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- THE VALIANT RUNAWAYS - 4/26 -
the rush of the water," he said. "We must be near the river."
"It sounds as if it was high," said Adan. "It has rained hard this month. Suppose these horses don't swim?"
"We'll make them. Come on."
"Ay! yi!" exclaimed Adan, not many moments after.
They pulled up suddenly on the banks of the river, a body of water about three hundred yards wide. It was swollen almost level with the high banks. The tumultuous waters were racing as if Neptune astride them was fleeing from angry gods. There is something unhuman in the roar of an angry river: it has a knell in it.
Roldan and Adan looked at each other. The latter's face had paled. Roldan contracted his lids suddenly, and when his friend met the glance that grew between them he compressed his lips and involuntarily straightened himself: he knew its significance.
"We must cross," said Roldan. "It would never do to spend the night on this side. If they followed, they would never suspect us of crossing. If we remained here, we could not hear them until they were upon us."
"Very well," said Adan.
Roldan raised his bridle. The mustang did not move forward, but cowered. "I don't like to hurt horses," said the young don, "but he's got to go." He clapped his spurs savagely against the animal's sides, and the next moment the waves were lashing about him.
Adan was beside him at once, and together they breasted the rushing waters. The mustangs were strong and made fair headway, incited by terror and the spur. The water was very cold, but the boys scarcely felt it. Their eyes were strained toward the opposite shore, measuring the distance, which seemed to grow less very slowly. The stars were thick and the moon was floating just above the chaparral, but the darkness about them was grim, and only a narrow line of white indicated the shore.
The horses were not able to keep a straight course. The current lashed them about more than once, but they righted, shook the water from their quivering nostrils, and plunged on.
The boys' glance so persistently sought their haven that they saw nothing of what was passing about them. They were within twenty yards of the shore. Adan, having the stronger beast, was some little distance ahead. He did not observe it. He was registering a vow that if he reached land in safety he would be drafted every year of his life before he would ford another river after heavy rain.
Suddenly Roldan became conscious that the wiry little body between his gripping knees had relaxed somewhat the tension of its muscles. Was the poor brute collapsing? Roldan leaned over and patted his neck. It responded for a moment, then fell back again. Roldan set his lips. As he did so he cast about him the instinctive glance of those in peril. A huge log was bearing down upon him like a projectile.
In a second his feet were out of his stirrups and he was crouching on the mustang's back. The log struck the beast full in the side, tossing Roldan as if he had been a feather. The mustang gave a hoarse neigh, unheard above the roar of the water.
Roldan, keeping his face from the pounding waves as best he could, struck out for the bank. But the current was too much for his slender body, plucky as it was. He made a mighty effort and shouted,--
The high clear note pierced to his companion's ear. Adan turned his head, uttered a cry, and pulled his unwilling mustang about. But the current was carrying the white face on the waves rapidly past.
"Lariat!" Roldan managed to scream.
Adan's faculties had been paralysed for the moment, but they responded almost automatically to that imperious will. He unwound the lariat rapidly from the pommel, hastily gathered the loops, then flung it with sure hand straight at his friend. It fell about Roldan's neck. The boy jerked it over his shoulders, then signed to Adan to proceed.
Adan once more urged his horse forward, not daring to look behind. Roldan made no attempt to swim; he merely used his arms to keep his head above water. There were but a few yards farther. The mustang, despite his double load, made them, and scrambled up the bank. Adan, realising for the first time that he was stiff with cold, scrambled off and pulled in the rope with hands that were aching and almost numb. He heard Roldan strike the bank, a moment later the snapping of brush. Roldan's head rose into view, Adan gave a last despairing tug, and a moment later the two boys lay on their backs, panting for breath.
"Do you want any more adventures?" asked Adan feebly, after a time.
"Not at present," said Roldan.
He raised himself stiffly. "Come," he said, "this will never do. We shall both have rheumatism. We must have a fire at once."
Adan groaned pathetically, but got on his feet. They had found refuge in the open; but a grove of trees was near, and in a quarter of an hour they had piled a heap of branches and chaparral as high as an Indian pyre, hunted up two pieces of flint, and sent sparks flying through the dry mass.
The boys divested themselves of their dripping clothes and hung them close to the fire, then raced up and down with what energy was left in them to scotch the chill night air. Finally they paused breathless before the pile, which was now roaring merrily.
"I should like to know what we are to have for supper," said Roldan. "That Mission is twenty miles away, and I for one can't walk to it. Climb up a tree and see if there is a light anywhere."
"Thanks, senor," said Adan, "when my clothes are dry."
"True, we must keep our skin. I have it!" He sprang on the back of the mustang, who also had fallen upon reaching the shore but had risen to nibble for supper, and stood on the tips of his feet. "I can see well," he announced. "But all the same I can see nothing. We must stay here."
He dismounted, and relieving the mustang of the heavy saddle, emptied the bags. "The bread and sweets are soaked," he said, "not fit for a pig to eat; but we can do something with the meat. Fetch some coals."
Adan with infinite difficulty managed to scrape a few coals apart from the bonfire, and over this they scorched the meat. As they crouched on the ground they looked like two little white savages, and they were neither comfortable nor happy.
"We must keep this fire going all night," said Roldan, "or we shall be eaten by bears, to say nothing of rattlesnakes--"
"Hist!" whispered Adan. "I hear one." Both boys sprang to their feet.
"Near the horse."
Roldan seized his pistol and ran in the direction indicated, keeping his eyes on the ground. Suddenly he paused. Something just beyond the light was growing into a series of graceful loops. A long neck slowly lifted itself and two baleful eyes fixed upon Roldan. He raised his pistol, and the rattler was beheaded as neatly as if it were stuffed and dismembered with a pen knife. It shot out to full length, and the clever marksman took it by its horny tail and dragged it to the fire.
"He didn't know that we'd have him for supper," said Adan, gleefully. "Here, let us eat our steak and then I'll skin him."
The steak proved tough, and when it had been disposed of with many grumblings, the rattlesnake was skinned and roasted, and proved very delicate and edible.
"Now," said Roldan, "we must sleep." Their clothes being dry they dressed; and after inspecting with a torch a circle of about two hundred yards to see that there were no snake holes, they built a hasty ring of chaparral, set fire to it that beasts and reptiles should keep their distance, then lay down and slept. Roldan was always a light sleeper, and with the fire on his mind awoke every few hours and gathered fresh chaparral or roused the heavier Adan. Coyotes wailed in the distance, and once as Roldan gathered brush he heard again the deadly rattle. But they were not disturbed, and even the skies were kind, for although clouds gathered, they passed.
They awoke in the morning, fresh and vigorous--but also hungry; and there was little to eat.
"I don't think I should fancy rattlesnake for breakfast," said Roldan, and Adan shuddered at the mere thought. They cooked a small piece of meat, all that was left of their store, and it but whetted their appetite.
"There's only one thing to do," said Roldan, "and that is to get to the Mission as quickly as possible. Chocolate! Beans! possibly chicken! Think of it. Come! Come!"
Adan scrambled to his feet and saddled the mustang. It was agreed that they should ride him by turns, the other running at a brisk trot.
The sun was barely up when they started. A light mist lay on the turbulent waters and puffed among the sweet-scented chaparral. Roldan rode during the first hour, Adan running ahead, his glance darting from right to left, but encountering eyes neither malignant nor savage. Shortly after he mounted the horse the mist lifted and rolled back to the ocean. They had left the chaparral some time before and now discovered that they were in an open plain. In the distance were high hills over which wound a white trail. Between these hills and the travellers was a moving mass of something. Adan reined in suddenly.
"Roldan," he said, "are those horses? You have the longer sight."
Roldan made a funnel of his hand. "Surely, surely!" he cried. "What luck! I hate walking. They are probably wild, but I never saw the mustang I could not lasso."
"Yes, you can do the lassoing," said Adan, grimly. "My thumb nearly went off last night, and is twice its size."
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