大连:奔着问题去 揪着问题改

It was evident that she had no intention of making herself agreeable. Landor had learned the inadvisability and the futility of trying to change her moods. She was as unaffected about them as a child. So he took up the conversation he and Cairness had left off, concerning the Indian situation, always a reliable topic. It was bad that year and had been growing steadily worse, since the trouble at the time of his marriage, when Arizona politicians had, for reasons related to their own pockets, brought about the moving of the White Mountain band to the San Carlos Agency. The White Mountains had been peaceable for years, and, if not friendly to the government, at least too wise to oppose it. They had cultivated land and were living on it inoffensively. But they were trading across the territorial line into New Mexico, and that lost money to Arizona. So they were persuaded by such gentle methods as the burning of their Agency buildings and the destruction of their property, to move down to San Carlos. The climate there was of a sort fatal to the mountain Apaches,—the thing had been tried before with all the result that could be desired, in the way of fevers, ague, and blindness,—and also the White Mountains were hereditary enemies of the San Carlos tribes. But a government with a policy, three thousand miles away, did not know these things, nor yet seek to know them. Government is like the gods, upon occasions: it[Pg 68] first makes mad, then destroys. And if it is given time enough, it can be very thorough in both.

"How do you know this?"

The chances of detection would certainly be less if he should go back of the officers' quarters, instead of the barracks. But to do that he would have to cross the road which led from the trader's to the quadrangle, and he would surely meet some one, if it were only some servant girl and her lover. He had observed and learned some things in his week of waiting in the post—that week which otherwise had gone for worse than nothing. He took the back of the barracks, keeping well away from them, stumbling in and out among rubbish heaps. He had no very clear idea of what he meant to do, or of why he was going in this particular direction; but he was ready for anything that might offer to his hand. If he came upon Landor or the adjutant or any of them, he would put a knife into him. But he was not going to the trouble of hunting[Pg 206] them out. And so he walked on, and came to the haystacks, looming, denser shadows against the sky. There were two rooms to the cabin where they were, the big sitting room and the small bedchamber beyond. Kirby went into the bedroom and came out with two rifles and a revolver. He put the revolver into his wife's hands. "I'll do my best, you know, dear. But if I'm done for, if there is no hope for you and the children, use it," he said. And added, "You understand?"

The puppy which had been born the same day as the little Reverend, a beast half coyote, half shepherd, and wholly hideous, came and sat itself down beside them on the sill, looked up with its tongue hanging out to one side, and smiled widely. The beaming good nature of the two Reverends was infectious. The baby squealed gleefully, and kicked until it was set down on the doorstep to pat the dog. He felt altogether reckless. In just such a mood, he reflected, his grandmother had probably poisoned her first husband. He could almost have poisoned Landor, the big duty-narrowed, conventional, military machine. Why could he not have married some one of his own mental circumspection?—Mrs. Campbell, for instance. He had watched that affair during his enlistment. More the pity it had come to nothing. Landor could have understood Mrs. Campbell. Then he thought of Felipa, as he had seen her first, looking full into the glare of the sunset, and afterward at him, with magnificent impersonality.

"Ain't it funny how narrow-minded some good women can be, though?" he speculated, looking at her very much as he was in the habit of looking at his specimens. And he quoted slowly, as if he were saying over the names and family characteristics of a specimen. Landor did not stop to consider it. It was one of the few impulses of his life, or perhaps only the quickest thinking he had ever done. Cairness was there among the rocks, disabled and in momentary danger of his life. If it had been a soldier, under the same circumstances, Landor might have gone on and have sent another soldier to help him. It was only a chief of scouts, but it was a man of his own kind, for all that—and it was his enemy. Instinct dismounted him before reason had time to warn him that the affair of an officer is not to succor his inferiors in the thick of the fighting when there are others who can be better spared to do it. He threw his reins over his horse's head and into the hands of the orderly-trumpeter, and jumped down beside Cairness. Slowly, with no undue haste whatever, the Reverend Taylor produced from beneath the skirts of his clerical garb another revolver. There was a derisive and hilarious howl. When it had subsided, he turned to the barkeeper. "Got my lemon pop ready?" he asked. The[Pg 44] man pushed it over to him, and he took it up in his left hand.

She laughed too, musically, with a bewitching gurgle,[Pg 238] and gave him a swift glance, at once soft and sad. "Ella es muy fea, no es simpatica, la Gringa."

He turned on his heel and left her.

For some days Felipa had noticed a change, indefinable and slight, yet still to be felt, in the manner of the Indians all about. Not that they were ever especially gracious, but now the mothers discouraged the children from playing hide-and-seek with her, and although there were quite as many squaws, fewer bucks came around than before. But Alchesay could always be relied upon to stalk in, at regular intervals, and seat himself near the fire, or the hot ashes thereof.

But she was not sure that she thought so. She wanted to know why the woman could not be sent to the hotel, and he explained that Cairness wished a very close watch kept on her until she was able to be up. Curiosity got the better of outraged virtue then. "Why?" she asked, and leaned forward eagerly.

And now it was a struggle of sheer force and agility. She managed to whip out the knife from her belt and to strike time and time again through sinewy flesh, to the bone. The only noise was the dragging of their feet on the sand, the cracking of the willows and the swishing of the blade. It was savage against savage, two vicious, fearless beasts.

Of a truth she understood only too well, that death with a bullet through the brain could be a tender mercy.