Kirby's assistants, the two young Englishmen, had not come back when they were due. One had gone to the mail station in the valley, three days before, and he should have returned at noon, at the furthest limit. By three o'clock, the other had jumped on a horse and gone out to look for him. And now, one was lying in the road five miles from the ranch, with an arrow through his eye. The other, a mile nearer home, was propped against a pine trunk, so that the ragged hole beneath his shoulder blade, where a barb had been torn out, did not show. His wide eyes, upon the lid of one of which the blood from a head wound had clotted, looked up sightless through the branches, at a patch of blue sky. Their end had been a common[Pg 123] enough one, and had come to them both without a moment of warning.
"I don't know," Cairness answered, with a lightness that was anything but cheering. [Pg 18] Cairness reached out for the discarded Cornhill, and settled himself among the cushions. "They're going to dress, I rather think," he said. The minister almost sprang from his chair. "Good Lord! I ain't got any other clothes," he cried, looking ruefully at his dusty black.
The Gila River cutting straight across the southern portion of Arizona, from the Alkali flats on the east to the Colorado at Yuma on the west, flowed then its whole course through desolation. Sometimes cottonwoods and sycamore trees rose in the bottom, and there was a patch of green around some irrigated land. But, for the most part, the basin was a waste of glittering sand and white dust, and beyond, the low hills, bare of every plant save a few stunted wild flowers, cacti and sage, greasewood and mesquite, rolled for miles and miles of barrenness. The chicken hawk and crow sailed through the fiercely blue sky, the air waved and quivered with incredible heat. At night malaria rose from the ground, the coyote barked and whined at the light of the brilliant stars, and the polecat prowled deliberately. Landor explained again, with greater detail, vainly trying to impress the nature of a military order on the civilian brain. "It would not do for me to disobey my[Pg 112] instructions. And besides there are several officers who are to follow trails, out with larger commands. I have no pack-train, and I can't."
Lawton moved ahead a few steps; then he began to cry, loudly, blubbering, his nerves gone all to shreds. He implored and pleaded and wailed. He hadn't known what he was doing. He had been drunk. They had treated him badly about the beef contract. Stone had gone back on him. The oaths that he sobbed forth were not new to Cairness, but they were very ugly.
"Yes," she said, "I am very much attached to it. I was born to it."
Her lips parted, and quivered, and closed again. The winds from the wide heavens above the gap whined through the pines, the river roared steadily down below, and the great, irresistible hand of Nature crushed without heeding it the thin, hollow shell of convention. The child of a savage and a black sheep looked straight and long into the face of the child of rovers and criminals. They were man and woman, and in the freemasonry of outlawry made no pretence.