But she only answered that that was unlikely and slipped her arm around his neck, as she added that if anything were to happen to him, she would not have one real friend in the world. There was something pathetic in the quiet realization of her loneliness. But Cairness had known it without that. It was so entirely in keeping with the rest of his fate, that every cup which ought to have been sweet should have been embittered like this.
"Trouble is," he went on evenly, "trouble is, that, like most women, you've been brought up to take copy-book sentiments about touchin' pitch, and all that, literal. You don't stop to remember that to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. If she can't do you any harm spiritually, she certainly ain't got the strength to do it physically. I can't say as I'd like to have her about the place all the time unless she was going to reform,—and I don't take much stock in change of heart, with her sort,—because she wouldn't be a pleasant companion, and it ain't well to countenance vice. But while she's sick, and it will oblige Cairness, she can have the shelter of my manta. You think so too, now, don't you?" he soothed.
She stood by the mound for a little while thinking of him, of how well he had lived and died, true to his standard of duty, absolutely true, but lacking after all that spirit of love without which our actions profit so little and die with our death. She had a clearer realization of it than ever before. It came to her that Charles Cairness's life, wandering, aimless, disjointed as it was, and her own, though it fell far below even her own not impossibly high ideals, were to more purpose, had in them more of the vital force of creation, were less wasted, than his had been. To have known no enthusiasms—which are but love, in one form or another—is to have failed to give that impulse to the course of events which every man born into the world should hold himself bound to give, as the human debt to the Eternal.
About an hour after midnight there came thundering through the quiet of the night the sound of galloping hoofs along the road at the foot of the ravine. Cairness, lying broad awake, was the first to hear it. He sprang up and ran to the opening of the tent. He guessed that it was a courier even before the gallop changed to a trot, and a voice called from the invisible depths below, "Captain Landor?" with a rising intonation of uncertainty.
"Let go your stirrup!" cried Cairness, in her ear; and as she kicked her foot loose, he leaned far from the saddle and threw his arm around her, swinging her up in front of him across the McLellan pommel, and driving the spurs into his horse's belly. It had the advantage of her horse in that it was an Indian animal, sure of foot as a burro, and much quicker. With one dash it was up the hillside, while the other rolled over and over, down into the torrent of the cloud burst.