Part 2 out of 7
placed between it and them the barren, sullen piles of the Jemez
mountains. No more long sweeps of grassy plain or slope; they were amid
the _debris_ of rocks which hedge in the upper heights of the great
plateau; they were struggling through it like a forlorn hope through
_chevaux-de-frise_. The morning sun came upon them over treeless ridges of
sandstone, and disappeared at evening behind ridges equally naked and
arid. The sides of these barren masses, seamed by the action of water in
remote geologic ages, and never softened or smoothed by the gentle
attrition of rain, were infinitely more wild and jagged in their details
than ruins. It seemed as if the Titans had built here, and their works had
been shattered by thunderbolts.
Many heights were truncated mounds of rock, resembling gigantic platforms
with ruinous sides, such as are known in this Western land as _mesas_ or
_buttes_. They were Nature's enormous mockery of the most ambitious
architecture of man, the pyramids of Egypt and the platform of Baalbek.
Terrace above terrace of shattered wall; escarpments which had been
displaced as if by the explosion of some incredible mine; ramparts which
were here high and regular, and there gaping in mighty fissures, or
suddenly altogether lacking; long sweeps of stairway, winding dizzily
upwards, only to close in an impossible leap: there was no end to the
fantastic outlines and the suggestions of destruction.
Nor were the open spaces between these rocky mounds less remarkable. In
one valley, the course of a river which vanished ages ago, the power of
fire had left its monuments amid those of the power of water. The
sedimentary rock of sandstone, shales, and marl, not only showed veins of
ignitible lignite, but it was pierced by the trap which had been shot up
from earth's flaming recesses. Dikes of this volcanic stone crossed each
other or ran in long parallels, presenting forms of fortifications, walls
of buildings, ruined lines of aqueducts. The sandstone and marl had been
worn away by the departed river, and by the delicately sweeping,
incessant, tireless wings of the afreets of the air, leaving the iron-like
trap in bold projection.
Some of these dikes stretched long distances, with a nearly uniform height
of four or five feet, closely resembling old field-walls of the solidest
masonry. Others, not so extensive, but higher and pierced with holes,
seemed to be fragments of ruined edifices, with broken windows and
shattered portals. As the trap is columnar, and the columns are horizontal
in their direction, the joints of the polygons show along the surface of
the ramparts, causing them to look like the work of Cyclopean builders.
The Indians and Mexicans of the expedition, deceived by the similarity
between these freaks of creation and the results of human workmanship,
repeatedly called out, "Casas Grandes! Casas de Montezuma!"
It would seem, indeed, as if the ancient peoples of this country, in order
to arrive at the idea of a large architecture, had only to copy the
grotesque rock-work of nature. Who knows but that such might have been the
germinal idea of their constructions? Mrs. Stanley was quite sure of it.
In fact, she was disposed to maintain that the trap walls were really
human masonry, and the production of Montezuma, or of the Amazons invented
"Those four-sided and six-sided stones look altogether too regular to be
accidental," was her conclusion. Notwithstanding her belief in a
superintending Deity, she had an idea that much of this world was made by
hazard, or perhaps by the Old Harry.
In one valley the ancient demon of water-force had excelled himself in
enchantments. The slopes of the alluvial soil were dotted with little
buttes of mingled sandstone and shale, varying from five to twenty feet in
height, many of them bearing a grotesque likeness to artificial objects.
There were columns, there were haystacks, there were enormous bells, there
were inverted jars, there were junk bottles, there were rustic seats. Most
of these fantastic figures were surmounted by a flat capital, the remnant
of a layer of stone harder than the rest of the mass, and therefore less
worn by the water erosion.
One fragment looked like a monstrous gymnastic club standing upright, with
a broad button to secure the grip. Another was a mighty centre-table, fit
for the halls of the Scandinavian gods, consisting of a solid prop or
pedestal twelve feet high, swelling out at the top into a leaf fifteen
feet across. Another was a stone hat, standing on its crown, with a brim
two yards in diameter. Occasionally there was a figure which had lost its
capital, and so looked like a broken pillar, a sugar loaf, a pear.
Imbedded in these grotesques of sandstone were fossils of wood, of
fresh-water shells, and of fishes.
It was a land of extravagances and of wonders. The marvellous adventures
of the "Arabian Nights" would have seemed natural in it. It reminded you
after a vague fashion of the scenery suggested to the imagination by some
of its details or those of the "Pilgrim's Progress." Sindbad the Sailor
carrying the Old Man of the Sea; Giant Despair scowling from a
make-believe window in a fictitious castle of eroded sandstone; a roc with
wings eighty feet long, poising on a giddy pinnacle to pounce upon an
elephant; pilgrim Christian advancing with sword and buckler against a
demon guarding some rocky portal, would have excited no astonishment here.
Of a sudden there came an adventure which gave opening for
knight-errantry. As Thurstane, Coronado, and Texas Smith were riding a few
hundred yards ahead of the caravan, and just emerging from what seemed an
enormous court or public square, surrounded by ruined edifices of gigantic
magnitude, they discovered a man running toward them in a style which
reminded the Lieutenant of Timorous and Mistrust flying from the lions.
Impossible to see what he was afraid of; there was a broad, yellow plain,
dotted with monuments of sandstone; no living thing visible but this man
He was an American; at least he had the clothes of one. As he approached,
he appeared to be a lean, lank, narrow-shouldered, yellow-faced,
yellow-haired creature, such as you might expect to find on Cape Cod or
thereabouts. Hollow-chested as he was, he had a yell in him which was
quite surprising. From the time that he sighted the three horsemen he kept
up a steady screech until he was safe under their noses. Then he fell flat
and gasped for nearly a minute without speaking. His first words were,
"That's pooty good sailin' for a man who ain't used to't."
"Did you run all the way from Down East?" asked Thurstane.
"All the way from that bewt there--the one that looks most like a
"Well, who the devil are you?"
"I'm Phineas Glover--Capm Phineas Glover--from Fair Haven, Connecticut.
I'm goin' to Californy after gold. Got lost out of the caravan among the
mountings. Was comin' along alone, 'n' run afoul of some Injuns. They're
hidin' behind that bewt, 'n' they've got my mewl."
"Indians! How many are there?"
"Only three. 'N' I expect they a'nt the real wild kind, nuther. Sorter
half Injun, half engineer, like what come round in the circuses. Didn't
make much of 'n offer towards carvin' me. But I judged best to quit, the
first boat that put off. Ah, they're there yit, 'n' the mewl tew."
"You'll find our train back there," said Thurstane. "You had better make
for it. We'll recover your property."
He dashed off at a full run for the butte, closely followed by Texas Smith
and Coronado. The Mexican had the best horse, and he would soon have led
the other two; but his saddle-girth burst, and in spite of his skill in
riding he was nearly thrown. Texas Smith pulled up to aid his employer,
but only for an instant, as Coronado called, "Go on."
The borderer now spurred after Thurstane, who had got a dozen rods the
lead of him. Coronado rapidly examined his saddle-bags and then his
pockets without finding the cord or strap which he needed. He swore a
little at this, but not with any poignant emotion, for in the first place
fighting was not a thing that he yearned for, and in the second place he
hardly anticipated a combat. The robbers, he felt certain, were only
vagrant rancheros, or the cowardly Indians of some village, who would have
neither the weapons nor the pluck to give battle.
But suddenly an alarming suspicion crossed his mind. Would Texas Smith
seize this chance to send a bullet through Thurstane's head from behind?
Knowing the cutthroat's recklessness and his almost insane thirst for
blood, he feared that this might happen. And there was the train in view;
the deed would probably be seen, and, if so, would be seen as murder; and
then would come pursuit of the assassin, with possibly his seizure and
confession. It would not do; no, it would not do here and now; he must
dash forward and prevent it.
Swinging his saddle upon his horse's back, he vaulted into it without
touching pommel or stirrup, and set off at full speed to arrest the blow
which he desired. Over the plain flew the fiery animal, Coronado balancing
himself in his unsteady seat with marvellous ease and grace, his dark eyes
steadily watching every movement of the bushwhacker. There were sheets of
bare rock here and there; there were loose slates and detached blocks of
sandstone. The beast dashed across the first without slipping, and cleared
the others without swerving; his rider bowed and swayed in the saddle
Texas Smith was now within a few yards of Thurstane, and it could be seen
that he had drawn his revolver. Coronado asked himself in horror whether
the man had understood the words "Go on" as a command for murder. He was
thinking very fast; he was thinking as fast as he rode. Once a terrible
temptation came upon him: he might let the fatal shot be fired; then he
might fire another. Thus he would get rid of Thurstane, and at the same
time have the air of avenging him, while ridding himself of his dangerous
bravo. But he rejected this plan almost as soon as he thought of it. He
did not feel sure of bringing down Texas at the first fire, and if he did
not, his own life was not worth a second's purchase. As for the fact that
he had been lately saved from death by the borderer, that would not have
checked Coronado's hand, even had he remembered it. He must dash on at
full speed, and prevent a crime which would be a blunder. But already it
was nearly too late, for the Texan was close upon the officer. Nothing
could save the doomed man but Coronado's magnificent horsemanship. He
seemed a part of his steed; he shot like a bird over the sheets and
bowlders of rock; he was a wonder of speed and grace.
Suddenly the outlaw's pistol rose to a level, and Coronado uttered a shout
of anxiety and horror.
At the shout which Coronado uttered on seeing Texas Smith's pistol aimed
at Thurstane, the assassin turned his head, discovered the train, and,
lowering his weapon, rode peacefully alongside of his intended victim.
Captain Phin Glover's mule was found grazing behind the butte, in the
midst of the gallant Captain's dishevelled baggage, while the robbers had
vanished by a magic which seemed quite natural in this scenery of
grotesque marvels. They had unquestionably seen or heard their pursuers;
but how had they got into the bowels of the earth to escape them?
Thurstane presently solved the mystery by pointing out three crouching
figures on the flat cap of stone which surmounted the shales and marl of
the butte. Bare feet and desperation of terror could alone explain how
they had reached this impossible refuge. Texas Smith immediately consoled
himself for his disappointment as to Thurstane by shooting two of these
wretches before his hand could be stayed.
"They're nothin' but Injuns," he said, with a savage glare, when the
Lieutenant struck aside his revolver and called him a murdering brute.
The third skulker took advantage of the cessation of firing to tumble down
from his perch and fly for his life. The indefatigable Smith broke away
from Thurstane, dashed after the pitiful fugitive, leaned over him as he
ran, and shot him dead.
"I have a great mind to blow your brains out, you beast," roared the
disgusted officer, who had followed closely. "I told you not to shoot that
man." And here he swore heartily, for which we must endeavor to forgive
him, seeing that he belonged to the army.
Coronado interfered. "My dear Lieutenant! after all, they were robbers.
They deserved punishment." And so on.
Texas Smith looked less angry and more discomfited than might have been
expected, considering his hardening life and ferocious nature.
"Didn't s'p'ose you really keered much for the cuss," he said, glancing
respectfully at the imperious and angry face of the young officer.
"Well, never mind now," growled Thurstane. "It's done, and can't be
undone. But, by Jove, I do hate useless massacre. Fighting is another
Sheathing his fury, he rode off rapidly toward the wagons, followed in
silence by the others. The three dead vagabonds (perhaps vagrants from the
region of Abiquia) remained where they had fallen, one on the stony plain
and two on the cap of the butte. The train, trending here toward the
northwest, passed six hundred yards to the north of the scene of
slaughter; and when Clara and Mrs. Stanley asked what had happened,
Coronado told them with perfect glibness that the robbers had got away.
The rescued man, delighted at his escape and the recovery of his mule and
luggage, returned thanks right and left, with a volubility which further
acquaintance showed to be one of his characteristics. He was a profuse
talker; ran a stream every time you looked at him; it was like turning on
"Yes, capm, out of Fair Haven," he said. "Been in the coastin' 'n' Wes'
Injy trade. Had 'n unlucky time out las' few years. Had a schuner burnt in
port, 'n' lost a brig at sea. Pooty much broke me up. Wife 'n' dahter gone
into th' oyster-openin' business. Thought I'd try my han' at openin' gold
mines in Californy. Jined a caravan at Fort Leavenworth, 'n' lost my
reckonin's back here a ways."
We must return to love matters. However amazing it may be that a man who
has no conscience should nevertheless have a heart, such appears to have
been the case with that abnormal creature Coronado. The desert had made
him take a strong liking to Clara, and now that he had a rival at hand he
became impassioned for her. He began to want to marry her, not alone for
the sake of her great fortune, but also for her own sake. Her beauty
unfolded and blossomed wonderfully before his ardent eyes; for he was
under that mighty glamour of the emotions which enables us to see beauty
in its completeness; he was favored with the greatest earthly second-sight
which is vouchsafed to mortals.
Only in a measure, however; the money still counted for much with him. He
had already decided what he would do with the Munoz fortune when he should
get it. He would go to New York and lead a life of frugal extravagance,
economical in comforts (as we understand them) and expensive in pleasures.
New York, with its adjuncts of Saratoga and Newport, was to him what Paris
is to many Americans. In his imagination it was the height of grandeur and
happiness to have a box at the opera, to lounge in Broadway, and to dance
at the hops of the Saratoga hotels. New Mexico! he would turn his back on
it; he would never set eyes on its dull poverty again. As for Clara? Well,
of course she would share in his gayeties; was not that enough for any
But here was this stumbling-block of a Thurstane. In the presence of a
handsome rival, who, moreover, had started first in the race, slow was far
from being sure. Coronado had discovered, by long experience in flirtation
and much intelligent meditation upon it, that, if a man wants to win a
woman, he must get her head full of him. He decided, therefore, that at
the first chance he would give Clara distinctly to understand how ardently
he was in love with her, and so set her to thinking especially of him, and
of him alone. Meantime, he looked at her adoringly, insinuated
compliments, performed little services, walked his horse much by her side,
did his best in conversation, and in all ways tried to outshine the
He supposed that he did outshine him. A man of thirty always believes that
he appears to better advantage than a man of twenty-three or four. He
trusts that he has more ideas, that he commits fewer absurdities, that he
carries more weight of character than his juvenile rival. Coronado was far
more fluent than Thurstane; had a greater command over his moods and
manners, and a larger fund of animal spirits; knew more about such social
trifles as women like to hear of; and was, in short, a more amusing
prattler of small talk. There was a steady seriousness about the young
officer--something of the earnest sentimentality of the great Teutonic
race--which the mercurial Mexican did not understand nor appreciate, and
which he did not imagine could be fascinating to a woman. Knowing well how
magnetic passion is in its guise of Southern fervor, he did not know that
it is also potent under the cloak of Northern solemnity.
Unluckily for Coronado, Clara was half Teutonic, and could comprehend the
tone of her father's race. Notwithstanding Thurstane's shyness and
silences, she discovered his moral weight and gathered his unspoken
meanings. There was more in this girl than appeared on the surface.
Without any power of reasoning concerning character, and without even a
disposition to analyze it, she had an instinctive perception of it. While
her talk was usually as simple as a child's, and her meditations on men
and things were not a bit systematic or logical, her decisions and actions
were generally just what they should be.
Some one may wish to know whether she was clever enough to see through the
character of Coronado. She was clever enough, but not corrupt enough. Very
pure people cannot fully understand people who are very impure. It is
probable that angels are considerably in the dark concerning the nature of
the devil, and derive their disagreeable impression of him mainly from a
consideration of his actions. Clara, limited to a narrow circle of good
intentions and conduct, might not divine the wide regions of wickedness
through which roved the soul of Coronado, and must wait to see his works
before she could fairly bring him to judgment.
Of course she perceived that in various ways he was insincere. When he
prattled compliments and expressions of devotion, whether to herself or to
others, she made Spanish allowance. It was polite hyperbole; it was about
the same as saying good-morning; it was a cheerful way of talking that
they had in Mexico; she knew thus much from her social experience. But
while she cared little for his adulations, she did not because of them
consider him a scoundrel, nor necessarily a hypocrite.
Coronado found and improved opportunities to talk in asides with Clara.
Thurstane, the modest, proud, manly youngster, who had no meannesses or
trickeries by nature, and had learned none in his honorable profession,
would not allow himself to break into these dialogues if they looked at
all like confidences. The more he suspected that Coronado was courting
Clara, the more resolutely and grimly he said to himself, "Stand back!"
The girl should be perfectly free to choose between them; she should be
influenced by no compulsions and no stratagems of his; was he not "an
officer and a gentleman"?
"By Jove! I am miserable for life," he thought when he suspected, as he
sometimes did, that they two were in love. "I'll get myself killed in my
next fight. I can't bear it. But I won't interfere. I'll do my duty as an
honorable man. Of course she understands me."
But just at this point Clara failed to understand him. It is asserted by
some philosophers that women have less conscience about "cutting each
other out," breaking up engagements, etc., than men have in such matters.
Love-making and its results form such an all-important part of their
existence, that they must occasionally allow success therein to overbear
such vague, passionless ideas as principles, sentiments of honor, etc. It
is, we fear, highly probable that if Clara had been in love with Ralph,
and had seen her chance of empire threatened by a rival, she would have
come out of that calm innocence which now seemed to enfold her whole
nature, and would have done such things as girls may do to avert
catastrophes of the affections. She now thought to herself, If he cares
for me, how can he keep away from me when he sees Coronado making eyes at
me? She was a little vexed with him for behaving so, and was consequently
all the sweeter to his rival. This when Ralph would have risked his
commission for a smile, and would have died to save her from a sorrow!
Presently this slightly coquettish, yet very good and lovely little
being--this seraph from one of Fra Angelica's pictures, endowed with a
frailty or two of humanity--found herself the heroine of a trying scene.
Coronado hastened it; he judged her ready to fall into his net; he managed
the time and place for the capture. The train had been ascending for some
hours, and had at last reached a broad plateau, a nearly even floor of
sandstone, covered with a carpet of thin earth, the whole noble level bare
to the eye at once, without a tree or a thicket to give it detail. It was
a scene of tranquillity and monotony; no rains ever disturbed or remoulded
the tabulated surface of soil; there, as distinct as if made yesterday,
were the tracks of a train which had passed a year before.
"Shall we take a gallop?" said Coronado. "No danger of ambushes here."
Clara's eyes sparkled with youth's love of excitement, and the two horses
sprang off at speed toward the centre of the plateau. After a glorious
flight of five minutes, enjoyed for the most part in silence, as such
swift delights usually are, they dropped into a walk two miles ahead of
"That was magnificent," Clara of course said, her face flushed with
pleasure and exercise.
"You are wonderfully handsome," observed Coronado, with an air of thinking
aloud, which disguised the coarse directness of the flattery. In fact, he
was so dazzled by her brilliant color, the sunlight in her disordered
curls, and the joyous sparkling of her hazel eyes, that he spoke with an
Clara, who was in one of her unconscious and innocent moods, simply
replied, "I suppose people are always handsome enough when they are
"Then I ought to be lovely," said Coronado. "I am happier than I ever was
"Coronado, you look very well," observed Clara, turning her eyes on him
with a grave expression which rather puzzled him. "This out-of-door life
has done you good."
"Then I don't look very well indoors?" he smiled.
"You know what I mean, Coronado. Your health has improved, and your face
Fearing that she was not in an emotional condition to be bewildered and
fascinated by a declaration of love, he queried whether he had not better
put off his enterprise until a more susceptible moment. Certainly, if he
were without a rival; but there was Thurstane, ready any and every day to
propose; it would not do to let _him_ have the first word, and cause the
first heart-beat. Coronado believed that to make sure of winning the race
he must take the lead at the start. Yes, he would offer himself now; he
would begin by talking her into a receptive state of mind; that done, he
would say with all his eloquence, "I love you."
We must not suppose that the declaration would be a pure fib, or anything
like it. The man had no conscience, and he was almost incomparably
selfish, but he was capable of loving, and he did love. That is to say, he
was inflamed by this girl's beauty and longed to possess it. It is a low
species of affection, but it is capable of great violence in a man whose
physical nature is ardent, and Coronado's blood could take a heat like
lava. Already, although he had not yet developed his full power of
longing, he wanted Clara as he had never wanted any woman before. We can
best describe his kind of sentiment by that hungry, carnal word _wanted_.
After riding in silent thought for a few rods, he said, "I have lost my
good looks now, I suppose."
"What do you mean, Coronado?"
"They depend on my happiness, and that is gone."
"Coronado, you are playing riddles."
"This table-land reminds me of my own life. Do you see that it has no
verdure? I have been just as barren of all true happiness. There has been
no fruit or blossom of true affection for me to gather. You know that I
lost my excellent father and my sainted mother when I was a child. I was
too young to miss them; but for all that the bereavement was the same;
there was the less love for me. It seems as if there had been none."
"Garcia has been good to you--of late," suggested Clara, rather puzzled to
find consolation for a man whose misery was so new to her.
Remembering what a scoundrel Garcia was, and what a villainous business
Garcia had sent him upon, Coronado felt like smiling. He knew that the old
man had no sentiments beyond egotism, and a family pride which mainly, if
not entirely, sprang from it. Such a heart as Garcia's, what a place to
nestle in! Such a creature as Coronado seeking comfort in such a breast as
his uncle's was very much like a rattlesnake warming himself in a hole of
"Ah, yes!" sighed Coronado. "Admirable old gentleman! I should not have
forgotten him. However, he is a solace which comes rather late. It is only
two years since he perceived that he had done me injustice, and received
me into favor. And his affection is somewhat cold. Garcia is an old man
laden with affairs. Moreover, men in general have little sympathy with
men. When we are saddened, we do not look to our own sex for cheer. We
look to yours."
Almost every woman responds promptly to a claim for pity.
"I am sorry for you, Coronado," said Clara, in her artless way. "I am,
"You do not know, you cannot know, how you console me."
Satisfied with the results of his experiment in boring for sympathy, he
tried another, a dangerous one, it would seem, but very potent when it
"This lack of affection has had sad results. I have searched everywhere
for it, only to meet with disappointment. In my desperation I have
searched where I should not. I have demanded true love of people who had
no true love to give. And for this error and wrong I have been terribly
punished. The mere failure of hope and trust has been hard enough to bear.
But that was not the half. Shame, self-contempt, remorse have been an
infinitely heavier burden. If any man was ever cured of trusting for
happiness to a wicked world, it is Coronado."
In spite of his words and his elaborately penitent expression, Clara only
partially understood him. Some kind of evil life he was obviously
confessing, but what kind she only guessed in the vaguest fashion.
However, she comprehended enough to interest her warmly: here was a
penitent sinner who had forsaken ways of wickedness; here was a struggling
soul which needed encouragement and tenderness. A woman loves to believe
that she can be potent over hearts, and especially that she can be potent
for good. Clara fixed upon Coronado's face a gaze of compassion and
benevolence which was almost superhuman. It should have shamed him into
honesty; but he was capable of trying to deceive the saints and the
Virgin; he merely decided that she was in a fit frame to accept him.
"At last I have a faint hope of a sure and pure happiness," he said. "I
have found one who I know can strengthen me and comfort me, if she will. I
am seeking to be worthy of her. I am worthy of her so far as adoration can
make me. I am ready to surrender my whole life--all that I am and that I
can be--to her."
Clara had begun to guess his meaning; the quick blood was already flooding
her cheek; the light in her eyes was tremulous with agitation.
"Clara, you must know what I mean," continued Coronado, suddenly reaching
his hand toward her, as if to take her captive. "You are the only person I
ever loved. I love you with all my soul. Can your heart ever respond to
mine? Can you ever bring yourself to be my wife?"
When Coronado proposed to Clara, she was for a moment stricken dumb with
astonishment and with something like terror.
Her first idea was that she must take him; that the mere fact of a man
asking for her gave him a species of right over her; that there was no
such thing possible as answering, No. She sat looking at Coronado with a
helpless, timorous air, very much as a child looks at his father, when the
father, switching his rattan, says, "Come with me."
On recovering herself a little, her first words--uttered slowly, in a tone
of surprise and of involuntary reproach--were, "Oh, Coronado! I did not
"Can't you answer me?" he asked in a voice which was honestly tremulous
with emotion. "Can't you say yes?"
"Oh, Coronado!" repeated Clara, a good deal touched by his agitation.
"Can't you?" he pleaded. Repetitions, in such cases, are so natural and so
"Let me think, Coronado," she implored. "I can't answer you now. You have
taken me so by surprise!"
"Every moment that you take to think is torture to me," he pleaded, as he
continued to press her.
Perhaps she was on the point of giving way before his insistence. Consider
the advantages that he had over her in this struggle of wills for the
mastery. He was older by ten years; he possessed both the adroitness of
self-command and the energy of passion; he had a long experience in love
matters, while she had none. He was the proclaimed heir of a man reputed
wealthy, and could therefore, as she believed, support her handsomely.
Since the death of her father she considered Garcia the head of her family
in New Mexico; and Coronado had had the face to tell her that he made his
offer with the approval of Garcia. Then she was under supposed obligations
to him, and he was to be her protector across the desert.
She was as it were reeling in her saddle, when a truly Spanish idea saved
"Munoz!" she exclaimed. "Coronado, you forget my grandfather. He should
know of this."
Although the man was unaccustomed to start, he drew back as if a ghost had
confronted him; and even when he recovered from his transitory emotion, he
did not at first know how to answer her. It would not do to say, "Munoz is
dead," and much less to add, "You are his heir."
"We are Americans," he at last argued. "Spanish customs are dead and
buried. Can't you speak for yourself on a matter which concerns you and me
"Coronado, I think it would not be right," she replied, holding firmly to
her position. "It is probable that my grandfather would be better pleased
to have this matter referred to him. I ought to consider him, and you must
let me do so."
"I submit," he bowed, seeing that there was no help for it, and deciding
to make a grace of necessity. "It pains me, but I submit. Let me hope that
you will not let this pass from your mind. Some day, when it is proper, I
shall speak again."
He was not wholly dissatisfied, for he trusted that henceforward her head
would be full of him, and he had not much hoped to gain more in a first
"I shall always be proud and gratified at the compliment you have paid
me," was her reply to his last request.
"You deserve many such compliments," he said, gravely courteous and quite
Then they cantered back in silence to meet the advancing train.
Yes, Coronado was partly satisfied. He believed that he had gained a
firmer footing among the girl's thoughts and emotions than had been gained
by Thurstane. In a degree he was right. No sensitive, and pure, and good
girl can receive her first offer without being much moved by it. The man
who has placed himself at her feet will affect her strongly. She may begin
to dread him, or begin to like him more than before; but she cannot remain
utterly indifferent to him. The probability is that, unless subsequent
events make him disagreeable to her, she will long accord him a measure of
esteem and gratitude.
For two or three days, while Clara was thinking much of Coronado, he gave
her less than usual of his society. Believing that her mind was occupied
with him, that she was wondering whether he were angry, unhappy, etc., he
remained a good deal apart, wrapped himself in sadness, and trusted that
time would do much for him. Had there been no rival, the plan would have
been a good one; but Ralph Thurstane being present, it was less
Ralph had already become more of a favorite than any one knew, even the
young lady herself; and now that he found chances for long talks and short
gallops with her, he got on better than ever. He was just the kind of
youngster a girl of eighteen would naturally like to have ride by her
side. He was handsome; at any rate, he was the handsomest man she had seen
in the desert, and the desert was just then her sphere of society. You
could see in his figure how strong he was, and in his face how brave he
was. He was a good fellow, too; "tendir and trew" as the Douglas of the
ballad; sincere, frank, thoroughly truthful and honorable. Every way he
seemed to be that being that a woman most wants, a potential and devoted
protector. Whenever Clara looked in his face her eyes said, without her
knowledge, "I trust you."
Now, as we have already stated, Thurstane's eyes were uncommonly fine and
expressive. Of the very darkest blue that ever was seen in anybody's head,
and shaded, moreover, by remarkably long chestnut lashes, they had the
advantages of both blue eyes and black ones, being as gentle as the one
and as fervent as the other. Accordingly, a sort of optical conversation
commenced between the two young people. Every time that Clara's glance
said, "I trust you," Thurstane's responded, "I will die for you." It was a
perilous sort of dialogue, and liable to involve the two souls which
looked out from these sparkling, transparent windows. Before long the
Lieutenant's modest heart took courage, and his stammering tongue began to
be loosed somewhat, so that he uttered things which frightened both him
and Clara. Not that the remarks were audacious in themselves, but he was
conscious of so much unexpressed meaning behind them, and she was so ready
to guess that there might be such a meaning!
It seems ridiculous that a fellow who could hold his head straight up
before a storm of cannon shot, should be positively bashful. Yet so it
was. The boy had been through West Point, to be sure; but he had studied
there, and not flirted; the Academy had not in any way demoralized him. On
the whole, in spite of swearing under gross provocation, and an
inclination toward strictness in discipline, he answered pretty well for a
His bashfulness was such, at least in the presence of Clara, that he
trembled to the tips of his fingers in merely making this remark: "Miss
Van Diemen, this journey is the pleasantest thing in my whole life."
Clara blushed until she dazzled him and seemed to burn herself.
Nevertheless she was favored with her usual childlike artlessness of
speech, and answered, "I am glad you find it agreeable."
Nothing more from Ralph for a minute; he was recovering his breath and
"You cannot think how much safer I feel because you and your men are with
us," said Clara.
Thurstane unconsciously gripped the handle of his sabre, with a feeling
that he could and would massacre all the Indians of the desert, if it were
necessary to preserve her from harm.
"Yes, you may rely upon my men, too," he declared. "They have a sort of
adoration for you."
"Have they?" asked Clara, with a frank smile of pleasure. "I wonder at it.
I hardly notice them. I ought to, they seem so patient and trusty."
"Ah, a lady!" said Thurstane. "A good soldier will die any time for a
Then he wondered how she could have failed to guess that she must be
worshipped by these rough men for her beauty.
"I have overheard them talking about you," he went on, gratified at being
able to praise her to her face, though in the speech of others. "Little
Sweeny says, in his Irish brogue, 'I can march twic't as fur for the
seein' av her!'"
"Oh! did he?" laughed Clara. "I must carry Sweeny's musket for him some
"Don't, if you please," said Thurstane, the disciplinarian rising in him.
"You would spoil him for the service."
"Can't I send him a dish from our table?"
"That would just suit his case. He hasn't got broken to hard-tack yet."
"Miss Van Diemen," was his next remark, "do you know what you are to do,
if we are attacked?"
"I am to get into a wagon."
"Into which wagon?"
"Into my aunt's."
"Why into that one?"
"So as to have all the ladies together."
"When you have got into the wagon, what next?"
"Lie down on the floor to protect myself from the arrows."
"Very good," laughed Thurstane. "You say your tactics well."
This catechism had been put and recited every day since he had joined the
train. The putting of it was one of the Lieutenant's duties and pleasures;
and, notwithstanding its prophecy of peril, Clara enjoyed it almost as
much as he.
Well, we have heard these two talk, and much in their usual fashion. Not
great souls as yet: they may indeed become such some day; but at present
they are only mature in moral power and in capacity for mighty emotions.
Information, mental development, and conversational ability hereafter.
In one way or another two or three of these tete-a-tetes were brought
about every day. Thurstane wanted them all the time; would have been glad
to make life one long dialogue with Miss Van Diemen; found an aching void
in every moment spent away from her. Clara, too, in spite of maidenly
struggles with herself, began to be of this way of feeling. Wonderful
place the Great American Desert for falling in love!
Coronado soon guessed, and with good reason, that the seed which he had
sown in the girl's mind was being replaced by other germs, and that he had
blundered in trusting that she would think of him while she was talking
with Thurstane. The fear of losing her increased his passion for her, and
made him hate his rival with correlative fervor.
"Why don't you find a chance at that fellow?" he muttered to his bravo,
"How the h--l kin I do it?" growled the bushwhacker, feeling that his
intelligence and courage were unjustly called in question. "He's allays
around the train, an' his sojers allays handy. I hain't had nary chance."
"Take him off on a hunt."
"He ain't a gwine. I reckon he knows himself. I'm afeard to praise huntin'
much to him; he might get on my trail. Tell you these army chaps is resky.
I never wanted to meddle with them kind o' close. You know I said so. I
said so, fair an' square, I did."
"You might manage it somehow, if you had the pluck."
"Had the pluck!" repeated Texas Smith. His sallow, haggard face turned
dusky with rage, and his singularly black eyes flamed as if with
hell-fire. A Malay, crazed with opium and ready to run _amok_, could not
present a more savage spectacle than this man did as he swayed in his
saddle, grinding his teeth, clutching his rifle, and glaring at Coronado.
What chiefly infuriated him was that the insult should come from one whom
he considered a "greaser," a man of inferior race. He, Texas Smith, an
American, a _white man_, was treated as if he were an "Injun" or a
"nigger." Coronado was thoroughly alarmed, and smoothed his ruffled
feathers at once.
"I beg your pardon," he said, promptly. "My dear Mr. Smith, I was entirely
wrong. Of course I know that you have courage. Everybody knows it.
Besides, I am under the greatest obligations to you. You saved my life. By
heavens, I am horribly ashamed of my injustice."
A minute or so of this fluent apologizing calmed the bushwhacker's rage
and soothed his injured feelings.
"But you oughter be keerful how you talk that way to a white man," he
said. "No white man, if he's a gentleman, can stan' being told he hain't
got no pluck."
"Certainly," assented Coronado. "Well, I have apologized. What more can I
"Square, you're all right now," said the forgiving Texan, stretching out
his bony, dirty hand and grasping Coronado's. "But don't say it agin.
White men can't stan' sech talk. Well, about this feller--I'll see, I'll
see. Square, I'll try to do what's right."
As Coronado rode away from this interview, he ground his teeth with rage
and mortification, muttering, "A _white_ man! a _white_ man! So I am a
black man. Yes, I am a greaser. Curse this whole race of English-speaking
After a while he began to think to the purpose. He too must work; he must
not trust altogether to Texas Smith; the scoundrel might flinch, or might
fail. Something must be done to separate Clara and Thurstane. What should
it be? Here we are almost ashamed of Coronado. The trick that he hit upon
was the stalest, the most threadbare, the most commonplace and vulgar that
one can imagine. It was altogether unworthy of such a clever and
experienced conspirator. His idea was this: to get lost with Clara for one
night; in the morning to rejoin the train. Thurstane would be disgusted,
and would unquestionably give up the girl entirely when Coronado should
say to him, "It was a very unlucky accident, but I have done what a
gentleman should, and we are engaged."
This coarse, dastardly, and rather stupid stratagem he put into execution
as quickly as possible. There were some dangers to be guarded against, as
for instance Apaches, and the chance of getting lost in reality.
"Have an eye upon me to-day," he suggested to Texas. "If I leave the train
with any one, follow me and keep a lookout for Indians. Only stay out of
Now for an opportunity to lead Clara astray. The region was favorable;
they were in an arid land of ragged sandstone spurs and buttes; it would
be necessary to march until near sunset, in order to find water and
pasturage. Consequently there was both time and scenery for his project.
Late in the afternoon the train crossed a narrow _mesa_ or plateau, and
approached a sublime terrace of rock which was the face of a second
table-land. This terrace was cleft by several of those wonderful grooves
which are known as canons, and which were wrought by that mighty
water-force, the sculpturer of the American desert. In one place two of
these openings were neighbors: the larger was the route and the smaller
"Let the train pass on," suggested Coronado to Clara. "If you will ride
with me up this little canon, you will find some of the most exquisite
scenery imaginable. It rejoins the large one further on. There is no
Clara would have preferred not to go, or would have preferred to go with
"My dear child, what do you mean?" urged Aunt Maria, looking out of her
wagon. "Mr. Coronado, I'll ride there with you myself."
The result of the dialogue which ensued was that, after the train had
entered the gorge of the larger canon, Coronado and Clara turned back and
wandered up the smaller one, followed at a distance by Texas Smith. In
twenty minutes they were separated from the wagons by a barrier of
sandstone several hundred feet high, and culminating in a sharp ridge or
frill of rocky points, not unlike the spiny back of a John Dory. The
scenery, although nothing new to Clara, was such as would be considered in
any other land amazing. Vast walls on either side, consisting mainly of
yellow sandstone, were variegated with white, bluish, and green shales,
with layers of gypsum of the party-colored marl series, with long lines of
white limestone so soft as to be nearly earth, and with red and green
foliated limestone mixed with blood-red shales. The two wanderers seemed
to be amid the landscapes of a Christmas drama as they rode between these
painted precipices toward a crimson, sunset.
It was a perfect solitude. There was not a breath of life besides their
own in this gorgeous valley of desolation. The ragged, crumbling
battlements, and the loftier points of harder rock, would not have
furnished subsistence for a goat or a mouse. Color was everywhere and life
nowhere: it was such a region as one might look for in the moon; it did
not seem to belong to an inhabited planet.
Before they had ridden half an hour the sun went down suddenly behind
serrated steeps, and almost immediately night hastened in with his
obscurities. Texas Smith, riding hundreds of yards in the rear and
concealing himself behind the turning points of the canon, was obliged to
diminish his distance in order to keep them under his guard. Clara had
repeatedly expressed her doubts as to the road, and Coronado had as often
asserted that they would soon see the train. At last the ravine became a
gully, winding up a breast of shadowy mountain cumbered with loose rocks,
and impassable to horses.
"We are lost," confessed Coronado, and then proceeded to console her. The
train could not be far off; their friends would undoubtedly seek them; at
all events, would not go on without them. They must bivouac there as well
as might be, and in the morning rejoin the caravan.
He had been forethoughted enough to bring two blankets on his saddle, and
he now spread them out for her, insisting that she should try to sleep.
Clara cried frankly and heartily, and begged him to lead her back through
the canon. No; it could not be traversed by night, he asserted; they would
certainly break their necks among the bowlders. At last the girl suffered
herself to be wrapped in the blankets, and made an endeavor to forget her
wretchedness and vexation in slumber.
Meantime, a few hundred yards down the ravine, a tragedy was on the verge
of action. Thurstane, missing Coronado and Clara, and learning what
direction they had taken, started with two of his soldiers to find them,
and was now picking his way on foot along the canon. Behind a detached
rock at the base of one of the sandstone walls Texas Smith lay in ambush,
aiming his rifle first at one and then at another of this stumbling trio,
and cursing the starlight because it was so dim that he could not
positively distinguish which was the officer.
For the second time within a week, Texas Smith found himself upon the
brink of opportunity, without being able (as he had phrased it to
Coronado) to do what was right.
He levelled at Thurstane, and then it did not seem to be Thurstane; he had
a dead sure sight at Kelly, and then perceived that that was an error; he
drew a bead on Shubert, and still he hesitated. He could distinguish the
Lieutenant's voice, but he could not fix upon the figure which uttered it.
It was exasperating. Never had an assassin been better ambuscaded. He was
kneeling behind a little ridge of sandstone; about a foot below its edge
was an orifice made by the rains and winds of bygone centuries; through
this, as through an embrasure, he had thrust his rifle. Not a chance of
being hit by a return shot, while after the enemy's fire had been drawn he
could fly down the ravine, probably without discovery and certainly
without recognition. His horse was tethered below, behind another rock;
and he felt positive that these men had not come upon it. He could mount,
drive their beasts before him into the plain, and then return to camp. No
need of explaining his absence; he was the head hunter of the expedition;
it was his business to wander.
All this was so easy to do, if he could only take the first step. But he
dared not fire lest he should merely kill a soldier, and so make an uproar
and rouse suspicions without the slightest profit. It was not probable
that Coronado would pay him for shooting the wrong man, and setting on
foot a dangerous investigation. So the desperado continued to peer through
the dim night, cursing his stars and everybody's stars for not shining
better, and seeing his opportunity slip rapidly away. After Thurstane and
the others had passed, after the chance of murder had stalked by him like
a ghost and vanished, he left his ambush, glided down the ravine to his
horse, waked him up with a vindictive kick, leaped into the saddle, and
hastened to camp. To inquiries about the lost couple he replied in his
sullen, brief way that he had not seen them; and when urged to go to their
rescue, he of course set off in the wrong direction and travelled but a
Meantime Ralph had found the captives of the canon. Clara, wrapped in her
blankets, was lying at the foot of a rock, and crying while she pretended
to sleep. Coronado, unable to make her talk, irritated by the faint sobs
which he overheard, but stubbornly resolved on carrying out his stupid
plot, had retired in a state of ill-humor unusual with him to another
rock, and was consoling himself by smoking cigarito after cigarito. The
two horses, tied together neck and crupper, were fasting near by. As
Coronado had forgotten to bring food with him, Clara was also fasting.
Think of Apaches, and imagine the terror with which she caught the sounds
of approach, the heavy, stumbling steps through the darkness. Then imagine
the joy with which she recognized Thurstane's call and groped to meet him.
In the dizziness of her delight, and amid the hiding veils of the
obscurity, it did not seem wrong nor unnatural to fall against his arm and
be supported by it for a moment. Ralph received this touch, this shock, as
if it had been a ball; and his nature bore the impress of it as long as if
it had made a scar. In his whole previous life he had not felt such a
thrill of emotion; it was almost too powerful to be adequately described
as a pleasure.
Next came Coronado, as happy as a disappointed burglar whose cue it is to
congratulate the rescuing policeman. "My dear Lieutenant! You are heaven's
own messenger. You have saved us from a horrible night. But it is
prodigious; it is incredible. You must have come here by enchantment. How
in God's name could you find your way up this fearful canon?"
"The canon is perfectly passable on foot," replied the young officer,
stiffly and angrily. "By Jove, sir! I don't see why you didn't make a
start to get out. This is a pretty place to lodge Miss Van Diemen."
Coronado took off his hat and made a bow of submission and regret, which
was lost in the darkness.
"I must say," Thurstane went on grumbling, "that, for a man who claims to
know this country, your management has been very singular."
Clara, fearful of a quarrel, slightly pressed his arm and checked this
volcano with the weight of a feather.
"We are not all like you, my dear Lieutenant," said Coronado, in a tone
which might have been either apologetical or ironical. "You must make
allowance for ordinary human nature."
"I beg pardon," returned Thurstane, who was thinking now chiefly of that
pressure on his arm. "The truth is, I was alarmed for your safety. I can't
help feeling responsibility on this expedition, although it is your train.
My military education runs me into it, I suppose. Well, excuse my
excitement. Miss Van Diemen, may I help you back through the gully?"
In leaning on him, being guided by him, being saved by him, trusting in
him, the girl found a pleasure which was irresistible, although it seemed
audacious and almost sinful. Before the canon was half traversed she felt
as if she could go on with him through the great dark valley of life,
confiding in his strength and wisdom to lead her aright and make her
happy. It was a temporary wave of emotion, but she remembered it long
after it had passed.
Around the fires, after a cup of hot coffee, amid the odors of a plentiful
supper, recounting the evening's adventure to Mrs. Stanley, Coronado was
at his best. How he rolled out the English language! Our mother tongue
hardly knew itself, it ran so fluently and sounded so magniloquently and
lied so naturally. He praised everybody but himself; he praised Clara,
Thurstane, and the two soldiers and the horses; he even said a flattering
word or two for Divine Providence. Clara especially, and the whole of her
heroic, more than human sex, demanded his enthusiastic admiration. How she
had borne the terrors of the night and the desert! "Ah, Mrs. Stanley! only
you women are capable of such efforts."
Aunt Maria's Olympian head nodded, and her cheerful face, glowing with tea
and the camp fires, confessed "Certainly!"
"What nonsense, Coronado!" said Clara. "I was horribly frightened, and you
Aunt Maria frowned with surprise and denial. "Absurd, child! You were not
frightened at all. Of course you were not. Why, even if you had been
slightly timorous, you had your cousin to protect you."
"Ah, Mrs. Stanley, I am a poor knight-errant," said Coronado. "We Mexicans
are no longer formidable. One man of your Anglo-Saxon blood is supposed to
be a better defence than a dozen of us. We have been subdued; we must
submit to depreciation. I must confess, in fact, that I had my fears. I
was greatly relieved on my cousin's account when I heard the voice of our
military chieftain here."
Then came more flattery for Ralph, with proper rations for the two
privates. Those faithful soldiers--he must show his gratitude to them; he
had forgotten them in the basest manner. "Here, Pedronillo, take these
cigaritos to privates Kelly and Shubert, with my compliments. Begging
_your_ permission, Lieutenant. _Thank_ you."
"Pooty tonguey man, that Seenor," observed Captain Phineas Glover to Mrs.
Stanley, when the Mexican went off to his blankets.
"Yes; a very agreeable and eloquent gentleman," replied the lady, wishing
to correct the skipper's statement while seeming to assent to it.
"Jess so," admitted Glover. "Ruther airy. Big talkin' man. Don't raise no
sech our way."
Captain Glover was not fully aware that he himself had the fame of
possessing an imagination which was almost too much for the facts of this
"S'pose it's in the breed," he continued. "Or likely the climate has
suthin' to do with it: kinder thaws out the words 'n' sets the idees
a-bilin'. Niggers is pooty much the same. Most niggers kin talk like a
line runnin' out, 'n' tell lies 's fast 's our Fair Haven gals open
oysters--a quart a minute."
"Captain Glover, what do you mean?" frowned Aunt Maria. "Mr. Coronado is a
friend of mine."
"Oh, I was speakin' of niggers," returned the skipper promptly. "Forgot we
begun about the Seenor. Sho! niggers was what I was talkin' of. B' th'
way, that puts me in mind 'f one I had for cook once. Jiminy! how that man
would cook! He'd cook a slice of halibut so you wouldn't know it from
"Dear me! how did he do it?" asked Aunt Maria, who had a fancy for kitchen
"Never could find out," said Glover, stepping adroitly out of his
difficulty. "Don't s'pose that nigger would a let on how he did it for ten
"I should think the receipt would be worth ten dollars," observed Aunt
"Not 'xactly here," returned the captain, with one of his dried smiles,
which had the air of having been used a great many times before. "Halibut
too skurce. Wal, I was goin' to tell ye 'bout this nigger. He come to be
the cook he was because he was a big eater. We was wrecked once, 'n' had
to live three days on old shoes 'n' that sort 'f truck. Wal, this nigger
was so darned ravenous he ate up a pair o' long boots in the time it took
me to git down one 'f the straps."
"Ate up a pair of boots!" exclaimed Aunt Maria, amazed and almost
"Yes, by thunder!" insisted the captain, "grease, nails, 'n' all. An' then
went at the patent leather forepiece 'f his cap."
"What privations!" said Aunt Maria, staring fit to burst her spectacles.
"Oh, that's nothin'," chuckled Glover. "I'll tell ye suthin' some time
that 'll astonish ye. But jess now I'm sleepy, 'n' I guess I'll turn in."
"Mr. Cluvver, it is your durn on card do-night," interposed Meyer, the
German sergeant, as the captain was about to roll himself in his blankets.
"So 'tis," returned Glover in well feigned astonishment. "Don't forgit a
feller, do ye, Sergeant? How 'n the world do ye keep the 'count so
straight? Oh, got a little book there, hey, with all our names down. Wal,
that's shipshape. You'd make a pooty good mate, Sergeant. When does my
"Right away. You're always on the virst relief. You'll fall in down there
at the gorner of the vagon bark."
"Wal--yes--s'pose I will," sighed the skipper, as he rolled up his
blankets and prepared for two hours' sentry duty.
Let us look into the arrangements for the protection of the caravan. With
Coronado's consent Thurstane had divided the eighteen Indians and
Mexicans, four soldiers, Texas Smith, and Glover, twenty-four men in all,
into three equal squads, each composed of a sergeant, corporal, and six
privates. Meyer was sergeant of one squad, the Irish veteran Kelly had
another, and Texas Smith the third. Every night a detachment went on duty
in three reliefs, each relief consisting of two men, who stood sentry for
two hours, at the end of which time they were relieved by two others.
The six wagons were always parked in an oblong square, one at each end and
two on each side; but in order to make the central space large enough for
camping purposes, they were placed several feet apart; the gaps being
closed with lariats, tied from wheel to wheel, to pen in the animals and
keep out charges of Apache cavalry. On either flank of this enclosure, and
twenty yards or so distant from it, paced a sentry. Every two hours, as we
have said, they were relieved, and in the alternate hours the posts were
visited by the sergeant or corporal of the guard, who took turns in
attending to this service. The squad that came off duty in the morning was
allowed during the day to take naps in the wagons, and was not put upon
the harder camp labor, such as gathering firewood, going for water, etc.
The two ladies and the Indian women slept at night in the wagons, not only
because the canvas tops protected them from wind and dew, but also because
the wooden sides would shield them from arrows. The men who were not on
guard lay under the vehicles so as to form a cordon around the mules.
Thurstane and Coronado, the two chiefs of this armed migration, had their
alternate nights of command, each when off duty sleeping in a special
wagon known as "headquarters," but holding himself ready to rise at once
in case of an alarm.
The cooking fires were built away from the park, and outside the beats of
the sentries. The object was twofold: first, to keep sparks from lighting
on the wagon covers; second, to hide the sentries from prowling archers.
At night you can see everything between yourself and a fire, but nothing
beyond it. As long as the wood continued to blaze, the most adroit Indian
skulker could not approach the camp without exposing himself, while the
guards and the garrison were veiled from his sight by a wall of darkness
behind a dazzle of light.
Such were the bivouac arrangements, intelligent, systematic, and military.
Not only had our Lieutenant devised them, but he saw to it that they were
kept in working order. He was zealously and faithfully seconded by his
men, and especially by his two veterans. There is no human machine more
accurate and trustworthy than an old soldier, who has had year on year of
the discipline and drill of a regular service, and who has learned to
carry out instructions to the letter.
The arrangements for the march were equally thorough and judicious. Texas
Smith, as the Nimrod of the party, claimed the right of going where he
pleased; but while he hunted, he of course served also as a scout to nose
out danger. The six Mexicans, who were nominally cattle-drivers, but
really Coronado's minor bravos, were never suffered to ride off in a body,
and were expected to keep on both sides of the train, some in advance and
some in rear. The drivers and muleteers remained steadily with their
wagons and animals. The four soldiers were also at hand, trudging close in
front or in rear, accoutrements always on and muskets always loaded.
In this fashion the expedition had already journeyed over two hundred and
twenty miles. Following Colonel Washington's trail, it had crossed the
ranges of mountains immediately west of Abiquia, and, striking the Rio de
Chaco, had tracked its course for some distance with the hope of reaching
the San Juan. Stopped by a canon, a precipitous gully hundreds of feet
deep, through which the Chaco ran like a chased devil, the wagons had
turned westward, and then had been forced by impassable ridges and lack of
water into a southwest direction, at last gaining and crossing Pass
It was now on the western side of the Sierra de Chusca, in the rude,
barren country over which Fort Defiance stands sentry. Ever since the
second day after leaving San Isidore it had been on the great western
slope of the continent, where every drop of water tends toward the
Pacific. The pilgrims would have had cause to rejoice could they have
travelled as easily as the drops of water, and been as certain of their
goal. But the rivers had made roads for themselves, and man had not yet
had time to do likewise.
The great central plateau of North America is a Mer de Glace in stone. It
is a continent of rock, gullied by furious rivers; plateau on plateau of
sandstone, with sluiceways through which lakes have escaped; the whole
surface gigantically grotesque with the carvings of innumerable waters.
What is remarkable in the scenery is, that its sublimity is an inversion
of the sublimity of almost all other grand scenery. It is not so much the
heights that are prodigious as the abysses. At certain points in the
course of the Colorado of the West you can drop a plumb line six thousand
feet before it will reach the bosom of the current; and you can only gain
the water level by turning backward for scores of miles and winding
laboriously down some subsidiary canon, itself a chasm of awful grandeur.
Our travellers were now amid wild labyrinths of ranges, and buttes, and
canons, which were not so much a portion of the great plateau as they were
the _debris_ that constituted its flanks. Although thousands of feet above
the level of the sea, they still had thousands of feet to ascend before
they could dominate the desert. Wild as the land was, it was thus far
passable, while toward the north lay the untraversable. What course should
be taken? Coronado, who had crimes to commit and to conceal, did not yet
feel that he was far enough from the haunts of man. As soon as possible he
must again venture a push northward.
But not immediately. The mules were fagged with hard work, weak with want
of sufficient pasture, and had suffered much from thirst. He resolved to
continue westward to the pueblas of the Moquis, that interesting race of
agricultural and partially civilized Indians, perhaps the representatives
of the architects of the Casas Grandes if not also descended from the
mound-builders of the Mississippi valley. Having rested and refitted
there, he might start anew for the San Juan.
Thus far they had seen no Indians except the vagrants who had robbed
Phineas Glover. But they might now expect to meet them; they were in a
region which was the raiding ground of four great tribes: the Utes on the
north, the Navajos on the west, the Apaches on the south, and the
Comanches on the east. The peaceful and industrious Moquis, with their gay
and warm blankets, their fields of corn and beans, and their flocks of
sheep, are the quarry which attracts this ferocious cavalry of the desert,
these Tartars and Bedouin of America.
Thurstane took more pains than ever with the guard duty. Coronado,
unmilitary though he was, and heartily as he abominated the Lieutenant,
saw the wisdom of submitting to the latter's discipline, and made all his
people submit. A practical-minded man, he preferred to owe the safety of
his carcass to his rival rather than have it impaled on Apache lances.
Occasionally, however, he made a suggestion.
"It is very well, this night-watching," he once observed, "but what we
have most to fear is the open daylight. These mounted Indians seldom
attack in the darkness."
Thurstane knew all this, but he did not say so; for he was a wise,
considerate commander already, and he had learned not to chill an
informant. He looked at Coronado inquiringly, as if to say, What do you
"Every canon ought to be explored before we enter it," continued the
"It is a good hint," said Ralph. "Suppose I keep two of your
cattle-drivers constantly in advance. You had better instruct them
yourself. Tell them to fire the moment they discover an ambush. I don't
suppose they will hit anybody, but we want the warning."
With two horsemen three or four hundred yards to the front, two more an
equal distance in the rear, and, when the ground permitted, one on either
flank, the train continued its journey. Every wagon-driver and muleteer
had a weapon of some sort always at hand. The four soldiers marched a few
rods in advance, for the ground behind had already been explored, while
that ahead might contain enemies. The precautions were extraordinary; but
Thurstane constantly trembled for Clara. He would have thought a regiment
hardly sufficient to guard such a treasure.
"How timorous these men are," sniffed Aunt Maria, who, having seen no
hostile Indians, did not believe there were any. "And it seems to me that
soldiers are more easily scared than anybody else," she added, casting a
depreciating glance at Thurstane, who was reconnoitring the landscape
through his field glass.
Clara believed in men, and especially in soldiers, and more particularly
in lieutenants. Accordingly she replied, "I suppose they know the dangers
and we don't."
"Pshaw!" said Aunt Maria, an argument which carried great weight with her.
"They don't know half what they claim to. It is a clever man who knows
one-tenth of his own business." (She was right there.) "They don't know so
much, I verily and solemnly believe, as the women whom they pretend to
This peaceful and cheering conversation was interrupted by a shot ringing
out of a canon which opened into a range of rock some three hundred yards
ahead of the caravan. Immediately on the shot came a yell as of a hundred
demons, a furious trampling of the feet of many horses, and a cloud of the
Tartars of the American desert.
In advance of the rush flew the two Mexican vedettes, screaming, "Apaches!
When the Apache tornado burst out of the canon upon the train, Thurstane's
first thought was, "Clara!"
"Get off!" he shouted to her, seizing and holding her startled horse.
"Into the wagon, quick! Now lie down, both of you."
He thundered all this out as sternly as if he were commanding troops.
Because he was a man, Clara obeyed him; and notwithstanding he was a man,
Mrs. Stanley obeyed him. Both were so bewildered with surprise and terror
as to be in a kind of animal condition of spirit, knowing just enough to
submit at once to the impulse of an imperious voice. The riderless horse,
equally frightened and equally subordinate, was hurried to the rear of the
leading wagon and handed over to a muleteer.
By the time this work was done the foremost riders of the assailants were
within two hundred yards of the head of the train, letting drive their
arrows at the flying Mexican vedettes and uttering yells fit to raise the
dead, while their comrades behind, whooping also, stormed along under a
trembling and flickering of lances. The little, lean, wiry horses were
going at full speed, regardless of smooth faces of rock and beds of loose
stones. The blackguards were over a hundred in number, all lancers and
archers of the first quality.
The vedettes never pulled up until they were in rear of the hindermost
wagon, while their countrymen on the flanks and rear made for the same
poor shelter. The drivers were crouching almost under their seats, and the
muleteers were hiding behind their animals. Thus it was evident that the
entire brunt of the opening struggle would fall upon Thurstane and his
people; that, if there was to be any resistance at all, these five men
must commence it, and, for a while at least, "go it alone."
The little squad of regulars, at this moment a few yards in front of the
foremost wagon, was drawn up in line and standing steady, precisely as if
it were a company or a regiment. Sergeant Meyer was on the right, veteran
Kelly on the left, the two recruits in the centre, the pieces at a
shoulder, the bayonets fixed. As Thurstane rode up to this diminutive line
of battle, Meyer was shouting forth his sharp and decisive orders. They
were just the right orders; excited as the young officer was, he
comprehended that there was nothing to change; moreover, he had already
learned how men are disconcerted in battle by a multiplicity of
directions. So he sat quietly on his horse, revolver in hand, his
blue-black eyes staring angrily at the coming storm.
"Kelly, reserfe your fire!" yelled Meyer. "Recruits,
Simultaneously with the report a horse in the leading group of charging
savages pitched headlong on his nose and rolled over, sending his rider
straight forward into a rubble of loose shales, both lying as they fell,
without movement. Half a dozen other animals either dropped on their
haunches or sheered violently to the right and left, going off in wild
plunges and caracolings. By this one casualty the head of the attacking
column was opened and its seemingly resistless impetus checked and
dissipated, almost before Meyer could shout, "Recruits, load at will,
A moment previous this fiery cavalry had looked irresistible. It seemed to
have in it momentum, audacity, and dash enough to break a square of
infantry or carry a battery of artillery. The horses fairly flew; the
riders had the air of centaurs, so firm and graceful was their seat; the
long lances were brandished as easily as if by the hands of footmen; the
bows were managed and the arrows sent with dazzling dexterity. It was a
show of brilliant equestrianism, surpassing the feats of circus riders.
But a single effective shot into the centre of the column had cleft it as
a rock divides a torrent. It was like the breaking of a water-spout.
The attack, however, had only commenced. The Indians who had swept off to
right and left went scouring along the now motionless train, at a distance
of sixty or eighty yards, rapidly enveloping it with their wild caperings,
keeping in constant motion so as to evade gunshots, threatening with their
lances or discharging arrows, and yelling incessantly. Their main object
so far was undoubtedly to frighten the mules into a stampede and thus
separate the wagons. They were not assaulting; they were watching for
"Keep your men together, Sergeant," said Thurstane. "I must get those
Mexicans to work."
He trotted deliberately to the other end of the train, ordering each
driver as he passed to move up abreast of the leading wagon, directing the
first to the right, the second to the left, and so on. The result of this
movement would of course be to bring the train into a compact mass and
render it more defensible. The Indians no sooner perceived the advance
than they divined its object and made an effort to prevent it. Thurstane
had scarcely reached the centre of the line of vehicles when a score or so
of yelling horsemen made a caracoling, prancing charge upon him,
accompanying it with a flight of arrows. Our young hero presented his
revolver, but they apparently knew the short range of the weapon, and came
plunging, curveting onward. Matters were growing serious, for an arrow
already stuck in his saddle, and another had passed through his hat.
Suddenly there was a bang, bang of firearms, and two of the savages went
Meyer had observed the danger of his officer, and had ordered Kelly to
fire, blazing away too himself. There was a headlong, hasty scramble to
carry off the fallen warriors, and then the assailants swept back to a
point beyond accurate musket shot. Thurstane reached the rear of the train
unhurt, and found the six Mexican cattle-drivers there in a group,
pointing their rifles at such Indians as made a show of charging, but
otherwise doing nothing which resembled fighting. They were obviously
panic-stricken, one or two of them being of an ashy-yellow, their nearest
possible approach to pallor. There, too, was Coronado, looking not exactly
scared, but irresolute and helpless.
"What does this mean?" Thurstane stormed in Spanish. "Why don't you shoot
"We are reserving our fire," stammered Coronado, half alarmed, half
Thurstane swore briefly, energetically, and to the point. "Damned pretty
fighting!" he went on. "If _we_ had reserved our fire, we should all have
been lanced by this time. Let drive!"
The cattle-drivers carried short rifles, of the then United States
regulation pattern, which old Garcia had somehow contrived to pick up
during the war perhaps buying them of drunken soldiers. Supported by
Thurstane's pugnacious presence and hurried up by his vehement orders,
they began to fire. They were shaky; didn't aim very well; hardly aimed at
all, in fact; blazed away at extraordinary elevations; behaved as men do
who have become demoralized. However, as the pieces had a range of several
hundred yards, the small bullets hissed venomously over the heads of the
Indians, and one of them, by pure accident, brought down a horse. There
was an immediate scattering, a multitudinous glinting of hoofs through the
light dust of the plain, and then a rally in prancing groups, at a safe
"Hurrah!" shouted Thurstane, cheering the Mexicans. "That's very well. You
see how easy it is. Now don't let them sneak up again; and at the same
time don't waste powder."
Then turning to one who was near him, and who had just reloaded, he said
in a calm, strong, encouraging tone--that voice of the thoroughly good
officer which comes to the help of the shaken soldier like a
reinforcement--"Now, my lad, steadily. Pick out your man; take your time
and aim sure. Do you see him?"
"Si, senor," replied the herdsman. His coolness restored by this steady
utterance and these plain, common-sense directions, he selected a warrior
in helmet-shaped cap, blue shirt, and long boots, brought his rifle slowly
to a level, took sight, and fired. The Indian bent forward, caught the
mane of his plunging pony, hung there for a second or two, and then rolled
to the ground, amid a yell of surprise and dismay from his comrades. There
was a hasty rush to secure the body, and then another sweep backward of
the loose array.
"Good!" called Thurstane, nodding and smiling at the successful marksman.
"That is the way to do it. You are a match for half a dozen of them as
long as you will keep cool."
The besieged travellers could now look about quietly and see how matters
stood with them. The six wagons were by this time drawn up in two ranks of
three each, so as to form a compact mass. As the one which contained the
ladies had been the leader and the others had formed on it to right and
left, it was in the centre of the first rank, and consequently pretty well
protected by its neighbors. The drivers and muleteers had recovered their
self-possession, and were all sitting or standing at their posts, with
their miscellaneous arms ready for action. Not a human being had been hit
as yet, and only three of the mules wounded, none of them seriously. The
Apaches were all around the train, but none of them nearer than two
hundred yards, and doing nothing but canter about and shout to each other.
"Where is Texas Smith?" demanded Thurstane, missing that mighty hunter,
and wondering if he were a coward and had taken refuge in a wagon.
"He went off shutin' an hour ago," explained Phineas Glover. "Reckon he's
Glover, by the way, had been useful. In the beginning of the affray he had
brought his mule alongside of the headmost wagon, and there he had done
really valuable service by blazing away alarmingly, though quite
innocuously, at the gallopading enemy.
"It's a bad lookout for Texas," observed the Lieutenant "I shouldn't want
to bet high on his getting back to us."
Coronado looked gloomy, fearing lest his trusted assassin was lost, and
not knowing where he could pick up such another.
"And how are the ladies?" asked Thurstane, turning to Glover.
"Safe 's a bug in a rug," was the reply. "Seen to that little job myself.
Not a bugger in the hull crew been nigh 'em."
Thurstane cantered around to the front of the wagon which contained the
two women, and called, "How are you?"
At the sound of his voice there was a rustle inside, and Clara showed her
face over the shoulder of the driver.
"So you were not hurt?" laughed the young officer. "Ah! that's bully."
With a smile which was almost a boast, she answered, "And I was not very
At this, Aunt Maria struggled from between two rolls of bedding into a
sitting posture and ejaculated, "Of course not!"
"Did they hit you?" asked Clara, looking eagerly at Thurstane.
"How brave you are!" he replied, admiring her so much that he did not
notice her question.
"But I do hope it is over," added the girl, poking her head out of the
wagon. "Ah! what is that?"
With this little cry of dismay she pointed at a group of savages who had
gathered between the train and the mouth of the canon ahead of it.
"They are the enemy," said Thurstane. "We may have another little tussle
with them. Now lie down and keep close."
"Acquit yourselves like--men!" exhorted Aunt Maria, dropping back into her
stronghold among the bedding.
Sergeant Meyer now approached Thurstane, touched his cap, and said,
"Leftenant, here is brifate Sweeny who has not fired his beece once. I
cannot make him fire."
"How is that, Sweeny?" demanded the officer, putting on the proper
grimness. "Why haven't you fired when you were ordered?"
Sweeny was a little wizened shaving of an Irishman. He was not only quite
short, but very slender and very lean. He had a curious teetering gait,
and he took ridiculously short steps in marching, as if he were a monkey
who had not learned to feel at ease on his hind legs. His small, wilted,
wrinkled face, and his expression of mingled simplicity and shrewdness,
were also monkey-like. At Thurstane's reprimand he trotted close up to him
with exactly the air of a circus Jocko who expects a whipping, but who
hopes to escape it by grinning.
"Why haven't you fired?" repeated his commander.
"Liftinint, I dasn't," answered Sweeny, in the rapid, jerking, almost
inarticulate jabber which was his usual speech.
Now it is not an uncommon thing for recruits to dread to discharge their
arms in battle. They have a vague idea that, if they bang away, they will
attract the notice of some antagonist who will immediately single them out
"Are you afraid anybody will hit you?" asked Thurstane.
"No, I ain't, Liftinint," jabbered Sweeny. "I ain't afeard av them niggers
a bit. They may shoot their bow arrays at me all day if they want to. I'm
afeard of me gun, Liftinint. I fired it wonst, an' it kicked me to
"Come, come! That won't do. Level it now. Pick out your man. Aim. Fire."
Thus constrained, Sweeny brought his piece down to an inclination of
forty-five degrees, shut his eyes, pulled trigger, and sent a ball clean
over the most distant Apaches. The recoil staggered him, but he recovered
himself without going over, and instantly roared out a horse-laugh.
"Ho! ho! ho!" he shouted. "That time I reckon I fetched won av 'em."
"Sweeny," said Thurstane, "you must have hit either the sun or the moon, I
don't know which."
Sweeny looked discomfited; the next breath he bethought himself of a
saving joke: "Liftinint, it 'ud sarve erry won av 'em right;" then another
neigh of laughter.
"I ain't afeard av the ball," he hastened to asseverate; "it's the kick av
it that murthers me. Liftinint, why don't they put the britch to the other
end av the gun? They do in the owld counthry."
"Load your beece," ordered Sergeant Meyer, "and go to your bost again, to
the left of Shupert."
The fact of Sweeny's opening fire did not cause a resumption of the close
fighting. Quiet still continued, and the leaders of the expedition took
advantage of it to discuss their situation, while the Indians gathered
into little groups and seemed also to be holding council.
"There are over a hundred warriors," said Thurstane.
"Apaches," added one of the Mexican herdsmen.
"Manga Colorada or Delgadito."
"I supposed they were in Bernalillo."
"That was three weeks ago," put in Coronado.
He was in profound thought. These fellows, who had agreed to harry
Bernalillo, and who had for a time carried out their bargain, why had they
come to intercept him in the Moqui country, a hundred and twenty miles
away? Did they want to extort more money, or were they ignorant that this
was his train? And, supposing he should make himself known to them, would
they spare him personally and such others as he might wish to save, while
massacring the rest of the party? It would be a bold step; he could not at
once decide upon it; he was pondering it.
We must do full justice to Coronado's coolness and readiness. This
atrocious idea had occurred to him the instant he heard the charging yell
of the Apaches; and it had done far more than any weakness of nerves to
paralyze his fighting ability. He had thought, "Let them kill the Yankees;
then I will proclaim myself and save _her_; then she will be mine." And
because of these thoughts he had stood irresolute, aiming without firing,
and bidding his Mexicans do the same. The result was that six good shots
and superb horsemen, who were capable of making a gallant fight under
worthy leadership, had become demoralized, and, but for the advent of
Thurstane, might have been massacred like sheep.
Now that three or four Apaches had fallen, Coronado had less hope of
making his arrangement. He considered the matter carefully and
judiciously, but at last he decided that he could not trust the vindictive
devils, and he turned his mind strenuously toward resistance. Although not
pugnacious, he had plenty of the desperate courage of necessity, and his
dusky black eyes were very resolute as he said to Thurstane, "Lieutenant,
we trust to you."
The young veteran had already made up his mind as to what must be done.
"We will move on," he said. "We can't camp here, in an open plain, without
grass or water. We must get into the canon so as to have our flanks
protected. I want the wagons to advance in double file so as to shorten
the train. Two of my men in front and two in rear; three of your herdsmen
on one flank and three on the other; Captain Glover alongside the ladies,
and you and I everywhere; that's the programme. If we are all steady, we
can do it, sure."
"They are collecting ahead to stop us," observed Coronado.
"Good!" said Thurstane. "All I want is to have them get in a heap. It is
this attacking on all sides which is dangerous. Suppose you give your
drivers and muleteers a sharp lecture. Tell them they must fight if the
Indians charge, and not skulk inside and under the wagons. Tell them we
are going to shoot the first man who skulks. Pitch into them heavy. It's a
devilish shame that a dozen tolerably well-armed men should be so
helpless. It's enough to justify the old woman's contempt for our sex."
Coronado rode from wagon to wagon, delivering his reproofs, threats, and
instructions in the plainest kind of Spanish. At the signal to march, the
drivers must file off two abreast, commencing on the right, and move at
the fastest trot of the mules toward the canon. If any scoundrel skulked,
quitted his post, or failed to fight, he would be pistolled instanter by
him, Coronado _sangre de Dios_, etc.!
While he was addressing Aunt Maria's coachman, that level-headed lady
called out, "Mr. Coronado, your very voice is cheering."
"Mrs. Stanley, you are an example of heroism to our sex," replied the
Mexican, with an ironical grin.
"What a brave, noble, intelligent man?" thought Aunt Maria. "If they were
only all like him!"
This business took up five minutes. Coronado had just finished his round
when a loud yell was raised by the Apaches, and twenty or thirty of them
started at full speed down the trail by which the caravan had come.
Looking for the cause of this stampede, the emigrants beheld, nearly half
a mile away, a single horseman rushing to encounter a score. It was Texas
Smith, making an apparently hopeless rush to burst through the environment
of Parthians and reach the train.
"Shall we make a sally to save him?" demanded Coronado, glancing at
The officer hesitated; to divide his small army would be perilous; the
Apaches would attack on all sides and with advantage.
But the sight of one man so overmatched was too much for him, and with a
great throb of chivalrous blood in his heart, he shouted, "Charge!"
An hour before the attack Texas Smith had ridden off to stalk a deer; but
the animal being in good racing condition in consequence of the thin fare
of this sterile region, the hunting bout had miscarried; and our desperado
was returning unladen toward the train when he heard the distant charging
yell of the Apaches.
Scattered over the plateau which he was traversing, there were a few
thickets of mesquite, with here and there a fantastic butte of sandstone.
By dodging from one of these covers to another, he arrived undiscovered at
a point whence he could see the caravan and the curveting melee which
surrounded it. He was nearly half a mile from his comrades and over a
quarter of a mile from his nearest enemies.
What should he do? If he made a rush, he would probably be overpowered and
either killed instantly or carried off for torture. If he waited until
night for a chance to sneak into camp, the wandering redskins would be
pretty apt to surprise him in the darkness, and there would be small
chance indeed of escaping with his hair. It was a nasty situation; but
Texas, accustomed to perils, was as brave as he was wicked; and he looked
his darkling fate in the face with admirable coolness and intelligence.
His decision was to wait a favorable moment, and when it came, charge for
When he perceived that the mass of the Indians had gathered on the trail
between the wagons and the canon, he concluded that his chance had
arrived; and with teeth grimly set, rifle balanced across his saddle-bow,
revolver slung to his wrist, he started in silence and at full speed on
his almost hopeless rush. If you will cease to consider the man as a
modern bushwhacker, and invest him temporarily with the character,
ennobled by time, of a borderer of the Scottish marches, you will be able
to feel some sympathy for him in his audacious enterprise.
He was mounted on an American horse, a half-blood gray, large-boned and
powerful, who could probably have traversed the half-mile in a minute had
there been no impediment, and who was able to floor with a single shock
two or three of the little animals of the Apaches. He was a fine spectacle
as he thundered alone across the plain, upright and easy in his seat,
balancing his heavy rifle as if it were a rattan, his dark and cruel face
settled for fight and his fierce black eyes blazing.
Only a minute's ride, but that minute life or death. As he had expected,
the Apaches discovered him almost as soon as he left the cover of his
butte, and all the outlying members of the horde swarmed toward him with a
yell, brandishing their spears and getting ready their bows as they rode.
It would clearly be impossible for him to cut his way through thirty
warriors unless he received assistance from the train. Would it come? His
evil conscience told him, without the least reason, that Thurstane would
not help. But from Coronado, whose life he had saved and whose evil work
he had undertaken to do--from this man, "greaser" as he was, he did expect
a sally. If it did not come, and if he should escape by some rare chance,
he, Texas Smith, would murder the Mexican the first time he found him
alone, so help him God!
While he thought and cursed he flew. But his goal was still five hundred
yards away, and the nearest redskins were within two hundred yards, when
he saw a rescuing charge shoot out from the wagons. Coronado led it. In
this foxy nature the wolf was not wanting, and under strong impulse he
could be somewhat of a Pizarro. He had no starts of humanity nor of real
chivalry, but he had family pride and personal vanity, and he was capable
of the fighting fury. When Thurstane had given the word to advance,
Coronado had put himself forward gallantly.
"Stay here," he said to the officer; "guard the train with your infantry.
I am a caballero, and I will do a caballero's work," he added, rising
proudly in his stirrups. "Come on, you villains!" was his order to the six
All abreast, spread out like a skirmish line, the seven horsemen clattered
over the plain, making for the point where Texas Smith was about to plunge
among the whirling and caracoling Apaches.
Now came the crisis of the day. The moment the sixty or seventy Apaches
near the mouth of the canon saw Coronado set out on his charge, they
raised a yell of joy over the error of the emigrants in dividing their
forces, and plunged straight at the wagons. In half a minute two wild,
irregular, and yet desperate combats were raging.
Texas Smith had begun his battle while Coronado was still a quarter of a
mile away. Aiming his rifle at an Apache who was riding directly upon him,
instead of dodging and wheeling in the usual fashion of these cautious
fighters, he sent the audacious fellow out of his saddle with a
bullet-hole through the lungs. But this was no salvation; the dreaded
long-range firearm was now empty; the savages circled nearer and began to
use their arrows. Texas let his rifle hang from the pommel and presented
his revolver. But the bowshots were more than its match. It could not be
trusted to do execution at forty yards, and at that distance the Indian
shafts are deadly. Already several had hissed close by him, one had gashed
the forehead of his horse, and another had pierced his clothing.
All that Texas wanted, however, was time. If he could pass a half minute
without a disabling wound, he would have help. He retreated a little, or
rather he edged away toward the right, wheeling and curveting after the
manner of the Apaches, in order to present an unsteady mark for their
archery. To keep them at a distance he fired one barrel of his revolver,
though without effect. Meantime he dodged incessantly, now throwing
himself forward and backward in the saddle, now hanging over the side of
his horse and clinging to his neck. It was hard and perilous work, but he
was gaining seconds, and every second was priceless. Notwithstanding his
extreme peril, he calculated his chances with perfect coolness and with a
sagacity which was admirable.
But this intelligent savage had to do with savages as clever as himself.
The Apaches saw Coronado coming up on their rear, and they knew that they
must make short work of the hunter, or must let him escape. While a score
or so faced about to meet the Mexicans, a dozen charged with screeches and
brandished lances upon the Texan. Now came a hand-to-hand struggle which
looked as if it must end in the death of Smith and perhaps of several of
his assailants. But cavalry fights are notoriously bloodless in comparison
to their apparent fury; the violent and perpetual movement of the
combatants deranges aim and renders most of the blows futile; shots are
fired at a yard distance without hitting, and strokes are delivered which
only wound the air.
One spear stuck in Smith's saddle; another pierced his jacket-sleeve and
tore its way out; only one of the sharp, quickly-delivered points drew
blood. He felt a slight pain in his side, and he found afterward that a
lance-head had raked one of his ribs, tearing up the skin and scraping the
bone for four or five inches. Meantime he shot a warrior through the head,
sent another off with a hole in the shoulder, and fired one barrel without
effect. He had but a single charge left (saving this for himself in the
last extremity), when he burst through the prancing throng of screeching,
thrusting ragamuffins, and reached the side of Coronado.
Here another hurly-burly of rearing and plunging combat awaited him.
Coronado, charging as an old Castilian hidalgo might have charged upon the
Moors, had plunged directly into the midst of the Apaches who awaited him,
giving them little time to use their arrows, and at first receiving no
damage. The six rifles of his Mexicans sent two Apaches out of their
saddles, and then came a capering, plunging joust of lances, both parties
using the same weapon. Coronado alone had sabre and revolver; and he
handled them both with beautiful coolness and dexterity; he rode, too, as
well as the best of all these other centaurs. His superb horse whirled and
reared under the guidance of a touch of the knees, while the rider plied
firearm with one hand and sharply-ground blade with the other. Thurstane,
an infantryman, and only a fair equestrian, would not have been half so
effective in this combat of caballeros.
Coronado's first bullet knocked a villainous-looking tatterdemalion clean
into the happy hunting grounds. Then came a lance thrust; he parried it
with his sabre and plunged within range of the point; there was a sharp,
snake-like hiss of the light, curved blade; down went Apache number two.
At this rate, providing there were no interruptions, he could finish the
whole twenty. He went at his job with a handy adroitness which was almost
scientific, it was so much like surgery, like dissection. His mind was
bent, with a sort of preternatural calmness and cleverness, upon the
business of parrying lance thrusts, aiming his revolver, and delivering
sabre cuts. It was a species of fighting intellection, at once prudent and
destructive. It was not the headlong, reckless, pugnacious rage of the old
Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian berserker. It was the practical, ready,
rational furor of the Latin race.
Presently he saw that two of his rancheros had been lanced, and that there
were but four left. A thrill of alarm, a commencement of panic, a desire
to save himself at all hazards, crisped his heart and half paralyzed his
energy. Remembering with perfect distinctness that four of his barrels
were empty, he would perhaps have tried to retreat at the risk of being
speared in the back, had he not at this critical moment been joined by
That instinctive, ferocious, and tireless fighter, while seeming to be
merely circling and curveting among his assailants, contrived to recharge
two barrels of his revolver, and was once more ready for business. Down
went one Apache; then the horse of another fell to reeling and crouching
in a sickly way; then a charge of half a dozen broke to right and left in
irresolute prancings. At sight of this friendly work Coronado drew a fresh
breath of courage, and executed his greatest feat yet of horsemanship and
swordsmanship. Spurring after and then past one of the wheeling braves, he
swept his sabre across the fellow's bare throat with a drawing stroke, and
half detached the scowling, furious, frightened head from the body.
There was a wide space of open ground before him immediately. The Apaches
know nothing of sabre work; not one of those present had ever before seen
such a blow or such an effect; they were not only panic-stricken, but
horror-stricken. For one moment, right between the staring antagonists, a
bloody corpse sat upright on a rearing horse, with its head fallen on one
shoulder and hanging by a gory muscle. The next moment it wilted, rolled
downward with outstretched arms, and collapsed upon the gravel, an inert
Texas Smith uttered a loud scream of tigerish delight. He had never, in
all his pugnacious and sanguinary life, looked upon anything so
fascinating. It seemed to him as if _his_ heaven--the savage Walhalla of
his Saxon or Danish berserker race--were opened before him. In his ecstasy
he waved his dirty, long fingers toward Coronado, and shouted, "Bully for
you, old hoss!"
But he had self-possession enough, now that his hand was free for an
instant from close battle, to reload his rifle and revolver. The four
rancheros who still retained their saddles mechanically and hurriedly
followed his example. The contest here was over; the Apaches knew that
bullets would soon be humming about their ears, and they dreaded them;
there was a retreat, and this retreat was a run of an eighth of a mile.
"Hurrah for the waggins!" shouted Texas, and dashed away toward the train.
Coronado stared; his heart sank within him; the train was surrounded by a
mob of prancing savages; there was more fighting to be done when he had
already done his best. But not knowing where else to go, he followed his
leader toward this new battle, loading his revolver as he rode, and
wishing that he were in Santa Fe, or anywhere in peace.
We must go back a little. As already stated, the main body of the Apaches
had perceived the error of the emigrants in separating, and had promptly
availed themselves of it to charge upon the train. To attack it there were
seventy ferocious and skilful warriors; to defend it there were twelve
timorous muleteers and drivers, four soldiers, and Ralph.
"Fall back!" shouted the Lieutenant to his regulars when he saw the
equestrian avalanche coming. "Each man take a wagon and hold it."
The order was obeyed in a hurry. The Apaches, heartened by what they
supposed to be a panic, swarmed along at increased speed, and gave out
their most diabolical screeches, hoping no doubt to scare men into
helplessness, and beasts into a stampede. But the train was an immovable
fortress, and the fortress was well garrisoned. Although the mules winced
and plunged a good deal, the drivers succeeded in holding them to their
places, and the double column of carriages, three in each rank, preserved
its formation. In every vehicle there was a muleteer, with hands free for
fighting, bearing something or other in the shape of a firelock, and
inspired with what courage there is in desperation. The four flankers,
necessarily the most exposed to assault, had each a United States regular,
with musket, bayonet, and forty rounds of buck and ball. In front of the
phalanx, directly before the wagon which contained the two ladies, sat as
brave an officer as there was in the American army.
The Apaches had also committed their tactical blunder. They should all
have followed Coronado, made sure of destroying him and his Mexicans, and
then attacked the train. But either there was no sagacious military spirit
among them, or the love of plunder was too much for judgment and
authority, and so down they came on the wagons.
As the swarthy swarm approached, it spread out until it covered the front
of the train and overlapped its flanks, ready to sweep completely around
it and fasten upon any point which should seem feebly or timorously
defended. The first man endangered was the lonely officer who sat his
horse in front of the line of kicking and plunging mules. Fortunately for
him, he now had a weapon of longer range than his revolver; he had
remembered that in one of the wagons was stored a peculiar rifle belonging
to Coronado; he had just had time to drag it out and strap its
cartridge-box around his waist.
He levelled at the centre of the clattering, yelling column. It
fluctuated; the warriors who were there did not like to be aimed at; they
began to zigzag, caracole, and diverge to right or left; several halted
and commenced using their bows. At one of these archers, whose arrow
already trembled on the string, Thurstane let fly, sending him out of the
saddle. Then he felt a quick, sharp pain in his left arm, and perceived
that a shaft had passed clean through it.
There is this good thing about the arrow, that it has not weight enough to
break bones, nor tearing power enough to necessarily paralyze muscle.
Thurstane could still manage a revolver with his wounded arm, while his
right was good for almost any amount of slashing work. Letting the rifle
drop and swing from the pommel, he met the charge of two grinning and
scowling lancers. One thrust he parried with his sabre; from the other he
saved his neck by stooping; but it drove through his coat collar, and
nearly unseated him. For a moment our bleeding and hampered young
gladiator seemed to be in a bad way. But he was strong; he braced himself
in his stirrups, and he made use of both his hands. The Indian whose spear
was still free caught a bullet through the shoulder, dropped his weapon,
and circled away yelling. Then Thurstane plunged at the other, reared his
tall horse over him, broke the lance-shaft with a violent twist, and swung
his long cavalry sabre. It was in vain that the Apache crouched, spurred,
and skedaddled; he got away alive, but it was with a long bloody gash down
his naked back; the last seen of him he was going at full speed, holding
by his pony's mane. The Lieutenant remained master of the whole front of
Meantime there was a busy popping along the flankers and through the
hinder openings in the second line of wagons. The Indians skurried,
wheeled, pranced, and yelled, let fly their arrows from a distance, dashed
up here and there with their lances, and as quickly retreated before the
threatening muzzles. The muleteers, encouraged by the presence of the
soldiers, behaved with respectable firmness and blazed away rapidly,
though not effectively. The regulars reserved their fire for close
quarters, and then delivered it to bloody purpose.
Around Sweeny, who garrisoned the left-hand wagon of the rearmost line,
the fight was particularly noisy. The Apaches saw that he was little, and
perhaps they saw that he was afraid of his gun. They went for him; they
were after him with their sharpest sticks; they counted on Sweeny. The
speck of a man sat on the front seat of the wagon, outside of the driver,
and fully exposed to the tribulation. He was in a state of the highest
Paddy excitement. He grinned and bounced like a caravan of monkeys. But he
was not much scared; he was mainly in a furious rage. Pointing his musket
first at one and then at another, he returned yell for yell, and was in
"Oh, fire yer bow-arreys!" he screamed. "Ye can't hit the side av a
waggin. Ah, ye bloody, murtherin' nagers! go 'way wid yer long poles. I'd
fight a hundred av the loikes av ye wid ownly a shillelah."
One audacious thrust of a lance he parried very dexterously with his
bayonet, at the same time screeching defiantly and scornfully in the face
of his hideous assailant. But this fellow's impudent approach was too much
to be endured, and Sweeny proceeded at once to teach him to keep at a more
"Oh, ye pokin' blaggard!" he shouted, and actually let drive with his
musket. The ball missed, but by pure blundering one of the buck-shot took
effect, and the brave retreated out of the melee with a sensation as if
his head had been split. Some time later he was discovered sitting up
doggedly on a rock, while a comrade was trying to dig the buckshot out of
his thick skull with an arrow-point.
"I'll tache 'em to moind their bizniss," grinned Sweeny triumphantly, as
he reloaded. "The nasty, hootin' nagers! They've no rights near a white
On the whole, the attack lingered. The Apaches had done some damage. One
driver had been lanced mortally. One muleteer had been shot through the
heart with an arrow. Another arrow had scraped Shubert's ankle. Another,
directed by the whimsical genius of accident, had gone clean through the
drooping cartilage of Phineas Glover's long nose, as if to prepare him for
the sporting of jewelled decorations. Two mules were dead, and several
wounded. The sides of the wagons bristled with shafts, and their canvas
tops were pierced with fine holes. But, on the other hand, the Apaches had
lost a dozen horses, three or four warriors killed, and seven or eight
Such was the condition of affairs around the train when Coronado, Texas
Smith, and the four surviving herdsmen came storming back to it.
The Apaches were discouraged by the immovability of the train, and by the
steady and deadly resistance of its defenders. From first to last some
twenty-five or twenty-seven of their warriors had been hit, of whom
probably one third were killed or mortally wounded.
At the approach of Coronado those who were around the wagons swept away in
a panic, and never paused in their flight until they were a good half mile
distant. They carried off, however, every man, whether dead or injured,
except one alone. A few rods from the train lay a mere boy, certainly not
over fifteen years old, his forehead gashed by a bullet, and life
apparently extinct. There was nothing strange in the fact of so young a
lad taking part in battle, for the military age among the Indians is from
twelve to thirty-six, and one third of their fighters are children.
"What did they leave that fellow for?" said Coronado in surprise, riding
up to the senseless figure.
"I'll fix him," volunteered Texas Smith, dismounting and drawing his
hunting knife. "Reckon he hain't been squarely finished."
"Stop!" ordered Coronado. "He is not an Apache. He is some pueblo Indian.
See how much he is hurt."
"Skull ain't broke," replied Texas, fingering the wound as roughly as if
it had been in the flesh of a beast. "Reckon he'll flop round. May do
mischief, if we don't fix him."
Anxious to stick his knife into the defenceless young throat, he
nevertheless controlled his sentiments and looked up for instructions.
Since the splendid decapitation which Coronado had performed, Texas
respected him as he had never heretofore hoped to respect a "greaser."
"Perhaps we can get information out of him," said Coronado. "Suppose you