"Shall you go with them?" asked Cairness.
He tried hard to warm her to something more personal. "I might never come back, you know, dear." He realized that he was absolutely begging for affection, most futile and unavailing of all wastes of energy.
Landor's sabre stood just within the sitting room, and she went for it and held the glittering blade in front of the snake. Its fangs struck out viciously again and again, and a long fine stream of venom trickled along the steel. Then she raised the sabre and brought it down in one unerring sweep, severing the head from the body. In the morning she would cut off the rattle and add it to the string of close upon fifty that hung over her mirror. But now the night was calling to her, the wild blood was pricking in her veins. Running the sabre into the ground, she cleaned off the venom, and went back to the adobe to put it in its scabbard. They were.
Back of her, a score or more of miles away, were the iron-gray mountains; beyond those, others of blue; and still beyond, others of yet fainter blue, melting into the sky and the massed white clouds upon the horizon edge. But in front of her the flat stretched away and away, a waste of white-patched soil and glaring sand flecked with scrubs. The pungency of greasewood and sage[Pg 313] was thick in the air, which seemed to reverberate with heat. A crow was flying above in the blue; its shadow darted over the ground, now here, now far off. The horses were tied to a ground line, to avoid the embarrassment of a loose herd, in the event of an engagement. Pickets were sent out to give warning at the approach of Indians. It was winter here in the mountains, while it was hot summer in the alkali flats below, but the men were forbidden fires. And it was a fierce grievance to the citizens, as was also that they were not allowed to go out to shoot wild turkeys. They remonstrated sulkily.
She did not. He had merely told her that her father was his friend and had died on the plains. "She thinks her mother died at Stanton. It is so near the Mescalero Agency that I let it go at that."
He felt that he ought to dislike her cordially, but he did not. He admired her, on the contrary, as he would have admired a fine boy. She seemed to have no religion, no ideals, and no petty vanity; therefore, from his point of judgment, she was not feminine. Perhaps the least feminine thing about her was the manner in which she appeared to take it for granted that he was going to marry her, without his having said, as yet, a word to that effect. In a certain way it simplified matters, and in another it made them more difficult. It is not easy to ask a woman to marry you where she looks into your eyes unhesitatingly. But Landor decided that it had to be done. She had been in the post four months, and with the standing exception of Brewster, whom she discouraged resolutely, none of the officers cared for her beyond the flirtation limit.
Landor 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.
They glanced sideways at the big Englishman, who appeared to be one of themselves, and at the little minister. On him, more especially on his hat, their eyes rested threateningly. They had heard of him before, most of them. They answered his genial greeting surlily, but he was quite unruffled. He beamed upon the room as he seated himself at one of the tables and ordered supper, for which, in obedience to a dirty sign upon the wall, he paid in advance.
Brewster's irritation waxed. "Landor again?" he queried suggestively.
He gave another grunt. "Go away to-morrow. Go to the Fort." He pointed with the hand that held the bit of cigarette in the direction of Apache. "Tell your man."
Landor went back to his command and waited. Another man rode up and joined the two. Ten minutes passed, and the troops grew restless.