows go, and we are twenty to one."

All turned anxiously to Padre Flores. They were not warlike, and if no
bodily harm was intended they could see no reason for resistance.

"You have us at disadvantage," said Padre Flores, coldly. "I cannot
sacrifice those in my charge, if you do not mean to kill. I agree to
your terms on one condition: that we retain our firearms. I pass my word
that no one shall shoot. I cannot take your word--nor that of any
Indian. As you say, our teachings are thrown away."

"I take yours," said Anastacio, undisturbed. "All I ask is that you
remain here under charge of twenty of my followers until I call them
away."

He marched off, after planting his guard; and for the next two hours he
and his men looted the Mission and packed the trove on horses which had
been brought up, or on the backs of the bigger Indians. At the end of
that time he shouted to his prisoners to come down and enter the
Mission.

Roldan and Adan had been exchanging bitter condolences over the
humiliating change in the warlike programme, but the raw air of the
morning had chilled their enthusiasm, and Roldan, moreover, began to
feel reaction from the shock to his nerves. It was not every day that a
boy sailed down through forty feet of space and lit on his feet, and his
nerves were out of tune.

When Anastacio called, he went with the rest, but lagged behind. The
door of the Mission sala was open. The priests entered first, their
heads scornfully erect; then the brethren, the soldiers, and servants.
As Roldan and Adan were about to enter, the door was suddenly pulled to,
coarse hands were clapped over their mouths, and, kicking, struggling,
biting, scratching, they were borne swiftly across the courtyard and out
of the gates. There they were set on their feet, and found themselves
face to face with Anastacio.

"Don't yell," he said. "There is no one to come to the rescue. We shall
not hurt you unless you try to run away. Then I myself will beat you.
Get on that horse, both of you."

"I am tired," said Roldan, indifferently. "I want to sleep."

"Sleep? Very well. Come here."

He lifted him upon a large horse, then mounted behind and encircled him
with one arm.

"Go to sleep," he said; and cantered rapidly down the valley, followed
by his thieving horde.

VII

When Roldan awoke he shivered slightly: the breath of winter was about
him. He peered into the dusk, but could only gather that he was in a
forest of huge trees on the side of a mountain. High above the wind was
surging. He had a curious sense of travelling through the depths of the
sea in a vacuum, the roar of suspended waters just over his head.
Behind, between the giant trees, was a moving column of horses and men.

"Where are we?" he asked Anastacio.

"In the mountains, in a redwood forest. My pueblo is not far."

"What mountains? What forest?"

"That you will not know."

"Where is Adan?"

"On a stout mustang between two faithful followers of mine."

"They are unnecessary. He would not leave me."

"Perhaps not. Sometimes the white man lies and sometimes he is true."

Roldan sat up; his tired head had rested against the shoulder of his
captor.

"Suppose I get behind you," he said. "It will be more comfortable for us
both. That is, if you can trust me," with an attempt at sarcasm.

"I trust you. Get behind."

Roldan slipped down, sprang up, then strained his eyes once more into
the depths of the forest. Nothing moved but that winding procession.
Occasionally a coyote yapped or a wildcat yelled. Suddenly something
fell against his face, pricking it gently. He looked over Anastacio's
shoulder. They were passing into an open. The air was full of white,
whirling particles.

"It snows," said Anastacio; "but we are soon there."

"We are in the Sierras," thought Roldan. He looked about with intense
interest; he had never seen snow before; and to penetrate the mystery of
the mighty Sierras had been one of the hopes of his life. The ground was
white, and crunched under the horses' hoofs. The air was thick with
snow-stars glittering under the full radiance of the moon. Roldan forgot
that he was a captive. His mind had made its first impulse to the
mysteries of night and solitude during the few moments between his entry
into another forest and the encounter with the bear; it now made its
first real opening. He was vaguely troubled by the embryonic thoughts
that in their maturity come to men who have lived and suffered, when
they are alone in a forest at night, far from other men.

Again they plunged into the forest. No snow penetrated the treetops,
knit together by centuries and storms. All was black again, and the deep
ocean of leaf and branch roared faintly overhead.

Roldan felt oppressed and thoughtful. He looked into the future and saw
himself a man. He would be governor of the Californias, and make himself
a good and great man, wiser than the idle caballeros who patronised him;
he would teach them the folly of their useless lives.

"Look," said Anastacio, abruptly. "We are here. It is a pueblo of my
fathers, and will serve us now."

He pointed with his riding switch through the trees to a vague
whiteness, and in a moment they emerged into another open. It was a
clearing some three hundred feet square, crowded with dilapidated
hovels, white under a light fall of snow. It was in the heart of the
Sierras, on the flat of a peak; and high on every side reared other
peaks, glittering with snow, black with redwoods. The snow clouds had
passed. The moon rode in a dark blue sky set thick with stars. The
silence, the repose, were appalling.

Roldan jumped to the ground, and accompanied by Anastacio, ran up and
down to get the cold and fatigue of night travel out of his body. In a
few moments they were joined by Adan, who came waddling up, his broad
face knit with perplexity and delight.

"I leave you now," said Anastacio, "but remember--if you attempt to
escape you carry poisoned arrows in your backs."

"Ay, Roldan!" exclaimed Adan, when their formidable host was out of
hearing. "But this was more than we bargained for. I don't know whether
I like it or not."

"I must say I don't like the idea of being in the power of savages--
Indians," said Roldan, contemptuously. "But as we started out for
adventure we must take black bread with white. I think I do rather like
this, but I shall not if we have to stay here too long and nothing
happens."

"Isn't anything likely to happen?" asked Adan, anxiously.

"How can one tell? And who could find this place? But if worst comes to
worst we'll run away--and not with poisoned arrows in our backs,
either."

"That we will," said Adan, emphatically. "We've done that before."

The boys were given a good supper of meat roasted over coals, and a
slice of Mission cake, then were escorted by Anastacio to the largest of
the huts.

"Enter and sleep," he said. "It is my hut. I shall sleep beside you."

VIII

The boys slept soundly between two excellent Mission blankets in a
corner of the hut, whose walls and floors had been well swept with
Mission brooms. Anastacio, despite his contempt for the trammels of
civilisation, had developed an aristocratic taste or two. He slept by
the door, but when the boys awoke he was not there. The pueblo, but for
two sentinels standing before the door, was apparently deserted. The sun
was looking over the highest peak, suffusing the black aisles of the
forest with a rosy glow, reddening the snow on hut and level and rocky
heights. There was not a sound except the faint murmur of the treetops.

"Where is the world?" asked Roldan. "Are there ranches, with cavalcades
and bull-fights, lazy caballeros lying in hammocks smoking cigarritos,
or dancing the night through with silly girls? Dios de mi alma! I feel
as if I did not care."

"Caramba!" exclaimed Adan, "I am famished. Do you suppose they have left
us anything to eat?"

"I suppose there is nothing to do but ask one of these dogs to be good
enough to give us breakfast--no, not ask. I could starve, but not beg of
an Indian."

He beckoned haughtily to one of the sentinels, who approached and
saluted respectfully.

"Breakfast," said the young don, curtly. "We wish to eat at once."

The Indian went over to a large stone oven and took out four meal cakes,
which he carried to the boys, then fetched them fruit and wine.

"Where is Anastacio and the others?" asked Roldan, breakfast over.

"In the temascal."

Roldan sprang to his feet. "Do you hear that, Adan?" he cried. "We have
always wanted to see Indians in temascal." To the sentinel, "Take us
there at once."

The Indian scowled. "But for you, senor, we, too, are in the temascal."

"Take us to the temascal," said Roldan, peremptorily, and the savage, in
whom servility had been planted by civilisation, yielded to the will of
the aristocrat. He bent his shoulders and said: "Bueno; come!"

The boys followed him through the brush, the sweet-scented chaparral on
which the honey-dew still lingered, to another and smaller clearing.
Here were several long rows of earthen huts, three or four feet high,
out of which smoke poured through an aperture in the roof of each. Near
by was a broad creek to which the bank sloped gently from the clearing.
The creek, some three feet deep, murmured over coloured stones and
sprouting trees. The long fine strands of the ice grass trailed far over
the water, motionless. Huge bunches of maidenhair, delicate as green
lace, clung to the steep bluffs on the opposite side. Forests of ferns
grew close to the water's edge. Down through a rift in the cliffs
tumbled a mountain stream over its rocky bed.

"Are they stewing in those things?" asked Roldan.

The Indian nodded. Roldan, followed closely by Adan, approached one of
the temascals and opened the door cautiously. At first they could see
nothing, so dense was the smoke; but when much had rushed out through
the new opening, they saw two prostrate figures, sweating from every
pore. Their eyes were closed, they breathed stertorously. The expression
on their heavy faces was beatific.

"Caramba!" exclaimed Adan, as Roldan closed the door, "I am glad they
like it. What a lot of trouble to get clean."

"As they never take a bath, they couldn't get clean any other way; and
besides it rests them after any great exertion--Mission raiding, for
instance--and they also fancy it drags every humour out through the
pores of the skin. They'll be coming out soon. Let us go down to the
creek and wait."

The smoke was ascending upward in straight columns through the still
air, scarcely clouding the brilliant morning, not a wreath wandering
into the aisles of the forest. The sun climbed higher, melting the light
fall of snow, its rays dancing among the silver ripples of the water,
vivifying the many greens about the creek.

The boys amused themselves flinging pebbles at the darting trout and
discussing chances of escape.

"We must not fly too soon," said Roldan, "or we shall run into the
soldiers. Of course they are scouring the country after these robbers."

"This is a good place to hide in until the Mission food gives out; but
I'd prefer even the barracks to living on acorns--Ay, look!"

The door of one of the temascals had opened. A limp figure tottered
forth and down to the bank. He almost fell into the creek, but had
sufficient wit uncooked to rest his head on a projecting stone.
Presently came another, then another, and another, until the bright
rocks were covered with dusky forms, the heads bobbing just above the
surface, supported on stump or stone. The boys barely recognised
Anastacio. Where was that commanding presence, that haughty mien? Bowed
like an old man, blind from smoke, with simmering brain, he reeled into
the water with as little dignity as his creatures.

But in less than an hour all had sprung forth briskly, danced about in
the sun to dry, and started on a run for the pueblo. Roldan and Adan
followed close, knowing that a feast alone would satisfy appetite after
the temascal. And in a little time the smell of roast meat pervaded the
morning, great cakes were roasting. The boys were invited to eat apart
with Anastacio. At the conclusion of the meal the host, who had not
spoken, solemnly poured out three glasses of fire-water. He swallowed
his at a gulp. The boys sipped a few drops, winking rapidly. Then Roldan
thought it time to speak: his chief was visibly thawed.

"What are you keeping us for?" he asked.

"Ransom." Anastacio lit a cigarrito--one of the padre's--and lay back
on a bearskin.

"Do you know why we ran away? To escape the conscription. If you give us
up, all our adventures, our dangers, our escapes, will be as nothing,
and we shall be punished besides."

Anastacio moved his eyes to Roldan's with a flash of interest.

"Good! I hate the government. You shall stay here until the time of
conscription is over. Then I will get a big sack of Mexican dollars, a
herd of cattle, a caponara of horses, and much tobacco and whiskey. Who
are your fathers?"

Roldan explained.

Anastacio flushed under his thick skin. "Good. I will double the
ransom--and the guard."

"The conscription will be over in a few weeks--"

"You could not go before. We too must hide. Of course the soldiers are
behind. I have many scouts watching. Now go to sleep."

The following week was clear and bright, but very cold. The boys, bred
in the warm basin of California, must have suffered had not Anastacio
ordered one of his minions to make them coat and boots from the skin of
the coyote. Every morning the chief drilled his men with the tactics of
a born commander who had let no opportunity for observation escape him.
The military discipline of the pueblo was only relaxed for three hours
in the afternoon, during which time the Indians were given full taste of
the freedom they coveted that they might battle for it the more
passionately when the time came. They gambled, slept, shot game in the
forest, exercised the horses, which were in corral about a mile from the
camp. The boys shot deer with Anastacio, and wrestled in the plaza.
Occasionally the taciturn Indian unbent when sitting by the great
bonfire in the open at night, and told wild tales of savage life before
the padres came. Roldan admired his splendid supple body and fearless
manhood, but the Indian was too sinister to inspire affection. Adan was
loudly bored. Roldan's ardent imagination sustained him.

At the end of the week the scouts having failed to discover any sign of
the enemy, Anastacio determined to go down to the river in the valley
for a fortnight's salmon fishing. He, too, was bored. The fangs of
civilisation are long and tenacious.

It was on a brilliant winter's morning that Anastacio, his captives, and
his five hundred men wound their way down through the cold forest on the
mountain into the soft warm air of the valley. There had been no rain
for three weeks, and the river was not more than half full; and it was
very quiet. They camped on the bank, well away from the scattered groups
of trees, that they might not lose a ray of sunshine; and Roldan and
Adan forgot that they were under constant surveillance. There were no
tents; they slept in the open air, the boys in the centre of a square of
Indians. During the day they caught many fine salmon, and salted what
they did not eat, to sell to the rancheros.

It was on the sixth night that Roldan, who was wakeful, suddenly raised
himself on his elbow and listened intently. Far away, above the murmur
of the river, the audible slumbers of the camp, he heard a low, precise,
monotonous sound. He knew what it meant. For a moment he hesitated. The
chances of escape seemed to grow less daily. It was true that he was in
no danger, that he would eventually be restored to his parents--but with
his adventures cut short. He was fond of his home, but it was always
there, and he was keen for variety: his life had been very uneventful.
On the other hand, if that advancing army conquered the Indians, might
not his and Adan's captivity be far more distasteful than it was at
present? He sprang up and called Anastacio. In a second that warrior was
on his feet and had leaped over his alert sentinels into the square.

"What is it?" he demanded.

"Listen."

Anastacio threw himself full length and laid his ear to the ground. A
moment later he was erect again. He caught Roldan by one shoulder and
Adan by the other. By this time every Indian in the camp was pressing
about his chief.

"They are not two miles away," said Anastacio. "And the dawn will be
here in an hour. There are ten miles between us and the mountains. I
don't wish to fight in the open without knowing their numbers."

Roldan danced up and down with sudden excitement. "I have a plan," he
cried. "You can trust me. I don't want to go back."

Anastacio bent his keen malevolent eyes close above the young
Spaniard's, then loosened his hold.

"Bueno," he said. "I trust you."

"The straw," said Roldan. "Bring it all here."

Anastacio gave the order, and an immense carreta of straw was trundled
up.

"Now," said Roldan, "gather it into bunches the size of a man's head and
tie each firmly. The tide is running toward the enemy, and it is too
dark to see clearly. Do you understand, senor?"

Anastacio made a loud exclamation, caught Roldan in his arms and kissed.
him, much to that haughty young gentleman's disgust, then tied the first
bunch himself. Roldan, Adan, and some forty of the quicker Indians
rapidly manipulated the straw, and in little more than ten minutes had
cast a hundred round compact bundles into the hurrying tide. As they
sailed away they certainly looked, under the heavy shadow of the banks
and the black-blue of the sky, like an army of men swimming with the
desperate haste of terror, their heads alone above water.

"Now!" cried Anastacio, "to the mountains."

They had brought only pack-horses. There was nothing to do but run, and
Anastacio, driving his entire following ahead of him, sped to cover. It
was not twenty minutes before they heard a sharp volley of musketry, and
if their breath had not been short they would have laughed aloud at the
success of Roldan's strategy. The sky was turning grey as they reached
the straggling outposts of the forest on the mountain. The firing had
ceased. Their ruse had doubtless been discovered.

"We will hide for twenty-four hours and rest," Anastacio said to Roldan,
who was the only person he condescended to hold converse with, although
he allowed Adan to sun himself in his presence. "By that time, too, I
shall know their numbers. If they are many I'll draw them into the
mountains and fire from ambush. If few, they shall have open fight."

"You will let us see it?" asked Roldan, eagerly. "Of course I cannot
fight my own people; but I don't want to be sent to the pueblo, and I do
want to see a fight."

Anastacio hesitated. "Bueno," he said, "I owe you much. You give me the
word of the California don that unless I am killed you will not run
away?"

"I promise. There is nothing else to do. That is to say, I promise not
to run away before this battle is over."

"That is what I mean," said Anastacio, curtly. "Now we will sleep."

He disposed his men in the forest above a narrow, rocky canon into which
the enemy would hardly venture. Roldan volunteered to keep watch with
the two sentinels, and returned with them to the outskirts of the
forest. The enemy was marching steadily across the valley. After a time
they halted, and lay down for a time. Early in the afternoon they
resumed march, then halted again within a mile of the mountain, sending
two scouts ahead. By this time Anastacio had joined his sentinels, and
all four hid in the underforest between the great trees.

The scouts, keeping as much under cover as was possible, crept up the
lower spur of the mountain, their glance describing a constant half-
circle. When they were within a few feet of the fugitives, Anastacio
raised his bow and discharged two arrows in rapid succession. One buried
itself in the jugular of the foremost scout, and he huddled down among
the soft leaves without a cry. The other, equally well aimed, entered
the shoulder of the second scout, where it quivered violently for a few
seconds, then was torn forth and flung to the ground with a cry of
defiance. The Californian, disregarding his wound, raised himself to his
full height and pointed his pistol. But vaguely: the quiet, feathery
young redwoods told no tales. Then his eye fell upon his dead brother.
He turned and fled.

"They will not enter the forest," said Anastacio; "and when I am ready
they will fight, not before. Have you pencil and paper, senor?"

Roldan produced a treasured note-book that a relative had brought him
from Boston.

"Write," said the chief; and he dictated:--

SENOR DON CAPITAN,--At noon to-morrow we fight in the valley near the
eight oak trees and the two madronos. Do you wish to fight sooner you
can come into the mountains. It will be better for us.
ANASTACIO.

He tore out the leaf, crawled down the mountain as non-apparently as a
python, and pinned it high on an outstanding redwood, then returned and
told his sentinels to sleep, replacing them with others.

IX

That evening Anastacio called Roldan to him.

"I fear treachery," he said. "Who can trust five hundred men that have
learned too much? And the white men, they have better brains than mine.
I watch to-night. Will you watch with me, senor?--that I can sleep
before morning and rest for the fight."

"I will," said Roldan, enthusiastically. "And Adan also?"

"It matters not."

When the dusk was so thick in the aisles that every moving frond looked
like a man looming suddenly, one of the sentinels returned with the news
that the paper had been taken from the tree, and that the Californians
had pitched tents, and to all appearance were at rest for the night.

It was not likely that the enemy would venture into the forest at night.
They were not a large body, they were not pressed for time, nor were
they the heroes of many wars. The Indians were comparatively safe until
morning; nevertheless, Anastacio was too good a general to relax
vigilance. When night came he and the two boys went down the mountain
and sent the outpost back to sleep. They ventured out where the trees
grew far apart, and the brilliant stars of California illumined the
great valley like so many thousand watch-fires.

The three sat down side by side, their gaze directed steadily downward
and outward.

"Why do you fight at all?" asked Roldan. "You could stay in these
mountains until the Californians were dust, and not be caught."

"And live like hunted beasts. I like the valley; the sun in winter, the
cool mountains in summer. If I am victor to-morrow, all the Indians in
California will call me chief. They will run here from every Mission and
hacienda, and from every hill and mountain, like little ones to their
good father; and we will drive the priests out of the country, and make
the hidalgos, the caballeros, the soft silk-dressed donas our friends or
our slaves--as they wish. California belongs to us. The Great Spirit
put us here, not the white man. If it was for them why did they not grow
out of the earth as we did? Why were we put here at all if our land was
not for us? We were happy until these priests came to drive us mad
making boots and mud bricks and wine all day, driven like dogs to the
kennel, flogged when we wanted to lie in the sun--"

"But, Anastacio," interrupted Roldan, who had listened to this strange
outburst with the vague consciousness that the soul of an expiring race
had opened its lips for a brief moment, "you are far more clever than
most Indians. If it were not for the priests you would be no better than
the most ignorant of them."

"If I am clever now, senor, was I not clever in the beginning? You do
not make cake out of bran. The Great Spirit sent his light into me and
said: 'Thou shalt be a great chief.' I could have done as well and
better without the priests. What good did it do me to read and tell my
beads and make chocolate? Was I happy at the Mission? Not for one moon,
senor. I felt as if I had a wild beast chained in me that choked and
panted for the free life of my youth, of my fathers. I ran away from the
Mission twenty-three times--and was brought back and flogged. Many times
I would have crushed my head with a stone had it not been that all the
other Indians of the Mission ran to me like dogs, and that I could make
them tremble with a word and obey with a look. I knew that the Great
Spirit had given me what these poor creatures had not, and that one day
I would give California to them again. It has begun."

"But we have better things to eat and drink and more comfortable houses
and clothes than you have in your pueblos. I like what the priests call
'civilisation.'"

"It is for the white man, not for the Indian with a skin like the earth
and a heart like the wild-cat. If we did not know of fine bread and thin
wine and heavy shoes and cursed bags about our legs we should not want
them. Padre Flores says that he and the other priests came here to make
us happy. Why not let us be happy in our own way? We needed no
teaching."

Years after, Roldan, who grew to know the world well and many men,
recalled the conversation of that night, and meditated upon the strange
workings of the human mind: the fundamental philosophy of life differs
little in the brain of the savage and the brain of the student-thinker.

"We are told that we must progress, grow better," he said.

"Hundreds and hundreds of years Indians lived and died here before the
priests came. All legends say they were happy. Now they 'progress,' and
suffer--in the body and in the spirit. One life is for us, another for
you. Should the white man have many children and children's children
until all the mountains and valleys of California are his, then will all
the Indians die, even though they are treated well for they are slaves--
no more. Are they happy? For what were they made? To be slaves and die
from the earth before they are threescore and ten, to be no more
remembered than the beasts of the field?"

"I hope you'll win to-morrow," cried Roldan, his young mind moved to
pity, and profoundly disturbed. "You can never get California away from
the Spaniard, and I can't wish you to; but you might, if you rallied all
the Indians to you, become powerful enough to live in the way you like
best, and I hope you will. Why should men say: 'I am better than you; I
will make you like myself?' How do we know? I have ridden like the wind,
and coliared a bull with the best vaquero in the Californias, but I am
afraid my mind has had fifteen years of siesta. Now--well, I shall be
governor of the Californias one day, and then I shall send all the
Indians back to the mountains."

Anastacio put out his hand, and the two civilisations decreed by Nature
to stand apart from the beginning to the end of time clasped in brief
friendship.

"I will be your friend," said the Indian, "and the white man need not
despise the friendship of a great chief. California is a fair land.
Others will come to it besides the Spaniard. If Anastacio has thousands
of Indians to run to his call they will fight when he bids them."

"Caramba! you are right," exclaimed Roldan. "Those Americans--"

"American boys?" asked Adan, eagerly.

"Now," said Anastacio, "I sleep. Awake me when the sky turns grey."

He stretched himself out and slept at once. The boys drew close together
and speculated upon the fateful morrow. They agreed to remain close
together, out of sight of the enemy, but where they could watch the
Indian forces. If Anastacio fell they would flee at once.

X

The small Californian force--it numbered little over two hundred men--
was under the command of Juan Pardo Mesa, a captain notable for his
victorious encounters with Indians and for his knowledge of their
cunning. He was on the alert at dawn next morning, and long before the
sun had spurned the tops of the Coast range, his assumption of meditated
treachery was confirmed. A rising wind had set the young redwoods in
motion. Before long the practised eye of Captain Mesa saw an increased
agitation among the feathery branches, his ear caught a slight
crackling. His men were flat on the ground. He stood in the shadow of a
large oak. A moment later a dusky form crept out to where the brush grew
more sparsely, hesitated a moment, and apparently passed back word that
all was well; he was immediately followed by many of his kind; and the
lower slope of the mountain, burnt bare by fire, seemed suddenly
swarming with huge black rats.

Mesa waited until they were well away from cover, then gave the expected
order: two hundred muskets, carbines, and flintlock pistols were
discharged, and one piece of artillery.

But Anastacio, no mean general himself, was also on the alert for the
unexpected. In a few moments he had marshalled his forces in the form of
a hollow square, and ordered them to discharge their arrows from a
recumbent position. Owing to the heavy shadows, the aim of the
Californians had been uncertain, and only a few of the Indians had
fallen. Roldan and Adan were safe behind two large redwoods just above
the Indian army.

The firing continued steadily all the morning, but resulted in few
mortal wounds. There was not a poisoned arrow in the pueblo. The balls
did more serious damage, and several Indians rolled groaning down the
slope. The rest were undaunted. They were more than two to one, and had
implicit faith in their chief's assurance that they were bound to rout
the Spaniard.

Under cover of the cloud of smoke his weapons had raised despite a
strong wind, Mesa executed two flank movements, justifying the tactics
of Anastacio: he detached forty men from the main body and directed them
to attack the Indians on both sides and to cut off their retreat to the
forest. They were almost upon the north and south ends of Anastacio's
square--after making a detour and advancing from a distance--when the
boys shouted a warning. In a moment arrows were flying to right and
left; and the answering volley was far more deadly than the effects of
firing up hill. The Indians stood their ground, fitting their arrows
with swift dexterity, encouraged by Anastacio, who glided from point to
point like a hungry cobra, discharging two arrows to every man's one.
His only hope was to keep the Californians at long range until losses
compelled the latter to retreat: at close quarters arrows would be no
match for firearms.

The battle began at five in the morning. It was at four in the afternoon
that Roldan passed his hand across his burning eyeballs, then gripped
Adan's arm and said through his teeth,--

"Anastacio is hit. I saw him shake from head to foot."

"Madre de dios! Shall we run?"

"Not yet. My brain is on fire. War is awful, and yet I burn to have a
pistol in my hands. I am sorry for Anastacio--but Dios de mi alma!--to
see a brave Spanish officer bite the dust with the arrow of a dog in his
brain! Ay, he moves! He is not dead."

"His hand is as steady--but--do you notice?--all are not firing."

"The arrows are giving out. There is only one end. But I must see it
through. Mary! Mary! They are breaking."

The Indians, finding themselves almost without arrows, had sprung to
their feet, intending to make a rush for cover; but Mesa had anticipated
this move, and almost immediately his men had closed with the savages,
knocking them on the head with the butt-end of their muskets,
discharging their pistols at short range. The Indians. used both tooth
and nail, yelling like wildcats. The cool imperturbability of the
earlier part of the day had fled with their arrows. Anastacio fought
like a tiger. Despite his wounded thigh he stood firmly on his feet,
snatched the musket from a man his hands had throttled, and whirled it
about his head, threatening death to all that approached. His face was
swollen with passion, his eyes were starting from their sockets, his
long hair tossed wildly. The boys watched him with cold extremities and
hot cheeks and eyes. They were oblivious to the rest of the battlefield.
The fate of the indomitable chief, upon whose life the freedom of a race
perhaps depended, would have riveted the attention of older and wiser
brains. His movements were easy to follow; he was head above all and
shoulders above many.

Suddenly the boys gave a gasp. The head of Anastacio was no longer to be
seen above that surging throng. Had he been wounded in a vital part? A
moment later they gave a hoarse gurgling cry and clung together, shaking
like children in icy water. The head of Anastacio rose again--above the
crowd, then higher,--higher,--until it looked down upon the squirming
mass from six feet above. It was on the end of a pole.

XI

The boys turned and fled, scrambling blindly upwards. Instinctively they
ran in the direction of the pueblo, and when they were finally obliged
to sit down and fight for their lost breath they realised the course
they had taken.

The horror was still in their eyes, but neither spoke of what for a long
while to come must be uppermost in his mind.

"I think we may as well go to the pueblo," said Roldan, as soon as he
could speak. "We must have food, and we are very tired. We can rest
there a few days, then take two of the horses--we can do nothing without
horses--and start out again. If any of the Indians escape and come back,
they will not have spirit enough left to touch us."

"Bueno," said Adan. "The Mission blankets are there and they are soft,
and that oven makes good cakes. I hope the Indians go all with the
soldiers. I never want to see another."

The boys resumed their flight, but more leisurely. They had no
difficulty in keeping to the trail, but it wound over many a weary mile.
Night comes early in the mountain forest, and before two hours had
passed they were groping their way along the narrow road cut through the
dense brush, and clinging to each other. They were brave lads; but long
fasting, and excitement, and a terrible climax to the most trying day of
their lives, had flung gunpowder among their nerves.

It was midnight when they reached the pueblo. The stars illumined
fitfully the deserted huts, black in the heavy shadows. A coyote was
yapping dismally, owls hooted in the forest. Both boys had a vision of
deep beds and hot suppers on the ranchos of their respective parents,
but they shut their teeth and raided the larder. There they found well-
cured meats and dried fruits, which appeased their mighty appetites;
then they went into Anastacio's hut, and wrapping themselves in the
Mission blankets were soon asleep.

It was Adan who awoke Roldan violently in the morning.

"The soldiers!" he whispered hoarsely.

Roldan, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, peered through a rift between
the wall of the hut and the shrunken hide which formed the door. A half
dozen soldiers stood in the plaza, glancing speculatively about.

"I see no trace of them," said one. "I cannot believe they would come
back to this place. Surely it was, as I said, more natural for them to
hide at the edge of the forest until we had gone."

"That dog said there was food here, and that they were more afraid of us
than of a long walk at night. Wherever they are, we find them. They are
a prize second only to the head of Anastacio. Search the huts."

Roldan sprang to his feet, pulling Adan with him. "Come," he said;
"follow me, and run as if you were as lean as a coyote. Remember they
won't shoot."

He flung aside the hide door. The two boys flashed out and round the
corner of the hut before the tired eyes and brains of the soldiers had
time to grasp the happening. A moment later they were in hot pursuit,
firing in the air, shouting terrific threats. But the rested and agile
legs of the boys had a good start, and plunged into narrow ways where
horses could not follow; and doubling, twisting, following paths but
recently beaten by Anastacio in pursuit of deer, Roldan and Adan were
soon far beyond the reach or ken of the men of war. It was an hour,
however, before they thought it wise to arrest their flight and pause to
recuperate in a redwood tree hollowed by fire. Two weeks of exposure and
unwonted exertions had hardened Adan's superfluous flesh, and he was
scarcely more spent than his clean-limbed friend, although every step
had been taken with protest.

"Caramba!" he said, in a hoarse whisper at length. "When I am back on
the rancho I won't walk for a year."

"You will have the habit by that time, my friend, and will walk in your
sleep. When I am governor you will be generalissimo of all the forces
and will keep your army as lively as an ant-hill."

"That is too long ahead, and we have not enough wind to argue about it.
What are we going to do now? How shall we get horses to leave this
forest? Where shall we sleep to-night? What shall we have for dinner? I
could eat a whole side of venison."

"Well, you won't, my friend. Let me think."

After a time he said: "We must stay here until night. Then we will go
back to the pueblo if we can find the way. As for food, we can have none
to-day. There are no berries at this time of year, and we have nothing
to shoot game with. Other people have gone the day without food, and we
can. When we get back to the pueblo, even if we cannot reach the larder,
we can find the corral without being seen. I don't believe that the
soldiers have found it, and the Indians in charge of the mustangs will
let us have two when they know what has happened. Now, do not let us
talk. It will make us more hungry."

Adan groaned, but accepted the decree of silence. The day wore on to
noon, and in the unbroken stillness the boys ventured out of the grimy
tree and lay at full length on the turf. The great redwoods towered in
endless corridors, their straight columns unbroken by branch or twig for
a hundred and fifty feet. Through the green close arbours above came an
occasional rift of sunshine, but the aisles were full of cold green
light. The boys shivered in their coyote skin coats and drew close
together; they dared not run about to keep warm; they must husband their
strength, and hunger was biting. There was no wind in the tree-tops, no
murmur of creek, only the low hum of the forest, that in their strained
ear-sense grew to a roar. Finally they fell asleep, and it was dark when
Roldan awoke. He shook Adan.

"Come," he said; and his partner, grumbling but acquiescent, got to his
feet and tramped heavily over the soft ground.

They had fled beyond paths, and Roldan could only trust to his locality
sense, which he knew to be good. But more than once they were brought to
halt before a wall of brush, which no man could have penetrated without
an axe. Then they would feel their way along its irregular bristling
side for a mile or more before it thinned sufficiently for egress.
Frequently they heard the deadly rattle, and more than once the near cry
of a panther, but there was nothing to do but push on. Precautions would
have availed them nothing, and there was no refuge nearer than the
pueblo. Sometimes they walked down aisles unchoked by brush but full of
moving shadows, above which sounded the lonely continuous hooting of the
owl. Now and again bats whirred past, and once a startled wildcat
scurried across the path and darted up a tree, crying with terror.

"If we only don't meet a bear," thought Roldan, who dared not speak lest
his voice should shake courage and terrors apart.

It was midnight when Adan announced with what emphasis was left in
him,--

"We are lost."

Roldan answered through his teeth: "Yes, but I think I hear the creek.
When we find that, all we have to do is to follow it south."

"My heart is in the South," muttered Adan. "We might follow that."

"I am ashamed of you," said Roldan, with a lofty scorn which was good
for five words and no more.

It was a half hour later that they stood upon the high bank of the creek
and looked gratefully up at the broad strip of night light. After the
dense shadows of the forest the cold light of stars seemed more radiant
than noon-day.

"We cannot follow along the bank for more than a little way at a time,
on account of the ferns and brush," said Roldan. "We should walk three
times the distance, and perhaps get lost again. I am going to wade. Will
you?"

"Madre de dios! And get rheumatism? My teeth clack together at the
thought."

"You will not be able to keep still long enough to get rheumatism, my
friend. By the grace of Mary we shall be on horseback all day to-morrow.
The water is not a foot deep, and the chill only lasts a moment. Take
off your boots."

"What is left of them," muttered Adan. But they were better than no
boots, and he took them off, and slung them round his neck. Roldan
scrambled down the bank and plunged into the creek. Adan, after a
moment's hesitation, followed with audible reluctance. He thrust the tip
of one foot into the icy water, withdrew it with a shout, tried the
other; then seeing that Roldan was splashing far ahead, jumped in with
both feet and ran along the slippery rocks, wondering when the change of
temperature would occur. His teeth clattered loudly. He pulled in and
executed a war-dance on the stones, then sat down on a fallen boulder
and rubbed his feet violently. Roldan kept steadily on, mindful of his
dignity as leader; but only as Adan joined him had his teeth ceased from
clattering and the warmth crawled back to his feet.

Cold, hungry, inexpressibly weary, the boys plodded on, sometimes in the
clear light of stars, sometimes under the chill blackness of meeting
trees. Fish and other slimy things darted across their feet; they
stepped to their waists into more than one treacherous pool. The dark
blue of the sky had turned to grey when Roldan raised his arm and
pointed to a squat dark object on the summit of the cliff.

"A hut," he said. "We are at the pueblo."

The boys crawled softly up the almost perpendicular bank and peered over
the edge. To all appearances the pueblo was deserted. If the soldiers
were there--and their horses were not--they slept within the huts. The
animal instinct, so bravely repressed, overcame the adventurers. They
ran across the open to the hut where the food was kept, and ate for
fifteen minutes without speaking or taking the trouble to hide
themselves.

XII

When they had satisfied their appetites they made two large packages of
dried meat and fruit, tying them securely with straw to their right
arms: saddle-bags there were none.

"Not a horse," whispered Adan. "Do you think the soldiers have gone?"

"I think they are lost, and as they did not stop to tie their horses
when they started after us, they won't see them again until they get
back to camp. Come."

Roldan peered cautiously into each of the huts in turn; all were empty.
Then the boys started for the corral, which the soldiers would not have
passed either on their way to the pueblo or in pursuit of the runaways.
They found the Indians in charge sound asleep in their hut, and did not
think it worth while to awaken them. The two mustangs they led forth,
vicious brutes at best, were very restless from prolonged inactivity.
Roldan's submitted to the saddle, but bolted as soon as he felt a
determined pair of legs about his sides; and as our adventurer had
neither whip nor spurs, all he could do was to hang on and shout to Adan
to follow close. This was the only thing that Adan's mustang was willing
to do, and the boys were borne blindly on, down one path, up another,
plunging deeper into the black recesses of the forest until they knew no
more of their whereabouts than if they had dropped from another sphere.

After many weary miles the mustangs slackened, and the boys dismounted
and cut two slender but stinging whips. After that they rose once more
to the proud supremacy of man over brute. But the situation was full of
peril. They were hopelessly lost, the redwoods were the home of the
grizzly and the panther, and they might come upon the soldiers at any
moment. But there was nothing to do but to ride on, and at least they
had horses and food.

They descended whenever descent was possible, for at the foot of the
mountain lay the open valley; but there were no trails; in all
likelihood they were where no man, red or white, had ever been before;
they had to force their way where the brush was thinnest, and as often
their flight was toward loftier heights.

As the day wore on the temperature fell, even in those forest depths
where the sun had not penetrated for a thousand years. The beauty of the
forest palled upon Roldan: those everlasting aisles with their grey
motionless columns, their green sinister light, the delicate fern wood
below, the dense mat of branch and leaf so high above. The redwoods
oppress and terrify when they have man completely at their mercy. They
look as if they could speak if they would, roar louder than the storms
that have never shaken them. But they know the value of silence, and the
silence of their inmost depths is awful.

After many hours the boys rode out upon a bare peak. But its outlook
told them nothing. Behind rose other peaks, below was the dense primeval
forest, rising and falling on other slopes. There was no glimpse of
valley anywhere. The sky was heavy with the grey lurid clouds of
concentrated storm.

"We will eat," said Roldan, briefly; "but not too much."

They tethered the mustangs that the beasts might eat of the abundant
grass, and consumed a small quantity of their store. Then they stretched
at full length on the ground to rest their weary bodies.

"Let us stay here the night," said Adan, with a cavernous yawn.

"It is hardly darker by night than by day in the forest, but perhaps it
is well to rest."

"I am one ache, no more," murmured Adan, and went to sleep.

Roldan pillowed his head on his arm and for once followed lead. He awoke
suddenly, his face wet and stinging. White stars were whirling, the
ground was white, the forest was half obliterated.

He shook Adan and dragged him to his feet.

"We must get into the redwoods at once," he said. "We shall be buried
here."

Adan gasped but cinched his saddle; the boys sprang upon the now
tractable mustangs and plunged into the forest below. The brush was
thin, and they pushed their way downward as rapidly as the steep descent
would permit. Sometimes the forest protected them from the storm, at
others the trees grew wide apart and the riders were exposed to its
pitiless rush. In these open spaces they could see nothing, could only
push blindly on, brushing the stinging particles from their faces, their
hands and feet almost numb. The snow in the open was already as high as
the horses' knees. There was no wind, only that silent sweeping of the
heavens. In the depths the high branches of the redwoods groaned
ominously under the stiffening weight, like giants in pain.

The forest thinned. The snow had its will of the earth. There was no
refuge under the larger trees that still stood, like outposts, here and
there; the branches were too high above. Once Adan suggested through his
stiff lips and unruly teeth that they turn back and take refuge in some
dense grove above; but Roldan shook his head peremptorily. He had heard
of the fearful storms of the Sierras; they lasted for days, and the snow
stood its ground for weeks. Their only hope was the valley.

But they descended only to rise again: in the white darkness of the
storm they dared not attempt to skirt the base of the peaks; they must
keep straight on, to the west, for there lay the valley.

Occasionally, where a grove of trees stood close and the snow lay
shallow, the boys got off and wrestled, rousing the blood in their legs
and arms; then urged their mustangs to greater speed. But the poor
brutes were very weary, and the blood in their veins was almost torpid.
Once they stood still and shook, whinnying pitifully. A huge grizzly, so
powdered as to be hardly distinguishable from the drifts about him,
floundered along to the right. The boys crossed themselves and awaited
their fate, with the apathy of numb and despairing brains; but the
monster was evidently aiming for the warmth of his home, and took no
notice of the meal in four courses standing in the middle of the path.

The night deepened. The snow thickened and sped down with an audible
rush, a sting in each beautiful white bee. The boys nodded, roused
themselves, fell forward, their arms mechanically stiffening about the
horses' necks. Once they flung out their hands and feet with a smothered
shriek. A tongue of flame seemed to leap down their throats and hiss
through their veins, while the world roared and heaved about them. Then
all sensation was over.

XIII

Roldan opened his eyes. His brain was heavy; he was conscious only of an
intense warmth. His arms appeared to be bound to his sides, his whole
body in a vise. He kicked out with a vigorous return of the instinct of
independence. The action shook his brain free and he understood: he was
tightly wrapped in a blanket, and there were other blankets upon him. He
raised his head. The room was one of familiar lineaments,--whitewashed
walls, a mat by the iron bed, an altar in the corner, linen with
elaborate drawn-work on bureau and washstand. The blood poured upward to
the young adventurer's face. Was this his room? Had he been ill and
dreamed strange happenings? He freed his arms and sat up. No; there was
no room in his father's house exactly like this, monotonous as were the
furnishing and architecture of the time.

He took his head between his hands and thought; the events of the past
weeks marched through his brain in rapid and precise succession--up to a
certain point: his senses had been frozen in the Sierras. From a raging
snowstorm to this blistering bed all was blank.

He disencumbered himself, slipped to the floor, and opened the door,
then scrambled back to bed as best he could; his legs felt as if they
had been boned. He was also one vast desire for food and drink. But that
glimpse through the door had raised his spirits. He was in a great adobe
house surrounding a court in which a fountain splashed among ferns and
little orange-trees. It was the house of a grandee, but there was none
like it in the neighbourhood of the Rancho de los Palos Verdes.

He waited with what patience he could muster until his open door should
attract attention, listening to the murmur of the fountain, inhaling the
fragrance of orange and magnolia, wondering if Adan, too, were safe,
angrily resenting his weakness.

The door cautiously opened wide, and a woman, stout, brown, but of
exceeding grace and elegance, entered and bent over him.

"Good-day, senora," said Roldan, politely. "I am very hungry. Where am
I? And is Adan here?"

The lady smiled and patted his cheek with a shapely and flashing hand.

"He is well and sleeping, my son, and you are both in the Casa of Don
Tiburcio Carillo, of the Rancho Encarnarcion, in a great valley many,
many leagues from the Sierras and the snow--Madre de dios! Pobrecitos!
So cold you must have been, so frightened--and you the sons of great
rancheros, no?"

Roldan modestly named his fortunate status, then sat up and kissed her
hand, as he had seen his gallant brothers kiss the hands of lovely young
donas. The lady looked much pleased and drew a chair beside the bed.
Roldan wondered if he should ever satisfy his raging appetite, but was
too polite to mention the subject again, and determined to satisfy his
curiosity instead.

"Senora, tell me how we came here," he asked. "My head will burst until
I know."

"Our bell mare, the most valuable on our rancho, strayed far the day
before yesterday. All that day and the next six vaqueros looked for her.
One traced her to the Sierras and went on in spite of the storm. He
found her, and, just afterward--you. He thought you were dead, but
poured aguardiente down your throats. You swallowed but did not awaken,
although he shook you and pounded you. Then he strapped your friend--
Adan, no? upon the back of Lolita, took you in his arms, and galloped
for home--you were almost at the foot of the mountain. Ay! but I was
frightened when you came. Gracias a dios that you are well and not
frozen. Bueno, I go to send you a good breakfast. Hasta luego."

She went out, and Roldan lay wondering if the breakfast were already
cooked. The door opened again. Roldan sat up. But it was Adan. He wore a
long nightgown and dug his knuckles into his eyes. His knees, too, were
shaky.

"Hist, Roldan," he whispered loudly. "Are you there, or do I dream?"

"Come into my bed and have breakfast--breakfast, Adan!"

Adan gathered his remaining energies, bolted across the room, and
climbed into bed.

"Dios de mi alma, Roldan," he gasped. "Where are we, and why are we
sweltered like sick babies? This is a fine place. Ay! may I never see
snow nor a redwood again!"

Roldan told what he knew of the beginning of their new chapter, and soon
after he finished two Indian servants entered with trays, set them on
the bed, and retired.

"Ay! this looks like home," cried Adan, almost in tears. "Chocolate!
Tortillas! Chicken with yellow rice!" He crossed himself fervently and
attacked the fragrant meal.

It was not a large breakfast, for it was many hours since they had eaten
before; they left not a grain of rice nor a shred on a bone. But half-
satisfied, although very comfortable, they made up their minds to dress.
On the chair was a complete outfit, suitable for a young don. Roldan
concluded it had been thoughtfully placed at his disposal that he might
not appear in the sala of Casa Carillo garbed like a coyote. How he
hated the memory of that ugly and infested garment.

"I, too, have a silk jacket and breeches by my bed," said Adan, "and a
lace shirt and silk stockings, and shoes with buckles. There must be
those of our age in the Casa Carillo, my friend. Bueno! I go to make a
caballero of myself. Hasta luego."

He opened the door and peered out, then ran hastily down the corridor to
his room. Who knew but there might be girls at the Casa Carillo?
Horrible thought!

The boys met a half hour later on the corridor, still weak, but
magnificent to look upon. Roldan's head was very high, despite his
protesting knees: he felt himself again.

"It is the hour of siesta," he said. "Let us lie in these hammocks and
wait. Ay! but it is warm, and the sky is blue, and the sun looks like
the copper lamp of my mother--the one that came from Boston. Who--even
an Indian--would live in the mountains when the valleys are so big and
warm?"

They extended themselves in two hammocks swung across the corridor and
watched the many doors on the several sides of the court. All were
closed, and the forest had hardly been more quiet than the Casa Carillo
in its hour of siesta. Through the arch of the gateway they could see
the green of fields, a corner of a vineyard, and rolling hills. On
either side of the entrance was a large magnolia-tree with broad shining
leaves and bunches of cream-white fragrance. The oranges were very
yellow, the palms very stately, the red tiles on the sloping roofs above
the white walls looked very fresh and red. There was colour and beauty
everywhere; and the boys were quite at peace, and content to be so.
Their appetite for adventure was dulled for the moment.

XIV

A door on the opposite corridor opened and a youth came forth. He jerked
his head diffidently at the guests and took the longest way round
instead of crossing the court; but when he reached the boys, who were
risen and awaiting him, he wore a dignified air of welcome, as befitted
a young gentleman of his race.

"Welcome to Casa Carillo, senores," he said gravely. "The house is
yours. Burn it if you will. I, myself, Rafael Carillo, am your slave."

To which Roldan replied: "We are at your feet, for you and yours have
rescued us from death and given us food and clothing when we most needed
it. Our lives are yours to do with as you wish."

"Then would we keep you here always, Don Roldan and Don Adan. All guests
are welcome at Casa Carillo, but doubly those that need it."

Then, formalities over, as boys are pretty much alike the world round,
Rafael was soon pouring forth eager questions, and our heroes were
reliving the events of the past weeks. Arm in arm they strolled out into
the wide beautiful valley, green with sprouting winter, the distant
mountains of terrible memory quivering under a dark blue mist.

"Hist!" said Rafael, suddenly. "Do you know what day this is?"

"Day?" The adventurers had lost all count of time.

"It is the day before Christmas, my friends."

"No! Madre de dios!" Roldan and Adan stood still. For a moment they felt
homesick. They saw the reproachful faces of their parents and brothers
and sisters, to say nothing of visions of unclaimed presents. But Rafael
gave them no time for regrets. He was the only child at home, and
delighted with his new companions.

"To-morrow many people will come," he said. "I have ten married sisters
and brothers. They all come from their ranchos, and many more. It will
be very gay, my friends."

"Good," said Roldan, dismissing regret. "We will enjoy."

"And after Christmas is gone I know of something else," said Rafael,
mysteriously. He glanced about. They stood in the midst of a great
vineyard, each engaged upon a large purple bunch. "Come," said Rafael,
with an air of mystery. "Not here. Some one may hide beneath the vines."

It was extremely unlikely, but the adventurers liked the suggestion and
followed their host breathlessly into the open field. "One day in the
summer," whispered Rafael, his eyes rolling about, "I went with four
vaqueros with a present of venison to Father Osuna. He was not at the
Mission, and a brother told us that he walked among the hills. I thought
I would go to meet him and receive his blessing. For a time I saw no
one, and I thought, 'Caramba! but the padre has long legs this hot
weather!' Just then he stood before me. He had walked out of the side of
the hill through a hole no wider than himself. He sweated like a bull
after coliar, and his cassock was gathered in his two hands, leaving his
bare shanks no more sacred than an Indian's. He did not look like a
priest at all, and I forgot to kneel to him, but stared with my mouth
open. And what do you think he did, my friends? He turned white like the
hand of a dona in her teens and--and--dropped his cassock. And--"

"Well? well?"

"What do you think rolled to the ground, my friends? Chunks of yellow
stuff that glittered, and a shower of sparkling yellow sand--beautiful
as sunshine on the floor. I gave a cry and ran to pick it up. I had
never seen anything so beautiful, I never had wanted anything so much. I
felt that I would die for it in that moment, my friends. But that
priest, what do you think he did? He gave a yell of rage, as if he could
tear me in pieces, and flung himself all over that sunshine of earth.
'My gold!' he cried. 'Mine! mine! You shall not take it from me.' 'If it
is yours it is not mine, my father,' I said, feeling ashamed,--though I
still wanted it; 'I will help you to pick it up.' He got up then, his
face very red again, and I could see that he was trying to put on his
dignity as fast as he had put down his cassock--he looked better with
both in place. 'My son,' he said,'the day is warm and I am very tired,
and, I fear, a little ill. These rocks are nothing. They please my eye,
and I pick them up sometimes as I walk among the hills. Leave them
there. I do not want them. We will return to the Mission.' 'If you do
not want them, then may I have them?' I asked--the blood flew all over
my body, my friends. He scowled as if I had asked him for the candles on
the altar. 'No,' he said, 'you cannot.' Then he put his big hand on my
shoulder--he could twist your neck in a minute with those hands--
'Listen to me, my son,' he said, very soft, and looking so kind now, you
can't think. 'There is poison in those stones, pretty as they are,
deadly poison. It has murdered millions of souls and hundreds of bodies.
Therefore I will not let you touch it--only a priest can touch it
without ruining his soul. Therefore I forbid you---forbid you--' he
shouted this over me, 'to tell any one of what you have seen to-day.
Neither your father nor your mother--no one. Do you understand?' I said
'Yes,' but I did not promise, and he was excited and did not notice.
Then he dragged me away, and I looked about for other rocks that
glittered. But there were none--not anywhere. And then I knew that they
had come out of the hill; but I said nothing, and when we got back to
the Mission and had had dinner and he was himself again and would have
spoken alone with me, I ran and got on my horse, and all the brothers
stood on the corridor to see me go. He came up to me and blessed me, and
whispered: 'Tell no one, my son. If you do'--and he gave me a look that
made my hair crackle at the roots. And to this day I have told no one.
Did I tell my parents the priest would know in six hours. No boy has
stayed here that I like. But now--"

"We will go to the hill and see for ourselves," said Roldan, promptly,
and Adan gasped with horror and delight.

"Ay, I knew you would. I am brave, but I dared not go myself--that padre
is too big. I wake up in the night and see his hands pawing in the air.
But three of us--we need fear no one."

"We will go as soon as the guests are gone. I have heard of this 'gold.'
ln Europe--I have an uncle who has travelled and has told me many
things--bueno, in Europe, they make it into money and give it for
things in big houses they call shops. Even here, in Monterey, and
perhaps the other towns, they have a little--it comes from Mexico. My
uncle said that one reason we were so happy was because we had so little
money--none at all, we might say. That we got what we wanted out of the
earth, or by trading with one another or with the skippers from Boston,
who are glad to give us what we need from other lands in return for our
hides and tallow. So, if we find this 'gold' perhaps we had better say
nothing about it; but to find it--that will be a great, a grand
adventure."

"We'll tell if we find it," said Adan, philosophically.

The boys concocted a plan of campaign to their satisfaction, then went
home to supper. Don Tiburcio and his wife, Dona Martina, were already
seated at the table in the big bare room. The grandee was a huge man
with a soft profile, and cheeks as large and cream-hued as one of the
magnolias hanging in the patio. He had an expression of indolent good-
nature above his straight mouth, and long hands that looked lean and
hard when they closed suddenly. He was a man of much influence in the
politics of his country. His small-clothes were of dark green cloth with
large silver buttons, the lace on his linen was fine and abundant. Dona
Martina wore a gown of stiff flowered silk and a profusion of topaz
ornaments. As the boys entered and bowed respectfully, Don Tiburcio eyed
them keenly, but shook them cordially by the hand.

"So you are the son of Mateo Castanada," he said to Roldan. "It is
evident enough, although you have something in the face that he has not.
Otherwise I should not have done him to death in more than one political
battle. Well, my sons, you are very welcome, and the longer you stay
with us the better. The officers passed here some days ago--Rafael hid
in the garret for the two days I feasted them, and they do not know that
I have a son so young. Well, you are in good time to help my son enjoy
his Christmas."

There was an abundant supper of meat with hot pepper-sauce, tomatoes and
eggs baked together, and many dulces. The boys wondered if dried meat
and coarse cakes were part of an adventurous dream.

The next morning chocolate was brought to the boys at half-past five,
after which they dressed, and mounting the mustangs. awaiting their
pleasure in the courtyard, went off for a morning canter. At Roldan's
suggestion they reconnoitred the hills behind the Mission and got the
bearings definitely shaped in their minds; the great raid was to be at
night. They returned to a big breakfast at nine o'clock, then rode out
again to meet the expected guests. It was but a few moments before they
saw several cavalcades approaching from as many different directions.
The young men and women, in silken clothes of every hue, were on horses
caparisoned with velvet, carved leather, and silver; in many instances a
girl had proud possession of the saddle, while her swain bestrode the
anquera behind, his arm supporting her waist. Roldan wondered if
anything would ever induce him to sacrifice his dignity like that. (It
may be remarked here, as this history has only to do with the famous
Californian's boyhood, that the day came when he could bow the knee to
the fair sex with as graceful an ardour as did he not employ his sterner
moments making laws and enforcing them.) The older folk travelled in
carretas, the conveyance of the country, a springless wagon set on
wheels cut from the solid thickness of the tree. It was driven by
gananes, sitting astride the mustangs and singing lustily. The interior
was lined with satin and padded, but was probably uncomfortable enough.
Everybody looked smiling and happy, and a number of lads left their
respective parties and cantered over to Rafael and his guests. A few
moments later they all galloped at the top speed of their much-enduring
mustangs to a great clump of oaks, where they dismounted and listened
with breathless interest to the adventures of Roldan and Adan. All had
been drafted, and must leave for barracks with the new year. They
complimented the adventurers in a curious mixture of stately Spanish and
eager youthfulness, and their admiration was so apparent that our heroes
would have doubled the dangers of the past on the spot.

When they returned home to dinner the great space before the house was
filled with shining horses pawing the ground under their heavy saddles.
The court and corridors were an animated scene, overflowing with dons
and donas in brilliant array. When dinner was over and the grown-up
guests and young girls were lingering over the Christmas dulces, all the
boys slipped away and went out to the huge kitchen, where countless
Indian servants were busy or resting. They demanded four dozen eggs and
help to blow them at once. The maids hastened to do the bidding of the
little dons, and in less than a quarter of an hour the eggs were free of
their natural contents, and all were busy refilling them with flour, or
cologne, or scraps of gold and silver paper. Then the boys stuffed the
fronts of their shirts, their sleeves, and their pockets with the eggs,
and hid themselves among the palms of the court. Presently the guests
came forth and scattered about the corridor, smiling and chatting in the
soft subdued Spanish way. Suddenly twelve eggs, thrown with supple wrist
and aimed with unfailing dexterity, flew through the air and crashed
softly on the backs of caballeros' curls and donas' braids, flour
powdering, gold and silver paper glittering on the dense blackness of
those Californian tresses, cologne shooting down dignified spines. There
was a chorus of shrieks, and then, as every head whisked about, and as a
blow did not count unless it struck at the back, the boys ran up to the
corridors, dodged under vengeful arms and continued the battle. Finally
they were chased out into the open, and the guests having been provided
with the remaining eggs by Dona Martina, the battle waged fierce and hot
until, exhausted, the guests retired for siesta.

But siesta was brief that day. In less than an hour's time all had
reappeared and were mounting for the race.

XV

The race took place in a field a mile from the house, on a straight
track. Four vaqueros in black velvet small-clothes trimmed with silver,
spotless linen, and stiff glazed black sombreros, walked up and down,
leading the impatient mustangs. Two of these horses were a beautiful
bronze-gold in colour, with silver manes and tails, a breed peculiar to
the Californias; one was black, the other as white as crystal. The
family and guests of Casa Carillo sat on their horses, in their
carretas, or stood just outside the fence surrounding the field. At one
end were the several hundred Indians employed by Don Tiburcio, and
several hundred more from the Mission. Father Osuna had also joined the
party from the Casa, and Roldan, who had seen hundreds of horse-races
and was built on a more complex plan than his contemporaries, got as
close to the priest as he dared and gave him his undivided attention.
Padre Osuna was a man of unusual height and heaviness of build. His
black eyes were set close to his fine Roman nose. The mouth was so
tightly compressed that its original curves were quite destroyed, and
the intellectual development of the brow was very marked. His hands
exerted a peculiar fascination over Roldan. They were of huge size, even
for so big a man, lean and knotted, with square-tipped fingers. The skin
on them was fine and brown; it looked as soft as a woman's. He used them
a good deal when talking, and not ungracefully; but they seemed to claw
and grasp the air, to be independent of the arms hidden in the
voluminous sleeves of the smart brown cassock. Other people watched
those hands too--they seemed to possess a magnetism of their own; and
every one showed this priest great deference: he was one of the most
successful disciplinarians in the Department of California, a brilliant
speaker, an able adviser in matters of state, and a man of many social
graces.

"More agreeable to meet in the sala of the Mission than in a cave at
midnight," thought Roldan. "Still--" His scent for danger, particularly
if it involved a matching of wits, was very keen.

The word was given. The race began. The dons shouted, the lovely faces
between the bright folds of the rebosos flushed expectantly. From the
black mass of Indians opposite came a mighty gurgle, which gradually
broke into a roar,--

"The black! Fifty hides on the black!"

"The little bronze! She is a length ahead! Madre de dios! Six doubloons
of Mexico on the little bronze!"

The priest pushed his way to the speaker, a wealthy ranchero who had
been more than once to Mexico.

"The white against the bronze, senor," he said. "Twenty otter skins to
the six doubloons of Mexico."

"Done, your reverence. I am honoured that you bet with me. But the
white--have you thought well, my father?"

"She breathes well, and her legs are very clean."

"True, my father, but look at the muscles of the little bronze. How they
swell! And the fire in the nostrils!"

"True, Don Jaime; and if she wins, the skins are yours."

As the horses darted down the track almost neck to neck, the excitement
routed Spanish dignity. The dons stood up in their saddles, shouting and
betting furiously. The women clapped their white idle hands, and
cheered, and bet--but with less recklessness: a small jewel or a second-
best mantilla. As they could not remember what they had bet when the
excitement was over, these debts were never paid; but it pleased them
mightily to make their little wagers. The men were betting ranchitas,
horses, cattle, and, finally, their jewels and saddles and serapes. For
each horse represented a different district of the Department, and there
was much rivalry.

The priest did not shout, and he made no more bets, but his eyes never
left those figures speeding like arrows from the bow, the riders
motionless as if but the effigies of men strapped to the creatures of
fire beneath. Sometimes the black gained then the little bronze; once
the white dashed a full three yards beyond his fellows, and Roldan saw
the great hands of the priest, which had been clinched against his
shoulders, open spasmodically, then close harder than ever as the white
quickly dropped back again.

It was a very close race. The excitement grew tense and painful. Even
Roldan felt it finally, and forgot the priest. The big bronze had quite
dropped out of it and was lagging homeward, hardly greeted by a hiss.
The others were almost neck and neck, the little bronze slightly in the
lead. "She wins," thought Roldan, "No! No! The black! the black! Ay, no,
the bronze! but no! no! Ay! Ay! Ay!" A roar went up that ended in a
shriek. The black had won.

Roldan looked at the priest. His skin was livid, his nostrils twitching.
But his mouth and eyes told nothing.

The crowd rode home, still excited, gay, cheerful. Their losses mattered
not. Were not their acres numbered by the hundred thousand? Did they not
have more horses and cattle than they would ever count? In those days of
pleasure and plenty, of luxury and unconsidered generosity, a rancho, a
caponara the less, meant a loss neither to be felt nor remembered.

After the bountiful supper the guests loitered for a time in the
courtyard, then the sala was cleared and the dance began. Several of the
girls danced alone, while the caballeros clapped and shouted. Then all
waltzed or took part in their only square dance, the contradanza. They
kept it up until morning. Needless to say, our heroes went to bed at an
early hour.

They were up the next morning with the dawn, and in company with Rafael
and the other guests of their own age, went for their canter. This time
they avoided the hills behind the Mission, as they had no wish to share
their secret, and a chance word might divulge all. They rode toward the
hills at the head of the valley. Roldan was still the hero of the hour,
and Rafael, although the most generous of boys, resented it a little. He
was not without ambitions of his own, and determined to seize the first
opportunity to remind his companions that the son of Don Tiburcio
Carillo, the greatest ranchero of that section of the Californias, had
not the habit to occupy the humble position of tag-behind even to so
brilliant and adventurous a guest as Roldan Castanada.

He soon found his opportunity.

As they reached the first hill they saw a bull feeding on its summit.
"Aha!" cried the young don of the Rancho Encarnacion. "Now I will make
for you a little morning entertainment, my friends. Coliar! coliar!"

"No! no!" cried the boys. "The hill is too steep. It is like the side of
a house. You will break your neck, my friend."

Roldan said: "It is dangerous, but it could be done."

"I can do it," said Rafael, proudly, "and I shall."

The other boys, good sportsmen as they all were, shouted, "No! no!"
again; but Rafael laughed gaily, and forced his horse up the almost
perpendicular declivity, leisurely unwinding his lariat from the high
pommel of his saddle, and tossing it into big snake-like loops, which he
gathered one by one into his hand, the last about his thumb. The bull
fed on unsuspecting. for the early green of winter was very delicious
after eight months of unrelenting sunshine. When Rafael reached the
summit he rode back for some distance, then came at the bull full
charge, yelling like a demon. The bull, terrified and indignant, gave a
mighty snort and leaped over the brow of the hill. It was much like
descending the slightly inclined side of a cliff, but he kept his
footing. The boys held their breath as Rafael rode straight over the
brow in the wake of the bull. With one hand he held the bridle in a
tight grip, in the other he held aloft the coils of the lariat. It
looked like a huge snake, and quivered as if aware that it was about to
spring. There was no cheering; the boys were too much alarmed. A mis-
step and there would be a hideous heap at the foot of the hill.

The little mustang appeared scarcely to touch the uneven surface of the
descent. He looked as if galloping in air, and tossed his head fiercely
as though to shake the rising sun out of his eyes. The bull seemed
continually gathering himself for a great leap, his clumsy bulk heaving
from side to side. But a quarter of the distance had been traversed when
the great curves of the lasso sprang forward, and, amidst a hoarse
murmur from the boys, caught the bull below the horns. But that was all.
The bull would not down! There would be no coliar! He merely ran on--the
brute! the beast!--jerking his horns defiantly, putting down his head,
nearly dragging Rafael from the saddle. But no! but no! Rafael has risen
in his saddle, he has forced his mustang the harder, he is almost level
with the bull--he has passed! He gives a great jerk, dragging the bull
to his knees, then another, and the bull is on his side and rolling over
and over down the hill, Rafael following fast, slackening his lariat.
The boys now cheer wildly, although danger is not over--yes, in another
moment it is, and Rafael, smiling complacently, is at the foot of the
hill, disengaging the humbled bull.

"Bravo!" said a voice from behind the horses. All turned with a start.
It was the priest. "Coliar was never better done," he added graciously;
and Rafael felt that the day was his.

The priest had ridden up unnoted in the tense excitement of the last few
moments. He sat a big powerful horse, and his bearing was as military as
that of the two great generals of the Californias, Castro and Vallejo.

As the boys, congratulations and modest acknowledgement over, were
making for home and breakfast, the priest pressed his horse close to
Roldan's. "I interested you much at the race yesterday, Don Roldan," he
said, with a good-humoured smile. "Why was that?"

Roldan was not often embarrassed, but he was so taken aback at the
abrupt sally he forgot to be flattered that the priest had evidently
thought it worth while to inquire his name; and stammered: "I--well, you
see, my father, you are not like other priests." Which was not
undiplomatic.

The priest smiled, this time with a faint flush of unmistakable
pleasure. "You are right, my son, I am not as other priests in this
wilderness. Would to Heaven I were, or--"

"Or that you were in Spain?" Roldan could not resist saying, then caught
his breath at his temerity.

The priest turned about and faced him squarely. "Yes," he said
deliberately, "and that I were a cardinal of Rome. Such words I have
never uttered to mortal before; but if I am not as other men, neither
are you as other lads. Some day you will be a Castro or an Alvarado; it
is written in your face. Perhaps something more, for changes may come
and your opportunities be greater. But I--I am no longer young; there is
no hope in California for me."

"Why do you not return to Spain?"

"I have written. They will not answer. In my youth I was wild. They
forced me to come here. I had no money. I was obliged to obey. I have
christianized a few hundred worthless savages who were better off in
their barbarism, and I have made myself a power among a few thousand men
of whom the outer world, the great world, knows nothing. My Mission is
the most prosperous in the Californias--and I--" he set and ground his
teeth.

Roldan thought of the gold. "When I am governor of the Californias, my
father," he said, "I shall send you back to Spain, for then I shall have
great influence--and much gold."

At the last word the priest's eyes flamed with so fierce a light that
Roldan shrank back repelled, feeling himself in the presence of a
passion of which he had no knowledge. But the priest controlled himself
at once. "Thank you, my son," he said with a brilliant smile. "And I do
not ask you to guard as your own what I have said. It is a part of the
power of such natures as yours that you know what to repeat and what to
leave unsaid." Then as they approached the house he suddenly took
Roldan's slender elegant hand in one of his mighty paws, shook it
heartily, and flinging his bridle to a vaquero, sprang lightly to the
ground and entered the courtyard, leaving our hero in a condition of
flattered bewilderment.

XVI

That day there was to be a grand rodeo, or "round-up:" the branding of
cattle; not only of the stock belonging to Don Tiburcio, but of many of
his neighbours, which would be driven over to his rancho for the
operation. This was one of the great occasions of the year. Immediately
after breakfast the neighbours began to arrive, magnificently mounted,
sparkling with gold and silver lace, their wives and daughters each
surrounded by her cavalcade. About ten the gorgeous company, led by the
host, started for an immense corral about three miles from the house.
The boys were well to the front, and established themselves on the wall
of the corral. The rest of the party remained on their horses, but
mounted the little slopes. The green winter landscape had suddenly
become a blaze of colour, and never was there a more animated scene.
Over all hung a light haze. The distant mountains, which could be seen
from the outer valley, were almost invisible. The priest, a huge brown
figure, on his big brown horse, stood on the very apex of the highest
knoll.

Presently, from various directions rose a low deep murmur, then a rumble
of growing volume as of an approaching earthquake. Men and women grasped
their bridles with firmer fingers, and pressed still nearer to the
crests of the many mounds. Then over the hills on every side came a mass
of tossing horns and sleek shining bodies, separated here and there by a
shouting vaquero, whose black and silver seemed pierced at every point
by those white curving horns. The cattle, several thousand in number,
trotted over the hills and toward the corral swiftly, but in good order,
held well in check by the careful vaqueros. There was no cheering, for
excitement was to be avoided. The cattle would stand any amount of the
shouting they were used to, but little from unaccustomed throats.

In the corral, at its farther end, stood, by an oven, a tall muscular
Indian, the most famous brander in that part of the country. He was
stripped to the waist, and as the first steer was driven through the
narrow gate, he plucked a red-hot iron from the coals. The beast,
kicking and bellowing, was flung to the ground by a dexterous twist of
his tail, two more Indians held him in position, and the branding was
accomplished.

Almost before he was up another was prostrate; and they followed each
other in such rapid succession that the wonder was some were not branded
twice. As fast as each brute received his mark he was driven out of
another gate and over the hills, lest his ill-nature should be the cause
of wild disorder.

The vaqueros handled their dangerous charges with admirable skill,
keeping those to be branded in groups of a hundred or more at some
distance from the corral, riding round them constantly with peremptory
shouts. Other vaqueros, belonging to the same herd, segregated the
animals immediately required and drove them in a straight line for the
corral. There was not a moment of pause. The vaqueros, the brander, and
his assistants seemed impervious to fatigue; the cattle, shifting
uneasily in their bands, leaped eagerly from the lines at the first
signal from the vaquero bearing down on them like a fury from the
corral. On the far side, otherwise deserted, the sore indignant beasts
scampered as fast as their legs could carry them whithersoever their
vaquero chose to drive.

After two hours or more, the atmosphere was charged with a certain
breathless excitement, as was natural enough. The constant cyclonic rush
of vaqueros and cattle, the angry bellowings, the increasing masses of
animals, the furious shouts of the men, had changed a peaceable
landscape into a vast theatre full of tragic possibilities. The waiting
cattle were growing more and more restless, and there was a low rumble
among them. Don Tiburcio motioned to his guests that it was time to
leave; moreover, it was nearing the dinner hour.

"Rafael!" he called. His son turned his head impatiently, but prepared
to obey; the Californian youth was brought up on rigid lines.

"Ay, must we go?" cried Adan. "I could stand here till night, even
without dinner, my friends."

"I, too, am sorry," began Roldan. "But what is the matter?"

The great masses of cattle had begun to heave suddenly. They were
uttering hoarse growls of terror. The mustangs of the vaqueros stood
suddenly still, quivering. Then, abruptly, a horrible stillness fell.
All things breathing seemed to petrify. But only for numbered seconds.
From beneath came a low roar, gathering in volume like the progression
of a tidal wave; then the world heaved and rocked.

"Temblor! temblor!" went up as from one mighty horrified throat. The
priest shouted to the boys: "Stay where you are;" to Don Tiburcio and
his guests: "With all your speed after me."

They understood his meaning. The cattle were leaping over one another,
bellowing madly, giving no heed to the hoarse cries of the terrified
vaqueros. In a moment a blaze of colour was flying down the valley, a
long brown arm lifted high above it. In twenty seconds five thousand
tossing horns and blazing eyes and heaving flanks were in pursuit.

The vaqueros did their best, although their faces were white and their
lips shaking. Three that were between the uniting herds, had their legs
crushed into their mustangs' sides, and were borne along and aloft,
shrieking horribly, adding to the fury of the stampede. Another, trying
to head the cattle off, rode into a sudden split in the hard adobe soil
and went down beneath those iron feet.

The boys clung together. The wall was broad, but it rocked continuously,
whether from other shocks or from the hoof-assaulted earth it would have
been impossible to say. A curving outer flank of the flying mass bulged
against it, and it quivered horribly with the impact. The boys strained
their eyes after the retreating points of colour. Would they escape?
Were the frightened mustangs fleeter of foot than those maddened brutes?
And if they were--the Casa!

"I think," said Roldan, "that we had better get down on the other side.
This wall may go down any minute; and the cattle are all looking in one
direction."

"You are right," said Rafael. "This way--Ay de mi!"

There was another heave of the earth, distinct from the steady vibration
of stampeding cattle. The adobe wall rocked violently, sprang, twisted,
crumbled to the ground, a heap of dust.

For a moment the boys were invisible. Then they emerged, one by one,
choking and spitting, rubbing their eyes with their knuckles. When they
had recovered some measure of vision they huddled together, staring with
affrighted eyes at the moving wall of cattle not twenty yards to their
left, hardly able to keep their balance.

Suddenly Roldan pulled his wits together. "Sit down," he said. "We are
the colour now of the earth. If we keep quiet and look no taller than
weeds they will not see us and we shall not be hurt."

The boys dropped to the ground and sat in silence, staring ahead of
them. Would that rushing, heaving, bellowing mass have no end? It was
indeed a long time before the last line, curiously compact, swept by.
Occasionally the earth jumped with brief abruptness, causing hair to
crackle at the roots, and dust-laden as it was, make as if to rise on
end. The squirrels were screeching in the trees. The birds pitifully
twittered. Even the leaves rustled in response to those terrible
quivers.

The cattle were a red streak at the end of the perspective. The boys
rose, shook themselves, and walked heavily to their tethered mustangs.
The poor beasts were trembling and whinnying; they greeted their young
masters with a quavering neigh of relief. The boys mounted; but although
they rode rapidly, with ever increasing impatience, they paused every
few moments to listen; there was likely to be a return stampede at any
moment. More than once they were obliged to swerve suddenly aside from
yawning rifts, and they passed a spring of boiling water, spouting and
hissing upward, which had not been there in the morning. They were too
frightened to talk; not only the paralysing awe of the earthquake was
upon them, but the least imaginative saw his home levelled to the
ground, his relatives and friends trodden down into the cracking earth.
Hills lay between them and the Casa Encarnacion.

There were two exits from the valley where the branding had taken place:
one, very narrow, to the right, which led directly to the house, the
other straight ahead, almost as broad as the valley itself. The boys saw
at a glance that pursued and pursuers had taken the more spacious way,
and they followed without consultation.

The crushed grass looked like green blood, but there was no other
evidence of slaughter; the mustangs had been fleeter than the cattle.
The latter had evidently kept well together, for on either side of a
swath some three hundred yards in width, the grass stood high.

They were in a wide valley now; they could see the great mountains,
still faint under their vapourous mist, the redwoods as rigid of outline
as if the heart of the world beneath had never changed its measure. Just
beyond this valley was a wood, then the Mission. Were twenty thousand
hoofs trampling among its ruins?

They left the valley, entered the wood, galloped down its narrow path,
and emerged. The Mission stood on its plateau above the river, as serene
and proud as the redwoods on the mountain. She had held her own against
many earthquakes and would against many more. But there was not a horn,
a horse, a man, nor a woman to be seen.

The boys dismounted, not daring to think. They walked toward the
buildings, then paused to listen. Through the open doors of the church
rolled the sonorous tones of Padre Osuna's voice, intoning mass. The
boys ran forward to enter the building. They paused on the threshold,
held by a sight, the like of which had never been seen in California
before, and never shall be again.

Near the entrance of the vast building were a multitude of half-clothed
dusky forms, prone. Between them and the altar were more than an hundred
horses, caparisoned with silver and carved leather, and gay anquera.
They stood as if petrified. On them, huddled to the arching necks, in an
attitude of prostrate devotion, were magnificent bunches of colour;
scarce an outline could be seen of the proudly attired men and women who
had fled before a tidal wave of tossing horns. Father Osuna, in his
coarse brown woollen robes, stood before the altar, chanting the mass of
thanksgiving. The church blazed with the light of many candles. The air
was thick and sweet with incense.

XVII

After the mass was over the boys learned the sequel of the morning's
terrible adventure. Between the second valley and the wood the cattle,
diverted by one of those mysterious impulses which govern masses of all
grades of intelligence, had deflected suddenly and raced for the hills.
The gay company was much shaken, but somewhat restored by the calm of
the church and the solemn monotonous roll of Father Osuna's voice. They
cantered slowly homeward, and crossed themselves fervently when they saw
the Casa Encarnacion none the worse for her shaking, beyond a few fallen
tiles. After dinner and siesta they recovered their natural spirits, and
the men and boys went forth with the vaqueros to hunt the cattle. These
were found at the foot of the mountain, weary and humble. Not a horn was
tossed in defiance at the volley of abuse hurled upon them, and they
allowed themselves to be driven to the ranches of their respective
owners without a protest.

That evening the household and guests of Casa Encarnacion spent in music
and dancing; so light of heart and careless of mind were the people of
that time and country.

A number of cattle had been trampled to death in the stampede, and the
bodies lay within a few miles of the mountains. It was inevitable that
bears would come out to eat the carcasses. On the night of the day of
terrifying memory no one felt equal to the exertion of another ten mile
ride and the subsequent battle with a possible herd of bears. But at
eight o'clock on the following night Don Tiburcio, Padre Osuna, the
boys, some ten of the caballeros, and as many vaqueros mounted and rode
forth for a good night's sport. The moon was thin and low. As they
approached the spot where the first of the wild band had succumbed to
fatigue they saw a dark object moving beside the carcass. The approach
was stealthy, but the bear suddenly raised his head. In a second five or
six lassos had sprung through the air. One caught the bear--a brown bear
of moderate size--about the neck, another about a hind leg. The brute
drew his legs together like a bucking horse and leaped into the air,
then plunged toward his tormentors; but those that had him in lasso
galloped in different directions, and poor bruin was quickly strained
and strangled to death. Two vaqueros were left to skin him, and the
party rode on. In a very few moments they saw a moving group some
distance ahead. Spurring their mustangs they dashed forward, letting the
lassos fly. Now the sport became truly exciting and dangerous. Some six
or eight brown bears, of varying sizes, growled furiously and bounded
toward the intruders. Three were caught in the meshes of the rope, the
others were making straight for the horses. There was only one thing to
do. The men put spurs and galloped rapidly away, the bears plunging
heavily in pursuit. When the men had outdistanced the bears by a hundred
yards or more, they wheeled suddenly and trotted back, once more letting
fly the lasso. This time all but one were roped; as they kicked in fury,
their hind legs were caught by the lariats held in reserve; and there
followed a scene of plunging and springing, galloping, shouting,
growling; and neighing, for the mustangs were fully alive to their part.

The one bear at liberty rode straight for Roldan.

He had hurled his lasso with the rest, and it was trailing. He jerked
about and fled for a mile or more, holding on with his legs while both
hands were occupied gathering in the rope and coiling it about the high
pommel of his saddle. Then he turned and charged full at the bear, who
was hot in pursuit and no mean runner. He hurled the lariat. It fell
short, and lay quivering on the ground like a huge wounded snake. Roldan
gave an exclamation, of surprise as much as of dismay: he was an expert
with the rope. He turned, however, dragging it in. It caught about the
mustang's hind legs. The beast went down, neighing with horror. Roldan
tried to jerk him to his feet. He seemed hopelessly entangled. Roldan
extricated himself, knowing that he was comparatively safe, as bears
prefer horse-meat to man's. He had no sooner got his feet free of the
boots than the mustang leaped to his feet and fled like a hare, dragging
the lariat in a straight line after him.

Roldan was alone, the bear not ten yards away. The rest of his party
were a mile and more behind. No one apparently had noticed his flight
with the solitary bear. The light was uncertain and the excitement over
there intense.

Roldan took to his agile young heels. But the bear gathered himself and
leaped, not once but several times. There was no doubt that his blood
was up, and that he meant a duel to the death. Roldan turned with a
catching of what breath was left in him. He mechanically drew his knife
from its pocket and flourished it at the advancing bear. Bruin cared as
little for steel as for rope. He came on with a mighty growl.

Roldan gave one rapid glance about. There was not even a tree in sight.
From his point of departure an object seemed approaching, but it was too
dark to tell as yet whether it was a horseman or another bear. The brute
was almost on him, panting mightily. All the senses between Roldan's
skeleton and his skin concentrated in the determination to live. He
sprang forward and plunged his long knife into the protruding injected
eye of the bear, then leaped aside, his dripping knife in his hand, and
danced about the maddened beast with the agility of a modern prize-
fighter. The bear, too, danced, as if obsessed by some infernal music;
and the skipping, and leaping, and dodging, and waltzing of these two
would have been ludicrous had it not been a matter of life and horrid
death. Through it all Roldan was vaguely conscious of approaching
hoofbeats, but there was no room in his consciousness for hope or
despair. He was not even aware that he was panting as if his lungs and
throat were bursting, nor even that his vision was a trifle blurred from
constant and rapid change of focus and surcharged veins. But he executed
his dance of life as unerringly as if fresh from his bed and bath. The
bear, a clumsy creature at best, and streaming and blinded with his
blood, was slackening a little, but there was life in him yet, and twice
its measure of vengeance. Suddenly he lay down, but became so abruptly
inert that Roldan was not deceived. Instead of putting himself within
reach of those waiting arms he fled with all his strength. It was then
that he knew how fully that strength was spent: his lungs and legs
refused to work with his will and impulse after the first hundred yards,
and he fell to the ground with a sensation of utter indifference,
longing only for physical rest. He heard the bear plunging after, the
loud sound of a horse's hoofs, mingled with a single shout, then gave up
his consciousness.

He awoke in a few moments. Adan was bending over him, propping his head.
"The bear?" he demanded, ashamed of the pitiful quality of his voice.

"I came just in time to rope him," replied Adan. "You were a fool, my
friend, to go off alone like that--but very brave," he added hastily,
knowing that Roldan did not like criticism.

"You are quite right. And this is the second time you and your lariat
have saved me. Perhaps it may be the other way some time."

"Likely it will if you go on hunting for adventures as the old women
hunt for fleas of a night. Do you feel able to get on my horse? It will
carry the two of us."

"If I were not equal to that much I should find another bear and go to
sleep in his arms."

XVIII

At last the night arrived for the gold quest. The guests had gone.
Roldan, Adan, and Rafael were alone on their side of the great house.
They waited, kicking their heels together with leashed impatience, until
eleven o'clock. The family and servants of Casa Encarnacion went to bed
at ten o'clock, but it was the custom of Don Tiburcio to go the rounds a
half or three quarters of an hour later and see that his strict laws
were as strictly obeyed. To-night, when he opened the doors of the three
young dons in succession, heels were still, and breathing was as
monotonous as his own would be an hour later. At eleven the boys dressed
and swung from their windows, not daring to leave by the courtyard. Nor
did they dare go to the corral and abstract three horses. Much to their
distaste, for there was nothing the Californian hated so much as to
travel on two legs, they were obliged to walk the miles between the Casa
and the hills. But their legs were young and their brains eager; in
little over an hour they were in sight of the Mission.

It looked very white and ghostly in the pale blaze of the moon, a huge
mass, full of prayer and discontent. Close beside it, but without the
walls, the Indians slept in the rancheria, quiescent enough, for they
had no Anastacio. At midnight the great bells in the tower had rung out,
filling the valley with their sweet silver clamour; but as the boys
approached and skirted the wall, some distance to the right, the Mission
might have been as lifeless as it is this year, in its desertion and
decay.

The hills were a mile behind. The Mission, like all of its kind, stood
on a broad open, that no hostile tribe might approach unseen. Cows and
horses lay in their first heavy sleep, their breathing hardly ruffling
the profound stillness. So great an air of repose did the silent walls
and sleeping beasts give to the landscape that the boys felt the quiet
of the night as they had not done in the other valley, and drew closer
together, almost holding their breath lest the priests might hear it. A
quarter of an hour later they were among the hills and standing before
the aperture whose secrets were known only to Padre Osuna. They glanced
at each other out of the corners of their eyes. Brave as they were, they
did not altogether like the idea of a possible encounter with a
rattlesnake or a bear in the dark and narrow confines of a cave. And if
there should be another earthquake! However, they had not come to turn
back, and Roldan pushed boldly in, the others following close.

For a time their way lay along a narrow passage. They had made two
abrupt turns before they dared to light the lantern they had brought.
When Rafael did, it revealed nothing but earthy walls and the imprint of
feet on the ground. After a little, however, the passage suddenly
widened, and it was Adan who uttered the first exclamation of surprise.
It was, indeed, a hoarse gurgle. The walls were veined with what
appeared to be irregular bands of dirty crystal, pricked with glittering
yellow. There were, perhaps, a thousand of these little points bared
from the jealous earth, and they shone with a steady baleful glare,
magnetising six youthful eyes, stirring in three careless brains the
ghosts of ancient gold-lust, whose concrete substance lay in the marble
vaults of Spain. Immediately Roldan's sympathy went out to the priest;
and he knew that that commanding intelligence could teach him one thing
the less.

There was a rough pick on the ground, and many junks of quartz. Roldan
struck and rubbed two pieces together. In a moment his palm was filled
with jagged pieces of yellow metal. He blew on them lovingly, then put
them in his pocket.

"Dios de mi alma!" gasped Rafael, whose eyes were bulging from his head.
"It is as beautiful as the stars of the sky,--the stars in the milky
way with the film over them."

"But we need no more stars," said Adan. "We shall take away our pockets
full, but what shall we do with it? Surely this was not made to rot with
the earth. But it is too small for what you call money, if that is so
big as you say, Roldan. It would make fine nails for a church door."

"Now is not the time to think what you will do with it," said Roldan.
"It is enough that we have it to get. Much is very loose in the crystal.
Rub free all that you can, and fill every pocket. We will take all we
can carry away, and come again and again. Some day, when we are men,
perhaps, we will find a use for it. I for one do not believe that
anything that makes you love it can do harm. Does not the Church teach
us to love all things? Now let us work and not talk."

The boys in turn hacked out great pieces of quartz and rubbed the free
gold loose. Much of it could only be crushed out in machinery made for
the purpose, but a sufficient quantity of the quartz was poor and soft.
As the boys worked, they grew more and more silent, more and more
absorbed. They forgot their delight in rodeo, coliar, bear-hunts, bull-
fights, riding about the ranches from morning till noon, the race, the
religious processions, the dulces of their mothers' cooks. A new and
mighty passion possessed them, the strongest they had ever known. Their
lips were pressed hard together--those soft Spanish lips that were
usually half apart--their eyes glowed with a steady fire. Their chests
rose and fell in short regular spasms.

Suddenly a thrill ran through Roldan. He had felt it before when a
rattlesnake, ready to strike, had fixed its green malignant eyes upon
him. He flashed the lantern about swiftly, twisting his neck with deep
anxiety. It would be no minor adventure to encounter a coiled rattler in
this narrow place. Then he saw something white shining out of the
darkness high above the rays, a large white disk, in which glittered two
points of light inexpressibly infuriate.

Roldan sprang to his feet with a warning cry. The other boys, greed
routed by the danger sense, were on their feet as quickly. As the three
lads, none very tall for his age, faced the gigantic bulk of the priest,
they looked cornered and helpless.

The priest, unconsciously beyond doubt, lifted his huge hands, opening
and shutting them slowly. The movement had an ugly significance, and the
hands, in the miserable glimmer of light, looked like great bats, and
seemed to pervade the cavern. Involuntarily the boys squirmed. Then
Roldan, mindful always of his proud position as captain of his small
band, stepped in front of that band and spoke with a vocal control that
did him much credit, considering that his heart seemed to be kicking in
the middle of his stomach.

"These hills are just beyond the Mission grant, Padre Osuna," he said.
"Nor are they on any rancho. Therefore what is in them is as much ours
as any man's. This is the first time that we have been here, but it will
not be the last; and when I am the governor of all the Californias, I
shall send many Indians to dig the very heart out of these hills. So
pick out all that you can now, Padre Osuna, for ten years hence--"

As he spoke fear gave place to exultation in finding himself pitted
against a man whom he intuitively respected more than any he had ever
met, and whom he knew most men feared and none understood. Moreover, he
heard two sets of teeth clattering behind him, and that alone would have
sent the blood of a born leader of men back to its skin.

But his speech did not proceed to the finish. The priest swooped down
and caught the three necks between his hands, easily spanning them,
pressing the heads hard together. Then he lifted the boys high in the
air and held them there, a kicking, humiliated trio. The blanched olive
of his face was reflected in the pallid brows at the extremity of his
rigid arms. His voice, which had been lost in passion, found itself.

"And when your Indians come, Senor Don Roldan," he said, "they will find
three skeletons six feet beneath the floor of this cave. You will never
leave this cave, not one of you. When you are dead for want of food and
drink, I shall return and bury you. And no one will seek you here."
Suddenly he dashed them to the ground. "A thousand curses go with you,"
he shrieked, "to make a murderer of me. I was near enough to hell
before--"

"And our fingers will scratch the ground beneath your feet," interrupted
Roldan, who between mortification and rage felt equal himself to murder,
but determined as ever to hold his own. "Our skulls will grin at you
from every corner as you work--"

"I don't care!" shouted the priest. "I don't care! Here you rot. This
gold is mine. No man shall touch it but myself."

"But if we promise never to return, and to tell no man of what we know,"
interposed Rafael, feebly.

The priest laughed. "With the glitter of gold in your brains? You could
not keep an oath on the cross." He turned swiftly and strode down the
passage.

"What will he do?" gasped Adan.

"Roll a stone over the entrance and secure it with others," said Roldan.
"There are plenty nigh. If we follow, he will beat us back with those
fists, and one blow would crack our skulls in two."

"Then what shall we do? Rot here? Starve to death? Madre de dios!"

"We have been between the teeth of death before, have we not? We shall
have many more adventures, my friends."

But although he spoke confidently he was profoundly disturbed. This was
no ordinary predicament. He knew that unless the priest relented they
stood small chance of seeing sun and stars again. Would he relent?
Roldan's own indomitable will and growing ambitions responded to the
awful forces in the man, overgrown and abnormal as they had become. That
the priest had some great end in view to which this gold was the means,
and that the gold itself had roused in him a controlling passion, he
could not doubt. The priest himself had told him something, the gold the
rest. With a sudden impulse of hatred Roldan emptied his pockets of the
metal and stamped upon it. He quieted suddenly, then stamped again, with
added vigour. Then he dropped and laid his ear to the ground.

"Stamp, Adan," he said, "and hard."

Adan shook his blood through his veins, and obeyed. Roldan sprang to his
feet. "We are above the tunnel of the Mission," he said. "And we have a
pickaxe. All we have to do is to dig."

XIX

It was three hours later that a mass of loosened earth caved suddenly,
carrying Adan with it. A wild yell came back. It stopped abruptly, the
tag end of it shot forth like the quick last blast from a trumpet.

"Hi, Adan!" called Roldan, excitedly, peering down into the dark. "Are
you hurt?"

"I know not! I know not! It is darker than a dungeon of a Mission." The
voice was quite distinct. It came from no great depth.

"Get out of the way," called Roldan. "I am coming." He waited a moment,
then dropped, falling on a mass of soft earth. Adan had prudently
retreated a few steps. He ran forward and helped Roldan to his feet,
just as Rafael came flying down.

"Now for the other end," said Roldan. "This air is not too good. And
that devil may return any moment."

They ran down the tunnel. It was wide and high, built for flying
priests, should the Mission be besieged and captured by savage tribes.
The air was close and heavy, but free from noxious gases. Bats whirred
past and rats scampered before them. Roldan paused after a moment and
lit his lantern. Its thin ray leaped but a few feet ahead, but would
frighten away any wild beast of the forest that might have wandered in.

The tunnel was straight. It also appeared to be endless.

"We have walked twenty leagues," groaned Adan, at the end of an hour.

"Two," said Roldan. "Without doubt this tunnel ends at the mountains,
and they are four leagues from the Mission. But you have taken longer
walks than this, my friend. Do you remember that night in the
mountains?"

"I had forgotten it for one blessed week. Rafael, to what have we
brought you? Your poor muscles are soft, where ours are now as hard as a
deserter's from an American barque--ay, yi!"

"If they have but the chance to become soft once more after they too are
hard!" muttered Rafael, who was panting and lagging. "That priest! that
priest!"

"It is true," said Roldan, pausing abruptly. "You will not dare to
return home at present--nor we. It is flight once more--to Los Angeles.
We will stay there--where he would not dare touch us if he came--until
he repents or makes sure that we will have told if we intend to tell.
Will you come?"

"Will I? I would go to Mexico if I could. I feel that there is not room
in the Californias for those hands and myself."

"I will take care of you," said Roldan, proudly, anxious to rout the
memory of his recent humiliation. "But come." And Rafael, too weary and
bewildered to resent the authority of his erst-while rival, trudged
obediently in the rear.

"It grows colder," said Adan, significantly.

"Yes," said Roldan. "We near the mountains."

Adan stopped. "Is it the mountains again?" he asked. "If it is, then I,
for one, prefer the priest."

"The mountains never scared you half as badly as the priest did," said
Roldan, cruelly. "And to say nothing of the fact that we need never get
lost in the mountains again, the embrace of a grizzly would be no harder
and more death-sure than one in the great arms of that fiend that wears
a cassock."

"True. You are always right. But promise that whatever happens you will
not lead us into the Sierras."

"I promise," said Roldan, much flattered by this unconscious tribute to
his leadership.

"Do you think that priest is really a devil?" asked Rafael, in an
awestruck voice.

"When a man has insulted you, you do not know what you think of him,"
said Roldan, flushing hotly. "If he only were not a priest I'd fight
him, big as he is. But at least I can outwit him. It consoles me to
think of his fury when he goes to the cave and finds us gone."

"We'd better get out of this tunnel before we talk about having the best
of the priest," said Adan. "Suppose he returns to kill us himself--"

"He will not return until to-morrow. Then he will have repented. He will
promise to let us go free if we keep his secret. But he will not have
that satisfaction, my friends. Yesterday he had a friend in Roldan
Castanada; I would have done anything for him, gladly kept his secret.
But to-day he has an enemy that he will do well to fear. A Spaniard
never forgets an insult."

"What shall you do?" asked Rafael, eagerly. "Expose him?"

"No, I do nothing mean. But I proclaim at Los Angeles that gold has been
discovered in the Californias, and in six days the hills will swarm, and
the priest in his cell will gnash his teeth."

"Ay!" exclaimed Adan. "Do you feel that?"

An icy blast swept down the tunnel, roughening skin and shortening
breath. A few moments later the low rhythm as of distant water came to
their ears. Roldan and Adan recognised that familiar music, and set
their teeth.

"And I prayed that I might never see another redwood," muttered Adan,
crossing himself.

The tunnel stopped abruptly. They stood before a mass of brushwood,
piled thickly to keep out wild beasts and delude the searching eye of
hostile Indians. Beyond, seen in patches, was a dazzle of white.

"Snow, of course," said Adan, with a groan.

The boys pulled the branches apart without much difficulty: the priests
had studied facility of egress and had raised the barrier from within.
In a few moments the boys stood in the sunlight; and the mountains
hemmed them in.

Adan stamped his foot savagely on the hard snow. "We are where we
started a week ago," he said. "No more, no less."

"No," said Roldan, who also had felt demoralised for a moment. "The
priests were too clever for that. They would want to get into the
shelter of the mountains, no more. I believe that from the top of that
point above the tunnel we can see the valley."

"Well, we can at least look," said Rafael, who was bitterly weary and
hungry, but determined not to be outdone by these hardened adventurers.

The boys made their way up the declivity as best they could through the
heavy snowdrifts, pulling themselves up by clutching at young trees and
scrub. They were thinly clad and very cold, and hunger was loud of
speech. When after a half-hour's weary climb, they reached the summit,
they drew a long sigh of relief, but their enthusiasm was too moderate
for words in present physical conditions. The valley lay below. Far
away, beyond leagues of low hills and wide valleys something white
reflected the sun. It was the Mission.

"We have not a moment to rest, unless we can find a safe hiding-place,"
said Roldan. "If he should return and find us gone, he would follow at
once."

"Where shall we go?" asked the others, who, however, felt a quickening
of blood and muscle at the thought that the priest might be under their
feet even then.

"How near is the next rancho, and whose is it?"

"A league beyond the Mission grant. It is Don Juan Ortega's."

"Very well, we go there and ask for horses."

The boys made their way rapidly down the slope, which after all was only
that of a foot-hill. Beyond were other foot-hills, and they skirted
among them, finally entering a canon. It was as dark and cold and damp
as the last hour of the tunnel had been, but the narrow river, roaring
through its middle, had caught all the snow, and there was scarce a
fleck on the narrow tilted banks. The hill opposite was the last of the
foot-hills; but how to reach it? The current was very swift, and boys
knew naught of the art of swimming in that land of little water.

Suddenly Roldan raised his hand with an exclamation of surprise and
pointed to a ledge overhanging the stream. A hut stood there, made of
sections of the redwood and pine. From its chimney, smoke was curling
upward.

The boys were too hungry to pause and reflect upon the possibility of a
savage inmate; they scrambled up the bank and ran along the ledge to the
hut. The door was of hide. They knocked. There was no response. They
flung the door aside and entered. No one was in the solitary room of the
hut, but over a fire in the deep chimney place hung a large pot, in
which something of agreeable savour bubbled.

Roldan glanced about. "I'd rather be invited," he said doubtfully.

But Adan had gone straight for the pot. He lifted it off the fire,
fetched three broken plates and battered knives and forks from a shelf,
and helped his friends and himself. Then he piously crossed himself and
fell to. It was not in human necessities to withstand the fragrance of
that steaming mess of squirrel, and the boys had disposed of the entire
potful before they raised their eyes again. When they did, Rafael, who
sat opposite the door, made a slight exclamation, and the others turned
about quickly. A man stood there.

He was quite unlike any one they had ever seen. A tall lank man with
rounded shoulders, lean leather-like cheeks, a preternatural length of
jaw, drab hair and chin whiskers, and deeply-set china-blue eyes, made
up a type uncommon in the Californias, that land of priest, soldier,
caballero, and Indian. He was clad in coyote skins, and carried a gun in
his hand, a brace of rabbits slung over one shoulder. He did not speak
for some seconds, and when he did, it was to make a remark that was not
understood. He said: "Well, I'll be durned!"

His expression was not forbidding, and Roldan recovered himself at once.
He stood up and bowed profoundly.

"Senor," he said, "I beg that you will pardon us. We would have craved
your hospitality had you been here, but as it was, our hunger overcame
us: we have not eaten for many hours. But I am Roldan Castanada of the
Rancho de los Palos Verdes, senor, and I beg that you will one day let
me repay your hospitality in the house of my fathers."

"Holy smoke!" exclaimed the man, "all that high-falutin' lingo for a
potful of squirril. But you're welcome enough. I don't begrudge anybody
sup." Then he broke into a laugh at the puzzled faces of his guests, and
translated his reply into very lame Spanish. The boys, however, were
delighted to be so hospitably received, and grinned at him, warm,
replete, and sheltered.

The man began at once to skin a rabbit. "Seein' as how you haint left me
nothin', I may as well turn to," he said. "And it ain't every day I'm
entertainin' lords."

The boys did not understand the words, but they understood the act, and
reddened.

"I myself will cook the rabbit for you, senor," said Adan.

"Well, you kin," and the man nodded acquiescence.

"You are American, no?" asked Roldan.

"I am, you bet."

"From Boston, I suppose?"

The man guffawed. "Boston ought to hear that. She'd faint. No, young
'un, I'm not from no such high-toned place as Boston. I'm a Yank though,
and no mistake. Vermont."

"Is that in America?"

"In Meriky? Something's wrong with your geography, young man. It's one
of the U. S. and no slouch, neither."

He spoke in a curious mixture of English and of Spanish that he adapted
as freely as he did his native tongue. The boys stared at him,
fascinated. They thought him the most picturesque person they had ever
met.

"When did you come?" asked Roldan.

"I'll answer any more questions you've got when I've got this yere
rabbit inside of me. P'r'aps as you've been hungry you know that it
doesn't make the tongue ambitious that way. I'll have a pipe while it's
cookin'."

He was shortly invisible under a rolling grey cloud. The tobacco was the
rank stuff used by the Indians. The boys wanted to cough, but would have
choked rather than be impolite, and finally stole out with a muttered
remark about the scenery.

When they returned their host had eaten his breakfast and smoked his
second pipe.

"Come in," he said heartily. "Come right in and make yourselves ter
home. My name's Jim Hill. I won't ask yourn as I wouldn't remember them
if I did. These long-winded Spanish names are beyond me. Set. Set. Boxes
ain't none too comfortable, but it's the best I've got."

"Oh, this box is most comfortable," Roldan hastened to assure him. "And
we are very thankful to have anything to sit on at all, senor. You could
not guess the many terrible adventures we have had in the last few
weeks."

"Indeed! Adventures? I want ter know! You look as if hammocks was more
to your taste. Oh, no offence," as Roldan's eyes flashed. "But you are
fine looking birds, and no mistake. Howsomever, we'll hear all about
them presently. It's polite to answer questions first. You was asking me
a while back how I come here. I come over those mountains, young man,
and I don't put in the adjectives I applied to them in the process outer
respect to your youth. But they'd make a man swear if he'd spent his
life psalm singin' before."

"We know," said Roldan, grimly. "We've been in them. What did you eat?
And did you get lost?"

"I ate red ants mor' 'n once, and I usually was lost. When I arrived at
that Mission down yonder the amount of flesh I had between my bones and
my skin wouldn't have filled a thimble. But that priest--he's a great
man if ever there was one--soon fixed me up. I lived like a prince for
a month, and I could be there yet if I liked, but I'd kinder got used to
livin' alone and I liked it, so I come here. Besides, I found so much
prayin' and bell ringin' wearin' on the nerves, to say nothin' of too
many Indians. I ain't got no earthly use for Indians. Why priests or
anybody else run after Indians beats me. Where I was brought up 't was
the other way. They're after us with a scalpin' knife, and if we're
after them at all it's with all the lead we kin git. If the murderin'
dirty beasts is willin' to stay where they belong, well, I for one
believe in lettin' 'em."

"Do you--ah--like the priest, Don Jim?"

"What? Well, that's better than 'Don Himy,' as they call me down there.
You bet I like the priest. He's a gentleman, and as square as they make
'em, that is, with a poor devil like me; I guess he's one too much for
your dons when he feels that way. But he's a man every inch of him,
afraid of nothin' under God's heaven, and as kind and generous as a--as
some women. What he rots in this God-forsaken place for I can't make
out."

"What did you come to California for?"

"Well, that ain't bad. I come here, my son, because I was lookin' for a
cold climate. My own was warm, accordin' to my taste, and somehow
Californy seemed as if it ought to be fur enough away to be cool and
nice."

"It's very hot in the valleys."

"So it is. So it is. But as you see, I prefer the mountains."

"Do you often go to the Mission?"

"Every month or so I go down and have a chin with Padre Osuna. It keeps
my Spanish in, and I shouldn't like to lose sight of him. I got word
from him the other day that he wanted to see me mighty particular, and
I'm wonderin' what's in the wind. Maybe you heard him say."

"No," said Roldan; but he guessed.

"Now," said Hill, "spin your yarn. I'm just pinin' to hear those
adventures."

Roldan appreciated the sarcasm, but was too secure in the wealth of the
past month to resent it. He began at the beginning and told the story
with his curious combination of reserve and dramatic fire. As he had
already told it several times it ran glibly off his tongue and had
several inevitable embellishments. The man, whose cold blue eyes had
wandered at first, finally fixed themselves on Roldan; and his whole
face gradually softened. When Roldan finished with his and Adan's rescue
by Don Tiburcio's vaquero, he held out his hand and said solemnly,--

"Shake."

Roldan allowed his hand to be gripped by that hairy paw; he was too
elated to resent it as a familiarity.

"You've got pluck," continued Hill, "and I respect pluck mor' 'n
anything else on earth. You're a man and a gentleman, and Californy'll
be proud of you yet. Got any more?"

Roldan related the tale of Rafael's prowess with the bull, his own
encounter with the bear, and Adan's timely interference. Hill then shook
the hands of the two other boys, and told them that as long as he had a
roof above his head they could share it, and that he'd do anything to
help them but steal horses, so help him Bob. Roldan then told the tale
of the earthquake and stampede.

"Ugh!" exclaimed Hill, with a shudder. "That's one thing I can't abide--
your earthquakes. I tell you it's enough to take the grit outen a
grizzly to hear the land sliden on the mountain and the big redwoods
that has got their roots about the bed-rock come roarin' down. When an
earthquake comes I go and stand in the middle of the creek so as I can
see what's comin' all round. Once I was on the side of the mountain when
one of those shakes come and I slid down twenty feet before I could stop
myself. It's just the one thing that has happened to me that I can't
help thinkin' about. Well, what kin I do for you? You're welcome to stay
here, but this hut ain't no great shakes for such as you. Be you goin'
home, now that the conscription's over?"

"No!" said Roldan, emphatically, "we are not. There are other reasons
why we must go to Los Angeles as quickly as we can. Could you get us
three horses?"

"I could get them from the priest--"

"No! no!"

"Why, what's the row with the priest? Got in his black books? I
shouldn't like to do that myself."

"You said just now that you would do anything for us. Would you even
hide us from the priest if he came here?"

"I would. And I ain't the one to ask questions. If you don't want to see
the priest, it's not Jim Hill that will assist him to find you. Been
there myself."

"Couldn't you get us three horses from my father's corral--the Rancho
Encarnacion?" asked Rafael.

"I could, if you'd go with me; but horse-stealing is just the one thing
I agreed not to do."

"You might go with him, Rafael," said Roldan. "You would get there after
dark if you started now; and even if the vaqueros were not asleep they
would not call your father."

"And I could send a message to my parents," said Rafael, eagerly. "Then
they would not worry. Yes, I will go. The priest would not dare to harm
me while I was with the Senor Hill."

"Oh, the two of us would be a match for even him, if it came to that,"
said Hill. "Well, we'll start right now, there bein' no call for delay.
We'll have to foot it, as my mustang's laid up. If the priest should
turn up here--which ain't likely--jest run up that ladder inter the
garret and pull it after yer. Well, hasta luego, as they say in these
parts. Make yourselves ter home."

XX

"Now," said Roldan, as Rafael and Hill trudged into the perspective of
the canon, "we must sleep, but by turns. That priest will surely go to
the cave to-day, and when he finds us gone he'll come straight for the
mountains; and not through the tunnel either; he'll come on that big
brown horse of his. You sleep first, for two hours, and I'll watch--"

"You first, my friend--" Suppressing a mighty yawn.

"It is easier for me to keep awake. Lie down on that horrible bed. I do
not so much mind waiting a little longer."

Adan lifted his nose at the bunk covered with a bearskin, then flung
himself upon it, and was asleep in three minutes. Roldan sat with his
eyes applied to a rift between the hide-door and the wall. It commanded
a view of the opposite wall of the canon, over which wound a zig-zag
horse trail.

The sun, which had hung directly above the canon when Hill and Rafael
departed, had slid toward the west, leaving the canon cold and dark
again, and Roldan was about to call Adan, when he sprang to his feet,
and stood rigid, cold with fear.

On the brow of the wall opposite, three hundred feet above his head,
stood a powerful brown horse. On him was a huge figure clad in a brown
cassock, the hood drawn well over the face. It was impossible to
distinguish features at that distance, but Roldan fancied that those
terrible eyes were holding his own. He recovered himself and dragged
Adan out of bed.

"The priest!" he said. "Help me to wash these dishes--quick. It will
take him some time to get down."

Adan stumbled across the room, plunged the dishes into a pail of
drinking water, then handed them to Roldan, who dried them hastily and
piled them on the shelf. Then he flung the water across the clay floor
of the hut.

"Get up the ladder," he commanded. Adan scrambled up. Roldan followed,
and pulled the ladder after him. The garret was very low, and half full
of skins. They could not stand upright. It was also bitterly cold. Each
hastily wrapped a skin about his body, and lay full length, Roldan on
his face, his eyes applied to a chink in the rough floor.

A few moments later the door was flung aside and the priest strode in.

Roldan shuddered, but not with personal fear. The priest looked like a
man who had just left the rack of his native Spain. His hair--the hood
had fallen back--stood on end, his face and tightened lips were livid,
his eyes rolled wildly.

"Jim!" he said hoarsely. "Jim!"

He left the hut as abruptly as he had entered it.

"He has gone to look at the mouth of the tunnel," whispered Roldan.
"What fools we were not to cover it up again. Then he would have walked
its length to find us, and the horses might have come before he
returned. Well, he cannot get us until he pulls the roof down."

"He could do it," whispered Adan, grimly. "Those hands! Dios de mi
alma!"

"He will think we have gone somewhere with Don Jim."

The priest returned in less than half an hour. His face, if anything,
was still more terrible to look upon. There was a touch of foam on his
lips. His great hands were clinched. He strode over to the bunk and
lifted the heaped-up bearskin. Suddenly he pressed his face into the
fur.

"Perfume--Dona Martina's," he exclaimed. "They have been here."

He raised his face to the ceiling, and the boys held their mouths open
that their teeth might not clack together. They closed their eyes:
instinct bade them give heed to visual magnetism. Roldan immediately
wanted to cough, Adan to scratch his nose. The next few moments were the
most agonised of their lives. They felt the priest lift his hands and
pass them slowly along the ceiling, they felt those eyes searching every
crevice. Then they felt him grip the edge of the aperture and lift
himself until his eyes were above the garret floor. But it was pitch
dark. He could not even see the ladder, much less the boys under the
bear skins.

The priest dropped to the floor and seated himself upon a box, dropping
his face into his hands. There he sat, motionless, for hours. The boys
buried their heads in the skins and went to sleep.

They were awakened by the sound of voices. A candle flared below. Hill
had entered. He and the priest were alone.

"They were here, sir, that's true enough. I've just taken them to the
Sennor Carriller's and pointed them fur home. They seemed in a hurry to
vamos these parts."

The priest groaned and struck his fist on the table. "Then they are
leagues away by this."

"They be, for a fact. Their horses was fresh and they was powerful keen.
They was just sweaten' to git home."

"And Rafael Carillo? Did he go with them?"

"He didn't. He allowed to, but his father warnt agreeable. In fact he
was--savin' your grace--cussed disagreeable. He corralled us as we was
corrallen the horses; and although he was mighty mad at such French
leave, he said, speakin' of the other two kids, that they could take the
two horses and git, and the sooner the better, and if they never come
lookin' for adventures in these parts agin the better he'd be pleased."

The priest did not appear to doubt him. He was looking through the
doorway. Roldan could not see his face, but he saw the stare of wonder
on Hill's.

"Very well," said the priest, after a moment, and his voice was hardly
audible. "I shall return now. Can you come down to the Mission to-
morrow--no, the day after. I have a secret to confide to you, and it
will not be to your disadvantage to know it. I had no intention of
telling any one, but I need help, and now more than ever. There is no
time to be lost. Can you come early?"

"I'll be there between dawn and ten o'clock."

"That will do. Good night." And the priest went out.

No one spoke until the sound came up to them of a horse fording the
creek. Then Hill said cautiously,--

"Hi, there, young uns."

"In the name of Mary let us come down, Don Jim," hissed Roldan, through
the crack.

"Well, I guess you kin. He's climbin' the hill, and I don't see as
there's anything to bring him back. I hope the fleas ain't et ye alive."

The boys lowered the ladder as rapidly as their stiff fingers would
permit, and a moment later stood on the floor of the room, shaking
themselves vigorously.

"Where's Rafael?" demanded Roldan.

"Tucked in his little warm bed with a warmer hide, I guess. The old man
caught us in the very act of horse stealin'. Holy smoke, but he did
cuss. I ain't got no pride in Yankee cussin' left."

"What did Rafael tell him?" interrupted Roldan, eagerly.

"He told him as how he had made up his mind to go home with you for a
little paseo--"

"Did he say nothing about the priest?"

"Nothin'. Never opened his head about the priest--"

"When I'm governor I'll reward him," said Roldan, warmly.

"When you're President of the United States you might make him Secretary
of State--"

"But the horses? the horses?"

"They're tethered just over the mountain. I suspicioned the priest might
be here, seein' as you were expectin' him, more or less."

"Did Don Tiburcio say about me--us--what you told the priest?"

"He did, and more of it. He was as mad as a bear with a sore head. You
see, he hadn't had no peace of mind for some hours, and as for the old
lady I believe she's been havin' high strikes regular since breakfast.
Now, I'm hospitable, but my advice to you is to git. Like as not the
priest'll see old Carriller to-morrow, and then the cat'll come out. I
kin git outen it all right enough--I'll say as how the old man didn't
see you, that you were restin' on the other side of the wall. Like as
not he'll believe me, but he thinks you're pointed fur home, and if he
wants you badly, he'll follow. You'd better go South fur a month or so
and go home by barque. I'll fetch the horses down now and put them in my
shed. That'll rest 'em a bit and keep 'em warm, and then you kin start
the minute it's daylight."

"You have been a friend to us in trouble, Don Jim, and I shall never
forget it."

"Don't mention it, Rolly, don't mention it. I kinder like excitement,
when I ain't the hero, so ter speak. There's only one thing I've got to
ask in return: Have you got a grudge agin the priest?"

"I have."

"Be you meditatin' revenge?"

"A Spaniard never forgives an insult."

"Oh, . . . have you got it in yer power to injure Padre Osuna in the
sight o' men?"

"I have, and worse--for him."

"Don't do it, young man," said Hill, solemnly. "Don't do it. It ain't
worth shucks to ruin a man fur personal spite. You'll find that out the
minute you've done it. You'll feel small and mean; and if you want to be
a great man--and I kin see you're ambitious--that ain't the way to go to
work. Padre Osuna has his faults, but he's a big man; there ain't none
bigger in the Californies; and he ain't the man to ruin, without
thinkin' a lot about it aforehand."

"He insulted me horribly," said Roldan, shutting his teeth. "I will
never respect myself until I wipe out the memory of that moment."

"He lost his temper, I suspicion, and whacked ye, like as not. Well,
I'll admit that is hard on a don of your size. But, take my word for it,
you'll feel a sight better if you mount the high horse and forgive him,
treat him with silent contempt. Nothin' makes you feel as good as that.
Tried it myself."

"I must think about it, Don Jim."

"Well, do. And maybe you'll remember that I asked ye as a favour to let
the priest off this time. He's been the best friend I ever had, and he's
been the friend of many, young 'un."

Roldan stepped forward impulsively and grasped Hill's hand. "I will
never speak," he said. "And you can say to Rafael that I wish him never
to speak, either. Only, in return, Don Jim, I insist that you do not
tell him that I promised you this. He shall not think that I fear him."

"Oh, I ain't goin' to have no conversation with him on the subject.
Don't you worry about that. Now, I'll go after the mustangs. You lie
down, and when I come back I'll cook that there rabbit for yer. You kin
git dinner at the Ortegas', but don't stay there too long, for the
priest's mighty sharp."

XXI

The boys were once more adrift in the wilderness. It was with mixed
emotions that they said good-bye to the hospitable American and rode
forth to new experiences and dangers. They were now tried adventurers;
they knew their mettle; they also had a far more definite idea of what
danger and experience meant than when they had fled from home with the
light heart of ignorance. Roldan felt several years older, and Adan had
moments of reflection. Moreover, the fine point of novelty had worn
toward bluntness. Nevertheless, they felt no immediate desire to return
to leading strings, and were glad of an excuse to pursue their way
south. Los Angeles was a famous city, the rival of Monterey,--which
neither had seen,--and a fitting climax to an exciting volume. The exact
arrangement of that climax was compassed by the imagination of neither.

For two miles they kept in line with the foot-hills, then rode rapidly
toward the valley, impatient for its warmth. So far, barring their
sojourn in the Sierras, they had been favoured with fine weather; but
winter was growing older every day, and the sky was thick and grey this
morning.

The Casa Ortega stood on the shores of a large lake. The banks were
thickly wooded. On its southern curve was a high mountain. As the boys
approached, a vaquero sprang upon a mustang and rode toward them
rapidly. Roldan recognised one of the men that had been at the rodeo.

"At your feet, senores," said the vaquero. "The Senor Don is away, and
all the family; but I am mayor domo, and in his absence I place the
house at your disposal."

"My father will reward you," said Roldan, graciously. "We would ask that
you give us dinner, a thick poncho each, for I fear that it will rain
before we reach Los Angeles, and that you will direct us which way to
go. The ponchos shall be replaced with fine new ones as soon as we have
returned home."

"Don Carlos would not hear of the return of the ponchos, senor. But
surely the senores will remain a few days, until the storm is over?"

"We dare not. But we will rest; and we have good appetites."

The mayor domo, still protesting, held the horses while the boys
dismounted, then showed them to two bedrooms and bade them rest while
dinner was preparing. "It will be an hour," he said. "I beg that the
senores will sleep."

The boys did sleep, and it was two hours before they were called. Then
they ate a steaming dinner, and forgot their fear of the priest: the
meagre diet of squirrel and rabbit of the past thirty-six hours had
lowered their spirits' temperature.

When they left the room the mayor domo awaited them with two thick
woollen ponchos--large squares of cloth with a slit in the middle for
the head.

"These will keep the rain out," he said, as he slipped them over the
boys' heads. "And there is food for two days in the saddle-bags, and
pistols in the holsters. Keep to the right of the lake, and enter the
mountains by the horse trail. It winds over the lower ridges. The
senores cannot lose themselves, for they should be on the other side
before dark--that mountain is the meeting of the two ranges and beyond
there are no more for many leagues. Then the senores must keep straight
on, straight on--never turning to the left, for that way lies the
terrible Mojave desert. By-and-by they will cross a river, and after
that Los Angeles is not far. Between the mountain and the river is an
hacienda, where they will find welcome for the night."

Roldan thanked him profusely, then said: "I have reasons for not wishing
ANY ONE to know that I have not returned to my father's house. I beg
that you will tell no one, not even a priest, that we have been here,
for three days at least."

"The senor's wishes shall be obeyed. The Senor Don returns not for a
week. No one shall know until then of the honour that has been done to
his house."

The boys rode rapidly through the wood over a broad road that had
evidently been traversed many times. The sky was leaden, but no rain
fell. Nor was there any wind. The lake could not have been smoother were
it frozen, although it reflected the grey above. Wild ducks and snipe
broke its monotony at times, now and again a jungle of tules. In less
than an hour the travellers were ascending the mountain by easy grades,
a black forest of pines about them. It was darker here, but the road was
clearly defined, and they talked gaily of adventures past and to come.
In Los Angeles they had many relatives, and they knew that a royal
welcome would be given them. They would see the gay life of which they
had heard so much from their brothers; and they magnanimously resolved
that after a week of it they would return to their anxious parents.

"Ay!" exclaimed Adan, interrupting these pleasant anticipations, "it
rains at last."

A few drops fell; then the rain came with a rush. For some time the wind
had been rising; suddenly it seemed to leap upward to meet the emptying
clouds, then filled the pine-tops with a great roar, rattling the hard
branches, bending the slender trunks. The boys were on the down grade,
and there was no danger of losing the path, although the rain had put
out the sallow flame of the sun. They pricked their horses and made the
descent as rapidly as possible. But it was another hour before they were
on level ground once more. The rain was still falling in torrents; the
wind flung it in their eyes as fast as they dashed it from their lashes.
They could not see a yard ahead. The light of the hacienda was nowhere
visible. If its owner was away from home and his house in darkness, then
was their plight a sorry one indeed.

"There is only one thing to do," said Roldan, putting his hand funnel-
wise to Adan's ear. "We must keep due south until we come to the river.
Then, at least, we cannot go wrong."

"And that river we must cross!" said Adan, with a groan. "Dios de mi
alma!"

Roldan had great faith in his sense of locality, but in a blinding rain
on a black night with a mighty wind roaring inside one's very skull, and
whirling the heavy poncho about one's ears every few moments, it was
difficult to preserve any sense at all. They galloped on, however,
occasionally pausing to shout, straining their eyes into the darkness on
every side. But nothing came back to eye or ear. Apparently they had the
wilderness to themselves. There was no sign of even an Indian pueblo.

It was during one of these halts that the boys ejaculated
simultaneously: "The river!"

"No," shouted Roldan, a moment later "it is only a creek."

"Are we lost?" demanded Adan; and even the loud tone had a note of
pained resignation in it.

"No; I think this must be what he meant. Some of the low people say
river for everything but the ocean. It is shallow, and we cannot turn
back. Come."

They rode along the bank until they came to an easy slope, then crossed,
and cantered on. In a very short time the storm was behind them and the
stars burst out, but there was no sign of habitation. They kept on for
an hour longer, hoping for a welcome twinkle below; but not even a
coyote crossed their path. As far as they could see in the starlight
they were on a plain of illimitable reach, bare but for low shrubs whose
kind they could not determine, although once Adan's coat caught on a
prickly surface. The atmosphere was warm and very dry.

Finally Roldan reined in.

"We must rest," he said, "and build a fire, or we shall be stiff to-
morrow. And it is long past the hour for supper."

"The sooner we eat and sleep and dry, the better for me," said Adan.

The boys dismounted and tied their horses to a palm, then looked about
for firewood. There was not a tree to be seen; they had not passed one
since they left the creek. Nor could they see any sign of flint with
which they might set fire to a clump of palms.

Adan, who had been on his knees, suddenly remarked: "There is not a
blade of grass, Roldan. What will the mustangs do?"

"They are eating the palm, perhaps that will do them until to-morrow.
But the poor things must be as hungry as twenty. Come, let us strip,
hang our things up, and run. The water is in my bones."

The boys peeled off the clinging steaming garments and ran up and down
until hunger sent them to the saddle bags. The mayor domo had provided
them abundantly, and once more they looked upon the world with hopeful
eyes.

"But we must sleep," said Roldan, "and it is not going to be easy for
mind or body--if there are rattlers about--with no fire. We must take
it in turns. It is warm; we do not need our clothes--ah!"--for Adan was
snoring.

Roldan was very tired but not sleepy. His brain, indeed, seemed
unusually alert, and he got up after a time and prowled about, pistol in
hand. He had been in solitudes before, solitude of plain and valley and
mountain; but there was something in his present surroundings that
reminded him of nothing he had heard of or seen. It was not only the
intense stillness, unbroken by so much as the flutter of a leaf, nor
even the vast expanse. The place seemed to possess a character of its
own, and its character was sinister and forbidding. Once or twice he had
been in the cemetery of the Mission near his father's rancho, and the
ugly feeling that he stood too close to death came back to him; why, he
could not define. There was no sign of a cross anywhere; but he felt
that he stood in a dead world, nevertheless. Once the ground quivered
beneath his feet, and the horrible idea occurred to him that Southern
California had been swallowed by an earthquake, and that only this
desolation was left.

He went back to his comrade, who slept soundly beside the horses, also
extended and breathing deeply. It was nearly morning when he woke Adan,
so little aptitude had his brain for sleep. But when Adan sat up he fell
asleep almost immediately, and when he awoke the sun was high.

XXII

Roldan raised himself on his elbow and looked about him. Adan was some
quarter of a mile away, approaching him, leading the mustangs. Cleaving
the horizon on four sides was a vast plain. On it was not a tree, nor
even a hut. Here and there were clumps of palms and cacti, as stark as
if cut from pale green stone. At vast intervals were short, isolated
mountains, known in the vernacular as "buttes." On the ground was not
the withered remnant of a blade of grass; but there were many fissures,
and some of them were deep and wide. Of the things that crawl and
scamper and fly there was no sign, not even a hole in the ground; for
even reptiles must have food to eat, and there was nothing here to
sustain man nor beast. The fleckless sky was a deep, hot blue; a blood-
red sun toiled heavily toward the zenith.

"Adan!" shouted Roldan; he was suddenly mad for sound of any sort. A
discouraged "Halloa!" came promptly back.

Roldan dressed himself rapidly. His clothes were quite dry; indeed the
very atmosphere of this strange beautiful place was so dry that it
seemed to crumble in the nostrils. As he finished dressing Adan reached
him. The horses' heads were hanging listlessly. Adan's face had lost its
ruddy colour.

"Roldan," he said, "where are we?"

"I know not," said Roldan, setting his lips.

"I left you to look for water, and there are not even tarantulas in this
accursed place. There is no water, not a drop. Nor a handful of stubble
for the horses."

"We must go back the way we came, and start once more from the foot of
the mountain."

"Can you remember from which point we entered this place? This soil
might be rock; there is not a hoof-print anywhere."

"We should have gone south and we came east. On the northwestern horizon
is something which looks like mountains--a long range--almost buried in
mist. There is no sign of a range anywhere else; so the only thing to do
is to go back to them; they are our mountains; I feel sure of that."

"If the horses do not give out. They are empty and choking, poor things.
Well, there is no reason we should not eat, and, thanks be to that good
mayor domo, we still have a bottle of wine. But I would give something
for a gourd of water. However, we have not been girls yet, and we will
not begin now, my friend."

The boys ate their breakfast, but their spirits felt little lighter,
even after a long draught of wine. The awful quiet of the place, broken
only by an occasional whinny from the mustangs, seemed to press hard
about them, thickening the blood in their veins. Roldan was filled with
forebodings he could not analyse, and strove to coax forth from its
remote brain-cell something that had wandered in, he could not recall
when nor where.

They saddled the mustangs, mounted, and were about to make for the
northwest when Adan gave a hoarse gurgle, caught Roldan's arm, pulled
him about, and pointed with shaking hand to the south.

"Dios de mi alma!" exclaimed Roldan. "It is Los Angeles. We were right,
after all. But why were we never told that it was so beautiful?"

On the southern horizon, half veiled in pale blue mist, showed a stately
city, with domes and turrets and spires and many lofty cathedrals. It
was a white city; there were no red tiles to break those pure and lovely
lines, to blotch that radiant whiteness; even the red sun withheld its
angry shafts.

Roldan gazed, his lips parting, his breath coming quickly. If his
imagination had ever attempted to picture heaven, its wildest flight
would have resembled but fallen short of that living beauty before him.
It was mystifying, exalting. It was worth the dangers and discomforts of
the past month multiplied by twelve, just to have one moment's glimpse
of such perfection. And it was Los Angeles! A city of the Californias,
built by Indian hands! No wonder his family had been careful to leave
its wonders out of the table talk; had he known, he would have been at
its feet long since.

"It isn't the wine?" asked Adan, feebly.

"No. There must have been a fog before; Los Angeles is near the sea."

"Shall we start?"

"Yes, but slowly. The poor mustangs! But it will not be long now. We
cannot be more than two leagues from there. See, it grows plainer every
moment; the fog must have been very heavy."

They cantered on slowly, the mustangs responding automatically to the
light prick of the spur. The beautiful alluring city looked to be
floating in cloud; it smiled and beckoned, inciting even the weary
famished brutes to effort. But at the end of an hour Roldan reined in
with a puzzled expression. "I do not understand," he said.  "It seemed
not two leagues away when we started, and we have come that far and
more, and still it seems exactly the same distance beyond."

"The atmosphere is so clear," suggested Adan. "But I wish we were there.
My mouth is parched, my tongue is dry--and the horses, Roldan. Soon they
will be as limp as sails in a calm."

"True, but we could easily walk the distance now. We could return for
them at once with water and food." But he was beginning to feel vaguely
uneasy once more. The odd sensation of death, of a buried world, had
returned. Could it be that that fair city beyond was heaven? Surely, he
thought with unconscious humour, it was very un-Californian.

They passed the lonely buttes, the parched beds of lakes, salt-coated.
Still they saw not a living thing; still the city seemed to recede with
the horizon, its sharp beautiful outlines unchanged. For some time the
horses had been trotting unevenly. Gradually they relaxed into a dogged
amble, their heads down, their tongues out. Every now and again they
half paused, with quivering knees.

Adan's was the first to collapse; it fell to its knees, then rolled
over, Adan scrambling from under, unhurt.

Roldan also dismounted, and both boys, without a word, unsaddled the
poor brutes, thrust the pistols into their belts and what was left of
the provisions into their pockets. They cast off their ponchos, then
once more turned their faces to the south. But they did not advance.
They stood with distended eyes and suspended breath. The city had
disappeared.

Adan was the first to find speech. "A fog?" he asked. "A rain storm?"

"There is neither. The horizon is as blue and clear as it is on the
north and east and west. It is a miracle. Let me think a moment."

He sat down and took his head between his hands. After a while he looked
up. "For hours I have been trying to remember something," he said. "Do
you remember what that mayor domo said to us?--Keep straight on,
straight on, never turning to the left, for that way lies the terrible
Mojave desert, I barely heard his last words at the time; that is the
reason I have had such a time remembering. We are in the Mojave desert,
my friend."

Adan, whose mouth was still wide open, sat down and rolled his eyes from
east to west. "Caramba!" he ejaculated finally.

"I could say a good deal more than Caramba. All that I have heard of
this Mojave comes back to me. There is no water on it, no living thing
but half choked cacti and stunted palms. Men who are lost on it go mad
and die of thirst--"

"Ay, yi, yi!"

"Si, senor. However, it might be much worse. It is winter, not summer,--
when the heat kills in a day; we have food and a little wine; we are
young and very strong; we have not come so many leagues that we cannot
walk back. And we have each other. Think, were we alone!"

"Yes, it might be worse," said Adan, "but all the same it might be six
or eight leagues to the northwest better. And that city? What was it?
Where has it gone?"

"I do not know." Privately he believed that it had been a glimpse of
heaven, and was disturbed lest it might have been a portent of death.
But his mind was too active, his nature too independent to sit down
under superstition. If he died on the desert, it would not be through
lack of effort to get out of it.

He stood up, setting his lips. "Come," he said. "We gain nothing by
sitting here, and we are both fresh; we can walk many leagues before
night."

"Do you know which way to go?" asked Adan.

Roldan swept the horizon with his eyes. The buttes they had passed had
displaced the solitary landmark of the morning. There was not a hoof-
beat on the hard split ground. Roldan shrugged his shoulders.

"We can at least follow the sun. Los Angeles must be due west. Come."

The sun was past the zenith and sloping to the west. The boys turned
their backs upon it and trudged on, only pausing once for a half-hour to
divide the meagre remains of their store. Evening came; the sun leaned
his elbows on the horizon in front of them, leered at the contracted
visages and blinking eyes resolutely facing him, then slid leisurely
down; and night came suddenly. The boys flung themselves on the ground
and slept.

They awoke consumed with hunger and thirst. Their mouths and nostrils
were coated with the fine irritating dust of the desert, scarcely
visible but always felt. But their smarting eyes were greeted by a
refreshing sight: not a half-league before them, directly in their
course, was a lake, a lake as blue as the metallic sky above, and
lightly fringed with palms and orange-trees. Beyond was a forest of
silver leaves--an olive orchard.

"A Mission!" exclaimed Roldan, and even Adan sprang to his feet and
marched westward with some enthusiasm. But alas! although they trudged
with dogged persistence for fully a league, striving to forget the
gnawing at their vitals in the exquisite prospect filling the eye, the
lake seemed to march ahead of them, in perfect time with their weary
feet. Suddenly the two boys paused and faced each other.

"This accursed desert is bewitched," said Roldan. His face was white,
but more with anger than fear; for the first time in his life he
realised the helplessness of man when at the mercy of nature, and he did
not like the sensation. He had a strong, and by this time, well
developed instinct to govern, to bend others to his will, and he swore
now that he would walk out of this desert unharmed if only for the
pleasure of cheating a force mightier than himself. He turned and looked
at the sun.

"We have been going in a wrong direction," he said. "That lake has been
shifting gradually toward the southwest, and taken us nearly a league
out of our course. The first thing we know we will be in Baja
California, where there is nothing but deserts, and they are all on
mountain tops. We must strike north again. I am sure that last night we
were due west of Los Angeles."

"But the lake? the Mission?"

"I do not believe there is any lake. There are things you and I do not
understand in this world--although we are learning--and I believe that
this strange desert has the power to make scenes like the theatres they
who have travelled tell us of. Be sure that lake will disappear like the
city."

They turned north in order to get in line with the sun; and out of the
tail of their eyes they saw the lake march with them. When they finally
turned to the west again it faced them once more. They linked arms
suddenly and trudged on, hungry, parched, beset by superstitious fears,
but not forgetting to turn every half hour and glance at the sun until
he passed the meridian and pointed for the west. And suddenly the lake
seemed to slip behind a wall.

"There is really something there this time," said Roldan, closing one
eye and curving his hand about the other. "It is ugly enough to be real.
It is no use to say how far anything is in this place, but I should
think we would reach it before long."

And long before they did reach it they knew what it was--a thicket of
cacti some two miles long and of unknown depth. The plants were eight or
ten feet high, and the broad thick leaves, spiked, as only the leaves of
the cactus are, looked to be welded together. But that was from a
distance. When the boys reached the thicket they saw that the plants in
reality were some feet apart, although there appeared to be no end to
them. The boys sat down suddenly, their strength deserting them. They
threw their arms forward on their knees and dropped their heads. For a
half hour or more they sat motionless, then Roldan looked up and fixed
his glassy eyes on the forbidding wall, which at close proximity seemed
to girt* the horizon.

"If we tried to go round it," he said, "there is no knowing where we
should find ourselves. We had better go straight ahead, if possible. If
it is too thick we can turn back."

"At least we could not see this horrible desert for a while," said Adan.
"I am willing."

"And, who knows? Los Angeles may be just on the other side."

Their utterance was thick. Their veins felt as if packed with lead, not
so much from need of food as need of drink. But they stumbled to their
feet and entered the cactus forest. They were obliged to pursue their
way in single file; the spikes were long, and many of the larger leaves
abutted so obstructively that they were obliged to go down on their
hands and knees and crawl. Nor could they maintain a straight course,
but zig-zagged among the great plants as nature permitted. More than
once they heard the rip of silk, more than once blood sprang through
their skin. Their progress was slow and fraught with peril, their only
consolation that the end must come sooner or later.

Night came suddenly. They were near an open a few feet in circumference.
They lay down side by side, knowing that a step at night might mean
instant blindness.

The cactus never moves, not even in a storm. There was not a breath of
wind to-night. The thick dull green plant-trees looked as solid as
stone, a petrified forest. The sky had never seemed so high above, the
stars so hard and bright.

Adan moistened his lips with his tongue. "Do you feel that you can last
another day?" he asked.

"I expect to die of old age."

"Well, if you do, it won't be the fault of the Mojave desert. You have
courage, and so have I; but this is worse than all--Do you feel that?"

"I have felt it many times before, to-day. It is said that parts of the
Mojave shake all the time."

"We can swear to that. Supposing a great shake came, how could we get
out of this?"

"We are as well here as anywhere. Let us sleep, and rise with the sun."

But although he spoke confidently, almost contemptuously, he was
possessed with a wild desire to spring to his feet and fight his way out
of this terrible prison. He had seen a huge fish flounder in a net, and
looked on callously. He should never witness such another sight without
a responsive thrill of horror. Were he paralysed from crown to heel he
could not be more helpless in this thicket of needles. The vast
unpeopled desert had been bad enough, but it had been intoxicating
liberty to this. Tired as he was, he moved his hands and feet
constantly; supineness was impossible. He wondered how men felt when in
prison, and vowed that when he held the law in his hands he would invent
some other way of punishment. For his part he would rather be shot at
once.

Being young and healthy, he fell asleep after a time. When he awoke the
sky was grey, the stars had gone. He shook Adan.

"There is no sunrise to be seen from this place," he said, "but I am
sure of the direction now. I took note of that big cactus ahead, last
night--Hist!"

"Dios de mi alma!" whispered Adan, his tongue rolling out. "In this
place! It is worse than earthquake."

Nothing was to be seen from where they stood, but from no great distance
came the faint hollow rattle which strikes terror to man in the
wilderness. The volume of sound was suddenly augmented: there appeared
to be a duet. Immediately it was supplemented by a loud furious hissing;
a moment later by a whirr and impact.

"There are two, and they are fighting," whispered Adan, his eyes
bulging.

Roldan advanced softly to an aperture between two leaves of a cactus,
then lifted his finger to his shoulder and beckoned. Adan turned
mechanically in the opposite direction; but curiosity overcame him, and
he joined Roldan.

Between two plants not three feet apart two rattlesnakes were engaged in
mortal combat. They coiled with incredible rapidity, flew at each other
with burning eyes and darting tongues, burying a fang somewhere in the
tense bristling armours. The lashing tails struck the spiked surface of
the cactus and augmented their fury; occasionally they whipped about,
hissing deliriously, then returning as swiftly to the only enemy in
sight. They had coiled and struck some four or five times, whipping all
over their narrow arena, when as if by common consent, they retreated to
extreme opposite points, coiled as lightning strikes, and leapt at each
other. Even Roldan gave a hoarse cry of surprise, and as for Adan, he
fell into vocabulary: one serpent had darted straight down the throat of
the other. For a moment there was a fearful lashing. The choking
serpent, with protruding eyes, like small green coals, and jaws
distended in agony, strove to dislodge his suffocating enemy, and the
other humped his back and leapt backward in frantic efforts to reach the
air again. But suddenly their struggles ceased; they flattened to the
ground, only the tails moving automatically. What was left looked like a
monster of some unknown species; a creature with no head, a huge belly,
and two tails.

"Caramba!" exclaimed Adan, "I could not eat that even if we had anything
to cook it with. It looks like a mass of poison."

"I should like to know where that poison was last night. It may be a
good sign, however: as they are the first living things we have seen, we
may be near to the edge of the desert."

Adan crossed himself.

"Come," continued Roldan, "let us move on, before hunger tempts us too
far."

Once more they started on their tortuous way. They walked very slowly,
both from necessity and inclination: the excitement of the fight over,
their physical necessities pressed heavily; they kept as close together
as they could, but rarely spoke: they were too hungry. Both were
oppressed by the fear that at any minute they would come upon a solid
wall of cacti and be obliged to retrace their steps, and both knew that
might mean a stunning blow to courage. At times the constant zig-
zagging, the unalterable, smooth, grey-green surface of the cacti, made
them halt dizzily, for both brain and body were sick for want of food.
But by degrees the wood grew thinner and thinner; and when the sun was
half way between the zenith and the western horizon, they left behind
the last straggling outpost and found themselves on the edge of a creek,
the same doubtless that they had crossed three nights before. They gave
each other a feeble simultaneous slap on the back, gathered their
energies, ran down the bank, and took a long draught of the running
water.

"I feel better," said Roldan, finally, "but hungrier than ever. There
are quail in that chaparral over there. I'll go after them, and do you
hunt for flint and build a fire."

He crossed the creek and entered the brush beyond. Almost simultaneously
there was a loud whirr of wings, and a large flock of quail rose from
the chaparral a few feet ahead of him. He had only his pistols, but he
was a good shot, and he decapitated two of the birds in rapid
succession. Then he reloaded and killed a squirrel. When he returned,
Adan was on his knees, with his large cheeks distended, coaxing a
handful of dried leaves and twigs into flame. It was a half hour before
the pyre was large enough for the sacrifice, but after that the birds
and squirrel, which meanwhile had been skinned and washed in the creek,
were but a short time singeing. It was an ill-cooked meal, but when it
was over Roldan said solemnly,--

"I have eaten of all the delicious dishes of the Californias, including
many dulces, but nothing ever tasted as good as this; no, not even the
first breakfast at Casa Encarnacion."

"Nor to me," said Adan, emphatically, and he crossed himself.

XXIII

"Hallo!" shouted a peremptory voice. "Hallo! Hallo!"

"It's the Senor Jim," gasped Adan.

Roldan sprang to his feet. "Hallo!" he cried.

There was a heavy trampling in the chaparral, and a moment later Hill
rode into view. He took off his sombrero and waved it at the boys, but
did not speak until he had crossed the creek and dismounted. Then he
turned and regarded them with his keen hard eyes.

"Well!" he exclaimed, "I never calkilated to see you alive agin, and
that's a fact. Hed some more adventures, I presume. Look as if ye'd hed
more adventures than grub."

"Indeed we have, Don Jim," said Roldan, solemnly. "Should you like to
hear them?"

"Should I? Well, I guess. You and your adventures have kinder made me
feel young once more."

Roldan told the painful story.

"Holy smoke!" exclaimed Hill, in conclusion, "you are tough! And two
mirages in the bargain. I was lost on Mojave once, and to my mind the
mirages was the wust part of the hull game."

"What do you mean?" asked Roldan. "What are mirages?"

"Mirages, Rolly, are what ought to be and ain't, what you want and can't
git, and they bear a hell-fired resemblance to life. I see you don't
quite understand. Well, that there beautiful city and that there
beautiful lake was what we call mirage for want of better name!" And he
explained to them the meaning of the phenomenon, as far as he understood
it.

"We have certainly learned a good deal since we left home," said Roldan,
thoughtfully.

"There's room for more. There's room for more. Now, I suppose you'd like
to know how I come here. Wall, I've got a confession to make fust, and
seein' as you've been so nigh to death in the last few days, p'r'aps
you'll furgive me. The day after you left I went down to see the priest,
as agreed. I found him--well, I don't know as I'll tell everything, not
even to excuse myself. It's enough to say that he was half luny between
fear and remorse. He told me--I suppose he'd got to that state where he
had to tell somebody or bust--about leavin' you in the tunnel to die,
and bein' willin' after to kill you with his own hands--he was that mad.
But he felt terrible sorry, and said that if you told on him it would
serve him right; only that would mean ruin--ruin--ruin--a terrible
word, young man. And he's not a day over forty and calkilates to git out
of Californy with that there gold and be a big-bug in his native land. I
hesitated some time, fur I ain't no slouch at keepin' a promise; but in
the end I had to tell him. Why, a man's a criminal if he don't put
another man out of misery when he kin--"

"You did quite right," interrupted Roldan. "I am glad that he was
punished, but I would not have any one punished for ever."

"Well, I'm glad you feel that way. He felt good, I kin tell you that. He
looked ten years younger in five minutes, for he said as how he knew
you'd keep your word. I went straight off and managed to have a word
with young Carrillo. It warnt no trouble to make him promise to keep his
mouth shet; he's more afraid of the priest than he is of his father's
green-hide lariat, and that's sayin' a heap. When I went back to the
Mission I told the priest that I thought as how I'd go on to Ortega's,
and see if you got there all right. When I got there and heard as how
you hed crossed the mountains in a terrible storm I just hed to go on. I
made straight for old Sanchez', who has a hacienda and raises grapes
just this side of the river. He was drunk as usual, but his servants
hedn't seen nothin' of you, and then I was seriously alarmed. That was
at night, and I couldn't do nothin' until daylight, so I got a good
sleep and the next mornin' I started for Mojave. I know it pretty well,
and there was no danger of gittin' lost. At nightfall I found your
horses and ponchos--the horses was dead, poor things. I slept on the
desert that night, and the next mornin' rode back as hard as I could
put, suspicionin' that you would have sense enough to strike west. I
went round the corner of that there cactus wood, never thinkin' ye were
in it, and I expect I got well to this side before you was out. When I
got to this creek I rode up and down it, then crossed over, thinkin' ye
might hev gone on. It was only when I saw smoke that I said to myself
for the fust time: 'There they be.' And you bet it did me good, for I
was powerful worried."

"Don Jim," said Roldan, "you are a kind and good man. I love you, and I
will always be your friend."

"So. Well, I'm powerful glad to hear that. You ain't much like 'Merican
kids, but you're pretty clever all the same, and I like ye better 'n any
boy I ever know'd, hanged if I don't. Don't be jealous, sonny"--to
Adan--"I like ye too--but Rolly--well!"

"You would not like Roldan half so well if it were not for me," said
Adan, whose face expressed nothing.

"So. Well. Now, be ye rested? We want to git to old Sanchez' fur a good
supper and a soft bed to-night."

The boys rose with alacrity. Hill bade them mount his powerful horse,
and walked beside them.

Sanchez' house was only three miles away, but the road lay through
chaparral which sprang across in many places. It was heavy dusk when
they emerged. For some time past they had heard wild eccentric cries,
and their three pistols were cocked. As they rode through a grove of
trees beyond the chaparral, they saw a dark something rolling toward
them. In an instant Hill had snatched the boys from the horse and swung
them to the limb of a tree.

"Hide yourselves among the leaves," he said, "and don't even breathe
mor' 'n you kin help."

He gave the horse a sharp cut with his switch and it galloped on; then
he climbed a neighbouring tree with the agility of a wildcat, and
crouched.

The boys gazed into the dusk with distended eyes. The cloud came on with
inconceivable rapidity. In a moment it outlined itself. Those were
living creatures, fleeing. A stampede? No, men. . . . What? Indians?

They were within a hundred yards now, and their lithe naked forms, the
tomahawks and bows and arrows gripped in their clenched hands, could
plainly be seen; a moment later, their evil faces, distorted with fear.
In the middle distance behind them was a huge column of fire. A strange
figure seemed leaping among the flames. It was from this scarlet column
that the strange noises came. The Indians made no sound beyond their
impact with the atmosphere.

They deflected suddenly and passed to the right of the grove; a moment
later the three in ambush heard them crashing through the brush. Hill
waited until the sound had grown faint in the distance before he swung
himself down and helped the boys to the ground.

"That was a close shave," he said. "Them was murderin' savages, no weak-
kneed Mission variety. I'd give two cents to know what scared 'em and
what's goin' on over yonder. They were on the rampage, which same means
thievin' and killin', or my name ain't Jim Hill."

"We're used to Indians," said Adan, with gentle pride.

"Oh, be ye? Well, if them Indians had caught you fryin' your supper,
you'd have got as well acquainted with the next world in just about
three quarters of an hour. Well, we've all got to foot it now; but it
ain't far. I'm powerful anxious to know what's goin' on over to
Sanchez'! Mebbe two tribes met and them's the victors offerin' up the
tail end of that there valiant army. Golly Moroo, but they did look
scared."

They walked on rapidly, but without further conversation; they were all
hungry, and the boys were still very fagged. As they approached the
blazing mass, the figure seemed to leap more wildly still among the
flames, the cries to grow hoarser and more grotesque. All about was
heavy blackness. The slender branches of the burning pine writhed and
hissed; they might have been a pyramid of rattlesnakes caught in
spouting flame. Overhead the stars had disappeared beyond a heavy cloud
of smoke. It was a sight to strike terror to the heart of civilised man;
small wonder that the superstitious children of the mountain and desert
had fled in panic.

They had advanced a few yards farther when suddenly Hill flung himself
on the ground and gave vent to a series of hysterical yells, at the same
time rolling over and over, clutching at the grass. Roldan, seriously
alarmed, and wondering if any other boys in the history of the
Californias had ever had so much to try their nerves, ran to his
assistance; he caught him by his lean shoulders, and shook him soundly.

"Don Jim! Don Jim!" he exclaimed. "Are you ill, my friend? You have some
whisky in your flask, no?"

At this Hill burst into a loud guffaw. Roldan and Adan looked at each
other helplessly. The Spanish do not laugh often, and although the boys
dimly realised that Hill's explosion resembled--remotely--the dignified
concession of their race to the ridiculous, yet they feared that this
was a diseased and possibly fatal variety.

But in a moment Hill sat up. He wiped his eyes, and with some difficulty
controlled his voice.

"No, I ain't ill, young 'uns," he said. "But them Indians 'ud be pretty
sick if they knowed what they run from. That there object cavortin'
round that there bonfire is old Sanchez, and he's drunk. Oh, Lord!" And
once more Hill gave way to mirth.

"He did more good than harm to get drunk this time," said Roldan,
smiling sympathetically.

"You're right, Rolly. You've got a long head. If old Sanchez had set
down to supper sober to-night, there'd be a war-dance round another
bonfire this minute, and his scalp 'ud be bobbin' bravely. I don't
approve of liquor," he added cautiously, remembering the young ideas
shooting before him. "I only said that there be exceptions to all rules,
and this is one of them."

"I understand," said Roldan, drily. "I am not thinking of following the
Senor Sanchez' example. But do you suppose that was really what
frightened the Indians?"

"Just. Well, I guess! They've probably got some idee of the devil, and
they thought that was him, sure 's fate."

He sprang to his feet, ran forward, caught the bacchanalian about the
shoulders, and rushed him in the direction of the dimly-looming house,
throwing one of his own long legs into the air every now and again. The
boys ran after. When they reached the house its master was extended on a
settee in the living-room, and Hill was telling the tale of their narrow
escape to the frightened household.

"I don't think they'll come back," he said in conclusion. "But it's jest
as well to have your guns ready, and for one or two of ye to set up all
night. We three'd like grub and beds as quick as you kin git 'em ready."

Never had beds felt so sweet as they did that night. The boys awoke
refreshed, themselves again; and no Indians had returned to disturb
their slumbers.

XXIV

Hill met them as they entered the living-room. His eyes were full of
news.

"Well, boys," he said, "I don't know that you're in fur another
adventure, but ye kin call it by that name when you git home if you
like; leastways there ain't no doubt about it's bein' an experience."

The boys forgot the waiting breakfast. "What is it?" they demanded
simultaneously. "Quick! quick!"

"It's this. I don't suppose you know more about the history of your
country 'n most kids do. Well, Alvarado and General Castro are your two
big men--"

"We know that," interrupted Roldan, scornfully.

"Oh, you do? Then mebbe you know who'se* govenor* at the present
moment."

"Micheltorena. He was sent from Mexico. People don't like him, and they
despise the men he brought with him, still more."

"So. Well, I allus did say you was a remarkable kid, Rolly. However,
this is the way the case stands now. Alvarado's mad as hops to be ousted
for a furriner, so to speak, and Castro's been bilin' fur some time,
because General Vallejo's been promoted ahead of him. So the two on 'em
determined on a revolution. They had a skirmish on Salinas plains that
didn't decide much, and then Alvarado and Castro marched south, from
ranch to ranch,--you just levanted in time,--persuadin' the rancheros to
uphold their cause and give 'em their sons. As they have a way with 'em,
of course they got all the recruits they wanted, to say nothin' of the
finest horses in stock--caponara after caponara. They say the sight when
they marched into Los Angeles was somethin' to go hungry for. Of course
all Los Angeles went over to such triumphant lookin' rebels, and to-day
or to-morrow there's goin' to be a big battle. I only heard this
mornin'. Old Sanchez' brother come post haste about two hours ago fur
his gun and as many men and horses as he could drum up. Of course
Alvarado marched down the coast valleys, so old Carillo and his
neighbours are eatin' their breakfast in blissful ignorance."

"And shall we really see a great battle?" demanded Roldan, faintly. He
was pale, his nostrils were twitching, "Alvarado! Castro! Micheltorena!"

"Well, you kin, if you bolt that there breakfast. The horses'll be here
in about twenty minutes, and a battle's somethin' I'm pinin' to see,
too."

The boys ate their breakfast rapidly and in silence. A half hour later
they were galloping furiously for Los Angeles, escorted by the equally
enthusiastic Hill. The river was low and quiet. The horses swam it
without let from tide or snag. Even Adan forgot to cross himself. Beyond
was the high hill that lies directly to the north of Los Angeles. Its
surface seemed in motion; it looked like a huge ant-hill.

"Them's women," said Hill, a few moments after they had left the river
behind them. "Women and children. The fight must be on. Hist! Do you
hear that?"

All three reined in. The sound of cannonading, distant but distinct,
came to their ears. Without a word they lashed their mustangs and made
for the city. They entered it in a few moments. It looked like a
necropolis. Not a human being was to be seen. They spurred back to the
hill and began the ascent, then paused for a few moments. It was a wild
and tragic scene. Hundreds of women and children, their hair streaming
in the high wind, were kneeling with uplifted crosses, praying aloud,
when they were not weeping. A few men, Americans, were passing to and
fro among them, administering encouragement; but their gaze also was
directed anxiously to the north.

Hill dismounted and approached one of the Americans, conferred with him
a moment, then returned to the impatient boys.

"They are fightin' in the San Fernando valley, three leagues to the
north," he said. "We've got no time to lose."

They were less than an hour reaching the battlefield. During that hour
Roldan scarcely knew how he felt. When he left the hacienda he was
possessed by an intense curiosity only; but with that first dull boom
something new and fierce had leapt to life within him. Every few moments
his fingers moved round to the hip-pocket that held his pistols. The
weeping women and children had made him quiver from head to foot. As
they approached the battlefield, and powder-smoke mingled with the green
fragrance of winter, he thought that his nostrils would burst. His ear-
drums were splitting with the thunder of cannon. Suddenly Hill caught
him by the arm.

"Look!" he cried. "There be Alvarado and Castro over there, and
Micheltorena on t' other side. Ain't they magnificent specimens? Why,
what's the matter?"

"Let me go!" said Roldan. His face was deeply flushed, his eyes blazed.
"Come, Adan! come, Adan!" he shouted. "An Alvarado! an Alvarado!"

"Holy smoke!" cried Hill. "You don't say you're meanin' to fight after
sweatin' fur a month to git clear of the hull business?"

But Roldan, grasping the bridle of the less enthusiastic Adan, was
already far ahead. The boys rode straight into the melee, firing through
the smoke until their ammunition was exhausted. Even Adan after the
first few moments lost all sense of fear, and following Roldan's
example, snatched the gun from a fallen soldier and fired and reloaded
until his hands were blistered, and his eyes half sightless with smoke.

Roldan, obeying his dominant instinct, pushed his way rapidly to the
front, attracting much attention. Some one recognised him, and during
one of the many pauses of this not very systematic and furious battle
some one cheered the little don. The cheer was taken up vociferously. It
boomed across the battlefield. A moment later a man came dashing across
with a flag of truce: the cheering was supposed by the enemy to herald
the advance of reinforcements. The truce was accepted without
explanations, and Roldan was hurried into the presence of Alvarado. That
famous governor was sitting on a magnificent charger, caparisoned with
carved leather, red velvet, silver, and gold. His black eyes were
smiling, although the rest of his pale stern face was composed.

"So this is the runaway," he said. "I demanded you from your father, and
he was much embarrassed to confess that you had fled to escape the
conscription. Well, I am glad you did, for you have saved the day for
me. But it is time you were in Monterey, for you've got the face of the
leader of men, and the sooner your education begins the better. Will you
come with me? Your father will not refuse."

The blood was pounding in Roldan's ears, but he managed to reply calmly
that he would go.

He was then presented to General Castro, a man of fine military bearing,
with classic features, but dark and stern. His eyes were as sombre as
Alvarado's: doubtless both knew that their day would be short, their
great gifts wasted in this far-away land, as remote from the great
civilisations where lasting reputations are made as had it been on
another planet.

He shook Roldan warmly by the hand, but he did not smile.

"Yes," he said, "it will be a pleasure to train you; and as you are
young and malleable you will adapt yourself to the new order of things
when it comes. Both Alvarado and I will write to your father; I am sure
he will send you to us in Monterey."

And then they graciously dismissed him.

As the boys left the battlefield they came upon Hill, who was sitting on
a hillock eating a sandwich. When Roldan had told his story the American
replied:

"Shake! Rolly, you've got a heap o' genius, but you've got a durned
sight more luck. You'll git there--one way or nother--if the skies fall.
And I wish ye luck, I do for a fact."

"Don Jim," said Roldan, gravely, "have you another sandwich? We are
very hungry."




End of Project Gutenberg Etext of The Valiant Runaways, by Gertrude Atherton


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