Lawton stopped. To forbid him swearing was to forbid him speech. He shuffled ahead in silence.
"So?" said Cairness, with the appearance of stolidity he invariably assumed to cover disappointment or any sort of approach to emotion. "Where's she gone to?"
"That is all."
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. He stroked its head with his finger as it lay still, opening and shutting its bright little eyes. "It won't live," he told her, and then the thought occurred to him to put her to the test. He held the bird out to her. "Wring its neck," he said, "and end its misery."
Any other fire—excepting always in an ammunition magazine—is easier to handle than one in a stable. It takes time to blind plunging horses and lead them out singly. And there is no time to take. Hay and straw[Pg 208] and gunny-sacks and the dry wood of the stable go up like tinder. It has burned itself out before you can begin to extinguish it.
She would not be induced to go near her own house that night. When Ellton suggested it, she turned white and horrified. It had not occurred to him before that a woman so fearless of everything in the known world might be in abject terror of the unknown.
He did not answer at once, but sat watching the trumpeter come out of the adjutant's office to sound recall. "Yes, she will marry," he agreed; "if no one else marries her, I will. I am as old as her father would have been but it would save telling some fellow about her birth."
Landor's sabre stood just within the sitting room, and she went for it and held the glittering blade in front of the snake. Its fangs struck out viciously again and again, and a long fine stream of venom trickled along the steel. Then she raised the sabre and brought it down in one unerring sweep, severing the head from the body. In the morning she would cut off the rattle and add it to the string of close upon fifty that hung over her mirror. But now the night was calling to her, the wild blood was pricking in her veins. Running the sabre into the ground, she cleaned off the venom, and went back to the adobe to put it in its scabbard.
"They have expressed the desire that I should convey to you, Colonel—"