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 16 Cairness and Landor and a detachment of troops that had ridden hard all through the night, following an[Pg 132] appalling trail, but coming too late after all, found them so in the early dawn.
"Well?" said the officer.
"I guess not," said Landor, tolerantly, as he turned[Pg 106] his horse over to his orderly; "but, anyway," he added to Ellton, "we had a picnic—of a sort."
So much for his past. As for his present. His only friends were treacherous savages and some few settlers and cow-boys. They would none of them miss him if he were to be laid under a pile of stones with a board cross at his head anywhere by the roadside, in the plains or among the hills. Some of them were honest men, some were desperadoes; none were his equals, not one understood the things that meant life to him. He had no abode, not so much as the coyote over there on the top of the little swell. He made his living in divers and uncertain ways. Sometimes he sent pictures to the East, studies of the things about him.[Pg 165] They sold well. Sometimes he was a scout or a guide. Sometimes he prospected and located claims with more or less good luck. Sometimes he hired himself out as a cow-boy at round-ups, as he was doing now. On the whole, he was, from the financial standpoint, more of a success than from any other.
She was sitting in her room, sewing. Of late she had become domesticated, and she was fading under it. He had seen it already, and he saw it more plainly than ever just now. She looked up and smiled. Her smile had always been one of her greatest charms, because it was rare and very sweet. "Jack," she greeted him, "what have you done with the bread knife you took with you, dear? I have been lost without it."
"Yes," answered Forbes, "she was very much admired." He looked a little unhappy. But his mind was evidently made up, and he went on doggedly: "Look here, Morely, old chap, I am going to tell you what I think, and you may do as you jolly well please about it afterward—kick me off the ranch, if you like. But I can see these things with a clearer eye than yours, because I am not in love, and you are, dreadfully so, you know, not to say infatuated. I came near to being once upon a time, and with your wife, too. I thought her the most beautiful woman I had ever known, and I do yet. I thought, too, that she was a good deal unhappier with Landor than she herself realized; in which I was perfectly right. It's plainer than ever, by contrast. Of course I understand that she is part Indian, though I've only known it recently. And it's because I've seen a good deal of your Apaches of late that I appreciate the injustice you are doing her and Cairness Junior, keeping them here. She is far and away too good for all this," he swept the scene comprehensively with his pipe. "She'd be a sensation, even in London. Do you see what I mean, or are you too vexed to see anything?"
Landor told him to get his cap and come out. He followed the shadows of the trees near the low commissary building, and they stood there, each behind a thick cottonwood trunk. Landor watched the light in Brewster's window. It disappeared before long, and they held their breaths. Ellton began to guess what was expected to happen. Yet Brewster himself did not come out.
He whistled more cheerily yet when he saw that small hand. He was a tame mocking-bird, and he had learned to eat dead flies from it. That was one of the greatest treats of his highly satisfactory life. The hand left the window and presently waved from the doorway.
"You will still keep her then?" Cairness wished to know.
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.