Which happened upon the following day. And he was there to see it all, so that the question he had not cared to ask was answered forever beyond the possibility[Pg 198] of a misunderstanding. It was stable time, and she walked down to the corrals with him. He left her for a moment by the gate of the quartermaster's corral while he went over to the picket line. The bright clear air of a mountain afternoon hummed with the swish click-clock, swish click-clock of the curry-combs and brushes, and the busy scraping of the stable brooms in the stalls. The log cabin was tidy. There were chintz curtains at the windows, much of the furniture, of ranch manufacture, was chintz covered, the manta of the ceiling was unstained, there were pictures from London Christmas papers on the walls, and photographs of the fair women at "home."
Then there came a chuckling scream of baby laughter and a soft reproach, spoken in Spanish, from across the hall. She stood up and poured the coffee, but before she took her own she went out of the room and came back in a moment, carrying her small son high upon her shoulder. "Are you trying to drive me off?" she said measuredly. "Do you wish me to go away from you? If you do, I will go. I will go, and I will never come back. But I will not go to him—not on my own account. It doesn't matter what happens to me; but on your account and on his, I will never go to him—not while you are alive." She stopped, and every nerve in her body was tense to quivering, her drawn lips worked.
Landor stood considering and pulling at his mustache, as his way was. Then he turned on his heel and went back to the tent for Brewster. He explained the matter to him. "I tell Mr. Foster," he said, "just what risk I would take if I acted contrary to orders, but the force of my argument doesn't seem to strike him. If any harm were to come to the citizens around here, I'd be responsible." He reflected that it is a trait of the semi-civilized and of children that they like their tales often retold. But he did not say so. He was holding that in reserve. Instead, he changed the subject, with an abrupt inquiry as to whether she meant to ride to-day. "I suppose not?" he added.
Felipa expressed decided approval, and set to work making herself comfortable at once. Within ten minutes she had changed her travelling things for a white wrapper, had brushed the dust from her hair, and left it hanging straight and coarse and dead black, below her waist,—she was given to loosing it whenever the smallest excuse offered,—and had settled herself to rest in a canvas lounging chair.
Landor saw that his own horse was the best; and it bid very fair to play out soon enough. But until it should do so, his course was plain. He gathered his reins in his hands. "You can mount behind me, Cabot," he said. The man shook his head. It was bad enough that he had come down himself without bringing others down too. He tried to say so, but time was too good a thing to be wasted in argument, where an order would serve. There was a water hole to be reached somewhere to the southwest, over beyond the soft, dun hills, and it had to be reached soon. Minutes spelled death under that white hot sun. Landor changed from the friend to the officer, and Cabot threw himself across the narrow haunches that gave weakly under his weight.
It was quite in keeping with everything that had gone before that, the day after a passing Franciscan priest had married them, Landor should have been ordered off upon a scout, and Felipa should have taken it as a matter of course, shedding no tears, and showing no especial emotion beyond a decent regret.
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.
Having finished, he left Cairness to his own devices, and dragging a chair under a bracket lamp, set peacefully about reading the newspapers. For fully an hour no one heeded him. Cairness talked to the bartender and stood treat to the aimless loungers. He had many months of back pay in his pocket, and to save was neither in his character nor in the spirit of the country.
She jumped to her feet. "I ain't going to do it."
"Yes," Cairness called back.
Mrs. Taylor was silent. Her pop blue eyes shifted.