Mrs. Lawton gritted her teeth at him as though she would have rejoiced greatly to have had his neck between them. By and by she started once more. "Bill jest told him about it—like a goldarned fool."

Chapter 16

Forbes went on without noticing the interruption. "You are a great influence in her life, but you aren't the only one. Her surroundings act powerfully upon her. When I knew her before, she was like any other beautiful woman—"

"Surely," said the minister, "surely." There might have been men who would have remembered that Mrs. Lawton was a tough woman, even for a mining town, and who would in the names of their own wives have refused to let her cross the threshold of their homes. But he saw that she was ill, and he did not so much as hesitate. He raised himself from the pillows too abruptly for a very weak man. "What is the matter, Felipa?" he demanded.

Down by the river a coyote scudded across her path as she made her way through the willows, and when he was well beyond, rose up on his hind legs and looked after her. At the water's edge she stopped and glanced across to the opposite bank. The restlessness was going, and she meant to return now, before she should be missed—if indeed she were not missed already, as was very probable. Yet still she waited, her hands clasped in front of her, looking down at the stream. Farther out, in the middle, a ripple flashed. But where she stood among the bushes, it was very dark. The water made no sound, there was not a breath of air, yet suddenly there was a murmur, a rustle.

There were two rooms to the cabin where they were, the big sitting room and the small bedchamber beyond. Kirby went into the bedroom and came out with two rifles and a revolver. He put the revolver into his wife's hands. "I'll do my best, you know, dear. But if I'm done for, if there is no hope for you and the children, use it," he said. And added, "You understand?"

"Kiss me," said Felipa.

He laughed crossly. Evidently he was dropping back into the poetical tendencies of his most callow youth. He would be doing her a sonnet next, forsooth. He had done two or three of them in his school days for Sydney damsels. That was when he had aspired to be ranked in his own country with Gordon. Good Lord! how many aspirations of various sorts he had had. And he was a cow-boy.

Breakfast call sounded. At the first shrill note she started violently. She was very thoroughly unnerved, and he decided that an hour of thinking would make her worse so. He told her that he would see her after breakfast, and raising his hat again left her to the anticipation, and to helping the Mexican captives cook their meal of mescal root and rations.

"I know that. But they don't like it, all the same. And I'll bet them cutaways riles them, too."