She rose to her feet, standing slender and erect, the roused fawn on one side and the naked savage on the other. And they faced each other, disconcerted, caught mute in the reverberation, indefinite, quivering, of a chord which had been struck somewhere in the depths of that Nature to which we are willing enough to grant the power of causing the string of an instrument to pulse to the singing of its own note, but whose laws of sympathetic vibration we would fain deny beyond material things.
On the next day they were in the flat, nearing the post. There was a dust storm. Earlier in the morning the air had grown suddenly more dry, more close and lifeless than ever, suffocating, and a yellow cloud had come in the western sky. Then a hot wind began to blow the horses' manes and tails, to snarl through the greasewood bushes, and to snap the loose ends of the men's handkerchiefs sharply. The cloud had thinned and spread, high up in the sky, and the light had become almost that of a sullen evening. Black bits floated and whirled high overhead, and birds beat about in the gale. Gradually the gale and the dust had dropped nearer to the earth, a sand mist had gone into every pore and choked and parched. And now the tepid, thick wind was moaning across the plain, meeting no point of resistance anywhere.
Another of her pets was a little fawn a soldier had caught and given to her. It followed her tamely about the post.
And still, those who hated the Apache most—officers who had fought them for years, who were laboring under no illusions whatever; the Commanders of the Department of Arizona and of the Division of the Missouri—reported officially that Victorio and his people had been unjustly dealt with. And these were men, too, who had publicly expressed, time and again, their opinion that the Apaches were idle and worthless [Pg 103]vagabonds, utterly hopeless, squalid, untrustworthy; robbers and thieves by nature. They had none of Crook's so many times unjustified faith in the red savage,—that faith which, wantonly betrayed, brought him to defeat and bitter disappointment at the last. Since Crook had gone to the northern plains, in the spring of '75, the unrest among the Apaches had been steadily growing, until five years later it was beyond control, and there began the half decade which opened with Victorio on the war-path, and closed with the closing of the career of the unfortunate general—most luckless example of the failing of failure—and the subjection of Geronimo. [Pg 50]
He was but an unlearned and simple savage, and the workings of a War Department were, of course, a mystery to him. He and his people should have believed Crook. The thoughtful government which that much-harassed general represented had done everything possible to instill sweet trustfulness into their minds. But the Apache, as all reports have set forth, is an uncertain quantity.
There was a mutilated thing that had once been a man's body on the floor in the half-burned log cabin. And in another room lay two children, whose smooth, baby foreheads were marked, each with a round violet-edged hole. Beside them was their mother, with her face turned to the rough boards—mercifully. For there had been no time to choose the placing of that last shot, and it had disfigured cruelly as it did its certain work.
"It's six one, and half a dozen the other. They'd be willing enough to die out in peace, if we'd let them. Even they have come to have a vague sort of instinct that that's what it amounts to."
Ellton retaliated with more spirit. "Or guarding a water hole on the border for two or three months, and that's quite as likely to be your fate."