The general kept his own counsel then, but afterward, when it was all over, he confessed,鈥攏ot to the rejoicing reporter who was making columns out of him for the papers of this, and even of many another, land,鈥攂ut to the friends who had in some measure understood and believed in him, that the strain and responsibility had all but worn him out. And he was no frail man, this mighty hunter of the plains.Of course she was sorry, she protested, a little indignant that he should ask it. She would be horribly lonesome.
"I am far from being sure that that is entirely to be desired, very far," said Cairness, with conviction. He had never ceased to feel a certain annoyance at[Pg 319] the memory of that year and a half of Felipa's life in which he had had no part.When, therefore, Mrs. Landor said, with the utmost composure, that it was too bad, his gasp was audible.
His methods were explained to Cairness by an old buck who slouched up to the cabin and sat himself down cross-legged in front of the door. He meant to share in the venison breakfast Cairness was getting himself.
She sprang to her feet so suddenly that her arm struck him a blow in the face, and stood close in front of him, digging her nails into her palms and breathing hard. "If you鈥攊f you dare to say that again, I will kill you. I can do it. You know that I can, and I will. I mean what I say, I will kill you." And she did mean what she said, for the moment, at any rate. There was just as surely murder in her soul as though those long, strong hands had been closed on his throat. Her teeth were bared and her whole face was distorted with fury and the effort of controlling it. She drew up a chair, after a moment, and sat in it. It was she who was leaning forward now, and he had shrunk back, a little cowed. "I know what you are trying to do," she told him, more quietly, her lips quivering into a sneer, "you are trying to frighten me into marrying you. But you can't do it. I never meant to, and now I would die first."Kirby was without fear, but he was also without redress. He turned from them, his face contracted with the pain of his impotence, and walked back to the house. "I could order them off the ranch to-night," he told his wife, as he dropped on a chair, and taking up the hearth brush made a feint of sweeping two or three cinders from the floor; "but it's ten to one they wouldn't go and it would weaken my authority鈥攏ot that I have any, to be sure鈥攁nd besides," he flung down the brush desperately and turned to her, "I didn't want to tell you before, but there is a pretty straight rumor that Victorio's band, or a part of it, is in these hills. We may need the men at any time." Neither spoke of the two who should have been back hours ago. The night closed slowly down.
As he shut the door and bolted it with the great iron rods, there tore into the clearing a score of vague, savage figures. It looked, when he saw it for an instant, as he put up the wooden blinds, like some phantom dance of the devils of the mountains, so silent they were, with their unshod ponies, so quick moving. And then a short silence was broken by cries and shots, the pinge of bullets, and the whizz of arrows.
There were two rooms to the cabin where they were, the big sitting room and the small bedchamber beyond. Kirby went into the bedroom and came out with two rifles and a revolver. He put the revolver into his wife's hands. "I'll do my best, you know, dear. But if I'm done for, if there is no hope for you and the children, use it," he said. And added, "You understand?"Dutchy was a little German, who kept a milk ranch some seven miles from the post. "Apachees, Apachees," he squealed, gasping for breath.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]
But she was, it appeared, a maiden lady, straight from Virginia. The Reverend Taylor was the first man she had ever loved. "It was right funny how it come about," he confided, self absorbed still. "Her mother keeps the res'rant acrost the street where I take my meals (I used to have a Greaser woman, but I got sick of frijoles and gorditas and chili and all that stuff), and after dinner every afternoon, she and me would put two saucers of fly-paper on a table and we would set and bet on which would catch the most flies before four o'clock. You ain't no idea how interestin' it got to be. The way we watched them flies was certainly intense. Sometimes, I tell you, she'd get that excited she'd scream when they couldn't make up their minds to[Pg 169] light. Once her mother come runnin' in, thinkin' I was tryin' to kiss her." He beamed upon Cairness, and accepted congratulations charmingly, sipping his soda-pop with quite a rakish little air. "What brought you here?" he remembered to ask, at length.They had not gone upon a wedding trip for the excellent reason that there was no place to go; and as[Pg 56] they sat at dinner together in their sparsely furnished quarters, there was a timid ring at the door-bell, and Landor's Chinaman, the cook of his bachelor days, ushered in the commanding officer, who looked humble apology for the awkwardness of a visit he could not delay. He went straight to the matter in hand, in spite of the tactful intentions that had made him come himself instead of sending a subordinate.
Chapter 20Landor stopped behind, looking at Cairness undecidedly for a moment longer. "It is well for you that I can believe her implicitly," he said. It had been a relapse to the Stone Age, but the rebound to the nineteenth century was as quick.详情
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