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.
And the blood that blues the inside arm?"— Cairness and Landor and a detachment of troops that had ridden hard all through the night, following an[Pg 132] appalling trail, but coming too late after all, found them so in the early dawn. "'And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.' I wonder how many women who have lived up to every word of the Decalogue have made it all profitless for want of a little charity?"
"They have their good traits, sir," said the man, civilly, "and chief among them is that they mind their own business." Ellton himself answered the muffled knock. "I didn't turn in," he said to the mysterious figure, shrouded in a cape, with a visor down to its peering eyes.
He gave another grunt. "Go away to-morrow. Go to the Fort." He pointed with the hand that held the bit of cigarette in the direction of Apache. "Tell your man."
He turned about and stood still, with his head uncovered, looking straight into her face. Another man might have wished it a little less open and earnest, a little more downcast and modest, but he liked it so. Yet he waited, erect and immovable, and she saw that he meant that every advance should come from her. He was determined to force her to remember that he was a chief of scouts.
One fine afternoon the post was moving along in its usual routine—that quiet which is only disturbed by the ever recurring military formalities and the small squabbles of an isolated community. There had been a lull in the war rumors, and hope for the best had sprung up in the wearied hearts of the plains service, much as the sun had that day come out in a scintillating air after an all-night rain-storm.
"We must get out of this," Cairness started to say, urging his little bronco; but even as he spoke there was a murmur, a rustle, a hissing roar, and the rain fell in one solid sheet, blinding them, beating them down.
"Squaw-man, isn't he?" Brewster asked.
Landor pointed to him. "Who is this?" he asked.