"Do you still want me to marry you?" she asked him. Landor turned to the citizen. "Where is your bid, Mr. Lawton?"
He reflected that it is a trait of the semi-civilized and of children that they like their tales often retold. But he did not say so. He was holding that in reserve. Instead, he changed the subject, with an abrupt inquiry as to whether she meant to ride to-day. "I suppose not?" he added. Cabot was not an unmerciful man, but if he had had his sabre just then, he would have dug and turned it in the useless carcass. He was beside himself with fear; fear of the death which had come to the cow and the calf whose chalk-white skeletons were at his feet, of the flat desert and the low bare hills, miles upon miles away, rising a little above the level, tawny and dry, giving no hope of shelter or streams or shade. He had foreseen it all when the horse had stumbled in a snake hole, had limped and struggled a few yards farther, and then, as he slipped to the ground, had stood quite still, swaying from side to side, with its legs wide apart, until it fell. He gritted his teeth so that the veins[Pg 2] stood out on his temples, and, going closer, jerked at the bridle and kicked at its belly with the toe of his heavy boot, until the glassy eye lighted with keener pain.
Not a week before—and then the Agency had been officially at peace—a Mexican packer had been shot down by an arrow from some unseen bow, within a thousand yards of the post, in broad daylight. The Indians, caking their bodies with clay, and binding sage or grass upon their heads, could writhe unseen almost within arm's reach. But Felipa was not afraid. Straight for the river bottom she made, passing amid the [Pg 78]dump-heaps, where a fire of brush was still smouldering, filling the air with pungent smoke, where old cans and bottles shone in the starlight, and two polecats, pretty white and black little creatures, their bushy tails erect, sniffed with their sharp noses as they walked stupidly along. Their bite meant hydrophobia, but though one came blindly toward her, she barely moved aside. Her skirt brushed it, and it made a low, whining, mean sound.
"I have seen you before, Mrs. Landor," he said after a while.
"I spent a few days with the Kirbys once," he said, and looked straight into her eyes. They shifted, and there was no mistaking her uneasiness. He followed it up instantly on a bold hazard. It had to be done now, before she had time to retreat to the cover of her blank stolidity. "Why did you leave them to[Pg 237] be massacred? What did you have against her and those little children?"