对话抗“疫”英雄:一份执着 一份感动 一缕思念

Cairness nodded. He knew that the Interior Department had sent an agent out to investigate that complaint, and that the agent had gone his way rejoicing and reporting that all was well with the Indian and honest with the contractor. It was not true. Every[Pg 270] one who knew anything about it knew that. Cairness supposed that also was the work of the politicians. But there are things one cannot make plain to a savage having no notions of government. Kirby suggested, with a hesitation that was born not of insincerity but of delicacy, that they would be awfully glad to have him stop with them and help run the Circle K Ranch. But Cairness shook his head. "Thanks. I'll stop long enough to recall the old times, though I dare say it would be better to forget them, wouldn't it? Ranching isn't in my line. Not that I am at all sure what is in my line, for that matter."

She stood alone, with the sticky, wet knife in her hand, catching her breath, coming out of the madness. Then she stooped, and pushing the branches aside felt about for her pistol. It lay at the root of a tree, and[Pg 80] when she had picked it up and put it back in the holster, there occurred to her for the first time the thought that the shot in the dead stillness must have roused the camp. And now she was sincerely frightened. If she were found here, it would be more than disagreeable for Landor. They must not find her. She started at a swift, long-limbed run, making a wide detour, to avoid the sentries, bending low, and flying silently among the bushes and across the shadowy sands.

"You didn't stay to see the operation?" His voice was ominously quiet. When he was well within, he began to investigate, and he recalled now that he had heard a great deal of this cave. It was very large, supposedly, but almost unexplored. Tradition ran that the Spaniards, in the long-past days of their occupation, had had a big silver mine in there, worked by padres who had taught the timid Indians to believe that it was haunted, that they might not take it for themselves, nor yet guide others to it. And, too, it had been the refuge and hiding-place of Billy the Kid for years. It was said that since then a corporal and three men had gone in once, and that a search party had found their gnawed skeletons by the edge of the river that flowed there underground. Oddly enough, and thanks to the missionary fathers, it had never served as an Indian stronghold, though its advantages for such a use were manifest.

Felipa nodded. "A very little," she said.

"Yes," she said, "I am very much attached to it. I was born to it."

And later in the day, when the buck had shuffled off again, Cairness brought out his pony,—a new one now, for the little pinto one had died of a rattlesnake bite, from which no golondrina weed had been able to save it,—and saddled it. Then he went again into the cabin. There was but one thing there that he valued,—a life-size head of Felipa he had done in charcoal. It was in a chest beneath his cot. He locked his chest, and going out locked the door also, and putting both keys upon a ring, mounted and rode off along the trail.

"True, too," Brewster admitted perforce.

She stood up very deliberately and faced him with a look he had never seen before in her eyes, dark and almost murderous. But she had her fury under [Pg 202]control. He had guessed that her rage might be a very ugly thing, but he drew back a step at the revelation of its possibilities. Twice she tried hard to speak. She put her hand to her throat, where her voice burned away as it rose. Then it came from the depths of that being of hers, which he had never fathomed.

The stableman came on a run, leading her horse, and she fairly leaped down the steps, and slipping the pistol into the holster mounted with a spring. "All of you follow me," she said; "they are going to hold up Mr. Cairness."

They opened upon non-committal topics: the weather, which had been scorching and parched since April, and would continue so, in all probability, until September; the consequent condition of the crops, which was a figure of speech, for there were none, and never had been, deserving of the name; and then Cairness, having plenty of time, brought it round to the troops. In the tirade that followed he recognized a good many of the sentiments, verbatim, of the articles in the Tucson papers of the time of Landor's scout. But he half shut his eyes and listened, pulling at the small, brown mustache. Stone set him down, straightway, as an ass, or English, which was much the same thing.

But he knew that she did not love him. She was grateful. It was sometimes an Apache trait. He realized that it was his curse and hers that he could not for an instant forget the strain. He read her character by it, half unconsciously. He saw it in her honesty, her sinewy grace, her features, her fearlessness, her kindness with children,—they were all Apache characteristics; and they were all repellent. From his youth on, he had associated the race with cruelty and every ghastly sight he had come upon, on the plains and in the mountains. It was a prejudice with more than the force of a heritage. He went on with his study of her, as she sat there. He was always studying her.[Pg 54] But he could not decide whether it was that she lacked sensitiveness and was really not greatly disturbed, or a savage sort of pride in concealing emotions.

Felipa shook her head at Ellton. "Don't get yourself excited about it, Jack dear," she soothed, and Ellton also tried to quiet him.

The general took a couple of hundred Indian scouts, enlisted for six months' service, a troop of cavalry, and a half-dozen guides and interpreters, and followed across the border.