Yet, in the midst of her little triumph, Felipa fell ill, failing without apparent cause, and then the uneasiness that had only slept in Landor for eighteen months came awake again. He did not believe when the doctors told him that it was the lassitude of the moist, warm springtime which was making the gray circles about her eyes, the listlessness of her movements.
"Give me the keys—all the keys." He rode away at once after they had lunched. And Felipa went to her room, and dropped down shivering beside the little red-hot iron stove, moaning between her clenched teeth. 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.
The bids, duly sealed, were given into the keeping of the commissary officer to be put in his safe, and kept until the day of judgment, when all being opened in public and in the presence of the aspirants, the lowest would[Pg 188] get the contract. It was a simple plan, and gave no more opportunity for underhand work than could be avoided. But there were opportunities for all that. It was barely possible—the thing had been done—for a commissary clerk or sergeant, desirous of adding to his pittance of pay, or of favoring a friend among the bidders, to tamper with the bids. By the same token there was no real reason why the commissary officer could not do it himself. Landor had never heard, or known, of such a case, but undoubtedly the way was there. It was a question of having the will and the possession of the safe keys. She asked for the full particulars of her husband's death, and when Ellton had told her, sat looking straight before her at the wall. "It was very like Jack," she said finally, in a low voice, "his whole life was like that." And then she turned squarely to the lieutenant. "Where is Mr. Cairness? Where did they take him?" She was surprised at herself that she had not thought of that before.
Cairness was still in his dust-grayed outfit, his hair was below where his collar would have been had he been wearing one, and his nose was on its way to at least the twentieth new skin that summer. In all his years of the frontier, he had never become too well tanned to burn. His appearance was not altogether reassuring, Stone thought. He was not only an ass, he[Pg 172] was also tough—the sort of a fellow with whom it was as well to remember that your six-shooter is beneath the last copy of your paper, on the desk at your elbow. She gave a dry little sob of unutterable glad relief and tried to raise her voice and call to him, the call they used for one another when they rode about the ranch. But the sound was only a weak, low wail.
The Reverend Taylor gradually became aware that the air was very bad. He laid down the newspaper and looked round.