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Title: A Wounded Name
Author: King, Charles, 1844-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Wounded Name" ***

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  A
  WOUNDED
  NAME

  BY

  CAPTAIN
  CHARLES KING
  U.S.A.


  [Illustration: CAPT. CHARLES KING]


  AUTHOR OF

  "Warrior Gap," "An Army Wife," "Fort Frayne," "A Garrison Tangle,"
  "Noble Blood and a West Point Parallel,"
  "Trumpeter Fred," etc.


  "Poor wounded name! My bosom as a bed
  Shall lodge thee, till thy wound be throughly healed."

      --_Two Gentlemen of Verona_


  F. TENNYSON NEELY,
  PUBLISHER,
  LONDON.           NEW YORK.

  Copyrighted, 1898.

  by

  F. TENNYSON NEELY

  In the United States and Great Britain

  (All rights reserved)


       *       *       *       *       *



A WOUNDED NAME.



CHAPTER I.


The stage coach was invisible in a cloud of its own dust as it lurched
and rolled along the alkali flats down the valley, and Sancho, the
ranch-keeper, could not make out whether any passengers were on top or
not. He had brought a fine binocular to bear just as soon as the shrill
voice of Pedro, a swarthy little scamp of a half-breed, announced the
dust-cloud sailing over the clump of willows below the bend. Pedro was
not the youngster's original name, and so far as could be determined by
ecclesiastical records, owing to the omission of the customary church
ceremonies, he bore none that the chaplain at old Camp Cooke would admit
to be Christian. Itinerant prospectors and occasional soldiers, however,
had suggested a change from the original, or aboriginal, title which
was heathenish in the last degree, to the much briefer one of Pedro, as
fitting accompaniment to that of the illustrious head of the
establishment, and Lieutenant Blake, an infantry sub with cavalry
aspirations which had led him to seek arduous duties in this arid land,
had comprehensively damned the pretensions of the place to being a
"dinner ranch," by declaring that a shop that held Sancho and Pedro and
didn't have game was unworthy of patronage. Sancho had additional
reasons for disapproving of Blake. That fine binocular, to begin with,
bore the brand of Uncle Sam, for which reason it was never in evidence
when an officer or soldier happened along. It had been abstracted from
Blake's signal kit, when he was scouting the Dragoon Mountains, and
swapped for the vilest liquor under the sun, at Sancho's, of course, and
the value of the glass, not of the whisky, was stopped against the long
lieutenant's pay, leaving him, as he ruefully put it, "short enough at
the end of the month." Somebody told Blake he would find his binocular
at Sancho's, and Blake instituted inquiries after his own peculiar
fashion the very next time he happened along that way.

"Here, you Castilian castaway," said he, as he alighted at Sancho's
door, "I am told you have stolen property in the shape of my signal
glass. Hand it over instanter!"

And Sancho, bowing with the grace of a grandee of Spain, had assured the
Señor Teniente that everything within his gates was at his service,
without money and without price, had promptly fetched from an adjoining
room a battered old double-barreled lorgnette, that looked as though it
might have been dropped in the desert by Kearny or Fauntleroy, or some
of the dragoons who made the burning march before the Gadsden purchase
of 1853 made us possessors of more desert sand and desolate range than
we have ever known what to do with.

"This thing came out of the ark," said Blake, rightfully wrathful. "What
I want is the signal glass that deserter sold you for whisky last
Christmas."

Whereat Sancho called on all the saints in the Spanish calendar to bear
witness to his innocence, and bade the teniente search the premises.

"He's got it in that bedroom yonder," whispered old Sergeant Feeney,
"and I know it, sir."

And Blake, striding to the door in response to the half-challenge,
half-invitation of the gravely courteous cutthroat owner, stopped short
at the threshold, stared, whipped off his scouting hat, and, bowing low,
said: "I beg your pardon, señora, señorita; I did not know--" and
retired in much disorder.

"Why didn't you tell me your family had come, you disreputable old rip?"
demanded he, two minutes later, "or is that too--stolen property?"

"It is the wife of my brother and his daughter," responded the ranchman
with unruffled suavity.

Nothing could equal Sancho's equanimity in the presence of those he
desired to placate; nothing exceed the frenzy of his wrath when angered
by those whom he could harm without fear of reprisals. Blake was backed
by a troop of horse and the conviction that Sancho was an unmitigated
rascal; therefore were his palpable allusions to be accepted as mere
pleasantries or deprecated as unmerited injustice. Blake had blackened
the character of the ranch _cuisine_, even if he had been unequal to the
task of blackening that of the owner. Blake had declared Sancho's
homestead to be a den of thieves, and the repast tendered the stage
passengers a Barmecide feast--the purport of which was duly reported to
Sancho, who declared he would ultimately carve his opinion of Blake on
that officer's elongated carcass, and until he could find opportunity so
to do it behooved him to lull the suspicions of the prospective victim
by elaborate courtesy of manner, and of this is the Spaniard or his
Mexican half-brother consummate master. Blake left without a glimpse of
his glass, but not without another of "the daughter of my brother" but
recently arrived, and that peep made him desirous of a third. Riding
away, he waved his hand.

"_Adios_, Sancho; _hasta otra vista!_" he had hailed, but his gaze
sought the little window in the adobe wall where a pair of dark,
languorous eyes peered out from between the parted curtains and a dusky
face dodged out of view the instant it saw it was seen. What Sancho said
in answer is not recorded, but now he was watching the coming of the
stage from Yuma. Some one had warned him Lieutenant Blake would return
that way, ordered back to the old post to the north as witness before an
important court-martial.

Those were later termed "the days of the Empire" in Arizona. Perhaps
five thousand souls were counted within its borders at the time our
story opens, not counting the soulless Apaches. Arizona had the
customary territorial equipment of a governor, certain other
officials constituting the cabinet, and a secretary. Nine men
out of the dozen Americans in the only approach to a town it then
possessed--Tucson--would have said "Damfino" if asked who was the
secretary, but all men knew the sheriff. The grave, cigarro-smoking,
serape-shrouded caballeros who rode at will through the plaza and ogled
dark-eyed maidens peeping from their barred windows, could harbor no
interest in the question of who was president of the United States, but
the name of the post commander at Grant, Lowell or Crittenden was a
household word, and in the eyes of the populace the second lieutenant
commanding the paymaster's escort was illimitably "a bigger man" than
the thrice distinguished soldier and citizen whose sole monument, up to
that time, was the flagstaff at the adobe corral and barracks sacred to
his name. Mr. Blake had never been in such a God-forsaken country or
community before, but there was something in the utter isolation, the
far-stretching waste of shimmering sand, the desolate mountain ranges
sharply outlined, hostile and forbidding, the springless, streamless,
verdureless plains of this stricken land, that harmonized with the
somewhat savage and cynical humor in which he had sought service in the
most intolerable clime then open to the troops of Uncle Sam. Blake had
been jilted and took it bitterly to heart. Wearing the willow himself,
he cherished it as the only green and growing thing in the Gila valley;
whereas, had he sought sympathy he would have found other young
gentlemen similarly decorated, and therefore as content as he to spend
the months or possibly years of their embittered life just as far from
the madding crowd and, as Blake cynically put it, "as near hell." Blake
was a man of distinction, as relatives went, and those were days when
friends at court had more to do with a fellow's sphere of duty--very
much more--than had the regimental commander or even the
adjutant-general. Blake took Arizona in preference to a tour in the
signal office at Washington. He wanted to get as far away from the
national capital and the favorite haunt of "the Army and Navy forever"
as he possibly could. It was the most natural thing in the world to him
that he should ask for duty in the land of deserts, centipedes,
rattlesnakes, and Apaches. He put it on the ground of serious bronchial
trouble which could be cured only in a dry climate, but the war office
knew as well as the navy department that it was an affair of the heart
and not of the throat. He wasn't the first man, by any manner of means,
to fall in love with Madeleine Torrance, the prettiest girl and most
unprincipled flirt that ever wore the navy button or tormented a sailor
father. Blake sought the roughest duty--that of escorting inspectors,
staff officers or paymasters on their wearisome trips through the
wilderness--and no one denied him. The cavalry was short of officers and
he got assigned to Sanford's troop, and the biggest surprise that had
come since his commission met him one day at Gila Bend, when that same
old red stage, a relic of California days, emerged from the dust-cloud
of its own manufacture, and a quiet youth in pepper-and-salt and
sand-colored costume, looked up from behind a pair of green goggles
saying:

"Hullo, Blake!"

It was the voice, not the face, that the tall trooper recognized.

"Well--of--all--the--Why, what in the name of Pegasus brings you here,
Loring? I thought you had graduated into the engineers."

"Fact," said the newcomer sententiously.

"Well, what's an engineer doing in Arizona? I'd as soon look to see an
archbishop."

"Scouting," said the dust-colored man. "Where's dinner?"

"In the shack yonder, if your stomach's copper-lined. Better come over
to my camp and take pot-luck there."

Which Loring gladly did, and then went on his dusty way, leaving Blake
with something to think of beside his own woes. Within half a year of
his graduation from West Point the young engineer, one of the stars of
his class, had been ordered to report to the general commanding the
Division of the Pacific and was set to work on a military map in that
general's office. Loring found all maps of Arizona to be vague and
incomplete, and was ordered forthwith to go to the territory and gather
in the needed data. That he, too, should be lass-lorn never for a moment
occurred to his comrade of the line. Had such facts been confessed
among the exiles of those days many a comradeship of the far frontier
would have been strengthened. That the girl who duped Gerald Blake
should have been known to her who had captivated Mr. Loring was
suspected by neither officer at the time, and that, despite the efforts
and the resolution of both men, both women were destined to reappear
upon the stage, and temporarily, at least, reassume their sway, was
something neither soldier would have admitted possible. Yet stranger
things had happened, and stranger still were destined to happen, and the
first step in the drama was taken within the fortnight of this chance
meeting at Gila Bend.

Sancho, studying the coming stage with Blake's binocular until it dove
into the arroyo five hundred yards to the west, handed that costly
instrument to the silent, dumpy, dark-skinned woman who stood patiently
at his side, and said briefly, "_Dos_" at which she vanished, and after
restoring the glass to its hiding-place in her bedroom, was heard
uplifting a shrill, raucous voice at the back of the house, ordering
dinner to be ready for two. When the vehicle came rattling up to the
door Sancho stood at his threshold, the old lorgnette in hand, bowing
profoundly as two travelers, officers of the army apparently, emerged in
their dusters and stiffly alighted.

"Have any letters or dispatches been left here for me?" asked in quiet
tone the elder of the two, limping slightly as he advanced, leaving to
his comrade the responsibility of seeing that none of their luggage had
been jolted out of the rickety vehicle. One or two hangers-on came
languidly, yet inquisitively, within earshot.

For answer the ranch-keeper, with another elaborate bow, produced a
bulky official envelope. The officer hastily glanced at the
superscription, said "This is for me," strode within the adobe-walled
corral, halted under a screen of brown canvas, and there tore open the
packet. Several personal letters fell to the ground, but he at first
paid little heed to them. Rapidly his eyes ran over a sheet of
closely-written matter, then he turned to the silent and ceremonious
ranchman.

"When did this come?" he asked.

"At sunset yesterday, Señor Comandante."

"Where's the courier?"

"He returned before dawn to-day."

The loungers drew still nearer as the senior calmly turned to his
companion, who, having assured himself that their _impedimenta_ were all
safe, came with quick, springy step to join him.

"Where do you suppose Blake and his detachment to be at this moment,
Loring?"

"Perhaps thirty miles ahead, sir; over toward Maricopa. Do you need him,
colonel?"

"Yes, and at once. Our bird has flown. In other words, Nevins has
skipped."



CHAPTER II.


Just what an officer's actual rank might be in the days that followed
close on the heels of the war was a matter no man could tell from either
his dress or address. Few indeed were they who escaped the deluge of
brevets that poured over the army and soaked some men six deep. There
were well-authenticated cases of well-preserved persons who had never so
much as seen a battle, and were yet, on one pretext or another,
brevetted away up among the stars for "faithful and meritorious
services" recruiting, mustering or disbursing. We had colonels by title
whose functions were purely those of the file-closer. We had generals by
brevet who had never set squadron in the field and didn't know the
difference between a pole yoke and a pedometer. Every captain, except
one or two who had laughingly declined, wore the straps of field
officers, some few even of generals, and so when one heard a
military-looking man addressed as colonel the chances were ten to one
that he was drawing only the stipend of a company officer, and in
matters of actual rank in the army it was money that talked.

But there could be no questioning the right of the senior of the two
officers who had alighted at Sancho's to the title of colonel. Soldier
stood out all over him, even though his garb was concealed by a
nondescript duster. His face, lined, thin-lipped and resolute, was
tanned by desert suns and winds. His hair, once brown, was almost white.
His beard, once flowing and silky, was cropped to a gray stubble. His
steely blue eyes snapped under their heavy thatch, his head was carried
high and well back, and his soft felt hat, wide-brimmed, was pulled down
over the brows. His deep chest, square shoulders, erect carriage and
straight muscular legs all told of days and years in the field, and
every word he uttered had about it the crisp, clear-cut ring of command.
It was safe to bet that no mere company was the extent of this soldiers
authority, and Sancho, keen observer, had put him down for a
lieutenant-colonel at least. Full colonels were mostly older men, and
Arizona had but one in "the days of the Empire."

The ranchman had eagerly whispered questions to the loungers as to the
identity of the two arrivals, but without success. Both were strangers,
although the junior had been seen at the ranch once before, the day
Blake's troop was camped there on the way back from the Dragoons. There
was the packet left by the orderly to be called for by officers arriving
on the Yuma stage, addressed in clerkly hand, but Sancho, alas! could
not read. Hovering as near as the gravity and dignity of his station
would permit, he had heard the colonel's query about Blake. He pricked
up his ears at once. Teniente Blake! Thirty miles east on the Maricopa
road! Why, how was this? Some one had told him Blake had been to the
Colorado and was coming back by this very stage. How did Blake get to
the east of Sancho's ranch, after having once gone west, without
Sancho's knowing it? Suspiciously he watched the two soldiers, the
grizzled colonel, the slim lieutenant. They were talking together in low
tones, at least the colonel was talking, eagerly, energetically, and
with much gesticulation. The junior listened wordless to every word.
What had he meant by "the bird had flown?" Why should Nevins "skip?" An
unpleasant fear seized upon Sancho. He knew Nevins, at least a Nevins, a
captain whom everybody knew, in fact, and few men trusted. What had
Nevins been doing? or rather, what that he had been doing was he to be
held to account for? Why should the colonel so eagerly ask where they
could reach Blake? Time was when Sancho flattered himself that there was
no deviltry going on in Arizona, except such as originated with the
Indians, in which he had not at least the participation of full
knowledge, yet here came two officials, hastening by stage instead of
marching with military deliberation and escort, and they were in quest
of the Señor Capitan Nevins of whom all men had heard and at whose
hands many had suffered, for was not he a player whom the very cards
seemed to obey? Was it not he who broke the bank at Bustamente's during
the _fiesta_ at Tucson but five months agone? Was it not Nevins who won
all the money those two young tenientes possessed--two boys from the far
East just joining their regiment and haplessly falling into the hands of
this dashing, dapper, wholesouled, hospitable comrade who made his
temporary quarters their home until they could find opportunity to go
forward to the distant posts where their respective companies were
stationed? Was it not Nevins who, right there at Sancho's ranch, finding
a party of prospectors, several ex-Confederate soldiers among them,
languidly staking silver at the monte table presided over by Sancho's
own brother, had calmly opened a faro "layout" and enticed every man
from the legitimate game and every peso from their pockets before the
two-day's session was finished? Well did Sancho recall his own wrath and
that of his brother at this unlicensed interference with their special
business, and the surprising liberality, too, with which the Señor
Capitan had silenced their remonstrance. Rascal though he was, Sancho
had sense enough to know that such proceedings were not seemly in a man
bearing the commission of an officer. But Sancho little knew how many a
congressman along at the close of the war, finding himself compelled to
provide some kind of living for political "heelers," or some impersonal
reward for services rendered, had foisted his henchmen into the army,
then being enlarged and reorganized, and Nevins was one of the results
of the iniquitous system.

Commissioned a first lieutenant of a regiment that had had a proud
record in the regular division of the Army of the Potomac, and had been
hurried at the close of the war to the Pacific coast, Nevins had joined
at Fort Yuma and served a few weeks' apprenticeship as a file-closer,
just long enough to demonstrate that he knew nothing whatever about
soldiering and too much about poker. All his seniors in grade, except
the West Pointers graduated in '65, had brevets for war service, and
Nevins' sponsor was appealed to to rectify the omission in the
lieutenant's case. Nevins had held a commission in a volunteer regiment
in the defenses of Washington the last few months of the war, and that
was found amply sufficient, when a prominent member of the committee on
military affairs demanded it, to warrant the bestowal of a brevet for
"gallant and meritorious services." Hence came the title of captain.
Then, as company duty proved irksome, and Nevins' company and post
commander both began to stir him up for his manifold negligences and
ignorances, the aid of his patron in congress was again invoked. A
crippled veteran who could do no field service was in charge of a supply
camp for scouting parties, escorts, detachments, etc., and, to the wrath
of the regimental officers, this veteran was relieved and Lieutenant and
Brevet-Captain Nevins by department orders was detailed in his place.
This made him independent of almost everybody, beside placing in his
hands large quantities of commissary and quartermaster stores which
were worth far more to the miner, prospector and teamster than their
invoice price. The stories that began to come into Yuma and Drum
Barracks, and other old-time stations, of the "high jinks" going on day
and night at Nevins' camp, the orders for liquors, cigars and supplies
received at San Francisco and filled by every stage or steamer, the
lavish entertainment accorded to officers of any grade and to wayfarers
with any sign of money, the complaints of victims who had been fleeced,
the gloomy silence of certain fledgling subalterns after brief visits at
"Camp Ochre," as Blake had dubbed it, all pointed significantly to but
one conclusion, that, so far from living on his pay, Nevins was
gormandizing on that of everybody else, and doubtless "raising the wind"
in other ways at the expense of Uncle Sam. Even in Arizona in the days
of the Empire it could not last forever. Easy come, easy go. Nevins had
lavishly spent what was so lightly won. Tucson and Yuma City were within
easy stage ride, even San Francisco had twice been found accessible.
Dashing associates of both sexes were ever at hand. The sudden turn of
the tide came with the order that broke up the supply camp, required him
to turn over his funds and stores to the quartermaster at Camp Cooke,
and report for duty in person at that post. Then came the expected
discovery of grievous shortages in both funds and property, the order
for the arrest of the delinquent officer and his trial by court-martial.
Colonel Turnbull, inspector-general of the department, was hurried out
from the shores of the Pacific to sit as one of the senior members of
the court. Lieutenant Loring, vainly striving along the Gila to find
some resemblance between its tracing on a government map and its
meanderings through the desert, was selected to perform the duties of
judge advocate. The court was authorized to sit without regard to hours,
and to sift the official career of the _protégé_ of the house committee
of military affairs without regard to consequence, when that volatile
and accused person took matters into his own hands, and between the
setting and rising of the sun, disappeared from the brush, canvas and
adobe shelters of old Camp Cooke and left for parts unknown, taking with
him the best horse in the commanding officer's stable, and, as genius
has ever its followers, the admiration if not the regard of much of the
garrison.

But other followers were needed at once. "That man must be caught at any
cost, Loring," said the colonel. "No one begins to know the extent of
his rascalities, and you and Blake must catch him."

For answer the engineer took out his watch--it was just a quarter to
one--stepped out into the glare of the sunshine and gazed to the far
horizon. The plain to the east was flat as a board for many a mile and
well nigh as barren. Then he turned sharply on Sancho. "Dinner ready?"
he asked.

"In one--two minutes, Señor Capitan," responded the ranchman gravely,
conferring on the officer the brevet of courtesy.

Out in front of the ranch the old red stage, long since faded to a dun
color, stood baking in the burning rays. The mules had been taken into
the corral for water, fodder and shade. The driver was regaling himself
within the bar. The few loungers, smoking, but silent, seemed dozing the
noontide away. Loring stepped to the side of the vehicle and drew forth
a leather valise, swung it to his shoulder and strode back to where the
colonel stood pondering under the canvas screen.

"Good hefting power in that right arm of his," muttered one of the
loungers to a mate sprawled full length on the sand beneath the shelter
of the tent fly, and watching the officer from under his half-closed
lids. A grunt of assent was the only reply.

"Know what regiment he belongs to?" queried number one.

"No, but it's cavalry," was the murmured answer. "Saw him straddling a
broncho at Maricopa Wells last week. He knows how."

Somewhere within the ranch a triangle began to jangle. "_Quim-a-do!_"
shrilled little Pete, and three or four lazy, drowsing forms began
slowly to get to their feet and to shuffle away toward the doorless
aperture in the adobe wall, the entrance to the dining-room of the stage
and ranch people. Two men lingered, the two who were speculating as to
the military connections of the young officer. One of them, after a
quiet glance about the neighborhood, strolled out toward the stage,
hands deep in the pockets of his wide trousers. There he seemed casually
to repeat his leisurely survey of the surroundings, then he lounged
back.

"No go," said he, in low tones, "both of 'em there yet. Young feller
changing his dress. Their dinner's ready though. The colonel's writing."

Presently Sancho, grave and deliberate as became his race, emerged from
the shadows of the bar and came close before he spoke.

"He goes to ride--that youth. Know you whither? And he has no horse."

And, as though to confirm this statement, with his quick, elastic step,
Loring came forth to the side gate, dumped his valise into the stage,
turned and looked keenly over the group, then as quickly approached
them. He had discarded his linen coat and trousers in favor of a pair
of brown cord breeches with Hualpai leggings and light spurs. A broad
belt with knife and revolver was buckled to his waist. A silk
handkerchief was loosely knotted at his throat. A light-colored felt hat
was pulled down to his eyebrows, and dust-colored gantlets were drawn
upon his hands. "Sancho," said he, "have that roan of yours saddled in
ten minutes. How much if I keep him a week?"

"Everything in my house is at the service of the Señor Capitan," began
Sancho grandiloquently, "but as to that horse----"

"No other will do. How much a week? though I may keep him only a day."

"Señor, he is the horse of my brother, and my brother is not here. If
harm should come----"

"Full value will be paid. Here!" and a glittering gold piece, a double
eagle, flashed in the sun. "Waste no talk now. Take this and saddle
him."

Slowly, gingerly, with thumb and finger tips the ranchman plucked the
coin from the open and extended palm, then bowed with the same native
grace and gravity.

"Come, Loring," growled the colonel impatiently, "dinner," and Sancho
caught the name.

"The Señor Loreeng--will not ride him hard--or far? It is to the camp of
the major he goes?"

But, turning on his heel, not another word would Loring say. Ten minutes
later, his hunger appeased with bacon, _frijoles_ and chocolate, he
mounted and rode quietly away eastward until Sancho's ranch was two
miles behind, then gave the roan both rein and spur and sped like the
wind up the Gila, two of Sancho's oldest customers vainly lashing on his
trail.



CHAPTER III.


Three days later, just at sundown, the loungers at Sancho's were treated
to a sensation. Up from the south--the old Tucson trail--came, dusty,
travel-stained and weary, half a troop of cavalry, escorting,
apparently, some personage of distinction, for he was an object of the
utmost care and attention on part of the lieutenant commanding and every
man in the detachment. As the cavalcade approached the dun-colored walls
of the corral and, without a word or sign to the knot of curious
spectators gathered at the bar-room door, filed away to the spot where
wandering commands of horse were accustomed to bivouac for the night
(tents would have been superfluous in that dry, dewless atmosphere), the
women whispering together behind their screened window place, stared the
harder at sight of the leaders. One was Lieutenant Blake--no mistaking
him, the longest legged man in Arizona. Another was big Sergeant Feeney,
a veteran who bad seen better days and duties, but served his flag in
the deserts of the Gila as sturdily as ever he fought along the
Shenandoah three years before. Between these two, dapper, slender,
natty, with his hat set jauntily on one side and his mustache and
imperial twirled to the proportions of toothpicks, rode a third cavalier
whom every one recognized instantly as the fugitive of Camp Cooke, the
urgently-sought Captain Nevins. And, though Nevins' arms and legs were
untrammeled by shackles of any kind, it was plain to see that he was a
helpless prisoner. He had parted with his belt and revolver. His spurs
were ravished from his heels, and his bridle-rein, cut in two, was
shared between Blake and his faithful sergeant. Behind these three rode
another set. Sandwiched between two troopers was a man whom Sancho's
people well remembered as Nevins' clerk and assistant, despite the fact
that a bushy beard now covered the face that was smooth-shaven in the
halcyon days of the supply camp. Then came some thirty horsemen in long,
straggling column of twos, while, straight from the flank to the gate of
the corral, silent and even somber, rode the engineer, Lieutenant
Loring. To him Sancho whipped off his silver-laced sombrero and bowed,
while two jaded-looking _vaqueros_, after one long yet furtive stare,
glanced quickly at each other and sidled away to the nearest aperture in
the wall of the ranch, which happened to be the dining-room door. Loring
mechanically touched his hat-brim in recognition of the ranch-keeper's
obeisance, but there was no liking in his eye. At the gate he slowly,
somewhat stiffly, dismounted, for it was evident he had ridden long and
far. The roan with hanging head tripped eagerly, yet wearily, to his
accustomed stall, and a swarthy Mexican unloosed at once the _cincha_
and removed the horsehair bridle. Thus Sancho and the engineer were left
by themselves, though inquisitive ranch folk sauntered to the gateway
and peered after them into the corral. Over at the little clump of
willows Blake's men were throwing their carbines across their shoulders
and dismounting as they reached the old familiar spot, and Loring cast
one look thither before he spoke.

"Who were the two men who followed me?" he calmly asked, and his eyes,
though red-rimmed and inflamed by the dust of the desert, looked
straight into the dark face of the aggrieved Sancho.

"Surely I know not, Señor Teniente"--he had dropped the "capitan" as too
transparent flattery.

"Don't lie, Sancho. There's ten more dollars," and Loring tossed an
eagle into the ready palm. "That's thirty, and I shall want that horse
again in the morning."

"To-morrow, señor! Why, he will not be fit to go."

But to this observation Mr. Loring made no reply. Straight from Sancho's
side he walked down the corral, halted behind two rangy, hard-looking
steeds that showed still the effects of recent severe usage, and these
he studied coolly and thoroughly a few minutes, while peering from two
narrow slits in the ranch wall between the windows two sun-tanned
frontiersmen as closely studied him. With these latter, peeping from the
shaded window, was "the wife of my brother," exchanging with them
comments in low, guarded tones. In the adjoining room, a bedroom, a girl
of perhaps sixteen, slender, graceful and dark-eyed, peeped in the
opposite direction, over toward the willows where Blake's men were now
unsaddling--whence presently, with giant strides came Blake himself,
stalking over the sand. Sancho, despite his anxious scrutiny of Loring's
silent movements, saw the coming officer and prepared his countenance
for smiles. But with a face set and forbidding Blake went sternly by,
taking no notice of the proprietor, and made directly for the little
group now muttering at the dining-room door. The loungers, some of whom
had deserted the supper-table for a sight of the captives and the
cavalcade, sidled right and left as though to avoid his eye, for into
each face, most of them hang-dog visages, he gazed sharply as though in
search of some one, yet never faltered in his stride. Back from her
barred window shrank the young girl as the tall soldier came within a
dozen paces. To one side or another, smoke inhaling, and striving to
look unconcerned, edged the swarthy constituents of the group, and with
never a word to one of them, straight through their midst and the
doorway beyond went Blake, catching the three peepers, "the wife of my
brother" and the brace of palpable cutthroats at their loopholes. So
unexpected was the move that it had not even occurred to one of the
creatures at the door to mutter a word of warning. So engrossed were the
three in their scrutiny that Blake's entrance was unheard. True, he had
discarded boots and spurs, and his feet were encased in soft Apache
moccasins. The floor, too, was earthen, but he had made no effort at
stealth, and in the gloom and shadow of the low-roofed room it was for a
moment difficult to distinguish the human figures against the opposite
wall. It was his ear that first gave warning, for low, yet distinct, he
heard the words:

"If he'd taken any horse but that roan--or knew less about riding--we'd
'a caught him twenty miles out, and they'd never 'a caught Nevins. Dash,
dash the whole dashed blue-bellied outfit, and be dash, dash, dashed to
their quadruple dashed souls!" and the concentrated spite and hatred of
the speaker hissed in every syllable.

"'Taint a question of what we couldn't do. What _can_ we do? He's got
money and plenty of it _cached_ somewhere about the old camp, and five
hundred dollars of it's mine. That's what I want. I don't care a damn
what they do with him so long as they don't send him to prison where we
can't nail him. That's what that bloody court will do though, an' I know
it."

"How d'ye know?" fiercely demanded the other; "'nless you've been in the
army--which you swear you haven't. Where'd you desert from? Come, own up
now," and, turning for an instant from his peephole, the speaker became
suddenly aware of the silent form of Lieutenant Blake.

"None of your dashed business," began the other, when a harsh "Shut up!"
brought him around in amaze and he, too, confronted the dark figure
standing like a sign post between them and the violet light beyond the
open doorway. Instinctively the hands of both men sought their
pistol-butts, but Blake made never a move. The woman, looking around for
the cause of the sudden silence, caught sight of the statuesque intruder
and, with a low cry, threw her shawl over her head and, bending almost
double, with outstretched, groping hands, scurried to where the
mission-made blanket hung at the doorway of the bedroom and darted
through the aperture like a rabbit to its form, the folds of the heavy
wool falling behind her.

And still the tall lieutenant neither spoke nor moved. His revolver hung
at his right hip, his hunting-knife slept in its sheath, but his hands
sat jauntily on his thighs. The stern, set look of his clear-cut face
had given place to something like a grin of amusement. First at one,
then at the other, of the two bewildered worthies he gazed, looking each
deliberately from head to foot as they hovered there, both irresolute
and disconcerted, one of them visibly trembling. There was a doorway
leading into the room in which was set the table for stage passengers of
the better class, officers and the few ladies who had ventured to follow
their lords into far-away Arizona, or the _gente fine_, which included
Amazons whose money could pay their way pretty much anywhere and was
made pretty much anyhow. But that room was empty and the one beyond it,
the bar, had only one or two occupants, too far away to see what was
going on. There was a doorway and a swinging screen of dirty canvas just
beyond the loophole lately occupied by "the wife of my brother," a
doorway that gave on the corral, and to each of these each silent
"tough" had given a quick, furtive glance, but not a step was taken. How
long the strain of the situation might have lasted there is no saying.
It was broken by the sudden lifting of that dirty canvas screen, as
sudden and perceptible a start on part of each of the confronted men and
the quick entrance of the engineer. For another second or two no word
was spoken. Loring's eyes were evidently unable at the instant to
penetrate the gloom. Then he recognized Blake, then gradually the two
men at the wall, and then at last Blake spoke.

"There are your followers, Loring."

A moment's careful scrutiny, then a nod of assent was Loring's answer.

"Now, then, you two," said Blake. "I've suspected you before. Now I more
than suspect you. You--the long villain--I warn never to come nosing
about our camp again, and you, the shorter, I'll trouble to come into
camp forthwith. No, don't draw that pistol unless you want a dozen
bullets through you. Half a troop is right here at my back. Your soldier
name was Higgins and you're a deserter from Cram's battery, New
Orleans."

For a moment there was a silence, broken only by the hard breathing of
the two cornered men, then came a flash, a sharp report, a piercing
scream as the lithe Mexican girl sprang forth from behind the blanket
and hurled herself on Blake, a panther-like leap of the accused man
under cover of the flash and smoke, a thwack like the sound of the bat
when it meets a new baseball full in the middle, and Loring's fist had
landed full on Higgins' jowl and sent him like a log to the floor.



CHAPTER IV.


The court-martial that met at Camp Cooke in compliance with orders from
division headquarters at 'Frisco had, three weeks later, practically
finished the case of Brevet-Captain Nevins, and that debonair person,
who had appeared before it on the first day, suave, laughing, and almost
insolently defiant, had wilted visibly as, day after day, the judge
advocate unfolded the mass of evidence against him. All that Nevins
thought to be tried for was a charge of misappropriation of public funds
and property, and it was his purpose to plead in bar of trial that he
had offered to make complete restitution, to replace every missing item,
and doubly replace, if need be, every dollar. This, indeed, he had lost
no time in doing the moment he was handed over to the post commander,
two days after the exciting episode at Sancho's, but he coupled with
the offer a condition that all proceedings against him should be
dropped, and the veteran major commanding, while expressing entire
willingness to receipt for any funds the accused might offer, would
promise nothing whatever in return. That Nevins should be charged with
desertion and breach of arrest the accused officer regarded as of small
importance. He was merely going to Tucson fast as he could to get from
business associates, as he termed them, the money deposited with them,
and owed to him, and this must also excuse his having borrowed the
major's best horse. His friends in congress would square all that for
him, even if the court should prove obdurate. That grave charges should
have followed him from a former sphere of operations, that his record,
while retained in the volunteer service until the spring of '66 and
assigned to some mysterious bureau functions in the South, should all
have been ventilated and made part and parcel of the charges, that it
should be shown that he, as a newly commissioned officer of the army,
had made the journey from New Orleans to the Isthmus and thence to San
Francisco with men whom he knew to be deserters from commands stationed
in the Crescent City, that he should have gambled with them and
associated with them and brought one of them all the way with him to
Yuma and concealed from the military authorities his knowledge of their
crime, that it should be proved he was a professional "card sharp,"
expert manipulator and blackleg he never had contemplated as even
possible, and yet, with calm and relentless deliberation "that
cold-blooded, merciless martinet of a West Pointer," as he referred to
the judge advocate at an early stage in the proceedings, had laid proof
after proof before the court, and left the case of the defense at the
last without a leg to stand on. And then Nevins dropped the debonair and
donned the abject, for the one friend or adviser left to him in the
crowded camp, an officer who said he always took the side of the under
dog in a fight, had told him that in its present temper that court, with
old Turnbull as one of its leaders, would surely sentence him to a term
of years at Alcatraz as well as to dismissal from the military service
of the United States. Dismissal he expected, but cared little for that.
He had money and valuables more than enough to begin life on anywhere,
and the pickings of his accustomed trade were all too scant in Arizona.
He needed a broader field, and a crowding population for the proper
exercise of his talents; and the uniform of the officer, after all, had
not proved to be so potent in lulling the suspicions of prospective
victims as he had expected it might be. But Alcatraz! a rock-bound
prison! a convict's garb! hard labor on soft diet! that was indeed
appalling.

"That man Loring has made you out an innate blackguard, Nevins. You've
got to plead for mercy," said his shrewd adviser, and Nevins saw the
point and plead. He laid before the court letters from officers of rank
speaking gratefully of his aid during the prevalence of yellow fever in
the Gulf States. He begged the court to wait until he could show them
the affidavits of many statesmen and soldiers, whom it would take
months to hear from by mail, and there was then no telegraph in Arizona.
He begged for time, for pity, and the court was moved and wrote to Drum
Barracks for instructions, and adjourned until the answer came, which it
did by swift stage and special courier within a week. "Advices from
Washington say that the congressional backers of the accused have
declared themselves well rid of him and suggest the extreme penalty of
the law," and this being the advice of Washington it was simply human
nature that the court should experience a revulsion of feeling and
consider itself bound to see that the poor fellow was not made to suffer
martyrdom. Most of the members were men from the volunteers or from the
ranks. West Pointers were the exception, not the rule, in the line of
the army for years after the war. Most of the court had been the
recipients of Nevins' exuberant hospitality at one time or other. He had
objected to the few who had lost heavily to him at cards, and the
objection had been sustained, and when the last day for the long
session arrived and a sad-eyed, pale-faced, scrupulously groomed and
dressed accused arose before the dignified array and the little line of
curious spectators, to make his last plea, a silence not unmixed with a
certain sympathy, fell upon all hearers, as in low voice and faltering
accents the friendless fellow began his story. Partly from manuscript,
which he seemed to find hard reading, but mainly as an extemporaneous
effort, his remarks were substantially as follows:

"I've come to make a clean breast of it, gentlemen. I'm not fit to wear
your uniform. I never was. I never wanted to. It was practically forced
upon me by men who ought to have known better, who did know better, but
who didn't care so long as they got me out of the way. My father as much
as owned more than one congressman in York State. The Honorable Mr.
Cadger, of the Military Committee, couldn't 'a been renominated if it
hadn't been for him, and he didn't want me round home any more. He got
me kept on bureau work long after all but a few volunteers were
mustered out and shoved me down to New Orleans, where I'd often been
steamboating before the war. I had the fever there when I was only
twenty. Perhaps he thought I could get it again, and that would be the
end of me. If there's a worse place for a young officer to start in than
that infernal town was just after the war it ain't on the map o' these
United States. I had the luck and the opportunities of the devil for
nigh onto a year. I got more money and learned more ways of getting it
than I knew how to use, and then I got married. A homeless woman, a
woman with brains and good looks and education, married me for the
position I could give her, I suppose. They told me afterward she did it
out of spite or desperation; that she was a Northern girl who had been
employed as governess in an old Southern family that was ruined by the
war; that she had a younger sister in New York whom she was educating, a
girl who had a magnificent voice and wanted to go on the stage, and all
the money she could save went to her. She got employment when Ben Butler
took command, for she knew all the Southern families, and who had money
and plate and jewels, and who had nothing but niggers. She fell in love,
they told me afterward, with a swell colonel who came there on staff
duty, for he cut a dash and made desperate love to her until his wife
got wind of it and came down there all of a sudden just after the
smash-up of the Confederacy, and put a stop to his fun. That was in May,
and I got there in July. We were married that winter, and I loaded her
with the best I could buy and gave her all she could spend on her sister
until she found out how my money was made there--in cotton and cards.
She thought, and I'd let her think so, that I had big property in the
North. It was another woman gave her the tip, and then the trouble
began. She swore we must give up the house we lived in, the horses and
carriage, and go to a cheap boarding-house. She got the jewelers to take
back the watch and every trinket I'd given her--at their own valuation,
about a quarter of what they cost me. She argued and pleaded and prayed,
and swore she'd confess the whole thing to General Sheridan, who came
there right after the riots of '66 and took command, and that would have
sent me to the penitentiary. There were regular officers in the deals
beside me, and they got wind of it and tried to bribe her; and she'd cry
all night and mope all day, and swore she'd leave me unless I cut loose
from the whole business and restored what I'd made. By God, I couldn't!
I'd spent it! I was no worse than three or four others who had eyes open
to their opportunities--two of 'em in the regular army now--bang-up
swells, and at last I couldn't stand it and got to drinking, and then I
lost my card nerve and the money went with it, and it made me desperate,
crazy, I reckon; for one night when I came home drunk and she made a
scene I suppose I must have struck her, and then she took sick and got
delirious, and I was horribly afraid, and so were my partners, that
she'd give up the whole business; so they got me leave of absence. They
saw me aboard the steamer for New York. My money was running short, and
they gave me enough to place her in a sanitarium on the Hudson and get
her sister with her, and then I came back, and bad luck followed. I was
strapped when the old man told me I'd have to go out and join my
regiment, for he'd got me appointed in the regulars. Why, some of
Sheridan's officers when they saw my name in the papers, wrote to stop
it, but it was no use. The military committee in congress couldn't go
back on Mr. Cadger, and he daren't go back on my father. But they got me
sent out here to be as far away as possible; and yes, there were three
deserters from Cram's battery aboard the steamer, so I learned, and one
of them, the man you call Higgins, who was betrayed to Lieutenant Blake
by another deserter just as bad as him, was staking the other two, for
he had money in plenty until after I had done with him. What my life's
been out here you know well enough; same as it was in New Orleans--all
luck and plenty at first, then all a collapse. I'm ruined now. When I
had hundreds and thousands I helped everybody who wanted it. There are
men in Yuma and Tucson now whom I set on their pins, and they give me
the cold shoulder. All that offer to the major was a bluff. They've got
all my money. I haven't a cent anywhere, and so far as I'm personally
concerned I don't care. If there was no one on earth dependent on me I'd
as lief you'd shoot me to-morrow.

"But, gentlemen, there's the rub. I own it now. There's my poor wife and
her sister. I've lied to them both. She got well at the sanitarium.
She's believed my promises and she's come all the way to San Francisco,
and was expecting me there when--when the bottom fell out of the whole
business. She's there now, she and her sister. They've got enough to pay
their expenses perhaps a month or so, and that's all. I can make a
living, I can get along and provide for her if you'll only give me a
chance. I know I deserve dismissal. That's all right; but for God's
sake, gentlemen, don't send me to Alcatraz--don't put me in jail, leave
me free to work. There's men in this territory that owe me nearly a
thousand dollars to-day. Let me gather that up and go to my
wife--I--I--She's a good woman, gentlemen--" and here the tears came
starting from the pleading culprit's eyes, and one or two sympathetic
souls about the rude tables sniffed suspiciously. "It ain't for me to
talk of such things. Perhaps you won't believe me, but--" and he
fingered the leaves of the blue-bound copy of the regulations that lay
to the left of the judge advocate's elbow, "I--I love that woman and I
want to care for her, and take good care of her. Look here," he
continued, as with sudden, impulsive movement he unbuttoned his
trim-fitting, single-breasted frock coat and displayed a snowy shirt
bosom on which sparkled and glistened a great diamond set in the style
much affected by the "sporting gent" of the day. "See this diamond. It
cost eleven hundred dollars in San Francisco six months ago; and here,
this solitaire," and he produced from an inner pocket an unquestionably
valuable ring and, with trembling hands, laid them upon the table in
front of the judge advocate; "and here," and he whipped from the
waistband of his trousers a massive and beautiful watch. "There are all
the valuables I have in the world. These I place in the hands of the
worthy officer and gentleman who has only done his duty in representing
the government through this long and painful trial. These I publicly
turn over to him with the request that he personally hand them to my
poor wife as soon as he reaches San Francisco as earnest of my intention
to lead an honest life and to care for her in the future. And now,
gentlemen, I've nothing to ask for myself--nothing but liberty to go and
work for her. I'm not fit to sit with such as you."

He finished and, quivering as with suppressed emotion, turned his back
upon the court, pressed his handkerchief to his streaming eyes and
groped his way to the little table set apart for him a few yards to the
left of the judge advocate. The silence among the members and along the
benches whereon were seated the dozen spectators was for a moment
unbroken by a sound except a little shuffling of feet. Then one veteran
member cleared his throat with a "hem" of preparation to speak, yet
hesitated. The junior officer of the court, a lieutenant of cavalry,
slowly stretched forth his hand, picked up the solitaire and eyed it
with an assumption of critical yet respectful interest. The president, a
grizzled, red-faced veteran, presently stole a glance at Turnbull, who
sat with stolid features immediately on his right. One by one the nine
members (two of the original eleven having been challenged and excused)
began to look cautiously about them. A captain of infantry was observed
to be very red about the eyelids, but--that might have been, and
possibly was, the result of cocktails. Loring alone remained in the same
position. He had half turned his back to Nevins when the latter began to
speak, rested his left elbow on the table, and his head on his hand, his
eyes shaded under the curving palm against the glare of light that came
from without. There was no room or building big enough for the purpose
at the post, and the court had held its session under a brace of
hospital tent flies stretched on a framework adjoining the office of
the major commanding, and Camp Cooke, as a rule, looked on from afar.
The spectators who ventured beneath the shade were officers of the
little garrison, the sutler and half a dozen "casuals" of the civilian
persuasion, among whom, if not among the members of the court, Nevins'
harangue had created undoubted sensation, for glances indicative of
surprise if not of incredulity passed among them.

At last as though he felt that something must be said rather than that
he knew what was appropriate to say, the presiding officer addressed the
member who had cleared his throat.

"You were about to say something, major?"

"I--er--should like to ask the accused whether--his wife is informed of
his--er--predicament?"

And Nevins, slowly turning, answered, "I wrote last week confessing
everything. It will be a relief to her that I am no longer in the army.
She said she could never look an officer in the face." There was another
pause, then Nevins spoke again. "I hope I have not imposed too much on
the judge advocate. I have asked because he is the only gentleman here
who is not entirely a stranger to my wife."

Then all eyes were on Loring as he slowly dropped his hand and looked
with undisguised astonishment at the accused. Blake, a spectator,
suddenly drew his long legs under him and straightened up in his seat.
It was needless for Loring to speak. His eyes questioned.

"I do not mean that Mr. Loring knows my wife, but--she has heard of him
from her sister. They hoped to find him in Frisco."

Loring had picked up a pencil as he turned. Its point was resting on the
pine-topped table. He never spoke. His eyes, still steadily fixed upon
the twitching face of Nevins, questioned further, and every man present
strained his ears for the next word.

"I should explain--her sister is Miss Geraldine Allyn."

And with a snap that was heard all over the assemblage the lead of
Loring's pencil broke short off. He sat staring at Nevins, white and
stunned.



CHAPTER V.


The sutler's "shack" at Camp Cooke was crowded with officers that
evening and the episode of Nevins' address was the talk of all tongues.
Certain civilians were there, too, frequenters of Sancho's place, but
they were silent, observant and unusually abstemious. To say that Nevins
had astonished everybody by an exhibition of feeling and an access of
conscience would be putting it mildly. But the fact was indisputable. He
himself, after adjournment, exhibited to the interrogative major two
long letters, recently received from San Francisco, in graceful feminine
hand, and signed "Your sad but devoted wife, Naomi." One of these
referred to Lieutenant Loring, "whom Geraldine met at West Point and saw
frequently the summer and fall that followed his graduation."

There were members of the court who sought to hear what Loring had to
say on the subject, but he proved unapproachable. All men noted the
amaze--indeed, the shock--that resulted from Nevins' public and somewhat
abrupt mention of the sister's name. The judge advocate sat for a moment
as though stricken dumb, his eyes fixed and staring, his face pallid,
the muscles of his compressed lips twitching perceptibly, his hand
clinched and bearing hard upon the table. There were few army women at
Camp Cooke in those days, only two or three veteran campaigners and one
misguided bride, but had the post been full of them there could hardly
have been curiosity more lively than was exhibited by most of the court
all that long afternoon and evening. Conjecture, comment, suggestion
passed from, lip to lip. One or two men even went so far as to drop in
at the tent assigned to the lonely accused and after expressing interest
and sympathy and a desire to see that he got "fair play and a fresh
start," they ventured to inquire if Nevins knew why Mr. Loring had been
so much astonished, if not overcome, by the mention of the name of
Nevins' sister-in-law. Nevins didn't know, but at that moment he would
have given his hopes of mercy to find out. He was writing to his wife
when his visitors came, and demanding explanation. He could think of
several possibilities, any one of which in his unenlightened mind might
give him a claim, even a hold on the hitherto intractable West Pointer.
Why, why had he not heard or dreamed before this long trial came to its
dramatic close that there was some strong and mysterious connection
between him and Loring, between prosecutor and accused? The one
plausible theory was that Loring and Geraldine were or had been
affianced. From all his wife had told him in their few days of moderate
content and apparent bliss, he knew Geraldine to be beautiful, gifted
and attractive to any man, despite her poverty. That she had been petted
and spoiled, that she was selfish to the core, grasping and ambitious,
he had never heard, yet might have inferred from Naomi's faltering pleas
on her sister's behalf early in the days of their wedded life. In his
eagerness to learn something of the truth he sent a messenger during the
afternoon, after the final adjournment, and begged that Mr. Loring
should come to see him. The reply was that Mr. Loring would do so later.
Only two men succeeded in seeing Loring that afternoon and evening, the
post commander, Major Stark, at whose quarters he was housed, and the
veteran president of the court. On the plea of being very busy writing
the record of the week's session, he had excused himself to everybody
else. There had been something of a scene before the adjournment that
morning. The court was ordered to try "such other prisoners as might
properly be brought before it," and it was understood that two
deserters, captured at Tucson, had announced their intention of pleading
guilty and throwing themselves on the mercy of the court. Higgins had
been sent to Fort Yuma. It would take long weeks to get the evidence in
his case from New Orleans, but the two victims at Cooke knew well that
their case was clear. There was no use in fighting. The sooner they
were tried the shorter term would they serve as prisoners. Nevins
finished at ten o'clock. Loring's brief stupefaction was conquered not
without evident effort. Vouchsafing no response to the plea of the
accused for mercy, he announced that he submitted the case without
remark, and the president nodded to Nevins the intimation that he might
retire. Nevins slowly gained his feet, took a long look about the silent
array, hesitated, and then with his eyes on Loring said:

"I should like to be assured that the judge advocate accepts the trust.
It will be two or three months before the orders in my case can get back
from Washington, meantime my pay is stopped and has been for three
months back. My wife must have means to live on, and that's all I have
to offer. There is no other way of getting it to her that I consider
safe."

Loring's white hand was trembling visibly, but his head was bowed as
though in painful thought. The president had to speak. "I presume you
will not refuse, Mr. Loring?"

For another moment there was silence. At last, slowly, the judge
advocate looked up, turned to the accused and said, "Write Mrs. Nevins'
address on that," holding forth as he did so a heavy official envelope.
Wrapping the pin and ring together in note paper he stowed them in a
smaller envelope, moistened the gummed flap, closed it and slid it
within the heavier one which Nevins, after addressing, laid before him.
Then turning to the president, Loring calmly bowed and said, "I will
accept, sir."

Five minutes later, cleared of all persons except the members and the
judge advocate, who in those days did not withdraw during the
deliberations of the court, this open-air temple of military justice was
given over to the discussion on the findings and the determination of
the sentence. In low, grave tones those members who had opinions to
express gave utterance to their views. The votes on each specification
and to the various charges were recorded, and finally the sentence was
arrived at. By 11:30 the case of Brevet-Captain Nevins was practically
concluded and the president, eager as were his associates to finish
their work after their long detention at this hot, barren, yet not
inhospitable post, looked briskly up at the silent, somber young officer
at the opposite end of the long table.

"Shall we take ten minutes' recess and have a stretch before you go on
with the next case, Mr. Judge Advocate? I understand both victims plead
guilty and we can do 'em up in thirty minutes."

Nevins' watch was going the rounds of the court at the moment, its
beautiful and costly case and workmanship exciting general admiration.
Again the judge advocate was slow and hesitant in his reply, utterly
unlike the prompt, alert official whose conduct of the trial had won
golden opinions from every man, old or young, in the service. It was
nearly half a minute before he spoke, and then only after the president
reminded him that several officers wished to start that afternoon for
the Gila so as to meet the eastward stage at Sancho's two days later.

"Give me an hour, sir. I cannot go on sooner."

Out under the canvas shelter at the adjutant's office stood the two
prisoners with their guards. For an hour or more they had been waiting
their turn. A shade of disappointment stole over one or two faces, but
the president's answer was prompt.

"Certainly, Mr. Loring. The court owes it to you," and the recess was
declared accordingly. The post quartermaster was one of the junior
members and Loring detained him. Bidding the orderly remain in charge of
the premises he turned to this official.

"You have a safe at your office. Will you permit me to place these in
it?--and come with me until I do so?"

"Certainly. Come right along. It's but a step."

Wrapped in a silken handkerchief Nevin's watch, with the envelope
containing the diamonds, was stored in a little drawer within the safe
and securely locked. "You need a drink," said the quartermaster to the
engineer, noting again his pallid face.

"None, I thank you," said Loring briefly, and without another word he
took himself straightway to Major Starke's. At 12:30 when court
reconvened the judge advocate went swiftly and methodically through his
work, read the orders, propounded the usual questions, swore the court,
took his own oath, read the charges and recorded the pleas without loss
of a second of time or use of a superfluous word. At 1:15 the court
stood adjourned _sine die_, leaving the president and judge advocate to
finish and sign the record. By 3 P. M. five of its members, in the one
"four-mule" road wagon belonging at Cooke, were speeding southward,
hoping to catch the stage to take them to their posts lying far to the
east. By midnight the record was well-nigh complete, and Loring, locking
up the papers, stepped softly out into the starlight.

Over across the contracted parade a lamp was burning dimly at the guard
tents and several others flared at the brush and canvas shack of the
sutler. Everywhere else about Camp Cooke there was silence and slumber.
The muttered word of command as the half-past-twelve relief formed at
the guard tent, the clink of glasses and murmur of voices, sometimes
accentuated by laughter, came drifting on the night from the open
clubroom. Beyond the guard tents the dim walls of the corral loomed
darkly against the dry, cloudless, star-dotted sky that bordered the
eastern horizon. The sentry, slowly pacing his beaten path along the
_acequia_ that conducted the cool waters of the Yavapai, from the
northward hills to the troughs in the corral, moved noiseless, dim and
ghostly, and Loring, listening for a moment to the faint sounds of
revelry at the shack, turned away to the north, passed the rude shelters
which had been built by the labor of troops for the accommodation of the
officers and the few families there abiding, and found himself presently
on the open plain full a hundred yards out from the buildings and beyond
the post of the sentry on that flank, who, far over at the west end of
his long beat at the moment, was dreaming of the revels he'd have when
his discharge came, and neither heard nor saw the solitary officer whose
one desire was to get away by himself to some point where he could
calmly think. He needed to be alone. Even Blake, whom he had grown to
like and whom he believed to be still at the camp, would have been in
the way.

A strange fellow was Loring, a man grown, so far as judgment and
experience were concerned, when at the age of twenty he entered West
Point, and from the very start became one of the leaders of his class in
scholarship, and later one of the prominent officers of the battalion of
cadets. In scientific and mathematical studies, indeed, he had no
superior among his comrades, but languages and drawing, as taught in
those days at the academy, threw him out of the head of the class, but
could not prevent his landing a close second to the leader in general
standing. Never a popular man in the corps, he commanded, nevertheless,
the respect and esteem of the entire battalion, and little by little
won a deeper regard from his immediate associates. He was a man of
marked gravity of demeanor. He rarely laughed. His smile was only a
trifle more frequent. He was taciturnity personified and for two years
at least was held to be morose. Of his antecedents little was known, for
he never spoke of them and seldom of himself. He was methodical in the
last degree, exercising just so long in the gymnasium every morning
during the barrack days and putting on the gloves for fifteen minutes
every evening with the best middleweight in the corps. There were times
in his early cadet days when he was suspected of having an ugly temper,
and perhaps with reason. Exasperated at some prank played at his expense
by a little "yearling" toward the close of his first--the
"plebe"--encampment, Loring actually kicked the offender out of his
tent. The boy was no match for the older, heavier man, but flew at him
like a wildcat then and there, and Loring suddenly found himself in a
fierce and spirited battle. The little fellow had pluck, science and
training, and Loring's eyes and nose were objects to behold in less than
a minute. For that moment, shame-stricken, he fought on the defensive,
then, stung by the taunts of the swift-gathering third classmen, he
rushed like a bull, and two heavy blows sent the yearling to grass and
that fight was ended. But challenges rained on him from "men of his size
and weight," and the very next evening he went out to Fort Clinton with
one of the champions of the upper class and in fifteen minutes was
carried away to a hospital a total wreck. It was ten days before he was
reported fit for duty. Then camp was over and barrack life begun. Not a
word would he or did he say about his severe defeat, but systematically
he went to work to master "the noble art of self-defense," and two years
from that time the corps was treated to a sensation. Loring, back from
cadet furlough, had been made first sergeant of Company "D," in which as
a private and first classman was the very cadet who had so soundly
thrashed him. Loring proved strict. Certain "first-class privates"
undertook to rebel against his authority, his former antagonist being
the ringleader. Matters came to a crisis when Loring entered the names
of three of the seniors on the delinquency book for "slow taking place
in ranks at formation for dinner." It was declared an affront. His old
antagonist demanded satisfaction in the name of the aggrieved ones, and
that fight was the talk of the corps for six months. Loring named the
old battle-ground at Fort Clinton as the place, and in ten minutes
utterly reversed the issue of his plebe effort, and the first classman
was the worst whipped victim seen in years, for he fought until fairly
knocked senseless. That was Loring's last affair of the kind. He went
about his duties next day as seriously and methodically as ever, without
the faintest show of triumph, and when the vanquished cadet finally
returned from hospital, treated him with scrupulous courtesy that,
before the winter wore away, warmed even to kindliness, and when the
springtime came the two were cordial friends. The summer of his
graduation Loring was ordered on temporary duty as an instructor during
the encampment of cadets. He did not dance. He cared little for society,
but one evening at Cozzens' he was thrilled by the sweetness of a
woman's song, and gazing in at her as she sang to an applauding audience
in the great parlor, Loring saw a face as sweet as the voice. Several
evenings he spent on the broad veranda, for every night she sang and ere
long noticed him; so did prominent society women and read his unspoken
admiration. "Let me present you to her, Mr. Loring," said one of the
latter. "She is a lovely girl, and so lonely, you know. She is engaged
as companion, it seems, to Miss Haight--a dragon of an old maid who is a
good deal of an invalid and seldom out of her room. That is why you
never see the girl at the 'hops' at the Point, yet I know she'd love to
go."

Loring felt that he blushed with eagerness and pleasure, though he
merely said "please," and so Miss Geraldine Allyn met Lieutenant Loring
of the engineers, and within the fortnight he knew, though he strove to
hide it, that he was madly in love with her. Such beauty, such a voice,
such appealing loneliness were too much for him. Six long weeks, though
he became her shadow, Loring struggled against his passion. He had
planned that for years he should remain single until he had saved a
modest nestegg; then, when he had rank and experience, had moved in the
world and had ample opportunity to study women, he would select for
himself and deliberately lay siege to the girl he thought to make his
wife.

But when his duties were completed with the twenty-eighth of August and
he should have gone to his home, Loring remained at the Point
fascinated, for Miss Haight and her musical companion stayed at Cozzens
through September. In October they were to go to Lenox, and before the
parting Loring's ring was on that little finger. She had promised to be
his wife. Home then he hurried in response to the pleading of his
sister, but the moment the Lenox visit was over and Miss Haight
returned to New York thither went Loring to find his _fiancée_ at the
piano, with a middle-aged, somewhat portly civilian bending eagerly over
her and so engrossed that he never saw or heard the intruder. This was
November fourth. The engagement was barely six weeks old, but Loring's
ring was not on her finger as she rose in confusion to greet him. More
than that, she wrote a piteous letter to him, begging for her release.
She "really had not known her own mind." Loring gave it without a word
to or without other sight of her, packed his trunk, and left New York on
the morning train. There was a sensation at the Point when it was
announced that Miss Allyn was to marry Mr. Forbes Crosby, a wealthy
"board-of-trade man" of forty. Loring reappeared no more. He got his
orders for San Francisco and sailed late in the fall, and barely had he
gone than the story spread from lip to lip that Mr. Crosby had broken
the engagement, that Miss Haight had decided to go abroad and would not
require a companion what was more, that Forbes Crosby had been making
very judicious investments for Miss Haight herself, and people really
wouldn't be surprised if--and then Geraldine Allyn, too, disappeared
from New York and was next heard of living very quietly with a married
sister, herself an invalid, a Mrs. Nevins, whose husband was said to be
somewhere in the army.

And so that girl whom Loring had so deeply loved was sister to the wife
of this military castaway, this unprincipled gambler, swindler and
thief, and he, Loring, had charged himself with a commission that might
bring him once more face to face with her who had duped him.

Circling the camp at wide distance, he had crossed the _acequia_ and
reached the Gila road. To the north now lay the camp, and the twinkling
lights of the sutler's bar, and between him and these twinkling lights
two dark objects bobbed into view some thirty yards distant, and, as
plain as he could hear his own heart beat, Loring heard a voice say:
"Then I'll count on you not to let him out of your sight," and the
voice was that of Nevins--Nevins who was supposed to confine himself,
day and night in arrest, to the limits of the garrison.



CHAPTER VI.


The members of the court had scattered to their posts, all save the
veteran president and Colonel Turnbull, the department inspector.
Lieutenant Blake, to his disgust, had been sent scouting up the
Hassayampa where the Apaches had been seen some days before, but
couldn't be found now--it being the practice of those nimble warriors to
get far from the scene of their deviltries without needless delay, and
the rule of the powers that were, until General Crook taught them wiser
methods, to promptly order cavalry to the spot where the Indians had
been, instead of where they had presumably gone. A buckboard _en route_
to Date Creek, with two of the array that had sat in judgment on Nevins,
had been "held up" at night by a gang of half a dozen desperadoes and
the three passengers relieved of their valuables, consisting of one
gold watch and two of silver, one seal ring, three revolvers, three
extra-sized canteens, a two-gallon demijohn, and in the aggregate three
gallons of whisky. The victims had submitted to the inevitable so far as
their gold and silver were concerned, but pathetically pointed out to
the robber chief the hardship of being bereft at one fell swoop of the
expensive and only consolation the country afforded, and despite his
wrath and disappointment at finding that the gentlemen had already been
robbed, two of them having spent four nights hand-running at the post
poker-room--the leader was not so destitute of fellow-feeling as to
condemn the hapless trio to the loss of even the necessaries of life,
and mercifully handed back half a gallon.

"We hope to catch some of you gentlemen when you haven't been playing
poker," said he, striving to stifle his chagrin. "Who got it all,
anyhow?" he asked, with an eye to future business. "Ah, yes--might have
known it," he continued in response to the rueful admission of one of
the party. "Wonderfully smart outfit that at Cooke, wonderfully--most as
smart as some of our people at Sancho's. Well, so long, gentlemen. 'F
any of your friends are coming this way recommend our place, won't you?
We've treated you as well as we knew how. Drive on, Johnny. Nobody else
will stop you this side of Date. They know we got here first."

Arizona was an interesting region in those days of development that
followed close on the heels of the war. Hundreds of experienced hands
had been thrown out of employment by the return of peace, and the
territories overflowed with outlaws, red and white, male and female. It
was taking one's life in one's hands to venture pistol shot beyond the
confines of a military post. It was impossible for paymasters to carry
funds without a strong escort of cavalry. The only currency in the
territory was that put in circulation by the troops or paid to
contractors through the quartermaster's department. Even Wells-Fargo,
pioneer expressmen of the Pacific slope, sent their messengers and
agents no further then than the Colorado River, and Uncle Sam's mail
stage was robbed so often that a registered package had grown to be
considered only an advertisement to the covetous of the fact that its
contents might be of value.

And so when the record of the court was duly signed and sealed in huge
official envelope, and Lieutenant Loring, even more grave and taciturn
than usual, went the rounds of the rude quarters to leave his card or
pay his ceremonious parting call on the officers who knew enough to call
on him--which in those crude days of the army many did not--he was asked
by more than one experienced soldier whether he had requested an escort
in view of the fact that he was burdened with valuables that, though
small in bulk, were convertible into cash that was anything but small in
amount. To such queries Mr. Loring, who had an odd aversion to answering
questions as to what he was going to do, merely bowed assent and changed
the subject. Lieutenant Gleason, an officer who had recently joined the
infantry and was one of Nevins' victims, a man of unusual assurance
despite his few months of service, had persisted in his queries to the
extent of demanding from what quarter Loring expected to get an escort,
Blake being away at the Hassayampa, and no other cavalry being within
sixty miles; and Gleason felt resentful, though he deftly hid the fact,
because the engineer ignored the question until it had been thrice
repeated, and then he said, somewhat tartly: "That is my affair, Mr.
Gleason." Everybody thought that Loring was decidedly unsociable, and
some went so far as to call him supercilious and haughty.

"Too damned big to mingle with men who fought all through the war while
he was a schoolboy at the Point," said Gleason, who had never seen a
skirmish.

This latter gentleman took it much amiss that Loring had won the
shoulder-straps of a first lieutenant the day he first donned his
uniform (many vacancies then existing in the Corps of Engineers), while
Gleason and others, with what he called war records, were still second
lieutenants. Officers of the caliber of Turnbull and Starke saw much to
respect in the grave, silent, thoughtful young officer, but the
juniors--the captains and lieutenants--though they had marked the ease
and ability with which Loring handled what was probably his first case
as judge advocate, nevertheless agreed that he was "offish" toward the
general run of "the line," held himself aloof as though he considered
himself of superior clay, didn't drink, smoke, swear, or play cards, and
was therefore destitute of most elements of soldier companionship as
then and there defined. It was resented, too, by almost everybody that
Loring would not say when and how he expected to leave Camp Cooke. He
had come on Sancho's famous roan, but had returned that animal by
special courier without delay. Starke and Turnbull were informed, but at
Loring's request saw fit to hold their tongues. No one should know, he
had said to them, if he was to be responsible for those valuables. It
might leak out, and the veteran officers saw the point. The juniors
could not well ask them, the veterans, but they could and did ask
Loring, and held it up against him in days to come that he declined to
be confidential.

There was a man at Cooke who could have told them Loring showed wisdom
in his observance of caution, and that man was Nevins, who had been sent
for by the commanding officer the morning after the adjournment of the
court, and subjected to a questioning and a lecture that nobody else
heard, but that everybody speedily knew must have been severe, because
Nevins, lately so meek and lachrymose, was seen to go to his tent
flushed with rage, and then from within those canvas walls his voice was
heard uplifted in blasphemy and execration. Nor did he take advantage of
garrison limits the rest of that day, nor once again that day appear
outside. At so great a distance from civilization trifles prove of
absorbing interest, and callers came to see what they "could do for
him," and learn for themselves, and Nevins' face was black as a storm
and his language punctuated with profanity. He raved about tyranny and
oppression, but vouchsafed no intelligible explanation of what he
confessed to be the commanding officer's latest order--that he was
remanded to close arrest.

Let it be here explained for the benefit of the lay reader that when an
officer is accused of a crime, or even of a misdemeanor, he is placed in
arrest, which means that he is suspended for the time being from the
exercise of command, must not wear a sword, and must confine himself to
certain limits--to his tent or quarters if in close arrest, as for one
week the officer generally is, and to the limits of the parade or
garrison if allowed out for exercise. No sentry is posted, for an
officer is supposed to be on honor to observe the prescribed
restrictions, and only when he breaks his arrest, by visiting the
quarters of some brother officer or by going outside of camp, is he in
danger of other humiliation. To none of his few visitors did Nevins
reveal the fact that on the previous night, if not before, he had broken
his arrest and gone far out on the mesa back of the post, that he had
been detected, by whom he knew not, reported to the commanding officer,
and by him severely reprimanded and threatened with close confinement
under guard, as when first brought back to the post, if he again
ventured beyond the restricted limits now assigned him.

"I have twice sent to ask that Mr. Loring should come to see me," railed
Nevins. "I have important matters--papers and messages from my wife, and
he holds aloof. By God, Gleason! you tell him for me that if he can't
treat me decently, and come to see me before tattoo this night, I demand
that he hand back those diamonds and things! Do you understand?"

And that message Mr. Gleason, who of all things loved a sensation,
faithfully promised to deliver and fully meant to, but the game at the
sutler's developed into a big one that eventful night. Jackpots were the
rule before the drums of the infantry hammered out first call for
tattoo, and in the absorbing nature of his occupation he never thought
of Nevins' charge except as something to be attended to later, and not
until guard-mount of another day, when his head was muddled with the
potations of an all-night session and the befogging cocktails of the
morning, did Mr. Gleason approach the engineer upon the subject, and
then there was a scene.

Loring was standing at the moment in front of the rude brush and adobe
quarters of Major Starke conversing with two or three officers, or
rather listening in silence to their observations. Turnbull was seated
under the shelter of a sort of arbor made of framework and canvas
signing some papers. The president of the court had disappeared and a
rumor was flitting about the post that early in the morning, before the
dawn, in fact, that hardy veteran had pushed ahead in saddle, escorted
by most of Blake's troop, which had unexpectedly returned during the
previous night, but merely unsaddled and, after a "rub-down, feed and
water," had gone on again. If that were true, they had left as silently
and mysteriously as they came, and only a corporal's guard remained. Had
Gleason been intent on anything but the manner in which he could make
his communication most public and significant, if not offensive, he
would have noticed that both Turnbull and Loring were in riding dress.
But while it could not be said of him that in his condition he was
capable of seeing only one thing at a time, those things which he did
see were duplicate images of the same object, and he lurched up to the
dual Loring and the hazy figures that seemed floating about him, and,
with an attempt at majestic impressiveness, thickly said: "Mr. Loring,
I'm bearer of a message from my fren' Mr.--Captain Nevins, d'manding the
me'dy't r'turn of the diamon's an' valu'bles he placed in your
p'ssession."

Other officers within earshot heard, as Gleason intended they should
hear, and turned instantly toward the group, all eyes on the two--the
flushed, swaying subaltern in fatigue uniform; the calm, deliberate man
in riding dress. A faint color, as of annoyance, quickly spread over
Loring's face, but for a moment he spoke not a word. Angrily the post,
commander came hurrying forth, bent on the prompt annihilation of his
luckless subaltern, and was about to speak, but Loring interposed.

"One moment, sir, I beg." Then turning again on Gleason the engineer
looked him calmly over from head to foot a second or two and then as
calmly said:

"Too late, sir, they've gone."



CHAPTER VII.


Three days after the adjournment of Nevins' court Camp Cooke had dropped
back to the weary monotone of its everyday life. Everybody was gone
except the now sullen and complaining prisoner and the little garrison
of two companies of infantry. Vanished even were all but two or three of
the colony of gamblers and alleged prospectors, who occupied, to the
annoyance of the commanding officer and the scandal of the sutler, a
little ranch just outside the reservation lines whither venturesome
spirits from the command were oft enticed and fleeced of the money that
the authorized purveyor of high-priced luxuries considered his
legitimate plunder. By this time Camp Cooke waked up to the fact that it
had been dozing. While its own little force of cavalry was scouting the
valleys of the Verde and the Salado to the east and Blake's troop had
been rushed up the Hessayampa to the north, and there was no one
apparently to do escort duty through the deserts along the Gila, Camp
Cooke and the outlying prowlers believed that those costly trinkets
which Nevins had begged Mr. Loring to take to his wife would not be
withdrawn from the quartermaster's safe, much less sent forth upon their
perilous way. Not until after Colonel Turnbull and the engineer had
ridden off southward, escorted by a sergeant with six tough-looking
troopers; not until after Loring's announcement that the jewels
themselves had been sent ahead; not until after Mr. Gleason had been
remanded to his quarters to "sober up," and the adjutant dispatched to
Captain Nevins with the intimation that if his too audible imprecations
were not stopped he and his tent would be transferred to a corner of the
corral, did Camp Cooke learn that Major Starke had sent a fly-by-night
courier after Blake, recalling the troop, that it had halted on that
stream ten miles above the post, resting all afternoon and evening, had
ridden silently in toward camp an hour after midnight and, after
receiving certain instructions from Starke and a visit from Loring, had
gone on southward, silently as it came, accompanied by the presiding
officer of the court, who hated day marches and the sun-scorched desert,
and leaving escort for those who were still to follow. There was mild
surprise in camp, but untold wrath and vituperation along the line to
Sancho's, for from far and near the choicest renegades of Arizona had
been flocking to the neighborhood only to find themselves outwitted by
the engineer. Not half an hour after the burst of blasphemy from Nevins'
tent informed the camp that something more had happened to agitate anew
his sorely ruffled temper, and the story flew from lip to lip that it
was because the precious jewels were already on their way to 'Frisco,
guarded presumably by Blake and forty carbines, a swarthy half-breed
courier spurred madly southward from the outlying roost on the borders
of the reservation, with the warning that it would be useless risk to
meddle with the Teniente Loring's party when it came along--there were
no valuables with them; they had been sent with the cavalry hours before
the dawn.

Yes, even the sealed record of the court must have been sent at that
time, too, for at ten o'clock in the morning, when Colonel Turnbull and
Mr. Loring mounted and gravely saluted the cap-raising group of officers
as they rode away from the major's quarters, it was observed that Loring
had not even saddle-bags, and the major's striker admitted that he had
hoisted the lieutenant's valise to the pommel of a trooper's saddle at
two o'clock in the morning. Various were the theories and conjectures at
the sutler's all the rest of the day as to the information possessed by
Lieutenant Loring which led to such extreme precaution. The major was
close-mouthed, and, for him, rather stern. He held aloof from his
juniors all day long and seemed to be keeping an eye and an ear attent
on Nevins. That officer's conduct was a puzzle. Six months before he was
the personification of all that was lavish, hospitable, good-natured,
extravagant. Everybody was apparently welcome to the best he had. Then
came the collapse, his arrest, his flight, his capture and confinement,
his laughing defiance of his accusers until he found how much more they
knew than he supposed, his metaphorical prostration at the feet of his
judges, his humility, repentance, suffering and sacrifice, his pledge of
future atonement, his protestations of love for his long-suffering wife,
his surrender of his valuables for her benefit, his meekness of mien
until the court had concluded his case and gone. Then, his sudden
resumption of bold, truculent, defiant manner, his midnight breach of
arrest, which had leaked out through the guard that was promptly sent
forth to fetch him in; then his demand for the return of his property,
and his furious outburst on learning that Loring had taken him at his
word and sent it without delay by the safest possible hands.

That proved an exciting day. The adjutant's message had temporarily awed
and quieted the man, but toward three P. M. the mail carrier arrived
from the Gila with his sack of letters and papers. He reported having
been stopped only five miles out from Sancho's by masked men who quickly
examined his big leather bag, silently pointed to a curious mark, a dab
of paint that must have gotten on it while he was there at the ranch,
and sent him ahead without a word being spoken. He saw other men, but
they passed him by in wide circuit. He met Lieutenant Blake and the
troop, and the lieutenant bade him hurry, so the letters were delivered
nearly two hours earlier than usual. In the mail were a dozen missives
for Captain Nevins, two in dainty feminine superscription postmarked San
Francisco, several that might be bills, others that were local, one
postmarked Tucson, and one slipped in at Sancho's. The major himself
looked these envelopes over as though he thought their contents ought to
be examined, but even a convicted man had his rights, and the letters
were sent to him. In less than three minutes thereafter the hot,
breathless air of the long afternoon was suddenly burdened with another
eruption of oaths and ravings. One or two women sitting in the shade of
their canvas shelters across the parade clapped their hands to their
ears and ran indoors, and the major's orderly dashed full tilt for the
guard. Half an hour later Captain Nevins was escorted to a new abode, a
tent pitched just outside, not within, the corral, and there he was left
to swear at will, with the sentry on No. 4 warned to call the corporal
of the guard if the gentleman for one moment quit the seclusion of his
solitary quarters.

And this was the status of affairs when the sun went down at the close
of the third day after adjournment. When it rose upon the fourth all was
quiet about the impetuous captain's canvas home--too quiet, thought the
officer of the day after his visit to the guard at reveille, and
therefore did he untie the cords that fastened the flaps in front and
peer within. Five minutes later two new prisoners were placed in charge
of the guard, of which they had been members during the night--Privates
Poague and Pritzlaff, of the first and second reliefs, respectively. But
the aggregate gain in the column of "in arrest or confinement" was only
one, for Captain Nevins had disappeared.

Of course there was a rush to the outlying ranch, whose few remaining
occupants grinned exasperatingly and shrugged their shoulders, but gave
no information. Of course a courier was sent scurrying away on the trail
of the cavalry, but he came back sore-footed at night, relieved of his
horse, arms and equipments, and thanking God for his life. Of course
another courier was started by night to make the perilous ride to the
Salado and order the instant return of at least a platoon, but nothing
more was heard of him for a week, and it was nearly five days before
these desert-bound exiles of Camp Cooke got another atom of reliable
news from Sancho's, and meantime wondrous other things had happened.

It did not take long to determine the means by which Nevins had
succeeded in getting away. There was little, indeed, to prevent his
doing so if he saw fit to go, for, unless sentries were posted on all
four sides of his tent, he might crawl off in the darkness unobserved.
The sentry on No. 4 had received orders merely to summon the corporal
and report to him if the officer ventured to leave his tent, and as No.
4 was a post over a hundred yards in length, and the sentry responsible
for all of it, there was no right or reason in demanding of him that he
should give his undivided attention to what might be going on close to
the corral. In fact, by removing Nevins from the inner quadrangle of the
camp and placing him outside the walls, Major Starke had made it all the
easier for him to skip a second time if he saw fit to do so; but Starke
reasoned that Nevins still had some hope that congressional influence
would save him from dismissal, and therefore would not peril his chances
by a second flight. Starke did not know that Nevins was honest at least
in one statement, that he expected dismissal. His fate was sealed, his
pay was confiscated to square shortages. There was actually nothing to
be gained by staying at Cooke in virtual confinement, perhaps eight or
ten weeks, until his case could be decided in Washington and the orders
received back in Arizona. It actually simplified matters in many ways
for Nevins to go. Somebody, for instance, would have to pay the cost of
his subsistence all that time at Cooke. Thrice a day his meals were sent
to him from the little bachelors' mess, already sorely taxed for the
"entertainment" of the members of the court, and the four poor fellows
who constituted that frontier club had been only too glad when its
members from other stations insisted that they should pay their share of
the long three weeks' burden on the culinary department. But Nevins now
was penniless, so he said, and why should impecunious infantry
subalterns support in idleness a disgraced and virtually dismissed
officer? Yet that is precisely what the government compelled them to
do--or starve him. Thinking it all over during the day, Major Starke
concluded that at least Camp Cooke had something to be thankful for, and
sending for Privates Poague and Pritzlaff, he sternly rebuked them for
their probable negligence (for "discipline must be maintained"), and
with dire threats of what they might expect in the way of punishment if
they transgressed in the slightest way for six months to come, he bade
them go back to duty, released, which they did, each with his tongue in
his cheek and a wink of the inner eye, as they strode off together and
went grinning to the guard-tents for their blankets.

All the same Starke wished to know whither Nevins had gone, and whether
anything new had started him. This time no horse or mule had
disappeared, but the tracks of two quadrupeds were found on the Mesa
coming from "Rat Hell," as Captain Post, who had done time in Libby,
named the gambling ranch outside the reservation--to a point within one
hundred yards of the corral, and thence bore away southward straight as
the flight of the crow. Two reprobates in the captain's company declared
that the black-bearded clerk arrested with Nevins, but released because
he was a civilian over whom the military had no jurisdiction, had been
over at the ranch all the previous day. Sentry Poague frankly admitted
that he had heard horses' hoofs out on the Mesa and voices in the
captain's tent, but saw nobody crossing his post and couldn't be
expected to in the pitchy darkness. Whither Nevins went was therefore a
matter that could only be conjectured in the light of later events. How
he went was a matter of little moment. It was good riddance to bad
rubbish, said Starke, until at last the next mail came from Sancho's.
For nearly five days the major declared himself content if he never saw
Nevins again. Then he turned to and prayed with all his soul that he
might catch him--if only for five minutes.



CHAPTER VIII.


It was two long days' cavalry march from Sancho's to Camp Cooke, and
many a time it had taken three. Midway, very nearly, the Hassayampa
emptied its feeble tribute into the murky Gila. There was water enough,
such as it was, for man and beast along the way, but, except in the
winter months, both man and beast preferred the night hours for the
journey. In order to provide mounts for the three officers Blake had
left as many of his men at Cooke, and pushed ahead with the veteran
president two hours before the dawn. That his march was watched from
afar by mounted men he knew as soon as the sun rose upon his pathway,
but Blake's only concern was that they kept at respectful distance. Not
more than half a dozen did he see, and these were as single scouts or in
pairs. He felt little anxiety for Turnbull and Loring; they, too, were
well guarded. The only thing he hated about the whole affair was having
to dismount any of his men, but there were only two ambulances at Cooke,
one was undergoing repairs and, the inspector being present, the post
surgeon wisely protested against the other being sent to the distant
south. It was the plan of the party to ride leisurely to Sancho's, there
to await the coming of the stage, which should pass through on its way
to Yuma Saturday noon.

And early Friday evening the troop went into bivouac at the same old
willow clump, and Sancho, profusely and elaborately courteous, had come
forth, sombrero in hand, to implore the caballeros to partake of his
hospitality. His brother was returned from a visit to Guaymas and
Mazatlan, and he had brought wine of the finest and cigars such as
Arizona never had known, and Sancho was manifestly disconcerted at the
regrets or refusals, coldly courteous on the part of Loring, blunt and
brusque on the part of Blake. The veterans, however, saw no harm in
going and were sumptuously entertained by mine host in the best room of
the ranch. Blake caused a strong guard to be posted at camp, a most
unusual thing, and one instantly noted among Sancho's people, and after
making the rounds and giving strict instructions to the three sentries,
and further ordering side lines as well as lariats for the horses--all
this as a result of a low-toned conference with Loring--he came back to
find that officer with his valise rolled in a blanket and used as a
bolster, while the owner lay on his back gazing dreamily up at the
stars. A trooper was silently making down the bedding of the other
officers. The sand was soft and dry, no campfire was needed, no tent, no
mattress. All four were hardened campaigners and the night was warm and
dewless.

For a moment or two Blake fidgeted about. Good wine and cigars were as
acceptable him as to anybody. It was Sancho and Sancho's brother he
could not stomach, and he would not be beholden to either.

"You can think of nothing else in the way of precaution, Loring?" he
presently asked, as he threw himself down beside him, puffing at his
little brier-root.

"Nothing."

"It would take a nervier gang than Arizona owns to try and rob this
outfit," and Blake looked complacently around among the shadowy forms of
the troopers flitting about the bivouac.

"We are all right so long as we've got you and your men," said Loring
quietly.

"Well, there's no order that can come in time to take us away from you,
old man. I'll send one platoon ahead at daybreak to camp halfway, and
they'll be fresh to ride into Yuma with you Sunday morning."

Loring nodded appreciatively.

From the open doorway of the ranch came the faint clink of glasses and
the murmurous flow of voices. Presently the boom of the veterans' jovial
laugh swelled the "concourse of sweet sounds," and Blake stirred
uneasily.

"Wonder what that old thief is giving them," muttered he. "Uncle
Billy's telling his bear story."

Quarter of an hour passed. The infant moon had sunk below the westward
horizon. The sounds of joviality increased, and Blake's mouth watered.
"Damn those heartless profligates!" he muttered. "Reckon I'll have to go
and reconnoiter. You don't mind being left to your own reflections,
Loring?"

"Go ahead," said Loring, and so presently the tall, shadowy form of "the
longest-legged officer in Arizona" was dimly seen stalking forth from
the gloom of the willows and threading its way through the open
starlight toward the bright and welcoming doorways of the ranch. Only
one or two of the usual loungers had been seen about the premises since
the cavalry came in. Sancho and his brother were practically destitute
of other guests than the officers whom they were entertaining. Slowly
and more slowly did the lieutenant saunter, open-eared, toward the scene
of revelry. More than half the distance had he gone when, suddenly from
another and smaller clump of willows below the ranch there came
floating on the still night, faint and cautious, the musical tinkle of a
guitar, and then soft, luring, yet hardly sweet or silvery, the voice of
a girl was timidly uplifted in song. Blake knew it at once. "The
daughter of my brother" was out there in the willows, a most unusual
thing. Blake remembered how her eyes had spoken to him twice before, how
she had thrown herself upon him the night of Higgins' arrest. Could it
be, was it possible, that she was signaling to him now? Much as his
curiosity and interest had previously been aroused by the occasional
peeps he had had at this attractive little Mexican girl, the events of
that night had intensified them. True, it was a moment of thrilling
excitement. Higgins, cornered like a rat, had drawn and fired, not with
either aim or idea of shooting his accuser, but in the hope of so
startling both officers that in the confusion he could leap to the back
doorway and escape. Loring's imperturbable nerve and practiced fist had
defeated that scheme and laid the deserter low, and Higgins was now
languishing at Yuma, awaiting trial on triple charges. But Blake for a
second or two had felt the clasp of soft arms about him, the wild
flutter of a maiden heart much below his own, and Blake was human.
Somewhere he had met that slender girl before. Twice he had danced at
the _bailes_ in Tucson, and once attended a masquerade, where for nearly
an hour he had enjoyed the partnership of and been tantalized by a maid
of just about the stature of this dark-eyed "daughter of my brother."
Blake knew as well as does the reader that this was no time for
philandering, and had been told, but not yet taught, the wisdom of
keeping well away from the damsels who, like the sirens of old, twanged
the vibrating strings and sang their luring songs. Why should she have
flung herself between him and the desperadoes at that perilous moment
and thrown her arms around him unless--unless she was the girl he had
been making love to, in broken Spanish, during the _fiesta_ at Tucson?
He would not have let Loring know where he was going, or why, for a good
deal. But once away from him, Blake was alone with no one to interpose
objection, and--he went. In three minutes he had made his cautious way
to the westward willows, and his heart began beating in spite of his
determination to be guarded and even suspicious, for there sat the
little señorita alone. That fact in itself should have opened his eyes,
and would have done so a year or two later, but Blake was still a good
deal of a boy, and in another moment he stepped quickly to her side and
almost swept the ground with his broad-brimmed scouting hat, as he bowed
low before her. Instantly the song ceased, the guitar dropped with an
æolian whine upon the sand, and as Blake stooped to raise it she sprang
to her feet--a half-stifled cry upon her lips. With smiling
self-assurance he bowed low again as he would have restored the
instrument to the little hands that were half-upraised as though to warn
him back; but she began coyly retreating from the bench on which she had
been seated, and he quickly followed, murmuring protest and reassurance
in such Spanish as he could command, declaring he had never yet had
opportunity to thank her for a deed of daring that perhaps had saved his
life (he knew it hadn't--the long-legged, nimble-tongued reprobate), and
trembling, timorous, sweetly hesitant she lingered; she even let him
seize her hand and only faintly strove to draw it away. She began even
to listen to his pleading. She shyly hung her pretty head and coyly
turned away and furtively peeped across the starlit level toward the
ranch, where two dark forms serape-shrouded, were lurking at the corner
of the corral. They had come crouching forward a dozen yards when
something, some sudden sound, drove them back to shelter, and in the
next moment Blake heard it, and the girl, too, for like a frightened
fawn she darted away and went scurrying to the rear entrance of the
ranch, leaving him to confront and hail two horsemen, "Gringos,"
evidently, who came loping in on the Yuma trail, and at his voice the
foremost leaped from saddle and called:

"Is it Lieutenant Blake? We've come with dispatches, sir, from Yuma,"
and, unfastening his saddle-bag, the trooper placed a packet in the
officer's hand.

"Come this way," said Blake briefly, leading toward the light, and
inwardly bemoaning an ill-wind that had blown him far more good than he
dreamed. A few strides took him to the door of the ranch. The dispatches
were for the president of the late court at Camp Cooke, for Turnbull,
for Loring and for himself. Sending the courier to camp, he tore open
his order--a brief letter of instructions to furnish such escort as
might be deemed sufficient for the safe conduct of Lieutenant-Colonels
Vance and Turnbull to Tucson. Then he waited to hear from them. With
Sancho eagerly scanning their faces the two veterans had opened and read
their orders, then looked up at each other in evident surprise.
Presently they arose, and, begging their host to excuse them a moment
and beckoning Blake to follow, stepped into the lighted bar beyond.
Another court had been convened, another officer was to be tried, and
the two who had officiated as seniors at Camp Cooke were directed to
proceed at once to the old Mexican capital for similar duty there.

Before sunrise, escorted by a dozen troopers, Vance and Turnbull were on
their way, their farewell words to Blake being an injunction to see
Loring and his precious charges safe to Yuma City.

As long as he lived Gerald Blake was destined to remember the Saturday
that dawned upon them as the little party rode away south-eastward. Even
the men seemed oddly depressed. Neither to Turnbull, to Loring nor to
Blake had this detachment suggested itself as possible. What with having
to send a large portion of his command forward on the Yuma road so as to
provide comparatively fresh horsemen to accompany the stage with its
relays of mules, Blake found himself at reveille with just eighteen men
all told, awaiting the coming of that anxiously-expected vehicle. He
prayed that it might bring at least one or two officers from Grant or
Bowie. He vainly sought another peep at or word with Pancha; but,
though Sancho was everywhere in evidence, grave, courteous, hospitable,
imperturbable; though one or two ranchmen rode in and out during the
morning, and there was a little gathering, perhaps half a dozen of men
and _mozos_, apparently awaiting the coming of the stage at noon, the
women kept out of sight. At twelve the old lorgnette was brought to bear
on the eastward trail, but, to the apparent surprise of the loungers,
one o'clock came and no stage, and so did four and five and then Blake
and Loring took counsel together in the seclusion of the willow copse,
while their men, silent and observant, gathered about the horses thirty
yards away, grooming and feeding and looking carefully to their shoeing,
for there was portent on the desert air and symptoms of lively work
ahead.

At six came Sancho, oppressed with grievous anxiety as to the safety of
the stage. There has been rumors of Apache raids to the east of
Maricopa. Only three days before he had warned the caballeros--the
gentlemen of the court who were going back to Grant and Bowie, to be on
their guard every inch of the way beyond the Wells, and now his heart
was heavy. He feared that, disdainful of his caution, they had driven
straight into ambush. Ought not the Teniente Blake to push forward at
once with his whole force and ascertain their fate? Blake bade him hold
his peace. If harm had come to that stage, said he, it was not on the
eastward, but the westward run, not at the hands of Apaches, but of
outlaws, and Sancho went back looking blacker than night and saying in
the seclusion of the corral, to beetle-browed _hermano mio_ and his
dusky wife, things that even in Spanish sounded ill and would not be
publishable in English. Both officers by this time felt that there was
mischief abroad. It was decided between them that if by midnight the
stage did not arrive, Loring, with the precious packet in one saddle-bag
and the court proceedings in the other, should take eight men as escort
and gallop for the west until he reached the platoon sent forward at
dawn. From that point the danger would be less, and with either the same
or a smaller number of fresh riders he could push on for Yuma, sending
all the others back to join Blake, who meantime, with what little force
he had, would scout eastward for news of the stage.

But that plan was destined never to be carried out. The long day came to
an end. The darkness settled down over sandy plain and distant mountain.
The silence of midnight reigned over the lonely bivouac and the somber
ranch, yet had not Blake given orders that every man must remain close
to the horses throughout the evening, adventurous spirits from the troop
could surely have heard the ominous whisperings within the corral and
marked the stealthy glidings to and fro. At nine o'clock the famous roan
was cautiously led forth from the gateway and close under the black
shadow of the wall, and not until well beyond earshot of the willows was
he mounted and headed eastward. At ten Loring was sleeping soundly in
preparation for the night ride before him, and Blake, nervously puffing
at his pipe, was listening to the low, murmurous chat where the guard
were gathered about their watchfires, when soft, timid, luring, sweet,
again he heard the tinkle of that guitar. It ceased abruptly. There was
a minute of silence, then, a trifle louder, it began again; again ceased
as though waiting reply, and Blake sat up and listened. Once more, not
at the westward willows, not at the ranch, not on the open plain, but
somewhere close at hand, close to his side of the bivouac, away from the
guard, away from the occasionally stamping, snorting horses, and equally
far from the dark, shadowy buildings of the stage station, and Blake
slowly, noiselessly got to his feet and, after listening one moment to
Loring's deep, regular breathing, buckled on his revolver belt and stole
forth into the starlight. Yes, there was the sound again--a few notes, a
bar or two of the song Pancha was singing at the willows the night
before, and close to the edge of the willows crouched the musician. With
his hand on the butt of his revolver, Blake strode slowly toward the
shrinking form, and, beckoning, it rose and moved swiftly away.

"Halt where you are," growled the lieutenant, "if you want me to stay
here."

For answer there came the same softly played bars and another gesture as
though imploring him to come farther away from hearing of the ranch or
even of his bivouac, and, whipping out his revolver, the tall trooper
sprang forward and a heavy hand came down on the shoulder of the
shawl-hidden form, and there, trembling, imploring, ay weeping, was
Pancha. Before he could speak one word she began, and, to his amaze,
began in English--broken English to be sure, disjointed, incoherent,
tremulous--and he listened, at first incredulous, then half-convinced,
then utterly absorbed, too absorbed to note that a dark form went
scurrying from the shelter of some stunted brush straight toward the
ranch, whence presently a bright light shone forth and loud voices
harshly shouted the name of Pancha! Pancha! whose wrist he still
grasped--Pancha! who, weeping, had implored him to hasten with all his
men, that the stage was not three miles away with officers from Grant
aboard, that wicked men had planned to murder them to prevent their
joining him, and now, in terror, she sought to break away. She begged
him to release her. They would kill her if they knew----

And even as she pleaded, far out on the dark, eastward plain there
suddenly uprose a chorus of yells, a rattling fusillade, and Blake
darted back to the bivouac, shouting as he ran, "Up with you, 'C' troop!
Mount, men, mount!" and then all was stir and bustle and excitement.
Springing from their blanket beds the troopers threw their carbine
slings over their shoulders and flew to their horses. "Never mind your
saddles--no time for that!" yelled Blake, as he slipped the bit between
the teeth of his startled charger, then threw himself astride the naked
back. "Up with you and come on!" Then with a dozen ready fellows at his
heels away he darted into the gloom, guided only by the yells and
flashes far out over the sandy plain. In less than two minutes every
trooper in the little command had gone spurring in pursuit, and
Lieutenant Loring, suddenly aroused from slumber, revolver in hand,
looking eagerly about for explanation of the row, found himself standing
guard over his treasure-laden saddle-bags--utterly alone.

Then came the whish of a riata through the pulseless air, the quick
whir-r-r of the horse-hair rope through the loop as it settled down over
his head, a snap as it flew taut, a sudden and violent shock as his feet
were jerked from under him, the crack of his revolver--aimless, a
stunning blow on his prostrate head, then oblivion.



CHAPTER IX.


A week later the surgeon at Camp Cooke found himself minus one of his
ambulances after all. In response to a penciled note from Blake it had
been hurried from what there was of the shack aggregation at that point
to what was left of Sancho's, Major Starke and the doctor with it. They
found much of the corral in ruins and one end of the rancho badly
scorched. "The wife of my brother," with Pancha, and that ceremonious
copy of the Castilian himself had disappeared, but Sancho was still
there, a much wronged man, and Pedro and José and Concho and a decrepit
mule or two, all under the surly surveillance of Sergeant Feeny and half
a dozen troopers whose comrades were afield chasing banditti through the
deserts and mountains, while those who were detailed to remain spent
long, anxious hours watching over and striving to soothe a young officer
delirious from injuries to the head and resultant fever. Loring a sick
man, indeed, when the surgeon reached him; but poor Blake, wearing
himself down to skin and bone in fruitless chase, would gladly have been
in his place.

The stage which he and his men had rushed to rescue was actually out
there to the east, as Pancha had declared, "held up" among some little
sand dunes, but it bore neither passengers nor treasure, and what on
earth the robbers should have detained him for nearly twenty miles east
of Gila Bend--held him in the hot sun from nine in the morning until
late in the afternoon, then sent him on again, only to be once more
"rounded to" with a furious chorus of yells and volleyings of pistols
when within only two miles of Sancho's, that bewildered Jehu could not
imagine. The marvel of it was that, though the old stage was "riddled
like a sieve," as he said, "and bullets flew round me like a swarm of
buzzin' bees, not one of 'em more'n just nipped me and raised a blister
in the skin." Indeed, even those abrasions were indistinguishable,
though Jake solemnly believed in their existence. Then another queer
thing! Long before the lieutenant and "his fellers" reached the
imperiled vehicle all but two or three of the dozen assailants went
scurrying off in the darkness, and when the cavalry came charging
furiously through the gloom there was no one to oppose them. Jehu Jake
couldn't even tell which way the bandits had gone--every way, he
reckoned; and after careering blindly about for half an hour or so,
Blake's most energetic men came drifting back and said it was useless to
attempt pursuit until dawn, even though that would give the renegades
six hours' start. Slowly and disgustedly Blake ordered his men to form
ranks and march back to camp, when suddenly an idea struck him--Loring!
Loring, with his precious saddle-bags, had been left alone; and, calling
for a set of fours to follow him, Blake clapped his spurless heels to
his indignant horse's flanks and galloped for home, only to find Sancho
and Pete lamenting over the prostrate, senseless and bleeding form of
the engineer, whose arm was still thrown protectingly over the ravished
saddle-bags.

The pocket containing that precious envelope was slashed open. The
envelope and watch were gone. The record of the court in the other bag
was undisturbed.

And then as he bathed his comrade's head and stanched the blood and
strove to call him back to consciousness, Blake saw it all, or thought
he did, and gnashed his teeth in impotent wrath. He was tricked,
betrayed, yes, possibly ruined, all by a gang of miserable "greasers,"
through the medium of a pretty Mexican girl and his own wretched
imbecility. There was no name Blake didn't call himself. There was
nothing disreputable he did not not think of Sancho, but what could he
prove? Sancho was a heavy loser. Sancho's best mules and all his fine
horses, including the famous roan had been spirited away. The gang had
made a wreck of the bar and a puddle of his famous liquor. Manuel, his
brother, with his beloved wife and child, had fled in terror, said
Sancho, else would they now be here nursing the heroic officer who had
striven to defend them against such a rush of wretches. Blake drove him
away with imprecations, vowing that he, Sancho, was in collusion with
the gang, against which unmerited slur Sancho protested in sonorous
Spanish, and to prove his innocence pointed to his bespattered bar-room,
and as that failed to move the obdurate heart of the raging cavalryman,
went sorrowfully back to the dark ranch whence there suddenly arose a
sheet of flame and the cry that the villains had set fire to the corral
before they left. For half an hour the straw and hay made a fierce
blaze, and the troopers turned to and saved the ranch, as Sancho knew
they would, and the actual damage was but slight. Some day Sancho would
present a claim against the government for twenty times the amount and
get such portion of it as was not required by the local agent and
lobbying aids who rushed it through congress. Against Sancho there was
no proof whatever, and when Blake rode away at dawn to take the trail of
the robber band he had to invoke Sancho's assistance in looking after
his stricken friend. There were hours that day when Blake could almost
have blown his brains out. He, who prided himself on the field record he
was making, had been outwitted, tricked, utterly and ridiculously
fooled. By heaven! if horses could hold out those rascals should not go
unwhipped of justice! Bitter as was his cup the previous year, this was
bitterer still.

Not for ten days, after a long and fruitless chase through the Dragoon
Mountains and almost into Mexico, did Blake return to the Bend, and by
that time Loring was just gone, borne in the ambulance to Yuma. He had
regained consciousness under the doctor's care, said old Feeny, but was
sorely weak and shaken, and the doctor had gone on with him.

So ended for the time being, at least, the survey of the Gila Valley,
for the surgeon at Fort Yuma coincided with the opinion of his brother
from Cooke that Lieutenant Loring could perform no duty for weeks, that
he should have care, rest and a sea voyage. The record of the court had
been sent on by mail stage to San Francisco, and after a fortnight of
total quiet at Yuma, Loring was conveyed down the Colorado to the Gulf
and shipped aboard the coasting steamer for the two weeks run around Old
California and up the Pacific to Yerba Buena. The very day they sailed
old Turnbull came to join him on the voyage. Not a trace had been
discovered of the fugitive, Captain Nevins, and such suspicious
characters as Blake had overhauled were long since released for lack of
evidence. Sancho held the fort as imperturbably as ever. The "family of
my brother" were reported gone to Hermosillo.

Those were years in which the steamer, plying every month between the
Colorado and the Bay of San Francisco, carried heavy burdens of freight,
stores, and supplies into the far territory, but took little out. Gold
being the monetary standard of California at the time, it cost a captain
a month's pay to take that two weeks' voyage. The government paid the
way into the territory in the case of officers going under orders, and
once landed there a man speedily found himself too poor to think of
returning. Therefore was the stout mariner who commanded the Idaho more
than surprised to find two army officers on his scanty passenger list.
Turnbull he had met before; Loring was a stranger.

"Make yourselves comfortable, gentlemen," said he; "you practically own
the ship till we get to Guaymas. There we pick up some Mexican families
going to 'Frisco, and two mighty pretty girls."

"Who are they?" asked Turnbull languidly, as he sat on the upper deck,
heels lifted on the taffrail, gazing out over an apparently limitless
plain, half dim vista of far-spreading sand, half of star-dotted,
flawless salt water, the smoke of his cigar curling lazily aloft as the
black hull rode at anchor.

"Daughters of old Ramon de la Cruz, for two that I know of, and some
cousin of theirs, I believe. They came aboard on our up trip. The old
man likes our tap of champagne and don't care what it costs. He has more
ready cash than any Mexican I know. You're a married man, colonel, but
how about the lieutenant here?"

Loring, still pallid and listless, smiled feebly and shook his head.

"Well, here's your chance, young man," said the bluff salt, unconscious
of giving offense. "No time like a voyage for love making, once the girl
gets her sea legs on. You ought to capture one of 'em before we're
halfway to the Golden Gate. They rate 'em at two hundred thousand
apiece. Don't know how long it takes a soldier to win a prize like that,
but give a sailor such a show and she'd strike her colors before we
sight St. Lucas. If you don't care for ducats and only want beauty,
there's that little cousin. She can sing and play your soul away; give
her half a chance and a good guitar."

"Who's she?" queried Turnbull, balancing his half-smoked cigar between
the fingers, as he blew a fragrant cloud to the cloudless vault above.

"Didn't get the family name--Pancha they called her, a slip of a
sixteen-year-old, going to school, perhaps." And the captain turned away
to answer a question from his steward, leaving the two soldiers looking
intently at each other, with new interest in their eyes.

"Blake's destroyer was a sixteen-year-old Pancha, wasn't she?" asked the
colonel in low tone. He had no mercy whatever on Blake, and was
outspoken in condemnation of what he called his idiocy.

Loring was silent a moment, then he drew a letter from an inner pocket.
It had come with Turnbull--the last news from Arizona. "Read that when
you've time, colonel," said he. "Perhaps had you been in Blake's place
at his age you'd have forgotten everything but the stage and the fight.
I think I should."

And as this was the longest speech Turnbull had ever heard from Loring's
lips, except his arraignment of Nevins before the court, the colonel
pondered over it not a little. He took the letter and read it when, an
hour later, the Idaho was plowing her lazy way southward through a dull
and leaden sea.

"I'm not the first man to be fooled by a slip of a girl, Loring," wrote
Blake. "It isn't the first time that a woman has got the better of me,
and it may not be the last. But the chagrin and misery I feel is not
because I have suffered so much, but because you have, and all through
my fault. I suppose you know the general has ordered me relieved and
sent back to my company as no longer worthy to be called a cavalryman.
All the same, one of these days I mean to get a transfer. My legs are
too long for the doughboys anyhow. Meantime, with all meekness I'll bear
my burden--I deserve it; but you'll believe me when I say it isn't the
punishment, the humiliation this has cost me that so weighs upon me now;
it is the thought of your loss and your prostration. One of these days I
may find means to show you how much I feel it. Just now I have only a
hint. Last year at this time my most cherished possession was my new
spring style, ten-dollar Amidon. A silk hat is as out of place in
Arizona as a sunshade in Sitka, yet my striker has just unpacked it and
asked, with a grin on his confounded mug, 'What'll I be doin' wid this,
sor?'"

    "I know! Sole leather hat box and all, it goes by buckboard to your
    address at division headquarters. Our heads are about of the same
    caliber; the main difference is that yours seems loaded. The _Alta_
    says silk hats are now worn on sunny mornings. Sport mine for me,
    though it be of the vintage of a by-gone year. I shall not show my
    face in civilization till I have lived down my shame. So now for two
    years at least of Yuma and the consolation to be derived from the
    solitary study of philosophy and Shakespeare.

                          "Yours in meekness of spirit,
                                                   "GERALD BLAKE.

    "P. S.--They say that Sancho's brother's real name is Escalante. If
    ever you come across one of that race keep your eyes peeled."

Another day and the billows of the gulf were breaking under the Idaho's
counter and hissing sternward in snowy foam, answering the rush of a
strong southwest wind. It was late at evening when the black hull went
reeling in toward the lights of Guaymas, and the massive anchor, with
prodigious splash dove for the sandy bottom, but late as it was the
shore boats and lighters came pulling to the gangway stairs, and
merchants, clerks and customs officers nimbly scrambled up the side, and
then followed a number of passengers, cigarette smoking and cackling
about the swarming deck, and Turnbull and the Engineer hung over the
rail and watched for the promised boatload of beauty and presently it
came. Two or three small boats were rowed alongside, and there were
glimpses of shrouded forms and there were sounds of joyous laughter and
murmured gallantries of dark-eyed, dark-skinned caballeros, and the
growling injunctions of, presumably, paterfamilias. And presently the
ladder-like stairs were cleared, and, one after another, woman after
woman was assisted up the narrow way, and came sailing into the zone of
light from the polished reflectors, elder women first, then slender,
sparkling-eyed damsels whose white teeth gleamed as they chatted with
their escorts. Two undeniably attractive, Spanish-looking girls were
objects of most assiduous care. Then came a third, younger, a mere slip
of a maid, with but a single cavalier, a grim, grizzled, stern-looking
Mexican, who glanced sharply about as he set foot on the solid deck, and
then, without a word, Loring's hand was placed on the colonel's arm, and
the lieutenant's eyes said "Look!" for as the girl's face was turned for
an instant toward them, there stood revealed the dusky little maid of
the Gila, Blake's siren--Pancha.



CHAPTER X.


Not for many moons did that voyage of the Idaho lose first place in the
memory of the bevy of passengers who watched the lights of Guaymas
fading away astern that April night. All had been bustle and gayety
aboard during an hour of sheltered anchorage. Señor de la Cruz had
verified the captain's verdict and opened a case of Sillery and besought
all hands to drink to a joyous and prosperous voyage for his beloved
daughters, their duenna and his little niece--their cousin from
Hermosillo. "All hands" would have included the ship's company had the
captain permitted, so hospitable was the Mexican, and indeed was
intended to include every soul on the passenger list, most of them
boarding the boat at Guaymas. The Señor Coronel Turnbull was formally
presented to the Señor de la Cruz and by him to his charming family and
their many friends, but the junior officer, on the score of recent and
severe illness, had begged to be excused. Loring stood alone at the
taffrail, listening in thoughtful silence to the sound of revelry within
the brightly-lighted cabin, while the hoarse screeching of the
'scape-pipe drowned all other voices and proclaimed the impatient haste
of the skipper to be off. Straight, but often storm-swept, was the
southerly run to La Paz--over on the desolate shore of the long, arid
peninsula, and the green surges were rolling higher every moment and
bursting in thunder into clouds of wind-driven, hissing spray on the
rocks beyond the point. Wind and wave were both against their good ship,
and every officer and man was at his station awaiting the order to weigh
anchor. The mail sacks were aboard. The consul had gone down over the
side and still Don Ramon seemed unable to part from his loved ones and
the Idaho's champagne. It was the captain who had finally to put abrupt
stop to the lingering leave-takings.

"I must be off at once," he said. "Come, Don Ramon, we'll take the best
of care of these ladies and land them all at 'Frisco within the
fortnight. Kiss 'em all around now and jump for your boat. Come,
Señor--I didn't catch the name. Ah, yes, Escalante--the father of the
Señorita Pancha, I suppose. No--only her uncle? Well, I'll be her uncle
now," and so saying he led the way to the deck. Loring saw the lively
party come surging forth from the companionway--señoras, señoritas,
gray-haired men and gay young gallants. There was a moment of clasping,
clinging embraces, of straining arms and lingering kisses, of crowdings
and murmurings here and there, some little sobbing and many tear-wet
eyes as the father was finally hurried down the ladder, and then there
was further delay and shouts for Escalante, and not until then did
Loring, silently watching the animated throng on the port side, become
aware of two dark forms in the shadow of the deckhouse on the opposite
quarter. One was that of a slender girl, and she was sobbing, she was
praying in eager words not to be sent away; she was imploring pitifully
to be taken back to the shore. Loring had studied Spanish long enough
to understand almost every word, and even before he realized that he was
an unwonted listener he had heard both her sobbing plea and the abrupt,
almost cruel answer.

"You have no home, nor has your father. You may thank heaven for the
chance to get away."

The second officer came bustling round in search of them, and, leaving
the girl shrinking and sobbing on the narrow bench in the shadow, the
Mexican was hurried off. Before the little boats had fairly cast adrift
and the swinging steps were raised the throb of the screw was felt
churning the waters of the bay, and as the steamer slowly gathered way
and her bow swung gradually seaward, women and girls, kerchief waving,
came drifting back along the rail, leaning far over and throwing kisses
to the tossing shallops on the dark waves beneath, then gathering about
the stunted flagstaff at the stern, calling loudly their parting words,
all unconscious of Loring, who had stepped aside to give them room and
so found himself close to little Pancha, lost to everybody in the
desolation of a loneliness and grief that Loring could not see unmoved,
yet could not reconcile with what he had believed of her.

Up to this moment he had heard of her only as an artful girl, the
confederate of thieves and ruffians. Up to this moment he had seen her
only once, the afternoon she threw herself on Blake, as Blake and he had
both come to believe, to prevent his drawing revolver on the two rascals
at the ranch. Yet, never had Loring heard such pathetic pleading, never
had he seen child or woman in such utter abandonment of woe. Never had
he thought it possible that Pancha, the siren of Sancho's ranch--cold,
crafty, luring, designing, treacherous as any Carmen ever since
portrayed upon the stage--could be capable of such intensity of feeling.
Drawing his uniform "cape" snugly about him, for now the sharp sea wind
was whistling through the cordage and chilling his fever-weakened frame,
Loring leaned against the rail, gazing back at the receding shores,
trying not to hear the girl's sobbing. The chatter of the flock of women
was incessant. Turnbull and two Guaymas merchants had joined the group,
but all were intent on those harbor lights now fast glimmering to mere
sparks upon the sea, and the lonely girl sat there forgotten. Not once
was voice uplifted in question as to what had become of her. Every
moment now the stern was lifted higher in air and then dropped deeper
into the roaring, hissing waters, and women tightened their hold upon
the taffrail and gave shrill little shrieks, and huddled closer
together, and presently one of the elders fell back and begged to be led
below, and then another, and by the time the last glimmer of the town
had been hid from view and only the steady gleam of the lighthouse shone
forth upon their foaming wake, the hardiest of the gay little party of
the earlier evening had been carefully assisted down the brass-bound
stairway, and when five bells tinkled windily somewhere forward, there,
with little hands clasped about the stanchion, a shawl thrown over her
head, that head pillowed in her arms, there alone in the darkness and
the rush of the wind and sea, there, the very picture of heartbroken
girlhood, still sat Pancha, and Loring could bear it no longer.

He was thinking over his Spanish to be sure of his words when the
starboard doors of the companion way were suddenly thrown open, and in
the bright light from within two burly forms stepped unsteadily forth,
then lurched for the nearest support, and Loring heard the jovial tones
of Turnbull:

"He must be up here--or overboard; he's nowhere below!" Then glancing
sternward, "O! Loring!" he shouted, and at the name Pancha's little dark
head was suddenly uplifted, and a pair of black eyes, red-rimmed and
swollen with weeping, gazed, startled, toward the dark figures. For the
life of him Loring could not answer the hail. Turnbull's voice and words
alone had been sufficient to rouse her from a depth of woe, and to give
rise to new and violent distress. She was trembling, and he could
plainly see it. To answer would only announce to the frightened girl
that the man whose name was sufficient to cause such evident dismay was
standing there just beyond her seat, within a few paces of her, and had
probably been there for some time. Quickly, watching his chance, as the
Idaho careened to port, Loring shot round the deckhouse and made his way
forward until he reached the companion stairs on that side, and in
another moment was clinging to the outer knob of the doorway on the
other, and answering the eager questions as to where he'd been and
whether he better not turn in. "Have a brandy and water, sir," urged the
colonel's new companion. "Nothing like it to head off _mal de mer_.
We're in for a lively night. Half the women are sick already, and the
colonel here was turning white about the gills."

"The air in the cabin was close after all that champagne. It's fresh in
the staterooms, though," answered Turnbull. "Come on, Loring. It's time
for you to be abed." Then in low tone he queried: "What's become of the
child? Did she see you? Has she got back to shore?"

For answer Loring pointed to the dark figure shrinking from view half a
dozen yards away toward the heaving stern. Their jovial
fellow-passenger again interposed.

"Come, gentlemen, brandy and water's what we need, ain't it?" The
Idaho's champagne had evidently taken effect.

"Right!" said Turnbull "Run down and order for us, quick, or it'll be
too late. We'll join you in a minute." The burly merchant dove for the
doorway on the next stomach-wrecking lurch, and collided with the
white-capped stewardess, hastening up, with anxiety in her eyes. The two
officers clung to the mizzen shrouds opposite the companionway as she
emerged from the broad light into the darkness of the wind-swept deck.
It was a moment before she could distinguish objects at all. Then with
practiced step she went swiftly to the crouching figure at the distant
end of the long seat.

"I have learned something of her," murmured Turnbull. "That was her
father's brother, Escalante, who came aboard with her. That woman at
Sancho's was not her mother. _She_ has been dead for many a year. She
was own sister to De la Cruz. There is something back of their sending
this girl to San Francisco. Hush! Here she comes!"

With her arm thrown about the drooping girl, the stewardess came slowly
leading her to the doorway. The swinging portals had slammed shut in the
last plunge of the Idaho, and as the buoyant craft rose high on the next
billow, Turnbull and Loring both turned to open them. The light shone
full on their calm, soldierly faces as the stewardess thanked them, and
the shrinking child lifted up her frightened eyes for one brief moment,
glanced quickly from one to the other, then, with a low cry, slipped,
limp and senseless, through the woman's arms and fell in a dark heap
upon the deck.



CHAPTER XI.


Another day and the Idaho was battling for her life and that of every
soul aboard. Forging her way southward, she took the furious buffets of
the gale on the starboard quarter--"the right front," as Turnbull would
have put it had he not been too ill to care a fig where she was hit, and
only wished she might go down if that would keep her still. Sea after
sea burst over the dripping decks and tossed her like a cockle shell
upon the waters. Time and again the bows would plunge deep in some
rushing surge and then, uplifting, send torrents washing aft and pour
cataracts from her sides. Long before the dawn of day the red-eyed
commander had ordered the southward course abandoned and headed his
laboring craft for the opposite shores. Harbor there was none north of
the deep sheltered bay of La Paz, but there would be relief from the
tremendous poundings of the billows when once under the lee of Old
California. Obedient to her helm, the Idaho now met "dead ahead" both
wind and sea. The rolling measurably ceased. The pitching fore and aft
continued, but the passenger list by this time cared no longer to
discriminate. It was all one to all but one of their number. Loring, of
the engineers, thanks to long weeks of illness of another sort, was
mercifully exempted from the pangs of seasickness, but the sights and
sounds between decks were more than could long be borne, and, making his
way forward shortly after dawn, he had succeeded in borrowing a spare
sou-wester and pair of sea boots from the second officer, and, equipped
in these and a rubber coat, leaving nothing but his nose and mouth in
evidence, he was boosted up the narrow stairway to the shelter of the
pilot-house on the uppermost deck--the Idaho had no bridge--and there he
saw the sun come up to the meridian and the sea go gradually down as the
steamer found smoother waters under the lee of San Ildefonso. Only
lightly laden, the stanch little craft had well-nigh "jumped out of her
boots," as the jovial skipper expressed it, and now, all brine and
beaming satisfaction after his long hours of stormy vigil, he clapped
Loring on the shoulder, complimented him on his possession of a "sea
stomach" and ordered coffee served forthwith. They were steaming slowly
along at half-speed now, taking a breathing spell before attempting the
next round, and the captain waxed confidential.

"What's wrong with that pretty little niece?" he asked. "She was bright
enough the day they came aboard on our up trip. Now, the stewardess
tells me she fainted dead away and has been begging to be put ashore all
night."

Loring couldn't say.

"But you helped carry her down, you and Turnbull. The stewardess says
you were both very kind to her, where her own people neglected her. I
didn't fancy that scrub Escalante. Do you know anything about him or her
own people?"

"Nothing--to speak of," said Loring.

"Fernandez, one of those young Guaymas swells, says the mother was own
sister to De la Cruz--married against his wishes when she was a mere
girl--died a few years later, and that Don Ramon offered to adopt and
educate her little girl, but only lately would the Escalantes give her
up. All I know is that she's too damned miserable about something else
to be even seasick like the rest of 'em. You'd a-been down there with
Turnbull if you hadn't just had more'n your share of illness," added he,
with the mariner's slight disapprobation of the landsman who defies
initiations of Neptune.

"Very possibly," said Loring.

"The purser tells me Escalante gave him a little packet belonging to
her--very valuable, which he ordered kept in the safe until their agent
should call for it at 'Frisco."

"Indeed!" said Loring, looking up in quick interest.

"Fact," said the skipper. "Now, have some more coffee? I'm going to turn
in for forty winks. Let the steward know when you want anything. Nobody
else will. We've got to face some more rollers after awhile. I dassen't
go inside Carmen Island."

But Loring had something more engrossing to think of than breakfast or
luncheon. So there was a little packet in the purser's safe, was there?
Valuable and not to be delivered except to their agent in 'Frisco. It
was in Pancha's name, yet not subject to Pancha's order. Why that
discrimination? And it was given the purser by Escalante--brother of
_the_ Escalante--another brother of the accomplished sharper of Sancho's
ranch. A precious trinity of blood relations were these! Small wonder
Don Ramon, had opposed his girl sister's union with one of their number.
Now, what on earth could that small packet contain, and was it likely
that the valuables were any more valuable than those snatched from his
saddle-bags the night of the assault at Gila Bend?--the watch and
diamonds of the late Captain Nevins now vanished into thin air,
apparently, for not a trace of him had appeared since the night he rode
away from Camp Cooke.

In genuine distress of mind, Loring had written from Yuma, as soon as
the doctor would permit, to the address penned by Nevins in presence of
the court, informing that vagabond officer's wife that the valuables he
had been charged to place in her hands had been forcibly taken from him,
after he himself had been assaulted and stricken senseless; that every
effort had been made to recover them, but without success; that he
deplored their loss and her many misfortunes, and begged to be informed
if he could serve her in any other way. The doctors had promised him
that he would be restored by a sea voyage. It would be three weeks,
probably, before he could reach San Francisco, and meantime he knew from
the captain's admission that she was probably in need.

"No one," wrote Loring, "is dependent upon me, and I beg your acceptance
as a loan, as a temporary accommodation, or as anything you please, of
the inclosed draft." (It covered nearly every dollar he happened to have
to his credit in the bank at San Francisco, though he had pay accounts
still collectible.) It took nearly ten days for answer to reach him,
and Loring hid himself away to read it when the letter came, addressed
in a hand he knew too well:

    "Naomi, my beloved sister, is prostrated by her sorrows and
    anxieties," it began, "and I must be her amanuensis--I who would die
    for her, yet who shrink from this task, well knowing, though she
    does not, how hard it is to write to one to whom I have given
    perhaps such infinite pain. Indeed, I should not have had courage to
    write had she not required it of me, had not your most generous
    offer and action demanded response. But for your aid my heartbroken
    sister and I would by this time have had no roof to cover our heads.
    These people had refused to house us longer. As soon as she is well
    enough to move and I can obtain the means from Eastern friends we
    shall sail for New Orleans, where she expects to find friends and
    employment, and she bids me say that within the year you shall be
    repaid. Meantime the thought that you, too, have been made a
    sufferer, all on account of that unprincipled scoundrel who has
    deceived and deserted her, weighs upon her spirits as it does on
    mine. It is not the loss of the jewels (though we would have been
    beyond the possibility of want had they reached her) that we mourn;
    it is that one whom I fear I have sorely angered, perhaps past all
    forgiveness, should have to suffer so much more on our account, and
    yet if you only knew--if I could only explain! But this is futile.
    Despise me if you will, yet believe that my gratitude is beyond
    words.

                                                "GERALDINE ALLYN.

    "P. S.--Should you care to see--sister on your arrival we shall
    probably still be here."

Then there had come, not to him but to the post surgeon at Yuma, another
letter just before Loring started down the Colorado. The doctor was with
his patient at the moment, and the superscription caught the latter's
eye. The doctor changed color and looked embarrassed as he read.
Evidently he did not desire to be questioned, nor was he, at the time,
for Loring had a way of thinking before he spoke, but as the doctor
completed certain injunctions at parting, the engineer turned full upon
him:

"Any news of Nevins in the letter you got this morning?"

The doctor flushed, looked bothered and confused, then finally fished
the letter from an inner pocket.

"Read it yourself," said he, and turned away. It was from Miss Allyn. It
apologized for intruding on a stranger, on his time and patience, but
she knew he had been Mr. Loring's medical adviser, and she felt
compelled to make certain inquiries, her sister being still unable to
write for herself. The doctor was probably aware that Mr. Loring had
written apprising them of the loss of certain articles of great value
that had been intrusted to his care and intended for them. He had
expressed the utmost sorrow and had tendered certain reimbursement (that
check was for two hundred dollars, not a cent less), not a fortieth part
of the value of the lost articles, probably, but now they were in
receipt of a letter from Captain Nevins that must have come by private
hand to San Francisco, telling them that he must go forth to seek his
fortunes anew; that his wife would never hear from him until he could
come with full hands; that he had sent her every penny and possession
he had--enough to keep her in comfort--and if Lieutenant Loring did not
promptly deliver the same to take legal steps to compel him to do so, as
he, Nevins, was now convinced the officer might appropriate them to his
own use, if he could find any way to cover his breach of trust, such as
swearing they were stolen from him. Captain Nevins had written other
things in condemnation of Mr. Loring which neither Mrs. Nevins nor
herself could believe; but--it did seem strange that an officer could
find no safe method of sending valuable jewels when so much depended on
his fidelity.

Loring read no further. His blue eyes were blazing already and his face
was white with wrath when he returned the missive to his friend, who,
knowing nothing of Loring's past infatuation for the writer, wondered at
sight of his emotion.

"Why, Loring," said he, "you take this shallow girl too seriously. It's
the way with women all over the world. They can never wholly acquit a
man of complicity when they have suffered a loss. If that package were
with you on the Idaho and she was to go down in midocean and the jewelry
with her, some women would say you scuttled the ship in order to rob
them."

The doctor's name, it must be observed, is unrecorded, because of the
extremity of his cynicism. He went back to Yuma and his duties and
stowed that letter away, to be answered later on. What the writer said
her sister desired most to know was whether Mr. Loring had sustained any
injury that might affect his mind or memory, and the doctor sniffed
indignantly at the notion while we read, yet marveled much at the effect
that half-uttered accusation had on his usually calm, self-poised
patient. He spoke of it to Turnbull when that veteran came hurrying in
by stage and followed Loring down the murky stream, only just in time to
catch the steamer, but Turnbull paid faint heed. Loring was still weak,
he said, and a man of sensitive honor might well be wrathful at such
insinuations.

And now as Loring clung to the rail upon the lofty deck and gazed out
over the waste of tumbling waters toward the barren shores, he was
thinking deeply of that letter, of the strange bent of mind that could
dictate such unjustifiable suggestion--if not accusation. He was
thinking, too, of Pancha and that little packet in the purser's safe,
when suddenly that officer himself came popping up the narrow stairway
and poked his unprotected head into the whistling wind.

"Lieutenant, come below and have a bite while we're here off Ildefonso.
We'll be turning handsprings in half an hour," and Loring followed to
the steward's cuddy where a smoking luncheon awaited them, and the
silent soldier fell to with the appetite that follows fever. Purser and
steward looked on with admiration.

"I'll prescribe a course of typhoid to the next friend of mine that
contemplates a voyage like this," said the former presently. "It made
you invulnerable, but was it typhoid?"

"No--some head trouble."

"Sunstruck?" queried the purser. "Hot as it is, that don't often happen
in Arizona--too dry."

"Struck, but not by sun--pistol-butt, perhaps," said Loring. "Night
attack of Gila Bend--robbers."

"Oh, Lord, yes! I remember. I heard about that," said the genial purser.
"Got away with some money, didn't they?"

"No money, but with a valuable package," and the blue eyes were fixed
intently on the purser as he spoke, while the steward uncorked another
pint of Margaux. "A tin box about eight by three, containing a watch and
jewels. You sometimes get such for safekeeping, do you not?"

"Got one now," was the prompt reply, as the officer smacked his lips and
held out his glass for another sip of the red wine of France. "Old
Escalante gave it to me at Guaymas. It's the little señorita's."



CHAPTER XII.


The afternoon and night that followed brought little comfort to the
cabin passengers. Not till nearly dark did the steamer find the shelter
of another island, and all the intervening hours she wallowed in the
trough of the sea, with the wind abeam, and by the time the heights of
Carmen Island loomed between them and the red glow of the sunset skies,
Turnbull had thrice wished himself in hotter climes than even Arizona,
and could only feebly damn his junior for coming down to ask if there
were not something he could do for him.

"Yes, take this pistol and shoot me," moaned the sufferer. "No, of
course I don't want brandy and water, nor you nor anybody. It's simply
scandalous for you to be up and well. Go 'way!" And though Loring sorely
needed counsel, he felt that Turnbull was in no mood for talk, and so
climbed back on deck again. He had made up his mind to tell the purser
the whole story and to ask him to examine the contents of the package.
All the livelong night the Idaho plowed and careened through the rolling
seas, gaining scant relief off Santa Catalina and San José, but when in
the undimmed splendor of the morning sun she swept proudly into the
placid, land-locked harbor of old La Paz, Loring was the only man among
her passengers to appear on deck. Even after she dropped anchor and one
or two bedraggled victims were hoisted from below and dropped over the
side to be rowed ashore, none of the women of the gay Guaymas party was
able to climb the stairs. The wind was gone by sundown, and the Idaho
once more steering coastwise for Cape San Lucas. The night wore on and
Loring was still alone when, just as the tinkle of the ship's bell told
that nine o'clock had come, with a soft, warm air drifting off the land,
a fragile little form issued slowly from the companionway, and the
stewardess smiled invitingly on the blue-eyed officer, as though
begging him to aid her feeble charge to a seat.

"I have brought the señorita up for half an hour. I made her come," said
she, as she dumped the pile of shawls into a spreading chair and began
preparing a nest, while Pancha, turning away at sight of Loring, sank to
the end of the bench, the very seat she occupied as they put to sea from
Guaymas. But now it was Loring who tendered his arm, and, calmly
ignoring her evident if unspoken protest, aided in lifting her from the
bench and seating her in the depths of the easy reclining chair. The
stewardess, with practiced hand, carefully tucked the rugs about her,
and bidding the little damsel make the most of the soft, salt air, while
she herself ran below to prepare her chocolate, would have gone at once
but for Pancha's trembling, yet restraining hand. The child seemed to
cling to her in desperation. Rapidly and in low tone she poured forth a
torrent of pleading, and the kind-hearted woman looked about her in
perplexity and distress.

"What can I do, sir?" said she to Loring, in English. "This poor little
thing has eaten nothing since she came aboard. She has cried herself
sick. She is as weak as a baby and must have food, yet she will not let
me go."

"Stay with her until she is calmer," said Loring. "I'll get what is
needed."

"But I cannot. The other ladies call for me incessantly."

A little disk of gold was slipped quickly into the disengaged hand. "Let
them call awhile but don't you go," was the double answer.

It is odd to note how soon the troubled waves subside along those summer
shores. The Idaho was only lazily bowing and courtesying to Old Neptune
now. A long, languorous heave of the billows, as though worn out with
the furious lashing of the last few days, was the only greeting of the
broadening sea as the steamer rounded the southeast headland and slowly
bore away for Cape San Lucas. Little Pancha's dusky head was resting
wearily, yet resignedly, on the pillow, her hand still clasping that of
the stewardess, as an attendant from below appeared with a little tray
and some scalding hot chocolate, some tender slices of the breast of
chicken, some tempting little dainties were quickly set before her.
"Make her take them," whispered Loring from the shadows, and, once the
effort was made and the "ice broken," the dark-eyed invalid ate almost
eagerly. At three bells the stewardess was allowed to slip away for just
a little more chocolate, and, glancing furtively, fearfully about her,
Pancha was aware of a dim masculine form seated not ten feet away. She
knew it was Loring, and yet could not move. She felt that he must
presently rise and accost her, and she shrank from the meeting in
dismay, yet soon began to look again, and to note that he had not
changed his attitude. Apparently indifferent to her presence, he was
gazing dreamily out across the slowly-heaving billows, wherein the stars
were dancing. The stewardess was gone full quarter of an hour, and in
all that time he never even once glanced her way, and poor Pancha found
her eyes flitting toward him every little while in something almost
akin to fascination. Could it be that he had--forgotten?--or that he did
not recognize her? Yet she had heard how both Loring and the other, that
older officer, the Colonel Turnbull, had carried her below as she slowly
rallied from her fainting spell two nights before. Surely she thought
she remembered seeing recollection or recognition in the eyes of both,
yet now when he had opportunity to accuse her, not one word did he
attempt. She was warmed and comforted by the chocolate and the food. She
enjoyed the second cup just brought her. She begged the stewardess to
stay, yet only faintly protested when told she had to go. Once again
Pancha was alone when the chiming tinkle, four bells, told that ten
o'clock had come, and then for a moment she turned cold again and shrank
within her rugs and wraps, for Loring slowly and deliberately rose and
looked toward her. Now he was coming. Now he would speak. Now he would
demand of her to explain her part in the wicked thing that had happened.
She dreaded, yet she longed to say, for she had a story that she could
eagerly tell--to him. For a moment her heart lay still, and then leaped
and fluttered uncontrollably. Slowly the shadowy fellow-passenger had
found his feet. Steadily he looked, as though straight at her, for
nearly a minute, then as slowly and deliberately turned his back and
walked away forward. When, nearly an hour later, the stewardess came to
lead her below, and the purser and one of the ship's officers had both
been to inquire if she felt better, and to tell her to be of good cheer,
she'd be all right on the morrow and trolling for dolphin on the blue
Pacific, though she saw Loring slowly pacing up and down, though twice
he passed so close to her that by stretching forth her tiny foot she
could have checked or tripped him, not once again did she detect so much
as a glance at her.

And yet, when a little later the stewardess tucked her in her white
berth, and invented messages and inquiries from her prostrated aunt and
cousins in neighboring staterooms, that designing woman wove a tale
about the blue-eyed, silent officer pacing the lonely deck--how anxious
he was to do something for the little invalid--how eagerly he had gone
and ordered for her, and superintended the preparation of that dainty
little supper--how he had bidden the stewardess to stay by her and
soothe her, and was so deeply interested. High and low, rich and poor,
they love romance, these tender hearts, and for that reason, doubtless,
no reference did Madame Flores make of the five-dollar gold-piece that
had found its way to her ready palm. "And he spoke Spanish beautifully,
did the Señor Teniente," said Madame Flores, whereat did Pancha's heart
begin to flutter anew, for that meant that he must have heard and
understood her pleadings.

And so it happened that till long after midnight the child lay wide-eyed
and awake, listening to that steady, measured tread upon the upper deck.
Strange and sad and eventful had been that young life thus far. What
strange new thing had Fate in store for her now?

The Idaho dropped anchor at San Lucas and put off a passenger and took
on the mails--two bags with flanks as flat as the sandy strand on which
the long white line of breakers beat in ceaseless, soothing melody. The
broad blue ocean glistened under the sunshine of another day, and late
in the afternoon one or two pallid and attenuated shapes were aided to
the deck, where Pancha had been reclining ever since noon, and the
captain had come and rallied her upon her big, pathetic eyes and hollow
cheeks, and coaxed her to promise to play her guitar that evening, and
the purser had been polite and the stewardess had brought up an
appetizing lunch, and Colonel Turnbull put in an appearance toward
sundown (a grewsome face was his) and all this time Mr. Loring was
either briskly pacing the deck or reading in a sheltered nook back of
the purser's cabin, but never once did he address her or intrude upon
her meditations, and Pancha's spirits and courage--or was it innate
coquetry?--began to ferment. That evening no less than five passengers
appeared at table, though all five did not remain through the several
courses. That evening Pancha was again tucked in her chair, and Cousin
Inez was aided from her room and placed beside her, and very attentive
was Mr. Traynor, the purser, though fair Inez was but languid and
unresponsive still, and kept her veil about her face, and Colonel
Turnbull came and poured champagne for both with lavish hand, and vowed
it was specific against further assaults of the salty seas, and still
Mr. Loring never spoke a word. With the sparkling sunshine of yet
another day, the little maid was early on the shining deck, fresh from
its matutinal ablutions, and there was Loring taking his early exercise,
striding up and down, up and down, and drinking in the glorious,
invigorating sea air; but even now he came no nearer, and she who feared
at first to venture to her accustomed seat, lest he might take advantage
of her solitude and come and ask things or say things she could not bear
to hear, finally sidled along one side while he was patrolling the
other, made her timid way to the stern and stood there clinging to the
flagstaff, and became absorbed in the rush of the foaming, boiling
waters unrolling a gradually narrowing streak of dazzling white through
the blue-green waste of billows, all sparkling in the slanting sunshine.
Wheeling in flapping circles overhead, skimming the crested waves,
settling down and lazily floating on the heaving flood, so many dots of
snow upon the sapphire, the flock of gulls sailed onward with the ship,
white scavengers of the sea, and sometimes dropped so close to the rail
on wide extended wing that Pancha could plainly see the eager little red
beads of eyes, could almost bury her soft cheek in the thick plumage of
their fleecy breasts. Away out toward the invisible coast a three-master
was bowling along under full spread of canvas, and, midway between, some
huge black fish were plunging through the swelling brine. Early as it
was the deck hands had cast astern the stout trolling line, and far in
their wake the spinning, silvery bait came leaping and flashing from the
northward slope of each succeeding wave, and Pancha, who had seen the
previous day a dolphin hauled in to die in swiftly changing, brilliant
hues upon the deck, tested the taut lanyard with her slender fingers,
wondering whether she alone could triumph over the frantic struggles of
the splendid fish, or what she would do if she found she could not. It
was an hour to breakfast time. Only Loring and herself had yet appeared
on deck, and she stole a peep at him. There he was tramping up and down
as though he had to finish a thousand laps within a given time, and
stood at least a hundred laps behind. Four days earlier the child looked
with terror to the possibility of his even drawing near her. Now she was
beginning to wonder if he never would again. Five days before she could
have sobbed her heart out, praying not to be subjected to the
possibility of his asking her a question. Now she was wondering if he
did not even care to ask--if indeed she would ever have a chance to
tell.

She did not know, poor little maid, that late the previous evening,
after consultation between Turnbull and Loring, the latter had asked Mr.
Traynor to place a packet of his within the safe, and that then and
there Traynor had permitted him a peep at the valuable parcel to be
delivered to Escalante's representative in San Francisco. Loring had
been allowed to "heft" it in his hand, to curiously study the seals and
superscription, to satisfy himself it could not be the tin case stolen
from him at Sancho's, for this one was smaller, yet not to satisfy
himself it did not contain the missing watch and diamonds, for it was
big enough to hold them. Pancha did not know that the two officers had
agreed upon a plan of action to be put in operation the moment they were
within the Golden Gate. She did not dream that the thoughts of the
silent officer dwelt on her and her past intently as did hers on him.
She was heartsick, lonely and oppressed with anxieties, such as seldom
fall to the lot of maidens of sixteen, yet her heart was beating with
the hope that lives in buoyant health and youth. She had left the father
whom she devotedly loved and had believed all that a father could or
should be, had received his parting blessing at Hermosillo and his
faltering promise to soon be with her--at Guaymas. She had been radiant
with the thought of soon again springing to his arms when the Idaho
stopped there on the northward trip. She had been stunned and stricken
when told it was his wish she should go with her cousins to San
Francisco, dwell with them there, be educated there, and without hope of
again seeing him until he could come to her perhaps late in the summer.
She had then been told that his life was threatened and that hated
Gringos and suspicious compatriots, both, were thirsting for his blood.
She had been told that she herself was in danger of arrest for
complicity in robberies at Gila Bend--she, who had overheard the plot to
meet the stage, murder the passengers and rob the mails, at least that
was what the woman whom she was bidden to respect as her stepmother had
fearfully told her and asked if there were no way in which she could
warn Blake. How was she to know, poor child, what would result? How
could she help shrinking from sight of the officers she had watched with
such eager interest at Sancho's, when she was later told they were
seeking her father's life--told that, could they force a confession from
her, nothing on earth could save him? Yet here was the gray-haired
colonel devoting himself to Inez and being kind to her own trembling
self. Here was the Teniente Loring who had been lovely to her, said the
stewardess, until he saw her terror, her shrinking from him, and now
when she longed to tell him her simple story, he would not come near
her. Of the packet and its contents she knew next to nothing. Of their
intention to secure it and, if need be, her arrest with it, the moment
they reached the wharf at San Francisco, she could not dream. That that
fated packet was destined never to reach the Golden Gate, that every
plan and project, based on the safe return of the Idaho to port, was
doomed to die, no one of her passengers or crew could possibly have
predicted this beaming April morning as she cleft the billows on her
northward way. Pancha was only wondering how and when Loring's silence
would end, when within the minute the end came.



CHAPTER XIII.


The waiters were just beginning to set the tables for breakfast in the
"saloon" beneath the broad skylight. The crew had ceased the morning
"squilgeeing" and swabbing forward, and were busy stowing away mops,
buckets and brooms. One or two passengers had crawled up the companion
way and dropped into seats amidships, staring in envy, if not
disapproval, at the swinging stride of the young officer whose cheeks
were beginning to glow again with the flush of health, and Pancha,
clinging to her perch at the stern, after following him with her eyes
far up the deck until she knew he had almost reached the point where he
suddenly faced about in his swift march, again resolutely turned her
back upon the Idaho and all that appertained to her, and found herself
for the fortieth time gazing out over the glistening wake, and for the
first time with a thrill of excitement. The taut trolling line was
snapping and swaying, and far astern something gleaming in the slant of
the sunshine came springing into view from the crest of a wave, then
diving into the depths of the next and darting to right and left beneath
the heaving waters--a dolphin! a beauty! she knew in an instant, and
grasping the cord she strove with all her strength to haul in. For a
second or two it came readily enough, then with sudden jerk, whizzed
taut again, as the game victim made a magnificent dash for liberty.
Again she laid hold and, bracing her slender feet, threw her whole
weight on the line and pulled away; again with only temporary success,
for the dolphin only shook himself and struggled, but suddenly darting
forward, he as suddenly slackened the line and Pancha, who had been
pulling for dear life with set teeth and straining muscles, fell
suddenly back and was spared a hard tumble only by a pair of strong,
clasping arms that quickly righted, if they did not as quickly release,
her, and Pancha, furiously blushing, excitedly panting, could only show
her white teeth one instant as she fluttered out a faint "Gracias" and
wriggled out of the gentleman's embrace, then with the instinct of her
sport-loving race, grabbed again for the line and now there was seasoned
muscle behind her, and the dolphin knew he had met his master. Hand over
hand they pulled away, five, ten, fifteen fathoms, and the dripping cord
curled upon the deck, and at last the gleaming beauty of the Pacific
seas came leaping into view and swinging at the stern, and then Pancha,
with sparkling eyes and eagerly flushing cheeks, ducked out of the way
as Loring skillfully swung her prize aboard and sent the magnificent
fellow gasping and flapping upon the deck.

And so at last the spell was broken. He had spoken slowly and with grave
kindness in his modulated voice a few words of the stately and sonorous
tongue she loved, and now in the fresh, sweet air of the morning, in the
gladness of the ocean breeze and the heyday of life and youth, these two
stood there at the taffrail of the Idaho, she so slender, dark and
willowly, he almost Saxon in his blue-eyed, fair-haired, fair-skinned
manliness, alone with each other and their prize. The child who had
fainted at sight of him less than a week agone, was peeping shyly up at
him now, and thinking how good a face was that, so fresh and fair and
strong, with its smooth-shaven chin and cheeks, its round white throat,
and the flawless teeth that glistened under the curling mustache
whenever he opened his lips to speak, and that showed so seldom at any
other time. Not until this moment had she ever seen him smile.

The fringe of her Mexican _rebosa_ had caught the button of his
snugly-fitting sack coat, and it needed her deft, slim fingers to
release it. Then in its frantic struggles the dolphin threatened to
spring back to its native element, and Loring had to head him off and
thrust him to the middle of the deck again, close to the skylight of the
"saloon," and there he bade her come and watch the vivid, swiftly
changing, iridescent hues of the beautiful creature, and she obediently
drew near and stood bending over in mingled triumph and compassion.
"_Ah, que es bonito!_" she sighed, as the frantic leapings seemed to
cease and the prize lay gasping at full length, exhausted by the
violence of the long battle. Presently Loring called the steward to send
up for the Señorita's captive, and to serve it at the Señorita's table
for breakfast, and then perhaps he might have returned to his solitary
walk, but the study of Spanish is never more fascinating than when rosy
lips and pearly teeth are framing the courtly phrases. Whatever the
cause of her agitation the night of the meeting, whatever his
preconceived idea of her complicity in the scheme that robbed him of his
guard at Gila Bend and laid him low in the dust of the desert, Loring
found, as the result of five days observance and reflection, that his
original views had given place to doubt, and doubt at last to confidence
in her utter innocence. Knowing what ordeal was before him at the end of
the voyage, he had studiously avoided her, but now avoidance was no
longer possible. For a few moments they stood there, saying little, for
he was not practiced in the speech of Spanish, and at any time his words
were few, and then he asked her if she would not like to walk. When
Turnbull clambered up the stairway just as the breakfast gong was
banging, he was amazed to find the Engineer and Pancha, arm in arm,
pacing swiftly up and down the deck in perfect step and apparently in as
perfect accord, the girl's delicate face lighted up with a glow that was
not all of exercise, her wonderful eyes looking frankly into Loring's
fine, thoughtful face, her free hand gesticulating eagerly as she
chattered blithely, almost ceaselessly, for Loring was a flattering
listener to men or women, old or young. It was a transfigured maiden
that met the sisters De la Cruz as they ventured from their staterooms
to the table. Even Inez, their boasted beauty, looked sallow and wan
beside her radiant cousin, and the fat duenna, their aunt, gazed in
mingled astonishment and disapproval at the sight. But Pancha was the
heroine of the day. Pancha's hand had caught the dolphin, and the
captain showered his loud congratulations, the purser handed her to her
seat, and would gladly have sidled into the chair of Señor Sepulvida,
who had come aboard with them at Guaymas and kept his berth until the
previous evening, yet now came forth to face the gathering company at
breakfast. The skipper had placed the stout señora at his own right,
with Turnbull just beyond her. To Señorita Inez he had given the
left-hand seat, with Loring on her other side, and Señorita Carmen just
beyond him. So there was the Engineer flanked by damsels said to enjoy
no little wealth and social station, yet his blue eyes ever wandered
over across and further down the table where sat Pancha with a stuffy
old cigar merchant between her and their party, and that scape-grace,
Sepulvida, ogling on the other hand. Two, at least, of that reassembling
company deserved their appetites at breakfast. But Turnbull had no zest
for anything, and the women generally only feebly toyed with their
forks. The colonel had found time to seize Loring by the arm and
whisper to him on the stairs:

"By Jove, young man, you're playing a deep game! D'you expect to find
out anything?"

"I have--already," said Loring.

"The devil you have! What?"

"She's innocent--utterly!"

And that bright morning was followed by a cloudless afternoon and a
sweet, still, starlit evening, and by this time all men and all women
were on deck, and the Idaho was foaming swiftly on through the summer
seas, and people went below reluctantly at night, and woke to new and
brighter life on the morrow; and Loring was up with the sun and drinking
deep draughts of old ocean's ozone, as he paced the decks till Pancha
came. And one day followed another, and Turnbull read and yawned and
dozed and tried to talk to the charming señoritas, but couldn't muster
enough Castilian, and Traynor chalked the decks for "horse billiards"
and shuffleboard, and everybody took a hand at times, and one evening,
despite the havoc moist salt air plays with catgut, Pancha's guitar and
that of the purser were brought into requisition, and Pancha was made to
sing, a thing she didn't do too well as yet, and Pancha knew it without
asking when she looked in Loring's eyes, and no power or persuasion
could make her try again--until long, long after.

They were having now an ideal voyage, so far as wind and weather were
concerned, but the Señoritas de la Cruz declared it the stupidest they'd
ever known, and the officers--_los Americanos_--the least attentive or
attractive of those with whom they had ever sailed. And everybody seemed
to long for the sight of the green headlands of the Golden Gate and the
terraced slopes of San Francisco--all save two; Pancha, to whom the
ending of that voyage meant the ending of the sweetest days her life had
ever known, and the beginning of a school drudgery she dreaded, and
Loring, to whom the return to San Francisco meant the taking up anew of
a tangled case that had become hateful to him, to whom there was the
prospect of a meeting that he would gladly avoid, to whom there was
coming an inevitable parting, the thought of which oppressed him
strangely, and he could not yet tell why.

The marvelous green of the California bluffs spanned the horizon for
miles on their starboard hand one radiant afternoon as they went below
to the captain's dinner, the last before reaching port. The sunshine had
been brilliant all the day, yet there came a chilly, shivering air
toward two o'clock, and the first officer shrugged his shoulders and
looked dubiously ahead, but gave no other sign. Gaily they drank the
skipper's health and pledged the Idaho in her best champagne. Long they
lingered over the table and laughter, jest and song and story enlivened
the hours that came to an end at last, and Pancha stole her little hand
within Loring's arm for the last starlight walk along the now familiar
decks, and lo, when they issued from the brightly-lighted saloon the
stars were gone, the steamer was forging ahead through a chill mist that
grew thicker with every moment, and as half-speed was ordered and the
mournful notes of the whistle groaned out throbbingly over the leaden
sea, she swayed uneasily over a heavy ground swell that careened her
deeper and deeper as the mist thickened to fog, and oilskins and
sou'westers came out and dark figures went dripping about the decks, and
Loring fetched his uniform cape from below and muffled in it Pancha's
slender form, and for awhile they tottered up and down, then abandoned
the attempt to walk, and settled in their chairs at the end of the
bench, just where she had sat and clung to the white stanchion and
sobbed her heart out that night in Guaymas Bay. _Ay de mi_--Pancha could
have sobbed almost as hard, though no longer in loneliness and
desolation--this very night.

As early as 9.30 Señora Valdez had gone below, following her lovely
nieces, and warning Pancha to come at once. It was too dark, too damp to
remain there longer, but Loring begged, and the Idaho lurched and rolled
sympathetically at the moment and the duenna found further argument
impossible. She had to rush for her room, and later to confide her
mandates as to Pancha to the stewardess, who came, peeped, and
considered them ill-timed. At six bells Turnbull and a few determined,
yet uncomfortable souls were consuming cognac and playing _vingt et un_
in the cabin, while the lookouts were doubled on the deck and every
ship's officer stood to his post. The sound of the muffled tinkle of the
bell roused Pancha from the silence that had fallen on the pair.

"I must go," she murmured for perhaps the twentieth time, and yet she
could not.

Once more, mournful, moaning, the deep-toned whistle poured forth its
warning on the night, and before the long blast had died away, up from
the depths of the dense fog bank ahead arose an echo, accentuated with
sharp, staccato shrieks. Then came a sudden, startling cry at the bow;
then deep down in the bowels of the ship the clang of the engine gong;
then, shouts, and rushings to and fro at the hidden forecastle; and
Loring started to his feet only to be hurled headlong to the deck, for,
with fearful shock, some mammoth monster struck and pierced and heeled
to port the stanch little coaster, and then, withdrawing from the
fearful rent in her quarter, came crushing and grinding down the side,
sweeping away every boat that hung at the starboard davits, ripping
through the shrouds like pack-thread, and rolling and wallowing off
astern amid a pandemonium of shouts for aid, and frantic screams of
startled women. In one minute the great steamer had vanished as suddenly
as she came, and the Idaho was settling by the bows. A signal rocket
tore aloft to tell the tale of desperate peril.

"Stand by us, Santiago! Don't you see you've cut us down?" bellowed the
captain through his trumpet. Again the steam-pipe roared and the
mournful whistle crooned the death song. No answering signal came to
cheer their hearts with hope of rescue. The great Pacific mailer was
lost in the fog full half a mile away. The crew came rushing up on deck,
reporting everything under water below. There was a mad dash of
fear-crazed men for the boats, discipline and duty both forgotten.

Over the first officer's prostrate form they sprang at the "falls" of
the sternmost--the longboat, a huge, bearded seaman in the lead. The
captain, with fury in his eye, leaped in the way, shouting blasphemy and
orders to go back, and was knocked flat with a single blow. The brawny
hand had seized the swaying tackle and three seamen were already
scrambling into the swinging craft when a revolver cracked; the big
leader threw up his hands with a yell of agony and toppled headlong upon
the deck. Then a lithe figure vaulted over the longboat's gunwale. One
after another three seamen came tumbling out abashed and overawed. The
captain regained his feet and senses. The boat was lowered by cooler
hands until it danced in safety on the waves, and one after another the
women were carefully passed down to the care of him whose stern,
clear-headed sense and instant action had proved their sole salvation--a
landsman, Loring of the Engineers.



CHAPTER XIV.


That was a woeful night on the fog-shrouded Pacific. In less than ten
minutes from the moment of the crash the Idaho's stern was lifted high,
then down she dove for her final berth, untold fathoms underneath--her
steadfast captain standing to his post till the last soul left the
doomed and deserted wreck. It was God's mercy that limited the passenger
list to a mere dozen in the first cabin and less than twenty in the
second. The boat, with all the women, was pushed off from the side, the
first officer taking charge. Through the fog they could dimly see the
others lowered, then manned and laden. Discipline had been restored.
Water and bread and blankets had been hastily passed to the longboat.
The purser had found time to dive into his safe, and to load up with
some, at least, of the valuable contents. There was even a faint cheer
when the steamer took the final plunge. Huddled together, many of the
women were weeping, all were pale with dread, but Loring and the ship's
officer bade them be of good cheer. Even if they were not found by the
Santiago they were but a few miles from shore. The sea, though rolling
heavily, was not dangerous. They were sure of making land by morning.
But there were women who could not be comforted. Their husbands or
brothers were in the two smaller boats, perhaps paddling about in the
darkness in vain search for the steamer that cut them down. For awhile
there were answering shouts across the heaving waters. Then for half an
hour the boat with the second officer, crammed with male passengers and
members of the crew, kept close alongside--too close, for some of the
former scrambled into the bigger craft and others tried to follow; so
close that its young commander could mutter to his mate: "The captain's
boat is even fuller than mine. Can't you take off half a dozen?"

But the first officer shook his head: "If the worst comes, they've got
life preservers and can swim," said he. "These women would be helpless
except for what we can do for 'em."

For a time they shouted in hopes of being heard aboard the Santiago, but
only those who have tried it know that it is a matter of merest luck
when a steamer rounding to in a fog succeeds in finding or even coming
anywhere near the spot where she was in collision not ten minutes
before. The Santiago's captain swore stoutly that, though badly damaged
and compelled to put back to San Francisco, for three mortal hours they
cruised about the scene, setting off rockets, firing guns, sounding the
whistle, listening intently with lowered boats, but never heard a sound
from the wreck, never until two days after knew the fate of the vessel
they had cut down. At last the first officer, fearful for his precious
freight, bade his four oarsmen to pull for shore, his little pocket
compass pointing the way. At dawn they heard the signals of a steamer
through the dripping mist, and raised their voices in prolonged shout.
An hour more and they were lifted, numb and wearied, but, oh, so
thankful, to the deck of a coaster creeping up from Wilmington and Santa
Barbara, and were comforted with chocolate and coffee, while for long,
long hours the steamer cruised up and down, to and fro, seeking for
their companions and never desisting until again the pall of night
spread over the leaden sea. Late the following morning the fog rolled
back before the waking breeze and the Broderick steamed hopefully on for
the Golden Gate, and by nightfall was moored at her accustomed dock,
there to be met by the tidings that, while the second officer managed to
beach his boat in safety, the captain's overloaded craft was swamped in
the breakers off Point Pinos, and that brave old Turnbull had lost his
life, dragged under by drowning men. At Monterey the people thought the
longboat too must have overturned, and that all the women had perished.
The Santiago, nearly sinking, had only just reached port. The beach
above Point Pinos was thronged with people searching in the surf for the
bodies of the victims, and the captain of the Idaho was broken hearted,
if not well-nigh crazed. The news of the safety of the women flew from
street to street, fast as the papers could speed their extras. Loving
friends came pouring down to meet and care for the survivors on the
Broderick. The owners of the Idaho hastened to congratulate and commend
their first officer and praise his seamanship and wisdom. The women were
conveyed in carriages to the homes of friends or cared for by the
company, and after a brief handclasp and parting word with Pancha, whose
pathetic eyes haunted him for days, Mr. Loring took a cab and drove
alone to headquarters. Evidently the story of the panic and its prompt
suppression had not yet been told.

And then for at least five days the papers teemed with details of that
marine disaster, and public-spirited citizens started a subscription for
a presentation to the first officer, through whose heroism and
determination was checked what promised to be a mad scene of disorder
and dismay, such as ensued when the Arctic went down and that "stern,
brave mate, Gourlay, whom the sailors were wont to obey" was not there
to check the undisciplined rush to the boats. For forty-eight hours and
thereafter the first officer modestly declared he had merely done his
duty, sir, and no good seaman would have done less. The public dinner to
be given in his honor, however, languished as a project on the later
arrival of survivors from Monterey, and then inquiries began to be made
for Lieutenant Loring and new stories to appear in papers that had not
already committed themselves to other versions of the affair, and then
it transpired that something had gone amiss at Department Headquarters.
Lieutenant Loring, after an interview with the commanding general, had
hastened to Monterey in search of the captain and purser. The former he
found there prostrate and actually flighty, so much so that he could
give no coherent answer to questions propounded to him. In the marine
hospital, suffering from a gunshot wound, was the huge sailor who had
felled the commander to the deck in the rush for the remaining boats, a
rush in which he was ringleader, and a piteous tale he told--that he had
been shot by a passenger whom he was trying to prevent from getting into
the boat they were holding for the women. The gallant little second
officer had gone to his wife and children in the southern part of the
State, and was not there to tell the truth. The captain was almost
delirious. The first officer in San Francisco had been tacitly posing as
a marine lion, and could not well be expected to volunteer information
that might rob him of his laurels. The survivors among the passengers
were scattered by this time, and the purser, whose testimony might be of
great value, had disappeared. "Must be in 'Frisco," said the agent who
had been sent down to see that every man was furnished with clothing and
money at the company's expense, and sent on his way measurably
comforted. "Traynor had a desperate squeak for life," said the agent.
"He was in the captain's boat when she sunk and was weighed down with
his money packages, belted about him underneath his coat, and was
hauled ashore more dead than alive, and some of his valuables were
lost--he couldn't tell how much."

And this was the man Mr. Loring most needed to see. There had come to
Department Headquarters a person representing himself as the San
Francisco agent of the Escalante brothers, presenting a written order
for a valuable package which had been given the purser for safe
keeping--had been locked by him in his safe, and which now could be
found nowhere. Mr. Traynor had declared to the owners that after getting
the women aboard the boat he had taken all the money from the safe and
such packages as it was possible to carry, and tossed three or four to
Loring as he stood balancing himself on a thwart and clinging to the
fall, and that he was sure one of them was that of the Señorita Pancha,
for she was at the moment clasping Loring's knees and imploring him to
sit down. The boat was alternately lifting high and sinking deep as the
great waves rolled by, and Traynor, while admitting haste and
excitement, declared that he could almost swear that Loring received
three packages and one of them must have been that now demanded by the
Escalante's agent. Hence the visit of that somber person to headquarters
and his importunate appeals to Loring, who told him the whole story was
absurd.

But then this agent had appealed to the general, and that officer, whose
manner the day of Loring's return to duty had been marked by odd
constraint, sent for the Engineer and required of him a statement as to
the truth or falsity of these allegations, and when Loring, startled and
indignant, answered "False, of course, sir," and demanded what further
accusation there was, the chief tossed aside the paper folder he was
nervously fingering, sprang up and began to pace the floor, a favorite
method, said those who long had known him, of working off steam when he
was much excited.

"I can't--discuss this painful matter, Mr. Loring," said he, testily.
"You'll have to see Colonel Strain, the adjutant-general. This
deplorable loss of Colonel Turnbull has upset everybody."

So Loring went to Colonel Strain, a man to whom he was but slightly
known, and then it was developed that a young lady wearing mourning, a
very lovely girl, so every one described her, had called no less than
three times to inquire if Mr. Loring were not returned. Once only had
the general seen her, but Strain was three times her listener, and a
patient one he proved, and a most assiduous friend and sympathizer for
several days, until, as it subsequently transpired, in some way matters
reached the ears of Mrs. Strain. The colonel very pointedly told the
engineer lieutenant that the lady claimed to have received letters
proving that he was still in possession of the Nevins jewels while
sojourning at Fort Yuma, had endeavored to compromise the matter by the
tender of a check for two hundred dollars, which in her destitute
condition her sister had felt compelled to accept until she could have
legal advice, "and this," said Colonel Strain, "followed now by the
claim of this Mexican agent, has created such a scandal in the
general's eyes that you cannot too speedily take steps to assure him of
your innocence, which of course you should have no difficulty in doing
unless--unless--" and the colonel coughed dubiously.

For a moment Loring stood there like one in a daze. Good God! Geraldine
Allyn his accuser! The girl who had wronged him so bitterly before! The
girl whom he had sought to aid when he found her well-nigh destitute!
Gradually the whole force of the situation dawned upon him. With
Turnbull dead, the captain daft and Traynor telling the strange story of
his (Loring's) eagerness to examine the Escalante packet early on the
voyage, and now declaring that he had given it into Loring's keeping!
Who in the name of Heaven was left to speak for him? Loring had come a
stranger to this distant station. He had chosen to be sent at once to
duty in a desert land. He was personally as little known to his
superiors here at San Francisco as though they had never met. Even as
the men began about the steamship offices and on the streets and in the
hotels whither the Idaho's few passengers had told the tale, to speak of
Walter Loring as the man who really quelled the panic, if not a mutiny,
and saved the lives of a score of helpless men and women, that officer
stood accused before his comrades of the army of breach of trust, of
mean embezzlement, of low-down theft and trickery, and not a man could
he name to help to prove him innocent. Blake, to be sure, was at Yuma,
but what could he establish save that the stage had been attacked,
Loring left alone, and when the cavalry returned there lay the Engineer
apparently unconscious, the empty saddle-bag beside him. Blake had seen
no robbers. Blake suspected Sancho of every villainy, but could convict
him of none. Traynor, the purser, whether he believed or disbelieved his
own story that he had passed that packet down to Loring, could
truthfully declare that Loring had displayed most mysterious and
unaccountable interest in it. One talk with Pancha, it seems, had
banished Loring's intention of confiding his suspicion and the whole
story, in fact, to Mr. Traynor. And so there was no friend to whom he
could turn. Five days after his arrival in San Francisco Loring found
himself facing charges of the gravest nature, for Traynor, being sent
for, told his story to the general in person, and Loring stood alone.



CHAPTER XV.


April had gone, and May and June was well-nigh half over. The old
semaphore of Telegraph Hill would have worn itself out signaling
sidewheel steamers had it still been in operation. The transcontinental
railway was stretching out up the valley of the Platte toward the center
of the continent, but Wells-Fargo, and the pony express charging a
dollar a letter, were the only transcontinental rapid transit of the
day. People still went to and from the distant East by way of Aspinwall
and Panama, and the big boats of the Pacific mail were crowded, going or
coming; and one bright June day two women in mourning were escorted
aboard the Sonora and shown to their little stateroom, one a decidedly
pretty girl, the other a sad-faced, careworn, delicate looking widow,
ten or twelve years apparently the senior. They sailed with only one
friend to see them off, an aide-de-camp of the commanding general, yet
not without much curiosity on part of the younger woman as to the
composition of the passenger list. Even before they were beyond the
rocky scarp of Alcatraz, for few things are impossible to a pretty
woman, she had been able to secure a copy and to say, with bated breath,
to the languid invalid: "At least he's not going on this ship. It might
be better if he were." For Miss Geraldine Allyn had not lost faith in
her power to charm.

And one reason why the "he" referred to was not going on this ship was
that the sisters Nevins and Allyn had "booked" their passage nearly two
weeks before, it being useless to remain longer on the Pacific coast in
hopes of finding the fugitive husband, for the consul at Guaymas was
authorized to report the death at Hermosillo, "through wounds and
exposure, of the gallant but unfortunate captain, whose mind must have
given way under his accumulation of troubles." A seal ring that Nevins
used to wear and some letters were all he had to leave, and these had
been duly forwarded to the address of his wife, whose pathetic
inquiries for further particulars elicited nothing more reliable than
that Nevins was dead and buried, and that was the end of him. The
quartermaster got "transportation" for them to New Orleans. A sum
sufficient for their immediate needs was placed in their hands. Another
sum, which did not receive immediate acknowledgment, was also sent to
the disconsolate widow, and now they were going, and that was all.
Going, too, was Loring, though not on that trip, shaking, so to speak,
the dust of California from his feet, a silent but much-disgusted man.
For nearly five weeks he had lived a life that would have tried the
endurance of the patriarch of Holy Writ and wrecked the sunny nature of
a Tapley. Hounded day after day by the so-called agent of the Escalantes
with insolent demands for property that was never in Loring's
possession; threatened with arrest if he did not make restitution or
propose an equivalent; sent practically to Coventry by officials at
headquarters, to whom he was too proud or too sensitive to dilate upon
his wrongs or to tell more than once the straight story of his
innocence; saved from military arrest only by the "stalwart" letter
written by the Yuma surgeon in response to his urgent appeals; comforted
measurably by Blake's eloquent, but emphatically insubordinate, outburst
at the expense of department headquarters; unable to bring to bear for
nearly five weeks the mass of testimony as to character forthcoming from
the superintendent and officers at West Point, and the letters of
classmates and comrades who knew him and felt that the charges must be
false, our Engineer passed through an ordeal the like of which few men
have had to encounter. Then the unexpected happened. The captain of the
Idaho slowly recovered his mind and strength, and with convalescence
came keen recollection of all that had occurred. He too made full report
to the owners of Loring's coolness and determination the night of the
wreck, and was amazed to be told of the charges against that officer.

"Who says so? Who makes such accusations?" he demanded angrily, and was
informed that his friend and shipmate, Purser Traynor, was the person;
whereat the big skipper gave a long, long whistle, looked dazed again,
smote his thigh with a heavy fist, and presently said, "Just you wait a
little;" wherewith he took himself off. Traynor and the first officer
had been very "thick" for a fortnight or so, though that dinner had
never come off. Traynor and the first officer had both been promised
excellent berths the moment the new steamer arrived that was to take the
place of the Idaho. But the captain went cruising out beyond Sacramento,
where the purser had a little nest and brood, and came back later with a
tale he poured into the ears of the company, the result of which was
that Traynor was informed he would be wise to seek other employment;
there would be no place for him on the new Montana; and Traynor took
first boat for the Columbia, and got far away from San Francisco. No
specific charges had been laid at his door, said the owners, when
questioned. Nothing had been proved, nothing probably would be, that
they knew of; but the captain had sailed with Traynor several years, and
had views of his own as to that gentleman's integrity, which when
communicated to Mr. Traynor did not seem to surprise him, and remained
uncontradicted.

Then came the captain to department headquarters. The British sailor has
scant reverence for soldiers of his own land and less for those of any
other, no matter what the rank, and this particular son of the sea was
more Briton than Yankee despite the fact that he had "sailed the
California trade" long years of his life and had taken out his papers in
the early statehood of that wonderful land. Ever since the days of
Stockton and Kearny he had fed fat the ancient grudge he bore the army
and steered as clear of soldier association as was possible for a man
whose ship was dependent in great measure on army patronage. Days before
his unheralded coming to general headquarters the rumors of Loring's
bravery and coolness the night of the wreck had been floating about the
building. But the Engineer had drawn into his shell. He came and went
to and from the office assigned to him, working apparently over field
reports and maps, and never entered another room in the building unless
sent for. It was believed that he had written urgently to the Chief of
Engineers, requesting to be relieved from further duty at San Francisco.
He was neither cleared nor convicted of the allegations at his expense.
There seemed no way of bringing about either result in the absence or
silence of witnesses. But, meantime, he had bitterly resented the
apparent readiness of certain of the officials to look upon him with
suspicion, and had withdrawn from all except most formal and distant
association. No wonder he desired to be relieved from further service
with or near them. Mrs. Nevins had insisted on removing to a cheap
lodging in Sacramento as soon as able to move at all, and had taken her
dependent sister with her, sorely against that young woman's wish, as
she had made an impression, a decided impression upon an unmarried
aide-de-camp who was reported to be wealthy, but whose attentions fell
short of the matrimonial point, as the poverty of the sisters became
revealed to him. There was, therefore, no longer to Loring the possible
embarrassment of meeting or seeing the girl who had so wronged him, yet
there was constant evidence of the seeds that she had sown. Some man, he
felt sure, must have kept alive the rumors to his discredit, and the
extreme constraint of manner, the avoidance, shown by this very
gentleman, stamped him as in all probability the person at fault. Loring
was only waiting now for proofs.

It so happened the very day the stanch old salt came searching through
the building in quest of his friend that the General with two aides and
others of the staff, had assembled in the office of Colonel Strain.
Several of them had known and sailed with the Idaho's master and liked
her captain well, despite his frequent flings at soldiers. His
appearance at the doorway, therefore, was the signal for quite a cordial
welcome. The General himself came forward to take him by the hand and
say how sorry he was at the loss of his ship, and how he hoped soon to
see him on the decks of a bigger and better one. But the bluff captain
thought as little of land generals as of lubbers of lower grade, and was
not as grateful as he should perhaps have been, and was evidently
looking for somebody beyond the sympathetic group, and presently said
so.

"I've come to see Mr. Loring, by George! I haven't laid eyes on him
since the night he backed me up in restoring order and discipline on my
ship. That man ought to have been a sailor! Where'll I find him?" he
concluded abruptly, staring round at the circle of somewhat embarrassed
faces.

"We heard some rumor about this, captain," said the General. "Suppose
you come into my office and tell me the whole story?"

"Why not right here where they can all hear?" was the instant answer.
"I'm told that more'n one man has been at work trying to rob him of the
credit, and as for Mr. Jennings, who was our first officer, I gave the
company a piece of my mind the moment I heard it, and I've got a
tongue-lashing in store for him. 'Taint the first I've had to give him,
either, and it won't be the last if he ever runs foul of me again. They
tell me, what's more, that Escalante's agent has had the impudence to
come here a dozen times threatening Mr. Loring. Next time he comes you
have him kicked out and charge it to me. That man's a thief, and so is
one of the Escalantes--if not more than one. As for Loring, he's head
and shoulders above any of the young fellows that have sailed with me,
and when I was flattened out by the rush of that cowardly gang, he stood
up to 'em like a man. That one shot of his brought 'em up with a jerk
and put an end to the trouble."

He broke off short and glanced about him to note the effect of his
words. It was an awkward moment. Three of the group had had their doubts
as to the possibility of Loring's being culpable, but so disturbed and
partially convinced had been the General and his chief-of-staff, so
active had been the aide-de-camp referred to in his collection and
dissemination of scandal at Loring's expense that no one felt able to
say anything until the General himself had spoken. The Chief evidently
felt his dignity assailed, and his commanding attitude imperiled. No
further revelations ought to be allowed except such as should be
filtered through him or his accredited staff officer.

"Come into my den, captain," he exclaimed, therefore. "You interest me
greatly, and I want to hear all about it."

"I'll come quick enough," said the captain briefly, "after I've seen
Loring. I want to shake hands with him, I say, before I do anything
else. Where'll I find him?" And with most depressing disregard of the
General's greatness, the sailor would have turned his back on the entire
party in order to find his injured friend, but the Chief was a
strategist.

"Ah--go to Mr. Loring, captain," said he, to a ready staff officer, "and
say to him that I desire he should come to my room a moment." And the
aide-de-camp was off like a shot, so the seaman could only wait. The
General led the way into his comfortable room and signaled to one or two
to follow, and presently back came his messenger, and a moment after
him, grave, composed, but freezingly formal, there at the door stood the
Engineer. His eyes brightened up the instant he laid them on the Idaho's
sturdy commander, but etiquette demanded that he should first address
the General.

"You sent for me, sir?"

"I did, Mr. Loring. Our good friend, Captain Moreland, has been telling
us of your most--er--praiseworthy conduct the night of the disaster. We
all, I wish to assure you, are--er--gratified to hear of this. And now
it has occurred to me that Captain Moreland might be able to throw some
light on the very--unpleasant matter which we had to bring to your
attention a few weeks since. Surely he must know something of
these--er--people who were your accusers."

The General was seated at his big desk. He was flanked by the
adjutant-general and backed by a brace of aides. Moreland, the mariner,
was standing at the table and started forward as Loring entered as
though to grasp his hand. The General still considered it essential to
observe a certain air of formality in speaking. It was as though he had
begun to believe Loring an injured man, and therefore he himself must be
an aggrieved one, for surely the lieutenant should have spared the
General the mortification of being placed in the wrong.

But to this tentative remark Mr. Loring made no reply. He stood calmly
before the department commander, looked straight into his face, but did
not open his lips.

"I say," repeated the General, in louder tone, "the captain appears to
know and may be able to tell us something about the people who were your
accusers."

"Possibly, sir," said Loring, finding that he was expected to say
something, but with an indifference of manner most culpable in one so
far inferior in rank.

"I was in hopes, Mr. Loring," said the General, evidently nettled,
"that you would appreciate the evident desire of myself and my
confidential officers to see you relieved of these--er--aspersions. For
that reason I urged Captain Moreland to make his statement public."

And still looking straight at the department commander, whose florid
face was turning purple, Loring was silent. Perhaps after a month of
accusation, real or implied, on part of the General and the
"confidential officers," he found it difficult to account for the sudden
manifestation of desire to acquit. He was thinking, too, of a
tear-stained little letter that had come to him only a few days
earlier--the last from Pancha, before the child was formally entered at
the school of the good gray sisters. He was wondering if she at sixteen
were really more alone in her little world than he in the broad and
liberal sphere of soldier life. Then the sight of Moreland's
weather-beaten face, perturbed and aggrieved, gave him a sense of
sympathy that through all the weeks of his virtual ostracism had been
lacking. He had other letters, too, worth far more than a dollar
apiece, which was what their carriage cost him, bidding him have no
fear, documents of weight were coming that would teach the authorities
of the Pacific coast the error of their views and ways, but of these he
did not care to speak. He chose to await the coming of the documents
themselves. The silence, however, was oppressive, and the sailor spoke.

"If the only accusers this gentleman has are Escalantes, or associates
of the Escalantes, you'd better beg his pardon and have done with it,"
said he, "and thereby put the matter in its most luckless way."

Angrily the General turned to the aide-de-camp fidgeting on his left.

"Do you know whether the Escalantes are the sole accusers, captain?"
said he deliberately.

"I regret to say that they are not," was the answer. "And Mr. Loring has
shown strange reluctance, to put it mildly, to meet the--others."

"I have answered, once and for all, every charge brought to my ears,"
said Loring, turning on the speaker, with eyes that blazed, and
Moreland, who had seen him cool and composed in the face of panic,
marveled now to note the intensity of his emotion, for Loring was white
and trembling, though his gaze was steady as the hand that held back the
terror-stricken crew that wild night on the waters.

"Perhaps you are unaware of the more recent developments--and the source
of information," said the aide uneasily.

"I am; and I demand the right to know or to meet both without delay.
Captain Moreland," and here he turned on the wondering sailor, "can you
be here to-morrow?"

"Certainly I can, and will," was the prompt answer.

"That wouldn't help," said the aide-de-camp, on whom all eyes were fixed
again. "My informant couldn't be here."

"Very good. We'll go to your informant, then," answered Loring.

Another silence. It was not Loring now who seemed hesitant or
reluctant. It was the aide.

There came a knock at the door. An orderly appeared with several
telegraphic dispatches. Colonel Strain stepped forward, took them, shut
the door in the orderly's face, handed them to the General, and resumed
his seat. Glad of a diversion, the commander glanced at the
superscription. "Here is one for you, sir," said he to the Engineer, who
received it, but did not open it. He was again facing the embarrassed
aide, who finally found words.

"Mr. Loring, my informant was here a whole month and said you refused to
appear. Now--they are beyond recall, unless--it should come to trial."

The answer came like a flash:

"Your informant, sir--and there was but one--would never appear in the
event of trial. That informant sailed three days ago on the Sonora, and
you know it." Then, as a sudden thought struck him, he tore open his
dispatch and read, then turned again to his faltering opponent: "So
long as that informant could be confronted you kept me ignorant of any
new allegations, if there were any. Now come out with your story, and by
the next steamer I'll run it down."



CHAPTER XVI.


The worst of having a man of Moreland's views present on such an
occasion is that the whole thing is sure to be noised abroad with scant
reference to military propriety. Moreland told the owners of the steamer
line, the Chamber of Commerce, the easily-gathered audience on Rush and
Montgomery streets, the usual customers at Barry & Patton's, the
loungers in the lobbies of the hotels, everybody who would listen--and
who would not?--how that brave fellow Loring, who ought to have been a
sailor, faced down that quartette of "blue-bellied lobsters" up at
headquarters. The General was not a popular character. His principal
claim to distinction during the great war seemed to be that of being
able to criticise every other general's battles and to win none of his
own. "He never went into a fight that he didn't get licked," declared
the exultant Moreland, "and now he's bowled over by his youngest
lieutenant." The story of that interview went over the bay like wildfire
and stirred up the fellows at the Presidio and Angel Island, while the
islanders of Alcatraz came bustling to town to learn the facts as
retailed at the Occidental, and to hear something more about that queer,
silent fellow Loring. Among the junior subalterns in the artillery were
one or two who knew him at the Point, and they scouted the story of his
having ever having stolen a cent's worth, or the idea of extracting
anything about the matter from his lips. The latest yarn in circulation
was that after the now famous interview Loring had "laid for" Captain
Petty, the aide-de-camp referred to, a young Gothamite of good family
who had got into the regulars early in the war and out of company duty
from that time to this, and, having met the aide-de-camp, Loring had
thereupon calmly pulled the gentleman's aquiline nose for him. Petty
could not be found, had gone to Fort Yuma on important business for the
department commander, was the explanation. The General properly refused
to be interviewed by reporters of the papers and couldn't be approached
by anybody else on the subject. Only two things were positively known.
Lieutenant Loring had received telegraphic notification from the Chief
of Engineers of his relief from duty in the department and his
assignment to similar work in the Department of the Platte, and it was
rumored, though it could not be confirmed, that the General had been
directed by telegraph to designate a staff officer to receipt to
Lieutenant Loring at once for the public property for which he was
accountable, in order that the latter officer might take an early
steamer for the Isthmus, as his services were urgently needed at his new
station. It was an open secret that the General considered himself
aggrieved by the action of the authorities at Washington and said so. He
had made no charge against Lieutenant Loring. He had merely called that
gentleman's attention to the very serious allegations laid at his door,
and this was true. On the other hand, people who had been permitted to
know anything about the matter, notably certain senior officers of the
Engineer Corps not under the General's orders, and one or two staff
department officers who, unhappily for themselves, were under his orders
and subject to his semi-occasional rebuke, now openly said that not one
allegation against Loring came from a reliable or respectable source,
and that it was an outrage to have held him even to inferential account
on the statement of such a cad as Escalante's agent, who hadn't been
near the office since the recovery of Captain Moreland, the insinuations
of Mr. Purser Traynor, now totally vanished, and the rumored aspersions
of a fair incognita, known only to Captain Petty, a man who had few
associates in the "line" or outside the limited circle of the General's
personal staff, and who was not too well liked even there.

And, as the revulsion of feeling set in, Petty set out for Yuma. "Where
there is so damned much smoke," said he, as it later transpired, "there
must be some fire," and the General had bidden him to go to Yuma, to
Gila Bend, to Guaymas, to the devil, if need be, and find out all the
facts. But the linesmen at Presidio and the jovial blades at Moreland's
elbow were loud in their laughing statement that if Petty were looking
for fire he could have found it here in abundance. Loring could have
given him more than he wanted.

Then came the order in the case of Captain Nevins, dismissing that
worthy from the service on charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and
a gentleman, and awarding a year's imprisonment at such penitentiary,
etc., as the reviewing authority should direct, and by the same post the
official order transferring Lieutenant Loring of the Engineers to duty
in the Department of the Platte, and then what did the steamship company
do but issue invitations for a dinner to be given in honor of that
distinguished young officer, and great was the noise thereof until it
was known that the gentleman had gratefully, but firmly declined. Then
the papers said "it was rumored" that the General had forbidden his
acceptance, despite the fact that the General had expressed publicly
his gratification that the company had at last done something in
recognition of its indebtedness to the army--which was most adroit, and
equally impersonal. And all the while Loring himself was having anything
but an enviable time of it. A man so reticent and retiring could not but
be annoyed by the persistent calls and cross-questions of all manner of
people in whom he had but small personal interest. He wished to have
nothing whatever to say upon the subject, denied himself to reporters
and relapsed into impenetrable reserve when importuned by brother
officers whom he but slightly knew. One or two with whom he would gladly
have held counsel were far removed, one at least forever, from his
circle. The stalwart old inspector, Turnbull, lay sleeping his last
sleep in the cemetery at Monterey. The veteran who served as president
of the Nevins' court was in far Arizona, and Blake, sound of heart, if
not of head, was under a cloud at Yuma. His forceful expressions
concerning the imbecility of department officials led to his being
confined very closely to company work and minor, yet exacting, duties
at the post, all because of his abandonment of Lieutenant Loring at a
critical moment, said the few defenders of the department's letter to
the post commander on that subject. "All because of his too vehement
defense of Loring," said everybody else.

With feverish eagerness, Loring awaited the sailing of the next steamer.
Every item for which he stood accountable was then at his office,
invoices and receipts made out in full. Nothing was needed but the
officer designated to relieve him. The Columbia was to leave on
Saturday, and up to Thursday evening no relief had appeared. Friday
morning the adjutant-general received a written communication, most
respectful yet urgent in terms, requesting that the officer might be
designated without further delay, and as no answer was received up to
noon, Loring followed it with a personal call upon the chief of staff,
who said the General had the matter under advisement.

"My luggage goes aboard the Columbia to-night, sir, and I should be
aboard by ten o'clock to-morrow," said Loring. Colonel Strain coughed
dubiously.

"It might be impracticable to relieve you from duty so soon. The General
is in communication with the War Department upon the subject, and
possibly if--you--had had the courtesy to call upon the General or upon
me, his chief-of-staff, and to explain your wishes, the thing might have
been arranged."

Loring flushed. He saw through the motive at a glance, and could have
found it easy to express his opinion in very few words. There are times
when a man is so goaded that an outburst is the only natural relief, but
it is none the less fatal. There might even be method in the colonel's
manner, and Loring curbed, with long-practiced hand, both tongue and
temper. It would have been warrantable to say that the manner of both
the General and his chief-of-staff had been too repellent to to invite
calls, but he knew that, whatever the merits of the case, superior
officers, like inferior papers, always have the last word. He might be
only inviting reprimand. Without a word, therefore, he faced about,
went straight to the telegraph office down the avenue and wired to
Washington. "Steamer sails noon Saturday. Not yet relieved. What
instructions?"

By that hour there would be no one in the office of the Chief of
Engineers at Washington, but Loring addressed it direct to the home of
the assistant, upon whose interest in the case he had reason to rely,
and then returned at once to his desk. Were he not to be there it would
place it in the power of a would-be oppressor to say the officer
designated to receive the property had called during office hours and
could not find Mr. Loring. And then, with such patience as he could
command, Loring received the visitors who kept dropping in, among them
the boisterous Moreland, whose Bay of Biscay voice had become almost as
trying to his host as to the other occupants of the building, and during
the long afternoon awaited the action of the General upon his morning's
letter and that of the War Department upon his telegram.

Four o'clock came at last. Office hours were over. Neither relief nor
reply had reached him. He heard the halls resounding to the footsteps of
officers and clerks as they closed their doors and left the building.
Bidding his assistant remain a moment he strode to the further end of
the long passage. The General was at the moment issuing from his private
office, conversing with two of his staff. The adjutant-general, a bundle
of papers in his hand, was hastily crossing the hall toward his own
office. Loring raised his hat in grave salutation to his commander, who
bowed with dignified reserve in return, and moment later the Engineer
was facing the colonel at his desk.

"Colonel Strain," said he, "I have much to do. Will you name the hour at
which I am to meet my relief?"

"Mr. Loring," said the official tartly, "when we are ready to relieve
you the order will be issued--and not before."

"Colonel Strain," answered Loring, "I shall be at my office all evening,
ready to receive that order." And wheeling about he met the General at
the door. An open telegram was in the latter's hand, a queer look on his
flushed and angry face. Relieving his impatient clerk, Loring seated
himself to answer a letter, and there fell from the package he drew from
his pocket a little note, and with a sudden pang of shame and sorrow he
stooped and picked it up. It was only a tiny missive, only a few sad,
almost pleading, words. Did he mean to go without a word of good-by to
Pancha? His heart reproached him as he remembered that this had reached
him two days before.

He was writing a note to the Lady Superior, telling her of his
expectation of sailing on the morrow, and asking if he might be
permitted to call to say adieu to his little friend of the shipwreck,
when an orderly entered.

"Colonel Strain's compliments and desires to see the lieutenant at
once." It was not customary for officers to be so summarily summoned
after office hours, but Loring went. With a hand that trembled visibly,
but with every effort to control his voice, the chief-of-staff held
forth a telegram and said:

"The General desires to know, sir, whether you have sent any telegram to
Washington which can account for this?"

Loring took and slowly read it. Divested of address and signature it
read as follows:

"The Secretary of War is informed that Lieutenant Loring has not been
relieved as directed. Report reason by telegraph."

Loring deliberately finished reading, and then as deliberately looked
up.

"I have, sir."

"Then it is the General's order, sir," said the chief-of-staff, "that
you go at once to your quarters in close arrest."



CHAPTER XVII.


There was the mischief to pay in and about department headquarters for
something like twenty-four hours. Colonel Strain, as chief-of-staff, had
a sleepless night of it. Mr. Loring, reticent as ever, had gone straight
to his rooms, which were far from the office and not very far from the
convent of the good gray sisters. He had no thought of insubordination
in wiring as he did to Washington. He considered it was his paramount
duty to make every effort in his power to sail by the first steamer.
Letters of instruction that had reached him informed him that a new post
was to be built along the Big Horn range in Wyoming, and that the moment
he arrived a board of officers, of which he would serve as junior, would
be sent out to select the site. There was urgent need of his services,
therefore, and no time to be lost. He felt that this sudden and summary
arrest was a wrong to him personally and professionally, but the lessons
of obedience and discipline taught in the four long years at West Point
were fresh in his mind, and whatever should be the result of his
detention the responsibility now lay with the department commander.
Arrived at his quarters, Loring calmly wrote a dispatch to the assistant
in the office of the Chief of Engineers at Washington, saying so many
words: "Placed in close arrest because of previous telegrams. Cannot
sail to-morrow." This and a note to the Lady Superior at the convent
saying he would be unable to come to say good-by to Pancha, and would
probably be detained, he sent by his servant, bidding the man go first
to the telegraph office and then to stop at headquarters for certain
books, and then to deliver the note at the convent on his homeward way.
Dennis was a retired dragoon who had found such employment with the
officers on duty in San Francisco for several years past, and was
endowed with the Irishman's almost pathetic sense of fealty to his
"commander," as he insisted on speaking of his employer. Master was a
word he could not tolerate because of its implication of servitude. But
even while rebelling at the term, he yielded to the fact a degree of
devotion to Loring's interests far exceeding that usually accorded by
the body servant of tradition, and this calm, deliberate, methodical,
silent young soldier was, in spite of himself and the proverb, "a hero
in the eyes of his _valet de chambre_." Dennis had packed his boxes with
blinking eyes and a saddened heart. "He had wurrked," he said, "for
twinty gintlemin, most av thim foine men, but the looten'nt was the best
av all." Dennis had his wife and brood in a little shanty near the sand
lots, and could not follow Loring to the East. He would have howled with
delight to hear the order countermanded that was to take the lieutenant
away, but when he heard at headquarters, from his fellow-countrymen, the
janitor and the guard, that such a countermand had been issued in the
shape of an arrest, he swore with wrath. A good Catholic was Dennis,
and many a job had been given to him and his lusty helpmate at the gray
sisters, and a warm friend had they in the lady superior, to whom he
presently bore the note and the tale of his hero's unjustifiable
treatment. Then went he on his way, and came in upon Loring just in time
to hear the closing words of what had been probably a brief and frigid
conversation between the Engineer and the General's assiduous
aide-de-camp, Captain Petty. Frigid as it sounded the captain looked hot
enough as he took his leave, and collided with Dennis at the door,
damned him for being there; then whirled about for a parting shot. "I'll
report your exact language to the General, sir," said he, with anger in
his tone.

"Try to, at least," said Loring pointedly.

"I didn't come here to be insulted, sir!" said Petty fiercely.

"No, sir. You came here to insult," was the cool reply.

The aid went down the stairs with thundering heels and raging heart.
Such contemptuous _sang froid_ on part of an officer four years his
junior in service was something unheard of, something not to be
tolerated, and as Loring refused to budge from his position of calm
superiority, the only thing left for Petty was to leave. So far from
going to Yuma, he had progressed only to Monterey, and there spent two
or three days poking about the resorts around the plaza in search of
gossip that was rumored to be in circulation at Loring's expense. He
found the gossipers easily enough, but had greater difficulty in
reaching their authorities. It proved disheartening work, for the
further he went the less he learned--each tale bearer having apparently
added to the pile of his informant, as Petty should have had sense
enough to know would be the case. But at last he "lit" on something
tangible: The hardy giant who led the rush the night of the wreck was
now well enough to be hobbling about town and breathing his tale of woe
and wrong to all listening ears, and, the officers being gone and no one
present to contradict, he had so frequently repeated his version of the
wreck of the Idaho as to make a sinner of his memory and "credit his
own lie." The burden of his latest song was that Loring had been to see
him at hospital and had promised him, on condition of being guaranteed
against action or prosecution because of the shooting of a wronged and
inoffensive man, that he (Loring) would pay him handsomely--would send
him ten dollars a week, and gave him twenty-five dollars then and there.
"But now, for more than a month," said he, "not a cent had come, and he
heard that Mr. Loring was trying to get away East." The man told his
story reluctantly and with some palpable "breaks" when he found he was
being questioned by an officer; but Petty posted back to 'Frisco without
delay, convinced that here was something with which to confront and
confound that cool, supercilious snob. Then he could take a fresh start
for Yuma and get more. One can always get something when the object of
the story is away, and, like the seaman's story of his interview with
Loring, Petty's version of the seaman's interview with him waxed as he
hastened to his General, and had assumed the proportions of a
magnificent scandal by the time he told it to that much ruffled
brigadier. Even Strain, had he heard the account, would have riddled
it--Captain Moreland's evidence was conclusive on that point--and while
Loring, in pity and compassion, might have left money with the man for
comfort in his convalescence, it was incredible that he should have
tendered payment as a bribe for silence. Strain's exaggerated
self-esteem was deeply wounded by the Engineer's evident lack of
appreciation of his greatness, and he would be glad indeed to bring him
to heel, and convince him he would be wise in future to do homage
instead of slight. And what made Loring's indifference so exasperating
was that Strain himself was forced to see that Loring was not only no
fool, as he admitted, but a man of brains, courage and ability, which he
would not concede aloud. Strain, sent for at eight o'clock by the
department commander to listen to the aid's wrathful account of the
interview with Loring, fumed and fidgetted and strove to ask some
questions to make matters clear, but Petty was already on the defensive
and did not mean to be questioned, and the General kept interposing.
"Let him tell his tale his own way, Colonel. Let him give you the whole
story, Monterey and all," and Strain, who had hoped to spend the evening
with his cronies at the club and whist, was compelled to sit till long
after nine and hear the details of Petty's asininity.

Stripped of unnecessary explanation, it seems that the General and
Strain had decided that their dignity and prerogative had been invaded
by the summary orders from Washington, which were at once a criticism of
their action in not relieving Loring, and a demand for an immediate
explanation as well as an implied threat that unless that report was
entirely satisfactory Loring must be allowed to proceed. They had spent
an hour or more in the preparation of the telegram which finally caught
the wires at six o'clock, presented their view of the case, represented
that if Loring left it would be under a cloud, and that he should not
now be allowed to leave, because of the fact that his having resorted to
forbidden and insubordinate means to procure his release was in itself a
virtual admission that he feared to stay and face the constantly
recurring accusations. It was very adroitly and impressively worded, but
still the General and chief-of-staff felt nervous and ill at ease. Down
in their hearts both realized that nothing had been proved against
Loring, and that the chances were ten to one that nothing ever could or
would be. What was more, both were beginning to realize that Loring had
been badly and shabbily treated. Yet this conviction only made them the
more ready to listen to any story, grasp at any straw, that lent an atom
of weight to the case against him. Dinner had brought no comfort to
either, and Petty's preposterous story, swallowed whole by the chief
while still bristling with the nervous strain of the concoction of that
telegram of explanation, had further upset his digestive powers. The
aide had been sent forthwith to notify Mr. Loring of the new story at
his expense, and to demand his version thereof. Petty was at no time a
diplomatic man, and at this time did not mean to be. Both in language
and manner he contrived to make his mission as offensive as he dared,
for Loring had braved him so exasperatingly on every previous occasion
that, now that he had him safe in arrest, he meant to taunt--and did it,
but his sneering slings broke harmless on the polished armor of the
Engineer's placid disdain. The madder Petty got the cooler was Loring,
and when Dennis dropped in just at the close of the interview a worse
whipped man was never seen than the aid, who rattled back to his
general, thinking of what he ought to have said, his wits, like his
brevet to the double bar, coming to him long after the war was over.

"He treated me and the General's orders with perfect contempt," said
Petty finally, and the General looked into the face of his senior staff
officer hopeful that Strain would seem properly impressed. But Strain
did not. It was one thing for Loring to ignore him, but quite different
when that officer failed to stand and deliver at the demand of Petty.
Strain treated him with scant respect himself when the General wasn't
around, and had been heard to say that generals who allowed their
wealthy relatives to dictate who should be their aids were foisting
heavy loads upon the service. It was nearly ten o'clock; his evening was
spoiled. He was crabbed, therefore, and he spoke accordingly:

"Mr. Petty--I--mean Captain Petty." (Strain, who didn't get one, said a
March '67 brevet was of no earthly account, and he for one proposed to
ignore them). "May I ask what were your words when you--you have given
us Mr. Loring's--were communicating the General's message to him? Were
they, for example, carefully chosen? Did you observe courtesy of manner,
avoiding all that could irritate, or----"

"Of course I did. You never saw a man so contemptuously, insultingly
cool in your life. He just----"

But Strain held up his hand. "I should like to know just what you said.
The General has told me the message you were to give. Now-w, how did
you give it?"

But that was something Colonel Strain was destined not to know for many
a year, if indeed, he ever heard. There came a knock at the door. A
servant entered with a card. "The lady, sir, begs to see the General at
once, if only for five minutes."

The General frowned as he took the card. What lady would be calling at
ten o'clock at night and demanding interviews when he was so much
occupied. But his face changed as he read, then glanced up at his
chief-of-staff.

"This is remarkable, Strain. The lady superior of the gray sister's
convent. Alone?" he asked, turning to the servant.

"No, sir. Young lady with her, sir."

"You'll have to excuse me a moment, gentlemen," said he. "I'll rejoin
you here."

Strain was about to return to the subject when the butler spoke. "A
messenger from headquarters is at the door, sir. Says he has a dispatch
to deliver in person. Shall I send him up?"

It was the General's library, and Strain was wondering what was going on
in the General's parlor. He knew of the lady superior. He knew the story
of little Pancha, her brave, uncomplaining conduct the night of the
wreck, and of her being placed in the convent of the gray sisters. He
decided to go to the hall door himself, and was astonished to hear the
sound of sobbing as he passed the parlor. Mechanically he took and
receipted for the dispatch. Slowly, absently he retraced his steps,
listening to the strange sounds, a pleading, choking, girlish voice,
soothing words in the gentle, loving woman's sweet tones, the occasional
gruff monosyllables from the General himself. Strain reached the library
again in something like a dream, finding Petty stalking up and down,
tugging at his slim mustache, and nervously expectant of further
question, but none came. They were startled by the quick, hurried
footsteps of the General, as he waddled back to join them, and burst in,
red-faced, ruffled, apoplectic.

"Strain--Petty, this thing has got to be settled somehow at once! That
young woman--Ugh! damn the gout! Here, Strain--Don't you go, Petty; you
won't do--Hold on! Yes, you'll have to, by Jove! There's no time to be
lost. Go and say to Mr. Loring, with my compliments, I desire to see him
a moment in the morning before he sails, and-d--He's--he's released from
arrest--It's all--it's all--well, not all of it, but--damnation! I can't
explain now. Go Petty--go! Tell him he's released--relieved, and Strain,
you issue the order relieving him at once, and directing him to proceed
without delay to his new station. I want to get the order out before
those damned fellows at Washington can order it themselves. What's that
you've got?"

"It's the order from those damned fellows at Washington," said Strain.



CHAPTER XVIII.


Once upon a time a very level-headed old soldier was commandant of
cadets at West Point, and one day one of his assistants, an energetic
young officer, came hastily in to say that he had just happened upon a
cadet duel at Fort Clinton, had captured one of the participants and
placed him under arrest, but the principals, seconds and most of those
present had managed to escape. The veteran listened grimly a moment and
then said:

"Were they actually fighting when you got wind of it?"

"Yes, sir," was the earnest reply. "Anybody could have heard them."

"Um," said the colonel, reflectively. "Then I think you--erred in
interfering. Couldn't you have got there just a little later?"

"But the regulations prohibit fighting, sir!" said the junior,
aggrieved.

"Certainly, and your course promotes it. You see they were already at
it. Five minutes more would have settled the thing one way or another,
and that would have been the end of it. They would have shaken hands and
been good friends. Now, neither of them has had enough. Each believes he
can whip the other, and those youngsters will neither be able to sleep
nor study till they've fought it out. Always prevent a quarrel when you
can, but once they get going, never stop a square fight, never see or
hear it--until you know it's over."

In like manner a wiser head than that which dictated the telegraphic
instructions to the department commander that night, would have seen
that it was far better for all parties in the mix at San Francisco if
Mr. Loring had been detained there long enough to have the matter
investigated from start to finish, and so to "fix the responsibility."
It was not of vital importance that he should sail by first steamer, but
there had been friction between this particular General and the
Engineers, between him and the adjutant-general, between him and the
secretary of war, between him and the division commander, then
temporarily absent, and a general who differs with so many eminent and
astute authorities as these enumerated must occasionally err in
judgment. Had Loring stayed and been accorded a complete investigation,
the chances are that he and the General would have shaken hands and
parted friends, for both had sterling qualities. But orders given in
compliance with orders from superiors are sometimes given only
grudgingly. The General had heard in that brief interview with his
late-at-night callers enough to convince him that the harshest charges
laid at Loring's door belonged elsewhere. But there were things Loring
had been too proud to explain. There was his insubordinate--so the
General regarded it--appeal over his commander's head to the bureau in
Washington. There was his defiance of his envoy and representative,
Captain Petty. There were lots of little things that ruffled the dignity
of the veteran autocrat, especially the somewhat peremptory tone of the
dispatch from the War Department, and the General felt himself wronged
by his superiors. Strain, too, suffered in his own estimate, and Petty
was fuming with pent-up wrath and hate against that cool, supercilious,
contemptuous upstart of an Engineer. Who in blazes was he anyhow? What
was his family? What his social status? demanded Petty to himself, even
though he knew that these were matters whereof our democratic military
system took no thought whatever. It is the proud boast of the American
Army that neither wealth nor name nor ancestry can count in the long
race for the stars. In these glad days of peace and national prosperity,
the officer is speedily taught that promotion is the result of only one
of two things, patient waiting or political influence.

And so it resulted that when Walter Loring steamed away southward on the
long run for the States, he left behind an unsettled fight, three or
four aggrieved officials--aggrieved because of him or his affairs and
their mismanagement of both--and one inveterate enemy. He had plenty of
time to think it all over after he was fairly at sea, but none before.
He and Dennis needed every moment to get his belongings aboard and his
business closed. He called upon the General as directed and stood in
respectful silence while that choleric warrior paced up and down the
room and explained his position. He wished Mr. Loring to understand that
while he felt that the young officer had behaved with disrespect, at
least with disregard of his commanding general, the latter was too
magnanimous to stand in his way, and had therefore determined the
evening previous to release him from arrest and from further duty that
he might lose no time in "joining" his new station, even went so far as
to say he had found much--very much to commend in the young gentleman
and his performance of duty in Arizona, and, but for the unfortunate
entanglements that had resulted, would have taken pleasure in making
public announcement of the fact. He could not but deprecate the conduct
of Mr. Loring's friends in Washington, and might find it necessary to
appeal to the President for justice. Meantime, however, he desired Mr.
Loring to know that no personal consideration had actuated his conduct.
He had done what he believed to be his duty, and then, like the orator,
the General paused for reply.

Mr. Loring stood in civilian dress and soldier attitude, hat in hand, an
attentive listener, never interposing a word or hazarding a remark. When
the General stopped the lieutenant remained silent and standing. The
General looked perturbed, halted and glared, as much as to say, "Why the
devil don't you speak?" a thing Loring never did when he had nothing to
say. The chief found it necessary to begin anew, but broke off
presently. "You understand, do you not?"

"Yes, sir," said Loring.

"Then I suppose--you're very busy--have many things to do?"

"Only one, sir."

"Well, I won't detain you. I--I wish you well, Mr. Loring,
and--and--_bon voyage_!" and the General strove to smile.

"Thank you, General. Anything else, sir?"

The General stood and could think of nothing. "I believe not," he
replied, "unless--however, never mind, I won't detain you."

"Good-day, sir," said Loring, and marched quickly away to the room of
the aide-de-camp. Petty was not there. An embarrassed lieutenant arose
and smiled vaguely.

"Petty isn't about anywhere this morning. He was out late last night--I
expect him every moment."

"You needn't. He won't come. Tell him I waited until 11:30." Then Loring
shut the door and left. He had many an hour later in which to think over
his final interview with the aide. A most unwelcome duty was that second
call to Petty. He would rather be kicked than go to Loring and say he
was released from arrest and free to go; perhaps he thought the kick
forthcoming if he went. But Loring treated him with the same
contemptuous coolness as he had earlier in the night. Nor did Loring
seem either elated or surprised.

"Damn the man!" said Petty. "I'd give a month's pay to tell him
something that would stir him!" Petty could easily have done that had he
seen fit to mention that the General had received a visit from the Lady
Superior with a young girl from the convent of the good Gray Sisters.
But that was a mysterious affair that even the General had seen fit to
say nothing further about, even to Loring, who was most concerned. It
was a matter that gentle and gracious woman herself never referred to
when the Engineer at ten the next morning presented his card and was
ushered into her presence. She was most courteous. There was peace and
loving kindness ineffable in her placid face. There was infinite
sympathy in her manner when she presently met and led in to him a pallid
little maid, who put a long slim hand in Loring's as he smiled upon her
downcast, red-rimmed eyes. Struggle as she might for composure and
strength, Pancha had evidently been sorely disturbed over something
through the long watches of the night. Loring's heart reproached him as
he realized how selfishly he had been engrossed for weeks, how little he
had thought for her, of her who must be so lonely and homesick in her
new sphere. He was almost shocked now at the pallor of her face, the
droop and languor of the slender figure that was so buoyant and elastic
those bright days aboard ship just preceding the catastrophe. What
friends and chums they had become! How famously he was getting on with
his Spanish! What a charming teacher she was, with her lovely shining
eyes, her laughing lips, her glistening white teeth! She seemed happy as
a queen then, and now--what had come over the child?

"They are going to let me write to you, Pancha," he had told her, "and I
shall write every month, but you will write to me long letters, won't
you?"

"_Si_," and the dusky little head bowed lower, and Pancha was
withdrawing her hand.

"You know I have no little sister," he went on.

She did. She had learned all this and much more aboard ship, and
remembered every word he had told her, very much more than he
remembered. She knew far more about him than did he about her, but he
looked far more interested now. The good gray sister was more than good;
she was very busy at something away across the room, and Loring had
drawn his little friend to the window.

"How I wish I had known you there at--at the Gila, Pancha," he managed
to say in slow, stumbling Spanish. "Do you know we made a great mistake,
Mr. Blake and I?"

She did not wish to know. Two little hands went up imploringly, the dark
head drooped lower still, the slender, girlish form was surely
trembling. What ailed the child? It was time to go, yet he lingered. He
felt a longing to take her hands again--clasped in each other now, and
hanging listless as she leaned against the window casing. He meant to
bend and kiss her good-by, just as he would have kissed a younger
sister, he said to himself, not as he had kissed Geraldine Allyn. But
somehow he faltered, and that was something unusual to Walter Loring.
Even at risk of being abrupt, he felt it time to go, but after the
manner of weaker men, took out his watch.

"Yes, I must go, Pancha. We won't say good-by, will we? It is until
to-morrow--_hasta la mañana_. You know we always come again to
California. You'll be quite a woman, then, though." He who was so brief
and reticent with men, found himself prattling with this child, unable
to break off. At last, with sudden effort, he seized both her hands in
his, where they lay limp and passive.

"_Adios_, little one! Dear little friend!" he said, bent swiftly, and
his curling brown mustache was crushed one instant against the top of
her dusky head. Then he hurried to the lady superior and took his leave,
Pancha standing silent at the window until the door had closed behind
him.

Another day, and he was looking back along the sparkling wake of the
crowded steamer, thinking how beautiful the ocean seemed to him only a
few weeks earlier. Another week and he was at the Isthmus, homeward
bound, yet clinging with strange interest to the scenes of so much
trial. Another month and he was spinning along old, familiar shores, _en
route_ for the distant field of new and stirring duty. Without a day's
delay he was hurried on the trail of a party of officials, designated to
select the site for the new post far up in the heart of the Sioux
hunting grounds. For associates he found a veteran quartermaster with a
keen eye for business, and an aide-de-camp of his new general
commanding, and recent experiences with such combined to render him more
reticent than ever. Major Burleigh confided to Captain Stone that if
that was a specimen of West Point brains and brilliancy, it only
confirmed his previous notions. The site for the new post was decided
upon after brief but pointed argument, and a vote of two to one, the
Engineer being accorded the privilege of a minority report if he saw fit
to make it. Commanding their escort was a young officer whom Loring had
known when as cadets they had together worn the gray, and though there
had been no intimacy there was respect, and the two subalterns, Engineer
and dragoon, agreed that the board might better have stayed at home and
left the selection to the Indians, but Lieutenant Dean had no vote and
Loring no further responsibility. He could make his remonstrance when he
got to Omaha, which would probably be too late. On that homeward way he
saw enough of Burleigh to convince him he was a coward, for the major
collapsed under the seat of the ambulance at the first sign of the
Sioux. Then there came an episode that filled Loring with sudden
interest in this new, yet undesirable acquaintance. Men get to know each
other better in a week in the Indian country than in a decade in town.
They had reached the little cantonment and supply station on the dry
fork of the Powder, stiff and weary with their long journey by
ambulance, and glad of a chance to stretch their legs and rest. The camp
commander was doing his best to be hospitable. Burleigh had been shown
into the major's hut, where a lot of mail was awaiting him. A bronzed
subaltern had taken charge of Mr. Aide-de-camp Stone, and another of
Loring. The latter had just emerged from a tub, dripping and refreshed,
and was rubbing himself dry, when across the canvas screen he heard the
voice of the commander hailing his host.

"Mr. Post Quartermaster," said he, "I wish every other kind of
quartermaster but you was in----. That old rip Burleigh is utterly upset
by some letter he's got. He's limp as a wet rag, shaking like a man with
a fit. Took four fingers of my best rye to bring him around. Says he
must have your best team and ambulance at once. Got to push on for
Frayne."

And indeed Burleigh's face when he came forth to start for the Platte
was a gruesome sight. "He looked," said the unfeeling linesman, after
he'd gone, "as though he'd seen more Indians."

An hour later a soldier servant handed the major an envelope. "Picked it
up under the table, sir. There's still something in it."

The major glanced curiously at the superscription.

"That's the envelope, at least," said he, handing it to Loring, "of the
letter that stampeded the old man."

And Loring looked at it first with but scant interest. Then took and
held and studied the writing with eyes that kindled wonderfully.

"Why, do you think you know that hand?" asked the major curiously.

Loring handed it back, hesitated a moment, nodded, but said no word.



CHAPTER XIX.


A pleasant welcome awaited Mr. Walter Loring, of the Engineers, when he
opened his office and got settled down to work at his new station. Here
was a commanding general who knew something of his past, whose nephew
was with him at the Point, and one at least of whose aides had found
reason to respect him highly, even though they had differed as to the
site for the new post, and the Engineer had seemed to take far more
kindly to the companionship of an unheard-of sub in the cavalry than he
did to the society of two men so distinguished in the department as
Major Burleigh, depot quartermaster at Gate City, and Brevet-Captain
"Omaha" Stone, the aide in question. Burleigh had surprised the aide by
a display of great interest in and an impatience to meet the newcomer,
who had hurried out from Omaha with not a day's delay, and who overtook
them at Fort Frayne, after riding by night through the mountainous
region of the Medicine Bow, with only a single trooper as attendant and
escort. Burleigh had been oddly inquisitive, thought Stone, and had
plied the taciturn Engineer with question after question about officers
whom he knew and matters he seemed to know along the Pacific slope. Mr.
Loring was evidently a bit surprised, yet replied courteously, though
very briefly. Burleigh did all the talking the first day's drive in the
big ambulance over the rolling open prairies north of the Platte, giving
Stone no chance at all. He enlivened the occasion and relieved the
tedium of the journey with anecdotes of the General whose command Loring
had recently left, and Strain, his chief-of-staff, and Petty--"that
damned fool Petty," he called him, and Burleigh had nothing good to tell
of any of them, and much that was derisive, if not detrimental, of all.
Loring listened with neither assent nor dissent, as a rule, though when
appealed to he said he had no opportunity to study the characteristics
as described by Burleigh, as he had spent most of his short service
there surveying in Arizona and saw little and knew less of the officials
in San Francisco. One man of whom Burleigh spoke with regard and regret
was stanch old Turnbull, whose sad death by drowning in the surf off
Pinos, the quartermaster referred to several times. He seemed familiar,
too, with the story of Loring's conduct the night of the collision at
sea and the sinking of the Idaho, and referred to that more than once in
terms of commendation. They stopped for luncheon and to bait the mules
and to give the cavalry escort a brief respite, and it was after this
that Burleigh, as though suddenly reminded of something, began--

"I don't know what made me think of it unless it was Stone's speaking of
New Orleans a moment ago, but did you meet a long-legged fellow named
Blake in Arizona? I knew the girl that drove him out there. One winter
she was in New Orleans while her father was commanding the monitors
moored at Algiers--Miss Torrence. Saw her afterwards in New York. She
married old Granger, you know." Granger was about Burleigh's age, but
Burleigh was a widower and desirous of being considered young. And Stone
wondered why Loring should look disquieted if not embarrassed.

"I met Blake, yes," was, however, his prompt reply.

"How's he standing it? He was a good deal cut up at first. They were to
have been married last summer. He was regularly engaged to her, and
never knew she'd thrown him over until he met Granger in St. Louis."

Then Loring did a thing they both noted was unlike him. Ordinarily he
listened courteously until the question was finished. This time he broke
in:

"Blake is in his element doing cavalry duty. We had a lively chase
together after an officer who was deserting to Mexico."

"So you did," said Burleigh, with interest. "I remember hearing of it.
You were on his court, weren't you? Why! what was the fellow's name? I
remember having met him in New Orleans, too, when I read the order to
the court. Let's see, you were judge advocate, weren't you?"

"Yes. And his name was Nevins."

"Ah, yes. Dismissed, I believe. What ever became of him? There was a
rumor that he had died."

"So the consul at Guaymas reported," was Loring's brief reply.

"Well, was it never settled? Wasn't it proved in some way? I heard a
story that his wife had followed him out there. She was a damned sight
better lot than he was. I met her more than once in New Orleans. She
came of good family, but she was stranded down there by the war. They
say she had a younger sister who bled her to death, a girl she was
educating. I remember Nevins told me something about her. That fellow
had some good points, do you know, Loring? He behaved first rate during
the fever epidemic; nursed more'n one fellow through. He said that that
sister was a beauty and selfish to the core, and he wished to God she'd
marry some rich man and let them alone. Didn't you--didn't I hear that
they were out there, and that he made some dramatic scene before the
court, and sent his wife his valuables, or something of that kind?"

Loring was slowly reddening. He more than half believed that Burleigh
had heard the story set afloat by the gossips in San Francisco, and was
trying to draw him out. His tone, therefore, was cold and his answer
brief.

"They were there, but I never saw them. Pardon me, major, your rifle is
slipping," and leaning forward the Engineer straightened up the
endangered weapon and braced it with his foot. "A dreary landscape
this," he added, glancing out at the barren stretches of rolling prairie
extending to the horizon.

"Very. All like this till you get over towards the mountains, then it's
fine. But, isn't it really believed out there that Nevins is dead? What
became of his wife?"

"She went back to New Orleans, I was told. If Nevins isn't dead, he at
least hadn't been heard of up to the time I left."

And several times again that long afternoon did Burleigh return to the
charge and speak of Nevins, and more than once during the busy days that
followed, but by the time they started on their return he had probably
concluded that Loring really knew no more about him, and once or twice
when Blake and his love affairs were mentioned Loring seemed unwilling
to hear. Stone pondered over it not a little before they got to Reno on
the back track, and there it was that Burleigh had demanded to be sent
right on to Frayne, despite fatigue, for something had come to him in
this mail that filled him with dismay, as the major commanding told them
a dozen times over. Moreover, Mr. Omaha Stone became gradually convinced
that Loring was in partial possession of the secret of Burleigh's
stampede. Unless Stone was utterly in error, Loring had seen somewhere
before the handwriting of the superscription of the envelope Burleigh
had dropped in his nerveless collapse. But Stone might as well have
cross-questioned the sphinx. Loring would admit nothing.

Yet it was of this very matter the Engineer was thinking one soft still
evening soon after his return to department headquarters. His boxes had
just arrived. He had found a fairly comfortable room away from the
turbulent section of the new and bustling town, and equally distant from
the domicile of Stone and his particular set. Loring never gambled and
took little interest in cards. He was still "taking his rations" at the
hotel, but much disliked it, and was seriously thinking of seeking board
in some private family. The barracks were too far out, and the roads
deep in mud, or he would have lived and "messed" out there. The few
boarding houses were crowded, and with an uncongenial lot as a rule.
Private families that took two or three table boarders were very few,
but some one suggested his going to see the rector of the new parish,
himself a recent arrival.

The sun had gone down behind the high bluffs at the back of the
straggling frontier town. The plank sidewalks were thronged in the
neighborhood of the hotel with picturesque loungers as the young officer
made his way westward, and soon reached the outlying, unpaved,
deep-rutted cross streets. He readily found the rector, a kindly,
gentle-mannered widower he proved to be, whose sister had come to keep
house for him, and never before had either of them lived in a community
so utterly primitive, if not uncouth. It was plain to be seen that he
was a Southerner, and in the joy of a few minutes' conversation with a
young man whose language and manners bespoke the gentleman, Mr. Lambert
speedily made known to him that his health had suffered in New Orleans
and his physicians had insisted on total change of climate, and the
great Northwest was a new, untrodden field for the sons of the cross, of
his sect at least. He had read with admiration of the missionary work
accomplished among the savage Indians by the church of Rome, but there
were heathen rather more intractable than they, said he, with a sigh.
Mr. Loring was sympathetic, but already informed on that point. What he
wished to learn was, did the rector know of any family among his
parishioners at whose table he could find his daily bread for a
reasonable consideration. Loring, as has been seen, was a man to whom
the converse of his fellow-men, as found upon our frontier, was neither
edifying nor improving. He preferred the society of his own thoughts.
The rector, the General (Colonel Newcome, it will be remembered, always
accorded the head of column to the church), the adjutant-general of the
new department and one solitary subaltern of cavalry were the only men
he had met since reporting at Omaha whom he found really congenial. But
then it must be remembered that it was the early summer, and the troops
were all afield.

The rector brought the tips of his fingers together and bowed his gray
head, his characteristic attitude in reflection and repose. Yes, he knew
of one, a woman widowed but a year ago, who was striving to keep her
home by taking boarders, and who perhaps could find room for him at her
table. Already she had given shelter to a most estimable woman, a widow
like herself, a woman of many sorrows, whom he had well known during
the troublous days in New Orleans, a gentlewoman, he might say, whose
birth and breeding were apparent to the most casual observer, a Mrs.
Fletcher, who had come to him for advice, and who, through his
recommendation gladly given, had recently gone to a good position--a
lucrative position--and a home at Gate City. Loring was politely
interested, but could the rector direct him to the house? He would call
at once and make inquiries. The rector could, of course, but he was
aging, and he loved a listener. He hated to let a hearer go. Might he
ask if Mr. Loring was any connection of the General of that name so
conspicuous in the service of the South in the defense of their beloved
old Creole city before the hapless days of Butler, though he must
concede to General Butler that his vigorous administration of municipal
affairs had cleansed and quarantined the city as they had never seen it
done before. The similarity of name had suggested the--

"None whatever that I know of," said Loring, finding it necessary to
interpose; "and where is Mrs. Fletcher's?"

"Ah, to be sure. Mrs. Fletcher is the name of the lady who boarded there
awhile, but she has gone to Gate City. Mrs. Burton it is--a worthy soul.
Perhaps, indeed I think, a breath of air will do me good. I might walk
around there with you."

So despite the remonstrance in his sister's eyes and Loring's respectful
protest, the rector got his hat and linked his arm in that of the young
athlete on his left, and led forth into the gloaming, prattling all the
way. Soon they reached the cross street that led northward, parallel
with the bluff line at the west, and against the twilight of the
northern sky, the scattered houses, the few straggling saplings
hopefully planted along the gutter, even the silhouetted figure of a
long-legged dog, trotting across the road, were outlined sharp and,
clear, black against a lemon horizon that shaded away imperceptibly into
a faint violet. Long years after Loring could see the picture, and how,
right in the midst of it, there rose slowly into view two black dots,
the heads, evidently, of two pedestrians like themselves, ascending from
the north, with the whole wide Missouri valley at their backs, the
pathway he and his genially chatting conductor were threading from the
south, with only this gentle rise between them, perhaps fifty yards
away. It was interesting to the Engineer to watch the gradual
development of the shadows against the sky, coming slowly into view as
the fairies rise to sweet, thrilling melody, from underneath the stage
in the transformation scene of the last act of the pantomime and
spectacular drama beloved of our youth. Courteously inclining his ear to
the monologue at his right, he kept his keen eyes fixed upon those
coming figures. Slowly they rose, one that of a slender, dapper man, the
other that of a slender, graceful girl, and the long arms of the former
as they swung in sight were in energetic motion, in emphatic gesture.
Little by little the murmur at Loring's right dulled over his senses.
Little by little the slowly approaching figures sharpened and fixed
themselves upon his sight, until when the pair could not have been more
than fifty feet away, the rector looked suddenly up in alarm, as Loring
halted short.

"My dear young friend, how thoughtless I am! Are you not well? What is
wrong?"

A big wooden house, in whose windows the lights were feebly shining,
stood just a few paces back of the fence, back of the gate where now the
pair was standing, in low whispered talk, eager and impetuous on part of
the man, doubtful and reluctant on part of the girl. Then the former
became suddenly aware that two men were standing only a short distance
away, observing:

"Then, good-night," he said. "You think it over;" and, without raising
his hat, turned sharply and went striding back the way they came.

Only one glance did Loring give that receding figure, but his eyes
followed that of the girl, who skimmed lightly up the steps and into the
house, banging the door behind her.

The rector was clinging to his arm and looking into his face with much
concern when Loring pulled himself together.

"This is Mrs. Burton's," said he. "Let us enter. Surely you need a glass
of wine, or--water," he added vaguely.

"Thank you, Mr. Lambert, not--there. Let us turn about."



CHAPTER XX.


Within the fortnight that followed came a climax in the life of Loring,
and astrologers who could have heard would have made much of such a
combination of strange influences. Having told the General that it was
his desire to find a quiet place in the northwestern section of the new
city, Loring had moved back to the hotel. Having told the rector he
desired to obtain table board at Mrs. Burton's, it of course resulted
that the worthy ecclesiastic should speak to her at first opportunity,
and that she should speedily come in search of Mr. Loring to inquire why
he had failed to carry out his plan, and further, to intimate that on
the strength of the rector's representations she had ordered a much
nicer set of china, and laid in a stock of provisions that just then
were to be had at lower rates, which, except that she expected him, she
could not have thought of doing. Indeed, Mrs. Burton not only called
once at his office, but followed it up by a visit to his lodging, where
she shed tears in the presence of the person from whom he rented his
rooms, and, this still proving ineffectual, she came again to department
headquarters with the manifest object of taking the General and his
staff into her confidence, to the equally manifest dismay of the chief
and the disgust of his adjutant-general, neither of whom could check the
volume of the good lady's words of woe. Loring found his soldierly
commander grinning whimsically when he dropped in to say good-morning.
The General was that rare combination--a devout churchman and a stalwart
fighter. Time and money had he devoted to the building up of this little
church in the wilderness, and the communion service was his gift. More
than once had he knelt to receive the sacred elements from the trembling
hands of the worthy rector and listen to Mrs. Burton's effusive "Amen!"
on his left ere she parted with the cup that was then passed to his
bearded lips. At the chancel rail all good Christians knelt in common
and meekly bowed their heads, but when Mrs. Burton came up to
headquarters with a rail of her own, the General couldn't stand it, and
said so to worthy Lambert, who remonstrated with the widow.

"Then the least he can do as a gentleman, after deceiving me so, is to
help pay for them things I bought on the strength of his promise to
board with me," was that pragmatical person's reply, and this view of
the case the energetic lady ventilated to her six boarders, and they to
the flock. There was one boarder, a temporary sojourner only, who
listened and said naught. But that was only another of her aristocratic,
stuck-up ways, said they. She was "a lovely young lady," as all admitted
on her first timid appearance, and the three women who sat at table with
her were eager to take her into close fellowship and confidence, and the
two young men, clerking in the new stores, no doubt, were as eager. But
it became apparent within twenty-four hours that she held herself above,
and desired to hold herself aloof from them, which led to a dissection
of her personal charms on part of the women, and of her mental gifts on
part of the men. Mr. Lambert had commended her to the care of Mrs.
Burton. Her board was paid in advance and no questions asked. She went
to church and sang softly, but in a voice so exquisitely sweet and
penetrating that it tempered the strident melodies of the devout
Omahannas, and caused many a head to turn. She spent the first few days
at the rector's, or in her room. Then came a roomer with the rumor that
she had a follower, and for two evenings she was seen with a strange
young man, pacing slowly up and down the walk, but never going into
town. Within ten days after Loring settled in Omaha Mrs. Burton's
boarders were engrossed in just two topics--the young lady in the
second-story front, and the story of the young officer who first would
and then wouldn't be one of their number. No exception to this statement
as to Mrs. Burton's boarders is made in the case of the damsel herself.

Loring frankly told his story as to Mrs. Burton to the General. He had
merely asked Mr. Lambert if he could tell him of a place to board.
Lambert had led him to Mrs. Burton's. He found it too far out and
otherwise unsuitable, and had abandoned the idea. He had never seen Mrs.
Burton or authorized any one to speak to her for him. The General
laughed and said he understood it all, was perfectly satisfied and never
thought of questioning him; and satisfied he was for several days. Then
suddenly it was announced that Loring had decided not only to return to
the hotel for table board, but was actually rooming there, and the
landlord of whom he had rented his rooms turned up with a grievance, at
least his wife did, and when a woman has a grievance, nine times out of
ten the world gets the benefit of it. Mrs. Landlord came round to the
chief quartermaster with her complaint.

It was a lovely summer morning. Lieutenant Loring had walked down to the
office and raised his hat to the General as that genial officer was
driven by behind his sturdy old team, and waving his hand cordially to
the grave young gentleman who walked so erect with such measured
stride, and with never a glance into the windows of the shops or bars.
Loungers had no use for Loring. He never stopped to pass the time of day
or suggest a toddy, and Loring had less use for them. Ten minutes later
the lieutenant found the office in commotion, clerks and orderlies
hastening about with grave faces, Stone and Stanton with the General in
his room; the general himself, pallid and mopping his wet forehead.

"This is horribly sudden," he said, as he thrust an open dispatch into
Loring's hand. It was the brief announcement that the General commanding
the department of California, the chief Loring had so recently left, had
dropped dead at his desk the night before. Little as he had liked him,
the Engineer was shocked and grieved.

"It may make grave changes," said the adjutant-general a little later.
"It may send our kind and thoughtful chief to the Pacific coast and give
us--whom?"

"It will make one, at least," said Stone impetuously. "It'll send that
galoot Petty back to his regiment right here in Nebraska and give him a
taste of service he will little like."

"Why do you say back, Stone? Where did Petty ever serve with it except
when it was in the garrison of Washington?" asked the adjutant-general.
"You know him, I believe, Loring?"

"I know him--yes."

"Think he'd pan out well in an Indian fight?"

"He might."

"You're an optimist, Loring," said Stone, who was ever seeking yet never
succeeding in the effort to penetrate the armor of Loring's reserve. "I
believe you think even Burleigh would fight at a pinch."

"I'm sure he would!" said Loring, as he walked thoughtfully away.

"That's the dash, dashest man I ever met," said Stone, in terms he never
knowingly used in the hearing of his commander. "What he'd say _to_ a
man I can only guess from a letter Skinny wrote from Alcantraz after
that row they had at 'Frisco. _Of_ a man you can't get him to speak."

"We may have to," said the adjutant-general to himself, as he turned
back to his desk and to a packet of papers and dispatches from Gate
City.

It was a day of perturbation. Not ten minutes later the Engineer was
called to conference with the department commander and found him
closeted with his chief of staff.

"You were not favorably impressed with Major Burleigh," said he, after a
moment of silent study of the young officer's face. "Will you tell me
why?"

Loring stood and colored. He had spoken no word of Burleigh, except in
answer to direct question. Stone must have seen his aversion, and had
possibly told of it.

"You dislike to, I see," said the General kindly. "Let me remove your
scruples. Major Burleigh has been absent from his post without leave at
a time when his services were urgently needed. His affairs are in a good
deal of a tangle. It is believed that he has been making use of
government funds. I tell you this in strict confidence. Do you know what
caused his panic there at Reno and made him insist on being taken right
on to Fort Frayne?"

Loring thought a moment, then "No, sir."

"Mr. Loring," said the General, "Major Burleigh has been an object of
distrust for over a month. While he was away on this trip to Warrior Gap
matters were brought to my attention that were of a grave nature.
Investigations have been made. Major Bruce at Reno says you seemed
struck by the superscription on the envelope of the letter he received
there that threw him into such a panic. Would you know the handwriting,
do you think?"

"Yes, General."

Silently the chief-of-staff held forth a note which Loring took and
closely examined. It read "Captain Newhall begs to assure the
adjutant-general, Department of the Platte, that he meant no discourtesy
in failing to register. He was unaware of the rule existing at
department headquarters, had come here on personal business connected
with certain real estate in which he has an interest, is on two months'
leave from his station New Orleans, Louisiana, and will register the
moment the office opens in the morning unless he should be compelled to
leave for St. Joe to-night."

Loring looked up, puzzled. The handwriting was familiar; so was a form
that he had recently seen vanishing in the distance one evening a week
before, and something in the voice had a familiar ring, but this name
was new.

"To explain all this," said the adjutant-general, "there was a
dashing-looking fellow here for two or three days drinking a good deal
down about the depot on the flats and around the quartermasters'
corrals. He said he was Captain Newhall, of the Thirty-ninth Infantry,
and the general finally told me to send an aide to look him up and
remind him it was his duty to call at headquarters and account for his
presence. Between that night and the next morning he disappeared, and
at last accounts was hobnobbing with Burleigh at Gate City. You know of
him, I see."

"Possibly."

"Then, General," said the chief-of-staff, with prompt decision, "the
quickest way to got at the root of the matter would be to send Loring at
once to Gate City."

The General thought for a moment.

"How soon could you go?"

"First train, sir."

It was then too late for the single passenger express that daily went
clanking over the prairies toward Cheyenne. But that afternoon was held
a long conference at department headquarters, which caused some
wonderment among the officers not included, Stone especially, and there
were many eyes on Loring's grave face as he finally came forth from the
General's room, and without a word of explanation went straight to his
own.

"Wonder what _he's_ been doing," said a man from the garrison, who had
happened in in search of news.

Stone shrugged his shoulders, offered no explanation, but looked
volumes. An aide-de-camp should never reveal what he knows of other
officers' affairs--much less that he knows nothing.

The night came on, warm and stifling almost as the day. The window of
Loring's room opened on the crude wooden gallery that ran the length of
the hotel, and he kept it open from the bottom for such air as could be
obtained. A note lay on the mantel shelf when he returned from the
office late in the afternoon. This he had taken downstairs, inclosed it,
unopened, in one of the coarse hotel envelopes, addressed and sent it by
a messenger to Mrs. Burton's. At ten o'clock at night, in his shirt
sleeves, he was packing a valise, when at the open window, on the
gallery without, there appeared suddenly a slender, graceful, girlish
form; a fair face gazed appealingly, imploringly in, and a soft voice
pronounced his name.

Starting up, he stepped quickly toward the apparition. One instant the
lovely face lighted with hope, joy, triumph, then changed to sudden
wrath before the shade, pulled vehemently down, shut it from sight.

Even as she stood there, baffled, "a woman scorned" in the presence and
hearing of another, who nevertheless stepped quickly forward to express
her opinion of such heartless, soulless conduct despite the interposing
shade, there came a sharp, imperative rap on Loring's door, and the
summons "Wanted at headquarters at once, sir!"

And, weeping as though bereaved and forsaken, the younger woman threw
herself upon the broad and sympathizing bosom of the elder.

"There, there, poor darling! Don't cry. Wait till Mr. Lambert and the
General hear how he has treated you," said Mrs. Burton, "and we'll see
what'll happen."



CHAPTER XXI.


The day of perturbation had been succeeded by a night of worry at
department headquarters. Dispatches full of grave import were coming in
from Gate City and Cheyenne. Old John Folsom, long time a trader among
the Sioux, and known and trusted by the whole tribe, had given warning
weeks before that serious consequences would attend the effort to build
another post along the Big Horn. Red Cloud and his hosts of warriors had
sworn to sweep it from the face of the earth and every man of its
garrison with it. All this had been reported by the General to his
superiors at Washington, and all this had been derided by the Indian
Bureau. Against the judgment, against the counsel of the department
commander, the work went on. A large force of laborers hired by Major
Burleigh at Gate City early in the spring had been sent to Warrior Gap
under strong escort, and the unseasoned timber and fresh-cut logs were
being rapidly dovetailed and mortised, and long wagon trains laden with
stores and supplies, purchased by Major Burleigh's agents, were pushing
out across the Platte.

"Indians, indeed!" said that experienced officer disdainfully. "They do
not presume to interfere!" and long since the whisper had been going the
rounds that Major Burleigh's interest in the construction of that new
post, involving an expense of some hundreds of thousands of dollars, was
something more than official. In vain John Folsom and veteran officers
of the fighting force had pointed out that Indians never do interfere
when they see huge trains of provisions and supplies coming just where
they want them. Orders were orders, and the building went on. John
Folsom said that any day the news might come that Red Cloud and his
braves had massacred every man and carried off every woman in the new
cantonment. Wives and children were there, secure, as they believed,
behind the stout hearts and far and fast-shooting new breechloaders,
trustful, too, of the Indians whom they had often fed and welcomed at
their doors in the larger and less exposed garrison.

"Two of our companies can stand off a thousand Sioux," said one gallant
officer, who based his confident report on the fact that with fifty of
the new breechloaders, behind a log breastwork, he had whipped a horde
of mountain braves armed only with lance and bow and old "smooth-bores"
or squirrel rifles.

"We came down through the whole tribe," said Burleigh, with swelling
breast. "I had only a small troop of cavalry, and Red Cloud never so
much as raised a yelp. He knew who was running that outfit and didn't
care to try conclusions."

It all sounded very fine among the barrooms and over the poker-table at
Gate City, where Burleigh was a patron and an oracle, but in distant
camps along the Platte and Powder rivers, and among troopers and
linesmen nearer home there were odd glances, and nudging elbows whenever
Burleigh's boastings were repeated. Even as far as department
headquarters the story was being told that the mere report of "Big band
of Sioux ahead" sent in by the advance guard, a report that brought
Loring and Stone leaping nimbly out of the ambulance, rifle in hand and
ready for business, sent Burleigh under the seat and left him there
quaking.

"Get your men down from the Big Horn," was John Folsom's urgent advice
to the department commander. "Get your men up there," was the order from
Washington, and no wonder the General was troubled. Then in the midst of
it all began to come these rumors affecting Burleigh's integrity; then
the determination to send Loring to look after this new boon companion
with whom Burleigh was consorting; then a dispatch from old Colonel
Stevens, "Old Pecksniff," as the irreverent youngsters called him, the
commander at Fort Emory on the outskirts of Gate City, telling of a
tremendous storm that had swept the Laramie plains and the range of the
Medicine Bow and Rattlesnake Hills, just after Lieutenant Dean had been
sent forth with a small party of troopers to push through to Warrior Gap
with a big sum of money, ten thousand dollars in cash, for the payment
of contractors and their men at the new post, and, what was of thrilling
import, there had been a deep laid scheme to head him off, ambuscade him
and get that money. Hank Birdsall and his gang, forty of the worst
toughs on the Western frontier, had "got the tip" from some one in the
secret in Gate City, and no one outside of the post commander himself
and one of Burleigh's confidential clerks, had the faintest inkling of
the transaction. Nothing but that storm could have defeated their
purpose. Several of the outlaws and many of their horses were drowned,
and one of the gang, rescued at the last minute by the mail carrier to
Frayne--rescued just in time to save his life, had gasped his confession
of the plot. Birdsall and his people were now scattering over the
territory, but "Old Pecksniff" felt that matters so serious demanded
full report to the department commander, and this full report had
reached Omaha the very night that Loring got his orders to leave.

Hastening to the office in compliance with the imperative summons, his
heart beating heavily despite his calm of manner, his thoughts reverting
to that well-known face and the appealing voice at his window despite
his utmost effort to forget them, Loring found the General with his
chief-of-staff and Captain Stone busy over telegrams and dispatches. One
of these the General handed to the Engineer. Then, as the latter read,
the veteran of three wars arose from his chair, took the young soldier
by the arm and led him aside, a proceding that caused Captain Stone to
glance up from the telegram he was swiftly copying, and to follow with
angering eyes, until suddenly aware that the adjutant-general was
observing him, then his pen renewed its scratching. It was not good that
a newcomer, a young lieutenant, should be preferred to him, and it was
too evident that between the General and the Engineer was a bond of some
kind the aid could not explain.

"Do you understand this?" asked the General, as he pointed to the letter
in Loring's hand.

It was brief enough. It was written by a clerk in Burleigh's office to a
fellow-clerk in that of the chief quartermaster at Omaha, and the latter
had felt it his duty, he said, to inform his immediate superior, who in
turn had laid it before the chief-of-staff. It read as follows:

"The old man's rattled as I never saw him before, and God only knows
what's amiss. Two young lieutenants came in and thrashed him right
before the whole of us, called him a liar, and all that. His friend
Newhall, that pulled him through the yellow fever, he says, was there at
the time drunk, and actually congratulated them, and though Burleigh
raved and swore and wrote no end of dispatches to be sent to Omaha
demanding court-martial for Lieutenant Dean, devil a one of them was
ever really sent. Not only that, but Burleigh was threatened and abused
by Newhall, and had to buy him off with a roll of greenbacks--and I saw
it. Who's Newhall, anyhow, and what hold has he on Burleigh? Nursing him
through yellow fever don't go. Newhall's gone, however, either over to
Cheyenne or out on the Cache la Poudre. There's something rotten in
Denmark, and I want to get out of this."

Loring read it carefully through twice, the General keenly studying his
face the while.

"I have determined to go to Gate City myself, even though time can ill
be spared, Loring," said he. "There is urgent need of my presence at
Laramie. Possibly I may have to go to Frayne, and shall need you with
me, but meantime this thing must be explained. Everything seems to point
to Burleigh's being in some unusual trouble. Everything indicates that
this Captain Newhall, who was one of his chums in New Orleans, has some
heavy hold on him, a gambling debt, perhaps, or knowledge of cotton
transactions during the war. I cannot but feel that you know something
of the man. Tell me, did you meet that fellow when he was here?"

Loring stood looking gravely, straight into the face of his superior.
Swiftly his thoughts sped back to that soft, warm evening when he and
the rector slowly ascended the gentle grade toward Mrs. Burton's
homestead, and there was unfolded before his eyes that picture he was
destined never to forget, the lovely tints of the clear northern sky,
the broad valley of the great river, with its bounding bluffs and
hillocks, hued by the dying day, the dark forms, slender and graceful
both, coming nearer and nearer, until in startled recognition of one at
least, he halted in dumb amaze, and therefore caught but flitting
glimpse of the other as it whisked jauntily away. He had his suspicions,
strong and acute, yet with nothing tangible as yet on which to base
them, and if he breathed them, what would be the result? The girl whose
identity he had promised not to betray "until sister Naomi could be
heard from," would beyond all question be called to account. To his very
door had she come within forty-eight hours of that strange evening,
which the rector's prattle had made public property, begged a minute's
interview without giving any name, and stepping down into the plainly
furnished little western parlor, there in the dim light of a single
kerosene burner, Walter Loring had come face to face with his old
love--Geraldine.

Mindful of all the harm she had done him in San Francisco, rather than
of what had passed before, he met her in stern silence. On his
generosity, his magnanimity she threw herself. She had deceived and
wronged him in ever engaging herself to him, she said, and would have
gone on to say more. "That is all past and done with," he coldly
interposed. "What is it now?" And then it transpired that good Mr.
Lambert had been the means of securing for Naomi an excellent position,
that Naomi had gone to enter on her duties and had sent for her sister
to come and live at Mrs. Burton's until she could better provide for
her, that Naomi was living under an assumed name, and that she prayed
that no one might know their unhappy past. The interview was cut short
by the curiosity of some member of the household who came in ostensibly
to trim the lamp.

"It shall be as you wish until you hear from your sister," said Loring,
bowing her out with punctilious civility and praying in secret that
there it might end, but end it did not. Within another forty-eight hours
she was there with another quest. The servant who announced her presence
in the parlor below did so with a confidential and impertinent grin.
"The same lady wants to see Lieutenant Loring," and this time he was
colder and sterner than before. Her evident purpose was to revert to the
relations that once existed, though her plea was only for news from
California. Had nothing ever been heard of the missing jewels? she
asked. Their need was so great. She had most excellent prospects of an
engagement in Boston if she could only have six months instruction under
Signor Calabresi, but his terms were so high and she would have to live
in New York, and people kept writing her that she and Naomi really ought
to make some effort to recover the value of that property, and she had
come, friendless as she was, to ask if he thought a suit against the
steamship company would result in their getting anything. Captain Pet--a
gentleman, that is, who had been most kind in San Francisco, had
promised to do something, but now that the General was dead what could
he do? There was no doubting the identity or intentions of that
gentleman, thought Loring as he gravely replied that they would only be
defeated in any such attempt. Then with swimming eyes she had bemoaned
her past, her fatal errors, her greed for wealth and position that had
led her to stifle her own heart throbs and deceive the one true friend
she had ever known, and Loring broke short the conversation by leaving
the room. Then she came again, alone, and he refused to see her. Then
she came with Mrs. Burton, and the house was in a titter, and he broke
up his establishment and moved back to the hotel, to the scandal of his
landlord, as has been said, who made loud complaint to the powers at
headquarters. Then she wrote that she was being followed and persecuted
by a man she never knew before, the man who was with her the night Mr.
Lambert said they met them in front of Mrs. Burton's, a dreadful man who
said that he believed that she loved Lieutenant Loring and made threats
against him. She implored Loring's protection, and Loring saw through
the flimsy device and returned the letter unanswered, and later letters
unopened, and then the woman seemed to take fire, and in turn she
threatened him.

And now she had brought Mrs. Burton to witness his cruelty to her, the
meek, suffering girl to whom he was pledged and plighted, who she had
followed to Omaha in hopes of softening his heart and winning back his
wayward love, as was the burden of her sorrowing song to that most
sympathetic of women, already burning with prejudice and fancied wrong
of her own. One "woman scorned" is more than enough for many a
reputation. Two, in double harness, would wreck that of Saint Anthony.

All this and more had sped through Loring's mind that night and was
uppermost in his thoughts as he stood there facing his patient
commander. The General's fine, clear-cut features clouded with anxiety
as he noted the long silence and hesitation. Again he spoke, with grave,
yet gentle reproof in his tone.

"Surely, Loring, if you know of the fellow, it is our right to know."

"I realize it, sir. But I can do better than tell a mere suspicion. Give
me authority to act and I'll land that man in jail and lay his whole
story on your desk."

"Then go and do it!" said the chief.



CHAPTER XXII.


Another week and all Wyoming was awake and thrilling. There had been
dreadful doings on the Big Horn, and John Folsom's prophecy had come
true. Enticing one detachment after another out from the stockade at
Warrior Gap by show of scattered bands of braves, that head devil of the
Ogallallas, Red Cloud, had gradually surrounded three companies with ten
times their force of fighting men and slaughtered every soldier of the
lot. There had been excitement at Gate City during a brief visit of the
General and his aid inspecting the affairs of Major Burleigh, who,
confined to his bed by nervous prostration, and forbidden by his doctor
to see anybody, had nevertheless sent his keys and books and bank
account, and to the mystification of the chief, more money was found in
the big office safe at the depot quartermaster's than was necessary to
cover his accountability. The General and his inspector were fairly
puzzled. They personally questioned the bank cashier and the
quartermaster's clerks. They ransacked that safe and pored over the
books, both there and at the bank. The only queer thing discovered was
that a large sum of money, five thousand dollars or so, had been
withdrawn from the bank in cash one day and within the week replaced.
Then the General had to turn back to Cheyenne and hasten thence to the
forts along the Platte, to expedite the sending of his soldiers to the
relief of the beleaguered posts along the Big Horn, the tidings of the
massacre reaching Gate City and plunging Fort Emory in mourning only a
few hours after his departure.

Then came still another excitement at Gate City. Major Burleigh had
suddenly become endowed with new youth and energy. He who was declared
by his physicians to be in a critical condition, one demanding the
utmost quiet, he who could not even see the department commander, and of
whom the doctor had said it might be weeks before he was again fit for
duty, had sprung from his bed, dictated certain letters, wired
important news to the chief quartermaster at Omaha, demanded of the
railway authorities an engine and caboose to bear him over the
newly-completed mountain division to Cheyenne, had taken every cent from
his private safe, had entered his office at an early hour, satchel and
safe key in hand, was confounded by the sight of two clerks there
smoking forbidden pipes, and turning, without a word, had fled. One of
these was the young man who so recently had written to a confidant in
Omaha, telling of Burleigh's queer doings and his own desire to get from
underneath.

It transpired later that Burleigh went back to the bank, presented a
check for the balance to his credit and demanded currency, but the
cashier had become alarmed by the investigations made by the General and
had temporized--said he must consult the president, and asked the major
to call two hours later, whereat Burleigh had taken alarm. He was
looking ghastly, said the cashier. It was apparent to every one that
mentally, bodily, or both, the lately debonair and successful man of
the world had "lost his grip."

And before even the swift-running engine could have landed the fugitive
in Cheyenne, the truth was known. The package purporting to contain ten
thousand dollars in currency for the payment of the workmen at Warrior
Gap, sealed in Burleigh's office and sent at incredible risk by the
hands of a young cavalry officer, with only ten troopers through the
Indian lines, borne intact to the commanding officer of the new post,
though its gallant guardians had run the gauntlet at the cost of the
blood of more than half their number, was found when opened to hold
nothing but waste paper. Then indeed was explained Burleigh's
insistence. Then indeed was apparent why he had not pressed his charges
against the officer who had publicly horsewhipped him. Then indeed was
explained why good old John Folsom had withdrawn so large a sum in cash
from his bank and how Burleigh was enabled to replace what he himself
had taken. Then did it begin to dawn on people where Hank Birdsall,
"The Pirate of the Plains," as he had been alliteratively described, had
got the "straight tip" which enabled him to instantly enlist the
services of so many outlawed men in a desperate game. Gradually as the
whole scheme became evident and the truth leaked out, Gate City woke up
to a pitch of pious fury against its late popular and prominent "boomer"
and citizen. Gradually it dawned upon them that, in jealous hatred of
the young soldier whom Folsom's lovely daughter seemed to favor, he had
first sought to undermine him, then to ruin and finally to make way
with, even while at the same time covering the tracks of his own
criminality. It was Elinor Folsom's lover, Lieutenant Dean, who
horsewhipped him for good and sufficient reasons. It was Elinor's father
who bribed him with a big and sorely-needed loan to prefer no charges
against the boy. It was Burleigh who almost immediately after this
tremendous episode had secured the sending of Lieutenant Dean on a
mission so fraught with peril that the chances were ten to one against
his ever getting through alive. Who could have "posted" Birdsall but
Burleigh? Who could say what the amount of his shortage really was? The
key of the big safe was gone with him, and in that safe at the time of
the general's visit were at least fifteen thousand dollars. "Old
Pecksniff," commanding officer at Fort Emory, had wired to department
headquarters. An expert safe-opener was ordered out from Chicago, and
right in the midst of all the turmoil there suddenly appeared upon the
scene a blue-eyed young man, with pale features, clear-cut and strong, a
light brown mustache that shaded his mouth, and, though he wore no
uniform, the rumor went round that this was Lieutenant Loring of the
Engineers. Infantry and cavalry, commissaries and quartermasters,
doctors and sutlers, the denizens of Gate City well knew as attachments
of the army, but what the mischief was an Engineer? Loring put up at
Gate City's new hotel, simply registering as from Omaha, but that he
bore credentials and was a man of mark, Gate City learned from the fact
that Colonel Stevens himself had met him on arrival and wished to take
him out to the fort, and was ill-pleased when Mr. Loring explained that
his business would be best performed in town. Gate City followed the
young man with eager eyes, confident that Engineer must be the army name
for detective. He studied the hotel register. He curiously examined all
relics of the late lamented Newhall, who disappeared before Burleigh. He
questioned the clerks at the corral, reconnoitered the neighborhood,
asked what were their means of defense, turned inside out a worn yet
shapely boot that had been the captain's, bade man after man to describe
that worthy, and finally walked away from the depot, having picked up
lots of information and imparted none. He spent some time at Folsom's
that evening. He drove out to the fort in the afternoon, "and what do
you think he wanted?" said Old Pecksniff, whose command had been cut
down to one company and the band, "wanted me to post a strong guard over
the quartermaster's depot, lest that damned marauding gang of Birdsall's
should gallop in some night with Burleigh's safe key and get away with
the funds. I asked him if those were the General's orders and he said
no. I asked him if they were anybody's orders and he said no. I asked
him if it was anybody's idea but his own and he said no, and then I told
him, by gad, I hadn't men enough to guard the public property here at
the post. The quartermaster's depot was responsible for most of them
being away, let them take care of their own."

Gate City Hotel was alive with loungers that night waiting for the
Engineer. At half-past nine he had come from the quartermaster's corral,
and after a few minutes had gone away with Mr. Folsom, who drove up in
his carriage. He was up at the old man's now, said the impatient ones,
fooling away the time with the girls when he ought to be there answering
their questions and appeasing their curiosity. The talk turned on the
probable whereabouts of Burleigh and his "pals." So had the mighty
fallen that the lately fawning admirers now spoke of the fugitive as a
criminal. He couldn't follow the Union Pacific East; everybody knew
him, and by this time officers were on the lookout for him all along the
road. He had reached Cheyenne, that was known, and had driven away from
there up the valley of Crow Creek with two companions. Loring himself
had ascertained this in Cheyenne, but it was the sheriff who gave out
the information. He was in hiding, declared the knowing ones, in some of
the haunts of Birdsall's fellows east of Laramie City, a growing town of
whose prowess at poker and keno Gate City was professionally aware and
keenly jealous. He might hide there a day or two and then get out of the
country by way of the Sweetwater along the old stage route to Salt Lake
or skip southward and make for Denver. Northward he dare not go. There
were the army posts along the Platte; beyond them the armed hosts of
Indians, far more to be dreaded than all the sheriffs' posses on the
plains. Half-past ten came and still no Loring, and the round of drinks
were getting monotonous. Judge Pardee, a bibulous and oracular limb of
the law, had been chosen inquisitor-general, with powers to call for all
the news that was stowed away in that secretive "knowledge-box" on the
shoulders of the Engineer. Gate City had resolved and "'lowed" that a
man reputed to know so much should be held up and compelled to part with
at least a little. Jimmy Peters, the landlord's boy, scouting out to
Folsom's, came back on the run, breathless from three-quarters of a mile
of panting through that rare atmosphere, to say that he had just seen a
couple of officers ride away to the fort, and old man Folsom with "the
Engineer feller" were coming out the front gate. They'd be along in a
few minutes. So in their eagerness some of the loungers strolled out in
front and gazed westward up the long, broad, hard-beaten street on
which, in many a spot, the bunch grass of the prairie still lingered. It
was a lovely summer night, warm, starlit, but the baby moon had early
sunk to rest, and the darkness was intense. Yet the first men to come
forth could have sworn they saw two horsemen, dim and shadowy, go loping
across the broad thoroughfare from north to south, at the first cross
street. There was nothing remarkable in horsemen being abroad at that
hour; horses were tethered now in front of the hotel. What _was_ strange
was that they passed within a mile of Peter's bar and didn't stop for a
drink. Men who are capable of that neglect of opportunity and the
attendant privilege of "setting em up" for all hands, could be nothing
less than objects of suspicion. Two minutes later and somebody said,
"Shut up!" a frontierism for "hush," and all ears were turned expectant.
No, there was no sound of brisk, springy footsteps on the elastic wooden
walk. Already men had noted that quick, alert, soldierly gait of the new
officer. But "shut up" was repeated when audible murmurs were made.
"There's more fellows a-horseback up yonder. Who in 'ell's out
to-night?" queried the citizen with the keenest ears. "Jimmy, boy, run
up there and scout--I'll give you a dime."

And Jimmy, nothing loath, was off, swift and noiseless as an arrow. It
was time for Loring and "old man Folsom" to be getting there if they
were coming, and the boy was athrill with excitement and interest.

Bending low, as he knew the Indians went on scout, springing along the
plank walk he shot like a flitting specter up the street, stooping lower
and glaring to left and right at the first crossing, but seeing nobody.
A noiseless run of a third of a mile brought him to a corner, where,
looking southward by day, one could see the flagstaff and the big white
gateway, and beyond it the main office of the quartermaster's corral.
Staff and gateway were invisible now, but beyond the latter gleamed two
lights, each in a separate window of that office. Jimmy knew they never
worked that late. Why should the curtains be up now? Why, indeed! It was
a question that interested other prowlers beside himself, for, as he
paused for breath, close at hand he heard the stamp of a horse's hoof,
followed by a muttered curse, and evident jerk of the bit and jab with
the spurs, for the tortured creature plunged and stamped in pain.

"Keep that damned broncho quiet!" growled a voice. "You'll give the
whole thing away."

"It's given away now," was the surly half whisper, in reply, "else those
fellows would never be up at this hour of the night. They've mounted
guard. Where'd the man go with the key?"

"Up to Folsom's back gate. Three of our fellows are shadowing him,
though. He can't get away with it. He said he had to see his wife or
she'd betray the whole business."

"All the same I don't like it. The old man always has a raft of fort
people there. Hello, listen!"

All on a sudden there came from afar up the broad avenue the sound of
scurrying hoofs. Down through the darkness, louder and louder, spurring
and thundering, came three horsemen whom the shadows at the corner
reined out eagerly to meet. There was no suspense. "Come on!" savagely
growled a hoarse voice. "The game's up! Newhall's wife led him square
into a trap. They've got him, key and all."

Then away they rode, athirst and blasphemous, and away sped Jimmy with
his wondrous news, and out tumbled the loungers at Peter's bar, the
judge and the sheriff last, and those who had horses mounted and
galloped up to Folsom's and those who had not trudged enviously after,
and a few minutes later there was gathered at the corral a panting and
eager band of men, for thither had Mr. Loring, with his grip on the
collar and his pistol at his captive's ear, marched an ashen-faced,
scowling, scurrilous man, a dashing-looking fellow at times, a raging
rascal now, cursing his wife for a foul traitress, cursing his captor
for an accomplice, saying filthy words about women in general, until
choked by a twist of the collar.

Into the lighted office and the presence of two armed clerks the
Engineer marched his man, the first arrivals following eagerly until the
door was shut and barred. Into the hands of a sheriff did Loring
personally commit his prisoner. Then calling to his aid the chief clerk,
he tried the key in the lock of the safe. It worked exactly. Then he
turned to the civil officer of the law.

"Guard this man well," said he. "He has escaped twice before. It is not
Captain Newhall. He is a thief--whose name is Nevins."

"And you hear me, young cock of the walk," was the furious outbreak of
the captive runagate, "you stole that key from me--to whom it was given
to deliver to Colonel Stevens. It isn't the first time you stole either.
You'll sweat for this night's work so sure as there's a God in heaven!"



CHAPTER XXIII.


Gate City had found a hero and wished to worship him, but its hero
proved as intractable as he was reticent. For three days after the
capture of Nevins the community was agog with rumor and excitement. To
begin with, the captive "had the cheek of a brass monkey," said the
sheriff, and swore stoutly that he was a wronged and injured man. So far
from being a prisoner he should be on a pinnacle, rewarded by a generous
and grateful government for important services rendered. Who but he had
followed and found the renegade major and wrested from him full
confession and the key of the safe, which in turn had been forcibly
wrested from him through the malevolent jealousy of that upstart
Engineer; but never, said Nevins, would he now betray Burleigh's
hiding-place or impart his confession until full reparation was made for
the wrongs and indignities heaped upon him. The sheriff was fairly
dazed.

"Who were all the fellows you had with you," he demanded, "if they
weren't some of Hank Birdsall's crowd, come there to raid the
quartermaster's department depot?" Nevins' indignation was fine to see.
He denied all knowledge of the presence of any such. He demanded an
interview with Folsom. He utterly refused at first to accord one to his
wife, as Naomi Fletcher, Folsom's housekeeper was now understood to be.
That woman was in league with his enemies, he swore. That woman wrote
and bade him come and then had Folsom and Loring and other armed men
there to pounce upon him. Folsom came and had a few words with him, but
told him bluntly that he wouldn't believe his preposterous story, and
would have nothing to do with him until he withdrew the outrageous
accusations against both his wife and Loring. That woman's a million
times too good for you, said Folsom. Then Nevins concluded he must have
a talk with Loring, and, on his message being conveyed that officer,
the bearer was bidden to say that Mr. Loring refused to have anything
whatever to do with him, whereat the captive ex-captain ground his teeth
with rage and made the jail-yard ring with malediction. Events succeeded
each other with marvelous rapidity. Folsom's visit was early the morning
after the capture, and by noon he was bowling along on a seventy-mile
ride to the ranch in the Laramie valley, hurried thither by the news
that Birdsall's gang had run off many of his son's best horses and that
Hal Folsom himself was missing. Loring galloped by the side of the
ambulance several miles, conferring with the old frontiersman all the
way, then turned back to resume his work at the depot. Eagerly he wired
dispatches to the General, which were forwarded from Cheyenne to the
Platte, telling of his important capture, smiling quietly as he wrote.
Had he not promised to produce the mysterious Newhall himself? Admirable
service, indeed, had the young Engineer rendered. The testimony of
Folsom, Loring, Jimmy Peters and one or two wakeful citizens all proved
that there must have been a dozen of Birdsall's gang in town that night.
There could be only one explanation, for a price was on the head of
every man. They had come with "Newhall" and the key straight from some
distant lair in the Black Hills of Wyoming, the big-shouldered range
that stretches from the Laramie near its junction with the Platte
southward to Colorado. They were bent on a sudden rush upon the corral
in the dead of night, the forcing of the gate and the office door, then,
with "Newhall" to unlock the safe, they would be up and away like the
wind, with money enough to keep them all in clover--and whisky--until
the last dollar was gambled or guzzled. Loring's suspicions had proved
exactly correct. Loring's precautions in having the office brightly
lighted and a show of armed men about had held the would-be robbers at
bay during the early hours of the night, and then his prompt action in
hurling himself on the mysterious stranger who came stealthily in at
Folsom's back gate, had finally and totally blocked the game.

But, just in proportion as Loring turned out to be right, old Pecksniff
turned out to be wrong, for he had refused a guard for the depot, and
therefore was it now Pecksniff's bounden duty to himself to pooh-pooh
the precautions of the Engineer and belittle the danger. Not for a
moment would he admit that armed desperadoes had come at Nevins' back.
As for the key in his possession, with all respect to the statements of
Mr. Loring, the story of the unfortunate captain was just as plausible,
and that key should have been delivered to him, the commander at Fort
Emory, instead of being taken possession of by the Engineer. True,
Nevins had been dismissed in disgrace, and in a question of veracity
between the two men there was little doubt that Loring's would prevail.
But a very peppery, fidgety, unhappy old man was Colonel Stevens for
many days, prating about this independence of action of stripling
officers right under his nose. But the worst came on the day when the
little troop of cavalry at Fort Emory was still further depleted by the
detachment of a sergeant, two corporals and eight troopers, ordered to
report with pack-mule and ten-days' rations to Lieutenant Loring, of the
Engineers, and Colonel Stevens had not been consulted again. The senior
colonel in the department, he had seen his command cut down, company by
company, until only a bare squad, said he, remained to guard the most
important post in Wyoming. (Which it wasn't by any means, but he had
been led to think so.) And now young whipper-snappers just out of West
Point were running away with his men right under his nose!

But Loring's orders came to him direct from Omaha. He had need of every
precaution. He was now going on a mission that demanded the utmost
secrecy, and the colonel could no more conceal a movement than a sieve
could hold water.

Quitting the quartermaster's depot one summer night at twelve, the
little detachment rode silently out across the southward prairie, swung
round to the east when the dim lights of town were a mile behind, took
the trot over the hard, bounding turf, and at dawn were heading
straight for the breaks of the Laramie. Halting for rest and coffee when
the sun was an hour high, they again pushed on until noon, when they
unsaddled in a grove of leafy cottonwoods in a little fork of the
Medicine Bow, watered the weary horses and gave them a hearty feed and
themselves as hearty a dinner, and then picketing and hoppling their
steeds, who were glad enough to roll and sprawl in the sand, all hands
managed to get some hours of sound sleep before the sun was sinking to
the edge of the Sweetwater Range. Then came the careful grooming of
their mounts, then a dip in the cool waters, then smoking tins of
soldier coffee and sizzling slips of bacon. Then again the saddle and
the silent trail, with the moon looking down from the zenith on their
warlike array. Heavily armed was every man, each, even the lieutenant,
with carbine and brace of Colts, and on they rode through the still,
soft night air, chatting in low tones, no man knowing but every one
believing that the taciturn, blue-eyed young officer in the lead was
heading them for a lair of the Birdsall gang. It was too far south just
then for Sioux.

Another morn and they had crossed, during the dark hours, the broad
plains of the Laramie and were winding up among the hills. Another rest
and, spurring from the rear, there overtook them a bronzed,
weather-beaten frontiersman whom Mr. Loring greeted without show of
surprise, and when again they moved on it was he who rode at the
lieutenant's left, up, up a winding trail among the frowning heights,
until just as every man was wondering when on earth they could hope for
a bite, the noiseless signal halt was given, while the leaders
dismounted and peered over a shoulder of bluff ahead, held brief
consultation, then down the ravine to the left rode the stranger, and
back to his men came Loring, his eyes kindling.

"There is a camp half a mile ahead where I have to make an arrest," said
he quietly. "Keep close at my heels. We'll have to gallop when we get in
view. Draw pistol. Don't fire unless they do. They probably won't."

And they didn't. Half a dozen startled men, gambling about a blanket;
two or three sleeping off a drunk, and one hunted, haunted wretch
nervously pacing up and down among the pines, were no match for the dash
of a dozen blue jackets coming thundering into view. There was no
thought of fight. Those who could catch their horses threw themselves
astride bareback and shot for the heart of the hills; two or three
scrambled off afoot and were quickly run down, one a heavily-built,
haggard, hollow-eyed man shook from head to foot as the lieutenant
reined up his panting and excited horse and coolly said:

"You are my prisoner, Burleigh."

Nor was there attempt at rescue. Mounting his four captives on their
horses, their feet lashed to the stirrups, their hands bound, all the
abandoned arms, ammunition and provisions destroyed and the camp burned,
Loring led promptly away up the range toward the north until clear of
the timber, then down the westward slope toward the Laramie valley once
more, searching for a secure place to bivouac. Far to the north the
grand old peak loomed against the blue gray of the Wyoming skies. Off to
their left front, uplifting a shaggy crest from its surrounding hills, a
bold butte towered full twenty miles away, and toward that jagged
landmark Loring saw his sergeant peering time and again, with
hand-shaded eyes.

"What do you see?" he presently asked.

"Smoke, sir, I think. Will the lieutenant look with his glass?"

Silently Loring unslung his binocular and gazed. His eyes were keen, but
untrained. "Take it yourself, sergeant," he said; and the veteran
trooper reined out to one side and peered long and steadily, then came
trotting up to the head of the column, doubt and suppressed excitement
mingling on his weather-beaten face.

"I couldn't be sure, sir, but it looked for a minute like smoke."

"And that means----"

"Indian signals, sir. That's Eagle Butte, only a couple of miles from
Hal Folsom's ranch."

Loring pondered. It was long since, in any force, the Sioux had ventured
south of the Platte; but now, after their victory at Warrior Gap and the
tremendous reinforcement they had received from all the turbulent
tribes, what was to prevent? John Folsom himself had told him it might
be expected any moment. John Folsom himself had gone to that very spot,
consumed with anxiety about the safety of his son, but confident of the
safety of himself and those he loved when once he could reach the ranch.
"No Sioux," said he, "would raise hand to harm me."

But Loring's men and horses both were sorely wearied now, and at sundown
the little command reached a sheltered nook where grass, wood, and water
were abundant. Here restfully, yet anxiously they bivouacked until three
in the morning, and then once more, refreshed but alert and cautious,
watchful of their prisoners and watchful of the signs ahead, on they
sped for Folsom's ranch. The dawn broke beautifully clear. The trail led
down into the romantic valley of the Laramie at the bend where it begins
its rush through the range. Then, turning westward as they reached the
foot of a steep and commanding height, Loring signaled to his sergeant
and the troopers spurred up alongside. There before them lay the broad
and beautiful valley just lighting up with the rosy hues of the glad
young day. There to the northward, black-bearded with its growth of
pine, the rays of the rising sun just glinting on the topmost crags,
towered Eagle Butte, a plume of smoke-puffs, even at the moment
beginning to soar slowly aloft. There, not a mile away straight ahead
was the steep ridge that, hiding Folsom's from view, stretched down from
the northward foothills to the very bank of the lapping Laramie. There
south of the stream, the gradual slope of the black range, studded here
and there with bowlders that seemed to have rolled down from the
precipitous cliffs under which they were now moving, two seasoned old
dragoons three hundred yards out to the front, covering the cautious
advance. All the broad sweep of rolling landscape far to the west just
lighting up in the slant of the summer sunshine. Not a living thing in
sight save their own little band, yet beyond that ridge, only two miles
away, lay the ranch. All seemingly peaceful and secure, yet, over that
jagged watch tower to the north the war signals of the Sioux were
flaunting, and every hand seemed to seek the small of the gun stock.
Even two of the prisoners plead for "a show in the fight," if there was
to be one, and not five minutes later it came. Borne on the still,
breathless air there rose throbbing from the west the spiteful crack,
crack of rifles, the distant clamor of taunting jeer and yell. Back from
the front came one of the troopers at mad gallop, his eyes popping
almost from his head. "My God! lieutenant, Folsom's ranch is afire and
the valley's thick with Sioux!"

Even then, when every carbine seemed to leap from its socket, men
remembered the groan of despair that rose from Burleigh's lips.

"Look after the prisoners, corporal. Sergeant Carey, you and the first
six come with me!" cried Loring. A gallop of less than a minute brought
them almost abreast of the ridge. Black and billowing a cloud of smoke
was rising, lashed from beneath by angry tongues of red flame.

"It isn't the house, thank God!" cried the sergeant. "It's the
haystacks. But--look at the Indians!"

Look, well they might! All about the corrals they were darting. All of a
sudden there blazed from the ridge line across the stream the fire of a
dozen rifles. All around them the spiteful bullets bit the turf. One
horse madly reared and plunged, his rider cursing heartily. Wildly the
more excitable troopers returned an aimless shot from the saddle, while
others gazed eagerly to the officer for orders. It was his first meeting
with the Sioux. It had been his hope to gain that threatened ranch by
dawn and join its garrison, but where was that hope now? Down along the
banks of the Laramie, lashing their bounding ponies, brandishing their
weapons and yelling like mad, a band of Sioux, full forty strong, came
charging at them, splashing through the shallows and scattering out
across their front in the well-known battle tactics. Not an instant was
there to be lost!

"Jump for those rocks, men!" rang Loring's order. "Cut loose your
prisoners, corporal. They must fight for their lives."

But oh, what chance had so few against so many! Springing from saddle,
turning loose their startled, snorting horses, that go tearing away down
the valley, the old hands have jumped for the rocks, and kneeling and
taking deliberate aim, opened fire on the foremost of the foe. A gaudy
warrior goes down in the flood, and a yell goes up to heaven. Another
good shot slays a feather-decked pony and sends his rider sprawling, and
wisely the others veer away to right and left and scurry to more distant
range. But up the slopes to the south still others dart. From three
sides now the Indian bullets are hissing in. In less than four minutes
of sharp, stinging fight, gallant Sergeant Carey is stretched on the
turf, with a shattered elbow, Corporal Burke and two troopers are shot
dead, Loring, with white, set face and a scorching seam along the left
cheek, seizes a dropped carbine and thrusts it into Burleigh's shaking
hands. "Up with you, man!" he cries. "It's your scalp you're fighting
for. Here, take a drink of this," and his filled canteen is glued to
Burleigh's ashen lips. A long pull, a gasp, and hardly knowing what he
does, the recreant officer kneels at the nearmost rock, aims at a
painted savage leaping to the aid of a fallen brother, and the chance
shot, for a marvel, finds its mark, and with a howl the warrior drops
upon the bank.

"Well done, Burleigh!" shouts Loring. "Fire again!"

Hope, or whiskey, or lingering spark of manhood has fired the major's
eye and nerved his hand. With something like a sob, one of Birdsall's
captured crew rolls over to where the young commander is coolly loading
and firing--and despite their heavy loss the stout defense has had its
effect, and the yelling braves are keeping at wider range.

"I'm done for, lieutenant," he moans. "For God's sake lie flat behind
me," and he feebly points to the slope behind their left rear, where
half a dozen Sioux, dismounted, are skipping to the shelter of the
rocks. Another minute and their bullets are hissing at the backs of the
besieged. Another minute and Burleigh topples over on the sward, the
life blood pouring from his side, and Loring sees that half his fighting
force is gone, even as everything begins to swim before his eyes, and
the hand that strives to sweep away the blur before his sight, leaves
his pallid face smeared with blood. There is a sound of coming thunder
in his ears, the blare of distant trumpet, the warning yell of wary
Indians, the rousing cheer of charging horse, and the earth seems
turning round and rolling up to meet him as he droops, fainting at his
post, the battle won.

Well and gallantly done, was the universal verdict of the frontier on
Walter Loring's maiden fight. Brave, cool and resolute in face of
desperate peril he had proved, and many a sympathizing soldier hovered
about the hospital tent, where day after day he lay in the delirium of
fever that followed his wounds. Yet will it be believed that, when at
last convalescence came and the doctors were compelled to raise the
blockade, the news was broken to him that so soon as he should be
declared strong enough there was still another ordeal ahead. The gallant
General he had served so well had indeed been ordered elsewhere, as was
prophesied at Omaha. "A new king came who knew not Joseph." The senior
colonel was assigned to temporary command of the department, and he, old
Pecksniff, listened to the tales of Nevins, and of that new arrival from
California, Petty, reinforced by Heaven alone knows what allegations
from the lambs of Lambert's flock.

"They found some damned trumpery jewelry in a flat tin case in a trunk
you left with your traps at Omaha," was the indignant outburst of
Lieutenant Dean, who had led the rush of the cavalry to the rescue of
Folsom's ranch and Loring's exhausted party, "and some idiot has
preferred charges on the strength of them."



CHAPTER XXIV.


That Loring court was the talk of the West for many a month. Long before
its meeting the wrathful division commander had sent Colonel Stevens
back to the obscurity of Fort Emory, welcomed the new brigadier and bade
him, if a possible thing, quash the proceedings, but now it was Loring
who was obdurate. "This matter has been a scandal for months," said he.
"It must be settled now once and for all."

But, oh, what complications had not been brought about by Pecksniff's
spell of brief authority! Never before intrusted with a higher command
than that of a regiment, to the head of which he had risen by reason of
long years of unimpaired bodily health and skillful avoidance of all
danger, the old colonel had lost no time in moving, bag and baggage, to
Omaha, in having Nevins transported thither, in opening wide his ears to
his story of the heinous wrongs inflicted on him by that Arizona court,
through the malignity of its judge advocate, of that judge advocate's
heartless treachery to two helpless women, one of whom was Nevins' wife,
the other the officer's own deserted and broken-hearted betrothed. Then
came Petty, ordered to join his company in the field and eager as ever
to seek some loophole of escape. Reporting to pay his homage to the
temporary commander at headquarters he soon got an inkling of what was
going on, and all at once there flashed upon him the magnificence of his
opportunity. Here he could at one and the same time feed fat his ancient
grudge against Loring and make himself indispensable to the aging
commander of the department--perhaps even secure another staff billet,
certainly, at least, succeed in being kept there on duty and away from
the perils of the field until after the court, and meantime, what would
friends be worth if they could not move the powers at Washington.

Day after day he was closeted with old Stevens, adding fuel to the
flame of that ingenuous veteran's suspicions, but it is doubtful if even
Petty dreamed of the depth of Nevins' scoundrelism. Burleigh, whom the
ex-captain had "bled" and blackmailed, had passed beyond the bar of
human arraignment, "dying like a gentleman" even while captive in the
hands of the authorities; and so did Nevins impress his uncontradicted
tale of loyal service to the State on the old weakling in command, that
Stevens had declared that there was no evidence on which to hold him,
had ordered his release from custody on parole, unless the civil
authorities desired to prosecute him for "personating an officer," and
had written to the division commander, praising Nevins' conduct, and
urging that the sentence of imprisonment be set aside.

And then, he never could tell just who brought this about--whether it
was Mrs. Burton or Miss Allyn with their tears and tribulations; whether
it was Nevins, with his bold accusations, or Petty, with his insidious
tales, but between them all the old colonel was induced to send his
adjutant and acting aid to examine certain baggage of Loring's stored at
the hotel. Never having given up his room when hurrying off to Gate
City; expecting to be back within a week and merely to pay room rent
when absent, as was the arrangement of the day, Loring had left his
trunks and desks securely locked. Two officers and the protesting hotel
clerk were present at the opening. The locksmith, even, seemed to hate
his job; the adjutant had never a meaner one, but Petty was eager. Fresh
from an interview with Geraldine, he was the directing spirit. It was
his hand that extracted from deep down under the packed clothing in the
trunk, a small tin box, wrapped in a silk handkerchief. Within the box,
when opened, were certain letters in a woman's hand--Geraldine
Allyn's--letters written to Loring in the days of their brief
engagement, letters long since returned to her under his hand and seal,
and with them, in closely-folded wraps of tissue paper, inclosed in
stout envelope, a valuable solitaire and as valuable a ring. The
regimental adjutant it was who opened the box and who made these
discoveries. Half an hour later they were identified by Nevins, in the
presence of old Pecksniff, as the diamonds intrusted to Loring's care in
Arizona, and Nevins professed to be disappointed because the watch, too,
was not found with them.

Not until late July did Loring learn of the action taken in his enforced
absence, and of the resulting developments. Not a word would he
vouchsafe in explanation, when old Pecksniff, wilting under the
criticisms of his superiors, sent his adjutant to "invite remarks." "The
court has been ordered," said Loring, with coolness described as
contemptuous, "I'll make my remarks there." But long before that court
could meet, the colonel, as has been said, went back to his post. The
new commander arrived, and ordered Nevins to an Iowa prison to serve out
the year awarded him; sent Captain Petty summarily to Laramie, and bade
Mrs. Burton go about her business when that lachrymose person came to
urge that he should do something "to make Lieutenant Loring settle."
She had lost her lovely boarder, too, for no sooner had "Mrs. Fletcher"
heard of the new accusations against Loring than she appeared at Omaha,
and whisked her sister away, no one at Omaha knew where, but indignant
old John Folsom could perhaps have told. He cut Pecksniff dead when that
officer returned to Emory, and refused to go near the fort. He threw
open his doors and his heart to Loring when the convalescing Engineer
was brought in from the ranch. The new General actually came, ostensibly
to inspect the post, but spent twelve hours at Folsom's by Loring's side
to the one devoted to Stevens, and everybody felt that there was a storm
brewing that would break when finally the witnesses for the defense
arrived and the Loring court could meet.

But who would have dreamed there could be such dramatic scene before a
military tribunal?

It came with the third day of the trial. The court had been carefully
selected by old Pecksniff, whose adjutant had obediently signed the
charges drawn up under the chief's directions. There were only nine
officers in the array--"no others being available without manifest
injury to the service"--read the formula of the day. Five were officers
of Stevens' regiment, one a cavalry major, the others of the pay,
commissary and quartermaster's departments. None had known Loring.
Everybody expected him to object to some at least, but he objected to
none. The judge advocate was a vigilant official who made the most of
his opportunity, but his witnesses for the prosecution were, with one
exception, weak; the exception was Nevins. He swore stoutly that he had
given the valuables in Arizona to Loring, and from that day had never
seen them until they were found secreted in Loring's trunk, and, to the
amaze of the court, Loring declined to cross-examine. Petty was a
failure. He wanted to swear to a thousand things that other people had
told him, for of himself he knew nothing, and though the defense never
interposed, the court did. It was all hearsay, and he was finally
excused. Mrs. Burton appeared, but like Mrs. Cluppins of blessed
memory, had more to say of her domestic and personal affairs than the
allegations against the accused. Miss Allyn, said the judge advocate, in
embarrassment, was to have appeared on the afternoon of the second day,
but did not, nor could he find her. She was a most important witness, so
he had been assured by--various persons, but at the last moment she had
apparently deserted the cause of the prosecution. A civil court would
have had power to drag an unwilling witness before it and compel his or
her testimony; a military court has neither, so long as the desired
person is not in the military service, which Miss Allyn and some sixty
million others at that time could not be said to be. A sensation was
"sprung" on the court at this juncture by the defense. It magnanimously
informed the court that John Folsom, of Gate City, knew where that
witness was in hiding, and that she could be reached through him,
whereupon the judge advocate seemed to lose his eagerness.

Something was wrong with the prosecution anyway. It had begun with
truculent confidence. It was unnerved by the serene composure of the
accused, and his refusal to object to anything, to cross-examine, to
avail himself of any one of the privileges accorded the defense. This
could have only one interpretation, and Nevins, twitching with nervous
dread, was worrying the judge advocate with perpetual questions as to
the witnesses for the defense. When were they to be produced? Who were
they? And the judge advocate did not know. Very unfairly had he been
treated, said he, for the list of witnesses for the defense not only had
not been furnished him, but he had never been "consulted." Two or three
"stuck-up" Engineers had come out from St. Louis and Detroit, and Loring
and they had been actually hobnobbing with the department commander. But
the mere fact that the meeting of the court was delayed until the end of
September proved that they must be coming from the Pacific coast, at
which announcement Petty looked perturbed and Nevins twitched from head
to foot. He didn't suppose, he said, the United States would stand the
expense of fetching witnesses way from California, transportation and
_per diem_ would cost more than the whole business was worth.--and the
judge advocate was wishing himself well out of it when, on a sunny
Friday morning, the third day of the court, the president rapped for
order and the big roomful of spectators was hushed to respectful
silence. The defense had made its first request, that the principal
witness for the prosecution, Nevins, should be present, and there he
sat, nervous and fidgety, as Loring was serene.

In halting and embarrassed fashion, very unlike the fluent ease with
which he opened the case, the judge advocate announced that, owing to
the impossibility of compelling the testimony of witnesses on whom he
had relied, he was obliged to announce that the prosecution would here
rest. The defense, of course, he said, vaguely, would wish to be heard,
though he had not been honored with any conference or even a list of the
witnesses. Then he looked inquiringly at Loring, and every neck in the
thronged apartment, the biggest room at headquarters, was "craned" as
Loring quietly handed him a slip of paper.

The judge advocate read, looked puzzled, glanced up, and cleared his
throat.

"You mean you want these summoned?"

"No, they're here, in my office."

The judge advocate turned to the orderly of the court, a soldier
standing in full dress uniform at the door. The hallway, even, was
blocked with lookers-on. The windows to the south were occupied by
curious citizens, gazing in from the wooden gallery. Those to the north,
thrown wide open to let in the air, were clear, and looked out over a
confused muddle of shingled roofs and stove-pipe chimneys. Hardly a
whisper passed from lip to lip as the orderly bustled away. Members of
the court fidgeted with their sash tassels, or made pretense of writing.
Nevins, the sheriff's officer, in close attendance, sat staring at the
doorway, his face ashen, and beginning to bead with sweat. Presently the
people in the hall gave way right and left, and all eyes save those of
Loring were intent upon the entrance. He sat coolly looking at the man
whom six months before he had convicted in Arizona. There was a stir in
the courtroom. Half the people rose to their feet and stared, for slowly
entering upon the arm of a tall, slim, long legged lieutenant of
infantry, a stranger to every man in the court, came a slender,
shrinking little maid, whose heavy eyelashes swept her cheeks, whose
dark, shapely head hung bashfully. Behind them, in the garb of some
religious order, unknown to all save one or two in the crowded room,
came a gentle-faced woman, leaning on the arm of a field officer of the
Engineers, at sight of whom the president sprang from his chair,
intending to bow, but the silence was suddenly broken by the quick,
stern order, "Look out for your prisoner!" followed by a rush, a
crashing of overturned chairs, as court and spectators, too, started to
their feet--a general scurry to the northward windows, shouts of "Halt!"
"Head him off!" "Stop him!" in the midst of which a light, supple form
was seen to poise one instant on the sill, then go leaping into space.
"He's killed!" "He's not!" "He's up again!" "He's off!" were the cries,
and with drawn revolver the deputy sheriff fought his way through the
throng at the door and with a dozen men at his heels, darted down the
hallway in vain pursuit of Nevins, now out of sight among the shanties
half a block away.

Of all that followed before the court when at last it came to order,
there is little need to tell. The judge advocate would have been glad to
drop the case then and there, but now the defense had the floor and kept
it, though not a word of evidence was needed. The first witness sworn
was Lieutenant Blake, who told of the trick by which he and his men,
Loring's guards, had been lured from the camp at Sancho's ranch, and of
their finding Loring senseless, bleeding and robbed on their return. The
next was little Pancha, and Loring sat with his hand shading his blue
eyes as the pallid maid, with piteously quivering lips at times, with
brave effort to force back her tears, in English only a little better
than that in which she had poured out her fears to Blake that eventful
night at Gila Bend--sometimes, indeed, having to speak in Spanish with
the gray sister sworn as her interpreter--told the plaintive story of
her knowledge of and connection with Sancho's wicked band. Her dear
father and her stepmother were ruled by Sancho. She had seen Nevins
there often, "him who had fled through the window." She gathered enough
from what she heard about the ranch to realize that they were planning
to rob the officer, "this officer," before he could get away with the
diamonds. Nevins had ridden in with six men, bad men, that very night,
and she heard him planning with Sancho and her father, and she had tried
to warn the officers, and "this gentleman" (Blake this time) had come,
and before she could tell him she was followed and discovered. But then
her stepmother had later whispered awful things to her--how they were
going to rob the stage and kill the passengers, and bade her take her
guitar and try to call the officer again, and tell him to take his
soldiers and go to the rescue, and this she had done eagerly, and then
when they were away her mother seized her and drew her into the room and
shut her there, but she heard horsemen rush into the camp, and a minute
later Nevins, jeering and laughing in the bar, and that very night they
took her away--she and her father and the stepmother, and Nevins was
with them. They went by Tucson to Hermosillo and to Guaymas, and her
mother told her she must never breathe what she knew--it would ruin her
father, whom she loved, yes, dearly, and whom she would not believe had
anything to do with it. And at Hermosillo Nevins had the watch, the
diamond ring, the diamond stud, these very ones, she was sure, as the
valuable "exhibits" were displayed. But at San Francisco when the lady
superior told her of the accusations against "this gentleman" (even now
her eyes would not look into Loring's) and of all his trouble, she
forgot her father's peril, forgot everything but that Lieutenant Loring,
who had been so good and kind and brave, was wrongfully accused, and
she told all to the lady superior and went with her and repeated it to
the General, the General who had died. And when at last she finished her
trembling, tearful story, Loring rose before them all, went over and
took her hand and bowed low over it, as though he would have kissed it,
and said, "Thank you, señorita." And the judge advocate declined to
cross-examine. What was the use? But the defense insisted on other
witnesses--a local locksmith who had sold Nevins keys that would open
any trunk, a hotel porter who swore that the blinds to Loring's room had
been forcibly opened from without, a bell boy who had seen Nevins on the
gallery at that window three nights before the search of the luggage was
made. And the court waxed impatient and said it had had more than
enough. Every man of the array came up to and shook Loring by the hand
before they let him leave the courtroom, and Blake hunted high and low
through Omaha until he found poor Petty and relieved his mind of his
impressions, and finally the order announcing the honorable acquittal
of Lieutenant Loring, on every charge and specification, was read to
every command in the department fast as the mails could carry it.

Brought to by a bullet in the leg, George Nevins was recaptured down the
Missouri three days later, and sent for his wife that she might come and
nurse him. Though everybody said no, she went and did her best, and if
nursing could have saved a reprobate life he might still have remained
an ornament to society such as that in which he shone. But Naomi wore a
widow's veil when late in October she returned to Folsom's roof; the
good old trader had stood her friend through all.

There were some joyous weddings in the Department of the Platte the
summer that followed, Loring gravely figuring as best man when Dean, of
the cavalry, was married to Elinor Folsom, and smiling with equal
gravity when he read of the nuptials of Brevet Captain Petty and the
gifted and beautiful Miss Allyn. He had reverted to his original idea,
that of waiting in patience until he had accumulated a nest egg and had
acquired higher rank than a lieutenancy in the Engineers; and so he
might have done if it took him a dozen years had not orders carried him
once more to the Pacific coast, after the completion of the Union
Pacific railway.

Regularly every month he had written to Pancha, noting with surprise and
pleasure how rapidly she learned. Gladly he went to see her at the gray
sisters the day after his arrival. He had meant to laughingly remind her
of his good-by words: "You know we always come back to California," but
he forgot them when she came into the room. He took her hands, drew her
underneath the chandelier and looked at her, and only said:

"Why, Pancha!"

Loring never did say much, and it was a beautiful, dark-eyed girl who
uplifted those eyes to his and smiled in welcome, saying as little as
he. She was a graduate now. She was teaching the younger
girls--until--until it was decided when she should return to Guaymas--to
the home of Uncle Ramon, who had been good to her always, but
especially since her poor father's death. She did go back to Guaymas, by
and by, but not until Uncle Ramon had come twice, at long intervals, to
San Francisco to see her and the good lady Superior, and to confer with
a very earnest, clear-eyed, dignified man at headquarters. There came a
new Idaho on the line to Guaymas, and a newer, bigger, better steamer
still a year or two later, and bluff old Captain Moreland was given the
command of the best of the fleet, and on the first trip out from 'Frisco
welcomed with open arms two subalterns of the army, one of the
Engineers, the other a recent transfer to the cavalry, both old and
cherished friends.

"We won't have you with us on the back trip, Blake, old boy," he said,
as he wrung their hands when he saw them go ashore at Guaymas, "but I
can tell you right here and now there won't be anything on this ship too
good for Mrs. Loring--of the Engineers."

"It is a pretty name! I'm glad its mine now," said Pancha, one starlit
night on the blue Pacific, as they neared the lights of the Golden
Gate.

"It was a wounded name, Pancha, wounded worse than I," he answered
reverently, "until you came and healed and saved it."


THE END.





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