The captain knitted his thick brows and interposed quickly, talking against time. "If the Tucson ring and the Indian Bureau had one head, I should like the detail of cutting it off." His annoyance seemed to be of an impersonal sort, and the commandant began to feel that he must have handled the thing rather well, after all. He gained in self-esteem and equanimity.
He sat down cross-legged on the ground, facing her. "I've got plenty of time, my dear woman. I can stop here all day if you can, you know," he assured her. Afterward he made a painting of her as she had sat there, in among the rocks and the scrub growth, aged, bent, malevolent, and in garments that were picturesque because they were rags. He called it the Sibyl of the Sierra Madre. And, like the Trojan, he plied her with[Pg 240] questions—not of the future, but of the past. "Well," he said, "are you going to answer me?"
But had they come? he insisted.
It was not quite an all-summer campaign. The United States government drove the hostiles over the border into the provinces of the Mexican government, which understood the problem rather better than ourselves, and hunted the Apache, as we the coyote, with a bounty upon his scalp.
"You don't say!" she mocked. "You want the earth and some sun and moon and stars, don't you, though? Well, then, Bill told him about a week afterward. And he told him because Stone had another hold on him (it ain't any of your business what that was, I reckon), and bullied it out of him (Bill ain't got any more backbone than a rattler), and promised to lend him money to set up for hisself on the Circle K Ranch. Want to know anything else?" she sneered.
"They have their good traits, sir," said the man, civilly, "and chief among them is that they mind their own business."
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.
"I rather thought that might be too much for even you," said Cairness.