Landor turned away from the window and looked at her. It was in human nature that she had never seemed so beautiful before. Perhaps it was, too, because there[Pg 149] was warmth in her face, the stress of life that was more than physical, at last.It was more than a mere impertinent question, and she did not pretend to ignore it any longer. She clasped her hands slowly about her knees and looked straight at him.
Cairness dropped him and went into the corrals to see for himself. The fire roared and hissed, flung charred wood into the air, and let it fall back again. He remembered, in an inconsequent flash, how one night in the South Pacific he had taken a very pretty girl below to see the engines. They had stood in the stoke-hole on a heap of coal, hand in hand, down beneath the motion of the decks where the only movement seemed to be the jar of the screw working against the thrust block and the reverberation of the connecting-rod and engines. A luckless, dust-caked wretch of a stoker had thrown open the door of a furnace in front of them, and they had seen the roaring, sputtering, seething whirl of fire within. They had given a simultaneous cry, hiding their scorched faces in their arms, and stumbled blindly over the coal beds back to the clattering of the engine rooms.Mrs. Lawton started forward in her chair. "What's he in for now? Ain't it for this?" she demanded.
There was a chuckle from the group, and a chorus to the effect that they would be eternally condemned, the truth of which was patent in their faces. "Leave the little codger be," some one suggested; "he ain't skeered worth a sour apple."Cairness pitied Mrs. Kirby sincerely. But if she felt herself an object of sympathy, she did not show it.
Cairness jumped forward, and his arm went around her, steadying her. For a short moment she leaned against his shoulder. Then she drew away, and her voice was quite steady as she greeted him. He could never have guessed that in that moment she had[Pg 95] learned the meaning of her life, that there had flashed burningly through her brain a wild, unreasoning desire to stand forever backed against that rock of strength, to defy the world and all its restrictions."What you goin' to do?" the boy asked. He was round-eyed with dismay and astonishment.
"Always supposing you have," interposed Stone, hooking his thumbs in his sleeve holes and tipping back his chair, "always supposing you have, what could you do with the facts?""And you care for him?"
So at five o'clock Cairness, coming again into that part of the cabin which his hostess persistently named the drawing-room, found the three Englishmen taking their tea, and a little man in clerical garb observing the rite with considerable uncertainty. He would have no tea himself, and his tone expressed a deep distrust[Pg 37] of the beverage. By the side of his chair stood a tall silk hat. It was in all probability the only one in the territories, or west of the Missouri, for that matter, and it caught Cairness's eye at once, the more especially as it was pierced by two round holes. As he stirred his tea and ate the thin slices of buttered bread, his glance wandered frequently to the hat.
"Yes," he assured her unmoved, "you are. At least you are going to do that, or go to jail."The officer-of-the-day put Lawton into the care of the guard and asked Cairness in to have a drink, calling him "my good man." Cairness was properly aware of the condescension involved in being asked into an officer's dining room, but he objected to being condescended to by a man who doubled his negatives, and he refused.
"It's Mr. Cairness, ma'am," he whispered.But he mistook her silence for dismay, and went on. "It is only what one might expect from the daughter of a drunken private and a Mescalero squaw."He was still more exasperated, with himself and with her, that he had allowed himself to think for one moment that she had come on purpose to find him. Where were the others? How did she happen to be here alone? he asked.
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"Yes," she said, "I am very much attached to it. I was born to it."
"I will write to you where you are to send my mail," she told him, when the train was about to pull out. He bowed stiffly, and raising his hat was gone. She looked after him as he went across the cinder bed to the ambulance which was to take him back, and wondered what would have been the look upon his nice, open face, if she had told him her plans, after all. But she was the only one who knew them."Give me the keys鈥攁ll the keys."详情
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