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.