It was a bitterly cold January morning. There had been a rain in the night, and the clouds yet hung gray over Mt. Graham and the black gap. The wet wind went howling over the valley, so that the little flag at the top of the staff snapped and whipped as though it would be torn from the halyards. Sunday inspection and guard mounting had been chilling ceremonies, performed in overcoats that were hardly more blue than the men's faces. Having finished them, Brewster hurried across the parade to Captain Campbell's quarters.
Cairness started for the salt lick, then changed his mind and his destination, and merely rode with Forbes around the parts of the ranch which were under more or less cultivation, and to one of the water troughs beneath a knot of live oaks in the direction of the foot-hills. So they returned to the home place earlier than they otherwise would have done, and that, too, by way of the spring-house.
"How," he said gruffly. [Pg 227] "De veras?" asked Cairness, sharply. He was of no mind to lose her like this, when he was so near his end.
Out in the corral the cow-boy was holding forth. The men had stopped work on the instant that Kirby had turned his back. If Kirby could loll on soft cushions and drink tea, as free-born Americans and free-souled Irishmen they might do the same. "It's all right," said the cow-boy, with a running accompaniment of profanity, as he cleaned his brutal Mexican bit. "Johnny Bull don't have to believe in it if he don't like. But all the same, I seen a feller over here[Pg 124] to the 3 C Range, and he told me he seen the military camped over to San Tomaso a week ago, and that there was a lot of stock, hundred head or so, run off from the settlements. You see, them Apaches is making for the southern Chiricahuas over in Sonora to join the Mexican Apaches, and they're going to come this here way. You see!" and he rubbed at the rust vigorously with a piece of soft rawhide.
Mrs. Taylor was silent. Her pop blue eyes shifted.
It is only a feeble love in need of stimulants and spicing that craves secrecy. A strong one seeks the open and a chance to fight to the end, whatever that may be, before the judges of earth and heaven. They stood facing each other, challenging across the woman with the look in their eyes that men have worn since long ere ever the warriors of old disputed the captive before the walls of Troy.
What had he done to the fellow, if he might ask, Cairness inquired.
"No, no; it's a good deal, but it ain't too much. Not that it could be more, very well," he added, and he glanced furtively at the woman within, who had stretched out on the lounge with her face to the wall. Mrs. Taylor was fanning her.
The fall had knocked the breath from his body. The under dog did not answer.
"Been hamstrung," the officer bawled back hoarsely.