As for the Kirby affair, there had been no hint of treachery in the published or verbal accounts of it. The ranch hands who had escaped had told a plain enough tale of having fled at the approach of the Indians, vainly imploring the Kirbys to do the same. It[Pg 166] seemed that the most they could be accused of was cowardice. It had all been set forth in the papers with much circumstance and detail. But Cairness doubted. He remembered their dogged ugliness, and that of the raw-boned Texan woman. It was still early. The mountain echoes had not sung back the tattoo of the trumpets as yet. There was a storm coming on from the snow peak in the west, and the clouds, dark with light edges, were thick in the sky. Lawton was sober enough now. Not so far away in its little pocket among the hills he could see the post, with all its lights twinkling, as though one of the clear starry patches in the heavens were reflected[Pg 205] in a black lake in the valley. And the road stretched out faint and gray before him.

"Just nothing," Cairness laughed shortly, and breaking off one of the treasured geranium blossoms, stuck it in a buttonhole of his flannel shirt.

The minister nodded his head. "Yes, I reckon there is," he agreed.

"What do you want me to say to Stone?"

He strode up and down, his face black with rage, expressing his violent opinion of Brewster. Then he came to a stop, in front of her. "How did he happen to tell you?" he asked.

"Neither," drawled Cairness. "But Mrs. Lawton, here, has been good enough to tell me that you have known the exact truth about the Kirby massacre ever since a week after its occurrence, and yet you have shielded the criminals and lied in the papers. Then, too," he went on, "though there is no real proof against you, and you undoubtedly did handle it very well, I know that it was you that set Lawton on to try and bribe for the beef contract. You see your friends are unsafe, Mr. Stone, and I have been around yours and Lawton's ranches enough to have picked up a few damaging facts."

With one accord they strode forward to the support of their somewhat browbeaten brother. What they would do was exactly as they pleased, they told the tyrant. They shook their fists in his face. It was all in the brutal speech of the frontier, mingled with the liquid ripple of argot Spanish, and its vicious, musical oaths. The deep voice of the woman carried above everything, less decent than the men. It was a storm of injury.