It was so with Cairness. He was sinking down, and ever down, to the level of his surroundings; he was even ceasing to realize that it was so. He had begun by studying the life of the savages, but he was so entirely grasping their point of view that he was losing all other. He was not so dirty as they—not yet. His stone cabin was clean enough, and their villages were squalid. A morning plunge in the river was still a necessity, while with them it was an event. But where he had once spent his leisure in reading in several tongues—in keeping in touch with the world—and in painting, he would now sit for hours looking before him into space, thinking unprofitable thoughts. He lived from hand to mouth. Eventually he would without doubt marry a squaw. The thing was more than common upon the frontier.
"Yes," he said, emptying the soap-caked water from the Indian basket wash basin upon the earth floor;[Pg 27] "why?"—"I used to know him in '61. He came up to the Mescalero Agency then, not long before the Texans overran the place. I recollect there was a sort of blizzard and it was seventeen below. He came after a kid me and another feller'd been looking after. Pretty little cuss, about four years old. I gave her her first bow'n arrow."
Cairness and Felipa were alone, and he leaned nearer to her. "Do you know," he asked in a low voice, "that there have been all sorts of rumors of trouble among the Indians for some time?"
When he returned at the end of a couple of hours she was all humility, and she had moreover done something that was rare for her: made capital of her beauty, putting on her most becoming white gown, and piling her hair loosely on the top of her head, with a cap of lace and a ribbon atop of it. Landor liked the little morning caps, probably because they were a sort of badge of civilization, but they were incongruous for all that, and took from the character of her head. His anger was well in leash, and he gave her the mail which had just come in by the stage, quite as though nothing had occurred. "And now," he commenced, when he had glanced over the Eastern papers, "I have seen the C. O.; he wants the line between here and Apache fixed. He will give me the detail if you care to go." He plainly meant to make no further reference to her confession, but she would have been more than woman if she had known when to let a matter drop. There was a bright I. D. blanket spread on the ground a little way back from the fire, and she threw herself down upon it. All that was picturesque in his memories of history flashed back to Cairness, as he took his place beside Landor on the log and looked at her. Boadicea might have sat so in the depths of the Icenean forests, in the light of the torches of the Druids. So the Babylonian queen might have rested in the midst of her victorious armies, or she of Palmyra, after the lion hunt in the deserts of Syria. Her eyes, red lighted beneath the shadowing lashes, met his. Then she glanced away into the blackness of the pine forest, and calling her dog to lie down beside her, stroked its silky red head. "drop that!" called the cow-boy.
"Who is there to marry hereabouts? And always supposing there were some one, I'd be sent off on a scout next day, and have to ship her back East for an indefinite time. It would be just my blamed luck."
"Cairness," said the parson, fixing his eyes upon the back of the bent head, as if they were trying to see through into the impenetrable brain beneath, "are you going to spend the rest of your life at this sort of thing?"
It was evident that she had no intention of making herself agreeable. Landor had learned the inadvisability and the futility of trying to change her moods. She was as unaffected about them as a child. So he took up the conversation he and Cairness had left off, concerning the Indian situation, always a reliable topic. It was bad that year and had been growing steadily worse, since the trouble at the time of his marriage, when Arizona politicians had, for reasons related to their own pockets, brought about the moving of the White Mountain band to the San Carlos Agency. The White Mountains had been peaceable for years, and, if not friendly to the government, at least too wise to oppose it. They had cultivated land and were living on it inoffensively. But they were trading across the territorial line into New Mexico, and that lost money to Arizona. So they were persuaded by such gentle methods as the burning of their Agency buildings and the destruction of their property, to move down to San Carlos. The climate there was of a sort fatal to the mountain Apaches,—the thing had been tried before with all the result that could be desired, in the way of fevers, ague, and blindness,—and also the White Mountains were hereditary enemies of the San Carlos tribes. But a government with a policy, three thousand miles away, did not know these things, nor yet seek to know them. Government is like the gods, upon occasions: it[Pg 68] first makes mad, then destroys. And if it is given time enough, it can be very thorough in both.
The character of Geronimo, as already manifested, was not one to inspire much confidence, nor was his appearance one to command respect. The supposititious dignity of the savage was lacking entirely. The great chief wore a filthy shirt and a disreputable coat, a loin-cloth, and a dirty kerchief wound around his head. His legs were bare from the hips, save for a pair of low moccasins. His whole appearance was grotesque and evil.
There was trouble at the San Carlos Agency, which was in no wise unusual in itself, but was upon this occasion more than ever discouraging. There had been a prospect of lasting peace, the noble Red-man was settling down in his filthy rancheria to become a good citizen, because he was tagged with little metal numbers, and was watched unceasingly, and forbidden the manufacture of tizwin, or the raising of the dead with dances, and was told that an appreciative government was prepared to help him if he would only help himself.
"Miss McLane will go, I suppose?" asked Felipa.