"Certain, dead sure. It's a band of Apaches that went across the river. Why, half a dozen seen them."
For a moment he stood looking straight into her eyes, yet neither read the other's thoughts. Then he turned away with a baffled half laugh. "Why should it matter to me?" he asked.
Landor asked eagerly what he had answered.
"Well?" she said peremptorily. [Pg 51]
When the day came he rode out with most of the garrison to meet her. He was anxious. He recalled Anne of Cleves, and had a fellow-feeling for the King. By the time they came in sight of the marching troops, he had worked himself to such an implicit faith in the worst that he decided that the wide figure, heavily blue-veiled, and linen-dustered, on the back seat of the Dougherty was she. It is one of the strongest arguments of the pessimist in favor[Pg 17] of his philosophy, that the advantage of expecting the disagreeable lies in the fact that, if he meets with disappointment, it is necessarily a pleasant one. He turned and walked beside her. "Don't you believe I know all that I want to. I've only just begun. So that scoundrel knew the whole murderous story, and went on writing lies in his papers and covering you, when you ought to have been hung to the nearest tree, did he?—and for the excellent reason that he wanted to make use of your husband! I worked on the Circle K Ranch and on that other one over in New Mexico, which is supposed to be Lawton's, and it didn't take me long to find out that Stone was the real boss." His methods were explained to Cairness by an old buck who slouched up to the cabin and sat himself down cross-legged in front of the door. He meant to share in the venison breakfast Cairness was getting himself.
She glared at him, but she stopped short nevertheless, and, flinging down the stone she had been holding, stood up also. "All right, then. You've done with me, I reckon. Now suppose you let me go back to the camp."
The bids, duly sealed, were given into the keeping of the commissary officer to be put in his safe, and kept until the day of judgment, when all being opened in public and in the presence of the aspirants, the lowest would[Pg 188] get the contract. It was a simple plan, and gave no more opportunity for underhand work than could be avoided. But there were opportunities for all that. It was barely possible—the thing had been done—for a commissary clerk or sergeant, desirous of adding to his pittance of pay, or of favoring a friend among the bidders, to tamper with the bids. By the same token there was no real reason why the commissary officer could not do it himself. Landor had never heard, or known, of such a case, but undoubtedly the way was there. It was a question of having the will and the possession of the safe keys.
"You know he's the man Landor lost his life saving upon the malpais in New Mexico?"
Cairness gave a grunt that was startlingly savage—so much so that he realized it, and shook himself slightly as a man does who is trying to shake himself free from a lethargy that is stealing over him.
"I say, Major, if he's got any charges to prefer why doesn't he put them on paper and send them in to you, or else shut up his head?" He was losing his temper again.
Yet, in the midst of her little triumph, Felipa fell ill, failing without apparent cause, and then the uneasiness that had only slept in Landor for eighteen months came awake again. He did not believe when the doctors told him that it was the lassitude of the moist, warm springtime which was making the gray circles about her eyes, the listlessness of her movements.