When he returned at the end of a couple of hours she was all humility, and she had moreover done something that was rare for her: made capital of her beauty, putting on her most becoming white gown, and piling her hair loosely on the top of her head, with a cap of lace and a ribbon atop of it. Landor liked the little morning caps, probably because they were a sort of badge of civilization, but they were incongruous for all that, and took from the character of her head. His anger was well in leash, and he gave her the mail which had just come in by the stage, quite as though nothing had occurred. "And now," he commenced, when he had glanced over the Eastern papers, "I have seen the C. O.; he wants the line between here and Apache fixed. He will give me the detail if you care to go." He plainly meant to make no further reference to her confession, but she would have been more than woman if she had known when to let a matter drop. "It is the only one I can live," she said indifferently[Pg 323] enough, stating it as an accepted, incontrovertible fact, "and it's the one you like best." She took it, and they both stood for a time without[Pg 222] speaking. Then she turned her head and looked up at the sunshine. "I think I must go," she whispered. But she did not move.
The curtain-raiser to the tragedy about to come upon the boards was a little comedy. Half a mile beyond, within the same barbed-wire enclosure as the home buildings and corrals, was a spring-house surrounded by cottonwoods, just then the only patch of vivid green on the clay-colored waste. There were benches under the cottonwoods, and the ground was cool, and thither Felipa took her way, in no wise oppressed by the heat. Her step was as firm and as quick as it had been the day she had come so noiselessly along the parade, across the path of the private who was going to the barracks. It was as quiet, too, for she had on a pair of old red satin slippers, badly run down at the heel. "Mrs. Cairness would go where I wished gladly," he added, more evenly; "but if it were to a life very different from this, it would end in death—and I should be the cause of it. There it is." He too rose, impatiently.
Felipa shook her head at Ellton. "Don't get yourself excited about it, Jack dear," she soothed, and Ellton also tried to quiet him.
But before then Cairness returned to his ranch and set his back upon adventure for good and all. "Crook will be gone soon," he said to Felipa; "it is the beginning of his end. And even if he were to keep on, he might not need me any more."
Out in the corral the cow-boy was holding forth. The men had stopped work on the instant that Kirby had turned his back. If Kirby could loll on soft cushions and drink tea, as free-born Americans and free-souled Irishmen they might do the same. "It's all right," said the cow-boy, with a running accompaniment of profanity, as he cleaned his brutal Mexican bit. "Johnny Bull don't have to believe in it if he don't like. But all the same, I seen a feller over here[Pg 124] to the 3 C Range, and he told me he seen the military camped over to San Tomaso a week ago, and that there was a lot of stock, hundred head or so, run off from the settlements. You see, them Apaches is making for the southern Chiricahuas over in Sonora to join the Mexican Apaches, and they're going to come this here way. You see!" and he rubbed at the rust vigorously with a piece of soft rawhide.
In less than an hour the troop was ready, the men flannel-shirted and gauntleted, their soft felt hats pulled over their eyes, standing reins in hand, foot in stirrup, beside the fine, big horses that Crook had substituted for the broncos of the plains cavalry of former years. Down by the corrals the pack-mules were ready, too, grunting under their aparejos and packs. A thick, hot wind, fraught with sand, was beginning, presaging one of the fearful dust storms of the southwest. The air dried the very blood in the veins. The flies, sticky and insistent, clung and buzzed about the horses' eyes and nostrils. Bunches of tumbleweed and hay went whirling across the parade.
He put out his hand and touched a warm, smooth flank. The horse gave a little low whinny. Quick as a flash he whipped out his knife and hamstrung it, not that one only, but ten other mules and horses before[Pg 207] he stopped. He groped from stall to stall, and in each cut just once, unerringly and deep, so that the poor beast, which had turned its head and nosed at the touch of the hand of one of those humans who had always been its friends, was left writhing, with no possible outcome but death with a bullet in its head.
"It might for me," he said, "but not for her, and I[Pg 15] told Cabot I'd do my best for her." It had seemed to him his plain duty, and he had done it, and he asked no approbation.
He hesitated. "I have done some shooting. I am always shooting more or less, for that matter."
"Kiss me," said Felipa.