A skidding—a crash—a cry!
Over the roadway, vacant now, floated a tenuous cloud of dust and gasoline-vapor, commingled.
In the retaining-wall at the left, a jagged gap appeared. Suddenly, far below, toward the river, a crashing detonation shattered harsh echoes from shore to shore.
Came a quick flash of light; then thick, black, greasy smoke arose, and, wafting through the treetops, drifted away on the warm wind of that late June afternoon.
A man, some quarter of a mile to southward, on the great highway, paused suddenly at sound of this explosion.
For a moment he stood there listening acutely, a knotted stick in hand, his flannel shirt, open at the throat, showing a brown and corded neck. The heavy knapsack on his shoulders seemed no burden to that rugged strength, as he stood, poised and eager, every sense centered in keen attention.
“Trouble ahead, there, by the Eternal!” he suddenly exclaimed. His eye had just caught sight of the first trailing wreaths of smoke, from up the cliff. “An auto’s gone to smash, down there, or I’m a plute!”
He needed no second thought to hurl him forward to the rescue. At a smart pace he ran, halloo’ing loudly, to tell the victims—should they still live—that help was at hand. At his right, extended the wall. At his left, a grove of sugar-maples, sparsely set, climbed a long slope, over the ridge of which the descending sun glowed warmly. Somewhat back from the road, a rough shack which served as a sugar-house for the spring sap-boiling, stood with gaping door, open to all the winds that blew. These things he noted subconsciously, as he ran.
Then, all at once, as he rounded a sharp turn, he drew up with a cry.
“Down the cliff!” he exclaimed. “Knocked the wall clean out, and plunged! Holy Mackinaw, what a smash!”
In a moment he had reached the scene of the catastrophe. His quick eye took in, almost at a glance, the skidding mark of the wheels, the ragged rent in the wall, the broken limbs of trees below.
“Some wreck!” he ejaculated, dropping his stick and throwing off his knapsack. “Hello, Hello, down there!” he loudly hailed, scrambling through the gap.
From below, no answer.
A silence, as of death, broken only by the echo of his own voice, was all that greeted his wild cry.
[Illustration: He gathered her up as though she had been a child.]
Gabriel Armstrong leaped, rather than clambered, through the gap in the wall, and, following the track of devastation through the trees, scrambled down the steep slope that led toward the Hudson.
The forest looked as though a car of Juggernaut had passed that way. Limbs and saplings lay in confusion, larger trees showed long wounds upon their bark, and here and there pieces of metal—a gray mud-guard, a car door, a wind-shield frame, with shattered plate glass still clinging to it—lay scattered on the precipitous declivity. Beside these, hanging to a branch, Gabriel saw a gaily-striped auto robe; and, further down, a heavy, fringed shawl.