He went over to the window and stood looking out of it, his hands clasped behind his back. Some children were playing tag around the flag-staff, and he watched a long-limbed small daughter of the frontier dodging and running, and was conscious of being glad that she touched the goal.
It was more for her than for himself that the rebuke hurt him. For it was a rebuke, though as yet it was unsaid. And he thought for a moment that he would defend her to the general. He had never done so yet, not even to the little parson in Tombstone whose obvious disapproval he had never tried to combat, though it had ended the friendship of years.
He looked at her uncomfortably. "I am going to get you out of this, up into the mountains somewhere," he said abruptly; "you look peaked."
It was so with Cairness. He was sinking down, and ever down, to the level of his surroundings; he was even ceasing to realize that it was so. He had begun by studying the life of the savages, but he was so entirely grasping their point of view that he was losing all other. He was not so dirty as they—not yet. His stone cabin was clean enough, and their villages were squalid. A morning plunge in the river was still a necessity, while with them it was an event. But where he had once spent his leisure in reading in several tongues—in keeping in touch with the world—and in painting, he would now sit for hours looking before him into space, thinking unprofitable thoughts. He lived from hand to mouth. Eventually he would without doubt marry a squaw. The thing was more than common upon the frontier. Back of her, a score or more of miles away, were the iron-gray mountains; beyond those, others of blue; and still beyond, others of yet fainter blue, melting into the sky and the massed white clouds upon the horizon edge. But in front of her the flat stretched away and away, a waste of white-patched soil and glaring sand flecked with scrubs. The pungency of greasewood and sage[Pg 313] was thick in the air, which seemed to reverberate with heat. A crow was flying above in the blue; its shadow darted over the ground, now here, now far off.
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.