“I’ll have to take a whirl at the house. Some of them may have carried it back inside,” he told himself.
As he stepped toward the door, Don Manuel came round the corner. At his heels were Steve and the four Mexicans who had but a few minutes before been trying industriously to exterminate the miner.
Don Manuel bowed punctiliously to Gordon.
“I beg to express my very great regrettance at this untimely attack,” he said.
“Don’t mention it, don. This business of chasing over the hills in the moonlight is first-class for the circulation of the blood, I expect. Most of us got quite a bit of exercise, first and last.”
Dick spoke with light irony; but one distraught half of his attention was upon the burning house.
“Nevertheless, you will permeet me to regret, senor,” returned the young Spaniard stiffly.
“Ce’tainly. You’re naturally sore that you didn’t get first crack at me. Don’t blame you a bit,” agreed Dick cheerfully but absently. “Funny thing is that one of your friends happened to send his message to my address, all right. Got me in the left laig, just before you butted in and spoiled their picnic so inconsiderate.”
“You are then wounded, sir?”
“Not worth mentioning, don. Just a little accident. Wouldn’t happen again in a thousand years. Never did see such poor shots as your valley lads. Say, will you excuse me just a minute? I got some awful important business to attend to.”
“Most entirely, Senor Gordon.”
“Thanks. Won’t be a minute.”
To Pesquiera’s amazement, he dived through the door, from which smoke poured in clouds, and was at once lost to sight within.
“He is a madman,” the Spaniard murmured.
“Or devil,” added Sebastian significantly. “You will see, senor, he will come out safe and unharmed.”
But he did not come out at all, though the minutes dragged themselves away one after another.
“I’m going after him,” cried Davis, starting forward.
But Don Manuel flung strong arms about him, and threw the miner back into the hands of the Mexicans.
“Hold him,” he cried in Spanish.
“Let me go. Let me go, I say!” cried the miner, struggling with those who detained him.
But Pesquiera had already gone to the rescue. He, too, plunged through the smoke. Blinded unable to breathe, he groped his way across the door lintel into the blazing hut.
The heat was intense. Red tongues of flame licked out from all sides toward him. But he would not give up, though he was gasping for breath and could not see through the dense smoke.
A sweep of wind brushed the smoke aside for an instant, and he saw the body of his enemy lying on the floor before him. He stooped, tried to pick it up, but was already too far gone himself.
Almost overcome, he sank to his knees beside Gordon. Close to the floor the air was still breathable. He filled his lungs, staggered to his feet, and tried to drag the unconscious man across the threshold with him.