In half an hour he was back, and having produced his scouting togs from the depths of a sky-blue chest, smelling horribly of tobacco and camphor, he fell to dressing. He was waking now to his work. But he had enough of horses. He stopped, sheathed his knife, and, feeling in his pockets, drew out a box of matches. A little spluttering flame caught in a pile of straw, and showed a hind foot dragging helplessly. It crept up, and the mule plunged on three legs, dragging the other along. It snorted, and then every animal in that corral, which was the quartermaster's, smelt danger and snorted too, and struck from side to side of its stall. Those in the next corral caught the fear.
Landor consulted with his lieutenant. "Very well," he said in the end, "I'll go. I take serious risks, but I understand it to be the wish of the citizens hereabouts."[Pg 114] Their envoy assured him that it most certainly was, and became profuse in acknowledgments; so that Landor shut him off. He had come many miles that day and must be on the march again at dawn, and wanted what sleep he could get. "When and where will you meet me?" he demanded with the curtness of the military, so offensive to the undisciplined.
"They won't be ready. No use making haste, Captain," Cairness suggested at daybreak, as Landor hurried the breakfast and saddling. They knew that the chances were ten to one that it would be a wild goose chase, and the captain already repented him. But at seven the men were mounted, with two days' rations in their saddle bags, and trotting across the flat in the fragrance of the yet unheated day, to the settlement of San Tomaso. Two steers, locking their horns, broke from the herd and swaying an instant so, separated and started side by side across the prairie. He settled in his saddle and put his cow-pony to a run, without any preliminary gait, going in a wide circle to head them back. Running across the ground, thick with coyote and dog holes, was decidedly perilous; men had their necks[Pg 164] broken in that way every few days; but it would not have mattered to him especially to have ended so. Wherefore he did not, but drove the steers back to the herd safely. And then he returned to the monotonous sentry work and continued thinking of himself. So one night when they were sitting upon the Campbells' steps, he took the plunge. She had been talking earnestly, discussing the advisability of filing off the hammer of the pistol he had given her, to prevent its catching on the holster when she wanted to draw it quickly. One of her long, brown hands was laid on his knee, with the most admirable lack of self-consciousness. He put his own hand upon it, and she looked up questioningly. She was unused to caresses from any but the two Campbell children, and her frank surprise held a reproach that softened his voice almost to tenderness.
One cup to the dead already.
Just at the edge of the rock stream there was an abandoned cabin built of small stones. Whatever sort of roof it had had in the beginning was now gone altogether, and the cabin itself was tumbling down. Through the doorway where there was no door, there showed a blackened fireplace. Once when a party from the post had been taking the two days' drive to the railroad, they had stopped here, and had lunched in the cabin. Landor remembered it now, and glanced at the place where Felipa had reclined in the shade of the walls, upon the leather cushion of the ambulance seat. She very rarely could be moved to sing, though she had a sweet, plaintive voice of small volume; but this time she had raised her tin mug of beer and, looking up to the blue sky, had launched into the "Last Carouse," in a spirit of light mockery that fitted with it well, changing the words a little to the scene.[Pg 279] She had read one of the books one afternoon when she was left alone, until the sun began to sink behind the mountain tops, and the cook to drag branches to the fire preparatory to getting supper. Then she marked her place with a twig, and rose up from the ground to go to the tent and dress, against Landor's return. The squaws and bucks who had been all day wandering around the outskirts of the camp, speaking together in low voices, and watching the cook furtively, crowded about the opening. [Pg 285]
"Nothing much," he told her. He and Taylor could take care of the talking. Her part would be just to stand by and pay attention.
THE HERITAGE OF UNREST
She sat for a moment without answering. It was less astonishment than that she did not understand. She knitted her brow in a puzzled frown.
The defenceless women and children were safe, however: a captain, ranking Landor, reported to that effect when he met them some dozen miles outside San Tomaso. He reported further that he had a pack-train for Landor and orders to absorb his troop. Landor protested at having to retrace their trail at once. His men and his stock were in no state to travel. The men were footsore and blistered. They had led their horses, for the most part, up and down rough hills for two days. But the trail was too hot and too large to be abandoned. They unsaddled, and partaking together of coffee and bacon and biscuits, mounted and went off once more. Their bones ached, and the feet of many of them bled; but the citizens had gone their way to their homes in the valley, and they felt that, on the whole, they had reason to be glad.