But it is because of just this that no scion of ultra-civilization degenerates so thoroughly as does he. Retrogression is easy to him. He can hardly go higher, because he is on the height already; but he can slip back. Set him in a lower civilization, he sinks one degree[Pg 266] lower than that. Put him among savages, and he is nearer the beasts than they. It does not come to pass in a day, nor yet at all if he be part of a community, which keeps in mind its traditions and its church, and which forms its own public opinion. Then he is the leaven of all the measures of meal about him, the surest, steadiest, most irresistible civilizing force. But he cannot advance alone. He goes back, and, being cursed with the wisdom which shows him his debasement, in loathing and disgust with himself, he grows sullen and falls back yet more.
The minister nodded his head. "Yes, I reckon there is," he agreed.
The men followed, sitting erect, toes in. They might have been on mounted inspection except for the field clothes, stained and dusty. They were to go down a narrow path for close on a mile, between two rows of rifle barrels, and that not at a run or a gallop, but at a trot, at the most, for the lava was slippery as glass in spots. They were willing enough to do it, even anxious—not that there was any principle involved, or glory to be gained, but because their blood was up and it was part of the chances of the game.
Landor took his arm from the saddle and stood upright, determinedly. "We are going to stop this mob business, that's what we are going to do," he said, and he went forward and joined in a discussion that was[Pg 117] upon the verge of six-shooters. He set forth in measured tones, and words that reverberated with the restrained indignation behind them, that he had come upon the assurance that he was to strike Indians, that his men had but two days' rations in their saddle bags, and that he was acting upon his own responsibility, practically in disobedience of orders. If the Indians were to be hit, it must be done in a hurry, and he must get back to the settlements. He held up his hands to check a flood of protests and explanations. "There has got to be a head to this," his drill-trained voice rang out, "and I propose to be that head. My orders have got to be obeyed." Cairness watched how strong and erect and how sure of every muscle she was, and how well the blond little head looked against the dull blackness of the mother's hair. The child was in no way like Felipa, and it had never taken her place in its father's love. He was fond of it and proud, too; but, had he been put to the test, he would have sacrificed its life for that of its mother, with a sort of fanatical joy.
"Is there anything, then, that I can do for you? the officer asked. His intentions were good; Cairness was bound to realize that, too.
"You know that I love you?" he said unevenly.
They clambered up the mountain side, back to the camp, and Cairness escorted her to the tepee in silence. Then he left her. "Don't try to run away again," he advised. "You can't get far." He started off and turned back. "Speaking of running away, where's the Greaser you lit out with?"