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. It struck even through Landor's pain-blurred brain that it was odd. But the few faculties he could command still were all engaged in keeping himself in the saddle until he could reach his own house, where Ellton and Felipa were waiting to get him to his room.
Forbes explained their early return, and spoke of the ranch. "It might be a garden, this territory, if[Pg 315] only it had water enough," he said; "it has a future, possibly, but its present is just a little dismal, I think. Are you greatly attached to the life here, Mrs. Cairness?" He was studying her, and she knew it, though his glance swept the outlook comprehensively, and she was watching the mail-carrier riding toward them along the road. It was the brother of the little girl who followed along behind them, and who ran off now to meet him, calling and waving her hand. 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.
"Still," said Felipa, too quietly, "I would rather be the daughter of a drunken private and a Mescalero squaw than the wife of a coward and sneak."
It ended in victory for the vinagrone, but he died from his wounds an hour later. Felipa told Landor so, as they started for a ride, early in the afternoon. "The vinagrone is dead," she said; "Mr. Brewster didn't like my fighting them." Then she assumed the lofty dignity that contrasted so oddly sometimes with her childish simplicity. "He lacks tact awfully. Think of it! He took the occasion to say that he loved me. As though he had not told me so a dozen times before." Landor interrupted by taking the slipper from Felipa's foot and killing with it a centipede that crawled up the wall of the abode. "That's the second," he said, as he put the shoe on again. "I killed one yesterday; the third will come to-morrow." Then he went back to his chair and to the discussion, and before long he was called to the adjutant's office.
Kirby, hurrying from the house to learn the cause of the new uproar, was all but knocked down and trodden under the hoofs of all his stock, driven from the enclosure with cracking of whips and with stones. Then a dozen ridden horses crowded over the dropped bars, the woman in the lead astride, as were the men.
Later, when the sun was well up in the jewel-blue sky, and the world was all ashine, they began the real routine of the day. And it would have been much like that of any of the other days that had gone before it for two years, had not Cairness come in a little before the noon hour, bringing with him a guest. It was an Englishman, whom he presented to Felipa as a friend of his youth, and named Forbes.
"I wonder, my dear, what sort of air you breathed in your mother's restaurant at meal times?"
The Reverend Taylor grabbed at a fly and caught it in his palm. He had become very expert at this, to his wife's admiration and his son's keen delight. It was because the little Reverend liked to see him do it, and derived so much elfish enjoyment from the trick, that he had perfected himself in it. He gave the[Pg 248] crushed fly to the baby, and held him up to feed the bird. The bird put its head through the bars and pecked with its whiskered bill, and the little Reverend gurgled joyfully, his small face wrinkling up in a way which was really not pretty, but which his father thought the most engaging expression in the world.
And the next day she knew. When she came out in front of her quarters in the morning, rather later than usual, there was a new tent beside the hospital,[Pg 81] and when she asked the reason for it, they told her that a wounded Apache had been found down by the river soon after the shot had been fired the night before. He was badly hurt, with a ball in his shoulder, and he was half drunk with tizwin, as well as being cut in a dozen places.