"Are you joking," he asked, "or what?"
Because of which Landor, as soon as he was up, went in search of the commanding officer, and found him in the adjutant's office, and the adjutant with him. He demanded an explanation. "If any one has been [Pg 144]saying anything about me, I want to know it. I want to face him. It can't be that newspaper rot. We are all too used to it." "I can see, sir," the lieutenant answered. But she would die before she would be faithless to him. He was sure of that. Only—why should he exact so much? Why should he not make the last of[Pg 150] a long score of sacrifices? He had been unselfish with her always, from the day he had found the little child, shy as one of the timid fawns in the woods of the reservation, and pretty in a wild way, until now when she sat there in front of him, a woman, and his wife, loving, and beloved of, another man.
"It is from Cairness," said Landor, watching her narrowly. Her hand shook, and he saw it. The citizens rode off. She did not. She would as lief touch a toad.
"He gives you what I can't give," she said.
Cairness jumped forward, and his arm went around her, steadying her. For a short moment she leaned against his shoulder. Then she drew away, and her voice was quite steady as she greeted him. He could never have guessed that in that moment she had[Pg 95] learned the meaning of her life, that there had flashed burningly through her brain a wild, unreasoning desire to stand forever backed against that rock of strength, to defy the world and all its restrictions.
Cairness went on, back to the barracks, and sitting at the troop clerk's desk, made a memory sketch of her. It did not by any means satisfy him, but he kept it nevertheless.
Whereupon the rancher, his feelings being much injured, and his trust in mankind in general shattered, did as many a wiser man has done before him,—made himself very drunk, and in his cups told all that he knew to two women and a man. "I'd like to know whose affair it is, if it ain't his, the measly sneak. He sicked me on,"—oaths, as the grammars phrase it, "understood." The tears dribbled off his fierce mustache, and the women and the man laughed at him, but they were quite as drunk as he was, and they forgot all about it at once. Lawton did not forget. He thought of it a great deal, and the more he thought, the more he wanted revenge.
She put the baby between them, and it sat looking into the fire in the way she herself so often did, until her husband had called her the High Priestess of the Flames. Then she sank down among the cushions again and stirred her coffee indolently, drowsily, steeped in the contentment of perfect well-being. Cairness followed her movements with sharp pleasure.
And what she did was to say, with a deliberation equal to his own, that her mother had been a half-breed Mescalero and her father a private.
He caught her by the arm, exasperated past all civility, and shook her. "Do you hear me, Felipa Cabot? I tell you that I love you."