Juanita was at Torre Garda at last—after months of patient waiting and watching, after dangers foreseen and faced—that was enough for Marcos de Sarrion.
He therefore pressed his horse. Although he was alert and watchful because it was his habit to be so, he was less careful perhaps than usual; he rode at a greater pace than was prudent on such a road, by so dark a night.
The spring comes early on the Southern slope of the Pyrenees. It was a warm night and there had been no rain for some days. The dust lay thickly on the road, muffling the beat of the horse’s feet. The Wolf roared in its narrow bed. The road, only recently made practicable for carriages at Sarrion’s expense, was not a safe one. It hung like a cornice on the left-hand bank of the river and at certain corners the stones fell from the mountain heights almost continuously. In other places the heavy stone buttresses had been undermined by the action of the river. It was a road that needed continuous watching and repair. But Marcos had ridden over it a few hours earlier and there had been no change of weather since.
He knew the weak places and passed them carefully. Three miles below the village, the river passes through a gorge and the road mounts to the lip of the overhanging cliffs. There is no danger here; for there are no falling stones from above. It is to this passage that the Wolf owes its name and in a narrow place invisible from the road the water seems to growl after the manner of a wild beast at meat.
Marcos’ horse knew the road well enough, which, moreover, was easy here. For it is cut from the rock on the left-hand side, while its outer boundary is marked at intervals by white stones. The horse was perhaps too cautious. By night a rider must leave to his mount the decision as to what hills may be descended at a trot. Marcos knew that the old horse beneath him invariably decided to walk down the easiest declivity. At the summit of the road the horse was trotting at a long, regular stride. On the turn of the hill he proposed to stop, although he must have known that the descent was easy. Marcos touched him with the spur and he started forward. The next instant he fell so suddenly and badly that his forehead scraped the road.
Marcos was thrown so hard and so far that he fell on his head and shoulder three feet in front of the horse. It was the narrowest place in the whole road, and the knowledge of this flashed through Marcos’ mind as he fell. He struck one of the white stones that mark the boundary of the road, and heard his collar-bone snap like a dry stick. Then he rolled over the edge of the precipice into the blackness filled by the roar of the river.
He still had one hand whole and ready, though the skin was scraped from it, and the fingers of this hand were firmly twisted into the bridle. He hung for a moment jerked hither and thither by the efforts of the horse to pick himself up on the road above. A stronger jerk lifted him to the edge of the road, and Marcos, hanging there for an instant, found an insecure foothold for one foot in the root of an overhanging bush. But the horse was nearer to the edge now; he was half over and might fall at any moment.