"Of course," he laughed tolerantly, "I dare say any wilderness were paradise with him."
He hesitated, opening his mouth to speak and shutting it again irresolutely.
[Pg 209] "Seen the way Landor's been catching it?" they asked.
Her only salvation, he knew that too, was to keep that strain always uppermost, to force it to the surface, exactly as Landor was doing now. Conventional, stately, reserved, in the garb of civilization, she would[Pg 217] have a certain dignity. But youth was too good to sell for that. It was a civilian with whom he was obliged to share his room. He did not fancy having to share his room at all, in the first place, and this and other things made his temper bad. The civilian, on the other hand, was in good temper, and inclined to be communicative. He tried several ways of opening a conversation, and undaunted by rebuffs tried yet once more. Like Bruce and the spider, it was exactly the seventh time that he succeeded.
The Apache in Felipa was full awake now, awake in the bliss of killing, the frenzy of fight, and awake too, in the instinct which told her how, with a deep-drawn breath, a contraction, a sudden drop and writhing, she would be free of the arms of steel. And she was free, but not to turn and run—to lunge forward, once and again, her breath hissing between her clenched, bared teeth. "Anywhere you like, my dear chap, so that it's neither in Arizona or New Mexico. I want to stop here myself, and the place isn't big enough for us both. You'll be a valuable acquisition to any community, and you can turn your talent to showing up the life here. You are right on the inside track. Now I won't ask you to promise to go. But I'll be round to see that you do." 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.
Dutchy was a little German, who kept a milk ranch some seven miles from the post. "Apachees, Apachees," he squealed, gasping for breath.
Just at the edge of the rock stream there was an abandoned cabin built of small stones. Whatever sort of roof it had had in the beginning was now gone altogether, and the cabin itself was tumbling down. Through the doorway where there was no door, there showed a blackened fireplace. Once when a party from the post had been taking the two days' drive to the railroad, they had stopped here, and had lunched in the cabin. Landor remembered it now, and glanced at the place where Felipa had reclined in the shade of the walls, upon the leather cushion of the ambulance seat. She very rarely could be moved to sing, though she had a sweet, plaintive voice of small volume; but this time she had raised her tin mug of beer and, looking up to the blue sky, had launched into the "Last Carouse," in a spirit of light mockery that fitted with it well, changing the words a little to the scene.[Pg 279]
She looked up and tried hard to smile again.
She stood looking round the post, across the white-hot parade ground, to the adobe barracks and the sutler's store. Then she turned and considered the officers' quarters. They were a row of hospital, wall, and A tents, floored with rough boards and sheltered by ramadas of willow branches.