“If it is that I am to die, I am not afraid,” said the youth. “I have this!” And his fingers touched the crucifix. “But you will not kill my uncle!”
Waring hesitated. He seemed to be listening. And as though in a dream, yet distinct—clear as though he had spoken himself came the words: “It is enough!”
“Not this journey,” said Waring.
The Mexican youth gazed at him wonderingly. Was the gringo mad?
Waring holstered his gun with a jerk. “Get up on your hind legs and quit that glory stuff! We ride north,” he growled.
The young Mexican’s face was beaded with sweat as he rose and stared down at the wounded man. Clumsily he attempted to help Waring, who washed and bandaged the shattered shoulder. Waring had shot to kill, but the gun was not his own, and he had fired almost as it had touched his hand.
“Get your uncle on his horse,” he told the youth. “Don’t make a break. We’re due at Juan Armigo’s ranchito about sundown.”
So far as he was concerned, that was all there was to it for the time being. He had wounded and captured Jose Vaca, notorious in Sonora as leader in outlawry. That there were no others of Vaca’s kind with him puzzled Waring. The young Ramon, Vaca’s nephew, did not count.
Ramon helped his uncle to mount. They glanced at each other, Vaca’s eyes blinking. The gringo was afoot. They were mounted. Waring, observing their attitude, smiled, and, crooking his finger, whistled shrilly. The young Ramon trembled. Other gringos were hidden in the arroyo; perhaps the very man that his uncle had robbed! Even now he could hear the click of hoofs on the gravel. The gunman had been merciful for the moment, only to turn his captives over to the merciless men of the mines; men who held a Mexican’s life worth no more than a dog’s. The wounded man, stiff in the saddle, turned his head. Round a bend in the dry river-bed, his neck held sideways that the reins might drag free, came Waring’s big buckskin horse, Dexter. The horse stopped as he saw the group. Waring spoke to him. The big buckskin stepped forward and nosed Waring, who swung to the saddle and gestured toward the back trail.
They rode in silence, the Mexicans with bowed heads, dull-eyed, listless, resigned to their certain fate. For some strange reason the gringo had not killed them in the arroyo. He had had excuse enough.
Would he take them to Sonora—to the prison? Or would he wait until they were in some hidden fastness of the Agua Fria, and there kill them and leave them to the coyotes? The youth Ramon knew that the two little canvas sacks of gold were cleverly tied in the huge tapaderas of his uncle’s saddle. Who would think to look for them there?
The gringo had said that they would ride to the ranchito of Juan Armigo. How easily the gringo had tricked them at the very moment when they thought they were safe! Yet he had not asked about the stolen money. The ways of this gringo were past comprehension.