The minister nodded his head. "Yes, I reckon there is," he agreed.He passed an officer who had a smoking six-shooter in his hand, and yelled in his ear, "Why are you doing that?" He had forgotten that it was by no means his place to question.
"Yes, and you don't like the English, I know that perfectly."She looked down at him in a somewhat indignant surprise. "Pues porque?" she asked, maintaining the haughtiness of the dominant race, and refusing to acknowledge any indebtedness. "Why should I go away?"
Someway it had not occurred to him to be any more angry with Cairness than he had been with her. The most he felt was resentful jealousy. There was nothing more underhand about the man than there was about Felipa. Sending the note by the prospectors had not been underhand. He understood that it had been done only that it might make no trouble for her, and give himself no needless pain. Cairness would have been willing to admit to his face that he loved Felipa. That letter must have been written in his own camp.But she sat up suddenly, with one of her quick movements of conscious strength and perfect control over every muscle, clasped her hands about her knees, and went on. "It was very curious," and there came on her face the watchful, alert, wild look, with the narrowing of the eyes. "It was very curious, I could not[Pg 84] have stayed indoors that night if it had cost me my life—and it very nearly did, too. I had to get out. So I took my revolver and my knife, and I went the back way, down to the river. While I was standing on the bank and thinking about going home, an Indian stole out on me. I had an awful struggle. First I shot. I aimed at his forehead, but the bullet struck his shoulder; and then I fought with the knife. As soon as I could slip out of his grasp, I went at him and drove him off. But I didn't know how badly he was hurt until the next day. The shot had roused them up here, and they went down to the river and found him bleeding on the sand.
Sometimes when she was quite certain of being undisturbed, she took Cairness's one letter from the desk, and read and reread it, and went over every word and look she had had from him. She had forgotten nothing, but though her olive skin would burn and then grow more colorless than ever when she allowed herself to recall, not even a sigh would come from between the lips that had grown a very little set.Yet, in the midst of her little triumph, Felipa fell ill, failing without apparent cause, and then the uneasiness that had only slept in Landor for eighteen months came awake again. He did not believe when the doctors told him that it was the lassitude of the moist, warm springtime which was making the gray circles about her eyes, the listlessness of her movements.
"I give this to a friend," it ran, "to be delivered into your own hands, because I must tell you that, though I should never see you again—for the life I lead is hazardous, and chance may at any time take you away forever—I shall love you always. You will not be angry with me, I know. You were not that night by the campfire, and it is not the unwaveringly good woman who resents being told she is loved, in the spirit I have said it to you. I do not ask for so much as your friendship in return, but only that you remember that my life and devotion are yours, and that, should the time ever come that you need me, you send for me. I will come. I will never say this to you again, even should I see you; but it is true, now and for all time."If you take even a good-humored puppy of a savage breed and tie him to a kennel so that all his natural energy strikes in; if you feed him upon raw meat, when you feed him at all, but half starve him for the most part; and if you tantalize and goad him whenever you are in search of a pastime, he is more than likely to become a dangerous beast when he grows up. He is then a menace to the public, so you have but one course left—to take him out and shoot him.He looked at her steadily, in silence. It did not seem that there was anything to say. He would have liked to tell her how beautiful she was. But he did not do it. Instead, he did much worse. For he took a beaded and fringed leather case from his pocket and held out to her the drawing he had made of her four years before. She gave it back without a word, and bent to play with the buckskin collar on the neck of the fawn.
"Where are they all goin' to?" the Reverend Taylor asked in plaintive dismay. He had risen to his feet because he had seen Cairness do it, and now he sat again because Cairness had dropped back on the couch. He was utterly at sea, but he felt that the safest thing to do would be that which every one else did. He remembered that he had felt very much the same once when he had been obliged to attend a funeral service in a Roman Catholic Church. All the purple and fine[Pg 39] linen of the Scarlet Woman and the pomp and circumstance surrounding her had bewildered him in about this same way.In the spring of '61, when the handful of frontier troops was pressed with enemies red and brown and white, the cavalry was not well mounted.
What had he done with four and thirty years, putting it at the very highest valuation? He had sunk so far below the standard of his youth that he would not be fit for his old companions, even if he had wanted to go back to them, which, except in certain fits of depression, he did not. His own mother cared very little what became of him. At Christmas time she always sent him a letter, which reached him much later, as a rule, and he answered it. His brothers had forgotten him. His sister, of whom he had been very fond once, and for whom he had hoped a great deal, had married well enough and gone to London; but she, too, had forgotten him long since."Is there anything, then, that I can do for you? the officer asked. His intentions were good; Cairness was bound to realize that, too.
The man did go underneath and bravely offered resistance. Cairness had the twofold strength of his wiry build and of his bull-dog race. But Lawton—he knew it was Lawton now—would have been stronger yet, save that the three weeks' spree had told, and he was breathless.In the morning, while the cooks were getting breakfast and the steam of ration-Rio mounted as a grateful incense to the pink and yellow daybreak heavens, having bathed in the creek and elaborated his toilet[Pg 235] with a clean neckerchief in celebration of victory, he walked over to the bunch of tepees to see the women captives.
There was a mutilated thing that had once been a man's body on the floor in the half-burned log cabin. And in another room lay two children, whose smooth, baby foreheads were marked, each with a round violet-edged hole. Beside them was their mother, with her face turned to the rough boards—mercifully. For there had been no time to choose the placing of that last shot, and it had disfigured cruelly as it did its certain work."That fellow Cairness may be a good scout and all that, but he must be an unmitigated blackguard too," said the officer, stretching himself on the ground beside Crook.
He found that it had been father and son come from the Eastern states in search of the wealth that lay in that vague and prosperous, if uneasy, region anywhere west of the Missouri. And among the papers was a letter addressed to Felipa. Landor held it in the flat[Pg 146] of his hand and frowned, perplexed. He knew that it was Cairness's writing. More than once on this last scout he had noticed its peculiarities. They were unmistakable. Why was Cairness writing to Felipa? And why had he not used the mails? The old, never yet justified, distrusts sprang broad awake. But yet he was not the man to brood over them. He remembered immediately that Felipa had never lied to him. And she would not now. So he took the stained letter and went to find her."Not until there is no hope," he impressed, as he put the barrel of his rifle through a knot hole and fired at random.She could hear voices confusedly, men hurriedly calling and hallooing as she neared the back of the officers' line and crept into her tent. The door was barely closed when there came a knock, and the voice of the striker asking if she had heard the shot across the river.详情
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