"Is that all?" asked the general.
No answer still.
The bids, duly sealed, were given into the keeping of the commissary officer to be put in his safe, and kept until the day of judgment, when all being opened in public and in the presence of the aspirants, the lowest would[Pg 188] get the contract. It was a simple plan, and gave no more opportunity for underhand work than could be avoided. But there were opportunities for all that. It was barely possible—the thing had been done—for a commissary clerk or sergeant, desirous of adding to his pittance of pay, or of favoring a friend among the bidders, to tamper with the bids. By the same token there was no real reason why the commissary officer could not do it himself. Landor had never heard, or known, of such a case, but undoubtedly the way was there. It was a question of having the will and the possession of the safe keys. [Pg 311]
He stood up. "I'll see you off inside of three days then, Stone," he said amicably. She put down her work and rose slowly to her feet before him. She could be very regal sometimes. Brewster knew it, and Cairness guessed it; but it was the first time it had come within Landor's experience, and he was a little awed.
"And I went outside the post the night after you left, down to the river. Some one will probably tell you about a wounded Sierra Blanca found down among the bushes in the river bottom that same night. I shot him, and then I hacked him up with my knife." He had taken his pipe from his mouth and was looking at her incredulously, perplexed. He did not understand whether it was a joke on her part, or exactly what it was.
Landor knew that the scouts had come in the afternoon before, and were in camp across the creek; but he had not seen their chief, and he said so.
She laughed scornfully. "It ain't me that asked them to take me in," she said; "I'm as glad to go as they are to have me." She wore a calico wrapper that Cairness had bought for her, and other garments that had been gathered together in the town. Now she put a battered sombrero on her head, and told him she was ready.
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.
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.