: The woman joined her voice. She had a meat cleaver in her hand, and there was blood on her apron where she had wiped the roast she was now leaving to burn in the stove. "Like as not we'll all be massacred. I told Bill to get off this place two weeks ago, and he's such an infernal loafer he couldn't make up his mind to move hisself." She flourished her cleaver toward the big Texan, her husband, who balanced on the tongue of a wagon, his hands in his pockets, smiling ruefully and apologetically, and chewing with an ardor he never put to any other work. "We been here four years now," she went on raspingly, "and if you all feel like staying here to be treated like slaves by these John Bulls, you can do it. But you bet I know when I've got enough. To-morrow I quits." Her jaws snapped shut, and she stood glaring at them defiantly.。
He did not even hint that he knew of the isolation of their lives, but Cairness was fully aware that he must, and that it was what he meant now. "You ought to go to another country. Not back to Australia, either; it is too much this sort, but somewhere where the very air is civilizing, where it's in the atmosphere and you can't get away from it. I'll tell you what you do." He stood up and knocked the ashes from his pipe against the porch rail. "You've plenty of friends at home. Sell the ranch, or keep it to come back to once in a way if you like. I'm going back in the autumn, in October. You come with me, you and Mrs. Cairness and the boy."
He found Felipa curled on the blanket in front of a great fire, and reading by the glare of the flames, which licked and roared up the wide chimney, a history of the Jesuit missionaries. It was in French, and she must have already known it by heart, for it seemed to be almost the only book she cared about. She had become possessed of its three volumes from a French priest who had passed through the post in the early winter and had held services there. He had been charmed with Felipa and with her knowledge of his own tongue. It was a truly remarkable knowledge, considering that it had been gained at a boarding-school.
Cairness sat more erect, and settled down to wait. The motion was so swift that he hardly felt it. He turned his head and looked back at the flaming corrals, and, remembering the dead animals, wondered who had hamstrung them. Then he peered forward again the little way he could see along the road, and began to make out that there was some one ahead of him. Whoever it was scurrying ahead there, bent almost double in his speed, was the one who had hamstrung the mules and horses, and who had set fire to the corrals. The pony was rather more under control now. It could be guided by the halter shank.
The little Reverend understood only Spanish, and his few words, pronounced with a precision altogether in keeping with his appearance, were Spanish ones. The old nurse murmured softly, as she took him up, "Quieres leche hombrecito, quieres cenar? El chuchu tiene hambre tambien. Vamos á ver mamá." :
[Pg 97]"Then he lied," said the buck, and tucked the scrap back under his head band. "They all lie. I worked for him two weeks. I worked hard. And each night when I asked him for money he would say to me that to-morrow he would pay me. When all his hay was cut he laughed in my face. He would pay me nothing." He seemed resigned enough about it.
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."
But it is because of just this that no scion of ultra-civilization degenerates so thoroughly as does he. Retrogression is easy to him. He can hardly go higher, because he is on the height already; but he can slip back. Set him in a lower civilization, he sinks one degree[Pg 266] lower than that. Put him among savages, and he is nearer the beasts than they. It does not come to pass in a day, nor yet at all if he be part of a community, which keeps in mind its traditions and its church, and which forms its own public opinion. Then he is the leaven of all the measures of meal about him, the surest, steadiest, most irresistible civilizing force. But he cannot advance alone. He goes back, and, being cursed with the wisdom which shows him his debasement, in loathing and disgust with himself, he grows sullen and falls back yet more. And so he had to accept it. He rose, with a slight sigh, and returned to the examination of his spoils.
Landor still rode at the head of his column, but his chin was sunk down on his red silk neckerchief, his face was swollen and distorted under its thick beard, and his eyes were glazed. They stared straight ahead into the sand whirl and the sulphurous glare. He had sent Brewster on ahead some hours before. "You[Pg 138] will want to see Miss McLane as soon as possible," he had said, "and there is no need of both of us here."。
"I have it," he said shortly, standing beside her and holding out the letter.。