No one in the territory was busy. The atmosphere was still too much that of the Mexican possession; but Cairness said it was undoubtedly so, and took his leave,[Pg 173] clanking his spurs, heavy footed, and stooping his long form, in continuance of the r?le of ass. He knew well enough that he had been so summed up. It is a disadvantage the British citizen labors under in the West. "I've thought of bringing her on here. But how can I? In a bachelor establishment? My sister won't have her at any terms. She suggested an orphan asylum from the first, and she hasn't changed her mind."
"I began to tell you," she resumed directly, "that Mr. Brewster was here, and that he informed me that my mother was a squaw and my father a drunken private." He reflected that it is a trait of the semi-civilized and of children that they like their tales often retold. But he did not say so. He was holding that in reserve. Instead, he changed the subject, with an abrupt inquiry as to whether she meant to ride to-day. "I suppose not?" he added. Yet she not only loved Cairness as much as ever, but more. Her church had the strong hold of superstition upon her, but she might have thrown it off, grown reckless of enforced conventions, and have gone to him, had not faithfulness and gratitude held her yet more powerfully.
"I shall ride into Apache with you in Captain Landor's stead, if he will allow me," he told her, and added, "and if you will."
He left her ignominiously, at a run. She stood laughing after him until he jumped over a rock and disappeared. "She is his sweetheart, the vieja," she chattered to her companions. They opened upon non-committal topics: the weather, which had been scorching and parched since April, and would continue so, in all probability, until September; the consequent condition of the crops, which was a figure of speech, for there were none, and never had been, deserving of the name; and then Cairness, having plenty of time, brought it round to the troops. In the tirade that followed he recognized a good many of the sentiments, verbatim, of the articles in the Tucson papers of the time of Landor's scout. But he half shut his eyes and listened, pulling at the small, brown mustache. Stone set him down, straightway, as an ass, or English, which was much the same thing.
Cairness sent one of the soldiers back to report their safety to Landor, and they mounted and hurried on again, swimming the river twice, and reaching the post some time after noon.
Ellton ventured some assistance. "I do know this[Pg 142] much, that the C. O. got a telegram from some Eastern paper, asking if the reports of your cowardice as given in the territorial press were true."
Ellton messed with them regularly, but he was not to go out, because he was acting adjutant. To his intense disgust and considerable mortification—for he was young and very enthusiastic and burdened with ideals—he was obliged to appear spick and span in irreproachable undress, beside his superiors in their campaign clothes.
"Felipa!" shouted Cairness. He was angry—almost as angry as Forbes had been when he had come upon Mrs. Landor watching the boys and the kitten in the alleyway.
"I do, though," she said perversely, as she bent her[Pg 48] head and tried to put into order the tumbled mass of her hair. "I am going at eleven o'clock."
Not a week before—and then the Agency had been officially at peace—a Mexican packer had been shot down by an arrow from some unseen bow, within a thousand yards of the post, in broad daylight. The Indians, caking their bodies with clay, and binding sage or grass upon their heads, could writhe unseen almost within arm's reach. But Felipa was not afraid. Straight for the river bottom she made, passing amid the [Pg 78]dump-heaps, where a fire of brush was still smouldering, filling the air with pungent smoke, where old cans and bottles shone in the starlight, and two polecats, pretty white and black little creatures, their bushy tails erect, sniffed with their sharp noses as they walked stupidly along. Their bite meant hydrophobia, but though one came blindly toward her, she barely moved aside. Her skirt brushed it, and it made a low, whining, mean sound.
"And you hamstrung those horses."