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A Matter Of Mean Elevation
by [?]

For weeks Armstrong, guided by Luis, followed his regular route among the mountains. After he had collected an arroba of the precious metal, winning a profit of nearly $5,000, the heads of the lightened mules were turned down-trail again. Where the head of the Guarico River springs from a great gash in the mountain-side, Luis halted the train.

“Half a day’s journey from here, Senor,” said he, “is the village of Tacuzama, which we have never visited. I think many ounces of gold may be procured there. It is worth the trial.”

Armstrong concurred, and they turned again upward toward Tacuzama. The trail was abrupt and precipitous, mounting through a dense forest. As night fell, dark and gloomy, Luis once more halted. Before them was a black chasm, bisecting the path as far as they could see.

Luis dismounted. “There should be a bridge,” he called, and ran along the cleft a distance. “It is here,” he cried, and remounting, led the way. In a few moments Armstrong, heard a sound as though a thunderous drum were beating somewhere in the dark. It was the falling of the mules’ hoofs upon the bridge made of strong hides lashed to poles and stretched across the chasm. Half a mile further was Tacuzama. The village was a congregation of rock and mud huts set in the profundity of an obscure wood. As they rode in a sound inconsistent with that brooding solitude met their ears. From a long, low mud hut that they were nearing rose the glorious voice of a woman in song. The words were English, the air familiar to Armstrong’s memory, but not to his musical knowledge.

He slipped from his mule and stole to a narrow window in one end of the house. Peering cautiously inside, he saw, within three feet of him, a woman of marvellous, imposing beauty, clothed in a splendid loose robe of leopard skins. The hut was packed close to the small space in which she stood with the squatting figures of Indians.

The woman finished her song and seated herself close to the little window, as if grateful for the unpolluted air that entered it. When she had ceased several of the audience rose and cast little softly-falling bags at her feet. A harsh murmur–no doubt a barbarous kind of applause and comment–went through the grim assembly.

Armstrong, was used to seizing opportunities promptly. Taking advantage of the noise he called to the woman in a low but distinct voice: “Do not turn your head this way, but listen. I am an American. If you need assistance tell me how I can render it. Answer as briefly as you can.”

The woman was worthy of his boldness. Only by a sudden flush of her pale cheek did she acknowledge understanding of his words. Then she spoke, scarcely moving her lips.

“I am held a prisoner by these Indians. God knows I need help. In two hours come to the little hut twenty yards toward the Mountainside. There will be a light and a red curtain in the window. There is always a guard at the door, whom you will have to overcome. For the love of heaven, do not fail to come.”

The story seems to shrink from adventure and rescue and mystery. The theme is one too gentle for those brave and quickening tones. And yet it reaches as far back as time itself. It has been named “environment,” which is as weak a word as any to express the unnameable kinship of man to nature, that queer fraternity that causes stones and trees and salt water and clouds to play upon our emotions. Why are we made serious and solemn and sublime by mountain heights, grave and contemplative by an abundance of overhanging trees, reduced to inconstancy and monkey capers by the ripples on a sandy beach? Did the protoplasm–but enough. The chemists are looking into the matter, and before long they will have all life in the table of the symbols.