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cold blood anyone who dares oppose him.
In the present instance, however, the passengers had been warned of their danger and were ready to meet it.
Brown--for, of course, the masked man was the landlord--saw four revolvers leveled at him from inside the stage.
"Let go that horse, my friend, or you are a dead man!" said Conrad Stiefel, calmly. "Two can play at your game."
Brown was taken by surprise, but he was destined to be still more astonished.
Col. Warner protruded his head from the window, saying:
"Yes, my friend, you had better give up your little plan. It won't work."
Such language from his confederate, on whom he fully relied, wholly disconcerted the masked robber.
"Well, I'll be blowed!" he muttered, staring, in ludicrous perplexity, at his fellow conspirator.
"Yes, my friend," said the colonel, "I shall really be under the necessity of shooting you myself if you don't leave us alone. We are all armed and resolute. I think you had better defer your little scheme."
Brown was not quick-witted. He did not see that his confederate was trying cunningly to avert suspicion from himself, and taking the only course that remained to him. Of course, he thought he was betrayed, and was, as a natural consequence, exasperated.
He released his hold on the horses, but, fixing his eyes on the colonel fiercely, muttered:
"Wait till I get a chance at you! I'll pay you for this."
"What an idiot!" thought Warner, shrugging his shoulders. "Why can't he see that I am forced to do as I am doing? I must make things plain to him."
He spoke a few words rapidly in Spanish, which Brown evidently understood. His face showed a dawning comprehension of the state of affairs, and he stood aside while the stage drove on.
"What did you say?" asked Conrad Stiefel, suspiciously.
"You heard me, sir," said the colonel, loftily. "You owe your rescue from this ruffian to me. Now, you can understand how much you have misjudged me."
Conrad Stiefel was not so easily satisfied of this.
"I heard what you said in Mexican, or whatever lingo it is, but I didn't understand it."
"Nor I," said Benson.
"Very well, gentlemen; I am ready to explain. I told this man that if he ever attempted to molest me I should shoot him in his track."
"Why didn't you speak to him in English?" asked Stiefel.
"Because I had a suspicion that the fellow was the same I met once in Mexico, and I spoke to him in Spanish to make sure. As he understood, I am convinced I was right."
"Who is it, then?" asked Benson.
"His name, sir, is Manuel de Cordova, a well-known Mexican bandit, who seems to have found his way to this neighborhood. He is a reckless desperado, and, though I addressed him boldly, I should be very sorry to meet him in a dark night."
This explanation was very fluently spoken, but probably no one present believed what the colonel said, or exonerated him from the charge which George Melville had made against him.
Five miles further on Col. Warner left the stage.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I am sorry to leave this pleasant company, but I have a mining claim in this neighborhood, and must bid you farewell. I trust that when you think of me hereafter, you will acquit me of the injurious charges which have been made against me. I take no credit to myself for driving away the ruffian who stopped us, but hope you won't forget it."
"No one interfered with the colonel when he proposed to leave the stage. Indeed, the passengers were unanimous in accepting his departure as a relief. In spite of his plausible representations, he was regarded with general suspicion.
"I wish I knew the meaning of that Spanish lingo," said the German, Conrad Stiefel.
"I can interpret it for you, Mr. Stiefel," said George Melville, quietly. "I have some knowledge of Spanish."
"What did he say?" asked more than one, eagerly.
"He said: 'You fool! Don't you see the plot has been discovered? It wasn't my fault. I will soon join you and explain.'"
This revelation made a sensation.
"Then he was in league with the road agent, after all?" said Parker.
"Certainly he was. Did you for a moment doubt it?" said Melville.
"I was staggered when I saw him order the rascal away."
"He is a shrewd villain!" said Benson. "I hope we shan't encounter him again."
THE CONSPIRATORS IN COUNCIL.
It is needless to say that Col. Warner's intention in leaving the stage was to join his fellow conspirator. There was no advantage in remaining longer with his fellow travelers, since the opportunity of plundering them had passed, and for the present was not likely to return. He had been a little apprehensive that they would try to detain him on suspicion, which would have been awkward, since they had numbers on their side, and all were armed. But in that unsettled country he would have been an elephant on their hands, and if the idea entered the minds of any one of the stage passengers, it was instantly dismissed.
When the stage was fairly on the way, Col. Warner went to a house where he was known, and asked for a horse.
"Any news, colonel?" asked the farmer, as he called himself. Really he was in league with the band of which Warner was the chief.
"No," answered the Colonel, gloomily. "No, worse luck! There might have been, but for an unfortunate circumstance."
"There's plenty of good money in that stage coach and Brown and I meant to have it, but some sharp-eared rascal heard us arranging the details of the plan, and that spoiled it."
"Is it too late now?" asked the farmer, eagerly. "We can follow them, and overtake them yet, if you say so."
"And be shot for our pains. No, thank you. They are all on the alert, and all have their six-shooters in readiness. No, we must postpone our plan. There's one of the fellows that I mean to be revenged upon yet--the one that ferreted out our secret plan. I must bide my time, but I shall keep track of him."
Soon the Colonel, well-mounted, was on his way back to the rude inn where he had slept the night before.
Dismounting he entered without ceremony, and his eyes fell upon the landlord's wife, engaged in some household employment.
"Where's Brown?" he asked, abruptly.
"Somewheres round," was the reply.
"How long has he been home?"
"A matter of two hours. He came home awfully riled, but he wouldn't tell me what it was about. What's happened?"
"We've met with a disappointment--that's what's the matter."
"Did the passengers get the better of you?" asked the woman, for she was in her husband's guilty secrets, and knew quite well what manner of man she had married.
"They found out our little game," answered Warner, shortly, for he did not see any advantage in wasting words on his confederate's wife. "Which way did Brown go?"
"Yonder," answered Mrs. Brown, pointing in a particular direction.
Col. Warner tied his horse to a small sapling, and walked in the direction indicated.
He found the landlord sullenly reclining beneath a large tree.
"So you're back?" he said, surveying Warner with a lowering brow.
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