"I don't know," Cairness answered, with a lightness that was anything but cheering. The general refused the withered hand he put out, and looked at him unsmilingly. The feelings of the old chief were hurt. He sat down upon the ground, under the shadows of the cottonwoods and sycamores, and explained his conduct with tears in his bleary eyes. The officers and packers, citizens and interpreters, sat round upon the ground also, with the few Indians who had ventured into the White-man's camp in the background, on the rise of the slope. There was a photographer too, who had followed the command from Tombstone, and who stationed himself afar off and took snap-shots during the conference, which, like most conferences of its sort, was vague enough.
Cairness jumped forward, and his arm went around her, steadying her. For a short moment she leaned against his shoulder. Then she drew away, and her voice was quite steady as she greeted him. He could never have guessed that in that moment she had[Pg 95] learned the meaning of her life, that there had flashed burningly through her brain a wild, unreasoning desire to stand forever backed against that rock of strength, to defy the world and all its restrictions.
"Yes?" she answered, and stroked the head of the fawn.
Later, when he came in from dress parade, he found her reading in the sitting room. She looked up and smiled, but his face was very angry, and the chin strap of his helmet below his mouth and the barbaric yellow plume added to the effect of awful and outraged majesty. He stopped in front of her. "I have been thinking things over," he said. She waited. "Three years ago I offered you your liberty to marry that man. I repeat the offer now."
There was one who had done so now. The troops looking up at him, rejoiced. He was crucified upon an[Pg 135] improvised cross of unbarked pine branches, high up at the top of a sheer peak of rock. He stood out black and strange against the whitish blue of the sky. His head was dropped upon his fleshless breast, and there was a vulture perched upon it, prying its hooked bill around in the eye sockets. Two more, gorged and heavy, balanced half asleep upon points of stone.
"I have seen you before, Mrs. Landor," he said after a while.