The stars were bright chips of fire in a sky of polished blue. The wind of the day had died at dusk, and the silence was deep, but up among the bare graves the coyotes were barking weirdly. As she looked off across the low hills, there was a quick, hissing rattle at her feet. She moved hastily, but without a start, and glanced down at a rattler not three feet away.
The fall had knocked the breath from his body. The under dog did not answer.
Ellton himself answered the muffled knock. "I didn't turn in," he said to the mysterious figure, shrouded in a cape, with a visor down to its peering eyes.
"I can throw up the detail," he said indifferently, "I dare say I might as well. There is only half a year more of it. Some one will be glad enough to take that." So that was it! It took all the self-command that thirty-five varied years had taught him not to rise up and knock her head against the sharp rocks. But he lay quite still, and presently he said: "That is near enough for my purposes, thank you. But I would be interested to know, if you don't mind, what you had against a helpless woman and those two poor little babies. I wouldn't have supposed that a woman lived who could have been such a fiend as all that."
"Who was her father?" Brewster wanted to know.
He knew while he was yet afar off which was the American. She stood, big and gaunt, with her feet planted wide and her fists on her hips, looking over toward the general's tent. And when Cairness came nearer, strolling along with his hands in his pockets, observing the beauties of Nature and the entire vileness of man, she turned her head and gave him a defiant stare. He took his hands from his pockets and went forward, raising his disreputable campaign hat. "Good morning, Mrs. Lawton," he said, not that he quite lived up to the excellent standard of Miss Winstanley, but that he understood the compelling force of civility, not to say the bewilderment. If you turn its bright light full in the face of one whose eyes are accustomed to the obscurity wherein walk the underbred, your chances for dazzling him until he shall fall into any pit you may have dug in his pathway are excellent.
He asked her angrily why she had ever come at all, and she explained, with a piteous whimper, like a penitent child's, that she had left her horse tied in a little hollow and had come to explore. She had often meant to explore before this.
"They have expressed the desire that I should convey to you, Colonel—"
"Sixty of Victorio's hostiles have been at the Agency, and are on their way back to New Mexico. Will probably cross your camp," the captain read aloud to the men, who crowded as near as was compatible with discipline.
In the late afternoon the lonely dark figure crossed the open and dropped down on the new grave, not in an agony of tears, but as if there was some comfort to be gotten out of contact with the mere soil. The old feeling of loneliness, which had always tinged her character with a covert defiance, was overwhelming her. She belonged to no one now. She had no people. She was an outcast from two races, feared of each because of the other's blood. The most forsaken man or woman may claim at least the kinship of his kind, but she had no kind. She crouched on the mound and looked at the sunset as she had looked that evening years before, but her eyes were not fearless now. As a trapped animal of the plains might watch a prairie fire licking nearer and nearer, making its slow way up to him in spurts of flame and in dull, thick clouds of smoke that must stifle him before long, so she watched the dreary future rolling in about her. But gradually the look changed to one farther away, and alight with hope. She had realized that there was, after all, some one to whom she belonged, some one to whom she could go and, for the first time in her life, be loved and allowed to love.