“A letter, senorita,” the man said, presenting her with a note which he took from his pocket.
The note read:
Your father has been hurt in the fire. This man will take you to him.
Joyce went white to the lips and caught at the table
to steady herself.
“Is—is he badly hurt?” she asked.
The man took refuge in ignorance, as Mexicans do when they do not want to talk. He did not understand English, he said, and when the girl spoke in Spanish he replied sulkily that he did not know what was in the letter. He had been told to deliver it and bring the lady back. That was all.
Keith burst into tears. He wanted to go to his father too, he sobbed.
The girl, badly shaken herself in soul, could not refuse him. If his father was hurt he had a right to be with him.
“You may ride along with me,” she said, her lip trembling.
The women gathered round the boy and his sister, expressing sympathy after the universal fashion of their sex. They were kinder and more tender than usual, pressing on them offers of supplies and service. Joyce thanked them, a lump in her throat, but it was plain that the only way in which they could help was to expedite her setting out.
Soon they were on the road, Keith riding behind his sister and clinging to her waist. Joyce had slipped a belt around the boy and fastened it to herself so that he would not fall from the saddle in case he slept. The Mexican rode in complete silence.
For an hour they jogged along the dusty road which led to the new oil field, then swung to the right into the low foothills among which the mountains were rooted.
Joyce was a bit surprised. She asked questions, and again received for answers shrugs and voluble Spanish irrelevant to the matter. The young woman knew that the battle was being fought among the canons leading to the plains. This trail must be a short cut to one of them. She gave up trying to get information from her guide. He was either stupid or sulky; perhaps a little of each.
The hill trail went up and down. It dipped into valleys and meandered round hills. It climbed a mountain spur, slipped through a notch, and plumped sharply into a small mountain park. At the notch the Mexican drew up and pointed a finger. In the dim pre-dawn grayness Joyce could see nothing but a gulf of mist.
“Over there, Senorita, he waits.”
“In the arroyo. Come.”
They descended, letting the horses pick their way down cautiously through the loose rubble of the steep pitch. The heart of the girl beat fast with anxiety about her father, with the probability that David Sanders would soon come to meet her out of the silence, with some vague prescience of unknown evil clutching at her bosom. There had been growing in Joyce a feeling that something was wrong, something sinister was at work which she did not understand.