When, in the darkness of a cloudy night, he said good-by to her on the road before his quarters, bending to kiss the warm mouth he could not see, he knew that it would have been possible for him to have loved her, had she been nearly all that she was not. The Reverend Taylor sat in silence for a time, reflecting. Then he broke forth again, a little querulously. "What in thunderation do they dine at such an hour for?" Cairness explained that it was an English custom to call supper dinner, and to have it very late.
She herself lay at full length upon a couch she had devised out of packing cases. It occurred to Landor that she often dropped down to rest now, and that she was sallow and uneasy.
The cook came running, six-shooter in hand, but Alchesay was driving them away and lowering the canvas flaps. Felipa told the cook that it was all right, and went on with her dressing. Although she had no gifts for guessing the moods and humors of her father's race, she understood her mother's considerably better,[Pg 93] and so she did not even call a "gracias" after Alchesay. She merely nodded amicably when she went out and found him sitting on the ground waiting for her. He returned the nod, a degree less graciously, if possible, and began to talk to her in bad Spanish, evidently putting small faith in her command of the White Mountain idiom, marvellous, to be sure, in a White-eye squaw, for such were of even greater uselessness than the average woman, but of no account whatever in a crisis. And such he plainly considered this to be. 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.
"You are not fit to go," Felipa said resignedly, "but that doesn't matter, of course."
The post talked it over unceasingly, and commented on Landor's attitude. "He stalks around in defiant dignity and makes everybody uncomfortable," they said.
He sat down cross-legged on the ground, facing her. "I've got plenty of time, my dear woman. I can stop here all day if you can, you know," he assured her. Afterward he made a painting of her as she had sat there, in among the rocks and the scrub growth, aged, bent, malevolent, and in garments that were picturesque because they were rags. He called it the Sibyl of the Sierra Madre. And, like the Trojan, he plied her with[Pg 240] questions—not of the future, but of the past. "Well," he said, "are you going to answer me?"
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.
"She's mighty nice looking, ain't she?"
"Lookin' at my stove-pipe?" asked the Reverend Mr. Taylor. "Only one in these parts, I reckon," and he vouchsafed an explanation of the holes. "Them holes? A feller in Tucson done that for me."
She had never been cruel intentionally before, and afterward she regretted it. But she raised her eyebrows and turned her back on him without answering.