Chapter VII
 

When Roldan awoke he shivered slightly: the breath of winter was about him. He peered into the dusk, but could only gather that he was in a forest of huge trees on the side of a mountain. High above the wind was surging. He had a curious sense of travelling through the depths of the sea in a vacuum, the roar of suspended waters just over his head. Behind, between the giant trees, was a moving column of horses and men.

"Where are we?" he asked Anastacio.

"In the mountains, in a redwood forest. My pueblo is not far."

"What mountains? What forest?"

"That you will not know."

"Where is Adan?"

"On a stout mustang between two faithful followers of mine."

"They are unnecessary. He would not leave me."

"Perhaps not. Sometimes the white man lies and sometimes he is true."

Roldan sat up; his tired head had rested against the shoulder of his captor.

"Suppose I get behind you," he said. "It will be more comfortable for us both. That is, if you can trust me," with an attempt at sarcasm.

"I trust you. Get behind."

Roldan slipped down, sprang up, then strained his eyes once more into the depths of the forest. Nothing moved but that winding procession. Occasionally a coyote yapped or a wildcat yelled. Suddenly something fell against his face, pricking it gently. He looked over Anastacio's shoulder. They were passing into an open. The air was full of white, whirling particles.

"It snows," said Anastacio; "but we are soon there."

"We are in the Sierras," thought Roldan. He looked about with intense interest; he had never seen snow before; and to penetrate the mystery of the mighty Sierras had been one of the hopes of his life. The ground was white, and crunched under the horses' hoofs. The air was thick with snow-stars glittering under the full radiance of the moon. Roldan forgot that he was a captive. His mind had made its first impulse to the mysteries of night and solitude during the few moments between his entry into another forest and the encounter with the bear; it now made its first real opening. He was vaguely troubled by the embryonic thoughts that in their maturity come to men who have lived and suffered, when they are alone in a forest at night, far from other men.

Again they plunged into the forest. No snow penetrated the treetops, knit together by centuries and storms. All was black again, and the deep ocean of leaf and branch roared faintly overhead.

Roldan felt oppressed and thoughtful. He looked into the future and saw himself a man. He would be governor of the Californias, and make himself a good and great man, wiser than the idle caballeros who patronised him; he would teach them the folly of their useless lives.

"Look," said Anastacio, abruptly. "We are here. It is a pueblo of my fathers, and will serve us now."

He pointed with his riding switch through the trees to a vague whiteness, and in a moment they emerged into another open. It was a clearing some three hundred feet square, crowded with dilapidated hovels, white under a light fall of snow. It was in the heart of the Sierras, on the flat of a peak; and high on every side reared other peaks, glittering with snow, black with redwoods. The snow clouds had passed. The moon rode in a dark blue sky set thick with stars. The silence, the repose, were appalling.

Roldan jumped to the ground, and accompanied by Anastacio, ran up and down to get the cold and fatigue of night travel out of his body. In a few moments they were joined by Adan, who came waddling up, his broad face knit with perplexity and delight.

"I leave you now," said Anastacio, "but remember--if you attempt to escape you carry poisoned arrows in your backs."

"Ay, Roldan!" exclaimed Adan, when their formidable host was out of hearing. "But this was more than we bargained for. I don't know whether I like it or not."

"I must say I don't like the idea of being in the power of savages-- Indians," said Roldan, contemptuously. "But as we started out for adventure we must take black bread with white. I think I do rather like this, but I shall not if we have to stay here too long and nothing happens."

"Isn't anything likely to happen?" asked Adan, anxiously.

"How can one tell? And who could find this place? But if worst comes to worst we'll run away--and not with poisoned arrows in our backs, either."

"That we will," said Adan, emphatically. "We've done that before."

The boys were given a good supper of meat roasted over coals, and a slice of Mission cake, then were escorted by Anastacio to the largest of the huts.

"Enter and sleep," he said. "It is my hut. I shall sleep beside you."