Beef was furnished the Indians on the hoof and calculated by the pound, and the weight of some of those long-horn steers, once they got upon the Agency scales, would have done credit to a mastodon. By this method the Indian got the number of pounds of meat he was entitled to per capita, and there was some left over that the agent might dispose of to his friends. As for the heavy-weight steers, when the Apache received them, he tortured them to death with his customary ingenuity. It made the meat tender; and he was an epicure in his way. The situation in the territory, whichever way you looked at it, was not hopeful.
He did not see that there was just the faintest shadow of pausing upon Forbes's part, just the quickest passing hesitation and narrowing of the eyes with Felipa. She came forward with unquestioning welcome, accustomed to take it as a matter of course that any traveller, minded to stop for a time, should go into the first ranch house at hand.
[Pg 241] He was accustomed to the gloom by now, but she was not. She could only see that there was some one in the shadow. It flashed through his mind that she[Pg 221] would scream, but the next moment he knew that she would not. Any other fire—excepting always in an ammunition magazine—is easier to handle than one in a stable. It takes time to blind plunging horses and lead them out singly. And there is no time to take. Hay and straw[Pg 208] and gunny-sacks and the dry wood of the stable go up like tinder. It has burned itself out before you can begin to extinguish it.
The telegraph between Thomas and Apache always gave something to think about. The Indians had learned the use of the White-eye's talking wire very promptly. In the early '70's, when it first came to their notice, they put it to good use. As when an Apache chief sent to a Yuma chief the message that if the Yumas did not hold to a certain promise, the Apaches would go on the war-path and destroy them, root and branch.
She waited, too, made silent by sudden realization of how futile anything that she might say would be. "I am glad to see you again," she faltered; "it is four years since Black River and the cloud-burst." She was angry at her own stupidity and want of resource, and her tone was more casual than she meant it to be.
There was trouble at the San Carlos Agency, which was in no wise unusual in itself, but was upon this occasion more than ever discouraging. There had been a prospect of lasting peace, the noble Red-man was settling down in his filthy rancheria to become a good citizen, because he was tagged with little metal numbers, and was watched unceasingly, and forbidden the manufacture of tizwin, or the raising of the dead with dances, and was told that an appreciative government was prepared to help him if he would only help himself.
"I am certainly not good enough for anything else." He began to whistle, but it was not a success, and he stopped.
Here, toward the eastern part of the territory, the government had portioned off the San Carlos Agency for its Apache wards, and some thirty miles away, not far from the banks of the river, Camp Thomas for its faithful soldiery.