"And so," said Kirby, as he drew a sack of short cut from his pocket and filled his brier, "and so you have chucked up the army? What are you going to do next? Going in for art?" On the instant she put her horse to a run and tore off through the gate toward the open country. It was dark, but by the stars she could see the road and its low bushes and big stones that danced by as her horse, with its belly to the ground, sped on. She strained her ears and caught the sound of hoofs. The men were following her, the gleam of her white dress guiding them. She knew they could not catch her. The horse she rode was a thoroughbred, the fastest on the ranch; not even Cairness's own could match it. It stretched out its long black neck and went evenly ahead, almost without[Pg 327] motion, rising over a dog hole now and then, coming down again, and going on, unslacking. She felt the bit steadily and pressed her knee against the hunting horn for purchase, her toe barely touching the stirrup, that she might be the freer in a fall. There was the crunching of heavy feet up above, on the gravel. It came to them both, even to her, that for them to be seen there together would be final. There would be no explaining it away. Cairness thought of her. She thought of her husband. It would ruin him and his life.
He was in a manner forgetting Felipa. He had forced himself to try to do so. But once in a way he remembered her vividly, so that the blood would burn in his heart and head, and he would start up and beat off the[Pg 267] thought, as if it were a visible thing. It was happening less and less often, however. For two years he had not seen her and had heard of her directly only once. An officer who came into the Agency had been with her, but having no reason to suppose that a scout could be interested in the details of the private life of an officer's wife, he had merely said that she had been very ill, but was better now. He had not seen fit to add that it was said in the garrison—which observed all things with a microscopic eye—that she was very unhappy with Landor, and that the sympathy was not all with her.
The famous mining town was two years old. It had ceased to be a "wind city" or even a canvas one, and was settling down to the dignity of adobe, or even boards, having come to stay. But it was far too new, too American, to have any of the picturesqueness of the Mexican settlements of the country. Chapter 26 In the morning, while the cooks were getting breakfast and the steam of ration-Rio mounted as a grateful incense to the pink and yellow daybreak heavens, having bathed in the creek and elaborated his toilet[Pg 235] with a clean neckerchief in celebration of victory, he walked over to the bunch of tepees to see the women captives.
"To Captain Landor's widow, I am told."
It dawned upon Cairness that this was rather more than a military machine after all, that he had underestimated it.
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.
She was happier than she had been in Washington. Landor saw that, but he refused to see that she was[Pg 181] also better. However much a man may admire, in the abstract, woman as a fine natural animal, unspoiled by social pettiness, he does not fancy the thing in his wife. From the artistic standpoint, a regal barbarian, unconfined, with her virtue and her vices on a big scale, is very well; from the domestic, it is different. She is more suitable in the garb of fashion, with homemade character of parlor-ornament proportions.