Forbes explained their early return, and spoke of the ranch. "It might be a garden, this territory, if[Pg 315] only it had water enough," he said; "it has a future, possibly, but its present is just a little dismal, I think. Are you greatly attached to the life here, Mrs. Cairness?" He was studying her, and she knew it, though his glance swept the outlook comprehensively, and she was watching the mail-carrier riding toward them along the road. It was the brother of the little girl who followed along behind them, and who ran off now to meet him, calling and waving her hand.
"The Sun and the Darkness and the Winds were all listening. He promised to pay me dos reales each day. To prove to you that I am now telling the truth,[Pg 269] here is what he wrote for me." He held it out to Cairness, a dirty scrap of wrapping-paper scrawled over with senseless words.
Another grievance was the Ellton baby. Felipa adored it, and for no reason that he could formulate, he did not wish her to. He wanted a child of his own. Altogether he was not so easy to get on with as he had been. She did not see why. Being altogether sweet-humored and cheerful herself, she looked[Pg 182] for sweet humor and cheerfulness in him, and was more and more often disappointed. Not that he was ever once guilty of even a quick burst of ill temper. It would have been a relief. "Do you object to taking her into your house for a short time?"
After tea the ranchers settled down to smoke and read. The Reverend Taylor brought out his collection of specimens and dilated upon them to Cairness. 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.
Landor expressed pleasure, without loss of words.
With the things of the flesh there can be the vindictive hope, the certainty indeed, that they will lose their charm with time, that the gold will tarnish and the gray come above the green, but a thought is dearer for every year that it is held, and its beauty does not fade away. The things of the flesh we may even mar ourselves, if the rage overpowers us, but those of the intellect are not to be reached or destroyed; and Felipa felt it as she turned from them and went into the house.
"She was a captive among the Chiricahuas up in the Sierra Madre. She's had a hard time of it. That and the return march have been too much for her."
Felipa had taken charge of the two, being the only woman in the place not already provided with children of her own, and had roused herself to an amount of capability her husband had never suspected her of. She belonged to the tribe of unoccupied women, as a rule, not that she was indolent so much as that she appeared to have no sense of time nor of the value of it. Landor, who had always one absorbing interest or another to expend his whole energy upon, even if it were nothing larger than running the troop kitchen, thought her quite aimless, though he never addressed that or any other reproach to her. He was contented at the advent of the hapless orphans for one thing, that they superseded the Ellton baby, which he secretly detested with a kind of unreasonable jealousy.