As he dwelt upon this thought, his reflections grew more and more gloomy, and he had little to say till he reached the turn where the two men still awaited them.
In the encounter which followed no attempt was made by either party to disguise the nature of the business which had brought them thus together. The man whom Mr. Black took to be a Shelby detective nodded as they met and remarked, with a quick glance at Reuther:
“So you’ve come without him! I’m sorry for that. I was in hopes that I might be spared the long ride up the mountain.”
Mr. Black limited his answer to one of his sour smiles.
“Whose horse is this?” came in peremptory demand from the other man, with a nod towards the animal which could now be seen idly grazing by the wayside. “And how came it on the road alone?”
“We can only give you these facts,” rejoined the lawyer. “It came from Tempest Lodge. It started out ahead of us with the gentleman we had gone to visit on its back. We did not pass the gentleman on the road, and if he has not passed you, he must have left the road somewhere on foot. He did not go back to the Lodge.”
“I am telling you the absolute truth. Make what you will of it. His father desires him home; and sent a message. This message this young lady undertook to deliver, and she did deliver it, with the consequences I have mentioned. If you doubt me, take your ride. It is not an easy one, and the only man remaining at the Lodge is deaf as a post.”
“Mr. Black has told the whole story,” averred the guide.
They looked at Reuther.
“I have nothing to add,” said she. “I have been terrified lest the gentleman you wish to see was thrown from the horse’s back over the precipice. But perhaps he found some way of getting down on foot. He is a very strong and daring man.”
“The tree!” ejaculated the detective’s companion. He was from a neighbouring locality and remembered this one natural ladder up the side of the gully.
“Yes, the tree,” acknowledged Mr. Sloan. “That, or a fall. Let us hope it was not a fall.”
As he ceased, a long screech from an approaching locomotive woke up the echoes of the forest. It was answered by another from the opposite direction. Both trains were on time. The relief felt by Reuther could not be concealed. The detective noticed it.
“I’m wasting time here,” said he. “Excuse me, Mr. Black, if I push on ahead of you. If we don’t meet at the station, we shall meet in Shelby.”
Mr. Black’s mouth twisted grimly. He had no doubt of the latter fact.
Next minute, they were all cantering in the one direction; the detective very much in the advance.
“Let me go with you to the station,” entreated Reuther, as Mr. Black held up his arms to lift her from her horse at the door of the hotel.
But his refusal was peremptory. “You need Miss Weeks, and Miss Weeks needs you,” said he. “I’ll be back in just five minutes.” And without waiting for a second pleading look, he lifted her gently off and carried her in.