So that evening when all the garrison was upon its front porches and the sidewalk, the major and the lieutenant went down the line to Landor's quarters. And their example was followed. But some hung back, and constraint was in the air.
Cabot was not an unmerciful man, but if he had had his sabre just then, he would have dug and turned it in the useless carcass. He was beside himself with fear; fear of the death which had come to the cow and the calf whose chalk-white skeletons were at his feet, of the flat desert and the low bare hills, miles upon miles away, rising a little above the level, tawny and dry, giving no hope of shelter or streams or shade. He had foreseen it all when the horse had stumbled in a snake hole, had limped and struggled a few yards farther, and then, as he slipped to the ground, had stood quite still, swaying from side to side, with its legs wide apart, until it fell. He gritted his teeth so that the veins[Pg 2] stood out on his temples, and, going closer, jerked at the bridle and kicked at its belly with the toe of his heavy boot, until the glassy eye lighted with keener pain.
There is a majesty about the mountains of the desolate regions which is not in those of more green and fertile lands. Loneliness and endurance are written deep in their clefts and ca?ons and precipices. In the long season of the sun, they look unshrinking back to the glaring sky, with a stern defiance. It is as the very wrath of God, but they will not melt before it. In the season of the rains, black clouds hang low upon them, guarding their sullen gloom. But just as in the sternest heart is here and there a spot of gentleness, so in these forbidding fastnesses there are bits of verdure and soft beauty too. "Over here to Tucson" was a three days' ride under the most favorable circumstances; but with the enthusiastic botanist dismounting at short intervals to make notes and press and descant upon specimens, it was five days before they reached, towards nightfall, the metropolis of the plains.
Landor glanced at his wife. She seemed to take it without offence, and was listening intently. "No, I am a friend of the soldier. And I am a friend of Chato, who is the enemy of Geronimo. I have no bad thoughts," he added piously.
It was done before either of them was conscious of doing it. The black throat of the cave was open behind him. Cairness jumped back into it, and she turned away and stood waiting, stiff with fear, not of the man whoever it might prove to be up there, but for the one who had stepped into the unknown dangers of the darkness behind her.
Landor sat speechless for a moment. Then he jumped up, knocking over a pile of registers. He seized a bone ruler, much stained with official inks, red and blue, and slapped it on the palm of his hand for emphasis. "I'll demand a court of inquiry into my conduct. This shan't drop, not until the strongest possible light has been turned on it. Why doesn't Brewster prefer charges? Either my conduct was such that he can defend it openly, or else it was such as to call for a court-martial, and to justify him in preferring charges. Certainly nothing can justify him in smirching me with damning silence. That is the part neither of an officer nor of a man." He kicked one of the registers out of the way, and it flapped across the floor and lay with its leaves crumpled under the fair leather covers.
The log cabin was tidy. There were chintz curtains at the windows, much of the furniture, of ranch manufacture, was chintz covered, the manta of the ceiling was unstained, there were pictures from London Christmas papers on the walls, and photographs of the fair women at "home."
"It is not only my business," he said, overlooking the last, and bending more eagerly forward, "it is not[Pg 49] only my business, it is the business of the whole post. You are being talked about, my dear young lady."
Felipa was very thoroughly frightened now. She stood in wholesome awe of her husband, and it was the first time she had ever made him really angry, although frequently he was vaguely irritated by her. She had had no idea the thing would infuriate him so, or she would probably have kept it to herself. And she wished now that she had, as she went back to the couch and sat on the edge of it, dejectedly.
There was a faint, white light above the distant mountains in the east. The moon was about to rise. In a few moments more it came drifting up, and the plain was all alight. Far away on the edge was a vague, half-luminous haze, and nearer the shadows of the bushes fell sharp and black. A mile ahead, perhaps, along the road, she could make out the dark blot of the mesquite clump. Behind, as she looked again, she could just see four figures following.