The Indians and the cow-boys used the insulators to try their marksmanship upon, and occasionally—in much the same spirit that the college man takes gates from their hinges and pulls down street signs—the young bucks cut the wires and tied the ends with rubber bands. Also trees blown down by storms fell crashing across the line, and some scheme for making it a little less tempting and a little more secure was much needed. Landor had long nursed such an one. So a week later he and Felipa, with a detail of twenty men and a six-mule wagon, started across the Gila Valley to the White Mountains.
The fighting stopped to watch the Ojo-blanco playing tag with the little Apache, right in the heart of the stronghold. The general stood still, with a chuckle, and looked on. "Naughty little boy," he remarked to the captain of the scouts; "but your man Cairness won't catch him, though." "I give this to a friend," it ran, "to be delivered into your own hands, because I must tell you that, though I should never see you again—for the life I lead is hazardous, and chance may at any time take you away forever—I shall love you always. You will not be angry with me, I know. You were not that night by the campfire, and it is not the unwaveringly good woman who resents being told she is loved, in the spirit I have said it to you. I do not ask for so much as your friendship in return, but only that you remember that my life and devotion are yours, and that, should the time ever come that you need me, you send for me. I will come. I will never say this to you again, even should I see you; but it is true, now and for all time."
"Just what he's dishin' up to you now," she told him. Cairness came up. "Are we going into camp, Captain?" he wanted to know, "or are those fellows going to follow the trail?"
"I hear you got Jack Landor up there?"
"You are mistaken, my good fellow, because I won't." There was not the shadow of hesitation in his voice, nor did he lower his mild blue eyes.
"I didn't see the telegram, but it was in effect that he had no knowledge of anything of the sort, and put no faith in it."
He realized for the first time the injury his thought of it did her. It was that which had kept them apart, no doubt, and the sympathy of lawlessness that had drawn her and Cairness together. Yet he had just begun to flatter himself that he was eradicating the savage. She had been gratifyingly like other women since his return. But it was as Brewster had said, after all,—the Apache strain was abhorrent to him as the venom of a snake. Yet he was fond of Felipa, too.
Brewster poured himself a glass of beer and drank it contemplatively and was silent. Then he set it down on the bare table with a sharp little rap, suggesting determination made. It was suggestive of yet more than this, and caused them to say "Well?" with a certain eagerness. He shrugged his shoulders and changed the subject, refusing pointedly to be brought back to it, and succeeding altogether in the aim which had brought him down there.
Life went on very much the same at the post when there was only the infantry left in possession. As there was nothing to do at any time, there was nothing the less for that. On the principle that loneliness is greatest in a crowd, Stanton was more isolated now[Pg 183] than Grant had been in the days when there had been no railroad west of Kansas. The railroad was through the southwest now, but it was a hundred miles away. It was unsafe to ride outside the reservation, there was no one for hops, the only excitement was the daily addition to the list of slaughtered settlers. Felipa spent most of her time with the Ellton baby. Miss McLane had been married to Landor's second lieutenant for a year and a half, and they were very happy. But Felipa in the knowledge of the strength of her own love, which gained new might each time that she wrestled with it and threw it back upon the solid ground of duty, found their affection decidedly insipid. Like the majority of marital attachments, it had no especial dignity. It was neither the steadfast friendship she felt for her husband, nor the absolute devotion she would have given Cairness.
Then he stopped, with every muscle drawn, for he had seen in her answering, unflinching gaze that he was losing her, surely, irrevocably losing her. He let her go, almost throwing her away, and she caught hold of a ledge of rock to steady herself. He picked up the heavy quirt and held it out to her, with a shaking hand, shame-faced, and defiant, too.
Then a big cow-boy left the bar and loitering over, with a clink of spurs, touched him on the shoulder. "The drinks are on you," he menaced. The minister chose to ignore the tone. He rose, smiling, and stretching his cramped arms. "All right, my friend, all right," he said, and going with the big fellow to the bar he gave a general invitation.