Then there came a chuckling scream of baby laughter and a soft reproach, spoken in Spanish, from across the hall. She stood up and poured the coffee, but before she took her own she went out of the room and came back in a moment, carrying her small son high upon her shoulder. "Yes, and you don't like the English, I know that perfectly."
"Several things, thanks. You haven't told me yet what version of it your husband gave to Stone." [Pg 242]Cairness was a little anxious. It was succeed or fail right here.
With one accord they strode forward to the support of their somewhat browbeaten brother. What they would do was exactly as they pleased, they told the tyrant. They shook their fists in his face. It was all in the brutal speech of the frontier, mingled with the liquid ripple of argot Spanish, and its vicious, musical oaths. The deep voice of the woman carried above everything, less decent than the men. It was a storm of injury. She jumped to her feet. "I ain't going to do it."
Then he went off to inspect the stock and the pickets, and to double the sentries. "You had better sleep on your arms," he told the soldiers, and returned to his cot to lie down upon it, dressed, but feigning sleep,[Pg 98] that Felipa might not be uneasy. He need not have resorted to deception. Felipa had not so much as pretended to close her eyes that night. It was not quite an all-summer campaign. The United States government drove the hostiles over the border into the provinces of the Mexican government, which understood the problem rather better than ourselves, and hunted the Apache, as we the coyote, with a bounty upon his scalp.
"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.
He did not try to discuss her plans for the future with her that night; but two days afterward, when she had disposed of all her household goods and had packed the few things that remained, they sat upon two boxes in the bare hallway, resting; and he broached it.
"And how, may I ask, would you suggest cutting off their retreat?" the major inquired a little sharply. His temper was not improved by the heat and by twelve hours in the saddle.
It had not occurred to her for some hours after Mrs. Campbell had told her of Landor's death that she was free now to give herself to Cairness. She had gasped, indeed, when she did remember it, and had put the thought away, angrily and self-reproachfully. But it returned now, and she felt that she might cling to it. She had been grateful, and she had been faithful, too.[Pg 286] She remembered only that Landor had been kind to her, and forgot that for the last two years she had borne with much harsh coldness, and with a sort of contempt which she felt in her unanalyzing mind to have been entirely unmerited. Gradually she raised herself until she sat quite erect by the side of the mound, the old exultation of her half-wild girlhood shining in her face as she planned the future, which only a few minutes before had seemed so hopeless.
It was so with Cairness. He was sinking down, and ever down, to the level of his surroundings; he was even ceasing to realize that it was so. He had begun by studying the life of the savages, but he was so entirely grasping their point of view that he was losing all other. He was not so dirty as they—not yet. His stone cabin was clean enough, and their villages were squalid. A morning plunge in the river was still a necessity, while with them it was an event. But where he had once spent his leisure in reading in several tongues—in keeping in touch with the world—and in painting, he would now sit for hours looking before him into space, thinking unprofitable thoughts. He lived from hand to mouth. Eventually he would without doubt marry a squaw. The thing was more than common upon the frontier.
She did not. She would as lief touch a toad.
It was the beginning of a self-imposed Coventry. He sent in a demand for a court of inquiry, and Brewster, with much show of reluctance and leniency, preferred charges.