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Title: From the Ranks
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 "From the Ranks" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



FROM THE RANKS.

BY

CAPT. CHARLES KING, U.S.A.,

AUTHOR OF "THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER," "MARION'S FAITH," "KITTY'S
CONQUEST," ETC., ETC.

Transcriber's note:
This e-book of From the Ranks is based upon the edition found in The
Deserter, and From the Ranks. Two Novels, by Capt. Charles King.
Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1890. The Deserter is also

PHILADELPHIA:

J.B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.

1890.

Copyright, 1887, by J.B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.



FROM THE RANKS.



I.


A strange thing had happened at the old fort during the still watches of
the night. Even now, at nine in the morning, no one seemed to be in
possession of the exact circumstances. The officer of the day was
engaged in an investigation, and all that appeared to be generally known
was the bald statement that the sentry on "Number Five" had fired at
somebody or other about half after three; that he had fired by order of
the officer of the day, who was on his post at the time; and that now he
flatly refused to talk about the matter.

Garrison curiosity, it is perhaps needless to say, was rather stimulated
than lulled by this announcement. An unusual number of officers were
chatting about head-quarters when Colonel Maynard came over to his
office. Several ladies, too, who had hitherto shown but languid interest
in the morning music of the band, had taken the trouble to stroll down
to the old quadrangle, ostensibly to see guard-mounting. Mrs. Maynard
was almost always on her piazza at this time, and her lovely daughter
was almost sure to be at the gate with two or three young fellows
lounging about her. This morning, however, not a soul appeared in front
of the colonel's quarters.

Guard-mounting at the fort was not held until nine o'clock, contrary to
the somewhat general custom at other posts in our scattered army.
Colonel Maynard had ideas of his own upon the subject, and it was his
theory that everything worked more smoothly if he had finished a
leisurely breakfast before beginning office-work of any kind, and
neither the colonel nor his family cared to breakfast before eight
o'clock. In view of the fact that Mrs. Maynard had borne that name but a
very short time and that her knowledge of army life dated only from the
month of May, the garrison was disposed to consider her entitled to
much latitude of choice in such matters, even while it did say that she
was old enough to be above bride-like sentiment. The womenfolk at the
fort were of opinion that Mrs. Maynard was fifty. It must be conceded
that she was over forty, also that this was her second entry into the
bonds of matrimony.

That no one should now appear on the colonel's piazza was obviously a
disappointment to several people. In some way or other most of the
breakfast tables at the post had been enlivened by accounts of the
mysterious shooting. The soldiers going the rounds with the
"police-cart," the butcher and grocer and baker from town, the old
milkwoman with her glistening cans, had all served as newsmongers from
kitchen to kitchen, and the story that came in with the coffee to the
lady of the house had lost nothing in bulk or bravery. The groups of
officers chatting and smoking in front of head-quarters gained
accessions every moment, while the ladies seemed more absorbed in chat
and confidences than in the sweet music of the band.

What fairly exasperated some men was the fact that the old officer of
the day was not out on the parade where he belonged. Only the new
incumbent was standing there in statuesque pose as the band trooped
along the line, and the fact that the colonel had sent out word that the
ceremony would proceed without Captain Chester only served to add fuel
to the flame of popular conjecture. It was known that the colonel was
holding a consultation with closed doors with the old officer of the
day, and never before since he came to the regiment had the colonel been
known to look so pale and strange as when he glanced out for just one
moment and called his orderly. The soldier sprang up, saluted, received
his message, and, with every eye following him, sped off towards the old
stone guard-house. In three minutes he was on his way back, accompanied
by a corporal and private of the guard in full dress uniform.

"That's Leary,--the man who fired the shot," said Captain Wilton to his
senior lieutenant, who stood by his side.

"Belongs to B Company, doesn't he?" queried the subaltern. "Seems to me
I have heard Captain Armitage say he was one of his best men."

"Yes. He's been in the regiment as long as I can remember. What on earth
can the colonel want him for? Near as I can learn, he only fired by
Chester's order."

"And neither of them knows what he fired at."

It was perhaps ten minutes more before Private Leary came forth from
the door-way of the colonel's office, nodded to the corporal, and,
raising their white-gloved hands in salute to the group of officers, the
two men tossed their rifles to the right shoulder and strode back to the
guard.

Another moment, and the colonel himself opened his door and appeared in
the hall-way. He stopped abruptly, turned back and spoke a few words in
low tone, then hurried through the groups at the entrance, looking at no
man, avoiding their glances, and giving faint and impatient return to
the soldierly salutations that greeted him. The sweat was beaded on his
forehead; his lips were white, and his face full of a trouble and dismay
no man had ever seen there before. He spoke to no one, but walked
rapidly homeward, entered, and closed the gate and door behind him.

For a moment there was silence in the group. Few men in the service were
better loved and honored than the veteran soldier who commanded the
----th Infantry; and it was with genuine concern that his officers saw
him so deeply and painfully affected,--for affected he certainly was.
Never before had his cheery voice denied them a cordial "Good-morning,
gentlemen." Never before had his blue eyes flinched. He had been their
comrade and commander in years of frontier service, and his bachelor
home had been the rendezvous of all genial spirits when in garrison.
They had missed him sorely when he went abroad on long leave the
previous year, and were almost indignant when they received the news
that he had met his fate in Italy and would return married. "She" was
the widow of a wealthy New-Yorker who had been dead some three years
only, and, though over forty, did not look her years to masculine eyes
when she reached the fort in May. After knowing her a week, the garrison
had decided to a man that the colonel had done wisely. Mrs. Maynard was
charming, courteous, handsome, and accomplished. Only among the women
were there still a few who resented their colonel's capture; and some of
these, oblivious of the fact that they had tempted him with relations of
their own, were sententious and severe in their condemnation of second
marriage; for the colonel, too, was indulging in a second experiment. Of
his first, only one man in the regiment, besides the commander, could
tell anything; and he, to the just indignation of almost everybody,
would not discuss the subject. It was rumored that in the old days when
Maynard was senior captain and Chester junior subaltern in their former
regiment the two had very little in common. It was known that the first
Mrs. Maynard, while still young and beautiful, had died abroad. It was
hinted that the resignation of a dashing lieutenant of the regiment,
which was synchronous with her departure for foreign shores, was
demanded by his brother officers; but it was useless asking Captain
Chester. He could not tell; and--wasn't it odd?--here was Chester again,
the only man in the colonel's confidence in an hour of evident trouble.

"By Jove! what's gone wrong with the chief?" was the first exclamation
from one of the older officers. "I never saw him look so broken."

As no explanation suggested itself, they began edging in towards the
office. The door stood open; a hand-bell banged; a clerk darted in from
the sergeant-major's rooms, and Captain Chester was revealed seated at
the colonel's desk. This in itself was sufficient to induce several
officers to stroll in and look inquiringly around. Captain Chester,
merely nodding, went on with some writing at which he was engaged.

After a moment's awkward silence and uneasy glancing at one another, the
party seemed to arrive at the conclusion that it was time to speak. The
band had ceased, and the new guard had marched away behind its pealing
bugles. Lieutenant Hall winked at his comrades, strolled hesitatingly
over to the desk, balanced unsteadily on one leg, and, with his hands
sticking in his trousers-pockets and his forage-cap swinging from
protruding thumb and forefinger, cleared his throat, and, with marked
lack of confidence, accosted his absorbed superior:

"Colonel gone home?"

"Didn't you see him?" was the uncompromising reply; and the captain did
not deign to raise his head or eyes.

"Well--er--yes, I suppose I did," said Mr. Hall, shifting uncomfortably
to his other leg, and prodding the floor with the toe of his boot.

"Then that wasn't what you wanted to know, I presume," said Captain
Chester, signing his name with a vicious dab of the pen and bringing his
fist down with a thump on the blotting-pad, while he wheeled around in
his chair and looked squarely up into the perturbed features of the
junior.

"No, it wasn't," answered Mr. Hall, in an injured tone, while an
audible snicker at the door added to his sense of discomfort. "What I
mainly wanted was to know could I go to town."

"That matter is easily arranged, Mr. Hall. All you have to do is to get
out of that uncomfortable and unsoldierly position, stand in the
attitude in which you are certainly more at home and infinitely more
picturesque, proffer your request in respectful words, and there is no
question as to the result."

"Oh! you're in command, then?" said Mr. Hall, slowly wriggling into the
position of the soldier and flushing through his bronzed cheeks. "I
thought the colonel might be only gone for a minute."

"The colonel may not be back for a week; but you be here for
dress-parade all the same, and--Mr. Hall!" he called, as the young
officer was turning away. The latter faced about again.

"Was Mr. Jerrold going with you to town?"

"Yes, sir. He was to drive me in his dog-cart, and it's over here now."

"Mr. Jerrold cannot go,--at least not until I have seen him."

"Why, captain, he got the colonel's permission at breakfast this
morning."

"That is true, no doubt, Mr. Hall." And the captain dropped his sharp
and captious manner, and his voice fell, as though in sympathy with the
cloud that settled on his face. "I cannot explain matters just now.
There are reasons why the permission is withdrawn for the time being.
The adjutant will notify him." And Captain Chester turned to his desk
again as the new officer of the day, guard-book in hand, entered to make
his report.

"The usual orders, captain," said Chester, as he took the book from his
hand and looked over the list of prisoners. Then, in bold and rapid
strokes, he wrote across the page the customary certificate of the old
officer of the day, winding up with this remark:

"He also inspected guard and visited sentries between 3 and 3.35 a.m.
The firing at 3.30 a.m. was by his order."

Meantime, those officers who had entered and who had no immediate duty
to perform were standing or seated around the room, but all observing
profound silence. For a moment or two no sound was heard but the
scratching of the captain's pen. Then, with some embarrassment and
hesitancy, he laid it down and glanced around him.

"Has any one here anything to ask,--any business to transact?"

Two or three mentioned some routine matters that required the action of
the post-commander, but did so reluctantly, as though they preferred to
await the orders of the colonel himself. Captain Wilton, indeed, spoke
his sentiments:

"I wanted to see Colonel Maynard about getting two men of my company
relieved from extra duty; but, as he isn't here, I fancy I had better
wait."

"Not at all. Who are your men?--Have it done at once, Mr. Adjutant, and
supply their places from my company, if need be. Now is there anything
else?"

The group was apparently "nonplussed," as the adjutant afterwards put
it, by such unlooked-for complaisance on the part of the usually
crotchety senior captain. Still, no one offered to lead the others and
leave the room. After a moment's nervous rapping with his knuckles on
the desk, Captain Chester again abruptly spoke:

"Gentlemen, I am sorry to incommode you, but, if there be nothing more
that you desire to see me about, I shall go on with some other matters,
which--pardon me--do not require your presence."

At this very broad hint the party slowly found their legs, and with much
wonderment and not a few resentful glances at their temporary commander
the officers sauntered to the door-way. There, however, several stopped
again, still reluctant to leave in the face of so pervading a mystery,
for Wilton turned.

"Am I to understand that Colonel Maynard has left the post to be gone
any length of time?" he asked.

"He has not yet gone. I do not know how long he will be gone or how soon
he will start. For pressing personal reasons he has turned over the
command to me; and, if he decide to remain away, of course some
field-officer will be ordered to come to head-quarters. For a day or two
you will have to worry along with me; but I shan't worry you more than I
can help. I've got mystery and mischief enough here to keep me busy, God
knows. Just ask Sloat to come back here to me, will you? And--Wilton, I
did not mean to be abrupt with you. I'm all upset to-day. Mr. Adjutant,
notify Mr. Jerrold at once that he must not leave the post until I have
seen him. It is the colonel's last order. Tell him so."



II.


The night before had been unusually dark. A thick veil of clouds
overspread the heavens and hid the stars. Moon there was none, for the
faint silver crescent that gleamed for a moment through the
swift-sailing wisps of vapor had dropped beneath the horizon soon after
tattoo, and the mournful strains of "taps," borne on the rising wind,
seemed to signal "extinguish lights" to the entire firmament as well as
to Fort Sibley. There was a dance of some kind at the quarters of one of
the staff-officers living far up the row on the southern terrace.
Chester heard the laughter and chat as the young officers and their
convoy of matrons and maids came tripping homeward after midnight. He
was a crusty old bachelor, to use his own description, and rarely
ventured into these scenes of social gayety, and, besides, he was
officer of the day, and it was a theory he was fond of expounding to
juniors that when on guard no soldier should permit himself to be drawn
from the scene of his duties. With his books and his pipe Chester whiled
away the lonely hours of the early night, and wondered if the wind would
blow up a rain or disperse the clouds entirely. Towards one o'clock a
light, bounding footstep approached his door, and the portal flew open
as a trim-built young fellow with laughing eyes and an air of exuberant
health and spirits came briskly in. It was Rollins, the junior second
lieutenant of the regiment, and Chester's own and only pet,--so said the
envious others. He was barely a year out of leading-strings at the
Point, and as full of hope and pluck and mischief as a colt. Moreover,
he was frank and teachable, said Chester, and didn't come to him with
the idea that he had nothing to learn and less to do. The boy won upon
his gruff captain from the very start, and, to the incredulous delight
of the whole regiment, within six months the old cynic had taken him
into his heart and home, and Mr. Rollins occupied a pleasant room under
Chester's roof-tree, and was the sole accredited sharer of the captain's
mess. To a youngster just entering service, whose ambition it was to
stick to business and make a record for zeal and efficiency, these were
manifest advantages. There were men in the regiment to whom such close
communion with a watchful senior would have been most embarrassing, and
Mr. Rollins's predecessor as second lieutenant of Chester's company was
one of these. Mr. Jerrold was a happy man when promotion took him from
under the wing of "Crusty Jake" and landed him in Company B. More than
that, it came just at a time when, after four years of loneliness and
isolation at an up-river stockade, his new company and his old one,
together with four others from the regiment, were ordered to join
head-quarters and the band at the most delightful station in the
Northwest. Here Mr. Rollins had reported for duty during the previous
autumn, and here they were with troops of other arms of the service,
enjoying the close proximity of all the good things of civilization.

Chester looked up with a quizzical smile as his "plebe" came in:

"Well, sir, how many dances had you with 'Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt'? Not
many, I fancy, with Mr. Jerrold monopolizing everything, as usual. By
gad! some good fellow could make a colossal fortune in buying that young
man at my valuation and selling him at his own."

"Oh, come, now, captain," laughed Rollins, "Jerrold's no such slouch as
you make him out. He's lazy, and he likes to spoon, and he puts up with
a good deal of petting from the girls,--who wouldn't, if he could get
it?--but he is jolly and big-hearted, and don't put on any airs,--with
us, at least,--and the mess like him first-rate. 'Tain't his fault that
he's handsome and a regular lady-killer. You must admit that he had a
pretty tough four years of it up there at that cussed old Indian
graveyard, and it's only natural he should enjoy getting here, where
there are theatres and concerts and operas and dances and dinners--"

"Yes, dances and dinners and daughters,--all delightful, I know, but no
excuse for a man's neglecting his manifest duty, as he is doing and has
been ever since we got here. Any other time the colonel would have
straightened him out; but no use trying it now, when both women in his
household are as big fools about the man as anybody in town,--bigger,
unless I'm a born idiot." And Chester rose excitedly.

"I suppose he had Miss Renwick pretty much to himself to-night?" he
presently demanded, looking angrily and searchingly at his junior, as
though half expecting him to dodge the question.

"Oh, yes. Why not? It's pretty evident she would rather dance and be
with him than with any one else: so what can a fellow do? Of course we
ask her to dance, and all that, and I think he wants us to; but I cannot
help feeling rather a bore to her, even if she is only eighteen, and
there are plenty of pleasant girls in the garrison who don't get any too
much attention, now we're so near a big city, and I like to be with
them."

"Yes, and it's the _right_ thing for you to do, youngster. That's one
trait I despise in Jerrold. When we were up there at the stockade two
winters ago, and Captain Gray's little girl was there, he hung around
her from morning till night, and the poor little thing fairly beamed and
blossomed with delight. Look at her now, man! He don't go near her. He
hasn't had the decency to take her a walk, a drive, or anything, since
we got here. He began, from the moment we came, with that gang in town.
He was simply devoted to Miss Beaubien until Alice Renwick came; then he
dropped her like a hot brick. By the Eternal, Rollins, he hasn't gotten
off with _that_ old love yet, you mark my words. There's Indian blood in
her veins, and a look in her eye that makes me wriggle, sometimes. I
watched her last night at parade when she drove out here with that
copper-faced old squaw, her mother. For all her French and Italian
education and her years in New York and Paris, that girl's got a wild
streak in her somewhere. She sat there watching him as the officers
marched to the front, and then _her_, as he went up and joined Miss
Renwick; and there was a gleam of her white teeth and a flash in her
black eyes that made me think of the leap of a knife from the sheath.
Not but what 'twould serve him right if she did play him some devil's
trick. It's his own doing. Were any people out from town?" he suddenly
asked.

"Yes, half a dozen or so," answered Mr. Rollins, who was pulling off his
boots and inserting his feet into easy slippers, while old "Crusty"
tramped excitedly up and down the floor. "Most of them stayed out here,
I think. Only one team went back across the bridge."

"Whose was that?"

"The Suttons', I believe. Young Cub Sutton was out with his sister and
another girl."

"There's another damned fool!" growled Chester. "That boy has ten
thousand a year of his own, a beautiful home that will be his, a doting
mother and sister, and everything wealth can buy, and yet, by gad! he's
unhappy because he can't be a poor devil of a lieutenant, with nothing
but drills, debts, and rifle-practice to enliven him. That's what brings
him out here all the time. He'd swap places with you in a minute. Isn't
he very thick with Jerrold?"

"Oh, yes, rather. Jerrold entertains him a good deal."

"Which is returned with compound interest, I'll bet you. Mr. Jerrold
simply makes a convenience of him. He won't make love to his sister,
because the poor, rich, unsophisticated girl is as ugly as she is
ubiquitous. His majesty is fastidious, you see, and seeks only the
caress of beauty, and while he lives there at the Suttons' when he goes
to town, and dines and sleeps and smokes and wines there, and uses their
box at the opera-house, and is courted and flattered by the old lady
because dear Cubby worships the ground he walks on and poor Fanny Sutton
thinks him adorable, he turns his back on the girl at every dance
because she _can't_ dance, and leaves her to you fellows who have a
conscience and some idea of decency. He gives all _his_ devotions to
Nina Beaubien, who dances like a _coryphée_, and drops _her_ when Alice
Renwick comes with her glowing Spanish beauty. Oh, damn it, I'm an old
fool to get worked up over it as I do, but you young fellows don't see
what I see. You haven't seen what I've seen; and pray God you never may!
That's where the shoe pinches, Rollins. It is what he _reminds_ me
of--not so much what he _is_, I suppose--that I get rabid about. He is
for all the world like a man we had in the old regiment when you were in
swaddling-clothes; and I never look at Mamie Gray's sad, white face that
it doesn't bring back a girl I knew just then whose heart was broken by
just such a shallow, selfish, adorable scoun--No, I won't use _that_
word in speaking of Jerrold; but it's what I fear. Rollins, you call him
generous. Well, so he is,--_lavish_, if you like, with his money and his
hospitality here in the post. Money comes easily to him, and goes; but
you boys misuse the term. _I_ call him selfish to the core, because he
can deny himself no luxury, no pleasure, though it may wring a woman's
life--or, more than that, her honor--to give it him." The captain was
tramping up and down the room now, as was his wont when excited; his
face was flushed, and his hand clinched. He turned suddenly and faced
the younger officer, who sat gazing uncomfortably at the rug in front of
the fireplace.

"Rollins, some day I may tell you a story that I've kept to myself all
these years. You won't wonder at my feeling as I do about these
goings-on of your friend Jerrold when you hear it all, but it was just
such a man as he who ruined one woman, broke the heart of another, and
took the sunshine out of the life of two men from that day to this. One
of them was your colonel, the other your captain. Now go to bed. I'm
going out." And, throwing down his pipe, regardless of the scattering
sparks and ashes, Captain Chester strode into the hall-way, picked up
the first forage-cap he laid hands on, and banged himself out of the
front door.

Mr. Rollins remained for some moments in the same attitude, still gazing
abstractedly at the rug, and listening to the nervous tramp of his
senior officer on the piazza without. Then he slowly and thoughtfully
went to his room, where his perturbed spirit was soon soothed in sleep.
His conscience being clear and his health perfect, there were no deep
cares to keep him tossing on a restless pillow.

To Chester, however, sleep was impossible: he tramped the piazza a full
hour before he felt placid enough to go and inspect his guard. The
sentries were calling three o'clock, and the wind had died away, as he
started on his round. Dark as was the night, he carried no lantern. The
main garrison was well lighted by lamps, and the road circling the old
fort was broad, smooth, and bordered by a stone coping wall where it
skirted the precipitous descent into the river-bottom. As he passed down
the plank walk west of the quadrangle wherein lay the old barracks and
the stone quarters of the commanding officer and the low one-storied row
of bachelor dens, he could not help noting the silence and peace of the
night. Not a light was visible at any window as he strode down the line.
The challenge of the sentry at the old stone tower sounded unnecessarily
sharp and loud, and his response of "Officer of the day" was lower than
usual, as though rebuking the unseemly outcry. The guard came scrambling
out and formed hurriedly to receive him, but the captain's inspection
was of the briefest kind. Barely glancing along the prison corridor to
see that the bars were in place, he turned back into the night, and made
for the line of posts along the river-bank. The sentry at the high
bridge across the gorge, and the next one, well around to the southeast
flank, were successively visited and briefly questioned as to their
instructions, and then the captain plodded sturdily on until he came to
the sharp bend around the outermost angle of the fort and found himself
passing behind the quarters of the commanding officer, a substantial
two-storied stone house with mansard roof and dormer-windows. The road
in the rear was some ten feet below the level of the parade inside the
quadrangle, and consequently, as the house faced the parade, what was
the ground-floor from that front became the second story at the rear.
The kitchen, store-room, and servants' rooms were on this lower stage,
and opened upon the road; an outer stairway ran up to the centre door at
the back, but at the east and west flanks of the house the stone walls
stood without port or window except those above the eaves,--the dormers.
Light and air in abundance streamed through the broad Venetian windows
north and south when light and air were needed. This night, as usual,
all was tightly closed below, all darkness aloft as he glanced up at the
dormers high above his head. As he did so, his foot struck a sudden and
sturdy obstacle; he stumbled and pitched heavily forward, and found
himself sprawling at full length upon a ladder lying on the ground
almost in the middle of the roadway.

"Damn those painters!" he growled between his set teeth. "They leave
their infernal man-traps around in the very hope of catching me, I
believe. Now, who but a painter would have left a ladder in such a place
as this?"

Rising ruefully and rubbing a bruised knee with his hand, he limped
painfully ahead a few steps, until he came to the side-wall of the
colonel's house. Here a plank walk passed from the roadway along the
western wall until almost on a line with the front piazza, where by a
flight of steps it was carried up to the level of the parade. Here he
paused a moment to dust off his clothes and rearrange his belt and
sword. He stood leaning against the wall and facing the gray stone gable
end of the row of old-fashioned quarters that bounded the parade upon
the southwest. All was still darkness and silence.

"Confound this sword!" he muttered again: "the thing made rattle and
racket enough to wake the dead. Wonder if I disturbed anybody at the
colonel's."

As though in answer to his suggestion, there suddenly appeared, high on
the blank wall before him, the reflection of a faint light. Had a little
night-lamp been turned on in the front room of the upper story? The
gleam came from the north window on the side: he saw plainly the shadow
of the pretty lace curtains, looped loosely back. Then the shade was
gently raised, and there was for an instant the silhouette of a slender
hand and wrist, the shadow of a lace-bordered sleeve. Then the light
receded, as though carried back across the room, waned, as though slowly
extinguished, and the last shadows showed the curtains still looped
back, the rolling shade still raised.

"I thought so," he growled. "One tumble like that is enough to wake the
Seven Sleepers, let alone a love-sick girl who is probably dreaming over
Jerrold's parting words. She is spirited and blue-blooded enough to have
more sense, too, that same superb brunette. Ah, Miss Alice, I wonder if
you think that fellow's love worth having. It is two hours since he left
you,--more than that,--and here you are awake yet,--cannot sleep,--want
more air, and have to come and raise your shade. No such warm night,
either." These were his reflections as he picked up his offending sword
and, more slowly and cautiously now, groped his way along the western
terrace. He passed the row of bachelor quarters, and was well out beyond
the limits of the fort before he came upon the next sentry,--"Number
Five,"--and recognized, in the stern "Who comes there?" and the sharp
rattle of the bayonet as it dropped to the charge, the well-known
challenge of Private Leary, one of the oldest and most reliable soldiers
in the regiment.

"All right on your post, Leary?" he asked, after having given the
countersign.

"All right, I _think_, sor; though if the captain had asked me that half
an hour ago I'd not have said so. It was so dark I couldn't see me hand
afore me face, sor; but about half-past two I was walkin' very slow down
back of the quarters, whin just close by Loot'nant Jerrold's back gate I
seen somethin' movin', and as I come softly along it riz up, an' sure I
thought 'twas the loot'nant himself, whin he seemed to catch sight o' me
or hear me, and he backed inside the gate an' shut it. I was sure 'twas
he, he was so tall and slim like, an' so I niver said a word until I got
to thinkin' over it, and then I couldn't spake. Sure if it had been the
loot'nant he wouldn't have backed away from a sintry; he'd 'a' come out
bold and given the countersign; but I didn't think o' that. It looked
like him in the dark, an' 'twas his quarters, an' I thought it _was_
him, until I thought ag'in, and then, sor, I wint back and searched the
yard; but there was no one there."

"Hm! Odd thing that, Leary! Why didn't you challenge at first?"

"Sure, sor, he lept inside the fince quick as iver we set eyes on each
other. He was bendin' down, and I thought it was one of the hound pups
when I first sighted him."

"And he hasn't been around since?"

"No, sor, nor nobody, till the officer of the day came along."

Chester walked away puzzled. Sibley was a most quiet and orderly
garrison. Night prowlers had never been heard from, especially over here
at the south and southwest fronts. The enlisted men going to or from
town passed across the big, high bridge or went at once to their own
quarters on the east and north. This southwestern terrace behind the
bachelors' row was the most secluded spot on the whole post,--so much so
that when a fire broke out there among the fuel-heaps one sharp winter's
night a year agone it had wellnigh enveloped the whole line before its
existence was discovered. Indeed, not until after this occurrence was a
sentry posted on that front at all; and, once ordered there, he had so
little to do and was so comparatively sure to be undisturbed that the
old soldiers eagerly sought the post in preference to any other, and
were given it as a peace privilege. For months, relief after relief
tramped around the fort and found the terrace post as humdrum and silent
as an empty church; but this night "Number Five" leaped suddenly into
notoriety.

Instead of going home, Chester kept on across the plateau and took a
long walk on the northern side of the reservation, where the
quarter-master's stables and corrals were placed. He was affected by a
strange unrest. His talk with Rollins had roused the memories of years
long gone by,--of days when he, too, was young and full of hope and
faith, ay, full of love,--all lavished on one fair girl who knew it
well, but gently, almost entreatingly, repelled him. Her heart was
wrapped up in another, the Adonis of his day in the gay old seaboard
garrison. She was a soldier's child, barrack-born, simply taught,
knowing little of the vice and temptations, the follies and the frauds,
of the whirling life of civilization. A good and gentle mother had
reared her and been called hence. Her father, an officer whose sabre-arm
was left at Molino del Rey, and whose heart was crushed when the loving
wife was taken from him, turned to the child who so resembled her, and
centred there all his remaining love and life. He welcomed Chester to
his home, and tacitly favored his suit, but in his blindness never saw
how a few moonlit strolls on the old moss-grown parapet, a few evening
dances in the casemates with handsome, wooing, winning Will Forrester,
had done their work. She gave him all the wild, enthusiastic,
worshipping love of her girlish heart just about the time Captain and
Mrs. Maynard came back from leave, and then he grew cold and negligent
_there_, but lived at Maynard's fireside; and one day there came a
sensation,--a tragedy,--and Mrs. Maynard went away, and died abroad, and
a shocked and broken-hearted girl hid her face from all and pined at
home, and Mr. Forrester's resignation was sent from--no one knew just
where, and no one would have cared to know, except Maynard. He would
have followed him, pistol in hand, but Forrester gave him no chance.
Years afterwards Chester again sought her and offered her his love and
his name. It was useless, she told him, sadly. She lived only for her
father now, and would never leave him till he died, and then--she prayed
she might go too. Memories like this _will_ come up at such times in
these same "still watches of the night." Chester was in a moody frame of
mind when about half an hour later he came back past the guard-house.
The sergeant was standing near the lighted entrance, and the captain
called him:

"There's a ladder lying back of the colonel's quarters on the roadway.
Some of those painters left it, I suppose. It's a wonder some of the
reliefs have not broken their necks over it going around to-night. Let
the next one pick it up and move it out of the way. Hasn't it been
reported?"

"Not to me, sir. Corporal Schreiber has command of this relief, and he
has said nothing about it. Here he is, sir."

"Didn't you see it or stumble over it when posting your relief,
corporal?" asked Chester.

"No indeed, sir. I--I think the captain must have been mistaken in
thinking it a ladder. We would surely have struck it if it had been."

"No mistake at all, corporal. I lifted it. It is a long, heavy
ladder,--over twenty feet, I should say."

"There _is_ such a ladder back there, captain," said the sergeant, "but
it always hangs on the fence just behind the young officers'
quarters,--Bachelors' Row, sir, I mean."

"And that ladder was there an hour ago when I went my rounds," said the
corporal, earnestly. "I had my hurricane-lamp, sir, and saw it on the
fence plainly. And there was nothing behind the colonel's at that hour."

Chester turned away, thoughtful and silent. Without a word he walked
straight into the quadrangle, past the low line of stone buildings, the
offices of the adjutant and quartermaster, the home of the
sergeant-major, the club and billiard-room, past the long, piazza-shaded
row of bachelor quarters, and came upon the plank walk at the corner of
the colonel's fence. Ten more steps, and he stood stock-still at the
head of the flight of wooden stairs.

There, dimly visible against the southern sky, its base on the plank
walk below him, its top resting upon the eaves midway between the
dormer-window and the roof of the piazza, so that one could step easily
from it into the one or on to the other, was the very ladder that half
an hour before was lying on the ground behind the house.

His heart stood still. He seemed powerless to move,--even to think. Then
a slight noise roused him, and with every nerve tingling he crouched
ready for a spring. With quick, agile movements, noiseless as a cat,
sinuous and stealthy as a serpent, the dark figure of a man issued from
Alice Renwick's chamber window and came gliding down.

One second more, and, almost as noiselessly, he reached the ground, then
quickly raised and turned the ladder, stepped with it to the edge of
the roadway, and peered around the angle as though to see that no sentry
was in sight, then vanished with his burden around the corner. Another
second, and down the steps went Chester, three at a bound, tip-toeing it
in pursuit. Ten seconds brought him close to the culprit,--a tall,
slender shadow.

"You villain! Halt!"

Down went the ladder on the dusty road. The hand that Chester had
clinched upon the broad shoulder was hurled aside. There was a sudden
whirl, a lightning blow that took the captain full in the chest and
staggered him back upon the treacherous and entangling rungs, and, ere
he could recover himself, the noiseless stranger had fairly whizzed into
space and vanished in the darkness up the road. Chester sprang in
pursuit. He heard the startled challenge of the sentry, and then Leary's
excited "Halt, I say! Halt!" and then he shouted,--

"Fire on him, Leary! Bring him down!"

Bang went the ready rifle with sharp, sullen roar that woke the echoes
across the valley. Bang again, as Leary sent a second shot after the
first. Then, as the captain came panting to the spot, they followed up
the road. No sign of the runner. Attracted by the shots, the sergeant of
the guard and one or two men, lantern-bearing, came running to the
scene. Excitedly they searched up and down the road in mingled hope and
dread of finding the body of the marauder, or some clue or trace.
Nothing! Whoever he was, the fleet runner had vanished and made good his
escape.

"Who could it have been, sir?" asked the sergeant of the officer of the
day. "Surely none of the men ever come round this way."

"I don't know, sergeant; I don't know. Just take your lamp and see if
there is anything visible down there among the rocks. He may have been
hit and leaped the wall.--Do you think you hit him, Leary?"

"I can't say, sor. He came by me like a flash. I had just a second's
look at him, and--Sure I niver saw such runnin'."

"Could you see his face?" asked Chester, in a low tone, as the other men
moved away to search the rocks.

"Not his face, sor. 'Twas too dark."

"Was there--did he look like anybody you knew, or had seen?--anybody in
the command?"

"Well, sor, not among the men, that is. There's none so tall and slim
both, and so light. Sure he must 'a' worn gums, sor. You couldn't hear
the whisper of a footfall."

"But whom did he _seem_ to resemble?"

"Well, if the captain will forgive me, sor, it's unwillin' I am to say
the worrd, but there's no one that tall and light and slim here, sor,
but Loot'nant Jerrold. Sure it couldn't be him, sor."

"Leary, will you promise me something on your word as a man?"

"I will, sor."

"Say not one word of this matter to any one, except I tell you, or you
have to, before a court."

"I promise, sor."

"And I believe you. Tell the sergeant I will soon be back."

With that he turned and walked down the road until once more he came to
the plank crossing and the passage-way between the colonel's and
Bachelors' Row. Here again he stopped short, and waited with bated
breath and scarcely-beating heart. The faint light he had seen before
again illumined the room and cast its gleam upon the old gray wall. Even
as he gazed, there came silently to the window a tall, white-robed form,
and a slender white hand seized and lowered the shade, noiselessly.
Then, as before, the light faded away; but--she was awake.

Waiting one moment in silence, Captain Chester then sprang up the wooden
steps and passed under the piazza which ran the length of the bachelor
quarters. Half-way down the row he turned sharply to his left, opened
the green-painted door, and stood in a little dark hall-way. Taking his
match-box from his pocket, he struck a light, and by its glare quickly
read the card upon the first door-way to his right:

                         "MR. HOWARD F. JERROLD,

                                 "----_th Infantry, U.S.A._"

Opening this door, he bolted straight through the little parlor to the
bedroom in the rear. A dim light was burning on the mantel. The bed was
unruffled, untouched, and Mr. Jerrold was not there.

Five minutes afterwards, Captain Chester, all alone, had laboriously and
cautiously dragged the ladder from the side to the rear of the colonel's
house, stretched it in the roadway where he had first stumbled upon it,
then returned to the searching-party on "Number Five."

"Send two men to put that ladder back," he ordered. "It is where I told
you,--on the road behind the colonel's."



III.


When Mrs. Maynard came to Sibley in May and the officers with their
wives were making their welcoming call, she had with motherly pride and
pleasure yielded to their constant importunities and shown to one party
after another an album of photographs,--likenesses of her only daughter.
There were little _cartes de visite_ representing her in long dresses
and baby-caps; quaint little pictures of a chubby-faced, chubby-legged
infant a few months older; charming studies of a little girl with great
black eyes and delicate features; then of a tall, slender slip of a
maiden, decidedly foreign-looking; then of a sweet and pensive face,
with great dark eyes, long, beautiful curling lashes, and very heavy,
low-arched brows, exquisitely moulded mouth and chin, and most luxuriant
dark hair; then others, still older, in every variety of dress,--even in
fancy costume, such as the girl had worn at fair or masquerade. These
and others still had Mrs. Maynard shown them, with repressed pride and
pleasure and with sweet acknowledgment of their enthusiastic praises.
Alice still tarried in the East, visiting relatives whom she had not
seen since her father's death three years earlier, and, long before she
came to join her mother at Sibley and to enter upon the life she so
eagerly looked forward to, "'way out in the West, you know, with
officers and soldiers and the band, and buffalo and Indians all around
you," there was not an officer or an officer's wife who had not
delightedly examined that album. There was still another picture, but
that one had been shown to only a chosen few just one week after her
daughter's arrival, and rather an absurd scene had occurred, in which
that most estimable officer, Lieutenant Sloat, had figured as the hero.
A more simple-minded, well-intentioned fellow than Sloat there did not
live. He was so full of kindness and good nature and readiness to do
anything for anybody that it never seemed to occur to him that everybody
on earth was not just as ready to be equally accommodating. He was a
perpetual source of delight to the colonel, and one of the most loyal
and devoted of subalterns, despite the fact that his locks were long
silvered with the frosts of years and that he had fought through the war
of the rebellion and risen to the rank of a field-officer in Maynard's
old brigade. The most temperate of men, ordinarily, the colonel had one
anniversary he loved to celebrate, and Sloat was his stand-by when the
3d of July came round, just as he had been at his shoulder at that
supreme moment when, heedless of the fearful sweep of shell and canister
through their shattered ranks, Pickett's heroic Virginians breasted the
slope of Cemetery Hill and surged over the low stone wall into Cushing's
guns. Hard, stubborn fighting had Maynard's men to do that day, and for
serene courage and determination no man had beaten Sloat. Both officers
had bullet-hole mementos to carry from that field; both had won their
brevets for conspicuous gallantry, and Sloat was a happy and grateful
man when, years afterwards, his old commander secured him a lieutenancy
in the regular service. He was the colonel's henchman, although he never
had brains enough to win a place on the regimental staff, and when Mrs.
Maynard came he overwhelmed her with cumbrous compliments and incessant
calls. He was, to his confident belief, her chosen and accepted knight
for full two days after her arrival. Then Jerrold came back from a brief
absence, and, as in duty bound, went to pay his respects to his
colonel's wife; and that night there had been a singular scene. Mrs.
Maynard had stopped suddenly in her laughing chat with two ladies, had
started from her seat, wildly staring at the tall, slender subaltern who
entered the gateway, and then fell back in her chair, fairly swooning as
he made his bow.

Sloat had rushed into the house to call the colonel and get some water,
while Mr. Jerrold stood paralyzed at so strange a reception of his first
call. Mrs. Maynard revived presently, explained that it was her heart,
or the heat, or something, and the ladies on their way home decided that
it was possibly the heart, it was certainly not the heat, it was
unquestionably something, and that something was Mr. Jerrold, for she
never took her eyes off him during the entire evening, and seemed unable
to shake off the fascination. Next day Jerrold dined there, and from
that time on he was a daily visitor. Every one noted Mrs. Maynard's
strong interest in him, but no one could account for it. She was old
enough to be his mother, said the garrison; but not until Alice Renwick
came did another consideration appear: he was singularly like the
daughter. Both were tall, lithe, slender; both had dark, lustrous eyes,
dark, though almost perfect, skin, exquisitely-chiselled features, and
slender, shapely hands and feet. Alice was "the picture of her father,"
said Mrs. Maynard, and Mr. Renwick had lived all his life in New York;
while Mr. Jerrold was of an old Southern family, and his mother a Cuban
beauty who was the toast of the New Orleans clubs not many years before
the war.

Poor Sloat! He did not fancy Jerrold, and was as jealous as so
unselfish a mortal could be of the immediate ascendency the young fellow
established in the colonel's household. It was bad enough before Alice
joined them; after that it was wellnigh unbearable. Then came the
3d-of-July dinner and the colonel's one annual jollification. No man
ever heard of Sloat's being intoxicated; he rarely drank at all; but
this evening the reminiscences of the day, the generous wine, the
unaccustomed elegance of all his surroundings, due to Mrs. Maynard's
taste and supervision, and the influence of Alice Kenwick's exquisite
beauty, had fairly carried him away.

They were chatting in the parlor, while Miss Renwick was entertaining
some young-lady friends from town and listening to the band on the
parade. Sloat was expatiating on her grace and beauty and going over the
album for the twentieth time, when the colonel, with a twinkling eye,
remarked to Mrs. Maynard,--

"I think you ought to show Major[A] Sloat the 'Directoire' picture, my
dear."

"Alice would never forgive me," said madame, laughing; "though I
consider it the most beautiful we have of her."

"Oh, where is it?" "Oh, do let us see it, Mrs. Maynard!" was the chorus
of exclamations from the few ladies present. "Oh, I _insist_ on seeing
it, madame," was Sloat's characteristic contribution to the clamor.

"I want you to understand it," said Mrs. Maynard, pleased, but still
hesitating. "We are very daft about Alice at home, you know, and it's
quite a wonder she has not been utterly spoiled by her aunts and uncles;
but this picture was a specialty. An artist friend of ours fairly _made_
us have it taken in the wedding-dress worn by her grandmother. You know
the Josephine Beauharnais 'Directoire' style that was worn in seventeen
ninety-something. Her neck and shoulders are lovely, and that was why we
consented. I went, and so did the artist, and we posed her, and the
photograph is simply perfect of her face, and neck too, but when Alice
saw it she blushed furiously and forbade my having them finished.
Afterwards, though, she yielded when her aunt Kate and I begged so hard
and promised that none should be given away, and so just half a dozen
were finished. Indeed, the dress is by no means as _décolleté_ as many
girls wear theirs at dinner now in New York; but poor Alice was
scandalized when she saw it last month, and she never would let me put
one in the album."

"Oh, _do_ go and get it, Mrs. Maynard!" pleaded the ladies. "Oh,
_please_ let me see it, Mrs. Maynard!" added Sloat; and at last the
mother-pride prevailed. Mrs. Maynard rustled up-stairs, and presently
returned holding in her hands a delicate silver frame in filigree-work,
a quaint foreign affair, and enclosed therein was a cabinet photograph
_en vignette_,--the head, neck, and shoulders of a beautiful girl; and
the dainty, diminutive, what-there-was-of-it waist of the old-fashioned
gown, sashed almost immediately under the exquisite bust, revealed quite
materially the cause of Alice Renwick's blushes. But a more beautiful
portrait was never photographed. The women fairly gasped with delight
and envy. Sloat could not restrain his impatience to get it in his own
hands, and finally he grasped it and then eyed it in rapture. It was two
minutes before he spoke a word, while the colonel sat laughing at his
worshipping gaze. Mrs. Maynard somewhat uneasily stretched forth her
hand, and the other ladies impatiently strove to regain possession.

"Come, Major Sloat, you've surely had it long enough. _We_ want it
again."

"Never!" said Sloat, with melodramatic intensity. "Never! This is my
ideal of perfection,--of divinity in woman. I will bear it home with me,
set it above my fireside, and adore it day and night."

"Nonsense, Major Sloat!" said Mrs. Maynard, laughing, yet far from being
at her ease. "Come, I _must_ take it back. Alice may be in any minute
now, and if she knew I had betrayed her she would never forgive me.
Come, surrender!" And she strove to take it from him.

But Sloat was in one of his utterly asinine moods. He would have been
perfectly willing to give any sum he possessed for so perfect a picture
as this. He never dreamed that there were good and sufficient reasons
why _no_ man should have it. He so loved and honored his colonel that he
was ready to lay down his life for any of his household. In laying claim
to this picture he honestly believed that it was the highest proof he
could give of his admiration and devotion. A tame surrender now meant
that his protestations were empty words. "Therefore," argued Sloat, "I
must stand firm."

"Madame," said he, "I'd die first." And with that he began backing to
the door.

Alarmed now, Mrs. Maynard sprang after him, and the little major leaped
upon a chair, his face aglow, jolly, rubicund, beaming with bliss and
triumph. She looked up, almost wringing her hands, and turned half
appealingly to the colonel, who was laughing heartily on the sofa, never
dreaming Sloat could be in earnest.

"Here, I'll give you back the frame: I don't want that," said Sloat, and
began fumbling at the back of the photograph. This was too much for the
ladies. They, too, rushed to the rescue. One of them sprang to and shut
the door, the other seized and violently shook the back of his chair,
and Sloat leaped to the floor, still clinging to his prize, and laughing
as though he had never had so much entertainment in his life. The long
Venetian windows opened upon the piazza, and towards the nearest one he
retreated, holding aloft the precious gage and waving off the attacking
party with the other hand. He was within a yard of the blinds, when they
were suddenly thrown open, a tall, slender form stepped quickly in, one
hand seized the uplifted wrist, the other the picture, and in far less
time than it takes to tell it Mr. Jerrold had wrenched it away and, with
quiet bow, restored it to its rightful owner.

"Oh, I say, now, Jerrold, that's downright unhandsome of you!" gasped
Sloat. "I'd have been on my way home with it."

"Shut up, you fool!" was the sharp, hissing whisper. "Wait till I go
home, if you want to talk about it." And, as quickly as he came, Mr.
Jerrold slipped out again upon the piazza.

Of course the story was told with varied comment all over the post.
Several officers were injudicious enough to chaff the old subaltern
about it, and--he was a little sore-headed the next day, anyway--the
usually placid Sloat grew the more indignant at Jerrold. He decided to
go and upbraid him; and, as ill luck would have it, they met before noon
on the steps of the club-room.

"I want to say to you, Mr. Jerrold, that from an officer of your age to
one of mine I think your conduct last night a piece of impertinence."

"I had a perfect right to do what I did," replied Jerrold, coolly. "You
were taking a most unwarrantable liberty in trying to carry off that
picture."

"How did you know what it was? You had never seen it!"

"There's where you are mistaken, Mr. Sloat" (and Jerrold purposely and
exasperatingly refused to recognize the customary _brevet_): "I had seen
it,--frequently."

Two officers were standing by, and one of them turned sharply and faced
Jerrold as he spoke. It was his former company commander. Jerrold noted
the symptom, and flushed, but set his teeth doggedly.

"Why, Mr. Jerrold! Mrs. Maynard said she never showed that to any one,"
said Sloat, in much surprise. "You heard her, did you not, Captain
Chester?"

"I did, certainly," was the reply.

"All the same, I repeat what I've said," was Jerrold's sullen answer. "I
have seen it frequently, and, what's more--" He suddenly stopped.

"Well, what's more?" said Sloat, suggestively.

"Never mind. I don't care to talk of the matter," replied Jerrold, and
started to walk away.

But Sloat was angry, nettled, jealous. He had meant to show his intense
loyalty and admiration for everything that was his colonel's, and had
been snubbed and called a fool by an officer many years, though not so
many "files," his junior. He never had liked him, and now there was an
air of conscious superiority about Jerrold that fairly exasperated him.
He angrily followed and called to him to stop, but Jerrold walked on.
Captain Chester stood still and watched them. The little man had almost
to run before he overtook the tall one. They were out of earshot when he
finally did so. There were a few words on both sides. Then Jerrold
shifted his light cane into his left hand, and Chester started forward,
half expecting a fracas. To his astonishment, the two officers shook
hands and parted.

"Well," said he, as Sloat came back with an angry yet bewildered face,
"I'm glad you shook hands. I almost feared a row, and was just going to
stop it. So he apologized, did he?"

"No, nothing like it."

"Then what did you mean by shaking hands?"

"That's nothing--never you mind," said Sloat, confusedly. "I haven't
forgiven him, by a good deal. The man's conceit is enough to disgust
anything--but a woman, I suppose," he finished, ruefully.

"Well, it's none of my business, Sloat, but pardon my saying I don't see
what there was to bring about the apparent reconciliation. That
hand-shake meant something."

"Oh, well--damn it! we had some words, and he--or I--Well, there's a
bet, and we shook hands on it."

"Seems to me that's pretty serious business, Sloat,--a bet following
such a talk as you two have had. I hope--"

"Well, captain," interrupted Sloat, "I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't
been mad as blazes; but I made it, and must stick to it,--that's all."

"You wouldn't mind telling me what it was, I suppose?"

"I can't; and that ends it."

Captain Chester found food for much thought and speculation over this
incident. So far as he was concerned, the abrupt remark of Sloat by no
means ended it. In his distrust of Jerrold, he too had taken alarm at
the very substantial intimacy to which that young man was welcomed at
the colonel's quarters. Prior to his marriage old Maynard had not liked
him at all, but it was mainly because he had been so negligent of his
duties and so determined a beau in city society after his arrival at
Sibley. He had, indeed, threatened to have him transferred to a company
still on frontier service if he did not reform; but then the
rifle-practice season began, and Jerrold was a capital shot and sure to
be on the list of competitors for the Department team, so what was the
use? He would be ordered in for the rifle-camp anyway, and so the
colonel decided to keep him at head-quarters. This was in the summer of
the year gone by. Then came the colonel's long leave, his visit to
Europe, his meeting with his old friend, now the widow of the lamented
Renwick, their delightful winter together in Italy, his courtship, her
consent, their marriage and return to America. When Maynard came back to
Sibley and the old regiment, he was so jolly and content that every man
was welcomed at his house, and it was really a source of pride and
pleasure to him that his accomplished wife should find any of his young
officers so thoroughly agreeable as she pronounced Mr. Jerrold. Others
were soldierly, courteous, well bred, but he had the air of a foreign
court about him, she privately informed her lord; and it seems, indeed,
that in days gone by Mr. Jerrold's father had spent many years in France
and Spain, once as his country's representative near the throne. Though
the father died long before the boy was out of his knickerbockers, he
had left the impress of his grand manner, and Jerrold, to women of any
age, was at once a courtier and a knight. But the colonel never saw how
her eyes followed the tall young officer time and again. There were
women who soon noted it, and one of them said it was such a yearning,
longing look. _Was_ Mrs. Maynard really happy? they asked each other.
_Did_ she really want to see Alice mate with him, the handsome, the
dangerous, the selfish fellow they knew him to be? If not, could
anything be more imprudent than that they should be thrown together as
they were being, day after day? Had Alice wealth of her own? If not, did
the mother know that nothing would tempt Howard Jerrold into an alliance
with a dowerless daughter? These, and many more, were questions that
came up every day. The garrison could talk of little else; and Alice
Renwick had been there just three weeks, and was the acknowledged Queen
of Hearts at Sibley, when the rifle-competitions began again, and a
great array of officers and men from all over the Northwest came to the
post by every train, and their canvas tents dotted the broad prairie to
the north.

One lovely evening in August, just before the practice began, Colonel
Maynard took his wife to drive out and see the camp. Mr. Jerrold and
Alice Renwick followed on horseback. The carriage was surrounded as it
halted near the range, and half a score of officers, old and young, were
chatting with Mrs. Maynard, while others gathered about the lovely girl
who sat there in the saddle. There came marching up from the railway a
small squad of soldiers, competitors arriving from the far West. Among
them--apparently their senior non-commissioned officer--was a tall
cavalry sergeant, superbly built, and with a bronzed and bearded and
swarthy face that seemed to tell of years of campaigning over mountain
and prairie. They were all men of perfect physique, all in the neat,
soldierly fatigue-dress of the regular service, some wearing the
spotless white stripes of the infantry, others the less artistic and
equally destructible yellow of the cavalry. Their swinging stride, erect
carriage, and clear and handsome eyes all spoke of the perfection of
health and soldierly development. Curious glances were turned to them as
they advanced, and Miss Renwick, catching sight of the party,
exclaimed,--

"Oh, who are these? And what a tall soldier that sergeant is!"

"That sergeant, Miss Renwick," said a slow, deliberate voice, "is the
man I believe will knock Mr. Jerrold out of the first prize. That is
Sergeant McLeod."

As though he heard his name pronounced, the tall cavalryman glanced for
the first time at the group, brought his rifle to the carry as if about
to salute, and was just stepping upon the roadside, where he came in
full view of the occupants of the carriage, when a sudden pallor shot
across his face, and he plunged heavily forward and went down like a
shot. Sympathetic officers and comrades surrounded the prostrate form in
an instant. The colonel himself sprang from his carriage and joined the
group; a blanket was quickly brought from a neighboring tent, and the
sergeant was borne thither and laid upon a cot. A surgeon felt his pulse
and looked inquiringly around:

"Any of you cavalrymen know him well? Has he been affected this way
before?"

A young corporal who had been bending anxiously over the sergeant
straightened up and saluted:

"I know him well, sir, and have been with him five years. He's only had
one sick spell in all that time,--'twas just like this,--and then he
told me he'd been sunstruck once."

"This is no case of sunstroke," said the doctor. "It looks more like the
heart. How long ago was the attack you speak of?"

"Three years ago last April, sir. I remember it because we'd just got
into Fort Raines after a long scout. He'd been the solidest man in the
troop all through the cold and storm and snow we had in the mountains,
and we were in the reading-room, and he'd picked up a newspaper and was
reading while the rest of us were talking and laughing, and, first thing
we knew, he was down on the floor, just like he was to-night."

"Hm!" said the surgeon. "Yes. That's plenty, steward. Give him that.
Raise his head a little, corporal. Now he'll come round all right."

Driving homeward that night, Colonel Maynard musingly remarked,--

"Did you see that splendid fellow who fainted away?"

"No," answered his wife, "you all gathered about him so quickly and
carried him away. I could not even catch a glimpse of him. But he had
recovered, had he not?"

"Yes. Still, I was thinking what a singular fact it is that occasionally
a man slips through the surgeon's examinations with such a malady as
this. Now, here is one of the finest athletes and shots in the whole
army, a man who has been through some hard service and stirring fights,
has won a tip-top name for himself and was on the highroad to a
commission, and yet this will block him effectually."

"Why, what is the trouble?"

"Some affection of the heart. Why! Halloo! Stop, driver! Orderly, jump
down and run back there. Mrs. Maynard has dropped her fan.--What was it,
dear?" he asked, anxiously. "You started; and you are white, and
trembling."

"I--I don't know, colonel. Let us go home. It will be over in a minute.
Where are Alice and Mr. Jerrold? Call them, please. She must not be out
riding after dark."

But they were not in sight; and it was considerably after dark when they
reached the fort. Mr. Jerrold explained that his horse had picked up a
stone and he had had to walk him all the way.



IV.


There was no sleep for Captain Chester the rest of the night. He went
home, threw off his sword-belt, and seated himself in a big easy-chair
before his fireplace, deep in thought. Once or twice he arose and paced
restlessly up and down the room, as he had done in his excited talk with
Rollins some few hours before. Then he was simply angry and
argumentative,--or declamatory. Now he had settled down into a very
different frame of mind. He seemed awed,--stunned,--crushed. He had all
the bearing and mien of one who, having defiantly predicted a calamity,
was thunderstruck by the verification of his prophecy. In all his
determined arraignment of Mr. Jerrold, in all the harsh things he had
said and thought of him, he had never imagined any such depth of
scoundrelism as the revelations of the night foreshadowed. Chester
differed from many of his brotherhood: there was no room for rejoicing
in his heart that the worst he had ever said of Jerrold was unequal to
the apparent truth. He took no comfort to his soul that those who called
him cynical, crabbed, unjust, even malicious, would now be compelled to
admit he was right in his estimate. Like the best of us, Chester could
not ordinarily say "_Vade retro_" to the temptation to think, if not to
say, "Didn't I tell you so?" when in every-day affairs his oft-disputed
views were proved well founded. But in the face of such a catastrophe as
now appeared engulfing the fair fame of his regiment and the honor of
those whom his colonel held dear, Chester could feel only dismay and
grief. What was his duty in the light of the discoveries he had made? To
the best of his belief, he was the only man in the garrison who had
evidence of Jerrold's absence from his own quarters and of the presence
of _some one_ at _her_ window. He had taken prompt measures to prevent
its being suspected by others. He purposely sent his guards to search
along the cliff in the opposite direction while he went to Jerrold's
room and thence back to remove the tell-tale ladder. Should he tell
_any_ one until he had confronted Jerrold with the evidences of his
guilt, and, wringing from him his resignation, send him far from the
post before handing it in? Time and again he wished Frank Armitage were
here. The youngest captain in the regiment, Armitage had been for years
its adjutant and deep in the confidence of Colonel Maynard. He was a
thorough soldier, a strong, self-reliant, courageous man, and one for
whom Chester had ever felt a warm esteem. Armitage was on leave of
absence, however,--had been away some time on account of family matters,
and would not return, it was known, until he had effected the removal of
his mother and sister to the new home he had purchased for them in the
distant East. It was to his company that Jerrold had been promoted, and
there was friction from the very week that the handsome subaltern
joined.

Armitage had long before "taken his measure," and was in no wise pleased
that so lukewarm a soldier should have come to him as senior subaltern.
They had a very plain talk, for Armitage was straightforward as a dart,
and then, as Jerrold showed occasional lapses, the captain shut down on
some of his most cherished privileges, and, to the indignation of
society, the failure of Mr. Jerrold to appear at one or two gatherings
where he was confidently expected was speedily laid at his captain's
door. The recent death of his father kept Armitage from appearing in
public, and, as neither he nor the major (who commanded the regiment
while Maynard was abroad) vouchsafed the faintest explanation, society
was allowed to form its own conclusions, and _did_,--to the effect that
Mr. Jerrold was a wronged and persecuted man. It was just as the
Maynards arrived at Sibley that Armitage departed on his leave, and, to
his unspeakable bliss, Mr. Jerrold succeeded to the command of his
company. This fact, coupled with the charming relations which were
straightway established with the colonel's family, placed him in a
position of independence and gave him opportunities he had never known
before. It was speedily evident that he was neglecting his military
duties,--that Company B was running down much faster than Armitage had
built it up,--and yet no man felt like speaking of it to the colonel,
who saw it only occasionally on dress-parade. Chester had just about
determined to write to Armitage himself and suggest his speedy return,
when this eventful night arrived. Now he fully made up his mind that it
must be done at once, and had seated himself at his desk, when the roar
of the sunrise gun and the blare of the bugles warned him that reveille
had come and he must again go to his guard. Before he returned to his
quarters another complication, even more embarrassing, had arisen, and
the letter to Armitage was postponed.

He had received the "present" of his guard and verified the presence of
all his prisoners, when he saw Major Sloat still standing out in the
middle of the parade, where the adjutant usually received the reports of
the roll-calls. Several company officers, having made their reports,
were scurrying back to quarters for another snooze before breakfast-time
or to get their cup of coffee before going out to the range. Chester
strolled over towards him.

"What's the matter, Sloat?"

"Nothing much. The colonel told me to receive the reveille reports for
Hoyt this week. He's on general court-martial."

"Yes, I know all that. I mean, what are you waiting for?"

"Mr. Jerrold again. There's no report from his company."

"Have you sent to wake him?"

"No; I'll go myself, and do it thoroughly, too." And the little major
turned sharply away and walked direct to the low range of bachelor
quarters, dove under the piazza, and into the green door-way.

Hardly knowing how to explain his action, Chester quickly followed, and
in less than a minute was standing in the self-same parlor which, by the
light of a flickering match, he had searched two hours before. Here he
halted and listened, while Sloat pushed on into the bedroom and was
heard vehemently apostrophizing some sleeper:

"Does the government pay you for this sort of thing, I want to know? Get
up, Jerrold! This is the second time you've cut reveille in ten days.
Get up, I say!" And the major was vigorously shaking at something, for
the bed creaked and groaned.

"Wake up! I say, I'm blowed if I'm going to get up here day after day
and have you sleeping. Wake, Nicodemus! Wake, you snoozing, snoring,
open-mouthed masher. Come, now; I mean it."

A drowsy, disgusted yawn and stretch finally rewarded his efforts. Mr.
Jerrold at last opened his eyes, rolled over, yawned sulkily again, and
tried to evade his persecutor, but to no purpose. Like a little terrier,
Sloat hung on to him and worried and shook.

"Oh, don't! damn it, don't!" growled the victim. "What do you want,
anyway? Has that infernal reveille gone?"

"Yes, and you're absent again, and no report from B Company. By the holy
poker, if you don't turn out and get it and report to me on the parade
I'll spot the whole gang absent, and then no _matinée_ for you to-day,
my buck. Come, out with you! I mean it. Hall says you and he have an
engagement in town; and 'pon my soul I'll bust it if you don't come
out."

And so, growling and complaining, and yet half laughing, Adonis rolled
from his couch and began to get into his clothes. Chester's blood ran
cold, then boiled. Think of a man who could laugh like that,--and
remember! _When_, how, had he returned to the house? Listen!

"Confound you, Sloat, _I_ wouldn't rout _you_ out in this shabby way.
Why couldn't you let a man sleep? I'm tired half to death."

"What have you done to tire you? Slept all yesterday afternoon, and
danced perhaps a dozen times at the doctor's last night. You've had more
sleep than I've had, begad! You took Miss Renwick home before 'twas
over, and mean it was of you, too, with all the fellows that wanted to
dance with her."

"That wasn't my fault: Mrs. Maynard made her promise to be home at
twelve. You old cackler, that's what sticks in your crop yet. You are
persecuting me because they like me so much better than they do you," he
went on, laughingly now. "Come, now, Sloat, confess, it is all because
you're jealous. You couldn't have that picture, and I could."

Chester fairly started. He had urgent need to see this young
gallant,--he was staying for that purpose,--but should he listen to
further talk like this? Too late to move, for Sloat's answer came like a
shot:

"I bet you you _never_ could!"

"But didn't I tell you I had?--a week ago?"

"Ay, but I didn't believe it. You couldn't show it!"

"Pshaw, man! Look here. Stop, though! Remember, _on your honor_, you
never tell."

"On my honor, of course."

"Well, there!"

A drawer was opened. Chester heard a gulp of dismay, of genuine
astonishment and conviction mixed, as Sloat muttered some
half-articulate words and then came into the front room. Jerrold
followed, caught sight of Chester, and stopped short, with sudden and
angry change of color.

"I did not know _you_ were here," he said.

"It was to find where _you_ were that I came," was the quiet answer.

There was a moment's silence. Sloat turned and looked at the two men in
utter surprise. Up to this time he had considered Jerrold's absence from
reveille as a mere dereliction of duty which was ascribable to the
laziness and indifference of the young officer. So far as lay in his
power, he meant to make him attend more strictly to business, and had
therefore come to his quarters and stirred him up. But there was no
thought of any serious trouble in his mind. His talk had all been
roughly good-humored until--until that bet was mentioned, and then it
became earnest. Now, as he glanced from one man to the other, he saw in
an instant that something new--something of unusual gravity--was
impending. Chester, buttoned to the throat in his dark uniform,
accurately gloved and belted, with pale, set, almost haggard face, was
standing by the centre-table under the drop-light. Jerrold, only half
dressed, his feet thrust into slippers, his fingers nervously working at
the studs of his dainty white shirt, had stopped short at his bedroom
door, and, with features that grew paler every second and a dark scowl
on his brow, was glowering at Chester.

"Since when has it been the duty of the officer of the day to come
around and hunt up officers who don't happen to be out at reveille?" he
asked.

"It is not your absence from reveille I want explained, Mr. Jerrold,"
was the cold and deliberate answer. "I wanted you at 3.30 this morning,
and you were not and had not been here."

An unmistakable start and shock; a quick, nervous, hunted glance around
the room, so cold and pallid in the early light of the August morning; a
clutch of Jerrold's slim brown hand at the bared throat. But he rallied
gamely, strode a step forward, and looked his superior full in the face.
Sloat marked the effort with which he cleared away the huskiness that
seemed to clog his larynx, but admired the spunk with which the young
officer returned the senior's shot:

"What is your authority here, I would like to know? What business has
the officer of the day to want me or any other man not on guard?
Captain Chester, you seem to forget that I am no longer your second
lieutenant, and that I am a company commander like yourself. Do you come
by Colonel Maynard's order to search my quarters and question me? If so,
say so at once; if not, get out." And Jerrold's face was growing black
with wrath, and his big lustrous eyes were wide awake now and fairly
snapping.

Chester leaned upon the table and deliberated a moment. He stood there
coldly, distrustfully eying the excited lieutenant, then turned to
Sloat:

"I will be responsible for the roll-call of Company B this morning,
Sloat. I have a matter of grave importance to bring up to this--this
gentleman, and it is of a private nature. Will you let me see him
alone?"

"Sloat," said Jerrold, "don't go yet. I want you to stay. These are my
quarters, and I recognize your right to come here in search of me, since
I was not at reveille; but I want a witness here to bear me out. I'm too
amazed yet--too confounded by this intrusion of Captain Chester's to
grasp the situation. I never heard of such a thing as this. Explain it,
if you can."

"Mr. Jerrold, what I have to ask or say to you concerns you alone. It is
_not_ an official matter. It is as man to man I want to see you, alone
and at once. _Now_ will you let Major Sloat retire?"

Silence for a moment. The angry flush on Jerrold's face was dying away,
and in its place an ashen pallor was spreading from throat to brow; his
lips were twitching ominously. Sloat looked in consternation at the
sudden change.

"Shall I go?" he finally asked.

Jerrold looked long, fixedly, searchingly in the set face of the officer
of the day, breathing hard and heavily. What he saw there Sloat could
not imagine. At last his hand dropped by his side; he made a little
motion with it, a slight wave towards the door, and again dropped it
nervously. His lips seemed to frame the word "Go," but he never glanced
at the man whom a moment before he so masterfully bade to stay; and
Sloat, sorely puzzled, left the room.

Not until his footsteps had died out of hearing did Chester speak:

"How soon can you leave the post?"

"I don't understand you."

"How soon can you pack up what you need to take and--get away?"

"Get away where? What on earth do you mean?"

"You _must_ know what I mean! You _must_ know that after last night's
work you quit the service at once and forever."

"I don't know anything of the kind; and I defy you to prove the faintest
thing." But Jerrold's fingers were twitching, and his eyes had lost
their light.

"Do you suppose I did not recognize you?" asked Chester.

"When?--where?" gulped Jerrold.

"When I seized you and you struck me!"

"I never struck you. I don't know what you mean."

"My God, man, let us end this useless fencing. The evidence I have of
your last night's scoundrelism would break the strongest record. For the
regiment's sake,--for the colonel's sake,--let us have no public
scandal. It's awful enough as the thing stands. Write your resignation,
give it to me, and leave,--before breakfast if you can."

"I've done nothing to resign for. You know perfectly well I haven't."

"Do you mean that such a crime--that a woman's ruin and disgrace--isn't
enough to drive you from the service?" asked Chester, tingling in every
nerve and longing to clinch the shapely, swelling throat in his
clutching fingers. "God of heaven, Jerrold! are you dead to all sense of
decency?"

"Captain Chester, I won't be bullied this way. I may not be immaculate,
but no man on earth shall talk to me like this! I deny your
insinuations. I've done nothing to warrant your words, even if--if you
did come sneaking around here last night and find me absent. You can't
prove a thing. You----"

"What! When I saw you,--almost caught you! By heaven! I wish the sentry
had killed you then and there. I never dreamed of such hardihood."

"You've done nothing but dream. By Jove, I believe you're sleepwalking
yet. What on earth do you mean by catching and killing me? 'Pon my soul
I reckon you're crazy, Captain Chester." And color was gradually coming
back again to Jerrold's face, and confidence to his tone.

"Enough of this, Mr. Jerrold. Knowing what you and I both know, do you
refuse to hand me your resignation?"

"Of course I do."

"Do you mean to deny to me where I saw you last night?"

"I deny your right to question me. I deny anything,--everything. I
believe you simply thought you had a clue and could make me tell.
Suppose I _was_ out last night. I don't believe you know the faintest
thing about it."

"Do you want me to report the whole thing to the colonel?"

"Of course I don't. Naturally, I want him to know nothing about my being
out of quarters; and it's a thing that no officer would think of
reporting another for. You'll only win the contempt of every gentleman
in the regiment if you do it. What good will it do you?--Keep me from
going to town for a few days, I suppose. What earthly business is it of
yours, anyway?"

"Jerrold, I can stand this no longer. I ought to shoot you in your
tracks, I believe. You've brought ruin and misery to the home of my
warmest friend, and dishonor to the whole service, and you talk of two
or three days' stoppage from going to town. If I can't bring you to your
senses, by God! the colonel shall." And he wheeled and left the room.

For a moment Jerrold stood stunned and silent. It was useless to attempt
reply. The captain was far down the walk when he sprang to the door to
call him again. Then, hurrying back to the bedroom, he hastily dressed,
muttering angrily and anxiously to himself as he did so. He was thinking
deeply, too, and every movement betrayed nervousness and trouble.
Returning to the front door, he gazed out upon the parade, then took his
forage-cap and walked rapidly down towards the adjutant's office. The
orderly bugler was tilted up in a chair, leaning half asleep against the
whitewashed front, but his was a weasel nap, for he sprang up and
saluted as the young officer approached.

"Where did Major Sloat go, orderly?" was the hurried question.

"Over towards the stables, sir. Him and Captain Chester was here
together, and they're just gone."

"Run over to the quarters of B Company and tell Merrick I want him right
away. Tell him to come to my quarters." And thither Mr. Jerrold
returned, seated himself at his desk, wrote several lines of a note,
tore it into fragments, began again, wrote another which seemed not
entirely satisfactory, and was in the midst of a third when there came a
quick step and a knock at the door. Opening the shutters, he glanced out
of the window. A gust of wind sent some of the papers whirling and
flying, and the bedroom door banged shut, but not before some few
half-sheets of paper had fluttered out upon the parade, where other
little flurries of the morning breeze sent them sailing over towards
the colonel's quarters. Anxious only for the coming of Merrick and no
one else, Mr. Jerrold no sooner saw who was at the front door than he
closed the shutters, called, "Come in!" and a short, squat, wiry little
man, dressed in the fatigue-uniform of the infantry, stood at the
door-way to the hall.

"Come in here, Merrick," said the lieutenant, and Merrick came.

"How much is it you owe me now?--thirty-odd dollars, I think?"

"I believe it is, lieutenant," answered the man, with shifting eyes and
general uneasiness of mien.

"You are not ready to pay it, I suppose; and you got it from me when we
left Fort Raines, to help you out of that scrape there."

The soldier looked down and made no answer.

"Merrick, I want a note taken to town at once. I want _you_ to take it
and get it to its address before eight o'clock. I want you to say no
word to a soul. Here's ten dollars. Hire old Murphy's horse across the
river and _go_. If you are put in the guard-house when you get back,
don't say a word; if you are tried by garrison court for crossing the
bridge or absence without leave, plead guilty, make no defence, and I'll
pay you double your fine and let you off the thirty dollars. But if you
fail me, or tell a soul of your errand, I'll write to--you know who, at
Raines. Do you understand, and agree?"

"I do. Yessir."

"Go and get ready, and be here in ten minutes."

Meantime, Captain Chester had followed Sloat to the adjutant's office.
He was boiling over with indignation which he hardly knew how to
control. He found the gray-moustached subaltern tramping in great
perplexity up and down the room, and the instant he entered was greeted
with the inquiry,--

"What's gone wrong? What's Jerrold been doing?"

"Don't ask me any questions, Sloat, but answer. It is a matter of honor.
_What_ was your bet with Jerrold?"

"I oughtn't to tell that, Chester. Surely it cannot be a matter mixed up
with this."

"I can't explain, Sloat. What I ask is unavoidable. Tell me about that
bet."

"Why, he was so superior and airy, you know, and was trying to make me
feel that he was so much more intimate with them all at the colonel's,
and that he could have that picture for the mere asking; and I got mad,
and bet him he _never_ could."

"Was that the day you shook hands on it?"

"Yes."

"And that was her picture--_the_ picture, then--he showed you this
morning."

"Chester, you heard the conversation: you were there: you know that I'm
on honor not to tell."

"Yes, I know. That's quite enough."



V.


Before seven o'clock that same morning Captain Chester had come to the
conclusion that only one course was left open for him. After the brief
talk with Sloat at the office he had increased the perplexity and
distress of that easily-muddled soldier by requesting his company in a
brief visit to the stables and corrals. A "square" and reliable old
veteran was the quartermaster sergeant who had charge of those
establishments; Chester had known him for years, and his fidelity and
honesty were matters the officers of his former regiment could not too
highly commend. When Sergeant Parks made an official statement there was
no shaking its solidity. He slept in a little box of a house close by
the entrance to the main stable, in which were kept the private horses
of several of the officers, and among them Mr. Jerrold's; and it was his
boast that, day or night, no horse left that stable without his
knowledge. The old man was superintending the morning labors of the
stable-hands, and looked up in surprise at so early a visit from the
officer of the day.

"Were you here all last night, sergeant?" was Chester's abrupt question.

"Certainly, sir, and up until one o'clock or more."

"Were any horses out during the night,--any officers' horses, I mean?"

"No, sir, not one."

"I thought possibly some officers might have driven or ridden to town."

"No, sir. The only horses that crossed this threshold going out last
night were Mr. Sutton's team from town. They were put up here until near
one o'clock, and then the doctor sent over for them. I locked up right
after that, and can swear nothing else went out."

Chester entered the stable and looked curiously around. Presently his
eye lighted on a tall, rangy bay horse that was being groomed in a wide
stall near the door-way.

"That's Mr. Jerrold's Roderick, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir. He's fresh as a daisy, too,--hasn't been out for three
days,--and Mr. Jerrold's going to drive the dog-cart this morning."

Chester turned away.

"Sloat," said he, as they left the stable, "if Mr. Jerrold was away from
the post last night,--and you heard me say he was out of his
quarters,--could he have gone any way except afoot, after what you heard
Parks say?"

"Gone in the Suttons' outfit, I suppose," was Sloat's cautious answer.

"In which event he would have been seen by the sentry at the bridge,
would he not?"

"Ought to have been, certainly."

"Then we'll go back to the guard-house." And, wonderingly and
uncomfortably, Sloat followed. He had long since begun to wish he had
held his peace and said nothing about the confounded roll-call. He hated
rows of any kind. He didn't like Jerrold, but he would have crawled
_ventre à terre_ across the wide parade sooner than see a scandal in the
regiment he loved; and it was becoming apparent to his sluggish
faculties that it was no mere matter of absence from quarters that was
involving Jerrold. Chester was all aflame over that picture-business, he
remembered, and the whole drift of his present investigation was to
prove that Jerrold was _not_ absent from the post, but absent only from
his quarters. If so, where had he spent his time until nearly four?
Sloat's heart was heavy with vague apprehension. He knew that Jerrold
had borne Alice Renwick away from the party at an unusually early hour
for such things to break up. He knew that he and others had protested
against such desertion, but she declared it could not be helped. He
remembered another thing,--a matter that he thought of at the time, only
from another point of view. It now seemed to have significance bearing
on this very matter; for Chester suddenly asked,--

"Wasn't it rather odd that Miss Beaubien was not here at the dance? She
has never missed one, seems to me, since Jerrold began spooning with her
last year."

"Why, she _was_ here."

"She was? Are you sure? Rollins never spoke of it; and we had been
talking of her. I inferred from what he said that she was not there at
all. And I saw her drive homeward with her mother right after parade: so
it didn't occur to me that she could have come out again, all that
distance, in time for the dance. Singular! Why shouldn't Rollins have
told me?"

Sloat grinned: a dreary sort of smile it was, too. "You go into society
so seldom you don't see these things. I've more than half suspected
Rollins of being quite ready to admire Miss Beaubien himself; and since
Jerrold dropped her he has had plenty of opportunity."

"Great guns! I never thought of it! If I'd known she was to be there I'd
have gone myself last night. How did she behave to Miss Renwick?"

"Why, sweet and smiling, and chipper as you please. If anything, I think
Miss Renwick was cold and distant to her. I couldn't make it out at
all."

"And did Jerrold dance with her?"

"Once, I think, and they had a talk out on the piazza,--just a minute. I
happened to be at the door, and couldn't help seeing it; and what got me
was this: Mr. Hall came out with Miss Renwick on his arm; they were
chatting and laughing as they passed me, but the moment she caught sight
of Jerrold and Miss Beaubien she stopped, and said, 'I think I won't
stay out here; it's too chilly,' or something like it, and went right
in; and then Jerrold dropped Miss Beaubien and went after her. He just
handed the young lady over to me, saying he was engaged for next dance,
and skipped."

"How did she like that? Wasn't she furious?"

"No. That's another thing that got me. She smiled after him, all
sweetness, and--well, she _did_ say, 'I count upon you,--you'll be
there,' and he nodded. Oh, she was bright as a button after that."

"What did she mean?--be 'where,' do you suppose? Sloat, this all means
more to me, and to us all, than I can explain."

"I don't know. I can't imagine."

"Was it to see her again that night?"

"I don't know at all. If it was, he fooled her, for he never went near
her again. Rollins put her in the carriage."

"Whose? Did she come out with the Suttons?"

"Why, certainly. I thought you knew that."

"And neither old Madame Beaubien nor Mrs. Sutton with them? What was the
old squaw thinking of?"

By this time they had neared the guard-house, where several of the men
were seated awaiting the call for the next relief. All arose at the
shout of the sentry on Number One, turning out the guard for the officer
of the day. Chester made hurried and impatient acknowledgment of the
salute, and called to the sergeant to send him the sentry who was at the
bridge at one o'clock. It turned out to be a young soldier who had
enlisted at the post only six months before and was already known as one
of the most intelligent and promising candidates for a corporalship in
the garrison.

"Were you on duty at the bridge at one o'clock, Carey?" asked the
captain.

"I was, sir. My relief went on at 11.45 and came off at 1.45."

"What persons passed your post during that time?"

"There was a squad or two of men coming back from town on pass. I halted
them, sir, and Corporal Murray came down and passed them in."

"I don't mean coming from town. Who went the other way?"

"Only one carriage, sir,--Mr. Sutton's."

"Could you see who were in it?"

"Certainly, sir: it was right under the lamp-post this end of the bridge
that I stood when I challenged. Lieutenant Rollins answered for them and
passed them out. He was sitting beside Mr. Sutton as they drove up, then
jumped out and gave me the countersign and bade them good-night right
there."

"Rollins again," thought Chester. "Why did he keep this from me?"

"Who were in the carriage?" he asked.

"Mr. Sutton, sir, on the front seat, driving, and two young ladies on
the back seat."

"Nobody else?"

"Not a soul, sir. I could see in it plain as day. One lady was Miss
Sutton, and the other Miss Beaubien. I know I was surprised at seeing
the latter, because she drove home in her own carriage last evening
right after parade. I was on post there at that hour too, sir. The
second relief is on from 5.45 to 7.45."

"That will do, Carey. I see your relief is forming now."

As the officers walked away and Sloat silently plodded along beside his
dark-browed senior, the latter turned to him:

"I should say that there was no way in which Mr. Jerrold could have gone
townwards last night. Should not you?"

"He might have crossed the bridge while the third relief was on, and
got a horse at the other side."

"He didn't do that, Sloat. I had already questioned the sentry on that
relief. It was the third that I inspected and visited this morning."

"Well, how do you know he wanted to go to town? Why couldn't he have
gone up the river, or out to the range? Perhaps there was a little game
of 'draw' out at camp."

"There was no light in camp, much less a little game of draw, after
eleven o'clock. You know well enough that there is nothing of that kind
going on with Gaines in command. That isn't Jerrold's game, even if
those fellows _were_ bent on ruining their eyesight and nerve and
spoiling the chance of getting the men on the division and army teams. I
wish it _were_ his game, instead of what it is!"

"Still, Chester, he may have been out in the country somewhere. You seem
bent on the conviction he was up to mischief here, around this post. I
won't ask you what you mean; but there's more than one way of getting to
town if a man wants to very bad."

"How? Of course he can take a skiff and row down the river; but he'd
never be back in time for reveille. There goes six o'clock, and I must
get home and shave and think this over. Keep your own counsel, no matter
who asks you. If you hear any questions or talk about shooting last
night, you know nothing, heard nothing, and saw nothing."

"Shooting last night!" exclaimed Sloat, all agog with eagerness and
excitement now. "Where was it? Who was it?"

But Chester turned a deaf ear upon him, and walked away. He wanted to
see Rollins, and went straight home.

"Why didn't you tell me Miss Beaubien was out here last night?" was the
question he asked as soon as he had entered the room where, all aglow
from his cold bath, the youngster was dressing for breakfast. He colored
vividly, then laughed.

"Well, you never gave me much chance to say anything, did you? You
talked all the time, as I remember, and suddenly vanished and slammed
the door. I would have told you had you asked me." But all the same it
was evident for the first time that here was a subject Rollins was shy
of mentioning.

"Did you go down and see them across sentry post?"

"Certainly. Jerrold asked me to. He said he had to take Miss Renwick
home, and was too tired to come back,--was going to turn in. I was glad
to do anything to be civil to the Suttons."

"Why, I'd like to know? They have never invited you to the house or
shown you any attention whatever. You are not their style at all,
Rollins, and I'm glad of it. It wasn't for their sake you stayed there
until one o'clock instead of being here in bed. I wish--" and he looked
wistfully, earnestly, at his favorite now, "I wish I could think it
wasn't for the sake of Miss Beaubien's black eyes and aboriginal
beauty."

"Look here, captain," said Rollins, with another rush of color to his
face; "you don't seem to fancy Miss Beaubien, and--she's a friend of
mine, and one I don't like to hear slightingly spoken of. You said a
good deal last night that--well, wasn't pleasant to hear."

"I know it, Rollins. I beg your pardon. I didn't know then that you were
more than slightly acquainted with her. I'm an old bat, and go out very
little, but some things are pretty clear to my eyes, and--don't you be
falling in love with Nina Beaubien. That is no match for you."

"I'm sure you never had a word to say against her father. The old
colonel was a perfect type of the French gentleman, from all I hear."

"Yes, and her mother is as perfect a type of a Chippewa squaw, if she is
only a half-breed and claims to be only a sixteenth. Rollins, there's
Indian blood enough in Nina Beaubien's little finger to make me afraid
of her. She is strong as death in love or hate, and you must have seen
how she hung on Jerrold's every word all last winter. You must know she
is not the girl to be lightly dropped now."

"She told me only a day or two ago they were the best of friends and had
never been anything else," said Rollins, hotly.

"Has it gone that far, my boy? I had not thought it so bad, by any
means. It's no use talking with a man who has lost his heart: his reason
goes with it." And Chester turned away.

"You don't know anything about it," was all poor Rollins could think of
as a suitable thing to shout after him; and it made no more impression
than it deserved.

As has been said, Captain Chester had decided before seven o'clock that
but one course lay open to him in the matter as now developed. Had
Armitage been there he would have had an adviser, but there was no other
man whose counsel he eared to seek. Old Captain Gray was as bitter
against Jerrold as Chester himself, and with even better reason, for he
knew well the cause of his little daughter's listless manner and tearful
eyes. She had been all radiance and joy at the idea of coming to Sibley
and being near the great cities, but not one happy look had he seen in
her sweet and wistful face since the day of her arrival. Wilton, too,
was another captain who disliked Jerrold; and Chester's rugged sense of
fair play told him that it was not among the enemies of the young
officer that he should now seek advice, but that if he had a friend
among the older and wiser heads in the regiment it was due to him that
that older and wiser head be given a chance to think a little for
Jerrold's sake. And there was not one among the seniors whom he could
call upon. As he ran over their names, Chester for the first time
realized that his ex-subaltern had not a friend among the captains and
senior officers now on duty at the fort. His indifference to duties, his
airy foppishness, his conceit and self-sufficiency, had all served to
create a feeling against him; and this had been intensified by his
conduct since coming to Sibley. The youngsters still kept up jovial
relations with and professed to like him, but among the seniors there
were many men who had only a nod for him on meeting. Wilton had
epitomized the situation by saying he "had no use for a masher," and
poor old Gray had one day scowlingly referred to him as "the
professional beauty."

In view of all this feeling, Chester would gladly have found some man to
counsel further delay; but there was none. He felt that he must inform
the colonel at once of the fact that Mr. Jerrold was absent from his
quarters at the time of the firing, of his belief that it was Jerrold
who struck him and sped past the sentry in the dark, and of his
conviction that the sooner the young officer was called to account for
his strange conduct the better. As to the episodes of the ladder, the
lights, and the form at the dormer-window, he meant, for the present at
least, to lock them in his heart.

But he forgot that others too must have heard those shots, and that
others too would be making inquiries.



VI.


A lovely morning it was that beamed on Sibley and the broad and
beautiful valley of the Cloudwater when once the sun got fairly above
the moist horizon. Mist and vapor and heavy cloud all seemed swallowed
up in the gathering, glowing warmth, as though the King of Day had
risen athirst and drained the welcoming cup of nature. It must have
rained at least a little during the darkness of the night, for dew there
could have been none with skies so heavily overcast, and yet the short
smooth turf on the parade, the leaves upon the little shade-trees around
the quadrangle, and all the beautiful vines here on the trellis-work of
the colonel's veranda, shone and sparkled in the radiant light. The
roses in the little garden, and the old-fashioned morning-glory vines
over at the east side, were all a-glitter in the flooding sunshine when
the bugler came out from a glance at the clock in the adjutant's office
and sounded "sick-call" to the indifferent ear of the garrison. Once
each day, at 7.30 a.m., the doctor trudged across to the
hospital and looked over the half-dozen "hopelessly healthy" but
would-be invalids who wanted to get off guard duty or a morning at the
range. Thanks to the searching examination to which every soldier must
be subjected before he can enter the service of Uncle Sam, and to the
disciplined order of the lives of the men at Sibley, maladies of any
serious nature were almost unknown. It was a gloriously healthy post, as
everybody admitted, and, to judge from the specimen of young-womanhood
that came singing, "blithe and low," out among the roses this same
joyous morning, exuberant physical well-being was not restricted to the
men.

A fairer picture never did dark beauty present than Alice Renwick, as
she bent among the bushes or reached high among the vines in search of
her favorite flowers. Tall, slender, willowy, yet with
exquisitely-rounded form; slim, dainty little hands and feet; graceful
arms and wrists all revealed in the flowing sleeves of her snowy,
web-like gown, fitting her and displaying her sinuous grace of form as
gowns so seldom do to-day. And then her face!--a glorious picture of
rich, ripe, tropical beauty, with its great, soulful, sunlit eyes,
heavily shaded though they were with those wondrous lashes; beautiful,
too, in contour as was the lithe body, and beautiful in every feature,
even to the rare and dewy curve of her red lips, half opened as she
sang. She was smiling to herself, as she crooned her soft, murmuring
melody, and every little while the great dark eyes glanced over towards
the shaded doors of Bachelors' Row. There was no one up to watch and
tell: why should she not look thither, and even stand one moment peering
under the veranda at a darkened window half-way down the row, as though
impatient at the non-appearance of some familiar signal? How came the
laggard late? How slept the knight while here his lady stood impatient?
She twined the leaves and roses in a fragrant knot, ran lightly within
and laid them on the snowy cloth beside the colonel's seat at table,
came forth and plucked some more and fastened them, blushing, blissful,
in the lace-fringed opening of her gown, through which, soft and creamy,
shone the perfect neck.

  "Daisy, tell my fortune, pray:
  He loves me not,--he loves me,"

she blithely sang, then, hurrying to the gate, shaded her eyes with the
shapely hand and gazed intently. 'Twas nearing eight,--nearing
breakfast-time. But some one was coming. Horrid! Captain Chester, of all
men! Coming, of course, to see papa, and papa not yet down, and mamma
had a headache and had decided not to come down at all, she would
breakfast in her room. What girl on earth when looking and longing and
waiting for the coming of a graceful youth of twenty-six would be
anything but dismayed at the substitution therefor of a bulky,
heavy-hearted captain of forty-six, no matter if he were still
unmarried? And yet her smile was sweet and cordial.

"Why, good-morning, Captain Chester. I'm so glad to see you this bright
day. Do come in and let me give you a rose. Papa will soon be down." And
she opened the gate and held forth one long, slim hand. He took it
slowly, as though in a dream, raising his forage-cap at the same time,
yet making no reply. He was looking at her far more closely than he
imagined. How fresh, how radiant, how fair and gracious and winning!
Every item of her attire was so pure and white and spotless; every fold
and curve of her gown seemed charged with subtile, delicate fragrance,
as faint and sweet as the shy and modest wood-violet's. She noted his
silence and his haggard eyes. She noted the intent gaze, and the color
mounted straightway to her forehead.

"And have you no word of greeting for me?" she blithely laughed,
striving to break through the awkwardness of his reserve, "or are you
worn out with your night watch as officer of the day?"

He fairly started. Had she seen him, then? Did she know it was he who
stood beneath her window, he who leaped in chase of that scoundrel, he
who stole away with that heavy tell-tale ladder? and, knowing all this,
could she stand there smiling in his face, the incarnation of maiden
innocence and beauty? Impossible! Yet what could she mean?

"How did you know I had so long a vigil?" he asked, and the cold,
strained tone, the half-averted eyes, the pallor of his face, all struck
her at once. Instantly her manner changed:

"Oh, forgive me, captain. I see you are all worn out; and I'm keeping
you here at the gate. Come to the piazza and sit down. I'll tell papa
you are here, for I know you want to see him." And she tripped lightly
away before he could reply, and rustled up the stairs. He could hear her
light tap at the colonel's door, and her soft, clear, flute-like voice:
"Papa, Captain Chester is here to see you."

Papa indeed! She spoke to him and of him as though he were her own. He
treated her as though she were his flesh and blood,--as though he loved
her devotedly. Even before she came had not they been prepared for this?
Did not Mrs. Maynard tell them that Alice had become enthusiastically
devoted to her step-father and considered him the most knightly and
chivalric hero she had ever seen? He could hear the colonel's hearty and
loving tone in reply, and then she came fluttering down again:

"Papa will be with you in five minutes, captain. But won't you let me
give you some coffee? It's all ready, and you look so tired,--even ill."

"I have had a bad night," he answered, "but I'm growing old, and cannot
stand sleeplessness as you young people seem to."

Was she faltering? He watched her eagerly, narrowly, almost wonderingly.
Not a trace of confusion, not a sign of fear; and yet had he not _seen_
her, and that other figure?

"I wish you could sleep as I do," was the prompt reply. "I was in the
land of dreams ten minutes after my head touched the pillow, and mamma
made me come home early last night because of our journey to-day. You
know we are going down to visit Aunt Grace, Colonel Maynard's sister, at
Lake Sablon, and mamma wanted me to be looking my freshest and best,"
she said, "and I never heard a thing till reveille."

His eyes, sad, penetrating, doubting,--yet self-doubting, too,--searched
her very soul. Unflinchingly the dark orbs looked into his,--even
pityingly; for she quickly spoke again:

"Captain, _do_ come into the breakfast-room and have some coffee. You
have not breakfasted, I'm sure."

He raised his hand as though to repel her offer,--even to put her aside.
He _must_ understand her. He _could_ not be hoodwinked in this way.

"Pardon me, Miss Renwick, but did you hear nothing strange last night
or early this morning? Were you not disturbed at all?"

"I? No, indeed!" True, her face had changed now, but there was no fear
in her eyes. It was a look of apprehension, perhaps, of concern and
curiosity mingled, for his tone betrayed that something had happened
which caused him agitation.

"And you heard no shots fired?"

"Shots! No! Oh, Captain Chester! what does it mean? _Who_ was shot? Tell
me!"

And now, with paling face and wild apprehension in her eyes, she turned
and gazed beyond him, past the vines and the shady veranda, across the
sunshine of the parade and under the old piazza, searching that still
closed and darkened window.

"Who?" she implored, her hands clasping nervously, her eyes returning
eagerly to his face.

"It was not Mr. Jerrold," he answered, coldly. "He is unhurt, so far as
shot is concerned."

"Then how is he hurt? Is he hurt at all?" she persisted; and then as she
met his gaze her eyes fell, and the burning blush of maiden shame surged
up to her forehead. She sank upon a seat and covered her face with her
hands.

"I thought of Mr. Jerrold, naturally. He said he would be over early
this morning," was all she could find to say.

"I have seen him, and presume he will come. To all appearances, he is
the last man to suffer from last night's affair," he went on,
relentlessly,--almost brutally,--but she never winced. "It is odd you
did not hear the shots. I thought yours was the northwest room,--this
one?" he indicated, pointing overhead.

"So it is, and I slept there all last night and heard nothing,--not a
thing. _Do_ tell me what the trouble was."

Then what was there for him to say? The colonel's footsteps were heard
upon the stair, and the colonel, with extended hand and beaming face and
cheery welcome, came forth from the open door-way:

"Welcome, Chester! I'm glad you've come just in time for breakfast. Mrs.
Maynard won't be down. She slept badly last night, and is sleeping now.
What was the firing last night? I did not hear it at the time, but the
orderly and old Maria the cook were discussing it as I was shaving."

"It is that I came to see you about, colonel. I am the man to hold
responsible."

"No prisoners got away, I hope?"

"No, sir. Nothing, I fear, that would seem to justify my action. I
ordered Number Five to fire."

"Why, what on earth could have happened around there,--almost back of
us?" said the colonel, in surprise.

"I do not know what had happened, or what was going to happen." And
Chester paused a moment, and glanced towards the door through which Miss
Renwick had retired as soon as the colonel arrived. The old soldier
seemed to understand the glance. "_She_ would not listen," he said,
proudly.

"I know," explained Chester. "I think it best that no one but you should
hear anything of the matter for the present until I have investigated
further. It was nearly half-past three this morning as I got around here
on Five's post, inspecting sentinels, and came suddenly in the darkness
upon a man carrying a ladder on his shoulder. I ordered him to halt. The
reply was a violent blow, and the ladder and I were dropped at the same
instant, while the man sprang into space and darted off in the direction
of Number Five. I followed quick as I could, heard the challenge and the
cries of halt, and shouted to Leary to fire. He did, but missed his aim
in the haste and darkness, and the man got safely away. Of course there
is much talk and speculation about it around the post this morning, for
several people heard the shots besides the guard, and, although I told
Leary and others to say nothing, I know it is already generally known."

"Oh, well, come in to breakfast," said the colonel. "We'll talk it over
there."

"Pardon me, sir, I cannot. I must get back home before guard-mount, and
Rollins is probably waiting to see me now. I--I could not discuss it at
the table, for there are some singular features about the matter."

"Why, in God's name, what?" asked the colonel, with sudden and deep
anxiety.

"Well, sir, an officer of the garrison is placed in a compromising
position by this affair, and cannot or will not explain."

"Who?"

"Mr. Jerrold, sir."

"Jerrold! Why, I got a note from him not ten minutes ago saying he had
an engagement in town and asking permission to go before guard-mounting,
if Mr. Hall was ready. Hall wanted to go with him, Jerrold wrote, but
Hall has not applied for permission to leave the post."

"It is Jerrold who is compromised, colonel. I may be all wrong in my
suspicions, all wrong in reporting the matter to you at all, but in my
perplexity and distress I see no other way. Frankly, sir, the moment I
caught sight of the man he looked like Jerrold; and two minutes after
the shots were fired I inspected Jerrold's quarters. He was not there,
though the lamps were burning very low in the bedroom, and his bed had
not been occupied at all. When you see Leary, sir, he will tell you that
he also thought it must be Mr. Jerrold."

"The young scapegrace!--been off to town, I suppose."

"Colonel," said Chester, quickly, "you--not I--must decide that. I went
to his quarters after reveille, and he was then there, and resented my
visit and questions, admitted that he had been out during the night, but
refused to make any statement to me."

"Well, Chester, I will haul him up after breakfast. Possibly he had been
up to the rifle-camp, or had driven to town after the doctor's party. Of
course _that_ must be stopped; but I'm glad you missed him. It, of
course, staggers a man's judgment to be knocked down, but if you had
killed him it might have been as serious for you as this knock-down blow
will be for him. That is the worst phase of the matter. What could he
have been thinking of? He must have been either drunk or mad; and he
rarely drank. Oh, dear, dear, dear, but that's very bad,--very
bad,--striking the officer of the day! Why, Chester, that's the worst
thing that's happened in the regiment since I took command of it. It's
about the worst thing that _could_ have happened to us. Of course he
must go in arrest. I'll see the adjutant right after breakfast. I'll be
over early, Chester." And with grave and worried face the colonel bade
him adieu.

As he turned away, Chester heard him saying again to himself, "About the
worst thing he could have done!--the worst thing he could have done!"
And the captain's heart sank within him. What would the colonel say when
he knew how far, far worse was the foul wrong Mr. Jerrold had done to
him and his?



VII.


Before guard-mounting--almost half an hour before his usual time for
appearing at the office--Colonel Maynard hurried in to his desk, sent
the orderly for Captain Chester, and then the clerks in the
sergeant-major's room heard him close and lock the door. As the subject
of the shooting was already under discussion among the men there
assembled, this action on the part of the chief was considered highly
significant. It was hardly five minutes before Chester came, looked
surprised at finding the door locked, knocked, and was admitted.

The look on the haggard face at the desk, the dumb misery in the eyes,
the wrath and horror in it all, carried him back twenty years to that
gloomy morning in the casemates when the story was passed around that
Captain Maynard had lost a wife and an intimate friend during the
previous night. Chester saw at a glance that, despite his precautions,
the blow had come, the truth been revealed at one fell swoop.

"Lock the door again, Chester, and come here. I have some questions to
ask you."

The captain silently took the chair which was indicated by a wave of the
colonel's hand, and waited. For a moment no word more was spoken. The
old soldier, white and trembling strangely, reseated himself at the
desk, and covered his face with his hands. Twice he drew them with
feebly stroking movement over his eyes, as though to rally the stunned
faculties and face the trying ordeal. Then a shiver passed through his
frame, and with sudden lift of the head he fixed his gaze on Chester's
face and launched the question,--

"Chester, is there any kindness to a man who has been through what I
have in telling only half a tale, as you have done?"

The captain colored red. "I am at a loss to answer you, colonel," he
said, after brief reflection. "You know far more than you did half an
hour ago, and what I knew I could not bear to tell you as yet."

"My God! my God! Tell me _all_, and tell me at once. Here, man, if you
need stimulant to your indignation and cannot speak without it, read
this. I found it, open, among the rose-bushes in the garden, where she
must have dropped it when out there with you. Read it. Tell me what it
means; for, God knows, I can't believe such a thing of her."

He handed Chester a sheet of note-paper. It was moist and blurred on
the first page, but the inner pages, though damp, were in good
condition. The first, second, and third pages were closely covered in a
bold, nervous hand that Chester knew well. It was Jerrold's writing,
beyond a doubt, and Chester's face grew hot as he read, and his heart
turned cold as stone when he finished the last hurried line.

"MY DARLING,--

"I _must_ see you, if only for a moment, before you leave. Do not let
this alarm you, for the more I think the more I am convinced it is only
a bluff, but Captain Chester discovered my absence early this morning
when spying around as usual, and now he claims to have knowledge of our
secret. Even if he was on the terrace when I got back, it was too dark
for him to recognize me, and it seems impossible that he can have got
any real clue. He suspects, perhaps, and thinks to force me to
confession; but I would guard your name with my life. Be wary. Act as
though there were nothing on earth between us, and if we cannot meet
until then I will be at the dépôt with the others to see you off, and
will then have a letter ready with full particulars and instructions. It
will be in the first thing I hand to you. Hide it until you can safely
read it. Your mother must not be allowed a glimmer of suspicion, and
then you are safe. As for me, even Chester cannot make the colonel turn
against me now. My jealous one, my fiery sweetheart, do you not realize
now that I was wise in showing her so much attention? A thousand kisses.
Come what may, they cannot rob us of the past.                   HOWARD.

"I fear you heard and were alarmed by the shots just after I left you.
All was quiet when I got home."

It was some seconds before Chester could control himself sufficiently to
speak. "I wish to God the bullet had gone through his heart!" he said.

"It has gone through mine,--through mine! This will kill her mother.
Chester," cried the colonel, springing suddenly to his feet, "she must
not know it. She must not dream of it. I tell you it would stretch her
in the dust, _dead_, for she loves that child with all her strength,
with all her being, I believe, for it is two mother-loves in one. She
had a son, older than Alice by several years, her first-born,--her
glory, he was,--but the boy inherited the father's passionate and
impulsive nature. He loved a girl utterly beneath him, and would have
married her when he was only twenty. There is no question that he loved
her well, for he refused to give her up, no matter what his father
threatened. They tried to buy her off, and she scorned them. Then they
had a letter written, while he was sent abroad under pretence that he
should have his will if he came back in a year unchanged. By Jove, it
seems she was as much in love as he, and it broke her heart. She went
off and died somewhere, and he came back ahead of time because her
letters had ceased, and found it all out. There was an awful scene. He
cursed them both,--father and mother,--and left her senseless at his
feet; and from that day to this they never heard of him, never could get
the faintest report. It broke Renwick,--killed him, I guess, for he died
in two years; and as for the mother, you would not think that a woman so
apparently full of life and health was in desperate danger. She had some
organic trouble with the heart years ago, they tell her, and this
experience has developed it so that now any great emotion or sudden
shock is perilous. Do you not see how doubly fearful this comes to us?
Chester, I have weathered one awful storm, but I'm old and broken now.
This--this beats me. Tell me what to do."

The captain was silent a few moments. He was thinking intently.

"Does she know you have that letter?" he asked.

Maynard shook his head: "I looked back as I came away. She was in the
parlor, singing softly to herself, at the very moment I picked it up,
lying open as it was right there among the roses, the first words
staring me in the face. I meant not to read it,--never dreamed it was
for her,--and had turned over the page to look for the superscription.
There was none, but there I saw the signature and that postscript about
the shots. That startled me, and I read it here just before you came,
and then could account for your conduct,--something I could not do
before. God of heaven! would any man believe it of her? It is
incredible! Chester, tell me everything you know now,--even everything
you suspect. I must see my way clear."

And then the captain, with halting and reluctant tongue, told his story:
how he had stumbled on the ladder back of the colonel's quarters and
learned from Number Five that some one had been prowling back of
Bachelors' Row; how he returned there afterwards, found the ladder at
the side-wall, and saw the tall form issue from her window; how he had
given chase and been knocked breathless, and of his suspicions, and
Leary's, as to the identity of the stranger.

The colonel bowed his head still deeper, and groaned aloud. But he had
still other questions to ask.

"Did you see--any one else at the window?"

"Not while he was there."

"At any time, then,--before or after?" And the colonel's eyes would take
no denial.

"I saw," faltered Chester, "nobody. The shade was pulled up while I was
standing there, after I had tripped on the ladder. I supposed the noise
of my stumble had awakened her."

"And was that all? Did you see nothing more?"

"Colonel, I _did_ see, afterwards, a woman's hand and arm closing the
shade."

"My God! And she told me she slept the night through,--never waked or
heard a sound!"

"Did you hear nothing yourself, colonel?"

"Nothing. When she came home from the party she stopped a moment, saying
something to him at the door, then came into the library and kissed me
good-night. I shut up the house and went to bed about half-past twelve,
and her door was closed when I went to our room."

"So there were two closed doors, yours and hers, and the broad hall
between you?"

"Certainly. We have the doors open all night that lead into the rear
rooms, and their windows. This gives us abundant air. Alice always has
the hall door closed at night."

"And Mrs. Maynard,--was she asleep?"

"No. Mrs. Maynard was lying awake, and seemed a little restless and
disturbed. Some of the women had been giving her some hints about
Jerrold and fretting her. You know she took a strange fancy to him at
the start. It was simply because he reminded her so strongly of the boy
she had lost. She told me so. But after a little she began to discover
traits in him she did not like, and then his growing intimacy with Alice
worried her. She would have put a stop to the doctor's party,--to her
going with him, I mean,--but the engagement was made some days ago. Two
or three days since, she warned Alice not to trust him, she says; and it
is really as much on this as any other account that we decided to get
her away, off to see her aunt Grace. Oh, God! how blind we are! how
blind we are!" And poor old Maynard bowed his head and almost groaned
aloud.

Chester rose, and, in his characteristic way, began tramping nervously
up and down. There was a knock at the door. "The adjutant's compliments,
and 'twas time for guard-mount. Would the colonel wish to see him before
he went out?" asked the orderly.

"I ought to go, sir," said Chester. "I am old officer of the day, and
there will be just time for me to get into full uniform."

"Let them go on without you," said Maynard. "I cannot spare you now.
Send word to that effect. Now,--now about this man,--this Jerrold. What
is the best thing we can do?--of course I know what he most
deserves;--but what is the _best_ thing under all the circumstances? Of
course my wife and Alice will leave to-day. She was still sleeping when
I left, and, pray God, is not dreaming of this. It was nearly two before
she closed her eyes last night; and I, too, slept badly. You have seen
him. What does he say?"

"Denies everything,--anything,--challenges me to prove that he was
absent from his house more than five minutes,--indeed, I could not, for
he may have come in just after I left,--and pretended utter ignorance of
my meaning when I accused him of striking me before I ordered the sentry
to fire. Of course it is all useless now. When I confront him with this
letter he _must_ give in. Then let him resign and get away as quietly as
possible before the end of the week. No one need know the causes. Of
course shooting is what he deserves; but shooting demands explanation.
It is better for your name, hers, and all, that he should be allowed to
live than that the truth were suspected, as it would be if he were
killed. Indeed, sir, if I were you I would take them to Sablon, keep
them away for a fortnight, and leave him to me. It may be even judicious
to let him go on with all his duties as though nothing had happened, as
though he had simply been absent from reveille, and let the whole matter
drop like that until all remark and curiosity is lulled; then you can
send her back to Europe or the East,--time enough to decide on that; but
I will privately tell him he must quit the service in six months, and
show him why. It isn't the way it ought to be settled; it probably isn't
the way Armitage would do it; but it is the best thing that occurs to
me. One thing is certain: you and they ought to get away at once, and he
should not be permitted to see her again. I can run the post a few days
and explain matters after you go."

The colonel sat in wretched silence a few moments; then he arose:

"If it were not for _her_ danger,--her heart,--I would never drop the
matter here,--never! I would see it through to the bitter end. But you
are probably right as to the prudent course to take. I'll get them away
on the noon train: he thinks they do not start until later. Now I must
go and face it. My God, Chester! could you look at that child and
realize it? Even now, even now, sir, I believe--I believe,
someway--somehow--she is innocent."

"God grant it, sir!"

And then the colonel left the office, avoiding, as has been told, a word
with any man. Chester buttoned the tell-tale letter in an inner pocket,
after having first folded the sheet lengthwise and then enclosed it in a
long official envelope. The officers, wondering at the colonel's
distraught appearance, had come thronging in, hoping for information,
and then had gone, unsatisfied and disgusted, practically turned out by
their crabbed senior captain. The ladies, after chatting aimlessly about
the quadrangle for half an hour, had decided that Mrs. Maynard must be
ill, and, while most of them awaited the result, two of their number
went to the colonel's house and rang at the bell. A servant appeared:
"Mrs. Maynard wasn't very well this morning, and was breakfasting in her
room, and Miss Alice was with her, if the ladies would please excuse
them." And so the emissaries returned unsuccessful. Then, too, as we
have seen, despite his good intention of keeping matters hushed as much
as possible, Chester's nervous irritability had got the better of him,
and he had made damaging admissions to Wilton of the existence of a
cause of worriment and perplexity, and this Wilton told without
compunction. And then there was another excitement, that set all tongues
wagging. Every man had heard what Chester said, that Mr. Jerrold must
not quit the garrison until he had first come and seen the temporary
commanding officer, and Hall had speedily carried the news to his
friend.

"Are _you_ ready to go?" asked Mr. Jerrold, who was lacing his boots in
the rear room.

"No. I've got to go and get into 'cits' first."

"All right. Go, and be lively! I'll wait for you at Murphy's, beyond the
bridge, provided you say nothing about it."

"You don't mean you are going against orders?"

"Going? Of course I am. I've got old Maynard's permission, and if
Chester means to revoke it he's got to get his adjutant here inside of
ten seconds. What you tell me isn't official. I'm off _now_!"

And when the adjutant returned to Captain Chester it was with the
information that he was too late: Mr. Jerrold's dog-cart had crossed
the bridge five minutes earlier.

Perhaps an hour later the colonel sent for Chester, and the captain went
to his house. The old soldier was pacing slowly up and down the parlor
floor.

"I wanted you a moment. A singular thing has happened. You know that
'Directoire' cabinet photo of Alice? My wife always kept it on her
dressing-table, and this morning it's gone. That frame--the silver
filigree thing--was found behind a sofa-pillow in Alice's room, and she
declares she has no idea how it got there. Chester, is there any new
significance in this?"

The captain bowed assent.

"What is it?"

"That photograph was seen by Major Sloat in Jerrold's bureau-drawer at
reveille this morning."

And such was the situation at Sibley the August day the colonel took his
wife and her lovely daughter to visit Aunt Grace at Lake Sablon.



VIII.


In the big red omnibus that was slowly toiling over the dusty road
several passengers were making their way from the railway-station to the
hotel at Lake Sablon. Two of them were women of mature years, whose
dress and bearing betokened lives of ease and comfort; another was a
lovely brunette of less than twenty, the daughter, evidently, of one of
these ladies, and an object of loving pride to both. These three seemed
at home in their surroundings, and were absorbed in the packet of
letters and papers they had just received at the station. It was evident
that they were not new arrivals, as were the other passengers, who
studied them with the half-envious feelings with which new-comers at a
summer resort are apt to regard those who seem to have been long
established there, and who gathered from the scraps of conversation that
they had merely been over to say good-by to friends leaving on the very
train which brought in the rest of what we good Americans term "the
'bus-load." There were women among the newly-arrived who inspected the
dark girl with that calm, unflinching, impertinent scrutiny and
half-audibly whispered comment which, had they been of the opposite sex,
would have warranted their being kicked out of the conveyance, but which
was ignored by the fair object and her friends as completely as were
the commentators themselves. There were one or two men in the omnibus
who might readily have been forgiven an admiring glance or two at so
bright a vision of girlish beauty as was Miss Renwick this August
afternoon, and they _had_ looked; but the one who most attracted the
notice of Mrs. Maynard and Aunt Grace--a tall, stalwart,
distinguished-looking party in gray travelling-dress--had taken his seat
close to the door and was deep in the morning's paper before they were
fairly away from the station.

Laying down the letter she had just finished reading, Mrs. Maynard
glanced at her daughter, who was still engaged in one of her own, and
evidently with deep interest.

"From Fort Sibley, Alice?"

"Yes, mamma, all three,--Miss Craven, Mrs. Hoyt, and--Mr. Jerrold. Would
you like to see it?" And, with rising color, she held forth the one in
her hand.

"Not now," was the answer, with a smile that told of confidence and
gratification both. "It is about the german, I suppose?"

"Yes. He thinks it outrageous that we should not be there,--says it is
to be the prettiest ever given at the fort, and that Mrs. Hoyt and Mrs.
Craven, who are the managers for the ladies, had asked him to lead. He
wants to know if we cannot possibly come."

"Are you not very eager to go, Alice? I should be," said Aunt Grace,
with sympathetic interest.

"Yes, I am," answered Miss Renwick, reflectively. "It had been arranged
that it should come off next week, when, as was supposed, we would be
home after this visit. It cannot be postponed, of course, because it is
given in honor of all the officers who are gathered there for the
rifle-competition, and that will be all over and done with to-day, and
they cannot stay beyond Tuesday next. We must give it up, auntie," and
she looked up smilingly, "and you have made it so lovely for me here
that I can do it without a sigh. Think of that!--an army german!--and
Fanny Craven says the favors are to be simply lovely. Yes, I _did_ want
to go, but papa said he felt unequal to it the moment he got back from
Chicago, day before yesterday, and he certainly does not look at all
well: so that ended it, and I wrote at once to Mrs. Hoyt. This is her
answer now."

"What does she say?"

"Oh, it is very kind of her: she wants me to come and be her guest if
the colonel is too ill to come and mamma will not leave him. She says
Mr. Hoyt will come down and escort me. But I would not like to go
without mamma," and the big dark eyes looked up wistfully, "and I know
she does not care to urge papa when he seems so indisposed to going."

Mrs. Maynard's eyes were anxious and troubled now. She turned to her
sister-in-law:

"Do you think he seems any better, Grace? I do not."

"It is hard to say. He was so nervously anxious to get away to see the
general the very day you arrived here that there was not a moment in
which I could ask him about himself; and since his return he has avoided
all mention of it beyond saying it is nothing but indigestion and he
would be all right in a few days. I never knew him to suffer in that way
in my life. Is there any regimental matter that can be troubling him?"
she asked, in lower tone.

"Nothing of any consequence whatever. Of course the officers feel
chagrined over their defeat in the rifle-match. They had expected to
stand very high, but Mr. Jerrold's shooting was unexpectedly below the
average, and it threw their team behind. But the colonel didn't make the
faintest allusion to it. That hasn't worried him anywhere near as much
as it has the others, I should judge."

"I do not think it was all Mr. Jerrold's fault, mamma," said Miss
Renwick, with gentle reproach and a very becoming flush. "I'm going to
stand up for him, because I think they all blame him for other men's
poor work. He was not the only one on our team whose shooting was below
former scores."

"They claim that none fell so far below their expectations as he, Alice.
You know I am no judge of such matters, but Mr. Hoyt and Captain Gray
both write the colonel that Mr. Jerrold had been taking no care of
himself whatever and was entirely out of form."

"In any event I'm glad the cavalry did no better," was Miss Renwick's
loyal response. "You remember the evening we rode out to the range and
Captain Gray said that there was the man who would win the first prize
from Mr. Jerrold,--that tall cavalry sergeant who fainted
away,--Sergeant McLeod; don't you remember, mother? Well, he did not
even get a place, and Mr. Jerrold beat him easily."

Something in her mother's eyes warned her to be guarded, and, in that
indefinable but unerring system of feminine telegraphy, called her
attention to the man sitting by the door. Looking quickly to her right,
Miss Renwick saw that he was intently regarding her. At the mention of
Fort Sibley the stranger had lowered his paper, revealing a bronzed face
clean-shaven except for the thick blonde moustache, and a pair of clear,
steady, searching blue eyes under heavy brows and lashes, and these eyes
were very deliberately yet respectfully fixed upon her own; nor were
they withdrawn in proper confusion when detected. It was Miss Renwick
whose eyes gave up the contest and returned in some sense of defeat to
her mother's face.

"What letters have you for the colonel?" asked Mrs. Maynard, coming _au
secours_.

"Three,--two of them from his devoted henchman Captain Chester, who
writes by every mail, I should imagine; and these he will go off into
some secluded nook with and come back looking blue and worried. Then
here's another, forwarded from Sibley, too. I do not know this hand.
Perhaps it is from Captain Armitage, who, they say, is to come back next
month. Poor Mr. Jerrold!"

"Why poor Mr. Jerrold?" asked Aunt Grace, with laughing interest, as she
noted the expression on her niece's pretty face.

"Because he can't bear Captain Armitage, and--"

"Now, Alice!" said her mother, reprovingly. "You must not take his view
of the captain at all. Remember what the colonel said of him--"

"Mother dear," protested Alice, laughing, "I have no doubt Captain
Armitage is the paragon of a soldier, but he is unquestionably a most
unpleasant and ungentlemanly person in his conduct to the young
officers. Mr. Hall has told me the same thing. I declare, I don't see
how they can speak to him at all, he has been so harsh and discourteous
and unjust." The color was rising in earnest now, but a warning glance
in her mother's eye seemed to check further words. There was an
instant's silence. Then Aunt Grace remarked,--

"Alice, your next-door neighbor has vanished. I think your vehemence has
frightened him."

Surely enough, the big, blue-eyed man in tweeds had disappeared. During
this brief controversy he had quickly and noiselessly let himself out of
the open door, swung lightly to the ground, and was out of sight among
the trees.

"Why, what a strange proceeding!" said Aunt Grace again. "We are fully a
mile and a half from the hotel, and he means to walk it in this glaring
sun."

Evidently he did. The driver reined up at the moment in response to a
suggestion from some one in a forward seat, and there suddenly appeared
by the wayside, striding out from the shelter of the sumachs, the
athletic figure of the stranger.

"Go ahead!" he called, in a deep chest-voice that had an unmistakable
ring to it,--the tone that one so readily recognizes in men accustomed
to prompt action and command. "I'm going across lots." And, swinging his
heavy stick, with quick, elastic steps and erect carriage the man in
gray plunged into a wood-path and was gone.

"Alice," said Aunt Grace, again, "that man is an officer, I'm sure, and
you have driven him into exile and lonely wandering. I've seen so much
of them when visiting my brother in the old days before my marriage that
even in civilian dress it is easy to tell some of them. Just look at
that back, and those shoulders! He has been a soldier all his life.
Horrors! suppose it should be Captain Armitage himself!"

Miss Renwick looked genuinely distressed, as well as vexed. Certainly no
officer but Captain Armitage would have had reason to leave the stage.
Certainly officers and their families occasionally visited Sablon in the
summer-time, but Captain Armitage could hardly be here. There was
comforting assurance in the very note she held in her hand.

"It cannot be," she said, "because Mr. Jerrold writes that they have
just heard from him at Sibley. He is still at the sea-shore, and will
not return for a month. Mr. Jerrold says he implored Captain Chester to
let him have three days' leave to come down here and have a sail and a
picnic with us, and was told that it would be out of the question."

"Did he tell you any other news?" asked Mrs. Maynard, looking up from
her letter again,--"anything about the german?"

"He says he thinks it a shame we are to be away and--well, read it
yourself." And she placed it in her mother's hands, the dark eyes
seriously, anxiously studying her face as she read. Presently Mrs.
Maynard laid it down and looked again into her own, then, pointing to a
certain passage with her finger, handed it to her daughter.

"Men were deceivers ever," she said, laughing, yet oracularly
significant.

And Alice Renwick could not quite control the start with which she
read,--

"Mr. Jerrold is to lead with his old love, Nina Beaubien. They make a
capital pair, and she, of course, will be radiant--with Alice out of the
way."

"That is something Mr. Jerrold failed to mention, is it not?"

Miss Renwick's cheeks were flushed, and the dark eyes were filled with
sudden pain, as she answered,--

"I did not know she was there. She was to have gone to the Lakes the
same day we left."

"She did go, Alice," said her mother, quietly, "but it was only for a
brief visit, it seems."

The colonel was not at their cottage when the omnibus reached the lake.
Over at the hotel were the usual number of loungers gathered to see the
new arrivals, and Alice presently caught sight of the colonel coming
through the park. If anything, he looked more listless and dispirited
than he had before they left. She ran down the steps to meet him,
smiling brightly up into his worn and haggard face.

"Are you feeling a little brighter, papa? Here are letters for you."

He took them wearily, barely glancing at the superscriptions.

"I had hoped for something more," he said, and passed on into the little
frame house which was his sister's summer home. "Is your mother here?"
he asked, looking back as he entered the door.

"In the north room, with Aunt Grace, papa," she answered; and then once
more and with graver face she began to read Mr. Jerrold's letter. It was
a careful study she was making of it this time, and not altogether a
pleasant one. Aunt Grace came out and made some laughing remark at
seeing her still so occupied. She looked up, pluckily smiling despite a
sense of wounded pride, and answered,--

"I am only convincing myself that it was purely on general principles
that Mr. Jerrold seemed so anxious I should be there. He never wanted me
to lead with him at all." All the same it stung, and Aunt Grace saw and
knew it, and longed to take her to her heart and comfort her; but it was
better so. She was finding him out unaided.

She was still studying over portions of that ingenious letter, when the
rustle of her aunt's gown indicated that she was rising. She saw her
move towards the steps, heard a quick, firm tread upon the narrow
planking, and glanced up in surprise. There, uncovering his
close-cropped head, stood the tall stranger, looking placidly up as he
addressed Aunt Grace:

"Pardon me, can I see Colonel Maynard?"

"He is at home. Pray come up and take a chair. I will let him know.
I--I felt sure you must be some friend of his when I saw you in the
stage," said the good lady, with manifest and apologetic uneasiness.

"Yes," responded the stranger, as he quickly ascended the steps and
bowed before her, smiling quietly the while. "Let me introduce myself. I
am Captain Armitage, of the colonel's regiment."

"There! I _knew_ it!" was Aunt Grace's response, as with both hands
uplifted in tragic despair she gave one horror-stricken glance at Alice
and rushed into the house.

There was a moment's silence; then, with burning cheeks, but with brave
eyes that looked frankly into his, Alice Renwick arose, came straight up
to him, and held out her pretty hand.

"Captain Armitage, I beg your pardon."

He took the extended hand and gazed earnestly into her face, while a
kind--almost merry--smile lighted up his own.

"Have the boys given me such an uncanny reputation as all that?" he
asked; and then, as though tickled with the comicality of the situation,
he began to laugh. "What ogres some of us old soldiers do become in the
course of years! Do you know, young lady, I might never have suspected
what a brute I was if it had not been for you? What a blessed thing it
was the colonel did not tell you I was coming! You would never have
given me this true insight into my character."

But she saw nothing to laugh at, and would not laugh. Her lovely face
was still burning with blushes and dismay and full of trouble.

"I do not look upon it lightly at all," she said. "It was unpardonable
in me to--to--"

"To take so effective and convincing a method of telling a man of his
grievous sins! Not a bit of it. I like a girl who has the courage to
stand up for her friends. I shall congratulate Jerrold and Hall both
when I get back, lucky fellows that they are!" And evidently Captain
Armitage was deriving altogether too much jolly entertainment from her
awkwardness. She rallied and strove to put an end to it.

"Indeed, Captain Armitage, I _do_ think the young officers sorely need
friends and advocates at times. I never would have knowingly spoken to
you of your personal responsibilities in the woes of Mr. Jerrold and Mr.
Hall, but since I have done so unwittingly I may as well define my
position, especially as you are so good-natured with it all." And here,
it must be admitted, Miss Renwick's beautiful eyes were shyly lifted to
his in a most telling way. Once there, they looked squarely into the
clear blue depths of his, and never flinched. "It seemed to me several
times at Sibley that the young officers deserved more consideration and
courtesy than their captains accorded them. It was not you alone that I
heard of."

"I am profoundly gratified to learn that somebody else is a brute," he
answered, trying to look grave, but with that irrepressible merriment
twitching at the corners of his mouth and giving sudden gleams of his
firm white teeth through the thick moustache. "You are come to us just
in time, Miss Renwick, and if you will let me come and tell you all my
sorrows the next time the colonel pitches into me for something wrong in
B Company, I'll give you full permission to overhaul me for everything
or anything I say and do to the youngsters. Is it a bargain?" And he
held out his big, firm hand.

"I think you are--very different from what I heard," was all her answer,
as she looked up in his eyes, twinkling as they were with fun. "Oh, we
are to shake hands on it as a bargain? Is that it? Very well, then."



IX.


When Captain Armitage left the cottage that night he did not go at once
to his own room. Brief as was the conversation he had enjoyed with Miss
Renwick, it was all that Fate vouchsafed him for that date at least. The
entire party went to tea together at the hotel, but immediately
thereafter the colonel carried Armitage away, and for two long hours
they were closeted over some letters that had come from Sibley, and when
the conference broke up and the wondering ladies saw the two men come
forth it was late,--almost ten o'clock,--and the captain did not venture
beyond the threshold of the sitting-room. He bowed and bade them a
somewhat ceremonious good-night. His eyes rested--lingered--on Miss
Renwick's uplifted face, and it was the picture he took with him into
the stillness of the summer night.

The colonel accompanied him to the steps, and rested his hand upon the
broad gray shoulder.

"God only knows how I have needed you, Armitage. This trouble has nearly
crushed me, and it seemed as though I were utterly alone. I had the
haunting fear that it was only weakness on my part and my love for my
wife that made me stand out against Chester's propositions. He can only
see guilt and conviction in every new phase of the case, and, though
you see how he tries to spare me, his letters give no hope of any other
conclusion."

Armitage pondered a moment before he answered. Then he slowly spoke:

"Chester has lived a lonely and an unhappy life. His first experience
after graduation was that wretched affair of which you have told me. Of
course I knew much of the particulars before, but not all. I respect
Chester as a soldier and a gentleman, and I like him and trust him as a
friend; but, Colonel Maynard, in a matter of such vital importance as
this, and one of such delicacy, I distrust, not his motives, but his
judgment. All his life, practically, he has been brooding over the
sorrow that came to him when your trouble came to you, and his mind is
grooved: he believes he sees mystery and intrigue in matters that others
might explain in an instant."

"But think of all the array of evidence he has."

"Enough, and more than enough, I admit, to warrant everything he has
thought or said of the man; but--"

"He simply puts it this way. If he be guilty, can she be less? Is it
possible, Armitage, that you are unconvinced?"

"Certainly I am unconvinced. The matter has not yet been sifted. As I
understand it, you have forbidden his confronting Jerrold with the
proofs of his rascality until I get there. Admitting the evidence of the
ladder, the picture, and the form at the window,--ay, the letter,
too,--I am yet to be convinced of one thing. You must remember that his
judgment is biassed by his early experiences. He fancies, that no woman
is proof against such fascinations as Jerrold's."

"And your belief?"

"Is that some women--_many_ women--are utterly above such a
possibility."

Old Maynard wrung his comrade's hand. "You make me hope in spite of
myself,--my past experiences,--my very senses, Armitage. I have leaned
on you so many years that I missed you sorely when this trial came. If
you had been there, things might not have taken this shape. He looks
upon Chester--and it's one thing Chester hasn't forgiven in him--as a
meddling old granny; you remember the time he so spoke of him last year;
but he holds you in respect, or is afraid of you,--which in a man of his
calibre is about the same thing. It may not be too late for you to act.
Then when he is disposed of once and for all, I can know what must be
done--where she is concerned."

"And under no circumstances can you question Mrs. Maynard?"

"No! no! If she suspected anything of this it would kill her. In any
event, she must have no suspicion of it _now_."

"But does she not ask? Has she no theory about the missing photograph?
Surely she must marvel over its disappearance."

"She _does_; at least, she _did_; but--I'm ashamed to own it,
Armitage--we had to quiet her natural suspicions in some way, and I told
her that it was my doing,--that I took it to tease Alice, put the
photograph in the drawer of my desk, and hid the frame behind her
sofa-pillow. Chester knows of the arrangement, and we had settled that
when the picture was recovered from Mr. Jerrold he would send it to me."

Armitage was silent. A frown settled on his forehead, and it was evident
that the statement was far from welcome to him. Presently he held forth
his hand.

"Well, good-night, sir. I must go and have a quiet think over this. I
hope you will rest well. You need it, colonel."

But Maynard only shook his head. His heart was too troubled for rest of
any kind. He stood gazing out towards the park, where the tall figure of
his ex-adjutant had disappeared among the trees. He heard the low-toned,
pleasant chat of the ladies in the sitting-room, but he was in no mood
to join them. He wished that Armitage had not gone, he felt such
strength and comparative hope in his presence; but it was plain that
even Armitage was confounded by the array of facts and circumstances
that he had so painfully and slowly communicated to him. The colonel
went drearily back to the room in which they had had their long
conference. His wife and sister both hailed him as he passed the
sitting-room door, and urged him to come and join them,--they wanted to
ask about Captain Armitage, with whom it was evident they were much
impressed; but he answered that he had some letters to put away, and he
must attend first to that.

Among those that had been shown to the captain, mainly letters from
Chester telling of the daily events at the fort and of his surveillance
in the case of Jerrold, was one which Alice had brought him two days
before. This had seemed to him of unusual importance, as the others
contained nothing that tended to throw new light on the case. It said,--

"I am glad you have telegraphed for Armitage, and heartily approve your
decision to lay the whole case before him. I presume he can reach you by
Sunday, and that by Tuesday he will be here at the fort and ready to
act. This will be a great relief to me, for, do what I could to allay
it, there is no concealing the fact that much speculation and gossip is
afloat concerning the events of that unhappy night. Leary declares he
has been close-mouthed; the other men on guard know absolutely nothing,
and Captain Wilton is the only officer to whom in my distress of mind I
betrayed that there _was_ a mystery, and he has pledged himself to me to
say nothing. Sloat, too, has an inkling, and a big one, that Jerrold is
the suspected party; but I never dreamed that anything had been seen or
heard which in the faintest way connected _your_ household with the
matter, until yesterday. Then Leary admitted to me that two women, Mrs.
Clifford's cook and the doctor's nursery-maid, had asked him whether it
wasn't Lieutenant Jerrold he fired at, and if it was true that he was
trying to get in at the colonel's back door. Twice Mrs. Clifford has
asked me very significant questions, and three times to-day have
officers made remarks to me that indicated their knowledge of the
existence of some grave trouble. What makes matters worse is that
Jerrold, when twitted about his absence from reveille, loses his temper
and gets confused. There came near being a quarrel between him and
Rollins at the mess a day or two since. He was saying that the reason he
slept through roll-call was the fact that he had been kept up very late
at the doctor's party, and Rollins happened to come in at the moment and
blurted out that if he was up at all it must have been after he left the
party, and reminded him that he had left before midnight with Miss
Renwick. This completely staggered Jerrold, who grew confused and tried
to cover it with a display of anger. Now, two weeks ago Rollins was most
friendly to Jerrold and stood up for him when I assailed him, but ever
since that night he has had no word to say for him. When Jerrold played
wrathful and accused Rollins of mixing in other men's business, Rollins
bounced up to him like a young bull-terrier, and I believe there would
have been a row had not Sloat and Hoyt promptly interfered. Jerrold
apologized, and Rollins accepted the apology, but has avoided him ever
since,--won't speak of him to me, now that I have reason to want to draw
him out. As soon as Armitage gets here he can do what I cannot,--find
out just what and who is suspected and talked about.

"Mr. Jerrold, of course, avoids me. He has been attending strictly to
his duty, and is evidently confounded that I did not press the matter of
his going to town as he did the day I forbade it. Mr. Hoyt's being too
late to see him personally gave me sufficient grounds on which to excuse
it; but he seems to understand that something is impending, and is
looking nervous and harassed. He has not renewed his request for leave
of absence to run down to Sablon. I told him curtly it was out of the
question."

The colonel took a few strides up and down the room. It had come, then.
The good name of those he loved was already besmirched by garrison
gossip, and he knew that nothing but heroic measures could ever silence
scandal. Impulse and the innate sense of "fight" urged him to go at once
to the scene, leaving his wife and her fair daughter here under his
sister's roof; but Armitage and common sense said no. He had placed his
burden on those broad gray shoulders, and, though ill content to wait,
he felt that he was bound. Stowing away the letters, too nervous to
sleep, too worried to talk, he stole from the cottage, and, with hands
clasped behind his back, with low-bowed head he strolled forth into the
broad vista of moonlit road.

There were bright lights still burning at the hotel, and gay voices came
floating through the summer air. The piano, too, was thrumming a waltz
in the parlor, and two or three couples were throwing embracing,
slowly-twirling shadows on the windows. Over in the bar-and
billiard-rooms the click of the balls and the refreshing rattle of
cracked ice told suggestively of the occupation of the inmates. Keeping
on beyond these distracting sounds, he slowly climbed a long, gradual
ascent to the "bench," or plateau above the wooded point on which were
grouped the glistening white buildings of the pretty summer resort, and,
having reached the crest, turned silently to gaze at the beauty of the
scene,--at the broad, flawless bosom of a summer lake all sheen and
silver from the unclouded moon. Far to the southeast it wound among the
bold and rock-ribbed bluffs rising from the forest growth at their base
to shorn and rounded summits. Miles away to the southward twinkled the
lights of one busy little town; others gleamed and sparkled over towards
the northern shore, close under the pole-star; while directly opposite
frowned a massive wall of palisaded rock, that threw, deep and heavy and
far from shore, its long reflection in the mirror of water. There was
not a breath of air stirring in the heavens, not a ripple on the face of
the waters beneath, save where, close under the bold headland down on
the other side, the signal-lights, white and crimson and green, creeping
slowly along in the shadows, revealed one of the packets ploughing her
steady way to the great marts below. Nearer at hand, just shaving the
long strip of sandy, wooded point that jutted far out into the lake, a
broad raft of timber, pushed by a hard-working, black-funnelled
stern-wheeler, was slowly forging its way to the outlet of the lake, its
shadowy edge sprinkled here and there with little sparks of lurid
red,--the pilot-lights that gave warning of its slow and silent coming.
Far down along the southern shore, under that black bluff-line, close to
the silver water-edge, a glowing meteor seemed whirling through the
night, and the low, distant rumble told of the "Atlantic Express"
thundering on its journey. Here, along with him on the level plateau,
were other roomy cottages, some dark, some still sending forth a guiding
ray; while long lines of white-washed fence gleamed ghostly in the
moonlight and were finally lost in the shadow of the great bluff that
abruptly shut in the entire point and plateau and shut out all further
sight of lake or land in that direction. Far beneath he could hear the
soft plash upon the sandy shore of the little wavelets that came
sweeping in the wake of the raft-boat and spending their tiny strength
upon the strand; far down on the hotel point he could still hear the
soft melody of the waltz; he remembered how the band used to play that
same air, and wondered why it was he used to like it; it jarred him now.
Presently the distant crack of a whip and the low rumble of wheels were
heard: the omnibus coming back from the station with passengers from the
night train. He was in no mood to see any one. He turned away and walked
northward along the edge of the bench, towards the deep shadow of the
great shoulder of the bluff, and presently he came to a long flight of
wooden stairs, leading from the plateau down to the hotel, and here he
stopped and seated himself awhile. He did not want to go home yet. He
wanted to be by himself,--to think and brood over his trouble. He saw
the omnibus go round the bend and roll up to the hotel door-way with its
load of pleasure-seekers, and heard the joyous welcome with which some
of their number were received by waiting friends, but life had little of
joy to him this night. He longed to go away,--anywhere, anywhere, could
he only leave this haunting misery behind. He was so proud of his
regiment; he had been so happy in bringing home to it his accomplished
and gracious wife; he had been so joyous in planning for the lovely
times Alice was to have,--the social successes, the girlish triumphs,
the garrison gayeties of which she was to be the queen,--and now, so
very, very soon, all had turned to ashes and desolation! She _was_ so
beautiful, so sweet, winning, graceful. Oh, God! _could_ it be that one
so gifted could possibly be so base? He rose in nervous misery and
clinched his hands high in air, then sat down again with hiding,
hopeless face, rocking to and fro as sways a man in mortal pain. It was
long before he rallied and again wearily arose. Most of the lights were
gone; silence had settled down upon the sleeping point; he was chilled
with the night air and the dew, and stiff and heavy as he tried to walk.
Down at the foot of the stairs he could see the night-watchman making
his rounds. He did not want to explain matters and talk with him: he
would go around. There was a steep pathway down into the ravine that
gave into the lake just beyond his sister's cottage, and this he sought
and followed, moving slowly and painfully, but finally reaching the
grassy level of the pathway that connected the cottages with the
wood-road up the bluff. Trees and shrubbery were thick on both sides,
and the path was shaded. He turned to his right, and came down until
once more he was in sight of the white walls of the hotel standing out
there on the point, until close at hand he could see the light of his
own cottage glimmering like faithful beacon through the trees; and then
he stopped short.

A tall, slender figure--a man in dark, snug-fitting clothing--was
creeping stealthily up to the cottage window.

The colonel held his breath: his heart thumped violently: he
waited,--watched. He saw the dark figure reach the blinds; he saw them
slowly, softly turned, and the faint light gleaming from within; he saw
the figure peering in between the slats, and then--God! was it
possible?--a low voice, a man's voice, whispering or hoarsely murmuring
a name: he heard a sudden movement within the room, as though the
occupant had heard and were replying, "Coming." His blood froze: it was
not Alice's room: it was his,--his and hers--his wife's,--and that was
surely her step approaching the window. Yes, the blind was quickly
opened. A white-robed figure stood at the casement. He could see, hear,
bear no more: with one mad rush he sprang from his lair and hurled
himself upon the shadowy stranger.

"You hound! who are you?"

But 'twas no shadow that he grasped. A muscular arm was round him in a
trice, a brawny hand at his throat, a twisting, sinewy leg was curled in
his, and he went reeling back upon the springy turf, stunned and
wellnigh breathless.

When he could regain his feet and reach the casement the stranger had
vanished; but Mrs. Maynard lay there on the floor within, a white and
senseless heap.



X.


Perhaps it was as well for all parties that Frank Armitage concluded
that he must have another whiff of tobacco that night as an incentive to
the "think" he had promised himself. He had strolled through the park to
the grove of trees out on the point and seated himself in the shadows.
Here his reflections were speedily interrupted by the animated
flirtations of a few couples who, tiring of the dance, came out into the
coolness of the night and the seclusion of the grove, where their
murmured words and soft laughter soon gave the captain's nerves a strain
they could not bear. He broke cover and betook himself to the very edge
of the stone retaining wall out on the point.

He wanted to think calmly and dispassionately; he meant to weigh all he
had read and heard and form his estimate of the gravity of the case
before going to bed. He meant to be impartial,--to judge her as he would
judge any other woman so compromised; but for the life of him he could
not. He bore with him the mute image of her lovely face, with its clear,
truthful, trustful dark eyes. He saw her as she stood before him on the
little porch when they shook hands on their laughing--or his
laughing--compact, for she would not laugh. How perfect she was!--her
radiant beauty, her uplifted eyes, so full of their self-reproach and
regret at the speech she had made at his expense! How exquisite was the
grace of her slender, rounded form as she stood there before him, one
slim hand half shyly extended to meet the cordial clasp of his own! He
wanted to judge and be just; but that image dismayed him. How could he
look on this picture and then--on that,--the one portrayed in the chain
of circumstantial evidence which the colonel had laid before him? It was
monstrous! it was treason to womanhood! One look in her eyes, superb in
their innocence, was too much for his determined impartiality. Armitage
gave himself a mental kick for what he termed his imbecility, and went
back to the hotel.

"It's no use," he muttered. "I'm a slave of the weed, and can't be
philosophic without my pipe."

Up to his little box of a room he climbed, found his pipe-case and
tobacco-pouch, and in five minutes was strolling out to the point once
more, when he came suddenly upon the night-watchman,--a personage of
whose functions and authority he was entirely ignorant. The man eyed
him narrowly, and essayed to speak. Not knowing him, and desiring to be
alone, Armitage pushed past, and was surprised to find that a hand was
on his shoulder and the man at his side before he had gone a rod.

"Beg pardon, sir," said the watchman, gruffly, "but I don't know you.
Are you stopping at the hotel?"

"I am," said Armitage, coolly, taking his pipe from his lips and blowing
a cloud over his other shoulder. "And who may you be?"

"I am the watchman; and I do not remember seeing you come to-day."

"Nevertheless I did."

"On what train, sir?"

"This afternoon's up-train."

"You certainly were not on the omnibus when it got here."

"Very true. I walked over from beyond the school-house."

"You must excuse me, sir. I did not think of that; and the manager
requires me to know everybody. Is this Major Armitage?"

"Armitage is my name, but I'm not a major."

"Yes, sir; I'm glad to be set right. And the other gentleman,--him as
was inquiring for Colonel Maynard to-night? He's in the army, too, but
his name don't seem to be on the book. He only came in on the late
train."

"Another man to see Colonel Maynard?" asked the captain, with sudden
interest. "Just come in, you say. I'm sure I've no idea. What was he
like?"

"I don't know, sir. At first I thought you was him. The driver told me
he brought a gentleman over who asked some questions about Colonel
Maynard, but he didn't get aboard at the dépôt, and he didn't come down
to the hotel,--got off somewhere up there on the bench, and Jim didn't
see him."

"Where's Jim?" said Armitage. "Come with me, watchman. I want to
interview him."

Together they walked over to the barn, which the driver was just locking
up after making everything secure for the night.

"Who was it inquiring for Colonel Maynard?" asked Armitage.

"I don't know, sir," was the slow answer. "There was a man got aboard as
I was coming across the common there in the village at the station.
There were several passengers from the train, and some baggage: so he
may have started ahead on foot but afterwards concluded to ride. As
soon as I saw him get in I reined up and asked where he was going; he
had no baggage nor nuthin', and my orders are not to haul anybody except
people of the hotel: so he came right forward through the 'bus and took
the seat behind me and said 'twas all right, he was going to the hotel;
and he passed up a half-dollar. I told him that I couldn't take the
money,--that 'bus-fares were paid at the office,--and drove ahead. Then
he handed me a cigar, and pretty soon he asked me if there were many
people, and who had the cottages; and when I told him, he asked which
was Colonel Maynard's, but he didn't say he knew him, and the next thing
I knew was when we got here to the hotel he wasn't in the 'bus. He must
have stepped back through all those passengers and slipped off up there
on the bench. He was in it when we passed the little brown church up on
the hill."

"What was he like?"

"I couldn't see him plain. He stepped out from behind a tree as we drove
through the common, and came right into the 'bus. It was dark in there,
and all I know is he was tall and had on dark clothes. Some of the
people inside must have seen him better; but they are all gone to bed, I
suppose."

"I will go over to the hotel and inquire, anyway," said Armitage, and
did so. The lights were turned down, and no one was there, but he could
hear voices chatting in quiet tones on the broad, sheltered veranda
without, and, going thither, found three or four men enjoying a quiet
smoke. Armitage was a man of action. He stepped at once to the group:

"Pardon me, gentlemen, but did any of you come over in the omnibus from
the station to-night?"

"I did, sir," replied one of the party, removing his cigar and twitching
off the ashes with his little finger, then looking up with the air of a
man expectant of question.

"The watchman tells me a man came over who was making inquiries for
Colonel Maynard. May I ask if you saw or heard of such a person?"

"A gentleman got in soon after we left the station, and when the driver
hailed him he went forward and took a seat near him. They had some
conversation, but I did not hear it. I only know that he got out again a
little while before we reached the hotel."

"Could you see him, and describe him? I am a friend of Colonel
Maynard's, an officer of his regiment,--which will account for my
inquiry."

"Well, yes, sir. I noticed he was very tall and slim, was dressed in
dark clothes, and wore a dark slouched hat well down over his forehead.
He was what I would call a military-looking man, for I noticed his walk
as he got off; but he wore big spectacles,--blue or brown glass, I
should say,--and had a heavy beard."

"Which way did he go when he left the 'bus?"

"He walked northward along the road at the edge of the bluff, right up
towards the cottages on the upper level," was the answer.

Armitage thanked him for his courtesy, explained that he had left the
colonel only a short time before and that he was then expecting no
visitor, and if one had come it was perhaps necessary that he should be
hunted up and brought to the hotel. Then he left the porch and walked
hurriedly through the park towards its northernmost limit. There to his
left stood the broad roadway along which, nestling under shelter of the
bluff, was ranged the line of cottages, some two-storied, with balconies
and verandas, others low, single-storied affairs with a broad hall-way
in the middle of each and rooms on both north and south sides.
Farthermost north on the row, almost hidden in the trees, and nearest
the ravine, stood Aunt Grace's cottage, where were domiciled the
colonel's household. It was in the big bay-windowed north room that he
and the colonel had had their long conference earlier in the evening.
The south room, nearly opposite, was used as their parlor and
sitting-room. Aunt Grace and Miss Renwick slept in the little front
rooms north and south of the hall-way, and the lights in their rooms
were extinguished; so, too, was that in the parlor. All was darkness on
the south and east. All was silence and peace as Armitage approached;
but just as he reached the shadow of the stunted oak-tree growing in
front of the house his ears were startled by an agonized cry, a woman's
half-stifled shriek. He bounded up the steps, seized the knob of the
door and threw his weight against it. It was firmly bolted within. Loud
he thundered on the panels. "'Tis I,--Armitage!" he called. He heard the
quick patter of little feet; the bolt was slid, and he rushed in, almost
stumbling against a trembling, terror-stricken, yet welcoming
white-robed form,--Alice Renwick, barefooted, with her glorious wealth
of hair tumbling in dark luxuriance all down over the dainty
night-dress,--Alice Renwick, with pallid face and wild imploring eyes.

"What is wrong?" he asked, in haste.

"It's mother,--her room,--and it's locked, and she won't answer," was
the gasping reply.

Armitage sprang to the rear of the hall, leaned one second against the
opposite wall, sent his foot with mighty impulse and muscled impact
against the opposing lock, and the door flew open with a crash. The next
instant Alice was bending over her senseless mother, and the captain was
giving a hand in much bewilderment to the panting colonel, who was
striving to clamber in at the window. The ministrations of Aunt Grace
and Alice were speedily sufficient to restore Mrs. Maynard. A
teaspoonful of brandy administered by the colonel's trembling hand
helped matters materially. Then he turned to Armitage.

"Come outside," he said.

Once again in the moonlight the two men faced each other.

"Armitage, can you get a horse?"

"Certainly. What then?"

"Go to the station, get men, if possible, and head this fellow off. He
was here again to-night, and it was not Alice he called, but my--but
Mrs. Maynard. I saw him; I grappled with him right here at the
bay-window where _she_ met him, and he hurled me to grass as though I'd
been a child. _I_ want a horse! I want that man to-night. How did he get
away from Sibley?"

"Do you mean--do you think it was Jerrold?"

"Good God, yes! Who else could it be? Disguised, of course, and bearded;
but the figure, the carriage, were just the same, and he came to this
window,--to _her_ window,--and called, and she answered. My God,
Armitage, think of it!"

"Come with me, colonel. You are all unstrung," was the captain's answer
as he led his broken friend away. At the front door he stopped one
moment, then ran up the steps and into the hall, where he tapped lightly
at the casement.

"What is it?" was the low response from an invisible source.

"Miss Alice?"

"Yes."

"The watchman is here now. I will send him around to the window to keep
guard until our return. The colonel is a little upset by the shock, and
I want to attend to him. We are going to the hotel a moment before I
bring him home. You are not afraid to have him leave you?"

"Not now, captain."

"Is Mrs. Maynard better?"

"Yes. She hardly seems to know what has happened. Indeed, none of us do.
What was it?"

"A tramp, looking for something to eat, tried to open the blinds, and
the colonel was out here and made a jump at him. They had a scuffle in
the shrubbery, and the tramp got away. It frightened your mother: that's
the sum of it, I think."

"Is papa hurt?"

"No: a little bruised and shaken, and mad as a hornet. I think perhaps
I'll get him quieted down and sleepy in a few minutes, if you and Mrs.
Maynard will be content to let him stay with me. I can talk almost any
man drowsy."

"Mamma seems to worry for fear he is hurt."

"Assure her solemnly that he hasn't a scratch. He is simply fighting
mad, and I'm going to try and find the tramp. Does Mrs. Maynard remember
how he looked?"

"She could not see the face at all. She heard some one at the shutters,
and a voice, and supposed of course it was papa, and threw open the
blind."

"Oh, I see. That's all, Miss Alice. I'll go back to the colonel.
Good-night!" And Armitage went forth with a lighter step.

"One sensation knocked endwise, colonel. I have it on the best of
authority that Mrs. Maynard so fearlessly went to the window in answer
to the voice and noise at the shutters simply because she knew you were
out there somewhere and she supposed it was you. How simple these
mysteries become when a little daylight is let in on them, after all!
Come, I'm going to take you over to my room for a stiff glass of grog,
and then after his trampship while you go back to bed."

"Armitage, you seem to make very light of this night's doings. What is
easier than to connect it all with the trouble at Sibley?"

"Nothing was ever more easily explained than this thing, colonel, and
all I want now is a chance to get that tramp. Then I'll go to Sibley;
and 'pon my word I believe that mystery can be made as commonplace a
piece of petty larceny as this was of vagrancy. Come."

But when Armitage left the colonel at a later hour and sought his own
room for a brief rest he was in no such buoyant mood. A night-search for
a tramp in the dense thickets among the bluffs and woods of Sablon
could hardly be successful. It was useless to make the attempt. He slept
but little during the cool August night, and early in the morning
mounted a horse and trotted over to the railway-station.

"Has any train gone northward since last night?" he inquired at the
office.

"None that stop here," was the answer. "The first train up comes along
at 11.56."

"I want to send a despatch to Fort Sibley and get an answer without
delay. Can you work it for me?"

The agent nodded, and pushed over a package of blanks. Armitage wrote
rapidly as follows:

"CAPTAIN CHESTER,

"Commanding Fort Sibley.

"Is Jerrold there? Tell him I will arrive Tuesday. Answer.

                                            "F. ARMITAGE."

It was along towards nine o'clock when the return message came clicking
in on the wires, was written out, and handed to the tall soldier with
the tired blue eyes.

He read, started, crushed the paper in his hand, and turned from the
office. The answer was significant:

"Lieutenant Jerrold left Sibley yesterday afternoon. Not yet returned.
Absent without leave this morning.

                                                "CHESTER."



XI.


Nature never vouchsafed to wearied man a lovelier day of rest than the
still Sunday on which Frank Armitage rode slowly back from the station.
The soft, mellow tone of the church-bell, tolling the summons for
morning service, floated out from the brown tower, and was echoed back
from the rocky cliff glistening in the August sunshine on the northern
bluff. Groups of villagers hung about the steps of the little sanctuary
and gazed with mild curiosity at the arriving parties from the cottages
and the hotel. The big red omnibus came up with a load of worshippers,
and farther away, down the vista of the road, Armitage could see others
on foot and in carriages, all wending their way to church. He was in no
mood to meet them. The story that he had been out pursuing a tramp
during the night was pretty thoroughly circulated by this time, he felt
assured, and every one would connect his early ride to the station, in
some way, with the adventure that the grooms, hostlers, cooks, and
kitchen-maids had all been dilating upon ever since daybreak. He dreaded
to meet the curious glances of the women, and the questions of the few
men whom he had taken so far into his confidence as to ask about the
mysterious person who came over in the stage with them. He reined up his
horse, and then, seeing a little pathway leading into the thick wood to
his right, he turned in thither and followed it some fifty yards among
bordering treasures of coreopsis and golden-rod and wild luxuriance of
vine and foliage. Dismounting in the shade, he threw the reins over his
arm and let his horse crop the juicy grasses, while he seated himself on
a little stump and fell to thinking again. He could hear the reverent
voices of one or two visitors strolling about among the peaceful,
flower-decked graves behind the little church and only a short
stone's-throw away through the shrubbery. He could hear the low, solemn
voluntary of the organ, and presently the glad outburst of young voices
in the opening hymn, but he knew that belated ones would still be coming
to church, and he would not come forth from his covert until all were
out of the way. Then, too, he was glad of a little longer time to think:
he did not want to tell the colonel the result of his morning
investigations.

To begin with: the watchman, the driver, and the two men whom he had
questioned were all of an opinion as to the character of the stranger:
"he was a military man." The passengers described his voice as that of a
man of education and social position; the driver and passengers declared
his walk and carriage to be that of a soldier: he was taller, they said,
than the tall, stalwart Saxon captain, but by no means so heavily built.
As to age, they could not tell: his beard was black and curly,--no gray
hairs; his movements were quick and elastic; but his eyes were hidden by
those colored glasses, and his forehead by the slouch of that
broad-brimmed felt hat.

At the station, while awaiting the answer to his despatch, Armitage had
questioned the agent as to whether any man of that description had
arrived by the night train from the north. He had seen none, he said,
but there was Larsen over at the post-office store, who came down on
that train; perhaps he could tell. Oddly enough, Mr. Larsen recalled
just such a party,--tall, slim, dark, dark-bearded, with blue glasses
and dark hat and clothes,--but he was bound for Lakeville, the station
beyond, and he remained in the car when he, Larsen, got off. Larsen
remembered the man well, because he sat in the rear corner of the
smoker and had nothing to say to anybody, but kept reading a newspaper;
and the way he came to take note of him was that while standing with two
friends at that end of the car they happened to be right around the man.
The Saturday evening train from the city is always crowded with people
from the river towns who have been up to market or the _matinées_, and
even the smoker was filled with standing men until they got some thirty
miles down. Larsen wanted to light a fresh cigar, and offered one to
each of his friends: then it was found they had no matches, and one of
them, who had been drinking a little and felt jovial, turned to the dark
stranger and asked him for a light, and the man, without speaking,
handed out a little silver match-box. It was just then that the
conductor came along, and Larsen saw his ticket. It was a "round trip"
to Lakeville: he was evidently going there for a visit, and therefore,
said Larsen, he didn't get off at Sablon Station, which was six miles
above.

But Armitage knew better. It was evident that he had quietly slipped out
on the platform of the car after the regular passengers had got out of
the way, and let himself off into the darkness on the side opposite the
station. Thence he had an open and unimpeded walk of a few hundred yards
until he reached the common, and then, when overtaken by the hotel
omnibus, he could jump aboard and ride. There was only one road, only
one way over to the hotel, and he could not miss it. There was no doubt
now that, whoever he was, the night visitor had come down on the evening
train from the city; and his return ticket would indicate that he meant
to go back the way he came. It was half-past ten when that train
arrived. It was nearly midnight when the man appeared at the cottage
window. It was after two when Armitage gave up the search and went to
bed. It was possible for the man to have walked to Lakeville, six miles
south, and reached the station there in abundant time to take the
up-train which passed Sablon, without stopping, a little before
daybreak. If he took that train, and if he was Jerrold, he would have
been in the city before seven, and could have been at Fort Sibley before
or by eight o'clock. But Chester's despatch showed clearly that at
8.30--the hour for signing the company morning reports--Mr. Jerrold was
not at his post. Was he still in the neighborhood and waiting for the
noon train? If so, could he be confronted on the cars and accused of his
crime? He looked at his watch; it was nearly eleven, and he must push on
to the hotel before that hour, report to the colonel, then hasten back
to the station. He sprang to his feet, and was just about to mount,
when a vision of white and scarlet came suddenly into view. There,
within twenty feet of him, making her dainty way through the shrubbery
from the direction of the church, sunshine and shadow alternately
flitting across her lovely face and form, Alice Renwick stepped forth
into the pathway, and, shading her eyes with her hand, gazed along the
leafy lane towards the road, as though expectant of another's coming.
Then, attracted by the beauty of the golden-rod, she bent and busied
herself with gathering in the yellow sprays. Armitage, with one foot in
the stirrup, stood stock-still, half in surprise, half stunned by a
sudden and painful thought. Could it be that she was there in hopes of
meeting--any one?

He retook his foot from the stirrup, and, relaxing the rein, still stood
gazing at her over his horse's back. That placid quadruped, whose years
had been spent in these pleasant by-ways and were too many to warrant an
exhibition of coltish surprise, promptly lowered his head and resumed
his occupation of grass-nibbling, making a little crunching noise which
Miss Renwick might have heard, but apparently did not. She was singing
very softly to herself,--

  "Daisy, tell my fortune, pray:
  He loves me not,--he loves me."

And still Armitage stood and gazed, while she, absorbed in her pleasant
task, still pulled and plucked at the golden-rod. In all his life no
"vision of fair women" had been to him fair and sacred and exquisite as
this. Down to the tip of her arched and slender foot, peeping from
beneath the broidered hem of her snowy skirt, she stood the lady born
and bred, and his eyes looked on and worshipped her,--worshipped, yet
questioned, Why came she here? Absorbed, he released his hold on the
rein, and Dobbin, nothing loath, reached with his long, lean neck for
further herbage, and stepped in among the trees. Still stood his
negligent master, fascinated in his study of the lovely, graceful girl.
Again she raised her head and looked northward along the winding, shaded
wood-path. A few yards away were other great clusters of the wild
flowers she loved, more sun-kissed golden-rod, and, with a little murmur
of delight, gathering her dainty skirts in one hand, she flitted up the
pathway like an unconscious humming-bird garnering the sweets from every
blossom. A little farther on the pathway bent among the trees, and she
would be hidden from his sight; but still he stood and studied her
every movement, drank in the soft, cooing melody of her voice as she
sang, and then there came a sweet, solemn strain from the brown, sunlit
walls just visible through the trees, and reverent voices and the
resonant chords of the organ thrilled through the listening woods the
glorious anthem of the church militant.

At the first notes she lifted up her queenly head and stood, listening
and appreciative. Then he saw her rounded throat swelling like a bird's,
and the rich, full tones of her voice rang out through the welcoming
sunshine, and the fluttering wrens, and proud red-breasted robins, and
rival song-queens, the brown-winged thrushes,--even the impudent
shrieking jays,--seemed to hush and listen. Dobbin, fairly astonished,
lifted up his hollow-eyed head and looked amazedly at the white
songstress whose scarlet sash and neck-ribbons gleamed in such vivid
contrast to the foliage about her. A wondering little "cotton-tail"
rabbit, shy and wild as a hawk, came darting through the bushes into the
sunshiny patchwork on the path, and then, uptilted and with quivering
ears and nostrils and wide-staring eyes, stood paralyzed with helpless
amaze, ignoring the tall man in gray as did the singer herself. Richer,
rounder, fuller grew the melody, as, abandoning herself to the impulse
of the sacred hour, she joined with all her girlish heart in the words
of praise and thanksgiving,--in the glad and triumphant chorus of the Te
Deum. From beginning to end she sang, now ringing and exultant, now soft
and plaintive, following the solemn words of the ritual,--sweet and low
and suppliant in the petition, "We therefore pray Thee help Thy servants
whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious blood," confident and exulting
in the declaration, "Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ," and then
rich with fearless trust and faith in the thrilling climax, "Let me
never be confounded." Armitage listened as one in a trance. From the
depth of her heart the girl had joined her glorious voice to the chorus
of praise and adoration, and now that all was stilled once more her head
had fallen forward on her bosom, her hands, laden with golden-rod, were
joined together: it seemed as though she were lost in prayer.

And this was the girl, this the pure, God-worshipping, God-fearing
woman, who for one black instant he had dared to fancy had come here
expectant of a meeting with the man whose aim had been frustrated but
the night before! He could have thrown himself at her feet and implored
her pardon. He _did_ step forth, and then, hat in hand, baring his
proud Saxon head as his forefathers would have uncovered to their
monarch, he waited until she lifted up her eyes and saw him, and knew by
the look in his frank face that he had stood by, a mute listener to her
unstudied devotions. A lovely flush rose to her very temples, and her
eyes drooped their pallid lids until the long lashes swept the crimson
of her cheeks.

"Have _you_ been here, captain? I never saw you," was her fluttering
question.

"I rode in here on my way back from the station, not caring to meet all
the good people going to church. I felt like an outcast."

"I, too, am a recreant to-day. It is the first time I have missed
service in a long while. Mamma felt too unstrung to come, and I had
given up the idea, but both she and Aunt Grace urged me. I was too late
for the omnibus, and walked up, and then I would not go in because
service was begun, and I wanted to be home again before noon. I cannot
bear to be late at church, or to leave it until everything is over, but
I can't be away from mother so long to-day. Shall we walk that way now?"

"In a minute. I must find my horse. He is in here somewhere. Tell me how
the colonel is feeling, and Mrs. Maynard."

"Both very nervous and worried, though I see nothing extraordinary in
the adventure. We read of poor hungry tramps everywhere, and they rarely
do harm."

"I wonder a little at your venturing here in the wood-paths, after what
occurred last night."

"Why, Captain Armitage, no one would harm me here, so close to the
church. Indeed, I never thought of such a thing until you mentioned it.
Did you discover anything about the man?"

"Nothing definite; but I must be at the station again to meet the
up-train, and have to see the colonel meantime. Let me find Dobbin, or
whatever they call this venerable relic I'm riding, and then I'll escort
you home."

But Dobbin had strayed deeper into the wood. It was some minutes before
the captain could find and catch him. The rich melody of sacred music
was again thrilling through the perfumed woods, the glad sunshine was
pouring its warmth and blessing over all the earth, glinting on bluff
and brake and palisaded cliff, the birds were all singing their
rivalling psaltery, and Nature seemed pouring forth its homage to the
Creator and Preserver of all on this His holy day, when Frank Armitage
once more reached the bowered lane where, fairest, sweetest sight of
all, his lady stood waiting him. She turned to him as she heard the
hoof-beat on the turf, and smiled.

"Can we wait and hear that hymn through?"

"Ay. Sing it."

She looked suddenly in his face. Something in the very tone in which he
spoke startled her,--something deeper, more fervent, than she had ever
heard before,--and the expression in the steady, deep-blue eyes was
another revelation. Alice Renwick had a woman's intuition, and yet she
had not known this man a day. The color again mounted to her temples,
and her eyes fell after one quick glance.

"I heard you joining in the Te Deum," he urged. "Sing once more: I love
it. There, they are just beginning again. Do you know the words?"

She nodded, then raised her head, and her glad young voice carolled
through the listening woods:

  "Holy, holy, holy! All
    Heaven's triumphant choir shall sing,
  When the ransomed nations fall
    At the footstool of their King:
  Then shall saints and seraphim,
  Hearts and voices, swell one hymn
  Round the throne with full accord,
  Holy, holy, holy Lord!"

There was silence when the music ceased. She had turned her face towards
the church, and, as the melody died away in one prolonged, triumphant
chord, she still stood in reverent attitude, as though listening for the
words of benediction. He, too, was silent, but his eyes were fixed on
her. He was thirty-five, she not twenty. He had lived his soldier life
wifeless, but, like other soldiers, his heart had had its rubs and aches
in the days gone by. Years before he had thought life a black void when
the girl he fancied while yet he wore the Academic gray calmly told him
she preferred another. Nor had the intervening years been devoid of
their occasional yearnings for a mate of his own in the isolation of the
frontier or the monotony of garrison life; but flitting fancies had left
no trace upon his strong heart. The love of his life only dawned upon
him at this late day when he looked into her glorious eyes and his whole
soul went out in passionate worship of the fair girl whose presence
made that sunlit lane a heaven. Were he to live a thousand years, no
scene on earth could rival in his eyes the love-haunted woodland pathway
wherein like forest queen she stood, the sunshine and leafy shadows
dancing over her graceful form, the golden-rod enhancing her dark and
glowing beauty, the sacred influences of the day throwing their mystic
charm about her as though angels guarded and shielded her from harm. His
life had reached its climax; his fate was sealed; his heart and soul
were centred in one sweet girl,--and all in one brief hour in the
woodland lane at Sablon.

She could not fail to see the deep emotion in his eyes as at last she
turned to break the silence.

"Shall we go?" she said, simply.

"It is time; but I wish we could remain."

"You do not go to church very often at Sibley, do you?"

"I have not, heretofore; but you would teach me to worship." "You _have_
taught me," he muttered below his breath, as he extended a hand to
assist her down the sloping bank towards the avenue. She looked up
quickly once more, pleased, yet shy, and shifted her great bunch of
golden-rod so that she could lay her hand in his and lean upon its
steady strength down the incline; and so, hand in hand, with old Dobbin
ambling placidly behind, they passed out from the shaded pathway to the
glow and radiance of the sunlit road.



XII.


"Colonel Maynard, I admit everything you say as to the weight of the
evidence," said Frank Armitage, twenty minutes later, "but it is my
faith--understand me: my _faith_, I say--that she is utterly innocent.
As for that damnable letter, I do not believe it was ever written to
her. It is some other woman."

"What other is there, or was there?" was the colonel's simple reply.

"That is what I mean to find out. Will you have my baggage sent after me
to-night? I am going at once to the station, and thence to Sibley. I
will write you from there. If the midnight visitor should prove to have
been Jerrold, he can be made to explain. I have always held him to be a
conceited fop, but never either crack-brained or devoid of principle.
There is no time for explanation _now_. Good-by; and keep a good
lookout. That fellow may be here again."

And in an hour more Armitage was skimming along the winding river-side
_en route_ to Sibley. He had searched the train from pilot to rear
platform, and no man who in the faintest degree resembled Mr. Jerrold
was on board. He had wired to Chester that he would reach the fort that
evening, but would not resume duty for a few days. He made another
search through the train as they neared the city, and still there was no
one who in stature or appearance corresponded with the descriptions
given him of the sinewy visitor.

Late in the afternoon Chester received him as he alighted from the train
at the little station under the cliff. It was a beautiful day, and
numbers of people were driving or riding out to the fort, and the high
bridge over the gorge was constantly resounding to the thunder of hoofs.
Many others, too, had come out on the train; for the evening
dress-parade always attracted a swarm of visitors. A corporal of the
guard, with a couple of men, was on hand to keep vigilant eye on the
arrivals and to persuade certain proscribed parties to re-enter the cars
and go on, should they attempt to revisit the post, and the faces of
these were lighted up as they saw their old adjutant; but none others of
the garrison appeared.

"Let us wait a moment and get these people out of the way," said
Armitage. "I want to talk with you. Is Jerrold back?"

"Yes. He came in just ten minutes after I telegraphed to you, was
present at inspection, and if it had not been for your despatch this
morning I should not have known he had remained out of quarters. He
appeared to resent my having been to his quarters,--calls it spying, I
presume."

"What permission had he to be away?"

"I gave him leave to visit town on personal business yesterday
afternoon. He merely asked to be away a few hours to meet friends in
town, and Mr. Hall took tattoo roll-call for him. As I do not require
any other officer to report the time of his return, I did not exact it
of him; but of course no man can be away after midnight without special
permission, and he was gone all night. What is it, Armitage? Has he
followed her down there?"

"Somebody was there last night and capsized the colonel pretty much as
he did you the night of the ladder episode," said Armitage, coolly.

"By heaven! and I let him go!"

"How do you know 'twas he?"

"Who else could it be, Armitage?"

"That's what the colonel asks; but it isn't clear to me yet awhile."

"I wish it were less clear to me," said Chester, gloomily. "The worst
is that the story is spreading like a pestilence all over the post. The
women have got hold of it, and there is all manner of talk. I shouldn't
be surprised if Mrs. Hoyt had to be taken violently ill. She has written
to invite Miss Renwick to visit her, as it is certain that Colonel and
Mrs. Maynard cannot come, and Hoyt came to me in a horror of amaze
yesterday to know if there were any truth in the rumor that I had caught
a man coming out of Mrs. Maynard's window the other night. I would tell
him nothing, and he says the ladies declare they won't go to the german
if _she_ does. Heavens! I'm thankful you are come. The thing has been
driving me wild these last twelve hours. I wanted to go away myself.
_Is_ she coming up?"

"No, she isn't; but let me say this, Chester: that whenever she is ready
to return I shall be ready to escort her."

Chester looked at his friend in amazement, and without speaking.

"Yes, I see you are astonished, but you may as well understand the
situation. I have heard all the colonel could tell, and have even seen
the letter, and since she left here a mysterious stranger has appeared
by night at Sablon, at the cottage window, though it happened to be her
mother's this time, and I don't believe Alice Renwick knows the first
thing about it."

"Armitage, are you in love?"

"Chester, I am in my sound senses. Now come and show me the ladder, and
where you found it, and tell me the whole story over again. I think it
grows interesting. One moment: has he that picture yet?"

"I suppose so. I don't know. In these last few days everybody is
fighting shy of him. He thinks it is my doing, and looks black and sulky
at me, but is too proud or too much afraid of consequences to ask the
reason of the cold shoulders and averted looks. Gray has taken seven
days' leave and gone off with that little girl of his to place her with
relatives in the East. He has heard the stories, and it is presumed that
some of the women have told her. She was down sick here a day or two."

"Well, now for the window and the ladder. I want to see the outside
through your eyes, and then I will view the interior with my own. The
colonel bids me do so."

Together they slowly climbed the long stairway leading up the face of
the cliff. Chester stopped for a breathing-spell more than once.

"You're all out of condition, man," said the younger captain, pausing
impatiently. "What has undone you?"

"This trouble, and nothing else. By gad! it has unstrung the whole
garrison, I believe. You never saw our people fall off so in their
shooting. Of course we expected Jerrold to go to pieces, but nobody
else."

"There were others that seemed to fall away, too. Where was that
cavalry-team that was expected to take the skirmish medal away from us?"

"Sound as a dollar, every man, with the single exception of their big
sergeant. I don't like to make ugly comparisons to a man whom I believe
to be more than half interested in a woman, but it makes me think of the
old story about Medusa. One look at her face is too much for a man. That
Sergeant McLeod went to grass the instant he caught sight of her, and
never has picked up since."

"Consider me considerably more than half interested in the woman in this
case, Chester: make all the comparisons that you like, provided they
illumine matters as you are doing now, and tell me more of this Sergeant
McLeod. What do you mean by his catching sight of her and going to
grass?"

"I mean he fell flat on his face the moment he saw her, and hasn't been
in good form from that moment to this. The doctor says it's
heart-disease."

"That's what the colonel says troubles Mrs. Maynard. She was senseless
and almost pulseless some minutes last night. What manner of man is
McLeod?"

"A tall, slim, dark-eyed, swarthy fellow,--a man with a history and a
mystery, I judge."

"A man with a history,--a mystery,--who is tall, slim, has dark eyes and
swarthy complexion, and faints away at sight of Miss Renwick, might be
said to possess peculiar characteristics,--family traits, some of them.
Of course you've kept an eye on McLeod. Where is he?"

Chester stood leaning on the rail, breathing slowly and heavily. His
eyes dilated as he gazed at Armitage, who was surveying him coolly,
though the tone in which he spoke betrayed a new interest and a vivid
one.

"I confess I never thought of him in connection with this affair," said
Chester.

"There's the one essential point of difference between us," was the
reply. "You go in on the supposition that there is only one solution to
this thing, and that a woman must be dishonored to begin with. I believe
there can be several solutions, and that there is only one thing in the
lot that is at all impossible."

"What's that?"

"Miss Renwick's knowledge of that night's visitor, or of any other
secret or sin. I mean to work other theories first; and the McLeod trail
is a good one to start on. Where can I get a look at him?"

"Somewhere out in the Rockies by this time. He was ordered back to his
troop five days ago, and they are out scouting at this moment, unless
I'm vastly mistaken. You have seen the morning despatches?"

"About the Indians? Yes. Looks squally at the Spirit Rock reservation.
Do you mean that McLeod is there?"

"That's where his troop ought to be by this time. There is too small a
force on the trail now, and more will have to go if a big outbreak is to
be prevented."

"Then he has gone, and I cannot see him. Let me look at the window,
then."

A few steps brought them to the terrace, and there, standing by the west
wall and looking up at the closed slats of the dormer-window, Captain
Chester retold the story of his night-adventure. Armitage listened
attentively, asking few questions. When it was finished, the latter
turned and walked to the rear door, which opened on the terrace. It was
locked.

"The servants are having a holiday, I presume," he said. "So much the
better. Ask the quartermaster for the key of the front door, and I'll go
in while everybody is out looking at dress-parade. There goes first call
now. Let your orderly bring it to me here, will you?"

Ten minutes later, with beating heart, he stood and uncovered his
handsome head and gazed silently, reverently around him. He was in her
room.

It was dainty as her own dainty self. The dressing-table, the windows,
the pretty little white bed, the broad, inviting lounge, the work-table
and basket, the very wash-stand, were all trimmed and decked
alike,--white and yellow prevailing. White lace curtains draped the
window on the west--that fateful window--and the two that opened out on
the roof of the piazza. White lace curtains draped the bed, the
dressing-table, and the wash-stand; white lace, or some equally flimsy
and feminine material, hung about her book-shelves and work-table and
over the lounge; and bows of bright yellow ribbon were everywhere,
yellow pin-cushions and wall-pockets hung about the toilet-table, soft
yellow rugs lay at the bed-and lounge-side, and a sunshiny tone was
given to the whole apartment by the shades of yellow silk that hung
close to the windows.

On the wall were some choice etchings and a few foreign photographs. On
the book-shelves were a few volumes of poetry, and the prose of George
Eliot and our own Hawthorne. Hanging on pegs in the corner of the simple
army room, covered by a curtain, were some heavy outer-garments,--an
ulster, a travelling coat and cape of English make, and one or two
dresses that were apparently too thick to be used at this season of the
year. He drew aside the curtain one moment, took a brief glance at the
garments, raised the hem of a skirt to his lips, and turned quickly
away. A door led from the room to the one behind it,--a spare bedroom,
evidently, that was lighted only from the back of the house and had no
side-window at all. Another door led to the hall, a broad, old-fashioned
affair, and crossing this he stood in the big front room occupied by the
colonel and his wife. This was furnished almost as luxuriously (from an
army point of view) as that of Miss Renwick, but not in white and
yellow. Armitage smiled to see the evidences of Mrs. Maynard's taste and
handiwork on every side. In the years he had been the old soldier's
adjutant nothing could have exceeded the simplicity with which the
colonel surrounded himself. Now it was something akin to Sybaritish
elegance, thought the captain; but all the same he made his deliberate
survey. There was the big dressing-table and bureau on which had stood
that ravished picture,--that photograph of the girl he loved which
others were able to speak of, and one man to appropriate feloniously,
while yet he had never seen it. His impulse was to go to Jerrold's
quarters and take him by the throat and demand it of him; but what right
had he? How knew he, even, that it was now there? In view of the words
that Chester had used towards him, Jerrold must know of the grievous
danger in which he stood. That photograph would prove most damaging
evidence if discovered. Very probably, after yielding to his vanity and
showing it to Sloat he meant to get it back. Very certainly, after
hearing Chester's words he must have determined to lose no time in
getting rid of it. He was no fool, if he was a coxcomb.

Looking around the half-darkened room, Armitage lingered long over the
photographs which hung about the dressing-table and over the
mantel,--several prettily-framed duplicates of those already described
as appearing in the album. One after another he took them in his hands,
bore them to the window, and studied them attentively: some were not
replaced without a long, lingering kiss. He had not ventured to disturb
an item in her room. He would not touch the knob of a drawer or attempt
to open anything she had closed, but here in quarters where his colonel
could claim joint partnership he felt less sentiment or delicacy. He
closed the hall door and tried the lock, turning the knob to and fro.
Then he reopened the door and swung it upon its hinges. For a wonder,
neither lock nor hinges creaked. The door worked smoothly and with
little noise. Then he similarly tried the door of her room. It was in
equally good working order,--quite free from the squeak and complaint
with which quartermasters' locks and hinges are apt to do their
reluctant duty. The discovery pleased him. It was possible for one to
open and close these portals noiselessly, if need be, and without
disturbing sleepers in either room. Returning to the east chamber, he
opened the shades, so as to get more light, and his eye fell upon an old
album lying on a little table that stood by the bedside. There was a
night-lamp upon the table, too,--a little affair that could hold only a
thimbleful of oil and was intended, evidently, to keep merely a faint
glow during the night hours. Other volumes--a Bible, some devotional
books, like "The Changed Cross," and a Hymnal or two--were also there;
but the album stood most prominent, and Armitage curiously took it up
and opened it.

There were only half a dozen photographs in the affair. It was rather a
case than an album, and was intended apparently for only a few family
pictures. There was but one that interested him, and this he examined
intently, almost excitedly. It represented a little girl of nine or ten
years,--Alice, undoubtedly,--with her arms clasped about the neck of a
magnificent St. Bernard dog and looking up into the handsome features of
a tall, slender, dark-eyed, black-haired boy of sixteen or thereabouts;
and the two were enough alike to be brother and sister. Who, then, was
this boy?

Armitage took the photograph to the window and studied it carefully.
Parade was over, and the troops were marching back to their quarters.
The band was playing gloriously as it came tramping into the quadrangle,
and the captain could not but glance out at his own old company as in
compact column of fours it entered the grassy diamond and swung off
towards the barracks. He saw a knot of officers, too, turning the corner
by the adjutant's office, and for a moment he lowered the album to look.
Mr. Jerrold was not of the number that came sauntering up the walk,
dropping away by ones or twos as they reached their doors and unbuckled
their belts or removed their helmets in eager haste to get out of the
constraint of full dress. But in another moment Jerrold, too, appeared,
all alone, walking rapidly and nervously. Armitage watched him, and
could not but see how other men turned away or gave him the coolest
possible nod as he passed. The tall, slender lieutenant was handsomer
even than when he last saw him; and yet there was gloom and worry on the
dark beauty of his face. Nearer and nearer he came, and had passed the
quarters of the other officers and was almost at the door of his own,
when Armitage saw a little, wiry soldier in full dress uniform running
across the parade as though in pursuit. He recognized Merrick, one of
the scapegraces of his company, and wondered why he should be chasing
after his temporary commander. Just as Jerrold was turning under the
piazza the soldier seemed to make himself heard, and the lieutenant,
with an angry frown on his face, stopped and confronted him.

"I told you not to come to me again," he said, so loud that every word
was audible to the captain standing by the open window above. "What do
you mean, sir, by following me in this way?"

The reply was inaudible. Armitage could see the little soldier standing
in the respectful position of "attention," looking up and evidently
pleading.

"I won't do it until I'm ready," was again heard in Jerrold's angry
tones, though this time the lieutenant glanced about, as though to see
if others were within earshot. There was no one, apparently, and he grew
more confident. "You've been drinking again to-day, Merrick; you're not
sober now; and I won't give you money to get maudlin and go to blabbing
secrets on. No, sir! Go back to your quarters, and stay there."

The little soldier must indeed have been drinking, as the lieutenant
declared. Armitage saw that he hesitated, instead of obeying at once,
and that his flushed face was angrily working, then that he was arguing
with his superior and talking louder. This was contrary to all the
captain's ideas of proper discipline, even though he was indignant at
the officer for permitting himself to be placed in so false and
undignified a position. Jerrold's words, too, had acquired a wide
significance; but they were feeble as compared with the sudden outburst
that came from the soldier's lips:

"By God, lieutenant, you bribed me to silence to cover your tracks, and
then you refuse to pay. If you don't want me to tell what I know, the
sooner you pay that money the better."

This was more than Armitage could stand. He went down-stairs three at a
jump and out through the colonel's garden with quick, impetuous steps.
Jerrold's furious face turned ashen at the sight, and Merrick, with one
amazed and frightened look at his captain, faced about and slunk
silently away. To him Armitage paid no further attention. It was to the
officer he addressed himself:

"Mr. Jerrold, I have heard pretty much all this conversation. It simply
adds to the evil report with which you have managed to surround
yourself. Step into your quarters. I must see you alone."

Jerrold hesitated. He was thunderstruck by the sudden appearance of the
captain whom he had believed to be hundreds of miles away. He connected
his return unerringly with the web of trouble which had been weaving
about him of late. He conceived himself to have been most unjustly spied
upon and suspected, and was full of resentment at the conduct of Captain
Chester. But Chester was an old granny, who sometimes made blunders and
had to back down. It was a different thing when Armitage took hold.
Jerrold looked sulkily into the clear, stern, blue eyes a moment, and
the first impulse of rebellion wilted. He gave one irresolute glance
around the quadrangle, then motioned with his hand to the open door.
Something of the old, jaunty, Creole lightness of manner reasserted
itself.

"After you, captain," he said.



XIII.


Once within-doors, it was too dark for Armitage to see the features of
his lieutenant; and he had his own reasons for desiring to read them.
Mr. Jerrold, on the other hand, seemed disposed to keep in the shadows
as much as possible. He made no movement to open the shutters of the one
window which admitted light from the front, and walked back to his
bedroom door, glanced in there as though to see that there were no
occupants, then carefully closed it as he returned to face his captain.
He took off his helmet and placed it on the centre-table, then,
thrusting his thumbs inside the handsome, gold-broidered sword-belt,
stood in a jaunty attitude but with a very uneasy look in his eyes to
hear what his senior might have to say. Between the two men an
invitation to sit would have been a superfluity. Neither had ever
remained long enough in the other's quarters, since the exchange of the
first calls when Jerrold came to the garrison, to render a chair at all
necessary.

"Be good enough to strike a light, Mr. Jerrold," said Armitage,
presently, seeing that his unwilling host made no effort on his own
account.

"I proposed going out at once, captain, and presume you cannot have any
very extended remarks to make."

"You cannot see the writing I have to call your attention to without a
light. I shall detain you no longer than is necessary. Had you an
engagement?"

"Nothing of great consequence. I presume it will keep."

"It will have to. The matter I have come upon will admit no further
delay. Light your lamp, if you please."

And Jerrold did so, slowly and with much reluctance. He wiped his
forehead vigorously the instant the flame began to splutter, but as the
clear, steady light of the argand gradually spread over the little room
Armitage could see the sweat again beading his forehead, and the dark
eyes were glancing nervously about, and the hands that were so firm and
steady and fine the year before and held the Springfield in so light yet
immovable an aim were twitching now. It was no wonder Jerrold's score
had dropped some thirty per cent. His nerve had gone to pieces.

Armitage stood and watched him a moment. Then he slowly spoke:

"I have no desire to allude to the subject of your conversation with
Merrick. It was to put an end to such a thing--not to avail myself of
any information it might give--that I hurried in. We will put that aside
and go at once to the matter that brings me back. You are aware, of
course, that your conduct has compromised a woman's name, and that the
garrison is talking of nothing else."

Jerrold grasped the back of a chair with one slender brown hand, and
looked furtively about as though for some hope of escape. Something like
a startled gulp seemed to work his throat-muscles an instant; then he
stammered his reply:

"I don't know what you mean."

"You _do_ know what I mean. Captain Chester has already told you."

"Captain Chester came in here and made an unauthorized inspection of my
quarters because he heard a shot fired by a sentry. I was out: I don't
deny that. But he proceeded to say all manner of insulting and
unwarrantable things, and tried to force me to hand in a resignation,
simply because I was out of quarters after taps. I could account for
_his_ doing something so idiotic, but I'm at a loss to comprehend your
taking it up."

"The most serious allegation ever made against an officer of the
regiment is made against you, the senior lieutenant of my company, and
the evidence furnished me by the colonel and by Captain Chester is of
such a character that, unless you can refute it and clear her name, you
will have a settlement with me to start with, and your dismissal from
the regiment--"

"Settlement with you? What concern have you in the matter?" interrupted
Jerrold.

"Waste no words on that, Mr. Jerrold. Understand that where her name is
concerned no man on earth is more interested than I. Now answer me. You
were absent from your quarters for some hours after the doctor's party.
Somebody believed to have been you was seen and fired at for refusing to
halt at the order of Captain Chester at 3.30 in the morning. The ladder
that usually hung at your fence was found at the colonel's while you
were out, and that night a woman's name was compromised beyond repair
unless you can repair it. Unless you prove beyond peradventure where you
were both that night and last night,--prove beyond question that you
were not where you are believed to have been,--her name is stained and
yours blackened forever. There are other things you must fully explain;
but these first."

Jerrold's face was growing gray and sickly. He stared at the stern eyes
before him, and could make no answer. His lips moved dryly, but made no
sound.

"Come, I want to hear from you. Where were you, if not with, or seeking,
her? Name your place and witnesses."

"By God, Captain Armitage, the army is no longer a place for a
gentleman, if his every movement is to be spied upon like this!"

"The world is no place for a man of your stamp, is perhaps a better way
of putting it," said Armitage, whose fingers were twitching
convulsively, and whose whole frame quivered with the effort he was
making to restrain the rage and indignation that consumed him. He could
not--he would not--believe in her guilt. He must have this man's proof,
no matter how it might damn _him_ for good and all, no matter whom else
it might involve, so long as it cleared her precious name. He must be
patient, he must be calm and resolute; but the man's cold-blooded,
selfish, criminal concealment nearly maddened him. With infinite effort
he controlled himself, and went on:

"But it is of her I'm thinking, not of you. It is the name you have
compromised and can clear, and should clear, even at the expense of your
own,--in fact, Mr. Jerrold, _must_ clear. Now will you tell me where you
were and how you can prove it?"

"I decline to say. I won't be cross-questioned by men who have no
authority. Captain Chester said he would refer it to the colonel; and
when _he_ asks I will answer,--not until then."

"I ask in his name. I am authorized by him, for he is not well enough to
meet the ordeal."

"You say so, and I don't mean to dispute your word, Captain Armitage,
but I have a right to demand some proof. How am I to know he authorized
you?"

"He himself gave me this letter, in your handwriting," said Armitage;
and, opening the long envelope, he held forth the missive over which the
poor old colonel had gone nearly wild. "He found it the morning they
left,--in her garden."

If Jerrold's face had been gray before, it was simply ghastly now. He
recoiled from the sight after one fruitless effort to grasp the letter,
then rallied with unlooked-for spirit:

"By heaven, Armitage, suppose I _did_ write that letter? What does it
prove but what I say,--that somebody has been prying and spying into my
affairs? How came the colonel by it, if not by fraud or treachery?"

"He picked it up in the garden, I tell you,--among the rose-bushes,
where she--where Miss Renwick had been but a few moments before, and
where it might appear that she had dropped it."

"_She!_ That letter! What had she to do with it? What right had she to
read it?"

Armitage stepped impulsively forward. A glad, glorious light was
bursting upon his soul. He could almost have seized Jerrold's hand and
thanked him; but proofs--proofs were what he needed. It was not his mind
that was to be convinced, it was "society" that must be satisfied of her
utter innocence, that it might be enabled to say, "Well, I never for a
moment believed a word of it." Link by link the chain of circumstantial
evidence must be destroyed, and this was only one.

"You mean that that letter was not intended for Miss Renwick?" he asked,
with eagerness he strove hard to repress.

"It was never meant for anybody," said Jerrold, the color coming back to
his face and courage to his eyes. "That letter was never sent by me to
any woman. It's my writing, of course, I can't deny that; but I never
even meant it to go. If it left that desk it must have been stolen. I've
been hunting high and low for it. I knew that such a thing lying around
loose would be the cause of mischief. God! is _that_ what all this fuss
is about?" And he looked warily, yet with infinite anxiety, into his
captain's eyes.

"There is far more to it, as you well know, sir," was the stern answer.
"For whom was this written, if not for her? It won't do to _half_ clear
her name."

"Answer me this, Captain Armitage. Do you mean that that letter has
compromised Miss Renwick?--that it is she whose name has been involved,
and that it was of her that Chester meant to speak?"

"Certainly it was,--and I too."

There was an instant's silence; then Jerrold began to laugh nervously:

"Oh, well, I fancy it isn't the first time the revered and respected
captain has got away off the track. All the same I do not mean to
overlook his language to me; and I may say right now, Captain Armitage,
that yours, too, calls for explanation."

"You shall have it in short order, Mr. Jerrold, and the sooner you
understand the situation the better. So far as I am concerned, Miss
Renwick needed no defender; but, thanks to your mysterious and
unwarranted absence from quarters two very unlucky nights, and to other
circumstances I have no need to name, and to your _penchant_ for
letter-writing of a most suggestive character, it _is_ Miss Renwick
whose name has been brought into question here at this post, and most
prominently so. In plain words, Mr. Jerrold, you who brought this
trouble upon her by your own misconduct must clear her, no matter at
whose expense, or--"

"Or what?"

"I make no threats. I prefer that you should make the proper
explanations from a proper sense of what is due."

"And suppose I say that no man is called upon to explain a situation
which has been distorted and misrepresented by the evil imagination of
his fellows?"

"Then I may have to wring the truth out of you,--and _will_; but, for
her sake, I want as little publicity as possible. After this display on
your part, I am not bound to show you any consideration whatever.
Understand this, however: the array of evidence that you were
feloniously inside Colonel Maynard's quarters that night and at his
cottage window last night is of such a character that a court would
convict you unless your _alibi_ was conclusive. Leave the service you
certainly shall, unless this whole thing is cleared up."

"I never was anywhere near Colonel Maynard's either last night or the
other night I was absent."

"You will have to prove it. Mere denials won't help you in the face of
such evidence as we have that you were there the first time."

"What evidence?"

"The photograph that was stolen from Mrs. Maynard between two and four
o'clock that morning was seen in your drawer by Major Sloat at reveille.
You were fool enough to show it to him."

"Captain Armitage, I shall be quite able to show, when the proper time
comes, that the photograph I showed Major Sloat was _not_ stolen: it was
given me."

"That is beyond belief, Mr. Jerrold. Once and for all, understand this
case. You have compromised her good name by the very mystery of your
actions. You have it in your power to clear her by proving where you
were, since you were not near her,--by showing how you got that
photograph,--by explaining how you came to write so strange a letter.
Now I say to you, will you do it, instantly, or must we wring it from
you?"

A sneering smile was the only answer for a moment; then,--

"I shall take great pleasure in confounding my enemies should the matter
be brought before a court,--I'm sure if the colonel can stand that sort
of thing I can,--but as for defending myself or anybody else from
utterly unjust and proofless suspicions, it's quite another thing."

"Good God, Jerrold! do you realize what a position you are taking? Do
you--"

"Oh, not at all, captain," was the airy reply, "not at all. It is not a
position I have taken: it is one into which you misguided conspirators
have forced me. I certainly am not required to compromise anybody else
in order to relieve a suspicion which you, not I, have created. How do
you know that there may not be some other woman whose name I propose to
guard? You have been really very flattering in your theories so far."

Armitage could bear no more. The airy conceit and insolence of the man
overcame all self-restraint and resolution. With one bound he was at his
throat, his strong white hands grasping him in a sudden, vice-like grip,
then hurling him with stunning, thundering force to the floor. Down,
headlong, went the tall lieutenant, his sword clattering by his side,
his slim brown hands clutching wildly at anything that might bear him
up, and dragging with him in his catastrophe a rack of hunting-pouches,
antlers, and one heavy double-barrelled shot-gun. All came tumbling down
about the struggling form, and Armitage, glaring down at him with
clinching fists and rasping teeth, had only time to utter one deep-drawn
malediction when he noted that the struggles ceased and Jerrold lay
quite still. Then the blood began to ooze from a jagged cut near the
temple, and it was evident that the hammer of the gun had struck him.

Another moment, and the door opened, and with anxious face Chester
strode into the room. "You haven't killed him, Armitage? Is it as bad as
that?"

"Pick him up, and we'll get him on the bed. He's only stunned. I didn't
even hit him. Those things tumbled afterwards," said Armitage, as
between them they raised the dead weight of the slender Adonis in their
arms and bore him to the bedroom. Here they bathed the wound with cold
water and removed the uniform coat, and presently the lieutenant began
to revive and look about him.

"Who struck me?" he faintly asked.

"Your shot-gun fell on your head, but I threw you down, Jerrold. I'm
sorry I touched you, but you're lucky it was no worse. This thing is
going to raise a big bump here. Shall I send the doctor?"

"No. I'll come round presently. We'll see about this thing afterwards."

"Is there any friend you want to see? Shall I send word to anybody?"
asked Chester.

"No. Don't let anybody come. Tell my striker to bring my breakfast; but
I want nothing to-night but to be let alone."

"At least you will let me help you undress and get to bed?" said
Chester.

"No. I wish you'd go,--both of you. I want quiet,--peace,--and there's
none of it with either of you."

And so they left him. Later Captain Chester had gone to the quarters,
and, after much parleying from without, had gained admission. Jerrold's
head was bound in a bandage wet with arnica and water. He had been
solacing himself with a pipe and a whiskey toddy, and was in a not
unnaturally ugly mood.

"You may consider yourself excused from duty until your face is well
again, by which time this matter will be decided. I admonish you to
remain here and not leave the post until it is."

"You can prefer charges and see what you'll make of it," was the
vehement reply. "Devil a bit will I help you out of the thing, after
this night's work."



XIV.


Tuesday, and the day of the long-projected german had come; and if ever
a lot of garrison-people were wishing themselves well out of a flurry it
was the social circle at Sibley. Invitations had been sent to all the
prominent people in town who had shown any interest in the garrison
since the regiment's arrival; beautiful favors had been procured; an
elaborate supper had been prepared,--the ladies contributing their
efforts to the salads and other solids, the officers wisely confining
their donations to the wines. It was rumored that new and original
figures were to be danced, and much had been said about this feature in
town, and much speculation had been indulged in; but the Beaubien
residence had been closed until the previous day, Nina was away with her
mother and beyond reach of question, and Mr. Jerrold had not shown his
face in town since her departure. Nor was he accessible when visitors
inquired at the fort. They had never known such mysterious army people
in their lives. What on earth could induce them to be so close-mouthed
about a mere german? one might suppose they had something worth
concealing; and presently it became noised abroad that there was genuine
cause for perplexity, and possibly worse.

To begin with, every one at Sibley now knew something of the night
adventure at the colonel's, and, as no one could give the true statement
of the case, the stories in circulation were gorgeous embellishments of
the actual facts. It would be useless, even if advisable, to attempt to
reproduce these wild theories, but never was army garrison so
tumultuously stirred by the whirlwind of rumor. It was no longer denied
for an instant that the absence of the colonel and his household was the
direct result of that night's discoveries; and when, to Mrs. Hoyt's
inexpressible relief, there came a prettily-worded note from Alice on
Monday evening informing her that neither the colonel nor her mother
felt well enough to return to Sibley for the german, and that she
herself preferred not to leave her mother at a time when she needed her
care, Mrs. Hoyt and her intimates, with whom she instantly conferred,
decided that there could be no doubt whatever that the colonel knew of
the affair, had forbidden their return, and was only waiting for further
evidence to decide what was to be done with his erring step-daughter.
Women talked with bated breath of the latest stories in circulation, of
Chester's moody silence and preoccupation, of Jerrold's ostracism, and
of Frank Armitage's sudden return.

On Monday morning the captain had quietly appeared in uniform at the
office, and it was known that he had relinquished the remainder of his
leave of absence and resumed command of his company. There were men in
the garrison who well knew that it was because of the mystery
overhanging the colonel's household that Armitage had so suddenly
returned. They asked no questions and sought no explanation. All men
marked, however, that Jerrold was not at the office on Monday, and many
curiously looked at the morning report in the adjutant's office. No, he
was not in arrest; neither was he on sick-report. He was marked present
for duty, and yet he was not at the customary assembly of all the
commissioned officers at head-quarters. More mystery, and most
exasperating, too, it was known that Armitage and Jerrold had held a
brief talk in the latter's quarters soon after Sunday's evening parade,
and that the former had been reinforced for a time by Captain Chester,
with whom he was afterwards closeted. Officers who heard that he had
suddenly returned and was at Chester's went speedily to the latter's
quarters,--at least two or three did,--and were met by a servant at the
door, who said that the gentlemen had just gone out the back way. And,
sure enough, neither Chester nor Armitage came home until long after
taps; and then the colonel's cook told several people that the two
gentlemen had spent over an hour up-stairs in the colonel's and Miss
Alice's room and "was foolin' around the house till near ten o'clock."

Another thing that added to the flame of speculation and curiosity was
this. Two of the ladies, returning from a moonlit stroll on the terrace
just after tattoo, came through the narrow passage-way on the west side
of the colonel's quarters, and there, at the foot of the little flight
of steps leading up to the parade, they came suddenly upon Captain
Chester, who was evidently only moderately pleased to see them and
nervously anxious to expedite their onward movement. With the perversity
of both sexes, however, they stopped to chat and inquire what he was
doing there, and in the midst of it all a faint light gleamed on the
opposite wall and the reflection of the curtains in Alice Renwick's
window was distinctly visible. Then a sturdy masculine shadow appeared,
and there was a rustling above, and then, with exasperating, mysterious,
and epigrammatic terseness, a deep voice propounded the utterly
senseless question,--

"How's that?"

To which, in great embarrassment, Chester replied,--

"Hold on a minute. I'm talking with some interested spectators."

Whereat the shadow of the big man shot out of sight, and the ladies
found that it was useless to remain,--there would be no further
developments so long as they did; and so they came away, with many a
lingering backward look. "But the idea of asking such a fool question as
'How's that?' Why couldn't the man _say_ what he meant?" It was
gathered, however, that Armitage and Chester had been making some
experiments that bore in some measure on the mystery. And all this time
Mr. Jerrold was in his quarters, only a stone's-throw away. How
interested _he_ must have been!

But, while the garrison was relieved at knowing that Alice Renwick would
not be on hand for the german and it was being fondly hoped she might
never return to the post, there was still another grievous
embarrassment. How about Mr. Jerrold?

He had been asked to lead when the german was first projected, and had
accepted. That was fully two weeks before; and now--no one knew just
what ought to be done. It was known that Nina Beaubien had returned on
the previous day from a brief visit to the upper lakes, and that she had
a costume of ravishing beauty in which to carry desolation to the hearts
of the garrison belles in leading that german with Mr. Jerrold. Old
Madame Beaubien had been reluctant, said her city friends, to return at
all. She heartily disapproved of Mr. Jerrold, and was bitterly set
against Nina's growing infatuation for him. But Nina was headstrong and
determined: moreover, she was far more than a match for her mother's
vigilance, and it was known at Sibley that two or three times the girl
had been out at the fort with the Suttons and other friends when the
old lady believed her in quarters totally different. Cub Sutton had
confided to Captain Wilton that Madame Beaubien was in total ignorance
of the fact that there was to be a party at the doctor's the night he
had driven out with Nina and his sister, and that Nina had "pulled the
wool over her mother's eyes" and made her believe she was going to spend
the evening with friends in town, naming a family with whom the
Beaubiens were intimate. A long drive always made the old lady sleepy,
and, as she had accompanied Nina to the fort that afternoon, she went
early to bed, having secured her wild birdling, as she supposed, from
possibility of further meetings with Jerrold. For nearly a week, said
Cub, Madame Beaubien had dogged Nina so that she could not get a moment
with the man with whom she was evidently so smitten, and the girl was
almost at her wits' end with seeing the depth of his flirtation with
Alice Renwick and the knowledge that on the morrow her mother would
spirit her off to the cool breezes and blue waves of the great lake. Cub
said she so worked on Fanny's feelings that they put up the scheme
together and made him bring them out. Gad! if old Maman only found it
out there'd be no more germans for Nina. She'd ship her off to the good
Sisters at Creve-Coeur and slap her into a convent and leave all her
money to the Church.

And yet, said city society, old Maman idolized her beautiful daughter
and could deny her no luxury or indulgence. She dressed her superbly,
though with a somewhat barbaric taste where Nina's own good sense and
Eastern teaching did not interfere. What she feared was that the girl
would fall in love with some adventurer, or--what was quite as bad--some
army man who would carry her darling away to Arizona or other
inaccessible spot. Her plan was that Nina should marry here--at
home--some one of the staid young merchant princes rising into
prominence in the Western metropolis, and from the very outset Nina had
shown a singular infatuation for the buttons and straps and music and
heaven-knows-what-all out at the fort. She gloried in seeing her
daughter prominent in all scenes of social life. She rejoiced in her
triumphs, and took infinite pains with all preparations. She would have
set her foot against Nina's simply dancing the german at the fort with
Jerrold as a partner, but she could not resist it that the papers should
announce on Sunday morning that "the event of the season at Fort Sibley
was the german given last Tuesday night by the ladies of the garrison
and led by the lovely Miss Beaubien" with Lieutenant or Captain
Anybody. There were a dozen bright, graceful, winning women among the
dames and damsels at the fort, and Alice Renwick was a famous beauty by
this time. It was more than Maman Beaubien could withstand, that her
Nina should "lead" all these, and so her consent was won. Back they came
from Chequamegon, and the stately home on Summit Avenue reopened to
receive them. It was Monday noon when they returned, and by three
o'clock Fanny Sutton had told Nina Beaubien what she knew of the
wonderful rumors that were floating in from Sibley. She was more than
half disposed to be in love with Jerrold herself. She expected a proper
amount of womanly horror, incredulity, and indignation; but she was
totally unprepared for the outburst that followed. Nina was transformed
into a tragedy queen on the instant, and poor, simple-hearted, foolish
Fanny Sutton was almost scared out of her small wits by the fire of
denunciation and fury with which her story was greeted. She came home
with white, frightened face and hunted up Cub and told him that she had
been telling Nina some of the queer things the ladies had been saying
about Mr. Jerrold, and Nina almost tore her to pieces, and could he go
right out to the fort to see Mr. Jerrold? Nina wanted to send a note at
once; and if he couldn't go she had made her promise that she would get
somebody to go instantly and to come back and let her know before four
o'clock. Cub was always glad of an excuse to go out to the fort, but a
coldness had sprung up between him and Jerrold. He had heard the ugly
rumors in that mysterious way in which all such things are heard, and,
while his shallow pate could not quite conceive of such a monstrous
scandal and he did not believe half he heard, he sagely felt that in the
presence of so much smoke there was surely some fire, and avoided the
man from whom he had been inseparable. Of course he had not spoken to
him on the subject, and, singularly enough, this was the case with all
the officers at the post except Armitage and the commander. It was
understood that the matter was in Chester's hands, to do with as was
deemed best. It was believed that his resignation had been tendered; and
all these forty-eight hours since the story might be said to be fairly
before the public, Jerrold had been left much to himself, and was
presumably in the depths of dismay.

One or two men, urged by their wives, who thought it was really time
something were done to let him understand he ought not to lead the
german, had gone to see him and been refused admission. Asked from
within what they wanted, the reply was somewhat difficult to frame, and
in both cases resolved itself into "Oh, about the german;" to which
Jerrold's voice was heard to say, "The german's all right. I'll lead if
I'm well enough and am not bothered to death meantime; but I've got some
private matters to attend to, and am not seeing anybody to-day." And
with this answer they were fain to be content. It had been settled,
however, that the officers were to tell Captain Chester at ten o'clock
that in their opinion Mr. Jerrold ought not to be permitted to attend so
long as this mysterious charge hung over him; and Mr. Rollins had been
notified that he must be ready to lead.

Poor Rollins! He was in sore perplexity. He wanted nothing better than
to dance with Nina Beaubien. He wondered if she _would_ lead with him,
or would even come at all when she learned that Jerrold would be unable
to attend. "Sickness" was to be the ostensible cause, and in the youth
and innocence of his heart Rollins never supposed that Nina would hear
of all the other assignable reasons. He meant to ride in and call upon
her Monday evening; but, as ill luck would have it, old Sloat, who was
officer of the day, stepped on a round pebble as he was going down the
long flight to the railway-station, and sprained his ankle. Just at five
o'clock Rollins got orders to relieve him, and was returning from the
guard-house, when who should come driving in but Cub Sutton, and Cub
reined up and asked where he would be apt to find Mr. Jerrold.

"He isn't well, and has been denying himself to all callers to-day,"
said Rollins, shortly.

"Well, I've got to see him, or at least get a note to him," said Cub.
"It's from Miss Beaubien, and requires an answer."

"You know the way to his quarters, I presume," said Rollins, coldly:
"you have been there frequently. I will have a man hold your horse, or
you can tie him there at the rail, just as you please."

"Thanks. I'll go over, I believe." And go he did, and poor Rollins was
unable to resist the temptation of watching whether the magic name of
Nina would open the door. It did not; but he saw Cub hand in the little
note through the shutters, and ere long there came another from within.
This Cub stowed in his waistcoat-pocket and drove off with, and Rollins
walked jealously homeward. But that evening he went through a worse
experience, and it was the last blow to his budding passion for
sparkling-eyed Nina.

It was nearly tattoo, and a dark night, when Chester suddenly came in:

"Rollins, you remember my telling you I was sure some of the men had
been getting liquor in from the shore down below the station and
'running it' that way? I believe we can nab the smuggler this evening.
There's a boat down there now. The corporal has just told me."

Smuggling liquor was one of Chester's horrors. He surrounded the post
with a cordon of sentries who had no higher duty, apparently, than that
of preventing the entrance of alcohol in any form. He had run a
"red-cross" crusade against the post-trader's store in the matter of
light wines and small beer, claiming that only adulterated stuff was
sold to the men, and forbidding the sale of anything stronger than "pop"
over the trader's counter. Then, when it became apparent that liquor was
being brought on the reservation, he made vigorous efforts to break up
the practice. Colonel Maynard rather poohpoohed the whole business. It
was his theory that a man who was determined to have a drink might
better be allowed to take an honest one, _coram publico_, than a
smuggled and deleterious article; but he succumbed to the rule that only
"light wines and beer" should be sold at the store, and was lenient to
the poor devils who overloaded and deranged their stomachs in
consequence. But Chester no sooner found himself in command than he
launched into the crusade with redoubled energy, and spent hours of the
day and night trying to capture invaders of the reservation with a
bottle in their pockets. The bridge was guarded, so was the crossing of
the Cloudwater to the south, and so were the two roads entering from the
north and west; and yet there was liquor coming in, and, as though "to
give Chester a benefit," some of the men in barracks had a royal old
spree on Saturday night, and the captain was sorer-headed than any of
the participants in consequence. In some way he heard that a rowboat
came up at night and landed supplies of contraband down by the
river-side out of sight and hearing of the sentry at the
railway-station, and it was thither he hurriedly led Rollins this Monday
evening.

They turned across the railway on reaching the bottom of the long
stairs, and scrambled down the rocky embankment on the other side,
Rollins following in reluctant silence and holding his sword so that it
would not rattle, but he had no faith in the theory of smugglers. He
felt in some vague and unsatisfactory way a sense of discomfort and
anxiety over his captain's late proceedings, and this stealthy descent
seemed fraught with ill omen.

Once down in the flats, their footsteps made no noise in the yielding
sand, and all was silence save for the plash of the waters along the
shores. Far down the river were the reflections of one or two twinkling
lights, and close under the bank in the slack-water a few stars were
peeping at their own images, but no boat was there, and the captain led
still farther to a little copse of willow, and there, in the shadows,
sure enough, was a row-boat, with a little lantern dimly burning, half
hidden in the stern.

Not only that, but as they halted at the edge of the willows the captain
put forth a warning hand and cautioned silence. No need. Rollins's
straining eyes were already fixed on two figures that were standing in
the shadows not ten feet away,--one that of a tall, slender man, the
other a young girl. It was a moment before Rollins could recognize
either; but in that moment the girl had turned suddenly, had thrown her
arms about the neck of the tall young man, and, with her head pillowed
on his breast, was gazing up in his face.

"Kiss me once more, Howard. Then I must go," they heard her whisper.

Rollins seized his captain's sleeve, and strove, sick at heart, to pull
him back; but Chester stoutly stood his ground. In the few seconds more
that they remained they saw his arms more closely enfold her. They saw
her turn at the brink, and, in an utter abandonment of rapturous,
passionate love, throw her arms again about his neck and stand on tiptoe
to reach his face with her warm lips. They could not fail to hear the
caressing tone of her every word, or to mark his receptive but gloomy
silence. They could not mistake the voice,--the form, shadowy though it
was. The girl was Nina Beaubien, and the man, beyond question, Howard
Jerrold. They saw him hand her into the light skiff and hurriedly kiss
her good-night. Once again, as though she could not leave him, her arms
were thrown about his neck and she clung to him with all her strength;
then the little boat swung slowly out into the stream, the sculls were
shipped, and with practised hand Nina Beaubien pulled forth into the
swirling waters of the river, and the faint light, like slowly-setting
star, floated downward with the sweeping tide and finally disappeared
beyond the point.

Then Jerrold turned to leave, and Chester stepped forth and confronted
him:

"Mr. Jerrold, did I not instruct you to confine yourself to your
quarters until satisfactory explanation was made of the absences with
which you are charged?"

Jerrold started at the abrupt and unlooked-for greeting, but his answer
was prompt:

"Not at all, sir. You gave me to understand that I was to remain
here--not to leave the post--until you had decided on certain points;
and, though I do not admit the justice of your course, and though you
have put me to grave inconvenience, I obeyed the order. I needed to go
to town to-day on urgent business, but, between you and Captain
Armitage, am in no condition to go. For all this, sir, there will come
proper retribution when my colonel returns. And now, sir, you are spying
upon me,--_spying_, I say,--and it only confirms what I said of you
before."

"Silence, Mr. Jerrold! This is insubordination."

"I don't care a damn what it is, sir! There is nothing contemptuous
enough for me to say of you or your conduct to me--"

"Not another word, Mr. Jerrold! Go to your quarters in arrest.--Mr.
Rollins, you are witness to this language."

But Rollins was not. Turning from the spot in blankness of heart before
a word was uttered between them, he followed the waning light with eyes
full of yearning and trouble; he trudged his way down along the sandy
shore until he came to the silent waters of the slough and could go no
farther; and then he sat him down and covered his face with his hands.
It was pretty hard to bear.



XV.


Tuesday still, and all manner of things had happened and were still to
happen in the hurrying hours that followed Sunday night. The garrison
woke at Tuesday's reveille in much perturbation of spirit, as has been
said, but by eight o'clock and breakfast-time one cause of perplexity
was at an end. Relief had come with Monday afternoon and Alice Renwick's
letter saying she would not attend the german, and now still greater
relief in the news that sped from mouth to mouth: Lieutenant Jerrold was
in close arrest. Armitage and Chester had been again in consultation
Monday night, said the gossips, and something new had been
discovered,--no one knew just what,--and the toils had settled upon
Jerrold's handsome head, and now he was to be tried. As usual in such
cases, the news came in through the kitchen, and most officers heard it
at the breakfast-table from the lips of their better halves, who could
hardly find words to express their sentiments as to the inability of
their lords to explain the new phase of the situation. When the first
sergeant of Company B came around to Captain Armitage with the
sick-book, soon after six in the morning, the captain briefly directed
him to transfer Lieutenant Jerrold on the morning report from present
for duty to "in arrest," and no sooner was it known at the quarters of
Company B than it began to work back to Officers' Row through the medium
of the servants and strikers.

It was the sole topic of talk for a full hour. Many ladies who had
intended going to town by the early train almost perilled their chances
of catching the same in their eagerness to hear further details.

But the shriek of the whistle far up the valley broke up the group that
was so busily chatting and speculating over in the quadrangle, and, with
shy yet curious eyes, the party of at least a dozen--matrons and maids,
wives or sisters of the officers--scurried past the darkened windows of
Mr. Jerrold's quarters, and through the mysterious passage west of the
colonel's silent house, and down the long stairs, just in time to catch
the train that whirled them away city-ward almost as soon as it had
disgorged the morning's mail. Chatting and laughing, and full of blithe
anticipation of the glories of the coming german, in preparation for
which most of their number had found it necessary to run in for just an
hour's shopping, they went jubilantly on their way. Shopping done, they
would all meet, take luncheon together at the "Woman's Exchange," return
to the post by the afternoon train, and have plenty of time for a little
nap before dressing for the german. Perhaps the most interesting
question now up for discussion was, who would lead with Mr. Rollins? The
train went puffing into the crowded dépôt: the ladies hastened forth,
and in a moment were on the street; cabs and carriages were passed in
disdain; a brisk walk of a block carried them to the main thoroughfare
and into the heart of the shopping district; a rush of hoofs and wheels
and pedestrians there encountered them, and the roar assailed their
sensitive and unaccustomed ears, yet high above it all pierced and
pealed the shrill voices of the newsboys darting here and there with
their eagerly-bought journals. But women bent on germans and shopping
have time and ears for no such news as that which demands the
publication of extras. Some of them never hear or heed the cry, "Indian
Massacree!" "Here y'are! All about the killin' of Major Thornton an' his
sojers!" "Extry!--extry!" It is not until they reach the broad portals
of the great Stewart of the West that one of their number, half
incredulously, buys a copy and reads aloud: "Major Thornton, ----th
Infantry, Captain Langham and Lieutenant Bliss, ----th Cavalry, and
thirty men, are killed. Captains Wright and Lane and Lieutenants Willard
and Brooks, ----th Cavalry, and some forty more men, are seriously
wounded. The rest of the command is corralled by an overwhelming force
of Indians, and their only hope is to hold out until help can reach
them. All troops along the line of the Union Pacific are already under
orders."

"Oh, isn't it dreadful?"

"Yes; but aren't you glad it wasn't Ours? Oh, look! there's Nina
Beaubien over there in her carriage. _Do_ let's find out if she's going
to lead with Rollins!"

_Væ victis_! Far out in the glorious Park country in the heart of the
Centennial State a little band of blue-coats, sent to succor a perilled
agent, is making desperate stand against fearful odds. Less than two
hundred men has the wisdom of the Department sent forth through the
wilderness to find and, if need be, fight its way through five times its
weight in well-armed foes. The officers and men have no special quarrel
with those Indians, nor the Indians with them. Only two winters before,
when those same Indians were sick and starving, and their lying
go-betweens, the Bureau-employees, would give them neither food nor
justice, a small band made their way to the railway and were fed on
soldier food and their wrongs righted by soldier justice. But another
snarl has come now, and this time the Bureau-people are in a pickle, and
the army--ever between two fires at least, and thankful when it isn't
six--is ordered to send a little force and go out there and help the
agent maintain his authority. The very night before the column reaches
the borders of the reservation the leading chiefs come in camp to
interview the officers, shake hands, beg tobacco, and try on their
clothes, then go back to their braves and laugh as they tell there are
only a handful, and plan the morrow's ambuscade and massacre. _Væ
victis_! There are women and children among the garrisons along the
Union Pacific whose hearts have little room for thoughts of germans in
the horror of this morning's tidings. But Sibley is miles and miles
away, and, as Mrs. Wheeler says, aren't you glad it wasn't Ours?

Out at the fort there is a different scene. The morning journals and the
clicking telegraph send a thrill throughout the whole command. The train
has barely whistled out of sight when the ringing notes of officers'
call resound through the quadrangle and out over the broader
drill-ground beyond. Wondering, but prompt, the staid captains and eager
subalterns come hurrying to head-quarters, and the band, that had come
forth and taken its station on the parade, all ready for guard-mount,
goes quickly back, while the men gather in big squads along the shaded
row of their quarters and watch the rapid assembly at the office. And
there old Chester, with kindling eyes, reads to the silent company the
brief official order. Ay, though it be miles and miles away, fast as
steam and wheel can take it, the good old regiment in all its sturdy
strength goes forth to join the rescue of the imprisoned comrades far in
the Colorado Rockies. "Have your entire command in readiness for
immediate field-service in the Department of the Platte. Special train
will be there to take you by noon at latest." And though many a man has
lost friend and comrade in the tragedy that calls them forth, and though
many a brow clouds for the moment with the bitter news of such useless
sacrifice, every eye brightens, every muscle seems to brace, every nerve
and pulse to throb and thrill with the glorious excitement of quick
assembly and coming action. Ay, we are miles and miles away; we leave
the dear old post, with homes and firesides, wives, children, and
sweethearts, all to the care of the few whom sickness or old wounds or
advancing years render unfit for hard, sharp marching; and, thank God!
we'll be there to take a hand and help those gallant fellows out of
their "corral" or to have one good blow at the cowardly hounds who lured
and lied to them.

How the "assembly" rings on the morning air! How quick they spring to
ranks, those eager bearded faces and trim blue-clad forms! How buoyant
and brisk even the elders seem as the captains speed over to their
company quarters and the quick, stirring orders are given! "Field kits;
all the cooked rations you have on hand; overcoat, blanket, extra socks
and underclothes; every cartridge you've got; haversack and canteen, and
nothing else. Now get ready,--lively!" How irrepressible is the cheer
that goes up! How we pity the swells of the light battery who have to
stay! How wistful those fellows look, and how eagerly they throng about
the barracks, yearning to go, and, since that is denied, praying to be
of use in some way! Small wonder is it that all the bustle and
excitement penetrates the portals of Mr. Jerrold's darkened quarters,
and the shutters are thrown open and his bandaged head comes forth.

"What is it, Harris?" he demands of a light-batteryman who is hurrying
past.

"Orders for Colorado, sir. The regiment goes by special train. Major
Thornton's command's been massacred, and there's a big fight ahead."

"My God! Here!--stop one moment. Run over to Company B and see if you
can find my servant, or Merrick, or somebody. If not, you come back
quick. I want to send a note to Captain Armitage."

"I can take it, sir. We're not going. The band and the battery have to
stay."

And Jerrold, with trembling hand and feverish haste, seats himself at
the same desk whence on that fatal morning he sent the note that wrought
such disaster; and as he rises and hands his missive forth, throwing
wide open the shutters as he does so, his bedroom doors fly open, and a
whirling gust of the morning wind sweeps through from rear to front, and
half a score of bills and billets, letters and scraps of paper, go
ballooning out upon the parade.

"By heaven!" he mutters, "that's how it happened, is it? _Look_ at them
go!" for going they were, in spiral eddies or fluttering skips, up the
grassy "quad," and over among the rose-bushes of Alice Renwick's garden.
Over on the other side of the narrow, old-fashioned frontier fort the
men were bustling about, and their exultant, eager voices rang out on
the morning air. All was life and animation, and even in Jerrold's
selfish soul there rose responsive echo to the soldierly spirit that
seemed to pervade the whole command. It was their first summons to
active field-duty with prospective battle since he had joined, and, with
all his shortcomings as a "duty" officer in garrison and his many
frailties of character, Jerrold was not the man to lurk in the rear when
there was danger ahead. It dawned on him with sudden and crushing force
that now it lay in the power of his enemies to do him vital
injury,--that he could be held here at the post like a suspected felon,
a mark for every finger, a target for every tongue, while every other
officer of his regiment was hurrying with his men to take his knightly
share in the coming onset. It was intolerable, shameful. He paced the
floor of his little parlor in nervous misery, ever and anon gazing from
the window for sight of his captain. It was to him he had written,
urging that he be permitted a few moments' talk. "This is no time for a
personal misunderstanding," he wrote. "I must see you at once. I can
clear away the doubts, can explain my action; but, for heaven's sake,
intercede for me with Captain Chester that I may go with the command."

As luck would have it, Armitage was with Chester at the office when the
letter was handed in. He opened it, gave a whistle of surprise, and
simply held it forth to the temporary commander.

"Read that," he said.

Chester frowned, but took the note and looked it curiously over.

"I have no patience with the man now," he said. "Of course after what I
saw last night I begin to understand the nature of his defence; but we
don't want any such man in the regiment, after this. What's the use of
taking him with us?"

"That isn't the point," said Armitage. "Now or never, possibly, is the
time to clear up this mystery. Of course Maynard will be up to join us
by the first train; and what won't it be worth to him to have positive
proof that all his fears were unfounded?"

"Even if it wasn't Jerrold, there is still the fact that I saw a man
clambering out of her window. How is that to be cleared up?" said
Chester, gloomily.

"That may come later, and won't be such a bugbear as you think. If you
were not worried into a morbid condition over all this trouble, you
would not look so seriously upon a thing which I regard as a piece of
mere night prowling, with a possible spice of romance."

"What romance, I'd like to know?"

"Never mind that now: I'm playing detective for the time being. Let me
see Jerrold for you and find out what he has to offer. Then you can
decide. Are you willing? All right! But remember this while I think of
it. You admit that the light you saw on the wall Sunday night was
exactly like that which you saw the night of your adventure, and that
the shadows were thrown in the same way. You thought that night that the
light was turned up and afterwards turned out in her room, and that it
was _her_ figure you saw at the window. Didn't you?"

"Yes. What then?"

"Well, I believe her statement that she saw and heard nothing until
reveille. I believe it was Mrs. Maynard who did the whole thing, without
Miss Renwick's knowing anything about it."

"Why?"

"Because I accomplished the feat with the aid of the little night-lamp
that I found by the colonel's bedside. It is my theory that Mrs. Maynard
was restless after the colonel finally fell asleep, that she heard your
tumble, and took her little lamp, crossed over into Miss Renwick's
room, opened the door without creaking, as I can do to your
satisfaction, found her sleeping quietly, but the room a trifle close
and warm, set her night-lamp down on the table, as I did, threw her
shadow on the wall, as I did, and opened the shade, as you thought her
daughter did. Then she withdrew, and left those doors open,--both hers
and her daughter's,--and the light, instead of being turned down, as you
thought, was simply carried back into her own room."

"That is all possible. But how about the man in her room? Nothing was
stolen, though money and jewelry were lying around loose. If theft was
not the object, what was?"

"Theft certainly was not, and I'm not prepared to say what was, but I
have reason to believe it wasn't Miss Renwick."

"Anything to prove it?"

"Yes; and, though time is precious and I cannot show you, you may take
my word for it. We must be off at noon, and both of us have much to do,
but there may be no other chance to talk, and before you leave this post
I want you to realize her utter innocence."

"I want to, Armitage."

"I know you do: so look here. We assume that the same man paid the night
visit both here and at Sablon, and that he wanted to see the same
person,--if he did not come to steal: do we not?"

"Yes."

"We know that at Sablon it was Mrs. Maynard he sought and called. The
colonel says so."

"Yes."

"Presumably, then, it was she--not her daughter--he had some reasons for
wanting to see here at Sibley. What is more, if he wanted to see Miss
Renwick there was nothing to prevent his going right into her window?"

"Nothing."

"Well, I believe I can prove he didn't; on the contrary, that he went
around by the roof of the porch to the colonel's room and tried there,
but found it risky on account of the blinds, and that finally he entered
the hall window,--what might be called neutral ground. The painters had
been at work there, as you said, two days before, and the paint on the
slats was not quite dry. The blinds and sills were the only things they
had touched up on that front, it seems, and nothing on the sides. Now,
on the fresh paint of the colonel's slats are the new imprints of
masculine thumb and fingers, and on the sill of the hall window is a
footprint that I know to be other than Jerrold's."

"Why?"

"Because he doesn't own such a thing as this track was made with, and I
don't know a man in this command who does. It was the handiwork of the
Tonto Apaches, and came from the other side of the continent."

"You mean it was--?"

"Exactly. An Indian moccasin."

Meantime, Mr. Jerrold had been making hurried preparations, as he had
fully determined that at any cost he would go with the regiment. He had
been burning a number of letters, when Captain Armitage knocked and
hurriedly entered. Jerrold pushed forward a chair and plunged at once
into the matter at issue:

"There is no time to waste, captain. I have sent to you to ask what I
can do to be released from arrest and permitted to go with the command."

"Answer the questions I put to you the other night, and certify to your
answers; and of course you'll have to apologize to Captain Chester for
your last night's language."

"That of course; though you will admit it looked like spying. Now let me
ask you, did he tell you who the lady was?"

"No. I told him."

"How did you know?"

"By intuition, and my knowledge of previous circumstances."

"We have no time to discuss it. I make no attempt to conceal it now; but
I ask that, on your honor, neither you nor he reveal it."

"And continue to let the garrison believe that you were in Miss
Renwick's room that ghastly night?" asked Armitage, dryly.

Jerrold flushed: "I have denied that, and I would have proved my _alibi_
could I have done so without betraying a woman's secret. Must I tell?"

"So far as I am concerned, Mr. Jerrold," said Armitage, with cold and
relentless meaning, "you not only must tell--you must _prove_--both that
night's doings and Saturday night's,--both that and how you obtained
that photograph."

"My God! In one case it is a woman's name; in the other I have promised
on honor not to reveal it."

"That ends it, then. You remain here in close arrest, and the charges
against you will be pushed to the bitter end. I will write them this
very hour."



XVI.


At ten o'clock that morning, shortly after a smiling interview with the
ladies of Fort Sibley, in which, with infinite spirit and the most
perfect self-control, Miss Beaubien had informed them that she had
promised to lead with Mr. Jerrold, and, since he was in duress, she
would lead with no one, and sent them off wondering and greatly excited,
there came running up to the carriage a telegraph messenger boy, who
handed her a despatch.

"I was going up to the avenue, mum," he explained, "but I seen you
here."

Nina's face paled as she tore it open and read the curt lines:

"Come to me, here. Your help needed instantly."

She sprang from the carriage. "Tell mother I have gone over to see some
Fort friends,--not to wait," she called to the coachman, well knowing he
would understand that she meant the ladies with whom she had been so
recently talking. Like a frightened deer she sped around the corner,
hailed the driver of a cab, lounging with his fellows along the walk,
ordered him to drive with all speed to Summit Avenue, and with beating
heart decided on her plan. Her glorious eyes were flashing: the native
courage and fierce determination of her race were working in her woman's
heart. She well knew that imminent danger threatened him. She had dared
everything for love of his mere presence, his sweet caress. What would
she not dare to save him, if save she could? He had not been true to
her. She knew, and knew well, that, whether sought or not, Alice Renwick
had been winning him from her, that he was wavering, that he had been
cold and negligent; but with all her soul and strength she loved him,
and believed him grand and brave and fine as he was beautiful. Now--now
was her opportunity. He needed her. His commission, his honor, depended
on her. He had intimated as much the night before,--had told her of the
accusations and suspicions that attached to him,--but made no mention of
the photograph. He had said that though nothing could drag from him a
word that would compromise _her_, _she_ might be called upon to stand
'twixt him and ruin; and now perhaps the hour had come. She could free,
exonerate, glorify him, and in doing so claim him for her own. Who,
after this, could stand 'twixt her and him? He loved her, though he
_had_ been cold; and she--? Had he bidden her bow her dusky head to
earth and kiss the print of his heel, she would have obeyed could she
but feel sure that her reward would be a simple touch of his hand, an
assurance that no other woman could find a moment's place in his love.
Verily, he had been doing desperate wooing in the long winter, for the
very depths of her nature were all athrob with love for him. And now he
could no longer plead that poverty withheld his offer of his hand. She
would soon be mistress of her own little fortune, and, at her mother's
death, of an independence. Go to him she would, and on wings of the
wind, and go she did. The cab released her at the gate to her home, and
went back with a double fare that set the driver to thinking. She sped
through the house, and out the rear doors, much to the amaze of cook and
others who were in consultation in the kitchen. She flew down a winding
flight of stairs to the level below, and her fairy feet went tripping
over the pavement of a plebeian street. A quick turn, and she was at a
little second-rate stable, whose proprietor knew her and started from
his chair.

"What's wrong to-day, Miss Nina?"

"I want the roan mare and light buggy again,--quick as you can. Your own
price at the old terms, Mr. Graves,--silence."

He nodded, called to a subordinate, and in five minutes handed her into
the frail vehicle. An impatient chirrup and flap of the reins, and the
roan shot forth into the dusty road, leaving old Graves shaking his head
at the door.

"I've known her ever since she was weaned," he muttered, "and she's a
wild bird, if ever there was one, but she's never been the like o' this
till last month."

And the roan mare was covered with foam and sweat when Nina Beaubien
drove into the bustling fort, barely an hour after her receipt of
Jerrold's telegram. A few officers were gathered in front of
head-quarters, and there were curious looks from face to face as she was
recognized. Mr. Rollins was on the walk, giving some instructions to a
sergeant of his company, and never saw her until the buggy reined up
close behind him and, turning suddenly, he met her face to face as she
sprang lightly to the ground. The young fellow reddened to his eyes, and
would have recoiled, but she was mistress of the situation. She well
knew she had but to command and he would obey, or, at the most, if she
could no longer command she had only to implore, and he would be
powerless to withstand her entreaty.

"I am glad _you_ are here, Mr. Rollins. You can help me.--Sergeant,
will you kindly hitch my horse at that post?--Now," she added, in low,
hurried tone, "come with me to Mr. Jerrold's."

Rollins was too stupefied to answer. Silently he placed himself by her
side, and together they passed the group at the office. Miss Beaubien
nodded with something of her old archness and coquetry to the
cap-raising party, but never hesitated. Together they passed along the
narrow board walk, followed by curious eyes, and as they reached the
angle and stepped beneath the shelter of the piazza in front of the
long, low, green-blinded Bachelors' Row, there was sudden sensation in
the group. Mr. Jerrold appeared at the door of his quarters; Rollins
halted some fifty feet away, raised his cap, and left her; and, all
alone, with the eyes of Fort Sibley upon her, Nina Beaubien stepped
bravely forward to meet her lover.

They saw him greet her at the door. Some of them turned away, unwilling
to look, and yet unwilling to go and not understand this new phase of
the mystery. Rollins, looking neither to right nor left, repassed them
and walked off with a set, savage look on his young face, and then, as
one or two still gazed, fascinated by this strange and daring
proceeding, others, too, turned back and, half ashamed of themselves for
such a yielding to curiosity, glanced furtively over at Jerrold's door.

There they stood,--he, restrained by his arrest, unable to come forth;
she, restrained more by his barring form than by any consideration of
maidenly reserve, for, had he bidden, she would have gone within. She
had fully made up her mind that wherever he was, even were it behind the
sentinels and bars of the guard-house, she would demand that she be
taken to his side. He had handed out a chair, but she would not sit.
They saw her looking up into his face as he talked, and noted the eager
gesticulation, so characteristic of his Creole blood, that seemed to
accompany his rapid words. They saw her bending towards him, looking
eagerly up in his eyes, and occasionally casting indignant glances over
towards the group at the office, as though she would annihilate with her
wrath the persecutors of her hero. Then they saw her stretch forth both
her hands with a quick impulsive movement, and grasp his one instant,
looking so faithfully, steadfastly, loyally, into his clouded and
anxious face. Then she turned, and with quick, eager steps came tripping
towards them. They stood irresolute. Every man felt that it was
somebody's duty to step forward, meet her, and be her escort though the
party, but no one advanced. There was, if anything, a tendency to sidle
towards the office door, as though to leave the sidewalk unimpeded. But
she never sought to pass them by. With flashing eyes and crimson cheeks,
she bore straight upon them, and, with indignant emphasis upon every
word, accosted them:

"Captain Wilton, Major Sloat, I wish to see Captain Chester at once. Is
he in the office?"

"Certainly, Miss Beaubien. Shall I call him? or will you walk in?" And
both men were at her side in a moment.

"Thanks. I will go right in,--if you will kindly show me to him."

Another moment, and Armitage and Chester, deep in the midst of their
duties and surrounded by clerks and orderlies and assailed by half a
dozen questions in one and the same instant, looked up astonished as
Wilton stepped in and announced Miss Beaubien desiring to see Captain
Chester on immediate business. There was no time for conference. There
she stood in the door-way, and all tongues were hushed on the instant.
Chester rose and stepped forward with anxious courtesy. She did not
choose to see the extended hand.

"It is you, alone, I wish to see, captain. Is it impossible here?"

"I fear it is, Miss Beaubien; but we can walk out in the open air. I
feel that I know what it is you wish to say to me," he added, in a low
tone, took his cap from the peg on which it hung, and led the way. Again
she passed through the curious, but respectful group, and Jerrold,
watching furtively from his window, saw them come forth.

The captain turned to her as soon as they were out of earshot:

"I have no daughter of my own, my dear young lady, but if I had I could
not more thoroughly feel for you than I do. How can I help you?"

The reply was unexpectedly spirited. He had thought to encourage and
sustain her, be sympathetic and paternal, but, as he afterwards ruefully
admitted, he "never did seem to get the hang of a woman's temperament."
Apparently sympathy was not the thing she needed.

"It is late in the day to ask such a question, Captain Chester. You have
done great wrong and injustice. The question is now, will you undo it?"

He was too surprised to speak for a moment. When his tongue was unloosed
he said,--

"I shall be glad to be convinced I was wrong."

"I know little of army justice or army laws, Captain Chester, but when
a girl is compelled to take this step to rescue a friend there is
something brutal about them,--or the men who enforce them. Mr. Jerrold
tells me that he is arrested. I knew that last night, but not until this
morning did he consent to let me know that he would be court-martialled
unless he could prove where he was the night you were officer of the day
two weeks ago, and last Saturday night. He is too noble and good to
defend himself when by doing so he might harm me. But I am here to free
him from the cruel suspicion you have formed." She had quickened her
step, and in her impulsiveness and agitation they were almost at the end
of the walk. He hesitated, as though reluctant to go along under the
piazza, but she was imperious, and he yielded. "No, come!" she said. "I
mean that you shall hear the whole truth, and that at once. I do not
expect you to understand or condone my conduct, but you must acquit him.
We are engaged; and--I love him. He has enemies here, as I see all too
plainly, and they have prejudiced mother against him, and she has
forbidden my seeing him. I came out to the fort without her knowledge
one day, and it angered her. From that time she would not let me see him
alone. She watched every movement, and came with me wherever I drove.
She gave orders that I should never have any of our horses to drive or
ride alone,--I, whom father had indulged to the utmost and who had
ridden and driven at will from my babyhood. She came out to the fort
with me that evening for parade, and never even agreed to let me go out
to see some neighbors until she learned he was to escort Miss Renwick.
She had ordered me to be ready to go with her to Chequamagon the next
day, and I would not go until I had seen him. There had been a
misunderstanding. I got the Suttons to drive me out while mother
supposed me at the Laurents', and Mr. Jerrold promised to meet me east
of the bridge and drive in town with us, and I was to send him back in
Graves's buggy. He had been refused permission to leave the post, he
said, and could not cross the bridge, where the sentries would be sure
to recognize him, but, as it was our last chance of meeting, he risked
the discovery of his absence, never dreaming of such a thing as his
private rooms being inspected. He had a little skiff down in the willows
that he had used before, and by leaving the party at midnight he could
get home, change his dress, run down the bank and row down-stream to the
Point, there leave his skiff and climb up to the road. He met us there
at one o'clock, and the Suttons would never betray either of us, though
they did not know we were engaged. We sat in their parlor a quarter of
an hour after we got to town, and then 'twas time to go, and there was
only a little ten minutes' walk down to the stable. I had seen him such
a very short time, and I had so much to tell him." (Chester could have
burst into rapturous applause had she been an actress. Her cheeks were
aflame, her eyes full of fire and spirit, her bosom heaving, her little
foot tapping the ground, as she stood there leaning on the colonel's
fence and looking straight up in the perturbed veteran's face. She was
magnificent, he said to himself; and, in her bravery, self-sacrifice,
and indignation, she _was_.) "It was then after two, and I could just as
well go with him,--somebody had to bring the buggy back,--and Graves
himself hitched in his roan mare for me, and I drove out, picked up Mr.
Jerrold at the corner, and we came out here again through the darkness
together. Even when we got to the Point I did not let him go at once. It
was over an hour's drive. It was fully half-past three before we parted.
He sprang down the path to reach the river-side; and before he was
fairly in his boat and pulling up against the stream, I heard, far over
here somewhere, those two faint shots. That was the shooting he spoke of
in his letter to me,--not to her; and what business Colonel Maynard had
to read and exhibit to his officers a letter never intended for him I
cannot understand. Mr. Jerrold says it was not what he wanted it to be
at all, as he wrote hastily, so he wrote another, and sent that to me by
Merrick that morning after his absence was discovered. It probably blew
out of the window, as these other things did this morning. See for
yourself, captain." And she pointed to the two or three bills and scraps
that had evidently only recently fluttered in among the now neglected
roses. "Then when he was aroused at reveille and you threatened him with
punishment and held over his head the startling accusation that you knew
of our meeting and our secret, he was naturally infinitely distressed,
and could only write to warn me, and he managed to get in and say
good-by to me at the station. As for me, I was back home by five
o'clock, let myself noiselessly up to my room, and no one knew it but
the Suttons and old Graves, neither of whom would betray me. I had no
fear of the long dark road: I had ridden and driven as a child all over
these bluffs and prairies before there was any town worth mentioning,
and in days when my father and I found only friends--not enemies--here
at Sibley."

"Miss Beaubien, let me protest against your accusation. It is not for
me to reprove your grave imprudence or recklessness; nor have I the
right to disapprove your choice of Mr. Jerrold. Let me say at once that
you have none but friends here; and if it ever should be known to what
lengths you went to save him, it will only make him more envied and you
more genuinely admired. I question your wisdom, but, upon my soul, I
admire your bravery and spirit. You have cleared him of a terrible
charge."

A most disdainful and impatient shrug of her shapely shoulders was Miss
Beaubien's only answer to that allusion. The possibility of Mr.
Jerrold's being suspected of another entanglement was something she
would not tolerate:

"I know nothing of other people's affairs. I simply speak of my own. Let
us end this as quickly as possible, captain. Now about Saturday night.
Mother had consented to our coming back for the german,--she enjoys
seeing me lead, it seems,--and she decided to pay a short visit to
relations at St. Croix, staying there Saturday night and over Sunday.
This would give us a chance to meet again, as he could spend the evening
in St. Croix and return by late train, and I wrote and asked him. He
came; we had a long talk in the summer-house in the garden, for mother
never dreamed of his being there, and unluckily he just missed the night
train and did not get back until inspection. It was impossible for him
to have been at Sablon; and he can furnish other proof, but would do
nothing until he had seen me."

"Miss Beaubien, you have cleared him. I only wish that you could
clear--every one."

"I am in no wise concerned in that other matter to which you have
alluded; neither is Mr. Jerrold. May I say to him at once that this ends
his persecution?"

The captain smiled: "You certainly deserve to be the bearer of good
tidings. I wish he may appreciate it."

Another moment, and she had left him and sped back to Jerrold's
door-way. He was there to meet her, and Chester looked with grim and
uncertain emotion at the radiance in her face. He had to get back to the
office and to pass them: so, as civilly as he could, considering the
weight of wrath and contempt he felt for the man, he stopped and spoke:

"Your fair advocate has been all-powerful, Mr. Jerrold. I congratulate
you; and your arrest is at an end. Captain Armitage will require no
duty of you until we are aboard; but we've only half an hour. The train
is coming sharp at noon."

"Train! What train! Where are you going?" she asked, a wild anxiety in
her eyes, a sudden pallor on her face.

"We are ordered post-haste to Colorado, Nina, to rescue what is left of
Thornton's men. But for you I should have been left behind."

"But for me!--left behind!" she cried. "Oh, Howard, Howard! have I
only--only won you to send you into danger? Oh, my darling! Oh, God!
Don't--don't go! They will kill you! It will kill me! Oh, what have I
done? what have I done?"

"Nina, hush! My honor is with the regiment. I _must_ go, child. We'll be
back in a few weeks. Indeed, I fear 'twill all be over before we get
there. _Nina_, don't look so! Don't act so! Think where you are!"

But she had borne too much, and the blow came all too soon,--too heavy.
She was wellnigh senseless when the Beaubien carriage came whirling into
the fort and old Maman rushed forth in voluble and rabid charge upon her
daughter. All too late! it was useless now. Her darling's heart was
weaned away, and her love lavished on that tall, objectionable young
soldier so soon to go forth to battle. Reproaches, tears, wrath, were
all in order, but were abandoned at sight of poor Nina's agony of grief.
Noon came, and the train, and with buoyant tread the gallant command
marched down the winding road and filed aboard the cars, and Howard
Jerrold, shame-stricken, humbled at the contemplation of his own
unworthiness, slowly unclasped her arms from about his neck, laid one
long kiss upon her white and quivering lips, took one brief look in the
great, dark, haunting, despairing eyes, and carried her wail of anguish
ringing in his ears as he sprang aboard and was whirled away.

But there were women who deemed themselves worse off than Nina
Beaubien,--the wives and daughters and sweethearts whom she met that
morn in town; for when they got back to Sibley the regiment was miles
away. For them there was not even a kiss from the lips of those they
loved. Time and train waited for no woman. There were comrades battling
for life in the Colorado Rockies, and aid could not come too soon.



XVII.


Under the cloudless heavens, under the starlit skies, blessing the
grateful dew that cools the upland air and moistens the bunch-grass that
has been bleaching all day in the fierce rays of the summer sun, a
little column of infantry is swinging steadily southward. Long and
toilsome has been the march; hot, dusty, and parching the day. Halts
have been few and far between, and every man, from the colonel down, is
coated with a gray mask of powdered alkali, the contribution of a two
hours' tramp through Deadman's Cañon just before the sun went down. Now,
however, they are climbing the range. The morrow will bring them to the
broad and beautiful valley of the Spirit Wolf, and there they must have
news. Officers and men are footsore and weary, but no one begs for rest.
Colonel Maynard, riding ahead on a sorry hack he picked up at the
station two days' long march behind them, is eager to reach the springs
at Forest Glade before ordering bivouac for the night. A week agone no
one who saw him at Sablon would have thought the colonel fit for a march
like this; but he seems rejuvenate. His head is high, his eye as bright,
his bearing as full of spirit, as man's could possibly be at sixty, and
the whole regiment cheered him when he caught the column at Omaha. A
talk with Chester and Armitage seemed to have made a new man of him, and
to-night he is full of an energy that inspires the entire command.
Though they were farther away than many other troops ordered to the
scene, the fact that their station was on the railway and that they
could be sent by special trains to Omaha and thence to the West enabled
them to begin their rescue-march ahead of all the other foot-troops and
behind only the powerful command of cavalry that was whirled to the
scene the moment the authorities woke up to the fact that it should have
been sent in the first place. Old Maynard would give his very ears to
get to Thornton's corral ahead of them, but the cavalry has thirty-six
hours' start and four legs to two. Every moment he looks ahead expectant
of tidings from the front that shall tell him the ----th were there and
the remnant rescued. Even then, he knows, he and his long Springfields
will be needed. The cavalry can fight their way in to the succor of the
besieged, but once there will be themselves surrounded and too few in
numbers to begin aggressive movements. He and his will indeed be welcome
reinforcements; and so they trudge ahead.

The moon is up and it is nearly ten o'clock when high up on the rolling
divide the springs are reached, and, barely waiting to quench their
thirst in the cooling waters, the wearied men roll themselves in their
blankets under the giant trees, and, guarded by a few outlying pickets,
are soon asleep. Most of the officers have sprawled around a little fire
and are burning their boot-leather thereat. The colonel, his adjutant,
and the doctor are curled up under a tent-fly that serves by day as a
wrap for the rations and cooking-kit they carry on pack-mule. Two
company commanders,--the Alpha and Omega of the ten, as Major Sloat
dubbed them,--the senior and junior in rank, Chester and Armitage by
name, have rolled themselves in their blankets under another tent-fly
and are chatting in low tones before dropping off to sleep. They have
been inseparable on the journey thus far, and the colonel has had two or
three long talks with them; but who knows what the morrow may bring
forth? There is still much to settle.

One officer, he of the guard, is still afoot, and trudging about among
the trees, looking after his sentries. Another officer, also alone, is
sitting in silence smoking a pipe: it is Mr. Jerrold.

Cleared though he is of the charges originally brought against him in
the minds of his colonel and Captain Chester, he has lost caste with his
fellows and with them. Only two or three men have been made aware of the
statement which acquitted him, but every one knows instinctively that he
was saved by Nina Beaubien, and that in accepting his release at her
hands he had put her to a cruel expense. Every man among his brother
officers knows in some way that he has been acquitted of having
compromised Alice Renwick's fair fame only by an _alibi_ that
correspondingly harmed another. The fact now generally known, that they
were betrothed, and that the engagement was openly announced, made no
difference. Without being able to analyze his conduct, the regiment was
satisfied that it had been selfish and contemptible; and that was enough
to warrant giving him the cold shoulder. He was quick to see and take
the hint, and, in bitter distress of mind, to withdraw himself from
their companionship. He had hoped and expected that his eagerness to go
with them on the wild and sudden campaign would reinstate him in their
good graces, but it failed utterly. "Any man would seek _that_," was the
verdict of the informal council held by the officers. "He would have
been a poltroon if he hadn't sought to go; but, while he isn't a
poltroon, he has done a contemptible thing." And so it stood. Rollins
had cut him dead, refused his hand, and denied him a chance to explain.
"Tell him he can't explain," was the savage reply he sent by the
adjutant, who consented to carry Jerrold's message in order that he
might have fair play. "He knows, without explanation, the wrong he has
done to more than one. I won't have anything to do with him."

Others avoided him, and only coldly spoke to him when speech was
necessary. Chester treated him with marked aversion; the colonel would
not look at him; only Armitage--his captain--had a decent word for him
at any time, and even he was stern and cold. The most envied and
careless of the entire command, the Adonis, the beau, the crack shot,
the graceful leader in all garrison gayeties, the beautiful dancer,
rider, tennis-player, the adored of so many sentimental women at Sibley,
poor Jerrold had found his level, and his proud and sensitive though
selfish heart was breaking.

Sitting alone under the trees, he had taken a sheet of paper from his
pocket-case and was writing by the light of the rising moon. One letter
was short and easily written, for with a few words he had brought it to
a close, then folded and in a bold and vigorous hand addressed it. The
other was far longer; and over this one, thinking deeply, erasing some
words and pondering much over others, he spent a long hour. It was
nearly midnight, and he was chilled to the heart, when he stiffly rose
and took his way among the blanketed groups to the camp-fire around
which so many of his wearied comrades were sleeping the sleep of the
tired soldier. Here he tore to fragments and scattered in the embers
some notes and letters that were in his pockets. They blazed up
brightly, and by the glare he stood one moment studying young Rollins's
smooth and placid features; then he looked around on the unconscious
circle of bronzed and bearded faces. There were many types of soldier
there,--men who had led brigades through the great war and gone back to
the humble bars of the line-officer at its close; men who had led fierce
charges against the swarming Indians in the rough old days of the first
prairie railways; men who had won distinction and honorable mention in
hard and trying frontier service; men who had their faults and foibles
and weaknesses like other men, and were aggressive or compliant,
strong-willed or yielding, overbearing or meek, as are their brethren in
other walks of life; men who were simple of heart, single in purpose and
ambition, diverse in characteristics, but unanimous in one trait,--no
meanness could live among them; and Jerrold's heart sank within him,
colder, lower, stonier than before, as he looked from face to face and
cast up mentally the sum of each man's character. His hospitality had
been boundless, his bounty lavish; one and all they had eaten of his
loaf and drunk of his cup; but was there among them one who could say of
him, "He is generous and I stand his friend"? Was there one of them, one
of theirs, for whom he had ever denied himself a pleasure, great or
small? He looked at poor old Gray, with his wrinkled, anxious face, and
thought of his distress of mind. Only a few thousands--not three years'
pay--had the veteran scraped and saved and stored away for his little
girl, whose heart was aching with its first cruel sorrow,--_his_ work,
_his_ undoing, his cursed, selfish greed for adulation, his reckless
love of love. The morrow's battle, if it came, might leave her orphaned
and alone, and, poor as it was, a father's pitying sympathy could not be
her help with the coming year. Would Gray mourn him if the fortune of
war made _him_ the victim? Would any one of those averted faces look
with pity and regret upon his stiffening form? Would there be any one on
earth to whom his death would be a sorrow, but Nina? Would it even be a
blow to her? She loved him wildly, he knew that; but _would_ she did she
but dream the truth? He knew her nature well. He knew how quickly such
burning love could turn to fiercest hate when convinced that the object
was utterly untrue. He had said nothing to her of the photograph,
nothing at all of Alice except to protest time and again that his
attentions to her were solely to win the good will of the colonel's
family and of the colonel himself, so that he might be proof against the
machinations of his foes. And yet had he not, that very night on which
he crossed the stream and let her peril her name and honor for one
stolen interview--had he not gone to her exultant welcome with a
traitorous knowledge gnawing at his heart? That very night, before they
parted at the colonel's door had he not lied to Alice Renwick?--had he
not denied the story of his devotion to Miss Beaubien, and was not his
practised eye watching eagerly the beautiful dark face for one sign that
the news was welcome, and so precipitate the avowal trembling on his
lips that it was _her_ he madly loved,--not Nina? Though she hurriedly
bade him good-night, though she was unprepared for any such
announcement, he well knew that Alice Renwick's heart fluttered at the
earnestness of his manner, and that he had indicated far more than he
had said. Fear--not love--had drawn him to Nina Beaubien that night, and
hope had centred on her more beautiful rival, when the discoveries of
the night involved him in the first trembling symptoms of the downfall
to come. And he was to have spent the morning with her, the woman to
whom he had lied in word, while she to whom he had lied in word and deed
was going from him, not to return until the german, and even then he
planned treachery. He meant to lead with Alice Renwick and claim that it
_must_ be with the colonel's daughter because the ladies of the garrison
were the givers. Then, he knew, Nina would not come at all, and,
possibly, might quarrel with him on that ground. What could have been an
easier solution of his troublous predicament? She would break their
secret engagement; he would refuse all reconciliation, and be free to
devote himself to Alice. But all these grave complications had arisen.
Alice would not come. Nina wrote demanding that he should lead with her,
and that he should meet her at St. Croix; and then came the crash. He
owed his safety to her self-sacrifice, and now must give up all hope of
Alice Renwick. He had accepted the announcement of their engagement. He
_could_ not do less, after all that had happened and the painful scene
at their parting. And yet would it not be a blessing to her if he were
killed? Even now in his self-abnegation and misery he did not fully
realize how mean he was,--how mean he seemed to others. He resented in
his heart what Sloat had said of him but the day before, little caring
whether he heard it or not: "It would be a mercy to that poor girl if
Jerrold were killed. He will break her heart with neglect, or drive her
mad with jealousy, inside of a year." But the regiment seemed to agree
with Sloat.

And so in all that little band of comrades he could call no man friend.
One after another he looked upon the unconscious faces, cold and averted
in the oblivion of sleep, but not more cold, not more distrustful, than
when he had vainly sought among them one relenting glance in the early
moonlight that battle eve in bivouac. He threw his arms upward, shook
his head with hopeless gesture, then buried his face in the sleeves of
his rough campaign overcoat and strode blindly from their midst.

Early in the morning, an hour before daybreak, the shivering out-post
crouching in a hollow to the southward catch sight of two dim figures
shooting suddenly up over a distant ridge,--horsemen, they know at a
glance,--and these two come loping down the moonlit trail over which two
nights before had marched the cavalry speeding to the rescue, over which
in an hour the regiment itself must be on the move. Old campaigners are
two of the picket, and they have been especially cautioned to be on the
lookout for couriers coming back along the trail. They spring to their
feet, in readiness to welcome or repel, as the sentry rings out his
sharp and sudden challenge.

"Couriers from the corral," is the jubilant answer. "This Colonel
Maynard's outfit?"

"Ay, ay, sonny," is the unmilitary but characteristic answer. "What's
your news?"

"Got there in time, and saved what's left of 'em; but it's a hell-hole,
and you fellows are wanted quick as you can come,--thirty miles ahead.
Where's the colonel?"

The corporal of the guard goes back to the bivouac, leading the two
arrivals. One is a scout, a plainsman born and bred, the other a
sergeant of cavalry. They dismount in the timber and picket their
horses, then follow on foot the lead of their companion of the guard.
While the corporal and the scout proceed to the wagon-fly and fumble at
the opening, the tall sergeant stands silently a little distance in
their rear, and the occupants of a neighboring shelter--the counterpart
of the colonel's--begin to stir, as though their light slumber had been
broken by the smothered sound of footsteps. One of them sits up and
peers out at the front, gazing earnestly at the tall figure standing
easily there in the flickering light. Then he hails in low tones:

"That you, Mr. Jerrold? What is the matter?"

And the tall figure faces promptly towards the hailing voice. The
spurred heels come together with a click, the gauntleted hand rises in
soldierly salute to the broad brim of the scouting-hat, and a deep voice
answers, respectfully,--

"It is not Mr. Jerrold, sir. It is Sergeant McLeod, ----th Cavalry, just
in with despatches."

Armitage springs to his feet, sheds his shell of blankets, and steps
forth into the glade with his eyes fixed eagerly on the shadowy form in
front. He peers under the broad brim, as though striving to see the eyes
and features of the tall dragoon.

"Did you get there in time?" he asks, half wondering whether that was
really the question uppermost in his mind.

"In time to save the survivors, sir; but no attack will be made until
the infantry get there."

"Were you not at Sibley last month?" asks the captain, quickly.

"Yes, sir,--with the competitors."

"You went back before your regimental team, did you not?"

"I--No, sir: I went back with them."

"You were relieved from duty at Sibley and ordered back before them,
were you not?"

Even in the pallid light Armitage could see the hesitation, the flurry
of surprise and distress, in the sergeant's face.

"Don't fear to tell me, man: I would rather hear it than any news you
could give me. I would rather know you were _not_ Sergeant McLeod than
any fact you could tell. Speak low, man, but tell me here and now.
Whatever motive you may have had for this disguise, whatever anger or
sorrows in the past, you must sink them now to save the honor of the
woman your madness has perilled. Answer me, for your sister's sake: are
you not Fred Renwick?"

"Do you swear to me she is in danger?"

"By all that's sacred; and you ought to know it."

"I _am_ Fred Renwick. Now what can I do?"



XVIII.


The sun is not an hour high, but the bivouac at the springs is far
behind. With advance-guard and flankers well out, the regiment is
tramping its way, full of eagerness and spirit. The men can hardly
refrain from bursting into song, but, although at "route step," the fact
that Indian scouts have already been sighted scurrying from bluff to
bluff is sufficient to warn all hands to be silent and alert. Wilton
with his company is on the dangerous flank, and guards it well. Armitage
with Company B covers the advance, and his men are strung out in long
skirmish-line across the trail wherever the ground is sufficiently open
to admit of deployment. Where it is not, they spring ahead and explore
every point where Indian may lurk, and render ambuscade of the main
column impossible. With Armitage is McLeod, the cavalry sergeant who
made the night ride with the scout who bore the despatches. The scout
has galloped on towards the railway with news of the rescue, the
sergeant guides the infantry reinforcement. Observant men have noted
that Armitage and the sergeant have had a vast deal to say to each other
during the chill hours of the early morn. Others have noted that at the
first brief halt the captain rode back, called Colonel Maynard to one
side, and spoke to him in low tones. The colonel was seen to start with
astonishment. Then he said a few words to his second in command, and
rode forward with Armitage to join the advance. When the regiment moved
on again and the head of column hove in sight of the skirmishers, they
saw that the colonel, Armitage, and the sergeant of cavalry were riding
side by side, and that the officers were paying close attention to all
the dragoon was saying. All were eager to hear the particulars of the
condition of affairs at the corral, and all were disposed to be envious
of the mounted captain who could ride alongside the one participant in
the rescuing charge and get it all at first hand. The field-officers, of
course, were mounted, but every line-officer marched afoot with his men,
except that three horses had been picked up at the railway and impressed
by the quartermaster in case of need, and these were assigned to the
captains who happened to command the skirmishers and flankers.

But no man had the faintest idea what manner of story that tall sergeant
was telling. It would have been of interest to every soldier in the
command, but to no one so much so as to the two who were his absorbed
listeners. Armitage, before their early march, had frankly and briefly
set before him his suspicions as to the case, and the trouble in which
Miss Renwick was involved. No time was to be lost. Any moment might find
them plunged in fierce battle; and who could foretell the results?--who
could say what might happen to prevent this her vindication ever
reaching the ears of her accusers? Some men wondered why it was that
Colonel Maynard sent his compliments to Captain Chester and begged that
at the next halt he would join him. The halt did not come for a long
hour, and when it did come it was very brief, but Chester received
another message, and went forward to find his colonel sitting in a
little grove with the cavalryman, while the orderly held their horses a
short space away. Armitage had gone forward to his advance, and Chester
showed no surprise at the sight of the sergeant seated side by side with
the colonel and in confidential converse with him. There was a quaint,
sly twinkle in Maynard's eyes as he greeted his old friend.

"Chester," said he, "I want you to be better acquainted with my
step-son, Mr. Renwick. He has an apology to make to you."

The tall soldier had risen the instant he caught sight of the newcomer,
and even at the half-playful tone of the colonel would relax in no
degree his soldierly sense of the proprieties. He stood erect and held
his hand at the salute, only very slowly lowering it to take the one so
frankly extended him by the captain, who, however, was grave and quiet.

"I have suspected as much since daybreak," he said; "and no man is
gladder to know it is you than I am."

"You would have known it before, sir, had I had the faintest idea of the
danger in which my foolhardiness had involved my sister. The colonel has
told you of my story. I have told him and Captain Armitage what led to
my mad freak at Sibley; and, while I have much to make amends for, I
want to apologize for the blow I gave you that night on the terrace. I
was far more scared than you were, sir."

"I think we can afford to forgive him, Chester. He knocked us both out,"
said the colonel.

Chester bowed gravely. "That was the easiest part of the affair to
forgive," he said, "and it is hardly for me, I presume, to be the only
one to blame the sergeant for the trouble that has involved us all,
especially your household, colonel."

"It was expensive masquerading, to say the least," replied the colonel;
"but he never realized the consequences until Armitage told him to-day.
You must hear his story in brief, Chester. It is needful that three or
four of us know it, so that some may be left to set things right at
Sibley. God grant us all safe return!" he added, piously, and with deep
emotion. "I can far better appreciate our home and happiness than I
could a month ago. Now, Renwick, tell the captain what you have told
us."

And briefly it _was_ told: how in his youthful fury he had sworn never
again to set foot within the door of the father and mother who had so
wronged the poor girl he loved with boyish fervor; how he called down
the vengeance of heaven upon them in his frenzy and distress; how he had
sworn never again to set eyes on their faces. "May God strike me dead if
ever I return to this roof until she is avenged! May He deal with you as
you have dealt with her!" was the curse that flew from his wild lips,
and with that he left them, stunned. He went West, was soon penniless,
and, caring not what he did, seeking change, adventure, anything to take
him out of his past, he enlisted in the cavalry, and was speedily
drafted to the ----th, which was just starting forth on a stirring
summer campaign. He was a fine horseman, a fine shot, a man who
instantly attracted the notice of his officers: the campaign was full of
danger, adventure, rapid and constant marching, and before he knew it or
dreamed it possible he had become deeply interested in his new life.
Only in the monotony of a month or two in garrison that winter did the
service seem intolerable. His comrades were rough, in the main, but
thoroughly good-hearted, and he soon won their esteem. The spring sent
them again into the field; another stirring campaign, and here he won
his stripes, and words of praise from the lips of a veteran general
officer, as well as the promise of future reward; and then the love of
soldierly deeds and the thirst for soldierly renown took firm hold in
his breast. He began to turn towards the mother and father who had been
wrapped up in his future,--who loved him so devotedly. He was forgetting
his early and passionate love, and the bitter sorrow of her death was
losing fast its poignant power to steel him against his kindred. He knew
they could not but be proud of the record he had made in the ranks of
the gallant ----th, and then he shrank and shivered when he recalled the
dreadful words of his curse. He had made up his mind to write, implore
pardon for his hideous and unfilial language, and invoke their interest
in his career, when, returning to Fort Raines for supplies, he picked up
a New York paper in the reading-room and read the announcement of his
father's death, "whose health had been broken ever since the
disappearance of his only son, two years before." The memory of his
malediction had, indeed, come home to him, and he fell, stricken by a
sudden and unaccountable blow. It seemed as though his heart had given
one wild leap, then stopped forever. Things did not go so well after
this. He brooded over his words, and believed that an avenging God had
launched the bolt that killed the father as punishment to the stubborn
and recreant son. He then bethought him of his mother, of pretty Alice,
who had loved him so as a little girl. He could not bring himself to
write, but through inquiries he learned that the house was closed and
that they had gone abroad. He plodded on in his duties a trying year:
then came more lively field-work and reviving interest. He was
forgetting entirely the sting of his first great sorrow, and mourning
gravely the gulf he had placed 'twixt him and his. He thought time and
again of his cruel words, and something began to whisper to him he must
see that mother again at once, kiss her hand, and implore her
forgiveness, or she, too, would be stricken suddenly. He saved up his
money, hoping that after the summer's rifle-work at Sibley he might get
a furlough and go East; and the night he arrived at the fort, tired with
his long railway-journey and panting after a long and difficult climb
up-hill, his mother's face swam suddenly before his eyes, and he felt
himself going down. When they brought him to, he heard that the ladies
were Mrs. Maynard and her daughter Miss Renwick,--his own mother,
remarried, his own Alice, a grown young woman. This was, indeed, news to
put him in a flutter and spoil his shooting. He realized at once that
the gulf was wider than ever. How could he go to her now, the wife of a
colonel, and he an enlisted man? Like other soldiers, he forgot that the
line of demarcation was one of discipline, not of sympathy. He did not
realize what any soldier among his officers would gladly have told him,
that he was most worthy to reveal himself now,--a non-commissioned
officer whose record was an honor to himself and to his regiment, a
soldier of whom officers and comrades alike were proud. He never
dreamed--indeed, how few there are who do!--that a man of his character,
standing, and ability is honored and respected by the very men whom the
customs of the service require him to speak with only when spoken to. He
supposed that only as Fred Renwick could he extend his hand to one of
their number, whereas it was under his soldier name he won their trust
and admiration, and it was as Sergeant McLeod the officers of the ----th
were backing him for a commission that would make him what they deemed
him fit to be,--their equal. Unable to penetrate the armor of reserve
and discipline which separates the officer from the rank and file, he
never imagined that the colonel would have been the first to welcome him
had he known the truth. He believed that now his last chance of seeing
his mother was gone until that coveted commission was won. Then came
another blow: the doctor told him that with his heart-trouble he could
never pass the physical examination: he could not hope for preferment,
then, and _must_ see her as he was, and see her secretly and alone. Then
came blow after blow. His shooting had failed, so had that of others of
his regiment, and he was ordered to return in charge of the party early
on the morrow. The order reached him late in the evening, and before
breakfast-time on the following day he was directed to start with his
party for town, thence by rail to his distant post. That night, in
desperation, he made his plan. Twice before he had strolled down to the
post and with yearning eyes had studied every feature of the colonel's
house. He dared ask no questions of servants or of the men in garrison,
but he learned enough to know which rooms were theirs, and he had noted
that the windows were always open. If he could only see their loved
faces, kneel and kiss his mother's hand, pray God to forgive him, he
could go away believing that he had undone the spell and revoked the
malediction of his early youth. It was hazardous, but worth the danger.
He could go in peace and sin no more towards mother, at least; and then
if she mourned and missed him, could he not find it out some day and
make himself known to her after his discharge? He slipped out of camp,
leaving his boots behind, and wearing his light Apache moccasins and
flannel shirt and trousers. Danger to himself he had no great fear of.
If by any chance mother or sister should wake, he had but to stretch
forth his hand and say, "It is only I,--Fred." Danger to _them_ he never
dreamed of.

Strong and athletic, despite his slender frame, he easily lifted the
ladder from Jerrold's fence, and, dodging the sentry when he spied him
at the gate, finally took it down back of the colonel's and raised it to
a rear window. By the strangest chance the window was closed, and he
could not budge it. Then he heard the challenge of a sentry around on
the east front, and had just time to slip down and lower the ladder when
he heard the rattle of a sword and knew it must be the officer of the
day. There was no time to carry off the ladder. He left it lying where
it was, and sprang down the steps towards the station. Soon he heard
Number Five challenge, and knew the officer had passed on: he waited
some time, but nothing occurred to indicate that the ladder was
discovered, and then, plucking up courage and with a muttered prayer for
guidance and protection, he stole up-hill again, raised the ladder to
the west wall, noiselessly ascended, peered in Alice's window and could
see a faint night-light burning in the hall beyond, but that all was
darkness there, stole around on the roof of the piazza to the hall
window, stepped noiselessly upon the sill, climbed over the lowered
sash, and found himself midway between the rooms. He could hear the
colonel's placid snoring and the regular breathing of the other
sleepers. No time was to be lost. Shading the little night-lamp with one
hand, he entered the open door, stole to the bedside, took one long look
at his mother's face, knelt, breathed upon, but barely brushed with his
trembling lips, the queenly white hand that lay upon the coverlet,
poured forth one brief prayer to God for protection and blessing for her
and forgiveness for him, retraced his steps, and caught sight of the
lovely picture of Alice in the Directoire costume. He longed for it and
could not resist. She had grown so beautiful, so exquisite. He took it,
frame and all, carried it into her room, slipped the card from its place
and hid it inside the breast of his shirt, stowed the frame away behind
her sofa-pillow, then looked long at the lovely picture she herself
made, lying there sleeping sweetly and peacefully amid the white
drapings of her dainty bed. Then 'twas time to go. He put the lamp back
in the hall, passed through her room, out at her window, and down the
ladder, and had it well on the way back to the hooks on Jerrold's fence
when seized and challenged by the officer of the day. Mad terror
possessed him then. He struck blindly, dashed off in panicky flight,
paid no heed to sentry's cry or whistling missile, but tore like a racer
up the path and never slackened speed till Sibley was far behind.

When morning came, the order that they should go was temporarily
suspended: some prisoners were sent to a neighboring military prison,
and he was placed in charge, and on his return from this duty learned
that the colonel's family had gone to Sablon. The next thing there was
some strange talk that worried him,--a story that one of the men who had
a sweetheart who was second girl at Mrs. Hoyt's brought out to camp,--a
story that there was an officer who was too much in love with Alice to
keep away from the house even after the colonel so ordered, and that he
was prowling around the other night and the colonel ordered Leary to
shoot him,--Leary, who was on post on Number Five. He felt sure that
something was wrong,--felt sure that it was due to his night visit,--and
his first impulse was to find his mother and confide the truth to her.
He longed to see her again, and if harm had been done, to make himself
known and explain everything. Having no duties to detain him, he got a
pass to visit town and permission to be gone a day or more. On Saturday
evening he ran down to Sablon, drove over, as Captain Armitage had
already told them, and, peering in his mother's room, saw her, still up,
though in her nightdress. He never dreamed of the colonel's being out
and watching. He had "scouted" all those trees, and no one was nigh.
Then he softly called; she heard, and was coming to him, when again came
fierce attack: he had all a soldier's reverence for the person of the
colonel, and would never have harmed him had he known 'twas he: it was
the night watchman that had grappled with him, he supposed, and he had
no compunctions in sending him to grass. Then he fled again, knowing
that he had only made bad worse, walked all that night to the station
next north of Sablon,--a big town where the early morning train always
stopped,--and by ten on Sunday morning he was in uniform again and off
with his regimental comrades under orders to haste to their
station,--there was trouble with the Indians at Spirit Rock and the
----th were held in readiness. From beneath his scouting-shirt he drew a
flat packet, an Indian case, which he carefully unrolled, and there in
its folds of wrappings was the lovely Directoire photograph.

Whose, then, was the one that Sloat had seen in Jerrold's room? It was
this that Armitage had gone forward to determine, and he found his
sad-eyed lieutenant with the skirmishers.

"Jerrold," said he, with softened manner, "a strange thing is brought to
light this morning, and I lose no time in telling you. The man who was
seen at Maynard's quarters, coming from Miss Renwick's room, was her own
brother and the colonel's step-son. He was the man who took the
photograph from Mrs. Maynard's room, and has proved it this very
day,--this very hour." Jerrold glanced up in sudden surprise. "He is
with us now, and only one thing remains, which you can clear up. We are
going into action, and I may not get through, nor you, nor--who knows
who? Will you tell us now how you came by your copy of that photograph?"

For answer Jerrold fumbled in his pocket a moment and drew forth two
letters:

"I wrote these last night, and it was my intention to see that you had
them before it grew very hot. One is addressed to you, the other to Miss
Beaubien. You had better take them now," he said, wearily. "There may be
no time to talk after this. Send hers after it's over, and don't read
yours until then."

"Why, I don't understand this, exactly," said Armitage, puzzled. "Can't
you tell me about the picture?"

"No. I promised not to while I lived; but it's the simplest matter in
the world, and no one at the colonel's had any hand in it. They never
saw this one that I got to show Sloat. It is burned now. I said 'twas
given me. That was hardly the truth. I have paid for it dearly enough."

"And this note explains it?"

"Yes. You can read it to-morrow."



XIX.


And the morrow has come. Down in a deep and bluff-shadowed valley, hung
all around with picturesque crags and pine-crested heights, under a
cloudless September sun whose warmth is tempered by the
mountain-breeze, a thousand rough-looking, bronzed and bearded and
powder-blackened men are resting after battle.

Here and there on distant ridge and point the cavalry vedettes keep
vigilant watch, against surprise or renewed attack. Down along the banks
of a clear, purling stream a sentry paces slowly by the brown line of
rifles, swivel-stacked in the sunshine. Men by the dozen are washing
their blistered feet and grimy hands and faces in the cool, refreshing
water; men by the dozen lie soundly sleeping, some in the broad glare,
some in the shade of the little clump of willows, all heedless of the
pestering swarms of flies. Out on the broad, grassy slopes, side-lined
and watched by keen-eyed guards, the herds of cavalry horses are quietly
grazing, forgetful of the wild excitement of yester-even. Every now and
then some one of them lifts his head, pricks up his ears, and snorts and
stamps suspiciously as he sniffs at the puffs of smoke that come
drifting up the valley from the fires a mile away. The waking men, too,
bestow an occasional comment on the odor which greets their nostrils.
Down-stream where the fires are burning are the blackened remnants of a
wagon-train: tires, bolts, and axles are lying about, but all wood-work
is in smouldering ashes; so, too, is all that remains of several
hundred-weight of stores and supplies destined originally to nourish the
Indians, but, by them, diverted to feed the fire.

There is a big circle of seething flame and rolling smoke here, too,--a
malodorous neighborhood, around which fatigue-parties are working with
averted heads; and among them some surly and unwilling Indians, driven
to labor at the muzzle of threatening revolver or carbine, aid in
dragging to the flames carcass after carcass of horse and mule, and in
gathering together and throwing on the pyre an array of miscellaneous
soldier garments, blouses, shirts, and trousers, all more or less hacked
and blood-stained,--all of no more use to mortal wearer.

Out on the southern slopes, just where a ravine crowded with wild-rose
bushes opens into the valley, more than half the command is gathered,
formed in rectangular lines about a number of shallow, elongated pits,
in each of which there lies the stiffening form of a comrade who but
yesterday joined in the battle-cheer that burst upon the valley with the
setting sun. Silent and reverent they stand in their rough campaign
garb. The escort of infantry "rests on arms;" the others bow their
uncovered heads, and it is the voice of the veteran colonel that, in
accents trembling with sympathy and emotion, renders the last tribute
to fallen comrades and lifts to heaven the prayers for the dead. Then
see! The mourning groups break away from the southern side; the brown
rifles of the escort are lifted in air; the listening rocks resound to
the sudden ring of the flashing volley; the soft, low, wailing good-by
of the trumpets goes floating up the vale, and soon the burial-parties
are left alone to cover the once familiar faces with the earth to which
the soldier must return, and the comrades who are left, foot and
dragoon, come marching, silent, back to camp.

And when the old regiment begins its homeward journey, leaving the
well-won field to the fast-arriving commands and bidding hearty soldier
farewell to the cavalry comrades whose friendship they gained in the
front of a savage foe, the company that was the first to land its fire
in the fight goes back with diminished numbers and under command of its
second lieutenant. Alas, poor Jerrold!

There is a solemn little group around the camp-fire the night before
they go. Frank Armitage, flat on his back, with a rifle-bullet through
his thigh, but taking things very coolly for all that, is having a quiet
conference with his colonel. Such of the wounded of the entire command
as are well enough to travel by easy stages to the railway go with
Maynard and the regiment in the morning, and Sergeant McLeod, with his
sabre-arm in a sling, is one of these. But the captain of Company B must
wait until the surgeons can lift him along in an ambulance and all fear
of fever has subsided. To the colonel and Chester he hands the note
which is all that is left to comfort poor Nina Beaubien. To them he
reads aloud the note addressed to himself:

"You are right in saying that the matter of my possession of that
photograph should be explained. I seek no longer to palliate my action.
In making that puppyish bet with Sloat I _did_ believe that I could
induce Miss Renwick or her mother to let me have a copy; but I was
refused so positively that I knew it was useless. This simply added to
my desire to have one. The photographer was the same that took the
pictures and furnished the albums for our class at graduation, and I,
more than any one, had been instrumental in getting the order for him
against very active opposition. He had always professed the greatest
gratitude to me and a willingness to do anything for me. I wrote to him
in strict confidence, told him of the intimate and close relations
existing between the colonel's family and me, told him I wanted it to
enlarge and present to her mother on her approaching birthday, and
promised him that I would never reveal how I came by the picture so
long as I lived; and he sent me one,--just in time. Have I not paid
heavily for my sin?"

No one spoke for a moment. Chester was the first to break the silence:

"Poor fellow! He kept his word to the photographer; but what was it
worth to a woman?"

There had been a week of wild anxiety and excitement at Sibley. It was
known through the columns of the press that the regiment had hurried
forward from the railway the instant it reached the Colorado trail, that
it could not hope to get through to the valley of the Spirit Wolf
without a fight, and that the moment it succeeded in joining hands with
the cavalry already there a vigorous attack would be made on the
Indians. The news of the rescue of the survivors of Thornton's command
came first, and with it the tidings that Maynard and his regiment were
met only thirty miles from the scene and were pushing forward. The next
news came two days later, and a wail went up even while men were shaking
hands and rejoicing over the gallant fight that had been made, and women
were weeping for joy and thanking God that those whom they held dearest
were safe. It was down among the wives of the sergeants and other
veterans that the blow struck hardest at Sibley; for the stricken
officers were unmarried men, while among the rank and file there were
several who never came back to the little ones who bore their name.
Company B had suffered most, for the Indians had charged fiercely on its
deployed but steadfast line. Armitage almost choked and broke down when
telling the colonel about it that night as he lay under the willows: "It
was the first smile I had seen on his face since I got back,--that with
which he looked up in my eyes and whispered good-by,--and died,--just
after we drove them back. My turn came later." Old Sloat, too, "had his
customary crack," as he expressed it,--a shot through the wrist that
made him hop and swear savagely until some of the men got to laughing at
the comical figure he cut, and then he turned and damned them with
hearty good will, and seemed all oblivious of the bullets that went
zipping past his frosting head. Young Rollins, to his inexpressible
pride and comfort, had a bullet-hole through his scouting-hat and
another through his shoulder-strap that raised a big welt on the white
skin beneath, but, to the detriment of promotion, no captain was killed,
and Jerrold gave the only file.

The one question at Sibley was, "What will Nina Beaubien do?"

She did nothing. She would see nobody from the instant the news came.
She had hardly slept at night,--was always awake at dawn and out at the
gate to get the earliest copy of the morning papers; but the news
reached them at nightfall, and when some of the ladies from the fort
drove in to offer their sympathy and condolence in the morning, and to
make tender inquiry, the answer at the door was that Miss Nina saw
nobody, that her mother alone was with her, and that "she was very
still." And so it went for some days. Then there came the return of the
command to Sibley; and hundreds of people went up from town to see the
six companies of the fort garrison march up the winding road amid the
thunder of welcome from the guns of the light battery and the exultant
strains of the band. Mrs. Maynard and Alice were the only ladies of the
circle who were not there: a son and brother had joined them, after long
absence, at Aunt Grace's cottage at Sablon, was the explanation, and the
colonel would bring them home in a few days, after he had attended to
some important matters at the fort. In the first place, Chester had to
see to it that the tongue of scandal was slit, so far as the colonel's
household was concerned, and all good people notified that no such thing
had happened as was popularly supposed (and "everybody" received the
announcement with the remark that she knew all along it couldn't be so),
and that a grievous and absurd but most mortifying blunder had been
made. It was a most unpleasant ghost to "down," the shadow of that
scandal, for it would come up to the surface of garrison chat at all
manner of confidential moments; but no man or woman could safely speak
of it to Chester. It was gradually assumed that he was the man who had
done all the blundering and that he was supersensitive on the subject.

There was another thing never satisfactorily explained to some of the
garrison people, and that was Nina Beaubien's strange conduct. In less
than a week she was seen on the street in colors,--brilliant
colors,--when it was known she had ordered deep mourning, and then she
suddenly disappeared and went with her silent old mother abroad. To this
day no woman in society understands it, for when she came back, long,
long afterwards, it was a subject on which she would never speak. There
were one or two who ventured to ask, and the answer was, "For reasons
that concern me alone." But it took no great power of mental vision to
see that her heart wore black for him forever.

His letter explained it all. She had received it with a paroxysm of
passionate grief and joy, kissed it, covered it with wildest caresses
before she began to read, and then, little by little, as the words
unfolded before her staring eyes, turned cold as stone:

"It is my last night of life, Nina, and I am glad 'tis so. Proud and
sensitive as I am, the knowledge that every man in my regiment has
turned from me,--that I have not a friend among them,--that there is no
longer a place for me in their midst,--more than all, that I _deserve_
their contempt,--has broken my heart. We will be in battle before the
setting of another sun. Any man who seeks death in Indian fight can find
it easily enough, and I can _compel_ their respect in spite of
themselves. They will not recognize me, living, as one of them; but
dying on the field, they have to place me on their roll of honor.

"But now I turn to you. What have I been,--what am I,--to have won such
love as yours? May God in heaven forgive me for my past! All too late I
hate and despise the man I have been,--the man whom you loved. One last
act of justice remains. If I died without it you would mourn me
faithfully, tenderly, lovingly, for years, but if I tell the truth you
will see the utter unworthiness of the man, and your love will turn to
contempt. It is hard to do this, knowing that in doing it I kill the
only genuine regret and dry the only tear that would bless my memory;
but it is the one sacrifice I can make to complete my self-humiliation,
and it is the one thing that is left me that will free you. It will
sting at first, but, like the surgeon's knife, its cut is mercy. Nina,
the very night I came to you on the bluffs, the very night you perilled
your honor to have that parting interview, I went to you with a lie on
my lips. I had told _her_ we were nothing to each other,--you and I.
More than that, I was seeking her love; I hoped I could win her; and had
she loved me I would have turned from you to make her my wife. Nina, I
loved Alice Renwick. Good-by. Don't mourn for me after this."



XX.


They were having a family conclave at Sablon. The furlough granted
Sergeant McLeod on account of wound received in action with hostile
Indians would soon expire, and the question was, should he ask an
extension, apply for a discharge, or go back and rejoin his troop? It
was a matter on which there was much diversity of opinion. Mrs. Maynard
should naturally be permitted first choice, and to her wish there was
every reason for according deep and tender consideration. No words can
tell of the rapture of that reunion with her long-lost son. It was a
scene over which the colonel could never ponder without deep emotion.
The telegrams and letters by which he carefully prepared her for
Frederick's coming were all insufficient. She knew well that her boy
must have greatly changed and matured, but when this tall, bronzed,
bearded, stalwart man sprang from the old red omnibus and threw his one
serviceable arm around her trembling form, the mother was utterly
overcome. Alice left them alone together a full hour before even she
intruded, and little by little, as the days went by and Mrs. Maynard
realized that it was really her Fred who was whistling about, the
cottage or booming trooper songs in his great basso profundo, and
glorying in his regiment and the cavalry life he had led, a wonderful
content and joy shone in her handsome face. It was not until the colonel
announced that it was about time for them to think of going back to
Sibley that the cloud came. Fred said _he_ couldn't go.

In fact, the colonel himself had been worrying a little over it. As Fred
Renwick, the tall distinguished young man in civilian costume, he would
be welcome anywhere; but, though his garb was that of the sovereign
citizen so long as his furlough lasted, there were but two weeks more of
it left, and officially he was nothing more nor less than Sergeant
McLeod, Troop B, ----th Cavalry, and there was no precedent for a
colonel's entertaining as an honored guest and social equal one of the
enlisted men of the army. He rather hoped that Fred would yield to his
mother's entreaties and apply for a discharge. His wound and the latent
trouble with his heart would probably render it an easy matter to
obtain; and yet he was ashamed of himself for the feeling.

Then there was Alice. It was hardly to be supposed that so very high
bred a young woman would relish the idea of being seen around Fort
Sibley on the arm of her brother the sergeant; but, wonderful to relate,
Miss Alice took a radically different view of the whole situation. So
far from wishing Fred out of the army, she importuned him day after day
until he got out his best uniform, with its resplendent chevrons and
stripes of vivid yellow, and the yellow helmet-cords, though they were
but humble worsted, and when he came forth in that dress, with the
bronze medal on his left breast and the sharpshooter's silver cross, his
tall athletic figure showing to such advantage, his dark, Southern,
manly features so enhanced by contrast with his yellow facings, she
clapped her hands with a cry of delight and sprang into his one
available arm and threw her own about his neck and kissed him again and
again. Even mamma had to admit he looked astonishingly well; but Alice
declared she would never thereafter be reconciled to seeing him in
anything but a cavalry uniform. The colonel found her not at all of her
mother's way of thinking. She saw no reason why Fred should leave the
service. Other sergeants had won their commissions every year: why not
he? Even if it were some time in coming, was there shame or degradation
in being a cavalry sergeant? Not a bit of it! Fred himself was loath to
quit. He was getting a little homesick, too,--homesick for the boundless
life and space and air of the broad frontier,--homesick for the rapid
movement and vigorous hours in the saddle and on the scout. His arm was
healing, and such a delight of a letter had come from his captain,
telling him that the adjutant had just been to see him about the new
staff of the regiment. The gallant sergeant-major, a young Prussian of
marked ability, had been killed early in the campaign; the vacancy must
soon be filled, and the colonel and the adjutant both thought at once of
Sergeant McLeod. "I won't stand in your way, sergeant," wrote his troop
commander, "but you know that old Ryan is to be discharged at the end of
his sixth enlistment the 10th of next month; there is no man I would
sooner see in his place as first sergeant of my troop than yourself, and
I hate to lose you; but, as it will be for the gain and the good of the
whole regiment, you ought to accept the adjutant's offer. All the men
rejoice to hear you are recovering so fast, and all will be glad to see
Sergeant McLeod back again."

Even Mrs. Maynard could not but see the pride and comfort this letter
gave her son. Her own longing was to have him established in some
business in the East; but he said frankly he had no taste for it, and
would only pine for the old life in the saddle. There were other
reasons, too, said he, why he felt that he could not go back to New
York, and his voice trembled, and Mrs. Maynard said no more. It was the
sole allusion he had made to the old, old sorrow, but it was plain that
the recovery was incomplete. The colonel and the doctor at Sibley
believed that Fred could be carried past the medical board by a little
management, and everything began to look as though he would have his
way. All they were waiting for, said the colonel, was to hear from
Armitage. He was still at Fort Russell with the head-quarters and
several troops of the ----th Cavalry: his wound was too severe for him
to travel farther for weeks to come, but he could write, and he had
been consulted. They were sitting under the broad piazza at Sablon,
looking out at the lovely, placid lake, and talking it over among
themselves.

"I have always leaned on Armitage ever since I first came to the
regiment and found him adjutant," said the colonel. "I always found his
judgment clear; but since our last experience I have begun to look upon
him as infallible."

Alice Renwick's face took on a flood of crimson as she sat there by her
brother's side, silent and attentive. Only within the week that followed
their return--the colonel's and her brother's--had the story of the
strange complication been revealed to them. Twice had she heard from
Fred's lips the story of Frank Armitage's greeting that frosty morning
at the springs. Time and again had she made her mother go over the
colonel's account of the confidence and faith he had expressed in there
being a simple explanation of the whole mystery, and of his indignant
refusal to attach one moment's suspicion to her. Shocked, stunned,
outraged as she felt at the mere fact that such a story had gained an
instant's credence in garrison circles, she was overwhelmed by the
weight of circumstantial evidence that had been arrayed against her.
Only little by little did her mother reveal it to her. Only after
several days did Fred repeat the story of his night adventure and his
theft of her picture, of his narrow escape, and of his subsequent visit
to the cottage. Only gradually had her mother revealed to her the
circumstances of Jerrold's wager with Sloat, and the direful
consequences; of his double absences the very nights on which Fred had
made his visits; of the suspicions that resulted, the accusations, and
his refusal to explain and clear her name. Mrs. Maynard felt vaguely
relieved to see how slight an impression the young man had made on her
daughter's heart. Alice seemed but little surprised to hear of the
engagement to Nina Beaubien, of her rush to his rescue, and their
romantic parting. The tragedy of his death hushed all further talk on
that subject. There was one on which she could not hear enough, and that
was about the man who had been most instrumental in the rescue of her
name and honor. Alice had only tender sorrow and no reproach for her
step-father when, after her mother told her the story of his sad
experience twenty years before, she related his distress of mind and
suspicion when he read Jerrold's letter. It was then that Alice said,
"And against that piece of evidence no man, I suppose, would hold me
guiltless."

"You are wrong, dear," was her mother's answer. "It was powerless to
move Captain Armitage. He scouted the idea of your guilt from the moment
he set eyes on you, and never rested until he had overturned the last
atom of evidence. Even I had to explain," said her mother "simply to
confirm his theory of the light Captain Chester had seen and the shadows
and the form at the window. It was just exactly as Armitage reasoned it
out. I was wretched and wakeful, sleeping but fitfully, that night. I
arose and took some bromide about three o'clock and soon afterwards
heard a fall, or a noise like one. I thought of you and got up and went
in your room, and all was quiet there, but it seemed close and warm: so
I raised your shade, and then left both your door and mine open and went
back to bed. I dozed away presently, and then woke feeling all startled
again,--don't you know?--the sensation one experiences when aroused from
sleep, certain that there has been a strange and startling noise, and
yet unable to tell what it was? I lay still a moment, but the colonel
slept through it all, and I wondered at it. I knew there had been a
shot, or something, but could not bear to disturb him. At last I got up
again and went to your room to be sure you were all right, and you were
sleeping soundly still; but a breeze was beginning to blow and flap your
shade to and fro, so I drew it and went out, taking my lamp with me this
time and softly closing your door behind me. See how it all seemed to
fit in with everything else that had happened. It took a man with a will
of his own and an unshaken faith in woman to stand firm against such
evidence."

And, though Alice Renwick was silent, she appreciated the fact none the
less. Day after day she clung to her stalwart brother's side. She had
ceased to ask questions about Captain Armitage and the strange greeting
after the first day or two, but, oddly enough, she could never let him
talk long of any subject but that campaign, of his ride with the captain
to the front, of the long talk they had had, and the stirring fight
and the magnificent way in which Armitage had handled his long
skirmish-line. He was enthusiastic in his praise of the tall Saxon
captain. He soon noted how silent and absorbed she sat when he was the
theme of discourse; he incidentally mentioned little things "he" had
said about "her" that morning, and marked how her color rose and her
eyes flashed quick, joyful, questioning glance at his face, then fell in
maiden shyness. He had speedily gauged the cause of that strange
excitement displayed by Armitage at seeing him the morning he rode in
with the scout. Now he was gauging, with infinite delight, the other
side of the question. The brother-like, he began to twit and tease her;
and that was the last of the confidences.

All the same it was an eager group that surrounded the colonel the
evening he came down with the captain's letter. "It settles the thing in
my mind. We'll go back to Sibley to-morrow; and as for you,
Sergeant-Major Fred, your name has gone in for a commission, and I've no
doubt a very deserving sergeant will be spoiled in making a very
good-for-nothing second lieutenant. Get you back to your regiment, sir,
and call on Captain Armitage as soon as you reach Fort Russell, and tell
him you are much obliged. He has been blowing your trumpet for you
there; and, as some of those cavalrymen have sense enough to appreciate
the opinion of such a soldier as my ex-adjutant,--some of them, mind
you: I don't admit that all cavalrymen have sense enough to keep them
out of perpetual trouble,--you came in for a hearty endorsement, and
you'll probably be up before the next board for examination. Go and bone
your Constitution, and the Rule of Three, and who was the father of
Zebedee's children, and the order of the Ptolemies and the Seleucidæ,
and other such things that they'll be sure to ask you as indispensable
to the mental outfit of an Indian-fighter." It was evident that the
colonel was in joyous mood. But Alice was silent. She wanted to hear the
letter. He would have handed it to Frederick, but both Mrs. Maynard and
Aunt Grace clamored to hear it read aloud: so he cleared his throat and
began:

"MY DEAR COLONEL,--

"Fred's chances for a commission are good, as the enclosed papers will
show you; but even were this not the case I would have but one thing to
say in answer to your letter: he should go back to his troop.

"Whatever our friends and fellow-citizens may think on the subject, I
hold that the profession of the soldier is to the full as honorable as
any in civil life; and it is liable at any moment to be more useful. I
do not mean the officer alone. I say, and mean, the soldier. As for me,
I would rather be first sergeant of my troop or company, or
sergeant-major of my regiment, than any lieutenant in it except the
adjutant. Hope of promotion is all that can make a subaltern's life
endurable, but the staff-sergeant or the first sergeant, honored and
respected by his officers, decorated for bravery by Congress, and looked
up to by his comrades, is a king among men. The pay has nothing to do
with it. I say to Renwick, 'Come back as soon as your wound will let
you,' and I envy him the welcome that will be his.

"As for me, I am even more eager to get back to you all; but things look
very dubious. The doctors shake their heads at anything under a month,
and say I'll be lucky if I eat my Thanksgiving dinner with you. If
trying to get well is going to help, October shall not be done with
before B Company will report me present again.

"I need not tell you, my dear old friend, how I rejoice with you in
your--hum and haw and this is all about something else," goes on the
colonel, in malignant disregard of the longing looks in the eyes of
three women, all of whom are eager to hear the rest of it, and one of
whom wouldn't say so for worlds. "Write to me often. Remember me warmly
to the ladies of your household. I fear Miss Alice would despise this
wild, open prairie-country; there is no golden-rod here, and I so often
see her as--hum and hum and all that sort of talk of no interest to
anybody," says he, with a quizzical look over his "bows" at the lovely
face and form bending forward with forgetful eagerness to hear how "he
so often sees her." And there is a great bunch of golden-rod in her lap
now, and a vivid blush on her cheek. The colonel is waxing as frivolous
as Fred, and quite as great a tease.

And then October comes, and Fred has gone, and the colonel and his
household are back at Sibley, where the garrison is enraptured at seeing
them, and where the women precipitate themselves upon them in tumultuous
welcome. If Alice cannot quite make up her mind to return the kisses,
and shrinks slightly from the rapturous embrace of some of the younger
and more impulsive of the sisterhood,--if Mrs. Maynard is a trifle more
distant and stately than was the case before they went away,--the
garrison does not resent it. The ladies don't wonder they feel indignant
at the way people behaved and talked; and each lady is sure that the
behavior and the talk were all somebody else's; not by any possible
chance could it be laid at the door of the speaker. And Alice is the
reigning belle beyond dispute, though there is only subdued gayety at
the fort, for the memory of their losses at the Spirit Wolf is still
fresh in the minds of the regiment. But no man alludes to the events of
the black August night, no woman is permitted to address either Mrs.
Maynard or her daughter on the subject. There are some who seek to be
confidential and who cautiously feel their way for an opening, but the
mental sparring is vain: there is an indefinable something that tells
the intruder, "Thus far, and no farther." Mrs. Maynard is courteous,
cordial, and hospitable, Alice sweet and gracious and sympathetic, even,
but confidential never.

And then Captain Armitage, late in the month, comes home on crutches,
and his men give him a welcome that makes the rafters ring, and he
rejoices in it and thanks them from his heart; but there is a welcome
his eyes plead for that would mean to him far more than any other. How
wistfully he studies her face! How unmistakable is the love and worship
in every tone! How quickly the garrison sees it all, and how mad the
garrison is to see whether or not 'tis welcome to her! But Alice Renwick
is no maiden to be lightly won. The very thought that the garrison had
so easily given her over to Jerrold is enough to mantle her cheek with
indignant protest. She accepts his attentions, as she does those of the
younger officers, with consummate grace. She shows no preference, will
grant no favors. She makes fair distribution of her dances at the hops
at the fort and the parties in town. There are young civilians who begin
to be devoted in society and to come out to the fort on every possible
opportunity, and these, too, she welcomes with laughing grace and
cordiality. She is a glowing, radiant, gorgeous beauty this cool autumn,
and she rides and drives and dances, and, the women say, flirts, and
looks handsomer every day, and poor Armitage is beginning to look very
grave and depressed. "He wooes and wins not," is the cry. His wound has
almost healed, so far as the thigh is concerned, and his crutches are
discarded, but his heart is bleeding, and it tells on his general
condition. The doctors say he ought to be getting well faster, and so
they tell Miss Renwick,--at least somebody does; but still she relents
not, and it is something beyond the garrison's power of conjecture to
decide what the result will be. Into her pretty white-and-yellow room no
one penetrates except at her invitation, even when the garrison ladies
are spending the day at the colonel's; and even if they did there would
be no visible sign by which they could judge whether his flowers were
treasured or his picture honored above others. Into her brave and
beautiful nature none can gaze and say with any confidence either "she
loves" or "she loves not." Winter comes, with biting cold and blinding
snow, and still there is no sign. The joyous holidays, the glad New
Year, are almost at hand, and still there is no symptom of surrender. No
one dreams of the depth and reverence and gratitude and loyalty and
strength of the love that is burning in her heart until, all of a
sudden, in the most unexpected and astonishing way, it bursts forth in
sight of all.

They had been down skating on the slough, a number of the youngsters and
the daughters of the garrison. Rollins was there, doing the devoted to
Mamie Gray, and already there were gossips whispering that she would
soon forget she ever knew such a beau as Jerrold in the new-found
happiness of another one; Hall was there with the doctor's pretty
daughter, and Mrs. Hoyt was matronizing the party, which would, of
course, have been incomplete without Alice. She had been skating hand in
hand with a devoted young subaltern in the artillery, and poor Armitage,
whose leg was unequal to skating, had been ruefully admiring the scene.
He had persuaded Sloat to go out and walk with him, and Sloat went; but
the hollow mockery of the whole thing became apparent to him after they
had been watching the skaters awhile, and he got chilled and wanted
Armitage to push ahead. The captain said he believed his leg was too
stiff for further tramping and would be the better for a rest; and Sloat
left him.

Heavens! how beautiful she was, with her sparkling eyes and radiant
color, glowing with the graceful exercise! He sat there on an old log,
watching the skaters as they flew by him, and striving to keep up an
impartial interest, or an appearance of it, for the other girls. But the
red sun was going down, and twilight was on them all of a sudden, and he
could see nothing but that face and form. He closed his eyes a moment to
shut out the too eager glare of the glowing disk taking its last fierce
peep at them over the western bluffs, and as he closed them the same
vision came back,--the picture that had haunted his every living,
dreaming moment since the beautiful August Sunday in the woodland lane
at Sablon. With undying love, with changeless passion, his life was
given over to the fair, slender maiden he had seen in all the glory of
the sunshine and the golden-rod, standing with uplifted head, with all
her soul shining in her beautiful eyes and thrilling in her voice. Both
worshipping and worshipped was Alice Renwick as she sang her hymn of
praise in unison with the swelling chorus that floated through the trees
from the little brown church upon the hill. From that day she was Queen
Alice in every thought, and he her loyal, faithful knight for weal or
woe.

Boom went the sunset gun far up on the parade above them. 'Twas
dinner-time, and the skaters were compelled to give up their pastime.
Armitage set his teeth at the entirely too devotional attitude of the
artilleryman as he slowly and lingeringly removed her skates, and turned
away in that utterly helpless frame of mind which will overtake the
strongest men on similar occasions. He had been sitting too long in the
cold, and was chilled through and stiff, and his wounded leg seemed
numb. Leaning heavily on his stout stick, he began slowly and painfully
the ascent to the railway, and chose for the purpose a winding path that
was far less steep, though considerably longer, than the sharp climb the
girls and their escorts made so light of. One after another the glowing
faces of the fair skaters appeared above the embankment, and their
gallants carefully convoyed them across the icy and slippery track to
the wooden platform beyond. Armitage, toiling slowly up his pathway,
heard their blithe laughter, and thought with no little bitterness that
it was a case of "out of sight out of mind" with him, as with better
men. What sense was there in his long devotion to her? Why stand between
her and the far more natural choice of a lover nearer her years? "Like
unto like" was Nature's law. It was flying in the face of Providence to
expect to win the love of one so young and fair, when others so young
and comely craved it. The sweat was beaded on his forehead as he neared
the top and came in sight of the platform. Yes, they had no thought for
him. Already Mrs. Hoyt was half-way up the wooden stairs, and the others
were scattered more or less between that point and the platform at the
station. Far down at the south end paced the fur-clad sentry. There it
was an easy step from the track to the boards, and there, with much
laughter but no difficulty, the young officers had lifted their fair
charges to the walk. All were chatting gayly as they turned away to take
the wooden causeway from the station to the stairs, and Miss Renwick was
among the foremost at the point where it left the platform. Here,
however, she glanced back and then about her, and then, bending down,
began fumbling at the buttons of her boot.

"Oh, permit me, Miss Renwick," said her eager escort. "I will button
it."

"Thanks, no. Please don't wait, good people. I'll be with you in an
instant."

And so the other girls, absorbed in talk with their respective gallants,
passed her by, and then Alice Renwick again stood erect and looked
anxiously but quickly back.

"Captain Armitage is not in sight, and we ought not to leave him. He may
not find it easy to climb to that platform," she said.

"Armitage? Oh, he'll come on all right," answered the batteryman, with
easy assurance. "Maybe he has gone round by the road. Even if he hasn't,
I've seen him make that in one jump many a time. He's an active old
buffer for his years."

"But his wound may prove too much for that jump now. Ah there he comes,"
she answered, with evident relief; and just at the moment, too, the
forage-cap of the tall soldier rose slowly into view some distance up
the track, and he came walking slowly down on the sharp curve towards
the platform, the same sharp curve continuing on out of sight behind
him,--behind the high and rocky bluff.

"He's taken the long way up," said the gunner. "Well, shall we go on?"

"Not yet," she said, with eyes that were glowing strangely and a voice
that trembled. Her cheeks, too, were paling. "Mr. Stuart, I'm sure I
heard the roar of a train echoed back from the other side."

"Nonsense, Miss Renwick! There's no train either way for two hours yet."

But she had begun to edge her way back toward the platform, and he could
not but follow. Looking across the intervening space,--a rocky hollow
twenty feet in depth,--he could see that the captain had reached the
platform and was seeking for a good place to step up; then that he
lifted his right foot and placed it on the planking and with his cane
and the stiff and wounded left leg strove to push himself on. Had there
been a hand to help him, all would have been easy enough; but there was
none, and the plan would not work. Absorbed in his efforts, he could not
see Stuart; he did not see that Miss Renwick had left her companions and
was retracing her steps to get back to the platform. He heard a sudden
dull roar from the rocks across the stream; then a sharp, shrill whistle
just around the bluff. My God! a train, and that man there, alone,
helpless, deserted! Stuart gave a shout of agony: "Back! Roll back over
the bank!" Armitage glanced around; determined; gave one mighty effort;
the iron-ferruled stick slipped on the icy track, and down he went,
prone between the glistening rails, even as the black vomiting monster
came thundering round the bend. He had struck his head upon the iron,
and was stunned, not senseless, but scrambled to his hands and knees and
strove to crawl away. Even as he did so he heard a shriek of anguish in
his ears, and with one wild leap Alice Renwick came flying from the
platform in the very face of advancing death, and the next instant, her
arm clasped about his neck, his strong arms tightly clasping _her_,
they were lying side by side, bruised, stunned, but safe, in a welcoming
snow-drift half-way down the hither bank.

When Stuart reached the scene, as soon as the engine and some
wrecking-cars had thundered by, he looked down upon a picture that
dispelled any lingering doubt in his mind. Armitage, clasping Queen
Alice to his heart, was half rising from the blessed mantlet of the
snow, and she, her head upon his broad shoulder, was smiling faintly up
into his face: then the glorious eyes closed in a death-like swoon.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fort Sibley had its share of sensations that eventful year. Its crowning
triumph in the one that followed was the wedding in the early spring. Of
all the lovely women there assembled, the bride by common consent stood
unrivalled,--Queen Alice indeed. There was some difference of opinion
among authorities as to who was really the finest-looking and most
soldierly among the throng of officers in the conventional full-dress
uniform: many there were who gave the palm to the tall, dark, slender
lieutenant of cavalry who wore his shoulder-knots for the first time on
this occasion, and who, for a man from the ranks, seemed consummately at
home in the manifold and trying duties of a groomsman. Mrs. Maynard,
leaning on his arm at a later hour and looking up rapturously in his
bronzed features, had no divided opinion. While others had by no means
so readily forgotten or forgiven the mad freak that so nearly involved
them all in wretched misunderstanding, she had nothing but rejoicing in
his whole career. Proud of the gallant officer who had won the daughter
whom she loved so tenderly, she still believes, in the depths of the
boundless mother-love, that no man can quite surpass her soldier son.


[Footnote A: By act of Congress, officers may be addressed by the title
of the highest rank held by them in the volunteer service during the
war. The colonel always punctiliously so addressed his friend and
subordinate, although in the army his grade was simply that of first
lieutenant.]


                           THE END.





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