He put out his hand and touched a warm, smooth flank. The horse gave a little low whinny. Quick as a flash he whipped out his knife and hamstrung it, not that one only, but ten other mules and horses before[Pg 207] he stopped. He groped from stall to stall, and in each cut just once, unerringly and deep, so that the poor beast, which had turned its head and nosed at the touch of the hand of one of those humans who had always been its friends, was left writhing, with no possible outcome but death with a bullet in its head. He bit his lip and did not reply, either to the words or to the caress. "You need a month of the mountains, I think," he said.
Landor knew that they were come to hear what he might have to say about it, and he had decided to say, for once, just what he thought, which is almost invariably unwise, and in this particular case proved exceedingly so, as any one could have foretold. On the principle that a properly conducted fist fight is opened by civilities, however, he mixed three toddies in as many tin coffee cups.
It struck even through Landor's pain-blurred brain that it was odd. But the few faculties he could command still were all engaged in keeping himself in the saddle until he could reach his own house, where Ellton and Felipa were waiting to get him to his room. She turned on him quickly. "Let me be," she commanded, and he obeyed humbly. Then she corked the bottle and shook it so that the animals rolled on top of each other, and laying it on the ground bent over it with the deepest interest. Brewster watched too, fascinated in spite of himself. It was so very ugly. The two wicked little creatures fought desperately. But after a time they withdrew to the sides of the bottle, and were quite still. The tarantula had left a leg lying loose.
He turned and went back to the cabin, where his wife stood at the door, with the children clinging to her. From down the north road there came a blood-freezing yell, and a shot, reverberating, rattling from hill to hill, muffling into silence among the crowding pines.
Cairness stood up and walked down to the water to wash his hands. Then he went into the cabin and brought out a small mirror, and all the shaving apparatus he had not used for months, and proceeded to take off his thick brown beard, while the Indian sat stolidly watching him with that deep interest in trifles of the primitive brain, which sees and marks, and fails to learn or to profit correspondingly.
"Then they all have 'medicine' on," Cairness continued, "redbird and woodpecker feathers, in buckskin bags, or quail heads, or prairie-dog claws. One fellow was making an ornament out of an adobe dollar. Every buck and boy in the band has a couple of cartridge belts and any quantity of ammunition, likewise new shirts and zarapes. They have fitted themselves out one way or another since Crawford got at them in January. I don't think there are any of them particularly anxious to come in."
"I beg your pardon, madam," he said. "It happens to be my business, though."
In the morning, while the cooks were getting breakfast and the steam of ration-Rio mounted as a grateful incense to the pink and yellow daybreak heavens, having bathed in the creek and elaborated his toilet[Pg 235] with a clean neckerchief in celebration of victory, he walked over to the bunch of tepees to see the women captives.
He took up his paper again. "He ain't told me the whole thing yet," he said.
"Nothing," she answered; "I can't see why it should make any difference to you, when it hasn't with me." She had altogether regained the self-possession she had been surprised out of, with an added note of reserve.