“I—I wasn’t out into the park,” he told her.
“Oh!” Her scornful gypsy eyes passed over him and wiped him from the map. She would not even comment on the obvious alternative.
“You think I’ve been up at Dan Meldrum’s spying,” he protested hotly.
“Haven’t you?” she flung at him.
“Yes, if that’s what you want to call it,” came quickly his bitter answer. “The man who has been my best friend is lying up there a prisoner because he knows too much about the criminals of Huerfano Park. I heard Meldrum threaten to kill him unless he promised what was wanted of him. Why shouldn’t I do my best to help the man who—”
Her voice, sharpened by apprehension, cut into his. “What man? Who are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about David Dingwell.”
“What do you mean that he knows too much? Too much about what?” she demanded.
“About the express robbery.”
“Do you mean to say that—that my people—?” She choked with anger, but back of her indignation was fear.
“I mean to say that one of your brothers was guarding Dingwell and that later your father went up to Meldrum’s place. They are starving him to get something out of him. I serve warning on you that if they hurt my friend—”
“Starving him!” she broke out fiercely. “Do you dare say that my people—my father—would torture anybody? Is that what you mean, you lying spy?”
Her fury was a spur to him. “I don’t care what words you use,” he flung back wildly. “They have given him no food for three days. I didn’t know such things were done nowadays. It’s as bad as what the old Apaches did. It’s devilish—”
He pulled himself up. What right had he to talk that way to the girl who had just saved his life? Her people might be law-breakers, but he felt that she was clean of any wrongdoing.
Her pride was shaken. A more immediate issue had driven it into the background.
“Why should they hurt him?” she asked. “If they had meant to do that—”
“Because he won’t tell what he knows—where the gold is—won’t promise to keep quiet about it afterward. What else can they do? They can’t turn him loose as a witness against them.”
“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe a word of it.” Her voice broke. “I’m going up to see right away.”
“I mean now.”
She turned up the gulch instead of down. Reluctantly he followed her.
They felt their way up in the darkness. The path was rough and at first pitch-black. After a time they emerged from the aspens into more open travel. Here were occasional gleams of light, as if the moon stood tip-toe and peered down between the sheer walls of Chicito to the obscure depths below.