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.