The Reverend Taylor sat in silence for a time, reflecting. Then he broke forth again, a little querulously. "What in thunderation do they dine at such an hour for?" Cairness explained that it was an English custom to call supper dinner, and to have it very late.It was only some one standing at the mouth of the hole, however, a shadow against the shimmering sunlight. And it was a woman鈥攊t was Felipa.
One fine afternoon the post was moving along in its usual routine鈥攖hat quiet which is only disturbed by the ever recurring military formalities and the small squabbles of an isolated community. There had been a lull in the war rumors, and hope for the best had sprung up in the wearied hearts of the plains service, much as the sun had that day come out in a scintillating air after an all-night rain-storm.
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.A few minutes before seven they all came back into the sitting room. The men wore black coats, by way of compromise, and Mrs. Kirby and the children were in white.
"I ain't put it in yet," he stammered feebly.
Cairness sat himself down and tried to listen for the flow of the great black river yonder in the great black hollow. By dint of straining his ears he almost fancied[Pg 220] that he did catch a sound. But at the same instant, there came a real and unmistakable one. He started a little, not quite sure, just at first, what manner of wild beast, or man, or genius of the cave might pounce out upon him.It was not until they all, from the commandant down to the recruits of Landor's troop, came to say good-by that she felt the straining and cutting of the strong tie of the service, which never quite breaks though it be stretched over rough and long years and almost [Pg 291]forgotten. The post blacksmith to whom she had been kind during an illness, the forlorn sickly little laundress whose baby she had eased in dying, the baker to whose motherless child she had been good鈥攁ll came crowding up the steps. They were sincerely sorry to have her go. She had been generous and possessed of that charity which is more than faith or hope. It was the good-bys of Landor's men that were the hardest for her. He had been proud of his troop, and it had been devoted to him. She broke down utterly and cried when it came to them, and tears were as hard for her as for a man. But with the officers and their women, it rose up between her and them that they would so shortly despise and condemn her, that they would not touch her hands could they but know her thoughts.
[Pg 85]In the opinion of Landor, who knew the impracticable country foot for foot, they were well-intentioned lunatics. But they were agreeable guests, who exchanged the topics of the happy East for the wild turkey and commissary supplies of the Far West, and in departing took with them a picturesque, if inexact, notion of army life on the frontier, and left behind a large number of books for Felipa, who had dazzled their imaginations.
The sound shrilled sweetly through the house, through all the empty rooms, and through the thick silence of that one which was not empty, but where a flag was spread over a rough box of boards, and Ellton sat by the window with a little black prayer-book in his hand. He was going over the service for the burial of the dead, because there was no chaplain, and it fell to him to read it. Now and then one of the officers came in alone or with his wife and stood about aimlessly, then went away again. But for the rest, the house was quite forsaken.
Cairness, talking to one of the other men, who was mending a halter, watched him, and recalled the youth in spotless white whom he had last seen lounging on the deck of an Oriental liner and refusing to join the sports committee in any such hard labor as getting up a cricket match. It was cooler here in the Arizona mountains, to be sure; but it was an open question if life were as well worth living.Another officer came up, and Cairness dropped from the twisted bow and walked away.It was all a most charming commentary upon the symbol and practice of Christianity, in a Christian land, and the results thereof as regarded the heathen of that land鈥攊f one happened to see it in that way.详情
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