"And you care for him?"
[Pg 243] Presently the front door opened. The commissary officer evidently had all the keys. Landor and Ellton, who were commandant and adjutant as well, went through the close-smelling storeroom, which reeked with codfish and coffee, into the office.
"Who was her father?" Brewster wanted to know.
At one moment it appeared that Landor had given his command into the hands of the citizens, at another that he had flatly refused to follow them into danger, that he had threatened and hung back by turns, and had, in short, made himself the laughing-stock of civilians and enlisted men, by what Brewster called "his timid subterfuges."
He handed it over also.
The Declaration of Independence roused the screeching eagle of freedom in the breasts of all the white men. With the Mexicans it was a slightly different sentiment. At best they could never be relied upon for steady service. A couple of months' pay in their pockets, and they must rest them for at least six. It is always to be taken into consideration when they are hired. They had been paid only the day before. And, moreover, the Greaser follows the Gringo's lead easily—to his undoing.
He whistled more cheerily yet when he saw that small hand. He was a tame mocking-bird, and he had learned to eat dead flies from it. That was one of the greatest treats of his highly satisfactory life. The hand left the window and presently waved from the doorway.
Landor's fear of leaving the settlements unguarded grew. "We will get up among these mountains and be delayed, and we are in no condition whatever to travel, anyway," he told Brewster, as the advance[Pg 119] guard halted again, and Landor, with curses in his heart but a civil tongue withal, trotted up to them.
Landor consulted with his lieutenant. "Very well," he said in the end, "I'll go. I take serious risks, but I understand it to be the wish of the citizens hereabouts."[Pg 114] Their envoy assured him that it most certainly was, and became profuse in acknowledgments; so that Landor shut him off. He had come many miles that day and must be on the march again at dawn, and wanted what sleep he could get. "When and where will you meet me?" he demanded with the curtness of the military, so offensive to the undisciplined.
"Mrs. Cairness would go where I wished gladly," he added, more evenly; "but if it were to a life very different from this, it would end in death—and I should be the cause of it. There it is." He too rose, impatiently.
Two aimless citizens lounged on their horses, rapt in argument and the heavy labor of chewing—so much so that they barely took notice of the troops.