The defenceless women and children were safe, however: a captain, ranking Landor, reported to that effect when he met them some dozen miles outside San Tomaso. He reported further that he had a pack-train for Landor and orders to absorb his troop. Landor protested at having to retrace their trail at once. His men and his stock were in no state to travel. The men were footsore and blistered. They had led their horses, for the most part, up and down rough hills for two days. But the trail was too hot and too large to be abandoned. They unsaddled, and partaking together of coffee and bacon and biscuits, mounted and went off once more. Their bones ached, and the feet of many of them bled; but the citizens had gone their way to their homes in the valley, and they felt that, on the whole, they had reason to be glad."Hire to him!" exclaimed Taylor, "what for?"
The little man picked it up and contemplated it, with his head on one side and a critical glance at its damaged condition. Then he smoothed its roughness with the palm of his rougher hand. "Why do I wear it?" he drawled calmly; "well, I reckon to show 'em that I can.""No," he agreed, "it doesn't matter. And I shall do well enough." Then the three went out, and she finished her breakfast alone.
She asked what he had thought of doing about it.
"I give this to a friend," it ran, "to be delivered into your own hands, because I must tell you that, though I should never see you again鈥攆or the life I lead is hazardous, and chance may at any time take you away forever鈥擨 shall love you always. You will not be angry with me, I know. You were not that night by the campfire, and it is not the unwaveringly good woman who resents being told she is loved, in the spirit I have said it to you. I do not ask for so much as your friendship in return, but only that you remember that my life and devotion are yours, and that, should the time ever come that you need me, you send for me. I will come. I will never say this to you again, even should I see you; but it is true, now and for all time.""Has the trip been hard?" he asked.She was astonished in her turn. "Killed him! Why, of course I might have killed him," she said blankly, frowning, in a kind of hopeless perplexity over his want of understanding. "I came very near it, I tell you. The ball made shivers of his shoulder. But he was brave," she grew enthusiastic now, "he let the doctor probe and pick, and never moved a muscle. Of course he was half drunk with tizwin, even then."
"Why?" she asked, with a quick suspicion of the dreariness she caught in his tone.Landor went back to his command and waited. Another man rode up and joined the two. Ten minutes passed, and the troops grew restless.
She could hear voices confusedly, men hurriedly calling and hallooing as she neared the back of the officers' line and crept into her tent. The door was barely closed when there came a knock, and the voice of the striker asking if she had heard the shot across the river."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?"
Any other fire鈥攅xcepting always in an ammunition magazine鈥攊s easier to handle than one in a stable. It takes time to blind plunging horses and lead them out singly. And there is no time to take. Hay and straw[Pg 208] and gunny-sacks and the dry wood of the stable go up like tinder. It has burned itself out before you can begin to extinguish it.Forbes explained their early return, and spoke of the ranch. "It might be a garden, this territory, if[Pg 315] only it had water enough," he said; "it has a future, possibly, but its present is just a little dismal, I think. Are you greatly attached to the life here, Mrs. Cairness?" He was studying her, and she knew it, though his glance swept the outlook comprehensively, and she was watching the mail-carrier riding toward them along the road. It was the brother of the little girl who followed along behind them, and who ran off now to meet him, calling and waving her hand.详情
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