MoboReader> Literature > Daughter of the Sun


Daughter of the Sun By Jackson Gregory Characters: 13781

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


From afar, reaching them only faintly, came the sounds of men's voices, Zoraida's men clamoring above, mystified and with ample cause.

"It may be our chance is now, not tonight," said Kendric. "Although it's but a little way from the house some of them, if not all, will have ridden; their horses will be down in the ca?on. If we can slip out this way and come to the horses while they're looking for us up there--"

"This way?" Betty for an instant wondered if he meant to follow Zoraida and Rios.

"There is another way," he told her. "Come.-But first, we'll not go empty handed."

He began a quick rummaging among the ancient chests.

"Hurry," pleaded the girl. "What do we want with treasure? They may find us at any second. Oh, hurry!"

"Coming," he answered. "But here are wings to fly with." She saw him putting a number of small objects into his pockets. He moved to another point and she could not see what he was doing, could only guess that still he was stuffing something into the provision bag and further cramming his pockets. Just then there was in Betty's soul no thirst for wealth, just the mighty yearning for the open country and flight and the peace of safety afar.

"Here I am." Jim was again at her side. He caught her arm. "This way."

He led her to that other pit giving entrance to the second tunnel. At another time Betty might have hesitated to slip down into it; now she was eager for anything that gave the vaguest hope of flight. For the faint far voices still clamored and she feared that the hounds that hunted in Zoraida's wake might find the secret of the boulder and roll it back with many hands and rush down upon them.

But Kendric held her back while he first went down. He gripped the edges of the pit with his hands and lowered himself to the length of his arms and dropped. It was but a short fall and he landed safely and steadied himself and managed to save himself from going down the slide by clutching at the rock wall. Betty handed down the rifle and bag, then lowered herself and he caught her in his arms. And then, in no little uncertainty and not without grave dread of what dangers they might encounter, they went on.

The slide was steep and yet by going very guardedly, lying face down at times and inching down cautiously, they made a slow descent. The tunnel grew steadily smaller as they progressed; their bodies shut off the light. The terrible thought presented itself to Kendric that when they came to the outlet it might be too small for them to pass through; and that to return up the tunnel was a task which would present its difficulties. So, when they came to a place where Betty could cling on and keep from slipping, he called to her to wait while he went on.

The time had come when his rifle was an encumbrance; he needed both hands to keep from slipping. He had had the forethought to turn the muzzle downward, since Betty was above him. Now he craned his neck and sought to peer down along his body. Far away, somewhere, was a glint of sunlight, small but full of promise. He saw, as he had seen before, a tangle of brush. He wondered if it were a clump of bushes on a little flat? Or if they were shrubs clinging to some steep face of cliff? When at last he came to the mouth of this chute-if it were wide enough for a man's body to pass through-would the man have reached safety or would he be precipitated through space and down a fifty foot fall of rock?

"The bushes ought to stop the rifle," he decided. "At any rate the time has come when I need both hands." And he let it slide past him and sought to watch it as it clattered along the incline. But he saw nothing of it in the dim passage until it struck the fringe of bushes. Then it crashed through and was gone-without telling him how and where! The bag, a knot tied in it, he sent down after the gun.

His misgivings were considerable but he went on. He called out to Betty: "It looks all right. Hold on till I call," and began inching downward again. With his feet he sought to judge the slope below him. It seemed to be growing steeper. Still he went on and down. He caught at any unevenness in the rock he could lay hand upon, lowering himself to the length of his arm, groping for handhold and foothold everywhere. Then a handhold to which he had entrusted his weight betrayed him, the tiny sliver of stone scaled off and he began to slip. He clutched wildly but his body gained fresh momentum. He heard Betty shriek above him. He had a vision of himself plunging down the cliffs. Then he knew that he had struck the bushes, had broken through, was rolling down a steep slope, rolling and rolling.

The breath jolted out of him, he was brought up with a jerk in another clump of bushes, wild sage in a little level space. He hastily jumped up and began to scramble back up toward the tunnel's mouth. He could not see it from below, he could see only the patch of brush which, since it was directly above him, must conceal it. He saw his rifle where it stood on end, the muzzle jammed between two rocks. He wanted to call to Betty but did not dare, not knowing how close some of Zoraida's men might be. Betty could not hold on there forever; she would slip as he had done or, frightened terribly, by now she might be seeking frenziedly to make her way back to the treasure chamber.

But as it happened Betty was to make the descent with less violence than Kendric's. She had thought that surely Jim had been snatched away from her to a broken death below; she had gone dizzy with sick fear; she had struggled for a securer grip-and she, too, had slipped. Down she sped, half fainting. But somewhere her wide sash caught and held briefly, letting her slip again before her fingers could find a hold, but breaking the momentum of her progress. So, when she was shot out into the open, a few yards above Kendric, the brush all but stopped her. And then, as she was slipping by him, Kendric caught her and held her.

Betty sat up and stared at him incredulously. Then there came into her eyes such a light as Jim Kendric had never seen in eyes of man or woman.

"I thought you were dead," said Betty simply. "And I did not want to live."

He helped her to her feet and they hurried down the slope. He caught up his rifle, merely grunted at the discovery of a sight knocked off, found near it the bag of food and treasure, and led the way down into the ca?on. A glance upward showed him no sign of Zoraida's men.

"There are the horses," whispered Betty.

Down in the bed of the ravine were a dozen or more saddled ponies. They stood where their riders had left them, their reins over their heads and dragging on the ground.

"Run!" said Kendric. "If we can get into saddle before they see us we're as good as at home!"

Hand in hand they ran, stumbling along the slope, crashing

through the brush. But as they drew nearer and the ponies pricked up their ears they forced themselves to go slowly. Kendric caught the nearest horse, tarrying for no picking and choosing, and helped Betty up into the saddle. The next moment he, too, was mounted. He looked again up the mountainside. Still no sign of Zoraida's men. A broad grin of high satisfaction testified that Jim Kendric found this new arrangement of mundane affairs highly to his liking.

"We'll drive these other ponies on ahead of us," he suggested. "Until they're a good five miles off. And then we'll see how fast a cowpony can run!"

So, herding a lot of saddled horses ahead of them, reins flying and soon putting panic into the animals, Jim and Betty rode down into the valley. They looked down to the big adobe house and saw no one; the place slept tranquilly in the late afternoon sun. They passed the corrals and still saw no one. If any of her men had not followed Zoraida, they were lounging under cover. The maids would be about the evening meal and table setting, in the patio or in the house.

Straight across the valley they drove the ponies and there, in the first foothills scattered and left them. Then they settled down to hard riding, both praying mutely that when they came to the gulf and the beach they would find the Half Moon awaiting them.

The stars were out when they came to the beach where only a few days ago Kendric and Barlow had landed. And there, at anchor, rode the Half Moon. They saw her lights and they made out the hulk of her. Kendric shouted and fired his rifle. Almost immediately came an answering hail, the melodious voice of Nigger Ben. They saw a lantern go down over the side, they watched it bob and dance and made out presently that it was coming toward them. They heard Nigger Ben's voice, chanting monotonously, as he pulled at the oars of the small boat.

"Howdy, Cap'n, howdy!" cried Ben joyously. He took in the small figure which had dismounted at Kendric's side and ducked his head and included her in his greetings with a "Howdy, Miss." And then, looking in vain for another member of the party: "Where's Cap'n Barlow?"

"Let's get on board, Ben," answered Kendric. "I'll tell you there."

So they stepped into the dingey and pushed off and rowed back to the Half Moon.

"There's a gent here says he's a frien' of your'n, Cap," said Ben. "Ah dunno. Anyhows, he's been here all day an' we're watchin' he don't make no mischief."

They went up over the side and Kendric showed Betty straightway to the cabin that was to be hers. Then he turned wonderingly to Ben. He could only think of Bruce, since it wasn't Barlow--

And Bruce it was. The boy came forth from the shadows, standing before Kendric looking at once dejected and defiant and shamefaced.

"I was a damn' fool, Jim," he said bluntly. "Forget it, if you can, and take a passenger back to the States with you. Or tell me to go to hell-and I guess I'll tuck my tail between my legs and go."

Kendric's hand went out impulsively and he cried with great heartiness:

"Forget it, boy.-What about Barlow?"

"Barlow's like a crazy man," said Bruce. He spoke quickly as though eager to get through with what he had to say. "After that cursed game of cards he got the same sort of a message I got; we were to wait, each in his own room, for-for her." He hesitated; Kendric understood that it hurt him even to refer to Zoraida. "We waited a long time. Then something happened which I know little about; I guess you know all of it. At any rate, when she burst in on us-we had gotten tired waiting and were in the patio-she, too, was like one gone mad. We had heard the shooting outside but when we started to run out some of her men threw guns on us and held us back. She came running in, terribly excited. When I tried to speak she cursed me, called me a fool, told me that she had never loved any but one man and that that man was-was you. Then she swore that she was going to see you dead and Betty Gordon dead with you. I guess I came to my senses a little at that."

"And Barlow?" insisted Kendric. Bruce had paused, was staring off into the night, seemed to have forgotten to go on.

"I had two words with Barlow when she left us. He looked ready for murder and just snapped out that he was going to stay until he lined his pockets. Rios came in. He told us you were on the run, trying to make it down here. He offered to get me and Barlow clear; he seemed anxious to have us both gone. He promised us we'd be dead in twenty-four hours if we stayed; he tipped his hand enough to say that there was loot to be had and he meant to have his half and didn't care what happened to us so long as we got out of the way. I came, hoping that you'd break through and get here. I told Barlow I was coming. He just shrugged his shoulders at that and said he'd stay; if we could square for the rent of the Half Moon in San Diego we could have her. Otherwise, for God's sake to sink her in the ocean and let the old man know. And off he went, looking for-for her."

"You've had a hard deal, Bruce." Kendric put a kindly hand on the boy's shoulder. "But you'll come alive yet. I've made a haul today; just how big I won't know until we get home. But enough, I'll gamble to stake you to a new start. Now, let's get going. And good luck to poor old Barlow. It's his game to play his way."

They slipped out into the gulf, Nigger Ben and Philippine Charlie content to accept the explanation Kendric gave them of Barlow's absence. Bruce, taciturn and moody, went to the stern and stood looking back toward the black line of the receding coast until long after darkness blotted it out. Kendric went to Betty's cabin and rapped.

"Will you come for a moment to the main cabin?" he asked.

When she came he had a lamp on the table. He shut the door and locked it. Then, without a word between them, he began emptying his pockets. She saw him pile up a great number of little square bars that clanked musically.

"Solid gold," he said gravely.

Then he poured forth the pearls. There was strings and loops, necklaces and broad bands made of many strings laced together. They shone softly, gloriously there in the swaying cabin of the Half Moon. The finest of them all fashioned into a superb necklace he threw with a sudden gesture about Betty's throat.

"And on top of all that-we're headed for home!" said Kendric.

"Home!" Betty's eyes shone more gloriously than the pearls.

"And thus ends our little camping trip. Tell me, Betty, haven't you any desire for a real camping trip in our own mountains? That place that I know, where the little hidden valley is and the lake--"

"Tell me about it," said Betty.

Pearls and gold heaped on the table, pearls about Betty's throat, and they talked of pack and trail and a little green lodge to be made of fir boughs.

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