It was the signal to the woman in that other room behind the locked door, and above all the demoniacal sounds it reached her. Only an instant she hesitated, until that door, too, began to give. Then a cold muzzle of steel found, in the darkness, two little struggling, dodging faces—and left them marred. And once again the trigger was unflinchingly pulled, as greedy arms reached out to catch the white, woman's figure that staggered and fell. He made as if to kick the bottle away, but quick as a flash she was on her feet and facing him.
"And after that?" Landor pointed to him. "Who is this?" he asked.
"Do you think you could love me, Felipa?" he asked, without any preface at all. Not a week before—and then the Agency had been officially at peace—a Mexican packer had been shot down by an arrow from some unseen bow, within a thousand yards of the post, in broad daylight. The Indians, caking their bodies with clay, and binding sage or grass upon their heads, could writhe unseen almost within arm's reach. But Felipa was not afraid. Straight for the river bottom she made, passing amid the [Pg 78]dump-heaps, where a fire of brush was still smouldering, filling the air with pungent smoke, where old cans and bottles shone in the starlight, and two polecats, pretty white and black little creatures, their bushy tails erect, sniffed with their sharp noses as they walked stupidly along. Their bite meant hydrophobia, but though one came blindly toward her, she barely moved aside. Her skirt brushed it, and it made a low, whining, mean sound.
"Who is there to marry hereabouts? And always supposing there were some one, I'd be sent off on a scout next day, and have to ship her back East for an indefinite time. It would be just my blamed luck." Felipa had taught her horse to make its average gait a run, and she would have started it running now, but that Landor checked her. It was high time, he said, that he should teach her to ride. Now she was more than a little proud of her horsemanship, so she was annoyed as well as surprised. "I dare say not," said Landor, his face growing black again; "they'll cover fifty or seventy-five miles a day. We can't do that, by a good deal. We couldn't even if those damned civilians would keep their distance ahead."
There was human plunder, too—women from the villages, all Mexicans but one, and that one was American. Cairness, having gone off with some scouts to reconnoitre, did not see them that night. When he came back it was already dark, and he took his supper; and rolling himself in his blanket slept, as he had always for the past fortnight, with only the faintly radiant night sky above him.
But the Apaches held it for only a day, for all that. They were unprepared and overconfident. Their bucks were for the most part away plundering the hapless Mexican settlements in the desert below. They had thought that no white troops nor Mexicans could follow here, and they had neglected to count with the scouts, who had been hostiles themselves in their day, and who had the thief's advantage in catching a thief. And so while the bucks and children wandered round among the trees or bathed in the creek, while the hobbled[Pg 230] ponies grazed leisurely on the rank grass, and the squaws carried fuel and built fires and began their day of drudgery, they were surprised.
The hero of the episode rode in the ambulance, sitting on the front seat, holding his carbine across his knees, and peering with sharp, far-sighted blue eyes over the alkali flats. Occasionally he took a shot at a jack rabbit and brought it down unfailingly, but the frontiersman has no relish for rabbit meat, and it was left where it dropped, for the crows. He also brought down a sparrow hawk wounded in the wing, and, [Pg 29]having bound up the wound, offered it to Brewster, who took it as an opening to a conversation and tried to draw him out.
Presently she began again, "Well, he wasn't in it at all. Stone wasn't."
Cairness gave a grunt that was startlingly savage—so much so that he realized it, and shook himself slightly as a man does who is trying to shake himself free from a lethargy that is stealing over him.
The contract went to a needy and honest contractor when the bids were opened. And by night the whole garrison was in excitement over Brewster's inexplicable resignation. It was inexplicable, but not unexplained. He went around to all the officers with the exception only of Landor and Ellton, and told that he had some time since decided to give up the service and to read and practise law in Tucson. No one was inclined to believe it. But no one knew what to believe, for Ellton and his captain held their tongues. They left the commandant himself in ignorance.
He had seen a large band heading for the ranch, and[Pg 128] had found a dead white man on the north road, he said, and he gesticulated madly, his voice choked with terror.