Felipa was very thoroughly frightened now. She stood in wholesome awe of her husband, and it was the first time she had ever made him really angry, although frequently he was vaguely irritated by her. She had had no idea the thing would infuriate him so, or she would probably have kept it to herself. And she wished now that she had, as she went back to the couch and sat on the edge of it, dejectedly. The Indian wars of the southwest have been made a very small side issue in our history. The men who have carried them on have gained little glory and little fame. And yet they have accomplished a big task, and accomplished it well. They have subdued an enemy many times their own number. And the enemy has had such enormous advantages, too. He has been armed, since the 70's, even better than the troops. He has been upon his own ground—a ground that was alone enough to dismay the soldier, and one that gave him food, where it gave the white man death by starvation and thirst. He knew every foot of the country, fastnesses, water holes, creeks, and strongholds over thousands of miles. The best cavalry can travel continuously but twenty-five or thirty miles a day, carrying its own rations. The Apache, stealing his stock and food as he runs, covers his fifty or seventy-five. The troops must find and follow trails that are disguised[Pg 231] with impish craft. The Apache goes where he lists, and that, as a general thing, over country where devils would fear to tread. Cairness took the Reverend Taylor to the door. "You know that is Bill Lawton's wife?" he said.
But there was more stock than was needed. 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. 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.
"Sometimes it's the Gila Valley, and sometimes it's rum," said Landor. "It's rum with a good many."
"He told him the truth, I tell you: that when we heard the Apaches were coming, we lit out and drove out the stock from the corrals. I don't recollect his words."
No need to tell her that her courage must not falter at that last moment, which would soon come. He knew it, as he looked straight into those steadfast, loving[Pg 131] eyes. She clung to his hand and stooped and kissed it, too; then she went to the children and took them, quivering and crying, into the other room, and closed the dividing door.
The knife was one he had brought from home, seizing it from the kitchen table at the last minute. It was very sharp and had been Felipa's treasured bread cutter. It came in very well just now, chiefly because of its length.