As an attempt at consolation, it failed. Landor fairly sprang into a sitting posture, with a degree of impulsiveness that was most unusual with him. His eyes glistened from the greenish circles around them. "Blow over! Good Lord! do you suppose I'll let it blow over? It's got to be sifted to the bottom. And you know that as well as I do." He lay weakly back again, and Felipa came to the edge of the bed and, sitting upon it, stroked his head with her cool hand.
Landor's patience was worn out. "It's a confoundedly curious thing," he told them, "for men who really want to find Indians, to go shooting and building fires." And he sent them to rest upon their arms and upon the cold, damp ground.
He found that it had been father and son come from the Eastern states in search of the wealth that lay in that vague and prosperous, if uneasy, region anywhere west of the Missouri. And among the papers was a letter addressed to Felipa. Landor held it in the flat[Pg 146] of his hand and frowned, perplexed. He knew that it was Cairness's writing. More than once on this last scout he had noticed its peculiarities. They were unmistakable. Why was Cairness writing to Felipa? And why had he not used the mails? The old, never yet justified, distrusts sprang broad awake. But yet he was not the man to brood over them. He remembered immediately that Felipa had never lied to him. And she would not now. So he took the stained letter and went to find her. "Of course," said the officer, "I understand that the hostiles are not in the immediate vicinity?"
So he waited and stood aside somewhat, to watch[Pg 23] the course of Brewster's suit. He derived some little amusement from it, too, but he wondered with rather a deeper tinge of anxiety than was altogether necessary what the final outcome would be.
Then it was the first, at any rate. His manner softened.
"Yes," she said, "I heard it. But I was not frightened. What was it?" He did not know, he said, and she sent him back to the barracks.
The fight began with a shot fired prematurely by one of the scouts, and lasted until nightfall—after the desultory manner of Indian mountain fights, where you fire at a tree-trunk or lichened rock, or at some black, red-bound head that shoots up quick as a prairie dog's and is gone again, and where you follow the tactics of the wary Apache in so far as you may. The curious part of it is that you beat him at his own game every time. It is always the troops that lose the least heavily!
As they came out from dinner the orderlies had the horses at the door. Landor gave his wife parting instructions the while Brewster took an ostentatiously affectionate farewell of Miss McLane, who was herself neither so affectionate nor so sorrowful as she might have been expected to be. The adjutant watched them, furtively and unhappily. Felipa herself was not as unmoved as usual.
"You don't say!" she mocked. "You want the earth and some sun and moon and stars, don't you, though? Well, then, Bill told him about a week afterward. And he told him because Stone had another hold on him (it ain't any of your business what that was, I reckon), and bullied it out of him (Bill ain't got any more backbone than a rattler), and promised to lend him money to set up for hisself on the Circle K Ranch. Want to know anything else?" she sneered.