At the shout which Coronado uttered on seeing Texas Smith’s pistol aimed at Thurstane, the assassin turned his head, discovered the train, and, lowering his weapon, rode peacefully alongside of his intended victim.
Captain Phin Glover’s mule was found grazing behind the butte, in the midst of the gallant Captain’s dishevelled baggage, while the robbers had vanished by a magic which seemed quite natural in this scenery of grotesque marvels. They had unquestionably seen or heard their pursuers; but how had they got into the bowels of the earth to escape them?
Thurstane presently solved the mystery by pointing out three crouching figures on the flat cap of stone which surmounted the shales and marl of the butte. Bare feet and desperation of terror could alone explain how they had reached this impossible refuge. Texas Smith immediately consoled himself for his disappointment as to Thurstane by shooting two of these wretches before his hand could be stayed.
“They’re nothin’ but Injuns,” he said, with a savage glare, when the Lieutenant struck aside his revolver and called him a murdering brute.
The third skulker took advantage of the cessation of firing to tumble down from his perch and fly for his life. The indefatigable Smith broke away from Thurstane, dashed after the pitiful fugitive, leaned over him as he ran, and shot him dead.
“I have a great mind to blow your brains out, you beast,” roared the disgusted officer, who had followed closely. “I told you not to shoot that man.” And here he swore heartily, for which we must endeavor to forgive him, seeing that he belonged to the army.
Coronado interfered. “My dear Lieutenant! after all, they were robbers. They deserved punishment.” And so on.
Texas Smith looked less angry and more discomfited than might have been expected, considering his hardening life and ferocious nature.
“Didn’t s’p’ose you really keered much for the cuss,” he said, glancing respectfully at the imperious and angry face of the young officer.
“Well, never mind now,” growled Thurstane. “It’s done, and can’t be undone. But, by Jove, I do hate useless massacre. Fighting is another thing.”
Sheathing his fury, he rode off rapidly toward the wagons, followed in silence by the others. The three dead vagabonds (perhaps vagrants from the region of Abiquia) remained where they had fallen, one on the stony plain and two on the cap of the butte. The train, trending here toward the northwest, passed six hundred yards to the north of the scene of slaughter; and when Clara and Mrs. Stanley asked what had happened, Coronado told them with perfect glibness that the robbers had got away.
The rescued man, delighted at his escape and the recovery of his mule and luggage, returned thanks right and left, with a volubility which further acquaintance showed to be one of his characteristics. He was a profuse talker; ran a stream every time you looked at him; it was like turning on a mill-race.