They did so. Nothing happened. An aching silence followed. They wrote again; and then one day a pale acknowledgment of their communication came in one of those long and important-looking unstamped envelopes. It seemed very official, very impressive. But mere looks never helped any cause. They were not naive enough to expect the Secretary of State to come down in person and see to the mending of things. But a platoon of soldiers—a handful of troops—would have worked wonders. Jones always contended that not a shot would have to be fired; no more deaths on either side would be necessary. The mere presence of a few men in uniform would have the desired effect. The bandits, now prowling about, would slink over the invisible border to their own territory, and never be heard of again. Of that he felt confident.
But no! Watchful waiting was the watchword—or the catchword. And the eternal and infernal raids went on.
It was while they were having their community meeting that he had come to know Jasper Hardy and his young daughter Angela, who occupied the next ranch, about a mile and a half south of his. Before that he had been too busy to bother about neighbors. “Red” Giddings, his foreman, had spoken once or twice about “some nice folks down the line,” but he hadn’t heard much of what he said. There were always a hundred and one odd jobs to be done around the place—something was forever needing attention; and when Uncle Henry wasn’t grumbling about something, he was forcing his nephew to play checkers or cribbage or cards with him. And, working so hard all day, he was glad to turn in early at night. Social life, therefore—unless you could call high words with a crabbed invalid a form of social life—didn’t come within Gilbert’s ken. It was work, work, work, and the desire to make good every moment for him.
But Hardy proved to be an aggressive fighter when the meeting took place, and spoke in sharp tones of the Government’s dilatoriness. He had come to Arizona right after his wife’s death in the East, and brought his only daughter and a few servants with him. He seemed to have plenty of money, and he was anxious lest the invading Mexicans should get any of it away from him. His holdings, in the eight years since he had come to the border, amounted to several thousand well-cultivated acres; and he looked like a man who, when he set out to get anything, would get it. He had an inordinate desire to grab up some more territory. Tall and thin, and sharp-featured, as well as sharp-tongued, he resembled a hawk. It was difficult to realize the fact that the pert and lovely little Angela—who lived up to her name only once in a while!—was his own flesh and blood. It was as incongruous as though a rose had grown on a beanstalk.
On their very first meeting, Gilbert had not been pleasantly impressed with Hardy. But he soon saw that the man had a certain rugged strength, and there was no doubt he had suffered from the depredations of Mexico’s casual visitors, and was ready to protect not only his own interests but those of any newcomers. He seemed to have the spirit of fair-mindedness; and he believed firmly in the possibilities of this magic land, particularly for young men. “It’s God’s country,” he told Gilbert on more than one occasion. “Get into the soil all you can. Dig—and dig deep.”