It is a valley of death now, parched and desolate, a waste of white sand—the dry bone dust of the cycles. But then, when the lava came surging and boiling and flaming across the plain, not a thin stream, but a wide, irresistible current, there was life; there was a city—one city at least. It is there now, under the mass of sharp, gray, porous rock; how much of it no one knows. But it is there, and it has given up its unavailing hints of a life which may have been older than that of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and is as much more safely hidden from the research of the inquiring day as its walls are more hopelessly buried beneath the ironlike stone than are those of the cisalpine cities beneath their ashen drift.
Taylor realized from the Benedict's greater knowledge that it was asking a great deal, but still not[Pg 252] too much. He assured Cairness that she should be cared for. "Apaches ride badly, don't they?" she said, with calm matter of fact. "If you mean that I am hard on my horse, though, you are right." Her voice was exquisitely sweet, without modulation. The fight began with a shot fired prematurely by one of the scouts, and lasted until nightfall—after the desultory manner of Indian mountain fights, where you fire at a tree-trunk or lichened rock, or at some black, red-bound head that shoots up quick as a prairie dog's and is gone again, and where you follow the tactics of the wary Apache in so far as you may. The curious part of it is that you beat him at his own game every time. It is always the troops that lose the least heavily!
Official business called Brewster to the Agency next day. He stopped overnight, on the way, at a ranch whose owners depended more upon passing travellers than upon the bad soil and the thin cattle. And here fate threw in his way one whom he would have gone well out of that way to find.
Cairness was still in his dust-grayed outfit, his hair was below where his collar would have been had he been wearing one, and his nose was on its way to at least the twentieth new skin that summer. In all his years of the frontier, he had never become too well tanned to burn. His appearance was not altogether reassuring, Stone thought. He was not only an ass, he[Pg 172] was also tough—the sort of a fellow with whom it was as well to remember that your six-shooter is beneath the last copy of your paper, on the desk at your elbow.
Because of which Landor, as soon as he was up, went in search of the commanding officer, and found him in the adjutant's office, and the adjutant with him. He demanded an explanation. "If any one has been [Pg 144]saying anything about me, I want to know it. I want to face him. It can't be that newspaper rot. We are all too used to it."