No one but Gale saw the Yaqui in the background looking down upon the Spanish girl. All of Yaqui's looks were strange; but this singularly so. Gale marked it, and felt he would never forget. Mercedes's beauty had never before struck him as being so exquisite, so alluring as now when she lay stricken. Gale wondered if the Indian was affected by her loveliness, her helplessness, or her terror. Yaqui had seen Mercedes only a few times, and upon each of these he had appeared to be fascinated. Could the strange Indian, because his hate for Mexicans was so great, be gloating over her misery? Something about Yaqui--a noble austerity of countenance--made Gale feel his suspicion unjust.
Presently Belding called his rangers to him, and then Thorne.
"Listen to this," he said, earnestly. "I'll go out and have a talk with Rojas. I'll try to reason with him; tell him to think a long time before he sheds blood on Uncle Sam's soil. That he's now after an American's wife! I'll not commit myself, nor will I refuse outright to consider his demands, nor will I show the least fear of him. I'll play for time. If my bluff goes through...well and good....After dark the four of you, Laddy, Jim, Dick, and Thorne, will take Mercedes and my best white horses, and, with Yaqui as guide, circle round through Altar Valley to the trail, and head for Yuma....Wait now, Laddy. Let me finish. I want you to take the white horses for two reasons--to save them and to save you. Savvy? If Rojas should follow on my horses he'd be likely to catch you. Also, you can pack a great deal more than on the bronchs. Also, the big horses can travel faster and farther on little grass and water. I want you to take the Indian, because in a case of this kind he'll be a godsend. If you get headed or lost or have to circle off the trail, think what it 'd mean to have Yaqui with you. He knows Sonora as no Greaser knows it. He could hide you, find water and grass, when you would absolutely believe it impossible. The Indian is loyal. He has his debt to pay, and he'll pay it, don't mistake me. When you're gone I'll hide Nell so Rojas won't see her if he searches the place. Then I think I could sit down and wait without any particular worry."
The rangers approved of Belding's plan, and Thorne choked in his effort to express his gratitude.
"All right, we'll chance it," concluded Belding. "I'll go out now and call Rojas and his outfit over...Say, it might be as well for me to know just what he said in that paper."
Thorne went to the side of his wife.
"Mercedes, we've planned to outwit Rojas. Will you tell us just what he wrote?"
The girl sat up, her eyes dilating, and with her hands clasping Thorne's. She said: