Kirby was without fear, but he was also without redress. He turned from them, his face contracted with the pain of his impotence, and walked back to the house. "I could order them off the ranch to-night," he told his wife, as he dropped on a chair, and taking up the hearth brush made a feint of sweeping two or three cinders from the floor; "but it's ten to one they wouldn't go and it would weaken my authority—not that I have any, to be sure—and besides," he flung down the brush desperately and turned to her, "I didn't want to tell you before, but there is a pretty straight rumor that Victorio's band, or a part of it, is in these hills. We may need the men at any time." Neither spoke of the two who should have been back hours ago. The night closed slowly down.
There was a big moon, already on the wane, floating very high in the heavens, and the plain was a silvery sheen. While the men sat at the long table, shovelling in with knife and three-pronged fork the food of the master their pride forbade them to serve, a horse came at a run, up to the quadrangle, and a cow-boy rushed into the open doorway. "Apaches!" he gasped, clutching at the lintel, wild-eyed, "Apaches!"
"Yes," she said, "did you see me? I dare say you thought I was communing with Nature in the midst of the old tin cans and horseshoes. Well, I wasn't. I was watching the trap of a tarantula nest, and I caught him when he came out. I've watched that hole for three days," she announced triumphantly. "As for the vinagrone, the cook found him in his tent, and I bottled him. Come and see the fight," she invited amiably.
She stood alone, with the sticky, wet knife in her hand, catching her breath, coming out of the madness. Then she stooped, and pushing the branches aside felt about for her pistol. It lay at the root of a tree, and[Pg 80] when she had picked it up and put it back in the holster, there occurred to her for the first time the thought that the shot in the dead stillness must have roused the camp. And now she was sincerely frightened. If she were found here, it would be more than disagreeable for Landor. They must not find her. She started at a swift, long-limbed run, making a wide detour, to avoid the sentries, bending low, and flying silently among the bushes and across the shadowy sands.
Cairness gave a grunt that was startlingly savage—so much so that he realized it, and shook himself slightly as a man does who is trying to shake himself free from a lethargy that is stealing over him.
"You don't love her, for that matter, either," Mrs. Campbell reminded him. But she advised the inevitable,—to wait and let it work itself out.
She was silent, but the stubbornness was going fast. She broke off a bunch of little pink blossoms and rolled it in her hands.
It was a very poor case, indeed, that Brewster made out, despite a formidable array of specifications. As it progressed, the situation took on a certain ludicrousness. The tale of woe was so very trivial; it seemed hardly worth the trouble of convening twelve officers from the four corners of the Department to hear it. And there was about Brewster, as he progressed, a suggestion of dragging one foot after the other, leaving out a word here, overlooking an occurrence there, [Pg 155]cutting off a mile in one place, and tacking on an hour in another.