Cairness rode at a walk round and round the crowding, snorting, restless herd of cattle that was gathered together in the pocket of the foot-hills under the night sky. There were five other cow-boys who also rode round and round, but they were each several hundred yards apart, and he was, to all intents, alone. Now and then he quickened the gait of his bronco and headed off some long-horned steer or heifer, that forced itself out of the huddled, dark mass, making a break for freedom. But for the most part he rode heavily, lopsided in his saddle, resting both hands on the high pommel. He had had time to unlearn the neat horsemanship of the service, and to fall into the slouchy manner of the cow-boy, skilful but unscientific. It was a pitchy night, in spite of the stars, but in the distance, far off across the velvety roll of the hills, there was a forest fire on the top of a range of mountains. It glowed against the sky and lighted the pocket and the prairie below, making strange shadows among the cattle, or bringing into shining relief here and there a pair of mighty horns. A wind, dry and hot, blew down from the flames, and made the herd uneasy.
A long sunset shadow fell across his path, and he looked up. Felipa was walking beside a little white burro, and holding Mrs. Campbell's golden-curled baby upon its back. She carried her head superbly erect, and her step, because of the moccasins, was quite noiseless. The glow of the sunset shone in her unflinching eyes, and lost itself in the dull black mass of her hair. She studied his face calmly, with a perfectly impersonal approval. The Reverend Taylor stood there with his son in his arms. The mocking-bird trilled out a laugh to the evening air. It was irresistible, so droll that even a bird must know it,—the likeness between the little father and the little son. There was the same big head and the big ears and the big eyes and the body[Pg 247] that was too small for them all, a little, thin body, active and quivering with energy. There were the very same wrinkles about the baby's lids, crinkles of good humor and kindly tolerance, and the very same tufts of hair running the wrong way and sticking out at the temples. The Chiricahuas might stay there and fire at intervals as long as they listed, killing a few men perhaps. And then they might retreat quite safely, putting the barrier[Pg 277] between themselves and the pursuers. Obviously there were only two courses wherein lay any wisdom,—to retreat, or to cut off their retreat. Landor said so to the major in command.
She was frightened now. The quirt fell from her hand with a thud. She loosed her hold upon her long riding skirt and tripped over it.