He went on the next day with his scouts, and eventually joined Landor in the field. Landor was much the same as ever, only more gray and rather more deeply lined. Perhaps he was more taciturn, too, for beyond necessary orders he threw not one word to the chief of scouts. Cairness could understand that the sight of himself was naturally an exasperation, and in some manner a reproach, too. He was sorry that he had been thrown with this command, but, since he was, it was better that Landor should behave as he was doing. An assumption of friendliness would have been a mockery, and to some extent an ignoble one.
It occurred to Cairness that it was ungenerous of Landor to revenge himself by a shot from the safe intrenchment of his rank. "Mrs. Landor has had time to tell me nothing," he said, and turned on his spurred heel and went off in the direction of the post. But it was not a situation, after all, into which one could infuse much dignity. He was retreating, anyway it might be looked at, and there is bound to be more or less ignominy in the most creditable retreat.
Somewhere in that same poem, he remembered, there had been advice relative to a man's contending to the uttermost for his life's set prize, though the end in sight were a vice. He shrugged his shoulders. It might be well enough to hold to that in Florence and the Middle Ages. It was highly impracticable for New Mexico and the nineteenth century. So many things left undone can be conveniently laid to the prosaic and materialistic tendencies of the age. Things were bad enough now—for Landor, for himself, and most especially for Felipa. But if one were to be guided by the romantic poets, they could conceivably be much worse. Landor cursed the malpais and the men who were leading him over it. "How much more of this rough country is there going to be?" he demanded, as they stopped to shoe two horses that had come unshod on the sharp rocks. "Colonel," they made answer with much dignity, "we are more anxious than you to get back to our defenceless women and children."
He raised his eyes now, and they were appealing. "It's an awful lot to ask of you, Jack, even for old sake's sake. I know that. But the little thing is almost white, and I cared for her mother—in a way. I can't let her go back to the tribe." His lips quivered and he bit at them nervously. "I kept meaning to get her away somehow." There was a sort of pity on Landor's face, pity and half contempt. He had heard that from Cabot so often for so many years, "I kept meaning to do this thing or the other, somehow, some day." "But it looks as though you might have to do it now. Will you, lieutenant?" He tugged at the cinchings while he waited.
Six years of fighting, of bloodshed, of heavy loss in blood and treasure to the government, the careers of the incarnate devils Juh, Victorio, and Geronimo—all the evils let loose on the southwest from '78 to '85 were traceable primarily to the selling of bad whiskey to a hunting party of Chiricahuas by two storekeepers, greedy of gain.
The sergeant spent more time upon the oaths with which he embellished the counter-question as to how he should know anything about it, than would have been consumed in a civil explanation.
He handed them over.
"Seen the way Landor's been catching it?" they asked.
But that was not exactly what he wanted to know, and he insisted. "But what is going to become of you? Are you going back to the Campbells?" He had asked her to stay with his wife and himself as long as she would, but she had refused.
If Cairness had not slipped and gone sprawling down[Pg 232] at that moment, the fourth bullet would have brought him up short. It sung over him, instead, and splashed against a stone, and when he got to his feet again the eyes had come out from their hiding-place. They were in the head of a very young buck. He had sprung to the top of his rock and was dancing about with defiant hilarity, waving his hands and the Winchester, and grimacing tantalizingly. "Yaw! ya!" he screeched. Cairness discharged his revolver, but the boy whooped once more and was down, dodging around the stone. Cairness dodged after him, wrath in his heart and also a vow to switch the little devil when he should get him. But he did not seem to be getting him.