"Let go your stirrup!" cried Cairness, in her ear; and as she kicked her foot loose, he leaned far from the saddle and threw his arm around her, swinging her up in front of him across the McLellan pommel, and driving the spurs into his horse's belly. It had the advantage of her horse in that it was an Indian animal, sure of foot as a burro, and much quicker. With one dash it was up the hillside, while the other rolled over and over, down into the torrent of the cloud burst.
The commandant's wife took Mrs. Landor in, and would have put her to bed with hot drinks and blankets, but that Felipa would have nothing more than some dry clothes and a wrapper in place of her wet habit. The clothes were her own, brought by one of the men, safe in a rubber poncho, but the wrapper belonged to her hostess, who was portly, whereas Felipa was slender. But to Cairness, who had stopped for luncheon, she seemed, in the voluminous dull red draperies, more splendid than ever before.
And when the retreat gun boomed in the distance, she stood up, shaking the earth and grasses from her gown, and started to carry out her plans. A storm was blowing up again. Clouds were massing in the sky, and night was rising rather than the sun setting. There was a cold, greenish light above the snow peak, and darkness crept up from the earth and down from the gray clouds that banked upon the northern horizon and spread fast across the heavens. A bleak, whining wind rustled the leaves of the big trees down by the creek, and caught up the dust of the roadway in little eddies and whirls, as Felipa, with a new purpose in her step, swung along it back to the post. But Crook was not dashing, only quiet and steady, and sure as death. Upon parade and occasions of ceremony he wore the gold lace and the stars. To do his life's work he put on an old flannel shirt, tied a kerchief around his neck, and set a pith helmet over those farseeing, keen little eyes. He might have been a [Pg 228]prospector, or a cow-boy, for all the outward seeming of it. His charger was oftenest a little government mule, and he walked, leading it over many and many a trail that even its sure feet could not trust. [Pg 130]
"What!" ejaculated the general. He was moved altogether from his imperturbable calm.
He rose to his feet, shaking off an impatience with her and with himself. "Come," he said peremptorily; and they went out and mounted and rode away in the face of a whipping wind up the gradual slope to the mountains, black and weird beneath the heavy, low-hanging rain clouds.
They tore on, away from the noise of the flames, of the falling timber and the shouted commands, around the haystacks so close to the barbed-wire fence that the barbs cut his boot, off by the back of the quarters, and then upon the road that led from the reservation. If the pony could be kept on that road, there was small danger from dog holes. He would run himself out in time. The length of time was what was uncertain, however. A cow-pony can go a good many hours at a stretch.
He stroked its head with his finger as it lay still, opening and shutting its bright little eyes. "It won't live," he told her, and then the thought occurred to him to put her to the test. He held the bird out to her. "Wring its neck," he said, "and end its misery."