J. W. DE FOREST,
Author of "Kate Beaumont," "Miss Ravenel's Conversion," &c.
In those days, Santa Fe, New Mexico, was an undergrown, decrepit, out-at-elbows ancient hidalgo of a town, with not a scintillation of prosperity or grandeur about it, except the name of capital.
It was two hundred and seventy years old; and it had less than five thousand inhabitants. It was the metropolis of a vast extent of country, not destitute of natural wealth; and it consisted of a few narrow, irregular streets, lined by one-story houses built of sun-baked bricks. Owing to the fine climate, it was difficult to die there; but owing to many things not fine, it was almost equally difficult to live.
Even the fact that Santa Fe had been for a period under the fostering wings of the American eagle did not make it grow much. Westward-ho emigrants halted there to refit and buy cattle and provisions; but always started resolutely on again, westward-hoing across the continent. Nobody seemed to want to stay in Santa Fe, except the aforesaid less than five thousand inhabitants, who were able to endure the place because they had never seen any other, and who had become a part of its gray, dirty, lazy lifelessness and despondency.
For a wonder, this old atom of a metropolis had lately had an increase of population, which was nearly as great a wonder as Sarah having a son when she was "well stricken in years." A couple of new-comers—not a man nor woman less than a couple—now stood on the flat roof of one of the largest of the sun-baked brick houses. By great good luck, moreover, these two were, I humbly trust, worthy of attention. The one was interesting because she was the handsomest girl in Santa Fe, and would have been considered a handsome girl anywhere; the other was interesting because she was a remarkable woman, and even, as Mr. Jefferson Brick might have phrased it, "one of the most remarkable women in our country, sir." At least so she judged, and judged it too with very considerable confidence, being one of those persons who say, "If I know myself, and I think I do."
The beauty was of a mixed type. She combined the blonde and the brunette fashions of loveliness. You might guess at the first glance that she had in her the blood of both the Teutonic and the Latin races. While her skin was clear and rosy, and her curling hair was of a light and bright chestnut, her long, shadowy eyelashes were almost black, and her eyes were of a deep hazel, nearly allied to blackness. Her form had the height of the usual American girl, and the round plumpness of the usual Spanish girl. Even in her bearing and expression you could discover more or less of this union of different races. There was shyness and frankness; there was mistrust and confidence; there was sentimentality and gayety. In short, Clara Munoz Garcia Van Diemen was a handsome and interesting young lady.
Now for the remarkable woman. Sturdy and prominent old character, obviously. Forty-seven years old, or thereabouts; lots of curling iron-gray hair twisted about her round forehead; a few wrinkles, and not all of the newest. Round face, round and earnest eyes, short, self-confident nose, chin sticking out in search of its own way, mouth trembling with unuttered ideas. Good figure—what Lord Dundreary would call "dem robust," but not so sumptuous as to be merely ornamental; tolerably convenient figure to get about in. Walks up and down, man-fashion, with her hands behind her back—also man-fashion. Such is Mrs. Maria Stanley, the sister of Clara Van Diemen's father, and best known to Clara as Aunt Maria.
"And so this is Santa Fe?" said Aunt Maria, rolling her spectacles over the little wilted city. "Founded in 1581; two hundred and seventy years old. Well, if this is all that man can do in that time, he had better leave colonization to woman."
Clara smiled with an innocent air of half wonder and half amusement, such as you may see on the face of a child when it is shown some new and rather awe-striking marvel of the universe, whether a jack-in-a-box or a comet. She had only known Aunt Maria for the last four years, and she had not yet got used to her rough-and-ready mannish ways, nor learned to see any sense in her philosophizings. Looking upon her as a comical character, and supposing that she talked mainly for the fun of the thing, she was disposed to laugh at her doings and sayings, though mostly meant in solemn earnest.
"But about your affairs, my child," continued Aunt Maria, suddenly gripping a fresh subject after her quick and startling fashion. "I don't understand them. How is it possible? Here is a great fortune gone; gone in a moment; gone incomprehensibly. What does it mean? Some rascality here. Some man at the bottom of this."
"I presume my relative, Garcia, must be right," commenced Clara.
"No, he isn't," interrupted Aunt Maria. "He is wrong. Of course he's wrong. I never knew a man yet but what he was wrong."
"You make me laugh in spite of my troubles," said Clara, laughing, however, only through her eyes, which had great faculties for sparkling out meanings. "But see here," she added, turning grave again, and putting up her hand to ask attention. "Mr. Garcia tells a straight story, and gives reasons enough. There was the war," and here she began to count on her fingers, "That destroyed a great deal. I know when my father could scarcely send on money to pay my bills in New York. And then there was the signature for Senor Pedraez. And then there were the Apaches who burnt the hacienda and drove off the cattle. And then he—"
Her voice faltered and she stopped; she could not say, "He died."
"My poor, dear child!" sighed Aunt Maria, walking up to the girl and caressing her with a tenderness which was all womanly.
"That seems enough," continued Clara, when she could speak again. "I suppose that what Garcia and the lawyers tell us is true. I suppose I am not worth a thousand dollars."
"Will a thousand dollars support you here?"
"I don't know. I don't think it will."
"Then if I can't set this thing straight, if I can't make somebody disgorge your property, I must take you back with me."
"Oh! if you would!" implored Clara, all the tender helplessness of Spanish girlhood appealing from her eyes.
"Of course I will," said Aunt Maria, with a benevolent energy which was almost terrific.
"I would try to do something. I don't know. Couldn't I teach Spanish?"
"You shan't" decided Aunt Maria. "Yes, you shall. You shall be professor of foreign languages in a Female College which I mean to have founded."
Clara stared with astonishment, and then burst into a hearty fit of laughter, the two finishing the drying of her tears. She was so far from wishing to be a strong-minded person of either gender, that she did not comprehend that her aunt could wish it for her, or could herself seriously claim to be one. The talk about a professorship was in her estimation the wayward, humorous whim of an eccentric who was fond of solemn joking. Mrs. Stanley, meanwhile, could not see why her utterance should not be taken in earnest, and opened her eyes at Clara's merriment.
We must say a word or two concerning the past of this young lady. Twenty-five years previous a New Yorker named Augustus Van Diemen, the brother of that Maria Jane Van Diemen now known to the world as Mrs. Stanley, had migrated to California, set up in the hide business, and married by stealth the daughter of a wealthy Mexican named Pedro Munoz. Munoz got into a Spanish Catholic rage at having a Yankee Protestant son-in-law, disowned and formally disinherited his child, and worried her husband into quitting the country. Van Diemen returned to the United States, but his wife soon became homesick for her native land, and, like a good husband as he was, he went once more to Mexico. This time he settled in Santa Fe, where he accumulated a handsome fortune, lived in the best house in the city, and owned haciendas.
Clara's mother dying when the girl was fourteen years old, Van Diemen felt free to give her, his only child, an American education, and sent her to New York, where she went through four years of schooling. During this period came the war between the United States and Mexico. Foreign residents were ill-treated; Van Diemen was sometimes a prisoner, sometimes a fugitive; in one way or another his fortune went to pieces. Four months previous to the opening of this story he died in a state little better than insolvency. Clara, returning to Santa Fe under the care of her energetic and affectionate relative, found that the deluge of debt would cover town house and haciendas, leaving her barely a thousand dollars. She was handsome and accomplished, but she was an orphan and poor. The main chance with her seemed to lie in the likelihood that she would find a mother (or a father) in Aunt Maria.
Yes, there was another sustaining possibility, and of a more poetic nature. There was a young American officer named Thurstane, a second lieutenant acting as quartermaster of the department, who had met her heretofore in New York, who had seemed delighted to welcome her to Santa Fe, and who now called on her nearly every day. Might it not be that Lieutenant Thurstane would want to make her Mrs. Thurstane, and would have power granted him to induce her to consent to the arrangement? Clara was sufficiently a woman, and sufficiently a Spanish woman especially, to believe in marriage. She did not mean particularly to be Mrs. Thurstane, but she did mean generally to be Mrs. Somebody. And why not Thurstane? Well, that was for him to decide, at least to a considerable extent. In the mean time she did not love him; she only disliked the thought of leaving him.
While these two women had been talking and thinking, a lazy Indian servant had been lounging up the stairway. Arrived on the roof, he advanced to La Senorita Clara, and handed her a letter. The girl opened it, glanced through it with a flushing face, and cried out delightedly, "It is from my grandfather. How wonderful! O holy Maria, thanks! His heart has been softened. He invites me to come and live with him in San Francisco. O Madre de Dios!"
Although Clara spoke English perfectly, and although she was in faith quite as much of a Protestant as a Catholic, yet in her moments of strong excitement she sometimes fell back into the language and ideas of her childhood.
"Child, what are you jabbering about?" asked Aunt Maria.
"There it is. See! Pedro Munoz! It is his own signature. I have seen letters of his. Pedro Munoz! Read it. Oh! you don't read Spanish."
Then she translated the letter aloud. Aunt Maria listened with a firm and almost stern aspect, like one who sees some justice done, but not enough.
"He doesn't beg your pardon," she said at the close of the reading.
Clara, supposing that she was expected to laugh, and not seeing the point of the joke, stared in amazement.
"But probably he is in a meeker mood now," continued Aunt Maria. "By this time it is to be hoped that he sees his past conduct in a proper light. The letter was written three months ago."
"Three months ago," repeated Clara. "Yes, it has taken all that time to come. How long will it take me to go there? How shall I go?"
"We will see," said Aunt Maria, with the air of one who holds the fates in her hand, and doesn't mean to open it till she gets ready. She was by no means satisfied as yet that this grandfather Munoz was a proper person to be intrusted with the destinies of a young lady. In refusing to let his daughter select her own husband, he had shown a very squinting and incomplete perception of the rights of woman.
"Old reprobate!" thought Aunt Maria. "Probably he has got gouty with his vices, and wants to be nursed. I fancy I see him getting Clara without going on his sore marrow-bones and begging pardon of gods and women."
"Of course I must go," continued Clara, unsuspicious of her aunt's reflections. "At all events he will support me. Besides, he is now the head of my family."
"Head of the family!" frowned Aunt Maria. "Because he is a man? So much the more reason for his being the tail of it. My dear, you are your own head."
"Ah—well. What is the use of all that?" asked Clara, smiling away those views. "I have no money, and he has."
"Well, we will see," persisted Aunt Maria. "I just told you so. We will see."
The two women had scarcely left the roof of the house and got themselves down to the large, breezy, sparsely furnished parlor, ere the lazy, dawdling Indian servant announced Lieutenant Thurstane.
Lieutenant Ralph Thurstane was a tall, full-chested, finely-limbed gladiator of perhaps four and twenty. Broad forehead; nose straight and high enough; lower part of the face oval; on the whole a good physiognomy. Cheek bones rather strongly marked; a hint of Scandinavian ancestry supported by his name. Thurstane is evidently Thor's stone or altar; forefathers priests of the god of thunder. His complexion was so reddened and darkened by sunburn that his untanned forehead looked unnaturally white and delicate. His yellow, one might almost call it golden hair, was wavy enough to be handsome. Eyes quite remarkable; blue, but of a very dark blue, like the coloring which is sometimes given to steel; so dark indeed that one's first impression was that they were black. Their natural expression seemed to be gentle, pathetic, and almost imploring; but authority, responsibility, hardship, and danger had given them an ability to be stern. In his whole face, young as he was, there was already the look of the veteran, that calm reminiscence of trials endured, that preparedness for trials to come. In fine, taking figure, physiognomy, and demeanor together, he was attractive.
He saluted the ladies as if they were his superior officers. It was a kindly address, but ceremonious; it was almost humble, and yet it was self-respectful.
"I have some great news," he presently said, in the full masculine tone of one who has done much drilling. "That is, it is great to me. I change station."
"How is that?" asked Clara eagerly. She was not troubled at the thought of losing a beau; we must not be so hard upon her as to make that supposition; but here was a trustworthy friend going away just when she wanted counsel and perhaps aid.
"I have been promoted first lieutenant of Company I, Fifth Regiment, and I must join my company."
"Promoted! I am glad," said Clara.
"You ought to be pleased," put in Aunt Maria, staring at the grave face of the young man with no approving expression. "I thought men were always pleased with such things."
"So I am," returned Thurstane. "Of course I am pleased with the step. But I must leave Santa Fe. And I have found Santa Fe very pleasant."
There was so much meaning obvious in these last words that Clara's face colored like a sunset.
"I thought soldiers never indulged in such feelings," continued the unmollified Aunt Maria.
"Soldiers are but men," observed Thurstane, flushing through his sunburn.
"And men are weak creatures."
Thurstane grew still redder. This old lady (old in his young eyes) was always at him about his manship, as if it were a crime and disgrace. He wanted to give her one, but out of respect for Clara he did not, and merely moved uneasily in his seat, as men are apt to do when they are set down hard.
"How soon must you go? Where?" demanded Clara.
"As soon as I can close my accounts here and turn over my stores to my successor. Company I is at Fort Yuma on the Colorado. It is the first post in California."
"California!" And Clara could not help brightening up in cheeks and eyes with fine tints and flashes. "Why, I am going to California."
"We will see," said Aunt Maria, still holding the fates in her fist.
Then came the story of Grandfather Munoz's letter, with a hint or two concerning the decay of the Van Diemen fortune, for Clara was not worldly wise enough to hide her poverty.
Thurstane's face turned as red with pleasure as if it had been dipped in the sun. If this young lady was going to California, he might perhaps be her knight-errant across the desert, guard her from privations and hardships, and crown himself with her smiles. If she was poor, he might—well, he would not speculate upon that; it was too dizzying.
We must say a word as to his history in order to show why he was so shy and sensitive. He had been through West Point, confined himself while there closely to his studies, gone very soon into active service, and so seen little society. The discipline of the Academy and three years in the regular army had ground into him the soldier's respect for superiors. He revered his field officers; he received a communication from the War Department as a sort of superhuman revelation; he would have blown himself sky-high at the command of General Scott. This habit of subordination, coupled with a natural fund of reverence, led him to feel that many persons were better than himself, and to be humble in their presence. All women were his superior officers, and the highest in rank was Clara Van Diemen.
Well, hurrah! he was to march under her to California! and the thought made him half wild. He would protect her; he would kill all the Indians in the desert for her sake; he would feed her on his own blood, if necessary.
As he considered these proper and feasible projects, the audacious thought which he had just tried to expel from his mind forced its way back into it. If the Van Diemen estate were insolvent, if this semi-divine Clara were as poor as himself, there was a call on him to double his devotion to her, and there was a hope that his worship might some day be rewarded.
How he would slave and serve for her; how he would earn promotion for her sake; how he would fight her battle in life! But would she let him do it? Ah, it seemed too much to hope. Poor though she was, she was still a heaven or so above him; she was so beautiful and had so many perfections!
Oh, the purity, the self-abnegation, the humility of love! It makes a man scarcely lower than the angels, and quite superior to not a few reverenced saints.
"I must say," observed Thurstane—"I beg your pardon for advising—but I think you had better accept your grandfather's invitation."
He said it with a pang at his heart, for if this adorable girl went to her grandfather, the old fellow would be sure to love her and leave her his property, in which case there would be no chance for a proud and poor lieutenant. He gave his advice under a grim sense that it was his duty to give it, because the following of it would be best for Miss Van Diemen.
"So I think," nodded Clara, fortified by this opinion to resist Aunt Maria, and the more fortified because it was the opinion of a man.
After a certain amount of discussion the elder lady was persuaded to loosen her mighty grip and give the destinies a little liberty.
"Well, it may be best," she said, pursing her mouth as if she tasted the bitter of some half-suspected and disagreeable future. "I don't know. I won't undertake positively to decide. But, if you do go," and here she became authentic and despotic—"if you do go, I shall go with you and see you safe there."
"Oh! will you?" exclaimed Clara, all Spanish and all emotion in an instant. "How sweet and good and beautiful of you! You are my guardian angel. Do you know? I thought you would offer to go. I said to myself, She came on to Santa Fe for my sake, and she will go to California. But oh, it is too much for me to ask. How shall I ever pay you?"
"I will pay myself," returned Aunt Maria. "I have plans for California."
It was as if she had said, "Go to, we will make California in our own image."
The young lady was satisfied. Her strong-minded relative was a mighty mystery to her, just as men were mighty mysteries. Whatever she or they said could be done and should be done, why of course it would be done, and that shortly.
By the time that Aunt Maria had announced her decision, another visitor was on the point of entrance. Carlos Maria Munoz Garcia de Coronado was a nephew of Manuel Garcia, who was a cousin of Clara's grandfather; only, as Garcia was merely his uncle by marriage, Coronado and Clara were not related by blood, though calling each other cousin. He was a man of medium stature, slender in build, agile and graceful in movement, complexion very dark, features high and aristocratic, short black hair and small black moustache, eyes black also, but veiled and dusky. He was about twenty-eight, but he seemed at least four years older, partly because of a deep wrinkle which slashed down each cheek, and partly because he was so perfectly self-possessed and elaborately courteous. His intellect was apparently as alert and adroit as his physical action. A few words from Clara enabled him to seize the situation.
"Go at once," he decided without a moment's hesitation. "My dear cousin, it will be the happy turning point of your fortunes. I fancy you already inheriting the hoards, city lots, haciendas, mines, and cattle of our excellent relative Munoz—long may he live to enjoy them! Certainly. Don't whisper an objection. Munoz owes you that reparation. His conduct has been—we will not describe it—we will hope that he means to make amends for it. Unquestionably he will. My dear cousin, nothing can resist you. You will enchant your grandfather. It will all end, like the tales of the Arabian Nights, in your living in a palace. How delightful to think of this long family quarrel at last coming to a close! But how do you go?"
"If Miss Van Diemen goes overland, I can do something toward protecting her and making her comfortable," suggested Thurstane. "I am ordered to Fort Yuma."
Coronado glanced at the young officer, noted the guilty blush which peeped out of his tanned cheek, and came to a decision on the instant.
"Overland!" he exclaimed, lifting both his hands. "Take her overland! My God! my God!"
Thurstane reddened at the insinuation that he had given bad advice to Miss Van Diemen; but though he wanted to fight the Mexican, he controlled himself, and did not even argue. Like all sensitive and at the same time self-respectful persons, he was exceedingly considerate of the feelings of others, and was a very lamb in conversation.
"It is a desert," continued Coronado in a kind of scream of horror. "It is a waterless desert, without a blade of grass, and haunted from end to end by Apaches. My little cousin would die of thirst and hunger. She would be hunted and scalped. O my God! overland!"
"Emigrant parties are going all the while," ventured Thurstane, very angry at such extravagant opposition, but merely looking a little stiff.
"Certainly. You are right, Lieutenant," bowed Coronado. "They do go. But how many perish on the way? They march between the unburied and withered corpses of their predecessors. And what a journey for a woman—for a lady accustomed to luxury—for my little cousin! I beg your pardon, my dear Lieutenant Thurstane, for disagreeing with you. My advice is—the isthmus."
"I have, of course, nothing, to say," admitted the officer, returning Coronado's bow. "The family must decide."
"Certainly, the isthmus, the steamers," went on the fluent Mexican. "You sail to Panama. You have an easy and safe land trip of a few days. Then steamers again. Poff! you are there. By all means, the isthmus."
We must allot a few more words of description to this Don Carlos Coronado. Let no one expect a stage Spaniard, with the air of a matador or a guerrillero, who wears only picturesque and outlandish costumes, and speaks only magniloquent Castilian. Coronado was dressed, on this spring morning, precisely as American dandies then dressed for summer promenades on Broadway. His hat was a fine panama with a broad black ribbon; his frock-coat was of thin cloth, plain, dark, and altogether civilized; his light trousers were cut gaiter-fashion, and strapped under the instep; his small boots were patent-leather, and of the ordinary type. There was nothing poetic about his attire except a reasonably wide Byron collar and a rather dashing crimson neck-tie, well suited to his dark complexion.
His manner was sometimes excitable, as we have seen above; but usually he was like what gentlemen with us desire to be. Perhaps he bowed lower and smiled oftener and gestured more gracefully than Americans are apt to do. But there was in general nothing Oriental about him, no assumption of barbaric pompousness, no extravagance of bearing. His prevailing deportment was calm, grave, and deliciously courteous. If you had met him, no matter how or where, you would probably have been pleased with him. He would have made conversation for you, and put you at ease in a moment; you would have believed that he liked you, and you would therefore have been disposed to like him. In short, he was agreeable to most people, and to some people fascinating.
And then his English! It was wonderful to hear him talk it. No American could say that he spoke better English than Coronado, and no American surely ever spoke it so fluently. It rolled off his lips in a torrent, undefiled by a mispronunciation or a foreign idiom. And yet he had begun to learn the language after reaching the age of manhood, and had acquired it mainly during three years of exile and teaching of Spanish in the United States. His linguistic cleverness was a fair specimen of his general quickness of intellect.
Mrs. Stanley had liked him at first sight—that is, liked him for a man. He knew it; he had seen that she was a person worth conciliating; he had addressed himself to her, let off his bows at her, made her the centre of conversation. In ten minutes from the entrance of Coronado Mrs. Stanley was of opinion that Clara ought to go to California by way of the isthmus, although she had previously taken the overland route for granted. In another ten minutes the matter was settled: the ladies were to go by way of New Orleans, Panama, and the Pacific.
Shortly afterward, Coronado and Thurstane took their leave; the Mexican affable, sociable, smiling, smoking; the American civil, but taciturn and grave.
"Aha! I have disappointed the young gentleman," thought Coronado as they parted, the one going to his quartermaster's office and the other to Garcia's house.
Coronado, although he had spent great part of his life in courting women, was a bachelor. He had been engaged once in New Mexico and two or three times in New York, but had always, as he could tell you with a smile, been disappointed. He now lived with his uncle, that Senor Manuel Garcia whom Clara has mentioned, a trader with California, an owner of vast estates and much cattle, and reputed to be one of the richest men in New Mexico. The two often quarrelled, and the elder had once turned the younger out of doors, so lively were their dispositions. But as Garcia had lost one by one all his children, he had at last taken his nephew into permanent favor, and would, it was said, leave him his property.
The house, a hollow square built of adobe bricks in one story, covered a vast deal of ground, had spacious rooms and a court big enough to bivouac a regiment. It was, in fact, not only a dwelling, but a magazine where Garcia stored his merchandise, and a caravansary where he parked his wagons. As Coronado lounged into the main doorway he was run against by a short, pursy old gentleman who was rushing out.
"Ah! there you are!" exclaimed the old gentleman, in Spanish. "O you pig! you dog! you never are here. O Madre de Dios! how I have needed you! There is no time to lose. Enter at once."
A dyspeptic, worn with work and anxieties, his nervous system shattered, Garcia was subject to fits of petulance which were ludicrous. In these rages he called everybody who would bear it pigs, dogs, and other more unsavory nicknames. Coronado bore it because thus he got his living, and got it without much labor.
"I want you," gasped Garcia, seizing the young man by the arm and dragging him into a private room. "I want to speak to you in confidence—in confidence, mind you, in confidence—about Munoz."
"I have heard of it," said Coronado, as the old man stopped to catch his breath.
"Heard of it!" exclaimed Garcia, in such consternation that he turned yellow, which was his way of turning pale. "Has the news got here? O Madre de Dios!"
"Yes, I was at our little cousin's this evening. It is an ugly affair."
"And she knows it?" groaned the old man. "O Madre de Dios!"
"She told me of it. She is going there. I did the best I could. She was about to go overland, in charge of the American, Thurstane. I broke that up. I persuaded her to go by the isthmus."
"It is of little use," said Garcia, his eyes filmy with despair, as if he were dying. "She will get there. The property will be hers."
"Not necessarily. He has simply invited her to live with him. She may not suit."
"How?" demanded Garcia, open-eyed and open-mouthed with anxiety.
"He has simply invited her to live with him," repeated Coronado. "I saw the letter."
"What! you don't know, then?"
"Munoz is dead."
Coronado threw out, first a stare of surprise, and then a shout of laughter.
"And here they have just got a letter from him," he said presently; "and I have been persuading her to go to him by the isthmus!"
"May the journey take her to him!" muttered Garcia. "How old was this letter?"
"Nearly three months. It came by sea, first to New York, and then here."
"My news is a month later. It came overland by special messenger. Listen to me, Carlos. This affair is worse than you know. Do you know what Munoz has done? Oh, the pig! the dog! the villainous pig! He has left everything to his granddaughter."
Coronado, dumb with astonishment and dismay, mechanically slapped his boot with his cane and stared at Garcia.
"I am ruined," cried the old man. "The pig of hell has ruined me. He has left me, his cousin, his only male relative, to ruin. Not a doubloon to save me.'
"Is there no chance?" asked Coronado, after a long silence.
"None! Oh—yes—one. A little one, a miserable little one. If she dies without issue and without a will, I am heir. And you, Carlos" (changing here to a wheedling tone), "you are mine."
The look which accompanied these last words was a terrible mingling of cunning, cruelty, hope, and despair.
Coronado glanced at Garcia with a shocking comprehension, and immediately dropped his dusky eyes upon the floor.
"You know I have made my will," resumed the old man, "and left you everything."
"Which is nothing," returned Coronado, aware that his uncle was insolvent in reality, and that his estate when settled would not show the residuum of a dollar.
"If the fortune of Munoz comes to me, I shall be very rich."
"When you get it."
"Listen to me, Carlos. Is there no way of getting it?"
As the two men stared at each other they were horrible. The uncle was always horrible; he was one of the very ugliest of Spaniards; he was a brutal caricature of the national type. He had a low forehead, round face, bulbous nose, shaking fat cheeks, insignificant chin, and only one eye, a black and sleepy orb, which seemed to crawl like a snake. His exceedingly dark skin was made darker by a singular bluish tinge which resulted from heavy doses of nitrate of silver, taken as a remedy for epilepsy. His face was, moreover, mottled with dusky spots, so that he reminded the spectator of a frog or a toad. Just now he looked nothing less than poisonous; the hungriest of cannibals would not have dared eat him.
"I am ruined," he went on groaning. "The war, the Yankees, the Apaches, the devil—I am completely ruined. In another year I shall be sold out. Then, my dear Carlos, you will have no home."
"Sangre de Dios!" growled Coronado. "Do you want to drive me to the devil?
"O God! to force an old man to such an extremity!" continued Garcia. "It is more than an old man is fitted to strive with. An old man—an old, sick, worn-out man!"
"You are sure about the will?" demanded the nephew.
"I have a copy of it," said Garcia, eagerly. "Here it is. Read it. O Madre de Dios! there is no doubt about it. I can trust my lawyer. It all goes to her. It only comes to me if she dies childless and intestate."
"This is a horrible dilemma to force us into," observed Coronado, after he had read the paper.
"So it is," assented Garcia, looking at him with indescribable anxiety. "So it is; so it is. What is to be done?"
"Suppose I should marry her?"
The old man's countenance fell; he wanted to call his nephew a pig, a dog, and everything else that is villainous; but he restrained himself and merely whimpered, "It would be better than nothing. You could help me."
"There is little chance of it," said Coronado, seeing that the proposition was not approved. "She likes the American lieutenant much, and does not like me at all."
"Then—" began Garcia, and stopped there, trembling all over.
The venomous old toad made a supreme effort and whispered, "Suppose she should die?"
Coronado wheeled about, walked two or three times up and down the room, returned to where Garcia sat quivering, and murmured, "It must be done quickly."
"Yes, yes," gasped the old man. "She must—it must be childless and intestate."
"She must go off in some natural way," continued the nephew.
The uncle looked up with a vague hope in his one dusky and filmy eye.
"Perhaps the isthmus will do it for her."
Again the old man turned to an image of despair, as he mumbled, "O Madre de Dios! no, no. The isthmus is nothing."
"Is the overland route more dangerous?" asked Coronado.
"It might be made more dangerous. One gets lost in the desert. There are Apaches."
"It is a horrible business," growled Coronado, shaking his head and biting his lips.
"Oh, horrible, horrible!" groaned Garcia. "Munoz was a pig, and a dog, and a toad, and a snake."
"You old coward! can't you speak out?" hissed Coronado, losing his patience. "Do you want me both to devise and execute, while you take the purses? Tell me at once what your plan is."
"The overland route," whispered Garcia, shaking from head to foot. "You go with her. I pay—I pay everything. You shall have men, horses, mules, wagons, all you want."
"I shall want money, too. I shall need, perhaps, two thousand dollars. Apaches."
"Yes, yes," assented Garcia. "The Apaches make an attack. You shall have money. I can raise it; I will."
"How soon will you have a train ready?"
"Immediately. Any day you want. You must start at once. She must not know of the will. She might remain here, and let the estate be settled for her, and draw on it. She might go back to New York. Anybody would lend her money."
"Yes, events hurry us," muttered Coronado. "Well, get your cursed train ready. I will induce her to take it. I must unsay now all that I said in favor of the isthmus."
"Do be judicious," implored Garcia. "With judgment, with judgment. Lost on the plains. Stolen by Apaches. No killing. No scandals. O my God, how I hate scandals and uproars! I am an old man, Carlos. With judgment, with judgment."
"I comprehend," responded Coronado, adding a long string of Spanish curses, most of them meant for his uncle.
That very day Coronado made a second call on Clara and her Aunt Maria, to retract, contradict, and disprove all that he had said in favor of the isthmus and against the overland route.
Although his visit was timed early in the evening, he found Lieutenant Thurstane already with the ladies. Instead of scowling at him, or crouching in conscious guilt before him, he made a cordial rush for his hand, smiled sweetly in his face, and offered him incense of gratitude.
"My dear Lieutenant, you are perfectly right," he said, in his fluent English. "The journey by the isthmus is not to be thought of. I have just seen a friend who has made it. Poisonous serpents in myriads. The most deadly climate in the world. Nearly everybody had the vomito; one-fifth died of it. You eat a little fruit; down you go on your back—dead in four hours. Then there are constant fights between the emigrants and the sullen, ferocious Indians of the isthmus. My poor friend never slept with his revolver out of his hand. I said to him, 'My dear fellow, it is cruel to rejoice in your misfortunes, but I am heartily glad that I have heard of them. You have saved the life of the most remarkable woman that I ever knew, and of a cousin of mine who is the star of her sex.'"
Here Coronado made one bow to Mrs. Stanley and another to Clara, at the same time kissing his sallow hand enthusiastically to all creation. Aunt Maria tried to look stern at the compliment, but eventually thawed into a smile over it. Clara acknowledged it with a little wave of the hand, as if, coming from Coronado, it meant nothing more than good-morning, which indeed was just about his measure of it.
"Moreover," continued the Mexican, "overland route? Why, it is overland route both ways. If you go by the isthmus, you must traverse all Texas and Louisiana, at the very least. You might as well go at once to San Diego. In short, the route by the isthmus is not to be thought of."
"And what of the overland route?" asked Mrs. Stanley.
"The overland route is the other," laughed Coronado.
"Yes, I know. We must take it, I suppose. But what is the last news about it? You spoke this morning of Indians, I believe. Not that I suppose they are very formidable."
"The overland route does not lead directly through paradise, my dear Mrs. Stanley," admitted Coronado with insinuating candor. "But it is not as bad as has been represented. I have never tried it. I must rely upon the report of others. Well, on learning that the isthmus would not do for you, I rushed off immediately to inquire about the overland. I questioned Garcia's teamsters. I catechized some newly-arrived travellers. I pumped dry every source of information. The result is that the overland route will do. No suffering; absolutely none; not a bit. And no danger worth mentioning. The Apaches are under a cloud. Our American conquerors and fellow-citizens" (here he gently patted Thurstane on the shoulder-strap), "our Romans of the nineteenth century, they tranquillize the Apaches. A child might walk from here to Fort Yuma without risking its little scalp."
All this was said in the most light-hearted and airy manner conceivable. Coronado waved and floated on zephyrs of fancy and fluency. A butterfly or a humming-bird could not have talked more cheerily about flying over a parterre of flowers than he about traversing the North American desert. And, with all this frivolous, imponderable grace, what an accent of verity he had! He spoke of the teamsters as if he had actually conversed with them, and of the overland route as if he had been studiously gathering information concerning it.
"I believe that what you say about the Apaches is true," observed Thurstane, a bit awkwardly.
Coronado smiled, tossed him a little bow, and murmured in the most cordial, genial way, "And the rest?"
"I beg pardon," said the Lieutenant, reddening. "I didn't mean to cast doubt upon any of your statements, sir."
Thurstane had the army tone; he meant to be punctiliously polite; perhaps he was a little stiff in his politeness. But he was young, had had small practice in society, was somewhat hampered by modesty, and so sometimes made a blunder. Such things annoyed him excessively; a breach of etiquette seemed something like a breach of orders; hadn't meant to charge Coronado with drawing the long bow; couldn't help coloring about it. Didn't think much of Coronado, but stood somewhat in awe of him, as being four years older in time and a dozen years older in the ways of the world.
"I only meant to say," he continued, "that I have information concerning the Apaches which coincides with yours, sir. They are quiet, at least for the present. Indeed, I understand that Red Sleeve, or Manga Colorada, as you call him, is coming in with his band to make a treaty."
"Admirable!" cried Coronado. "Why not hire him to guarantee our safety? Set a thief to catch a thief. Why does not your Government do that sort of thing? Let the Apaches protect the emigrants, and the United States pay the Apaches. They would be the cheapest military force possible. That is the way the Turks manage the desert Arabs."
"Mr. Coronado, you ought to be Governor of New Mexico," said Aunt Maria, stricken with admiration at this project.
Thurstane looked at the two as if he considered them a couple of fools, each bigger than the other. Coronado advanced to Mrs. Stanley, took her hand, bowed over it, and murmured, "Let me have your influence at Washington, my dear Madame." The remarkable woman squirmed a little, fearing lest he should kiss her ringers, but nevertheless gave him a gracious smile.
"It strikes me, however," she said, "that the isthmus route is better. We know by experience that the journey from here to Bent's Fort is safe and easy. From there down the Arkansas and Missouri to St. Louis it is mostly water carriage; and from St. Louis you can sail anywhere."
Coronado was alarmed. He must put a stopper on this project. He called up all his resources.
"My dear Mrs. Stanley, allow me. Remember that emigrants move westward, and not eastward. Coming from Bent's Fort you had protection and company; but going towards it would be different. And then think what you would lose. The great American desert, as it is absurdly styled, is one of the most interesting regions on earth. Mrs. Stanley, did you ever hear of the Casas Grandes, the Casas de Montezuma, the ruined cities of New Mexico? In this so-called desert there was once an immense population. There was a civilization which rose, flourished, decayed, and disappeared without a historian. Nothing remains of it but the walls of its fortresses and palaces. Those you will see. They are wonderful. They are worth ten times the labor and danger which we shall encounter. Buildings eight hundred feet long by two hundred and fifty feet deep, Mrs. Stanley. The resting-places and wayside strongholds of the Aztecs on their route from the frozen North to found the Empire of the Montezumas! This whole region is strewn, and cumbered, and glorified with ruins. If we should go by the way of the San Juan—"
"The San Juan!" protested Thurstane. "Nobody goes by the way of the San Juan."
Coronado stopped, bowed, smiled, waited to see if Thurstane had finished, and then proceeded.
"Along the San Juan every hilltop is crowned with these monuments of antiquity. It is like the castled Rhine. Ruins looking in the faces of ruins. It is a tragedy in stone. It is like Niobe and her daughters. Moreover, if we take this route we shall pass the Moquis. The independent Moquis are a fragment of the ancient ruling race of New Mexico. They live in stone-built cities on lofty eminences. They weave blankets of exquisite patterns and colors, and produce a species of pottery which almost deserves the name of porcelain."
"Really, you ought to write all this," exclaimed Aunt Maria, her imagination fired to a white heat.
"I ought," said Coronado, impressively. "I owe it to these people to celebrate them in history. I owe them that much because of the name I bear. Did you ever hear of Coronado, the conqueror of New Mexico, the stormer of the seven cities of Cibola? It was he who gave the final shock to this antique civilization. He was the Cortes of this portion of the continent. I bear his name, and his blood runs in my veins."
He held down his head as if he were painfully oppressed by the sense of his crimes and responsibilities as a descendant of the waster of aboriginal New Mexico. Mrs. Stanley, delighted with his emotion, slily grasped and pressed his hand.
"Oh, man! man!" she groaned. "What evils has that creature man wrought in this beautiful world! Ah, Mr. Coronado, it would have been a very different planet had woman had her rightful share in the management of its affairs."
"Undoubtedly," sighed Coronado. He had already obtained an insight into this remarkable person's views on the woman question, the superiority of her own sex, the stolidity and infamy of the other. It was worth his while to humor her on this point, for the sake of gaining an influence over her, and so over Clara. Cheered by the success of his history, he now launched into pure poetry.
"Woman has done something," he said. "There is every reason to believe that the cities of the San Juan were ruled by queens, and that some of them were inhabited by a race of Amazons."
"Is it possible?" exclaimed Aunt Maria, flushing and rustling with interest.
"It is the opinion of the best antiquarians. It is my opinion. Nothing else can account for the exquisite earthenware which is found there. Women, you are aware, far surpass men in the arts of beauty. Moreover, the inscriptions on hieroglyphic rocks in these abandoned cities evidently refer to Amazons. There you see them doing the work of men—carrying on war, ruling conquered regions, founding cities. It is a picture of a golden age, Mrs. Stanley."
Aunt Maria meant to go by way of the San Juan, if she had to scalp Apaches herself in doing it.
"Lieutenant Thurstane, what do you say?" she asked, turning her sparkling eyes upon the officer.
"I must confess that I never heard of all these things," replied Thurstane, with an air which added, "And I don't believe in most of them."
"As for the San Juan route," he continued, "it is two hundred miles at least out of our way. The country is a desert and almost unexplored. I don't fancy the plan—I beg your pardon, Mr. Coronado—but I don't fancy it at all."
Aunt Maria despised him and almost hated him for his stupid, practical, unpoetic common sense.
"I must say that I quite fancy the San Juan route," she responded, with proper firmness.
"I venture to agree with you," said Coronado, as meekly as if her fancy were not of his own making. "Only a hundred miles off the straight line (begging your pardon, my dear Lieutenant), and through a country which is naturally fertile—witness the immense population which it once supported. As for its being unexplored, I have explored it myself; and I shall go with you."
"Shall you!" cried Aunt Maria, as if that made all safe and delightful.
"Yes. My excellent Uncle Garcia (good, kind-hearted old man) takes the strongest interest in this affair. He is resolved that his charming little relative here, La Senorita Clara, shall cross the continent in safety and comfort. He offers a special wagon train for the purpose, and insists that I shall accompany it. Of course I am only too delighted to obey him."
"Garcia is very good, and so are you, Coronado," said Clara, very thankful and profoundly astonished. "How can I ever repay you both? I shall always be your debtor."
"My dear cousin!" protested Coronado, bowing and smiling. "Well, it is settled. We will start as soon as may be. The train will be ready in a day or two."
"I have no money," stammered Clara. "The estate is not settled."
"Our good old Garcia has thought of everything. He will advance you what you want, and take your draft on the executors."
"Your uncle is one of nature's noblemen," affirmed Aunt Maria. "I must call on him and thank him for his goodness and generosity."
"Oh, never!" said Coronado. "He only waits your permission to visit you and pay you his humble respects. Absence has prevented him from attending to that delightful duty heretofore. He has but just returned from Albuquerque."
"Tell him I shall be glad to see him," smiled Aunt Maria. "But what does he say of the San Juan route?"
"He advises it. He has been in the overland trade for thirty years. He is tenderly interested in his relative Clara; and he advises her to go by way of the San Juan."
"Then so it shall be," declared Aunt Maria.
"And how do you go, Lieutenant?" asked Coronado, turning to Thurstane.
"I had thought of travelling with you," was the answer, delivered with a grave and troubled air, as if now he must give up his project.
Coronado was delighted. He had urged the northern and circuitous route mainly to get rid of the officer, taking it for granted that the latter must join his new command as soon as possible. He did not want him courting Clara all across the continent; and he, did not want him saving her from being lost, if it should become necessary to lose her.
"I earnestly hope that we shall not be deprived of your company," he said.
Thurstane, in profound thought, simply bowed his acknowledgments. A few minutes later, as he rose to return to his quarters, he said, with an air of solemn resolution, "If I can possibly go with you, I will."
All the next day and evening Coronado was in and out of the Van Diemen house. Had there been a mail for the ladies, he would have brought it to them; had it contained a letter from California, he would have abstracted and burnt it. He helped them pack for the journey; he made an inventory of the furniture and found storeroom for it; he was a valet and a spy in one. Meantime Garcia hurried up his train, and hired suitable muleteers for the animals and suitable assassins for the travellers. Thurstane was also busy, working all day and half of the night over his government accounts, so that he might if possible get off with Clara.
Coronado thought of making interest with the post-commandant to have Thurstane kept a few days in Santa Fe. But the post-commandant was a grim and taciturn old major, who looked him through and through with a pair of icy gray eyes, and returned brief answers to his musical commonplaces. Coronado did not see how he could humbug him, and concluded not to try it. The attempt might excite suspicion; the major might say, "How is this your business?" So, after a little unimportant tattle, Coronado made his best bow to the old fellow, and hurried off to oversee his so-called cousin.
In the evening he brought Garcia to call on the ladies. Aunt Maria was rather surprised and shocked to see such an excellent man look so much like an infamous scoundrel. "But good people are always plain," she reasoned; and so she was as cordial to him as one can be in English to a saint who understands nothing but Spanish. Garcia, instructed by Coronado, could not bow low enough nor smile greasily enough at Aunt Maria. His dull commonplaces moreover, were translated by his nephew into flowering compliments for the lady herself, and enthusiastic professions of faith in the superior intelligence and moral worth of all women. So the two got along famously, although neither ever knew what the other had really said.
When Clara appeared, Garcia bowed humbly without lifting his eyes to her face, and received her kiss without returning it, as one might receive the kiss of a corpse.
"Contemptible coward!" thought Coronado. Then, turning to Mrs. Stanley, he whispered, "My uncle is almost broken down with this parting."
"Excellent creature!" murmured Aunt Maria, surveying the old toad with warm sympathy. "What a pity he has lost one eye! It quite injures the benevolent expression of his face."
Although Garcia was very distantly connected with Clara, she gave him the title of uncle.
"How is this, my uncle?" she said, gaily. "You send your merchandise trains through Bernalillo, and you send me through Santa Anna and Rio Arriba."
Garcia, cowed and confounded, made no reply that was comprehensible.
"It is a newly discovered route," put in Coronado, "lately found to be easier and safer than the old one. Two hundred and fifty years in learning the fact, Mrs. Stanley! Just as we were two hundred and fifty years without discovering the gold of California."
"Ah!" said Clara. Absent since her childhood from New Mexico, she knew little about its geography, and could be easily deceived.
After a while Thurstane entered, out of breath and red with haste. He had stolen ten minutes from his accounts and stores to bring Miss Van Diemen a piece of information which was to him important and distressing.
"I fear that I shall not be able to go with you," he said. "I have received orders to wait for a sergeant and three recruits who have been assigned to my company. The messenger reports that they are on the march from Fort Bent with an emigrant train, and will not be here for a week. It annoys me horribly, Miss Van Diemen. I thought I saw my way clear to be of your party. I assure you I earnestly desired it. This route—I am afraid of it—I wanted to be with you."
"To protect me?" queried Clara, her face lighting up with a grateful smile, so innocent and frank was she. Then she turned grave, again, and added, "I am sorry."
Thankful for these last words, but nevertheless quite miserable, the youngster worshipped her and trembled for her.
This conversation had been carried on in a quiet tone, so that the others of the party had not overheard it, not even the watchful Coronado.
"It is too unfortunate," said Clara, turning to them, "Lieutenant Thurstane cannot go with us."
Garcia and Coronado exchanged a look which said, "Thank—the devil!"
The next day brought news of an obstacle to the march of the wagon train through Santa Anna and Rio Arriba.
It was reported that the audacious and savage Apache chieftain, Manga Colorada, or Red Sleeve, under pretence of wanting to make a treaty with the Americans, had approached within sixty miles of Santa Fe to the west, and camped there, on the route to the San Juan country, not making treaties at all, but simply making hot beefsteaks out of Mexican cattle and cold carcasses out of Mexican rancheros.
"We shall have to get those fellows off that trail and put them across the Bernalillo route," said Coronado to Garcia.
"The pigs! the dogs! the wicked beasts! the devils!" barked the old man, dancing about the room in a rage. After a while he dropped breathless into a chair and looked eagerly at his nephew for help.
"It will cost at least another thousand," observed the younger man.
"You have had two thousand," shuddered Garcia. "You were to do the whole accursed job with that."
"I did not count on Manga Colorada. Besides, I have given a thousand to our little cousin. I must keep a thousand to meet the chances that may come. There are men to be bribed."
Garcia groaned, hesitated, decided, went to some hoard which he had put aside for great needs, counted out a hundred American eagles, toyed with them, wept over them, and brought them to Coronado.
"Will that do?" he asked. "It must do. There is no more."
"I will try with that," said the nephew. "Now let me have a few good men and your best horses. I want to see them all before I trust myself with them."
Coronado felt himself in a position to dictate, and it was curious to see how quick he put on magisterial airs; he was one of those who enjoy authority, though little and brief.
"Accursed beast!" thought Garcia, who did not dare just now to break out with his "pig, dog," etc. "He wants me to pay everything. The thousand ought to be enough for men and horses and all. Why not poison the girl at once, and save all this money? If he had the spirit of a man! O Madre de Dios! Madre de Dios! What extremities! what extremities!"
But Garcia was like a good many of us; his thoughts were worse than his deeds and words. While he was cogitating thus savagely, he was saying aloud, "My son, my dear Carlos, come and choose for yourself."
Turning into the court of the house, they strolled through a medley of wagons, mules, horses, merchandise, muleteers, teamsters, idlers, white men and Indians. Coronado soon picked out a couple of rancheros whom he knew as capital riders, fair marksmen, faithful and intelligent. Next his eye fell upon a man in Mexican clothing, almost as dark and dirty too as the ordinary Mexican, but whose height, size, insolence of carriage, and ferocity of expression marked him as of another and more pugnacious, more imperial race.
"You are an American," said Coronado, in his civil manner, for he had two manners as opposite as the poles.
"I be," replied the stranger, staring at Coronado as a Lombard or Frankish warrior might have stared at an effeminate and diminutive Roman.
"May I ask what your name is?"
"Some folks call me Texas Smith."
Coronado shifted uneasily on his feet, as a man might shift in presence of a tiger, who, as he feared, was insufficiently chained. He was face to face with a fellow who was as much the terror of the table-land, from the borders of Texas to California, as if he had been an Apache chief.
This noted desperado, although not more than twenty-six or seven years old, had the horrible fame of a score of murders. His appearance mated well with his frightful history and reputation. His intensely black eyes, blacker even than the eyes of Coronado, had a stare of absolutely indescribable ferocity. It was more ferocious than the merely brutal glare of a tiger; it was an intentional malignity, super-beastly and sub-human. They were eyes which no other man ever looked into and afterward forgot. His sunburnt, sallow, haggard, ghastly face, stained early and for life with the corpse-like coloring of malarious fevers, was a fit setting for such optics. Although it was nearly oval in contour, and although the features were or had been fairly regular, yet it was so marked by hard, and one might almost say fleshless muscles, and so brutalized by long indulgence in savage passions, that it struck you as frightfully ugly. A large dull-red scar on the right jaw and another across the left cheek added the final touches to this countenance of a cougar.
"He is my man," whispered Garcia to Coronado. "I have hired him for the great adventure. Sixty piastres a month. Why not take him with you to-day?"
Coronado gave another glance at the gladiator and meditated. Should he trust this beast of a Texan to guard him against those other beasts, the Apaches? Well, he could die but once; this whole affair was detestably risky; he must not lose time in shuddering over the first steps.
"Mr. Smith," he said, "very glad to know that you are with us. Can you start in an hour for the camp of Manga Colorada? Sixty miles there. We must be back by to-morrow night. It would be best not to say where we are going."
Texas Smith nodded, turned abruptly on the huge heels of his Mexican boots, stalked to where his horse was fastened, and began to saddle him.
"My dear uncle, why didn't you hire the devil?" whispered Coronado as he stared after the cutthroat.
"Get yourself ready, my nephew," was Garcia's reply. "I will see to the men and horses."
In an hour the expedition was off at full gallop. Coronado had laid aside his American dandy raiment, and was in the full costume of a Mexican of the provinces—broad-brimmed hat of white straw, blue broadcloth jacket adorned with numerous small silver buttons, velvet vest of similar splendor, blue trousers slashed from the knee downwards and gay with buttons, high, loose embroidered boots of crimson leather, long steel spurs jingling and shining. The change became him; he seemed a larger and handsomer man for it; he looked the caballero and almost the hidalgo.
Three hours took the party thirty miles to a hacienda of Garcia's, where they changed horses, leaving their first mounting for the return. After half an hour for dinner, they pushed on again, always at a gallop, the hoofs clattering over the hard, yellow, sunbaked earth, or dashing recklessly along smooth sheets of rock, or through fields of loose, slippery stones. Rare halts to breathe the animals; then the steady, tearing gallop again; no walking or other leisurely gait. Coronado led the way and hastened the pace. There was no tiring him; his thin, sinewy, sun-hardened frame could bear enormous fatigue; moreover, the saddle was so familiar to him that he almost reposed in it. If he had needed physical support, he would have found it in his mental energy. He was capable of that executive furor, that intense passion of exertion, which the man of Latin race can exhibit when he has once fairly set himself to an enterprise. He was of the breed which in nobler days had produced Gonsalvo, Cortes, Pizarro, and Darien.
These riders had set out at ten o'clock in the morning; at five in the afternoon they drew bridle in sight of the Apache encampment. They were on the brow of a stony hill: a pile of bare, gray, glaring, treeless, herbless layers of rock; a pyramid truncated near its base, but still of majestic altitude; one of the pyramids of nature in that region; in short, a butte. Below them lay a valley of six or eight miles in length by one or two in breadth, through the centre of which a rivulet had drawn a paradise of verdure. In the middle of the valley, at the head of a bend in the rivulet, was a camp of human brutes. It was a bivouac rather than a camp. The large tents of bison hide used by the northern Indians are unknown to the Apaches; they have not the bison, and they have less need of shelter in winter. What Coronado saw at this distance was, a few huts of branches, a strolling of many horses, and some scattered riders.
Texas Smith gave him a glance of inquiry which said, "Shall we go ahead—or fire?"
Coronado spurred his horse down the rough, disjointed, slippery declivity, and the others followed. They were soon perceived; the Apache swarm was instantly in a buzz; horses were saddled and mounted, or mounted without saddling; there was a consultation, and then a wild dash toward the travellers. As the two parties neared each other at a gallop, Coronado rode to the front of his squad, waving his sombrero. An Indian who wore the dress of a Mexican caballero, jacket, loose trousers, hat, and boots, spurred in like manner to the front, gestured to his followers to halt, brought his horse to a walk, and slowly approached the white man. Coronado made a sign to show that his pistols were in his holsters; and the Apache responded by dropping his lance and slinging his bow over his shoulder. The two met midway between the two squads of staring, silent horsemen.
"Is it Manga Colorada?" asked the Mexican, in Spanish.
"Manga Colorada," replied the Apache, his long, dark, haggard, savage face lighting up for a moment with a smile of gratified vanity.
"I come in peace, then," said Coronado. "I want your help; I will pay for it."
In our account of this interview we shall translate the broken Spanish of the Indian into ordinary English.
"Manga Colorada will help," he said, "if the pay is good."
Even during this short dialogue the Apaches had with difficulty restrained their curiosity; and their little wiry horses were now caracoling, rearing, and plunging in close proximity to the two speakers.
"We will talk of this by ourselves," said Coronado. "Let us go to your camp."
The conjoint movement of the leaders toward the Indian bivouac was a signal for their followers to mingle and exchange greetings. The adventurers were enveloped and very nearly ridden down by over two hundred prancing, screaming horsemen, shouting to their visitors in their own guttural tongue or in broken Spanish, and enforcing their wild speech with vehement gestures. It was a pandemonium which horribly frightened the Mexican rancheros, and made Coronado's dark cheek turn to an ashy yellow.
The civilized imagination can hardly conceive such a tableau of savagery as that presented by these Arabs of the great American desert. Arabs! The similitude is a calumny on the descendants of Ishmael; the fiercest Bedouin are refined and mild compared with the Apaches. Even the brutal and criminal classes of civilization, the pugilists, roughs, burglars, and pickpockets of our large cities, the men whose daily life is rebellion against conscience, commandment, and justice, offer a gentler and nobler type of character and expression than these "children of nature." There was hardly a face among that gang of wild riders which did not outdo the face of Texas Smith in degraded ferocity. Almost every man and boy was obviously a liar, a thief, and a murderer. The air of beastly cruelty was made even more hateful by an air of beastly cunning. Taking color, brutality, grotesqueness, and filth together, it seemed as if here were a mob of those malignant and ill-favored devils whom Dante has described and the art of his age has painted and sculptured.
It is possible, by the way, that this appearance of moral ugliness was due in part to the physical ugliness of features, which were nearly without exception coarse, irregular, exaggerated, grotesque, and in some cases more like hideous masks than like faces.
Ferocity of expression was further enhanced by poverty and squalor. The mass of this fierce cavalry was wretchedly clothed and disgustingly dirty. Even the showy Mexican costume of Manga Colorada was ripped, frayed, stained with grease and perspiration, and not free from sombre spots which looked like blood. Every one wore the breech-cloth, in some cases nicely fitted and sewed, in others nothing but a shapeless piece of deerskin tied on anyhow. There were a few, either minor chiefs, or leading braves, or professional dandies (for this class exists among the Indians), who sported something like a full Apache costume, consisting of a helmet-shaped cap with a plume of feathers, a blanket or serape flying loose from the shoulders, a shirt and breech-cloth, and a pair of long boots, made large and loose in the Mexican style and showy with dyeing and embroidery. These boots, very necessary to men who must ride through thorns and bushes, were either drawn up so as to cover the thighs or turned over from the knee downward, like the leg-covering of Rupert's cavaliers. Many heads were bare, or merely shielded by wreaths of grasses and leaves, the greenery contrasting fantastically with the unkempt hair and fierce faces, but producing at a distance an effect which was not without sylvan grace.
The only weapons were iron-tipped lances eight or nine feet long, thick and strong bows of three or three and a half feet, and quivers of arrows slung across the thigh or over the shoulder. The Apaches make little use of firearms, being too lazy or too stupid to keep them in order, and finding it difficult to get ammunition. But so long as they have to fight only the unwarlike Mexicans, they are none the worse for this lack. The Mexicans fly at the first yell; the Apaches ride after them and lance them in the back; clumsy escopetos drop loaded from the hands of dying cowards. Such are the battles of New Mexico. It is only when these red-skinned Tartars meet Americans or such high-spirited Indians as the Opates that they have to recoil before gunpowder. [Footnote: Since those times the Apaches have learned to use firearms.]
The fact that Coronado dared ride into this camp of thieving assassins shows what risks he could force himself to run when he thought it necessary. He was not physically a very brave man; he had no pugnacity and no adventurous love of danger for its own sake; but when he was resolved on an enterprise, he could go through with it.
There was a rest of several hours. The rancheros fed the horses on corn which they had brought in small sacks. Texas Smith kept watch, suffered no Apache to touch him, had his pistols always cocked, and stood ready to sell life at the highest price. Coronado walked deliberately to a retired spot with Manga Colorada, Delgadito, and two other chiefs, and made known his propositions. What he desired was that the Apaches should quit their present post immediately, perform a forced march of a hundred and forty miles or so to the southwest, place themselves across the overland trail through Bernalillo, and do something to alarm people. No great harm; he did not want men murdered nor houses burned; they might eat a few cattle, if they were hungry: there were plenty of cattle, and Apaches must live. And if they should yell at a train or so and stampede the loose mules, he had no objection. But no slaughtering; he wanted them to be merciful: just make a pretence of harrying in Bernalillo; nothing more.
The chiefs turned their ill-favored countenances on each other, and talked for a while in their own language. Then, looking at Coronado, they grunted, nodded, and sat in silence, waiting for his terms.
"Send that boy away," said the Mexican, pointing to a youth of twelve or fourteen, better dressed than most Apache urchins, who had joined the little circle.
"It is my son," replied Manga Colorada. "He is learning to be a chief."
The boy stood upright, facing the group with dignity, a handsomer youth than is often seen among his people. Coronado, who had something of the artist in him, was so interested in noting the lad's regular features and tragic firmness of expression, that for a moment he forgot his projects. Manga Colorada, mistaking the cause of his silence, encouraged him to proceed.
"My son does not speak Spanish," he said. "He will not understand."
"You know what money is?" inquired the Mexican.
"Yes, we know," grunted the chief.
"You can buy clothes and arms with it in the villages, and aguardiente."
Another grunt of assent and satisfaction.
"Three hundred piastres," said Coronado.
The chiefs consulted in their own tongue, and then replied, "The way is long."
Manga Colorada held up five fingers.
A unanimous grunt.
"It is all I have," said Coronado.
The chiefs made no reply.
Coronado rose, walked to his horse, took two small packages out of his saddle-bags and slipped them slily into his boots, and then carried the bags to where the chiefs sat in council. There he held them up and rolled out five rouleaux, each containing a hundred Mexican dollars. The Indians tore open the envelopes, stared at the broad pieces, fingered them, jingled them together, and uttered grunts of amazement and joy. Probably they had never before seen so much money, at least not in their own possession. Coronado was hardly less content; for while he had received a thousand dollars to bring about this understanding, he had risked but seven hundred with him, and of these he had saved two hundred.
Four hours later the camp had vanished, and the Indians were on their way toward the southwest, the moonlight showing their irregular column of march, and glinting faintly from the heads of their lances.
At nine or ten in the evening, when every Apache had disappeared, and the clatter of ponies had gone far away into the quiet night, Coronado lay down to rest. He would have started homeward, but the country was a complete desert, the trail led here and there over vast sheets of trackless rock, and he feared that he might lose his way. Texas Smith and one of the rancheros had ridden after the Apaches to see whether they kept the direction which had been agreed upon. One ranchero was slumbering already, and the third crouched as sentinel.
Coronado could not sleep at once. He thought over his enterprise, cross-examined his chances of success, studied the invisible courses of the future. Leave Clara on the plains, to be butchered by Indians, or to die of starvation? He hardly considered the idea; it was horrible and repulsive; better marry her. If necessary, force her into a marriage; he could bring it about somehow; she would be much in his power. Well, he had got rid of Thurstane; that was a great obstacle removed. Probably, that fellow being out of sight, he, Coronado, could soon eclipse him in the girl's estimation. There would be no need of violence; all would go easily and end in prosperity. Garcia would be furious at the marriage, but Garcia was a fool to expect any other result.
However, here he was, just at the beginning of things, and by no means safe from danger. He had two hundred dollars in his boot-legs. Had his rancheros suspected it? Would they murder him for the money? He hoped not; he just faintly hoped not; for he was becoming very sleepy; he was asleep.
He was awakened by a noise, or perhaps it was a touch, he scarcely knew what. He struggled as fiercely and vainly as one who fights against a nightmare. A dark form was over him, a hard knee was on his breast, hard knuckles were at his throat, an arm was raised to strike, a weapon was gleaming.
On the threshold of his enterprise, after he had taken its first hazardous step with safety and success, Coronado found himself at the point of death.
When Coronado regained a portion of the senses which had been throttled out of him, he discovered Texas Smith standing by his side, and two dead men lying near, all rather vaguely seen at first through his dizziness and the moonlight.
"What does this mean?" he gasped, getting on his hands and knees, and then on his feet. "Who has been assassinating?"
The borderer, who, instead of helping his employer to rise, was coolly reloading his rifle, did not immediately reply. As the shaken and somewhat unmanned Coronado looked at him, he was afraid of him. The moonlight made Smith's sallow, disfigured face so much more ghastly than usual, that he had the air of a ghoul or vampyre. And when, after carefully capping his piece, he drawled forth the word "Patchies," his harsh, croaking voice had an unwholesome, unhuman sound, as if it were indeed the utterance of a feeder upon corpses.
"Apaches!" said Coronado. "What! after I had made a treaty with them?"
"This un is a 'Patchie," remarked Texas, giving the nearest body a shove with his boot. "Thar was two of 'em. They knifed one of your men. T'other cleared, he did. I was comin' in afoot. I had a notion of suthin' goin' on, 'n' left the critters out thar, with the rancheros, 'n' stole in. Got in just in time to pop the cuss that had you. T'other un vamosed."
"Oh, the villains!" shrieked Coronado, excited at the thought of his narrow escape. "This is the way they keep their treaties."
"Mought be these a'n't the same," observed Texas. "Some 'Patchies is wild, 'n' live separate, like bachelor beavers."
Coronado stooped and examined the dead Indian. He was a miserable object, naked, except a ragged, filthy breech-clout, his figure gaunt, and his legs absolutely scaly with dirt, starvation, and hard living of all sorts. He might well be one of those outcasts who are in disfavor with their savage brethren, lead a precarious existence outside of the tribal organization, and are to the Apaches what the Texas Smiths are to decent Americans.
"One of the bachelor-beaver sort, you bet," continued Texas. "Don't run with the rest of the crowd."
"And there's that infernal coward of a ranchero," cried Coronado, as the runaway sentry sneaked back to the group. "You cursed poltroon, why didn't you give the alarm? Why didn't you fight?"
He struck the man, pulled his long hair, threw him down, kicked him, and spat on him. Texas Smith looked on with an approving grin, and suggested, "Better shute the dam cuss."
But Coronado was not bloodthirsty; having vented his spite, he let the fellow go. "You saved my life," he said to Texas. "When we get back you shall be paid for it."
At the moment he intended to present him with the two hundred dollars which were cumbering his boots. But by the time they had reached Garcia's hacienda on the way back to Santa Fe, his gratitude had fallen off seventy-five per cent, and he thought fifty enough. Even that diminished his profits on the expedition to four hundred and fifty dollars. And Coronado, although extravagant, was not generous; he liked to spend money, but he hated to give it or pay it.
During the four days which immediately followed his safe return to Santa Fe, he and Garcia were in a worry of anxiety. Would Manga Colorada fulfil his contract and cast a shadow of peril over the Bernalillo route? Would letters or messengers arrive from California, informing Clara of the death and will of Munoz? Everything happened as they wished; reports came that the Apaches were raiding in Bernalillo; the girl received no news concerning her grandfather. Coronado, smiling with success and hope, met Thurstane at the Van Diemen house, in the presence of Clara and Aunt Maria, and blandly triumphed over him.
"How now about your safe road through the southern counties?" he said. "Apaches!"
"So I hear," replied the young officer soberly. "It is horribly unlucky."
"We start to-morrow," added Coronado.
"To-morrow!" replied Thurstane, with a look of dismay.
"I hope you will be with us," said Coronado.
"Everything goes wrong," exclaimed the annoyed lieutenant. "Here are some of my stores damaged, and I have had to ask for a board of survey. I couldn't possibly leave for two days yet, even if my recruits should arrive."
"How very unfortunate!" groaned Coronado. "My dear fellow, we had counted on you."
"Lieutenant Thurstane, can't you overtake us?" inquired Clara.
Thurstane wanted to kneel down and thank her, while Coronado wanted to throw something at her.
"I will try," promised the officer, his fine, frank, manly face brightening with pleasure. "If the thing can be done, it will be done."
Coronado, while hoping that he would be ordered by the southern route, or that he would somehow break his neck, had the superfine brass to say, "Don't fail us, Lieutenant."
In spite of the managements of the Mexican to keep Clara and Thurstane apart, the latter succeeded in getting an aside with the young lady.
"So you take the northern trail?" he said, with a seriousness which gave his blue-black eyes an expression of almost painful pathos. Those eyes were traitors; however discreet the rest of his face might be, they revealed his feelings; they were altogether too pathetic to be in the head of a man and an officer.
"But you will overtake us," Clara replied, out of a charming faith that with men all things are possible.
"Yes," he said, almost fiercely.
"Besides, Coronado knows," she added, still trusting in the male being. "He says this is the surest road."
Thurstane did not believe it, but he did not want to alarm her when alarm was useless, and he made no comment.
"I have a great mind to resign," he presently broke out.
Clara colored; she did not fully understand him, but she guessed that all this emotion was somehow on her account; and a surprised, warm Spanish heart beat at once its alarm.
"It would be of no use," he immediately added. "I couldn't get away until my resignation had been accepted. I must bear this as well as I can."
The young lady began to like him better than ever before, and yet she began to draw gently away from him, frightened by a consciousness of her liking.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Van Diemen," said Thurstane, in an inexplicable confusion.
"There is no need," replied Clara, equally confused.
"Well," he resumed, after a struggle to regain his self-control, "I will do my utmost to overtake you."
"We shall be very glad," returned Clara, with a singular mixture of consciousness and artlessness.
There was an exquisite innocence and almost childish simplicity in this girl of eighteen. It was, so to speak, not quite civilized; it was not in the style of American young ladies; our officer had never, at home, observed anything like it; and, of course—O yes, of course, it fascinated him. The truth is, he was so far gone in loving her that he would have been charmed by her ways no matter what they might have been.
On the very morning after the above dialogue Garcia's train started for Rio Arriba, taking with it a girl who had been singled out for a marriage which she did not guess, or for a death whose horrors were beyond her wildest fears.
The train consisted of six long and heavy covered vehicles, not dissimilar in size, strength, and build to army wagons. Garcia had thought that two would suffice; six wagons, with their mules, etc., were a small fortune: what if the Apaches should take them? But Coronado had replied: "Nobody sends a train of two wagons; do you want to rouse suspicion?"
So there were six; and each had a driver and a muleteer, making twelve hired men thus far. On horseback, there were six Mexicans, nominally cattle-drivers going to California, but really guards for the expedition—the most courageous bullies that could be picked up in Santa Fe, each armed with pistols and a rifle. Finally, there were Coronado and his terrible henchman, Texas Smith, with their rifles and revolvers. Old Garcia perspired with anguish as he looked over his caravan, and figured up the cost in his head.
Thurstane, wretched at heart, but with a cheering smile on his lips, came to bid the ladies farewell.
"What do you think of this?" Aunt Maria called to him from her seat in one of the covered wagons. "We are going a thousand miles through deserts and savages. You men suppose that women have no courage. I call this heroism."
"Certainly," nodded the young fellow, not thinking of her at all, unless it was that she was next door to an idiot.
Although his mind was so full of Clara that it did not seem as if he could receive an impression from any other human being, his attention was for a moment arrested by a countenance which struck him as being more ferocious than he had ever seen before except on the shoulders of an Apache. A tall man in Mexican costume, with a scar on his chin and another on his cheek, was glaring at him with two intensely black and savage eyes. It was Texas Smith, taking the measure of Thurstane's fighting power and disposition. A hint from Coronado had warned the borderer that here was a person whom it might be necessary some day to get rid of. The officer responded to this ferocious gaze with a grim, imperious stare, such as one is apt to acquire amid the responsibilities and dangers of army life. It was like a wolf and a mastiff surveying each other.
Thurstane advanced to Clara, helped her into her saddle, and held her hand while he urged her to be careful of herself, never to wander from the train, never to be alone, etc. The girl turned a little pale; it was not exactly because of his anxious manner; it was because of the eloquence that there is in a word of parting. At the moment she felt so alone in the world, in such womanish need of sympathy, that had he whispered to her, "Be my wife," she might have reached out her hands to him. But Thurstane was far from guessing that an angel could have such weak impulses; and he no more thought of proposing to her thus abruptly than of ascending off-hand into heaven.
Coronado observed the scene, and guessing how perilous the moment was, pushed forward his uncle to say good-by to Clara. The old scoundrel kissed her hand; he did not dare to lift his one eye to her face; he kissed her hand and bowed himself out of reach.
"Farewell, Mr. Garcia," called Aunt Maria. "Poor, excellent old creature! What a pity he can't understand English! I should so like to say something nice to him. Farewell, Mr. Garcia."
Garcia kissed his fat fingers to her, took off his sombrero, waved it, bowed a dozen times, and smiled like a scared devil. Then, with other good-bys, delivered right and left from everybody to everybody, the train rumbled away. Thurstane was about to accompany it out of the town when his clerk came to tell him that the board of survey required his immediate presence. Cursing his hard fate, and wishing himself anything but an officer in the army, he waved a last farewell to Clara, and turned his back on her, perhaps forever.
Santa Fe is situated on the great central plateau of North America, seven thousand feet above the level of the sea. Around it spreads an arid plain, sloping slightly where it approaches the Rio Grande, and bordered by mountains which toward the south are of moderate height, while toward the north they rise into fine peaks, glorious with eternal snow. Although the city is in the latitude of Albemarle Sound, North Carolina, its elevation and its neighborhood to Alpine ranges give it a climate which is in the main cool, equable, and healthy.
The expedition moved across the plain in a southwesterly direction. Coronado's intention was to cross the Rio Grande at Pena Blanca, skirt the southern edge of the Jemez Mountains, reach San Isidoro, and then march northward toward the San Juan region. The wagons were well fitted out with mules, and as Garcia had not chosen to send much merchandise by this risky route, they were light, so that the rate of progress was unusually rapid. We cannot trouble ourselves with the minor incidents of the journey. Taking it for granted that the Rio Grande was passed, that halts were made, meals cooked and eaten, nights passed in sleep, days in pleasant and picturesque travelling, we will leap into the desert land beyond San Isidoro.
The train was now seventy-five miles from Santa Fe. Coronado had so pushed the pace that he had made this distance in the rather remarkable time of three days. Of course his object in thus hurrying was to get so far ahead of Thurstane that the latter would not try to overtake him, or would get lost in attempting it.
Meanwhile he had not forgotten Garcia's little plan, and he had even better remembered his own. The time might come when he would be driven to lose Clara; it was very shocking to think of, however, and so for the present he did not think of it; on the contrary, he worked hard (much as he hated work) at courting her.
It is strange that so many men who are morally in a state of decomposition should be, or at least can be, sweet and charming in manner. During these three days Coronado was delightful; and not merely in this, that he watched over Clara's comfort, rode a great deal by her side, gathered wild flowers for her, talked much and agreeably; but also in that he poured oil over his whole conduct, and was good to everybody. Although his natural disposition was to be domineering to inferiors and irascible under the small provocations of life, he now gave his orders in a gentle tone, never stormed at the drivers for their blunders, made light of the bad cooking, and was in short a model for travellers, lovers, and husbands. Few human beings have so much self-control as Coronado, and so little. So long as it was policy to be sweet, he could generally be a very honeycomb; but once a certain limit of patience passed, he was like a swarm of angry bees; he became blind, mad, and poisonous with passion.
"Mr. Coronado, you are a wonder," proclaimed the admiring Aunt Maria. "You are the only man I ever knew that was patient."
"I catch a grace from those who have it abundantly and to spare," said Coronado, taking off his hat and waving it at the two ladies.
"Ah, yes, we women know how to be patient," smiled Aunt Maria. "I think we are born so. But, more than that, we learn it. Moreover, our physical nature teaches us. We have lessons of pain and weakness that men know nothing of. The great, healthy savages! If they had our troubles, they might have some of our virtues."
"I refuse to believe it," cried Coronado. "Man acquire woman's worth? Never! The nature of the beast is inferior. He is not fashioned to become an angel."
"How charmingly candid and humble!" thought Aunt Maria. "How different from that sulky, proud Thurstane, who never says anything of the sort, and never thinks it either, I'll be bound."
All this sort of talk passed over Clara as a desert wind passes over an oasis, bringing no pleasant songs of birds, and sowing no fruitful seed. She had her born ideas as to men and women, and she was seemingly incapable of receiving any others. In her mind men were strong and brave, and women weak and timorous; she believed that the first were good to hold on to, and that the last were good to hold on; all this she held by birthright, without ever reasoning upon it or caring to prove it.
Coronado, on his part, hooted in his soul at Mrs. Stanley's whimsies, and half supposed her to be of unsound mind. Nor would he have said what he did about the vast superiority of the female sex, had he supposed that Clara would attach the least weight to it. He knew that the girl looked upon his extravagant declarations as merely so many compliments paid to her eccentric relative, equivalent to bowings and scrapings and flourishes of the sombrero. Both Spaniards, they instinctively comprehended each other, at least in the surface matters of intercourse. Meanwhile the American strong-minded female understood herself, it is to be charitably hoped, but understood herself alone.
Coronado did not hurry his courtship, for he believed that he had a clear field before him, and he was too sagacious to startle Clara by overmuch energy. Meantime he began to be conscious that an influence from her was reaching his spirit. He had hitherto considered her a child; one day he suddenly recognized her as a woman. Now a woman, a beautiful woman especially, alone with one in the desert, is very mighty. Matches are made in trains overland as easily and quickly as on sea voyages or at quiet summer resorts. Coronado began—only moderately as yet—to fall in love.
But an ugly incident came to disturb his opening dream of affection, happiness, wealth, and success. Toward the close of his fourth day's march, after he had got well into the unsettled region beyond San Isidore, he discovered, several miles behind the train, a party of five horsemen. He was on one summit and they on another, with a deep, stony valley intervening. Without a moment's hesitation, he galloped down a long slope, rejoined the creeping wagons, hurried them forward a mile or so, and turned into a ravine for the night's halt.
Whether the cavaliers were Indians or Thurstane and his four recruits he had been unable to make out. They had not seen the train; the nature of the ground had prevented that. It was now past sundown, and darkness coming on rapidly. Whispering something about Apaches, he gave orders to lie close and light no fires for a while, trusting that the pursuers would pass his hiding place.
For a moment he thought of sending Texas Smith to ambush the party, and shoot Thurstane if he should be in it, pleading afterwards that the men looked, in the darkness, like Apaches. But no; this was an extreme measure; he revolted against it a little. Moreover, there was danger of retribution: settlements not so far off; soldiers still nearer.
So he lay quiet, chewing a bit of grass to allay his nervousness, and talking stronger love to Clara than he had yet thought needful or wise.
Lieutenant Thurstane passed the mouth of the ravine in the dusk of twilight, without guessing that it contained Clara Van Diemen and her perils.
He had with him Sergeant Weber of his own company, just returned from recruiting service at St. Louis, and three recruits for the company, Kelly, Shubert, and Sweeny.
Weber, a sunburnt German, with sandy eyelashes, blue eyes, and a scar on his cheek, had been a soldier from his eighteenth to his thirtieth year, and wore the serious, patient, much-enduring air peculiar to veterans. Kelly, an Irishman, also about thirty, slender in form and somewhat haggard in face, with the same quiet, contained, seasoned look to him, the same reminiscence of unavoidable sufferings silently borne, was also an old infantry man, having served in both the British and American armies. Shubert was an American lad, who had got tired of clerking it in an apothecary's shop, and had enlisted from a desire for adventure, as you might guess from his larkish countenance. Sweeny was a diminutive Paddy, hardly regulation height for the army, as light and lively as a monkey, and with much the air of one.
Thurstane had obtained orders from the post commandant to lead his party by the northern route, on condition that he would investigate and report as to its practicability for military and other transit. He had also been allowed to draw by requisition fifty days' rations, a box of ammunition, and four mules. Starting thirty-six hours after Coronado, he made in two days and a half the distance which the train had accomplished in four. Now he had overtaken his quarry, and in the obscurity had passed it.
But Sergeant Weber was an old hand on the Plains, and notwithstanding the darkness and the generally stony nature of the ground, he presently discovered that the fresh trail of the wagons was missing. Thurstane tried to retrace his steps, but starless night had already fallen thick around him, and before long he had to come to a halt. He was opposite the mouth of the ravine; he was within five hundred yards of Clara, and raging because he could not find her. Suddenly Coronado's cooking fires flickered through the gloom; in five minutes the two parties were together.
It was a joyous meeting to Thurstane and a disgusting one to Coronado. Nevertheless the latter rushed at the officer, grasped him by both hands, and shouted, "All hail, Lieutenant! So, there you are at last! My dear fellow, what a pleasure!"
"Yes, indeed, by Jove!" returned the young fellow, unusually boisterous in his joy, and shaking hands with everybody, not rejecting even muleteers. And then what throbbing, what adoration, what supernal delight, in the moment when he faced Clara.
In the morning the journey recommenced. As neither Thurstane nor Coronado had now any cause for hurry, the pace was moderate. The soldiers marched on foot, in order to leave the government mules no other load than the rations and ammunition, and so enable them to recover from their sharp push of over eighty miles. The party now consisted of twenty-five men, for the most part pretty well armed. Of the other sex there were, besides Mrs. Stanley and Clara, a half-breed girl named Pepita, who served as lady's maid, and two Indian women from Garcia's hacienda, whose specialties were cooking and washing. In all thirty persons, a nomadic village.
At the first halt Sergeant Weber approached Thurstane with a timorous air, saluted, and asked, "Leftenant, can we leafe our knabsacks in the vagons? The gentleman has gifen us bermission."
"The men ought to learn to carry their knapsacks," said Thurstane. "They will have to do it in serious service."
"It is drue, Leftenant," replied Weber, saluting again and moving off without a sign of disappointment.
"Let that man come back here," called Aunt Maria, who had overheard the dialogue. "Certainly they can put their loads in the wagons. I told Mr. Coronado to tell them so."
Weber looked at her without moving a muscle, and without showing either wonder or amusement. Thurstane could not help grinning good-naturedly as he said, "I receive your orders, Mrs. Stanley. Weber, you can put the knapsacks in the wagons."
Weber saluted anew, gave Mrs. Stanley a glance of gratitude, and went about his pleasant business. An old soldier is not in general so strict a disciplinarian as a young one.
"What a brute that Lieutenant is!" thought Aunt Maria. "Make those poor fellows carry those monstrous packs? Nonsense and tyranny! How different from Mr. Coronado! He fairly jumped at my idea."
Thurstane stepped over to Coronado and said, "You are very kind to relieve my men at the expense of your animals. I am much obliged to you."
"It is nothing," replied the Mexican, waving his hand graciously. "I am delighted to be of service, and to show myself a good citizen."
In fact, he had been quite willing to favor the soldiers; why not, so long as he could not get rid of them? If the Apaches would lance them all, including Thurstane, he would rejoice; but while that could not be, he might as well show himself civil and gain popularity. It was not Coronado's style to bark when there was no chance of biting.
He was in serious thought the while. How should he rid himself of this rival, this obstacle in the way of his well-laid plans, this interloper into his caravan? Must he call upon Texas Smith to assassinate the fellow? It was a disagreeably brutal solution of the difficulty, and moreover it might lead to loud suspicion and scandal, and finally it might be downright dangerous. There was such a thing as trial for murder and for conspiracy to effect murder. As to causing a United States officer to vanish quietly, as might perhaps be done with an ordinary American emigrant, that was too good a thing to be hoped. He must wait; he must have patience; he must trust to the future; perhaps some precipice would favor him; perhaps the wild Indians. He offered his cigaritos to Thurstane, and they smoked tranquilly in company.