He took a chair facing her, as she put the letter back in its envelope and laid it in her work-basket. It was very unlike anything he had ever imagined concerning situations of the sort. But then he was not imaginative. "Should you be glad to be free to marry him?" he asked, in a spirit of unbiassed discussion.She was drowsy, however, for it was still very early, and she was almost dropping off to sleep when the Chinaman brought the coffee and set it down upon a table near her, with a deference of manner not common to the Celestial when serving the Occidental woman, who, he believes, has lost the right to it directly she shows the inclination to do work herself. But Felipa was a mistress to his taste. As he bowed himself abjectly from her presence, Cairness came in. He had taken off his rubber coat and big hat, and was full of the vigor of life which makes the strong and [Pg 308]healthy-minded so good to look upon at the beginning of a day.
The woman called early in the blazing afternoon, appearing clad in silks, waving a gorgeous fan of[Pg 63] plumes, and sinking languidly into a chair. Felipa sat bolt upright on a camp-stool, and before the close of an hour they were at daggers' points. The commandant's wife used cheap French phrases in every other breath, and Felipa retaliated in the end by a long, glib sentence, which was not understood. She seemed absolutely dense and unsmiling about it, but Landor was used to the mask of stolidity. He got up and went to the window to arrange the gray blanket, and hide a smile that came, even though he was perfectly aware of the unwisdom of making an enemy of the C. O.'s wife.She was drowsy, however, for it was still very early, and she was almost dropping off to sleep when the Chinaman brought the coffee and set it down upon a table near her, with a deference of manner not common to the Celestial when serving the Occidental woman, who, he believes, has lost the right to it directly she shows the inclination to do work herself. But Felipa was a mistress to his taste. As he bowed himself abjectly from her presence, Cairness came in. He had taken off his rubber coat and big hat, and was full of the vigor of life which makes the strong and [Pg 308]healthy-minded so good to look upon at the beginning of a day.Felipa did not answer. She broke her revolver and looked into the chambers. Two of them were empty,[Pg 326] and she took some cartridges from a desk drawer and slipped them in. The holster was attached to her saddle, and she rarely rode without it.
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.
But he went on, instructing her how it was not all of riding to stick on, and rather a question of saving and seat and the bit.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.
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.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.
The box was laid in the buckboard, and covered with the flag once more. Then the mules started, with a rattle of traces and of the wheels, and the tramp of feet began again. The drums thrummed regularly and slowly, the heart beats of the service, and the fifes took up the dead march in a weird, shrill Banshee wail. They went down the line, the commandant with the surgeon and the officers first, and after them the buckboard, with its bright-draped burden. Then Landor's horse, covered with black cloths, the empty[Pg 284] saddle upon its back. It nosed at the pockets of the man who led it. It had been taught to find sugar in pockets. And then the troops, the cavalry with the yellow plumes of their helmets drooping, and the infantry with the spikes glinting, marching with eyes cast down and muskets reversed. A gap, then the soldiers' urchins from the laundress row, in for anything that might be doing.
He rode beside Mrs. Landor along the road in the ravine bed, and the soldiers followed some twenty yards in the rear. They were making as much haste as was wise at the outset, and Felipa bent forward against the ever rising wind, as her horse loped steadily on.He recalled the dark, unbecoming flush that had deepened the color of her skin just enough to show the squaw, beyond mistaking, at least to one who knew. It was all very well now. But later, later she would look like that frequently, if not all the time. With youth she would lose her excuse for being. He knew that very well. But it was the youth, the majestic, powerful youth, that he loved. He had seen too many old hags of squaws, disfigurers of the dead and wounded, drudges of the rancheria, squatting on hides before their tepees, not to know what Felipa's decline would be in spite of the Anglo-Saxon strain that seemed to show only in her white skin.
Just for a moment it hesitated, then started with the bronco spring, jumping the dead mules, shying from right to left and back again, and going out through the gates at a run. Cairness held on with his knees as he had learned to do when he had played at stock-rider around Katawa and Glen Lomond in the days of his boyhood, as he had done since with the recruits at hurdle drill, or when he had chased a fleet heifer across the prairie and had had no time to saddle. He could keep his seat, no fear concerning that, but it was all he could do. The pony was not to be stopped. He had only what was left of the halter shank by way of a bridle, and it was none at all. A Mexican knife bit would hardly have availed.Felipa rose from the table, and going over to her husband laid her hand on his shoulder. She asked when he must go. "To-night, my dear lady, I am afraid," soothed the commandant. But she appeared to be in no need of humoring, as she turned to Landor and offered to do what she might to help him.
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