"We were planting our own corn and melons," said Alchise, "and making our own living. The agent at San Carlos never gave us any rations, but we didn't mind about that. We were taking care of ourselves. One day the agent—" He stopped and scowled at a squaw a few yards away, whose papoose was crying lustily. The squaw, having her attention thus called to the uproar of her offspring, drew from somewhere in the folds of her dirty wrappings a nursing-bottle, and putting the nipple in its mouth, hushed its cries. The chief went on: "One day the agent sent up and said that we must give up our own country and our corn patches, and go down there to the Agency to live. He sent Indian soldiers to seize our women and children, and drive us down to the hot land."
So he was near her again. She had not seen him in many months, but she had felt that he must be always,[Pg 109] as he had been through those days in the fastnesses of the Sierra Blanca, following her afar off, yet near enough to warn her, if need arose. She was too superstitious to watch him out of sight, and she turned back into the house, followed by Miss McLane, just as stable call sounded, and the white-clad soldiers tramped off to the corrals.
Cairness had been standing afar off, with his hands in his pockets, watching with a gleam of enjoyment under his knitted brows, but he began to see that there threatened to be more to this than mere baiting; that the desperado was growing uglier as the parson grew more firmly urbane. He drew near his small travelling companion and took his hands suddenly from his pockets, as the cow-boy whipped out a brace of six-shooters and pointed them at the hat. She asked him about her father and mother. Going[Pg 53] back to his chair he told her everything that he knew, save only the manner of Cabot's death. "Then I took you to Yuma," he finished, "and from there to the East, via Panama." There was a pause. And then came the question he had most dreaded.
"You're right, I don't. You're as thick-headed as all the rest of them." "For destruction of government property," Cairness told her, and there was just the faintest twinkle between his lids. "I didn't know all these interesting details about the Kirbys until you told me, Mrs. Lawton."
"De veras?" asked Cairness, sharply. He was of no mind to lose her like this, when he was so near his end.
It occurred to Cairness that it was ungenerous of Landor to revenge himself by a shot from the safe intrenchment of his rank. "Mrs. Landor has had time to tell me nothing," he said, and turned on his spurred heel and went off in the direction of the post. But it was not a situation, after all, into which one could infuse much dignity. He was retreating, anyway it might be looked at, and there is bound to be more or less ignominy in the most creditable retreat.
"Yes," she said, "did you see me? I dare say you thought I was communing with Nature in the midst of the old tin cans and horseshoes. Well, I wasn't. I was watching the trap of a tarantula nest, and I caught him when he came out. I've watched that hole for three days," she announced triumphantly. "As for the vinagrone, the cook found him in his tent, and I bottled him. Come and see the fight," she invited amiably.
"Yes?" said Landor. The inflection was not pleasing. It caused Brewster to answer somewhat weakly, "Yes."
Felipa felt something of this, and it lessened the vague burden of self-reproach she had been carrying. She was almost cheerful when she got back to the post. Through the last breakfast, which the Elltons took for granted must be a sad one, and conscientiously did their best to make so, she had some difficulty in keeping down to their depression.
Kirby was without fear, but he was also without redress. He turned from them, his face contracted with the pain of his impotence, and walked back to the house. "I could order them off the ranch to-night," he told his wife, as he dropped on a chair, and taking up the hearth brush made a feint of sweeping two or three cinders from the floor; "but it's ten to one they wouldn't go and it would weaken my authority—not that I have any, to be sure—and besides," he flung down the brush desperately and turned to her, "I didn't want to tell you before, but there is a pretty straight rumor that Victorio's band, or a part of it, is in these hills. We may need the men at any time." Neither spoke of the two who should have been back hours ago. The night closed slowly down.
Felipa, lifting her long riding skirt, stepped out from the tent, and stood with hand upraised holding back the flap. A ray of sun, piercing white through the pines, fell full on her face. She had the look of some mysterious priestess of the sun god, and Cairness, standing by the crackling fire, prodding it with a long, charred stick, watched her without a word.