The path became ladder steep. Now Beltran delayed all, for it was a lame man climbing. I helped him all I could.
The sun was near its setting. We were aloft in these mountains. Green heads still rose over us, but we were aloft, far above the sea. And now we were going through a ravine or pass where the walking was better. Here, too, a wind reached us and it was cooler. Cool eve of the heights drew on. We came to a bubbling well of coldest water and drank to our great refreshment. Veritable pine trees, which we never saw in the lowlands, towered above and sang. The path was easier, but hardly, hardly, could Beltran drag himself along it. His arm was over my shoulder.
Out of the dark pass we came upon a table almost bare of trees and covered with a fine soft grass. The mountains of Cibao, five leagues—maybe more—away, hung in emerald purple and gold under the sinking sun. The highest rocky peaks rose pale gold. Below us and between those mountains on which we stood and the golden mountains of Cibao, spread that plain, so beautiful, so wide and long, so fertile and smiling and vast, that afterwards was called the Royal Plain! East and west one might not see the end; south only the golden mountains stopped it. And rivers shone, one great river and many lesser streams. And we saw afar many plumes of smoke from many villages, and we made out maize fields, for the plain was populous. Vega Real! So lovely was it in that bright eve! The very pain of the day made it lovelier.
The high grassy space ran upon one side to sheer precipice, dropping clear two hundred feet. But there was camping ground enough—and the sun almost touched the far, violet earth.
The Indians threw themselves down. When they had supper they would eat it, when they had it not they would wait for breakfast. But Caonabo with twenty young men came to us. He said something, and my arms were caught from behind and held. He faced Beltran seated against a pine. “Aiya!” he said. His voice was deep and harsh, and be made a gesture of repugnance. There was a powerfully made Indian beside him, and I saw the last gleam of the sun strike the long, sharp, stone knife. “Kill!” said the cacique.
A dozen flung themselves upon Beltran, but there was no need, for he sat quite still with a steady face. He had time to cry to Juan Lepe, who cried to him, “That’s what I say! Good cheer and courage and meet again!”
He had no long suffering. The knife was driven quickly to his heart. They drew the shell to the edge of the precipice and dropped it over.
It was early night, it was middle night, it was late night. They had set no watch, for where and what was the danger here on this mountain top?
One side went down in a precipice, one sloping less steeply we had climbed from the pine trees and the well, one of a like descent we would take to-morrow down to the plain, but the fourth was mountain head hanging above us and thick wood,—dark, entangled, pathless. And it chanced or it was that Juan Lepe lay upon the side toward the peak, close to forest. The Indians had no thought to guard me. We lay down under the moon, and that bronze host slept, naked beautiful statues, in every attitude of rest.