Jingle of bridle bits , hollow ring of shod hooves on the loose stone of the canyon floor . Four riders emerged from the mouth of the steep arroyo . After the long ascent , the horses shook their heads vigorously and blew through their nostrils . Elkins drew a long breath of the cooler air , spat , and dismounted . " We ' ll rest the horses a few minutes ," he said to his three companions , surveying the small meadow , its patches of mountain grass spangled with the purple and yellow of late summer wildflowers . The party dismounted and loosened the girths of their horses , as the mounts sought patches of forage to graze . " Mas frio aqui ," said Mario , the older of the two Campuchano brothers . " Si , hombre ," Elkins agreed . The sweat on the back of his shirt from the long climb up from the desert was already drying at this higher elevation . Lieutenant Marlin , the fourth member of the party , was taking long drafts from his canteen .
" We ' ll find water for the horses further up ," Elkins said , as he removed his field glasses from his saddle bag . He stepped onto a rock at the perimeter of the meadow and trained the glasses at the bolson below , a long-dry ancient lake bed ringed by mountains . An intimation of something , or someone , behind them had prompted him . He scanned the glasses across the dry salt pan of the plain . And yes , there , far in the distance was a dust cloud . Riders — how many ?— moving at a gallop on the trail the party of four had traversed . He focused the glasses for better detail . Two riders , two pack animals . His gaze followed the lead rider , a slender figure . Mario had joined him on the rock and peered intently with his own unaided keen vision at the tableau below . " Mujer ," he said . His comment echoed the thought Elkins had already had . And there was something else . He shifted the field glasses back to the right . Further back was another cloud of dust . Apparently , the riders with the pack animals were being pursued .