"Helping you to do what?" Forbes shrugged his shoulders. "You'll pardon me if I say that here she is a luxurious semi-barbarian." It was on his tongue's tip to add, "and this afternoon, by the spring-house, she was nearly an Apache," but he checked it. "It's very picturesque and poetical and all that,—from the romantic point of view it's perfect,—but it isn't feasible. You can't live on honeycomb for more than a month or twain. I can't imagine a greater misfortune than for you two to grow contented here, and that's what you'll do. It will be a criminal waste of good material."
Cairness started forward and levelled his Colt, but the divine was too quick for him. He fired, and the cow-boy sank down, struggling, shot through the thigh. As he crouched, writhing, on the ground, he fired again, but Cairness kicked the pistol out of his hand, and the bullet, deflected, went crashing in among the bottles.
There was a faint, white light above the distant mountains in the east. The moon was about to rise. In a few moments more it came drifting up, and the plain was all alight. Far away on the edge was a vague, half-luminous haze, and nearer the shadows of the bushes fell sharp and black. A mile ahead, perhaps, along the road, she could make out the dark blot of the mesquite clump. Behind, as she looked again, she could just see four figures following. The better class of citizens did not roam over the country much, and no officers had stopped at his ranch in almost two years, though they had often passed by. And he knew well enough that they would have let their canteens go unfilled, and their horses without fodder, for a long time, rather than have accepted water from his wells or alfalfa from his land. He could understand their feeling, too,—that was the worst of it; but though his love and his loyalty toward Felipa never for one moment wavered, he was learning surely day by day that a woman, be she never so much beloved, cannot make up to a man for long for the companionship of his own kind; and, least of all,—he was forced to admit it in the depths of his consciousness now,—one whose interests were circumscribed.
"Well?" she said peremptorily. It is one thing to be sacrificed to a cause, even if it is only by filling up the ditch that others may cross to victory; it is quite another to be sacrificed in a cause, to die unavailingly without profit or glory of any kind, to be even an obstacle thrown across the way. And that was the end which looked Cabot in the face. He stood and considered his horse where it lay in the white dust, with its bloodshot eyes turned up to a sky that burned like a great blue flame. Its tongue, all black and swollen, hung out upon the sand, its flanks were sunken, and its forelegs limp.
After a while Kirby went back to his work, directing several Mexicans, in hopelessly bad Spanish, and laboring with his own hands at about the proportion of three to one. "Several things, thanks. You haven't told me yet what version of it your husband gave to Stone." [Pg 242]Cairness was a little anxious. It was succeed or fail right here.
The entire command volunteered, as a matter of course, and Landor had his pick. He took thirty men and a dozen scouts. Cairness rode up and offered himself. They looked each other full in the face for a moment. "Very well," said Landor, and turned on his heel. Cairness was properly appreciative, despite the incivility. He knew that Landor could have refused as well as not, and that would have annoyed and mortified him. He was a generous enemy, at any rate. The volunteers mounted and trotted off in a cloud of dust that hung above them and back along their trail, to where the road, as Landor had said, entered the malpais.