Foster hastened to assure him that two days would easily do it. "We know the country round here, [Pg 113]Colonel, know it better than the hostiles themselves; and a big party of us volunteers to put you on the trail and bring you to them. You can't hardly refuse, seein' as you say you are here to protect us, and this is the protection we ask, to get back the stock we've lost." The quiet, observant, capable man, whose fate it was to be always called in for the thankless task of undoing the evil work of others, made every effort to pacify this time, but he failed.
"A squaw-man?" she asked.
She did not. He had merely told her that her father was his friend and had died on the plains. "She thinks her mother died at Stanton. It is so near the Mescalero Agency that I let it go at that."
If it went like this, she thought, she might get to the cross-road first, and beyond. The four men would not matter much then, if she could but stop her husband. Why had he started back alone—and carrying money too? It was foolhardy. But then there was so little money, she knew, that he had probably not thought of it as booty. She turned her uncovered head and listened. Her hair had fallen loose and was streaming out in the wind. She could not hear the others now. They must be well behind.
Beef was furnished the Indians on the hoof and calculated by the pound, and the weight of some of those long-horn steers, once they got upon the Agency scales, would have done credit to a mastodon. By this method the Indian got the number of pounds of meat he was entitled to per capita, and there was some left over that the agent might dispose of to his friends. As for the heavy-weight steers, when the Apache received them, he tortured them to death with his customary ingenuity. It made the meat tender; and he was an epicure in his way. The situation in the territory, whichever way you looked at it, was not hopeful. "I am certainly not good enough for anything else." He began to whistle, but it was not a success, and he stopped.
So the troops and the volunteers rode away without him, and a few miles off, among the foot-hills, struck the trail. Here Landor, giving ear to the advice of the citizens, found himself whirled around in a very torrent of conflicting opinions. No two agreed. The liquor had made them ugly. He dismounted the command for rest, and waited, filled with great wrath.
"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?"
"Were you catching the tarantula yesterday when I saw you lying upon the ground by the dump heap?"
"I used to know Mrs. Cairness in Washington," Forbes went on, undisturbed; "she has probably told you so."
"You could take turns riding behind the men."