Before they had reached the post, he had learned a good deal about her. The elderly major who had come with her from Kansas told him that a lieutenant by the name of Brewster was insanely in love with her, that the same Brewster was a good deal of an ass,—the two facts having no connection, however,—that she was an excellent travelling companion, always satisfied and always well. What the major did not tell him, but what he gathered almost at once, was that the girl had not endeared herself to any one; she was neither loved nor disliked—the lieutenant's infatuation was not to be taken as an indication of her character, of course. But then she was beautiful, with her long, intent eyes, and strong brows and features cut on classic lines of perfection. So Landor left the major and cantered ahead to join her, where she rode with Brewster. When he was well within, he began to investigate, and he recalled now that he had heard a great deal of this cave. It was very large, supposedly, but almost unexplored. Tradition ran that the Spaniards, in the long-past days of their occupation, had had a big silver mine in there, worked by padres who had taught the timid Indians to believe that it was haunted, that they might not take it for themselves, nor yet guide others to it. And, too, it had been the refuge and hiding-place of Billy the Kid for years. It was said that since then a corporal and three men had gone in once, and that a search party had found their gnawed skeletons by the edge of the river that flowed there underground. Oddly enough, and thanks to the missionary fathers, it had never served as an Indian stronghold, though its advantages for such a use were manifest.
She looked down at him in a somewhat indignant surprise. "Pues porque?" she asked, maintaining the haughtiness of the dominant race, and refusing to acknowledge any indebtedness. "Why should I go away?" The buck fell back before her fury, but she followed him thrusting and slashing. Yet it might not, even then, have ended well for her, had there not come from somewhere overhead the sound most dreaded as an omen of harm by all Apaches—the hoot of an owl. The Indian gave a low cry of dismay and turned and darted in among the bushes.
Felipa leaned against the tree under which they were, fairly protected from the worst of the storm;[Pg 101] and Cairness stood beside her, holding his winded horse. There was nothing to be said that could be said. She had lost for once her baffling control of the commonplace in speech, and so they stood watching the rain beat through the wilderness, and were silent.
There were only the bids to be taken out and steamed open. The lowest found, it was simple enough for the favored one to make his own a quarter of a cent less, and to turn it in at the last moment. But one drawback presented itself. Some guileful and wary contractors, making assurance twice sure, kept their bids themselves and only presented them when the officers sat for the final awarding. Certainly Brewster would have been wiser not to have been seen with the big civilian. During the two days that elapsed before the awarding of the contract, Landor thought about it most of the time.