The captain knitted his thick brows and interposed quickly, talking against time. "If the Tucson ring and the Indian Bureau had one head, I should like the detail of cutting it off." His annoyance seemed to be of an impersonal sort, and the commandant began to feel that he must have handled the thing rather well, after all. He gained in self-esteem and equanimity.
Felipa had taken charge of the two, being the only woman in the place not already provided with children of her own, and had roused herself to an amount of capability her husband had never suspected her of. She belonged to the tribe of unoccupied women, as a rule, not that she was indolent so much as that she appeared to have no sense of time nor of the value of it. Landor, who had always one absorbing interest or another to expend his whole energy upon, even if it were nothing larger than running the troop kitchen, thought her quite aimless, though he never addressed that or any other reproach to her. He was contented at the advent of the hapless orphans for one thing, that they superseded the Ellton baby, which he secretly detested with a kind of unreasonable jealousy. She reloaded for him, and fired from time to time herself, and he moved from the little round hole in the wall to one in the window blind, in the feeble, the faithless hope that the Indians might perhaps be deceived, might fancy that there was more than the one forsaken man fighting with unavailing courage for the quiet woman who stayed close by his side, and for the two children, huddled whimpering in one corner, their little trembling arms clasped round each other's necks. 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."
"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.
It was more than a mere impertinent question, and she did not pretend to ignore it any longer. She clasped her hands slowly about her knees and looked straight at him.