[Pg 130] And later in the day, when the buck had shuffled off again, Cairness brought out his pony,—a new one now, for the little pinto one had died of a rattlesnake bite, from which no golondrina weed had been able to save it,—and saddled it. Then he went again into the cabin. There was but one thing there that he valued,—a life-size head of Felipa he had done in charcoal. It was in a chest beneath his cot. He locked his chest, and going out locked the door also, and putting both keys upon a ring, mounted and rode off along the trail.
It was unfortunate for Landor, as most things seemed to be just then, that the Department Commander happened to have an old score to settle. It resulted in the charges preferred by Brewster being given precedence over the request for a court of inquiry. The Department Commander was a man of military knowledge, and he foresaw that the stigma of having been court-martialled for cowardice would cling to Landor through all his future career, whatever the findings of the court might be. An officer is in the position of the wife of C?sar, and it is better for him, much better, that the charge of "unsoldierly and unofficer-like conduct, in violation of the sixty-first article of war," should never come up against him, however unfounded it may be.
Landor and the adjutant came by, and she called to them. The adjutant backed the vinagrone with a bag of sutler's candy, and Felipa took the tarantula. It was mainly legless trunk, but still furious. Landor studied her. She was quiet, but her eyes had grown narrow, and they gleamed curiously at the sight of the torn legs and feelers scattering around the bottle, wriggling and writhing. She was at her very worst. He hesitated with a momentary compunction. She must have suffered pretty well for her sins already; her work-cut, knotty hands and her haggard face and the bend of her erstwhile too straight shoulders—all showed that plainly enough. It were not gallant; it might even be said to be cruel to worry her. But he remembered the dead Englishwoman, with her babies, stiff and dead, too, beside her on the floor of the charred cabin up among the mountains, and his heart was hardened.
"To Captain Landor's widow, yes;" he met the unsympathetic eyes squarely. "I came to tell you, general, what I have gathered from the squaws. It may serve you."
It was not until they all, from the commandant down to the recruits of Landor's troop, came to say good-by that she felt the straining and cutting of the strong tie of the service, which never quite breaks though it be stretched over rough and long years and almost [Pg 291]forgotten. The post blacksmith to whom she had been kind during an illness, the forlorn sickly little laundress whose baby she had eased in dying, the baker to whose motherless child she had been good—all came crowding up the steps. They were sincerely sorry to have her go. She had been generous and possessed of that charity which is more than faith or hope. It was the good-bys of Landor's men that were the hardest for her. He had been proud of his troop, and it had been devoted to him. She broke down utterly and cried when it came to them, and tears were as hard for her as for a man. But with the officers and their women, it rose up between her and them that they would so shortly despise and condemn her, that they would not touch her hands could they but know her thoughts.
Landor rode over to Bob's place, and giving his horse to the trumpeter, strode in. There were eight men around the bar, all in campaign outfit, and all in various stages of intoxication. Foster was effusive. He was glad to see the general. General Landor, these were the gentlemen who had volunteered to assist Uncle Sam. He presented them singly, and invited Landor to drink. The refusal was both curt and ungracious. "If we are to overtake the hostiles, we have got to start at once," he suggested.
She denied the idea emphatically.
Landor came in a few weeks later. He had had an indecisive skirmish in New Mexico with certain bucks who had incurred the displeasure of the paternal government by killing and eating their horses, to the glory of their gods and ancestors, and thereafter working off their enthusiasm by a few excursions beyond the confines of the reservation, with intent to murder and destroy.
The stableman came on a run, leading her horse, and she fairly leaped down the steps, and slipping the pistol into the holster mounted with a spring. "All of you follow me," she said; "they are going to hold up Mr. Cairness."